London may have been the epicenter of the sexual revolution in the mid-1960s but that still didn't make it easy to see adult entertainment on the screen. The dreaded Office of the Censor wielded Draconian power as the guardians of British morality. Hence, the only place you could see anything remotely erotic on film was through 8mm "loops", short films that ran only minutes. The closest mainstream cinemas got to playing films with nudity was through pretentious "documentaries" that exposed the sordid side of London's nightlife or life in a nudist colony. In reality, these denouncements of promiscuous sex existed strictly to capitalize on promiscuous sex and everyone knew it. Pete Walker was an enterprising young entrepreneur who tried to fill the gap for sex-starved Britons by shooting hastily-arranged, no-budget black and white exploitation films that lasted only minutes. Walker had started in the even more staid early part of the decade by hiring well-endowed, free-spirited young woman to "star" in his modest productions. There was no shortage of talent, as Briton did have a booming market in glamour magazines that featured nude models and starlets. Walker would shoot the silent B&W films on 8mm before graduating to 16mm. The final product would be sold in local book shops for extravagant prices. Walker and the store made tidy profits and the consumer could feast his eyes on some bare female flesh. Everyone was a winner.
In 1969 Walker decided to do something far more ambitious by creating a film with an actual story line and populated by people who could really act. The result was "For Men Only" (AKA "Hot Girls For Men Only"), a ribald comedy that ran a scant 43 minutes but had production values that looked like "Gone With the Wind" compared to his earlier efforts. David Kernan (who played Pvt. Hitch in "Zulu" a few years before) plays Freddie Horn, a young man engaged to marry Rosalie (Andrea Allen). However, she demands that he quit his job as fashion editor for a prominent journal because he is generally assigned to interview beautiful young models who wear barely-there new clothing lines. She's right to be jealous, as Freddie has been living quite the life, indulging in the "fringe benefits" of being around so many willing young women. Reluctantly, he applies for a job as a writer for a bland magazine that will ensure he has no exposure to the fairer sex. He is summoned from London to the countryside to meet his prospective new employer, Miles Fanthorpe (Derek Aylward). He meets Fanthorpe at a local church where he is giving a stern lecture on morality and the decay of society, which he attributes to permissive sex and increasing tolerance of homosexuality. The small crowd responds enthusiastically to his conservative, fire-and-brimstone rant. Freddie is understandably depressed at the prospect of working for such a man but the first clue that not all is as it seems occurs when Fanthorpe gives him a lift back to his manor house- in an Aston Martin DB5. Once at the house, Fanthorpe comes clean. His uses his reputation as a conservative prude to mask his real personality which is that of a sex-obsessed rogue. Fanthorpe then introduces Freddie to his staff, which consists of busty young women of loose morals who spend the entire day romping around in bikinis or sunning themselves while topless. Freddie is understandably delighted to accept the job of writing for one of Fanthorpe's publications that deals with nude models. Within minutes, he is immersed in a virtual orgy- and he understandably forgets a vitally important social engagement for that evening. Seems he has to accompany Rosalie and her parents to a black tie dinner to celebrate their wedding anniversary. The parents can't stand Freddie as it is and have warned Rosalie that he is addicted to skirt chasing. When Freddie doesn't turn up for dinner, Rosalie sets out to trace his whereabouts and ends up at the country manner where she sees the real scenario. Naturally, through happenstance even her prudish parents show up along with a local parson, resulting in a chaotic scene that culminates with a bevy of bikini girls being stuffed into the DB5 for a fast getaway. (Not even 007 enjoyed that privilege.) Although one could term the film as a "sexploitation" title, that doesn't do it justice. "For Men Only" is actually quite amusing and features some very fine comedic performances. The sexual content is quite mild but there is something erotic about seeing these lovely young actresses cavort about while scantily clad. It's like Matt Helm on steroids.
The other feature, "School for Sex", also features Derek Aylward in essentially the same kind of role he played in "For Men Only". Here he is an upper-crust type named Giles Wingate who inherited a manor house and a fortune and blew through it all by marrying a series of opportunistic golddiggers. To pay off his debts, he engages in some dubious financial tactics that end up with him being criminally prosecuted. He's spared a jail sentence and put on probation but still needs to find a way to pay for his lavish lifestyle as well as the salary for his elderly, intensely loyal butler. He comes up with an inspired idea. Since he was snookered by so many lovely young women, he decides to open a "School for Sex" on his premises. The idea is to charge beautiful young women a hefty fee for instructing them how to seduce wealthy men and ensure their financial well-being. In order to carry out the plan, he needs some female assistance. He hires the Duchess of Burwash, a widowed hot-to-trot middle-aged cougar played by Rose Alba, who main claim to fame was her short but memorable appearance as the SPECTRE "widow" who gets socked by James Bond in the opening of "Thunderball". She's a boozy opportunist but she delivers the goods in terms of instructing her students how to seduce naive men. Before long, there are more students than Wingate can accommodate. Rich families are sending their daughters for instruction, thinking they will be attending a finishing school for sophisticated young women. Instead, they will run around naked and engage in sex techniques. The film comes to an ironic conclusion as Wingate becomes a victim of his own success. "School for Sex" is described by Pete Walker as the worst movie he ever made. He blames himself for not getting a professional screenwriter and trying to keep costs down by writing the script himself. Although not as polished as "For Men Only", it still has its amusing moments and there is plenty of eye candy in the form of the lovely young ladies. The performances of Aywayrd and Alba are also very funny. The film is a bit more daring than "For Men Only" in that it does include topless sequences and a glimpse or two of full nudity.
Kino Lorber has released both films as a Blu-ray double feature edition. Both remastered prints look excellent and the special features in the package are most welcome. Pete Walker provides a new filmed interview and gives some interesting insights into the world of sexploitation films in England during the 1960s. There are also numerous Walker "loops", the early B&W silent nudie flicks as well as a trailer for "School for Sex" and alternate footage from the film featuring full nudity that was shot for the Japanese market.
In summary, it's a delightful trip down Mammary Lane for anyone who appreciates the low-brow pleasures of such "naughty" entertainment.
Carlos Tobalina was among the most prolific of adult film directors. From the late 1960s through the late 1980s, Tobalina ground out dozens of grind house porn flicks and, no fool he, appeared in any number of them as well, though often not in the sex scenes. What set Tobalina's films apart was the fact that he at least tried to instill some quality and occasional social messages into what was otherwise undistinguished fare. Tobalina, who died at age 64 in 1989, would probably have appreciated the fact that Vinegar Syndrome has been releasing quite a few of his titles in remastered DVD editions that probably look better than they did back in the day. Among these releases is a Tobalina double feature that he directed under one of his alter ego names, Troy Benny. Both of the movies have a common theme in that they star one William Margold, who apparently was quite influential in the adult film industry of the 1980s and is still appearing in sleazy movies today even though he is in his seventies. He is also a social activist, having founded the Free Speech Coalition and established a charity to look after down-and-out veterans of the porn industry. First up in the double feature is "Lust Inferno", a 1982 production in which Margold appears as a corrupt TV evangelist (is there any other kind?). Margold, who is curiously billed as "Mr. William Margold" (not even Orson Welles had that much clout), stars as Rev. Jerry, a charismatic preacher who rips off the suckers in his audience by indulging in the usual fire-and-brimstone sermons. He also "cures" invalids who he pays off in cash backstage after the event. At home, Rev. Jerry is very much a family man, but it's probably not the kind of family most of us could relate to. His wife (Rita Ricardo) is frustrated that the Rev won't indulge in intercourse with her because he believes the act is only for procreation. He does indulge in some other sexual activities with her that are entirely for his satisfaction. Consequently, she goes off to "group therapy" sessions that are actually bi-sexual orgies. Rev. Jerry's oldest daughter, Dora (Tamara Longley) does the same with her teenage friends because dad won't allow her to date anyone. (The effectiveness of that strategy seems to be dubious, at best.) Meanwhile, the youngest daughter, Lucy (Marguerite Nuit) is also finding it hard to deal with her raging hormones. She asks for- and receives- her mother's permission to adopt a disguise and seek work in the local bordello that is run by Madame Blanche (Lina Spencer). What Lucy and no one else in the family knows is that her father is Madame Blanche's best customer. He pays thousands of dollars for S&M sex sessions with Blanche's young hookers. This plot development leads to the film's ironic conclusion in which Reverend Jerry finally pays a terrible price for his immorality- but it also results in a major "Yuck" factor for the viewer. The hardcore scenes are pretty standard for the era with nothing particularly inventive going on but at least director Tobalina attempts to make a statement about the craze for supporting corrupt TV preachers. In fact, he was a bit ahead of his time. Within a few years some of the best-known televangelists would be brought down in their own sex scandals.
The most enjoyable aspect of the presentation is the recent interview with William Margold on a commentary track. Margold describes himself as a blowhard and its difficult to take issue with him. We're all for admiring anyone who takes pride in their work but Margold discusses "Lust Inferno" as though it's a major achievement. He indicates that he based his interpretation of the Reverend on Richard Brooks' 1960 film version of "Elmer Gantry" and says that back in the day he even met Burt Lancaster and correctly predicted he would win an Oscar for the role. The most amusing aspect of the commentary track has Margold, who was obviously watching a sub-standard VHS version prior to the film's restoration for DVD, complain constantly about the poor quality of the tape. He also rails against the fact that the version they are watching is missing key sequences, only to have him proven wrong when they turn up later. Margold, like most of the leading men in this peculiar branch of the film industry, was probably chosen more for his physical attributes than his acting abilities, but he seems to think that his work here is top-notch both. In fact, his performance is par for the course for porn films and there is no indication he possessed any admirable skills outside of the boudoir. Speaking of which, Margold waxes nostalgic about some of his sex partners in the movie, including one woman who became his wife and another who he continues to pine away for because he never appeared in a sex scene with her, sort of like the fisherman who gripes about "the one who got away". Regarding stock footage in the film of real life audiences at televangelist events, Margold chuckles and wonders if they ever knew they would end up in a porn film. It's also quite eye-opening to listen to Margold give the play-by-play for his on-screen antics and to provide opinions about his personal techniques for self-pleasure. Margold may indeed be a blowhard but he makes for an entertaining commentator. You have to admire Vinegar Syndrome for creating some value-added content that is both funny and insightful because it gives you an idea of what the adult film industry was like from the viewpoint of one of its veterans.
The second feature on the DVD is "Marathon", a lazy production even by the low standards one would have expected for the genre. Shot in 1982, it's a quickie that features a lot of major stars from the industry including Ron Jeremy, Jamie Gillis. Sharon Mitchell and John Holmes. The "plot" simply features a large group of swingers who attend a costume party at Gillis's apartment. Everyone is getting it on while attired in crazy costumes when a phone call alerts them that a friend (William Margold) and his wife have been injured in a skiing accident and they are both in the hospital. Deciding to provide the kind of bedside companionship that no doctor would, they all barge into the hospital suite where Margold and his wife are being treated. Here, while still in costume, they resume the orgy. The therapy works as both patients join in the action. The film is played entirely for laughs and is therefore about as erotic as a dip in a pool of ice water.
The transfers of both features look very good with vibrant colors and enough original film stock grain to make you nostalgic for the era.
Sony has released Walter Hill's 1975 directorial debut, Hard Times, on on DVD through their Sony Choice Collection. Hill was an up-and-coming screenwriter with Peckinpah's The Getaway to his credit as well as solid thrillers like The Drowning Pool, The Mackintosh Man and Hickey and Boggs. There is no evidence in Hard Times that Hill was a novice behind the camera, either. This is one of my favorite films of the period, though many retro movie fans probably haven't seen it. The story is set in 1933. Chaney (Charles Bronson) is a middle-aged drifter who ends up crossing paths with Speed (James Coburn), a fast-talking promoter of "street fights" (no holds barred matches between local tough guys with no rules or regulations). Needing some quick cash, the soft-spoken, low-key Chaney forms a partnership with the mercurial Speed. In his first match, they win big when Chaney knocks the local champ out cold with one punch. They gravitate to New Orleans where Speed can put together some high stakes fights. They are joined by Poe (Strother Martin) an amiable quasi-doctor (he had two years of medical school) with a penchant for opium but who is skilled at patching up bruised and beaten fighters. Chaney quickly becomes a local legend and draws the attention of a local fight promoter/kingpin who insists that Chaney fight a seemingly invincible slugger he has imported from Chicago. When Chaney refuses, the kingpin kidnaps Speed and holds him hostage until Chaney shows up for the high stakes fight. The script, co-written by Hill, is a prime example of how less can be more, at least in terms of dialogue. Bronson says very little during the film, but conveys much emotion with a nod of the head, the blinking of his eyes or a wry smile. This is evident in Chaney's relationship with a local down and out woman (Jill Ireland), who he basically sees for easy sex. When she presses him to convert their trysts into a meaningful relationship, Chaney simply walks out. No drama. No speeches. Similarly, the superb performances of Bronson, Coburn and Martin seem inspired by the Sam Peckinpah school of men sticking together no matter what. When Speed is kidnapped, Chaney initially refuses to help him. He correctly points out that Speed is responsible for his own reckless behavior that sees him make enemies of the wrong people and foolishly gamble away money as fast as he earns it. Yet, in a crunch, Chaney comes to his partner's aid. There is no fanfare between Chaney and Speed, who knows that, by appearing for the bout, Chaney has saved his life. Instead, just a quick handshake a "thank you." By de-emphasizing overtly sentimental gestures and dialogue, Hill makes the relationship between the trio even more moving.
Hill and his co-writers pack a lot of memorable scenes into the film's scant 93 minute running time. Aided by editor Roger Spottiswood (another future director) and cinematographer Philip Lathrop, Hill makes every frame of the film count. There isn't a slow moment or a meaningless line of dialogue. Clearly the highlights are the action sequences. This is Fight Club for the Baby Boomer generation. Bronson, who was in his 50s at the time, performs all of his own gut-wrenching fight scenes, along with co-stars Robert Tessier and Nick Dimitri. They are brutal affairs that will quickly convince you that these men are actually beating each other up. The stunt coordination is among the best I've seen in any film. The film's more whimsical sequences are aided immeasurably by Barry DeVorzon's addictive score.
With Hard Times, Bronson reached the pinnacle of his acting career. It's wonderful to see him reunited with Coburn, his co-star from The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. However, Coburn became even more interesting as an actor as he grew older whereas Bronson grabbed for the low-hanging fruit and began to concentrate primarily on by-the-numbers action movies. The film remains a testament to his abilities as an actor- and credit Walter Hill for bringing those out in full force.
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Peck is a Canadian fighter pilot serving with the British RAF in WWII Burma in
“The Purple Plain,” a 1954 military drama available on Blu-Ray for the first
time by Kino Lorber. After losing his wife (Josephine Griffin seen in
flashbacks) during an air raid by the German Luftwaffe in London, Squadron
Leader Bill Forrester (Peck), displacing his grief with a death wish, begins a
mission to kill as many of the enemy as possible, flying every dangerous
bombing run he can against the Japanese. He doesn’t care if he lives or dies
and has developed a reputation by members of his group as being unstable and
prone to get others killed. He insists on a short turnaround with repairs to
his Mosquito Bomber so he can return to combat as soon as possible. Time off consists
of sweating from the relentless heat and fever dreams brought on by countless
fatigued, but with an outstanding record of success, Forrester gets the
attention of his senior officer, Group Captain Aldridge (Anthony Bushell), and
the flight doctor, Dr. Harris (Bernard Lee) who believe Forrester is nearing a
breakdown. They decide Forrester should have some time off and Dr. Harris takes
him to a local village where he checks on the medical care of some of the people
and brings them food. Harris introduces Forrester to an eccentric missionary, Miss
McNab (Brenda de Banzie), and her assistant, the beautiful Anna (Win Min Than),
a local Burmese woman. Both women run the school and help the local people with
medical care, food rations and anything else they can offer. Anna is drawn to
Forrester as he shares his painful past, he begins making regular trips to see
Anna. Ultimately, they fall in love.
at the base we meet Blore (Maurice Denham) who shares Forrester’s tent and they
are joined by Forrester’s new navigator, Carrington (Lyndon Brook). Blore is an
annoying man who shares all his opinions on everything including Forrester’s
reputation as a man who gets others killed. Forrester is harsh with others
including his mechanics and the newly arrived Carrington. Their first mission
together is rather routine, flying Blore to his new assignment. Forrester has a
reason to live again and longs to rejoin Anna. The movie gets interesting and
takes a turn as a survival tale after both engines catch fire and their plane
crash lands behind enemy lines. Carrington is badly burned and must be carried
in a stretcher, but with a new found will to live, Forrester is determined to
get all three of them to safety. With no food and little water, they cross the
desolate plains of Burma by night and sleep by day.
insists they should have remained at the sight of the crash in the hope they
will be rescued. He maintains Forrester is taking another risk and is going to kill
all of them. The crossing is incredibly treacherous and the landscape is
desolate with nothing to offer other than relentless heat, craggy cliffs and
little shade. Blore grumbles and complains, but continues to carry on until he
slips down a cliff and breaks his collar bone. After seeing a plane fly over,
Blore departs while Forrester and Carrington are sleeping and heads for the
wreckage of their crashed plain to await rescue. Forrester heads out to find
Blore and return him before nightfall, but finds Blore has suffered a tragic
fate. He returns and carries Carrington on his back, more determined than ever.
Purple Plain” is an outstanding mixture of survival story, love story and WWII
adventure in exotic Burma. We never see the enemy, but the real conflict is
within Forrester and Peck is very good at doing battle with himself. We see his
change from battle fatigued suicidal risk taker, to a man who discovers life is
worth living. Bernard Lee is a welcome supporting player bringing a nice
balance to the movie and Brenda de Banzie is memorable as Miss McNab. Maurice
Denham is good as the doomed Blore and Lyndon Brook is also impressive as
Carrington. Win Min Than is beautiful as Anna, but I never quite understood her
attraction to Forrester other than her desire to nurture him. She always looks
as though she’s on the verge of tears and is almost too serious and morose at
times, but this is a minor concern. After all, she has experienced her own
Rank production released in the US by United Artists, the movie was directed by
the able Robert Parrish with outstanding cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth
and editing by soon-to-be director Clive Donner. The movie was filmed on
location in Sri Lanka, standing in for Burma. This film is a gem which rarely
played on TV when I was discovering classic movies and is a welcome release in
HD. The movie looks and sounds very good and extras include the trailers for
three other Kino blu-ray releases including Peck’s “On the Beach” and “Billy
Two Hats” as well as another Parrish effort, “The Wonderful Country.”
Woods plays a down on his luck con artist who teams up with retired fighter
Louis Gossett, Jr. to score a huge win against a local mob boss in a high
stakes boxing match in “Diggstown,” now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.
Michael Ritchie directs an impressive cast in this entertaining 1992 comedy.
However, the MGM release never found its audience and underperformed at the box
office upon its release.
movie opens in Winfield Prison, Olivair County Georgia, where a fight is taking
place in the common area with the full knowledge of the prison guards and Warden
Bates (Marshall Bell). Wolf Forrester (Randall “Tex” Cobb) is fighting Minoso
Torres (Alex Garcia) as Gabriel Caine (Woods) helps an inmate escape. Wolf ends
up in the prison hospital after losing the fight and he and Gabe discuss their
plans as fighter and promoter after they’re released. The warden threatens Gabe
after the escape, assuming correctly that Gabe had something to do with it, but
he has no proof. The warden and Gabe trade insults as Gabe is released from
meets with and makes a deal with mobster Orestes Matacena (Victor Corsini) who
agrees to back Gabe in a con aimed at local Diggstown businessman John Gillon
(Bruce Dern) in a high stakes boxing match. Gabe’s pal and fellow con artist
Fitz (Oliver Platt) sets the stage for the con at a local Diggstown pool hall by
winning a bet including the classic Corvette belonging to Gillon’s son, a
recent gift from his father. Fitz, seeing a poster of the town’s namesake
Charles Macum Diggs, brags that Diggs pales in comparison to “Honey” Roy Palmer
which predictably angers the locals. It turns out Diggs is well known not only
as a boxing champ, but for defeating five men in one day. Gillon turns up as
does Gabe who bets “Honey” Palmer can defeat 10 men in one day.
problem now is for Gabe to convince “Honey” Palmer (Louis Gossett, Jr.), a
48-year old retired fighter, to commit to the fight. He agrees and the bet
jumps to a quarter million dollars as Gabe and Gillon agree on the terms.
“Honey” will fight 10 men in 24 hours, and all his opponents must reside within
has other unfinished business in town and has to pay a promised visit with
Wolf’s dogs. He also meets Wolf’s sister, Emily Forrester (Heather Graham in an
early movie), who is suspicious of Gabe and quickly figures out his con. In the
days before the fight, Wolf arrives in town dead, delivered by the prison in a
wooden crate. The bet jumps as “Honey” completes his fight training and the
fighters and spectators assemble for the big event. Near the end of the fight
the bet jumps to a million and a half with the property owned by Gillon on the
fights are predictable with easy and hard fought wins as “Honey” wins against
guys with names like Tank Miller and Hammerhead Hagen. By the final fight a ringer
is brought in by the prison warden, Minoso Torres, who is eager to see Gabe
lose. Gillon isn’t above using his own son to win the bet and the movie comes
to a satisfying, if predictable, conclusion.
movie is based on the novel “The Diggstown Ringers” by Leonard Wise with a
screenplay by Steven McKay. The original title of the film, “Midnight Sting,”
appears during the opening credits on this disc. My suspicion is that the
studio didn’t quite know how to market this comedy which is equal parts boxing comedy
and con artist thriller.
has very little to do in the film other than look good in shorts and disappears
completely 76 minutes into the 98 minute movie after being asked to take a recent
victim of Gillon’s thugs to the hospital. Platt has little screen time after
his comic turn setting the stage for the con in the pool hall and the movie is
basically a three man showcase for Woods, Gossett and Dern.
Kino Lorber release looks and sounds terrific with a nice score by James Newton
Howard. Extras on the disc include a making of featurette and trailers for this
and another Ritchie comedy, “The Couch Trip.” This easy going comedy is
predictable and may have benefitted from a larger role for Heather Graham, but
is recommended for the enjoyable cast.
The first African-American to direct a major film for a Hollywood studio was Gordon Parks, whose feature film debut "The Learning Tree" was released in 1969. Parks may have shattered the glass ceiling but there wasn't a tidal wave of opportunities that immediately opened for other minority filmmakers, in part because there were so few with any formal training in the art. One beneficiary of Parks' achievement was Ossie Davis, who was internationally respected as a well-rounded artist. He was a triple threat: actor, director and writer but his directing skills had been relegated to the stage. In 1970 Davis co-wrote the screenplay for and directed "Cotton Comes to Harlem", a major production for United Artists. The film was based on a novel by African-American writer Chester Himes and proved to be pivotal in ushering in what became known as the Blaxploitation genre. In reality, it's debatable whether "Cotton" really is a Blaxploitation film. While most of the major roles are played by black actors, the term "Blaxploitation" has largely come to symbolize the kinds of goofy, low-budget films that are fondly remembered as guilty pleasures. However, "Cotton"- like Gordon Parks's "Shaft" films which would follow- boasts first class production values and top talent both in front of and behind the cameras. Regardless, the movie had sufficient impact at the boxoffice to inspire a seemingly endless barrage of Black-oriented American films that were all the rage from the early to mid-1970s. The Blaxploitation fever burned briefly but shone brightly and opened many doors for minority actors.
The film was shot when New York City was in the midst of a precipitous decline in terms of quality of life. Crime was soaring, the infrastructure was aging and the city itself would be on the verge of bankruptcy a few years later. Harlem was among the hardest hit areas in terms of the economy. The once dazzling jewel of a neighborhood had boasted popular nightclubs, theaters and restaurants that attracted affluent white patrons. By the mid-to-late 1960s, however, that had changed radically. Street crimes, organized gangs and the drug culture spread rapidly, making Harlem a very dangerous place to be. It was foreboding enough if you were black but it was considered a "Forbidden Zone" for most white people, who spent their money elsewhere, thus exacerbating the decline of the neighborhoods. "Cotton Comes to Harlem" serves as an interesting time capsule of what life was like in the area, having been shot during this period of decline. Director Davis was considered royalty in Harlem. Despite his success in show business, he and his equally acclaimed wife, actress Ruby Dee, never "went Hollywood". They stayed in the community and worked hard to improve the environment. Thus, Davis was perfectly suited to capture the action on the streets in a manner that played authentically on screen. Similarly, he had a real feel for the local population. As with any major urban area, Harlem undoubtedly had its share of amusing eccentrics and Davis populates the movie with plenty of such characters.
The film opens with a major rally held by Rev. Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart), a local guy who made good and who is idolized by the population of Harlem. O'Malley is a smooth-talking, charismatic con man in the mode of the notorious Reverend Ike who uses religion as a facade to rip off gullible followers. This time, O'Malley has launched a "Back to Africa" campaign for which he is soliciting funds. It's based on the absurd premise that he will be able to finance disgruntled Harlem residents back to the land of their ancestry. The hard-working, semi-impoverished locals end up donating $87,000 in cash but the rally is interrupted by a daring daytime robbery. An armored car filled with masked men armed with heavy weaponry descend upon the goings-on, loot the cashbox and take off. They are pursued by two street-wise local cops, "Grave Digger" Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and his partner "Coffin" Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques). Davis provides an exciting and colorful car chase through the streets of Harlem, as the cops fail to snag the robbers. They also discover that O'Malley has gone missing, leading them to believe that he orchestrated the heist himself so he could keep the proceeds raised at the rally. The plot becomes rather convoluted, as Jones and Johnson learn that a bale of cotton has arrived in Harlem and its somehow connected to the crime. They assume that the stolen money has been stashed in said cotton bale, which quickly changes hands among the most unsavory characters in the community. Getting in on the action is a white mob boss and his goons who are also trying to recover the cotton bale. The cotton itself is resented in Harlem because of its historical links to slavery and by the end of the film, the bale ends up in a stage show at the famed Apollo Theater where it is used as a prop in a bizarre production that involves historical observations about the black experience intermingled with a striptease act! Through it all, Jones and Johnson doggedly chase any number of people through the streets, engage in shoot-outs and car chases and come in and out of contact with Rev. O'Malley, who professes his innocence about being involved in the robbery. The Rev isn't so innocent when it comes to other unscrupulous activities such as chronically cheating on his long-suffering girlfriend Iris (Judy Pace) and manipulating other women in a variety of ways.
The most delightful aspect of the film is the showcasing of some very diverse talents of the era. Godfrey Cambridge (who made it big as a stand-up comic) and Raymond St. Jacques enjoy considerable on-screen chemistry even if the script deprives them of the kind of witty dialogue that would have enhanced their scenes together. They make wisecracks all the time and harass some less-than-savory characters but the screenplay never truly capitalizes on Cambridge's comedic potential. The film's most impressive performance comes from Calvin Lockhart, who perfectly captures the traits of phony, larger-than-life "preachers". He's all flashy good looks, gaudy outfits and enough narcissistic behavior to make Donald Trump look humble by comparison. Lockhart seems to be having a ball playing this character and the screen ignites every time he appears. There are some nice turns by other good character actors including pre-"Sanford and Son" Redd Foxx, who figures in the film's amusing "sting-in-the-tail" ending, John Anderson as the exasperated white captain of a Harlem police station that is constantly on the verge of being besieged by local activists, Lou Jacobi as a junk dealer, Cleavon Little as a local eccentric, J.D. Canon as a mob hit man and Dick Sabol as a goofy white cop who suffers humiliation from virtually everyone (which is sort of a payback for the decades in which black characters were routinely used as comic foils). The film has a surprisingly contemporary feel about it, save for a few garish fashions from the 1970s. It's also rather nostalgic to hear genuine soul music peppered through the soundtrack in this pre-rap era. Happily, life has not imitated art in the years since the film was released. Harlem has been undergoing the kind of Renaissance that would have seemed unimaginable in 1970. The old glory has come back strong and the center of the neighorhood, 125th Street, is vibrant and thriving once again. These societal perspectives make watching "Cotton Comes to Harlem" enjoyable on an entirely different level than simply an amusing crime comedy.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains the original trailer and the sleeve is adorned with the great Bob Peak's superb poster art.
By the late 1960s the Spaghetti Western genre was no longer a magnet for second-rate American actors. As with the Bond-inspired secret agent rage of a few years before, many big stars were burning up phone lines demanding that their agents get them over to Europe to cash in on the craze. Among them, apparently, was James Garner, whose credentials as a major and respected international star certainly provided an indication about how lucrative and popular the once lonely Euro Western productions had now become. In fact such Westerns had existed prior to the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone trilogy of the mid-1960s but it was definitely those "Man With No Name" films that shot the genre into over-drive. In fact they were a producer's dream: a compliant host government eager to get some Hollywood glamour and providing lucrative tax breaks, pre-exisiting desert towns that minimized the need to build opulent, expensive sets and efficient Italian producers who generally oversaw production and could ensure that films wrapped up on time and within budget. Garner's first and only foray into the realm of Spaghetti Westerns occurred in 1970 when he starred in "A Man Called Sledge", a film that is largely unremarkable except for Garner's presence and the fact that he plays against type as a rather despicable anti-hero.
The story opens with Sledge (Garner) and some cohorts robbing a stagecoach. The robbery goes awry when a guard on the stage is accidentally killed by a shotgun blast. Now wanted for murder, Sledge and his men rendezvous in a nearby saloon to talk strategy. His two main confederates are Ward (Dennis Weaver) and Hooker (Claude Akins). Sledge also brings along someone he refers to as the Old Man (John Marley), an aging ex-con who has informed him about a fantastic hoard of gold that is occasionally stored in a local prison camp where he had once served time. The Old Man says that periodically the gold shipment, which is heavily guarded, passes through the area and is locked up overnight so the guards can get some rest. Sledge and his men immediately begin to plan an audacious scenario in which they will cause a riot at the prison and steal the gold. In order to do so, Ward poses as a U.S. Marshal and "arrests" Sledge on the murder warrant. He brings him to the prison where Sledge has only a few hours to find a way to overcome a guard, steal the keys, liberate the other prisoners, locate the gold in the confusion and, with the Old Man's help, access the treasure behind a seemingly impenetrable vault. Although the stern, humorless Sledge fancies himself to be a criminal mastermind, most of his major decisions run into snafus. Once the riot ensues, he and his cohorts manage to access the gold, but in "Treasure of Sierra Madre" style, this only ensures that greed and paranoia now overtake the group and the thieves start killing each other off.
