Ford's WWII-era private plane in the aftermath of today's crash.
Iconic actor Harrison Ford has been injured in a private plane crash this afternoon. Ford, an experienced pilot, was flying his WWII-era plane when it crashed on a Los Angeles golf course this afternoon. Ford had been at the wheel of the plane and there were no other passengers. Witnesses said Ford suffered injuries and was bloodied. He was transported to a local hospital where he has been reportedly listed in critical condition. The story is developing...Details often change as more facts are known, but this is what is being reported by TMZ and NBC News. For more click here.
Well, it's that time of year again when pundits everywhere weigh in on the merits (or lack thereof) of the previous evening's Oscar telecast.
Here are my random observations:
Host Neil Patrick Harris was affable and likable and worked like hell to put on a good show. But there lies the rub. Traditionally, Oscar hosts never had to be chosen for their ability to carry Busby Berkeley-like song and dance extravaganzas. Dear old Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope and Johnny Carson were simply there to keep the traffic flowing to the podium in between rattling off some memorable one-liners. Billy Crystal quashed that tradition with his ever-outrageous opening production numbers that razzed the Academy and some of the nominees. The idea should have been retired with him when he announced he would no longer host the event. Last evening's opening act was certainly opulent and contained some funny zingers if you could discern them through the lightning-fast production. Throughout the rest of the show, Harris had some hits but plenty of misses. There were some witty lines (i.e "Tonight we honor Hollywood's best and whitest") but plenty of bizarre antics that either flopped or just went nowhere. Early on, he introduced a running gag in which he said he made predictions about the show that were kept in a locked box on the stage. No one knew the point of the joke, which he referred to numerous times. When the payoff finally came, it turns out there were printed pages that accurately predicted what certain winners and presenters would say and how they would act. It was impressive but only in the way that a guy at a cocktail party can impress others with the old "Pick a card...any card!" magic routine. It was completely pointless for an Oscar telecast that weighed in at 3 1/2 hours. Additionally, some of Harris's other jokes were so lame that, in one instance, he had to explain the meaning of a joke about Oprah Winfrey's wealth to Oprah herself. When you have to discuss why people should find a joke funny in retrospect, you're in trouble. I was reminded of a critic who once said that watching producer Samuel Bronston's "Circus World" was like sitting with an elephant on your lap. Perhaps last night's event wasn't the equivalent of an elephant but it came pretty close to holding a walrus on your lap. Harris gamely tried to keep the pace going fast but it was beyond his control. Overlong acceptance speeches are the bane of any Oscar host and they were out in full force last night. Overall, Harris tried hard and succeeded often enough not to have embarrassed himself. However, since the guy already hosts the Tony Awards, the Emmys, the TV Land Awards and probably the "Man of the Year" at your local Loyal Order of Moose Lodge, the Academy should pull out all the stops to bring back some proven hosts such as Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg or Ellen Degeneres, all of whom have a natural ability to improvise brilliantly.
Most of the talent on stage looked elegant. For the most part the males continued the welcome trend of shunning trendy tuxedos in favor of the standard black tie look. The ladies also avoided any over-the-top fashion disasters and most looked very stylish, with J-Lo knocking viewer's eyes out with a plunging neckline number that managed to be sexy without crossing over into tacky.
Harris's ill-constructed comedy sketch in which he strutted from backstage out to the main event clad only in white briefs was probably lost on 95% of the viewers who didn't realize that it was a spoof of a sequence in "Birdman". As such, countless millions of people around the globe were probably scratching their heads as they pondered the relevance of the largely superfluous routine. I have a sneaky feeling that the primary motive for Harris to strut out of the stage and show his fab abs. That doesn't make it appropriate for an event that once at least aspired to providing a classy atmosphere. This bit would have been better left to the Letterman show.
Harris struts his stuff in "Birdman" sketch that was more suited for "Letterman" than the Oscars.
Left-wing political speeches were back with a vengeance but they had a mixed impact. Long-time activist Patricia Arquette, a deserving Supporting Actress winner for her remarkable performance in "Boyhood", gave an impassioned speech about equal pay for women. It was somewhat appropriate, given the fact that her character in the film is a single mother who struggles her entire life with low pay in often menial jobs. However, anyone delivering a passionate speech about any topic should take note: it would have a bit more meaning and sincerity if it wasn't read word-for-word off a sheet of paper. These people are professional actors, for Pete's sake--- why can't they just speak extemporaneously about subjects that are supposed to be so important to them? The writers of the Oscar-winning song "Glory" from "Selma" were more effective, delivering a relevant criticism of exceptionally high incarceration rates for black males in America, along with successful attempts in recent years to weaken the Voting Rights Act. Alejandro G. Innaritu, the Mexican director who won the Oscar for "Birdman", worked in some respectful pleas regarding the plight of illegal immigrants when he initially won an award for co-writing the screenplay for the film. When Sean Penn strolled to the podium to announce the Best Director award for Innaritu, he pondered about "Who gave this sonofabitch a Green Card?" So Innaritu will always have that as part of his legacy. Penn may be one of our greatest actors, but the combination of his perpetual frown and his penchant for tasteless remarks should make him off-limits for future Oscar chores. The most effective "lecture" was the one delivered by Graham Moore, who won Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Imitation Game". The young, gay writer made a plea for tolerance in society and disclosed that age 16, he had tried to commit suicide. He inspired young viewers to be proud of who they are and to continue being "weird". It was a poignant and touching moment.
Least classy Oscar nominee: Michael Keaton, who chewed gum throughout the entire evening. The ghosts of Cary Grant and Laurence Olivier must have been doing cartwheels in their graves.
I was happy to see J.K. Simmons win Best Supporting Actor for his amazing - and terrifying performance- as a potentially psychotic music teacher in "Whiplash". Simmons encouraged everyone to call (not text, or E mail!) their parents, if they are fortunate enough to still have them, and express their love for them. Good advice...but it was kind of a weird Dr. Phil moment. More bizarrely, Simmons never uttered a word of thanks to his director or co-star.
I hope I never see another Oscar show in which the host enters the audience to toss jibes at attendees. Harris tried this and the results were deadly. As the clock kept ticking, he engaged in meaningless patter that he seemed to be improvising on the spot. This included humiliating various celebrities for no apparent reason and even making small talk with a "seat filler" (a person who takes a celeb's seat if they have to run to the bathroom.) It got so bad that I thought I had gone into a time warp and was watching an old episode of Monty Hall in "Let's Make a Deal".
There was so much time wasted on superfluous bits that went nowhere that I really resented the fact that honorary Oscar winners Maureen O'Hara and Harry Belafonte were relegated to a few seconds of film clips from an event held separately from the main show. Exactly how does a show that extols Hollywood tradition and glamour not find a few fleeting minutes for these legends to appear on the telecast? It was galling, especially when you saw another legend, Sidney Poitier, standing next to Belafonte. Can you imagine the emotional payoff if this had been played out on stage? But it didn't because we needed that valuable time to be used for Harris to stroll through the audience trying to find how to kill time.
One nice surprise was the tribute to the 50th anniversary of "The Sound of Music" in which a selection of classic songs from the film were performed by a surprisingly understated Lady Gaga- topped off by an on-stage appearance by the ageless Julie Andrews. With so few Hollywood legends still with us, this was especially nice to see.
The award for "Longest Winded Speech of the Night" went to Pawel Pawlikowski, the director of "Ida", the Polish movie that won for Best Foreign Film. We understand his pride in taking home his country's first Oscar but he simply wouldn't shut up-- even when the orchestra started playing over his words. It's as though he thought he was filming the pilot for the "Pawel Pawlikowski Show". Maybe next year, Oscar should consider reviving one of those big canes they used to use in Vaudeville to forcibly remove performers from the stage.
As usual, most of the nominees for Best Song were boring at best and at least one- from "The Lego Movie"- was awful. It may have been fun in the context of the film itself, but even an elaborately staged production number couldn't mask the fact that not one sane person would ever willingly play this at home or in their car. Similarly, seeing the audience explode in thunderous applause at John Legend's rendition of "Glory" from "Selma", one couldn't help but wonder just how often most of these folks ever listen to gospel music in their spare time.
There were numerous jibes about the recent controversy regarding the fact that all of the major nominees were white. This lead to conspiracy theories all around that there were devious forces afoot that belied a racist tone to the Academy. Really? For the record, after every year's nominees are announced, there is an inevitable backlash that so-and-so got cheated out of a nomination. This is nothing new. As for racism in the Academy, it's pretty fair to guess that the vast majority of the Academy members would be considered very liberal. For years, conservatives have lambasted this aspect of the awards, accusing the Academy of caving in to political correctness. Additionally, one only has to consider the fact that last year's Best Picture winner was "12 Years a Slave" and two of it's key artists- screenwriter John Ridley and actress Lupita Nyong'o, both of whom are black- received Oscars.The film was nominated for nine Oscars including a nomination for the film's director Steve McQueen, who is also black. It simply defies belief that the same members of the Academy became racist in the course of twelve months. Even if you do believe that, didn't anyone notice that a Mexican director won the top award?
Then there is the annual controversy about the memorial segment of artists who passed away in the last year. As usual, everyone can cite somebody who should have been included. Although Elaine Stritch was noted more for stage appearances and Joan Rivers was primarily a comedy star, both should have been included because they did have feature films on their resumes. (Rivers was actually one of the first female directors and she used to host the Oscar red carpet event for many years.) No mention was made of either of them, but there were plenty of people cited who worked behind the scenes as executives or agents that most people never heard of. My own personal gripe is that our old friend and Cinema Retro contributor, actor Richard Kiel, was also not commemorated despite the fact that he was a hugely popular figure in films, especially for his role as the immortal James Bond villain Jaws. Another affront we took personally was the omission of Brian G. Hutton, who directed "Where Eagles Dare", "Kelly's Heroes" and Frank Sinatra's last starring role in a feature film, "The First Deadly Sin". Apparently his contributions to the film industry were not deemed worthy of recognition. Can't they extend this sequence just another 60 seconds? Given all the padding in the show, time constraints should not be cited as a reason to diss major names such as these.
Lastly, the Academy deserves credit for nominating films that, by and large, were worthy of all the nominations they received. The year 2014 was a terrible one for Hollywood in terms of declining boxoffice. The industry depends more and more on fewer and fewer potential blockbuster movies. It's a recipe for disaster. Meanwhile, the Academy has correctly brought to the world's attention the existence of smaller, personal films that negate the common criticism that most good movies were made decades ago. In fact, some of those nominated will be regarded as classics and the attention the Oscars afford these smaller films will help them find the audiences they so richly deserve.
American Andrew Jessel (Tony Randall arrives in Marrakesh on a business trip,
he checks into the hotel and discovers a corpse in his wardrobe. This is the
beginning of a "wrong man" style adventure involving international
espionage and criminal gangs, but thankfully on his side is sexy super-spy Kyra
Stanovy (Senta Berger). The two set off to clear his name and solve the
mystery, and spend large parts of the film having to rescue each other from
assorted dangers, mainly involving local kingpin Casimir (Herbert Lom) and his
psychotic henchman Jonquil (Klaus Kinski). Also thrown into the mix are British
character actors Wilfrid Hyde-White, John Le Mesurier and Terry-Thomas,
providing a combination of plot exposition and comic relief, and the entire
plot builds to an inevitably happy conclusion where wrongs are made right, the
guilty are punished and the innocent get to ride off into the sunset.
Our Man in Marrakesh (known in the
States as Bang! Bang! You're Dead!) is a typical mid-Sixties Harry Alan
Towers production. An independent British producer who had made a name for
himself in radio and television before moving into feature films, he
specialised in European co-productions, pulling in A-list names and finance
from several different countries. His budgets were low, and his scripts were
often second-rate, but he seemed to have a no trouble persuading bankable stars
to take off around the world with him. He always preferred to shoot on
location, and Our Man in Marrakesh is no exception. Aside from some
rear-projection driving shots in a studio, most of the film is shot in
Marrakesh itself, giving it a seedy authenticity which gives puts it on a par
with the Bond films of the time. This film was one of hundreds of Bond-style
films produced during the 1960s. They became known as Eurospy films, although
other countries and continents got in on the act, too. Our Man in Marrakesh
mixes elements of Bond with Hitchcock's thrillers fairly successfully, and Tony
Randall makes a likeable comedic leading man. More fun, however, are the
various characters that rotate around him, most notably Klaus Kinski, who once
again looks unhinged and slightly dangerous. His piercing eyes and ease with
violent outbursts would of course be put to use in better films later on,
particularity in his collaborations with Werner Herzog.
Tasmanian director Don Sharp is best known for his Hammer films Rasputin the
Mad Monk (1966), The Kiss of the Vampire (1963) and The
Devil-Ship Pirates (1964), but his cult credentials include films like Curse
of the Fly (1965), two Fu-Manchu films with Christopher Lee (both produced
by Harry Alan Towers) and bizarre zombie-biker thriller Psychomania
(1973), a film that caused such despondency in star George Sanders that he
committed suicide shortly after its release. His direction is uncomplicated and
efficient. Although he rarely displays what could be called creative flair, he
gets the job done, and he was clearly reliable enough to be regularly employed
by producers for whom schedules and budgets were tight.
Our Man in Marrakesh, complete with
James Bond-style marketing materials, is a fun and exciting film with bullets,
car chases, corpses, bikini-clad babes, spies and gangsters, all wrapped up in
an exotic locale. It won't change your life, but it is fun and features more
entertainment value than many other Eurospy movies of the period. This has been
released by Network on R2 DVD as part of their 'The British Film' collection.
This is an exciting five-year plan, launched in 2013 with Studiocanal, to
release over 450 vintage British films. Sadly most of these DVDs have so far
featured very little in the way of extras, with just a theatrical trailer and
an image gallery to accompany the movie. However when films like these have not
been seen in any sort of decent print for decades the DVDs are well worth your time.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW CLIPS AND TRAILER AND TO PURCHASE THIS TITLE.
There was a time when the drive-in theater was a mainstay of American movie-going. However, the drive-ins got squeezed out of most urban area when the value of real estate skyrocketed. Suddenly it became far more attractive to lease land to a zillion dollar shopping center than to a guy who was showing double features. There are still drive-ins in the United States and they are, as is the case with all vanishing ways of life, highly cherished by retro movie lovers and nostalgia buffs. However, the demise of the drive-in theater craze wasn't entirely due to real estate values. As films became more sophisticated, so did audiences. Who wants to see the newest Star Wars or Bond flick at a venue where the screen was a football field away and the sound came through a tinny speaker inside your car? Adding to the challenge of running a successful drive-in were the new liberties available to filmmakers beginning in the mid-to-late 1960s. As major motion pictures increasingly depicted nudity, drive-in theaters became the focal point of local protests when parents complained that little Jack or little Jill could see those big bad bare bosoms- and worse- on the big screen in color when the family went for an outing. The result was a plethora of lawsuits and legal obstacles. Yet, some drive-ins continued to persevere- even those that switched to showing outright porn exclusively. In an article in the Daily Beast, writer Steve Miller looks back on the rise and fall of drive-ins and the legal challenges they faced. (There still is one drive-in operating in Texas that shows strictly porn, which gives a whole new interpretation to the old saying, "Everything is bigger in Texas!")Click here to read
Lizabeth Scott, the sultry blonde who epitomized cinematic "bad girls" in film noir productions, has passed away at age 92. Scott specialized in playing hard-bitten, self-confident femme fatales usually from the wrong side of the tracks. Her leading men included Robert Mithchum, Burt Lancaster, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Kirk Douglas. Her film credits include "Loving You", "Dark City", "I Walk Alone", "Too Late for Tears", "Pitfall" and "Scared Stiff". Her last screen appearance was in director Mike Hodges' acclaimed 1972 cult movie "Pulp", which was a send-up of the film noir genre. Scott's career began to fade in the late 1950s though she did make occasional appearances in TV series in the following years. In more recent years, she occasionally appeared at film festivals to discuss her work and career. Click here for more.
In her excellent analysis of the 1962 Elvis Presley film "Follow That Dream"- which is included in the limited edition Twilight Time Blu-ray release- film historian Julie Kirgo concisely but thoroughly explores the one aspect of The King's career that brought him more frustration than satisfaction: his stature as an international movie star. When Elvis first exploded on the international music scene in the 1950s, Hollywood came calling immediately. Presley, under the guidance of his Svengali-like manager Colonel Tom Parker, found himself starring in films that were primarily designed to promote his music but which afforded him intelligent story lines and the opportunity to showcase his considerable charms as a leading man. The word on Presley was that, given the proper nurturing from established screenwriters and directors, he could become an acclaimed actor in his own right. Then Uncle Sam intruded and Presley was drafted. Elvis' two-year stint in the U.S. Army became the stuff of pop culture legend. Without any fuss or any attempt to dodge the draft, he did his duty and was honorably discharged. When he re-entered civilian life, however, the Colonel had a different vision for his star's big screen career. Instead of holding out for roles that would have allowed Elvis to progress as an accomplished actor, the Colonel signed him to a long contract with legendary producer Hal Wallis, who agreed with the Colonel that the main objective would be to quickly crank out low budget flicks that would be highly profitable. If that offended Elvis' sensibilities, too bad. They pointed out that on the few occasions where Elvis had been allowed to play mature characters in intelligent films, the boxoffice receipts lagged behind his upbeat, teen-oriented musicals. Thus, the King found himself not in control of his own destiny, at least when it came to the silver screen. Before long, he was churning out indistinguishable lightweight fare that served as little more than an extended music videos to sell the accompanying soundtrack albums. The ploy worked, financially, at least, but left Elvis feeling frustrated and betrayed by the two mentors he had entrusted to guide him to a long, satisfying movie career.
One of Elvis' more accomplished and satisfying films was the aforementioned "Follow That Dream". The story was based on a humorous novel titled "Pioneer, Go Home!' by Richard Powell, who also authored the source novel for the fine 1959 Paul Newman film "The Young Philadelphians". It's an amusing, whimsical yarn that finds Elvis as Toby Kwimper, a hunky young man who is traveling through Florida with his father, known as Pop (Arthur O'Connell) and a comely teenage companion, Holly Jones (Anne Helm), who- for all intents and purposes- is his adopted sister. Also in tow are two young twin toddlers. Seems like Pop has a soft spot for caring for orphans and inviting them into his home. His motive, however, isn't entirely based on compassion. In the case of the twins, he has been getting child welfare payments from the state. Pop is adverse to doing an honest day's work and is systematically exploiting "The System" itself, figuring out how to maximize government handouts that are designed to help the genuinely poor. Pop and Toby are poor, alright- but it's by choice. They live a spartan, nomadic existence and learn to do without materialistic things. All the while, Pop prides himself on maintaining a staunch conservative political viewpoint- that big government is bad and corrupt and that everyone should fend for themselves. As Julie Kirgo points out in her liner notes, he is not unlike some hypocrites today who denounce all aspects of the government but seem to be first in line for any payouts when it comes to exploiting government programs. Pop's car breaks down on a patch of remote government land in central Florida. With the car immobile, Pop announces that the group will simply make this their home. Before long, he and Toby have constructed a ramshackle home complete with outhouse. When a local official tries to evict him, the wily Pop discovers that the precise land he is squatting on falls under an archaic law that allows him a loophole to claim it as his own. Much of the film is dedicated to Pop using his guile to outfox the city slickers who want him to move on. Meanwhile, he finds it beneficial to declare his one room shack a legal "community", which necessitates the appointment of a sheriff. Toby reluctantly accepts the job. The young man is more honest than his father but is naive in the ways of the world. Like the Clampetts of "The Beverly Hillbillies", Toby is more innocent than stupid and somehow finds a way to get the upper hand in every attempt made by others to undermine his family's homestead. Before long, he and Pop have built a successful fishing business that begins to thrive and deliver some legitimately-earned cash into their coffers.
British movie edition paperback tie-in.
The film is a bit off-kilter when it comes to explaining why Toby is so adverse to getting involved with girls. The explanation is shallow especially when one considers how hormones rage at that age. Joanna Moore is a social worker who attempts to seduce him but he turns her down. This sets in motion a major plot device in which she attempts to use loopholes in the law to take the twins away from the household unless they agree to leave the state. Meanwhile, "Sheriff" Toby has another problem: two big city gamblers (Simon Oakland and Jack Kruschen) have opened a adjoining all-night gambling den next to the Kwimper household. The two men pretend they want to be friends with the naive Toby, who they actually exploit to their benefit. The film climaxes in Toby taking on both the threat of the gamblers as well as the local officials, the latter in an amusing courtroom sequence.
"Follow That Dream" has Elvis croon a relatively light load of only five songs. They are of varying quality and, frankly are presented in ridiculous fashion. Elvis will be laying on the grass staring dreamily into the sky and when he begins singing, the sound of a band appears out of nowhere as he unconvincingly lip-synchs the lyrics. Nevertheless, the paucity of songs does allow Elvis to emote and he gives a fine, low-key and self-assured performance. He is helped by the fact that there are so many good character actors in the film and that the entire production is under the hand of an accomplished (if criminally underrated) director, Gordon Douglas. The screenplay is by another respected screen veteran, Charles Lederer.
Elvis sang five songs in the film but so hated the one titled "Sound Advice" that he refused to include it on the soundtrack album.
The film does end on a relatively uncomfortable note, with Toby and Holly becoming a romantic couple. They might not be blood relatives but they have been living in a brother/sister relationship, which gives this aspect of the story a bit of a disturbing aspect, much as similar relationship did in John Huston's "The Unforgiven" in which Audrey Hepburn seemed to have the hots for her adopted big brother Burt Lancaster. Still, "Follow That Dream" is one of Elvis' more impressive movies and illustrates the potential he would have had if he continued to be nurtured as an actor by seasoned professionals in the industry. What isn't explored in the Twilight Time liner notes are the specific missed opportunities. He had been offered a key role in "The Rainmaker" but the Colonel insisted that Elvis get top-billing in any motion picture- an absurdity considering this production wasn't a musical and top-lined two screen legends, Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn. Years later, Hal Wallis did consider him for the second male lead in his 1969 production of "True Grit" but the Colonel would have none of it because Elvis wouldn't get top billing over John Wayne. The part went to Glen Campbell and the film was internationally hailed as a classic western. Frustrated, Elvis finally put his foot down and did his own western, a production called "Charro!" that was inspired by the Italian westerns made famous by Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone. It wasn't half bad and Elvis acquitted himself well enough but by then his boxoffice appeal had dwindled. He would make only two more feature films, although he was the subject of two other acclaimed documentaries about his concert performances in the 1970s. The legendary performer had managed to salvage his musical career by ignoring the Colonel and getting back to basics with his sensational 1968 comeback TV special. Sadly, the same fate did not await him in the film industry and we are left to ponder what could have been.
The Twilight Time release of "Follow That Dream" is right up to the company's usual high standards. In addition to an illustrated collector's booklet, there is an isolated score track and an original trailer.
in American football has been a big issue during the last year. After former
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was videotaped knocking his girlfriend
unconscious in an elevator and other players were reportedly involved in
incidents of domestic abuse, the National Football League issued a Code of
Conduct for players. Violation of the code can result in a player being
suspended or kicked out of the sport altogether. In Great Britain, however, it’s
not the players who are guilty of off-the-field violence, it’s the fans.
“Football hooliganism” as it is known, is and has been a problem for years.
Nick Love’s 2008 film, “The Firm” tells a story set in the midst of this violent
those who don’t know, football hooliganism refers to the organized gangs of
young soccer fans, almost all young men, who meet one another when the mood
strikes them to have a go at bashing each other’s heads in. These organized groups,
sometimes consisting of 100 or 200 young men, are known as “firms.” According
to Nick Love’s film, however, football has little to do with the violent
encounters these groups instigate. In fact, there was not a single frame of
film shot at a soccer stadium during a game.
Firm” was originally a television play broadcast in the 1980’s and featured
Gary Oldman as Bex, the leader of one of the firms. Reviews indicate it was
told from Bex’s point of view. Love’s adaptation
keeps the time frame, but changes the point of view and makes it more of a
coming of age story. In this version, the viewpoint character is Dom, a boy in
his teens who still lives with his parents, and encounters Bex and immediately
succumbs to a kind of hero worship.
Anderson plays Bex in this version, and Calum MacNab is Dom. Both give very
good, very real performances. And the shifting point of view between the two
main characters provides an interesting contrast between the two characters’
lifestyles. By day Bex wears a suit and tie and sells real estate. At night, he
wears Adidas and bright-colored jogging suits. He hangs out at a local pub with
members of his “firm,” and sets strategy for the next coming fight.
on the other hand, lives in an “estate,” an ugly housing project. and works
with his father in a construction business. Dom’s parents are shown to be mindless
cogs in the lower class of society. A chance encounter in a pub brings Dom and Bex
together, and the younger boy is impressed with the older man’s ferocity and
ruthlessness. When he’s invited to join Bex’s firm he jumps at the chance. He
immediately goes out and begs for money from his dad to buy the kind of clothes
Bex wears. He leaves his former best friend in the dust, and begins using
hooligan slang, that his parents don’t understand.
it is this emulation of Bex that leads to the beginning of Dom’s disenchantment
with his idol. The turning point comes in a scene where Dom shows up at a firm
meeting wearing the same exact red jogging suit and shoes that Bex is wearing.
When the rest of the firm ridicules Dom for this faux pas Bex simply
shrugs his shoulders and lets them rag on him until they’ve had enough. When he
finally tells the others to leave him alone, you can see the disappointment in
the story progresses, Dom begins to see the man he thought was so cool is
actually some kind of psychotic, a man full of violent rage. He leads his firm
in several clashes with another group, the Setis, with the violence escalating
with each encounter. Dom watches as Bex’s lieutenants try to reason with him,
but to no avail. He seems determined to lead his gang and himself into suicidal
Firm” is an interesting film, and keeps you glued to the screen to see how it
finally turns out. And unlike so many films today, it’s about something real,
not spaceships and superheroes. I give Love credit for carrying on a long
tradition of realism in British films that dates back to the days of Tony
Richardson, John Osborne and Alan Sillitoe. Love is not as good a writer as any
of those three. This film contains none of the indicting dialogue of England’s so-called
“Angry Young Men” characters who were so prevalent in films of the 1960s.
tells his story visually. Dialogue is minimal and what there is of it can
barely be understood because of the characters’ heavy accents. It’s all surface
level action. That combined with the loud soundtrack full of music from the ‘80s
results in an accurate portrait of the England of Margaret Thatcher, but it
does not go very deep into what really motivates men like Bex and Dom.
it’s a film well worth watching. The Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray
transfer is first rate. The disc contains extras, including the usual deleted
scenes and “making of” featurettes. Another on how the gang fights were
choreographed also was of interest. A booklet containing notes by Julie Kirgo i
also illuminating. The disc also has an isolated soundtrack score. All in all,
a nice package.
This release is limited to only 3,000 units. Click here to order.
