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.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
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.
The Warner Archive has released the 1970 counter-culture drama The Strawberry Statement. The film was released in an era of increasing unrest, sandwiched between the 1968 Chicago riots at the Democratic convention, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F. Kennedy and the shooting of student protesters at Kent State University (which, in a nightmarish example of unintended "good timing" occurred one month after the release of this film.) Although the movie was honored at the Cannes Film Festival, the general consensus was that, like Antonioni's more notorious failure Zabriskie Point, the film was an unfocused and unsuccessful attempt to play upon the unrest among young Americans during this era. Looking at the movie today, that criticism still holds up. The story centers on Simon (Bruce Davison), an apolitical student at a San Francisco university (it was actually filmed at Berkeley) who gradually becomes interested in the protest movement. Students are on strike and are occupying the dean's office (a not uncommon practice of the day) to protest the closing of a community playground for inner city children. The university, which owns the property, intends to put in an ROTC office temporarily, and then lease the land to big business. The students have succeeded in virtually closing down the university and Simon becomes more enamored with their cause. Before long he is occupying the dean's office, too, and begins a romantic relationship with a more radical protester, Linda (Kim Darby). The film meanders between their encounters, life on campus and anti-Establishment rallies. However, a clear depiction of the characters or their motivations is never provided. Simon is charismatic, but rather hollow. Linda is never presented in anything but a superficial manner. We know nothing of her background or motivations. There are no other major characters, though reliable supporting actors like Bud Cort, James Coco and Bob Balaban contribute positively.
The film's director, Stuart Hagmann, had a brief and rather undistinguished career, primarily highlighted by this MGM production. He relies on fast cuts, inventive camera angles and a score filled with rock and folk music provided by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Thunderclap Newman to compensate for the weak screenplay that had been based on a recently-published novel. The script by Israel Horovitz does provide some nuance in assessing protest movements. This was filmed during an era in which the military was draft was going full force, even as the Vietnam War was becoming increasingly unpopular. Adding insult to injury, the young people who fought that war weren't allowed to vote at the time because the voting age was 21. (Even today, with a voting age of 18, soldiers who are deemed old enough to drive tanks into combat can't legally enjoy a beer.) Consequently, presidential candidates who had run on a Vietnam withdrawal policy in 1968 (Senators Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy), had enormous support from a base that could not vote for them. The war that had been started by Democrats and escalated by the newly-elected Republican President, Richard Nixon, seemed to be a quagmire that would go on forever. (Curiously, our Afghanistan quagmire was started by a Republican president and escalated by a Democratic president, so not much has changed in terms of the political Establishment.) Where The Strawberry Statement succeeds is in its depiction of the various motives those who comprise a protest movement might have. Some are true believers, some are idealists, some are just weak-willed followers, and others just want to get laid in the name of upholding democracy. Radical protesters complain about a lack of freedom and rights, even as they ironically decorate their dorm rooms with posters of Che Guevara, a man who sacrificed his life in an attempt to tear down dictatorships even as he courted the totalitarian state of Fidel Castro. There are rather pretentious uses of film clips of key political figures of the day including H. Rap Brown and President Nixon, who is seen serenading White House guests while playing Home on the Range on the piano. There must be significance to this somewhere, but it comes across as bizarre. The film does show how even the most sincere political protest movements, from the Tea Party on the right and the Occupy movement on the left, inevitably become defined by the crazy fringe element that often negates the validity of their message. (In this film, protesters assail police officers, using their "Peace Now" signs as instruments of destruction.) The film succeeds in capturing the craziness of the era in the final, harrowing sequence in which an army of policeman brutally assail students at a sit-in, who are peacefully signing "Give Peace a Chance." Here, director Hagmann finds his stride and provides a truly mesmerizing sequence. However, despite the fine performances of the cast, the film falls short of its overall potential.
The cataclysmic prison riot near the end of The
Big House (1930) reaches such a fevered pitch that army tanks are called in to
combat the inmates. The tanks roll into the prison yard like armor-plated
creatures, and then, unexpectedly, start rolling towards
the screen, towards the viewer. What did movie audiences think in 1930 as these
shiny, black, menacing machines moved towards them? By the riot's end, a
single tank crashes through a wall, its main gun slowly swiveling, as sinister anything
in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.It’s
impressive even now, watching on an Acer laptop in 2014. What was it like in
one of the vaunted movie palaces of yesteryear? Did audiences cheer
because the army was going to save the day? Or was there some fear, too, fear
that the machines were coming not just for criminals, but for everybody…
The Big House, now available on DVD as part of the Warner Bros Archive
Collection, was a spectacular success for MGM, and ushered in the prison movie
as a viable genre. Films had been set in prisons before,
but it was The Big House that established the characters and themes that would
mark the genre forever (ie. the scared new guy, the crusty lifers, the
conniving weasel, the kindly old guard, the dour but ineffectual warden, the inevitable
jail break, etc.). The film was also a marked contrast to the slick
films made by MGM at the time, causing Chester B. Bahn of the Syracuse Herald
to write that this "stark tragedy" was "so horrible, so
devastating, that you don't want to think about it, don't want to talk about
Although prison movies weren't churned out the way westerns and horror movies
were during the 1930s, the subject undoubtedly had legs. We still see
prison movies today, as well as TV shows (of both the scripted and “non-scripted”
variety). But every prison movie or show we see now has something of The Big
House in its DNA. The Big House did it first, and I’m not sure if any
modern prison movies have done it any better. More explicit, perhaps, but
For one thing, The Big House was unabashedly artsy. Directed by George Hill
with photography by Harold Wenstrom, the film is framed by rich, deep blacks
that gave the atmosphere a harder edge than most black and white films of the
day. A more accurate description of the film would be “black & grey,” for
there isn’t much white in it. Grey is the color of the prison uniform,
and grey is the color of the detainees’ pasty complexions. The prison is a
murky place, and when a con is being marched into the “dungeon” to serve some
time in solitary, it’s as if he’s being marched into the very wings of
The opening scene follows a truck filled with new prisoners as it approaches
the monolithic, unnamed building. There’s something about the scene that
looks like an illustration come to life, especially when the prisoners step out
of the truck and appear incredibly tiny as they march into the prison. Kent
(Robert Montgomery) is a newbie, sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter after
killing a man in a car accident. He’s thrown into a cramped cell with two
legitimately bad men, Butch (Wallace Beery) and Morgan (Chester Morris).
One of the warden’s aids laments that a young kid doesn’t stand a chance in a
cell with such hard cases, to which the warden agrees that overcrowding and
idleness are the banes of the prison system. Kent’s journey through
prison life, though, is only part of the story. The film's
greatness comes from the interplay between Butch and Morgan, for they are
two hardened criminals who lean on each other to get through their dreary days.