The film was directed by actor Vic Morrow, who does a reasonably good job of keeping the action moving at a brisk pace. The film has a more polished look than most European westerns largely because a major producer- Dino De Laurentiis- provided a larger-than-normal budget that afforded the hiring of Garner, Weave and Akins. IMDB reports that the film was shot in Italy but I'm skeptical if only because several of the locations resemble where sequences from Spanish-based westerns of era were filmed. The village where the finale takes place (atmospherically set during the Day of the Dead festival) looks an awful lot like the setting for "For a Few Dollars More". The biggest drawback with the film is that all of the characters are villains. Unlike the Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, who was a rogue with at least a semblance of conscience, Garner's Sledge is an irredeemable bad guy whose only human quality is a genuine love for a local hooker (Laura Antonelli). He's responsible for the deaths of innocent people and he uses violent threats even against the Old Man to get what he wants. In his memoirs, The Garner Files, the actor wrote about the film: ""One of the few times I've played a heavy and one of the last. I wish I could remember why I let Dino De Laurentiis talk me into this turkey, The poster says "Not Suitable for Children". It should say "Not Suitable for Human Consumption.". That's a bit harsh. The film is consistently entertaining and boasts some exciting action sequences, even if Garner's considerable charisma is completely absent due to the morbid screenplay. It's also good to see Garner in the company of Dennis Weaver, Claude Akins and John Marley, all of whom provide solid supporting performances.
"A Man Called Sledge" has been released on Blu-ray by German-based Explosive Media. Their DVDs are primarily available on Amazon Germany's site but imports often pop up on Amazon USA and eBay. The film has an excellent transfer and a selection of trailers and TV spots from the film- but make sure you don't watch them before viewing the main feature, as they give away every plot surprise.
One of the positive elements of the Blaxploitation film genre that exploded in the 1970s was the emergence of many hitherto unknown talents. Among them was Bahamian-born actor Calvin Lockhart, who immigrated to New York and immersed himself in theater, studying with the legendary Uta Hagen. Lockhart didn't find immediate success but hop-scotched between the U.S. and Europe, where he found more opportunities on stage and in film. By the time he returned to America, the Blaxploitation rage was in its early stages and Lockhart nailed down a key, scene-stealing role in director Ossie Davis's film version of "Cotton Comes to Harlem" in 1970. He also earned the starring role the same year in "Halls of Anger", playing a besieged inner city teacher who is trying to keep the lid on inter-racial tensions. Lockhart also starred in the crime thriller "Melinda", which- perhaps because of its bland title- is not as well-remembered as lesser entries in the Blaxplotation genre. Thus, it's good news that the film has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive. "Melinda" is impressive on any number of levels. Unlike most Blaxploitation movies, which were actually produced, written and directed by white filmmakers, this one was brought to the screen entirely by African-American talent: director Hugh A. Robertson, producer Pervis Atkins, screenwriter Lonnie Elder III and composers Jerry Butler and Jerry Peters. The movie also has an intense, realistic tone that affords Lockhart to give what is arguably the performance of his career.
Lockhart plays Frankie J. Parker, the morning drive DJ on a popular L.A. soul music radio station. Frankie is a showman supreme. His combination of unapologetic narcissism combined with his snarky, biting sense of humor sets him apart from the competition- and makes him a local legend among black listeners. Frankie is living the life. He makes a lot of money, drives a fancy sports car and has a bachelor pad apartment where he entertains a stream of beautiful young women. He's so in love with himself that he has the place adorned with posters and photos of himself and looks in the mirror every morning verbally express how damned good looking he is. One fateful day, however, Frankie's charmed life goes into a tailspin when he meets Melinda Lewis (Vonetta McKee), a sexy new arrival from Chicago who is very much a woman of mystery. When she resists Frankie's standard pick-up lines and shows she is wise to his well-worn methods of seduction, she becomes a challenge for him. He wines and dines her and shows her off at a high profile party aboard a yacht owned by his old friend Tank (Rockne Tarkington), a black athlete who has made good. On board, he has an unexpected encounter with a former lover, Terry Davis (Rosalind Cash), who makes it clear she still carries a grudge against Frankie because of his philandering ways. Later that evening, Frankie and Melinda return to his apartment where they finally get down to business- but she makes it clear that she is in control of the situation. Unbeknownst to either of them, the heated sounds of their love-making are being enjoyed by a shady character who has been following Melinda since she arrived in L.A. and who is know pleasuring himself outside the apartment door! The next morning, Frankie realizes that this time he is genuinely in love- and Melinda seems to reciprocate. To say much more would be to provide some unintended spoilers. Suffice it to say that Frankie learns that "Melinda Lewis" is an alias and that his new lover is the former mistress of a ruthless Chicago mob boss, Mitch (Paul Stevens) who is desperate to track her down because she has deposited a cassette tape in a bank safe deposit box that implicates him in a high profile murder. Before long, the mob links Frankie to Melinda and thinks he in cahoots with her. He is framed for a ghastly murder and pummeled and beaten by cops before he finally makes bail. Realizing he has limited time to get to the bottom of what is going on and clear his name, Frankie finds he has to enlist the aid of estranged lover Terry Davis, who becomes the only friend he can trust. The two become amateur detectives trying to get access to the bank vault and the evidence that would give them leverage over Mitch and his gang of murderous goons who are now in L.A. Things go awry, however, when Frankie is framed for yet another sordid murder and Terry is kidnapped by Mitch and held for ransom under threat of death unless Frankie delivers the incriminating evidence against him. Frankie knows that if he does, he and Terry are as good as dead so he enlists some unusual allies- the fellow students of his karate academy. It helps when the Grand Master is real-life martial arts expert and future "Enter the Dragon" star Jim Kelly. In the film's only truly over-the-top sequence, Frankie and the karate students ambush the gangsters, Before you can sing "Everybody was Kung Fu fighting", everybody is Kung Fu fighting. The film culminates with Frankie and his allies laying siege to Mitch's mansion, where they find Terry locked in a glass gazebo surrounded by rattle snakes and other dangerous critters.
Until its rather fanciful finale, "Melinda" is a realistic urban crime movie packed with interesting characters and intriguing mysteries that are revealed slowly. Like a Hitchcock film, it centers on a completely innocent man who is swept up in fantastic and deadly events beyond his comprehension. Lockhart gives an outstanding and commanding performance, turning from a carefree, narcissistic playboy to a man who is willing to do anything necessary simply to survive another few hours. He gets able support from both female leads, gorgeous Vonetta McKee as the mystery woman who affords Frankie an evening of sexual bliss that turns his life into a nightmare and Rosalind Cash, in full tough girl mode as she was the previous year opposite Charlton Heston in "The Omega Man". On the other extreme, Paul Stevens makes for a suitably slimy villain. The direction by Hugh A. Robertson is quite impressive and he overcomes the relatively modest budget by capitalizing on the street locations which he uses to maximum atmosphere and effect. "Melinda" is a superior entry in the Blaxploitation film genre. Highly recommended.
The Warner Archive DVD includes the original theatrical trailer.
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It's probably a safe bet that most adults have seen at least some of the notorious film footage shot during the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. However, no one has ever seen the definitive denouncement of these camps for genocidal practices because the project was stopped in its tracks in the immediate aftermath of WWII. When British, American and Soviet troops stumbled upon the seemingly endless number of concentration camps in the final days of the war, they were not prepared for what they saw. There had been frantic warnings from the Jewish community about the barbaric nature of what was occurring in these hell holes but they were generally thought to be overstated, if not impossible to believe. Such were the mind-boggling horrors that greeted them that the Allied high command ordered that the places be filmed in order to capture for posterity the types of acts that future generations would not otherwise be able to imagine. The camps were always terrible beyond description but they got even worse when it became clear that the German defenses were collapsing and Allied troops were inevitably overrunning what was left of the retreating Third Reich. Even at this late date, with defeat inevitable, the Nazi brass was determined to fulfill Hitler's extermination policies. Tens of thousands of half-dead prisoners were forced on torturous marches to other camps. It was a journey most did not survive. Those who were deemed too weak to move were often systematically murdered often just days or hours before their liberation would have occurred. However, even these barbarians could not succeed in executing the sheer number of these hapless souls and so it was that many were still alive when Allied troops marched into the camps. Even the most battle-hardened troops could scarcely believe the panorama of human misery that greeted them. Surviving prisoners, too weak to stand, had been haphazardly tossed into mountains of corpses. The ovens that incinerated others were still warm and filled with bones and ash. Warehouses of personal possessions from the doomed prisoners dotted the camps, filled to the roofs with items that were to be recycled. The ever-efficient and cost-conscious Reich even ground up the bones of the cremated and sold them wholesale to local farmers as fertilizers. Such was the horror that even General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe, personally felt the need to witness these horrors. So, too did General George S. Patton.
A joint decree by the Allies resulted in British, American and Soviet cameramen frantically filming the horrors as they unfolded. The dead and dying seemed to film every frame but there was also indescribable joy on behalf of those who knew that, with proper care, they would most likely survive. Ultimately the task of coordinating all of this footage fell to Sidney Bernstein of the British Ministry of Information. The Allies decided that a feature film should be created by Bernstein with the intention of having it widely shown to citizens of Germany to reinforce their feelings of guilt over what had been done in their name. Bernstein's vision went beyond simply providing a cinematic chamber of horrors and he wanted to construct the movie as professionally as possible. Thus, he reached out to Alfred Hitchcock to assist him as a creative consultant. Hitchcock had already left his native England for Hollywood, where he was finding great success. However, he heeded the call to return to England to work on the project partly out of frustration that he had been "too old and too fat" to have served in the British military. He viewed this as an opportunity to contribute to the war effort even though the war was now over. Hitchcock and Bernstein labored over the film project for months as the British military became increasingly frustrated. They wanted speed, not artistry. Ultimately the decision was made to take the film away from Bernstein. This was due to a number of factors. One was based on the premise that it became clear that the German public, by and large, was being sufficiently contrite over the war time crimes of the Nazis. The nation was a bombed out wreck in urban areas and the Allies wanted to rally the public to help rebuild their land. Forcing them to watch films of atrocities that many had witnessed when they were made to visit the camps after liberation was now being seen as rubbing salt in their wounds. There was also a political factor, however. Before the war had even ended, it became clear to Britain and America that the Cold War was starting with the Soviet Union. Stalin, emboldened by FDR's death and the shocking loss of Winston Churchill in elections to comparatively weak Clement Attee, was ratcheting up his drive for land grabs in eastern Europe. Britain and America needed to ensure that all of Germany didn't fall into the Soviet orbit. It was decided that attempting to drive home the subject of war crimes would only alienate the public at large. Ultimately Germany would suffer being divided into two separate nations, with the Soviets taking control of the eastern portion of the country and subjecting its citizens to another cruel dictatorship. Still, the footage of the concentration camps had to be seen somewhere, somehow. Director Billy Wilder, himself an immigrant from Germany who got out during the rise of Hitler, was approached to now helm the project. Uncredited, he oversaw production of what became known as "Death Mills". The film ran a scant 22 minutes and was originally made with a German soundtrack, as it was to be screened for select audiences in Germany and Austria. Although not long in terms of running time, it's hard to imagine that even an elongated version would better convey the stomach-turning tortures meted out by the Nazis. Wilder's film didn't bother with artistry or nuance. It was the antithesis of what Bernstein and Hitchcock had envisioned- a non-stop depiction of cruelties with no pretense of having been made by professional filmmakers.
In 2014 director released "Night Will Fall", a documentary made for Britain's Channel 4 and which ultimately would be telecast in America on HBO. Singer had amassed the disparate footage from the aborted Bernstein/Hitchcock project and combined it with "Death Mills", which had been created from the same pool of British, American and Soviet films. Singer went the extra mile, tracking down elderly death camp survivors who, to great emotional effect, are interviewed on screen, in some cases viewing footage of themselves being liberated from the camps. Cinema doesn't get much more emotional than this. The only reason some of these people survived was because they were twins and caught the eye of the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, who had a mad passion for conducting horrendous "medical experiments" on them. Mengele was obsessed with seeing if science could manipulate hereditary features through experimentation on twins. Most ended up dying and others were executed when Mengele tired of them, but some survived and were captured on screen as Allied soldiers freed these helpless children from certain death. Singer's film also puts into context the Hitchcock and Wilder associations with the project and combines a coherent time line about the use of the footage. His film also describes the sense of disbelief on the part of American, British and Soviet soldiers who generally entered these camps without the slightest idea about what they were about to experience. The effort to care for survivors was immediate and intense but many of the prisoners died even after liberation because of the sheer neglect they had suffered. Eisenhower ordered that local residents be forced to personally visit the camps. It became clear that many really didn't know the full extent of the horrors. Footage shows hundreds of villagers jovially walking down country lanes en route to a camp. The narrator points out they appear to be on the way for a pleasant day in the country. Upon seeing the thousands of dead and dying, however, most are moved to shame and tears. Bulldozers are used to control typhus outbreaks by burying piles of men, women and children in mass graves, denying them even the dignity of being identified. Children who survive often have forgotten their names and refer to themselves only by the numbers tattooed on their arms. For this viewer the most unbearable aspect was to watch scenes that don't involve people but object that represent people. In a warehouse filled to the roof with eyeglasses from victims that were to be recycled for the Reich, the narrator aks that even if one in ten prisoners needed glasses, how many had to be killed to amass such a supply. In another storage building sacks are opened containing women's hair which was being packaged and sold to German industries. There are house decorations such as lampshades made from tattooed human skin. Even shrunken heads were deemed as novelty items by SS brass. Perhaps saddest of all are the mountains of toys confiscated from children to be sent to other children in the Reich. These ghastly souvenirs bare silent witness to the cruel fates that befell the Nazi's youngest victims. In other particularly moving scenes, Soviet doctors examine victims in a vain attempt to save them. One is a young man who was shot in the head because he was caught sharing a crust of bread with another man. A young girl of about eight years old was forced to stand all day barefoot in ice and snow because her productivity was deemed to be disappointing. I fully confess to averting my eyes from the screen during much of the footage shown.
An inmate who thought she was doomed expresses her thanks to a British soldier.
"Night Will Fall" is an important and mesmerizing film and its getting additional exposure through its recent release on DVD by the Warner Archive. It's message is essential and should be required deemed viewing for any thinking, rational person. One of the reasons the Allies were intent on documenting these atrocities is because they predicted in years to come, some people would try to deny they ever occurred. Sadly that has proven to be the case. The internet, in particular, has given voice to fringe groups and kooks worldwide who have no trouble attracting fellow conspiracynuts. Some may be harmless eccentrics, such as people who still believe the moon landing was a hoax. Others, however, deal in far more dangerous beliefs such as denial of the war time atrocities inflicted by Hitler and his madmen. The existence of such people make the continuation of genocide possible and the practice is alive and well today in various parts of the world. However, we can never prove how many people were positively influenced by films such as "Night Will Fall". Clearly the majority of the world's population has thus far thwarted the rise of another Hitler, even if such dictators exist within their the confines of their own borders. It is imperative that good people everywhere keep the truth alive. Perhaps we should all heed the warning that "Those who neglect history are compelled to repeat it."
The Warner Archive DVD contains bonus extras including Billy Wilder's "Death Mills" film, the Soviet film "Auschwitz", which chronicles the liberation of the camp and the atrocities that were uncovered, and an extended contemporary interview with Prof. Rainer Schulze on the premises of the notorious Bergen-Belsen death camp where he discusses the events that transpired there.
"Young Billy Young" is the kind of film of which it can be said, "They don't make 'em like that anymore". Not because the movie is so exceptional. In fact, it isn't exceptional on any level whatsoever. Rather, it's the sheer ordinariness of the entire production that makes one pine away for an era in which top talent could be attracted to enjoyable, if unremarkable, fare such as this. Such films, especially Westerns, were churned out with workmanlike professionalism to play to undemanding audiences that didn't require mega-budget blockbusters to feel they got their money's worth at the boxoffice. Sadly, such movies have largely gone the way of the dodo bird. In today's film industry, bigger must always be better and mid-range flicks such as are no longer made. However, through home video releases such as Kino Lorber's Blu-ray of "Young Billy Young", it's possible to still enjoy the simple pleasures that such movies provide.
The story opens with botched robbery in Mexico committed by Billy Young (Robert Walker) and some cohorts including Jesse (David Carradine). The plan to steal horses from the Mexican military goes awry and Billy is forced to split from his fellow robbers with the army in hot pursuit. Making his way back across the border to New Mexico, he is penniless and desperate. He has a chance encounter with Ben Kane (Robert Mitchum), a tough, sarcastic older man who he encounters again in a nearby town. Here, Billy is being cheated at cards by the local sheriff, who goads him into a gunfight. Billy ends up killing him but stands to be framed for the sheriff's death. He's saved by Ben, who rides along with him to another town where Ben has agreed to take on the job of lawman. Ostensibly he is there to keep order and collect back taxes from deadbeats but in reality, he is on a mission of revenge. Some years before, Ben's son had been gunned down by a criminal named Boone (John Anderson) and Kane has learned that Boone is a presence in the new town and that he is being protected by a local corrupt businessman, John Behan (Jack Kelly). Ben makes his presence known immediately by enforcing the law in a strict manner. He's confronted by Behan, who tries to intimidate him. This results in Behan being slapped around by Kane. Behan also grows to resent the new lawman because he is flirting with his mistress, saloon entertainer Lily Beloit (Angie Dickinson). When Behan abuses her as punishment, he gets another beating from Kane. Meanwhile, Billy runs into Jesse and accuses him of having deserted him in Mexico. The two men fight it out and Jesse is later involved with the accidental shooting of the town's beloved doctor while in the employ of Behan. Kane learns that Jesse is Boone's son and holds him in jail as bait for Boone to come out of hiding. The plan works all too well. Boone turns up with a small army and lays siege to the jailhouse where Kane and Billy are holed up.
Original French lobby card.
"Young Billy Young" was compared to a TV show by New York Times critic Howard Thompson on the basis that it contains so many standard elements of westerns from this time period. There is the bad girl with the heart of gold, the evil business tycoon, the brash young gun and his wiser, older mentor, the heroes outnumbered by superior forces and a lovable old coot (played against type by Paul Fix in full Walter Brennan/Gabby Hayes mode.) Yet somehow it all works very well, thanks mostly to Robert Mitchum's stalwart presence. With his trademark ram-rod stiff walk and cool persona, Mitchum tosses off bon mots like a frontier version of 007. Even the Times acknowledged that "Mitchum can do laconic wonders with a good wise-crack". He has considerable chemistry with Dickinson, though the action between the sheets is more implied than shown. Robert Walker Jr. acquits himself well in the title role and David Carradine makes an impression even with limited screen time. The film was directed by Burt Kennedy, an old hand at directing fine westerns in reliable, if not remarkable, style and it all culminates in a rip-snorting shoot-out that is genuinely exciting. The fine supporting cast includes Willis Bouchey, Parley Baer and Deanna Martin (Dino's daughter) in her acting debut. One oddball element to the film: Mitchum croons the title song over the opening credits. If this sounds strange, keep in mind that Mitchum improbably once had a hit album of calypso music.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes the original trailer as well as trailers for other westerns, "Support Your Local Sheriff", "Support Your Local Gunfighter" and "The Wonderful Country", which also stars Mitchum.
The seemingly promising teaming of Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale, both at their most glamorous back in 1968, goes hopelessly astray in the comedy/crime caper film "A Fine Pair". The movie is the kind of lazy effort that makes one suspect the only motives for the stars' participation were quick, sizable paychecks and the opportunity to enjoy some exotic locations at the studio's expense. (Think "Donovan's Reef" without the fun.) The film opens in New York City and we find Hudson as NYPD Captain Mike Harmon, a conservative, no-nonsense career police officer who runs his precinct with the same strong-arm tactics that General George S. Patton employed to keep his troops in line. Out of nowhere pops Esmeralda Marini (Cardinale), a glamorous and almost annoyingly perky young woman who has arrived unannounced from her native Italy. Turns out she has known Harmon most of her life as he was a good friend of her late father, who was an Italian police captain. It's never adequately explained how the two law enforcement officer's professional careers intersected but it turns out that Harmon became close enough to the Marini family that Esmeralda has long considered Harmon like a favorite uncle. The absurdities start almost immediately as Esmeralda confesses that she has possession of some stolen jewels that she has stolen from a prominent Italian family, the Fairchilds, who are now on holiday in New York. She says that she has regrets about having participated in the crime and wants to break into the Fairchilds' fortress-like chateau in Austria so that she can return the jewels before they find they are missing. One would think that a streetwise New York City police captain would see this as a rather bizarre and implausible yarn, but not Harmon. On a moment's notice he decides to take a leave from his job and flyoff for Austria with Esmeralda in a quest to undo the wrong she committed by stealing the jewels. Oh, did I mention that Harmon is also married? He dismisses this by saying that he was simply vague about his reasons for taking off suddenly for a week in Austria. I'd be curious to hear about the outcome of any married man who decides to employ the same tactics.
Once in Austria, Harmon is alternately bemused and annoyed by Esmeralda's party-hearty lifestyle. She is a magnet for eccentric young men of the counter-culture, who she beds with guilt-free abandon. However, it doesn't take long before conservative Harmon is joining in the partying but there is still the slight problem of breaking into the Fairchild's estate. Harmon uses a false scenario to convince the local police chief (the marvelous character actor Leon Askin) to give him a tour of the security devices inside and around the perimeter of the mansion. While it might be a professional courtesy to share such information with a fellow police captain, one would have to wonder how the absent family would feel about strangers treading around their private property and discussing all their top-secret burglar alarm devices. Harmon is stunned by the sophistication of the anti-theft system and concerned that the mission of breaking into the home will be impossible- and Esmeralda is vague about how the original theft was originally orchestrated except to say that her accomplice managed to pull it off. Against all logic, Harmon decides to risk his life and career in order to carry on with the plot. In some of the most absurd scenes, he becomes a poor man's "Q" Branch by devising ways to use ordinary objects such as champagne bottles and mingle them with chemicals in order to gain access to the house and neutralize the alarm system. It's a plan that would have challenged Einstein, but Harmon feels secure enough to continue with the caper. He and Esmeralda decided to undertake the top secret and illegal task of mixing dangerous chemicals by doing so in the communal toilet of the tiny bed and breakfast lodge they are staying at. Even Inspector Clouseau wouldn't be that careless.
Harmon's plan requires artificially raising the interior temperature of the room the Fairchilds' safe is in to a scorching 194 degrees Fahrenheit because somehow he has figured out that this will prevent the alarms from being triggered. The entire sequence is ludicrous and seems designed simply as an excuse for Cardinale to strip down to her bra and panties, which provides the only break in the tedium. It doesn't take much skill to make a caper film sequence suspenseful but director Francesco Maselli (who also committed the sin of co-writing the screenplay) manages to bungle even this "can't miss" opportunity. There is no tension whatsoever and the scene ends prematurely with the caper successfully carried out. However, Esmeralda now has a second break-in she wants Harmon to help with. By this point, he is smitten with her and they become lovers. Given the fact that he has been a de facto "uncle" to her, the "Yuck" factor kicks in right away. Before long Harmon has changed his entire personality, ditching his conservative lifestyle for the free-wheeling, anything-goes philosophy of Esmeralda. Harmon's transformation is as likely as someone entering the voting booth with the intention of voting for Ted Cruz and suddenly deciding to pull the lever for Bernie Sanders. The remainder of the film concerns this second, equally implausible, crime plan. By this point Harmon has discovered that he has been played for a sucker by Esmeralda, who had him place worthless jewels in the Fairchild safe. While he was preoccupied doing so, she used the opportunity to steal real jewels. In fact, she had never been inside the mansion before and had conned him into giving her access. Got all that? Then please explain it to me. Harmon is so enamored that this career police captain with a distinguished career in law enforcement decides to become a professional jewel thief and give up his profession. In a "Oh, by the way..." moment he conveniently also explains that he phoned his wife and requested a divorce, which she immediately complied with. Before long, the happy couple is off to Rome for their next caper. Not even Jules Verne could come up with such fantastical scenarios.
"A Fine Pair" has more problems than poor direction and a terrible script. It's perhaps the worst-photographed major film release I've ever scene. Cinematographer Alfio Contini has a distinguished record in the movie industry so maybe this was an aberration. However, he employs some amateurish techniques that make it appear the film was photographed by an amateur who stumbled onto the set while he was on his lunch break. There are head-spinning swirls and dreadful use of the zoom lens. Contini also squanders the early sequences in New York by focusing on tight close-ups of the actors instead of the city's exotic locations. The choppy editing doesn't help and we're left with an upbeat, jaunty score by Ennio Morricone as the film's sole asset. While I've always enjoyed Rock Hudson's work in movies, he gave very few truly impressive performances ("Giant" and "Seconds" among them.) He was best suited for light comedies which he had a natural flair for which is why it's a telling sign that he's pretty awful in this film. You can almost see a thought bubble above his head with the question "What the hell am I doing in this mess?" He gives a listless and uninspired performance throughout. Cardinale is at least lively but her character is poorly written and completely unbelievable. Regarding their performances, New York Times critic Roger Greenspun astutely wrote at the time, "...the film at times seems like "Mission: Impossible" performed by the cast of "Captain Scarlett and the Mysterons"- with facial expressions that cleverly imitate life."
The Warner Archive DVD was mastered from the best elements available. Fittingly they are awful and, thus, so is the transfer. The color quality varies wildly and some scenes are so dark that it feels as though you are staring into an inkwell. Not helping matters is that the movie suffers from bad dubbing and sound mixing so that even Rock Hudson sounds like he is being dubbed by a different actor. The movie is of primary interest to loyal fans of Hudson and Cardinale and those who get a kick out of watching promising cinematic premises that turned into disasters.
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We at Cinema Retro like nothing more than to make our readers aware of emerging new talents in independent film making. Two of the most impressive young movie creators whose work we've experienced recently are Steven Piet and Erik Crary, two personal friends who teamed up to fulfill their dream of making their own feature film. The duo wrote the screenplay for "Uncle John" and Piet made his directorial debut with the movie, as well. The film is a highly stylized, oddball concoction that blends two seemingly disparate storylines that intersect logically as the movie proceeds. The story grabs you from the opening frames in which we see Dutch (Laurent Soucie), a hulk of a man staggering in a dazed condition on the dock of remote lake in Wisconsin. We see he is being followed by another man, John (John Ashton), who is wielding the oar of a rowboat that he has apparently just slammed Dutch in the head with. He's about to administer the coup de grace when Dutch falls into the shallow water and conveniently drowns. We then watch John, a man in his late sixties, struggle mightily to cover up evidence of the murder. He wraps Dutch in an improvised body bag and painstakingly drags him to his truck, loads him into it and drives to an isolated field where local farmers burn brush. Here, he buries the body under a mound of branches and pours some gasoline on top, making for a gruesome bonfire. Who are these men and why has one murdered the other? The answers are given but not until much later in the story. Meanwhile, we see that John isn't a madman. Rather, he's well-established in the small farming community and respected for his low-key personality and slow-to-anger temperament. He earns a modest living on his farm, which he's converted to a woodworking shop where he does freelance carpentry jobs for local residents. About the only excitement in his day-today activities is getting together each morning with a group of local good ol' boys for coffee at the local diner where they discuss gossip and the affairs of the day. It doesn't take long before word gets around that Dutch has gone missing. Apparently Dutch has been a loose cannon and troublemaker for decades. Recently he's found Jesus and decided to repent. As part of his self-imposed penance, he's been visiting the locals and confessing to various misdeeds he's done against them and begging for their forgiveness. As the days pass with no sign of Dutch, the group begins to speculate that maybe someone didn't decide to forgive him for a specific transgression. Through it all, John keeps a poker face and pretends he is ignorant of Dutch's fate. But as the local sheriff keeps digging around, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable and perhaps is coming to regret having committed the murder.
The script cleverly presents a completely parallel and seemingly unrelated plot that centers on Ben (Alex Moffatt), a 29 year-old designer in a hip marketing studio in Chicago. A new employee, Kate (Jenna Lyng) has been brought on board to oversee projects. On one level he resents the hiring of this new supervisor but on the other hand he's understandably smitten by her charm and good looks. Before long they begin a romantic relationship. The two stories blend later in the film when we learn that Ben was raised by "Uncle John" when his mother died and his father deserted him. He decides to visit John and introduce him to Kate. The timing of the visit couldn't be worse for John, who is becoming increasingly concerned about being unveiled as a murderer. Adding to his woes is the nagging presence of Dutch's brother Danny (Ronnie Gene Blevins), who is all-too-obviously suspicious that John is hiding a terrible secret. Danny, like Dutch, is a local trouble maker with a short-fuse and a penchant for drinking. He drops by John's farm during the visit by Ben and Kate, who remain oblivious to the uneasy banter between the two men. Director Steven Piet ratchets up the tension in this marvelously-constructed sequence in which John and Danny enact a sequence that reminds one of a Bond movie in that the protagonist and villain talk politely to each other but barely mask their hatred for one another. John knows the noose is getting tighter and fears that Danny will take matters into his own hands if he doesn't stop him first. Worse, Danny make seek to avenge his brother's murder by making Ben and Kate his victims. The only element of the film I found somewhat disappointing is the final scene which has sense of irony about it but doesn't quite deliver the payoff I had hoped for. Nonetheless, "Uncle John" is a real winner in every respect. If you enjoy Hitchcock thrillers, give this one a try. In fact, the film reminded me of Hitchcock in the sense that the Master always tried to show just how difficult it is to kill a human being and dispose of a body. In "The Trouble With Harry", the titular corpse keeps popping up around town to the dismay of the locals. In the kitchen murder sequence of "Torn Curtain" we see exactly how ill-equipped an everyday person is to kill someone else. "Uncle John" explores this territory by showing us the pain, tension and aggrevation John must endure to cover-up his misdeed.
