have to admit I was not familiar with Lust in the Dust, but as soon as I
saw the names Paul Bartel and Divine on the box, I knew I was in safe hands.
film begins with Rosie Velez (Divine) struggling through the desert on the
world's smallest donkey. About to die from thirst and exhaustion, she is saved
by the timely appearance of a waterhole. The audience is then treated to a
glimpse of his/ her naked behind whilst she bathes, which appears to have a
very unusual birthmark. Also taking in this unsavoury view is Tab Hunter as
Abel Wood, a cowboy of very few words. He is headed for Chili Verde and
reluctantly agrees for Rosie to tag along. When he arrives at this tiny, clichéd
western town he discovers that they don't take too kindly to strangers. Rosie
gets manages to get a job in the bar, which is also a brothel, and Abel learns
that there is a legend regarding hidden gold somewhere in the town. Being the
strong silent type he soon attracts the affections of Marguerita (Lainie
Kazan), bar owner and chief whore, and soon a jealous rivalry erupts between
her and Rosie. Throw into the mix Cesar Romero as the local priest and Geoffrey
Lewis and Henry Silva as bad guys and you have all the makings of a fast-paced,
mischievous comedy western. The plot is nothing new, but it is the
juxtaposition of Divine's constant chatter against Hunter's quiet, thoughtful
delivery that makes this so enjoyable. This is not the first film to use the
"secret clues tattooed on women's behinds" gag, but who cares when it
is this funny? Many of the jokes are borderline offensive, and certainly
tasteless. One would expect nothing less from the director of Eating Raoul
(1982), a dark comedy about cannibalism, and let's not forget that in Pink
Flamingoes (1972), Divine eats real dog faeces on camera.
Hunter had plenty of previous experience in westerns, and had also starred with
Divine before in Polyester (1981) and was able to use his influence in
Hollywood to get Lust in the Dust made, acting as one of the film's
producers. His character is part Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name and part
Franco Nero's Django and as such he has terrific screen presence. All of the
cast are excellent and Paul Bartel manages to hold together what could have
been a mess in the wrong hands.
new DVD release is on Arrow's Arrowdrome label, which presents cult film titles
at low prices but with a minimum of extras. It does feature the original
trailer, a reversible DVD sleeve and a booklet with more information on the
film. Lust in the Dust is hugely entertaining and deserves to become a
new favourite film for anyone who likes their entertainment a little
The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's DVD release of Waterhole #3, a 1967 Western comedy that presents James Coburn in top form as a charismatic drifter, gambler and con-man who is goaded into a gunfight with a local crook. Coburn shoots the man dead by using an underhanded tactic then robs him, only to discover a tantalizing map that shows where a trove of stolen U.S. military gold had been secreted by the man and his partners. Coburn immediately begins to follow the map on an arduous trek across the desert. He is pursued by a local sheriff (Carroll O'Connor) who is trying to arrest him for the murder of the man victimized in the duel. When the two men meet up, it becomes a cat and mouse game with each alternately getting the drop on the other. They discover the hidden gold together and thereby initiate various plots to steal it for themselves. The film, directed by William Graham, is rather amusing throughout most of its running time thanks to the inspired performances of Coburn, O'Connor and some good supporting actors such as Bruce Dern, Claude Akins, Timothy Carey, Joan Blondell and James Whitmore. Margaret Blye makes a good impression as O'Connor's love-starved teen-aged daughter who is smitten by Coburn even though he literally rapes her. The film runs out of steam in the latter part of the story when the dead crook's partners and the U.S. cavalry all converge on Coburn and O'Connor in an attempt to retrieve the stolen gold. Suddenly the film disintegrates into a pioneer version of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with everyone running amok in an attempt to get the treasure.The only thing missing is a "Big W". Folk singer Roger Miller provides a running narrative in the form of a ballad but the gimmick wears thin pretty quickly, largely because the same few notes are sung repeatedly. Nevertheless, the movie is a pleasant enough time-killer thanks largely to Coburn's super-cool persona. There are no bonus extras.
Vic is an extraordinary short film that runs 30 minutes but packs an emotional wallop. The movie is steeped in tragedy, from its subject matter to the story behind its production. The movie stars veteran character actor Clu Gulager in a career-topping performance as a once-popular leading man who has now been relegated to eeking out an existence in his modest L.A. home. Living alone and largely forgotten by his peers and friends, Vic tries to cheerfully get through each day, bolstered by the companionship of his loyal dog. His home is a modest shrine to his former achievements. The walls boast faded newspaper articles about him from bygone eras and there are tattered 8x10 stills of hit movies from happier times. Vic is feeling the pain of his twilight years. He still cuts a handsome figure and can joke and flirt with the ladies but he is relegated to having to use rolls of pennies to pay for necessities in local stores. In one poignant scene, he flirts with a charismatic cashier who is his own age (played in by Gulager's real-life wife Miriam Byrd-Nethery). When he returns to the store the following day to ask her on a date, he is told she was fired because she couldn't keep up with the work load. Vic's world is on the verge of total collapse when potential salvation arrives in the form of a phone call from out of the blue. An influential young director is interested in hiring him for a key supporting role in a major dramatic film. The news sends Vic into elation, then panic when he learns he has to do a reading for the part. This will require him to sit in front of the director and other key crew members and convince them that he is the man for the job. Nevertheless, Vic studies the script diligently, determined to knock 'em dead and revive his dormant career. Then he learns that his beloved dog has been stolen by a local miscreant who he refused to give money to. With his appointment for the reading looming, Vic becomes completely distraught as he searches frantically for his dog. He then makes a frantic drive to the production office to see if he can salvage this one last chance to restore his dignity. The highlight of the movie is Vic's reading of the script for the director and producers. He has dyed his hair jet black, but its a botched job and makes him look foolish. Nevertheless, he is treated reverently by those present and, in an inside joke, he is complimented on his performance in McQ, the John Wayne detective flick in which Gulager co-starred in real life. The film offers some tantalizing, brief appearances by such fine veteran actors as John Phillip Law, Carol Lynley, Richard Herd, Gregory Sierra, Robert Lyons and Peter Mark Richman. You fervently wish the movie was longer in order to capitalize on this extraordinary gathering of talented people. When it's time for Vic to do his reading, director Stallone has ratcheted up the suspense to an almost unbearable level and Gulager pulls out all the stops in a performance that becomes increasingly brilliant.
Vic is based on a story by Sage Stallone, the son of Sylvester Stallone, who won an award as Best New Filmmaker at the Boston Film Festival. Tragically, he died in 2012 of heart problems at age 36. The movie was a family affair for Clu Gulager, with his son John serving as cinematographer and editor (along with Bob Murawski, who would go on to win an Oscar for his editing of The Hurt Locker). Another son, Tom Gulager, gives a fine performance as the young director who holds the key to the old actor's career resurrection. The movie also gave Gulager the opportunity to play a scene with his wife Miriam, who would pass away shortly thereafter. Knowing this adds even more poignancy to the sequence. Stallone shows that he had great potential as a filmmaker but perhaps his greatest legacy is the fact that he co-founded Grindhouse Releasing with Bob Murawski, a company that built a loyal following by restoring and releasing niche market gems. Appropriately, Vic has been released on DVD as a special edition by Grindhouse. The DVD includes a remarkably intimate and revealing interview with Clu Gulager, whose modesty is refreshing and admirable. He says he never became a major star but "was not irrelevant". Indeed, Gulager made one of the most indelible screen villains of all time in Don Siegel's 1964 version of The Killers, playing a psychotic hit man opposite Lee Marvin. Gulager speaks lovingly of his family and his joy at having this fine starring role this late in his career. When asked what the next stop is for him, he says bluntly "the grave". Fortunately, he looks far too fit for that to be imminent and one hopes he does get some good film roles in the future.
The commercial prospects for Vic were always limited due to the fact that it is a short film. The mind reels at the potential the story might have had if proper funding could have been found to make this into a feature length movie. Gulager, who is simply superb throughout, might well have scored an Oscar nomination.
The DVD also includes a montage of still photos from Gulager's career. It's an excellent presentation of an admirable film by a talented director who was denied his chance to fulfill his potential.
The Shadowplay DVD label has released the 1984 film Hookers on Davie Street (aka Hookers on Davie). Despite the sensational title, this is not a sexploitation film. In fact, it's a sobering look at particularly sordid area of Vancouver during a period when prostitutes trawled for customers apparently without any interference from local authorities. The documentary was directed by two female filmmakers, Janis Cole and Holly Dale and won an award at the Chicago International Film Festival. It was also nominated for the Canadian version of the Oscar, the Genie Award, in the category of Best Documentary. The film traces the nightly ordeals of a diverse group of prostitutes that includes young women and transvestites, each of whom suffers the indignity of standing on a street corner and soliciting drivers to pay them for sex in their cars or back in a squalid motel room. The filmmakers obviously had gained the trust of their subjects and were allowed extraordinary access to these wayward souls who share their stories on camera. Virtually all of them came from broken homes, foster homes or juvenile centers and most started their careers as prostitutes very early in life, some before they were teenagers. Most seem to regret having to do this for a living but feel that they have no other choice. The hookers in question pride themselves on working in a "pimp-free" zone where they band together to keep out those who would exploit them even further. Aware of the risks they take every night by getting into cars with strange men, the group does what it can to rescue any of their peers from particularly dangerous situations. Nevertheless, some of the women describe frightening encounters with men who beat them and, in some cases, threaten their lives. If there is a central figure in the film it is Mark, a transvestite who goes under the name of "Michelle". He is half-way through a transgender operation and struts his stuff on the pavement wearing a garish dress with an ample bust line constantly on display. He shamelessly discusses how he got into sordid sex after being abused by an older man and seems unconcerned about the way he now makes a living. A visit from his distraught mother is especially moving when she describes on camera how she still loves her son despite the wreck he has made of his life. The film shows the prostitutes gathering for nightly "rest breaks" in a hotel bar where they joke and laugh the way any other co-workers might be expected to. However, there is an underlying tragic circumstance behind each of their stories. The movie also doesn't shy away from showing some of the "johns" who patronize the hookers. One has to wonder if they aren't as pathetic in their own way as the prostitutes are. After all, the hookers are victims of circumstance while the johns are generally married, relatively affluent men who feel obliged to pay for their thrills. The film culminates in coverage of a protest march by local prostitutes to lobby for legalization of their trade. (Canadian laws concerning prostitution have been criticized for being vague. Prostitution is technically legal but can be prosecuted under certain circumstances if deemed to be a danger to the public.)
Hookers on Davie Street is the kind of bold film making that not only impresses but informs the viewer. In this case, it humanizes a sub-culture of people and makes their plight a sympathetic one.
The DVD transfer is grainy but, given the technology of the era when the movie was shot, the original master probably was as well. There are no extras.
As Cinema Retro gets inundated with DVDs to review during the course of any given year, it's virtually impossible to keep up with all of them in a timely manner. Here are some notable titles you should be aware of:
Cabaret Blu-ray (Warner Home Video): Warner Home Video has inherited the rights to Bob Fosse's classic 1972 film adaptation of the stage production that, in turn, was based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. The Blu-ray comes packaged in one of those irresistible hardback book formats that is loaded with wonderful photos from the movie. The movie itself holds up superbly even after 40 years. The decline of Germany's Weimar Republic amidst the rise of National Socialism in the 1930s is seen through the eyes of nightclub singer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) and her constant companions (Michael York, Helmut Griem) . Fosse's decision to emphasize the sleaze elements of the Berlin of this era helped to elevate this to the status of one of the most intelligent musicals ever put on film- and Joel Grey's eerie Emcee serves as a thinly-veiled metaphor for for the moral destruction of a great nation. The set is packed with extras including recent and previously-released interviews with cast and crew members, a new documentary about the making of the film, an audio commentary track by author Stephen Tropiano, who wrote a book about the making of Cabaret and an original trailer. This title should be deemed as essential for any classic movie library.
I'M DICKENS, HE'S FENSTER COLLECTOR'S EDITION (Lightyear Video/TV Time Machine): This 1962 sitcom lasted but one season but remains one of the more intriguing programs of its era. The show had the misfortune of being up against the popular Mitch Miller program and Route 66. Ratings suffered initially and ABC decided to cancel the series. However, ratings began to climb as positive word of mouth and good reviews began to spread. Ironically, the series began to gain more viewers than its competition but by then the leading actors had moved on to other projects. The show languished in Bootleg Heaven with no official DVD release until this 16 episode set was unveiled last year by TV Time Machiine and Lightyear Video. It features half of the show's episodes, 16 in all, each beautifully remastered. The series presents John Astin and Marty Ingalls as best friends who are also business partners who own their own handyman service. Although many people call the show a lost classic, I find only moderately amusing. In fact, the show's demise resulted in John Astin going on to star in a true TV classic, The Addams Family and left its creator, Leonard Stern, free to work with Mel Brooks in developing Get Smart! Nevertheless, the show is a pleasurable experience on all levels with the two leads demonstrating the deft comedic timing that would lead them to greater stardom in the years to come. What is outstanding is the love and care that has been put into this set. They include audio commentaries by Astin and Ingles along with guest stars Yvonne Craig, Lee Meriwether, Dave Ketchum, Chris Korman (son of Harvey Korman) and Leonard Stern, who passed away shortly thereafter. There are also any number of featurettes about the series and a wealth of vintage network TV ads. In all, a truly superb presentation of a show that few people are even aware of. The video company is said to be hoping to raise enough funding to release the second half of the show's only season.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Warner Archive): Director Tony Richardson's acclaimed 1962 film is the epitome of the British "kitchen sink drama", a genre that revolutionized film making in that country and reflected the concerns of the economically disenfranchised. Britain may have been on the winning side in WWII, but the financial repercussions of the conflict lingered for decades, resulting in a stagnant, class-driven society in which those on the bottom rungs found it very difficult to climb out of their impoverished situations. Consequently a generation of troubled youths emerged. Richardson's film poignantly shows the consequences of having young people come of age in a society that offers them little hope for advancement. Inevitably, many will take the wrong turn in life. The story follows a young man, Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay in a remarkable, star-making performance) as he is sent to a borstal, which is a juvenile corrections facility. Here, he finally finds something of value to center his attention on: his skills as a long distance runner. The facility's warden (Michael Redgrave) nurtures the young man until it becomes apparent that he is using him for his own personal aggrandizement. This leads to a suspense-laden, shocking conclusion centered around an all-important long distance race. Richardson's direction is flawless and the black and white cinematography only adds to the appropriately sullen look of the film. Superb supporting performances by all. (James Bond fans should keep an eye out for future 007 villain Joe Robinson as a track coach). This film is a true classic of British cinema.
Mel Brooks: Make a Noise (Shout! Factory): This is the complete American Masters PBS broadcast of a documentary that chronicles the remarkable life and career of Mel Brooks. As Brooks is very much alive and well, he is able to relate the highs and lows of his life as only he can relate them in his inimitable style. The 2013 shows finds Brooks reminiscing about working for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows, where Brooks was considered to be too manic even by the likes of Caesar. He also relates funny anecdotes about his childhood and WWII experiences. Most of these stories have been told by Brooks for decades but his sheer exuberance and energy are infectious. The documentary by Robert Trachtenberg includes testimonials from such key comedic figures as Rob Reiner, Joan Rivers, Tracey Ullmann and Brooks' long-time collaborator Carl Reiner. The DVD also contains a number of out-takes from the PBS special. Well worth a viewing if you have any love for classic comedy.
The Blue Hour/ One Naked Night/ Three in a Towel Triple Feature (Vinegar Syndrome): This is a triple feature of obscure retro erotica films. The main feature, The Blue Hour, is not really a sexploitation film in the traditional sense as it is far too pretentious in its attempt to emulate art house movie fare. The 1971 production begins with opening credits that take so long to unspool they almost need an intermission. It's a sign of how boring even a film that features an abundance of nudity can be. The story centers on a young Greek woman who is now living in America and married to a successful therapist/businessman. However, she is haunted by images of sexual atrocities that she has endured at various stages of her life including a confusing scenario in which she may have murdered a young Greek priest with whom she was romantically involved. The film boasts some exotic photography but it lumbers along to a completely abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion. The acting ranges from passable to atrocious. Far more interesting is One Naked Night, a 1965 B&W "quickie" that chronicles the exploits of another troubled young woman who moves from a small town to New York City. She ends up rooming with some party girls and is corrupted along the way leading to a conclusion that is rather shocking. The film is a virtual female version of Midnight Cowboy with mean ol' Manhattan proving to be a devil's playground of corruption for innocent young newcomers. The real appeal of the film is not the occasional flashes of nudity but the fact that it presents tantalizing glimpses of the Big Apple during the mid 1960s including Times Square, the infamous Playland arcade, the Latin Quarter and other hot spots of the era. There is also a quaint feel to even the sex sequences including a tender seduction of our heroine by a lesbian roommate, chain smoking swingers, stag movies shown on 16mm and guys who get dressed up in jackets and ties to attend orgies. The cast of unknowns tries hard but you are aware they are strictly amateur. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining look back at a bygone era when films such as this were deemed shocking. The final entry in the triple feature is titled Three in a Towel. Shot in 1969, it's basically a glorified home movie shot in color in various sections of San Francisco. The movie focuses on a young man's erotic dreams of being a sensual version of Walter Mitty and bedding many nubile young women. The film was obviously shot as a silent feature with narration and sound effects added later. It's a crude production played strictly for laughs and the sex is relegated to an abundance of female nude shots but the action never gets beyond soft core. A "highlight" of the film is a scene in which three hippie chicks eat a banana in a suggestive manner while groping each other. Bizarrely, the narrator uses Shakespearean quotes throughout....At least the filmmakers didn't take it all very seriously. The opening titles read a "A Miracle Production-- If It Turns Out to be a Good Movie, It's a Miracle!". The only other credit is "Produced by The Saint" but it seems pretty obvious we're not talking about Roger Moore here. The film is an utter waste of time aside from some interesting visuals of San Francisco in the late 1960s and ends up being about as erotic as a wet noodle. The transfers vary in quality based on the crude source materials but The Blue Hour has undergone a restoration process. In all, an interesting package of largely forgotten films that would otherwise have been lost to time. Their entertainment value is debatable but from a sociological standpoint, they may bring back some interesting memories if you lived through this era. There are no extras other than a trailer for Three in a Towel that promises a lot more sex than it actually delivers.
Nichols: The Complete Series (Warner Archives): The Warner Archives has released all 24 episodes of the little-seen TV series Nichols that starred James Garner. The show aired in 1971-72 but, despite Garner's star power, it was canceled after one season. Garner was just one of the Hollywood superstars who, by the 1970s, felt they should move to television. This was in direct contrast to the prevailing wisdom of the early days of TV in which it was regarded as a second rate medium for name actors to appear in. Among the other shows that failed in the 1970s were ones top-lined by the likes of Henry Fonda and James Stewart. Nichols presents Garner in his most popular on-screen alter-ego: a likable, laid-back anti-hero. Set in 1914, the pilot episode finds him as a career soldier in the U.S. cavalry who resigns due to his increasingly pacifist nature (an obvious nod to the anti-Vietnam War movement that was raging at the time). Nichols makes his way back to the small home town that bears his family name expecting to live a life of leisure. Instead, he finds his parents are dead and his estate has been swindled away by con men. The town has degenerated into a raucous place where a small group of corrupt citizens call the shot. Nichols is reluctantly enlisted to be the new sheriff and, a la Andy Griffith's Sheriff Taylor, he refuses to wear a gun and uses his wits to thwart his adversaries. The show boasts fine production values and some impressive cast members and guest stars (Margot Kidder is the love interest, playing a local saloon owner.) As with any TV series, the episodes vary in terms of quality, but watching Garner at this point in his career is certainly an entertaining way to pass some hours. Although audiences didn't warm to this show, they certainly didn't lose their affection for Garner, who went on to star in the smash hit series The Rockford Files a few years later. (That show's co-star, Stuart Margolin, also appears in Nichols.)
Wanted: Dead or Alive: The Complete Series (Mill Creek): The Mill Creek video company has repackaged and re-released Wanted: Dead or Alive: The Complete Series. The show made a star of young Steve McQueen, who played a bounty hunter in the old West. The series premiered in 1958 and ran for 94 30 minute episodes, all of which are presented in this collector's edition on multiple DVDs. McQueen shows the charisma and self-assured manner that would help elevate him to big screen superstardom a few years later. The show was also a training ground for upcoming directors, writers and other actors including Lee Van Cleef, Michael Landon, Warren Oates, James Coburn and DeForest Kelly. The writing and acting hold up extremely well, a reflection of an era when intelligent Westerns ruled the roost in terms of TV ratings. The boxed set also includes 4 colorized bonus episodes (which look surprisingly good), a photo gallery, some featurettes about various aspects of the show including McQueen's famed sawed-off shotgun that he carried in a holster and a digital reproduction of a comic book based on the show. There is also the complete public domain feature film The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery starring McQueen. In all, an outstanding value.
Those naughty folks at Impulse Pictures have done well by digging up and marketing retro European and Japanese erotic films from bygone eras. Among the more popular releases are the "Schoolgirl" titles that were very popular in Germany during the 1970s. Each release presents several short stories relating to the sexual escapades of German high school girls. (The fact that most of the actresses look a bit long in the tooth to be playing 16 and 17 year old girls becomes less bothersome once the clothes are shed.) Impulse has just released volume 10 in this series which consists of a film originally released in 1976. The thinly-plotted script features story lines that are erratic in content as well as execution. The story opens with a female teacher addressing an all-girls classroom in a discussion on contemporary sexuality. As the girls debate social mores, several of them relate personal experiences. The first tale involves a middle-aged male teacher who is accused of raping a student he was tutoring. The man professes his innocence to a local prosecutor who is interviewing him about the case. (In a bizarre tactic, the prosecutor breaks the "fourth wall" and addresses the viewer directly, though this element does not appear in any other segment of the film). His young student claims she arrived at his apartment for her first lesson and that she was plied with liquor and was seduced by the teacher, who deflowered her. In an anemic conclusion, one of her fellow students comes forward with information that exonerates the teacher. This yawn-inducing scenario seems a mere pretense for showing the young girl disrobing and getting it on. In fact, the story presents flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks. The second story revolves around a gorgeous virgin who is desperate to make love. The rather flaccid scenario finds her learning a life lesson by cheapening her own values through having sex with a series of cads and suffering being gang raped (never shown, but implied). The next tale is somewhat more engrossing with a snarky teenage girl in conflict with her sexy stepmother. She induces a would-be lover to engage in an elaborate plot to discredit the stepmother so that her father divorces her. In return for the young man's cooperation, she promises to finally have sex with him. The plan involves the young hunk actively courting and seducing the stepmother while the daughter secretly documents the adultery by taking photos. The whole scenario comes to an ironic conclusion that sees the deceitful daughter getting her just desserts. The most amusing segment finds two young lovers who are frustrated by their lack of privacy. Inspired by William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, the couple concocts a crazy scheme to finally get them into bed together in her parent's house. This is accomplished by having the girl pretend she is possessed by a demon. The over-the-top slapstick humor has the young woman walking around cross-eyed, rolling about the landscape and engaging in obscene behavior. In one scene she enter the family kitchen, drops her panties and exclaims to her mother, "I own this pussy and it's burning!" (And you thought Linda Blair had some rough dialogue to get through...) With their daughter's "possession" out of control, the family engages the services of an exorcist, who turns out to be her lover in disguise. Behind closed doors, he performs a loud and very violent exorcism, but its really just the two of them having wild sex. The goofy premise is actually fairly amusing. The final tale has another gorgeous high school girl pampered by her middle-aged, married lover. When his wife finds out, complications ensue and she ends up becoming involved with the man's nephew (who somehow looks as old as his uncle).
The series definitely caters to female sensibilities. Women are generally presented in an intelligent manner and the sex scenes are fairly vivid but softcore and tastefully done. (Nothing too kinky here.) One of the most unintentionally amusing aspects of the film involves the English sub-titles which show that Germans must have felt at the time that the word "bang" was used constantly in American society. (One girl greets her would-be suitor by saying, "You want to bang me, right?") This misconception is an amusing reminder of how no one could convince director Sergio Leone that the phrase "Duck you sucker!" was not a common part of the American vernacular. He was so convinced that it was that he titled one of his most prominent films with this bizarre phrase. This latest Schoolgirl entry (pardon the pun) has relatively rich production values in that there are an abundance of sequences shot in actual locations as opposed to bedrooms. An enjoyable aspect of the movie is that it allows the viewer to relive the 1970s for better or worse. We see young people's bedrooms adorned with posters from Easy Rider. There are tacky fashions, high school girls with hairy armpits and the kind of grainy cinematography that was a mainstay of the era.
The movie is definitely a guilty pleasure but it's painless and largely inoffensive to watch- and it does boast some genuinely erotic moments.