(John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
Vinegar Syndrome has released yet another retro erotica double feature on one DVD. Both flicks are from the big hair era of the 1980s and both features center on similar themes: a frustrated young woman whose workaholic lifestyle leaves virtually no time for their love life. "Purely Physical" (1982) is the more impressive feature, largely because it has some production values and a reasonably intelligent plot, coupled with relatively accomplished actors and actresses. Laura Lazare plays Kathy, a young, overworked college girl who needs extra income. She applies for and gets a job as the night clerk at a local motel. It doesn't take long for the outwardly prim and proper Kathy to observe that the place's primary source of income is as a "hot sheet" destination for people who want to carry out their sexual fantasies. She keeps a poker face even when confronted with the obvious intentions of her clients. There is a nervous young teenage boy who has barely cobbled together the $32 room fee in order to finally consummate his love for his cute girlfriend. There is a dorky, chunky guy who believes the hot number who picked him up in a bar really just wants to sit around the motel room and indulge in his passion for movie trivia. (She turns out to be a conniving hooker.) There is the frustrated traveling saleswoman (Juliet Anderson as "Aunt Peg", the original screen cougar) who finds she has no time for lovers so has to take sexual matters into her own hands. Finally, there is an exhausted businessman whose friend sends up two hookers to please him. He rejects their offer but when they inform him that they are actually lovers, he relents and let's them indulge. Predictably, his exhaustion fades pretty quickly and he gets in on the action. Then there's the attractive and wealthy young woman who want to indulge in her fantasies by renting a room and bringing in her two male tennis instructors. Faced with this sexual tidal wave on her doorstep every night, Kathy finally succumbs to make her own fantasies come true. "Purely Physical" was apparently filmed, at least in part, at a sizable motel, though one wonders if the owners who consented knew exactly what kind of movie was being made on their premises. The opening credits are actually rather impressive, with some good photography of Kathy bicycling through busy city streets. Lazare, who appeared in numerous porn films throughout the 1980s, overcomes the bad hairstyles of the day and gives a fairly accomplished performance. The film only disappoints on one level: the much-hinted-at match-up between Kathy and Aunt Peg never occurs, beyond some mild flirting. Still, "Purely Physical" is one of the better porn efforts of the era.
"Cathouse Fever" (1984), on the other hand, is a lazy "quickie" feature with Becky Savage as a young L.A. secretary whose work hours deprive her of any romantic relationships. She makes the bold decision to join a bordello in Las Vegas. Aside from some "B" roll footage of Vegas in the era, the rest of the film is shot in one-room settings with the exception of a few beach scenes in which Becky is seen walking on the beach. Once at the bordello, Kathy enthusiastically embraces her work, bedding and pleasing an oddball selection of guys, some of whom probably mirror the real life experience of hookers in that they are decidedly unattractive. The movie stresses comedy, with some slapstick sequences inserted into the action. The routine script includes the usual standard sequences involving lesbians and group sex but most of it plays out in mundane fashion.
Both features boast excellent transfers and include the original trailers.
Western movie lovers of a certain age often reminisce about the era in which going to big ticket films was a special experience. "Roadshow" presentations played in select big city movie houses for extended runs before the film was released to local theaters nationally. In some cases, films could play for months in roadshow engagements before people in small towns and suburbia could see a blockbuster flick in their local theater. This trend is all but dead today. Even the biggest hits have short theatrical runs, at least compared to the old days. That's because studios want to capitalize on the recent marketing campaigns by moving quickly to pay-per-view, home video and cable exploitation of a hit movie. However, in India- where passions for all things cinematic run deep- one particular film has been running consistently in a Mumbai cinema for twenty years. The simple love story titled "Dilwale Duhhania Le Jayenge" touched a nerve with Indian audiences. It centers on a young Indian woman who is living in London and is about to wed through a marriage arranged by her father. This is an old and revered Indian custom that is still widely adhered to even by the younger generation. Prior to the young woman moving to a village in India where she will wed and reside, she has a chance encounter with an attractive young man and they fall in love. What sets the film apart from most cinematic depictions of such dilemmas is that the young couple doesn't simply run off but, rather, try to convince the girl's father to rescind the agreement through which his daughter will marry. Such a notion is quite controversial in India and the situation depicted on screen has consistently spoken to audiences that identify with the young couple, as well as the girl's father. The film still often plays to sold-out audiences. For more (and to view the trailer) click here.
Donna Douglas, the former beauty queen who became an icon of 1960s TV, has passed away at age 82. Douglas started as a model in the 1950s and landed small roles in feature films before being cast as Elly May Clampett, the sexy but naive daughter of backwoods millionaire Jed Clampett on the smash hit TV series "The Beverly Hillbillies". The show was met with open disdain by CBS brass, who felt it was beneath the dignity of the network. However, viewers warmed to the Clampett clan immediately and the show became a smash hit that ran for nine seasons. It was still near the top of the ratings when it was canceled in a purge by network executives of its rural-themed hit shows in the early 1970s. Douglas' character was always relentlessly jovial and upbeat on the show and Elly May's penchant for bringing exotic animals onto the Clampett estate generated many laughs. Although she was type-cast, Douglas never complained. She went on to record gospel music, co-star with Elvis Presley and in her later years, attend autograph shows where she greeted her many fans. With her death, actor Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro, is the last living member of the cast of "The Beverly Hillbillies".-Lee Pfeiffer
anyone with any knowledge of the history of film could tell you, Bruce Lee is
an icon of both the worlds of martial arts and action cinema. He was a dynamic
and exciting performer who seemed born to be on the big screen. His untimely
death -just as his career was poised to become bigger than any previous Asian
film actor- is only one element of his legendary status. Lee was an astonishing
onscreen presence whose athletic abilities and kinetic style made him the
center of attention whenever he was present. Until he was afforded the chance
to star in his own movies, his bit roles such as a violent thug in Marlowe (1969) showed how thrilling he was to watch. His role in the short-lived TV
series The Green Hornet cast him as the sidekick but it was Lee who provided
the most memorable element in every one of those twenty six episodes. Once
you've watched him onscreen his natural charisma is evident and it is no
surprise that pictures of him often adorn the same walls as other 'gone too
soon' icons as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Like those screen legends, Lee
died in his prime with much promise laid out for the future and- like them- his
loss will be felt by his fans forever.
Bruce Lee's short film legacy is mostly unseen these days by martial arts movie
fans. Other than his last completed film, Enter The Dragon (1973), his film
history seems to have disappeared from the minds of most action fans. It almost
as if Lee's contribution to martial arts cinema began and ended with that one
excellent movie. Luckily, the fine folks at Shout! Factory have produced a
fantastic, affordable Blu-Ray set that presents Lee's earlier films in nearly
perfect transfers- and they have even
included a few hours of extras to provide some context for modern viewers.
up is 1971's The Big Boss which in many ways is the standard template for an
entire sub-set of Chinese martial arts adventures. Lee plays Cheng, a young man
from the countryside who is traveling to a bigger village to get a job (a
common fate for males living in rural China). He intends to work hard and send
money back home to his mother, who has extracted from him a promise not to
utilize his considerable skills as a street fighter in the big city.. Cheng's
uncle gets him a job in the local ice making factory but in just a few days our
hero discovers that the business owner is using the industrial-sized blocks of
ice to transport heroin. Cheng confronts the boss's henchmen and things get
violent quickly- and become even worse when his his co-workers turn up murdered.
Soon Cheng's (almost) girlfriend is kidnapped for the depraved boss' lustful
attentions and it is time for wrongs to be righted in vengeful style.
Big Boss was a huge financial success worldwide and made Lee's stardom
concrete. In many ways it is typical of the type of action film being produced
at the time in Hong Kong. The story is set in contemporary times and used the
usual plotline of drug smuggling as the story's engine. There were at least a
few dozen similar movies made in the 1970s what sets this production apart is
the presence of Bruce Lee. His experience in American television and film is
evident in his careful and fairly nuanced performance. Indeed, his more natural
style often contrasts sharply with some of his co-stars as they mug their way
across the screen like thy were projecting to the cheap seats. Lee's amazing
physical skills are shown well here, too, even if I cringe at the silly
trampoline work used to enhance the fights. The stunts are impressive and the
action well choreographed with the only real complaint being that the film's
pace is often leisurely to the point of irritation. The film clocks in at
nearly two hours and could have been a good deal shorter.
up is 1972's Fist of Fury which is a period piece set in the early 1900's in
Shanghai with Lee playing Chen Zhen. In many ways this is very much a typical
martial arts film of the time with a plot seen often. Chen has returned to his
old school to marry his beloved but learns upon his arrival that his martial
arts master has died from what appears to have been natural causes. Chen is
incredibly upset and angry about this and doesn't believe his master's death
was natural. At the funeral students from a rival Japanese school insult Cheng even
going so far as too slap him repeatedly. Cheng refuses to disgrace his master's
funeral but he later goes to the rival school to challenge his harassers. In an
impressive display of ability, he defeats the entire Japanese school including
the master. This sets up an ongoing series of attacks and retaliations of
various kinds that culminates in much mayhem, death and vengeance leading to a
surprisingly downbeat ending. No one really wins in this terrible war.
a modern viewer it is interesting to see how strong a statement this film makes
about the horrors of racism. The war between these rival schools is based
mostly on ethnicity and is ginned up by wounded pride and the inability to let
old wounds heal. The emotions on display can feel over the top at times but
they seem to reflect the blind hatreds of these groups as rational thought is
ignored in the rush to inflict pain on rivals. Of course, this somewhat
depressing takeaway doesn't alter the fact that the action scenes are
incredible as a showcase for Lee, who demonstrates some amazing skills.. My
favorite fight scene in Fist of Fury has to be the excellent dojo battle wherein
Lee takes on an entire room of opponents and walks away unscathed. (The scene
is marred only by the distraction of flying dummies and bad wigs.)
The year 1972 saw Lee taking control of his
film career in a new way by writing and directing his next screen role. Way of
the Dragon was released in the United States as Return of the Dragon but no
matter what the title, it is a fascinating film. In Rome a Chinese restaurant
owner is having trouble with the local crime bosses. Help from home is
requested but when only one person appears in response to their plea, the
victims despair. Luckily for them this one person is Bruce Lee as Tang Lung.
Tang insists he is capable and even shows his open mindedness by stating that
any fighting style is good and can be incorporated into your own form. Soon the
mobsters are causing trouble, demanding payment and harassing the restaurant
owners in any way they can. After a missed opportunity because of a poorly
timed bathroom trip, Tang establishes his skills and warns the mafia bosses
that these people and their establishment are under his protection. Even though
a death threat on Tang is issued, he refuses to leave and ultimately is forced to take on his would-be
assassins. Seeing that the local killers are not up to the task, a Japanese and
an American martial arts experts are hired to finally take Tang out and it is
in these confrontations that the conflict will be resolved.
First Run Features has released director Lucia Puenzo's acclaimed 2013 film "The German Doctor" on DVD. The movie is the highest profile Argentinian release in years and was honored at numerous international film festivals. Puenzo, who also wrote the screenplay, based on the film on her novel, which- in turn- is said to have been inspired by the real-life experiences of a family who interacted with the infamous Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele. During WWII, Mengele was known as "The Angel of Death" at Auschwitz. Here, he utilized his considerable medical skills for evil purposes, selecting who would live and die among the wretched masses who arrived daily at the death camp. Those who were spared were consigned to a living hell of torture and slave labor. The few children who were not put immediately to death were used as human guinea pigs in Mengele's bizarre and cruel medical experiments. He was obsessed with genetics in his goal of helping Hitler fulfill his ambition of creating a "Master Race". Mengele played a key role in attempting to manipulate pregnancies to ensure that only Aryan children would be born in nations under Nazi control. His bizarre theories have long been discredited by the mainstream medical establishment, particularly his obsession with twins. Mengele studied pairs of twin children through inhumane methods, often operating on them without any pain-killers. The few prisoners who interacted with him and managed to survive the war report that, for all his barbaric practices, Mengele had a calm, almost soothing demeanor that would often lull his victims into thinking he was a benign presence in the camp. He would pat children on the head and offer them candy, only to dispose of them like rubbish hours later. In the aftermath of the war and the chaos that ensued in Europe, Mengele managed to escape (along with many other Nazis) to South America. In his case, he found refuge in Argentina, where the corrupt government sheltered him, presumably in return for his "expertise" about how to fine-tune torture tactics.
It is against this backdrop- what we inherently know about Mengele- that Puenzo's story begins. It is 1960 and we see Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl), using the assumed name of Helmut Gregor, lost on a remote country road. He has a chance encounter with a young couple, Eva (Natalia Oreiro) and Enzo (Diego Peretti), who are traveling with their three children. Mengele befriends the family, who consent to having him follow them in his car along the desolate roadways. Along the way, Mengele charms each member of the family and he explains that he is a doctor en route to an institute where he will be working. Coincidentally, the institute is very close to the family's destination, which is a resort hotel that they have inherited. The couple intends to reopen the hotel and hope to make a financial success of it. Enzo, it appears, has not been successful in financially providing for his family. He fancies himself an inventor and his real passion is creating a unique doll that can marketed to little girls. He finds a sympathetic ear from Mengele, who reinforces his bond with the family by becoming their first tenant at the hotel. Eva is immediately smitten by the charming German doctor but he seems more interested in the couple's oldest daughter, Lilith (Florencia Bado). Although twelve years-old, she is very short and slight of build, giving the impression she is much younger. This results in terrible bullying at the local school, where there are children of German ex-pats who are particularly cliquish and cruel to Lilith. Both Eva and Lilith are charmed by Mengele, who professes to help them by offering to inject Lilith with hormone injections that will spur her growth. Enzo is adamantly against the idea, but Eva secretly gives the doctor permission to proceed. Before long, Lilith is experiencing strange medical complications. Simultaneously, Mengele discovers that Eva is pregnant with twins. This smorgasbord of potential medical experiments excites him and before long, he has convinced Eva to also undergo some of his quack medical treatments. He has also ingratiated himself with Enzo by finding a financial backer who will mass produce Enzo's dolls. (A sequence set in a doll factory is brilliantly staged and genuinely eerie, with row after row of hollow-eyed dolls evoking memories of a death camp.) However, when Enzo sees his wife and daughter suffering from mysterious illnesses, he begins to suspect that his new friend is really a villain. He is not alone. A local photographer (Elena Roger) is, in fact, an Israeli intelligence agent who also begins to believe that the seemingly benign and charming man of medicine may actually be one of the most wanted men in the world.
"The German Doctor" plays out at a slow, deliberate pace that is refreshing in a film industry defined by fast-editing and mindless action sequences. The script allows each character to be fully developed and the relationships between the key players becomes fascinating, as Mengele uses psychological methods to manipulate his next victims. The performances are uniformly extraordinary, with Brandemuhl particularly impressive. Although portraying one of the most notorious criminals in history, he deftly manages to make him charming and likable, both necessary ingredients if we are to understand why the family he has befriended can be so easily manipulated by him. The film is engrossing throughout and, even though we know through history how Mengele finally met his fate, it doesn't deprive director Puenzo from milking a considerable amount of suspense from the scenario.
The First Run Pictures DVD offers an excellent transfer but is frustratingly devoid of any bonus materials. It would be a worthwhile ambition for the label to eventually put out a special edition of this excellent film with a commentary track that helps viewers understand the historical context of what they are seeing.
The Warner Archive has released the 1962 political thriller "Guns of Darkness" starring David Niven and Leslie Caron. It's a modestly-budgeted affair, filmed in black and white. The film is set in a fictional South American "banana republic" where local dignitaries are being hosted at a cocktail party at the presidential palace. Among the guests are Tom and Claire Jordan (Niven and Caron), a married couple. Tom is employed as the manager of a major sugar plantation owned and run by Hugo Bryant (James Robertson Justice). The drunken Tom enjoys taunting Bryant and publicly embarrassing him with snide criticisms about his sniveling attempts to appease whoever is in power politically so that his plantation can continue to operate without any impediments. Returning home after the party, it becomes clear that the Jordan's marriage is on the rocks. Claire protests Tom's reckless ways and says his drinking and insolent behavior towards others has resulted in his inability to keep a job very long. Another source of stress on the couple is Claire's inability to conceive the child they both so desperately want. When a military coup deposes the democratic, reform-minded President Rivera (David Opatashu), the Jordan's barely register any interest. As long as Bryant keeps paying off local officials, the plantation doesn't seem to be in jeopardy. However, Rivera, who has been severely wounded in making his escape, is the subject of a nation wide manhunt- and he ends up seeking refuge in Tom Jordan's car. Although apolitical by nature, Jordan feels compelled by humanitarian reasons to assist Rivera. He initially hides him at the Jordan's hacienda but when the manhunt gets too close, Jordan makes the bold decision to attempt to smuggle Rivera over the border. This requires he and Claire to drive over arduous and very dangerous jungle roads. Along the way they confront death at every turn, from natural obstacles to roving bands of police and bounty hunters all intent on murdering Rivera. The new regime has a complex plot to denounce the former President...and the last thing they need is for him to make it to freedom and give the real story to the international press.
"Guns of Darkness" is ably directed by Anthony Asquith and the script, based on the novel "An Act of Mercy", is literate and intelligent. The film is consistently engrossing largely because Niven excels at playing an every day man who is unexpectedly thrust into death-defying situations. He's scared and often inept but finds his inner courage. In doing so, he gradually earns the respect of Claire. In the film's most chilling sequence, their car becomes trapped in a quicksand bog. Asquith's direction here is terrific, as the extended sequence milks every ounce of suspense imaginable from this scenario. The chemistry between Niven and Caron is excellent but it's Niven's show. He's in top form throughout. David Opatashu is also fine as the victimized president who Tom begins to think may not be the noble crusader that he has risked his life to save.The film represents the kind of movie they don't make any more. It wasn't designed to be a blockbuster, just good, compelling entertainment. In that regard, it succeeds on all levels.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE WARNER ARCHIVE AND TO WATCH A FILM CLIP
was completely gob-smacked by this one, folks. From the title and description of this 1980 release, I
was expecting a smarmy slasher film that used the holiday season for a cheap
backdrop and even cheaper jokes. What I got instead was a very well-made
character study reminiscent of Polanski's Repulsion. Although not as good
as that classic, it stands proudly beside it as a fascinating picture of a slow
descent into madness and murder. If anything, Harry Standling is a more
sympathetic main character as we are shown in a brief prologue the genesis of
both his fixation on Christmas and the reason for his awkwardness with people.
At an impressionable age the young Harry crept downstairs on Christmas Eve to
see Santa sexually gratifying his mother. That this Santa was actually his father
didn't register and the traumatized boy never really got over the sight of
Jolly Old Saint Nick pleasuring Mom. But let me tell you the story.....
Standling (Brandon Maggart) is an introverted middle-aged man whose hobby is
all things Christmas. Perfectly in sync with his obsessive regard for the
season, he has worked in a toy factory for most of his adult life. Harry's
years of experience have finally landed him a management job in the company and
he seems to have thought that his new position would allow him to make better
toys for kids. With the Christmas season approaching, he finds the hostile
anti-holiday attitudes of his co-workers and the disappointment of no longer
working directly with the toys getting to him. But what starts off looking like
a bout of holiday depression begins to turn nasty.
sad and disappointed by the adults around him, he begins to focus on the joys
Christmas brings to kids. For years Harry has kept detailed written accounts of
the actions of the children that live in his neighborhood and bound books
listing "bad" and "good" kids line his shelves. As he
starts spending more time going through them, adding black & white marks,
he becomes more unstable.
his home workshop he fashions a Santa costume, paints an elaborate mural of
Santa's sleigh on the sides of his van and begins to make plans. Learning from
a snide PR man of his company's halfhearted stab at charity by donating toys to
the local children's hospital, Harry is livid. Dressing as Santa he sneaks into
the factory at night, stealing a van load of toys, and on Christmas Eve
delivers them to the surprised and happy hospital staff. Elated by this near
perfect moment of holiday cheer he tracks the company PR man to a church where
he's attending a Christmas service. After waiting outside, a silent Santa,
Harry is taunted by some of the churchgoers and stabs two of them to death with
a toy solider! Driving away he next goes to the house of a co-worker who has
insulted and belittled him repeatedly. After a failed attempt to go down the
chimney he finds an open basement window, creeps in and kills the man right in
front of his wife. Disturbingly, the dead man's awakened kids wave happily to
the departing Santa just as their mother's screams ring out.
Christmas Day the cops are running around hunting a killer Santa, even going so
far as to put a bunch of them in a line up for witnesses from the church. But
an APB on St. Nick on December the 25th isn't exactly the best move and does
not net them their guy. Harry has spent the night in his van outside the toy
factory and awakens to the realization of his plight. Afraid to go home he
breaks into the place and, as if in a fantasy about really being Santa Claus,
turns on all the toy making equipment. As news reports stoke the fears of the
public Harry's younger brother Philip (Jeffery DeMunn) begins to think his
brother is involved. He becomes convinced that his unbalanced sibling is the
killer after a rambling phone call from him that afternoon. When night falls on
Christmas, Harry ventures out again but ends up being chased through the
streets by an actual torch-bearing mob until he escapes to his brother's home.
An enraged Philip demands answers, resulting in a family fight that brings the
tragic tale to a close.
a film with many things to praise the first should be the performance of
Brandon Maggart. He does a truly brilliant job of getting inside Harry's head,
showing us the broken way his mind functions. The moment I knew he was simply
not going to make a wrong step was in a sequence midway through his Christmas
Eve rounds. He has stopped outside a community house and is watching a
neighborhood party through a window. Spotted in his Santa outfit, he's pulled
inside and asked to join in the celebration with children and adults alike.
It's a beautiful scene that shows what his life could have been like as he
happily dances with everyone and enjoys a few drinks. Maggart is note perfect
here — he even elicits a chill as he says goodbye to the kids with a stern warning
about being good.
thing to single out is the exceptionally fine cinematography of the film. For a
movie made on such a small budget Christmas Evil looks incredible.
From one of the three (!) commentary tracks included in this release I learned
that director Lewis Jackson spent a lot his budget to get Ricardo Aronovich as
his Director of Photography; his skill certainly makes the film a joy to look
at. There are more than a dozen shots here that rival the best Christmas images
I've seen captured in the movies, with some of them being heartbreakingly well
composed. Jackson points out in brief liner notes that his prime visual
inspiration was the Christmas paintings of Thomas Nast and it really shows.
That a film of this type can be so beautiful puts to shame the sad Christmas
movies pumped out every year by Hollywood.
much as I liked the movie I have to admit it's not perfect. The last third of
the film isn't as sure footed as the beginning It's as if the focus has been
lost as Harry parades around the toy factory and it comes dangerously close to
derailing as he’s being pursued by the mob of angry parents. But by the time
the brothers have fought and credits roll over the haunting final image I found
it easy to forgive these small hiccups. Of course, a movie about a murderous
Santa Claus isn't going to be an easy sell for 90% of the public but I think
plenty of folks would love this were it given a chance.
Twilight Time has released the delightful 1962 hit comedy "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray release. The film is the very definition of old Hollywood star power, with James Stewart and Maureen O'Hara top-lining a cast that includes some first-rate character actors. Stewart plays Roger Hobbs, a burned out banking executive who is introduced to as he makes the daily grind of a commute amid traffic-choked, smog-filled roads. He narrates the story as a flashback, relating how he had planned a romantic getaway for he and his wife Peggy (Maureen O'Hara). She put the kabosh on his plans to tour London and Paris in favor of bringing their kids on a family vacation at a California beach house an acquaintance has offered them for free. Roger is less than enthusiastic about the idea. It will mean bringing along their insecure teenage daughter Katey (Lauri Peters) and her younger brother Danny (Michael Burns), a kid who rarely leaves the confines of his bedroom where he is obsessed with watching TV Westerns. (This was 1962, after all, when seemingly every other TV program was a Western!) Also invited are the Hobbs' grown daughters Susan (Natalie Trundy) and Janie (Lili Gentle), both of whom have more issues than Time magazine. Susan's and her husband Stan (Josh Peine) are parents to small children and are clearly embittered in their relationship due to the fact that Stan has been secretly unemployed for an extended period of time. Janie and her husband Byron (John Saxon, playing against type in a very amusing performance) have a young son and Roger can't stand being around them for any extended period of time. Byron is a pompous intellectual with a superiority complex and the couple's son, for whatever reason, hates grandpa Roger. All of these problems are just the undercurrent for what is shaping up to be a disastrous vacation from minute one. The lovely beach house Peggy has envisioned turns out to look like the set from "House on Haunted Hill", a once-stately home that has fallen into complete disrepair. Roger's first challenge is to get a complex water pumping system working, which leads to an amusing running gag about man vs. machine.
Roger, who is clearly not the typical dad found in sitcoms of the era, tries mightily to control his anger as his self-centered family members burden each other with their problems and emotional conflicts. It's a joy watching Stewart engage in his "slow burn" routine, barely able to restrain himself from exploding. Adding to the pressure is the arrival of an eccentric couple (the marvelous character actors John McGiver and Marie Wilson), who may be prospective employers for Stan- if they enjoy their stay at the beach home. This is the most amusing part of the movie as Roger finds himself valiantly trying to entertain this boring, prudish couple who on the surface seem to have no vices but who are secretly hiding a lifestyle of heavy drinking and sexual frustration. The sequence in which Stewart and McGiver go bird-watching is full of genuine belly laughs.
As film historian Julie Kirgo writes in the very perceptive liner notes in the accompanying booklet, "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" is much deeper than the standard family comedy you might assume it to be. It reflects the changing attitudes of 1960s society and hints at the blossoming rebellion of young people in regard to parental authority. It also takes a much franker look at discussions and representations of sex. Roger and Peggy are aghast when Janie shamelessly announces she intends to start in on the process of having another baby immediately. Roger must contend with a busty, air-headed seductress (Valerie Varda) who cozies up to him every day on the beach in an overt attempt to lure him into bed. Finally, there is the only solace Roger can find at the end of a long, frustrating day: cozying under the sheets with Peggy. During this time sitcom married couples may still have been sleeping in separate beds, but big screen couples had matured to a more natural setting. The film makes quite clear that the Hobbs still enjoy an active love life (how could Roger ever resist a wife who looks like Maureen O'Hara?) Kirgo also points out that this was one of the first films to depict the gradual disintegration of the American family unit. Everyone seems to want to be in their own space doing their own thing- and this was decades before cell phone and video games. In an extended and highly prescient sequence, Roger attempts to gather the entire clan in the living room for a simple toast. However, he is interrupted by numerous mini-crisis that ultimately leave him entirely alone with a full glass in his hand.
Under the expert direction of Henry Koster, who also directed Stewart in his signature starring role in "Harvey", the pace is brisk and the script by noted scribe Nunnally Johnson provides plenty of funny quips that flow naturally and believably from the characters. The movie mixes laughter with some emotionally touching sequences. Roger takes his estranged son Danny on a simple boating trip only to experience the terror of being caught in a heavy fog and drifting far from shore. Stewart is excellent in this sequence. Roger is clearly frightened to death but manages to retain his calm in order to convince his son that he has the situation under control. The experience finally bonds both father and son. Roger also tries to help 14 year-old Katey cope with the insecurity of feeling unattractive because she wears braces. He brings her to a local dance for teens only to find her sitting as a wallflower. He bribes a young man (then teen idol Fabian) to show some interest in her, and the boy movingly returns the money to Hobbs because he genuinely likes her. (In the film's worst scene, Fabian croons a sugary love song to his new flame, which was due to an obvious contractual clause designed to sell some records.) Gradually, the frustrations of Roger's vacation week begin to resolve themselves and there is the expected happy ending. However, the film has a certain bite that was lacking in most family comedy features until that time. Roger Hobbs clearly loves and cares about his family but he's also not ashamed to be a bit self-indulgent in his desire to put his needs first occasionally.