Butch is downright sadistic, the sort of brute who harasses people only to back
off and say, “I was only kidding.” He’s allegedly murdered several people,
including a few of his past girlfriends, but one never knows if he’s serious or
not. He also lets his temperament get the best of him, even turning on his
buddy Morgan more than once during the film. Morgan, meanwhile, falls for
Kent’s sister (Leila Hyams) when he spots her during visiting hours.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVE
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Remember that scene in Mel Brooks' The Producers when the first performance of Springtime for Hitler has just been performed for an opening night crowd on Broadway? The camera pans around the silent audience to show people sitting slack-jawed, mouths agape at the travesty they have just witnessed. I had a similar experience watching Sextette for the first time. Mind you, as a long time retro movie analyst, I was well-aware of the film's reputation as a notorious misfire. However, no criticism can quite prepare anyone for the experience of actually watching this bizarre spectacle unfold before your eyes. Scorpion Video has made that possible with a special edition DVD release of the 1978 musical comedy that was to be Mae West's second attempt to make a big screen comeback. (The first, the notorious 1970 bomb Myra Breckenridge, outraged her when she saw the final cut.) Sextette went into production in 1976, produced by "Briggs and Sullivan", a headed-for-oblivion duo whose pretentious billing perhaps unwittingly brings to mind circus masters Barnum and Bailey. The producers had acquired the rights to West's play Sextet, which apparently resulted in legal and censorship problems for the great screen diva way back when it was first presented. By the time it was dusted off for audiences in the 1970s, we were already living in an era in which Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice could comfortably slip between the sheets together, thus rendering the sexual humor in West's farce seem about as daring as a Disney production.
The film, directed by the generally admirable Ken Hughes (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), presents West as Marlo Manners, a legendary diva of the cinema who still causes hearts to flutter whenever she makes a public appearance. When we first see her (a full 8 minutes into the movie), she is checking into a London hotel to enjoy her honeymoon with her latest (and sixth husband), handsome young Sir Michael Barrington (Timothy Dalton). It isn't long before Barrington realizes that Marlo has a fanatical fan base and a seemingly endless string of former and would-be lovers clamoring for her attention. Among them, some ex-husbands including a crazy movie director (Ringo Starr) and a gangster who was presumed dead (George Hamilton). Then there is a Soviet diplomat (Tony Curtis) who is the central figure in a world peace conference that coincidentally happens to be taking place in the same hotel. Add to the zany mix her hyper-active business manager (Dom DeLuise), a singing waiter (Alice Cooper!) and a fey dress designer (The Who's Keith Moon) and you probably have to admire whoever managed to get this eclectic group of talented people together, even if they all should have known better. West's old pal George Raft even shows up and rides an elevator with her. The razor-thin plots involves Marlo trying to consummate her marriage to Barrington, who is a naive virgin who inadvertently implies to Hollywood gossip guru Rona Barrett that he is gay. In fact, just about the only audience that might derive any visual pleasure from the film are gay males, due to the abundance of scantily-clad muscle men who flex their abs every time Marlo walks by. To make matters even more bizarre, the cast occasionally breaks out into songs as though this was some old Busby Berkeley musical. The nadir of this is reached when an understandably embarrassed Dalton is forced to sing the Captain and Tennille's Love Will Keep Us Together to his on-screen bride. (Presumably, Dalton left this achievement off his credentials or he probably wouldn't have ended up playing James Bond.) In the midst of this madness, Marlo also barges in on the peace conference and convinces all the diplomats (including Walter Pidgeon!) to engage in some kumbaya moments of diplomacy.
West was certainly a screen legend in her time and one of the most liberated women in show business. You have to admire her for promoting women's lib and sexual freedom in an era in which most people were tone deaf to such sentiments. However, knowing when to quit was obviously not one of her attributes. As Marlo brings twenty-something men to states of sexual frenzy in Sextette, you keep waiting for at least one joke regarding the fact that the woman was in her 80s when the film was made. Unfortunately, throughout the entire movie, no such realization is apparent. Men salivate over her, as West creaks stiffly from frame to frame looking like the Marie Antoinette figure from Madame Tussaud's wax museum. West had parlayed her limited schtick of tossing off sexually suggestive one-liners into a full time screen career, not so much acting as merely quipping. It may have worked great in her prime opposite Cary Grant and W.C. Fields, but it's a sad spectacle to see Ringo Starr try to control his urges in her presence. The only cast member to emerge unscathed is DeLuise, who gives an energetic and amusing performance that even sees him jumping atop a piano and engaging in an impressive tap dance.
The Scorpion DVD transfer is excellent and includes an extensive and spellbinding interview with Ian Whitcomb, who served as a music consultant on the film. A good friend of Mae West's, he relates affectionate tales of their relationship and provides some uncomfortable details about the filming. (West would periodically seem to lose her powers of concentration and often had to have her lines read to her through an ear piece.) He also reads entries from his diary that were written during production. There is also a very informative on-screen essay by film critic Dennis Dermody that explores the film's disastrous reception by critics and the public. An original TV spot is also included.
Sextette easily manages to gain that rare status of being so bad it's good. You must add this DVD to your collection.
(Look for an article about the making of the film in Cinema Retro #26)
If you're generally in the mood for light, uplifting movies, chances are you aren't enamored of the boxing genre. To be sure, the wonderful "Rocky" films assured viewers of a happy, upbeat ending, but they were marketed for mass audience appeal. On the other side of the coin, most of the films that explore the ironically nicknamed "Sweet Science" of boxing center on the gritty underbelly of the sport. As far back as Wallace Beery's "The Champ" through "Champion", "Requiem for a Heavyweight", "Fat City" and "Raging Bull", the general theme has been to present the peculiar world of boxing and boxers as one of unrelenting cruelty, exploitation, double-crosses and physical punishment. Small wonder that few such films had viewers emerging from theaters with broad smiles on their faces. Yet, the boxing genre is a reliable staple when it comes to presenting thoroughly engrossing tales and the latest entry, a low-budget British film, "Jawbone" can justifiably take its place among the major achievements in the genre.
You probably never heard of "Jawbone". which had a very limited theatrical release in the UK and is now making its debut in America through a DVD release from Lionsgate. I had no expectations for the movie but decided to give the review screener a try, as I've always had a weakness for boxing films."Jawbone" grabs you from the very first frames. We see the central character, Jimmy McCabe (Johnny Harris) in the depths of depression, sitting night after night in the dock areas of London and under the city's bridges swilling down hard liquor from a bottle. We learn that he is destitute and about to be evicted from his childhood home which he shared with his beloved mother, who passed away some months before. He's offered housing by the local council but he stubbornly refuses. It's a battle he can't win and he ends up homeless. We learn he was once a boxer of some repute and out of desperation, he returns to the gritty gym where he once trained. The owner, Bill Carney (Ray Winstone), was once Jimmy's mentor, a function he still provides for street kids from the neighborhood he continues to train. Jimmy lost Bill's respect when he began his downward spiral, but he implores his old friend to give him one more chance by allowing him to train at the gym and to lodge there as well. Bill has a heart-to-heart talk with Jimmy and informs him that any return to his bad habits will see him permanently banned from the gym. Grateful, Jimmy joins Alcoholics Anonymous but is so ashamed of his transgressions that he can't accept the outpouring of support from the other members. Still, he resists taking to the bottle and begins an intense period of training. Bill and his partner Eddie ((Michael Smiley) recognize that he still has some of his old abilities and support his efforts at redemption. However, Jimmy desperately needs some money so he seeks out an old acquaintance, Joe Padgett (Ian McShane), a superficially friendly fight promoter who specializes in matches that are so brutal they aren't officially recognized.The smarmy Joe treats the starving Jimmy to a fat steak dinner and advances him a couple of hundred quid- then tells him he can arrange for him to make some sure money by participating in grueling off-the-grid match against a particularly vicious, undefeated opponent. He warns that Jimmy will probably be pulverized but the loser is guaranteed a paltry 2500 pounds, of which Joe will take a 50% slice.
