Surtees with director Don Siegel shooting Coogan's Bluff in New York, 1968.
Bruce Surtees, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer, passed away in late February at age 74. Surtees was the son of another acclaimed cinematographer, Robert Surtees. His penchant for shooting in low-light conditions earned him the nick name "The Prince of Darkness", but he was championed by director Don Siegel and his frequent collaborator Clint Eastwood. He would work on numerous films with these Hollywood legends including Coogan's Bluff, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry and Escape From Alcatraz. Surtees earned an Oscar nomination for his superb B&W cinematography on the 1974 film Lenny. Surtees also did the cinematography on John Wayne's last film, The Shootist. For more click here
Filmed in 2009 in San Juan and Vega
Baja, Puerto Rico, The Rum Diary
(2011) feels much the way that Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) felt in that it seems like two movies in
one.In Mr. Kubrick’s Vietnam War film, the
opening boot camp scenes took the audience through the Marine Corps Recruit
Depot on Parris Island, SC to see the demoralization process in action that
makes killing machines out of the marines.The combat scenes, which were shot
before the aforementioned training sequence, takes the audience out of the boot
camp and puts them into the heart of the action.In the The
Rum Diary, the first half of the film follows an alcoholic, Kemp (Johnny Depp), through his exploits in
Puerto Rico after he lands a job as a journalist for a dying newspaper in the
years prior to the Kennedy assassination; the second half almost feels like the
hangover and the after effects of too much self-indulgence.This is not a swing at the film, which is an
accomplished cinematic work and not the desultory meanderings of an idealistic
writer that the film’s detractors have intimated. Rather, it is a regard for
the differences in tone and style the film takes as the protagonist makes his
way through the underbelly of society which is bifurcated into the incredibly
wealthy and the outright dirt poor, with crooked politicians and corrupt police
Based upon the
novel by Mr. Depp’s longtime friend Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote the novel in
the 1961 and had it published in 1998 after Mr. Depp’s urging, The Rum Diary
depicts Kemp, writing
BS-stories and horoscope for a newspaper that is on the verge of failing.Lotterman
(Richard Jenkins), the paper’s Editor-in-Chief, knows the end is near and hires
Kemp, knowing full well of his romance with the bottle and; Sala (Michael
Rispoli), a staff photographer who runs cock fights on the side, philosophizes
about life in Puerto Rico and lands in deep dung with Kemp and what passes off
as The Law. The perpetually inebriated Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi in arguably the
film’s best performance), who mouths off to Lotterman, is another of the
paper’s staff members – he gives Kemp and Sala a drug that causes trips they
won’t soon forget.Hal Sanderson (Aaron
Eckhart, in a two-faced role not nearly as nefarious as his turn in Neil
LaBute’s In the Company of Men (1997)
but still crooked nonetheless) is a wealthy local aristocrat who takes Kemp
under his wing and asks him to write about a proposed hotel that he is involved
with. Kemp’s assignment is to paint Sanderson and his business partners in a
positive light even though the beautiful landscape would be severely
compromised by the deal. Sanderson's fiancé Chenault (Amber Heard) catches Kemp’s
eye, and before long she is out of Sanderson’s arms and into Kemp’s bed.Ms. Heard plays Chenault with the same aplomb
she has brought to her previous onscreen characterizations, most notably as the
AIDS-infected Christie in Gregor Jordan’s underappreciated The Informers (2009).
reaction to The Rum Diary reminds me of another of Mr. Depp’s films, Blow
(2000), which was unfairly overlooked upon its initial release, as it drew
comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s admittedly superior Goodfellas (1990),
with the former somehow being the bastard stepchild of the latter.Blow was as entertaining as is The
Rum Diary, and who better than Mr. Depp to bring it to the screen after his
collaboration with Mr. Thompson on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in
The Blu-ray looks terrific, with
minimal film grain and manages to capture the dark and light aspects of Puerto
Rico quite nicely.Extras-wise, the disc
contains: A Voice Made of Ink and Rage:
Inside The Rum Diary in high definition, which runs about twelve minutes.Mr. Depp talks about his friendship with Mr. Thompson,
while other members of the cast and crew discuss the story in general and
working on the film.The Rum Diary Back-Story is in standard
definition and runs about 45 minutes, discussing how the film got made.
The Warner Archive has recently been releasing films made by Ivan Tors' production company during the 1960s. Tors specialized in underwater and animal-themed adventure movies and TV series and he had a number of major successes including Sea Hunt, Flipper and Gentle Ben. Tors also had a knack for turning feature films into TV series. Flipper began as a theatrical released and morphed into a TV show. Gentle Ben began as a TV show and later inspired the feature film Gentle Giant. The Warner Archive has released another of these cross-over productions, Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion which would serve as the feature length pilot for the TV series Daktari. Marshall Thompson stars as Dr. Marsh Tracy, a veterinarian who works in the jungles of Africa to aid injured animals and help thwart poachers with the aid of local government authorities. The film's subject matter has something in common with John Huston's 1958 film The Roots of Heaven (click here for review) in that both were extolling the merits of conservation in an era before environmental protection had become mainstream. All other similarities between the films end there, which should be obvious from the title of the Tors movie. The plot finds Dr. Tracy as a widower trying to raise a teenage daughter, Paula (Cheryl Miller, who would reprise her role in Daktari), in a dangerous environment while also training her as his assistant. There is some flirtation with a local widow, Julie Harper (Betsy Drake), who undertakes dangerous solo missions into the jungle a la Jane Goodall to observe and photograph gorillas. The titular beast, Clarence, is indeed an amusing oddity, as no camera tricks have to be employed to obtain the effect of his being cross-eyed. However, the furry protagonist is sort of the Col. Kurtz of the animal kingdom- making only fleeting appearances in the heart of darkness until the end of the movie. The script is so squeaky clean it makes The Brady Bunch look like a Bergman movie and the only real danger comes near the end when a virtual army of ruthless poachers are thwarted by Dr. Tracy and his allies, including local police authorities, a chimpanzee and Clarence himself, who somehow commandeers a jeep for a wild ride through enemy forces. (You have to see it to believe it.) There are also fleeting appearances by noted character actor Richard Haydyn, mercilessly going over-the-top as a dapper English tutor who fears the local environment and Clarence. Predictably, the two are constantly encountering each other in rather silly comical sequences. (It's never explained why a man who fears the jungle and animals would decide to reside in the wilds of Africa.)
The film was designed strictly for the younger crowd. Thompson makes for a sufficiently stalwart hero, Drake (in her last film role before retiring) provides the chaste love interest and the overly-perky Miller does get to toss in a bit of sex appeal by slinking into a party dress in a scene designed to keep awake older brothers who had to bring younger siblings to the film. The best performance comes from Alan Caillou as the charismatic leader of the poachers. The film is directed by Andrew Marton, who was primarily known for presiding over major action sequences in films such as Ben-Hur and The Longest Day. He would go on to produce and direct the far superior Around the World Under the Sea for Ivan Tors. Clarence has a rather chintzy feel to it, owing to the fact that the film was all-too-obviously shot in an American game preserve (in Florida). Second unit footage from Africa is rather unconvincingly blended in to give the movie an exotic appeal. Nevertheless, the movie is likable enough and will probably be most appreciated by Daktari fans who can now enjoy the series' origins as a feature film. An original theatrical trailer is included.
Twilight Time has released yet another excellent film as a limited edition (3,000 unit) Blu-ray release. The Roots of Heaven was made in 1958, directed by John Huston and based on a novel by Romain Gary, who co-wrote the screenplay. Like many of the movies the video label makes available to retro film fans, this is a very interesting production that might otherwise have escaped your attention. Such was the case with this writer. I had heard of the movie but knew nothing about it until I popped a review disc in my Blu-ray player. The first impressive aspect is the cast: Errol Flynn, Trevor Howard and Orson Welles in one production? Irresistible. What is truly fascinating about The Roots of Heaven is its politically progressive point-of-view, an urgent plea for conservation and care for animals and the environment during an era where this was hardly populist fare. Howard is cast as Morel, a charismatic but eccentric Englishman living in French Equatorial Africa. Morel is on a one-man crusade to stop the wholesale killing of elephants by poachers and thrill seekers. He goes through official channels in an attempt to get influential politicians to join his cause and pass conservation laws, but he is mocked and dismissed as a crazy man. Aghast and disgusted by the colonial European's disregard for the land and its animals, Morel turns up the heat, recruiting a small band of confederates with whom he wreaks havoc on the local hierarchy. As Morel turns to increasingly desperate and violent tactics, he becomes the nation's most wanted man. His motley gang includes Forsythe (Errol Flynn), a courageous but perpetually drunken hotel owner and Minna (Juliette Greco), a glamorous and fiercely independent local hooker who has survived being forced into prostitution in Nazi bordellos. Together, the group begins to gain international fame, especially when their exploits are broadcast worldwide by a famed radio announcer (Orson Welles) who they initially disgrace, but who comes to admire their courage and determination. With fame, however, comes danger, and before long the small band of heroes find themselves under increasingly difficult circumstances as the reward money for their capture grows. Undeterred, they soldier on, continuing to harass poachers and government officials alike until their efforts win them international support. It all comes to a head in a harrowing climax that pits the conservationists against a particularly brutal band of hunters who are intent on slaughtering a large number of elephants in order to get the all-important ivory.
