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.)
The word of mouth on this 1947 Warner Brothers thriller is that it was a disappointment at best and an outright dog at worst. The seemingly powerhouse teaming of superstars Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck seemed to promise more than audiences and critics felt the film delivered. Consequently, it's generally put near the bottom rung of achievements in both star's careers. Now that Warner Archives have finally released the movie on DVD, I had few expectations regarding its merits. However, I came away pleasantly surprised. This is a superior, moody and atmospheric film with both Stanwyck and Bogart at their best. Bogart had long played villains, but this is one of the most complex and fascinating characters he has ever brought to life. The movie is based on a hit stage play and its stage origins are quite apparent: it's quite a claustrophobic affair, with only a single sequence shot outside of the WB back lot. However, because most of the story takes place within the confines of a mansion, the lack of wide open spaces only enhances the atmosphere.
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.
the eagerly anticipated premiere of Skyfall,
the twenty-third James Bond film, counts down to its October 2012 release, Boston area fans of Britain’s favorite secret agent are
being afforded the rare opportunity to revel in all that has come before.The staff of the Somerville Theater (located on Davis Square in the
Boston suburb of Somerville, Massachusetts), are in the midst of celebrating
the fiftieth anniversary of Ian Fleming’s super-spy on the big screen in a big way; with an ambitious year long series-encompassing
twenty-two film retrospective.The
architect of screenings is Ian Judge, the theater’s Director of
Programming.Judge has not only been managing
the nearly one-hundred year old theater for the past ten years, but he has long
shared a history with the venue having grown up only a few blocks away from its
gilded entrance.Built in 1914 as a posh
nine-hundred seat forum for vaudeville-era acts and stage plays, the theater
began screening films right from the advent of the silent era.Though the intimate, wonderfully decorative
auditorium retains its opulent splendor, the theater combines old world
elegance with new world technology.Three
years ago the venue’s grand balcony was completely refurbished and, perhaps
more importantly, the theater was fit with a Dolby digital sound system and twin
Norelco DP-70 projectors, the latter addition allowing the venue to be one of
the few cinemas in New England to have the capability of presenting films in
the 70mm format.
it’s not too surprising to learn, especially given his enthusiasm and the
breadth of the 007 retrospective he’s programmed, has been a long-time fan of
the James Bond series. Though his
favorite Bond film is From Russia with
Love (1963), as a self-described “child of the ‘80s,” Judge admits to a
soft spot for Roger Moore’s swan song A
View to a Kill (1985), principally due to Christopher Walken’s smooth
portrayal of the genetically engineered psychotic industrialist Max Zorin.
nothing short of nirvana for some, the concept of screening, chronologically,
every James Bond film from Dr. No
(1962) through Quantum of Solace
(2008) is, without doubt, something of a gamble. But although neighborhood repertory theaters
are closing and/or having to devise methods to cope with a sluggish economy and
studio pressure to move toward all-digital projection screenings, Judge was
adamant that the James Bond films should be screened as they had been over the
course of the last fifty years, in glorious 35mm. That’s one of the principle roles of the
repertory theater, Judge contends, as “that’s what we’re here for – to show
people the magic of the movies, and to make a profit doing so. Despite their availability on TV and DVD, the
Bond films still draw a crowd.” There
was never any consideration of cheating moviegoers by splashing the 007 back
catalog onto the big screen via digital-projection. It was important that the Bond series be presented
to fans in the most authentic manner possible outside use of a time-machine… by
sourcing the best 35mm prints available. “There’s no question of not
doing it on 35mm,” Judge explained, “It is the superior format for these films,
and the format they were intended to be shown in. We’re intensely defensive of the 35mm and
70mm film formats. So long as there are
prints for classic films, that is the way we intend to show them.”
retrospective was launched on the weekend of March 2-4 with screenings of the
first five Sean Connery films and George Lazenby’s one-shot On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
(1969). The weekend of May 4-5 (which I
attended with my daughter Sara, one of innumerable father and child units
filling the seats) marked their second exclusive weekend of Bond films. The program featured such entries from the
‘70s as Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). The old-timers (present company included) instantly
noted that the strikingly pristine prints featured the original and nostalgic
“United Artists – A Trans-America Company” animation prior to the series’
iconic “gun barrel” opening.
Although I've been a long time admirer of both Jim Brown and Lee Van Cleef, their 1970 Western El Condor had eluded me until the Warner Archive recently released it as a burn-to-order title. I was rather surprised at what a terrifically entertaining film this is and I was particularly impressed by the opulent production values. Filmed in Almeria, Spain (like so many Westerns of the period), El Condor presents Brown and Van Cleef as petty criminals who form a partnership in order to search for a massive fortune in gold that is supposedly secreted behind the walls of a heavily guarded desert fortress run by Chavez, a renegade Mexican general (Patrick O'Neal). Chavez has a full army at his disposal and they are seemingly indestructible. They terrorize the local population, rape women at will and have enough heavy artillery to repel any attack from either side in the on-going Mexican revolution. Nevertheless, Brown and Van Cleef formulate a plan that will allow them to seize the El Condor fortress with the help of Apache warriors. Their scheme goes disastrously wrong in several ways, leading them to rely on their wits to survive.
One of the reasons why El Condor is so good is because it was directed by John Guillerman, an old pro at helming action/adventure movies. Guillerman is known for bringing spectacle to his productions and this one is no exception. The cast is incredibly large for a Western and the climactic battle inside the fortress is astonishing to behold in both its scope and execution. The fortress itself is an amazing piece of work, an massive creation that dominates the desert landscape. Aside from the impressive action sequences, there are other joys in this film. The Butch and Sundance-like byplay between Brown and Van Cleef gives both men a rare opportunity to show their talents at playing light comedy and Van Cleef is particularly amusing as a likable, but untrustworthy cad. Marianna Hill provides the sex appeal as Chavez' reluctant mistress and she gets to dominate a single, extended sequence in which she distracts a large number of soldiers by stripping by candlelight in her bedroom. Hill goes the full monty in a sequence that is genuinely erotic, though tastefully done. Another pleasure of the film is Maurice Jarre's stirring score which adds immeasurably to the atmosphere.
El Condor is often brutal, but the bloodletting is somewhat mitigated by the humorous barbs between Van Cleef and Brown...and did I also mention that Marianna Hill has an extended nude scene?
