commitment to Pam Grier and her Blaxploitation films of the seventies continues
with their latest package Sheba, Baby (1975). By the arrival of the mid-Seventies
Grier was at the top of her game, coming off such genre classics as Coffy
(1973) and Foxy Brown (1974) both directed by Jack Hill and both of which are
also available in superb releases from Arrow. Grier’s work for AIP continued in
explosive, fashionable style with Sheba, Baby and with new director William
Girdler at the helm. Sheba is without doubt a star vehicle that was tailor made
for exploiting Grier’s talents.
Shayne is a Chicago private eye who receives a telegram informing her of
trouble in her hometown of Louisville. The local mob boss, Pilot (D'Urville
Martin) has started to turn up the heat in trying to obtain her father’s loan
business. Along with her father Andy (Rudy Challenger), the business is run by
his partner Brick Williams (Austin Stoker), an instantly recognisable actor and
best known perhaps as Lt. Ethan Bishop from John Carpenter's cult classic
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). After several threats and a near fatal car bomb,
Sheba soon realises that the situation is becoming desperately out of control.
a few shaky moments in the script (credited to director Girdler and producer David
Sheldon), the film is carried in every respect by Grier’s scintillating screen
presence, she truly bosses the film, and looks fantastic in every frame. It’s a
film that should be enjoyed without too much scrutinising; accept it purely on
its surface level and you’ll find yourself smiling a whole lot and lapping up
the action. If your intention is to analyse it, then forget it. If you
scrutinise the problems in terms of continuity of dates, Sheba’s small quantity
of luggage (there’s a costume change in practically every scene), etc, then
you’ll be missing out on the action and overlooking its pure entertainment
value. The action scenes are plentiful and arrive fast and furious. Was this
film actually rated as PG upon its release? Look out for the car that spins
wildly off a grass verge, then look again to see how it misses Grier (on the
assumption it was her and not a stunt double) by a matter of inches. It is a pure
adrenalin pumping sequence. Yes, the film might be considered as routine and
stereotypical, even offensive in relation to its language (the ‘N’ word raises
its ugly head on several occasions), and the mob are of course pimped to the
max. But you’d be wise to let it go, as this is, after all, a product of its
time, and yes, it was almost considered as socially tolerated in the more discriminate
social culture of the seventies.
1080p presentation of Sheba, Baby can only be described as flawless. The
picture quality is as near to pristine as you could ever wish. Whist it retains
a generic low budget look, its colour grading delivers both a natural look and
just enough enhancement to emphasise those wonderful vivid colours of the
fashions and the times. The whole look manages to achieve a perfect balance.
Check out the film’s opening credits, the pin sharp yellow lettering almost
pops out from the screen. If they look familiar, you might just make the
comparison with Jackie Brown (1997), as director Quentin Tarantino uses the
exact same colour and font for his own Pam Grier movie. It’s not only homage,
but a deeper example of how Tarantino holds these movies so close to his heart.
The Blu-ray audio (original mono uncompressed PCM) is clean and clear
throughout, and allows the film’s soulful score (by Alex Brown and Monk Higgins)
to become an integral part of the experience. There are also a couple of great
vocals tracks (including the theme) provided by the American R&B/soul
singer Barbara Mason.
bonus material is both enjoyable and generous. First, there are two audio
commentaries, the first featuring producer-screenwriter David Sheldon and moderated
by critic Nathaniel Thompson. The second is provided by Patty Breen the
webmaster of WilliamGirdler.com. Breen’s commentary is actually a great deal of
fun; it’s a completely relaxed ‘fan’ style narration. Whilst Breen can’t help joking
about the film’s flaws and inconsistencies, it is never in malice and it’s
clear she absolutely adores every aspect of the movie.
Baby (15mins) is a brand new interview with David Sheldon who discusses his
role and his experience working on the movie and alongside director William
Girdler. Pam Grier: The AIP Years (12mins) does exactly what it says on the tin
and takes a look over the wonder years of the Blaxploitation queen with film
historian Chris Poggiali. The original theatrical trailer (2mins) and a
selection of publicity shots and lobby cards rounds off a very nice collection
of bonus material.
packaging consists of a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly
commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips, while the booklet features brand new
writing on the film by Patty Breen and is illustrated with both archive stills
Sheba, Baby is an excellent package and one that leaves us in hope that Arrow will
continue to explore Grier’s later American international Pictures such as Bucktown
(1975) and Friday Foster (1975). There’s little doubt that they would certainly
be welcomed and appreciated with open arms.
Technical Spec: Region: Region A/B Blu-ray / DVD 1/2, Rating:
15, Cat No: FCD1210, Duration: 90 mins, Language: English, Subtitles: English
SDH, Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, Audio: Mono, Discs: 2, Colour
"Gunman's Walk" is another obscure Western gem that has been given new life through a Blu-ray release by German-based Explosive Media. The 1958 production was filmed in CinemaScope, the widescreen process that studios relied on to combat the newly-evolved threat of television. Director Phil Karlson makes the most of the format and captures the grandeur of the open plains of Arizona and mountainous regions of California for a story of a dysfunctional family that manages to fracture even further despite the abundance of wealth it enjoys. Van Heflin plays Lee Hackett, a one-time pioneer who endured every kind of hardship and struggle to establish a ranch in hostile Indian territory. Over the years he became a state-wide legend by triumphing over adversity and by building a modest cattle ranch into an empire. Lee also helped establish the town which has now grown appreciably. Consequently he carries a lot of weight and political power with the locals. The story opens with Lee as a middle-aged widower who has two grown sons. Davy Hackett (James Darren) is the younger, a quiet, relatively shy young man with a thoughtful disposition. He is the polar opposite of his older brother Ed (Tab Hunter), an arrogant, mean-spirited person who is constantly getting into trouble. Lee prides himself on being a strict disciplinarian over his boys but in reality they realize that his bark is worse than his bite. (He even encourages them to call him by his first name.) Much to Davy's frustration, Lee constantly uses his influence to get Ed out of trouble. If he can't do it legally, he'll use bribery or intimidation.Even while Lee dotes over his eldest son, Ed has plenty of "daddy issues" with his father. He resents that he has been handed everything on a silver platter. He also is fed up with Lee's ego and constant self-aggrandizement for having endured Indian battles, gun fights and the extremities of nature in order to build and protect his business. Ed also accuses his father of wanting him under his control so that he'll never have the opportunity to become his own man and possibly exceed his Lee's achievements. Despite this tense relationship, Lee continues to spoil his eldest son even as he hopes he can exert a positive influence on him.
When Lee and his sons lead a major cattle drive into town the family relaxes afterward by living it up a bit. Lee and Ed don't adhere to the local sheriff's (Robert F. Simon) edict that no one can carry a gun in town and the sheriff is too intimidated to challenge them. Almost immediately Ed gets into trouble by getting drunk, frequenting prostitutes and insulting people- but things are about to get worse. On the prairie Ed and a local ranch hand who is a Sioux engage in what starts as a good-natured race to see who can rope a much-desired white stallion. When the other man threatens to win the prize, Ed shoves him and his horse over the side of a cliff, resulting in the man's death. Ed claims it was an accident but two other Sioux secretly witnessed the incident and report it to the sheriff, who finds his backbone and arrests Ed for murder. However Lee rides to the rescue again and gets his son off the hook by bribing a stranger to say he witnessed the incident and it was indeed an accident. But Ed doesn't learn his lesson and continues to cause trouble- this time with deadly consequences.
Despite being saddled with a "B" movie title, "Gunman's Walk" is a highly compelling, intelligently written drama that is packed with tension thanks to the able direction of Phil Karlson. The script addresses a number of hot-button issues such as abuse of wealth and the ugliness of racism, which were topics not usually covered in Westerns of the period. The film also affords Tab Hunter a role that has far more depth than the one dimensional hunks he was often saddled with playing. As Ed, he is a tragic figure- a man to be despised, yet pitied. Hunter gives a fine performance, at times managing to be charismatic and almost likable before spiraling back into villainy. He's more than matched by old pro Van Heflin, who gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as a man who created his own living hell by over-indulging the son he loves so much. James Darren is capable but rather unexciting as the younger brother, but the part doesn't have much meat to it to begin with. Katherine Grant is fine as a young woman who Darren is trying to romance despite the fact that she is half-Sioux and is looked upon as inferior by his brother and father. As with most Westerns of this era, the cast is peppered with fine character actors. Among them: Mickey Shaughnessy, Robert F. Simon, Ray Teal and Edward Platt. In all, "Gunman's Walk" is a truly fine Western that has been unjustly overlooked for decades.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray is top-notch, as is generally the case with this company's releases. It includes both English and German dubbed versions of the movie along with an interesting stills gallery accompanied by Tab Hunter crooning the Western song "Runaway", which he sings in a pivotal sequence in the film.
(Explosive Media titles are primarily available through Amazon Germany. However, you can often find imports available on eBay and other Amazon sites around the globe. Explosive Media Blu-rays are region free.)
men find peace and friendship as they uncover a mystery in the Yorkshire
countryside. “A Month in the Country” is one of those elegant movies about a
bygone era in post Victorian England that has become enormously popular in
movies such as those produced by Merchant-Ivory and in TV series like the recent
“Downton Abbey.” The exploration of class distinctions and gender roles has
been a staple in English drama in movies and TV for decades and the audience
appears to always be hungry for more. The likes of Austen, Bronte and Dickens
and stores of England through WWII have provided fertile ground for countless
tales that continue to fascinate and entertain.
Month in the Country” features early career performances by Colin Firth and
Kenneth Branagh. Both actors went on to enormous success and in the case of
Branagh, as a successful director, too. Firth and Branagh were born to feature
in period pieces like this and they both do an excellent job carrying the movie
with believable performances. Natasha Richardson is also on hand and gives an
equally excellent performance as the lovely vicar’s wife.
two central characters, Tom Birkin (Firth) and James Moon (Branagh) are veterans
of the latest “war to end all wars”, commonly known as WWI, and suffer from what
was then known as “shell-shock” and later “battle fatigue,” (now known as post-traumatic
stress syndrome or PTSD), an often misunderstood and misdiagnosed symptom of
continuous exposure to the extreme violence of war. Each man is in the small
town of Oxgoodby to work, but instead uncover a secret. Birkin is removing the
paint and restoring a long forgotten mural in the local church. Moon has been
hired to find the ancient grave of a local resident. The secret behind both the
painting and the grave are at the center of the story as both men come to terms
with their emotional wounds.
church mural dates to the Middle Ages and a local patron is paying the church
for the restoration. The vicar is less than enthusiastic about the scaffolding
and feels the mural will be a distraction, but grudgingly allows Birkin to
sleep in the belfry while he works on revealing the picture. Moon is more
interested in the prospect of locating buried treasures than in finding the
grave and both he and Birkin become friends. Moon has his own demons and suffers
from nightmares while sleeping in a hole he dug beneath his tent. He tells
Birkin it makes him feel safe. Birkin stutters (a precursor to Firth’s “The
King’s Speech” stutter) as a consequence of his emotional breakdown. Both men
enjoy the solitude and peace of the countryside as they uncover the layers of
paint and earth which cover their respective projects. They form a bond with
each other and the people of Oxgoodby as they uncover and expose their
plays Alice Keach, the aforementioned vicar’s wife. Young and beautiful, she
seeks out Birkin and brings him apples. Moon suggests the possibility of chemistry
between them and the way things usually work in these period stories is that a
romance develops. However, this isn’t a story about romance and love affairs.
It turns out Birkin is married and has a wife somewhere. Birkin also befriends
the local station master Ellerbeck (Jim Carter, the head butler in “Downton
Abby”) and his delightful children.
emotionally scarred, Birkin is also a bit of a jerk and resents that nobody in
the town, particularly the vicar who lives in a large empty house with his
wife, has invited him for dinner or offered lodging. Just then the station
master Ellerbeck’s children, Kathy and Edgar, arrive with food and a gramophone
to entertain Birkin as he works. They also invite him for lunch, which he
is also a local lay-preacher, the fire and brimstone type, although he’s a
friendly and kindly husband, father and friend. He sends Birkin off to his
afternoon sermon and Birkin reluctantly agrees. The children accompany Birkin,
who attempts his own fire and brimstone sermon, but instead discusses his work
in the Oxgoodby church. Afterwards he has dinner with a family who lost a son
in the war and later visits a dying girl who is at peace with her illness. All this
has an effect on Birkin as he continues working on the mural. Moon discovers the
lost grave and the mystery behind the mural and the grave are revealed. As the
movie ends a letter arrives for Birkin from his wife and both men depart on new
projects, restored to a type of normalcy.
movie is filled with terrific performances, beautiful scenery, feelings of
melancholy, a longing for what could have been and the experience of a life
lived. The movie runs a leisurely 96 minutes and includes a wonderful score by
Howard Blake. Directed by Pat O’Connor and based on the novel by J.L. Carr, it was
released in 1987 and features outstanding location photography.
Blu-ray features an insightful commentary by Twilight Time regulars Julie Kirgo
and Nick Redman who reveal the movie was lost in a sort of movie limbo and
remained unseen for decades. Kirgo and Redman are classic movie enthusiasts and
listening to them makes you feel like you are in their company. Be sure to watch
the movie a second time with the commentary. The disc also features the trailer,
isolated music & effects track and a booklet with notes by Kirgo. This is a limited edition of 3,000 units.
What do you do when you despise the person most likely to bring your goals to fruition? We're not talking about the Republican establishment's dilemma with Donald Trump but, rather, the central plot premise faced by the U.S. Olympic ski team coach (portrayed by Gene Hackman) in director Michael Ritchie's acclaimed 1969 film "Downhill Racer". The protagonist of the movie is one Dave Chappellet (Robert Redford), an almost impossibly handsome young man from the rural town of Idaho Springs, Colorado, who has a single-minded obsession of being America's first gold medal winner for downhill skiing in an era when the sport was dominated by Europeans. With his good looks and superficial charm, Chappellet is used to being a big fish in a small pond. He is virtually penniless and, when not practicing on the slopes of European mountains, is forced to eek out an existence by living with his cold, unemotional father (non-professional actor Walter Stroud in a striking performance.) He has no career plans beyond his single-minded obsession with getting on the Olympic team. His lack of intellectual curiosity or abilities to socialize with others don't seem to phase him. Like any narcissist he savors any small victory as a sign of his superiority over the peasants he must occasionally interact with.Chappellet lacks any self-awareness or introspection. He takes a cocky delight in being able to drive down the main street of his one-horse town, pick up a local old flame and get her to have sex in the back seat of a car. He seems oblivious to the fact that the battered vehicle belongs to his father and that he doesn't even have a place of his own to carry out his carnal activities. Chappellet gets the big break he is looking for when a top skier on the Olympic team suffers a grievous injury. The team coach, Claire, calls in Chappellet to replace him. From the start, their relationship is a rocky one. It becomes clear that Chappellet is not a team player. He skis superbly and Claire recognizes him as the team's potential best hope for victory. However, he is also alarmed by his independent streak and his inability to follow protocols. Chappellet is in this for personal glory and his teammates are viewed as unnecessary distractions. True, he can go through the rituals of socializing. He's polite to his roommate and occasionally joins the other guys for beers, butChappellet is clearly a vacuous, self-absorbed figure. The film traces his achievements on the slope and Claire's unsuccessful attempts to turn him into a team player. Chaplette also meets a vivacious business woman in the sports industry, Carole (Camilla Sparv). He's instantly smitten by her exotic good looks and libertarian outlook toward sex. The two begin an affair but it turns sour when Chaplette can't accept the fact that Carole is an emancipated young woman who marches to her own beat. Her unwillingness to dote over him or to treat their relationship as anything but superficial bruises his ego. In Chaplette's world, it is he who treats sex partners like disposable objects, not the other way around. The film concludes with Chaplette and his teammates engaging in the make-or-break competition against top-line European skiers to see who can bring home the gold.
The Best of Frenemies: Redford and Hackman
"Downhill Racer" was a dream project of Robert Redford, who had championed the film, which is based on a screenplay by James Salter. Redford's star had risen appreciably with Paramount following the success of "Barefoot in the Park". The studio wanted to do another film with him and suggested that he play the male lead in the forthcoming screen adaption of "Rosemary's Baby". Redford pushed for "Downhill Racer", a film that the Paramount brass had dismissed as being too non-commercial. (This was before Redford would reach super stardom with the release of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".) Thus began a game of brinksmanship between Redford and the studio. He managed to get Paramount to supply a small budget ($2 million) and creative control over the project to him and Roman Polanski, who was enthused about directing the film. However, the studio made a counter-move and lured Polanski to direct "Rosemary's Baby". Annoyed, Redford had to find a new director and settled on Michael Ritchie, and up-and-coming talent who was eager to make the transition from television into feature films. He and Redford, along with their tiny crew, used their limited budget to travel to international ski competitions in order to film real life action on the slopes that could later be combined into the final cut of their movie. For all their efforts, "Downhill Racer" was a boxoffice disappointment and would be overshadowed by the release of "Butch Cassidy" later in 1969. Yet its a film that Redford is justifiably proud of. There are many admirable aspects of the production, not the least of which is Redford's compelling performance as a protagonist who is not very likable or sympathetic. He's also not very intelligent, either, a character flaw that doesn't seem to bother him much, as he feels he can get by on his looks. The down side of "Downhill Racer" is that when the central character is a total cad the viewer finds it hard to be concerned with his fate, unless there is a major dramatic payoff as in the case of Andy Griffith in "A Face in the Crowd" or Paul Newman in "Hud", two of the most notorious characters in screen history. Where "Downhill Racer" blows it is in the final sequence during the championship ski run. There was an excellent opportunity to end the movie on a poignant note but the movie punts and leads to an emotionally unsatisfying ending. Nevertheless the exotic scenery and fine performances (especially by Hackman, who is under-seen and under-used) compensate for a story that is as chilling as the locations in which it was filmed.
Criterion has upgraded their previously released DVD special edition to Blu-ray and it looks spectacular. There is a wealth of interesting extras, all ported over from the previous release. These include separate interviews conducted in 2009 with Robert Redford and James Salter. I found them to be most enlightening because I was blaming Salter, as the screenwriter, for being responsible for the film's unsatisfying ending. Lo and behold, Salter expresses the same exasperation. Apparently his original script called for the more dramatic finale that I was envisioning. However, he says that Redford made the change without his permission. It's still apparently a sore spot with him. For his part, Redford is defensive about the decision, saying that he felt the the ending he insisted upon was the correct choice (Note: it wasn't.) It would be interesting to see Redford and Salter lock horns over this in the same interview at some point. In any event, Redford's enthusiasm for the film is evident even if it seems to exceed that of audiences. To reiterate, it's a fine movie with many qualities but Redford has had superior, under-appreciated gems in his career. Other bonus extras on the Blu-ray include interviews with editor Richard Harris (whose work on the film is most impressive), production executive Walter Coblenz and champion skier Joe Jay Jalbert who was hired as a technical consultant and became indispensable on the production, serving as double and cameraman. The footage he captured skiing at high speed with a hand-held camera is all the more amazing because he was a novice at shooting film. There is also a vintage production featurette from 1969 and a very interesting one-hour audio interview of director Michael Ritchie at an American Film Institute Q&A session in 1977. The affable Ritchie was there to promote his latest film "Semi-Tough" but goes into great detail about how he became disillusioned with the constraints of working in the television industry where directors at that time were just hired guns whose creative ideas and instincts were constantly being suppressed. Ritchie tells an extended anecdote about shooting an episode of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." during which he came up with a suggestion to improve a key scene in the script. He was told to mind his own business by the producer (who he doesn't name). When series' star Robert Vaughn agreed with him, Ritchie shot an alternate version of the scene that was met with enthusiasm by the network. Instead of being congratulated, he was blackballed from the series henceforth. Ritchie would go on to make some very fine films including "The Candidate" (again with Redford), the wacko-but-mesmerizing crime thriller "Prime Cut", "The Bad News Bears" and others. However he never lived up to his full potential and ended up directing many middling films before his untimely death at age 63 in 2001. The AFI audio included here is a rare opportunity to listen to his views on filmmaking while he was at the height of his career. The Blu-ray set also contains the original trailer and a collectible booklet with essay by Todd McCarthy.
The German video label Explosive Media has another impressive release with the largely unheralded 1969 Western "Land Raiders", which the company has released on Blu-ray. The film was largely dumped on secondary markets for drive-in audiences and rural theaters in a year that saw such high profile Westerns as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "True Grit" and "The Wild Bunch". Small wonder it didn't receive much attention. Not helping matters was its rather lame title which doesn't even represent the main focus of the story. The movie was yet another in the seemingly endless line of European Westerns that went into high gear a few years earlier with the success of the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone trilogy. "Land Raiders" rises to the top echelon of those homages (rip-offs?) thanks in large part to the presence of some seasoned Hollywood veterans. The movie was produced by Charles H. Schneer, a frequent collaborator of special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. The direction is by Nathan Juran, who was on Oscar-winning art director who turned to directing many of the Schneer/Harryhausen films. This project represented a rather odd subject matter for Schneer and Juran, as they generally stayed within the realm of science fiction and fantasy. (Juran had directed many episodes of Irwin Allen TV shows in the 1960s including "Lost in Space" and "The Time Tunnel".) What possessed them to tag onto the fading genre of spaghetti westerns is open to speculation but it must be said that they delivered a surprisingly intelligent, well-acted movie that overcomes some of its production shortcomings.
Telly Savalas plays Vicente Cardenas, an evil land baron (are there any other kind?) who is attempting to forsake his Mexican heritage in order to build a successful empire in the American West. He controls the local government in a small but booming town and even has the sheriff, John Mayfield (Phil Brown), under his thumb because he has been financing the education of Mayfield's teenage daughter Kate (Janet Landgard), who is unaware of the deal with the devil he has made with Vicente. Vicente has an insatiable desire to keep expanding the territory under his control and is willing to use ruthless methods in order to achieve his goal. If he can't buy someone's loyalty he will use sheer brutality to intimidate them. Vicente also has a macabre bounty that is drawing miscreants to the territory: he is offering a cash reward for every Apache scalp delivered to him. On the surface he pretends to be a man of the people. He even has a glamorous American wife, Martha (Arlene Dahl), who continues to be willfully blind to her husband's brutality, as it affords her a luxurious lifestyle. But Vicente has mastered the art of instilling fear into the hearts of the local population and convincing them that he represents the the strong man who can keep them safe. (He should have run for U.S. president...) Into the mix rides Vicente's estranged brother Pablo (George Maharis). He's a depressed, motiveless drifter who is still nursing a broken heart over the death of his fiancee a couple of years earlier. When he learned she was carrying another man's baby, the couple got into a very public row. Soon after she was found dead, presumably as the victim of an accident. However, the local population became convinced that Pablo murdered her. He has stayed away for quite some time but is forced to enter town again when he saves Kate Mayfield from an attack by Apaches. His presence in the town sets off predictable tensions with Vicente, who attempts to patch up differences but finds that Pablo will have none of it. He's well aware of his brother's duplicity. Meanwhile Vicente gets some disturbing news from U.S. Army Major Tanner (Guy Rolfe): the government is attempting to broker a peace treaty with the Apaches and is sending a representative to meet with them. The government intends to cede to the Apaches a wide swath of land that Vicente depends upon to use as open range for his cattle. In short order he convinces Major Tanner to become an ally to help him thwart the deal. What Tanner doesn't know is that Vicente has his thugs murdered the government agent and framed the Apaches for the deed. Vicente then rallies the locals to make a raid on the Apache camp. Pablo tries to convince the citizens that Vicente was behind the murder, but no one believes him. What follows is a horrendous massacre of innocent Apache women and children. The Apache braves understandably want revenge and launch their own raid on the town. In the midst of all this Pablo learns some vital information regarding the death of his beloved fiancee that leads him to settle the score with Vicente even as the Apache attack begins.
The most surprising aspect of "Land Raiders" is how effectively it had been cast. Nearly all the roles are convincingly played, with Savalas in full bad guy mode, chewing up a lot of scenery and dominating every frame he is in. However, Maharis, never the most dynamic of leading men, holds his own against him and even manages to be convincing as a Mexican. The story has some implications that go beyond standard horse opera fodder. The movie was released the same year as "Soldier Blue" and both films bucked the trend by painting Native Americans as victims of genocide. If the massacre sequence in "Land Raiders" isn't as stomach-turning as that in "Soldier Blue", it's still somewhat shocking in its depiction of the brutal killings. The script also delves into the philosophical differences between Vicente and Pablo over retaining their ties to their Mexican heritage. So "Land Raiders" is a notch above most of the simplistic shoot-'em-up plots that defined the majority of European Westerns during this period. The movie is compromised by the use of some obvious stock footage in scenes of stampedes and cattle drives (the film stock doesn't come close to matching), but it does have several impressively-staged action sequences including the large scale attack on the town by Apaches. It's all competently directed by Nathan Juran and set to the requisite Ennio Morricone-cloned score by Bruno Nicolai that at times could pass as the work of "The Master". "Land Raiders" is by no means a classic but it has stood the test of time as an impressive entry in the Euro Western genre.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray has a wonderful transfer, the original trailer, a highly enjoyable still photo gallery and variations of the opening credits. The Blu-ray is primarily available from Amazon Germany under it's German title "Fahr Zur Holle, Gringo" ("Go to Hell, Gringo") but you can sometimes find imports on your local Amazon or eBay.
Most urban crime thrillers made today are indistinguishable blood baths that consist of mindless car chases and pretentiously tough characters. Every now and then, however, a real unsuspected gem surfaces. Such is the case with the 2015 film "Criminal Activities". Despite its generic, computer-generated title that sounds like it was created to emulate one of the endless CBS crime series, the film is expertly made and superbly acted. It also has some very clever plot twists and turns that play out logically and very surprisingly. Most impressive is that this marks the directorial debut of character actor Jackie Earl Haley, who has been kicking around the industry for decades mostly in minor roles. Now in his fifties, he's made a dynamic impression both on-screen and behind the camera with "Criminal Activities". One must proceed gingerly in reviewing a film like this, 'lest some of the spoilers be divulged.
The film opens with the death of a seemingly troubled young man who is killed by a bus in front of horrified on-lookers. It's presumed to have been a suicide. After his funeral, some of his friends gather to discuss the tragic event. They are Warren (Christopher Abbott), Bryce (Rob Brown) and Zach (Michael Pitt). They are unexpectedly joined by Noah (Dan Stevens) , a nerdy financial investment analyst who was the butt of jokes in high school among some of his friends. He's still very much a nerd but is reluctantly accepted into the group's social orbit partly out of compassion for the way he was treated by them so many years ago. Over drinks the group analyzes why their friend might have ended his life. It's revealed that the dearly departed had been complaining about being followed by some unknown person or persons in recent days...something that unnerved him. Is it possible this stalker might have actually been responsible for his death? The conversation soon turns to money...and the common goal of everyone in the group to attain a successful life style. Bryce says he has a sure-fire investment scheme based on insider trading. There is a stock that is about to skyrocket but they would need to come up with $200,000 to get in on the deal. Collectively they don't have anywhere near that amount. However, Noah advises that he can definitely front the money, as long as they all share the risk as well as the profit. Assuming Noah is putting up his own savings, the young men readily agree. Weeks later, the "sure-fire" investment goes to hell when the company involved is raided by the feds and its CEO is arrested, causing the stock value to plunge to virtually zero. The panicked group gets together and learns more bad news: Noah didn't put up his own money. Instead, he borrowed it from a local crime kingpin, Eddie (John Travolta) who now expects to be repaid. He meets with the terrified men and they find him to be a smooth operator. He's quiet, calm and witty- but alerts them that the "interest" on the loan is another $200,000. The men advise him that they can't possibly come up with $400,000. He then makes them an offer they literally can't refuse - or they will pay with their lives. Eddie explains that a local rival crime boss has kidnapped his young niece and he's desperate to get her back. He advises them that he will forgive their entire debt if they successfully kidnap his rival's nephew. Eddie will then ensure the release of his niece by arranging a trade of hostages. The four men are understandably frightened by the proposition. After all, they are every day guys with no experience in criminal activities. Nevertheless, Eddie leaves them no choice. He makes it abundantly clear that failure is not an option-at least if they value their lives. The men concoct a scenario to kidnap the nephew, Marques (Edi Gathegi) from a local sleazy nightclub he hangs out in. The men bungle key aspects of the plan but, against all odds, succeed in capturing Marques and bringing him to a vacant apartment they have access to. They advise Eddie that the plan was a success and he tells them everything is looking good- just keep Marques on ice until he gets his niece back. Marques proves to be a handful. He speaks in street jive that is a far cry from the vernacular used by his Gen X white captors. Although tied to a chair, he exudes significant enough charisma to possibly talk his kidnappers into releasing him on the basis that they can still get away with no criminal charges. From this point on, it would be a disservice to detail more of the plot except to say that things wrap up in a startling manner that this viewer didn't see coming.
Director Jackie Earl Haley, who wrote the screenplay based on a script by the late Robert Lowell that had been gathering dust since 1977, provides himself with a plum supporting role as the most memorable of a two-man team of hit men who are in Eddie's employ. The concept of two eccentric hit men had moss on it even before Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson played such roles so memorably in "Pulp Fiction". In fact, Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager were terrific in similar parts way back in Don Siegel's 1964 remake of "The Killers"- and Robert Webber and Gig Young were also quite good in Peckinpah's "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia". However, Haley is superb in his brief scenes on screen as a chatty, seemingly friendly street guy who can jump from making quips to blowing someone's head off in a nanosecond. The entire cast is superb, with Dan Stevens particularly memorable as the hapless Noah and Edi Gathegi almost stealing the entire show with an extremely good performance. Travolta, who also served as Executive Producer, seems to be having a blast as the villain. His screen time is limited but he makes the most of it, appearing at key points in the plot. In essence, he's playing a low-end version of a Bond villain. He lives in comparative wealth, has adoring women around him and sucks down dreadful kale-based milk shakes as part of a bizarre diet. He never loses his temper and becomes even scarier the more friendly he acts. As director, Haley keeps the action flowing at a swift pace and credible reactions by the "kidnappers" that evoke the way most of us would feel if we found ourselves caught up in such extraordinary circumstances. However, Haley-who is too obsessed with Tarantino-izing his film- puts style over substance during the movie's surprising final sequence. It proves to be a near fatal error. When the surprises are revealed, Haley does so in a lightning-fast sequence that is almost impossible to comprehend. Worse, he jumps back and forth in time and introduces a key character we haven't seen before. I had to revisit the ending several times in order to comprehend exactly what was being unveiled. Once I understood the plot development, I found it highly satisfying- but no viewer should have to rely on taking such measures just to figure out what is going on. "Criminal Activities" was denied a theatrical release and went straight to home video. Perhaps the incomprehensible nature of the ending was a factor in this. Nevertheless, if you are willing to stick with it (and possibly re-review scenes on the Blu-ray), you might well agree that this is a highly entertaining film and that Haley shows considerable promise as a director.
