Paramount has issued a 10-DVD collection of Jerry Lewis films, all but one of which pertain to his solo career. ("The Stooge" co-stars Dean Martin). The set is packed with 90 minutes of bonus materials including trailers, commentaries by Lewis and rare archival films and materials. Here is the official press release:
Paramount Home Entertainment has issued a repackaged DVD set containing ten Jerry Lewis feature films. Here is the official press release:
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Relive some of the greatest
film moments from comedy legend and Hollywood icon Jerry Lewis with the
new JERRY LEWIS 10 FILM COLLECTION, arriving on DVD June 12, 2018 from
Paramount Home Media Distribution. Celebrated for his remarkable range of
characters, outlandish antics, and uninhibited physicality, Jerry Lewis’ work
continues to delight audiences around the world and inspire new generations of
Featuring 10 of Lewis’ most beloved comedies, the JERRY
LEWIS 10 FILM COLLECTION is headlined by 1963’s enduring classic The
Nutty Professor, which celebrates its 55th anniversary this year.
Considered by many to be Lewis’ finest and most memorable film, The Nutty
Professor was included on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100
funniest American films of all time and was selected for preservation in the
U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2004.
The 10-DVD set includes the following:
Stooge (1951)—Features one of Lewis’ earliest pairings
with Dean Martin as a musical-comedy duo
Delicate Delinquent (1956)—A “teenage terror” is recruited
for the Police Academy
Bellboy (1960)—Lewis plays a friendly but clumsy bellboy in
this slapstick classic
take on the classic Cinderella story
Errand Boy (1961)—Paramount enlists a bumbling Lewis to spy on
their productions in this hilarious film studio comedy
Ladies Man (1961)—A girl-shy man finds work in a women-only
hotel with uproarious results
Nutty Professor (1963)—A socially awkward professor
invents a serum that turns him into the handsome but obnoxious Buddy Love
Disorderly Orderly (1964)—Lewis wreaks havoc in a private
Patsy (1964)—Lewis directs and stars as a novice
recruited to replace a big-time comedian
Family Jewels (1965)—Lewis directs and plays seven
distinct roles in this family inheritance farce
was arguably the success of A Fistful of Dollars that really set the ball
rolling on the slew of shameless spaghetti western rip-offs and cash-ins that
proliferated throughout the 1960s, as film-makers jostled to get a taste of the
sauce and chow down on a cut of the rewards from what quickly became a very
profitable arena in which to be operating.
rode into town a little later than popular gunslingers such as Sabata, Django
and Ringo, but he made enough of an impression to warrant a number of official
sequels – and several unofficial ones too. Just five legitimate Sartana films
were lensed, with Gianni Garko (billed as John Garko) headlining in four of
them and George Hilton just one. Cucumber cool antihero Sartana was notably
more dapper than most of his mud-spattered box office rivals, a real snappy
dresser in fact; with his black cape lined in red silk, sharp matching cravat
and crisp white shirt, he cut a fine figure riding through desolate wasteland,
deck of cards in one hand, natty miniature four-shooter in the other, always
ready to spit out a death sentence when the moment was called for. In the first
film he even retrieved a musical pocket watch from a corpse and proceeded to
use its tinkly chime to taunt his nemesis.
fabulously contrived titles of the five films belied a series of enjoyable
enough but not exactly top-tier western actioners. Dripping with all the
requisite tropes of the genre, and occasionally sprinkling a few unexpected
condiments into the pot, they’re perfectly watchable fare, but it’s unlikely many
would favour any of them over a Sabata instalment or, indeed, an Eastwood
classic. If, for this writer, there’s any problem at all with the Sartana
series – and it’s one that prevents them from residing up there among the
genre’s finest – it’s that in every instance a plot suited at best to the
50-minute TV episode format was, out of necessity, stretched to feature length,
the resultant slightness of narrative rendering them all far too leisurely
five official Sartana films have now been issued on Blu-ray by Arrow Video in
an impressive collectors’ box set. Accompanied by an illustrated book, each
film is individually packaged and boasts reversible sleeve art, and the entire collection
is housed in an attractive slipcase.
series kickstarter was 1968’s If you meet Sartana pray for your eath (O.T.
Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte), directed by Frank Kramer, a.k.a.
Gianfranco Parolini. (Note: in Italian film titles, only the first word is
capitalised.) Among the most enjoyable of the quintet, the plot concerns a pair
of dodgy bankers who hire a group of Mexicans to steal a strongbox filled with
gold, subsequently allowing them to claim on the insurance. In fact, the
precious cargo has been substituted with rocks, the valuable contents having
already been squirrelled away in a coffin. Following the heist, the Mexicans
are quickly eliminated to wipe out any evidence of the scam. It’s up to Sartana
to uncover the truth and retrieve the gold. Any anticipation engendered by the
opening credit “with the special participation of Klaus Kinsky” (sic) is
swiftly quelled; it’s anything but special, for the A-class actor – who
possessed one of cinema’s most expressive faces (and intimidating grimaces!) –
is relegated to sideline status for much of the action. At least any
disappointment on that score is appeased by the presence of a satisfyingly
formidable bad guy in the shape of wild-eyed, buttercup-chewing William Berger
as Lasky, who, when he’s not gleefully massacring bandits with his hand-cranked
Gatling gun, proves to be a single-shot marksman, planting bullets
centre-forehead in more unfortunates than it’s possible to keep tally of. An
ace cardsharp, Sartana makes a fast enemy of Lasky when he cleans him out at the
poker table. Despite the paucity of plot, director Kramer manages to sustain
interest, layering in double and triple crosses as Sartana gently manipulates
the wrong-doers into turning on each other. There’s a stab at comic relief too
in the form of Franco Pesce as the town’s undertaker, but for this writer his
theatrical gurning and cartoonish mannerisms eclipse the intended amiable
quirkiness to become distractingly irksome.
2K restoration from the original film materials displays a fair amount of
grain, but aside from one brief moment of picture damage at the outset and a
slightly protracted patch of vertical scratching further along, the print is in
very respectable shape. The film can be viewed in either an English dub or its
original Italian with newly translated English subtitles. Supplements comprise
a commentary from film historian (and Cinema Retro contributor) Mike Siegel, an
interview with director Kramer, a helpful guide to the characters in the
Sartana universe, and a gallery of artwork and stills.
year later, in 1969, I am Sartana, your angel of death (O.T. Sono Sartana, il
vostro becchino) was unleashed. In this one our man (Garko again) appears to
have been involved in a bank robbery and finds himself at the top of the most
wanted list, with a $10,000 dead or alive price on his head. He didn’t do it,
of course, so has to hunt down the real perpetrator to clear his name, whilst
evading bounty hunters hot on his trail and intent on bagging the reward. It’s
a decent enough follow-up from director Giuliano Carnimeo (credited as Anthony
Ascott), which showcases another fine Garko performance (with Sartana now
displaying a knack for sleight of hand card tricks) and the return of Klaus
Kinski (spelt with the “I” this time) in a meatier, albeit less threatening
role, that of a gambler-cum-bounty hunter with the best character name of
anyone in the entire run of Sartana pictures: Hot Dead. Unfortunately, Franco
Pesce (uncredited this time) is also back, now promoted to town mayor,
fortuitously only briefly on screen but every bit as annoying. The story
unfolds at a sedate price, but Ascott and cinematographer Giovanni Bergamini
keep things percolating with some stylish set-ups, the camera lurching sideways
whenever bodies spin and hit the dust. One brief scene stands out for this
writer, if not for the right reason; when Sartana dodges a spray of bullets
from a trio of pursuing gunmen by zigzagging left and right, any sense of
suspense is undermined by spurred memories of the amusing Peter Falk/Alan Arkin
‘serpentine’ sequence in 1979’s The In-Laws!
had access to the original camera negative for this one and the 2K restoration
is very nice indeed. Again sound options are English and Italian. Extras
comprise a commentary from historian and filmmakers C Courtney Joyner and Henry
Peake, interviews with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi and stuntman Sal Borgese,
plus a gallery of European poster art and German lobby cards.
My only memory of "Swashbuckler" was seeing it for the first time when it was already in release for a year. The occasion was that this was an in-flight movie on my first trip to Europe in the summer of 1977. In those ancient times, films were still shown on 16mm projectors on pull-down screens in the main cabin. I remember being unimpressed with the film but the distraction of the (then) free liquor service might have affected my opinion. As Cinema Retro's latest issue features coverage of the 1977 film "The Deep" starring Robert Shaw, I decided to revisit "Swashbuckler" largely because it also stars the estimable Shaw, who never gave a bad performance. I found my opinion of the pirate tale had improved considerably since the first viewing. It's a raucous, old-fashioned yarn that perhaps too earnestly tries to recapture the vim and vigor of those old screen adventures that would star Errol Flynn or young Burt Lancaster. Ably directed by James Goldstone, who takes full advantage of the lush Mexican locations (representing old Jamaica), the film opens in the court of Lord Durant (Peter Boyle), the corrupt British governor of Jamaica who rules the island like a tyrant. When honest nobleman Sir James Durant (Bernard Behrens) runs afoul of him, Durant has him arrested and imprisoned to await execution of a death sentence. He also commands that Durant's wife (Louisa Horton) and daughter Jane (Genevieve Bujold) be evicted from the family estate and forced to live in a tenement. Durant's main nemesis is the pirate Ned Lynch (Robert Shaw), who- along with his merry men- acts as a sort of Robin Hood, stealing from the corrupt rich and dispensing much of their fortunes to the poor. Predictably, Jane has an encounter with Ned and professes to loathe him, but as these things inevitably play out, we know the two are attracted to each other. After much griping and fighting that literally includes a duel between Jane and Ned, she implores him to come to the aid of her father, who is facing imminent execution. Ned and his men launch a full-throttle attack on Durant and- if you haven't guessed it- save the day.
"Swashbuckler" is undistinguished on most levels except for the fact that it is exciting and lives up to its title by including an abundance of terrific sword fights. Kudos to all the actors, who performed these extended and exhausting duels with great professionalism, including Bujold, whose slight build must have certainly posed an obstacle in filming these scenes. The supporting cast includes some esteemed names including Geoffrey Holder (in full "Live and Let Die" Baron Samedi mode) and Beau Bridges as a bumbling British army officer appropriately named Major Folly. The action is impressively filmed by cinematographer Philip H. Lathrop and it's all set to a lively score by John Addison. Shaw seems to be having the time of his life in what must have been a physically taxing role for him. Although the stuntmen are in abundance, it's quite clear he did many of his own action scenes. (Shaw says in the production featurette on the DVD that the film was more physically challenging than "Jaws"). Bujold does well as the gutsy young woman who defies sexual stereotypes and Peter Boyle is a great deal of fun as the evil Durant, even if he is miscast as a British nobleman. James Earl Jones has a prominent role as Ned Lynch's right-hand pirate. "Swashbuckler" wasn't designed to win awards or become a boxoffice blockbuster. It represents the kind of modest production that was designed to entertain and make a quick profit in an era before every release represented a major financial risk for the studio.
The Universal DVD features a very nice transfer and some welcome extras including an interesting original production featurette about the making of the film, cast and crew biographies and production notes and the original trailer. Recommended.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
for the Very First Time at Retail, the 6-Disc Set Features 24 Complete,
Remastered Episodes Loaded with Classic Sketches and Incredible Guest Stars Including Raquel Welch, Steve Allen, Johnny Cash,
Bing Crosby, Gene Hackman, Rita Hayworth, Hugh Hefner, Bob Hope, Liza Minnelli,
Carroll O’Connor, Carl Reiner, John Wayne, Henny Youngman and Many More!
correctness met its match with Rowan
& Martin’s Laugh-In, NBC-TV’s groundbreaking variety series that became
a cultural touchstone and part of the fabric of ‘60s-‘70s era America.Every Monday night at 8pm from 1968-1973, straight
man Dan Rowan and wisecracking co-host Dick Martin led a supremely talented
comic ensemble through a gut-busting assault of one-liners, skits, bits and non
sequiturs that left viewers in hysterics and disbelief.ROWAN
& MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, from the award-winning TV
DVD archivists at Time Life, makes its retail debut on July 10 in an uproarious
set featuring all 24 re-mastered episodes from the fifth season (September
13,1971-March 20, 1972).
COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, after years of shameless name dropping, Dick finally
gets his wish when bombshell Raquel Welch kicks off the new season with her
first and only appearance on the show.Former
Hogan’s Heroes POWs Richard Dawson
and Larry Hovis escaped CBS to join the cast. And, along with alumni Judy
Carne, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Jo Anne Worley and Teresa Graves, they help to
celebrate Laugh-In’s landmark 100th
episode (September 1, 1971).THE
COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON also trots out many of the 20th century’s greatest
talents, including Steve Allen, Johnny
Carson, Johnny Cash, Carol Channing, Charo, Petula Clark, Bing Crosby, Tony
Curtis, Henry Gibson, Gene Hackman, Rita Hayworth, Hugh Hefner, Bob Hope, Arte
Johnson, Paul Lynde, Liza Minnelli, Agnes Moorehead, Joe Namath, Carroll O’Connor,
Vincent Price, Carl Reiner, Debbie Reynolds, Sugar Ray Robinson, Bill Russell,
Vin Scully, Doc Severinsen, Jacqueline Susann, Tiny Tim, John Wayne, Raquel
Welch, Henny Youngman, and more!
COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON also includes such classic features as “Cocktail Party,”
“Fickle Finger of Fate,” “Joke Wall,” “Gladys and Tyrone,” “General Bull
Right,” “Big Al,” Lily Tomlin’s legendary “Ernestine” and “Edith Ann,”
“Tasteful Lady,” and “Ruth Buzzi’s Hollywood Report”.Additionally, Mod, Mod World takes on sports,
toys and games, families, politics, nutrition, leisure, year’s end, Manhattan,
television, small towns, crazy people, and the theater, Robert Goulet, Charo,
and Three Dog Night perform the Laugh-In
news song and there’s a hilarious “Salute to Santa” and a very modern Christmas
Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Lily Tomlin, Ruth Buzzi, Arte
Johnson, Gary Owens, Alan Sues, Ann Elder, Dennis Allen, Barbara Sharma, Johnny Brown, Larry
Hovis, Richard Dawson
Format: DVD/6 Discs
Running Time: 1239 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
About Time Life
Time Life is one of
the world's pre-eminent creators and direct marketers of unique music and
video/DVD products, specializing in distinctive multi-media collections that
evoke memories of yesterday, capture the spirit of today, and can be enjoyed
for a lifetime. TIME LIFE and the TIME LIFE logo are registered trademarks of
Time Warner Inc. and affiliated companies used under license by Direct Holdings
Americas Inc., which is not affiliated with Time Warner Inc. or Time Inc.
Sam Spiegel was one of the most revered and accomplished producers in Hollywood history. His achievements included such classics as "On the Waterfront", "The African Queen", "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia". His body of work, though not nearly as extensive as that of some other producers, was notable in the sense that Spiegel thought big and shot for the moon when it came to bringing to the screen stories that spoke to the human condition. Following the triumphant release of "Lawrence" in 1962, Spiegel did not make another film for four years. When he did, the movie - "The Chase"- turned out to be a star-packed drama that won over neither critics or audiences. Spiegel had a more ambitious idea for his next production, a screen adaptation of the best-selling WWII thriller "The Night of the Generals" by Hans Helmut Kirst. Spiegel had the inspired idea of reuniting his "Lawrence of Arabia" co-stars Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif. They were reluctant to take on the project, but they certainly owed him. Both were virtual unknowns until Spiegel gave them the roles that made them international stars. Spiegel also added to the mix an impressive cast of esteemed British actors ranging from veterans such as Donald Pleasence and Charles Gray to up-and-coming young actors Tom Courtenay and Joanna Pettet. He chose Anatole Litvak to direct. Litvak had been making films for decades and had a few notable hits such as "Sorry, Wrong Number", "Anastasia" and "The Snake Pit". Spiegel being Spiegel ensured that the production benefited from a large budget and an appropriate running time (148 minutes) that would allow the story to unfold in a measured process.
"The Night of the Generals" is certainly a unique spin on WWII films. There are no battles or major action sequences, save for a harrowing sequence in which the German army systematically destroys part of the Warsaw Ghetto. Instead, it's very much a character study populated by characters who are, indeed, very interesting. The film opens with a tense sequence set in occupied Warsaw. The superintendent of an over-crowded apartment building accidentally overhears the brutal murder of a local prostitute in a room upstairs. From a hiding place he witnesses the killer walk past him. He does not see the man's face but recognizes his uniform: he is a general in the German army. The man keeps this information to himself on the logical assumption that divulging it might mean his death sentence. However, under questioning from the army investigator, Major Grau (Omar Sharif), he tells the shocking details of what he witnessed. From this moment, Grau becomes obsessed with finding the killer. Grau may be a German officer, but he is a pure cynic when it comes to the Nazi cause and the brutal methods being employed to win the war. He can't control the larger picture of how the war is being waged but he can control what is in his jurisdiction: bringing to justice the man who committed this one especially savage murder. Grau soon centers on three suspects. The first is General von Seiditz-Gabler (Charles Gray, channeling his future Blofeld), an effete, well-connected opportunist who is in a loveless marriage to his dominating wife Eleanore (Coral Browne). Then there is General Kahlenberg (Donald Pleasence), a man of slight build and low-key personality who has some eccentric personal habits that may include murder. Last, and most intriguing, is General Tanz (Peter O'Toole), a much-loathed and much-feared darling of Hitler's inner circle whose ruthless methods with dealing with civilian populations disgust his colleagues. Tanz has been sent to control or obliterate the Warsaw Ghetto.
The screenplay (which includes contributions by an uncredited Gore Vidal) is a bit disjointed and cuts back and forth to the present day in which we see a French police inspector, Morand (Phillippe Noiret), investigating the case twenty years later as he tries to tie together Grau's findings with dramatic developments that occurred during his handling of the case. Morand also appears in the war era sequences, having befriended Grau, who does not seem at all disturbed when he learns that Morand is actually a key figure in the French Resistance. Grau becomes particularly intrigued by General Ganz. He is an elitist snob who is devoid of any humor or compassion. A workaholic with seemingly no human weaknesses, Tanz is ostensibly under the command of his superior officer, Gabler, but it becomes clear that his political connections make him the top general in Warsaw. Major Grau interviews all three suspects and finds that any of them could be the murderer. When he becomes too intrusive, he is conveniently promoted and transferred to Paris, presumably to shut down his investigation. However, as the fortunes of war decline for the Third Reich, the top brass is eventually moved to Paris and Grau resumes his investigation when he discovers that prostitutes are being brutally murdered there as well. There is a parallel story that accompanies that of the murder investigation. It centers on Corporal Hartmann (Tom Courtenay), a young soldier who has been reluctantly acclaimed to be a national hero. It seems he was the last surviving member of his unit after a bloody battle. The brass used him as a propaganda tool, bestowing medals on him for heroic actions. In fact, he is a self-proclaimed coward whose only goal is to stay alive through the war. Hartmann confesses this to his superior, General Kahlenberg, who is amused by his honesty. He assigns him to be General Tanz's personal valet and orders him to show Tanz the history and sights of Paris. Neither he nor Tanz wants to partake in the venture, but Gabler orders Tanz to take a few days vacation, largely because he despises the man's presence. The scenes in which Hartmann tries to appease the mercurial Tanz without making any missteps are fraught with tension and suspense. Tanz is a fascinating character, presumably devoid of the vices most men have. However, in the course of their time together, Hartmann realizes that Tanz is somewhat of a fraud. He surreptitiously drinks to excess and changes into civilian clothes in order to meet with prostitutes in seedy bars. Although Tanz chews out Hartmann for every minor infraction, he seems to come to respect the younger man's professionalism. This sets in motion another complex plot development that also involves Hartmann's secret romance with General Gabler's free-spirited daughter Ulrike (Joanna Pettet).