The sheer intelligence of the screenplay of "Uncle John" is what impressed me the most. The film doesn't rely on violence or gruesome scenes of bloodletting. Instead we get realistic characters talking in a realistic manner. Uncle John is one of those complex characters we've seen in films of this type before. On the surface he is the villain who has committed a deplorable deed. However, you end up inadvertently admiring his creativity and resolve in avoiding being detected as a murderer. He is played with enormous skill by character actor John Ashton, who finally gets a well-deserved starring role. Ashton's performance is award worthy, as he captures the essence of a very complex character and makes him sympathetic even though we can't condone what he has done. He is the consummate professional, bringing both pathos and cringe-inducing murderous instincts to his portrayal. He's matched by equally excellent performances by Alex Moffatt, Jenna Lyng and Ronnie Gene Blevins, all of whom should have promising futures in the film industry. The same goes for Steven Piet, whose debut as director is rather remarkable. He has a real eye for how to set up a scene and milk it for all its worth. I should mention that the casting of the film is outstanding. Even the smallest role is expertly played. Kudos to cinematographer Mike Bove, who does wonders with lighting elements that add immeasurably to the foreboding atmosphere. There is also a fine musical score by Adam Robbi and Shawn Sutta.
The Kino Lorber DVD includes a montage of scenes from the film set to the soundtrack music, a teaser trailer, original trailer and a rather clever interview with the filmmakers conducted by their own moms. In it, they discuss the trials and tribulations of making films such as these on micro-budgets. They may not have made much money from this project but it's far superior to most of the over-produced, overly-costly mainstream fare churned out by the major studios.
Time has issued a new Blu-ray edition of Fritz Lang's classic 1953 film noirThe
Big Heatas a
limited edition (3,000 units). The movie ranks among the top films in the noir
genre and time has only increased its appeal. Glenn Ford is Dave Bannion, a
dedicated police detective who begins to suspect that the apparent suicide of a
fellow cop might be linked to department-wide corruption. His hunch proves
correct as it becomes evident that virtually the entire police department,
right up to the commissioner, is controlled by local crime kingpin Mike Lagana
(Alexander Scourby). When Bannion receives warnings to lay off the
investigation, he ignores them and continues to pursue leads. Before long, not
only he but his beloved wife (Jocelyn Brando) and daughter are targeted for
death. Lang's penchant for creating a dark, foreboding atmosphere is on display
here. Most of the scenes are interiors or dank, dangerous locations. The film's
central plot is mesmerizing from the shocking opening frames. As a leading man,
Ford could usually be described as handsome, affable and reliable but
"dynamic" would hardly be associated with his screen persona. InThe
Ford gives what is arguably the best performance of his career. As the
gangsters take their toll on him, he becomes a man obsessed, menacing men and
women alike. His only ally is Debby Marsh (wonderfully played by Gloria
Grahame), a ditzy but lovable gun moll who suffers terribly from her attempts
to aid Bannion. Director Lang brings real pathos to the proceedings. Bannion is
the ultimate family man-- and he has a sexually playful relationship with his
wife, something refreshing for a film from this period. When his wife and kid
are menaced, Bannion's rage brings him to the brink of committing murder
himself. Supporting characters are tortured, scalded, and even children are
many memorable scenes in the film and most feature an impressive array of
terrific supporting actors including Lee Marvin outstanding as a charismatic,
but vicious thug who squares off with Bannion in the action-packed finale. Lang
loved his adopted country, America, ever since he had fled Nazi Germany rather
than serve as one of their propagandists. However, he was always dismayed by
instances of injustice and often reflected these concerns in his films.The
well have been the most daring expose of police corruption seen in any film
until that time. The film remains a mini-masterpiece of its kind and all retro
movie buffs should have it in their movie libraries.
Twilight Time Blu-ray presents a terrific transfer that does full justice to
the outstanding camerawork of Charles Lang. The package includes the usual
informative collector's booklet written by Julie Kirgo, but don't read it
before watching the film as it is filled with spoilers. New features include on-screen separate interviews with director Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann, who both provide valuable insights into why they consider this to be one of the greatest of film noirs. An original trailer is also included.
The Vinegar Syndrome video label continues to unearth obscure examples of 1960s erotica. None is more bizarre than "Infrasexum", a 1969 concoction by director/actor Carlos Tobalina, who would ultimately be regarded as one of the more prolific hardcore filmmakers. Back in '69, however, it was still difficult to get theatrical showings of hardcore films, which were generally relegated to 8mm film loops sold in adult book stores. Tabolina tried to push the envelope with "Infrasexum" but was still confined by the dreaded "community standards" obscenity laws that mandated only soft-core movies could generally be shown without causing a major legal flap from local conservative groups that had routinely declared war on pornography. "Infrasexum" (I have no idea what the title means and apparently neither did Tobalina) attempts to tell a poignant story about the toll the aging process takes on sexual libido. The film opens in the offices of Mr. Allison (Eroff Lynn), a fifty-something successful business executive who is despondent over the routine lifestyle he is leading. He has money galore but exists in a gloomy state of mind. He's also depressed (in this pre-Viagara era) about his inability to perform sexually with his bombshell wife (Marsha Jordan), who prances about their penthouse clad in a see-through nightee. Determined to start a new life, Allinson sends his wife a goodbye letter, turns the control of his company over to two trusted employees and takes off for parts unknown. He immediately feels liberated from the day-to-day grind. He ends up in Las Vegas and almost reluctantly wins $250,000 in cash. He doesn't need the money but for the first time in ages he feels he's on a winning streak. He drives to L.A. where he has a chance encounter with Carlos (Carlos Tobalina), a somewhat kooky but charismatic man who routinely grubs money from him but also introduces him to a new lifestyle with his hippie friends. Before long, Allison is taking in rock shows in discotheques on the Sunset Strip and experimenting with pot. Carlos tries on several occasions to cure Allison's sexual problems by setting him up with willing young women but the result is always frustrating failure to launch. At one point an unrelated sub-plot is introduced in which Allison is kidnapped by two thugs who threaten his life and shake him down for big money. They also murder a helpless young woman in his presence. In one of the lamest action sequences ever filmed, Allison breaks free and kills both men in an unintentionally hilarious manner. Allison treats this presumably life-altering incident as though it's a minor distraction and before long is taking up his lifetime's goal of becoming a painter. An admiring young woman invites him back to her house but, once again, Allison can't seal the deal between the sheets and he has to call Carlos over to act as his stand-in!
It's difficult to say exactly what Tobalina expected to accomplish with this film. Is it an attempt to present a poignant look at the frustrations of the aging process with some full-frontal nudity tossed in? Or did he intend to simply dress up a sexploitation film with some legitimate dramatic story line aspects? In either case, the result is downright weird. Tobalina's insertion of a gruesome murder also seems like an after-thought designed to appeal to horror movie fans. It's got plenty of gore but is so unconvincingly shot and directed that the sequence elicits more laughter than chills. Whatever early talent Tobalina might have conveyed on screen is compromised by the bare bones production budget, which was probably close to zero. Technical blunders abound. In some scenes you can see the shadow of the cameraman in center frame. In others, people's voices are heard even though their lips aren't moving. Still, the film at least aspires to be superior to most soft-core grind house fare of the era. As a trip back in time, it has merit. It presents some wonderful, extended views of the Las Vegas Strip, for example, and we can relish the marquees extolling such performers as Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Don Ho and Little Richard. Tobalina also gets out of the bedrooms long enough to take us on a scenic tour of local L.A. sites as well as the Sierra Nevadas. Tobalina is at his best when he gets out of the boudoir and shows us travelogue-like footage. On a coarser level, the film also provides an abundance of good looking young women who romp around starkers. The movie would be primarily of interest to baby boomer males who want a trip back in time to an era in which such fare was considered daring and controversial. It's bizarre qualities will also appeal to fans of cult sexlpoitation films.
The Vinegar Syndrome release looks great and the remastered print even shows us the grit and dirt that occasionally appeared on the camera lens. An original trailer is also included that is truly a laugh riot, in that a God-like voice virtually commands us to see "Infrasexum" because it's a "classic".
The dividing line between a film being an homage and a rip-off is sorely tested with "Forsaken", a 2015 Canadian Western by director Jon Cassar, who is best known for his acclaimed, award-winning work in television. This is a rare venture into feature film making for him and the result left me with decidedly mixed emotions. The film marks another collaboration between Cassar and actor Kiefer Sutherland, who starred in Cassar's wildly successful TV series "24". That the two men are comfortable with each other's style is immediately apparent from the first frames of the film. We want to extend kudos to them for bravely venturing where few in the movie industry dare to tread any longer: the realm of the Western, a genre that has been routinely neglected for decades. Despite the success of Westerns such as "Unforgiven", "Dances With Wolves" and "Open Range", studio chiefs can't seem to get over the ""Heaven's Gate" syndrome, the monumental 1980 Western that almost sunk United Artists. Even hardened criminals are punished less time than the poor Western genre,so we extend our respect to anyone who tries, no matter modestly, to revive it. The problem with "Forsaken" is that a lot of talented people are doing fine work in a film that is so blatantly inspired by Clint Eastwood's Oscar winning "Unforgiven" that it comes close to bordering on parody. The initial blame begins with screenwriter Brad Mirman, who depends far too heavily on elements from Eastwood's magnificent production. Let's start with the title, which is a transparent attempt to evoke "Unforgiven". (In fairness, Eastwood himself was less-than-original in his use of this title. He changed the film's title from "The William Munny Killings" and replaced it with the name of an unrelated John Huston Western from 1960, "The Unforgiven".) Then there is the movie's protagonist, John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland), who carries similar baggage to Eastwood's William Munny. He is haunted by a violent past and a penchant for committing bloodshed. He has returned to his hometown after a period of years and hopes to live his life as a pacifist, a lofty goal that the viewer will recognize as being doomed from the get-go. He soon finds that the town is populated by cowardly people who are letting a greedy land baron, James McCurdy (Brian Cox) use a mercenary gang to intimidate or even kill any homesteader who refuses his offer to buy their land. As in "Unforgiven", our hero is initially slow to anger and resists his inner demons. In Clayton's case, he is routinely abused, insulted and beaten by the mercenaries, who are led by Frank (Aaron Poole), who is so vicious that he even gets chastised by his employer, McCurdy. I kept waiting for a character to appear who would emulate Richard Harris's English Bob, the aristocratic gunslinger from "Unforgiven". Sure enough, along comes Gentleman Dave Turner (Michael Wincott), who displays the wit and gallows humor of dear ol' English Bob. Not helping matters is director Cassar, who aids and abets this pantomime by insisting that Sutherland pretentiously pose like Eastwood in "Unforgiven", as well as speak like him (distinctive, barely audible voice) and dress like him (he even wears a hat that is more than coincidentally similar to Eastwood's from that film). The "homage" syndrome goes into overdrive in the film's violent conclusion, which- to the surprise of no one familiar with "Unforgiven"- also takes place in a saloon, where a heavily-armed Clayton enters and engages a small army of bad guys in a one-man massacre. At times, it appears to be a frame-by-frame remake of the Eastwood film.(In fairness, Cassar does dip a bit outside of the "Unforgiven" pool long enough to replicate a sequence from the climactic barroom shootout from "The Shootist".) The epilogue imitates "Unforgiven" in an unforgivable manner, with scenes at an isolated grave while a narrative fills us in on the fate of the main characters.
Despite all of these reservations, it may come as a surprise to you that I liked and admired "Forsaken" very much. The script does introduce a few original elements. When Clayton returns home many years after experiencing the horrors of the war, he discovers that his former lover, Mary-Alice (Demi Moore), had presumed he was dead and ended up marrying a local man. They now have a small son and although Mary-Ellen professes to be perfectly happy, it's quite apparent there is still a spark between she and Clayton. More intriguingly, there is Clayton's relationship to his father, William (Donald Sutherland), the local reverend, who welcomes his estranged son back by informing him that his mother died and that her last hope was to see him but he never came. The two men settle into a tense domestic situation until John finally unburdens himself about a terrible secret that has been haunting him and that has inspired him to renounce violence. He also blames himself for the accidental death of his brother when they were kids. Ultimately, the clearing of the air leads both father and son to form a close bond but it is threatened by McCurdy and his men- and we know it will only be a matter of time until John takes up arms again. This plot element (the reluctant gunslinger) has been a staple of the Western genre for many years. (Think "The Gunfighter", "Shane", "The Shootist") but it still provides ample dramatic circumstances for a good director to capitalize on- and Jon Cassar is a good director. He has a real feel for the Western genre and elicits uniformly excellent performances from his entire cast, including Demi Moore who is refreshingly cast in a mature, non-glam role. To credit screenwriter Mirman, he capitalizes on the first screen teaming of both Sutherlands by providing realistic and engrossing situations and dialogue. The two actors bring a certain emotion and pathos to their on-screen relationship that is obviously enhanced by their real-life status as father and son. The movie is also gorgeously photographed by Rene Ohashi and features a fine score by Jonathan Goldsmith. Perhaps because I've seen "Unforgiven" so many times and have written about it extensively, I may be more sensitive to the similarities between the films, which I did find admittedly distracting. More casual viewers will probably not encounter this dilemma and enjoy "Forsaken" for what it is: a superior entry in the Western genre.
The Blu-ray from Entertainment One features only one bonus extra: a "making of" documentary which consists of the usual bland observations by people who were interviewed while a movie is still in production. (Who is going to say anything negative when they have to still work with each other?) Although director Cassar and Kiefer Sutherland acknowledge they emulated the traditional Western film elements in the making of the movie, neither man comes clean by mentioning "Unforgiven" specifically, which is a little like ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the saloon.
There have been a few effective "non-traditional" Westerns of recent vintage, "The Hateful Eight" being the most prominent but I would also highly recommend the Kurt Russell-starrer "Bone Tomahawk". However, if you have been starving for a Western that sticks with basic elements, this is the best I've seen in a number of years.
Hudson is an American commando sent to blow up a dam in “Hornets’ Nest,” a 1970
WWII action adventure set in 1944 Italy as the Allies advance on the German
occupation force. Directed by Phil Karlson (“Hell to Eternity,” “Kid Galahad,”
“The Silencers,” “The Wrecking Crew” and “Walking Tall”), the movie was an
American-Italian co-production filmed in Italy with a mostly all Italian cast
movie opens as the residents of Reanoto are massacred by German soldiers after
they refuse to give up the location of Italian resistance fighters. Meanwhile,
American commandos parachute in on a mission to blow up a nearby dam, but all
are killed except for Capt. Turner (Hudson). A group of boys hiding in the
hills when the German’s murdered their families rescue Turner and hide him from
the Germans. Turner is running a fever from his wounds and the boys convince a
local doctor, Bianca (Sylva Koscina), to help Turner. Von Hecht (Sergio
Fantoni) is the officer in charge of a local contingent of German soldiers
searching for Turner.
Colleano is Aldo, the leader of the boys. He’s understandably angry and wants
revenge against the Germans who murdered his family and the families of all the
other children. The boys form a band of partisans seeking to convince Capt.
Turner to teach them to shoot so they can kill Germans. They have guns and
ammunition hidden in a cave in the hills where they’ve been hiding. Turner
convinces the boys to help him retrieve his radio in order to contact his
headquarters and then complete his mission of destroying the dam. It’s not
precisely clear why the dam needs to be destroyed because the American forces
link up with him within minutes after the dam is blown up.
actor Sergio Fantoni (with dyed blonde hair) is unconvincing and miscast as Von
Hecht, but he’s a familiar face to fans of a pair of classic WWII movies from the
era. He was Capt. Oriani in “Von Ryan’s Express” and Capt. Oppo in “What Did
You Do in the War, Daddy?” It’s odd seeing him as a German officer in “Hornets’
Nest” and it doesn’t really work. It’s also not quite clear if Koscina is
supposed to be playing a German doctor or an Italian doctor in service of the
Germans, but that’s quickly forgotten soon after she’s taken prisoner by the children
and joins Turner in blowing up the dam. Koscina was cast after Sophia Loren
passed on the movie.
obvious criticism of the film is one I have for other movies and TV series from
the period. Hudson’s hair is too long and the sideburns and handlebar mustache,
while stylish in the 1970s, would not have been acceptable for military service
during WWII through to today. Koscina’s big hair, like Hudson’s hair, is
strictly from the late 60s and early 70s and the boys look like they were
plucked off the streets of Rome circa 1970 and wear the clothing they had
hanging in their closets at home.
movie moves at a brisk pace with plenty of action and Colleano is sympathetic
as Aldo. Hudson is good as Capt. Turner and this would be his final military
action role before settling into the successful TV series “McMillan & Wife”
which ran from 1971-1977. Koscina is beautiful and gives an acceptable
performance as Bianca, but she has little to do other than react to the boy’s
vengeance driven behavior, a rape attempt, having her clothing ripped, nurture
the small children and look enticing. Apart from Hudson, Apart from Colleano
(American father and English mother) and Karlson, the rest of the cast and crew
are made up of Italians and Yugoslavians. Italian second unit director Franco
Cirino even received a co-director credit on Italian prints of the movie.
story, written by S.S. Schweitzer and Stanley Colbert, was based on an actual
incident during the American advance in Italy. The screenplay is standard fare
for the era and among the last of this type of war movie. Critics at the time
disliked the depiction of children killing, being killed and participating in
war. I remember seeing this movie as a kid and I loved every minute of it. As a
fan of WWII movies and TV series, I wanted to be one of those boys fighting the
Kino Lorber release is the first time on Blu-ray for “Hornets’ Nest” and
features the trailer for this and two other Kino military- themed releases as
the only supplements. The movie clocks in at 110 minutes, looks and sounds
great with an outstanding score by Ennio Morricone. Originally released in
theaters by United Artists in September of 1970, the movie became a must see
movie for me when it turned up on TV throughout the 70s.
There are, at a minimum, three important lessons gleaned
from the outrageous 1970 sci-fi thriller The
Incredible Two-Headed Transplant. The first and most obvious lesson is that the adage “two heads are
better than one” is simply not necessarily true. The second is that mad scientists, the most
bitter and misunderstood members of the medical profession, tend to a more liberal interpretation of the
Hippocratic Oath they’re sworn to. The
last and perhaps most important lesson: if
you and your best gal find yourself necking in an automobile on a remote
lover’s lane, it might be best to spoon under a good-old fashioned hardtop. Convertibles
are too easily shredded by two-headed maniacs.
Let’s be frank. Anthony
M. Lanza’s The Incredible Two-Headed
Transplant is one weird movie. It’s
not without merit, but it’s surely a film that invites parody and guffaws over
a Coke and tub of hot popcorn. This, I
imagine, is the reason Kino Lorber has offered the choice of a genuine “RiffTrax”
audio commentary as an optional supplement. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t listen through the mocking
supplement in total. Truth be told, while
I enjoy a cheap laugh or a well chosen barb as much as anyone, I’ve never been
a big fan of the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” or “RiffTrax” phenomenon. It’s not that I don’t find such commentaries humorous
or even, on occasion, insightful… at least when enjoyed in the privacy of one’s
own home. But one can’t ignore that such
burlesque has inspired several generations of idiots to ruin public theatrical
screenings with lame attempts at imitation.
Though a genuine 1970s drive-in theater-exploitation-horror
movie in nearly every regard, The Incredible
Two-Headed Transplant differs from most as it offers not a single spooky
nighttime scene. This might be the only
horror film that I know of that takes place entirely in broad daylight. Co-screenwriter James Gordon White conceived
the film “as a tongue-in-cheek take off on Frankenstein,”
but I suppose that can be said of practically any horror/sci-fi film featuring
a body on an operating gurney. In some
ways the film, reportedly shot on a budget of $350,000 and a money-spinner for
A.I.P. within six months of release, is an oddity even among that studio’s
deep-catalog of low-budget horrors. Writer White sees the film as a classic “B”
production, while star-player Bruce Dern has infamously dismissed it as a “Z”
It must be said that nearly everything about the film is
schizophrenic, and this extends to the movie’s soundtrack. There’s an early dash of background
instrumentation that offers a Seventies ghetto-soul vibe. But this then contemporary musical element
seems somewhat out of place when juxtaposed against the film’s entirely tranquil
Californian countryside setting. Odder
still is the film’s main title song, “Incredible,” a pleasant but out-of-sync bossa nova vocal number sung by the
otherwise obscure singer Bobbie Boyle. Both interludes start the film off on a weird,
Screenwriter White (The
Glory Stompers. The Mini-Skirt Mob) admits that while writing the non-union
scenario for American-International, he had visualized horror-film maestro
Vincent Price in the role of the crazed Dr. Roger Girard: the part, for
whatever reason, went to a young, lithe Bruce Dern instead. A great actor by any standard, Dern turns in
an uncharacteristically aloof and workmanlike performance in The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant. In his memoir Things I’ve Said but Probably Shouldn’t Have, Dern admits he wasn’t
at all thrilled about the role, but the offer of $3,500 for ten days work was
enough for him and his fiancé to get married on so he signed up. Regardless of the star’s dubious commitment
to the project, director Anthony M. Lanza keeps the film moving along at a good
clip, and it must be said the movie suffers no moments of padding.
The film certainly wastes no time in getting one
involved. We’re instantly transported to
a suburban home where a ghastly act of violence is in progress. With several bloodied bodies littering the
floor, a crazy-eyed psychopath – one with an unfortunate propensity for sexual
violence - is in the process of lasciviously terrifying a young girl. Thankfully, she’s saved from a lurid fate at
the last minute when the police arrive and subdue the madman. Though a prudent judge commits the murderous
rapist, Manuel Cass, (played with wild, eye-rolling fervor by Albert Cole) to a
mental institution “until sanity is restored,” there’s little chance of that
happening anytime soon. It’s not long
after his confinement that Cass murders an attendant and drives off into the
countryside in a sporty 1961 Dodge Comet.
The scene shifts to a seemingly more tranquil
environment. Though wife Linda is
adamant that her husband is a “fine surgeon” who could very well enjoy a
thriving “marvelous practice” if only he… well, put his head to it, Dr. Roger
Girard (Bruce Dern) seems pretty determined to remain less than respectable. Dr. Girard is a man obsessed: he’s single-minded in his determination to
transplant a second head on a human subject. He’s also pretty confident in his ability to accomplish such a task. He’s already succeeded in this endeavor - as
any number of twin-headed caged animals and serpents kept in his home laboratory
can attest. For what purpose, you might
ask? Well, the doctor’s preoccupation in
this matter is never adequately explained. He’s obviously self-interested in creating an unassailable reputation as
one of the scientific greats, but as for the moral complexities of his
twin-head experimentations… well, “future generations” can sort it all
out. The doctor’s suspicious, cagey elder
mentor-assistant Max (Berry Kroeger) mutters something early on about his
protégé being the only one who can restore his damaged hands “and the body
needed to go with them,” so there’s some surgical motive there as well. Dr. Girard, at least at first, doesn’t come
off quite as crazy as Max, but he too
is something of a nut case, quick to impart bitter, disparaging missives on the
small-minded dullards he once worked beside at the local hospital.
Not counting the paying audience, the true victims of The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant are
Pat Priest’s beleaguered Linda Girard and John Bloom’s Danny. As the not-so-good doctor’s luscious wife, any
on-screen appearance of Priest, the lovely and curvaceous former Marilyn
Munster, is welcomed. Sadly, without the
kindly Uncle Herman or Grandpa to watch over and afford her a measure of
familial protection, Priest’s lonely afternoon of poolside sun-bathing is interrupted
when she’s spied upon, kidnapped and near-sexually assaulted by the
psychopathic escapee. Her preoccupied
husband didn’t hear her screams as he was, as usual, puttering away with bad
intent in his hacienda-home laboratory. As awful as Cass manhandles Priest during the kidnapping, it must be
said that the treatment she receives from her own husband is barely
better. In the course of the film Dr. Girard
(all in the interest of scientific secrecy, of course) locks his wife in his
laboratory, gags her mouth, ties her to a bed, performs a needle injection
against her consent, feeds her tranquilizers, and imprisons her inside a large
steel cage… and this is not to mention the not inconsequential emotional abuse
she’s made to endure. But the doctor
promises his wife a nice vacation (“anywhere you want”) after he finishes up
his experiments, so all is good.
One of the most popular and enduring sitcoms of its era, "McHale's Navy" ran from 1962-1966. The premise centered on Lt. Commander Quinton McHale (Ernest Borgnine), a PT boat skipper stationed in the South Pacific (later transferred to Italy) during WWII along with a motley but lovable crew of swabbies. McHale and his men are unconventional, to say the least, and routinely disregard basic military discipline. They are so unruly that they have been relegated to their own tiny island, which suits them just fine. Here they brew booze, entertain young women and run about dressed in party attire. They also manage to "adopt" a genial Japanese prisoner-of-war, Fuji (Yoshio Yoda), who manages to stay hidden despite indulging in all the excesses of McHale and his crew. McHale's antics are to the chagrin of their superior officer, Capt. Binghamton (Joe Flynn), who is constantly devising schemes to catch McHale and his men in a major infraction and have them court martialed. Inevitably, just in the nick of time McHale and his crew distinguish themselves in some sort of military action that brings them praise from the top brass instead of ending their careers.
The series proved to be so popular that is spawned two feature films that have now been released as a double-feature DVD by Shout! Factory. "McHale's Navy" was certainly not the first TV series to have a cross-over to the big screen. In the 1950s Walt Disney edited together several episodes of his immensely popular "Davy Crockett" series starring Fess Parker and released them as the feature film "Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier". During the 1960s and 1970s, the same process was used to release previously-seen TV episodes as feature films, though many were seen only in European markets. These included "Mission Impossible Vs. The Mob", "Mission: Monte Carlo" (based on "The Persuaders") and most notably, eight entire feature films derived from two-part episodes of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.". "McHale's Navy" was a more ambitious venture because, like the big screen versions of "Batman" and "The Munsters" ("Munsters Go Home!"), it at least consisted of entirely new material shot specifically for the theatrical version. The real thrill for fans of such shows was the ability to see their favorites on the big screen in color during an era in which precious few homes boasted color TVs.
The plot of the first film is reed-thin. McHale crew member Gruber (Carl Ballantine) tries to raise funds for an orphanage by devising a massive betting scheme predicated on the outcome of a horse race in Australia that has already been completed. However, the bettors won't legitimately know the results of that race until the newspaper is delivered by mail drop a week after the race's conclusion. Thus a large number of servicemen converge on McHale's island to engage in the betting. The trouble is that almost everyone is betting on the favorite: Silver Spot. When the newspaper arrives, Gruber discovers to his horror that Silver Spot has indeed won- and now the pot isn't big enough to pay off the bettors. McHale and Gruber stall for time and buy a week during which they must come up with the money to pay off the bettors. McHale and his men sail their PT 73 to New Calendonia where McHale reunites with a former lover, Margot (Jean Willes), a local saloon owner who he hopes will lend him the funds. She agrees to do so but only for a steep price: he must consent to marry her. Meanwhile, McHale's bumbling executive officer, Ensign Parker (Tim Conway) attempts to rescue a local French beauty, Andrea (Claudine Longet) from a bothersome local wolf, a rich businessman, Le Clerc (an unrecognizable George Kennedy). He earns her respect and his wrath but he also accidentally launches a depth charge that destroys one of the docks owned by Le Clerc. Now McHale and his men must come up with money for damages or risk being imprisoned. In a plot device that is as improbable even by sitcom standards, it turns out the valuable Silver Spot has gone missing and the crew of the PT 73 just happens upon him on a remote island. They attempt to win the money they need by disguising the horse and running him in another race under another name. The "Day at the Races"-like scenario falls apart, exposing the crew's deceitful tactic- but when McHale and his men thwart a Japanese submarine attack, all is forgiven and they are rewarded with enough cash to pay off all their debts. The film provides some pleasant entertainment and manages- ever so slightly- to spice things up compared to the TV series. (It's clear that McHale and Margot enjoy a pretty steamy past.) Also, the ever-virginal Ensign Parker finds himself uncomfortably close to Andrea as she tries to change out of wet clothing. Much of the fun derives from watching the great Joe Flynn and Tim Conway interact with impeccable comedic timing. The direction by Edward J. Montagne is well-paced. Montagne, who also produced the TV series, was an underrated talent, having helmed and/or produced the terrific Don Knotts feature films of the era including the cult classic "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken".
Edward Montagne was also in the director's chair for "McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force", released in 1965 on the heels of the first film's success. This time, however, Ernest Borgnine is nowhere to be seen. Borgnine told this writer years ago that he never got a clear explanation for why the film was made without him but said that theater owners leveled criticism at him, thinking he refused to be in it. In fact, Borgnine said he was flabbergasted that he had never been asked to appear in the movie. There were probably two motives for by-passing him. The first was money. By eliminating the highest paid cast member, Universal could keep production values low. Second, the studio might have wanted to give unrestrained screen time to the antics of Joe Flynn and Tim Conway, who were becoming an enormously popular duo through the TV series. In any event, Borgnine's absence is initially glaring but the as the film gets underway it turns out this sequel is superior to the original. The plot is more ambitious and the antics of Conway and Flynn are unrestrained. This film also affords McHale's crew- which consists of some wonderful character actors like Billy Sands, Gavin MacLeod and Carl Ballantine- to appear as something more than mere window dressing. This time around the plot revolves around a case of mistaken identity. Cutting through the clutter, it boils down to Ensign Parker first being mistaken for defecting Soviet officer and being arrested by KGB agents (one of whom is played by Len Lesser, who went on to appear as Uncle Leo in the "Seinfeld" series). Parker bumbles his way out of that but then becomes mistaken for a high profile Army officer (Ted Bessell), who has a reputation for being quite the lady's man. A lot of the fun revolves around the hapless, innocent Parker becoming a chick magnet for the likes of willing young women played by Susan Silo and Jean Hale, among others. Since the Army Air Corps officer Parker is impersonating is also a master pilot, he is forced to act as navigator aboard a bomber. Through a convoluted series of events, Binghamton ends up aboard the plane with him and the two wreak havoc before tumbling out of the plane on a jeep that is suspended from the cargo hull by a parachute. Flynn and Conway are like a modern version of Laurel and Hardy and I must admit that, despite the sheer predictability of their routine, I ended up chuckling out loud at numerous points. Meanwhile, McHale's crew gets some screen time when they switch uniforms with Russian sailors in order to sneak off PT 73 and go into town to get drunk. This, of course, turns out to have disastrous unforeseen consequences. The film also benefits from some other familiar character actors of the era including Henry Beckman, Tom Tully and Willis Bouchey, all of whom are marvelous to watch. Both films also feature the deft comedic turns by series regular Bob Hastings as Binghamton's ever-present aide and boot-licker, Lt. Elroy Carpenter, whose devotion to his unappreciative boss borders on the homo erotic. (I'm convinced the Mr. Burns/ Smithers relationship in "The Simpsons" is directly based on the Binghamton/Carpenter characters in "McHale's Navy"). As with the previous film, this one is a bit more mature in terms of sexual content, though it remains firmly in the category of family entertainment. The women's sexual aggressiveness would never have made it in the TV series (Jean Hale's character in particular makes it clear she can't wait to bed the legendary Romeo that Parker is impersonating). In another scene, Parker and Binghamton uncover a shipment of brassieres and both of them are clueless as to what they are.
