Twilight Time has released Walter Hill's 1975 directorial debut, Hard Times, on Blu-ray as a limited edition (3,000 units). Hill was an up-and-coming screenwriter with Peckinpah's The Getaway to his credit as well as solid thrillers like The Drowning Pool, The Mackintosh Man and Hickey and Boggs. There is no evidence in Hard Times that Hill was a novice behind the camera, either. This is one of my favorite films of the period, though many retro movie fans probably haven't seen it. The story is set in 1933. Chaney (Charles Bronson) is a middle-aged drifter who ends up crossing paths with Speed (James Coburn), a fast-talking promoter of "street fights" (no holds barred matches between local tough guys with no rules or regulations). Needing some quick cash, the soft-spoken, low-key Chaney forms a partnership with the mercurial Speed. In his first match, they win big when Chaney knocks the local champ out cold with one punch. They gravitate to New Orleans where Speed can put together some high stakes fights. They are joined by Poe (Strother Martin) an amiable quasi-doctor (he had two years of medical school) with a penchant for opium but who is skilled at patching up bruised and beaten fighters. Chaney quickly becomes a local legend and draws the attention of a local fight promoter/kingpin who insists that Chaney fight a seemingly invincible slugger he has imported from Chicago. When Chaney refuses, the kingpin kidnaps Speed and holds him hostage until Chaney shows up for the high stakes fight. The script, co-written by Hill, is a prime example of how less can be more, at least in terms of dialogue. Bronson says very little during the film, but conveys much emotion with a nod of the head, the blinking of his eyes or a wry smile. This is evident in Chaney's relationship with a local down and out woman (Jill Ireland), who he basically sees for easy sex. When she presses him to convert their trysts into a meaningful relationship, Chaney simply walks out. No drama. No speeches. Similarly, the superb performances of Bronson, Coburn and Martin seem inspired by the Sam Peckinpah school of men sticking together no matter what. When Speed is kidnapped, Chaney initially refuses to help him. He correctly points out that Speed is responsible for his own reckless behavior that sees him make enemies of the wrong people and foolishly gamble away money as fast as he earns it. Yet, in a crunch, Chaney comes to his partner's aid. There is no fanfare between Chaney and Speed, who knows that, by appearing for the bout, Chaney has saved his life. Instead, just a quick handshake a "thank you." By de-emphasizing overtly sentimental gestures and dialogue, Hill makes the relationship between the trio even more moving.
Hill and his co-writers pack a lot of memorable scenes into the film's scant 93 minute running time. Aided by editor Roger Spottiswood (another future director) and cinematographer Philip Lathrop, Hill makes every frame of the film count. There isn't a slow moment or a meaningless line of dialogue. Clearly the highlights are the action sequences. This is Fight Club for the Baby Boomer generation. Bronson, who was in his 50s at the time, performs all of his own gut-wrenching fight scenes, along with co-stars Robert Tessier and Nick Dimitri. They are brutal affairs that will quickly convince you that these men are actually beating each other up. The stunt coordination is among the best I've seen in any film. The film's more whimsical sequences are aided immeasurably by Barry DeVorzon's addictive score.
With Hard Times, Bronson reached the pinnacle of his acting career. It's wonderful to see him reunited with Coburn, his co-star from The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. However, Coburn became even more interesting as an actor as he grew older whereas Bronson grabbed for the low-hanging fruit and began to concentrate primarily on by-the-numbers action movies. The film remains a testament to his abilities as an actor- and credit Walter Hill for bringing those out in full force.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray features a gorgeous transfer but the only extra is the original trailer and the always-welcome collector's booklet with informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo, who hints that Hill was approached to record a commentary track for this release but declined because he doesn't like to look back on his past work. Well, we do- especially when it's a movie as terrific as Hard Times.
The Warner Archive has released the quirky 1966 film A Big Hand for the Little Lady as a burn-to-order title. Originally written for television, the story was aired in 1962 under the title Big Deal in Laredo as part of the DuPont Show of the Week series. Ostensibly a Western, the movie is a claustrophobic affair with any views of open ranges and wide vistas confined to the film's opening sequence, which finds an undertaker (Charles Bickford) driving his hearse at a frantic speed across the desert. He stops at various homesteads to pick up an eclectic assortment of other men, each of whom seems to regard their final destination with the utmost solemnity. Turns out they are all participants in an annual event that draws spectators from far and wide: a high stakes poker game in Laredo, Texas. The players are the wealthiest businessmen in the county: Tropp, the undertaker, Drummond (Jason Robards), a cantankerous man whose passion for the game has resulted in his leaving his daughter at the alter and her wedding ceremony postponed until the game is completed, Buford (John Qualen), Wilcox (Robert Middleton) and Habershaw (Kevin McCarthy), an erudite, polite man who is the least temperamental of the group. The tournament takes place in private in the back room of the local saloon while crowds of curious townspeople speculate about who will emerge the winner in the high stakes game. In the midst of this, a family of three arrives in town: Meredith (Henry Fonda), his beautiful but prim-and proper wife Mary (Joanne Woodward) and their young son Jackie (Gerald Michanaud). They are pilgrims en route to buying their dream farm in San Antonio, something they have saved for over a period of many years. A broken wagon wheel delays their journey and results in them having to take a room for the night at the saloon. Mary turns many a man's head, but her sweet nature and fawning care of Jackie earns their respect and the family is accorded all due courtesies. Meredith, who is a compulsive gambler, uses their farm funds to buy his way into the poker game. He loses the entire amount, much to Mary's horror. In the midst of this anxiety, he also falls ill from a stress-induced heart attack. He pleads with Mary to play out his hand, which he says is the best he has ever seen. There are two problems, however: Mary doesn't know how to play poker and they need $500 more to remain in the game and play the hand. Mary imposes on crusty local banker Ballinger (Paul Ford) to lend her the money, using the card hand as collateral. To the amazement of the other players, Ballinger complies, saying he has never seen a more impressive hand to play. With the financial future of her family on the line, Mary sits down at the table to take part in the highest stakes game ever played in Texas.
A Big Hand for the Little Lady is a delightful tour de force for the talented actors involved. Ironically, Fonda, who was the biggest boxoffice draw in the movie, is off screen for much of the action, as his character is being tended to by the local doctor (Burgess Meredith.) Director Fielder Cook doesn't stress restraint in the performances and his remarkable cast seems to love hamming it up as much as possible, with Robards in full scenery-chewing mode. It's hard to say who is the most fun to watch, but certainly Burgess Meredith and Kevin McCarthy excel, as does the great Paul Ford. (Sadly, this was the final movie of the noted character actor Charles Bickford.) The film's payoff is designed to be a big surprise, but astute viewers can probably see it coming fairly early on, though there are some "sting in the tail" elements you might not find predictable. To say any more would be a disservice. Suffice it to say we don't have many "little" movies like this today that would draw such top-flight stars and character actors. The movie is a great deal of fun throughout.
The consequences of sexual desire in young women is akin to that of contracting the bubonic plague. That seems to be the message of the 1965 film version of A Rage to Live, best on the best-selling novel by John O'Hara. The opening sequences introduce us to Grace Caldwell (Suzanne Pleshette), a gorgeous high school student who lives a seemingly idyllic life in small town America. Grace shares her affluent home with her widowed mother Emily (Carmen Matthews) and her older brother Brock (Linden Chiles), a straight-as-an-arrow type who is attending Yale and who tries to fill the role of father and husband to the best of his ability. Grace is a "good girl" is all respects. She studies hard and looks after her mother, who she clearly adores. However, she does have one disturbing aspect to her personality: she has an active sexual desire in an age where a young woman was supposed to value her virginity above virtually anything else. Grace likes to flirt with her male classmates and there is no shortage of potential lovers. Disturbingly, she realizes that she doesn't have to have any deep emotions for any of them in order to find them sexually attractive. When she gets caught necking with one such boy, Charlie (Mark Goddard), they are discovered by his mother and Grace becomes the center of a local scandal. The notion of such an innocent act leading to such consequences probably seemed over the top even in 1965, but the situation does worsen when Grace does end up bedding several young men, thus living up (or down) to her new-found reputation as a "bad girl". This brings strife to her family and friends and Grace seeks to smooth things over by accompanying her ill mother on a vacation to an island resort. However, temptation rears its ugly head and while Grace sneaks out to have a dalliance with a hunky waiter, mom is stricken by an attack and dies. Consumed by guilt, Grace is convinced that she is nothing more than a slut, destined to live a life of shame. She gets a second chance when she meets Sidney Tate (Bradford Dillman), a handsome, hard working young man who is instantly attracted to her. Before long, he asks her to marry him, leading Grace to confess that she isn't a virgin. Sidney takes this bit of news with the same gravity he would if she had confessed to being a serial murderer, but he is forgiving of her past and believes her vow to stay loyal. The happy couple soon has a baby and all seems well...until Roger Bannon (Ben Gazzara) enters their lives. Roger had known Grace slightly for years and confesses to her that he has long been obsessed with her. Although devoted to her devout but boring husband, Grace becomes tempted by Roger's gruff, blue collar ways and is turned on by his raw sexuality. Before long, they become lovers-and their relationship sets in motion a series of dire events that lead to a shocking (and ironic) conclusion.
A Rage to Live seems very dated in its early sequences. Yet, it serves as a disturbing time capsule from an era in which women were supposed to know their place and regard sex as nothing more than a wifely duty, similar to doing housework or changing diapers. The notion that a woman may have sexual desires of her own had profound consequences in polite circles. One of the drawbacks of these opening scenes is that Suzanne Pleshette was in her mid-twenties at the time and, although her performance is excellent, she is simply too old to play a high school girl. Thus, when her mother or brother dictate directives to her, it seems rather absurd to see this clearly mature young woman meekly obeying them. This becomes less of an issue as the story progresses and Pleshette is playing a character her own age. Director Walter Grauman plays up the soap opera elements of the story, all to the accompaniment of a fine score by Nelson Riddle and crisp black and white cinematography by Charles Lawton. As soon as Grace resolves one crisis in her troubled life, another takes its place. Yet, these problems are all of her own making. The concept of the film- a likable woman who cannot control her sexual urges and fantasies- was certainly daring for its day, especially since Grace is presented as a sympathetic figure who dotes on her husband and young child. Yet, she repeatedly risks it all for another turn under the covers. The cautionary aspects of the tale are as old as time: if you play with fire, you'll probably end up getting burned. Yet, Grace is not a villain. Her defense of her unfaithful actions to her husband is the time worn excuse: she loves her spouse and her dalliances are only to fulfill her physical needs. (Seeing how boring Dillman's Sidney is, you can hardly blame her.)
The film is engrossing throughout, even during those scenes that approach guilty pleasure status. Peter Graves turns up later in the film in a key role as a would-be lover of Grace's who plays an instrumental role in her fate. Carmen Matthews is especially good as Pleshette's long-suffering mother and reliable character actor James Gregory provides a typically deft turn as the family doctor. Gazzara is especially good as the guy from the other side of tracks whose animal magnetism initially attracts Grace but eventually frightens her.
A Rage to Live is by no means an example of classic movie-making but it is certainly worth a look, if only to observe how cinema was maturing rapidly during this period and exploring subjects that would have been taboo only a few years before.
The Warner Archive has released the film as a burn to order DVD. Quality is excellent, though there are no bonus features. The DVD is region free.
The Warner Archive Collection has finally released the
elusive Liberace feature ‘Sincerely Yours’.Originally released to theaters in 1955, this film is a curio of the
times, the studio system and most importantly a snapshot, (in color no less;
more on that later) of the early stages of the musician’s career.
To be fair to the movie, we need to turn our mental
clocks back to the mid- 50s (so lines such as ‘They’ll love him in San
Francisco’ wouldn’t bring immediate chuckles). That upstart- television- had been keeping
audiences away from theaters in droves. Various new processes were employed to give audiences an experience they
couldn’t get at home, such as Cinemascope and 3-D. So what was one of Warner Brother’s great ideas
? To make a movie with the TV’s first
idol, the charming pianist from Wisconsin, Wladziu Valentino Liberace or as he was known professionally, ‘Liberace’. In hindsight, the reasoning was totally
illogical and was one of the main reasons for the film’s demise: Liberace was available to TV audiences every day
for free, so there was no need to go down to the local theater to pay to see
Cynics have long scoffed at the notion of Liberace
being presented as a “Ladies Man”. Yet , he never officially came out of the closet and throughout his
career, he had plenty of women who swooned at his every appearance. They didn’t
seem to care what his sexual preferences were-but Liberace was sensitive to any
suggestion that he might not be a full-blooded heterosexual. He even won a
famous libel suit against a London critic who dared to suggest otherwise.
For Liberace’s screen debut, Warners dusted off a 1932 property,
“The Man Who Played God’, the story of a concert pianist who goes deaf, learns
to lip read and then intervenes in the lives of others. The pianist also finds out that the girl he
was falling for was herself falling for someone else. Yet all along it was his long suffering
secretary who was his real love. Liberace does not set the screen afire as a lead dramatic actor,
although the director Gordon Douglas, who seemed to work with everyone in
Hollywood, from Laurel & Hardy to Sinatra and Elvis, does a good job in
eliciting a fair performance from Lee (as he liked to be called).
One of the popular aspects of Liberace’s TV show was
his ability to play to the camera and invite the audience into his world, with his
brother George and his mom. Playing the
role of a ‘fictional’ performer denied him this resource that worked so well on
the small screen. His public appearances,
not only relied on his mastery of the keyboard but his charm with the older
ladies and frequent interactions with the audience members. And
this is where Sincerely Yours really shines, and makes the disc worth every
penny. We are treated to numerous
concert, dance and nightclub performances, with Liberace charming the audience. The performances are allowed to be worked
through and are not rushed or hurried along, so we get to relax and enjoy the
music and see the true entertainer that Liberace was during his formative years
before the explosion of glitz and glammer of his later Vegas style acts.
Liberace is supported by Joanne Dru as his secretary
(unfortunately since finding out she is Peter Marshall’s sister I can’t help
thinking Hollywood Squares when she is on); William Demarest, always a delight,
plays his manager; Dorothy Malone is his
‘love interest’ and the always dependable LureneTuttle plays one of the beneficiaries
of Lee’s goodness.
The DVD release is presented in the correct 16:9 aspect
ratio for this movie however the image is a little soft and grainy. In all likelihood this is due to the fact
that the film was shot in ‘WarnerColor’, which was just another name for the
then new Eastman Color process. The early
Eastman color stock was very unstable and had a huge grain structure to it), so
don’t expect Technicolor! There are no
extras on the disc.
Click here to order from Warner Archive and view a clip
Cinema Retro welcomes our latest columnist, Ernie Magnotta, who will turn his attention to under-rated cinematic gems and guilty pleasures!
By Ernie Magnotta
“If a movie makes you happy, for whatever
reason, then it’s a good movie.”
There are good
movies and there are bad movies. There are also movies that some people say are
so bad that they're good. I hear that all the time. I've heard it since I was a
kid. I think what they actually mean is that they're not good in the way most
people might normally watch and judge a film; Excellent writing, incredible
acting, masterful direction, etc.
The way I see it,
there's more than one way to enjoy a film. Every movie doesn't have to be a
five-star masterpiece like Gone with the Wind. You do not have to judge a film
the way you would judge a mainstream Hollywood movie and every movie that doesn't
follow the Hollywood style of moviemaking isn't necessarily a bad film.
There are plenty of
films that follow all the rules of proper writing, directing, etc. and are just
awful. And there are just as many inept, low budget B-films that are excruciating
Like I said, there
are many different ways to enjoy a film. You can love a film just for the
nostalgia alone. It can take you back to a simpler, happier time in your life.
You can enjoy it for a certain actor or actors, wacky dialogue, quirky
characters, fun setting, wild plot and, although inept in many ways, the film
could have a certain charm and, most of all, be fun.
With my ongoing
reviews, I’d like to explain why I love these films so much, why they’ve gotten
such a bed rep over the years and, also, to prove my statement that there’s
more than one way to watch a movie.
*******WARNING: REVIEWS CONTAIN
“Put your weight on it! Put your weight on
it! PUT YOUR WEIGHT ON IT!”
These words are instantly recognizable to
anyone who has seen the insanely fun and quite unique1979 Blaxploitation
classic, Disco Godfather. The
entertaining film stars Dolemite himself; legendary comedian/musician Rudy Ray
Moore in the title role of former cop turned super cool DJ, Tucker Williams aka
the Disco Godfather. While happily spinning records at local disco Club
Blueberry Hill, Tucker’s world is turned upside down when he finds out that his
nephew Bucky (Julius J. Carry III), a promising athlete, has almost OD’d on angel
dust aka “The Wack”. Tucker also learns that Bucky isn’t the first person from
the neighborhood to suffer from the evil drug. When Dr. Mathis (Jerry Jones)
takes him on a horrific tour of a local rehab center, Tucker witnesses firsthand
what The Wack can do. It turns out that drug dealer Stinger Ray (James H.
Hawthorne) is pushing the stuff all over town and Tucker ain’t havin’ it.
With the help of the courageous Noel (Carol
Speed), the Godfather sets out to “attack the wack.” Of course, this won’t be
easy because once Stinger Ray finds out, he sends his army of goons out after
Tucker and, before you can say Carl Douglas, everybody starts kung fu fighting.
When the smoke clears, The Godfather not only emerges victorious, but manages
to locate the
angel dust factory as well. Once there, however, he is overpowered and forced
to take the dreaded drug himself. High beyond belief, the completely out of
control Tucker grabs hold of Stinger Ray and begins choking the life out of
him. In an ironic twist, the now rehabilitated Bucky arrives on the scene just in
time to see his beloved godfather, who is having horrifying drug induced visions,
completely freak out.
Prior to becoming a major star in Blaxploitation films, Rudy Ray Moore was a popular comedian known for his hit risque adult humor albums.
The eclectic film, co-written (with Cliff
Roquemore) and directed by J. Robert Wagoner, and produced by Rudy Ray and
Theodore Toney, is a strangely mesmerizing combination of comedy, drama, action
and horror, peppered with disco music and a few dance numbers. (I told you it
was unique.) And it’s not hard to figure out how the title was created. The
disco craze was in full force at the time and Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificent
The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II were two of the
most popular films of the 70s. I first saw this movie in the late 80s
under the title Avenging Disco Godfather and
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it ever since. I always smile whenever anyone mentions
it or recites one of the many quotable lines (which I’ll be listing shortly);
especially the aforementioned “Put your weight on it.” The film definitely capitalizes on many popular
exploitation elements of the time such as drug use, violence and martial arts,
but it distinguishes itself from other run of the mill exploitation films by
carrying a very positive and important message.
This is a film with an anti-drug message
and you can clearly see that Rudy Ray Moore and the rest of the cast and crew
were genuinely concerned about the junk that was polluting their neighborhoods.
I believe that, amidst all the off-the-wall insanity in this movie, the
filmmakers intentionally included this heartfelt message in the hopes of
inspiring change. In that way, it more meaningful than many of the soulless, multi-million
dollar Hollywood blockbusters we’ve been subjected to over the years. This
movie has heart. Now, having said that, is it a good movie in the classic
filmmaking tradition? Hell no! Many viewers will find it difficult to watch and
that’s totally understandable. Nevertheless, it manages to be thoroughly entertaining.
Most of the credit for this must go to the charismatic Rudy Ray Moore, who had
to use creativity to overcome a shortfall of production funds. In many interviews, Rudy Ray explained how he
had very little to no money to work with and, instead, used his imagination.
The movie is definitely imaginative. In
fact, it’s downright original in spots; especially in the frightening scenes
where we see the goings-on through the eyes of an angel dust user. Even the
more ineptly done aspects of the film (including some unintentionally hilarious
scenes) add to its appeal.