"Jawbone" follows some well-worn story elements of the genre. We see Jimmy rally his strength, train to the point of exhaustion and arrive at the big match. He finds it closer to the experience of being a gladiator in ancient Rome. There are the bare bones symbols of civility: a referee and a busty ring girl who holds up a sign announcing each round. but the only rule is not to hit below the waist. Anything and everything else goes. Jimmy finds himself the underdog amidst a roaring crowd of barbarians who are cheering on the vicious champion. The fight that follows is as terrifically exciting and well-filmed as any you've seen in more commercial boxing movies. But "Jawbone" is about much more than this one exciting sequence. It's about the human condition and the ability- or inability- of one man to conquer his personal demons. The film is superbly acted with writer/star Johnny Harris giving the kind of performance that generally gets BAFTA and Oscar recognition. Similarly, the supporting cast is superb with Winstone and Smiley particularly good and McShane riveting in his small but pivotal role. Much credit goes to director Thomas Napper, a highly regarded second-unit director on numerous blockbuster films, who breaks out as a director of great skill with this film. Although "Jawbone" has many elements of the traditional boxing film, it steadfastly avoids the predictable love story. There isn't a love interest for Jimmy because he can barely keep himself alive. Harris's script resonates with great, believable dialogue and the film is complimented by a fine musical score by Paul Weller, excellent cinematography by Tat Radcliffe and editing by David Charap. Everything about "Jawbone" is impressive, especially the fact that Harris and Napper manage to convey a great deal of emotion into the brief 90 minute running time. There isn't a wasted frame and by the film's emotional climax you realize it didn't need to run a second longer. This is economic filmmaking at its best. The movie is an outstanding achievement for all concerned and one can only gripe that it didn't get the theatrical distribution it so richly deserved. However, the Lionsgate DVD offers a very fine transfer and a very interesting "making of" documentary that describes how the bare bones production came together and ended up looking so good. There is also a gallery of trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
"Jawbone" is one of the best indie films I've seen in quite some time. If you'll excuse an unpardonable pun, it's a knockout.
Twilight Time has released a Blu-ray edition of the
biting social satire The Hospital.
By 1971, the playwright Paddy Chayefsky was considered so
revered that he remains the only writer that comes to mind who could demand a
possessive credit on films he wrote the screenplays for. (The film’s titles
were followed by the credit “By Paddy Chayefsky”). Such a case is The Hospital, a film that was highly
acclaimed in its day and voted into the National Film Registry in America in
1995, signifyingits status as a
classic. Why, then, consider it a “long over-looked film”? Because the virtues
of The Hospital were overshadowed by
Chayefsky’s 1976 masterpiece Network, a
glossier and more outrageous movie that resonated even more soundly with
audiences and critics. Consequently, The
Hospital is rarely discussed in critical circles and seen even less on the
big screen within the art house circuits. Yet, the power of this film is as
timely as ever.
Non-American audiences may well scratch their collective
heads over the on-going, increasingly contentious debate over the health care
system in the United States.In order to
explore the premise of The Hospital, its
relevance must be placed within the context of this debate. In the post-WWII
world, almost every modern, industrialized nation installed a form of national
health care. In America, however, it remained a “for profit” system that gave
insurers every incentive to deny sick people coverage. Virtually everyone in
America agrees that the system has become hopelessly broken but despite the
fact that the uninsured rate in America is now at an all-time low, the debate
over the merits of President Obama’s attempts to the health care system remain
largely split on the basis of one’s political party- and millions remain
without coverage. Paddy Chayefsky foresaw the ultimate collapse of the system.
His screenplay places the crisis in a localized level- specifically one
over-burdened New York City hospital that is desperately trying to stay open in
a bizarro world where the need for profits often trumps the incentive to provide
proper care. The sequences in which an
omnipresent aspect of the emergency room is a bureaucrat who harasses
critically ill patients to produce proof of their medical insurance is a daily
occurrence in hospitals across the USA.
Chayefsky views the crisis through the eyes of Dr. Bock
(George C. Scott), a weather-beaten, revered doctor who is not only going
through a mid-life crisis of divorce and impotence, but who is chronically
depressed because his life’s goal of helping the sick has been converted into
dealing with a monstrous administrative system that is out of control. Bock gamely
soldiers on, trying to bring sense to the madhouse he oversees, even has he
contemplates suicide on a daily basis. When a string of mysteriousmurders with comical overtones take place at
the hospital, Bock finds himself taking on the role of detective, as well. He
does find time for an intense fling with Barbara (Diana Rigg), a free-spirited
young woman who is intent on taking her
crazed father from his sick bed and returning to their hippie lifestyle on an
Indian reservation.She tempts Bock to
give up his high pressure career and join her.The chemistry between Scott and Rigg is dynamic and Chayefsky gives them
one of his trademark sequences characterized by extended dialogue that allows
both actors to showcase their brilliance on screen. (Chayefsky wrote a similar
sequence between William Holden and Beatrice Straight in Network) It’s a sheer joy to listen to Scott and Rigg speak the
superb dialogue and enact the sequence with such passion. In today’s era in
which seemingly every film is based on cheesy CGI effects, it’s even more of a
treasure to relish Chayefsky’s writing.
you go down in deep water, you’re scared. You don’t know how scared you can be.
Soon, you forget. But the reef never forgets. It just waits.”—Gilbert Roland as
“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef,” released in a limited edition
(3,000 copies) Blu-ray by Twilight Time, is either the second or third movie
ever made in Cinemascope. “The Robe” was the first, and “How to Marry a
Millionaire” was in production at the same time as “Reef” so there’s some
dispute about the release chronology. Basically “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” is
Romeo and Juliet set in the sponge-diving world around Tarpon Springs, Fla.
with a young Robert Wagner and Terry Moore as the “sponge-crossed” couple.
Wagner plays Tony Petrakis, son of Mike (Gilbert Roland), one of the best Greek
sponge divers in the business. Moore plays Gwyneth Rhys, daughter of Thomas
Rhys (Richard Boone) the leader of the Conches, the Anglo “hook boat” sponge
fishermen. According to the script by A.I. Bezzerides, there’s no love lost
between the two factions. Greeks stay out in the deep water, the Conches fish
in the shallow waters of the Everglades.
Times are tough for the Greeks, however. The sponges are
disappearing. And Mike owes money to a loan shark who threatens to take his
boat. Mike and his family have two choices. They can go out to the 12-Mile Reef
where Mike already lost one of his sons or they can try moving into the Everglades—
Conch territory. They try the Everglades and do okay until Conch Arnold Dix
(Peter Graves) shows up with some buddies, threatens to cut Mike’s air hose and
grabs their sponge haul. When Mike gets back to Tarpon Springs he looks the
Conches up at their favorite watering haul to settle the score. There Mike
meets Rhys and Dix but violence is prevented when cops show up. Meanwhile,
young Tony and Gwyneth catch love at first sight and run off together while the
grownups are arguing. Wagner, complete with hair dyed black and permed to make
him look Greek, plays Tony as the young stud trying to get out from under the
shadow of his macho father, who calls him “Little Tony.” Moore plays a goofy
girl gaga over handsome Tony, even though Dix thinks he’s her boyfriend.
“Beyond the 12-Mile Reef” has plenty of plot
complications, which only get worse when Mike decides his only recourse is to
dive the 12-Mile Reef. On the way out to the reef, Roland, in one of his best
performances as a tough but tender-hearted macho man, gives the speech quoted
above, telling Tony he can’t let him dive because it’s too dangerous.