The Twilight Time release boasts an excellent transfer, an isolated music track for Henry Mancini's score, the original theatrical trailer, an illustrated collector's booklet and a brief Fox Movietone News segment that goes behind the scenes on the set.
There is a frightening scene in “Prince of The Night” when
Klaus Kinski chases a woman through the streets of Venice. She runs into
an empty building, but like a jungle cat bringing down an impala, Kinski catches
her and smashes her to the stone floor. Actresses Barbara De Rossi and Elvire Audray
complained that Kinski was too rough on them during the making of this 1988
Italian production, but when Kinski is hired to play Nosferatu, a creature
“belched forth by the Devil,” one can’t expect the off-screen neck nibbles of
Bela Lugosi. As he did throughout his hellacious career, Kinski played the role
with an utter lack of restraint. De Rossi and Audray were lucky he
didn’t actually tear open their jugulars.
It turns out that Kinski’s untamed acting had a payoff.
As we can see in the recently released DVD from One 7 Movies, Kinski outshines
the rest of the cast, including such gallant journeymen as Christopher Plummer
and Donald Pleasence. If a few
actresses got scuffed up along the way, so be it.
The cast should have known what to expect when, on his
first day of shooting, Kinski and director Mario Caiano got into a violent
argument. Part of the beef was that Kinski was reprising his character
from Werner Herzog’s 1979 picture “Nosferatu the Vampyre” and was supposed to
wear the same bald head, and corpse-white makeup. However, the petulant
Kinski arrived on the set wearing long hair and asserting that he had no intention
of enduring another painful make-up sessions. This is why Nosferatu of
the 1988 film looks like Aguirre and nothing like the original character
from the Herzog movie (or for that matter, the F.W. Murnau silent
film). Kinski’s only nod to tradition was that he wore the same rodent teeth
he’d worn for Herzog.
Waylaid by Kinski’s bellicose attitude, Caiano left the
production after being paid his full salary. Caiano’s departure wasn’t a
surprise, since the film had already been through several personnel changes.
Producer Augusto Caminito had already hired and fired directors Maurizio Lucidi
and Pasquale Squitieri before hiring Caiano. When Kinski forced Caiano off the
set, Caminito decided to direct the film himself. Since Caminito had little directing
experience, he enlisted the help of Luigi Cozzi, a veteran of many Italian
horror films (as well as the Lou Ferrigno “Hercules” of 1983). Not
surprisingly, even Kinski is alleged to have directed a few scenes.
Somehow, this debacle of a production yielded a highly
watchable movie (originally titled “Vampire In Venice”). I imagine some
of the credit must go to cinematographer Tonino Nardi, who lovingly feeds us
one eye-popping scene after another. It’s as if Nardi knew, while
chaos swirled all around him, that all one needed to make this vampire movie
was Kinski, a few beautiful women, and the gorgeous scenery of Venice.
One can almost turn the sound off, ignore the rickety plot, and simply
enjoy the movie for its visual delights.
The movie is supposed to take place in 1780s
Venice, a time of plagues and death. The
streets are a weird mix of the morbid and the frivolous. You’re as likely to
step over a corpse as to be pestered by a dancing harlequin. Yet, one of my
favorite moments is when an extra steering a gondola is not in period costume,
but is instead wearing a denim jacket and tight fitting jeans, as if a member
of The Doobie Brothers had been somehow teleported into the 18th century.
Caminito was probably so sick of reshoots that he hoped no one would notice the
As regular readers know, I have a soft spot in my heart for "B" spy movies of the 1960s. But you'd have to have a soft spot in your head to find much value in "Salt & Pepper", a 1968 Bond spoof with former Rat Packers Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford slumming for a quick paycheck and a good time in London. The film was improbably directed by Richard Donner, who displays none of the skills that would make him a world-class action movie director in the next decade. However, Donner is given some pretty skimpy material to work with. The hobbled-together screenplay finds Salt and Pepper as local legends in London's Soho district, then the epicenter of the mod movement. It's a measure of the script's level of wit that Salt is played by Davis and Pepper is played by Lawford (get it?). The duo operate Soho's hippest and most exclusive nightclub. Pepper represents old world elegance, strolling his domain in a tuxedo while Salt appeals to the "mods" by dressing in some eye-popping outfits that even Liberace would have considered to be over-the-top. The two men are happily ensconed in their world of go-go girls, chain smoking and sex with willing younger women when they become embroiled in an espionage plot that involves the hijacking of a Royal Navy nuclear submarine as part of a plan to bring about a coup in the British government. Salt & Pepper try to alert the authorities but are disbelieved. They are also framed for a series of murders and are being constantly harassed by a local police inspector (Michael Bates), a relentless grouch who, in another sign of the screenwriter's level of wit, is named Inspector Crabbe. The film consists of a series of endless chases including a bizarre central action sequence in which Salt & Pepper somehow employ their own gadget-laden spy car, albeit one that doesn't function very effectively. Even in the midst of an absurd comedy such as this, there has to be some degree of logic. It's never explained why two nightclub owners would be in possession of a super spy car. There are endless scenes of Salt & Pepper being locked in various rooms and using improbable means to escape. Davis is a ball of energy and even gets to sign a bad song in a disco sequence that at least features the redeeming quality of go-go girls in mini-skirts.
Davis and Lawford are fun to watch together and there is an occasional modestly amusing joke or set piece. However, the humor largely consists of Davis vamping his idol Jerry Lewis and the sequences with Michael Bates as the police inspector feature silent-era Keystone Cops gags that are not only cringe-inducing but were about as relevant in the late 1960s as Fatty Arbuckle. The only distinction that sets the film apart from the Eurotrash spy movies of the day is the use of some exotic locations in the British countryside. Beyond that, however, the movie suffers from awful rear-screen projection and sets that look like a high school production of a Bond epic. Nevertheless, "Salt & Pepper" did find an audience and was sufficiently successful to merit a sequel, "One More Time" which was directed by -wait for it!- Jerry Lewis.
Steve Reeves and Sylva Koscina in "Hercules Unchained", as featured in the latest issue of Cinema Retro (#30).
The latest issue of "Cinema Retro" is out and what do I see,
but an article about films that are dear to my heart. As a child of the Sixties,
the sword and sandal movies (aka peplum) meant a lot to me. Specifically the
films of Hercules, himself; none other than Steve Reeves. Interestingly enough,
while these movies were made to get people out of their houses and into the
theatres, here in the US in the early Sixties they made a bigger splash when
they were released to television. I was a little too young to see Steve Reeves’
"Hercules" when it was released in theatres, but when it was released
to TV; that's when the avalanche began. For those of us watching the boob tube
in the early Sixties, Hercules and his brethren were our heroes. (I always joke
that I'm a little messed up because all my heroes were fictional. They were:
Hercules (in the form of Steve Reeves), Tarzan (in the form of Gordon Scott),
James Bond (Sean Connery) and Elvis (the Elvis of the movies who could sing and
dance, won every fight and got all the girls.) The biggest
splash came from a show called "The Mighty Sons of Hercules" which we
now know as a package of peplum films, but back than they were our weekly
dose of heroic adventure. I did get to see some of these movies at the local
neighborhood theatre, like "Duel of the Titans", which was a
major disappointment due to the fact that it was more or less advertised as
a "duel" between "Hercules" and
"Tarzan" and not the story of Romulus and Remus. (At least here in
The article was also interesting not just for the information provided
about the stars of these movies, but for a glimpse of how these movies
fared in the UK. (Interesting that the film that I first saw on TV as
"The Trojan Horse" was known in England as "The Wooden Horse of
Troy"!) Also of interest is that the song from "Hercules
Unchained" was a popular success in the UK, but not so much in the US
where the song was not released on vinyl. [Here's some trivia: In Italy, the
singing voice of Sylva Koscina was dubbed by Marisa del Frate, one of Italy's
most popular performers. The song's title in Italian is "Con te per
L'eternita" ("With you for all eternity") and was a popular hit
for Ms. del Frate. The English version, "Evening Star", was sung by
June Valli, who had a few hits in the early fifties and was a member of the
cast of the American TV show, "Your Hit Parade" until she was let go
from the show, reportedly because the star of the show, Snooky Lanson was very
fond of her, much to the annoyance of his wife.] Well, thank you for this
little trip down memory lane. Now to get back to the rest of the issue. --Mr.
Retro responds: Angel, thanks so much for your kind words about the "Blood, Sweat and Togas" article. It's really hit a chord with readers who have been clamoring for us to cover this genre since the inception of Cinema Retro. We are grateful to writer Denis Meikle for his superbly researched article which shed a good deal of light on the importance of these long-neglected films, as well as Steve Reeves' brief shining moment as a major international star. Thanks also for the trivia. This has to be the only place in the world where Hercules, Elvis, 007 and Snooky Lanson can be logically tied into the same observations.
“Alamo Bay” (1985), a film directed by the
late Louis Malle, was an opportunity for the French filmmaker, who directed “Atlantic
City,” “My Dinner with Andre,” and “Elevator to the Gallows,” to add another
great film to his resume. Unfortunately, the movie, based on the true story of
conflict between American and Vietnamese fisherman in Texas, is an opportunity
In the years following the Fall of Saigon
in 1975, a million Vietnamese refugees fled to the U.S. Some of them settled in
communities along the Texas Gulf Coast. Their mere presence antagonized the
local fisherman, many of whom were Vietnam vets. One in particular, Shang
Pierce (Ed Harris) hates “gooks” and feels threatened by the competition of the
Vietnamese, who proved to be excellent fishermen and hard workers. He’s
married, but, of course, his wife is a nag, so he resumes an affair with Glory (Harris’s real life wife Amy Madigan), who has
come back to Alamo Bay to help her ailing father Wally (Donald Moffat) run his
shrimp wholesale business. The film centers on the tensions that build between
them when Shang loses his boat because of missed payments. He blames Glory and
her father for hiring Vietnamese fisherman.
Into this seething caldron of resentment,
comes Dinh (Ho Nguyen) a young Vietnamese immigrant looking for relatives who
live there. He lands a job at Wally’s, putting himself in the middle of the
conflict between Glory and Shang. When Glory defends Dinh’s right to work,
Shang perceives it as a betrayal and thinks she has more than just a
humanitarian interest in the young man.
Tensions build between the American and
Asian shrimpers. Malle and screenwriter Alice Arlen, do a good job showing the
escalation of bad feelings, and have no compunction about presenting a
one-sided view of the conflict. The Vietnamese are shown as good people who
only want to work hard, live a peaceful life, and be able to pursue their
version of the American Dream. The Americans, for the most part, are shown as
bigoted rednecks, who want the Vietnamese gone. Enter Ku Klux Klan organizer
(William Frankfurter), who tells them history has shown white people will
prevail. He begins to outline a strategy. But Shang has no patience for slow
tactics. He wants action.
The next morning armed men, some with KKK
robes and hoods, go out in their boats and take some pot shots at the Asians.
Violence increases as crosses are burned and Molotov cocktails tossed.
With this basic situation, based as it is
on real-life events, this should have been a compelling, emotionally-involving
film. But, somehow, it isn’t. Arlen’s script may be the problem. Arlen, who
co-wrote “Silkwood,” another socially conscious film, hasn’t pulled her punches
as far as showing which side she’s on. But when it is laid on this heavily,
when characters become stereotypes. who seem to exist only to prove a point,
the drama is undermined by polemic. And, oddly enough, where there should be
commentary on the racism and injustice in the story, Malle instead, presents
the scenes of hatred and violence in a flat documentary-like style, that leaves
you uninvolved. I kept thinking what Oliver Stone would have done with a story
“Alamo Bay”’s greatest failure, however, is
the lack of insight into the character of Dinh, who is presented as a positive-thinking
hard worker who just wants to fit in and achieve success. Since he is really
the central character of this story, as a symbolic representation of the entire
Vietnamese community, the filmmakers should have invested more depth to his
character. Nowhere are we shown the real impact the situation in Alamo Bay has
on him personally. Even worse there was a real chance to explore the whole
tragic series of events that resulted in him and his people having to leave
their country. There is one only one almost ludicrous exchange of dialog
between Dinh and Glory where she asks what happened to him in Vietnam. He says
the Viet Cong raided his village and he had to flee into the jungle. While
hiding there he says he had to eat grass. “Eat Grass!” Glory says, as if it
were the equivalent of surviving the Mai Lai Massacre. A better writer would
have given a deeper picture of what people like Dinh experienced as the result
of war. Eating grass would be pretty low on the list of hardships they had to
Despite its shortcoming, however, “Alamo Bay”
is worth viewing if only because it dares to deal with a subject most
filmmakers would be afraid to tackle. Harris and Madigan, who worked together
in “Places in the Heart,” the excellent HBO flick, “Riders of the Purple Sage,”
and “Pollock” are excellent. Ho Nguyen as Dinh stayed close to the surface of
his character, which was probably what Malle and Arlen wanted of him. And
more’s the pity.
“Alamo Bay,” is a one of the limited
edition (3,000 copies) Blu-Ray discs from Twilight Time. Aside from a separate
audio channel for Ry Cooder’s atmospheric score, the theatrical trailer, and a
booklet giving some background on the story written by Julie Kirgo, there are
no extras. An audio commentary, at least by Harris, Madigan or Arlen, would
seem to be a required feature for a disc selling at $29.99. But that’s all you
The transfer to Blu-Ray, however, is
flawless and the 1.0 DTS HD Master audio is very good. It’s disappointing that
the original film did not have a stereo soundtrack, but the separate track for Cooder’s
music (which is similar to the score he wrote for “Paris, Texas)” is in stereo
and sounds just fantastic.
Bottom line: “Alamo Bay” deserves viewing.
It’s a worthwhile attempt to make a serious film about an important subject. Louis
Malle is no longer with us, but thank goodness there are always a few directors
around, like him, who dare to make such films. They are, sadly, becoming an
endangered species. Kudos to Twilight Time for preserving this one to Blu-Ray.
come to the conclusion that there’s rarely been a bad submarine movie. The typical
film in this peculiar genre has a little something for every movie fan: action,
adventure, suspense, drama, claustrophobia, torpedoes, mine fields, depth
charges and silent running. The plot structure is similar to that of aircraft
disaster movies except submarines have to navigate the aforementioned mine
fields and depth charges and get to fire torpedoes.
Run” is no exception to my rule. The movie features Glenn Ford as skipper of
the Greyfish, Lt. Cmdr. Barney Doyle, and Ernest Borgnine as his executive
officer and best friend, Lt. Archer “Archie” Sloan. Like most submarine movies,
the action takes place within the narrow passageways of the sub and we get to
see a few underwater model shots of the Greyfish diving, navigating a mine
field and surviving depth charges.
do get a change of scenery throughout the movie, primarily in flashbacks of the
two friends during happier times just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. They’re
stationed in the Philippines when Ford receives orders to set sail. Ford’s wife
and daughter are captured by the Japanese a short time later and sent to Japan
on a POW transport ship.
transport ship travels along side the aircraft carrier Shinaru, a fictional
stand-in for one of the Japanese carriers that launched the air attack on Pearl
Harbor. Ford receives word of the Shinaru’s location as well as word that his
wife and daughter are being used as human shields along with 1,400 other allied
prisoners onboard the transport ship. Sinking the Shinaru will be a huge
propaganda boon and moral booster, but launching torpedoes is tricky business
and one may hit the transport ship.
fires on the carrier, but hits the transport ship, killing everyone on board including
his wife and daughter. Ridden with guilt and filled with vengeance, he’s
obsessed with the single minded purpose of destroying the Shinaru. The rest of
the movie takes a Melvillian turn with Ford as Ahab seeking out his white
whale, the Shinaru.
is terrific as the Greyfish skipper. He’s earnest and believable as Barney
Doyle and calls upon his trademark ability
to play tough, yet compassionate good guys, as he had in scores of westerns, dramas and light
comedies as well as grittier fare such as “Blackboard Jungle,” “Gilda” and “The
of earnest, Ernest Borgnine is equally good as Archie Sloan. Borgnine and Ford
play off each other rather well in what would be an otherwise routine action
movie. Borgnine is one of the great Hollywood character actors known primarily
for playing heavies, tough guys and nut-burgers in scores of movies on the big
screen. However, he was versatile enough to play the occasional lead and the
rare nice guy such as in his Oscar winning turn in “Marty” from 1955.
TV fans will undoubtedly be slightly distracted- as I was- seeing Borgnine in
naval uniform. It’s a minor and unintentionally humorous issue because Borgnine
is so closely identified as Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale, a role he would make his
own a few years after the release of this movie in the popular TV comedy
series, “McHales’s Navy,” from 1962 to 1966 and in one spin-off movie. I’m
almost expecting Borgnine to say, “Okay you guys, knock it off!” and, “Stall ‘em!
I don't care how you do it but stall ‘em!” Fortunately, Capt. Binghamton does
not turn up shouting, “What is it McHale, what do you want? What, what, what?”
Brewster appears in the only major female role as Ford’s wife Jane Doyle in the
flashback scenes. Dean Jones appears as a young officer, Lt. Jake “Fuzzy”
Foley. LQ Jones and Don Keefer play crew members and Robert Hardy is on hand as
a Royal Navy liaison officer observing the use of the sub’s new sonar equipment.
to IMDb, there are a couple of uncredited “blink and you’ll miss them”
appearances in the movie by retro TV stalwarts Frank Gorshin and Robert Reed
who appear as sub crewmen. Virginia Gregg, Maj. Edna Heywood RN in “Operation
Petticoat,” provides the voice of Tokyo Rose.
“Torpedo Run” is not of the same caliber as genuinely classic submarine movies
such as “Das Boot,” “Destination Tokyo,”
“The Enemy Below,” “The Hunt for Red October,” “On the Beach,” “Operation
Pacific,” “Run Silent, Run Deep” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” However, it is very watchable and features all
the typical submarine movie clichés in addition to great effects and fine
performances by Ford and Borgnine.
movie was produced and released by MGM in CinemaScope making good use of the
widescreen, with nice model sequences and well integrated stock footage. The
movie is based on stories by Richard Sale who co-wrote the screenplay. A
prolific writer and sometimes director, Sale is best known as the author of
“The Oscar” and “White Buffalo,” both of which were adapted as movies.
in October 1958, “Torpedo Run” also oddly played on a double bill with “Fiend
Without a Face” in November of that year. March 1958 saw the release of the
similarly themed submarine movie, “Run Silent, Run Deep,” with Clark Gable and
Burt Lancaster. While “Torpedo Run” is a good WWII drama, Ford and Borgnine
can’t quite compete with the performances of Gable and Lancaster and Robert
Wise’s gritty direction.
Run” is a burn to order DVD released as part of the WB Archive Collection. The
movie looks terrific and sounds good. The only extra on the disc is the
theatrical trailer. This is a movie that rarely made the rotation on local TV in
my area when I was a kid, so it was very refreshing to watch it again after so
many years. The film is a welcome addition for any fan of military adventure movies.
The good folks at Scorpion Entertainment have done it again by producing first rate special collector's DVD and Blu-ray editions of a film that most critics dismissed as second rate at the time of its initial release. In this case, the film is "Dogs", which was unleashed (if you pardon the pun) on theaters in 1976, an era in which audiences went mad for movies about animals waging war on humanity. The modestly-budgeted production was shot in southern California on the outskirts of San Diego, with some key scenes filmed at Southwestern University. Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff, who went on to become a popular director of hit TV series, the film is set in an unnamed college in an unnamed town in an unnamed state. Suffice it to say that the area is fairly rural and the townspeople all seem to have connections to the local university. A bearded, shaggy-haired and denim-clad David McCallum is Harlan Thompson, a science instructor at the school, whose counter-culture viewpoints and cynical disposition makes him a controversial figure among his peers. Nevertheless, when a series of mysterious and gruesome deaths occur, it is Thompson who is consulted about finding the culprit. Working with a new colleague at the school, Michael Fitzgerald (George Wyner) and the town's sheriff (Eric Server), Thompson is at first baffled by what kind of wild animals would attack humans in a pack and leave their corpses chewed almost beyond recognition. When local dogs begin to act inexplicably vicious towards their owners, Thompson and Fitzgerald theorize that a local top secret government experiment with sensitive chemicals might some how be causing these generally benign household pets to become murderous beasts. In any event, it isn't long before Thompson and Fitzgerald encounter every classic cliched character to be found in horror films of the era. There is the stubborn bureaucrat who refuses to accept that a crisis is at hand. There are the trigger-happy mob members who set off on an ill-fated hunt for the furry fiends. There is the sexy young woman (Pre-"Dallas" Linda Gray) who inevitably feels compelled to take a shower, with predictably disastrous results. (Yes, a Doberman manages to sneak into her bathroom in the film's mandatory homage to "Psycho"). Rounding out the "must-haves" for films of this genre, the climax must place a considerable number of students in imminent danger of suffering gruesome deaths.
Although "Dogs" is a factory of cliches, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film. It's a true independent production that lacked any studio backing. As such, director Brinckerhoff does yeoman work getting around the obvious budget constraints. Although one assumes the cast and crew had their tongues firmly in their cheeks while shooting the movie, everyone plays it straight and no one goes for an over-the-top laugh. You keep waiting for one of those "so bad, it's good" moments to arrive, but surprisingly, the film remains a rather effective thriller. The premise, of course, is absurd...but so was the premise of Hitchcock's "The Birds", which is clearly the prime inspiration for "Dogs". The notion that any rural town in modern society can be completely cut off from humanity was far fetched when Hitchcock's film was released in 1963 and was even more unrealistic in 1976. You also have to accept the other horror film cliche that occurs routinely in this movie: when people realize they are in imminent danger and have a method of escaping, they find a reason to delay their departure until it is too late. In this case, people who should immediately flee decide to "gather a few things together" first, as though stockpiling deodorant and hair gel would even cross your mind if you were in danger of being ripped apart by a pack of dogs. Refreshingly, however, the heroes of the film, played by McCallum and Wyner, act like true academics would in a crisis situation. They are not turned immediately into superheroes and when they take up arms, it has a tragic consequence. They also make human errors and prove to be wrong in some of their judgments. McCallum's trademark acting style of underplaying a scene has served him well throughout his career. While other actors often over-emote, he can quietly steal a scene even in such star-packed films as "Billy Budd", "The Great Escape" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told." This is an off-beat role for him and he delivers a fine performance. He's matched by George Wyner, who went on to have a very successful career as a character actor in hit comedies, though there is little evidence of his comedic appeal here. The two actors work well together and are joined by a competent supporting cast that includes Sandra McCabe, who nominally serves as McCallum's romantic interest but is really on-screen to provide the necessary "woman in jeopardy" sequences.
The Scorpion special edition DVD includes a campy introduction by their in-house hostess, actress Katarina Leigh Waters, who provides some interesting facts about the production while spoofing the horror film genre. There is also a documentary with recent interviews with Bruce Brinckerhoff, George Wyner, Eric Server and other people who worked on the production. Wyner and Server both talk about being thrilled to work with McCallum, who was the only big star associated with the production. Brinckerhoff, who is clearly proud of the film, discusses how the lack of production funds necessitated some of the actors to do their own stunts, which are uniformly impressive. He also points out the the film was edited by John Wright, who went on to receive two Oscar nominations and is today regarded as a top editor in the industry. The special edition also includes the original theatrical trailer.
"Dogs" had a patchwork release and, to my knowledge, never even played in some key American cities. However, it did sensational business internationally and in rural American areas where its intended audience- the drive-in-crowd - responded to the chilling one sheet poster and the ominously-narrated trailer and TV spots. The flick has held up well over the years and if you view it in the proper context, it remains and effective example of indie filmmaking, both in execution and in marketing.
If you want to "fetch" a copy from Amazon, click here to order DVD edition or click here to order Blu-ray.
Twilight Time has released Stanley Kramer's 1969 WWII era comedy "The Secret of Santa Vittoria" as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. I hadn't seen the film since it was originally released and only had vague recollections of it. Watching it today, I found the movie to be an absolute delight thanks to a terrific script by Ben Maddow and William Rose (the latter co-wrote Kramer's "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World") and a sterling cast. The film is set in 1943 in the small Italian village of Santa Vittoria. The story opens with a young university studio, Fabio (Giancarlo Giannini in one of his first major roles) who hurries to his native town to breathtakingly inform the residents that Mussolini has just been deposed. The announcement is met with a collective yawn by the townspeople, who have remained largely immune from the effects of the war and their dictator's fascist police state. However, when the towns folk learn that German soldiers will be occupying Santa Vittoria, there is widespread concern. The town's one claim to fame is its production of popular wines which are exported in massive numbers. Everyone in town depends in some way on the revenues from the wine sales and it becomes apparent that the German army intends to confiscate the town's precious inventory. Through happenstance, a local wine merchant, Bombolini (Anthony Quinn) has been appointed mayor. He is regarded as an idiot by everyone including his long-suffering wife Rosa (Anna Magnani), who has grown weary over the decades of trying to cope with his laziness and regular bouts of wine-fueled excesses. Recognizing that the seizure of the town's stockpile of wine will leave the locals destitute, Bombolini devises a seemingly preposterous plan to leave enough wine on hand to satisfy the Germans that they have secured the lion's share of the inventory. Meanwhile, prior to their arrival, the entire town will participate in a massive effort to hide the bulk of the inventory in a local cave and then have a wall constructed to hide the stash. The plan proves surprisingly effective and Bombolini emerges as an unlikely leader, who rallies the locals in the Herculean effort that involves hundreds of townspeople forming seemingly endless lines in which people painstakingly pass hundreds of thousands of bottles from hand to hand one-by-one.
When the German forces finally arrive, they are under the command of Capt. von Prum (Hardy Kruger). He is a civil, even charming, fellow who nevertheless makes it clear to Bombolini that he is no fool. von Prum has anticipated that substantial wine bottles are hidden somewhere but Bombolini, who puts on a respectable act of being a fawning, spineless civil servant, adamantly denies the charge. The tenuous situation is made more dangerous when von Prum turns his attentions to romancing a local beauty, a cultured woman named Caterina (Virna Lisi), who reluctantly plays along with him because she doesn't want to incur his wrath. Seems she is secretly hiding her real lover, an Italian army deserter, Tufa (Sergio Franchi). It seems Bombolini is winning the war of wills but before the Germans can depart with the stores of wine, the Gestapo arrives with evidence that a cache has indeed been hidden. The frolicking good times seem over for the townspeople when von Prum's methods are overruled in favor of torture.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria is a truly underrated gem with one of those glorious, scenery-chewing performances that only Anthony Quinn could successfully pull off without looking hammy. He's in full Zorba mode here, turning the lowly and discredited town idiot into a figure of courage and nobility. Quinn is more than matched by Anna Magnani as his fiery-tongued wife. They are like an Italian version of Ralph and Alice Kramden, constantly trading barbs and insults in sequences that are genuinely amusing. It's also fun watching the scenes in which the beleaguered Bombolini must also deal with his teenage daughter's (Patrizia Valturri) raging hormones and her quest to lose her virginity to her student lover, Fabio. Director Kramer is at his best and the sequences in which the townspeople join together to hide the wine are almost epic in scope. It's a touching, funny and moving film that is set to a fabulous score by frequent Kramer collaborate Ernest Gold.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray provides a terrific transfer an isolated track score, the original trailer and an informative collector's book with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Highly recommended.
