cinephiles know that Woody Allen is a huge fan of Ingmar Bergman. Allen has
paid homage to the Swedish master several times, and his 1982 work, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, is an
example. It draws upon one of Bergman’s very few comedies, Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), which is also the basis of the
Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical and later film, A Little Night Music.
Smiles takes place at the
turn of the last century (1800s to 1900s) in a rural village in Sweden, and the
story follows the bawdy escapades of several couples. Likewise, Allen’s Midsummer takes place in the same time
period, although the story is transplanted to “the country” somewhere in New
York state, and concerns an ensemble of six characters—three couples—who also
embark on bawdy escapades.
original film, in turn, is inspired by the works of Anton Chekhov. Smiles of Summer Night is light,
intellectual, and explores manners and morals with an undercurrent of serious
sexuality bubbling underneath—just like some of Chekhov’s comedies. The Russian
playwright’s comedies are not belly-laughers; instead they are subtle, amusing,
and effervescent. You smile at them.
Bergman’s Smiles is the same way, as
is Allen’s Midsummer.
said, Midsummer is not one of Woody
Allen’s better films. It’s all right—it’s not bad, it’s just very, well, light.
A fluff piece. Something he made to fill some time. He had actually shot Zelig prior to making Midsummer, but the visual effects of the
former film were taking longer than expected—so Allen wrote, produced, edited,
and released Midsummer in the interim
(Zelig was released in 1983).
are perhaps two significant aspects to Midsummer—one
is Gordon Willis’ gorgeous color cinematography, which excellently captures the
“enchanted” forest and pastoral mood of the film, and the other is that it’s
the first of Allen’s releases featuring Mia Farrow as a co-star. Unfortunately,
as opposed to several other of the director’s movies made later in the decade, Midsummer does not show off Farrow’s
talents particularly well.
plays Andrew, an “inventor” married to Adrian (Mary Steenburgen). They are
having marital problems, although their love for each other is evident. They’ve
invited two couples out to the country for a weekend—Leopold, a randy old
professor (Jose Ferrer) and his young fiancé Ariel (Farrow), and
Maxwell, a randy young doctor (Tony Roberts) and his adventurous nurse, Dulcy
(Julie Hagerty). Throughout the course of the weekend, couples mix,
relationships are challenged, and the promise of sex dominates everyone’s mind.
Throw in a little magic (the forest is “enchanted”),
and you have a light little romp of a comedy.
Time’s limited edition Blu-ray (only 3,000 units) features a 1080 High
Definition transfer that beautifully brings out the colorful settings. It comes
with a 1.0 DTS-Master Audio soundtrack, plus an isolated music track (the score
is made up of lively classical pieces by Felix Mendelssohn). The theatrical
trailer is the only supplement. The booklet contains an informative essay by
film critic Julie Kirgo.
the grand scheme of Allen’s nearly fifty titles, Midsummer resides somewhere in the lower third, to be sure. Nevertheless,
it provides 88 minutes of amusement in the way a nice European pastry is
pleasing to the palate. Enjoyable while it lasts, but then it’s gone.
one facetiously counted the number of films Woody Allen made beginning in 1969
and throughout the 70s, there would be eight that he wrote and directed (seven
of which he also starred in), plus a movie that he only wrote and starred in—Play It Again, Sam, for which I’ll count
as 1/2, making Stardust Memories number
9-1/2. Appropriately, this film seems to intentionally pay homage to Federico
Fellini’s own masterwork, 8-1/2
(1963), which was about a filmmaker who didn’t know what movie he wanted to shoot
next. Stardust Memories, released in
1980 after the huge successes of Annie
Hall and Manhattan (with
critically-acclaimed Interiors in-between),
is also about a filmmaker in search
of the picture he wants to make.
wasn’t well-received at the time. I recall leaving the theater in anger. How
could Woody be so contemptuous of his audience? It was as if his character, the
rather egotistical and unlikable filmmaker Sandy Bates, hates his fans,
especially the ones who clamor for his “earlier, funnier movies”—and of course
we couldn’t help but superimpose Sandy Bates with Woody Allen. And that’s where audiences misinterpreted the picture.
Bates is no more Allen than Marcello Mastroianni is Fellini in 8-1/2. While Allen (and Fellini) may
have infused their “alter-egos” with autobiographical aspects of themselves,
the characters were indeed fictional representations.
no secret that Allen often likes to mimic European filmmakers he admires—his
love of Ingmar Bergman is evident in several pictures. This time, with Memories, Allen does invoke Fellini and
that director’s signature stream-of-consciousness and non-linear storytelling
with flights of fantasy and surrealism. Filming in black and white for the
second time in a row, Allen, like Fellini, throws in outdoor circus scenes,
grotesque and freakish extras, radical editing techniques, and meandering love
affairs. Instead of coming off as mere imitation, though, Allen’s picture
succeeds on its own merits. It’s a challenging, highly intellectual piece of
cinema that must be viewed more than once to fully appreciate. Allen himself
has said that Stardust Memories is
one of his favorite films that he’s made. I’d place it in the upper third of
his by now numerous works.
story follows Sandy as he attempts to please his producers, the studio, the
fans, and himself—all the while haunted by the failed and tragic relationship
he had in the past with Dorrie (luminous Charlotte Rampling). Along the way
there are dalliances with other women (Jessica Harper and Marie-Christine
Barrault). The dream sequence at the opening of the film, in which Sandy is
trapped on a morbid, claustrophobic train from hell, while looking out at another train where inside there’s a
lively party going on (and young Sharon Stone blowing kisses at him through the
window), is one of Allen’s most memorable set pieces. The whimsical middle, in
which Sandy and Harper’s character escape a film festival to watch magic acts
in a field is pure effervescence. The jump cut close-ups of Rampling’s face
during a breakdown toward the film’s end is one of the most powerful sequences
Allen ever shot.
there are the many familiar and unusual cameos that pop up—Tony Roberts,
Laraine Newman, Daniel Stern, Amy Wright, Brent Spiner, and even Allen’s ex-wife
and co-star Louise Lasser... Gordon Willis’ spectacular cinematography... Dick
Hyman’s wonderful adapted score of Cole Porter and other old-school tunes... it
all adds up. There is much to savor
in Stardust Memories.
Time’s limited edition (only 3,000 units) Blu-ray sports a 1080p High
Definition picture that looks wonderful, along with a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
soundtrack. The only supplements, sadly, are an isolated music score, a booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo and the
original theatrical trailer.
Stardust Memories was a divisive movie
for Allen fans, but time has been kind to it. Give it another go—you may be
surprised by how masterful and engaging it really is.
