Many a director and/or star of hardcore porn movies has fantasized about establishing a career in mainstream cinema. Many have tried but few have achieved this goal. Among those who aspired to greater heights was Carlos Tobalina, who had established himself as one of the more innovative and stylish directors of porn flicks in the 1980s. Tobalina's micro-budget productions attempted to go beyond the low demands of the "raincoats-across-the-lap" crowd. Tobalina would attempt to present more fully fleshed-out story lines and occasionally succeeded in getting credible performances from his cast members. His films were relatively high budget at the time due to extensive location shoots. He was also an aspiring actor and would appear in small roles in his own films. By 1985, Tobalina felt the time was right to make his move into mainstream fare. The VHS revolution was now in full swing and suddenly consumers could watch porn in the privacy of their own homes without having to slip into a local X-rated theater in the hopes of not being recognized by friends and neighbors. Soon, porn movies would mostly be shot directly for the home video market, resulting in even lower production standards and films that could be shot in a matter of hours instead of days or weeks. The home video revolution would virtually ensure the death knell of grind house movie theaters that specialized in hardcore flicks. Perhaps Tabolina saw the writing on the wall when he went full throttle with his most ambitious project, a crime thriller titled "Flesh and Bullets". In reality, the movie had an earlier incarnation, "The Wife Contract". Both versions were unacknowledged remakes of Alfred Hitchcock's classic "Strangers on a Train" which presented the delicious concept of a man who encounters an eccentric fellow traveler in a private car on a commuter train. The two men in Hitchcock's film pass the time of day by debating whether a perfect crime could be committed. They agree that if the murderer had no prior connection to the victim, it could. The men both lay out a playful scenario in which they each name a person they would like the other man to kill in a morbid pact. One of the men clearly believes it was all a sick joke-until the person he named as his intended victim turns up dead and his "friend" from the train now expects him to commit murder as his part of the pact. Tobalina's film presents a different scenario based on the same concept. Roy (Glenn McKay) is a distraught man who is going through the strains of providing alimony and child support for his ex-wife Dolores (Cydney Hill) and their young daughter Gina (Gina Tobalina, you-know-who's real life daughter). Jeff (Mick Morrow) is also in dire straits trying to pay alimony to his ex, Gail (Susan Silvers). The two men have a chance meeting in a Las Vegas bar and form a pact to kill each other's spouse. Both of them have some experience with death. Roy has seen action in Vietnam and Jeff confides he once murdered two gay wrestlers who raped him (they are rather insensitively listed in the final credits as "Homo Wrestlers"!). To ensure that they each carry out their part of the pact, they agree that if either of them fails to do so, he will be marked for death by the other man.
Mai Lin is among the adult film stars who make cameos in the film.
Tobalina had a fool-proof scenario on which to base his film...after all, Hitchcock had ironed out most of the kinks. The screenplay, also written by Tobalina, follows the efforts of Roy and Jeff to ingratiate themselves to the other man's wife. In doing so, they both unexpectedly fall in love with the woman they have promised to kill. Yet, if they don't carry out the murder, they will be marked for death themselves. Tabolina does the best he can with his limited resources but although he may have had more talent than the average porn director, the crudeness of his techniques and clunky production values make it clear that the movie was shot by an amateur. Tobalina tries to paper over this fact with a few distractions by casting some porn actresses in small legit roles in order to use their names in the promotional materials, but their core fans will be disappointed because this is one Tobalina production that has a bare minimum of sex and nudity. Tobalina also goes with the old misleading trick of getting some veteran actors involved in the film. Thus, we see "special performances" by Yvonne De Carlo, Cesar Romero, Aldo Ray and Cornel Wilde, mostly in blink-and-you'll miss them roles that were inserted to simply give the film a bit of Hollywood glam. (Cult actor Robert Z'Dar also appears). Tabolina also had to shoot some of the film on the fly as certain locations obviously required permits he couldn't or wouldn't obtain. There are also some miscued sound effects that prove to be distracting. The performances range from laughably bad to adequate, with even old pros Wilde and Ray looking like they were filmed in a first read through of the script. (Sadly, this proved to be Wilde's final film appearance. He looks suitably embarrassed and even had to suffer the indignity of having his name misspelled in the final credits!) Leading man Glenn McKay is very much of the beefy, hirsute hunks who were all the rage in the era of "Magnum P.I." His co-star Mick Morrow, however, suffers the distraction of having one of the most unbecoming hair styles ever seen on film, thus making him look like a cross between a Medieval page boy and Farrah Fawcett. Not surprisingly, neither McKay or Morrow has any other on-screen appearance in their credits. The film is not without its enjoyable elements, however. The plot is consistently engrossing and you tend to give special dispensation to all involved for working with a tiny budget and low-end production values. Where Tabolina, the screenwriter, blows it is in the final sequence which could have been dramatically effective. However, he wimps out and goes the way of a happy ending that makes the viewer feel cheated.
The Vinegar Syndrome release, which has salvaged the film from obscurity, is first rate. The transfer looks terrific and there is the welcome inclusion of Tobalina's original cut of the film, "The Wife Contract". Granted, they have had to resort to using a grainy Dutch VHS copy as the master, but the language is in English and it does provide an interesting look of how Tabolina drastically recut the movie for its final version. An original trailer, hosted by Cesar Romero and playing up the genuine stars, is also included though if the film ever did manage to find some play dates in theaters, they must have been few and far between. It's hard to recommend "Flesh and Bullets" as mainstream entertainment but, as a retro curiosity of a director's bold but failed attempt to break into the mainstream, it is certainly worth a look.
It took Sean Connery years to successfully cast aside the shadow of James Bond and establish himself as a diverse actor. Connery had made some fine non-Bond films even during the peak of 007 mania - The Hill, Woman of Straw, A Fine Madness and Marnie. Each of these worthy efforts afforded Connery a role that was significantly different than that of Bond but, much to his frustration, all of them were box-office disappointments, although he did have the satisfaction of seeing The Hill win international acclaim. When Connery left the Bond series in 1968, he made some more fine films. The Western Shalako was an international box-office success, as was The Anderson Tapes, which cast him as a charismatic crook. Yet, Martin Ritt's The Molly Maguires, an ambitious film about exploited coal miners, failed to click with audiences, as did The Red Tent, which afforded Connery top-billing even though he only had a supporting role. Connery returned to the Bond fold in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever and then quit the part once again. He gave one of the finest performances of his career in Sidney Lumet's micro-budget drama The Offence, but it played in only a few art houses before slipping into oblivion. John Boorman's Zardoz, which has attracted a cult following today, was a critical and box-office flop at the time of its release, as was a minor Connery thriller The Terrorists (aka Ransom). But Connery was not about to be counted out. He scored with Murder on the Orient Express, The Wind and the Lion, Robin and Marian, The Great Train Robbery and, most significantly, The Man Who Would Be King. All were critical successes even if they were not blockbusters. Connery also played a key role in the WWII epic A Bridge Too Far, a fine and underrated film. Soon thereafter, however, his choice of film projects became erratic. Although the films Cuba, Wrong is Right and Outland all under-performed at the box-office, they at least afforded him the opportunity to work with acclaimed directors Richard Lester, Richard Brooks and Peter Hyams, respectively. But the cheesy disaster flick Meteor could only be attributed to the desire to make a fast buck.
As Connery matured as a man and actor he still would take on films with limited commercial appeal if he felt the project was artistically rewarding. This was the case with the 1982 film Five Days One Summer which proved to be the final cinematic work of Oscar-winning director Fred Zinnemann, who had made such classics as High Noon and From Here to Eternity. Zinnemann had scored a late career triumph in 1977 with Julia but hadn't made a film since. The movie was an odd choice for both men since the story was small in scale and seemed to have no hope of attracting mainstream audiences. Five Days is very much an art house movie that was nevertheless given wide release based solely on Connery's presence as the leading man. Predictably, it had a quick playoff to largely empty theaters but perhaps more surprisingly, the critics who had lauded Zinnemann with praise for Julia now accused him of making a film that was too small in scope for a collaborative project with Sean Connery. Zinnemann was seventy-four years old when he made the movie and perhaps he felt he had paid his dues to the big studios over the decades. Now in the twilight of his years he might have simply wanted to make a very personal film that appealed to him, if not everyone else. The script is based on a 1929 short story, Maiden Maiden by Kay Boyle. The film was shot under this title before the decision was made to change it to the equally ambiguous Five Days One Summer. In fact, Maiden Maiden was a more intriguing title because it has a dual reference. The first is the the female protagonist of the story and the second is to The Maiden, an imposing mountain in the Swiss Alps where some dramatic events occur. The story concerns the taboo relationship between Kate (Betsy Brantley), an attractive young woman in her mid-twenties and her uncle Douglas (Sean Connery), a successful doctor in his fifties. Since she was a little girl Kate has had an uncontrollable crush on Douglas and as she grew older, came to resent his wife Sarah (Jennifer Hilary). Director Zinnemann zig-zags back and forth in time to show how a schoolgirl crush developed into a forbidden sexual relationship that finds Kate excluding any other potential lover in favor of Douglas. She alternates between joy and depression, the latter mood hitting her whenever she dwells on the fact that she can never be in anything but a secret relationship with the man she loves. Even if Douglas were to get a divorce, the incestuous love affair could never be made public.