The production was the brainchild of legednary Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, who had temporarily left the studio to become an independent producer. The Roots of Heaven is such a fine film that it's puzzling why retro film scholars and academics continue to overlook its virtues. The movie's troubled production history may have something to do with it. Huston originally intended to cast William Holden as Morel, but when that fell through, he went with Trevor Howard. Aware that Howard was anything but a matinee idol, Huston reluctantly rewrote the part to make the implied romance between his character and Minna more paternal than sensual. Huston also griped that the film was rushed into production, thus resulting in many artistic compromises being made. The shoot itself was hell, with the cast and crew enduring temperatures that routinely caused people to faint from heat exhaustion. What emerged, however, was a film that remains impressive on many counts. Howard reaffirms his status as one of the best (and most underrated) actors of his generation. He is stern, stubborn, and yet sympathetic in his quixotic quest to bring appreciation of nature to the tone deaf bureaucrats who could end the slaughter of magnificent animals with the stroke of a pen. A weathered, but still dashing Errol Flynn gets top billing, but he's largely relegated to window dressing in what is clearly a supporting role. Still, he exudes plenty of the old charm and charisma in what would be his second-to-last film. The biggest surprise is the performance of Juliette Greco, who was cast primarily because she was Zanuck's mistress du jour. In the informative DVD booklet by Julie Kirgo, she relates that Greco despised Zanuck and routinely mocked him behind his back. Yet, unlike some of Zanuck's arm candy, Greco possessed not only glamor but real acting ability, inveighing the time worn character of the sympathetic hooker with pathos. It's truly a pity that major stardom did not follow. The film benefits greatly from Oswald Morris' magnificent cinematography and the fact that Huston, as he did on The African Queen, eschews studio shots as much as possible to maximize exotic locations. (There is real irony in that Huston's main motive for making Queen was said to be his obsession with hunting and killing an elephant. In The Roots of Heaven, he directs a story that deplores such behavior). There is also a rousing score by Malcolm Arnold that channels some key ingredients from his compositions for The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Kudos to Twilight Time for once again saving a terrific film from cinematic oblivion.
While at the pinnacle of his success as a leading man, coming off of major starring roles in M*A*S*H, Kelly's Heroes and Don't Look Now, Donald Sutherland returned to his native Canada to film Alien Thunder (aka Dan Candy's Law). The story, loosely based on a true historical incident, finds Sutherland as Dan Candy, a stalwart Canadian Mountie, who patrols the wild Saskatchewan wilderness areas in the 1880s. There is a famine plaguing the area and the hardest hit are the local Indian tribes. One brave, Almighty Voice (Gordon Tootoosis) is frustrated at having to wait for meager rations from Canadian authorities while his family starves before his eyes. He slaughters a government-owned cow, an action that sets off a major legal problem. Candy and his partner are assigned to arrest Almighty Voice, who fears he will be hanged. Almighty Voice flees into the wilderness and in a confrontation with Candy's partner, shoots the Mountie dead. Candy becomes obsessed with revenge and the film takes on elements of The Searchers, as he engages in a relentless search for the fugitive. Almighty Voice not only has to avoid capture, but he must deal with the harsh elements and care for his wife and newborn child, who are with him. Almighty Voice and Candy's mano-a-mano grudge match extends over many miles and many months, which each man scoring victories and suffering losses. Almighty Voice turns the tables and attacks Candy's domain, burning his cabin to the ground. As the hunt continues, Candy develops a grudging respect for the man he is determined to bring to justice. He also objects when his strutting, martinet superior officer employs a virtual army, including field artillery, to hunt down Almighty Voice.
The film is directed and photographed by Claude Fournier, and his measured style and leisurely pace may turn off some viewers weaned on contemporary action films. In fact, Alien Thunder is more a character study than an actual adventure, although the final sequence - a battle between the authorities and Almighty Voice and his few allies- is excitingly staged and has moments of grandeur that belie the film's somewhat modest budget. Sutherland gives a fine performance as an everyday man who finds himself on an extraordinary quest for vengeance. He makes for a most vulnerable hero, making misjudgments and mistakes throughout his mission. Most of the supporting cast are little-known actors with the exception of always-watchable old pros Chief Dan George and Kevin McCarthy.
The movie is available on DVD through the Scorpion label. There are no extras except an interesting gallery of other film trailers for the company's releases. Alien Thunder is a consistently engrossing film that one can categorize as an overlooked gem.
MGM's burn-to-order DVD service has released another worthy film, the 1971 comedy Cold Turkey. Written and directed by Norman Lear, the fanciful plot is set in Eagle Rock, Iowa, a struggling small town of 4600 residents in Iowa that has fallen on hard times. The town is on the verge of financial catastrophe with most of the once-thriving businesses having moved away when a local air force base was closed. Potential salvation comes in the form of a contest sponsored by a major tobacco company to award $25 million to any town that can give up smoking for a period of 30 days. In fact, the offer is a mere ploy by a cynical tobacco executive, Merwyn Wren (Bob Newhart), who assures his bosses that the contest will improve the industry's reputation without ever incurring the prospect of having to pay off. That's because every person in the town would have to sign a pledge to not smoke for 30 days. A single offense would result in disqualification for the prize. What Wren doesn't count on is the determination of Eagle Rock minister Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke), a disillusioned and depressed reverend who finds renewed vigor in his determination to see his town win the contest and revitalized itself with the prize money. Brooks goes on a one-man crusade to persuade the town's population to sign the petition- not an easy task because seemingly everyone has turned to smoking in order to cope with the stress of their financial hardships.
John Rich (right) with producer Norman Lear, 1973.
This almost escaped us but reader Bill Parisho alerted us that Emmy winning director John Rich died on January 30 at age 86. Rich was lauded for his work on The Dick Van Dyke Show, All in the Family, Gunsmoke, Gilligan's Island, Barney Miller and other beloved programs. Rich also directed Elvis Presley in the feature films Easy Come, Easy Go. For more click here
Joshua Logan's 1955 screen adaptation of William Inge's Broadway sensation Picnic has been released on Blu-ray by the excellent Twilight Time label as a 3,000 unit limited edition. The play helped boost Paul Newman to stardom but amazingly he was excluded from the film version, along with most of his fellow cast members. Inge's play presented an unusually frank examination of repressed sexual frustration in a small Kansas town. That tension boils over with the arrival of Hal Carter (William Holden), a charismatic drifter whose arrival in town sets off a combustible tinderbox of emotions among the residents. Hal is a magnet for women of all ages, but he sets his sites on Madge (Kim Novak), a vulnerable teenager from a broken home who is looking for a white knight to deliver her from the boredom of her small town life. Hal fills the void but brings to mind the old adage "Be careful what you wish for- you just might get it." Hal's presence unleashes long suppressed rivalries and jealousies and he goes from hero to cad in the eyes of many.
It's long been said that Holden was too old for the leading role, but nothing could be further from the truth. He's at the top of his game and exudes raw sexuality. He benefits from an outstanding supporting cast, each of whom is seen at their best: Novak; Susan Strasberg as her catty, envious sister, Betty Field as the frustrated mom who advises her girls that sex may be an unpleasant chore for a woman, but if it allows you to nab a handsome husband, it's worth it; young Cliff Robertson as an insecure local hunk who comes to regret Hal's presence, and wonderful turns by Arthur O'Connell, Nick Adams and others. Among the many memorable scenes are Holden and Novak's slow dance to Moonglow, which drips eroticism and plays like a mating ritual. All of this is set to James Wong Howe's glorious cinematography which improbably manages to "open up" a rather claustrophobic storyline written for the stage.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray looks great and includes the original trailer, an informative booklet written by Julie Kirgo and an isolated track for George Duning's terrific score.
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.
Not for the weak-stomached or faint of heart, Living in
Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders, available now on DVD from First Run Features, offers excellent insights into
the highly-touted humanitarian organization and the individual doctors who keep
it afloat. The documentary follows volunteer doctors in war-torn Liberia and
Congo, not only detailing their “typical” work day activities (in often bloody
detail), but also delving into their motivations for joining the organization,
their means of coping with high-pressure situations, and their opinions of the
humanitarian assistance field.