(For a report on El Condor locations then and now, see Cinema Retro issue #5 in our back issues section)
When I received an unsolicited screener of a new film called The Scarlet Worm from Unearthed Films, I let it languish for weeks. Finally, primarily because it is a Western, I got around to viewing it. It's a gritty, grim affair that ranks among the best independent movies I've seen lately. However, I was curious about the cast members because, as talented as they are, I had not heard of any of them. The reason why became clear when I looked at the "making of..." extras on the Blu-ray. Incredibly, this ambitious movie was put together by a team of virtual strangers who met each other on-line. They conceived of the plot and shot the movie on such a low budget that they had to live in an abandoned house that had been foreclosed by a bank. When viewed from this context, The Scarlet Worm is an even more impressive achievement. The film centers on a immoral hired gun named Print (played by film critic Aaron Stielstra, who also provides the film's atmospheric score). Print fancies himself the protector of everything moral in the small, remote desert community in which he lives. He arbitrarily decides lives and dies, and much of his killing is done for pay under the instructions of local cattle baron, Mr. Paul (Montgomery Ford), who wants Print to assassinate a bordello owner named Kley (Dan van Husen), ostensibly because he forces his whores into undergoing barbaric abortions. However, there is a more personal reason for Paul wanting the "hit" to take place. This sets of a virtual war between Paul and Kley that involves an eclectic number of eccentric gunslingers on both sides. The Scarlet Worm may sound like an old Roger Corman horror flick, but the title actually has an intriguing meaning that becomes clear in the course of the film. The movie, very well-directed by Michael Fredianelli, draws upon imagery from any number of old Western classics ranging from the works of Peckinpah and Leone to Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. The film doesn't stint on brutality and some of the sequences, particularly involving the crude abortion practices, are hard to stomach. Yet, Fredianelli successfully paints a convincing picture of the hard scrabble life on the American frontier, where lives could be snuffed out on a whim. The production team does wonders in compensating for the low budget and manages to provide some very professional and convincing set designs and costumes. The crew also doubles as actors. The most notable performances are those of professional veteran thespians like Ford and van Husen, who have film credits dating back decades. Both are in top form, finally having been awarded leading roles. Stielstra makes for a mesmerizing and highly complicated villain. Lanky in build with a Wyatt Earp look, Stielstra's Print is an unnerving figure- charming one moment, murderous the next. There are also some fine performances by the women who play the abused hookers, with Rita Rey a particular standout. It should be noted that the actresses don't shy away from appearing fully nude in the movie, but it never comes across as gratuitous. Instead, it presents frontier prostitution as a grimy world where women's lives depended on the whims of the men who routinely used and abused them. The Blu-ray looks first rate and contains a "making of" featurette, as well as various trailer for the film. There are also some trailers for productions members of the cast and crew are involved with. The team also has a slasher film out there, but it looks like a waste of their talents to produce yet another gruesome Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style movie. Instead, their production company, Wild Dogs Films, should set their sites on more lofty goals such as The Scarlet Worm. It's an amazing achievement in indy film making and I look forward to their next endeavor.
The headline may sound like a joke but it's anything but. Famed Hollywood publicist Michael Sands has died after tasting some beef in a local supermarket. His death, which occurred on March 26, but details have only just been revealed. The Wrap's coverage shows that Sands' life was as bizarre and colorful as his death: high profile clients, an obsession with self-promotion, and his strange claims to have served as a secret agent for the U.S. government. Click here to read
Last year, when I interviewed actor Stuart Margolin for Cinema Retro's Kelly's Heroes issue, we spoke about shooting the film on location in Yugoslavia. Stuart mentioned that he had shot another movie immediately prior to Kelly's there, an obscurity called The Gamblers. It sounded intriguing but it appeared as though the movie was relegated to those curiosities that had become lost over the decades. I don't even remember it having an American release, though IMDB does say it opened in the States in January 1970. The film has been rescued and put out on DVD by VCI Entertainment as part of their burn-to-order line. The movie was written and directed by Ron Winston, who had done some high profile TV series episodes and a few feature films before he died in 1973 at the young age of 40. The movie was shot entirely on location in Dubrovnik, which is now part of Croatia in the post-Yugoslavian era. At the time, dictator Marshall Tito had been luring filmmakers to his country, using subsidies and tax incentives. The Gamblers is a modestly-budgeted enterprise but it makes full use of the gorgeous coastal locations and eschews any use of studio settings to capitalize on them.
The film follows two con-men, Rooney (Don Gordon) and his friend Goldy (Stuart Margolin) as they embark on an Adriatic cruise in search of victims to bilk out of gambling money. Rooney, who masquerades as a sophisticated psychiatrist, is actually a card shark who uses a seemingly foolproof system to ensure he wins big money from gullible people during poker games. The pair meet another pair of con men working aboard the ship: an Englishman named Broadfoot (Kenneth Griffith) and his partner, the Frenchman Cozzier (Pierre Olaf). In a high stakes poker game, the Europeans are impressed with Rooney's system. They know they have been conned but are not offended. Instead, they propose joining forces. They reveal they are en route to tempt a local aristocrat with a weakness for gambling to join them in a major poker game. If Rooney and Goldy will enlist with them and use their secret methods to ensure a win, they will split the ill-gained winnings with them. Along for the ride is Candace (Suzy Kendall), a free-spirited English girl who is intoxicated by these con men and their exotic methods of duping their "marks".
At first glance, The Gamblers is a bit crude. The beginning sequences are more confusing than engrossing and it takes a while to for the characters to develop. However, the viewer should stick with it because there are many unpredictable twists, turns and cons to entertain. What is most enjoyable about the movie is the fact that it offers rare leading roles to actors who are ordinarily known for being reliable second bananas. Gordon is familiar to many retro movie goers, having appeared in several movies with his old friend Steve McQueen. Similarly, Margolin and Griffith did yeoman work over the decades, largely in comedic roles. Here, they all get a chance to shine, along with Olaf, who is equally impressive. The biggest star of the lot at the time, Suzy Kendall, is, ironically, included for window dressing and her primary contribution is to be seen in mini dresses and bikinis. (We're not complaining). The film features an infectious score by John Morris and some nice camerawork- and the ending is a true "sting-in-the-tail" surprise.
VCI's master print for the transfer is dark and grainy, but viewers should understand that, in order to make rare movies like this available, companies have to sometimes settle for whatever prints they can find, often from private collections. In any event, a less-than-pristine print is a small price to pay in return for the delightful experience of watching The Gamblers.
Man Bait is an engrossing, low-budget British film noir that represents an early Hammer Films production in the years before the studio turned to producing their legendary line of horror movies. Several soon-to-be-big Hammer icons worked on the production: it was directed by Terence Fisher, Michael Carreras was the casting director and Jimmy Sangster was assistant director. The claustrophobic drama takes place mostly inside offices and homes with only a few sequences shot outdoors. Perhaps because the producers thought the movie needed some Hollywood gloss, the leading roles went to George Brent and Marguerite Chapman, though both Yanks are overshadowed by a far more intriguing cast of British thespians. Brent plays John Harman, the prim and proper manager of an upscale London antiquarian book shop. He's happily married to an invalid wife with whom he is anxiously looking forward to traveling with on an exotic cruise. His staid, predictable existence is about to be shaken to its foundations by in an unlikely way. Harman employs a number of people at the book shop, including Ruby Bruce (Diana Dors), a somewhat wayward but vivacious teenage girl. When she falls under the influence of a local cad and thief, Jeffrey Hart (Peter Reynolds), she attempts to seduce Harman as part of a scheme orchestrated by her new lover. The awkward attempt never gets beyond a rather chaste kiss, but Harman soon learns that it has opened the door to a blackmail plot that will have dire and unpredictable consequences, including the unintended deaths of two people. Soon, Harman finds himself under police investigation as a suspected murderer.