Vinegar Syndrome (we love the name) is a DVD label that specializes in preserving and restoring vintage cinematic erotica and other cult films. Their most recent coup is the release of a double feature on Blu-ray consisting of Russ Meyer's 1964 adaptation of Fanny Hill along with Albert Zugsmith's bizarre 1967 Western comedy The Phantom Gunslinger. The dual package generously provides both films on DVD as well as their Blu-ray editions. Russ Meyer was already well-known as both a cheesecake photographer for "men's magazines" as well as a director of soft-cover sex films that generally showcased young women who were super-amply endowed. Ever the opportunist, he teamed with producer Zugsmith in 1964 for Fanny Hill, which was based on a notorious 18th century novel that chronicled the sexual escapades of a promiscuous young woman. Such was the book's controversial impact that when it was reprinted in the early 1960s it was banned in some quarters for obscenity. The publisher and civil libertarians contested the ruling and the subsequent court battle put ol' Fanny right in the midst of the contemporary news cycle. Zugsmith, who was a producer of some repute (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Touch of Evil) had by this point concentrated on low-brow exploitation fare. He reasoned that if the country was up in arms over a two hundred year old book, audiences would go wild over a film adaptation of the story. The plot centers on Fanny (Leticia Roman) as a buxom blonde farm girl who arrives in London, naive and clueless about the ways of the world. She is quickly "adopted" by Mrs. Brown (Miriam Hopkins), a seemingly benevolent older woman who is, in fact, a madame who wants to exploit Fanny's innocence by turning her into a prostitute. What she doesn't count on is just how naive Fanny is. Even when residing with numerous other ladies of the night, she fails to catch on to the fact that the place is a bordello. Mrs. Brown tries on several occasions to financially benefit from renting the young virgin to any number of eager patrons, but fate always intervenes before the act can be consummated. When Fanny falls in love with Charles (Ulli Lommel), a dashing and chivalrous young sailor, Mrs. Brown arranges for him to be kidnapped and taken out of the country. Thinking her lover has abandoned her, Fanny becomes despondent and out of grief agrees to marry a loathsome nobleman. As the ceremony begins, Fanny's betrothed manages to escape and make his way to the wedding where the film climaxes in a crazy, slap-stick filled brawl. Viewers may be puzzled by the almost complete absence of eroticism in the film, along with relatively few lingering shots of semi-dressed young women. The whole enterprise is so chaste it could be shown today on the Disney Channel. This was due to the fact that Zugsmith and Meyer clashed over the content of the film, with Zugsmith insisting that comedy should be emphasized over sexual content. Meyer finished the film but justifiably regarded it as a low-grade entry on his list of cinematic achievements. What emerged is a Jerry Lewis-like farce with zany sequences in which people swing from chandeliers, cross dress and engage in various forms of mayhem. In retrospect, it seems inconceivable that the film was deemed controversial even in 1964. Zugsmith filmed the movie in West Germany using local actors for supporting roles. Although the three leads-Roman, Hopkins and Lommel- perform admirable given the circumstances, the supporting cast is encouraged to play even the most minor moments in absurd, over-the-top manner. The result is that the film's primary legacy is as an interesting relic of a bygone era when "naughty" films could still raise eyebrow without delivering much in the way of genuine eroticism.
The second entry on the DVD "double feature" is even more bizarre and makes Fanny Hill look like Last Tango in Paris in comparison. The Phantom Gunslinger was shot in Mexico as a vehicle for Albert Zugsmith to prove he was a triple threat talent, with the erstwhile fellow producing, co-writing and directing the resulting disaster. It's clear that without someone like Russ Meyer to at least try to restrain Zugsmith's instincts for broad slapstick, the project was doomed from the start. The plot, such as it is, finds a small Western town taken over by a gang of notorious outlaws. They cause some mild mayhem but mostly seem content to gorge themselves on sumptuous feasts in between flirting with the local saloon girls. The local sheriff is terrified and runs away, turning his badge over to Bill (Troy Donahue), a hunky dimwit who sets about trying to wrest control of the town from the raucous outlaws. That's about as deep as the story line goes. Zugsmith pads the film with so much slapstick it makes the average Three Stooges skit look like the work of Noel Coward. The film is certainly one of the most bizarre of its era and its hard to know whether it was ever even released theatrically in America. There is a painful element to watching Troy Donahue at this stage in his career. Only a few years earlier, he was deemed a bankable star by major studios. Whatever desperate measures persuaded him to be involved in this enterprise will probably never be known but perhaps he was inspired by the success of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns. Eastwood went to Spain and collaborated with a genius named Sergio Leone. Donahue went to Mexico and was saddled with Albert Zugsmith. Such are the cruel ironies of fate. The Phantom Gunslinger is so repetitive in its gags that one is reminded that this is the kind of film they invented the fast forward remote control feature for.
Vinegar Syndrome has presented these two oddball films in pristine condition, having overseen a complete remastering process. Fanny Hill's crisp B&W cinematography is one of the better elements of the film and its safe to say that, whatever flaws The Phantom Gunslinger may have (and there are too many to list here), the movie probably never looked so good as it does through this gorgeous transfer. Vinegar Syndrome has also included some interesting bonus extras including a recent interview with Fanny Hill romantic lead Ulli Lommel that is as strange as it is entertaining. Lommel is seen attired in winter clothing and is interviewed in a park where he periodically works out on some exercise equipment(!). He tells viewers that he got the role in the film because he could speak proficient English, having grown up in the American sector of post-WWII Berlin. He also tosses out some funny, if rather insulting, comments regarding the production and the people he worked with. A second bonus extra relates to The Phantom Gunslinger with film historian Eric Schaefer (a self-described scholar of sexploitation movies) providing some sober but interesting insights into the life and career of Albert Zugsmith. The interview is far more entertaining than the feature itself. Another creative feature is reversible sleeve art that allows collectors to display either Fanny Hill or The Phantom Gunslinger as the "featured" presentation in the Blu-ray sleeve. In summary, a superior presentation of two very inferior cinematic curiosities.
The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's DVD release of Goodbye, Columbus as a burn-to-order DVD title. The film caused a bit of a sensation in 1969 with its rather graphic- if comical- examination of a young couple's attempts to have a fulfilling sex life and the obstacles they encounter along the way. Based on Philip Roth's best-selling novella, the movie was released at an opportune time when such coming-of-age stories were able to speak to a new, rebellious generation. It was a sizable hit with critics and the public. Yet, the film never comes close to matching the impact of The Graduate, the movie it almost desperately tries to emulate. Richard Benjamin plays Neil Klugman, a young Jewish man living with his over-bearing aunt and uncle in a lower middle-class section of the Bronx. Invited to a swanky country club as a guest of a wealthy cousin, he lays eyes on Brenda Patimkin (Ali MacGraw), a stunningly beautiful college student who is home from Vassar on summer vacation. The two meet cute and before long Neil finds himself awkwardly introduced to Brenda's upper-crust family who reside in a lavish Westchester home, complete with live-in maid. Although Brenda is also Jewish, her parents disapprove of Neil from the outset. He is an ex-army veteran who seems to have no ambitions and is content with his job as a desk clerk in the local library. Brenda's father Ben (Jack Klugman in a fine performance) is a self-made man who can't understand Neil's lack of desire to make his own fortune. Even worse, Brenda's mother (Nan Martin) is a sneering snob who makes it obvious that Neil's social status will never allow her to accept him. Despite these challenges, Brenda and Neil use surreptitious means to make love wherever and whenever they can, including a daring gambit in which he sneaks into her bedroom while staying at the family house as a guest. Ultimately, as the date draws nearer for Brenda to return to school in Boston, the couple begins to worry if their love can survive being separated. The situation becomes rather grim when Neil discovers that Brenda has not been using any birth control methods, which puts a dent in his libido until he convinces her to get a diaphragm. This type of scenario in a film can be found in family comedies today, but back in '69 it was fairly ground-breaking stuff. The rather downbeat and realistic ending was also in contrast to most love stories of the period (even The Graduate ended on a high note.)
The film represented the big screen debuts of Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw (though Benjamin had been a familiar face on television for years and had starred in his own short-lived sit-com, He and She with real life wife Paula Prentiss.) Both give fine performances with Benjamin's every day guy appeal in full swing along with his ability for deadpan comedy. The problem is that both actors were far too old for the roles the character they portray. Benjamin was 30 years old at the time and MacGraw was 29-- and they look it. Thus, the film takes on a sense of absurdity to see the couple trying to sneak into the woods so they can make out. Benjamin in particular always looked older than his age and at times it appears as though he is starring in a May/December romance instead of a story about two-love struck kids of college age. Director Larry Peerce handles the proceedings adequately, if not exceptionally. He doesn't strive for big belly laughs but does overdo the Jewish ethnic types, especially in the film's climactic wedding sequence. Most of these characters are out of Central Casting, though there are some genuinely funny moments. Michael Meyers is memorably amusing as Ron, Brenda's affable older brother. He's a college jock with a brain the size of a pea- and despite being a lady's man, seems to have a penchant for touching Neil whenever possible. (Despite getting great reviews, Meyers apparently never acted again.) Arnold Schulman's Oscar-nominated screenplay takes the anti-Establishment aspects of the story to an extreme. Virtually every character other than Brenda and Neil are depicted in a grotesque or absurd manner in a rather pretensious bid to appeal to the youth market. The exception is Klugman's character who is given a beautifully written sequence in which he tells Brenda just how much his family means to him.
Another aspect of the movie that makes it look like a lite version of The Graduate is the use of a contemporary group to provide a hip musical score. However, while Simon and Garfunkel's masterful songs for The Graduate spoke to a generation, the soundtrack songs for Goodbye, Columbus are provided by The Association, the epitome of a white bread band from the 60s who specialized in memorable, but emotionally vacant tunes. This is borne out by the fact that none of the tracks the group sings in the film, including the title song, are the slightest bit memorable.
The Warner Archive DVD is the same transfer as the previous Paramount release, including the rather sloppy photo montage on the sleeve which seems to emulate the feel of My Big Far Greek Wedding. The film's original poster was far more haunting.The picture quality is fine but I had problems discerning some of MacGraw's dialogue and found myself having to constantly raise and lower the volume. There are no bonus extras.
Goodbye, Columbus doesn't resonate today as it once did to audiences in 1969..but it can be recommended as an interesting comment on a generation struggling to come to terms with the lightning-fast pace of the societal changes during that era.
David McCallum with event host Bruce Crawford. (Photo: Steve Gray)
By Jon Heitland
On any list of the best films based on World War II, The Great Escape, directed by John Sturges
and based on the novel by Paul Brickhill, will always rank near the top.The compelling story of a group of British
and American prisoners of war and how they outwitted their Nazi captors
observes its 50th anniversary this year, and actor David McCallum,
who plays Ashley-Pitt in the film, travelled to Omaha, Nebraska on November 9,
2013, to help celebrate the classic film. Proceeds went to the Nebraska Kidney
Foundation, which was why McCallum took time from his busy television schedule
to make an appearance.The evening event
centered around a showing of the film at the large, concert-style theater at
the prestigious Joslyn Museum, to an enthusiastic, full house crowd of 1000.
Great Escape 50 year retrospective was another in a long running series of
film tributes organized by Omaha film historian and documentary producer Bruce
Crawford, who, since 1992, has produced similar events for other classic films,
with major sponsorship from Jerry and Patti Gress. Crawford is a lifelong lover of cinema, and
his retrospectives include appearances by the film’s stars or director to share
their recollections with an appreciative audience. Crawford has also produced
two radio documentaries on classic film composers, including Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, Psycho, Taxi Driver, The Day
The Earth Stood Still, Vertigo, North By Northwest, etc.) and Miklos Rozsa
(El Cid, Quo-Vadis, Julius Caesar, King
of Kings, and Ben-Hur).
His past film retrospectives have included a tribute to special
effects legend, Ray Harryhausen, with screenings of Mysterious Island, and Jason
and the Argonauts in 1992; a 35th anniversary screening of Ben-Hur with director William Wyler's
family as special guests in 1993; and The
Longest Day, with director Ken
Annakin and the family of producer Darryl F. Zanuck in 1994. In subsequent years he honored Alfred Hitchcock
with a showing of Psycho, with Janet Leigh and her daughter Kelly as honored
guests; Gone With The Wind with Ann
Rutherford; and Mr. Smith Goes To
Washington, with Frank Capra, Jr.
For The Great Escape
event, local World War II re-enactors appeared in uniform along with a local
modeling club’s display of vintage model planes from the era, along with a
model of a prisoner of war camp. Attendees particularly enjoyed a motorcycle identical to that ridden by
Steve McQueen in the film when he tries to jump a barbed wire fence to elude
German soldiers. A United States Postal Service commemorative envelope for the
50th anniversary of The Great
Escape was also unveiled, featuring scenes from the film involving both
McCallum and Steve McQueen.
Commemorative envelop by the artist Nicolosi.
In introducing the film, McCallum recalled how he got the acting
“bug” at a young age: “My life as an
actor started when I was about 10 years old. I did a scene from King John, from Shakespeare, as a very small prince
in the tower, and there this jailer with a red hot poker is about to put out
his eye, and he pleaded for his life. I did this in a very small theater in a
church, and at the end I got a standing ovation. The scene got a standing
ovation, but I assumed it was for me. At
that moment I realized I had come home, I had found the place where I was going
to be for the rest of my life.”
Memorabilia display (Photo: Jon Heitland)
McCallum, a native Scot, was the son of professional classical
musicians, his father David, Sr., first violinist for the London Philharmonic,
his mother Dorothy a cellist. Young David took up the oboe at age eight, and
attended the Royal Academy of Music for a time, but he left school at age 15 to
attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for two years to become an actor. He
then went into repertory theater, but that was interrupted when he was
conscripted into the National Service. McCallum recalled “I became second in
command of C company, Third Battalion of the Gold Coast Regiment of the Royal
West African Frontier Force.” McCallum noted with pride this unit distinguished
itself earlier in World War II because of the enemy lines of communication it
captured, adding “I mention this because the wonderful thing about being in the
British army is you learn how to put the uniform on, how to march, how to
salute, and that all came in very useful
later on, on several occasions, The Great
Escape being one of them.”
(Photo: Steve Gray)
After leaving the army, McCallum did a lot of television in
Great Britain, with an occasional movie role in such films as The Long, The Short And The Tall, with
Laurence Harvey; Billy Budd, directed
by Peter Ustinov; and Freud with
Montgomery Clift, directed by John Huston. It was while filming Freud that
McCallum met director John Sturges, who would remember him later when casting The Great Escape. Sturges had directed Bad Day At Black Rock, in 1955, one of McCallum’s favorite films.
Sturges had also directed the iconic western The Magnificent Seven, in
1960, which starred Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn, three of
the stars he would feature in The Great
Escape, along with Robert Vaughn, McCallum’s future co-star on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Upon being cast as Ashley-Pitt in The Great Escape, McCallum remembered “When I arrived on set, John
Sturges, the director, gave me a letter, and in the letter it said ‘Let us know what you want, do you need a
babysitter, where would you like to live, would you like a car, would you like
a driver?’ Which was welcoming in a way
which I never thought possible.” McCallum noted he had not done a major
Hollywood type movie before, and he appreciated the respect and care with which
the cast was treated.
On the set of The Great
Escape, McCallum stated the cast all got along well, although they formed
small social groups for their off time: “We had a wonderful time together. The Germans went off with the
Germans, and the British went off with the British, and I went off with Donald
Pleasance., who was a good friend of mine.” McCallum soon also became friends with James Garner, as most of Donald
Pleasence’s scenes were with Garner. The three men remained friends from then
on. McCallum did not see much of Steve McQueen, who played one of his most remembered
roles in the form of Hilts, the cocky American flier whose motorcycle escape
has become a classic sequence, because for many of the ensemble scenes,
McQueen’s character was in the “cooler”.
McCallum also enjoyed the fact his wife, actress Jill Ireland,
and son Paul were with him during the filming, and they would sight see on his
days off in Starnberg, Germany. His
mother also visited the set, and McCallum drove her around Austria. Another member of the Great Escape cast, Charles
Bronson, also became lifelong friends with David McCallum, their friendship
even surviving McCallum’s divorce from Ireland and her later marriage to
Bronson. McCallum has been happily married to his wife Kathy Carpenter since
Although most attendees were interested in re-experiencing the
inspiring film, many were there to meet McCallum, popular today for his role of
Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on televisions’s N.C.I.S.,
as well as a substantial contingent who fondly remembered him as Illya
Kuryakin, the enigmatic Russian spy on The
Man From U.N.C.L.E. from 1964 to 1968. McCallum as Illya created a sensation at the time, resulting in mob
scenes and rock star-like status for McCallum.
The experience of being a “sex symbol”, especially for teen age
girls, caught McCallum by surprise at the time. His character was originally intended to be a a sidekick to Robert
Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo, but quickly became a co-star that helped make the
series a hit in the 1960s and a lasting icon in popular culture. Many of those
teen age girls, now in their 50s and 60s, stood in line after the film to meet
McCallum and get an autograph, which the 80 year old actor graciously supplied
to about 300 attendees anxious to meet him, finishing just before midnight. He also enjoyed seeing a large display of Man From U.N.C.L.E. memorabilia
featuring his image at the event supplied by this writer, a fan from Iowa and
author of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book:
The Behind The Scenes Story of a Television Classic.
McCallum and Cinema Retro's Jon Heitland in front of a display of Man From U.N.C.L.E. memorabilia. (Photo: Mike Beacom)
Today McCallum, besides appearing on N.C.I.S., also does voice over work on video games, which he
describes as a wonderful opportunity to over act. He commutes regularly from Los Angeles back
to New York City to see his family. He
looks forward to raising a glass of wine to another 50th anniversary
next year, the golden anniversary of the premiere of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
In concluding his remarks on The
Great Escape to the appreciative audience, McCallum emotionally recalled
that the cast first saw the film when it premiered in London at the Odeon
Leicester Square Cinema (the scene of many later James Bond premieres): “The
balcony seats had been reserved for the cast. I sat down in my seat, not
knowing what to expect. And for the very
first time, as the curtain parted, and the music of Elmer Bernstein came up, I
watched that film. And I will never,
ever, forget that moment.”
It's conventional wisdom that 1939 is regarded as the greatest year ever for classic movies. (I respectfully argue that 1969 was even more impressive, but I digress). So many great films were released in this one calendar year: Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gunga Din and too many others to list. Lost amid this wealth of cinematic treasures is the often-overlooked John Ford classic Drums Along the Mohawk, a movie that certainly ranks among the legendary director's best work, yet it curiously remains among his least-discussed major achievements. The movie has just been released as a Blu-ray special edition by Twilight Time. The film stars Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda as Lana and Gil Martin, colonial era newlyweds who leave the safety of a big city (Albany, New York) to settle in the upper Hudson Valley, then a no-man's land of hardship and danger for the farmers and settlers who tried to claw out a life there. Their marriage and move to a farm Gil has purchased happens to coincide with the outbreak of the American Revolution. Suddenly, this non-political couple who only want to prosper on their own land find themselves enmeshed in the crisis of the times. Like most farmers, their desire to opt out of the conflict between colonists and British forces turns out to be wishful thinking. The Brits have allied themselves with local Indian tribes who terrorize the settlers through constant raids, forcing them to take refuge in a local fort while they suffer the indignity of watching their farms burn. The fort only provides temporary protection. Short of ammo and provisions, the defenders realize they have precious little time to form a strategy for survival. In the film's most compelling sequence, Gil volunteers to make a seemingly suicidal run through the forest to reach reinforcements at another fort. He is doggedly pursued by three Indian braves who are hot on his heels. Ford milks considerable suspense from the sequence which foreshadows Cornel Wilde's brilliant 1966 movie The Naked Prey. As with any Ford production, however, this one spends considerable time on character development, homespun comedy and American traditions. The battle sequences are impressive but its the actors who make the most of the spotlight with both Colbert and Fonda (in his first of several collaborations with Ford) perfectly cast. There are also Ford stock company regulars like Ward Bond and John Carradine but it is Edna May Oliver who steals the show in an Oscar-nominated performance as a feisty pioneer widow whose forceful nature terrorizes the Indian warriors more than they can intimidate her.
Drums Along the Mohawk was Ford's first color film. It was shot in Technicolor but apparently Fox tossed out the original film elements in the 1970s. This restored version is obviously not as gorgeous as the original theatrical presentations but the film nevertheless looks terrific. Twilight Time has released the movie as a limited edition (3,000 unit) Blu-ray that features some interesting bonus extras. Top of the list is Nick Redman's 2007 feature length documentary Becoming John Ford that traces the mercurial director's long history at Fox and his collaborative productions with studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck. The two would create some great films but ultimately a feud over My Darling Clementine would lead to Ford leaving the studio in 1946. Redman, co-founder of Twilight Time, does a superb job of providing notable talking heads (including Peter Fonda) who provide insightful details on Ford's life and career. Redman also appears on an equally informative commentary track with film historian Julie Kirgo who provides the informative write-ups for the Twilight Time collector's booklets that accompany each release. It's nice to finally hear her speaking directly to viewers and the commentary track is highly entertaining. There is also an original trailer. The only complaint is that the artwork on the sleeve is a bit bland given the star power in the movie.
Sony has reissued its 2002 special edition of producer William Castle's horror exploitation film Homicidal a burn-to-order DVD, although there is no mention of the extra bonus feature on the packaging or publicity for the film. (Sony seems determined not to capitalize on special features that are especially marketable to collectors.) Castle, of course, was the proud master of exploitation films and relished his reputation as the King of Schlock. He excelled in making low-budget, "quickie" films that often capitalized on major hit movies of the day. Castle seemed to fancy himself as a low-rent version of Alfred Hitchcock, who was also not shy about promoting his own image in connection with marketing his films and TV series. Castle's films were not meant to be taken seriously by critics but he did have high standards for the genre in which he worked and it's rare to find any of his movies that don't at least merit classification as guilty pleasures. Others, such as Homicidal, actually turned out to be effective chillers in their own right. The movie was Castle's answer to the phenomenal success of Hitchcock's 1960 classic Psycho. Indeed, there are camera angles, musical cues and plot scenarios that practically border on plagiarism of the original film. The story opens on a fascinating note as we watch a statuesque young blonde (Jean Arless) check into a hotel in Ventura, California. She's a strange one from frame one- barely engaging in conversation with anyone else. She suddenly makes the hunky bellboy a bizarre proposition: she will pay him $2,000 cash if he agrees to marry her and then almost immediately have the union annulled. She does not give a reason for this weird offer, but in an age where a hotel room rented for $5 a night, the $2,000 offer is more than he can refuse. En route to the justice of the peace, the young woman, whose name is Emily, says little and doesn't even engage in niceties. She seems intent on having a specific justice of the peace (crotchety old James Westerfield in a marvelous role) perform the ceremony. As with all Castle productions, to describe much more would spoil some key scenes. Suffice it to say that the short-lived marriage results in murder that is so shocking and gory that it is amazing it was not watered down by skittish studio executives.
What can be said is that Emily is a Swedish immigrant who was brought to America by an equally strange young man named Warren, who resides in an opulent home. Helga's main duty is to care for an elderly woman named Helga (Eugenie Leontovich), another Swede who had been Warren's nursemaid as a child. Helga has suffered a stroke and is confined to a wheelchair, unable to talk or communicate in any meaningful way. Around Warren, Emily plays the doting caregiver, but privately, she delights in tormenting the long-suffering woman, even to the point of making death threats. One of the few outsiders to be allowed into this environment is Miriam Webster (Patricia Breslin), Warren's half-sister. The two have a very close relationship but things are fairly frosty between Miriam and Emily, who seems jealous of the close bond between brother and sister. Emily is also jealous of Miriam's relationship with a local pharmacist, Karl Anderson (Glenn Corbett) and begins to find ways to thwart their social outings. After a time, Miriam and Karl begin to suspect that Emily might well be a notorious murderer the police are searching for. This sets in motion many of the standard actions screen heroines must always engage in. These include not staying in a safe environment and being lured to precisely the location where she knows she will be placed in life-threatening danger. When Emily is about to enter the house of horrors, Castle employs one of his trademark gimmicks by freezing the action and putting a clock on screen that gives squeemish audience members 45 seconds to flee to the lobby where they can redeem a coupon to get their money back. To prevent having to actually provide many refunds, Castle has a caveat to the agreement: all such patrons must stand in full view in a "Coward's Corner" he had provided for theater lobbies! Once Miriam does enter the house, the film is genuinely creepy and leads to an ending so shocking I never saw it coming and I doubt most viewers will, either.
You approach Homicidal with the justifiable expectation that it will be filled with laughs, a la Castle's great camp success House on Haunted Hill. However, it proves to be a highly effective thriller with an a rather astonishing performance by Jean Arless as the insane Emily. One minute she's all charm, the next she's running around bug-eyed trying to murder people with knives and poison. There are times she brings to mind Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, but in the aggregate it's a mesmerizing screen debut. Bizarrely, "Jean Arless" was a fake name used by actress Joan Marshall because she feared being typecast in horror films. Sadly, she never went far in her career under either name and died relatively young in 1992 at 61 years of age. She gets solid support from Glenn Corbett (who also died young in 1993 at age 59) and Patricia Breslin, who manages to avoid making the requisite role of damsel in distress unintentionally funny.
