Olive Films has released the 1990 TV movie "The Last Best Year" as a no-frills DVD. The movie is a sobering account of a young woman's battle against life-threatening cancer. Jane Murray is a 38 year-old career woman who has distinguisher herself in the corporate travel industry. A workaholic, Jane has placed her career trajectory above everything else. Consequently, she's respected by her boss and her peers but her personal life is largely devoid of personal relationships. She lives a solitary existence with only a pet cat as a companion. Her love life is relegated to occasional flings with an older married man. She seems content with her lot in life until she becomes mysteriously ill. She ignores the symptoms of weakness and dizziness until a visit to her physician, Dr. Castle (Brian Beford) becomes unavoidable. He delivers the bad news: she has terminal cancer and has only a number of months to live. The diagnosis hits Jane with understandably devastating results. She suddenly takes stock of her life and realizes how many unfilled dreams there are. Dr. Castle suggests that she get counseling from his friend, psychiatrist Wendy Haller (Mary Tyler Moore). However, Wendy is reluctant to take on Jane as a client because she is hesitant to form relationship with someone who is destined to die in a few months. It turns out that Wendy is haunted by the death of her own father at a young age when she was a little girl and has had her own mental barriers when it comes to dealing with people facing untimely deaths. Nevertheless, she is moved by Dr. Castle's pleas and agrees to see Jane. The two women form a close bond that goes beyond a doctor/client relationship. Wendy is happily married to a good man and they have a healthy son who is a college student. She realizes through Jane's plight how fortunate her own life is. She devotes herself to ensuring that Jane's remaining days are as as pleasant and fulfilling as possible. Jane has no living relatives except for her aunt Lizzie (Carmen Matthews), who still lives in a small town in Kansas where Jane was born. At Wendy's urging, Jane decides to make a surprise visit to Lizzie, who is delighted to see her. Through Lizzie, she learns much about her own childhood and the qualities of her parents, both of whom died at young ages.
As Jane's health declines, she increasingly relies on emotional support from a new found friendship with her secretary Amy (Erika Alexander), Lizzie and Wendy. Jane makes a shocking confession to Wendy: at age 18 she became pregnant. Alone and desperate, she received care in a convent and signed a legal agreement to give her baby son up for adoption. Over the years she has been haunted by the boy's fate. Before she passes away she wants to find out what his disposition in life is in the hope that he has been happy and successful. However, the agreement with the convent precludes her from finding out who her son's adoptive parents are and making any inquiries of them. Jane makes a trip to visit Sister Mary Rose (Kate Reid) at the convent in the desperate hope that an exception might be made so that she can have some peace of mind about her son's fate. The latter portion of the story concentrates on this aspect of Jane's dilemma as she finds her physical health diminishing rapidly and being confined to a bed.
Reunited: Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters at tribute dinner for Moore at the Players club in New York City, 2009. (Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved),
"The Last Best Year" is what would have been quaintly referred to in time's past as a "two-handkerchief" production, given the amount of emotional baggage the character of Jane is forced to carry. Although the movie was clearly designed to appeal to female viewers, it's central theme of how a health crisis can affect far more people than the person who is afflicted will resonate with everyone. The performances are universally excellent (the film features the final acting role of Dorothy McGuire in a supporting role) with Moore proving once again that she had plenty of skill in playing dramatic roles. The revelation at the time was that Bernadette Peters could, too. Up to this point, Peters was primarily known for her singing skills and for playing light comedy. She gives a superb performance as Jane, a strong-willed, courageous woman who never loses her dignity even as her personal situation leaves her in a rather undignified status, forced to rely on the kindness of her circle of newly-found friends. The production is very sensitively directed by John Erman, who eschews over-the-top sentiment and provides a realistic scenario that millions of people can identify with: the challenge of bringing comfort to a dying loved one. "The Last Best Year" is a predictably sad experience but ultimately one that manages to be uplifting, as well, as it deals with a brave individual and the caring people around her who try to make her tragic situation as bearable as possible. In that respect it concentrates on the best aspects of human nature, something only rarely seen in many of today's television productions.
A wonderfully understated comedy-drama, The
Electric Horseman follows the story of Sonny Steele (Robert Redford), a five-time
champion rodeo cowboy now turned brand spokesman for AMPco, a giant corporate
firm selling 'Ranch' breakfast cereal. Steele's
life has become essentially a series of advertising appearances, at which he is
required to brandish a box of cereal with his face adorning it whilst wearing a
garish cowboy outfit festooned with electric fairy lights. The forced smiles, autographs and constant
touring are starting to crack Steele; when we meet him, he is a disillusioned,
unreliable drunk, stumbling from one engagement to the next.
The film centres around a big Las Vegas
convention where Steele is booked for a ride-on appearance with AMPco's prize mascot,
a 12-million-dollar racehorse. Horse and
rider are strapped up in purple paisley silk and electric lights, the
ridiculous spectacle of which, in the capital of sensational fakery and
money-worship, proves to be the final straw for Steele. Appalled that the horse (a past champion like
himself) has been drugged in order to fulfil the appearance, Steele decides
then and there to ride him off into the desert and away from the bright lights
of Vegas and the public eye. It is here
the film really begins, as investigative journalist Hallie Martin (Jane Fonda)
picks up Sonny Steele's story and pursues his mission to restore the horse to
In tracking down and following Sonny, Hallie
becomes impressed with his knowledge of animals, nature and the land; he is indeed
no fake but a 'real' cowboy in the most nostalgic sense; looking back to an
innocent, forgotten America. As Sonny
and Hallie drop their guards, against astounding mountainous scenery they sing 'American the Beautiful', unashamed and
without irony: "O beautiful for spacious skies/For amber waves of grain/For
purple mountain majesties...". Nonetheless,
there is little schmaltz to be found here; no overbearing passionate Hollywood
drama; Fonda's character is reminded by Sonny that there is no need for
pretension with him, "It's not gonna be on television".
Sonny's attempts to liberate the horse is
also a way of trying to free himself; from the world of fame and commerce, from
which he shuns further attention. The
kinship Sonny feels for the horse spreads beyond the screen; his nursing of the
animal in the film is detailed and attentive and in real life, Redford not only
did all his own riding stunts but, apparently, loved the horse so much he
brought it home and kept it for the rest of its life.
At its core, the story is really one of
authenticity; the world of money and business, bright lights and fakery versus
nature, friendship and the great outdoors. Sonny's faithful friend and manager Wendell is played by Willie Nelson
(in his feature debut, reputedly ad-libbing most of his dialogue), bringing
further authenticity to the cowboys; Wendell and Sonny, after yet another
dispiriting tour date, drunkenly sing a song Nelson himself had a recent chart
hit with: "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys/'Cause They'll
Never Stay Home and They're Always Alone".
There are no shootouts, saloons or spurs in
the language here, but aspiration to a gentle caring spirit and understanding
of nature and the outdoors. The only
'bad guys' are the heads of corporations who care only for profit, represented in
the film by an unusually cold, steely faced John Saxon. For its grand themes, director Pollack delivers
them in an oblique and unassuming way; the sound design during scenes in Las
Vegas has slot machines and tannoy announcements, disconcertingly, almost as
loud as the dialogue itself, which only emphasises the clarity, stillness and
simplicity of scenes in the great outdoors.
There are lots of great comic moments and
funny, sharply delivered lines; no less than you might expect from repartee
between Redford and Fonda, who had previously co-starred in The Chase and Barefoot
in the Park. Valerie Perrine (memorable
as Ms. Teschemacher in 1978's Superman) also plays a notable supporting role as
Sonny's soon-to-be ex-wife and Wilfrid Brimley (Cocoon) plays a marvellously
modest but key supporting role. For fans
of 1970s kitsch, there is a bit of everything here that you might expect from
the era; from cowboy rodeos and disco dancing Vegas showgirls to a full on horse-race
multi-car chase à la The Dukes of Hazzard (with one especially impressive
stunt, culminating in one police car tearing along whilst carrying another,
upside down, on top of it!).
The screener copy available for review of
this re-release had no menu or extras, but the picture quality is excellent and
does justice to the stunning cinematography of both the Vegas spectacle and its
vast surrounding desert scenery.
The most memorable aspect of "Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?" is its title, which still resonates with people of a certain age even though most probably never saw the film itself. "Harry" was a speed bump in Dustin Hoffman's meteoric rise to success that began with "The Graduate" in 1967 and continued with such diverse hits as "Midnight Cowboy", "Little Big Man" and "Straw Dogs" (which would be released a few months after "Harry"). Directed by Ulu Grosbard, who would direct Hoffman in the drama "Straight Time" seven years later, "Harry" is a bizarre comedy with an anti-Establishment social message. Hoffman, almost unrecognizable behind a mustache and curly hair, plays Georgie Soloway, a "Boy Wonder" in the music business for his ability to almost instantly write hit rock and folk songs, along with memorable advertising jingos. He has fame and fortune and resides in luxurious penthouse apartment in Manhattan that is a virtual museum to his own accomplishments. However, the affable Georgie is desperately lacking something in his life: genuine friendships and a loving, significant other. The film doesn't follow a linear path and bounces around between various stages of Georgie's life. We see him growing up in Brooklyn, the only child of two stereotypical, overbearing Jewish parents. As a teenager, Georgie goes through the customary stages of trying to deal with raging hormones. He and a friendly but air-headed girl become lovers but he cruelly ditches her when she becomes pregnant, which was an even greater dilemma for women in the era before abortions were legal. Later we see he had married when he impregnated another woman who bore him two children. Georgie ended up deserting them as well because he couldn't deal with the adult responsibilities that fatherhood demands. We see present-day Georgie having no problems finding bedmates but he realizes he only attracts women because of his fame and fortune. Every time he seems to enter a promising relationship it is compromised when the woman is contacted by a mysterious man who calls himself Harry Kellerman and who seems to know all the intimate aspects of Georgie's life. Kellerman routinely unveils to these women the sordid ways Georgie has treated previous lovers and inevitably, his new relationships fail. When we first see Georgie, he is a psychological basket case. He fantasizes about suicide as though it will be a charming and pleasant experience. He also desperately tries to forge genuine friendships with those in his life. For years he has been paying a psychiatrist (Jack Warden) to hear his problems and act as a surrogate father figure to him but it becomes clear the man only sees Georgie as another client. Similarly, Georgie's outreach to his business manager (Gabriel Dell) and his harried accountant (Dom DeLuise) fails to result in establishing anything but business relationships. Georgie is the ultimate poor little rich boy. Much of the story line finds Georgie increasingly infuriated by Kellerman's interference in his love life and becoming obsessed with finding out who he is and how he knows so much about him.
The film was written by Herb Gardner, best known for his play "A Thousand Clowns", which was also about a dysfunctional New York man, who- like Georgie- was superficially charming but not very admirable. Gardner's screenplay drifts back and forth through time at a dizzying pace and sometimes it's hard to know whether we are viewing Georgie in the past or present. He also includes sequences that are genuinely bizarre but are later revealed to be dreams or fantasies. The end result is a rather unsatisfying mix of comedy and pathos despite fine performances by everyone involved. Director Grosbard makes scant use of the New York locations, other than some earlier scenes representing Coney Island in the 1950s and one fantasy scene that finds Georgie inside either the Holland or Lincoln Tunnel, which is totally deserted (trying filming that today). There are also some wonderful aerial shots of the city as we watch the bored Georgie pilot his personal jet for joy rides. But Grosbard never captures the flavor of New York and film could just have easily been set in any major city. The movie is primarily shot in dark interiors with grim lighting, making for a suitably depressing experience. The message of the movie seems to be that money can't buy happiness and that personal virtues are more important than a large bank account. This may be true but it wasn't exactly a unique theory even in 1971. The film comes alive mostly in its final phase when Georgie meets an untalented aspiring singer (Barbara Harris, superb in an Oscar-nominated performance) who is ditzy but lovable. She brings out the kind of genuine human emotion that Georgie had been suppressing for most of his life- but is it too late to save him from his own demons? The final scene of the movie sees Georgie finally seeming to find happiness as he soars above the boroughs of New York City in a wonderfully-filmed sequence that comes to an unexpected conclusion, even as it provides an answer to the question "Who is Harry Kellerman?"
Kino Lorber has released the film on Blu-ray sans any special features other than a trailer for Ulu Grosbard's 1981 drama "True Confessions". The transfer is very good indeed but can't overcome the deficiencies in the film itself. "Harry Kellerman" isn't a bad film and it does provide the joy of seeing another fine performance by young Dustin Hoffman. But it is a movie that falls far short of its aspirations and at times comes across as merely pretentious.
a film festival in the mid-seventies, Sam Peckinpah was once questioned about
how the studios regularly bastardised his vision, his intension and more
specifically, if he would ever be able to make a ''pure Peckinpah'' picture. He
replied, '’I did 'Alfredo Garcia' and I did it exactly the way I wanted to.
Good or bad, like it or not, that was my film.''
narrative for Alfredo Garcia is neither complicated nor convoluted. Warren
Oates plays Bennie, a simple pianist residing in a squalid barroom in Mexico.
He is approached by two no-nonsense Americans (Robert Webber and Gig Young) who
are attempting to track down Alfredo Garcia. The womanising Garcia is the man
responsible for the pregnancy of Theresa (Janine Maldonado) the teenage
daughter of a powerful Mexican boss El Jefe (Emilio Fernández). In a display of
power, El Jefe offers $1,000,000 for the delivery of Garcia’s head. Bennie is
unaware of the true bounty, but fully aware that his girlfriend, local prostitute
Elita (Isela Vega) was once involved with Garcia. More importantly, Bennie also
knows that Garcia is in fact, already dead. Bennie recognises this as a way
out, a one off payday opportunity and convinces Elita to take him to Garcia’s
burial place. His plan is to dig up the body, cut off the head and collect on
his fee, an agreed $10,000. Elita shows some hesitancy, and before long the
heavy drinking, paranoiac aspects of Bennie begin to suspect that Elita still
carries feelings for the dead Garcia. After an arduous and testing car journey
they both finally reach their destination, a place where their plans will take
a devastating and unsuspecting twist.
has delivered a new 4K restoration from the original camera negative. The
overall image is beautifully presented and a great deal cleaner than previously
seen. Dirt, debris and all other manner of light wear have now been removed. As
Arrow points out, there are some minor instances of density fluctuation and
photochemical damage, but these really are not distracting. I noticed slight
fluctuations during the torture of Theresa, but this is arguably due to the
condition of the original film elements and to be expected. More importantly it
does not distract from the overall presentation of the film. One could even
suggest that such minor defects are perfectly suited and in line with the
gritty, sweat soaked ambience that Peckinpah arguably sought to present. The 4K
scan has been fully justified and as a result the level of detail has been
greatly improved without ever compromising or hampering the genuine celluloid
look – an element so essential to a movie such as Alfredo Garcia. Colours retain
a realistic and natural quality, almost dry and dusty as opposed to a sun
drenched and over cooked. Thankfully, Arrow has also resisted the temptation to
beef up the audio, so don’t go looking for a falsely created 5.1 mix. Alfredo Garcia was recorded in mono, so purists
will be delighted with the original 1.0 mono mix transferred from the original
35mm single stripe magnetic track. The audio elements are also clean, dynamic and
hold a consistent level of clarity throughout.
Peckinpah on the set in Mexico.
the extras on disc one are two excellent audio commentaries. The first is a new
and exclusively recorded commentary by Stephen Prince, author of Savage Cinema:
Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies. Prince’s narration looks
closely at Peckinpah’s philosophy and theory. It’s a commentary that also
examines the characters to some depth. It also encourages you to think and ask
questions. There are also more generalised observations from Prince involving
the story, in particular the scene with the two bikers (played by Kris Kristofferson
and Donnie Fritts). It’s a scene which has always bothered me, and serves no real
importance to the story. So it was pleasing to hear that Prince agrees, and
that it provides very little - other than slowing down the pace and the
narrative. I don’t mind either film philosophy or debate, but I occasionally
believe it sometimes has a tendency to overstretch or lose itself in some strange
form of self-consumption. Nevertheless, Prince’s commentary does keep your
attention throughout and provides plenty of food for thought.
second audio commentary is moderated by film historian Nick Redman and features
Sam Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle. This
commentary first appeared on the Twilight Time Encore Edition Blu-ray and works
extremely well. The advantage of course, is that it provides various different
perspectives and viewpoints. For instance, on this occasion, the same Kristofferson
and Fritts biker scene results in a clear difference of opinion. We, the viewer
are offered a perfectly logical and justified reasoning for this scene, in that
Bennie is provided with the opportunity ‘walk the walk’ rather than just ‘talk
the talk’. The implication of the scene, along with a contrasting perspective
of its inclusion, suddenly offers something new to digest and signifies perhaps
a different level to Bennie’s character. Seydor, Simmons and Weddle are not
afraid of arguing their opinions, but also retain a clear respect for each
other’s knowledge and understanding. It’s a perfect ensemble of experts, each
of whom is clearly on top of their subject.
Peckinpah: Man of Iron is Paul Joyce’s feature-length (93minutes) 1993
documentary featuring interviews with James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Monte
Hellman, Ali MacGraw, Jason Robards and many others. Its inclusion on Arrow’s
special edition marks the first time it is available on home video in the UK.
The documentary was released prior on Criterion’s Straw Dogs (1971) DVD release
but omitted some film clips due to copyright and reduced the running time by
some 10 minutes. Man of Iron is a very personal and enjoyable reflection of the
man and told by the people that knew him best. It is a brutally honest account
which shows Peckinpah, not only for his craftsmanship, but also for his flaws,
for which there were many. As gifted as Peckinpah was, there are also accounts
of his cruelty, manipulation and his complexity. His demise into alcohol and
later his cocaine use is arguably pitiful and reflected to some degree in his
later films. Regardless of this, he remained loved by his friends, many of
which returned to work with him over and over again. Whilst Man of Iron
celebrates the man and his work, it never attempts to paper over the cracks or
his personal frailties. It provides a well-balanced account and as a result,
makes for fascinating viewing.
up is The John Player Lecture: Sam Peckinpah, an audio only recording of the
director’s on-stage appearance at the National Film Theatre in London (47 minutes).
Whilst there is no indication, this recording possibly dates from around 1971.
Peckinpah does make a reference to his next film to be released, The Ballad of
Cable Hogue (1970) and because he is in the UK at this time may be an
indication that he was in pre-production stages for his next film Straw Dogs
(1971) which was shot in Cornwall. Peckinpah does sound a little uncomfortable in
front of an audience and not entirely at ease. There is almost a sense of
comfort knowing that his friend Warren Oates is sitting among the audience and
on several occasions Peckinpah tries to draw him actively into the
conversation. When questioned about certain aspects of his work, Peckinpah does
at times seem a little reluctant to answer and the sighs picked up by his
microphone appear to back this up. However, Peckinpah does reveal a great deal
of insightful information, as well as taking the opportunity in criticising the
film establishment, such as the censors and producers and in the way they have
handled his work. Historically, it is an important piece to include; my only minor
gripe is when it comes to the audience questions, which are at times close to
inaudible. As the audio interview is carried out over a still image of
Peckinpah, it might have been an idea to overlay some text in reference to the
actual audience questions. In doing so it would have made it a great deal
easier to decipher exactly what Peckinpah was referring to in his answers.
As Richard Burton's star power began to decline in the early 1970s, he was chastised for appearing in too many inconsequential films and accused of simply taking any job that came along to help pay for his high-end life style. As with Marlon Brando, many of Burton's films that were initially despised by critics and ignored by the public have gained new appreciation in recent years. One such effort was Villain, a brutal British crime drama produced by Elliott Kastner, directed by the unheralded Michael Tucher and boasting script contributions than none other than character actor Al Lettieri, who made a career of playing gangsters. Clearly inspired by the reign of terror presided over by London's notorious Kray clan, the story finds Burton as Vic Dakin, an outwardly charismatic and charming man who also happens to be one of the city's most notorious crime lords. Vic is no white collar criminal. He still lives among the people he terrorizes and is a mainstay at the local pub. Vic dotes on his aging mother (Cathleen Nesbitt) and keeps his army of confederates in line through the threat of strict punishment for any violation of trust. Vic's ambitions get the better of him when he strays from neighborhood crime and plans an ambitious heist with a reluctant fellow crime lord. The plan goes horribly awry, leading Vic to fear that he will be sold out by his co-conspirator, who is severely wounded and in police custody. He becomes obsessed with gaining access to the man and silencing him before he can talk. Doggedly following his every move is a police inspector (well-played by Nigel Davenport), who engages in a game of psychological cat-and-mouse with Vic in his quest to bring the vicious criminal to justice.
Villain was denounced by British critics and movie fans at the time because of what was perceived as Burton's ill-fated attempt to master a Cockney accent. However, other aspects of his performance are admirable. Burton pretty much controls his penchant for scenery-chewing and offers a fairly restrained portrayal of a sadistic man who is nonetheless slow to reach his boiling point. Vic can be sensitive, funny and ingratiating..but when driven to anger, capable of administering much brutality himself. He also hides the fact that he is gay and his preferred sex partner is Wolfie (excellently played by Ian McShane), a good looking ladies man who one suspects is only bedding Vic out of fear of rejecting his overtures. (A sex scene between Burton and McShane was filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor.) The homosexual angle is only hinted at in the final cut of the film, but Burton had gone a bridge too far in this regard, at least as far as critics were concerned. Two years before, he had played a prissy gay man opposite Rex Harrison (as his lover) in Stanley Donen's Staircase, another fine film that was under-appreciated in its day. Burton's bold career moves would be praised today but met with scorn at the time. His face weather-beaten from years of personal excess, Burton was actually entering an interesting period of his career that saw him able to expand beyond playing hunky heart throbs. Villain affords him an interesting starring vehicle that is now being favorably compared to other classic British crime films such as Get Carter, a movie that was released the same year and also met with a mediocre response until a new generation discovered its merits. Perhaps the same will hold true for this film, which boasts an excellent supporting cast, fine direction and a literate, believable script.
The Warner Archive has released Villain as a burn-to-order DVD. Quality is fine, but sadly there are no extras.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
“Broken Lance” (1954) is another great Blu-Ray release
from Twilight Time, which seems to be specializing in 20th Century
Fox Cinemascope productions from the 1950s. These wide-screen, star-studded
productions were all the rage back in the day. Utilizing the wider screen and
full directional stereophonic sound to tell big stories, they’re the kind of
movies they really just don’t make anymore. Director Edward Dmytryk shot this
film on location in Arizona and cinematographer Joe MacDonald fills every
outdoor seen with both a sense of grandeur and, somehow, a feeling of
loneliness, which befits a story about a man who outlived his time, and has
become a dinosaur.
Spencer Tracy is the man—Matt Devereaux, a tough,
hard-nosed rancher who owns the biggest ranch in the territory. He got
everything he has by fighting for it, and his hard-bitten attitude hasn’t
diminished with age. The tough way he treats everyone extends down to his four
sons, three, Ben, Mike, and Denny (Richard Widmark, Hugh O’Brien and Earl
Holliman) from a deceased first wife, and a fourth, Joe, (Robert Wagner) with a
Native American woman (Katy Jurado). The three from the first wife resent the
way they’re treated. They work hard and see little compensation for it. They’re
also a little jealous of the half-breed son, who seems favored by the old man.