Just trying to summarize the various plot strands of "The Night of the Generals" in this space is fairly exhausting. Oh, did I mention that another subplot involves Field Marshal Rommel (a cameo by Christopher Plummer) and the July, 1944 plot on the part of rebellious German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler? Nevertheless, although the various story lines become quite complex, they are all tied together eventually in clever and compelling ways. The film is part "Whodunnit", part political statement and part war movie. The movie moves back to the present for its intense conclusion as Inspector Morand is finally able to solve the crime and attempt to bring the culprit to justice. When the killer is revealed it's about as shocking of a development as the revelation that the butler did it in one of those old British film noir mysteries. Still, director Litvak (who shares the producer credit with Sam Spiegel because he owned the screen rights to the novel) keeps the action flowing briskly running time and elicits outstanding performances from his cast. O'Toole, who would later capitalize on playing larger-than-life characters, was at this point in his career still very immersed in portraying introspective, quiet men. He is quite mesmerizing as General Tanz and quite terrifying as well. Sharif is, at least on the surface, badly cast. I'm not aware of any Egyptians who became prominent German officers. Sharif has the map of the Middle East on his face and lingering remnants of his native accent. It's to his credit that he overcomes these obstacles and gives a very fine performance as the charismatic investigator who doggedly pursues his suspects with Javert-like conviction. All of the other performances are equally outstanding, with Courtenay especially impressive- and one has to wonder why the very talented Joanna Pettet never became a bigger star. The international flavor of the cast gives the film a Tower of Babel-like effect. Some of the actors attempt to affect a quasi-German accent while others speak with British accents, and then we have the French and Poland-based sequences with even more diversity of languages. Still, if you could accept Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood speaking "German" in their native tongues in "Where Eagles Dare", you won't find this aspect of "The Night of the Generals" to be particularly distracting. I should also mention the impressive contributions of composer Maurice Jarre, cinematographer Henri Decae and main titles designer Robert Brownjohn (remember when films even had opening titles?) In summary, the film-which not successful with critics or the public- is a thoroughly intriguing experience and affords us the joy of watching some of the best actors of the period sharing the screen.
"The Night of the Generals" has been released as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The transfer is gorgeous, giving full impact to the impressive cinematography and lush production design. There is also an isolated score track, the original trailer and an informative booklet by film historian Julie Kirgo, who examines Sam Spiegel's attempts to rebuild his career in subsequent years only to find that he was out of place in the new Hollywood.
Lorber has released the obscure 1969 Western “More Dead Than Alive” in a
Blu-ray edition.Discharged from prison
in 1891 after serving an eighteen-year sentence for murder, legendary
gunslinger Cain (Clint Walker) determines to stay away from firearms, find
honest work, and save enough money to buy a ranch.But his reputation as “Killer” Cain precedes
him, and chances for employment are slim until he encounters conniving showman
Dan Ruffalo (Vincent Price).“People
would have something to talk about, if they could see you using this notched
Colt of yours,” Ruffalo chortles.He
encourages Cain to cash in on his notoriety and join Ruffalo’s traveling show
as its star sharpshooting attraction, relegating the show’s current marksman,
Billy (Paul Hampton), to a subsidiary role.Monica, a free-spirited artist (Anne Francis), strikes up a friendship
with Cain and thinks it’s a bad idea for him to pick up a gun again, however
limited his options.Meanwhile, the
reformed pistoleer’s old enemies hope to see him dead, including outlaw Santee
(Mike Henry), who carries a grudge from a botched jailbreak.
the sheer number of Westerns produced in 1969, it’s a sure bet that some
pictures released in the shadow of that year’s Big Four -- “The Wild Bunch,”
“Once Upon the Time in the West,” “True Grit,” and “Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid” -- deserve rediscovery and reappraisal.In the case of “More Dead Than Alive,” fans
will welcome the chance to see Clint Walker, Vincent Price, Anne Francis, and
Mike Henry again in prime form.Script
and direction, not so much.The
action-packed poster, reprinted as the sleeve art for the Kino Lorber Blu-ray,
would lead you to expect a gritty, violent movie along the lines of “A Stranger
in Town,” “God Forgives -- I Dont!,” and other Italian Westerns that were
beginning to play widely that year in the U.S., following the breakout success
of Sergio Leone’s three “Dollars” movies.Instead, the gunplay and blood squibs are confined to the opening scene
and two sequences near the end.Otherwise, it’s a plodding, talky production that ambles from one
situation to the next without building up much momentum, like an episode from
one of the sedate television Westerns of the late ‘60s.The direction by TV veteran Robert Sparr is
dutiful but listless.Characters are
introduced whom we think will have major roles in the story (like a lady saloon
owner played by Beverly Powers), only to have them soon drop out of sight,
never to be seen again.Mike Henry’s
Santee is a terrific bad guy who stacks up believably against big Clint
Walker’s hero in size and macho presence, but he’s missing in action for most
of the picture.Once the script
remembers to bring him back, a well-staged, knock-down fistfight between the
two characters near the end of the movie injects a welcome jolt of energy that the
rest of the film could have used.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray offers “More Dead Than Alive” in an acceptable, 1920x1080p
encoding.As a bonus feature, the disc
includes an interview with the late Clint Walker, recorded in 2014.In discussing the film, his colleagues, and
his career in Hollywood, Walker is modest, dignified, and thoughtful --
qualities sadly lacking in today’s media parade of rancorous politicians,
Reality Show exhibitionists, and Internet provocateurs.
Although I have a weak spot for Italian westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, most can be appropriately evaluated by paraphrasing Longfellow: "When they were good, they were very, very good, and when they were bad, they were horrid." "Blindman" is a curiosity from 1971 that I previously panned after viewing an allegedly "remastered" DVD edition that looked barely better than a VHS transfer. The film fits rather comfortably into the latter part of Longfellow's famous nursery rhyme. Although the movie has a devoted fan base, when I first reviewed it I call it "a pretty horrid experience and inexcusably amateurish in execution, given the well-seasoned people involved". The good news is that Abkco Films has released a truly remastered DVD version that considerably improves one's perception of the film. As the title implies, it's about...well, a blind man. He's played by Tony Anthony, who did rather well for himself as a sort of Clint Eastwood Lite character known as The Stranger in a series of Euro Westerns (Any similarity to Eastwood's Man With No Name must have been purely coincidental). Anthony went on to star in any number of lucrative, low-budget action films, the most notable being "Comin' At Ya!, a 3-D flick that has also built a loyal cult following. His co-star in "Blindman" is Ringo Starr. More about him later. The film was based on a Japanese movie titled "Zatoichi" about a blind samurai hero. As with "The Magnificent Seven", which was based on Kurasawa's "Seven Samurai", the story has been transplanted to the American west. When we first see the Blindman (whose name is never mentioned), he rides into a one-horse town and confronts his former partners. Seems they had a lucrative contract to deliver 50 mail order brides to some horny miners. However, a better offer was made from a Mexican bandito named Domingo (Lloyd Battista), who has exported them South 'O the Border to force them into prostitution. Blindman apparently has a sense of honor in terms of fulfilling the original contract. He manages to kill his former partners and sets off to Mexico to rescue the women, presumably so they can sold into another form of prostitution. At first the premise of this film intrigued me. How, after all, can you logically present a story about a blind gunslinger? The answer is you apparently can't. You could get away with it if the film was a satire, but there is surprisingly little overt humor in "Blindman". Yes, in true Eastwood fashion, the hero sometimes makes some snarky quips before, during and after dispatching his adversaries, but for the most part, the film takes itself far too seriously.
How does the Blindman find his way around? Well, he has his own "wonder horse" who seems more like a companion than a beast of burden. The hoofed hero is always at his disposal and seems to be able to do everything but read a map for him. Speaking of maps, Blindman gets to various destinations by running his finger over maps that engraved in leather...sort of a braille system. Given the fact that he has to navigate the state of Texas, then Mexico, one would think he would require maps the size of rolls of kitchen linoleum, but somehow he gets by with navigational tools that fit neatly into his pocket. When Blindman arrives in Mexico, he has numerous confrontations with the brutal Domingo and his army of thugs. He suffers the ritualistic beatings of any hero in the Italian western genre, but always manages to get the better hand by his deadly use of the rifle that he uses as a walking stick. Somehow the Blindman can use instinct and an uncanny hearing ability to gun down his would-be assassins with uncanny precision, though occasionally he does impose on some allies for advice. He also confronts Candy (Ringo Starr), Domingo's equally sadistic brother, who is keeping a captive woman as his mistress. What follows is a seemingly endless series of chases, confrontations and the obligatory imitation Morricone score, all of it under the pedestrian direction of Ferdinando Baldi, who has a revered reputation with some fans of the genre and does manage to set off some impressive explosions. (Amusingly, the concept of showing the "50" mail order brides must have taxed the limited budget so we only get to see them in small clusters.). There are a couple of sequences that stand out in terms of creativity. One involves the surprise slaughter of a barroom filled with Mexican soldiers. The other has a bit of suspense as the Blindman is served a food bowl that he doesn't realize contains a deadly snake. The finale of the film finds Blindman wrestling with Domingo, who has been blinded by a cigar! (Don't ask...) It's supposed to be a tense confrontation, but the sight of the two blind guys rolling around in the dirt looks like an outtake from a Monty Python sketch. The most intriguing aspect of the film is what led Ringo Starr into appearing in it. He had considerable on-screen charisma that he parlayed into a successful acting career. Here, however, his role is colorless and bland. He doesn't even play the main villain, but rather a supporting character who disappears from the story before the movie even reaches the one-hour mark. Starr supposedly was looking to jump-start his film career and worked with Tony Anthony to develop this production. While he acquits himself credibly, he might have at least given his character some memorable lines or characteristics.
The previously reviewed version of the film pointed out that the packaging had indicated the film had a running time of 105 minutes, which matches with the original timing cited on on the IMDB site. However, the screener we reviewed ran only 83 minutes and it looked like it had been edited with a meat cleaver. The ABCKO version is the actual 105 minute cut and the transfer is excellent, a vast improvement over the muddy mess we had previously reviewed. Seeing "Blindman" again under these conditions has allowed me to reevaluate my opinion of the film. While it certainly never rises to the standards of a Sergio Leone production, the movie's quirky premise and the amusing performance by Tony Anthony made the experience far more enjoyable the second time around.
Earlier this year, Acorn Media Enterprises with Free@Last TV
announced Acorn TV’s first sole commission with the return of Agatha Raisin,
Series 2 starring Ashley Jensen (Love, Lies & Records, Catastrophe), which
begins filming this summer.
“Lonely Boy: The Benny Hill Story” is an original drama that
spans the life and times of Benny Hill from his early days as a part of a
double-act to his heady height of fame as the most-loved British prime-time
comedian lauded on both sides of the Atlantic. The series will chart his tragic
decline and fall in the late 80’s as a new generation of rising stars usurped
Lonely Boy will follow the journey of a cripplingly insecure
young lad with a single-minded desire to make people laugh, through the dying
last days of variety and who is ultimately saved from obscurity by television. The
series will also examine the double-standards of the tabloid press.
Helping him achieve his goal will be a surrogate family; a
‘brother’ in comedy writer and lifelong friend Dave Freeman and a ‘father’ in
producer/director Ken Carter – and later Dennis Kirkland. These men believe in
Benny when no-one else does. They help him, hone him – emotionally and
An uplifting, deeply moving story with a universal truth at
its core; how our parents, for good or bad, shape who we are.
‘Lonely Boy’ takes
its name from one of Benny Hill’s classic 1960’s hits and was developed by
Free@Last TV’s David Walton in partnership with writer Caleb Ranson.
The series consultant is Hilary Bonner who was the co-author
of the Benny Hill biography 'Benny & Me' with Benny's long-term TV
collaborator Dennis Kirkland.
Barry Ryan, Creative Director of Free@Last TV noted, “Benny
Hill is a lost national treasure and a much-misunderstood man. Our drama will
reignite his legacy and address some of the misconceptions about the man and
his material while also chronicling the dying days of variety entertainment and
the birth of television”.
Writer Caleb Ranson said, “When I was a kid growing up in
the 70s and 80s I loved Benny Hill, his skits and wordplay and especially his
songs. Then as I got older, like the rest of the country, I fell out of love
with him. Why was that? What happened? Around the world he’s still revered but
here in the UK, he’s all but forgotten. A punchline to a bad joke. I want to
reclaim him from the comedy dustbin of history, to explore the Benny nobody
knows, the ahead of his time comedy genius of the 50s and 60s and why in his
twilight years he fell so hard and so quickly out of favour”.
Free @ Last TV was founded in 2000 by Barry Ryan and David
Walton. The company has produced over 450 hours of television for a variety of
channels including Gina Yashere: Gina Las Vegas, Martina Cole’s Lady Killers
and the comedy-drama Agatha Raisin. The company has a full development slate
including Reginald Hill’s thriller ‘Death of a Dormouse’, ‘The Charles Paris
Mysteries’ and ‘Spilsbury’ written by award-winning writer and actress Nichola
Acorn Media Enterprises commissions, co-produces and
acquires a diverse slate of international dramas for Acorn TV, North America’s
most popular streaming service for British and international television. This
news follows Acorn Media Enterprises and Acorn TV’s recent commission
announcements for the straight-to-series order of British drama London Kills Series
1 and 2 as well as a co-production announcements for Aussie comedy Sando and Irish
comedy Finding Joy from Amy Huberman, as well as the licensing of hit British
police procedural No Offence, Jack Irish, Season 2 starring Guy Pearce, and
Welsh drama Hidden. Read recent announcements at https://www.rljentertainment.com/press-room/
In 2018, Acorn Media Enterprises has already featured five
North American co-productions and Acorn TV Originals with Series 3 of
universally adored BBC comedy Detectorists starring Mackenzie Crook and Toby
Jones; Kay Mellor’s ITV drama Girlfriends starring Phyllis Logan (Downton
Abbey), Miranda Richardson (Stronger, And Then There Were None), and Zoe
Wanamaker (Agatha Christie’s Poirot); Irish legal drama Striking Out, Series 2
starring Amy Huberman; record-setting Welsh thriller Keeping Faith starring Eve
Myles (Torchwood, Broadchurch); and Aussie family comedy Sando.
Called “Netflix for the Anglophile” by NPR and featuring “the
most robust, reliable selection of European, British, Canadian and Australian
shows” by The New York Times, Acorn TV
exclusively premieres several new international series and/or seasons every
month from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, and other
from a youth spent shooting their own movies on 8mm – the heartfelt intent and
burning enthusiasm for which sometimes (but not always) rendered the
made-for-pennies mini-epics amusingly watchable today – in 1987 the
enterprising Chiodo brothers finally got to stage their first feature film
production, which was released to decent acclaim in 1988. Produced and
co-written by Charles, Edward and Stephen Chiodo, with the latter occupying the
director’s chair, that film is every bit as bizarre as you’d expect of one
bearing the title Killer Klowns from
of Crescent Cove is under assault by alien beings, which appear in the form of
freakish clowns and whose spaceship adopts the facade of a circus tent. These
aliens are abducting the populace and cocooning them in a flesh-eating
substance resembling candyfloss. It’s up to local cop Dave Hansen (John Allen
Nelson), clean-cut lad Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer) and a pair of simpleton ice
cream vendors – the Terenzi brothers (Michael Siegal and Peter Licassi) –
to rescue Mike’s girlfriend Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) from a horrible fate and
save the town.
hyperbolic to say that Killer Klowns from
Outer Space is a comic-horror caper like no other. A kooky, colourful
confection of chuckles and gore, the Chiodos lay on the (pop)corny gags and
cheesy SFX with unrestrained relish. How much fun there is to be found in
balloon animals coming to life, pieces of ‘living’ popcorn mutating into
aggressive clown-headed snake-creatures, human ventriloquist dummies,
acid-laced cream pies, and giant shadow puppets eating spectators is, of course,
entirely subjective. For this viewer it has to be said that by the time the
final reel unspools the silliness overload runs out of fizz, but there’s
certainly no faulting the imagination and passion at play here. And it’s hard
not to enjoy something that gifts John Vernon with a frothy bad guy role; although
for many (myself included) he’ll always be Animal
House’s Dean Vernon Wormer, he’s on good form here as a bully-boy cop who
gets his just desserts. Coulrophobics
should unquestionably avoid this one, for the titular Klowns are the ugliest,
most rotten-toothed bunch you’ll find this side of a Billy Smart’s Circus OAP
reunion. But for everyone else, as daft as the whole shebang may be, this is
post-pub Friday night fodder of the highest order.
Video has issued the film on Blu-ray with a Big Top’s worth of supplemental material,
though it’s as interested in the careers of the Chiodo brothers in general as
it is Klowns-specific. The key lure
is a documentary about the Chiodo’s passion for the home movies mentioned at
the start of this review, and HD transfers of the half a dozen titles shot
between 1968 and 1978 are included, technically proficient and evidencing their
love of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion monster animation. There’s also a tour of
Chiodo Bros Productions in the company of Stephen. Tied to Klowns itself there’s a feature-accompanying Chiodo commentary.
Interviews with actors Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder, along with theme song
performers The Dickies, are appended by archival pieces from Charles Chiodo,
effects supervisor Gene Warren, creature creator Dwight Roberts and composer
John Massari. There are 2 deleted scenes (with optional commentary), bloopers,
Klown auditions footage, a vintage trailer and a gallery of artwork,
storyboards and stills. It’s so par for the course now that it scarcely needs
mentioning, but the usual Arrow sugar-coating of a reversible sleeve is present
Jack London was an American literary phenomenon. He had a
rough and tumble childhood, but was always a voracious reader. Lacking the
money for college, he was basically self-educated. On his own he read Spencer,
Milton, Nietzsche, and Darwin and lived a life you only read about in story
books. He was a sailor, a hobo, a gold prospector in the Yukon, worked in a
Chinese laundry, and before he died at age 40, was the author of 50 books, at
least two of which are considered literary masterpieces: Call of the Wild, and The Sea
It was in The Sea
Wolf that he created one of fiction’s most unforgettable characters—Wolf
Larsen, the larger-than-life captain of a three-masted seal-hunting schooner,
who was London’s idea of the Nietzschean Superman. Many critics thought The Sea Wolf was written in praise of
Nietzsche’s ideas, but London maintained it was actually the opposite, and felt
that the public just didn’t get it. That may be the case, but there is no
ambiguity in Robert Rossen’s screenplay for Michael Curtiz’s 1941 film adaption
of the novel. In this version (one of about a dozen going back to the silent
era), Larsen (Edward G. Robinson) is portrayed as a sadistic monster, admirable
only for his ability to overcome storms at sea and mutiny by the sheer force of
In the novel the story is told through the eyes of Humphrey
Van Weyden (Alexander Knox), an effete intellectual, and an idealistic, or as
they called them in those days an altruist. His viewpoint is thrown into sharp contrast
with Larsen’s “might makes right” philosophy. In the film, George Leach (John
Garfield), a man on the run from the law, becomes the point of view narrator,
giving the story a slightly different angle. Thrown into the mix is Ruth
Brewster (Ida Lupino), a girl from the Barbary Coast who’s got a police record.