The Life and
Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby may not immediately come to mind when naming
the most well-known of author Charles Dickens’ novels, but it’s arguably one of
his best. Besides being a cracking good story in print, the Royal Shakespeare
Company famously produced an 8-1/2-hour long Tony Award-winning play (staged in
two parts, with a dinner break) in 1980 that was one of this reviewer’s most
treasured theatrical experiences.
motion picture, released in 2002 to positive critical acclaim but little
enthusiasm from ticket-buyers, is also a delight. Writer/director Douglas
McGrath whittled down Dickens’ massive tome to a mere 132 minutes, and yet one
doesn’t miss the extracted bits. The screenplay is an essential lesson in adaptation. Now a gorgeously
rendered Blu-ray release from Twilight Time, Nickleby can be re-evaluated and appreciated for the superb
achievement it is.
story is typical Dickens—in mid-19th Century England, the death of Mr. Nickleby
leaves Nicholas (winningly played by a young Charlie Hunnam), his sister, and
mother without a penny—so they must go to London and depend on the charity of
Uncle Ralph (Christopher Plummer), who is a characteristically cruel and greedy
Dickens villain. Nicholas is at first sent to a boarding school run by Mr.
Squeers (Jim Broadbent), who is also cruel and greedy and likes to beat the
children. There, Nicholas meets the crippled Smike (Jamie Bell) and the pair
become fast friends. Nicholas succeeds in getting Smike out of the school, but
then they run into the eccentric Vincent Crummles (Nathan Lane) and his wife
(played hilariously by Barry Humphries—yes, a man), who put the young lads in
their traveling theatrical troupe. Misadventures and calamities continue to
befall Nicholas, not withstanding his romance with Madeline (Anne Hathaway),
which Uncle Ralph is determined to quash.
one can see, the cast is amazing. Add to these principles the likes of Alan
Cumming, Timothy Spall, Tom Courtenay, Edward Fox, and several other notable
British actors, and you’ve got an ensemble piece to be reckoned with.
(perhaps best known as Woody Allen’s co-writer and Oscar nominee for Bullets Over Broadway, writer/director
of Emma, and writer of the Broadway
smash Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)
brings intelligence and a colorful visual style to the material. Why the film
wasn’t nominated, at the very least, for Production Design or Costume Design is
1080p High Definition transfer looks wonderful, and the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
also comes with an isolated score track (by Rachel Portman) and a valuable and
informative “how-I-did-it” commentary by McGrath. Other supplements include two
making-of documentaries ported over from the original DVD release, as well as a
“view from the set” multi-angle feature. The original theatrical trailer rounds
out the package.
Nicholas Nickleby most likely slipped
by you back in late 2002 when it played in theaters—here’s your chance to check
it out before the limited edition run of 3,000 copies sells out.
a recurring theme in Woody Allen’s work over the past twenty years—“the heart
wants what the heart wants.” The writer/director (and, now, only occasionally
an actor) has lately tackled this topic with varying results. You have to hand
it to him, though—the guy has consistently made more or less a movie a year
since 1969. There have to be a few clinkers in there—even Hitchcock had some.
Luckily for us, though, Café Society is a pretty good entry in Allen’s canon—not
one of the masterpieces of yesteryear, but it’s probably the best thing he’s
done since the excellent award-winning Midnight
Café Society is a period piece that takes place mostly in
Hollywood in the 1930s, and therein lies much of its charm—the production
design and costumes, along with Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography, immediately
provides eye candy that looks fabulous in high definition. Fans of American
cinema history will find a lot to admire in the picture’s references to old
story is familiar territory. Jesse Eisenberg is the Woody-surrogate this time
around, playing New Yorker Bobby, who goes to L.A. to get a job at the studio
run by his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell). There, he meets a secretary, Veronica
(Kristen Stewart), and falls in love. Little does he know that she is involved
with Uncle Phil. Another woman named Veronica (Blake Lively) enters the tale a
little later, when Bobby is back in New York. In short, Café Society is a love story that
spans several years with a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-meets-another
girl, boy-runs-into-first-girl-again plot structure.
are laughs, to be sure, but overall the film projects a bittersweet,
melancholic mood that is disarming for a Woody Allen film. Is the ending a
happy one? That’s not a guarantee; in this case what the heart wants may not be
what’s best for the heart.
performances are of high caliber, especially those of Stewart and Lively. The
former creates a deeply conflicted character in Veronica 1, while the latter
lights up the screen as Veronica 2. Parker Posey is always a welcome addition,
and Corey Stoll, as Bobby’s mobster brother, is hilarious.
a solid 3-out-of-4 stars Woody Allen flick. The one thing that definitely could
have been deleted was the voice-over narration (delivered by Woody himself),
which is unnecessary and, at times, annoying.
with most home video releases of the director’s pictures, the Lionsgate Blu-ray
(packaged with a DVD and digital copy) comes with little in the way of
supplements. In this case, there’s only two-minutes of “red carpet footage” and
a trailer—but the feature film is a little gem.
Film noir was still a valid Hollywood
commodity in 1951, and director Nicholas Ray was one the style’s star
practitioners. He had begun his career with the classic They Live by Night, and just the previous year he had brought us In a Lonely Place (see Cinema Retro’s
review here). On Dangerous Ground, which stars Ida Lupino (who reportedly
directed some scenes when Ray was ill) and Robert Ryan, is a fair
representation of the movement—it’s not bad, but it’s not particularly great,
it comes across as two different movies. The first forty minutes or so are deep
in film noir territory—it has an urban
setting, a cynical and violent protagonist (Ryan, as a police detective in the
city), night scenes, hard-boiled dialogue, harshly contrasting black and white
photography (by George E. Diskant), and sultry dames. Then, the story shifts
“up north” to snow-covered landscapes and mountains, a bright sky, and a completely
different plot than the one we started off with. Ryan, after chasing after
mobsters in the city, is sent upstate to help out with a murder investigation
in a rural area (which also doesn’t make sense, jurisdiction-wise). There he
meets a lovely blind woman (Lupino) and abruptly softens his tough guy act. His
affection for her affects the way he treats her younger, mentally challenged brother,
who of course is the killer. At this point the movie doesn’t know if it wants
to be a crime thriller or a love story.
performances are fine, although Ward Bond as the father of the slain victim is
ridiculously over-the-top. The direction is competent, and the cinematography
is striking. The problem is the script by A. I. Bezzerides—it’s weak enough to
sink the entire picture. Fortunately, the film is saved by another member of
the production team—the inimitable Bernard Herrmann. He provides the exciting score, and fans will immediately recognize motifs that
sound as if they could be practice riffs for his music in Vertigo and, especially, North by Northwest. Bernie’s work makes On Dangerous Ground completely worthwhile
and a lot of fun to watch.
restoration and transfer of the Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray disk looks
darned good. The images are sharp and clear, and the blacks and whites are
vivid—the snow sequences are notably gorgeous. The movie comes with a commentary
by film historian Glenn Erickson. The theatrical trailer is the only
of film noir should consider picking
up this release—and Bernard Herrmann enthusiasts should grab it without
thinking about it.