I don’t want to give too much more of the plot away. It’s
a very simple story with very broad characters, and admittedly has a totally
unbelievable ending. I’ve read a lot of nasty reviews of the film that dismiss it
as shallow melodrama with some critics, even faulting screenwriter Bezzerides
for inventing the sociological issues posed by the conflict between the Greeks
and the Conches. But who cares about that?
“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” on Blu-ray is an exceptionally
entertaining movie for several reasons. First is the on-location Cinemascope
photography shot around Tarpon Springs and Key West by Edward Cronjager. Director
Robert D. Webb uses Cronjager’s camera to capture a lot of the local color and
some of the culture of the Greek divers. I’ve been to Tarpon Springs and it
doesn’t look much different today. The underwater scenes are spectacular. Second
is a near-perfect music score by the inestimable Bernard Herrmann. Bernie
outdoes himself with this soundtrack, providing a truly sensory experience that
makes you feel your down in the water with the divers. Third, is the presence
of two great actors in the cast. Roland and Boone provide the anchor for this
film, giving it a weight its two fledgling co-stars simply didn’t have. Enough
cannot be said about Roland, who never fails to give his characters a sense of
“stature” as he so eloquently put it in “The Lady and the Bullfighter.” Boone as
Rhys has the authority needed to play a man who all the Conches look up to.
favourite Spaghetti Western theme song – and I stress theme song, not theme music
– is Roberto Fia’s splendidly triumphant rendition of composer Luis Bacalov’s ‘Django’.
The only one that comes close to challenging it for my affection is ‘Angel Face’,
the opening credits ballad from A Pistol for Ringo (o.t. Una pistola per Ringo),
Graf Maurizio’s silky vocal marrying up with Ennio Morricone’s passionate
melody to forge a little scoop of sorrow-tinged nectar. And although I confess
that my knowledge of Italian westerns is criminally deficient, of the titles I
have actually seen I’d unhesitatingly cite A Pistol for Ringo among my
in 1965, the film was directed by Duccio Tessari, an uncredited co-writer on
the previous year’s uber-classic A Fistful of Dollars. Part of the appeal of
Tessari’s film is that the story takes place on the run up to Christmas,
although being as sun-baked southern Spain is doubling for the Wild West it’s
an exceptionally balmy one. Nevertheless, the inclusion of tinsel-decked trees,
Christmas dinner and even a carol or two embroider the proceedings with a
festive ambience conspicuously rare – perhaps even unique (I reiterate that my
knowledge is lacking) – in Spaghetti Western terrain.
a couple of days before Christmas in the town of Quemado and ruthless Mexican
bandit Sancho (Fernando Sancho) and his gang have plundered the bank of its entire
cash reserve. Their escape route to the border cut off by pursuing lawmen, the
bandits hole up at the hacienda of Major Clyde (Antonio Hasas) where they take everyone
hostage, including Clyde’s daughter Ruby (Hally Hammond), who also happens to
be the fiancée of the Sheriff (George Martin). Under siege, Sancho threatens to
kill two hostages a day until the law agrees to back off and let them ride away
unhindered. Desperate for help, the Sheriff turns to scar-cheeked gunslinger
Angel Face (Montgomery Wood) – Ringo to his friends – who’s currently locked up
in the town jail on a quadruple murder charge. He makes Ringo a proposal: infiltrate
the gang, eliminate them and rescue the hostages and he’ll be rewarded with 30%
of the retrieved cash and exonerated of his crimes.
Tessari co-scripted A Pistol for Ringo, his fifth feature film, with Alfonso
Balcázar. Casting Montgomery Wood in his debut starring role was a
masterstroke; Wood is actually the nom de guerre of former stuntman Giuliano
Gemma – all the better for performing his own gags, which include crashing
through a ceiling to land upright on a grand piano and leaping from a galloping
steed. Gemma has a scorching intensity about him and he gifts the self-serving
Ringo with an affable personality and a cunning, cocksure attitude in the face
of adversity. He also prefers milk to hard liquor and has a habit of dishing
out pearls of wisdom at felicitous moments (“Never cry for a dead person – it’s
pointless.”). He’s introduced playing hopscotch with some children, breaks off
to take down a quartet of gunmen with the matter-of-factness of swatting flies,
finishes up the game and strolls casually away. This is a guy who, with three
bad guys still to be disposed of, realises he only has one bullet left in his
gun and yet somehow still manages to pull it off. You’d really not want to be
looking down the business end of Ringo’s six-shooter, but just the same he’s a
very likeable anti-hero figure.
Sancho meanwhile makes for a nicely greasy villain, coincidentally also named
Sancho. He shares some great scenes with Gemma, the best of which finds Sancho
threatening to put a bullet through the bound Ringo’s head, only to find
himself compelled to relent time and again as our unflustered hero convinces
him he’s a valuable asset best kept alive – and what’s more his help is going
to cost Sancho an ever-escalating cut of the booty! There’s even some gentle
humour thrown in during a gathering ‘round the piano to sing carols, with
Sancho awkwardly mumbling his way through “Silent Night”.
Hammond is actually Lorella De Luca, director Tessari’s wife, and she
brings a measure of prim sex appeal to the show, although beyond playing
vulnerable she isn’t given too much to do – at least not until the finale when
she finally gets her hands on a shotgun. Meanwhile Nieves Navarro (wife of the
film’s co-producer Luciano Ercoli) fills the role of sultry bad girl rather
deliciously; despite the fact she’s one of the intruders in wealthy landowner
Antonio Hasas’s home, he has an amorous eye on her – and who can blame him? Amiable
Manuel Muñiz is in situ primarily for light relief.
of light relief, in my limited experience of Italian westerns they generally
tend to be more brutal than their American counterparts, but A Pistol for Ringo
is a bloodless, pretty frivolous affair, more mischievous in tone than one
might expect from the sub-genre. That tone is established in the first few
seconds as two unsmiling gunslingers stride towards each other and then, as
opposed to drawing their weapons as anticipated, wish each other a Merry
Christmas. To be fair the story itself is no great shakes, I can’t defend it, but
regardless of any shortcomings this is very respectable fare that gallops along
at a lively pace and – as do the best of them – leaves you wanting more.
Though we’re only a few months into 2018, I’m already dead
certain that Shout! Factory’s brand new Blu-ray edition of Joe Dante’s Matinee (1993) will be regarded as one
of the most generous, lovingly produced and expansive reissues of the
year.This remarkable set offers nearly
three hours of beautifully constructed bonus materials to supplement the actual
feature’s ninety-nine minute running time.In case you’re wondering, the short answer is, “Yes.” It’s officially now time to retire your
treasured Laserdisc copy of Matinee as
well as the now-rendered-totally-inconsequential bare bones DVD issued by
Universal in 2010.
an undeniably warm and wonderful film, an affectionate but quirky Valentine.In a series of amazing supplemental features
included with this set, several key members of the film’s creative team suggest
the movie was, in essence, director Joe Dante’s (Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins) very personal love letter to the
art of the B-movie.Critically praised,
but not commercially successful upon its release in early winter of 1993,
Shout! Factory has added this title to its “Shout Select” catalogue designed to
“shine a light” on “unheralded gems.”This film is certainly one such deserved
jewel, but Matinee Director of Photography
John Hora appears less dreamy eyed than some when offering his own honest post-assessment.