A company called Fast Custom Shirts has immortalized the film on a T shirt. Click here to order.
always say that there’s more than one way to watch and enjoy a movie and that
definitely applies to this film. Here are just some funkalicious reasons to
check out Disco Godfather:
1.A cool and fun
2.Decent disco and
roller disco scenes.
electrifying first appearance is a sight to behold. Rudy Ray shows up shaking his groove thing on the dance floor
in a skin tight, silver studded, turquoise jumpsuit with matching choker
necklace and platform shoes. I went blind for a full two minutes.
girlfriend frantically tells Tucker that his nephew is on drugs, Rudy Ray
delivers the immortal line “Where is Bucky, and what has he had?”
pronounced “am-ba-lance.” Can you dig it?
6.When Bucky gets
high in the disco, he thinks he’s in the middle of a basketball game.
7.Abby herself, the always welcome Carol Speed,
is spunky and cute in her brief role as Noel. She looks good in a showgirl
8.Under the influence
of angel dust, Bucky has terrifying hallucinations that include a severed hand, demons, witches with machetes
and Rudy Ray turning into a skeleton.
9.There’s a character
10.One of the addicts
at the rehab center thinks he’s an unborn caterpillar.
11.E.C.T. stands for
Electro Shock Treatment. (?)
12.At the angel dust
rally, one woman’s afro is freakin’ ginormous!
13.With its funky
fashions, automobiles, slang and décor, the movie is like a 1970s time capsule.
14.35 minutes in: The
dancing Godfather jiggles and gyrates as only he can.
15.37 minutes in: I
can’t even describe this outfit, but it shows off the Godfather’s man-boobs
16.The Godfather has
more amazing lines such as “I want you to put a little slide in your glide!”,
“She don't weigh but 90 pounds, baby, but she's got her weight on it!" and
the classic “I’m the Godfather and my name is Tucker. Everybody knows that I’m
a bad mutha…”
17.Tucker is able to
read a crooked cop’s badge number from across the darkened dance floor.
18.Lady Reed, Queen
Bee from the Dolemite series, is
great as a sorrowful mother who keeps her faith in God and never leaves her
drug addicted daughter’s side.
19.Keith David (John Carpenter’s The Thing, There’s
Something About Mary) is uncredited as a club patron. See if you can spot
him. I couldn’t.
20.At Sweetmeat’s party,
people snort cocaine off of a Saturday
Night Fever album cover.
21.Some dude in karate
pants and a Fu Manchu moustache acts like Bruce Lee.
22.At one point,
Tucker is attacked in an urban alley by a bullwhip wielding cowboy. For a
second, I thought I was the one who was on angel dust.
23.Tucker fights a
24.During his trip, Tucker
hallucinates and has visions of his dead mother and another woman who I’m assuming is his aunt
Betty. The reason I came to this conclusion is because five seconds after he
sees her, Tucker screams at the top of his lungs “I hate you, Aunt Betty!”
25.Mama becomes a
cartoon while a giant snake head bursts out of her stomach and Aunt Betty just
laughs at Tucker while boozing it up.
Tucker, whacked out of his skull from the angel dust he’d been forced to take,
mistakes Stinger Ray for a demon and strangles the drug dealer to death.
27.The movie ends with
Tucker still trippin’ balls and screaming in terror.
immediately cuts to the inappropriately upbeat end credits music.
Tell me you don’t wanna see this movie now.
I dare ya.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a wild,
different and hysterical time, then this is the movie for you. But don’t take
my word for it. After all, who am I to tell you what to watch? Here’s what The
Godfather himself had to say:
“I am your tower of power; the man of the
hour; too sweet to be sour. I’m fine, divine and guaranteed to blow your mind.
It’s now Godfather time.”
How can you resist that? You can’t, so just
grab yourself a copy of Disco Godfather,
relax and have a fun, crazy time.
Do it for Rudy Ray, and while you’re doing
it, don’t you ever forget to put your weight on it.
I’d like to dedicate this review to the
memory of Mr. Rudy Ray Moore. Rest in peace, Dolemite.
I love the sheer eclectic quality of the Twilight Time catalog. The company's DVD and Blu-ray releases run include every conceivable film genre and the range of titles runs from undisputed classics to underrated gems to massive misfires that now merit status as "guilty pleasures". Falling firmly into the latter category is Lost Horizon, producer Ross Hunter's notorious 1973 big budget musical remake of Frank Capra's 1937 classic. Both versions adhere to the basic framework of James Hilton's classic source novel but the Hunter version obviously deviates far more in order to accommodate glossy Hollywood elements. (Hilton's obviously did not allude to elaborate song and dance numbers.) When a film that features so many talented people misfires badly, it's tempting to say, "What were they thinking???" However, in the case of Lost Horizon, special dispensation is merited for the participants because, at the time, it must have looked like an irresistible project. The director was Charles Jarrott, who was then a hot property, coming off the acclaimed films Anne of the Thousand Days and Mary, Queen of Scots. The producer was Ross Hunter, a Hollywood perennial with a sterling reputation for producing audience-pleasing box-office hits, most recently the blockbuster Airport. The score would be composed by the red-hot team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David and the cast would feature many talented actors then at the height of their careers: Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, Michael York, George Kennedy, Sally Kellerman and Olivia Hussey- with acting royalty represented by the likes of John Gielgud and Charles Boyer. The production numbers would be choreographed by the legendary Hermes Pan, the script was penned by Larry Kramer, who recently won acclaim for his adaptation of Women in Love and the cinematographer was Robert Surtees, himself a film industry legend. What could go wrong? Against all odds, the answer would be: "Everything."
The film opens well enough with Finch as Richard Conway, a British diplomat who has tried and failed to broker a peace treaty in an unnamed Asian nation torn by civil war. We first see him trying frantically to coordinate rescue flights for stranded Americans and Europeans as rebels close in on the airport amid rioting crowds clamoring to get on the last planes out. (The scene would be replicated shortly thereafter in real life with the fall of Saigon.) Conway manages to get aboard the final flight, which takes off even as rebels pursue the plane down the runway. On board is an eclectic group consisting of Conway's brother George (Michael York), Sally Hughes (Sally Kellerman), a burned out and depressed war photographer, Sam Cornelius (George Kennedy), a once-promising architect who is now in hiding due to a financial scandal and Harry Lovett (Bobby Van), a small time night club comedian with delusions of grandeur. They find their plane has been hijacked and they are en route to an unknown destination. Ultimately, they crash land on a mountain range in the Himalayas where they are rescued in a peculiarly timely manner by a number of natives led by Chang (John Gielgud), their elderly but capable spiritual leader. The refugees make a difficult journey through a blinding snow storm before walking through a cave and emerging into a sunny, tropical oasis that is called Shangri-La. Chang explains that the community's unique geographical situation- protected by mountains on all sides- allows the weather to never vary. The warm climate allows for a year-long abundance of crops. It doesn't take the refugees long to discover that this is a fairy tale-like paradise, virtually untouched by the outside world. There are luxurious homes and temples and the people never allow personal disputes to escalate to the level of violence. It is explained that the luxuries and materials for the magnificent buildings were all brought in painstakingly by the few porters who are allowed in from the outside world. (There must have been quite an abundance, as Chang's home alone contains more furniture than the average Ikea store.) Before long, the group becomes comfortable in their new-found paradise with most reluctant to even attempt to leave, a feat that Chang says is all but impossible anyway, given the obstacles provided by nature. Richard Conway falls for Catherine (Liv Ullmann), a pretty school teacher, Harry finds value in Shangri- La that allows him to reaffirm his self-worth and even Sally and Sam form an unlikely romantic bond. George Conway, meanwhile, becomes obsessed with Maria (Olivia Hussey), a beautiful young woman who is bored with living in paradise and longs for him to take her to London. Sam begins to woo a reluctant Sally and reawakens her romantic passions. Even Harry finds his confidence improving when he becomes an unlikely mentor to local children. Nevertheless, trouble brews when George pressures Richard to accompany him and Maria on a dangerous trek out of the Himalayas. Chang warns him that she is not who she appears to be: in fact, she is a very old woman and will revert to her actual age if she leaves Shangri-La. Needless, to say, his advice is ignored.
Perhaps this Lost Horizon could have been salvaged if the music and choreography were up to expectations, but everyone was asleep at the wheel. The Bacharach/David score contains plenty of musical numbers, but the best of them are simply bland and the worst are laughable. Hermes Pan's direction of the dance sequences is also surprisingly inept, especially a ludicrous fertility dance that resembles one of those big luau parties held every other night at Hawaiian hotels for the tourist crowds. (The sequence was understandably cut from the original release but has been restored for the video edition.) In one weird number, Liv Ullmann leads a parade of school kids who saunter about with their arms swinging back and forth as though they were auditioning for a Planet of the Apes sequel. Most of the vocals by the leading actors were dubbed (very well, in fact) and a few of the songs are bland, but pleasing given the context of the scenes they appear in. The main problem is that, for all the money spent on this lavish production, the movie simply has no heart. Unlike the original, the film never engages you on an emotional level. The Finch and York characters emerge as the most believable and their performances are the most impressive. The opening sequence, as the protagonists attempt to make a desperate escape from the besieged airport, is the best sequence in the film. It's only when they start tossing in those musical numbers that things go downhill fast. We do get to see Sally Kellerman perform her own musical numbers, but one of them-set in a library- is so embarrassingly staged that it makes for unintentional laughter. We also learn that Olivia Hussey is quite the dancer, performing an exotic number quite impressively but it somehow seems to be one of those titillating numbers that preceded a strip show I once saw in a Hong Kong sleaze joint. Most disappointing is what should have been the emotional climax of the film- the death of her character as she ages dramatically in a matter of moments after leaving Shangri La. In the original film, it's a harrowing and riveting sequence that precedes the story's moving last sequence as Richard Conway's colleagues in a London club toast his mysterious fate as we watch him attempt (presumably successfully) to return across the mountains to his lost paradise. In the remake, these scenes fall flat and never engage the viewers as meaningfully as they should. Most of the blame must be placed on the shoulders of director Charles Jarrott, who never seems to capture the human side of the story because he has to deal with the circus-like logistics of the musical aspects of the production. Charles Boyer and John Gielgud acquit themselves well enough, but there is something inherently distasteful about watching yet another major film in which Asian characters are portrayed by Caucasian actors.
Having said all that, one must compliment Twilight Time on their first-rate presentation of this cinematic oddity. (Some of the features were previously released on Sony's initial restored DVD version of the film) The Blu-ray transfer is beautiful and does justice to Robert Surtees' impressive cinematography and there are some interesting extras, including an informative (and candid) assessment of the film by Julie Kirgo. There are also audio tracks of Burt Bacharach (no singer, he) warbling his work-in-process versions of the songs. Without the bloated visuals that accompany them on film, they actually come across a lot better. He would have been better to farm the tracks out to Dionne Warwick and walk away from the film production. (These songs are creatively played against a variety of interesting behind the scenes photos from the production.) There are also are variety of TV spots and a rather well-worn, faded vintage featurette that is interesting in the way that these mini-propaganda films generally prove to be. There is also a theatrical trailer and an alternate version of a love scene between Finch and Ullmann.
I recently discussed the film with Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne. He recalled being at the premiere and how everyone in the celebrity-packed audience seemed to know they were witnessing a disaster- except the producer, Ross Hunter (whose prestigious film career would come to an end with this film). Osborne said Hunter was strategically located at the back of the theater so he could accept congratulations from the attendees after the premiere. Osborne chuckled at the recollection of witnessing Merle Oberon climbing over seats to exit through a different door rather than have to face Hunter. If you view the film on Blu-ray, you won't have to indulge in such gymnastics. The film remains a major artistic debacle, but it should be seen, if for no other reason than to form your own conclusions. Time has a way of making bad movies sometimes look better. It's possible to appreciate the small pleasures Lost Horizon affords even if this won't ever be re-evaluated as an underrated classic.
The Warner Archive has acquired the home video rights to certain vintage Paramount films including the 1954 adventure The Naked Jungle. Although Charlton Heston had already been a popular young leading man for a few years, the studio still felt that Eleanor Parker had more boxoffice clout (!), thus she received top billing. Nevertheless, the movie is fondly remembered by Heston fans as a pivotal entry in his career simply because it is so offbeat. A plot description might lead one to believe it is a science fiction or horror story: a South American plantation is menaced by Marabunta, an unstoppable army of billions of ants that devour any living thing in their path. However, the story is based on scientific fact as these occurrences do take place in deep jungle, though fortunately, the real life ants are not known to eat people or animals. Heston plays Christopher Leiningen, a self-made, wealthy owner of a vast plantation in the South American jungle (no actually country is cited as the location.) He has arranged for a mail order bride to be married to him by proxy and he would seem to have struck pay dirt. She turns out to be Joanna (Eleanor Parker), a vivacious beauty from New Orleans who has been drawn to the marriage partly by the sheer riskiness of the scenario and a deep desire to live in South America. The greeting she receives from her new husband is less than gracious. He may be tall, handsome and built like a rock, but he's also rude, arrogant and chauvinistic. He takes a deep dislike to Joanna because of her independent nature and inability to be completely subservient to him. He explains that his only motivation for importing a wife and treating her like a commodity is simply to produce an heir to his empire. Within days, it becomes apparent that the marriage is a disaster. The two never consummate their relationship and sleep in separate bedrooms. Christopher refers to his wife as "Madam". He explains that part of his resentment of her is based upon learning that she is a widow. He won't accept the "leavings" of another man and insists that he will only accept a virgin bride. When pressed on this issue, he hints that, because he has been isolated in the jungle since his teenage years, he is a virgin himself...and doesn't want a woman with more sexual experience than him. This leads to some witty dialogue in which Joanna uses a piano as a sexual metaphor. They agree she should return immediately to New Orleans, but en route to the vessel that will take her, Christopher and the local commissioner (William Conrad), must divert the party to investigate rumors by panicky natives that a horrendous occurrence is taking place in the jungle. They observe miles-wide columns of killer ants heading in the direction of the plantation and devouring everything in its path, from bark on trees to plants and animals. Against the advice of the commissioner, Christopher announces he will take a stand in the unlikely scenario that he can preserve his prized plantation in the face of what seems to be certain death. Impressed by his courage, Joanna decides to stay with him...and act of courage that finally bonds the couple as husband and wife.
The first hour of the film is the stuff of pure soap opera...but it is never less than engrossing partly because of the excellent dialogue which was co-written by blacklisted Ben Maddow (who was "fronted" by Philip Yordan) and partly due to the fact that it's rather shocking to see Heston playing a character this arrogant and unsympathetic. There is real chemistry between him and Parker, who is perfectly cast as a woman with modern sensibilities trapped in a world of repression. Things really get cooking when the preparations take place for the inevitable arrival of the ants. Director Byron Haskin milks some genuine suspense out of the scenario, using scientific close-up footage of actual ant swarms to heighten suspense. This is aided immeasurably by the addition of some menacing sound effects that accompany the invading army. By the time the invaders have arrived at his doorstep, Christopher is locked into a battle of wits with a seemingly unstoppable army that is capable of forming strategies to avert the obstacles he has placed in their path. The finale brims with suspense as Christopher must venture out among the ants in order to attempt one last, desperate attempt to save everyone from a horrendous death.
The Naked Jungle was filmed in Florida and on a Hollywood sound stage, but despite the obvious studio settings, the few outdoor shots pass convincingly for a South American locale. The special effects by the legendary George Pal are quite impressive and, in addition to a fine performances by Heston and Parker, William Conrad adds to the enjoyment of the film with his wry interpretation of the only man who is not intimidated by Christopher and is willing to stand up to him for his own good. (Conrad played the lead role in a previous radio play of this story titled Leiningen Vs. the Ants. Heston would star in a later radio adaptation.)
Paramount had released this title on DVD previously but it has been out of print for a number of hears. The Warners DVD boasts an excellent transfer with colors that jump off the screen, though, sadly, there are no bonus extras. For Heston fans, this is a "must".
Fox has released the 1961 B WWII movie Battle at Bloody Beach as as burn-to-order Cinema Archive title. The film stars Audie Murphy, who was trying to expand his horizons beyond the Western movie genre. This was only Murphy's second WWII movie, following his autobiographical 1955 hit To Hell and Back which chronicled how he became the most decorated soldier in American history. The story finds Murphy cast as Craig Benson, an American civilian who volunteers to serve with the U.S. Navy on highly dangerous missions to rescue American refugees stranded on Japanese-occupied islands in the Pacific. Working with local partisans, Benson succeeds in saving any number of U.S citizens who have been hiding in mountainous areas. Although hailed as a hero and placed on Japan's "most-wanted" list, Benson is not motivated by patriotic duty. Rather, he is obsessed with finding his wife Ruth (Dolores Michaels) from whom he was separated when the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Not knowing whether she is alive or dead, Benson tempts fate with his relentless searches on over 34 islands that are under the control of the enemy. On one particular island, he works with his contact, a U.S. serviceman named Marty Sackler (Gary Crosby), who runs a one-man coast-watching operation in addition to helping local resistance forces. The two men rescue some stranded Americans and Benson is overjoyed to find that Ruth is among them. His celebratory mood is short-lived, however, as she explains she has changed dramatically over the two years they have been separated. She has become a gun-toting, high skilled jungle fighter and says she refuses to go back to America with Benson because she is devoted to the cause. Benson suspects another reason for her reluctance to accompany him. He later learns that she has been romantically involved with Julio Fontana (Alejandro Rey), a local guerrilla leader who, unfortunately for Benson, also happens to look like a matinee idol. Sexual tension in bristles in this love triangle, even as the group leads a motley bunch of refugees to a beach to await pickup by a submarine. When the sub is delayed, the group takes refuge in an old beached vessel but are discovered by Japanese forces who launch an attack. The rebels are heavily armed and put up stiff resistance but their cause seems hopeless.
Despite its hackneyed, exploitation film title, Battle at Bloody Beach is an intelligent and reasonably entertaining film. It was clearly designed for the drive-in market and was shot on a low budget on Santa Catalina Island in California, which makes a surprisingly convincing stand in for the Philippine locations. Murphy is stolid and likable, as is Crosby, who gets a few laughs by his evident enjoyment of his coast watching job since it affords him a menage a trois with two lovely young native girls. Dolores Michaels is gorgeous and quite competent as an actress, so one must assume that her film career ended shortly after this movie by her own choice. This film marked the first starring role for charismatic Alejandro Rey, who would go on to a fairly successful career in TV and films before passing away at age 57 in 1987. Ivan Dixon appears as an American boxer caught up in events who decides to fight with the guerrillas. The movie is competently directed by Herbert Coleman, who is best known for serving as associate producer on several Alfred Hitchcock classics. Producer and screenwriter Richard Maibaum was already an old hand at writing action potboilers but the next year his career would skyrocket when he became a long-standing script writer for the James Bond movies. In summary, Bloody Beach is a entertaining and fairly exciting film that demonstrates that the B movie genre could often produce some unheralded gems.
The Fox DVD emphasizes the crisp, sharp B&W cinematography but the the movie is inexplicably presented in pan and scan format even though it was shot in Cinemascope. Whoever is making these decisions at Fox must be living in a time warp. Viewers have long ago accepted the letterbox format for widescreen movies, so why tick off retro movie lovers by altering the original format?
In the wake of their success co-starring in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, Warner Brothers realized they had captured lightning in a bottle with the teaming of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. The studio quickly paired the two character actors again in the Bogart films Casablanca and Passage to Marseilles. In 1944, Warners decided to give Greenstreet and Lorre what amounted to starring roles in the thriller The Mask of Dimitrios, based on the Eric Ambler novel and set in pre-WWII Europe. (Lorre received fourth billing in the film behind Greenstreet, Zachary Scott and Faye Emerson, but in terms of screen time, he is the star of the movie.) Lorre plays Cornelius Leyden, a mild mannered crime novelist who is visiting Istanbul, where he becomes intrigued by the murder of a man named Dimitrios, who was a local legend in terms of his criminal activities. Dimitrios's body has washed ashore, as shows evidence that he has been stabbed to death. Sensing a good story in the murder, Leyden pursues the man's background and finds out he was known throughout Europe for his audacious crimes. Leyden decides to track down those who interacted with Dimitrios, including jilted partner and abandoned girlfriends. All agree that he was a charismatic cad who worked his way up from petty crimes in Istanbul to being an integral part of Europe's pre-war espionage activities. Leyden is followed in his footsteps by Peters (Sydney Greenstreet), an affable man of mystery who is also obsessed with tracking down Dimitrios's acquaintances and activities leading up to the man's death. After a rocky introduction at the point of Peters' gun, the two men forge an alliance and travel through Turkey, Yuguoslavia and finally Paris in their quest. Along the way, they determine that Dimitrios is very much alive and well, having used another man's murder as an opportunity to fake his own death. Peters is determined to use that information to blackmail Dimitrios and thus ensure acquiring enough money to afford a comfortable retirement.