While just watching the documentary, which includes
footage of crude amputations and a hernia the size of a beach ball, can make
your blood pressure rise, Living in Emergency is also strangely refreshing.
While most documentaries focusing on humanitarian assistance often turn into
love letters to specific organizations or individuals, Living in Emergency
avoids all-out hero worship in favor of a nuanced view that encompasses both
the successes and the shortcomings of the organization and its volunteers. While
the positive impact of Doctors Without Borders is certainly the focus of the
movie, concerns about its support of new staff members and premature decisions
to pull out of certain areas are also expressed. Similarly, while anyone
watching the film cannot help but admire the courage and commitment of the
organization’s volunteers, the movie also illustrates their humanity by showing them
at their best (in surgery) and their worst (drunk and argumentative).
The only real shortcoming of the film is its failure to
give a sufficient voice to the over 20,000 local staff that make Doctors Without
Borders run. As Americans, it may seem more captivating to watch our Western
counterparts delve into both a physical and metaphorical heart of darkness.
However, it is extremely important to recognize the role played by local
volunteers, who sacrifice their time, safety, and energy to help their own
communities without the promise of leaving after six months. While the
documentary does feature one local doctor, more interviews with healthcare
providers, patients, and community members would have greatly enriched the
documentary and provided a more balanced perspective on the organization.
Despite this weakness, Living in Emergency is an
excellent and thought-provoking film that anyone interested in the field of
humanitarian assistance should take the time to watch.
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.
reports of certain events which would have appeared earlier, had fate and the
need to earn a buck not intervened.
Irish Film Institute,
24-28 August 2011
at the station for the 3:10 to Tara Street, I was feeling good – deep down
good, the way a man can feel when he’s got a bunch of Westerns to watch and a
passel of press passes in his pocket. Leaving the Iron Horse at Westland Row, I
cut across Grafton Street (no sign of them pesky Rykers) and on down to the
Irish Film Institute, where they were about to let rip with a four-day,
eight-film season called ‘The Western: Meanwhile Back at the Revolution ... The
Western As Political Allegory’. Well, I reckoned they could use all them fancy
five-dollar words and dress it up whatever they damn well liked, long as it
meant seeing some real Westerns on the big screen. As Randy Scott would’ve
said, “There’s some things a man can’t ride around—but Cowboys & Aliens ain’t one of them.” Ride clear of Diablo,
hell, ride clear of dumb CGI special effects movies is more like it . . .
I figured not only was this a chance to see some Westerns the way they were
meant to be seen but also an opportunity to have my say on films which wouldn’t
normally fit into the Cinema Retro
corral, being as they were made before 1960. Not that this is either the time
or the place for what you might call in-depth chin-stroking and
head-scratching—more like a chance to throw out some thoughts and see where they
up, perhaps predictably enough, was High
Noon (1952), described in the programme notes by season curator Declan
Clarke as “a commentary on the McCarthy witch-hunt and the failure of U.S.
intellectuals to stand up to the House Un-American Activities Committee.” This,
of course, has become pretty much the standard interpretation of High Noon but it would be interesting to
know to what extent it was perceived that way on its initial release; the
British critic Robin Wood has recalled that he was completely unaware of any
political subtext when he first saw the film, and it seems rather doubtful that
many citizens of Main Street, U.S.A., came out of their local cinemas saying,
“Gee, honey, that sure was one in the eye for Joe McCarthy!”
generally speaking, I prefer to see something of the West in my Westerns (even
if it’s Almería, west of Rome), High Noon
remains one of the best “town Westerns” ever made, notable as much for its
characterisation as for its celebrated manipulation of real time to build
suspense. In particular, one is struck by the refreshingly adult depiction of
Helen Ramírez (Katy Jurado), a “woman with a past” who is required neither to
apologise for that past nor to expiate her supposed sins by catching one of
those stray “moral” bullets which usually account for such characters (e.g.,
Linda Darnell’s Chihuahua in Ford’s My
Darling Clementine, 1946). Other details I’d forgotten include the church
scene in which Thomas Mitchell appears to be lending his support to Marshal Kane
only to end up giving him the shaft, Howland Chamberlin’s nasty-minded hotel
clerk, and Harry Morgan urging his wife to tell Kane that he’s not in, that
he’s gone to church.
In the aftermath of Mondo Cane's release in the early 1960s, every exploitation filmmaker seemed eager to jump on the bandwagon and produce "documentaries" that ostensibly were made to educate audiences about shocking and weird people and practices throughout the world. Even in the 1970s, Australia was considered an exotic locale to most of the world's population. Because of its inaccessibility, travel to Oz in those days was relegated to seemingly only the most financially secure lucky souls. Thus, life in Australia seemed to be a good bet for any number of exploitation films that gave a double meaning to the term "Down Under". One of the more prominent opportunists to capitalize on this craze for the short-lived "Ozploitation" films was producer/director John D. Lamond, who churned out a number of soft-core porn films during the '70s and '80s. Among the more notable achievements was Australia After Dark, filmed on location throughout Oz in 1975. The film apparently caused a minor sensation in its initial release and was heavily edited in some countries, including England. The InterVision DVD label, in conjunction with CAV Distributing Corporation, has just found an uncut print "recently discovered in the cellar of the Lower Wonga Drive-in" according to the press release. That's appropriate because the drive-in's name alone sounds like an erogenous zone. In any event, the film's release is a welcome event as it brings us back to a time when international cinema was still pushing the boundaries on censorship.
There's nothing shocking by today's standards in Australia After Dark, though Lamond didn't punt when it came to showing extensive views of full female and male nudity. Although the movie's key premise is sexploitation, most of the more interesting segments pertain to more mainstream topics. There is a visit to the world's longest bar as well as brief but fascinating looks at ancient cave wall paintings. There's also a brief segment about a 19th century serial killer of women who nevertheless received hundreds of "fan letters" from women admirers. Lamond shoots and edits in a haphazard, anything-goes style. Thus, one minute you're paying a visit to an S&M club and the next you're viewing a beautiful young naturist swimming nude in the Great Barrier Reef. There is a pointless but extended visit with a performance artist named Count Copernicus, who - based on his billing in the film- must have been somewhat of a sensation at the time. Copernicus dresses in drag even while he gets it on with comely young women. He also cloaks his "schtick" with pretentious political protests, making him the kind of character generally spoofed in Woody Allen movies. In another segment, we view a body painting studio where uptight businessmen spend their lunch hours renting live nude models whose bodies they adorn with "art". In the most compelling sequence, we're brought inside a modern witches coven where practitioners initiate a new female member by having her ravaged by some bloke dressed as a witch doctor (Imagine the voodoo sequences from Live and Let Die if they had been rated X.) Intermingled with all this are shots of sexily-clad young women who were filmed surreptitiously for inclusion in the movie. The girl-on-the-street footage reminds us why my friend, British fashion consultant Colin Woodhead, has referred to the '70s "the decade that fashion forgot" - but it also reminds us that the era did present us with the regrettably short-lived hot pants craze. Other segments jump from alleged UFO landing sites to a visit to a shop where the owner gained fame by custom-fitting bikinis to female customers who willingly doffed their clothes to get his professional opinion.
The DVD includes a director's commentary with John Lamond and Mark Hartley, director of Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary about Ozploitation films. Their conversation is highly enjoyable due to the lack of pretentiousness. Lamond makes no bones about his desire to make a cheap, trashy movie designed for quick playoff in Aussie drive-ins. However, he did have a loftier goal in mind. Tired of having Australians live in the shadows of the Americans and British, he wanted to do his part to show that there were plenty of local people who were equally eccentric to those seen in overseas films. The fact that by doing so, he helped reinvigorate the entire Australian film industry, pleases him to this day. He also discusses certain scenes he had to cut including footage of Trans Australian Airlines (TAA). The company agreed to fly him for free around Australia in return for promotion in the film. However, when airline executives saw the finished movie they were horrified and forced Lamond to cut all footage of TAA from the film. (Now that the airline is defunct, Lamond has restored the footage for this DVD release.) Lamond also admits staging certain sequences, though he says the participants were only recreating their normal activities. Both Lamond and Hartley come across as the kind of unpretentious guys you'd like to sit around and enjoy a cold one with and their conversation on the commentary track eclipses the merits of the film itself. At one point, Lamond stops in his tracks to comment on some nubile naked young woman by saying, "Look at that! That's all woman!" (This also has to be the only audio commentary track in memory in which both participants discuss in detail the changing viewpoints of female sexuality by making observations about the abundance of pubic and armpit hair on the female participants.) The DVD sleeve also promises a trailer gallery of Lamond's other films, but for the life of me I couldn't find it on the actual DVD.