Both of the Shout! Factory transfers are completely pristine and make for a highly enjoyable afternoon of "McHale" bing-watching. Unfortunately, there are no bonus extras.
In the course of a 1977 interview with Hollywood
correspondent Vernon Scott, American-International’s very own Samuel J. Arkoff,
the studio’s notorious penny-pinching producer, admitted to his mostly fiscal interest
in the horror film genre. “We got into
horror pictures [in 1955] when we discovered that without a big budget and
major stars our films were [relegated to] second features,” Arkoff reminisced. “I decided to make two pictures of the same
type and release them on the same bill… So we sent out The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues and The Day the World Ended as a pair and they cleaned up.”
Years later Arkoff would more completely
delineate his eminently prudent and successful marketing strategy to film
historian Tom Weaver. This insightful interview
with the irascible producer was included in Weaver’s seminal tome Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror
Heroes: the Mutant Melding of Two Volumes of Classic Interviews (McFarland,
1999). In essence, Arkoff revealed that,
as an independent, the box office receipts from the earliest films released
through the American Releasing Corporation (the original name of the company
that would morph into American-International Pictures), had been relatively
As nationwide theater chains were still mostly
controlled by the major studios when Arkoff first opened shop, his A.R.C.
features were only booked by cinema-owners as flat-fee rentals of nominal cost.
The films were also, more fatefully, consigned to the lower-half of a double
bill program; this was unfair as such second-bill status did not allow independents
to take a percentage of the total gross of a twin-bill. In the years following
a 1948 court-ordered anti-trust injunction against the major studios, Arkoff
began to deliver his own twin packaged films to theater owners. Such independent double-bills ensured that all
profit percentages would rightfully funnel into the pockets of the producers.
It almost goes without saying that The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues was a
purely exploitative title; an obvious attempt to capitalize on the name-recognition
coattails of several successful science-fiction films of the era. The chosen title instantly invoked allusions
to Universal-International’s Creature
from the Black Lagoon (1954), Ray Harryhausen’s visual effects vehicle The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953),
and Disney’s Academy Award winning 20,000
Leagues Under the Sea (1954). The
latter two films would, at the very least, get their measurements right… but
more on this later.
If there was any film that I never imagined
would enjoy a Blu-Ray release, it’s the non-acclaimed and universally scorned The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues. Having done so, one has to respect
Kino-Lorber’s self-aware decision to include Joe Dante’s (Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins) disparaging remarks concerning the
film’s dubious merit. There’s no
over-the-top self-serving ballyhoo present here, folks. Dante concludes his brief “Trailers from
Hell” supplement with these cautionary words: “I hardly know anybody who’s made
it all the way through The Phantom from
10,000 Leagues.” If nothing else, Dante’s
from-the-heart appraisal of the film’s dubious virtues proves he’s no
revisionist. He’s also not alone in his opinion;
amongst devotees of 1950s sci-fi, The
Phantom from 10,000 Leagues has a long established reputation as a talky,
turgidly paced snooze-fest disguised as a monster movie.
Nonetheless, there’s a fascinating back story
to all this. In 1962 Dante, then merely
one more disgruntled sixteen-year old horror movie fan, would fire off a letter
off to Forrest J. Ackerman, editor-emeritus of the influential 1960s/1970s
magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. In the course of his entertaining rant to the
editor, Dante suggested fifty films that, in his opinion, accounted for the
“worst horror films ever made.” The amused
Ackerman must have agreed with many of the youngster’s findings. He would later infamously assign Dante’s
“feeble fifty” to “the eternal fames of the brimstone pit” of horror-movie
history. The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues registered as “vapid” entry no. 38 on
Dante’s list, though it must be said this calculation was alphabetical rather
than meritorious in placement. To the
young letter-writers’ surprise, Ackerman chose to run his musings in the
magazine under the title “Dante’s Inferno,” an opinionated ten-page diatribe
that would cause no shortage of consternation amongst fans and the filmmakers
whose favorite films and/or contributions to celluloid history had been
commitment to Pam Grier and her Blaxploitation films of the seventies continues
with their latest package Sheba, Baby (1975). By the arrival of the mid-Seventies
Grier was at the top of her game, coming off such genre classics as Coffy
(1973) and Foxy Brown (1974) both directed by Jack Hill and both of which are
also available in superb releases from Arrow. Grier’s work for AIP continued in
explosive, fashionable style with Sheba, Baby and with new director William
Girdler at the helm. Sheba is without doubt a star vehicle that was tailor made
for exploiting Grier’s talents.
Shayne is a Chicago private eye who receives a telegram informing her of
trouble in her hometown of Louisville. The local mob boss, Pilot (D'Urville
Martin) has started to turn up the heat in trying to obtain her father’s loan
business. Along with her father Andy (Rudy Challenger), the business is run by
his partner Brick Williams (Austin Stoker), an instantly recognisable actor and
best known perhaps as Lt. Ethan Bishop from John Carpenter's cult classic
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). After several threats and a near fatal car bomb,
Sheba soon realises that the situation is becoming desperately out of control.
a few shaky moments in the script (credited to director Girdler and producer David
Sheldon), the film is carried in every respect by Grier’s scintillating screen
presence, she truly bosses the film, and looks fantastic in every frame. It’s a
film that should be enjoyed without too much scrutinising; accept it purely on
its surface level and you’ll find yourself smiling a whole lot and lapping up
the action. If your intention is to analyse it, then forget it. If you
scrutinise the problems in terms of continuity of dates, Sheba’s small quantity
of luggage (there’s a costume change in practically every scene), etc, then
you’ll be missing out on the action and overlooking its pure entertainment
value. The action scenes are plentiful and arrive fast and furious. Was this
film actually rated as PG upon its release? Look out for the car that spins
wildly off a grass verge, then look again to see how it misses Grier (on the
assumption it was her and not a stunt double) by a matter of inches. It is a pure
adrenalin pumping sequence. Yes, the film might be considered as routine and
stereotypical, even offensive in relation to its language (the ‘N’ word raises
its ugly head on several occasions), and the mob are of course pimped to the
max. But you’d be wise to let it go, as this is, after all, a product of its
time, and yes, it was almost considered as socially tolerated in the more discriminate
social culture of the seventies.
1080p presentation of Sheba, Baby can only be described as flawless. The
picture quality is as near to pristine as you could ever wish. Whist it retains
a generic low budget look, its colour grading delivers both a natural look and
just enough enhancement to emphasise those wonderful vivid colours of the
fashions and the times. The whole look manages to achieve a perfect balance.
Check out the film’s opening credits, the pin sharp yellow lettering almost
pops out from the screen. If they look familiar, you might just make the
comparison with Jackie Brown (1997), as director Quentin Tarantino uses the
exact same colour and font for his own Pam Grier movie. It’s not only homage,
but a deeper example of how Tarantino holds these movies so close to his heart.
The Blu-ray audio (original mono uncompressed PCM) is clean and clear
throughout, and allows the film’s soulful score (by Alex Brown and Monk Higgins)
to become an integral part of the experience. There are also a couple of great
vocals tracks (including the theme) provided by the American R&B/soul
singer Barbara Mason.
bonus material is both enjoyable and generous. First, there are two audio
commentaries, the first featuring producer-screenwriter David Sheldon and moderated
by critic Nathaniel Thompson. The second is provided by Patty Breen the
webmaster of WilliamGirdler.com. Breen’s commentary is actually a great deal of
fun; it’s a completely relaxed ‘fan’ style narration. Whilst Breen can’t help joking
about the film’s flaws and inconsistencies, it is never in malice and it’s
clear she absolutely adores every aspect of the movie.
Baby (15mins) is a brand new interview with David Sheldon who discusses his
role and his experience working on the movie and alongside director William
Girdler. Pam Grier: The AIP Years (12mins) does exactly what it says on the tin
and takes a look over the wonder years of the Blaxploitation queen with film
historian Chris Poggiali. The original theatrical trailer (2mins) and a
selection of publicity shots and lobby cards rounds off a very nice collection
of bonus material.
packaging consists of a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly
commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips, while the booklet features brand new
writing on the film by Patty Breen and is illustrated with both archive stills
Sheba, Baby is an excellent package and one that leaves us in hope that Arrow will
continue to explore Grier’s later American international Pictures such as Bucktown
(1975) and Friday Foster (1975). There’s little doubt that they would certainly
be welcomed and appreciated with open arms.
Technical Spec: Region: Region A/B Blu-ray / DVD 1/2, Rating:
15, Cat No: FCD1210, Duration: 90 mins, Language: English, Subtitles: English
SDH, Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, Audio: Mono, Discs: 2, Colour
"Gunman's Walk" is another obscure Western gem that has been given new life through a Blu-ray release by German-based Explosive Media. The 1958 production was filmed in CinemaScope, the widescreen process that studios relied on to combat the newly-evolved threat of television. Director Phil Karlson makes the most of the format and captures the grandeur of the open plains of Arizona and mountainous regions of California for a story of a dysfunctional family that manages to fracture even further despite the abundance of wealth it enjoys. Van Heflin plays Lee Hackett, a one-time pioneer who endured every kind of hardship and struggle to establish a ranch in hostile Indian territory. Over the years he became a state-wide legend by triumphing over adversity and by building a modest cattle ranch into an empire. Lee also helped establish the town which has now grown appreciably. Consequently he carries a lot of weight and political power with the locals. The story opens with Lee as a middle-aged widower who has two grown sons. Davy Hackett (James Darren) is the younger, a quiet, relatively shy young man with a thoughtful disposition. He is the polar opposite of his older brother Ed (Tab Hunter), an arrogant, mean-spirited person who is constantly getting into trouble. Lee prides himself on being a strict disciplinarian over his boys but in reality they realize that his bark is worse than his bite. (He even encourages them to call him by his first name.) Much to Davy's frustration, Lee constantly uses his influence to get Ed out of trouble. If he can't do it legally, he'll use bribery or intimidation.Even while Lee dotes over his eldest son, Ed has plenty of "daddy issues" with his father. He resents that he has been handed everything on a silver platter. He also is fed up with Lee's ego and constant self-aggrandizement for having endured Indian battles, gun fights and the extremities of nature in order to build and protect his business. Ed also accuses his father of wanting him under his control so that he'll never have the opportunity to become his own man and possibly exceed his Lee's achievements. Despite this tense relationship, Lee continues to spoil his eldest son even as he hopes he can exert a positive influence on him.
When Lee and his sons lead a major cattle drive into town the family relaxes afterward by living it up a bit. Lee and Ed don't adhere to the local sheriff's (Robert F. Simon) edict that no one can carry a gun in town and the sheriff is too intimidated to challenge them. Almost immediately Ed gets into trouble by getting drunk, frequenting prostitutes and insulting people- but things are about to get worse. On the prairie Ed and a local ranch hand who is a Sioux engage in what starts as a good-natured race to see who can rope a much-desired white stallion. When the other man threatens to win the prize, Ed shoves him and his horse over the side of a cliff, resulting in the man's death. Ed claims it was an accident but two other Sioux secretly witnessed the incident and report it to the sheriff, who finds his backbone and arrests Ed for murder. However Lee rides to the rescue again and gets his son off the hook by bribing a stranger to say he witnessed the incident and it was indeed an accident. But Ed doesn't learn his lesson and continues to cause trouble- this time with deadly consequences.
Despite being saddled with a "B" movie title, "Gunman's Walk" is a highly compelling, intelligently written drama that is packed with tension thanks to the able direction of Phil Karlson. The script addresses a number of hot-button issues such as abuse of wealth and the ugliness of racism, which were topics not usually covered in Westerns of the period. The film also affords Tab Hunter a role that has far more depth than the one dimensional hunks he was often saddled with playing. As Ed, he is a tragic figure- a man to be despised, yet pitied. Hunter gives a fine performance, at times managing to be charismatic and almost likable before spiraling back into villainy. He's more than matched by old pro Van Heflin, who gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as a man who created his own living hell by over-indulging the son he loves so much. James Darren is capable but rather unexciting as the younger brother, but the part doesn't have much meat to it to begin with. Katherine Grant is fine as a young woman who Darren is trying to romance despite the fact that she is half-Sioux and is looked upon as inferior by his brother and father. As with most Westerns of this era, the cast is peppered with fine character actors. Among them: Mickey Shaughnessy, Robert F. Simon, Ray Teal and Edward Platt. In all, "Gunman's Walk" is a truly fine Western that has been unjustly overlooked for decades.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray is top-notch, as is generally the case with this company's releases. It includes both English and German dubbed versions of the movie along with an interesting stills gallery accompanied by Tab Hunter crooning the Western song "Runaway", which he sings in a pivotal sequence in the film.
(Explosive Media titles are primarily available through Amazon Germany. However, you can often find imports available on eBay and other Amazon sites around the globe. Explosive Media Blu-rays are region free.)
men find peace and friendship as they uncover a mystery in the Yorkshire
countryside. “A Month in the Country” is one of those elegant movies about a
bygone era in post Victorian England that has become enormously popular in
movies such as those produced by Merchant-Ivory and in TV series like the recent
“Downton Abbey.” The exploration of class distinctions and gender roles has
been a staple in English drama in movies and TV for decades and the audience
appears to always be hungry for more. The likes of Austen, Bronte and Dickens
and stores of England through WWII have provided fertile ground for countless
tales that continue to fascinate and entertain.
Month in the Country” features early career performances by Colin Firth and
Kenneth Branagh. Both actors went on to enormous success and in the case of
Branagh, as a successful director, too. Firth and Branagh were born to feature
in period pieces like this and they both do an excellent job carrying the movie
with believable performances. Natasha Richardson is also on hand and gives an
equally excellent performance as the lovely vicar’s wife.
two central characters, Tom Birkin (Firth) and James Moon (Branagh) are veterans
of the latest “war to end all wars”, commonly known as WWI, and suffer from what
was then known as “shell-shock” and later “battle fatigue,” (now known as post-traumatic
stress syndrome or PTSD), an often misunderstood and misdiagnosed symptom of
continuous exposure to the extreme violence of war. Each man is in the small
town of Oxgoodby to work, but instead uncover a secret. Birkin is removing the
paint and restoring a long forgotten mural in the local church. Moon has been
hired to find the ancient grave of a local resident. The secret behind both the
painting and the grave are at the center of the story as both men come to terms
with their emotional wounds.
church mural dates to the Middle Ages and a local patron is paying the church
for the restoration. The vicar is less than enthusiastic about the scaffolding
and feels the mural will be a distraction, but grudgingly allows Birkin to
sleep in the belfry while he works on revealing the picture. Moon is more
interested in the prospect of locating buried treasures than in finding the
grave and both he and Birkin become friends. Moon has his own demons and suffers
from nightmares while sleeping in a hole he dug beneath his tent. He tells
Birkin it makes him feel safe. Birkin stutters (a precursor to Firth’s “The
King’s Speech” stutter) as a consequence of his emotional breakdown. Both men
enjoy the solitude and peace of the countryside as they uncover the layers of
paint and earth which cover their respective projects. They form a bond with
each other and the people of Oxgoodby as they uncover and expose their
plays Alice Keach, the aforementioned vicar’s wife. Young and beautiful, she
seeks out Birkin and brings him apples. Moon suggests the possibility of chemistry
between them and the way things usually work in these period stories is that a
romance develops. However, this isn’t a story about romance and love affairs.
It turns out Birkin is married and has a wife somewhere. Birkin also befriends
the local station master Ellerbeck (Jim Carter, the head butler in “Downton
Abby”) and his delightful children.
emotionally scarred, Birkin is also a bit of a jerk and resents that nobody in
the town, particularly the vicar who lives in a large empty house with his
wife, has invited him for dinner or offered lodging. Just then the station
master Ellerbeck’s children, Kathy and Edgar, arrive with food and a gramophone
to entertain Birkin as he works. They also invite him for lunch, which he
is also a local lay-preacher, the fire and brimstone type, although he’s a
friendly and kindly husband, father and friend. He sends Birkin off to his
afternoon sermon and Birkin reluctantly agrees. The children accompany Birkin,
who attempts his own fire and brimstone sermon, but instead discusses his work
in the Oxgoodby church. Afterwards he has dinner with a family who lost a son
in the war and later visits a dying girl who is at peace with her illness. All this
has an effect on Birkin as he continues working on the mural. Moon discovers the
lost grave and the mystery behind the mural and the grave are revealed. As the
movie ends a letter arrives for Birkin from his wife and both men depart on new
projects, restored to a type of normalcy.
movie is filled with terrific performances, beautiful scenery, feelings of
melancholy, a longing for what could have been and the experience of a life
lived. The movie runs a leisurely 96 minutes and includes a wonderful score by
Howard Blake. Directed by Pat O’Connor and based on the novel by J.L. Carr, it was
released in 1987 and features outstanding location photography.
Blu-ray features an insightful commentary by Twilight Time regulars Julie Kirgo
and Nick Redman who reveal the movie was lost in a sort of movie limbo and
remained unseen for decades. Kirgo and Redman are classic movie enthusiasts and
listening to them makes you feel like you are in their company. Be sure to watch
the movie a second time with the commentary. The disc also features the trailer,
isolated music & effects track and a booklet with notes by Kirgo. This is a limited edition of 3,000 units.
What do you do when you despise the person most likely to bring your goals to fruition? We're not talking about the Republican establishment's dilemma with Donald Trump but, rather, the central plot premise faced by the U.S. Olympic ski team coach (portrayed by Gene Hackman) in director Michael Ritchie's acclaimed 1969 film "Downhill Racer". The protagonist of the movie is one Dave Chappellet (Robert Redford), an almost impossibly handsome young man from the rural town of Idaho Springs, Colorado, who has a single-minded obsession of being America's first gold medal winner for downhill skiing in an era when the sport was dominated by Europeans. With his good looks and superficial charm, Chappellet is used to being a big fish in a small pond. He is virtually penniless and, when not practicing on the slopes of European mountains, is forced to eek out an existence by living with his cold, unemotional father (non-professional actor Walter Stroud in a striking performance.) He has no career plans beyond his single-minded obsession with getting on the Olympic team. His lack of intellectual curiosity or abilities to socialize with others don't seem to phase him. Like any narcissist he savors any small victory as a sign of his superiority over the peasants he must occasionally interact with.Chappellet lacks any self-awareness or introspection. He takes a cocky delight in being able to drive down the main street of his one-horse town, pick up a local old flame and get her to have sex in the back seat of a car. He seems oblivious to the fact that the battered vehicle belongs to his father and that he doesn't even have a place of his own to carry out his carnal activities. Chappellet gets the big break he is looking for when a top skier on the Olympic team suffers a grievous injury. The team coach, Claire, calls in Chappellet to replace him. From the start, their relationship is a rocky one. It becomes clear that Chappellet is not a team player. He skis superbly and Claire recognizes him as the team's potential best hope for victory. However, he is also alarmed by his independent streak and his inability to follow protocols. Chappellet is in this for personal glory and his teammates are viewed as unnecessary distractions. True, he can go through the rituals of socializing. He's polite to his roommate and occasionally joins the other guys for beers, butChappellet is clearly a vacuous, self-absorbed figure. The film traces his achievements on the slope and Claire's unsuccessful attempts to turn him into a team player. Chaplette also meets a vivacious business woman in the sports industry, Carole (Camilla Sparv). He's instantly smitten by her exotic good looks and libertarian outlook toward sex. The two begin an affair but it turns sour when Chaplette can't accept the fact that Carole is an emancipated young woman who marches to her own beat. Her unwillingness to dote over him or to treat their relationship as anything but superficial bruises his ego. In Chaplette's world, it is he who treats sex partners like disposable objects, not the other way around. The film concludes with Chaplette and his teammates engaging in the make-or-break competition against top-line European skiers to see who can bring home the gold.
The Best of Frenemies: Redford and Hackman
"Downhill Racer" was a dream project of Robert Redford, who had championed the film, which is based on a screenplay by James Salter. Redford's star had risen appreciably with Paramount following the success of "Barefoot in the Park". The studio wanted to do another film with him and suggested that he play the male lead in the forthcoming screen adaption of "Rosemary's Baby". Redford pushed for "Downhill Racer", a film that the Paramount brass had dismissed as being too non-commercial. (This was before Redford would reach super stardom with the release of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".) Thus began a game of brinksmanship between Redford and the studio. He managed to get Paramount to supply a small budget ($2 million) and creative control over the project to him and Roman Polanski, who was enthused about directing the film. However, the studio made a counter-move and lured Polanski to direct "Rosemary's Baby". Annoyed, Redford had to find a new director and settled on Michael Ritchie, and up-and-coming talent who was eager to make the transition from television into feature films. He and Redford, along with their tiny crew, used their limited budget to travel to international ski competitions in order to film real life action on the slopes that could later be combined into the final cut of their movie. For all their efforts, "Downhill Racer" was a boxoffice disappointment and would be overshadowed by the release of "Butch Cassidy" later in 1969. Yet its a film that Redford is justifiably proud of. There are many admirable aspects of the production, not the least of which is Redford's compelling performance as a protagonist who is not very likable or sympathetic. He's also not very intelligent, either, a character flaw that doesn't seem to bother him much, as he feels he can get by on his looks. The down side of "Downhill Racer" is that when the central character is a total cad the viewer finds it hard to be concerned with his fate, unless there is a major dramatic payoff as in the case of Andy Griffith in "A Face in the Crowd" or Paul Newman in "Hud", two of the most notorious characters in screen history. Where "Downhill Racer" blows it is in the final sequence during the championship ski run. There was an excellent opportunity to end the movie on a poignant note but the movie punts and leads to an emotionally unsatisfying ending. Nevertheless the exotic scenery and fine performances (especially by Hackman, who is under-seen and under-used) compensate for a story that is as chilling as the locations in which it was filmed.
Criterion has upgraded their previously released DVD special edition to Blu-ray and it looks spectacular. There is a wealth of interesting extras, all ported over from the previous release. These include separate interviews conducted in 2009 with Robert Redford and James Salter. I found them to be most enlightening because I was blaming Salter, as the screenwriter, for being responsible for the film's unsatisfying ending. Lo and behold, Salter expresses the same exasperation. Apparently his original script called for the more dramatic finale that I was envisioning. However, he says that Redford made the change without his permission. It's still apparently a sore spot with him. For his part, Redford is defensive about the decision, saying that he felt the the ending he insisted upon was the correct choice (Note: it wasn't.) It would be interesting to see Redford and Salter lock horns over this in the same interview at some point. In any event, Redford's enthusiasm for the film is evident even if it seems to exceed that of audiences. To reiterate, it's a fine movie with many qualities but Redford has had superior, under-appreciated gems in his career. Other bonus extras on the Blu-ray include interviews with editor Richard Harris (whose work on the film is most impressive), production executive Walter Coblenz and champion skier Joe Jay Jalbert who was hired as a technical consultant and became indispensable on the production, serving as double and cameraman. The footage he captured skiing at high speed with a hand-held camera is all the more amazing because he was a novice at shooting film. There is also a vintage production featurette from 1969 and a very interesting one-hour audio interview of director Michael Ritchie at an American Film Institute Q&A session in 1977. The affable Ritchie was there to promote his latest film "Semi-Tough" but goes into great detail about how he became disillusioned with the constraints of working in the television industry where directors at that time were just hired guns whose creative ideas and instincts were constantly being suppressed. Ritchie tells an extended anecdote about shooting an episode of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." during which he came up with a suggestion to improve a key scene in the script. He was told to mind his own business by the producer (who he doesn't name). When series' star Robert Vaughn agreed with him, Ritchie shot an alternate version of the scene that was met with enthusiasm by the network. Instead of being congratulated, he was blackballed from the series henceforth. Ritchie would go on to make some very fine films including "The Candidate" (again with Redford), the wacko-but-mesmerizing crime thriller "Prime Cut", "The Bad News Bears" and others. However he never lived up to his full potential and ended up directing many middling films before his untimely death at age 63 in 2001. The AFI audio included here is a rare opportunity to listen to his views on filmmaking while he was at the height of his career. The Blu-ray set also contains the original trailer and a collectible booklet with essay by Todd McCarthy.
The German video label Explosive Media has another impressive release with the largely unheralded 1969 Western "Land Raiders", which the company has released on Blu-ray. The film was largely dumped on secondary markets for drive-in audiences and rural theaters in a year that saw such high profile Westerns as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "True Grit" and "The Wild Bunch". Small wonder it didn't receive much attention. Not helping matters was its rather lame title which doesn't even represent the main focus of the story. The movie was yet another in the seemingly endless line of European Westerns that went into high gear a few years earlier with the success of the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone trilogy. "Land Raiders" rises to the top echelon of those homages (rip-offs?) thanks in large part to the presence of some seasoned Hollywood veterans. The movie was produced by Charles H. Schneer, a frequent collaborator of special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. The direction is by Nathan Juran, who was on Oscar-winning art director who turned to directing many of the Schneer/Harryhausen films. This project represented a rather odd subject matter for Schneer and Juran, as they generally stayed within the realm of science fiction and fantasy. (Juran had directed many episodes of Irwin Allen TV shows in the 1960s including "Lost in Space" and "The Time Tunnel".) What possessed them to tag onto the fading genre of spaghetti westerns is open to speculation but it must be said that they delivered a surprisingly intelligent, well-acted movie that overcomes some of its production shortcomings.
Telly Savalas plays Vicente Cardenas, an evil land baron (are there any other kind?) who is attempting to forsake his Mexican heritage in order to build a successful empire in the American West. He controls the local government in a small but booming town and even has the sheriff, John Mayfield (Phil Brown), under his thumb because he has been financing the education of Mayfield's teenage daughter Kate (Janet Landgard), who is unaware of the deal with the devil he has made with Vicente. Vicente has an insatiable desire to keep expanding the territory under his control and is willing to use ruthless methods in order to achieve his goal. If he can't buy someone's loyalty he will use sheer brutality to intimidate them. Vicente also has a macabre bounty that is drawing miscreants to the territory: he is offering a cash reward for every Apache scalp delivered to him. On the surface he pretends to be a man of the people. He even has a glamorous American wife, Martha (Arlene Dahl), who continues to be willfully blind to her husband's brutality, as it affords her a luxurious lifestyle. But Vicente has mastered the art of instilling fear into the hearts of the local population and convincing them that he represents the the strong man who can keep them safe. (He should have run for U.S. president...) Into the mix rides Vicente's estranged brother Pablo (George Maharis). He's a depressed, motiveless drifter who is still nursing a broken heart over the death of his fiancee a couple of years earlier. When he learned she was carrying another man's baby, the couple got into a very public row. Soon after she was found dead, presumably as the victim of an accident. However, the local population became convinced that Pablo murdered her. He has stayed away for quite some time but is forced to enter town again when he saves Kate Mayfield from an attack by Apaches. His presence in the town sets off predictable tensions with Vicente, who attempts to patch up differences but finds that Pablo will have none of it. He's well aware of his brother's duplicity. Meanwhile Vicente gets some disturbing news from U.S. Army Major Tanner (Guy Rolfe): the government is attempting to broker a peace treaty with the Apaches and is sending a representative to meet with them. The government intends to cede to the Apaches a wide swath of land that Vicente depends upon to use as open range for his cattle. In short order he convinces Major Tanner to become an ally to help him thwart the deal. What Tanner doesn't know is that Vicente has his thugs murdered the government agent and framed the Apaches for the deed. Vicente then rallies the locals to make a raid on the Apache camp. Pablo tries to convince the citizens that Vicente was behind the murder, but no one believes him. What follows is a horrendous massacre of innocent Apache women and children. The Apache braves understandably want revenge and launch their own raid on the town. In the midst of all this Pablo learns some vital information regarding the death of his beloved fiancee that leads him to settle the score with Vicente even as the Apache attack begins.
The most surprising aspect of "Land Raiders" is how effectively it had been cast. Nearly all the roles are convincingly played, with Savalas in full bad guy mode, chewing up a lot of scenery and dominating every frame he is in. However, Maharis, never the most dynamic of leading men, holds his own against him and even manages to be convincing as a Mexican. The story has some implications that go beyond standard horse opera fodder. The movie was released the same year as "Soldier Blue" and both films bucked the trend by painting Native Americans as victims of genocide. If the massacre sequence in "Land Raiders" isn't as stomach-turning as that in "Soldier Blue", it's still somewhat shocking in its depiction of the brutal killings. The script also delves into the philosophical differences between Vicente and Pablo over retaining their ties to their Mexican heritage. So "Land Raiders" is a notch above most of the simplistic shoot-'em-up plots that defined the majority of European Westerns during this period. The movie is compromised by the use of some obvious stock footage in scenes of stampedes and cattle drives (the film stock doesn't come close to matching), but it does have several impressively-staged action sequences including the large scale attack on the town by Apaches. It's all competently directed by Nathan Juran and set to the requisite Ennio Morricone-cloned score by Bruno Nicolai that at times could pass as the work of "The Master". "Land Raiders" is by no means a classic but it has stood the test of time as an impressive entry in the Euro Western genre.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray has a wonderful transfer, the original trailer, a highly enjoyable still photo gallery and variations of the opening credits. The Blu-ray is primarily available from Amazon Germany under it's German title "Fahr Zur Holle, Gringo" ("Go to Hell, Gringo") but you can sometimes find imports on your local Amazon or eBay.