The story starts with Joe being released from prison after
serving three years, taking a rap for the sake of the family. His father is
dead now and he’s taken to the governor (E.G. Marshall) and offered a deal by
his greedy brothers: $20,000 and a ranch in Oregon if he leaves the territory,
and trouble if he turns the offer down. Joe tosses the money into a spittoon
and rides out to the old ranch house. It’s deserted and ramshackle now, the
three brothers having moved into town. Joe stands before a portrait of the old
man on horseback asking for a sign to tell him what to do. The film then shifts
into a flashback which tells the story of the rivalry between the brothers, the
old man’s dispute with a copper mining operation next to the ranch that is
poisoning the water on the ranch, and a love story between Joe and the
governor’s daughter (Jean Peters). It’s a big, sprawling story of the end of a
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because the story is
loosely based on two different sources. The first obviously is Shakespeare’s
tragedy of King Lear, which was a story of a king who bequeathed his kingdom to
two of his three daughters and lived to regret it. In the case of “Broken
Lance” the protagonist has four sons, not daughters, and Matt Devereaux doesn’t
intend to bequeath anything to anybody, at least not until he’s long buried in
the ground. The other more direct source of Richard Murphy’s screenplay is
Philip Yordan’s script for an older Fox noir pot boiler, “House of
Strangers.” In that one, Edward G. Robinson is the
patriarchal figure, the head of a bank, who gets ripped off by three of his
sons, while the good son, Max (Richard Conte) takes the rap when his father is
charged with embezzlement.
The urban drama, based on a book by Jerome Weidman,
translated fairly well to a western setting, and Dmytryk does a good job
keeping the action moving, while keeping the focus on the family’s internal
struggles and the titanic, doomed efforts of Matt Devereaux to hold his empire
together. Tracy gives a good performance, as usual, as a man who knows no other
way to live his life, although the character as written by screenwriter Richard
Murphy, seems a bit one-dimensional. It’s hard to feel sympathy for someone so
bull-headed. Wagner was adequate as the half-breed son, and Widmark turned in
his usual bad guy performance. Hey, he’s Richard Widmark and you expect him to
be a rat. Katy Jurado, of course, always added grace and dignity to any film
she appeared in and this is no exception. Jean Peters, as Wagner’s love
interest, provided at least one reason for the half-breed Joe to stay in the
The Blu-Ray transfer of this Cinemascope presentation is
first rate, as we’ve come to expect from these Twilight Time limited editions
(only 3,000 made). Picture and sound are very good. The extras include an audio
commentary with Nick Redman and Earl Holliman, who talks about what it was like
working with Dmytryk and Tracy. There’s an isolated soundtrack, featuring
composer Leigh Harline’s big orchestral sound, a booklet essay by Julie Kirgo,
some previews, and a newsreel showing Philip Yordan getting an Oscar for “House
of Strangers”. A pretty full package.
Bottom line: Although “Broken Lance,” strives to reach
the heights of a Shakespearean tragedy on horseback, Richard Murphy’s script suffers
from thin characterizations that lean toward stereotypes, and a plot that
eventually fizzles out in a standard horse opera shootout. It’s not a bad film,
but given the cast and the sources material it could have been great. Still, it’s
worth seeing. Recommended for fans of big westerns and the widescreen
extravaganzas of the fifties.
The packaging for the 1978 grindhouse film "Sex Roulette" states it is "a West German/Belgian erotic oddity". That's seems like an accurate description because this is, indeed, one weird production. While most X-rated fare from the era were relatively unimaginative, micro-budget affairs, "Sex Roulette" looks relatively lush and was filmed in some exotic European locations. It also presents some of the strangest characters ever assembled in a film of this type. We can start with Robert Le Ray, an actor who began his career in legitimate films only to transcend into the world of X-rated fare. Le Ray is the male lead in the film and he's debonair and handsome in a Leslie Nielsen kind of way. He was also 77 years old when he was cast. He plays Lord Robert de Chamoiz, an affable aristocrat with a sizable bank account and seemingly no responsibilities or worries. He has an unusually close relationship with his vivacious young niece, Veronique (Vanessa Melville). The two travel the world in style to indulge in their greatest passions. For Veronique this means the gaming tables at top-tier casinos where she gambles without abandon. For Lord de Chamoiz (who she refers to simply as "Uncle"), this means trying to tame his insatiable appetite for sex by bedding seemingly every young woman who comes into his orbit. He has a special passion for chamber maids and bribes them with large sums of money to not only go to bed with him but to also participate in sex acts they would otherwise not ever contemplate. These include arranged group sex encounters during which Uncle acts as a sort of perverted narrator for the action that is unfolding. He possesses an almost hypnotic ability to comfort the women involved and speaks to them in a soothing, paternal manner even while they are engaging in wild acts. Uncle is also a voyeur and he takes every opportunity to engage in this secondary passion. When he has a chance meeting with an auto mechanic who is repairing his car, he bribes the man to allow him to surreptitiously watch him make love to his girlfriend. Meanwhile, the gorgeous Veronique finds herself virtually frigid due to the fact that all of her time and thought process goes into gambling. Uncle has a solution for that: she should assertively have sexual encounters with the strangers in order to reawaken her libido. Turns out it's good advice. After she is seduced by lesbian sisters (!), Veronique finds her love life is back to whatever passes for "normal". The third major character is the Lord's faithful butler, a black man who also happens to be a little person. He's just as sex-crazed as his boss and functions as both a solicitor for his women but also manages to use his physical condition to attract women for himself on the basis that they've never made love to a little person. A running gag in the film is the butler's preference for engaging in sex on desktops, which mandates that he stand on a stack of telephone books. Every time he walks through the room with some telephone books, the Lord jokes that his loyal servant has gotten lucky again. After traveling to Monte Carlo and living it up on the Lord's seemingly inexhaustible funds, the film takes an even more bizarre turn when Veronique seduces her uncle. The whole story climaxes, if you will, with a big orgy atop gaming tables in a casino.
Veronique is addicted to the Bondian world of high stakes casinos.
There are so many distasteful elements to "Sex Roulette" that one can hardly chronicle them all here. However, the movie is genuinely funny, sometimes intentionally sometimes not. The dubbing is wildly inconsistent with some characters' lip movements rarely matching the associated dialogue. The exception is the voice over artist who dubbed Uncle with a gentle, soothing voice that somehow fits the character we view on screen. The film also boasts some impressive elements that seem out of left field. An extended scene of a car ride down a major highway at high speed benefits from having the camera mounted inside the car, which gives a real big budget feel to the sequence as well as some impressive footage. There are also scenes of Monte Carlo shot from a helicopter that seem appropriate for a mainstream travelogue. The most amusing elements of the film revolve around the characters of Uncle, Veronique and the butler. They seem straight out of "The Munsters" or "The Addams Family" in that they appear to be complete oblivious about the fact that their activities don't fit in with those of "normal" people. Just as Gomez Addams blew up toy trains with TNT and his children chopped off doll heads on a mini guillotine, the principals in "Sex Roulette" act as those their strange sexual doings are quite normal. Uncle is being serviced by a hotel maid? Okay, I'll just wait until they are finished to enter the room and discuss important matters. Veronique's encounter with lesbian sisters got her mind off gambling for a few hours? Marvelous! The butler finds love with a BBW-type who he met at an orgy? How wonderful that he's found his soul mate! There are some Bondian elements to the atmosphere with the trio visiting high stakes casinos where men wear tuxedos and women are adorned in expensive dresses and gowns. (One suspects the other elegant people who appear in these scenes probably had no idea they would turn up in a sex film.) Here, Uncle demonstrates a bizarre but unique talent. At the roulette table, he insists on tasting several of the steel balls used in the wheel. He churns them around in his mouth until he finally finds one that is acceptable-then with lightning speed he spits it out and has it land precisely on the number he wants to play on the roulette wheel. It's oddball scenes like this that make one think that these characters could have had a life in a "legitimate" comedy that wasn't dependent on hard-core sex scenes.
"Uncle" is about to indulge in his strange ritual of tasting roulette balls before spitting one on to the wheel.
Impulse Films has released "Sex Roulette" on DVD. According to the liner notes, the film was routinely butchered in various international markets because of the tastelessness of some scenes. (i.e: in one sequence, Uncle arranges for some young people to carry out an orgy inexplicably held in a literal pig pen.). The DVD restores all of the most controversial scenes and has been remastered from original 35mm elements. The end result remains an acquired taste for viewers with very liberal outlooks on what forms entertainment. However, for this writer, it is superior to most grind house fare from the era simply because it is so cheerfully off-the-charts crazy.
If you've seen "The Savage Is Loose", you're among the few who can make such a boast. In 1974, at the height of his career, George C. Scott decided to bring this unusual tale to the big screen. He also wanted to prove that an independent film could be successful without being distributed by a major studio. Scott, ever-temperamental, was critical of how studios used Draconian methods to control and often compromise films in the name of making them more commercial. "The Savage Is Loose" was an off-beat tale set in the late 19th century that centers on a husband and wife, John and Maida (Scott and real-life wife Van Devere) who, along with their very young son, David (Lee Montgomery), find themselves shipwrecked on a desert island. The first challenge is to adapt to the conditions and learn to survive but the more crucial challenge comes years later when the son (John David Carlson) comes of age and has a sexual awakening. With his mother the only woman he has ever known, tensions rise as he competes with his own father for her attention. This is hardly the kind of scenario that would have motivated Disney to bid on distribution rights. However, its bold premise was the reason that Scott independently financed and distributed the film himself, thus ensuring that he had total artistic control.
"The Savage Is Loose" is a generally off-beat and engrossing film despite the premise of impending incest that haunts the three main characters. The movie is done on a modest budget and boasts only one impressive set piece: the wreck of the ship that has left the family stranded on this remote island. As the months and years pass, father and son return to the wreck to explore for any lost items that might be of practical value. John makes a pivotal decision relating to how to raise David, informing Maida that they must accept the fact that rescue seems highly unlikely and that in order to ensure that David survives when they are dead, he must be schooled in the art of hunting and self-reliance. For years, John tutors David to act as a "savage" and to not take pity on the animal life found on the island, as he must regard it as his only source of food and nutrition. The strategy works and we next see David as a teenager, already proving his expertise in tracking and killing dangerous wildlife. It's clear, however, that with the passing of the years, there is an unspoken tension within the family. David becomes sullen and rarely communicates with his mother and father. The cause is apparent: with his hormones raging, he has set his sites on his own mother, who he wants to take as his lover. Devoid of having been schooled in the niceties and customs of civilized society, David cannot understand why he can't take engage in this relationship. He only knows that his father is determined to keep him from fulfilling this goal. Consequently, the movie turns into a thriller in the latter section, with father and son forced to engage in a potentially deadly duel of wits and strength, as Maida observes in horror what can only be a tragic conclusion, no matter who prevails.
Scott came up with a distribution plan for the movie that was unique. Under this scenario, Scott would literally sell theaters prints of the movie and split the costs of advertising with them. The plan set off quite a bit of buzz in the industry with studio chiefs predictably calling it unworkable. They were proven right. Without the backing of a major studio with big advertising budgets, Scott was forced to peddle the film piecemeal to theaters, one at a time. Not helping matters was the off-putting subject matter. Although a fair number of theaters did end up showing the movie, it was quickly apparently that the buzz about the film didn't translate into public interest. The scathing reviews helped provide the coup de grace. ((The New York Times gave it an outright pan (click here to read)). The theaters played to mostly empty houses and quickly pulled the film from distribution, thus ending Scott's bold experiment. Scott blamed the fact that the film received an "R" rating for its weak performance but that was an absurd excuse. By 1974, an "R" rating was certainly not a factor that alienated audiences. The pity of it all is that there is much to admire in "The Savage is Loose".
Scott demonstrates admirable talent both in front of and behind the camera. His direction is understated, as is his performance, at least until the final reel when he must do battle with his own beloved son. Van Devere is also excellent, as is Montgomery in the early scenes in which David is an innocent little boy. Things go a bit awry when John David Carson takes over the role. His performance is effective but his look is all wrong. He sports a modern hair style and his language and mannerisms reflect the culture of the year in which the movie was made: 1974. Still, "The Savage is Loose" should not be dismissed because of a perceived "Yuck Factor" due to the impending threat of a mother taken unwilling as her son's lover. There are no villains here and Scott presents the dilemma as tastefully as possible. The very premise is enough to provide ample suspense for the average viewer. Scott makes the most of the picturesque Mexican coastal locations where the movie was shot.
"The Savage is Loose" is not available at this time on home video in America or the UK except for a bootleg version available through Amazon that could easily be misconstrued as an official release. (There had been an official Betamax and VHS release back in the Stone Age of home video). The quality of the transfer is adequate but only makes one desire to see a first-rate studio release. One suspects that convoluted rights problems might be preventing this but someone out there owns the distribution to this film. One hopes that a "real" Blu-ray/DVD release will one day become a reality.
first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor is the
subject of “Hacksaw Ridge,” a World War II drama directed by Mel Gibson and based
on the true story of Desmond Doss. Doss was raised a Seventh-day Adventist who
had his faith tested after he enlisted in the Army to become a medic. The tale
of Desmond Doss is one of the most remarkable untold stories of World War II.
Book offers, movie contracts and other deals were offered after the war, but
Doss refused for decades. Hollywood studio executives even sent actor and fellow
World War II Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy in a futile
attempt to convince Doss to allow them to tell his story.
movie opens during the Battle of Okinawa where we briefly meet Desmond Doss
(Andrew Garfield) and his fellow soldiers in battle. The script then flashes
back 17 years to his childhood in rural Virginia where Desmond and his brother
are out exploring in the mountains. After returning home, Desmond nearly kills
his brother during a fight after he smacks his brother on the head with a brick
and knocks him unconscious. This event sends Desmond closer to the deep religious
beliefs shared with his mother. The boy’s father, Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving) is a
WWI veteran suffering from what is today known as post traumatic stress
syndrome, commonly referred to as PTSD. Their father drinks heavily, beats the
boys and traumatizes their mother. The movie flashes forward to America’s entry
into the war when Desmond meets his future wife, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa
Palmer), a nurse at an Army induction site in town. Desmond enlists as an Army
medic explaining to Dorothy, “I can’t stay here while all them go fight for
me.” When Desmond’s father questions his ability to serve in the Army while
holding non-violent beliefs, Desmond says, “While everybody else is taking
life, I’m going to be saving it. That’s going to be my way to serve.”
second act of the movie takes place at Army basic training where the likable Doss
refuses to use a weapon and becomes the recipient of hazing and retaliation
from his fellow soldiers who brand him a coward. Desmond stands by his conscientious
objector status and is jailed on the eve of his wedding. The Army offers him a
dishonorable discharge and will allow him to return home. Dorothy wants him to
accept the offer but Desmond stands by his beliefs and tells the courts martial
board, “With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such
a bad thing to me to put a little bit of it back together.” All charges are
dropped after a high ranking general in Washington D.C. intervenes on behalf of
Desmond’s father and asserts Doss’ right to conscientious objector status. The
convening officer informs Doss he is “free to run into the Hellfire of battle
without a single weapon to protect yourself.”
extraordinary heroic events come in the third act after Doss and his comrades arrive
in Okinawa. There they make their way to the Maeda Escarpment which ranged
between 75 and 300 feet high. The escarpment became known as Hacksaw Ridge by
the soldiers because the Japanese continually advance forcing the Americans to retreat
followed by a new American advance and the resulting high casualties during the
back and forth-like conflict. After a naval bombardment, the men make the
assent climbing the rope ladder up the face of the cliff. Blood drips down on
some of the men as they make the climb and upon arrival it appears as though
nobody could have possibly survived. However, the Japanese are dug in underground
in machine gun bunkers and hidden deep inside impenetrable caves. The Americans
appear to have made a successful advance until a new wave of Japanese soldiers attack
in the morning and drive the Americans down the cliff. Over a hundred wounded
men are left on Hacksaw Ridge including Doss, who chooses to remain behind
enemy lines and help his fallen comrades. He evades death searching for and
rescuing soldiers while hiding from the Japanese and even helps some of their
wounded. He searches through the night and carries or drags the wounded to the
cliff face and lowers them down by rope one-by-one. Astounded soldiers deliver the
wounded men to the hospital where they are treated for their injuries.
Throughout the night Doss prays and asks to save just one more. He eventually
evacuates 75 men lowering them to safety.
When it comes to sci-fi films I will admit that I'm generally turned off by plots that involve peace-loving aliens who come to earth to help us lead better lives. I'd much rather have some insidious creatures with ray guns who are seemingly invulnerable as they try to pulverize mankind. Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "E.T." were certainly landmark films with much to admire about them, but I'm generally more in the mood to watch his terrific remake of "War of the Worlds" in which we learned that if demonic aliens are to take on humanity, they apparently are going to start the attack in Bayonne, New Jersey. Director Denis Villeneuve's acclaimed Oscar-nominated film "Arrival" manages to convey enough ambiguity about the motives of visiting aliens to build genuine suspense. The film is the latest in a long line that refreshingly presents a female as the lead in a role that sixty years ago would have been played by Leslie Nielsen or Gene Barry. Adams plays Louise Banks, a single woman who teaches linguistics at a college in Montana. She came to the government's attention some years before when she assisted in interpreting during interrogations of suspected terrorists. Adams is living a benign lifestyle but as the film opens, we see that mankind is about to experience an incredible phenomenon: the arrival of twelve alien spaceships around the globe. As the world goes into a full-scale panic, Louise is approached by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) of U.S. Army Intelligence, who persuades her to join a quickly-assembled team of scientists and other intellectuals who have been brought to a remote field in rural Montana where an egg-shaped ship sits silently suspended in the air, just yards above the turf. Louise is told a shocking development that the public is unaware of: contact has been made with the inhabitants of the ship and the government is working with intelligence networks from around the world to find a way of communicating with them. Louise works closely with fellow linguist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and a small team as they nervously make their way into the inner sanctum of the alien craft. They have a peaceful but puzzling encounter with the beings from another world. (James Bond fans will be delighted to know that they appear to resemble giant versions of the Spectre organization's symbolic octopus.) Over the course of several days, Louise and the team frantically try to find a way for common communication with the aliens, who do not speak or make any noticeable sounds. Instead, they communicate via visual elements that resemble smoke rings, each one with a distinct meaning. Although the initial encounters appear to be non-threatening, Chinese intelligence discovers what they believe to be an inherent threat to mankind and before long, the world gears up for all-out war against the strange visitors. I won't say any more because "Arrival" is so filled with surprising and satisfying plot twists that any in-depth examination of the plot would reveal spoilers. Suffice it to say that the excellent screenplay by Eric Heisserer, based on Ted Chiang's novella "The Story of Your Life", is remarkably intelligent and never less than fascinating. I'm generally not a fan of films that don't proceed in a linear fashion and at times "Arrival" throws out scenes of Amy Adams with a young daughter that are initially impossible to interpret, as the story bounces around through time periods...or perhaps these scenes are dreams or fantasies. When it all comes together in the emotionally wrenching finale, "Arrival" has taken its place as one of the most innovative and satisfying science fiction movies ever made. It's also one of the greatest expressions of parental love I have ever seen depicted in any movie.
Adams is superb and should have been Oscar-nominated for her role. She gets able support from Renner and Whitaker, both of whom are excellent. Most of the credit goes to director Villeneuve, for whom this was a dream project. He avoids every sci-fi cliche imaginable, from the look of the aliens and their spaceship to the nature of the implicit threat they may well pose. The production design by Patrice Vermette is outstanding, as is the innovate musical score by Johan Johannsson. Paramount has released "Arrival" in a package containing a Blu-ray, DVD and digital download. There are the expected bonus extras which are far more interesting than most because they go beyond the usual mutual backslapping by actors and crew members. Instead, there is heavy-duty analysis of linguistics and scientific theories, thus appealing to anyone who has an inner nerd. Doubtless there will someday be an "Ultimate Special Edition" but now this will suffice. "Arrival" is a great movie. It may not appeal to viewers who want action over philosophy, but for those who aren't afraid to delve into the mysteries of life, this movie about interplanetary visitors is literally out of this world.
In the early 1970s producer and director Bob Chinn was one of the most prolific and profitable names in the adult film industry. Chinn's productions may have had skimpy production values but he generally made them look more grandiose than anything competing erotic film producers were able to offer. Like many filmmakers in this bizarre genre, Chinn aspired to do films that were more mainstream and meaningful. He entered a collaboration with Alain Patrick, a young hunky actor in the Jan-Michael Vincent mode who had his own aspirations to become a respected star. By 1971 Patrick had accumulated some legitimate film and TV credits but always in "blink-and-you'll-miss-him" roles. Like Chinn, he drifted into the adult film industry where he established some credentials as a director. He and Chinn teamed up that year in an attempt to make a mainstream movie about the porn film business. The result was "Blue Money", which has just been rescued from obscurity by Vinegar Syndrome, which has released the film as a special edition Blu-ray/DVD.
"Blue Money" suffers from the same limitations as Bob Chinn's other productions in that it was financed largely by people who expected to get a hardcore porn flick. Thus he was given a budget of $35,000, which was a pittance even in 1971, and a very abbreviated shooting schedule. Under Alain Patrick's direction, however, the movie went in a different direction and became a hybrid between the mainstream and porn film genres.Patrick gives a very credible performance as Jim, a 25 year-old surfer dude type who lives an unusual lifestyle. On the surface he leads an unremarkable existence: he has a pretty wife, Lisa (Barbara Mills) who is a stay-at-home mom who devotes her energies to raising their young daughter. Like most fathers, Jim is a dad who goes off to work every day...except that his "work" is directing pornographic feature films. Shooting in a seedy makeshift studio, Jim and and his partner sell the finished product to shady distributors who pay them premium prices for master prints of their latest 16mm productions. Because Jim is considered one of the top talents in the industry, theaters are always hungry for his latest films. Ironically, although Jim's career is filming people having sex, he prides himself on remaining loyal to his wife and resists the occasional overtures of his female stars. Jim and Lisa have a joint dream: they are renovating a schooner-type yacht with the quest of quitting the adult film industry and sailing around the world as free spirits. All of this is put at risk when Jim casts Ingrid (Inga Maria), an exotic European beauty who is desperate for money, in his latest production. Against his better judgment, Jim begins an affair with her- thus endangering his marriage after Lisa starts to become suspicious. At the same time the government is cracking down on the porn business. Suddenly, there is a dearth of distributors to take Jim's films. He is being paid far less than usual- and the entire industry is paranoid about the number of high profile arrests of performers, producers and directors in the porn business. Lisa begs Jim to quit but he wants to take his chances in the hopes of making enough money to finally finish the schooner's renovations and allow him to take his family on their-long planned journey.