The main part of the film concerns Douglas and Kate pulling off a risky holiday trip that will allow them to spend time together in a remote lodge in the Swiss Alps where they can indulge in their mutual passion for hiking and climbing. To avoid any suspicions, she poses as Douglas's wife in a May/December romance. At first she is as giddy as a schoolgirl because she can finally share a bed with Douglas and they can openly express affection for each other. Things get complicated, however, when their hiking guide turns out to be Johann (Lambert Wilson), a handsome young man who is Kate's age. From minute one he awakens long suppressed sexual desires in her for someone other than Douglas, who immediately perceives the unspoken attraction between the two. The trio enjoy a cordial and professional relationship as the hike and take in the scenic wonders around them. However, Johann becomes more forthright when he learns that Kate isn't married to Douglas (though she does not confide he is her uncle). Johann is outraged and tries to convince her to leave him, telling her that she is in a dead-end love affair with a married man that can't end well. Meanwhile, on a dangerous hike with Douglas, Johann also confronts him while they are atop the summit of the Maiden (not the most opportune place to have an argument with each other.) Douglas maintains that he is not using Kate and really loves her. Meanwhile, she has made up her mind to leave Douglas and marry Johann. Before she can give Douglas a "Dear John" letter, word comes that there has been a disaster on the mountain and that one of the men in her life has been killed in an avalanche. In the final scene, she sees a distant figure emerging from the snowy mountain landscape, staggering towards her and a group of rescuers. Is it her lover or her would-be lover? Either way, the result will affect her life in a dramatic way forever.
"Five Days One Summer" has been likened to the German "mountain romances" that were enormously popular in pre-WWII Germany. These films were known to have skimpy plots but magnificent scenery. If critics were kind to any aspect of the movie, it was Giussepe Rotunno's impressive cinematographer. Most reviewers wondered what it was about this modest story that appealed to Fred Zinnemann, who worked infrequently but generally made "important" movies. Despite the low-key nature of the scenario that unfolds on-screen, there is much to like about the film. The performances are first-rate with newcomers Brantley and Wilson making both faring well in their first major roles in a feature film. (Ironically, Wilson screen-tested for the role of James Bond in "Octopussy" when it seemed doubtful that Roger Moore would return to the 007 franchise.) Connery dominates the film, however, with an excellent performance playing a complex character who at times is sympathetic and at other times somewhat of a villain. He's all superficial charm but he cruelly risks destroying his niece's own life by using her as a bed mate. There's no doubt he loves her, but it's clear he isn't about to endanger his marriage to be closer to her. When she finally expresses her frustration and threatens to leave him for Johann, he reacts violently and slaps her. Equally complex is the character of Kate. We're left to speculate as to just why her obsession with Douglas has presumably led to the exclusion of any other men in her life. In this respect, the script is either lacking or intriguing, depending upon the views of individuals in the audience. The only easily definable character is that of Johann. He's a young man of simple means who has no interest in the world outside of the immediate domain in which he was raised. When he is smitten by Kate, his goal isn't to share her life experiences but rather, to incorporate her into his own world. In this respect, Kate's choices of lovers have one thing in common: they both want her to submit to their ideas about what is in her best interests. Douglas has clearly deluded himself into believing that his relationship with Kate is not harmful to her. Johann offers her a more independent, traditional life but still makes it clear that if she marries him, she would have to be content to live in a beautiful but remote mountain region. The end of the tale finds Kate finally exerting her own will and finding a determination to pursue her own destiny.
"Five Days One Summer" is barely remembered, let alone discussed, in evaluations of Sean Connery and Fred Zinnemann's careers. However that shouldn't negate its many merits. I liked the film far more today than I did upon its initial release. The Warner Archive has released the film on DVD. The transfer is a bit problematic. Some of the sequences in the lush mountain areas do justice to the magnificent cinematography but certain other scenes have excessive grain. Additionally, interiors are over-saturated to the point that characters who are seen in dimly lit rooms are sometimes reduced to shadowy blobs. The film is a prime candidate for a Blu-ray, remastered edition. The only bonus extra is the original trailer. It is a region-free release.
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McFarland has released a major book about the life and career of the brilliant but eccentric actor Klaus Kinski. Edited by Matthew Edwards, the book features essays that cover Kinski's work in indisputable classics as well as his appearances in "B" level cult movies.
Here is the official press release:
With more than 130 films and a career spanning four
decades, Klaus Kinski (1926-1991) was one of the most controversial actors of
his generation. Known for his wild tantrums on set and his legendary
collaborations with auteur Werner Herzog--Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu
the Vampyre (1979)--Kinski's intense performances made him the darling of
European arthouse and exploitation/horror cinema. A genius in front of the
camera, he was capable of lighting up the most risible films. Yet behind his
public persona lurked a depraved man who took his art to the darkest extremes.
This first ever collection of essays focusing on Kinski examines his work in
exploitation and art house films and spaghetti westerns, along with his
performances in such cult classics as Doctor Zhivago (1965), Crawlspace(1986), Venus
in Furs (1965), The Great Silence (1968), Android (1982)
and his only directorial credit, Paganini(1989). More than 50 reviews of
Kinski's films are included, along with exclusive interviews with filmmakers
and actors who worked with him.
Rowan & Littlefield Publishing has released a major biography of film director Henry Hathaway. The book, by Harold N. Pomainville, is chock full of fascinating insights into a director who never quite got the acclaim he deserved. The volume will be of special interest to Western fans, given the extensive coverage afforded Hathaway's North to Alaska, 5 Card Stud, Nevada Smith, How the West Was Won, The Sons of Katie Elder, Circus World, Legend of the Lost and John Wayne's Oscar-winning classic, True Grit. Hathaway, like his contemporaries John Ford and Howard Hawks, could be a gruff, no-nonsense character who demanded perfectionism from his cast and crew. While the films he made never quite reached Fordian or Hawksian levels of acclaim, they have stood the test of time. Author Harold N. Pomainville has provided an exhaustive and highly readable account of a master filmmaker. - Lee Pfeiffer
Here is the official press release:
For the casual film fan, Henry Hathaway is not a household
name. But in a career that spanned five decades, Hathaway directed an
impressive number of films and guided many actors and actresses to some their
most acclaimed performances. He also helped launch the Hollywood careers of
numerous actors such as Randolph Scott, Lee Marvin, Karl Malden, and Charles
Bronson. His work on Niagara established Marilyn Monroe as a major
star. Hathaway also guided John Wayne to his Academy Award-winning performance
in the original version of True Grit.
In Henry Hathaway: The Lives of a Hollywood Director, Harold N.
Pomainville looks at the life and work of this Hollywood maverick. The author
charts Hathaway’s career from his first low budget Western in the early 1930s
through his last film in 1974. In between, he focuses his attention of the
films that brought the director acclaim, including The Lives of Bengal
Lancer (1935)—for which Hathaway received an Oscar nomination—noir
thrillersThe House on 92nd Street and Kiss of Death, and his
documentary-like production of Call Northside 777 with Jimmy Stewart.
In this book, the author captures Hathaway’s extroverted personality and keen
intellect. He befriended some of the best known celebrities of his generation and
was known for his loyalty, generosity, and integrity. He was also notorious in
Hollywood for his powerful ego, explosive temper, and his dictatorial style on
the set. Henry Hathaway: The Lives of a Hollywood Director is a
must-read for anyone interested in the enduring work of this unheralded, but
no-less-noteworthy, master of American cinema.
Vinegar Syndrome has done it again. They’ve
unearthed another rare, almost forgotten 70s flick for our viewing pleasure and
I couldn’t be happier. This time it’s the wholly mistitled, but extremely
interesting 1972 whodunit, Night of the
Directed by Joy N. Houck, Jr. (Night of Bloody Horror, Creature from Black
Lake), Night of the Strangler begins
when a pregnant, young woman (Susan McCullough) returns home to New Orleans and
breaks the news to her racist brother, Dan (James Ralston from What’s Love Got to Do with It), that the
father of her child is black. Dan flips out, begins beating her and even
threatens to kill both her and her boyfriend before being stopped by younger
brother Vance (The Monkees’Mickey
Dolenz). Not long after, the sister’s boyfriend is killed by a sniper (Patrick
Wright from Revenge of the Cheerleaders).
This horrible act sets off a chain of gruesome murders that has homicide
lieutenant De Vivo (Michael Anthony) baffled. Can the clueless lawman find the
murderer before he kills again and again and again?
Although the title would have you believe
that you are about to watch a horror movie, Night
of the Strangler is more of a mystery thriller influenced by awful,
real-life events such as the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King; not
to mention the Vietnam War. The title makes no sense as there are no strangulations
in the entire film. There are shootings, stabbings, drowning; even death by
snakebite and poisonous arrows, but absolutely no strangling. So, is the movie
any good? I very much enjoyed it. Filmed in New Orleans, this well-done,
low-budget feature will definitely keep you guessing. I wouldn’t go so far as
to say that it’s a lost classic, but it’s a pretty engaging, solidly written and
directed movie with decent characterizations, which also benefits from some
wonderful performances. To begin with, Mickey Dolenz is terrific as the
understanding and peaceful younger brother. Dolenz comes off as extremely
likeable and even a little humorous in spots. Up next, James Ralston gives a
fun, over-the-top performance as the racist and almost sociopathic Dan. Ralston
gives it everything he’s got and he really makes you hate this character. Also,
Michael Anthony is pleasant and convincing in his role as Lt. De Vivo and
there’s a nicely balanced performance by Chuck Patterson (The Five Heartbeats) as a benevolent priest.