Much of the story is told in flashbacks as various individuals relate their experiences with Dimitrios to Leyden and Peters. As played by Zachary Scott, Dimitrios lives up to his legend as handsome womanizer and persuasive businessman, though each of his friends and partners ends up being abruptly jilted in some manner, as Dimitrios moves on to his next scam. (Jack Warner had high hopes for Scott becoming the studio's next great leading man, but his interest in promoting Scott seemed to wane and the actor never really acquired the stardom that his role in this film would seem to have assured.) Leyden and Peters also meet Irana, an entertainer in a squalid Istanbul cafe, who relates how Dimitrios became her lover and ensured that her fortunes improved. However, when she loaned him her savings, he abandoned her, never to be heard from again. Although nursing a broken heart and bearing resentment for the man on one level, she admits she still carries a torch and his abandonment of her left her in a depressed state of mind that still continues. (Apparently, once you've experienced Dimitrios, no other man comes to close as a lover.) As Leyden and Peters close in on their prey, the stakes become higher - and they realize their lives are very much at risk.
The Mask of Dimitrios, ably directed by Jean Negulesco, is a joy to watch. It doesn't have the artistic pretensions of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, but it is a thoroughly entertaining movie. Lorre and Greenstreet's "Mutt and Jeff" act continues to present them as essentially the same character in film after film, but that doesn't in any way compromise the delight of watching these two eccentric actors at the peak of their careers. The supporting performances are also equally delightful and the film bares all the rich artistic hallmarks of a WB release from the era.
The Warner Archive has released the film as a burn-to-order DVD. The transfer is excellent. An original trailer is included that features specially-filmed footage of Greenstreet and Lorre addressing the audience. The DVD is region free.
There were some terrific made for TV movies broadcast in the 1970s that have yet to see the light of day. Among them were the wonderful ABC-TV "Movie of the Week" broadcasts that often boasted first rate actors under the direction of up and coming talents like Steven Spielberg. For whatever reason, precious few of these shows have made their way to DVD. However, some TV movies of the era are slowly being released as burn-to-order releases. Among them is A Matter of Wife...and Death, a 1976 TV movie that can be ordered as one of Sony's new titles. Never heard of it? Don't feel bad...neither had I. Still, the film has Rod Taylor in a starring role, so that's good enough to merit any retro movie fan's attention. On the surface, the film seems to hold a good deal of promise, with Taylor playing the role of Shamus McCoy, an L.A. private eye. The role was originated by Burt Reynolds in the hit 1973 feature film Shamus. Although Taylor has the prerequisite good looks, charisma (and hairy chest), the McCoy of the TV movie bears little resemblance to the character played by Reynolds. In the theatrical feature, McCoy was a wise-cracking cynic who made jokes in the face of certain death (a la 007). Although Taylor certainly had the same ability, he is hobbled with a rather confusing script that doesn't allow him much playfulness. He lives in the standard sub-par apartment all private dicks have to reside in (the other option being to live aboard a small boat, as with Frank Sinatra' Tony Rome and John Wayne's Lon McQ). There is also a superfluous love interest (in this case, the running gag - which is straight out of Tony Rome- finds McCoy being called away on an emergency before he can satisfy his would-be lover, played by future Wonder Woman Lynda Carter). However, the very ordinary script doesn't allow enough byplay between Taylor and his co-stars, with the exception of Joe Santos, who is amusing as a local L.A. police lieutenant who engages in some on-going ball-busting humor with McCoy. Beyond that, the plot finds McCoy trying to track down the killer of a down-on-his luck character who used to act as an informant for him. McCoy is outraged when the man is blown up in an apparent gangland assassination and promises the deceased's widow (Anita Gillette) to bring the culprits to justice. The film makes good use of L.A. locations but the overall plot is fairly pedantic, as McCoy checks out one red herring after another, getting beaten, bruised and threatened in the process.
Shamus McCoy wasn't the only big screen man of action to get sold short when brought to TV...(remember Ray Danton as Our Man Flint and Tony Franciosa as Matt Helm????) The film does have a pretty neat twist at the end that I didn't see coming and that, plus Taylor's considerable screen presence, makes the flick worth watching...though it's strictly mid-range entertainment. The DVD contains no extras, but as with all Sony burn to order titles, it is region free so it can be played on any DVD system worldwide, a nice plus for collectors.
The Trevi Fountain figured famously in Fellini's classic La Dolce Vita with Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg.
Rome has been
the backdrop to some iconic films over the years, but its real heyday was
between the 1950s and 1960s, when classics such as Roman Holiday were shot in and around the city centre. Even today,
the locations used are considered to be points of pilgrimage for any
self-respecting retro film fan, from the Trevi Fountain to the Colosseum,
especially as 2013 marks the 60th anniversary of Roman Holiday hitting our screens.
The easiest way
to track down the real life places behind the celluloid is to create your own
walking tour, so that you can spend as long as you like at each spot; just use
the Rome film map from lowcostholidays.com and dive straight into the sights to plan your own
route. Here’s your guide to each of the retro pictures that made the map.
Roman Holiday (1953)
It’s the film
that launched Audrey Hepburn; her first leading role, which saw her playing a
princess from an unnamed European country who was determined to explore Rome
whilst on a royal visit. With Gregory Peck as her guide, she went to the Mouth
of Truth, the Spanish Steps and Ponte Sant’Angelo. You can still see the key
locations today, but one of the highlights is the Roman Forum, where our main
characters meet. There’s no longer a road through the middle of it, but you can
still explore the crumbling Arch of Septimus Severus, where Audrey (as Princess
Ann) is found asleep.
Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)
Aside from the
continuity gripe of only two – not three – coins being thrown into the fountain
from the title, this 50s film is perfect viewing for anyone who wants to see
vintage Rome in all its glory, through the eyes of three American ex-pats.
Right from the start, with establishing shots of St. Peter’s and the Tivoli
Gardens, we’re treated to picture-perfect views. The Colosseum is a stopping
point on a whistle-stop tour of one character’s city recommendations, along
with a branch of the National Museum.
La Dolce Vita (1960)
Fountain’s most memorable cinema appearance was when Anita Ekberg and Marcello
Mastroianni climbed in together during a night-time stroll. Sadly you can’t
recreate the moment these days, as bathing isn’t actually allowed, but you can
relive the magic by visiting after dark, to avoid the huge crowds. Further
afield, take a trip to the Baths of Caracalla and see where film star Sylvia
(played by Ekberg) danced in front of the press and her fiancé.
As well as the
locations used as a backdrop to certain scenes, you can also track down one of
director Federico Fellini’s biggest local inspirations – Harry’s Bar, on the
Via Veneto, which was a hotspot for celebrities back in the 60s. In the film
itself, the popular street was entirely recreated in the studio, but today it
would be a lot easier to shoot footage here, as the Via Veneto isn’t considered
to be part of Rome’s social scene anymore and is relatively quiet.
Aside from those
greats, there were hundreds of films made at the nearby Cinecittà Studios,
which is on the outskirts of the city and was built by Mussolini. This is the
perfect place to continue your cinematic tour, where you can find out how epics
such as Ben-Hur and Cleopatra were made on the sprawling set. Head to Cinecittà
by using the Metro system and then enjoy a set and on-site museum tour, which
will set you back €15.
Pay tribute to
Italy’s most cinematic city and discover the locations behind the iconic
scenes; you’ll soon see why directors couldn’t keep away from Rome.
The Warner Archive has released That Hagen Girl as a burn-to-order DVD title. The 1947 soap opera stars Shirley Temple as Mary Hagen, a high school girl who is socially ostracized when it is suspected she was born illegitimately. The presumed father is Tom Bates (Ronald Reagan), who twenty years earlier had been romancing the high school prom queen. She suddenly vanished without explanation only to return with her parents and kept in isolation. The rumor mill indicated that she had given birth to a daughter, who was then given to a local childless couple to raise. Tom makes attempts to see his girlfriend but is rebuffed by her strict parents. Eventually Tom moves to another town but returns many years later when he inherits a house in his hometown. Now a successful lawyer, the handsome Tom turns heads even as the rumors resume over his presumed status as Mary's real father. Tom is unaware of the "scandal" and ironically ends up befriending young Mary and acting as her mentor. He later realizes that his presence in town has reignited the unsavory rumors that have haunted Mary since her birth. Her only real friend is Julia Kane, a young teacher who tries to stop the bullying of Mary by fellow students and school officials, who single her out as too undesirable to play the lead in the school play. Ultimately, Tom takes a bold stand to defend his presumed daughter- and in the process informs her of some very surprising facts about her heritage.
That Hagen Girl is predictably corny by today's standards, with even the wildest teenagers dressed in suits and ties and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm-style dresses. A product of the era, I suppose. Nevertheless, it's hard not to find much of the goings-on unintentionally funny. Yet, the film does manage to pack a punch in terms of being among the first such movies to denounce bullying and illustrating its devastating impact on the sense of self-worth of those who are victimized by it. The seemingly bold subject matter of out-of-wedlock birth becomes somewhat watered down in the conclusion, but the movie remains an enjoyable and engrossing experience thanks to the considerable star power of Reagan and Temple, who segued rather nicely from child star to respected adult actress. Reagan is his usual stalwart self. If there wasn't an Oscar-worthy performance lodged within him, it can be said he was a far better actor than most of his future political opponents would ever concede. Lois Maxwell is particularly impressive and won a Golden Globe as most promising newcomer for her performance. (She would become beloved by movie fans worldwide as James Bond's original Miss Moneypenny.)
The DVD features a fine transfer and includes an original trailer.
Click here to order from the Warner Archive and to watch a preview clip
Some of the most inspired special edition DVD and Blu-ray releases are coming from independent, niche-market labels that afford certain film titles the kind of grandeur that would never be afforded them by major studios. Case in point: Synapse Films, which routinely releases first rate special editions of "B" movies, cult films and obscure foreign imports (often with an erotic edge). The most impressive Synapse release I've seen to date is their Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of the 1971 Hammer horror film Twins of Evil. The movie is rather notorious for representing a kinky penchant for shocking violence and a marketing campaign that implied an on-screen lesbian relationship between Playboy models (and real-life twin sisters) Madelaine and Mary Collinson. (In reality, there are no such scenes in the film.) The story is centered in a rural European village during the 17th century. The townspeople are in awe of a local nobleman named Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), a handsome but evil young man who uses his absolute power to indulge in a penchant for practicing witchcraft and seducing local girls to visit his castle where he seduces them into a life of sexual deviancy. Karnstein also has a penchant for killing off certain virgins for pleasure and selecting specific women to fall victim to his secret powers as a vampire. Karnstein's crimes results in the formation of The Brotherhood, a local group of puritan vigilantes headed by Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing), a religious zealot who is also a self-appointed witch hunter. The local women have as much to fear from him as they do from Karnstein, as The Brotherhood routinely accuses young girls of being in league with the vampire. This results in them being burned at the stake in order to have their souls redeemed. In short, this ain't a great place to live if you're a single woman. Into this hellish situation come Gustav's nieces, Freida and Maria (Madelaine and Mary Collinson), two recently orphaned teenagers who must now reside with their uncle. Upon being warned about Karnstein's nefarious activities, Maria chooses to be vigilant but the more daring Freida is intrigued by stories of sexual perversion and orgies. She secretly visits Karnstein, who seduces her and turns her into his vampire lover. He convinces her to assume the identity of her sister so that Mary is convicted of murder and is sentenced to be burned at the stake.
Twins of Evil came at a time when Hammer Films were struggling to maintain the audiences they had built in the previous decade. By 1971, seemingly every studio had made an attempt to emulate Hammer's success. The result was that there was a sea of imitators and the Hammer brand became in danger of imitating the imitators. The studio decided to rely more and more on nudity and overt violence, often at the expense of storylines and character development. Although this film is part of that exploitation campaign, it ranks with the better Hammer efforts of the period thanks to a good script, intelligent direction by John Hough and an impressive performance by Peter Cushing, as one of the least sympathetic heroes he ever portrayed. Damien Thomas was being groomed as the next Christopher Lee, with the intention of being a reliable leading man for Hammer. Although he makes a compelling villain, stardom was not on the horizon for him. The Collinson twins (both dubbed for their roles) provide plenty of eye candy, but the nudity that is overtly exploited in the publicity photos is somewhat fleeting. Twins of Evil is one of the gorier Hammer films, but it also remains one of the most compelling. It ranks alongside the other two great witch hunting-themed films of the era, The Witchfinder General and Blood on Satan's Claw.
Synapse Films has presented Twins of Evil as a truly outstanding Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The extras are to die for, if you'll pardon the pun. These include a superb documentary about the making of the film that is almost feature length. Directed and produced by Daniel Griffith, this is a fairly expensive extravagance for a niche market DVD company. The fascinating documentary is titled The Flesh and the Fury: X-Posing Twins of Evil and features a very informative overview of the Hammer vampire trilogy that derived from the classic 19th century vampire novel Carmilla that introduced lesbianism into the genre. (The first two films were The Vampire Lovers and Lust for a Vampire.) The documentary includes interesting insights from a wealth of Hammer and cult movie experts including director Joe Dante, director John Hough, Sir Christopher Frayling, film critic Kim Newman and publisher Tim Lucas. It's even more entertaining if you are not well-versed in Hammer lore. Other extras include a featurette that covers a private collection of Hammer film props, a stills gallery, TV spots and trailers, an isolated music and effects track and a deleted scene that absurdly presents teenage girls singing a 1970's-style love song.
In all, a great release from Synapse Films, a company that continues to impress us with their zeal for paying tribute to often overlooked and underrated films.
Fifteen years after co-producing and directing the British Victorian-era war classic Zulu, Cy Endfield brought an epic prequel to the story to the screen with Zulu Dawn. Unlike the original film, however, this 1979 release suffered from a bungled and scatter shot North American release that ensured that very few Yanks or Canadians ever had the opportunity to see the film in theaters. Botched release notwithstanding, the movie is in many ways as good as its predecessor, even if the screenplay falls short on presenting the main characters in a fully developed way. The story pertains to the greatest British military defeat of its era as the Victorian penchant for colonialism extended into South Africa. Initially the indigenous Zulu tribes had a cordial relationship with the British, but a foolish change in political strategy saw increasing incursions onto Zulu territory. The Zulu king went to great lengths to avoid confrontation until it became obvious that the local British officials were intent on taking their land by military force. The British expeditionary force led by Lord Chelmsford (Peter O'Toole) is well-armed with the latest weaponry and feels completely confident about a quick victory over the tribesmen, who are largely relegated to using primitive weapons. Like his American contemporary, General Custer, Chelmsford is an egotist with an overblown sense of self-confidence. He makes Custer's mistake of dividing his army into smaller units, spaced far apart. When the Zulu warriors mount a massive, surprise attack in what became known as the Battle of Isandlwana, the British are quickly overwhelmed. Like the original film, Zulu Dawn treats the native tribesmen with full respect and the script is clearly sympathetic to their cause. The British soldiers are depicted as courageous and gallant, but their superiors are generally seen as pompous snobs. A notable exception is the true life character of Col. Dumford (Burt Lancaster), a maverick Irishman who leads a contingent of African troops fighting with the British. Dumford tries to convince Chelmsford that his military strategies are flawed but his pleas fall on deaf ears. By the time Chelmsford and his reinforcements arrive at the battlefield, they find a seemingly endless plain of thousands of dead bodies, as only a handful of British troops managed to escape.
Zulu Dawn is a genuine epic with first rate production values with a sterling cast that includes such prominent actors as Simon Ward, Anna Calder-Marshall, John Mills, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Davenport and Bob Hoskins. The latter half of the film is devoted entirely to the battle sequences and they are stunningly staged and photographed, with Elmer Bernstein providing the stirring score. The movie is very well directed by Douglas Hickox, who is primarily remembered for Theatre of Blood and John Wayne's Brannigan. However, one must acknowledge that on a film of this scale, much of the credit must go to the second unit team as well.
Original British quad poster
Severin Films, which recently released a terrific special edition of another great '70s British war flick The Wild Geese (click here for review), has presented Zulu Dawn as a special edition Blu-ray/DVD dual package. The quality is outstanding on the Blu-ray but I'm always even more impressed by Severin's bonus extras. In this case, they include a fascinating history of the Zulu conflicts with scholar and author Ian Knight, who talks seemingly endlessly about every facet of the battle. The word "endlessly" here is meant as a compliment. Although I consider myself a military history buff, Knight's segment is like attending a master class and I realized how little I actually knew of the events depicted in the film. Knight explains that, although the Zulus won the battle, they suffered tremendous losses in the process and their victory was short-lived, as Lord Chelmsford ultimately sent their king into exile. The Severin crew also flew Knight to the actual battle locations in South Africa and it's truly amazing to see how untouched they remain to this day. (Crudely constructed above--ground grave sites for the soldiers still dot the battlefield.) There are also raw footage outtakes and some deleted scenes including several variations of Bob Hoskin's character's death. Another interesting segment features an extensive interview with historical and military consultant to the film, Midge Carter. Carter was an unemployed Brit with an in-depth knowledge of the film who just phoned the production company and ended up getting hired to ensure accuracy. Carter makes for an engaging interview, telling interesting tales about how he prevented historical inaccuracies from being included in the film. He also trashes director Hickox as a snobby elitist with a less-than-impressive work ethic. He also shares his scrapbook of on-set photos which had been autographed by every member of the cast. Severin interviews are always excellent to watch, thanks to producer David Gregory and Carl Daft's determination to let them go on as long as necessary and not worry about the length of the pieces. I only wish this was the case with some of the documentaries I produced for major studios, where there was always a bizarre determination to trim everything to the bone. Severin also doesn't indulge in gimmicky special effects or camera work. They simply turn on the camera and let the subject talk. Not fancy in terms of technique, but a wonderful throwback to how interviews used to be presented. Finally, there is an original theatrical trailer included in the set.
Chances are you haven't seen Zulu Dawn. You're in for a real treat with this superb presentation of an excellent film.
Apprehensive Films have released another DVD comprised of vintage public service shorts, this time compiled as a triple feature relating to the "horrors" of marijuana smoking. Titled 420 Triple Feature: Contact High, the shorts are uniformly amusing, as most vintage PSA-related films of the era now prove to be. The Terrible Truth is a color 1951 production in which a seemingly ancient judge (all adults in these films tend to look like Ma or Pa Kettle) seeks out a teenager who is representative of someone whose life was dramatically harmed by smoking weed. He is invited to the house of a prissy, goody two-shoes teenage girl who is in the process of recovering from a horrendous experience. Seems she was lured into getting involved with an older man, who seduced her through providing her with her first joint. A common theme throughout these films is that marijuana is instantly addictive and leads to a heroin-like dependency that drives users to sell their bodies and souls in order to get a "fix". Here, our unfortunate teen ends up married to the pot "pusher". When he is busted by police, she turns pusher herself in order to feed her habit. She survives a near-death experience in jail and now is determined to get her life back on track. The Devil's Harvest (1942) is the most unintentionally hilarious of the three features. It follows the tried and true formula of an innocent high school girl who is corrupted by a pot pusher. In this case, organized crime is involved and gangsters force the elderly owner of a hot dog stand to use it as a front to sell marijuana to high school kids. At a raucous teen party, that looks like it takes place in a leftover set from an Our Gang comedy, drug-crazed kids get into a brawl that results in someone's death. (The fight scenes in this film are especially funny since the punches don't come remotely close to connecting with the intended targets.) A teenage girl agrees to work undercover as a nightclub dancer (!) to help police crack the drug ring. It's amusing to see how, even in these public service films, producers try to sandwich in some entertainment value, thus we are treated to a completely superfluous dance number prior to the police crack down. The acting has to be seen to be disbelieved. Suffice it to say, you are guaranteed to witness the worst performances in screen history; no small feat. In the third and last film, The Devil's Weed (1949),(not be confused with the aforementioned Devil's Harvest), a virginal twenty-something young woman slaves away as a show girl in order to pay for her brother's college tuition. She soon gets lured to a pot party run by a local pusher and woman abuser. As with the previous films, the movie implies that pot is a highly addictive substance. Within seconds of taking her first puff, our heroine (pardon the pun) is climbing in the sac with the pusher. (The films all have a salient angle to them, implying that there is a direct correlation between smoking pot and losing your virginity. There is also an occasional political component with one of the shorts blatantly stating that marijuana is a tool of "the Reds" to gain world domination!). This film is longer...almost a full hour and boasts much better production values as well as "name" actors (Lyle Talbot as a police inspector and young Jack Elam as a gangland punk). The acting may still be laughable, but compared to the other two movies in this collection, the performances might seem as impressive as those in The Lion in Winter. There's plenty of sexually-oriented banter and plenty of retro glamor shots of the showgirls in their dressing rooms. This production is far more competently directed and Lila Leeds as the scandalized young woman tries hard and gives a passably competent performance.