The film is set almost entirely on board the schooner, while the novel covers
more territory, including an island where Van Weyden and the girl are washed up
Rossen’s screenplay is a bit more sharply focused than
the novel. In a scene between Larsen and Van Weyden that takes place in the
captain’s cabin, we learn that Larsen is widely read, much like London himself.
He adopts a line from Milton’s Paradise
Lost as his motto, the words of Lucifer: “It is better to reign in hell,
than to serve in heaven.” In both book and movie, Larsen gets his kicks by
setting up his victims with what at first appears to be praise, only to turn it
into brutal humiliation. There is some discussion of morality and man’s place
in the universe, with Larsen maintaining aboard the ship he has the power of a
god over everyone on board and can make them do anything he wants. To which Van
Weyden replies: “But there is a price no one will pay to go on living.”
“The Sea Wolf” was made at a time when fascism was
sweeping over Europe. Nations were learning the price they had to pay in order
to survive in a world threatened by a brutal dictator. That message may be just
as pertinent today with similar political currents “infesting” world politics.
Robinson, Lupino, Garfield and Knox give first rate
performances, with Robinson especially good as the megalomaniac captain. He
manages to conjure up some sympathy for Larsen who suffers from headaches that
eventually make him blind, and as in the novel, you have to admire his ability
to overcome and dominate his environment as few men can.
Even though “The Sea Wolf” was once a staple on TV Late
Shows back in the Sixties, it never really got much attention when it aired.
One reason for its neglect was the fact that after its initial 1941 release the
movie was re-released in 1947 in a shorter version, with 14 minutes edited out
of it. For 70 years that was the only version available. Film archivists
searched for the lost footage for years and only recently discovered a 35 mm
nitrate element in a storage unit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The
Warner Archive disc presents the full length version in 1080p high def. Picture detail is sharp and clean. Sol
Polito’s (“The Sea Hawk”) cinematography hasn’t looked this good since the
film’s original run. The 2.0 DTS mono soundtrack is first rate. Every word of
dialog is clear and every note of Eric Korngold’s dark, brooding score is heard
to full advantage. Extras include a theatrical trailer and the audio of a 1950
radio broadcast of Screen Director’s Playhouse’s truncated version of the film
starring Robinson.Highly recommended.
CLICK HERETO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
A film by
Kevin Brownlow &
Edition release, 23 July 2018
Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo’s immensely
powerful It Happened Here
depicts an alternative history in which England has been invaded and occupied
by Nazi Germany. Coming to Blu-ray for the first time, on 23 July 2018,
the film is presented in a new 2K remaster (from the original camera negative) by
the BFI National Archive, supervised by Kevin Brownlow, to mark his 80th
birthday. A raft of exceptional extras include previously unseen
behind-the-scenes footage, new interviews, news items, trailers and more.
‘The German invasion of England took place in July
1940 after the British retreat from Dunkirk. Strongly resisted at first, the
German army took months to restore order, but the resistance movement, lacking
outside support, was finally crushed. Then, in 1944, it reappeared.’
That is what happened when history was rewritten:
Nazi Germany has won the Second World War and England is under occupation. Kevin
Brownlow was only 18 when he and Andrew Mollo – just 16 – embarked on this
ambitious neorealist-tinged drama, which took eight years to complete, helped
along by financial support from Tony Richardson (Woodfall Films). Shot on both
16mm and 35mm, with a mainly amateur cast and with incredible attention to
detail, the impressively polished result is a chilling and timely reminder of
what might have been had Nazism not been defeated.
The newly remastered film will be premiered
on the big screen at a special Blu-ray/DVD launch event at BFI Southbank on its
release date, Monday 23 Julyat 6.00pm, followed by a discussion with Kevin
Brownlow and Andrew Mollo. More
details and tickets from www.bfi.org.uk/southbank
High Definition and Standard Definition
·Mirror on the World (1962, 10
mins): full version of fake German newsreel
·It Happened Here: Behind the Scenes (1956-66,22 mins):
previously unseen footage with a new commentary by Kevin Brownlow
·Original UK and
US trailers (1966)
·It Happened Here Again (1976, 7 mins): excerpt from a documentary on Winstanley
excerpt with the directors(2009, 2
·The Conquest of London (1964/2005, 4 mins): Italian TV item
·On Set With Brownlow and Mollo (2018, 12 mins):interview
with Production Assistant Johanna Roeber
·Kevin Brownlow Remembers It Happened Here (2018, 65 mins)
·Introduction to How It Happened Here: text of David Robinson’s foreword to the book (Downloadable PDF –
booklet with writing by Kevin Brownlow and new essays by Dr Josephine Botting,
DoP Peter Suschitzky and military historian EWW Fowler
RRP: £19.99/ Cat. no. BFIB1298 / Cert PG
/ 1964 / black and white / 100 mins / English language, with optional
hard-of-hearing subtitles / original aspect ratio 1.33:1 / BD50: 1080p, 24fps,
PCM 1.0 mono audio (48kHz/24-bit) / DVD9: PAL, 25fps, Dolby Digital 1.0 mono
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of the little-remembered 1970 romantic comedy "How Do I Love Thee?" The film's primary distinction is the interesting teaming of Jackie Gleason and Maureen O'Hara. By this point in his career, Gleason was a force of nature in the American entertainment business. When his variety show went off the air, CBS couldn't induce him to do another series so the network actually paid him not to work for any other network. When you get paid a fortune not to work, you know you're doing something right. Gleason had settled in Miami Beach in the early 1960s as one of the demands he made of CBS in return for doing his variety show. The location offered what Gleason liked most: sun, golf, plenty of drinking establishments and no shortage of beautiful young women. Gleason's impact on elevating Miami Beach's popularity was notable. It was widely believed that the city's rebirth as a hip destination as opposed to a retirement destination was due in part to Gleason referring to Miami Beach as "The sun and fun capital of the world!". Gleason, like his contemporary Dean Martin, had long ago tired of working very hard. If you wanted him, the mountain had to come to Mohammed, so to speak. Thus, it's no coincidence that "How Do I Love Thee?" was filmed in Miami Beach, thereby ensuring Gleason prime opportunities for maximizing his play time and minimizing his work before the cameras. (Gleason had a photographic memory and famously refused to rehearse very much, often to the consternation of his co-stars).
The film focuses on the character of Tom Waltz (Rick Lenz), a twenty-something professor who is rising up the ladder at his university. He's a got a nice house and a beautiful wife, Marion (Rosemary Forsyth) but when we first meet him, he's filled with anxiety. Seems that while visiting the "miracle" site of Lourdes in France, his father Walt (Jackie Gleason) has suffered a major health crisis. Tom's mother Elsie (Maureen O'Hara) implores Tom to race over to France and visit his father, who seems to be dying. Tom wants to go but Marion reminds him of the lifetime of contentious situations he has endured with his father and tells him that this is just another method of Walt trying to gain attention. Indeed, as we see through a series of flashbacks, Walt is a real handful. He owns his own moving company but still has to break his back loading and lifting furniture all day long. He has a pretty fractious relationship with Elsie, largely due to her strong religious convictions that conflict with his atheism. As young boy, Tom witnesses a lot of fighting in the household. When he accompanies his dad on jobs, he discovers that his father is not the devoted family man he thought he was- especially when he witnesses Walt trying to seduce a ditzy social activist and amateur photographer (Shelly Winters in typical over-the-top Shelly Winters mode) who is one of his clients. Walt is similar in nature to Willy Lohman of "Death of a Salesman" in that both men are past their prime but working harder than ever to provide for their family. Walt is a good man, but he's subject to self-imposed crises generally related to his short temper, drinking habits and flirtatious nature. Ultimately, Tom opts to take the trip to Lourdes, even though Marion threatening to divorce him over his decision. The majority of the tale is told in flashbacks that present some moderately amusing situations and some poignant dramatic scenes as well. There's also a good dose of sexual humor, typical for comedies of the era that were capitalizing on new-found screen freedoms.The direction by old pro Michael Gordon ("Pillow Talk") is fine but the screenplay, based on a novel by Peter De Vries, punts in the final scenes, tossing in an improbable extended joke about cars going amiss on their way to a funeral and a feel-good ending that wraps everything up quickly in a style more befitting a sitcom episode of the era. Still, the performances are fun with Lenz and Forsyth quite good as the young couple and Gleason and O'Hara registering some genuine chemistry on screen.
The Blu-ray transfer is generally fine but around the 80-minute mark some speckling and artifacts appear during the final reel, although it isn't distracting enough to bother the average viewer. The bonus extras don't include the trailer for the feature film but do present trailers for other KL comedy releases including "Avanti!", "The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!" and " The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother".
In 1973, director William Friedkin adapted William Peter Blatty's bestselling novel "The Exorcist" for the screen. The film shocked the industry by becoming an international phenomenon and the movie's impact continues to resonate with audiences of all ages even today. In 2016 Friedkin decided to return to the subject of demonic possession by personally filming the rite of exorcism performed by a priest, Father Amorth, the Chief Exorcist of the Diocese of Rome. The result is his new documentary "The Devil and Father Amorth", which has enjoyed some limited art house screenings while simultaneously being released on DVD. Before we go any further, it is appropriate when covering a film of this type for the reviewer to state his/her personal beliefs or lack thereof in terms of the subject matter. After all, Friedkin does the same in his film, stating that he is predisposed to believe in the possibility of demonic possession. I'm not. Friedkin is clearly a man of religious faith. I'm not, having happily lived most of my life as an agnostic who keeps an open mind but who has never seen an inkling of evidence that a higher being presides over the universe. So there we are....with one additional caveat. Although I have never met William Friedkin, I have conducted two separate, extensive interviews with him for Cinema Retro regarding his films "Cruising" and "Sorcerer", both of which I believe were very underrated. Based on those interviews, I can say that I like Friedkin and greatly respect him as a filmmaker.
With those explanatory remarks out of the way, let's delve into "The Devil and Father Amorth". Friedkiin acts as an on camera host of the movie, which opens with some brief archival interviews with William Peter Blatty, who relates that he was a student at Georgetown University in 1949 when he read a remarkable account in the Washington Post about a 14 year-old boy who had undergone the rite of exorcism. Other respected news outlets picked up on the story and it became a sensation. Blatty was fascinated by the alleged possession and hoped to write a non-fiction account of the incident. However, the priest who performed the exorcism refused to release the identity of the boy or his family and imposed upon him to respect their privacy. Blatty went the fictional route and turned the victim into a 12 year-old girl. The rest, as they say, is history- except that over the decades, the incident has been studied by skeptics who point out that there is scant evidence that the exorcism involved anything other than a boy who had a vivid imagination and that he may well have simply staged the incidents for those predisposed to believe in possession. (The boy's late aunt was a "spiritualist" who had influenced the boy's interest in the supernatural.) Whatever one thinks of the historical facts and theories, Blatty's book was a chilling page-turner and Friedkin's film version would motivate even the most headstrong skeptic to sleep with a nightlight on. Friedkin's documentary has some early scenes of him returning to actual locations from "The Exorcist". The action then shifts to Rome, where he introduces us to Father Amorth, then 91 years-old and proud of his position as Chief Exorcist, claiming to have performed the ritual thousands of times. Friedkin also interviews a woman who underwent the rite and who claims to have been saved by Father Amorth. Her brother, who went on to become Father Amorth's assistant, relates disturbing and fantastic accounts of his sister's alleged possession. Father Amorth gave Friedkin rare permission to film an actual exorcism on the provision that there would be no artificial lighting employed or any crew members present. Friedkin agreed to shoot the rite himself using just a small, hand-held camera.
The subject of the exorcism is Christina, a 46 year-old architect who has been bedeviled by what she claims are frequent instances in which she becomes possessed by a demon. She claims not to remember the occurrences but those who surround her relate that, when possessed, she speaks in strange languages, exhibits Herculean strength and shouts threats in a voice that is not her own. We learn that the exorcism Father Amorth is to perform will be the ninth time he has conducted the rite in relation to Christina. When we finally do get to observe what Friedkin is filming it certainly is disturbing. Christina is restrained by two men as she wriggles and resists their grip, all the while shouting insults at the priest in an unfamiliar voice. Unlike the famous scenes of the ritual depicted in "The Exorcist", the real-life exorcism is performed in front of a room full of people, presumably friends and relatives of the victim. We watch as Father Amorth doggedly remains fixated on reciting the religious phrases that are supposed to expel the demons. (At one point, the "possessed" Christina identifies herself as Satan.) The Friedkin footage seems relatively brief and he doesn't provide any context as to how much footage may have been edited out of the final cut. While the episode we witness is certainly "harrowing" (as Friedkin describes it) and the affected Christina is clearly suffering from severe disorder, there is nothing in the footage that is likely to convince skeptics that they have just seen proof of a supernatural event. There are no signs of superhuman strength and the admittedly frightening voice Christina speak in could clearly be her own, since every person on earth is able to significantly alter their manner of speaking. Furthermore, there is no context provided regarding whether Christina ever sought professional psychiatric help. Friedkin asks her if she did, but her answer is vague. She simply says that doctors can't cure her, leaving it ambiguous as to whether she ever underwent a psychiatric diagnosis. This is a pivotal point that is not pursued. If she did seek medical help, it would be imperative to interview her doctors. If she did not, then her affliction is one that is self-diagnosed. Friedkin interviews prestigious doctors in America to get their views of the case, having shown them the footage. They all give the answer that people of science would be expected to give: we can't explain it without having examined the patient. They profess to keep an open mind but none will go on record as endorsing the premise that demonic possession could really be behind the victim's affliction. At the end of the film, Friedkin himself stops short of stating for certain that he believes he has witnessed a supernatural event, but the implication is that he clearly thinks he has.
The unexpected success of Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum in "The Greatest Showman" has obviously provided Mill Creek Entertainment to release the largely forgotten 1986 production "Barnum" on DVD. The made-for-television production has one distinction: it stars Burt Lancaster as the legendary marketing genius. I found I liked the Jackman film more than I suspected I would, though I doubt I'll ever have the yearning to view it again. It made many concessions to modern audiences that robbed the film of its authenticity. (I loathe the gimmick found in many period dramas in which the characters speak in present-day vernacular.) "Barnum" is much more low-key and seems to make a sincere effort at presenting the titular figure's fascinating life with some degree of accuracy. Not being a Barnum scholar, I'll take for granted there's plenty of "artistic license" on display here as well. The movie opens with Barnum as a young boy, influenced by his uncle's encouragement to see and embrace the more fantastical aspects of life. The action quickly cuts to him as a young man (played by John Roney, who bears absolutely no resemblance to Lancaster at any stage of his life) working in a dead end job in a small town general store. He finds a way to turn a quick profit by engineering a sweepstakes in which the winner will get a substantial credit at the store. The result is a significant profit for the delighted owner, who shares the proceeds with him. The story meanders a bit through Barnum's early years as he falls in love with Charity (Laura Press), who he married at age 19. The couple would remain together for 50 years until her death. The film is interspersed with occasional scenes of elderly Barnum breaking the "Fourth Wall" and addressing viewers directly. The production gets a boost when Lancaster is finally on screen for the remainder of the tale. The screenplay clearly wants to present the showman in a favorable light and he's seen as a kindly, honest figure who delights in using hyperbole to sell his presentations of nature's oddities (including animals and people.) The script takes pains to point out that Barnum always resented being labeled as the man who said "There's a sucker born every minute" and we see him rage against this "quote" that was made up by a newspaper columnist. In the film, Barnum admits to using creative marketing techniques but stresses he treasures and respects his audiences. The movie addresses some of his personal shortcomings, as well. Apparently, the great showman was also a lousy businessman, and we see him make and lose fortunes due to dubious financial dealings with dubious partners. The film chronicles his career highlights from making the little person he dubbed Tom Thumb (Sandor Raski) into an international phenomenon who was invited to meet Queen Victoria. There was also the building of his museums, both of which burned down (once by arson). In his later years, he rebounds and it's interesting to note that Barnum never owned a circus until he was over 60 years old. His importation from England of the giant, trained elephant Jumbo elevated his reputation once again. The film also compellingly shows how he audaciously signed singer Jenny Lind (well played by Hanna Scygulla)to tour America without ever having heard her sing a note. When he discovers no one in America ever heard of her, he embarks on an aggressive marketing campaign that made audiences salivate for the eventual arrival of the woman dubbed "The Swedish Nightingale". (The film avoids any of the speculation that he engaged in a romance with her, a historical debate that is given prominence in the Hugh Jackman movie.)
"Barnum" was directed by Lee Philips, a respected television director whose work here is efficient but unremarkable. The production values are impressive but the pace is often pedantic and unexciting. The strategy of having Barnum address the viewer to relate the highs and lows of his life chronologically looks like an attempt to check off the boxes by rote in order to cram facts into a production that had to make room for commercial breaks. Still there are areas of interest. Following his first wife's death, for example, Barnum found wedded bliss again by marrying at age 64 to a woman who was 40 years younger. The story ends with the formation of his partnership with James Baily to create the famed circus that bore their names (though it doesn't delve into their many business disputes.) The TV movie rests almost entirely on Burt Lancaster's broad shoulders and even at age 72, he still had the trademark toothy smile and distinctive laugh and charisma. Lancaster never gave a bad performance he brings gentle dignity to the role of Barnum.
The Mill Creek transfer is disappointing and at times looks like it was mastered from a VHS tape. Doubtless, the company used the best transfer available but there should be a disclaimer saying as much at the beginning, a policy the Warner Archive often employs. As with most Mill Creek releases there are no bonus features. However, the company is generous in providing digital copies of their releases and this is the case with "Barnum" as well- and it's most welcome.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
MPI Home Video and The George Carlin Estate are proud to
announce a special gift to his fans today – the GEORGE CARLIN COMMEMORATIVE
COLLECTION, a 10-disc must-have DVD, CD and Blu-Ray boxed set which features
more than five hours of previously unreleased bonus material including rare performance
footage from Carlin’s personal archive. The GEORGE CARLIN COMMEMORATIVE
COLLECTION will be released on Tuesday, June 12th and the announcement was made
upon the occasion of what would have been Carlin’s 81st Birthday.Carlin was born May 12, 1937 and passed away
at the age of 71 in June of 2008.
