general consensus among critics and fans alike is that Jamaica Inn, the last British film Alfred Hitchcock made before
moving to America to work in Hollywood, is not one of the director’s best. It
isn’t. It definitely belongs in the lower echelon of his canon. However, there
is still much to savor in the picture, and the new Blu-ray restoration by the
Cohen Film Collection is a worthwhile medium with which to revisit this odd
on a novel by Daphne du Maurier (the first of three works by the author that
Hitchcock adapted), Jamaica Inn is a story
of pirates operating out of an English coastal village in the early 1800s, thus
making it one of Hitch’s few period dramas. Charles Laughton was a co-producer
on the film as well as the star, and accounts of the production reveal that
much rivalry existed between Laughton and his director. For example, Laughton
insisted on playing the character of Sir Humphrey Pengallan, a wealthy squire
and justice of the peace, as something of a mixture between Henry VIII (a role
for which Laughton won the Academy Award for Best Actor) and a foppish dandy.
The result is a performance that is certainly over the top, and much too
comical for him to be taken seriously as a villain.
notable is the fact that Jamaica Inn
served as the debut starring role for the late Maureen O’Hara (she had previously
made a couple of pictures with smaller roles). O’Hara—even in a black and white
movie—is radiant, and this is a strong reason to give the film a chance. Also
in the cast as another villain is old Leslie Banks (who starred as the good
father in Hitch’s 1934 version of The Man
Who Knew Too Much), and, the hero is surprisingly played by Robert
Newton—who made a career playing villains!
story is straightforward—Pengallan is the mastermind behind a gang of pirates
led by Joss (Banks), who runs the inn. Mary (O’Hara) is the orphaned niece of
Joss’s wife—she comes to town to live with her aunt and uncle. James (Newton)
is an undercover law officer in the gang, and he and Mary eventually work
together to take down Pengallan and the pirates. There are twists and turns, to
be sure, but Hitchcock was apparently forced to reveal Pengallan as the main
villain too early in the film, which does dampen the suspense. Still, the guy
is fun to watch. A famous—and laughable—climax involves Laughton falling from
the mast of a ship, yelling, “Make way for Pengallan!”
O’Hara’s sincere performance and Laughton’s cabaret turn, the action-adventure
elements of the movie are quite good. The shipwreck sequence at the beginning
and subsequent scenes “at sea” were all done in the studio—and they’re very
convincing. Despite having to deal with an unruly actor and co-producer,
Hitchcock manages to keep the action appear credible and the pacing brisk. In
the end, one can admit that Jamaica Inn is
not all that bad, and that in fact it is a fairly entertaining 98 minutes of
Cohen restored Blu-ray contains the full U.K. cut. Many sub-par (and public
domain) DVDs released in America and elsewhere are missing at least eight
minutes of the film. An older Kino Video restored these eight minutes, but now
we have the full picture on Blu-ray, and it looks very good. (Another curiosity
is that most accounts on the Internet claim the U.K. version was 108 minutes,
but this could be a mistake—the 98 minute version is the full film, while the
old inferior American releases were 90 minutes; perhaps this is where the
and film historian Jeremy Arnold provides an intelligent and informed audio
commentary. His knowledge of the production—for such a minor Hitchcock movie—is
exemplary. Extras include the trailer and a short piece on the film featuring
Hitchcock biographer and expert Donald Spoto.
Jamaica Inn is not essential
Hitchcock, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless—even with Charles Laughton chewing
We hate to brag but sometimes we just have to. Our own intrepid columnist, Raymond Benson, is enjoying some very exciting news. His acclaimed series of books based on The Black Stiletto character has been optioned by actress Mila Kunis's production company which is developing the property as a TV series for ABC. Kunis will executive produce the series, which centers on a female hero who, in the tried-and-true tradition, keeps her real identity a secret. Raymond has been a contributor to Cinema Retro since issue #1, way back in '05. His column of "Top Ten Films" of specific years has already covered the entire 1960s and 1970s and is now focused on films of the 1950s. (If he doesn't slow down, we'll soon be covering the greatest hits of Wallace Beery as fodder for his column.) Raymond also writes reviews of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases, many of which can be found in his own column on this page and in the Criterion Corner section. His contributions to the success of Cinema Retro have been immeasurable so we take great pleasure in congratulating him on this major achievement.
Shakespeare’s Richard III,one of the playwright’s earlier
efforts, is generally classified as one of the great history plays, but it’s
also considered one of the better tragedies. It’s also among the bard’s
bloodier and nastier pieces of work. After all, the protagonist is the
villain—and oh, what a villain Richard III, the deformed and power-mad king of
England who ruled the land for a couple of turbulent years in the mid-1480s,
truly is. Throughout the course of the story, he manages to murder or give the
order to murder nearly the entire supporting cast.
play has been filmed before, most notably by Laurence Olivier in 1955, but director
Richard Loncraine’s 1995 film production, based on the stage production by the
Royal National Theatre, takes the story into a very different universe. It’s
always risky to mess with Shakespeare’s temporal settings, but this particular
experiment works like gangbusters.
an alternate fascist England in the late 1930s/early 1940s, in which the story
takes place within something similar to the world of a Nazi propaganda film,
namely The Triumph of the Will, which
documented Hitler’s rise to power. Here, Richard III, superbly embodied by Ian
McKellen (who was also a producer of the film) is a Nazi-like dictator,
complete with a Nazi-like uniform, SS-like henchmen, and a WW2-era military to
serve his wishes. British landmarks are easily recognizable in the picture, and
the Oscar-nominated art direction and costumes brilliantly legitimize the brave
concept. If anything, Richard III is
a sumptuous visual feast.
said, I believe this is a Shakespearean adaptation that is accessible to general
audiences. Those familiar with the play will enjoy what the filmmakers did with
the piece, and those who can’t stand Shakespeare will probably find themselves
totally engrossed. The all-star cast is terrific—Annette Bening, Robert Downey,
Jr., Jim Broadbent, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Nigel Hawthorne, and a
who’s-who of other British supporting players join McKellen, who dominates the
film with a bravura performance. They all manage to properly deliver the
Shakespearean dialogue with clarity; when the acting is spot-on in Shakespeare,
it’s not difficult to comprehend the meaning behind the language.
yet, the running time is less than two hours—screenwriters Loncraine and
McKellan cleverly cut the piece (which is the second longest play Shakespeare
wrote) into a tight, fast-moving spectacle of villainous treachery. McKellen’s
breaking of the fourth wall to address the audience adds to the nudge-nudge,
wink-wink factor that gives the film its irony. There is humor, to be sure, and
one of the better laughs is how the line “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a
horse!” is employed.
Time’s new limited edition Blu-ray is a delight. The transfer is above average,
with sharp images and bold colors. Extras include an isolated music and effects
track and the theatrical trailer.
fans will certainly want to pick up this one, and it’s a good bet that most
cinema buffs will appreciate the thriller aspects, the acting, and the
exquisite look of the inspired and daring re-invention of the play.
youngest daughter of the great French author, Victor Hugo, was a victim of
schizophrenia. Although she was devastatingly beautiful, history tells us that Adèle
Hugo was seriously disturbed.
the time of America’s Civil War, Adèle became fixated
on a British soldier, one Lieutenant Pinson. She followed him across the
Atlantic to Nova Scotia, where he was stationed, for she was convinced that he
loved her and would marry her. In fact, the couple had experienced a brief
relationship in England (while Victor Hugo was living in Guernsey, in exile
from France), but Pinson ultimately rejected Adèle and wanted no
more to do with her. Even though he was obviously a rakish cad, the girl became
obsessed with the man and went to great lengths to pursue him.
days we would call it stalking.