The film was deceivingly marketed in the United States as Diana Dors' first movie, when, in fact, she had been making films for years. The ad campaign also played up the word "Stacked!" next to a photo of Dors clad in a bikini top. Sadly, the famous femme fatale of British cinema is dressed rather demurely throughout the film, save for a slightly sexy off-the-shoulder number she uses in the seduction sequence. However, the attempt to market this film as a cheap sexploitation movie undermines its merits. It's a thoroughly engrossing story, well-directed and smartly paced throughout its 78 minute running time. Dors would go on to be known as a British Jayne Mansfield, rarely getting a role that stretched any dramatic talents she may have had. (She died in 1984 at age 52). Yet, her performance in Man Bait is impressive and indicated there was real talent that could have been exploited, had producers ever looked above her bust line. The primary weakness is the presence of George Brent in the lead. He's stiff and boring and his performance is at odds with the far more natural acting styles of the excellent supporting cast (Peter Reynolds is exceptionally good as Dors' manipulative older lover).
VCI has released the film as a burn-to-order DVD with a first-rate transfer that accentuates the atmospheric camerawork of Walter Harvey.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST ARTICLES FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCHIVES
Bradford Dillman: A Compulsively Watchable
By Harvey Chartrand
a career that has spanned 43 years, Bradford Dillman accumulated more than 500
film and TV credits. The slim, handsome and patrician Dillman may have been the
busiest actor in Hollywood
during the late sixties and early seventies, working non-stop for years. In
1971 alone, Dillman starred in seven full-length feature films. And this
protean output doesn’t include guest appearances on six TV shows that
Dillman first drew good notices in the early 1950s on the Broadway stage and in
live TV shows, such as Climax and Kraft Television Theatre. After
making theatrical history playing Edmund Tyrone in the first-ever production of
Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1956, Dillman landed the role of blueblood psychopath Artie
Straus in the crime-and-punishment thriller Compulsion (1959), for which
he won a three-way Best Actor Prize at Cannes (sharing the award with co-stars
Dean Stockwell and Orson Welles).
On the And You Call Yourself a
Scientist! Web site, Dillman’s Artie Straus is described as “all brag and
bravado, contemptuous of everything but himself, with his
bridge-and-country-club parents, and his vaguely unwholesome relationship with
In the early years of
his career, Dillman starred in several major motion pictures, picking and
choosing his roles carefully. He was featured in Jean Negulesco’s romance A
Certain Smile (1958) with Rossano Brazzi and Joan Fontaine; Philip Dunne’s
World War II drama In Love and War (1958) with Robert Wagner and Dana
Wynter; and Tony Richardson’s Sanctuary (1961) with Lee Remick and Yves
Montand, a rancid slice of Southern Gothic based on the novel by William
Yet in the early sixties, Dillman started
taking any part that came along to support his growing family. From 1962 on, he
guest starred in dozens of TV series -- among them Espionage, Kraft
Suspense Theatre, Twelve O’Clock High, Shane, Felony Squad,
The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Marcus Welby, M.D., The Streets of San
Francisco, Bronk, How the West Was Won and FantasyIsland.
In 1975, Dillman won an Emmy Award for
Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama Special for his performance as Matt
Clifton in Last Bride of Salem (1974), an excellent tale of modern
witchcraft. The 90-minute Gothic horror movie aired on ABC Afternoon Playbreak and was so well received that it was
rebroadcast during primetime.
Over the years, Dillman appeared in scores
of made-for-TV movies and theatrical releases, such as Walter Grauman’s drama A
Rage to Live (1965) with the late Suzanne Pleshette; John Guillermin’s war
story The Bridge at Remagen (1969) with George Segal; Hy Averback’s satire
Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came (1970) starring Tony Curtis; and
Jud Taylor’s horror-thriller Revenge (1971), with Shelley Winters.
Dillman also played a psychiatrist who goes ape for Natalie Trundy in Don
Taylor’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and a scientist battling
firestarting cockroaches in Jeannot Szwarc’s Bug (1975) — the final film
produced by legendary horror schlockmeister William Castle.
now 81. After retiring from acting in 1995, he took up a second career as a writer. He is excellent at his new avocation,
requiring no ghostwriters to tweak his prose. Dillman’s autobiography Are
You Anybody? is a series of amusing anecdotes about his Hollywood
years. He has also written a harrowing adventure tale entitled That Air
Forever Dark, set in Papua New Guinea
“It’s a terrifying account of the Jet Age meeting the Stone Age – Deliverance
in a jungle setting,” the actor-turned-author says.
Dillman’s latest book,
published in 2005 by Fithian Press, is a comedy of errors entitled Kissing Kate. “The novel is about an
amateur production of Kiss Me Kate,”
Dillman relates. “An out-of-work professional actor is hired to play the male
lead opposite a wealthy community icon. Ultimately, of course, they end up
in bed together, where a ‘catastrophe’ occurs and all hell breaks loose. I
assure you that Kissing Kate is not in the least bit autobiographical!”
Fifty-two years after
appearing on stage in O’Neill’s landmark theatrical event, Dillman is now a
playwright as well. His Seeds in the Wind
made its debut in May 2007 at the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura, California.
The play is set in 1939 in Santa Cruz,
California, during a weekend
celebrating the 40th birthday of a society hostess' daughter. The interaction
of the houseguests is both humorous and dramatic, and all manner of unexpected
events occur, Dillman assures us.
veteran performer spoke to Cinema Retro
from his home in Santa Barbara,
Retro: You achieved
international prominence in Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion, in which you
were unforgettable as the frightening and magnetic Artie Straus, a wealthy
law-school student on trial for murder in this taut
retelling of the infamous Leopold-Loeb case of the 1920s. You had been playing
romantic leads up until then, so this leap into villainy was quite a daring
career move on your part.
Bradford Dillman: I had a commitment to Twentieth Century Fox to do two pictures a
year and, as fate would have it, the timing of the filming of Compulsion coincided.
Nothing to do with the moguls’ belief that I had talent. It was just dumb luck,
pure and simple.
Compulsion (1959) with Dean Stockwell and Orson Welles
Following Compulsion, you were often cast in villainous roles. In 1964,
you co-starred with B-movie cult figure John Ashley (The Mad Doctor of Blood
Island) in an episode of Dr. Kildare with the intriguing title Night
of the Beast. What was that one about?
BD: I was the beast. I was such a bad guy I had my
thugs hold Kildare down while I raped his girlfriend in front of his very eyes.
When we came to the comeuppance scene, I learned that Richard Chamberlain had
obviously never been in a fistfight in his life. The stunt men couldn't teach
him how to throw a punch; I couldn't teach him. So we had a gentle comeuppance.
He's a nice, sensitive man who has since come out of the closet.
With Carol Lynley, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film The Helicopter Spies (1968)
CR: In 1967, you were the guest villain on The
Prince of Darkness Affair, a two-part episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E,
later repackaged as a theatrical release – The Helicopter Spies (1968).
You were great fun as Luther Sebastian, the Third Way cult leader who steals a
rocket.Did you have any scenes with
lovely Lola Albright?
BD:The Helicopter Spies has disappeared in
the vortex of remaining brain cells. I don’t remember if I exchanged words with
Your recent piece on inept screenings of old movies reminded me of a couple of horrific screenings I have been to.
I once saw The Third Man where the projectionist couldn't understand the Academy ratio of the film so expanded the picture so it filled the width of the screen. This caused the top of the picture to be projected onto the ceiling of the cinema and the bottom to spill over the first few rows of the stalls with only the centre of the picture hitting the screen. This had the effect in medium shot of everyone having their heads cut off, or in close-up just showing their nose. Needless to say it was money-back-time.