George Carlin’s daughter, Kelly, who helped compile
material for the Box Set commented, “While digging around in dad’s stuff, we
found a few gems that we just couldn’t keep for ourselves. It’s amazing to
think that ten years after his death, we keep finding stuff I’d never seen
George Carlin was not only one of America’s greatest
comedians whose albums topped the charts, he was a pioneer of cable TV’s concert
format that has become a benchmark of success for all humorists ever since.
And now, all of Carlin’s pointed, often controversial but
always hilarious specials originally shown on HBO have been gathered for the
first time in the GEORGE CARLIN COMMEMORATIVE COLLECTION. Encompassing over
five decades of George Carlin’s groundbreaking career, all 14 of the legendary funnyman’s
Emmy nominated HBO specials are now available in one package – a remarkable set
that also contains a previously unreleased HBO special entitled 40 Years of
Comedy hosted by Jon Stewart plus Carlin’s posthumous audio release, I Kinda
Like It When a Lotta People Die.
One of the key bonus pieces of material is Carlin’s first
stand-up special from 1973, The Real George Carlin which has not been seen
since it first aired. Additional bonus material includes APT 2C (a never-aired HBO
pilot from the ’80s) plus two one-hour stand-up comedy club performances that
features material performed by Carlin for the first time.There is also never-before-released material
from the 1960s – when Carlin was a clean-cut, suit-wearing guest on the variety
shows such as Talent Scouts, The Jackie Gleason Show and Hollywood Palace.
The box set features also includes both DVD and Blu-ray discs
of the HBO specials Life Is Worth Losing and It’s Bad for Ya plus liner notes
written by comedian Patton Oswalt.
George Carlin, a fearless commentator on society and a champion
of free speech, now finally gets the boxed set he and fans of great, enduring
comedy deserve and the GEORGE CARLIN COMMEMORATIVE COLLECTION represents the
most complete collection of Carlin performances to date.
About George Carlin
George Carlin was a Grammy-winning American stand-up
comedian, actor and best-selling author whose career spanned more than five
decades and literally changed the face of stand-up comedian. His most famous
routine "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" sparked a free
speech controversy that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2008, Carlin was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for
American Humor, and in 2017, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him the “Second Best
Stand-up Comic of All Time.” To date, Carlin is also the only comedian to have
a dedicated SiriusXM radio channel solely to his work.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from the Warner Archive:
Burbank, Calif., (May 17, 2018) Get ready for one of the liveliest, leaping-est, sassiest
and happiest musicals ever, as Warner Archive Collection proudly unveils its
Two-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray™ release of the Oscar-winning 1954 MGM classic
Brides for Seven Brothers.
by Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain),
and starring Jane Powell (Royal Wedding,
Hit the Deck) and Howard Keel (Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate),Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was
nominated for four Academy Awards® and won for Best Scoring of a
Musical Picture. This Western musical is distinguished by a wonderful score of
original songs by composer Gene de Paul and lyricist by Johnny Mercer (Li’l Abner) along with brilliant,
acrobatic dancing scenes choreographed by Michael Kidd (The Band Wagon,Guys and
for the first time on Blu-ray, featuring a new 1080p HD master from a 2018 2K
scan in its original 2.55 CinemaScope aspect ratio, with DTS-HD Master Audio
5.1 audio t (based on the original 4 track magnetic mix, but re-built from
recording session masters and original stems), the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Two-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray has extras to please every mountain
man or woman, including the rarely-seen alternate widescreen (1.77 aspect
ratio) alternate version presented for the first time in 1080p HD, a commentary
from the film’s director Stanley Donen, a comprehensive cast & crew
documentary, vintage featurettes including the famous “MGM Jubilee Overture”
short (presented in its original CinemaScope 2.55 aspect ratio for the first
time in 1080p HD with 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio sound), premiere newsreel footage
note is that two versions of the film exist, one in CinemaScope and the other
in traditional widescreen. In 1953 when
Cinemascope was brand new, MGM was concerned that if it was a fad they would
have an unusable film in the long-run, so for protection they shot the film
twice. Two different takes of each shot with different staging was filmed which
reflect the different frame size of traditional widescreen (which is less wide
and more rectangular) and CinemaScope. By the time the film was released,
CinemaScope had proven a huge success and the alternate version was rarely seen
until its release on DVD in 2004.
About the Film
Brides for Seven Brothers, Adam (Howard Keel), the eldest of seven
brothers, goes to town to get a wife. He convinces Milly (Jane Powell) to marry
him that same day. After they return to his backwoods home she discovers he has
six brothers -- all living in his cabin. Milly sets out to reform the uncouth
siblings, who are anxious to get wives of their own. Then, after reading about
the Roman capture of the Sabine women, Adam develops an inspired solution to
his brothers' loneliness... kidnap the women they want from the surrounding villages.
by studio executives during production as a ‘second-tier musical’, the film
suffered budget cuts during production that precluded location shooting.
Overcoming these circumstances, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was
an obvious hit in the making when previewed, and opened to great reviews at
huge box office success at New York’s famed Radio City Music Hall. This film
was so successful that it was theatrically re-issued for many years thereafter,
and holds the achievement as one of the highest-grossing musicals ever produced
by M-G-M’s “dream factory”. The unique story behind the making of the film is
well chronicled by director Donen’s commentary, as well as the comprehensive
documentary on the disc, hosted by star Howard Keel, and including interviews
with co-stars Jane Powell, Tommy Rall, Russ Tamblyn, and Jacques d’Amboise, as
well as director Donen, choreographer Kidd, and Musical Supervisor Saul Chaplin (who earned an
Oscar for his contribution), among others.
Disc One: (BD50)
·Audio Commentary by Stanley Donen
·Short Subject shot in CinemaScope and Color,
featuring the M-G-M Symphony Orchestra, led by Johnny Green, playing a medley
of eleven well-known songs used in some of the studio's best-known musicals. (Remastered
in 1080p HD, 16x9 2.55 anamorphic aspect ratio with 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio)
·Documentary "Sobbin' Women: The
Making of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," hosted by Howard Keel
(Produced 1996, updated and revised 2004)-SD
·Radio City Music Hall Premiere - July
22, 1954 (SD)
Following his break-out performance as Superman in the 1978 blockbuster, Christopher Reeve deftly avoided being typecast in the role despite appearing in several sequels. However, his non-Superman flicks were a decidedly mixed bag. Virtually none of them were successful at the boxoffice at the time of their initial release, although Somewhere in Time found a loyal cult audience over the years and Deathtrap seems more entertaining now than it did in 1982. Reeve proved to be a good, if unremarkable actor, who had an affable screen presence and the kind of handsome features and physique that recalled the more traditional Hollywood leading men of days gone by. (Think Rock Hudson). However, Reeve's scattershot record of choosing film projects prevented him from fully capitalizing on his potential. There were too many boxoffice bombs along the way and Reeve sometimes returned to his first love, live theater, to continue to grow as an artist. One of Reeve's least-known films, The Aviator, has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The movie was based on the novel by Ernest K. Gann, who specialized in aerial adventure stories. (He wrote the novel and screenplay for John Wayne's smash hit The High and the Mighty.) The film opens intriguingly at a military air base in WWI. Reeve is Edgar Anscombe, a cocky pilot who is training a novice on his first flight when things go wrong. The trainee panics and the plane crashes, leaving the student pilot dead and Anscombe suffering from severe burns. The plot then jumps ahead by a decade. Anscombe is now a bitter and introverted man still haunted by his wartime experiences, especially the deadly training accident that he feels responsible for. He's now working for Moravia (Jack Warden), the owner of a small air fleet that delivers mail from Nevade across the western states. In order to supplement the company's meager profits, Moravia sometimes accepts a passenger to accompany the pilots on their route. Along comes Tillie Hansen (Rosanna Arquette), a perky but troubled 17 year-old whose father (Sam Wanamaker) finds her to be incorrigible. Against Tillie's wishes, he decides to send her to a strict, disciplinarian aunt in order to teach her social and personal values. Anscombe immediately resents having to take Tillie along on his next flight. He snubs her overtures at friendliness and makes it clear that he wants no part of socially interacting with her. However, while in flight over a remote mountain region, their plane develops a problem with the fuel line, forcing them to crash land. Both Anscombe and Tillie emerge unscathed but their trials and tribulations are just beginning. Anscombe admits he went off course to take a short-cut, making it unlikely that rescue parties will find them. Additionally, they lack shelter and food and are menaced by a pack of hungry wolves. All they have for a weapon is a pistol with a few rounds of ammunition.
Once the survivalist aspect of "The Aviator" kicks in, the film should soar beyond the bland opening scenes that predictably thrust the viewer into yet another one of those scenarios in which the leading man and leading lady bicker and kvetch at each other. However, director George Miller (not the same director George Miller of the Mad Max movies, unfortunately) establishes a leaden pace that makes The Aviator resemble a TV movie. You're practically waiting for the commercials with that omnipresent, creepy guy hawking My Pillow to pop up any minute. The film lumbers through some moments of crisis that don't pack much suspense. Dopey Tillie wants to smoke a cigarette and ends up burning down the wreckage of the plane the stranded couple had been using for shelter. Anscombe manages to kill some game for much-needed sustenance only to have it ripped from him by wolves. The couple decides they must try to make the arduous climb down the mountain to find help. In the film's only unexpected twist, Anscombe comes across a remote cabin only to find its eccentric inhabitant won't help him and threatens him with a gun. Reeve makes for a bland, boring hero in the under-written role of Anscombe and Arquette grates on the viewer like nails on a blackboard with her ditzy Valley Girl-like interpretation of a liberated young woman from the 1920s. The last, inexcusable cliche the screenplay thrusts up us finds the once-bickering Anscombe and Tillie now falling in love.
The Aviator does have some aspects to commend. Jack Warden, Sam Wanakmaker and Scott Wilson manage to outshine the leading actors and put some much-needed realism and empathy into their roles, although Tyne Daly is largely wasted in a minor role. There is a suitably old-fashioned score by the estimable Dominic Frontiere and the film boasts some impressive camerawork by David Connell. The film was shot entirely in Yugoslavia but it must be said that the locations convincingly resemble the American northwest. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray features the usually excellent transfer we've come to expect from the company and an original trailer is included. The Aviator isn't a terrible movie, just an unnecessary one that unfortunately helped contribute to the likeable Christopher Reeve's less-than-inspired career choices.
Olive Films has released aa Blu-ray edition of the 1971 comedy Cold Turkey. Written
and directed by Norman Lear, the fanciful plot is set in Eagle Rock,
Iowa, a struggling small town of 4600 residents in Iowa that has fallen
on hard times. The town is on the verge of financial catastrophe with
most of the once-thriving businesses having moved away when a local air
force base was closed. Potential salvation comes in the form of a
contest sponsored by a major tobacco company to award $25 million to any
town that can give up smoking for a period of 30 days. In fact, the
offer is a mere ploy by a cynical tobacco executive, Merwyn Wren (Bob
Newhart), who assures his bosses that the contest will improve the
industry's reputation without ever incurring the prospect of having to
pay off. That's because every person in the town would have to sign a
pledge to not smoke for 30 days. A single offense would result in
disqualification for the prize. What Wren doesn't count on is the
determination of Eagle Rock minister Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke), a
disillusioned and depressed reverend who finds renewed vigor in his
determination to see his town win the contest and revitalized itself
with the prize money. Brooks goes on a one-man crusade to persuade the
town's population to sign the petition- not an easy task because
seemingly everyone has turned to smoking in order to cope with the
stress of their financial hardships.
The film bares a resemblance to Norman Jewison's The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! in
that it centers on an a diverse number of small town eccentrics, all
wonderfully played by a sterling cast of great character actors: Vincent
Gardenia, Tom Poston, Jean Stapleton, Graham Jarvis and Judith Lowry
among them. (The latter is as hilarious as ever, playing her typical
ancient, foul-mouthed great granny character). There are also
appearances by Edward Everett Horton as the senile tobacco company owner
and the great team of Bob and Ray as thinly-veiled impersonations of
legendary network anchors Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David
Brinkley who come to Eagle Rock when the town becomes the center of
national news stories. Pippa Scott is very amusing as Van Dyke's
long-suffering wife, who barely gets a word in due to the benevolent
dictatorship he has established in their marriage. When the Reverend
turns to sex as a substitute for smoking, Scott accommodates him with a
bored demeanor and a pained look on her face. While most films that
depict a rural population tend to go overboard in portraying them as
cute and kind, Lear's film takes a more sarcastic tone. Initially,
everyone gets along fine, but as pressure builds to meet the challenge,
the townspeople turn on each other. The local doctor (Barnard Hughes) is
especially targeted for attention due to his weak will and hopeless
addiction to smoking. Graham Jarvis delivers a very funny performance as
the nerdy local leader of a Tea Party-like political group that
typically disdains "big government" until they decide "big government"
can be profitable for them. Even the once-modest reverend gets swept up
in his new-found fame as Eagle Rock swarms with tourists, many of whom
are wearing masks of his likeness. As the town nears the final hours
until the deadline, Merwin and the tobacco company brass invoke every
dirty trick imaginable to ensure the prize money doesn't have to be
paid. The madcap finale finds the town awash with a variety of
individuals seeking to capitalize on the town's quest. Even President
Nixon gets into the spotlight!
Cold Turkey is a gentle comedy with an occasional sharp edge. It evokes memories of The Andy Griffith Show, but
manages to make a statement about human traits that can be found
everywhere: greed, deceit and selfishness. Van Dyke is excellent in the
lead role and he benefits from a terrific supporting cast and a
typically "hummable" title song by Randy Newman. I found the film itself
to be quite addictive.
The Blu-ray release offers a very fine transfer, but sadly, no bonus extras.
When it opened in 1969, New York Times critic Vincent Canby assessed French director Jacques Demy's "Model Shop" as "a bad movie, but a sometimes interesting one." It's easy to understand how Canby- or any viewer- could come to that conclusion. However, watching the film today, it has a lyrical and occasionally beautiful quality. Demy, who made a splash with the international success of his 1964 film "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg", was inspired to make "Model Shop" after visiting Los Angeles on vacation. He was mesmerized by the city and decided to make a cinematic valentine to a place that many others criticized for its pollution and congestion. Ah, but as Preston Sturges famously quipped, "The French, they are a funny race", and Demy saw only the positive aspects of the city, which gives the film an unusual aspect. At a time when Johnny Carson was making night cracks about L.A.'s smog levels, Demy saw it as an appropriate setting for an offbeat love story. It's difficult to describe "Model Shop" because not much happens in it. The film traces 24 hours in the life of George Matthews (Gary Lockwood), a 26 year-old hunky guy who has graduated from Berkeley with a degree in Architecture. When we first meet him, he's in bed with his petite blonde girlfriend Gloria (Alexandra Hay). Before they even get dressed, they're embroiled in a bitter argument, which we are led to believe is a daily occurrence. This is a relationship on the rocks. Turns out George is a lazy deadbeat. He refuses to look for a job in his chosen profession because he objects to working for crassly commercial corporations, which sounds like a cop-out similar to what many unmotivated people might invoke. Gloria points out that they are dead broke and he has no plan for changing the situation. Gloria isn't burning up the want ads section in the newspaper, either. She's a bit of a ditz who dreams of being an actress and spends most of her time being sexually exploited by opportunistic producers and casting directors. She clearly isn't George's intellectual equal but when she strolls around the house in her bra and panties, it's easy to see why he's made the decision to stay with her.
The film kicks into gear when a repo man arrives at George's house (which bizarrely is situated directly next to an oil rig that operates 24/7) to take away his prized, vintage convertible MG, a luxury he can't afford but can't live without. He buys a few hours time by promising to raise $100. We then follow him around L.A. as he tries to hustle the money from friends who are as broke as he is. He has a chance encounter in a parking lot with an exotic looking woman (Anouk Aimee) who he immediately becomes obsessed with. She's the picture of class and elegance and George creepily decides to follow her. She ends up entering a luxurious home in the Hollywood hills. Hours later, he is motivated to return to the place, only to find her car gone and a disembodied voice from inside the house tells him she was never there and to leave the property. By the kind of sheer coincidence that can only happen in movies, George spies her later in the afternoon on the street and follows her to a seedy Skid Row "modelling studio" where sexually frustrated men can "rent" a model for a 15 minute session for $12 (only $20 for a half-hour!) during which they must remain chaste but can photograph the model in a tacky boudoir setting (film and camera included.) He learns the woman's name is Lola, and it turns out she's the same character Aimee played in Demy's 1961 film "Lola". George snaps a few photos of her and they engage in some awkward conversation before he departs. We follow him as he makes some other pit stops including visiting a small counter-culture newspaper where his friends offer him a job. He's interested but makes a fateful phone call to his parents only to learn that he has received his draft notice and must report for induction in two days. Adding to his misery, his father jovially equates getting drafted to fight in Vietnam to the good times he manged to enjoy in the Pacific campaign in WWII. George, however, is emotionally devastated and fails to see the allure in risking his life in the hope of enjoying some male bonding. Distraught, he returns to the modeling studio and this time engages Lola in conversation. Turns out she is an immigrant from Paris whose husband deserted her. She has a 14 year-old son in France who she is trying to support but is about to throw in the towel because she can't get a work visa and has to rely on the demeaning "career" of posing for naughty photos. Although Lola initially rejects George, she is moved by the fact that he really seems to be in love with her. They are two young people who are going through a life crisis and before the night is over, they share a single lovemaking session before George leaves for the army and Lola catches a flight back to Paris.
Kino Lorber, in conjunction with Redemption Films, has released British crime flick "The Orchard End Murder" as a Blu-ray special edition. Never heard of it? Don't feel bad- neither had I, but the film's obscurity makes this release all the more interesting when one learns the story behind it. The film was shot in the lovely countryside in Kent in 1981 by writer/director Christian Marnham. With only a small budget to work with, Marnham had to restrict his running time to a mere 48 minutes, which precluded the movie from ever being shown as a main feature in theaters. Consequently, it plays out like a TV episode, albeit a very good one. The film opens with a young woman, Pauline (Tracy Hyde), making a phone date to meet up with Robins (Mark Hardy), a young man she met the previous night in a pub. Pauline is clearly a modern woman. She's attractive, dresses stylishly and wants some excitement and, presumably, sex. However, she is frustrated when Robins insists that she first accompany him to his local cricket match, where he is scheduled to play with his team. She becomes bored and decides to take a walk through a large apple orchard, emerging onto the street of a bucolic country village with a small train station. She stops to admire an attractive cottage with a large collection of garden gnomes. She is greeted by the owner (Bill Wallis), who happens to be the local station master. She accepts the kindly eccentric's invitation to come in for a cup of tea but things get disturbing with the abrupt arrival of his lodger, Ewan (Clive Mantle), a tall, mentally disturbed man who brutally slaughters a rabbit in front of Pauline without saying a word. Understandably, she cuts her visit short and walks back through the apple orchard to the cricket match. Along the way, she is intercepted by Ewan who now shows a kinder, more sensitive disposition. Tracy humors him by giving him a kiss but it proves to be a fatal mistake. He lures her deeper into the orchard and when she resists his sexual advances, he strips and strangles her. When evening falls, Robins, informs the police she has gone missing and before long a major search is launched. The station master discovers the murder when he sees Ewan stroking and kissing Pauline's dead body. Knowing there will be a house-to-house search of the neighborhood, he puts into motion a plan to bury the body in an area the police have already searched.