"Blue Money" is an interesting production that never found acceptance by any audience. The film received some limited release in mainstream theaters but, although not quite hardcore, it is far too sexual for most general audiences. Conversely, people expecting to see a movie packed with gratuitous sex acts would also have been disappointed. Director Patrick has plenty of sex scenes and full frontal nudity but they are generally confined to the sequences in which we watch the actual filming of porn productions. In that respect, Patrick strips away any glamour or thrills from the process. Bored performers must enact explicit acts under hot klieg lights manned by total strangers. Jim must contend with moody actresses and actors who sometimes loath each other but who must engage in kinky sex. Every time Jim yells "Cut!", arguments can break out or the male leading man finds himself unable to perform on cue. Where the film excels is as a time capsule of sexual mores at the time of its production. There is much talk about the Nixon administration's Commission on Pornography report which had recently been released. Initiated by Nixon's predecessor, President Lyndon Johnson, the report came out during Nixon's first term in office. Nixon was confident that the report would legitimize his belief that pornography had a devastating effect on society- a talking point that would play well with his arch conservative base. Instead, the report basically said that there was no such evidence. Enraged, Nixon denounced the findings of his own commission and set about a crackdown on pornography. Countless man hours and millions of dollars were spent going after theater owners and people who made the films. In "Blue Money", when Jim is eventually arrested, the cops admit that the First Amendment would almost certainly ensure that he would win the court case- but the real strategy is to financially ruin those accused by having them spend their life savings on defending themselves. This gives the movie a hook that extends beyond the soap opera-like storyline centered on Jim's fragile relationship with his wife. The movie has a polished look to it and most of the performances are quite credible, with Patrick and Barbara Mills very good indeed.
Don Knotts came to fame with his trademark comedy style of portraying a meek, excessively nervous character. He was Woody Allen before Woody Allen was Woody Allen. Knotts honed his skills on Steve Allen's show in the 1950s, with his "man on the street" Nervous Nellie routine sending audiences into fits of laughter. He co-starred with fellow up-and-comer Andy Griffith in the hit Broadway production of "No Time for Sergeants" and the subsequent film version. When Griffith landed his own TV series in 1960 in which he played the sheriff of fictional small town Mayberry, Knotts imposed upon him to write a small, occasional part he could play as Barney Fife, Griffith's inept but loyal sheriff. Griffith complied and the role made Knotts an icon of American comedy, allowing him to win an astonishing five Emmys for playing the same character. Five years into the series, Knotts was offered a multi-feature deal by Lew Wasserman, the reigning mogul of Universal Pictures. Knotts took the bait and enjoyed creative control over the films to a certain degree. He could pretty much do what he wanted as long has he played the same nervous schlep audiences wanted to see. The films had to be low-budget, shot quickly and enjoy modest profits from rural audiences where Knotts' popularity skewed the highest. His first feature film was The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, released in 1966 and written by the same writing team from the "The Andy Griffith Show". (Griffith actually co-wrote the script but declined taking a writing credit.) The film astonished the industry, rolling up big grosses in small markets where it proved to have remarkable staying power. Similarly, his next film, The Reluctant Astronaut also proved to be a big hit, as was his 1969 western spoof The Shakiest Gun in the West. Within a few years, however, changing audience tastes had rendered Knotts' brand of innocent, gentle humor somewhat moot. By the late 1960s audiences were getting their laughs from the new film freedoms. It was hard to find the antics of a middle-aged virgin much fun when you could see Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice cavorting in the same bed. Still, Knotts soldiered on, providing fare for the drive-in markets that still wanted his films. In 1969 he made The Love God?, a very funny and underrated film that tried to be more contemporary by casting Knotts as an innocent ninny who is manipulated into fronting what he thinks is a magazine for bird watchers but, in reality, is a cover for a pornography empire. Knotts' traditional audience balked at the relatively tame sex jokes and for his final film for Universal, How to Frame a Figg, he reverted back to his old formula.
Released in 1971, Figg casts Don Knotts as the titular character, Hollis Figg, a nondescript wimp who toils as an overlooked accountant in a basement of city hall. The film is set in a Mayberry-like small town environment but any other similarity ends there. In Mayberry, only the visiting city slickers were ever corrupt. The citizenry may have been comprised of goofballs and eccentrics, but they were all scrupulously honest. In Figg's world, however, the top government officials are all con-men and crooks. They are ruled by the town's beloved paternal father figure, Old Charley Spaulding (Parker Fennelly), a decrepit character who hands out pennies to everyone he encounters, with the heart-warming greeting "A shiny penny for your future!" In fact, Old Charley has plenty of those pennies stashed away. He and his hand-picked fellow crooks, including the mayor and police chief, have been systemically ripping off the state by grossly inflating the costs of local building projects and secretly pocketing the overages. Concerned that the accountants might get wind of their activities, they summarily fire them all except for Figg, who is deemed to be too naive to ever catch on. They justify the firings by saying it's fiscally prudent and replace the accountants with a gigantic computer that is supposed to be even more efficient. Through a quirk of fate, Figg and his equally naive friend, Prentiss (Frank Welker), the janitor for city hall, discover exactly what is going on. Figg dutifully reports his findings to the mayor (Edward Andrews), who convinces him to keep it secret while he launches his own investigation. Old Charley, the mayor and their cohorts decide to make Figg the fall guy for the corrupt practices. They give him a big promotion, a new red convertible and even hire a private secretary for him. She's Glorianna (Yvonne Craig), a leggy femme fatale who wears mini skirts and oozes sex. When her attempts to seduce Figg leave him paralyzed with fear because of his allegiance to his new girlfriend, the equally virginal waitress Ema Letha (Elaine Joyce), Glorianna gets Figg drunk, takes some embarrassing photos of him and the proceeds to have him sign a stream of incriminating documents that he has not bothered to read. Before long, Figg is blamed for all the missing funds and faces a jail sentence- unless he and the dim-witted Prentiss can figure out how to use the computer to thwart the real crooks.
How to Frame a Figg is the weakest and least-remembered of Knotts' films for Universal but it still affords plenty of laughs. Knotts is essentially playing Barney Fife under a different name and even wears that character's trademark outdated "salt and pepper" suit. Knotts never broke any new ground but no one ever called for him to do so...his familiar persona was just what audiences wanted. Figg also provides a plethora of wonderful characters from the period including the great Joe Flynn and Edward Andrews, who excelled at playing smarmy men of authority. Also popping up are such familiar faces as Billy Sands and Bob Hastings, both of whom co-starred with Joe Flynn in "McHale's Navy". The appearance of cast members from that show isn't a coincidence because the film was produced by Edward J. Montagne, who also produced "McHale's Navy". Some of the humor is a bit forced, especially scenes concerning the character of Prentiss, with Frank Welker overplaying the lovable dumb klutz bit. However, Montagne and Knotts were a comfortable fit and he produced and/or directed all of Knotts' Universal feature films. Figg was directed by Alan Rafkin, who had helmed The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Shakiest Gun in the West. He understood the Knotts persona and capitalized on it with considerable skill. Another alumni of all those films, the inimitable composer Vic Mizzy, provides a typically jaunty score.
Following the boxoffice failure of How to Frame a Figg, Don Knotts successfully morphed into a featured player in many Disney movies, sometimes teaming with Tim Conway. The two of them would perform together on screen and on stage for decades until Knotts' death in 2006. In the 1970s, Knotts also broadened his fan base with his role on the popular sitcom "Three's Company". There seems to be a great deal of nostalgia for his feature films nowadays among baby boomers, with The Ghost and Mr. Chicken especially popular. How to Frame a Figg is not of that caliber but it holds up well as a very amusing family comedy.
The Universal DVD release includes the original trailer.
Elvis Presley is almost always associated exclusively with movie musicals. However, he did stray from the genre to make a Western in which he didn't warble one lyric. The film is Charro!, which is available from Warner Bros. Just as seemingly every actor tried to get on board the spy movie phenomenon of the mid-1960s, by the end of the decade they were attempting to similarly capitalize on the spaghetti western genre. This 1969 film is non-descript as a western - not among the best of the era but far from the worst. It does merit special consideration because perhaps more than any other of his films, Charro! exhibits a persona that Elvis had never been able to reflect onscreen - thanks to Colonel Parker's iron-fisted control over his career and his insistence that The King appear in outdated teen musicals. The razor-thin plot has Elvis trying to distance himself from a murderous gang he used to ride with. Gang leader Victor French isn't the kind of guy you quit on so he frames Elvis for crimes he didn't commit then tortures him into participating in an audacious plot that finds them stealing a giant cannon from the Mexican army and using it to blackmail a town.
If you're a retro movie lover make sure that "Florence Foster Jenkins" goes to the top of your must-see list. The acclaimed comedy is an old-fashioned film in the best sense of the term. In it Meryl Streep gives another truly inspired performances. In fact it's getting downright boring extolling her virtues as perhaps the finest screen actress we have today. Streep has a field day giving a tour-de-force performance as the titular character, a real-life New York eccentric who apparently had built a cult following that has lasted for decades. Set in the year 1944, we find Florence Foster Jenkins living a very comfortable life in her lush Manhattan apartment. She is catered to by her younger husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), who acts as protector and mother hen over his emotionally and physically fragile wife. Florence suffers from a variety of serious health issues that has resulted in her marriage to St. Clair remaining chaste (he even resides in his own apartment.) Although Florence is his meal ticket to a life that allows him many luxuries, including dalliances with other women, St. Clair clearly adores his wife and oversees every aspect of her daily existence. This includes her obsession with opera music. Florence had a lifelong passion for it and dedicated her life to pursuing an operatic singing career. There was only one problem: she was the worst singer imaginable. Despite her passionate embrace of opera, Florence's renditions of these works inevitably resulted in her bellowing out barely recognizable, high-pitched assaults on the eardrums of anyone who had the misfortune of being within hearing range. However, Florence had one major ally in her quest: her bank account. A very wealthy woman, she was also a philanthropist who donated huge sums of money to the arts and New York's private clubs that pertained to the arts. Consequently, she was beloved by the relatively small number of people in this social circle who politely attended her "concerts" and enthusiastically applauded her efforts. Encouraged by the but insincere enthusiasm of her friends, Florence began to believe she was a truly great opera singer. All was well as long as her performances took place exclusively in front of such tolerant audiences where St. Clair could control every aspect of the show and pull enough strings to ensure she would always get a rousing reception.
The film begins with Florence's quest to hire a suitable pianist to help her with her daily auditions (such was her influence that some of the great names in music would tutor her privately). Florence settles on hiring Cosme McMoon (yes, that was his name), a nebbishy, shy young man (played by Simon Helberg) whose abilities as a virtuoso are unrecognized. Desperate for money, he cannot refuse St. Clair's generous salary offers (i.e bribes) to pretend that Florence is a great talent. He agrees and manages to ingratiate himself to her and grow fond and protective of her as well. Things go smoothly, though we do see that Florence is bravely struggling with a deteriorating medical condition. Alas, a major crisis emerges when Florence announces that she has rented Carnegie Hall and intends to give a concert there- and to invite on a gratis basis servicemen who are in New York on leave. St. Claire immediately recognizes the dilemma: up until now no critic has been able to review Florence's performances because they were all held at private venues. He knows all too well what awaits her when the press attends the performance at Carnegie Hall. The final section of the film shows her disastrous performance and St. Clair and Cosme's efforts to convince her that it was a triumph. However, they can only pull this off if they ensure that Florence does not have access to the reviews- and she determined to see them. This results in a frantic situation that approaches that of a farce in which extraordinary efforts are made to keep the bad news from the lovable lady.
"Florence Foster Jenkins" is a true gem of a movie, the kind they supposedly don't make any more. Everyone is dressed to the nines, sips champagne and engages in Noel Coward-like witty banter. Streep, Oscar-nominated for her role, is superb as ditzy would-be diva, accentuating her eccentricities but never allowing her to look unsympathetic. Hugh Grant channels Roger Moore's mannerisms so explicitly that one suspects his performance is an homage to the actor. In any event, this is the best work he's ever done and he should have been nominated for an Oscar for his role as the charismatic, charming rogue. It's hard to steal scenes from these two pros but Simon Helberg (of TV's "Big Bang Theory") manages to do so. He's a joy to watch and, like Grant, seems to have been cheated out of a possible Oscar nomination. Kudos, too, for the outstanding production design Alan MacDonald and the fine work of composer Alexandre Desplat.
The Paramount Blu-ray?DVD/digital format special edition features a wealth of interesting extras including interview with Meryl Streep about her life and career and featurettes dedicated to the production design, music, script process, etc. There is also a marvelous interview with Gino Francescino, who has been the curator of Carnegie Hall's historical memorabilia since 1986, much of which is shown (including rarities relating to the real-life Jenkins concert, which sold out but was never filmed or recorded). There is also a selection deleted scenes.
All told, this is a "must-have" release for movie lovers who want to take a sentimental journey back to the golden age of moviemaking.
The classic movie streaming channel FilmStruck launched in October. This is a joint venture between Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection that allows subscribers to access classic and cult movies from the Criterion Collection through streaming services and view exclusive bonus content. Hundreds of films are available through the service and the library's titles will keep expanding on a regular basis.
The latest press release lists the streaming services that FilmStruck is now available on:
FilmStruck, the streaming movie service for film
aficionados, is now available on Google Chromecast second generation and
Chromecast Ultra devices. Continuing its rapid platform expansion, the
streaming service will also launch on Roku, Playstation 4 and Xbox One in
the coming months. FilmStruck, featuring the largest streaming library of
contemporary and classic arthouse, indie, foreign and cult films and the
exclusive streaming home to the Criterion Collection, is available for
streaming on Apple TV 4th generation devices,Amazon Fire TV, web, iOS and
The Warner Archive continues to delve into little-remembered crime movies with the release of F.B.I.: Code 98, yet another in the seemingly endless attempts of J. Edgar Hoover to use popular entertainment as a vehicle to promote himself and his bureau as incorruptible pillars of American society. (As usual, Hoover ensures he is personally thanked in the credits, mentioned in the script, depicted in photos on office walls and appears in footage at the end of the movie.) Still, this is a tense little thriller that engages the viewer from minute one with its timely depiction of a task force trying to prevent acts of home-grown American terrorism. The plot centers on a group of business executives who are flying to a government conference. Their company provides crucial materials and engineering for the U.S space program. A nondescript employee of their company concocts a clever scheme whereby he manages to switch out a piece of luggage being loaded onto the executive's corporate jet. Inside is a time bomb. Only a quirk of fate allows it to be discovered and dismantled in time. The F.B.I. is brought in under the direction of field director Robert Cannon (stiff-jawed Jack Kelly). He works with the intended victims to sort out who might have had a grudge against them and this inevitably leads to delving into some sensitive areas of their personal lives- including illicit affairs between married people. The film is tense and engrossing throughout, thanks to expert direction by Leslie Martinson. The capable supporting cast includes Ray Danton (whose baritone voice always seems overly dramatic for any role he played), the always-watchable Andrew Duggan, Philip Carey, William Reynolds, Jack Cassidy (in pure heterosexual mode) and Vaughn Taylor as the mousey, unlikely would-be terrorist. To compensate for the low budget, there are some unintentionally amusing gimmicks to provide some sweep to the locations. An F.B.I. office in Vegas looks directly out onto the casinos on the strip; a Washington D.C. office is in direct line with the Capitol Building; a Florida office has a view of a space launching pad. Still, Martinson's use of real locations throughout most of the film adds to the dramatic intensity. The film takes pains to present every F.B.I. man as scrupulously honest and dedicated. The worst they are guilty of is flirting with secretaries.
F.B.I.: Code 98 is well worth a look. It's tightly scripted, well-directed and doesn't have a single wasted frame.
The Universal Vault series has released the 1970 film "Sometimes a Great Notion" on DVD. Based on the novel by Ken Kesey, the film starred- and was directed by- Paul Newman. His skills as both actor and filmmaker and amply displayed in this engrossing, off-beat drama that never found its intended audience during its theatrical release, despite a heavyweight cast. The film is basically a domestic drama, though set amid the staggering beauty of the Oregon wilderness. The Stamper family runs one of the biggest logging operations around. The family's crusty patriarch, Henry (Henry Fonda), attributes the family's success to the fact that they lead a hard scrabble lifestyle and do much of the grueling work themselves rather than simply farming it out to paid employees. Henry ensures that he keeps the keys to his kingdom close to his vest: the only positions of power are held by him and his two sons, Hank (Paul Newman) and Joe Ben (Richard Jaeckel). Henry espouses his philosophy of life, which is that there isn't much purpose to existence other than hard work, eatin', drinkin' and screwin' (though perhaps not necessarily in that order). When we first meet the Stamper clan they are embroiled in a dispute with a union that represents loggers. The union has called for a strike and it appears that the workers have been dormant for quite some time. The Stampers refuse to accede to union demands that they stop their logging operations in order to show solidarity with the workers. Henry will have no part of it. He and his sons insult union representatives that come to reason with them and, in fact, physically terrorize one of them. Henry and his sons have no use for unions and adhere to the pioneer lifestyle in that every man has to fend for himself. A byproduct of this philosophy is that the Stampers are riding high as the only operating logging operation in the area. Consequently, the family gets all the business that the striking workers would ordinarily enjoy. However, the Stamper's luck is about to run out. Union members secretly begin to sabotage their operation and on one especially painful day, the family endures several tragedies of Shakespearean proportions.
Although top-billed and coming off the success of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", Newman doesn't hog the spotlight. As director, he's quite generous in ensuring that his co-stars get ample quality scenes. The film evokes a very believable atmosphere in terms of exploring the type of no-nonsense, working-class people who populate rural areas. At first glance the Stampers are a content clan but there are cracks in the facade. Hank's wife Viv (Lee Remick) is fed up with the misogynistic lifestyle she is trapped in. Among the Stampers, the women folk are meant to be seen but not heard. She was bored as a teenager growing up in a one-horse town until young Hank drove through on his motorcycle and literally swept her off her feet. Her dreams of an exciting life were quickly dashed and she now finds herself cooking and cleaning for a family of men who barely acknowledge her presence. Even romantic overtures to Hank go unrewarded and Viv is fed up with his inability- or unwillingness- to challenge his father's Draconian ways of managing the family and the business. Hank's younger brother Joe Ben is a happy-go-lucky, humorous fellow whose own wife Jan (Linda Lawson) shares his Born Again Christian beliefs and is quite content raising their kids and living a traditional lifestyle for women in this place and era. Dramatic tensions rise when Henry's estranged son Leeland (Michael Sarrazin) (Hank and Joe Ben's step brother) arrives out of the blue after being away for years. He's a troubled drifter with no particular goal or purpose in life. Henry welcomes him back but advises him that if he wants to stay, he'll have to learn how to work as a lumberman. There is also tension between Leeland and Hank because Hank once slept with Leeland's mother (!)
As director, Newman excels at capitalizing on Richard Moore's magnificent cinematography and making the lumber business seem quite interesting. The scenes of tumbling timber are thrilling and suspenseful and makes the viewer aware of just how dangerous this profession is, with the possibility of injury and death always only seconds away. In the film's most harrowing and best-remembered scene, Joe Ben is trapped under a log in a rapidly-rising river as Hank desperately tries to rescue him. Jaeckel is terrific here in a role that earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. The scene is difficult to watch but Jaeckel and Newman have never been better. (At the time of the film's release, critic Rex Reed complained that some of Jaeckel's best work in the film never made it into the final cut.) Screenwriter John Gay deftly sidesteps some anticipated cliches and every time you think you know where the story is going, it ends up in another direction. There is irony in Newman directing and starring in a film in which the protagonists are right wing and anti-union, as Newman himself was a career union man whose left wing activism earned him a place on President Nixon's notorious "Enemies List". (Newman claimed it was one of the great honors of his life.) There are some weaknesses: we never get any background on the merits of the case made by the striking loggers so we have no frame of reference as to whether we should sympathize with them or the Stampers. Also, some of the supporting roles are underwritten, especially Lee Remick's. Aside from one good scene in which she divulges her frustrations to Sarrazin, there's not much for her to do. The movie builds to its tragic climax although Newman does make sure there is a triumphant moment in the last scene, even if its represented in a rather gruesome fashion. It's a pity that Newman chose to direct only a few films. He was as impressive behind the camera as he was in front of it. The film also benefits from a fine score by Henry Mancini and the opening song, "All His Children" (sung by Charley Pride) was nominated for an Oscar. When the film failed to click at the boxoffice it was re-marketed under the title "Never Give an Inch"- although that strategy failed to work. Hopefully it will finally find a more receptive audience on home video.
The DVD transfer is superb but once again, Universal provides a bare bones release with nary a single bonus extra.
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If you enjoy the golden age of Blaxploitation films you'll be happy to learn about Brown Sugar, the new streaming service that describes itself "Like Netflix- only blacker!". The service, which costs $3.99 a month, features a gold mine of cult classics of the genre ranging from the Shaft films to action flicks starring icons Pam Grier, Jim Brown and Fred Williamson. The network says that many of the films in their catalog are not easily available on home video. Click here for more info.
Though Vincent Price would eventually garner a well-deserved
reputation as Hollywood’s preeminent bogeyman, it was only really with André De
Toth’s House of Wax (1953) that the actor would become associated with all
things sinister. In some sense the
playful, nervously elegant Price was an odd successor to the horror film-maestro
throne: he was a somewhat aristocratic psychotic who shared neither Boris
Karloff’s cold and malevolent scowl nor Bela Lugosi’s distinctly unhinged
madness or old-world exoticism.
His early film career started in a less pigeonholed
manner: as a budding movie actor with a seven year contract for Universal
Studios in the 1940s, the tall, elegant Price would appear in a number of semi-distinguished
if modestly-budgeted romantic comedies and dramas. His contract with Universal was apparently
non-exclusive, and his most memorable roles for the studio were his earliest. In a harbinger of things to come, Price would
register his first genre credit with Universal’s The Invisible Man Returns (1940),
a curiously belated semi-sequel to the James Whale 1933 classic. Though a satisfying B-movie vehicle, Price’s star
turn as the mostly transparent Geoffrey Radcliffe would be difficult work; it’s
an imposing task to make an impression when you’re only physically present for less
than half of a film.
More rewarding and noteworthy was his role as the
vengeful Clifford Pyncheon in Universal’s free adaptation of Nathaniel
Hawthorne’s brooding thriller The House of the Seven Gables (1940). That same year Price took a second memorable
turn as the effete, wine-imbibing Duke of Clarence in Rowland V. Lee’s Tower of
London. Purportedly a historical drama, Universal couldn’t help but play up the
horror-melodrama elements of Richard III’s grisly ascent to the British
throne. The scene when the Duke of
Clarence meets an ironic fate at the hands of the conniving, merciless and
bloodthirsty tag-team of Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff is, without doubt, one
of cinema’s great exits.
Though the actor would tackle all types of roles for his
next employer, 20th Century Fox, he had begun his transition from leading man
once-removed to a roguish sort of character actor, one short of neither charm
nor avarice. In 1953 the actor’s career
would be forever changed when he accepted the role of the mad Professor Henry
Jarrod in House of Wax, Warner Bros.’ colorful 3-D remake of Michael Curtiz’s The
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). The
success of the sinister House of Wax inspired that film’s freelance producer,
Bryan Foy, to – essentially – remake the same film for Columbia Pictures within
a year’s time. Unlike Universal or
Warner Bros., Columbia seemed less eager to embrace and invest long-term in 3-D
technologies, and The Mad Magician was one of the studio’s final rolls of the
dice in that format.