But even worse because it was my local art house cinema I saw Hitchcock's '39 Steps' expanded from academy to widescreen with the resultant distortion. When I complained they told me it was the new digital projection and they couldn't alter it. But the really scary thing I was the only one that did complain. Oh the sad lonely life of a suffering film buff.
All the best
Retro responds: We all have similar war stories, Mark. When I was working in a theater during my high school days, we had a very old projectionist named Mandrake who tended to doze off inside the locked projection booth. One time he didn't wake up in time to start the main feature. The theater wasn't in the best area and the local populace began screaming. The theater manager and I kept pounding on the projection room door...Startled, the projectionist awoke suddenly and presented The Valachi Papers without remembering to bring back the curtains. Thus, the entire first reel was shown on the curtains themselves. This Mandrake was no magician!- Lee Pfeiffer
My friends find it ironic that, as someone who makes my living writing about movies, I actually go to very few theaters to see new releases. Unless a film motivates me enough to attend an advance screening, most of my movie-going experience is relegated to attending screenings of classic movies in art house venues where they are shown with proper reverence by a management that reveres the films. Why don't I enjoy seeing movies at my local neighborhood theater? For starters, while movie theaters have certainly become more grandiose and exotic, there has not necessarily been a corresponding respect for how movies themselves are shown. I've been to so many movies where films are shown out of focus or with the sound too low or too high, that it virtually guarantees I have to speak to management about making a correction. There's also an unwillingness to do something about audience members who blithely ignore those pre-screening ads begging them to turn off their cell phones and not talk during the showing. However, the main problem is inept presentation of the films themselves. Some years ago when the much-vaunted restoration of Gone With the Wind came to a state-of-the-art local theater in New Jersey, I brought my young daughter to see it for the first time. As the audience entered, the film was already playing because someone had started it at the wrong time. Despite complaints, management wouldn't start it again from the beginning. Thus, we were already into life at Tara before everyone had taken their seat. The film was murky and disappointing, and that probably wasn't the fault of the theater. However, the strand of hair that permeated every sequence of the movie certainly was. I went to management to complain and was told to see the "projectionist", who turned out to be a pimple-faced teenager who had to simultaneously run the popcorn stand. When I told him that there was a hair on the lens, he said that was the way the film was supposed to look because he had been told this was a very old movie. Ultimately, a small crowd of similarly disgusted audience members joined me and we convinced him to remove the hair from the lens, but in doing so, the film went out of focus and he wasn't quite sure how to fix it. At no time during this process, was the film actually stopped so God only knows how this looked from the standpoint of people who were still watching in the audience. After the problem was "fixed", the sound later fluctuated to the point you couldn't hear the dialogue well, which required another trip to the popcorn stand by angry movie fans who were now resembling the villagers who stormed Dr. Frankenstein's castle. Ultimately, everyone who complained received a complimentary pass to the theater, which was deemed the ultimate in wasted compensation. It's like complaining to the management of a restaurant that every menu item you tried was terrible and then getting a certificate for a free meal as compensation.
You might think that the digital age of film might alleviate such incidents. After all, digital projection guarantees a crisp, clear picture. However, as writer Will McKinley of the CineMentals web blog relates, a badly-run theater can still ruin the experience, as evidenced by his attending the recent TCM-sponsored digital restoration of Casablanca, coincidentally also shown in a New Jersey theater. (Hey, maybe it's just us residents of the Garden State who seem to be destined to suffer these fates.) Click here to read it and weep.
Surtees with director Don Siegel shooting Coogan's Bluff in New York, 1968.
Bruce Surtees, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer, passed away in late February at age 74. Surtees was the son of another acclaimed cinematographer, Robert Surtees. His penchant for shooting in low-light conditions earned him the nick name "The Prince of Darkness", but he was championed by director Don Siegel and his frequent collaborator Clint Eastwood. He would work on numerous films with these Hollywood legends including Coogan's Bluff, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry and Escape From Alcatraz. Surtees earned an Oscar nomination for his superb B&W cinematography on the 1974 film Lenny. Surtees also did the cinematography on John Wayne's last film, The Shootist. For more click here
Filmed in 2009 in San Juan and Vega
Baja, Puerto Rico, The Rum Diary
(2011) feels much the way that Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) felt in that it seems like two movies in
one.In Mr. Kubrick’s Vietnam War film, the
opening boot camp scenes took the audience through the Marine Corps Recruit
Depot on Parris Island, SC to see the demoralization process in action that
makes killing machines out of the marines.The combat scenes, which were shot
before the aforementioned training sequence, takes the audience out of the boot
camp and puts them into the heart of the action.In the The
Rum Diary, the first half of the film follows an alcoholic, Kemp (Johnny Depp), through his exploits in
Puerto Rico after he lands a job as a journalist for a dying newspaper in the
years prior to the Kennedy assassination; the second half almost feels like the
hangover and the after effects of too much self-indulgence.This is not a swing at the film, which is an
accomplished cinematic work and not the desultory meanderings of an idealistic
writer that the film’s detractors have intimated. Rather, it is a regard for
the differences in tone and style the film takes as the protagonist makes his
way through the underbelly of society which is bifurcated into the incredibly
wealthy and the outright dirt poor, with crooked politicians and corrupt police
Based upon the
novel by Mr. Depp’s longtime friend Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote the novel in
the 1961 and had it published in 1998 after Mr. Depp’s urging, The Rum Diary
depicts Kemp, writing
BS-stories and horoscope for a newspaper that is on the verge of failing.Lotterman
(Richard Jenkins), the paper’s Editor-in-Chief, knows the end is near and hires
Kemp, knowing full well of his romance with the bottle and; Sala (Michael
Rispoli), a staff photographer who runs cock fights on the side, philosophizes
about life in Puerto Rico and lands in deep dung with Kemp and what passes off
as The Law. The perpetually inebriated Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi in arguably the
film’s best performance), who mouths off to Lotterman, is another of the
paper’s staff members – he gives Kemp and Sala a drug that causes trips they
won’t soon forget.Hal Sanderson (Aaron
Eckhart, in a two-faced role not nearly as nefarious as his turn in Neil
LaBute’s In the Company of Men (1997)
but still crooked nonetheless) is a wealthy local aristocrat who takes Kemp
under his wing and asks him to write about a proposed hotel that he is involved
with. Kemp’s assignment is to paint Sanderson and his business partners in a
positive light even though the beautiful landscape would be severely
compromised by the deal. Sanderson's fiancé Chenault (Amber Heard) catches Kemp’s
eye, and before long she is out of Sanderson’s arms and into Kemp’s bed.Ms. Heard plays Chenault with the same aplomb
she has brought to her previous onscreen characterizations, most notably as the
AIDS-infected Christie in Gregor Jordan’s underappreciated The Informers (2009).
reaction to The Rum Diary reminds me of another of Mr. Depp’s films, Blow
(2000), which was unfairly overlooked upon its initial release, as it drew
comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s admittedly superior Goodfellas (1990),
with the former somehow being the bastard stepchild of the latter.Blow was as entertaining as is The
Rum Diary, and who better than Mr. Depp to bring it to the screen after his
collaboration with Mr. Thompson on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in
The Blu-ray looks terrific, with
minimal film grain and manages to capture the dark and light aspects of Puerto
Rico quite nicely.Extras-wise, the disc
contains: A Voice Made of Ink and Rage:
Inside The Rum Diary in high definition, which runs about twelve minutes.Mr. Depp talks about his friendship with Mr. Thompson,
while other members of the cast and crew discuss the story in general and
working on the film.The Rum Diary Back-Story is in standard
definition and runs about 45 minutes, discussing how the film got made.
