The name Wakefield Poole may not mean much to mainstream audiences but in the 1970s he was quite a controversial filmmaker. Poole initially trained for the ballet then drifted into movie making. In 1971, Poole released Boys in the Sand, the first "up market" hardcore gay movie. It caused quite a sensation and was immediately embraced by long-suffering gay males who heretofore had to be content with low-end, quickly shot pornographic "loops" that played in Times Square grindhouses. Poole's film was taken seriously by the critical establishment and actually earned praise in reputable publications like Variety. The film actually cracked Variety's list of the top 50 grossing films in America, an amazing achievement for a movie with limited appeal and distribution. It also made a gay movie icon of actor Casey Donovan. Poole and Donovan followed this project up with another hardcore porn flick, Bijou, which was released in 1972. Inspired by the fact that his filmmaking techniques were being praised, Poole became more ambitious and managed to cobble together a then sizable budget for his next film, Wakefield Poole's Bible! (yes, the exclamation point was part of the title.) Poole attempted to take three tales from the Bible and bring them to the screen using his own spin on the narratives. We see Adam and Eve, David and Bathsheba and Samson and Delilah in period settings but through Poole's unique perspective. Poole opted to give his actors no dialogue. The film is played silently to the accompaniment of classical music. The result is one of the most bizarre experimental films of its era. Although Poole claims he had a budget of $150,000 other sources state it was actually less than half that. Regardless, it was a significant sum compared to the budgets of his previous ventures. Poole managed to do a lot with very little. Using creative locations and camerawork, he sometimes succeeds in conveying an interesting look for his trilogy of Biblical tales. Most impressive are the film's opening scenes in which we first see Adam. Shot amid some rather stunning rock formations on a beach, Poole soon introduces us to Adam's first encounter with Eve. Understandably, it doesn't take the only man and woman on earth to get down to doing what men and women like to do. The sequence is more romantic than erotic and this sets the tone for the rest of the film. The David and Bathsheba segment stars Georgina Spelvin, then riding the wave of worldwide publicity for her success in the notorious Devil in Miss Jones, considered by many to be the most accomplished porn movie ever made. Although Poole has Spelvin cavorting around fully naked, he presents the Biblical tale as a slapstick comedy with a sexually frustrated wife unable to interest her husband, a macho army general, in anything relating to love making. The third tale is the most effective with actress Gloria Grant (who went on to a legitimate career, winning an Emmy in the process) as a visually striking Delilah who seduces Samson as part of a plot to punish him for the murder of an innocent person.
The Vinegar Syndrome video label has released Wakefield Poole's Bible! as a special DVD edition, restored and presented in its uncut format. While Poole can be commended for trying to achieve something outside the porn film industry, the movie was too bizarre to appeal to mainstream audiences. Paradoxically, it also alienated Poole's core following of gay men by presenting tales of heterosexual sex, albeit in a softcore format. Not helping matters was the fact that the movie was slapped with an X rating, which even at the time seemed unnecessarily harsh. Poole theorized that it would have been given an "R" rating had the movie been made by anyone else, but his name and that of Spelvin virtually ensured retribution from the ratings board. By his own admission, the film was a flop and was only seen by a relative handful of people in its initial release. The movie has some striking visual elements, some of them effective and creative and others bordering on the pretentious. It's hard to imagine that Poole ever envisioned this pet project being embraced by movie goers on a wide basis.
The DVD is first class and provides bonus features that are far more interesting than the film itself. These include both vintage and recent interviews with Poole, who candidly assesses his own career highs and lows. Poole also provides a brief introduction to the movie as well as an interesting audio commentary track. There is also recent filmed interview with Georgina Spelvin, who claims making the movie was delightful from her perspective. She also tells an amusing story of how she got into the porn industry. As a struggling actress, she was delighted to get a role in a minor film. It wasn't until she began filming a love scene that the director told her in a matter-of-fact manner to start performing oral sex on her male co-star. Spelvin considered it a sign of her dedication to her profession that she suppressed her shock and just went ahead with the task, taking solace from the fact that the guy was "cute". She is a very amusing lady and one wishes her interview segment went on even longer. Similarly, a new interview with Gloria Grant, who also professes pride in her striking performance in the film. She says she still has no regrets about appearing naked on screen because she came into this world naked. The other bonus features include costume tests, a still gallery, a trailer and- most provocatively- silent screen tests of the male and female actors who enact various poses while completely naked. It's somehow far more erotic than the film itself.
Wakefield Poole's Bible! may have been a commercial and artistic failure, but the DVD is entertaining on so many levels that we can highly recommend it because it offers some fascinating insights into one of the strangest film projects of its era.
Warner Home Video has released a Blu-ray special edition of William Wyler's 1946 classic. If Wyler's greatest hit was his 1959 remake of Ben-Hur, it can be said that The Best Years of Our Lives is perhaps his most emotionally engaging film. (At the time of its release it became the second highest grossing film of all time, behind Gone With the Wind.) The movie was nominated for nine Oscars, winning eight. The film relates the story of several U.S. servicemen and the challenges they face in re-entering society in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Al (Fredric March) easily resumes his career as a successful businessman. Fred (Dana Andrews) comes from the other side of the tracks and finds his homecoming a lot bumpier, both financially (he can't find a decent job) and emotionally (he has to deal with a greedy floozy of a wife played by Virginia Mayo.) Most challenging of all is the plight of Homer (Harold Russell) a U.S. Navy vet who lost both of his hands in combat and who must cope by his expert use of hooks as faux "hands". The screenplay expertly intertwines the stories of these friends with diverse backgrounds and personalities and their situations spoke to a generation of servicemen who found their readjustment to society to be anything but smooth. The film features remarkable performances by the above actors with Oscar winner Russell (a real-life amputee who had never appeared in a film before) stealing the show. The poignant sequence in which Al's wife (Myrna Loy) has a sudden recognition that her husband has returned home is probably waiting for her in the hallway of their apartment is one of the most emotional scenes ever filmed. The Blu-ray is a recycling of a previous DVD special edition but it isn't quite special enough for a film of this importance. The extras are relegated to interviews with Teresa Wright, who played Loy and March's teenage daughter in the film, and Virginia Mayo who discusses how her role as a "bad girl" defied her squeaky clean image. There is also a trailer. Still, this Blu-ray release is most welcome. Click here to order.
Vinegar Syndrome (we love the name) is a DVD label that specializes in preserving and restoring vintage cinematic erotica and other cult films. Their most recent coup is the release of a double feature on Blu-ray consisting of Russ Meyer's 1964 adaptation of Fanny Hill along with Albert Zugsmith's bizarre 1967 Western comedy The Phantom Gunslinger. The dual package generously provides both films on DVD as well as their Blu-ray editions. Russ Meyer was already well-known as both a cheesecake photographer for "men's magazines" as well as a director of soft-cover sex films that generally showcased young women who were super-amply endowed. Ever the opportunist, he teamed with producer Zugsmith in 1964 for Fanny Hill, which was based on a notorious 18th century novel that chronicled the sexual escapades of a promiscuous young woman. Such was the book's controversial impact that when it was reprinted in the early 1960s it was banned in some quarters for obscenity. The publisher and civil libertarians contested the ruling and the subsequent court battle put ol' Fanny right in the midst of the contemporary news cycle. Zugsmith, who was a producer of some repute (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Touch of Evil) had by this point concentrated on low-brow exploitation fare. He reasoned that if the country was up in arms over a two hundred year old book, audiences would go wild over a film adaptation of the story. The plot centers on Fanny (Leticia Roman) as a buxom blonde farm girl who arrives in London, naive and clueless about the ways of the world. She is quickly "adopted" by Mrs. Brown (Miriam Hopkins), a seemingly benevolent older woman who is, in fact, a madame who wants to exploit Fanny's innocence by turning her into a prostitute. What she doesn't count on is just how naive Fanny is. Even when residing with numerous other ladies of the night, she fails to catch on to the fact that the place is a bordello. Mrs. Brown tries on several occasions to financially benefit from renting the young virgin to any number of eager patrons, but fate always intervenes before the act can be consummated. When Fanny falls in love with Charles (Ulli Lommel), a dashing and chivalrous young sailor, Mrs. Brown arranges for him to be kidnapped and taken out of the country. Thinking her lover has abandoned her, Fanny becomes despondent and out of grief agrees to marry a loathsome nobleman. As the ceremony begins, Fanny's betrothed manages to escape and make his way to the wedding where the film climaxes in a crazy, slap-stick filled brawl. Viewers may be puzzled by the almost complete absence of eroticism in the film, along with relatively few lingering shots of semi-dressed young women. The whole enterprise is so chaste it could be shown today on the Disney Channel. This was due to the fact that Zugsmith and Meyer clashed over the content of the film, with Zugsmith insisting that comedy should be emphasized over sexual content. Meyer finished the film but justifiably regarded it as a low-grade entry on his list of cinematic achievements. What emerged is a Jerry Lewis-like farce with zany sequences in which people swing from chandeliers, cross dress and engage in various forms of mayhem. In retrospect, it seems inconceivable that the film was deemed controversial even in 1964. Zugsmith filmed the movie in West Germany using local actors for supporting roles. Although the three leads-Roman, Hopkins and Lommel- perform admirable given the circumstances, the supporting cast is encouraged to play even the most minor moments in absurd, over-the-top manner. The result is that the film's primary legacy is as an interesting relic of a bygone era when "naughty" films could still raise eyebrow without delivering much in the way of genuine eroticism.
The second entry on the DVD "double feature" is even more bizarre and makes Fanny Hill look like Last Tango in Paris in comparison. The Phantom Gunslinger was shot in Mexico as a vehicle for Albert Zugsmith to prove he was a triple threat talent, with the erstwhile fellow producing, co-writing and directing the resulting disaster. It's clear that without someone like Russ Meyer to at least try to restrain Zugsmith's instincts for broad slapstick, the project was doomed from the start. The plot, such as it is, finds a small Western town taken over by a gang of notorious outlaws. They cause some mild mayhem but mostly seem content to gorge themselves on sumptuous feasts in between flirting with the local saloon girls. The local sheriff is terrified and runs away, turning his badge over to Bill (Troy Donahue), a hunky dimwit who sets about trying to wrest control of the town from the raucous outlaws. That's about as deep as the story line goes. Zugsmith pads the film with so much slapstick it makes the average Three Stooges skit look like the work of Noel Coward. The film is certainly one of the most bizarre of its era and its hard to know whether it was ever even released theatrically in America. There is a painful element to watching Troy Donahue at this stage in his career. Only a few years earlier, he was deemed a bankable star by major studios. Whatever desperate measures persuaded him to be involved in this enterprise will probably never be known but perhaps he was inspired by the success of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns. Eastwood went to Spain and collaborated with a genius named Sergio Leone. Donahue went to Mexico and was saddled with Albert Zugsmith. Such are the cruel ironies of fate. The Phantom Gunslinger is so repetitive in its gags that one is reminded that this is the kind of film they invented the fast forward remote control feature for.
Vinegar Syndrome has presented these two oddball films in pristine condition, having overseen a complete remastering process. Fanny Hill's crisp B&W cinematography is one of the better elements of the film and its safe to say that, whatever flaws The Phantom Gunslinger may have (and there are too many to list here), the movie probably never looked so good as it does through this gorgeous transfer. Vinegar Syndrome has also included some interesting bonus extras including a recent interview with Fanny Hill romantic lead Ulli Lommel that is as strange as it is entertaining. Lommel is seen attired in winter clothing and is interviewed in a park where he periodically works out on some exercise equipment(!). He tells viewers that he got the role in the film because he could speak proficient English, having grown up in the American sector of post-WWII Berlin. He also tosses out some funny, if rather insulting, comments regarding the production and the people he worked with. A second bonus extra relates to The Phantom Gunslinger with film historian Eric Schaefer (a self-described scholar of sexploitation movies) providing some sober but interesting insights into the life and career of Albert Zugsmith. The interview is far more entertaining than the feature itself. Another creative feature is reversible sleeve art that allows collectors to display either Fanny Hill or The Phantom Gunslinger as the "featured" presentation in the Blu-ray sleeve. In summary, a superior presentation of two very inferior cinematic curiosities.
The DoubleHeaded Eagle: Hitler's Rise to Power 1918-1933,a 1973 documentary by German filmmaker Lutz Becker, is not really a documentary in the traditional sense. There is no narration or point of view expressed, nor is there any original footage. Rather, the film consists entirely of rare historical German newsreel footage that loosely documents the descent into chaos that Germany experienced in the wake of its defeat in WWI. You would have to know a lot about the history of the period because the documentary makes no attempt to present a comprehensive look at how Adolf Hitler assumed power in one of the most civilized nation's on earth. (Contrary to what many people think, he did not seize the government by force.) What is rather fascinating is that Becker opts to present speeches by Hitler and his paladins in uncut format with English sub-titles. Presumably Becker doesn't need to editorialize about the content of those speeches as the effect should be self-evident to any rational viewer. The film begins with Hitler's first national address to the German people after having assumed the powers of a dictator (he would convince the reichstag to voluntarily give up most of its powers and become a body of rubber-stamping bureaucrats.) We see Hitler amid the pomp and splendor of the rallies he so favored. Grim-faced, he assumes the podium following an introduction by his loyal Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels who sets the tone with chilling warnings to the Jews that they are in danger of "pushing us too far" and hinting at the plans the National Socialists intended to initiate in terms of ethnic cleansing. It's frightening to see all of this taking place even in retrospect. Hitler begins his speech slowly and deliberately, but-as was his habit- would gradually assume an an almost fanatical fervor in his pronouncements. The camera pans across the packed auditorium and finds thousands of ordinary people shouting their approval of the new Fuhrer. The film then jumps back in time to newsreel footage from 1918 and Germany's struggle in the post-WWI era. However it also covers the fact that during the 1920s Berlin was thriving as a destination for the international jet set. We see clips of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, privileged people dressed to the nines and on the town and even Buster Keaton on a tourist visit. Yet, the stock market crash of 1929 threw all of Germany into the depths of the Depression. From such desperate times often arise dictatorial leaders.
Becker does not address a major cause for Hitler's rise to power, namely the outrageously expensive sanctions and financial burdens placed on Germany by Britain and France as war reparations. These were do draconian that the German people were left in a hopeless state of affairs. Hitler and his Nationalist Socialist party were deemed to be the cure. A master speaker, strong and assured, Hitler found the people all too willing to give up civil rights in return for financial security. Hitler delivered in spades, rebuilding the economy through government-funded jobs that saw the country's infrastructure rebuilt. He also reignited national pride and built a vast army in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. (By the time the British and French decided to do more than send angry protests, the damage had been done and Hitler preside over superior armed forces.) Soon Hitler's bizarre and sick theories about racial inferiority and superiority would have enormous consequences but most of these had not been initiated during the period of time the film covers. Again, Becker is therefore somewhat restricted because he is confined by presenting what is contained in the newsreels. They are fascinating and show Hitler from the perspective of his early rise to power. As the film ends in 1933 with Hitler's appointment as Chancellor by the aging Von Hindenberg, there is no coverage of the WWII period. There is no doubt, however, that with his appointment, Hitler was the real leader of the nation.
Becker's film is primarily of interest to hardcore history buffs. Viewers who are ill-informed about this period of history will be confused, bored or both. One would have hoped that the documentary would have provided at least a modicum of historical perspective but it is devoid of it, save for the final haunting images of Nazis burning books over the superimposed warning by the 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine, "Where they have burned books, they will burn people", a sad prophecy that was to become all-too-true.
(This review is based on a screening of the film on Netflix, where it is currently available for viewing. It is also available on DVD. Click here to order from Amazon)
Twilight Time has released the acclaimed Sexy Beast as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray edition. The film is regarded by many as a modern day classic of the British crime genre and while it may not equal the impact of Brit gangster flicks from bygone eras like Get Carter and The Long Good Friday, the movie stands head and shoulders above most of the dumbed-down, similarly-themed movies of more recent years. Ray Winstone stars as Gary 'Gal' Dove, a one time heist artist who is now comfortably retired in a remote Spanish villa living the good life from his ill-gotten gains. He and his wife (Amanda Redman) are enjoying their middle-aged years partying hearty with another married couple (Cavan Kendall, Julianne White) with whom they enjoy an almost inseparable relationship. Into every life a little rain must fall, however, and in their case it comes in the form of a human hurricane named Don Logan. As played by Ben Kingsley in one of his most revered performances, Logan is a terrifying figure even before we see him. When the couples learn that Logan is en route to see them, the sheer terror on their faces tell us all we need to know about this crime kingpin. When Logan does arrive, he is arrogant, irrational, sex-crazed and unpredictable-- friendly one moment and threatening the next. He orders 'Gal' to return to London to help orchestrate one more heist. When 'Gal' objects, Logan becomes completely unhinged and wreaks havoc on the close-knit group of friends. As played by Kingsley, Logan is easily one of the more memorable villains in recent screen history, a totally psychotic character whose unpredictable nature and vile mannerisms make him mesmerizing to watch. Kingsley so dominates the film that it's easy to overlook the brilliant performances of the other cast members, which includes Ian McShane as another London mobster who is part of the caper. Winstone is particularly impressive here and his scenes with Kingsley tingle with real tension.
Director Jonathan Glazer made a promising directorial debut with this film. The fact that he hasn't had any other major successes is somewhat frustrating because the man shows a flair for a unique visual style. The cinematography threatens to become a bit too pretentiously artsy at times but there is no doubt that the film contains many haunting scenes. Likewise, although the story relies on dialogue rather than violence, Glazer's penchant for fast-cutting and jumping back and forth in time can be a bit distracting. Nevertheless, this is a bold reinvention of a time-worn genre and Sexy Beast is well worth a look.
Bonus extras include a commentary track by Ben Kingsley and producer Jeremy Thomas, a short production featurette, a trailer and and isolated score track.
Cinema Retro readers know we never endorse any product or service we don't believe in. That's why this site is blissfully free of nauseating pop-up ads and inducements to invest in things like a snow shoe factory in Saudi Arabia. The small commission fees that sites earn aren't worth annoying loyal readers. We admit we were approached by Amazon many times to promote their Amazon Prime service but we generally ignored these solicitations- until we recently tried it ourselves. We are now hopelessly hooked. For $79 a year, you get 2 day shipping on thousands of products (in some cases your products literally arrive overnight.) Any product on Amazon identified by a "Prime" logo qualifies. Additionally- and this is a BIG "additionally"- you also get streaming service for countless feature films and TV series ranging from fairly recent hits to oldies-but-goodies. These can be streamed to any device or a TV that has an Amazon app on its menu. It's basically Amazon's version of Netflix...and it's a heck of a fun service, though you won't get much in the way of a good night's sleep if, like us, you're surfing through titles and decide to indulge in John Wayne's The Alamo at 1:00 AM. Nevertheless, you have nothing to lose because Amazon is offering a 30 day free trial...Just click the ad above and you're on your way.
Warner Brothers has released another magnificently packaged packaged “Blu-ray Ultimate
Edition” boxed set. ‘The James Dean Ultimate Collector’s Edition” features the Blu-ray debuts of the legendary
actor’s three motion picture classics: Rebel
Without a Cause, East of Eden and Giant.
The set is jam-packed with bonus extras including three feature length
documentaries, an all-new featurette titled Dennis
Hopper: Memories From the Warner Lot, five vintage documentaries and other
programs relating to the making of East
of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. If
that isn’t enough, there are also audio commentaries, premiere footage,
trailers, vintage TV shows and a wealth of collectibles including a
commemorative book, poster reproductions, rare studio production memos and a
selection of wonderful 8x10 photos.
(The following review pertains to the UK release of the film on Region B format)
Acts of Annihilation
Dario Argento is the most famous Italian horror
director to be associated with the ‘giallo’ style murder mystery films that
emerged from Italy during the 1970s and early 1980s. The films were notable for
their point-of-view camerawork, their unsettling atmospherics and
nerve-jangling, claustrophobic scenes of terror. Argento is one of those
directors you either love or hate, and his work has often been accused of being
a case of style over content. His detractors cite his implausible plots, illogical
loopholes, deafening soundtracks, overacting casts and over reliance on
stylistic flourishes that float his slim narratives. His films are just too
contrived and stylised, too gimmicky, to succeed. By contrast, Argento’s fans
love his implausible plots, illogical loopholes, deafening soundtracks,
overacting casts and an over reliance on stylistic flourishes. Argento’s colour
cinematography is exquisite, with visual effects achieved via ingenious angles,
complicated set-ups, wire-guided cameras, vivid lighting, garish colour schemes
and seemingly impossible cinematic arabesques, to present moments of extreme
shock and overtly choreographed violence, often unflinchingly in close-up.
Argento virtually invented ‘gialli’ with his impressive
directorial debut. The murder mystery ‘The Bird With the Crystal Plumage’
(1970) benefited from Vittorio Storaro’s widescreen images in Cromoscope, Ennio
Morricone’s spine-tingling score and a collection of good performances – Tony
Musante and Suzy Kendall as the amateur sleuths, Eva Renzi as the gallery
murder victim, Mario Adorf as a anchorite painter and Enrico Maria Salerno as
the police investigator. Argento continued in a similar vein with ‘The Cat ‘o
Nine Tails’ (1971) and ‘Four Flies on Grey Velvet’ (1971) – the three films
became known as his ‘Animal Trilogy’ and all were scored by Morricone.
Argento’s 1970s psychological thrillers reached their zenith with ‘Deep Red’
(1975), which had David Hemmings’ jazz pianist puzzling his way through a twisted
whodunit. Argento then explored the supernatural with the first of his ‘Three
Mothers’ trilogy, ‘Suspiria’, released in 1977. This gory cataclysm of witchery
and murder remains his biggest success and finest achievement, a tour de gore.
Argento has only grasped at this magnificent malfeasance occasionally since,
which has left his fans expectant and frustrated in equal measure.