The Sony DVD has a top quality transfer and the bonus items are quite interesting. There is a short featurette that presents various horror film authorities extolling the virtues of Castle's work. There is also some wonderfully campy newsreel footage of the world premiere in Youngstown, Ohio that features the omnipresent Castle badgering patrons to tell everyone how great the film is. (One woman says with a straight face that it's better than Psycho.) The cigar-chomping Castle, who comes across as a delightful man, also features in the introductory segment to Homicidal, in an obvious attempt to emulate Hitchcock's penchant for self-promotion. The special edition also features a short TV spot in which the narrator clearly imitates the voice of old Hitch.
Homicidal is a highly entertaining film that demonstrates you don't need big stars or a big budget to make an effective thriller. Highly recommended.
Sony has issued its 2001 special edition of director Fred Zinnemann's From Here to Eternity as a Blu-ray release. The passage of time has done nothing to diminish the movie's status as one of the great Hollywood productions. The story, based on James Jones' sensational 1951 bestseller that took the world by storm, centers on on a disparate group of people associated with the U.S. Army base in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1941. Private Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) is a quiet loner who was once regimental boxing champ but has gone into self-imposed retirement after accidentally blinding an opponent in the ring. He transfers into a new unit to escape harassment from his fellow soldiers, who are pressuring him to get back in the ring. He finds his new commanding officer, Captain Holmes (Philip Ober) is even worse and he is soon subjected to an orchestrated campaign of punishment and social isolation as part of the "treatment" to get him to relent and agree to box in this year's championship fight. The only friend he has is Maggio (Frank Sinatra), the company wise-guy who is always in trouble for his impulsive nature and habit of insulting his superiors. Also in the company is Sgt. Warden (Burt Lancaster), a by-the-book career soldier who does all the heavy lifting for Holmes, a man he personally detests. The story follows the complex love lives of Prewitt and Warden, who come to form an unlikely bond. Warden knows that Prewitt's independent nature will result in sheer misery for him, but he admires his pluck. Prewitt correctly assesses that Warden is the only decent superior he has met on the army staff; someone who will give him a fair break whenever he can. Both Prewitt and Warden find solace in love affairs with two very different women. Prewitt begins dating Lorene (Donna Reed), a local "dance hall" girl, which was the parlance of the era to describe a prostitute. Warden is involved in a far more dangerous affair: he is bedding Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr), the sexually frustrated wife of Captain Holmes and who is reputed by soldiers to be a nymphomaniac. The brilliant screenplay by Daniel Taradash seamlessly interweaves the events that affect each of these mesmerizing characters. (Ernest Borgnine is sensational in a star-making role as a sadistic sergeant of the stockade.) The viewer, of course, realizes what these individuals cannot: that their lives are about to be dramatically changed by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a sequence that Zinnemann pulls off brilliantly by incorporating real battle footage. Ultimately, the film is not a "feel good" experience as some very bad things happen to some very admirable people. Yet, it is completely compelling on every level and the cast performs superbly. (The film won 8 Oscars).
The Blu-ray is an excellent transfer, making the stunning B&W cinematography look more impressive than ever. The extras are a mixed bag, however. "The Making of From Here to Eternity" is an absurdly short featurette that ends just when it begins to engage the viewer. It does, however, feature some fascinating color home movies that Zinnemann took on the set. More informative is a feature that allows you to watch the movie while a picture-in-picture presents various film historians who discuss every aspect of the movie in detail. This is complimented by an audio commentary by Zinnemann's son Tom and veteran screenwriter Alvin Sargent, who worked on Eternity. The set also features excerpts from a late-in-life interview with Zinnemann in which he provides some interesting insights about his battles with legendary Columbia mogul Harry Cohn, the tyrannical head of the studio. What emerges from all this analysis is that, while Eternity was a huge bestseller, it was considered "unfilmable". The book was laced with sex and profanity and also ripped the lid off the squeaky clean image that Hollywood generally used to present the U.S. Army. Yet, Zinnemann pulled off the feat admirably, suggesting all sorts of vice despite the film industry's archaic production code that watered down certain elements of the story. The Army conceded to allow filming on their facilities but demanded that the script reflect the fact that the corrupt Captain Holmes is brought to justice by Army authorities. The sex, particularly the now famous surf "make out" session between Lancaster and Kerr, is possibly more erotic because of the power of suggestion.
The Blu-ray set retains the kooky DVD artwork on the sleeve, which seems to imply Lancaster and Kerr are so intent on getting it on that they are ignoring being strafed by Japanese Zeros! (For the record, the love scene takes place before the Pearl Harbor attack). Surprisingly, there is no theatrical trailer included although Sony has provided some really nice mini-lobby card reproductions, though this is not mentioned on the packaging. In all, this is a most welcome release on Blu-ray-- but there is still room for an even more in-depth special edition of this classic motion picture.
"Sex only dirty if you're doing it right", Woody Allen once said. The cast members of Our, Girls certainly do it right so this stroll down Mammary Lane from the Impulse Pictures DVD label can certainly be classified as a "dirty movie", to put in the parlance of days gone by. Ordinarily, old grind house porn doesn't merit critical attention but Impulse is a serious label that takes pains to preserve some the more notable titles of this genre from the 1970s and 1980s. I suppose there is some sociological merit to them, but the bottom line is: are they still erotic? In the case of Oui, Girls the answer is "yes" and "no". Much certainly depends upon individual viewer's tastes in erotica. More so than any "legit" movie, if you don't find the leading actors attractive, chances are you'll find the entire enterprise more taxing than stimulating. The film was directed (so to speak) by F.J. Lincoln, whose main claim to fame in this era is that he had one of the starring roles in Wes Craven's original Last House on the Left. The liner notes on the DVD box indicate this film was highly regarded in adult film circles back in the day. "Highest rating...an erotic masterpiece", exclaimed High Society magazine. 'lest you think this is on the level of Last Tango in Paris, think again. What apparently separated Lincoln's films from the rest of the grind house pack is that they at least had some modest production values. In an era where most porn films were confined to "one reelers" shot in somebody's bedroom (or kitchen, or garage), Lincoln attempted to shoehorn something akin to a plot into the action- and he also shot on location so that his productions had some scenery and atmosphere. Even back in 1982, however, it's hard to imagine that this modest enterprise would have elicited great praise from within the adult film community, especially when a decade before, Gerard Domiano's The Devil in Miss Jones set the high water mark for acting, story and production values. Lincoln's great achievement here was gathering numerous "superstars" of the porn genre in this one film....sort of like The Towering Inferno, only these superstars don't wear pants.
The film opens with a young couple, Barbara (Anna Ventura) and Nick (Paul Thomas, who bears a striking resemblance to Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) discussing a mystery. Nick, an insurance investigator, suspects that a man named Buck Thomas (Michael Morrison) may have murdered his wife. Nick gets Barbara to agree to accompany him to the Circle S singles ranch, which, in fact, is a place for swingers. Seems that ol' Buck holds court there with his latest flame, the sexually insatiable Cora (Lisa De Leeuw). The story then veers to another couple, Laura (Tiffany Clark) and Frank (Michael Bruce) who are curious about spicing up their love lives by experimenting with swinging. They arrange a meeting with an exotic, strange woman named Francine (Sharon Kane) who invites them to the Circle S to indulge in their fantasies. Once the couples arrive at the ranch, director Lincoln throws the entire murder mystery plot out the window (it's abruptly resolved in a single sentence, then not revisited again). Instead, things get hot and heavy with guys eyeing girls, girls eyeing guys and, of course, girls eyeing girls. The sex scenes are legitimately erotic and Lincoln doesn't go too much beyond the pure vanilla stage in that nothing overly perverted goes on, as long as you're comfortable with a dozen people rolling around together on the living room floor.
There are some interesting observations to make about the film. For one, while the women range from ordinary looking to downright exotic and the men look like they just stepped got off work at the local factory. In this pre-Botox and silicone era, most of the performers looked like people you might actually meet in real life. Thus, the guys are hairy and the girls are even hairier. The real fun comes when various cast members attempt to act. Here, the guys have the advantage with most of the male actors delivering dialogue in a manner that doesn't elicit unintentional laughter. Their physical appearance is something else, however, as they are cursed by having to wear the fashions of the era (short-shorts and polyester were all the rage). The women fare better in the fashion department because plunging necklines and garter belts do the trick in any era. The most amusement comes from the performance of Anna Ventura as Barbara when she gets to scold boyfriend Nick. She plays the part like she's Liz Taylor's Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and induces some gut busting unintentional laughter in the process. There is also a funny sequence in which Nick is seduced by Cora. Barbara walks in and catches them in the act but Paul has an excuse: as an insurance investigator he had to use her bottom to get to the bottom of the case. (Male insurance investigators may want to make note of this excuse in case they find themselves in a similar dilemma.) The film's grand finale features an all-out orgy, though Lincoln is rather subdued in not taking this scene as far as we might have expected.
The opening credits on the DVD transfer look like they were run over by a garbage truck but, in a way, it adds to the ambiance of the grind house flick. Fortunately, the print quality improves dramatically after that. There are no bonus features on the disc. Oui, Girls is a nostalgic throwback to an era when even porn seemed a little less calculated and manufactured by rote. I'm still trying to figure out the relevance of the title since there isn't even an allusion to the French anywhere on screen. If you pine away for those days watching porn in dingy theaters, you'll enjoy this DVD. To enhance the experience, make sure you're wearing your trench coat while viewing it.
Italy may have suffered immeasurably during WWII but in the post-war era the Italian cinema entered a renaissance period with world-acclaimed directors making the country the epicenter of the European new wave films. The Italian cinema was still in vigorous condition in the 1960s and the nation's most glamorous actors and actresses became international stars. In the wake of Fellini's La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2, even mainstream American audiences that were generally immune to the charms of foreign films became smitten by the Italian touch. One of the most unheralded Italian imports from this era ironically boasted one of the most impressive casts. Made in Italy was released in America in 1967 with an all-star cast that included Virna Lisi, Sylva Koscina, Anna Magnani, Alberto Sordi and Nino Manfredi. The movie, which has been released as one of Sony's burn-to-order DVD titles, is a madcap look at a disparate number of Italians who are all experiencing something chaotic during the course of a single day. The movie, directed and co-written by Nanni Loy (The Four Days of Naples), runs at a fairly manic clip and certainly contains some moments of inspired comedy. However, the screenplay is woefully under-written with some of the vignettes (which are all unrelated) ending abruptly on an unsatisfactory note. Not helping matters is the penchant for dubbing films during this era, an absurd practice that was designed to increase boxoffice dollars but resulted in plenty of voices that didn't seem to match the actors on screen. This film is no exception, with only a few instances in which the dubbing can be deemed satisfactory. In most cases, it's poor and woefully distracting. The dozens of vignettes have varying running times and are primarily designed to look at how every day life in Italy impacts its citizens from all walks of life. Loy gets a bit Felliniesque by making some social commentary along the way. In one sequence, a group of bored, super wealthy socialites decide to "slum it" by eating in a crowded restaurant that is popular with the working class. The snobs arrogantly laugh at how they are immersed with those of lower social status in much the same way as visitors to a zoo might be amused by the antics of some exotic animals. In the most poignant sequence, a middle-aged out of work man desperately seeks employment and goes off on a job interview for a position of laborer. The hopes and enthusiasm of his wife at the prospect of his finding a job is genuinely touching even though the episode ends on a downbeat note. The only consistent characters seen throughout are a group of bawdy Italians who are aboard a flight to Sweden where they apparently have been engaged to do some unspecified work. The scenes of these obnoxious men clowning on the plane are routinely unfunny and the payoff is even weaker when they arrive in Sweden only to find it a gray, humorless place. The funniest segment involves Alberto Sordi as a philanderer who is caught in the act with his mistress by his wife- only to slickly present a defense of his actions that is designed to make him appear to be the victim of his wife's uncaring behavior. Another funny segment involves Anna Magnani trying to simply walk her family to a local ice cream parlor only to have to endanger everyone's lives by trying to cross the lanes of non-stop traffic that resembles a racetrack. The premise is very funny but, again, the script ends on a bizarre note, as though the writers couldn't envision a satisfying conclusion. The film's main attributes are the superbly photographed scenes of various exotic Italian cities and other locations, all set to a jaunty and delightful musical score.
Made in Italy is a mixed bag. There is inspired humor in small does along with some poignant social commentary, but all too often the segments are as leaden as a mountainous plate of lasagna.
The DVD transfer is excellent but there are no bonus extras.
The three Harry Palmer feature films (The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain) have had a rather cluttered history in terms of their video releases. Surprisingly, producer Harry Saltzman didn't stick with one studio in terms of their theatrical releases, as he did with the James Bond films which he co-produced with Cubby Broccoli. Instead, each of the Palmer films was financed by and released by a different studio. Thus, in the ensuing decades, the video rights to these films have been convoluted. The titles have remained consistently available to consumers in some countries, while in others (including the USA), they have appeared and disappeared from the marketplace for years at a time. Now the Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's original DVD version of Funeral in Berlin as a burn-to-order title. The original film, The Iprcress File, was internationally acclaimed as the "thinking man's 007" movie. Caine's Harry Palmer, replete with Cockney accent, was the working man's secret agent. He does not have a big expense account, he lives in a modest apartment and he is basically disdainful of authority figures. (Bond is, too, but generally only in a playful sense.) Two qualities that Bond and Palmer do share is that they are both incorruptible and are prone to bedding a parade of beautiful women they encounter both socially and on the job. Funeral in Berlin seems intent on emphasizing the independent nature of Harry Palmer. He reluctantly follows orders given to him by his grim, unsmiling boss Ross (Guy Doleman), but he clearly disdains the man and the bureaucracy he represents. Palmer is on some kind of probation with MI6 and Ross dangles his termination as a constant threat. Palmer is so financially impoverished that he can't even afford a car (Ross won't extend a loan to him) and he must commute about London via public buses.
Ross summons Palmer to his home and informs him he must leave abruptly for West Berlin. It seems an influential Soviet general named Stock (Oscar Homolka) has made it clear that he wants to defect to the West. Palmer is immediately skeptical but Ross can't pass up the opportunity to bring Stock "in from the cold", so to speak. Palmer arrives in West Berlin and is greeted by his local contact with German intelligence, Johnny Vulcan (Paul Hubschmid). Like Palmer, he's young, charismatic and good looking and in the course of business, they enjoy the local bar scene as well as some willing beauties. Among them is Samantha Steel (Eva Renzi), a vivacious young woman who boldly seduces Palmer. Harry's suspicions that she is a spy are borne out when he learns she is with Israeli intelligence. The complicated plot, based on the Len Deighton novel, next finds Palmer in East Berlin where he meets with General Stock. As played by Oscar Homolka, the character comes across like a Soviet version of Henny Youngman, constantly cracking jokes and tossing insults. Nevertheless, the chemistry between Caine and Homolka is one of the main assets of the film and the character of General Stock was brought back in Billion Dollar Brain. Palmer suspects that Stock is lying about his desire to defect and this sets in motion plot devices that are so convoluted that the movie gets extremely confusing. After a while, it's hard to follow who is trying to accomplish what and the motivations and allegiances of the characters are also blurred. At some point, I just gave up and sat back to enjoy the performances and the assured direction of Guy Hamilton, who impressively capitalizes on the West Berlin locations. (Hamilton, who had previously directed Goldfinger, is not the only 007 luminary brought into the production. Producer Saltzman also has legendary production designer Ken Adam on board.) The film is drenched in the sullen mood of the Cold War era but there are some funny witticisms uttered by the bespectacled Palmer. In one of the film's most amsuing on-going sight gags, every time Palmer enters or leaves Samantha's apartment, he walks past some ancient stone decorations that look exactly like erect phallus symbols, a master touch by Ken Adam.
Caine is in virtually every frame of the film and dominates the production with his low-key performance. Paul Hubschmid is very good as an ally whose allegiance is called into question. Eva Renzi acquits herself well as the femme fatale, equally adept with a machine gun in hand or walking seductively through opulent settings in head-turning wardrobe. One of the delights of any Palmer film is the strained byplay between Palmer and Ross, who is expertly played by another Bond film veteran, Guy Doleman (he played the villain Count Lippe in Thunderball). In fact, Ross is such a stick-in-the-mud that he makes Bernard Lee's "M" look like a towel-snapping prankster. Their scenes in this film bristle with wit and tension. It should also be mentioned that John Barry's moody, acclaimed score for The Ipcress File has been left out of this film with new themes by composer Konrad Elfers, who emphasizes traditional bombastic German music that might seem more fitting in a military epic but somehow is interwoven sensibly into the action.
Many retro movie lovers consider Funeral in Berlin to be the best of the Palmer feature film trilogy (Caine revised the character many years later in a couple of ill-conceived TV productions.). I still vote for Iprcess as the best of the lot, but this film has so many merits that it can be enthusiastically recommended. The transfer from the previous Paramount DVD edition is identical and of high quality. (Even the packaging is identical, save for the notation that the new release is through the Warner Archive). The only extra is a trailer that seems to have been struck from an unfinished work print, as it lacks any titles or graphics and doesn't even mention Michael Caine's name. Kudos to the Warner Archive for making this Harry Palmer title accessible once again. Let's hope The Ipcress File and Billion Dollar Brain reappear soon in the American market, too.
I will confess to being almost totally ignorant of the late, lamented Spanish director Jess Franco's work. Franco (also billed as Jesus Franco), who died in 2012, was known to be a prolific director of cult movies, many of which accentuated bizarre sexual practices. Franco was an enthusiast for the works of the Marquis de Sade and literature that was inspired by or devolved from his erotic stories. In addition to directing, Franco also wrote many films and provided the musical scores as well. If nothing else, you have to admire the sheer quantity of his work, if not the quality. During 1973 alone, he directed at least a dozen movies and perhaps a couple more that never saw completion (like most independent filmmakers, he was always scrambling to find funding from unreliable sources.) Franco would often complete production on one movie then immediately move the same cast and crew onto location for a completely different film. His "stock company" alternated between leading roles and supporting performances but for the most part they remained loyal to him and many worked on his films for many years.
The Mondo Macabre label has released a special edition DVD of Franco's 1974 film Plaisir a trois under its rather absurd English title How to Seduce a Virgin, which makes the movie sound like its one of those low-rent British sex comedies of the era. It's anything but. The film is a disturbing but mesmerizing thriller that centers on an attractive young French married couple. Martine (Alice Arno) is a blonde bombshell who we first meet as she is about to be released from an extended stay in a mental asylum where she has been committed for unspecified reasons. Upon returning to her opulent country manor house in the South of France, she is greeted by her loving husband Charles (Robert Woods), a handsome man who immediately makes up for lost time by bedding his seemingly insatiable wife. (I believe most men do the same whenever their wives are released from extended stays in mental asylums.) He informs Marlene that she has avoided a jail sentence only because he paid off local officials. A hint of what crimes needed to be covered up comes when Marlene lures a local hooker to the mansion. She brings her to the basement where the hapless woman finds herself in a real life chamber of horrors. It seems Marlene and Charles "collect" beautiful men and women by subjecting them to extreme sexual torture then murdering them. Their bodies are preserved as they look at the precise moment of death. With another victim now added to their "collection", the murderous couple make plans for their most ambitious undertaking. Charles has befriended a local diplomat and his wife and convinced them to allow their 21 year old daughter Cecile (Tania Busselier) to stay with them while they are abroad. Upon seeing her for the first time, the bisexual Marlene is driven to virtual insanity by desire to seduce the young woman, who is a virgin. The couple secretly spy on Cecile, who conveniently has a knack for parading in front of her bedroom window scantily clad before she indulges in long sessions of masturbation. Upon arriving at the couple's house, Cecile is a willing student in Charles and Marlene's sexual capers and is soon participating in orgies with the couple's live-in mistress Adele (Lina Romay), a comely teenager who is inexplicably mute and is obviously mentally challenged but who is all too willing to please her hosts. Despite the fact that Charles and Marlene are equally smitten by Cecile, they nonetheless make plans for to add her as their ultimate trophy to their ghastly collection of former lovers.
How to Seduce a Virgin is one of Franco's most controversial films. It is richly photographed and well-acted and directed. The film is as mesmerizing as it is distasteful and features a sting-in-the-tail ending worthy of Agatha Christie. Franco's cast performs gamely, doffing their clothes and engaging in extended sex sequences that come as close as you can get to hardcore. Despite the emphasis on sexual violence, Franco is surprisingly restrained in the sex scenes, emphasizing an erotic mood over anything shocking. He is particularly sensitive in filming the numerous scenes of lesbian lovemaking. Nonetheless, a Franco film would apparently not be a Franco film without bizarre elements being stressed. There is no background information given on Charles and Marlene or any of the other characters. This intention to be opaque only makes them all the more interesting. It's as though they exist in their own world. There are few outsiders scene in the story: a psychiatrist, Cecile's parents and the ill-fated hooker are the only people not to live in the house of horrors. A crazy old gardener (Alfred Baillou) and a loyal chauffeur (Howard Vernon) serve the murderous couple without making any moral judgments against them...although the gardener does attempt to warn Cecile what is in store for her.
The DVD boasts a gorgeous transfer and features interesting and informative biographies of each cast member. (Lina Romney appeared in many of Franco's films and eventually became his wife.) There are also recent interviews with the film's screenwriter Alain Petit and Franco scholar Stephen Thrower. In all, a very impressive release of a bizarre film that will haunt you long after the first viewing.
Despite its hokey title, the 1958 sci fi cult favorite I Married a Monster From Outer Space is a few notches up the totem pole in comparison to other "B" movies of the period. Produced and directed by Gene Fowler, Jr. and theatrically released by Paramount, the film has been out of print on DVD for a number of years. The Warner Archive has just released it as a burn-to- order title. The film stars Gloria Talbott as Marge Bradley, a small town girl who is engaged to local hunk Bill Farrell (Tom Tryon). However, just prior to their wedding day, Bill encounters an alien from outer space on a back country road and the being takes over his physical body. While the "new" Bill looks the same, his actions and mannerisms change radically. The once fun-loving young man becomes sullen and quiet, leading Marge to speculate what has caused these mood changes. Nevertheless, the couple gets married on the designated day, though Marge finds her wedding night to be anything but romantic, with Bill seemingly disinterested in his new bride. As the days go by, Marge becomes increasingly alarmed by Bill's behavior. Making matters more frustrating is her inability to conceive a child. (Maybe the fact that the dreaded production code at the time mandated that even husbands and wives sleep in separate beds might have had something to do with this particular problem.) Ultimately, Marge discovers a shocking secret: not only has Bill's body been taken over by an alien but the same dilemma has befallen many of the other men in town. In fact, Marge finds it impossible to escape or even to call outside the town for help. She finally manages to round up a posse of "real" men who set out to take on the invaders- only to find they are impervious to bullets. Seems the rather benign beings from another world have the same problem most cinematic space aliens have: their world has been threatened by a natural catastrophe. In this case, all of the women on their planet have died. Not only does this panic the male population, but it probably also caused sales to plummet in local nail and waxing salons. Realizing they must mate or face extinction of their race, the aliens sample numerous planets before deciding on taking over the male population of earth. Once achieved, they intend to figure out how human females will be able to produce their offspring...though their intent is to revert to their normal ghastly physical appearances. As space invaders go, these guys are fairly lame. They seem reluctant to utilize their abilities to use death rays to reduce their opponents into a pile of ashes. In fact, they seem to dig their faux human alter-egos especially since they discover that sex can actually be fun, especially with attractive earth girls. (On their home planet, sex was only for procreation purposes, an understandable policy especially if the women looked like the men.) It is revealed that the "real" men are being kept alive in a space ship while their dopplegangers have been wreaking havoc. Thus, it becomes a race against time to thwart the aliens before the few remaining human males fall victim to an identical fate.
The film is a blatant rip-off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, although director Fowler doesn't show similar restraint in making the terrors largely unseen. Instead, the film makes liberal use of special effects and monster costumes, but they aren't half-bad when compared to most B sci-fi flicks of the era. The acting is also above par with Talbott achieving the rare distinction of being a '50s sci-fi heroine who doesn't turn in a laughable performance, though she does comply with the now mandatory act of tripping and falling in the woods while being pursued by the villains. Similarly, Tom Tryon plays it straight and emerges with dignity intact, thus not deterring him from becoming a successful leading man a few years later in major studio productions. (He would also become a bestselling author whose work includes the eerie classic "The Other"). In all, despite its hokey title, I Married a Monster From Outer Space remains one of the more enjoyable B movies of its era.
The Warner Archive DVD is identical to Paramount's out-of-print previous release. The transfer is crystal clear but, as with most Paramount titles of the period, there are no extras whatsoever.