(The following review is of
the UK release of the film on Region 2 format.)
In Roy Ward Baker’s 1960s
comedy-drama Two Left Feet, Michael
Crawford plays Alan Crabbe, a clumsy and unlucky-in-love 19-year-old who begins
dating ‘Eileen, the Teacup Queen’, a waitress at his local cafe. She lives in Camden Town and there are rumours
that she’s married, but that doesn’t seem to alter her behavior. Alan and
Eileen travel into London’s ‘Floride Club’, where the Storyville Jazzmen play
trad for the groovers and shakers. Eileen turns out to be a ‘right little madam’,
who is really just stringing Alan along. She’s the kind of girl who only dates
to get into places and then starts chatting to randoms once inside. She takes
up with ruffian Ronnie, while Alan meets a nice girl, Beth Crowley. But Eileen holds
a strange hold over Alan and at a wedding celebration of their friends, Brian
and Mavis, they are caught in bed together – which ruins his relationship with
Beth and gets him on the wrong side of Ronnie and his flick-knife.
‘Two Left Feet’ is a pretty
gritty Brit-com of misunderstood youth and romantic entanglements. It’s the
antithesis of Cliff Richard’s day-glow musical fantasies ‘Summer Holiday’ and
‘The Young Ones’, and closer to kitchen sink dramas: the roughness of ‘Beat
Girl’ or the tragicomedy of ‘Billy Liar’. The inspired cast is a major asset,
with several of the roles providing early opportunities for future stars. Michael
Crawford went on to massive fame in the TV series ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’as clumsy, socially inept Frank
Spencer. He’s also went on to appear in some very good British film comedies in
the 1960s, including ‘The Knack…and How to Get It’, ‘The Jokers’ and ‘How I Won
the War’. Nyree Dawn Porter, cast as Eileen, was memorable as Irene in TV’s ‘The
Forsyte Saga’. Porter is excellent
here as the sexy seductress and lights up the screen whenever she appears.
Another of the clubgoers is played by David Hemmings, who oozes cool and class
as Brian. Julia Foster, from ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ and
‘Alfie’, plays Beth. The
appropriately-named Michael Craze plays psycho Ronnie, Dilys Watling is Brian’s
girl Mavis and Hammer Films’ regular Michael Ripper played her Uncle Reg. Cyril
Chamberlain shows up as garage owner Mr Miles and David Lodge appears Alan’s cocky
co-worker Bill. James Bond’s M crops up
again, with the ubiquitous Bernard Lee playing Alan’s father, a policemen.
British rock ‘n’ roller Tommy Bruce performs the title song, ‘Two Left Feet’, in imitable bellowing style,
while the band in the Cavern-like ‘Floride Club’ is Bob Wallis and His
‘Two Left Feet’ was based
on the 1960 novel ‘In My Solitude’ by David Stewart Leslie. Wide-eyed, but
strangely disillusioned, the protagonists of this story are caught in a period snapshot
between the dour 1950s and the soon-to-be-fab Sixties. The sequences shot in
London, including near the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus, locate the film
historically to a very specific time and place. The cinema billboards display
adverts for ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘How the West Was Won’, but on Alan’s
visits ‘Up West’, he prefers to frequent the more niche ‘Bijou Cinema’, which
is showing Harrison Marks’ nudie feature ‘Naked as Nature Intended’, starring
‘The Fabulous Pamela Green’. The social mores of the era are also to the fore –
when offered a smoke on her way to the club, Eileen is aghast: ‘Cigarette? Not
in the street thank you!’. Membership of the ‘Floride Club’ is 12/6 (a
pre-decimalisation twelve shillings and sixpence) and sensible Alan decides he
can’t get married yet because he’s too young and financially challenged. The
wedding reception has none of the scale of modern wedding celebrations – it’s
just a gathering at a private residence, with a buffet, party games and
sing-song at the piano. The generational gap is keenly delineated in the
relationship between Alan and his father. His father’s generation’s upbringing
was strict – they learned respect, lived by the rules and didn’t question them
– while Alan’s generation is unfettered by such notions. The presumption is
that they can be anything, do anything and be free as air.
‘Two Left Feet’ is part of Network’s
‘The British Film’ collection. It’s another British Lion release shot at
Shepperton Studios and the disc includes an image gallery and promotional
material pdf. It is rated 15 in the UK, presumably for the mild sexual
promiscuity, the prominent use of knives by Ronnie and the beating Alan
receives from Ronnie’s heavies. The film is another interesting 1960s British
film rescued from obscurity and is worth seeing for both Hemmings and Porter,
and the energetic dance moves in the ‘Floride Club’. It’s worth mentioning that
if you like this type of 1960s film, then check out Hemmings’ excellent film ‘Some
People’ (1962), also from Network, with he and Ray Brooks playing bikers who form
a rock ‘n’ roll band.
(This review pertains to the British Blu-ray release by Network)
BY ADRIAN SMITH
A mysterious Englishman with mystical
powers, a sexy wife, a game of cricket and an insane asylum. In different hands
these elements could have been combined to make an Amicus portmanteau film in
the style of Tales From the Crypt or Asylum. In the hands of I,
Claudius author Robert Graves and Palme d'Or-winning Polish director Jerzy
Skolimowski it becomes a strange, hypnotic and fragmented tale that unsettles
and confuses in equal measure.
Alan Bates, who could give Richard Burton a
run for his money in the "brooding intensity" stakes, plays Crossley,
a disheveled yet charismatic wanderer who bursts uninvited into the lives of
Anthony and Rachel with devastating consequences. Anthony (John Hurt) is a
Radiophonic Workshop-style musician who spends most of his time recording
unusual noises and manipulating tape decks. Despite his apparent affair with
the wife of the village cobbler, he is happily married, if somewhat distracted
from her needs by his own sound obsessions. Rachel (Susannah York) is initially
upset by the presence of Crossley, who invited himself in for Sunday lunch
whilst Anthony was too polite to say no. Crossley claims to have spent the last
eighteen years in the Australian outback married to an aboriginal woman, where
he legally killed his children. He explains to Anthony that he also learned
shamanic abilities, including a form of shout that when uttered can kill anyone
and anything within earshot. Anthony is sceptical, yet with his interests in
sound, he cannot resist a demonstration.
This plot setup could lead to a
conventional thriller or horror film, but Skolimowski has created something
entirely unconventional. Crossley is relating this tale to a young Tim Curry at
a novelty cricket match being played between inmates and local villagers, which
in itself seems a highly unlikely scenario. The Shout uses collage-style
editing and an increasingly schizophrenic narrative until we are not entirely
sure what is going on or whose version of events to believe.
The soundtrack is particularly inventive
and unusual, making the most of the opportunity it was given in 1978 of being
one of the first films distributed in Dolby Stereo. When Alan Bates does shout
the audience must have all felt close to death. The cinematography is also
spectacular, making the Devon landscape look both beautiful and dangerous. The
Shout features a terrific cast who really embrace the concept without
hamming it up, something which could easily have happened if a "killer
shout" movie was being directed by anyone else. And if you have ever
wanted to see Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent strip almost naked and smear himself
in excrement then look no further.
This new Blu-ray features a new HD transfer
from the original film elements, an interview with the film's producer Jeremy
Thomas, an audio commentary from Stephen Jones and Kim Newman and a booklet
featuring new writing from Newman and Karen Oughton.
I was an avid cinema goer
back in the ‘80s and a normal week could consist of up to four visits to sample
the attractions on offer. Luckily I had a cinema 10 minutes from my house as
well as several others in my home town of Newcastle. My local, “The Jesey”, would show films about
2-3 weeks after their initial run “in town” at the likes of The Odeon which premiered
all the big new releases. However, being a fan of less mainstream films, I
would also venture across the river Tyne to places like Gateshead, Low Fell and
Byker, because these less salubrious cinemas across the water would show the
kind of films you wouldn’t find running in the more mainstream chains. A lot of
these were Cannon cinema’s owned by Golan and Globus (subjects of a new
documentary) or just so run down that they’d run everything from Lemon Popsicle
to Flesh Gordon to lesser known Cannon gems such as Lifeforce and Runaway Train.
It never ceases to amaze me that there were still a couple of low budget (but
big in America) fan favourites that would and should have been shown at these
venues that simply passed me by. Those two films were Night Of The Creeps and Night
Of The Comet, both of which I finally got to see this month- the latter 30
years after its initial release, hopefully long enough to be classed as retro
enough forCinema Retro!
As fortune would have it, Night of the Creeps
had its first UK TV showing on Film Four recently and I really loved this film
(to quote a line from it, it did “Thrill Me”.) It was well worth the wait. At
the same time Arrow Video then announced the forthcoming UK Blu-ray and DVD release
of Night of the Comet. I couldn’t
believe my luck. So did the second cult classic of the ‘80s shape up or
disappoint? Well, great films, like comets themselves, only present themselves
every now and again and sometimes burn brighter than they did when first they
first appeared, which is the case here as Night Of The Comet is easily the most
enjoyable film I’ve seen all year.
Eighteen year-old Reggie
(Catherine Mary Stewart – Weekend at Bernie’s, The Last Starfighter) misses out
on the event-of-a-lifetime when she ditches watching the comet in favour of
copping off with the projectionist at the cinema where she works. But this
turns out to be a wise move when, the next day, she discovers that the entire
population has been reduced to piles of red dust – leaving only Reggie, her
sister Sam (Kelli Maroney – Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Chopping Mall) and a
handful of other survivors to fend off the roving gangs of glassy-eyed zombies.
Taking its cue from
classic “doomsday” movies such as The Day of the Triffids and The Omega Man
(and with a healthy dose of Dawn of the Dead thrown in for good measure), Night
of the Comet is an irresistible slice of Reagan-era B-movie fare which features
Cyndi Lauper dance-alongs (these girls just wanna have fun!) as well as some
truly gravity-defying bouffant hairstyles and some superb Zombie make-ups. The
“Zombie-Cop” is an iconic monster from the 80’s, of that there is no doubt. As
always with Arrow, the transfer is top notch, showing off the films amazing
colour pallet and the extras are brilliantly done (such as taking a shot of a
character writing on a note pad and intercutting it with the name of the
documentary, as though the on screen character is actually writing its title on
screen. It’s an indication of the time,
effort and humour that the Arrow team put into their releases.These extra’s include:
·High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and
Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original
film elements by MGM
·Original 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM
on the Blu-ray)
·Optional English subtitles for the
deaf and hard of hearing
·Audio commentary with
writer/director Thom Eberhardt
·Audio commentary with stars Kelli
Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart
·Audio commentary with production designer
·Valley Girls at the End of the World
– Interviews with Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart
·The Last Man on Earth? – An
interview with actor Robert Beltran
·End of the World Blues – A brand new
interview with Star Mary Woronov
·Curse of the Comet – An Interview
with special make-up effects creator David B. Miller
·Original Theatrical Trailer
·Reversible sleeve featuring original
and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
·Collector’s booklet featuring new
writing on the film by James Oliver illustrated with original archive stills
the film is very much of its time, it is also timeless as all great cult films
should be. The fact that the film constantly refers to and pays homage to other sci-fi classics is
fabulous, but it is the little less- than- obvious touches that will make for
repeated viewings. My favourite:s one of the survivors of the night of the
comet opens a sealed projection room door and the poster taped onto it was the
Gable/Lombard camp classic Red Dust, which is exactly what all those outside
now are. Touches like that are missing from the “Zombie” (i.e. made and watched
by) films of today. So, my advice is to buy this new Arrow release and draw the
blinds and watch the magical colours on screen and for once “Don’t watch The Skies”.
(the following review is of
the UK release of the film, on Region 2 format)
Behind the Lace Curtain: Soviet Spies in
Robert Tronson’s ‘Ring of Spies’
(aka ‘Ring of Treason’) is the 1964 film version of the true-life Portland Spy
Ring case. From the late 1950s until 1961 the five-strong ring passed secrets
to the Soviets from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland
in Dorset, ‘the most hush-hush joint in the country’. Bernard Lee – who is best
known for his role as James Bond’s M, played Harry Houghton, an ex-naval
officer who is shipped back from his post in Warsaw following a drunken
incident at an embassy party. Houghton is posted as a clerk at the secret naval
base at Portland and is approached by an agent from ‘the other side’ who
convinces him to commit treason and steal them ‘a few titbits’. Houghton befriends
his co-worker, Elizabeth Gee (played by Margaret Tyzack), whom Harry calls
‘Bunty’. In reality spinster Gee’s first name was Ethel. Pleased with
Houghton’s attention and fuss, the two begin courting and Houghton convinces
her to take ‘Top Secret’ documents from the safe. Gee thinks she’s helping US
intelligence to keep tabs on the Royal Navy, but their contact in London,
Gordon Lonsdale, is actually a Soviet agent.
Lonsdale (played by William
Sylvester, later of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’), masquerades as a jukebox dealer
in London, but in reality he takes the ‘borrowed’ documentation to antiquarian
bookseller Peter Kroger (David Kossoff) and his wife Helen. There, behind the
lace curtains at their bungalow at 45 Cranley Drive, Ruislip, Middlesex – inconspicuously
nestled in suburbia – the pilfered secrets are photographed, documented, then
sent behind the Iron Curtain, reduced to diminutive microdots which are hidden
as full stops in such collectable books as ‘Songs of Innocence’ by William
Blake. Houghton and Gee become wealthy for their sins, buying a bungalow and a
new Zodiac car. But their boozing and conspicuous generosity in local pubs
attracts attention. The police and secret service calculate that their joint
£30-a-week incomes don’t match their extravagant lifestyle. Their home is
bugged by an agent posing as a gasman and the spy ring’s full extent begins to
Anyone interested in rare
1960s British cinema and low-fi monochrome espionage is in for a treat with
this engrossing rendition of a fascinating true story. Told with the minimum of
flash and no distracting score (the only music is from record players, or odd
atonal data electronica) ‘Ring of Spies’ deserves to be better known. Bernard
Lee is well cast as the hard-drinking Houghton, who feels the world owes him
something and has no loyalty to ‘Queen and Country’, in sharp contrast to his M
character in the 007 films. Tyzack and Sylvester are also ideal for the roles
of timid spinster and ice-cold spymaster. The supporting cast is good, with Thorley
Walters as Houghton’s cheery commander, Winters, and familiar faces such as
Paul Eddington and Geoffrey Palmer present in the background. Edwin Apps plays
Blake, ‘a minor cog in the Middle East department’. One of my favourite 1960s
actresses, Justine Lord (Sonia in ‘The Girl Who Was Death’ spy spoof episode of
‘The Prisoner’) appears early in the film, as Christina, Harry’s lover in
Warsaw. Gillian Lewis played Harry and Bunty’s co-worker Marjorie Shaw, whose
beauty has earned her ‘Runner up, Miss Lyme Regis’. The realistic settings and
authentic filming locations – Chesil Beach, various London tube stations, the
Round Pond in Kensington Palace Gardens, the magnificent roof garden at the top
of Derry and Toms department store on Kensington High Street – ensure the story
is always interesting and the monochrome cinematography adds docu-realism to
the action. Interiors were shot on sets at Shepperton Studios.
Don’t expect 007, nor even
Harry Palmer, but the film’s depiction of low-key, cloak and dagger espionage
is edgily exciting, as the spies are tailed on English country roads and
suburbia by British agents disguised as builders, ‘News of the World’ newspaper
van drivers and nuns. This is a must for fans of 1960s Cold War spy cinema. The
story proves that fact is often much stranger than fiction. In reality, after
being sentenced to 15 years in prison each, Houghton and Gee were released in
1970 and married the following year.
This DVD release is part of
Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, a five-year project to release over
450 British films via a deal with Studiocanal. The project commenced in April
2013. ‘Ring of Spies’ is from British Lion and includes the original trailer (a
‘U’ rated trailer advertising an ‘A’ certificate film) and a gallery of publicity
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON UK AND TO VIEW ORIGINAL TRAILER
Mel Brooks' 1968 comedy classic The Producers was originally deemed unreleasable because of its tasteless content. It sat on a shelf for two years before finally seeing the light of day. When the movie hit theaters, critics praised it, Brooks won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and helped launch a major career for him in feature films. By 1974, tastelessness was not a barrier for Brooks' cinematic projects. Blazing Saddles, his insane send-up of the Western movie genre, came along at exactly the right time. Ten years earlier, the film would have been impossible to make. However, pop culture had matured light years between the mid-1960s and 1970s and so did audience's tolerance of envelope-pushing humor. Indeed, by the time Brooks brought this movie to the screen Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice had already shown the humorous side of swinging and Robert Altman's M*A*S*H made the Korean War a thinly-veiled, over-the-top comedic roasting of the seemingly endless conflict in Vietnam. Nevertheless, Brooks still had plenty of new ways to bring tasteless comedy to new highs (or lows). The "plot line" of Blazing Saddles is razor-thin. Cleavon Little is Bart, a hip black man who is tired of being used as a beast of burden by racist white employers. Through a plot device (don't ask!), he assumes the identity of a new sheriff of a small town. The reaction of the crowd and politicians when they realize their new law enforcement officer is a black man is still priceless in its hilarity. The sheriff encounters a wide variety of local eccentrics including Jim (Gene Wilder), an amiable gunslinger who assists him in thwarting a stock company of local bad guys.
As Brooks points out in a new interview in the set, Blazing Saddles is timeless. Indeed, it feels as fresh and funny today as it did in 1974. However, no one would ever dare make such a film today. In an industry preoccupied with "safe" concepts such as stupid movies about monsters and aliens, it would be all but impossible to find financing for a film that uses "nigger" as a punch line to every other joke. Forget the fact that it's the white racists who end up getting the short end of every stick and it's the black hero who is the only handsome, intelligent character in the story- the very concept would be deemed far too toxic for public consumption. However, we at least have Blazing Saddles to remind us of an era in which filmmakers and studios dared to gore sacred cows. The result was a period that saw some of the greatest achievements in the history of the medium. In terms of maturity, however, the industry has only regressed over the ensuing decades.
Warner Brothers has put together a Blu-ray that is appropriately packed with extras, most of which have been carried over from previous releases. These include a 2001 documentary in which Brooks and Wilder are interviewed separately about the making of the film and its legacy. Brooks originally wanted Richard Pryor, who co-wrote the script, to star as Bart but the comedian's erratic personal behavior scared the studio bosses. At one point Flip Wilson was considered for the role before Cleavon Little "wowed" Brooks in his audition. John Wayne was even asked to make a cameo appearance but the Duke correctly assumed that his audience wouldn't be very happy about his appearance in a movie laced with obscene jokes. There are also anecdotes about the sterling supporting cast of character actors including the inimitable Slim Pickens. Also interviewed is the late, great Harvey Korman, who comes close to dominating the film with a truly hilarious performance. Writer Andrew Bergman relates how amazed he was when Warner Brothers actually bought his script for the film, which he wrote on "spec". The set provides a new documentary in which Brooks is interviewed anew (he immodestly calls the film the greatest comedy ever made) and Gene Wilder is seen in recent footage from an interview at New York's 92nd Street "Y". There are also some interesting scenes that were deleted from the final print but which were apparently included in TV broadcasts of the movie. Most interesting is the half hour pilot episode of a proposed TV series from 1975 titled Black Bart with Louis Gossett Jr. playing the Cleavon Little role. Gossett is well-cast but the show is a lame concoction of weak racially-based jokes and cheap production values. It's inclusion here is most appreciated, however, for curiosity's sake alone. Rounding out the bonus extras are the original trailer, an audio commentary by Mel Brooks and a set of postcards with scenes and jokes from the film.
It must have seemed like a sure bet to adapt Elmore Leonard's book The Moonshine War into a film way back in 1970. MGM, then struggling to stay afloat, even signed Leonard to write the screenplay. The end result, however, is a mixed bag despite the impressive talent involved in the production. The movie is now regarded as a long-forgotten flop, the failure of which seemed to be ensured by a bizarre ad and poster campaign that featured an image of a generic hillbilly with a shotgun rather than emphasizing the cast. The film is set in rural Kentucky during the Prohibition era. Frank Long (Patrick McGoohan) is a corrupt federal agent who is ostensibly in the area to search out and destroy local stills. In fact, he is intent on finding the hidden liquor stash of Son Martin (Alan Alda), the reigning local kingpin of illicit booze. His intention is to force Martin to partner with him. When his hard-edged efforts fail to intimidate Martin, Long decides to call in two confederates- Dr. Emmett Taulbee (Richard Widmark), who uses his profession as a dentist to cover his gangster activities and Dual Matters (songwriter and singer Lee Hazlewood), his sadistic right hand man. Long's intention is to use some additional strongarm tactics to get Son to divulge the location of his still. However, Taubee -and especially Dual- prove to be bloodthirsty killers and their tactics result in torture and murder. Before long, Taulbee concedes even he needs reinforcements, despite the fact that the cowardly locals won't lift a finger to assist Son in his besieged cabin. Soon a small army of killers has descended on the property. This is too much even for Long, who sides with Son and his only ally, his farm hand Adam (legendary blues singer Joe Williams) who have only a few guns and their wits to stave off certain death.
The Moonshine War never reaches its full potential, though the eclectic cast makes it worth viewing. Richard Quine's direction is rather limp and uninspired and the central role of Son Martin is miscast with Alda in the lead. He doesn't seem remotely convincing as a hillbilly and gives a rather boring, half-hearted performance. Fortunately, the other cast members are a lot more lively with Widmark playing against type as an outrageous villain. He's in a perpetually jolly mood even when ordering the execution of innocents and he is accompanied by an Eva Braun-like dumb hooker, Miley (Susanne Zenor), who seems oblivious to the carnage being caused by her "beau". The real scene-stealer, perhaps improbably, is non-actor Lee Hazelwood, whose demented and murderous hit man is a truly chilling screen presence. McGoohan, who is also somewhat miscast, is never less than riveting to watch no matter what role he plays and there is a deft supporting turn by Will Geer in traditional Grandpa Walton mode.
Elmore Leonard's screenplay is somewhat erratic, ranging from cornpone country humor to outright sadism. Not helping matters is the inclusion of upbeat country western standards, a gimmick that seems inspired by the Bonnie and Clyde soundtrack. Here, however, the result seems more inappropriate than artistically inspired. Nevertheless, I enjoyed The Moonshine War for what it is- a consistently engrossing, entertaining vehicle that seemed to be custom made for the drive-in circuit of the era. Oh, and the final scene does pack an unexpected wallop.
Hayes in his one man stage show Riding the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes, which is now on tour.
By Mark Cerulli
“Ne Oldu, Ne Oldu,
That line from Midnight Express,
delivered with swaggering menace by a depraved prison warden (played by the
great Paul L. Smith) burned itself into this scribe’s cortex back in 1978. Alan Parker’s iconic film about the real-life
ordeal of American student Billy Hayes caught smuggling drugs in Turkey and
sentenced to a hellish prison became a cultural phenomenon – not to mention an
international box office success. It earned glowing reviews and Oscars for screenwriter
Oliver Stone and composer Gorgio Moroder. Hayes even met his wife Wendy at the
splashy Cannes premiere. No joy for Turkey, though - there was an international
outcry about their seemingly draconian justice system and the country’s once-booming
tourism hit the skids hard. The gritty association to the film has stuck ever
Retro caught up with the real Billy Hayes, now touring with his one-man show “Riding
the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes” to separate fact from Turkish prison fiction. And as Hayes freely admits, it’s been a wild
months ago I was in a prison cell, eating beans and now I’m flying to LA to
talk about a movie deal for my book!” Hayes remembers, still scarcely believing
the turn of events. Unlike many authors
who are gently shunted aside as their work is repurposed, Hayes bonded with
Oliver Stone, then making his name as a hot young screenwriter.
spent a week in the Mayfair hotel in New York with Oliver, eight to ten hours a
day” he recalled, likening it to being in a washing machine on spin cycle, “but
I loved every second of it.” Stone, who had read an early galley of the book,
wanted to glean any hidden gems and Billy wanted to see how a screenwriter
worked. Then they parted ways - Stone
off to a cabin to write and Hayes waited to see how actor Brad Davis would
bring him to life.
had no control, I had sold the rights …” Billy remembered, “but I ended up
being really lucky. Oliver wrote a great script and (director) Alan Parker was
brilliant… but at the same time, my biggest problem with the movie is everybody
says ‘I’ll never go to Turkey, I saw Midnight Express’. I love Turkey, Istanbul is wonderful… I got
busted on my fourth trip. In the movie you don’t see any good Turks.”
island of Malta stood in for Turkey when that country predictably refused
filming permission and the producers flew Billy in for some publicity shots. He and star Brad Davis hit it off, forging a
friendship that would last until the actor’s death in 1991. “They walked me onto the set in that incredible
stone fort, Fort St. Elmo, and they were shooting a scene on the balcony with
Brad and Randy (Quaid) and it was like I was looking across at myself… it was
was even time for Billy to meet his tormentor in chief… “They took a break and
I was being introduced, I felt this hand on my shoulder. I looked up and there
was Paul Smith, in costume, looking like the badass sadist guard… then he
smiled. He was a very nice, warm, cuddly guy.” The 6’4” Smith (who later played ‘Bluto’ to
Robin Williams’ ‘Popeye’) was so cuddly that Brad Davis went to the director
and said “This effing guy is killing me in the fight scenes.” Alan Parker promised to get Smith to dial
back, but instead told the hulking actor, “You’re doing great, keep it up!”
the movie, effective as it was, wasn’t the real
story, not completely. Yes, Hayes
smuggled hash and yes, he was just 54 days away from release when the Turkish
court, under pressure to “get tough” on drugs, heartbreakingly re-sentenced
him to Life, but that’s where film and fact start to diverge.
did indeed get retried. The judge – as
in the film – was very sympathetic. As
Hayes recalled, “He said he wished he had retired before having to render the
(new) verdict.” In fact, said judge did
him a solid – since he couldn’t give him a lower sentence than Life, he reduced
Life to 30 years. A nice gesture, but
thirty years is still THIRTY years! When
the sentence was handed down in court, the real Billy Hayes said, “I can’t
agree with you, all I can do is I forgive you.” Run through Oliver Stone’s typewriter, Billy’s enlightened zen morphed
into, “I hate you. I hate your nation...
And I fuck your sons and daughters because you’re all pigs!”
Strong stuff. A “dramatic beat” in
Hollywood parlance… and there were immediate consequences. After Billy’s
escape, Turkey didn’t seek extradition. After publication of his book, they
still gave him a pass… but once the movie came out, they issued an Interpol
arrest warrant, a travel restricting scarlet letter that branded him for the
next twenty years! “Thank you,
Oliver.” Billy laughs.