‘Tenebrae’ (1982) is one of Argento’s better post-‘Suspiria’
films and certainly holds its own within the ‘giallo’ canon. Written and
directed by Argento, it begins with New York horror fiction writer Peter Neal
(Anthony Franciosa) arriving in Rome on a promotional tour for his new
bestseller, a novel called ‘Tenebrae’ (which is Latin for ‘shadows’ or ‘darkness’).
Pretty soon Neal finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation. Captain
Germani (Giuliano Gemma) is seeking the killer of serial shoplifter Elsa Manni
(Ania Pieroni), who was murdered with a cutthroat razor and is found with pages
from Neal’s novel stuffed in her mouth – a modus operandi deployed in the novel
itself. Asks bemused Neal of the inspector: ‘If someone is killed with a Smith
& Wesson revolver, do you go and interview the president of Smith &
Wesson?’ The killings continue. Tilde (Mirella D’Angelo), a journalist who is critical
of Neal’s ‘sexist bullshit’ horror stories, and her on-off lover Marion
(Mirella Banti) are slain in their apartment block with a razor, again in
imitation of Neal’s horror fiction. Tilde’s criticism of Neal’s books parallels
the charges occasionally levelled at Argento himself, as beautiful victims die
beautiful deaths in the name of Argento’s artful darkness. The prime suspect in
the ‘Tenebrae’ case is Cristiano Berti (John Steiner) a daytime TV book
reviewer for Channel One, who is also Neal’s superfan. When an axe is planted firmly
in Cristiano’s skull, he drops off the ‘wanted’ list. John Saxon played Neal’s
literary agent Bulmer, Daria Nicolodi (from ‘Deep Red’) was Neal’s PA Anne,
film director Enzo G. Castellari’s brother Enio Girolami appeared briefly as a
store detective and Veronica Lario was Neal’s estranged, slightly unbalanced wife
Jane McKarrow. Captain Germani tells Neal that he guessed the killer’s identity
in the novel by page 30, but he’s not so quick on the real case. In the end,
with the police stumped, Neal himself turns detective – as did Musante and
Hemmings – to track down the ‘Peter Neal Tribute Act’ who is leaving a trail of
corpses littering Rome.
Neal’s book is modestly described by an advert in a
Rome bookstore as ‘Il giallo dell’anno, forse del deccennio’ – ‘The giallo of
the year, perhaps the decade’ – and the film isn’t bad either. ‘Tenebrae’ gives
Argento’s fans exactly what they want. With its gratuitous bloodletting and
stylised choreography of murder, this is over-the-top, comic-book Argento, a
partial return to ‘realism’ after the phantasms of ‘Suspiria’ and ‘Inferno’. The production’s backroom staff was of an
excellent calibre. Horror directors Lamberto Bava and Mario Soavi were the
film’s assistant directors, and the murders, involving razor, knife and axe,
were staged imaginatively by Giovanni Corridor. ‘Tenebrae’ was photographed by
Luciano Tovoli in Technicolor and 1.85:1 screen ratio (rather than Argento’s
earlier preferred format of 2.25:1 widescreen). Some of the cinematography –
pills resting on a glass tabletop, or water rinsing blood from an open razor
blade – is starling in its clarity. In a terrifying sequence, a woman Maria
(Lara Wendel) is chased through a park by a guard dog and inadvertently bumbles
into the killer’s basement lair. Before Tilde and Marion are murdered,
Argento’s camera glides up the outside of their apartment building, peeping
through windows, then sweeps up over the slate roof and swoops down to the
block’s stair landing, in an intricate camera take that seems inspired by
Sergio Leone’s gliding Chapman crane shot at Flagstone City railway station in
‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (1968), a film Argento worked on with Leone
during the treatment stage. Another victim is stabbed in broad daylight in a
busy municipal square and ultra-weird flashbacks from the killer’s traumatic past
depict the murder of a woman (played by transsexual ‘Eva Robins’/Roberto
Coatti) who is wearing a white dress and bright red high heels. The film’s pulsating
synthesizer fugues – the pumping adrenalin of the killer or the fearful,
fleeing victims – were provided by Claudio Simonetti, Massimo Morante and Fabio
Pignatelli, who as members of the band Goblin had such success with the
soundtracks for ‘Deep Red’ and ‘Suspiria’. The film’s murders are graphically
staged with zeal – the movie ran into trouble on its first release, being
prosecuted as a ‘Video Nasty’ in the UK and appearing in the US in truncated
form as ‘Unsane’, shorn of 10 minutes. The killings are very gory – seemingly
even more so in this pristine blu-ray edition – and the house of horrors
bloodbath that climaxes the film offers plenty of the red stuff and some good
Arrow Film’s new steelbook edition of ‘Tenebrae’ is
the most comprehensive and impressive edition yet released. There are various
prints of the film out there on DVD. One has the onscreen title as TENEBRAE and
the credits and the ‘Tenebrae’ page extracts in English. Arrow’s print (running
time: 1:40:53) has the onscreen title TENEBRE and the credits and pages in
Italian text. I’ve never been mad about ‘Tenebrae’, but this Blu-ray release
has made me re-evaluate the film as one of Argento’s superior gialli –
certainly in visual terms. The colours are bold and tremendous, the cinematography
in moments as delicious as anything in ‘Suspiria’ or ‘Inferno’. Those red heels
have never looked so, erm, red. The feature itself is blu-ray Region B and DVD
Region 2, and as well as the English language dub it is available to play with Italian
audio and English subtitles. It was shot in English and Franciosa, Saxon,
Steiner and Gemma voiced themselves in the English version. A wealth of extras
include a collectors’ booklet with writing from Alan Jones and Peter
Strickland, and an interview with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli. Copious disk
extras include two audio commentaries (one by Alan Jones and Kim Newman,
another by Thomas Rostock), interviews with co-star Daria Nicolodi, composer
Claudio Simonetti, and author Maitland McDonagh (‘Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds:
The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento’). There’s also 16 minutes of Simonetti’s band
Goblin performing tracks from ‘Tenebrae’ and ‘Phenomena’ in person at a gig at
Glasgow Arches. All in, this is a definitive release of what is a strong contender
for Argento’s finest 1980s movie.
The steelbook edition of ‘Tenebrae’ is available
now from Arrow Films.
We've plugged this release before, but if you are really stuck for a last minute holiday gift, forget those plans to get the guy in your life one of those neckties that lights up and says "Let me kiss you in the dark, baby!" Instead, go for the Dark Knight Ultimate Collector's Edition, which was recently released by Warner Home Video. It's one of those hernia-inducing boxed sets that is packed with goodies including:
Blu-ray editions and Ultra Violet access to all three Batman flicks directed by Christopher Nolan: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises
A special bonus disc that includes "the complete IMAX sequences from The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises" that allows you to view these scenes in their original aspect ratios; a fascinating conversation between Christopher Nolan and veteran director Richard Donner about the challenges of revitalizing the Batman legend, a new documentary titled The Fire Rises: The Creation and Impact of the Dark Knight Trilogy.
Nobody does boxed set collectibles better than Warners and this set is no exception. You get a souvenir program of images from the films, a set of separately packaged villain art prints, a letter from Christopher Nolan and even some toy replicas of three vehicles.
Each boxed set is individually numbered and the release is limited to 141,500 units. Grab it while you can. To the Bat poles!
The good news is that Timeless Video is releasing multiple films in one DVD package. The bad news is that one of these releases, although featuring two highly-watchable leading men, presents two stinkers. Love and Bullets is a 1979 Charles Bronson starrer that Roger Ebert appropriately described at the time as "an assemblyline potboiler". The film initially showed promise. Originally titled Love and Bullets, Charlie, the movie had John Huston as its director. However, Huston left after "creative differences" about the concept of the story and its execution on screen. The absurdity of losing a director as esteemed as Huston might have been understandable if the resulting flick wasn't such a mess. However, one suspects that, whatever the conceptual vision Huston had for the movie may have been, it must have been superior to what ultimately emerged. Stuart Rosenberg, the competent director of Cool Hand Luke took over but was unable to create anything more than a sub-par action movie. The plot finds Bronson as a Phoenix cop who is reluctantly sent to Switzerland on an undercover assignment. The local prosecutor has been doggedly trying to convict a local mob kingpin (Rod Steiger) for years. Now it appears that his moll girlfriend (Jill Ireland) might be a viable witness in terms of spilling the beans about his operations. Thus, Steiger has stashed her abroad and is keeping her under constant watch. Bronson's job is to pretend he is also a mob guy and convince Ireland to return with him to Phoenix to testify against her lover. The movie seems to exist for one reason only: the main participants desired a paid working vacation in Switzerland. This concept is nothing new. The Rat Pack squeezed in filming Oceans Eleven almost as an afterthought while they were performing nightly in Las Vegas at the Sands casino. In the twilight of his years, John Ford famously got his stock company together for a jaunt to Hawaii and released the result as a big boxoffice hit called Donovan's Reef, which still must retain the status of being the most expensive home movie ever made.
Love and Bullets is such a lazy effort you have to believe it must have taken a great deal of effort for the cast to meander to the set every day. The film also illustrates the danger of love-struck leading men force-feeding the lady in their lives into virtually every movie they make. Clint Eastwood shoe-horned Sondra Locke into a string of his films in the 1970s and 1980s and while some of them were artistic and commercial successes, I always greeted their next team with a sense of bored inevitability. (Locke is also a prime perpetrator in the creation of the worst movie of Eastwood's career, The Gauntlet.) In this case, Ireland had been Mrs. Bronson for over a decade following her divorce from David McCallum. She was always a competent enough actress but the couple obviously envisioned themselves as a new William Powell/Myrna Loy teaming. Not quite. Bronson is on full automatic pilot, registering almost no emotion. Ireland overplays the role of bubble-headed moll to an embarrassing level, as though she is a character in a sitcom sketch. She is saddled with intentionally laughable fright wigs but the real joke comes when she decides to discard them for her natural hair style, which proves to be even less flattering. Absurdity piles upon absurdity as the film becomes one long, extended chase sequence with Bronson and Ireland squabbling like Ralph and Alice Kramden, if you can imagine The Honeymooners being pursued by assassins. Steiger is in full scenery-chewing mode and an impressive array of supporting actors (Val Avery, Michael V. Gazzo, Henry Silva and Strother Martin) are pretty much wasted along the way. I'm generally undemanding when it comes to the pleasures of watching an unpretentious Charles Bronson action movie but Love and Bullets represents the latter period of his career where he rarely even tried to elevate his films beyond being vehicles for an easy pay check.
Russian Roulette (originally titled Kill Kosygin!) starts out promisingly enough but ultimately ends up being as unsatisfying as Love and Bullets. Produced by Elliott Kastner, an old hand at making good, populist entertainment, the production was shot entirely in Vancouver. George Segal plays a renegade cop (were there any other kind in the 1970s?) who has been suspended from the local police force for various infractions. Suddenly, he is recruited by Canadian secret intelligence to help thwart a reputed plot to assassinate Soviet Premier Kosygin, who is due to arrive in a matter of days for a high profile conference. Segal learns that he is being set up in an elaborate and confusing plot that involves traitorous KGB agents who want to kill their own premier in order to prevent him from initiating an era of detente with the West. Their plan involves kidnapping a local dissident (Val Avery), drugging him and using him as a human bomb who will be dropped on Kosygin's limousine from a helicopter! (I'm not making this up.) Along the way, Segal finds he's being set up as a dupe and is framed for murder. The entire tired affair ends in a race against time with Segal going mano-a-mano with a KGB killer on the roof of a landmark hotel that Kosygin is en route to (the only sequence that affords the slightest hint of suspense). Absurdly, Kosygin's motorcade is permitted to continue racing to the hotel despite the fact that hundreds of people are watching a running gun battle taking place on the roof. The film was directed by Lou Lombardo, who made a name for himself as an editor of great talent after supervising the cutting of The Wild Bunch. As director, he keeps the action flowing but the plot absurdities soon distract from some otherwise interesting angles and performances. The fine supporting cast includes Gordon Jackson, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Stock and Louise Fletcher, but their characters are rather boring. The film also throws in Christina Raines for sex appeal but she comes across as the dullest leading lady in memory, barely registering much emotion even when finding a dead body in her bathroom. (Although most of us would find such a development a bit disturbing, Lombardo cuts to a scene of Segal and Raines enjoying a spot of breakfast tea- while the man's body remains on the bathroom floor.) Segal is always enjoyable to watch and his wiseguy persona is in full bloom here, but the production is amateurish on all levels considering the talent involved. Maybe, as with Love and Bullets, everyone involved just wanted a paid getaway and had a desire to visit Vancouver. (It should be mentioned that director Lombardo was said to be battling drinking problems during production and that the finale of the film - the only truly effective scene- was directed by Anthony Squire, who did not receive screen credit.)
Both transfers are adequate though not overly impressive. Love and Bullets was shot in widescreen but is presented here in full screen ratio. Russian Roulette is presented in letterboxed format. There are no extras.
The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's DVD release of Goodbye, Columbus as a burn-to-order DVD title. The film caused a bit of a sensation in 1969 with its rather graphic- if comical- examination of a young couple's attempts to have a fulfilling sex life and the obstacles they encounter along the way. Based on Philip Roth's best-selling novella, the movie was released at an opportune time when such coming-of-age stories were able to speak to a new, rebellious generation. It was a sizable hit with critics and the public. Yet, the film never comes close to matching the impact of The Graduate, the movie it almost desperately tries to emulate. Richard Benjamin plays Neil Klugman, a young Jewish man living with his over-bearing aunt and uncle in a lower middle-class section of the Bronx. Invited to a swanky country club as a guest of a wealthy cousin, he lays eyes on Brenda Patimkin (Ali MacGraw), a stunningly beautiful college student who is home from Vassar on summer vacation. The two meet cute and before long Neil finds himself awkwardly introduced to Brenda's upper-crust family who reside in a lavish Westchester home, complete with live-in maid. Although Brenda is also Jewish, her parents disapprove of Neil from the outset. He is an ex-army veteran who seems to have no ambitions and is content with his job as a desk clerk in the local library. Brenda's father Ben (Jack Klugman in a fine performance) is a self-made man who can't understand Neil's lack of desire to make his own fortune. Even worse, Brenda's mother (Nan Martin) is a sneering snob who makes it obvious that Neil's social status will never allow her to accept him. Despite these challenges, Brenda and Neil use surreptitious means to make love wherever and whenever they can, including a daring gambit in which he sneaks into her bedroom while staying at the family house as a guest. Ultimately, as the date draws nearer for Brenda to return to school in Boston, the couple begins to worry if their love can survive being separated. The situation becomes rather grim when Neil discovers that Brenda has not been using any birth control methods, which puts a dent in his libido until he convinces her to get a diaphragm. This type of scenario in a film can be found in family comedies today, but back in '69 it was fairly ground-breaking stuff. The rather downbeat and realistic ending was also in contrast to most love stories of the period (even The Graduate ended on a high note.)
The film represented the big screen debuts of Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw (though Benjamin had been a familiar face on television for years and had starred in his own short-lived sit-com, He and She with real life wife Paula Prentiss.) Both give fine performances with Benjamin's every day guy appeal in full swing along with his ability for deadpan comedy. The problem is that both actors were far too old for the roles the character they portray. Benjamin was 30 years old at the time and MacGraw was 29-- and they look it. Thus, the film takes on a sense of absurdity to see the couple trying to sneak into the woods so they can make out. Benjamin in particular always looked older than his age and at times it appears as though he is starring in a May/December romance instead of a story about two-love struck kids of college age. Director Larry Peerce handles the proceedings adequately, if not exceptionally. He doesn't strive for big belly laughs but does overdo the Jewish ethnic types, especially in the film's climactic wedding sequence. Most of these characters are out of Central Casting, though there are some genuinely funny moments. Michael Meyers is memorably amusing as Ron, Brenda's affable older brother. He's a college jock with a brain the size of a pea- and despite being a lady's man, seems to have a penchant for touching Neil whenever possible. (Despite getting great reviews, Meyers apparently never acted again.) Arnold Schulman's Oscar-nominated screenplay takes the anti-Establishment aspects of the story to an extreme. Virtually every character other than Brenda and Neil are depicted in a grotesque or absurd manner in a rather pretensious bid to appeal to the youth market. The exception is Klugman's character who is given a beautifully written sequence in which he tells Brenda just how much his family means to him.
Another aspect of the movie that makes it look like a lite version of The Graduate is the use of a contemporary group to provide a hip musical score. However, while Simon and Garfunkel's masterful songs for The Graduate spoke to a generation, the soundtrack songs for Goodbye, Columbus are provided by The Association, the epitome of a white bread band from the 60s who specialized in memorable, but emotionally vacant tunes. This is borne out by the fact that none of the tracks the group sings in the film, including the title song, are the slightest bit memorable.
The Warner Archive DVD is the same transfer as the previous Paramount release, including the rather sloppy photo montage on the sleeve which seems to emulate the feel of My Big Far Greek Wedding. The film's original poster was far more haunting.The picture quality is fine but I had problems discerning some of MacGraw's dialogue and found myself having to constantly raise and lower the volume. There are no bonus extras.
Goodbye, Columbus doesn't resonate today as it once did to audiences in 1969..but it can be recommended as an interesting comment on a generation struggling to come to terms with the lightning-fast pace of the societal changes during that era.
Cinema Retro has released the following press release. (Please note: this American release of The Big Gundown is entirely different from the European special edition released by Explosive Media that we reported on recently).
LOS ANGELES - Grindhouse
Releasing is proud to present the first-ever U.S. home video release of the
greatest Spaghetti Western you’ve never seen: Sergio Sollima’s widescreen epic
THE BIG GUNDOWN!
the legendary Lee Van Cleef as a relentless bounty hunter on the trail of
Cuchillo (Eurofilm superstar Tomas Milian), a savage Mexican outlaw accused of the rape and murder of a
twelve-year-old girl, this release contains fifteen additional minutes of gunslinging
action never before seen in America.
BIG GUNDOWN is one of the most highly acclaimed and long sought-after films in
the spaghetti western genre, hailed by critics for its stunning cinematography,
the amazing performances of Lee Van Cleef (following his iconic role in THE
GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY) and Tomas Milian, the classic Ennio Morricone music
(recently used by Quentin Tarantino in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS), and the riveting
direction of Sergio Sollima.
4-disc deluxe Blu-ray/DVD edition of THE BIG GUNDOWN, including a bonus Blu-ray
of the uncensored director’s cut and a bonus CD of Ennio Morricone’s classic
soundtrack, arrives in stores December 10, 2013.
Click here to order
THE BIG GUNDOWN now on Amazon.com
the trailer on the Grindhouse Releasing YouTube channel:
It's conventional wisdom that 1939 is regarded as the greatest year ever for classic movies. (I respectfully argue that 1969 was even more impressive, but I digress). So many great films were released in this one calendar year: Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gunga Din and too many others to list. Lost amid this wealth of cinematic treasures is the often-overlooked John Ford classic Drums Along the Mohawk, a movie that certainly ranks among the legendary director's best work, yet it curiously remains among his least-discussed major achievements. The movie has just been released as a Blu-ray special edition by Twilight Time. The film stars Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda as Lana and Gil Martin, colonial era newlyweds who leave the safety of a big city (Albany, New York) to settle in the upper Hudson Valley, then a no-man's land of hardship and danger for the farmers and settlers who tried to claw out a life there. Their marriage and move to a farm Gil has purchased happens to coincide with the outbreak of the American Revolution. Suddenly, this non-political couple who only want to prosper on their own land find themselves enmeshed in the crisis of the times. Like most farmers, their desire to opt out of the conflict between colonists and British forces turns out to be wishful thinking. The Brits have allied themselves with local Indian tribes who terrorize the settlers through constant raids, forcing them to take refuge in a local fort while they suffer the indignity of watching their farms burn. The fort only provides temporary protection. Short of ammo and provisions, the defenders realize they have precious little time to form a strategy for survival. In the film's most compelling sequence, Gil volunteers to make a seemingly suicidal run through the forest to reach reinforcements at another fort. He is doggedly pursued by three Indian braves who are hot on his heels. Ford milks considerable suspense from the sequence which foreshadows Cornel Wilde's brilliant 1966 movie The Naked Prey. As with any Ford production, however, this one spends considerable time on character development, homespun comedy and American traditions. The battle sequences are impressive but its the actors who make the most of the spotlight with both Colbert and Fonda (in his first of several collaborations with Ford) perfectly cast. There are also Ford stock company regulars like Ward Bond and John Carradine but it is Edna May Oliver who steals the show in an Oscar-nominated performance as a feisty pioneer widow whose forceful nature terrorizes the Indian warriors more than they can intimidate her.
Drums Along the Mohawk was Ford's first color film. It was shot in Technicolor but apparently Fox tossed out the original film elements in the 1970s. This restored version is obviously not as gorgeous as the original theatrical presentations but the film nevertheless looks terrific. Twilight Time has released the movie as a limited edition (3,000 unit) Blu-ray that features some interesting bonus extras. Top of the list is Nick Redman's 2007 feature length documentary Becoming John Ford that traces the mercurial director's long history at Fox and his collaborative productions with studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck. The two would create some great films but ultimately a feud over My Darling Clementine would lead to Ford leaving the studio in 1946. Redman, co-founder of Twilight Time, does a superb job of providing notable talking heads (including Peter Fonda) who provide insightful details on Ford's life and career. Redman also appears on an equally informative commentary track with film historian Julie Kirgo who provides the informative write-ups for the Twilight Time collector's booklets that accompany each release. It's nice to finally hear her speaking directly to viewers and the commentary track is highly entertaining. There is also an original trailer. The only complaint is that the artwork on the sleeve is a bit bland given the star power in the movie.