Night of the
been released on DVD (for the very first time) by Vinegar Syndrome. The disc is
region free and the movie is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
There are no special features. The film print itself (which has been scanned
and restored in 2K from The American Genre Film Archive’s 35mm theatrical
print) is mostly filled with excellent-looking, extremely clear images, but
does contain a few scratchy/grainy moments. This, however, does not detract
from the viewing experience one bit. As a matter of fact, it seems appropriate
being that this flick is really a nice piece of retro grindhouse cinema. If,
like me, you’re an obscure cinema enthusiast; especially from the 1970s, I
recommend taking a look at Night of the
Universal has released "Counterpoint", the 1967 film that Charlton Heston fans have long sought on DVD. The WWII drama requires a bit of historical context before getting into the main plot. By December 1944, the Third Reich was crumbling rapidly. Allied forces were on the doorstep of Germany itself and victory was assumed to be only a matter of weeks away. However, Adolf Hitler had an ace up his sleeve. On December 16 he unleashed a massive secret reserve of tank forces in a surprise attack on Americans in Belgium. The Yanks were caught completely off guard as Panzers raced toward their goal of recapturing the port city of Antwerp. Hitler knew that if he succeeded in taking possession of this strategic city he could prolong the war indefinitely. Because German forces had to move at a lightning pace before Americans could regroup, they were given grim orders from the high command to execute prisoners because they could not spare the resources to imprison and care for them. This resulted in the infamous Malmedy Massacre in which dozens of American POW's were shot dead by German troops. (Bill O'Reilly of Fox News is responsible for bungling history and causing outrage for claiming in 2006 on his TV show that it was helpless German troops who were slaughtered by Americans- a "fact" still believed by many who heard the segment.) What is true is that Americans retaliated with identical orders and there were instances of German who were shot dead after surrendering. Ultimately, Hitler's bold gamble, which became known as The Battle of the Bulge, failed. After strong initial success, due largely to the fact that the U.S. air corps was grounded due to poor weather, the tide turned. The weather improved and the Americans had mastery of the skies. They took a devastating toll on the Panzer corps, which itself was starved for fuel. Ultimately, the entire strategy was deemed one of the worst military blunders in history. Hitler had expended his last reserves that could have been used to defend Germany. Defeat followed and within six months, Hitler would commit suicide and his "Thousand Year Reich" would have lasted less than a decade.
It is against this intriguing backdrop that the plot of "Counterpoint" (which was filmed under the title "Battle Horns") takes place. The film opens immediately before the German counter-offensive. With victory in sight, complacent Americans feel comfortable inviting USO troupes into Belgium to entertain the G.Is. Among them is a world famous symphonic orchestra led by its larger-than-life conductor Lionel Evans (Charlton Heston). The maestro is conducting a concert in the ruins of bombed out palace when a sudden German bombardment throws everything into chaos. As American troops rush to gather arms, the 70 member orchestra attempts to flee in a bus. They are captured within minutes and taken to an ancient cathedral that serves as the command HQ of German General Schiller (Maximillian Schell). His second-in-command, Col. Arndt (Anton Diffring) has already been executing American prisoners and intends to do the same with the members of the orchestra, despite Evans' protests that they are civilians. Before the execution can take place, their lives are spared by Schiller, who has an appreciation for classical music and who admires Evans, having seen him conduct before the war. Schiller proposes a deal to Evans: he will spare everyone's life if he agrees to stage a private concert for Schiller. Evans, a headstrong, arrogant man, refuses. He suspects that Schiller will kill the musicians anyway and does not want to give him the satisfaction of having them perform for him. A battle of wills begins between two equally stubborn men. Complicating matters for Evans is the fact that two American soldiers are masquerading as members of the orchestra. Then there is the additional complication of Evans' relationship with cellist Anabelle Rice (Kathryn Hays). The two were once lovers but Annabelle left Evans to marry Victor Rice (Leslie Nielsen), who is Evans' assistant conductor. Evans is still carrying a torch for her and when the troupe is imprisoned in a dank basement within the cathedral, old tensions between the two arise once more. Schiller first tries to woo Evans by treating everyone humanely and ensuring they are comfortable and well-fed. However, he makes it clear that time is running out, as he must join forces at the front line. Ultimately, Evans relents due to pleas from his orchestra members who are on the verge of panic. However, he cautions that they will be killed as soon as the concert ends. He is correct, as Schiller has agreed to turn the orchestra over to Col. Arndt, who has already had a mass grave dug in anticipation of the executions. Evans buys as much time as possible by telling Schiller the troupe needs extensive rehearsals. During this period, he helps the two G.I.'s attempt to escape. He also secures access to a pistol and devises a plan in which the orchestra will resist their executioners and attempt to escape in the bus as soon as Schiller's concert has ended. They will be aided by a small group of Belgian partisans who will launch a diversionary attack.
"Counterpoint" represented only one in a list of films in which Charlton Heston played characters who were arrogant, conceited and often self-absorbed. (i.e "The War Lord", "Khartoum", "Planet of the Apes", "Number One", "The Hawaiians" ). As Evans he selfishly risks the lives of dozens of people rather than to lose face in his psychological war of wills with Schiller. Refreshingly, when the final shoot-out takes place, Evans doesn't transform into a typical Heston action hero and it's amusing to watch the future president of the NRA have to be coached in how to use a hand gun. The film was shot on the cheap, as so many Universal productions were during this era. Literally every frame was filmed on the studio back lot, but because of the claustrophobic nature of the script, the overall impact isn't diminished by the penny-pinching. Heston gives a powerful performance as one of the more flawed characters he has played and he is quite convincing in scenes in which he conducts the orchestra. He is matched by Maximillan Schell, who is all superficial charm and charisma. Kathryn Hays is quite good as the woman caught between two lovers and Leslie Nielsen reminds us that he was once a good dramatic actor before going the "Naked Gun" route late in his career. Ralph Nelson directs the intelligent screenplay and milks a good deal of tension from certain scenarios and an additional pleasure is hearing classical music played so brilliantly. "Counterpoint" may not be a classic but the offbeat nature of the story, combined with the talents of an inspired cast, make it a winner.
The Universal DVD is as bare bones as usual with nary a single bonus feature but the transfer is excellent.
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With so few quality roles afforded to actors of a certain age bracket, I looked forward to viewing "Grandma", the 2015 independent film that won very favorable reviews for Lily Tomlin in the title role. Indeed, Tomlin received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress and the film was named one of the ten best independent movies of the year by the prestigious National Board of Review. Thus, I approached the film, which was written and directed by Paul Weitz, with a positive attitude and optimistic expectations. That mood lasted about three minutes into the movie when we are introduced to Elle (Tomlin), an older but still very independent woman who was a firebrand in her day. She received a bit of fame for her provocative poetry but in recent decades hasn't written anything of merit. In fact, she hasn't written anything at all for the last four years. The first we see of Elle, she is cruelly breaking up her relationship with her decades-younger lesbian lover, Olivia (Judy Greer) and informs her to leave her keys to their apartment and get out. Elle doesn't say specifically when she is intent on breaking the younger woman's heart but when Olive reluctantly leaves, Elle breaks down crying. Did she act like a villain in order to do what she felt was best for Olive in the long run? Presumably so, but as we follow Elle around in the course of one long day, it becomes apparent that this off-the-wall counterculture type does indeed possess a mean temper that can flare up at a moment's notice and over the slightest perceived provocation. Elle gets plenty provoked, too, when her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) turns up on her doorstep to ask for $600 so she can get an abortion later that afternoon. She's too afraid to tell her own mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), a single mother who is a successful business executive with little time for anyone but her colleagues. We learn that Lily gave birth to Judy after becoming pregnant through a artificial insemination. Judy was raised by Elle and the love of her life, Vi, who now been dead for a number of years, a tragedy that Elle has never fully recovered from. One might think that the sight of her own granddaughter in desperate straits might solicit some sympathy from Elle, but instead she tosses out obscene insults to the young girl. But don't feel too sorry for Sage...she's got a foul mouth of her own. Thus, our introduction to the two main protagonists of the story is through a stream of vile obscenities and insults. I realized early on that I still had an entire movie to spend with these less-than-lovable characters. Indeed, things only go downhill from there...and fast.
Screenwriter Weitz practically twists himself into a pretzel to rationalize some very irrational behavior on the part of Elle and Sage. For starters, although Elle seems to be living comfortably in a fairy nice apartment, she informs Sage that her entire net worth is only about $40. The fact that a woman in her seventies who is living in L.A. would be worth only $40 is ludicrous to the point of distraction. The script provides an explanation: Elle was tired of being in debt for medical bills relating to Vi's care so she used every penny of savings to pay off that debt. Uh-huh. When Sage asks the obvious question- doesn't she have credit cards- Elle explains that she cut them up as a symbolic act and turned the shredded cards into a decorative piece of art. Uh-huh. Elle nevertheless agrees to assist her granddaughter in raising the required cash. They pile into her ancient, mechanically-challenged automobile and set off to visit Sage's boyfriend who promised to get the money for the abortion. They find him to be a self-centered, uncaring cynic. So Grandma does what grandmas do best- she slams the boyfriend in the crotch, causing him much pain and also inspiring this writer to once again make a plea to script writers: the "shot in the crotch" joke was funny just once. It was way back in 1969 when Paul Newman kicked Ted Cassidy where it hurts in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". Ever since then, it's been a cheap mechanism to get an even cheaper laugh. Please retire this tired device. Next stop on the Elle/Sage road trip to through Hell is a visit to a free clinic where destitute young women can get abortions. Sounds sensible. However, when they arrive at the location they discover the clinic has closed or moved and has been replaced by a boutique coffee shop. Neither Elle or Sage has enough smarts to take the obvious course of action: simply Google "women's clinics" on Sage's cell phone to find out where they alternately get the procedure done. Instead, they decide to patronize the coffee shop where Elle lets loose with a loud stream of obscenities. When the owner politely asks them to leave, Elle goes into a tirade of more obscenities. Presumably this is to further establish her anti-Establishment credentials and endear her to the audience. ("Hey, Granny's still got it!") The attempt fails, however, for the simple reason that no sane person would enjoy sitting in a coffee shop listening to some ex-hippie blather filthy language. Elle and Sage next visit one of Elle's friends who had expressed an interest in buying some presumably rare first edition books that Elle hopes will cover the cost of Sage's abortion. When the woman offers her only $50, Elle goes into another tirade of obscenities- despite the fact that Sage had researched the value of the books and informed her they were almost worthless.