It was the last remaining Mecca for movie memorabilia collectors in New York City. Jerry Ohlinger's Movie Memorabilia Store at 253 W. 35th Street in Manhattan will close it's doors and sell goods only on line. There was a time when New York, like most major city, had numerous major outlets selling movie stills, photos, magazines and other goodies. Rising rents and lack of interest in collecting among the new generation combined to force these wonderful places to close. In New York, Mark Ricci's old Memory Shop contained the stuff dreams were made of. But with Ricci's death many years ago, there was no heir apparent to carry on and much of his stock was purchased by friendly rival Jerry Ohlinger. There was also the long-standing Movie Star News, which had morphed into a rather antiseptic place characterized by neatly arranged, bland filing cabinets that somehow violated the unwritten rule that memorabilia shops should be cluttered, friendly places. Movie Star News finally closed its doors last years. Back in the 1970s and 1980s the Cinemabilia book shop and collector's store was the place to keep up with movie books and collectibles prior to the advent of the internet. They were the first major New York venue to close. Along 8th Avenue, minor memorabilia stores would open and close throughout the years, but Jerry Ohlinger's persistently survived even in the face of a changing marketplace. Finally, rent of $9,000 a month put the kabosh on his ability to maintain a store five days a week. The good news is that Ohlinger will continue his mail order and eBay sales- and it will also be possible for customers to make appointments to review memorabilia in person, but this will have to be done by appointment, according to Dollie Banner, a long time employee of Ohllinger and a contributing writer to Cinema Retro.
On a personal level, this announcement really hurts. I've know Jerry Ohlinger since 1971 and have acquired countless items from his store. His inventory has always been helpful in the publishing of Cinema Retro. Whenever I walk through mid-town Manhattan, I inevitably stop by to pick up some hard-to-find stills and chat with Dollie. Jerry still holds court there, his trademark soggy, unlit cigar dangling from his mouth. He has had several different locations over the years in Manhattan. The one I have the fondest memories of was located in Greenwich Village way back when. Those were the days when the store acted as something like a neighborhood barber shop for local movie fans who would gravitate there to to discuss and debate cinema. I'm glad Jerry is still hanging in there, even on a virtual basis, but I'll sure miss the human element as New York's last great memorabilia shop closes its doors. Thanks for the memories, Jerry.
film fans tend to have very memorable impressions of when they saw a thriller
that impacted them strongly. On Friday,
May 9, 1980, I watched the John Guillermin
version of King Kong on a rerun on
NBC-TV and eagerly discussed it the following day with my Boy Scout troupe on
our way into New York to visit the United Nations building. Walking through the New York streets was
quite an education in many ways, not the least of which was our journey through
the theater district along 42nd Street. On
the way, we saw movie marquee displays for pornographic movies (yikes!!) and
comedies such as Don Adams’ The Nude Bomb.
the 13th had just opened up the previous day, and a theater displayed lobby
cards depicting images from the film. One of them contained an image of a woman
screaming at a man who had been impaled on a wall with arrows. This was the first time I had seen such a graphic
image and it really made me wonder what the rest of the movie consisted of. I remember being really disturbed by it. It would be another seven years before I
would see Friday the 13th
on a local television station airing and I must admit that I found the film to
be mediocre at best. John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), which I had seen five
years earlier, was more my cup of tea. I
found that film to be truly gripping
and tense. Years later I caught up with
the DVD release of Friday the 13th, however,
my reaction was still the same. I
suppose if I had seen the film when I was considerably younger it quite
possibly would have terrified me. One person it did terrify was author David Grove, one of the world’s foremost
authorities on this watershed horror film. He was just nine years-old when he caught a local television airing of
the film. He hasn't been the same since!
On Location in
Blairstown: The Making of Friday the 13th is the excellent new
book by Mr. Grove which should delight fans of the first in this now (in)famous
horror film franchise. Illustrated with nearly
300 black and white photos and written with the cooperation of people both in
front of and behind the camera, the book is an in-depth look at the making of a
film that made horror fans out of young kids. What is remarkable is that they (like Yours Truly) are still horror film fans to this day. It appears to be a life-long love that
doesn’t waver. If you have read the
excellent behind-the-scenes look at Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) in JAWS: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard, this book is the
product of the same labor of love.
well researched, the book takes the reader through the film's humble beginnings
in 1979, from getting the cast and crew together, the script revisions to the
final draft, to the start of filming the day after Labor Day in September. The author draws parallels between the film
and the aforementioned predecessor, Halloween,
and also points out the differences between the two.
bulk of the book takes the reader to the actual physical locations where the
film was shot. As a traveler who loves
to go to the locations where my favorite horror movies were made, I only
discovered roughly five years ago that this film had been shot in my home state
of New Jersey! Yes, the Internet is a
wonderful tool. Armed with screenshots from
the film and directions from Google Maps, a friend of mine and I sought out as
many of the locations that are covered in this book, with the exception of Camp
NoBeBoSco, better known in the film as Camp Crystal Lake. Camp NoBeBoSco, where the bulk of the story
takes place, is actually a Boy Scout camp, and I only got as far as the
entrance. I have read about and heard
from friends that the inhabitants of this camp do not appreciate outsiders
trying to sneak in and have a look around, despite the film’s popularity. You
would think that they would set it up so that people could pay to stay there; I
would think that they would make a killing (pun most definitely intended). Then again, the camp would require an
enormous amount of upkeep as a result of the inevitable visitors who would try
to dismantle and take pieces of the remaining cabins as souvenirs!
makeup effects artist Tom Savini created what remains of Jason Voorhees, the
poor soul who drowned at the hands of distracted camp sitters. He speaks at length of his experiences on the
film. The book also nicely discusses where the cast ended up following the
film’s wrap and subsequent release.
may not be a fan of Friday the 13th,
but I have to acknowledge its place in the history of the horror genre and give
kudos to Mr. Grove for having written such an interesting, in-depth look at the
making of this film. As a result of his
tremendous efforts, I am going to revisit the film with a different point of
view. My appreciation for Friday the 13th and director
Sean Cunningham’s inexorable quest to get it made has grown as a result of this
must-have for Friday the 13th
completists and horror film fans alike.
are certain movies that you see on substandard formats such as VHS and you
enjoy the film and think nothing of the technical prowess that went into making
it.When you see that same film given
the proper respect of being telecined, color-corrected from the original camera
negative, properly framed in the original aspect ratio and displayed on a 1080P
monitor/television, the difference is mind-boggling and literally makes you
wonder how you managed to suffer through such mediocre viewings in years past.James Munro’s Street Trash (1987) is a colorful, vile, over-the-top contraption
featuring dirty and reprehensible characters in Brooklyn, NY who dwell in an automobile
graveyard and have fashioned stacks of tires, empty vehicles, and just about
anything else that they can get their hands on into shelter and a way of life.They commit petty crimes, steal from one
another, and in short do anything to ensure their own survival. To what end, it
remains a mystery, however judging from their behavior their miserable
existences are probably more preferable to them than the unknown of what lies
in the great beyond.As the film opens,
a bespectacled local liquor store owner, who looks a lot like the bespectacled
bad guy chasing Louis DeFunes through much of Gerard Oury’s The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob
(1973), finds a case of “Tenafly Viper” (presumably whiskey or bourbon) in his
basement long after the concoction’s expiration date has passed and elects to sell
it in his store for a dollar a bottle.The
results are disastrous for those who consume the poisonous drink as they begin
to slowly turn into defragmented, messy, colorful blobs that would make Rob
Bottin, the effects master on John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), cringe.Fred
(Mick Lackey, who also did special make-up effects on the film) owes money here
and there and will steal from anyone to get it.Bronson (Vic Noto) is an imposing individual who appears to hold sway
over everyone who lives in the junkyard and demands money (probably rent) from
them.Shot in the Greenpoint section of
Brooklyn, NY in 1986 long before gentrification of the neighborhood, the
opening of the film sports a schizophrenic sequence of fast-moving Steadicam
shots of Fred out-witting other bums for money.Names like Vandervoort Avenue, Meserole Avenue, Moultrie Street, Norman
Avenue, and Humbolt Street populate the screen.Fred takes to the steps of the abandoned and graffiti-covered Greenpoint
Hospital Outpatient Department on Maspeth Avenue (now the fully functioning
Greenpoint Renaissance Center), and another bum, Paulie, bemoans the fact that
his son is wasting his life on computers!If only he had a crystal ball…
David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), Street Trash virtually defies
description. That is part of the film’s charm,
if a film like this can possess charm! There
are some wildly hilarious moments, particularly in the opening scenes involving
Fred and flatulence. Another scene
involves a group of squeegee men (people who wash car windshields at red lights
and demand payment under the threat of vandalism). Bronson takes this bit of
intimidation to the extreme by extricating a stereotypically-dressed nerd, with
glasses and bowtie, from his car and throwing him headfirst into the windshield
as his girlfriend screams in horror. Bronson
is unhinged from the get-go and it comes to light that he once fought in
Vietnam. This point is driven home in a sequence
wherein he has a flashback and is attacked by the Vietcong. Bronson no doubt inspired the character of Wynyard,
the drug-addicted frog in Peter Jackson’s hilarious 1989 Muppets send-up Meet the Feebles (years ago, Anchor Bay
promised a deluxe DVD of the Feebles,
however it soon disappeared from their “future” list. It has been no doubt delayed due to Mr.
Jackson’s involvement in getting his Tolkien fantasies shot, but this would be a perfect film for Synapse
to release). Another funny sequence
takes place in a supermarket wherein a panhandler stuffs nearly a quarter of
the store’s inventory down his pants and is offended when the store manager
calls him out on it. The film's
craziest sequence, however, involves the removal of a bum’s private part as
others use it to play a game of catch, tossing it amongst themselves. It looks like it’s paying homage to the
tossed bone in the air in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:
A Space Odyssey (1968). It’s
humorous but it goes on a little too long. One fellow reviewer referred to this film as “the greatest movie Troma never made,” and he’s absolutely right. In fact, Troma has been making so many crazy, off-the-wall parodies of other
movies for nearly four decades that I initially thought that films like Street Trash and Peter Jackson’s wildly
entertaining Bad Taste (1986) were
made by them. The pacing of the film is
a bit off, and it might have worked better as an 80-minute film rather than its
full 101 feature-length running time. The timing of the
film’s release following Larry Cohen’s The
Stuff (1985), about a company that packages industrial waste into the form
of a snack, is either deliberate or entirely coincidental, as that film
concerns people who, after ingesting The Stuff, have awful things happen to
you are a fan of Street Trash, this
new Blu-ray from Don May, Jr.’s excellent Synapse Films is a no-brainer. The
transfer is absolutely gorgeous.
film has been released many times before on VHS and laserdisc (both here and in
Japan). Synapse Films released it in the
US in 2005 as a single DVD disc, then in 2006 as a special edition two-disc set
the following year. It is that set that
is replicated on the single Blu-ray with the following extras:
The Meltdown Memoirs (2:04:00) I love when
DVDs and Blu-rays offer documentaries that are occasionally longer than the feature film that they
are discussing. Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary
on Steve Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) is a
case in point. The documentary on Peter
Jackson’s The Frighteners (1995) runs
roughly four hours long, as does the one on the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, Never Sleep Again. The same
is true of the documentary on Rob Zombie's Halloween
(2007) on Blu-ray. While some people may
find this excessive, true diehard fans, including yours truly, love these added
values. The Meltdown Memoirs is no exception. It runs just over two hours
in length and is everything that a film documentary should be: entertaining, informative,
and comprehensive. Just about everybody
who appears in the film can be seen here as well. There is plenty of
behind-the-scenes footage, discussions about the cast and financing the film,
discussions about special effects, illustrations of conceptual art, the
gloriously colorful cinematography and production design, etc. In short, this is just about everything that
you need to know about this movie. The original cut of Street Trash ran nearly three hours (gulp!).
number one with writer/producer Roy Frumkes. It is a real pleasure to listen to Roy as he
discusses many facets about the making of the film. Usually, special editions
offer commentaries as well as interviews which tend to contain the exact same
information just packaged differently. The idea behind this, I assume, is to
give fans who like watching short interviews but do not like to listen to
full-length commentaries the same information, however in truncated form. There is very little repetition in the way of
what is mentioned in the audio commentary on this disc, as opposed to the
documentary. This is really designed with the hardcore fan in mind, the person
who’s going to watch and listen to every extra that the disc boasts.
Audio commentary number two with director James Munro. Director Munro
speaks about this film from a technical standpoint which is helpful to people
who work behind the camera. If you have already watched the two-hour documentary
and listen to Mr. Frumkes, you can probably skip this track and not miss out
too much. However, if you’re a completist, there are interesting anecdotes to
The original Street Trash
16mm short that inspired the feature-length film. This short runs
approximately fifteen minutes in length and is interesting to see in contrast
to the feature-length film.
The original Street Trash
Deleted scenes and outtakes. Seven minutes of short
scenes are featured here in a sequence that is exclusive to the Blu-ray.
Jane Arakawa interview. A nine-minute interview with one of the
actresses from the film that is also exclusive to this Blu-ray.
The Warner Archive has released the 1960 supernatural "B" movie thriller Tormented as a burn-to-order DVD title. The film is yet another entry from the schlock king, producer Bert I. Gordon. The prolific master of micro-budget films made his fare primarily for the undiscriminating drive-in market during the era when such movies often were produced to play as second features. Tormented stars Richard Carlson as Tom Stewart, a middle aged man who resides on an island (the geographical location is never determined.) When we first see him, he is atop a lighthouse where he is being confronted by a pesky ex-love, Vi (Julie Reding). The sultry woman can't accept the fact that Stewart has dumped her to marry the virginal local "good girl" Meg (Lugene Sanders). When all of her sexual come-ons don't tempt him to take her back, she makes it clear that she has some incriminating letters from him that she will release to ensure his forthcoming marriage is sabotaged. You don't have to be the Amazing Kreskin to see what is coming. Vi leans on a railing and finds herself dangling above the rocky ocean front beneath her. She begs Stewart to save her but he opts to do nothing and she falls to her death. Although haunted by guilt, the next morning he recovers her body in an attempt to cover-up the incident. (Conveniently, she let him know that no one other than a boat captain knew she had come to the island.) Soon, however, strange things start happening. Her body turns into a pile of seaweed- and that's just the beginning. Meg's 8 year old sister Sandy (Susan Gordon) shows up on the beach, having found a locket that Stewart had inscribed to Vi. Before long, he becomes obsessed with worry that her death will be made known. Adding to his troubles is the fact that he can hear Vi's voice vowing revenge and ultimately he sees visions of her, as well. (Whether Vi is making appearances from Heaven or Hell, you have to say they have some pretty impressive clothing lines there: she is routinely clad in clingly, low-cut nightgowns.) As the day of the wedding nears, Stewart is a nervous wreck and his trouble increase when the boat captain who dropped Vi off on the island suspects she has been murdered. He's an obnoxious hipster (played by the great character actor Joe Turkel) who sets out to blackmail Stewart. This sets in motion a series of dramatic events as the groom-to-be gets into deeper trouble by trying to eliminate his blackmailer. All the while Vi continues to taunt Stewart, though he is the only one who can see or hear her, as though she is an evil version of James Stewart's Harvey.
Tormented is typical of Bert I. Gordon fare. The triple threat auteur also wrote and directed the film and it boasts the shoddy production values that made him beloved by B movie lovers. There is one scene that takes place atop the lighthouse in broad daylight. The matte painting of the ocean features water that never moves, which makes the backdrop akin to one you might see in a school play. The script also doesn't even touch upon the unusual aspects of Stewart's engagement to Meg, in that he is old enough to be her father. (Richard Carlson was 48 years old- and seems much older, while Lugene Sanders was 26 but plays the role of a younger woman.) There are, of course, May/December romances in real life, but the screenplay doesn't acknowledge this and treats the couple as though they are two young kids just starting out in life. Still, while it's easy to pick on such obvious flaws, Tormented is a surprisingly effective and engrossing thriller in its own way. The Crime and Punishment scenario is obvious. Stewart isn't a bad man. In fact, he's a legitimate victim of a former lover who wants to blackmail him. However, by refusing to save her life, he opens a Pandora's Box of deception that escalates in his attempts to keep his lack of gallantry quiet. As they say of the Watergate scandal, "The cover-up was worse than the crime." There are no performances of any particular merit, but Susan Gordon is most impressive as Meg's precocious young sister who holds the key to Stewart's fate. There is something approaching genuine suspense in the final scene in which Stewart attempts to silence her forever.
Tormented has plenty of unintentional laughs, shoddy effects and a predictable story. However, I've always admired the art of "B" movie making by those artists who knew they were toiling on projects that never stood a chance of receiving serious critical acclaim. This is a prime example of a well-made film, at least within those parameters.
Click here to order from Warner Archive and to view film clip
Los Angeles continues to suffer from the "runaway production" syndrome that has found virtually none of this summer's major blockbuster releases filmed in the legendary movie capital. For many years, production has been on a downward spiral in Hollywood as studios are lured by major tax incentives in other states, England and Canada. New York City has prospered by aggressively pursuing studios with such incentives. L.A. has incentives, too, but they pale in comparison to what other locales are offering. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti is fighting back, lobbying state politicians to enact even greater tax incentives and hiring a new "Film Czar" to actively work to bring production back to Hollywood. However, it may be a quixotic undertaking. In a state that has been devastated by severe financial cuts across the board, some who live outside of L.A. feel that further tax incentives may benefit L.A. on a local level but be a losing proposition for the rest of California. In the earliest days of the film industry, New York and New Jersey were the centers of business before the lure of Hollywood devastated local production. Now, ironically, Hollywood finds itself in the same bind. For more click here
Twilight Time has released Walter Hill's 1975 directorial debut, Hard Times, on Blu-ray as a limited edition (3,000 units). Hill was an up-and-coming screenwriter with Peckinpah's The Getaway to his credit as well as solid thrillers like The Drowning Pool, The Mackintosh Man and Hickey and Boggs. There is no evidence in Hard Times that Hill was a novice behind the camera, either. This is one of my favorite films of the period, though many retro movie fans probably haven't seen it. The story is set in 1933. Chaney (Charles Bronson) is a middle-aged drifter who ends up crossing paths with Speed (James Coburn), a fast-talking promoter of "street fights" (no holds barred matches between local tough guys with no rules or regulations). Needing some quick cash, the soft-spoken, low-key Chaney forms a partnership with the mercurial Speed. In his first match, they win big when Chaney knocks the local champ out cold with one punch. They gravitate to New Orleans where Speed can put together some high stakes fights. They are joined by Poe (Strother Martin) an amiable quasi-doctor (he had two years of medical school) with a penchant for opium but who is skilled at patching up bruised and beaten fighters. Chaney quickly becomes a local legend and draws the attention of a local fight promoter/kingpin who insists that Chaney fight a seemingly invincible slugger he has imported from Chicago. When Chaney refuses, the kingpin kidnaps Speed and holds him hostage until Chaney shows up for the high stakes fight. The script, co-written by Hill, is a prime example of how less can be more, at least in terms of dialogue. Bronson says very little during the film, but conveys much emotion with a nod of the head, the blinking of his eyes or a wry smile. This is evident in Chaney's relationship with a local down and out woman (Jill Ireland), who he basically sees for easy sex. When she presses him to convert their trysts into a meaningful relationship, Chaney simply walks out. No drama. No speeches. Similarly, the superb performances of Bronson, Coburn and Martin seem inspired by the Sam Peckinpah school of men sticking together no matter what. When Speed is kidnapped, Chaney initially refuses to help him. He correctly points out that Speed is responsible for his own reckless behavior that sees him make enemies of the wrong people and foolishly gamble away money as fast as he earns it. Yet, in a crunch, Chaney comes to his partner's aid. There is no fanfare between Chaney and Speed, who knows that, by appearing for the bout, Chaney has saved his life. Instead, just a quick handshake a "thank you." By de-emphasizing overtly sentimental gestures and dialogue, Hill makes the relationship between the trio even more moving.
Hill and his co-writers pack a lot of memorable scenes into the film's scant 93 minute running time. Aided by editor Roger Spottiswood (another future director) and cinematographer Philip Lathrop, Hill makes every frame of the film count. There isn't a slow moment or a meaningless line of dialogue. Clearly the highlights are the action sequences. This is Fight Club for the Baby Boomer generation. Bronson, who was in his 50s at the time, performs all of his own gut-wrenching fight scenes, along with co-stars Robert Tessier and Nick Dimitri. They are brutal affairs that will quickly convince you that these men are actually beating each other up. The stunt coordination is among the best I've seen in any film. The film's more whimsical sequences are aided immeasurably by Barry DeVorzon's addictive score.
With Hard Times, Bronson reached the pinnacle of his acting career. It's wonderful to see him reunited with Coburn, his co-star from The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. However, Coburn became even more interesting as an actor as he grew older whereas Bronson grabbed for the low-hanging fruit and began to concentrate primarily on by-the-numbers action movies. The film remains a testament to his abilities as an actor- and credit Walter Hill for bringing those out in full force.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray features a gorgeous transfer but the only extra is the original trailer and the always-welcome collector's booklet with informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo, who hints that Hill was approached to record a commentary track for this release but declined because he doesn't like to look back on his past work. Well, we do- especially when it's a movie as terrific as Hard Times.
The Warner Archive has released the quirky 1966 film A Big Hand for the Little Lady as a burn-to-order title. Originally written for television, the story was aired in 1962 under the title Big Deal in Laredo as part of the DuPont Show of the Week series. Ostensibly a Western, the movie is a claustrophobic affair with any views of open ranges and wide vistas confined to the film's opening sequence, which finds an undertaker (Charles Bickford) driving his hearse at a frantic speed across the desert. He stops at various homesteads to pick up an eclectic assortment of other men, each of whom seems to regard their final destination with the utmost solemnity. Turns out they are all participants in an annual event that draws spectators from far and wide: a high stakes poker game in Laredo, Texas. The players are the wealthiest businessmen in the county: Tropp, the undertaker, Drummond (Jason Robards), a cantankerous man whose passion for the game has resulted in his leaving his daughter at the alter and her wedding ceremony postponed until the game is completed, Buford (John Qualen), Wilcox (Robert Middleton) and Habershaw (Kevin McCarthy), an erudite, polite man who is the least temperamental of the group. The tournament takes place in private in the back room of the local saloon while crowds of curious townspeople speculate about who will emerge the winner in the high stakes game. In the midst of this, a family of three arrives in town: Meredith (Henry Fonda), his beautiful but prim-and proper wife Mary (Joanne Woodward) and their young son Jackie (Gerald Michanaud). They are pilgrims en route to buying their dream farm in San Antonio, something they have saved for over a period of many years. A broken wagon wheel delays their journey and results in them having to take a room for the night at the saloon. Mary turns many a man's head, but her sweet nature and fawning care of Jackie earns their respect and the family is accorded all due courtesies. Meredith, who is a compulsive gambler, uses their farm funds to buy his way into the poker game. He loses the entire amount, much to Mary's horror. In the midst of this anxiety, he also falls ill from a stress-induced heart attack. He pleads with Mary to play out his hand, which he says is the best he has ever seen. There are two problems, however: Mary doesn't know how to play poker and they need $500 more to remain in the game and play the hand. Mary imposes on crusty local banker Ballinger (Paul Ford) to lend her the money, using the card hand as collateral. To the amazement of the other players, Ballinger complies, saying he has never seen a more impressive hand to play. With the financial future of her family on the line, Mary sits down at the table to take part in the highest stakes game ever played in Texas.
A Big Hand for the Little Lady is a delightful tour de force for the talented actors involved. Ironically, Fonda, who was the biggest boxoffice draw in the movie, is off screen for much of the action, as his character is being tended to by the local doctor (Burgess Meredith.) Director Fielder Cook doesn't stress restraint in the performances and his remarkable cast seems to love hamming it up as much as possible, with Robards in full scenery-chewing mode. It's hard to say who is the most fun to watch, but certainly Burgess Meredith and Kevin McCarthy excel, as does the great Paul Ford. (Sadly, this was the final movie of the noted character actor Charles Bickford.) The film's payoff is designed to be a big surprise, but astute viewers can probably see it coming fairly early on, though there are some "sting in the tail" elements you might not find predictable. To say any more would be a disservice. Suffice it to say we don't have many "little" movies like this today that would draw such top-flight stars and character actors. The movie is a great deal of fun throughout.
The consequences of sexual desire in young women is akin to that of contracting the bubonic plague. That seems to be the message of the 1965 film version of A Rage to Live, best on the best-selling novel by John O'Hara. The opening sequences introduce us to Grace Caldwell (Suzanne Pleshette), a gorgeous high school student who lives a seemingly idyllic life in small town America. Grace shares her affluent home with her widowed mother Emily (Carmen Matthews) and her older brother Brock (Linden Chiles), a straight-as-an-arrow type who is attending Yale and who tries to fill the role of father and husband to the best of his ability. Grace is a "good girl" is all respects. She studies hard and looks after her mother, who she clearly adores. However, she does have one disturbing aspect to her personality: she has an active sexual desire in an age where a young woman was supposed to value her virginity above virtually anything else. Grace likes to flirt with her male classmates and there is no shortage of potential lovers. Disturbingly, she realizes that she doesn't have to have any deep emotions for any of them in order to find them sexually attractive. When she gets caught necking with one such boy, Charlie (Mark Goddard), they are discovered by his mother and Grace becomes the center of a local scandal. The notion of such an innocent act leading to such consequences probably seemed over the top even in 1965, but the situation does worsen when Grace does end up bedding several young men, thus living up (or down) to her new-found reputation as a "bad girl". This brings strife to her family and friends and Grace seeks to smooth things over by accompanying her ill mother on a vacation to an island resort. However, temptation rears its ugly head and while Grace sneaks out to have a dalliance with a hunky waiter, mom is stricken by an attack and dies. Consumed by guilt, Grace is convinced that she is nothing more than a slut, destined to live a life of shame. She gets a second chance when she meets Sidney Tate (Bradford Dillman), a handsome, hard working young man who is instantly attracted to her. Before long, he asks her to marry him, leading Grace to confess that she isn't a virgin. Sidney takes this bit of news with the same gravity he would if she had confessed to being a serial murderer, but he is forgiving of her past and believes her vow to stay loyal. The happy couple soon has a baby and all seems well...until Roger Bannon (Ben Gazzara) enters their lives. Roger had known Grace slightly for years and confesses to her that he has long been obsessed with her. Although devoted to her devout but boring husband, Grace becomes tempted by Roger's gruff, blue collar ways and is turned on by his raw sexuality. Before long, they become lovers-and their relationship sets in motion a series of dire events that lead to a shocking (and ironic) conclusion.