Swiss label Explosive
Media (www.explosive-media.com) has just
released two classic Italian spaghetti westerns on Blu-ray from brand new HD
transfers: Giulio Petroni's Death Rides a Horse (1967), starring Lee Van
Cleef, John Phillip Law, and Mario Brega and Gianfranco Parolini's Sabata
(1969), starring Lee Van Cleef, William Berger and Ignazio Spalla. Both films
have their world-wide premiere on the Blu-ray format.
These new releases have
newly-produced special features, bonus DVDs and illustrated booklets. Both are
available for purchase in Switzerland and Germany via Amazon and have English
tracks. Explosive Media released the brilliant Blu-ray version of Lee Van
Cleef's The Big Gundown last year,
so fans already know the calibre of content and quality presented by this
Death Rides a Horse
Fifteen years after four
bandits massacred his family, a young man (John Phillip Law) seeks revenge.
Several of the men responsible now hold positions of power in the new West, but
one of the bandits (Lee van Cleef) is due to be released from prison. Having
been framed by the others all those years ago, he is ready to exact bloody
reprisals, and so forms an unholy alliance with the vengeance-seeking man whose
family he helped destroy. Original Italian title: Da uomo a uomo.
Gunslinger Sabata (Lee
van Cleef) is not a popular figure in the town of Daugherty. When he discovers
that the town's kingpins are behind a bank heist, he becomes a marked man,
unable to trust even his own friends. Sabata is soon headed for a final
shoot-out from which there can be but one survivor. Original Italian title: Ehi
amico... c'è Sabata, hai chiuso!
available for the first time on Blu-ray
bonus documentaries on the making of the films
Sony has reissued its 2002 special edition of producer William Castle's horror exploitation film Homicidal a burn-to-order DVD, although there is no mention of the extra bonus feature on the packaging or publicity for the film. (Sony seems determined not to capitalize on special features that are especially marketable to collectors.) Castle, of course, was the proud master of exploitation films and relished his reputation as the King of Schlock. He excelled in making low-budget, "quickie" films that often capitalized on major hit movies of the day. Castle seemed to fancy himself as a low-rent version of Alfred Hitchcock, who was also not shy about promoting his own image in connection with marketing his films and TV series. Castle's films were not meant to be taken seriously by critics but he did have high standards for the genre in which he worked and it's rare to find any of his movies that don't at least merit classification as guilty pleasures. Others, such as Homicidal, actually turned out to be effective chillers in their own right. The movie was Castle's answer to the phenomenal success of Hitchcock's 1960 classic Psycho. Indeed, there are camera angles, musical cues and plot scenarios that practically border on plagiarism of the original film. The story opens on a fascinating note as we watch a statuesque young blonde (Jean Arless) check into a hotel in Ventura, California. She's a strange one from frame one- barely engaging in conversation with anyone else. She suddenly makes the hunky bellboy a bizarre proposition: she will pay him $2,000 cash if he agrees to marry her and then almost immediately have the union annulled. She does not give a reason for this weird offer, but in an age where a hotel room rented for $5 a night, the $2,000 offer is more than he can refuse. En route to the justice of the peace, the young woman, whose name is Emily, says little and doesn't even engage in niceties. She seems intent on having a specific justice of the peace (crotchety old James Westerfield in a marvelous role) perform the ceremony. As with all Castle productions, to describe much more would spoil some key scenes. Suffice it to say that the short-lived marriage results in murder that is so shocking and gory that it is amazing it was not watered down by skittish studio executives.
What can be said is that Emily is a Swedish immigrant who was brought to America by an equally strange young man named Warren, who resides in an opulent home. Helga's main duty is to care for an elderly woman named Helga (Eugenie Leontovich), another Swede who had been Warren's nursemaid as a child. Helga has suffered a stroke and is confined to a wheelchair, unable to talk or communicate in any meaningful way. Around Warren, Emily plays the doting caregiver, but privately, she delights in tormenting the long-suffering woman, even to the point of making death threats. One of the few outsiders to be allowed into this environment is Miriam Webster (Patricia Breslin), Warren's half-sister. The two have a very close relationship but things are fairly frosty between Miriam and Emily, who seems jealous of the close bond between brother and sister. Emily is also jealous of Miriam's relationship with a local pharmacist, Karl Anderson (Glenn Corbett) and begins to find ways to thwart their social outings. After a time, Miriam and Karl begin to suspect that Emily might well be a notorious murderer the police are searching for. This sets in motion many of the standard actions screen heroines must always engage in. These include not staying in a safe environment and being lured to precisely the location where she knows she will be placed in life-threatening danger. When Emily is about to enter the house of horrors, Castle employs one of his trademark gimmicks by freezing the action and putting a clock on screen that gives squeemish audience members 45 seconds to flee to the lobby where they can redeem a coupon to get their money back. To prevent having to actually provide many refunds, Castle has a caveat to the agreement: all such patrons must stand in full view in a "Coward's Corner" he had provided for theater lobbies! Once Miriam does enter the house, the film is genuinely creepy and leads to an ending so shocking I never saw it coming and I doubt most viewers will, either.
You approach Homicidal with the justifiable expectation that it will be filled with laughs, a la Castle's great camp success House on Haunted Hill. However, it proves to be a highly effective thriller with an a rather astonishing performance by Jean Arless as the insane Emily. One minute she's all charm, the next she's running around bug-eyed trying to murder people with knives and poison. There are times she brings to mind Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, but in the aggregate it's a mesmerizing screen debut. Bizarrely, "Jean Arless" was a fake name used by actress Joan Marshall because she feared being typecast in horror films. Sadly, she never went far in her career under either name and died relatively young in 1992 at 61 years of age. She gets solid support from Glenn Corbett (who also died young in 1993 at age 59) and Patricia Breslin, who manages to avoid making the requisite role of damsel in distress unintentionally funny.
The Sony DVD has a top quality transfer and the bonus items are quite interesting. There is a short featurette that presents various horror film authorities extolling the virtues of Castle's work. There is also some wonderfully campy newsreel footage of the world premiere in Youngstown, Ohio that features the omnipresent Castle badgering patrons to tell everyone how great the film is. (One woman says with a straight face that it's better than Psycho.) The cigar-chomping Castle, who comes across as a delightful man, also features in the introductory segment to Homicidal, in an obvious attempt to emulate Hitchcock's penchant for self-promotion. The special edition also features a short TV spot in which the narrator clearly imitates the voice of old Hitch.
Homicidal is a highly entertaining film that demonstrates you don't need big stars or a big budget to make an effective thriller. Highly recommended.
The magnificent Oscar-winning best picture of the year for 1968, Oliver!, has been released as a Blu-ray special limited edition (3,000 units) by Twilight Time. This adaptation of the smash stage hit was a dream project for director Lewis Gilbert but, much to his dismay, the director's seat was given to Sir Carol Reed. How Gilbert's version of the film would have differed will never be known but suffice it to say, it's hard to imagine he could have improved on Reed's vision. There had been numerous previous screen versions of Dickens' classic novel Oliver Twist, with the most notable being David Lean's 1948 movie with a star-making turn by Alec Guinness as Fagin. The 1963 stage musical by Lionel Bart was a sensation and it stood to reason that the screen rights were quickly scooped up. The film went against the tide when considering other major musicals of the period. By the late 1960s, the youth revolution had taken international cinema by storm. Suddenly, big budget, old-fashioned musicals were deemed out-dated. Paint Your Wagon, Sweet Charity, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Hello, Dolly! and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever all either under-performed or outright bombed. Yet, Oliver! was a major hit with both critics and audience. Perhaps the anti-Establishment tone of Dickins' timeless tale had a wider appeal than those other films. Clearly, the story is a scathing indictment of the British class system that had consigned the poorest citizens to lives of toil and struggle. The novel's impact on social mores can be equated with that of Uncle Tom's Cabin in America. Yet, for all the darkness inherent in the story line, Oliver! is primarily a joyous screen extravaganza in which good inevitably triumphs over evil. The most famous orphan in all of literature is perfectly brought to life by Mark Lester, who has a natural grace in front of the camera and a shy demeanor that suits his interpretation of Oliver very well. (although his songs were dubbed by professional singers.) Surprisingly, the film was a major hit despite the lack of "name" actors. Only Oliver Reed (nephew of Carol Reed) had star power and his performance as the menacing Bill Sikes is truly frightening to behold. However, it is Ron Moody's Fagin that steals the show. It's a wonderful performance with Moody masterfully manipulating all those around him as London's most charismatic con man. Other stand-outs are Shani Wallis as Sikes' ill-fated lover Nancy, Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger and Harry Seacomb as Mr. Bumble. There are elaborate sets masterfully designed by John Box and show-stopping musical numbers like "Food, Glorious Food", "Consider Yourself", "As Long As He Needs Me" and ""Who Will Buy?".
Twilight Time's special edition Blu-ray is a wonderful experience. The transfer is excellent and the special features have broad appeal. There are recent interviews with cast members including Ron Moody and Mark Lester as well as a vintage featurette (that shows its age) depicting how the filming was done. There is also an isolated track score, sing-alongs and dance-alongs and a theatrical teaser trailer for the roadshow release that curiously doesn't have any moving images, just still photos. The film remains as entertaining today as it did during its initial release. This special edition makes perfect holiday viewing for the entire family.
Sony has issued its 2001 special edition of director Fred Zinnemann's From Here to Eternity as a Blu-ray release. The passage of time has done nothing to diminish the movie's status as one of the great Hollywood productions. The story, based on James Jones' sensational 1951 bestseller that took the world by storm, centers on on a disparate group of people associated with the U.S. Army base in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1941. Private Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) is a quiet loner who was once regimental boxing champ but has gone into self-imposed retirement after accidentally blinding an opponent in the ring. He transfers into a new unit to escape harassment from his fellow soldiers, who are pressuring him to get back in the ring. He finds his new commanding officer, Captain Holmes (Philip Ober) is even worse and he is soon subjected to an orchestrated campaign of punishment and social isolation as part of the "treatment" to get him to relent and agree to box in this year's championship fight. The only friend he has is Maggio (Frank Sinatra), the company wise-guy who is always in trouble for his impulsive nature and habit of insulting his superiors. Also in the company is Sgt. Warden (Burt Lancaster), a by-the-book career soldier who does all the heavy lifting for Holmes, a man he personally detests. The story follows the complex love lives of Prewitt and Warden, who come to form an unlikely bond. Warden knows that Prewitt's independent nature will result in sheer misery for him, but he admires his pluck. Prewitt correctly assesses that Warden is the only decent superior he has met on the army staff; someone who will give him a fair break whenever he can. Both Prewitt and Warden find solace in love affairs with two very different women. Prewitt begins dating Lorene (Donna Reed), a local "dance hall" girl, which was the parlance of the era to describe a prostitute. Warden is involved in a far more dangerous affair: he is bedding Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr), the sexually frustrated wife of Captain Holmes and who is reputed by soldiers to be a nymphomaniac. The brilliant screenplay by Daniel Taradash seamlessly interweaves the events that affect each of these mesmerizing characters. (Ernest Borgnine is sensational in a star-making role as a sadistic sergeant of the stockade.) The viewer, of course, realizes what these individuals cannot: that their lives are about to be dramatically changed by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a sequence that Zinnemann pulls off brilliantly by incorporating real battle footage. Ultimately, the film is not a "feel good" experience as some very bad things happen to some very admirable people. Yet, it is completely compelling on every level and the cast performs superbly. (The film won 8 Oscars).
The Blu-ray is an excellent transfer, making the stunning B&W cinematography look more impressive than ever. The extras are a mixed bag, however. "The Making of From Here to Eternity" is an absurdly short featurette that ends just when it begins to engage the viewer. It does, however, feature some fascinating color home movies that Zinnemann took on the set. More informative is a feature that allows you to watch the movie while a picture-in-picture presents various film historians who discuss every aspect of the movie in detail. This is complimented by an audio commentary by Zinnemann's son Tom and veteran screenwriter Alvin Sargent, who worked on Eternity. The set also features excerpts from a late-in-life interview with Zinnemann in which he provides some interesting insights about his battles with legendary Columbia mogul Harry Cohn, the tyrannical head of the studio. What emerges from all this analysis is that, while Eternity was a huge bestseller, it was considered "unfilmable". The book was laced with sex and profanity and also ripped the lid off the squeaky clean image that Hollywood generally used to present the U.S. Army. Yet, Zinnemann pulled off the feat admirably, suggesting all sorts of vice despite the film industry's archaic production code that watered down certain elements of the story. The Army conceded to allow filming on their facilities but demanded that the script reflect the fact that the corrupt Captain Holmes is brought to justice by Army authorities. The sex, particularly the now famous surf "make out" session between Lancaster and Kerr, is possibly more erotic because of the power of suggestion.
The Blu-ray set retains the kooky DVD artwork on the sleeve, which seems to imply Lancaster and Kerr are so intent on getting it on that they are ignoring being strafed by Japanese Zeros! (For the record, the love scene takes place before the Pearl Harbor attack). Surprisingly, there is no theatrical trailer included although Sony has provided some really nice mini-lobby card reproductions, though this is not mentioned on the packaging. In all, this is a most welcome release on Blu-ray-- but there is still room for an even more in-depth special edition of this classic motion picture.
Perhaps more relevant today than ever, the Visual Entertainment Inc. DVD label has released "Arthur C. Clarke: The Complete Collection", a 52 episode boxed set containing 22 hours of programming. Why is this set more relevant today than ever? Because in his prime, Clarke and his fellow prominent scientists and intellectuals were held in great esteem by the general public. Today, however, vast segments of the world's populations are intent on downgrading the importance of science in place of fanatical religious dogma. Fortunately, for the majority of people of faith, science does not exist in a mutually exclusive universe. Nevertheless, there is an undeniable trend in some quarters to pretend that established fact does not exist, especially if it offers some inconvenient contrasts to what these people want to believe. This anti-science slant is not restricted to fringe religious groups. Our popular culture reflects widespread belief in things that once would have been considered highly speculative by most mainstream audiences. Thus, we have shows in which a dumb housewife is paid a fortune to pretend she is a medium from Long Island and others that have self-proclaimed "ghost hunters" trying to convince the average person that their home is haunted. Arthur C. Clarke, the esteemed scientist and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, tried to elevate discussion of the mysteries of life by keeping an open mind while also providing a skeptic's viewpoint. Now as a skeptic myself, I must admit I am often viewed as the skunk at the garden party when it comes to attempting to bring logic into conversations with people whose minds are made up that aliens are routinely abducting innocent earthlings or that religious miracles are occurring every day. Many people are as committed to their comfortable beliefs as they are to political ideologies and they don't want to allow any viewpoint into their lives that might cause them to rethink such positions. Clarke wanted people to constantly challenge their own belief systems. From 1980 through 1995, he hosted period series of TV programs designed to explore the great mysteries of science and nature. The new DVD set is as enlightening today as it was when these shows were originally telecast on British television.
The set is broken down into three different programs. Here is the description from the official press release:
"Hosted by acclaimed sci-fi
author Sir Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey), Arthur C. Clarke: The Complete Collection
investigates the inexplicable, abnormal and mind-boggling wonders of the world. Included in the set are three
popular, documentary series originally aired on Britain’s ITV network. Mysterious
World (1980), narrated by author, actor and newscaster
Gordon Honeycomb (Then She Was Gone, The Medusa Touch), looks at unexplained
phenomena from Stonehenge to the Loch Ness Monster. Narrated by English journalist Anna Ford, World
of Strange Powers (1985) investigates goose bump-raising paranormal
activity from haunted houses to magical spirits. Mysterious Universe (1995),
narrated by British TV personality Carol Vorderman, examines mystical secrets
from the ancient world. In each episode, Clarke tackles
the daunting task of finding a reasonable explanation for some of the most
bizarre phenomena ever known to mankind from such “mysteries of the first kind”
as solar eclipses to the more inexplicable, including messages from beyond the
grave, the stigmata, lost planets, UFOs and zombies … Making Arthur
C. Clarke: The Complete Collection a must-have for every science-fiction
Clarke bookends every episode with an introduction and an epilogue, though he occasionally appears in the program itself to offers opinions and insights, treating people on both sides of an issue with dignity and respect. Each segment is fascinating and educational, ranging from topics that include the great achievements of the ancient world to seemingly inexplicable phenomenon. Clarke presents compelling arguments on all sides regarding the matters at hand but clearly relishes exposing some theories such as faith healing as the fraudulent practices they are. (One must admit, however, that the footage of these "miracle workers" performing is quite convincing on a certain level - until they are ultimately unveiled as charlatans preying on the most vulnerable members of society.) Clarke's presentation of other phenomenon such as the Abominable Snowman features thought-provoking insights from serious explorers who were convinced that there could be some actual unknown beast in the Himilayas. Clark acknowledges that, based on his study of the evidence, it might be possible the creature exists, but he dismisses as virtually impossible that a real-life Yeti could be tramping through even the most remote regions of the United States. Similarly, like any good scientist, he doesn't reject outright the possibility that supernatural phenomenon does occur- but doesn't shy away from the one answer that never satisfies any "true believer" in that he simply acknowledges he does not know the answer. Human beings need answers and if science and nature doesn't provide them, they simply convince themselves that something is true. If we don't know the answer of how the universe was created...well, then, Presto! A superior being made it! If something goes "bump" in the night in your home then...Yikes! You're house must be haunted! Scientists take a more measured approach by suppressing as much as possible their own beliefs so as to prevent coming to any forgone conclusions. Clarke represented that mindset. Just because someone else can't provide a viable answer doesn't mean your beliefs have to be true.
The set is addictive in terms of viewing. The subject matters are so vast and wide-ranging that if one topic doesn't appeal to you, another will. Each 30 minute episode is tightly edited and features fascinating film footage from around the world. Some segments may reinforce your beliefs (or lack thereof) while others may leave you questioning long-held opinions on these subjects, but there is enough here, for example, in the examination of religion to please both believers and skeptics because of the fascinating angles Clarke uses to explore the topic. The series represents a time when such topics could be treated in an objective manner with the end result being that the viewers would reach their own conclusions. Sadly, such respect for the audience's intelligence has all been eradicated in the era of shows like The Long Island Medium. Highly recommended.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
the first time on DVD a feature length documentary, Return to Scatterbrook: Memories of Worzel, celebrating the cult
70’s/80’s television series, Worzel
Featuring key interviews with members of the
cast and crew; rare archive footage of Jon Pertwee; visits to the locations,
and with many previously unseen continuity shots; behind the scenes
photographs, and production designs – this film opens up the storybook behind
British TV’s most lovable scarecrow.
Gummidge is highly regarded today as a piece of classic television, making
this documentary a special journey down memory lane for anyone who remembers
this delightful, magical series.
Pertwee, Geoffrey Bayldon, Lorraine Chase, Jeremy Austin & Mike Berry
Directed By Derek
DVD Extras: An Evening With Jon Pertwee (1996) & Worzel Gallery
Running Time: 104
raised from the sale of this DVD goes to:
Society (in loving memory of Cecelia & Michael Ripper) & All Dogs
"Sex only dirty if you're doing it right", Woody Allen once said. The cast members of Our, Girls certainly do it right so this stroll down Mammary Lane from the Impulse Pictures DVD label can certainly be classified as a "dirty movie", to put in the parlance of days gone by. Ordinarily, old grind house porn doesn't merit critical attention but Impulse is a serious label that takes pains to preserve some the more notable titles of this genre from the 1970s and 1980s. I suppose there is some sociological merit to them, but the bottom line is: are they still erotic? In the case of Oui, Girls the answer is "yes" and "no". Much certainly depends upon individual viewer's tastes in erotica. More so than any "legit" movie, if you don't find the leading actors attractive, chances are you'll find the entire enterprise more taxing than stimulating. The film was directed (so to speak) by F.J. Lincoln, whose main claim to fame in this era is that he had one of the starring roles in Wes Craven's original Last House on the Left. The liner notes on the DVD box indicate this film was highly regarded in adult film circles back in the day. "Highest rating...an erotic masterpiece", exclaimed High Society magazine. 'lest you think this is on the level of Last Tango in Paris, think again. What apparently separated Lincoln's films from the rest of the grind house pack is that they at least had some modest production values. In an era where most porn films were confined to "one reelers" shot in somebody's bedroom (or kitchen, or garage), Lincoln attempted to shoehorn something akin to a plot into the action- and he also shot on location so that his productions had some scenery and atmosphere. Even back in 1982, however, it's hard to imagine that this modest enterprise would have elicited great praise from within the adult film community, especially when a decade before, Gerard Domiano's The Devil in Miss Jones set the high water mark for acting, story and production values. Lincoln's great achievement here was gathering numerous "superstars" of the porn genre in this one film....sort of like The Towering Inferno, only these superstars don't wear pants.
The film opens with a young couple, Barbara (Anna Ventura) and Nick (Paul Thomas, who bears a striking resemblance to Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) discussing a mystery. Nick, an insurance investigator, suspects that a man named Buck Thomas (Michael Morrison) may have murdered his wife. Nick gets Barbara to agree to accompany him to the Circle S singles ranch, which, in fact, is a place for swingers. Seems that ol' Buck holds court there with his latest flame, the sexually insatiable Cora (Lisa De Leeuw). The story then veers to another couple, Laura (Tiffany Clark) and Frank (Michael Bruce) who are curious about spicing up their love lives by experimenting with swinging. They arrange a meeting with an exotic, strange woman named Francine (Sharon Kane) who invites them to the Circle S to indulge in their fantasies. Once the couples arrive at the ranch, director Lincoln throws the entire murder mystery plot out the window (it's abruptly resolved in a single sentence, then not revisited again). Instead, things get hot and heavy with guys eyeing girls, girls eyeing guys and, of course, girls eyeing girls. The sex scenes are legitimately erotic and Lincoln doesn't go too much beyond the pure vanilla stage in that nothing overly perverted goes on, as long as you're comfortable with a dozen people rolling around together on the living room floor.