The film goes into a new direction when, out of desperation, Elle decides to visit her ex-husband Karl (Sam Elliott) in the hopes of getting some cash. They haven't seen each other in many years and since they've been divorced Sam has been through several marriages. At first their reunion is civil but when Karl agrees to give the money, there is a caveat: he wants some fast sex. Elle refuses and a Pandora's Box of old resentments spills out into the open, with Karl still angry that his wife turned out to be unfaithful- and a lesbian, to boot. Elle finally shames him into parting with the money but when he learns it's for an abortion, he relents on moral grounds, which in the eyes of screenwriter Weitz immediately makes him a villainous character. (Even if you're politically and socially liberal, the heavy-handed propaganda messages contained in the script will probably make you roll your eyes.) Ultimately, Elle and Sage reluctantly visit Sage's mother Judy at her place of business. It's a sterile environment and we see that, as an executive, she has the reputation of a female Captain Bligh. She and Elle have been estranged for quite some time and Judy is non-too-happy to learn her daughter needs an abortion. Like Elle and Sage, Judy peppers her sentences with obscenities, thus indicating that the acorns don't fall far from the tree in this family. Ultimately, everyone ends up at the abortion clinic but not before screenwriter Weitz can insert another political dig: Elle encounters a young mother and her adorable looking little daughter outside the clinic where the mom is protesting abortions. When Elle tries to make nice with the little girl, she receives a black eye. It might strike one as being tasteless to use a small child to make a political statement but everyone in Grandma is vile and vulgar, so why should the toddlers be any different? In the last fifteen minutes or so, the problems are resolved and Elle makes up with Olivia. It's the only section of the film in which the characters are given anything close to admirable human emotions but it's too little too late.
Grandma is an offensive film and I say that as someone who routinely reviews vintage X-rated fare for this web site. The difference is that outright pornography isn't pretentious but Grandma certainly is. Paul Weitz can be commended for inspiring his actors to give excellent performances but the value of the production pretty much ends there. I have never met anyone like the people in this film and if I did, I certainly wouldn't want to be in their company for one minute longer than I had to. Why, then, would a viewer want to spend the running time of this film (a mercifully brief 79 minutes) digesting a barrage of filthy language spouted by unsympathetic characters? Even Sage, a young girl facing a great trauma, comes across as a vile ingrate, making demands more than asking for help. Lily Tomlin still has what it takes to carry a film. To her credit, she doesn't "glam" up her character but still has plenty of charisma. She's a consummate actress and her performance here is admirable. It's just a pity that its contained within a miserable movie about miserable people who treat each other in a miserable fashion.
The Sony Blu-ray contains an audio commentary track with the principals, a cookie-cutter "making of" featurette in which everyone extols the virtues of the people they worked with, a Q&A video from a screening of the film with Tomlin and Elliot and an original trailer.
The year was 1970 and John Wayne was riding tall in the
saddle- both on screen and off. The Duke had recently been awarded his only
Oscar, winning the prestigious honor for his triumphant performance in the 1969
film adaptation of the best-selling novel "True Grit". His first move following
his Oscar win was “Chisum”, a dramatic and exciting Western based on
the Lincoln County Cattle War of 1878 in New Mexico in the days before the territory
gained statehood. Wayne plays the titular character, a legendary cattleman who built an empire that stretched for many miles and employed a significant number of the local population. Chisum was the "big dog" in New Mexico but his power was threatened when businessman Lawrence Murphy began encroaching on his business interests. Ironically the trouble started, not over cattle, but over the control of dry goods. Murphy and his partner James Dolan had a government contract that allowed them a virtual monopoly on selling goods and beef in the area. When a rival general store opened, Chisum backed it and set in motion the events that led to the five-day war which escalated after Chisum found out that Murphy had been responsible for the theft of some of his cattle. The events are played out in "Chisum" and they include some larger-than-life characters including Billy the Kid (Geoffrey Deuel) and Pat Garrett (Glenn Corbett), who were on friendly terms when they worked for Chisum. Years later, Garrett would be the lawman who hunted down and killed Billy. Although there is a good deal of artistic license taken in terms of historical events, screenwriter Andrew J. Fenady has most of the basic facts straight- and why not? The real-life drama was every bit as compelling as any work of fiction.
Wayne wanted a strong film for his Oscar follow-up and "Chisum" fit the bill. It reunited him with frequent collaborator, director Andrew V. McLaglen and included a stock company of actors who were old personal friends including Bruce Cabot, John Agar, Ben Johnson, Ron Soble, Christopher George and Ed Faulkner. It also marked a reunion of sorts for Wayne with his co-stars from the 1949 film "Sands of Iwo Jima" which included Agar, Forrest Tucker and Richard Jaeckel. Wayne also gave small roles to Christopher and John Mitchum, the son and brother of his old pal Robert Mitchum. The film is exceptionally well cast with Tucker in especially fine form as Lawrence Murphy. It took an actor with considerable screen presence to stand up to John Wayne and seem credible and Tucker fits the bill perfectly. Their antagonism starts out as personal insults but as Murphy buys off the local sheriff, William Brady (Bruce Cabot) and orchestrates the killing of competitor Henry Tunstall (Patric Knowles), events escalate rapidly. Billy the Kid takes matters into his own hands and murders Sheriff Brady in revenge for the killing of Tunstall, who was a father figure to him. Tensions rise and the film climaxes with a terrific sequence that starts as a massive shoot-out in a general store and finishes up with Chisum personally leading a stampede of cattle down the main street and engaging in a knock-down fist fight to the death with Murphy.
"Chisum" is intelligently scripted and represents one of the finest accomplishments of both Wayne and Andrew V. McLaglen. Shot in Mexico, it also features superb cinematography by the legendary William Clothier, who bookends the film with dramatic images of Chisum sitting astride his horse, enjoying a size-appropriate cigar while proudly overlooking his massive spread of land from atop a hill. Wayne is outstandingly good in one of his finest screen performances but the supporting cast is also excellent with nary a weak note. There are so many interesting characters and historical facts involved in the story that you wish there was another half hour of running time to do justice to the events depicted. Among the film’s fans was President Richard Nixon who said that, while he didn’t see many movies, he very much enjoyed “Chisum” very much and thought that Wayne was a “fine actor”. He went on to give an extended "review" of the film and said that it represented how law and order is the backbone of American democracy and nowhere is that depicted better than in the Western film. The movie enjoyed strong reviews and was a major hit for Warner Brothers.
Warner Home Entertainment has released a special edition of "Chisum" on Blu-ray and the transfer is gorgeous. The extra bonus features from the DVD edition have been ported over including a commentary track from director McLaglen who provides fascinating first-hand accounts about the making of the movie (though he does erroneously state this was his third collaboration with Wayne. In fact it was his fourth following "McLintock!", "Hellfighters" and "The Undefeated".) The Blu-ray also features an excellent vintage "making of" documentary that puts the film into historical perspective. There is also an original trailer. In all, an impressive Blu-ray release of one of the best Westerns of its era.
American ex-Presidents occupy a unique place in society. They represent the smallest, most elite club on earth. Each of the living ex-Presidents has known the bizarre ritual that results from transforming from the most powerful person on earth to someone with absolutely no legal powers in the amount of time it takes the new President to swear to the oath of allegiance. An incumbent President in a deeply divided nation can consider themselves to be successful if poll numbers show they left office with an approval rate of the mid-40s or higher. However, the best way a President can make poll ratings soar is to simply leave office. Traditionally the American people, and the world at large, views ex-Presidents from a saner, more nuanced viewpoint and inevitably their reputations improve with time, largely because they are mostly seen doing good deeds and raising money for charities. The ex-Presidents club has also seen some unexpected friendships develop due to the fact that only someone who has served in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Oval Office can possibly relate to what his peers have gone through. Thus we saw President George H.W. Bush form a close bond with President Bill Clinton despite the fact that it was Clinton who deprived Bush of a second term. Word has it that the two men have almost a father/son relationship. Consequently, Clinton and President George W. Bush are said to enjoy a very cordial relationship. When Clinton was in office he served as the unlikely vessel that afforded President Richard M. Nixon a degree of public redemption by calling upon him for advice relating to foreign policy. President Gerald Ford also formed a very close friendship with the man who defeated him, President Jimmy Carter. The two traveled the lecture circuit in a quixotic attempt to convince Americans not to demonize people simply because they disagreed with their political beliefs. Yes, we tend to love our Presidents- as long as there is an "Ex" prefix before that designation. However, it's doubtful many would love ex-Presidents Russell P. Kramer and Matt Douglas, the protagonists of the 1996 political comedy "My Fellow Americans". Directed and co-written by Peter Segal, the film takes a promising premise that ends up being more fun in theory than it is in execution.
The film opens with Kramer (Jack Lemmon) and his successor-in-office Douglas (James Garner) being summoned to the White House to participate in an event to be presided over by incumbent President Haney (Dan Aykroyd). Neither man wants to be there, as they both detest Haney (who was Kramer's Vice-President)- but not more than they detest each other. En route to the conference, they insult each other constantly using language that would embarrass a Marine drill instructor. Both of the men have their annoying eccentricities. Douglas is a skirt-chasing womanizer (remember Bill Clinton was in office when the film was released) and Kramer is a penny-pinching tightwad who tarnishes his reputation by whoring himself for big bucks by making a speech a in front of Japanese executives (President Ronald Reagan had been lambasted for doing the same thing when he left the White House.) When they arrive at their destination, the real plot device kicks in. Turns out Haney is corrupt and details of a kickback scheme with a defense contractor are about to be unraveled by a snooping reporter. Haney and his equally corrupt staff get to work to concoct a scheme whereby Kramer will be framed as the real culprit and Douglas will be the top suspect in the murder of the defense contractor. Things go awry, however, when Kramer and Douglas manage to escape and go on the lam. They nearly die in a helicopter crash before being stranded in rural America with sinister "Men in Black" types hunting them down. Almost penniless and virtually helpless without their servants and security force, the two men become like a pensioner political version of Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones". They need each other to survive but can barely tolerate the other man's presence. The scenario is wide open for some great possibilities but director and co-writer Segal can't quite capitalize on the opportunities. Given the fact that the entire story premise is absurd, Segal manages to ratchet up even more absurdities until the film feels enough like a comic book that I expected the Marvel name to appear in the credits. By foot and car, the Presidents wander through the American heartland like modern Woody Guthries. Along the way they encounter an Elvis Presley impersonator, a former sexual conquest of Douglas (who doesn't believe it's really him), endless chases by Haney's Gestapo-like assassins and high speed car chases. They predictably learn a life lesson about the nobility of everyday Americans and the struggles they endure. The whole improbable mess comes to a climax back at the White House where, for reasons far too laborious to relate here, the ex-Presidents end up being chased on horseback in an attempt to reveal the truth about Haney, who is in the process of honoring members of the Dutch Resistance (!)