"The Orchard End Murder" is a slick, well-made mini thriller that is very ably directed by Christian Marnham. Best of all are the performances, with every actor hitting the right note, including well-known character actor Raymond Adamson as a village businessman who may play a crucial role in solving the crime. It must be said that the scene-stealing performance is provided by Bill Walllis, who plays the frumpy station master with a disarming sense of friendliness and gentleness. Nothing riles him, including having to bury a nude woman in the dead of night. His attachment to Ewan is never quite explained, as to whether its based on a fraternal relationship or a sexual attraction. Tracy Hyde gives a brave performance, with much of her screen time being displayed and abused as a nude dead body.
There are several extras included pertaining to the film. Director Marhham gives a thorough review of its production history, stating that the film was released in 1981 as the second feature along with a major hit, "Dead and Buried". However, because second features didn't share in the theater revenues, everyone involved never saw any compensation beyond the pittance they were paid as a flat salary. There are also informative interviews with star Tracy Hyde, who was a flash-in-the-pan childhood star in the 1970s. Sadly, adult stardom never followed and she retired from the industry. Also interviewed is David Wilkinson, who had a small part in the film before quitting acting and becoming a successful film producer.
"The Orchard End Murder" is a remarkably accomplished work. It's a pity that a director as talented as Marnham didn't find greater success in the film industry.
Imagine, if you will, that you are a Hollywood producer in the year 1969. ABC TV has recently launched its venture into producing theatrical motion pictures and you have a doozy of a concept. It centers on a spoof of Charlie Chan movies with the distinction that you have enlisted some very eager partners in Japan, thus the main character will have to be Japanese. You are sitting around a long table in a studio conference room with executives deciding how to move forward. The promising venture will be filmed on location in Japan and. thus, will offer the promise of some exotic locations at your disposal. Since the project is very much inspired by the Pink Panther movies, you've scored a bullseye by enlisting screenwriter William Peter Blatty to author the script. Blatty knew a thing or two about the Pink Panther franchise, having co-authored the screenplay for "A Shot in the Dark". Yes, it's all coming together very nicely. Now comes the fun part: who to cast as the Japanese incarnation of Inspector Clouseau, a bumbling detective named Hoku Ichihara. Names are bandied about and you smile in a patronizing manner because you already know who the most logical actor is to cast: Zero Mostel!!!! A collective gasp from those around the table ensues, along with plenty of backslapping on your stroke of genius. Yes, when it comes to playing a bumbling Japanese detective, who could possibly think of someone more suited for the assignment than the rotund Jewish actor from Brooklyn?
One doesn't know if this is how the film "Mastermind" came into existence but its safe to assume at some point a room full of executives had to green light the casting of Zero Mostel in the lead role in what must surely be one of the most ill-advised films of the era. The concept seems even more egregious in these more enlightened times once you get your first view of Mostel decked out in his makeup, which includes slanted eyes and a droopy mustache that makes him look like a cross between Max Bialystock and Fu Manchu, though to be fair, for decades other unsuitably cast Caucasian actors portrayed Asian detectives, Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov among them. The film is a jumbled mess that opens with the theft of a prototype of an amazing new human-like robot that has a comprehensive understanding of virtually every command. Some shady characters have also kidnapped the scientist who invented the robot, which is named Schatzi and is played by actor Felix Silas. The bad guys intend to appropriate the design plans for nefarious purposes. If anyone gets in their way, they utilize as hi-tech weapon that puts people in a permanent state of suspended animation. The gimmick is played out ad nauseam and reminds us of why it's generally a mistake to have live actors playing statues or inanimate beings (just look at "The Man with the Golden Gun" for further proof.) Inspector Ichihara is called in to solve the case along with his British sidekick Nigel Crouchback (Gwan Grainger) and immediately makes a muddle of things, a la Clouseau.
Anyone can make a bad movie but it's a true rarity to make a movie that is so bad it falls into that prized category of being a guilty pleasure; a film that you may want to revisit for all the wrong reasons. "Mastermind" meets that criteria. How had is the film? It's "Which Way to the Front?" kind of bad. The director, Alex March, had recently saw the release of two major studio films, "Paper Lion" and "The Big Bounce". He gamely plows through some juvenile sight gags and even speeds up film frames to emulate the old Keystone Cops films, a concept that already had moss on it by 1969. It must be said that March does a credible job of capitalizing on the Japanese locations and manages some impressive set pieces among the teeming city crowds, most notably a well-staged car/motorcycle chase. Beyond that, however, there is little to recommend. Zero Mostel gamely goes through the humiliations of playing out every cringe-inducing stereotype that had been assigned to Japanese characters in movies of the era. Most notable are the scenes in which his character fantasizes about being a great samurai warrior, which gives you the heart-stopping vision of what it might have looked like if Kurosawa had cast him in the leading role of "Seven Samurai". Mostel is not alone in having made a Faustian deal in return for a free trip to Japan, as Bradford Dillman is also in the cast.
One man’s cinematic trash is another man’s cinematic
treasure, so I will tread lightly here.Simply
put, the low budget horror From Hell It
Came (1957) is not a very good movie.The fact that the folks at Warner Archive have made this available on
Blu-ray allows film fans a glimmer of hope that their own personal cinematic
Titanic might yet see release in this upscale format. This is tough review for
me.As a devotee of Silver Age Sci-Fi
movies, I wish I could be more charitable of this film’s few merits, but Richard
Bernstein’s screenplay offers little more than a cycle of endless chatter.This causes the film’s relatively brief 71-minute
running time to seem even more meandering and interminable.That producer Jack Milner and
director-brother Dan Milner (The Phantom
from 10,000 Leagues (1955) were able to bring this unremarkable film to
fruition is laudable, but while this movie has achieved some low-grade cult
status - and a memorable monster that has spawned a thousand snickering
mockeries – it’s nowhere in the league of such entertaining monstrosities Phil
Tucker’s Robot Monster (1953) or Ed
Wood’s seminal Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).
I suppose, if caught in the right combination of shadow
and light, the titular tree monster from Hades might be of somewhat cool design…
if still not particularly threatening.I
think I should mention, in the interest of full disclosure and despite my
critical brickbat here, I actually purchased
the original DVD release of this when first issued in 2010.So I’m not immune to the film’s (very) limited
pleasures.Set on an unnamed island in
the South Seas, From Hell It Came manages
to unashamedly mix the timeworn clichés of nearly every B-picture worthy of the
designation: jungles, quicksand pits, scientists, voodoo doctors, atomic energy
and, of course, a lumbering monster.Released in the summer of 1957, From
Hell It Came was paired with another Allied Artists voodoo-themed release The Disembodied (a somewhat better film also
available as a MOD DVD release through Warner Archive).
Having been born in the first decade of the 20th
century, the aging Milner Bros. were either already over or nearing their chronological
half-century mark when they unleashed From
Hell It Came on unsuspecting teenage moviegoers.I suppose it’s to their credit that they
chose not to pander to their teenage audience – as, for example, that decade’s immensely
popular beach-party and biker movies most certainly would.The Milner’s, conversely, seem to have little
interest in promulgating lowbrow teen culture.They display an almost refreshing disinterest in appearing hip; this is most
evident in their disparagement of the ascendant rock n’ roll phenomena.The natives’ tribal drums are referenced sarcastically
as providing “a nice anthropological beat.” The killjoy egghead scientists on
the island suggest the crazy, primitive, and percussive tribal rhythms are so
“out there”, they’re worthy of topping the contemporary hit parade.
The film’s casting team – assuming there was one, of
course – were, at best, making what they could from the shallow pool of available
talent.While some of the island’s natives
share some physical characteristics of Pacific islanders, most of the indigenous-to-the-island
roles are handled by actors who…Well,
let’s say they could have been plucked from the sidewalk of the Gambino’s
Bergin Hunt and Fish Club of Ozone Park, Queens. Similarly, the best that can be said of the
film’s wardrobe and costume department is that they made good use of their 50%
off summer clearance coupon at Tommy Bahama.
Though badly mounted, this film is essentially one more formulaic
allegory pitting old world superstition against modern science.The tribe’s blood-thirsty medicine man –
perhaps sensing his position as exalted healer might soon become redundant - is
at the center of the mayhem.He’s
clearly unhappy that his healing herbs and folkloric healing incantations have
been neatly usurped by the “Devil Dust” of the American scientists, the healing
pharmaceuticals of modern medicine.He’s
so upset, in fact, that the film opens in a rather savage manner, with poor islander-collaborationist
Kimo (Gregg Palmer) being put to a grim death for his collusion with the infidel
American doctors.In his last spoken declaration
before meeting his maker, the bound and aggrieved Kimo threatens to come back
from Hell itself, if only to make the witch doctor and his minions pay dearly for
putting him to this terrible end.
Having been grotesquely and mortally staked through the
chest, the islanders bury poor Kimo, for no apparent reason, vertically.To no one’s surprise he reemerges later as Tabonga,
described – rather aptly - as an all powerful “creature of revenge.” Tabonga is
a lumbering monster tree stump that frightens the primitive and enlightened
alike… sort of a physical repository of the island’s accumulative evil spirits
and bad karma.
On Sept. 15, 2000 the New
York Times ran an interview with Quentin Tarantino in which the famed
director raved at length about a Roy Rogers movie called “The Golden Stallion
(1949).” He absolutely loved the film and its director, William Witney, calling
him a “forgotten master.” According to Tarantino, Witney was the ultimate genre
film director, making everything from the classic Republic Pictures serials, to
western feature films (including 27 Roy Rogers flicks). He later did films for
American International, and shot numerous TV series including “Bonanza.” The
thing that appealed to QT the most about “The Golden Stallion” was the way
Witney was able to sell the idea that Roy Rogers regarded Trigger as much a
friend as any human being could ever be. He does five years on a chain gang to
save his horse from being destroyed after being framed for killing a man. As far-fetched
as that idea sounds, Tarantino thought Witney,Roy and Trigger absolutely made you believe it. (Click here to read the NY Times article.)
In “The Golden Stallion” Trigger has a bit of a fling
with a mare that smugglers were using to transport diamonds across the border.
A colt named Trigger Jr., was the result of that dalliance, and screenwriter
Gerald Geraghty picked up that thread to build a new story for Roy’s next
picture. In some ways, the result, “Trigger, Jr.,” is an even better movie,
with a story line that has darker undertones and a shocker of an ending.
In this picture, Roy is in charge of his father’s
traveling circus and sets up headquarters for the winter at the ranch of his
dad’s former partner Colonel Harkrider (George Cleveland). Roy’s publicist,
Splinters (Gordon Jones), thinks the idea of wintering there will bring good
publicity, but the Colonel isn’t too happy about it. The Colonel’s older daughter
was recently killed in an accident during her bareback riding routine. As a
result of the trauma her death caused, the Colonel himself has been wheel
chair-bound ever since. Worse, his grandson, Larry (Peter Miles), is terrified
of horses. He has nightmares about them. The Colonel constantly berates the boy
for being a coward. The Colonel’s younger daughter, Kay, (Dale Evans) hopes
having the circus on the ranch will help the two of them recover their
psychological balance. But she knows it won’t be easy.
It doesn’t help that all the local ranchers in the are
being muscled by a villain with no less a sinister name than Manson (Grant
Withers), who heads The Range Patrol, an outfit that provides protection for a
price. Those who don’t join up find barns burning, and livestock suddenly
disappearing. No sooner does Roy arrive than he finds Trigger Sr. and Jr. about
to be kidnapped by a couple of rangers. Roy and Splinters manage to rescue the
horses after some fisticuffs, of course. (People complain about violence in
films today, and say they wish movies could be like they were in the old days.
I guess they never saw any of Witney’s Rogers films. They were full of
shootouts, fistfights, bar room brawls, and they didn’t spare the fake blood
Roy and the Colonel convince the other ranchers to stop
paying the Range Patrol, which prompts Manson to put more pressure on them.
There’s an interesting historical element introduced into the story at this
point. At a horse auction, Roy finds out that there was an Army remount station
nearby. The remount stations were where the Army bought, trained and sold horses
for service in the U.S. Calvary. The station is out of use now, but a white
stallion “killer” horse is being kept there pending its destruction by lethal
injection. Roy tries to buy him but the sheriff informs him that there’s a
court order calling for the horse’s destruction. However, Manson puts the doctor
(I. Stanford Jolley) on his payroll and they take him to a hideout in the hills
so they can use him to terrorize and kill the ranchers’ horses. He becomes
known as The Phantom and it isn’t long before the other ranchers cave in the
Rangers and Roy and the Colonel find themselves alone in opposing them.
The situation worsens as Trigger is attacked by the
Phantom and a blow to his optical nerve renders him blind. Trigger goes down
and he can’t get up. Things get pretty tense as Larry decides he must be a
coward as his grandfather says, since he’s too afraid to even help Trigger. He
runs away and in the meantime more livestock are being killed. I don’t think
I’ve ever seen any other western where so many horses are shown dead or dying
out on the prairie, in this case all victims of the Phantom.
“Trigger, Jr.’s” brisk pace (it’s only 66 minutes long) moves
over the downbeat elements of the story so quickly, you don’t get much time to
react. But when you think about them later, you realize it’s all pretty heavy
stuff. There are only three musical numbers in the movie and one of them is the
haunting “Stampede” which is used to illustrate one of Larry’s nightmares. Jack
Marta’s cinematography and lighting create an impressionistic mini-masterpiece.
It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. The colorful circus wagons, the scenes
of the acrobats and aerialists rehearsing, the lions and trained seals performing
provide splendid splashes of color to offset the somber story line.
I have a weakness for any movie starring John Wayne- even the bad ones. If you can find something of merit in "The Conqueror", in which the Duke played Genghis Khan, then you've really crossed the Rubicon. "A Man Betrayed", made during Wayne's tenure with "B" movie studio Republic, has been released on Blu-ray by Olive Films. It isn't one of those aforementioned bad Wayne movies, but it's no more than a minor entry in his career. Wayne had been toiling in the film industry since the silent era. His first big break came with the starring role in Raoul Walsh's massive western epic "The Big Trail", which was released in 1930. However, the film was released during the Great Depression and bombed at the boxoffice. For the next nine years, Wayne was starring in quickie westerns that were termed "One Day Wonders". John Ford came to his rescue by casting Wayne as the male lead in his 1939 classic "Stagecoach". It elevated Wayne to star status but he didn't fully capitalize on the opportunities that "Stagecoach" seemed to afford him. He slogged through starring roles in largely undistinguished productions for many years, interrupted by a few more ambitious productions (Ford's "The Long Voyage Home" and "They Were Expendable" and DeMille's "Reap the Wild Wind"). It wouldn't be until the late 1940s that the plum roles finally came his way and Wayne was seen as something more than "B" actor. "A Man Betrayed", released in 1941, fits comfortably into the bulk of Wayne's work during this period of his career. It's a low-budget affair, unremarkable in every respect, but still reasonably entertaining.
The film opens in an unnamed city at a scandalous nightclub called Club Inferno, where all sorts of notorious practices take place. (The sign advertises "30 Girls and 29 Costumes!"). Inside, staff members dress as the Devil and exotic dance numbers take place amidst overt gambling. In the first scene, a young man stumbles outside the club and is seemingly electrocuted during a torrential rainstorm when the lamp post he is leaning on is struck by lightning. A closer examination, however, proves he had been shot. Shortly thereafter, we're introduced to Lynn Hollister (Wayne), an affable small town attorney who comes to the city to investigate the death of the young man, who was a close friend of his. In short order he arrives at the home of Tom Cameron (Edward Ellis), a local rich widower who lives in a mansion and who owns the Club Inferno (though is rarely seen there.) Turns out Cameron is the local crime kingpin who controls the political machine and employs an army of thugs and assassins to do his bidding. He presents an affable personality and pretends to cooperate with Lynn's investigation. Lynn meets cute with Cameron's daughter Sabra (Frances Dee), a frisky, witty beauty who takes to him immediately. Before long, Lynn is staying in the guest room and he and Sabra are a couple. Cameron tries to use the relationship to manipulate Lynn but the more Lynn probes into the murder, the more convinced he is that Cameron directly or indirectly was responsible. Cameron is about to run for re-election to political office and like all crooked elected officials, is impatient for Lynn to wrap up his investigation. However, Lynn has uncovered massive evidence of voter fraud with indigent men being paid to vote numerous times for the "right" candidates. As he gets closer to the truth he is also physically threatened by Cameron's thugs. All of this sounds very dramatic but, in fact, "A Man Betrayed" is actually a romantic comedy, with the exception of the dramatic murder scene. Director John H. Auer (who had directed another, unrelated film with the same title a few years before) keeps the mood light and pace fast and gets fine performances from Edward Ellis and Frances Dee, the latter especially good as the spoiled rich girl who learns the father she has idolized is, in fact, a crook. As for Wayne, he was somewhat victimized by studios who wanted to squeeze him into contemporary romances in the hopes he would emerge as the next Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper. But at this period in his career, Wayne looked like a fish out of water in such productions. He gamely goes through the motions but he appears to be a bit uncomfortable without a horse and saddle. As he matured, he got better, as evidenced by his fine work in "The Quiet Man" , his war-based films and his late career detective movies "McQ" and "Brannigan".
"A Man Betrayed" is fairly entertaining even by today's standards. It's a hoot seeing Frances Dee sporting the over-the-top high fashions of 1941 and there is a cryptic reference to the war in Europe months before anyone realized America would soon be part of it. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film is the early teaming between Wayne and Ward Bond, who would become close friends and occasional co-stars. Bond is cast against type as a mentally-challenged violent thug who has a knock-down brawl with the Duke. The resolution of the murder and corruption scandals are wrapped up in a rather absurd ending that seems to have been developed to ensure that audiences left the theaters smiling.(Incidentally, the film was also later released under the title "Wheel of Fortune" and was marketed as "Citadel of Crime" in the UK.)
The Olive Films Blu-ray is unremarkable. The transfer is reasonably good but the film lacks any bonus extras.
Steve McQueen's second-to-last feature film "Tom Horn" remains one of his least-seen. The troubled production was a long time in the making and was a personal obsession for McQueen, who was well-versed in the life of Horn, a celebrated frontier scout in the Old West who had reached legendary status, though his name doesn't resonate today the way Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickok's have. Horn distinguished himself in the Apache Wars and played a role in the defeat of the fiercely independent tribe. Ironically, he met Geronimo at his surrender to the U.S. Army and befriended the great chief, who came to admire Horn. McQueen produced "Tom Horn" through his own production company, Solar, and the film was also released under the umbrella of First Artists, the company he had formed years before with Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Barbra Streisand and Paul Newman with the goal of giving actors more control over the final content of the movies they made. The production was a mess from day one. McQueen had last enjoyed a major hit with the 1974 release of the blockbuster "The Towering Inferno". He was one of the biggest stars in the world but his long-festering personal demons got the better of him. He went into semi-retirement, emerging only to release an art house film production of Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People" in 1978 that barely saw release. At the same time, McQueen's personal appearance had changed radically. He grew a unkempt beard and long hair and began to resemble Grizzly Adams. Simultaneously, his reputation for being difficult and unpredictable alienated him from the major studios. By the time McQueen decided to make a comeback in mainstream films, the welcome mat was no longer out for him. Still, he succeeded in getting a distribution deal for "Tom Horn" through Warner Bros.