His other issue is with the film’s
portrayal of his incredible escape. On film he has a final confrontation with
the psychotic warden, impaling his skull on a coat hook. (Listen for the “pickaxe in a watermelon” sound
effect!) Then he slips on a guard’s
uniform and walks out the door. It
worked and was the kind of ending that had audiences cheering… but his real
life escape was even more dramatic. Billy had managed to get himself moved to
an island prison and was planning to somehow swim to shore when a storm forced
the local fishing fleet to take shelter in the prison harbor. In the teeth of the storm, Billy swam out,
cut a rowboat loose and rowed to the mainland. Eventually he walked through the highly defended (and land-mined!) border
between Turkey and Greece and got his freedom, along with lifelong bragging
“The one thing I thought was, if
they make this into a movie, they’ll put this ending in, it’s made for Hollywood…
and then they didn’t do it!” Billy remembers, adding, “Alan (Parker)
showed me the movie in this little screening room in New York… at the end of
it, I was all sweaty and Alan asked, ‘So what do you think?’ I said ‘I loved
the movie, but I missed my rowboat, what happened?’” The director explained that to include
Billy’s elaborate, true-life escape, they’d have to cut out 45 minutes of
Billy Hayes (left) with Brad Davis, the actor who portrayed him in the film. (Photo courtesy of Billy Hayes).
“As a filmmaker I understand it…”
Billy concedes, “but I really wanted my rowboat. It gave me back my life!”
Over the last forty-odd years,
Billy has tried to set the record straight about his entire ordeal, but never
has he had a forum like this one-man show, which grew out of his 1980s college
lecture tour. As Billy puts it, “At the very least, my life is a cautionary
The Midnight Express with Billy Hayes” was put together by lead producer Barbara Ligeti (who’s
made several films of her own including Hugo
Pool and Motorama). She was looking for a singular talent to
present at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and Barbara, who knows everybody, knew
had met Billy when he was in a play I enjoyed in the late 80s, I didn’t realize
he was ‘THE’ Billy Hayes.” Ligeti laughs. “I asked him ‘Can you tell your story in an hour on a stool with a
bottle of water?’” Billy signed on and
the Edinburgh show proved too good to leave as a one-off event. “We all went to work” Ligeti remembers, “and
now the show is up to 70 minutes with an immediate Q&A afterwards.”
Producer and Director Jeffrey
Altschuler helped Billy craft his lecture into a riveting, yet uplifting live presentation.
Altschuler, who had worked in TV commercial production, had numerous ties to the
film version of Billy’s life, “I knew the guys who put the movie together,
Peter Guber and Neil Bogart, and I knew Alan Parker from commercials.” That helped when Barbara brought him in to
dramaturge the show. He and the star had
a lot in common…
grew up in the 1960s in New York, we both dropped out of college. I chose to
buy and sell horses instead of hash”, Altschuler recalled. “It was a very different time, everybody got
stoned but nobody thought about where it came from or how it got there until Midnight Express.”
with any creative project, it all came down to the material. “I was really impressed with Billy’s writing.”
Altshuler said. The two honed the
script from a lecture to a dramatic reading and when the show’s original
director left, Altschuler got the gig even though he had never directed live
just had to encourage him and get him to dig a little deeper to cover the
material the way it should be covered. It was totally a collaboration.”
city after city, the show has received a rousing reception. Many Turks are coming out to see the
performance, something Billy appreciates. “They’re young kids whose parents were alive when all this was happening
and they’ve been hearing about it, now we can talk about it.”
decades of wanderlust, Hayes sounds like a man who has finally found his place
in the world. “This just confirms to me that this is what I need and want to be
doing now…. it’s cathartic and therapeutic, but every time I tell it it’s like
the first time.” With plans for the
show to tour the globe, there’s not even a hint of Midnight fatigue. “This has
been a joy, it’s just been a joy.” Sounds like a happy, Hollywood ending at last.
The Midnight Express with Billy Hayes” will return to New York’s Barrow Street Theater starting
The Warner Archive has released the classic 1956 film noir Ransom! as a burn-to-order title. The film is a textbook example of minimalist production values being overshadowed by a strong, intelligent script (co-written by future 007 scribe Richard Maibaum) and excellent direction, courtesy of Alex Segal. Glenn Ford plays Dave Stannard, a highly successful owner of a major vacuum cleaner company. He lives an idyllic home life with his devoted wife Edith (Donna Reed) and their 8 year-old son Andy (Bobby Clark). Suddenly their peaceful, quiet life is sent into a tragic spin when Andy is kidnapped by persons unknown. Stannard alerts the local police chief and soon his house is swarming with cops while outside a circus-like atmosphere develops as ghoulish neighbors gather to sniff out any updates in the case. For long agonizing hours Stannard doesn't receive any word until the inevitable phone call comes in demanding that he get a $500,000 ransom together. Stannard uses his influence as a highly respected local businessman to get the local bank to provide the money in the exact denominations required. He and Edith are convinced that by paying the ransom, Andy will be returned safely. However, the police chief (Robert Keith) and a local reporter (Leslie Nielsen) break the sobering news to him that, by paying the ransom, he is probably ensuring his son's death. Stannard rethinks his strategy and goes on local television with a direct address to the kidnappers: if they release Andy no harm will be done and if they are ever arrested he will plead for leniency for them. However, he becomes increasingly enraged as he informs them of the alternative: they will never get the ransom money because he intends to use it as a reward to bring them to justice- "dead or alive". In a superbly written sequence, Stannard addresses the unseen villains and tells them that with the $500,000 reward hanging over their heads, they will never know a minute's peace. They will suspect everyone around them, including each other, of being a potential sell-out. Edith, who is emotionally shattered, is outraged at Stannard's strategy. In fact, virtually everyone is against him, callously accusing him of valuing money over the life of his son. However, Stannard holds firm in the belief that every ransom paid ensures a future kidnapping. With his marriage crumbling, his own brother publicly criticizing him and his wife on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Stannard begins to question the logic of his controversial strategy.
Director Segal milks considerable tension out of this scenario and goes against the grain of the conformist 1950s by presenting both the police and the press in a rather cynical light. The chief tries to be helpful and is sympathetic to Stannard but lets slip that his every decision is motivated by political implications. He also has to resort to helping himself to Stannard's liquor cabinet in order to cope with the crisis. Similarly, Nielsen's streetwise reporter adds to Stannard's misery by threatening to leak the story unless Stannard promises him exclusive access to his home once the news does break. The script also avoids an obvious cliche by not identifying who the culprits are. Their identities become irrelevant, as this is about one family's trauma and their personal reactions to it. The actors are all first rate with Ford, not always the most exciting of screen presences, giving what may well be the most intense performance of his career. The premise of the movie has had impressive durability. This film was based on a TV drama and in the 1990s it was remade by Ron Howard in a big budget version starring Mel Gibson. However, Alex Segal's version remains, in many ways, the most enduring. It's precision, economical filmmaking at its best.
The DVD contains the original trailer.
Click here to order from the Warner Archive and to view a preview clip.
Twilight Time has released yet another excellent film as a limited edition (3,000 unit) Blu-ray release. The Roots of Heaven was made in 1958, directed by John Huston and based on a novel by Romain Gary, who co-wrote the screenplay. Like many of the movies the video label makes available to retro film fans, this is a very interesting production that might otherwise have escaped your attention. Such was the case with this writer. I had heard of the movie but knew nothing about it until I popped a review disc in my Blu-ray player. The first impressive aspect is the cast: Errol Flynn, Trevor Howard and Orson Welles in one production? Irresistible. What is truly fascinating about The Roots of Heaven is its politically progressive point-of-view, an urgent plea for conservation and care for animals and the environment during an era where this was hardly populist fare. Howard is cast as Morel, a charismatic but eccentric Englishman living in French Equatorial Africa. Morel is on a one-man crusade to stop the wholesale killing of elephants by poachers and thrill seekers. He goes through official channels in an attempt to get influential politicians to join his cause and pass conservation laws, but he is mocked and dismissed as a crazy man. Aghast and disgusted by the colonial European's disregard for the land and its animals, Morel turns up the heat, recruiting a small band of confederates with whom he wreaks havoc on the local hierarchy. As Morel turns to increasingly desperate and violent tactics, he becomes the nation's most wanted man. His motley gang includes Forsythe (Errol Flynn), a courageous but perpetually drunken hotel owner and Minna (Juliette Greco), a glamorous and fiercely independent local hooker who has survived being forced into prostitution in Nazi bordellos. Together, the group begins to gain international fame, especially when their exploits are broadcast worldwide by a famed radio announcer (Orson Welles) who they initially disgrace, but who comes to admire their courage and determination. With fame, however, comes danger, and before long the small band of heroes find themselves under increasingly difficult circumstances as the reward money for their capture grows. Undeterred, they soldier on, continuing to harass poachers and government officials alike until their efforts win them international support. It all comes to a head in a harrowing climax that pits the conservationists against a particularly brutal band of hunters who are intent on slaughtering a large number of elephants in order to get the all-important ivory.
The production was the brainchild of legednary Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, who had temporarily left the studio to become an independent producer. The Roots of Heaven is such a fine film that it's puzzling why retro film scholars and academics continue to overlook its virtues. The movie's troubled production history may have something to do with it. Huston originally intended to cast William Holden as Morel, but when that fell through, he went with Trevor Howard. Aware that Howard was anything but a matinee idol, Huston reluctantly rewrote the part to make the implied romance between his character and Minna more paternal than sensual. Huston also griped that the film was rushed into production, thus resulting in many artistic compromises being made. The shoot itself was hell, with the cast and crew enduring temperatures that routinely caused people to faint from heat exhaustion. What emerged, however, was a film that remains impressive on many counts. Howard reaffirms his status as one of the best (and most underrated) actors of his generation. He is stern, stubborn, and yet sympathetic in his quixotic quest to bring appreciation of nature to the tone deaf bureaucrats who could end the slaughter of magnificent animals with the stroke of a pen. A weathered, but still dashing Errol Flynn gets top billing, but he's largely relegated to window dressing in what is clearly a supporting role. Still, he exudes plenty of the old charm and charisma in what would be his second-to-last film. The biggest surprise is the performance of Juliette Greco, who was cast primarily because she was Zanuck's mistress du jour. In the informative DVD booklet by Julie Kirgo, she relates that Greco despised Zanuck and routinely mocked him behind his back. Yet, unlike some of Zanuck's arm candy, Greco possessed not only glamor but real acting ability, inveighing the time worn character of the sympathetic hooker with pathos. It's truly a pity that major stardom did not follow. The film benefits greatly from Oswald Morris' magnificent cinematography and the fact that Huston, as he did on The African Queen, eschews studio shots as much as possible to maximize exotic locations. (There is real irony in that Huston's main motive for making Queen was said to be his obsession with hunting and killing an elephant. In The Roots of Heaven, he directs a story that deplores such behavior). There is also a rousing score by Malcolm Arnold that channels some key ingredients from his compositions for The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Kudos to Twilight Time for once again saving a terrific film from cinematic oblivion.
George Pal’s “The Time Machine” (1960) is an iconic
science-fiction movie.For more than a
half-century, from the big screen to perennial TV broadcasts to a wide range of
home-video formats, it has rarely been out of sight or beyond reach.On the other hand, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s
“Dune” is famous among SF and cinema aficionados precisely because it is
unobtainable.It was conceptualized but
Both films, the real and the phantom, are highlighted
in new Blu-ray products released coincidentally this month on the same day,
Pal’s movie, adapted from the classic 1895 H.G. Wells
novel, is nostalgically remembered by us “monster kids” of the Space Age
generation. My formative viewing was my
first, as a 10-year-old watching the film in a theater on its initial
release. The new Blu-ray edition from
Warner Home Video offered the chance to sit down and give the movie careful
attention again, not simply snatch glimpses of favorite scenes in occasional
I was particularly curious to see if Pal’s vision held
up against criticisms that the film is too old-fashioned for today’s younger
audiences yet too much of a kiddie movie for adults, that it plays too fast and
loose with the revered novel, that the technical effects are hopelessly
antiquated in today’s CGI world. I’m
happy to say with benefit of grown-up critical acumen that the movie didn’t
disappoint. The visual elements and
production values were as polished and engaging as I remembered them, the
script by David Duncan was thoughtful, inventive, and fundamentally respectful
to Wells, and the actors hit all the right notes in their performances with
old-school professionalism and charm.
Among Wells purists, it’s widely asserted that Pal’s
“The Time Machine” betrays the novel because it deviates from Wells’ basic,
thought-provoking speculation about humanity’s evolutionary destiny and
simplifies his conception of the far-future world of 802,701 to which the Time
Machine travels. The protagonist of the
novel, referred to only as the Time Traveler, finds that our distant
descendants have separated into two new species. The indolent, physically childlike Eloi live
in leisure aboveground in a communal society, apparently without industry or
government. The brutish Morlocks lurk
underground, able to come out only in dusk or darkness.
The Time Traveler theorizes that the two species are
the evolutionary outcome of social divisions that began in his own time, when
the idle rich and the miserable urban poor began to draw further and further
apart. He comes to realize that the Eloi
are no more than “mere fatted cattle” whose clothes and food are provided by
the Morlocks. The underground people
sustain the Eloi for the ultimate purpose of eating them.
In the movie, the dynamic between the two species, the
eater and the eaten, remains the same. However, in the movie’s version of 802,701, the Time Traveler, George
(Rod Taylor), discovers that the Eloi and Morlocks divided as the result of war
and devastation over eons, not class differences. As repeated attacks and reprisals with
nuclear and chemical weapons poisoned the surface of the earth, societies fled
underground to survive. One branch of
humanity eventually returned to the surface after nature recovered, and the
other remained below. George learns this
history from recordings on “talking rings” that he finds in a ruined museum to
which the Eloi guide him.
Given that the social concerns of 1895 were unlikely to
pull American audiences of 1960 into their local movie houses, it’s difficult
to fault Pal and Duncan for updating the story to reflect the more compelling
contemporary fear of A-bomb and H-bomb annihilation. Pausing in the year 1966, George barely
escapes the strike of an “atomic satellite” that destroys London, a frightening
image then and still a disturbing one now. In hindsight, this apocalyptic vision gives the movie its own flavor as
social documentary that tells today’s youngsters more about the mindset of the
Cold War than any dry textbook. And it
also provides a framework for the overall story that, arguably, tightens its
dramatic structure for the screen.
Where Wells’ Time Traveler was motivated by scientific
curiosity, Taylor’s character wants to escape his own era. Scanning headlines of military mobilization
for the Boer War, he says, “I don’t much care for the time I was born
into. People aren’t dying fast enough
these days. They call upon science to
invent a new, more efficient weapon to depopulate the earth.” He sets off from 1899 to find a more
congenial future, but in visiting 1917, 1940, and 1966, he discovers that
societies will only continue to seek “more effective means of destroying each
other.” The Eloi and the Morlocks are
the logical outcome. In 802,701, he
watches as the Eloi dazedly march to their doom in the Morlock underworld
through the open door of a sinister Great Sphinx (splendid visualization of a
key image from the novel). They are hypnotically lured by the same wail of sirens
that herded Londoners into their bomb shelters in 1966.
Whether Duncan wandered too far from Wells’ model is
mostly a matter of personal taste (and in the novel, Wells’ narrative leaves
open the possibility that the Time Traveler’s class theory is the likely
explanation but not necessarily the right one). As an artistic question, credit Duncan and Pal for incorporating their
changes skillfully and thoughtfully. For
that matter, Wells himself may have approved had he lived long enough to
consult with the moviemakers: in later years, he increasingly brooded on the
threat of humanity destroying itself in global war, as dramatized in his own
script for the venerable 1936 movie “Things to Come,” directed by William Cameron
Fortunately, the movie’s prediction of atomic wipeout
in 1966 was never realized, but its anticipation of the Eloi society as
mop-haired, passive blond teens (another modification from Wells’ conception,
but not completely different, if you read the book closely) seems
inspired. By the end of the decade,
Pal’s Eloi had arrived in the form of the Boomers’ hippie, surfer, and stoner
Should you invest in the new Blu-ray edition? That may depend on whether or not you’re a
completest who wants “The Time Machine” in every available
video format. By and large, the color
and clarity of the image appears to be incrementally better than the earlier
DVD, released by Warner in 2000 -- I’ll leave that judgment to consumers with a
sharper eye and higher-end equipment than mine -- but the package doesn’t
expand on the earlier DVD extras of the movie’s theatrical trailer and a
The latter, “The Time Machine: The Journey Back,”
originally produced for TV in 1993, features then-new interviews with Taylor,
co-star Alan Young, and the movie’s creative FX technicians, and a skit with
Taylor, Young, and supporting actor Whit Bissell. The skit apparently incorporated material
that Pal developed for a never-produced sequel. The veteran technicians’ remarks about the
movie’s stop-motion, time-lapse, matte, and other pre-CGI effects are
fascinating, and it’s heartening to see talented movie people enthusiastically
describe their creative work and speak fondly of their colleagues, but if you have
the DVD, you have the featurette.
Click here to order the Warner Home Video Blu-ray from
Arbor's life is rough. He's 13, he's on medication to
control his mood swings, his brother is a drug addict, and his mother owes
money to everybody in the neighborhood. But as bad as Arbor's home life may be,
his friend Swifty's life is worse. At Swifty's, the family's furniture has been
repossessed. There's no place to sit but on the floor. He spends most of his
nights at Arbor's, where there are chairs.
During the day, Swifty and Arbor endure classes they
have no use for. They wander around town. They get into fights. The town they
live in seems bereft of life. The only sound one hears at night is the humming
of nearby power lines. You might call it 'working class,' but no one is
working. This is the world of The Selfish
Giant, a stirring new film from UK writer/director Clio Barnard.
Arbor and Swifty are the type of inseparable mates that
are only seen in childhood. They need each other, if only because no one else
wants them. Arbor, a terror who loses his temper often, mouths off to teachers
and other adults, feeling there is nothing they can do to him that is any worse
than the poverty he lives in. He seems unlikable at first, the sort of kid you
don't know what to do with, but over time he reveals a strangely adult side. When his older brother and stressed mother seem
too incapacitated to look after themselves, Ardor practically assumes the
"man of the house" role.
to Swifty is also admirable. One afternoon, when he sees Swifty being picked
on, Arbor boldly leaves his classroom and assaults the bully. The resulting
fight sees Arbor and Swifty being kicked out of school. This is ok with them,
for they've discovered a way to make money by collecting roadside junk for a
local scrap dealer, a foul-mouthed lug named Kitten (Sean Gilder). Kitten seems
like a character out of Dickens, putting kids to work for him in what is
obviously an illegal operation. Kitten isn't impressed with the boys, until he
learns that Swifty has a way with horses. Kitten owns a trotting horse that he
hopes to enter in local contests, and he needs Swifty to work with him. As
Swifty becomes Kitten's favorite, Arbor finds himself being pushed aside.
Connor Chapman is brilliant as Arbor, and ultimately
won me over. He's resourceful when he's out on the road scrapping, and isn't
afraid of trying for things beyond his reach, including cable from the always
menacing power lines. He's as world-weary as a 13-year-old can be; he's never
been a child. He seems to have born angry, and ready to fight. Shaun Thomas is
also very fine as Swifty, a sensitive boy who is big enough to throw a punch,
but needs a little coaxing from Arbor, and would probably rather be in a barn
with the horses, anyway.
The Selfish Giant isn't an easy movie. The squalor is
unsettling. The northern England accents are so thick that the movie has
subtitles. The characters aren't always likable. The climax is upsetting, the
ending a little vague. Still, it's a
strong film, and I felt affection for the two boys. There's a scene where they
receive their first pay from the scrap dealer. Arbor asks Swifty if he can now
buy back some of the furniture his family had to give up. When Swifty nods yes, Arbor's smile lights up the screen.
He couldn't have been any happier if he'd won the lottery. The film says
otherwise, but Arbor's smile almost makes you think that something as simple as
friendship can conquer any hardship.
On a side note, there's been a persistent meme that the
movie is based on an Oscar Wilde story of the same name. Trust me, it’s not “a modern reworking” of
anything, as several reviewers have tried to say. The Wilde story is about a
literal giant who finds a child in his garden who turns out to be Christ. While Bernard acknowledges that her movie is a
fable, the influence of Wilde’s story is very loose. Bernard, who is interested
in stories from the area where the movie was made, described her Selfish Giant
as a “re-telling of a fairy tale based on fact.” Maybe Wilde’s influence is in there, but
there’s also a bit of The Bicycle Thieves
and The 400 Blows. (For those
curious about Wilde’s story, there was an animated version that aired on
Canadian television in 1972.)
Bernard’s movie was nominated for a BAFTA Award this
year for Best British Film. It lost to Gravity. I would've voted for The Selfish Giant.
Now on DVD from MPI Home Video, the extra features
include interviews with the director and cast, plus deleted scenes.
This summer, in between watching Godzilla and the Transformers wreaking havoc on the earth, you might pause and remind yourself that every now and then a worthwhile movie is released that deals with real people and real-life situations. Granted, it's hard to find such fare in theaters- at least until Oscar season- but there is an abundance of fine, largely undiscovered films available on-demand and on home video. Sony Pictures Choice Collection has re-released one such title as a burn-to-order DVD. "Owning Mahowny" is a 2003 Canadian film that won plenty of praise and awards "North O' the Border" when it was nominated for numerous Genies (the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars.) Based on a true story that was evidently a bit of a sensation in the early 1980s, the story centers of Dan Mawhowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a relatively nondescript mid manager at a Toronto bank. Mahowny is respected for his dedication to the bank, his reliability and his talent for putting together important bank loans in a charming, low-key manner that gains the trust of high profile clients. For his efforts Mahowny is promoted and given oversight of the bank's largest loans. He does a good job, too, impressing the top brass by continuing to convince well-heeled people in the business community to take out large loans through his bank branch. Mahowny's personal life is equally nondescript. He lives modestly, drives an old clunker of a car and has a devoted girlfriend, Belinda (Minnie Driver), who he is about to move in with. All seems well- except Mahowny is harboring a troubling secret. He is addicted to illegal sports betting and has run up sizable debts with the local bookie, a sleazy character named Frank Perlin (Maury Chaykin). In desperation, Mahowny falls into the inevitable trap of all gambling addicts: in order to pay off the debt, he borrows even more and takes riskier bets hoping to strike it big. Meanwhile, he has to maintain a normal life at work and with Belinda. Soon, however, he crosses an ethical line when, by virtue of his new powers at the bank, he finds he can manipulate customer loan accounts and take large sums for himself. Like all gambling addicts, he justifies his actions by convincing himself that he is only "borrowing" the funds and will repay them before anyone notices. However, Mahowny hits a major losing streak that causes him such emotional distress that even Belinda begins to suspect the real truth. He becomes evasive and inattentive, consumed by the daily challenge of covering up his crimes even as he diverts more and more money into his own accounts. In desperation, he makes trips to Atlantic City, where his sizable losings gain him the personal attention of the casino manager, a manipulative, greedy man named Victor Foss (John Hurt). Foss recognizes a sucker when he sees one and lavishes high roller perks on Mahowny to ensure he continues to to lose his money at Foss's casino. Mahowny does stray one time: on a trip to Las Vegas, where he ends up with the potential to walk away with $9 million in winnings. However, like everything in Mahowny's life, he seizes defeat from the jaws of victory.
"Owning Mahowny" came and went at the American boxoffice with a barely noticeable blip. However, it is a highly engrossing film and is brilliantly enacted by Hoffman and the supporting cast. Had the film received more exposure in America, he would certainly have nailed down an Oscar nomination. Director Richard Kwietnioski builds almost unbearable suspense as we watch Mahowny having to deftly avoid being discovered by bank auditors, his own bosses and law enforcement, as his "borrowings" run into millions. The film is also impressive for the fact that the story remains set in the early 1980s and the production team does a fine job of recreating this long-gone, pre-internet era. The supporting cast impresses throughout with Driver doing fine work as the long-suffering girlfriend who won't give up on Mahowny. Hurt is a villain in the classic movie style, all charm and graciousness on the exterior, but with a Machiavellian nature underneath. Maury Chaykin, looking as scruffy and repugnant as porn star Ron Jeremy, is particularly good in this film, as the man who holds the key to Mahowny's fate.
This is first-rate movie making. You probably missed the film in theaters, but don't fail to view it on the Sony DVD. The only gripe is that the film calls out for bonus extras, especially when it comes to delving into the real James Mahowny, who became quite prominent in gambling circles after his case made the press. However, the DVD is sans any bonus extras at all.
recently watching Sweet Hostage
(1975), I couldn’t stop thinking that Martin Sheen should’ve been a much bigger
star. I didn’t get out to the movies
much as a kid, and could only watch a small black & white TV in my bedroom.
Hence, it was Sheen, the king of the TV movie, who gave me my first inkling of
what an actor could do.
from his iconic turn as the homicidal Kit in Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973), Sheen did most of his
1970s work on the small screen. He had a
shifty-eyed way about him that screamed “troubled loner.” Granted, he could dial it down long enough to
play Bobby Kennedy in The Missiles of
October, but generally, he played twitchy, neurotic types.
seemed to be on television every month in those days. I remember him as the
doomed Private Slovick, shaking like a leaf as he stood in front of an
execution squad. Then he was as a cocky hot rodder trying to upstage a sadistic
sheriff in The California Kid. He was
“Pretty Boy” Floyd, the Depression era bank robber. There was the Kennedy turn, and then, of
course, the endless reruns of various cop dramas where he often appeared as
misfits and derelicts, cackling all the way.