Are you a MOVIE BUFF? Do you think you know a lot about
MOVIES? Well, then, Movie Buff is the party accessory for you!
What is it? Movie Buff is a fast-paced, open-ended, very clever trivia card
game for “folks who love spouting movie lines and film facts.” It’s tag line is
“Finally!—a place for all that useless knowledge!”
During the course of the game, players
create “Takes” that consist of a movie title, actor(s) in the movie, role(s) in
the same film, and even applicable quote(s). “Strategy” cards can be thrown to
manipulate the play of the game. Because the game relies on players’ own store
of trivia knowledge, the same game can never be played twice. No expansion
Recently, Cinema Retro correspondent and reviewer RAYMOND BENSON encountered
JUSTIN PURVIS, the creator/designer of Movie
Buff, at Chicago’s Flashback Weekend. He sat down with Justin to find out a
little more about Movie Buff.
RETRO: How did Movie
Buff come about? What’s the origin
JUSTIN: Honestly, I feel
like I've been working on Movie Buff my entire life. Ever since I was old
enough to start watching movies, I have had this connection with films and the
actors in them. And movies became a huge part of my life when I was fourteen,
and I was diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disease that began to slowly
steal my eyesight, leaving me with less than 10% of my vision remaining today.
But when I was diagnosed, I had no idea how long I would be able to see, so I
dove into the escapism of movies, and found that I had a knack for remembering
useless knowledge, like actors in small roles in movies and lines of dialogue
after only watching a movie once. My brother and I would even have
conversations and movie quotes around my parents and they would sit there
quizzically looking at us as if we were speaking a foreign language.
As I grew older, my friends and I started playing different games
to try and stump one another; one was a game that we just called "the
movie game," where I would name an actor and then the next person would
have to name a movie that that actor was in and then the next person had to
name a different actor in that same movie and then the next person had to name
a different movie that the second actor was in, continually moving from a movie
to actor to movie until one of us was stumped and couldn't figure out another
movie or another actor without repeating them. And then in the 90s the game 6° of Kevin Bacon became extremely
popular where any actor can be connected to Kevin Bacon within six steps using
the movie they've done, so my brother and I and our friends would play games
where instead of naming an actor we connect to Kevin Bacon, you name any two
actors, and we would connect them in six steps or less, seeing who can connect
them either the fastest, or in the shortest amount of connections, or in the
most obscure ways.
And coming from a military family, we traveled around a lot. Every
time we would move, we met new friends and found that they were playing this
game that I thought I had invented. And they always had different kinds of
spins on it, anything from the ability to go obscure once in a while, or if you
did something, you could reverse it back on the other person. That got me
thinking about ways that we could create a unifying game that everyone could
play and share their love of films without being snobbish about it, or not
being as snobbish about it. Which prompted me to take this verbal game
that I had been playing most of my life and turning it into a physical game
with more strict rules to cement the game's idea, but also provide the ability
to play strategies to help you overcome obstacles that show up eventually.
Around 2005 or so, I had finally decided that I was going to try
make a prototype of this game and I went online to a "create your own
cards" website and bought the software and the card stock, creating my
very first prototype of what I was calling Movie
Buff at the time, On Set! I went
and got some generic images from the Internet and put them on these cards and
used them, play testing it with friends or with students that I would teach. I
used to teach Improv in Washington DC, and after the classes or the shows we'd
go out for drinks and I would break out the game and we'd play it.
Slowly over that time, in between full-time jobs, full-time life,
and full-time hobbies, I kept chipping away at the idea, putting it aside
whenever something "more important " came along. It wasn't until 2014
when my wife became pregnant with our first child that I realized I had to get
a real job, or make this game a reality. It was after a long conversation with
my wife, Corrie, that I sat back down to re-write out the entire rules and make
sure all the cards I had were the right ones for the game. We then launched
into starting a Kickstarter campaign and reaching out for help in finding a
print house and graphic designer, as well as making sure all of our legal
obligations were met in protecting the game. And then, nine months after our
successful campaign ended in August 2014, I had the very first printing of Movie Buff in my hands. We immediately
began selling it up and down the East Coast at conventions and festivals, as
well as in local comic and game shops. Never being afraid of a challenge, I
even approached non-gaming stores. I'm proud to say that you can even find Movie Buff in the occasional hardware
store and RV sales buildings. Because, let's face it, everyone can benefit from
RETRO: Are there plans to try and sell it to a bigger
JUSTIN: Absolutely! Every
convention we go to, we make new connections with people and we find out new
ways to spread the word about Movie Buff.
And we have been introduced to many people who are connected with game
companies/distributors. We are currently in conversations with a few companies
and are very excited about the prospects of this upcoming year. Of course, we
will let people know any good news we hear from these companies once we lock
down something with them.
On a potential side note, one of the ways we have really felt like
we have made headway is with the celebrities at the conventions we attend. For
those who have seen us at conventions, you know that we have a fun spread set
out, we make fresh popcorn to give out to people, we have a candy dish filled
with goodies, and when we are less busy, I try to make my rounds to the
celebrity tables to offer them popcorn and candy, since they don't always get a
chance to leave and get a meal until the end of the day. And at a lot of these
conventions, after a weekend of plying the celebs with chocolates and popcorn,
they usually ask me about two things - 'what's the deal with the cane?' (I am
legally blind, so I usually have my cane out when I am delivering candy, just so
people don't think I’m a jerk if I bump into them) and 'what is Movie Buff?' (which I then tell them
briefly about and, on many occasions, has resulted in them buying a copy from
me). So there is a small group of celebrities who have become as in love with
the game as we are, which we couldn't be happier about.
RETRO:Tell us about future updates or spin-offs.
JUSTIN: We have some great
games in the Buff Family coming your way soon! For December 2016, we are
debuting TWO new games. Or, rather, one new game and one Director's Cut!
First we are going to have Movie
Buff - Director's Cut!, which will have three new Trivia Cards to add to
the already amazing game. Also debuting will be the second game in our Buff
family, TV Buff. As we have discovered
through our travails in the convention world, we have a pretty unique game
mechanic and it lends itself to some awesome spin-offs. Much like Fluxx, or Monopoly, you can use the same game dynamic and take it in a whole
new direction. TV Buff will use your
own “useless knowledge” of TV shows and make you the Big Shot of the Boob-tube!
After that, we will be debuting Music Buff in Summer 2017, and following that more additions to the
Buff Family will include Comic Book Buff,
Video Game Buff, History Buff, Sports Buff,
and many others, that will allow every single person who has been told that
they have “useless knowledge”' a venue to prove it is worth something
anyone ever said you remind them of Paul Rudd?
JUSTIN: Yes, they have. And
every single time they do, I have one thing to tell them - Totes Magotes,
Joben. I am very glad to hear it, since he is an incredibly handsome man and
quite funny to boot! In fact, when the movie I Love You, Man first came out, I sat down and watched it with my
girlfriend at the time, and when it was over, she turned to me and said, "This
is like watching a home movie of you."