The print of the film is only adequate and appears to have been shot through some sort of glass filter that leaves some consistent blemishes throughout. Nevertheless, it's a very enjoyable guilty pleasure and one can't fault InterVision for the film quality. After all, would you have spent time tracking this down in the cellar of the Lower Wonga Drive-In?
Australia After Dark is tacky, sleazy, and politically incorrect. I loved every minute of it.
Robert Easton's name may not be familiar to the public but for decades he has been the "go-to" guy for prominent actors who needed to master the art of speaking in different dialects. Easton started out as a character actor but feared that his southern accent would keep him typecast as hillbillies. He began to study regional accents and foreign languages and discovered he had an uncanny knack for not only mastering them, but for teaching them as well. In short order, he became a real life Henry Higgins, teaching such diverse talents as Charlton Heston, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Duvall, Robert Vaughn, Anne Hathaway and Forest Whitaker. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, he completed working with John Travolta on a project. Easton died this week of undisclosed causes at age 81. All the while, Easton worked as a supporting player and appeared in dozens of prominent films and TV series beginning in the early 1950s. Ironically, while Easton had initially wanted to avoid being typecast as eccentric country characters, he adopted just such a look in real life, sporting a long mane of white hair and a Moses-type beard. Click here to read about his remarkable career.
The boutique DVD label Twilight Time has released a limited edition (3,000 units) of the 1955 film The Left Hand of God starring Humphrey Bogart. The 1955 Fox drama is set in China in 1947, though it curiously avoids the topic of the battle between the forces of democracy and communism that raged throughout the country in the post-WII period. Bogart plays Jim Carmody, a soldier of fortune who finds himself stranded in China and serving as a military adviser for a local ruthless warlord. Although he's bribed with plunder and women, Carmody realizes he's still a virtual prisoner and plots his escape. This he accomplishes by adopting the identity of a recently murdered Catholic priest. He makes his way to a rural Christian mission where he continues his ruse. Caromdy knows just enough about Catholicism to fool the Christian converts at the mission, which is run by Dr. Sigman and his wife Beryl (E.G. Marshall and Agnes Moorehead, both in fine form) along with a beautiful young nurse, Anne (Gene Tierney). Although much of the plot devices outlined here are not revealed until well into the film, I assure you that this is no way diminishes the suspense quite simply because there isn't any. We know from the first few minutes that Bogart isn't really a priest, especially when he secretes a loaded pistol under his pillow.
The film, directed by the usually able Edward Dmytryk, is based on a novel that had been kicked around Hollywood for years before Fox took the plunge. It's a glum, humorless affair and the informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo tell us that Bogart was already in the early stages of ill health that would soon prove to be fatal. (He would only make two more films in rapid succession before passing away from cancer in 1957.) Similarly, Tierney's career was sidetracked as she battled mental illness. This was to be her big comeback movie but she would henceforth be relegated to supporting roles before retiring from acting in 1964. The film is filled with absurdities. Tierney struts around the isolated mountain mission in a wardrobe that makes it look like she just returned from the showroom at Saks 5th Avenue. As we've written about extensively in Cinema Retro, the practice of casting Caucasian stars in parts meant for Asian actors was firmly in place during this period. Thus, we have Lee J. Cobb as the charismatic Chinese warlord! That's right- Willy Lohman himself trading barbs with Bogart and using the same voice and mannerisms as his immortal villain Johnny Friendly from On the Waterfront. This is awkwardly explained by having him remind Bogart that he is a graduate of an American university! This can actually be the solution for all of our disaffected college grads who are frustrated with the lack of jobs. Instead of joining the Occupy Wall Street movement, they can simply move to Asia and become warlords. The profession may be dead in China, but it's booming in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Although the film was shot entirely on the Fox Ranch in California, it must be said that the excellent production design and creative use of matte paintings does make for a convincing "on location" feel. The film's other strength is a fine score by the great Victor Young. However, the plot meanders and ends up going nowhere. Even the potentially suspenseful threat of a vengeful warlord is derailed over a friendly game of dice.There is virtually no chemistry between Bogart and Tierney, despite some longing gazes. This is because Fox was concerned about offending the Catholic church so the film was scrubbed of all but the most innocent references to sex.
Twilight Time's transfer is up to their usual excellent standards and features Young's score on an isolated track. As mentioned previously, the company's inclusion of liner notes booklets in every release is a welcome touch, especially when they don't sugarcoat flawed films such as this.
The Left Hand of God is not Bogart at his best, but even second rate Bogie is still worth a look.
In 1966, with Batmania sweeping the world, everyone was trying to get a piece of the action. Columbia Pictures came up with a novel idea. The studio rereleased the 1943 Batman and Robin serials collectively under the title An Evening with Batman and Robin. Naturally, this was more than twenty years before Adam West and Burt Ward slid down the Batpole for the first time. The gimmick turned a tidy profit, though some of the more naive fans may have been stunned to see the Dynamic Duo in black and white and attired in costumes that looked like they came in last place in the local school Halloween contest. This rare trade ad extolls the regional grosses the film event was scoring across America. Did you know that Lewis Wilson, who played Batman in these serials, was the father of James Bond producer Michael G. Wilson?
By the way some reviews describe this moody 1967 film, one might think they are dealing with a story about the supernatural. Dame Edith Evans, giving a bravura Oscar-nominated performance, plays an elderly woman who believes she can hear conspiratorial voices plotting against her. She reprimands them but they keep returning. They are the titular "Whisperers"- however, this plot angle is only fleetingly explored in Bryan Forbes downbeat but impressive film. In fact the movie is a character study that illustrated the plight of the elderly in Britain at that time. The Brits may have been on the winning side in WWII, but the social consequences of living in a nation that was financially crippled because of the consequences of that conflict were severe. The popular image of England in the mid to late 1960s was that of London being the epicenter of the pop culture revolution. British bands dominated international pop charts, British fashions were all the rage and The Beatles and James Bond appeared to be far more than the usual flash-in-the-pan rages (a theory that has been proven true over the ensuing decades). However, outside of London, the British working class were often relegated to spartan lifestyles with pensioners particularly vulnerable to various societal degradations.
The Whisperers personifies this dilemma through the character of Mrs. Ross (Evans), who eeks out a daily battle to survive while trying to retain some vestiges of her dignity. She lives in a dreary public housing flat in Manchester and the city is presented by Forbes as the armpit of England, with smokestacks belching polluted fumes into the skies while impoverished children play aimlessly in the streets amid vacant, partially collapsed buildings. Mrs. Ross can only exist because of social services but, as Roger Ebert pointed out in his review of the film, even the best-intentioned societies can humiliate those they seek to help. Thus, her request for a simple pair of shoes necessitates a personal visit from a well-meaning social worker (well played by Kenneth Griffiths) to examine her current pair to ensure they do indeed merit being replaced. Financially, the loss of a single pound can wreak havoc on her life and she can only get it replaced by the local government if she files a formal report with the police. A free cup of soup at a nearby church comes at a price: the reverend makes the recipients feign religious devotion and sing hymns before they can eat. This is a "kitchen sink" drama in which the kitchen sink literally plays a role, with the slow steady dripping of this standard household fixture taking on an ominous air.
If you grew up anywhere New York City in the 1950s-1970, WPIX (Channel 11) was an integral part of your life. In its prim, the network offered an eclectic mix of classic re-runs ranging from Three Stooges shorts to Perry Mason, The Addams Family and The Munsters. It was also the home of New York Yankees baseball back when the sport was worth caring about. Bozo the Clown also called WPIX home (though we are always amused by Jerry Seinfeld's rhetorical question: "Why does Bozo need to tell us he's a clown?") The kids shows were introduced by local personalities such as Captain Jack McCarthy and Officer Joe Bolton, who became local celebrities themselves with enthusiastic followings. WPIX also ran the "classic 39" episodes of Jackie Gleason's The Honeymooners literally for decades, thus ensuring younger generations became fans of the program. Click here for a video montage of wonderful moments from the glory days of WPIX.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCHIVES
Donald Hamilton’s Serious Spy Becomes a Bond Parody By Matthew
When JFK revealed his fondness for the James Bond books by Ian Fleming, and 007—ably embodied by Sean Connery—struck box-office gold with Dr. No (1962) and its sequels, the resultant “Bondmania” set off a spy craze manifested in everything from atmospheric adaptations of Len Deighton and John le Carré to tongue-in-cheek secret agents on screens small and large. Perhaps the most successful of the latter was Matt Helm, a singing and swinging spy played in four films for Columbia Pictures by Rat Pack member Dean Martin, who unlike Connery shared in the profits from the outset via his own company, Meadway-Claude Productions. The former partner of Bond producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli - Irving Allen - was playing catch-up after deeming Fleming’s work unworthy of filming, which speeded his breakup with Broccoli. But ironically, his quartet of quintessential spy spoofs was actually based on a series of gritty Gold Medal paperback originals by Donald Hamilton that had been launched by Fawcett before Kennedy was even in office, or Connery started shaking his martinis.