Sweet Hostage originally aired on ABC in Oct. 1975, the peak of the “made for TV
movie” era. Sheen’s portrayal of
Leonard Hatch, an escapee from a Boston mental ward who kidnaps a lonely teen
played by Linda Blair, was quite a big deal at the time, especially among
women. I recall overhearing various
females – aunts, teachers, ladies at the supermarket – talking about this
movie. “Did you see it?” they’d ask each other. “Did you cry at the end?”
the decades since, the movie appeared to fall into the rabbit hole where a lot
of made-for-TV flicks go, but it loomed large in my mind. I recalled it as a dark tale of a man who
held a woman hostage, and somehow they fell in love. I’m not familiar with
Nathaniel Benchley’s novel, Welcome to Xanadu, which served as the basis for
the movie, but I’ve heard the movie is much more of a tearjerker. On a side note, I remember a day in the
1990s when Sweet Hostage was airing
on an obscure local station, wedged in between Mexican mummy movies and
infomercials. I hadn’t seen it in years
and wanted to get reacquainted with it. To my surprise, the movie felt
sentimental and overblown. Watching it
tonight streamed on the Warner Archive, though, it seemed a nearly perfect
relic of the era.
first image is a tight close-up of Sheen’s gaunt, slightly haunted face. The
wind blows his hair back, all the better to see his thousand mile stare. As
Hatch, Sheen may have reached the pinnacle of his psycho period. He’s a
literature spouting nutcase, the sort of eccentric who wanders the grounds of
the asylum reciting poetry and demanding the nurses call him ‘Kublai Khan.’ He
escapes one night, steals a truck, robs a store (while wearing a clown mask)
and heads for parts unknown.
plays Doris Mae Withers, a 17-year-old who dreams of the day when she can leave
her father’s chicken farm. One day her truck breaks down on the highway and
Hatch picks her up. When he decides she’s an illiterate who could use some
mentoring, he holds her captive in his cabin, trying to impress her with the
beauty of poetry. She makes a few feeble
attempts at escaping, but gradually succumbs to Hatch’s weird charm. True, he has an irrational temper, but when
he’s not yelling at her, he’s rather kind, like a man from another era, someone
out of a story book of princes and rogues. He even wears a puffy shirt. Hell,
it beats living on the chicken farm, so she gets comfortable and hunkers down
for the long hall. Far-fetched? Sure,
but I never said the movie was flawless.
at times, comes dangerously close to overdoing it as Hatch. He’s a dervish of
fake accents, odd mannerisms, cackling laughter, and manic outbursts. But for all of his frenzied behavior, we
never learn why he was in the mental hospital. For all we know, he’d been locked away because he loved poetry. (There’s
an odd scene where Hatch meets a townie who babbles at him in lines borrowed
from Star Trek. He even gives Hatch the Vulcan salute. What do we glean from
this? Quoting Mr. Spock is permitted, but quote Lord Byron and you go to the
Richard C. Glouner shoots the hell out of the Taos, New Mexico locations, but
his strategy of filming the main characters from below works against the theme
of the movie. Shooting from below makes Sheen and Blair look like large
powerful figures, when they’re actually two little people in a big lonely
world. Glouner’s work is striking, but
it doesn’t fit the story. He does have a flair for making Taos look like big
sky country, and he makes Hatch’s cabin look rustic and hard, but his best work
is a scene where Sheen and Blair waltz
around inside the cabin – he brings his camera above the scene, looking down at
the two as they appear to be growing closer. It’s a warm scene, and it’s a
reminder of how director Lee Philips carried off the neat trick of making us
believe Blair could fall in love with her captor.
a veteran TV director, keeps the movie motoring along, but he nearly destroys
it with music, including a terrible theme song that he dumps into the movie at
random sections. The song, which I won’t glorify by mentioning its title or
singer, nearly capsizes the movie. Imagine if, while watching Badlands, or, say, Bonnie and Clyde, a scene was suddenly interrupted by Terry Jacks
singing ‘Seasons in the Sun.’ That’s how off-putting the music is here. Since
most TV shows of the period had an opening theme song where the plot would be
described ( i.e. “Here’s the story of a man named Brady…”) television producers may have thought a TV
movie needed the same thing, a song to describe the action. Still, it’s
ridiculous. This is probably why I had a bad reaction to the movie back in the
also had a bad habit of laying drippy music underneath all of the emotional
scenes, as if he’s determined to tell us how we should feel. The score, a schlocky mix of TV music clichés
by Luchi De Jesus (who had done a lot of Blaxploitation movies), really hasn’t
aged well. Some of the scenes were
magical on their own, such as when Sheen and Blair embrace after she reads a
poem that moves him to tears. Strip the
music away and the scenes would be much more powerful, for Sheen and Blair
don’t need musical accompaniment. And as much as I like Sheen, it’s really
Blair who made this movie sit up and speak. As Doris Mae, Blair gives just
about the most honest performance ever given by a teenager.
like Sheen, had become a bit of a TV icon, emerging from The Exorcist to appear as various teen alcoholics and runaways on
somewhat scandalous TV movies. (Her name is above Sheen’s on the credits, which
shows you the power of The Exorcist
was still in the air). And while Sheen
hyperventilates as Hatch, Blair has the sense to underplay their scenes together
– she’s the rock in the middle of his windstorm.
consider this: If female viewers fell in love with Sheen in this movie, they
were doing so through Linda Blair’s eyes. Blair must have tapped into something
that exists in all women, some strange desire to be trapped, combined with a
need to nurture. The creepy cabin in the
woods becomes a kind of enchanted cottage, with Doris Mae sweeping up and
hanging curtains, her eyes widening as Hatch tells her of exotic, faraway
lands. Yet, she also knows that this
grown man is still something like a kid himself. For Doris Mae, Hatch is all men in one: the
unpredictable but gentle father, the encouraging teacher, the playful brother,
the flirtatious boyfriend, and even, in a roundabout way, the son who needs
protection. With so many facets of Hatch to deal with, Doris Mae can only grow.
To her delight, she likes growing. In what is probably the performance of her
lifetime, Blair shows us the inner workings of a sad girl warming up to life.
ending is a bummer, with bloodthirsty vigilantes closing in on Hatch’s
cabin. When he spots a police helicopter
hovering over his place, he decides to take the only way out he can think of,
sacrificing himself so Doris Mae can live. TV viewers bombarded newspapers with
angry letters, asking why the film had to end in a death. The movie was a success, though, and was even
given a theatrical release in several European countries. There were even
rumors that 34-year-old Sheen and 17-year-old Blair had some sort of off-screen
affair (which both denied).
announced at the time that he was leaving television to focus on big screen
features. He started by killing Jodie
Foster’s hamster in The Little Girl Who
Lives Down the Lane. He got as far
as ApocalypseNow, suffered a heart attack during filming, and spent the next 30
years bouncing between TV and independent pics. He’s never hit the peaks I’d imagined for him. As for Blair, well, Roller Boogie was beckoning. Blair, too, has worked steadily, but she was never better than she was
as the girl in Leonard Hatch’s cabin, her eyes widening with love for the
strange man who brought out the poetry in her.
The Warner Archive has released director Ken Annakin's madcap comedy "The Biggest Bundle of the Them All" as a burn-to-order DVD. The film's title has multiple meanings. It's a romantic ballad that is crooned over the opening titles by Johnny Mathis and a rock 'n roll version is heard later in the film. It also refers to a kidnap victim as well as the loot a group of thieves hope to gain from an audacious robbery. Finally, there is the sexual twist on the title with a bikini-clad Raquel Welch adorning the advertising posters.
The film is set in Italy and director Annakin makes the most of the lush locations. The film opens with an inept group of amateur crooks gently kidnapping a local crime lord, Cesare Celli (Vittorio De Sica), in the hopes of holding him for an elaborate ransom. Although Celli is refined, cultured and pompous, the leader of the crooks, Harry (Robert Wagner), soon discovers that Celli is past his sell date in terms of his influence in Italian crime circles. In fact, he is penniless and without the slightest influence among the real "dons". In an ironic twist, Celli becomes humiliated by this discovery and tries valiantly to find ways to collect his own ransom and prove that he still has some value to somebody. When that fails, he convinces Harry and his four confederates to enter into a partnership with him to mastermind a grand theft that will make them all rich. It involves an elaborate operation in which they will rob a train and steal a fortune in platinum, which will then be flown out of the country on an old WWII U.S. bomber. In advance of putting the scheme into play, the gang attempts several other minor crimes but they prove to be far too inept to carry even these out successfully. Celli enlists the aid of an influential American, "The Professor" (Edward G. Robinson), an equally sophisticated man who outlines the "foolproof" master robbery scheme.
The film is delightful on many levels. First, there is the inspired cast with De Sica stealing every scene in a truly inspired and very funny performance. The "gang that couldn't shoot straight" has several genuinely amusing actors including Italian character actor Francesco Mule, Brit Davy Kaye and American Godfrey Cambridge as a fey gangster who seems to have every amusing mannerism of Joe Besser of the Three Stooges. Raquel Welch, then in the early days of her superstardom, holds her own quite well in this "boy's club", playing the gorgeous arm candy of Wagner's Harry and there is an amusing sequence in which she dances in a disco with Edward G. Robinson (!) Director Annakin had the good sense to show plenty of gratuitous footage of Welch jiggling, gyrating and dancing about, often clad in a sexy bikini. Victor Spinetti turns up in a cameo, as does Mickey Knox, the American character actor who made good in Italy be rewriting Italian dialogue for American audiences on classic Westerns for Sergio Leone.
The film has many very funny vignettes and a whimsical score by Riz Ortolani. Annakin, who was equally adept at directing dramatic action films, never lets the pace flag for a second and the chemistry between his cast members is one of the movie's great pleasures.
The Warner Archive release is from a print that shows some fluctuations in lighting and color but is overall quite acceptable, though unfortunately there are no extras.
Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer with Eli Wallach at The Players in New York City.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Cinema Retro mourns the loss of Eli Wallach, the prolific actor of screen, stage and television, who passed away Tuesday in his New York City home. He was 98 years old. Wallach was one of the last of the Hollywood legends. He rarely enjoyed a leading role but was considered to be one of the most respected character actors of the post-WII era. He was as diversified as a thespian could be and would play heroes, villains and knaves with equal ease. For retro movie lovers, his two most iconic performances were as the Mexican bandit Calvera in John Sturges' classic 1960 film The Magnificent Seven and as Tuco, the charismatic rogue bandit in Sergio Leone's landmark 1966 production of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Although he never won or was even nominated for a competitive Oscar, he did receive a lifetime achievement award from the Academy in 2010.
On a personal basis, this writer knew Wallach because we were both members of The Players, the legendary club for the arts at Gramercy Park in New York. Wallach's portrait adorns the club's Hall of Fame and he was an active participant in the club, appearing in readings and plays throughout the years. The last time I saw him there was in late 2012 when he made a surprise appearance to greet actress Carroll Baker, who was speaking at the club about her long career. Wallach, who played her lecherous older lover in the notorious Baby Doll, showed up to see her, much to the delight of the audience. As always, Wallach was accompanied by his devoted wife, actress Anne Jackson, to whom he was married for 66 years. I first met him in 2005 when I joined the Players. We both attended a black tie dinner in honor of Ben Gazzara. Coincidentally, the first issue of Cinema Retro had just been published and I gave him a copy. He was delighted to see an article in which we editorialized that he should have been nominated for an Oscar for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and proceeded to tell some amusing stories about the making of the film, including having to temporarily share a bed with Clint Eastwood due to lack of accommodations in Spain. Wallach was always good for a funny anecdotes and seemed to be perpetually in a good mood. I tried on many occasions to have a formal interview with him and he was agreeable. However, by the time his non-stop work schedule finally abated, his health had deteriorated. The last time I spoke to him at length was after I saw the film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps in 2010. I was delighted to see he was looking so fit. I called him up for an impromptu conversation and, as usual, he spent about an hour explaining how he didn't have time to talk. During the course of that conversation, he related priceless tales of working on The Misfits with Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and John Huston and bemoaned the fact that only he and fellow Players member Robert Vaughn were the only remaining cast members from The Magnificent Seven. I informed him that when I had asked Vaughn how that felt, he said "It stinks- but it beats the alternative!" Wallach let out a typically hearty belly laugh.
Eli Wallach was a Hollywood legend and an actor's actor. However, his real legacy is that he was an even rarer breed in today's film industry: a class act, a devoted family man and a true gentleman.
Rest in peace, Tuco.
For more on Wallach's life and career, click here.
the Old West, small homesteaders run afoul of a big landowner who controls the
local law and levies killer taxes on their ranches and farms.The homesteaders finally refuse to pay the
taxes, andpetition the governor for
help.Meanwhile, expecting reprisal from
the landowner’s hired guns, they build a makeshift fort for refuge.They also send for help from a mercenary who comes
to their aid with his private army of four associates and a Gatling gun.
kidding about the Western setting. This
is actually the plot of “Gonin No Shokin
Kasegi,” also known as “The Fort of Death,” a 1969 Japanese chambara by Eiichi
Kudo. Nevertheless, the similarities are there. The homesteaders are peasants, the landowner
is their oppressive feudal lord, and the higher official they’ve petitioned is
the emperor. It’s easy to squint and
superimpose an Old West setting out of an American B movie, with Audie Murphy
or George Montgomery riding to the rescue.
not joking about the Gatling gun, though. The film is hazy about the historical period of the action, but I would
guess the setting is meant to be the 1870s, when Western goods and weapons have
entered the Japanese economy.
of the Lone Wolf and Cub samurai movies will recognize the star of that series,
Tomisaburo Wakayama, as Ichibei, the head mercenary. The movie calls him a “bounty hunter,” and
“The Fort of Death” is one of three movies (1969-72) about the same character
that the reference books call the “Bounty Hunter” series. In this one at least, he seems more like a
soldier of fortune who might collect bounties one day and lead a team of
quasi-military specialists the next.
should be the poster boy for middle-aged, dumpy, homely males: the women in the
movie keep making passes at Ichibei, if not downright trying to get in his
pants, including a smokin’ hot lady ninja on his team of mercenaries.
contrast to his dour Lone Wolf and Cub ronin, Wakayama loosens up with Ichibei,
who runs a medical practice when he’s not fighting a war for downtrodden
peasants. There’s a funny, raunchy scene
where a jittery patient comes to Dr. Ichibei complaining about pain “down
there”; Ichibei diagnoses the clap and somberly tells the poor bastard that
he’ll have to “cut it off.” When the
patient reacts in terror, Ichibei says, “Oh, all right” and directs his nurse
to bring a pump with a very long hollow needle, and . . . Trust me, you won’t
see a scene like that on “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Dr. Oz.”
first read about “The Fort of Death” years ago -- I think in one of John
Willis’ “Screen World” movie annuals. I had the impression that the film was
intended to be a Japanese version of a Spaghetti Western, bringing full circle
a pattern that began when Akira
Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” (1961) inspired Sergio Leone’s groundbreaking Spaghetti,
“A Fistful of Dollars” (1964). I don’t see much of a Spaghetti influence,
though, unless Ichibei’s Gatling gun was intended to remind contemporary
viewers of Franco Nero’s machine gun in Sergio Corbucci’s “Django” (1966).
“The Seven Samurai” (1954) would seem to be more of a prototype, at least in
the basic premise of expert warriors coming to the aid of besieged
peasants. But “The Fort of Death” is
mostly action for action’s sake, without the deeper themes of honor and duty
that characterized “The Seven Samurai,” or for that matter Kudo’s own “The
Thirteen Assassins” (1963) and “The Great Killing” (1964). Presumably, an American company will someday
issue an official stateside edition of “The Fort of Death.” In the meantime, a good, home grown, letterboxed, sub-titled print is available on
the collector’s circuit.
Having been friends with a number of people in my life who are- or have been- car salesman, one thing becomes clear very quickly: you need to have a thick skin and a good sense of humor in order to survive in this curious profession. Not even bank robbers have seen their reputations degraded as much as car salesman- especially those who specialize in used cars...er, make that "previously owned vehicles", in the parlance of today. As with any profession, generalities can be dangerous. There are undoubtedly many reputable people selling cars but even they will tell you that, behind the scenes, the overriding strategies are to close the deal, no matter what it takes. I've always found it rather ironic that while, on the national level, car companies spend a fortune to present their products in TV ads that have production values that suggest class, style and elegance- while at the local level, car dealers swamp the airwaves with home-made ads that are cheap, cheesy and unintentionally hilarious. The consumer sees an ad during the Super Bowl with a guy who looks like 007 behind the wheel of a spanking new vehicle. Yet his local dealership sells the same product through ads featuring the owner, his mother, his cutesy kids - and in some cases over the top comic scenarios that are something out of the old Second City TV skits. (A local dealer near me is a portly fellow who routinely sells his cars while dressed in tights as a super hero!)
Car dealerships already had shaky reputations by the time director Robert Zemeckis rode a semi over the profession with his 1980 comedy "Used Cars". Twilight Time has released the special 2002 DVD edition as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray title. The film clearly exploited the new screen freedoms in the realm of tasteless humor that had been introduced a couple of years before by director John Landis with "National Lampoon's Animal House". There are those who consider "Used Cars" to be on par with that comedy classic, while others feel its "everything-but-the-kitchen sink" structure makes it more chaotic than consistently funny. In this writer's opinion, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Zemeckis and his co-writer Bob Gale had previously written and directed the 1978 film "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", which Steven Spielberg produced. The underrated and largely under-exposed comedy was the antithesis of "Used Cars" in that it was a sweet-natured look at how the arrival of The Beatles in America wreaked havoc on the lives of New York teenagers. Zemeckis and Gale went on to write Spielberg's epic 1979 WWII comedy "1941" before getting the green light to do "Used Cars", which was executive produced by Spielberg and John Milius.
"Used Cars" opens on a cynical shot of Arizona car salesman Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell) tampering with the odometer on a beat-up vehicle in the hopes he can sucker some poor soul into buying it. Rudy is a charismatic young man who is a charming as he is soulless in terms of his moral fiber. He is intent on raising $10,000 so he can afford to be a credible candidate in the forthcoming race for state senator, a job he presumes will enable him to benefit from even greater graft and corruption. Meanwhile, the only person he respects is the owner of the car lot, the elderly Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), a man in precarious health whose days are clearly numbered. Luke is locked in a constant daily battle with his more affluent brother Roy (also played by Warden) who has a successful car lot directly across the highway from Luke. Despite the fact that Roy's sales far out-gross those of Luke, he is intent on using dirty tricks to gain control over his less fortunate brother's lot so that he can have the biggest dealership in the state. Much of the humor derives from Rudy's intense attempts to use chicanery to outwit Roy's attempts to seize Luke's property. When Luke suddenly expires, Rudy fears that Roy will inherit the car lot. He enlists the assistance of his two slovenly co-workers Jeff (Gerritt Graham) and Jim (Frank McRae) to hatch an audacious plan whereby they bury Luke inside a car on his own lot then try to convince Roy that he has taken a sudden trip to Florida. Roy isn't buying it and uses his affluence to buy off local officials to launch an investigation. Complicating matters is the arrival of Luke's estranged daughter Barbara (Deborah Harmon). Rudy woos and beds her while hiding the fact that her dad is actually dead. As the film unwinds, the story becomes increasingly ludicrous and culminates in a wildly ambitious sequence in which Rudy organizers a fleet of 250 dilapidated vehicles driven by high school students on a race across the Arizona desert as part of a scheme to ensure Barbara inherits her father's car lot.
"Used Cars" boasts some truly amusing performances with Kurt Russell as the glue that holds this disparate cast together. For Russell, who had recently won acclaim for his portrayal of Elvis Presley in a TV movie, the Zemeckis film was pivotal in proving he could also draw audiences to movie theaters. (Heretofore, he was primarily known as the child and teen age star of many Walt Disney films). Every cast member is impressive and adds immeasurably to the fun, but it's Jack Warden's terrific tour de force performance as both brothers that dominates the film. Zemeckis and Gale have some misfires among the machine gun-fire like rapidity of jokes and comic situations, but they score more than they miss their targets. In one amusing sequence, they actually incorporate footage of then President Jimmy Carter in an outlandish manner. The highlight of the film is clearly the junk heap car race across the desert with Rudy and Roy battling each other from side-by-side pick up trucks like a modern version of the "Ben-Hur" chariot race. The sequence is so over-the-top and logistically impressive that you can honestly say that you've never seen anything like it. "Used Cars" has something to offend everyone: vulgar language abounds, there is disrespect for the dead, the American political system is mocked in a cynical manner and there is plenty of gratuitous tits-and-ass. No wonder I feel like watching it again.
The Twilight Time releases keeps the features from the previous special edition DVD including an award-winning 2003 commentary track featuring Zemeckis, Gale and Russell that is delightful throughout. The guys even goof about their own sloppiness in making the film (the opening frames accidentally reveal a soundman's arm and boom mic in a rear view mirror of a car). Clearly, they had as good a time reflecting on the experience as they did in making the film. There is an isolated score by Patrick Williams and an unused score by the estimable Ernest Gold. Additionally, there are radio spots and a TV ad done for a local Arizona car dealership where the movie was shot in which Kurt Russell actually appears (obviously as a favor) on camera with the lot's owner and help's pitch that week's specials on used cars! A gag reel and some outtakes are surprisingly flat and unfunny. There is also an original trailer from the days in which trailers themselves did not have to be rated. Thus, it's packed with gratuitous nudity even though it was screened to family audiences, which must have caused countless parents to have "that" conversation with their kids before they were ready to do so. There is also a terrific gallery of promotional materials including one ad that features notes from Steven Spielberg in which he complains that they may have produced a distasteful movie, but the ad campaign he is rejecting went too far in pointing this out. The movie was released during the presidential election period of 1980 and one ad notes that Ronald Reagan was not the only actor vying for the nation's top office- and invites audiences to see then incumbent President Jimmy Carter's movie debut. (As mentioned previously, this is a sly reference to newsreel footage seen in the film.) This particular ad also featured the likenesses of both candidates. Try doing that today!
The Twilight Time release is top notch. The film is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it is inspired lunacy that, at times, makes Animal House look as sophisticated as 'Love's Labour's Lost'.
Even astute fans of retro cinematic classics may be unfamiliar with Billy Wilder's 1951 gem "Ace in the Hole". The film was a boxoffice flop in its American release back in the day but over the decades it has become regarded as a genuine classic and one of the best movies of its era. Kirk Douglas, in one of the truly great performances of his career, is cast as Chuck Tatum, a once-lauded reporter for a major New York newspaper, who finds his career on the skids. His cynical nature, overbearing personality and weakness for liquor has resulted in him being displaced to New Mexico, where- out of desperation- he convinces the editor of an Albuquerque paper to give him a job. Within hours, Tatum is bored by the sleepy atmosphere and passive nature of his co-workers, most of whom have no ambition beyond reporting minor stories of local interest. Things change radically when Tatum stumbles onto a crisis in the desert that could make for a compelling story. Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) is the owner of a cafe located on a remote road who finds himself trapped in a cave after venturing inside to look for ancient Indian artifacts. Tatum sees that rescue plans for the man are rather poorly staged by the local deputy sheriff (Gene Evans). He enters the cave at great danger to himself and makes a connection with Leo, whose legs and midsection are buried under debris. Tatum is able to communicate with him from a small opening in a dirt mound and he assures Leo that he will get food, water and cigars while he organizes a rescue team. Grateful, Leo looks upon Tatum as his guardian angel. However, it becomes clear that Tatum is using his relationship with Leo for his own selfish purposes. He sees the potential as one of those "child stuck in a well" scenarios that tends to galvanize the entire nation. By personally taking charge of the rescue effort, Tatum makes himself a national hero overnight, as hundreds of people stream to the remote location and erect a tent city in order to be on the scene when Leo is eventually saved. Tatum, fully aware of American's eagerness to embrace the bizarre elements of any story, also plays up the notion that Leo is the victim of an ancient Indian curse for prowling around sacred tribal grounds.
Tatum has some disturbing factors to contend with, however. The primary problem is dealing with Leo's bombshell, self-centered wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling in a terrific performance). She was already looking to get out of a boring marriage with a boring man and decides to leave town during Leo's moment of crisis. Tatum uses a combination of charm and threats to convince her that staying put and playing the role of loyal wife would be in everyone's benefit. His prediction comes true in the financial sense, as the Minosa's cash-starved cafe begins to burst at the seams with visitors due to its proximity to the cave. Ironically, Leo's life-threatening predicament is finally bringing him the financial success that has eluded him. While Tatum becomes obsessed with manipulating the crisis, he also finds that his dispatches from the scene and his exclusive access to Leo have put him back in demand as a writer. He bypasses his own employer to sell updates to his ex-boss in New York at extortionist rates. He also has a hot/cold relationship with Lorraine, who clearly has a submissive sexual aspect to her moody demeanor. She's excited when Tatum mistreats her, though it's never made clear if their relationship goes beyond the flirtation stage. Tatum gets some disturbing news when he learns that the rescue team can use an expedited method to rescue Leo. Not wanting to kill the goose who laid the golden egg, Tatum manipulates the corrupt local sheriff (Roy Teal) into ordering a more labored method of rescue, even though it will result in a delay of days before reaching the victim. The decision has startling consequences for all involved. To say any more would negate the surprising turn of events depicted in the film. Suffice it to say, the intensity of the story continues to build throughout, making "Ace in the Hole" a truly mesmerizing cinematic experience.
Criterion has released "Ace in the Hole" as a dual format Blu-ray/DVD. The quality, as one might expect, is up to the company's superb standards. The package is loaded with fascinating extras including a rare extended interview with Billy Wilder at the American Film Institute in 1986. In it, Wilder talks about "Ace in the Hole" and other aspects of his career. The film was an early directorial effort for him and the first movie he produced, following his career as one of the industry's most in-demand filmmakers. By his own admission, "Ace in the Hole" was a major source of frustration for him. The movie was ignored by American critics and audiences and even re-titled "The Big Carnival". In the post-WWII era, it was probably deemed far too cynical for U.S. audiences. In fact, the "hero" of the film is a cad, the leading lady is a self-obsessed phony and the local law officials are corrupt. Except for a few minor characters, there is no one in the film with a truly moral center. Wilder says he took heart from the fact that the movie was quite successful in its European release. The set also contains a 1988 interview with Kirk Douglas, who discusses the film and his respect for Wilder in a very informative segment. Most impressive is the inclusion of "Portrait of a 60% Perfect Man", a 1980 documentary by French film critic Michel Clement in which Wilder gives extraordinary access to his private life. We see him at home and at the office with long-time collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond as they laze around trying to come up with ideas for future projects. Wilder comes across as a symbol of Hollywood's bygone Golden Age. Speaking in a thick Austrian accent with his ever-present stogie at hand, Wilder regales the viewer with insights about his family's escape from the Nazi occupation and his unlikely meteoric rise up the film industry's food chain. Almost from the beginning he was a hot property and would remain a revered director, producer and writer throughout his entire career. The set also includes a vintage audio interview with another Wilder collaborator, screenwriter Walter Newman and an insightful and creatively designed "newspaper" with essays by critic Molly Haskell and filmmaker Guy Maddin. Director Spike Lee provides a brief video "afterword" in which he extols the virtues of the film and also shows off a cool original lobby card that he treasures because it is signed by both Wilder and Douglas. Topping off the "extras" is a truly excellent audio commentary track by film scholar Neil Sinyard, who provides so many interesting background observations about the film that it will open any viewer's eyes to the latent meanings of certain sequences and images. Even if you consider audio commentaries to be dry and academic, I do urge you to give this one a listen. It's first rate throughout.
In summary, this is a first rate presentation of one of the most unfairly neglected American film classics; one that in recent years is finally getting the acclaim that it should have received on its initial release. Criterion has surpassed even its usual high standards.
The latest grindhouse vintage porn double feature from Vinegar Syndrome is one of their best releases yet. "Sadie" is an unlikely 1980 hardcore "adaptation" of Somerset Maugham's classic story "Rain", though we doubt ol' Somerset ever envisioned the types of goings-on that occur in this film, directed by Bob Chinn, a prolific name in the industry who was born in Hawaii (please refrain from making the old joke "on the island of Kumoniwannaleiya") and went on to direct dozens of X rated feature length movies. Here the titular character is a blonde bombshell played by Chris Cassidy. Sadie is a prostitute living in Borneo and the action all takes place in a low-rent beachfront hotel here she plies her services and receives paternal loving care from the seedy owner of the resort. Sadie is in love with an American soldier on leave to Borneo but finds she can't leave the island because the local Raja insists that he "bought" her in Saigon and that she must become a member of his harem. Sadie is a moody young woman, prone to selfish and occasionally reckless behavior. Her stress level only increases when an Evangelical U.S. senator and his wife and teenage daughter check into the hotel. The senator has married his wife in order to make an "honest woman" of her because she had been unwed when she gave birth to her daughter. Since then the couple has led a chaste marriage, as the senator believes sex is the work of the devil. The daughter, who has just turned 18, has no such beliefs and her raging hormones can't stand the strain as she witnesses the unapologetic free love practiced by Sadie and her friends. Before long, she's joining in the action while Sadie tries to construct a plan to work with corrupt government officials to get out of the country with her lover.