The Blu-ray from RLJ Entertainment features some deleted scenes and an all-too-brief joint interview with Haley and Travolta. The film should have included a commentary track, as Haley's late break into directing and his nurturing of an almost ancient un-filmed screenplay would have made some interesting points for discussion.
Ed. Kier-La Janisse & Paul
Corupe (2015) Spectacular Optical Publications
$29.95 CAN / £17.95 UK
Review by Diane Rodgers
Those around in the 1980s may well
remember hysteria about 'video nasties' and the fevered destruction of records in
America bearing the (then new) Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics label, fuelled
by fears of a pervading obsession with evil amongst youth and popular culture. Satanic
Panic studies this moral frenzy from a vast array of perspectives in
fascinating depth, outlining the fears of anxious parents and a confused mainstream
culture about teens supposedly embroiled in Satanic cults and potentially carrying
out ritual abuse, devil worship, suicide or murder at any given moment.
Following the rise of interest
in the occult from the 1960s onward, it's easy to see why Reagan's America,
still reeling from the confusion of Vietnam and the implications for the 'American
Dream', morality and family values, latched onto something so easily
sensationalised as a scapegoat to blame for all of society's problems. Satanic Panic builds this picture
brilliantly throughout; each chapter looks at a different aspect of pop-culture
- specific films, comics, music, TV, RPGs, infamous trials, MTV, home video, evangelists
and preachers, but never dwells on already well-trodden subjects; the editors
have gone to some lengths to find plenty of material covering new ground.
Films like Evilspeak (1981) and 976-EVIL (1988) consider adult anxieties
fantasised onto youth culture and their apparent susceptibility to 'techno
devilry'. Kevin Ferguson suggests that
the real hidden fear is the invasion of telephone and computer technology in
the home. Role playing games like
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) are case studies which faced significant and
widespread criticism from Christian detractors who saw the gaming community as
"a Satanic conspiracy threatening society". Gavin Baddeley (once offered an honorary
priesthood by satanic cult leaderAnton LaVey) discusses an outspoken D&D detractor
Christian personality William Schnoebelen who, by his own admission, used to be
a Satanist and a vampire before becoming 'born again' and evangelising on the
evils of RPGs. More often than not, here
and throughout the book, it is shown to be these detractors (rather than the
merely rebellious teen participants), who believe in the power of the
supernatural and the evils of magic in a very real way and thus cause plenty of
Paul Corupe covers the
Christian comic art of Jack T. Chick who, amongst many dubious choices, gave a
platform to controversial figure Dr. Rebecca Brown who lost her medical licence
in 1984 for misdiagnosing patients (blaming sickness on demon manifestations
and witchcraft, amongst other causes), suffering herself from paranoid
schizophrenia and demonic delusions. Satanic Panic 's host of writers
(including experts, enthusiasts and academics) frequently argue the case
successfully; the loudest detractors of the 'Satanic Panic' were actually often
the ones causing damage, and usually in their pursuit for fame, greed or
notoriety. There are serious cases here;
that of Michelle Smith and her notorious Michelle
Remembers memoir (1980), co-written by therapist Dr. Lawrence Pazder, about
Satanic ritual abuse, detailing physical, psychological and sexual
torture. From the evidence Alexandra
Heller-Nicholas gives, Pazder cashed in on and sensationalised what may have
been a far more unremarkable but no less tragic case of child abuse. The infamous case of Ricky Kasso (who
savagely murdered a fellow teen in 1984) is also highlighted for discussion,
influential on films like River's Edge
(1986) and songs by bands like Sonic Youth (Satan is Boring, 1985).
It is easy to forget the size
of such a moral panic from almost 40 years ago, but Joshua Benjamin Graham's 'Fundamentalist
readings of occult in cartoons of the 1980s' is a reminder of its full extent;
it seems laughable now that worry about violence and Satanism was so widespread
at the time that people thought a cartoon He-Man calling on the power of
Greyskull actually meant that "our children are being taught by TV today
to call on demons..."! Stacy
Rusnak's perceptive analysis of the demonization of MTV details battles over
(American) family values and moral issues like abortion, pornography and drugs
and how the explosion of music video was challenging to the dominant
hegemony. Rusnak explains how MTV gave
strong anti-authoritarian representation to the jeans, leather jacket and
shaggy hair generation and thus became a target in itself for Tipper Gore and
other wives of high-ranking members of Congress who founded the Parent's Music
Resource Centre (PMRC) ; "as though MTV was more accountable for America's
children than the parents".
A centrepiece to the book, and
the entire Satanic moral panic itself, is Alison Lang's chapter on the Geraldo
Rivera TV special Devil Worship: Exposing
Satan's Underground (1988). Most chapters
in the book at least refer to this inflammatory show, due to its notoriety and influence
on the outrage of the time, which the New York Times described as an
"obscene masquerade". From
Lang's description, Rivera's programme sounds like Chris Morris' Brasseye Paedogeddon! special (2001), an
intentionally outrageous parody of tabloid TV on yet another moral panic of the
modern age. However, this doesn't make
Rivera's reportage any less shocking. His scandalous claim of 1 million practising Satanists in America
carrying out sex abuse pornography and satanic ritual abuse (which Lang points
out was a phenomenon since debunked by FBI) was entirely unsubstantiated. Rivera uses no scientific or academic
evidence for his claims, but rather conjecture, opinion and bullying to extract
rapid fire soundbites from his guests, requesting they use words of "...
no more than two syllables - we're dealing with an audience with the mental
capacity of 13-year-olds here". From contemptuous to downright offensive, Lang summarises Rivera's show
as hilarious and troubling; pure sensationalist 'entertainment'.
Many chapters in the book
concern music, film or pure pulp fiction that were intended as such
'exploitainment', cashing in on the easily sensationalised, but the outrage and
hysteria caused are clearly where the danger lies in Satanic Panic. The book is a
mine of information with plenty of full-page images, posters and stills to whet
your appetite further, with a deliciously glossy set of full colour images at
the back. Topics cover everything
relevant from the kitsch, fun and tabloid to sincerely perceptive and philosophical,
I already have a rapidly growing must-see list of films, comics and TV specials
to follow up next!
It is important to remember
seriously, however, that for every perceptive adult that sees such a movement
of purported Satanism as merely a teenage "... rejection against the
standards their parents represent..." (as Leslie Hatton quotes Revered
Graham Walworth, a pastor local to the Ricky Kasso case), there will be an
outraged Tipper Gore or fundamentalist group looking for something or someone to
blame for all societal problems. Lisa
Ladoucer, writing about the PMRC and heavy metal, cites the devastating case of
the West Memphis Three. Three teenagers were tried, convicted and jailed for
almost 20 years for the murder of three young boys based on no real evidence
other than a suspicion that one of the teens may be a devil worshipper as he
had expressed interest in metal music and the occult; new DNA evidence led to
their release in 2011. That, Ladoucer
writes, "...is the power of Satan."
Scott plays a former Confederate spy in the 1953 western “The Stranger Wore a
Gun.” When the movie starts, Jeff Travis (Scott) is involved in a brutal murder
during the final days of the Civil War while spying for Quantrill' Raiders, a
gang of notorious Confederate guerrillas. A wanted man after the war, Travis
heads west to Arizona to start a new life. Josie Sullivan (Claire Trevor) helps
him escape from a river boat and meets up with him later in Arizona. Travis
also meets up with one of his former Quantrill Raider associates, Jules Mourret
(George Macready), who offers him a position in his new gang of outlaws so he
can continue to steal “Yankee gold.”
wants Travis to continue his old ways as a spy and pretends to be a detective
sent by the stage line to investigate recent gold robberies. Travis meets the local
stage line owner Jason Conroy (Pierre Watkin) and his pretty daughter Shelby
(Joan Weldon) and both take a liking to him. Travis plays Mourret against rival
gang leader Degas (Alfonso Bedoya) and tries to turn Mourret’s own men against
each other. Dan Kurth (Lee Marvin) and Bull Slager (Ernest Borgnine) are part
of Mourret’s gang of cutthroats and naturally they don’t trust Travis.
movie is filled with action scenes staged for the 3-D camera and they look a
bit silly on the flat screen. However, the movie has high production value,
fine performances and is high on action with one particularly brutal scene of a
man having objects shot off his head by a drunk Degas and his equally drunk sidekick
as the man begs for his life. Travis shows up and departs, leaving Degas to
continue his deadly game. The move comes to a predictable conclusion with a
fire, gunfights and Travis and Josie departing on the stage together.
and Scott made six movies together, all westerns; “Man in the Saddle” (1951),
“Carson City” (1952), “The Stranger Wore a Gun” (1953), “Thunder Over the
Plains” (1953), “Riding Shotgun” (1954) and “The Bounty Hunter” (1954). DeToth
was known for the gritty depiction of violence in his movies, many of them
crime thrillers and westerns, but he is also remembered as the director of one
of the greatest horror movies ever made. No stranger to 3-D, he helmed the horror masterpiece, “House of Wax” for
Warner Bros. in the same year he made “The Stranger Wore a Gun.” The irony is
that the Hungarian born director only had one eye and lacked the depth
perception to enjoy the fruits of his 3-D labor. Yet he directed what is
considered to be both the greatest 3-D movie and one of the best horror flicks
ever made. The first wave of 3-D movies was released throughout the 1950s, but
the process was costly and cumbersome with few theaters set up to project in the
duel strip 3-D process.
chose the right director for a 3-D western, but this movie was only shown in
that format in its early engagements. Watching it in 2-D one can still see
where 3-D effects were used as guns are fired, flaming torches, chairs and
whisky bottles are tossed directly toward the camera at every opportunity.
Explosive Media DVD is Region 2 so
you’ll need the appropriate player (though some viewers report they had no
problem playing it on their Region 1 units.) The movie audio options are German
and the original English. Extras include a photo montage of advertising
material and a couple of trailers, including one where Scott promotes the
virtues of three dimensions, Technicolor and stereo. The picture and sound
quality are terrific and the movie concludes after a brisk 79 minutes. Well
worth the time for classic western fans.
Explosive Media titles are primarily available through Amazon Germany. However,
imports often turn up on eBay and Amazon in other countries.)
Back in 1978, Burt Reynolds was still at the beginning of
a cycle of six action comedies that he made with director Hal Needham—a cycle
that started with “Smokey and the Bandit “(1977) and ended with “Cannonball Run
II” (1984). One of the best of these
films was “Hooper”—a tribute to Hollywood’s unsung hero, the Hollywood stunt
man. “Hooper” was a very personal film for both Reynolds and Needham who both
started their movie careers as stunt doubles. Needham started doing stunt work
in the early years of live TV in New York and is best remembered for his stunt
driving in Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt” (1968). Reynolds also began in TV and
parlayed his athletic ability along with his good looks to become one of
tinseltown’s biggest stars. In a very real way, “Hooper” is even more personal
film for Reynolds, because one of the characters in the film is based on a
legendary, real-life stunt man/movie star, whom Reynolds knew personally and in
“Hooper” begins with opening credits superimposed over
Sonny Hooper (Reynolds) putting on braces, ace bandages, and padding over a
body bearing multiple scars. “March of the Toreadors” plays on the soundtrack
as he dons a motorcycle outfit and strides out into the sunlight to perform a
dangerous stunt, skidding a motorcycle under a moving truck. He’s working on a
spy movie starring Adam West who appears in the film as himself. That stunt
completed, next day he takes a high fall off a roof with a dog. “Make me look
good,” West tells him. But it’s after that fall we discover Sonny’s got a bad
back. He gets his friend Cully (James Best) to walk him to his trailer, where
he gives him a shot of Xylocaine. “You know what I’d do if I ever met the guy
who invented Xylocaine?” Sonny asks. “I’d get on my knees and kiss his ass.”
In the meantime, a new younger stuntman said to be the
next Sonny Hooper, arrives on the scene. Ski (Jan Michael Vincent) meets Sonny
during filming of a chariot race scene. Although he sees Ski as a threat, Sonny
can’t help liking the young up-and-comer. For one thing, the kid is damn good
at what he does. Maybe too good. As the story progresses, Sonny realizes the
new generation of stunt players coming up are smarter and tougher, if not better
than he and his contemporaries were. “They don’t take pills,” he tells Cully, “they
don’t drink, they don’t take shots, and they carry little pocket calculators.
We don’t watch out, they’re gonna blow us right out of the tub.”
The story follows a simple straight line, the old timer
trying to keep up with the younger rival even if it costs him his life. His
doctor tells Hooper that his vertebrae are torn almost beyond repair. One heavy
impact or fall could paralyze him for life. Naturally the film leads to a
climax that calls for Hooper and Ski to perform the greatest stunt ever
filmed—one that involves jumping a rocket car 325 feet over a collapsed bridge.
In addition to the main plot line there is a subplot that
in a way is even more interesting than the rest of the movie, once you know the
inside story. Hooper has a sweetheart, a gal named Gwen, played, of course by
Sally Field, Reynolds’ main squeeze at the time. Gwen has a father, Jocko Doyle
(Brian Keith) who was once known as the greatest stunt man alive. It’s no
coincidence that in real life Sally Field’s stepfather was none other than Jock
Mahoney one of the greatest stuntmen who ever lived. Keith first appears on
horseback wearing a fringed buckskin jack, the kind that was Mahoney’s trade
mark when he played the Range Rider, a Gene-Autry produced TV series that aired
in the 1950s. Mahoney, who was known in the trade and by his friends as
“Jocko,” had been a stunt double for Charles Starrett in the Durango Kid
features. He played Yancy Derringer on a CBS series and went on to play Tarzan
in two features that were filmed in Asia. Unfortunately, he contracted dysentery
and dengue fever while on location in Thailand and his general health took a
heavy hit. During the filming of an episode of the Kung Fu TV series in the
seventies Mahoney suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheel chair for some
I mention all this because near the end of Act Two of “Hooper,”
Jocko Doyle also suffers a stroke, mirroring the same fate suffered by Mahoney.
In Gene Freese’s biography, Jock Mahoney,
The Life and Films of a Hollywood Stuntman, the author tells us that both
Reynold and Needham were Jocko fans, and of course he was Sally Field’s
stepdad. Freese says the part of Gwen’s father was “based on Jock Mahoney
himself.” Both the star and the director wanted Mahoney to play the part, but
the studio didn’t want him. Some fans, who knew the Mahoney/Doyle connection
thought that perhaps he wasn’t physically able to play the part. But that wasn’t
it. He was fit enough, Freese writes, but the studio wanted a bigger name.
However, Mahoney was on hand during filming in an advisory capacity and
provided some of the “Mahoneyisms” that the actors used in their dialog.
“Hooper” is one of those special movies that really
deserved to be released on Blu-Ray. For one thing it’s the kind of movie that
they don’t make any more, and probably never will again. As Hooper said, the
boys with the calculators and computers have taken over. A lot of stunt work has
been replaced by CGI. “Hooper “is light hearted and fun to watch because
everyone in it seems to be enjoying themselves. Reynolds does his usual mugging
and winking into the camera, and there was real chemistry between he and Field
back then. But more importantly, “Hooper” pays homage to the men and women who
made the stars look good, as Adam West said. And it shows the price these
legendary people paid, in terms of broken bones, chronic pain, in some cases
permanent injury and even death. Yet despite the odds of surviving a career
like that intact, the film conveys a sense of good humor mixed with bravado
that’s hard to find in movies these days. It’s no Range Rider, but it’s a damn
Warners Home Video released “Hooper” in 1.85:1 aspect
ratio. The picture is excellent. The soundtrack contains the usual country
western tunes, but is in mono with too much shrill high end and not enough
bass. The only extra is a standard format trailer. This is another case where an
iconic film significant at least of the time period in which it was released,
is presented with no commentary or documentary features. I would really have
enjoyed hearing Reynolds or Field talk about it.
CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE "HOOPER" TRIBUTE FACEBOOK PAGE.
("Hooper" will be shown on Turner Classic Movies (North America) on Saturday evening February 13. Check local listing for time in your area.)
When they say "They don't make 'em like that anymore" it could well be in reference to "The Honey Pot", a delightful 1967 concoction that has just enjoyed a Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. The film is the kind of star-studded comedy/mystery that is all but unseen today. However, the film barely registers in the minds of most movie-goers and was not successful when it was first released. (The studio even reissued it under a new title, "It Comes Up Murder".) The project was cursed from the beginning. The original cinematographer, Gianni Di Venanzo, died before production was completed. When the film was released in select engagements, the running time was 150 minutes, which was deemed to be far too long for this modest enterprise that is confined largely to interiors. For general release, 18 minutes were cut although some of those scenes still appeared in lobby cards advertising the movie. One well-known character actor, Herschel Bernardi, had his entire role eliminated. Additionally, the film's producer Charles K. Feldman was under a great deal of stress, as he was simultaneously overseeing production on his bloated, out-of-control spoof version of the James Bond novel "Casino Royale". Yet, what emerges somehow managed to end up being quite entertaining, thanks in no small part to the larger-than-life Rex Harrison having a field day playing an equally larger-than-life rich cad. Essentially, he's playing Henry Higgins from "My Fair Lady" once again- only this time with a more devious streak. Both characters are filthy rich. Both are erudite and sophisticated snobs who devise cruel games involving innocents in return for his own self-amusement. Harrison is a wicked but lovable character. You can't help cheering him on despite his lack of ethical convictions.
The film, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is cobbled together from Frederick Knotts' play "Mr. Fox of Venice" and Thomas Sterling's novel "The Evil of the Day" with a healthy dose of Ben Johnson's play "Volpone" tossed in. In fact the film opens with Harrison as the pretentiously-named Cecil Sheridan Fox enjoying a performance of "Volpone" at a magnificent Venetian theater. The camera pans back to show that this is a private performance for Fox alone. He stops the play before the finale, thanks the cast members for a spirited production and leaves the scene. Yes, he's that rich. We soon learn that he is using elements of "Volpone" to orchestrate an elaborate and expensive practical joke. The first step comes when he hires an unemployed American actor, William McFly (Cliff Robertson) to be his hired hand. He informs McFly that he must pose as Fox's long-time major domo in his elaborate mansion house, which is impressively located right on one of the canals. Fox explains to McFly that he has written to three former lovers and told them he is terminally ill. None of the women know that the others have been informed. He reasons that they will all make a bee-line directly to him, ostensibly to care for him, but in reality in hopes of inheriting his fortune. First on his list is Lone Star Crockett (Susan Hayward), who Fox wooed when she was a wild teenager. In the course of their affair, he put her on the road to a life of luxury and pleasure. Then there is Princess Dominique (Capucine), an exotic beauty who is in a troubled marriage and Merle McGill (Edie Adams), a famous but fading movie star. On the surface, all three of these women are independently wealthy and shouldn't need his fortune. But he suspects that, in reality, all are in some degree of financial distress and he wants to see if they will compete with each other to earn his favor. Sure enough, each of the ladies arrive at his home and are surprised to see they have two female competitors. Lone Star is now a cranky hypochondriac who requires constant pampering from her ever-present companion, a spinster named Sarah Watkins (Maggie Smith). Dominique tries to put on an heir of self-assurance and Merle is a wise-cracking cynic. All of them individually express their sympathies to Fox and there is even the occasional attempt at seduction. Fox puts on a show that he is desperately ill and even sits in bed affixed to an oxygen tank. In private, however, he blasts classical music and dances around the room, delighted that his perceptions of human behavior are proving to be true. The plot takes several major swings in due course, however, when one of the women ends up dead, ostensibly from an overdose of sleeping pills. However, McFly and Sarah suspect murder is afoot. The film then becomes one of those time-honored drawing room mysteries with upper crust characters matching wits with the local inspector (Adolfo Celi, marvelous in a rare comedic role.) To describe the plot in any further detail would necessitate providing some spoilers. Suffice it to say there are plenty of red herrings and a complex plot that will demand your constant attention or you will be hopelessly lost.
The performances are all first rate, though Capucine (never one who mastered the light touch that these sorts of comedies require) is a bit stiff. However, Hayward and Adams pick up the slack with very funny characterizations. The scene stealer among the women, however, is Maggie Smith, who is more street wise than any of the others suspect. As for Harrison, he seems to be having a genuine ball, chewing the scenery and dispensing bon mots that are consistently amusing. The sequence in which he dances around his bed chamber is one for the ages.
"The Honey Pot" deserved a better fate than it received when it was released theatrically. Hopefully it will get a more appreciative audience through this fine Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. You'll find viewing it is time well spent, indeed. (There are no bonus extras except for the original trailer).
Impulse Pictures has once again delved into their archives of seemingly unlimited adult film titles from the 1970s and 1980s for two separate DVD releases: "Farmer's Daughters" and "Snow Honeys". The former film is apparently the most notorious- and for good reason. Released in 1976, "Farmer's Daughter's" is the work of director/writer Zebedy Colt, who made a reputation back in the day for creating some of the most distasteful and shocking hardcore porn feature films. The fact that the bearded, grungy Mr. Colt is seamy enough to make the lunatics on "Duck Dynasty" look like sex symbols did not stop him from placing himself in the leading role, thereby guaranteeing he'd get plenty of "fringe benefits" from the on-screen action. The setting is a remote farm in an unnamed location. The opening sequences make you think you're going to be watching a lighthearted porn spoof of shows like "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Green Acres". We see the aforementioned Mr. Colt as Shep, an aging, bedraggled husband who is happily going at it with his wife Kate (porn superstar and publisher Gloria Leonard, billed here as Gayle Leonard.) Ms. Leonard is fine on the eyes but it takes a lot of willpower to watch Colt enjoying carnal pleasures with her. Things get kinky right away when we see that they are been secretly observed by their three daughters (Susan McBain, Marlene Willoughby and Nancy Dare). That's a pretty twisted premise right there but things are about to get even weirder. The three sexually frustrated sisters are inspired to take matters into their own hands and start a private orgy between themselves. When a goofy local farm boy, Fred (Bill Cort), stumbles on the scene, they force him to have sex with them. (That's right: in the film's most unbelievable lapse in credibility, he has to be forced to have sex with them.) What follows won't be described here in detail. Suffice it to say that upon having Fred reluctantly satisfy their needs they indulge in some acts of humiliation towards him that are still plenty eye-opening even by today's standards.
Pretty soon the sisters get their own comeuppance when three escaped convicts happen upon the farmhouse. You don't have to be a modern Sherlock Holmes to figure out the premise that happens next as the three men engage in gang rape and even kinkier activities involving the girl's parents. Again, we won't provide the details but the molestation of young Fred pales in comparison to what follows. The film's climax somehow incorporates elements of "Last House on the Left", "Deliverance" and "Death Wish" and combines group sex, gang rape, blood-drenched revenge murders and incest, thus giving a new interpretation of movies that are intended for the whole family. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of this wacky exercise in perversion is the fact that one of the horny convicts is played by a real actor, Spalding Gray. Yes, that Spaulding Gray, the grumpy raconteur who built a cult following on the basis of his one-man stage show and subsequent film, "Swimming to Cambodia" which was based on his experiences playing a small role in the 1984 movie "The Killing Fields".
"Farmer's Daughters" is repulsive, offensive, shocking and degenerate on every level. Small wonder that these "qualities" are cited in promotional releases for the DVD which will undoubtedly please its intended audience.
Another Impulse release is more benign in content but also wacky in its own way. "Snow Honeys", released in 1983, is a hodgepodge collection of scenes from unrelated porn flicks wrapped around a thin premise. Erotic superstars of the era Ken Starbuck and Kara Lott open the movie in scenes filmed at a scenic ski resort. They amiably break the "fourth wall" and speak directly to the viewer, griping that they are getting very little money for being in this production so they might as well enjoy themselves. Within minutes the two are starkers inside a resort hotel room and bizarrely describing scenes we are about to see even while they are pleasuring each other. This device is used to link choppy clips from older porn movies starring such familiar names and faces as John Holmes (was there a porn flick from this era he wasn't in?). Vanessa Del Rio, Desiree Cousteau, Seka and John Leslie, to name just a few. The vignettes range from a rather strange lesbian seduction sequence that starts out as romantic but quickly turns S&M to a somewhat amusing take off of Superman with the hero, Super Rod, getting it on with Lois Lane (named Lois Canal here). The big joke is that every time they mention their more famous counterparts' names, they are bleeped. "Snow Honeys" is fairly uninspired in its premise but does provide some abbreviated and memorable moments from other, better productions- and at least Ken Starbuck and Kara Lott are much easier on the eye than watching anything starring Zebedy Colt.
Both transfers are impressive considering the questionable source material and both include sneak peeks at Impulse's line of "Peep Show" silent loops from grind house theaters of days gone by. "Snow Honeys" also has a reversible sleeve with the alternate image more provocative than the weird sleeve depicted above.
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"Ten Seconds to Hell" is the kind of low-key potboiler that studios used to churn out by the dozens in the hopes of making a fast profit. That isn't meant as a knock. Plenty of very worthy films fall into this category and there is much to recommend about this one even if it never quite lives up to its potential. The most interesting aspect of "Ten Seconds to Hell" is the fact that among its creators are any number of big names who were on the cusp of gaining wider recognition. Director and co-writer Robert Aldrich was already an established name in the industry but would find his greatest successes ("Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" ,"The Dirty Dozen" among them) in the Sixties. Producer Michael Carreras, one of the founders of Hammer Films, was just discovering that that the horror film genre for which Hammer would be forever associated was far more lucrative than standard thrillers or crime films which Hammer had originally produced. The cinematographer Ernest Laszlo would go on to lens such high profile films as "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", "Judgment at Nuremberg" and "Fantastic Voyage". Art director Ken Adam would become perhaps the most legendary production designer in the history of the business with "Dr. Strangelove", "Barry Lyndon" and numerous James Bond films to his credit. Thus, modest productions such as "Ten Seconds to Hell" often provided fertile training grounds for major talents in the making.
The story is an off-beat one in terms of its protagonists who are six German soldiers who return to Berlin in the immediate aftermath of WWII. What they find is an apocalyptic landscape that the local population and the Allied forces are trying to rebuild into a major urban center. Aside from the sheer logistics of clearing the debris from seemingly endless bombing raids there is the problem of bombs themselves. As in every city that faced bombardment there were countless "dud" bombs that failed to go off. However they remained a major risk as they were capable of exploding without warning. It fell to small teams of incredibly courageous men to try to disarm them- and the casualty and fatality rates among them were sky high. The six German ex-soldiers had cleared dud bombs for the army during the war. In fact they were all deemed to be politically undesirable by the Nazis and were sentenced to concentration camps. However since there were considered to be expendable, they could best serve the Reich by disarming bombs. If they were killed in the process then so be it. The six men formed a tight-knit group and learned the expertise required to survive the war. Now upon returning to Berlin, the British solicit their services to disarm dud bombs that have fallen throughout the city. As an inducement the men are offered high salaries, comfortable apartments and double rations- quite an offer for a city that was left in poverty and on the brink of starvation. The men agree to the plan even though they know that they will face death every day. The group is dominated by two strong-willed men: Eric Koertner (Jack Palance), a sullen but honest man who is nursing psychological wounds from the war that are never satisfactorily explained and Karl Wirtz (Jeff Chandler), a selfish man of few morals who puts a good time above everything else. The six men end up making a pact with a morbid premise: they will each contribute half of their salaries into a pot over a period of three months. Knowing there is a good chance at least some of them will die in the course of their work, the survivors will split the proceeds at the end of the "game". What starts out as a rather tasteless exercise takes on greater resonance when, indeed, over the course of several weeks numerous members of the group are indeed killed in the line of duty. Adding to the tensions is the deteriorating relationship between Eric and Karl, who must share the same apartment with Margot Hofer (Martine Carol), a beautiful young French woman who is persona-non grata in her native country because her late husband had been a German soldier who was part of the occupying forces in Paris. These three troubled souls are forced to inhabit the same living quarters and inevitably sexual tensions arise. Eric is slowly falling for Margot on an emotional level while Karl clearly just wants to take physical advantage of her. Predictably the end of the film finds the two men as the last living members of their group and who are engaged in working together on a particularly dangerous disarmament of a bomb from which only one will emerge alive.
"Ten Seconds to Hell" falls short in several key aspects. If there is a sure-fire way to ensure on-screen suspense it revolves around having someone desperately having to disarm an explosive device. Yet director Aldrich fails to wring much suspense out of these premises. Additionally the characters are not very well-defined. We never really get to know the reasons behind Eric's moody personality. We learn he was a prominent architect prior to the war but the script hints at much deeper insights into the man that never materialize. Additionally, Karl is such a loathsome, self-centered and untrustworthy man that one wonders why the group chooses to include him among them in their post-war assignments. Not helping matters is that this is yet another Tower of Babel-like film production in which some of the supporting characters have quasi-German accents while the male leads all talk with varying American accents that make it hard to accept them as German nationals. Aldrich deserves kudos for thinking outside the box and presenting the post-war period from the standpoint of those on the losing side but the distraction of hearing known American stars such as Palance and Chandler speak as though they are in a Western proves to be a minor undoing of the film. Still, "Ten Seconds to Hell" is an efficiently-made thriller and boasts some memorable aspects such as a sequence in which one of the group is trapped under a fallen bomb while a dilapidated building threatens to fall on top of him and his would-be rescuers. At the time the film was made in 1959 there were still plenty of bombed-out neighborhoods in West Berlin and Aldrich and art director Ken Adam take full advantage, providing some eerie backdrops for the film's most pivotal scenes. I also enjoyed the byplay between Chandler, Palance and Martine Carol who makes for a sympathetic figure- a woman who could not help but fall in love with an average German soldier despite the fact that her country had fallen to the army he represented. In many ways her character is the most interesting of all the protagonists. Palance gives one of his more restrained performances and refrains from hamming it up, as he could frequently do. Chandler is effective playing against type as a charismatic villain.