A Rage to Live seems very dated in its early sequences. Yet, it serves as a disturbing time capsule from an era in which women were supposed to know their place and regard sex as nothing more than a wifely duty, similar to doing housework or changing diapers. The notion that a woman may have sexual desires of her own had profound consequences in polite circles. One of the drawbacks of these opening scenes is that Suzanne Pleshette was in her mid-twenties at the time and, although her performance is excellent, she is simply too old to play a high school girl. Thus, when her mother or brother dictate directives to her, it seems rather absurd to see this clearly mature young woman meekly obeying them. This becomes less of an issue as the story progresses and Pleshette is playing a character her own age. Director Walter Grauman plays up the soap opera elements of the story, all to the accompaniment of a fine score by Nelson Riddle and crisp black and white cinematography by Charles Lawton. As soon as Grace resolves one crisis in her troubled life, another takes its place. Yet, these problems are all of her own making. The concept of the film- a likable woman who cannot control her sexual urges and fantasies- was certainly daring for its day, especially since Grace is presented as a sympathetic figure who dotes on her husband and young child. Yet, she repeatedly risks it all for another turn under the covers. The cautionary aspects of the tale are as old as time: if you play with fire, you'll probably end up getting burned. Yet, Grace is not a villain. Her defense of her unfaithful actions to her husband is the time worn excuse: she loves her spouse and her dalliances are only to fulfill her physical needs. (Seeing how boring Dillman's Sidney is, you can hardly blame her.)
The film is engrossing throughout, even during those scenes that approach guilty pleasure status. Peter Graves turns up later in the film in a key role as a would-be lover of Grace's who plays an instrumental role in her fate. Carmen Matthews is especially good as Pleshette's long-suffering mother and reliable character actor James Gregory provides a typically deft turn as the family doctor. Gazzara is especially good as the guy from the other side of tracks whose animal magnetism initially attracts Grace but eventually frightens her.
A Rage to Live is by no means an example of classic movie-making but it is certainly worth a look, if only to observe how cinema was maturing rapidly during this period and exploring subjects that would have been taboo only a few years before.
The Warner Archive has released the film as a burn to order DVD. Quality is excellent, though there are no bonus features. The DVD is region free.
The Warner Archive Collection has finally released the
elusive Liberace feature ‘Sincerely Yours’.Originally released to theaters in 1955, this film is a curio of the
times, the studio system and most importantly a snapshot, (in color no less;
more on that later) of the early stages of the musician’s career.
To be fair to the movie, we need to turn our mental
clocks back to the mid- 50s (so lines such as ‘They’ll love him in San
Francisco’ wouldn’t bring immediate chuckles). That upstart- television- had been keeping
audiences away from theaters in droves. Various new processes were employed to give audiences an experience they
couldn’t get at home, such as Cinemascope and 3-D. So what was one of Warner Brother’s great ideas
? To make a movie with the TV’s first
idol, the charming pianist from Wisconsin, Wladziu Valentino Liberace or as he was known professionally, ‘Liberace’. In hindsight, the reasoning was totally
illogical and was one of the main reasons for the film’s demise: Liberace was available to TV audiences every day
for free, so there was no need to go down to the local theater to pay to see
Cynics have long scoffed at the notion of Liberace
being presented as a “Ladies Man”. Yet , he never officially came out of the closet and throughout his
career, he had plenty of women who swooned at his every appearance. They didn’t
seem to care what his sexual preferences were-but Liberace was sensitive to any
suggestion that he might not be a full-blooded heterosexual. He even won a
famous libel suit against a London critic who dared to suggest otherwise.
For Liberace’s screen debut, Warners dusted off a 1932 property,
“The Man Who Played God’, the story of a concert pianist who goes deaf, learns
to lip read and then intervenes in the lives of others. The pianist also finds out that the girl he
was falling for was herself falling for someone else. Yet all along it was his long suffering
secretary who was his real love. Liberace does not set the screen afire as a lead dramatic actor,
although the director Gordon Douglas, who seemed to work with everyone in
Hollywood, from Laurel & Hardy to Sinatra and Elvis, does a good job in
eliciting a fair performance from Lee (as he liked to be called).
One of the popular aspects of Liberace’s TV show was
his ability to play to the camera and invite the audience into his world, with his
brother George and his mom. Playing the
role of a ‘fictional’ performer denied him this resource that worked so well on
the small screen. His public appearances,
not only relied on his mastery of the keyboard but his charm with the older
ladies and frequent interactions with the audience members. And
this is where Sincerely Yours really shines, and makes the disc worth every
penny. We are treated to numerous
concert, dance and nightclub performances, with Liberace charming the audience. The performances are allowed to be worked
through and are not rushed or hurried along, so we get to relax and enjoy the
music and see the true entertainer that Liberace was during his formative years
before the explosion of glitz and glammer of his later Vegas style acts.
Liberace is supported by Joanne Dru as his secretary
(unfortunately since finding out she is Peter Marshall’s sister I can’t help
thinking Hollywood Squares when she is on); William Demarest, always a delight,
plays his manager; Dorothy Malone is his
‘love interest’ and the always dependable LureneTuttle plays one of the beneficiaries
of Lee’s goodness.
The DVD release is presented in the correct 16:9 aspect
ratio for this movie however the image is a little soft and grainy. In all likelihood this is due to the fact
that the film was shot in ‘WarnerColor’, which was just another name for the
then new Eastman Color process. The early
Eastman color stock was very unstable and had a huge grain structure to it), so
don’t expect Technicolor! There are no
extras on the disc.
Click here to order from Warner Archive and view a clip
Cinema Retro welcomes our latest columnist, Ernie Magnotta, who will turn his attention to under-rated cinematic gems and guilty pleasures!
By Ernie Magnotta
“If a movie makes you happy, for whatever
reason, then it’s a good movie.”
There are good
movies and there are bad movies. There are also movies that some people say are
so bad that they're good. I hear that all the time. I've heard it since I was a
kid. I think what they actually mean is that they're not good in the way most
people might normally watch and judge a film; Excellent writing, incredible
acting, masterful direction, etc.
The way I see it,
there's more than one way to enjoy a film. Every movie doesn't have to be a
five-star masterpiece like Gone with the Wind. You do not have to judge a film
the way you would judge a mainstream Hollywood movie and every movie that doesn't
follow the Hollywood style of moviemaking isn't necessarily a bad film.
There are plenty of
films that follow all the rules of proper writing, directing, etc. and are just
awful. And there are just as many inept, low budget B-films that are excruciating
Like I said, there
are many different ways to enjoy a film. You can love a film just for the
nostalgia alone. It can take you back to a simpler, happier time in your life.
You can enjoy it for a certain actor or actors, wacky dialogue, quirky
characters, fun setting, wild plot and, although inept in many ways, the film
could have a certain charm and, most of all, be fun.
With my ongoing
reviews, I’d like to explain why I love these films so much, why they’ve gotten
such a bed rep over the years and, also, to prove my statement that there’s
more than one way to watch a movie.
*******WARNING: REVIEWS CONTAIN
“Put your weight on it! Put your weight on
it! PUT YOUR WEIGHT ON IT!”
These words are instantly recognizable to
anyone who has seen the insanely fun and quite unique1979 Blaxploitation
classic, Disco Godfather. The
entertaining film stars Dolemite himself; legendary comedian/musician Rudy Ray
Moore in the title role of former cop turned super cool DJ, Tucker Williams aka
the Disco Godfather. While happily spinning records at local disco Club
Blueberry Hill, Tucker’s world is turned upside down when he finds out that his
nephew Bucky (Julius J. Carry III), a promising athlete, has almost OD’d on angel
dust aka “The Wack”. Tucker also learns that Bucky isn’t the first person from
the neighborhood to suffer from the evil drug. When Dr. Mathis (Jerry Jones)
takes him on a horrific tour of a local rehab center, Tucker witnesses firsthand
what The Wack can do. It turns out that drug dealer Stinger Ray (James H.
Hawthorne) is pushing the stuff all over town and Tucker ain’t havin’ it.
With the help of the courageous Noel (Carol
Speed), the Godfather sets out to “attack the wack.” Of course, this won’t be
easy because once Stinger Ray finds out, he sends his army of goons out after
Tucker and, before you can say Carl Douglas, everybody starts kung fu fighting.
When the smoke clears, The Godfather not only emerges victorious, but manages
to locate the
angel dust factory as well. Once there, however, he is overpowered and forced
to take the dreaded drug himself. High beyond belief, the completely out of
control Tucker grabs hold of Stinger Ray and begins choking the life out of
him. In an ironic twist, the now rehabilitated Bucky arrives on the scene just in
time to see his beloved godfather, who is having horrifying drug induced visions,
completely freak out.
Prior to becoming a major star in Blaxploitation films, Rudy Ray Moore was a popular comedian known for his hit risque adult humor albums.
The eclectic film, co-written (with Cliff
Roquemore) and directed by J. Robert Wagoner, and produced by Rudy Ray and
Theodore Toney, is a strangely mesmerizing combination of comedy, drama, action
and horror, peppered with disco music and a few dance numbers. (I told you it
was unique.) And it’s not hard to figure out how the title was created. The
disco craze was in full force at the time and Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificent
The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II were two of the
most popular films of the 70s. I first saw this movie in the late 80s
under the title Avenging Disco Godfather and
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it ever since. I always smile whenever anyone mentions
it or recites one of the many quotable lines (which I’ll be listing shortly);
especially the aforementioned “Put your weight on it.” The film definitely capitalizes on many popular
exploitation elements of the time such as drug use, violence and martial arts,
but it distinguishes itself from other run of the mill exploitation films by
carrying a very positive and important message.
This is a film with an anti-drug message
and you can clearly see that Rudy Ray Moore and the rest of the cast and crew
were genuinely concerned about the junk that was polluting their neighborhoods.
I believe that, amidst all the off-the-wall insanity in this movie, the
filmmakers intentionally included this heartfelt message in the hopes of
inspiring change. In that way, it more meaningful than many of the soulless, multi-million
dollar Hollywood blockbusters we’ve been subjected to over the years. This
movie has heart. Now, having said that, is it a good movie in the classic
filmmaking tradition? Hell no! Many viewers will find it difficult to watch and
that’s totally understandable. Nevertheless, it manages to be thoroughly entertaining.
Most of the credit for this must go to the charismatic Rudy Ray Moore, who had
to use creativity to overcome a shortfall of production funds. In many interviews, Rudy Ray explained how he
had very little to no money to work with and, instead, used his imagination.
The movie is definitely imaginative. In
fact, it’s downright original in spots; especially in the frightening scenes
where we see the goings-on through the eyes of an angel dust user. Even the
more ineptly done aspects of the film (including some unintentionally hilarious
scenes) add to its appeal.
A company called Fast Custom Shirts has immortalized the film on a T shirt. Click here to order.
always say that there’s more than one way to watch and enjoy a movie and that
definitely applies to this film. Here are just some funkalicious reasons to
check out Disco Godfather:
1.A cool and fun
2.Decent disco and
roller disco scenes.
electrifying first appearance is a sight to behold. Rudy Ray shows up shaking his groove thing on the dance floor
in a skin tight, silver studded, turquoise jumpsuit with matching choker
necklace and platform shoes. I went blind for a full two minutes.
girlfriend frantically tells Tucker that his nephew is on drugs, Rudy Ray
delivers the immortal line “Where is Bucky, and what has he had?”
pronounced “am-ba-lance.” Can you dig it?
6.When Bucky gets
high in the disco, he thinks he’s in the middle of a basketball game.
7.Abby herself, the always welcome Carol Speed,
is spunky and cute in her brief role as Noel. She looks good in a showgirl
8.Under the influence
of angel dust, Bucky has terrifying hallucinations that include a severed hand, demons, witches with machetes
and Rudy Ray turning into a skeleton.
9.There’s a character
10.One of the addicts
at the rehab center thinks he’s an unborn caterpillar.
11.E.C.T. stands for
Electro Shock Treatment. (?)
12.At the angel dust
rally, one woman’s afro is freakin’ ginormous!
13.With its funky
fashions, automobiles, slang and décor, the movie is like a 1970s time capsule.
14.35 minutes in: The
dancing Godfather jiggles and gyrates as only he can.
15.37 minutes in: I
can’t even describe this outfit, but it shows off the Godfather’s man-boobs
16.The Godfather has
more amazing lines such as “I want you to put a little slide in your glide!”,
“She don't weigh but 90 pounds, baby, but she's got her weight on it!" and
the classic “I’m the Godfather and my name is Tucker. Everybody knows that I’m
a bad mutha…”
17.Tucker is able to
read a crooked cop’s badge number from across the darkened dance floor.
18.Lady Reed, Queen
Bee from the Dolemite series, is
great as a sorrowful mother who keeps her faith in God and never leaves her
drug addicted daughter’s side.
19.Keith David (John Carpenter’s The Thing, There’s
Something About Mary) is uncredited as a club patron. See if you can spot
him. I couldn’t.
20.At Sweetmeat’s party,
people snort cocaine off of a Saturday
Night Fever album cover.
21.Some dude in karate
pants and a Fu Manchu moustache acts like Bruce Lee.
22.At one point,
Tucker is attacked in an urban alley by a bullwhip wielding cowboy. For a
second, I thought I was the one who was on angel dust.
23.Tucker fights a
24.During his trip, Tucker
hallucinates and has visions of his dead mother and another woman who I’m assuming is his aunt
Betty. The reason I came to this conclusion is because five seconds after he
sees her, Tucker screams at the top of his lungs “I hate you, Aunt Betty!”
25.Mama becomes a
cartoon while a giant snake head bursts out of her stomach and Aunt Betty just
laughs at Tucker while boozing it up.
Tucker, whacked out of his skull from the angel dust he’d been forced to take,
mistakes Stinger Ray for a demon and strangles the drug dealer to death.
27.The movie ends with
Tucker still trippin’ balls and screaming in terror.
immediately cuts to the inappropriately upbeat end credits music.
Tell me you don’t wanna see this movie now.
I dare ya.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a wild,
different and hysterical time, then this is the movie for you. But don’t take
my word for it. After all, who am I to tell you what to watch? Here’s what The
Godfather himself had to say:
“I am your tower of power; the man of the
hour; too sweet to be sour. I’m fine, divine and guaranteed to blow your mind.
It’s now Godfather time.”
How can you resist that? You can’t, so just
grab yourself a copy of Disco Godfather,
relax and have a fun, crazy time.
Do it for Rudy Ray, and while you’re doing
it, don’t you ever forget to put your weight on it.
I’d like to dedicate this review to the
memory of Mr. Rudy Ray Moore. Rest in peace, Dolemite.
I love the sheer eclectic quality of the Twilight Time catalog. The company's DVD and Blu-ray releases run include every conceivable film genre and the range of titles runs from undisputed classics to underrated gems to massive misfires that now merit status as "guilty pleasures". Falling firmly into the latter category is Lost Horizon, producer Ross Hunter's notorious 1973 big budget musical remake of Frank Capra's 1937 classic. Both versions adhere to the basic framework of James Hilton's classic source novel but the Hunter version obviously deviates far more in order to accommodate glossy Hollywood elements. (Hilton's obviously did not allude to elaborate song and dance numbers.) When a film that features so many talented people misfires badly, it's tempting to say, "What were they thinking???" However, in the case of Lost Horizon, special dispensation is merited for the participants because, at the time, it must have looked like an irresistible project. The director was Charles Jarrott, who was then a hot property, coming off the acclaimed films Anne of the Thousand Days and Mary, Queen of Scots. The producer was Ross Hunter, a Hollywood perennial with a sterling reputation for producing audience-pleasing box-office hits, most recently the blockbuster Airport. The score would be composed by the red-hot team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David and the cast would feature many talented actors then at the height of their careers: Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, Michael York, George Kennedy, Sally Kellerman and Olivia Hussey- with acting royalty represented by the likes of John Gielgud and Charles Boyer. The production numbers would be choreographed by the legendary Hermes Pan, the script was penned by Larry Kramer, who recently won acclaim for his adaptation of Women in Love and the cinematographer was Robert Surtees, himself a film industry legend. What could go wrong? Against all odds, the answer would be: "Everything."
The film opens well enough with Finch as Richard Conway, a British diplomat who has tried and failed to broker a peace treaty in an unnamed Asian nation torn by civil war. We first see him trying frantically to coordinate rescue flights for stranded Americans and Europeans as rebels close in on the airport amid rioting crowds clamoring to get on the last planes out. (The scene would be replicated shortly thereafter in real life with the fall of Saigon.) Conway manages to get aboard the final flight, which takes off even as rebels pursue the plane down the runway. On board is an eclectic group consisting of Conway's brother George (Michael York), Sally Hughes (Sally Kellerman), a burned out and depressed war photographer, Sam Cornelius (George Kennedy), a once-promising architect who is now in hiding due to a financial scandal and Harry Lovett (Bobby Van), a small time night club comedian with delusions of grandeur. They find their plane has been hijacked and they are en route to an unknown destination. Ultimately, they crash land on a mountain range in the Himalayas where they are rescued in a peculiarly timely manner by a number of natives led by Chang (John Gielgud), their elderly but capable spiritual leader. The refugees make a difficult journey through a blinding snow storm before walking through a cave and emerging into a sunny, tropical oasis that is called Shangri-La. Chang explains that the community's unique geographical situation- protected by mountains on all sides- allows the weather to never vary. The warm climate allows for a year-long abundance of crops. It doesn't take the refugees long to discover that this is a fairy tale-like paradise, virtually untouched by the outside world. There are luxurious homes and temples and the people never allow personal disputes to escalate to the level of violence. It is explained that the luxuries and materials for the magnificent buildings were all brought in painstakingly by the few porters who are allowed in from the outside world. (There must have been quite an abundance, as Chang's home alone contains more furniture than the average Ikea store.) Before long, the group becomes comfortable in their new-found paradise with most reluctant to even attempt to leave, a feat that Chang says is all but impossible anyway, given the obstacles provided by nature. Richard Conway falls for Catherine (Liv Ullmann), a pretty school teacher, Harry finds value in Shangri- La that allows him to reaffirm his self-worth and even Sally and Sam form an unlikely romantic bond. George Conway, meanwhile, becomes obsessed with Maria (Olivia Hussey), a beautiful young woman who is bored with living in paradise and longs for him to take her to London. Sam begins to woo a reluctant Sally and reawakens her romantic passions. Even Harry finds his confidence improving when he becomes an unlikely mentor to local children. Nevertheless, trouble brews when George pressures Richard to accompany him and Maria on a dangerous trek out of the Himalayas. Chang warns him that she is not who she appears to be: in fact, she is a very old woman and will revert to her actual age if she leaves Shangri-La. Needless, to say, his advice is ignored.
Perhaps this Lost Horizon could have been salvaged if the music and choreography were up to expectations, but everyone was asleep at the wheel. The Bacharach/David score contains plenty of musical numbers, but the best of them are simply bland and the worst are laughable. Hermes Pan's direction of the dance sequences is also surprisingly inept, especially a ludicrous fertility dance that resembles one of those big luau parties held every other night at Hawaiian hotels for the tourist crowds. (The sequence was understandably cut from the original release but has been restored for the video edition.) In one weird number, Liv Ullmann leads a parade of school kids who saunter about with their arms swinging back and forth as though they were auditioning for a Planet of the Apes sequel. Most of the vocals by the leading actors were dubbed (very well, in fact) and a few of the songs are bland, but pleasing given the context of the scenes they appear in. The main problem is that, for all the money spent on this lavish production, the movie simply has no heart. Unlike the original, the film never engages you on an emotional level. The Finch and York characters emerge as the most believable and their performances are the most impressive. The opening sequence, as the protagonists attempt to make a desperate escape from the besieged airport, is the best sequence in the film. It's only when they start tossing in those musical numbers that things go downhill fast. We do get to see Sally Kellerman perform her own musical numbers, but one of them-set in a library- is so embarrassingly staged that it makes for unintentional laughter. We also learn that Olivia Hussey is quite the dancer, performing an exotic number quite impressively but it somehow seems to be one of those titillating numbers that preceded a strip show I once saw in a Hong Kong sleaze joint. Most disappointing is what should have been the emotional climax of the film- the death of her character as she ages dramatically in a matter of moments after leaving Shangri La. In the original film, it's a harrowing and riveting sequence that precedes the story's moving last sequence as Richard Conway's colleagues in a London club toast his mysterious fate as we watch him attempt (presumably successfully) to return across the mountains to his lost paradise. In the remake, these scenes fall flat and never engage the viewers as meaningfully as they should. Most of the blame must be placed on the shoulders of director Charles Jarrott, who never seems to capture the human side of the story because he has to deal with the circus-like logistics of the musical aspects of the production. Charles Boyer and John Gielgud acquit themselves well enough, but there is something inherently distasteful about watching yet another major film in which Asian characters are portrayed by Caucasian actors.
Having said all that, one must compliment Twilight Time on their first-rate presentation of this cinematic oddity. (Some of the features were previously released on Sony's initial restored DVD version of the film) The Blu-ray transfer is beautiful and does justice to Robert Surtees' impressive cinematography and there are some interesting extras, including an informative (and candid) assessment of the film by Julie Kirgo. There are also audio tracks of Burt Bacharach (no singer, he) warbling his work-in-process versions of the songs. Without the bloated visuals that accompany them on film, they actually come across a lot better. He would have been better to farm the tracks out to Dionne Warwick and walk away from the film production. (These songs are creatively played against a variety of interesting behind the scenes photos from the production.) There are also are variety of TV spots and a rather well-worn, faded vintage featurette that is interesting in the way that these mini-propaganda films generally prove to be. There is also a theatrical trailer and an alternate version of a love scene between Finch and Ullmann.
I recently discussed the film with Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne. He recalled being at the premiere and how everyone in the celebrity-packed audience seemed to know they were witnessing a disaster- except the producer, Ross Hunter (whose prestigious film career would come to an end with this film). Osborne said Hunter was strategically located at the back of the theater so he could accept congratulations from the attendees after the premiere. Osborne chuckled at the recollection of witnessing Merle Oberon climbing over seats to exit through a different door rather than have to face Hunter. If you view the film on Blu-ray, you won't have to indulge in such gymnastics. The film remains a major artistic debacle, but it should be seen, if for no other reason than to form your own conclusions. Time has a way of making bad movies sometimes look better. It's possible to appreciate the small pleasures Lost Horizon affords even if this won't ever be re-evaluated as an underrated classic.
The Warner Archive has acquired the home video rights to certain vintage Paramount films including the 1954 adventure The Naked Jungle. Although Charlton Heston had already been a popular young leading man for a few years, the studio still felt that Eleanor Parker had more boxoffice clout (!), thus she received top billing. Nevertheless, the movie is fondly remembered by Heston fans as a pivotal entry in his career simply because it is so offbeat. A plot description might lead one to believe it is a science fiction or horror story: a South American plantation is menaced by Marabunta, an unstoppable army of billions of ants that devour any living thing in their path. However, the story is based on scientific fact as these occurrences do take place in deep jungle, though fortunately, the real life ants are not known to eat people or animals. Heston plays Christopher Leiningen, a self-made, wealthy owner of a vast plantation in the South American jungle (no actually country is cited as the location.) He has arranged for a mail order bride to be married to him by proxy and he would seem to have struck pay dirt. She turns out to be Joanna (Eleanor Parker), a vivacious beauty from New Orleans who has been drawn to the marriage partly by the sheer riskiness of the scenario and a deep desire to live in South America. The greeting she receives from her new husband is less than gracious. He may be tall, handsome and built like a rock, but he's also rude, arrogant and chauvinistic. He takes a deep dislike to Joanna because of her independent nature and inability to be completely subservient to him. He explains that his only motivation for importing a wife and treating her like a commodity is simply to produce an heir to his empire. Within days, it becomes apparent that the marriage is a disaster. The two never consummate their relationship and sleep in separate bedrooms. Christopher refers to his wife as "Madam". He explains that part of his resentment of her is based upon learning that she is a widow. He won't accept the "leavings" of another man and insists that he will only accept a virgin bride. When pressed on this issue, he hints that, because he has been isolated in the jungle since his teenage years, he is a virgin himself...and doesn't want a woman with more sexual experience than him. This leads to some witty dialogue in which Joanna uses a piano as a sexual metaphor. They agree she should return immediately to New Orleans, but en route to the vessel that will take her, Christopher and the local commissioner (William Conrad), must divert the party to investigate rumors by panicky natives that a horrendous occurrence is taking place in the jungle. They observe miles-wide columns of killer ants heading in the direction of the plantation and devouring everything in its path, from bark on trees to plants and animals. Against the advice of the commissioner, Christopher announces he will take a stand in the unlikely scenario that he can preserve his prized plantation in the face of what seems to be certain death. Impressed by his courage, Joanna decides to stay with him...and act of courage that finally bonds the couple as husband and wife.