There are some interesting observations to make about the film. For one, while the women range from ordinary looking to downright exotic and the men look like they just stepped got off work at the local factory. In this pre-Botox and silicone era, most of the performers looked like people you might actually meet in real life. Thus, the guys are hairy and the girls are even hairier. The real fun comes when various cast members attempt to act. Here, the guys have the advantage with most of the male actors delivering dialogue in a manner that doesn't elicit unintentional laughter. Their physical appearance is something else, however, as they are cursed by having to wear the fashions of the era (short-shorts and polyester were all the rage). The women fare better in the fashion department because plunging necklines and garter belts do the trick in any era. The most amusement comes from the performance of Anna Ventura as Barbara when she gets to scold boyfriend Nick. She plays the part like she's Liz Taylor's Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and induces some gut busting unintentional laughter in the process. There is also a funny sequence in which Nick is seduced by Cora. Barbara walks in and catches them in the act but Paul has an excuse: as an insurance investigator he had to use her bottom to get to the bottom of the case. (Male insurance investigators may want to make note of this excuse in case they find themselves in a similar dilemma.) The film's grand finale features an all-out orgy, though Lincoln is rather subdued in not taking this scene as far as we might have expected.
The opening credits on the DVD transfer look like they were run over by a garbage truck but, in a way, it adds to the ambiance of the grind house flick. Fortunately, the print quality improves dramatically after that. There are no bonus features on the disc. Oui, Girls is a nostalgic throwback to an era when even porn seemed a little less calculated and manufactured by rote. I'm still trying to figure out the relevance of the title since there isn't even an allusion to the French anywhere on screen. If you pine away for those days watching porn in dingy theaters, you'll enjoy this DVD. To enhance the experience, make sure you're wearing your trench coat while viewing it.
Terry Gilliam with Cinema Retro columnist Adrian Smith at a 2009 BFI tribute to Gilliam in London.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Filmmaker Terry Gilliam is fronting a Kickstarter campaign to restore Walerian Borowczyk's classic 1968 film Goto, l'île d'amour (Goto, Island of Love).
Speaking about the Polish artist and filmmaker’s work Gilliam says: “They activate a part of my brain that very few other things do…I haven't seen any of these films in probably thirty or forty years, but they all have stuck with me. He needs to be restored and the world needs to be reminded.”
Until now the majority of Borowczyk's early films have been unavailable. However, earlier this year writer, documentary filmmaker and producer of the box set, Daniel Bird secured the permission of his widow Ligia Borowczyk to restore nine short films and two feature films including Le théâtre de Monsieur & Madame Kabal (The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal, 1967) and Blanche (1971) which will be released by Arrow films in Spring 2014.
Producer Daniel Bird says: ”For fifteen years I have been trying to find a way to restore Borowczyk's early films. Obviously, I am thrilled to be working with Arrow Films on this box-set."
The restorations were completed at Deluxe laboratories, London, under the supervision of leading film restorer, James White. This will be the first time that many of these films will be available in any home video format in any territory.
Born in Poland in 1923, where he studied painting and sculpture before establishing himself as a poster artist during the late 1950s, Borowczyk emigrated to France in 1959 where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. With films such as Renaissance (1963) and Rosalie (1966), Borowczyk played a major part in getting animated film recognised as a serious art form.
According to Amos Vogel, author of Film as a Subversive Art, Borowczyk's harrowing 1964 animation Les jeux des anges (Angels' Games) is simply “a masterpiece of modern art.”
In The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, David Thomson describes Borowczyk as “one of the major artists of modern cinema, arguably the finest talent that East Europe has provided.”
In addition, Arrow Films has collaborated with Argos Films, Paris, to release two other Borowczyk films, Contes immoraux (Immoral Tales, 1974) and La Bête (The Beast, 1975) in newly restored high definition transfers, as well as five more short films. These acquisitions will form the basis of Arrow’s Walerian Borowczyk Blu-ray and DVD box set, which is to be released as part of the Arrow Academy series in Spring 2014.
The co-producer of the box set isMichael Brooke in conjunction with Ligia Borowczyk and the filmmaker's regular assistant and producer, Dominique Segretin.
Italy may have suffered immeasurably during WWII but in the post-war era the Italian cinema entered a renaissance period with world-acclaimed directors making the country the epicenter of the European new wave films. The Italian cinema was still in vigorous condition in the 1960s and the nation's most glamorous actors and actresses became international stars. In the wake of Fellini's La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2, even mainstream American audiences that were generally immune to the charms of foreign films became smitten by the Italian touch. One of the most unheralded Italian imports from this era ironically boasted one of the most impressive casts. Made in Italy was released in America in 1967 with an all-star cast that included Virna Lisi, Sylva Koscina, Anna Magnani, Alberto Sordi and Nino Manfredi. The movie, which has been released as one of Sony's burn-to-order DVD titles, is a madcap look at a disparate number of Italians who are all experiencing something chaotic during the course of a single day. The movie, directed and co-written by Nanni Loy (The Four Days of Naples), runs at a fairly manic clip and certainly contains some moments of inspired comedy. However, the screenplay is woefully under-written with some of the vignettes (which are all unrelated) ending abruptly on an unsatisfactory note. Not helping matters is the penchant for dubbing films during this era, an absurd practice that was designed to increase boxoffice dollars but resulted in plenty of voices that didn't seem to match the actors on screen. This film is no exception, with only a few instances in which the dubbing can be deemed satisfactory. In most cases, it's poor and woefully distracting. The dozens of vignettes have varying running times and are primarily designed to look at how every day life in Italy impacts its citizens from all walks of life. Loy gets a bit Felliniesque by making some social commentary along the way. In one sequence, a group of bored, super wealthy socialites decide to "slum it" by eating in a crowded restaurant that is popular with the working class. The snobs arrogantly laugh at how they are immersed with those of lower social status in much the same way as visitors to a zoo might be amused by the antics of some exotic animals. In the most poignant sequence, a middle-aged out of work man desperately seeks employment and goes off on a job interview for a position of laborer. The hopes and enthusiasm of his wife at the prospect of his finding a job is genuinely touching even though the episode ends on a downbeat note. The only consistent characters seen throughout are a group of bawdy Italians who are aboard a flight to Sweden where they apparently have been engaged to do some unspecified work. The scenes of these obnoxious men clowning on the plane are routinely unfunny and the payoff is even weaker when they arrive in Sweden only to find it a gray, humorless place. The funniest segment involves Alberto Sordi as a philanderer who is caught in the act with his mistress by his wife- only to slickly present a defense of his actions that is designed to make him appear to be the victim of his wife's uncaring behavior. Another funny segment involves Anna Magnani trying to simply walk her family to a local ice cream parlor only to have to endanger everyone's lives by trying to cross the lanes of non-stop traffic that resembles a racetrack. The premise is very funny but, again, the script ends on a bizarre note, as though the writers couldn't envision a satisfying conclusion. The film's main attributes are the superbly photographed scenes of various exotic Italian cities and other locations, all set to a jaunty and delightful musical score.
Made in Italy is a mixed bag. There is inspired humor in small does along with some poignant social commentary, but all too often the segments are as leaden as a mountainous plate of lasagna.
The DVD transfer is excellent but there are no bonus extras.
Warner Home Video has released a deluxe Blu-ray edition of director Oliver Stone's 1991 film JFK to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The movie was a lightning rod for controversy upon its initial release and film critics and historians still debate the film today. Stone, who has made clear he is a firm believer that in the theory that JFK's murder was part of a greater conspiracy plot, altered many key historical events in order to make these theories more convincing to audiences. Stone defended this decision as being within the realm of "artistic license" and claimed that, as a filmmaker, his primary goal was to make a compelling movie. His critics cited their belief that, to impressionable audience members, his powerful movie would be confused with established fact. No matter where you stand on the debate, virtually everyone agreed that the movie was a gripping, expertly-made thriller. It earned 8 Oscar nominations, winning two.
The Blu-ray boxed set is outstanding in terms of content and quality. The set presents Stone's "director's cut" of the film (the original theatrical cut is not included, having apparently been disowned by Stone), a feature length documentary titled Beyond JFK: A Question of Conspiracy, deleted/extended scenes and feature length commentary. There is also an episode of the TV series Olvier Stone's Untold History of the United States titled JFK: To the Brink that delves into the various foreign crisis the new President had to deal with. A theatrical trailer is also included.
The set contains a separate DVD that has other excellent bonus programming including the 1963 feature film P.T. 109 that recreates how Kennedy won his stripes as a WWII hero (Cliff Robertson plays JFK, having been personally chosen by the President for the role). The film is enjoyable enough in its own right but, aside from the Kennedy connection, it's basically a standard WWII adventure. Robert Culp and Ty Hardin co-star. There is also a new feature length documentary titled JFK Remembered: 50 Years Later as well as the acclaimed vintage feature film documentary John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums which has been remastered for this release. There is a wealth of bonus collectibles including book of JFK quotations, reproduction of his inaugural address, reproduction of Kennedy campaign poser, 20 photos and correspondence fro te the JFK Presidential Library and a 44 page photo book. Nobody seems to excel at these "everything-but-the-kitchen sink" boxed sets like Warner Home Video does. Somebody over there deserves praise for their creative bonus collectibles that are included in so many of their boxed sets.
In all this is a magnificent release on every level.
There are various other options for purchasing the Blu-ray aside from the boxed set, as outlined below on the official official press release.
BURBANK, Calif., August 21, 2013 – November 22, 2013 will mark 50 years
since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and Warner Bros. Home
Entertainment (WBHE) will commemorate this tragic chapter in U.S. history by
honoring one of our most influential presidents with the release of a new collection
featuring the award-winning motion picture, JFK. Director Oliver Stone’s controversial
highly-charged story surrounding the tragedy debuts November 12as
JFK50Year Commemorative Ultimate Collector’s Edition (JFK UCE) on Blu-ray™.
Stone’s film is considered one of the most provocative of
our time. In addition to box-office success and critical acclaim, it captured eight
(including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor), winning two
(Best Cinematography and Film Editing). It also won Stone a Best Director
(Motion Picture, 1992) Golden Globe® and ultimately played a major
role in the national debate that lead to passage of the 1992 Assassination
Materials Disclosure Act.
Stone directed from a screenplay he wrote with Zachary
Sklar. The all-star cast includes Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Bacon,
Gary Oldman, Sissy Spacek, Jack Lemmon, Joe Pesci, Donald Sutherland, Laurie
Metcalf, John Candy, Walter Matthau, Sally Kirkland, and Edward Asner.
The JFK UCE includes the Director’s
Cut with 17 additional minutes not seen in theaters and will feature three
captivating documentaries – Oliver Stone’s JFK: To the Brink, the insightful
look at the JFK presidency that was included in his 2012 Showtime Series, “The Untold
History of the United States;” the brand-new JFK Remembered: 50 Years Laterfrom filmmaker Robert Kline; and John F. Kennedy: Years of
Lightning, Day of Drums, a
documentary produced by George Stevens, Jr., and written and directed by
Bruce Herschensohn, who also composed the music. The film was named one of the
Ten Best Films of 1965 by the National Board of Review.
In addition, the JFK UCE includes the feature film
drama, PT 109, about Kennedy’s World War
II experiences as a skipper in the South Pacific. The JFK UCE also contains
commemorative items from the Kennedy Presidential Library: collectible
reproductions of family and presidential photos, a campaign poster from the
1960 presidential campaign, and a copy of Kennedy’s historic inaugural address.
Lastly, there is a 32-page book of famous quotations, and a 44-page JFK movie
The JFK 50 Year Commemorative Ultimate
Collector’s Edition will sell for $59.99 SRP. The documentaries JFK
Remembered: 50 Years Later and John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of
Drums will also be available on DVD separately, for $5.94 and $11.97
SRP respectively. Untold History of the United States, containing JFK: To
the Brink, will make its U.S. Blu-ray debut October 15.
JFK: To The
Brink – Chapter
from Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States”
New Documentary -- JFK Remembered: 50 Years Later
Remastered Documentary – John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums
Feature film -- PT
Behind the Story
Commentary by Director Oliver Stone
Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy
Assassination Update – The New Documents
Meet Mr. X: The Personality and Thoughts of
Deleted/extended scenes with commentary by
director Oliver Stone (production audio only)
AboutThe UCE’s Special Features
the Brink: This documentary is Chapter
6 from the powerful historical series “Untold
History of the United States,” a ten-part Showtime
Original Series, debuting on Blu-ray October 15 through WBHE. The in-depth,
surprising, and totally riveting series, co-written by Stone with Peter Kuznick
and Matt Graham, was directed and narrated by Stone. This one-hour segment
sheds valuable additional insight into JFK’s presidency during the Bay
of Pigs; on the brink of total war during the Cuban Missile Crisis; through
early Vietnam; JFK's attempts at peace with Khrushchev; and finally the
JFK Remembered: 50 Years Later: 50 years after his assassination on November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy
remains as vital and compelling as when he was first elected. This documentary
reacquaints us with the first Irish-Catholic president and the youngest in U.S.
history, presenting images and personalities frozen in time. From Kennedy's
nomination to his election, from his inspiring inaugural address to the Bay of
Pigs, from civil rights and racial struggles to space exploration, from the
Berlin Wall appearance to his leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis,
Kennedy ranks among the great presidents in the history of the United States.
John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums (1965): This
documentary tribute to President Kennedy was named one of the
Ten Best Films of the Year by the National Board of Review. Produced by George
Stevens Jr. for the United States Information Agency (USIA), it was narrated by
Gregory Peck, and written and directed by Bruce Herschensohn, who also composed
the music. The film chronicles the thousand days of JFK’s presidency, featuring
numerous clips from speeches and an intimate look at Kennedy family life. It
was not originally intended for the general public; however, the quality was
considered so outstanding that a special act of Congress allowed it to
eventually be shown theatrically.
PT 109 (1963): Before Kennedy was president, he was a hero
in World War II. Based on the book by Robert
J. Donovan, this film stars Academy Award®-winning actor Cliff
Robertson (Best Actor in a Leading Role --Charly
1969) as Lieutenant Kennedy. While a young captain of a PT boat in the South
Pacific, Kennedy lead his men in a daring rescue of American Marines stranded
on a small island inside the area of Japanese control. On another mission, a
Japanese destroyer sliced the small boat in half, and miles from the nearest
island Kennedy proves himself a hero with his efforts to save his crew.
Also Available Individually
Remembered: 50 Years Later (Documentary)
Pricing: $5.94 SRP
Run Time: 120 Mins.
Cat/UPC: 1000411226/ 883929346851
John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums
Pricing: $11.97 SRP
Run Time: 85 Mins.
The Untold History of the United States (contains JFK: To the
October 15, 2013
Order Due Date: September 10, 2013
Pricing: $49.99 SRP
Run Time: 801 mins
Catalog #: 1000420438
[i] 1991 (64th)
Actor in a Supporting Role –
Tommy Lee Jones
DISH Network, which bought the bankrupt Blockbuster Video in 2011, has thrown in the towel and announced it will close the remaining 300 Blockbuster stores in early 2014. Ten years ago it seemed that Blockbuster would remain king of the movie rental market. Where a Blockbuster store opened, independent videos stores closed. However, rapidly changing consumer habits rendered the stores obsolete. Most Americans probably would have to search far and wide to find a conventional video rental outlet in the average town. The era of instant downloads and streaming put the kiss of death on the video chain and DISH will be laying off as many as 2,800 employees. Click here for more
There's great news for Dean Martin fans and lovers of classic comedy. Star Vista Entertainment/Time Life have released the entire broadcast collection of Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. These shows were "must-sees" in their original telecasts in the 1970s, as an astonishing array of Hollywood and political legends came together on stage to roast the man or woman being "honored". Taking on the format of a Friar's Roast (without the obscenities), the shows became extraordinarily popular as off-shoots of Dean Martin's long-running variety hour on NBC. Each roast was held before a large live audience in Las Vegas and no "honoree" emerged unscathed. The packaging warns that in today's politically correct society, much of the racially-charged humor might seem shocking but keep in mind, this was the norm in the day with comedians, both black and white, taking good-natured pot-shots at each other. Additionally, people who were arch political rivals would engage in very funny by-play. Try imaging that in today's crazy, polarized political environment. Each roast is seen complete and uncut, a refreshing change from those vidoe releases which frustratingly only offer "highlights" or "Best of..." selections. The beautifully mastered DVDs come in two versions: a selection of 18 roasts plus new bonus featurettes and two vintage Dean Martin Variety Hour programs featuring the likes of Bob Hope, John Wayne and Rodney Dangerfield. You also get a great 44 page commemorative souvenir program. The deluxe version comes in a handsome gift box and features all 54 roasts, the aforementioned bonus materials, four vintage Dean Martin TV specials and an exclusive commemorative figurine of Dino. Looking over the collection, it seems hard to believe that there once was a time where you could see people like Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Henry Fonda, Orson Welles, Ronald Reagan, Don Rickles, Jackie Gleason and so many others sharing the same podium. This massive collection might take you a very long time to get through, but there's simply no better way to brighten your day than to take this delightful trip down Memory Lane.
THE DEAN MARTIN CELEBRITY ROASTS: COMPLETE COLLECTION($249.95)follows StarVista Entertainment/Time Life's best-selling releases of "The Dean Martin Variety Show" and marks the first time that most of these classics from the Golden Age of TV will be released on DVD in a single collection. Featuring all 54 roasts from both "The Dean Martin Show" and "The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts," the program's notable roastees included many of the 20th century's most accomplished performers and athletes, politicians and personalities including: Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Carson, Sammy Davis Jr., Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, George Burns, Don Rickles, Kirk Douglas, Danny Thomas, Gabe Kaplan, Hank Aaron, Wilt Chamberlin, Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali, Ronald Reagan and Dean Martin himself.
Featuring over 40 hours of top-shelf comedy from hundreds of celebrities including Phyllis Diller, Jonathan Winters, Dick Martin, Joey Bishop, Henry Fonda, Gene Kelly, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Redd Foxx, Ruth Buzzi, Flip Wilson, John Wayne, Angie Dickinson, Billy Crystal and many more, the collectible set also contains over fifteen hours of bonus programming including comedy sketches from "The Dean Martin Show," rare Dean Martin TV specials that have not been seen since the original broadcast and exclusive interviews with roasters and roastees. The set also contains 11 specially-produced featurettes, rare home movies with Dean, family and friends, a 44-page collector's book loaded with behind-the-scenes photos, classic quotes and production materials and a limited-edition 7.5" hand-painted Dean Martin "at the dais". Adding hours of classic comedy to this superlative collection, also included are two bonus DVDs featuring seven episodes from "The Dean Martin Variety Show".
When it opened in 1970, director Lewis Gilbert's film version of Harold Robbins' best-seller The Adventurers was reviewed by New York Times, which referred to the production as "a spectacular blast-furnace lulu of human waste". Indeed, Gilbert himself said of the film a few years ago that it was "terrible" and that he regretted having been involved with it. With such a reputation, it's no wonder that even retro movie lovers such as myself have never made the effort to watch the movie. However, the Warner Archive has just re-issued Paramounts original DVD release of the film and, upon receiving the screener, I had enough morbid curiosity to give it a try. How, after all, could a film by a major director and featuring a big all-star cast go so completely wrong? The answer is: it didn't. The Adventurers is not high art, but it doesn't deserve its place in the Razzie book of ten worst films of all time. The worst that can be said of it is that it is a relentlessly downbeat affair that goes on for three hours with nary an iota of humor or anything, in fact, to relieve the consistent depiction of human suffering. At times, it makes Sophie's Choice look like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Gilbert, who had recently come off the double-barreled successes of Alfie and You Only Live Twice, had envisioned directing the screen adaptation of Oliver! When that project went to Carol Reed, he ended up with The Adventurers.
The movie opens with an unsettling sequence set in a fictional South American country (it was filmed in Colombia). A young boy named Dax Xenos watches in horror while a group of soldiers invades his family compound and systematically rape and kill all of the women, including his mother and sister. Dax barely escapes and rescues his friend, a girl Amparo. Together they survive an arduous trek across the desert and are reunited witih Dax's father (Fernando Rey) who is a prominent rebel leader trying to depose the nation's dictator. Ultimately the rebels win and install a new leader, General Rojo (Alan Badel), who promises to initiate democracy but who proves to be as ruthless and greedy as his predecessor. (The parallels to Castro are probably no coincidental). Dax's father is named a prominent diplomat and over the years, the two become closer than ever. With Dax now a handsome young man and playboy, he is thrust into the political limelight when his father is assassinated, ostensibly by rebels now trying to oust Rojos, but in reality the command was given by Rojos himself. The story traces Dax's rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches life as he tries to preoccupy himself by opening up a fashion studio with some old friends. However, he is repeatedly drawn to efforts to oust Rojos back in his home country. He ultimately uses his social contacts among the rich and famous to raise capital to finance arms to the guerrillas and ultimately ends up helping to lead a massive assault on the presidential compound. Intermingled with these action sequences, we follow Dax's busy love life as he romances rich cougars (Olivia De Havilland among them) and enters an ill-suited marriage with the world's richest young woman (Candice Bergen.) Dax, who is nominally the hero of this film, comes across as a cad. When his wife suffers a miscarriage in an accident and finds she can no longer bare children, he basically says, "Adios" and goes on his lustful way to find other women. He eventually is reunited with Amparo (Leigh-Taylor Young), who is the daughter of Rojos. The two have an on-again, off-again affair. (Only Harold Robbins or Sidney Sheldon could envision such complicated love lives).