Truffaut’s The Story of Adèle H. is the true account of a young woman’s
descent into a kind of madness that was sadly misunderstood in the 1800s, for
after the events in the picture took place, the real Adèle spent the rest of her life in an institution.
film is one of the director’s best. Beautifully shot by Nestor Almendros, it garnered
a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for Isabelle Adjani, who in 1975 was
the youngest actress ever to be nominated in that category. For my money, she
should have won (Louise Fletcher snagged the award for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; but, arguably, time has shown that
Adjani went on to a long career of remarkable work, mostly in French films,
whereas Fletcher...?). I remember seeing Adèle H. on its release and falling head over heels
in love with Adjani. Despite playing a woman that all sensible men should run
away from, her physical beauty was indeed intoxicating. Those expressive blue
eyes worked wonders. It is this element of “tragic beauty” that makes
Truffaut’s picture all the more powerful.
lies and cheats and deceives everyone she meets in order to get closer to
Pinson (played by Bruce Robinson). She
creates fantasy scenarios in her head about her relationship with Pinson, and describes
them to anyone who inquires. As he continues to reject her, Adèle attempts to
destroy the soldier’s reputation. She also cruelly leaves
other men in her wake who probably could have cared for her and loved her
deeply—such as the handsome but lame bookseller who dotes on her. Instead, she
ends up breaking his heart. She constantly
lies to her father in correspondence (Hugo is very much a character in the
story, even though he is never seen) and it’s implied that her parents’ worry
and concern for their daughter is the cause of Madame Hugo’s untimely death. By
the end of the picture, the tale has moved to Barbados, where Adèle
has pursued Pinson yet again—and it is here that she finally succumbs to her
the conclusion, we find ourselves almost admiring the poor woman for her
determination and perseverance, even though we know she’s headed for the
madhouse. Her vulnerability and desperation is heartbreaking. The price of
beauty? Perhaps, but Truffaut doesn’t provide an opinion... nevertheless, he
directs the film with a this-is-how-it-was objectivity, utilizing his signature
mise-en-scène of short scenes,
some voice-over narration, and lyrical, sweeping story-telling. The director
was very good with period pieces such as Jules
and Jim, The Wild Child, and Two English Girls. The Story of Adèle H. is another
excellent entry in that category of Truffaut’s body of work, as well as a fascinating
character study and canny look at 19th Century relationships.
Time’s new Blu-ray release looks wonderful, but then Almendros was one of those
great European cinematographers who was particular good at capturing the
splendor of period settings. The limited edition release of 3000 units is short
on extras—there’s an audio commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick
Redman which is interesting, an isolated score track (the orchestral music by
Maurice Jaubert is fabulous), and the theatrical trailer—but the quality of the
digital transfer is worth the price of admission.
is a film as beautiful as its lead actress—don’t miss The Story of Adèle H.
Rudolph directed two forgotten horror flicks in the early seventies before joining
Robert Altman’s team; he served as Altman’s assistant director and in other
positions for several years. In the interim, Altman produced Rudolph’s third
feature film, Welcome to L.A., which
premiered in 1976 and was released to the general public in the spring of 1977.
best work is obviously inspired by Altman’s method of telling the personal
stories of an ensemble of quirky and neurotic characters over a sprawling
canvas (M*A*S*H, Nashville, A Wedding, Short Cuts, for example). Rudolph’s Welcome to L.A. does just that, only this
writer/director’s style is even more loosey-goosey than Altman’s. Rudolph’s
approach is much more poetic, slower, and dreamier. More serious, too, I might
Carradine plays Carroll, a character much like the guy he played in Nashville—a songwriter who is coolly
arrogant and a cad, but all the women love him anyway. He’s been living in
England when his agent and former lover, Susan (Viveca Lindfors), hooks him up
with singer/musician Eric (Richard Baskin, who wrote all the film’s songs); so
Carroll comes back home to L.A. He doesn’t get along with his millionaire
father (Denver Pyle), but manages to seduce his father’s girlfriend,
photographer (Lauren Hutton). Throw in the realtor of his rented house (Sally
Kellerman), a seriously-disturbed and unhappy housewife (Geraldine Chaplin), and
a wacky housekeeper who vacuums topless (Sissy Spacek), and we’ve got a real
merry-go-round of one-night-stands (in fact, one of the songs beats us over the
head that they’re “living in the city of the one-night-stands”).
are other men, too—Harvey Keitel is quite good as Chaplin’s husband, who
happens to work for Pyle and has his sights set on some co-stars, and John Considine,
who is married to Kellerman—he, too, manages to have dalliances with other
female cast members. The entire movie’s “plot,” as it were, is how all of these
characters will hook up with the others in the space of a few days.
what the movie is really about is
loneliness. These people are middle-to-upper-class Hollywood types and they’re
caught in the malaise that Los Angeles of the mid-seventies had become (and
Rudolph’s filmmaking smacks of the 1970s in look and feel—not that this is a
bad thing). The picture seems to be saying that even if you’re rich and
beautiful/handsome and talented, you still need love and connection—but
unfortunately, the one-night-stand mentality is a dead end, as many of the
characters learn. And Carradine’s character, something of an omniscient
angel/devil, floats through this world caring about nothing but himself, but
therein lies a central truth—this guy is the unhappiest of them all.
film is beautifully shot, and if you can get past the somewhat now-pretentious
and arty device of people looking into mirrors and delivering soliloquies, you
may be impressed with the mise-en-scene.
Some folks, I remember, criticized Baskin’s songs and singing as being
annoying; on the contrary, I’ve always found the movie’s soundtrack to be very
well done. After all, the point of the picture is that it’s a musical journey
through vignettes that dramatize the lonely search for interconnection.
film is available as an MGM burn-to-order title. A card before the movie claims that the transfer was made from the “best
sources possible,” which means they probably used an existing print rather than
negatives to strike the DVD. Colors have faded significantly and the image
looks rather drab, which is unfortunate.
Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of Rudolph, or Altman, and you want to experience
something different that was hitting the art house circuit in the
mid-seventies, take a look. I would place Welcome
to L.A. near the top of Alan Rudolph’s idiosyncratic, but usually quite
the world of the Jewish Conservative Orthodox community, a divorce is truly
final only when the husband presents his wife with a “get”—a document in Hebrew
that grants the woman her freedom to be with other men. Likewise, the wife must
accept the get before the man can re-marry, too.
is the crux of the story behind Hester
Street, an independent art-house film that appeared in 1975, written and
directed by Joan Micklin Silver. Starring Carol Kane, who was nominated for
Best Actress for her performance as Gitl, a newly arrived immigrant to New York
City in 1896, and Steven Keats as her husband Yankl, who, in an attempt to
assimilate, in public goes by the name “Jake.” Jake has been in America for a
while and isn’t looking forward to the arrival of his wife and son from Europe,
for he has begun an affair with a wealthy, assimilated actress in the Yiddish
theatre named Mamie. When the very traditional Gitl arrives with her son, the
Gitl meets Bernstein, an Orthodox man who is much more suited for her
requirements, seeing that Jake has become something of a capitalist cad.
Therefore, she needs a “get” from Jake so that both husband and wife can
divorce and go their separate ways. That’s when Mamie’s money comes into play.
beautifully rendered this period drama on a miniscule budget. Location shooting
took place in and around New York’s lower east side, where much of the flavor
of the late 19th Century Jewish Orthodox community is still pretty much the
same. Replace the cars with horses and buggies, get the correct vintage
costumes, and you’re more than halfway there. The dialogue is mostly in Yiddish
(with English subtitles), thus making it an American foreign language film—an
oddity in 1975, to be sure (although Coppola’s The Godfather Part II appeared a year earlier with a great amount
of its dialogue spoken in Sicilian).
plays Jake as a rake and a rascal, but our perception of him is not that of a
villain. In many ways, he is the generic immigrant who came to America and
sincerely tried to assimilate, become “American,” and leave the Old Country
traditions behind. His fault is that he dreams of making big money in the States and this becomes his all-consuming desire,
forgetting that he has a wife and son. Kane’s character and spot-on portrayal
not only illustrates the role of females in the Orthodox community, but in many
ways is a commentary on the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s.
Hester Street is a terrific
little film that went out of print on DVD years ago and became a collector’s
item on the resale market. Kino Lorber has thankfully re-issued the movie on
Blu-ray (and DVD). Filmed in black and white by Kenneth Van Sickle, the picture
is grainy and flat—much like the early silent cinema of the that era!—which
actually is quite appropriate for the movie’s setting. There are no extras.