The Blu-ray transfer is flawless and does justice to the stark black-and-white cinematography. An original trailer is included and, as was the practice of the day, its typically bombastic in its promises to provide riveting screen entertainment.
Alec Guinness gave so many brilliant dramatic screen performances that many
moviegoers forget that he was also one of the most accomplished comedic actors
the British film industry had ever seen. Although Guinness first gained fame
with star-making roles in David Lean's "Great Expectations" and
"Oliver Twist" (playing Fagin), the bulk of his successes in the
1950s were in classic British comedies such as "The Lavender Hill
Mob", "Kind Hearts and Coronets", "The Ladykillers",
"The Horse's Mouth", "Our Man in Havana", "All at
Sea", "The Captain's Paradise", "The Man in the White
Suit" and "The Lavender Hill Mob". By any standard, a remarkable
roster of great comedies. By the 1960s, however, Guinness concentrated
mostly on dramatic roles. Who could blame him, with prime appearances in David
Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago"? In 1965
he did make one screwball comedy, "Situation Hopeless..But Not
Serious", a WWII-era film that co-starred young up-and-coming Robert
Redford in a supporting role, but the movie didn't particularly resonate with
critics or audiences. His only other concession to the genre of cinematic
farce was "Hotel Paradis0", filmed in 1966 by writer/director Peter
Glenville, who only sporadically made movies. Glenville's most recent cinematic
excursion had been his highly acclaimed 1964 film version of Jean
Anouilh's play "Becket". "Paradiso" was as far away from
that dramatic achievement as one could imagine. It returned Guinness to a genre
that allowed him to re-tune his considerable skills at playing overt
comedy. In fact, Guinness had starred in the original London production of the play in 1956.
The film is adapted from the play "L'Hotel du Libre
Echange", whichwas co-written by Georges Feydeau (who Glenville appears as
in the film, albeit in an uncredited role.) In fact, Alec Guinness had starred in the original London production of the play in 1956. Like the play, the movie is set in the suburbs of Paris in the early 1900s. Guinness plays Benedict Boniface, a sophisticated
milquetoast who lives a comfortable existence with one glaring exceptional
factor: he is constantly henpecked by his shrewish, dominating wife Angelique
(Peggy Mount), who oversees his every move. Benedict suffers in silence, finding a bit of solace by puttering around his garden which adjoins the home of Henri and Marcelle Cotte (Robert Morley and Gina Lollobrigida).They have their own problems: Henri is a negligent husband who is more obsessed with his career as an architect than he is with the considerable charms of his gorgeous wife, who is frustrated by his neglect and who is desperate for some romantic attention. One sunny afternoon when Henri leaves for an overnight business trip to the city, Benedict summons the courage to drop in on Marcelle and express his love for her. She is shocked but doesn't lose any time in agreeing to explore the possibility of an affair with him. Fate favors the would-be lovers when Angelique announces that she, too, is leaving on an overnight trip to look after an ailing sister. Things almost go awry when an unexpected house guest, Mr. Martin (David Byng), arrives to take up the Boniface's on a long ago offer they made to have him stay with him. The trouble is that Martin, a widower, has in tow his brood of four young daughters and their enormous amount of luggage. The Benedicts are horrified and inform Mr. Martin in the most polite manner possible that they simply don't have space to lodge the entire family and that he she consider taking rooms at a hotel in Paris. Through a misunderstanding, the name of Hotel Paradiso is mentioned. This happens to be a sleazy establishment that stays afloat by catering to illicit lovers. It is precisely the place where Benedict intends to spend the night with Marcelle. However, unbeknownst to him, Mr. Martin has mistakenly assumed that Benedict has recommended the hotel as a place for him and his daughters to stay. Benedict and Marcelle meet for dinner at a local restaurant where they briefly enjoy a rather saucy stage act before realizing they might be recognized. They then head off to Hotel Paradiso where they rather awkwardly enter the bedroom in anticipation of carrying out their plans for engaging in the kinds of activity that would surely cause a public scandal if they were to be discovered. Things get complicated quickly. Every time the would-be lovers are about to get down to business, another remarkable coincidence occurs. They include the arrival of Henri, who is staying at the hotel to examine the plumbing. Then Mr. Martin arrives with his four daughters. Even the Benedict's flirty maid shows up with Henri's nephew, who is about to be seduced by the amorous domestic servant. Playwright Georges Feydeau is on hand as he silently observes the goings-on. The film quickly becomes a classically-styled bedroom farce with Benedict and Marcelle now trapped in their room and deftly trying to avoid being seen. There are countless near-misses and close encounters and the inevitable face-to-face meetings that require explaining their presence at the hotel by employing incredulous excuses. Before long, the police end up the hotel and Benedict and Marcelle are arrested, which adds another obstacle to overcome in their unconsummated love affair.
The film was greeted with tepid reviews at the time, with critics citing Glenville's propensity to direct films as though he was still working in a theater. It's true that Glenville does have a somewhat heavy hand in terms of directing lightweight comedy scenarios.However, the movie certainly plays better today simply because no one makes films like this anymore, least of all with the caliber of stars like Guinness and Lollobrigida, who was also quite adept between dramatic roles and lightweight farces. Both actors are at their best here, especially as the pace of the farce picks up pace and the coincidences and obstacles that their characters have to deal with become more incredible and amusing. There is able support from the always-reliable Robert Morley and Akim Tamiroff turns up as the hotel's sleazy manager. However, the show-stealing performance is the hilarious turn by David Byng, whose Mr. Martin is a naive eccentric with a sporadic speech impediment that comes and goes depending upon the state of the weather! It plays a pivotal role in the film's climax. The concluding sequence takes place at the opening of a new play by Georges Feydeau which the principal characters attend together. It leads to a very amusing "sting-in-the-tail" finale with ironic consequences. "Hotel Paradiso" benefits from a lavish production design and a good score by Laurence Rosenthal. It also marked an early career achievement for legendary film editor Anne V. Coates. In summary, a most entertaining film from an era in which there was a place for sophistication in cinematic comedies.
The Warner Archive DVD is region-free and includes the original trailer. The packaging also retains the wonderful original poster art by Frank Frazetta.
"The Strangler" is a long-forgotten 1964 low-budget exploitation movie originally released by Allied Artists. It has developed a bit of a cult following among retro movie lovers who will be delighted that the film has come to DVD through the Warner Archive. The movie was designed to capitalize on the notorious Boston Strangler murders that were in the news at the time. However, what sets the movie apart from other cheap thrills productions is the fact that it is intelligently scripted and presents its villain as a highly complex character, filled with nuances and psychological tortures. Victor Buono, who had made a sensational film debut the previous year in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", gets a rare starring role as the titular character. He's Leo Kroll, a meek, obese young man who barely makes a living as a lab assistant in big city hospital. He's quiet, unassuming and superficially friendly even though he has no real friends in his life. Our first glimpse of Leo is rather startling. We see him inside the apartment of an attractive young woman who is undressing, not knowing that she has a stalker on the premises. Leo suddenly emerges and strangles her with her own stockings. We learn that Leo is behind similar serial murders of young women in the area but the police are at a dead end. Leo's private life is pure hell. He lives with his aging mother (Ellen Corby) who controls virtually every aspect of his life. She even ensures that their apartment is a shrine to herself, adorned with numerous photos of her. When the film opens, she is confined to a hospital room and expects Leo to visit her every night right after work. When he takes a night off to indulge in his murderous past time, his mother's abrasive accusations of neglect seem to bother him more than the heinous crimes he has committed. He clearly hates and resents his mother. She never fails to remind him that he is a loser: overweight, homely and friendless. She tells him that she is the only person he can rely on and trust. She also warns him against getting involved with women, saying that any girl who would date him had to be after his money. Leo also has a peculiar fetish- he likes to leave dolls at the scene of his murderS, each representing the woman he has just killed. He obtains them by winning a game of chance at a local arcade where his skill at the game seems to impress the girls behind the counter, one of whom, Tally (Davey Davison), he clearly has a crush on, which inevitably puts her on Leo's endangered species list.
There weren't many diverse roles that Buono could play in his career. Generally, the baby-faced actor was stuck portraying varying incarnations of a "man child". However, he did carve out some memorable performances playing largely comedic villains in shows like "Batman", "The Wild, Wild West" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.". He worked steadily, occasionally landing a mature role in major films such as "Robin and the Seven Hoods" and "Four For Texas" in which he appeared with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Buono, who died young at age 42 in 1982, arguably gives the best performance of his career in "The Strangler", making a man who commits despicable acts seem almost sympathetic. When he finally asks a woman he barely knows to marry him, her rejection of him is truly a heartbreaking scene. Leo ends up on the short list of police suspects but manages to elude arrest. He even demands to take a lie detector test, which he passes due to the fact that he has no feelings of guilt whatsoever. His motive for murder isn't even to alleviate the sexual repression he feels. It's simply his way of dealing with mommy issues. Each woman he slays is a stand-in for the mother he deplores. Under the highly competent direction of Burt Topper, "The Strangler" boasts some impressive performances by a largely unknown cast. The police sequences, which highlight David McLean as the over-worked cop assigned to crack the case, ring with authenticity. The B&W film also has good cinematography and creative use of lighting effect. Yet it is Buono who dominates the production with a performance that would have won critical raves if it were seen in an "A" list production. The film is consistently entertaining and at times highly suspenseful. The Warner Archive release is top-notch but lacks any extras. A commentary track on this title would be most welcome for a future edition.
Sam Spiegel was one of the most revered and accomplished producers in Hollywood history. His achievements included such classics as "On the Waterfront", "The African Queen", "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia". His body of work, though not nearly as extensive as that of some other producers, was notable in the sense that Spiegel thought big and shot for the moon when it came to bringing to the screen stories that spoke to the human condition. Following the triumphant release of "Lawrence" in 1962, Spiegel did not make another film for four years. When he did, the movie - "The Chase"- turned out to be a star-packed drama that won over neither critics or audiences. Spiegel had a more ambitious idea for his next production, a screen adaptation of the best-selling WWII thriller "The Night of the Generals" by Hans Helmut Kirst. Spiegel had the inspired idea of reuniting his "Lawrence of Arabia" co-stars Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif. They were reluctant to take on the project, but they certainly owed him. Both were virtual unknowns until Spiegel gave them the roles that made them international stars. Spiegel also added to the mix an impressive cast of esteemed British actors ranging from veterans such as Donald Pleasence and Charles Gray to up-and-coming young actors Tom Courtenay and Joanna Pettet. He chose Anatole Litvak to direct. Litvak had been making films for decades and had a few notable hits such as "Sorry, Wrong Number", "Anastasia" and "The Snake Pit". Spiegel being Spiegel ensured that the production benefited from a large budget and an appropriate running time (148 minutes) that would allow the story to unfold in a measured process.
"The Night of the Generals" is certainly a unique spin on WWII films. There are no battles or major action sequences, save for a harrowing sequence in which the German army systematically destroys part of the Warsaw Ghetto. Instead, it's very much a character study populated by characters who are, indeed, very interesting. The film opens with a tense sequence set in occupied Warsaw. The superintendent of an over-crowded apartment building accidentally overhears the brutal murder of a local prostitute in a room upstairs. From a hiding place he witnesses the killer walk past him. He does not see the man's face but recognizes his uniform: he is a general in the German army. The man keeps this information to himself on the logical assumption that divulging it might mean his death sentence. However, under questioning from the army investigator, Major Grau (Omar Sharif), he tells the shocking details of what he witnessed. From this moment, Grau becomes obsessed with finding the killer. Grau may be a German officer, but he is a pure cynic when it comes to the Nazi cause and the brutal methods being employed to win the war. He can't control the larger picture of how the war is being waged but he can control what is in his jurisdiction: bringing to justice the man who committed this one especially savage murder. Grau soon centers on three suspects. The first is General von Seiditz-Gabler (Charles Gray, channeling his future Blofeld), an effete, well-connected opportunist who is in a loveless marriage to his dominating wife Eleanore (Coral Browne). Then there is General Kahlenberg (Donald Pleasence), a man of slight build and low-key personality who has some eccentric personal habits that may include murder. Last, and most intriguing, is General Tanz (Peter O'Toole), a much-loathed and much-feared darling of Hitler's inner circle whose ruthless methods with dealing with civilian populations disgust his colleagues. Tanz has been sent to control or obliterate the Warsaw Ghetto.
The screenplay (which includes contributions by an uncredited Gore Vidal) is a bit disjointed and cuts back and forth to the present day in which we see a French police inspector, Morand (Phillippe Noiret), investigating the case twenty years later as he tries to tie together Grau's findings with dramatic developments that occurred during his handling of the case. Morand also appears in the war era sequences, having befriended Grau, who does not seem at all disturbed when he learns that Morand is actually a key figure in the French Resistance. Grau becomes particularly intrigued by General Ganz. He is an elitist snob who is devoid of any humor or compassion. A workaholic with seemingly no human weaknesses, Tanz is ostensibly under the command of his superior officer, Gabler, but it becomes clear that his political connections make him the top general in Warsaw. Major Grau interviews all three suspects and finds that any of them could be the murderer. When he becomes too intrusive, he is conveniently promoted and transferred to Paris, presumably to shut down his investigation. However, as the fortunes of war decline for the Third Reich, the top brass is eventually moved to Paris and Grau resumes his investigation when he discovers that prostitutes are being brutally murdered there as well. There is a parallel story that accompanies that of the murder investigation. It centers on Corporal Hartmann (Tom Courtenay), a young soldier who has been reluctantly acclaimed to be a national hero. It seems he was the last surviving member of his unit after a bloody battle. The brass used him as a propaganda tool, bestowing medals on him for heroic actions. In fact, he is a self-proclaimed coward whose only goal is to stay alive through the war. Hartmann confesses this to his superior, General Kahlenberg, who is amused by his honesty. He assigns him to be General Tanz's personal valet and orders him to show Tanz the history and sights of Paris. Neither he nor Tanz wants to partake in the venture, but Gabler orders Tanz to take a few days vacation, largely because he despises the man's presence. The scenes in which Hartmann tries to appease the mercurial Tanz without making any missteps are fraught with tension and suspense. Tanz is a fascinating character, presumably devoid of the vices most men have. However, in the course of their time together, Hartmann realizes that Tanz is somewhat of a fraud. He surreptitiously drinks to excess and changes into civilian clothes in order to meet with prostitutes in seedy bars. Although Tanz chews out Hartmann for every minor infraction, he seems to come to respect the younger man's professionalism. This sets in motion another complex plot development that also involves Hartmann's secret romance with General Gabler's free-spirited daughter Ulrike (Joanna Pettet).
Just trying to summarize the various plot strands of "The Night of the Generals" in this space is fairly exhausting. Oh, did I mention that another subplot involves Field Marshal Rommel (a cameo by Christopher Plummer) and the July, 1944 plot on the part of rebellious German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler? Nevertheless, although the various story lines become quite complex, they are all tied together eventually in clever and compelling ways. The film is part "Whodunnit", part political statement and part war movie. The movie moves back to the present for its intense conclusion as Inspector Morand is finally able to solve the crime and attempt to bring the culprit to justice. When the killer is revealed it's about as shocking of a development as the revelation that the butler did it in one of those old British film noir mysteries. Still, director Litvak (who shares the producer credit with Sam Spiegel because he owned the screen rights to the novel) keeps the action flowing briskly running time and elicits outstanding performances from his cast. O'Toole, who would later capitalize on playing larger-than-life characters, was at this point in his career still very immersed in portraying introspective, quiet men. He is quite mesmerizing as General Tanz and quite terrifying as well. Sharif is, at least on the surface, badly cast. I'm not aware of any Egyptians who became prominent German officers. Sharif has the map of the Middle East on his face and lingering remnants of his native accent. It's to his credit that he overcomes these obstacles and gives a very fine performance as the charismatic investigator who doggedly pursues his suspects with Javert-like conviction. All of the other performances are equally outstanding, with Courtenay especially impressive- and one has to wonder why the very talented Joanna Pettet never became a bigger star. The international flavor of the cast gives the film a Tower of Babel-like effect. Some of the actors attempt to affect a quasi-German accent while others speak with British accents, and then we have the French and Poland-based sequences with even more diversity of languages. Still, if you could accept Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood speaking "German" in their native tongues in "Where Eagles Dare", you won't find this aspect of "The Night of the Generals" to be particularly distracting. I should also mention the impressive contributions of composer Maurice Jarre, cinematographer Henri Decae and main titles designer Robert Brownjohn (remember when films even had opening titles?) In summary, the film-which not successful with critics or the public- is a thoroughly intriguing experience and affords us the joy of watching some of the best actors of the period sharing the screen.
"The Night of the Generals" has been released as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The transfer is gorgeous, giving full impact to the impressive cinematography and lush production design. There is also an isolated score track, the original trailer and an informative booklet by film historian Julie Kirgo, who examines Sam Spiegel's attempts to rebuild his career in subsequent years only to find that he was out of place in the new Hollywood.
Many Cinema Retro readers write to tell us that they like the fact that we shine a new light on older, under-appreciated movies and re-evaluate them after the passage of time. In this instance, I can't re-evaluate "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" because I had never seen it prior to its release on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory. To say that the film was subject to a string of bad luck is an understatement. It might be more appropriate to consider if it was literally cursed. First some background: the Lone Ranger had been a pop culture hero for many years in comics, on the radio and on screen. The 1950s TV series starring Clayton Moore made the character iconic and forever associated with "The William Tell Overture" which was played each time he rode into action. The 1978 revival of "Superman" as a big screen adventure was a boxoffice smash and elevated its unknown lead- Christopher Reeve- to genuine stardom. It wasn't the first time that a relatively untested leading man carried a major movie to boxoffice success. Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif did so with "Lawrence of Arabia" and George Lazenby managed the feat with "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". Producer Jack Wrather was inspired by this history and when he acquired the feature film rights to The Lone Ranger character (for an eye-popping $3 million), he decided to cast unknowns as the Lone Ranger and his loyal sidekick Tonto. After an exhaustive search, he thought he struck gold by casting Klinton Spilsbury and Michael Horse. Both were hunky young men who were adept at riding horses and managing the physical challenges of starring in a big budget action film. The film was to be directed by William A. Fraker, the legendary cinematographer who had earned praise for his direction of "Monte Walsh" a decade earlier. For his cinematographer on "The Legend of the Lone Ranger", Fraker hired another legend, Laszlo Kovacs. Other top talent quickly signed on including esteemed screenwriter William Roberts, who had written the screenplay for "The Magnificent Seven". Composer John Barry was signed to create the score and a main title theme. Jason Robards joined the cast as President Ulysses S. Grant and Christopher Lloyd took a rare dramatic part as the villain. Things were looking promising. However, the bubble was about to burst.
While the film was in production, it reaped a mountain of bad publicity when the producers forced the beloved Clayton Moore from making any further public appearances at autograph shows and charity events where he had been making the circuit dressed in his original Lone Ranger costume. Moore fought the order in court and ultimately prevailed but the damage had been done. An outraged public had an "in" for the new Lone Ranger long before production had ever wrapped. During filming, a stuntman almost died and leading man Klinton Spilsbury insisted on shooting the film in sequence to help with his understanding of his character and motivations. Shooting in sequence can be a costly proposition but the producers complied. However, in viewing the rushes, they decided that Spilsbury was something short of dynamic in the way he delivered his lines. They hired actor James Keach to dub him through the entire film, a fact they tried to keep secret but which leaked out immediately even in the pre-internet era. (Ironically, Keach delivers his dubbed lines in a bland, monotone manner that makes one wonder just how bad Spilsbury could have been.) By the time filming wrapped, the film had been tarnished but Universal, the studio releasing the movie, was still optimistic. However, the bad luck continued even in post-production. The film's technical aspects proved to be challenging and the movie's December 1980 release was bumped to Memorial Day in May of 1981. The good news is that President Ronald Reagan had agreed to attend a special screening of the movie prior to general release. Shortly before this was to occur, he was wounded in an assassination attempt and was unable to attend (the "The Gipper" was considerate enough to send a video greeting to attendees.) When the film opened to the public, response was poor from both the public and critics, who denounced the movie as the second major Western bomb in a row, following the disastrous opening of "Heaven's Gate" the previous fall. The movie quickly became the butt of jokes. Johnny Carson quipped that on opening day, Tonto put his ear to the ground and said "Kemosabe, me hear very few people heading toward the theaters!". Carson rarely weighed in on criticizing films and, as he was one of America's top barometers of pop culture, the sarcasm only reinforced the notion that the film was a bomb. Themovie had the dubious distinction of sweeping The Razzies, the awards for the worst achievements in movie making. Klinton Spilsbury couldn't overcome the stigma of having been dubbed. His name was mud in the industry and to this date, he has not acted professionally again. (Though, bizarrely, he did become an acting teacher in Vancouver for a time.) Michael Horse fared better, however, and carved out a satisfying career as a character actor that extends to this day.
In watching the movie today, its problems remain apparent, though it is entertaining in a goofy sort of way. Some screen heroes such as Batman can look cool in a mask but The Lone Ranger simply looks likes a throwback to a bygone era of entertainment when kids would be less demanding about the corn quotient served up by their idols. The film would probably have benefited from some self-awareness that the entire premise was outdated but the movie-makers made the mistake of playing the entire affair completely straight. In fact, the film is almost devoid of any humor at all. Another problem is that the story takes so long to tell how the Lone Ranger and Tonto ended up meeting and becoming blood brothers that it takes a full hour before audiences even get to see the Lone Ranger. The story leading up to this is compelling, with young John Reid witnessing his parents slaughtered by a marauding band of cutthroats. His life is saved by a Native American boy his own age named Tonto, who brings Reid back to his tribe. The Indians adopt Reid and teach him the basic skills of survival. Before long, he is feels very much a part of the tribe- until an uncle inexplicably arrives from Chicago (!) and takes him back to the big city against his wishes. The action then jumps to years later. Reid is aboard a stagecoach heading West when it is attacked by a group of robbers. In an exciting, well-filmed stagecoach chase sequence, Reid displays his heroics, saves his fellow passengers and falls head over heels for lovely Amy Striker (Juanin Clay), who is the niece of the nearest town's newspaper. When Reid and Amy arrive, they are greeted by the uncle, who is on a one-man crusade against a local evil land baron named Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd, surprisingly good in a non-comedic role.) Cavendish has amassed a paramilitary force, bribed the local sheriff and kept the town's population in fear as he acts as a de facto dictator. For his efforts, the uncle is murdered. Reid joins the Texas Rangers along with his brother and a posse sets off to track down Cavendish. Along the way they are lured into a canyon and in another rousing action sequence, they are all killed except for Reid, who is badly wounded. Coincidentally, Tonto happens upon the scene and recognizes an amulet that Reid is wearing which Tonto gave to him when they became blood brothers. He nurses his old friend back to health and Reid becomes determined to bring his brother's killers to justice as-- wait for it- The Lone Ranger! It's never explained how he gets the fancy duds and mask but we do see the origins of how he adopts Silver as his wonder horse. Before long, the Lone Ranger is bellowing "Hi Yo, Silver!" and riding with Tonto to infiltrate Cavendish's compound. Turns out Cavendish has a lot in common with today's political fringe nuts: he wants to secede from the union and establish a country called New Texas. His scheme is ambitious: he intends to hijack a train carrying President Ulysses S. Grant (Jason Robards) and hold him hostage until his demands are met. The execution of the plan is a highlight of the film, as is Robards' amusing performance as Grant. The scenes in which he matches wits with Cavendish over a sumptuous dinner brings to mind similar obligatory scenes from the Bond movies. The action-packed finale features the U.S. Cavalry joining the Lone Ranger and Tonto to free Grant, who gets into the action himself. By another coincidence, Grant's train had been carrying Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickcok and General George Armstrong Custer, so you can imagine it's gonna be a bad luck day for Cavendish.
There is much to criticize about "The Legend of the Lone Ranger". The producers and director seemed oblivious to the fact that a guy in a white hat and black mask shouting "Hi Yo, Silver!" would come across as incredibly corny to modern audiences if it wasn't played with at least a dab of self-awareness and humor. Alas, it's played straight- as is the use of the "William Tell Overture". It's as though the filmmakers had entered a time warp and thought they were out to please audiences from the 1940s. Another major weak link is the musical score by the esteemed John Barry. The instrumentals are fine but Barry has concocted a title theme called "The Man Behind the Mask" that is crooned by Merle Haggard. To say it's unintentionally hilarious would be an understatement. Not helping matters is some awful narration that describes the action in a corn pone drawl that sounds like it would be more at home in "Blazing Saddles". Yet, for all it's flaws, I enjoyed the film because of its sincere attempt to bring to life an iconic American hero, no matter how outdated the concept might have seemed. There are also some very impressive action scenes and some incredible stunt work. Alas, it wasn't enough to save the movie from its disastrous fate. Hollywood is so devoid of new ideas that the concept was, of course, recently revived as the equally disastrous Johnny Depp version of the Lone Ranger. Can't we let the guy rest in peace?
The Shout! Factory Blu-ray boasts a decent transfer but there is a good deal of grain in some of the sequences. This could be the way the film looked on original release, as it was criticized in some quarters for its sometimes muddy cinematography, which was particularly surprising since director Fraker was one of the best cinematographers in the business. The Blu-ray cries out for a commentary by film historians who could discuss the movie's interesting back story, but alas, only a trailer is included.
By 1987, Burt Reynolds was largely regarded as being past his sell date as a leading man in theatrical films. Some of his decline in popularity was self-imposed. Reynolds had continued to knock out cornpone comedies long after they had run out of steam. His other problem was due to the fact that he had been seriously injured on the set of "City Heat" due to a mis-timed stunt that left him in serious shape and resulted in a long hospital stay. During this time, terrible rumors spread widely that implied he had contracted AIDS. By the time Reynolds recovered, the damage to his career had been done. Although he would continue to star in films for major studios, their boxoffice take was generally mediocre at best. Reynolds would eventually gravitate to television where he starred in a hit sitcom, "Evening Shade". One of his attempted comeback vehicles was the 1987 crime thriller "Malone" in which Reynolds eschewed his image as a towel-snapping wiseguy and returned to his roots to play a mysterious man of action. The film opens with the titular character, played by Reynolds, refusing to carry out an assassination for the CIA. Malone has been one of their most reliable covert killers but he's ashamed of his profession and decides to give it up for a quiet, normal life. He knows that one doesn't just walk out on the CIA so he uproots his life and packs all his belongings in his weather-beaten car and heads off to remote areas of the Northwest. While enjoying his lifestyle as a drifter, his car breaks down and he manages to get it to a one-horse town where the local garage owner, a partially disabled widower, Paul Barlow (Scott Wilson) informs him he has to order a special part for the vehicle. The two men make friendly chatter and Barlow offers to allow Malone to stay at his house until the car can be repaired. Also on the premises is Barlow's teenage daughter Jo (Cynthia Gibb), who immediately takes a fancy to the mysterious stranger who has entered her otherwise mundane existence. During his stay, the tight-lipped Malone observes that Barlow and some other town residents are being bullied and intimidated by employees of a local land baron named Delaney (Cliff Robertson), who- for reasons unknown- is trying to force certain locals to sell him their land. Failure to do so results in inevitable harassment. When Malone comes to Barlow's aid and humiliates some of Delaney's goons, Delaney meets with him and tries to bribe him to work for him. Seems that anyone of influence in the town is on Delaney's payroll, including the local sheriff (Kenneth McMillan). Malone refuses the offer and Delaney turns to bringing in professional assassins to murder him. Adding to Malone's woes is the fact that a former CIA colleague, Jamie (Lauren Hutton) has tracked him down and has orders to kill him, as well. Jamie, however, warns Malone of her mission and the two decide that "Make love, not war" should be their mantra. As Delaney increases the pressure, Malone decides to go mano a mano with him. He sneaks into Delaney's heavily-guarded compound and discovers a massive arsenal being stockpiled there. Turns out that Delaney is the leader of an extremist right wing fringe group with ties to sympathetic elected officials in Washington, D.C. He intends to imminently launch a violent uprising in the hopes that it spreads nationally and takes down the government.
There isn't a single original thought in "Malone". The film is a modern day remake of Clint Eastwood's "Pale Rider", which had been released two years before. Eastwood's film, in turn, was a virtual remake of George Stevens' "Shane". The stories all share some common themes: a family is being harassed by a local rich guy who has nefarious purposes. A mysterious stranger comes to their aid and, in the process, is idolized by a young member of the family. In the climax of all three stories, the stranger finds himself having to put his life on the line to rid the locals of the menacing figure who is making their lives miserable. Having said all that, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed "Malone". Under the competent direction of Harley Cokeless, the story moves at a brisk pace and there is plenty of time to explore the backgrounds of the key characters. Reynolds still had enough macho mojo to pull off roles like this and it's great seeing him play a serious role once again. As a man of few words, he excels not only in the dramatic sequences but also in the film's explosive conclusion, which borrows much from another (then) contemporary hit, "Witness" as we watch Malone on Delaney's farm systematically eliminate the bad guys. Reynolds gets some fine support from Cliff Robertson (in the kind of superficially charming role usually played by Robert Vaughn), Kenneth McMillan and Scott Wilson. Lauren Hutton's brief appearance is a highlight of the film, as she and Malone intersperse romantic interludes with suspicions about each other's motives. (Malone willingly beds her but is afraid to digest any drinks she prepares out of fear she will poison him.) The biggest revelation is the performance of Cynthia Gibb, who displays considerable charm as the young girl who is starstruck by Malone. (The script thankfully keeps the relationship chaste.) "Malone", filmed in and around Vancouver (the usual tax-friendly doppleganger for American locations), is a good old-fashioned action flick. In today's era of over-produced, over-budgeted CGI-laden monstrosities, it's simplicity, predictability and unpretentious story line are assets. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains the trailer as well as trailers for other Burt Reynolds releases available through the company.