Cognizant that the Hollywood industry was just that, an industry, it was Hora’s contention that
regardless of the immaculate staging and wonderful storytelling of Dante’s very
personal film, he suggested the director would need to pursue a more
traditional career path following the indulgence of Matinee.The age of making
films for what Hora would describe – perhaps too dismissively - as a
“specialized audience,” had passed.Making more marketplace films for consumption by a more general public of
cinemagoers would be the only guarantor of future employment.
If Hora offered a tough in-hindsight assessment, it was
not an unreasonable one.Dante himself
would recall that no one, neither early on at Warner Bros. nor later at Universal,
were particularly optimistic about the film’s potential as box office dynamite.Acknowledging the project as a labor-of-love,
Dante accepted his tribute to the “B-movie” magic of days long gone might best be
realized as an independent film project. When Dante’s early investors reneged
on their promises of bankrolling the production, the director was forced to
negotiate directly with the juggernaut that was Universal Studios for
financing. In Dante’s own recollection, Universal’s accountants emerged shakily
from the board room giving the eccentric project a nervous, wary blessing.It was a rare industry moment, the director
would concede with a sigh, when “Passion won over reason.”
In hindsight Dante mused that Universal’s green lighting
of Matinee was to “my everlasting
gratitude, their everlasting regret.”The film is undeniably brilliant cinema and
most assuredly a wonderful time capsule piece; but it was in design and intent an
indie film, one not likely destined for blockbuster status.Dante’s original idea was to bring the film
out in limited release in art house cinemas.He hoped positive word-to-mouth might help create a buzz, and was
confident that this film – one designed for cineastes
in mind - would be met with favorable critical appraisal.But in 1993 Universal was a corporate titanic
that dropped their films into blanketing nationwide release for a quick return
on investment.Sadly, Matinee was too insular a film to appeal
to a mass audience, finishing a disappointing sixth even in its first week or
Originally in development at Warner Bros., writer Jerico
Stone’s original screenplay of Matinee
– which Dante described as a “fantasy” concerning nostalgic friends who
congregate one night at a haunted neighborhood theater - would differ wildly
from the final product.Though Stone,
billed simply as “Jerico,” would share on-screen credit along with screenwriter
Charlie Haas for the original story, he would, much aggrieved, later litigate
unsuccessfully against the Writer’s Guild for screenplay credit.In any event, Warner Bros. would eventually
pass on Stone’s early unmarketable treatment, as would several other
studios.Undeterred, Dante chose to
bring in fellow New Jersey “Monster Kid” and writer Ed Naha (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) to take a
whack at the script.It was Naha who wove
in the un-credited idea of a beloved TV-horror film host (ala WCAU and WABC’s Zacherley) coming to visit a
neighborhood bijou to promote the latest offering of low-budget cinematic
it was announced that Flowers in the Attic was lined up for its UK Blu-ray
debut, it occurred to me that I had no real memory of my one and only dip into
writer-director Jeffrey Bloom’s adaptation of the controversial, best-selling
Virginia (V.C.) Andrews novel – which I guess would have been right back upon
its initial release in 1987. Interest to revisit it duly piqued, my
anticipation was tempered a tad by the sense that being unable to remember it had
surely to be indicative that it wasn’t actually very good. Although it still
amuses me that a guy named Bloom wrote and directed a film with Flowers in the
title, regrettably my reservations proved well founded. It really is rather
awful. There be spoilers ahead!
the death of her husband, Corinne Dollenganger (Victoria Tennant) falls on hard
times and is forced to return, with her four children in tow, to the childhood
home she left in disgrace 17 years earlier. Corinne’s puritanical mother, Fran
(Louise Fletcher), isn’t best pleased to see them and, although she evidently
despises both her own daughter and the grandchildren she’s never met, she
reluctantly allows them to stay, telling them that she’ll give them food and
shelter but never kindness and love. The children (Jeb Stuart Adams, Kristy
Swanson, Ben Ganger and Lindsay Parker) remain upstairs out of sight, whilst
Corinne makes an effort to reconnect with her bedridden, dying father (Marshall
Colt). She tells the siblings that if she’s able to atone for her past
transgressions before he dies, and most importantly convince him that she never
had children, then he’ll write her back into his will and they’ll be well-heeled
for the rest of their lives. But as the days pass it becomes apparent that the
children have become prisoners – visited in their locked room only to be fed –
and Corinne becomes ever more distant, spending less and less time with them.
What can she possibly have done all those years ago that was so terrible? And
what is the purpose of those four child-sized holes being dug in the woods?
sounds rather intriguing, doesn’t it? An adaptation of the first in a quartet
of novels (with a tweaked denouement) it’s certainly a nice set up; once the
family receive a frosty welcome at grandma’s abode all the pieces are in place
for a potentially gripping and increasingly sinister tale. Unfortunately, things
quickly devolve into a bit of a slog, the various plot turns becoming ever more
irksome as the children – who are far from dullards – fail to do what anyone
with half a brain cell trapped in their situation would.
When you think of a touching movie about the adventures of an elderly man and his beloved cat, chances are "Harry and Tonto" springs to mind. However, there is another worthwhile movie that merits a look, even if it doesn't boast Art Carney in his Oscar-winning performance. "Frank and the Wondercat" is a 2015 documentary by Pablo Alvarez-Mesa and Tony Massil that won acclaim on the film festival circuit a few years ago. It's now been released on DVD by BrinkVision and is streaming on Amazon Prime. Ostensibly, it's an amusing tale that follows 80 year-old Pittsburgh native Frank Furko as he reminisces about Pudgie Wudgie, his tabby cat of fourteen years who was not only his constant companion, but the center of his life as well. However, as the movie progresses it becomes a poignant examination of sentiment, loneliness and dignity in old age. Frank learned early on that Pudgie was somewhat unique among cats in that he was agreeable to being dressed up in all types of exotic costumes and disguises. Pudgie was also adept at learning some tricks that could be performed on stage. For Frank, he proved to be the perfect tonic following a divorce after 20 years of marriage. Before long, Frank became a local sensation even in the era in which "hi tech" meant VHS tapes, upon which Frank dutifully recorded all of Pudgie's appearances. From charity performances to fairs to schools to local TV stations, Frank and Pudgie's legend grew. The documentary makes good use of the battered VHS archives Frank keeps stuffed in drawers inside his cluttered home, which is a monument to his departed best friend. We see gloriously scratchy videos with garish colors as we relive Frank and Pudgie's moments of glory. There is also a clip from the nationally-syndicated "Maury Povich Show" where Pudgie won first prize in a pet contest and Frank discusses how the duo were invited to New York to appear on David Letterman's show. But the comedic aspects of the film are matched by the moving examination of Frank's personal life now that Pudgie is gone. He reflects on his early life and relives painful episodes with his strict father, his undying love for his late mother and his on-going dedication to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL team maintains a museum where there is a wall dedicated to Frank and Pudgie, who never missed a game. (Pudgie would attend in full fan regalia.) We watch as Frank stands by the wall and explains to passersby just how special the Frank and Pudgie team were to local fans. We also see him pay visits to the cemetery where Pudgie is buried in the same plot as Frank's parents (albeit they didn't get their images engraved on the stone.) Frank shows off stacks of condolence letters he received from people everywhere upon Pudgie's passing. It's clear they still provide a much-needed balm for his ailing soul.