Hester Street is an excellent synagogue
discussion-group item for American Jews who want to explore the immigration
scene and the topics of tradition and assimilation; but it is also a good
educational piece for non-Jews who want to learn a little bit about New York
history and the Jewish Orthodox religion. Recommended.
last of Woody Allen’s “early, funny” films, 1975’s Love and Death, is a delight, especially for those in the audience
who already have an appreciation for Russian literature (e.g., Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky)
and classic foreign cinema (e.g., Eisenstein, Bergman). Unlike his previous
works in the late sixties and early seventies, Love and Death is targeted more to a hip, intellectual audience,
the one that has pretty much remained his loyal following ever since. It was
after this picture that Allen began to specialize in the art-house, mature, and
less-zany comedies about relationships that became his trademark (Annie Hall was Allen’s next film, in
you’re able to get all the references to War
and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov or
to Battleship Potemkin and The Seventh Seal, then Love and Death is indeed one of the funniest—if
not the funniest—pictures Allen ever
made, as well as one of the best comedies of that decade. Not only is the
movie’s script witty and smart, the two stars—Allen and Diane Keaton—are in top
satirical form. Keaton, specifically, comes into her own with dead-on comic
are terrific gags all the way through, such as when Woody has to enlist in the
Russian army and finds himself berated by a tough, all-American, black drill
sergeant. Or the one about his father that “owns a piece of land” (and he carries
it around with him). Or the ongoing pseudo-philosophical discussions between
Allen and Keaton that contain such lines as—
Allen: “Nothingness... non-existence... black emptiness...”
Keaton: “What did you say?”
Allen: “Oh, I was just planning my future.”
plus for the movie is its score, almost all of it taken from orchestral pieces
by Prokofiev. The composer is a perfect choice for his music’s liveliness and
obvious Russian flavor. You’ll actually find yourself humming the main theme
(from Lieutenant Kijé Suite) for a few days after a viewing.
making his previous few films in the U.S., Allen shot the picture in France and
Hungary; afterwards he swore he’d never make a movie outside of New York again.
For him, it was a horrible experience having to deal without the comforts of
home. At one point during the shoot he contracted food poisoning. Allen
eventually broke his homegrown decree in 1996 and has, more often since 2005,
made several films in Europe and England.
Time’s release is limited to 3000 copies. Ghislain Cloquet’s colorful
cinematography looks great, but I’m not sure the image is that much better than
the original MGM/UA DVD. The only extra is the theatrical trailer and some
other Twilight Time trailers.
Nevertheless, if you’re a Woody Allen fan, and
if you don’t already own the DVD, you’d better grab this collector’s item fast
while there are still copies available. It’ll warm the cockles of your heart.
And, you know, that’s just great—there is nothing like hot cockles.
The Blu-ray contains an isolated music and effects track, a collector's booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo and the original theatrical trailer.
Altman was a very quirky director, sometimes missing the mark, but oftentimes
brilliant. His 1973 take on Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel The Long Goodbye is a case in point. It might take a second viewing
to appreciate what’s really going on in the film. Updating what is essentially
a 1940s film noir character to the
swinging 70s was a risky and challenging prospect—and Altman and his star,
Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe (!), pull it off.
one of those pictures that critics hated when it was first released; and yet,
by the end of the year, it was being named on several Top Ten lists. I admit
that when I first saw it in 1973, I didn’t much care for it. I still wasn’t
totally in tune with the kinds of movies Altman made—even after M*A*S*H, Brewster McCloud (an underrated gem), and McCabe & Mrs. Miller. But I saw it again a few years later on a
college campus and totally dug it. Altman made oddball films, and either you
went with the flow or you would be put off by the improvisational, sometimes
sloppy mise-en-scene that the
director used. And the sound—well, Altman is infamous for his overlapping
dialogue (one critic called it “Altman Soup”). If you didn’t “get” what the
director was doing with sound, then you would certainly have a hard time with
Elliott Gould plays Philip Marlowe. A very different interpretation than
Humphrey Bogart, obviously. And yet, it works. Gould displays the right amount
of bemused cynicism, as if he had been asleep for twenty years and suddenly
woken up in the 1970s. And that’s exactly how Altman, screenwriter Leigh
Brackett (who co-wrote the 1946 The Big
Sleep), and Gould approached the material. Altman, in a documentary extra
on the making of the film, called the character “Rip Van Marlowe.” He is an anachronism
in a different time. For example, Marlowe can’t help but be bewildered by the
quartet of exhibitionist lesbians that live in his apartment complex. And he
still drives a car from his original era. And therein lies the point of the
picture—this is a comment on the 70s, not the 50s.
plot concerns the possible murder of the wife of Marlowe’s good friend—the
friend is a suspect—as well as a suitcase of missing money belonging to a
vicious gangster (extrovertly played by film director Mark Rydell), an Ernest
Hemingway-like writer who has gone missing (eccentrically played by Sterling
Hayden), and the author’s hot blonde wife who may know more than she’s telling
(honestly portrayed by newcomer Nina van Pallandt). The story twists, turns,
hits some bumps in the road, and finally circles back to the initial beginning
may not be one of Altman’s best films, but it’s one of the better ones. It’s
certainly one of the more interesting experiments he tried in his most prolific
period of the 70s.
Lorber’s Blu-ray release, however, doesn’t really improve on the original DVD
release of some years ago. It appears to be a straight to Blu-ray transfer with
no digital restoration of any kind. Hence, the image looks not much better than
the DVD version. Since the soft photography and low lighting was intentional,
any attempt at high definition is lost. The extras—the aforementioned “making
of” documentary, a short piece on cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, an animated
reproduction of a vintage American
Cinematographer article, the trailer, and a few radio spots—are the same.
if you’re an Altman fan and don’t already own the out of print DVD, you may
want to pick up the new Blu-ray. It probably won’t be long before this, too,
like Philip Marlowe himself, is a rare collector’s item.
one of Woody Allen’s best films, The
Purple Rose of Cairo, released in 1985, is a treat. It’s got laughs and
pathos and is an excellent treatise on the conflict between fantasy and
reality. Purple Rose represents a
period when Allen was at the peak of his powers, when he was considered one of
America’s greatest auteurs, and
before there was the stigma of scandal hovering over his work. In 1985, Allen
could do no wrong, and The Purple Rose of
Cairo does everything right.
doesn’t appear in the film. The picture belongs to Mia Farrow, and she delivers
one of her best and most poignant performances as Cecilia, a meek and unhappy
housewife/waitress in New Jersey during the Depression area. She is married to
Monk (Danny Aiello), who is abusive and pays little attention to her needs.
Thus, Cecilia escapes to the movies and sometimes sits through the same picture
repeatedly. One such picture is the film-within-the-film, The Purple Rose of Cairo, a fictional RKO movie about Manhattan
socialites who have just returned from Africa. They’ve brought along an
archaeologist, Tom Baxter (winningly played by Jeff Daniels), who notices
Cecilia in the audience, falls in love with her, and then breaks the fourth
wall by stepping out of the screen and into the real world. Cecilia and Tom
have a whirlwind romance, even going back into the movie together for a “madcap
hilarity comes, of course, with Baxter’s reactions to the universe of color and
places beyond the scenes in the movie he was in. But his vacating the picture
has caused problems—the other characters in the movie don’t know what to do
with themselves and their story halts. The picture’s producer and Gil Shepherd—the
“real” actor who played Baxter onscreen—comes to remedy the situation. Cue the
love triangle complications.
draws from a number of influences, most particularly Buster Keaton’s 1924 film,
Sherlock Jr., in which Keaton is a
theater projectionist who slips into the movie that’s playing. Allen takes the
premise further, in several different directions, and the result is a bittersweet
comedy that even Allen himself (who is normally self-deprecating about his
work) thinks turned out well. The picture also features an early appearance by Glenne
Headly and Allen regular Dianne Wiest.
Time has released a limited edition Blu-ray—only 3,000 units—which
automatically gives the title collectors’ item status. In terms of picture quality, it appears that the movie
was simply transferred to Blu-ray without any restoration. There is a lot of grain
in outdoor scenes, and artifacts and blemishes can be seen throughout. That
said, Purple Rose is still a
good-looking picture on Blu-ray (the cinematography was by the late, great
Gordon Willis, whose contrasts in lighting work well with the theme of the
story). The only extras are the theatrical trailer and trailers for other titles
released by the company.
forking out $29.95 for The Purple Rose of
Cairo might be of interest only to die-hard Woody Allen fans. I’m not sure
the Blu-ray improves significantly over the original DVD release from a decade
ago. But if you don’t already own it, and you’re either an Allen fan or a
cinephile who appreciates some of the best the 80s had to offer, then The Purple Rose of Cairo is for you.