STELLA STEVENS IN SEXY PUBLICITY POSE FOR "THE SILENCERS"
The tagline for the 1971 crime movie The Last Run reads "In the tradition of Bogart and Hemingway..." That would probably seem preposterous to assign to an action film with most of today's soft-boiled leading men, but it seemed perfectly appropriate at the time for a movie starring George C. Scott. The script by Alan Sharp, who also wrote such underrated gems as The Hired Hand, Night Moves and Ulzana's Raid, is perfectly tooled to Scott's persona. With facial features that look like they were chiseled out of granite, the actor, who had just won the Oscar for Patton, is well-suited to the tough-as-nails character of Harry Garmes. Harry has forsaken a life in crime for a seemingly idyllic retirement in a small Portugese fishing village. Happiness, however, does not follow him. Shortly after their young son died, Harry's wife left for Switzerland to have her breasts lifted only to run off with another man. In one of the film's most amusing lines, Harry says he thought she was having them lifted as part of a surgical procedure. He finds that old adage "Be careful what you wish for- you just might get it" has special pertinence to his life abroad. He has succeeded in establishing the low-key, no risk lifestyle he so badly desired. However, he is now bored and feels out of place. He has a friendship with a local fisherman (Aldo Sanbrell) and a middle aged hooker who genuinely likes him (Colleen Dewhurst), but he feels he'll die of boredom. Thus, he decides to take on one more simple crime run, a seemingly low-risk job that involves transporting an escaped convict over the border to France.
Roger Ebert Presents is a half-hour syndicated program that carries on the tradition started by the legendary film critic and his colleague Gene Siskel back in the 1970s. At the time, serious discussion of movies and the film industry was largely relegated to brief reviews sandwiched in on local news broadcasts. Ebert and Siskel changed all that by pioneering a program that featured intelligent debates about movies- and not just high brow fare. The two Chicago critics would often disparage prestigious releases as pretentious and lavish praise on other movies that were often derided as "B" films. In doing so, they revolutionized film criticism in general and exposed millions of people to movies that would otherwise have languished in obscurity. A lot has changed in the ensuing years. Siskel has passed away and Ebert has been robbed by health problems of his ability to speak. Ironically, he's probably as influential as ever. Ebert has mastered social media programs to keep in touch with his readers and he continues to write high profile, well-regarded books. He and his wife Chaz have also valiantly tried to keep Roger Ebert Presents on the air. Despite the fact that the show is widely syndicated to a large audience, the Eberts have not been able to find funding to continue for the 2012 season. In this era of austerity in the arts, Roger and Chaz have been forced to violate the key rule of producing: never fund the project yourself. That's exactly what the Eberts have been doing: paying the bills for all costs associated with the program. They have not even been taking salaries for their efforts. However, they can't continue to do so and have put out a public appeal for potential investor(s) to save the show.
I have never met Roger Ebert and my sole interaction with him was exchanging signed copies of books we had written many years ago. I have no idea if he has read Cinema Retro magazine or what he thinks of it if he does. I point this out because I have no vested personal interest in championing his cause- except for the fact that with so much sludge and valueless sleaze on TV today, it would truly be a shame if a man who is trying to maintain a bit of class and integrity in the medium would not find any takers. The budget for keeping Ebert's show (which features two young film critics) on the air wouldn't cover the coffee budget on the set of most programs. So here's hoping one of our most prolific film reviewers succeeds in his quest. For more click here
Steven Spielberg's Jaws burst onto
movie theatre screens on Wednesday, June 20, 1975 (during a time when movies
opened on a Wednesday), few were prepared for the impact it would have upon the
movie-going public and the American cinema in particular.Moderately budgeted and given a standard
shooting schedule, the film notoriously took nearly five months of grueling
work to get usable footage.The story behind
the making of one of Hollywood's most successful and greatest motion pictures
is also one of the most interesting in the annals of cinema history.While books have been written about the
subject of the making of Jaws, no one
has really addressed the making of the film in an in-depth, substantial way through
the use of rare photographs.All of that
has changed now, thanks to Matt Taylor, a writer/historian of Martha’s Vineyard,
Massachusetts, the location where the film was shot, and Jim Beller, a Jaws fan and the owner of the Jawscollector.com website, both of
whom worked tirelessly talking to the people who lived on the island and took
part in the making of this Hollywood classic.
the brains of Islanders, the name given to people who were born on Martha’s
Vineyard, and collecting thousands of photographs, many of them cleaned and
restored to beautiful and pristine condition, they have assembled a nearly
300-page book appropriately titled Jaws:
Memories from Martha's Vineyard, which has recently been released in both a
limited edition hardcover printing and in paperback format.The book is indubitably the final word on the
making of this spectacular masterpiece.Anyone who is a Jaws fanatic
needs to own it.Nearly 1,000
never-before-published photographs populate the book which is accompanied by a
beautifully written text by Mr. Taylor on just about every conceivable
behind-the-scenes-facet on the making of this film, presented in chronological
order.It encompasses the film’s
beginnings in December of 1973 when Production Designer Joe Alves made his initial
trek to Martha’s Vineyard to search for a suitable shooting location, up to and
including the film's release in June 1975.Few if any of the Islanders, as well as the actors and producers, could
have imagined the impact that Jaws
would have on fans over thirty years later.The little shark movie that was originally regarded by Universal
Pictures as a low-budget production not only became an action adventure
masterpiece but also put Steven Spielberg on the map to become one of the
world's greatest film producers and directors.Jaws is, bar none, the
Quint-essential (pun most definitely intended) summer movie, and should be re-released
theatrically every five years or so to give young audiences the opportunity to
experience its brilliance on a major motion picture screen where it was meant
to be seen.
Jaws: Memories from
Martha's Vineyard tells you more than you've ever wanted to
know and then some about the making of this great film.The amount of time, energy and research shows
on every single page.The book is
lavishly illustrated with color and black-and-white photographs and
storyboards, in addition to newspaper clippings from the island’s local
newspaper, the Vineyard Gazette, which gave virtually daily updates about the
making of the film.The limited
hardcover edition contains:
piece of the fiberglass hull of the Orca II (a.k.a., sinking Orca) used in Jaws with a note of authenticity from
owners Lynn and Susan Murphy.
DVD containing nine minutes of 8mm behind-the-scenes footage of the Jaws production shot and narrated by Islander
and portfolio packaged in a unique special edition case.
to a series of 1000 numbered copies.
x 10.5″, 296 pages.
than 1,000 full color and b/w images.
is one of those rare films that I can watch over and over again.I’ve been known to watch it more than once in
one day.Likewise, Jaws: Memories from Martha's Vineyard is the kind of book that
keeps pulling me back to it, to pore over the photos and interviews, over and
over again.You can’t just pick it up
for a few minutes and then put it down.Like the water of Amity Long Island, the book draws you in, and if
you’re not careful you will realize that the few minutes you intended to read
through it suddenly extends to several hours.If this book is not the greatest book ever published about the making of
a motion picture, I simply don't know what is.It should set the standard for future publications on similar
classics.It stands as a testament to
not only a great motion picture, but as an authenticated record of what it
truly takes to make a film and realize that film through a camera lens and most
importantly, to be able to solve seemingly insurmountable odds and problems
that inevitably beset a film crew.After
all, time is money.
book can be ordered at the book’s
official site and will also be available in bookstores nationwide at the
end of September 2011.
on for Cinema Retro’s interview with the gentlemen who created this astonishingly
Cilento and Connery with their son Jason in the 1960s: happiness would be short-lived in the tumultuous marriage.