"Frank and the Wondercat" is emblematic of the many fine documentaries that often go unnoticed. Fortunately, for this one there is a happy ending with its exposure on DVD and Amazon Prime. Filmmakers Alvarez-Mesa and Massil never mock or exploit their subject and present Frank and his story in a dignified manner. He's eccentric, to be sure, but he's a lovable eccentric. One would think that their film is appreciated by him as the grand achievement of his "partnership" with Pudgie. You don't have to be a cat a lover to admire the movie, but if you are, chances are you'll end up loving it.
One need not be an enthusiast of silent-era cinema to
find Bill Morrison’s illuminating Dawson
City: Frozen Time a totally engrossing, masterfully assembled
documentary.Anyone with even a passing
interest in the history of the 19th and 20th centuries,
of the Klondike Gold Rush, of film preservation, or of time-capsule newsreel
footage will find this film absolutely fascinating and rewarding.Aside from a bit of on-screen prefatory and postscript
talking-head commentary - courtesy of the two surviving and earliest on-site “lost
film” investigators - most of Morrison’s two-hour long film is presented to us as
an intriguing mosaic; an emotive montage expertly combining the imagery of
long-lost vintage newsreels, miraculously salvaged snippets of silent film
footage, and an astonishing series of rescued glass-plate negative photographs –
the latter courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush chronicler Eric Hegg (1867-1947).
There is, perhaps surprisingly, no accompanying audio
narration present on the soundtrack, as combination director/editor/writer Morrison
chose to share the tale almost exclusively through visuals alone.His documentary, in a sense, mimics how a vintage
silent film itself would unspool before us.It’s this composite of photographs, film reels, broadsides, and vintage
newspaper clippings alone that propel the narrative forward. Morrison’s own succinctly
composed inter-titles are overlaid images to provide necessary detail or to impart
historical context.Alex Somers’ moody
and evocative musical score perfectly underpins the gentle historical drama.
The film begins, fittingly, in 1978, more or less at the mystery’s
starting point in a remote Canadian township.It was in the summer of that year when a backhoe operated by the town’s
Pentecostal minister unearthed a most curious discovery:hundreds upon hundreds of film canisters dating
1903 through 1929 were found buried in the permafrost beneath Dawson City’s moribund
recreation center.Thankfully, and with
the gratitude of scholars and filmgoers worldwide, the backhoe operator chose to
engage a work stoppage.Rather than
plough the canisters forever and for all time into oblivion, he decided it prudent
to contact local authorities about this mysterious trove of unearthed film reels.This unusual cache of film prints – most in
various stages of decomposition - was first brought to the attention of Michael
Gates of the Canadian Parks Service.Sensing this find might be an important one, Gates brought in an expert,
Sam Kula, director of Canada’s National Film, Television, and Sound Archives.Shortly after, Kathy Jones, the director of
the Dawson City Museum, was also brought in to assist and help monitor the
Ultimately some 1,500 reels of film were excavated from
the construction site, though – frustratingly - only three hundred and
seventy-two or so of these were eventually deemed salvageable.The enormity of the find - combined with the
fact that many of the unearthed films were identified as early Hollywood
productions - caused the National Archives of Canada to enlist the assistance
of the U.S. Library of Congress.Together the cultural branches of both Canada and the U.S. were able to
save and restore some 533 reels – to one degree or another – salvaging what an
inter-title describes as the “last remnants of 372 silent film titles.”The 372 reels that did survive were found
beneath a former ice skating rink/swimming pool housed inside the old community
recreation center, once owned and operated by the Dawson Amateur Athletic
Association.It was in 1929 that the
film canisters were ingloriously deposited as landfill under the rink at center-ice,
a clumsily engineered attempt to smooth over the complaints of skaters fretting
about the unevenness of the surface at midpoint.
McQueen steals a high valued automobile from a wealthy Mississippi family and heads
to Memphis with two friends in order to woo a prostitute. He gets involved with
a horse race and learns a thing or two about life. This isn’t a Steve McQueen
action movie, but it is the basic plot of “The Reivers,” a 1969 movie based on
the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by William Faulkner and available on Blu-ray from
Kino Lorber. Part road movie and part coming-of-age story, this is the second
feature directed by Mark Rydell. “The Reivers” is dipped in Southern
sensibility and cinematographer Richard Moore gives 1905 Mississippi a
nostalgic dream-like appearance. A reiver is a thief and Steve McQueen plays
Boon Hogganbeck, a friend and employee of the McCaslins who run a plantation in
rural Mississippi. Boon was adopted by the family at a young age and is a sort
of mentor to 11-year old Lucius (Mitch Vogel). When “Boss” McCaslin (Will Geer)
purchases the first automobile in the county, it’s not just any car, but a
brand new yellow Winton Flyer.
Lucius’ grandfather, runs the family and farm with a firm, but thoughtful hand.
A death in the family requires Boss and Lucius’ parents to depart for four days
to attend the funeral. Lucius is left in the care of Boon with strict orders for
the car to remain locked up. Boon takes Lucius home in the Flyer after dropping
the family at the train station. He gives Lucius a driving lesson and informs him
of his intentions to take the Flyer on a trip to Memphis so he can meet up with
his girlfriend Corrie (Sharon Farrell) and invites Lucius to join him. They
devise a tangled web of white lies and misinformation to deceive various
relatives and soon head off for Memphis. Shortly after departing, Ned McCalin
(Rupert Crosse) is discovered hiding in the back seat under a blanket (how he
went undiscovered back there is hard to explain, but it’s not important). Ned
is a bi-racial cousin to the McCaslins and, like Boon, works for the family. Along
the way the three reivers get stuck in a mud trap set by a local farmer named
Edmonds (played to the hilt with dripping chewing tobacco by character actor Charles
Tyner) who sits in wait after flooding a depression in the road making it
impossible for horse carts or automobiles to get through without his mule
towing services. The three clean their muddy mess after stopping at a local
Memphis is a big deal and Lucius is given the honor of driving the Flyer into
town as they arrive at a boarding house run by Mr. Binford (Michael
Constantine) and Miss Reba (Ruth White). Ned departs to stay in the black side
of town (this is 1905 Mississippi) and Lucius is introduced to Miss Corrie who
he perceives as an angelic vision of motherly virtue. The wonders of adult life
are presented to Lucius in quick order when he is offered beer at dinner and gets
into a fight with Corrie’s nephew Otis (Lindy Davis) who informs Lucius that
Corrie is in fact a whore and they are staying in a brothel. Defending her
honor, Lucius starts punching and Otis cuts Lucius in the hand with a knife before
Boon arrives. Touched by Lucius’ gesture, Corrie vows to give up her life as a
prostitute and be the virtuous woman Lucius sees in her.