Altman’s 1974 crime drama, Thieves Like
Us,when viewed today, seems to
be a cross between Bonnie and Clyde (which
preceded Thieves)and O Brother, Where Art
Thou? (which appeared twenty-six years later). It’s the Depression-era
story, based on the novel by Edward Anderson, of a trio of escaped convicts who
go on a bank-robbing spree. But it’s also a love story between one of the
thieves, Bowie (played by a young Keith Carradine), and a country girl, Keechie
(portrayed by a young Shelley Duvall), and this is the aspect of Altman’s film
that truly shines. The novel was also the source inspiration for Nicholas Ray’s
1949 film noir, They Live By Night,
starring Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell. As much as I like 1940s and 50s
film noir, for my money, Altman’s is the better version.
who had a decidedly hit-and-miss career over six decades, was on a roll in the
early seventies. Thieves Like Us is
indeed one of his hits—from a critical standpoint—although it didn’t
necessarily do bang-up box office. Filmed on location in Mississippi, Altman
and his production team managed to find authentic 1930s settings, lending a
you-are-there feel to the period piece. More importantly, Altman chose not to
use a traditional musical score but instead relied on vintage radio programs to
fill out the ambiance. That part was a stroke of genius.
director also often utilized a stock company of actors, many of whom appeared
in multiple pictures. In this case, besides Carradine and Duvall—who are
terrific in their roles—there is John Schuck and Bert Remsen as the other two
thieves, and Tom Skerritt as a shady service station owner. Louise Fletcher, in
a pre-Cuckoo’s Nest performance, is
effective as Remsen’s sister-in-law, who aides and abets the criminals until
she has a change of heart.
the picture belongs to Carradine and Duvall, whose love scenes are intimate,
honest, and endearing. Their characters are extremely likable and exude an
innocence that is a counterpoint to the violence depicted in the rest of the
picture. The fact that these two relatively unknown actors (at the time) were
cast as leads attests to the New Hollywood attitude of allowing auteurs do their thing. It’s too bad
that the studios clamped down on risk-taking after the 70s.
Lorber’s Blu-ray has A high-definition transfer of the film—which looks fine—and the theatrical trailer and a commentary by
Altman himself as extras. The location scenery—especially the muddy roads, the
rain, and the back-country hills and shacks, are strikingly beautiful, thanks
to Jean Boffety’s soft cinematography.
of the better “lovers on the run” pictures, Thieves
Like Us is worth grabbing.
few weeks ago, I posted a review of The Criterion Collection’s excellent
Blu-ray release of George Sluizer’s 1988 Franco-Danish film, The Vanishing. This excellent thriller
was well-received by critics and the public alike, prompting Hollywood to step
forward and produce an American remake in 1993. The screenplay, based on Tim
Krabbé’s novel Het Gouden Ei (as was the original), was written by
actor/screenwriter Todd Graff. Sluizer returned to direct the remake, which in
many cases is practically a shot-by-shot repetition. However, there are differences.
not sure who at the conference table decided that the American remake of The Vanishing should have a happy
ending, as opposed to the more-terrifying, bleak finale of the original, but it
happened. Perhaps the studio figured that U.S. audiences would not accept the
earlier culmination, in which the villain triumphs and we realize that the
movie was about him all along. This
time around, the bad guy gets his comeuppance and our heroes win the
cat-and-mouse game that was set in motion at the picture’s beginning.
if you’ve seen the original 1988 version, then you’ll most likely be
disappointed with the 1993 edition. However, if you haven’t, then you may very well enjoy the remake for what it is,
and especially for the extremely bizarre performance by Jeff Bridges as the
creep. And creepy he is. Speaking with a strange accent (or is it merely an odd
elocution?—hard to say), Bridges steals the movie (as did Bernard-Pierre
Donnadieu in the original role). A young Kiefer Sutherland is our hero this
time, and his vanishing girlfriend is played by Sandra Bullock (pre-Speed) when she was relatively unknown.
That said, the real heroine of the remake is Nancy Travis, as Sutherland’s new girlfriend, and this is where the
new movie differs the most from its predecessor.
takes charge of the story in the last act and, without providing too much of a
spoiler, brings a more feminist take to the tale. Is the new ending satisfying?
Sure, from a Hollywood by-the-book standpoint. The problem is that the picture
loses what may have been the point of the original story—that evil can lurk
where you least expect it, and it can, more often than not, win.
Time’s limited edition (to 3,000 copies) high definition Blu-ray looks fine and
dandy; the only extra is the theatrical trailer. Fans of the film may want to
pick this up; but in my book, the 1988 original is still the more effective
you’re too young to remember it, you’ll recall that Twin Peaks was a short-lived phenomenon on television in the year
1990. The frenzy lasted into 1991 but sadly fizzled out quickly due to the
network’s (ABC) futzing around with time slots, days-of-the-week for airing,
and unexplained hiatuses. What began as the number one show on television for
several months somehow derailed during its underrated second season and lost
its viewership. The program was cancelled, leaving the fans of the series with
an unresolved cliffhanger that haunts us to this day.
Lynch and Mark Frost were the men behind Twin
Peaks. At the time, in the late 80s, Lynch was just coming off the success
of his 1986 feature film, Blue Velvet,
when he teamed up with TV veteran Frost to create a PG-rated show that explored
many of the same themes as Velvet—only
for a television audience. The fictional town of Twin Peaks, in Washington
state, is gorgeous (those beautiful Douglas firs!), has a diner that serves the
best pies in the world, and a seemingly “normal” population of families and
mill workers. However, like in Blue
Velvet, a dark underbelly exists beneath the safe exterior, one that is
supernatural and evil.
thrust of the show’s first season and half of the second season was solving
the mystery of “who killed Laura Palmer?” Once that storyline was resolved, it
was clear that the writers and creators weren’t sure where to go from there.
The episodes did falter a bit mid-second-season,
but for my money, they found their footing in the last quarter with the new
storyline involving master criminal Windom Earle. The show was just building to
a new dramatic peak (no pun intended) when the axe fell.
bounced back quickly, though, and made a feature film, released in 1992,
entitled Twin Peaks—Fire Walk With Me.
Not many people liked it, including the die-hard fans of the show (who had, in Star Trek fashion, begun letter-writing
campaigns to the network with pleas to renew the show). What was wrong with the
feature film? It lacked the quirky humor and most of the eccentric characters
from the TV show and instead focused on the very sordid and tragic story of
Laura Palmer’s final week of life before her murder. It also didn’t address the
cliffhanger ending of the series—or did it? At any rate, the movie failed, and the Twin Peaks phenomenon was over.
the aforementioned die-hard fans formed fan clubs, an annual pilgrimage to the
show’s locations in Washington state, and the cult grew over the last twenty-four
years. It is now generally recognized that Twin
Peaks was way ahead of its time and that it was the catalyst for the
“episodic” television dramas that came after it—Northern Exposure, The
X-Files, and pretty much everything else we watch today on cable channels. Twin Peaks showed the networks that
audiences would stick with a storyline that developed over many episodes. It
was a new way of doing things on television. The show was also groundbreaking
in that it dared to take viewers into surrealistic territory—something that
hadn’t been done since, say, 1968’s mini-series of The Prisoner. Twin Peaks also
began the cult of water-cooler discussions the next day at work. “What did that
mean?” “Who was that dancing dwarf?” “I think so-and-so killed Laura.” “No, I
think whozit did.” And so on.
the years went by, several releases of the show on VHS and later DVD exacerbated
the confusion because the two-hour pilot episode (1:34 without commercials) was
owned by a different company and was never issued in America. People were
buying the two seasons without seeing the all-important, foundation-laying
pilot (and still the best “episode” of the entire story). This was rectified in
2007 with the “Definitive Gold Box” DVD release that contained both complete
seasons, remastered with bonus material (but not Fire Walk With Me). Additionally, over the years, it was learned
that Lynch’s initial cut of Fire Walk
With Me was nearly four hours long and it did contain scenes with the other characters from the town. The
director had been forced to cut the movie down to a manageable 2:15 by
contract, so he decided to just focus on Laura’s story. Fans have been howling
for these “missing pieces” to be released, but the rights were tied up in legal
and financial complexities.
we now have it all. These “missing pieces” have been assembled, remastered, and
edited by Lynch himself to create a somewhat “new” Twin Peaks movie (called, of course, “The Missing Pieces”). This
Holy Grail for Peaks fans, along with
the gorgeously restored and digitally remastered Fire Walk With Me (first Blu-ray release in the USA) and the two
television seasons with pilot, now comprise Twin
Peaks—The Entire Mystery, a lavish box set that begs to be devoured with
several slices of pie and some of that “damned good coffee.”