Australian actress Diane Cilento has died at age 79. The multi-talented actress had already won acclaim for her work on stage when she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the 1963 classic Tom Jones. Cilento divorced her first husband to marry Sean Connery in 1962-the year his first James Bond movie premiered. With Connery's rise to international superstar, the couple could not cope with the fame and constant intrusions on their private lives. The marriage ended after 12 years and Cilento married acclaimed playwright Anthony Shaffer. She also had a second career as an author. Among her most memorable films are The Agony and the Ecstasy, The Wicker Man and Hombre. For more click here
The Warner Archive has released singer Connie Francis' films from the 1960s.The singing sensation had a short but successful big screen career and her most significant hit was the film in which she made her movie debut: the 1960 comedy Where the Boys Are. The film looks positively quaint today but I enjoyed it in the manner that an anthropologist would if he were examining etchings on cave walls from a distant era. The film reflects the social values of the time and, not surprisingly, there is nary a minority teenager to be seen. The story concerns a group of coeds (to use a quaint term)- Dolores Hart, Paula Prentiss, Connie Francis and Yvette Mimieux- who make a first time pilgrimage from their snowbound college to Fort Lauderdale for spring break. Even in 1960, Fort Lauderdale was the "go to" destination for students. However, the film's impact was so significant that it increased the masses of students exponentially over the years. One must look at the movie in the context of the time period. This was the first generation of females who were able to exert enough independence to make such a trip sans chaperones. The girls are predictably man hungry and in one cringe-inducing sequence, Paula Prentiss' character says he education is just a waste of time because she was put on earth to find a guy and have babies!
The Warner Archive has released Dirty Dingus Magee as a burn-to-order DVD. The film represents one of the last major Frank Sinatra movies to come to the DVD format and fans of the Chairman o the Board will obviously want to add it to their collections. The film itself shocked critics when it opened in 1970 due to the trivial nature of the production. Time has done nothing to enhance its reputation and one can only wonder what possessed Sinatra to star in this tepid Western comedy. In reality, Sinatra's passion for movie-making was also tepid. He always preferred to concentrate on his singing career and regarded acting as a time-consuming sideline. His penchant for rarely approving a second take became legendary. Nevertheless, he was undeniably one of the cinema's great icons. Prior to Dirty Dingus Magee, Sinatra had shown good judgment with the majority of the films he made during the mid-to-late Sixties. There were some misguided efforts but Von Ryan's Express, Tony Rome, Lady in Cement and The Detective were all quality productions in which he acquitted himself very well. All the more puzzling as to what attracted him to the MGM Western that seemed cursed from the start.
This superior 1983 TV movie was released on DVD without fanfare by a low-budget label in 2001. The bargain-priced DVD sold out quickly and has been out of print for years. It now commands over $100 for a sealed copy on Amazon.
The film is an outstanding drama made during the heyday of great TV movies. Perhaps because there were so many great ones during this era, Murder in Coweta County didn't get much attention at the time, though it did win very good reviews. The story is based on a true-life crime book of the same name. It centers on a rural county in Georgia known as "The Kingdom" because it was controlled by local crime boss John Wallace (Andy Griffith). Wallace's outward persona is one of a folksy, kind-hearted local businessman. He openly gives money to the downtrodden and conspicuously donates generous sums to the church. In reality, he is a brutal crime kingpin who rules with an iron hand. When a sharecrop defies him, Wallace and his goons pursue him in a car chase, catch the man and beat him to death in front of witnesses. The problem for Wallace is that the crime takes place in the neighboring county- Coweta- where straight-as-an-arrow local sheriff Lamar Potts (Johnny Cash) ensures that nobody is above the law. To the astonishment of the locals, Potts and his deputies initiate an in-depth investigation of Wallace- who predictably reacts with charm and professes his innocence, even as he personally oversees the burning of the body. If there's no body found, there's no way a murder allegation can be proven- or so he thinks.
Has a real life scenario from Jaws occurred in the Seychelles Islands?
A second man has been killed by a shark while swimming close to shore on a tourist beach in the Seychelles Islands, just 20 miles from where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka William and Kate) honeymooned. The latest victim was a 30 year-old British man who was also on his honeymoon. The government has prohibited swimming or snorkeling on the local beaches until the shark has been found. In a scenario out of Jaws, it is suspected that this might be the work of a "rogue shark" that is responsible for both deaths. Such scenarios are rare, but do happen. In 1916, several deaths of swimmers in New Jersey were thought to be due to one rogue shark. For more click here
It may look like the pre-credits sequence from Octopussy, but this mini-plane is actually more closely related to The Man With the Golden Gun.
By Lee Pfeiffer
One of the few saving graces of the dreadful 1974 James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun was the introduction of a novel concept: a flying car driven by the villain Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). It took 37 years but once again, technology has caught up with another 007-inspired invention. There is now an actual flying car that is due to be approved for both flying and street driving in the UK. The downside? It will set you back a cool £155,000, so unless your name happens to be Auric it will probably be out of your price range. Then again if petrol prices in the UK keep skyrocketing, this may actually prove to be a prudent investment to take to your local grocery market. For more click here
A bridge that featured in a key sequence from the 1982 film First Blood, which introduced the character of John Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone, has been torn down due to environmental concerns. Ironically, it was interest by movie fans who visited the rickety structure in the town of Hope, British Columbia, that apparently caused the bridge to weaken. Local officials tried to save the bridge but found the effort too costly. It has been torn down and replaced with a new structure. For more click here
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.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, aka Cassandra Peterson, burst into our living rooms, sporting two of her biggest assets, and single-handedly revitalized the once-tame TV genre of the late-night horror host, bringing a combination of sexuality, humor and no shortage of groan-worthy bad puns. Elvira’s Movie Macabre ran from 1981-84 on Los Angeles’ KHJ (now KCAL-TV) and rapidly established her as a star with national syndication.
Feature films followed: Her own starring vehicle Elvira, Mistress of the Dark was released in 1988, followed by Elvira’s Haunted Hills in 2001. Licensing deals, frequent TV appearances, tie-ins galore, video box sets and other TV programs made Elvira America’s favorite sexy and playful horror vamp. (My favorite arcade game in the ‘80s was the Elvira pinball machine, Scared Stiff.)
Although it’s been a tough gig to keep up over the past decade, given the explosion of the niche-market television landscape and hundreds of channels all competing for attention, Elvira re-launched her original show, Elvira’s Movie Macabre in September of 2010 for syndication in several markets nationwide, and it ran for 20 episodes, through May of ’11. Unlike her previous show from the ‘80s, Elvira chose B-horror films in the public domain due to the prohibitive cost of licensing now, but it’s no less fun – she’s educating a whole new generation on the merits of A Bucket of Blood, Manos: Hands of Fate, Night of the Living Dead and I Eat Your Skin.
If you missed any of the episodes, and likely you did because of the relative obscurity of the show’s airtimes, Elvira is releasing a new line of double-feature DVDs from the show’s re-launch. Each DVD, priced at $14.98, includes two fright-fests digitally remastered for optimal shocks. The first one to hit the street is Night of the Living Dead (1968) & I Eat Your Skin (1964).
I spoke with Cassandra recently from her home in Los Angeles, where we discussed high school, her Fellini encounter, self-actualization and Tina Louise.
One of the few remaining Steve McQueen films not available on home video finally comes to DVD with Warner Archive's release of the 1961 military comedy The Honeymoon Machine. Sadly, the film can only be recommended to McQueen fans who feel obliged to buy the DVD in order to keep their collections complete. The movie is an embarrassing fiasco that might have been excusable had it been produced by a low-rent film studio. However, MGM backed this turkey and it must have seemed pretty stale even during its release back in the JFK administration. It's worth contemplating that America's obsession at the time with showing respect for any aspect of the military extended to many films that was neutered for fear of offending Pentagon brass. Sure, screenwriters could denote some high-school like upstarts in the Army or Navy, and the top brass might be seen as humorless stiffs, but studios rarely wanted to tweak the military powers-that-be, lest they not get cooperation from the military for their war movies. In fact, it wasn't until The Americanization of Emily in 1964 that the glass ceiling was truly broken and the U.S. military could be the object of outright satire and cynicism. From there, the floodgate opened and by the late 1960s and early 1970s, films like Kelly's Heroes and M*A*S*H went to the opposite extreme and portrayed the American military as primarily comprised of dolts.
The Honeymoon Machine was made during the era when servicemen were portrayed as overgrown kids whose most dangerous exploits were acting like the kind of towel-snapping wiseguys you encounter in locker rooms. In this ill-advised opus, McQueen- in one of his first starring roles- is a Navy lieutenant who teams with civilian scientist Jim Hutton to come up with a scientific method of predicting how roulette wheels can be manipulated. When the fleet pulls into Venice, the theory is tested at the local casino, where McQueen and Hutton break the bank. Unfortunately, through a convoluted sub-plot, their shenanighans are mistaken for espionage activities and a Cold War crisis ensues.