Troubles began even before the cameras turned. McQueen had numerous directors involved with the project (including Don Siegal) but they found McQueen too demanding and impossible to work with. He wanted to direct the film himself but wasn't a member of the Director's Guild. As he did with his 1972 bomb "Le Mans", McQueen hired a director he felt he could manipulate. In this case it was William Wiard, a respected veteran of many well-known TV series but who had never directed a feature film before. (Rumors flew that McQueen actually "ghost-directed" much of "Tom Horn".) McQueen also caused celebrated screen writer William Goldman to leave the project but he was replaced by Thomas McGuane, who was recognized as an expert on the life of Tom Horn. (The script was co-written by Bud Shrake, who only wrote a few little-seen films previously.) Just prior to filming, McQueen, a lifelong chain smoker, developed a bad cough that persisted throughout the shoot. It was an omen that bode ominously for McQueen.
The film opens with Horn arriving in Wyoming, already a celebrated legend of the west. He's low-key and lives on the hoof, traveling lightly with his beloved horse, whose ornery nature acts as a weapon for Horn when he finds himself in tight spots. He's approached by John C. Coble (Richard Farnsworth), representing the local Cattleman's Association. They are being robbed blind by rustlers and the local lawmen are either impotent or in on the robberies. Coble hires Horn to stop the rustling by whatever means necessary as long as the Association isn't tied to his actions. In short order, Horn sets to work, gunning down numerous cattle thieves even when he's outnumbered. Before long, the rustling stops but by then the carnage caused by Horn has instilled a backlash in the local population, who suspect he was working as a secret assassin for the Association- which, in fact, he was. The Association decides that Horn is now expendable. He is framed for a murder (though in real life, it was never proven whether he committed the crime or not), is arrested and sentenced to hang by a kangaroo court.
By the time "Tom Horn" opened in early 1980, word-of-mouth on the film was that it was a lemon. The arduous editing process increased the production costs and Warner Bros. was eager to simply be rid of it. Critics loathed the film and it bombed at the boxoffice, marking a major setback for McQueen's plans to re-establish himself as a major boxoffice star. A re-edited version fared no better and "Tom Horn" vanished from theaters quickly. Still, there is much merit in the film beginning with McQueen's low-key playing of Horn as a quiet, humble man. He even keeps his dignity on the scaffold when a new-style hanging device powered by water leaves Horn in the torturous situation of waiting patiently for the water to rise in a bucket in order to activate the trap door. The film is peppered with some wonderful character actors, the most impressive being Richard Farnsworth as Horn's only true friend. Farnsworth had been in so many westerns he practically looked like he walked directly out of a Frederic Remington painting. Also to be found: Billy Green Bush, Elisha Cook Jr, Geoffrey Lewis, Harry Northup and Slim Pickens (who had appeared with McQueen in the 1972 hit "The Getaway"). Linda Evans is cast as a schoolteacher with an exotic background (she immigrated from Hawaii) but her role seems to have suffered in the editing process. She has virtually nothing to do other than provide McQueen with an underwritten love interest. The film boasts great cinematography by John A. Alonzo and a fine score by Ernest Gold, who relies on drumbeats to provide an appropriate dirge-like quality. "Tom Horn" isn't a great western, but it's a very good one and it deserved a better fate. McQueen was already in the early stages of cancer when the movie opened. He managed to complete one more mainstream film before his death: the lightweight action comedy "The Hunter", also released in 1980. Ironically, it proved to be a modest hit and might have helped McQueen revive his career had he not succumbed to his increasingly serious health issues.
The Warner Bros. DVD of "Tom Horn" has a very impressive transfer and includes the original trailer and a promo clip for the video release of McQueen's TV series "Wanted: Dead or Alive". Given the interesting background to the film, it calls out for a special edition.
like us; we ain't such dogs as we think we are’
glad to report that Eureka’s new Blu-ray release of “Marty” (the film’s debut
on Blu-ray in the UK) is certainly no dog. Over 60 years on, the film still
remains a warm and sentimental favourite. On the surface, Paddy Chayefsky’s
story is arguably as thin as they come. A lonely Bronx butcher in his mid-30s,
Marty (Ernest Borgnine) by nature is both shy and uncomfortable around women.
The story sees Marty again facing another regular weekend hanging out with his
buddies. It’s as dull a prospect of his life as it might equally appear on
paper. However, this peach of a film has plenty of richness tucked away in its
reserve tanks. Marty wins on a great deal of levels, warm characters, great
performances (Borgnine won the Best Actor Oscar) and above all, a super screenplay. It’s a magnificent script that manages
to hook you in from the opening scene and rightly saw Chayefsky rewarded with
an Academy Award. On this fateful weekend, Marty’s life is about to change. A
chance meeting with lonely schoolteacher Clara (Betsy Blair) is about to adjust
Marty’s destiny. It’s not an easy journey, as there are plenty of tests and
decisions that Marty has to face - small subplots that gently but effectively
hold the frail narrative together and strengthen the story.
has presented a beautiful Blu-ray/DVD dual format package for Marty. The moody (but handsomely crafted)
monochrome photography is crisp and clean for the best part of its 90 minutes
with just a few brief scenes looking a little softer in places Print quality is
also fine throughout with only a few odd speckles evident on some darker scenes
or static backgrounds – but overall, there is really little to quibble about
here. Audio is also clear and sharp with no significant problems.
the bonus material is the full length 1953 TV play (performed live) which was
presented on NBC. Also directed by Delbert Mann, the play features Rod Steiger
in the title role. It’s a lovely little discovery which showcases nicely
Marty’s journey from written page to TV and eventually its big screen triumph.
Also included is a short piece hosted by Eva Marie Saint, a collection of
interviews with (among others) Steiger and Mann provide a great deal about the
production and co-producer Burt Lancaster’s input behind the movie. This
featurette manages to pack a lot into its fairly short time and works
especially well as an introduction to the movie.
is also a newly filmed and very enjoyable retrospective account of “Marty” by
film scholar Neil Sinyard. Many of the film’s key aspects are explored,
including how the principles landed their roles, how the film was almost
scrapped before completion and again how significant the intervention of Burt
Lancaster was to the production – all of which is very engrossing stuff and
lasting some 20 minutes. After watching this interview, I was left convinced
that Sinyard could have provided a very interesting commentary - it’s just a
shame that the opportunity was not picked up and followed through.
original trailer concludes the bonus features, and a welcome one it is too. Screen
legend Burt Lancaster introduces the trailer and provides the narration
throughout. As a co-producer he was naturally available to lend his influential
power and weight to the film – and naturally does it very well indeed. Full of
spectacle and sparkle, it’s a great example from the Golden age of Hollywood.
still holds up incredibly well and there’s very little (if anything at all) not
to like about it. It’s an everyman tale that arguably still relates to a lot of
people and continues to warm hearts. In today’s somewhat cynical world, it
still works as a timely reminder of a much more innocent and respectful time.
if the D-Day invasion of German occupied France during WWII was a failure and
the Germans ended up invading and occupying Great Britain? That’s the premise
of a fascinating alternate history movie, “Resistance.” Based on the book by Owen
Sheers and released in the fall of 2011, the movie opens in the Olchon Valley, England,
in 1944. It’s a lonely and isolated area filled with rolling hills, sheep and
old cottages. Sarah Lewis (Andrea Riseborough), awakens one morning surprised to
find her husband is gone. It turns out all the men in her valley have departed
to join the resistance. A group of German soldiers arrive led by Albrecht (Tom
Wlaschiha) and they set up quarters near Sarah’s home. Tommy (Michael Sheen) is
one of the men departing to join the resistance and we watch as he briefs
George (Iwen Rheon) on when to use the rifle hidden under the floorboards of
German occupiers led by Albrecht are in the Olchon Valley in search of an
artifact, a large map dating to the middle ages, which the Germans believe is hidden
in the area. Albrecht also happens to be a historian who was specifically sent
on this mission to locate the map. He finds the map in a cave near the village
fairly quickly, but does not disclose this information to his men. His
objective is to stay out of the fighting while the Germans wind down their
occupation, thus sparing his men from more death. Not all of his men agree with
this strategy of staying put and this creates conflict among the Germans.
harsh winter follows and a cordial relationship develops between Sarah and
Albrecht. As spring arrives it becomes clear the Germans are not leaving and
the men who left to join the resistance have not been successful. The women
continue their existence hoping and dreaming of the return of their men as the
Germans allow the women greater independence and normalcy. One of the village
men, Tommy, returns tired, beaten and bloodied. He thinks the Germans, by now
in civilian clothing as their uniforms have worn out, are other local men. He’s
captured, interrogated and shot in quick succession.
women soon learn things in the rest of England are returning to a kind of
normalcy and that the German have completed their occupation. Albrecht
reluctantly allows some of the women to travel to a neighboring village and
compete in a livestock fair, sending one of his men along as an escort. George,
seeing this as collaboration, finds his rifle and the result is a devastating
conclusion to this tale of isolation and alternate history.
the “what if?” backdrop is interesting, I felt the story is under-developed and
there are many questions left unanswered. Why were the women surprised when the
men left? Wouldn’t they know of their preparations? Why was the medieval map so
important? Why was it in the Olchon Valley? Why was it so easy for the group of
soldiers led by Albrecht to remain in isolation from the rest of the German
occupation force? Nobody noticed they were missing? The “resistance” of the
title never really occurs other than during the opening scenes of the movie
when the Germans first arrive. It was hard to connect with any of the
characters other than to feel pity for all involved.
English and German cast is uniformly good, given the uneven story which left me
wanting more compelling story angles. The movie, under the direction of Amit Gupta, feels much longer than the
brief 92 minutes, which is largely due to the predictable nature of this story and
it drags on with seemingly endless scenes of the English countryside. The movie
has little new to say that hasn’t already been said about war and military
occupation. The DVD released by Omnibus Entertainment is bare bones with a nice
transfer which highlights the rolling hills and sense of isolation.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
year the ground-breaking British film company Woodfall Films celebrates its 60th
anniversary. After a popular season at BFI Southbank throughout April, on 11
June 2018 the BFI will release 9-disc Blu-ray and DVD box sets containing some
of Woodfall’s most revered films, many newly
restored. A huge array of special features includes interviews with Rita
Tushingham and Murray Melvin, archive material, shorts from the BFI National
Archive and an 80-page book.
Woodfall revolutionised British cinema during the 1960swith a slate of iconic films.Founded
in 1958 by director Tony Richardson, writer John Osborne and producer Harry Saltzman (James Bond), the
company pioneered the British New Wave, defining an incendiary brand of social realism. Look Back in Anger(Tony Richardson, 1959), and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning(Karel Reisz, 1960) spot-lit working-class life with unheard-of
honesty. The same risk-taking spirit led the company to find a new generation
of brilliant young actors to star in their films, such as Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Rita Tushingham. The global
blockbuster Tom Jones(1963) expanded the Woodfall slate in an irreverent,
colourful direction that helped define swinging London
– further securing its extraordinary chapter in the
history of British film.
These box sets
bring togethereight of
ground-breaking films, many now newly restored and on Blu-ray for the first
time in the UK. Each set contains:
Look Back in Anger(Tony
Richardson, 1959), starring Richard Burton as a
The Entertainer(Tony Richardson, 1960), which
stars Laurence Olivier as ageing music-hall veteran Archie Rice
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning(Karel Reisz, 1960)
(as previously released by the BFI), starring Albert Finney as factory worker Arthur
A Tasteof Honey
(Tony Richardson, 1961), legendary
kitchen sink drama focusing on working-class women, with a script by Shelagh
Delaney and Tony Richardson
The Loneliness of the LongDistance Runner(Tony Richardson, 1962) (as previously released by the BFI) starring Tom Courtenay at Colin
Tom Jones (Tony Richardson, 1963), (both the original theatrical release and the 1989
Director’s Cut), a raucous
and innovative multi-Oscar-winning adaptation of the classic novel by Henry Fielding
Girl with Green Eyes(Desmond Davis, 1964) with Rita
Tushingham, Lynn Redgrave and Peter Finchin a lively adaptation by Edna O’Brien of her own novel
THE KNACK…and how to get it(Richard Lester, 1965)which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes
The Stories that Changed British
Cinema (2018, 47 mins): panel discussion held
at BFI Southbank during April, featuring actors Tom Courtenay, Rita
Tushingham and Joely Richardson, writer Jez Butterworth, journalist Paris
Lees; chaired by the BFI’s Danny Leigh
Five audio commentaries featuring Alan
Sillitoe, Freddie Francis, Dora Bryan, Rita Tushingham, Murray Melvin, Tom
Courtenay, Adrian Martin and Neil Sinyard
George Devine Memorial Play: Look Back in Anger, The Entertainer,
Luther, and Exit The King (Peter
Whitehead, 1966, 39 mins): extracts from four plays written by John Osborne
starring Kenneth Haigh, Gary Raymond, Laurence Olivier, Albert Finney and
Morris Remembers Woodfall (Alan
Van Wijgerden, 1993, 24 mins): the cinematographer reminisces about his
time with Woodfall
Choosing my favorite Vincent Price film is, to put it
mildly, no easy task.The actor’s
filmography has long been a favorite to mine through and revisit time and again;
I believe I own copies of all of the mystery, sci-fi, and horror films he would
appear in from 1939 on, along with a handful of his equally impressive non-genre
film work as well.Few true horror film
buffs would not put this elegantly sinister Missourian on or near the top of
their favorite actor’s list.If director
Douglas Hickox’s Theatre of Blood is
not my favorite Price film – and it very well might be – this glorious item of dark cinema has certainly never
dropped below the no. 5 position in my ever-shuffling ranking of Vincent Price personal
favorites…maybe even scoring no lower
than no. 3 on the chart.So anything I
write about this film should be accepted as having been reflected from this
There’s really no point in attempting to describe the
film’s flimsy plot detail.Anybody with
any sort of interest in this sort of macabre storytelling will be well versed
with the machinations comprising Theatre
of Blood.This film has made the
rounds almost from the beginning of the advent of home video, and I imagine
anyone with any interest would have had been afforded plenty of opportunities
to enjoy this film during its original theatrical run, on television (where I
first caught it), or on tape or disc in the privacy and comfort of their own
home.This Twilight Time issue of Theatre of Blood on Blu-ray is the first
time this film has appeared in this format in the U.S.It’s also a limited edition run of a mere
3,000 copies and as it’s already been more than a year-and-a- half since first
released on Blu in the U.S., I’d get moving on securing a copy for one’s self
before it starts to go for crazy “collector’s prices” on internet auction
sites. Believe me, as someone who has foolishly
waited on other coveted titles only to miss out due to intervals of parsimony,
it most surely will.
For those of you who have not yet been blessed, Theatre of Blood tells the tale of the
grand eloquent thespian Edward Lionheart (Price), described by one pursuing
detective - in a smirking and cautious appraisal as a “vigorous” actor.Lionheart is as sincere an actor as anyone who
walked the stage.Unfortunately, his
flamboyant, overly-emotive style and obsession with appearing only in the works
of William Shakespeare have put him at odds with the post-modern expectations
of London’s self-satisfied Drama Critic Circle.He’s particularly annoyed by being passed over for the coveted Critics
Circle Award of 1970, angered that the trophy was handed to a virtual newcomer
of the London stage, a young actor who Lionheart describes deliciously as “a twitching,
mumbling boy who can barely grunt his way through an incomprehensible
performance!”Distraught over this final
insult, he tosses himself with a suicidal, swan-like high-dive into the cold, choppy
waters of the Thames.But if he’s truly
dead, why are all of his detractors in the press meeting all
sorts of amusing – but ghastly - Shakespearean fates?Some blame his doting surviving daughter
Edwina Lionheart (the ever lovely Diana Rigg) as committing these so-called revenge
murders, but others seem not so sure.
If this plotline seems familiar territory to moviegoers -
and to Vincent Price fans in particular - it’s not unreasonable.United Artists, in some manner of speaking, simply
lifted the dark, tongue-in-cheek atmosphere that made both
American-International’s The Abominable
Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again
into big screen successes.If A.I.P.’s internationally
renowned organist and composer Dr. Anton Phibes takes to murderous task those members
of the medical profession he blames for his wife’s untimely demise, Edward
Lionheart similarly goes after those columnists who have effectively disrespected
his art and summarily killed off his career.If the script isn’t terribly original in its conception, it’s
nevertheless well executed.One pleasing
aspect is writer Anthony Greville-Bell’s amusing application of Dickensian
names to the film’s major players and occasional targets: in the course of the
movie we’re introduced to such characters as Peregrine Devlin, Solomon and
Maisie Psaltery, Meredith Merridew, Chloe Moon, Hector Snipe and Mrs. Sprout.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
the Classic ‘50s Celebration with a New 40th Anniversary Edition Featuring
Fully Restored Picture and Sound and New Bonus Content on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray™,
DVD and Digital April 24, 2018
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – It’s got a groove,
it’s got a meaning…and it’s still a cultural phenomenon 40 years after its
original release.The iconic celebration
of high school life in the 1950s, GREASE is the way you’ll be feeling with a
new 40th Anniversary Edition on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital April 24,
2018 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.
Featuring an explosion of song and
dance, as well as star-making performances from John Travolta and Olivia
Newton-John, GREASE made an indelible impact on popular culture.40 years later, the film remains an enduring
favorite as legions of new fans discover the memorable moments, sensational
soundtrack and classic love story.Boasting unforgettable songs including “Greased Lightnin,” “Look At Me,
I’m Sandra Dee,” “Summer Nights,” “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” “Beauty School
Drop Out” and, of course, “Grease,” the film is a timeless feel-good
Paramount worked with director Randal
Kleiser to restore GREASE to its original vibrancy with the highest quality
sound, picture resolution and color.The
original negative was scanned and received extensive clean up and color
correction using previously unavailable digital restoration tools such as high
dynamic range technology.In addition, the
audio was enhanced from a six-track mix created for an original 70mm release,
giving the music more clarity.The
resulting picture and sound create an exceptional home viewing experience.
GREASE 40th Anniversary Edition 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Combo Packs include the
fully restored version of the film plus an all-new, in-depth exploration of the
little-known origins of what would become a Broadway play and then a feature
film and worldwide phenomenon.“Grease:
A Chicago Story” features new interviews with writer Jim Jacobs and original
cast members of the Chicago show.In
addition, the discs include the original song the title sequence was animated
to and an alternate ending salvaged from the original black & white 16mm
work print discovered by director Randal Kleiser.
the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Combo Packs also feature more than an hour of
previously released bonus material, including a sing-along, vintage interviews
with the cast, deleted scenes and more.Plus, the Blu-ray Combo comes in collectible packaging with 16 pages of
images laid out like a high school yearbook.In addition, a Grease Collection will be available in a Steelbook
Locker, which includes the 40th Anniversary Blu-ray of Grease, as well as Grease
2 and Grease: Live! on Blu-ray for the first time.