Most urban crime thrillers made today are indistinguishable blood baths that consist of mindless car chases and pretentiously tough characters. Every now and then, however, a real unsuspected gem surfaces. Such is the case with the 2015 film "Criminal Activities". Despite its generic, computer-generated title that sounds like it was created to emulate one of the endless CBS crime series, the film is expertly made and superbly acted. It also has some very clever plot twists and turns that play out logically and very surprisingly. Most impressive is that this marks the directorial debut of character actor Jackie Earl Haley, who has been kicking around the industry for decades mostly in minor roles. Now in his fifties, he's made a dynamic impression both on-screen and behind the camera with "Criminal Activities". One must proceed gingerly in reviewing a film like this, 'lest some of the spoilers be divulged.
The film opens with the death of a seemingly troubled young man who is killed by a bus in front of horrified on-lookers. It's presumed to have been a suicide. After his funeral, some of his friends gather to discuss the tragic event. They are Warren (Christopher Abbott), Bryce (Rob Brown) and Zach (Michael Pitt). They are unexpectedly joined by Noah (Dan Stevens) , a nerdy financial investment analyst who was the butt of jokes in high school among some of his friends. He's still very much a nerd but is reluctantly accepted into the group's social orbit partly out of compassion for the way he was treated by them so many years ago. Over drinks the group analyzes why their friend might have ended his life. It's revealed that the dearly departed had been complaining about being followed by some unknown person or persons in recent days...something that unnerved him. Is it possible this stalker might have actually been responsible for his death? The conversation soon turns to money...and the common goal of everyone in the group to attain a successful life style. Bryce says he has a sure-fire investment scheme based on insider trading. There is a stock that is about to skyrocket but they would need to come up with $200,000 to get in on the deal. Collectively they don't have anywhere near that amount. However, Noah advises that he can definitely front the money, as long as they all share the risk as well as the profit. Assuming Noah is putting up his own savings, the young men readily agree. Weeks later, the "sure-fire" investment goes to hell when the company involved is raided by the feds and its CEO is arrested, causing the stock value to plunge to virtually zero. The panicked group gets together and learns more bad news: Noah didn't put up his own money. Instead, he borrowed it from a local crime kingpin, Eddie (John Travolta) who now expects to be repaid. He meets with the terrified men and they find him to be a smooth operator. He's quiet, calm and witty- but alerts them that the "interest" on the loan is another $200,000. The men advise him that they can't possibly come up with $400,000. He then makes them an offer they literally can't refuse - or they will pay with their lives. Eddie explains that a local rival crime boss has kidnapped his young niece and he's desperate to get her back. He advises them that he will forgive their entire debt if they successfully kidnap his rival's nephew. Eddie will then ensure the release of his niece by arranging a trade of hostages. The four men are understandably frightened by the proposition. After all, they are every day guys with no experience in criminal activities. Nevertheless, Eddie leaves them no choice. He makes it abundantly clear that failure is not an option-at least if they value their lives. The men concoct a scenario to kidnap the nephew, Marques (Edi Gathegi) from a local sleazy nightclub he hangs out in. The men bungle key aspects of the plan but, against all odds, succeed in capturing Marques and bringing him to a vacant apartment they have access to. They advise Eddie that the plan was a success and he tells them everything is looking good- just keep Marques on ice until he gets his niece back. Marques proves to be a handful. He speaks in street jive that is a far cry from the vernacular used by his Gen X white captors. Although tied to a chair, he exudes significant enough charisma to possibly talk his kidnappers into releasing him on the basis that they can still get away with no criminal charges. From this point on, it would be a disservice to detail more of the plot except to say that things wrap up in a startling manner that this viewer didn't see coming.
Director Jackie Earl Haley, who wrote the screenplay based on a script by the late Robert Lowell that had been gathering dust since 1977, provides himself with a plum supporting role as the most memorable of a two-man team of hit men who are in Eddie's employ. The concept of two eccentric hit men had moss on it even before Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson played such roles so memorably in "Pulp Fiction". In fact, Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager were terrific in similar parts way back in Don Siegel's 1964 remake of "The Killers"- and Robert Webber and Gig Young were also quite good in Peckinpah's "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia". However, Haley is superb in his brief scenes on screen as a chatty, seemingly friendly street guy who can jump from making quips to blowing someone's head off in a nanosecond. The entire cast is superb, with Dan Stevens particularly memorable as the hapless Noah and Edi Gathegi almost stealing the entire show with an extremely good performance. Travolta, who also served as Executive Producer, seems to be having a blast as the villain. His screen time is limited but he makes the most of it, appearing at key points in the plot. In essence, he's playing a low-end version of a Bond villain. He lives in comparative wealth, has adoring women around him and sucks down dreadful kale-based milk shakes as part of a bizarre diet. He never loses his temper and becomes even scarier the more friendly he acts. As director, Haley keeps the action flowing at a swift pace and credible reactions by the "kidnappers" that evoke the way most of us would feel if we found ourselves caught up in such extraordinary circumstances. However, Haley-who is too obsessed with Tarantino-izing his film- puts style over substance during the movie's surprising final sequence. It proves to be a near fatal error. When the surprises are revealed, Haley does so in a lightning-fast sequence that is almost impossible to comprehend. Worse, he jumps back and forth in time and introduces a key character we haven't seen before. I had to revisit the ending several times in order to comprehend exactly what was being unveiled. Once I understood the plot development, I found it highly satisfying- but no viewer should have to rely on taking such measures just to figure out what is going on. "Criminal Activities" was denied a theatrical release and went straight to home video. Perhaps the incomprehensible nature of the ending was a factor in this. Nevertheless, if you are willing to stick with it (and possibly re-review scenes on the Blu-ray), you might well agree that this is a highly entertaining film and that Haley shows considerable promise as a director.
The Blu-ray from RLJ Entertainment features some deleted scenes and an all-too-brief joint interview with Haley and Travolta. The film should have included a commentary track, as Haley's late break into directing and his nurturing of an almost ancient un-filmed screenplay would have made some interesting points for discussion.
Ed. Kier-La Janisse & Paul
Corupe (2015) Spectacular Optical Publications
$29.95 CAN / £17.95 UK
Review by Diane Rodgers
Those around in the 1980s may well
remember hysteria about 'video nasties' and the fevered destruction of records in
America bearing the (then new) Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics label, fuelled
by fears of a pervading obsession with evil amongst youth and popular culture. Satanic
Panic studies this moral frenzy from a vast array of perspectives in
fascinating depth, outlining the fears of anxious parents and a confused mainstream
culture about teens supposedly embroiled in Satanic cults and potentially carrying
out ritual abuse, devil worship, suicide or murder at any given moment.
Following the rise of interest
in the occult from the 1960s onward, it's easy to see why Reagan's America,
still reeling from the confusion of Vietnam and the implications for the 'American
Dream', morality and family values, latched onto something so easily
sensationalised as a scapegoat to blame for all of society's problems. Satanic Panic builds this picture
brilliantly throughout; each chapter looks at a different aspect of pop-culture
- specific films, comics, music, TV, RPGs, infamous trials, MTV, home video, evangelists
and preachers, but never dwells on already well-trodden subjects; the editors
have gone to some lengths to find plenty of material covering new ground.
Films like Evilspeak (1981) and 976-EVIL (1988) consider adult anxieties
fantasised onto youth culture and their apparent susceptibility to 'techno
devilry'. Kevin Ferguson suggests that
the real hidden fear is the invasion of telephone and computer technology in
the home. Role playing games like
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) are case studies which faced significant and
widespread criticism from Christian detractors who saw the gaming community as
"a Satanic conspiracy threatening society". Gavin Baddeley (once offered an honorary
priesthood by satanic cult leaderAnton LaVey) discusses an outspoken D&D detractor
Christian personality William Schnoebelen who, by his own admission, used to be
a Satanist and a vampire before becoming 'born again' and evangelising on the
evils of RPGs. More often than not, here
and throughout the book, it is shown to be these detractors (rather than the
merely rebellious teen participants), who believe in the power of the
supernatural and the evils of magic in a very real way and thus cause plenty of
Paul Corupe covers the
Christian comic art of Jack T. Chick who, amongst many dubious choices, gave a
platform to controversial figure Dr. Rebecca Brown who lost her medical licence
in 1984 for misdiagnosing patients (blaming sickness on demon manifestations
and witchcraft, amongst other causes), suffering herself from paranoid
schizophrenia and demonic delusions. Satanic Panic 's host of writers
(including experts, enthusiasts and academics) frequently argue the case
successfully; the loudest detractors of the 'Satanic Panic' were actually often
the ones causing damage, and usually in their pursuit for fame, greed or
notoriety. There are serious cases here;
that of Michelle Smith and her notorious Michelle
Remembers memoir (1980), co-written by therapist Dr. Lawrence Pazder, about
Satanic ritual abuse, detailing physical, psychological and sexual
torture. From the evidence Alexandra
Heller-Nicholas gives, Pazder cashed in on and sensationalised what may have
been a far more unremarkable but no less tragic case of child abuse. The infamous case of Ricky Kasso (who
savagely murdered a fellow teen in 1984) is also highlighted for discussion,
influential on films like River's Edge
(1986) and songs by bands like Sonic Youth (Satan is Boring, 1985).
It is easy to forget the size
of such a moral panic from almost 40 years ago, but Joshua Benjamin Graham's 'Fundamentalist
readings of occult in cartoons of the 1980s' is a reminder of its full extent;
it seems laughable now that worry about violence and Satanism was so widespread
at the time that people thought a cartoon He-Man calling on the power of
Greyskull actually meant that "our children are being taught by TV today
to call on demons..."! Stacy
Rusnak's perceptive analysis of the demonization of MTV details battles over
(American) family values and moral issues like abortion, pornography and drugs
and how the explosion of music video was challenging to the dominant
hegemony. Rusnak explains how MTV gave
strong anti-authoritarian representation to the jeans, leather jacket and
shaggy hair generation and thus became a target in itself for Tipper Gore and
other wives of high-ranking members of Congress who founded the Parent's Music
Resource Centre (PMRC) ; "as though MTV was more accountable for America's
children than the parents".
A centrepiece to the book, and
the entire Satanic moral panic itself, is Alison Lang's chapter on the Geraldo
Rivera TV special Devil Worship: Exposing
Satan's Underground (1988). Most chapters
in the book at least refer to this inflammatory show, due to its notoriety and influence
on the outrage of the time, which the New York Times described as an
"obscene masquerade". From
Lang's description, Rivera's programme sounds like Chris Morris' Brasseye Paedogeddon! special (2001), an
intentionally outrageous parody of tabloid TV on yet another moral panic of the
modern age. However, this doesn't make
Rivera's reportage any less shocking. His scandalous claim of 1 million practising Satanists in America
carrying out sex abuse pornography and satanic ritual abuse (which Lang points
out was a phenomenon since debunked by FBI) was entirely unsubstantiated. Rivera uses no scientific or academic
evidence for his claims, but rather conjecture, opinion and bullying to extract
rapid fire soundbites from his guests, requesting they use words of "...
no more than two syllables - we're dealing with an audience with the mental
capacity of 13-year-olds here". From contemptuous to downright offensive, Lang summarises Rivera's show
as hilarious and troubling; pure sensationalist 'entertainment'.
Many chapters in the book
concern music, film or pure pulp fiction that were intended as such
'exploitainment', cashing in on the easily sensationalised, but the outrage and
hysteria caused are clearly where the danger lies in Satanic Panic. The book is a
mine of information with plenty of full-page images, posters and stills to whet
your appetite further, with a deliciously glossy set of full colour images at
the back. Topics cover everything
relevant from the kitsch, fun and tabloid to sincerely perceptive and philosophical,
I already have a rapidly growing must-see list of films, comics and TV specials
to follow up next!
It is important to remember
seriously, however, that for every perceptive adult that sees such a movement
of purported Satanism as merely a teenage "... rejection against the
standards their parents represent..." (as Leslie Hatton quotes Revered
Graham Walworth, a pastor local to the Ricky Kasso case), there will be an
outraged Tipper Gore or fundamentalist group looking for something or someone to
blame for all societal problems. Lisa
Ladoucer, writing about the PMRC and heavy metal, cites the devastating case of
the West Memphis Three. Three teenagers were tried, convicted and jailed for
almost 20 years for the murder of three young boys based on no real evidence
other than a suspicion that one of the teens may be a devil worshipper as he
had expressed interest in metal music and the occult; new DNA evidence led to
their release in 2011. That, Ladoucer
writes, "...is the power of Satan."
Scott plays a former Confederate spy in the 1953 western “The Stranger Wore a
Gun.” When the movie starts, Jeff Travis (Scott) is involved in a brutal murder
during the final days of the Civil War while spying for Quantrill' Raiders, a
gang of notorious Confederate guerrillas. A wanted man after the war, Travis
heads west to Arizona to start a new life. Josie Sullivan (Claire Trevor) helps
him escape from a river boat and meets up with him later in Arizona. Travis
also meets up with one of his former Quantrill Raider associates, Jules Mourret
(George Macready), who offers him a position in his new gang of outlaws so he
can continue to steal “Yankee gold.”
wants Travis to continue his old ways as a spy and pretends to be a detective
sent by the stage line to investigate recent gold robberies. Travis meets the local
stage line owner Jason Conroy (Pierre Watkin) and his pretty daughter Shelby
(Joan Weldon) and both take a liking to him. Travis plays Mourret against rival
gang leader Degas (Alfonso Bedoya) and tries to turn Mourret’s own men against
each other. Dan Kurth (Lee Marvin) and Bull Slager (Ernest Borgnine) are part
of Mourret’s gang of cutthroats and naturally they don’t trust Travis.
movie is filled with action scenes staged for the 3-D camera and they look a
bit silly on the flat screen. However, the movie has high production value,
fine performances and is high on action with one particularly brutal scene of a
man having objects shot off his head by a drunk Degas and his equally drunk sidekick
as the man begs for his life. Travis shows up and departs, leaving Degas to
continue his deadly game. The move comes to a predictable conclusion with a
fire, gunfights and Travis and Josie departing on the stage together.
and Scott made six movies together, all westerns; “Man in the Saddle” (1951),
“Carson City” (1952), “The Stranger Wore a Gun” (1953), “Thunder Over the
Plains” (1953), “Riding Shotgun” (1954) and “The Bounty Hunter” (1954). DeToth
was known for the gritty depiction of violence in his movies, many of them
crime thrillers and westerns, but he is also remembered as the director of one
of the greatest horror movies ever made. No stranger to 3-D, he helmed the horror masterpiece, “House of Wax” for
Warner Bros. in the same year he made “The Stranger Wore a Gun.” The irony is
that the Hungarian born director only had one eye and lacked the depth
perception to enjoy the fruits of his 3-D labor. Yet he directed what is
considered to be both the greatest 3-D movie and one of the best horror flicks
ever made. The first wave of 3-D movies was released throughout the 1950s, but
the process was costly and cumbersome with few theaters set up to project in the
duel strip 3-D process.
chose the right director for a 3-D western, but this movie was only shown in
that format in its early engagements. Watching it in 2-D one can still see
where 3-D effects were used as guns are fired, flaming torches, chairs and
whisky bottles are tossed directly toward the camera at every opportunity.
Explosive Media DVD is Region 2 so
you’ll need the appropriate player (though some viewers report they had no
problem playing it on their Region 1 units.) The movie audio options are German
and the original English. Extras include a photo montage of advertising
material and a couple of trailers, including one where Scott promotes the
virtues of three dimensions, Technicolor and stereo. The picture and sound
quality are terrific and the movie concludes after a brisk 79 minutes. Well
worth the time for classic western fans.
Explosive Media titles are primarily available through Amazon Germany. However,
imports often turn up on eBay and Amazon in other countries.)
Back in 1978, Burt Reynolds was still at the beginning of
a cycle of six action comedies that he made with director Hal Needham—a cycle
that started with “Smokey and the Bandit “(1977) and ended with “Cannonball Run
II” (1984). One of the best of these
films was “Hooper”—a tribute to Hollywood’s unsung hero, the Hollywood stunt
man. “Hooper” was a very personal film for both Reynolds and Needham who both
started their movie careers as stunt doubles. Needham started doing stunt work
in the early years of live TV in New York and is best remembered for his stunt
driving in Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt” (1968). Reynolds also began in TV and
parlayed his athletic ability along with his good looks to become one of
tinseltown’s biggest stars. In a very real way, “Hooper” is even more personal
film for Reynolds, because one of the characters in the film is based on a
legendary, real-life stunt man/movie star, whom Reynolds knew personally and in
“Hooper” begins with opening credits superimposed over
Sonny Hooper (Reynolds) putting on braces, ace bandages, and padding over a
body bearing multiple scars. “March of the Toreadors” plays on the soundtrack
as he dons a motorcycle outfit and strides out into the sunlight to perform a
dangerous stunt, skidding a motorcycle under a moving truck. He’s working on a
spy movie starring Adam West who appears in the film as himself. That stunt
completed, next day he takes a high fall off a roof with a dog. “Make me look
good,” West tells him. But it’s after that fall we discover Sonny’s got a bad
back. He gets his friend Cully (James Best) to walk him to his trailer, where
he gives him a shot of Xylocaine. “You know what I’d do if I ever met the guy
who invented Xylocaine?” Sonny asks. “I’d get on my knees and kiss his ass.”
In the meantime, a new younger stuntman said to be the
next Sonny Hooper, arrives on the scene. Ski (Jan Michael Vincent) meets Sonny
during filming of a chariot race scene. Although he sees Ski as a threat, Sonny
can’t help liking the young up-and-comer. For one thing, the kid is damn good
at what he does. Maybe too good. As the story progresses, Sonny realizes the
new generation of stunt players coming up are smarter and tougher, if not better
than he and his contemporaries were. “They don’t take pills,” he tells Cully, “they
don’t drink, they don’t take shots, and they carry little pocket calculators.
We don’t watch out, they’re gonna blow us right out of the tub.”
The story follows a simple straight line, the old timer
trying to keep up with the younger rival even if it costs him his life. His
doctor tells Hooper that his vertebrae are torn almost beyond repair. One heavy
impact or fall could paralyze him for life. Naturally the film leads to a
climax that calls for Hooper and Ski to perform the greatest stunt ever
filmed—one that involves jumping a rocket car 325 feet over a collapsed bridge.
In addition to the main plot line there is a subplot that
in a way is even more interesting than the rest of the movie, once you know the
inside story. Hooper has a sweetheart, a gal named Gwen, played, of course by
Sally Field, Reynolds’ main squeeze at the time. Gwen has a father, Jocko Doyle
(Brian Keith) who was once known as the greatest stunt man alive. It’s no
coincidence that in real life Sally Field’s stepfather was none other than Jock
Mahoney one of the greatest stuntmen who ever lived. Keith first appears on
horseback wearing a fringed buckskin jack, the kind that was Mahoney’s trade
mark when he played the Range Rider, a Gene-Autry produced TV series that aired
in the 1950s. Mahoney, who was known in the trade and by his friends as
“Jocko,” had been a stunt double for Charles Starrett in the Durango Kid
features. He played Yancy Derringer on a CBS series and went on to play Tarzan
in two features that were filmed in Asia. Unfortunately, he contracted dysentery
and dengue fever while on location in Thailand and his general health took a
heavy hit. During the filming of an episode of the Kung Fu TV series in the
seventies Mahoney suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheel chair for some
I mention all this because near the end of Act Two of “Hooper,”
Jocko Doyle also suffers a stroke, mirroring the same fate suffered by Mahoney.
In Gene Freese’s biography, Jock Mahoney,
The Life and Films of a Hollywood Stuntman, the author tells us that both
Reynold and Needham were Jocko fans, and of course he was Sally Field’s
stepdad. Freese says the part of Gwen’s father was “based on Jock Mahoney
himself.” Both the star and the director wanted Mahoney to play the part, but
the studio didn’t want him. Some fans, who knew the Mahoney/Doyle connection
thought that perhaps he wasn’t physically able to play the part. But that wasn’t
it. He was fit enough, Freese writes, but the studio wanted a bigger name.
However, Mahoney was on hand during filming in an advisory capacity and
provided some of the “Mahoneyisms” that the actors used in their dialog.
“Hooper” is one of those special movies that really
deserved to be released on Blu-Ray. For one thing it’s the kind of movie that
they don’t make any more, and probably never will again. As Hooper said, the
boys with the calculators and computers have taken over. A lot of stunt work has
been replaced by CGI. “Hooper “is light hearted and fun to watch because
everyone in it seems to be enjoying themselves. Reynolds does his usual mugging
and winking into the camera, and there was real chemistry between he and Field
back then. But more importantly, “Hooper” pays homage to the men and women who
made the stars look good, as Adam West said. And it shows the price these
legendary people paid, in terms of broken bones, chronic pain, in some cases
permanent injury and even death. Yet despite the odds of surviving a career
like that intact, the film conveys a sense of good humor mixed with bravado
that’s hard to find in movies these days. It’s no Range Rider, but it’s a damn
Warners Home Video released “Hooper” in 1.85:1 aspect
ratio. The picture is excellent. The soundtrack contains the usual country
western tunes, but is in mono with too much shrill high end and not enough
bass. The only extra is a standard format trailer. This is another case where an
iconic film significant at least of the time period in which it was released,
is presented with no commentary or documentary features. I would really have
enjoyed hearing Reynolds or Field talk about it.
CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE "HOOPER" TRIBUTE FACEBOOK PAGE.
("Hooper" will be shown on Turner Classic Movies (North America) on Saturday evening February 13. Check local listing for time in your area.)
When they say "They don't make 'em like that anymore" it could well be in reference to "The Honey Pot", a delightful 1967 concoction that has just enjoyed a Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. The film is the kind of star-studded comedy/mystery that is all but unseen today. However, the film barely registers in the minds of most movie-goers and was not successful when it was first released. (The studio even reissued it under a new title, "It Comes Up Murder".) The project was cursed from the beginning. The original cinematographer, Gianni Di Venanzo, died before production was completed. When the film was released in select engagements, the running time was 150 minutes, which was deemed to be far too long for this modest enterprise that is confined largely to interiors. For general release, 18 minutes were cut although some of those scenes still appeared in lobby cards advertising the movie. One well-known character actor, Herschel Bernardi, had his entire role eliminated. Additionally, the film's producer Charles K. Feldman was under a great deal of stress, as he was simultaneously overseeing production on his bloated, out-of-control spoof version of the James Bond novel "Casino Royale". Yet, what emerges somehow managed to end up being quite entertaining, thanks in no small part to the larger-than-life Rex Harrison having a field day playing an equally larger-than-life rich cad. Essentially, he's playing Henry Higgins from "My Fair Lady" once again- only this time with a more devious streak. Both characters are filthy rich. Both are erudite and sophisticated snobs who devise cruel games involving innocents in return for his own self-amusement. Harrison is a wicked but lovable character. You can't help cheering him on despite his lack of ethical convictions.
The film, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is cobbled together from Frederick Knotts' play "Mr. Fox of Venice" and Thomas Sterling's novel "The Evil of the Day" with a healthy dose of Ben Johnson's play "Volpone" tossed in. In fact the film opens with Harrison as the pretentiously-named Cecil Sheridan Fox enjoying a performance of "Volpone" at a magnificent Venetian theater. The camera pans back to show that this is a private performance for Fox alone. He stops the play before the finale, thanks the cast members for a spirited production and leaves the scene. Yes, he's that rich. We soon learn that he is using elements of "Volpone" to orchestrate an elaborate and expensive practical joke. The first step comes when he hires an unemployed American actor, William McFly (Cliff Robertson) to be his hired hand. He informs McFly that he must pose as Fox's long-time major domo in his elaborate mansion house, which is impressively located right on one of the canals. Fox explains to McFly that he has written to three former lovers and told them he is terminally ill. None of the women know that the others have been informed. He reasons that they will all make a bee-line directly to him, ostensibly to care for him, but in reality in hopes of inheriting his fortune. First on his list is Lone Star Crockett (Susan Hayward), who Fox wooed when she was a wild teenager. In the course of their affair, he put her on the road to a life of luxury and pleasure. Then there is Princess Dominique (Capucine), an exotic beauty who is in a troubled marriage and Merle McGill (Edie Adams), a famous but fading movie star. On the surface, all three of these women are independently wealthy and shouldn't need his fortune. But he suspects that, in reality, all are in some degree of financial distress and he wants to see if they will compete with each other to earn his favor. Sure enough, each of the ladies arrive at his home and are surprised to see they have two female competitors. Lone Star is now a cranky hypochondriac who requires constant pampering from her ever-present companion, a spinster named Sarah Watkins (Maggie Smith). Dominique tries to put on an heir of self-assurance and Merle is a wise-cracking cynic. All of them individually express their sympathies to Fox and there is even the occasional attempt at seduction. Fox puts on a show that he is desperately ill and even sits in bed affixed to an oxygen tank. In private, however, he blasts classical music and dances around the room, delighted that his perceptions of human behavior are proving to be true. The plot takes several major swings in due course, however, when one of the women ends up dead, ostensibly from an overdose of sleeping pills. However, McFly and Sarah suspect murder is afoot. The film then becomes one of those time-honored drawing room mysteries with upper crust characters matching wits with the local inspector (Adolfo Celi, marvelous in a rare comedic role.) To describe the plot in any further detail would necessitate providing some spoilers. Suffice it to say there are plenty of red herrings and a complex plot that will demand your constant attention or you will be hopelessly lost.
The performances are all first rate, though Capucine (never one who mastered the light touch that these sorts of comedies require) is a bit stiff. However, Hayward and Adams pick up the slack with very funny characterizations. The scene stealer among the women, however, is Maggie Smith, who is more street wise than any of the others suspect. As for Harrison, he seems to be having a genuine ball, chewing the scenery and dispensing bon mots that are consistently amusing. The sequence in which he dances around his bed chamber is one for the ages.
"The Honey Pot" deserved a better fate than it received when it was released theatrically. Hopefully it will get a more appreciative audience through this fine Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. You'll find viewing it is time well spent, indeed. (There are no bonus extras except for the original trailer).
Impulse Pictures has once again delved into their archives of seemingly unlimited adult film titles from the 1970s and 1980s for two separate DVD releases: "Farmer's Daughters" and "Snow Honeys". The former film is apparently the most notorious- and for good reason. Released in 1976, "Farmer's Daughter's" is the work of director/writer Zebedy Colt, who made a reputation back in the day for creating some of the most distasteful and shocking hardcore porn feature films. The fact that the bearded, grungy Mr. Colt is seamy enough to make the lunatics on "Duck Dynasty" look like sex symbols did not stop him from placing himself in the leading role, thereby guaranteeing he'd get plenty of "fringe benefits" from the on-screen action. The setting is a remote farm in an unnamed location. The opening sequences make you think you're going to be watching a lighthearted porn spoof of shows like "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Green Acres". We see the aforementioned Mr. Colt as Shep, an aging, bedraggled husband who is happily going at it with his wife Kate (porn superstar and publisher Gloria Leonard, billed here as Gayle Leonard.) Ms. Leonard is fine on the eyes but it takes a lot of willpower to watch Colt enjoying carnal pleasures with her. Things get kinky right away when we see that they are been secretly observed by their three daughters (Susan McBain, Marlene Willoughby and Nancy Dare). That's a pretty twisted premise right there but things are about to get even weirder. The three sexually frustrated sisters are inspired to take matters into their own hands and start a private orgy between themselves. When a goofy local farm boy, Fred (Bill Cort), stumbles on the scene, they force him to have sex with them. (That's right: in the film's most unbelievable lapse in credibility, he has to be forced to have sex with them.) What follows won't be described here in detail. Suffice it to say that upon having Fred reluctantly satisfy their needs they indulge in some acts of humiliation towards him that are still plenty eye-opening even by today's standards.
Pretty soon the sisters get their own comeuppance when three escaped convicts happen upon the farmhouse. You don't have to be a modern Sherlock Holmes to figure out the premise that happens next as the three men engage in gang rape and even kinkier activities involving the girl's parents. Again, we won't provide the details but the molestation of young Fred pales in comparison to what follows. The film's climax somehow incorporates elements of "Last House on the Left", "Deliverance" and "Death Wish" and combines group sex, gang rape, blood-drenched revenge murders and incest, thus giving a new interpretation of movies that are intended for the whole family. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of this wacky exercise in perversion is the fact that one of the horny convicts is played by a real actor, Spalding Gray. Yes, that Spaulding Gray, the grumpy raconteur who built a cult following on the basis of his one-man stage show and subsequent film, "Swimming to Cambodia" which was based on his experiences playing a small role in the 1984 movie "The Killing Fields".
"Farmer's Daughters" is repulsive, offensive, shocking and degenerate on every level. Small wonder that these "qualities" are cited in promotional releases for the DVD which will undoubtedly please its intended audience.
Another Impulse release is more benign in content but also wacky in its own way. "Snow Honeys", released in 1983, is a hodgepodge collection of scenes from unrelated porn flicks wrapped around a thin premise. Erotic superstars of the era Ken Starbuck and Kara Lott open the movie in scenes filmed at a scenic ski resort. They amiably break the "fourth wall" and speak directly to the viewer, griping that they are getting very little money for being in this production so they might as well enjoy themselves. Within minutes the two are starkers inside a resort hotel room and bizarrely describing scenes we are about to see even while they are pleasuring each other. This device is used to link choppy clips from older porn movies starring such familiar names and faces as John Holmes (was there a porn flick from this era he wasn't in?). Vanessa Del Rio, Desiree Cousteau, Seka and John Leslie, to name just a few. The vignettes range from a rather strange lesbian seduction sequence that starts out as romantic but quickly turns S&M to a somewhat amusing take off of Superman with the hero, Super Rod, getting it on with Lois Lane (named Lois Canal here). The big joke is that every time they mention their more famous counterparts' names, they are bleeped. "Snow Honeys" is fairly uninspired in its premise but does provide some abbreviated and memorable moments from other, better productions- and at least Ken Starbuck and Kara Lott are much easier on the eye than watching anything starring Zebedy Colt.