The three hour movie is consistently engrossing and the locations, which include Rome and New York, are exotic, to say the least. This was one hell of an expensive production and it must have originally been envisioned for a road show release (it has an intermission.) The battle scenes are massive in scale and superbly staged and the entire film is stunningly photographed by the great Claude Renoir. The music by Antonio Carlos Jobim is also an impressive asset. Bekim Fehmiu, who was then a largely unknown Yugoslavian actor who was plucked from obscurity, meets the physical requirements of the role in that he has a calendar model's good looks and appears very Bondian in a tuxedo. Critics called his performance wooden and dull but he is supposed to be playing a man so scarred by boyhood traumas that he finds it almost impossible to show overt emotion. A film of this magnitude certainly called out for a major star in the lead role, so Fehmiu's lack of clout with audiences clearly hurt the boxoffice potential. However, there are any number of other good actors in supporting roles including Ernest Borgnine (very good as Dax's only true friend), the aforementioned Ms. De Havilland and Bergen, Charles Aznavour, Rosanno Brazzi, Leigh-Taylor Young, John Ireland and the always great Fernando Rey. (Even 007's Miss Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell, shows up in a blink-and-you'll-miss-her cameo.) Gilbert's direction is assured and and he keeps the lengthy story running at a fast enough pace that there is nary a dull moment.
The Adventurers doesn't represent anything like the best films of its era. However, it is also not the shameful mess even its director has labeled it as. Huge in scope and featuring rich production values, the movie has some shots that feature enough extras to rival Cleopatra. It's a pretty grim affair throughout but retro movie fans should ignore conventional wisdom and form their own opinions about its overall merits. Recommended.
The Warner Archive DVD features an excellent transfer but no bonus extras.
The three Harry Palmer feature films (The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain) have had a rather cluttered history in terms of their video releases. Surprisingly, producer Harry Saltzman didn't stick with one studio in terms of their theatrical releases, as he did with the James Bond films which he co-produced with Cubby Broccoli. Instead, each of the Palmer films was financed by and released by a different studio. Thus, in the ensuing decades, the video rights to these films have been convoluted. The titles have remained consistently available to consumers in some countries, while in others (including the USA), they have appeared and disappeared from the marketplace for years at a time. Now the Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's original DVD version of Funeral in Berlin as a burn-to-order title. The original film, The Iprcress File, was internationally acclaimed as the "thinking man's 007" movie. Caine's Harry Palmer, replete with Cockney accent, was the working man's secret agent. He does not have a big expense account, he lives in a modest apartment and he is basically disdainful of authority figures. (Bond is, too, but generally only in a playful sense.) Two qualities that Bond and Palmer do share is that they are both incorruptible and are prone to bedding a parade of beautiful women they encounter both socially and on the job. Funeral in Berlin seems intent on emphasizing the independent nature of Harry Palmer. He reluctantly follows orders given to him by his grim, unsmiling boss Ross (Guy Doleman), but he clearly disdains the man and the bureaucracy he represents. Palmer is on some kind of probation with MI6 and Ross dangles his termination as a constant threat. Palmer is so financially impoverished that he can't even afford a car (Ross won't extend a loan to him) and he must commute about London via public buses.
Ross summons Palmer to his home and informs him he must leave abruptly for West Berlin. It seems an influential Soviet general named Stock (Oscar Homolka) has made it clear that he wants to defect to the West. Palmer is immediately skeptical but Ross can't pass up the opportunity to bring Stock "in from the cold", so to speak. Palmer arrives in West Berlin and is greeted by his local contact with German intelligence, Johnny Vulcan (Paul Hubschmid). Like Palmer, he's young, charismatic and good looking and in the course of business, they enjoy the local bar scene as well as some willing beauties. Among them is Samantha Steel (Eva Renzi), a vivacious young woman who boldly seduces Palmer. Harry's suspicions that she is a spy are borne out when he learns she is with Israeli intelligence. The complicated plot, based on the Len Deighton novel, next finds Palmer in East Berlin where he meets with General Stock. As played by Oscar Homolka, the character comes across like a Soviet version of Henny Youngman, constantly cracking jokes and tossing insults. Nevertheless, the chemistry between Caine and Homolka is one of the main assets of the film and the character of General Stock was brought back in Billion Dollar Brain. Palmer suspects that Stock is lying about his desire to defect and this sets in motion plot devices that are so convoluted that the movie gets extremely confusing. After a while, it's hard to follow who is trying to accomplish what and the motivations and allegiances of the characters are also blurred. At some point, I just gave up and sat back to enjoy the performances and the assured direction of Guy Hamilton, who impressively capitalizes on the West Berlin locations. (Hamilton, who had previously directed Goldfinger, is not the only 007 luminary brought into the production. Producer Saltzman also has legendary production designer Ken Adam on board.) The film is drenched in the sullen mood of the Cold War era but there are some funny witticisms uttered by the bespectacled Palmer. In one of the film's most amsuing on-going sight gags, every time Palmer enters or leaves Samantha's apartment, he walks past some ancient stone decorations that look exactly like erect phallus symbols, a master touch by Ken Adam.
Caine is in virtually every frame of the film and dominates the production with his low-key performance. Paul Hubschmid is very good as an ally whose allegiance is called into question. Eva Renzi acquits herself well as the femme fatale, equally adept with a machine gun in hand or walking seductively through opulent settings in head-turning wardrobe. One of the delights of any Palmer film is the strained byplay between Palmer and Ross, who is expertly played by another Bond film veteran, Guy Doleman (he played the villain Count Lippe in Thunderball). In fact, Ross is such a stick-in-the-mud that he makes Bernard Lee's "M" look like a towel-snapping prankster. Their scenes in this film bristle with wit and tension. It should also be mentioned that John Barry's moody, acclaimed score for The Ipcress File has been left out of this film with new themes by composer Konrad Elfers, who emphasizes traditional bombastic German music that might seem more fitting in a military epic but somehow is interwoven sensibly into the action.
Many retro movie lovers consider Funeral in Berlin to be the best of the Palmer feature film trilogy (Caine revised the character many years later in a couple of ill-conceived TV productions.). I still vote for Iprcess as the best of the lot, but this film has so many merits that it can be enthusiastically recommended. The transfer from the previous Paramount DVD edition is identical and of high quality. (Even the packaging is identical, save for the notation that the new release is through the Warner Archive). The only extra is a trailer that seems to have been struck from an unfinished work print, as it lacks any titles or graphics and doesn't even mention Michael Caine's name. Kudos to the Warner Archive for making this Harry Palmer title accessible once again. Let's hope The Ipcress File and Billion Dollar Brain reappear soon in the American market, too.
I will confess to being almost totally ignorant of the late, lamented Spanish director Jess Franco's work. Franco (also billed as Jesus Franco), who died in 2012, was known to be a prolific director of cult movies, many of which accentuated bizarre sexual practices. Franco was an enthusiast for the works of the Marquis de Sade and literature that was inspired by or devolved from his erotic stories. In addition to directing, Franco also wrote many films and provided the musical scores as well. If nothing else, you have to admire the sheer quantity of his work, if not the quality. During 1973 alone, he directed at least a dozen movies and perhaps a couple more that never saw completion (like most independent filmmakers, he was always scrambling to find funding from unreliable sources.) Franco would often complete production on one movie then immediately move the same cast and crew onto location for a completely different film. His "stock company" alternated between leading roles and supporting performances but for the most part they remained loyal to him and many worked on his films for many years.
The Mondo Macabre label has released a special edition DVD of Franco's 1974 film Plaisir a trois under its rather absurd English title How to Seduce a Virgin, which makes the movie sound like its one of those low-rent British sex comedies of the era. It's anything but. The film is a disturbing but mesmerizing thriller that centers on an attractive young French married couple. Martine (Alice Arno) is a blonde bombshell who we first meet as she is about to be released from an extended stay in a mental asylum where she has been committed for unspecified reasons. Upon returning to her opulent country manor house in the South of France, she is greeted by her loving husband Charles (Robert Woods), a handsome man who immediately makes up for lost time by bedding his seemingly insatiable wife. (I believe most men do the same whenever their wives are released from extended stays in mental asylums.) He informs Marlene that she has avoided a jail sentence only because he paid off local officials. A hint of what crimes needed to be covered up comes when Marlene lures a local hooker to the mansion. She brings her to the basement where the hapless woman finds herself in a real life chamber of horrors. It seems Marlene and Charles "collect" beautiful men and women by subjecting them to extreme sexual torture then murdering them. Their bodies are preserved as they look at the precise moment of death. With another victim now added to their "collection", the murderous couple make plans for their most ambitious undertaking. Charles has befriended a local diplomat and his wife and convinced them to allow their 21 year old daughter Cecile (Tania Busselier) to stay with them while they are abroad. Upon seeing her for the first time, the bisexual Marlene is driven to virtual insanity by desire to seduce the young woman, who is a virgin. The couple secretly spy on Cecile, who conveniently has a knack for parading in front of her bedroom window scantily clad before she indulges in long sessions of masturbation. Upon arriving at the couple's house, Cecile is a willing student in Charles and Marlene's sexual capers and is soon participating in orgies with the couple's live-in mistress Adele (Lina Romay), a comely teenager who is inexplicably mute and is obviously mentally challenged but who is all too willing to please her hosts. Despite the fact that Charles and Marlene are equally smitten by Cecile, they nonetheless make plans for to add her as their ultimate trophy to their ghastly collection of former lovers.
How to Seduce a Virgin is one of Franco's most controversial films. It is richly photographed and well-acted and directed. The film is as mesmerizing as it is distasteful and features a sting-in-the-tail ending worthy of Agatha Christie. Franco's cast performs gamely, doffing their clothes and engaging in extended sex sequences that come as close as you can get to hardcore. Despite the emphasis on sexual violence, Franco is surprisingly restrained in the sex scenes, emphasizing an erotic mood over anything shocking. He is particularly sensitive in filming the numerous scenes of lesbian lovemaking. Nonetheless, a Franco film would apparently not be a Franco film without bizarre elements being stressed. There is no background information given on Charles and Marlene or any of the other characters. This intention to be opaque only makes them all the more interesting. It's as though they exist in their own world. There are few outsiders scene in the story: a psychiatrist, Cecile's parents and the ill-fated hooker are the only people not to live in the house of horrors. A crazy old gardener (Alfred Baillou) and a loyal chauffeur (Howard Vernon) serve the murderous couple without making any moral judgments against them...although the gardener does attempt to warn Cecile what is in store for her.
The DVD boasts a gorgeous transfer and features interesting and informative biographies of each cast member. (Lina Romney appeared in many of Franco's films and eventually became his wife.) There are also recent interviews with the film's screenwriter Alain Petit and Franco scholar Stephen Thrower. In all, a very impressive release of a bizarre film that will haunt you long after the first viewing.
Despite its hokey title, the 1958 sci fi cult favorite I Married a Monster From Outer Space is a few notches up the totem pole in comparison to other "B" movies of the period. Produced and directed by Gene Fowler, Jr. and theatrically released by Paramount, the film has been out of print on DVD for a number of years. The Warner Archive has just released it as a burn-to- order title. The film stars Gloria Talbott as Marge Bradley, a small town girl who is engaged to local hunk Bill Farrell (Tom Tryon). However, just prior to their wedding day, Bill encounters an alien from outer space on a back country road and the being takes over his physical body. While the "new" Bill looks the same, his actions and mannerisms change radically. The once fun-loving young man becomes sullen and quiet, leading Marge to speculate what has caused these mood changes. Nevertheless, the couple gets married on the designated day, though Marge finds her wedding night to be anything but romantic, with Bill seemingly disinterested in his new bride. As the days go by, Marge becomes increasingly alarmed by Bill's behavior. Making matters more frustrating is her inability to conceive a child. (Maybe the fact that the dreaded production code at the time mandated that even husbands and wives sleep in separate beds might have had something to do with this particular problem.) Ultimately, Marge discovers a shocking secret: not only has Bill's body been taken over by an alien but the same dilemma has befallen many of the other men in town. In fact, Marge finds it impossible to escape or even to call outside the town for help. She finally manages to round up a posse of "real" men who set out to take on the invaders- only to find they are impervious to bullets. Seems the rather benign beings from another world have the same problem most cinematic space aliens have: their world has been threatened by a natural catastrophe. In this case, all of the women on their planet have died. Not only does this panic the male population, but it probably also caused sales to plummet in local nail and waxing salons. Realizing they must mate or face extinction of their race, the aliens sample numerous planets before deciding on taking over the male population of earth. Once achieved, they intend to figure out how human females will be able to produce their offspring...though their intent is to revert to their normal ghastly physical appearances. As space invaders go, these guys are fairly lame. They seem reluctant to utilize their abilities to use death rays to reduce their opponents into a pile of ashes. In fact, they seem to dig their faux human alter-egos especially since they discover that sex can actually be fun, especially with attractive earth girls. (On their home planet, sex was only for procreation purposes, an understandable policy especially if the women looked like the men.) It is revealed that the "real" men are being kept alive in a space ship while their dopplegangers have been wreaking havoc. Thus, it becomes a race against time to thwart the aliens before the few remaining human males fall victim to an identical fate.
The film is a blatant rip-off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, although director Fowler doesn't show similar restraint in making the terrors largely unseen. Instead, the film makes liberal use of special effects and monster costumes, but they aren't half-bad when compared to most B sci-fi flicks of the era. The acting is also above par with Talbott achieving the rare distinction of being a '50s sci-fi heroine who doesn't turn in a laughable performance, though she does comply with the now mandatory act of tripping and falling in the woods while being pursued by the villains. Similarly, Tom Tryon plays it straight and emerges with dignity intact, thus not deterring him from becoming a successful leading man a few years later in major studio productions. (He would also become a bestselling author whose work includes the eerie classic "The Other"). In all, despite its hokey title, I Married a Monster From Outer Space remains one of the more enjoyable B movies of its era.
The Warner Archive DVD is identical to Paramount's out-of-print previous release. The transfer is crystal clear but, as with most Paramount titles of the period, there are no extras whatsoever.
Network Distributing is pleased to announce the next batch of titles within “The British Film” range which will be available in the UK later this year. Each feature once again benefits from a new transfer, an instant play facility and will be presented in special slim-line space-saving packaging. Some of the highlights from October are a documentary about the body narrated by Vanessa Redgrave with music from Roger Waters, more gems from the vaults from Ealing Studios, classic horror, British musicals and a courtroom drama starring Richard Attenborough.
THE BODY £9.99
Vanessa Redgrave and Frank Finlay narrate an intimate and innovative documentary from the seventies about the human body cut to music from Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. Commentary by poet and playwright Adrian Mitchell.
THE FINAL PROGRAMME £9.99
Cult director Robert Fuest’s dystopian sci-fi thriller. Robert Finch stars as Jerry Cornelius, a Nobel Prize winning physicist and playboy who must battle his drug-addicted brother for the code that will move humanity to a higher level of creation with an immortal being.
THE EALING STUDIOS RARITIES COLLECTION VOLUME 7 £9.99
Four more films from the vaults of Ealing Studios - mining drama Eureka Stockade (1949) directed by Harry Watt, musical extravaganza Take a Chance (1937); serial-killer drama The Gaunt Stranger (1938) and screwball comedy Play up the Band (1935).
EDGAR WALLACE PRESENTS THE GAUNT STRANGER £9.99
Sonnie Hale and Wilfrid Lawson star in a crime thriller adapted by Sidney Gilliat about a mysterious serial killer known as ‘The Ringer’ that Scotland Yard must bring to justice.
THE NIGHT WE GOT THE BIRD £9.99
A comic crime caper starring Sir Brian Rix and stand-up Ronald Shiner about forging antiques and then flogging them. What could go wrong?
THE HEADLESS GHOST £9.99
From the creator of I Was a Teenage Werewolf, this horror is about three thrill-seekers who visit a haunted castle. Clive Fevill stars in an early screen role alongside Josephine Blake.
THE 14 £9.99
Oliver! star Jack Wild leads a throught-provoking drama about 14 siblings who struggle to stay together following the death of their single mother.
THE EALING STUDIOS RARITIES COLLECTION VOLUME 8 £9.99
Films in this set are The Feminine Touch (1936) - about the challenges of being a nurse in the NHS starring George Baker and Diana Wynard. One of the last films to be made by Ealing Studios; Young Man’s Fancy (1939) a music hall drama starring Griffith Jones and Anna Lee Seymour; There Ain’t No Justice (1939) stars Jimmy Hanley as a young boxer whose family face financial difficulty and The Silent Passenger (1935) sees Lord Peter Wimsey, Dorothy L Sayer’s amateur sleuth in his first silver screen escapade. Stars John Loder.
THE BRAIN MACHINE £9.99
Patrick Barr and Russell Napier star in a fifties sci-fi thriller about a machine that can reveal abnormalities in the brain…
EIGHT O’CLOCK WALK £9.99
Richard Attenborough stars in a courtroom drama about a taxi-driver wrongly accused of murder. Co-stars Cathy O’Donnell and Maurice Denham.
EDGAR WALLACE PRESENTS: COASTS OF SKELETONS £9.99
Heading an international cast – including German ‘krimi’ veteran Heinz Drache – Dam Busters star Richard Todd reprises his role as insurance investigator Harry Sanders in this rare crime adventure based on Edgar Wallace’s 1911 novel Sanders of the River.
BRITISH MUSICALS OF THE 1930S VOLUME 1 £9.99
A new, multi-volume collection of musicals from the 1930s. Contains Harmony Heaven (1930) starring Polly Ward; The Song You Gave Me (1933) starring Bebe Daniels; Music Hath Charms (1935) starring Henry Hall and his Dance Band andOver She Goes (1937) starring Stanley Lupino.
THE GOOD COMPANIONS £9.99
A musical comedy based on a JB Priestley novel starring John Fraser, Rachel Roberts, Thora Hird and Hugh Griffiths.
LIFE IS A CIRCUS £9.99
The Crazy Gang star in a comedy about a struggling circus also starring Goldfinger icon Shirley Eaton.
The niche market DVD label Mondo Macabro has released a little-known 1976 film titled In Hell, known variously as La tortura and Gloria Mundi. The movie is the creation of the late Greek director Nikos Papatakis, who obviously felt he had a significant left-wing political statement to make in this bizarre and unpleasant blending of radicalism and sexual humiliation. The film's one saving grace is an astonishingly brave performance by lead actress Olga Karlatos, who we are introduced to in a provocative, if cringe-inducing sequence in which we observe her sitting in a bathtub and attaching electrical wires to her nipples and genitals then torturing herself by turning on the current. Why is she doing this? It seems that her character, Galai, is an attractive young Algerian immigrant living in Paris. She has fallen under the spell of a mysterious and unseen political anarchist named Hamdias, who wants to wreak havoc against French colonialism in Algeria. This is to be achieved through terrorist acts that he is grooming Galai to carry out via instructions on the phone and cassette tapes. He also fancies himself an important filmmaker and is trying to raise funds for a political thriller starring Galai in the leading role. The film runs into the usual dilemma that real life independent producers must endure: the funding keeps running out but Galai becomes obsessed with ensuring that the movie is completed. Hamidias envisions incorporating perverse sexual abuse into the story line and he finds a willing leading lady in Galai, who enthusiastically submits herself to self-imposed "training sessions" in which she performs torture on her own body, all the better to please her producer/director/lover by giving the most genuine performance possible. The graphic opening sequence of this abuse is difficult to watch but the film quickly delves into a virtually incomprehensible look at the psychological tortures Galai is facing. Seems that Hamdias enjoys playing head games with her psyche and issuing increasingly dangerous demands including carrying out dry runs for terrorist bombings. She constantly vents to herself about her disdain for him, but it becomes clear that not only is she completely submissive to his whims, he is also holding their child as a virtual hostage to ensure she carries out his demands. That's about all I could ascertain from the confusing story line which at times is completely incomprehensible. There are films within films, sarcastic scenes that denounce the French elite and occasional sequences in which Galai is subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of military captor. There is abundant full female nudity but none of it is presented in an erotic manner and in one particularly awful scene one of Galai's would-be lovers vomits on her bare chest.
Papatakis might have thought he was making a poignant political statement but he comes across as a bargain basement imitation of Costas-Gavras. In fact, one suspects that all he really wanted to do was make a dirty movie but provided himself with a pseudo intellectual cover. (In one prolonged film-within-a-film sequence, a despicable French military officer engages a prostitute to engage in bizarre practices that include using a rather difficult and innovative method of opening champagne bottles.)
The scene in which a prostitute finds an innovate method of opening champagne bottles. (Ladies, please do not try this at home.)
The DVD features one of the worst transfers I've seen in recent years. It is grimy, dirty and filled with splice marks and awkward jumps. It looks as though an old VHS transfer has been used. In any event, the print utilized is certainly not ready for prime time. Mondo Macabro is releasing some first rate editions of cult movies but this is not one of them. The DVD also boasts deceitful packaging, implying that it is a lesbian-themed S&M film when, in fact, there is no such sequence in the movie. The only extra is a short but interesting gallery of Italian posters relating to the film.
Writing on the Diabolique magazine web site, Cinema Retro contributor Harvey Chartrand takes a look at the UK Blu-ray release of the long-lost horror film and "social satire" Sleepwalker by British director Saxon Logan. Click here to read the fascinating story behind this film that has just been resurrected by the British Film Institute.
Elvis Presley is almost always associated exclusively with movie musicals. However, he did stray from the genre to make a Western in which he didn't warble one lyric. The film is Charro!, which is available from Warner Bros. Just as seemingly every actor tried to get on board the spy movie phenomenon of the mid-1960s, by the end of the decade they were attempting to similarly capitalize on the spaghetti western genre. This 1969 film is non-descript as a western - not among the best of the era but far from the worst. It does merit special consideration because perhaps more than any other of his films, Charro! exhibits a persona that Elvis had never been able to reflect onscreen - thanks to Colonel Parker's iron-fisted control over his career and his insistence that The King appear in outdated teen musicals. The razor-thin plot has Elvis trying to distance himself from a murderous gang he used to ride with. Gang leader Victor French isn't the kind of guy you quit on so he frames Elvis for crimes he didn't commit then tortures him into participating in an audacious plot that finds them stealing a giant cannon from the Mexican army and using it to blackmail a town.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCHIVES
(This article originally ran in June 2007)
The latest sci-fi special edition release from Fox is the eagerly-awaited Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The TV spin-off series from the mid 1960s has built such a devoted cult following that many people forget it was based on a major big screen feature film produced by Irwin Allen. The eccentric producer has always been marginalized by the lifted pinky crowd for being the schlockmaster supreme, but Allen was a dedicated craftsman who cared not a whit about the critical establishment. He had an uncanny sense for reading the mood of moviegoers and providing the precise type of entertainment they craved at any particular time. By the time his instincts began to fail him in the late 1970s, he had already produced some of the most popular and highest-grossing motion pictures of all time, to say nothing of cult TV classics like Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants and of course, the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea spin-off.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
I've got to admit that when I received this screener from Fox I forestalled watching it. The 1973 film was only vaguely familiar to me and I kept putting off viewing it in order to handle more important priorities: like working on my 6-foot decoupage tribute to Lorne Greene. When I finally did watch The Neptune Factor I was pleasantly surprised at how competently it was made and how engrossing the story is. Fox has given this little-seen adventure film a quasi-deluxe release to tie it in with similarly-themed titles like Fantastic Voyage and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The film is inferior to Fantastic Voyage but I enjoyed it far more than the latter film, which has dated noticeably.