The first hour of the film is the stuff of pure soap opera...but it is never less than engrossing partly because of the excellent dialogue which was co-written by blacklisted Ben Maddow (who was "fronted" by Philip Yordan) and partly due to the fact that it's rather shocking to see Heston playing a character this arrogant and unsympathetic. There is real chemistry between him and Parker, who is perfectly cast as a woman with modern sensibilities trapped in a world of repression. Things really get cooking when the preparations take place for the inevitable arrival of the ants. Director Byron Haskin milks some genuine suspense out of the scenario, using scientific close-up footage of actual ant swarms to heighten suspense. This is aided immeasurably by the addition of some menacing sound effects that accompany the invading army. By the time the invaders have arrived at his doorstep, Christopher is locked into a battle of wits with a seemingly unstoppable army that is capable of forming strategies to avert the obstacles he has placed in their path. The finale brims with suspense as Christopher must venture out among the ants in order to attempt one last, desperate attempt to save everyone from a horrendous death.
The Naked Jungle was filmed in Florida and on a Hollywood sound stage, but despite the obvious studio settings, the few outdoor shots pass convincingly for a South American locale. The special effects by the legendary George Pal are quite impressive and, in addition to a fine performances by Heston and Parker, William Conrad adds to the enjoyment of the film with his wry interpretation of the only man who is not intimidated by Christopher and is willing to stand up to him for his own good. (Conrad played the lead role in a previous radio play of this story titled Leiningen Vs. the Ants. Heston would star in a later radio adaptation.)
Paramount had released this title on DVD previously but it has been out of print for a number of hears. The Warners DVD boasts an excellent transfer with colors that jump off the screen, though, sadly, there are no bonus extras. For Heston fans, this is a "must".
Fox has released the 1961 B WWII movie Battle at Bloody Beach as as burn-to-order Cinema Archive title. The film stars Audie Murphy, who was trying to expand his horizons beyond the Western movie genre. This was only Murphy's second WWII movie, following his autobiographical 1955 hit To Hell and Back which chronicled how he became the most decorated soldier in American history. The story finds Murphy cast as Craig Benson, an American civilian who volunteers to serve with the U.S. Navy on highly dangerous missions to rescue American refugees stranded on Japanese-occupied islands in the Pacific. Working with local partisans, Benson succeeds in saving any number of U.S citizens who have been hiding in mountainous areas. Although hailed as a hero and placed on Japan's "most-wanted" list, Benson is not motivated by patriotic duty. Rather, he is obsessed with finding his wife Ruth (Dolores Michaels) from whom he was separated when the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Not knowing whether she is alive or dead, Benson tempts fate with his relentless searches on over 34 islands that are under the control of the enemy. On one particular island, he works with his contact, a U.S. serviceman named Marty Sackler (Gary Crosby), who runs a one-man coast-watching operation in addition to helping local resistance forces. The two men rescue some stranded Americans and Benson is overjoyed to find that Ruth is among them. His celebratory mood is short-lived, however, as she explains she has changed dramatically over the two years they have been separated. She has become a gun-toting, high skilled jungle fighter and says she refuses to go back to America with Benson because she is devoted to the cause. Benson suspects another reason for her reluctance to accompany him. He later learns that she has been romantically involved with Julio Fontana (Alejandro Rey), a local guerrilla leader who, unfortunately for Benson, also happens to look like a matinee idol. Sexual tension in bristles in this love triangle, even as the group leads a motley bunch of refugees to a beach to await pickup by a submarine. When the sub is delayed, the group takes refuge in an old beached vessel but are discovered by Japanese forces who launch an attack. The rebels are heavily armed and put up stiff resistance but their cause seems hopeless.
Despite its hackneyed, exploitation film title, Battle at Bloody Beach is an intelligent and reasonably entertaining film. It was clearly designed for the drive-in market and was shot on a low budget on Santa Catalina Island in California, which makes a surprisingly convincing stand in for the Philippine locations. Murphy is stolid and likable, as is Crosby, who gets a few laughs by his evident enjoyment of his coast watching job since it affords him a menage a trois with two lovely young native girls. Dolores Michaels is gorgeous and quite competent as an actress, so one must assume that her film career ended shortly after this movie by her own choice. This film marked the first starring role for charismatic Alejandro Rey, who would go on to a fairly successful career in TV and films before passing away at age 57 in 1987. Ivan Dixon appears as an American boxer caught up in events who decides to fight with the guerrillas. The movie is competently directed by Herbert Coleman, who is best known for serving as associate producer on several Alfred Hitchcock classics. Producer and screenwriter Richard Maibaum was already an old hand at writing action potboilers but the next year his career would skyrocket when he became a long-standing script writer for the James Bond movies. In summary, Bloody Beach is a entertaining and fairly exciting film that demonstrates that the B movie genre could often produce some unheralded gems.
The Fox DVD emphasizes the crisp, sharp B&W cinematography but the the movie is inexplicably presented in pan and scan format even though it was shot in Cinemascope. Whoever is making these decisions at Fox must be living in a time warp. Viewers have long ago accepted the letterbox format for widescreen movies, so why tick off retro movie lovers by altering the original format?
In the wake of their success co-starring in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, Warner Brothers realized they had captured lightning in a bottle with the teaming of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. The studio quickly paired the two character actors again in the Bogart films Casablanca and Passage to Marseilles. In 1944, Warners decided to give Greenstreet and Lorre what amounted to starring roles in the thriller The Mask of Dimitrios, based on the Eric Ambler novel and set in pre-WWII Europe. (Lorre received fourth billing in the film behind Greenstreet, Zachary Scott and Faye Emerson, but in terms of screen time, he is the star of the movie.) Lorre plays Cornelius Leyden, a mild mannered crime novelist who is visiting Istanbul, where he becomes intrigued by the murder of a man named Dimitrios, who was a local legend in terms of his criminal activities. Dimitrios's body has washed ashore, as shows evidence that he has been stabbed to death. Sensing a good story in the murder, Leyden pursues the man's background and finds out he was known throughout Europe for his audacious crimes. Leyden decides to track down those who interacted with Dimitrios, including jilted partner and abandoned girlfriends. All agree that he was a charismatic cad who worked his way up from petty crimes in Istanbul to being an integral part of Europe's pre-war espionage activities. Leyden is followed in his footsteps by Peters (Sydney Greenstreet), an affable man of mystery who is also obsessed with tracking down Dimitrios's acquaintances and activities leading up to the man's death. After a rocky introduction at the point of Peters' gun, the two men forge an alliance and travel through Turkey, Yuguoslavia and finally Paris in their quest. Along the way, they determine that Dimitrios is very much alive and well, having used another man's murder as an opportunity to fake his own death. Peters is determined to use that information to blackmail Dimitrios and thus ensure acquiring enough money to afford a comfortable retirement.
Much of the story is told in flashbacks as various individuals relate their experiences with Dimitrios to Leyden and Peters. As played by Zachary Scott, Dimitrios lives up to his legend as handsome womanizer and persuasive businessman, though each of his friends and partners ends up being abruptly jilted in some manner, as Dimitrios moves on to his next scam. (Jack Warner had high hopes for Scott becoming the studio's next great leading man, but his interest in promoting Scott seemed to wane and the actor never really acquired the stardom that his role in this film would seem to have assured.) Leyden and Peters also meet Irana, an entertainer in a squalid Istanbul cafe, who relates how Dimitrios became her lover and ensured that her fortunes improved. However, when she loaned him her savings, he abandoned her, never to be heard from again. Although nursing a broken heart and bearing resentment for the man on one level, she admits she still carries a torch and his abandonment of her left her in a depressed state of mind that still continues. (Apparently, once you've experienced Dimitrios, no other man comes to close as a lover.) As Leyden and Peters close in on their prey, the stakes become higher - and they realize their lives are very much at risk.
The Mask of Dimitrios, ably directed by Jean Negulesco, is a joy to watch. It doesn't have the artistic pretensions of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, but it is a thoroughly entertaining movie. Lorre and Greenstreet's "Mutt and Jeff" act continues to present them as essentially the same character in film after film, but that doesn't in any way compromise the delight of watching these two eccentric actors at the peak of their careers. The supporting performances are also equally delightful and the film bares all the rich artistic hallmarks of a WB release from the era.
The Warner Archive has released the film as a burn-to-order DVD. The transfer is excellent. An original trailer is included that features specially-filmed footage of Greenstreet and Lorre addressing the audience. The DVD is region free.
There were some terrific made for TV movies broadcast in the 1970s that have yet to see the light of day. Among them were the wonderful ABC-TV "Movie of the Week" broadcasts that often boasted first rate actors under the direction of up and coming talents like Steven Spielberg. For whatever reason, precious few of these shows have made their way to DVD. However, some TV movies of the era are slowly being released as burn-to-order releases. Among them is A Matter of Wife...and Death, a 1976 TV movie that can be ordered as one of Sony's new titles. Never heard of it? Don't feel bad...neither had I. Still, the film has Rod Taylor in a starring role, so that's good enough to merit any retro movie fan's attention. On the surface, the film seems to hold a good deal of promise, with Taylor playing the role of Shamus McCoy, an L.A. private eye. The role was originated by Burt Reynolds in the hit 1973 feature film Shamus. Although Taylor has the prerequisite good looks, charisma (and hairy chest), the McCoy of the TV movie bears little resemblance to the character played by Reynolds. In the theatrical feature, McCoy was a wise-cracking cynic who made jokes in the face of certain death (a la 007). Although Taylor certainly had the same ability, he is hobbled with a rather confusing script that doesn't allow him much playfulness. He lives in the standard sub-par apartment all private dicks have to reside in (the other option being to live aboard a small boat, as with Frank Sinatra' Tony Rome and John Wayne's Lon McQ). There is also a superfluous love interest (in this case, the running gag - which is straight out of Tony Rome- finds McCoy being called away on an emergency before he can satisfy his would-be lover, played by future Wonder Woman Lynda Carter). However, the very ordinary script doesn't allow enough byplay between Taylor and his co-stars, with the exception of Joe Santos, who is amusing as a local L.A. police lieutenant who engages in some on-going ball-busting humor with McCoy. Beyond that, the plot finds McCoy trying to track down the killer of a down-on-his luck character who used to act as an informant for him. McCoy is outraged when the man is blown up in an apparent gangland assassination and promises the deceased's widow (Anita Gillette) to bring the culprits to justice. The film makes good use of L.A. locations but the overall plot is fairly pedantic, as McCoy checks out one red herring after another, getting beaten, bruised and threatened in the process.
Shamus McCoy wasn't the only big screen man of action to get sold short when brought to TV...(remember Ray Danton as Our Man Flint and Tony Franciosa as Matt Helm????) The film does have a pretty neat twist at the end that I didn't see coming and that, plus Taylor's considerable screen presence, makes the flick worth watching...though it's strictly mid-range entertainment. The DVD contains no extras, but as with all Sony burn to order titles, it is region free so it can be played on any DVD system worldwide, a nice plus for collectors.
The Trevi Fountain figured famously in Fellini's classic La Dolce Vita with Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg.
Rome has been
the backdrop to some iconic films over the years, but its real heyday was
between the 1950s and 1960s, when classics such as Roman Holiday were shot in and around the city centre. Even today,
the locations used are considered to be points of pilgrimage for any
self-respecting retro film fan, from the Trevi Fountain to the Colosseum,
especially as 2013 marks the 60th anniversary of Roman Holiday hitting our screens.
The easiest way
to track down the real life places behind the celluloid is to create your own
walking tour, so that you can spend as long as you like at each spot; just use
the Rome film map from lowcostholidays.com and dive straight into the sights to plan your own
route. Here’s your guide to each of the retro pictures that made the map.
Roman Holiday (1953)
It’s the film
that launched Audrey Hepburn; her first leading role, which saw her playing a
princess from an unnamed European country who was determined to explore Rome
whilst on a royal visit. With Gregory Peck as her guide, she went to the Mouth
of Truth, the Spanish Steps and Ponte Sant’Angelo. You can still see the key
locations today, but one of the highlights is the Roman Forum, where our main
characters meet. There’s no longer a road through the middle of it, but you can
still explore the crumbling Arch of Septimus Severus, where Audrey (as Princess
Ann) is found asleep.
Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)
Aside from the
continuity gripe of only two – not three – coins being thrown into the fountain
from the title, this 50s film is perfect viewing for anyone who wants to see
vintage Rome in all its glory, through the eyes of three American ex-pats.
Right from the start, with establishing shots of St. Peter’s and the Tivoli
Gardens, we’re treated to picture-perfect views. The Colosseum is a stopping
point on a whistle-stop tour of one character’s city recommendations, along
with a branch of the National Museum.
La Dolce Vita (1960)
Fountain’s most memorable cinema appearance was when Anita Ekberg and Marcello
Mastroianni climbed in together during a night-time stroll. Sadly you can’t
recreate the moment these days, as bathing isn’t actually allowed, but you can
relive the magic by visiting after dark, to avoid the huge crowds. Further
afield, take a trip to the Baths of Caracalla and see where film star Sylvia
(played by Ekberg) danced in front of the press and her fiancé.
As well as the
locations used as a backdrop to certain scenes, you can also track down one of
director Federico Fellini’s biggest local inspirations – Harry’s Bar, on the
Via Veneto, which was a hotspot for celebrities back in the 60s. In the film
itself, the popular street was entirely recreated in the studio, but today it
would be a lot easier to shoot footage here, as the Via Veneto isn’t considered
to be part of Rome’s social scene anymore and is relatively quiet.
Aside from those
greats, there were hundreds of films made at the nearby Cinecittà Studios,
which is on the outskirts of the city and was built by Mussolini. This is the
perfect place to continue your cinematic tour, where you can find out how epics
such as Ben-Hur and Cleopatra were made on the sprawling set. Head to Cinecittà
by using the Metro system and then enjoy a set and on-site museum tour, which
will set you back €15.
Pay tribute to
Italy’s most cinematic city and discover the locations behind the iconic
scenes; you’ll soon see why directors couldn’t keep away from Rome.
The Warner Archive has released That Hagen Girl as a burn-to-order DVD title. The 1947 soap opera stars Shirley Temple as Mary Hagen, a high school girl who is socially ostracized when it is suspected she was born illegitimately. The presumed father is Tom Bates (Ronald Reagan), who twenty years earlier had been romancing the high school prom queen. She suddenly vanished without explanation only to return with her parents and kept in isolation. The rumor mill indicated that she had given birth to a daughter, who was then given to a local childless couple to raise. Tom makes attempts to see his girlfriend but is rebuffed by her strict parents. Eventually Tom moves to another town but returns many years later when he inherits a house in his hometown. Now a successful lawyer, the handsome Tom turns heads even as the rumors resume over his presumed status as Mary's real father. Tom is unaware of the "scandal" and ironically ends up befriending young Mary and acting as her mentor. He later realizes that his presence in town has reignited the unsavory rumors that have haunted Mary since her birth. Her only real friend is Julia Kane, a young teacher who tries to stop the bullying of Mary by fellow students and school officials, who single her out as too undesirable to play the lead in the school play. Ultimately, Tom takes a bold stand to defend his presumed daughter- and in the process informs her of some very surprising facts about her heritage.
That Hagen Girl is predictably corny by today's standards, with even the wildest teenagers dressed in suits and ties and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm-style dresses. A product of the era, I suppose. Nevertheless, it's hard not to find much of the goings-on unintentionally funny. Yet, the film does manage to pack a punch in terms of being among the first such movies to denounce bullying and illustrating its devastating impact on the sense of self-worth of those who are victimized by it. The seemingly bold subject matter of out-of-wedlock birth becomes somewhat watered down in the conclusion, but the movie remains an enjoyable and engrossing experience thanks to the considerable star power of Reagan and Temple, who segued rather nicely from child star to respected adult actress. Reagan is his usual stalwart self. If there wasn't an Oscar-worthy performance lodged within him, it can be said he was a far better actor than most of his future political opponents would ever concede. Lois Maxwell is particularly impressive and won a Golden Globe as most promising newcomer for her performance. (She would become beloved by movie fans worldwide as James Bond's original Miss Moneypenny.)
The DVD features a fine transfer and includes an original trailer.
Click here to order from the Warner Archive and to watch a preview clip
Some of the most inspired special edition DVD and Blu-ray releases are coming from independent, niche-market labels that afford certain film titles the kind of grandeur that would never be afforded them by major studios. Case in point: Synapse Films, which routinely releases first rate special editions of "B" movies, cult films and obscure foreign imports (often with an erotic edge). The most impressive Synapse release I've seen to date is their Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of the 1971 Hammer horror film Twins of Evil. The movie is rather notorious for representing a kinky penchant for shocking violence and a marketing campaign that implied an on-screen lesbian relationship between Playboy models (and real-life twin sisters) Madelaine and Mary Collinson. (In reality, there are no such scenes in the film.) The story is centered in a rural European village during the 17th century. The townspeople are in awe of a local nobleman named Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), a handsome but evil young man who uses his absolute power to indulge in a penchant for practicing witchcraft and seducing local girls to visit his castle where he seduces them into a life of sexual deviancy. Karnstein also has a penchant for killing off certain virgins for pleasure and selecting specific women to fall victim to his secret powers as a vampire. Karnstein's crimes results in the formation of The Brotherhood, a local group of puritan vigilantes headed by Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing), a religious zealot who is also a self-appointed witch hunter. The local women have as much to fear from him as they do from Karnstein, as The Brotherhood routinely accuses young girls of being in league with the vampire. This results in them being burned at the stake in order to have their souls redeemed. In short, this ain't a great place to live if you're a single woman. Into this hellish situation come Gustav's nieces, Freida and Maria (Madelaine and Mary Collinson), two recently orphaned teenagers who must now reside with their uncle. Upon being warned about Karnstein's nefarious activities, Maria chooses to be vigilant but the more daring Freida is intrigued by stories of sexual perversion and orgies. She secretly visits Karnstein, who seduces her and turns her into his vampire lover. He convinces her to assume the identity of her sister so that Mary is convicted of murder and is sentenced to be burned at the stake.
Twins of Evil came at a time when Hammer Films were struggling to maintain the audiences they had built in the previous decade. By 1971, seemingly every studio had made an attempt to emulate Hammer's success. The result was that there was a sea of imitators and the Hammer brand became in danger of imitating the imitators. The studio decided to rely more and more on nudity and overt violence, often at the expense of storylines and character development. Although this film is part of that exploitation campaign, it ranks with the better Hammer efforts of the period thanks to a good script, intelligent direction by John Hough and an impressive performance by Peter Cushing, as one of the least sympathetic heroes he ever portrayed. Damien Thomas was being groomed as the next Christopher Lee, with the intention of being a reliable leading man for Hammer. Although he makes a compelling villain, stardom was not on the horizon for him. The Collinson twins (both dubbed for their roles) provide plenty of eye candy, but the nudity that is overtly exploited in the publicity photos is somewhat fleeting. Twins of Evil is one of the gorier Hammer films, but it also remains one of the most compelling. It ranks alongside the other two great witch hunting-themed films of the era, The Witchfinder General and Blood on Satan's Claw.
Synapse Films has presented Twins of Evil as a truly outstanding Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The extras are to die for, if you'll pardon the pun. These include a superb documentary about the making of the film that is almost feature length. Directed and produced by Daniel Griffith, this is a fairly expensive extravagance for a niche market DVD company. The fascinating documentary is titled The Flesh and the Fury: X-Posing Twins of Evil and features a very informative overview of the Hammer vampire trilogy that derived from the classic 19th century vampire novel Carmilla that introduced lesbianism into the genre. (The first two films were The Vampire Lovers and Lust for a Vampire.) The documentary includes interesting insights from a wealth of Hammer and cult movie experts including director Joe Dante, director John Hough, Sir Christopher Frayling, film critic Kim Newman and publisher Tim Lucas. It's even more entertaining if you are not well-versed in Hammer lore. Other extras include a featurette that covers a private collection of Hammer film props, a stills gallery, TV spots and trailers, an isolated music and effects track and a deleted scene that absurdly presents teenage girls singing a 1970's-style love song.
In all, a great release from Synapse Films, a company that continues to impress us with their zeal for paying tribute to often overlooked and underrated films.
Fifteen years after co-producing and directing the British Victorian-era war classic Zulu, Cy Endfield brought an epic prequel to the story to the screen with Zulu Dawn. Unlike the original film, however, this 1979 release suffered from a bungled and scatter shot North American release that ensured that very few Yanks or Canadians ever had the opportunity to see the film in theaters. Botched release notwithstanding, the movie is in many ways as good as its predecessor, even if the screenplay falls short on presenting the main characters in a fully developed way. The story pertains to the greatest British military defeat of its era as the Victorian penchant for colonialism extended into South Africa. Initially the indigenous Zulu tribes had a cordial relationship with the British, but a foolish change in political strategy saw increasing incursions onto Zulu territory. The Zulu king went to great lengths to avoid confrontation until it became obvious that the local British officials were intent on taking their land by military force. The British expeditionary force led by Lord Chelmsford (Peter O'Toole) is well-armed with the latest weaponry and feels completely confident about a quick victory over the tribesmen, who are largely relegated to using primitive weapons. Like his American contemporary, General Custer, Chelmsford is an egotist with an overblown sense of self-confidence. He makes Custer's mistake of dividing his army into smaller units, spaced far apart. When the Zulu warriors mount a massive, surprise attack in what became known as the Battle of Isandlwana, the British are quickly overwhelmed. Like the original film, Zulu Dawn treats the native tribesmen with full respect and the script is clearly sympathetic to their cause. The British soldiers are depicted as courageous and gallant, but their superiors are generally seen as pompous snobs. A notable exception is the true life character of Col. Dumford (Burt Lancaster), a maverick Irishman who leads a contingent of African troops fighting with the British. Dumford tries to convince Chelmsford that his military strategies are flawed but his pleas fall on deaf ears. By the time Chelmsford and his reinforcements arrive at the battlefield, they find a seemingly endless plain of thousands of dead bodies, as only a handful of British troops managed to escape.
Zulu Dawn is a genuine epic with first rate production values with a sterling cast that includes such prominent actors as Simon Ward, Anna Calder-Marshall, John Mills, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Davenport and Bob Hoskins. The latter half of the film is devoted entirely to the battle sequences and they are stunningly staged and photographed, with Elmer Bernstein providing the stirring score. The movie is very well directed by Douglas Hickox, who is primarily remembered for Theatre of Blood and John Wayne's Brannigan. However, one must acknowledge that on a film of this scale, much of the credit must go to the second unit team as well.
Original British quad poster
Severin Films, which recently released a terrific special edition of another great '70s British war flick The Wild Geese (click here for review), has presented Zulu Dawn as a special edition Blu-ray/DVD dual package. The quality is outstanding on the Blu-ray but I'm always even more impressed by Severin's bonus extras. In this case, they include a fascinating history of the Zulu conflicts with scholar and author Ian Knight, who talks seemingly endlessly about every facet of the battle. The word "endlessly" here is meant as a compliment. Although I consider myself a military history buff, Knight's segment is like attending a master class and I realized how little I actually knew of the events depicted in the film. Knight explains that, although the Zulus won the battle, they suffered tremendous losses in the process and their victory was short-lived, as Lord Chelmsford ultimately sent their king into exile. The Severin crew also flew Knight to the actual battle locations in South Africa and it's truly amazing to see how untouched they remain to this day. (Crudely constructed above--ground grave sites for the soldiers still dot the battlefield.) There are also raw footage outtakes and some deleted scenes including several variations of Bob Hoskin's character's death. Another interesting segment features an extensive interview with historical and military consultant to the film, Midge Carter. Carter was an unemployed Brit with an in-depth knowledge of the film who just phoned the production company and ended up getting hired to ensure accuracy. Carter makes for an engaging interview, telling interesting tales about how he prevented historical inaccuracies from being included in the film. He also trashes director Hickox as a snobby elitist with a less-than-impressive work ethic. He also shares his scrapbook of on-set photos which had been autographed by every member of the cast. Severin interviews are always excellent to watch, thanks to producer David Gregory and Carl Daft's determination to let them go on as long as necessary and not worry about the length of the pieces. I only wish this was the case with some of the documentaries I produced for major studios, where there was always a bizarre determination to trim everything to the bone. Severin also doesn't indulge in gimmicky special effects or camera work. They simply turn on the camera and let the subject talk. Not fancy in terms of technique, but a wonderful throwback to how interviews used to be presented. Finally, there is an original theatrical trailer included in the set.
Chances are you haven't seen Zulu Dawn. You're in for a real treat with this superb presentation of an excellent film.