The shorts would make the perfect compliment to a film festival topped off by Reefer Madness. The only problem is that, if you aren't currently smoking pot, these anti-drug short films might well encourage you to pick up the habit.
To order from Amazon click here ( to be released March 26)
Walt Disney Studios graciously provided
me with the opportunity recently to discuss Peter
Pan with two of the film’s stars: Kathryn Beaumont, who provided the voice
of Wendy, and Paul Collins, who provided the voice of John Darling.
Todd Garbarini:Thank you for speaking with me about Peter Pan.
Kathryn Beaumont:Thank you, it’s my pleasure!
TG: I am a big fan of the Disney cartoons as I
spent the better part of my childhood seeing them.
KB:I'm so glad! They really are special, aren't they? The Disney cartoons
really stand the test of time.
TG: These are some of the earliest
movies I ever saw in both movie theaters and drive-ins. I really miss the
drive-ins. There are so few of them left.
KB: I know! I miss the drive-ins, too!
TG: I understand that you were born and
lived in London.How did you come to
enter show business?
KG: I was in On An Island with You (1948) and Challenge to Lassie (1949) and at that point MGM was scouting
characters for their new ideas for British classic-like stories, and so they
put me under contract and I started working for them.I was with MGM for a while, and as you know a
lot of those ideas just never come into being and ended up being put on the
shelf.They kept me under contract though
and at that time that was when Walt Disney was looking for his Alice in
Wonderland. The rest, as they say, is sort of history!Just about the time that my contract was due
to be changed over for the next six months, that is a six-month option, at that
point there was some sort of negotiation and I went over to Disney and started
working on Alice in Wonderland.
TG:Were you familiar with Alice's Adventures
in Wonderland when you were asked to perform the voice of the titular
KB:(laughs) It reminds me of when
I first met Walt. He greeted me at the door and walked me into the office where
everybody was settled because we were going to be signing the contracts. The
publicity department was there and all of that. He walked me over to the little
table and chairs. He told me that it would be kind of nice for us to go over
the original book.He asked if I was
familiar with the story. I said, “Oh yes, yes of course, of course!”(laughs)I had had it read to me when I was very
young. Everybody in England was familiar with it.Those were the absolute classics. I was familiar with the stories whether I had
read them not and by that time I could read them myself.So yes, I was extremely familiar. So, we sat
down and he was sort of trying to explain to me what his vision was for the
film and how he was trying to bring a little bit of both Through the Looking Glass and Alice's
Adventures in Wonderland into this new animated feature. So, it was very
informative and we had a lot of fun looking through the books and sharing all
the things that we knew about the stories.
TG:Like so many of the classic Disney films, Alice in Wonderland was animated by the Nine Old Men, the famous
animators who worked on so many of these classics.I met two of them, Frank Thomas and Ollie
Johnston, in November 1987 at a local mall when they were promoting their book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation.
They were very nice to speak with. How did you get along with the animators on
the set of the film?
KB:Oh, I was just so grateful to them while I was working there. They just
made me feel so much at home. They had me involved in the entire process as
they would invite me into their offices at the studio where they were working.They showed me the rough drawings that they
had been working on. Later on, they
allowed me to go into “Ink and Paint” and told me to walk around and see what
was going on and how that process worked.It was from one department to another and so on and so forth. As a result, I really felt that I was a big
part of this overall process and I really enjoyed it very, very much.
TG: When it came time to doing Peter Pan, did you act as a live action
reference for the animators as the character of Wendy?
KB:Oh yes, I did, as I had had a wonderful experience doing this also on Alice in Wonderland. When I was nearly
finished with Alice, the studio was
really quite ready to move straight into production on Peter Pan.That was their
next animated feature. And so I began right away with the scenes that Wendy was
involved with, with the live-action recordings. Right after that was the live
action.That process usually consisted
of a day or two of rehearsal to sort of map things out to see what they were
looking for and determine the motion of the characters. As result, we were very
prepared for when the camera was there and so we went through the action. This
was done of course to help out the artists who were trying to draw the human
figures which were the most natural and also the most challenging part of the
Pan has a few short musical numbers, among them “Follow the Leader.” Did you provide any additional voices for any
of these subordinate characters for the songs or did you stick strictly to
KB: No, I wasn't involved with those.
They used a lot of boys for those voices, and I was not involved with any of
them. The character of Wendy, unlike Alice, was more of a supporting role and
that was the only voice that I provided for the film.
TG: What did you like most about your
experiences on Peter Pan?
KB: Well, I would say it was similar to
my experiences on Alice in Wonderland
and that it was just a wonderful time working with very talented people, people
whom I admired so much, and people whom I came to know very well, such as Hans
Conreid (who provided the voices of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook).Like myself, he was also asked to provide the
live-action as well as the voiceover parts. That kind of experience is what, I
think, stands out in my memory. It was such a lovely time for me as a youngster
playing these important roles and being able to get to know these creative
people involved in this wonderful process.
TG:What was your reaction when you heard your voice in these films?
KB:Oh, I suppose that I viewed the movies I thought, “Oh, that's me!” (laughs)
TG: You became a teacher just after
your stint in Hollywood. What grade or grades did you teach?
KB: Well, as it goes as a new teacher
you're not high up on the totem pole. You end up changing grade levels every
year. So, I have a lot of experience in the upper grades as well as the lower
grades. I really did enjoy second grade. I took every opportunity to make my
desires known that I really liked second grade. So from that point on until the end of my
career, I taught second grade.
TG: What do you think is behind the
longevity of such classic films as the movies that you worked on?
KB: I believe that it's the
timelessness of the stories, and the stories really have something to say to
young children. It came down to Disney's expertise in storytelling and his
wonderful team that he worked with.They
made the characters so realistic in terms that even adults could identify with
them and not just the children in the audience.
Director David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook deserves praise, if for nothing else, overcoming the seemingly incomprehensible title and becoming a major box-office success. The film is typical of today's "rom-coms" (romantic comedies, for the uninitiated.) Troubled, attractive young guy. Troubled, attractive young woman. Both meet cute. Both have to interact with lovable, eccentric friends and family members before overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles in achieving great goal. Bradley Cooper, progressing very well from low-brow comedies, gives a very fine performance as Pat, a charismatic Philadelphia school teacher who goes bonkers when he discovers his wife getting on in the shower with one of his school colleagues. He goes on a rampage and almost beats the man to death. When we first see him, his mother is checking him out of a psychiatric institution after 8 long months- and against the advice of his doctors. Seems Pat has been bi-polar all along but never knew it, something that strains credibility given the fact that emotionally, he carries more baggage than a cruise ship. (In a completely unbelievable but "cute" plot device, he is sent into a rage every time he hears Steve Wonder singing "My Cherie, Amour"- you know, sort of like that old sketch in which the Three Stooges go ballistic upon hearing "Niagara Falls"). Pat tries to readjust to his dysfunctional family life but it's a rocky road. He is obsessed with winning back his gorgeous wife, who he mistakenly believes is equally determined to revive their marriage. In the process, he has to frequently lock horns with his father (Robert De Niro in very fine form), a reckless gambler and bookmaker who is always only seconds away from financial disaster. The old man is betting the ranch on the outcome of football games in the hopes of fulfilling his dream of opening a small, local restaurant. In the midst of all this chaos, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a vivacious but equally troubled young widow with a history of mental illness. Before you can say "When Harry Met Sally", the two enter a combative relationship that all -too predictably results in a gradual attraction. All of this leads up to a crisis-filled night in which Pat has promised to be Tiffany's dance partner in a local contest that they have to score well enough on to prevent Pat's dad from losing everything he has and, instead, win the bet that will allow him to open his restaurant.
The script of Silver Linings Playbook contains every cliche except, "Hey kids, we can put the show on in a barn!" Yet, it's a feel-good, crowd-pleaser that is just off-beat enough to rise above the level of most romantic comedies. The scene-stealer is Jennifer Lawrence, who fully deserves her Oscar nomination as the bitchy-but-lovable head case whose emotions run up and down like a roller-coaster. She and Cooper make for a fine on-screen couple and watching them deal with their respective eccentricities is one of the film's delights. Director Russell also makes good use of the suburban Philly locations and the cast (particularly De Niro) is especially convincing at making you believe you are intruding on an actual middle-class family's intimate moments. Still, as the movie nears its climactic dance competition sequence, I found myself praying that the script would refreshingly forgo what was shaping up to the be most predictable of endings. Sadly, Russell (who also wrote the screenplay) goes for the low-hanging fruit and employs every mothballed romantic cliche imaginable, complete with love-crazed young guy running after heartbroken girlfriend down a city street adorned with Christmas decorations. There's enough moss on these story elements to make penicillin.
The film is refreshing in the sense that it's one of the few youth-oriented comedies that doesn't rely on vulgarity and gross-out humor. It's definitely a good date movie, but certainly undeserving of a Best Picture Oscar.
The Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, which present contemporary and classic films at their unique restaurant/theaters, have delved into the DVD business- and retro movie lovers can thank their lucky stars. One of the most prominent of the Drafthouse releases is Wake in Fright, a 1971 Australian film classic by Ted Kotcheff, a Canadian born director who had never previously set foot Down Under prior to making this movie. Based on the novel by Kenneth Cook, Wake in Fright is unknown to many film scholars who pride themselves on being acquainted with worthwhile, little-seen films. (I must shamefully admit that I fall into this category myself, having never even heard of the film prior to reviewing the Blu-ray release). Based on the title, I assumed this was a suspense thriller or a horror film. It is neither. In fact, it is virtually impossible to pigeon-hole this movie into a specific genre. Suffice it to say that is one of the most visually arresting and mesmerizing movies of the 1970s- one that will haunt you long after viewing it.
The film opens with a panoramic shot of a tiny one room schoolhouse set against the expanse of the Outback desert. We are introduced to John Grant (Gary Bond), a handsome young teacher who seems curiously out of place in this environment in his jacket and tie. Grant is trying to maintain the universal standards of school teachers but we soon see that he is frustrated at having been powerless in choosing his designated school district. Thus, he has been assigned to one of the most remote places imaginable, teaching a class that is so small that teenagers are compelled to share the room with first graders. As the story begins, Grant is bidding his students farewell as he eagerly anticipates a six-week school holiday. He longs to return to Sydney and the loving embrace of his attractive girlfriend, whose well-worn bathing suit photo adorns his wallet. En route home, however, Grant's train makes a fateful stop in a small city of Bundanyabba (known to the fiercely territorial locals as "The 'yabba"). Grant is initially bored at being stranded for 24 hours in this unattractive mining town where the residents are either openly hostile to strangers or overbearingly friendly. He becomes acquainted with the local constable, Jock Crawford (the wonderful Aussie character actor Chips Rafferty, in final, and perhaps, best performance.) Crawford is an eccentric but he takes Grant under his wing and escorts him to a cavernous bar where hoards of local men are carousing and drinking alcohol with almost superhuman abilities. Grant is at first repulsed, but he finds himself accepted by the locals since he is vouched for by Jock. Soon, he's pretty inebriated himself and he becomes fascinated with a game of chance that dozens of men are participating in. The simple premise involves a toss of a coin and you win or lose based on whether you bet heads or tails. The sheer emotion of the participants intoxicates Grant and he tries his hand. He soon wins a small fortune. Tempted by the fact that winning even more money will allow himself to be freed from his undesirable teaching position, he makes the fatal mistake of returning to the game and gambling one more round. Within seconds, the drunken Grant loses every penny he has. By the next morning, he can't afford a train ticket to continue to Sydney and has to rely on the kindness of strangers (in the words of Tennessee Williams) to find housing and food.
This is where the film becomes completely compelling, as Grant rapidly meets a succession of overbearing- and potentially dangerous new "friends". They include Tim Hynes (Al Thomas), a friendly but consistently drunken elderly man who introduces Grant to his mates: two obnoxious and crude musclemen, Joe (Peter Whittle) and Dick (Jack Thompson in his screen debut). He also discovers Tim's attractive daughter Janette (Sylvia Kay), who can hardly stand the deplorable life she leads in having to serve her sexist father and his misogynistic friends. She is drawn to Grant's sensitivity but his attempts to satisfy her repressed sexual desires go awry. He is next introduced to Tydon (Donald Pleasence in brilliant form), a one-time doctor who has lost his license because of alcoholism. He lives a threadbare existence, trading medical advice to townspeople in return for a spartan diet and all the booze he can handle. Before long, Grant is coerced into joining Tyson, Joe and Dick on a brutal hunt for kangaroos. The drunken Grant becomes as savage as his out of control companions and he reaches bottom when he willingly kills and tortures these lovable, harmless creatures for mere amusement. As the story progresses, Grant devolves even further and goes off an alcohol-fueled abyss that culminates in a most unexpected homosexual encounter.
Wake in Fright startled audiences in Australia when it was first shown, leading to some audience members screaming at the screens "That's not us!" in objection to the way the Outback dwellers were portrayed. In reality, there are no overt villains shown on screen. These are just hard-bitten people who live in an inhospitable part of the land where you have to be tough in order to survive. The film was an entry at Canne but had a limited release before fading into obscurity. It was virtually impossible to market. The Alamo Drafthouse Blu-ray does justice to the film's astonishing cinematography by Brian West, as well as the unique and atmospheric score by John Scott. Kotcheff's direction is letter-perfect right up through the final frame. Kotcheff is interviewed on the Blu-ray and he expresses gratitude for the team of film historians who searched the world in order to find the elements that have made the restoration of the movie possible. He also recalls how, when the film when was shown at Cannes, one young man sitting behind him kept gushing about his enthusiasm for the film. When Kotcheff asked who the young man was, the dismissive answer was that he was an unheard of new director named Martin Scorsese! The Blu-ray includes vintage interviews with Kotcheff at Cannes in 1971, audio commentary with Kotcheff and editor Anthony Buckley, an extensive interview with Kotcheff at a 2009 Canadian film event, a vintage TV obituary for Chips Rafferty, a documentary about the restoration of the movie, theatrical trailers and an absorbing 28 page collector's booklet.
Wake in Fright is now justly regarded as the first "adult" Australian movie. It instilled pride and confidence in a generation of Aussie filmmakers and its legacy lives on through their works. Kudos to Alamo Drafthouse for presenting this moody and haunting cinematic experience through this first-rate Blu-ray release.
Unless you've been living on another planet yourself, you're probably familiar with the premise of Mystery Science Theater, the legendary TV series that involves a stranded astronaut and two robot friends who are subjected to watching an endless array of bad movies. Each 90 minute episode involves showing a B movie as the trio toss out hilarious wise cracks at the expense of all involved in the making of these cinematic embarrassments. The latest boxed set release from Shout! Factory features three (relatively) upper crust duds and one of the more traditional entries, a low-budget sci-fi flick. Here is a break down of the 4-DVD set:
OPERATION KID BROTHER- Ironically, whoever holds the rights to this 1967 Italian spy movie could make a fortune by simply releasing it "as is" on DVD. However, the only pseudo-release comes through the Mystery Science Theater set. As with all the titles, the film is edited down dramatically to fit a 90 minute slot that also includes another mainstay of the show: comedy vignettes featuring the bizarre characters who are regulars on the series. Still, half a water-down Kid Brother is better than none at all and if you haven't seen this infamous travesty, you're in for a treat. The film was cobbled together during the height of the spy movie rage to cash in on the popularity of the James Bond films. Nothing unique about that. Seemingly every actor in the world sent word to their agents that they wanted to play a spy. The novelty behind this film is that the producers cast Neil Connery, brother of you-know-who, as a Scottish plastic surgeon with the power to hypnotize at will (don't ask!). Connery had no acting experience prior to finding himself in this rather lavish production that boasted exotic locations and an inspired supporting cast that included Bond regulars Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee as well as other high profile alumni from the series including Daniela Bianchi, Anthony Dawson and Adolfo Celi. The blatant attempt to exploit the Connery name is apparent by the fact that the catchy, guilty-pleasure title theme song is called O.K. Connery (it was composed by Ennio Morricone!). Additionally, Neil Connery plays a character creatively named Dr. Neil Connery. There are all sorts of cryptic references to the notion that he is the brother of 007, which of course doesn't stand up to scrutiny because 007's name is James Bond, not Sean Connery. Nevertheless, the funniest aspect of the movie is the most unintentional: the dubbing. It appears everyone but Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee are dubbed, including (inexplicably) Neil Connery himself. He's supposed to be Scotsman and is even seen wearing a kilt in one sequence, but is dubbed with a baritone American accent! The film is goofy fun throughout. I recently met Neil Connery in Scotland and he maintains a good sense of humor about the production, saying it was a pleasant experience even though he was appalled to find his voice had been dubbed. It's fine to have Kid Brother released as an MST 3000 edition, but let's hope there's a legit release in the works of the entire movie. The kitsch value alone would ensure brisk sales.
Kitten With a Whip- The inclusion of this mainstream entry as an MST 3000 edition is outside of the genres the series generally worked with, as related by series star and creator Mike Nelson, who explains the show generally concentrated on B horror and sci-fi flicks . However, the movie is so over-the-top bad that it merited inclusion in the show's Hall of Shame. Ann-Margret, then an up-and-coming star, had already had major success with State Fair, Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas. Good thing, too, because it's doubtful we would have heard much more from her had this guilty pleasure been the vehicle for her screen debut. The 1964 B&W film stars John Forsythe as David Stratton, a straight-laced, pillar of the community family man living in San Diego. He's being groomed by local politicians as a likely candidate for office and is expected to vie for the nomination in a forthcoming state senate race. With his wife and kids away on a vacation, Stratton becomes embroiled in a bizarre situation when he finds a scantily-clad, rain-soaked young woman named Jody literally sleeping in his bed, having broken into his house. Jody explains she was being abused in a home for teenaged girls and had to flee for her life. Stratton makes the mistake of trying to assist her, but soon realizes she is actually wanted for burning the home down and attempting to kill a matron there. He finds himself being set up in a blackmail scheme that would destroy his family life and political ambitions, with matters complicated by the fact that Jody will accuse him of rape, which is even more damaging because she is under-age. Defenseless, Stratton has no choice but to allow Jody and a trio of bizarre and potentially violent delinquents take over his house, wreaking physical and emotional damage. The whole enterprise goes hilariously off-the-charts when the gang ends up driving to Tijuana where Stratton coincidentally runs into virtually every possible person who he does not want to encounter, with the possible exception of The Three Stooges. In more skilled hands, the basic premise could have been an effective one, but director Douglas Hayes (who was a well-regarded screenwriter) encourages Ann-Margret and her young co-stars to go over-the-top at every possible opportunity. The string of coincidences, bad judgment calls and overall ineptness on the part of Stratton only emphasizes how incredibly frightening he would be in political office. Only Forsythe emerges relatively unscathed and the ironic end does pack a bit of a dramatic wallop but the film can generally be regarded as an embarrassment for all concerned and well worth the MST 3000 "tribute".