This ‘jewel in
the nation’s crown’ is being re-released to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of its first broadcast which took
place on 31st October 1973
The World at War
is regarded by many to be one of the greatest documentary series of all time.
This BAFTA and Emmy Award winning documentary series, which was first broadcast
40 years ago, was the first factual series of its kind to document the full
history of World War II. The series was memorably narrated by legendary screen
actor and stage icon
The World at War
has been inspiring film makers and historians for the past 40 years including
such programmes as the BBC’s ‘Nazis a Warning from History’, produced by
Laurence Reece, and more recently Oliver Stone’s ‘Untold History of the United
States’ , both series creators’ laying claim to being inspired by The World at
The World at War was conceived and produced by Sir
Jeremy Isaacs and was first broadcast on the ITV Network on the 31st October 1973. Making use of of rare black and
white and colour film archive footage supplied by the Imperial War Museum, this
26 part documentary series investigates the events surrounding World War II and
features interviews with major members of the Allied and Axis campaigns,
including civilian eyewitnesses, enlisted men, officers, government advisors
and politicians, to create what is widely agreed to be the definitive history
of World War II and a landmark in British television history.
In 2010 the series went through a major
digital restoration upgrade to HD - the archive film used in the series is the
only World War II footage of its kind to be restored and remastered to HD 16.9
and 5.1 Sound.
Lord Olivier provided brilliant narration for the series.
DVD & Blu-ray
RRP: DVD Price: £79.99
RRP: Blu-ray Price:
Discs: DVD 11
Discs: Blu-ray 9
Running time: DVD 739mins
Running time: Blu-ray769mins
Catalogue No: DVD
Barcode: DVD 5030697017918
Region: 0 for both DVD &
The World at
War 40th Anniversary release is distributed by
FremantleMedia Home Entertainment and is available from all good DVD
stockists online and in store
from 31st October 2013.
Director Franklin J. Schaffner was fresh off his Best Director Oscar triumph for Patton when he teamed with legendary producer Sam Spiegel for the historical epic Nicholas and Alexandra. The film was an adaptation of a best-selling book by Robert K. Massie that traced the tragic events leading to the assassination of Russia's last czar, along with his entire family. With a screenplay by the esteemed James Goldman (The Lion in Winter), the film had the potential to be another Spiegel classic. After all, Spiegel had teamed with director David Lean to produce two of the great cinematic masterpieces: The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. Despite their mutual triumphs, Lean (like most people in the film industry) came to loathe the gruff Spiegel, whose mercurial temper knew no bounds. He would chastise gaffers and esteemed directors alike and Lean had had enough. When he began production on his 1965 blockbuster Doctor Zhivago, Spiegel's ego was bruised because Lean had teamed this time with producer Carlo Ponti. If Lean had made a boxoffice smash out of the Russian Revolution, Spiegel would prove he could do the same thing. Thus, Nicholas and Alexandra was borne more out of revenge than inspiration. In addition to hiring Schaffner for the project, Spiegel conspicuously brought two key members of the Zhivago team with him: production designer John Box and cinematographer Freddie Young. However, Spiegel's finances were not adequate to afford the big name stars he had hoped to cast in the lead roles. Thus, he was forced to cast relative unknowns from the British stage: Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman. To give the film some boxoffice allure, he cast a "Who's Who" of British acting royalty in supporting roles, comprised of legendary established stars and up-and-comers. They included Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Brian Cox, Ian Holm, Jack Hawkins (whose part was dubbed due to the actor's recent throat surgery), Harry Andrews, Tom Baker, John Wood, Roy Dotrice, Alexander Knox, Eric Porter and Timothy West.
The story, steeped in historical accuracy, finds Nicholas ill-prepared to serve as czar over a troubled Russia beset by devastating economic conditions. With the majority of his people facing starvation and a daily struggle to survive, Nicholas resides in palatial splendor in Petersburg with his headstrong wife, Alexandra. Nicholas is a good man in his own way. He cares about the peasants but lives in a bubble that prevents him from relating to their day-to-lives. Born of privilege, he knows no other life. The Romanovs have ruled Russia for three hundred consecutive years and he sees no reason for the tradition to stop with his dynasty. He is delighted when Alexandra presents him with a male heir to the throne, but the boy is sickly and suffers from life-threatening hemophilia. Still, it's a happy family with Nicholas doting over his daughters and young son. He seems oblivious that there is great resentment towards his wife, who manipulates his every move and keeps him cut off from personal friends. He ignores warnings from his ministers that he must tone down Alexandra's lavish spending habits, especially during the poor economic climate. A protest by peasants in 1905 builds tension further when a mishap causes the army to fire on the people, slaughtering hundreds of them. The seeds of revolution continue to grow with the agitator Lenin leading the charge in hopes of establishing a Bolshevik ruling party and deposing the czar. Nicholas' ill-fated decision to enter WWI against Germany brings about catastrophic results. Not only are his armies no match against the Kaiser's but Alexandra is of German heritage, which further builds public resentment against her. As Russian forces face devastating defeats on the battlefields, revolution spreads quickly through the country. Lenin's popularity grows, especially when he promises to make immediate peace with Germany if he is given power. Before long, the czar finds himself essentially powerless. He and his family are arrested but he still believes they will live an idyllic and peaceful life in exile. Instead, they are shunted between distant locations and housed in barely-livable conditions as the new order debates their fate. As we all know, it is a tragic one with Nicholas and his family abruptly shot to death by an assassination squad.
These dramatic developments play out slowly but in an interesting manner throughout the film's 183 minute running time. The performances are all first rate, with Jayston especially good as the sympathetic (if clueless) czar. Suzman is every bit his match as the egotistical Alexandra and each member of the supporting cast provides a gem of a performance, with Olivier and Harry Andrews especially impressive and Tom Baker stealing the entire movie with his mesmerizing performance as Rasputin, the crazed monk who had a Svengali-like influence over Alexandra, much to her husband's disgust. Yet, despite those attributes and a rich production design, the film never emotionally moves the viewer as much as one would expect. The characters remain somewhat opaque and the great historical events that affect them are only given marginal background and explanation. Schaffner clearly wanted to emphasize personal relationships over visual splendor and by and large he succeeded. However, there is some emotional component missing here. He crafted an impressive movie on many levels but one that perhaps did not fulfill its ultimate potential. The movie was greeted with the customary (some would say obligatory) Oscar nominations generally accorded historical epics. It was nominated for 6 awards (including nods for Best Picture and Actress) and won in two technical categories. Nevertheless, overall critical response was mixed and the film was considered a boxoffice disappointment. Schaffner would go on to make three more impressive films (Papillon, Islands in the Stream and The Boys From Brazil) and several flops before passing away in 1989 at age 69. Spiegel never regained the mojo he once enjoyed in the industry. He would only make two more relatively low-key films (The Last Tycoon, Betrayal) before he died in 1985 at age 84.
Twilight Time has released a magnificent Blu-ray edition of Nicholas and Alexandra, limited to 3,000 region-free units. The transfer is superb and this release maintains the original intermission break. Bonus features include an isolated track of Richard Rodney Bennett's impressive score, the original trailer and four very interesting vintage production featurettes, as well as an illustrated collector's booklet with scholarly notes by Julie Kirgo (almost worth the price of the Blu-ray alone). Nicholas and Alexandra may not be the classic Spiegel and Schaffner had envisioned, but in this age of dumbed-down action movies, it plays much better than it did upon its initial release in 1971. It's a film that educates even as it entertains and should be a part of any retro movie lover's home video collection.
Twilight Time has released Fox's 1970 box-office disaster The Only Game in Town as a Blu-ray limited edition (3,000 units). The film is primarily remembered for reasons its creators would never have desired. It was the last movie of legendary director George Stevens and represented his re-teaming with Elizabeth Taylor, with whom he had made two genuine classics: Giant and A Place in the Sun, both which featured two of her most acclaimed performances. In fact, by the time this movie went into production in 1970, Stevens' clout in Hollywood had been somewhat diminished by his obsessive quest to bring his dream project, The Greatest Story Ever Told to the screen. He finally succeeded in doing so in 1965, only to have the film become a politely-acclaimed epic that ended up losing United Artists a fortune. Nevertheless, in those days past reputations still helped keep older filmmakers in high regard, so Fox executives saw plenty of potential in the third teaming of Stevens and Elizabeth Taylor. To add additional boxoffice clout, the studio signed Warren Beatty as the male lead. Beatty had been kicking around the industry for a decade but had only recently become red-hot due to the success of Bonnie and Clyde. Beatty was so eager to work with Stevens that he passed on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, another Fox property that would have a considerably more positive fate.
The Only Game in Town was written as play by Frank D. Gilroy, who was riding a wave of acclaim for The Subject Was Roses. Fox was so eager to land the rights to the story that they paid a (then) astronomical $500,000 to Gilroy, even though the play had not yet been performed. Fox was in for a rude awakening. When the play opened on Broadway, it had a very abbreviated run and closed shortly thereafter, having been deemed a major flop. Left with a costly investment, Fox felt the same fate might not befall the screen version, given the involvement of Stevens, Taylor and Beatty. However, as with any project involving La Liz, the studio found itself being held hostage to her costly demands. Although the story is set entirely in Las Vegas, Taylor insisted that it be shot in France (!) where hubby Richard Burton was filming Staircase, a movie that was set in London. Go figure. It appears the Burtons had a fetish for demanding that movies be shot in places other than their actual locations. Thus, what should have been a modestly-budgeted romance with only two major characters (there are only four actors credited for the entire movie) ballooned into an $11 million production, with much of the cost going into costly production design in order to recreate "Vegas" in France. This was achieved in a fairly unconvincing manner. Remember those old B&W movies in which someone's arrival in Paris is indicated by the fact that the Eiffel Tower (usually a matte painting) is directly visible from the window or balcony? Well, the same principal applies here. Liz lives in an apartment on the outskirts of the Strip but the casinos are glaringly visible over the sand dunes from her window. However, the effect is not even remotely convincing. The garish still life suggests anything other than a bustling tourist center. For understandable reasons (Liz was a few thousand miles away from the real Vegas), no traffic or people can be seen on "The Strip". Thus, the backdrop takes on an eerie air as though it is an effect from a long lost episode of The Twilight Zone.
The story opens with Fran Walker (Taylor), a chorus girl in a big casino stage extravaganza calling it quits for the night. (Critics cruelly noted at the time how unsuitably cast Taylor was for the role of a chorus dancer. Although she was only 37 years old at the time, she seemed far older. Director Stevens tries to deal with this challenge by confining scenes of Fran at work to one "blink-and-you-miss" intense closeup of Liz bopping up and down a bit, all too apparently not in the presence of any of the "real" dancers shown in the establishing shot.) Seemingly bored and despondent, Fran stops into a local gin mill near the Strip to have nightcap. The joint features a tuxedo-clad pianist who warbles for the sparse crowd in between making cynical jokes and comments. He's Joe Grady (Beatty), a handsome hunk who immediately meets cute with Fran. Before you can say "Dickie Burton", the two of them are canoodling under the covers at Fran's apartment (with sleep being impossible, given the blinding lights from the garish phony Vegas set outside her window.) The script goes nowhere fast with Fran and Joe bickering, making up, bickering again... Fran confesses she is the mistress of a wealthy business executive who assures her he is leaving his wife to marry her. Joe cautions her that she has fallen for the oldest con game practiced by cheating husbands and her assurances that she believes in the man's integrity seem increasingly shaky. However, just when Fran and Joe are about to set up house together, Fran's lover, Lockwood (Broadway actor Charles Braswell) turns up unexpectedly and -dammit all- he turns out to have been a man of his word. He wants to marry Fran immediately and take her away from Vegas for a globe-trotting life of luxury. Trouble is, Fran is now smitten by Joe. Who will she choose? The uber-successful businessman or the down-and-out lounge singer? Joe has other problems beyond his finances. He's a compulsive gambler who squanders away his savings every time he manages to put a little aside. In fact, the sequences with Beatty sans Liz (some of which were actually shot in Vegas) are the best in the film, as we see Joe constantly weaken in his vow to stay away from the craps tables. The scenes of him blowing his hard earned money on rolls of the dice are emotionally effective and, at times, cringe-inducing. What doesn't add up is why the charismatic Joe would be so smitten by Fran. Granted, she looks like Elizabeth Taylor, but she's a moody, whining, generally unhappy person who spends most of her time kvetching about every aspect of her life. Although essentially miscast, Taylor plays the role as effectively as one could hope. However, the generally glamorous Liz is attired in array of bland costumes that makes her look uncharacteristically dowdy. It's Beatty who surprises. He's long been one of the least interesting screen presences among iconic leading men and- with a few notable exceptions- he generally delivers performances that are so low-key they border on being boring. However, as Joe Grady, he's more lively than usual and he displays the charisma that would attract any sane, heterosexual woman. (There is one scene, however, that is a bit too cute: love-struck Joe warbling Some Enchanted Evening in the corridor outside of Fran's apartment.)
The Only Game in Town is a bizarre film and is compromised by the fact that the two lead characters have a relationship that never rings true to the viewer. In her Oscar winning performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Taylor was able to actually play an every day person in a believable manner. Martha, the protagonist of that film, may have been a human spitfire, constantly insulting and berating her long-suffering husband George, but she had charisma and was a sexual dynamo. In George Stevens' film, we are too aware of the fact that we are watching a movie star trying desperately to play an ordinary woman. The ploy simply doesn't work. The fact that the movie lacks any interesting supporting characters (even Braswell is bland and boring) gives the entire production a claustrophobic feeling. The score by Maurice Jarre, certainly one of the great composers, also feels out of place here with inappropriate cues coming at inappropriate times. In the wake of the film's poor box-office performance, Beatty emerged unscathed and went on to become an Oscar-winning director. Taylor, however, lumbered through a number of other major studio productions, all of which flopped. It was the end of her reign as a boxoffice draw.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray features a very nice transfer (though some artifacts are noticeable here and there), an isolated score track and the original trailer. It is region-free and can play on any international system. Julie Kirgo provides the usual insightful background notes in an illustrated collector's booklet. The movie is not quite as bad as critics indicated at the time of its initial release but it falls far short of its potential, given the talent involved. Its sad legacy is, ironically, the prime reason we can recommend retro movie lovers to check it out and form their own conclusions.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Sony:
CITY, CALIF. (September 9, 2013) –
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment cooks up a
full batch on Nov. 26 when BREAKING BAD: THE COMPLETE SERIES comes to Blu-ray™ in its entirety. One of the
most explosive series ever to air on television, the 16-disc set is this year’s
must-have gift for the holiday season, complete with all 62 episodes and more
than 55 hours of special features. Starring three-time Emmy® winner Bryan Cranston (Outstanding
Lead Actor in a Drama Series) alongside two-time Emmy® winner Aaron
Paul (Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series), the critically acclaimed
drama from Sony Pictures Television boasts one of television’s most radical storylines,
giving viewers a glimpse into the life of how far a man might go in order to
take care of the ones he loves. “Bryan
Cranston is still turning in a transformative, unimpeachable performance as
Walt, who remains one of the greatest dramatic creations ever to grace our TV
screens,” hails USA Today’s Robert Bianco.
who are addicted to the series and itching for another hit can now indulge in more than
two-hours of never-before-seen footage in a ground-breaking series documentary
exclusively in the box set, which comes packaged in a collectible replica
barrel representing part of Walter White’s dark legacy. The all-new documentary chronicles the making
of the final season, from filming the first table read to the very last day on
set and everything in between, including Bryan Cranston inviting the camera in
to his Albuquerque living room for the first reading of the final script with
Aaron Paul. The box set also contains all
bonus features from previously released seasons (including retail exclusives
formerly only available in select stores), a Los Pollos Hermanos apron and a collectible
booklet with a letter from Gilligan, as well as a commemorative Breaking Bad
challenge coin designed and created by Gilligan exclusively for this set as a
token of appreciation to fans for making the Breaking Bad journey.
The dark series includes an exceptional ensemble cast with Anna Gunn
(TV’s “Deadwood”), Dean Norris (TV’s “Under the Dome”), Betsy Brandt (TV’s “Michael J. Fox Show”), RJ Mitte
and Bob Odenkirk (The Spectacular Now).
BREAKING BAD was created by writer/director/producer Vince
Gilligan (TV’s “The X-Files”), who also served as executive producer with
Academy Award® winner Mark Johnson (Rain Man, 1988’s Best Picture)
Michelle MacLaren (TV’s “The X-Files”). Co-executive producers of the series
include Melissa Bernstein (TV’s Rectify),
Sam Catlin (TV’s “Canterbury’s Law”), George Mastras (TV’s “The Dresden
Files”), Peter Gould (TV’s “Too Big To Fail”), Thomas Schnauz (TV’s “The
X-Files”) and Moira Walley-Beckett (TV’s “Pan Am”). Stewart A. Lyons served as
Line Producer/UPM. Cranston and Diane Mercer (TV’s “Arrested Development”) are
producers of the series. The series is produced by High Bridge and Gran Via
Productions in association with Sony Pictures Television for AMC.
BAD follows protagonist
Walter White (Cranston), a chemistry teacher who lives in New Mexico with his
wife (Gunn) and teenage son (Mitte) who has cerebral palsy. White is diagnosed
with Stage III cancer and given a slim chance to survive. With a new sense of
fearlessness based on his medical prognosis, and a desire to secure his
family's financial security, White chooses to enter a dangerous world of drugs
and crime and ascends to power in this world. The series explores how this
fatal diagnosis transforms Walt from mild family man to a kingpin of the drug
BREAKING BAD: THE COMPLETE SERIES Barrel Set Special Features
Measures: Creating the Final Season of Breaking Bad - An
all-new, exclusive two hour documentary that chronicles the filming of the
final eight episodes.
bonus features include all previously released featurettes and retail
Memories – Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul talk about the show ending and some
of their favorite moments.
Cranston: Director – Go on set with Bryan Cranston as he directs the first episode of
the season entitled "Blood Money."
Envy – The Cast tell us which scene they wish they could have been
Moments - The stars reveal the moments that shocked them most.
Walt to Heisenberg – From high school teacher to deadly meth dealer, watch as Walter
White quickly transforms into Heisenberg.
Will It End? – At the beginning of the season, the cast was asked to give their
thoughts on how they thought the show would end.
Agent: Dean Norris as Hank Schrader -- A look at the character Hank
Schrader and the man who played him, Dean Norris.
Stealer: Betsy Brandt as Marie Schrader – A look at the character
Marie Schrader and the woman who plays her, Betsy Brandt.
Criminal Attorney: Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman –A
look at the character Saul Goodman and the man who played him, Bob
Journey: Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman – A look at the
character Jesse Pinkman and the man who played him, Aaron Paul.
Breaks Bad: Anna Gunn on Season Four – Actress Anna Gunn and
series creator Vince Gilligan explore Skyler’s character evolution through the
Up in the White House: RJ Mitte on Walter, Jr. – RJ
Mitte, Anna Gunn, Bryan Cranston and series creator Vince Gilligan discuss the
extraordinary dynamics of the White family, and Walter, Jr.’s unique role.
Ultimate Chess Match – Members of the cast and crew discuss Walter
White and Gus Fring’s extraordinary and complicated battle of wits and their
struggle for Jesse’s allegiance.
Back: A Season Four Retrospective - Season Four’s most
surprising and memorable moments.
Wipeout – In Episode 411, “Crawl Space,” Ted Beneke suffers a head injury
while trying to escape from Saul’s goons. In this featurette, Christopher Cousins (Ted) explains how this shocking
stunt was accomplished.
Truck Attack Storyboard Comparison – A side-by-side comparison of
the Los Pollos Hermanos truck attack and the brilliant shot-by-shot storyboards
that were created for the episode “Bullet Points.”
and the Challenger Storyboard Comparison – A side-by-side
comparison of the sequence where Walt indulges in some crazy stunt driving in
Walt Jr.’s Dodge Challenger and the storyboards that were created.
In addition to releasing the complete set on Blu-ray, SPHE will release BREAKING BAD: THE FINAL
SEASON on both Blu-ray and DVD with UltraViolet™ on Nov. 26. The final
season includes the series’ final eight episodes and is loaded with special
features, including all-new featurettes, cast and crew commentaries, deleted
scenes and more. Episodes include: Blood Money, Buried, Confessions,
Rabid Dog, To’hajiilee, Ozymandias, Granite State and Felina.
BAD: THE FINAL SEASONBlu-ray Includes:
·“Blood Money” Table
A rare look at the only final season Breaking Bad table read.
BAD: THE FINAL SEASONBlu-ray & DVD Include:
and Crew Commentaries on Every Episode
a Show Runner
of the Alternate Ending
Ending – A 3-minute alternate version of how Breaking Bad could have
& Extended Scenes
Layers of a Sound Mix
·Over 15 Episodes of Inside Breaking Bad
and Extended Episodes
BREAKING BAD: THE COMPLETE SERIES has a run time of approximately 2,949 minutes and is not rated.