“The Missing Pieces” emphasizes how much better Fire Walk With Me would have been had Lynch been allowed to release
the longer version. It would have felt more like the television series. There
are sequences that help explain a lot about the ending of the show, too. While
Lynch elected to remain vague about FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s fate in the
Black Lodge and his earthly body’s possession by BOB the Killer, there are
clues in the “Missing Pieces” that at the very least address the situation.
theatrical cut of Fire Walk With Me needs
to be critically reassessed as well, now that we’ve seen many more David Lynch
films of its ilk (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire). It works best if you think of the picture as a
horror film—which it is—and a very disturbing one at that. Sheryl Lee delivers
a courageous and brilliant performance as Laura, far surpassing anything she
did on the television series.
for the two seasons of the show, Kyle MacLachlan is a revelation as Agent
Cooper—this was the role the actor was born to play. Other standouts in the
cast are Michael Ontkean, Ray Wise, Grace Zabriskie, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn
Fenn, James Marshall, Dana Ashbrook, Madchen Amick, Eric Da Re, Everett McGill,
and Jack Nance.
extras in the box set include new video interviews between Lynch and the Palmer
family (Leland, Sarah, and Laura), and then the actors who portrayed them
(Wise, Zabriskie, and Lee). Very effective stuff. There is a new Fire Walk With Me making-of documentary,
a couple of documentaries ported over from the 2007 Gold box, the Blu-ray
version of the “international” pilot, and some new collages of “atmospheres”
from the show that combine imagery and music into short, themed vignettes.
twenty-five years later, Twin Peaks—The
Entire Mystery serves as a reminder that Lynch and Frost’s show was even
more brilliant than it was first suggested, and that it needs to be
rediscovered and re-evaluated. There is much to savor.
1982, Meryl Streep had already made a big splash in the motion picture
industry, having won a Supporting Actress Oscar for 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer, and securing a Supporting Actress nomination
prior to that for 1978’s The Deer Hunter and
a Best Actress nomination for 1981’s The
French Lieutenant’s Woman. With Sophie’s
Choice, the actress snapped up the Best Actress Oscar pretty much without a
contest—everyone knew that if she didn’t win, then a terrible crime had been
committed by the Academy. In short, in this reviewer’s opinion, Streep’s
performance in Sophie’s Choice is one
of the greatest pieces of acting ever presented on the silver screen. Period. Since
then, Streep has gone on to prove, over and over, that she is arguably the most
talented actress in the history of cinema, but Sophie remains her masterpiece.
a damned good movie, too, and it should have at the very least secured
nominations that year for Best Picture and Best Director. It’s faithfully
adapted from William Styron’s best-selling novel and it’s beautifully made. And
while Streep dominates the film with her bravura characterization of a tortured
Polish Holocaust survivor, her two co-stars, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol,
are also very good (in fact it was Kline’s film debut as Nathan, Sophie’s
bi-polar lover). Pakula’s direction is sensitive and intimate, although it’s a big story that encompasses three
distinct personalities amidst a backdrop of post-war ennui.
you’ve never seen it, you’re probably thinking, Oh, a Holocaust movie, what a downer, who wants to see that? Well,
there are Holocaust films and then there is Sophie’s
Choice (actually only a small portion of the film reveals Holocaust scenes
in flashback). Primarily it’s a love story, albeit a tragic one. It will move
you and shake you, and you will come away from the experience a different
person. Seriously. This is Alan J. Pakula’s best motion picture, All the President’s Men notwithstanding.
best thing about the new Shout Factory Blu-ray release of the film is the fact
that it’s anamorphic widescreen—which the only other U.S. DVD edition wasn’t.
The disc is worth buying for that alone; however, the 1080p high-definition
presentation looks very good. The soft focus used throughout the picture by DP
Nestor Almendros is perhaps a detriment to the overall appearance of the image,
but still—it’s much better than what we had before. The audio commentary is by
the late director himself.
only extra is a long, recent roundtable discussion between Streep, Kline,
Pakula’s widow, William Styron’s widow, and two of Pakula’s colleagues. The
group goes through the film’s casting and production, revealing many
interesting gems about the business.
Choice is one of the best films of
the 80s. Experience it on Blu-ray today
Author and Cinema Retro columnist Raymond Benson has collaborated with bestselling author Jeffery Deaver on "Ice Cold: Tales of Mystery and Intrigue From the Cold War", a new book that presents a topic both men know well: espionage. In addition to stories by Benson and Deaver, there are contributions from many other talented writers who specialize in thrillers. The book is winning rave advance reviews (click here). Both Deaver and Benson have won acclaim for writing original James Bond novels.
Benson and Deaver, along with other noted authors, will be in New York City for a book launch event at the famed Mysterious Bookshop on April 29 at 6:00 PM. The store is located at 58 Warren Street in Tribeca.
Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer, who will be at the event, said, "We're very excited by Raymond's new project. He's been with Cinema Retro since our first issue ten years ago and his regular column in which he discusses the "Ten Best Films" of a specific year has become an integral part of our magazine. Additionally, his insightful, on-line DVD reviews have helped www.cinemaretro.com enjoy significant growth in readership over the years. Like all of his other admirers, I'm looking forward to delving into "Ice Cold" and I encourage all of our readers in the New York City area to attend the event, which should make for a fun-filled evening."
"Ice Cold" is available in many different formats from Amazon. Click below to order paperback and Kindle editions.
John Wayne's McLintock! was a major hit at boxoffices- though it's lighthearted tone was contrasted against the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred days after the movie's release.
Author and Cinema Retro columnist Raymond Benson takes a sentimental journey back to the year 1963. A half-century later, we can remember that year as one of tumultuous events, capped off by the assassination of an American president. But Benson also points out the pleasures of that period as well, from classic TV shows to enduring motion pictures- and he combines them with his own personal memories. Click here to read
probably the quintessential motion picture epic.If you’re looking for an intimate story told
on a grand scale, an adventure set in an exotic location and against the
backdrop of significant historical events, and an engrossing portrait of an
important First World War figure… seek no further.Lawrence
of Arabia has it all.This 1962
roadshow attraction from arguably Britain’s greatest director, David Lean, Lawrence is simply a magnificent
achievement—both technically and artistically.With star power such as Peter O’Toole (in his first major role), Omar
Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness, Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins, and Jose
Ferrer, and a master cinematographer such as Freddie Young, Lawrence of Arabia is not only gorgeous
to look at, it is dramatically compelling.
states that on the first day of shooting, Lean told him, “We’re off on a great
adventure, Pete!”Indeed.With a director like Lean, an actor had to
trust the helmsman and follow him, whether it was to the universe of Charles
Dickens, war torn Southeast Asia, Russia at the time of the Revolution,
Colonial India, or the deserts of the Middle East.Lean tackled big subjects with equally largeproductions.In this case the
director took on the life of T. E. Lawrence, the famed British army officer who
acted as a liaison to the Arabs during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the
revolt against the Turks during World War I.In O’Toole, Lean found his Lawrence, the role the actor was born to
play, and the picture exhibits the man’s greatness as well as his
vulnerabilities and enigmas.This is
a David Lean picture was always an event.You knew you were going to step back into another time and place, and
learn a little something about the historical events surrounding the
story.You knew you would examine in
great detail the lives of ordinary and extraordinary people.For three to four hours, you would live in a
world only the magic of the movies could reproduce.Columbia/Sony’s new limited collectors
Blu-ray gift set replicates the epic grandeur of the film with a lavish,
handsomely-packaged treasure trove of material that will enhance your immersion
film itself, on disc 1, is an all-new 4K restoration, along with an optional
picture-in-graphics track, exclusive to the Blu-ray.Two additional Blu-ray discs are loaded with
extra features, providing hours of in-depth coverage of the making of the film
and retrospective interviews and analyses.The most complete reconstruction of the deleted “balcony scene” between
O’Toole and Jack Hawkins, never-before-released, appears on the third disc.A fourth disc, a CD, contains the soundtrack
by Maurice Jarre with two unreleased tracks.If that wasn’t enough, a terrific hardbound coffee-table style book, informatively
written by Jeremy Arnold and with a Preface by Leonard Maltin, is full of
photographs surrounding the production and insight into the challenges the
filmmakers faced.Finally, an
individually-numbered, mounted 70mm frame of the film completes the
in time for Christmas, this collector’s gift set is a movie buff’s dream.