Mohammed Fayed, the controversial tycoon who recently sold Harrods, has let it be known that he is strongly considering making a cash offer to gain control over Pinewood Shepperton, the group that owns England's most prominent film studios. Fayed's interest surprised finance types the world over but he has dabbled in film investing before. Fayed believes he can bring Pinewood back to its glory days. The studio, which is now owned by a company that specializes in property investment, has seen profits surge recently due to an abundance of high profile films being shot there. Additionally, the producers of the next James Bond movie intend to shoot at 007's long-time home when their new movie goes into production later this year. Nevertheless, it's perceived by some that the studio is now run by accountant-types with green eye shades who don't have a particular interest in cinematic history. Peel Holdings, the primary investor in the studio, has been trying for years to get rural land adjoining the studio developed in the style of faux European neighborhoods from great cities. Peel says this would be part of legitimate space used for movie production but the local council has turned them down. Critics of the plan say that many of the houses would be privately owned and that it is simply a scheme to make Peel landlords. The company is appealing the decision. Fayed is not without controversy himself. He continues to maintain that the death of his son and Princess Diana might be linked to a plot by the Royal family on the basis that they objected to the two having a romantic relationship. For more click here
Farley Granger, the dashing star of stage and screen, has died at age 85. Granger was best known for his leading roles in two Alfred Hitchcock classics of the 1940s: Strangers on a Train and Rope. In the former, he memorably played a character who jokes with another man (Robert Walker) about mutually murdering a troublesome person in each other's lives. His life becomes a nightmare when the man takes him seriously and commits murder on his behalf- and expects him to do the same. The handsome and erudite Granger often played romantic leads and engaged in whirlwind affairs with famous actresses. However, in his 2007 autobiography, he revealed he was bi-sexual and had been living with his male partner since the 1960s. For more click here
Dead & Buried is one of the those oddball horror films that came out when I was twelve; I recall seeing the television trailers and movie poster artwork in the local theater lobby and didn’t catch up with the film until nearly 20 years later on a lackluster import DVD.
Gary A. Sherman, who also directed the excellent and in-dire-need-of-royal-DVD-treatment Death Line (released as Raw Meat in the United States) in 1972, as well as Vice Squad (1982) and Poltergeist III (1988), shot Dead & Buried in Mendocino, CA.The town may look familiar to fans of Daniel Haller’s The Dunwich Horror (1970), Herb Freed’s Haunts (1977), Barbara Peeters’s Humanoids from the Deep (1980). Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981), and Lewis Teague’s Cujo (1983) as they were all filmed there.
James Farentino (Me, Natalie and The Final Countdown) is a town sheriff whose Potter’s Bluff is plagued by a rash of murders by the townspeople.Hoping to get to the bottom of the reasons behind the murders, he enlists the help of the local mortician, Dobbs (Jack Albertson of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory).The sheriff’s wife (Melody Anderson of Flash Gordon) engages in some suspicious behavior, and what may have seemed original and fresh in 1981 is predictable and formulaic today.However, that much aside, this is a good little horror film, with good performances and great location shooting.The incomparable Blue Underground Blu-ray looks wonderful, blowing previous home video versions out of the water.The ample supplements consist of:
• Commentary with director Gary Sherman and David Gregory (Blue Underground)
• Commentary with co-writer/co-producer Ron Shusett and actress Linda Turley
• Commentary with cinematographer Steve Poster
• Stan Winston'sDead & Buried EFX featurette • Robert Englund: An Early Work of Horror featurette • Dan O'Bannon: Crafting Fear featurette • Two Trailers
The subtitles are easy to read and correspond to the action on the screen.If you haven’t seen the film, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.
One of the most elusive Clint Eastwood films for fans to find on home video is also one of the most bizarre movies he's ever appeared in. MGM has released The Witches, a 1966 Italian movie, as a burn-to-order title. The film was designed as a showcase for actress Silvana Mangano, a would-be Italian superstar whose fame never reached the level of contemporaries like Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale. The patchwork movie offers Mangano in an acting tour-de-force, playing vastly different characters in off-beat short stories directed by such legendary names as Visconti and Pasolini. Virtually all of them are spirited, but strangely unaffecting and most end on an unsatisfying note.
Eastwood's episode, A Night Like Any Other, is the best of the lot, perhaps because it was directed by Vittoria De Sica. Eastwood shot the movie when his star was rising in Italy because of the Sergio Leone Westerns. In his native America, however, he was still largely known as a popular, but rather non-descript co-star on the Rawhide TV series. In this film, Eastwood is interestingly cast against type as a demure businessman whose preoccupation with the frustrations of his job leave him perpetually exhausted. Mangano is his sexually frustrated wife, a mousey woman who fantasizes about having an alter-ego as an exhibitionist diva who drives her husband crazy through her torrid sexual activities with legions of other men. In reality, she can't even lure him to stay awake long enough to resond to her attempts to seduce him. It's interesting to see Eastwood in this type of role, and he performs it well, playing a character who is so divorced from having fun that the idea of even taking his wife to a movie bores him. (In one amusing scene, he reads the titles of films playing in local theaters and refers to " A Fistful of Dollars - a Western"). The episode features some impressive set and production designs for the fantasy sequences and this one sequence represents the primary reason why the film will be of interest to anyone. The movie is presented in Italian but viewers have the option of seeing Eastwood's sequence in English language.
The Witches (which, despite the title, has nothing to do with the supernatural) is hardly a classic, but it is a rather fascinating footnote in Eastwood's career.
Clint Eastwood on location in Michigan for Gran Torino.
The state of Michigan has become a major center for film production in recent years, pumping tens of millions of dollars into local economies. The strategy was the brainchild of former Governor Jennifer Granholm (D), who used tax incentives to lure major studios to her state. Her successor, Governor Rick Snyder (R) sees things differently and has taken an axe to the tax credits, claiming he's not impressed with the return on investment - despite the fact that a major accounting firm says the state gets $6 back for every dollar in tax incentives. The result has been a major political battle over the future of film production in Michigan, as a number of major productions are pulling up stakes in order to shoot in other states that they deem more friendly in terms of tax incentives. For more click here
I have to admit that I hadn't a clue as to what Intruder in the Dust was about until I viewed the new DVD released through the Warner Archive. The film is a powerful indictment of the horrors of racism, filmed by MGM during a period when the American Civil Rights Movement was just begining to heat up. We have a tendency to accuse Hollywood studios of relegating African-American actors to being mere window dressing in films of this era, or worse, casting them as comic relief in often degrading ways. However, this 1949 achievement should be much higher on the radar of retro movie lovers. While most studio productions steered clear of the problem of racism in the American South during the period when segregation was still law, this excellent film addresses the issue head-on. There were some talented people who brought the story to the screen in 1949. Esteemed director Clarence Brown was behind the camera and the screenplay was written by the great Ben Maddow, based on a novel by William Faulkner.
Operation C.I.A. is a 1965 adventure that gave an early starring role to Burt Reynolds, who at that time was primarily known as a TV actor. The movie represents that by-gone era in which certain films were specifically created to be the bottom half of double bills. The irony is that many of these "disposable" vehicles now look superior to much of what is produced today at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. What is intriguing about Operation C.I.A. is that it represents one of the last movies to address the hotbed political situation in Vietnam before the war went into full gear. Unlike today, when moviemakers routinely make the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the backdrop for major films, once the Vietnam conflict became very contentious, studios avoided the subject like the plague. Virtually the only movie to openly set a storyline in the midst of the war was John Wayne's The Green Berets. That film took until 1968 to get off the ground and Wayne expended all of his considerable influence before he twisted Jack Warner's arm to provide financing because it took a right wing stand in an era in which protests against the war were at a fever pitch.
New York's 92nd Street Y hosted the launch of the four part PBS documentary “Pioneers of Television,” and featured Hollywood icons Angie Dickinson, Linda Evans, Nichelle Nichols and Stephanie Powers. Moderated by Alison Stewart, the event saluted “smart, strong women on television, who helped reimagine the roles of women in society and helped break down seemingly permanent barriers.”
“I did an episode of “Police Story” that was turned into the Police Woman series,” Dickinson recalled.“The character’s original name was Lisa, which I changed to Pepper.We came out at the beginning of the Women’s Movement in America.We fed the movement and the movement fed us.”
“I was scared to death to work with Barbara Stanwyck,” Evans recalled of her days on “The Big Valley.”“She was larger than life.She took me under her wing.She said:‘Show up on time, Audra and know your lines.’She always called me by my characters name.”
“I grew up in musical theater,” Nichols said.“I thought “Star Trek” would be a nice stepping stone for me.Gene Roddenberry has given be my first guest starring role in “The Lieutenant,” and then called me again to be Uhura, which was based on “Uhuru,” the Swahili word for freedom. He created the first ensemble starring cast on television.”
“Collaboration was the key to television in those days,” Powers added.“There are no Gene Roddenberrys anymore- there is no central artistic and creative spirit that brought about the best we could give to the characters.It’s all committees of executives.”