Check out the Movie Buff website to watch other demo videos, find out where
Justin Purvis will be demonstrating the game near you, and how to order the
game, t-shirts, caps, and other useless ephemera to go with Movie Buff. The game itself sells for
only $25.00 plus shipping.
defines “mockumentary” as a portmanteau (a linguistic blending of two words) of
the words mock and documentary. Essentially, it’s a phony,
comic documentary. Woody Allen didn’t invent this sub-genre of the comedy
motion picture, but he delivered two of its more successful examples—his very
first directorial feature, Take the Money
and Run (1969), and Zelig, released
in 1983. The latter can safely be counted as among the writer/director/actor’s best
movies—and seeing that to date he has directed forty-six titles (and that’s not
counting pictures he wrote but didn’t direct), that’s saying a lot.
Zelig, which takes place
in the late 1920s to the early 30s,is
the story of Leonard Zelig (Allen), a “chameleon man,” a nobody who
inexplicably assumes the physical and aural characteristics of whoever he’s
with. If he’s around scientists, he begins to speak the lingo and carry himself
in an academic, erudite fashion; if he’s associating with Chinese folks, he turns
Chinese, facial features included; and if he’s around African-Americans, his
skin darkens. No one can figure out why this marvel occurs.
he knows it, Zelig becomes an international personality. The newsreels “of the
day” are full of him as he rubs elbows with the contemporary rich and famous like
F. Scott Fitzgerald or Jack Dempsey or even Adolf Hitler (all of whom appear in
some way in the remarkable footage on display in this picture). As it was the
“jazz age,” Leonard Zelig’s strange ability is celebrated in popular songs,
dance crazes (everybody is “Doing the Chameleon”!), and merchandise befitting
the lizard-like misfit.
and his cinematographer, Gordon Willis (who was nominated for an Academy Award
for the first time, unbelievably, for Zelig
after acting as DP for such titles as The
Godfather, The Godfather Part II,
All the President’s Men, Annie Hall, and Manhattan, among many others) painstakingly inserted Woody Allen
into frames of black and white still photographs and old newsreels—Forrest Gump-style, but without the
benefit of CGI—to accomplish the amazing visual treatment for Zelig. The look of the film is simply
remarkable, and totally believable, even more so than in Gump.
color footage features 1983-era intellectual luminaries, such as Susan Sontag,
Saul Bellow, and Irving Howe, providing “interviews” and commenting on the
Leonard Zelig phenomenon as if it had really occurred.
only other star of note besides Allen is Mia Farrow, who plays a psychiatrist
who attempts to treat the “chameleon man.” Of course, Zelig and his doctor fall
in love—it wouldn’t be a Woody Allen romantic comedy without the romance. It’s
interesting to note that Allen actually started filming Zelig after Stardust Memories
(1980) and it was the first of twelve films he made with Farrow. However,
the visual effects took so much longer to achieve after principle photography
was shot, that Allen wrote, directed, and released A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) before Zelig was completed.
by Patrick Horgan, a British actor with a voice that sounds astonishingly like
one of those war-era documentarians, Zelig
is a top-notch, sophisticated, and very funny comedy that is brilliantly photographed and directed.
It was well-received at the time, and it launched Allen into a very successful
run of several financially and critically-acclaimed pictures in the mid-1980s.
And, as with all of the writer/director’s films, it helps if the audience knows
a little bit about history, art, and literature—Woody Allen’s movies, then and
now, are intended for a cultured crowd.
Time’s Blu-ray edition looks terrific—and you can’t complain about the
artifacts and blemishes in the images because these were all intentional to
make the old newsreel footage that much more believable. The disk comes with an
isolated score track (and the “original” 20s-era music, adapted by Dick Hyman,
is hilarious and dead-on), and the theatrical trailer. A collector's booklet with extensive liner notes by Julie Kirgo about the making of the film is also included.
too, will be singing along with “You May Be Six People, But I Love You.” Limited
to only 3000 copies, Zelig is a
must-grab for Woody Allen fans.
book that claims to be a collection of the “best” of something—whether it is a
listing of movies, music, art, and so forth—has to be taken with a grain of
salt. These kinds of things are entirely subjective; although in this case, TCM
(Turner Classic Movies) does have a kind of clout and expertise in the matter.
said, we have this beautifully-designed and illustrated coffee-table trade
paperback that contains not 1000, not 100, not 50... but 52 “essential must-see movies.” TCM’s spokesperson, Robert Osborne,
explains the criteria in his Foreword—“The Essentials” is a weekly Saturday
night event on the television network in which a guest host (the likes of Rob
Reiner, Sydney Pollack, Peter Bogdanovich, Drew Barrymore, and more) introduce
a picture he or she believes is an Essential. The book is a collection of some
of these Essentials, with some sidebar comments by the various hosts who
appeared on the program.
big question is... why 52? Why not an
even 50? Why not 100? Aha! It’s meant to
be a movie-each-week. Fifty-two weeks in a year, one Essential per week.
every single entry in the book is indeed an essential must-see motion picture.
No question about it. Of the 52 included, I personally own 47 of them on DVD or
Blu-ray in my home library and have of course seen the others. Author Jeremy Arnold does a superb job presenting
the reasons why a particular film matters, and it’s not easy to vary
superlatives, which are what it takes to describe these great works of
the ones you expect are there—City Lights,
It Happened One Night, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Casablanca,
Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ in the Rain, Rear Window, The Searchers, Lawrence of
Arabia, Jaws... as well as a few
that I was particularly happy to see listed (Duck Soup, King Kong, Double Indemnity, The Bicycle Thief, Seven
Samurai, Dr. Strangelove, Once Upon a
Time in the West, Annie Hall...).
enough, although after going through the book, one can’t help but think, but what about ___? Why isn’t The Godfather an Essential? 2001: A Space Odyssey? The Wizard of Oz? A Bergman? A Scorsese? A Fellini? I found
myself scratching my head in befuddlement at the lack of some truly significant
mentions. There is also nothing more recent than 1984’s This is Spinal Tap, althoughit’s
understandable that many pictures from the 70s and beyond might not be included
because TCM doesn’t have the rights to broadcast them.
so forget about what’s missing and concentrate on what’s there. Once a reader
decides to do that, then The Essentials is
an entertaining read and, in fact, a lot of fun. Arnold does manage to mention
other titles not contained in the book that may have been influenced by one
that is. The book also has some great stills, both color and black and white.
For a preliminary “bucket list” of must-see
movies, especially for younger aficionados who might want to get a jump start
on their film history class, The
Essentials is a good place to start.
the most informed of Stanley Kubrick fans will know that Emilio D’Allesandro was,
in short, the filmmaker’s personal assistant, driver, builder, repairman,
cleaner, organizer, cook, amateur vet, house-sitter, pet-sitter, babysitter,
and confidante for thirty years. D’Allesandro probably knew Stanley Kubrick better
than anyone outside of the director’s own family. In many way, he was a part of the Kubrick family.