Both transfers are impressive considering the questionable source material and both include sneak peeks at Impulse's line of "Peep Show" silent loops from grind house theaters of days gone by. "Snow Honeys" also has a reversible sleeve with the alternate image more provocative than the weird sleeve depicted above.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "FARMER'S DAUGHTERS" FROM AMAZON
"Ten Seconds to Hell" is the kind of low-key potboiler that studios used to churn out by the dozens in the hopes of making a fast profit. That isn't meant as a knock. Plenty of very worthy films fall into this category and there is much to recommend about this one even if it never quite lives up to its potential. The most interesting aspect of "Ten Seconds to Hell" is the fact that among its creators are any number of big names who were on the cusp of gaining wider recognition. Director and co-writer Robert Aldrich was already an established name in the industry but would find his greatest successes ("Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" ,"The Dirty Dozen" among them) in the Sixties. Producer Michael Carreras, one of the founders of Hammer Films, was just discovering that that the horror film genre for which Hammer would be forever associated was far more lucrative than standard thrillers or crime films which Hammer had originally produced. The cinematographer Ernest Laszlo would go on to lens such high profile films as "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", "Judgment at Nuremberg" and "Fantastic Voyage". Art director Ken Adam would become perhaps the most legendary production designer in the history of the business with "Dr. Strangelove", "Barry Lyndon" and numerous James Bond films to his credit. Thus, modest productions such as "Ten Seconds to Hell" often provided fertile training grounds for major talents in the making.
The story is an off-beat one in terms of its protagonists who are six German soldiers who return to Berlin in the immediate aftermath of WWII. What they find is an apocalyptic landscape that the local population and the Allied forces are trying to rebuild into a major urban center. Aside from the sheer logistics of clearing the debris from seemingly endless bombing raids there is the problem of bombs themselves. As in every city that faced bombardment there were countless "dud" bombs that failed to go off. However they remained a major risk as they were capable of exploding without warning. It fell to small teams of incredibly courageous men to try to disarm them- and the casualty and fatality rates among them were sky high. The six German ex-soldiers had cleared dud bombs for the army during the war. In fact they were all deemed to be politically undesirable by the Nazis and were sentenced to concentration camps. However since there were considered to be expendable, they could best serve the Reich by disarming bombs. If they were killed in the process then so be it. The six men formed a tight-knit group and learned the expertise required to survive the war. Now upon returning to Berlin, the British solicit their services to disarm dud bombs that have fallen throughout the city. As an inducement the men are offered high salaries, comfortable apartments and double rations- quite an offer for a city that was left in poverty and on the brink of starvation. The men agree to the plan even though they know that they will face death every day. The group is dominated by two strong-willed men: Eric Koertner (Jack Palance), a sullen but honest man who is nursing psychological wounds from the war that are never satisfactorily explained and Karl Wirtz (Jeff Chandler), a selfish man of few morals who puts a good time above everything else. The six men end up making a pact with a morbid premise: they will each contribute half of their salaries into a pot over a period of three months. Knowing there is a good chance at least some of them will die in the course of their work, the survivors will split the proceeds at the end of the "game". What starts out as a rather tasteless exercise takes on greater resonance when, indeed, over the course of several weeks numerous members of the group are indeed killed in the line of duty. Adding to the tensions is the deteriorating relationship between Eric and Karl, who must share the same apartment with Margot Hofer (Martine Carol), a beautiful young French woman who is persona-non grata in her native country because her late husband had been a German soldier who was part of the occupying forces in Paris. These three troubled souls are forced to inhabit the same living quarters and inevitably sexual tensions arise. Eric is slowly falling for Margot on an emotional level while Karl clearly just wants to take physical advantage of her. Predictably the end of the film finds the two men as the last living members of their group and who are engaged in working together on a particularly dangerous disarmament of a bomb from which only one will emerge alive.
"Ten Seconds to Hell" falls short in several key aspects. If there is a sure-fire way to ensure on-screen suspense it revolves around having someone desperately having to disarm an explosive device. Yet director Aldrich fails to wring much suspense out of these premises. Additionally the characters are not very well-defined. We never really get to know the reasons behind Eric's moody personality. We learn he was a prominent architect prior to the war but the script hints at much deeper insights into the man that never materialize. Additionally, Karl is such a loathsome, self-centered and untrustworthy man that one wonders why the group chooses to include him among them in their post-war assignments. Not helping matters is that this is yet another Tower of Babel-like film production in which some of the supporting characters have quasi-German accents while the male leads all talk with varying American accents that make it hard to accept them as German nationals. Aldrich deserves kudos for thinking outside the box and presenting the post-war period from the standpoint of those on the losing side but the distraction of hearing known American stars such as Palance and Chandler speak as though they are in a Western proves to be a minor undoing of the film. Still, "Ten Seconds to Hell" is an efficiently-made thriller and boasts some memorable aspects such as a sequence in which one of the group is trapped under a fallen bomb while a dilapidated building threatens to fall on top of him and his would-be rescuers. At the time the film was made in 1959 there were still plenty of bombed-out neighborhoods in West Berlin and Aldrich and art director Ken Adam take full advantage, providing some eerie backdrops for the film's most pivotal scenes. I also enjoyed the byplay between Chandler, Palance and Martine Carol who makes for a sympathetic figure- a woman who could not help but fall in love with an average German soldier despite the fact that her country had fallen to the army he represented. In many ways her character is the most interesting of all the protagonists. Palance gives one of his more restrained performances and refrains from hamming it up, as he could frequently do. Chandler is effective playing against type as a charismatic villain.
The Blu-ray transfer is flawless and does justice to the stark black-and-white cinematography. An original trailer is included and, as was the practice of the day, its typically bombastic in its promises to provide riveting screen entertainment.
Alec Guinness gave so many brilliant dramatic screen performances that many
moviegoers forget that he was also one of the most accomplished comedic actors
the British film industry had ever seen. Although Guinness first gained fame
with star-making roles in David Lean's "Great Expectations" and
"Oliver Twist" (playing Fagin), the bulk of his successes in the
1950s were in classic British comedies such as "The Lavender Hill
Mob", "Kind Hearts and Coronets", "The Ladykillers",
"The Horse's Mouth", "Our Man in Havana", "All at
Sea", "The Captain's Paradise", "The Man in the White
Suit" and "The Lavender Hill Mob". By any standard, a remarkable
roster of great comedies. By the 1960s, however, Guinness concentrated
mostly on dramatic roles. Who could blame him, with prime appearances in David
Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago"? In 1965
he did make one screwball comedy, "Situation Hopeless..But Not
Serious", a WWII-era film that co-starred young up-and-coming Robert
Redford in a supporting role, but the movie didn't particularly resonate with
critics or audiences. His only other concession to the genre of cinematic
farce was "Hotel Paradis0", filmed in 1966 by writer/director Peter
Glenville, who only sporadically made movies. Glenville's most recent cinematic
excursion had been his highly acclaimed 1964 film version of Jean
Anouilh's play "Becket". "Paradiso" was as far away from
that dramatic achievement as one could imagine. It returned Guinness to a genre
that allowed him to re-tune his considerable skills at playing overt
comedy. In fact, Guinness had starred in the original London production of the play in 1956.
The film is adapted from the play "L'Hotel du Libre
Echange", whichwas co-written by Georges Feydeau (who Glenville appears as
in the film, albeit in an uncredited role.) In fact, Alec Guinness had starred in the original London production of the play in 1956. Like the play, the movie is set in the suburbs of Paris in the early 1900s. Guinness plays Benedict Boniface, a sophisticated
milquetoast who lives a comfortable existence with one glaring exceptional
factor: he is constantly henpecked by his shrewish, dominating wife Angelique
(Peggy Mount), who oversees his every move. Benedict suffers in silence, finding a bit of solace by puttering around his garden which adjoins the home of Henri and Marcelle Cotte (Robert Morley and Gina Lollobrigida).They have their own problems: Henri is a negligent husband who is more obsessed with his career as an architect than he is with the considerable charms of his gorgeous wife, who is frustrated by his neglect and who is desperate for some romantic attention. One sunny afternoon when Henri leaves for an overnight business trip to the city, Benedict summons the courage to drop in on Marcelle and express his love for her. She is shocked but doesn't lose any time in agreeing to explore the possibility of an affair with him. Fate favors the would-be lovers when Angelique announces that she, too, is leaving on an overnight trip to look after an ailing sister. Things almost go awry when an unexpected house guest, Mr. Martin (David Byng), arrives to take up the Boniface's on a long ago offer they made to have him stay with him. The trouble is that Martin, a widower, has in tow his brood of four young daughters and their enormous amount of luggage. The Benedicts are horrified and inform Mr. Martin in the most polite manner possible that they simply don't have space to lodge the entire family and that he she consider taking rooms at a hotel in Paris. Through a misunderstanding, the name of Hotel Paradiso is mentioned. This happens to be a sleazy establishment that stays afloat by catering to illicit lovers. It is precisely the place where Benedict intends to spend the night with Marcelle. However, unbeknownst to him, Mr. Martin has mistakenly assumed that Benedict has recommended the hotel as a place for him and his daughters to stay. Benedict and Marcelle meet for dinner at a local restaurant where they briefly enjoy a rather saucy stage act before realizing they might be recognized. They then head off to Hotel Paradiso where they rather awkwardly enter the bedroom in anticipation of carrying out their plans for engaging in the kinds of activity that would surely cause a public scandal if they were to be discovered. Things get complicated quickly. Every time the would-be lovers are about to get down to business, another remarkable coincidence occurs. They include the arrival of Henri, who is staying at the hotel to examine the plumbing. Then Mr. Martin arrives with his four daughters. Even the Benedict's flirty maid shows up with Henri's nephew, who is about to be seduced by the amorous domestic servant. Playwright Georges Feydeau is on hand as he silently observes the goings-on. The film quickly becomes a classically-styled bedroom farce with Benedict and Marcelle now trapped in their room and deftly trying to avoid being seen. There are countless near-misses and close encounters and the inevitable face-to-face meetings that require explaining their presence at the hotel by employing incredulous excuses. Before long, the police end up the hotel and Benedict and Marcelle are arrested, which adds another obstacle to overcome in their unconsummated love affair.
The film was greeted with tepid reviews at the time, with critics citing Glenville's propensity to direct films as though he was still working in a theater. It's true that Glenville does have a somewhat heavy hand in terms of directing lightweight comedy scenarios.However, the movie certainly plays better today simply because no one makes films like this anymore, least of all with the caliber of stars like Guinness and Lollobrigida, who was also quite adept between dramatic roles and lightweight farces. Both actors are at their best here, especially as the pace of the farce picks up pace and the coincidences and obstacles that their characters have to deal with become more incredible and amusing. There is able support from the always-reliable Robert Morley and Akim Tamiroff turns up as the hotel's sleazy manager. However, the show-stealing performance is the hilarious turn by David Byng, whose Mr. Martin is a naive eccentric with a sporadic speech impediment that comes and goes depending upon the state of the weather! It plays a pivotal role in the film's climax. The concluding sequence takes place at the opening of a new play by Georges Feydeau which the principal characters attend together. It leads to a very amusing "sting-in-the-tail" finale with ironic consequences. "Hotel Paradiso" benefits from a lavish production design and a good score by Laurence Rosenthal. It also marked an early career achievement for legendary film editor Anne V. Coates. In summary, a most entertaining film from an era in which there was a place for sophistication in cinematic comedies.
The Warner Archive DVD is region-free and includes the original trailer. The packaging also retains the wonderful original poster art by Frank Frazetta.
"The Strangler" is a long-forgotten 1964 low-budget exploitation movie originally released by Allied Artists. It has developed a bit of a cult following among retro movie lovers who will be delighted that the film has come to DVD through the Warner Archive. The movie was designed to capitalize on the notorious Boston Strangler murders that were in the news at the time. However, what sets the movie apart from other cheap thrills productions is the fact that it is intelligently scripted and presents its villain as a highly complex character, filled with nuances and psychological tortures. Victor Buono, who had made a sensational film debut the previous year in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", gets a rare starring role as the titular character. He's Leo Kroll, a meek, obese young man who barely makes a living as a lab assistant in big city hospital. He's quiet, unassuming and superficially friendly even though he has no real friends in his life. Our first glimpse of Leo is rather startling. We see him inside the apartment of an attractive young woman who is undressing, not knowing that she has a stalker on the premises. Leo suddenly emerges and strangles her with her own stockings. We learn that Leo is behind similar serial murders of young women in the area but the police are at a dead end. Leo's private life is pure hell. He lives with his aging mother (Ellen Corby) who controls virtually every aspect of his life. She even ensures that their apartment is a shrine to herself, adorned with numerous photos of her. When the film opens, she is confined to a hospital room and expects Leo to visit her every night right after work. When he takes a night off to indulge in his murderous past time, his mother's abrasive accusations of neglect seem to bother him more than the heinous crimes he has committed. He clearly hates and resents his mother. She never fails to remind him that he is a loser: overweight, homely and friendless. She tells him that she is the only person he can rely on and trust. She also warns him against getting involved with women, saying that any girl who would date him had to be after his money. Leo also has a peculiar fetish- he likes to leave dolls at the scene of his murderS, each representing the woman he has just killed. He obtains them by winning a game of chance at a local arcade where his skill at the game seems to impress the girls behind the counter, one of whom, Tally (Davey Davison), he clearly has a crush on, which inevitably puts her on Leo's endangered species list.
There weren't many diverse roles that Buono could play in his career. Generally, the baby-faced actor was stuck portraying varying incarnations of a "man child". However, he did carve out some memorable performances playing largely comedic villains in shows like "Batman", "The Wild, Wild West" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.". He worked steadily, occasionally landing a mature role in major films such as "Robin and the Seven Hoods" and "Four For Texas" in which he appeared with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Buono, who died young at age 42 in 1982, arguably gives the best performance of his career in "The Strangler", making a man who commits despicable acts seem almost sympathetic. When he finally asks a woman he barely knows to marry him, her rejection of him is truly a heartbreaking scene. Leo ends up on the short list of police suspects but manages to elude arrest. He even demands to take a lie detector test, which he passes due to the fact that he has no feelings of guilt whatsoever. His motive for murder isn't even to alleviate the sexual repression he feels. It's simply his way of dealing with mommy issues. Each woman he slays is a stand-in for the mother he deplores. Under the highly competent direction of Burt Topper, "The Strangler" boasts some impressive performances by a largely unknown cast. The police sequences, which highlight David McLean as the over-worked cop assigned to crack the case, ring with authenticity. The B&W film also has good cinematography and creative use of lighting effect. Yet it is Buono who dominates the production with a performance that would have won critical raves if it were seen in an "A" list production. The film is consistently entertaining and at times highly suspenseful. The Warner Archive release is top-notch but lacks any extras. A commentary track on this title would be most welcome for a future edition.
Sam Spiegel was one of the most revered and accomplished producers in Hollywood history. His achievements included such classics as "On the Waterfront", "The African Queen", "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia". His body of work, though not nearly as extensive as that of some other producers, was notable in the sense that Spiegel thought big and shot for the moon when it came to bringing to the screen stories that spoke to the human condition. Following the triumphant release of "Lawrence" in 1962, Spiegel did not make another film for four years. When he did, the movie - "The Chase"- turned out to be a star-packed drama that won over neither critics or audiences. Spiegel had a more ambitious idea for his next production, a screen adaptation of the best-selling WWII thriller "The Night of the Generals" by Hans Helmut Kirst. Spiegel had the inspired idea of reuniting his "Lawrence of Arabia" co-stars Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif. They were reluctant to take on the project, but they certainly owed him. Both were virtual unknowns until Spiegel gave them the roles that made them international stars. Spiegel also added to the mix an impressive cast of esteemed British actors ranging from veterans such as Donald Pleasence and Charles Gray to up-and-coming young actors Tom Courtenay and Joanna Pettet. He chose Anatole Litvak to direct. Litvak had been making films for decades and had a few notable hits such as "Sorry, Wrong Number", "Anastasia" and "The Snake Pit". Spiegel being Spiegel ensured that the production benefited from a large budget and an appropriate running time (148 minutes) that would allow the story to unfold in a measured process.
"The Night of the Generals" is certainly a unique spin on WWII films. There are no battles or major action sequences, save for a harrowing sequence in which the German army systematically destroys part of the Warsaw Ghetto. Instead, it's very much a character study populated by characters who are, indeed, very interesting. The film opens with a tense sequence set in occupied Warsaw. The superintendent of an over-crowded apartment building accidentally overhears the brutal murder of a local prostitute in a room upstairs. From a hiding place he witnesses the killer walk past him. He does not see the man's face but recognizes his uniform: he is a general in the German army. The man keeps this information to himself on the logical assumption that divulging it might mean his death sentence. However, under questioning from the army investigator, Major Grau (Omar Sharif), he tells the shocking details of what he witnessed. From this moment, Grau becomes obsessed with finding the killer. Grau may be a German officer, but he is a pure cynic when it comes to the Nazi cause and the brutal methods being employed to win the war. He can't control the larger picture of how the war is being waged but he can control what is in his jurisdiction: bringing to justice the man who committed this one especially savage murder. Grau soon centers on three suspects. The first is General von Seiditz-Gabler (Charles Gray, channeling his future Blofeld), an effete, well-connected opportunist who is in a loveless marriage to his dominating wife Eleanore (Coral Browne). Then there is General Kahlenberg (Donald Pleasence), a man of slight build and low-key personality who has some eccentric personal habits that may include murder. Last, and most intriguing, is General Tanz (Peter O'Toole), a much-loathed and much-feared darling of Hitler's inner circle whose ruthless methods with dealing with civilian populations disgust his colleagues. Tanz has been sent to control or obliterate the Warsaw Ghetto.
The screenplay (which includes contributions by an uncredited Gore Vidal) is a bit disjointed and cuts back and forth to the present day in which we see a French police inspector, Morand (Phillippe Noiret), investigating the case twenty years later as he tries to tie together Grau's findings with dramatic developments that occurred during his handling of the case. Morand also appears in the war era sequences, having befriended Grau, who does not seem at all disturbed when he learns that Morand is actually a key figure in the French Resistance. Grau becomes particularly intrigued by General Ganz. He is an elitist snob who is devoid of any humor or compassion. A workaholic with seemingly no human weaknesses, Tanz is ostensibly under the command of his superior officer, Gabler, but it becomes clear that his political connections make him the top general in Warsaw. Major Grau interviews all three suspects and finds that any of them could be the murderer. When he becomes too intrusive, he is conveniently promoted and transferred to Paris, presumably to shut down his investigation. However, as the fortunes of war decline for the Third Reich, the top brass is eventually moved to Paris and Grau resumes his investigation when he discovers that prostitutes are being brutally murdered there as well. There is a parallel story that accompanies that of the murder investigation. It centers on Corporal Hartmann (Tom Courtenay), a young soldier who has been reluctantly acclaimed to be a national hero. It seems he was the last surviving member of his unit after a bloody battle. The brass used him as a propaganda tool, bestowing medals on him for heroic actions. In fact, he is a self-proclaimed coward whose only goal is to stay alive through the war. Hartmann confesses this to his superior, General Kahlenberg, who is amused by his honesty. He assigns him to be General Tanz's personal valet and orders him to show Tanz the history and sights of Paris. Neither he nor Tanz wants to partake in the venture, but Gabler orders Tanz to take a few days vacation, largely because he despises the man's presence. The scenes in which Hartmann tries to appease the mercurial Tanz without making any missteps are fraught with tension and suspense. Tanz is a fascinating character, presumably devoid of the vices most men have. However, in the course of their time together, Hartmann realizes that Tanz is somewhat of a fraud. He surreptitiously drinks to excess and changes into civilian clothes in order to meet with prostitutes in seedy bars. Although Tanz chews out Hartmann for every minor infraction, he seems to come to respect the younger man's professionalism. This sets in motion another complex plot development that also involves Hartmann's secret romance with General Gabler's free-spirited daughter Ulrike (Joanna Pettet).
Just trying to summarize the various plot strands of "The Night of the Generals" in this space is fairly exhausting. Oh, did I mention that another subplot involves Field Marshal Rommel (a cameo by Christopher Plummer) and the July, 1944 plot on the part of rebellious German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler? Nevertheless, although the various story lines become quite complex, they are all tied together eventually in clever and compelling ways. The film is part "Whodunnit", part political statement and part war movie. The movie moves back to the present for its intense conclusion as Inspector Morand is finally able to solve the crime and attempt to bring the culprit to justice. When the killer is revealed it's about as shocking of a development as the revelation that the butler did it in one of those old British film noir mysteries. Still, director Litvak (who shares the producer credit with Sam Spiegel because he owned the screen rights to the novel) keeps the action flowing briskly running time and elicits outstanding performances from his cast. O'Toole, who would later capitalize on playing larger-than-life characters, was at this point in his career still very immersed in portraying introspective, quiet men. He is quite mesmerizing as General Tanz and quite terrifying as well. Sharif is, at least on the surface, badly cast. I'm not aware of any Egyptians who became prominent German officers. Sharif has the map of the Middle East on his face and lingering remnants of his native accent. It's to his credit that he overcomes these obstacles and gives a very fine performance as the charismatic investigator who doggedly pursues his suspects with Javert-like conviction. All of the other performances are equally outstanding, with Courtenay especially impressive- and one has to wonder why the very talented Joanna Pettet never became a bigger star. The international flavor of the cast gives the film a Tower of Babel-like effect. Some of the actors attempt to affect a quasi-German accent while others speak with British accents, and then we have the French and Poland-based sequences with even more diversity of languages. Still, if you could accept Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood speaking "German" in their native tongues in "Where Eagles Dare", you won't find this aspect of "The Night of the Generals" to be particularly distracting. I should also mention the impressive contributions of composer Maurice Jarre, cinematographer Henri Decae and main titles designer Robert Brownjohn (remember when films even had opening titles?) In summary, the film-which not successful with critics or the public- is a thoroughly intriguing experience and affords us the joy of watching some of the best actors of the period sharing the screen.
"The Night of the Generals" has been released as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The transfer is gorgeous, giving full impact to the impressive cinematography and lush production design. There is also an isolated score track, the original trailer and an informative booklet by film historian Julie Kirgo, who examines Sam Spiegel's attempts to rebuild his career in subsequent years only to find that he was out of place in the new Hollywood.
Many Cinema Retro readers write to tell us that they like the fact that we shine a new light on older, under-appreciated movies and re-evaluate them after the passage of time. In this instance, I can't re-evaluate "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" because I had never seen it prior to its release on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory. To say that the film was subject to a string of bad luck is an understatement. It might be more appropriate to consider if it was literally cursed. First some background: the Lone Ranger had been a pop culture hero for many years in comics, on the radio and on screen. The 1950s TV series starring Clayton Moore made the character iconic and forever associated with "The William Tell Overture" which was played each time he rode into action. The 1978 revival of "Superman" as a big screen adventure was a boxoffice smash and elevated its unknown lead- Christopher Reeve- to genuine stardom. It wasn't the first time that a relatively untested leading man carried a major movie to boxoffice success. Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif did so with "Lawrence of Arabia" and George Lazenby managed the feat with "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". Producer Jack Wrather was inspired by this history and when he acquired the feature film rights to The Lone Ranger character (for an eye-popping $3 million), he decided to cast unknowns as the Lone Ranger and his loyal sidekick Tonto. After an exhaustive search, he thought he struck gold by casting Klinton Spilsbury and Michael Horse. Both were hunky young men who were adept at riding horses and managing the physical challenges of starring in a big budget action film. The film was to be directed by William A. Fraker, the legendary cinematographer who had earned praise for his direction of "Monte Walsh" a decade earlier. For his cinematographer on "The Legend of the Lone Ranger", Fraker hired another legend, Laszlo Kovacs. Other top talent quickly signed on including esteemed screenwriter William Roberts, who had written the screenplay for "The Magnificent Seven". Composer John Barry was signed to create the score and a main title theme. Jason Robards joined the cast as President Ulysses S. Grant and Christopher Lloyd took a rare dramatic part as the villain. Things were looking promising. However, the bubble was about to burst.
While the film was in production, it reaped a mountain of bad publicity when the producers forced the beloved Clayton Moore from making any further public appearances at autograph shows and charity events where he had been making the circuit dressed in his original Lone Ranger costume. Moore fought the order in court and ultimately prevailed but the damage had been done. An outraged public had an "in" for the new Lone Ranger long before production had ever wrapped. During filming, a stuntman almost died and leading man Klinton Spilsbury insisted on shooting the film in sequence to help with his understanding of his character and motivations. Shooting in sequence can be a costly proposition but the producers complied. However, in viewing the rushes, they decided that Spilsbury was something short of dynamic in the way he delivered his lines. They hired actor James Keach to dub him through the entire film, a fact they tried to keep secret but which leaked out immediately even in the pre-internet era. (Ironically, Keach delivers his dubbed lines in a bland, monotone manner that makes one wonder just how bad Spilsbury could have been.) By the time filming wrapped, the film had been tarnished but Universal, the studio releasing the movie, was still optimistic. However, the bad luck continued even in post-production. The film's technical aspects proved to be challenging and the movie's December 1980 release was bumped to Memorial Day in May of 1981. The good news is that President Ronald Reagan had agreed to attend a special screening of the movie prior to general release. Shortly before this was to occur, he was wounded in an assassination attempt and was unable to attend (the "The Gipper" was considerate enough to send a video greeting to attendees.) When the film opened to the public, response was poor from both the public and critics, who denounced the movie as the second major Western bomb in a row, following the disastrous opening of "Heaven's Gate" the previous fall. The movie quickly became the butt of jokes. Johnny Carson quipped that on opening day, Tonto put his ear to the ground and said "Kemosabe, me hear very few people heading toward the theaters!". Carson rarely weighed in on criticizing films and, as he was one of America's top barometers of pop culture, the sarcasm only reinforced the notion that the film was a bomb. Themovie had the dubious distinction of sweeping The Razzies, the awards for the worst achievements in movie making. Klinton Spilsbury couldn't overcome the stigma of having been dubbed. His name was mud in the industry and to this date, he has not acted professionally again. (Though, bizarrely, he did become an acting teacher in Vancouver for a time.) Michael Horse fared better, however, and carved out a satisfying career as a character actor that extends to this day.
In watching the movie today, its problems remain apparent, though it is entertaining in a goofy sort of way. Some screen heroes such as Batman can look cool in a mask but The Lone Ranger simply looks likes a throwback to a bygone era of entertainment when kids would be less demanding about the corn quotient served up by their idols. The film would probably have benefited from some self-awareness that the entire premise was outdated but the movie-makers made the mistake of playing the entire affair completely straight. In fact, the film is almost devoid of any humor at all. Another problem is that the story takes so long to tell how the Lone Ranger and Tonto ended up meeting and becoming blood brothers that it takes a full hour before audiences even get to see the Lone Ranger. The story leading up to this is compelling, with young John Reid witnessing his parents slaughtered by a marauding band of cutthroats. His life is saved by a Native American boy his own age named Tonto, who brings Reid back to his tribe. The Indians adopt Reid and teach him the basic skills of survival. Before long, he is feels very much a part of the tribe- until an uncle inexplicably arrives from Chicago (!) and takes him back to the big city against his wishes. The action then jumps to years later. Reid is aboard a stagecoach heading West when it is attacked by a group of robbers. In an exciting, well-filmed stagecoach chase sequence, Reid displays his heroics, saves his fellow passengers and falls head over heels for lovely Amy Striker (Juanin Clay), who is the niece of the nearest town's newspaper. When Reid and Amy arrive, they are greeted by the uncle, who is on a one-man crusade against a local evil land baron named Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd, surprisingly good in a non-comedic role.) Cavendish has amassed a paramilitary force, bribed the local sheriff and kept the town's population in fear as he acts as a de facto dictator. For his efforts, the uncle is murdered. Reid joins the Texas Rangers along with his brother and a posse sets off to track down Cavendish. Along the way they are lured into a canyon and in another rousing action sequence, they are all killed except for Reid, who is badly wounded. Coincidentally, Tonto happens upon the scene and recognizes an amulet that Reid is wearing which Tonto gave to him when they became blood brothers. He nurses his old friend back to health and Reid becomes determined to bring his brother's killers to justice as-- wait for it- The Lone Ranger! It's never explained how he gets the fancy duds and mask but we do see the origins of how he adopts Silver as his wonder horse. Before long, the Lone Ranger is bellowing "Hi Yo, Silver!" and riding with Tonto to infiltrate Cavendish's compound. Turns out Cavendish has a lot in common with today's political fringe nuts: he wants to secede from the union and establish a country called New Texas. His scheme is ambitious: he intends to hijack a train carrying President Ulysses S. Grant (Jason Robards) and hold him hostage until his demands are met. The execution of the plan is a highlight of the film, as is Robards' amusing performance as Grant. The scenes in which he matches wits with Cavendish over a sumptuous dinner brings to mind similar obligatory scenes from the Bond movies. The action-packed finale features the U.S. Cavalry joining the Lone Ranger and Tonto to free Grant, who gets into the action himself. By another coincidence, Grant's train had been carrying Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickcok and General George Armstrong Custer, so you can imagine it's gonna be a bad luck day for Cavendish.
There is much to criticize about "The Legend of the Lone Ranger". The producers and director seemed oblivious to the fact that a guy in a white hat and black mask shouting "Hi Yo, Silver!" would come across as incredibly corny to modern audiences if it wasn't played with at least a dab of self-awareness and humor. Alas, it's played straight- as is the use of the "William Tell Overture". It's as though the filmmakers had entered a time warp and thought they were out to please audiences from the 1940s. Another major weak link is the musical score by the esteemed John Barry. The instrumentals are fine but Barry has concocted a title theme called "The Man Behind the Mask" that is crooned by Merle Haggard. To say it's unintentionally hilarious would be an understatement. Not helping matters is some awful narration that describes the action in a corn pone drawl that sounds like it would be more at home in "Blazing Saddles". Yet, for all it's flaws, I enjoyed the film because of its sincere attempt to bring to life an iconic American hero, no matter how outdated the concept might have seemed. There are also some very impressive action scenes and some incredible stunt work. Alas, it wasn't enough to save the movie from its disastrous fate. Hollywood is so devoid of new ideas that the concept was, of course, recently revived as the equally disastrous Johnny Depp version of the Lone Ranger. Can't we let the guy rest in peace?