BREAKING BAD: THE FINAL SEASON has a
run time of approximately 390 minutes and is not rated.
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Post-WWII Britain saw an abundance of artistically impressive B&W white movies shot on low budgets by underrated filmmakers. Unfortunately, The Accursed! is not among them. The 1957 drama is mostly confined to a country manor house owned by Colonel Charles Price (Donald Wolfit), a former leader of a spy ring that operated on behalf of the Allies inside occupied France. Every year Price and his former team members (most of whom were Germans fighting against the Reich) meet at his house to toast the memory of one of their prominent colleagues who was killed by a double agent. An emissary from Germany is to arrive to inform Price of the identity of the traitor but when he arrives at the mansion, he is already mortally wounded and cannot divulge the person's name. The scenario then follows the standard format for every rip-off of Agatha Christie stories: every member of the group of former spies begins to suspect each other, as they all have something shady about their actions or backgrounds. Into the mix comes two American army intelligence officers- Major Shane (Robert Bray) and Lt. Grant (John Van Eyssen)- who ostensibly are there because they have been stranded due to car problems. Neither Price nor his colleagues are buying that excuse and Major Shane admits he is trying to track down the emissary who was to arrive at the mansion. (For various reasons, Price has kept the man's murder a secret and has hidden the body on the premises.) The pedantically-paced mystery muddles along as the group retires for the night- and in the glorious tradition of this cliched scenario, another murder is committed. One of most annoying aspects of this film is the obnoxious behavior of the film's nominal hero, Major Shane. He's loud, boorish and cynical- and played with a considerable amount of ham by Robert Bray. While some of the other cast members are also encouraged to overact by director Michael McCarthy, a few remain with their dignity intact: Wolfit, Jane Griffiths and a young Christopher Lee, playing against type as a milquetoast. The 78 minute running time doesn't prevent the film becoming a bore and the big revelation of the actual murderer is neither shocking or particularly interesting, thanks to a drab screenplay.
The Warner Archive has released the film on DVD but its primary value would be for ardent collectors of Christopher Lee's work.
The Warner Archive has released the 1960 supernatural "B" movie thriller Tormented as a burn-to-order DVD title. The film is yet another entry from the schlock king, producer Bert I. Gordon. The prolific master of micro-budget films made his fare primarily for the undiscriminating drive-in market during the era when such movies often were produced to play as second features. Tormented stars Richard Carlson as Tom Stewart, a middle aged man who resides on an island (the geographical location is never determined.) When we first see him, he is atop a lighthouse where he is being confronted by a pesky ex-love, Vi (Julie Reding). The sultry woman can't accept the fact that Stewart has dumped her to marry the virginal local "good girl" Meg (Lugene Sanders). When all of her sexual come-ons don't tempt him to take her back, she makes it clear that she has some incriminating letters from him that she will release to ensure his forthcoming marriage is sabotaged. You don't have to be the Amazing Kreskin to see what is coming. Vi leans on a railing and finds herself dangling above the rocky ocean front beneath her. She begs Stewart to save her but he opts to do nothing and she falls to her death. Although haunted by guilt, the next morning he recovers her body in an attempt to cover-up the incident. (Conveniently, she let him know that no one other than a boat captain knew she had come to the island.) Soon, however, strange things start happening. Her body turns into a pile of seaweed- and that's just the beginning. Meg's 8 year old sister Sandy (Susan Gordon) shows up on the beach, having found a locket that Stewart had inscribed to Vi. Before long, he becomes obsessed with worry that her death will be made known. Adding to his troubles is the fact that he can hear Vi's voice vowing revenge and ultimately he sees visions of her, as well. (Whether Vi is making appearances from Heaven or Hell, you have to say they have some pretty impressive clothing lines there: she is routinely clad in clingly, low-cut nightgowns.) As the day of the wedding nears, Stewart is a nervous wreck and his trouble increase when the boat captain who dropped Vi off on the island suspects she has been murdered. He's an obnoxious hipster (played by the great character actor Joe Turkel) who sets out to blackmail Stewart. This sets in motion a series of dramatic events as the groom-to-be gets into deeper trouble by trying to eliminate his blackmailer. All the while Vi continues to taunt Stewart, though he is the only one who can see or hear her, as though she is an evil version of James Stewart's Harvey.
Tormented is typical of Bert I. Gordon fare. The triple threat auteur also wrote and directed the film and it boasts the shoddy production values that made him beloved by B movie lovers. There is one scene that takes place atop the lighthouse in broad daylight. The matte painting of the ocean features water that never moves, which makes the backdrop akin to one you might see in a school play. The script also doesn't even touch upon the unusual aspects of Stewart's engagement to Meg, in that he is old enough to be her father. (Richard Carlson was 48 years old- and seems much older, while Lugene Sanders was 26 but plays the role of a younger woman.) There are, of course, May/December romances in real life, but the screenplay doesn't acknowledge this and treats the couple as though they are two young kids just starting out in life. Still, while it's easy to pick on such obvious flaws, Tormented is a surprisingly effective and engrossing thriller in its own way. The Crime and Punishment scenario is obvious. Stewart isn't a bad man. In fact, he's a legitimate victim of a former lover who wants to blackmail him. However, by refusing to save her life, he opens a Pandora's Box of deception that escalates in his attempts to keep his lack of gallantry quiet. As they say of the Watergate scandal, "The cover-up was worse than the crime." There are no performances of any particular merit, but Susan Gordon is most impressive as Meg's precocious young sister who holds the key to Stewart's fate. There is something approaching genuine suspense in the final scene in which Stewart attempts to silence her forever.
Tormented has plenty of unintentional laughs, shoddy effects and a predictable story. However, I've always admired the art of "B" movie making by those artists who knew they were toiling on projects that never stood a chance of receiving serious critical acclaim. This is a prime example of a well-made film, at least within those parameters.
Click here to order from Warner Archive and to view film clip
Somehow I missed Norman Jewison’s Other People’s Money when it was released in 1991, but now courtesy
of the Warner Archive Collection, I was able to catch up with this minor but enjoyable film.
Based on Jerry Steiner’s play of the same name, with a
screenplay by Alvin Sargent, Other People’s Money is mostly notable as Gregory Peck’s last major
screen performance. Peck turns in one of his signature honorable roles as
Andrew Jorgensen, a successful but principled businessman who is ultimately more
invested in his employees and
maintaining integrity than in enlarging his company’s bottom line. That’s why
he and his wife Bea (Piper Laurie), along with manager Bill Coles (Dean Jones),
are determined to keep New England Wire and Cable out of the ruthless hands of
corporate raider Larry the Liquidator (Danny DeVito). Way out of their depth,
they call in a secret weapon, savvy New York lawyer Kate Sullivan (the
wonderful Penelope Ann Miller) to outwit and out-beguile Larry. As Bea’s
daughter, Kate has added incentive to stay a step ahead of her opponent and
keep the company intact.
Devito excels at creating despicable but lovable
characters and gets a rare lead role in this film. He plays Larry like he
stepped out of Guys and Dolls, only
this eccentric millionaire gambles with stock and shares rather than dice. The
love of Larry’s life is his computer system CARMEN which provides him with
potential corporate conquests, but the target of his lust is Kate. Despite
their contrasting physiques, DeVito and Miller exhibit an unexpected chemistry
and their sexually charged repartee really crackles. Unfortunately these more modern sequences
blend awkwardly with those set at the factory, making the other half of this
film feel overly dramatic and sentimental. Even so, it’s a treat to see Peck
deliver an impassioned speech to the company’s shareholders and to enjoy Piper
Laurie in a sympathetic role. I just wish their material had same thread of
humor and fun as that afforded to DeVito and Miller.
Norman Jewison’s lengthy filmography includes multiple
classics and a handful of stage to screen adaptations Fiddler on the Roof(1971), Jesus
Christ Superstar (1973) and Agnes of
God (1982). He’s mastered every genre but the disparate tones in this film
never quite gel in a completely satisfying way. Jewison’s expert skill is still
evident, however, in the polished style and the accomplished performances, thus
making Other People’s
Money a slight but worthwhile film. The only bonus material on this
Warner Archive disc is the theatrical
trailer, but the feature transfer looks slick and for this out of print film.
Click here to view trailer and to order from Warner Archive
Rescued from obscurity by Twilight Time and released on Blu-ray as a limited edition (3,000 units), The Disappearance is the Rodney Dangerfield of thrillers- it never got any respect. The film actually closed after one day in a theatrical run in one prominent theater when it was released in 1977. Now, Twilight Time has given the deluxe treatment to this moody, Canadian film by director Stuart Cooper. Donald Sutherland plays Jay Mallory, a quiet, unassuming man on the surface but who works as a top assassin for a secret crime organization referred to as The Office. The complex plot finds Mallory assigned to carry out a hit. When he returns home, he finds his gorgeous wife Celandine (played by Sutherland's then real life wife Francine Racette) has inexplicably gone missing. Flashbacks show that the marriage had been strained with Celandine increasingly frustrated by her husband's strange line of work and mysterious comings-and-goings. However, Mallory not only adores her, but is obsessed with having this beautiful woman as his wife. Simultaneous to searching for Celandine, Mallory is browbeaten into traveling to England to carry out an important assassination. This job makes him feel uneasy for reasons that become evident later in the story: the intended victim (Christopher Plummer) has a connection to Mallory's wife. The story is complex and difficult to follow. If you miss a minute, you'll be hopelessly lost. I didn't and I'm still not entirely sure I grasped all of the nuances of the story and characters. Director Stuart Cooper intentionally has his actors perform in an almost robotic-like state, virtually devoid of any overt emotions. Anger and rage are expressed in low-key manners and brutal killings are carried out in business-as-usual manner. Even the geographical settings are cold and remote. Shot in Montreal at the height of winter, the snow bound landscape makes a beautiful city seem barren and inhospitable. Mallory's apartment complex (well-known in the city for its futuristic design) seems as unwelcoming as one of those old Soviet-style complexes. Even the gorgeous British countryside is presented in a gray, ominous fashion thanks to the splendid camera work of the great John Alcott. The film also benefits from a sterling cast, with Sutherland's understated assassin registering strongly. Racette is a beautiful but (perhaps appropriately) opaque presence, showcased more or less as an object of beauty rather than a fully-fleshed out character, although she does hold the key to the film's rather surprising conclusion. There are also fine supporting performances by David Hemmings (who also produced the movie) as the cuckolded man who Mallory stole Celandine away from, David Warner as secretive representative of The Office and young John Hurt as a novice hit man. Christopher Plummer's brief cameo comes late in the movie, but it's a wonderful bit. As a whole, the movie isn't an entirely satisfying experience. There are some ambiguous plot holes that never quite seem to be filled in. Additionally, while Cooper's decision to present the characters as cold, aloof people works artistically, it keeps the viewer from forming any kind of emotional bond with any of them. They are all bad apples so we don't really care what happens to any of them.
The Twilight Time release is superb on all levels. We at Cinema Retro pride ourselves on giving substantial coverage in our magazine of movies that are virtually ignored by everyone else. Twilight Time follows the same philosophy, as indicated by their painstaking presentation of this relatively minor, but worthy, movie. Upon its abbreviated release, scenes were cut and re-edited by the distributor for U.S. release. Stuart Cooper objected vehemently but could not stop the hacks from making his film "more linear". A new score was added that removed Robert Farnon's orchestrations of Ravel's pieces and replaced them with a synthesizer-fueled pop score. This further horrified Cooper. He all but gave up on the movie ever finding its intended audience. The Twilight Time release features two versions of the film: a stunning, hi def presentation of a re-edited cut and a standard version of the "director's cut". Cooper, in a new interview in the set, says the origin of this particular re-edited cut is a mystery to him but he gives it his blessing because it approximates his original vision of the film. The "director's cut" vision runs 10 minutes longer and features some major editing differences. The quality of the director's cut pales in comparison to the HD version, but it does provide more plot points. A 15 minute excerpt of the distributor's cut is also included, which is the version Cooper initially objected to.
In the bonus feature interview that runs 10 minutes, Cooper discusses his career, which began in the 1960s when he got the acting bug. He gravitated to England and studied drama with future stars like David Warner and John Hurt, which explains their presence in this film. He then landed a role as one of The Dirty Dozen. Watching director Robert Aldrich work inspired him to become a director. He initially offered The Disappearance to his Dirty Dozen co-star Lee Marvin, who loved the script but declined because he felt the role of Mallory was too close to his work in The Killers and Point Blank. Cooper then offered the part to another Dirty Dozen co-star, Donald Sutherland, who initially declined. However, a quick rewrite of the ending and the casting of Francine Racette convinced Sutherland to change his mind. Cooper seems very gratified that the movie can now at least be seen in something approaching the format he originally envisioned.
The Disappearance is an effectively made gem that should appeal to any fan of the crime movie genre.
Twilight Time has released Walter Hill's 1975 directorial debut, Hard Times, on Blu-ray as a limited edition (3,000 units). Hill was an up-and-coming screenwriter with Peckinpah's The Getaway to his credit as well as solid thrillers like The Drowning Pool, The Mackintosh Man and Hickey and Boggs. There is no evidence in Hard Times that Hill was a novice behind the camera, either. This is one of my favorite films of the period, though many retro movie fans probably haven't seen it. The story is set in 1933. Chaney (Charles Bronson) is a middle-aged drifter who ends up crossing paths with Speed (James Coburn), a fast-talking promoter of "street fights" (no holds barred matches between local tough guys with no rules or regulations). Needing some quick cash, the soft-spoken, low-key Chaney forms a partnership with the mercurial Speed. In his first match, they win big when Chaney knocks the local champ out cold with one punch. They gravitate to New Orleans where Speed can put together some high stakes fights. They are joined by Poe (Strother Martin) an amiable quasi-doctor (he had two years of medical school) with a penchant for opium but who is skilled at patching up bruised and beaten fighters. Chaney quickly becomes a local legend and draws the attention of a local fight promoter/kingpin who insists that Chaney fight a seemingly invincible slugger he has imported from Chicago. When Chaney refuses, the kingpin kidnaps Speed and holds him hostage until Chaney shows up for the high stakes fight. The script, co-written by Hill, is a prime example of how less can be more, at least in terms of dialogue. Bronson says very little during the film, but conveys much emotion with a nod of the head, the blinking of his eyes or a wry smile. This is evident in Chaney's relationship with a local down and out woman (Jill Ireland), who he basically sees for easy sex. When she presses him to convert their trysts into a meaningful relationship, Chaney simply walks out. No drama. No speeches. Similarly, the superb performances of Bronson, Coburn and Martin seem inspired by the Sam Peckinpah school of men sticking together no matter what. When Speed is kidnapped, Chaney initially refuses to help him. He correctly points out that Speed is responsible for his own reckless behavior that sees him make enemies of the wrong people and foolishly gamble away money as fast as he earns it. Yet, in a crunch, Chaney comes to his partner's aid. There is no fanfare between Chaney and Speed, who knows that, by appearing for the bout, Chaney has saved his life. Instead, just a quick handshake a "thank you." By de-emphasizing overtly sentimental gestures and dialogue, Hill makes the relationship between the trio even more moving.
Hill and his co-writers pack a lot of memorable scenes into the film's scant 93 minute running time. Aided by editor Roger Spottiswood (another future director) and cinematographer Philip Lathrop, Hill makes every frame of the film count. There isn't a slow moment or a meaningless line of dialogue. Clearly the highlights are the action sequences. This is Fight Club for the Baby Boomer generation. Bronson, who was in his 50s at the time, performs all of his own gut-wrenching fight scenes, along with co-stars Robert Tessier and Nick Dimitri. They are brutal affairs that will quickly convince you that these men are actually beating each other up. The stunt coordination is among the best I've seen in any film. The film's more whimsical sequences are aided immeasurably by Barry DeVorzon's addictive score.
With Hard Times, Bronson reached the pinnacle of his acting career. It's wonderful to see him reunited with Coburn, his co-star from The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. However, Coburn became even more interesting as an actor as he grew older whereas Bronson grabbed for the low-hanging fruit and began to concentrate primarily on by-the-numbers action movies. The film remains a testament to his abilities as an actor- and credit Walter Hill for bringing those out in full force.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray features a gorgeous transfer but the only extra is the original trailer and the always-welcome collector's booklet with informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo, who hints that Hill was approached to record a commentary track for this release but declined because he doesn't like to look back on his past work. Well, we do- especially when it's a movie as terrific as Hard Times.
Severin Films has released the definitive version of the cult movie The Manson Family (aka Charlie's Family) as a Blu-ray special edition. If you've never heard of the movie, don't feel bad: most main stream moviegoers have not. However, the film, which became an obsessive dream project for director Jim VanBebber has been a legend on the indie movie circuit for many years. The Severin release is one of those rarities in which the bonus extras equal or exceed the value of the main feature. VanBebber began shooting the movie in 1988 and, in the tradition of all true independent filmmakers, periodically would run out of production funds. He worked in low end jobs and sacrificed anything approaching a reasonably comfortable lifestyle in order to put all of his financial resources into finishing the film. (VanBebber once had to resort to giving blood in order to raise a few dollars.) The process took fifteen years, leading to the actor who was playing Manson becoming so fed up that he finally walked away from the project. (VanBebber had fortunately shot most of the essential scenes involving Manson by this point). After principal photography finally was wrapped, VanBebber went into years of post-production work, showing the movie at film festivals and trying to perfect a final cut.
As a finished work, The Manson Family is impressive on a number of levels. The film eschews giving us any major insights into how Manson and his "Family" got acquainted, nor does it attempt to delve into the personal backgrounds of the key members of his inner circle. Instead, the movie simply presents us with how the Family was eeking out an existence in 1969 on a remote ranch that had once been used as a location for Western movies. The place, owned by a aging and naive businessman, is run down and rarely used for filming any longer. Instead, Manson and his followers have basically appropriated the property as their own and they spend their days drinking, smoking weed and indulging in group sex. As Manson's paranoia becomes more pronounced, this seemingly benign existence comes to an end as he encourages his followers to engage in increasingly violent behavior. (VanBebber theorizes that Manson's shooting of a black drug dealer exacerbated his actions because he mistakenly thought he killed the man and thus became convinced that black radicals would try to avenge his death. Ironically, VanBebber concedes that this segment in the finished film also implies that Manson killed the man, when in fact, Manson never personally murdered anyone.) Manson ultimately orders his followers to commit the Tate/ LaBianca killings, which are so gruesomely depicted that one only realizes later that VanBebber insisted upon showing "restraint" in filming the actual butchering of the pregnant Sharon Tate. (The victims are all incidental characters and are not even referred to by name.) Until this climactic sequence, the film is a rather fascinating depiction of life among the misfits and losers who comprised Manson's inner circle. The story is told in "Rashomon" style with contemporary interviews with the key figures looking back on this period of their lives. The documentary style format works well and it's a credit to VanBebber and his unpaid cast of unprofessional actors that you come to believe you are watching the actual people involved in these notorious events. Where VanBebber goes over the top is in the bloodletting. There probably isn't a tasteful way to depict the brutal murders of innocent people, but VanBebber's insistence that restraint would do injustice to the true horrors that took place does not excuse his pornographic closeups of every aspect of these tortures and murders. I found myself looking away from the screen more than once. Still, The Manson Family is a remarkable achievement considering it was constructed by amateur filmmakers and cast members. There isn't a false note in the performances and their dedication extended to full frontal nudity, which does add a certain courageous quality and authenticity to the production. As director, VanBebber is quite impressive, even though some of the camera angles and shooting techniques now look somewhat cliched and dated. VanBebber intersperses the story of the Manson Family with sequences of a contemporary group of goth thugs preparing to carry out a murder of their own, having been inspired by Manson. VanBebber's intention was to show that Manson's evil legacy still has tentacles into contemporary society, but the device is rather confusing and off-putting to the viewer.
For all of VanBebber's troubles, The Manson Family has received scant recognition among movie-goers. The film had a brief theatrical release in England in 2004 but was savaged by critics and died at the boxoffice. Other theatrical screenings have been very limited and VanBebber vowed to never make another film until he had funding firmly in place. Over the years, however, the movie has built a cult following of loyal supporters including the late Roger Ebert (click here to read his original review, which is the very definition of "mixed feelings"). However, on the cult movie circuit, the film made VanBebber a legend among fellow travelers in the indie trade and those who admire his Ahab-like quest to conquer his own great white whale: a final cut of the film that had obsessed him for more than a decade.
The Blu-ray edition is superb and provides fascinating insights into the long, arduous path to completion that the film underwent. (Most of the materials were presented on a previous DVD release in 2005). There is an extended version of a 2003 documentary titled The VanBebber Family in which the cast and crew reflect on their memories of making of the movie. It's a warts-and-all affair that doesn't stint in making VanBebber occasionally appear to be more insane that obsessed in his quest to bring the film to completion. VanBebber appears throughout, in uncharacteristic short hair, smoking and drinking as he relates his tales of woe. He also provides an insightful audio commentary that depicts the making of the film in highly personal terms. The Blu-ray also has a new interview with Phil Anselmo, who created the impressive musical score for the movie. There are also some deleted scenes shown as raw footage on a monitor because funding had not been available to make clean, finalized footage of these sequences. Original theatrical trailers are included as well. However, the crown jewel in this edition is a 2001 documentary titled In the Belly of the Beast that covers the action at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. The festival is apparently like Mecca for indie movie makers who embrace the "anything goes" atmosphere and capitalize on showing their latest works or works-in-progress. The documentary dispassionately uses hand held cameras in confined spaces to get inside the heads of these filmmakers. It's a pretty sobering experience. Almost without exception, they choose to depict the ugliest aspects of humanity, with their low-budget productions dwelling on gory closeups of autopsies, butchering, torture and other cringe-inducing sights. They seem like reasonably nice people in interviews, but you have to wonder what the hell is going on in their minds. They know their films have zero chance of getting wide distribution or even making their money back, but they want to indulge in carnage for the sake of carnage. They find appreciative audiences at the film festival with zombie-like fans cheering and applauding during the most gruesome depictions of human behavior (at one point, VanBebber discusses the fact that some audience members laughed during the sequences in his film that re-enact the Tate/La Bianca murders). These are not people you want to be stranded on a desert island with. Yet, one must have admiration for the filmmakers themselves. Regardless of how distasteful their subject matters may be, you have to admire their sheer determination and grit in pursuing their dream projects over a course of years at a cost of all their financial resources. It's a dilemma not uncommon even among major filmmakers today, with big "names" sometimes having to use web-based Kickstarter campaigns to fund their next project. One "professional" director interviewed throughout the documentary is Richard Stanley, but his success is only relative to those whose names will never be known. Stanley had a couple of cult film hits with Hardware and Dust Devil before having been given the opportunity to go mainstream by directing the remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. It was a dream project but Stanley couldn't or wouldn't play nice with the mainstream studio forces around him and was fired after only four days. In his interviews, Stanley shows clips from documentaries he was working on relating to the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion and another fascinating topic, a Nazi propagandist who was Jewish. I'm sufficiently intrigued enough to now search these out.