I’ve never known quite what to make of Carlo Lizzani’s
‘Requiescant’ (1967), the director’s second and last foray into spaghetti
westerns. I saw it before I had the chance to view his first western, ‘The
Hills Run Red’ (1966) and had high hopes for the film – based on the fact that
it was screened in September 1993 on BBC2 in the season of ‘Moviedrome’ cult
films and it came highly recommended by Alex Cox. I’m a big fan of Lizzani’s ‘The
Hills Run Red’. I don’t know why, but from the moment I saw it, I loved it. Ennio
Morricone’s music helps, as does the great cast, including grandstanding Henry
Silva, beautiful Nicoletta Machiavelli, leathery old Dan Duryea and massively
underrated Thomas Hunter. I know I am largely alone in my assessment and
enthusiasm, but for those who make lists, I deem it Top-20 spaghetti western material.
Following on from ‘Day of Anger’ and ‘Cemetery Without
Crosses’, Lizzani’s ‘Requiescant’ is Arrow Films’ third spaghetti western release
on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s also known by the titles ‘Kill and Pray’ and ‘Let Them
Rest’. First off, it feels much more like an ‘Italian’ film than most spaghetti
westerns, mainly due to an absence of Spanish supporting players and exclusively
Italian location filming in Lazio (rather than Spain’s Madrid or Andalusia
provinces). And the presence of legendary director Pier Paolo Pasolini, one of
the most recognised and recognisable faces in Italian, indeed world cinema, is simply
distracting when he pops up as Don Juan, a pistol packing priest with a social
conscience. Like the ‘Jesus Christ, it’s Henry Fonda!’ casting coup moment from
Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, this is ‘OMG, it’s PPP!’
An Italian-West German co-production, ‘Requiescant’
stars Lou Castel (who played the young assassin in ‘A Bullet for the General’)
as a Mexican boy who is the only survivor of a massacre of Mexican peons at
Fort Hernandez. The perpetrator was San Antonio landowner George Bellow
Ferguson (a demonic Mark Damon, cast against type), who with his cadre of
gunmen has stolen their borderlands with bogus treaties. The boy is found
wandering in the desert and is adopted by travelling priest Father Jeremy and
his family, but when he grows to adulthood, he abandons the ways of the Lord.
He discovers his true vocation when he inadvertently foils a stagecoach hold-up
and finds he is naturally gifted with a six-gun. His proficiency leads to him
becoming something of a hero to the local Mexican population, who call him
Requiescant, as in ‘rest in peace’ in Latin, due to his ritual of reading a
prayer over his victims’ corpses. Requiescant’s step-sister Princy (Barbara
Frey) runs away to become a showgirl, but ends up in forced prostitution in a
seedy San Antonio saloon/bordello run by Ferguson’s henchman Dean Light (Carlo
Palmucci), which in classic spaghetti western tradition sets Requiescant
against the murderer of his real parents.
The film’s tone veers from tragedy to comedy, and
Castel makes an offbeat hero, even for spaghetti westerns. At some moments he plays
the film as a spoof, as when he encourages his horse to speed up by using a
frying pan to hit its rump and in his tactic of mounting a horse, first by climbing
onto a hitching rail then into the saddle. In complete contrast to Clint
Eastwood’s Man With No Name, Requiescant is something of a bumbler, with his
holster slung on a piece of rope, but no one can argue with his accuracy with a
pistol. There are some totally strange moments in the film also, as when
Requiescant hides out at Fort Hernandez and discovers the bleached-out
skeletons of the Mexican victims of Ferguson’s massacre scattered behind the
palisade – it is these corpses from the past that must also ‘Rest in Peace’,
but only when their murders have been avenged. In another noteworthy scene, Requiescant
faces Dean Light in a pistol duel, with both participants standing on stools
with their heads in nooses (as Tuco the Ugly tried to execute Blondie the Good)
which is timed by the midnight strike of a clock. At one point Princy is forced
to swallow a drug that makes her hallucinate and much is made of the simple
rural characters’ naivety against the savvy, capitalist businessmen.
For its lack of authentic spaghetti western atmosphere,
‘Requiescant’ is a definite curio for a number or reasons. It’s more realistic
than many spaghetti westerns. Here the poor Mexican revolutionaries collect
Requiescant’s victims valuable weapons, rather than leaving them lying around
with the corpses, as Clint’s Man With No Name does in the ‘Dollars’ films. What
makes the film of real interest is its unusual cast. Mark Damon is a cloaked
villain from the cobwebs of Italian gothic horror, a relic of the Old South,
like Joseph Cotton’s delusional patriarchs in ‘The Tramplers’ (1965) and ‘The
Hellbenders’ (1966). All-powerful and sadistic, he keeps his wife Edith
(Mirella Maravidi) in a padded cell and later, after she has helped Requiescant
escape, he garrottes her. He also uses his Mexican servant (Luisa Baratto) as a
live target – she holds a candelabra aloft – in his wine cellar shooting
gallery. Ferguson’s views are typical Reconstruction Era rants: slaves were
‘looked after’ by their Southern masters, while the north exploited them with a
minimum wage, and the Mexican farmers ‘don’t deserve’ to own land.
‘Requiescant’ ends with a tableau (of the revolutionaries riding away to their
next battle, while others till the land) that could have appeared in any socio-political
agrarian Italian film and resembles rural neorealism. Here the western setting is
simply a vehicle for the discussion of wider issues. This is a far cry from
‘The Hill’s Run Red’, a Dino De Laurentiis production released internationally
by United Artists and a much more straightforward (and commercially successful)
revenge film. Lizzani directed ‘Hills’ as a favour to De Laurentiis, but used
the pseudonym ‘Lee W. Beaver’. ‘Requiescant’ is obviously a much more personal
project for Lizzani, who made a series of highly political films. Along with
the appearance of director Pasolini in ‘Requiescant’, Pasolini’s regular actors
Franco Citti and Ninetto Davoli appeared: the former as two-fingered badman
Burt (who is particularly fond of his blond toy doll) and the latter as Niño, a
Mexican trumpeter. Their presence – a distinctly Italian presence – creates a
rather strange atmosphere which might be termed ‘Prairie Pasolini’.
The Warner Archive has released the 1964 comedy "Honeymoon Hotel". The film, made just a few years before the liberalization of sex in the American cinema, is a labored affair with a sterling cast that is largely wasted due to a ludicrous script and leaden direction. This is somewhat surprising because the screenwriters- R.S. Allen and Harvey Bullock- were hot properties at the time, having written some truly classic sitcoms and memorable feature films. Here, they drop the ball with a script that resembles a horny 15 year-old boy's viewpoint of romance and sex. The film opens by introducing us to two best friends, Ross Kingsley (Robert Goulet) and Jay Menlow (Robert Morse), who revel in the fact that they share a Manhattan bachelor pad where they entertain a steady stream of female conquests. The handsome and devilish Ross is clearly the main magnet for the willing women, but even nerdy Jay is doing alright for himself. Thus, it puzzles Ross as to why Jay is about to marry traditional good girl Cynthia (Anne Helm). The story shifts to the scene of the opulent wedding. Just before the rituals can be carried out, however, Cynthia observes Jay and Ross ogling her friend Lynn Hope (Nancy Kwan). She has a public hissy fit and calls off the wedding. The ever-resourceful Ross realizes that Jay is now stuck with a honeymoon package to a tropical island for two that appears to be useless. Not wanting to let the opportunity pass by, he convinces Jay to go on the trip and take him along on Cynthia's ticket. The plan is to get Jay over his grief by getting back into the world of womanizing. Where better to do so than a tropical isle? The two men check into Honeymoon Hotel without realizing that it adheres to a strict policy of catering to newlyweds only. Through a string of coincidences the strict desk clerk misses the fact that two men are checking into the same room. This leads to any number of double entrendres and opportunities to overact as the maids come to realize that two guys appear to be on a honeymoon together. (Keep in mind this was 1964). Ross and Jay ponder why they are striking out with the female guests until they finally learn of their dilemma. Just when their libidos seem destined for disaster, they conveniently discover that there is one single woman on the property: Lynn Hope, who is the social director of the resort. This sets in motion a string of coincidences that are so unbelievable they would be more appropriate in a science fiction film. Predictably, Ross woos Lynn but on the verge of getting her into bed, she runs into Jay and learns of Ross's reputation as a serial seducer. She then plays Jay and Ross against each other in a pedantic series of scenarios in which each man thinks he will be the one to score with her. Finally, Ross legitimately falls for Lynn and in true storybook tradition, makes plans to finally settle down with the right girl. Then everything goes to hell in the film's wacky but dreadful conclusion in which one of his former conquests, Sherry (Jill St. John in typical air-headed floozy mode) arrives as the resort as the mistress to Ross's crusty boss (Keenan Wynn). In the increasingly ridiculous scenario, the boss's wife turns up because she suspects he is dallying with other women. Then Cynthia appears out of nowhere to see if she can reconcile with Jay. The situations that follow find Sherry being passed around by the males like an appetizer on a platter as each man finds he has to hide her presence from his significant other. Bedroom farces can be quite funny if carried out competently but Levin proves he isn't up to the task. The cast gamely goes through the manic pacing but there isn't a genuine laugh to be found.
The biggest disappointment with "Honeymoon Hotel" is the squandering of the admirable talent on screen. Goulet always had a fine screen presence in addition to being an impressive crooner. With his model-like good looks he should have been a much bigger star in films, but he seemed to primarily be relegated to mid-range fare like this. Morse made it big by being cast repeatedly as a "Jerry Lewis Lite". His aping of the comedy legend is so apparent that it was wonder he wasn't sued for identity theft. Morse has talent but he's reduced to enacting ridiculous scenarios that are completely out of place in what is supposed to be an adult romantic comedy. Other victims include fine supporting actors like Elsa Lanchester , who is consigned to a tiny role as a maid and the great British character actor Bernard Fox who plays the rigid desk clerk. Nancy Kwan is especially wasted, a fact the producers seemed to have realized because they shoehorn in a pretentious dance routine designed to show off her talents in that area despite the fact that it comes completely out of left field and doesn't even fit in the context of the sequence. Everything about "Honeymoon Hotel" is second rate. The film's bare bones budget is reflected by the fact that the closest the cast got to a tropical isle was a few hours shooting at a local beach a few miles from MGM's back lot. The opulent resort depicted in the film is stuffed with claustrophobic sets and an abundance of plastic palm trees. I've seen more convincing recreations of island life in department store summer patio displays. Even the "bachelor pad" is the recycled set from the "bachelor pad" seen in the previous year's MGM comedy, the far superior "Sunday in New York". Although the movie attempts to be risque with its sexual themes, the producers didn't have the courage to go beyond some smarmy one-liners. The honeymoon resort is populated by couples who appear to never stop copulating but the biggest laugh in the film is an unintentional one: the bedrooms in the suites all have separate beds, which makes the film as sexually daring as an episode of "I Love Lucy". "Honeymoon Hotel" might have been construed as a sex comedy but it's as flaccid as....well, a wet noodle.
Scott became a top box-office draw starring in 105 movies in a career which
lasted for nearly four decades. He’s best remembered as a western icon in a
career that, in many ways, rivals that of John Wayne. While the Duke made
movies into the mid 1970s and made appearances on TV until his death in 1979, Scott
retired from acting in 1962 after making “Ride the High Country” for Sam
Peckinpah. Scott was 64 and felt he could not surpass his performance in that
movie. He remained happily retired until his death in 1987 at the age of 87.
like the Duke, is known for his collaboration with an iconic larger-than-life
Hollywood director. In Scott’s case the honor goes to Budd Boetticher. They
made seven movies together and “The Tall T” is among their best efforts. Based
on a story by Elmore Leonard with a screenplay by future western director Burt
Kennedy, the story is simple and starts out at a leisurely pace.
plays Pat Brennan, a former ranch hand with a small ranch of his own who wants
to make a deal with his former employer at the Tall T. On the way he visits a
friend and his son who operate a stage coach water stop outside of town. The
boy admires the heroic Pat and asks if he will pick up some candy in town which
Pat agrees to do. In town Pat meets up with Ed Rintoon, the local stage coach
driver, played by Arthur Hunnicutt. They discuss the recent marriage of local
mine heiress Doretta, played by Maureen O’Sullivan, (Jane in the MGM Tarzan
series), to the opportunist Willard Mims who married her for her wealth. Pat
heads over to the Tall T to purchase a bull for his small ranch, but after
making a bet with his former employer who wants him back, ends up losing his
horse when he fails in his bid to ride the bull.
his way on foot with candy, saddle and pack in hand, Pat is picked up by
Rintoon who is transporting newlyweds Willard and Doretta Mims. Willard would
just as soon not pick up Pat, but is persuaded by Doretta. They make there way
to the water stop which is strangely empty. Three men with guns are waiting for
the bank stagecoach and have murdered the boy and his father and kill Rintoon
after a brief shootout. Willard selfishly convinces the outlaws that his wife
is worth holding for a ransom and makes a deal allowing him to deliver a
message to her father.
Boone plays Frank Usher, the leader of the gang, and he agrees that a ransom
may be a better option than a stagecoach robbery. He’s aided by Henry Silva as
Chink and Skip Homeier as Billy Jack. Frank claims to be a man with moral values
like Pat while Chink and Billy are only interested in getting drunk and
spending time at any available whorehouse. Billy keeps the candy Pat brought
for the murdered boy and the candy is slapped from his hand by Frank. Frank,
Chink and Billy take Pat and Doretta to a desert hideout and wait for Willard’s
return. The men make it clear that they are willing to kill their captives and
Pat realizes that all three will be dead when the ransom is delivered. Boone is
terrific as Frank Usher. Frank is a complicated bad guy who understands the
moral code of good men like Pat Brennan. In typical anti-hero fashion, Frank
tries to convince Frank that he’s not like Chink and Billy. He isn’t, but that
doesn’t stop Frank from using Pat’s moral code in order to manipulate everyone.
“Tall T” would appear to be an odd choice for the title of this movie. The
ranch plays a very small part in the movie and is never discussed after Pat
loses the bet. The original title was "The Captives" which is the
title of Elmore Leonard's original story. "The
Tall Rider" is believed by some to be still another pre-release title, but
the final title was changed to "The Tall T" which is the name of the
Tenvoorde ranch. The movie is enjoyable and the performances by Scott, Boone,
O’Sullivan, Hunnicutt and Silva are a testament to Boetticher as an auteur of
highly stylized westerns. Henry Silva is of particular interest as the villainous
Chink and his performance manages to slightly outdo Boone who is also in top
by Columbia in April 1957, the sound quality on the disc is near perfect and
the Technicolor is beautifully preserved in widescreen. The movie is only 78
minutes long and it feels like it should be longer. The movie was previously
released on DVD by Sony as part of “The Films of Budd Boetticher” and was one
of five Scott/Boetticher movies in the set which is loaded with extras. That
set is out of print and can fetch a premium price on-line. This version of “The
Tall T” is a burn to order DVD released as part of the Sony Choice Collection
and there are no extras on the disc which starts up without a menu.
criminal Jerry Barker (Ralph Meeker) demands $200,000 in ransom from the
wealthy father of a missing 10-year-old boy, whom Barker has hidden away in an
abandoned fire tower in Royal Gorge National Park, Colorado. Jerry successfully collects the ransom, but
the boy accidentally dies trying to get out of the tower, and after Jerry coldly
disposes of the body, he’s caught in a police cordon before he can get
away. Jim Madden, the FBI agent on the
case (Reed Hadley), doesn’t have the evidence needed to bring a kidnapping
charge, since the boy’s body hasn’t been found, and Barker refuses to
talk. So Barker, nicknamed “Iceman” by
the press because of his recalcitrance, is sent to prison on extortion. The authorities hope he’ll eventually break
down and confess to the more serious crime. Meanwhile, Madden doggedly continues to pursue clues.
bars, Jerry is ostracized by other inmates, even his hardened cellmates Mason
(William Talman), Smith (Lon Chaney), and Kelly (Charles Bronson). The other cons have heard about the crime and
figure that Jerry not only abducted the missing boy, he also murdered him. (“Kid killer . . . that’s really scrapin’ the
bottom of the barrel!” Kelly sneers over the top of a bodybuilder
magazine.) But the fourth cellmate,
Rollo (Broderick Crawford), has a better idea. The ransom money hasn’t been found either. Rollo convinces the others to take Barker
with them when they execute an already-planned escape, so that he’ll lead them
to the missing money.
House, U.S.A.,” a modest 1955 Bel-Air/United Artists release, is a relatively
obscure slice of ‘50s crime cinema, despite the presence of stellar plug-uglies
Meeker, Crawford, Bronson, Chaney, and Talman in the main cast. Maybe it’s gotten lost in the myriad of other
crime and noir movies from the decade that have “Big” in the title. Or maybe the students of auteur cinema, who
are usually the first to unearth gems in the trash heap of low-budget films,
have overlooked it because it wasn’t directed by Don Siegel, Phil Karlson, or
Sam Fuller (the director was the prolific but relatively unheralded Howard W.
Koch). Too, the title may be a turnoff
for crime-film buffs and critics who don’t particularly care for prison
stories. It’s actually a misnomer
because the prison scenes (filmed inside McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary)
comprise less than a third of the movie.
truth, the script is all over the B-movie landscape, in a good way, from the
methodical scenes about the kidnapping (particularly creepy these days, when
stories about child predators are all over the news), to the procedural scenes
of the FBI agent questioning witnesses, with voiceover by Hadley, to the
inevitable double-crosses among the escaped cons. In addition to the gritty, sweaty scenes at
McNeil’s Island, the movie also features on-location shooting in Royal Gorge
and nearby Canon City, all in no-nonsense black-and-white, heightening the
sense of documentarian realism. Some of
the script doesn’t quite hang together -- for example, it doesn’t seem likely
that the combined forces of the FBI, the park service, and state and local law
enforcement couldn’t find the missing son of a millionaire, alive or dead, even
in a sprawling wilderness park. But film
buffs likely will be too busy spotting familiar ‘50s faces in the supporting
cast to care. Those faces include
Felicia Farr (here billed in an early role as Randy Farr), Roy Roberts, Robert
Bray, Jan Merlin, John Ford stalwart Willis Bouchey, and Jack Webb regular Bill
new Kino Lorber release, in 1920x1080p hi-def, continues the label’s rescue of
neglected but interesting movies that deserve new exposure. The visual quality is somewhat grainy, as
you’d expected from an older film, but that isn’t necessarily a drawback for a
hardboiled crime drama. The only extras
are trailers for three other Kino Lorber releases.
Referring to the 1955 film "Man With the Gun" as a routine Western might not sound like an enthusiastic recommendation. However, because the 1950s was such a fertile time for fine movies representing this genre, "routine" can be taken as praise. The film follows many of the standard story elements that were popular in horse operas of this era: a stalwart, mysterious loner with a shady past who takes on the forces of evil; a good-hearted "bad girl"; a larger-than-life villain and a town with a population of timid, helpless men who must rely on the stranger to save them from being exploited and cheated. Robert Mitchum, then an up-and-coming star, plays Clint Tollinger, a drifter with a reputation for taming wild towns. The town he rides into has a trouble with a capital "T". Seems one Dade Holman (Joe Barry) is the standard villain in a Western piece: he's been flexing his considerable financial resources by buying up all the surrounding land and using paid gun hands to terrorize or kill anyone who won't cede their property rights to him. Tollinger drifts into town to find that his reputation precedes him. He is hired by the local council to thwart Holman's thugs, who have also been disrupting the peace. Tollinger agrees as long as he has complete control over the methods he employs and that he is temporarily deputized, as well. He finds the local sheriff to be an aged, fragile man Lee Simms (Henry Hull), who is more of a figurehead than a respected lawman. Tollinger quickly reverses roles and becomes the central law officer in town, with Simms taking on the role of his deputy. It doesn't take long for Holman's gunmen to test his mettle. Tollinger proves to be adept at protecting himself, consisting outdrawing his adversaries and killing them even when they outnumber him. He also enforces a "no guns in town" rule and a curfew as well. Before long, the businessmen are complaining that now things are too peaceful and their businesses are suffering. Tollinger also interacts with a young couple who are engaged to marry: lovely Stella Atkins (Karen Sharpe) and her headstrong fiancee Jeff Castle (John Lupton) who continues to defy Holman's men and who has been seriously wounded for his refusal to cede a parcel of land Holman wants. Tollinger takes a liking to the couple, though rumors begin to swirl that Stella is more in love with him than she is with Jeff. Tollinger also encounters his estranged wife Nelly (Jan Sterling), who is running the local bordello/dance hall. The two are not happy to see each other and when Nelly reveals a shocking secret about their daughter, the enraged Tollinger goes on a rampage that terrorizes the town.
"Man With the Gun" suffers from a bland, uninspired title but the film itself is quite engaging. Mitchum looks terrific in the part, strutting about town ramrod straight and looking handsome even when embroiled in shoot-outs. Even this early in his career there was evidence of a superstar in the making. The supporting cast is also very good, especially some wonderful character actors such as Henry Hull, Emile Meyer, James Westerfield and other familiar faces of the era (including a young Claude Akins). The film, ably directed by Richard Wilson, is certainly no classic but on the other hand, it is consistently engrossing and highly entertaining. Despite the considerable talent involved, it's Mitchum's show throughout- and he delivers the goods.
The Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber does justice to the crisp B&W cinematography. The edition features the original trailer and bonus trailers for other Mitchum Westerns from the company, The Wonderful Country and Young Billy Young.
Twilight Time has released Fox's 1970 box-office disaster The Only Game in Town as a Blu-ray limited edition (3,000 units). The film is primarily remembered for reasons its creators would never have desired. It was the last movie of legendary director George Stevens and represented his re-teaming with Elizabeth Taylor, with whom he had made two genuine classics: Giant and A Place in the Sun, both which featured two of her most acclaimed performances. In fact, by the time this movie went into production in 1970, Stevens' clout in Hollywood had been somewhat diminished by his obsessive quest to bring his dream project, The Greatest Story Ever Told to the screen. He finally succeeded in doing so in 1965, only to have the film become a politely-acclaimed epic that ended up losing United Artists a fortune. Nevertheless, in those days past reputations still helped keep older filmmakers in high regard, so Fox executives saw plenty of potential in the third teaming of Stevens and Elizabeth Taylor. To add additional boxoffice clout, the studio signed Warren Beatty as the male lead. Beatty had been kicking around the industry for a decade but had only recently become red-hot due to the success of Bonnie and Clyde. Beatty was so eager to work with Stevens that he passed on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, another Fox property that would have a considerably more positive fate.
The Only Game in Town was written as play by Frank D. Gilroy, who was riding a wave of acclaim for The Subject Was Roses. Fox was so eager to land the rights to the story that they paid a (then) astronomical $500,000 to Gilroy, even though the play had not yet been performed. Fox was in for a rude awakening. When the play opened on Broadway, it had a very abbreviated run and closed shortly thereafter, having been deemed a major flop. Left with a costly investment, Fox felt the same fate might not befall the screen version, given the involvement of Stevens, Taylor and Beatty. However, as with any project involving La Liz, the studio found itself being held hostage to her costly demands. Although the story is set entirely in Las Vegas, Taylor insisted that it be shot in France (!) where hubby Richard Burton was filming Staircase, a movie that was set in London. Go figure. It appears the Burtons had a fetish for demanding that movies be shot in places other than their actual locations. Thus, what should have been a modestly-budgeted romance with only two major characters (there are only four actors credited for the entire movie) ballooned into an $11 million production, with much of the cost going into costly production design in order to recreate "Vegas" in France. This was achieved in a fairly unconvincing manner. Remember those old B&W movies in which someone's arrival in Paris is indicated by the fact that the Eiffel Tower (usually a matte painting) is directly visible from the window or balcony? Well, the same principal applies here. Liz lives in an apartment on the outskirts of the Strip but the casinos are glaringly visible over the sand dunes from her window. However, the effect is not even remotely convincing. The garish still life suggests anything other than a bustling tourist center. For understandable reasons (Liz was a few thousand miles away from the real Vegas), no traffic or people can be seen on "The Strip". Thus, the backdrop takes on an eerie air as though it is an effect from a long lost episode of The Twilight Zone.
The story opens with Fran Walker (Taylor), a chorus girl in a big casino stage extravaganza calling it quits for the night. (Critics cruelly noted at the time how unsuitably cast Taylor was for the role of a chorus dancer. Although she was only 37 years old at the time, she seemed far older. Director Stevens tries to deal with this challenge by confining scenes of Fran at work to one "blink-and-you-miss" intense closeup of Liz bopping up and down a bit, all too apparently not in the presence of any of the "real" dancers shown in the establishing shot.) Seemingly bored and despondent, Fran stops into a local gin mill near the Strip to have nightcap. The joint features a tuxedo-clad pianist who warbles for the sparse crowd in between making cynical jokes and comments. He's Joe Grady (Beatty), a handsome hunk who immediately meets cute with Fran. Before you can say "Dickie Burton", the two of them are canoodling under the covers at Fran's apartment (with sleep being impossible, given the blinding lights from the garish phony Vegas set outside her window.) The script goes nowhere fast with Fran and Joe bickering, making up, bickering again... Fran confesses she is the mistress of a wealthy business executive who assures her he is leaving his wife to marry her. Joe cautions her that she has fallen for the oldest con game practiced by cheating husbands and her assurances that she believes in the man's integrity seem increasingly shaky. However, just when Fran and Joe are about to set up house together, Fran's lover, Lockwood (Broadway actor Charles Braswell) turns up unexpectedly and -dammit all- he turns out to have been a man of his word. He wants to marry Fran immediately and take her away from Vegas for a globe-trotting life of luxury. Trouble is, Fran is now smitten by Joe. Who will she choose? The uber-successful businessman or the down-and-out lounge singer? Joe has other problems beyond his finances. He's a compulsive gambler who squanders away his savings every time he manages to put a little aside. In fact, the sequences with Beatty sans Liz (some of which were actually shot in Vegas) are the best in the film, as we see Joe constantly weaken in his vow to stay away from the craps tables. The scenes of him blowing his hard earned money on rolls of the dice are emotionally effective and, at times, cringe-inducing. What doesn't add up is why the charismatic Joe would be so smitten by Fran. Granted, she looks like Elizabeth Taylor, but she's a moody, whining, generally unhappy person who spends most of her time kvetching about every aspect of her life. Although essentially miscast, Taylor plays the role as effectively as one could hope. However, the generally glamorous Liz is attired in array of bland costumes that makes her look uncharacteristically dowdy. It's Beatty who surprises. He's long been one of the least interesting screen presences among iconic leading men and- with a few notable exceptions- he generally delivers performances that are so low-key they border on being boring. However, as Joe Grady, he's more lively than usual and he displays the charisma that would attract any sane, heterosexual woman. (There is one scene, however, that is a bit too cute: love-struck Joe warbling Some Enchanted Evening in the corridor outside of Fran's apartment.)
The Only Game in Town is a bizarre film and is compromised by the fact that the two lead characters have a relationship that never rings true to the viewer. In her Oscar winning performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Taylor was able to actually play an every day person in a believable manner. Martha, the protagonist of that film, may have been a human spitfire, constantly insulting and berating her long-suffering husband George, but she had charisma and was a sexual dynamo. In George Stevens' film, we are too aware of the fact that we are watching a movie star trying desperately to play an ordinary woman. The ploy simply doesn't work. The fact that the movie lacks any interesting supporting characters (even Braswell is bland and boring) gives the entire production a claustrophobic feeling. The score by Maurice Jarre, certainly one of the great composers, also feels out of place here with inappropriate cues coming at inappropriate times. In the wake of the film's poor box-office performance, Beatty emerged unscathed and went on to become an Oscar-winning director. Taylor, however, lumbered through a number of other major studio productions, all of which flopped. It was the end of her reign as a boxoffice draw.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray features a very nice transfer (though some artifacts are noticeable here and there), an isolated score track and the original trailer. It is region-free and can play on any international system. Julie Kirgo provides the usual insightful background notes in an illustrated collector's booklet. The movie is not quite as bad as critics indicated at the time of its initial release but it falls far short of its potential, given the talent involved. Its sad legacy is, ironically, the prime reason we can recommend retro movie lovers to check it out and form their own conclusions.
First Run Features specializes in releasing often obscure, but fascinating documentaries, with many titles relating to WWII history. The company has just made available Dear Uncle Adolf: The Germans and Their Fuhrer, a 2010 documentary by filmmaker Michael Kloft. It's pretty hard to bring a new angle to the study of WWII, as virtually every conceivable aspect would seem to have been covered countless times. However, Kloft examines a genuinely unique aspect of Nazi culture: the countless "fan letters" written to Adolf Hitler during his ascent to power and his reign as Fuhrer. It seems that after the Soviets took Berlin in the waning days of the war, they uncovered a massive archive of personal letters written to Hitler by German citizens. These were studied, cataloged and stored because Hitler felt they were a good measurement of how his people felt about his policies. The Soviets kept a lid on the archive but in the post-Cold War period, they were opened up, though it's unclear how many historians took advantage of this obscure but important find. The cameras pan down endless rows of neatly cataloged storage boxes all filled with the letters. A narrator reads some of them, along with official communiques from Nazi officials. All of this is blended with mesmerizing footage of Hitler and his cronies, much of it new to me.