"My Fellow Americans" does have some pleasurable aspects and moments. Lemmon excels in playing "Odd Couple"- like scenarios largely because he starred in the film version of "The Odd Couple". The film would have been more enjoyable if he had his usual co-star Walter Matthau with him but it is fun to see Lemmon and Garner square off against each other. There are also a few funny one-liners and modestly amusing scenarios including a surprising revelation at the end but Peter Segal's leaden direction ensures that no scene lives up to its potential. There are a number of good character actors in supporting roles ranging from Lauren Bacall (largely wasted), Wilford Brimley and, most amusingly, John Heard as Haney's handsome but dumb-as-an-ox VP (a not-so-subtle jibe at the legacy of Dan Quayle in the days before Sarah Palin would emerge to take the mantle.) One of the problems with the script is that it is so intent on not offending anyone's political sensibilities that the obsession with being "middle of the road" becomes annoying and pretentious. Thus, there is no bite to the jokes. For every knock against the GOP there is an equivalent knock against the Democrats. For example, in one scene the hitch-hiking ex Presidents are picked up by a destitute family who live in their car. We make sure we learn how both parties adversely affected their lives. The point of the scene is to show the Presidents humbled by these simple but honest people, but the film presents these noble characters as kind hearted idiots who believe Mount Rushmore is a natural rock formation. As I've written before, Hollywood screenwriters always believe that if they want to show an honest patriot, it has to be in the guise of a Gomer Pyle-type, unsophisticated idiot from rural America. It's the ultimate back-handed compliment. The other cliche readily apparent in the script is that all the dapper, educated and sophisticated characters tend to be crooks, schemers and murderers. Isn't just possible that a "real American" can also be sophisticated, patriotic and educated? Such are the predictable aspects of this lumbering comedy. I will say that the film is quite interesting in an unintentional way. Although released only twenty years ago, it's shocking to see how primitive technology was. No one seems to have a personal computer and there isn't a single cell phone seen anywhere, illustrating just how rapidly these devices came about and changed people's lives.
"My Fellow Americans" isn't some disaster and one hates to be a Grumpy Old Man about any film featuring Jack Lemmon and James Garner (who gets to replicate his jump from a speeding train from "The Great Escape" in this film). It certainly has some moments that afford minor laughs but the movie would have been better off delving completely into the Theatre of the Absurd in the manner of the "Naked Gun" and "Airplane" movies.
The Warner Archive has released the film in widescreen format for the first time. Previously, it was only available in pan-and-scan. Extras include the original trailer and a mildly amusing selection of bloopers that mostly focus on Lemmon cracking up on the set.
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Some actresses' performances can be much admired while others you virtually devour. I devour any performance by Bette Davis, who often elevated even middling films to something akin to high art. Such a case is evident in her cult classic Dead Ringer, a 1964 thriller that allowed Davis to give a tour de force performance in a dual role. The film itself has a hokey concept, that of two estranged identical twin sisters who are reunited with deadly consequences. Yet, Davis' former leading man and Now, Voyager co-star Paul Henreid directs this otherwise minor screen effort with great style, affording Davis one of her best late career performances. As Edith, Davis is seen as a down-and-out owner of a skid row bar who is facing financial ruin. She is reunited with her rich sister Margaret at the funeral of Margaret's husband. The two have not been on speaking terms ever since the self-absorbed Margaret stole Edith's rich lover and seduced him into marrying her. Invited to Margaret's mansion, the sister's bitter rivalry gains new momentum. Edith ultimately concocts an audacious scheme whereby she will murder Margaret and then switch identities with her, in the process masking the slaying as a suicide. As absurd as the premise may sound, director Henreid and Davis bring enough gravitas and tension to these scenes that the plot plays out quite credibly. Predictably, Edith - now posing as Margaret- encounters a minefield of challenging situations. Although she looks and sounds exactly like her deceased sister, the two women had vastly different personalities and habits. Part of the fun is watching Edith having to constantly improvise to escape exposure by suspicious housekeepers, servants and old friends of Margaret. The boiling point comes when she is "reunited" with Tony (Peter Lawford), an ambitious social climber who had been Margaret's lover and boy toy. Tony is anxious to resume their love affair. Edith/Margaret is clearly delighted to inherit her sister's handsome lover, but soon realizes that she can only bluff so far before being found out. Adding to her woes is the investigation led by her own former boyfriend, a police detective (Karl Malden) who is the antithesis of Tony: he sincerely loved Edith and wanted to marry her. The irony, of course, is that his investigation of the suicide has him in constant contact with Edith, though he believes he is dealing with Margaret.
Dead Ringer is consistently entertaining throughout and the glorious black and white cinematography and Andre Previn's Bernard Herrmann-like score only add to the pleasure of watching this quaint thriller unfold. The performances are all excellent but no one can hope to match the site of Bette Davis slapping around Bette Davis. The Warner Home Video Blu-ray release of the film features a new featurette about the making of the movie and interview with film historian Boz Hadleigh, who also provides a commentary track along with Charles Busch. Hadleigh provides some great anecdotes about the film and gives the movie and its participants the respect they deserve. There is also a vintage production short about the mansion house where much of the movie was shot. It's quite interesting to see rare behind the scenes footage of Henreid at work with cast and crew.
The movie is a grand showcase for one of Hollywood's most legendary actresses- and the Blu-ray presents Ms. Davis at her very best.
Freddie Francis had a long and prosperous career in the cinema, learning many areas of filmmaking by cutting his teeth as a stills photographer, clapper boy, camera loader and focus puller; he also worked on training films while in the army.Garnering enough experience led him to become a camera operator on films as diverse as The Tales of Hoffman (a favorite of George Romero’s and Martin Scorsese’s), Twice Upon a Time, and Beat the Devil.He also worked as a cinematographer on The Innocents, Night Must Fall, The Elephant Man, and Dune, while scoring two Oscars for shooting Sons and Lovers and Glory.In the midst of this, he managed to find time to direct more than his share of thrillers in the 1960’s and 1970’s, chief among them The Brain, Paranoiac, Nightmare, The Evil of Frankenstein, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Skull, Trog, Tales from the Crypt, and The Creeping Flesh.Most genre fans grew up seeing these films on late-night television or on weekend broadcasts, and they all have appeared on home video in a variety of different formats.
One of Mr. Francis’ most elusive titles is the bizarre, black comedy Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly, released Stateside simply as Girly in 1970.Now available on an all-region NTSC DVD by the fine Scorpion Releasing, which has also brought us Sweet William, Cheerleaders Wild Weekend, Say Hello to Yesterday, and The Last Grenade to name a few, Girly, Based upon Maisie Mosco’s stage play Happy Family, is an obscure and fairly macabre tale of a brother and sister (Howard Trevor and Vanessa Howard) who suffer from a form of arrested development at the hands of their crazed mother (Ursula Howells) and equally batty nanny (Pat Heywood) who treat the twenty-somethings as if they were still toddlers.Mumsy and Nanny refer to Sonny and Girly (who both wear school uniforms that they clearly are too old to be wearing) as their "darling loves" and smother them with creepy affection.They play in schoolyards and zoos, looking for “new friends” and rope them into their staged games by kidnapping them and taking them back to their enormous house (in reality the Oakley Court Hotel in Windsor, England) to incorporate them into their day for fun.Among these “new friends” are men they refer to as “soldier” and “number five” who are both held prisoner.An unfortunate couple (Michael Bryant and Imogen Hassall) is fooled by their childish charms and the woman meets her untimely demise through an “accident” that Girly blames on the man. The poor guy ends up at their house with his girlfriend’s body dumped in a chest.In order to stay alive, he’s forced to be polite and made to ask, “Please may I have some bread, Mumsy?” and “Please, may I be excused?” prior to using the water closet which is outfitted with an artificial toilet that houses a jack-in-the-box.Any attempt to flee the premises is met with stern warnings of being “sent to the angels” should such further actions occur. Michael Haneke more than likely took a cue from this film when he made both versions of his film Funny Games which were far more gruesome and tragic.
MGM has released the 1969 film The File of the Golden Goose on DVD. Yul Brynner top-lines the crime thriller that plays more like an espionage movie. Brynner portrays American Treasury agent Peter Novak, who is sent to London to infiltrate and bust a major ring that specializes in spreading counterfeit U.S. currency. Novak is assigned a young Scotland Yard detective, Arthur Thompson (a very effective Edward Woodward) and the two men enact a scenario where they are ultimately taken in as part of the gang by mobster front man George Leeds (always-reliable character actor Walter Gotell). The film is unremarkable on most levels, but the script is intelligently written and there is some genuine suspense when Novak begins to suspect that Thompson is adapting to the mobster lifestyle for real. Brynner makes for one of the most inimitable leading men of his era, constantly bringing a sense of dignity and gravitas to what otherwise might be considered to be a B movie. There is also a very wry performance by Charles Gray, playing an out-of-the-closet queen who dabbles in counterfeit bills in between hosting orgies. The film was helmed by actor/director Sam Wanamaker, who makes the most of the extensive London locations. However, the movie's climactic shootout sequence involving a helicopter is a bit of a dud and suffers from poor editing. Nevertheless, any Brynner film deserves attention and The File of the Golden Goose is a more than satisfying thriller.