Bryan Foy had began his show business career in
vaudeville so it was only natural that both House of Wax and The Mad Magician share
the greasepaint, steamer trunks, velvet curtains and theatrical back stories of
the producer’s youthful experience. As he
had with House of Wax, Foy again tapped the talent of his favorite scribe, Crane
Wilbur, to write what was essentially a House of Wax pastiche. Wilbur was a seasoned pro who could knock out
a quick copy that still had integrity; both of the Victorian-era horror films he
would craft for Foy stylishly unraveled in thrilling fashion with neat twists
and memorable dialogue. In a wise move,
the German born John Brahm, an undeniably brilliant director of moody,
atmospheric thrillers and melodramas – mostly for 20th Century Fox - was
brought on to direct.
The most notable returnee was, of course, Vincent Price,
now typecast and expected to again menacingly wield his distinct brand of on-screen
villainy. With his stagey, Shakespearean
acting style having been honed early in his career, Price’s performances occasionally
teetered between outright flamboyance and devilishly morose… perhaps even a bit
hammy. That said, the actor’s refined
mannerisms and theatrical gesturing was refreshingly different from the common
brutishness of the usual cinematic heavies. His characters tended to be tortured souls as well; his villains were conflicted
but not unsympathetic individuals driven to madness by life’s travails and treacheries.
In House of Wax and The Mad Magician, the actor similarly
plays the part of a maligned artist. In
both films, his protagonists hide behind a series life-masks created solely for
the purpose of deception. As sculptor Henry
Jarrod in the former film, the devoted artist sees his beloved wax figures go
up in flames due to the actions of an unscrupulous business partner; Jarrod’s
scheming, unsentimental associate is not at all interested in the artist’s
creations. He’s only interested in the
swift collection of ill-gotten monies from his insurance fraud scheme. In The Mad Magician Price similarly portrays Don
Gallico, a low wage, belittled designer of magic tricks and illusions. Gallico
is the creative energy behind successful owner Russ Orman’s (Donald Randolph) respected
theatrical magic factory Illusions, Inc. Tired of seeing his boss farm out his very personal creations to more celebrated,
famous magicians – most notably the egotistical and scheming Great Rinaldi
(John Emery) – Gallico optimistically and dreamingly pines of someday being
recognized as a great stage magician himself.
Gallico is certain that day is not far off. In an attempt to attract attention to his own
talent, the magician tests a self-produced illusionist show in a cozy theater
in Hoboken, New Jersey. This engagement
is merely a step stone to his ultimate dream of securing a coveted booking on
Broadway and 44th Street. While his most
recent and exciting illusion, “The Lady and the Buzz Saw,” pushes the envelope
of high tension to an anxious extreme, Gallico is certain his work in progress –
an escape-artist illusion involving a gas-fueled 3500 degree inferno dubbed
“The Crematorium” will be the vehicle to bring him stardom at last. But Gallico’s dreams are soon dashed when the
well-heeled Orman, who years earlier had unsentimentally stolen away the
illusionist’s gold-digging wife (Eva Gabor), informs him to carefully read the
fine print of their business contract. In
a nutshell, Orman owns all of Gallico’s intellectual properties: contractually his inventions are not his
own. Needless to say, this soul crushing,
career-ending turn of events does not bode well for the briefly self-satisfied
Orman… and others.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of the 1973 Euro Western "The Man Called Noon", based on the novel by Louis L'Amour. The film was produced by Euan Lloyd, who had previously brought L'Amour's novel "Shalako" to the screen in 1968 starring Sean Connery, Brigitte Bardot and an impressive supporting cast. "Noon" is no "Shalako". It's more in line with Lloyd's filmed production of L'Amour's "Catlow", which was released in 1971 (i.e instantly forgettable). Like so many Westerns of the era, it's a strange hybrid production top-lining well-known American stars with a supporting cast of European actors. The result is a reasonably entertaining but completely unremarkable horse opera that plays out with a familiarity akin to that of the well-trod shooting locations in and around Almeria, Spain. Richard Crenna, in a rare top-billed role in an action flick, plays the titular character, Rubal Noon, a notorious gunslinger. In the film's opening minutes he narrowly escapes an assassination attempt but is wounded in the process and, in that tried and true movie cliche, loses his memory. He doesn't remember who he is or why anyone tried to kill him. He is befriended by a shady saddle tramp, Rimes (Stephen Boyd), who informs him that he's wanted by the law and a virtual army of killers is after him. Rimes takes Noon to a ranch that serves as an outlaw hideout. It's owned by Fan Davidge (Rosanna Schiaffano), who has been kept captive on the ranch by the outlaws and forced to serve as their leader's mistress. Within seconds of meeting, Noon and Fan begin making goo-goo eyes at each other and we know that can only lead to trouble. It's at this point that the screenplay by Scot Finch becomes overly convoluted almost to the point of parody. A long series of facts and clues are presented to Noon that gradually help him discover his motivations and why so many people are after him. The jumbled explanations have something to do with avenging the deaths of loved ones and having knowledge of a secret cache of buried gold. However, by the time all of this is explained, there is no "A-ha!" moment of revelation. Instead, one just sits and ponders the long string of characters, names and confusing plot developments. On several occasions I backtracked on the Blu-ray disc, thinking I overlooked some obvious information but it still seemed like a confusing mess so I just gave up, sat back and enjoyed the frequent action sequences. Crenna does well enough in an undemanding, completely humorless role. The few moments of levity are provided by Boyd, who plays a character of dubious allegiance. Farley Granger shows up as a bad guy and Schiaffano is as lovely as ever, but the characters are poorly defined and the most impressive aspect of the movie are the well-staged stunts courtesy of legendary arranger Bob Simmons, who devised some of the best fight scenes in the James Bond series. Luis Bacalov provides the sometimes impressive requisite Morricone-like score. The finale of the movie finds the heroes holed up in a burning cabin surrounded by an army of antagonists. The scenario is similar to that in John Huston's "The Unforgiven" but with far less credibility. (Noon's method of terminating Granger's character is downright absurd.) The film was directed by Peter Collinson, who had shown great innovation and skill with his 1969 version of "The Italian Job". Not many of those skills are on view in "The Man Called Noon", which Collinson directed in a manner best described as workmanlike. Sadly, the young director never fulfilled his potential and ended up directing mid-range and mediocre fare before passing away in 1980 at only 44 years of age.
The Blu-ray from Kino Lorber has a crisp, clean transfer. There is a bonus trailer gallery that includes other Westerns available from the company including "Duel at Diablo", "Billy Two Hats", "Barquero", "The Spikes Gang" and "Navajo Joe".
First things first; it’s obvious from 1966 through 1972
the seemingly idyllic small islands dotting the UK were no place to summer
vacation. In 1966 poor Peter Cushing
lost his left hand to a rampaging horde of flesh-eating silicates on the isle
of Petrie (aka the Island of Terror), a few miles east off of Ireland’s
coastline. In 1973, Hammer Horror icon
turned Celtic pagan Christopher Lee sacrificed an investigating Christian
martyr to the flames on the bonny banks of Summerisle in Robin Hardy’s 1973 grim
thriller-mystery, The Wicker Man. One year before The Wicker Man would have its
theatrical debut, Tigon-British Film Productions would release the
environmental-thriller Doomwatch (1972). Set on the isle of Balfe (actually Cornwall), Doomwatch tells the tale
of still another plagued and isolated island off the English coast. This time the inhabitants are desperately
trying to hide a seemingly monstrous secret from the prying eyes of outsiders. It goes without saying that the production of
these three films was likely not bankrolled by anyone from the British Tourist
Director Peter Sasdy’s 1972 sci-fi mystery, Doomwatch
recounts the story of Dr. Del Shaw (Scottish actor Ian Bannen), who teams up
with the island’s imported schoolteacher Victoria Brown (Judy Geeson) to
unravel the mystery behind the closeted deformities of the island’s native
inhabitants. Dr. Shaw, who works for a government-funded anti-pollution
campaign, somewhat pessimistically coded Doomwatch, soon finds out that British
navy - through an unscrupulous intermediary - had used the bay surrounding the
island of Balfe to secretly and illegally dump sealed canisters of radioactive
waste. Time and the sea have since
caused these seals to give way, with the resulting leakage infecting the
village’s fishing industry. As seafood
is the primary diet of the islanders, the exposure to toxins and unnatural
growth hormones has unleashed an outbreak of acromegaly. This disfiguring
disease is not an invention of screenwriter Clive Exton. As any scholar of classic horror can tell
you, this is the all-to-real growth-hormone aberration was suffered (and
tastelessly exploited) by Universal Studios in their casting of horror actor
Rondo Hatton as The Creeper. Though this
pituitary gland disease is a result of radioactive elements contaminating the
island’s fish supply, the natives are unaware of the Navy’s polluting of their
waters. The insular and deeply religious
community believes the island’s plague is simply God’s punishment for their
immorality and inbreeding. It’s this
deep-seated shame that has long prevented them from getting help from the
Sasdy’s film was loosely based off a BBC television
series of the same name (1970-1972) which featured a team of
activist-scientists fighting new, mysterious environmental and health threats
in the post-Atomic age. These television threats would include such plights as
enlarged radioactive rats, plastic-eating viruses, and chemical toxins that
could destroy all of Earth’s plant life. This fear of manmade and unchecked
environmental calamity was carried on in Doomwatch the film; the storyline
centers on the dangers of radioactive elements and the consequences of improper
storage and disposal methods of such harmful toxins. These issues were of
course, not uncommon during the time, as in the early 1970s environmental issues
were at the forefront of global public consciousness. Not coincidentally, in 1972, the year the
film was first released, the United States would pass the Clean Water Act with
the aim of eliminating toxic waste from global waters.
Though Bannen and Geeson are the film’s principal
players, the film sports a strong supporting cast of familiar faces. Geoffrey Keen, who plays Sir Henry, the man
responsible for the illegal radioactive dumping, will be recognizable to
filmgoers for his tenure as the Minister of Defence in six James Bond films
(beginning with Roger Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me through Timothy Dalton’s The
Living Daylights). Another recognizable face is that of George Sanders, who
enjoyed a legendary long career in film and television and pop-culture (he
portrayed Leslie Charteris’ The Saint in no fewer than five films (1939-1941)
and even as the chilling Mister Freeze in TV’s Batman series of 1966.
Kino Lorber’s new Blu-Ray release of Doomwatch is of
definitely interest to film enthusiasts. Special features include an “On Camera
Interview” with actress Judy Geeson, audio commentary and introduction to the
film courtesy of director Peter Sasdy, and a gallery of film trailers for other
recent Blu-Ray releases of Kino-Lorber.
should say upfront that with a couple of notable exceptions I'm not a big fan
of John Carpenter's work. I wish I was, I really do (and I'll never give up on
him), but I'm just not. It strikes me that for every exceptional film he made –
Halloween, Escape from New York, The Thing – there’s a handful of distinctly
underwhelming offerings: They Live, Ghosts of Mars, The Fog, Prince of Darkness,
Village of the Damned, Body Bags, Escape from L.A., Vampires, In the Mouth of
Madness…the list goes on. I concede that many of these films are widely revered,
so would stress again that these are titles that have left me personally
feeling unfulfilled and I readily acknowledge that my opinions are those of a
minority. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976),
which as with many of his films, Carpenter wrote and scored as well as
directed, was his second theatrical feature following Dark Star two years
earlier, and for me it resides upstream of the mid-water between the few titles
I greatly admire and the regrettable majority that I deem to be
the aftermath of the slaying of some of their pack by the police, the
formidable Street Thunder gang swear a "Cholo" – a blood oath of
vengeance – decreeing that they'll bring war to the streets of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile Special Officer Starker (Charles Cyphers) is transporting three
prisoners between penitentiaries when one of them falls seriously ill. Starker
decides to locate a police station to get the trio into confinement whilst he
summons a doctor. Unfortunately, the nearest is in the process of being
decommissioned and relocated to a new site and is thusly staffed by bare bones
personnel, but the officer overseeing the closure, Lieutenant Ethan Bishop
(Austin Stoker), nevertheless agrees to let Starker use the holding cells. Then
Lawson (Martin West) – the father of a little girl murdered by the gang (and who
subsequently pursued the perpetrators, shooting one of the head honchos dead) –
stumbles in to Anderson in shock and seeking refuge. Armed to the teeth, dozens
of gang members converge on the premises to make Lawson pay for killing one of
on Precinct 13 was fashioned by Carpenter as a modern day western and with
traces of Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo coursing through its veins it's very much
that. Yet it's also impossible to ignore the aroma of George Romero's seminal The
Night of the Living Dead in its structure: a gathering of disparate characters,
the most intuitively improvisational of whom is portrayed by a black actor, are
holed up in an isolated location with little hope of help and where, despite
internal disputes, they're forced to put aside their differences and work
together to defend themselves from a relentless army of hostiles whose
merciless intent is to see them all dead.
a few mildly engaging scenes which serve to establish the panoply of
characters, Carpenter reaches out and grabs his audience by the throat with a
suspenseful and shocking sequence revolving around a little girl who realises
she's been served the wrong flavour of ice cream. Thereafter the director
incrementally stokes the tension with the aid of time stamps that appear at
regular intervals in the corner of the screen and not only lend the proceedings
a documentary feel but ratchet up audience apprehension as the titular assault gets
things kick off and the first wave of defenders has been taken out in a spray
of carnage it's pretty much high octane action through to the (slightly
anticlimactic) finish line. There are, however, some quieter moments
punctuating the mayhem and it's during these that Carpenter's excellent
characterisations are given room to breathe. Particularly enjoyable is the chemistry
and burgeoning mutual respect between lawman Bishop and felon Napoleon Wilson
(an impeccable Darwin Joston); come the end you can't help wishing these guys
could have taken off together on a new adventure. Also memorable in this
respect is Laurie Zimmer as an Anderson secretary who Wilson takes a shine to
and, once again, one is left wistfully musing that the relationship between
them might have been explored further.
particular standout scene during these welcome moments of quietude plays on the
innate human instinct for self-preservation; a character suggests that they
hand over Lawson to the gang in order to save their own skins, but Bishop nobly
refuses to be party to such an egregious undertaking.
already mentioned aside, there are fine performances too from Tony Burton,
Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis (the latter two would be reunited as father
and daughter in the director's next big screen release, Halloween).
by a typically infectious Carpenter score – particularly its thrumming core
synth theme – Assault on Precinct 13 is a raw and intense low-budgeter, the
creativity of which obscures its budgetary constraints, and which has not only
improved with age but in 2005 spawned a starry (and unexpectedly decent)
the film was shot as The Siege, its title changed at the behest of the
distributor in favour of something punchier. Although Assault on Precinct 13 is
arguably a better choice it's also a bit of a misnomer, since nowhere in the
film itself is there a "Precinct 13", let alone one that comes under
movie has been available on Blu-ray and DVD before, but its recent UK 40th anniversary
incarnation from Second Sight makes for an irresistibly double-dip-worthy
proposition. Aside from a pristine 2.35:1 ratio hi-def transfer from a newly
restored print the release includes some exceptional bonus goodies. On
both the individually available Blu-Ray and DVD, along with a terrific assembly
of interview material – Director John Carpenter, actors Austin Stoker and Nancy
Loomis, Art Director Tommy Lee Wallace (who also handled sound effects duties),
and Executive Producer Joseph Kaufman – there are two commentaries (from
Carpenter and Wallace), a trailer and some radio spots. Exclusive to the Blu-Ray
box set release are "Captain Voyeur" (a comical short black &
white student film written and directed by Carpenter in 1969), and a
partially-subtitled 2003 documentary entitled "Do You Remember Laurie
Zimmer?"; chronicling the extensive efforts by a French film crew to
locate the actress who retired from the business many years ago. It certainly
has “will they or won't they find her?” appeal, but rambles a little and would
have benefited from being pared down to half its 53-minute runtime. Also
exclusive to the box set are a selection of art cards and a CD pressing of
by Anthony Bushell, who also co-directed (with Reginald Beck) and appears
on screen as a courtroom attorney, 1951's The Long Dark Hall opens with two
brutal, night-shrouded murders in rapid succession, priming the audience for
what promises to be a tasty serving of Brit-noir. Regrettably, with the
identity of the murderer openly revealed in the first scene and the wrong man
hastily arrested for the crime, it tailspins into a mediocre courtroom drama
with a crushingly dissatisfying denouement. Seldom has a film been quite so
severely undermined by such an incredulously vapid wrap-up, one so abrupt in
fact that you have to wonder if they misplaced the last dozen pages of the
script, forcing them to hastily improvise!
shadowy figure who considers himself ‘an instrument of justice’ and whose name
we never learn (Anthony Dawson) is stalking the streets of London murdering
showgirls. When Rose Mallory (Patricia Wayne) is found dead, the finger of
suspicion points to Arthur Groome (Rex Harrison), a respectable married man who
was having a troubled affair with her. Standing trial with only circumstantial
evidence to convict him, Groome's efforts to play down his relationship with
Rose make him look ever more guilty. Convinced of his innocence and prepared to
overlook his infidelity, Groome's wife Mary (Lilli Palmer) remains stoically at
his side throughout. But the murderer has another agenda and, finagling a
meeting with Mary outside the court one afternoon, he begins to worm his way
into her trust.
Long Dark Hall was scripted by Nunnally Johnson and W.E. Fairchild from an
Edgar Lustgarten novel, "A Case to Answer", its story relayed
through extended flashbacks as a writer researches material for his new book.
Structured as such, one could take issue with several blatant plot anomalies
born thereof, but the real problem is that in laying all its cards on the table
from the get go and failing to keep an ace up its sleeve, beyond the question
of how – or if – Groome will escape his predicament, in terms of suspense the
movie has nowhere to go. Which is a bit of a shame because there are some very
fine, committed performances on the show here. Rex Harrison imbues the
beleaguered Groome with sufficient enough self-reproach over the whole sorry
business that in spite of his flawed judgement one can't help but root for him;
this was an era when the crime of murder carried the death sentence, yet he blithely
continues to play economical with the truth. As good as Harrison is though,
it's Anthony Dawson who snares the most memorable scene in the film. Arriving
at the Groome residence in the midst of a thunderstorm and welcomed in by Mary,
his charming facade slips away and he makes unwelcome advances on her. Wreathed
in menace, the whole sequence is lit and shot to perfection. Dawson, whose best
films in a long career were those in which he portrayed shifty and despicable
rogues (Dr. No, Dial M for Murder, Curse of the Werewolf), was never more
intimidating on screen than he is in this scene. The ever-dependable Raymond
Huntley is on excellent form as the investigating officer and there are fairly
brief but memorable appearances by a boyish Michael Medwin and dear old Ballard
Berkeley (in another of his policeman turns, promoted this time round to
Superintendent). Also showcased here is the film debut of Jill Bennett, who
gets but a single line of dialogue before falling victim to Dawson's knife.
spite of its deficiencies, if one can forgive the painfully weak ending, The
Long Dark Hall makes for entertaining and undemanding enough post-Sunday-luncheon
fare. And if nothing else there's curiosity value to be found in the fact the
film represents one of the cruellest examples of art imitating life: When it
was being made Harrison and Palmer were husband and wife and no doubt still recovering
from the strain placed on their marriage by his fling a couple of years earlier
with actress Carol Landis, who’d committed suicide when the relationship hit
the rocks. Palmer supported Harrison throughout that whole ordeal. One imagines
it wasn't too difficult for Harrison to conjure up the desperately forlorn and
contrite expression on Groome's face as he stands in the dock.
film has been released on DVD in the UK as part of Network Distributing's
ongoing 'The British Film' collection. Presented in 1.37:1 ratio, it's a
nice transfer from the original film elements. The sole supplement is a short
gallery of international poster art and lobby cards.
Adapted fairly faithfully from Shaun Hutson's celebrated
novel of the same name, upon its release in 1988 director J.P. Simon’s Slugs slunk
comfortably into the subgenre of "nature gone crazy" frighteners
which over the years had found mankind besieged by worms, spiders, rats, ants,
frogs, bees and, er, rabbits (no, really!). And, just as the best of them had
it, Slugs’ beasties weren't of the common or garden kind, they were of the
supersized, extra squishy variety...with teeth…oh, and a taste for human flesh.
The inhabitants of a small American town – the site of a
former dumping ground for toxic waste – fall victim to a nightmarish contagion
of slugs and it's up to Council Health Inspector Mike Brady (Michael Garfield)
to sort it out. He quickly learns that not only are they deadly but that
they've contaminated the fresh water system. With the mutilated dead bodies of
townsfolk piling up and the authorities dismissing Brady's outlandish theories,
he turns to scientist John Foley (Santiago Alvarez) for help. Foley concocts an
efficacious amalgam of chemicals he believes will destroy them and the two men
set off to locate the slugs' breeding ground in the sewers.
J.P. Simon is better known to connoisseurs of terror cinema
as Spaniard Juan Piquer Simón, whose most notorious celluloid
offering was crazed 1982 slasher Pieces. Slugs sacrifices the
inherent sleaze factor of that film and doesn’t even attempt to match its
infamous ultra-gory effects. But what the two do share in common is
that the performances of the participants are uniformly risible and both films
are hampered by truly wretched dialogue, the mostly stilted delivery of which
only accentuates just how awful it is.
And yet, again as with Pieces, these frailties – if,
when attributed to a film with such a dubious pedigree as Slugs, they can
even be called frailties – add a welcome vein of unintentional humour.
Take, for example, this early dialogue exchange between
Brady and his wife when she draws his attention to some slugs in the flowerbeds
Him: Jesus Christ, those things are big!
Her: I told you they were big.
Him: Big? They're gigantic!!
He reaches down to touch one and recoils.
Him: Damned thing bit me!
Her: What kind of a slug bites someone?
Him: I don't know, but he's living in your garden!!
Slugs’ functionality as a "horror film" is
understandably subjective, being directly proportionate to one's feelings about
the titular gastropods. Let's face it, they aren't scary, or even intimidating
for that matter; never mind run, you could stroll away from them.
However, what most people do probably deem them to be is pretty repulsive. And
on that score Simón employs his cast of thousands to admirably
I want to start this review by saying right out that if
you have a particular interest in the Cinemascope movies of the mid-1950’s, and
if you are a film soundtrack fan, especially the music of composer Bernard
Herrmann, you want the new Blu-Ray of “Garden of Evil” (1954) from Twilight
Time. I can’t remember the last time I had such a good time watching a film and
going through the special features provided on this disc.
It’s not that “Garden of Evil” is such a great flick.