Apprehensive Films have released another DVD comprised of vintage public service shorts, this time compiled as a triple feature relating to the "horrors" of marijuana smoking. Titled 420 Triple Feature: Contact High, the shorts are uniformly amusing, as most vintage PSA-related films of the era now prove to be. The Terrible Truth is a color 1951 production in which a seemingly ancient judge (all adults in these films tend to look like Ma or Pa Kettle) seeks out a teenager who is representative of someone whose life was dramatically harmed by smoking weed. He is invited to the house of a prissy, goody two-shoes teenage girl who is in the process of recovering from a horrendous experience. Seems she was lured into getting involved with an older man, who seduced her through providing her with her first joint. A common theme throughout these films is that marijuana is instantly addictive and leads to a heroin-like dependency that drives users to sell their bodies and souls in order to get a "fix". Here, our unfortunate teen ends up married to the pot "pusher". When he is busted by police, she turns pusher herself in order to feed her habit. She survives a near-death experience in jail and now is determined to get her life back on track. The Devil's Harvest (1942) is the most unintentionally hilarious of the three features. It follows the tried and true formula of an innocent high school girl who is corrupted by a pot pusher. In this case, organized crime is involved and gangsters force the elderly owner of a hot dog stand to use it as a front to sell marijuana to high school kids. At a raucous teen party, that looks like it takes place in a leftover set from an Our Gang comedy, drug-crazed kids get into a brawl that results in someone's death. (The fight scenes in this film are especially funny since the punches don't come remotely close to connecting with the intended targets.) A teenage girl agrees to work undercover as a nightclub dancer (!) to help police crack the drug ring. It's amusing to see how, even in these public service films, producers try to sandwich in some entertainment value, thus we are treated to a completely superfluous dance number prior to the police crack down. The acting has to be seen to be disbelieved. Suffice it to say, you are guaranteed to witness the worst performances in screen history; no small feat. In the third and last film, The Devil's Weed (1949),(not be confused with the aforementioned Devil's Harvest), a virginal twenty-something young woman slaves away as a show girl in order to pay for her brother's college tuition. She soon gets lured to a pot party run by a local pusher and woman abuser. As with the previous films, the movie implies that pot is a highly addictive substance. Within seconds of taking her first puff, our heroine (pardon the pun) is climbing in the sac with the pusher. (The films all have a salient angle to them, implying that there is a direct correlation between smoking pot and losing your virginity. There is also an occasional political component with one of the shorts blatantly stating that marijuana is a tool of "the Reds" to gain world domination!). This film is longer...almost a full hour and boasts much better production values as well as "name" actors (Lyle Talbot as a police inspector and young Jack Elam as a gangland punk). The acting may still be laughable, but compared to the other two movies in this collection, the performances might seem as impressive as those in The Lion in Winter. There's plenty of sexually-oriented banter and plenty of retro glamor shots of the showgirls in their dressing rooms. This production is far more competently directed and Lila Leeds as the scandalized young woman tries hard and gives a passably competent performance.
The shorts would make the perfect compliment to a film festival topped off by Reefer Madness. The only problem is that, if you aren't currently smoking pot, these anti-drug short films might well encourage you to pick up the habit.
To order from Amazon click here ( to be released March 26)
Walt Disney Studios graciously provided
me with the opportunity recently to discuss Peter
Pan with two of the film’s stars: Kathryn Beaumont, who provided the voice
of Wendy, and Paul Collins, who provided the voice of John Darling.
Todd Garbarini:Thank you for speaking with me about Peter Pan.
Kathryn Beaumont:Thank you, it’s my pleasure!
TG: I am a big fan of the Disney cartoons as I
spent the better part of my childhood seeing them.
KB:I'm so glad! They really are special, aren't they? The Disney cartoons
really stand the test of time.
TG: These are some of the earliest
movies I ever saw in both movie theaters and drive-ins. I really miss the
drive-ins. There are so few of them left.
KB: I know! I miss the drive-ins, too!
TG: I understand that you were born and
lived in London.How did you come to
enter show business?
KG: I was in On An Island with You (1948) and Challenge to Lassie (1949) and at that point MGM was scouting
characters for their new ideas for British classic-like stories, and so they
put me under contract and I started working for them.I was with MGM for a while, and as you know a
lot of those ideas just never come into being and ended up being put on the
shelf.They kept me under contract though
and at that time that was when Walt Disney was looking for his Alice in
Wonderland. The rest, as they say, is sort of history!Just about the time that my contract was due
to be changed over for the next six months, that is a six-month option, at that
point there was some sort of negotiation and I went over to Disney and started
working on Alice in Wonderland.
TG:Were you familiar with Alice's Adventures
in Wonderland when you were asked to perform the voice of the titular
KB:(laughs) It reminds me of when
I first met Walt. He greeted me at the door and walked me into the office where
everybody was settled because we were going to be signing the contracts. The
publicity department was there and all of that. He walked me over to the little
table and chairs. He told me that it would be kind of nice for us to go over
the original book.He asked if I was
familiar with the story. I said, “Oh yes, yes of course, of course!”(laughs)I had had it read to me when I was very
young. Everybody in England was familiar with it.Those were the absolute classics. I was familiar with the stories whether I had
read them not and by that time I could read them myself.So yes, I was extremely familiar. So, we sat
down and he was sort of trying to explain to me what his vision was for the
film and how he was trying to bring a little bit of both Through the Looking Glass and Alice's
Adventures in Wonderland into this new animated feature. So, it was very
informative and we had a lot of fun looking through the books and sharing all
the things that we knew about the stories.
TG:Like so many of the classic Disney films, Alice in Wonderland was animated by the Nine Old Men, the famous
animators who worked on so many of these classics.I met two of them, Frank Thomas and Ollie
Johnston, in November 1987 at a local mall when they were promoting their book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation.
They were very nice to speak with. How did you get along with the animators on
the set of the film?
KB:Oh, I was just so grateful to them while I was working there. They just
made me feel so much at home. They had me involved in the entire process as
they would invite me into their offices at the studio where they were working.They showed me the rough drawings that they
had been working on. Later on, they
allowed me to go into “Ink and Paint” and told me to walk around and see what
was going on and how that process worked.It was from one department to another and so on and so forth. As a result, I really felt that I was a big
part of this overall process and I really enjoyed it very, very much.
TG: When it came time to doing Peter Pan, did you act as a live action
reference for the animators as the character of Wendy?
KB:Oh yes, I did, as I had had a wonderful experience doing this also on Alice in Wonderland. When I was nearly
finished with Alice, the studio was
really quite ready to move straight into production on Peter Pan.That was their
next animated feature. And so I began right away with the scenes that Wendy was
involved with, with the live-action recordings. Right after that was the live
action.That process usually consisted
of a day or two of rehearsal to sort of map things out to see what they were
looking for and determine the motion of the characters. As result, we were very
prepared for when the camera was there and so we went through the action. This
was done of course to help out the artists who were trying to draw the human
figures which were the most natural and also the most challenging part of the
Pan has a few short musical numbers, among them “Follow the Leader.” Did you provide any additional voices for any
of these subordinate characters for the songs or did you stick strictly to
KB: No, I wasn't involved with those.
They used a lot of boys for those voices, and I was not involved with any of
them. The character of Wendy, unlike Alice, was more of a supporting role and
that was the only voice that I provided for the film.
TG: What did you like most about your
experiences on Peter Pan?
KB: Well, I would say it was similar to
my experiences on Alice in Wonderland
and that it was just a wonderful time working with very talented people, people
whom I admired so much, and people whom I came to know very well, such as Hans
Conreid (who provided the voices of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook).Like myself, he was also asked to provide the
live-action as well as the voiceover parts. That kind of experience is what, I
think, stands out in my memory. It was such a lovely time for me as a youngster
playing these important roles and being able to get to know these creative
people involved in this wonderful process.
TG:What was your reaction when you heard your voice in these films?
KB:Oh, I suppose that I viewed the movies I thought, “Oh, that's me!” (laughs)
TG: You became a teacher just after
your stint in Hollywood. What grade or grades did you teach?
KB: Well, as it goes as a new teacher
you're not high up on the totem pole. You end up changing grade levels every
year. So, I have a lot of experience in the upper grades as well as the lower
grades. I really did enjoy second grade. I took every opportunity to make my
desires known that I really liked second grade. So from that point on until the end of my
career, I taught second grade.
TG: What do you think is behind the
longevity of such classic films as the movies that you worked on?
KB: I believe that it's the
timelessness of the stories, and the stories really have something to say to
young children. It came down to Disney's expertise in storytelling and his
wonderful team that he worked with.They
made the characters so realistic in terms that even adults could identify with
them and not just the children in the audience.
Director David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook deserves praise, if for nothing else, overcoming the seemingly incomprehensible title and becoming a major box-office success. The film is typical of today's "rom-coms" (romantic comedies, for the uninitiated.) Troubled, attractive young guy. Troubled, attractive young woman. Both meet cute. Both have to interact with lovable, eccentric friends and family members before overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles in achieving great goal. Bradley Cooper, progressing very well from low-brow comedies, gives a very fine performance as Pat, a charismatic Philadelphia school teacher who goes bonkers when he discovers his wife getting on in the shower with one of his school colleagues. He goes on a rampage and almost beats the man to death. When we first see him, his mother is checking him out of a psychiatric institution after 8 long months- and against the advice of his doctors. Seems Pat has been bi-polar all along but never knew it, something that strains credibility given the fact that emotionally, he carries more baggage than a cruise ship. (In a completely unbelievable but "cute" plot device, he is sent into a rage every time he hears Steve Wonder singing "My Cherie, Amour"- you know, sort of like that old sketch in which the Three Stooges go ballistic upon hearing "Niagara Falls"). Pat tries to readjust to his dysfunctional family life but it's a rocky road. He is obsessed with winning back his gorgeous wife, who he mistakenly believes is equally determined to revive their marriage. In the process, he has to frequently lock horns with his father (Robert De Niro in very fine form), a reckless gambler and bookmaker who is always only seconds away from financial disaster. The old man is betting the ranch on the outcome of football games in the hopes of fulfilling his dream of opening a small, local restaurant. In the midst of all this chaos, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a vivacious but equally troubled young widow with a history of mental illness. Before you can say "When Harry Met Sally", the two enter a combative relationship that all -too predictably results in a gradual attraction. All of this leads up to a crisis-filled night in which Pat has promised to be Tiffany's dance partner in a local contest that they have to score well enough on to prevent Pat's dad from losing everything he has and, instead, win the bet that will allow him to open his restaurant.
The script of Silver Linings Playbook contains every cliche except, "Hey kids, we can put the show on in a barn!" Yet, it's a feel-good, crowd-pleaser that is just off-beat enough to rise above the level of most romantic comedies. The scene-stealer is Jennifer Lawrence, who fully deserves her Oscar nomination as the bitchy-but-lovable head case whose emotions run up and down like a roller-coaster. She and Cooper make for a fine on-screen couple and watching them deal with their respective eccentricities is one of the film's delights. Director Russell also makes good use of the suburban Philly locations and the cast (particularly De Niro) is especially convincing at making you believe you are intruding on an actual middle-class family's intimate moments. Still, as the movie nears its climactic dance competition sequence, I found myself praying that the script would refreshingly forgo what was shaping up to the be most predictable of endings. Sadly, Russell (who also wrote the screenplay) goes for the low-hanging fruit and employs every mothballed romantic cliche imaginable, complete with love-crazed young guy running after heartbroken girlfriend down a city street adorned with Christmas decorations. There's enough moss on these story elements to make penicillin.
The film is refreshing in the sense that it's one of the few youth-oriented comedies that doesn't rely on vulgarity and gross-out humor. It's definitely a good date movie, but certainly undeserving of a Best Picture Oscar.
The Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, which present contemporary and classic films at their unique restaurant/theaters, have delved into the DVD business- and retro movie lovers can thank their lucky stars. One of the most prominent of the Drafthouse releases is Wake in Fright, a 1971 Australian film classic by Ted Kotcheff, a Canadian born director who had never previously set foot Down Under prior to making this movie. Based on the novel by Kenneth Cook, Wake in Fright is unknown to many film scholars who pride themselves on being acquainted with worthwhile, little-seen films. (I must shamefully admit that I fall into this category myself, having never even heard of the film prior to reviewing the Blu-ray release). Based on the title, I assumed this was a suspense thriller or a horror film. It is neither. In fact, it is virtually impossible to pigeon-hole this movie into a specific genre. Suffice it to say that is one of the most visually arresting and mesmerizing movies of the 1970s- one that will haunt you long after viewing it.
The film opens with a panoramic shot of a tiny one room schoolhouse set against the expanse of the Outback desert. We are introduced to John Grant (Gary Bond), a handsome young teacher who seems curiously out of place in this environment in his jacket and tie. Grant is trying to maintain the universal standards of school teachers but we soon see that he is frustrated at having been powerless in choosing his designated school district. Thus, he has been assigned to one of the most remote places imaginable, teaching a class that is so small that teenagers are compelled to share the room with first graders. As the story begins, Grant is bidding his students farewell as he eagerly anticipates a six-week school holiday. He longs to return to Sydney and the loving embrace of his attractive girlfriend, whose well-worn bathing suit photo adorns his wallet. En route home, however, Grant's train makes a fateful stop in a small city of Bundanyabba (known to the fiercely territorial locals as "The 'yabba"). Grant is initially bored at being stranded for 24 hours in this unattractive mining town where the residents are either openly hostile to strangers or overbearingly friendly. He becomes acquainted with the local constable, Jock Crawford (the wonderful Aussie character actor Chips Rafferty, in final, and perhaps, best performance.) Crawford is an eccentric but he takes Grant under his wing and escorts him to a cavernous bar where hoards of local men are carousing and drinking alcohol with almost superhuman abilities. Grant is at first repulsed, but he finds himself accepted by the locals since he is vouched for by Jock. Soon, he's pretty inebriated himself and he becomes fascinated with a game of chance that dozens of men are participating in. The simple premise involves a toss of a coin and you win or lose based on whether you bet heads or tails. The sheer emotion of the participants intoxicates Grant and he tries his hand. He soon wins a small fortune. Tempted by the fact that winning even more money will allow himself to be freed from his undesirable teaching position, he makes the fatal mistake of returning to the game and gambling one more round. Within seconds, the drunken Grant loses every penny he has. By the next morning, he can't afford a train ticket to continue to Sydney and has to rely on the kindness of strangers (in the words of Tennessee Williams) to find housing and food.
This is where the film becomes completely compelling, as Grant rapidly meets a succession of overbearing- and potentially dangerous new "friends". They include Tim Hynes (Al Thomas), a friendly but consistently drunken elderly man who introduces Grant to his mates: two obnoxious and crude musclemen, Joe (Peter Whittle) and Dick (Jack Thompson in his screen debut). He also discovers Tim's attractive daughter Janette (Sylvia Kay), who can hardly stand the deplorable life she leads in having to serve her sexist father and his misogynistic friends. She is drawn to Grant's sensitivity but his attempts to satisfy her repressed sexual desires go awry. He is next introduced to Tydon (Donald Pleasence in brilliant form), a one-time doctor who has lost his license because of alcoholism. He lives a threadbare existence, trading medical advice to townspeople in return for a spartan diet and all the booze he can handle. Before long, Grant is coerced into joining Tyson, Joe and Dick on a brutal hunt for kangaroos. The drunken Grant becomes as savage as his out of control companions and he reaches bottom when he willingly kills and tortures these lovable, harmless creatures for mere amusement. As the story progresses, Grant devolves even further and goes off an alcohol-fueled abyss that culminates in a most unexpected homosexual encounter.
Wake in Fright startled audiences in Australia when it was first shown, leading to some audience members screaming at the screens "That's not us!" in objection to the way the Outback dwellers were portrayed. In reality, there are no overt villains shown on screen. These are just hard-bitten people who live in an inhospitable part of the land where you have to be tough in order to survive. The film was an entry at Canne but had a limited release before fading into obscurity. It was virtually impossible to market. The Alamo Drafthouse Blu-ray does justice to the film's astonishing cinematography by Brian West, as well as the unique and atmospheric score by John Scott. Kotcheff's direction is letter-perfect right up through the final frame. Kotcheff is interviewed on the Blu-ray and he expresses gratitude for the team of film historians who searched the world in order to find the elements that have made the restoration of the movie possible. He also recalls how, when the film when was shown at Cannes, one young man sitting behind him kept gushing about his enthusiasm for the film. When Kotcheff asked who the young man was, the dismissive answer was that he was an unheard of new director named Martin Scorsese! The Blu-ray includes vintage interviews with Kotcheff at Cannes in 1971, audio commentary with Kotcheff and editor Anthony Buckley, an extensive interview with Kotcheff at a 2009 Canadian film event, a vintage TV obituary for Chips Rafferty, a documentary about the restoration of the movie, theatrical trailers and an absorbing 28 page collector's booklet.
Wake in Fright is now justly regarded as the first "adult" Australian movie. It instilled pride and confidence in a generation of Aussie filmmakers and its legacy lives on through their works. Kudos to Alamo Drafthouse for presenting this moody and haunting cinematic experience through this first-rate Blu-ray release.
Unless you've been living on another planet yourself, you're probably familiar with the premise of Mystery Science Theater, the legendary TV series that involves a stranded astronaut and two robot friends who are subjected to watching an endless array of bad movies. Each 90 minute episode involves showing a B movie as the trio toss out hilarious wise cracks at the expense of all involved in the making of these cinematic embarrassments. The latest boxed set release from Shout! Factory features three (relatively) upper crust duds and one of the more traditional entries, a low-budget sci-fi flick. Here is a break down of the 4-DVD set:
OPERATION KID BROTHER- Ironically, whoever holds the rights to this 1967 Italian spy movie could make a fortune by simply releasing it "as is" on DVD. However, the only pseudo-release comes through the Mystery Science Theater set. As with all the titles, the film is edited down dramatically to fit a 90 minute slot that also includes another mainstay of the show: comedy vignettes featuring the bizarre characters who are regulars on the series. Still, half a water-down Kid Brother is better than none at all and if you haven't seen this infamous travesty, you're in for a treat. The film was cobbled together during the height of the spy movie rage to cash in on the popularity of the James Bond films. Nothing unique about that. Seemingly every actor in the world sent word to their agents that they wanted to play a spy. The novelty behind this film is that the producers cast Neil Connery, brother of you-know-who, as a Scottish plastic surgeon with the power to hypnotize at will (don't ask!). Connery had no acting experience prior to finding himself in this rather lavish production that boasted exotic locations and an inspired supporting cast that included Bond regulars Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee as well as other high profile alumni from the series including Daniela Bianchi, Anthony Dawson and Adolfo Celi. The blatant attempt to exploit the Connery name is apparent by the fact that the catchy, guilty-pleasure title theme song is called O.K. Connery (it was composed by Ennio Morricone!). Additionally, Neil Connery plays a character creatively named Dr. Neil Connery. There are all sorts of cryptic references to the notion that he is the brother of 007, which of course doesn't stand up to scrutiny because 007's name is James Bond, not Sean Connery. Nevertheless, the funniest aspect of the movie is the most unintentional: the dubbing. It appears everyone but Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee are dubbed, including (inexplicably) Neil Connery himself. He's supposed to be Scotsman and is even seen wearing a kilt in one sequence, but is dubbed with a baritone American accent! The film is goofy fun throughout. I recently met Neil Connery in Scotland and he maintains a good sense of humor about the production, saying it was a pleasant experience even though he was appalled to find his voice had been dubbed. It's fine to have Kid Brother released as an MST 3000 edition, but let's hope there's a legit release in the works of the entire movie. The kitsch value alone would ensure brisk sales.
Kitten With a Whip- The inclusion of this mainstream entry as an MST 3000 edition is outside of the genres the series generally worked with, as related by series star and creator Mike Nelson, who explains the show generally concentrated on B horror and sci-fi flicks . However, the movie is so over-the-top bad that it merited inclusion in the show's Hall of Shame. Ann-Margret, then an up-and-coming star, had already had major success with State Fair, Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas. Good thing, too, because it's doubtful we would have heard much more from her had this guilty pleasure been the vehicle for her screen debut. The 1964 B&W film stars John Forsythe as David Stratton, a straight-laced, pillar of the community family man living in San Diego. He's being groomed by local politicians as a likely candidate for office and is expected to vie for the nomination in a forthcoming state senate race. With his wife and kids away on a vacation, Stratton becomes embroiled in a bizarre situation when he finds a scantily-clad, rain-soaked young woman named Jody literally sleeping in his bed, having broken into his house. Jody explains she was being abused in a home for teenaged girls and had to flee for her life. Stratton makes the mistake of trying to assist her, but soon realizes she is actually wanted for burning the home down and attempting to kill a matron there. He finds himself being set up in a blackmail scheme that would destroy his family life and political ambitions, with matters complicated by the fact that Jody will accuse him of rape, which is even more damaging because she is under-age. Defenseless, Stratton has no choice but to allow Jody and a trio of bizarre and potentially violent delinquents take over his house, wreaking physical and emotional damage. The whole enterprise goes hilariously off-the-charts when the gang ends up driving to Tijuana where Stratton coincidentally runs into virtually every possible person who he does not want to encounter, with the possible exception of The Three Stooges. In more skilled hands, the basic premise could have been an effective one, but director Douglas Hayes (who was a well-regarded screenwriter) encourages Ann-Margret and her young co-stars to go over-the-top at every possible opportunity. The string of coincidences, bad judgment calls and overall ineptness on the part of Stratton only emphasizes how incredibly frightening he would be in political office. Only Forsythe emerges relatively unscathed and the ironic end does pack a bit of a dramatic wallop but the film can generally be regarded as an embarrassment for all concerned and well worth the MST 3000 "tribute".
Revenge of the Creature- This 1955 monster flick is acknowledged as another off-beat entry for inclusion in the show, as it was produced by Universal and boasts relatively upscale production values. The sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon finds the titular monster captured and put on display in a Florida aquarium where he is gawked at by scientists and public alike. The fish-faced fiend ultimately breaks free and terrorizes the locals, including the prerequisite teens on Lover's Lane. The film is noted primarily for providing young Clint Eastwood in a bit role, but as these streamlined versions of the films are edited severely to make room for comedy sketches, I don't believe the Eastwood footage made it into this version, or I blinked and missed it. The film is goofy fun but nowhere near as enjoyable as those truly bad B movies turned out by other studios. John Agar is the hunky leading man and Lori Nelson is the sexy girl who the monster inevitably ends up carrying into the drink.
Robot Holocaust- This 1986 title is far more the norm for the MST 3000 crowd. A micro-budgeted howler about a post-apocalyptic world in which humans serve as slave laborers for the Dark One's power station. I'm not sure what the Dark One is, exactly, but he's apparently non-human and he's a humorless dude who arranges for gladiator-like fights to the death among the slaves. Into this mix comes a rebel from the outside world who attempts to stir up a revolution. There are the usual Star Wars-inspired robot clones, all of which look like someone you might see at a Halloween party. New York locations include Central Park, probably because it's a place where people who look like aliens from another world wouldn't draw much attention from passers-by. The film's 79-minute running time feels like that of Doctor Zhivago after you get past the first half-hour's worth of unintentional giggles but the performance of the "actress" who plays the villainess helps the climax attain a certain greatness in the annals of bad movies in that it is perhaps the worst performance ever committed to celluloid. For that reason alone, the entire set is worth adding to your library.
This release is packed with extras including interviews with the show's Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson and cast members Bill Corbett and J. Elvis Weinstein. An unexpected gem is the documentary Jack Arnold at Universal, a serious tribute to the director who brought to life some of the studio's most enduring monster movie classics. It's unusual to see such respect paid to a filmmaker in an MST 3000 release, but it's certainly warranted.There are also the usual cool mini-posters created by artist Steve Vance.
Frankenweenie (2012) is an animated big-screen expansion
of Tim Burton's own 1984 live-action short film of the same name and utilizes
the Frankenstein monster tale by Mary Shelley to tell a clever and ultimately
moving story about a young boy, Victor Frankenstein, and how he copes with the
loss of his beloved dog.This is a
universal scenario that every child who grows up with a pet must face at some
point.I have only seen a handful of
films tackle this subject, and Don Coscarelli’s 1975 outing Kenny and Company is notable for its
depiction of a young boy who must take his dog to the vet to be put to
Victor loves making 16mm movies with
his dog, Sparky, in his hometown of New Holland, which is constructed to look
like Everytown, USA.Sparky stars as the
“Sparkysaurus.” After all, what young
boy doesn't love dinosaurs?Mixing
footage of Sparky with self-made animation, Victor's movie illustrates an
imagination no doubt inspired by The
Twilight Zone and The Beast from
20,000 Fathoms (1953).Victor,
obviously an alter-ego for director Burton, is an awkward child who keeps a low
profile from his classmates and his neighbor Mr. Burgermeister (a nice nod to
Rankin and Bass) who brandishes a hedge clipper.During a baseball game, Victor hits a home
run, but Sparky chases the ball into the street and is killed by a car.Devastated, Victor mopes through school until
his science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, a grotesque caricature of a man, shows the
class how to use electricity to move a dead frog’s legs.Experiencing a “Eureka!” moment, Victor is
filled with a new sense of purpose, and converts his parent’s attic into a
makeshift laboratory.Following his
teacher’s instructions, he reanimates Sparky with the help of lightning.