The film presents a stark and timeless lesson about how cultured, educated and rational people can willingly suspend their common sense- as well as their civil liberties- in hopes of appeasing a charismatic leader. While it is true the German people had suffered terribly in the aftermath of WWI and the oppressive conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, the desperate population willingly adopted Nazi policies that a decade were deemed uncivilized. When Hitler tried to take power at the point of a gun, he failed. He succeeded only when he went the legal route, understanding fully that frightened people will pay any price to have a benevolent strongman solve their problems. If the price of this pact with the devil is that countless numbers of their fellow citizens be deemed undesirables and marked for death, well, that was just too bad. The letters written to Hitler and documented in this film run the gamut from those sent by academics to literal nutcases. (Yes, even the Fuhrer wasn't immune from attracting crazed eccentrics such as the barber who pleaded with Hitler to allow him to meet him in Berlin so he could fulfill his dream of giving him a haircut!) Countless women wrote to Hitler, with the type of adoration that American bobbysoxers were reserving for the likes of young Frank Sinatra. Their flowery prose barely hide their all-too-apparent desire to offer him sexual favors. One woman blatantly invites Hitler to father a child with her so that his legacy can live on. However, there are also heartbreaking letters from the early days of Hitler's regime. These come from wives and children who profess their devotion to him and the cause of National Socialism even as they plead with him to intervene and release their husband/father who has been jailed for unspecified reasons. One woman writes incredulously that her husband has not even been formally charged with a crime despite being in jail for months, as though the niceties of the Weimar Republic were still prevalent in the courts. In one particularly disturbing missive to the Fuhrer, a terrified woman reaffirms her Germanic heritage and spells out the reasons why a trace of mixed blood should not result in her being branded a Jew. She pleads with Hitler to deliver her from the "curse" of being Jewish. In contrast, one child writes to Hitler to beg him to annex his native Austria into the Reich because the Jews are using Christian German children as human sacrifices. Such tall tales were widely believed and helped justify Hitler's amicable takeover of a once sovereign nation. The letters and communiques in the film also show how well Hitler understood the importance of not trivializing his super-human image, as a baker is chastised for naming a cake in his honor. The man writes a sniveling and apologetic reply explaining he was only conforming to the popular demand for such a delicacy from local party officials.
Warner Archive has released the 1968 thriller Kona Coast, based on the novel Bimini Gal by popular mystery writer John D. MacDonald. The modestly-budgeted production reminds one of John Ford's Donovan's Reef in the sense that one suspects both movies were primarily used as justifications for cast and crew to take a nice vacation in Hawaii. Boone plays Sam Moran, a charter boat captain living the good life in Honolulu, where he routinely indulges in drinking binges and womanizing. When his teenaged daughter falls in with a local high living drug peddler named Kryer (Steve Inhat), she is accidentally given a heroin overdose at a drug-fueled party. Rather than deal with the consequences, Kryer orders her to be murdered. When her body washes ashore, the police think it's a drowning but Sam suspects foul play from the beginning. As he begins his own investigation, he is severely beaten, his boat is destroyed and his first mate murdered. Nevertheless, he vows to soldier on and bring the killers to justice. Sam must have the same bizarre methods of investigation that O.J. Simpson had used to track down "the real killers": his path never seems to wander very far outside of seedy bars and strip clubs. For a man obsessed with avenging his daughter's death, he seems pretty open to distractions. In between downing bottles of booze, his roving eye is attracted to a sexy young bikini-clad girl (Gina Villines) and resurrecting a relationship with an old flame (Vera Miles, looking gorgeous), who - in psychological terms- is carrying more baggage than a cruise ship. There's also a testy relationship with a local businesswoman (Joan Blondell, refreshingly not cast as a bordello madam, for once). Sam interrupts the drinkin' and screwin' long enough to administer the occasional Hawaiian punch to some stock company villains, but finding his daughter's killer doesn't seem like a great priority.
The screenplay by Gilbert Ralston (who wrote the original Willard) is a tepid and under-written and the usually reliable Lamont Johnson is asleep at the wheel in terms of direction. The film lumbers from scene to scene until the painfully anemic climax in which Sam and Kryer square off in a sequence that seemed to take five full minutes to conceptualize and film. (Yes, it's even weaker than that other anemic mano-a-mano duel between hero and villain in The Man With the Golden Gun). The film is not without its modest pleasures, however. Boone is, as always, a forceful and charismatic screen presence. Although he was a TV icon, one wishes he was more selective about his big screen roles. For every good movie (The War Lord, Hombre), he would counter by appearing in several duds. His scenes with Vera Miles are well-acted but the weak dialogue can't be overlooked. There were no professional film studios in Hawaii at the time the movie was made, and indeed it would take another couple of years before the success of Hawaii 5-0 would convince Hollywood to invest in some production facilities on the islands. Consequently, most of Kona Coast utilizes actual locations and this is the film's single greatest asset. The film feels like a TV movie masquerading as theatrical feature, but one could do worse than spending 90 minutes with Richard Boone under any circumstance.
Scorpion, the DVD label that specializes in first-class releases of often second-rate films, does it again with Point of Terror, an obscure thriller from 1971. The film was the brainchild of star/writer/producer Peter Carpenter (Blood Mania). Never heard of him? Neither had I until this screener copy arrived. A bit of research reveals that Carpenter was a wanna-be star with grand ambition and modest talents - much like the character he plays in the film, which was directed by Alex Nicol. Sadly, Carpenter's reed-thin list of movie credits is due to the fact that he died young- in fact, shortly after this film was released. Carpenter, who personifies "beefcake", plays a lounge singer with a loyal following. However, he's frustrated that his fame is limited to a local restaurant. Although he has his pick of the female groupies, he's convinced he's destined for fame and fortune. He meets Andrea (Dyanne Thorne of Ilse, She Wolf of the S.S. fame), an uppercrust cougar who helps her impotent wheelchair-bound hubby operate his record empire. Before you can say "Wayne Newton", the pair is tossing and turning all night under the covers. Both characters are manipulative and unsympathetic, which makes it hard to empathize with either one. Andrea is using Tony as her boy toy, while he is using her clout to advance his record career. Soon, both are enmeshed in dastardly deeds including infidelity and murder.
The film has overtones of Play Misty for Me (i.e, sexual obsession taken to a lethal stage) but Clint Eastwood probably didn't lose any sleep worrying that the impact of his film would be diminished by this one. Carptenter himself is a strangely perplexing personality. At times, he resonates legitimate charisma, but at other times, his acting is grade school level. Additionally, the film's opening credits are set to a scene of Tony performing his lounge act- clad in bright red buckskins! It's doubtful this looked hunky even in 1973 and the sequence is unintentionally hilarious, reminding one of those scenes in which women faint in passion at the sight of Austin Powers prancing about in his underwear. Thorne gives a slightly more accomplished performance and gets to doff her top in a swimming pool to display her ample assets. (This was the 70s, remember, and such sequences were all but obligatory for B level actresses.) The movie plods at times and the action is rather clunkily directed, but the film is generally engrossing. Scorpion has provided the usual bevy of extras including an interview with actress Leslie Simms, who has a role in the film. She also served as Carpenter's acting coach and reminisces with affection about her friendship with him. Thorne is also heard via a phone interview done for this release. As with Simms, she speaks highly of Carpenter. The DVD release also includes a trailer and the original poster art on the packaging, which deceitfully implies this is a horror film. Another nice job by Scorpion for a film that would otherwise be lost to the ages.
(This DVD is Region coded "0", which means it can play on any international DVD unit)
“Cover Up” (1949) is a very strange little movie. An
insurance investigator Sam Donovan (Dennis O’Keefe) arrives in a small
Midwestern town by train to investigate the death of one of his company’s
policy holders, a man named Phillips. He meets pretty girl Anita Weatherby
(Barbara Britton) on the train and helps her carry the Christmas packages she’s
brought home for her family. He meets her father, Stu Weatherby (Art Baker) who
came to pick her up and invites Donovan to come out to the house for a visit
when he has the time. Friendly town. Donovan next visits the local sheriff
Larry Best (William Bendix) to get the death report. And that’s where
complications start. The sheriff tells him although the death was a suicide by
gunshot, there’s no gun, no bullet and no coroner’s report and the body is
already buried in the cemetery.
Sounds like a decent set up for a good hard-boiled
who-dunnit, doesn’t it? Except it’s anything but. Despite Kino Lorber’s
packaging, with Bendix and O’Keefe wielding a couple of Lugers on the Blu-Ray
cover, “Cover-Up” falters mid-way through, deciding it wants to be a nice, friendly
holiday movie. Despite a set-up that sounds like the beginning of “Bad Day at
Black Rock,” unlike the characters in that film, everybody in this town must
have migrated from Mayberry. There all so nice and kind and wouldn’t want to
ruin anyone’s Christmas with a nasty thing like murder, which Phillips’ death
turns out to be.
This may be the only mystery story in which the
murdered man and his murderer never appear on screen. In fact, although the
mystery gets solved, there’s no punishment that can be meted out to the
perpetrator because he conveniently dies of a heart attack before Donovan get
put the cuffs on him. And besides Phillips was a no good rat that nobody in
town liked and doesn’t miss. So why make a big fuss about it?
It’s all pretty weird and at the same time kind of tame
and dull. The emphasis is more on the romance between Anita and Sam than the
crime. Oh, there are red herrings sprinkled throughout the script co-written by
O’Keefe and Jerome Odlum that keep the mystery plot going but director Alfred
E. Green provides little tension or suspense.
One wonders why Kino Lorber chose to put this title out
in a nice Blu-ray format when there are so many other more worthy noirs out
there waiting for that kind of presentation. The picture and sound quality are
first rate but the disc has no extras at all.
Bottom line, if you’re looking for an unusual, off-beat
Christmas movie, pick it up. You could run a double bill along with Jean
Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story” to liven things up. Tough guy noir lovers should avoid.
“What’s got four eyes and can’t see?...
Mississippi!”, quips Gene Hackman as FBI Agent Anderson in Alan Parker’s Mississippi
Burning, a cynical joke about racist attitudes of the backward-looking American
south. This heavyweight dramatic crime thriller, based on one of the most
notorious race-related murder investigations in U.S. history, gets its first
ever UK Blu-ray release courtesy of Second Sight.
Set in 1964, endemic racism and
race-related violence throughout the southern states is scrutinised to an
uncomfortably realistic degree, as Roger Ebert wrote: “More than any other
film… this one gets inside the passion of race relations in America”; the film
understands and explains events, whilst Parker’s direction criticises and
highlights prejudice without undue sensationalism. The plot
revolves around the historical events related to the murders of three civil
rights activists (two white and one black) who go missing deep in the heart of
Ku Klux Klan territory. The FBI are called in to investigate, headed by
Agent Ward (Willem Dafoe), very much representing Kennedy’s America; a
progressive, forward looking country of freedom and equality, with zero
tolerance for racist violence and beliefs but believing in his by-the-book
methodology and Bureau protocol. Agent Anderson is partnered with him,
much more cynical with age and willing to take unconventional steps, by any
means necessary, to bring injustice to light. Facing uncooperative
local police and a community too afraid of the consequences to talk to the FBI,
the murder investigation sparks repercussions of national significance in an
era when segregation was still commonplace.
It is obvious to see how Mississippi
Burning won a number of accolades including an Oscar, a number of BAFTAs and a
best actor award for Hackman (at Berlin International Film Festival). And
it is indeed Hackman’s portrayal of Anderson that is the heart and soul of this
film - his warmth and depth of character, his past as a small southern town
Sheriff to his current, cosmopolitan, FBI post illustrates a shift in American
values and the possibilities of a more inclusive future. He understands
the (shockingly prejudiced) beliefs and attitudes of many white southern locals
towards the black population, but does not for one second, as his partner
perhaps mistakes him for early in the film, sympathise with the locals’
attitude in the slightest. In fact, his past allows him to speak to the locals
in a language they understand - violence - to let them know racist actions are
intolerable. He clearly expresses his outrage in a very open and human
manner with which the audience can identify; violent beatings of innocent and
peaceful members of the community from old men to women and children simply for
the colour of their skin or cooperating with the law is extremely upsetting to
witness, as shocking today if not moreso than when the film was released.
Ward is played subtly by Dafoe, leaving
centre stage to Hackman, but his performance is vital to the success of the
film. The audience’s absolute belief in his resolute determination to
solve the case, refusing to give in to the stonewalling by the local community,
and using all means at his disposal is what drives the film along.
For example, a colleague informs Ward that the local motel owner
wants the FBI out as they are ‘bad for business’, to which Ward coolly but
firmly tells him to “Buy it”. Anderson advises Ward that FBI methods won’t
work, knowing that conflict and violence will arise from outside intervention
and will bring a warlike atmosphere to this small town America which, indeed,
escalates to the KKK carrying out violent beatings and relentless petrol-bomb
attacks on houses and churches. Ward, however, sees the value in setting
a precedent here, to make a stand to show there is no place for racial
intolerance in the America of the future, he recognises an era that needs to be
brought to an end: “...it was a war long before we got here.”
Other than these central performances, what
really strengthens the film is the impressive supporting cast; not one single
character is made two-dimensional here, however small a role. Brad Dourif
plays vicious Deputy Sheriff Pell as cruel but with a twinkle in his eye,
Frances McDormand is his resigned but proud wife. R. Lee Ermey plays
Mayor Tilman, parochial and angry, with earnest concern. Even Stephen
Toblowsky, perhaps most recognisable for small but perfectly-pitched apathetic
comedy roles (such as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day) is, in a few short minutes,
able to deliver an impassioned and genuinely chilling speech here as a KKK
leader. Every character feels like a real person; however distasteful
their opinions or actions are within the film, they are still presented as
believably nuanced and rounded human beings rather than caricatures in broad
brush strokes, which could be all too easy to fall back on with such
politically charged subject matter; much credit is due to both performers and
The Blu-ray itself is excellent quality, transferred well without losing the
textured grain of the original film, pleasantly noticeable in places.
Bonus features are few but fascinating; separate interviews with Dafoe,
writer Chris Gerolmo and a 20-minute interview with Alan Parker. There is
also a feature audio commentary with Alan Parker. It would have been
fascinating to have some of the lesser-featured supporting cast mentioned above
involved, perhaps, but the simple and straightforward style of the menus and
the extras presented suit to tone of the film well.
By the 1920s there was already a fear that the age of great adventure and adventurers was rapidly coming to a close. Flight had been conquered and lands that seemed mythical were rapidly being explored by white men. The great white whale that had remained unconquered was the summit of the world's tallest mountain, Everest. Today, the mountain is scaled almost routinely but it still is underestimated by climbers who lose their lives it their quest to ascend it. As late as the 1920s, many considered it be an impossible quest to reach the summit. However, courageous (or foolhardy) souls are often drawn to such seemingly quixotic goals, and so it was that in 1924 a major British expedition was formed with the intent of achieving what many felt was the last great challenge: to reach the summit of the fabled mountain. The expedition was headed by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. Typical of the Brits, the venture was undertaken on a grand scale with a small army of participants, including Tibetan sherpas. Captain John Noel asked if he could accommodate the expedition so that he could document it on film. Mallory and Irvine were reluctant to do so, reminding Noel that they were motivated by scientific exploration, not becoming Hollywood stars. Nevertheless, Noel was given permission to join them- on the proviso that he minimize filming of the people involved and concentrate on the landscapes. Thus, Noel- armed with an amazing array of state-of-the-art film cameras of varying sizes- did indeed spend most of his energies shooting the spectacular scenery. Although there are only fleeting glimpses of the British members of the expedition, Noel did have the foresight to realize how exotic images of the local Tibetan culture would be for Westerners. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to film tribal members and their customs, thus providing the most complete depiction of Tibetan life seen by the outside world.
One of the most impressive aspects of the documentary is Noel's seemingly superhuman ability to keep cameras steady in dangerous situations. The vast regions of ice and sky look just as beautiful and intimidating today as they must have when he filmed them. The movie has an almost mystical quality to it that sets it uniquely apart from any other documentary I have seen. Noel captures the mundane and boring aspects of the expedition as well as its most majestic moments- all leading up to a failed quest and a tragic loss of life. The final images of doomed men setting of to reach to the summit was captured on film by Noel, who kept shooting them even as they faded into figures in a landscape, never to be seen again and whose precise fate remains unknown to this day. Noel successfully marketed his film to appreciative worldwide audiences, but upon his death the elements were allowed to deteriorate. The British Film Institute was given the raw materials by Noel's daughter Sandra and a major restoration project was undertaken that saw the movie returned to its original glory, including some very impressive color tinting. The newly-commissioned score has been brilliantly realized by Simon Fisher; it is both beautiful and occasionally eerie and foreboding. Kino Lorber has imported the BFI restored print for the American Blu-ray release. Extras include interviews with Sandra Noel and other scholars and featurettes about the restoration of the film and the scoring process.
"The Epic of Everest" is a landmark film that has retained all of its emotional power thanks to a brilliant restoration.
by Universal in 1967, “Tobruk” opens with the feel of a 1960s spy thriller. Rock
Hudson is Major Donald Craig, a Canadian prisoner of war on board a German
transport ship anchored somewhere off the North Africa coast in late 1942. A
group of frogmen surface near the ship and sneak on board with silencers fixed
to their guns in order to capture Craig. The frogmen are led by Captain Bergman
(George Peppard) who reveal themselves to be part of a team of German commandos.
commandos take Craig to a German airfield and fly him to a desert landing
strip. They’re unexpectedly greeted by a group of British soldiers led by Colonel
Harker (Nigel Green). It’s revealed that Bergman is the leader of a
German-Jewish commando unit attached to a group of British commandos operating
in North Africa. They secured the rescue of Craig due to his expertise as a map
maker needing his expertise in navigating a mine field and access to the German
occupied port at Tobruk, Libya, so they can destroy it in time for a British
movie is based on an actual, although unsuccessful, attack on Tobruk in
September of 1942 which did include German-Jewish soldiers and fake British
POWs. Just like the actual events, the British commandos in the movie pretend
to be POWs in order to get to their ultimate destination undetected... or at
least in an inconspicuous way that will arouse little attention. During the
journey through the Sahara, the group encounters the German and Italian Army as
well as local horseman seeking money for captured British hostages and aerial
staffing from British aircraft.
by Arthur Hiller, the movie appears at first glance to be an unusual choice for
the director who would be synonymous with message movies and romantic comedies.
However, interspersed between the usual action and military battle scenes, the
British and German-Jewish commando team deal with serious issues of bigotry and
anti-Semitism with Hudson caught between the two camps as the outsider caught in
the middle as they make their way across the desert.
is very good in “Tobruk” and broke away from being stereotyped as a leading man
of about a half dozen very popular romantic comedies to star in more serious
films including heroic military parts in “Tobruk,” “Ice Station Zebra,” “The
Undefeated” and “Hornet’s Nest.” In the 1970s he settled into a hybrid role
which combined elements of his romantic comedies and the heroic leading man as San
Francisco police commissioner in the popular TV series “McMillan & Wife” which
ran from 1971 to 1977.
no stranger to tough guy roles, plays a German soldier for the second time in
“Tobruk” following his performance as aviator Bruno Stachel in the WWI classic
“The Blue Max.” Prior to this he appeared in the WWII adventure “Operation
Crossbow” which was preceded by a string of high profile big budget movies.
Like Hudson, Peppard found success in television with the TV series “Banacek”
which ran from 1972-1974. His acting career was hit or miss in the late 1960s until
he landed the lead in “Banacek” and faltered again in the 1970s until he found
success in the popular TV series, “The A-Team,” which ran from 1983-1987.
Green is a standout as Col. Harker, the leader of the commando unit. One of the
great character actors of British cinema, Green is memorable in just about
everything he appeared in a career cut short by an accidental overdose of
sleeping pills. He played a similar character in another North Africa set WWII
movie, “Play Dirty,” as Col. Masters.
features a cast filled with many of the great British character actors including
Jack Watson, Percy Herbert, Norman Rossington and Leo Gordon as well as
American Guy Stockwell and Irishman Liam Redmond included in the mix. Gordon
did double duty in “Tobruk” as screenwriter as well as a rare good guy role.
early in 1967, “Tobruk” is overshadowed by the blockbuster success and
popularity of “The Dirty Dozen” which premiered that summer. “Tobruk,” like
“The Dirty Dozen,” falls into the genre of “Men on an Impossible Mission,” but
doesn’t pack quite the same punch as movies like “The Dirty Dozen” and “Where
Eagles Dare.” The movie comes close with a satisfying plot, terrific
performances and plenty of action. It is violent, to be sure, including an abundance of graphic deaths via
flame thrower which become more a convenient distraction to move the story
is made-to-order via Universal’s Vault Series and has a run time of 110
minutes. The DVD offers no extras, but the movie sounds and looks very nice
preserving the Techniscope widescreen image. The movie is a welcome addition for
fans of 60s war movies.
to be mistaken for the cannibal monstrosity from Umberto Lenzi with which it
shares its title, Eaten Alive is a
1976 tale of terror set in the Louisiana swamps and was directed by Tobe Hooper
in the wake of his phenomenal success with The
Texas Chain Saw Massacre two years earlier. From the outset Eaten Alive shares its predecessor's
mien of ill ease (though not to such stomach-tightening effect), but little of
its wicked humour. Indeed it's an all-round far crueller film and positively bubbles
over with bloodshed.
Mardi Rustam – who also wrote the story with colleague Alvin L Fast, TCSM's Kim Henkel then adapting it for
the screen – was aiming to ride the tidal wave of Jaws' success; what the results lacked in quality (certainly if
Rustam felt truly inspired by
Spielberg’s film) was voraciously compensated for with lashings of cheap
thrills and squalid chills.
story kicks off with a very fresh-faced Robert Englund attempting to abuse 'the
new girl' in a grimy brothel. Immediately deciding that prostitution isn't for
her, the young lass packs her bags and sets off on foot into the night. But
it's very much a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ when she
stumbles across the remote Starlight Hotel and its creepy proprietor Judd
(Neville Brand); after attempting to assault her, he prongs her to death on the
tines of a pitchfork and feeds her corpse to the huge crocodile he keeps in an
enclosure in the back yard. It’s a brutal and extremely graphic sequence but
one via which Hooper adeptly alerts the audience that he's upped the ante to
deliver something rather more visceral then he did with TCSM (which for all its notoriety is a largely bloodless affair,
functioning primarily on a psychological level). The rest of the movie’s
runtime pivots on Judd serving up hotel guests as crocodile chow for no
discernible reason beyond the fact he's mad as...well, as a box of baby crocs.
the unbridled success of Hooper's earlier film, it's no surprise that Eaten Alive is often given short shrift
and indeed it is inferior, mainly due
to sluggish pacing and the fact it was shot in its entirety on a soundstage;
although the hotel exteriors –wreathed in swirling mist and bathed in a
quease-inducing red glow – have an appealingly stylised look, it's also
painfully obvious one is looking at a studio-bound set, replete with the tell-tale
hollow sound resulting when interiors feebly posture as exteriors. However, if you
can look past this handicap, and claustrophobic dread coupled with sleaze by
the bucketful float your boat, then there's plenty on offer here to keep you
cast alone is worth tuning in for. Complementing Brand's frenetic turn as the
maniac hotel manager there are fun appearances from legends Mel Ferrer (whose
career had certainly seen better days) and Addams
Family icon Carolyn Jones (almost unrecognisable as the decrepit Madam of a
brothel). Also on hand are Stuart Whitman as a local sheriff oblivious to the
carnage being perpetrated on his patch and TCSM's leading lady Marilyn Burns, who fortuitously discards her
frightful wig early on but still ends up bound and gagged by our resident psychopath...
the poor girl didn't have a lot of luck in Hooper's films, did she? There's
also a bizarre turn from William Finley as a disgustingly sweaty guest with a
penchant for barking like a dog, giving Brand strong competition in the most deranged
lurking under titles such as Horror Hotel,
Starlight Slaughter and Legend of the Bayou, when Eaten Alive was issued in the UK on VHS
in the early 80s under the moniker Death
Trap it immediately drew unfortunate attention that earned it a place among
the infamous 'video nasties' and it was withdrawn from circulation. Previous DVD
releases have reportedly been pretty much substandard across the board (although
I haven't seen any of them to be able to comment fairly). But one thing's for
sure: Arrow's new uncut Blu-ray/DVD combination package is anything but substandard, in fact it's absolutely
terrific, doing Robert Caramico's stylish cinematography more fitting a service
than one could have ever imagined possible.
if such a superior, uncut presentation of the film alone doesn't make this one a
worthwhile purchase, Arrow has bundled in an impressive collection of
sweeteners. There are new interviews with Tobe Hooper (who also appears in a
blink-and-you'll-miss-it introduction tagged onto the start of the movie), supporting
actress Janus Blythe and make-up artist Craig Reardon, as well as older ones
with Hooper, Robert Englund and Marilyn Burns. Mardi Rustam provides an
informative commentary and there's also a 20-something minute featurette that
delves into the life of the Texas bar owner upon who the film is loosely based,
as well as a healthy selection of trailers, radio and TV spots, plus a gallery
of poster art and lurid lobby cards. A final gem appears in the form of a
gallery of original 'comment cards', collected from attendees at a preview
screening of the film back in 1976, with the incentive for filling them out being
a reward for the best 'new title' suggestion. Most of the remarks are pretty
uncharitable, with an amusing standout being the one on which the viewer
sarcastically requests to be informed of any subsequent title change so that
he/she doesn't inadvertently go to see it again!
When the “hardware widow” (Allyn Ann McClerie) asks
Monte Walsh (Lee Marvin) if he’d gotten used to the idea of his long-time
partner Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) and her being married, Monte says: “I never
had so many things to get used to in my whole life, as now.” That line of
dialogue in the middle of William Fraker’s “Monte Walsh” (1970) pretty much
sums up this first and best film adaptation of Jack Schaeffer’s novel about the
end of the Old West in general and the cowboy life in particular. It’s a true classic and even though it
features two of the toughest tough guy actors of the sixties and seventies,
it’s not a melodramatic shoot-em-up, full of violence, sound and fury. Rather it’s
an elegiac portrait of the way it must have really happened, presented in a style
as realistic as the Frederick Remington paintings shown under the opening
At the start of the story, Monte and Chet are two
cowboys riding back to Harmony, Montana, and the ranch where they work, only to
find that everything is gone. The winter was so severe the local ranchers gave
up and sold out to Consolidated Cattle, an Eastern syndicate “run by accountants,”
according to foreman Cal Brennan (Jim Davis). Brennan is managing the only
spread left by Consolidated and offers them jobs. The film’s first act
introduces the basic situation and most of the main characters which include
Shorty (Mitchell Ryan), a bronc buster full of mischief and braggadocio, and
Martine (Jeanne Moreau), a prostitute who Monte calls The Countess because of
her French accent and is in love with in his own way. There’s a bunkhouse full
of familiar actors you’ve seen before, including Bo Hopkins, Michael Conrad,
and J.D. Spradlin.
Once the mise en
scene is established, screen writers Lucas Heller and David Zelag Goodman
prepare us for the trouble lying ahead by introducing the character of Fightin’
Joe Hooker (John McLiam), an old, deranged Civil War veteran who rides fence
and keeps muttering, “I had a good life.” Chet and Monte remark to themselves that it appears Fightin’ Joe’s life
is about over. Riding fence is the lowest job a cowboy can have. Soon after,
when all the hands are out on the prairie, gathered around the chuck wagon,
they see Fightin’ Joe on his horse whooping and galloping in a suicide charge straight
off a cliff.
When they return to the ranch Brennan informs them that
Consolidated has ordered four layoffs and Shorty is one of those given his
walking papers. Monte gives him some money, knowing there just aren’t any
cowboy jobs available anymore. Chet meanwhile has had his eye on the widow who
owns the hardware store. In one scene, he asks Monte if he remembered how many
cowboys there were when they first got there. “There’s a hell of a lot fewer
now,” he says without waiting for an answer. He tells Monte he’s going to marry
the “hardware widow.” Too make matters worse for Monte, Martine is moving to a
town 40 miles away. There aren’t enough men left in Harmony for her to make a
After Chet’s wedding, Monte rides to see Martine and proposes
marriage. Only trouble is neither one had any money. He says he’ll come back
after he finds a job. Back in Harmony that night he walks down the dirt street
of the sleeping town and the bleak look on his face shows he’s finally aware of
how bad his situation has become. He discovers the grey bronc that Shorty had
never been able to break penned up in a corral belonging to the owner of a Wild
West show. Monte saddles up and rides the bronc, destroying half the buildings
in town in the process. The scene conveys Monte’s sense of growing frustration
as civilization has been taking away all the things and people he knew. The
destruction of the buildings may be only coincidental to Monte doing what he
does best perhaps for the last time, but it’s also meant to show a displaced
cowboy wreaking some revenge on the progress that is making him obsolete. The
Wild West Show operator offers him a job playing a fictitious outlaw. Monte
needs the money but he thinks about it and turns it down, saying. “I’m not
going to spit on my whole life.”
There have been many films about the ending of The Old
West. Sam Peckinpah’s “Ride the High Country,” “The Wild Bunch,” “Pat Garrett
and Billy the Kid” and “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” immediately come to mind, as does Tom Gries’s
“Will Penny,” with Charlton Heston. These are great films, but “Monte Walsh” is
more like “Will Penny” and “Cable Hogue” in the sense that Peckinpah’s action films
have plots revolving around violence and revenge, while “Monte Walsh” has very
little, if any, plot. There are shootings and fist fights, but are shown merely
as part of the everyday life of a cowboy. Instead of the heavy blood-letting found
in the “The Wild Bunch” most of the action in “Monte Walsh” is rather
good-natured and usually ends in laughter and a drink. These scenes are made
all the more poignant as we watch the impersonal and far more lethal forces moving
into the west, slowly killing the kind of life these people knew.