Stanley Kubrick and
a magnificent memoir that was first published in Italy in 2012. The English
translation, by Simon Marsh, is now available and is a must for Kubrick fans.
There have been numerous books about Kubrick—he’s likely the second most
written-about director after Hitchcock—but these tomes are typically about the
films themselves (analyses, the makings of, and so forth). There have been a
couple of biographies, notably one by Vincent LoBrutto, but these fail to
present Kubrick’s personal life in any substantial way—they rely on hearsay and
interviews by other people and are inadequate in that regard. Emilio
D’Allesandro knew Kubrick in such an
intimate way that he was in the perfect position to tell the world exactly what
the director was like as a man.
began working for Kubrick in 1970, just as A
Clockwork Orange was at the end of shooting and beginning the editing
stage. He therefore was behind-the scenes for all the subsequent pictures—Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal
Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut, as
well as the development of discarded projects like A.I.—Artificial Intelligence, and Aryan Papers. There are chapters in the book devoted to
D’Allesandro’s work on all of these, but the bulk of the memoir is more about
the rapport and camaraderie between the two men in-between productions.
example, D’Allesandro talks about Kubrick’s love of animals—at one time there
were nearly ten dogs and just as many cats in the Kubrick household. The
filmmaker’s devotion to his animals bordered on obsessive compulsive disorder.
The same is true about his three daughters. When Katharina, Anya, or Vivian
finally grew old enough to leave the family home and go out on their own,
Kubrick was a “concerned dad” to a painful, but endearing, degree. There was a
lot of: “Oh, since you’re going to be in the city, could you possibly drop in
on Vivian and make sure she’s okay?”
author also goes into how Kubrick’s brain worked in “compartments,” that the
man was capable of multi-tasking unlike anyone the assistant had ever known.
D’Allesandro had to take it upon himself to organize Kubrick’s many-faceted
projects, ideas, and paperwork so that anyone else—and Kubrick himself—could
in opposition to the unflattering accounts in the press that speculated that
the filmmaker was a mad “recluse” or a “hermit,” the author provides solid
evidence that all this was nonsense. “In the collective imagination,”
D’Allesandro writes, “Stanley Kubrick was a kind of ogre. A misanthrope, who
lived alone in his castle, isolated from the world. Stanley was quite the
opposite: he was an altruistic man, capable of generosity without the need for recognition,
an artist who valued his privacy because it allowed him to devote himself to
what he cared about most of all: his family, his animals, and the cinema.”
Stanley Kubrick and
a beautiful picture of a genius who had perhaps the most unique arrangement for
making films in all of cinema history. The book is not only essential reading for fans of the director, but for
film buffs as well.
Janson-Smith passed away on Friday, April 15, 2016, at the age of 93. He was a
giant in the world of British publishing, a major figure in that arena for
nearly seventy years. Serious James Bond fans will know him as Ian Fleming’s
literary agent, the man who spearheaded the exploitation of Fleming’s 007
novels around the world from 1956 until Peter’s retirement in 2002.
a personal level, Peter’s death is a great loss. For me, he was a mentor, a
friend, a teacher, and someone I called my “English dad.” He was instrumental
in the research for my 1984 book, The
James Bond Bedside Companion, and he hired me to write the continuation
James Bond novels in the mid-90s. In short, I owe much of my career to him.
was born on September 5, 1922, in Navestock, England, which is now overtaken by
the sprawl of greater London, but he spent much of his childhood in Dorset. Peter
went to university in 1941, attending St. Edmond Hall at Oxford, where he
obtained what was then called a Wartime Degree. During the war, Peter served as
a 2nd Lieutenant in the army, becoming the adjutant of an anti-aircraft battery
that was part of the defenses for the city. He ended his military duties as a major.
Actress Honor Blackman meets with board members of the Ian Fleming Foundation in 2008. (L to R: Raymond Benson, Doug Redenius, David Reinhardt, Dave Worrall, Peter Janson-Smith, John Cork, Michael VanBlaricum.)
his release to civilian life in 1946, Peter signed on as a trainee literary
agent to A. D. Peters. He joined Curtis Brown Ltd. in 1949 as the manager of
the agency’s foreign language department, where he started selling author Eric
Ambler’s translation rights. It was Ambler who encouraged Peter to leave Curtis
Brown and strike out on his own as a literary agent, which he did in 1956.
same year, Ian Fleming phoned Janson-Smith on Ambler’s recommendation. Fleming
was unhappy with his foreign sales and hired Peter to act as his agent for the
world, excluding England and the U.S. Beginning in 1960, Peter began handling
Fleming’s British sales and all matters of serialization, including the comic
strips in the Daily Express. In 1964,
after Fleming’s death, Peter was appointed to the board of Glidrose
Publications (the company that oversaw Fleming’s literary business), and later
became Chairman. Glidrose is now called Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.
supervising the post-Fleming continuation 007 novels by Robert Markham (aka
Kingsley Amis), John Gardner, and myself, as well as the John Pearson and
Christopher Wood offshoot Bond projects in the 70s, Peter worked with a number
of respectable authors, including Richard Holmes, Gavin Maxwell, and even
Anthony Burgess (Peter sold Burgess’ A
Clockwork Orange). Peter was for some years a Family Director of Agatha
Christie Ltd., and responsible for the works of Georgette Heyer. For over
thirty years was the Executive Trustee of the Pooh Properties Trust (i.e.
Winnie the Pooh), the senior treasurer of the Royal Literary Fund, and the
president of the Ian Fleming Foundation.
Peter Janson-Smith was married three times and
had four children. His partner since 1985 was Lili Pohlmann, whom he declared was
the “love of his life.” He will be dearly missed by his family, his publishing colleagues, and his many friends around the globe.