40th Anniversary Blu-ray Combo Pack
The GREASE Blu-ray is presented in
1080p high definition with English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, German
5.1 Dolby Digital, Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital,
Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Castilian Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital,
Latin American Spanish Mono Dolby Digital, and English Audio Description and
English, English SDH, Cantonese, Mandarin Simplified, Mandarin Traditional,
Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean,
Norwegian, Brazilian Portuguese, European Portuguese, Castilian Spanish, Latin
American Spanish, Swedish, Thai and Turkish subtitles.The DVD in the Combo Pack is presented in widescreen
enhanced for 16:9 televisions with English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby
Digital, Spanish Mono Dolby Digital and English Audio Description and English,
French, and Spanish subtitles. The Combo Pack includes access to a Digital copy
of the film as well as the following:
film in high definition
by director Randal Kleiser and choreographer Patricia Birch
by Randal Kleiser
Time, The Place, The Motion: Remembering Grease
A Chicago Story—NEW!
Animated Main Titles—NEW!
Scenes with Introduction by Randal Kleiser
Reunion 2002 – DVD Launch Party
Memories from John & Olivia
Moves Behind the Music
Travolta and Allan Carr “Grease Day” interview
Newton-John and Robert Stigwood “Grease Day” interview
film in standard definition
by director Randal Kleiser and choreographer Patricia Birch
by Randal Kleiser
Time, The Place, The Motion: Remembering Grease
Animated Main Titles—NEW!
Scenes with Introduction by Randal Kleiser
Reunion 2002 – DVD Launch Party
Moves Behind the Music
Newton-John and Robert Stigwood “Grease Day” interview
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 Long Island 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.
Those of us who have easy access to Central Park often take its magnificence for granted. After all, there isn't a person alive who can remember New York City without this oasis of sanity and beauty amid the chaotic goings-on that surround it. But had it not been for some prescient, progressive thinkers of the mid-1800s, chances are the world's greatest park might not have even existed. Director Martin L. Birnbaum's entertaining and informative documentary "Central Park: The People's Place" is a charming valentine to the massive landscapes that form the titular area, stretching from 59th Street to 110 Street and bestowing upon Gotham its most defining feature. Birnbaum's relentlessly upbeat look at Central Park includes discussion of its origins through interviews with historians and academics. By the mid-1800s, New York was expanding at a lighting pace. The main population centers had originally been confined to the downtown areas but before long what is now known as midtown became the booming northern boundary of the city. There was a fear among many prominent citizens that the unchecked expansion of housing and businesses would ultimately render the city into an urban jungle (during this period, much of the city consisted of unspeakably inhospitable tenement sections where the tidal wave of immigrants from Europe found themselves confined to.) In 1857, the city father's agreed to designate 843 acres for the construction of a major park that would serve the needs of the city's population. Under the direction of architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the enormous undertaking began in 1858. Martin Birnbaum's documentary covers all of this in an interesting fashion, pointing out that there were negative aspects to the construction of the park, primarily the dissolution through the eminent domain laws of Seneca Village, a small but thriving community populated primarily by poor blacks and immigrants. The decision to eradicate this small community lead to considerable protests from the residents, who were ultimately financially compensated for their losses, though not to their satisfaction.
Most of the documentary centers on activities in the park today. There are many interviews with people from all walks of life who share what aspects of the park they enjoy the most. The place is so vast that it is possible to visit it over a period of years and not fully explore its many treasures. There is a beautiful garden area, a stage where world-class plays and concerts are performed, a massive lake where you can still rowboat for a nominal fee, a literal castle, a zoo and many other sites worth seeing. The film also demonstrates that among the most enjoyable aspects of Central Park is the choice to do nothing but take in the sights and sounds around you. We see parents playing with their children, the old tradition of sailing model boats in the lake, people playing music or practicing yoga or those who just simply enjoy a walk through the beautiful greenery. There is also an interesting discussion of the huge, ancient rock formations that date back hundreds of millions of years and which ended up in their present location during an ice age of 21,000 years ago.
Birnbaum's film is not exactly an objective look at the city or the park. It ignores the fact that when the city went through its decline in the 1960s through the early 1990s, Central Park sometimes had an ominous reputation due to the soaring crime rates. The very isolation that makes the place so attractive often gave opportunities for horrendous crimes to be committed. Small wonder that the park was often seen as a foreboding place in urban crime thrillers of the era such as "Death Wish". However, those were the bad old days. Naturally, in a city the size of New York, bad things can still happen in Central Park but Gotham is now recording the lowest crime rates since the early 1960s the park has regained its original magic. Don't take my word for it...see it for yourself.
First Run Features has released "Central Park: The People's Place" on DVD. There are no bonus extras but if you've ever enjoyed the park or contemplated making a pilgrimage to it, this DVD is highly recommended.
Kino Lorber has released director King Vidor's sultry swamp-based drama "Ruby Gentry" on Blu-ray. The film is the kind of steamy, swamp-based drama that could best be described as "God's Little Acre" by way of Tennessee Williams. The 1952 production would seem to derive from some paperback novel but, in fact, was written directly for the screen. Jennifer Jones plays the titular character, a sultry young woman who had the misfortune of being born on the wrong side of the tracks in the otherwise posh little community of Braddock, North Carolina. Ruby's "career" is working the hard scrabble life of a deckhand on her father's fishing vessel. She's a seasoned hunter and can wield a rifle with precision, necessary ingredients if you grow up on the edge of a swamp. At home, she has to contend with the sexism of low expectations by her blue collar parents and has to endure the psychotic ramblings of her religious fanatic brother, Jewel (James Anderson), who warns her that her pent-up sexual desires will lead her to damnation. When we first see Ruby, those sexual desires are about to be satiated with the return home of her boyfriend Boake Tackman (Charlton Heston), who has just come back from living five years in South America studying methods of cultivating land that has been deemed impossible to irrigate. Ruby doesn't waste any time getting down to business with Boake, who she presumes will marry her and get her away from her wretched lifestyle. After all, he is from the right side of the tracks, the son of a prominent judge. However, Boake has some distressing news to break: he is already engaged to a local, prim-and-proper rich girl, the result of an arranged marriage between the two families. It's clear that Boake's heart (and lust) are all devoted to Ruby, however. Ruby makes it clear that she won't serve the rest of her life as Boak's mistress. She ends up in an improbable marriage to a local rich man, Jim Gentry (Karl Malden), despite their significant age difference. Jim is a decent, devoted fellow- and he's also the richest man in town. Before long, he is sweeping Ruby off to exotic ports of call and exposing her to cultural wonders and sophisticated tastes. When they finally return to Braddock, Ruby has transformed from tom girl into a high-fashion, Grace Kelly-type. Her joy is short-lived, however, when Jim dies in a tragic accident while the couple is boating. The local population subjects her to a cruel rumor campaign, insinuating that she murdered Jim to get his money. There is also a suspicion that she was motivated by resuming a sexual relationship with Boak, with whom she openly flirted even after getting married.
Ruby proves to be a strong, powerful woman. Instead of moving away or pleading with people to believe her side of the story, she engages in a detailed study of the businesses she has now inherited. Turns out Jim, as a local rich man, had loans out to some of the very businessmen who have been tormenting her. She utilizes every loophole imaginable in the contracts to call in the loans on short notice, thus causing many prominent businesses to fold and forcing people out of jobs. Among her victims is Boak, who has financed his major irrigation business with a loan from Jim Gentry. Her tactics cause panic among the locals and result in a scenario in which she and Boak are hunted in the swamp like human prey.
The most refreshing thing about "Ruby Gentry" is that, despite working under the restrictions of the old Hollywood production code, Ruby never apologies for her blatant love of sex or her cruel tactics used to wreak vengeance on the people who judged her so badly over the course of her life. She is a sympathetic character, but only to a point. Her willingness to punish the innocent as well as the guilty sets her apart from most major female screen protagonists of the era. Likewise, Boak is less than a knight in shining armor. It's clear he loves Ruby but he doesn't possess the moral fortitude to rebel against social conventions so that he can be with her on anything but a surreptitious basis. Jennifer Jones, already a major star for a decade, ignites the screen with the kind of edgy performance that must have raised eyebrows back in the day. Vidor ensures she is clad in tight-fitting shirts and jeans, thus causing every man around her to openly lust for her. It's a terrific performance. Unfortunately, Charlton Heston, a relative newcomer to leading man status at the time, is encouraged by Vidor to occasionally act in an overly-theatrical style. When he embraces Ruby (which is often), it looks like he's posing for a still life painting. Ultimately, Heston would turn some of these mannerisms into assets but here he seems a bit out of place playing a small town jock. The supporting cast is all very good with Karl Malden and James Anderson particularly impressive. Vidor's assured direction, along with an intelligently-written screenplay, make this a thoroughly entertaining drama, engrossing from beginning to end.
The Blu-ray edition of "Ruby Gentry" looks very good indeed, up to Kino Lorber's usual standards. The disc includes a reissue trailer for the film which is strangely re-titled simply "Ruby", along with other trailers pertaining to films starring Jones and Heston that are available from Kino Lorber.
an awful lot to like about director Robert Altman’s revisionist Western, and conventional
it certainly isn’t. Altman himself once described it as an ‘anti-Western’ film
because the movie ignores or subverts a number of Western conventions. However,
there’s no ignoring its importance, and in 2010, McCabe & Mrs. Miller was
selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the
Library of Congress as being ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically
central characters are far from the stereotypical Western heroes. John McCabe
(Warren Beatty) is a small-time pimp and would be entrepreneur, who rides into
the small frontier town of Presbyterian Church with a singular aim to get rich.
McCabe sets up a seedy brothel, consisting of three women he purchased for
$200. British cockney Constance Miller (Julie Christie) arrives in town and
convinces him that she could run the brothel more profitably. Unknown to McCabe,
she is also addicted to opium.
scheme starts to become profitable and the small town begins to become richer
because of it. That’s until a pair of ruthless agents Eugene Sears (Michael
Murphy) and Ernest Hollander (Antony Holland) from the Harrison Shaughnessy
mining company begin to take an interest. They make McCabe an offer of $5,500
which he refuses. Miller warns him of Shaughnessy’s reputation and that he is notorious
for his violent actions should they not take the money.
and Miller are undoubtedly flawed characters which is exactly what makes
Altman’s film so engrossing. They are both effectively losers and on a path to
nowhere. Beatty’s charismatic performance is arguably among his very best while
Christie’s performance saw her nominated for the Academy Award for Best
Actress. The cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is quite beautiful, as is the
use of the three songs composed and performed by Leonard Cohen. ‘I think the
reason they worked was because those lyrics were etched in my subconscious, so
when I shot the scenes I fitted them to the songs, as if they were written for
them’, Altman later said.
new Blu-ray / DVD combo comes in a beautifully produced package. The print is
as close to pristine as you could expect. It was also great to see the original
Kinney / WB shield in place at the opening. I can’t express enough how
important this is to film purists. Warner’s have made this something of a welcomed
habit, with the original Kinney openings reinstated back to their previous
titles such as Dirty Harry (1971) and The Omega Man (1971).
a lovely depth to the picture quality which reflects the damp and murky
settings perfectly without ever losing it to diluted or milky backgrounds. Zsigmond’s
cinematography captures the green and leafy locations of West Vancouver rather
nicely and works especially well on this high definition presentation. Audio is
also clear throughout, even in scenes where Altman uses his trademark
bonus material consists of an original featurette (approx. 09.30 minutes) which
provides plenty of insight and behind the scenes footage shot during the
production. There is always something charming about these featurettes, often
shot on 16mm, in that they really capture the atmosphere and environment of the
time. Theirs is also the original trailer which acts as more of a show reel for
Leonard Cohen’s music which is overlaid on top of several scenes. The highlight
is the commentary track featuring director Robert Altman and producer David
Foster. I believe this is the same track (dating from 2002) which was used on
the Criterion Collection release and recorded some four years before Altman’s
with all of Warner’s Premium Collection releases, the packaging consists of an
attractive slipcase. Inside is a selection of art cards which feature original
artwork and selected scenes along with a download token. Warner’s new release
marks the debut of McCabe & Mrs. Miller on UK Blu-ray. As a film, it is
often considered as one of Altman’s very best and has been cited as one of the
most important to emerge from the then blossoming New American Cinema.
The Warner Archive is mining its cache of old TV movies to release as burn-to-order DVDs. In general, this is a welcome development as it gives new life to sometimes worthy productions that have been virtually unseen for many years. Some of the fare is rather tepid, however, as evidenced by the release of The Girl in the Empty Grave, a 1977 mystery starring Andy Griffith. I'm second to none in my admiration for Griffith's talents as both a comedic and dramatic actor, but here he seems to be slumming and capitalizing too obviously on his Mayberry sheriff image. He plays another small town lawman, Abel Marsh (Griffith had introduced the character in a previous TV movie), who presides over a sleepy, picturesque mountain hamlet in the California high country. (The film was shot near Big Bear Lake at the San Bernadino National Forest). He's surrounded by a bunch of lovable eccentrics right out of the Mayberry playbook, including a rather goofy deputy (James Cromwell, believe it or not, in an early career role.) Like his Andy Taylor alter ego from his famed sitcom, Abel doesn't feel its necessary to wear a gun while dealing with the humdrum routine matters that go on in town. One day, however, his deputy tells him that a strange thing has occurred concerning a young woman who died years ago in a tragic car accident. Seems the deputy saw her drive through town earlier that morning. Abel dismisses the sighting as absurd- until he catches a glimpse of the same girl speeding through town later in the day. This spawns an investigation that has Abel interview the "dead" girl's parents, both of whom reiterate that she did indeed die in the car accident. Things get murkier, however, when the couple end up murdered. Before long, Abel has to break his gun out of mothballs as he becomes involved in deadly cat and mouse games and a potentially deadly car chase.
The rather lackluster plot seems cobbled together just so everyone could spend a few weeks justifying a stay in some beautiful mountain country. The direction by Lou Antonio is workmanlike but unremarkable and neither he or the screenwriters fully capitalize on Griffith's considerable talents. The film ambles to a confusing and not very satisfying conclusion. The Girl in the Empty Grave reminds us that not ALL old TV movies were as impressive as we remember them being.
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Walter Hill’s “The Long Riders,” (1980) is an account of
the last days of the legendary James-Younger outlaw gang. The film starts with
a botched bank job, in which one of the gang, Ed Miller (Dennis Quaid), gets
nervous and shoots an unarmed customer. There’s more shooting and they manage
to get away but everyone agrees Ed’s got to go. It’s the first indication of
trouble—the first sign that the gang’s best days may be behind them. The rest
of the film follows the trajectory of their decline, as they attract the
attention of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and make a disastrous attempt to
rob a bank in Northfield, Minn.
“The Long Riders” is
praiseworthy for trying to be something other than just another shoot-em-up
western. But it’s a movie with a gimmick—a gimmick that results in a film that is
something less than it could have been. The gang in real life consisted of the
two James brothers (Frank and Jesse), the three Younger brothers (Cole, Jim,
and Bob), and the Miller Brothers (Clell and Ed). Director Hill thought it
would be a cool idea to cast real-life brothers in the parts. Stacy and James
Keach play the James boys. David, Keith, and Robert Carradine star as the
Youngers. Randy and Dennis Quaid play the Millers. It was an inspired concept but it had one major drawback. James Keach was
totally miscast as Jesse. His portrayal of the leader of the gang is weak, and
totally lacking in charisma. The Jesse portrayed here couldn’t lead a Boy Scout
troop to a knot-tying Jamboree.
David Carradine, on the other hand, as Cole Younger,
steals the movie. Carradine is not only charismatic in this film, he looks dangerous.
In interviews he often claimed that most of his performances during that era
were fueled by Grey Goose. You can believe it, especially in a knife-fight
scene with James Remar as Sam Starr. Throughout the film his younger siblings
provide him with comfortably familiar support that can only come from real
brothers. However, Stacy Keach as Frank James seems caught between trying to
keep the dull Jesse and the wild Cole Younger from going after each other.
“The Long Riders” focuses on the differences between the
Jameses and the Youngers. Jesse and Frank are family-oriented. The Youngers
just want to be free. When Jesse plans to get married, Cole tells his brother
Jim: “It don’t go with the way he’s livin’.” The differences build until, at
the beginning of the Northfield Minnesota Bank robbery scene, when Jesse says
they’re just going to go into the bank and take the money, Cole wants to do a little planning and
scouting first. Jesse is scornful of the idea. Cole says with some disgust: “I’ve
long since given up trying to talk sense to you.”
“The Long Riders” is essentially plotless. As he did
later in “Wild Bill” (1995), Hill tells the story in separate disconnected
scenes, many of which end simply by fading to black. As a result, the movie
lacks tension and the characters fail to really come alive, even though the
film spends a lot of time showing the gang’s social activities when not on the
job. We see them attending funerals, weddings, hoedowns, and shows, most of
which simply stop the action and rob the story of its momentum. The good thing
about those scenes, however, is that we get a chance to hear Ry Cooder’s great
folk music on the soundtrack, which plays almost constantly throughout the
movie. There are plenty of fiddles, Jews harps, and dulcimers on hand and even
a guy playing spoons. And it’s always a pleasure hearing Cooder doing his best
to sound like Blind Willy Johnson on acoustic slide guitar. But after all the
digressions, when the big final set piece in Northfield takes place (filmed in
imitation Sam Peckinpah slo-mo style), you’re almost caught by surprise and as
a result the violence and bloodshed have little emotional impact. The final
gimmick comes in the Jesse James assassination scene in which two more real
life brothers (Nicholas and Christopher Guest) play Bob and Charlie Ford.
Kino Lorber’s Studio Classic Blu-ray release is quite a
package. There are two discs. Disc one is a brand new 1920x1080p 4k digital
restoration of the film presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Special bonus
features on Disc One include audio commentary by film historian Howard S.
Berger, and two others, as well as trailers for other KL Studio Classic
releases. Disc Two contains enough features to keep you on your sofa for hours,
including: a one-hour featurette on the making of the film and new interviews
with Walter Hill, Keith and Robert Carradine, Stacy and James Keach, Randy
Quaid and Nicholas Guest. There is also an interview with Ry Cooder talking
about the music he used in the movie and a short featurette comparing Walter
Hill’s use of slo-motion compared to the way Sam Peckinpah did it.
If you’re a western fan, and particularly if you dig the
idiosyncratic work of Walter Hill you’re going to enjoy “The Long Riders” even
with its flaws.
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 squeamish 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.