The Warner Archive has recently been releasing films made by Ivan Tors' production company during the 1960s. Tors specialized in underwater and animal-themed adventure movies and TV series and he had a number of major successes including Sea Hunt, Flipper and Gentle Ben. Tors also had a knack for turning feature films into TV series. Flipper began as a theatrical released and morphed into a TV show. Gentle Ben began as a TV show and later inspired the feature film Gentle Giant. The Warner Archive has released another of these cross-over productions, Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion which would serve as the feature length pilot for the TV series Daktari. Marshall Thompson stars as Dr. Marsh Tracy, a veterinarian who works in the jungles of Africa to aid injured animals and help thwart poachers with the aid of local government authorities. The film's subject matter has something in common with John Huston's 1958 film The Roots of Heaven (click here for review) in that both were extolling the merits of conservation in an era before environmental protection had become mainstream. All other similarities between the films end there, which should be obvious from the title of the Tors movie. The plot finds Dr. Tracy as a widower trying to raise a teenage daughter, Paula (Cheryl Miller, who would reprise her role in Daktari), in a dangerous environment while also training her as his assistant. There is some flirtation with a local widow, Julie Harper (Betsy Drake), who undertakes dangerous solo missions into the jungle a la Jane Goodall to observe and photograph gorillas. The titular beast, Clarence, is indeed an amusing oddity, as no camera tricks have to be employed to obtain the effect of his being cross-eyed. However, the furry protagonist is sort of the Col. Kurtz of the animal kingdom- making only fleeting appearances in the heart of darkness until the end of the movie. The script is so squeaky clean it makes The Brady Bunch look like a Bergman movie and the only real danger comes near the end when a virtual army of ruthless poachers are thwarted by Dr. Tracy and his allies, including local police authorities, a chimpanzee and Clarence himself, who somehow commandeers a jeep for a wild ride through enemy forces. (You have to see it to believe it.) There are also fleeting appearances by noted character actor Richard Haydyn, mercilessly going over-the-top as a dapper English tutor who fears the local environment and Clarence. Predictably, the two are constantly encountering each other in rather silly comical sequences. (It's never explained why a man who fears the jungle and animals would decide to reside in the wilds of Africa.)
The film was designed strictly for the younger crowd. Thompson makes for a sufficiently stalwart hero, Drake (in her last film role before retiring) provides the chaste love interest and the overly-perky Miller does get to toss in a bit of sex appeal by slinking into a party dress in a scene designed to keep awake older brothers who had to bring younger siblings to the film. The best performance comes from Alan Caillou as the charismatic leader of the poachers. The film is directed by Andrew Marton, who was primarily known for presiding over major action sequences in films such as Ben-Hur and The Longest Day. He would go on to produce and direct the far superior Around the World Under the Sea for Ivan Tors. Clarence has a rather chintzy feel to it, owing to the fact that the film was all-too-obviously shot in an American game preserve (in Florida). Second unit footage from Africa is rather unconvincingly blended in to give the movie an exotic appeal. Nevertheless, the movie is likable enough and will probably be most appreciated by Daktari fans who can now enjoy the series' origins as a feature film. An original theatrical trailer is included.
While at the pinnacle of his success as a leading man, coming off of major starring roles in M*A*S*H, Kelly's Heroes and Don't Look Now, Donald Sutherland returned to his native Canada to film Alien Thunder (aka Dan Candy's Law). The story, loosely based on a true historical incident, finds Sutherland as Dan Candy, a stalwart Canadian Mountie, who patrols the wild Saskatchewan wilderness areas in the 1880s. There is a famine plaguing the area and the hardest hit are the local Indian tribes. One brave, Almighty Voice (Gordon Tootoosis) is frustrated at having to wait for meager rations from Canadian authorities while his family starves before his eyes. He slaughters a government-owned cow, an action that sets off a major legal problem. Candy and his partner are assigned to arrest Almighty Voice, who fears he will be hanged. Almighty Voice flees into the wilderness and in a confrontation with Candy's partner, shoots the Mountie dead. Candy becomes obsessed with revenge and the film takes on elements of The Searchers, as he engages in a relentless search for the fugitive. Almighty Voice not only has to avoid capture, but he must deal with the harsh elements and care for his wife and newborn child, who are with him. Almighty Voice and Candy's mano-a-mano grudge match extends over many miles and many months, which each man scoring victories and suffering losses. Almighty Voice turns the tables and attacks Candy's domain, burning his cabin to the ground. As the hunt continues, Candy develops a grudging respect for the man he is determined to bring to justice. He also objects when his strutting, martinet superior officer employs a virtual army, including field artillery, to hunt down Almighty Voice.
The film is directed and photographed by Claude Fournier, and his measured style and leisurely pace may turn off some viewers weaned on contemporary action films. In fact, Alien Thunder is more a character study than an actual adventure, although the final sequence - a battle between the authorities and Almighty Voice and his few allies- is excitingly staged and has moments of grandeur that belie the film's somewhat modest budget. Sutherland gives a fine performance as an everyday man who finds himself on an extraordinary quest for vengeance. He makes for a most vulnerable hero, making misjudgments and mistakes throughout his mission. Most of the supporting cast are little-known actors with the exception of always-watchable old pros Chief Dan George and Kevin McCarthy.
The movie is available on DVD through the Scorpion label. There are no extras except an interesting gallery of other film trailers for the company's releases. Alien Thunder is a consistently engrossing film that one can categorize as an overlooked gem.
MGM's burn-to-order DVD service has released another worthy film, the 1971 comedy Cold Turkey. Written and directed by Norman Lear, the fanciful plot is set in Eagle Rock, Iowa, a struggling small town of 4600 residents in Iowa that has fallen on hard times. The town is on the verge of financial catastrophe with most of the once-thriving businesses having moved away when a local air force base was closed. Potential salvation comes in the form of a contest sponsored by a major tobacco company to award $25 million to any town that can give up smoking for a period of 30 days. In fact, the offer is a mere ploy by a cynical tobacco executive, Merwyn Wren (Bob Newhart), who assures his bosses that the contest will improve the industry's reputation without ever incurring the prospect of having to pay off. That's because every person in the town would have to sign a pledge to not smoke for 30 days. A single offense would result in disqualification for the prize. What Wren doesn't count on is the determination of Eagle Rock minister Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke), a disillusioned and depressed reverend who finds renewed vigor in his determination to see his town win the contest and revitalized itself with the prize money. Brooks goes on a one-man crusade to persuade the town's population to sign the petition- not an easy task because seemingly everyone has turned to smoking in order to cope with the stress of their financial hardships.
John Rich (right) with producer Norman Lear, 1973.