Altman in the 1970s was a force to be reckoned with. Mostly his work displayed
unconventional experimentation with form, narrative, and especially sound—and
too often his stylistic choices failed to connect with a large, general
audience. The iconoclastic director made some truly great pictures (M*A*S*H, Nashville) and some eccentrically inventive ones (Brewster McCloud, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The
Long Goodbye, 3 Women, A Wedding). He was often hit-or-miss, and
certainly more on the miss side when he got into the 1980s. The 90s found
Altman back on stable footing with a couple of additional brilliant films (The Player, Short Cuts), and more misses.
was, and still am, a Robert Altman fan. I “got” what he was trying to do in his
ensemble pictures—the ones featuring a large cast and a loose, improvisational
storyline. However, in 1976, when Buffalo
Bill and the Indians was released, I was not impressed. I remember
intensely disliking the picture, especially after Nashville had been my favorite film of the previous year. I wrote
off Buffalo Bill as one of Altman’s
misses, and I never saw it again over the next forty years.
now viewed Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray release, I feel as if I’ve just seen a
completely different movie from what I remembered. Granted, Buffalo Bill is still not one of the
director’s classics—it assuredly belongs in the “miss” category (or rather, in
this case, a “misfire”)—but it is much more fascinating and entertaining than
it was for me in 1976.
by Arthur Kopit’s Broadway play Indians,
the film attempts to be a revisionist satire on show business, myths and
legends, and the Wild West itself. The opening titles proclaim it as “Robert
Altman’s Absolutely Unique and Heroic Enterprise of Inimitable Lustre!” Set in
the 1880s, Buffalo Bill focuses on
William F. Cody himself (wonderfully played by Paul Newman) and his “Wild West
(Show)” that toured the country and Europe, “re-enacting” famous Indian battles
and other historical events in front of an audience. It was the “Medieval
Times” of its day. The entire movie takes place at the arena where the company
aka Buffalo Bill, was a man whose exploits were turned into myths by
journalist/writer Ned Buntline (played in the film by Burt Lancaster), and he
has come to believe them. Egocentric to the nth degree, Cody rewrites history for
the benefit of showmanship. Newman is often hilarious in the role, but he gives
the character a disturbing layer of madness. His entire team—his producer (Joel
Grey), his nephew (Harvey Keitel), his publicist (Kevin McCarthy), and others
in the troop— treats him like royalty, and Cody won’t have it any other way.
things change when none other than Sitting Bull (Frank Kaquitts) is hired to be
a performer. The fearsome Sioux chief (who really did perform in Buffalo Bill’s
actual Wild West show for a few months) turns out to be a small, silent man who
speaks through his large, imposing interpreter (Will Sampson). Sitting Bull
eventually causes Cody to face the hard truths of his “lies.” By his insistence
on recreating history as it actually happened, Sitting Bull symbolizes the
plight of the Native Americans at the hands of the white conquerors.
stuff for a movie released in America’s bicentennial year.
performances are top notch, especially those of Newman, Grey, and Geraldine
Chaplin as Annie Oakley. (There are also fine cameos by Altman regulars Shelley
Duvall, Pat McCormick, John Considine, and Allan Nicholls.) The picture elicits
quite a few laughs throughout, and the overall look and feel of the piece is
dead on. What doesn’t work is the haphazard structure, the Ned Buntline
interludes, and the bizarre finale in which Sitting Bull comes back from the
dead to haunt Cody. It’s an acquired taste, something I apparently didn’t
achieve back in 1976 when I first saw the picture. I like to think I’m older
and wiser now, and therefore today the movie made more sense.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks all right, very colorful, if not pristinely restored.
The extras include a not-quite five minute behind-the-scenes featurette, the
teaser trailer, and the theatrical trailer.
new release is a purchase for Robert Altman and/or Paul Newman fans, and, if
you’re like me, someone who hasn’t seen the film since its original release. It
might be time to give Buffalo Bill and
the Indians a revisit.
Capra was a superstar Hollywood director in the 1930s. He had a string of
critically-acclaimed and successful pictures after joining Columbia Pictures
and elevating the studio from “poverty row” to a force that competed with the
big leagues. Two of Capra’s Columbia movies won the Oscar for Best Picture, and
Capra became the first filmmaker to win the Oscar for Best Director three times, all within five years. You Can’t Take it With You was Capra’s
second Best Picture winner and his third Best Director achievement.
his films have been called “Capra-corn,” because they are usually steeped in
Americana, explore themes of social class inequality, feature casts of
eccentric—but lovable—protagonists and greedy, heartless villains, and contain stories
about the Everyman’s struggle against the Establishment. Capra was also one of
the developers of the screwball comedy, in which mismatched couples, usually
from different social classes, fall in and out and back in love.
You Can’t Take It
With You was
based on the Broadway play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, which was still
playing in New York when the film opened. It’s a story with Capra’s classic oddball
characters—this time a whole family of them—and their clash with the moneybags
banking world (a hot topic in the Depression-weary 1930s).
Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) is the patriarch of a poor but extremely happy freedom-loving
houseful of misfits that include his daughter Penny (Spring Byington as a pulp
writer and painter) and her husband (Samuel S. Hinds, a maker of fireworks),
his granddaughter Essie (a very young Ann Miller as a would-be ballerina taking
lessons from a mad Russian instructor played by Mischa Auer) and her husband Ed
(Dub Taylor as a vibraphone player and printer), a couple of other hangers-on
who create things in the basement (Donald Meek and Halliwell Hobbes), and the
obligatory comic African-American maid and butler (Lillian Yarbo and Eddie
“Rochester” Anderson). Oh, and then there’s the other granddaughter, Alice
(Jean Arthur), who is relatively normal and works as a secretary in the big
bank building owned and run by “A.P.” Kirby (Edward Arnold), who wants to buy
Grandpa’s house and land so that he can develop on it. Grandpa is the only
holdout in the area and refuses to sell. The complication comes when Alice and
Kirby’s son Tony (James Stewart, in his first major role and first for Capra) fall
in love and want to marry. Socialite Mrs. Kirby (Mary Forbes) disapproves with
such viciousness that she practically
becomes the real villain of the piece.
the Capra ingredients are all there—odd and funny characters, a conflict
between upper and lower classes, and a screwball romance. Add in a healthy dose
of Americana songs like “Polly Wolly Doodle” and you have a classic that in
many ways still resonates today as a cautionary tale of greed. As the title
states, you can’t take your money with you when you’re gone, so you might as
well have fun and not worry about it while you’re here on earth.
performances are first rate all around (although Byington received the only
Oscar nomination, for Supporting Actress), and the adaptation by Robert Riskin
is superb (despite radical changes to the third act of the play). There are
some very funny moments, such as when the Kirbys come to the Vanderhof home for
dinner on the wrong night, causing the nutty household to spring into action to
accommodate them. Familiar-face Harry Davenport has a wonderful comic turn as a
night court judge when everyone is thrown into the drunk tank for disorderly
conduct and illegal manufacture of fireworks.
yet, of Capra’s most well-known pictures of the 30s (It Happened One Night, Mr.
Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon,
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and
this one), You Can’t Take It With You is
perhaps the weakest. The problem is that it’s too long, at times ponderous, and
it takes a while to get going. I do question whether or not it really was the
Best Picture of 1938—other nominees such as The
Adventures of Robin Hood, Grand
Illusion, and Boys Town may have
been more deserving. And yet, You Can’t
Take It With You is still a very good time at the movies.
new Blu-ray release is outstanding. The film was fully restored and mastered in
4K (1080p high definition) and looks marvelous. There’s not a blemish to
behold, and the grain is welcome. The audio is Mono DTS-HD MA with several
languages from which to choose. Supplements include an audio commentary by
Frank Capra, Jr. and author Cathrine Kellison that is well-informed and
entertaining. A 25-minute documentary, “Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers...You Can’t Take It With You” features
Capra’s son and others talking about the history behind the making of the film.