Tony Curtis, like most aspiring screen stars, slogged through bit parts in unmemorable films when he first broke into the industry in the late 1940s. By the mid-1950s, however, he was a major star, even if the films he top-lined were relatively undistinguished. With his boyish good looks and New York wise guy persona, Curtis excelled at playing charismatic rogues and, perhaps improbably for a guy born in the Bronx, cowboys, knights and other exotic men of action. But Curtis was more than just a pretty face and by the late 1950s he was getting challenging roles that allowed him to show off his dramatic acting skills. He was brilliant in "Sweet Smell of Success" and "The Defiant Ones" and gave one of the great comedic performances of all time in Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot". By the late 1960s, however, his star power was fading. He still had enough clout to get the male leads in lightweight comedies like "Sex and the Single Girl" and "Don't Make Waves", but the bloom was off the rose. Ironically, he won fine reviews for his convincing performance in the 1968 film "The Boston Strangler", but most of the good roles would continue to elude him. Like many fading American stars, he turned toward European productions, starring in "Those Daring Young Men in the Jaunty Jalopies" and "You Can't Win 'Em All", the latter with fellow U.S. import Charles Bronson who found major stardom in Europe long before he became a big name in America. One of the least prestigious films that Curtis appeared was titled "On the Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl Who...", a 1967 sex comedy filmed in Italy and which would not be released in the USA until 1969, when it had limited distribution. Perhaps because theater owners in the UK and USA had pity on the poor souls who had to stand on ladders and put film titles on theater marquees letter-by-letter, the English language version of the film was shortened to the more provocative "The Chastity Belt". Curtis wasn't the only English-speaking actor in the otherwise all-Italian production, as Hugh Griffith and John Richardson were co-starred.
The film opens with Curtis playing against type as Guerrando de Montone, a sniveling, cowardly and bumbling opportunist who finally is granted his wish to be made a knight. As his reward, he is entitled to claim a vast tract of land as his own. Guerrando is quick to abuse his power over the peasants, especially when he discovers that the local game warden and his voluptuous daughter, Boccadoro (Monica Vitti) live on his land. Although Boccadoro is initially attracted to him, Guerrando's misogynistic ways quickly alienate her. Guerrando informs her that he is her lord and master and will use her for sexual pleasure whenever he pleases. Most of the fun in the script, which was co-written by the esteemed Larry Gelbart, centers on the buxom beauty's strategies to avoid going to bed with Guerrando, who becomes increasingly frustrated. To solve the problem, he forces her to marry him but she delays the consummation of the marriage by invoking a rare, ancient ritual that commits them both to spending three days in constant prayer. When that obstacle is removed, Guerrando is ready to make his move only to find that he has been summoned to join the Crusades and leave Italy for a period of years. To ensure that Boccadoro remains chaste, he has her fitted with a chastity belt which causes her to swear vengeance. The film meanders through the couple's misadventures with Boccadoro intent on finding her husband and murdering him. She poses as a knight in armor and infiltrates his camp but both are kidnapped by an evil, horny sultan (Hugh Griffith) who forces Guerrando to convert to Islam while he makes plans to open the chastity belt and have his way with Boccadoro.The whole thing ends in a madcap chase with heroes and villains chasing each other about a castle.
Italian cinema-goers were very enamored of sex farces during this period. "The Chasity Belt" is one of the tamest, as there is no nudity and the most provocative aspects are plentiful shots of Ms. Vitti's ample bosom bouncing around during the many chase scenes. Like most films of the genre, there are plenty of moments of slapstick and narrow escapes. What impresses most about this modest production is director Pasquale Festa Campanile's light touch and the ability to move the action at such a rapid pace that you don't ponder how predictable it all is. While it's still a bit of a shock to see someone of Curtis's stature in this "B" level comedy, he is in good form and provides plenty of laughs by not even attempting to disguise his New Yawk accent. He is matched by the very likable Vitti and Hugh Griffith, who recycles his lovable rascal shtick from "Ben-Hur". What is stands out most are the rather spectacular locations. Most of the action is shot outdoors in ancient ruins and castles that add a good deal of atmosphere to the goings on.
"The Chasity Belt" is the kind of film that Curtis probably did very reluctantly. He would later try his hand in television co-starring with Roger Moore in the sensational action series "The Persuaders", but it lasted only 24 episodes. A later series, "McCoy" lasted only a single season. Curtis would still turn up in a few major films like "The Mirror Crack'd" and "The Last Tycoon" but only in supporting roles. Nevertheless, he remained enjoyable to watch and always gave his best effort. Perhaps for that reason, "The Chastity Belt" is a lot more worthwhile than you might imagine.
The Warner Archive DVD is generally very good with a few blotches and grainy frames, but one suspects there aren't too many archival prints of this long-forgotten film floating around out there. There are no bonus extras.
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Kino Lorber has released the 1945 film "Hangover Square", directed by John Brahm, as a Blu-ray special edition. George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) is a sensitive,
talented composer who has been working very hard, perhaps too hard, on a new
concerto for piano. A well-known conductor (Alan Napier) thinks it’s a worthy
piece of music and is going to debut it at Symphony Hall once it’s finished.
The conductor’s daughter Barbara (Faye Marlowe) not only adores George’s music,
she adores him as well. Sounds like an ideal situation, but in this 1945 20th
Century Fox film noir, you know things are not going to work out very well. You
see, George has a problem. He has blackouts that are caused whenever there are
loud dissonant noises around him. And when he blacks out he kills people.
The film actually starts with a murder scene. We see
George stabbing an antiques shopkeeper to death and setting the place on fire
(fire is a major motif in the film). He escapes before the police can catch him
and walks through the foggy London Streets to his home on Hangover Square,
where he finds Barbara and her father trying out his unfinished concerto. He’s
forgotten what he just did but when he sees a newspaper headline (they printed
them fast in those days), he has a bad feeling that he might have done
something naughty. He tells Barbara about his misgivings and decides to go see
Dr. Allan Middleton (George Sanders) a forensic psychologist who works for the
police. Middleton does some tests on George’s clothes and the knife he found in
his possession and tells him there’s no evidence of any connection with the
murder. But he’s still concerned about George having these weird blackouts. He
tells him he needs to get some rest, relax, and get away from that damned
concerto for a while. Turns out to be the worst doctor’s advice ever.
George goes out to unwind at a local music hall and gets
an eye full of Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell), a singer/dancer and a
card-carrying member of the International League of Femmes Fatales. In fact,
she’s probably president of the local chapter. George is flattered when she
pays a little attention to him after finding out he’s a composer. She’s trying
to make a name for herself on the stage and needs some new songs. She coaxes
George to write some tunes for her. Being a totally naïve sucker who never had
much experience with women, other than the decent Barbara, he’s totally out of
his league with Netta, who has several other guys on leashes, including her
piano player and a handsome playboy type she meets one night while in George’s
One night, amidst this abuse, he’s walking home in that
perpetual 20th Century Fox fog and a horse- drawn wagon carrying
steel pipes hits a ditch and the loud cacophony of the pipes hitting the ground
sends George off into another one of his spells and you know what happens. What
I like about “Hangover Square” is that there is no explanation for why George
has blackouts whenever he hears discordant sounds. It’s just how it is.
Something in his brain is screwed up and, I suppose, being a musician, he’s
sensitive to sound. If they did a remake today, you’d have tons of psychobabble,
and flashback scenes of how his parents abused him when he was a baby, blowing
loud duck calls in his face in the bathtub or something similar. There’s none
of that. There’s the gimmick of the loud noises and flashbacks and that’s it.
Anyway, George starts neglecting the concerto and Barbara
and finds himself consumed by Netta and her insatiable demands for music. That
might have been okay, except every time he tries to get close to her, spend
some time alone with her, she’s always busy, or has a headache (or has a date
with another guy). Frustration builds up and explodes when George goes to her
apartment and asks her to marry him so he can devote all his time to her and
discovers she’s actually going to marry that slick playboy rat. Bad mistake. I won’t
tell you what happens next and it’s not what you think. Not right away. There’s
actually still a lot of the movie left. A lot of it is taken up with George debuting
his concerto. The soundtrack score, including the concerto for “Hangover Square”
was written by the inestimable Bernard Herrmann. There’s music throughout the
film, with scenes of Laird Cregar at the keyboard actually playing some of it.