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Warner Brothers dug deep into their vaults to compile
this nostalgic and electrifying collection of vintage musical shorts featuring
some of the greatest names in entertainment history. The short films in this
six-disc set feature performances and appearances by Eddy Duchin, Harry Reser
and His Eskimos, Jimmy Dorsey, Ozzie Nelson, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, and
others, plus "Ramblin' Round Radio Row" films from 1932-35, and much
more. 11 hrs. total. Standard; Soundtrack: English.
(This is a region-free DVD release)
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Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Aug. 1, 2016 — For
Immediate Release — The Golden Age of Musicals features 17
fabulous, classic films from the genre’s peak era, spanning two
decades from 1937 to 1957, in a five-disc DVD collector’s set, available
Aug. 9 from Film Chest Media Group.
The emergence of sound technology sparked a natural expansion,
taking the musical genre from the stage to the big screen. Multiple camera
angles, the ability to shoot at various locations and the use of lavish
background scenery that would be impractical in a theater allowed filmed
productions to outshine live performances.
Interest in musicals increased dramatically in the
mid-1930s when director Busby Berkeley (Take Me Out to the Ball
Game, The Gang’s All Here, For Me and My Gal) began to enhance
traditional dance routines with his unique style. His creative numbers
would typically begin on stage, then gradually transcend
the limitations of theatrical space by filming from above, capturing
dancers forming kaleidoscope-esque patterns.
As the motion picture industry grew with the development
of special effects, increased quality of film technology and the introduction
of color, the musical genre experienced sustained popularity for decades.
The Golden Age of Musicals boasts more than 25
hours of song, dance and comedy that will dazzle and entertain, from slapstick
to romance to over-the-top opulence. Featuring the best films and biggest stars
of the era, including Fred Astaire in Second Chorus, Danny
Kaye in The Inspector General, Bing Crosby and Bob
Hope in Road to Bali, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in At
War With the Army, Judy Garland in Till the Clouds Roll By and many more, The
Golden Age of Musicals is a must-have collector’s set for fans
new and old!
The Golden Age of Musicals is presented in full screen with
an aspect ratio of 4 x 3 and original sound.
In his review of "Jack of Diamonds", New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther dismissed it as "strictly low-grade "Topkapi". He only missed the mark in one respect: I would argue that it is more low-grade "To Catch a Thief". The 1967 crime caper stars George Hamilton as handsome and inanimate as a mannequin found in the window of a posh 5th Avenue department store. At least no one can ever accuse him of putting the "ham" in "Hamilton". Hamilton plays Jeff Hill, the world's most notorious cat burglar. When we first see him, he's using a rope and pulley to enter the penthouse apartment of Zsa Zsa Gabor (!), who plays herself. While old Zsa is sleeping, Hill manages to abscond with her valuable jewels- but, ever the gentleman, he leaves her a message telling her how much he enjoys her films (which means Hill has immaculate taste in jewels but not-so-great taste when it comes to the cinema.) Ms. Gabor is one of several real-life celebs who play themselves in the film. The others are Carroll Baker and Lili Palmer, each of who are victimized by the elegant, gentlemanly thief. The cameos are a pretty transparent gimmick to add a little more glamour to the production, which was produced by a West German film company and released theatrically in the USA by MGM.
Hill lives a Hefner-like lifestyle in a lavish mansion replete with all the trappings including a gymnasium complete with a trapeze which he uses to stay in shape so he can utilize his signature style of entering high buildings using the tactics of a human fly. We soon learn he has a mentor who goes by the name of "Ace" (Joseph Cotten), as he was once the world's greatest jewel thief and was known as "The Ace of Diamonds". He still acts as a wise sage for Hill, advising him on the dos and don'ts of certain potential capers. Hill soon finds that he has a competitor for some of the same jewels. Turns out it is a female cat burglar, Olga (Marie Laforet), who has her own mentor, Nicolai (Maurice Evans), a dapper dandy who also was once a famed jewel thief. Nicolai has concocted a plan for the ultimate theft and wants Olga and Hill to join forces to carry it out with he and Ace acting as advisers. This gives Hill plenty of time to make time with his new sexy partner but there is virtually no chemistry between Hamilton and Laforet, partly because her character is largely window dressing and is not fleshed out in the slightest in terms of being given a background. Nicolai's plan requires stealing some famed jewels from a seemingly impenetrable museum but just to learn their precise location it will require the cat burglars to break into a safe located in the headquarters of the Paris police. Achieving this daring goal, the foursome then turn to the main event: the robbery of the jewels. They are racing against time against an international police organization (presumably based on INTERPOL) that is doggedly trying to track them down and stop future robberies. The organization's point man is Von Schenk (Wolfgang Preiss), a charismatic German who pursues them with the zeal of Inspector Javert.
"Jack of Diamonds" is yet another film from the Sixties that looked anemic in its day but probably plays better now. The film tries to present some glamorous European locales but much of it is achieved through the over-used stock footage that MGM had in its vaults at the time. (A scene supposedly shot atop the Pan Am building in New York features what may be the worst rear screen projection effect I've ever seen.) Still, the offbeat feel of the film is somewhat enjoyable and the script allows a Bondian air in which the pursuer and the pursued match wits while enjoying each other's company and sharing fine cigars. George Hamilton makes for a strikingly handsome leading man even if he's a bit short in the charisma department. The real fun is watching old pros Cotten, Evans and Preiss trade barbs and witticisms. It's the kind of dialogue that is rare in contemporary thrillers. The caper aspects of the production are carried out adequately by director (and former actor) Don Taylor and if the entire enterprise stacks up as "Hitchcock Lite", it's an enjoyable romp throughout with nary a dull moment and a bizarre but infectious score by Bob Harris and Peter Thomas (bizarre because it is the only time you will ever seen a filmed ski chase that combines jazz music and yodeling.)
The Warner Archive has released the film as a region-free DVD title. There are some inconsistencies with the color quality but overall it's an acceptable print, though I suspect it may not be presented in its original aspect ratio. This version seems to be matted but I could be wrong. The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer.
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In the estimation of many film scholars the 1970s was the most adventurous and liberating period in the history of the medium. The new freedoms in regard to sex, violence and adult themes that had exploded in the mid-1960s became even more pronounced in the '70s. Among the most daring studios to take advantage of this trend was United Artists. The studio had been conceived by iconic actors in the silent era with the intent of affording artists as much creative control over their productions as possible. UA had continued to fulfill that promise, producing a jaw-dropping number of box-office hits and successful film franchises. The studio also disdained censorship and pushed the envelope with high profile movie productions. The daring decision to fund the X-rated "Midnight Cowboy" paid off handsomely. The 1969 production had not only been a commercial success but also won the Best Picture Oscar. A few years later UA went even further out on a limb by distributing "Last Tango in Paris". The studio fully capitalized on the worldwide sensation the movie had made and the many attempts to restrict it from being shown at all in certain areas of the globe. Like "Midnight Cowboy", "Tango" was an important film by an important director that used graphic images of sexual activity for dramatic intensity. Unfortunately, not every filmmaker who was inspired by these new freedoms succeeded in the attempt to mainstream X-rated fare during those years that the rating wasn't only synonymous with low-budget porno productions. Case in point: screenwriter John Byrum, who made his directorial debut with "Inserts", a bizarre film that UA released in 1975 that became a legendary bomb. The movie has been released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time as a limited edition (3,000 units).
The claustrophobic tale resembles a filmed stage production. It is set primarily in one large living room in a decaying Hollywood mansion. The time period is the 1930s, shortly after the introduction of sound to the movie industry resulted in the collapse of silent pictures (Charlie Chaplin being the notable exception.) The central character, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is not named but is referred to as "The Boy Wonder". From our first glimpse of him we know we are seeing a man in trouble. He is unkempt, dressed in a bathrobe and swizzling booze directly from the bottle. We will soon learn that he was once a respected mainstream director of major studio films and was revered by Hollywood royalty. Now he is a has-been who has resorted to making porn movies in 16mm in his own home. (Yes, Virginia, people liked to watch dirty movies even way back then.) He is entertaining a visitor, Harlene (Veronica Cartwright), a perpetually cheery, bubble-headed young woman who was once a respected actress but who, like Boy Wonder, has fallen on hard times. She is now a heroin addict who earns a living by "starring" in Boy Wonder's porn productions. They make small talk and some names from the current movie business are bandied about. Harlene tells Boy Wonder that a rising star named Clark Gable is said to be an admirer of his and wants to meet him. Instead of responding favorably to this news, Boy Wonder seems unnerved by it. The implication is that he is locked in a self-imposed downward spiral and lacks the self-confidence to attempt a real comeback. Harlene also needles him about his sexual prowess. It turns out that the king of porn films has long been impotent for reasons never explained. As they prepare to film some scenes Harlene's male "co-star" (Stephen Davies) arrives. He is nicknamed Rex, The Wonder Dog, which seems to bother him especially when the Wonder Boy uses it to intentionally disparage him. Like Harlene, Rex is short on brains but is physically attractive. Boy Wonder seems to have a real resentment towards him, perhaps because Rex is a powerhouse in bed while he can't get anything going despite directing naked people in sex scenes. It becomes clear that if Boy Wonder and Rex don't like each other. Boy Wonder ridicules Rex for performing sex acts on male studio executives who he naively believes will help him become a star. However, their relationship looks downright friendly compared to the interaction between Harlene and Rex. When Rex is a little slow in becoming physically aroused, Harlene mocks him mercilessly. This results in him essentially subjecting her to a violent rape which thrills Boy Wonder, who captures it all on film. Harlene doesn't appear to be any worse for the wear, however, and blithely says she's going off to a bedroom to rest.