"Sadie" is largely confined to a few rooms in the hotel and there are no exterior shots. Yet the film is somewhat ambitious and rises above standard porn because director Chinn has a degree of skill in presenting a reasonably compelling story. His leading lady fits the bill in terms of the erotic sequences but is weak dramatically. Unusually for this type of film, Chinn gives plenty of screen time to what appear to be accomplished middle-aged character actors who don't get involved in the down-and-dirty stuff. The film is all the better for it. Chinn also knows how to skillfully lens the sex scenes but never overdoes them. There are twosomes, threesomes and orgy scenes but there is plenty of time devoted to at least attempting to tell an engaging story.
Another Chinn film fills out the double feature, thus making this a genuine "Double Chinn" presentation. "The Seductress" is a 1981 film, that like "Sadie", is far more ambitious than standard grindhouse fare of the era. Porn superstar Lisa De Leeuw plays Cindy, a young wife married to Richard, a local commissioner on the Las Vegas fire commission board. He's a chauvinist boor who talks to her as though she is the hired help. She finds out about a "service" that blackmails spouses by having them seduced, then secretly photographed from behind a two-way mirror as they have their illicit liaisons in a hotel room. Cindy engages the service and sure enough, Richard goes for the bait and ends up in bed with Renee (Lee Carroll), who pretends she is also married and is nervous about having an affair. In reality, she is a heroin-addicted hooker. Cindy's plans go awry when Renee refuses to turn over the photos of her husband unless Cindy "fills in" for her at the next night's liaison. If she doesn't, Renee will blackmail her. Cindy reluctantly takes on the task and ends up in a foursome with a cynical hooker and two men, one of whom is also being set up for blackmail/divorce. The plot gets pretty confusing at times but Chinn elicits good performances by old pros De Leeuw and Carroll, though his luck runs out with much of the supporting cast, some of who read their lines as though they are in a school play. Nevertheless, the film boasts a good story line that involves organized crime and a conspiracy to manipulate who sits on the fire commission. The political intrigue aspect has a genuinely creative payoff in the last frames, as Chinn ties it in with real life news footage of the disaster 1981 Hilton Hotel fire in Vegas that was caused by arson.
The print quality of these two features is above average and Vinegar Syndrome has even gone to the effort of tracking down the original trailers for each film. Although both "Sadie" and "The Seductress" are hardcore films, these represent an early attempt to appeal to female viewers who, at the time, might have wanted to experience some X-rated fare without being totally grossed out. Both hold up well today and are probably more creative than the largely indistinguishable fare being made today.
Criterion has release a deluxe Blu-ray edition of director Peter Brook's 1963 screen adaptation of William Golding's landmark novel Lord of the Flies. As virtually anyone familiar with literature of the latter half of the twentieth century probably knows, the story involves a group of British schoolboys who are among the refugees deported from England out the outbreak of what is, presumably, a third world war. Their plane is shot down over the ocean but it crashes off shore from a remote island. All of the adults die but the boys miraculously survive and make their way to dry land. Realizing their survival is in their own hands, the boys (the age of whom ranges from pre-pubescent to early teens) set about the task of building shelters. They quickly master the essentials of staying alive and learn to start fires and to hunt and fish with reasonably effective hand-made tools. Inevitably, the fragments of a society begin to coalesce but there is stark contrast in philosophies. Jack (Tom Chapin) is an assertive, take-charge older boy who quickly learns he can use his aggressive personality traits to rise to a leadership position. Jack proves his worth by quickly going native and relishing the opportunity to play king. His skills are essential when it comes to providing food for the group. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ralph (James Aubrey), a sensitive and thoughtful boy who rivals Jack as leader of the group based on his intellectual superiority. When the rivalry becomes heated, Jack and his numerically superior group of followers resort to violent methods to suppress Ralph and his friend Piggy (Hugh Edwards), a pudgy and harmless boy who must indulge many degrading insults and taunts. The resulting battle of wills leads to numerous tragedies and a conclusion that finds Ralph alone and being hunted down by his former schoolmates, who intend to kill him.
It's clear that Golding intended to use this scenario as a microcosm for society in general. He initially regarded himself as an optimist regarding human nature but that changed during his service in WWII, when he witnessed behavior that he thought was so horrendous that he became convinced that evil is far more prevalent in the world than he had suspected. That cynicism is carried over into the film, which is such a literate version of the novel that no one is credited as a screenwriter. Director Brook would assemble his cast of young boys (none of whom had any acting experience) and read passages and dialogue from the novel prior to filming each scene. The technique worked remarkably well. Brook's shoestring budget of $300,000 was cut in half after his ill-fated, short-term alliance with famed producer Sam Spiegel, who began to make significant changes to the production in the hopes of making it more commercial. When he insisted on adding a group of young girls to the mix, Brook ended their partnership but had to pay Spiegel half of his meager budget to cover expenses he had never even authorized. Left with only $150,000 in the coffers, Brook (who is primarily known as an acclaimed director of avant-garde theatrical productions) managed to get everyone to the island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico, where most of the footage was shot. Brook could not afford a seasoned cinematographer so gambled on hiring a local still photographer, Tom Hollyman, whose work on the film is simply remarkable (though he would never make another motion picture). Hollyman's footage was supplemented by footage taken by Gerald Feil, who was given a hand-held camera and told to shoot anything he found interesting. The result is a superb compilation of both men's accomplishments. The movie was shot in B&W for budgetary reasons but it also worked beneficially in terms of the impact of this stark, bleak tale. Raymond Leppard's brilliant score combines British schoolboy songs with ominous jungle themes. It must be pointed out that, despite the impressive performances of the young cast members, only one- James Aubrey- decided to gravitate into acting as a profession. The real hero, however, is Brook himself, whose exercise in the ultimate "guerrilla movie making" still stands the test of time as a powerful and fascinating film.
Criterion's special Blu-ray release does justice to the movie on every level beginning with a superb transfer that emphasizes the glorious cinematography. The extras in the set are:
Audio commentary track featuring Peter Brook, producer Lewis Allen, cinematographers Tom Hollyman and Gerald Feil
Audio of William Golding reading excerpts from the book, accompanied by scenes from the film
Deleted scene with optional commentary track
Insightful interview with Brook from 2008 (in which he pointedly says he never made a commercial movie because he refused to compromise with the studios in terms of his artistic vision)
Wonderful home movies taken by the young cast members.
1980 British TV interview with William Golding (one of the few he ever gave)
A new interview with cinematographer Gerald Feil
The original trailer
Feil's 1975 short film documenting Peter Brook rehearsing cast members in Brooklyn for one of his off-beat productions. For those of us who do not "tread the boards" for a living, the rehearsals seem bizarre and resemble an exercise class more than an acting rehearsal. Some of it is unintentionally funny: the kind of pretentious scenario that is often spoofed by Woody Allen, with actors chanting and seeming to run about without rhyme or reason. Yet, who are we to argue? Brook's reputation as a major theatrical director remains firmly intact.
A collector's booklet featuring essays by Peter Brook and film critic Geoffrey Macnab
In summary, the Criterion release of Lord of the Flies is essential viewing for classic movie lovers.
On a windy night, a black-clad stranger
rides into Daugherty City, Texas.He
flips a coin to ascruffy drunk who is
strapped for the price of a drink. He exposes a crooked dice game in the local
saloon, where most of the townsfolk seem to be congregated.Then he departs.In the meantime, down the street, a gang of
acrobatic robbers breaks into the bank and heists a safe containing $100,000 in
Army payroll money.The getaway crew
escapes town before a wounded trooper can raise the alarm, but out on the trail
they run into the stranger, Sabata, who picks them off with a tricked-out rifle
and recovers the stolen money.
Thus, in under 15 minutes of running time,
Gianfranco Parolini neatly sets up the events that will drive the remaining 90
minutes of his 1969 Spaghetti Western, "Ehi amico... c'è
Sabata, hai chiuso!" -- better known simply as “Sabata,” as United
Artists retitled the English-dubbed version that debuted in the U.S. in
1970.The original Italian
title translates to something like, “Hey, Pal, Sabata’s Here, You Lose” . . .
or maybe closer to the film’s rambunctious spirit, “. . . You’re Screwed.”
Bracketing the opening credits, Parolini
economically introduces most of the movie’s main characters, establishes their
personalities, and through their interactions with Sabata and each other,
defines the interpersonal relationships that will drive the plot.
Sabata (Lee Van Cleef), the sharp-eyed “man
who knows,” as the drunk Carrincha (Pedro Sanchez) calls him, deduces that the
men behind the attempted robbery are the local businessman Stengel, his partner
Ferguson, and their crony Judge O’Hara (Gianni Rizzo).He approaches them and demands $10,000 in hush
money.Refusing, Stengel dispatches one
assassin after another to kill him.Stengel’s henchman Slim, a hulking gunman named Sharky, two hit men
dressed like the Earp brothers, and a nervous killer disguised as a clergyman
all try and fail.With each attempt,
Sabata raises his price higher and higher.
An old acquaintance, barroom minstrel Banjo
(William Berger), one of the supporting characters deftly sketched in the
opening saloon scene, ambles in and out from the periphery, toting his own
tricked-out weapon, a carbine hidden under his musical instrument.Sometimes he sides with Sabata for money,
sometimes he works for Stengel; in any event, not to be trusted by either.He and a greedy saloon girl, Jane, have a
sort of romance characterized by mutual boredom and availability.Carrincha and a mute Indian acrobat, Alley
Cat (Nick Jordan), help Sabata.
Arguably, “Sabata” represented the high
tide of Spaghetti Western popularity in the States in 1970, benefiting from the
box-office success of Sergio Leone’s groundbreaking films and preceding the
decline of the genre as it sputtered toward a slow box-office death in the
mid-‘70s.Where Leone’s movies were
generally panned by mainstream U.S. media on their initial release, but
nevertheless attracted a small early following of more progressive critics,
“Sabata” ironically met the opposite reception.
Major outlets like The New York Times gave
it good notices, but the pioneering book-length studies of the genre by
Christopher Frayling and Laurence Staig & Tony Williams were lukewarm.Staig and Williams dismissed it as “a mixture
of gimmickry and borrowed themes.”Citing Banjo’s hidden carbine, Frayling said that the movie was one of
the “derivatives” inspired by Leone’s scenes in which “guns are fired from
Other commentators over the years have
noted additional Leone influences.Before you see Sabata’s face in the opening scenes, Parolini gives us a
shot down the main street of Daugherty City, framed between Sabata’s boots in close-up
--a favorite Leone visual angle.Paralleling the three lead charactersof “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,”
Parolini (who also co-scripted with Renato Izzo) builds the action around an
unflappable protagonist, an icy bad guy, and a talkative, slippery secondary
lead.Sabata’s black suit, black
military coat, and fanciful weapons recallColonel Mortimer’s from Van Cleef’s break-out Spaghetti role in “For a
Few Dollars More.”
The argument that Leone cast a long shadow
over Parolini’s movie is valid as far as it goes, but then Leone cast a long
shadow over all the Italian Westerns that followed after his enormously
successful pictures with Clint Eastwood.If we acknowledge that “Sabata” often follows the visual and dramatic
conventions of Leone’s movies, it’s only fair to Parolini to note that he
alsodeparted from those conventions in
ways that other Spaghetti directors such as Sergio Corbucci, Sergio Sollima,
and Luigi Vanzi generally didn’t.
For example, like John Ford, Leone held a
sentimental reverence for the sanctity of the traditional family; the families
in his movies symbolize social stability.There are no traditional parents and children in Parolini’s universe,
even if a kid’s chorus heard in the movie’s bouncytitle tune suggests there will be.The only offspring and parent in “Sabata” are
Sharky -- a burly, slovenly adult -- and his gray-haired old virago of a
mother, who berates him verbally and physically for not settling a score with
their neighbors the Mallorys.“They stole
your woman, didn’t they?”she
shrieks.No, Sharky retorts, “you sold
her to the Mallorys.”
Carrincha, who looks a bit like Sharky in
girth and disheveled appearance, laments his life of thirst and poverty: “I
curse the mother who bore me, and my brother, and my whole family.”Almost everything Carrincha says is prone to
exaggeration, so it’s difficult to know whether this sentiment is real or
not.Regardless, it mirrors and
reinforces the satiric relationship between Sharky and his mother, poles away
from the traditional relationships portrayed by Leone and Ford.
Playing with the “trio” aspect of “The
Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Parolini assigns the trickster role of “the Ugly”
not to the boisterous Mexican (in name, at least) Carrancha, as Eli Wallach’s
Tuco was “the Ugly” in Leone’s movie, but to theAnglo drifter, Banjo.This way, Parolini finds not only differences
but also similarities between the two characters, including allusions to a
shared history during and after the Civil War and maybe a shared past outside
the law.This gives their relationship
an extra dimension not present in the relationship between the Good and the
Ugly in the Leone movie.
Critics and fans who appreciate “Sabata” on
its own terms usually employ terms like “hectic and chaotic,” and
“fun” that’s “not to be taken too seriously.”The movie hardly lets up for a moment (none of Leone’s long, measured
takes), but a term like “chaotic” can be misleading if you think it means slipshod.In fact, even though Parolini doesn’t build
the movie around a mystery asLeone does
in “For a Few Dollars More” (what do those seemingly shared flashback memories
by Colonel Mortimer and Indio mean?) or around a character arc as Sollima does
in “The Big Gundown” and Corbucci in “The Mercenary,” “Sabata” has its own
ingenious design.Beyond the action,
stunts, and cynical humor, “Sabata” bears repeated viewing to appreciate the
two techniques that Parolini uses to bring unity to the film.
One technique is
repetition.Little details that appear
in one scene in the visuals or in the dialogue will unexpectedly and sometimes
subtly reappear later in a different context.Slim’s loaded dice in the opening saloon scene always come up 7.There are seven men in the getaway crew from
the bank robbery whom Sabata ambushes.When Sabata checks into a hotel in Daugherty City, Banjo’s squeeze Jane
gives him Room 7 -- “next to mine,” she says suggestively.(Sabata isn’t interested.As Jules Feiffer once observed of Superman,
he is so self-sufficient and self-confident that he doesn’t need to pursue
every woman he encounters, or even to respond to every pass that comes his
Parolini’s other technique is
music.Like Ennio Morricone’s
compositions for Leone, Marcello Giombini’s score is integrated into “Sabata”
as an essential part of Parolini’s fabric.Like Morricone, Giombini
tailors certain musical themes and cues to specific characters in the
story.As John Mansell observes in his
liner notes for a 2001 CD soundtrack edition, Sabata’s theme incorporates “a
rather buoyant sounding guitar piece … interspersed with a solo muted trumpet,
occasional harpsichord flourishes plus the added support of choir, which is
carried along on a backing of slightly upbeat percussion.”Banjo’s theme is a cocky melody plucked on
his namesake instrument, sometimes augmented by jingling bells like those sewn
on his trousers.
But Mansell’s description of Sabata’s
theme, while insightful, fails to note that the theme also incorporates a
glissando passage like the swirling of the wind.Sabata is associated with the wind throughout
the movie.In the first scene,
tumbleweeds blow down the street and lamplight flutters as Sabata rides into
Daugherty City.In the closing scene,
Parolini and Sabata use the wind to the same ironic effect that John Huston
used it at the end of “Treasure of Sierra Madre” and Stanley Kubrick in the
finale of “The Killing.”Although Judge
O’Hara wonders if Sabata is a government agent, and Stengel snaps back that
“he’s nothing -- just a drifter who’s after our money,” the man in black
perhaps suggests his true elemental nature when he advises Stengel in one
exchange: “Don’t shoot at the wind.”
Parolini and Giombini also take their
partnership one step further than Leone and Morricone did in their
collaborations.In Morricone’s scores,
Leone’s primary characters have (in the words of Staig and Williams) their own
“individual musical signatures” -- the template followed by Parolini with
Sabata’s and Banjo’s themes.The
difference is that, in Morricone’s scores, in any one scene where the character
either enters or dominates the action, his theme predominates.Parolini combines his individual themes for
Sabata and Banjo as point and counterpoint in the same scene to underscore the
two gunmen’s shared history and one-up rivalry.
Banjo’s theme sounds a little like the old
military marching tune, “The British Grenadier,” a reminder of Banjo’s allusion
to his and Sabata’s Civil War past on different sides of the conflict: “You in
the North and me in the South.”In their
first meeting after Sabata’s arrival in town, Banjo plays a mocking version of
the tune, in increasingly frantic tempo, as if trying to get under the other
man’s skin.Sabata stops the performance
by shooting one of the pegs off the banjo.“You were out of tempo,” he says dryly.
the end of the film, as Banjo leaves Daugherty City in apparent triumph after a
pivotal final encounter with Sabata, a merry version of his banjo theme begins
to play, bolstered by a fife and drum that underlines the similarity to
military marching music.The jingle of
bells joins in with a close-up of the bells on Banjo’s trousers.The viewer senses that this is the victorious
music that Banjo probably hears in his own imagination.However, Sabata’s wind-theme presently swirls
in.As if in competition, the strum of
the banjo gains tempo, becoming increasingly insistent.Remembering the association of the fast-tempo
strumming with the much earlier scene in which Banjo was humiliated, you may
anticipate that Banjo’s present victory will be short-lived, too.
There isn’t an official 45th anniversary
edition of “Sabata,” but the Swiss label Explosive Media recently released a
new Blu-Ray combo pack that also includes a DVD print, a supplemental disc of
interviews and features, and a nice souvenir booklet in German, copiously
illustrated with stillsand pictures of
various international posters.
“Sabata” and the two Parolini films that
immediately followed it are popularly known as “The Sabata Trilogy,” although
only one is a true sequel.“Indio
Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di . . .,” released in Italy in
1970, was imported to the U.S. the following year as “Adios, Sabata.”Yul Brynner played the hero who wears black,
this time a black fringed shirt and bell-bottom trousers instead of Lee Van
Cleef’s more formal outfit.In the
Italian version, he’s Indio Black; in the dubbed U.S. print, Sabata.
Both movies are strongly linked in casting
and style.Three of the major supporting
roles in the two movies are occupied by the same actors (Jordan, Rizzo,
Sanchez) and fulfill similar functions in character and plot.Dean Reed, who looks like the young Roger
Moore, plays an opportunist named Ballantine who serves as this film’s surrogate
for Banjo.There are several big-action
set pieces, mostly involving Sabata’s mission in Mexico to relieve a tyrannical
officer, Colonel Skimmel, of a hoard of gold during the revolution against
“Adios, Sabata” is an entertaining Spaghetti
with a bigger cast of extras and more explosions than its predecessors.One set piece, in which Sabata sends the
no-good Murdock Brothers to their “just reward” in a showdown at the Bounty
Hunters’ Agency, is particularly well dialogued and choreographed.
But “Sabata” is the better movie, partly
because Van Cleef and Berger had stronger chemistry than Brynner and Reed, and
partly because Brynner’s character is a more traditional soldier of fortune and
do-gooder (he’s friends with benevolent old priests and small children) than
Van Cleef’s enigmatic loner.Although
Bruno Nicolai’s score for “Alias Sabata” is quite good on its own terms, the
title track emulating the full-on symphonic, choral sound of Morricone’s
Spaghetti music, it isn’t as ingeniously integrated into the movie as
Giombini’s composition was.
authentic sequel to “Sabata,” released in Italy in 1971 as "È
tornato Sabata... hai chiuso un'altra volta," reached the States in 1972
as “Return of Sabata.”Lee Van Cleef
returns as the lead character, and Giombini returns as the soundtrack composer,
but unfortunately this movie doesn’t measure up to its predecessors.
As in “Sabata,”Van Cleef’s character rides
into a town where a cabal of seemingly respectable citizens is engaged in nefarious
activity.This time, the heavies are
the outwardly pious McIntocks who trumpet civic expansion in Hobsonville by
raising money for new buildings and businesses.They do so by imposing exorbitant taxes on the town’s goods and
In truth, patriarch Joe McIntock is
conniving with his brother-in-law, banker Jeremy Sweeney, to smuggle the money
out of town for his own enrichment.Sabata, who arrives in Hobsonville as a sharpshooter in a traveling circus
sideshow, following a hunch about something being rotten somewhere, uncovers
the fraud.As in “Sabata,” he demands
blackmail from the bad guys in return for keeping their secret.The McIntocks, reluctant to pay, send a
series of would-be assassins after him.
Again, Parolini employs his stock troupe of
Jordan, Rizzo, and Sanchez in supporting roles, and inserts a slippery
intermediary character, Clyde (Reiner Schone).Clyde, like Banjo, shares a Civil War past with Sabata.Giombini’s music isn’t as ingenious as his
score for the first movie, and the circus aspect of the story never quite jells
with the plot about the McIntocks’ scam; as a whole, the movie lacks the little
visual and aural details that wove “Sabata” together.
Another problem: Sabata loses much of the
steely, enigmatic quality that defined his personality in the first movie.In “Return of Sabata,” an old girlfriend, a
hooker named Maggie, drifts into town, and Sabata shacks up with her.Maggie is never quite integrated into the
story either.Sabata as a mysterious
loner in the original film was intriguing.As a more conventional character with a sexy main squeeze, like a hero
out of a paperback adult western, he isn’t.Still, “Return of Sabata” hardly merits a place among the “50 Worst
Movies of All Time,” as the Medved brothers asserted in their 1978 book.Maybe Parolini has the last laugh: the Sabata
movies live on while the Medved book is long forgotten.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "THE SABATA TRILOGY" FROM AMAZON USA
(For information about Explosive Media's Blu-ray European special editions, click here. For more information, see the story in Cinema Retro issue #29. Click below to purchase).
Unemployed and disgruntled Ronnie (Robert Buchanan)
hatches a plan to steal ninety sinks as
a means to solving his financial hardship. Recruiting his closest friends,
against the grey backdrop of Glasgow, eight teenagers plan to pull off the
cinematic caper that would define 1979.
Alongside the 60th Anniversary release of Akira
Kurosawa's seminal action masterpiece Seven Samurai, the month of April would
find the BFI with one eye fixed on Japan, and the other on home soil.
With their Flipside label the BFI proudly champions
the rediscovery of British cult films, and the latest film to find itself
inducted into this illustrious catalogue is Bill Forsyth's 1980 caper comedy
That Sinking Feeling.
It is hard to think of two more distinct films finding
themselves on the release slate alongside one another. In spite of being worlds
apart, they share a single similarity, and to the astute eye it is a
singularity that multiplies. That Sinking Feeling and Seven Samurai together
are perhaps a testament to the fact that films, like people, are individuals
but also live within a cinematic or narrative society.
As unmistakably Japanese as is Seven Samurai –
although it would be the seed of inspiration for John Sturges’ The Magnificent
Seven -- Forsyth's Glaswegian crime caper has British cinematic blood coursing
through its veins. It is indelibly a cult British classic,, regardless of whether
or not you’d describe it in that typically English way as your “cup of tea.”
The role That Sinking Feeling plays in the story of
both British and international independent cinema should not be overlooked. Highlighted
in an entry of Kermode Uncut that can be found amongst the extras, Forsyth
discusses how he constructed the film’s budget and how he gathered
non-financial resources that made his debut feature anything but a sinking endeavour.
It positions Forsyth as one of cinema's ingenious independent filmmakers, and
his story allows us to compare the landscape of independent cinema and the
working filmmaker from then to now.
With its shade of social realism through the disenchanted youth, Forsyth and
his cast of characters turn hardship into comedic gold, or at least they
attempt to do so through a caper that more than thirty years on may strike one
as pointless, and even perhaps, as amusing as the film itself. That being said,
with the recent scurrying around for scrap metal and copper that has helped
regional news programmes fill their schedule, That Sinking Feeling may not have
sunk as deeply into the past as one might imagine.
From the outset Forsyth imbues the film with playfulness - the film's title
sinking off-screen to the suggestion of Glasgow as a fictitious place. Add to
that the wry smile that frequents Ronnie’s (Robert Buchanan's) lips and it is
almost as if the film is trying not to laugh along with itself; an infectious
humour that would similarly plague Seinfeld cast members years later.
The fictitious place known as Glasgow is one that
may just intertwine itself with an inner knowing truth that Glasgow is real,
and the grey urban landscape of Forsyth’s debut feature is a reflection that
possesses a certain proportion of truth.
Constructed with a seeming focus on individual moments - the opening monologue,
the science-fiction comedy element and the encounter with a pretentious art
dealer amongst others, That Sinking Feeling is made up of comedy segments that
undermine the fluidity of a narrative gliding towards its destination. Whilst
it does successfully tell the story of a caper, and the forming of a gang, it
decidedly feels as if it is a film of moments that should be appreciated as
Although it is rough around the edges, and it habitually surrenders to the
moment, it should be regarded as both criticism and praise. These faults afford
That Sinking Feeling a vitality that so often can be found in first films where
directors succumb to the moment, a creative energy or instinct. After all, film
is constructed of moments, and the creation of these moments that permits a
film to exude charm and energy is reason enough for celebration.
With a comprehensive set of extras of first-hand accounts, the BFI have pulled
Forsyth's debut out of the shadows cast by Forsyth’s better known and often
more celebrated Gregory's Girl and Local
Hero. That Sinking Feeling may be a
title of introspective truth regarding its own fate.
Whilst the dark confines of the cinema may be the
traditional spiritual experience of the cineaste, to fine connoisseurs of home
entertainment such as the BFI, they are equally a beguiling means towards discovery or rediscovery. If the
truth be told, they possess a greater capacity to take us beyond the film, and
with the restored original Glaswegian audio track and a spate of extras, for
those either not born in 1979 or for those too young to see That Sinking
Feeling on its initial theatrical release, the BFI Flipside release is a
beguiling means of discovery, and for all others re-discovery with it restored
to Forsyth’s original vision.
Martin Ritt's Conrack,
now available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time, first hit theaters in 1974.This was a time when new, brash directors
were reinventing American cinema,a time
when movie screens were likely spackled with vomit from demonically possessed
little girls, or blood from the victims of Dirty Harry Callahan's .44 Magnum. Theaters
in your neighborhood were just as likely to be playing hardcore porn as the
latest Paul Newman movie.Ritt's simple
tale of an optimistic white teacher in a schoolroom of dirt poor black students
was a success just by squeaking through to its birth.
Looking at it 40 years later, one is struck by two
things, namely, Jon Voight's relentless energy and goodwill as the big-hearted
teacher, and the very realistic performances from the kids.Even while acknowledging the film's uneven
tone, or what one critic deemed "a crazy quilt of naturalism, farce, and
soap opera all jumbled together," one is still intrigued by Conrack.Maybe the idea that a caring soul might try to educate some people who
would otherwise remain ignorant strikes a primal cord within us.Maybe there's something irresistible about
sheltered folks suddenly realizing there is more to the world than their dirty
little backwater.Or maybe, and this
might trump all the other maybes, we all hated school so much that we wish our
own lives had been enriched, even briefly, by someone like Conrack.