The big scene at the end features 10 minutes of the concerto, a significant
piece of film music in its own right.
In viewing the first half hour of the 1970 British May/December romance Say Hello to Yesterday, I was sorely tempted to hit the "eject" button the DVD player and pass this title along to one of our other reviewers who might not have such an immediate disdain for the film. Why did I have such a visceral reaction? Because I could not recall a romantic film that featured such an irritating, annoying leading man, in this case played by Leonard Whiting. From the very opening sequence which introduces him as the somewhat estranged son from London who drops in, unannounced and uninvited, on his birthday to visit his working class mother and father. The reception he receives is a rather cool one. He accompanies his dad as the older man makes his daily trek to some rather Orwellian-looking dead end job in an industrial plant. At first, your tempted to to sympathize with this unnamed lad, given his father's constant criticisms about the way he is leading his life. The elder man accuses his son of being a shiftless grifter who can only enjoy the bright lights of the big city by mooching off of friends and acquaintances. The younger man dismisses the criticisms and remains so perpetually cheerful and jolly that you soon begin to resent him, too. The scenes depicting the young man's strained home life give way to his taking a commuter train back to London. On board is a forty-something, attractive woman (Jean Simmons), whose character also remains unnamed during the course of the story. (For the sake of convenience, I will very creatively refer to them as "the man" and "the woman"). A brief introduction to her home life makes it clear that she is a typical suburban housewife with a successful husband and a couple of kids. Outwardly, you can see she lives a comfortable life and doesn't want for materialistic things. However, her body language conveys the fact that she is not satisfied with her lot in life, as she coldly bids her husband goodbye. She's off to spend an entire day in London, ostensibly to go shopping and to have tea with her mother. Yet, the viewer can immediately sense that her real purpose is to temporarily escape her rather mundane daily routine.
On board the train, the man, who is in his about twenty years old, is chatting up an attractive girl his own age when he spots the woman sitting in a crowded passenger compartment, surrounded by stuffy businessmen. He is intrigued by the fact that she obviously wants to smoke but has been consigned to a non-smoking compartment. He is amused by the fact that she is trying to unobtrusively peel the "No Smoking" decal from the compartment window. He is also immediately infatuated by her, despite their age difference. (Who can blame him? She's Jean Simmons!) Soon, they meet cute but she isn't interested for good reason. The man comes across as an obnoxious case of arrested development, badgering everyone in the compartment with juvenile and cynical quips. She finds him slightly amusing, but when she discovers he is following in her footsteps around London shops, she becomes exasperated- especially when his flirting ritual includes causing an embarrassing commotion in a department store. Soon, she is running through the streets of London with the man in pursuit and a posse of good samaritans chasing him down, thinking he intends to harm the woman. In the end, he finally catches up with her and uses his charm to begin to win her over. By this point in the story, credibility goes out the window. The woman is obviously cultured and intelligent and it defies reason that she would put up such a grating would-be paramour simply because he's young and hunky. The man is the human equivalent of nails scraping on a blackboard. Yet, I persevered, if only because the performances by Seberg and Whiting were so engaging. A strange thing happened along the way: I became increasingly engrossed in the story and fate of the characters. Whiting is on hyper-ventilation mode most of the time but in the few sequences in which he talks calmly to the woman, he tells poignant and moving stories about his tragic past. Yet, she suspects- and so do we- that these may be tall tales, because it seems this modern Walter Mitty is also a compulsive liar. Nevertheless, his infatuation with the woman flatters her, even though she repeatedly attempts to escape his company. Yet, even buses and taxis won't deter him. (He catches up with the taxi and jumps on the running board in an act that is supposed to be charming but would strike most women as the action of a potential serial killer.)
The film was clearly inspired by David Lean's 1946 masterpiece Brief Encounter, in which two everyday people begin to fall in love after a chance meeting at a train station. The resemblance ends there, however, as the man in this story is a far cry from the sober, sane and classy character played by Trevor Howard in the Lean production. The plot consists of the woman alternately accepting the man's company, then trying to repel him. She is outraged when he secretly follows her to her mother's apartment and barges in to introduce herself. In an amusing plot twist, the mother (wonderfully played in a wry turn by Evelyn Laye) thinks the young man is her daughter's lover. She not only accepts this but encourages her daughter to carry on with secret liaisons with him, confessing to her astonished daughter that she, too, had enjoyed an affair decades ago. ("It was a long war", she says ruefully). Ultimately, the man and woman do decide to consummate their one-day affair, though by this time the woman is still of decidedly mixed emotions. She feels a sense of guilt. As with the straying married woman in The Bridges of Madison County, she recognizes that her husband is a good man and that the "crime" of being dull shouldn't justify a sexual affair with a man she has just met. In the film's best sequence, they gain access to rental flat and go through the always-awkward process human beings have to engage in when they bed a lover for the first time. This prolonged sequence is the heart of the movie and leads to emotional rollercoasters for both the man and the woman, as he tries to persuade her to leave her humdrum existence for the fun, yet insecure, life he would provide. By this time, I found myself completely engaged in the story line and caring about how matters would be resolved.
Director Alvin Rakoff is to be credited for the sensitive handling of this material. He also deserves high praise for shooting mostly on location, which provides some stunning views of London in 1970. Simmons and Whiting are both terrific and the latter can't be blamed for the fact that his character never really matures beyond the state of a "man-child". The film features a lush musical score by Riz Orolani and some chirpy pop love songs that make The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" seem cutting-edge. Nevertheless, the film does boast some superb cinematography by the late, great Geoffrey Unsworth and it's a rich looking production throughout.
Scorpion Entertainment has released a first-rate special edition DVD of this modest film that most retro movie lovers probably never even heard of. Film historian Tony Sloman does yeoman work on the commentary track with Rakoff, who is refreshingly candid about his criticisms of various aspects of the movie, including the title, which he disdains to this day. Rakoff tells some marvelous anecdotes that sometimes divert from the film at hand, but are nonetheless interesting. They involve frustrations that emerged when working with Bette Davis, who felt she didn't need any direction. He also recounts getting fired from films because of creative differences with the powers-that-be. He is nonetheless proud of Say Hello to Yesterday, though he admits to cringing at some of the man's over-the-top comedic antics. He rightly lavishes praise on Jean Simmons, pointing out that although "cougars" might be all the rage today, it was considered daring to present a love story in 1970 in which a young man is involved with an older woman. Rakoff says that Simmons was self-conscious because she felt she had "bad legs", thus she shows only a glimpse of them above her boots. He also bemoans the fact that Whiting should have had a very successful career in films, but it inexplicably petered out shortly after this movie was released. Rakoff also tells interesting stories about filming in London and points out a brief walk-by cameo done by Rod Steiger, much to Tony Sloman's amazement. Both men are rather astounded at how sparse the traffic and crowds were in the London of this era- a far cry from the teeming masses that populate the city today. The special edition also includes the original trailer.
Say Hello to Yesterday is in many ways a flawed film but it is nonetheless a highly engaging one. Recommended, especially if you are as enamored of retro British cinema as I am.