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was age and (bad) timing that prevented me from catching Badlands on its
original theatrical release. I finally caught up with it many years later when
it was shown as part of the BBC’s popular film season ‘Moviedrome’. Introduced
by film director Alex Cox, the yearly summer season consisted of a selection of
cult, exploitation, oddities and forgotten film gems. The inclusion of Badlands
certainly made an impact which would stay with me long after the final credits had
in 1959, Badlands is based (loosely) on the real-life murder spree of Charles
Starkweather and his girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. It was written and directed
by Terrence Malick and marked his feature film debut. Often considered as a
recluse, perhaps because of his refusal to take part in interviews, Malick’s
film work has always divided opinion. Malick began working on the screenplay
for Badlands in 1970 at the age of 27 and raised half of the budget himself in
order to get the film into production.
great deal of Badlands is told from the perspective of the impressionable 15-year-old
Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek). Holly is a shy, teenage girl living in the South
Dakota town of Fort Dupree. She lives with her sign painter father (Warren
Oates), although their relationship has been somewhat tested since her mother
died of pneumonia. Holly meets the 25-year-old Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen), a
garbage collector with a troubled past and who quietly relishes in his often
remarked resemblance to actor James Dean. Kit uses his charismatic charms on Holly,
and she begins to fall in love with him. Holly's initial voice over reveals her
innocence and her adventure with Kit as a romantic fairy-tale. But the
fairy-tale soon turns sour with the gradual unfolding of Kit's increasing
antisocial and violent behaviour.
works on just about every level. The film was picked up by Warner Bros after
making an impact at the 1973 New York Film Festival, although previewing the
film on a double bill with the Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles (1973) didn’t
really do the film any favours. Thankfully, the film finally found its own
wings and established a credible and respected life of its own. It works as a
great companion piece with Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Both are
excellent examples of the American biographical crime film. It’sperhaps no
surprise then that Malick began his career as a protégé of Arthur Penn, who is thanked
in the closing credits.
Warner Bros. special edition release of Badlands looks exceptionally clean and
clear with vivid but natural colours. The dividing line between sandy textured
prairies and the vibrant blue skies of Montana are greatly enriched and
improved, adding new life to the superb cinematography of Takashi Fujimoto.
Audio is also clear throughout with effects such as gunshots providing plenty
of additional punch. It’s also great to see the original red Saul Bass-designed
Warner communication company logo restored to the film’s opening. It not only
sets the tone, but does everything to keep the film in the correct timeline.
reference to bonus material, this is something of a mixed bag. Whist Warner’s
packaging suggests a featurette, which is in the style of the original (and
very good) Blue Underground documentary ‘Absence of Malick’ (24.00), it also
suggests cast and crew member interviews and the trailer. Firstly I think it
should be made clear, that the Blu-ray disc only contains the making of
documentary. There are no additional cast and crew interviews and in fact,
there is no sign of the trailer. I reverted to the DVD edition in the same
package, where again, there is no sign of any additional cast and crew member
interviews, but there is a trailer (of course in standard definition). Why the
trailer does not appear on the Blu-ray, I have no idea. So in order to see the
trailer one would have to switch to the DVD in order to view it, which is
neither a good policy nor practical.
The Premium Collection packaging is again very
attractive with its outer slipcase using the film poster, the download token
and the four art cards consisting of original film artwork and three scenes
from the movie. It’s all very nice, but I remain seriously confused at how
Warner Bros have produced and authorised the content within this edition. The
film, however, remains a classic of the genre and it has never looked better.
Leone’s “Giù La Testa,” later retitled not once but twice for American release,
opened in Italy in October 1971 to great expectations by the director’s
fans.According to the preeminent Leone
expert Sir Christopher Frayling, in an informative audio commentary included in
a new Blu-ray edition of the film from Kino Lorber Studio Classics under its
second U.S. title, “A Fistful of Dynamite,” the Italian phrase meant something
like “keep your head down.”In other
words, in times of social convulsion like the bloody 1913 Mexican revolution
portrayed in the movie, save yourself unnecessary grief and keep as low a
profile as you can.Toshiro Mifune’s
wandering samurai in “Yojimbo” offered similar advice: “A quiet life eating
rice is best.”In Leone’s film, James
Coburn and Rod Steiger starred as mismatched partners -- a fugitive Irish dynamiter
and a volatile Mexican bandit -- who learn that you only bring sorrow and
tragedy upon yourself when you leap into the whirlwind of political
turmoil.When the picture reached the
U.S. through United Artists in July 1972, the title was changed to “Duck, You
Sucker,”a rough translation.In a literal sense, it’s the warning that
Coburn’s character invariably utters just before he detonates his nitro
charges.Leone thought it was a common
colloquialism in America.Maybe he was
thinking of “fire in the hole.”United
Artists gave the release decent publicity, selling it as an action movie in a
shorter (by half an hour) cut than the 157-minute Italian print.I remember seeing the ad art of Coburn and
Steiger prominently displayed on a billboard in downtown Pittsburgh that
summer, just before the picture opened.The ad extolled Leone as “the master of adventure.”Around the same time, United Artists Records
released Ennio Morricone’s eclectic soundtrack on vinyl.The New York Times panned the movie, but Time
Magazine offered a mostly positive review, one of the earliest to take Leone on
his own terms instead of dismissing him as a passing curiosity.
audience turnout was sparse, and when the film reached smaller markets like the
one where I saw it in early fall 1972, the studio had renamed it “A Fistful of
Dynamite,” in an attempt to lure audiences who had flocked to Leone’s “A
Fistful of Dollars” and its sequels starring Clint Eastwood.The strategy gave the picture a second chance
in movie houses in that era before home video and streaming video when movies
had to make money at the box office or not at all. However, it didn’t do much
to boost business.In the meantime,
another violent drama about a fugitive IRA gunman in revolutionary Mexico,
Ralph Nelson’s “The Wrath of God,” had opened in theaters. Nelson’s film had
the added commercial advantage of a “Playboy” pictorial.For the record, it didn’t sell many tickets
either despite the publicity afforded by Hef’s magazine.Later, TV and VHS prints of Leone’s movie
retained “A Fistful of Dynamite” as the title, and their pan-and-scan format
ruined Giuseppe Ruzzolini’s beautifully composed Techniscope photography.The first respectful home-video edition
finally appeared in 1996 from MGM Home Video on laser disc.Remember that technology from the dawn of
home theater, sonny?The 1996 laser disc
retained “A Fistful of Dynamite” as the title, but restored the widescreen
aspect of the image and much of the footage missing from previous U.S. versions.“Duck, You Sucker” ultimately resurfaced as
the chosen title for its premier on U.S. DVD from MGM Home Video in 2007.
the run from the British government during the Irish Rebellion, explosives
expert John Mallory (Coburn) comes to Mexico to work for German mining
interests.There, traveling through the
desert on a vintage motorbike, he crosses paths with Juan Miranda (Steiger), a
sweaty, hot-tempered bandit who leads a gun-toting gang of robbers.The gang consists of Juan’s elderly father and
Juan’s six sons “by different mothers.”Miranda sees Mallory’s proficiency with explosives as the key to
realizing his long-cherished dream of breaking into the fortress-like Bank of
Mesa Verde.The loot will enable him and
his family to leave Mexico and reach the U.S., where -- like the worst
nightmare of a Trump supporter -- he expects to pursue an even grander career
robbing American banks.After Juan
deviously maneuvers Mallory into a partnership, the Irishman eludes him but the
two reunite in Mesa Verde.There,
Mallory has joined a cell of insurrectionists headed by the dapper Dr. Villega
(Romolo Valli).Villega plots a series
of diversions in Mesa Verde to support two imminent onslaughts by the rebel
commanders Villa and Zapata.One
diversion will be an explosion at the bank, dovetailing with Miranda’s own
obsession of pulling his big heist.Once
the building is blasted open, Juan will lead his kids inside and empty the
vault.But things take a turn he doesn’t
expect, and instead of getting rich from the break-in, he becomes an unwitting
hero of the revolution.For the cynical
Juan, who has no use for politics and no loyalties beyond his rough affection
for his aged father and his sons, it’s a dumbfounding development.Moreover, his new-found notoriety puts him in
the crosshairs of a punitive military expedition led by a ruthless officer in
an armored transport, Col. Gunther Ruiz (Antoine Saint-John).
retrospect, it’s easy to see why the film did poorly at the U.S. box office,
first under anopaque title and then
under, arguably, a misleading one.Leone
enjoyed using an elliptical narrative style in which often, as a scene begins
or unfolds, the viewer doesn’t quite know where the characters are or the point
of what they’re doing.Eventually, with
a visual or verbal cue, the meaning becomes clear.Fans enjoy this technique, similar to a
stand-up comic preceding a punchline with an elaborate set-up.Leone trusts that you’re smart enough and
curious enough to stay with him.But the
technique was bound to frustrate 1972 moviegoers who expected a straightforward
shoot-’em-up narrative, based on the poster art of Steiger firing a machine
gun, Coburn displaying a coat lined with dynamite, and a military convoy being
blown up.Some confusion also resulted
from the cuts made for the U.S. release.What happened to the paying job that Mallory was hired for, and if he’s
finished with rebellions as he had implied in one passing comment, why does he
end up collaborating with Dr. Villega’s resistance movement?A scene in the overseas print explained that
Juan had lured John’s employer and a military guard to a remote church, and
then killed them with a blast of Mallory’s dynamite.Mallory, known to be a wanted Irish rebel,
was blamed for the murders; presumably, as the authorities put out their
dragnet, he had only one recourse to slip out of Miranda’s devious grip -- go
underground, seek refuge with the Mexican revolutionaries, and resume his
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.
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Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of the little-remembered 1954 "B" movie thriller "Highway Dragnet". Despite it's modest production values, the film is a textbook example of how efficiently films in this genre were made and how much action and plot devices can be worked into a movie with an abbreviated running time (70 minutes, in this case.) Young Roger Corman wrote the story upon which the screenplay was based and also served as one of the producers. That's about the only aspect of the film that one could point out in terms of separating "Highway Dragnet" from countless other crime dramas shot in a similar style. That isn't meant as a criticism. We're rediscovering how cleverly made so many of these micro-budget flicks were and this one is one of the better examples. The film opens with a brief segment in Las Vegas. Richard Conte is Jim Henry, who has just returned from the conflict in Korea and is now looking to enjoy civilian life. He's on his way back to his family home in the Salton Sea area in California when his pit stop at a Vegas casino results in a tense encounter with an abrasive blonde at the bar. The two publicly quarrel and Jim leaves the premises. The next day he is on a desert highway hitchhiking when cops pull up and arrest him. Turns out the sassy dame was found strangled in her bed and Jim is the prime suspect. He has an alibi that he was out with a friend all night but due to some convoluted plot reasons, the tale can't be easily substantiated. Jim resists the arresting officers, steals one of their guns and makes a getaway in the squad car. A full dragnet is in place when he ditches the police car when he comes across two stranded women who are trying to fix their broken-down car. Jim jumps to the rescue and gets the vehicle working, but also insists on traveling with them, as it gives him cover from the police. His new companions are Mrs. Cummings (Joan Bennett), a fashion photographer and her model Susan Willis (Wanda Hendrix). The women are en route to photo shoot at a local desert resort hotel. When they arrive there, they learn that Jim is wanted for murder. He takes off with them into the desert where the car breaks down and they are at the mercy of the relentless sun. Mrs. Cummings is determined to kill Jim if she has the opportunity but Susan, who is clearly enamored of the ex-serviceman, argues that she thinks he is innocent. The cat and mouse game continues as Jim desperately tries to make it back to his family home, where the man who can exonerate him is supposed to be waiting.
"Highway Dragnetl" is a fun romp, especially if you like the old style of crime movies in which the hero is nonplussed by events and seems to have Bondian abilities to escape every trap. Richard Conte makes a good, stalwart hero and his female co-stars are equally impressive. The climax of the film, shot on location amid flooded homes in the Salton Sea area, is quite atmospheric and impressive, even if the resolution of the crime is bit thin and far-fetched when it comes to revealing the real murderer. Director Nathan Juran wisely eschews studio-bound shots in favor of capitalizing on the desert locations and they add considerably to the quality of the production. "HighwayDragmetl" isn't a film noir classic but it's well-made and thoroughly enjoyable. Recommended, especially since you'll only need 70 minutes to experience it.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray offers a pristine transfer and a trailer gallery of other "B" crime movies available from the company.
Fritz Lang first made his mark in Germany during the short-lived Wiemar Republic in between the two world wars. Lang had immigrated from his native Austria to Berlin, where he made quite an impression during the silent era, directing such landmark masterpieces as "M" and "Metropolis". However, the rise of National Socialism repulsed him. He spawned an offer to make propaganda films for the Nazis and discreetly left the country before the worst aspects of Hitler's regime became reality. In Hollywood, Lang found he was welcomed by studios and was consistently employed on films for the major studios. However, Lang was working under constraints that early German cinema did not have, namely, the dreaded Hays Code, under which Hollywood engaged in self-censorship in order to prevent government oversight of film content. Consequently, many of the films directed by Lang in Hollywood were largely routine, run-of-the-mill productions although occasionally, he oversaw a true gem that reminded viewers of his genius. One of Lang's last American films before he returned to Germany was "While the City Sleeps", a tightly-wound 1956 urban thriller that was one of the first major productions to deal overtly with a serial killer.
The story opens on a harrowing note with a pre-credits scene in which an attractive young woman has her apartment entered by a delivery man who had previously stopped at her apartment. In short order, he subjects her to a horrific death. The murder quickly becomes big news and Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick), the elderly owner of The Sentinel, the city's most influential newspaper, barks orders that the search for the murder has to be played to the hilt in order to increase circulation. However, Kyne soon passes away, leaving control of The Sentinel to his son, Walter (Vincent Price), an inept elitist with a penchant for high living. Walter is well-aware that he is ill-equipped to run a major media organization that also includes a television network. He quickly alienates his most seasoned staffers and devises a Trumpian strategy of dangling a promotion in front of his three top reporters, thus causing the colleagues to turn on each other amid a chaotic environment of backstabbing. Walter has informed the competing journalists that the first man to solve the murder will get the job, then sits back and cruelly enjoys his manipulation of them. The staffers are old hands at getting big stories. Mark Loving (George Sanders) is a snooty newsroom editor who is romancing Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino), the office vamp and resident gossip columnist. Jon Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell) is a cigar-chomping old time veteran reporter who quickly compromises his pride in the hopes of nailing down the promotion. James Craig is Harry Kritzer, an oily top reporter who is secretly romancing Walter's wife Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming), who enjoys making her husband an unknowing cuckold while at the same time manipulating Harry by threatening to withdraw her sexual favors. The central character in the story, however, is Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews), The Sentinel's top reporter and their celebrity on-air news anchor. Mobley, a chain-smoking cynic, wants no part of Walter's cruel ploy to win a promotion through sacrificing professional integrity. Edward, too, is involved in the hotbed of interoffice romances, and becomes engaged to Loving's secretary Sally (Nancy Liggett).
The interesting script for "While the City Sleeps" meanders but in a positive way. These are all fascinating enough characters to make the sordid aspects of the serial killer plot take second place. Mobley is an especially interesting character and far from the knight in shining armor found in many films of this era. He smokes and drinks too much and even alienates Nancy by almost succumbing to the sexual advances of Mildred. He loathes working for Walter but is too comfortable in his job and celebrity status to leave. Working with some inside tips from a friendly police detective (Howard Duff), Mobley comes up with a strategy for luring the killer into the open by using Nancy as bait. This kicks the murder plot into overdrive in the final section of the film and adds considerable suspense to the proceedings.
The first thing you note when reading the sleeve notes
for 100 Years of Horror (Mill Creek Entertainment)
is the three-disc set’s staggering running time: ten hours and fifty-five
minutes.It’s a somewhat daunting task
to review such a monumentally staged effort as this, one at least partially
conceived as a labor-of-love.The series
makes a noble effort to trace the history and the development of the horror
film from the silent era through the slasher films of the 1980s and a bit
beyond, not always neatly or logically compartmentalizing sub-genres as
“Dinosaurs,” “Aliens” “Gore,” “Mutants,” Scream Queens” etc. along the way.It’s a bit difficult to precisely date when host
and horror film icon Christopher Lee’s commentaries and introductory segments
were filmed.The set itself carries a
1996 copyright, but Lee makes an off-hand mention of the “new” Dracula film
starring Gary Oldman… which would date the saturnine actor’s participation to
1992 or thereabouts.Later in the set,
Lee references Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein,
which then confusingly forward dates the documentary to 1994.
It’s also unclear where this series was originally
destined.With its twenty-five minute
running time per episode, it would appear as if this twenty-six part series was
produced with the intent of television distribution in mind.100
Years of Horror is one of the earliest efforts of executive producer Dante
J. Pugliese who would carve out a career producing a number of these minimal
investment “clip show” style documentaries.This series first appeared as a 5 volume VHS set via Passport
International in the latter days of 1995, and has since enjoyed several DVD
releases; there were both cut-down versions and a
highly-sought-after-by-collectors box set issued in 2006.This new issue by Mill Creek not only brings
the set back into print with new packaging, but does so at a very reasonable
price point:MSRP: $14.98, and even
cheaper from the usual assortment of on-line merchants.
Perhaps acknowledging Christopher Lee’s contribution to
the legacy, the series first episode is fittingly dedicated to Dracula and his Disciples.Lee was, inarguably, one of the two most
iconic figures to essay the role of Count Dracula.Though Bela Lugosi’s halting speaking manner,
grey pallor and widow-peaked hairline remains the more iconic visual portraiture,
Lugosi actually only portrayed Count Dracula in a feature-length film twice: in
the 1931 original and, for the final time, in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).Lee, on the other hand, shot no less than seven
Dracula films for Hammer Studios and one for Jess Franco.Though he would log considerably more
cinematic hours on screen as the Prince of Darkness, the gentlemanly Lee
generously allows here that even some forty years following the actor’s death
in 1956, Bela Lugosi was still “inexorably linked” to the public’s persona of
Though he would never work with the actor – as he would on
two occasions with Lugosi’s occasional foil Boris Karloff - Lee recalled his first
attendance at a horror film in a cinema was Lugosi’s Dark Eyes of London (1939).Lugosi would, in some manner of speaking, unwittingly pave the way for
Lee’s future assumption in other similarly cloaked roles. As had his predecessor,
Lee would portray several other vampire characters on film that were Count Dracula
in all but name.Just as Lugosi would exploit
his image as Transylvania’s most famous resident in such films as Return of the Vampire and Mark of the Vampire, so would a fanged
Christopher Lee with such impersonations as Dracula
and Son and Uncle Was a Vampire.
The documentary makes clear that, no matter how celebrated
either man’s portrayal was, neither actor held dominion on the character.The film points out that several other actors
- Francis Lederer and Lon Chaney Jr. among them – have tackled the role to reasonable
degrees of satisfaction.It was also
pleasing to see a brief interview segment with one of my favorite Dracula’s,
the wizened John Carradine, captured in his eighties here.Carradine triumphantly recounts not only did
he appear as Dracula in “three” films for Universal (well, three, if you choose
to count his appearance on a 1977 episode of NBC-TV’s McCloud (“McCloud Meets Dracula”).Carradine was also mysteriously prideful of his appearing as a Count
Dracula-style character in several obscure films shot in Mexico (Las Vampiras) and the Philippines (the
outrageous and exploitative Vampire
Hookers).What the Mexican and
Filipino efforts might lack in comprehensibility and budget, they’re nonetheless
not-to-be-missed totems of low-brow Midnight Movie Madness.For whatever reason, Carradine made no
mention of his top-hatted participation the wild and wooly William (“One Shot”)
Beaudine western Billy the Kid vs.
Dracula (1966), a long-time “guilty pleasure” of mine.