Note: the following is a press release sent by Sony UK pertaining to this major restoration:
“Lawrence of Arabiais universally
considered to be one of the greatest epic films of all time and is certainly
the crown jewel in the Columbia Pictures library,” noted David Bishop,
President of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “Finally, the long anticipated
and much in-demand release of David Lean’s masterpiece will be available on
Blu-ray, which will provide consumers the chance to experience the sheer
spectacle and beauty of this movie with the finest image and sound available.
Additionally, in honor of Lawrence of
50th Anniversary, we have created a special gift set composed of a coffee table
book and soundtrack, which will add further dimension to the enjoyment of this
bonus content included in both the four-disc Gift Set and the two-disc release
include the “Secrets of Arabia: Picture-in-Graphics Track,” which allows the
viewer to become immersed in the world of Lawrence of Arabia and
learn about the customs and rituals of desert existence.The set also comes with the “Peter
O’Toole Revisits Lawrence of Arabia”
featurette, as well as the previously released, hour-long behind-the-scenes
documentary “The Making of Lawrence of
Arabia,” and the featurettes “The Camels are Cast (Maan Jordan),” “In
Search of Lawrence,” “Romance of Arabia,” and the 1970 version of “Wind, Sand
and Star: The Making of a Classic.” Both sets include newsreel footage of the
New York premiere and advertising campaigns. Exclusive to the Gift
Set are featurettes including “In Love with the Desert,” “King Hussein Visits Lawrence of Arabia Scene,” the original
1963 35mm version of “Wind, Sand and Star,” and conversations with Steven Spielberg and Martin
Scorsese. Also included is a never-before-released deleted scene complete with
an introduction by Lawrence of Arabia’s
Oscar® winning film editor Anne V. Coates, A.C.E.
Film, including overture, intermission, entr’acte and exit music
re-mastered 5.1 English audio
of Arabia: A Picture-in-Graphics Track
O’Toole Revisits Lawrence of Arabia” -
Making of Lawrence of Arabia” documentary
Conversation with Steven Spielberg”
Camels Are Cast”
Search of Lawrence”
Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic” (1970 version)
Footage of the New York Premiere
DISC 3 (Gift Set Exclusive Disc):
Deleted Scene with Introduction by Anne Coates
Lure of the Desert: Martin Scorsese on Lawrence of Arabia” All-New Interview
with Martin Scorsese
Love with the Desert”
at 50: A Classic Restored”
King Hussein Visits Lawrence of Arabia
Sand and Star” (original version, 1963)
Interviews with William Friedkin, Sydney Pollack, Martin Scorsese and Steven
Restoration Trailer (1989 Release)
TV Spot #2
DISC 4 (Gift Set Exclusive Disc):
Exclusive Lawrence of Arabia Soundtrack CD
including original score and two previously unreleased tracks
Lawrence of Arabia has a running time
of 227 minutesand is rated 12.
Any fan of British cinema must celebrate Criterion’s deluxe
packaging of David Lean’s first four films as a director. These collaborations
with writer, performer, and “personality” Noël Coward are exemplary examples of
the fine work made by the Two Cities Unit production house, which was formed
during the Second World War. In each case, the films are presented in beautiful
new high-definition digital transfers from the 2008 BFI National Archive’s
restorations. And, as this is a review for Cinema
Retro, the readers of which include many 007 fans, it must be pointed out
that there is indeed a connection between the films (three of them, anyway) and
Bond. Actress Celia Johnson was Ian Fleming’s sister-in-law (her husband was
Ian’s older brother, Peter Fleming), and her daughters Kate Grimond and Lucy
Fleming are currently on the Board of Directors of Ian Fleming Publications
Ltd., which of course guides the Bond literary franchise. And if you’ve never
seen Celia Johnson perform, you’ve been missing something. She is arguably one
of the greatest actresses the UK
has ever given us.
In Which We Serve,
co-directed by Coward and Lean, and starring Coward as a naval captain (not his
usual persona), John Mills, Bernard Miles, and Celia Johnson, is pure war
propaganda stuff, but it’s well done and compelling. The 1942 picture was made
was fighting for her life, and it was the year it seemed the Axis might win.
Lean was plucked from the ranks of clever film editors to handle the technical
aspects of the production whilst Coward concentrated on acting. According to all
accounts, Lean ended up actually directing most of it because Coward grew bored
with the process. It’s a surprisingly good picture, despite its sentimentality.
Look for a very young Richard Attenborough in his first film role—he’s just a
This Happy Breed,
1944, stars Robert Newton,
Celia Johnson, Kay Walsh, and John Mills, and it’s a poignant drama about a
working-class family’s life between the two world wars. Coward rarely wrote
about anyone that wasn’t upper-class, so in many ways the film is a novelty.
Like How Green Was My Valley, it is
an honest and wonderfully-acted ensemble piece about a people, based on Coward’s stage play of the same name. It’s the
second-best picture in the set.
1944, stars Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, and Kay Hammond, but the film is
stolen by Margaret Rutherford, who displays so much verve and energy as the
medium Madame Arcati that the rest of the cast seems asleep. Based on Coward’s
hugely popular stage play, the film won an Oscar for Visual Effects (namely creating
apparition). It’s pure fluff, but it’s entertaining and whimsical in a way Lean
never explored again.
1945, is the jewel in the crown here. Based on Coward’s short play, Still Life, the picture features the
performance for which Celia Johnson is primarily known (she was nominated for a
Best Actress Oscar). Paired with Trevor Howard, she displays a truthfulness and
believability not often found in 1940s cinema. Brief Encounter is the often sentimental yet profoundly effective
tale of two would-be adulterers who take an affair to the line—but do not cross
it. The picture deservedly provided Lean with his first Oscar nomination for
Extras abound. Each disk includes a video interview with Coward
scholar Barry Day about each respective film; an episode of The Southbank Show from 1992 examines
the life and career of Coward; and a couple of vintage documentaries on Lean
are among the more interesting features. A booklet of essays rounds out the
Available! Author and Cinema Retro columnist Raymond Benson’s classic 1980s reference book all about 007, THE
JAMES BOND BEDSIDE COMPANION, has been re-published!
JAMES BOND BEDSIDE COMPANION was Benson's very first published work (it
originally appeared in 1984!). Crossroad Press has published it again this
week, first as an e-book, available for Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, and all
other e-reader formats. Coming later will be an downloadable audiobook edition,
followed by a new print edition!
of today, the book is the #1 best-seller on Amazon Kindle’s “Film and
BEDSIDE COMPANION was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best
Biographical/Critical Work of 1984 by Mystery Writers of America and 007 fans
still consider it to be a "Bond Bible."
Here is the official description of the book:
New digital edition of the classic 007
reference book from the 1980s, complete with a new Foreword by the
JAMES BOND BEDSIDE COMPANION is an encyclopedic celebration of 007, who is
still the world’s most popular secret agent.
only book to cover all aspects of the James Bond phenomenon in a single volume,
it includes: a) An intimate portrait of Ian Fleming as remembered by his
friends and colleagues; b) a character study of James Bond—his background and
early life, his clothing and other personal habits, his preferences in food and
drink, his attitudes toward women and marriage; c) The by-products of Bondmania
and the merchandising of 007; d) Detailed analyses of every James Bond novel by
Ian Fleming, as well as those written by other authors through the 1980s; e) A
critical look at the 007 film series—the producers, screenplays, directors,
actors, soundtracks, and special effects; f) over 100 photographs; g) An
Introduction written by Ernest Cuneo, perhaps Fleming’s closest American
friend; h) And enough facts, figures, and miscellaneous Bondian trivia to
satisfy even the most ardent fan.