Pat Conroy, a young idealist, takes a teaching position
on a remote island in a South Carolina river delta.He's vowed to grow his hair until the war
stops (the story takes place in 1969) and the locals look at him as if they're
seeing a mythical animal up close, for a towering blonde white man on an island
made up almost entirely of blacks is as odd as a unicorn.The locals can't even pronounce his name,
which creates the movie's title.The
newly dubbed Conrack fends off their suspicions with a grin as wide as the
Bible belt, and then sets about teaching "the babies," as these fifth
through eighth graders are called.He's
shocked to find out the level of his students' ignorance - they can't read,
they know nothing about life beyond the island, they've never heard of Babe
Ruth or Halloween, have never played football, and, Heaven forbid, they don't
even know that coffee comes from Brazil.
Based on Pat Conroy's memoir ‘The Water Is Wide,’ the
story follows Conrack's effort to help these children even as he is met by
resistance from the school's principal, a middle aged black woman (Madge
Sinclair) who believes the children need to beaten with a leather strap, and
superintendent Skeffington (Hume Cronyn), a grinning sadist who likes to grab a
kid by the thumb and twist, a punishing move he calls "milking the
rat."Add to this a local drunk
(Paul Winfield) who skulks around the island like Boo Radley, the talkative Mr.
Quickfellow (Antonio Fargas) who stalks 13-year-old girls with promises of new
dresses, plus the natural reluctance of students who have never been
challenged, and it seems Conrack has entered a world that may be too much for
him to conquer.
Yet, armed with nothing but his enthusiasm, Conrack
gradually earns the love and respect of the classroom. The kids, as meek as
church mice at the movie’s start, are
soon chanting James Brown songs, and dressed up for a Halloween trip to
Beaufort.Conrack's teaching methods are
unorthodox - he tickles, wrestles, and teases the students, and when he learns
that no one on the island knows how to swim, he promptly throws the kids, one
by one, into the river. His freewheeling style gets results. He even gets the
class to sit still long enough to listen to some recordings of classical
music.I like how the kids calmly pay
attention to the sounds coming from the old turntable.In a more contemporary movie, they all would
have picked up instruments, mastered them overnight, and would have then gone on to win a contest
of some kind, for in modern America a story is only uplifting if you can crush
someone and win a prize. But in Conrack,
the kids merely listen; they’re quietly mystified by the music, happy that they
can come close to pronouncing the names of Beethoven or Brahms. Conrack even
picks up one of the younger boys and cradles him as the music plays, inviting
him to close his eyes and sleep.Somehow, Conrack's good intentions get him labeled as "an outside
agitator" and fired from his job. Conrack tries to fight the verdict but
is no match for Skeffington’s power as superintendent. His good spirit bloodied
but unbowed, Conrack leaves the island. To the children he says, "May the
river be kind to you when you cross it."
As one might have expected, reactions to the movie were
mixed: syndicated columnist David Sterritt dismissed it as "an audacious
attempt at mythmaking." Indeed
there are scenes of Conrack jogging along the beach, his class running along
behind him, as if he’s some sort of golden haired pied piper, an image that probably
ruffled some feathers in the super cynical ‘70s. The New York Times gave it a
mostly positive review, but lamented the film's "glaze of sentimentality
that sugars much of the narrative."
When a young
woman is killed in the woods near the Florence Nightingale Institute,
detectives immediately begin their investigation at the weird old nursing
establishment. Why wouldn’t they? The place seemed full to bursting with
suspicious characters. There was shifty-eyed Dr. Cabala, for instance, who
looked too much like Christopher Lee to be totally innocent.Or maybe it was Dr. Carter, who seems a bit
too enthusiastic about splashing around in the guts of dissected frogs. (His
fingers seem permanently stained from frog juice). Then there was Hettie Green,
the head of the nurses who liked to welcome new trainees with a very sensual
bedtime massage. Accusations could also be aimed at Moss, the drooling
hunchback who wandered the landing in his role as handyman, often peeking in on
the young nurses as they slept or showered. Then again, maybe it was the
cloaked figure in the top hat who seemed to always be lurking in the shadows.
There’s even a young nurse who is acting in a local stage production of Dr. Jekyll
and Mister Hyde, a small girl whose delicate hands belie a facility with a
sword. That’s only part of the cast of characters in TheJekylland Hyde Portfolio, an occasionally
bloody and often pornographic mess from 1971, brought back to gory life by the
kind fellows at Vinegar Syndrome, a group that thrives on reviving long buried
epic was directed by Eric Jeffrey Haims, who spent a brief time making porno
movies in Hollywood under the auspices of his bare bones production company,
Xerxes Productions Ltd. Haims gained a small amount of publicity when his 101 Acts of Love was shown at
Hollywood’s Las Palmas Theater in ’71 before an invited group of medical
professionals. The film was part of a benefit, with proceeds going to the LA
Free Clinic. Haims’ piece was one of those bogus medical documentaries that
were made as an excuse to show couples humping, yet J. Michael Kenyon of the
Hollywood Reporter praised the thing: “…the beauty and intrinsic calm of
physical delight are well highlighted by artful rendition…” I wonder if Kenyon
saw The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio?
those who keep track of such things, The
Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio was given an extremely limited VHS release many
years ago by Intervision Video, resulting in some outlandish bidding wars on
Internet auction sites. There have been instances of it selling for over
$1,500. (Who bid that much? It must have been J. Michael Kenyon.) Not to dampen
the spirits of the lucky winners, but I can’t imagine what made this movie such
a collectible title. True, there are some scenes of lesbianism, and a lot of
nudity, and some of the ladies are very pretty. As for the Sappho stuff, the
girls give it the old college try, which probably helped the movie get its X
rating. I can even understand how some might point to this movie as a
forerunner of the slasher flicks that would explode by the end of the decade.
(In fact, The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio
boasts a scene where a couple’s barnyard coitus is interrupted when the male is
beheaded by someone wielding a nasty looking scythe, a distinctly Friday the 13th type of murder.) I'm
also sure that many bidders were titillated by the idea of a horror movie cast
with performers from the porn industry. Still, for $1,500 you can get real women
to come to your house and do stuff to you. On the other hand, who knows what
owning the actual VHS in its original box can do for a fellow’s social
On the plus
side, the movie is not bad looking. Cinematographer Arch Archambault was fresh
off of shooting Count Yorga, Vampire,
and he creates a nice, saucy atmosphere for the lesbian nurses and twitchy
doctors to roam around in. There’s a scene in the hospital where the very
beautiful Mady Maguire (as Dr. Leticia Boges) wanders in the dark with a
candle; the scene is downright atmospheric, as if we’re suddenly watching a
real movie made by competent filmmakers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long.
Maguire, incidentally, may be familiar to some for her occasional appearances
on ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’, and for her starring role in Norma, a cheapo stinker where she played a nymphomaniac. The final
role of her illustrious career came in 1980 with an appearance on the
short-lived ‘Tenspeed and Brown Shoe.’
Other than the
occasional inspired moment from Archambault, there’s not much to recommend. The
acting is of community theater quality, and the script is like something a
junior high school kid would write after watching a couple of old Hammer films.
Aside from the sex scenes (which contain plenty of groping and heavy
breathing), the actors move woodenly and unconvincingly through the creaky
plot, decked out in what barely passes for 1870s period costuming, but making
no attempt to hide what were obviously 1971 hairstyles, and distinctly modern,
urban accents. (One of the nurses sounds like Fran Drescher, and the two
detectives on the case, while dressed as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, sound
like extras from 'Kojak.')
vintage '70s porn might be interested to know that Rene Bond, who by some
estimations appeared in anywhere from 80 to 300 porn productions, appears here
in a key role. Bond earned some notoriety for being one of the first women in
porn to undergo breast augmentation (allegedly paid for by porn producer Harry
Novak). Bond's real life boyfriend and longtime porn partner Ric Lutze is also
in the film. Bond and Lutze look like kids here, and even though there isn't an
ounce of talent between them, I wonder if they thought The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio, which was promoted as a horror film,
might lead to more roles in non-porn features. It didn't. By 1978, Bond would
drift away from porn and embark on a somewhat successful career as a Las Vegas
stripper. She died young, at 45, from cirrhosis of the liver. It's rather bittersweet
to see her here, young and vibrant.
face to lovers of old porn will be Nora Wieternik. She plays Amber Van Buren, a
sexed-up nurse whose wardrobe consists of a single corset. She’s appropriately
bawdy for a goofy film like this one, and the only member of the cast who seems
to know what she’s doing. Wieternik would work often during the early 1970s,
usually as a hooker or a hippie in such classics as Dr. Dildo’sSecret.Some might recognize her as Queen Amora in the campy spoof FleshGordon (1974).I also
enjoyed the work of the brilliantly named Hump Hardy, the sinister looking chap
who played Moss the hunchback. Hump had an almost superhuman ability to drool
on cue, which is why I'm so surprised he never acted again. Surely there was a
place for him somewhere in Hollywood.
there’s more! Vinegar Syndrome added a second Eric Haims feature to make this
DVD a double event (it is part of their ongoing “Drive-In Collection”). The B
side of the program is AClockworkBlue (1972), a throwback to the nudie cuties of 12 years before.
This time Haims takes some of the same cast members from The Jekyll and Hyde
Portfolio and dresses them as various historical figures, including Marie
Antoinette, Louis XVI, and Betsy Ross. Viewers are taken through a sort of
kinky trip through history, as if any of us really wanted to know about Betsy
Ross’ sex life. The movie is as dumb as it sounds, but A Clockwork Blue was actually a bigger hit than TheJekylland Hyde Portfolio, having a longer
shelf life on the porn theater circuit, sometimes as part of a bill with Deep Throat. Not surprisingly, Warner
Bros. took Haims and company to court over the title sounding too much like A Clockwork Orange. Haims backed down,
and changed the title of his film to A Tic
keeping score, both titles are scanned in 2K & 4K from 35 MM internegative
(Jekyll) and 35 MM camera negative (Clockwork).
No extras here,
just a lot of bad acting from people who could screw on cue but couldn’t recite
In 1977, a
low-budget flick about the New York disco scene became a sudden sensation.
Today it looms large in the pantheon of iconic cinema. Several of its moments,
however, allude to another equally iconic film. Well, more so than that Wizard
of Oz/’Dark Side of the Moon’ myth, anyway.
Saturday Night Fever’s success was undoubtedly attributed
to several factors. There are gripping performances, multi-dimensional
characters and a soaring soundtrack featuring the Bee Gees that steals the
show. At the heart of it all is an undeniably compelling story.
Travolta) lives in Brooklyn with his parents, sister and grandmother. He works
at a hardware store and on Saturdays, treks to the local discotheque where he
reigns supreme as the neighborhood’s premier disco dancer. He parties, drinks
and carouses with his buddies then goes home and sleeps it off, dreaming of
more in life. ‘Night fever’: he knows how to do it and has fun but something is
missing and at age nineteen he’s “gettin’ old”. The adoration he receives is
only so rewarding, his relationships superficial. His ignorant friends provoke
outside ethnic gangs, plunging them into brawls and Anette (Donna Pescow), a
confused young woman who tags along, pressures Tony with advances in hopes of
joining the ranks of her “married sisters”. His home life is no less
complicated. Dinner table spats, though run-of-the-mill for the Maneros are
exacerbated by Dad’s unemployment. Nevertheless, we see beneath the surface a
caring, loving family. The “character” of Tony’s nearly silent grandmother is
really to exemplify the multi-generational unit of the Italian-American family.
brother, Frank Jr.(Martin Shakar), the priest who “ain’t a priest no more”. His
decision to leave the church causes a rift within their household and makes
Tony reexamine his own choices. Tony’s brother often comes off as a surreal paradox.
Though repeatedly spoken of, he curiously is never seen with any family members
other than Tony. Were it not for his character being discussed in other scenes,
he would seem a figment of Tony’s imagination. It’s even tempting to think of
him as a component of Tony’s inner psyche. The name ‘Father Frank Junior’
itself, a contradiction in terms, he is essentially a cautionary figure for
Tony to observe. He warns his brother not to act out someone else’s dream but
to do what feels best for himself.
feels very wrong to say the least. His friends are treading down a path of
drugs and recklessness. Misogyny and racism are ingrained in their sub-culture (Tellingly,
network and basic cable presentations of the film censor its racial slurs until
the pivotal diatribe where Tony denounces the group’s bigoted ways. To the
censors, these slurs are deplorable and unnecessary unless used sympathetically).
Looking for a way out, Tony searches new paths. He stares oddly at the Verrazano
Bridge to “get ideas”.
One idea he soon
gets is to try his hand at the club’s dance competition with the slightly
stuck-up Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), a fellow Brooklynite who shares a
slowly developing sexual tension with Tony. They meet for lunch and she
belittles him, condescendingly boasting about big dreams and famous people she
has met. His ostensible unfamiliarity with the names she rattles off is belied by
the numerous pop culture images adorning his wall at home. Appropriately, one
of them is of Rocky.
1976, Rocky made a household name of Sylvester Stallone who portrayed
Rocky Balboa, a Philadelphia underdog willing to subject himself to anything
for a once-in-a-lifetime shot at the world heavyweight championship title.
A Stallone motif
arguably surfaces throughout Tony Manero’s life, even if that name could have stumped him too. Compare Fever with
Rocky and interesting parallels are obviated. Both center on characters
who “take a shot”, using God-given gifts to attain something better in life
than the perfunctory humdrum they face. Tony and Rocky both excel at their craft yet are still perceived as local losers
and each go out of their way to win the heart of a woman who seems their
virtual opposite. Both men sadly realize they have settled in with negative
people who keep them subjugated and bury their dreams. And… oh yeah, did I
mention their names almost rhyme?
significantly, in Rocky, the title hero advises a young girl on the dangers of
allowing boys to mistreat and disrespect her. In vain, he explains how it will
only leave her used, hurt and alone. In Fever, Tony takes on this similar
role of the sage, educating Anette on how there are only “two kinds of girls-nice girls and pigs!” He elaborates on how she cannot be both and must decide
early on in life which to be. From what annals of wisdom this philosophy is
taken we simply do not know, but it is certainly likely that he ‘gets ideas’
from more than a bridge.
In the end, it
would seem, the story resumed with a closing credit sequence as the Bee Gees crooned
“How Deep is Your Love”. Who could have guessed then that the connection would
be driven home when Stallone himself would write, direct and produce Fever’s
sequel, Staying Alive. Tony’s rollercoaster life is further chronicled
a few years later, still ‘taking a shot’, this time on Broadway. And… speaking
of Broadway, guess where Rocky is slugging it out right now?
Next Alfred Hitchcock" was how director Brian De Palma was being
celebrated by some back in 1973. It was largely in praise of his latest film,
the thriller ‘Sisters’. There is little doubt that ‘Sisters’ is not only homage
to Hitchcock’s Psycho, but also a huge nod towards Hitchcock’s entire body of
work. As the saying goes - ‘You only borrow from the best’ and of course, it
was no secret that De Palma was a huge admirer of Hitchcock’s work.
was inspired by a Life Magazine article read by De Palma, about the Russian
Siamese twins Masha and Dasha. The film begins with a model named Danielle
(played by Margot Kidder), who appears on the local TV game show, Peeping Toms (the film’s first example
of its voyeuristic theme). Danielle goes out to dinner with the winning
contestant, Phillip Wood. Her strange ex-husband Emile (De Palma regular William
Finley) follows Danielle to the restaurant and finally creates a scene. Phillip
takes Danielle back to her home in Staten Island. Emile keeps watch outside
their apartment, as Danielle and Phillip spend the night together.
next morning, Phillip is brutally killed (with a large Psycho style knife and
in graphic detail) after overhearing Danielle speak to her sister, Dominique.
The murder is seen by reporter Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt), from her own
apartment (not unlike Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’). The police are not entirely convinced
by Grace’s homicide story and they are not enamoured by her personally, perhaps
because she had recently wrote a damming story on police procedures. In true
Hitchcock style, Grace takes it upon herself to investigate and is drawn into a
bizarre story of Siamese siblings, a mysterious mental institute, and identifying
the truth behind Dominique and Danielle. It is established that Danielle never recovered
from the death of her twin Dominique. Furthermore, Dominique remains alive in
the mind of Danielle – a form of guilt lodged deep within her soul - and the
result of having been the twin to survive a surgical separation. Danielle’s sexual
experience with men (such as Philip or Emile) becomes the catalyst that awakens
Dominique and the murderous side of Danielle's damaged mind.
Palma’s film is a fascinating watch, the observations alluding to Hitchcock’s
body of work almost border on blatant, but it is spirited, and because of that,
we simply suck it in and revel in it - rather than being repelled by it. Even
the ‘Janet Leigh’ element – (the killing off of a likeable lead character so
early in the film), is carried out in ‘Sisters’ smoothly and capably. De
Palma’s own trademark feature – the use of the split screen process is also
deployed well. In particular, the murder of Phillip as witnessed by Grace uses
the process to super effect. Whilst one half of the screen illustrates
Phillip’s perspective looking from the apartment window across to Grace, the
other half focuses on Grace’s window and her POV, looking to Phillip’s window
and his eventual demise – all of which is excellent stuff. Fans of Hitchcock
may also like to know composer Bernard Herrmann provides one of his truly great
70s scores for ‘Sisters’ – and cements the homage to perfection.
has produced a delicious looking (1080p) High Definition digital master with
fine detail and just the right amount of grain. De Palma chose to shoot on 35mm
opposed to 16mm, regardless of budget restraints, which proved to be the right
choice as the difference clearly shows. De Palma was aware that blowing up a
16mm print to 35mm would have made a noticeable difference, instead he used
16mm in emphasise certain scenes, and he chose wisely. Viewing Arrow’s Blu-Ray
allows us to view the film cleanly whilst never letting us forget we are
watching a 70s movie, and as a result – a perfect balance is achieved. Adding
to the overall retro experience, the original mono audio is also retained,
leaving no room for unnecessary tinkering and tweaking and removing us from the
familiar comfort ‘zone’.
has also provided a nice collection of extras that include an excellent
documentary ‘What the Devil Hath Joined Together: Brian De Palma’s Sisters’ – A
visual essay by author Justin Humphreys. There is also a generous collection of
all new interviews with co-writer Louisa Rose, actress Jennifer Salt, editor
Paul Hirsch and unit manager Jeffrey Hayes. The De Palma Digest – A
film-by-film guide to the director’s career by critic Mike Sutton is a very
nice 30 minute retrospective guide to De Palma’s work, and proves somewhat
insightful – especially on his later films which to some degree had slipped
under the radar… There is also an archival audio interview with De Palma friend
and ‘Sisters’ co-star William Finley (Emile). The original theatrical trailer
and gallery of ‘Sisters’ promotional material from around the world, round off
the disc very nicely in deed. Whilst a check disc was provided for the purpose
of this review, Arrow’s retail version contains a reversible sleeve featuring
original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys and a Illustrated
collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Kier-La Janisse
(House of Psychotic Women) as well as Brian De Palma’s original 1973 Village
Voice essay on working with composer Bernard Herrmann and a contemporary
interview with De Palma on making ‘Sisters’, and the 1966 Life magazine article
that inspired the film.
(released on April 28th 2014) is a super addition to the Arrow catalogue and a
wonderful opportunity to enjoy De Palma’s first real taste of mainstream cinema
in the finest possible quality.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON UK (THIS IS A REGION 2 PAL FORMAT RELEASE)
The year 1979 was a good one for vampires, cinematically speaking. John Badham's version of "Dracula" premiered starring Frank Langella in the film version of his Broadway hit, George Hamilton had a surprise success with the spoof "Love At First Bite" and German director Werner Herzog unveiled his remake of the classic German silent horror movie "Nosferatu: The Vampyre". The original version by director F.W. Murnau is still regarded by many as the greatest horror movie ever made. Indeed, the mere sight of the film's star Max Schreck (who was as eerie in real life as he was on screen) is enough to give you nightmares. Herzog's version was not only the best of the vampire films released in 1979, it is a fitting homage to the Murnau classic. Working with a relatively extravagant budget, Herzog produced a film that is eerie and unsettling. He refrains from going for quick shocks, relying instead on the overall unnerving atmosphere that resonates throughout the production. Perhaps the most iconic aspect of the film is Klaus Kinski's remarkable resemblance to the character played in the original by Schreck, who embodied what is perhaps the most unnerving movie monster of all time. Kinski's appearance mirrors that of Schreck but the actor brings his own persona to the role.
The film, based on Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, opens with Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) leading an idyllic life with his beautiful young wife Lucy (Isabelle Adjani). His boss, Renfield (Roland Topor), induces him to make an arduous journey to Transylvania to visit the eccentric but rich Count Dracula, who has expressed interest in buying a house in Harker's town. Harker is enthused about the mission because of the financial rewards but Lucy has a premonition that the journey will have disastrous consequences. She pleads with him not to go but to no avail. Harker sets off over mountain roads that lead through deep forests. The nearer he gets to the Count's castle the more unnerved the local peasants are. They blatantly warn him to turn back, citing eerie disappearances and deaths associated with Dracula. Harker dismisses their concerns as the superstitions of unsophisticated people. However, upon arrival at Dracula's castle he immediately has second thoughts. The Count is a corpse-like, sinewy figure with almost impossibly long fingernails who talks in a whispery voice that is more menacing than comforting. In the cold dank castle, Dracula serves Harker a meal then becomes obsessed with sucking the blood from a small cut Harker has suffered from a kitchen knife. The Count assures him that's all just a homespun way of treating the wound. Harker, increasingly unnerved, realizes he has made a mistake in visiting the castle but it's too late to escape. Dracula notices a locket with Lucy's photograph in it and makes inquiries about her, much to Harker's distress. In the morning, Harker awakens to find he has been imprisoned in the castle- and worse, he has been the victim of a vampire. Having arranged the sale of the house to Dracula, he realizes he is in a race against time to return to his village before the Count arrives there. He is desperately ill, however, and fails in his quest. Meanwhile, Dracula has stowed away inside a coffin on board a cargo ship headed towards the town of his destination. Along the way, crew members begin to die mysteriously. By the time the vessel arrives in port, it is a ghost ship, devoid of any human life with only the captain's log hinting at the horror he has witnessed. Accompanying Dracula on board the ship were thousands of rats who now run amok in the town, spreading the plague. Harker is returned to Lucy by some kindly peasants, but he is very ill and in a zombie-like condition. Lucy is then threatened by the appearance of Dracula in her own bedroom and she realizes that the town is being victimized by a vampire, though no one believes her. As the plague takes its toll on the citizenry, the town falls into chaos- and Lucy becomes determined to kill Dracula even if she must do so by herself.
Herzog, who also wrote the screenplay, has fashioned a film that oozes menace to the extent that even before the appearance of Dracula, the movie has a sense of foreboding. It is a rather cold and emotionless film, more visually interesting than moving. Herzog seems to intentionally present his protagonists in a dispassionate manner. He provides cursory details of their lives but seems to be far more interested in making almost every frame a work of art. To a great degree he succeeded. There are images in Nosferatu that will haunt the viewer, but there's no getting around the fact that there isn't anyone the audience can truly relate to. Neither Harker or Lucy are ever seen as anything more than one dimensional characters. The silly eccentric Renfield is largely wasted in the latter part of the story. He does become a servant of Dracula but this plot device is disposed of rather quickly. Prof. Van Helsing (Walter Ladengast), who is generally presented as the hero in Dracula films, is shown here to be a half-senile old fool who realizes too late that a vampire may be running amok. Herzog provides plenty of memorable moments, among which are scenes of the town's rapid decay into death and disaster because of the plague. As Lucy walks through the town square, she witnesses doomed people acting out their final fantasies, whether it is indulging in a last sumptuous feast, dancing wildly or illogically stealing furniture from vacant stores. Composer Popul Vuh provides an appropriately eerie score throughout.
Herzog's Nosferatu is a poetic experience in many ways. It's leisurely pace and low-key tone make it one of the more unusual horror films you'll ever see. However, it can be deemed a success by virtue of the fact that he and Kinski brought relevancy to this remake of what many people believe is the greatest German film ever made.
The excellent Shout! Factory Blu-ray features both the German and English language versions of the film and a commentary track by Herzog, whose soothing, rather monotonous tone becomes somewhat mesmerizing. He provides interesting insights into the making of the film and this is complimented by the inclusion of a vintage "making of" production short that shows fascinating footage of Herzog and Kinski during production, including Kinski's rather arduous daily makeup sessions. Also included is a photo gallery showing great behind the scenes shots of Herzog at work. There are also a selection of superbly designed original trailers that truly convey the menace of the titular character.
TO ORDER, DISCOUNTED FROM AMAZON, CLICK LINK BELOW.
James Glickenhaus's Vigilante Classic Survives
its Dark and Controversial Past
commitment to releasing finely polished versions of cult greats appears to be
beyond question. I recently viewed their deluxe Blu-ray release of the 1980
grindhouse favourite The Exterminator. I
have some vivid memories of The Exterminator, a film that practically sucked me
from the high street and into the lobby of my local cinema some 34 years ago.
What a poster: an unidentifiable urban soldier wearing a black biker helmet and
using a flame thrower as his weapon of choice! Yep, it was an image that was always
going to get me to the box office for my ticket and of course, the latest copy
of Film Review magazine. The Exterminator was quite an extraordinary film; lame
of course by today’s standards – perhaps, but in 1980 is was really something
James Glickenhaus wastes little time in his narrative style, a huge hilltop
explosion sees a soldier flying through the air. We are undoubtedly in the
middle of a war zone – the Vietnam War. The next cut reveals we are in an enemy
camp, and an interrogation of 3 bound U.S. soldiers. Two of the captive
soldiers, John Eastland (Robert Ginty) and Michael Jefferson (Steve James)
witness the slow decapitation of their fellow marine. Both Eastland and Jefferson
manage to escape before they are killed. They manage to reach a helicopter and
escape. We dissolve into a night
helicopter shot of New York – and the opening credits roll. It’s an amazing
pre-credit sequence that manages to pull you straight into the action and
you’re hooked. It is soon established that both men have simply escaped one
hell hole to arrive back home to another. Working together in the gritty city
of New York, Eastland learns that his buddy Jefferson has been the victim of a
gang attack which has left him paralysed. Unhappy with the police and the slow
progress in apprehending the attackers, Eastland sets out to avenge his friend
and track down the gang in a one-man revenge vendetta.
Exterminator turned up the heat considerably and set the bar for an altogether
new standard of ‘Death Wish’ -type vigilante thriller. Glickenhaus presented us
with a genuine urban ugliness – the likes of which we had never witnessed
before. While it was not considered a ‘big budget’ movie – in the general sense
of the words, you can certainly see where the money shots are. The incredibly
real throat cutting and decapitation sequence still stands out, even by today’s
standards – it remains a brilliantly created special effect by the legendary
Stan Winston. Yet there is nothing overly stylised here – the action, the
atmosphere and above all, the revenge killings – arguably border on bad taste.
However, Ginty’s portrayal of a troubled survivor – an anti-hero of
circumstance rather than choice, never fails to keep the audience firmly on his
side. Whilst the moralistic side of your conscience will no doubt be screaming
out legitimate concerns, Ginty’s ‘everyman’ appeal will most certainly still
have you rooting for him by the time of the final reel.