Revenge of the Creature- This 1955 monster flick is acknowledged as another off-beat entry for inclusion in the show, as it was produced by Universal and boasts relatively upscale production values. The sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon finds the titular monster captured and put on display in a Florida aquarium where he is gawked at by scientists and public alike. The fish-faced fiend ultimately breaks free and terrorizes the locals, including the prerequisite teens on Lover's Lane. The film is noted primarily for providing young Clint Eastwood in a bit role, but as these streamlined versions of the films are edited severely to make room for comedy sketches, I don't believe the Eastwood footage made it into this version, or I blinked and missed it. The film is goofy fun but nowhere near as enjoyable as those truly bad B movies turned out by other studios. John Agar is the hunky leading man and Lori Nelson is the sexy girl who the monster inevitably ends up carrying into the drink.
Robot Holocaust- This 1986 title is far more the norm for the MST 3000 crowd. A micro-budgeted howler about a post-apocalyptic world in which humans serve as slave laborers for the Dark One's power station. I'm not sure what the Dark One is, exactly, but he's apparently non-human and he's a humorless dude who arranges for gladiator-like fights to the death among the slaves. Into this mix comes a rebel from the outside world who attempts to stir up a revolution. There are the usual Star Wars-inspired robot clones, all of which look like someone you might see at a Halloween party. New York locations include Central Park, probably because it's a place where people who look like aliens from another world wouldn't draw much attention from passers-by. The film's 79-minute running time feels like that of Doctor Zhivago after you get past the first half-hour's worth of unintentional giggles but the performance of the "actress" who plays the villainess helps the climax attain a certain greatness in the annals of bad movies in that it is perhaps the worst performance ever committed to celluloid. For that reason alone, the entire set is worth adding to your library.
This release is packed with extras including interviews with the show's Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson and cast members Bill Corbett and J. Elvis Weinstein. An unexpected gem is the documentary Jack Arnold at Universal, a serious tribute to the director who brought to life some of the studio's most enduring monster movie classics. It's unusual to see such respect paid to a filmmaker in an MST 3000 release, but it's certainly warranted.There are also the usual cool mini-posters created by artist Steve Vance.
Frankenweenie (2012) is an animated big-screen expansion
of Tim Burton's own 1984 live-action short film of the same name and utilizes
the Frankenstein monster tale by Mary Shelley to tell a clever and ultimately
moving story about a young boy, Victor Frankenstein, and how he copes with the
loss of his beloved dog.This is a
universal scenario that every child who grows up with a pet must face at some
point.I have only seen a handful of
films tackle this subject, and Don Coscarelli’s 1975 outing Kenny and Company is notable for its
depiction of a young boy who must take his dog to the vet to be put to
Victor loves making 16mm movies with
his dog, Sparky, in his hometown of New Holland, which is constructed to look
like Everytown, USA.Sparky stars as the
“Sparkysaurus.” After all, what young
boy doesn't love dinosaurs?Mixing
footage of Sparky with self-made animation, Victor's movie illustrates an
imagination no doubt inspired by The
Twilight Zone and The Beast from
20,000 Fathoms (1953).Victor,
obviously an alter-ego for director Burton, is an awkward child who keeps a low
profile from his classmates and his neighbor Mr. Burgermeister (a nice nod to
Rankin and Bass) who brandishes a hedge clipper.During a baseball game, Victor hits a home
run, but Sparky chases the ball into the street and is killed by a car.Devastated, Victor mopes through school until
his science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, a grotesque caricature of a man, shows the
class how to use electricity to move a dead frog’s legs.Experiencing a “Eureka!” moment, Victor is
filled with a new sense of purpose, and converts his parent’s attic into a
makeshift laboratory.Following his
teacher’s instructions, he reanimates Sparky with the help of lightning.
Victor does his best to keep Sparky’s reemergence
a secret.A creepy, overzealous kid from
the neighborhood, Edgar, wants to know how Victor did it.Word gets out about Sparky, and other children
competing for a science project attempt similar experiments until things get
out of control: a rat becomes a crazed monster; a turtle is made enormous and
stomps among a town square carnival like a mixture of Godzilla and Gamera; sea monkeys
run amok through the streets; a cute, next-door poodle who fancies Sparky is
made to resemble Elsa Lanchester. (There are some cute inside jokes here: the
name "Shelley" appears on a tombstone and Bambi is displayed on a local theatre marquee, perhaps as much a
nod to the classic short film Bambi Meets
Godzilla as it is an homage to the Disney film.)The climax is a loving homage to James Whale’s
1931 classic that started it all and fueled nightmares for years to come.
Thematically, Frankenweenie shares many similarities to Henry Selick's 1993 film The Nightmare Before Christmas (produced
by Burton) in that a protagonist compelled to do a good deed ends up making a
mess of things.Most of the characters,
particularly the children, have predominantly large eyes, as if they stepped
out of a Margaret Keane painting (it’s no wonder that she is the subject of the
director’s next film, due for release later this year).
Filmed on Canon EOS 5D Mark II single
lens reflux cameras and printed in black and white, Frankenweenie looks lovely and is easily one of the year’s best
films.It should win the Oscar for Best
Animated Feature.It would be nice to
see black and white return to the screen as an art form as it truly looks beautiful.Danny Elfman provides yet another memorable
score to a Tim Burton film.
There are a few nice extras included on the Blu-ray disc:
·We get a short film starring Sparky called Captain Sparky vs. the Flying Saucers,
the in-movie that appears at the start of the film and runs roughly two and a-half-minutes in
length (no relation to Siskel and Ebert’s Sparky the Wonder Dog of PBS’s Sneak Previews from the early 1980s.).
·Miniatures in Motion: Bringing
Frankenweenie to Life is
an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary featurette that runs about 23 minutes
(I wish it was longer) and takes us to the massive 60,000 foot soundstage in London
where the film was shot and contains comments from the many animators who
worked on the individual scenes – they all averaged about two minutes per week
of screen time! What is truly
extraordinary about this piece is seeing the astonishing level of detail and
attention that is made to even the smallest of items. You get a new appreciation of the film and all
the hard work that went into making it. Absolutely nothing in this movie has
been computer-generated. It was all designed, built, and manufactured for the
·The Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit is enough to make one jealous if you
don’t live in one of the cities that it comes to.
Burton's original 1984 featurette, Frankenweenie,
upon which this film is based. This wonderful live-action film was financed by
Disney and the producers were reportedly shocked at how frightening it would be
for children, so much so that they fired Burton and shelved the project.It runs 30 minutes and stars Barret Oliver (The Neverending Story) as Victor, the
young son of Ben and Susan (Daniel Stern and Shelley Duvall).Sofia Coppola, inexplicably using the name
Domino, appears as a friend of Victor’s.
It would have been nice to have a
running commentary with Tim Burton or from the animators as I love commentaries
and eagerly listen to them whenever they appear as extras.However, this is a minor quibble.The film looks absolutely amazing on Blu-ray
and is a worthy addition to your collection.
Click here to order order 4 disc deluxe edition with DVD and digital copies included.
Jon Finch, star of stage and screen, has been found dead in his home in England. He was 70 years old. He had been suffering from from a variety of health issues and friends became concerned when they had not heard from him for a time. Finch never became a bonafide star but was respected for being an outstanding supporting actor in films such as Lady Caroline Lamb, The Vampire Lovers, Sunday, Bloody Sunday and The Horror of Frankenstein. He did land leading roles in two high profile film productions in the 1970s: Roman Polanski's controversial screen version of Macbeth (in which Finch played the title role) and Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy in which Finch was cast as an innocent man suspected of being a serial killer. Over the decades, he continued to act both on television and in feature films. Finch preferred to stay out of the spotlight and kept a low profile. He had been living in Hastings since 2003. For more click here
(For more about Finch and the making of Frenzy, see Cinema Retro issue #24)
On December 21, 1961 the Merced Theatre in Merced, California hosted a Christmas party for 2,000 local children who got to see John Wayne's latest flick, The Comancheros, along with Misty starring David Ladd. (Photo: Merced County Sun-Star)
If you haven't picked up Warner Home Video's release of Clint Eastwood's 1992 Oscar-winner Unforgiven on Blu-ray, don't delay another day. The film made its debut in Blu-ray earlier this year to commemorate the movie's 20th anniversary. For those of us who were long-time champions of Eastwood's abilities as an actor and director, the accolades the movie received made us seem a bit self-satisfied. In the early 1980s I co-authored a book about Eastwood's films and was told by my editor that while his movies were enjoyable, I was guilty of mistaking him for a world-class talent. No one was saying such things after Unforgiven, a classic Western that ranks among the best of the genre. Originally shot under the title The William Munny Killings, the film is a dramatic look at both the best and worst elements of human nature. (The film's final title did seem rather uninspired at the time, given the fact that John Huston had made a high profile western titled The Unforgiven in 1960) No one is completely good or bad in this film, including the Sheriff Little Bill (an Oscar winning performance by Gene Hackman), who runs his small town with an iron fist. He considers himself to be a good man and he certainly is courageous and incorruptible. However, when he doles out mild punishment for a man who used a knife to commit an atrocity on a local prostitute, her fellow hookers pool their hard-earned savings and offer a bounty to the man or men who kill or bring to justice the culprit and his companions. Answering the call is William Munny, an aging widower with two small children who is desperate to renounce his past as a hard-bitten saddle bum with a penchant for spilling blood. The bounty money will afford him the chance to start a new life. He is aided by his old friend Ned (Morgan Freeman) and a green horn who goes by the name of the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett, who should have gone on to stardom). The Kid claims to be a hardened killer but his older mentors realize immediately he is all bluster. This disparate trio begins to track down the man who abused the prostitute and end up on a hellish journey that has unforeseen, tragic consequences.
Eastwood, who kept the screenplay by David Webb Peoples on a shelf until the time was right to dust it off, provides assured, top-notch direction as well as giving one of the best performances of his career. (He also wrote the film's haunting theme song for good measure). The supporting performances are all outstanding with Richard Harris making an odd, but unforgettable mid-film appearance as an egotistical British gunslinger who gets his just desserts at the hands of Little Bill. Every nuance of the movie rings true right down to the final gun battle in saloon that is brilliantly directed by Eastwood.
The deluxe version of the Blu-ray release comes in the format of a small, hardback photo book with an introduction by Eastwood. The photo content is worth the price of the set alone, with script pages, rare pre-production ads and behind the scenes photos displayed. Best of all is the bonus content which has been available on the previous DVD release:
Commentary track by Eastwood and biographer Richard Schickel
All on Accounta Pullin' a Trigger, which features recent interviews with cast and crew about the making of the film
Eastwood... A Star, a retrospective look at the screen legend's career
Eastwood and Company: Making 'Unforgiven': Schickel's outstanding one hour documentary that originally aired on broadcast TV
Eastwood on Eastwood, in which the actor/director reflects on his long career
A vintage episode of Maverick in which Eastwood plays a hardcase cowboy who goes up against star James Garner
In summary, it would be unforgivable not to add this deluxe Blu-ray of Unforgiven to your library. (The film is available as a bare-bones Blu-ray, but spring for the deluxe edition.)
Despite a title that implies an epic mini-series, World War III (originally broadcast in 1982) is far less grand than other major network specials of the day. This was the golden age of TV mini-series, when seemingly every week produced a classic such as Rich Man, Poor Man, Roots, Shogun and The Thorn Birds. All of those projects had opulent budgets as well as big name casts. World War III does boast three big names of the day, Rock Hudson, Brian Keith and David Soul but the similarities stop there. It seems all of the money went into these actor's salaries, leaving the rest of the production to cope with a budget that seems to be akin to that of a high school play. The show was aired during tense times of the Cold War period and the paranoia about Soviet expansionism helped ensure Ronald Reagan's triumphant rise to the Presidency. The problems begin with the screenplay, the premise of which is fairly absurd. Seems U.S. President McKenna (Hudson) is heating up the Cold War by imposing a grain embargo on the Soviets that threatens the very fabric of their society. McKenna's aim is the reign in their military adventures but the Soviets respond by sending a commando team into a remote part of Alaska with the intention of overtaking a small military outpost that defends a pivotal oil pipeline. The Reds plan to threaten this crucial source of oil if McKenna doesn't back down on the grain embargo. The Soviet patrol is discovered by the small contingent of Americans guarding the facility and a fierce firefight erupts. The stakes quickly rise to nuclear threat levels and a summit meeting is quickly convened between McKenna and Soviet Secretary General Gorny (Brian Keith). Both men want peace, but Gorny's attempts to defuse the situation are sabotaged by Kremlin war mongers. The film intercuts the political intrigue with the ordeal of both Russian and American fighting men facing death in a snowy wasteland.The notion that America could be brought to its knees but a few soldiers capturing an oil facility may seem crazy but at the time you couldn't go broke trying to scare people into thinking the United States could actually be invaded by a conventional army. (Think Red Dawn, the other kooky invasion thriller of the era that only the paranoid could love.)
The American leading role is played by (then) red-hot David Soul as a colonel who finds himself commanding an outgunned and out-manned group of soldiers who fight valiantly against seemingly insurmountable odds to stave off Soviet occupation of the oil pipeline. This being TV in the early 1980s, there is some sexual byplay squeezed in between Soul and Cathy Lee Crosby, who plays a sexy intelligence officer equally at home in a snowsuit or evening gown. Naturally, she ends up toting a gun and helping Soul repel the Soviet onslaught. The notion of generals seeing more action in the bedroom than in the battlefield might have seemed like a stretch at the time, but in the age of General Petraeus, the screenwriter now seems like an oracle. The acting is all perfectly fine, with Hudson giving a commanding performance as a dovish president forced to be a hawk. Watching him square off with the great Brian Keith is one of the show's few true pleasures, along with an opening sequence that is well acted and directed and features a startling act of treason. However, World War III plays like a bargain basement version of Fail Safe, right down to the film's final sequence which is literally stolen verbatim from that classic movie. Most of the film is shot in claustrophobic interiors that never convince you that the action is taking place anywhere but on a studio sound stage. The worst aspects of the program, however, are the scenes set in the Alaskan frontier. There seems to have been no more than twenty square feet of studio space allocated to these sequences and to get around it, the actors are often filmed in close-up. The production design is also rather laughable with plastic and foam snowbanks that you would expect to see decorating your local ice cream parlor. If you think the arctic scenes in Ice Station Zebra looked bad, wait until you see these amateurish creations.
In fairness, comments readers on IMDB indicate people have very fond memories ofthis production, which was directed by the usually competent David Greene after the original director, Boris Sagal, died during production in an accident involving a helicopter. I hate to be a wet blanket about nuclear war, folks, but World War III is a pretentious, cheapo production that uses a few big names to justify its existence. The diplomatic sequences are corny and predictable and feature the kind of preachy, Kumbaya moments that would send the likes of Rush Limbaugh into a frenzy. Skip this one, unless you have three hours of your life you don't value, and stick to an intentionally funny Cold War film, Dr. Strangelove.
Click here to watch clip and order from the Warner Archive
Now that Severin Films has bounced back into circulation with their outstanding Blu-ray release of The Wild Geese, the company has also released a more obscure, star-studded title: the 1979 adventure film Ashanti. Never heard of it? Most people haven't and only a relatively few people have ever seen it in the American/British market, despite the impressive cast of high profile names. The film takes on what is probably the world's second-oldest profession: slave trading. Although human trafficking is high on the list of international crimes today, when the film was made, great pains had to be taken to educate viewers that slave trading did not get extinguished in the age of the horse and buggy and remains a very modern criminal activity. The film, directed by old hand Richard Fleischer, opens in Africa when an interracial married couple - doctors David and Anansa Linderby (Michael Caine and Beverly Johnson)- are seen providing medical services to remote tribes who reside in isolated regions. When Anansa decides to take an ill-fated skinny dip in a local river, the beautiful young woman is mistaken for a member of the tribe and brutally kidnapped by slavers headed by the notorious Suleiman (Peter Ustinov), an Arab trader of human misery. When David discovers his wife's fate, he launches an ambitious rescue effort but is hampered by corrupt or incompetent local officials. He decides to take matters into his own hands, with the help of a local humanitarian (Rex Harrison) and a sympathetic mercenary (William Holden). Despite their assistance, David finds the only man who can really help him is Malik (Kabir Bedi, who makes a striking screen presence), a Rambo-like figure who lives in the desert and is consumed by his own wife's abduction and murder at the hands of Suleiman. He agrees to assist David and the two make an arduous trek across the blazing Sahara in an attempt to rescue Anansa and her fellow victims before they can be sold at a private auction to rich men who want to abuse the slaves sexually.
Ashanti doesn't stint on the plight of those victimized by slavery. The slaves are treated brutally on the walk across the Sahara and given a minimum amount of food and water. The plan is to bring them to a "fattening house", a deplorable cellar, where they will be brought back to health in order to maximize their price at auction. Along the way, both young women and little boys are molested at will. David and Malik make for a disparate but determined team. David, who is unskilled in fighting or the use of weapons, must rely on his hot-tempered ally, who is capable of taking on numerous adversaries at the same time and prevailing. Meanwhile, Anansa tries to use logic with Suleiman to gain her freedom, pointing out that she is employed by the United Nations and her kidnapping will bring authorities down on him. He is unimpressed and claims that her natural beauty will result in his making enough money to retire and leave the slave trade before he can be found.
Ashanti is a consistently compelling adventure film, well-directed by the veteran Fleischer. Caine is a refreshing screen hero because he isn't a superman. He does acquit himself well in a climactic fight scene but his unfamiliarity with firearms realistically results in tragic consequences for one of his key allies. Ustinov channels his role from Spartacus as a charismatic scoundrel. Even when he engages in deplorable acts, he is personally charming. The real find is model Beverly Johnson, who gives a very fine performance in what is really the starring the role in the film. Harrison and Holden have extended cameos and their presence adds greatly to the enjoyment of the movie, as does a late-in-the-story appearance by Omar Sharif. If there's a weak aspect to the production it's the musical score by Michael Melvoin, which would be more appropriate in a disco-themed romance than an action film.
Severin's Blu-ray edition features an extensive, recent interview with Beverly Johnson, who discusses the fact that she was the "breakthrough" African American female model of the 1970s. (She is also an activist for social causes and was recently honored by Oprah Winfrey). Johnson is very verbose and amusing in recounting the film, which she is proud of. She found herself the only girl among a team of hard-drinking guys on the production company, but recalls some sound advice given to her by Rex Harrison ("Never perform your own stunts!) that she ignored with almost tragic results. She still swoons at the memory of aging William Holden's handsome features and speaks bluntly about having to cope with former husband Danny Sims' on-set antics, which she says included bedding seemingly every female in sight. She also blames Sims, who was a high profile record producer, for the film's awful song, heard over the end credits which he convinced her to sing in order to promote a record album that no one bought. Johnson says the film's producer alienated the "suits" at the studio and they decided to get even by burying the movie, despite its expensive production values. Regardless of its theatrical fate, Ashanti remains a fast-moving, well-acted adventure movie that entertains even as it outrages viewers with an honest look at how cheap human life is in certain parts of this planet.
The special edition also includes the original trailer.