The household is next visited by mobster Big Mac (Bob Hoskins), the man who finances Boy Wonder's film productions. He is accompanied by his financee Cathy Cake (Jessica Harper), a pretty young woman who seems to have a particular interest in the forbidden world of pornography. Big Mac and Boy Wonder also hate each other. Big Mac berates Boy Wonder for making his porn flicks too esoteric and artistic for their intended audiences who just want a cheap thrill. However, for Boy Wonder the porn films represent the last opportunity he has to demonstrate the cinematic style and camera angles that once impressed critics and the public. In the midst of their arguing, it is discovered that a tragedy has occurred: Harlene has died from a heroin overdose. Everyone seems nonplussed by the news and Big Mac's only concern is to ditch the body somewhere quickly. Turns out Rex has a part time job in a funeral parlor and can arrange for a gruesome plan in which they dump her body inside a grave that is being prepared for another person's funeral the next day. The plan is to dig a bit deeper, bury Harlene, then place a layer of dirt over her and have the "new" body placed on top of hers. As Big Mac and Rex leave to "undertake" this sordid task, Boy Wonder finds himself alone with Cathy Cake. She wants to use the time to have Boy Wonder film her in her own personal porn movie since Big Mac would never let his "fiancee" do so with his knowledge. She finds the idea of sex on film to be a stimulant but Boy Wonder won't have any of it. He knows that Big Mac's volatile temper and ever present bodyguard could result in him being the next corpse in the house. Cathy Cake tries another tactic and feigns interest in Boy Wonder. He lets his guard down and gradually is seduced by her. She even manages to cure his impotence but the tryst turns ugly when she learns he has not filmed it. Boy Wonder soon discovers that his renewed pride and self-respect is to be short-lived when it becomes clear that Cathy Cake actually loathes him and was only using him in order to fulfill her porn movie fantasy. The ploy works to a degree- her attention to Boy Wonder reawakens his sexual prowess but when she learns the camera wasn't rolling, she cruelly tells him that she only used him for selfish purposes. With this, Big Mac and Rex return from their horrendous errand and catch Boy Wonder in bed with Cathy Cake. The situation becomes dangerous with Big Mac threatening to kill Boy Wonder and things only deteriorate from there.
According to the informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo that accompany the Blu-ray, Richard Dreyfuss seemed to have a personal obsession with this film. He was very involved in all aspects of its production and remained defensive about the movie after its harsh reception from critics. The movie's complete rejection by reviewers and the public might have hurt his career but Dreyfuss already had "American Graffiti" and "Jaws" under his belt. Soon he would also star in another blockbuster, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" followed by his Oscar-winning performance in "The Goodbye Girl". The fact that so few people ever saw "Interiors" actually worked to his advantage. However, whatever motivated him to become involved in this bizarre project remains a mystery. It's an ugly tale about ugly people doing ugly things to each other. If there is a message here, I didn't receive it. There isn't a single character you can identify with or sympathize with. They are all self-obsessed cynics with no redeeming traits. That leaves us with whatever values the performances afford us and it's a mixed bag. Dreyfuss is miscast. He was twenty nine years-old when he made the film and, despite his sordid appearance which ages him considerably, he is still far too young to portray a once-great movie director who has fallen on hard times. John Byrum's direction of Dreyfuss is unsteady. At times he encourages him to underplay scenes while at other times he has Dreyfuss chew the scenery mercilessly. Similarly, Stephen Davies plays the brain-dead hunk Rex with flamboyantly gay characteristics one minute then suddenly transforms into a heterosexual stud the next. Bob Hoskins in what would become his trademark tough-guy gangster mode but gives a solid performance. The best acting comes from the two female leads with Veronica Cartwright especially good as the ill-fated Harlene. Jessica Harper also does well in her thankless role. Both women seem at ease in doffing their clothes and playing much of their scenes in a provocative state. Cartwright even goes full frontal for the violent sex scene with Rex while Harper spends almost the entire last act of the film being photographed topless. Curiously, the willingness to appear nude onscreen was considered the epitome of female emancipation in films during the 1970s but the practice has largely become frowned upon in more recent years. In fact the days are long gone when virtually every major actress had to appear naked on screen. Today, female emancipation is the ability to play erotic scenes on screen without having to be completely compromised.
A while back I caught a film I vaguely remember having come and gone upon its initial release in 1974, a crime thriller titled The Destructors (aka The Marseilles Contract). The film flopped when it opened but I felt it had to have some value given the leading roles were played by Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn and James Mason. I was pleasantly surprised to find this to be a first-class action movie. The plot finds Quinn as the head of the American Drug Enforcement Agency in Paris. He's obsessed with bringing crime lord James Mason to justice but is hampered by red tape. When Quinn narrowly escapes an assassination attempt by Mason's thugs (in a very exciting and creatively staged sequence set in a Paris railroad station), he decides to take matters into his own hands. Quinn hires old friend Michael Caine, of late a charming hit man, to "off" Mason before another attempt can be made on his own life. Caine uses his charm to seduce Mason's sexpot, jet-setting daughter (Alexandra Stewart) in order to win the confidence of her father. Before long, Caine is an indispensable employee of Mason's and willingly peforms "hits" for him in order to boost his credibility. The plot takes plenty of twists and turns with unexpected developments and double crosses occurring on a regular basis as the three principals play cat-and-mouse games with each other. Director Robert Parrish keeps the action flowing and stages some exciting chase sequences. One, arranged by the famed Remy Julien, was obviously the direct influence for the opening car chase in the James Bond movie GoldenEye. In this film, Caine introduces himself to Stewart by challenging her to a high-risk car chase in the hills of the French countryside. The two cars become obvious phallic substitutes in a high speed mating dance. Sound familiar? In GoldenEye, the scene is repeated almost verbatim with Pierce Brosnan and Famke Janssen in the hills above Monte Carlo. (Not coincidentally, this scene was also staged by Julien, so he can't be accused of ripping off anyone's work but his own.) The film has some terrific locations, with primary action filmed in and around Paris and Marseille. In fact, even the interiors appear to shot in actual locations - there is nary a studio shot to be found.
The real joy of watching The Destructors (unfortunately, the title sounds like a Marvel comic), which ably directed by Robert Parrish, is the chemistry between Quinn and Caine, two old pros with different onscreen personas who play marvelously off each other. Add in the always-wonderful James Mason and a very winning performance by the sensual Alexandra Stewart, and the film emerges as one that should have certainly met with a better reception than it enjoyed at the time. There are some other aspects to recommend including the literate script by Judd Bernard and a good score by the reliable Roy Budd. Hell, there's even an impressive cameo by Pierre Salinger, President Kennedy's scriptwriter!
Reversible sleeve poster art.
Kino Lorber has released the film on Blu-ray and it looks terrific. Bonus features are the original trailer and a trailer for Michael Caine's third and final Harry Palmer spy thriller Billion Dollar Brain, also available from Kino. The latter trailer appears to be a work print that has been making the rounds for years, as it lacks any credits or even the film's title. A nice additional bonus is the inclusion of a great mini poster for The Destructors on the reverse side of the Blu-ray sleeve.
have to be honest and admit that my entry point for the Women In Prison film
genre was at the sleazy end of the spectrum. I caught the grubby little Linda
Blair movie Chained Heat (1983) on cable in my long ago youth and was suitably
appalled – appalled enough to watch it in stunned horror at least three more times.
So as I grew older and saw more of these types of movies my idea of what a WIP
film would or could be became solidified around the 1970s and 80s version of
the genre. I'm sure you'll forgive me if I thought that they were little more
than delivery mechanisms for visions of various forms of lesbian sexual
activity, shower room violence, petty torture acts and other harsh bits of
business. Yeah, yeah- the occasional film might make noises about reforming the
horrible conditions on display but mostly the filmmakers were just wallowing in
gratuitous exploitative excess in the name of making a buck. Not that there is
anything wrong with that, in my opinion. But imagine my surprise when I first
encountered older WIP moves that couldn't fall back on showing a shower roomful
of naked, large-breasted ladies. What would be the draw? Wouldn't the lack of
such graphic elements cripple the film? What the hell is this? A film about
women locked up in a prison that actually has a good script? How did this
(1950) tells the sad story of 19 year old Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker). She has
been sentenced to a stretch in prison because of a bungled armed robbery
committed by her husband who was killed during the act. She insists that she
had nothing to do with crime but she was convicted as an accessory
nevertheless. To make matters for her worse, her prison entrance physical
determines that she is two months pregnant meaning she will give birth while
incarcerated. Marie has trouble adjusting to the harsh world of the women's
prison and struggles to find people she can trust. She meets professional
shoplifter Kitty Stark (Betty Garde) who says once Marie gets out, Kitty will
get her a job in her line of work. Kitty recruits for organized crime on the
outside and promises the young girl an easy life if she learns this criminal
trade. Marie does not want to get involved in crime, but Kitty explains the
realities of prison life clearly and events prove the 'booster' right. It is
explained to her that she can be paroled after nine months, but over time Marie
sees prisoner after prisoner being granted parole but then not released from
jail because no job has been arranged by their parole officers. After one such
prisoner kills herself the reality of her situation begins to become
apparent. Adding to her despair is the sadistic matron Evelyn Harper (Hope
Emerson) who decides to single Marie out for attention when she refuses to play
along with her money making schemes. By the time Marie gives birth to a healthy
baby and is forced by the state to grant full custody to her mother she has a
small bit of hope that she will be granted a parole to be with her child. But
when her mother gives the baby up for adoption against Marie's will she snaps
and makes a feeble try at escape.
many films of the genre, the prison in Caged has an authority figure that is
actually sympathetic to the plight of the ladies under her care. The great
Agnes Moorhead plays Ruth Benton, the reformist prison superintendent trying to
get evidence against the cruel Harper while simultaneously attempting to help the prisoners find a pathway out of
their dead end lives. Benton is as lenient with Marie as she can be but soon
she has to punish her when her actions become less justifiable and more like
her more hardened cellmates. When the now toughened Marie emerges from a moth
in solitary she finally takes violent action against Harper and shows that she
has given up hope of following the straight a narrow path to parole. She's
going to get out of prison no matter what she has to do once she is on the outside.