The times soon become so desperate economically the
characters are forced to change. Lack of employment and the possibility that
there will soon be no place for them, drives them to desperate acts. The
gradual erosion of the situation the cowboys and Monte’s lover face is
portrayed so subtly and realistically that it comes almost as a surprise when
things do suddenly take a violent turn.
“Monte Walsh” was remade in 2002 with Tom Selleck. Unlike
that version, the original film does not present the Eastern syndicate and the
railroad as evil villains. Fraker and his writers instead merely show the
inevitability of progress and how civilization’s forward expansion necessarily
makes some things and people extinct. It’s unfortunate but it’s just the way
Not enough can be said about the understated,
thoughtful performances by the three leads. Marvin reveals a sensitivity that
only a truly tough man can risk showing. His quiet, low key portrayal and his
gradual understanding of what is happening around him slowly builds to a truly
sad and tragic scene near the end of the film. Palance again reminded us of
what a great actor he was in the days when he played Mountain Rivera in Rod
Serling’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” on Playhouse 90. And Jeanne Moreau moves
us deeply as she accepts Monte’s proposal, and later, when he can’t find a job,
tells him “It’s okay.” She wasn’t expecting a wedding right away, knowing in
all likelihood there never would be one.
“Monte Walsh” was Fraker’s first directorial effort. He
is better known as a cinematographer who worked on “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s
Nest” and “The Professionals,” also with Lee Marvin. His only other notable
directing job was “The Legend of the Lone Ranger.” On “Monte Walsh” he turned
the lensing over to David M. Walsh who captured some nice images of the area
around Tucson, subbing for Montana.
The music score was by John Barry with a tune “Good
Times Are Coming” sung by Mama Cass. Barry’s score has been highly praised, but
I found it too reminiscent of some of the Bond films he’d done, and for that
reason somewhat distracting. The Mama Cass vocal was another discordant
element, definitely a product of the time the film was made—the peace and love
music of the
Seventies “Flower Power” generation. However, the
ironic tone of the lyrics perfectly fit the movie’s theme.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray give us “Monte Walsh” in full
2.41:1 aspect ratio, as it
was filmed. Earlier VHS versions cropped the film to 1.85:1 . Color and picture are excellent. Sound is monaural and a
bit bright, making Barry’s score shrill at times. However the dialog is clear,
with the music never overpowering the actors’ words. Unfortunately there are no
extras on this Blu-ray other than the original theatrical trailer.
“Monte Walsh,” especially on this Kino Lorber disc is
highly recommended to all lovers of the western and to those who enjoy films that
try to attain the status of a work of art simply by telling the truth.
(John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
By the late 1950s, the late French novelist Jules Verne was considered good boxoffice, with smash hits such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days having been adapted from his books to the screen. Fox wanted to jump on the bandwagon and made plans to film one of Verne's most popular novels, Journey to the Center of the Earth. The studio had allocated a substantial budget, most of which went into production design and special effects. The project began with Clifton Webb attached at the star, but James Mason ultimately took over the key role of Sir Oliver Lindenbrook, as esteemed Scottish scientist who receives tantalizing evidence that one of his legendary peers, who disappeared two hundred years earlier, may have found a way to explore the deepest regions of the earth's nether regions. Obsessed with replicating this quest, Lindenbrook takes along Alec McKuen (Pat Boone), one of his most promising students. The expedition arrives in Iceland, where Lindenbrook also enlists the aid of Hans (Peter Ronson), a strapping young local man whose physical strength will prove to be useful in the ordeals to come. Unexpectedly, Lindenbrook finds himself having to rely on the support of Carla Goteborg (Arlene Dahl), the widow of a rival scientist who Lindnebrook had mistakenly confided in, only to find the man was trying to use the information to make the historic journey himself. The team is well-equipped for the dangerous mission, but once inside the bowels of the earth, they discover that yet another rival, Count Saknussem (Thayer David), is also competing to race them to the actual center of the planet- and he is willing to use deadly force to ensure he gains all the glory. The film is utterly delightful throughout, thanks in large part to the winning cast. Mason is perfect as the cranky, eccentric professor whose obsession for the mission inspires him to lead the team into the most dire circumstances. Most surprising is the performance of Pat Boone, who Scottish accent comes and goes on a whim, but who exudes genuine appeal on the big screen. (Boone also produced the movie, an investment that still pays him substantial dividends.) At the time, casting singing teenage idols in major film roles was a gimmick that often didn't work and proved to be a distraction. However, Boone acquits himself well throughout and limits his crooning to only one romantic number early in the film. Dahl is the ultimate liberated woman, insisting on holding her own amid some vile threats and Thayer David exudes icy menace as the cold-hearted explorer willing to murder for glory. Young Diane Baker plays Alec's fiancee, who spends most of the film back in Edinburgh worrying about the fate of her betrothed. (Although a few scenes were shot in Scotland, the principal actors never left the United States. Much of the footage was shoot at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, as well as Lone Pine, California). Veteran director Henry Levin proved to be an inspired choice to helm the production, as he is equally adept with the human elements of the story as he is with the spectacle.
Twilight Time had previously released the film in 2012. However, this "new, improved" edition features new cover art, isolated score track of Bernard Herrmann's bombastic, impressive score and an audio commentary by Diane Baker and film historians Steven C. Smith and Nick Redman. There is also an original trailer and the usual informative collector's booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo. The limited edition (5,000 units) Blu-ray that does justice to the amazing set designs and special effects. While these aspects of the movie may seem quaint and retro in the age of CGI, they will amaze more sophisticated viewers who realize that they represent the work of true craftsmen who labored to come up with the incomparable look of the film. The climactic attack by an army of super-sized, flesh-eating lizards is especially impressive and downright chilling. This is one exotic Journey that is worth the investment.
Warner Home Entertainment has recently released their
special edition DVD of director Joe Dante’s “Innerspace” on Blu-ray. The 1987
film is a sci-fi comedy that afforded Martin Short and Meg Ryan early career leading roles in a tale of inspired lunacy. The premise of the script centers on a narcissistic former military test pilot Tuck Pendelton (Dennis Quaid) who volunteers for an unprecedented scientific experiment. Doctors have the technology to shrink him and inject him into the body of a rabbit. They also obviously have the ability to bring him back into the outside world where he can resume his normal activities at his normal size. The purpose of the experiment is to allow medical technicians to eventually inject operatives into human beings so that they can perform miracle surgeries. However, there are some bad guys who are looking to benefit from the amazing technology by selling it to the highest bidder. After Tuck has been reduced inside a hypodermic needle, there is an altercation between the villains and scientists. A chase ensues that extends outside of the laboratory. By happenstance, Jack Putter (Martin Short), a nondescript grocery store clerk, is injected by the needle. The result is that Tuck is now floating around the bloodstream of an unwitting, innocent man. The laughs result from Tuck's ability to communicate with Jack and convince him of what is happening. Drawn into the mix is Tuck's girlfriend Lydia (Meg Ryan), who Jack befriends at Tuck's urging. In the zany antics that follow, Lydia is finally convinced of the fantastic scenario after she has become targeted by the head villain, a zillionaire named Scrimshaw (Kevin McCarthy). By then, there is a desperate race against time to get Tuck back into the real world before he becomes a permanent part of Jack's DNA.
"Innerspace" is a throwback to an era when major studios would routinely turn out family friendly comedies that were devoid of today's mandatory gross-out jokes and mean-spirited pranks. The entire cast seems to be having a blast under Dante's direction, perhaps because his films are glorious evidence that he has never grown out of the wonder of the types of films that appealed to him as a kid. The movie is a particular triumph of sorts for Martin Short, who proved he could carry a major budget production as a leading man. The special effects hold up extremely well even today (no surprise the film won an Oscar in this category).
We caught up with Dante all these years later to ask him to reflect on his thoughts about "Innerspace".
CINEMA RETRO: How do you feel the film holds up into today's modern age?
JOE DANTE: I've always liked it and I had a lot of fun making it. I think you can tell when you watch it.
CR: It's especially evident listening to the commentary track on the Blu-ray. It's no secret that you have been heavily influenced in your work by the classic and cult horror and sci-fi movies of your youth. Is it fair to say that "Innerspace" was a satire of "Fantastic Voyage"?
JD: I can't vouch for that because I wasn't in on the creation of it. When I was first offered it, the script had no comedy at all. I didn't think it worked that way so I went off and did something else. When I came back, they had a new writer and he approached it as comedy from the concept of what would happen if we shrank Dean Martin down and injected him inside Jerry Lewis. That was a concept I could relate to.
CR: Steven Spielberg executive produced the film. Was he involved before you were?
JD: Actually no, because I was offered the picture by Peter Guber when it was in its serious incarnation. During the time I went off to do something else, Spielberg had become involved. He was probably an impetus for turning it into a comedy.
CR: Did he have any constraints on you regarding your vision of the film?
JD: The atmosphere at Amblin was pretty free. The thing Steven would do is protect you from the studio and sometimes from the other producers. It was a very filmmaker-friendly atmosphere over there. You got all the best equipment and all the best people and all the toys you wanted to play with. Plus you had somebody on your side who was also a filmmaker and they knew exactly what you were talking about when you had a problem or you had a question.
CR: In terms of casting, you seemed to have your own stock company of actors you liked to work with: Dick Miller, William Schallert, Rance Howard, Orson Bean, Kathleen Freeman and even Kenneth Tobey.
JD: I think when you look at a director's filmography, you see the same faces popping up all the time because these people are copacetic and sometimes they become your friend. You originally hire them because you like their work and you like to watch them do their stuff so, whether it's Ingmar Bergman, Preston Sturges or John Ford, they have "go to" people that they put into almost every one of their pictures. The only down side comes when you have made a lot of movies and now you have a lot of people you want to include but, of course, you don't have parts for them.
CR: That tradition doesn't seem to be as prevalent today.
JD: That's because the business has changed so much. The movies aren't made in one locale anymore. There are less opportunities for an actor to shine over and over in a supporting role because when a movie goes to Canada or Australia, you have to use their local people. All those people who built up followings from television and movies and sometimes even radio were constantly being seen by people. Today there's just no opportunity to do that. Not only are there less movies, there are fewer roles and most of the films aren't made in Hollywood any longer.
CR: With "Innerspace", were the leading roles already cast before you got involved? Did you rely much on the casting director?
JD: No, once you are involved with a movie, you're in on all those decisions. The good thing about casting directors is that you can tell them who you want to see and they have the ability to make that happen. They make deals, they make contracts. I was using Mike Fenton, who was one of the best casting directors in the business at the time. Many of my best pictures were cast by Mike. Today, it's a little more piecemeal because so many of the movies aren't made here. So you have dual casting directors. You have the Hollywood casting director and the Canadian casting director. When it gets down to the smaller roles, they almost always cast in the locality you are shooting in. I made enough movies in Vancouver that I actually started to build up a Vancouver stock company because the talent pool there isn't that vast. I sort of bemoan the fact that actors don't have the opportunity for that kind of career longevity. When they decided to start giving all that money to the stars it came out of the casting budget. All of a sudden there wasn't much money for the supporting actors.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
ADDS RARE TV SERIES ‘NICHOLS,’ ‘HONDO’
AND ‘A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH’ TO SATURDAY WESTERNS BLOCK STARTING IN SEPTEMBER
will Air Mini-Marathon of One Series Each Week Starting Sept. 12 at 12 PM ET
CITY, CA –– Monday, August 24, 2015 - Acclaimed movie diginet getTV introduces classic TV series to its
lineup for the first time by adding a block of rarely seen Western series
starting Saturday, September 12 at 12 p.m. ET. The brand new block is a
part of the network's popular ongoing all-day Saturday Westerns lineup,
and will debut with five episodes of the 1971 series NICHOLS, starring
beloved leading man James Garner and a young Margot Kidder, in one of her first
getTV will present five episodes of the wandering gunslinger series HONDO,
starring Ralph Taeger and Michael Pate, on September 19; and 10 episodes
of 1965’s A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH, starring Robert Horton,
on September 26; both starting at Noon ET. Following several
weeks of mini-marathons, all of the newly added Western series will join the
regular Saturday lineup on a weekly basis.
September 12th, James Garner is a man looking for a fresh start in NICHOLS, set
in small-town Arizona in the early 1900s. Having left an 18-year career in the
military, Garner as Nichols finds himself blackmailed into the role of town
sheriff by the villainous Ketcham Family, who run the town. Riding a motorcycle
instead of a horse, and forsaking guns in favor of more peaceful resolutions,
the newly-crowned lawman takes on bandits, manages town bullies and woos
beautiful bar maid Margot Kidder...all with his own unique style. Created by
Oscar®-winning screenwriter Frank Pierson (DOG DAY AFTERNOON, COOL HAND LUKE,
MAD MEN), with episodes directed by such notables as John Badham and Ivan
Dixon, Nichols also featured Garner’s eventual THE ROCKFORD FILES co-star
Stuart Margolin and included such guest stars as Tom Skerritt, Scatman
Crothers, THE WALTONS’ patriarch Ralph Waite, Alice Ghostley, and Ricardo
Montalban, and was well-known for being one of James Garner's favorite
on September 19, Ralph Taeger and his faithful canine sidekick Sam hit the
road in 1967’s HONDO. Based on the 1953 John Wayne drama of the same
name--which, in turn, was inspired by Louis L'Amour's sixth novel--HONDO stars
Taeger as a former Confederate officer who lived with the Apaches. Tasked with
preventing more violence from occurring between settlers and the remaining
tribes, Hondo embarks on a quest to avenge his Indian wife's death, while
battling dastardly land-grabbers, nosy reporters, and other outlaws, in the
process. Famed movie villain Michael Pate also stars, reprising his big screen
role as Apache Chief Vittoro, and the series features such guest stars as Ricky
Nelson, Fernando Lamas and Annette Funicello. Noah Beery Jr. (who played
James Garner’s father in THE ROCKFORD FILES) co-stars in this series.
month wraps up on September 26, with WAGON TRAIN’s Robert Horton in
10 episodes of the well-regarded half hour Western drama A MAN CALLED
SHENANDOAH. Horton stars as a man who wakes up after being brutally attacked,
with no memory of who he is or why anyone would want to harm him. Searching for
clues to his past life, the man dubbed "Shenandoah" travels through
the desert, running afoul of lynch mobs, dodging false charges, facing off
against violent criminals, and doling out Old West justice along the way. In
addition to Horton, the series boasted a number of impressive guest stars,
including Oscar® winners Cloris Leachman, Martin Landau, and George Kennedy,
and nominees Bruce Dern, Sally Kellerman, Nina Foch, John Ireland, and Arthur
A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH
getTV, our fans love when we dig into the vaults and find something they
haven’t seen in awhile – or maybe ever. So, in addition to uncovering
hard-to-find movies, we also wanted to deliver our fans some rare TV series,”
said Jeff Meier, getTV’s senior vice president of programming. “One of
our most popular programming blocks on the channel is
our Saturday lineup of Westerns, so we’re especially proud to be able
to present lesser known gems from legends like James Garner and Robert Horton
that haven’t been seen on TV in decades. Although each of these series
originally had a short run, they all feature classic Old West action that will
have viewers agreeing that they were cancelled far too soon.”
a digital subchannel dedicated to showcasing Hollywood’s legendary movies and
is available over the air and on local cable systems. The network, operated by
Sony Pictures Television Networks, launched in February 2014. It features Academy Award® winning films and
other epic classics titles. getTV distribution is close to covering nearly
70 percent of all U.S. television households across 65 markets, including 40 of
the top 50 designated market areas (DMAs). The network is broadcast by
Sinclair Broadcast Group, Univision Television Group and Cox Media Group owned
stations and others. For information, visit get.tv
and connect with the network on Facebook
and Twitter @getTV.
Made months before the U.S.’s entrance into World War
II, “All Through the Night” (1941) stars Humphrey Bogart as “Gloves” Donahue, a
New York Irish gangster battling Nazi fifth columnists. “Gloves” runs a bookie
operation and he’s got the world by the tail until he gets a frantic call from
his mother (Jane Darwell) who is upset because Herman Miller, the baker who
makes “Gloves’ ” favorite cheesecake is suddenly missing. “Gloves”- with his
gang which includes William Demarest, Jackie Gleason, Frank McHugh, and Phil
Silvers- rush over to the bakery and find the baker stuffed in one of the
pastry bins in the basement. A mysterious blonde (Kaaren Verne) shows up and
disappears when the cops arrive.
Gloves and his pals can’t understand why anyone would
want to harm poor old Mr. Miller, but Gloves’ mother tells him that the blonde
who disappeared must know something, and she tells him to find her. Gloves
doesn’t have a clue where to look and is not inclined to pursue the matter
further. But Mom is last seen asking a peanut vender outside the bakery if he
noticed the girl. “Gloves” and his boys
go to his expensive apartment to relax, and no sooner does he light up his
cigar than he gets an angry phone call from Marty Callahan (Barton MacClain),
another Irish mug who owns a nightclub. He’s irate because “Gloves’“ mother is
there raising a ruckus.
“Gloves” and his boys run down to the club and his
mother insists that the girl who was in the bakery works at the club. How she
knows this is never explained. But I guess the peanut vendor must have known. We’ll
never know since his dialogue ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s an annoying gap in the continuity but it really doesn’t matter. The corkscrew script by
Leonard Spigelgass and Edwin Gilbtert is intended to keep the audience guessing
with one surprising reversal after another. What’s more little plot hole more
Meanwhile, the mysterious blonde is there on the stage
singing the “All Through the Night” theme song written by Johnny Mercer. “Gloves”
recognizes her, likes what he sees and tells his mom to go home. He investigates
and in the process of trying get to the girl, “Gloves” finds nightclub manager
Joe Denning (Edward Brophy) shot. Denning holds up the five fingers of his hand
as if trying to tell “Gloves” something. Witnesses see “Gloves” kneeling over the
body so naturally he has to scram. On his way out he sees a cab carrying the
girl and some shadowy figures rushing out of an alley. Through pals he knows at
the cab company, “Gloves” finds the address the cab went to and continues his
And that’s just the beginning. It turns out Denning holding up five fingers
was a warning that there was a fifth column movement of Nazis right there in
New York. The mysterious blonde is part of the movement (or is she?), which is
being run by Conrad Veidt and his pal Peter Lorre. They are planning to blow up
a battle ship in New York Harbor. To think, it all started because “Gloves”
couldn’t get his favorite cheesecake!
Movie studios had been under pressure for years by
isolationists in Congress to refrain from making films that would incite the
country to war. But with the growing threat of Nazism, the rumors of horrors
occurring in Germany, and the known presence of Nazis in cities all over the
U.S., by 1941 the atmosphere had changed. “All Through the Night,” according to
director Vincent Sherman who shares an interesting alternate audio commentary track
on the DVD with film historian Eric Lax, was an attempt by Warners to make an
anti-Nazi comedy. Sherman admits that reaction to it was mixed. I suppose audiences
weren’t sure what to make of a movie that plays like Damon Runyon meets “Watch
on the Rhine.”
The idea for the story is based on some fact. There
were Nazis in Brooklyn and other parts of New York in the late 1930s and the
only ones concerned about them were the local gangsters and newspaper men. The
general public and the police couldn’t have cared less. So the ending of “All
Through the Night,” with rival gangs of Irish gangsters uniting and battling
German saboteurs is not as far-fetched as it might seem.
“All Through the Night” is a chance to see a big cast
of Warners’ regulars at or near their peak in a lively film that more than puts
them through their paces. It’s not Bogart’s greatest film, but it continue to
help elevate him up from the B-movie gangster films and westerns he’d once been
relegated to. It would be only a short time later that he would once again be
battling Nazis Veidt and Lorre in “Casablanca.” By then the isolationists were
silent and the country was already at war.
“All Through the Night” presents a good many extras to
enjoy on the DVD release. The audio commentary by Sherman and Lax is highly
informative. Lax presents the historical facts and Sherman tells what it was
like to work under the Warners studio system. The place was loaded with sets
made for earlier movies. All he had to do was walk around and pick what he
needed to make a movie. In those days film makers rarely left the back lot. In
addition to the commentary, there is a cartoon, newsreel a trailer for
“Gentleman Jim” and a comedy short subject about quitting smoking. There’s a lot
to see and hear on this disc. It will definitely keep you watching “All Through
the Night,” and maybe the next night, too.
Truffaut had an all too short but certainly brilliant career as a filmmaker. He
began in the world of film criticism in France, but in the late 1950s he
decided to make movies himself. Truffaut quickly shot to the forefront of the
French New Wave in the late 1950s and early 60s, alongside the likes of
Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Alain Resnais, and others. By the time the 70s
rolled around, Truffaut was a national treasure in France and a mainstay in art
house cinemas in the U.S. and Britain.
1973 masterpiece, Day for Night (in France La Nuit Américaine, or “American
Night”), won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of that year, the only
time Truffaut picked up an Academy Award. Due to odd eligibility rules, the
picture could be nominated for other categories the following year. For 1974, Truffaut
was nominated for Best Director, the script by Truffaut, Suzanne Schiffman, and
Jean-Louis Richard was up for Best Original Screenplay, and Valentina Cortese
was nominated for Supporting Actress. Thus, Day for Night is perhaps one of the
auteur’s best known works outside of France.
title refers to a technique used in Hollywood pictures to create night scenes
shot during the day by using a special filter. In France “day for night” was
also known as “American night,” because it was an inexpensive and less
complicated method to achieve the effect.
title is entirely appropriate because the movie is about making a movie.
Truffaut plays a director named Ferrand (the filmmaker often acted in his own
pictures; most non-French audiences will remember his major role in Spielberg’s
Close Encounters of the Third Kind). The film he is making is a trite melodrama
about an older man falling in love with his soon-to-be daughter-in-law—which is
a plot that might very well have been in a real Truffaut movie. In fact,
several of the talking heads in the disc’s supplements suggest that Truffaut
was slyly making fun of his own 1964 melodrama, The Soft Skin (reviewed here),
which at the time of its release was a financial and critical disappointment
for the filmmaker.
Bisset and Truffaut
“plot,” as it were, of Day for Night is
nothing more than a freeform documentation of the movie’s shoot, particularly
focusing on the actors and crew and the on-screen and off-screen relationships
they have while on location—who’s falling in love, who’s breaking up, who’s
sleeping with or cheating on whom, and so on. In fact, mimicking the love
triangle that’s in the film-within-the-film, two of the lead actors, Julie
(Jacqueline Bisset) and Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Leaud) have an affair, jeopardizing the actress’
marriage, especially when Alphonse becomes enraged with jealousy when Julie
decides to reconcile with her husband when the man visits the set. There are
other dalliances among crew members... at one point a wife visiting her
henpecked production manager husband shouts at the entire production staff, “What
is this movie business? Where everyone sleeps with everyone! Everyone lies! Do
you think it's normal? Your movie world...I think it stinks. I despise it!”
it’s a romantic comedy, and there are quite a few laughs and whimsical moments.
Truffaut was often guilty of injecting sentimentality into his films, and it’s
here in abundance. This is not a bad thing, for the director did this thing
well. Day for Night is indeed very light, its buoyancy aided by Georges
Delerue’s sparkling score. It’s a quintessential Truffaut picture in that it
hits his various auteur thematic signatures—love affairs, infidelity,
reconciliation, pathos, and even cinema history. In fact, the picture is in
itself an homage to the art of making motion pictures. A key recurring sequence
is when Ferrand has fitful dreams at night, picturing himself as a young boy
desperate to steal lobby cards and press photos from the local cinema. As the
American movie posters claimed in the tag line, “it’s a movie for people who
cast is sensational. Besides Truffaut, Bisset, and Leaud, Jean-Pierre Aumont
plays the older screen idol who is nearing retirement, Valentina Cortese is an
Italian screen idol whose major earlier work was “with Fellini” (and this is
true for Cortese herself!). Other Truffaut “regulars” such as Dani, Alexandra Stewart, and Nathalie Baye, make
picture was shot at the legendary Victorine Studios in Nice, France (now called
Riviera Studios), the site where many noted films were made, such as To Catch a
Thief, Children of Paradise, Lola Montes, Mon Oncle, And God Created Woman, and
more. These photos depict what the grounds looked like in 2000, when I visited
the location while researching my James Bond novel, Never Dream of Dying (the
studios were used as a model for a setting in the book). While I walked around
the grounds, I mostly thought of Day for Night, for Truffaut’s movie had stayed
with me for decades since I first saw it on its initial release.
Photos taken by Raymond Benson at the filming location in 2000.(Photos copyright Raymond Benson. All rights reserved.)
Criterion Collection presents a gorgeous new restored 2K digital transfer,
supervised by director of photography Pierre-William Glenn, with an
uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Most of the supplements that appeared on the
Warner Brothers DVD of 2001 have been ported over, such as vintage “making of”
documentaries; interviews with Truffaut, Bisset, and several other cast and
crew members; a documentary on the film featuring film scholar Annette Insdorf;
and vintage news clips such as Truffaut being interviewed at Cannes. New
supplements include a fascinating video essay by the extraordinary filmmaker ::
kogonada; new interviews with DOP Glenn and assistant editor Martine Barraqué;
and a new engrossing interview with film scholar Dudley Andrew about the rift
that occurred between Truffaut and Godard after the release of the film. An
essay by critic David Cairns adorns the booklet.
for Night is easily one of François Truffaut’s best films. If you haven’t seen
it, you owe it to the movie lover inside you to pick up this one.
LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN” (1981; Directed by
By Raymond Benson
Fowles’ 1969 novel, The French
Lieutenant’s Woman, was a literary sensation, a best-seller, and a work
deemed “impossible” to film because it broke conventions and played with
narrative structure and point of view. And yet, there were several attempts in
the 70s to adapt the difficult Victorian story to something cinematic.
Apparently Dennis Potter took a shot at writing a screenplay at one point, but
it was playwright Harold Pinter who cracked the problem and presented the tale of
obsession, infidelity, and shame as two parallel stories—one in the Victorian
past, as in the book, and one in the present, dealing with the actors making the film we’re watching.
It was a unique and original approach to the material. With Karel Reisz at the
helm, the film adaptation became a critically-acclaimed art house delight.
a Czech director working in England, was at the forefront of the British New
Wave of the 60s with such pictures as Saturday
Night and Sunday Morning, Morgan!,
and Isadora. He brilliantly realizes
Pinter’s script with the help of the gorgeous cinematography by the great Freddie
Francis and the superb performances by Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. It was
Streep’s first starring role (she had previously held supporting parts and won
her first Oscar for Supporting Actress for Kramer
vs. Kramer) and it earned the actress her first Oscar nomination in the
Leading Actress category. For many, especially in the U.S., this was the first
time Irons was seen on the big screen (he had previously done much work for
British television and had a small part in one feature film). Narratively, it’s
Irons’ movie—he plays the protagonist—but it is definitely Streep, with her
hauntingly quiet portrayal of Sarah, the fallen woman, who leaves an indelible
parallel stories follow illicit love affairs. In the present, actors Mike
(Irons) and Anna (Streep) are making a movie called The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Both are married to other people,
but they have an on-location affair while filming in West Dorset, England. Coincidentally,
the characters they play in the movie—Charles and Sarah—have a scandalous
affair in the same setting, but in the Victorian era. The point of the picture
seems to be that nothing has changed since the late 19th Century in terms of
morality, social mores, and how misplaced passion can wreck a life. Sarah is a
mysterious outcast in the seaside town of Lyme Regis, the subject of much gossip
as being the “French Lieutenant’s Whore,” i.e., she had an adulterous
relationship with a married, visiting French soldier. Charles is a
paleontologist working in the village; he is engaged to marry a well-to-do
local girl, but he unwittingly becomes obsessed with Sarah. This, of course,
leads to the man’s ruin. In both cases, the aftermath of the affairs leave
devastations... or do they?
Fowles’ novel, the consequences of Charles’ and Sarah’s affair is played out in
three different endings. It is up to the reader to decide which is the most
plausible—or morally acceptable. For the film, Pinter has twisted this conceit
into the two analogous storylines with dissimilar outcomes. Very clever indeed.
Perhaps Pinter’s script—which was nominated for an Adapted Screenplay Oscar—is
the real star of the picture.
the Oscar nods for Streep and Pinter, the film was nominated for Art Direction,
Costume Design, and Film Editing.
moody, beautifully shot, brilliantly written, and exquisitely acted, The French Lieutenant’s Woman is ripe
for rediscovery as an important piece of British cinema from the early 80s.
Criterion Collection does its usual bang-up job with a new 2K digital
restoration and an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The images look marvelous.
Reisz’s attention to detail in the period setting is a feast for the eyes.
include new interviews with Streep and Irons, editor John Bloom, and composer
Carl Davis (whose score is evocative and sublime); a new interview with film
scholar Ian Christie about the making and meaning of the film; an episode from The South Bank Show from 1981 featuring
Reisz, Fowles, and Pinter; and the theatrical trailer. The essay in the booklet
is by film scholar Lucy Bolton.
Chariots of Fire may have taken the
Oscar gold for 1981, for me the finest British picture that year was The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
“DARK WAS THE NIGHT received
an overwhelming response at ScreamFest and the Lincoln Center’s New York Film
Festival Sidebar Scary Movies Series and is now in theaters across the
country and available Day and Date on VOD, and Digital platforms including
ITunes and Amazon instant video.
Kevin Durand (The
Strain) and Lukas Haas (INCEPTION) star as local policemen who go to battle
against an ancient evil. The script, from Tyler Hisel, appeared on the 2009
Black List of best un-produced scripts, a rarity for the monster genre, under
the title THE TREES. Rounding out the cast are Bianca Kajlich
(Undateable), Sabina Gadecki (the ENTOURAGE movie), Heath Freeman (SKATELAND),
Steve Agee (@midnight) and Nick Damici (LATE PHASES).