The Shout! Factory Blu-ray boasts a decent transfer but there is a good deal of grain in some of the sequences. This could be the way the film looked on original release, as it was criticized in some quarters for its sometimes muddy cinematography, which was particularly surprising since director Fraker was one of the best cinematographers in the business. The Blu-ray cries out for a commentary by film historians who could discuss the movie's interesting back story, but alas, only a trailer is included.
By 1987, Burt Reynolds was largely regarded as being past his sell date as a leading man in theatrical films. Some of his decline in popularity was self-imposed. Reynolds had continued to knock out cornpone comedies long after they had run out of steam. His other problem was due to the fact that he had been seriously injured on the set of "City Heat" due to a mis-timed stunt that left him in serious shape and resulted in a long hospital stay. During this time, terrible rumors spread widely that implied he had contracted AIDS. By the time Reynolds recovered, the damage to his career had been done. Although he would continue to star in films for major studios, their boxoffice take was generally mediocre at best. Reynolds would eventually gravitate to television where he starred in a hit sitcom, "Evening Shade". One of his attempted comeback vehicles was the 1987 crime thriller "Malone" in which Reynolds eschewed his image as a towel-snapping wiseguy and returned to his roots to play a mysterious man of action. The film opens with the titular character, played by Reynolds, refusing to carry out an assassination for the CIA. Malone has been one of their most reliable covert killers but he's ashamed of his profession and decides to give it up for a quiet, normal life. He knows that one doesn't just walk out on the CIA so he uproots his life and packs all his belongings in his weather-beaten car and heads off to remote areas of the Northwest. While enjoying his lifestyle as a drifter, his car breaks down and he manages to get it to a one-horse town where the local garage owner, a partially disabled widower, Paul Barlow (Scott Wilson) informs him he has to order a special part for the vehicle. The two men make friendly chatter and Barlow offers to allow Malone to stay at his house until the car can be repaired. Also on the premises is Barlow's teenage daughter Jo (Cynthia Gibb), who immediately takes a fancy to the mysterious stranger who has entered her otherwise mundane existence. During his stay, the tight-lipped Malone observes that Barlow and some other town residents are being bullied and intimidated by employees of a local land baron named Delaney (Cliff Robertson), who- for reasons unknown- is trying to force certain locals to sell him their land. Failure to do so results in inevitable harassment. When Malone comes to Barlow's aid and humiliates some of Delaney's goons, Delaney meets with him and tries to bribe him to work for him. Seems that anyone of influence in the town is on Delaney's payroll, including the local sheriff (Kenneth McMillan). Malone refuses the offer and Delaney turns to bringing in professional assassins to murder him. Adding to Malone's woes is the fact that a former CIA colleague, Jamie (Lauren Hutton) has tracked him down and has orders to kill him, as well. Jamie, however, warns Malone of her mission and the two decide that "Make love, not war" should be their mantra. As Delaney increases the pressure, Malone decides to go mano a mano with him. He sneaks into Delaney's heavily-guarded compound and discovers a massive arsenal being stockpiled there. Turns out that Delaney is the leader of an extremist right wing fringe group with ties to sympathetic elected officials in Washington, D.C. He intends to imminently launch a violent uprising in the hopes that it spreads nationally and takes down the government.
There isn't a single original thought in "Malone". The film is a modern day remake of Clint Eastwood's "Pale Rider", which had been released two years before. Eastwood's film, in turn, was a virtual remake of George Stevens' "Shane". The stories all share some common themes: a family is being harassed by a local rich guy who has nefarious purposes. A mysterious stranger comes to their aid and, in the process, is idolized by a young member of the family. In the climax of all three stories, the stranger finds himself having to put his life on the line to rid the locals of the menacing figure who is making their lives miserable. Having said all that, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed "Malone". Under the competent direction of Harley Cokeless, the story moves at a brisk pace and there is plenty of time to explore the backgrounds of the key characters. Reynolds still had enough macho mojo to pull off roles like this and it's great seeing him play a serious role once again. As a man of few words, he excels not only in the dramatic sequences but also in the film's explosive conclusion, which borrows much from another (then) contemporary hit, "Witness" as we watch Malone on Delaney's farm systematically eliminate the bad guys. Reynolds gets some fine support from Cliff Robertson (in the kind of superficially charming role usually played by Robert Vaughn), Kenneth McMillan and Scott Wilson. Lauren Hutton's brief appearance is a highlight of the film, as she and Malone intersperse romantic interludes with suspicions about each other's motives. (Malone willingly beds her but is afraid to digest any drinks she prepares out of fear she will poison him.) The biggest revelation is the performance of Cynthia Gibb, who displays considerable charm as the young girl who is starstruck by Malone. (The script thankfully keeps the relationship chaste.) "Malone", filmed in and around Vancouver (the usual tax-friendly doppleganger for American locations), is a good old-fashioned action flick. In today's era of over-produced, over-budgeted CGI-laden monstrosities, it's simplicity, predictability and unpretentious story line are assets. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains the trailer as well as trailers for other Burt Reynolds releases available through the company.
I’ve never known quite what to make of Carlo Lizzani’s
‘Requiescant’ (1967), the director’s second and last foray into spaghetti
westerns. I saw it before I had the chance to view his first western, ‘The
Hills Run Red’ (1966) and had high hopes for the film – based on the fact that
it was screened in September 1993 on BBC2 in the season of ‘Moviedrome’ cult
films and it came highly recommended by Alex Cox. I’m a big fan of Lizzani’s ‘The
Hills Run Red’. I don’t know why, but from the moment I saw it, I loved it. Ennio
Morricone’s music helps, as does the great cast, including grandstanding Henry
Silva, beautiful Nicoletta Machiavelli, leathery old Dan Duryea and massively
underrated Thomas Hunter. I know I am largely alone in my assessment and
enthusiasm, but for those who make lists, I deem it Top-20 spaghetti western material.
Following on from ‘Day of Anger’ and ‘Cemetery Without
Crosses’, Lizzani’s ‘Requiescant’ is Arrow Films’ third spaghetti western release
on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s also known by the titles ‘Kill and Pray’ and ‘Let Them
Rest’. First off, it feels much more like an ‘Italian’ film than most spaghetti
westerns, mainly due to an absence of Spanish supporting players and exclusively
Italian location filming in Lazio (rather than Spain’s Madrid or Andalusia
provinces). And the presence of legendary director Pier Paolo Pasolini, one of
the most recognised and recognisable faces in Italian, indeed world cinema, is simply
distracting when he pops up as Don Juan, a pistol packing priest with a social
conscience. Like the ‘Jesus Christ, it’s Henry Fonda!’ casting coup moment from
Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, this is ‘OMG, it’s PPP!’
An Italian-West German co-production, ‘Requiescant’
stars Lou Castel (who played the young assassin in ‘A Bullet for the General’)
as a Mexican boy who is the only survivor of a massacre of Mexican peons at
Fort Hernandez. The perpetrator was San Antonio landowner George Bellow
Ferguson (a demonic Mark Damon, cast against type), who with his cadre of
gunmen has stolen their borderlands with bogus treaties. The boy is found
wandering in the desert and is adopted by travelling priest Father Jeremy and
his family, but when he grows to adulthood, he abandons the ways of the Lord.
He discovers his true vocation when he inadvertently foils a stagecoach hold-up
and finds he is naturally gifted with a six-gun. His proficiency leads to him
becoming something of a hero to the local Mexican population, who call him
Requiescant, as in ‘rest in peace’ in Latin, due to his ritual of reading a
prayer over his victims’ corpses. Requiescant’s step-sister Princy (Barbara
Frey) runs away to become a showgirl, but ends up in forced prostitution in a
seedy San Antonio saloon/bordello run by Ferguson’s henchman Dean Light (Carlo
Palmucci), which in classic spaghetti western tradition sets Requiescant
against the murderer of his real parents.
The film’s tone veers from tragedy to comedy, and
Castel makes an offbeat hero, even for spaghetti westerns. At some moments he plays
the film as a spoof, as when he encourages his horse to speed up by using a
frying pan to hit its rump and in his tactic of mounting a horse, first by climbing
onto a hitching rail then into the saddle. In complete contrast to Clint
Eastwood’s Man With No Name, Requiescant is something of a bumbler, with his
holster slung on a piece of rope, but no one can argue with his accuracy with a
pistol. There are some totally strange moments in the film also, as when
Requiescant hides out at Fort Hernandez and discovers the bleached-out
skeletons of the Mexican victims of Ferguson’s massacre scattered behind the
palisade – it is these corpses from the past that must also ‘Rest in Peace’,
but only when their murders have been avenged. In another noteworthy scene, Requiescant
faces Dean Light in a pistol duel, with both participants standing on stools
with their heads in nooses (as Tuco the Ugly tried to execute Blondie the Good)
which is timed by the midnight strike of a clock. At one point Princy is forced
to swallow a drug that makes her hallucinate and much is made of the simple
rural characters’ naivety against the savvy, capitalist businessmen.
For its lack of authentic spaghetti western atmosphere,
‘Requiescant’ is a definite curio for a number or reasons. It’s more realistic
than many spaghetti westerns. Here the poor Mexican revolutionaries collect
Requiescant’s victims valuable weapons, rather than leaving them lying around
with the corpses, as Clint’s Man With No Name does in the ‘Dollars’ films. What
makes the film of real interest is its unusual cast. Mark Damon is a cloaked
villain from the cobwebs of Italian gothic horror, a relic of the Old South,
like Joseph Cotton’s delusional patriarchs in ‘The Tramplers’ (1965) and ‘The
Hellbenders’ (1966). All-powerful and sadistic, he keeps his wife Edith
(Mirella Maravidi) in a padded cell and later, after she has helped Requiescant
escape, he garrottes her. He also uses his Mexican servant (Luisa Baratto) as a
live target – she holds a candelabra aloft – in his wine cellar shooting
gallery. Ferguson’s views are typical Reconstruction Era rants: slaves were
‘looked after’ by their Southern masters, while the north exploited them with a
minimum wage, and the Mexican farmers ‘don’t deserve’ to own land.
‘Requiescant’ ends with a tableau (of the revolutionaries riding away to their
next battle, while others till the land) that could have appeared in any socio-political
agrarian Italian film and resembles rural neorealism. Here the western setting is
simply a vehicle for the discussion of wider issues. This is a far cry from
‘The Hill’s Run Red’, a Dino De Laurentiis production released internationally
by United Artists and a much more straightforward (and commercially successful)
revenge film. Lizzani directed ‘Hills’ as a favour to De Laurentiis, but used
the pseudonym ‘Lee W. Beaver’. ‘Requiescant’ is obviously a much more personal
project for Lizzani, who made a series of highly political films. Along with
the appearance of director Pasolini in ‘Requiescant’, Pasolini’s regular actors
Franco Citti and Ninetto Davoli appeared: the former as two-fingered badman
Burt (who is particularly fond of his blond toy doll) and the latter as Niño, a
Mexican trumpeter. Their presence – a distinctly Italian presence – creates a
rather strange atmosphere which might be termed ‘Prairie Pasolini’.
The Warner Archive has released the 1964 comedy "Honeymoon Hotel". The film, made just a few years before the liberalization of sex in the American cinema, is a labored affair with a sterling cast that is largely wasted due to a ludicrous script and leaden direction. This is somewhat surprising because the screenwriters- R.S. Allen and Harvey Bullock- were hot properties at the time, having written some truly classic sitcoms and memorable feature films. Here, they drop the ball with a script that resembles a horny 15 year-old boy's viewpoint of romance and sex. The film opens by introducing us to two best friends, Ross Kingsley (Robert Goulet) and Jay Menlow (Robert Morse), who revel in the fact that they share a Manhattan bachelor pad where they entertain a steady stream of female conquests. The handsome and devilish Ross is clearly the main magnet for the willing women, but even nerdy Jay is doing alright for himself. Thus, it puzzles Ross as to why Jay is about to marry traditional good girl Cynthia (Anne Helm). The story shifts to the scene of the opulent wedding. Just before the rituals can be carried out, however, Cynthia observes Jay and Ross ogling her friend Lynn Hope (Nancy Kwan). She has a public hissy fit and calls off the wedding. The ever-resourceful Ross realizes that Jay is now stuck with a honeymoon package to a tropical island for two that appears to be useless. Not wanting to let the opportunity pass by, he convinces Jay to go on the trip and take him along on Cynthia's ticket. The plan is to get Jay over his grief by getting back into the world of womanizing. Where better to do so than a tropical isle? The two men check into Honeymoon Hotel without realizing that it adheres to a strict policy of catering to newlyweds only. Through a string of coincidences the strict desk clerk misses the fact that two men are checking into the same room. This leads to any number of double entrendres and opportunities to overact as the maids come to realize that two guys appear to be on a honeymoon together. (Keep in mind this was 1964). Ross and Jay ponder why they are striking out with the female guests until they finally learn of their dilemma. Just when their libidos seem destined for disaster, they conveniently discover that there is one single woman on the property: Lynn Hope, who is the social director of the resort. This sets in motion a string of coincidences that are so unbelievable they would be more appropriate in a science fiction film. Predictably, Ross woos Lynn but on the verge of getting her into bed, she runs into Jay and learns of Ross's reputation as a serial seducer. She then plays Jay and Ross against each other in a pedantic series of scenarios in which each man thinks he will be the one to score with her. Finally, Ross legitimately falls for Lynn and in true storybook tradition, makes plans to finally settle down with the right girl. Then everything goes to hell in the film's wacky but dreadful conclusion in which one of his former conquests, Sherry (Jill St. John in typical air-headed floozy mode) arrives as the resort as the mistress to Ross's crusty boss (Keenan Wynn). In the increasingly ridiculous scenario, the boss's wife turns up because she suspects he is dallying with other women. Then Cynthia appears out of nowhere to see if she can reconcile with Jay. The situations that follow find Sherry being passed around by the males like an appetizer on a platter as each man finds he has to hide her presence from his significant other. Bedroom farces can be quite funny if carried out competently but Levin proves he isn't up to the task. The cast gamely goes through the manic pacing but there isn't a genuine laugh to be found.
The biggest disappointment with "Honeymoon Hotel" is the squandering of the admirable talent on screen. Goulet always had a fine screen presence in addition to being an impressive crooner. With his model-like good looks he should have been a much bigger star in films, but he seemed to primarily be relegated to mid-range fare like this. Morse made it big by being cast repeatedly as a "Jerry Lewis Lite". His aping of the comedy legend is so apparent that it was wonder he wasn't sued for identity theft. Morse has talent but he's reduced to enacting ridiculous scenarios that are completely out of place in what is supposed to be an adult romantic comedy. Other victims include fine supporting actors like Elsa Lanchester , who is consigned to a tiny role as a maid and the great British character actor Bernard Fox who plays the rigid desk clerk. Nancy Kwan is especially wasted, a fact the producers seemed to have realized because they shoehorn in a pretentious dance routine designed to show off her talents in that area despite the fact that it comes completely out of left field and doesn't even fit in the context of the sequence. Everything about "Honeymoon Hotel" is second rate. The film's bare bones budget is reflected by the fact that the closest the cast got to a tropical isle was a few hours shooting at a local beach a few miles from MGM's back lot. The opulent resort depicted in the film is stuffed with claustrophobic sets and an abundance of plastic palm trees. I've seen more convincing recreations of island life in department store summer patio displays. Even the "bachelor pad" is the recycled set from the "bachelor pad" seen in the previous year's MGM comedy, the far superior "Sunday in New York". Although the movie attempts to be risque with its sexual themes, the producers didn't have the courage to go beyond some smarmy one-liners. The honeymoon resort is populated by couples who appear to never stop copulating but the biggest laugh in the film is an unintentional one: the bedrooms in the suites all have separate beds, which makes the film as sexually daring as an episode of "I Love Lucy". "Honeymoon Hotel" might have been construed as a sex comedy but it's as flaccid as....well, a wet noodle.
Scott became a top box-office draw starring in 105 movies in a career which
lasted for nearly four decades. He’s best remembered as a western icon in a
career that, in many ways, rivals that of John Wayne. While the Duke made
movies into the mid 1970s and made appearances on TV until his death in 1979, Scott
retired from acting in 1962 after making “Ride the High Country” for Sam
Peckinpah. Scott was 64 and felt he could not surpass his performance in that
movie. He remained happily retired until his death in 1987 at the age of 87.
like the Duke, is known for his collaboration with an iconic larger-than-life
Hollywood director. In Scott’s case the honor goes to Budd Boetticher. They
made seven movies together and “The Tall T” is among their best efforts. Based
on a story by Elmore Leonard with a screenplay by future western director Burt
Kennedy, the story is simple and starts out at a leisurely pace.
plays Pat Brennan, a former ranch hand with a small ranch of his own who wants
to make a deal with his former employer at the Tall T. On the way he visits a
friend and his son who operate a stage coach water stop outside of town. The
boy admires the heroic Pat and asks if he will pick up some candy in town which
Pat agrees to do. In town Pat meets up with Ed Rintoon, the local stage coach
driver, played by Arthur Hunnicutt. They discuss the recent marriage of local
mine heiress Doretta, played by Maureen O’Sullivan, (Jane in the MGM Tarzan
series), to the opportunist Willard Mims who married her for her wealth. Pat
heads over to the Tall T to purchase a bull for his small ranch, but after
making a bet with his former employer who wants him back, ends up losing his
horse when he fails in his bid to ride the bull.
his way on foot with candy, saddle and pack in hand, Pat is picked up by
Rintoon who is transporting newlyweds Willard and Doretta Mims. Willard would
just as soon not pick up Pat, but is persuaded by Doretta. They make there way
to the water stop which is strangely empty. Three men with guns are waiting for
the bank stagecoach and have murdered the boy and his father and kill Rintoon
after a brief shootout. Willard selfishly convinces the outlaws that his wife
is worth holding for a ransom and makes a deal allowing him to deliver a
message to her father.
Boone plays Frank Usher, the leader of the gang, and he agrees that a ransom
may be a better option than a stagecoach robbery. He’s aided by Henry Silva as
Chink and Skip Homeier as Billy Jack. Frank claims to be a man with moral values
like Pat while Chink and Billy are only interested in getting drunk and
spending time at any available whorehouse. Billy keeps the candy Pat brought
for the murdered boy and the candy is slapped from his hand by Frank. Frank,
Chink and Billy take Pat and Doretta to a desert hideout and wait for Willard’s
return. The men make it clear that they are willing to kill their captives and
Pat realizes that all three will be dead when the ransom is delivered. Boone is
terrific as Frank Usher. Frank is a complicated bad guy who understands the
moral code of good men like Pat Brennan. In typical anti-hero fashion, Frank
tries to convince Frank that he’s not like Chink and Billy. He isn’t, but that
doesn’t stop Frank from using Pat’s moral code in order to manipulate everyone.
“Tall T” would appear to be an odd choice for the title of this movie. The
ranch plays a very small part in the movie and is never discussed after Pat
loses the bet. The original title was "The Captives" which is the
title of Elmore Leonard's original story. "The
Tall Rider" is believed by some to be still another pre-release title, but
the final title was changed to "The Tall T" which is the name of the
Tenvoorde ranch. The movie is enjoyable and the performances by Scott, Boone,
O’Sullivan, Hunnicutt and Silva are a testament to Boetticher as an auteur of
highly stylized westerns. Henry Silva is of particular interest as the villainous
Chink and his performance manages to slightly outdo Boone who is also in top
by Columbia in April 1957, the sound quality on the disc is near perfect and
the Technicolor is beautifully preserved in widescreen. The movie is only 78
minutes long and it feels like it should be longer. The movie was previously
released on DVD by Sony as part of “The Films of Budd Boetticher” and was one
of five Scott/Boetticher movies in the set which is loaded with extras. That
set is out of print and can fetch a premium price on-line. This version of “The
Tall T” is a burn to order DVD released as part of the Sony Choice Collection
and there are no extras on the disc which starts up without a menu.
criminal Jerry Barker (Ralph Meeker) demands $200,000 in ransom from the
wealthy father of a missing 10-year-old boy, whom Barker has hidden away in an
abandoned fire tower in Royal Gorge National Park, Colorado. Jerry successfully collects the ransom, but
the boy accidentally dies trying to get out of the tower, and after Jerry coldly
disposes of the body, he’s caught in a police cordon before he can get
away. Jim Madden, the FBI agent on the
case (Reed Hadley), doesn’t have the evidence needed to bring a kidnapping
charge, since the boy’s body hasn’t been found, and Barker refuses to
talk. So Barker, nicknamed “Iceman” by
the press because of his recalcitrance, is sent to prison on extortion. The authorities hope he’ll eventually break
down and confess to the more serious crime. Meanwhile, Madden doggedly continues to pursue clues.
bars, Jerry is ostracized by other inmates, even his hardened cellmates Mason
(William Talman), Smith (Lon Chaney), and Kelly (Charles Bronson). The other cons have heard about the crime and
figure that Jerry not only abducted the missing boy, he also murdered him. (“Kid killer . . . that’s really scrapin’ the
bottom of the barrel!” Kelly sneers over the top of a bodybuilder
magazine.) But the fourth cellmate,
Rollo (Broderick Crawford), has a better idea. The ransom money hasn’t been found either. Rollo convinces the others to take Barker
with them when they execute an already-planned escape, so that he’ll lead them
to the missing money.
House, U.S.A.,” a modest 1955 Bel-Air/United Artists release, is a relatively
obscure slice of ‘50s crime cinema, despite the presence of stellar plug-uglies
Meeker, Crawford, Bronson, Chaney, and Talman in the main cast. Maybe it’s gotten lost in the myriad of other
crime and noir movies from the decade that have “Big” in the title. Or maybe the students of auteur cinema, who
are usually the first to unearth gems in the trash heap of low-budget films,
have overlooked it because it wasn’t directed by Don Siegel, Phil Karlson, or
Sam Fuller (the director was the prolific but relatively unheralded Howard W.
Koch). Too, the title may be a turnoff
for crime-film buffs and critics who don’t particularly care for prison
stories. It’s actually a misnomer
because the prison scenes (filmed inside McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary)
comprise less than a third of the movie.
truth, the script is all over the B-movie landscape, in a good way, from the
methodical scenes about the kidnapping (particularly creepy these days, when
stories about child predators are all over the news), to the procedural scenes
of the FBI agent questioning witnesses, with voiceover by Hadley, to the
inevitable double-crosses among the escaped cons. In addition to the gritty, sweaty scenes at
McNeil’s Island, the movie also features on-location shooting in Royal Gorge
and nearby Canon City, all in no-nonsense black-and-white, heightening the
sense of documentarian realism. Some of
the script doesn’t quite hang together -- for example, it doesn’t seem likely
that the combined forces of the FBI, the park service, and state and local law
enforcement couldn’t find the missing son of a millionaire, alive or dead, even
in a sprawling wilderness park. But film
buffs likely will be too busy spotting familiar ‘50s faces in the supporting
cast to care. Those faces include
Felicia Farr (here billed in an early role as Randy Farr), Roy Roberts, Robert
Bray, Jan Merlin, John Ford stalwart Willis Bouchey, and Jack Webb regular Bill
new Kino Lorber release, in 1920x1080p hi-def, continues the label’s rescue of
neglected but interesting movies that deserve new exposure. The visual quality is somewhat grainy, as
you’d expected from an older film, but that isn’t necessarily a drawback for a
hardboiled crime drama. The only extras
are trailers for three other Kino Lorber releases.
Referring to the 1955 film "Man With the Gun" as a routine Western might not sound like an enthusiastic recommendation. However, because the 1950s was such a fertile time for fine movies representing this genre, "routine" can be taken as praise. The film follows many of the standard story elements that were popular in horse operas of this era: a stalwart, mysterious loner with a shady past who takes on the forces of evil; a good-hearted "bad girl"; a larger-than-life villain and a town with a population of timid, helpless men who must rely on the stranger to save them from being exploited and cheated. Robert Mitchum, then an up-and-coming star, plays Clint Tollinger, a drifter with a reputation for taming wild towns. The town he rides into has a trouble with a capital "T". Seems one Dade Holman (Joe Barry) is the standard villain in a Western piece: he's been flexing his considerable financial resources by buying up all the surrounding land and using paid gun hands to terrorize or kill anyone who won't cede their property rights to him. Tollinger drifts into town to find that his reputation precedes him. He is hired by the local council to thwart Holman's thugs, who have also been disrupting the peace. Tollinger agrees as long as he has complete control over the methods he employs and that he is temporarily deputized, as well. He finds the local sheriff to be an aged, fragile man Lee Simms (Henry Hull), who is more of a figurehead than a respected lawman. Tollinger quickly reverses roles and becomes the central law officer in town, with Simms taking on the role of his deputy. It doesn't take long for Holman's gunmen to test his mettle. Tollinger proves to be adept at protecting himself, consisting outdrawing his adversaries and killing them even when they outnumber him. He also enforces a "no guns in town" rule and a curfew as well. Before long, the businessmen are complaining that now things are too peaceful and their businesses are suffering. Tollinger also interacts with a young couple who are engaged to marry: lovely Stella Atkins (Karen Sharpe) and her headstrong fiancee Jeff Castle (John Lupton) who continues to defy Holman's men and who has been seriously wounded for his refusal to cede a parcel of land Holman wants. Tollinger takes a liking to the couple, though rumors begin to swirl that Stella is more in love with him than she is with Jeff. Tollinger also encounters his estranged wife Nelly (Jan Sterling), who is running the local bordello/dance hall. The two are not happy to see each other and when Nelly reveals a shocking secret about their daughter, the enraged Tollinger goes on a rampage that terrorizes the town.
"Man With the Gun" suffers from a bland, uninspired title but the film itself is quite engaging. Mitchum looks terrific in the part, strutting about town ramrod straight and looking handsome even when embroiled in shoot-outs. Even this early in his career there was evidence of a superstar in the making. The supporting cast is also very good, especially some wonderful character actors such as Henry Hull, Emile Meyer, James Westerfield and other familiar faces of the era (including a young Claude Akins). The film, ably directed by Richard Wilson, is certainly no classic but on the other hand, it is consistently engrossing and highly entertaining. Despite the considerable talent involved, it's Mitchum's show throughout- and he delivers the goods.
The Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber does justice to the crisp B&W cinematography. The edition features the original trailer and bonus trailers for other Mitchum Westerns from the company, The Wonderful Country and Young Billy Young.
Twilight Time has released Fox's 1970 box-office disaster The Only Game in Town as a Blu-ray limited edition (3,000 units). The film is primarily remembered for reasons its creators would never have desired. It was the last movie of legendary director George Stevens and represented his re-teaming with Elizabeth Taylor, with whom he had made two genuine classics: Giant and A Place in the Sun, both which featured two of her most acclaimed performances. In fact, by the time this movie went into production in 1970, Stevens' clout in Hollywood had been somewhat diminished by his obsessive quest to bring his dream project, The Greatest Story Ever Told to the screen. He finally succeeded in doing so in 1965, only to have the film become a politely-acclaimed epic that ended up losing United Artists a fortune. Nevertheless, in those days past reputations still helped keep older filmmakers in high regard, so Fox executives saw plenty of potential in the third teaming of Stevens and Elizabeth Taylor. To add additional boxoffice clout, the studio signed Warren Beatty as the male lead. Beatty had been kicking around the industry for a decade but had only recently become red-hot due to the success of Bonnie and Clyde. Beatty was so eager to work with Stevens that he passed on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, another Fox property that would have a considerably more positive fate.
The Only Game in Town was written as play by Frank D. Gilroy, who was riding a wave of acclaim for The Subject Was Roses. Fox was so eager to land the rights to the story that they paid a (then) astronomical $500,000 to Gilroy, even though the play had not yet been performed. Fox was in for a rude awakening. When the play opened on Broadway, it had a very abbreviated run and closed shortly thereafter, having been deemed a major flop. Left with a costly investment, Fox felt the same fate might not befall the screen version, given the involvement of Stevens, Taylor and Beatty. However, as with any project involving La Liz, the studio found itself being held hostage to her costly demands. Although the story is set entirely in Las Vegas, Taylor insisted that it be shot in France (!) where hubby Richard Burton was filming Staircase, a movie that was set in London. Go figure. It appears the Burtons had a fetish for demanding that movies be shot in places other than their actual locations. Thus, what should have been a modestly-budgeted romance with only two major characters (there are only four actors credited for the entire movie) ballooned into an $11 million production, with much of the cost going into costly production design in order to recreate "Vegas" in France. This was achieved in a fairly unconvincing manner. Remember those old B&W movies in which someone's arrival in Paris is indicated by the fact that the Eiffel Tower (usually a matte painting) is directly visible from the window or balcony? Well, the same principal applies here. Liz lives in an apartment on the outskirts of the Strip but the casinos are glaringly visible over the sand dunes from her window. However, the effect is not even remotely convincing. The garish still life suggests anything other than a bustling tourist center. For understandable reasons (Liz was a few thousand miles away from the real Vegas), no traffic or people can be seen on "The Strip". Thus, the backdrop takes on an eerie air as though it is an effect from a long lost episode of The Twilight Zone.