Raymond Benson is the highly acclaimed author of twenty-five books, six
original James Bond 007 novels, three film novelizations, three short stories,
and two anthologies on Bond. He is a sought-after lecturer on film genres and
history. Writing as David Michaels, Benson is a New York Times best-selling
author, an Edgar Alan Poe Award nominee, and a Readers' Choice Award winner.
-- over at Smashwords.com and choose the format you want. Visit http://theblackstiletto.net
for a promo video and other news about THE BLACK STILETTO.
In other news, all of Benson’s original thrillers on e-book format are still on
sale for 99 cents through July 4:
TORMENT: a supernatural thriller involving love,
obsession, and voodoo; ARTIFACT OF EVIL: a thriller that combines modern day
crime, historical figures, and fantasy; SWEETIE'S DIAMONDS: a Tarantino-esque
chase across America with a female protagonist; A HARD DAY'S DEATH: the first
Spike Berenger "rock 'n' roll hit," a mystery with sex, drugs, and
rock 'n' roll; DARK SIDE OF THE MORGUE: nominated for Shamus Award for Best
Paperback Original P.I. Novel of 2009, 2nd Spike Berenger "rock 'n' roll
hit"; FACE BLIND: a thriller about a woman who can't recognize faces...
"Wait Until Dark" meets "Memento"; and EVIL HOURS: a novel
about a family dealing with a murder... "The Last Picture Show" meets
"Blue Velvet". They’re all in the Kindle store at http://tinyurl.com/3m9zz9f
or at Smashwords at http://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=Raymond+Benson
for other for other formats.
(For more about Benson's forthcoming retro adventure novel The Black Stiletto, click here)
Novelist and Cinema Retro columnist Raymond Benson knows a thing or two about action/adventure stories, having penned numerous official James Bond books. His latest venture is a novel introduces the character of a mysterious, legendary female crime-fighter who mesmerized the nation in the 1950s and 1960s before vanishing into thin air. Click here to view a promotional "newscast" about the character and to pre-order copies of The Black Stiletto.
Kudos to Kino: the video company has released a boxed set of the acclaimed AFT feature films.
By Raymond Benson
to go see a Broadway or West End stage play—but at the local cinema?No, it’s not a filmed stage production.It’s a play translated to the film medium,
but with complete faithfulness to the original play script.Not only that, it stars big name actors and
is directed by a top-notch director.To
complete the conceit, you get handed a playbill (program) when you enter the
theater.There might even be an
intermission—or two!And you have only four
showtimes at which you can view the picture before it disappears, and you have
to buy your ticket in advance with a subscription for a whole “season” of these
filmed plays, or staged films, or whatever you want to call them.
was the unique and exciting experiment called the American Film Theatre.
in 1973, producer Ely Landau launched this daring and unprecedented cinema
series that played in the U.S. for two “seasons,” with a total of fourteen
titles (but only thirteen were shown), all renowned works—classic and modern—originally
produced on the stage.Landau and his
wife Edie were not Broadway producers, but they were Theatre People and had
helped launch the “Play of the Week” series on PBS television, produced Sidney
Lumet’s film version of Eugene O’Neill’s Long
Day’s Journey Into Night (1962), and were keen on inventing a way to make
Broadway (or the London stage) accessible to everyone in America—at their local
have always been stage plays adapted for film—A Streetcar Named Desire, for example, or The Miracle Worker, or Hamlet.But plays like these were “re-imagined” for
the film medium—the script was often changed or re-written with added or
deleted scenes, the action was “opened up” to include locations outside of a
single, claustrophobic stage set, and the roles were usually re-cast with
“Hollywood actors” rather than “Broadway actors.”Then there were also the few stage
productions that were filmed as is, i.e., cameras were set up in front of an
actual proscenium stage while an already-rehearsed play was performed and the
cameras simply recorded the production.Waiting for Godot (1961), for example,
was done this way for television.
American Film Theatre concept tried something different.The directive was to take a great stage play,
not change a word, and in most cases,
use the actual play script as the screenplay.The next step was to hire an accomplished film director to interpret the
text for the film medium but stay
faithful to the play.Sometimes the
director was the same person who helmed the original stage production.A further step was to persuade the original
casts from the Broadway or London productions of those plays to star in the
film; or, when that wasn’t possible, to cast big-name Hollywood or British
actors.Thus, the result was indeed a
filmed play—but you as an audience member wouldn’t be watching it from the
middle of the orchestra or from the side or from the first balcony; instead you
were up close and personal in a realistically-presented world (on studio sets
and/or real interior or exterior locations)—just like in “regular” movies.You had the best seat in the house, so to
speak, but there’s no proscenium arch.It’s a movie.But it’s a
didn’t have a lot of money to produce the series.Getting the rights to the plays was the easy
part.In most cases, if the playwright
was still living, he was more than happy to take a modest fee to see his play
translated faithfully to the screen.Edward Albee, for example, had already gone through a Hollywood
experience with Who’s Afraid of Virginia
Woolf?During that production, he
and producer/screenwriter Ernest Lehman often clashed over the script until
Lehman finally gave in and used Albee’s original play text as the film script
almost verbatim (and yet Lehman was credited for the screenplay and received an
Oscar nomination for it!).So, when
Landau approached Albee about doing A
Delicate Balance in the American Film Theatre with promises that the actual
play would be the screenplay, and Albee would have director and cast approval,
the playwright jumped at the chance.Landau
collected the rights to the plays he wanted in this manner and started from
scratch with every production, except for two.Three Sisters, from the Anton
Chekhov play and directed by Laurence Olivier, had already been produced and
released in Britain only in 1970.Philadelphia, Here I Come!, from the
Brian Friel play and directed by John Quested, was an Irish production set to
be released in 1975.Landau bought the
U.S. distribution rights for both films and presented them as two of the
entries in the AFT program.Thus, Three Sisters and Philadelphia, Here I Come! were the only pictures in the entire two
seasons that Landau and his team did not produce.
talent (directors, actors, designers, technicians) was asked to work at a
reduced rate or at scale.No one
refused.It was for a cause they all
thought was worthwhile.Lee Marvin, for
example, joked that he “lost $225,000” by starring in The Iceman Cometh (which meant he did the movie for only
$25,000—his going rate at the time was $250,000).
from American Express and other organizations helped fill out the rest of the
production costs.Finally, audiences
were asked to subscribe in advance to a certain number of films in a particular
season.They could buy tickets for the
entire season or a lesser selection if they desired.Only four performances per film were shown at
selective theaters around the country—simultaneously—and a new film premiered
every month.Just like theatre, only in
a Theatre Person (defined as someone who has studied and worked in the theatre—I
was majoring in Drama at the University of Texas at Austin in the fall of 1973
when the American Film Theatre premiered)—I found the series exhilarating.Most people who appreciated and knew the theatre loved it.They understood and “got” what Landau and his
team were trying to do.Unfortunately,
the rest of the public met the series with a collective shrug.Film critics complained that the films were
“too much like stage plays” (duh!).True, many of the productions were a bit claustrophobic because, like
the original plays, they took place in single settings.In only a few cases were the plays “opened
up” to include scenes outdoors (such as Rhinoceros
and Lost in the Stars).What the critics didn’t understand was that
the series was created to celebrate playwrights,
and so the emphasis was on the plays.With
great acting.And wonderful
of the acting, I assert that the AFT series contained some of the best performances
one can see on the silver screen—ever.It’s a shame that none of the films were
eligible for Academy Award consideration (due to the limited showings and non-traditional
distribution); otherwise we would have seen many of the AFT’s stars up for
Oscars.Only one of the films, The Man in the Glass Booth, was released
in a regular theatrical run in 1975 after the AFT seasons were finished—and
Maximilian Schell was indeed nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in
first season consisted of eight films/plays.Beginning in October 1973, one picture played each month through May
1974.The second season consisted of six
features (only five were actually shown) and ran in 1975.
The Cinema of Terrence Malick—Poetic Visions of America.(Second Edition) Edited
by Hannah Patterson.(Wallflower Press, 2007.)
The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski—Variations on Destiny and Chance.Edited by
Haltof.(Wallflower Press, 2004.)