It’s not. It tries to be a profound examination of men’s lust for gold and a
beautiful woman, but ends up at best being a melodramatic potboiler that’s long
on talk and short on action. “If the world were made of gold, I guess men would
die for a handful of dirt,” Gary Cooper says at the end of the film. It’s a
great line. It sounds like something Bogart could have said at the end of
“Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” But the script by Frank Fenton (based on a
story by Fred Frieberger and William Tunberg) lacks the depth of the John
Huston classic. Nevertheless, “Garden of Evil” is still a highly enjoyable
Cooper plays Hooker, an American adventurer stranded in
Puerto Miguel, Mexico when the boat that was taking him to the California gold
fields develops engine trouble. Stranded along with him are fellow passengers Richard
Widmark, who plays Fiske, a card sharp, and Cameron Mitchell as Luke Daly, a
young hot head, who thinks he’s tough and good with a gun. The three Americans are
basically stuck with each other in Puerto Miguel as they try to figure out what
they’re going to do in Mexico while waiting six weeks for the boat’s engine to
That question is quickly answered in a cantina when Fiske
starts to tell Daly’s fortune using a deck of cards and holds up a red queen. Who
should walk in at that particular moment? None other than the red-headed queen
of Fox’s 1950s Cinemascope productions herself—Susan Hayward as Leah Fuller.
She storms into the place (as Hayward was often prone to do), saying she’ll pay
$2,000 in gold to any man who will come with her up into the mountains to
rescue her husband, who is trapped in a gold mine. Only one of the Mexican’s in
the bar, Vicente (Victor Manuel Mendoza) takes her up on her offer. The others are
too afraid of the Apaches up there. But our three intrepid Americanos can’t
resist the $2,000 and the fiery redhead who’s offering it and agree to go along
The journey is long and arduous. Hayward takes them up a
dizzying mountain trail that has a cliff with a drop of a thousand feet, give
or take a mile or two. Art directors Edward Fitzgerald and Lyle Wheeler came up
with some fantastic matte paintings for these scenes. The vistas that spread
out on the vast Cinemascope screen are breathtaking and add a weird touch of
fantasy to the film. I couldn’t help thinking of the scenes from the old Tarzan
movies, when the ape-man and his companions were climbing the Mutia Escarpment.
The use of the matte paintings to enhance the natural scenery of the Guanajuato,
Mexico location, I suspect was deliberate, to establish a demarcation between
the everyday world of Puerto Miguel and the mysterious Garden of Evil, where
the mine is located. The place was given its name by an old priest who, I
presume, knew about things like good and evil.
They arrive at the mine after several days’ journey and
find Leah’s husband, John Fuller (Hugh Marlowe), still alive. They dig him out
and set his broken leg in a splint. You’d think he’d be grateful, but it turns
out he’s a jealous insecure man, suspicious of the guys who came to his aid. He
thinks they want his gold and his wife. He’s partly right about that. Luke Daly
has already made unwanted advances and had to be knocked into submission by
Hooker. And neither Fiske nor Hooker have failed to notice Leah’s stunning
beauty, although they are more gentlemanly about it. Widmark as Fiske plays it
cynical, but in the end, he shows he’s not the cad he pretends to be and makes
a noble gesture on her behalf.
Cooper as Hooker, of course, is the upright man of honor
as always. At age 54 he was in a peak period of his career. He seemed to get
better as he got older. In films of that period such as “Vera Cruz,” “High
Noon,” and “Man of the West,” he gave some of his best performances, showing
that unusual combination of seasoned leather toughness and vulnerability. He
could do more with a squint or a twitch of the mouth than most other actors
could do with a page of dialogue. He dominates scene after scene just with his
mere presence, despite the star power of his co-stars.
Once the characters are finally all together at the mine,
the potboiler plot kicks in and the film gets a bit tedious, until smoke signal
appear on the rim and the Apaches move in. The rest of the story concerns
itself with the escape back through the mountains with Apaches in pursuit. Who
will make it? Who will die? And who ends up with Susan Hayward?
Watching Hayward, Widmark, and Cooper play against each
other is the kind of movie-going experience that cannot be equaled today. Veteran
director Henry Hathaway made good use of the wide Cinemascope lenses, shooting many
long takes with a stationary camera, filming the actors as though it was a stage
production. As film historian Nick Redman says in the Blu-ray’s commentary
track, by this time the studio had started using four-track magnetic tape to
record sound and there are moments that almost seem as if the actors are there
Not the most beloved entry in Alfred Hitchcock's
cinematic oeuvre – by either audiences in general or the director himself –
1939's Jamaica Inn (based on a Daphne du Maurier novel first
published three years earlier) is nevertheless a serviceable enough piece of
drama, which perhaps finds its most ideal place nowadays as an undemanding
rainy Sunday afternoon programmer.
Following the death of her mother, Mary Yellen (Maureen
O'Hara) travels from Ireland to England intending to take up residence with her
relatives at their Cornish hostelry the Jamaica Inn. After an unexpected
detour, which on face value proves beneficial when she makes the acquaintance
of local squire and magistrate Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton), Mary
arrives at her destination to find her browbeaten Aunt Patience (Maria Ney)
living in fear of a tyrannical husband, the brutish Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks).
It also transpires that the Inn is the refuge of a gang of cutthroats – of
which Merlyn is ringleader – who orchestrate shipwrecks along the
perilous coastline, murdering in cold blood any surviving crew and plundering
the cargo. When the gang set about lynching one of their own, James 'Jem'
Trehearne (Robert Newton), who's been lining his own pockets with the spoils,
Mary saves his life and together they flee into the night, eventually turning
to Pengallan for help. But Mary soon discovers neither Trehearne nor Pengallan
are what they first appear…
Extremist spoilerphobes who've not seen Jamaica Inn needn't
get too riled by the revelation that Pengallan is the film's principal
malefactor, since it's a card Hitchcock lays face up on the table very early in
the proceedings. Some might suggest too early, but the fun derived
from this stratagem is the discomfort that escalates as we the audience,
knowing he's a bad egg, watch our hero and heroine mistake him for a paragon of
virtue, erroneously placing their trust in the very man they’re trying to bring
Its screenplay having been penned by Sidney Gilliat and
co-credited to Hitchcock’s secretary Joan Harrison, author Daphne du Maurier
was reputedly dissatisfied with the changes made to her novel, and indeed the
resulting picture as a whole. And in many respects Jamaica Inn doesn't
really feel like "An Alfred Hitchcock Film" at all, not only because
it was rare for him to tackle period drama but also due to the fact the
performances are so atypically theatrical, certainly more so than in any other
of his pictures that I can think of. The ripest ham of the bunch is
unquestionably Charles Laughton, who also co-produced and so held considerable
sway over the production – for example, he drafted in J.B. Priestley
to finesse his dialogue – and for my money the actor pitched his
performance completely wrong. What the story cries out for but desperately
lacks is a strong arch-villain and, where Pengallan ought to be a festering
pool of corruption and depravity, the conceited air, sly sideways glances,
snide smirking and ludicrously fashioned eyebrows that garnish Laughton's
portrayal, he's more pantomime rascal than anything even remotely threatening.
Which isn't to say there's nothing to enjoy about his performance. He
rapaciously chews on the scenery, shamelessly thieving one's attention every
time he's on screen – even when he's background in a shot – and his lascivious
designs on Mary are queasily unsettling. It's merely that, in the context of
this particular story, I consider the campy approach was misjudged.
Continuing with the subject of villainy, after the
initial, impressively discomfiting scenes in which it looks as if Merlyn is
going to be a despicable force to be reckoned with, the character is revealed
to be Pengallan's puppet and regrettably loses some of his edge; later on there
are even attempts to turn him into a figure of pity. Perhaps the most
interesting of the cutthroats is Emlyn Williams as Harry the Peddler, whose
soft whistling as he goes about his felonious work imbues him with quiet
menace, though he's sadly a tad underused.
On the plus side though, Maureen O'Hara is spirited and
ravishing as the heroine of the piece; one can hardly blame Pengallan for
wanting to truss her up and take her home! And those most familiar with Robert
Newton in his legendary performance as the bewhiskered Long John Silver in
Byron Haskin's 1950 take on Treasure Island may be as taken aback as
I at the youthful and slightly effeminate good looks the actor exhibits here,
however his performance is admirable.
Having stated that Jamaica Inn doesn't feel like
a Hitchcock film, there are still some nice ‘Hitchcockian’ flourishes in
evidence. Notable is a sequence in which Mary wakes beside a sleeping Jem and,
espying a savage blade lodged in the sand within reach of his hand, tries to
slip away without rousing him. All the same, the scenario isn't milked to its
full potential, at least not in the same way similar moments are so
nail-bitingly structured in the director's other works.
The Warner Archive has released a Blu-ray edition of director Vincente Minnelli's classic 1950 comedy "Father of the Bride". The movie's delights haven't faded a bit with the passing of the years and its premise is as timely as ever- namely, that planning a wedding is a major pain in the butt for everyone involved. In this case Spencer Tracy is the long-suffering dad, Stanley T. Banks, who lives an uppercrust lifestyle complete with live-in maid. Still, he isn't so wealthy that he can spend with wild abandon. When his teenage daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) announces she is engaged to heartthrob Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor), everyone's lives are turned topsy-turvy. Predictably, Stanley feels Buckley isn't quite worthy of having his daughter as his wife, a common prejudice experienced by about 90% of fathers worldwide who find themselves in the same situation. However, his wife Ellie (Joan Bennett) is enthusiastic about the wedding and goes all-out in assisting her starry-eyed daughter in ensuring that the big day is all she dreams it will be. Before long Stanley finds his leisure time is a thing of the past as a rapidly escalating number of chores (and expenses) relating to the wedding begin to snowball. The witty, Oscar-nominated screenplay, based on the novel by Edward Streeter, allows Stanley to narrate his own tale of woe, wallowing in self-pity all along the way and portraying himself as the ultimate victim: he's pressed to spend a king's ransom on the wedding even while his own opinions are consistently dismissed by those around him. Tracy, also Oscar-nominated, plays the part to the hilt with a slow-burn temper occasionally rising to the level of a full-blown tantrum. Before long the old adage is proven out that if a family can survive planning the wedding then the union may actually succeed. Liz Taylor radiates almost surrealistic beauty as the bride-to-be and the supporting cast is top notch with old pros Billie Burke and Leo G. Carroll joining in the fun. The only weak link is Don Taylor as the groom. The character is so ridiculously polite and wimpy that it defies belief that Stanley would view him as a threat to his daughter in any way. Under the direction of Vincente Minnelli, "Father of the Bride" remains an extremely funny film that doesn't strive for belly laughs but, rather, concentrates on a consistent string of low-key, highly amusing situations that will ring true to all viewers. The film's popularity resulted in a successful sequel, "Father's Little Dividend" and also inspired a very good remake (and sequel) starring Steve Martin in the 1990s.
The Blu-ray edition looks great and includes the original trailer and vintage newsreel footage of Elizabeth Taylor's real-life wedding as well as a visit to the set by President Harry S. Truman.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Second Time Around” is a 1960 comedy-western starring the late, great Debbie
Reynolds as a city widow with two children who decides to follow her and her
late husband’s dream of living out West. A friend of her deceased husband tells
her to come with the kids out to Arizona Territory where she can work in his
general store. She goes out alone at first only to find that by the time she
gets there the friend who owned the store has been killed. The sheriff (Ken
Scott) seems more interested in picking Debbie up literally at the train
station and carrying her off to the saloon than catching the killer. He tells
her that the store owner was killed by a man with a tattoo of a dagger on his
arm. Dum de dum dum. Remember that.
tries to find work in town but ends up working out on Thelma Ritter’s ranch.
You remember Thelm-a she was in dozens of films back in the fifties/sixties
playing the role of the good friend/landlady/confidante who always befriends the
female lead. We also meet Steve Forrest as a slick gambler; Andy Griffith, as
the bashful 35 year old son of a lady ranch owner (he’s more like Gomer than
Andy in this one); and Juliet Prowse as Steve Forrest’s girlfriend.
a nice cast and director Vincent Sherman does a pretty good job keeping the lightweight
story based on a Richard Emery Roberts novel moving. (Screenplay is credited to
Oscar Saul and Cecil Dan Hansen—a pseudonym for Clair Huffaker). There are two
main conflicts in the plot. The first is a romantic triangle between Debbie,
Andy, and Steve. Sharpster Steve keeps getting the best of poor Andy all
through the story, but Andy keeps plugging along. At one point Steve salts a
river with gold nuggets and gets Debbie to go out there with him and prospect
for gold. His main intention is to get her to fall in the water so she’ll have
to take all her clothes off to dry. Forced to spend the night wrapped in a
blanket, Debbie sort of melts to Steve’s charm but of course not all the way.
It’s 1961, after all.
an irate Andy rides out there in the morning and socks Steve on the jaw, and
when Debbie finds out that Steve salted the river she slaps both of them in the
face and walks off in a huff. Of course you know what happens next. Steve socks
Andy and he falls in the river. It’s that kind of comedy, folks.
second conflict is between Debbie and crooked sheriff Ken Scott. She starts a
recall petition to force him to run for re-election. She’s convinced he knows
more than he’s saying about her dead husband’s dead friend. Scott calls in
reinforcements to help him stop her, one of whom turns out to be a guy with a
tattoo of a dagger on his arm. Dum-de-dum-dum. And somehow it is very
satisfying to see that this particular baddie is played by none other than the
great Timothy Carey. Carey was an actor whose weird looks and hulking size made
him a villain extraordinaire in such films as “One Eyed Jacks,” “Revolt in the
Big House,” “The Killing,” and dozens more. He’s just as scary in this film. In
cahoots with the sheriff he and two other no goods rob a bank and steal the $200
Debbie just borrowed.
mad (that was basically Debbie’s thing, wasn’t it?) she gets people to sign the
recall petition and runs for sheriff herself. Guess what? This inexperienced,
tenderfoot female, who had never fired a gun before, and could barely lift feed
sacks into a wagon when she first got there, wins the election. You just
couldn’t keep Debbie down back in the sixties.
ridiculous as it sounds this is actually an entertaining 99 minutes. It’s
almost a time capsule of movies from that era—the kind of movie housewives and
mothers would go with their kids to watch at a summer afternoon matinee. You
could learn more about what the Sixties were really like from watching this
movie than you could watching 20 episodes of “Mad Men.”
a 20th Century Fox Cinemascope presentation, and the sound was
recorded using Fox’s then state-of-the-art stereophonic sound system. I don’t
know the technical aspects of how they recorded movie sound back then, but in some
ways it was a much better system than the current, digital high def soundtracks
in vogue today. It almost seems like they only used right, left and center
microphones to pick up all the sound. Hence the soundstage on my Bose Cinemate
II Home Theater was incredibly lifelike—much like watching a play on stage. You
could actually hear the dialog. Even more vibrant, without being intrusive, was
Gerald Fried’s music score.
the movie gets its title from the song that Bing Crosby sung in Fox’s “High
Time” which was released the same year. Henry Mancini did the scoring for “High
Time” but the producers wanted a tune for Bing to croon and hired Sammy Cahn
and James Van Heusen to write it. Nobody sings it this time around—it just
swells up suddenly for the first time in the middle of the movie during a love
scene between Debbie and Steve. I guess Fox wanted its money’s worth from the
DVD from 20th’s burn on demand Cinema Archive division has good
picture quality along with superb sound, but no special bonus features. But that’s
okay, seeing Tim Carey in a comedy was bonus enough.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Lionsgate:
Relive the imaginative and compelling cult classic, The
Man Who Fell to Earth, when the Limited Collector’s Edition arrives on Blu-ray
Combo Pack (plus Digital HD) January 24 from Lionsgate. International icon
David Bowie stars in his unforgettable debut role as an alien who has
ventured to Earth on a mission to save his planet from a catastrophic drought.
In honor of David Bowie’s legacy, the limited collector’s edition Blu-ray Combo
Pack includes never-before-seen interviews, brand new artwork, a 72-page bound
book, press booklet, four art cards and a mini poster. Hailed as “the most
intellectually provocative genre film of the 1970s” by Time Out, the remastered The
Man Who Fell to Earth Limited Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Combo Pack will
be available for the suggested retail price of $34.99.
Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) is a humanoid
alien who comes to Earth from a distant planet on a mission to take water back
to his home planet.
BLU-RAY/DVD/DIGITAL HD SPECIAL FEATURES
· David Bowie Interview
– French TV 1977
· New Interview
with Costume Designer May Routh Featuring Original Costume Sketches
· New Interview
with Stills Photographer David James Featuring Behind-the-Scenes Stills
· New Interview
with fan Sam Taylor-Johnson
· New Interview
with Producer Michael Deeley
· New “The Lost
Soundtracks” Featurette, Featuring Interviews with Paul Buckmaster and Author
· Interview with
· Interview with
Writer Paul Mayersberg
· Interview with
Cinematographer Tony Richmond
· Interview with
Director Nicolas Roeg
David Bowie Basquiat, Labyrinth, The
in Black, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
By 1959 Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were at the peak of the popularity with movie audiences. Genuine superstars, the larger-than-life actors were among the first to exert their independence from the major studios by forming their own production companies and becoming masters of their own destinies. Between them they produced and sometime starred in some excellent films. Among the most underrated of their numerous on-screen team-ups was their joint production of "The Devil's Disciple", based on George Bernard Shaw's scathing satire based in New England during the American Revolution. The film was criticized in some quarters (including the New York Times) for taking some severe liberties with Shaw's original work in order to elaborate the action sequences that audiences would expect to see in a Lancaster/Douglas film. Still, the movie retains the requisite wit that would have to be apparent in any adaptation of a Shaw story. The film had a troubled production history. It was in the works to be made as early as 1939. Over the years, names like Marlon Brando, Rex Harrison, Montgomery Clift and Carroll Baker had been attached to various announcements about production schedules that never materialized.When Lancaster got the film rights to the story it was announced it would go into production in 1955. By the time it all came together, Lancaster had teamed with Kirk Douglas for a joint production with Laurence Olivier now the third lead. The film was originally to be directed by Alexander Mackendrick who had recently worked with Lancaster on "Sweet Smell of Success". Shortly after filming began, Mackendrick was summarily fired. The director claimed it was because of his objection to revisions in the screenplay that emphasized action and sex over the elements that were pure Shaw. Lancaster and Douglas maintained that his release was due to their dissatisfaction with the pace of filming. In any event, Mackendrick's dismissal was good news for Guy Hamilton, the up-and-coming young British director who would go on to make four James Bond movies. As a replacement for Mackendrick, Hamilton's light touch and ability to mingle action with humor and romance made him a suitable director for this particular film.
Among the more significant changes between the play and screenplay is that the character of Rev. Anthony Anderson, played by Lancaster, has been elevated in importance to match that of Richard Dudgeon, played by Douglas. The film opens in New Hampshire village during the final days of the American Revolution. Anderson is a kindly, gentle man with a pretty young wife, Judith (Janette Scott), who tries to remain apolitical despite the momentous events taking place around him. The British under General Burgoyne (Laurence Olivier) have occupied the surrounding areas and taken harsh measures to eliminate rebel resistance. This is achieved by publicly hanging suspected rebels, sometimes on the basis of slim or mistaken evidence. When Burgoyne's men string up the father of notorious rebel Richard Dudgeon, it sets in motion a series of events that make it impossible for Rev. Anderson to remain on the political sidelines. Dudgeon, a wanted man, breaks the law by cutting down his father's body from the public square and bringing the deceased to Rev. Anderson's home. Anderson takes an instant dislike to Dudgeon because of his cynical sense of humor but agrees to bury his father with dignity in his church's graveyard. This results in tumultuous goings-on. Burgoyne orders Anderson arrested for treason but when the troops arrive at his house, Anderson is gone and Dudgeon, who is visiting, adopts his identity and is arrested in his place. This act of gallantry impresses Judith, who is already smitten by Dudgeon, as he represents the kind of dynamic man of action she secretly craves. (The fact that he looks like Kirk Douglas doesn't hurt matters.) Meanwhile, Anderson, has indeed turned into a man of action himself, engaging the British in battle. When he learns of Dudgeon's deception he begins to formulate a strategy that will ensure that Burgoyne is left with no choice but to spare Dudgeon from execution.
We won't make the case that "The Devil's Disciple" is an underrated classic but suffice it to say it has many merits and deserved a better fate from both critics and the public. Burt Lancaster may get top billing but he's saddled with a quiet, understated character throughout most of the film who comes across as a bit of a bore- at least until he takes up arms. Consequently, Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier get the lion's share of good dialogue and amusing scenes and both actors make the most of it. Douglas's interpretation of Dudgeon is as a man who scoffs at death and has a cock-sure determination that somehow he'll survive any situation. He also boasts a gallows humor that is more than matched by Olivier, who admires his intended victim and extends him every courtesy even as he prepares the gallows for his hanging. Olivier's bon mots are priceless, whether it's deploring the aristocrats in London who have botched British military operations in the colonies or simply chastising his lunkhead officers (Harry Andrews gets most of the abuse). Olivier's performance is all the more impressive given the fact that in his personal life he was coping with the mental breakdown of his wife, actress Vivien Leigh. He was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Actor.
The film also boasts some creative special effects with toy soldiers used to illustrate the military situation. Helping matters along is a lush score by Richard Rodney Bennett and some impressive B&W cinematography by Jack Hildyard. While "The Devil's Disciple" isn't the best of the Lancaster/Douglas screen collaborations (for that, see "Seven Days in May"), it's a highly enjoyable romp with much to recommend about it.
Kino Lorber has released the film on Blu-ray and it's a crisp, impressive transfer. There is a bonus trailer gallery of other Lancaster and Douglas titles available from the company: "The Train", "The Scalphunters", "Cast a Giant Shadow" and "Run Silent, Run Deep" along with the theatrical trailer for "The Devil's Disciple".
On the evening of Saturday, November 29, 2003, my wife and I had the blessing
of sitting front row at Carnegie Hall’s SRO “Tribute to Harold Leventhal.” On the bill that evening were a host of the
impresario’s clients: Arlo Guthrie, Pete
Seeger, the Weavers, Leon Bibb, Theodore Bikel, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and a
score of others. Sitting near us in Carnegie’s
red plush seats I spied such colleagues and clients of Leventhal’s as Judy
Collins, the actor Alan Arkin, Paul Robeson Jr. and what seemed the entirety of
Woody Guthrie’s east coast extended family. This was going to be a night of true celebration.
For the non-cognoscenti, Harold Leventhal was, at various times in his
eighty-six years, a song-plugger for Irving Berlin, a Broadway and off-Broadway
producer, a concert promoter of domestic and international musical acts, a film
producer, a radical, and the manager and publisher of some of America’s most
noted folk music artists. The tribute
was an amazing, unforgettable evening and near the finale of the two-hour long
program, Nora Guthrie, the daughter of legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie,
brought out a reluctant Leventhal to say a few words.
Leventhal, short and stocky, bespectacled and balding, was brief and
humble in his remarks. In a predictably characteristic
attempt to swing the spotlight away from his own considerable accomplishments,
Leventhal remarked in his Bronx-inflected speaking voice that he most treasured
working alongside the people that “America should be proud of,” those rare
artists of “complete integrity” who represented the best attributes of our
country’s ideals: The Weavers, Pete
Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston and Lead Belly. In the program book given to patrons that
night, there was a beautiful resurrected quote courtesy of Pete Seeger. Having been blacklisted and pilloried by
enemies for more than a half a century, Seeger – with Leventhal’s empathizing
guidance - managed to not only to endure the brickbats but handily outlast all his
detractors. “He has done something extraordinary for The Weavers,” Seeger said
of his old friend. “He risked his own
head and believed in us when nobody else did. You might say he believed in America.”