The original theatrical trailer is included, and the hard-case inner booklet
features a comprehensive and studious essay by film historian Jeremy Arnold.
line—it’s a must for cinephiles, Capra fans, Jimmy Stewart enthusiasts, and
lovers of glorious black and white. Enjoy it... while you can.
Rudolph has had an interesting Hollywood career. He was a protégé
of Robert Altman, for whom he worked as assistant director, and then went on to
write and direct his own oeuvre of
quirky, art-house pictures for four decades. Like Altman’s films, they are ensemble productions often using a stock
company of actors. Stylistically, though, they are much more lyrical, almost
pretentiously arty. Thematic elements in Rudolph’s movies nearly always involve
romanticism and fantasy, and the good ones such as Welcome to L.A. (see Cinema Retro review), Remember My Name, Choose Me, Made in Heaven,and Trouble
in Mind,were critically acclaimed
and modestly successful.
Love at Large, unfortunately, is
not one of the good ones. The movie seems to be in search of a story as it
follows private investigator Harry Dobbs (Tom Berenger, mugging a lot and using
an odd, gravelly voice) on a bigamy case, but the path is really a labyrinth of
possible love affairs for nearly all of the main characters. While Harry’s in
the process of breaking up with his current girlfriend (Ann Magnuson), he meets
a hot client (Anne Archer, whose beauty does not make up for the extremely
mannered performance of a “mysterious dame”) with whom there’s a chance at some
hanky panky. He’s also in competition with a feisty, sarcastic female private
eye named Stella (Elizabeth Perkins, who delivers the most believable and
honest performance in the movie), with whom Harry just might be in love. Each
of the women also has her own individual journey of seeking romance. It’s all
on the level of a soap opera.
was experimenting with this one, and the result doesn’t really work. It
attempts to be a movie about relationships and the “meaning of love” (a
favorite topic of Rudolph’s) overlain with a highly stylized neo-noir detective plot—a lighter Trouble in Mind, perhaps. The problem is
that the noir aspects, and the case
Harry is investigating—cries out to be much more than it is. If it had been a further
developed, gritty crime plot that actually elicited suspense, the picture might
have jelled. Furthermore, the hunt-for-love story, really the backbone of the
movie, resolves abruptly and unsatisfactorily for three of the five sets of
couples involved. With the sometimes laughable performances and the odd tone
with which the actors have been directed, Large
at Large is a head scratcher. It might have been much better in the concept
stage, but the movie doesn’t realize its potential.
said, the writer/director’s permeating quirkiness is interesting enough to
warrant a viewing. And any movie that
casts rocker Neil Young as Archer’s sinister and violent boyfriend is worth
seeing for the novelty factor. (Ted Levine, Annette O’Toole, and Kate Capshaw
also appear in the picture, completing the list of familiar movie faces from
the late 1980s.)
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray of Love at Large looks very good with its colorful Oregon countryside
locations and Portland bars and hotels. The transfer is clean and blemish-free.
There are no supplements on the disc other than trailers of other Kino Lorber
when everyone thought director Brian De Palma’s work couldn’t get more
controversial than 1983’s Scarface,
out came 1984’s Body Double, which
was simultaneously praised and reviled. Just as they had with 1980’s Dressed to Kill, feminist groups
protested Double with even more
vitriol due to the picture’s perceived violence against women. Many critics and
audiences dismissed the movie as merely a small step above porn, given the fact
that much of the plot does deal with Hollywood’s “other industry” that was soaring
to new heights in the mid-80s thanks to the rise of home video and VHS. And
yet, Body Double is now a certified
cult classic, a De Palma fan favorite, and, frankly, in this reviewer’s
opinion, one of his most accomplished and stylish efforts.
working in full Hitchcock Homage Mode, De Palma borrowed some of the plot of Vertigo, in which a killer uses a
look-alike woman to fool our hapless and naive protagonist into believing the
lady is someone else. With Pino Donaggio’s lush orchestral score accompanying
the action, one is indeed reminded of Bernard Herrmann’s romanticism from that
1958 film. The suspense is plotted and paced in the manner of the Master of
Suspense, and the picture also contains much of Hitch’s penchant for dark humor
Wasson (remember him?) plays Jake, a struggling Hollywood actor who is recently
separated from a cheating wife. He’s also claustrophobic, which of course plays
into the plot. He meets another actor, Sam (Gregg Henry) at an audition; Sam
graciously allows Jake to house-sit at a fancy home in the hills while Sam goes
on tour. The bonus for Jake is the eye candy that can be viewed with a
telescope—every night, a woman across the way performs a tantalizing striptease
in a window. Jake falls for the woman (former Miss USA, Deborah Shelton) and he
also unwittingly witnesses her brutal murder.
Holly Body, a porn star (winningly played by Melanie Griffith in one of her
first major roles), who might be somehow involved with the killing. Naturally,
Jake sets out to solve the crime and insinuates himself into Holly’s world in
order to do so. As we learn on the disc’s supplements, De Palma had considered
casting a real porn star in the part—but Hollywood would have turned its back
on him. Griffith convinced him that she could
do the required “moves,” and her casting is a revelation.
this is a story about voyeurism and victims, reality and illusion, truth and
trickery. Hitchcock often explored the same themes; in De Palma’s hands, Body Double becomes an exercise in visual
style and storyline thrills. It’s also a scathing and humorous poke in the eye
at Hollywood itself, especially the world of cutthroat auditioning and casting.
film is very explicit; apparently De Palma once again had to fight the censors
for the film to receive an “R” rating. Griffith unabashedly did her own nude
scenes, even the celebrated peep-show dance through the telescope (which is set
to Donaggio’s mesmerizing trace music).
Body Double got an extra
publicity boost with the inclusion of the hit song “Relax” by Frankie Goes to
Hollywood; a music video running regularly on MTV at the time contained tied-in
clips from the film.
Time’s Blu-ray looks and sounds fabulous. Stephen H. Burum’s cinematography is lavish
and colorful, very conducive to the HD format (1080p). Shot in and around
Hollywood, the locations are familiar, such as scenes in the famous restaurant,
Barney’s Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard, the Beverly Center, and the Rodeo
Collection mall on Rodeo Drive.
include four well-done featurettes on the making of the film, with interviews
with De Palma, Griffith, Shelton, and Dennis Franz, who plays a film director
molded on De Palma himself. There’s also an isolated score track; Pino Donaggio
collaborated several times with De Palma—Body
Double may be his best team-up with the filmmaker. The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD
Time’s release of Body Double is
limited to 3000 copies.