Most retro movie lovers have probably heard of the 1982 cult comedy Eating Raoul, even though they probably haven't seen it. Released on the art house circuit by a major studio (Fox), the independently made production was considered quite shocking in its day due to its unapologetic emphasis on distasteful humor. The film was the brainchild of actor/director Paul Bartel, who by 1982 had been laboring in B movie hell for many years, often working with Roger Corman. Bartel was frustrated by Corman's refusal to finance any of his proposed projects so he went off and developed the script for Eating Raoul with his friend, screenwriter Richard Blackburn (who also appears in the film). The endeavor proved to be the epitome of gutsy, independent movie-making. Faced with a seemingly insurmountable budget of $500,000, Bartel scraped together funding from any sources he could find and took a loan out from his parents. To save money, he often shot scenes on remnants of celluloid, leaving him precious little film stock to do retakes. He cast any number of friends for parts both large and small including such diverse talents as Buck Henry, Ed Begley Jr., Billy Curtis and Hamilton Camp. Even John Landis has a cameo. Bartel plays the lead role himself, possibly more out of financial necessity than vanity. He portrays Paul Bland, a pudgy, somewhat fey resident of Hollywood who is happily married to a sexy nurse, Mary (played by Bland's real-life friend and frequent collaborator and co-star Mary Waronov.) Their marriage seems to be a sexless relationship of convenience, with both treating the other more like a sibling than a spouse. Both Paul and Mary share many similarities, however. They are both quite eccentric and very judgmental of middle class values even though they are facing financial ruin and seem unlikely to fulfill their mutual dream of opening a quaint country restaurant. Paul is an elitist, albeit a poor one. He loses his job in a local liquor store because he can't bring himself to recommend a cheap but profitable wine to customers. The Blands also fancy themselves as morally superior to those around them. When they discover that a neighboring apartment is being used by a group of swingers, they can barely hide their disgust (even though Paul is somewhat entranced by a dominatrix at the party.) Through a bizarre accident, the Blands end up accidentally killing a sexually aggressive swinger who wants to get it on with Mary. They casually dispose of the body and keep his cash to help raise the down payment needed for their restaurant. Suddenly, an outrageous scheme begins to take form: the Blands will lure other swingers into their apartment, murder them and keep their money. The plan works well, with Mary using her considerable charms to entice a seemingly endless number of gullible men to their doom. (This being long before the internet, the Blands are forced to advertise their perversions the old fashioned way: through ads in porn newspapers.) Before long, Paul and Mary are raising substantial sums of money and are closing in on their financial goal. Then they meet Raoul, a hunky Chicano petty criminal, who joins them as a partner with the promise of increased profits. It isn't long before he is attracted to Mary and this leads to some funny and complicated situations. To say more would be to reveal too much.
Over the years, Eating Raoul (yes, the film does take on a Soylent Green-like spin, albeit in a comedic mode) has developed a sizable and loyal cult following. The movie doesn't quite live up to the hype. It's never embarrassing but often doesn't rise to its potential. Bartel makes an amusing screen presence, but his delivery at times comes across somewhat amateurish. The scene-stealer is the magnetic Waronov, who commands the screen with her magnetism. Robert Beltran is also excellent as the titular Raoul, an overly-confident, smug lady's man whose obsession with Mary proves to have some very negative consequences. The funniest aspect of the film is the pure hypocrisy of the Blands. While looking down their nose at virtually everyone in their social circle, they lack any type of self-awareness. Thus, to them, people who swing are completely lacking in morality, but they fail to see that their own moral failings are far greater, as they have become serial killers without a hint of conscience. The film has many delightful comic interludes, such as Paul's shocking revenge against a hot tub full of swingers who dare to mock him. However, Bartel often encourages his actors to go over-the-top in their performances when a more subdued and realistic approach might have been more effective. Nevertheless, Bartel (who died in 2000 at the age of 61), deserves great praise for bringing off the most tasteless comedy audiences had seen since The Producers. It's fun throughout, even with a few sequences that don't live up to their potential.
Criterion's Blu-ray release of Eating Raoul is first rate throughout. The set contains a great looking transfer of the original film, a new documentary in which Beltran and Waronov discuss the production and their affection for Paul Bartel; audio commentary by Richard Blackburn, production designer Robert Schulenberg and editor Alan Toomayan; an awkwardly filmed 1982 archival interview with Bartel and Waronov; The Secret Cinema, a bizarre 1966 black and white film with a Twilight Zone-like spin (Bartel remade it as an episode of Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories in 1986); Naughty Nurse, a strikingly photographed 1969 short film that once again touches on Bartel's fascination with off beat sexual obsessions; a gag reel of takes that went awry and the original trailer (which unfairly doesn't credit Bartel by name for anything). There is also an insightful essay about the film by David Ehrenstein which is presented in a booklet designed to resemble a menu.
Eating Raoul is not a classic, but holds enough delights to merit adding this to your Blu-ray library.
The Rains of Ranchipur is yet another major film I probably would not have sampled had it not been released by Twilight Time. This Blu-ray edition is limited to 3,000 units. The film is primarily a soap opera based on the book The Rains Came by Louis Bromfield. The story had been brought to the screen previously in 1939 under the book's title and starring Myrna Loy and Tyrone Power. It features a glamorous cast of acting heavyweights who compensate for some of the weaker elements of the production. Turner, still gorgeous as ever, is Lady Edwina Esketh, a rich American socialite who married her cuckolded British husband Albert (Michael Rennie) simply to get the title she always craved. Theirs is a sexless union based on their mutual selfishness. Although Albert is genuinely in love with Edwina, he admits that her personal fortune was a prime motivation for marrying her. For her part, Edwina barely tolerates her dashing husband and banishes him to separate bedrooms on their travels while she shamelessly cavorts with boy toys around the globe. The couple arrive in Ranchipur, the Indian state, where they are greeted warmly as local celebrities, the story taking place when British colonialism had only recently been dispensed with. Edwina becomes infatuated with a young Indian doctor, Rama Safti (Richard Burton) and she quickly seduces him. The uncomfortable situation finds Rama romancing Edwina even though Albert knows full well what is going on. The racially mixed romance causes a scandal and Rama's influential mother, the Maharani (Eugenie Levontovich) forbids her son from seeing his lover. The romantic problems are eclipsed by a devastating earthquake and flood that causes all of the major characters to redefine their relationships. This includes Edwina's childhood friend, American businessman Tom Ransome (Fred MacMurray), a one-time idealist who now resides in India where he indulges in non-stop drinking. Tom has his own romantic problem: he is being wooed by a recent college graduate, Fern (Joan Caulfield), who is determined to settle down with her much older would-be lover.
The sumptuous Fox production, competently directed by Jean Negulesco, benefits from having been shot on location in India- and there is also that sumptuous Hugo Friedhofer score. The story is somewhat predictable but never bores the viewer because of the considerable star power on display.Turner gives a fine performance, as does the young turban-clad Burton. However, as we have written about many times, films such as this were compromised by having Caucasian actors portray characters of color. It isn't Burton's fault that, despite an abundance of tan makeup, you never quite forget you are observing a Welshman playing an Indian. MacMurray gives another of his always-compelling performances. The special effects during the exciting climax were nominated for an Oscar and some hold up well today. However, a few shots creak with age such an awful scene of a chasm opening in the earth as well as a sequence in which the film is sped up, making the running refugees look like they are in a Keystone Cops short. The movie is the epitome of 1950s Hollywood glamor, with beautiful people sipping cocktails in dinner jackets and gowns, all designed to show off the considerable attractiveness of the major stars. The Rains of Ranchipur is all glitz and little substance, but the opportunity to see all these screens together makes it an irresistible attraction.
The Twilight Time release is gorgeous, making the most of the Cinemascope process. There are two original trailers and an amusing, cheesy original TV spot promoting the film.
Warner Home Video continues to earn the gratitude of movie fans by releasing special editions of films that had limited commercial appeal. The latest example is director Hal Ashby's Lookin' to Get Out, a 1982 comedy that was a notorious box-office disaster - and one that virtually ruined Ashby's career. Like fellow gadfly director Sam Peckinpah, Ashby could be a temperamental personality who prided himself on clashing with studios over issues of artistic integrity. His acclaimed hits include Coming Home, Being There and Shampoo, but -like Peckinpah- he wore out his welcome with his employers and was relegated to filming "by the numbers" movies in return for a paycheck.There has been a renaissance of interest in Ashby's career of late, so hopefully this director's cut of Lookin' to Get Out will find an appreciative audience.
The film stars Jon Voight (who co-wrote the script) as Alex Kovac, a perpetually upbeat but obnoxious compulsive gambler whose insurmountable debts to a local loan shark motivate him to flee to Las Vegas. He is accompanied by his personal Sancho Panza, the dim-witted but loyal Jerry Feldman (Burt Young). In Vegas, Alex reconnects with an old flame, Patti Warner (Ann-Margaret), who finds herself once again smitten by the charismatic loser - even though she is the girlfriend of the multi-millionaire owner of the MGM Grand Casino. Alex concocts an audacious plan to enlist the services of Smitty (Bert Remsen), a once-legendary high stakes gambler now reduced to working as a waiter in the MGM Grand.Alex gets Jerry to impersonate another high roller in order to get an advance on his credit. Using the borrowed $10,000, he plans to have Smitty take the casino to the cleaners through a nerve-wracking game of blackjack. However, the loan shark and his enforcer turn up in hot pursuit - and the plan turns to chaos as Alex and Jerry try to stay alive long enough to win their fortune.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. It moves at a brisk pace and makes excellent use of the Vegas locales. It was the first movie allowed to be shot inside the MGM Grand, which boggles the mind since the screenplay calls for the casino to be the setting for con men, cheating, wild chases and gun play. The permission was granted as a personal favor to Burt Young, who called in some chips, so to speak, in order to get the rights to film on location.
Warner Brothers continues to mine its seemingly exhaustive catalog of Humphrey Bogart titles with the release of The Wagons Roll at Night through the Warner Archive. The 1941 melodrama is compelling throughout and has an unusual setting for the story: a traveling circus. Bogart is cast as Nick Coster, the owner of the circus. He's a tough man of dubious morals who will do just about anything to increase audiences, as the show's box-office receipts dwindle. Through a bizarre happenstance, an escaped lion from the circus enters a small town store where grocery clerk Matt Varney (Eddie Albert) manages to keep it at bay. He becomes a local hero and the ever-opportunistic Nick hires him to take over as lion tamer from the show's drunken and unreliable current star. Matt proves to be a quick learner and soon becomes the star attraction of the circus. However, troubles arises when Matt falls for Nick's younger sister Mary (Joan Leslie), a girl Nick has been almost obsessive in keeping in a perpetual state of virginity. He opposes the relationship and this sets the climax of the story that finds him knowingly sending Matt into a cage with a particularly dangerous lion in the hope he will be killed. Adding to the complications is the presence of the circus fortune teller Flo (Sylvia Sidney), who has an unrequited crush on both Nick and Matt.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
By Lee Pfeiffer
If you're stumped about what to get dad for the holidays and were thinking of picking up some Charles Bronson DVDs, stop reading right now! However, if you're in market to reward someone who appreciates movies that epitomize the cliche "they don't make 'em like that anymore" then you'll be happy to know that Warner Brothers and Turner Classic Movies have teamed for a boxed set titled TCM Spotlight: Esther Williams. The set contains five films starring the legendary actress/swimming champ. I confess to not having seen any Esther Williams films until receiving this set - with the exception of the 1961 circus movie The Big Show - ironically one of the few in which our legendary leading lady didn't get any closer to water than passing the pool of trained seals. In watching these films today you are reminded that the grand old musical is a genre that has been virtually abandoned by Hollywood even though it was once one of the most popular staples of the motion picture business. Nothing illustrates this bygone era better than this collection. For the uninitiated, these films would appear to be artifacts from some ancient civilization - but that is precisely what gives them a sense of charm and innocence.
MGM has released director Lewis Gilbert's 1964 film The 7th Dawn on DVD- albeit, through their new burn-to-DVD program. Gilbert discusses the movie in an exclusive interview with Matthew Field in Cinema Retro issue #18. The movie has long been on the "wanted" list of retro film fans who had to be satisfied with trying to catch it on periodic showings on Turner Classic Movies. This is a thoroughly engrossing, adult drama with an unusal setting and story background. The movie begins on the final day of WWII and centers on three disparate friends: an American named Ferris (William Holden), a French woman, Dhana (Capucine) and a Malaysianm, Ng (Tetsuro Tamba) who have led guerilla forces against the Japanese occupation in Malaya. The three close friends a jubilant in victory, after having suffered from fighting in the jungle for extended periods. At the end of the war, Ng goes off to Moscow to pursue communist political training. The apolitical Ferris stays behind, with Malaya now under British occupation. He thrives as a local rubber plantation owner, and Dhana is his lover, despite her frustration with Ferris' womanizing. The story advances to 1953, with Malayans now impatient for independence from England, which is easing toward granting their demands, but at a snail's pace. Ng returns to Malaya to try to instigate communist-inspired violent uprisings. To his sympathizers, he is a freedom fighter. To the British, he is a terrorist and the most wanted man in the nation.
As Richard Burton's star power began to decline in the early 1970s, he was chastised for appearing in too many inconsequential films and accused of simply taking any job that came along to help pay for his high-end life style. As with Marlon Brando, many of Burton's films that were initially despised by critics and ignored by the public have gained new appreciation in recent years. One such effort was Villain, a brutal British crime drama produced by Elliott Kastner, directed by the unheralded Michael Tucher and boasting script contributions than none other than character actor Al Lettieri, who made a career of playing gangsters. Clearly inspired by the reign of terror presided over by London's notorious Kray clan, the story finds Burton as Vic Dakin, an outwardly charismatic and charming man who also happens to be one of the city's most notorious crime lords. Vic is no white collar criminal. He still lives among the people he terrorizes and is a mainstay at the local pub. Vic dotes on his aging mother (Cathleen Nesbitt) and keeps his army of confederates in line through the threat of strict punishment for any violation of trust. Vic's ambitions get the better of him when he strays from neighborhood crime and plans an ambitious heist with a reluctant fellow crime lord. The plan goes horribly awry, leading Vic to fear that he will be sold out by his co-conspirator, who is severely wounded and in police custody. He becomes obsessed with gaining access to the man and silencing him before he can talk. Doggedly following his every move is a police inspector (well-played by Nigel Davenport), who engages in a game of psychological cat-and-mouse with Vic in his quest to bring the vicious criminal to justice.
Villain was denounced by British critics and movie fans at the time because of what was perceived as Burton's ill-fated attempt to master a Cockney accent. However, other aspects of his performance are admirable. Burton pretty much controls his penchant for scenery-chewing and offers a fairly restrained portrayal of a sadistic man who is nonetheless slow to reach his boiling point. Vic can be sensitive, funny and ingratiating..but when driven to anger, capable of administering much brutality himself. He also hides the fact that he is gay and his preferred sex partner is Wolfie (excellently played by Ian McShane), a good looking ladies man who one suspects is only bedding Vic out of fear of rejecting his overtures. (A sex scene between Burton and McShane was filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor.) The homosexual angle is only hinted at in the final cut of the film, but Burton had gone a bridge too far in this regard, at least as far as critics were concerned. Two years before, he had played a prissy gay man opposite Rex Harrison (as his lover) in Stanley Donen's Staircase, another fine film that was under-appreciated in its day. Burton's bold career moves would be praised today but met with scorn at the time. His face weather-beaten from years of personal excess, Burton was actually entering an interesting period of his career that saw him able to expand beyond playing hunky heart throbs. Villain affords him an interesting starring vehicle that is now being favorably compared to other classic British crime films such as Get Carter, a movie that was released the same year and also met with a mediocre response until a new generation discovered its merits. Perhaps the same will hold true for this film, which boasts an excellent supporting cast, fine direction and a literate, believable script.
The Warner Archive has released Villain as a burn-to-order DVD. Quality is fine, but sadly there are no extras.
Cinema Retro congratulates James Bond, Agent 007 on this milestone achievement! We look forward to the next half-century. Don't forget to celebrate Global James Bond Day- check your local news for events that may be going on in your area.
October 5th, 2012 will be Global James Bond Day, marking the 50th anniversary
of the James Bond film franchise. It was Albert R. Broccoli and Harry
Saltzman who adapted Ian Fleming’s books and broughtDr Noto the screen in 1962.
The 007 franchise today is the longest running in film history with
twenty-three films produced. The latest James Bond adventure is entitledSKYFALL™ and will be released
in the UK on October 26thand
in the US on November 9th.
the UK, an auction of James Bond memorabilia is taking place at Christie’s with
all proceeds going to UNICEF and a number of charitable causes. In the
US, events for Global James Bond Day include a film retrospective at The Museum
of Modern Art in New York and a Music of Bond Night hosted by the Academy of
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. In other countries
around the world, special events have been planned. In Belgium and South
Africa, offices will celebrate with Bond-themed Casual Fridays, where people
will turn up to work dressed in gowns and tuxedos. In addition,EVERYTHING OR NOTHING: The Untold
Story of 007, the feature documentary, will be released on 5thOctober through Sony Pictures
Releasing UK on an exclusive basis with Odeon Cinemas in selected
locations. Radio stations around the world are planning to play Bond
theme songs.In addition, pre-sale tickets forSkyfallwill be available in most locations on
Friday, October 5. Moviegoers may check with their local cinemas for
Craig is back as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 inSKYFALL™, the 23rd
adventure in the longest-running film franchise of all time. InSKYFALL, Bond’s loyalty to
M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under
attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the
cost. The film is from Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Studios, and Sony Pictures Entertainment. Directed by Sam Mendes.
Produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. Written by Neal
Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan.
About Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions
Productions Limited and Danjaq LLC are wholly owned and controlled by the
Broccoli/Wilson family. Danjaq is the US based company that co-owns, with MGM,
the copyright in the existing James Bond films and controls the right to
produce future James Bond films as well as all worldwide merchandising.
EON Productions, an affiliate of Danjaq, is the UK based production
company which makes the James Bond films. The 007 franchise is the
longest running in film history with twenty-two films produced since
1962. Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli succeeded Albert R ‘Cubby’
Broccoli and have produced some of the most successful Bond films ever
including CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE. They are currently producing the
23rd film, SKYFALL.
About Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.
Inc. is a leading entertainment company focused on the production and
distribution of film and television content globally. The company owns
one of the world’s deepest libraries of premium film and television
content. In addition, MGM has investments in domestic and international
television channels, including MGM-branded channels. For more information,
About Sony Pictures
Pictures Entertainment (SPE) is a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, a
subsidiary of Tokyo-based Sony Corporation. SPE's global operations encompass
motion picture production and distribution; television production and
distribution; home entertainment acquisition and distribution; a global channel
network; digital content creation and distribution; operation of studio
facilities; development of new entertainment products, services and
technologies; and distribution of entertainment in 159 countries. For
additional information, go tohttp://www.sonypictures.com/
Like Marlon Brando, director John Huston was often considered to be a has-been during much of the 1960s into the early 1970s. He worked steadily, but- like Brando- it was assumed his glory days were behind him simply because most of his films during this period didn't generate sparks at the boxoffice. (The success of his 1975 film The Man Who Would Be King would temporarily restore his luster.) His acting career got a boost from his great performance in Chinatown, but even some of his directorial flops look far better today than they did at the time of their theatrical release. One major disappointment, artistically as well as financially, was the seemingly sure-fire hit The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, made in 1972 and starring Paul Newman fairly fresh from his triumph in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The movie is a whimsical tale that is nevertheless loaded with violence and gallows humor (literally). The story is (very) loosely based on the real Roy Bean, an outlaw who became a self-appointed judge who called himself the "only law West of the Pecos" at a time when parts of Texas were a no-man's land of thieves, murderers and swindlers. Bean became known as a hard-ass judge who dispensed lethal justice. In reality, he only sentenced two men to be hanged and one managed to escape. Nevertheless, his colorful background provides screenwriter John Milius with plenty of imaginative fodder for fictitious encounters and incidents. We first meet Bean when he ambles into a remote outpost where he is robbed and beaten mercilessly by the denizens. He returns shortly thereafter and single-handed kills them all, thus instantly making him a local legend among the peasants who live in the area. Bean becomes obsessed with studying the law and showing mercy on the poorest elements of society. He even takes a lover, a young Hispanic woman (Victoria Principal, in her screen debut). Bean appoints himself as a "judge" despite not having any legal authority to do so. He enlists a group of slovenly "deputies" to dispense justice in his courtroom, which is the bar in which he was robbed. Before long, Bean is holding kangaroo trials and routinely lynching anyone who incurs his wrath. Despite this, he gains a reputation for being fair and defending the defenseless. He adopts a bear and the movie presents some amusing sequences of Bean and his friends interacting with this over-sized "pet". The film traces his experiences over a period of years as the remote outpost becomes a bustling town. Bean is gradually sidelined as a force of influence. The death of his young wife during the birth of their daughter depresses him further and he rides off into oblivion. Twenty years later he returns to find that oil has been discovered on his property and that the corrupt mayor (Roddy McDowall) is using legally questionable methods to displace Bean's 20 year old daughter (Jacqueline Bisset) so he can control the oil on her land. Bean's reappearance causes a sensation as he rounds up his motley, aging group of former deputies to help his daughter fight for her rights. A fairly spectacular battle climaxes the film.