The story opens with Fran Walker (Taylor), a chorus girl in a big casino stage extravaganza calling it quits for the night. (Critics cruelly noted at the time how unsuitably cast Taylor was for the role of a chorus dancer. Although she was only 37 years old at the time, she seemed far older. Director Stevens tries to deal with this challenge by confining scenes of Fran at work to one "blink-and-you-miss" intense closeup of Liz bopping up and down a bit, all too apparently not in the presence of any of the "real" dancers shown in the establishing shot.) Seemingly bored and despondent, Fran stops into a local gin mill near the Strip to have nightcap. The joint features a tuxedo-clad pianist who warbles for the sparse crowd in between making cynical jokes and comments. He's Joe Grady (Beatty), a handsome hunk who immediately meets cute with Fran. Before you can say "Dickie Burton", the two of them are canoodling under the covers at Fran's apartment (with sleep being impossible, given the blinding lights from the garish phony Vegas set outside her window.) The script goes nowhere fast with Fran and Joe bickering, making up, bickering again... Fran confesses she is the mistress of a wealthy business executive who assures her he is leaving his wife to marry her. Joe cautions her that she has fallen for the oldest con game practiced by cheating husbands and her assurances that she believes in the man's integrity seem increasingly shaky. However, just when Fran and Joe are about to set up house together, Fran's lover, Lockwood (Broadway actor Charles Braswell) turns up unexpectedly and -dammit all- he turns out to have been a man of his word. He wants to marry Fran immediately and take her away from Vegas for a globe-trotting life of luxury. Trouble is, Fran is now smitten by Joe. Who will she choose? The uber-successful businessman or the down-and-out lounge singer? Joe has other problems beyond his finances. He's a compulsive gambler who squanders away his savings every time he manages to put a little aside. In fact, the sequences with Beatty sans Liz (some of which were actually shot in Vegas) are the best in the film, as we see Joe constantly weaken in his vow to stay away from the craps tables. The scenes of him blowing his hard earned money on rolls of the dice are emotionally effective and, at times, cringe-inducing. What doesn't add up is why the charismatic Joe would be so smitten by Fran. Granted, she looks like Elizabeth Taylor, but she's a moody, whining, generally unhappy person who spends most of her time kvetching about every aspect of her life. Although essentially miscast, Taylor plays the role as effectively as one could hope. However, the generally glamorous Liz is attired in array of bland costumes that makes her look uncharacteristically dowdy. It's Beatty who surprises. He's long been one of the least interesting screen presences among iconic leading men and- with a few notable exceptions- he generally delivers performances that are so low-key they border on being boring. However, as Joe Grady, he's more lively than usual and he displays the charisma that would attract any sane, heterosexual woman. (There is one scene, however, that is a bit too cute: love-struck Joe warbling Some Enchanted Evening in the corridor outside of Fran's apartment.)
The Only Game in Town is a bizarre film and is compromised by the fact that the two lead characters have a relationship that never rings true to the viewer. In her Oscar winning performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Taylor was able to actually play an every day person in a believable manner. Martha, the protagonist of that film, may have been a human spitfire, constantly insulting and berating her long-suffering husband George, but she had charisma and was a sexual dynamo. In George Stevens' film, we are too aware of the fact that we are watching a movie star trying desperately to play an ordinary woman. The ploy simply doesn't work. The fact that the movie lacks any interesting supporting characters (even Braswell is bland and boring) gives the entire production a claustrophobic feeling. The score by Maurice Jarre, certainly one of the great composers, also feels out of place here with inappropriate cues coming at inappropriate times. In the wake of the film's poor box-office performance, Beatty emerged unscathed and went on to become an Oscar-winning director. Taylor, however, lumbered through a number of other major studio productions, all of which flopped. It was the end of her reign as a boxoffice draw.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray features a very nice transfer (though some artifacts are noticeable here and there), an isolated score track and the original trailer. It is region-free and can play on any international system. Julie Kirgo provides the usual insightful background notes in an illustrated collector's booklet. The movie is not quite as bad as critics indicated at the time of its initial release but it falls far short of its potential, given the talent involved. Its sad legacy is, ironically, the prime reason we can recommend retro movie lovers to check it out and form their own conclusions.
First Run Features specializes in releasing often obscure, but fascinating documentaries, with many titles relating to WWII history. The company has just made available Dear Uncle Adolf: The Germans and Their Fuhrer, a 2010 documentary by filmmaker Michael Kloft. It's pretty hard to bring a new angle to the study of WWII, as virtually every conceivable aspect would seem to have been covered countless times. However, Kloft examines a genuinely unique aspect of Nazi culture: the countless "fan letters" written to Adolf Hitler during his ascent to power and his reign as Fuhrer. It seems that after the Soviets took Berlin in the waning days of the war, they uncovered a massive archive of personal letters written to Hitler by German citizens. These were studied, cataloged and stored because Hitler felt they were a good measurement of how his people felt about his policies. The Soviets kept a lid on the archive but in the post-Cold War period, they were opened up, though it's unclear how many historians took advantage of this obscure but important find. The cameras pan down endless rows of neatly cataloged storage boxes all filled with the letters. A narrator reads some of them, along with official communiques from Nazi officials. All of this is blended with mesmerizing footage of Hitler and his cronies, much of it new to me.
The film presents a stark and timeless lesson about how cultured, educated and rational people can willingly suspend their common sense- as well as their civil liberties- in hopes of appeasing a charismatic leader. While it is true the German people had suffered terribly in the aftermath of WWI and the oppressive conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, the desperate population willingly adopted Nazi policies that a decade were deemed uncivilized. When Hitler tried to take power at the point of a gun, he failed. He succeeded only when he went the legal route, understanding fully that frightened people will pay any price to have a benevolent strongman solve their problems. If the price of this pact with the devil is that countless numbers of their fellow citizens be deemed undesirables and marked for death, well, that was just too bad. The letters written to Hitler and documented in this film run the gamut from those sent by academics to literal nutcases. (Yes, even the Fuhrer wasn't immune from attracting crazed eccentrics such as the barber who pleaded with Hitler to allow him to meet him in Berlin so he could fulfill his dream of giving him a haircut!) Countless women wrote to Hitler, with the type of adoration that American bobbysoxers were reserving for the likes of young Frank Sinatra. Their flowery prose barely hide their all-too-apparent desire to offer him sexual favors. One woman blatantly invites Hitler to father a child with her so that his legacy can live on. However, there are also heartbreaking letters from the early days of Hitler's regime. These come from wives and children who profess their devotion to him and the cause of National Socialism even as they plead with him to intervene and release their husband/father who has been jailed for unspecified reasons. One woman writes incredulously that her husband has not even been formally charged with a crime despite being in jail for months, as though the niceties of the Weimar Republic were still prevalent in the courts. In one particularly disturbing missive to the Fuhrer, a terrified woman reaffirms her Germanic heritage and spells out the reasons why a trace of mixed blood should not result in her being branded a Jew. She pleads with Hitler to deliver her from the "curse" of being Jewish. In contrast, one child writes to Hitler to beg him to annex his native Austria into the Reich because the Jews are using Christian German children as human sacrifices. Such tall tales were widely believed and helped justify Hitler's amicable takeover of a once sovereign nation. The letters and communiques in the film also show how well Hitler understood the importance of not trivializing his super-human image, as a baker is chastised for naming a cake in his honor. The man writes a sniveling and apologetic reply explaining he was only conforming to the popular demand for such a delicacy from local party officials.
Warner Archive has released the 1968 thriller Kona Coast, based on the novel Bimini Gal by popular mystery writer John D. MacDonald. The modestly-budgeted production reminds one of John Ford's Donovan's Reef in the sense that one suspects both movies were primarily used as justifications for cast and crew to take a nice vacation in Hawaii. Boone plays Sam Moran, a charter boat captain living the good life in Honolulu, where he routinely indulges in drinking binges and womanizing. When his teenaged daughter falls in with a local high living drug peddler named Kryer (Steve Inhat), she is accidentally given a heroin overdose at a drug-fueled party. Rather than deal with the consequences, Kryer orders her to be murdered. When her body washes ashore, the police think it's a drowning but Sam suspects foul play from the beginning. As he begins his own investigation, he is severely beaten, his boat is destroyed and his first mate murdered. Nevertheless, he vows to soldier on and bring the killers to justice. Sam must have the same bizarre methods of investigation that O.J. Simpson had used to track down "the real killers": his path never seems to wander very far outside of seedy bars and strip clubs. For a man obsessed with avenging his daughter's death, he seems pretty open to distractions. In between downing bottles of booze, his roving eye is attracted to a sexy young bikini-clad girl (Gina Villines) and resurrecting a relationship with an old flame (Vera Miles, looking gorgeous), who - in psychological terms- is carrying more baggage than a cruise ship. There's also a testy relationship with a local businesswoman (Joan Blondell, refreshingly not cast as a bordello madam, for once). Sam interrupts the drinkin' and screwin' long enough to administer the occasional Hawaiian punch to some stock company villains, but finding his daughter's killer doesn't seem like a great priority.
The screenplay by Gilbert Ralston (who wrote the original Willard) is a tepid and under-written and the usually reliable Lamont Johnson is asleep at the wheel in terms of direction. The film lumbers from scene to scene until the painfully anemic climax in which Sam and Kryer square off in a sequence that seemed to take five full minutes to conceptualize and film. (Yes, it's even weaker than that other anemic mano-a-mano duel between hero and villain in The Man With the Golden Gun). The film is not without its modest pleasures, however. Boone is, as always, a forceful and charismatic screen presence. Although he was a TV icon, one wishes he was more selective about his big screen roles. For every good movie (The War Lord, Hombre), he would counter by appearing in several duds. His scenes with Vera Miles are well-acted but the weak dialogue can't be overlooked. There were no professional film studios in Hawaii at the time the movie was made, and indeed it would take another couple of years before the success of Hawaii 5-0 would convince Hollywood to invest in some production facilities on the islands. Consequently, most of Kona Coast utilizes actual locations and this is the film's single greatest asset. The film feels like a TV movie masquerading as theatrical feature, but one could do worse than spending 90 minutes with Richard Boone under any circumstance.
Scorpion, the DVD label that specializes in first-class releases of often second-rate films, does it again with Point of Terror, an obscure thriller from 1971. The film was the brainchild of star/writer/producer Peter Carpenter (Blood Mania). Never heard of him? Neither had I until this screener copy arrived. A bit of research reveals that Carpenter was a wanna-be star with grand ambition and modest talents - much like the character he plays in the film, which was directed by Alex Nicol. Sadly, Carpenter's reed-thin list of movie credits is due to the fact that he died young- in fact, shortly after this film was released. Carpenter, who personifies "beefcake", plays a lounge singer with a loyal following. However, he's frustrated that his fame is limited to a local restaurant. Although he has his pick of the female groupies, he's convinced he's destined for fame and fortune. He meets Andrea (Dyanne Thorne of Ilse, She Wolf of the S.S. fame), an uppercrust cougar who helps her impotent wheelchair-bound hubby operate his record empire. Before you can say "Wayne Newton", the pair is tossing and turning all night under the covers. Both characters are manipulative and unsympathetic, which makes it hard to empathize with either one. Andrea is using Tony as her boy toy, while he is using her clout to advance his record career. Soon, both are enmeshed in dastardly deeds including infidelity and murder.
The film has overtones of Play Misty for Me (i.e, sexual obsession taken to a lethal stage) but Clint Eastwood probably didn't lose any sleep worrying that the impact of his film would be diminished by this one. Carptenter himself is a strangely perplexing personality. At times, he resonates legitimate charisma, but at other times, his acting is grade school level. Additionally, the film's opening credits are set to a scene of Tony performing his lounge act- clad in bright red buckskins! It's doubtful this looked hunky even in 1973 and the sequence is unintentionally hilarious, reminding one of those scenes in which women faint in passion at the sight of Austin Powers prancing about in his underwear. Thorne gives a slightly more accomplished performance and gets to doff her top in a swimming pool to display her ample assets. (This was the 70s, remember, and such sequences were all but obligatory for B level actresses.) The movie plods at times and the action is rather clunkily directed, but the film is generally engrossing. Scorpion has provided the usual bevy of extras including an interview with actress Leslie Simms, who has a role in the film. She also served as Carpenter's acting coach and reminisces with affection about her friendship with him. Thorne is also heard via a phone interview done for this release. As with Simms, she speaks highly of Carpenter. The DVD release also includes a trailer and the original poster art on the packaging, which deceitfully implies this is a horror film. Another nice job by Scorpion for a film that would otherwise be lost to the ages.
(This DVD is Region coded "0", which means it can play on any international DVD unit)
“Cover Up” (1949) is a very strange little movie. An
insurance investigator Sam Donovan (Dennis O’Keefe) arrives in a small
Midwestern town by train to investigate the death of one of his company’s
policy holders, a man named Phillips. He meets pretty girl Anita Weatherby
(Barbara Britton) on the train and helps her carry the Christmas packages she’s
brought home for her family. He meets her father, Stu Weatherby (Art Baker) who
came to pick her up and invites Donovan to come out to the house for a visit
when he has the time. Friendly town. Donovan next visits the local sheriff
Larry Best (William Bendix) to get the death report. And that’s where
complications start. The sheriff tells him although the death was a suicide by
gunshot, there’s no gun, no bullet and no coroner’s report and the body is
already buried in the cemetery.
Sounds like a decent set up for a good hard-boiled
who-dunnit, doesn’t it? Except it’s anything but. Despite Kino Lorber’s
packaging, with Bendix and O’Keefe wielding a couple of Lugers on the Blu-Ray
cover, “Cover-Up” falters mid-way through, deciding it wants to be a nice, friendly
holiday movie. Despite a set-up that sounds like the beginning of “Bad Day at
Black Rock,” unlike the characters in that film, everybody in this town must
have migrated from Mayberry. There all so nice and kind and wouldn’t want to
ruin anyone’s Christmas with a nasty thing like murder, which Phillips’ death
turns out to be.
This may be the only mystery story in which the
murdered man and his murderer never appear on screen. In fact, although the
mystery gets solved, there’s no punishment that can be meted out to the
perpetrator because he conveniently dies of a heart attack before Donovan get
put the cuffs on him. And besides Phillips was a no good rat that nobody in
town liked and doesn’t miss. So why make a big fuss about it?
It’s all pretty weird and at the same time kind of tame
and dull. The emphasis is more on the romance between Anita and Sam than the
crime. Oh, there are red herrings sprinkled throughout the script co-written by
O’Keefe and Jerome Odlum that keep the mystery plot going but director Alfred
E. Green provides little tension or suspense.
One wonders why Kino Lorber chose to put this title out
in a nice Blu-ray format when there are so many other more worthy noirs out
there waiting for that kind of presentation. The picture and sound quality are
first rate but the disc has no extras at all.
Bottom line, if you’re looking for an unusual, off-beat
Christmas movie, pick it up. You could run a double bill along with Jean
Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story” to liven things up. Tough guy noir lovers should avoid.
“What’s got four eyes and can’t see?...
Mississippi!”, quips Gene Hackman as FBI Agent Anderson in Alan Parker’s Mississippi
Burning, a cynical joke about racist attitudes of the backward-looking American
south. This heavyweight dramatic crime thriller, based on one of the most
notorious race-related murder investigations in U.S. history, gets its first
ever UK Blu-ray release courtesy of Second Sight.
Set in 1964, endemic racism and
race-related violence throughout the southern states is scrutinised to an
uncomfortably realistic degree, as Roger Ebert wrote: “More than any other
film… this one gets inside the passion of race relations in America”; the film
understands and explains events, whilst Parker’s direction criticises and
highlights prejudice without undue sensationalism. The plot
revolves around the historical events related to the murders of three civil
rights activists (two white and one black) who go missing deep in the heart of
Ku Klux Klan territory. The FBI are called in to investigate, headed by
Agent Ward (Willem Dafoe), very much representing Kennedy’s America; a
progressive, forward looking country of freedom and equality, with zero
tolerance for racist violence and beliefs but believing in his by-the-book
methodology and Bureau protocol. Agent Anderson is partnered with him,
much more cynical with age and willing to take unconventional steps, by any
means necessary, to bring injustice to light. Facing uncooperative
local police and a community too afraid of the consequences to talk to the FBI,
the murder investigation sparks repercussions of national significance in an
era when segregation was still commonplace.
It is obvious to see how Mississippi
Burning won a number of accolades including an Oscar, a number of BAFTAs and a
best actor award for Hackman (at Berlin International Film Festival). And
it is indeed Hackman’s portrayal of Anderson that is the heart and soul of this
film - his warmth and depth of character, his past as a small southern town
Sheriff to his current, cosmopolitan, FBI post illustrates a shift in American
values and the possibilities of a more inclusive future. He understands
the (shockingly prejudiced) beliefs and attitudes of many white southern locals
towards the black population, but does not for one second, as his partner
perhaps mistakes him for early in the film, sympathise with the locals’
attitude in the slightest. In fact, his past allows him to speak to the locals
in a language they understand - violence - to let them know racist actions are
intolerable. He clearly expresses his outrage in a very open and human
manner with which the audience can identify; violent beatings of innocent and
peaceful members of the community from old men to women and children simply for
the colour of their skin or cooperating with the law is extremely upsetting to
witness, as shocking today if not moreso than when the film was released.
Ward is played subtly by Dafoe, leaving
centre stage to Hackman, but his performance is vital to the success of the
film. The audience’s absolute belief in his resolute determination to
solve the case, refusing to give in to the stonewalling by the local community,
and using all means at his disposal is what drives the film along.
For example, a colleague informs Ward that the local motel owner
wants the FBI out as they are ‘bad for business’, to which Ward coolly but
firmly tells him to “Buy it”. Anderson advises Ward that FBI methods won’t
work, knowing that conflict and violence will arise from outside intervention
and will bring a warlike atmosphere to this small town America which, indeed,
escalates to the KKK carrying out violent beatings and relentless petrol-bomb
attacks on houses and churches. Ward, however, sees the value in setting
a precedent here, to make a stand to show there is no place for racial
intolerance in the America of the future, he recognises an era that needs to be
brought to an end: “...it was a war long before we got here.”
Other than these central performances, what
really strengthens the film is the impressive supporting cast; not one single
character is made two-dimensional here, however small a role. Brad Dourif
plays vicious Deputy Sheriff Pell as cruel but with a twinkle in his eye,
Frances McDormand is his resigned but proud wife. R. Lee Ermey plays
Mayor Tilman, parochial and angry, with earnest concern. Even Stephen
Toblowsky, perhaps most recognisable for small but perfectly-pitched apathetic
comedy roles (such as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day) is, in a few short minutes,
able to deliver an impassioned and genuinely chilling speech here as a KKK
leader. Every character feels like a real person; however distasteful
their opinions or actions are within the film, they are still presented as
believably nuanced and rounded human beings rather than caricatures in broad
brush strokes, which could be all too easy to fall back on with such
politically charged subject matter; much credit is due to both performers and
The Blu-ray itself is excellent quality, transferred well without losing the
textured grain of the original film, pleasantly noticeable in places.
Bonus features are few but fascinating; separate interviews with Dafoe,
writer Chris Gerolmo and a 20-minute interview with Alan Parker. There is
also a feature audio commentary with Alan Parker. It would have been
fascinating to have some of the lesser-featured supporting cast mentioned above
involved, perhaps, but the simple and straightforward style of the menus and
the extras presented suit to tone of the film well.
By the 1920s there was already a fear that the age of great adventure and adventurers was rapidly coming to a close. Flight had been conquered and lands that seemed mythical were rapidly being explored by white men. The great white whale that had remained unconquered was the summit of the world's tallest mountain, Everest. Today, the mountain is scaled almost routinely but it still is underestimated by climbers who lose their lives it their quest to ascend it. As late as the 1920s, many considered it be an impossible quest to reach the summit. However, courageous (or foolhardy) souls are often drawn to such seemingly quixotic goals, and so it was that in 1924 a major British expedition was formed with the intent of achieving what many felt was the last great challenge: to reach the summit of the fabled mountain. The expedition was headed by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. Typical of the Brits, the venture was undertaken on a grand scale with a small army of participants, including Tibetan sherpas. Captain John Noel asked if he could accommodate the expedition so that he could document it on film. Mallory and Irvine were reluctant to do so, reminding Noel that they were motivated by scientific exploration, not becoming Hollywood stars. Nevertheless, Noel was given permission to join them- on the proviso that he minimize filming of the people involved and concentrate on the landscapes. Thus, Noel- armed with an amazing array of state-of-the-art film cameras of varying sizes- did indeed spend most of his energies shooting the spectacular scenery. Although there are only fleeting glimpses of the British members of the expedition, Noel did have the foresight to realize how exotic images of the local Tibetan culture would be for Westerners. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to film tribal members and their customs, thus providing the most complete depiction of Tibetan life seen by the outside world.
One of the most impressive aspects of the documentary is Noel's seemingly superhuman ability to keep cameras steady in dangerous situations. The vast regions of ice and sky look just as beautiful and intimidating today as they must have when he filmed them. The movie has an almost mystical quality to it that sets it uniquely apart from any other documentary I have seen. Noel captures the mundane and boring aspects of the expedition as well as its most majestic moments- all leading up to a failed quest and a tragic loss of life. The final images of doomed men setting of to reach to the summit was captured on film by Noel, who kept shooting them even as they faded into figures in a landscape, never to be seen again and whose precise fate remains unknown to this day. Noel successfully marketed his film to appreciative worldwide audiences, but upon his death the elements were allowed to deteriorate. The British Film Institute was given the raw materials by Noel's daughter Sandra and a major restoration project was undertaken that saw the movie returned to its original glory, including some very impressive color tinting. The newly-commissioned score has been brilliantly realized by Simon Fisher; it is both beautiful and occasionally eerie and foreboding. Kino Lorber has imported the BFI restored print for the American Blu-ray release. Extras include interviews with Sandra Noel and other scholars and featurettes about the restoration of the film and the scoring process.
"The Epic of Everest" is a landmark film that has retained all of its emotional power thanks to a brilliant restoration.
by Universal in 1967, “Tobruk” opens with the feel of a 1960s spy thriller. Rock
Hudson is Major Donald Craig, a Canadian prisoner of war on board a German
transport ship anchored somewhere off the North Africa coast in late 1942. A
group of frogmen surface near the ship and sneak on board with silencers fixed
to their guns in order to capture Craig. The frogmen are led by Captain Bergman
(George Peppard) who reveal themselves to be part of a team of German commandos.
commandos take Craig to a German airfield and fly him to a desert landing
strip. They’re unexpectedly greeted by a group of British soldiers led by Colonel
Harker (Nigel Green). It’s revealed that Bergman is the leader of a
German-Jewish commando unit attached to a group of British commandos operating
in North Africa. They secured the rescue of Craig due to his expertise as a map
maker needing his expertise in navigating a mine field and access to the German
occupied port at Tobruk, Libya, so they can destroy it in time for a British
movie is based on an actual, although unsuccessful, attack on Tobruk in
September of 1942 which did include German-Jewish soldiers and fake British
POWs. Just like the actual events, the British commandos in the movie pretend
to be POWs in order to get to their ultimate destination undetected... or at
least in an inconspicuous way that will arouse little attention. During the
journey through the Sahara, the group encounters the German and Italian Army as
well as local horseman seeking money for captured British hostages and aerial
staffing from British aircraft.
by Arthur Hiller, the movie appears at first glance to be an unusual choice for
the director who would be synonymous with message movies and romantic comedies.
However, interspersed between the usual action and military battle scenes, the
British and German-Jewish commando team deal with serious issues of bigotry and
anti-Semitism with Hudson caught between the two camps as the outsider caught in
the middle as they make their way across the desert.
is very good in “Tobruk” and broke away from being stereotyped as a leading man
of about a half dozen very popular romantic comedies to star in more serious
films including heroic military parts in “Tobruk,” “Ice Station Zebra,” “The
Undefeated” and “Hornet’s Nest.” In the 1970s he settled into a hybrid role
which combined elements of his romantic comedies and the heroic leading man as San
Francisco police commissioner in the popular TV series “McMillan & Wife” which
ran from 1971 to 1977.
no stranger to tough guy roles, plays a German soldier for the second time in
“Tobruk” following his performance as aviator Bruno Stachel in the WWI classic
“The Blue Max.” Prior to this he appeared in the WWII adventure “Operation
Crossbow” which was preceded by a string of high profile big budget movies.
Like Hudson, Peppard found success in television with the TV series “Banacek”
which ran from 1972-1974. His acting career was hit or miss in the late 1960s until
he landed the lead in “Banacek” and faltered again in the 1970s until he found
success in the popular TV series, “The A-Team,” which ran from 1983-1987.
Green is a standout as Col. Harker, the leader of the commando unit. One of the
great character actors of British cinema, Green is memorable in just about
everything he appeared in a career cut short by an accidental overdose of
sleeping pills. He played a similar character in another North Africa set WWII
movie, “Play Dirty,” as Col. Masters.
features a cast filled with many of the great British character actors including
Jack Watson, Percy Herbert, Norman Rossington and Leo Gordon as well as
American Guy Stockwell and Irishman Liam Redmond included in the mix. Gordon
did double duty in “Tobruk” as screenwriter as well as a rare good guy role.
early in 1967, “Tobruk” is overshadowed by the blockbuster success and
popularity of “The Dirty Dozen” which premiered that summer. “Tobruk,” like
“The Dirty Dozen,” falls into the genre of “Men on an Impossible Mission,” but
doesn’t pack quite the same punch as movies like “The Dirty Dozen” and “Where
Eagles Dare.” The movie comes close with a satisfying plot, terrific
performances and plenty of action. It is violent, to be sure, including an abundance of graphic deaths via
flame thrower which become more a convenient distraction to move the story
is made-to-order via Universal’s Vault Series and has a run time of 110
minutes. The DVD offers no extras, but the movie sounds and looks very nice
preserving the Techniscope widescreen image. The movie is a welcome addition for
fans of 60s war movies.
to be mistaken for the cannibal monstrosity from Umberto Lenzi with which it
shares its title, Eaten Alive is a
1976 tale of terror set in the Louisiana swamps and was directed by Tobe Hooper
in the wake of his phenomenal success with The
Texas Chain Saw Massacre two years earlier. From the outset Eaten Alive shares its predecessor's
mien of ill ease (though not to such stomach-tightening effect), but little of
its wicked humour. Indeed it's an all-round far crueller film and positively bubbles
over with bloodshed.
Mardi Rustam – who also wrote the story with colleague Alvin L Fast, TCSM's Kim Henkel then adapting it for
the screen – was aiming to ride the tidal wave of Jaws' success; what the results lacked in quality (certainly if
Rustam felt truly inspired by
Spielberg’s film) was voraciously compensated for with lashings of cheap
thrills and squalid chills.
story kicks off with a very fresh-faced Robert Englund attempting to abuse 'the
new girl' in a grimy brothel. Immediately deciding that prostitution isn't for
her, the young lass packs her bags and sets off on foot into the night. But
it's very much a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ when she
stumbles across the remote Starlight Hotel and its creepy proprietor Judd
(Neville Brand); after attempting to assault her, he prongs her to death on the
tines of a pitchfork and feeds her corpse to the huge crocodile he keeps in an
enclosure in the back yard. It’s a brutal and extremely graphic sequence but
one via which Hooper adeptly alerts the audience that he's upped the ante to
deliver something rather more visceral then he did with TCSM (which for all its notoriety is a largely bloodless affair,
functioning primarily on a psychological level). The rest of the movie’s
runtime pivots on Judd serving up hotel guests as crocodile chow for no
discernible reason beyond the fact he's mad as...well, as a box of baby crocs.
the unbridled success of Hooper's earlier film, it's no surprise that Eaten Alive is often given short shrift
and indeed it is inferior, mainly due
to sluggish pacing and the fact it was shot in its entirety on a soundstage;
although the hotel exteriors –wreathed in swirling mist and bathed in a
quease-inducing red glow – have an appealingly stylised look, it's also
painfully obvious one is looking at a studio-bound set, replete with the tell-tale
hollow sound resulting when interiors feebly posture as exteriors. However, if you
can look past this handicap, and claustrophobic dread coupled with sleaze by
the bucketful float your boat, then there's plenty on offer here to keep you
cast alone is worth tuning in for. Complementing Brand's frenetic turn as the
maniac hotel manager there are fun appearances from legends Mel Ferrer (whose
career had certainly seen better days) and Addams
Family icon Carolyn Jones (almost unrecognisable as the decrepit Madam of a
brothel). Also on hand are Stuart Whitman as a local sheriff oblivious to the
carnage being perpetrated on his patch and TCSM's leading lady Marilyn Burns, who fortuitously discards her
frightful wig early on but still ends up bound and gagged by our resident psychopath...
the poor girl didn't have a lot of luck in Hooper's films, did she? There's
also a bizarre turn from William Finley as a disgustingly sweaty guest with a
penchant for barking like a dog, giving Brand strong competition in the most deranged
lurking under titles such as Horror Hotel,
Starlight Slaughter and Legend of the Bayou, when Eaten Alive was issued in the UK on VHS
in the early 80s under the moniker Death
Trap it immediately drew unfortunate attention that earned it a place among
the infamous 'video nasties' and it was withdrawn from circulation. Previous DVD
releases have reportedly been pretty much substandard across the board (although
I haven't seen any of them to be able to comment fairly). But one thing's for
sure: Arrow's new uncut Blu-ray/DVD combination package is anything but substandard, in fact it's absolutely
terrific, doing Robert Caramico's stylish cinematography more fitting a service
than one could have ever imagined possible.
if such a superior, uncut presentation of the film alone doesn't make this one a
worthwhile purchase, Arrow has bundled in an impressive collection of
sweeteners. There are new interviews with Tobe Hooper (who also appears in a
blink-and-you'll-miss-it introduction tagged onto the start of the movie), supporting
actress Janus Blythe and make-up artist Craig Reardon, as well as older ones
with Hooper, Robert Englund and Marilyn Burns. Mardi Rustam provides an
informative commentary and there's also a 20-something minute featurette that
delves into the life of the Texas bar owner upon who the film is loosely based,
as well as a healthy selection of trailers, radio and TV spots, plus a gallery
of poster art and lurid lobby cards. A final gem appears in the form of a
gallery of original 'comment cards', collected from attendees at a preview
screening of the film back in 1976, with the incentive for filling them out being
a reward for the best 'new title' suggestion. Most of the remarks are pretty
uncharitable, with an amusing standout being the one on which the viewer
sarcastically requests to be informed of any subsequent title change so that
he/she doesn't inadvertently go to see it again!