The Blu-ray also features interview clips with Charles Manson conducted in the 1980s and the debut of Jim VanBebber's latest short film, Gator Green which centers on a young couple who dabble in drug dealing. When they are lured to a remote bar on the edge of a forbidding swamp, things go wrong immediately and they are captured by a group of backwoods sadists that make the two hillbillies from Deliverance look like Boy Scouts. The story is set (for no appreciable reason) in 1973 and the villains are (for no appreciable reason) demented Vietnam War veterans. The film, which runs only 15 minutes, starts off moody and atmospheric. The setting is a foreboding bar designed to look like an alligator because it sits next to an alligator preserve. The promising premise quickly disintegrates into a mindless gore fest with the couple subjected to unspeakable tortures. I was a bit disappointed to see VanBebber devolve to this. He is certainly a talented filmmaker, as evidenced by The Manson Family. One hopes that fate affords him the opportunity to use his talents on future projects for something other than presenting the most vile human behavior.
In all, the Severin Blu-ray is to be highly recommended. It is outstanding on all levels.
Twilight Time has released the 2005 restored version of Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee as on Blu-ray, providing both the "improved" version of the film along with the controversial original cut. Peckinpah had won respect as a fine director of TV Westerns and his 1962 feature film, Ride the High Country, earned critical praise, particularly in Europe. Columbia hired Peckinpah to direct his first big budget film, Major Dundee, which top-lined two big stars: Charlton Heston and Richard Harris. As would prove to be the case throughout his career, Peckinpah's fiercely independent nature, combined with his propensity for snaring defeat from the jaws of victory, found him over his head on the production even before shooting started. Filmed in some inhospitable areas of Mexico, Peckinpah began shooting before the script was finalized (always a recipe for disaster). Midway through the film, Columbia was going to fire him for going over-budget but Heston used his clout to keep Peckinpah on the film- though in order to do so, he had to sacrifice his entire salary in order to help defray the financial overages. Heston envisioned that his extraordinary gesture would at least have resulted in Peckinpah's vision of a two-hour and forty minute roadshow version of the film being released. However, as soon as filming slogged to completion, the studio prohibited him from participating in the editing process. Producer Jerry Bressler, alarmed that the film's violent content would make it difficult to exhibit, cut the movie to 122 minutes. That may still have seemed long for a Western, but it placed Peckinpah's artistic vision in the trash. The mercurial Peckinpah was outraged but he had no artistic control over the final cut so all he could do was protest. (The film was released in a 136 minute version outside of the USA and UK). Despite an aggressive marketing campaign and that fact that Heston was a top box-office draw, the film was considered to be a financial failure.
In the ensuing years, Peckinpah apologists have argued that the movie had the making of a masterpiece. Others claim that it has a scattershot script that tries to cover too much territory. The plot centers on U.S. Army Major Amos Dundee (Heston), a no-nonsense graduate of West Point who drives his men relentlessly and tolerates no insubordination. For various reasons, we see that Dundee's reputation has been tarnished and he has been relegated to commanding a remote outpost in the New Mexico Territory. The film opens on some chilling images of the aftermath of an Apache raid on a settler's encampment. The adults have been subjected to torturous deaths but Dundee learns that three young boys have been taken hostage. Determined to rescue them (and perhaps his own reputation), Dundee rounds up all the men his commanding officer can spare in order to engage in hot pursuit. Finding he doesn't have enough troops, Dundee offers a contingent of confederate prisoners of war the opportunity to escape the hangman's noose for attempting to escape if they agree to serve under Dundee's command. Complicating matters is the fact that their senior confederate officer is Captain Ben Tyreen (Richard Harris), a former friend of Dundee's who attended West Point with him. It's clear Dundee shows no favoritism to Tyreen and there is true bitterness between the two men who ended up on opposite sides of the Civil War. To round out his motley band of rescuers, Dundee also hires seemingly any drunkard or mercenary willing to take on the dangerous trek. When Dundee finds the Apaches have crossed into Mexico, he defies orders (and American policy) by taking his command across the border. In the process, they not only have to fight Apaches but Mexican troops and their French allies. For good measure, Peckinpah (who co-authored the screenplay) throws in yet another subplot about racial tensions between black troops and their confederate antagonists. This "everything but the kitchen sink" formula sometimes makes the film feel overstuffed and Peckinpah is clearly aspiring for more than he achieved, dramatically speaking. However, since no one will ever see his intended two hour and forty minute version of the film, we'll never know how the movie may have been improved if his artistic vision was kept intact. As it is, Major Dundee is a very entertaining film on all levels. There are some awkward transitions between story lines and the subplot with Senta Berger romancing Heston seems to exist entirely for sex appeal in this otherwise testosterone-fueled production. Heston, in full "I'm posing for Mt. Rushmore" mode, never looked so good on screen and gives a fine commanding performance that is matched by Richard Harris's more sarcastic and humorous Tyreen. The great supporting cast is like "Who's Who" of notable character actors from the era including Ben Johnson, Mario Adorf, Brock Peters, Warren Oates, R.G. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones, Slim Pickens, Karl Swenson and Dub Taylor. Co-starring roles include James Coburn in fine form as a crusty, one-armed scout, Jim Hutton as a greenhorn officer under Dundee's command and Michael Anderson Jr. as a young soldier who provides the narrative of the events that unfold. The film as a whole never completely gels, even in the extended version, and one suspects that even Peckinpah's original cut (that was never realized) would perhaps not lived up to the expectations of his fan base. Nevertheless, Major Dundee is also quite underrated by many critics and film historians. It's a hard-hitting, consistently engrossing film that has well withstood the test of time.
One of the glaring artistic misjudments found in the original cut of the film was the score by Daniele Amfitheatrof, which was often unsuited for the story line (the opening sequence of the massacre's aftermath unfolds over a jovial marching song warbled by the Mitch Miller gang!) The 2005 extended cut of the not only featured an impressive remastering, but also a brand new musical score by Christopher Caliendo that seems more appropriate for the movie, though Peckinpah purists still gripe that the only way they can see the extended cut is with this newly commissioned score. Twilight Time's Blu-ray release is dazzling, carrying over the extras from Sony's 2005 DVD release of the extended version. These include a commentary track by Peckinpah historians Paul Seydor, David Weddle, Garner Simmons and Twilight Time co-founder Nick Redman. These guys know their stuff and it's fascinating to hear them debate the merits of the film. (The commentary track was recorded in 2004, a year after the Iraq War started and the parallels they make to Dundee's incursion into Mexico seem all the more poignant given the outcome of events.) Other extras include some outtakes and deleted scenes, trailers and part of a promotional reel shown to theater exhibitors. Naturally, there is the usual informative booklet by film historian Julie Kirgo.
Major Dundee may not be first rate Peckinpah on all levels, but the Twilight Time Blu-ray is a first-rate presentation.
(This release is limited to 3,000 units. The Blu-ray is region-free).
The Warner Archive has released the quirky 1966 film A Big Hand for the Little Lady as a burn-to-order title. Originally written for television, the story was aired in 1962 under the title Big Deal in Laredo as part of the DuPont Show of the Week series. Ostensibly a Western, the movie is a claustrophobic affair with any views of open ranges and wide vistas confined to the film's opening sequence, which finds an undertaker (Charles Bickford) driving his hearse at a frantic speed across the desert. He stops at various homesteads to pick up an eclectic assortment of other men, each of whom seems to regard their final destination with the utmost solemnity. Turns out they are all participants in an annual event that draws spectators from far and wide: a high stakes poker game in Laredo, Texas. The players are the wealthiest businessmen in the county: Tropp, the undertaker, Drummond (Jason Robards), a cantankerous man whose passion for the game has resulted in his leaving his daughter at the alter and her wedding ceremony postponed until the game is completed, Buford (John Qualen), Wilcox (Robert Middleton) and Habershaw (Kevin McCarthy), an erudite, polite man who is the least temperamental of the group. The tournament takes place in private in the back room of the local saloon while crowds of curious townspeople speculate about who will emerge the winner in the high stakes game. In the midst of this, a family of three arrives in town: Meredith (Henry Fonda), his beautiful but prim-and proper wife Mary (Joanne Woodward) and their young son Jackie (Gerald Michanaud). They are pilgrims en route to buying their dream farm in San Antonio, something they have saved for over a period of many years. A broken wagon wheel delays their journey and results in them having to take a room for the night at the saloon. Mary turns many a man's head, but her sweet nature and fawning care of Jackie earns their respect and the family is accorded all due courtesies. Meredith, who is a compulsive gambler, uses their farm funds to buy his way into the poker game. He loses the entire amount, much to Mary's horror. In the midst of this anxiety, he also falls ill from a stress-induced heart attack. He pleads with Mary to play out his hand, which he says is the best he has ever seen. There are two problems, however: Mary doesn't know how to play poker and they need $500 more to remain in the game and play the hand. Mary imposes on crusty local banker Ballinger (Paul Ford) to lend her the money, using the card hand as collateral. To the amazement of the other players, Ballinger complies, saying he has never seen a more impressive hand to play. With the financial future of her family on the line, Mary sits down at the table to take part in the highest stakes game ever played in Texas.
A Big Hand for the Little Lady is a delightful tour de force for the talented actors involved. Ironically, Fonda, who was the biggest boxoffice draw in the movie, is off screen for much of the action, as his character is being tended to by the local doctor (Burgess Meredith.) Director Fielder Cook doesn't stress restraint in the performances and his remarkable cast seems to love hamming it up as much as possible, with Robards in full scenery-chewing mode. It's hard to say who is the most fun to watch, but certainly Burgess Meredith and Kevin McCarthy excel, as does the great Paul Ford. (Sadly, this was the final movie of the noted character actor Charles Bickford.) The film's payoff is designed to be a big surprise, but astute viewers can probably see it coming fairly early on, though there are some "sting in the tail" elements you might not find predictable. To say any more would be a disservice. Suffice it to say we don't have many "little" movies like this today that would draw such top-flight stars and character actors. The movie is a great deal of fun throughout.
The consequences of sexual desire in young women is akin to that of contracting the bubonic plague. That seems to be the message of the 1965 film version of A Rage to Live, best on the best-selling novel by John O'Hara. The opening sequences introduce us to Grace Caldwell (Suzanne Pleshette), a gorgeous high school student who lives a seemingly idyllic life in small town America. Grace shares her affluent home with her widowed mother Emily (Carmen Matthews) and her older brother Brock (Linden Chiles), a straight-as-an-arrow type who is attending Yale and who tries to fill the role of father and husband to the best of his ability. Grace is a "good girl" is all respects. She studies hard and looks after her mother, who she clearly adores. However, she does have one disturbing aspect to her personality: she has an active sexual desire in an age where a young woman was supposed to value her virginity above virtually anything else. Grace likes to flirt with her male classmates and there is no shortage of potential lovers. Disturbingly, she realizes that she doesn't have to have any deep emotions for any of them in order to find them sexually attractive. When she gets caught necking with one such boy, Charlie (Mark Goddard), they are discovered by his mother and Grace becomes the center of a local scandal. The notion of such an innocent act leading to such consequences probably seemed over the top even in 1965, but the situation does worsen when Grace does end up bedding several young men, thus living up (or down) to her new-found reputation as a "bad girl". This brings strife to her family and friends and Grace seeks to smooth things over by accompanying her ill mother on a vacation to an island resort. However, temptation rears its ugly head and while Grace sneaks out to have a dalliance with a hunky waiter, mom is stricken by an attack and dies. Consumed by guilt, Grace is convinced that she is nothing more than a slut, destined to live a life of shame. She gets a second chance when she meets Sidney Tate (Bradford Dillman), a handsome, hard working young man who is instantly attracted to her. Before long, he asks her to marry him, leading Grace to confess that she isn't a virgin. Sidney takes this bit of news with the same gravity he would if she had confessed to being a serial murderer, but he is forgiving of her past and believes her vow to stay loyal. The happy couple soon has a baby and all seems well...until Roger Bannon (Ben Gazzara) enters their lives. Roger had known Grace slightly for years and confesses to her that he has long been obsessed with her. Although devoted to her devout but boring husband, Grace becomes tempted by Roger's gruff, blue collar ways and is turned on by his raw sexuality. Before long, they become lovers-and their relationship sets in motion a series of dire events that lead to a shocking (and ironic) conclusion.
A Rage to Live seems very dated in its early sequences. Yet, it serves as a disturbing time capsule from an era in which women were supposed to know their place and regard sex as nothing more than a wifely duty, similar to doing housework or changing diapers. The notion that a woman may have sexual desires of her own had profound consequences in polite circles. One of the drawbacks of these opening scenes is that Suzanne Pleshette was in her mid-twenties at the time and, although her performance is excellent, she is simply too old to play a high school girl. Thus, when her mother or brother dictate directives to her, it seems rather absurd to see this clearly mature young woman meekly obeying them. This becomes less of an issue as the story progresses and Pleshette is playing a character her own age. Director Walter Grauman plays up the soap opera elements of the story, all to the accompaniment of a fine score by Nelson Riddle and crisp black and white cinematography by Charles Lawton. As soon as Grace resolves one crisis in her troubled life, another takes its place. Yet, these problems are all of her own making. The concept of the film- a likable woman who cannot control her sexual urges and fantasies- was certainly daring for its day, especially since Grace is presented as a sympathetic figure who dotes on her husband and young child. Yet, she repeatedly risks it all for another turn under the covers. The cautionary aspects of the tale are as old as time: if you play with fire, you'll probably end up getting burned. Yet, Grace is not a villain. Her defense of her unfaithful actions to her husband is the time worn excuse: she loves her spouse and her dalliances are only to fulfill her physical needs. (Seeing how boring Dillman's Sidney is, you can hardly blame her.)
The film is engrossing throughout, even during those scenes that approach guilty pleasure status. Peter Graves turns up later in the film in a key role as a would-be lover of Grace's who plays an instrumental role in her fate. Carmen Matthews is especially good as Pleshette's long-suffering mother and reliable character actor James Gregory provides a typically deft turn as the family doctor. Gazzara is especially good as the guy from the other side of tracks whose animal magnetism initially attracts Grace but eventually frightens her.
A Rage to Live is by no means an example of classic movie-making but it is certainly worth a look, if only to observe how cinema was maturing rapidly during this period and exploring subjects that would have been taboo only a few years before.
The Warner Archive has released the film as a burn to order DVD. Quality is excellent, though there are no bonus features. The DVD is region free.
The Warner Archive has released the 1979 film The Great
Santini on DVD. In many ways, the film helped break Hollywood’s long-standing
glorification of war -- to a point. But it would seem old habits die hard, and
when they do, we’re left with an uneven picture that goes to verge of making a
powerful statement on war before backing off to familiar and safe settings.
Right off the bat, we’re introduced to a Marine
dogfighter, Lt. Col. “Bull” Meechem (Robert Duvall in an Oscar-nominated
performance), as he simulates air-to-air combat with his fellow pilots. Here is
clearly a man in his element, trash-talking and verbally harassing his fellow
pilots as he makes quick work of them.
The grainy stock footage of fighter planes is followed
shortly by a group of carousing Marines making trouble in a bar full of stuffed
shirts and officers, a scene straight out of the classic World War II films
that preceded it. But then the film takes an abrupt turn as we meet Meechem’s
family. These are the Von Trapps of the corps, each precocious and at the same
time fiercely loyal and more than a little fearful of their father.
We begin to see that the title is more than a little
ironic. Despite Meechum’s corps nickname of The Great Santini, there’s very
little admirable about this man. He’s homophobic, misogynistic and physically
and emotionally abusive to his wife, children and fellow Marines. Throughout it
all, excuses are made for Santini. “He’s
getting old, and that’s the hardest thing in the world,” explains his wife
Lillian (Bylthe Danner). On multiple occasions, it’s observed that all the
Colonel needs is a war in which to let out his aggression and let his true
skills as a crack pilot be put to good use.
Released in a post-Vietnam 1979, the film (directed by Lewis John Carlino) is uniquely
able to make this argument. In war time, perhaps it’s okay for someone to be
both a patriot, decorated soldier and an unrepentant asshole, and the audience
will accept these character flaws. But in relatively peaceful times, we plainly
see a man whose life is unraveling. The film is careful not to reveal this
upfront, instead letting his flaws slowly outweigh his positive
characteristics. It’s not until the halfway mark that someone observes of
Santini, “I know a drunk when I see one,” even if the audience is never fed the
stock scene of a man drinking himself to death.
While the film is careful to let this flawed character
unfold deftly by Duvall, it’s often heavy-handed. His eldest son Ben (Michael
O’Keefe), arguably the film’s true protagonist, butts heads with his father at
every turn. He shows emotion and compassion in stark contrast to Santini, but O’Keefe’s
performance often borders on hammy overacting (despite the fact that he was also
nominated for an Oscar for his work in the film). The movie also disappoints in
its scope. Not content to show one man’s struggle to become a better father and
husband (although we can argue about how hard he fights for this), it
overreaches in an attempt to also solve racism through a unnecessary subplot
that seems thrown in for drama’s sake.
In even acknowledging that some skilled warriors need
not be admired beyond their military abilities, the film breaks ground. But The
Great Santinifalls short in
delivering any grand message in the end, instead once again reminding us that
Meechem isn’t so bad -- he just needed a war to cure him of his
self-destructive behavior. One wishes the Warner Archive bare-bones DVD
provided some extras for context (the only special feature is an original
Ultimately, the message seems to be, to paraphrase
Flannery O’Connor, that Santini would be a good man if only there had been
someone to shoot at his whole life.
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The Warner Archive Collection has finally released the
elusive Liberace feature ‘Sincerely Yours’.Originally released to theaters in 1955, this film is a curio of the
times, the studio system and most importantly a snapshot, (in color no less;
more on that later) of the early stages of the musician’s career.
To be fair to the movie, we need to turn our mental
clocks back to the mid- 50s (so lines such as ‘They’ll love him in San
Francisco’ wouldn’t bring immediate chuckles). That upstart- television- had been keeping
audiences away from theaters in droves. Various new processes were employed to give audiences an experience they
couldn’t get at home, such as Cinemascope and 3-D. So what was one of Warner Brother’s great ideas
? To make a movie with the TV’s first
idol, the charming pianist from Wisconsin, Wladziu Valentino Liberace or as he was known professionally, ‘Liberace’. In hindsight, the reasoning was totally
illogical and was one of the main reasons for the film’s demise: Liberace was available to TV audiences every day
for free, so there was no need to go down to the local theater to pay to see
Cynics have long scoffed at the notion of Liberace
being presented as a “Ladies Man”. Yet , he never officially came out of the closet and throughout his
career, he had plenty of women who swooned at his every appearance. They didn’t
seem to care what his sexual preferences were-but Liberace was sensitive to any
suggestion that he might not be a full-blooded heterosexual. He even won a
famous libel suit against a London critic who dared to suggest otherwise.
For Liberace’s screen debut, Warners dusted off a 1932 property,
“The Man Who Played God’, the story of a concert pianist who goes deaf, learns
to lip read and then intervenes in the lives of others. The pianist also finds out that the girl he
was falling for was herself falling for someone else. Yet all along it was his long suffering
secretary who was his real love. Liberace does not set the screen afire as a lead dramatic actor,
although the director Gordon Douglas, who seemed to work with everyone in
Hollywood, from Laurel & Hardy to Sinatra and Elvis, does a good job in
eliciting a fair performance from Lee (as he liked to be called).
One of the popular aspects of Liberace’s TV show was
his ability to play to the camera and invite the audience into his world, with his
brother George and his mom. Playing the
role of a ‘fictional’ performer denied him this resource that worked so well on
the small screen. His public appearances,
not only relied on his mastery of the keyboard but his charm with the older
ladies and frequent interactions with the audience members. And
this is where Sincerely Yours really shines, and makes the disc worth every
penny. We are treated to numerous
concert, dance and nightclub performances, with Liberace charming the audience. The performances are allowed to be worked
through and are not rushed or hurried along, so we get to relax and enjoy the
music and see the true entertainer that Liberace was during his formative years
before the explosion of glitz and glammer of his later Vegas style acts.
Liberace is supported by Joanne Dru as his secretary
(unfortunately since finding out she is Peter Marshall’s sister I can’t help
thinking Hollywood Squares when she is on); William Demarest, always a delight,
plays his manager; Dorothy Malone is his
‘love interest’ and the always dependable LureneTuttle plays one of the beneficiaries
of Lee’s goodness.
The DVD release is presented in the correct 16:9 aspect
ratio for this movie however the image is a little soft and grainy. In all likelihood this is due to the fact
that the film was shot in ‘WarnerColor’, which was just another name for the
then new Eastman Color process. The early
Eastman color stock was very unstable and had a huge grain structure to it), so
don’t expect Technicolor! There are no
extras on the disc.
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