Woody Guthrie, the famed dust bowl balladeer and composer of America’s
unofficial national anthem, “This Land is Your Land,” was not a client of
Leventhal’s in the manner that Seeger was. Guthrie was not a stage performer in any traditional sense; he was a
writer – and a very prolific one – who would often appear on radio, on stage,
at union rallies, and hootenannies. But he
was just as likely to be found playing his guitar on the street, in derelict
saloons, on New York City’s subway system, or to fellow sailors of the merchant
marine. Guthrie’s first novel, the
occasionally self-mythologizing pre-Beat era autobiography Bound for Glory, was published by E.P. Dutton and Co. in 1943.
That book would inadvertently inspire a new generation of folk music
artists, not the least of whom was a nineteen year old fledgling folksinger
named Bob Dylan. Dylan, by his own
admission, became a “Woody Guthrie jukebox” after reading through a friend’s
copy of the book. He immediately abandoned
the coffeehouses of Minneapolis to visit Guthrie at Greystone Hospital in
Morris Plains, New Jersey, where the dying singer was institutionalized. Dylan’s first major concert engagement
following his signing with Columbia Records in the late autumn of 1961 was at Manhattan’s
Town Hall in April of 1963. That concert
was, of course, fittingly produced by Harold Leventhal.
Harold Leventhal had been familiar with Woody Guthrie’s words and
music since the 1940s; he had seen the displaced Okie singer-guitarist perform
at various left-wing functions and hootenannies during this time. He had also been familiar with Guthrie’s
humorous “Woody Sez” columns that had appeared sporadically in the Communist Daily Worker newspaper. But it was only after agreeing to manage Pete
Seeger’s new quartet The Weavers on the eve of the McCarthy-era in 1950 that
Leventhal would become a personal friend of Guthrie, who was already beginning
to demonstrate signs of Huntington’s disease.
In the early winter of 1956, with Guthrie’s health continuing to deteriorate,
Leventhal helped found The Guthrie Children’s Trust Fund, organized to get
Woody’s anarchic business affairs in some semblance of order. It was their ambition that Guthrie’s children
might benefit from the small stream of publishing and record sale royalties
that were, at long last, beginning to trickle in. It was Leventhal who commissioned Millard
Lampell, a blacklisted writer and colleague of Guthrie’s, to skillfully weave
together a program of Guthrie’s prose and songs into a program titled From California to the New York Island. Many of the spoken-word recitations from this
early stage play had been cribbed from Guthrie’s novel Bound for Glory.
The idea of bringing an adaptation of Guthrie’s Bound for Glory to the stage had long been in the making. In the late autumn of 1961, the folk music
magazine Sing Out! made a passing
mention of Leventhal’s recent acquisition of "the musical drama rights” to
the book. This was exciting news, with
such folk music world luminaries as musicologist Alan Lomax and promoter Israel
G. Young aggressively promoting the casting of Guthrie protégé Ramblin Jack
Elliott in the role of America’s premier ballad-maker. It was not surprising that Leventhal first saw
Bound for Glory as a stage production;
he had already served as producer of several off-Broadway offerings as Will
Geer’s From Mark Twain to Lynn Riggs
(1952-53) and Rabindranath Tagore’s King
of the Dark Chamber.
It’s not entirely clear why a stage production of Bound for Glory was not realized. The folk-pop music craze of 1963-1964 provided a fertile atmosphere in
which such a project could be fulfilled. Woody Guthrie, now mostly out of sight due to the devastating effects of
the incurable neurological disease Huntington’s Chorea was – perhaps for the
first time in his life - no longer simply a singer of the fringe. He was now and incontestably America’s most
iconic folk music hero. Guthrie would
finally succumb to the malady in October 1967.
Ed Robbin, an editor of the west coast Communist newspaper People’s World, first met Woody Guthrie
in Los Angeles in 1938, during the time the folksinger had a fifteen minute a
day radio program on the politically-liberal station KFVD. Guthrie’s program was one of the station’s most
popular: he quickly cultivated an appreciative audience of dispossessed and
homesick Okies and Arkies. These were
Woody’s people, the poor folk who had fled their dirt ravaged homes and farms in
the dust bowl for the promised “Garden of Eden” that was California. It was Robbin’s suggestion that Guthrie
contribute folksy, humorous Will Rogers-style commentaries to the otherwise staid
People’s World. In 1975 when Bound for Glory was to finally commence production as an ambitious
film project for United Artists, Robbin reminisced that Harold Leventhal had
long “been trying to put together a story of Woody's life that would work for a
movie script. Three different scripts were written over a period of seven
Having long been an amateur scholar and collector of all things Woody
Guthrie, seven years ago I was fortunate enough to acquire an antiquarian copy
of one of the two ultimately unproduced Bound
for Glory screenplays. The one
hundred and thirty-six page screenplay I found, Bound for Glory: the Life and Times of Woody Guthrie, had been
written by William Kronick and Oliver Hailey. Kronick was principally known as a writer-director of documentary films,
Hailey a playwright and television scribe who would contribute scripts to such
1970s shows as McMillan & Wife
and Bracken’s World. With only the slightest information to go on,
I tried my best to research exactly when this unproduced screenplay was first
commissioned. Happily, a visit to the
newspaper archive at the New York Public Library was successful.
In the April 23, 1968 issue of the Los Angeles TimesI uncovered the briefest
of mentions, that Hollywood producer "Harold Hecht has signed playwright
Oliver Hailey to write the screenplay for Bound
for Glory, film biography of folk singer- composer Woody
Guthrie." This bit of news was later confirmed by the actor David
Carradine, who would eventually – if only by default - land the role of Woody
Guthrie. In a 1976 interview with the New York Times, the eccentric, self-satisfied
star of television’s Kung Fu series
recalled, “About eight years ago this producer, Harold Hecht, was going to make
Bound for Glory, based on Woody’s
autobiography, and my agent sent me to see him.” Carradine admitted this meeting at Hecht’s
“palatial mansion in Stone Canyon” didn’t go particularly well. There was a clash of personalities with
neither man having much use for the other.
In any event the proposed Hecht/Hailey/Kronick film project was soon abandoned. Robert Getchell (scripter of Martin
Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
(1974), would be the lone screenwriter to eventually deliver a workable
storyline. Robert F. Blumofe, who would
co-produce Bound for Glory with
Leventhal, offered that Getchell was hired because "early scripts, written
by friends of Guthrie, were too broad, too close to the man.” "You
can't tell all of Woody's life," Blumofe told the Los Angeles Times, who suggested the process to bring Bound for Glory to the big screen took
nearly four years. This
remembrance corresponds to Harold Leventhal's own assessment. Leventhal conceded there were serious and
ultimately fatal issues with the pre-Getchell screenplay drafts under
consideration: "Our trouble was that we were trying to cover too much
ground... When we finally decided to center our story on the two or three
key years of Woody's development, around 1938, then the whole thing came
In April of 1975 Arthur Krim of United Artists gave director Hal Ashby
(Shampoo, The Last Detail, Harold and
Maude) the green light to get Bound
for Glory into production. This gesture was a display of great confidence
in Ashby as helmsman, since the role of Woody Guthrie had not yet been cast. The original casting process was an
interesting one, rife with unrealized possibilities. Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson were reportedly
both offered the role. The former balked
due to his inability to play the guitar in even the most rudimentary manner, the
latter choosing instead to star opposite a hero, Marlon Brando, in The Missouri Breaks.
"Jorgensen went abroad and came back a broad!" The joke is indicative of the type of humor, sarcasm and outright condemnation that greeted the world's most legendary individual to have undergone a gender transformation. Jorgensen's name has largely been lost to obscurity in recent years but if you grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, she was a household name. She was born a male, George Jorgensen, in 1926 and had a fairly normal childhood- except for the fact that from a very early age George was haunted by the feeling that he should have been born female. We're not talking about homosexual behavior or tendencies, rather, a deep-seated belief that only becoming an actual female through a surgical procedure could bring him happiness. Jorgensen got his wish when he underwent the procedure in Denmark and returned home as a "she". Predictably the media went into a frenzy and Jorgensen decided that if she couldn't live in obscurity, she would capitalize on her new-found fame. She wrote a best-selling autobiography and transformed her experiences into a campy night club routine before passing away from cancer in 1989.
Jorgensen's book became the basis for The Christine Jorgensen Story, a sincere low-budget film made in 1970 and released by United Artists, which curiously kept its logo confined to the very last roll of the credits as though there was something shameful about a major studio releasing the movie. Jorgensen herself acted as technical adviser on the movie which makes it all the more puzzling as to why there are so many apparent embellishments and lapses from the truth. For one, Jorgensen was not the first person to undergo sex change surgery, as the film implies, although she was certainly the most prominent. The movie also tosses in quite a few plot devices and characters that appear to be wholly created for purposes of artistic license. The movie's melodramatic aspects have become grist for the mill in terms of its reputation as a camp classic. Indeed, there are plenty of unintentional laughs and some over-the-top moments by leading man John Hansen, a blonde haired pretty boy whose career went precisely nowhere after his bold decision to play the title role. Hollywood's glass ceiling on actors affiliated with gay behavior was firmly in place at the time.
Back in the 1950s, before he became a legend, filmmaker
Sam Peckinpah (“The Wild Bunch,” “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” and
“The Killer Elite”) wrote scripts for TV westerns, including “Gunsmoke,” “The
Rifleman,” and “Tombstone Territory.” His reputation grew and in 1957 he wrote his
first screenplay entitled “The Glory Guys” which was based on Hoffman Birney’s
novel, “The Dice of God.” The book was a fictional account of Custer and the
Battle of the Little Big Horn, with all names changed. The script went unproduced for almost eight
years, and in the meantime Sam had moved on, directing features including “The
Deadly Companions” (1960), “Ride the High Country” (1962) and “Major Dundee”
You would think that with that growing resume, Peckinpah
would have been able to direct anything he wanted to, but such was far from the
case. “Bloody Sam,” as he was called, affectionately by his fans, and not so
affectionately by his critics, had a way of getting into fights with the wrong
people. Arguments and disagreements with producers and studio heads were
numerous, and he acquired a reputation as a “madman” after he ran way over
budget and schedule, shooting “Major Dundee” all over locations around Durango,
Mexico. The situation on “Dundee” was so bad star Charlton Heston put up his
own money to finish the film when the suits threatened to pull the plug. And
this, even after Heston one day on set had gotten so furious with Peckinpah he
charged him on horseback with his saber. Luckily the director was on a crane
and moved out of the way.
TV and movie producers Arthur Gardner, Arnold Laven, and
Jules Levy, who had produced “The Rifleman” series, had held on to Sam’s script
for “The Glory Guys,” and by 1964 were ready to make it as a feature film. But since
he had just gotten fired from the “The Cincinnati Kid” after another dispute
over creative disagreements, they didn’t want to take a chance on Sam directing
it. Laven decided to direct it himself. It has been reported on IMDb that
Peckinpah did some work on it, but Peckinpah historians Nick Redman, Paul
Seydor and Garner Simmons, in the audio commentary included on the Twilight
Time Blu-ray, totally dispute those reports. “The Peckinpah Posse,” as they are
by now known after having done quite a few commentaries and written books about
the director, state categorically he would not even have been able physically to
be in Mexico at that time due to other commitments.
The posse members know a thing or two about Peckinpah and
yet I was mystified when they seemed surprised at the similarities between “The
Glory Guys” and “Major Dundee.” It’s pretty obvious that in many ways, “Dundee”
is a polished, more thoughtful rewrite of “The Glory Guys” by a man who by then
had eight years of TV and movie-making experience under his belt. Seydor and
Simmons also seem dismissive of “The Glory Guys,” as nothing more than an
expanded TV show, constantly pointing to clichés in both directing and writing.
It’s a bit annoying to hear these experts spouting their opinions, which seem
more aimed at impressing viewers with their knowledge, than providing any
insight into the film. Only Nick Redman seems to actually like the film, and in
my opinion there’s a lot to like.
There are constant themes and archetypes in all of
Peckinpah’s movies, even here in this early work. The abuse of power by those
in authority, friendship, loyalty, betrayal, the clean honesty of certain men
finally revealed when the chips are down, and the sad poetry of the loser are
ideas that Peckinpah would come back to again and again in his films. As “The
Glory Guys” can be seen as an early, and not completely satisfying, draft of
“Major Dundee,” so can that film be seen as the precursor to “The Wild Bunch,”
which represents the apotheosis of all of his ideas in undoubtedly his greatest
Perhaps one reason the film compares unfavorably to
“Dundee” is the cast. Chisel-jawed Tom Tryon as the lead, Captain Demas Harrod,
is no Charlton Heston. His co-star Harve Presnell was no Richard Harris, his
counterpart in “Dundee.” Senta Berger (who would star with Charlton Heston in “Dundee”)
and James Caan, however, come off rather
well. Andrew Duggan, another overly-familiar TV face, plays General Frederick
McCabe, the vainglorious stand in for George Armstrong Custer.
Peckinpah’s take on the novel and the Little Big Horn is
typically his. Don’t expect a repeat of “They Died with Their Boots On,” with Errol
Flynn fighting to the end with his troops, surrounded by hundreds of Sioux. In
fact, his script does not even include the battle at all. We see only the
aftermath from Captain Harrod’s point of view: a body-strewn battlefield with a
white stallion standing alone in the far distance, the fictional stand in for
Comanche, the only survivor of Big Horn. It’s a powerful statement and one only
an artist like Peckinpah could make. What critics often failed to understand
about him was that even though the films he made were violent and, later on,
bloody, the violence wasn’t the point. What he really wanted to show was the
Aside from the informative, if somewhat frustrating,
commentary track, Twilight Time has included a half-hour interview with Senta
Berger, who made three films with Peckinpah (“The Glory Guys,” “Major Dundee”
and “Cross of Iron” (1977). In Mike Siegel’s documentary “Passion and the
Poetry: Sam and Senta,” the actress reveals that she first met the director at
a studio function in Europe when she was just starting her career. Sam took a
liking to her and put her in the films, adding her scenes to already finished
There are other supplements including "Promoting The Glory Guys", which features international marketing materials, the original theatrical trailer and a short film about
legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe, whose work filming the locations in
Mexico in Panavision provides one of the real pleasures of the movie. While
I thought the interior shots seemed a little on the dark side, when the cameras move outside, the film comes alive. Howe’s compositions, especially in the exterior action scenes, the way
he staged the cavalry formations, the battle scene on the river, are all
masterfully done. The release includes an illustrated booklet with insightful liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
All in all, this is a
superb release, definitely a “must have.” “The Glory Guys” may not be a
masterpiece, but it is entertaining and fascinating as an early glimpse into
the creative mind of a filmmaking genius. Just make sure you watch it before you
listen to the audio commentary to avoid spoilers.
(This is a limited edition release of 3,000 units).
We’ve seen them at sci-fi or collectibles conventions
shows; some more so in England than the US. They man tables with stacks of
photos, offering autographs or pictures for a fee. In many cases their faces aren’t familiar, as
their characters wore heavy makeup or masks in their appearance in the original
“Star Wars” film. Still, even as you
approach them face-to-face some of these people still don’t ring a bell. Maybe it’s because their scenes were deleted
or they were an extra amongst many. Others, you discover are a familiar masked character and you are happy
to chat for a few moments with them, as that movie, and its two sequels (I
am only referring to the original trilogy starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher), had such a lasting impact on
1976” is a recent documentary that follows ten such actors
who, during the summer of 1976, played various roles while filming at Elstree
Studios in Borehamwood, England and on location in Tunisia. This cast is comprised of: David Prowse
(Darth Vader), Paul Blake (Greedo), John
Chapman (X Wing Pilot- Red 12- Drifter), Anthony Forrest (Fixer &
Sandtrooper), Laurie Goode(Stormtrooper & Cantina Creature), Garrick Hagon
(Biggs Darklighter) , Angus MacInnes (X-Wing Pilot), Derek Lyons (Medal Bearer-
Throne Room ), Pam Rose (Leesub Sirlin-
Cantina Character) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) (Note: Bulloch appears late in this movie, as he
joined the “Star Wars” cast during “The Empire Strikes Back” a few years later.)
The first 40 minutes or so of this piece seem rather
sluggish and confusing, as we are introduced to this large group and listen to
fairly detailed life histories. Once we
start to get into the discussion of the actual filming itself, the pace picks
up considerably and it becomes a much more interesting experience. We find out
that this was basically just another job to many of these people who had just
showed up during general casting calls. England
was a busy place for film production in the 70s and 80s and there was a very
relaxed, informal atmosphere at the studios and amongst the performers. Prowse was cast due to his large physical
frame (he was a body builder) and Jeremy Bulloch went on the advice of his half-brother,
co-producer Robert Watts. The production anecdotes are very interesting
and through it all no one had any clue that what they were involved with would
be such a phenomenon that continues to this day and probably will well into the
The after-stories are often the most interesting; many of
the cast members just continued with day work in the movies or went back to
other interests. Angus MacInnes
continued acting and ended up with Harrison Ford again in 1984’s “Witness” as
one of the crooked cops (it would have been nice if this reunion of sorts was
expanded upon); David Prowse began personal appearance tours around release of “The
Empire Strikes Back” and over time found himself on the wrong side of Lucasfilm.
Prowse alleges that whenever he would publicly inquire about unpaid royalties
from “Return of the Jedi”, Lucasfilm would tell him that the movie had yet to
turn a profit. Because of his public
criticisms, Prowse is now banned from ‘official’ “Star Wars” events, such as
Disney “Star Wars” weekends and the yearly celebrations.
When the film addresses the subject of fan conventions,
the actors discuss the caste system … those who receive on screen credit and
those who are ‘extras’. The extras
generally are viewed as opportunists. How far this feeling extends into the fan base
is another story that we really don’t get the answer to.
Although “Elstree 1976”, which was directed by Jon Spira,
has many merits that will please “Star
Wars” fans, I was disappointed that there wasn’t more emphasis on
behind-the-scenes photos and footage of the actual shoot, not recreated scenes
with the interviewees. It’s probable that rights issues prevented this from
occurring. Smatterings of clips from “Star
Wars” are shown but they are all too brief. Additional visual materials would have considerably enhanced this
documentary. Also, with a title like “Elstree
1976”, I would have appreciated more detail about the legendary studio itself
and some discussions of famous films that were shot there and how the studio
has impacted the area of Borehamwood, especially in the wake of other UK-based
studios that are no longer around. There is also a missed opportunity in that
the documentary makers did not capitalize on the fact that Elstree has a
prop/mechanics shop that still houses artifacts from the original film such as
matte paintings, prop light sabers, original droid blueprints, etc. A visit to
this facility would have greatly enhanced the viewing experience.
The video release from FilmRise reviewed for this article is a special
edition Blu-ray. One
of the special features does have a few of these actors returning to the empty
Stage 7 where the Millennium Falcon was built for the hanger scenes. Lacking any compelling visuals, the tour
around an empty set rings somewhat hollow. Other special features include some
comments from the cast that were cut out from the final version of the
documentary, a trailer and a director’s commentary.
It should be noted that this is a grassroots production
funded by a Kickstarter campaign, so viewers should keep in mind that the
director had limited resources. As such, it’s an ambitious undertaking that,
despite the film’s shortcomings, provides an interesting look at aspects of the
“Star Wars” franchise that have never been explored from this particular angle.
Time Life has released the retro TV comedy series "Hee Haw" as a 14-DVD boxed set. Here is the official press release:
Pickin’ and grinnin’, singin’ and spinnin’ tall tales and
corny jokes, the citizens of Kornfield Kounty landed on television in 1969 with
the arrival of HEE HAW as a summer replacement series for The Smothers Brothers
Comedy Hour. With a cast of
down-to-earth characters including Minnie Pearl, Grandpa Jones and Archie
Campbell, knee-slapping comedic zingers, and jaw-dropping musical performances,
the comedy-variety show, co-hosted by Buck Owens and Roy Clark, captivated the country. In 1971, after two successful years, CBS
dropped the show in an effort to “de-countrify” the network’s programming;
however, it was quickly picked up and aired for the next 21 years, making HEE
HAW the longest-running weekly syndicated original series in television
In a new-to-retail set, HEE HAW: THE COLLECTOR’S EDITION
offers 14 HEE-larious discs featuring some of the best sketches and brightest
stars from the series’ impressive 23-year history, rarely seen since
their original broadcasts. Across 21
vintage hours, viewers can sit back and be entertained by korny klassics such
as “PFFT! You Were Gone,” “Gordie’s General Store,” “Board Fence,” “Cornfield”
and “Moonshiners” -- as well as the
all-time favorites “Rindercella” and “Trigonometry.” And because HEE HAW was a favorite stop for
country music’s biggest stars and legends, THE COLLECTOR’S EDITION also
features hundreds of classic performances from Hall of Famers at the peaks of
their careers including Tammy Wynette ("Stand By Your Man"), George
Jones ("White Lightnin"), Merle Haggard (“Okie From Muskogee"), Waylon
Jennings ("Me and Bobby McGee"), Johnny Cash ("I Walk the Line”),
Jerry Lee Lewis ("Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On"), Tanya Tucker ("Delta
Dawn"), and Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty ("Louisiana Woman,
Mississippi Man") and too many others to name.
Though the last “new” episode aired in 1992, this 14-disc
collector’s edition perfectly captures the reasons why HEE HAW was one of the
longest-running and best loved television variety shows of all time!
New interviews with show regulars including Roy Clark,
Lulu Roman, George Lindsey, Charlie McCoy and Jim and John Hager
Additional bonus programming includes all-time favorite
comedy from the early years in “Hee Haw Laffs,” featuring “Board Fence,”
“Doctor Spot,” “Old Philosopher,” “Haystack,” “Schoolhouse” and other
Wagner is a college student trying to end the relationship with his pregnant girlfriend
in “A Kiss Before Dying,” recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Joanne
Woodward is Dorothy “Dorie” Kingship, the girlfriend who falls in love with
handsome Bud Corliss (Wagner). Bud is a local guy attending college on the GI
Bill while living at home with his doting widowed mother played by Mary Astor. Dorie
is deeply in love with Bud, believing they will get married and live happily
ever after. However, Bud has a more sinister view of the relationship as he is more
interested in Dorie’s inheritance than her love. His greed graduates to a plot
to murder Dorie when he realizes Dorie’s father will disinherit her upon
learning of her pregnancy.
first attempt to murder Dorie by poisoning her with chemicals he steals from
the college chemistry department is a failure. He researches the proper
chemicals in the college library and, like a bank robber, cases the locked room
where the chemicals are stored. He also writes a fake suicide note and tells
Dorie the pills are vitamins for the baby and she must take them that night.