Victor does his best to keep Sparky’s reemergence
a secret.A creepy, overzealous kid from
the neighborhood, Edgar, wants to know how Victor did it.Word gets out about Sparky, and other children
competing for a science project attempt similar experiments until things get
out of control: a rat becomes a crazed monster; a turtle is made enormous and
stomps among a town square carnival like a mixture of Godzilla and Gamera; sea monkeys
run amok through the streets; a cute, next-door poodle who fancies Sparky is
made to resemble Elsa Lanchester. (There are some cute inside jokes here: the
name "Shelley" appears on a tombstone and Bambi is displayed on a local theatre marquee, perhaps as much a
nod to the classic short film Bambi Meets
Godzilla as it is an homage to the Disney film.)The climax is a loving homage to James Whale’s
1931 classic that started it all and fueled nightmares for years to come.
Thematically, Frankenweenie shares many similarities to Henry Selick's 1993 film The Nightmare Before Christmas (produced
by Burton) in that a protagonist compelled to do a good deed ends up making a
mess of things.Most of the characters,
particularly the children, have predominantly large eyes, as if they stepped
out of a Margaret Keane painting (it’s no wonder that she is the subject of the
director’s next film, due for release later this year).
Filmed on Canon EOS 5D Mark II single
lens reflux cameras and printed in black and white, Frankenweenie looks lovely and is easily one of the year’s best
films.It should win the Oscar for Best
Animated Feature.It would be nice to
see black and white return to the screen as an art form as it truly looks beautiful.Danny Elfman provides yet another memorable
score to a Tim Burton film.
There are a few nice extras included on the Blu-ray disc:
·We get a short film starring Sparky called Captain Sparky vs. the Flying Saucers,
the in-movie that appears at the start of the film and runs roughly two and a-half-minutes in
length (no relation to Siskel and Ebert’s Sparky the Wonder Dog of PBS’s Sneak Previews from the early 1980s.).
·Miniatures in Motion: Bringing
Frankenweenie to Life is
an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary featurette that runs about 23 minutes
(I wish it was longer) and takes us to the massive 60,000 foot soundstage in London
where the film was shot and contains comments from the many animators who
worked on the individual scenes – they all averaged about two minutes per week
of screen time! What is truly
extraordinary about this piece is seeing the astonishing level of detail and
attention that is made to even the smallest of items. You get a new appreciation of the film and all
the hard work that went into making it. Absolutely nothing in this movie has
been computer-generated. It was all designed, built, and manufactured for the
·The Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit is enough to make one jealous if you
don’t live in one of the cities that it comes to.
Burton's original 1984 featurette, Frankenweenie,
upon which this film is based. This wonderful live-action film was financed by
Disney and the producers were reportedly shocked at how frightening it would be
for children, so much so that they fired Burton and shelved the project.It runs 30 minutes and stars Barret Oliver (The Neverending Story) as Victor, the
young son of Ben and Susan (Daniel Stern and Shelley Duvall).Sofia Coppola, inexplicably using the name
Domino, appears as a friend of Victor’s.
It would have been nice to have a
running commentary with Tim Burton or from the animators as I love commentaries
and eagerly listen to them whenever they appear as extras.However, this is a minor quibble.The film looks absolutely amazing on Blu-ray
and is a worthy addition to your collection.
Click here to order order 4 disc deluxe edition with DVD and digital copies included.
Jon Finch, star of stage and screen, has been found dead in his home in England. He was 70 years old. He had been suffering from from a variety of health issues and friends became concerned when they had not heard from him for a time. Finch never became a bonafide star but was respected for being an outstanding supporting actor in films such as Lady Caroline Lamb, The Vampire Lovers, Sunday, Bloody Sunday and The Horror of Frankenstein. He did land leading roles in two high profile film productions in the 1970s: Roman Polanski's controversial screen version of Macbeth (in which Finch played the title role) and Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy in which Finch was cast as an innocent man suspected of being a serial killer. Over the decades, he continued to act both on television and in feature films. Finch preferred to stay out of the spotlight and kept a low profile. He had been living in Hastings since 2003. For more click here
(For more about Finch and the making of Frenzy, see Cinema Retro issue #24)
On December 21, 1961 the Merced Theatre in Merced, California hosted a Christmas party for 2,000 local children who got to see John Wayne's latest flick, The Comancheros, along with Misty starring David Ladd. (Photo: Merced County Sun-Star)
If you haven't picked up Warner Home Video's release of Clint Eastwood's 1992 Oscar-winner Unforgiven on Blu-ray, don't delay another day. The film made its debut in Blu-ray earlier this year to commemorate the movie's 20th anniversary. For those of us who were long-time champions of Eastwood's abilities as an actor and director, the accolades the movie received made us seem a bit self-satisfied. In the early 1980s I co-authored a book about Eastwood's films and was told by my editor that while his movies were enjoyable, I was guilty of mistaking him for a world-class talent. No one was saying such things after Unforgiven, a classic Western that ranks among the best of the genre. Originally shot under the title The William Munny Killings, the film is a dramatic look at both the best and worst elements of human nature. (The film's final title did seem rather uninspired at the time, given the fact that John Huston had made a high profile western titled The Unforgiven in 1960) No one is completely good or bad in this film, including the Sheriff Little Bill (an Oscar winning performance by Gene Hackman), who runs his small town with an iron fist. He considers himself to be a good man and he certainly is courageous and incorruptible. However, when he doles out mild punishment for a man who used a knife to commit an atrocity on a local prostitute, her fellow hookers pool their hard-earned savings and offer a bounty to the man or men who kill or bring to justice the culprit and his companions. Answering the call is William Munny, an aging widower with two small children who is desperate to renounce his past as a hard-bitten saddle bum with a penchant for spilling blood. The bounty money will afford him the chance to start a new life. He is aided by his old friend Ned (Morgan Freeman) and a green horn who goes by the name of the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett, who should have gone on to stardom). The Kid claims to be a hardened killer but his older mentors realize immediately he is all bluster. This disparate trio begins to track down the man who abused the prostitute and end up on a hellish journey that has unforeseen, tragic consequences.
Eastwood, who kept the screenplay by David Webb Peoples on a shelf until the time was right to dust it off, provides assured, top-notch direction as well as giving one of the best performances of his career. (He also wrote the film's haunting theme song for good measure). The supporting performances are all outstanding with Richard Harris making an odd, but unforgettable mid-film appearance as an egotistical British gunslinger who gets his just desserts at the hands of Little Bill. Every nuance of the movie rings true right down to the final gun battle in saloon that is brilliantly directed by Eastwood.
The deluxe version of the Blu-ray release comes in the format of a small, hardback photo book with an introduction by Eastwood. The photo content is worth the price of the set alone, with script pages, rare pre-production ads and behind the scenes photos displayed. Best of all is the bonus content which has been available on the previous DVD release:
Commentary track by Eastwood and biographer Richard Schickel
All on Accounta Pullin' a Trigger, which features recent interviews with cast and crew about the making of the film
Eastwood... A Star, a retrospective look at the screen legend's career
Eastwood and Company: Making 'Unforgiven': Schickel's outstanding one hour documentary that originally aired on broadcast TV
Eastwood on Eastwood, in which the actor/director reflects on his long career
A vintage episode of Maverick in which Eastwood plays a hardcase cowboy who goes up against star James Garner
In summary, it would be unforgivable not to add this deluxe Blu-ray of Unforgiven to your library. (The film is available as a bare-bones Blu-ray, but spring for the deluxe edition.)
Despite a title that implies an epic mini-series, World War III (originally broadcast in 1982) is far less grand than other major network specials of the day. This was the golden age of TV mini-series, when seemingly every week produced a classic such as Rich Man, Poor Man, Roots, Shogun and The Thorn Birds. All of those projects had opulent budgets as well as big name casts. World War III does boast three big names of the day, Rock Hudson, Brian Keith and David Soul but the similarities stop there. It seems all of the money went into these actor's salaries, leaving the rest of the production to cope with a budget that seems to be akin to that of a high school play. The show was aired during tense times of the Cold War period and the paranoia about Soviet expansionism helped ensure Ronald Reagan's triumphant rise to the Presidency. The problems begin with the screenplay, the premise of which is fairly absurd. Seems U.S. President McKenna (Hudson) is heating up the Cold War by imposing a grain embargo on the Soviets that threatens the very fabric of their society. McKenna's aim is the reign in their military adventures but the Soviets respond by sending a commando team into a remote part of Alaska with the intention of overtaking a small military outpost that defends a pivotal oil pipeline. The Reds plan to threaten this crucial source of oil if McKenna doesn't back down on the grain embargo. The Soviet patrol is discovered by the small contingent of Americans guarding the facility and a fierce firefight erupts. The stakes quickly rise to nuclear threat levels and a summit meeting is quickly convened between McKenna and Soviet Secretary General Gorny (Brian Keith). Both men want peace, but Gorny's attempts to defuse the situation are sabotaged by Kremlin war mongers. The film intercuts the political intrigue with the ordeal of both Russian and American fighting men facing death in a snowy wasteland.The notion that America could be brought to its knees but a few soldiers capturing an oil facility may seem crazy but at the time you couldn't go broke trying to scare people into thinking the United States could actually be invaded by a conventional army. (Think Red Dawn, the other kooky invasion thriller of the era that only the paranoid could love.)
The American leading role is played by (then) red-hot David Soul as a colonel who finds himself commanding an outgunned and out-manned group of soldiers who fight valiantly against seemingly insurmountable odds to stave off Soviet occupation of the oil pipeline. This being TV in the early 1980s, there is some sexual byplay squeezed in between Soul and Cathy Lee Crosby, who plays a sexy intelligence officer equally at home in a snowsuit or evening gown. Naturally, she ends up toting a gun and helping Soul repel the Soviet onslaught. The notion of generals seeing more action in the bedroom than in the battlefield might have seemed like a stretch at the time, but in the age of General Petraeus, the screenwriter now seems like an oracle. The acting is all perfectly fine, with Hudson giving a commanding performance as a dovish president forced to be a hawk. Watching him square off with the great Brian Keith is one of the show's few true pleasures, along with an opening sequence that is well acted and directed and features a startling act of treason. However, World War III plays like a bargain basement version of Fail Safe, right down to the film's final sequence which is literally stolen verbatim from that classic movie. Most of the film is shot in claustrophobic interiors that never convince you that the action is taking place anywhere but on a studio sound stage. The worst aspects of the program, however, are the scenes set in the Alaskan frontier. There seems to have been no more than twenty square feet of studio space allocated to these sequences and to get around it, the actors are often filmed in close-up. The production design is also rather laughable with plastic and foam snowbanks that you would expect to see decorating your local ice cream parlor. If you think the arctic scenes in Ice Station Zebra looked bad, wait until you see these amateurish creations.
In fairness, comments readers on IMDB indicate people have very fond memories ofthis production, which was directed by the usually competent David Greene after the original director, Boris Sagal, died during production in an accident involving a helicopter. I hate to be a wet blanket about nuclear war, folks, but World War III is a pretentious, cheapo production that uses a few big names to justify its existence. The diplomatic sequences are corny and predictable and feature the kind of preachy, Kumbaya moments that would send the likes of Rush Limbaugh into a frenzy. Skip this one, unless you have three hours of your life you don't value, and stick to an intentionally funny Cold War film, Dr. Strangelove.
Click here to watch clip and order from the Warner Archive
Now that Severin Films has bounced back into circulation with their outstanding Blu-ray release of The Wild Geese, the company has also released a more obscure, star-studded title: the 1979 adventure film Ashanti. Never heard of it? Most people haven't and only a relatively few people have ever seen it in the American/British market, despite the impressive cast of high profile names. The film takes on what is probably the world's second-oldest profession: slave trading. Although human trafficking is high on the list of international crimes today, when the film was made, great pains had to be taken to educate viewers that slave trading did not get extinguished in the age of the horse and buggy and remains a very modern criminal activity. The film, directed by old hand Richard Fleischer, opens in Africa when an interracial married couple - doctors David and Anansa Linderby (Michael Caine and Beverly Johnson)- are seen providing medical services to remote tribes who reside in isolated regions. When Anansa decides to take an ill-fated skinny dip in a local river, the beautiful young woman is mistaken for a member of the tribe and brutally kidnapped by slavers headed by the notorious Suleiman (Peter Ustinov), an Arab trader of human misery. When David discovers his wife's fate, he launches an ambitious rescue effort but is hampered by corrupt or incompetent local officials. He decides to take matters into his own hands, with the help of a local humanitarian (Rex Harrison) and a sympathetic mercenary (William Holden). Despite their assistance, David finds the only man who can really help him is Malik (Kabir Bedi, who makes a striking screen presence), a Rambo-like figure who lives in the desert and is consumed by his own wife's abduction and murder at the hands of Suleiman. He agrees to assist David and the two make an arduous trek across the blazing Sahara in an attempt to rescue Anansa and her fellow victims before they can be sold at a private auction to rich men who want to abuse the slaves sexually.
Ashanti doesn't stint on the plight of those victimized by slavery. The slaves are treated brutally on the walk across the Sahara and given a minimum amount of food and water. The plan is to bring them to a "fattening house", a deplorable cellar, where they will be brought back to health in order to maximize their price at auction. Along the way, both young women and little boys are molested at will. David and Malik make for a disparate but determined team. David, who is unskilled in fighting or the use of weapons, must rely on his hot-tempered ally, who is capable of taking on numerous adversaries at the same time and prevailing. Meanwhile, Anansa tries to use logic with Suleiman to gain her freedom, pointing out that she is employed by the United Nations and her kidnapping will bring authorities down on him. He is unimpressed and claims that her natural beauty will result in his making enough money to retire and leave the slave trade before he can be found.
Ashanti is a consistently compelling adventure film, well-directed by the veteran Fleischer. Caine is a refreshing screen hero because he isn't a superman. He does acquit himself well in a climactic fight scene but his unfamiliarity with firearms realistically results in tragic consequences for one of his key allies. Ustinov channels his role from Spartacus as a charismatic scoundrel. Even when he engages in deplorable acts, he is personally charming. The real find is model Beverly Johnson, who gives a very fine performance in what is really the starring the role in the film. Harrison and Holden have extended cameos and their presence adds greatly to the enjoyment of the movie, as does a late-in-the-story appearance by Omar Sharif. If there's a weak aspect to the production it's the musical score by Michael Melvoin, which would be more appropriate in a disco-themed romance than an action film.
Severin's Blu-ray edition features an extensive, recent interview with Beverly Johnson, who discusses the fact that she was the "breakthrough" African American female model of the 1970s. (She is also an activist for social causes and was recently honored by Oprah Winfrey). Johnson is very verbose and amusing in recounting the film, which she is proud of. She found herself the only girl among a team of hard-drinking guys on the production company, but recalls some sound advice given to her by Rex Harrison ("Never perform your own stunts!) that she ignored with almost tragic results. She still swoons at the memory of aging William Holden's handsome features and speaks bluntly about having to cope with former husband Danny Sims' on-set antics, which she says included bedding seemingly every female in sight. She also blames Sims, who was a high profile record producer, for the film's awful song, heard over the end credits which he convinced her to sing in order to promote a record album that no one bought. Johnson says the film's producer alienated the "suits" at the studio and they decided to get even by burying the movie, despite its expensive production values. Regardless of its theatrical fate, Ashanti remains a fast-moving, well-acted adventure movie that entertains even as it outrages viewers with an honest look at how cheap human life is in certain parts of this planet.
The special edition also includes the original trailer.
Most retro movie lovers have probably heard of the 1982 cult comedy Eating Raoul, even though they probably haven't seen it. Released on the art house circuit by a major studio (Fox), the independently made production was considered quite shocking in its day due to its unapologetic emphasis on distasteful humor. The film was the brainchild of actor/director Paul Bartel, who by 1982 had been laboring in B movie hell for many years, often working with Roger Corman. Bartel was frustrated by Corman's refusal to finance any of his proposed projects so he went off and developed the script for Eating Raoul with his friend, screenwriter Richard Blackburn (who also appears in the film). The endeavor proved to be the epitome of gutsy, independent movie-making. Faced with a seemingly insurmountable budget of $500,000, Bartel scraped together funding from any sources he could find and took a loan out from his parents. To save money, he often shot scenes on remnants of celluloid, leaving him precious little film stock to do retakes. He cast any number of friends for parts both large and small including such diverse talents as Buck Henry, Ed Begley Jr., Billy Curtis and Hamilton Camp. Even John Landis has a cameo. Bartel plays the lead role himself, possibly more out of financial necessity than vanity. He portrays Paul Bland, a pudgy, somewhat fey resident of Hollywood who is happily married to a sexy nurse, Mary (played by Bland's real-life friend and frequent collaborator and co-star Mary Waronov.) Their marriage seems to be a sexless relationship of convenience, with both treating the other more like a sibling than a spouse. Both Paul and Mary share many similarities, however. They are both quite eccentric and very judgmental of middle class values even though they are facing financial ruin and seem unlikely to fulfill their mutual dream of opening a quaint country restaurant. Paul is an elitist, albeit a poor one. He loses his job in a local liquor store because he can't bring himself to recommend a cheap but profitable wine to customers. The Blands also fancy themselves as morally superior to those around them. When they discover that a neighboring apartment is being used by a group of swingers, they can barely hide their disgust (even though Paul is somewhat entranced by a dominatrix at the party.) Through a bizarre accident, the Blands end up accidentally killing a sexually aggressive swinger who wants to get it on with Mary. They casually dispose of the body and keep his cash to help raise the down payment needed for their restaurant. Suddenly, an outrageous scheme begins to take form: the Blands will lure other swingers into their apartment, murder them and keep their money. The plan works well, with Mary using her considerable charms to entice a seemingly endless number of gullible men to their doom. (This being long before the internet, the Blands are forced to advertise their perversions the old fashioned way: through ads in porn newspapers.) Before long, Paul and Mary are raising substantial sums of money and are closing in on their financial goal. Then they meet Raoul, a hunky Chicano petty criminal, who joins them as a partner with the promise of increased profits. It isn't long before he is attracted to Mary and this leads to some funny and complicated situations. To say more would be to reveal too much.
Over the years, Eating Raoul (yes, the film does take on a Soylent Green-like spin, albeit in a comedic mode) has developed a sizable and loyal cult following. The movie doesn't quite live up to the hype. It's never embarrassing but often doesn't rise to its potential. Bartel makes an amusing screen presence, but his delivery at times comes across somewhat amateurish. The scene-stealer is the magnetic Waronov, who commands the screen with her magnetism. Robert Beltran is also excellent as the titular Raoul, an overly-confident, smug lady's man whose obsession with Mary proves to have some very negative consequences. The funniest aspect of the film is the pure hypocrisy of the Blands. While looking down their nose at virtually everyone in their social circle, they lack any type of self-awareness. Thus, to them, people who swing are completely lacking in morality, but they fail to see that their own moral failings are far greater, as they have become serial killers without a hint of conscience. The film has many delightful comic interludes, such as Paul's shocking revenge against a hot tub full of swingers who dare to mock him. However, Bartel often encourages his actors to go over-the-top in their performances when a more subdued and realistic approach might have been more effective. Nevertheless, Bartel (who died in 2000 at the age of 61), deserves great praise for bringing off the most tasteless comedy audiences had seen since The Producers. It's fun throughout, even with a few sequences that don't live up to their potential.
Criterion's Blu-ray release of Eating Raoul is first rate throughout. The set contains a great looking transfer of the original film, a new documentary in which Beltran and Waronov discuss the production and their affection for Paul Bartel; audio commentary by Richard Blackburn, production designer Robert Schulenberg and editor Alan Toomayan; an awkwardly filmed 1982 archival interview with Bartel and Waronov; The Secret Cinema, a bizarre 1966 black and white film with a Twilight Zone-like spin (Bartel remade it as an episode of Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories in 1986); Naughty Nurse, a strikingly photographed 1969 short film that once again touches on Bartel's fascination with off beat sexual obsessions; a gag reel of takes that went awry and the original trailer (which unfairly doesn't credit Bartel by name for anything). There is also an insightful essay about the film by David Ehrenstein which is presented in a booklet designed to resemble a menu.
Eating Raoul is not a classic, but holds enough delights to merit adding this to your Blu-ray library.
The Rains of Ranchipur is yet another major film I probably would not have sampled had it not been released by Twilight Time. This Blu-ray edition is limited to 3,000 units. The film is primarily a soap opera based on the book The Rains Came by Louis Bromfield. The story had been brought to the screen previously in 1939 under the book's title and starring Myrna Loy and Tyrone Power. It features a glamorous cast of acting heavyweights who compensate for some of the weaker elements of the production. Turner, still gorgeous as ever, is Lady Edwina Esketh, a rich American socialite who married her cuckolded British husband Albert (Michael Rennie) simply to get the title she always craved. Theirs is a sexless union based on their mutual selfishness. Although Albert is genuinely in love with Edwina, he admits that her personal fortune was a prime motivation for marrying her. For her part, Edwina barely tolerates her dashing husband and banishes him to separate bedrooms on their travels while she shamelessly cavorts with boy toys around the globe. The couple arrive in Ranchipur, the Indian state, where they are greeted warmly as local celebrities, the story taking place when British colonialism had only recently been dispensed with. Edwina becomes infatuated with a young Indian doctor, Rama Safti (Richard Burton) and she quickly seduces him. The uncomfortable situation finds Rama romancing Edwina even though Albert knows full well what is going on. The racially mixed romance causes a scandal and Rama's influential mother, the Maharani (Eugenie Levontovich) forbids her son from seeing his lover. The romantic problems are eclipsed by a devastating earthquake and flood that causes all of the major characters to redefine their relationships. This includes Edwina's childhood friend, American businessman Tom Ransome (Fred MacMurray), a one-time idealist who now resides in India where he indulges in non-stop drinking. Tom has his own romantic problem: he is being wooed by a recent college graduate, Fern (Joan Caulfield), who is determined to settle down with her much older would-be lover.
The sumptuous Fox production, competently directed by Jean Negulesco, benefits from having been shot on location in India- and there is also that sumptuous Hugo Friedhofer score. The story is somewhat predictable but never bores the viewer because of the considerable star power on display.Turner gives a fine performance, as does the young turban-clad Burton. However, as we have written about many times, films such as this were compromised by having Caucasian actors portray characters of color. It isn't Burton's fault that, despite an abundance of tan makeup, you never quite forget you are observing a Welshman playing an Indian. MacMurray gives another of his always-compelling performances. The special effects during the exciting climax were nominated for an Oscar and some hold up well today. However, a few shots creak with age such an awful scene of a chasm opening in the earth as well as a sequence in which the film is sped up, making the running refugees look like they are in a Keystone Cops short. The movie is the epitome of 1950s Hollywood glamor, with beautiful people sipping cocktails in dinner jackets and gowns, all designed to show off the considerable attractiveness of the major stars. The Rains of Ranchipur is all glitz and little substance, but the opportunity to see all these screens together makes it an irresistible attraction.
The Twilight Time release is gorgeous, making the most of the Cinemascope process. There are two original trailers and an amusing, cheesy original TV spot promoting the film.
Warner Home Video continues to earn the gratitude of movie fans by releasing special editions of films that had limited commercial appeal. The latest example is director Hal Ashby's Lookin' to Get Out, a 1982 comedy that was a notorious box-office disaster - and one that virtually ruined Ashby's career. Like fellow gadfly director Sam Peckinpah, Ashby could be a temperamental personality who prided himself on clashing with studios over issues of artistic integrity. His acclaimed hits include Coming Home, Being There and Shampoo, but -like Peckinpah- he wore out his welcome with his employers and was relegated to filming "by the numbers" movies in return for a paycheck.There has been a renaissance of interest in Ashby's career of late, so hopefully this director's cut of Lookin' to Get Out will find an appreciative audience.
The film stars Jon Voight (who co-wrote the script) as Alex Kovac, a perpetually upbeat but obnoxious compulsive gambler whose insurmountable debts to a local loan shark motivate him to flee to Las Vegas. He is accompanied by his personal Sancho Panza, the dim-witted but loyal Jerry Feldman (Burt Young). In Vegas, Alex reconnects with an old flame, Patti Warner (Ann-Margaret), who finds herself once again smitten by the charismatic loser - even though she is the girlfriend of the multi-millionaire owner of the MGM Grand Casino. Alex concocts an audacious plan to enlist the services of Smitty (Bert Remsen), a once-legendary high stakes gambler now reduced to working as a waiter in the MGM Grand.Alex gets Jerry to impersonate another high roller in order to get an advance on his credit. Using the borrowed $10,000, he plans to have Smitty take the casino to the cleaners through a nerve-wracking game of blackjack. However, the loan shark and his enforcer turn up in hot pursuit - and the plan turns to chaos as Alex and Jerry try to stay alive long enough to win their fortune.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. It moves at a brisk pace and makes excellent use of the Vegas locales. It was the first movie allowed to be shot inside the MGM Grand, which boggles the mind since the screenplay calls for the casino to be the setting for con men, cheating, wild chases and gun play. The permission was granted as a personal favor to Burt Young, who called in some chips, so to speak, in order to get the rights to film on location.