This almost escaped us but reader Bill Parisho alerted us that Emmy winning director John Rich died on January 30 at age 86. Rich was lauded for his work on The Dick Van Dyke Show, All in the Family, Gunsmoke, Gilligan's Island, Barney Miller and other beloved programs. Rich also directed Elvis Presley in the feature films Easy Come, Easy Go. For more click here
Joshua Logan's 1955 screen adaptation of William Inge's Broadway sensation Picnic has been released on Blu-ray by the excellent Twilight Time label as a 3,000 unit limited edition. The play helped boost Paul Newman to stardom but amazingly he was excluded from the film version, along with most of his fellow cast members. Inge's play presented an unusually frank examination of repressed sexual frustration in a small Kansas town. That tension boils over with the arrival of Hal Carter (William Holden), a charismatic drifter whose arrival in town sets off a combustible tinderbox of emotions among the residents. Hal is a magnet for women of all ages, but he sets his sites on Madge (Kim Novak), a vulnerable teenager from a broken home who is looking for a white knight to deliver her from the boredom of her small town life. Hal fills the void but brings to mind the old adage "Be careful what you wish for- you just might get it." Hal's presence unleashes long suppressed rivalries and jealousies and he goes from hero to cad in the eyes of many.
It's long been said that Holden was too old for the leading role, but nothing could be further from the truth. He's at the top of his game and exudes raw sexuality. He benefits from an outstanding supporting cast, each of whom is seen at their best: Novak; Susan Strasberg as her catty, envious sister, Betty Field as the frustrated mom who advises her girls that sex may be an unpleasant chore for a woman, but if it allows you to nab a handsome husband, it's worth it; young Cliff Robertson as an insecure local hunk who comes to regret Hal's presence, and wonderful turns by Arthur O'Connell, Nick Adams and others. Among the many memorable scenes are Holden and Novak's slow dance to Moonglow, which drips eroticism and plays like a mating ritual. All of this is set to James Wong Howe's glorious cinematography which improbably manages to "open up" a rather claustrophobic storyline written for the stage.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray looks great and includes the original trailer, an informative booklet written by Julie Kirgo and an isolated track for George Duning's terrific score.
Until the sexual revolution of the mid-to-late 1960s was embraced by the film industry, the subject of homosexuality was dealt with in schizophrenic manner by studios. There were some bold attempts to address the subject in a serious and sympathetic manner, but fine movies like The Trials of Oscar Wilde and Victim were relegated to art-house hell and never enjoyed a wide audience. Indeed, it was the complete financial failure of the former film that motivated, in desperation, producer Cubby Broccoli to dust off the idea of adapting the James Bond novels for the screen. In other cases, the movies were more high profile (i.e Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Children's Hour) but studios forced the directors to substantially water down overt references to homosexuality. Within a few short years, however, the situation had changed dramatically. While many characters were often presented as comical stereotypes, there were other bold attempts to address more realistic approaches to the traumas faced by gays and lesbians. Going one rung further, a few films actually took on such issues as cross-dressing and transsexuals. One of the more notable films of the era was The Christine Jorgensen Story, released in 1970. However, as well-meaning as the movie was, it was generally regarded as an exploitation movie with a good dose of shlock and some unintended laughs. (Click here for review)
Far more impressive was the 1972 British film I Want What I Want...To Be a Woman starring Anne Heywood in a daring performance as an effeminate young man who secretly desires to be a woman. Unlike the real-life Christine Jorgensen, this story is not based on fact, but a novel by writer Geoff Brown. Roy is a sensitive twenty-something man who is living a nightmarish life. He's the son of a macho, ex-army officer (the always brilliant Harry Andrews) who spends most of his time drinking with high society types while he seduces their women. Roy and his father have a fractious relationship as the old man refuses to acknowledge the obvious fact that his son looks more like the daughter he never had. He tries to force Roy into macho behavior by having him escort women on fraudulent dates and making him sit with other men in drawing rooms to argue politics over cigars and brandy. Meanwhile, all Roy wants to do is explore his feminine side. Eventually he can't resist the urge to dress as a woman and is caught in the act by his appalled father, who slaps him around and humiliates him. Distraught, Roy leaves his home to establish a new life in a far away town. This represents his first public appearance as a woman and the film conveys the anxiety cross dressers must feel when they make such a "debut". Although Heywood makes a head-turning woman, we have to remember she's supposed to be a man. As such, she gives a riveting performance and demonstrates the inevitable paranoia that might accompany such a bold lifestyle decision. Roy is convinced that everyone he passes on the street knows his secret.
Not for the weak-stomached or faint of heart, Living in
Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders, available now on DVD from First Run Features, offers excellent insights into
the highly-touted humanitarian organization and the individual doctors who keep
it afloat. The documentary follows volunteer doctors in war-torn Liberia and
Congo, not only detailing their “typical” work day activities (in often bloody
detail), but also delving into their motivations for joining the organization,
their means of coping with high-pressure situations, and their opinions of the
humanitarian assistance field.
While just watching the documentary, which includes
footage of crude amputations and a hernia the size of a beach ball, can make
your blood pressure rise, Living in Emergency is also strangely refreshing.
While most documentaries focusing on humanitarian assistance often turn into
love letters to specific organizations or individuals, Living in Emergency
avoids all-out hero worship in favor of a nuanced view that encompasses both
the successes and the shortcomings of the organization and its volunteers. While
the positive impact of Doctors Without Borders is certainly the focus of the
movie, concerns about its support of new staff members and premature decisions
to pull out of certain areas are also expressed. Similarly, while anyone
watching the film cannot help but admire the courage and commitment of the
organization’s volunteers, the movie also illustrates their humanity by showing them
at their best (in surgery) and their worst (drunk and argumentative).
The only real shortcoming of the film is its failure to
give a sufficient voice to the over 20,000 local staff that make Doctors Without
Borders run. As Americans, it may seem more captivating to watch our Western
counterparts delve into both a physical and metaphorical heart of darkness.
However, it is extremely important to recognize the role played by local
volunteers, who sacrifice their time, safety, and energy to help their own
communities without the promise of leaving after six months. While the
documentary does feature one local doctor, more interviews with healthcare
providers, patients, and community members would have greatly enriched the
documentary and provided a more balanced perspective on the organization.
Despite this weakness, Living in Emergency is an
excellent and thought-provoking film that anyone interested in the field of
humanitarian assistance should take the time to watch.
First Run Features specializes in releasing often obscure, but fascinating documentaries, with many titles relating to WWII history. The company has just made available Dear Uncle Adolf: The Germans and Their Fuhrer, a 2010 documentary by filmmaker Michael Kloft. It's pretty hard to bring a new angle to the study of WWII, as virtually every conceivable aspect would seem to have been covered countless times. However, Kloft examines a genuinely unique aspect of Nazi culture: the countless "fan letters" written to Adolf Hitler during his ascent to power and his reign as Fuhrer. It seems that after the Soviets took Berlin in the waning days of the war, they uncovered a massive archive of personal letters written to Hitler by German citizens. These were studied, cataloged and stored because Hitler felt they were a good measurement of how his people felt about his policies. The Soviets kept a lid on the archive but in the post-Cold War period, they were opened up, though it's unclear how many historians took advantage of this obscure but important find. The cameras pan down endless rows of neatly cataloged storage boxes all filled with the letters. A narrator reads some of them, along with official communiques from Nazi officials. All of this is blended with mesmerizing footage of Hitler and his cronies, much of it new to me.