Maiden Woods is a remote
and quiet town, but something stirs in the dark woods surrounding this isolated
community. Sheriff Paul Shields (Kevin Durand) and his deputy (Lukas Haas),
struggle to confront their own personal demons while facing down a new breed of
Kevin Durand, Lukas Haas, Bianca
Kajlich, Steve Agee, Nick Damici, Sabina Gadecki, and Heath
Dallas Sonnier, Jack
Heller, Stefan Nowicki, Dylan K. Narang, Joey Carey
Ross Dinerstein and Kevin Iwashina
Caliber Media, Sundial Pictures,
Preferred Content & P Street Films
Stars in a creature feature that is downright poignant.
Director Jack Heller
does a fantastic job of doling out the scares and ratcheting up the tension in
– AINT IT COOL NEWS
design and cinematic discretion, make the damn thing work! –
by withholding the usual genre tropes... A notch above standard horror,
suspense. Tech and design contributions are nicely turned all
certainly talent in Jack Heller’s fright film “Dark was the Night,” beginning
with its cast. (Kevin Durand) conveys tender sorrow and steely resolve
with understated dexterity.
A trip into the
woods that will give you chills, but provide you with the urge to press “play”
over and over again – highly recommended.
- DREAD CENTRAL
One hell of a
great movie! One of the best horror films of the year. Don’t miss it!
This could be the next great horror franchise. – FANGORIA
Jack Heller is a graduate of the University of Southern
California School of Cinematic Arts. Jack made his directorial debut with the
Micro Budget film Enter Nowhere, starring up and coming stars Scott
Eastwood (The Longest Ride), Sara Paxton and Katherine Waterston (Jobs,
Inherent Vice), the independent film was released by Lionsgate. As a music
video and commercial director, he has worked with artists including, Miley
Cyrus, Big Sean, and Chief Keef, as well as brands such as Beats By Dre, Pac
Sun, British Knights, Stussy, and Hood By Air. Heller has produced over
20 feature films including the upcoming Bone
Tomahawk starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, and Richard
Jenkins and is a founding member of the production company Caliber
Media. Dark Was the Night is his second feature film as Director.
One of Mel Brooks' least-discussed films, the 1991 comedy "Life Stinks", is also one of his most accomplished works. The film didn't click with Brooks's usual audience at the time, perhaps because the film is laced with social commentary. Brooks obviously ignored the old Hollywood advice to "Leave the messages to Western Union". Nonetheless, it's precisely because of this departure from his usual productions that gives "Life Stinks" a certain poignancy that isn't found in his earlier works. Granted, Brooks always included some sentiment in his films (even Zero Mostel's Max Byalystock in "The Producers" is con man with some admirable traits.) However, "Life Stinks" makes a plea for compassion toward society's most vulnerable people, even as it concentrates on the primary purpose of any Brooks film: to make the audience laugh.
The movie opens with a very amusing scene in which we are introduced to the central character, billionaire business magnate Goddard Bolt (Brooks) who calls a conference meeting with his team of corporate "yes" men and sniveling team of lawyers. Like Auric Goldfinger unveiling his plan to rob Fort Knox, Bolt uses a large scale model of the worst section of Los Angeles to announce his plans to buy up this property and turn it into a spectacular business compound that resembles a vacation resort. Naturally, it will bear his name and he is unconcerned about the fact that it will displace legions of homeless people who have erected a makeshift "city" on this property. As portrayed by Brooks, Bolt is an intentionally over-the-top egotist who never stops bragging about his accomplishments and who is clearly involved with in a passionate love affair -with himself. (If the film were made today, critics would immediately suspect that the character was based on Donald Trump.) Bolt's plans hit a snafu with the arrival of his arch business nemesis Vance Crasswell (Jeffrey Tambor) who announces that he has managed to already buy up the remaining half of the land that Bolt needs to carry out his dream. Neither man will budge in terms of selling his half of the land to the other so they decide to engage in a bizarre bet. The wager is that Bolt must forego his identity and all of his money and credit cards and attempt to survive as a homeless person within the confines of the geographic boundaries of the disputed land. If he can last 30 days living off his wits, he gets Crasswell's half of the land. If he fails, he cedes his half of the land to Crasswell. The movie chronicles the predictably rude awakening that Bolt gets from the first minute he enters the world of these hopeless souls. This is where the human side of the script kicks in. Bolt, a man who has commanded countless minions as the head of business empire, can't figure out how to even earn enough money to rent a $2.50 a night flop house hotel room. Nor can he come up with a plan for how to get a meal. Alone and destitute, he ultimately befriends some long time street people who pity him and take him under their wings. These include Sailor (Brooks' frequent co-star Howard Morris), a jovial but mentally unbalanced man who knows the ropes when it comes to surviving on the mean streets of L.A. Bolt also encounters Molly (Lesley Ann Warren), a former dancer who has hit on hard times. The fiery-tempered young woman has learned to get by the on streets by using physical violence to protect her "home", which is in reality a motley collection of discarded items gathered in a back alley.
The film is basically geared for humor and it delivers in spades. There are some laugh-out-loud sequences depicting Bolt and his friends contending with some local bullies. However, Brooks the director scores even more impressively with poignant sequences in which Bolt learns the value of the people around him. He may have billions in the bank but he finds that a free meal in a soup kitchen is worth his fortune. He begins to see the people around him in a different light. When Molly's "home" is destroyed by vandals, it becomes clear that to a homeless person this loss is as devastating as it would be for the average person to lose their house. The film points out how transient people who live in over-sized boxes can have their world demolished by a pounding rainstorm that washes away their shelter. Every day is a battle to survive on the street. Predictably, Bolt and Molly reawaken human elements in each other and a romance blossoms. In one lovely sequence, Bolt and Molly find shelter in a costume warehouse where he convinces her to dress up regally and dance with him. It's a charming scene, the likes of which no other contemporary movie would show for fear of it appearing to corny. The movie is enhanced by composer John Morris's wonderful score. By this point, Morris had composed the music for most of Brooks's films and his contributions are essential elements of each of them. The supporting cast is also terrific with Howard Morris scoring very well as the sympathetic street person who doesn't realize how desperate his plight is. Warren gives a knockout performance that hits all the right notes in terms of pathos and belly laughs. Jeffrey Tambor steals his every scene as a hilarious villain- and the scene in which he and Bolt square off using bulldozers in a monster-like battle is genuinely hilarious. Even famed character actor Billy Barty makes a brief appearance in a scene that is extremely amusing.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray features a commentary track by Brooks and screewriters Rudy De Luca and Steve Hoberman. The three also appear in a short 2003 documentary about the making of the film. De Luca is another frequent collaborator of Brooks, having not only written scripts for him but also played supporting roles in the films. In "Life Stinks" De Luca appears as a demented man who thinks he is J. Paul Getty. Brooks, who doesn't get overly political in the film itself, uses his interview to say he was inspired to make the movie by dramatic cuts to social services and clinics that had been made by the Reagan administration, to which he attributes the explosive growth of the homeless population in the years that followed. While Brooks and De Luca's hearts are clearly in the right place, they make a politically incorrect faux pas by referring to the homeless people as "bums", which, to a certain generation was regarded as almost a term of endearment, along with "hobo". Nevertheless, for viewers of a younger generation, the it probably sounds harsh. The Blu-ray release also includes the theatrical trailer.
"Life Stinks" can be criticized for being predictable and occasionally overly sentimental. It's Brooks' version of a Frank Capra tale. In fact, Capra himself was not immune to criticism about the sentimental nature of his films, with some critics deriding them as "Capra Corn". However, this film represents the kind of comedy studios don't make today in this era of gross-out jokes. It is a celebration of kindness and generosity over greed. It has well-defined characters and a terrific cast. This "Life" doesn't stink. In fact, it's very much worth living.
I initially saw "Cops and Robbers" on its theatrical release in 1973. Strangely, I retained no memories of the film whatsoever except a few bars of the catchy title theme song by Michel Legrand. I say "strangely" because, upon watching the film's Blu-ray debut through Kino Lorber Studio Classics, I found the movie to be terrifically entertaining. Perhaps it's because terrifically entertaining films were a dime a dozen back in the 1970s that this particular movie didn't resonate with me at the time. Nevertheless, watching it today, it has a great many pleasures, not the least of which is two leading actors who were not familiar faces at the time, thus allowing the viewer to not have any preconceptions about their mannerisms or previous roles. The film was shot in New York City during a long period of urban decay. Poverty and crime were rising and the infrastructure was crumbling as the city came perilously close to declaring bankruptcy. It's a far cry from today's New York but at the time one benefit of all this chaos was that it inspired filmmakers to take advantage of the somber landscape and use it as fodder for some memorable films. Michael Winner's "Death Wish" and Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" administered the cinematic coup de grace, painting a picture of Gotham as a foreboding urban jungle. This was always overstated, of course, as there was never a period in which New York was in danger of losing its reputation as the most exciting city on earth. However, the grime and grit certainly did much to tarnish its reputation for a good number of years.
Among the films that represented this era was the little-remembered "Cops and Robbers", which is an offbeat entry in the genre of "dirty cop" movies that became popular during the 1970s. The twist is that, unlike the exploits of larger-than-life cops such as Dirty Harry or Popeye Doyle, this film centers on the day-to-day frustrations of two every day patrolmen - Tom (Cliff Gorman) and Joe (Joseph Bologna)- trying to cope with the frustrations of risking their lives for a salary of $43 a day. We watch as they car pool from their cramped suburban housing units to Manhattan, a daily trek of seemingly endless traffic jams that they must endure in the sweltering heat. (Yes, kiddies, most of us working class clods didn't have air conditioning in our cars in the 1970s.) Their familiar grind includes wrestling with mentally unstable people, watching fellow officers getting shot and having an ungrateful populace take them for granted. With wives and kids to provide for, they are at the end of their ropes. One day, Joe casually confesses to Tom that he recently walked into a liquor store in full uniform and held the place up at gunpoint. He only got a couple of hundred dollars, but was amazed at how easy it was to get away with- largely because everyone assumed the culprit was someone disguised as a New York City police officer. After all, although corruption was widespread even in this post-Serpico period, it was mostly carried out discreetly through payoffs and freebies. New York City cops did not commit overt robberies while on the job. Tom is initially appalled, but is also mesmerized by the prospect of using their positions of trust to carry out an even grander robbery: one that would put them on East Street for the rest of their lives. Using a disguise, Tom visits the domain of a local mob kingpin and discloses he and his partner are genuine members of the NYPD- and they want his help to work out a scam that will net both cops $1 million each. They are told to rob untraceable securities in the amount of $10 million, for which they will be paid a $2 million "commission". Tom and Joe create a daring plan to gain access to a major finance company on Wall Street on the very day that the Apollo 11 astronauts are receiving a ticker tape parade. Knowing the employees will be distracted, they enter the premises on the premise of checking out a minor matter. They bluff their way into the inner sanctum of the company president and hold him hostage while his secretary escorts Joe to a vault and gets the appropriate securities. As is the case in most good caper movies, things initially go well but unexpected snafus arise that threaten the cops' getaway. To say more would be to spoil the fun but suffice it to say that the climax of the movie finds them trying to collect the $2 million from the mob in the middle of Central Park- where both sides try to double-cross each other. The result is a wild car chase seems to doom not only the cops' getaway but the cops themselves.
Director Aram Avakian, working with producer Elliott Kastner, makes the most of the New York locations, eschewing studio sets for real places. This adds immeasurably to the realistic feel of the production. Both Joe Bologna and Cliff Gorman were exceptionally well cast and are completely convincing as urban cops. Bologna was starting to ride high on the heels of he and his wife Renee Taylor's success with "Lovers and Other Strangers" and "Made for Each Other". Gorman was primarily known for his acclaimed stage performance as Lenny Bruce but also won kudos for his role in William Friedkin's 1969 film production of "The Boys in the Band". He's so good in this film, you wonder why major stardom eluded him. There is also an abundance of good character actors including Dolph Sweet, Joe Spinell and Shepperd Strudwick. The witty screenplay is the work of Donald E. Westlake, a noted crime novelist who would later turn his script for the film into a successful book. Westlake only makes one creative misstep. It is essential in most crime movies that feature charismatic cads as anti-heroes that their victims are established as villains who don't deserve the sympathy of the viewer. From the classic caper flick "The Sting" to the long-running British TV series "Hustle", the targets of the con men must always be deemed to be cads. In Westlake's screenplay, the victims of the errant cops are every day, working people. Joe's stickup of the liquor store (seen over the opening credits) terrorizes innocent people. Their protracted plan to rip off the Wall Street firm similarly puts non-criminals in harm's way (although Westlake throws in a twist that is designed to water down the victim's plight). Watching the film through a modern viewpoint, when police corruption is no longer considered to be an acceptable part of every day life, the movie's disturbing celebration of officers who are violating their sacred duty to protect the public seems more distasteful today than it did at the time of the film's release. Even viewed within the context of the era, we can certainly sympathize with the cops' frustrations, but their turning to crime makes a mockery of most police officers who resist taking that path. Nevertheless, if you can overlook the sociological factors and accept the film as pure entertainment, it works wonderfully well.
The Kino Blu-ray is top quality and includes the original trailer as well as a very recent interview with Joe Bologna, who provides some witty and interesting insights into the making of the movie. There is also a trailer for the similarly-themed crime caper comedy "Bank Shot" starring George C. Scott. (also available from Kino Lorber).
Until the sexual revolution of the mid-to-late 1960s was embraced by the film industry, the subject of homosexuality was dealt with in schizophrenic manner by studios. There were some bold attempts to address the subject in a serious and sympathetic manner, but fine movies like The Trials of Oscar Wilde and Victim were relegated to art-house hell and never enjoyed a wide audience. Indeed, it was the complete financial failure of the former film that motivated, in desperation, producer Cubby Broccoli to dust off the idea of adapting the James Bond novels for the screen. In other cases, the movies were more high profile (i.e Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Children's Hour) but studios forced the directors to substantially water down overt references to homosexuality. Within a few short years, however, the situation had changed dramatically. While many characters were often presented as comical stereotypes, there were other bold attempts to address more realistic approaches to the traumas faced by gays and lesbians. Going one rung further, a few films actually took on such issues as cross-dressing and transsexuals. One of the more notable films of the era was The Christine Jorgensen Story, released in 1970. However, as well-meaning as the movie was, it was generally regarded as an exploitation movie with a good dose of shlock and some unintended laughs. (Click here for review)
Far more impressive was the 1972 British film I Want What I Want...To Be a Woman starring Anne Heywood in a daring performance as an effeminate young man who secretly desires to be a woman. Unlike the real-life Christine Jorgensen, this story is not based on fact, but a novel by writer Geoff Brown. Roy is a sensitive twenty-something man who is living a nightmarish life. He's the son of a macho, ex-army officer (the always brilliant Harry Andrews) who spends most of his time drinking with high society types while he seduces their women. Roy and his father have a fractious relationship as the old man refuses to acknowledge the obvious fact that his son looks more like the daughter he never had. He tries to force Roy into macho behavior by having him escort women on fraudulent dates and making him sit with other men in drawing rooms to argue politics over cigars and brandy. Meanwhile, all Roy wants to do is explore his feminine side. Eventually he can't resist the urge to dress as a woman and is caught in the act by his appalled father, who slaps him around and humiliates him. Distraught, Roy leaves his home to establish a new life in a far away town. This represents his first public appearance as a woman and the film conveys the anxiety cross dressers must feel when they make such a "debut". Although Heywood makes a head-turning woman, we have to remember she's supposed to be a man. As such, she gives a riveting performance and demonstrates the inevitable paranoia that might accompany such a bold lifestyle decision. Roy is convinced that everyone he passes on the street knows his secret.
For those of us who are hopelessly addicted to spy movies of the 1960s, the Warner Archive provides a gift: the first DVD release of "The Scorpio Letters", one of the more obscure 007-inspired espionage films of the era. Produced by MGM, the movie was shown on American TV in early 1967 before enjoying a theatrical release in Europe. It seems the studio was trying to emulate the strategy that it was employing at the time for its phenomenally popular "Man From U.N.C.L.E." TV series. That show had proven to be such a hit with international audiences that MGM strung together two-part episodes and released them theatrically. (Three films were released in America but a total of eight were shown in international markets.) As "The Scorpio Letters" was produced with a theatrical run in mind, it has a bit more gloss than the average TV movie, which was then a genre in its infancy. Nevertheless, it still has all the earmarks of a production with a limited budget. Although set in London and France, you'd have to be pretty naive to believe any of the cast and crew ever got out of southern California. Grainy stock footage is used to simulate those locations and there is ample use of the very distinctive MGM back lot, which at times makes the film resemble an episode of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." What the movie does provide is some nice chemistry between its two lead actors, Alex Cord, who had recently acquitted himself quite well in the underrated 1966 big screen remake of John Ford's "Stagecoach" and Shirley Eaton, then still riding the wave of popularity she enjoyed as the iconic "golden girl" from the Bond blockbuster "Goldfinger". The two play rival spies in London, both working for different British intelligence agencies, though whether it is MI5 or MI is never made clear.
The film is based on a novel by Victor Caning that had been adapted for the screen by the ironically named Adrian Spies, who had a long career working primarily in television. (Curiously, his one credited feature film was for the superb 1968 adventure "Dark of the Sun" (aka "The Mercenaries".) There is nothing remarkable about his work on "The Scorpio Letters". In fact, Spies provides a rather confusing plot. The film opens on a jarring note with a man taking a suicidal plunge from his apartment window in London. Turns out he was a British intelligence agent and the reasons for his suicide are of great interest to the higher ups in the spy business. Alex Cord plays Joe Christopher, an American ex-cop who now does work for one of the intelligence agencies run by Burr (the ever-reliable Laurence Naismith). Burr orders him to get to the bottom of the suicide case and in doing so, Joe gains access to the dead man's apartment just in time to encounter a mysterious man stealing a letter addressed to the dead agent. A foot chase ensues that ends with both men getting struck by a London double decker bus (yes, MGM had one of those laying around the back lot.) Still, Joe manages to steal back the letter the man had swiped and finds it is obviously a blackmail attempt made against the dead agent by a mystery person who goes by the name of Scorpio. From there the plot gets rather confusing and becomes one of those thrillers that is best enjoyed if you stop trying to figure out who is who and just sit back and enjoy the ride. Joe flirts with Phoebe Stewart (Shirley Eaton), who works in another intelligence agency. It appears her boss and Joe's boss are constantly trying to undermine each other in the attempt to solve major cases. Phoebe makes an attempt to seduce Joe, but he correctly suspects that she is trying to compromise him for information he knows about the case. Inevitably, a real romance blossoms but the love scenes are pretty mild, perhaps due to the fact that this film was made with a television broadcast in mind. (The plot invokes the old joke of having the would-be lovers get interrupted every time they attempt to get it on.)
Joe gets a lead that takes him to Paris where he discovers that Scorpio is the man behind a shadowy spy network that uses agents employed as waiters in an upscale restaurant. I imagine the reason for this is explained somewhere along the line but it's just one more confusing element to the script. Joe infiltrates the spies/waiters gang in the hopes of finding out who Scorpio is. Meanwhile, in the film's best scene, he is exposed, captured and tortured. There is even a modicum of suspense as there appears to be no logical way he will get out of this particular death trap. Refreshingly, Joe is no 007. He makes miscalculations, gets bruised and beaten and often has to rely on the intervention of others to save him. (In the film's climax, finding himself outmanned and outgunned, he actually does the logical thing and asks someone to call the local police for help.) Ultimately, Scorpio is revealed to be one of those standard, aristocratic spy villains of Sixties cinema. In this case he is played by the very able Oscar Beregi Jr. If you don't know the name, you'll know his face, as he excelled in playing urbane bad guys in countless TV shows and feature films of the era. There are numerous kidnappings, shootouts, double crosses and red herrings and one bizarre sequence that is ostensibly set in a French ski resort in which the ski lift is inexplicably in operation even though it's summer. Additionally, the California mountains look as much like France as Jersey City does.
Despite all of the gripes, I enjoyed watching "The Scorpio Letters". It's an entertaining, fast-moving diversion, directed with unremarkable efficiency by Richard Thorpe (his second-to-last film). Cord makes for a very capable leading man, tossing off the requisite wisecracks even while undergoing torture. Eaton possesses the kind of old world glamour you rarely see on screen nowadays. Together, they make an otherwise mediocre movie play out better than it probably should. (A minor trivia note: this represents the first film score of composer Dave Grusin, who would go on to become an Oscar winner.)
The Warner Archive DVD transfer is very impressive and the film contains an original trailer, which presumably was used in non-U.S. markets.
Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff collectively made countless films that varied widely in terms of quality. However, they always brought dignity to every role they performed. Sadly, the two icons of the horror film genre only worked together twice.The first time in the late 1950s in "Corridors of Blood" and the second and last time in what turned out to be the final film of Karloff's career, the 1968 Tigon Films production of "The Crimson Cult" (released in the UK as "Curse of the Crimson Altar" and in some territories as "The Crimson Altar" and "Black Horror"). Karloff barely got through the arduous shoot during a particularly cold and unpleasant British winter. However, always the ultimate professional, he persevered and continued the film until completion, even after having been hospitalized with pneumonia. The result is a film that is not particularly well-loved by horror film fans but which this writer enjoyed immensely on my first viewing, which came courtesy of the Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Perhaps the film looked better to me than it should have. It's got some loose plot points and the production doesn't fully utilize the skills of it's marvelous cast, which includes character actor Michael Gough and the iconic Barbara Steele. However, given the fact that we don't get lineups of great stars like this any more, I found the entire movie to be a joy to watch (despite of- or perhaps because of- it's sometimes blatant exploitation scenes.)
Things get off to a rather rollicking start with the very first frames of the movie which depict a woman clad only in leather panties and pasties who is mercilessly whipping another sexy young woman who is chained to an altar in a dungeon-like environment. Watching the action is Peter Manning (Denys Peek), who we learn is a respected antiques dealer who runs a high end shop with his brother Robert (Mark Eden). Peter looks completely out of place in this S&M scenario, even more so when we see the others who are witnessing what becomes evident as a Satanic Black Mass ceremony, which is taking place amid other scantily-clad men and women. Peter is approached by an exotic beauty who we will later learn is the reincarnation of a notorious witch named Lavinia, who was executed by local villagers a few centuries ago. As played by real life exotic beauty Barbara Steele in a largely wordless role, the character exudes both danger and sexual deviancy. She insists that Peter sign an ancient ledger after which he is given a dagger which he uses to promptly murder the young woman who is chained to the table.
The scene then switches to the antique shop where we find Robert concerned about his brother's whereabouts. He tells his secretary that Peter had gone to search for antiques for a few days in the remote rural village of Greymarsh, which coincidentally is the ancestral home of the Manning family. The only clue he has to his brother's movements is a cryptic note he had written to Robert from a manor house in the village. Robert decides to visit the house to see if he can trace Peter's location. Naturally, he chooses to arrive at the place in the dead of night and finds the villagers are engaged in riotous celebrations for an annual festival that rather tastelessly celebrates the execution of witches in a bygone era. The locals playfully recreate pagan rituals including the execution of an effigy of Lavinia. Arriving at Greymarsh Manor, Robert finds a wild party underway with a group of young people in an orgy-like state. The girls are pouring champagne over their nearly naked bodies and there are "cat fights" intermingled with lovemaking. Robert is understandably amused and fascinated. He makes the acquaintance of Eve (Virginia Wetherell), a fetching blonde with a flirtatious nature who informs him that she is the niece of the manor's owner, a sophisticated and erudite man named Morley, who greets Robert warmly but denies any knowledge of his brother. Morley says that he can't explain how Robert received a note from Peter on Greymarsh Manor stationary but nevertheless invites Robert to stay a few days at the manor while he continues his investigation. Predictably, Robert and Eve form a romantic bond in short order and she assists him in his efforts to find Peter. Meanwhile, Robert is introduced to Professor John Marsh (Boris Karloff), an elderly, wheelchair-bound academic who is the village's most prominent local historian. Fittingly, he is also a collector of ancient torture devices.
Most of the film centers on Robert and Eve attempting to track down Peter's doings in the village and his present whereabouts. It becomes pretty obvious that either Morley and/or Marsh are hiding some explosive secrets. The only question for the viewer is whether one or both of them have been complicit in Peter's vanishing. Robert's stay at the manor house is decidedly mixed experience for him. In the evenings he gets to enjoy rare, expensive liquors as he sits around chatting with Morley and Marsh. He also gets a willing bed mate in Eve. However, he is terrified by recurring nightmares that find him in the midst of a Black Mass ceremony where he finds his brother. In these bizarre dreams, Lavinia insists that Robert sign the ancient ledger, as Peter did, but Robert steadfastly refuses because he believes he will be murdered once he does. Robert discovers that his arm has been seriously cut by a knife- a key part of his nightmare. He thus begins to suspect that these aren't dreams at all, but real experiences that are taking place when he is in drugged condition. A trail of clues leads to some red herrings until Robert and Eve discover that the manor house has a hidden room where it is apparent Satanic ritual ceremonies are taking place. From that point, key plot devices begin to fall into place with a few minor surprises along the way. The movie is a great deal of fun from start to finish and seeing both Lee and Karloff on screen together is a real treat. Michael Gough makes welcome frequent appearances as an Igor-like butler who tries to warn Robert about the dangers of staying at Greymarsh Manor and Rupert Davies has a nice cameo as the local vicar. A few other observations: Virginia Wetherell is a first rate leading lady in this type of genre film so the fact that she never achieved greater name recognition seems unjust. Also the production design is first rate, as it generally is in British horror movies of this period. Kudos also to veteran director Vernon Sewell who crafts a consistently interesting film from a script that has some loose ends and weak plot points. He also has to contend with a good amount of T&A that seems to be inserted largely for exploitation reasons. The film's dramatic conclusion is meant to be intriguing and ambiguous but comes across as somewhat unsatisfying. However, in the aggregate, the movie is a great deal of fun- largely due to the presence of Lee, Karloff and Steele.
The film has been released by Kino Lorber as a Blu-ray special edition under its American title. The company has wisely ported over some of the content of special bonus materials that were available on a previous UK-only Blu-ray edition. These include a wonderful commentary track with Barbara Steele and well-known horror film historian David Del Valle, who has also produced a number of documentaries. Del Valle is uniquely suited to conduct the discussion of the film, as he personally knew many of the legendary figures of the horror film genre and his knowledge is encyclopedic. He and Steele have a good rapport because they are old friends. Both of them, however, denounce the movie because of its missed opportunities. The main criticisms revolve around the misuse of Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff in their only film together. Del Valle feels that there isn't much for them to do other than sit around parlors sipping drinks. He points out that this was Karloff's last film and he was in poor health during its production, yet was valiant enough to complete filming- and insist that a scene be rewritten so he could rise from his wheelchair, an act of defiance and courage considering his fragile state. Steele bemoans the fact that the screenwriters didn't allow her character to share any scenes with either Lee or Karloff, although she did spend time with them off set and clearly adored both men. However, the way the story is structured simply wouldn't allow the three characters to interact without fundamentally changing the story. One can understand Steele's frustrations as an actress, however, in not having the opportunity to share screen time with these cinematic legends. Del Valle also dismisses leading man Mark Eden (who resembles young George Lazenby) as a lightweight, a charge that seems debatable. I personally found Eden to be a likable and charismatic leading man. Both Del Valle and Steele acknowledge the film has some merits but you'd barely know it by the time they get done slicing it up scene by scene. Steele also provides some very interesting discussions about her non-horror films including quitting the production of "Flaming Star" in which she was Elvis Presley's leading lady. She also discusses her work with Fellini. In all, I found myself not agreeing with Steele and Del Valle's overall assessment of "The Crimson Cult" but I did find this to be an excellent commentary track, filled with wonderful anecdotes.
Barbara Steele as Lavinia, The Black Witch of Greymarsh.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains other bonus extras. The most interesting is an interview with composer Kendall Schmidt, who relates why he receives screen credit for the musical score in the video versions of the film. (Peter Knight is still the composer of record on the theatrical prints.) Schmidt, who is now a well-regarded photographer, relates that when Orion acquired video rights to the American International Pictures library in the mid-1980s, there were many films they could not secure the music rights to. Thus, Schmidt, who was a 24 year old starving composer, was hired to re-score these films. In some cases, he emulated the original composer's scores while in most other cases he created wholly original compositions. His score suits this film well but, not having seen the theatrical version, I can't compare his work with Peter Knight's. The Blu-ray also includes both the U.S. and British trailers with their respective title differences.
It should be pointed out that the picture quality of this release is as close to perfect as you can get. Colors practically leap off the screen and the transfer does full justice to the production design. In all, I found this to be a first rate release of an extremely underrated film from the "Golden Age" of British horror productions.
Hey, guys, the next time you become intimidated about asking a gorgeous woman for a date, maybe polite chitchat isn't the best strategy. Consider the case of London photographer Ray Bellisario, who had a chance encounter with Brigitte Bardot in 1968. Bellisario was ballsy enough to dispense with polite talk and simply told the legendary sex symbol to "Come with me". To his amazement, she did. Bardot managed to slip away from her handlers and headed to a local pub where Bellisario took some remarkably candid photos of her. Even better for him, she agreed to spend the evening with him in his hotel room. Bellisario refrains from giving any details pertaining to that portion of the "petite affair" but admits that after she kissed him goodbye the following morning, she was gone from his life for good. But Bellisario does have some amazing memories of this unforgettable evening in the form of his photographs which he has now finally gotten around to making public. Click here for more.