She agrees and says goodnight to Bud, who mails the suicide note. The next day
Bud seats himself at his usual desk in class expecting to hear news about Dorie
when she walks in.
shocked Bud scrambles unsuccessfully to retrieve the suicide note, but immediately
comes up with a new plan. He tells her they are going to get married at city
hall which is everything Dorie wants to hear. Arriving early, they head for the
observation area on the roof where the film’s most dramatic sequence is set in
a foreshadowing of “Psycho” with the relationship between Bud and his mother as
well as the involvement of the intended victim’s sister. Mrs. Corliss is
oblivious to Bud’s true nature and he resents her intrusiveness. Jeffrey Hunter
is Gordon Grant, a college professor who knows Bud and Dorie and takes an
interest in mysterious matters concerning Dorie.He connects with Dorie’s sister
Ellen Kingship (Virginia Leith of “The Brain that Wouldn’t Die” fame), who is
suspicious events that transpire- and Bud in particular. I’ll not reveal the
climax, the movie comes to an entertaining and satisfying conclusion.
by Gerd Oswald and released by United Artists in 1956, the screenplay by
Lawrence Roman is based on the novel by Ira Levin. The movie is beautifully
photographed in Cinemascope by Lucien Ballard (“The Killing” and “The Wild
Bunch”) giving the film a dream-like- look and feel which is aided by the
on-location filming. The movie was made in and around Tucson, Arizona including
a copper mine south of town where the climax takes place.
is terrific as the psychopathic killer because, initially, we want to like him
and hope he will do the right thing. Jeffrey Hunter appears in the movie too
briefly, but is a welcome addition to the cast. Joanne Woodward gives a sincere
performance as the cursed Dorie with Virginia Leith, Mary Astor and George
Macready rounding out the impressive supporting cast. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray
looks beautiful and sounds great with a running time of 94 minutes. The original
trailer is the only extra on the disc. This entertaining thriller is highly
recommended for fans looking for an engaging psychological thriller.
NOW AT A REDUCED PRICE! ONLY $61.00 THROUGH AMAZON...ORIGINAL PRICE WAS $149.00- FREE SHIPPING FOR PRIME MEMBERS.
Time to put up your Dukes! (DVDs, that is!)
DVD COLLECTION OF 40 WARNER AND PARMOUNT FILMS IS LARGEST JOHN WAYNE BOX SET EVER
INCLUDES HOURS OF SPECIAL FEATURES AND REMARKABLE MEMORABILIA
AMAZON BUYERS GET EXCLUSIVE WAYNE BELT BUCKLE
Here is the original press release from when the set was originally made available:
commemorate one of America’s most iconic film heroes, Warner Bros. Home
Entertainment will introduce a comprehensive new DVD set -- John
Wayne: The Epic Collection-- on May 20. The spring release, just in
time for Father’s Day gift-giving, will contain 38 discs with 40
Wayne films (full list below), including The
Searchers, once called one of the most influential movies in American
history and the film for which Wayne
won his Best Actor Academy Award®, True Grit (1969). The collection comes packaged in a handsome book with
unique collectibles and hours of special features.
The coffee table book includes a
chronological presentation of Wayne films, enhanced with wonderful photographs;
the hours of special features include commentaries, documentaries, featurettes,
vintage shorts and classic cartoons; and the special John Wayne collectibles include
personal correspondence, script pages/covers, pages with Wayne’s notations and
Wayne’s legacy will also be celebrated at the 4th
annual John Wayne Film Festival in Dallas from April 24th through
the 27th. The four-day festival will feature screenings of some of
Wayne’s classic feature films, Q + A sessions with Wayne family members and
co-stars, and parties celebrating the John Wayne heritage and legacy. All the
proceeds from the festival will benefit the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.
In making the announcement of the new
collection, Jeff Baker, WHV’s Executive VP and General Manager, Theatrical
Catalog said, “Thanks to our recent strategic alliance with Paramount and their
catalog titles, we’re delighted to be able to offer this number of titles representing
such a broad range of Wayne’s work. Wayne was one of the most popular film stars
ever. For more than a quarter century he was one of the tops at the worldwide box-office.
This collection will certainly be a ‘must have’ for loyal John Wayne fans and,
hopefully, will have an equal appeal to younger folks who want to learn more
Born Marion Robert Morrison in
Winterset, Iowa, John Wayne first worked in the film business as a laborer on
the Fox lot during summer vacations from U.S.C., which he attended on a
football scholarship. He met and was befriended by John Ford,
a young director who was beginning to make a name for himself in action films,
comedies and dramas. It was Ford who recommended Wayne for his first leading
For the next nine years, Wayne worked
in a multitude of B-Westerns and serials in between bit parts in larger
features. Wayne’s big break came in 1939, when Ford cast him as the Ringo Kid
in the adventure Stagecoach. Wayne
nearly stole the picture from his more seasoned co-stars, and his career as a
box-office superstar began. During his 50 year film career, Wayne played the
lead in more than 140 movies, an as yet unsurpassed
record, and was nominated for three Academy Awards®, winning the Best
Actor award for his performance in True
Discs In John Wayne: The Epic Collection
Big Stampede/Ride Him Cowboy/Haunted Gold, 1932
Telegraph Trail/Somewhere in Sonora/Man from Monterey, 1933
Corman's work both as a director and a producer has often been characterized as
exploitation, quickly and cheaply produced product that promised some cheap
thrills – be they violence or sex – for the theater-goers' admission. It was
certainly not an accusation he would ever shy away from. But that didn't mean
that he didn't ensure that there wasn't at least a certain level of craft to be
found in his films. And sometimes, even a bit of art sneaks through the process.
is the case with “Boxcar Bertha,” the second feature from filmmaker Martin
Scorsese. Corman was looking for
something that could serve somewhat as a sequel to his recently released
“Bloody Mama” when his wife discovered the fictional account of a woman who
rode the rails of the South during the Depression. The story and resultant film
had more than a few echoes of Arthur Penn's “Bonnie And Clyde” and while Corman
has never admitted that this was the case in this instance, he has been known to
surf the wave of another film's popularity all the way to the shore.
the film's Deep South- during- the- Depression setting is a far cry from
Scorsese's Little Italy New York City upbringing, he certainly works hard to
make the film his own. Although a bit rough around the edges – the first couple
of minutes features a somewhat jarring sound effect miscue when a plane lands
in a grassy field accompanied by the sound of tires screeching on concrete and
the film boasts two different title sequences for some reason – it is easy to
see Scorsese starting to define elements that he will work with throughout his
career. The film's story is somewhat episodic, a feature of his next film,
1973's “Mean Streets.” Examining the psyches and characters of those on the
opposite side of the law is a tendency that was probably engendered in Scorsese
by the Warner Brothers crime films and socially conscious dramas of the 1930s
that he has stated his love for in the past. And the film's climactic
crucifixion certainly had to appeal to the Catholic in him, even if it the
Christ imagery isn't set up in anyway in the preceding eighty-some minutes.
(Incidentally, it was during the “Boxcar Bertha” location shoot in Arkansas
that star Barbara Hershey gave Scorsese a copy of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel “The
Last Temptation of Christ” which he adapted to some controversy in 1988.)
Australian lobby card.
course, there are the requisite exploitation elements. Gun fights break at with
the required regular intervals and a train explosively slams into a car left on
some tracks at one point. And of course there's some nudity. By all accounts,
Scorsese was irritated that some nudity had to be inserted into his first
feature, “Who's That Knocking At My Door?” (1967), in order to get a
distribution deal. Here, when both Hershey and David Carradine as her labor
leader-turned-bank robber lover lose their clothes, it feels somewhat casual,
perhaps an influence of the European cinema Scorsese is also a fan of. It
certainly doesn't live up to the expectations set by the stars who claimed in a
Playboy interview at the time of the film's release that their love making
scenes were real and not simulated.
Time's Blu-ray transfer of “Boxcar Bertha” is a solid looking 1080p
transfer. The disc doesn't come with too much else besides some rather
exuberant liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo and an isolated score
soundtrack movie music fans should appreciate. Those who complain that modern
trailers give away too much of the film that they are advertising will be
dismayed to see that the practice was alive and well in 1972 with the “Boxcar
Bertha” trailer included here. (This release is limited to only 3,000 units.)
Siodmak’s The Magnetic Monster is one
of the more thoughtful – and thought provoking - science-fiction films of the
era. Produced by Ivan Tors (whom would
share screenplay credit with Siodmak), this intriguing 1953 release from United
Artists is a cerebral, worthy addition to the classic sci-fi canon. Its likely most fondly remembered among devotees
of 1950s sci-fi for whom the presence of a rubber-suited monster is not a prerequisite.
Carlson (It Came From Outer Space, The
Creature from the Black Lagoon) essays the role of Dr. Jeffrey Stewart, a
brilliant graduate of Boston’s M.I.T. now working for the OSI (Office of
Scientific Investigation). Stewart and
his assistant, the bespectacled egghead Dr. Dan Forbes (King Donovan) are
self-described “Detectives with Degrees in Science.” They’re government
“A-Men,” the “A” prefix representative of their pedigree in atomic energy
research. The two are called by an official
from the Office of Power and Light to investigate a complaint regarding strange
occurrences taking place inside a Hardware Store. It seems as though the entire establishment has
become magnetized. The assortment of display
clocks adorning the walls have all stopped working, the doors of such household
appliances as washing machines are snapping open and shut, and steam-irons are
careening across store counters. One frightened
employee is nearly run down inside the shop by a barreling rotary-blade lawn
mower. “I can’t have appliances sailing
around my store!” the distressed shopkeeper sensibly complains to the arriving investigators.
the assistance of a Geiger counter, the two scientists discover that traces of
radiation are present. Through
additional testing, they conclude the epicenter of radioactivity can be traced
to an apartment sitting directly over the shop. There they discover a corpse that has succumbed to radiation
poisoning. After checking with officials
in Washington D.C. that no government-held radioactive elements have recently gone
missing, the trail goes briefly cold. Things
heat up again when they receive reports that the radio and radar communications
systems at a local airfield have suddenly gone haywire. They’re also contacted by an exasperated cabbie
at the airport whose taxi’s engine has gone inexplicably dead - and mysteriously
magnetic. His most recent passenger, we
learn, was a somewhat distraught elderly gentleman desperately clinging to a
man with the suitcase, they soon learn, is also a scientist, Howard Denker
(Leonard Mudie). Denker, as we might
have initially suspected, is neither a foreign spy nor a Soviet saboteur. He was merely an ambitious research scientist
from Southwestern University; his cosmic creation has – much in the manner of
Frankenstein’s monster – quickly turned on him and escaped. He too is slowly dying from the ravages of
radiation poisoning. His monstrous creation
is a super-charged element with an insatiable appetite for energy. Denker cautions that his creation must be
constantly fed an electric charge or else “it will reach out with its magnetic
arms and kill anything within its reach.” The scientists arrange to have a sample of the dangerous element put in
to the Cyclotron at the State University. But the massive particle accelerator is no match for this man-made monster
of magnetism. Dr. Denker’s unstable element
is made stronger following an implosion of the Cyclotron in which two men are
killed and all energies absorbed by the creature that doubles in mass with each
A-Men finally realize what they’re up against. The element continues to aggressively feed and grow and, when starved, compensates
by swallowing all energies existing in “empty spaces.” This energy is then
converted into mass. Carlson recognizes
this chain reaction is, essentially, the same from which the universe was first
created and the planets formed. Unable
to prevent the element from continually doubling in strength and size, the
scientists warn that at such a growth rate this magnetic monster will
eventually knock the earth from its axis. When a government defense administrator suggests the creature might be disposed
of by dropping it into the ocean (ala The
Blob), he’s advised the super-heated element would likely turn the sea bed
into a blanket of steam.
only hope for mankind is, unusually, in the hands of the Canadians. Apparently, the U.S. has learned that its
neighbor to the north has built a secret nuclear energy facility some seventeen
hundred feet down a mineshaft near Nova Scotia. The Americans believe the only way to destroy the magnetic monster is to
not starve it but to overfeed it with
power generated by the facility’s Deltatron. Their plan is to allow the monster to literally
choke itself to death by pumping some 900 million volts of power into it. The Canadians aren’t too enthused with the
idea. The Deltatron’s expensive and expansive subterranean facility, its temperature
naturally regulated by surrounding sea water, has only been tested to emit some
600 million volts. The Canadians argue
that increasing the output to 900 million volts is suicidal; it would put the
infrastructure and the safety of everyone working at the facility at great
risk. More egregiously, if Dr. Stewart
is wrong in his calculation, this so-called “magnetic monster” will become so
powerful that no force on heaven or earth will ever be able to contain it.
world-famous Pinewood Studios celebrates 80 years in the film business this
year and Penguin Books have published a luxurious large-format 376-page
hardback book to commemorate the fact. Loaded with interesting stories - from
the studio's beginnings to the latest 'Star Wars' offering under the Disney
banner - it's certainly an interesting ride along the way. All of your
favourites are here: the 'Carry On', James Bond, Superman and Batman series, as
well as photos galore - many I'd not seen before (although a few captions are
incorrect) - make for an easy read without getting too bogged down with
statistics. Nice to see industry insiders being interviewed, and there are
numerous quotes from the likes of Sir Roger Moore, Barbara Broccoli, Sir Ridley
Scott, Martin Campbell, Michael G. Wilson and Michael Grade, to name but a few.
Interestingly, now that Pinewood owns the 'other' famous British studio at
Shepperton, this gets coverage, too.
Author Bob McCabe mentions first visiting
the studio in 1977 (aged 10) and seeing the American cars scattered on the
backlot following the filming of 'Superman'. Well, I was there too, Bob -
although a tad older! For those of you, like me, who have been fortunate to
visit this wonderful 'film factory', then it is worthy of a place in your
library. For those of you who will probably never pass through its portals,
then it's an even a bigger treat. Oh, and Cinema Retro gets a credit in the 'sources
of research' section! 'Pinewood: The Story of an Iconic Studio' has a cover
price of £40.00., but is currently available from Amazon UK for the bargain
price of £26.00. Now that's what I call a great Christmas present.
Released as part of "The Hollywood Collection", an independent label, "Roger Moore: A Matter of Class" is a very illuminating 1995 show that originally aired on the American cable network A&E. Running less than an hour, the show nevertheless packs considerable content into its abbreviated running time.It also benefits greatly from the participants including Sir Roger himself (though years before he earned his knighthood.) Moore provides some very funny and occasionally very moving anecdotes about growing up in WWII London where he was a rather chubby, sickly child who often bore the brunt of other kid's bullying. As a defense mechanism he adopted a philosophy of making self-deprecating jokes on the theory that no one enjoys making fun of someone who makes fun of himself. It's been a tactic that has served him well to this day. Moore also discusses his middle-class upbringing, his overly-protective parents and the trauma of existing as a child in a city that was being bombed virtually every night. Moore was also subject to the mass deportation of British children from the cities to temporary foster homes in the British countryside when the war with Germany was gearing up to full-throttle stage. In the post-war years he did a brief stint in the army before using his skills as a cartoonist to get a job in the film industry. With his almost surrealistic good looks it didn't take long for him to catch the eye of producers and Moore found his real niche in front of the cameras. Moore led a charmed life almost from the day he decided to become an actor. Things just fell into place. Even setbacks such as a short-term contract with MGM that saw him cast in forgettable films ended up luring him back to England where he enjoyed enormous success in the long-running series "The Saint". A decade later his TV series with Tony Curtis "The Persuaders" proved to be a big hit in Europe but a flop in America, leading to the show's cancellation. Here again, Moore benefited from a seemingly negative development. When the show was taken off the air, Moore was a free agent and available to accept the role of James Bond. The rest, as they say, is history.
With Tony Curtis in "The Persuaders".
Aside from providing ample film clips from Moore's films the program also shows him touring hard-hit parts of the world in his role as Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. For Moore this has been more than window dressing. He has worked tirelessly to raise funds for programs to help children in poverty and doubtless would like that to be the legacy he is most remembered for. The show boasts interesting insights from many of Moore's friends, family members and colleagues including his son Christian, Bond producer Michael G. Wilson, David Niven Jr, director Lewis Gilbert, Tony Curtis, Gregory Peck, actresses Maud Adams and Carroll Baker and, most poignantly, Michael Caine, who compares Moore's early years with his own hard scrabble life in East London and provides interesting insights into his friend's psyche. Although the show's technical aspects betray its age (primitive graphics and titles), its a slick and polished production. The DVD includes an extensive photo gallery of Moore's life and career though the images lack any accompanying captions, which might leave those not familiar with the nuances of his films rather frustrated. There is also a photo gallery of the show's producers in the company with many other notable people in show business and some promos for other titles in the "Hollywood Collection".
"Roger Moore: A Matter of Class" very much reflects the man himself: it's easy-going, often very funny and always engaging.
(This DVD is region-free and will play on any international system).
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE.
seemingly harmless prank by teenage girls takes a horrific turn in producer/director
William Castle’s 1965 production “I Saw What You Did”, recently released on Blu-ray by Shout!
Factory as part of their Scream! Factory line of horror titles. Libby and Kit (Andi
Garrett and Sara Lane) are baby sitting Libby’s little sister Tess when they
come up with a game taking turns choosing random phone numbers out of the phone
book and making prank calls stating, “I saw what you did, and I know who you
their first recipients is Judith Marak (Joyce Meadows). Libby asks seductively
to speak with Steve, Judith’s husband. When Judith informs Steve (John Ireland)
of the call, Steve reacts by savagely stabbing her to death. Later, he answers the
phone to hear, “I saw what you did, and I know who you are!” Steve engages the
girls and asks to meet Libby. Libby and Kit have no idea Steve has just murdered
his wife and after a few more calls agree to meet Steve still thinking they’re
engaged in a harmless game.
(Joan Crawford) is Steve’s neighbor and shows up shortly after Steve’s wife is
murdered. Apparently they’re having an affair and Steve had plans to leave his
wife and marry the wealthy widow. Amy figures out what has happened due to Steve’s
strange behavior surrounding the calls from Libby pretending to be “Suzette.”
Amy attempts to blackmail Steve into marrying her and that leads to further
dramatic deveopments. With Crawford relegated to a distinctly supporting role,
the movie relies heavily on the performances of the three young actors.
Fortunately, they come through and the sincerity of their performances gives
the film a slight edge- of -your- seat feeling, but one never gets the notion
that the girls are in any real danger. We move from prank call to concerned
parents trying to call and check on the children as we watch Steve plan his
next move. The movie features a strong supporting cast of veteran actors in
addition to Crawford and Ireland including Leif Erickson as Dave Mannering
(Libby & Tess’ father), Patricia Breslin as Ellie Mannering (their mom),
John Archer as John Austin (Kit’s father) and John Crawford as a state trooper
who comes to their inevitable rescue.
the three young actors at the center of the movie had very short careers in the
entertainment industry. Andi Garret (Libby) appeared in four episodes of “The
Wild Wild West” from 1966-68 and an episode of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” in 1976
before retiring from acting. Sarah Lane (Kit) was a regular on the TV series,
“The Virginian” from 1966-1970 appearing in 105 episodes as Elizabeth Grainger
followed by appearances in the movies “Schoolgirls in Chains” in 1973, “The
Trial of Billy Jack in 1975 and “Billy Jack Goes to Washington” in 1977 before
retiring from acting. Sharyl Locke (little sister Tess) appeared in “One Man’s
Way” and “Father Goose” in 1964 prior to “I Saw What You Did” in 1965. This was
followed by an appearance on “Burke’s Law” in 1965 and “Bonanza” in 1966 after
which she, too, retired from acting.
music by Van Alexander is entertaining, but a bit too cheerful for a thriller.
The score feels out of place and would better suite a 1960s sitcom and perhaps
it’s used as a way to underscore the innocence of the young girl’s prank. It’s
still distracting and more befitting a Haley Mills teen comedy like “The Parent
Trap” and “The Trouble with Angels” or one of the many “Beach Movies” of the
by Universal in the summer of 1965, the movie’s poster declares, “William
Castle Warns You: ‘This is a motion picture about uxoricide!’” Uxoricide is the
killing of one’s wife, but I think the word sounded more exotic than murder. This
enjoyable black & white shocker looks terrific in its widescreen
presentation with great sound and running a brief 82 minutes. Extras on the
Shout! Factory release include the cool trailer featuring producer, director
and showman William Castle informing the audience that the theater will provide
seat belts so the viewer will not be shocked out of their seat. There’s also a
photo gallery and the regular release trailer. Highly recommended for fans of
William Castle, Joan Crawford and 1960s shock thrillers.
“Death Valley Days” was a half-hour western anthology
series that ran for 20 years on radio starting in 1930, continued on TV for 18
seasons (1952-1970), and is still being shown on cable TV today. The series,
noted for its authentic detail and historical accuracy, was created by British
writer Ruth Woodman at the request of Pacific Coast Borax, the company that
made 20 Mule Team Borax. The company wanted a series that tied in with their detergent
product, and since Borax is principally mined in Death Valley, Woodman
suggested the series be focused on stories based on the history and geography
of that area. She made frequent trips to the borax mines and the surrounding
vicinity digging up historical tidbits that could be used as the basis for
stories. She eventually became one of the foremost experts on that period and
place in history.
For the first 11 years of its run, each episode of “Death
Valley Days” was introduced by The Old Ranger (Stanley Andrews), who would begin
by relaying some bit of historical information about Death Valley that would be
used as the basis of the story. The Old Ranger was later replaced as host by
Ronald Reagan, Robert Taylor, and Dale Robertson. These three even appeared in
some of the stories.
Timeless Media Group, a division of Shout! Factory,has
released the first season of 18 episodes from 1952 on three DVDs. The picture
quality of the episodes is astonishing, given their age. There’s no information
on the packaging to indicate if the original film elements have undergone
restoration, but all 18 episodes look brand new.
There is a variety of tales included in this first
season, and a host of familiar faces on hand from western films and TV shows of
that era. One that particularly caught my attention was an episode that would
not have aired as written in today’s politically correct world. “Swamper Ike”
features legendary stuntman/actor Jock Mahoney playing a man raised by Indians,
who wasn’t sure if he was really an Indian or a white man. The question becomes
crucial when the girl he loves, played by Margaret Field, says she won’t marry
him if he’s an Indian! She doesn’t believe a marriage between people of two
different races will work. (Margaret Field, by the way, had just married Mahoney
in real life. She already had a daughter by a previous marriage, a girl named
Sally Field.) Hired as a swamper by mule driver Hank Patterson, and given the
name Ike, Jocko is hated by Denver Pyle, his rival for Field’s affections.
There is a lot of good stunt work by Mahoney in this episode, but the
conclusion, in which, much to everyone’s great relief, Mahoney discovers that
he’s actually white and can now marry his lady love, is pretty much out of
kilter with today’s attitudes.
For its first two years on the air, “Death Valley Days”
was produced for television by Gene Autry’s Flying A Productions, which also
produced Mahoney’s Range Rider series. So, it’s no coincidence that Gail Davis,
star of Flying A’s “Annie Oakley” also appears in one of the episodes. In “The
Little Bullfrog Nugget,” she plays Mamie Jaggers, the only single woman in
Bullfrog, Nevada. All the men are vying for her attention but she can’t make up
her mind which one to marry.
“She Burns Green,” starred James Griffith and Donna
Martell as a couple prospecting for gold, but who turn to mining borax instead
when they discover rich deposits of it near them. The title is based on the
fact that you can tell if it’s borax by setting it on fire. If the flame burns
green, it’s borax.