The film presents a stark and timeless lesson about how cultured, educated and rational people can willingly suspend their common sense- as well as their civil liberties- in hopes of appeasing a charismatic leader. While it is true the German people had suffered terribly in the aftermath of WWI and the oppressive conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, the desperate population willingly adopted Nazi policies that a decade were deemed uncivilized. When Hitler tried to take power at the point of a gun, he failed. He succeeded only when he went the legal route, understanding fully that frightened people will pay any price to have a benevolent strongman solve their problems. If the price of this pact with the devil is that countless numbers of their fellow citizens be deemed undesirables and marked for death, well, that was just too bad. The letters written to Hitler and documented in this film run the gamut from those sent by academics to literal nutcases. (Yes, even the Fuhrer wasn't immune from attracting crazed eccentrics such as the barber who pleaded with Hitler to allow him to meet him in Berlin so he could fulfill his dream of giving him a haircut!) Countless women wrote to Hitler, with the type of adoration that American bobbysoxers were reserving for the likes of young Frank Sinatra. Their flowery prose barely hide their all-too-apparent desire to offer him sexual favors. One woman blatantly invites Hitler to father a child with her so that his legacy can live on. However, there are also heartbreaking letters from the early days of Hitler's regime. These come from wives and children who profess their devotion to him and the cause of National Socialism even as they plead with him to intervene and release their husband/father who has been jailed for unspecified reasons. One woman writes incredulously that her husband has not even been formally charged with a crime despite being in jail for months, as though the niceties of the Weimar Republic were still prevalent in the courts. In one particularly disturbing missive to the Fuhrer, a terrified woman reaffirms her Germanic heritage and spells out the reasons why a trace of mixed blood should not result in her being branded a Jew. She pleads with Hitler to deliver her from the "curse" of being Jewish. In contrast, one child writes to Hitler to beg him to annex his native Austria into the Reich because the Jews are using Christian German children as human sacrifices. Such tall tales were widely believed and helped justify Hitler's amicable takeover of a once sovereign nation. The letters and communiques in the film also show how well Hitler understood the importance of not trivializing his super-human image, as a baker is chastised for naming a cake in his honor. The man writes a sniveling and apologetic reply explaining he was only conforming to the popular demand for such a delicacy from local party officials.
reports of certain events which would have appeared earlier, had fate and the
need to earn a buck not intervened.
Irish Film Institute,
24-28 August 2011
at the station for the 3:10 to Tara Street, I was feeling good – deep down
good, the way a man can feel when he’s got a bunch of Westerns to watch and a
passel of press passes in his pocket. Leaving the Iron Horse at Westland Row, I
cut across Grafton Street (no sign of them pesky Rykers) and on down to the
Irish Film Institute, where they were about to let rip with a four-day,
eight-film season called ‘The Western: Meanwhile Back at the Revolution ... The
Western As Political Allegory’. Well, I reckoned they could use all them fancy
five-dollar words and dress it up whatever they damn well liked, long as it
meant seeing some real Westerns on the big screen. As Randy Scott would’ve
said, “There’s some things a man can’t ride around—but Cowboys & Aliens ain’t one of them.” Ride clear of Diablo,
hell, ride clear of dumb CGI special effects movies is more like it . . .
I figured not only was this a chance to see some Westerns the way they were
meant to be seen but also an opportunity to have my say on films which wouldn’t
normally fit into the Cinema Retro
corral, being as they were made before 1960. Not that this is either the time
or the place for what you might call in-depth chin-stroking and
head-scratching—more like a chance to throw out some thoughts and see where they
up, perhaps predictably enough, was High
Noon (1952), described in the programme notes by season curator Declan
Clarke as “a commentary on the McCarthy witch-hunt and the failure of U.S.
intellectuals to stand up to the House Un-American Activities Committee.” This,
of course, has become pretty much the standard interpretation of High Noon but it would be interesting to
know to what extent it was perceived that way on its initial release; the
British critic Robin Wood has recalled that he was completely unaware of any
political subtext when he first saw the film, and it seems rather doubtful that
many citizens of Main Street, U.S.A., came out of their local cinemas saying,
“Gee, honey, that sure was one in the eye for Joe McCarthy!”
generally speaking, I prefer to see something of the West in my Westerns (even
if it’s Almería, west of Rome), High Noon
remains one of the best “town Westerns” ever made, notable as much for its
characterisation as for its celebrated manipulation of real time to build
suspense. In particular, one is struck by the refreshingly adult depiction of
Helen Ramírez (Katy Jurado), a “woman with a past” who is required neither to
apologise for that past nor to expiate her supposed sins by catching one of
those stray “moral” bullets which usually account for such characters (e.g.,
Linda Darnell’s Chihuahua in Ford’s My
Darling Clementine, 1946). Other details I’d forgotten include the church
scene in which Thomas Mitchell appears to be lending his support to Marshal Kane
only to end up giving him the shaft, Howland Chamberlin’s nasty-minded hotel
clerk, and Harry Morgan urging his wife to tell Kane that he’s not in, that
he’s gone to church.
In the aftermath of Mondo Cane's release in the early 1960s, every exploitation filmmaker seemed eager to jump on the bandwagon and produce "documentaries" that ostensibly were made to educate audiences about shocking and weird people and practices throughout the world. Even in the 1970s, Australia was considered an exotic locale to most of the world's population. Because of its inaccessibility, travel to Oz in those days was relegated to seemingly only the most financially secure lucky souls. Thus, life in Australia seemed to be a good bet for any number of exploitation films that gave a double meaning to the term "Down Under". One of the more prominent opportunists to capitalize on this craze for the short-lived "Ozploitation" films was producer/director John D. Lamond, who churned out a number of soft-core porn films during the '70s and '80s. Among the more notable achievements was Australia After Dark, filmed on location throughout Oz in 1975. The film apparently caused a minor sensation in its initial release and was heavily edited in some countries, including England. The InterVision DVD label, in conjunction with CAV Distributing Corporation, has just found an uncut print "recently discovered in the cellar of the Lower Wonga Drive-in" according to the press release. That's appropriate because the drive-in's name alone sounds like an erogenous zone. In any event, the film's release is a welcome event as it brings us back to a time when international cinema was still pushing the boundaries on censorship.
There's nothing shocking by today's standards in Australia After Dark, though Lamond didn't punt when it came to showing extensive views of full female and male nudity. Although the movie's key premise is sexploitation, most of the more interesting segments pertain to more mainstream topics. There is a visit to the world's longest bar as well as brief but fascinating looks at ancient cave wall paintings. There's also a brief segment about a 19th century serial killer of women who nevertheless received hundreds of "fan letters" from women admirers. Lamond shoots and edits in a haphazard, anything-goes style. Thus, one minute you're paying a visit to an S&M club and the next you're viewing a beautiful young naturist swimming nude in the Great Barrier Reef. There is a pointless but extended visit with a performance artist named Count Copernicus, who - based on his billing in the film- must have been somewhat of a sensation at the time. Copernicus dresses in drag even while he gets it on with comely young women. He also cloaks his "schtick" with pretentious political protests, making him the kind of character generally spoofed in Woody Allen movies. In another segment, we view a body painting studio where uptight businessmen spend their lunch hours renting live nude models whose bodies they adorn with "art". In the most compelling sequence, we're brought inside a modern witches coven where practitioners initiate a new female member by having her ravaged by some bloke dressed as a witch doctor (Imagine the voodoo sequences from Live and Let Die if they had been rated X.) Intermingled with all this are shots of sexily-clad young women who were filmed surreptitiously for inclusion in the movie. The girl-on-the-street footage reminds us why my friend, British fashion consultant Colin Woodhead, has referred to the '70s "the decade that fashion forgot" - but it also reminds us that the era did present us with the regrettably short-lived hot pants craze. Other segments jump from alleged UFO landing sites to a visit to a shop where the owner gained fame by custom-fitting bikinis to female customers who willingly doffed their clothes to get his professional opinion.