(Note: this title is sold out at the Twilight Time web site. However, it is available from dealers on both Amazon and eBay.)
year 1948 was the pinnacle for film noir in
America, although this style of crime picture would continue for at least
another decade. Yes, it’s a style, not a genre. For the most part it was also
an unconscious style, for the filmmakers who brought us film noir had no idea they were making “film noir”—it wasn’t until the late 1950s that a bunch of French
critics coined the term after looking back at this strange, cynical, dark breed
of crime stories.
Pitfall is a corker, and
while it’s certainly a movie about a crime and contains many of the film noir trademarks such as a femme fatale, a jaded protagonist,
brutal violence (for the time), high contrast photography of light and shadow,
an urban setting, and unstable alliances, it’s really a movie about the hazards
Powell plays Johnny, a bored insurance adjuster in Los Angeles who is looking
for a little excitement in his dull and monotonous life, even though he has a
devoted wife (Jane Wyatt) and young son. Enter fashion model Mona, played by Lizabeth
Scott—the actress who starred in more film
noir pictures than anyone else—who is not really a bad girl but is
certainly an enticement. She is the femme
fatale—a woman who will lead an otherwise good man to his downfall, but to
her credit she doesn’t particularly set out to do so. Her former boyfriend,
Smiley, is in jail for embezzlement, and Johnny is assigned to recover as much
of the money as he can from the “gifts” Smiley gave to Mona. Instead, he falls
a crooked private detective, Mac (played with sinister creepiness by Raymond
Burr), has also fallen for Mona, and he’ll do anything to get her—even if she
wants nothing to do with him. Thus, the plot becomes a love triangle of sorts,
with poor Jane Wyatt clueless as to what is going on. Then things get trickier
when Smiley gets out of jail.
Lizabeth Scott is the object of Raymond Burr's unwanted attentions in "Pitfall".
are terrific all around, but kudos must especially be given to Scott. She was a
competitor of Lauren Bacall, Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, and others who
specialized in playing smoky hot dames; and while Scott never became a superstar,
she is certainly admired by film noir fans
as being perhaps the leading femme fatale of all time. With her husky
voice, a body that won’t quit, the blonde hair, and the bedroom eyes, who
wouldn’t fall for Lizabeth Scott? Powell’s Johnny may be making a huge and
terrible mistake, but he’s a heterosexual male primed for temptation. And that seems to be the point of Pitfall—we all make errors in judgment
because that’s the downside of being human. In the end, though, it’s Scott for
whom we feel the sorriest.
Lorber’s new release is mastered in high definition from a 35mm dupe negative
preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It looks very good, but it’s
not pristine. An entertaining and informative audio commentary by film noir expert Eddie Muller is a
welcome addition. Otherwise the only other supplements are trailers for other
Kino Lorber releases.
line—Lizabeth Scott fans shouldn’t miss this one and film noir enthusiasts will most likely want to add it to their
an artist as prolific as Woody Allen, someone who’s essentially made nearly a
film once a year since 1969 (forty-four and counting), there’s bound to be some
misses along with the hits. The thing is, with Allen the misses can be
rewarding in their own right. Ever since the writer/director stopped making the
“early, funny” zany comedies and jumped light years in maturity with Annie Hall in 1977, Woody Allen became a
“European filmmaker.” In other words, his films began to resemble the art-house
foreign works of say, Francois Truffaut—small, intimate, slice-of-life comedies
(or dramas) about people and their
lives. Yes, there were the Ingmar Bergman influences, and sometimes inspiration
from Federico Fellini. Mostly, though, Allen developed his own voice, style,
and thematic material that has been appreciated by an intellectual,
Woody Allen movie is a little “gem” that seems to reside in one of three tiers.
Tier One is, of course, the masterpieces—the ones that prove that Allen is a
brilliant writer and director (and sometimes actor)—of which there are maybe
around twelve to fifteen. Then there’s Tier Two—pictures that are not complete
successes, but they have a lot going for them and are enjoyed by his fans.
These might include experimental works where Allen tried something different.
The bulk of his work is here. Tier Three contains the complete misses, of which
there are a few, to be sure, but even these might have moments that shine—these
are strictly for Allen completists.
Shadows and Fog, from 1991,
belongs near the bottom of Tier Two, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting
and worthwhile experience at the movies. It helps if you know your Bertolt
Brecht and Kurt Weill, German Expressionism, and Franz Kafka. Filmed in black
and white with lots of contrasting light and shadows by Carlo di Palma, the
style of the picture evokes the works of F. W. Murnau, G. W. Pabst, Fritz Lang,
and other practitioners of German silent cinema of the 1920s. The references
are boundless, and the more you know about this stuff, the more you will enjoy
story takes place in some sort of fantasyland of a German Expressionistic
village in a period that resembles the ‘20s or ‘30s. A serial killer is on the
loose, and bands of vigilantes are roaming the town looking for him. Kleinman
(Allen) is a nervous clerk who is drafted into the gang, but he is quickly lost
in the labyrinth of the winding cobblestone streets. On the outskirts of town
is a traveling circus. There, the sword swallower (!) Irmy (played by Mia
Farrow) is in a relationship with a clown (John Malkovich), but the clown is unfaithful
to her—he has intentions with the tightrope artist (Madonna). When Irmy runs
away from him and the circus, she meets a bevy of prostitutes at a brothel
(played by Lily Tomlin, Jodie Foster, and Kathy Bates!), a rich student customer
(John Cusack), and eventually Kleinman. As with any Woody Allen film, there is
much existential discussion, meditations on the meaning of life, and a few
funny lines, too. In the end, it takes a village (literally) to get rid of the
Shadows and Fog is one of Allen’s
experiments. It doesn’t totally work, but the picture is still fascinating a)
if you’re familiar with the Expressionistic references and b) for the game of
“spot the player” with the amazing cast that Allen assembled. It’s an all star
vehicle with familiar faces popping up throughout, mostly in cameos. Besides
the aforementioned actors, you’ll see Donald Pleasence, Kenneth Mars, Philip
Bosco, Fred Gwynne, Robert Joy, Julie Kavner, William H. Macy, Kate Nelligan,
James Rebhorn, John C. Reilly, Wallace Shawn, Kurtwood Smith, Josef Summer,
David Ogden Stiers, Charles Cragin, Fred Melamed, Eszter Balint, Richard
Riehle, Peter McRobbie, Victor Argo, and Daniel von Bargen. Apprently even
Peter Dinklage appears uncredited as a circus dwarf.
music—always a treat in an Allen film—is mostly by Kurt Weill. You’ll hear
selections from The Threepenny Opera,
Seven Deadly Sins, “Alabama Song,”
Time’s new Blu-ray release doesn’t really clean up the blemishes and artifacts
in the image, but the black and white cinematography is sharp and good-looking.
The grain is welcome for the style with which the film was made. There are no
supplements other than the trailer, a collector's booklet with extensive liner notes and an isolated score track. As with all of
Twilight Time’s releases, Shadows and Fog
is a limited edition of 3000 units, so get it while they last!
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.