“Self-Made Man,” starts out highlighting a rock drilling
competition among the miners, that demonstrates how they used to use hand
drills to get the borax out of the mine. But it also tells the story of a man
who loses one of his arms and thinks his life is over. As a miner, it is over,
but with the encouragement of his wife he takes up the study of law and becomes
a successful lawyer.
That’s the kind of story that the series presented most
of the time—gritty, realistic tales that showed the harshness of life in Death
Valley but which ultimately show the good guys wresting some sort of triumph
out of their hardships. Woodman’s writing may be well researched, but her plots
and characters are pretty simplistic. The acting is as good as can be expected.
“Death Valley Days” is an interesting piece of television
history. There were a total of 296 episodes filmed over 20 years, and it
remains to be seen how many more episodes will be forthcoming on DVD.
It isn't often that you might expect to read the word "delightful" in a review of a Charles Bronson movie but "From Noon Till Three" is just that: a delightful 1976 send-up of the traditional Western genre. In fact it seems like this was the year in which numerous revisionist Westerns were released. They included "Buffalo Bill and the Indians", "The Outlaw Josey Wales", "The Missouri Breaks" and John Wayne's final film, "The Shootist". By 1976 Charles Bronson was an established screen presence for about two decades.He was a familiar face to American movie-goers who liked his work as a supporting actor but it was the European market that elevated him to star status. Bronson finally began to get top-billing in Westerns and action films and became reasonably popular in America. But it was the 1974 release of his smash hit "Death Wish" that saw him soar to the level of superstar. The film was a mixed blessing. Bronson made some good films in the following years but eventually succumbed to the lure of a quick pay check, cranking out low-end urban crime movies that were often as absurd as they were over-the-top. "From Noon Till Three" allows Bronson and his real life wife and frequent co-star Jill Ireland a rare opportunity to flex their comedic muscles, which they do impressively.
Bronson plays Graham Dorsey, a member of small time gang of bandits who are riding into a one-horse town to rob the bank. The film's opening is quite eerie as the bandits become unnerved when they discover there isn't a single living soul anywhere in the town. This sets in motion a "Twilight Zone"-like beginning that is quickly explained as a nightmare Dorsey is suffering, but is none-the-less quite effective for grabbing the viewer's attention. When the gang nears the actual town, Dorsey's horse goes lame and must be shot. He rides double with another bandit until they reach the opulent mansion house of Amanda (Jill Irleand), an attractive widow who resides in the countryside with only a maid and servant as companions. When the bandits arrive on her doorstep, she is home alone and is understandably filled with anxiety being in the company of the men, who demand she give them a horse. She lies and says she doesn't have one- and Dorsey validates her story, opting to stay behind at the house while the robbery takes place. He finds Amanda very desirable but none-the-less acts like a gentleman- though as her tough facade fades, she becomes susceptible to his charm. Dorsey claims he suffers from incurable impotence, a ploy that works when Amanda finally volunteers to "cure" him. This results in the pair spending several heavenly hours together enjoying sexual adventures and falling in love. When word reaches Amanda that Dorsey's fellow bandits have been captured, she implores him to try to save them from hanging. Dorsey pretends to ride to their rescue, but instead bushwhacks a traveling con man and adopts his identity. The other man is mistaken for Dorsey and shot dead by a posse. Dorsey is ironically arrested because the man he is impersonating is also wanted by the law. Got all that? Things get really complicated when Dorsey spends a year in prison, studying (ironically) how to be a banker. He intends to return to Amanda and live their dream of moving to Boston, where he can get a job as a bank manager. When he returns to the woman he has been obsessing over for the last year, the reception he receives from her is something less than welcoming. Seems that since she believed Dorsey was dead, she set about memorializing him in a memoir titled "From Noon Till Three", a scandalous record of the hours in which they made love and fell in love. In the book, Amanda relates tall tales about Dorsey's crime exploits that he had previously bragged about...and she takes a bit of intentional creative license by describing him as an elegant, dashing man when, in fact, he looks like what he is: a saddle tramp. To say much more would spoil the fun. Suffice it to say that the film really kicks into gear when Dorsey discovers that Amanda's memoir has become an international sensation and she is idolized worldwide by both men and women. She doesn't have much incentive to now admit that Dorsey is not only alive and well but also falls considerable short of the handsome hunk the world has come to imagine.
"From Noon Till Three" is stylishly directed by Frank D. Gilroy and its based upon his novel of the same name. Gilroy had the magic touch in terms of bringing out the best in both Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland, both of whom rarely had an opportunity to demonstrate their flair for light comedy and they are both terrific. Gilroy, who also penned the screenplay, took advantage of a new era of cynicism in major films and "From Noon Till Three" proved to be far ahead of its time in predicting how the general public can be bamboozled into believing urban legends if they are marketed creatively enough. (Coincidentally, Paddy Chayefsky's "Network", released the same year, took an equally cynical view of the current day TV news industry.) The movie is a wealth of small pleasures and unexpected plot turns and boasts a fine score by Elmer Bernstein and impressive camerawork by Lucien Ballard, not to mention an impressive mansion house set by Robert Clatworthy. I don't want to overstate the merits of the film but I do want to point out that even if you're not a Bronson fan you should give this one a try.
Twilight Time has released "From Noon Till Three" as a limited edition Blu-ray of 3,000 units. It includes the original trailer, an isolated score track and an informative collector's booklet with notes by Julie Kirgo.
If ever an epic deserved the Blu-ray deluxe treatment, Fox's 1970 Pearl Harbor spectacular is it. The film was a major money-loser for the studio at the time and replicated the experience of Cleopatra from a decade before in that this single production threatened to bankrupt the studio. Fox had bankrolled a number of costly bombs around this period including Doctor Doolittle, Hello, Dolly and Star! Fortunately, they also had enough hits (Patton, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, M*A*S*H, the Planet of the Apes series) to stay afloat. However, the Tora! debacle cost both Fox chairman Darryl F. Zanuck and his son, production head Richard Zanuck, their jobs. Ironically, Darryl F. Zanuck had saved the studio a decade before by finally bringing Cleopatra to a costly conclusion and off-setting losses with spectacular grosses from his 1962 D-Day blockbuster The Longest Day. By 1966, Zanuck and that film's producer Elmo Williams decided they could make lightning strike twice by using the same formula to recreate the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The project seemed jinxed from the beginning. Skyrocketing costs and logistical problems delayed filming until 1969. By then, America's outlook about war movies had changed radically due to the burgeoning anti-Vietnam movement. Zanuck and Williams also forgot one important distinction between The Longest Day and Tora! Tora! Tora!: the former was about a major Allied victory while the latter was about a tremendous defeat. Americans generally stay away from military movies that depict anything other than glorious victories and Tora! was no exception. Critics were also lukewarm and the only saving grace was that the film performed spectacularly in Japan, largely because it presented both sides of the conflict on a non-judgmental level.
of the great director Federico Fellini’s more curious motion pictures is his
1972 part-documentary/part-fictional collage that consists of “impressions” of
Rome, both past and present. In many ways, it is the middle chapter of a
trilogy that comprises Fellini Satyricon (1969)
and Amarcord (1973), although not
many film historians view them as such.
Roma is a love letter, so
to speak, to Italy’s capital city. The film takes place in three time periods—sometime
during the 1930s, the war years, and the present (i.e., 1971-72, when the movie
was made). It is also very much a product of its time, when the counter-culture
movement was still in full swing. The modern sequences of Roma are populated by “hippies” and long-haired youth, as well as
motorcyclists, intellectuals (Gore Vidal makes an appearance as himself), and
Fellini as himself. The sequences cut
back and forth from the past to the present, presenting a story-less narrative
that is jumbled and episodic; but the visuals of cartoonish decadence and
surreal settings make up a fascinating piece of celluloid.
of the faces in the film—and I do mean “faces,” because Fellini always cast the
most absurd caricatures as extras in his later pictures—are recognizable in Amarcord (easily one of the director’s
best works). Anna Magnani provides allegedly her last screen appearance at the
end of Roma, where she tells the narrator
(Fellini, presumably) to go away and leave her alone. Many Fellini-esque
hallmarks abound in the movie—feuding families, grotesque prostitutes, and irreverent
1930s-40s sequences are autobiographical. A young man arrives in Rome to be a
journalist (as Fellini did), and stays with a large family that his mother
knows. He explores the city, visits brothels, and goes to music hall
performances. The present day scenes are more documentary-like, following the
director and a film crew around the city as they shoot a traffic jam, the
excavation of an ancient Roman home, and—the highlight of the movie—a
wacked-out fashion show for priests, nuns, and bishops. Totally bizarre.
Criterion Collection presents a 2K digital restoration of the international
version of the picture (120 minutes). The long-lost original Italian cut was
seventeen minutes longer, but these deleted scenes are included as supplements
(as restored as possible). The feature comes with an uncompressed monaural
soundtrack, as well as an audio commentary by Frank Burke, author of Fellini’s Films.
supplements include new interviews with filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino on Fellini’s
influence, and poet and Fellini friend Valerio Magrelli. There’s a collection
of Felliniana (posters, artwork) from the archive of collector Don Young, and
the theatrical trailer. An essay by film scholar David Forgacs adorns the
Fellini’s Roma is a mess of a film,
to be sure, but it’s always fun to play in a mess made by Fellini. It is a
welcome addition to Criterion’s stable of excellent cinema.
Christmas 1970 on the horizon, the UK’s thrilling new sci-fi TV show UFO was
well underway. Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's first live-action series, it was set
in the future and revolved around the activities of the Supreme Headquarters
Alien Defence Organisation (SHADO), a covert agency presided over by Commander
Ed Straker (Ed Bishop) to fend off alien attacks on mankind. As a wide-eyed 8-year-old
I was hooked and I can recall wishing two things. One was that I could have one
of the Dinky Toys’ missile-firing SHADO Interceptors, which I thought then (and
still think now) was the coolest among the incredible array of vehicles that
appeared in the show; I’d not be nearly as forgiving today as I was back then
that Dinky had manufactured it in garish green, where the ‘real’ ones on TV
were white. The other wish was that I could somehow watch UFO whenever I wanted
instead of having to wait the week-long eternity between each episode. Now, the
first of these wishes had a pretty good chance of being granted, after all
Christmas was coming and if it didn't materialise then it would only be a few
months more until my birthday. The second wish was… well, frankly it was silly;
the only way to watch episodes whenever one wanted would be to own them and
that was beyond the realms of possibility, literally the stuff of dreams.
Yet here's the thing: Although I never did get that Interceptor toy, almost 20
years later, thanks to a TV run in the early hours of the morning during the
late 1980s, I got to own every episode on video. Then along came the wonders of
DVD and a spiffy Network box set release which suddenly made those
dropout-impaired, off-air VHS recordings completely redundant. It's now almost
half a century since UFO first aired on television in the UK and Christmas has
truly come early this year with Network's upgrade of the show to sparkling
the 1960s the Andersons were best known for a slew of action shows aimed at
children with marionettes as their stars – Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds
and Captain Scarlet remain among the most fondly remembered – and, aside from 1969
TV movie Doppelgänger (aka Journey to the Far Side of the Sun), UFO was their
first dalliance with live-action. It was also their first move towards
something aimed at a more mature audience, its storylines touching upon some distinctly
adult themes; not only was there the ever-present core threat of aliens
abducting humans and harvesting their organs to sustain their dying race, there
were flirtations with adultery, divorce, interracial romance and the
recreational use of hallucinogenic drugs, a facet which prevented the final
episode, “The Long Sleep”, from being screened during the series' initial run;
it eventually showed up some two years later. The very appearance of the aliens
was disconcertingly sinister, sporting eerie liquid-filled helmets, the viscous
green fluid therein enabling them to breathe. Additionally, the characters
regularly made flawed decisions and not all the stories concluded happily. There
was also a pervasive frisson of sexuality throughout the series; not only were most
of SHADO’s female personnel clad in rather provocative attire, in the first
15-minutes of the show’s pilot episode alone a woman fleeing from aliens tears her
dress and exposes her underwear, moments later there’s a protracted tracking
shot of a young woman's shapely legs as she walks across the studio forecourt, then
Gabrielle Drake performs a semi-striptease (to accompanying wah-wah organ music).
Of course, as a futuristic action series it was still going to harbour huge
appeal with a younger audience and whilst the heavier plot tropes would probably
have by-passed most kids, throwaway dialogue such as "These clouds give
about as much cover as a G-String on a belly dancer" almost certainly flew
right over their heads; at 8-years-old I doubt I even knew what a belly dancer
was, let alone a G-String!
Ed Bishop and Ayesha Brough
and co-creator (with Sylvia) of UFO, Gerry Anderson also wrote and directed the
first episode, "Identified". Other directors on the series were David
Lane (8 episodes), Ken Turner (6 episodes), Alan Perry (5 episodes), Jeremy
Summers and David Tomblin (2 episodes each), and Cyril Frankel and Ron Appleton
(a single episode each). As with any series there are great stories and
not-so-great stories, but there isn't a single entry in UFO's run that doesn't
have something intriguing going on. Among my personal favourites are Frankel's
"Timelash", in which Straker arrives at SHADO HQ and finds the entire
establishment frozen in time; Turner's "Ordeal", which finds a key
SHADO member abducted by the aliens and turned into one of their own; Lane's
"A Question of Priorities", in which Straker is torn between the
responsibility of his job and a tragedy in his personal life; and Summers'
"The Psychobombs", wherein the aliens turn several humans into living
up the cast, Ed Bishop was the only actor to participate in all 26 episodes but
there were regular appearances by a handful of others, among them Michael
Billington (as Colonel Paul Foster), George Sewell (as Colonel Alec Freeman), Dolores
Mantez (as Nina Barry), Antonia Ellis (as Joan Harrington), Vladek Sheybal (as Dr
Doug Jackson), the aforementioned Gabrielle Drake (as Lieutenant Gay Ellis), Keith
Alexander (as Lieutenant Keith Ford), Wanda Ventham (as Colonel Virginia Lake)
and Ayesha Brough (who, despite the fact she appeared in 19 episodes, was
curiously never given the courtesy of a name).
first of only three films for which Peter Fonda took up residence in the
director's chair – the others being Idaho Transfer (1973) and Wanda Nevada
(1979) – unconventional western The Hired Hand (1971)is the jewel of the triad. A
couple of fleeting outbursts of violence aside, it's heavy on gentle drama and
light on shoot-'em-up action, as such more a thinking man’s western than one whose
white hats and blackguards are clearly defined from the outset and proceed to
serve up a profusion of rapid-fire gunfights with bounteous squirts of ketchup.
an upsetting incident which prompts him to reflect on his life choices, drifter
Harry Collings (Peter Fonda) informs his travelling companions Arch Harris
(Warren Oates) and Dan Griffen (Robert Pratt) that he's decided to return home
to the wife and daughter he deserted six years earlier. Before they can part
ways Dan is shot by a man who claims he assaulted his wife, which alters Arch’s
plans; instead of riding out to the coast he accompanies Harry back to his
homestead where, unsurprisingly, they're met with some disdain by his wife
Hannah (Verna Bloom). She softens a little, however, and agrees to take on the
pair as hired hands. As time passes and the bonds of Harry and Hannah's
relationship strengthen, Arch begins to feel like a third wheel and announces
his intention to hit the trail, whereafter Harry finds himself faced with a deadly
situation that will test his loyalties to the zenith.
unequivocal critical success when it was released in 1971, it's a little perplexing
to learn that The Hired Hand passed broadly unacknowledged on the awards
circuit, not so much in respect of wins – there were none – but more in that it
received only 2 nominations; both were derived from critics' awards ceremonies
and both were for Warren Oates as ‘Best Supporting Actor’. In any event,
deserved as those nominations were, even though he was technically playing
second fiddle to Fonda, to pigeonhole Oates as the movie’s supporting actor
wasn’t exactly fair; he enjoys easily as much screen time as his co-star and,
due in part to Alan Sharp's elegant script, I'd suggest as characterisation
goes Arch Harris is far more interesting than his phlegmatic comrade and Oates
gets to overshadow Fonda in every respect. High Plains Drifter's Verna Bloom
also gives a memorable performance as the slightly dowdy yet subtly sensual Hannah
Collings, outwardly toughened by circumstance but warm and caring beneath. Meanwhile
Severn Darden, perhaps best remembered as Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’
baddie Kolp (a role he reprised in Battle for...), makes for a splendid if underused
malefactor; he’s so deliciously venomous that one hankers to see more of
picture was beautifully shot by Vilmos Zsigmond (later Oscar-winner for his cinematography
on Close Encounters of the Third Kind), with a profusion of freeze-frame transition
dissolves and exquisite chocolate-box sunsets that are joyous to behold. Folk
musician Bruce Langhorne's debut film score is evocative of the very essence of
western movies and his banjo-driven opener is nothing if not a triumphant
his success as star and co-writer on Easy Rider, Peter Fonda was in a position
to do whatever he wanted; that his directorial debut should birth The Hired
Hand – a film so accomplished, with such genuine depth of emotion and richness
of character – shows the measure of the man’s talent and one might lament that
opportunities to expand on it were to subsequently prove so scant. The aforementioned
deficit of action means it probably won't be to everyone's taste, especially
those seeking a more traditional western. But those who enjoy a thoughtful,
leisurely-paced tale of the Unforgiven ilk are likely to feel well rewarded.
of The Hired Hand should be thoroughly delighted by Arrow Academy's dual format
Blu-Ray/DVD package. The movie is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio with 1.0
mono sound and certainly looks better than it ever has. Peter Fonda provides a
feature accompanying commentary and the plentiful supplements comprise a
59-minute in-depth documentary from 2003 (which includes interviews with Fonda,
Verna Bloom, Vilmos Zsigmond and Bruce Langhorne), a second documentary from
1978 (which runs 52-minutes and focuses on a trio of Scottish screenwriters,
the pertinent one being Alan Sharp), a 2-minute to-camera piece in which Martin
Scorsese enthuses about the film, five deleted scenes (presented 4:3, with a
combined runtime of around 20-minutes, one of which features Larry Hagman and
places a different slant on Arch’s reasons for upping sticks and departing the
Collings ranch), an alternate edit of the finale, a 1971 audio recording of
Fonda and Warren Oates at the NFT, a generous selection of trailers, radio and
TV spots, and a stills gallery. The release also benefits from the now standard
(for Arrow’s releases) reversible sleeve art and souvenir booklet.
The Warner Archive has released the highly enjoyable 1975 caper film Inside Out and it should appeal to fans of both The Italian Job (the good version from '69!) and Kelly's Heroes. The wisecracking cast of old pros is topped by Telly Savalas, Robert Culp and James Mason. The latter plays the commandant of a German POW camp in which Savalas was interred. He tracks Savalas down thirty years later and finds him as a high-living con-man in London whose luck has run out. He entices him to participate in an audacious scheme to infiltrate a maximum security prison in Berlin to locate its sole inhabitant: a former high ranking Nazi who has knowledge of where a stolen shipment of German army gold has been hidden for decades. The elaborate plan involves drugging the prisoner, smuggling him out of jail, convincing him he is back in WWII (complete with Hitler impersonator!), getting the necessary information and then smuggling him back inside the jail. Obviously, if logic matters tremendously to you, this isn't your kind of movie. However, if you're able to suspend belief for a few scenes, you'll find this a highly rewarding and very entertaining film. Ironically, the central absurdity- that the Allies would have an entire heavily guarded prison simply to watch over one inmate- is based on fact, as this was precisely the case with Hitler top henchman Rudolf Hess, who was the only inmate of Spandau prison. The three leads are all in top form, as is Aldo Ray, who seems to be in virtually every movie released by the Warner Archive. Director Peter Duffell gets maximum impact from locations in London, Amsterdam and Berlin. The movie moves along at breakneck pace and has some genuinely suspenseful sequences, not to mention some very amusing dialogue. A good bet for all true retro movie lovers. (The DVD is region-free).
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
set tensions between stars or between stars and directors are about as old as
the Lumiere Brothers. Sometimes that friction can have a negative consequence
on the project and sometimes it can be a positive. The Robert Redford vehicle
“Little Fauss And Big Halsy” is one of those odd examples where the tensions
yielded both positive and negative results. The antagonism that Redford
reportedly felt towards co-star Michael J Pollard certainly helps inform their
performances in the second half of the film, but the differing ideas that
Redford and director Sidney J. Furie had for handling the movie's thematic
material creates a frisson that undermines the final film. Even if you were
unaware of the differing motivations of Redford and Furie, you couldn't help
but suspect that something was up between the two.
begin with, “Little Fauss And Big Halsy” is fairly thin on plot. Itinerant
motocross racer Halsy Knox (Redford) wanders from town to town, scraping
together whatever he can to get to the next race. After an accident breaks the
leg of Little Fauss (Pollard) and gets his racing license suspended, Halsy
persuades Little to let him race under his name while tagging along as his
mechanic. The arrangement seems to work for a while until Rita Nebraska (Lauren
Hutton) joins the pair on their travels. Tired of being offered breadcrumbs
from Halsy's plate, Little walks away after Halsy tries to pass Rita to him as
just another leftover scrap. Rita later engineers something of a reconciliation
between the two, but that turns out to be even more fragile than their initial
it may share some surface similarities with 1969's “Winning” (starring
Redford's “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” co-star Paul Newman), “Little
Fauss And Big Halsy” is clearly smack dab in the center of the boom of films
exploring the then-current aimlessness of the American spirit that came in the
wake of “Easy Rider” released the previous year. Director Furie cut his teeth
on Cliff Richards rock and roll musicals before graduating to thrillers like
“The Ipcress Files” and “The Naked Runner.” Nothing on his resume would suggest
that he would be a good fit for the material- and that is born out in the
finished film, which feels like he is trying to make a racing picture. With
Redford more interested in plumbing the psychology of Halsy, the two differing
approaches don't jell very well. And with Furie more focused on the incidences
in the screenplay than exploring the characters who inhabit it – big events in
the characters' lives such as the death of a parent happen off-screen and only
get a passing mention on-screen – it falls to a string of Johnny Cash tunes on
the soundtrack to hold the often episodic proceedings together.
being a rather unsympathetic character on the page, Redford's breezy charm
still makes the character one you want to see coming out on the winning side.
And that performance becomes a necessity if the film's ending – sorry, no
spoilers - is to have any impact at all. Pollard's Little is just the right
combination of naivete, twitchiness and fumbling social graces to be endearing.
He manages to shade his performance with enough subtlety that it is only in
hindsight do we see his growing frustration with Halsy that culminates with
their falling out. Hutton makes the most of her underwritten role, fleshing it
out (and flashing a bit of flesh in the process) more so than one would expect
from an actor relatively new to the profession.
Film's new Blu-ray release of “Little Fauss And Big Halsy” marks the first time
that the film is available in a digital home video format and for the first
time in its original theatrical aspect ratio in the US. The transfer is
relatively crisp and clean with no real apparent defects or scratches. It
definitely shows off the dusty browns of the film's California desert
towns as captured by cinematographer
Ralph Woolsey. Those looking for anything beyond the movie though are bound to
be disappointed as the disc is bare-bones with not a single trailer, featurette
or commentary track to enrich the experience.