The DVD includes a director's commentary with John Lamond and Mark Hartley, director of Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary about Ozploitation films. Their conversation is highly enjoyable due to the lack of pretentiousness. Lamond makes no bones about his desire to make a cheap, trashy movie designed for quick playoff in Aussie drive-ins. However, he did have a loftier goal in mind. Tired of having Australians live in the shadows of the Americans and British, he wanted to do his part to show that there were plenty of local people who were equally eccentric to those seen in overseas films. The fact that by doing so, he helped reinvigorate the entire Australian film industry, pleases him to this day. He also discusses certain scenes he had to cut including footage of Trans Australian Airlines (TAA). The company agreed to fly him for free around Australia in return for promotion in the film. However, when airline executives saw the finished movie they were horrified and forced Lamond to cut all footage of TAA from the film. (Now that the airline is defunct, Lamond has restored the footage for this DVD release.) Lamond also admits staging certain sequences, though he says the participants were only recreating their normal activities. Both Lamond and Hartley come across as the kind of unpretentious guys you'd like to sit around and enjoy a cold one with and their conversation on the commentary track eclipses the merits of the film itself. At one point, Lamond stops in his tracks to comment on some nubile naked young woman by saying, "Look at that! That's all woman!" (This also has to be the only audio commentary track in memory in which both participants discuss in detail the changing viewpoints of female sexuality by making observations about the abundance of pubic and armpit hair on the female participants.) The DVD sleeve also promises a trailer gallery of Lamond's other films, but for the life of me I couldn't find it on the actual DVD.
The print of the film is only adequate and appears to have been shot through some sort of glass filter that leaves some consistent blemishes throughout. Nevertheless, it's a very enjoyable guilty pleasure and one can't fault InterVision for the film quality. After all, would you have spent time tracking this down in the cellar of the Lower Wonga Drive-In?
Australia After Dark is tacky, sleazy, and politically incorrect. I loved every minute of it.
Robert Easton's name may not be familiar to the public but for decades he has been the "go-to" guy for prominent actors who needed to master the art of speaking in different dialects. Easton started out as a character actor but feared that his southern accent would keep him typecast as hillbillies. He began to study regional accents and foreign languages and discovered he had an uncanny knack for not only mastering them, but for teaching them as well. In short order, he became a real life Henry Higgins, teaching such diverse talents as Charlton Heston, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Duvall, Robert Vaughn, Anne Hathaway and Forest Whitaker. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, he completed working with John Travolta on a project. Easton died this week of undisclosed causes at age 81. All the while, Easton worked as a supporting player and appeared in dozens of prominent films and TV series beginning in the early 1950s. Ironically, while Easton had initially wanted to avoid being typecast as eccentric country characters, he adopted just such a look in real life, sporting a long mane of white hair and a Moses-type beard. Click here to read about his remarkable career.
The boutique DVD label Twilight Time has released a limited edition (3,000 units) of the 1955 film The Left Hand of God starring Humphrey Bogart. The 1955 Fox drama is set in China in 1947, though it curiously avoids the topic of the battle between the forces of democracy and communism that raged throughout the country in the post-WII period. Bogart plays Jim Carmody, a soldier of fortune who finds himself stranded in China and serving as a military adviser for a local ruthless warlord. Although he's bribed with plunder and women, Carmody realizes he's still a virtual prisoner and plots his escape. This he accomplishes by adopting the identity of a recently murdered Catholic priest. He makes his way to a rural Christian mission where he continues his ruse. Caromdy knows just enough about Catholicism to fool the Christian converts at the mission, which is run by Dr. Sigman and his wife Beryl (E.G. Marshall and Agnes Moorehead, both in fine form) along with a beautiful young nurse, Anne (Gene Tierney). Although much of the plot devices outlined here are not revealed until well into the film, I assure you that this is no way diminishes the suspense quite simply because there isn't any. We know from the first few minutes that Bogart isn't really a priest, especially when he secretes a loaded pistol under his pillow.
The film, directed by the usually able Edward Dmytryk, is based on a novel that had been kicked around Hollywood for years before Fox took the plunge. It's a glum, humorless affair and the informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo tell us that Bogart was already in the early stages of ill health that would soon prove to be fatal. (He would only make two more films in rapid succession before passing away from cancer in 1957.) Similarly, Tierney's career was sidetracked as she battled mental illness. This was to be her big comeback movie but she would henceforth be relegated to supporting roles before retiring from acting in 1964. The film is filled with absurdities. Tierney struts around the isolated mountain mission in a wardrobe that makes it look like she just returned from the showroom at Saks 5th Avenue. As we've written about extensively in Cinema Retro, the practice of casting Caucasian stars in parts meant for Asian actors was firmly in place during this period. Thus, we have Lee J. Cobb as the charismatic Chinese warlord! That's right- Willy Lohman himself trading barbs with Bogart and using the same voice and mannerisms as his immortal villain Johnny Friendly from On the Waterfront. This is awkwardly explained by having him remind Bogart that he is a graduate of an American university! This can actually be the solution for all of our disaffected college grads who are frustrated with the lack of jobs. Instead of joining the Occupy Wall Street movement, they can simply move to Asia and become warlords. The profession may be dead in China, but it's booming in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Although the film was shot entirely on the Fox Ranch in California, it must be said that the excellent production design and creative use of matte paintings does make for a convincing "on location" feel. The film's other strength is a fine score by the great Victor Young. However, the plot meanders and ends up going nowhere. Even the potentially suspenseful threat of a vengeful warlord is derailed over a friendly game of dice.There is virtually no chemistry between Bogart and Tierney, despite some longing gazes. This is because Fox was concerned about offending the Catholic church so the film was scrubbed of all but the most innocent references to sex.
Twilight Time's transfer is up to their usual excellent standards and features Young's score on an isolated track. As mentioned previously, the company's inclusion of liner notes booklets in every release is a welcome touch, especially when they don't sugarcoat flawed films such as this.
The Left Hand of God is not Bogart at his best, but even second rate Bogie is still worth a look.
In 1966, with Batmania sweeping the world, everyone was trying to get a piece of the action. Columbia Pictures came up with a novel idea. The studio rereleased the 1943 Batman and Robin serials collectively under the title An Evening with Batman and Robin. Naturally, this was more than twenty years before Adam West and Burt Ward slid down the Batpole for the first time. The gimmick turned a tidy profit, though some of the more naive fans may have been stunned to see the Dynamic Duo in black and white and attired in costumes that looked like they came in last place in the local school Halloween contest. This rare trade ad extolls the regional grosses the film event was scoring across America. Did you know that Lewis Wilson, who played Batman in these serials, was the father of James Bond producer Michael G. Wilson?