Bean offers many pleasures, not the least of which is a terrific supporting cast that includes cameos by Anthony Perkins, Tab Hunter (surprisingly good), Anthony Zerbe, Stacy Keach (wonderful as a crazed, albino gunslinger), Ava Gardner as the legendary Lily Langtree, the object of Bean's romantic obsession even though he never meets her, and John Huston himself in an amusing appearance as Grizzly Adams. There are also plenty of familiar faces in the supporting cast including Ned Beatty, Bill McKinney (reunited from Delliverance with happier results) Richard Farnsworth and stuntmen Dean Smith and Neil Summers. The attempt to capitalize on the success of Butch Cassidy is fairly apparent, as evidenced by a fairly sappy love song and romantic montage that is obviously meant to emulate the famed Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head sequence from the former film. Nevertheless, Bean is a consistently enjoyable, rousing Western that probably plays much better today, when we can realize just how special acting ensembles like this truly are. Maurice Jarre's fine score adds immeasurably to the the enjoyment of the experience.
The Warner Archive has released the film as a burn-to-order DVD. Extras include the original trailer and cast biographies.
(The following review refers to the UK region 2 release)
I was young I was given a local newspaper that had been printed the day I was
born. I grew up in Wolverhampton, and the big newsa decade earlier had been the trial of Donald
Neilson, the self-styled Black Panther. He was a local who had had graduated
from house break-ins, through armed robbery and finally to kidnap and
multiple-murder. He was obsessed with the military (he had fought in Kenya as
part of the British suppression of the Mau-Mau uprising), and made his wife and
daughter act out scenes of warfare whilst he took photos. He was already a
wanted man following some botched post office robberies, but it was the
kidnapping of Lesley Whittle, a seventeen year old heiress, and the subsequent
ransom demands that really propelled him into the public eye. The Britain of
the 1970s was one of strikes, cutbacks and unemployment. Prospects were bleak,
and here was one man who had taken matters into his own hands. He was a meticulous
planner and he truly believed himself to be a master criminal. The reality was
very different. He was an inept bungler, incapable of making anything more than
a meagre haul from his robberies. If there hadn't been so much death at his
hands he would almost be a comic figure, more Pink Panther than Black Panther.
It was a devastating combination of Neilson's mishandling of events, press
interference and a West Midlands police force ill-equipped to deal with the
situation that culminated in his murdering the girl he had kidnapped and locked
up in a storm drain. Neilson was only caught two months later by coincidence
rather than a concerted effort on the part of the police.
tragic events were still very fresh in the public memory when Ian Merrick's film
The Black Panther was released in 1977. With a script by Michael
Armstrong (a director in his own right) based solely on police reports, written
statements, trial transcripts and other direct source material, the film sticks
to the facts of the case. It was shot in many of the actual locations used,
including Dudley Zoo and Bathpool Park in Kidsgrove, Stoke on Trent. This gives
the film a documentary feel, that it truly was ripped from the headlines.
Neilson was played by Donald Sumpter, known mainly for his TV work, but seen
most recently in the remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Long
sections of The Black Panther have no dialogue and it plays like a
silent film, with Sumpter communicating Neilson's emotions purely visually. It
is an incredible performance in what must have been a difficult role to embody
given his notoriety at that time. Sadly for those concerned, the public did not
take to the film. It's release was controversial and many cinemas around the UK
refused to screen it. Given the film's implicit accusation that the press were
partly to blame for Whittle's tragic death, it is perhaps unsurprising that
they took a particular dislike to it as well.
due to the continuing efforts of the British Film Institute to rescue films from
obscurity, The Black Panther has been restored and made available on
both DVD and Blu- ray for a new audience to appraise. The picture and sound are
excellent, although the package is a little light on extras. The only feature
of note is Recluse (1978), a thirty minute film also based on a true
life murder case. It stars Maurice Denham and is accompanied by some location
scouting footage. As usual with these Flipside releases, the main information
comes in a booklet crammed with essays and notes from both Ian Merrick and
Michael Armstrong amongst others.
The Black Panther is another release
from the BFI Flipside Range that comes highly recommended, and demonstrates
once again that the label is currently one of the most interesting and eclectic
today and fully deserve your support!
Ever hear of Bob Wilkins? Neither had I until I received a review copy of The Complete Bob Wilkins Creature Features from November Fire Recordings. If you grew up in Sacramento, California or the Bay Area in the 1960s and 1970s, Wilkins will be a familiar name. Many major American cities had popular local personalities who hosted retro-themed cult movie broadcasts. In some markets, it was Zacherly, the Cool Ghoul hosting horror flicks. In the New York City area, it was Officer Joe Bolton, a fictitious police officer who introduced Three Stooges shorts. Wilkins was a nondescript employee with no broadcasting experience who worked at nickel-and-dime local stations in the era in which such networks relied on old re-runs of classic TV series and cheap movies that were often in the public domain, copyright-wise. Wilkins was a baby-faced, blonde haired young man who wore thick black glasses, making him look like the winner of the local Harry Palmer look-a-like contest. His bosses asked him to host introductions to late night broadcasts of horror movies. With his low-key personality, the dapper Wilkins made an unlikely choice for the task. However, he soon won over a loyal audience of young viewers who loved his off-beat habit of mocking many of the movies he introduced. At first advertisers were appalled, but as ratings grew, Wilkins found his job secure: he would work on multiple stations doing the same shtick between 1966 and 1981, when he went into self-imposed retirement. His trademark eccentricity was often being photographed in bizarre situations, such as sleeping in a coffin or engaging in strange interviews with even stranger horror movie fans. Eventually, his fame grew and he became sought-out by well known actors and directors who wanted to publicize their latest projects. Other celebs participated just for the pure fun of it, including Jack Benny and Gov. Ronald Reagan.
The DVD includes highlights of Wilkins' intros to horror films from over his long career. There are also out of studio segments in which he visits movie theaters, graveyards and other suitable locales for his man-on-the-street interviews. The footage is cleverly presented in chronological order with a running timeline of every movie shown on his program and the dates of the telecasts. There is also an abundance of horror movie trailers, TV spots and movie poster art. Wilkins had enough influence to arrange to show George Romero's Night of the Living Dead 27 months after its initial release. It is believed to have been the first telecast of the movie on American TV. Wilkins in also seen in interviews shot shortly after his retirement (he was succeeded as host by his protege, horror movie expert and film critic John Stanley.) He makes an affable and engaging personality and is rarely seen without his trademark Churchill cigar which he routinely puffed throughout his show intros. (Wilkins passed away in 2009).
The DVD is very well-produced, given its limited production values- and is entertaining throughout. Highlights are interviews with iconic actors: a brief bit with Boris Karloff, believed to be his last filmed segment, a serious interview with Christopher Lee in which he discusses why he would never portray Dracula again, John Carradine reflecting on his long career and a wonderful segment in which John Landis, John Belushi and Donald Sutherland promote National Lampoon's Animal House. (Sutherland reveals that his son Kiefer is named after Warren Kiefer, director of Donald's first movie Castle of the Living Dead.) I also enjoyed the interview with William Marshall, who played Blacula in the hit blaxploitation films. There are also vintage TV ads ranging from a Toyota spot using an animated Wilkins look-a-like to some amusing spots promoting the Edsel as the next great American car. All in all, an irresistible tribute to a man I had never heard of, but want to see more of.
1960s proved to be a transitional period for Japanese director Seijun Suzuki.
After churning out numerous yakuza films for Nikkatsu throughout the 1950s, the
director began to rebel against the creative limitations imposed by the studio.
Fed up with clichéd scenarios and adherence to stylistic conventions, Suzuki
began infiltrating subversive visual flourishes to make things more interesting
for himself and his audiences. Nineteen-sixty-three is widely regarded as the
year Suzuki fully became Suzuki, starting with Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! Although it doesn’t
scale the delirious heights of the more famous Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Branded
to Kill (1967)—whose visual and narrative anarchy got him fired from
Nikkatsu—the film still turns the yakuza genre on its head through Suzuki’s
stars as Tajima, a resourceful private eye who owns the Detective Bureau 2-3 of
the title. For reasons never clearly explained, he manifests a deep-seated and
simmering hate for the yakuza, an emotion that primes his motivational pump
throughout the film. Following a munitions theft from an American military base,
Tajima convinces the police to let him infiltrate one of two yakuza gangs
battling for control of the local gun-running trade. Posing as an ex-con, he
befriends a mid-level criminal named Manabe and gets close enough to the
underworld hierarchy to identify the major players and the location of the
guns. Even when his cover is blown, the quick-thinking detective improvises
schemes to remain useful to the competing gangs—that is, until the bad guys
lock him in an underground garage, pump gallons of motor oil into it and set it
on fire. Tajima escapes the inferno with the aid of what has to be the world’s
most powerful machinegun, then lights the fuse that ignites a battle royal
between the rival gangs—a ferocious encounter fought with guns and samurai swords—that
brings the film to a spectacularly convulsive conclusion.
The 1961 MGM Western A Thunder of Drums has been released by Warner Archives, the company's burn-to-order service. The film was regarded as a standard oater in its day but has since built a loyal following who have been eager to have the movie available on the home video market. What sets A Thunder of Drums apart from many of the indistinguishable Westerns of the period is its downbeat storyline and intelligent script, which was clearly geared for adults as opposed to moppets. There's also the impressive cast: Richard Boone, George Hamilton, Charles Bronson, Arthur O'Connell, Richard Chamberlain and Slim Pickens among them.The film opens with a sequence that was very unsettling and shocking for its day: an Indian attack on a tranquil homestead. A little girl is forced to witness the gang rape and murders of her mother and teenage sister. The plot then shifts to the local fort where commandant Boone is overseeing an understaffed cavalry contingent that has to find and defeat the marauding tribe, which has already slaughtered numerous settlers and soldiers. The Indians are window dressing in the story: nameless, faceless adversaries who are not given any particular motivation for their savagery. (These was, remember, far less enlightened times and such conflicts were generally presented without nuance.)
One of the most idiosyncratic and
inventive voices of genre filmmaking to emerge in the 1970s was Jeff Lieberman
(born 1947), whose three best known films, Squirm (1976) Blue
Sunshine (1978) and Just Before Dawn (1981) have become
classics of horror and sci-fi. Cited as an influence on such directors as Eli
Roth and Quentin Tarantino (the latter lists Squirm as an essential
viewing if he’s to take you seriously), Lieberman’s filmmaking captures the
low-budget resourcefulness of Roger Corman and combines it with a singular
point of view -- one that seems both quirky and at times, deliriously demented.
Here at Cinema Retro, these are
exactly the types of directors we enjoy tipping our hat to. So I’m excited to
announce that I’ve organized a tribute to Lieberman built around these three
films with the generous participation and hosting of Anthology Film Archives in
New York City, where the retrospective will take place, August 17-19th. (www.anthologyfilmarchives.org)
“3 X Jeff Lieberman” will mark the
first time these three films have been screened in 35mm in New York since their
theatrical premieres, a remarkable event considering how much word-of-mouth
cachet each has, like prized baseball trading cards for cult film fans.
“It all comes down to story,” Lieberman
often says in interviews, and watching these three films, it’s clear why. All
three cohere around a tight, well crafted narrative that does not look to the
supernatural as the locus of horror, but at the inherently corrupt nature of
people as a means to bespoil nature and society. It’s a tough-minded, cynical
worldview that runs throughout his work, and the man himself. Perhaps updating
the famous line from Sartre’s No Exit, “hell is other people,”
Lieberman’s work is shot through with an even simpler maxim: Humanity is
Lieberman’s first film credit was
co-authoring the screenplay for the police thriller Blade (1973),
directed by his mentor Ernest Pintoff, but his debut as a writer-director came
in 1976 when his AIP-distributed Squirm burst upon drive-in
screens and became a sizeable hit, considering its low budget. The fictional
town of Fly Creek, Georgia is terrorized by a killer worm infestation after a
thunderstorm, which sends power lines crashing to the ground and electrifying
the ground -- and thousands of earthworms -- in the process. As a result, they
go on a killer rampage, invading homes and most shockingly, burrowing into
their victims’ skin. It stars a young Don Scardino (Cruising, He
Knows You’re Alone) as Mick, the interloping city-slicker beau of Geri
Sanders (Patricia Pearcy) the local redhead beauty of Fly Creek. Together with
Geri’s sister Alma (Fran Higgins), they attempt to survive the killer worm
onslaught overnight, without power and without a clue as to what has happened
Squirm-- still Lieberman’s most popular film -- feels like a
double-feature twin to 1972’s Frogs (1972, with Sam Elliott), another
swampy, “nature’s revenge” tale of eco-horror put out by AIP. Featuring
early makeup work by eventual seven-time Oscar-winner Rick Baker, and
co-starring thousands of real worms, the film was shot on location in Port
Wentworth, Georgia and aside from Don Scardino, used a cast made up mostly of
locals, who contribute to its earthy and authentic atmosphere, not unlike the
drive-in mainstay The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), which was shot in
similar circumstances. And speaking of earthy, we should pay special tribute to
the actors, who braved thousands and thousands of real live earthworms on set.
Not a rubber worm among them! The original idea, Lieberman revealed to an
interviewer this year, came from a real event. His brother, in order to get
earthworms out of the ground, electrified the soil inserting a electric model
train transformer into the soil. When they slithered out, they noticed they
burrowed back in when light was shined on them. But are earthworms scary? Not
in real life, but as Lieberman explained: “I had to go to great lengths to make
[the worms] scary, because they’re not scary...until you’re shown otherwise you
can just step on it. So I had to make that scary by it burrowing into the
face...so that was the big assignment and I guess it worked.” An interesting
footnote: When a 25 year-old Lieberman wrote the original title on a legal pad,
(then spelled Skworm) and sketched down a paragraph containing the
story, he showed it to his wife. “She said it was the stupidest idea she’d ever
heard. Two years later we’re buying a house with the money that Squirm built.”
I admit it. I am a Troy Donahue fan.
There I said it. Not surprising since I love and have been writing about
Sixties starlets for over ten years. If there ever was a male version of a
starlet, it was Troy. I purchased the DVD box set Warner Bros. Romance Classics
Collection featuring four of his early Sixties movies and recently viewed My Blood Runs Cold (1964) from Warner
Bros Archive as a DVD-on-Demand. The pairing of Troy Donahue as a loon and Joey
Heatherton as the blonde he desires in this suspense film didn’t burn up the
silver screens across the country and left most critics cold, but the coupling
of America’s favorite bland blonde boy with the Ann-Margret wannabe made for
bad cinema you just got to love.
By 1964 Troy Donahue had reached super
stardom and was one of the most popular young actors at the time, but he was
extremely unhappy with the roles being offered him. He could be lackluster at
times and was by no means a great actor, but with his looks Troy didn’t have to
be, as his boy-next-door charisma made teenage girls (and some men) swoon. His
film career began in 1957 with small roles in a number of films including Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), Summer Love (19580, Live Fast, Die Young (1958), and Monster on the Campus (1958) before he was cast opposite Sandra Dee
as tortured naïve young lovers in A
Summer Place (1959) for Warner Bros. The film, beautifully filmed off the
coast of Carmel, California doubling for Maine and featuring a lush score by
Max Steiner, was a huge hit especially with the teenage set. The studio wisely
then signed Donahue (who shared the Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer –
Male for his performance) to a contract. He then co-starred on the lightweight
TV detective series Surfside 6
(1960-62) in between essaying the romantic leading man in a series of glossy
romances (most directed by Delmer Daves) opposite some of the prettiest
starlets of the day.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from the British Film Institute:
The BFI is
pleased to announce that the grand finale of The Genius of Hitchcock project
(June – October 2012) will be the BFI London Film Festival’s Archive Gala
screening, presented in association with The Krasner Fund for the BFI, of the
world premiere of the BFI National Archive’s new restoration of Hitchcock’sThe Manxman(1929). This powerful love triangle
set among the fishing community on the Isle of Man will be shown at The Empire,
Leicester Square with a new score by Stephen Horne on 19October 2012.
BFI London Film Festival runs from 10 -21 October 2012.
Stewart, BFI Head of Exhibition & Artistic Director, BFI LFF said,“The Manxmanas the BFI London Film Festival
Archive Gala will be a fitting culmination to the BFI’s extraordinary series of
screenings of Hitchcock's newly restored silent films this summer. Critics and
audiences alike have thrilled to see these films afresh, transformed by great
new music and exciting settings. We are delighted to be showingThe Manxmanat The Empire, a cinema which
Hitchcock knew, with an accompaniment from Stephen Horne, a hugely talented
composer who is guaranteed to produce something worthy of the LFF’s prestigious
screeningmarks the start of a
valuable partnership with Ella Krasner, whose significant donation launches The
Krasner Fund for the BFI: supporting film treasures in the BFI Collections. The
Krasner Fund for the BFI will underpin a series of events throughout the year
which, in turn, will leverage additional support for the unparalleled
collections held in the BFI National Archive.
Nevill, BFI CEO said, “We are delighted to welcome Ella Krasner to the BFI. Her
donation will support the work of the BFI collections and the fund we are
launching with her at the Archive Gala will act as a meaningful catalyst to
leverage additional significant funds for the same cause. We are very
grateful to her for initiating a new concept of support for our Archive in a
Alfred Hitchcock’s last wholly silent film and one of the best and most mature
works of his early career. Adapted from the novel (originally published in
1894) by Sir Hall Caine, a bestselling author who specialised in stories set on
the Isle of Man, the location work was actually done in Cornwall. Set in a
small fishing community, two boyhood friends take markedly different paths in
adulthood, one a humble fisherman, the other a lawyer destined to become
‘Deemster’, the local chief justice. Both fall in love with the same
woman, forcing them to deal not only with their own moral code but also that of
the strict Manx society. Although an untypical Hitchcock work,The Manxmansucceeds brilliantly on its own terms
and features superlative performances from Hitchcock favourites, Malcom Keen,
Carl Brisson and the luminescent Anny Ondra.
Horne has been associated with the BFI for over 20 years and is an internationally
renowned accompanist to silent films and a composer in his own right. His
involvement with The Genius of Hitchcock began when he performed a partially
improvised score at the world premiere screening of the BFI’s new restoration
of The Ring at the Cannes Film Festival in May to great acclaim, playing piano,
flute, accordion and percussion. He will also play a musical accompaniment to
Hitchcock’sEasy Virtuein the autumn for screenings at BFI
Genius of Hitchcock is the biggest ever project undertaken by the BFI.The Manxmanis the last of nine new restorations
of Alfred Hitchcock’s surviving silent films to be presented with new music,
part of a series of spectacular events, launched as part of the Cultural
Olympiad. The project continues through August into October with a complete
retrospective at BFI Southbank, many international guests and a nationwide
release ofThe Lodgerin cinemas. Now in the final stage of
the campaign, there is still a chance for anyone who would like to help ensure
all nine of Hitchcock’s surviving silent films can be restored to make a
donation by visitingwww.bfi.org.uk/saveafilm. The BFI has also published a new
book39 Steps to The Genius of
Hitchcockand there is a
supporting exhibition at BFI Southbank alongside a series of new resources on
the BFI website.