Wallflower Press publishes several lines of film books.Represented here are two examples of their “Directors’
Cuts”—a series devoted to the works of individual directors.Both are similar in structure and degree of
academic and scholarly study.These are
not picture-books or “Films Of” books.They are intended for the serious student of film theory and
Perhaps no other filmmaker other than Stanley Kubrick has
elicited more mystique than Terrence Malick.He made two critically-acclaimed poetic dramas in the seventies (Badlands and Days of Heaven)and then
“disappeared” for twenty years before re-emerging on the Hollywood scene with The Thin Red Line in the late
nineties.One more film (The New World) appeared in 2005.His work eschews traditional narrative, is visually
beautiful, and emphasizes mood and emotions over character development.Editor Patterson has collected a number of
essays written by film academicians and critics that dissect Malick’s four
films.Dry stuff, but it’s a worthy
companion for anyone wanting more out of the director’s pictures.
Polish director Kieslowski had been working behind the Iron
Curtain for two decades and was relatively unknown in the West until the late
eighties.With such penetrating
examinations of “everyday life” as The
Double Life of Veronique, The
Decalogue, and the superb Three
Colors Trilogy (Blue; White; Red), Kieslowski presented us with dramatic
puzzles about fate and its effect on the human condition.Once again, editor Haltof has gathered a
collection of essays by prominent international critics, authors, and
academicians that attempt to make sense of films that are not instantly
accessible.Of particular interest are
the discussions of the director’s earlier, little-seen works such as The Scar and Blind Chance.Recommended.- Raymond Benson
Ingmar Bergman Revisited—Performance, Cinema and the Arts.
Edited by Maaret Kokskinen.(Wallflower Press, 2008.)
Cinema lost one of its towering giants last year with the
death of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.Bergman not only had a long career in motion pictures, but he was a
well-respected theatre director as well.Koskinen’s book contains a variety of essays and recollections by
prominent international critics, authors, and academicians.The pieces fall within the book’s three main
sections (“Music, Stage, Film—Between the Arts”; “Picturing the Self—Between
Words and Images”; and “Picturing the World—and Beyond”), and is preceded by a
heartfelt Prologue by Bergman’s longtime collaborator and onetime lover, Liv
Ullmann.The book is decidedly more of a
scholarly and analytical study of Bergman’s themes and methods rather than a fannish
celebration of his career.Nevertheless,
it is a valuable and worthwhile addition to a cinephile’s library, and it especially
belongs in the collection of any student of the Swedish master.
TCM International Film Guide—2008 (44th Edition).Edited by Ian Haydn Smith.(Wallflower
This annual publication began in 1963 and is arguably the
most authoritative and respected source of information on world cinema, as well
as the numerous film festivals that are held around the world.Now with Turner Classic Movies acting as a
sponsor, the book is even better than ever.This 44th edition encompasses the films and festivals of 2006
and 2007, and all major motion picture releases from around the world.New features include coverage of five
“Directors of the Year” (in this case, Faith Akin, Suzanne Bier, Guillermo del
Toro, Paul Greengrass, and Jia Zhangke), a focus on the German film industry,
the growth of DVD production, and a study of documentaries.Full of color stills, trivia, and
comprehensive listings, the International
Guide is a must for serious film fans.An art house patron’s delight!
“JEROME BIXBY’S THE
MAN FROM EARTH”(Directed by Richard
Schenkman.2007, Starz Home
Longtime James Bond fans may recognize the name Richard
Schenkman, the director of this marvelous, thought-provoking independent
science fiction drama.During the 1980s,
Schenkman was the president of the James Bond 007 Fan Club (based in the USA) and
publisher of its fanzine, Bondage.Since that time, Schenkman has escaped from
Bondage to become a first rate Hollywood
and independent film director.After a
few years at MTV, Schenkman made a few small budget indies that received
critical acclaim, if not blockbuster box-office (including The Pompatus of Love, Went to
Coney Island on a Mission for God…Be Back by Five) and the hit TV-movie and
perennial holiday feature, A Diva’s
Schenkman’s latest film was written by the late, legendary
science fiction writer Jerome Bixby (who wrote episodes for Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, among others).This posthumous production was spearheaded by Bixby’s son, Emerson.The story concerns a small group of friends
who have come to say goodbye to John Oldman (portrayed by CSI: Miami’s David Lee Smith), who is moving house for mysterious
reasons.In a moment of possible
recklessness—or is it premeditated?—Oldman reveals to his friends that he is
thousands of years old.In fact, he says
he was a Cro-Magnon man and has somehow never aged or died.He has simply re-invented himself decade
after decade, century after century, eon after eon—to fit in with progressing
societies.At first, his friends think
Oldman (get it?—“Oldman”) is pulling their legs, but as the day turns into
night, Oldman presents startling and convincing evidence of his claim.
The script is more like a stage play than a film—in fact, The Man from Earth would probably make
an excellent stage play—and there’s a lot of talking, no special effects, and
no action (except for a short struggle between a couple of characters)—but the
film is nonetheless engrossing and suspenseful.Schenkman doesn’t need to “open up” the story—it’s all there in Bixby’s
well-crafted script.By the time the
final, shocking revelation is made, Schenkman and his cast have the audience
well in hand.I would go so far as to
say it’s one of the most intelligent
and profound science fiction dramas
that we’ve seen in a long, long time.
Smith is very good as Oldman, and the rest of the cast shine
as well (John Billingsley, Ellen Crawford, William Katt, Annika Peterson,
Richard Riehle, Alexis Thorpe, and Tony Todd).But the true star of the piece is Bixby—and the film is a last testament
to a great writer’s career.Highly
recommended.- Raymond Benson
Voyages of Imagination—The Star Trek Fiction Companionby Jeff
Ayers (Pocket Books)
Talk about a labor of love!Author Jeff Ayers had to familiarize himself
with over six hundred books published
since 1967 (when the first Star Trek paperback
book of fiction was published by Bantam) in order to present this massive 782-page
trade paperback that lists every single Star
Trek novel ever published.If that
isn’t a monumental task in and of itself, Ayers also manages to comment on each book, offering insights
and background to the novels’ plots, characters, and their place in the Star Trek universe.It’s all here—the numbered novels, the
unnumbered novels (and for all the Trek television
series, too!), novelizations, anthologies, young adult fiction, and more.Equally impressive is the Appendix—a Star Trek Fiction Timeline (created and
compiled by numerous authors) that places each novel within the year-by-year
time frame of the Trek universe.Ayers, a freelance journalist who has written
for a number of publications and serves on the board of the Pacific Northwest
Writers Association, declares himself a “Star
Trek fan as far back as he can remember,” and it shows.This is truly an awesome piece of work.Read long and prosper.
Author and Cinema
Retro columnist Raymond Benson pays his respects to one of the cinema’s
most legendary directors.
Another one of my cinema heroes is gone.
I first discovered Ingmar Bergman when I was a freshman at
the University of Texas at Austin,
way back in 1973.My good friend and
Drama Department colleague Stuart Howard and I were working in the scene shop
as part of our required crew assignment when he said, “Hey, they’re showing The Seventh Seal tonight [on
campus].Want to go?”
I had heard of The
Seventh Seal and had seen that famous still photo of Max von Sydow playing
chess with Death, but I had never viewed the film or any other Bergman
picture.After all, I was fresh from Odessa, Texas,
where the idea of a foreign language film (with—aghh!—subtitles) was something alien and too bizarre to comprehend.Like most people in those days, I eventually discovered
the great foreign classics while I was a college student.
I thought my days
of writing about or for James Bond were over. But as Al Pacino bemoaned in The Godfather Part III,
'They keep pulling me back in!'
And that's exactly what the recent so-called "Ultimate Edition"
DVD releases of the Bond series did for me. After having not viewed many of the pictures in years, it
was a treat to go back and watch them all again in chronological order, dip into the bonus features, and
reassess the official EON 007 films' something I hadn't done since the publication of the updated
edition of The James Bond Bedside Companion in 1988. Twenty years is a long time and I'm a very
different person than I was in 1988. For one thing, I've been on the other side of the fence with Bond.
Thus, I'm not really in a position to opine whether or not this or that film is good. It's the main
reason why I don't update the Bedside Companion-it just wouldn't be ethical for me to write critiques of
the Bond books or films since 1988. I leave that for others to do.