“I was under contract to Columbia Pictures.I did 15 movies in five years.I remember being popped out of a giant toaster with Stan Freberg.I then got to start in “The Girl from UNCLE.”We did 23 episodes a season, working 37 hours a day and sleeping for 10 minutes.”
Call it life imitating art. Remember in You Only Live Twice when James Bond and his allies managed to destroy the SPECTRE HQ inside a Japanese volcano? Well, it's now happened in real life. The volcano at Mount Kirishima has erupted, causing authorities to mandate the evacuation of local residents. Police are on the lookout for a distraught, short, bald megalomaniac wearing a Nehru jacket and holding a white cat. For dramatic photos click here
Following their excellent John Phillip Law: Diabolik Angel (see review here), authors Carlos Aguilar and Anita Haas have turned their attention to an interesting, if rather less well-known, figure of Sixties’ and Seventies’ European popular cinema, the Spanish director Eugenio Martín. Best known abroad for two stupendously awful Euro Westerns, Bad Man’s River and Pancho Villa (both 1971) and that perennial late-night favourite, Horror Express (1972), Martín may seem rather unlikely material for a book-length study, but, as suggested by its title, Eugenio Martín: un autor para todos los géneros (roughly, ‘Eugenio Martín: An Author for Every Genre’), it is his work in a wide variety of genres, and particularly his career as a gun-for-hire throughout Spain’s peak years as a low-cost location for international co-productions, that should prove of interest to readers of Cinema Retro.
At which point, a word of warning – unlike Diabolik Angel, which has text in both Spanish and English, Eugenio Martín has Spanish text only. Published in conjunction with the Retroback Classic Cinema Festival of Granada (see Anita’s report for Cinema Retro by clicking here), this obvious drawback as far as non-Spanish-speaking readers is concerned is to a large extent negated by the mass of production stills and posters which illustrate the book.
Looks like we weren't the only ones to draw the almost exact comparisons between the script for Jaws the real-life shark attacks that have plagued an Egyptian resort. Now Time has drawn the same parallels- right down to a hapless local official being forced to take a dip in the ocean to prove to the media and the masses that the area was "shark-free" (remember Murray Hamilton as Mayor Vaughn in the film?) What has been confirmed is that at least one of the sharks that killed or maimed tourists was involved in two attacks, thus making the "rogue shark" scenario of the movie accurate (scientists initially scoffed at such a theory). Meanwhile, the local population's speculation about the cause of the attacks ranges from logical (the dumping of animal carcasses from religious rituals) to paranoid (Israeli Air Force pilots are behind it!) For more click here
Everyone remembers where they were on days of historic importance, especially if there is an element of tragedy involved. On December 8 1980, I was heading off to work and pulled my car over to buy a newspaper at a local shop. When I got back in, I turned on Howard Stern, who was then a star-on-the-rise on New York AM radio. Stern's off-the-wall humor was cutting edge at the time and his antics made my lousy morning commute tolerable. When I turned on the radio, Stern was in the middle of discussing John Lennon's murder. "This is crossing the line", I thought, feeling that Stern was making one of his usual sick jokes. I suddenly realized, however, that this was a rare occasion when the shock jock was playing it straight. The idea that someone might murder John Lennon was so mind-boggling that I couldn't think of anything else- in fact no one could. The term "loss of innocence" has been so overused that it long ago became a cornball phrase employed to describe every tragic event. However, with the death of Lennon it seemed approrpriate. Like just about everyone on the planet, my mind drifted back to all the wonderful moments in my life that his music seemed a part of: buying my first record as a kid (it was a 45 rpm of I Feel Fine by The Beatles), having my dad take me to see A Hard Day's Night at the Loews Theatre in Jersey City- and not being able to hear any dialoguge because of the girls screaming every time there was a close up of one of the Fab Four, and so many other great memories. Doubtless, so many people felt the same way, which is why tonight, fans from around the world will congregate at the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park across from Lennon's home, the Dakota.
Making this anniversary of his death so poignant is the fact that Rolling Stone reporter Jonathan Cott, who conducted the last interview with Lennon just days before his murder, has unearthed the original interview tapes and they are being published this week. Only snippets of the interview were originally used because the issue it was supposed to run in was largely devoted to his life and legacy. Cott forgot he had possession of the original tapes until he came across them while cleaning out his closet. In one portion of the interview, Lennon eeriely says he'd be more interesting if he was dead, but being a icon who dies young was an idea that appalled him. For more click here
A popular beach resort dependent on tourism dollars is terrorized by repeated shark attacks. Several people are mauled. Under economic pressure to resolve the crisis, local authorities announce they have killed the predators and reopen the beaches - only to have the attacks resume. A scenario from Jaws? Yes- but it also reflects the situation at Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt's most popular beach resort. Last week, several divers were mauled by separate shark attacks. The authorities said the rogue sharks were caught but now a German tourist has been killed in a new attack. For more click here
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 as both movies were released in the same year, Carpenter can't be accused of exploiting Clint Eastwood's far superior thriller. 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 1971 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)
I know you're always looking for images of vintage movie marquees,
well here's something a little different. Several weeks ago I came across
on my satellite guide the 1972 movie The
Honkers on the Encore Westerns Channel. I'd never seen it
before but knew it was one of three "rodeo"
westerns that came out in '72, the others being J.W. Coop and Junior Bonner
-- must have been something in the air back then -- and since it starred
James Coburn, I had to check it out. I recorded it on my DVR. In
the movie, which was shot in late summer/early fall 1971 in Carlsbad, NM,
Coburn's character drives to the local Bijou to look for his girlfriend who
works there, arriving too late to pick her up. Anyway, they must have
simply shot at Carlsbad's local cinema, recording whatever was playing there at
the time, which you'll see from this screen capture was the 1971 Oliver
Reed/Candice Bergen bomb The Hunting
Party, but what's cool is check out the 1-sheet poster seen in front of
Retro Responds: Great catch, Rory. I hate to say it but this is one Coburn film I've never seen, so I'll have to track it down. You bring up a good point about the inexplicable abundance of films in 1972 about aging rodeo riders. They all received good reviews but died at the box-office probably because they flooded the market- and the leading men, who were known for their action films, were cast as somber, realistic characters. By the way, most Clint Eastwood fans realize that you can see the marquee with Play Misty For Me on it in the sequence in Dirty Harry in which Eastwood thwarts the bank robbers. -Lee Pfeiffer
The recent discovery of a scrapbook kept by a resident of Port St. Lucie, Florida in the 1970s sheds some details on the filming of the speedboat chase in Moonraker, in which a local river "doubled" as the Amazon. Click here for details
Warner Archive has released the 1966 thriller Eye of the Devil on a burn-to-order basis. The MGM movie, directed by J. Lee Thompson, is one of the last major B&W studio releases. The film had a troubled production history. The female lead had been Kim Novak, but when she was injured during filming, Deborah Kerr took over and had to reshoot all of her scenes - a costly and troublesome process. However, this meant that Kerr was reunited with her Separate Tables co-star David Niven (the pair would be seen on screen again the following year in Casino Royale). Eye of the Devil is an atmospheric thriller with supernatural overtones. Niven plays the heir to a massive French vineyard, though he keeps his distance from the massive rural chateau, preferring to be with wife Kerr and their two young children in an urban setting. An emissary from the vineyard summons him back to the chateau, presumably because the harvest is failing, but Niven's emotional turmoil indicates that there are other factors dictating why he is reluctant to return. When Kerr and the children show up, things deteriorate quickly. Kerr finds the locals to be frightened and unfriendly. Inside the chateau, the staff and Niven appear to be collaborating on hiding information from her. Additionally, a strange brother and sister team (Sharon Tate in her first major role and David Hemmings) are an omnipresent and threatening presence. Kerr ultimate suspects that the presence of a local priest (Donald Pleasence) is inciting people to dabble in witchcraft and the black mass. All of this leads to the prequisite sequences in which a helpless woman is tempted to poke about dark castle corridors and crypts to find the facts.
The film is disturbing from minute one, largely because it is devoid of any humor whatsoever. Every minute exudes a sense of menace. The cinematography adds greatly to the tension and the cast is highly watchable, even if no one attempts to hide their full-throated British accents while playing French characters. (The exteriors were shot in France, the interiors were filmed at MGM's Borehamwood Studios). The movie is consistently engrossing, even if it never reaches the level one might expect, given the sterling cast. Tate makes a significant visual impression, but it should be noted that her immaculate British accent was dubbed. One quibble: Turner Classic Movies often shows an original production featurette from the film. One wishes it was included with this release, which is devoid of even a trailer. However, spending any time with Niven and Kerr is time well-spent.