It's easy to look back on the Blaxploitation film craze of the 1970s as a short-lived period that spawned some cinematic guilty pleasures. However, time has been kind to the genre and if retro movie buffs view some of the films that emerged during this era they will undoubtedly find more artistry at work than was originally realized. Case in point: "Truck Turner", a 1974 action flick released at the height of the Blaxploitation phenomenon. I had never seen the film prior to its release on the new Blu-ray special edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. It's a violent, brutal film filled with ugly characters and "heroes" who deserve that moniker only because they aren't quite as abhorrent as the cutthroat antagonists they face. Yet, there is something special about "Truck Turner". Amid the carnage and frequent, extended action sequences, there is real talent at work here. Most of it belongs to Jonathan Kaplan, the director who had recently emerged as yet another promising protege of Roger Corman. In fact, Kaplan had just recently completed filming another Blaxploitation film, "The Slams" with Jim Brown, before being drafted into "Truck Turner". The idea of a white, Jewish guy directing a Blaxploitation film may seem weird today but at the time, most of the creative forces behind these movies were white guys, an indication of just how few opportunities existed in Hollywood for black filmmakers in the 1970s. The movies were also largely financed by white studio executives who benefited the most financially. Yet, it cannot be denied that the genre went a long way in opening doors for a lot of talented black actors and musicians, who often provided the scores for the films. Until the release of "Shaft" in 1971 (which was directed by a black filmmaker, Gordon Parks), most of the action roles for black characters seemed to be hanging on the durable shoulders of Sidney Poitier, Jim Brown, Harry Belafonte and the great character actor Woody Strode. Suddenly, there were a great number of opportunities for black actors and actresses to display their talents on screen. The vehicles in which they toiled were often low-budget potboilers, but it did increase their visibility and name recognition. More importantly, black action characters became commonplace henceforth.
"Truck Turner" has emerged as a genuine cult movie in the decades since its initial release. The movie's oddball appeal begins with the casting of the titular character, who is played by legendary soul musician Isaac Hayes in his screen debut. While Laurence Olivier probably never lost sleep over Hayes's decision to enter the movie business, his casting was a stroke of genius on the part of the executives at American International Pictures, which specialized in exploitation films for the grindhouse and drive-in audiences. Hayes had recently won the Academy Award for his funky "Theme From 'Shaft'" and had an imposing and super-cool physical presence. He also proved to be a natural in front of the camera. His emotional range was limited but he exuded an arrogance and self-confidence that the role required. Turner is a skip tracer/bounty hunter employed by a bail bond agency in the slum area of Los Angeles. A stunning opening shot finds literally dozens of such agency dotting the urban landscape- an indication of how out of control crime was in the city during this period. Turner and his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks) agree to take on an assignment to track down a local notorious pimp and crime kingpin named 'Gator' Johnson (Paul Harris), who has skipped bail, thus leaving the agency's owner Nate Dinwiddle (Sam Laws) on the hook for the money. Turner and Jerry pursue 'Gator' in one of those requisite high octane car chases that were seemingly mandatory in 70s action movies. This one is quite spectacular and features some dazzling stunt driving. 'Gator' is ultimately killed by Turner and this leads to the main plot, which concerns his lover, Dorinda (Nichelle Nichols). She was 'Gator's partner in a lucrative prostitution business. The two pimped out beautiful young women who they keep as virtual prisoners on a large estate. Dorinda is the Captain Bligh of madams, routinely abusing her stable of girls and demeaning them at every opportunity. She is enraged by Turner's slaying of 'Gator' and offers a bounty for his murder: half of her stake in the prostitution ring. The offer draws more than a few professional assassins to her doorstep, all of whom promise they can kill Turner. However, the only one who seems to have the ability to do so is Harvard Blue (Yaphet Kotto), a soft-spoken but vicious crime boss who would like nothing more than to make easy money from a major pimping operation. With a small army of assassins, he sets out to make good on his promise to kill Turner.
Like most action movies of this genre, the plot points are predictable. As with Charles Bronson's character in the "Death Wish" films, virtually every person who befriends Turner comes to great misfortune. This kind of predictable emotional manipulation is par for the course when you're watching 70s crime films and doesn't overshadow the fact that there is a great deal of style evident in "Truck Turner". The dialogue is saucy and witty. For example, Dorinda describes one of her "girls" as "Kentucky Fried Chicken" because "she's finger-lickin' good!" and another as "Turnpike" because "you have to pay to get on and pay to get off." If you think that's politically incorrect, consider that every other line of dialogue has somebody calling somebody else a nigger. Then there's the character of Truck Turner, who - like his fellow cinematic tough ass crime fighters of the era ranging from Dirty Harry to 'Popeye' Doyle to John Wayne's McQ- seems oblivious to the fact that he is endangering an abundance of innocent people in his obsession to get the bad guys. Turner engages in carjacking and threatens the lives of people who he feels aren't cooperating fast enough. He also has a sensitive side, though, as we see in his scenes with the love of his life, Annie (Annazette Chase). She's recently completed a jail term and only wants to settle down with Turner to live a quiet, normal lifestyle. Good luck. When the contract is put out on Turner, she becomes a potential victim and is terrorized by Harvard Blue and his gang. The film concludes with some terrific action sequences, the best of which has Hayes and Kotto going mano-a-mano inside the corridors of a hospital. They chase and spray bullets at each other amid terrified patients in wheelchairs and on gurneys and in one scene, carry the shoot out into an operating room with doctors in the midst of working on a patient! The finale, which centers on Kotto's last scene in the movie, is shot with such style that it almost approaches being (dare I use the term?) poetic. The supporting cast is first rate with Alan Weeks scoring strongly as Robin to Turner's Batman. Annazette Chase is excellent as the ever-patient object of Turner's desire and, of course, Kotto is terrific, as usual, managing to steal scenes in his own unique, low-key way. The most enjoyable performance comes from Nichelle Nichols, who is 180 degrees from her "Star Trek" role. As the ultimate villainess, she seems to be having a blast insulting and threatening everyone in her line of vision. Her final confrontation with Turner makes for a memorable screen moment, to say the least.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is up to the company's usual high standards in all respects. Old Truck never looked better on screen and there are some welcome bonus materials. Director Kaplan provides a witty and highly informative audio commentary, relating how American International was more interested in the soundtrack album they would be able to market than the film itself. (Hayes provides the impressive score for the film, including some "Shaft"-like themes.). He also said that he was originally drawn to the project because he was told the film would star either Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine or Robert Mitchum! Nevertheless, he speaks with great affection for Hayes and his colleagues and points out various character actors his used in the film including the ubiquitous Dick Miller, James Millhollin, Scatman Crothers and even Matthew Beard, who played "Stymie" in the Our Gang comedies. Another welcome bonus is director Joe Dante,obviously an admirer of the film, in discussion at a 2008 screening of "Truck Turner" at the New Beverly Cinema in L.A. He's joined by director Kaplan and stuntman Bob Minor. The reaction of the audience indicates this film enjoys a loyal following. There is also a segment from Dante's popular "Trailers From Hell" web site that features director Ernest Dickerson introducing and narrating the original trailer for the film. The trailer is also included in the Blu-ray, as well as a double feature radio spot ad for "Truck Turner" and Pam Grier as "Foxy Brown". In all, an irresistible release for all retro movie lovers.
Biker films have been around for decades.
Although most cinephiles cite Marlon Brando’s The Wild One (1953) as the first great biker movie, it wasn’t until
the mid-1960s and the release of the 1966 Roger Corman-directed classic The Wild Angels that biker films really
exploded onto the scene. Made for $360,000 and grossing close to $16 million, The Wild Angels started a cinematic
cycle trend that lasted well into the 1970s.
Noticing that other enterprising filmmakers
were cashing in on their film’s success, legendary studio American
International Pictures quickly decided that another biker flick was in order.
They gathered Corman (to produce); Wild Angels
scribe Charles B. Griffith (Rock All
Night, A Bucket of Blood, The Little Shop of Horrors, Death Race 2000) to
write and, together, came up with the next biker extravaganza, 1967’s Devil’s Angels aka The Checkered Flag.
Directed by Daniel Haller (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The
Wild Racers, Dunwich Horror), Devil’s
Angels concerns a group of rebellious, anti-establishment bikers called the
Skulls who are searching for a police-free place they’ve dubbed Hole-in-the-Wall.
They roll into the small town of Brookville and are immediately ordered to
leave by the intimidated mayor (Paul Myer). The Skulls’ leader, Cody (played by
independent filmmaking icon; the late, great John Cassavetes), informs the
sheriff (Tobruk’s Leo Gordon) that
they’re not looking for trouble and that he, his girl Lynn (the beautiful Beverly
Adams from How to Stuff a Wild Bikini)
and the rest of the posse just need a place to crash for the night. The sheriff
decides to give Cody a chance and agrees to let the group spend the night on
the beach if they promise to remain there and then leave first thing in the
morning. Cody gives his word and the bikers take off along with a local beauty
contestant (Mimsy Farmer from Four Flies
on Grey Velvet) who’s infatuated with the group. The mayor berates the
sheriff for letting them stay in town, but the lawman doesn’t budge. While at
the beach, the group gets the girl high, teases her a bit and sends her running
back to town in fright. The mayor lies by telling the sheriff that the Skulls
raped the unharmed girl and Cody is arrested. When the sheriff learns the
truth, he immediately lets Cody go, but orders him and his friends to leave
town. Meanwhile, the Skulls, who don’t like being accused of rape, decide that
the town needs to be taught a lesson. With the help of a larger group of bikers
called the Stompers, they ride back into town (against Cody’s wishes),
completely take it over and put the authorities on trial. The mayor’s lie is
revealed and he is sentenced to a public beating which Cody goes along with.
The Skulls also feel that, because they were accused of rape, they are owed a
rape. Cody is totally against this. He tries his best to stop it, but all hell
winds up breaking loose. As the Stompers and the Skulls (including Lynn) tear
Brookville apart, Cody, realizing that his Hole-in-the-Wall doesn’t exist,
quits the group and rides off alone before the state police arrive.
With only a $4 million gross, Devil’s Angels may not have been a major
hit for AIP, but it’s still an
interesting and well-done biker film which features several highly recognizable
faces from 1960s/70s cinema and television such as Marc Cavell (Cool Hand Luke), Russ Bender (Bonanza), Buck Taylor (Gunsmoke), Bruce Kartalian (The Outlaw Josey Wales) and Mitzi Hoag (Deadly Game).
Although not nearly as well-remembered as the
Dennis Hopper/Peter Fonda 1969 classic Easy Rider nor as hard-hitting as Al
Adamson’s Satan’s Sadists from the
same year, Devil’s Angels is a solidly-made,
quirky and enjoyable exploitation film that benefits most from a wonderfully
complex performance by the legendary John Cassavetes as well as an entertaining
and thoughtful screenplay by the extremely underrated Charles Griffith. There’s
also a terrific musical score written by Mike Curb and performed by Sidewalk
Productions. Not to mention a catchy theme song by Jerry and the Portraits with
additional music courtesy of Dave Allen and the Arrows.
As far as the Skulls go, they’re mainly
benign (but not as cool as the goodhearted bikers from 1976’s Northville Cemetery Massacre) andjust looking for a place to be free.
The havoc they cause (with the exception of an accidental death) is mostly
light (and presented humorously) and they’re never really violent until the
very end, so if you’re looking for an intimidating band of evil hell raisers,
look elsewhere. As for me, I thoroughly enjoy this film; always have. It’s a
fun biker flick with a strong cast and a thought-provoking story. If you’re a
biker film fanatic or just a fan of AIP/Roger Corman in general, I definitely
recommend checking it out.
Devil’s Angels has been released
as a DVD-R from the MGM Limited Edition Collection. The film is presented in
its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio and, although it’s far from Blu-ray quality,
the movie is more than watchable. Also, the audio is clear, and the DVD’s
sleeve and menu feature the original and very cool-looking poster artwork.
In my review of Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release of the 1979 disaster film "Meteor", I observed that the disaster movie genre had peaked with the release of Irwin Allen's "The Towering Inferno" in 1974. Yet, that didn't stop studios from beating a dead horse in an attempt to squeeze some more juice out of the tried-and-true formula of gathering an all-star cast, then figuring out ways to drown, bury or incinerate the characters portrayed on screen. One of the more obscure attempts to keep the disaster film cycle relevant was "Avalanche", a movie produced by Roger Corman and directed and scripted by one of his proteges, Corey Allen, who would go on to establish a respectable career as a director of major television shows. When you approach a Corman production, you tend to give some special dispensation for certain cinematic sins that you wouldn't accord more mainstream productions. Corman, who happily embraces his legendary status as a man who made major profits from films with minor budgets, knew how to stretch the soup in the cinematic sense. Rarely armed with ample production funds, Corman cut corners whenever possible but still managed to retain a certain elegance to his productions. In 1978, he jumped on the fading disaster movie bandwagon with "Avalanche". He hired Rock Hudson as the leading man because Hudson, at this point in his career, realized that he was no longer a hot commodity as a boxoffice draw in feature films (although he did successfully transition to a popular presence on television.) Corman also cast Mia Farrow and respected supporting actor Robert Forster for additional name recognition. He secured permission to film at a major ski resort in Durango, Colorado and out-sourced the special effects work to a company called Excelsior!
The film follows the general formula of the disaster film genre in that the victims-to-be are gathered for a major social occasion, unaware that nature is working overtime to thwart their fun. Rock Hudson plays David Shelby, an arrogant developer who has invested his life savings to build a vacation paradise in the Rocky Mountains. He has disdain for local environmentalists who have warned him that his destruction of an an abundance of trees on his massive property has removed a natural barrier to the inevitable avalanches that will occur. Shelby is preoccupied with his grand opening festivities and is simultaneously trying to woo back his ex-wife Caroline (Mia Farrow), who is attending as his guest. He's also busy trying to entertain his sassy, wise-cracking mother, Florence (Jeanette Nolan), who is being shepherded around the resort by David's major domo Henry McDade (Steve Franken in a rare dramatic role.) Meanwhile, local environmental activist and nature photographer Nick Thorne (Robert Forster) becomes increasingly concerned about the massive buildup of snow on the mountain peaks that are directly in line with the resort. He attempts to alleviate some of the danger by strategically using a snow cannon to set off controlled mini avalanches. Intermingled with all of this are the expected subplots involving minor characters who are set up to be inevitable victims. Barry Primus is a TV sports announcer who is broadcasting from the grand opening and who must contend with the fact that his estranged wife Tina (Cathey Paine) is on premises and rubbing his nose in it by blatantly carrying on an affair with egotistical super star skier Bruce Scott (Rick Moses). Scott, in turn, is rubbing Tina's nose in it by blatantly sleeping with another woman, thus causing Tina to go ballistic and consider suicide. Meanwhile, David Shelby finds time to unwind by spending some quality time in a hot tub with with his naked secretary (thus allowing Roger Corman to slip in a bit of T&A). Although the story seems set up to have the disastrous avalanche occur during the opening night festivities, screenwriter Allen throws the audience a curve ball by avoiding that cliche and saving the action for the following afternoon when, amid a particularly vicious snow mobile race, a small plane piloted by one of Shelby's employees encounters bad weather and slams into a nearby mountain, thus triggering the avalanche. This is where the movie progresses beyond cliches and becomes unexpectedly enjoyable. All of the standard disaster movie shtick is present, as both lovable and loathsome characters meet predictable fates, but the film's limited production resources somehow work in its favor. We're well aware that we're watching a Corman production but somehow the inventiveness that is required to carry it all off is quite admirable. Certain plot points are introduced and inexplicably abandoned including an insinuation that Shelby has bribed local political officials to overlook his clear violation of environmental protection rules in order to build his resort. This was one of Rock Hudson's final films as an "above the title" leading man. He's grayer and a bit paunchier than we'd seen him during his heyday, but he still had star power to spare and made for a dashing leading man, whether its skinny dipping in the hot tub or personally leading rescue parties in acts of derring doo to extricate victims of the tragedy. The film's showpiece sequence is a climactic scene in which Shelby must rescue Caroline, who is dangling from wrecked bridge above a ravine. It's well-directed and genuinely suspenseful.
It' easy to pick apart a film like "Avalanche", as it squarely fits into the "guilty pleasure" category. However, the film does a lot with very little as opposed to other misfires in this genre that did very little with a lot (aka "The Swarm"). The Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition features the original trailer and a "making of" featurette in which Roger Corman extols the virtues of the film. He admits the effects were rather shoddy and recalls his outrage when he discovered the SFX company had added "red snow". Corman hit the roof and it was changed to a bluish substance that he admits still looks pretty phony. Robert Forster recalls that the "snow" was actually little pieces of plastic that were strewn by the hundreds of thousands over the scenic landscape. He remembers his dismay at the realization that none of these bits were biodegradable and many must still be contaminating the landscape of the Durango ski resort where the movie was filmed. Corman makes the claim that the film was actually a major financial success. He says his budget was only $1.7 million and that a TV sale for $2 million netted him an immediate $300,000 profit. The tale sounds a bit fanciful because it seems hard to believe that even in 1978 you could make a movie like this with three relatively big names for only $1.7 million. (Other sources give unsubstantiated estimates of the budget at around $6 million, which seems more plausible.) "Avalanche" is not near the top of the heap of disaster movies but it certainly doesn't rank at the bottom of the pack, either. The Kino Lorber release has an impressive transfer and the inclusion of those bonus extras make this title highly recommended for fans of this genre.
Artist Jeff Marshall created this tribute to Sir Christopher Lee, which was presented to him by Cinema Retro publishers Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Sir Christopher Lee, the acclaimed British actor, passed away last Sunday in London. He was 93 years old. The family waited to make the announcement until all family members could be notified. Lee was an early contributor to Cinema Retro magazine and periodically provided interviews and personal insights into the making of his films. We, along with movie lovers everywhere, mourn his loss. Lee was more often than not associated with the horror film genre, a fact that often frustrated him. He would routinely point out that he made many diverse films and played many diverse roles in movies of all genres, from comedies to westerns. For many years he was most closely associated with the films of Hammer studios, the British production firm that revitalized the horror film genre in the 1950s. Lee starred in seemingly countless Hammer productions, often appearing opposite another British film legend, his friend and colleague Peter Cushing. In the late 1950s, the two co-starred in the first color version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (released in America under the title of "Horror of Dracula"). The film, which was controversial because of its use of sex and violence, was nevertheless a major hit and spawned numerous other Hammer appearances with Lee as Dracula. He would later tell Cinema Retro that he did some of them reluctantly because the quality of the scripts had deteriorated over time. In one film, he found the dialogue was so poor that he insisted that the play the role without speaking. Nevertheless, the films remained popular and added to Lee's status as a legend of the modern horror film genre. In 1962, Lee was proposed to play the villain Dr. No in the first James Bond movie by Ian Fleming himself (the two were distant relatives.) Lee was not available and the role went to Joseph Wiseman. However, in 1974, Lee was cast as the Bond villain Scaramanga opposite Roger Moore in "The Man With the Golden Gun." In 1973, he starred in the original version of "The Wicker Man" playing a larger than life villain that became legendary in cult film circles. The film was not a hit on initial release but over the decades has been considered as a classic of British cinema. Lee's extraordinary achievements were often overlooked because he also appeared in many films that were low-budget and sub-standard. However, he brought grace and dignity to every role he played. As the years passed, he found he had outlived most of his contemporaries. Of the other great horror icons he knew, he once lamented to this writer "I'm the last one left". He said he particularly missed Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, both of whom he considered to be among the most fascinating people he knew. He said that they would often speak by phone and had a long-running gag in which they would try to deceive each other by posing as a crank caller.
Christopher Lee with Cinema Retro publishers Dave Worrall and Lee Pfeiffer, years before the start of the magazine. The photo was taken at the offices of Eon Productions in London where Lee was signing some limited edition Bond lithographs by artist Jeff Marshall.
Christopher Lee saw a resurgence of appreciation for his talents from a younger generation of filmmakers who had literally grown up on his movies. He worked several times with Tim Burton. Peter Jackson cast him in "The Lord of the Rings" films and George Lucas gave him a high profile role as a villain in the reboot of the "Star Wars" franchise. He also worked with Steven Spielberg on the big budget 1979 WWII comedy "1941". In his public life, Lee was regarded as a serious man, not generally associated with humor. However, in private he was an outstanding raconteur with a wonderful sense of humor. Joining him for lunch or drinks would inevitably become a Master Class in some worthy subject. When in London, Cinema Retro co-publisher Dave Worrall and I would occasionally invite him to lunch at his favorite restaurant, Drones. Lunch with Lee was never a simple affair: you would be taught about what wines to order and the history of certain cuisine. The man seemed to be a walking textbook. He also loved classic cinema and discussing older films, which he had an encyclopedic knowledge of. Sometimes his conversations about film making led to unexpected humorous results. On one occasion, we were discussing Howard Hawks' 1959 western "Rio Bravo" and we both agreed that Walter Brennan stole the movie from John Wayne and Dean Martin by playing a cranky and amusing deputy. I then sought to impress Lee by doing what I thought was a spot-on impersonation of Brennan in the film. Lee scoffed so I challenged him by saying, "I suppose you could do a better Walter Brennan impression?" He said, "In fact, I can" and then proceeded to do so. The sight of the distinguished Lee doing impressions of Walter Brennan should have been captured on film but, alas, it was a moment lost in time. On another occasion, we met with Lee at Drones. I was attired in a jacket and necktie, but typically Dave Worrall decided to go casual. When we got to the restaurant, Lee looked disapprovingly at Worrall and drolly said, "If I knew we were dressing for the beach, I would have worn my bathing costume." Inside the restaurant, there was a very long mirror near our table. Lee turned abruptly and almost bumped into it, causing a nearby diner who had recognized him to quip, "That's understandable- you don't have a reflection!", a reference to his appearances as Dracula. Lee stared the man down and said, "As though I've never heard that one a hundred times before!"
Lee Pfeiffer introduces surprise guest Christopher Lee at a Cinema Retro movie tour event in London, 2006.
Lee was a private man who valued time with his wife Gitte, with whom he was married to for over 50 years. (They had one child, Christina). However, he would always make time to see Worrall and I when we were in London. On one occasion, I was meeting friends for afternoon tea at Harrods. On a whim, I called up Lee and asked if he would join us. He said yes and, to amazement of all, he turned up as a surprise guest and regaled us with wonderful stories. He also had a hobby that was passionate about: collecting patches from the various branches of the British military, which he once proudly showed us in his apartment. Lee served in WWII in the fight against Rommel in Africa. He rarely talked about his experiences because he said he was still technically under the Official Secrets Act. I would try to pry information from him by pointing out the unlikely scenario that Germany and England were about to go to war again, but he wouldn't budge. "When I give my word, I keep it", he would say. Indeed he did. I never got to hear much about his duties in helping to defeat The Desert Fox. Lee was also a sentimentalist, which might surprise many of his fans. He was especially saddened at the loss of Peter Cushing in 1994. The two men led very different lives. Cushing lived in the countryside and Lee preferred city life in London. They spoke often and would see each other occasionally. He told me that the last time he saw Cushing occurred shortly before Peter's death. The two actors were reunited for an interview session for a television program. Lee said that Cushing was clearly in poor health and near the end of his life. Both men knew it but didn't acknowledge it. They laughed and told stories as they usually did. However, when Cushing got into the car that was taking him home, Lee came to the realization that he would never see his best friend again. As Cushing looked back, Lee waved and said, "Goodbye, my friend". He said it was one of the most heart-wrenching moments of his life. Lee would say that he never again enjoyed the kinds of friendships he had with Cushing and Vincent Price, although he had the highest respect for Johnny Depp, with whom he worked on several films directed by Tim Burton.
Christopher Lee holding court as a surprise lunch guest at Harrods, 2002.
Lee was so devoted to his craft and so grateful for the opportunities afforded him that he seemed unaware of the aging process. Once Worrall and I had lunch with him when he had just returned from filming the first of his "Star Wars" appearances in New Zealand under the direction of George Lucas. In one pivotal scene, he had a light saber duel with the character of Yoda. Lee explained that there really wasn't a Yoda there, nor was there any light from the saber. They would be added later by a digital process. As an actor, he said this was particularly challenging. Yet he told George Lucas that he would do much of the scene himself to minimize the use of a stuntman. Lucas cautioned him but Lee reminded him that had been deemed a master fencer his youth and prided himself on his dueling skills. The scene proved to be very arduous and sure enough, later that night Lee began to feel some chest pains. He discretely visited a local doctor who asked him if he had done anything unusually strenuous. Lee initially said no but when the doctor heard he had been filming fencing scenes at his age, he informed him that most people would find that to be unusually strenuous. Lee admonished the doctor and told him that he had done all of his own fencing scenes in the "The Three Musketeers" and "The Four Musketeers". When the doctor reminded him that was thirty years earlier, Lee said it was the first time that he realized he really was getting old. Yet, he never acted old. He was a living, breathing example of how leading an interesting life can help you avoid many of the ravages of old age. Lee remained up to date on all aspects of the motion picture industry and was also very interested in politics. He was a loyal Tory and was also a devoted royalist who had disdain for those who wanted to do away with the British monarchy. Fittingly, he was knighted by Prince Charles in 2009 for his "Services to Drama and Charity". In the latter part of his career, Lee embarked on releasing audio CDs that featured him crooning famous songs as well as contributing to hard rock concepts.
Dave Worrall and I last saw Sir Christopher Lee in October 2012 at the royal premiere of "Skyfall" in London. We had a chance encounter in the cavernous Royal Albert Hall. He looked quite frail but still cut a handsome figure in his tuxedo. As we parted, I had the feeling that, as with his experience with Peter Cushing, we might not see him again, which added poignancy to this brief encounter. Then again, the thought of the world without Sir Christopher Lee was unthinkable. On a certain level, I think I had convinced myself that he would outlive all of us.
To fully encompass Sir Christopher Lee's contributions to the world of cinema would require a thesis-like study. Suffice it to say that he was not only a major talent but a larger-than-life personality. He was also a great friend as well as a that rarest of species today, a true gentleman. The world will still turn without his presence. It just won't be nearly as much fun, nor nearly as interesting.
"Goodbye, my friend".
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had no idea what to expect when I placed the DVD for “Scobie Malone” in my
player. Scobie, played by Jack Thompson, makes his way through traffic on a
sunny day in Sydney Australia as the movie credits begin. An Olivia Newton-John
sound-alike sings the Scobie Malone title song. Scobie breaks the third wall by
looking directly at the viewer as the title appears on-screen during his drive
as an invitation to join him on his adventure. Scobie gives the thumbs up to a
motorcycle cop during his drive. He winks, nods and flirts with pretty girls on
the way to his swinging bachelor pad.
lives at “Sunrise Patios” and the entry sign proclaims SINGLES ONLY with a
placard stating: NO VACANCIES. His bachelor pad is reached through the central
courtyard containing a large patio and pool. A pretty girl in a bikini is
changing the sign reading “Nude Sunbathing Prohibited” by crossing out “prohibited”
and writing “Encouraged!” She pauses in front of Scobie who reads the sign and
smiles as he catches her tossed bikini and she dives nude into the pool. Scobie
says hi to another sunbather and greets a pretty girl in his apartment with,
“Hello-Hello” as they strip and get into bed.
you had doubts that women can’t resist Scobie, the movie’s title song makes it clear
with lyrics like, “There’s a softness in his eyes. Try to catch him if you can.
If you catch him try to hold that man. Love him yes, but don’t expect to own
Scobie Malone. He’s an angel and a devil changing all the time.” The bedding is
interrupted with a flashback as we discover that Scobie is more than just a
swinging sex-craved bachelor, but also a serious homicide detective, Sergeant
Malone. He’s investigating the murder of a woman in the Sydney Opera House. The
credits continue with a new song, “Helga’s Web,” and we learn that Helga is the
name of the murdered woman at the center of this movie.
in 1975, “Scobie Malone” is billed as “a 70s ‘Ozploitation’ murder mystery with
a sexy wink to the crime genre.” The movie makes great use of location scenes
shot at the Sydney Opera House and uses a series of flashbacks to tell Helga’s
story which includes plenty of sex weaved into the mix of blackmail, mystery
and murder. Jack Thompson is terrific as Scobie Malone and it’s a pity that the
movie did not do better financially or receive a wider release outside of
Australia. Maybe it was all about timing because a few years later Australian
films and pop music were everywhere.
plays Scobie in his unique swaggering style. While not instantly recognizable outside
of Australia, he is certainly memorable from featured parts in “Breaker
Morant,” “The Man From Snowy River,” “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,”
“Flesh+Blood,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and “Star Wars Episode
II: Attack of the Clones” in addition to many Australian screen and TV roles.
Morris plays Helga Brand. Morris is far less known here in America, but I’m
familiar with her from the down-under comedy TV series “Mother and Son” which
aired in Australia from 1984-1994 and played here in America on public TV. She
also appeared in the 1979 Peter Weir TV movie, “The Plumber” (better known as “The
Cars that Ate Paris”). She’s also the co-producer, co-writer and co-director of
the 2006 animated hit feature “Happy Feet.”
plays model, actress and high class prostitute Helga in “Scobie Malone.” She’s
also the mistress of the Australian Minister for Culture and blackmails him
with explicit pictures of them together. Their lives become even more
complicated when she convinces her boyfriend to blackmail a local gangster and
drug runner. Helga’s murderer is revealed in a series of flashbacks as Scobie exposes
those trapped in Helga’s web.
spite of the juxtaposition between swinging 70s bachelor Scobie Malone and
serious police detective sergeant Malone, the movie is quite entertaining and
an enjoyable slice of 1970s cop thriller with plenty of sex and nudity on the
side. In one scene, Scobie asks for advice on the case from a swimsuit-clad
woman lying next to the pool who is also an expert on photography. She eagerly
follows Scobie to his apartment and after advising him on cameras and film
exposures, she strips and heads for the bedroom.
on the novel “Helga’s Web” by Jon Cleary, this is actually the second movie based
on Cleary’s Scobie Malone book series. Rod Taylor played Scobie in the 1968
movie “Nobody Runs Forever” which was released as “The High Commissioner” in
America. The book series includes 20 novels, but to date there are only two
Scobie Malone movies.
movie, released by Australian label Umbrellas entertainment, is presented in widescreen on a region free DVD release. The picture image
is sharp and the movie sounds good with a couple artifact sounds left over from
the digital transfer. There are no extras on this bare bones release and there
are no subtitles. Overall this is a very worthwhile movie for fans of cop thrillers,
70s “Ozploitation” and fans of Scobie Malone.
"SCOBIE MALONE" is available as a region free DVD. Click here to order from Amazon.