The Manxman credits
Ross Christian (uncredited)
Company: British International Pictures
from the famous story by: Hall CAINE
Director: Frank MILLS
Director: Wilfrd ARNOLD, Emile DE RUELLE
restoration and presentation ofThe
Manxmanhas been generously
supported by Daniel & Joanna Friel, Ronald T Shedlo, and an anonymous
provided by Deluxe 142.
also gratefully acknowledge the support and collaboration of STUDIOCANAL,
rightsholders ofThe Manxman.
thanks must go to everyone who has supported the BFI's Hitchcock 9 campaign,
including: The Eric Anker-Petersen Charity; Arts Council England; British Board
of Film Classification; Deluxe 142; Shivendra Singh Dungarpur; The Mohamed S.
Farsi Foundation; The Film Foundation; Pia Getty; The Headley Trust; Simon W
Hessel; The Hollywood Foreign Press Association; Ian & Beth Mill; Col &
Karen Needham; PRS for Music Foundation; Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler
Foundation; Martin Scorsese; and, Matt Spick.
In the battle over digital vs. 35mm film, one casualty is the projectionist at your local theater. They are now going the way of the dodo bird into extinction and the industry is no better for it. Take, for example, the case of my old friend Dave Norris, who had the gold standard of projectionist positions: working the Odeon and Empire theatres in London's Leicester Square. Magnificent movie premieres are a thing of the past in America. Nowadays, most "premieres" consist of slovenly-dressed stars dropping by a converted airline hangar for a few quick drinks before heading out to some nightclub. The British empire may not be what it once was, but the Brits still know how to run premieres. Dave Norris has been the lead projectionist on some of the most high profile movie premieres ever held in London, where the Odeon Leicester Square is still the "go to" place to hold prestigious movie events. The first movie he presented there was The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Over the years, he gained status as England's longest-serving projectionist. A dyed-in-the-wool 007 fanatic, Norris has also presided over ten James Bond premieres- all red carpet events, often with the Royals in attendance. Showing these films is an exercise in high pressure that would thwart anyone but an ultra professional. Sometimes directors such as David Lean would personally supervise how the film was to be presented. I personally recall taking members of film location tours I periodically run in England to the Odeon, Leicester Square, where Dave gave us an off-hours tour of the theater and projection room. It was a master class taught by someone who lives and breathes film history. Now Dave Norris has left his beloved Leicester Square theaters to run the projection facilities for Universal in London. He thinks digital is here to stay, so get used to it, but bemoans that fact that his chosen profession seems destined for extinction. For more click here
Warner Brothers has released director John Boorman's 1972 classic Deliverance as a Blu-ray special edition to celebrate the film's 40th anniversary. Unless you've been living on a remote mountain top in the back woods of Georgia, you probably know the premise of the film. Four city slickers decide to take a weekend bachelor holiday and canoe down a Georgia river. A dam is being constructed that will not only kill off the magnificent river, but also bury historical old towns at the same time. The men are Ed (Jon Voight), Lewis (Burt Reynolds), Drew (Ronny Cox) and Bobby (Ned Beatty). As with any mingling of men, there's plenty of coarse humor and insults tossed around, with Lewis, who prides himself on his survivalist abilities, dispensing much of it at the group's newcomer, Bobby-a rather timid and overweight man who is intimidated at the prospect of white water rafting in such a remote area. The trip starts off as a fun-filled jaunt, with the men amused by the local population of hillbillies, some of whom clearly resent their presence. Nevertheless, the initial hours of rafting are exciting and invigorating. Things go horribly awry when Ed and Bobby become lost and encounter two creepy mountain men (Bill McKinney and "Cowboy" Coward), who terrorize them and subject Bobby to a humiliating rape. Before they can do the same to Ed, Lewis arrives and kills one of the mountain men with an arrow, but the other culprit escapes into the deep woods. The men now face a moral and legal dilemma as they debate what to do next. Deciding that the clannish local authorities would never buy their claim of self-defense, they dispose of the body and hope to cover up the life-altering incident. Complications arise, however, when they discover that the escaped mountain man is stalking them with murder on his mind.
Deliverance was based on the best-selling novel by legendary Southern poet James Dickey (who makes his acting debut in the film, giving a fine performance as a local sheriff). Britain's John Boorman may have seemed an odd choice to direct a film set in the American wilderness, but it's now inconceivable that anyone could have handled this difficult material more skillfully. Boorman had already shown his skill at directing macho-themed movies such as Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific. Deliverance would be the great triumph of his long career. There's plenty of praise to go around for everyone else involved. The only legitimate "star" at the time was Jon Voight, who was riding high from his recent success in Midnight Cowboy. Burt Reynolds had been around for many years, toiling in TV series and B movies. This film would elevate him to superstar status. Perhaps most impress are the performances of Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty, both of whom made their screen debuts in this film. Watching the movie today, it seems inconceivable that Beatty did not receive an Oscar nomination, considering his remarkable performance as a man coping with the ordeal of having been raped. All four actors give superb performances and there is also special praise due for the largely unknown actors and people from the local population who add immeasurably to the atmosphere of the film. Particularly impressive are the actors who played sinister mountain men. "Cowboy" Coward, the toothless hillbilly, was actually an unknown stuntman who worked with Burt Reynolds fifteen years earlier in a children's theme park based on a town in the Old West. Bill McKinney, who would go on to a long career playing cads, is even more remarkable- and during his death sequence, he set a cinematic record for keeping his eyes open for over six minutes without blinking! Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond does yeoman work, capturing both the beauty and the sinister aspects of rural Georgia.
The film's impact has not diminished one iota over the years. Deliverance, like many artistic triumphs, is an often painful but thought-provoking experience that ranks among the great adventure films of all time.
Warner Brother's Blu-ray edition resurrects the special features from the 2007 collector's edition DVD:
a multi-part series of "behind the scenes" featurettes with all of the principals including Boorman and Zsigmond
commentary track by John Boorman
a vintage "making of" production short that centers on James Dickey's involvement with the film
a theatrical trailer that is suitably ominous but gives away too many key scenes
a wonderful brand new featurette that reunites the four actors at the Burt Reynolds Museum in Jupiter, Florida where Reynolds has an entire room dedicated to props from the film. The four men, who have remained friends over the decades, seem to truly relish reliving the trials and tribulations of making the film and its great to watch them reminisce.
The Blu-ray is attractively packaged in a hardback, 42 page book featuring interviews and rare behind the scenes production stills.
This release is a suitably impressive tribute to a very impressive cinematic achievement.
For the past 35 years Paul Welsh MBE,
film historian and Chairman of 'Elstree
Screen Heritage',has written about the local film and
TV studios in a weekly newspaper column
for the Borehamwood & Elstree
Times. Paul, who recently wrote about the MGM Borehamwood Studios in our Where Eagles Dare special tribute
edition, has now written “Elstree Confidential” a unique book bringing readers
highlights of 50 years of Paul’s memories of the studios, lavishly illustrated
by private photos and correspondence never before published. For anyone
remotely interested in the history of film, this is a must-have, as Paul's
research, and indeed his history with
these world re-known studios, is unsurpassed. MGM's famous quote used to be
"We have more stars than there are in heaven." Well, judging by the
snapshots in this book, Paul met them all too! I felt as though I was there
with the author while going through these pages. Many of the photos are to die
for - especially those depicting sets on the old back lots, etc. An excellent
and personal account of an era long lost, and which should (could?) have been
Published by Elstree &
Borehamwood Museum, this hardbound book costs only £15.95 (plus £4.15 postage and packing in the UK) Your copy will be posted to you on the same day
you place your order! To order a copy simply go on-line to the web site at www.elstreescreenheritage.org
By the late 1950s, the late French novelist Jules Verne was considered good boxoffice, with smash hits such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days having been adapted from his books to the screen. Fox wanted to jump on the bandwagon and made plans to film one of Verne's most popular novels, Journey to the Center of the Earth. The studio had allocated a substantial budget, most of which went into production design and special effects. The project began with Clifton Webb attached at the star, but James Mason ultimately took over the key role of Sir Oliver Lindenbrook, as esteemed Scottish scientist who receives tantalizing evidence that one of his legendary peers, who disappeared two hundred years earlier, may have found a way to explore the deepest regions of the earth's nether regions. Obsessed with replicating this quest, Lindenbrook takes along Alec McKuen (Pat Boone), one of his most promising students. The expedition arrives in Iceland, where Lindenbrook also enlists the aid of Hans (Peter Ronson), a strapping young local man whose physical strength will prove to be useful in the ordeals to come. Unexpectedly, Lindenbrook finds himself having to rely on the support of Carla Goteborg (Arlene Dahl), the widow of a rival scientist who Lindnebrook had mistakenly confided in, only to find the man was trying to use the information to make the historic journey himself. The team is well-equipped for the dangerous mission, but once inside the bowels of the earth, they discover that yet another rival, Count Saknussem (Thayer David), is also competing to race them to the actual center of the planet- and he is willing to use deadly force to ensure he gains all the glory. The film is utterly delightful throughout, thanks in large part to the winning cast. Mason is perfect as the cranky, eccentric professor whose obsession for the mission inspires him to lead the team into the most dire circumstances. Most surprising is the performance of Pat Boone, who Scottish accent comes and goes on a whim, but who exudes genuine appeal on the big screen. (Boone also produced the movie, an investment that still pays him substantial dividends.) At the time, casting singing teenage idols in major film roles was a gimmick that often didn't work and proved to be a distraction. However, Boone acquits himself well throughout and limits his crooning to only one romantic number early in the film. Dahl is the ultimate liberated woman, insisting on holding her own amid some vile threats and Thayer David exudes icy menace as the cold-hearted explorer willing to murder for glory. Young Diane Baker plays Alec's fiancee, who spends most of the film back in Edinburgh worrying about the fate of her betrothed. (Although a few scenes were shot in Scotland, the principal actors never left the United States. Much of the footage was shoot at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, as well as Lone Pine, California). Veteran director Henry Levin proved to be an inspired choice to helm the production, as he is equally adept with the human elements of the story as he is with the spectacle.
Twilight Time has released the movie as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray that does justice to the amazing set designs and special effects, even though the cover design is a bit bland and uninspiring. While these aspects of the movie may seem quaint and retro in the age of CGI, they will amaze more sophisticated viewers who realize that they represent the work of true craftsmen who labored to come up with the incomparable look of the film. The climactic attack by an army of super-sized, flesh-eating lizards is especially impressive and downright chilling. The Blu-ray includes the usual informative collector's booklet with an excellent essay by Julie Kirgo, as well as an original trailer narrated by James Mason and a trailer designed for Spanish-language audiences. The Blu-ray also contains an isolated track for Bernard Herrmann's bombastic, impressive score. This is one exotic Journey that is worth the investment.
Released in an obvious attempt to capitalize on Norman Jewison's racially-charged 1967 Oscar winner In the Heat of the Night, MGM's 1969 suspense drama tick...tick...tick... attempts to emulate the smoldering tensions in a small southern town that permeated the earlier film. The MGM release is not on the caliber of the Jewison production but it is a consistently engrossing, well-acted drama that calls to mind just how relatively recently the civil rights battle had to be fought in the American South. By 1969, segregation may have been the law of the land, but in fact, there were many places where attempting to implement the law would have been a death sentence. The story takes place in small Southern town where the only thing hotter than the broiling summer temperatures is the barely-concealed rage of the local population. Seems that while the apathy of white voters resulted in them staying home on election day, a black candidate for Sheriff, Jimmy Price (Jim Brown) managed to rally the minority population and pull off an unexpected win. The townspeople blame the previous Sheriff, John Little (George Kennedy) for not campaigning aggressively enough. The tough-as-nails Little is humiliated by his defeat by a black man, but takes solace from his compassionate wife (Lynn Carlin). Meanwhile, Price has plenty of problems of his own. He fully expects to be ridiculed and ignored by the locals and realizes he must quickly assert his ability to carry out the law and win the respect of those who loathe him. He's also trying to be a good father to his young son and a dedicated husband to his nervous, pregnant wife (Janet MacLaclan), who understands the dangers he faces on a daily basis. When Price arrests a well-connected white man, the entire town becomes a tinderbox. Price is threatened by the man's influential brother, who is going to literally invade the town with an army of vigilantes. He's also hated by his one-time friends in the black community because he tries to prevent them from engaging in a race war. Desperately in need of help, Price loses his one deputy to a horrific attack by unknown assailants. He forms an odd relationship with former Sheriff John Little, who reluctantly agrees to serve as his deputy. This sets off a major scandal with both men alienated in their respective communities.
tick...tick...tick remains thoroughly engrossing, thanks to the fine direction of old hand Ralph Nelson and James Lee Barrett's intelligent screenplay. The film also affords Jim Brown a rare opportunity to play a man of substance instead of the cliched action hero he was so often cast as. He delivers a good, understated performance and is more than matched by Kennedy as the sympathetic loser who is desperately trying to regain the respect he once commanded. The film boasts some excellent actors in supporting roles, topped by a frail Fredric March in his next-to-last screen role. As the town's mayor, he may be the product of a bigoted way of life, but he also sees the writing on the wall when it comes to racial equality and adopts some surprisingly progressive stances. This ability to have characters play opposite of their stereotypes helps set the film apart from similarly-themed films of the era. Other notable character actors on board include Don Stroud, Dub Taylor and Clifton James. Bernie Casey is a local trouble maker who locks horns with Brown and the movie affords us the opportunity to see two former football greats going mano-a-mano in a brutal fight. The film builds to a tense conclusion with an upbeat (if not overly optimistic) final scene that manages to be inspiring.
tick...tick...tick is certainly not a classic, but it is well worth viewing and it's release on DVD through the Warner Archive is most welcome.
The DVD contains an original TV spot as a bonus.
Click here to order from the Warner Archive and to watch a clip
Twilight Time has released Fritz Lang's classic 1953 film noir The Big Heat as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. 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. In The Big Heat, however, 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 threatened.
There 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 Big Heat might 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.
The 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. A re-release trailer is also included.
Film Society of Lincoln Center Screening a Whole Summer’s Worth of Midnight
Midnight movies have been, in effect, the homeless
orphans of filmdom for the past 20 years.
Since the demise of their theatrical homes -- second or third-run movie houses
and drive-ins -- back in the 1980s, they've been regarded as too niche for corporate cable channels like IFC or TCM.
With no local-channel late shows in
existence to air them, their only home has been the home video market and the
art-house repertory circuit in cities like the New Beverly Cinema and
Cinefamily in Los Angeles, NYC's Anthology Film Archives, and a handful of
other venues around the country. In these politically sensitive times, there
are only so many places that will host a screening of Torso (1973).
This is strange, because midnight movies are not, in fact, unloved orphans.
They are obsessively loved, collected, talked about, fetishized, blogged,
tweeted and traded by a huge swath of filmgoers, basically anyone old enough to
remember attending one in their heyday of the early 60s--late 80s. But their
theatrical outlet remains severely limited due to a number of factors, mostly
due to the shortage of amenable venues, screenable prints (their fan base is
slow to warm to digital projections) and difficulty in marketing to younger
generations. But their influence
continues to be felt in everything from fashion and advertising to more
mainstream feature films, particularly those of Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino
-- both of whom owe their careers to the recreation of the midnight movie
phenomenon and aesthetic. (It was through Tarantino's enormous generosity that
the New Beverly Cinema was rescued from closure when he quietly bought it from
the owners in 2010 but allowed them to continue running it as they saw fit.)
This is one reason why museums and cultural institutions around the country are
taking notice and
programming midnight movies into their film calendars, in effect, giving these
genre films a second home in the 21st century, and in so doing elevating their
stature through the critical lens of the museum imprimatur.
Another reason is that these same museums and cultural
institutions contain millennial-generation
staff, for who anything from the 1980s is sacred. That is a less a scientific
an anecdotal one, but I'm standing by it.
I saw a screening of
Zardoz (1974) at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art last March in a Mystery Science 3000-inspired format,
including a hilarious trailer reel as an intro, before an audience of mostly
twenty-somethings. And NYC’s Museum of Art and Design in 2010 devoted an entire
week to Italian zombie films, which they called Zombo Italiano. The trend is picking up heat elsewhere.
Which leads me to my main point: The Film Society of Lincoln Center is
presenting a new series of Midnight Movies every Friday night, all summer long!
Now through August 31st.
In total contradiction to my above thesis, Film Comment Editor-in-Chief
series co-programmer Gavin Smith says: "Sometimes I sit in my office and
wonder why Béla Tarr couldn’t have filmed a live-action version of the game
Sodoku. Because if he had, we would program it in a second. But since he hasn’t
(at least so far, anything’s possible), we might as well throw The Texas
Chain Saw Massacre and Fritz the Cat on the screen and see what
Among the rarely screened gems in the series are: Logan's Run (June 15);
Lost Highway (July 6); The Evil Deada nd The Evil Dead II
(July 13 and 20, respectively); and The House by the Cemetery (August
After several false starts and weak efforts, the much-promised revival of Hammer horror films has finally come to fruition with the release of The Woman in Black, an old-fashioned ghost story that ranks with the finest achievements of the legendary British production company. The story is set in the early 1900s. Daniel Radcliffe gives an excellent performance as Arthur Kipps, a young London-based lawyer who is already a widower, his beloved wife having died while giving birth to their son. Kipps tries his best to juggle being a single parent with the demands of his profession, but his unrelenting grief prevents him from fulfilling his duties at the office. His boss gives him one last chance to redeem himself by sending him to a remote village to investigate a complicated insurance situation relating to a recently deceased person. Arriving in the village, Kipps discovers that the relatively mundane task is fraught with intrigue. He suspects that the person he has to deal with is concealing vital paperwork concerning insurance claims. He decides to secretly act as detective and investigate the matter in a thorough manner. The trail leads to an abandoned mansion in a rural area where he locates a stash of relevant paperwork. While examining this mountain of evidence, Kipps glances out the window and catches a glimpse of a veiled woman clad in black standing in the overgrown garden. Soon, he finds himself terrorized by mysterious noises and apparitions and learns that the ghostly figure he has observed is somehow tied to a series of gruesome deaths among the children of the village. To say any more would divulge too much. Suffice it to say that, in the long Hammer tradition, the local villagers are paranoid about strangers and seem to be hiding a very dark secret. Kipps' only ally is Daily (Ciaran Hinds) who shares his determination to get to the bottom of the mystery, even while he cares for his wife (Janet McAteer) who is coping with a mental illness brought about by the tragic death of their own child.
The film was directed by James Watkins, an impressive new talent who wisely eschews special effects in favor of the theory that what you don't see can be more terrifying than what you do see. Watkins remains reverent to the early Hammer productions and manages to evoke quite a number of moments that will have you jump out of your seat. He benefits from an outstanding cast of supporting actors who have been chosen on the basis of their talents, not because they look like models. Both Ciaran Hinds and Janet McAteer are particularly excellent. Praise must also go to production designer Kave Quinn for her outstanding work on the old mansion set, aided immeasurably by the appropriately gloomy cinematography of Tim Maurice-Jones and the atmospheric score by Marco Beltrami. Screenwriter Jane Goldman, working from the source novel by Susan Hill, keeps the dialogue literate and intelligent and the character of Kipps sympathetic and completely believable. He is no super hero. Yes, he doesn't shirk from investigating things that go bump in the night, but he looks pretty petrified while doing so. The film comes to a climax that is quite chilling and most unexpected. Suffice it to say, The Woman in Black recalls the best of the haunted house genre that comprises of such films as the original version of The Haunting, The Innocents and The Others.
Sony has released the film as a Blu-ray edition with commentary by James Watkins and Jane Goldman. The disc contains two bonus features: Inside the Perfect Thriller, which examines the overall making of the movie through cast and crew interviews and No Fear: Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, wherein the actor shares insights about the inspirations for his performance. (Curiously, the film's trailer is not included, though trailers for other releases are). One of the great delights is seeing a dynamic new Hammer logo at the beginning of the film that utilizes classic movie poster art from the golden age of the company. The Woman in Black bodes well for Hammer's comeback. If they can keep up the quality of the productions, they can play a major factor in revitalizing the sorrowful state of the horror film genre, which has largely deteriorated into mindless slasher films. One tip: if you watch the film alone, make sure you keep the lights on.