I might have expected the reformist slant taken by this film, I wasn't
expecting a 1950 movie to be so daring in talking about the nastier aspects of
prison life. All the mean spirited subjects that I have come to expect from
later entries in the genre are here. Yes, they have to turn away from
gratuitously showing the lesbian relationships and vicious violent acts but
those events are in the story and not hidden behind the prudish restrictions I
expected. This is a classic social commentary film and it firmly places the
blame on the prison system for turning Marie into a career criminal but it
still manages to show that she chooses the easiest way out of her predicament. I
was surprised by the ending of this movie and pleased by its high quality
across the board. Caged is a very good film regardless of what you might think
of prison stories and this might be the film to introduce new viewers to Women
In Prison movies. It gives a sense of the unforgiving nature of the genre while
saving the harder stuff for later.
Caged! is a available through the Warner Archive. The DVD includes the original theatrical trailer.
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“Bad Man’s River” (1971) may be one of the most-unappreciated
spaghetti westerns that Lee Van Cleef ever made. This bizarre comedy-western
directed by Eugenio Martin (as Gene Martin) languished for a long time in the dollar
DVD bin at your local video store after having fallen into public domain. Most
reviews indicate that the DVD was a mess, and that the movie itself was one of
the worst films Martin, and Van Cleef ever had anything to do with. Well,
thankfully, Kino Lorber has rescued “Bad Man’s River” from the video trash heap
and released a good wide-screen transfer of the movie on Blu-ray. It may not be
among Van Cleef’s top ten all-time best movies, but it isn’t that bad either.
In fact, it’s pretty entertaining.
Martin, best known for the cult-horror classic, “Horror
Express” (1972), worked from a script by Hollywood veteran Philip Yordan.
Yordan previously had turned out some great screenplays for blockbusters like
“El Cid,” and “King of Kings”, cult favorites such as “Johnny Guitar,” film
noirs such as “The Big Combo” and “The Chase” (reviewed by Cinema Retro on May
13, 2016), and dozens of others. For “Bad Man’s River,” it appears that Yordan
decided to write a story that was basically a Looney Tunes send-up of the usual
spaghetti western plot. In essence, this comes down to: one character double
crosses another and they both get double crossed by somebody else, and on it
goes until the big gundown at the finale. In this case it’s a woman who does
all the double dealing, and what a woman she is—Gina Lollabrigida.
Van Cleef plays bank robber Roy King. He and the three
members of his gang (which includes Gianni Garko as Ed, Simon Andreu as Angel,
and Jess Hahn as Odie) rob a bank by digging underground up into the vault.
They make their getaway by train and split up, after which Roy runs into the
beautiful Alicia (Lollabrigida). She knows he’s got some loot, so she convinces
him to marry her on the train. (She conveniently happens to travel with a
preacher.) After the ceremony, she asks him if there was any insanity in his
family. Martin pulls the camera back from a tight close up of Roy and we see
he’s in a straight-jacket. Next thing he knows he’s in a mental institution. (See
what I mean by Looney Tunes?) But it’s no problem. He’s a dynamite expert and blasts
his way out of the funny farm and rejoins his former gang members to pull
another job. Turns out the woman behind a plan to blow up the Mexican
government’s stash of munition’s hidden in an old mission, is none other than Alicia.
She’s married to a Mexican politician now named Francisco Paco Montero (Daniel
Martin). When Roy first reunites with Alicia she says, “I’ve been expecting
you.” Roy says, “I had a hard day at the office.” She says “It’s big of you not
have hard feelings.” And he replies, as he’s taking off his clothes, “Your need
was greater” as he hops into the sack with her.
She introduces him to her new husband and they plan the
job, for which Roy and his gang will make ten grand. They blow up the mission
but guess what? There’s no ten grand. Alicia explains the real plan to Roy. Now that they’ve blown up the munitions, the
Mexican government will send $1 million to Montero ostensibly to buy more guns.
But of course, once they got the money they’ll all split it up. But there’s yet
another twist when Roy discovers the guy who was supposed to be Montero really
wasn’t. He was a double. The real Montero is James Mason, with one of the worst
Spanish accents ever preserved on film. He sounds like a Mexican by way of
So at this point we’re only two-thirds of the way through
the movie. The rest involves more double crosses, that include the leader of
the Mexican Revolutionaries, Col. Enrique Fierro (Sergio Fantoni), who falls
another victim of Alicia’s charms. It all sounds pretty tedious, but if you
roll with it, and take it for the satire that it at least tries to be, you can
get some laughs out of it.
Van Cleef does well with this rare stab at comedy, even sporting a
dorky hair piece and a derby. It seems like everyone had a pretty good time
making the movie. Lollabrigida was a bit past her prime, but still sexy and just
the right age for Van Cleef. She’s very convincing as a femme fatale of whom
one character says: “She isn’t afraid of anything, except poverty.”
Kino Lorber presents the film in a 2.45:1 widescreen
aspect ratio, which does justice to the 35mm print shot in Franscope. The audio
is an adequate 2.0 lossless mono soundtrack. The eccentric soundtrack by Waldo de los Rios,
which includes everything from rock music to abarbershop quartet, is
well-presented. A lot of people
criticized Rios’s music but I thought it fit the totally wacky premise of the
whole movie, which I suppose you could sum up as “Cherchez la femme”—spaghetti western-style.
If you wonder why we at Cinema Retro consider the 1960s the true "Golden Age" of movie making, just take a gander at this page from a Canadian newspaper in 1966 and consider the diverse number of popular films that were showing during the same week: Dean Martin as Matt Helm in "The Silencers", James Coburn as "Our Man Flint", Hayley Mills and Rosalind Russell in "The Trouble With Angels", "The Sound of Music", a reissue of "A Hard Day's Night", "Carry on Cleo", "McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force" and reissues of Vincent Price in "Tomb of Ligeia" and Richard Kiel in "Eegah". We're not making the case that these were all classics but we will make the case that they were all fine entertainment- which is why films such as these live on in the pages of Cinema Retro magazine.
Impulse Pictures, which specializes in salvaging erotic feature films from the dustbins of our memories, has resuscitated "The Little Blue Box", a 1979 production that feature's a "Who's Who" of adult film stars from the era. Jennifer Welles, one of the most popular actresses of the genre during the 1970s and 1980s, has a dual role that actually requires an attempt at displaying some acting chops. She acquits herself fairly well but it becomes immediately apparent that she wasn't cast because someone felt she was the heiress to Katharine Hepburn. The story opens in the apartment of a young couple, John (John Leslie) and his wife Jen (Jennifer Welles). There is already some tension between them. Seems that the spark has gone out of their love life. John is consistently pre-occupied with his profession as a writer and spends all day pounding typewriter keys (although it's never made clear what, exactly, he is writing and for whom.) Jen, on the other hand, has been radicalized by her obsession with a "Women's Lib" group she participates in. She's become a humorless nag who views everything John does from the context of how it indicates he is insensitive to women. One day while Jen is at work, the doorbell rings and John finds himself face-to-face with Miss Azure (Welles in her dual screen role). She's vivacious and seductive so John immediately let's her in. Seems Miss Azure is peddling a remarkable blue electronics box that allows you to watch porn on your television. (This remarkable invention of the future is better known now as on demand streaming.) Nevertheless in an era when few households had VCRS, the idea of watching erotic movies at home was a welcome development for many people. However, before things can really get started, Jen returns home and tosses Miss Azure out of the apartment. Nevertheless, John invites her back the next day and Miss Azure shows him why the blue box is actually worth the $3,000 price tag: you don't just view standard porn films through it: you create your own. The box has ability to transport the owner into the TV set where he or she can live out their wildest fantasies. It doesn't take John long to write out a check and -Presto!- he and Miss Azure are now involved in a full-out orgy that includes Jen's girlfriend from upstairs (Leslie Bovee). Jen returns home at a seemingly inopportune time only to find the image of her hubby engaging in some down and dirty activities on the TV set. He fails to heed her warnings to stop and before she knows it, she is included in the orgy. As these things usually go, she finds the experience liberating and everyone gets into the groove.
"The Little Blue Box", unlike similar productions of the era, doesn't try to capitalize on location shooting. The entire film is set in the claustrophobic confines of an apartment. However, the movie does include some familiar names from the era in addition to John Leslie and Jennifer Welles. There are appearances by ubiquitous performers such as Leslie Bovee, Jamie Gillis, Sharon Mitchell and one of the first genuine "cougars", Gloria Leonard. Asian actress Ming Toy, who only made four adult feature films, makes a few memorable appearances. "The Little Blue Box" is one of the better efforts from the era largely because the "Twilight Zone"-like premise provides some genuinely amusing scenarios in addition to the erotic elements that are, indeed, erotic.
The Impulse release has been tidied up to a degree but still boasts enough of a rough look to bring back memories for anyone who indulged in these films during their original showings. There are no bonus features.
You have to hand it to ol' Jack Warner- he knew a good thing when he saw it and he also had an uncanny ability to replicate success. Following the Oscar-winning triumph of Warner Brothers' "Casablanca" in 1942, Warner, as the main mogul of the studio that bore his family's name, managed to capture lightning in a bottle again. Warner recognized that the unique chemistry among key cast members resulted in the success of "Casablanca". Not only had Humphrey Bogart proven to be credible as a romantic leading man but he was surrounded by some remarkable supporting actors: Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre among them. His first priority was to re-assemble much of the cast for another WWII-themed film project. Warner was a master at milking the same cow when it came to cinematic success stories. Following the success of "The Maltese Falcon", he quickly cobbled together "Across the Pacific" for "Falcon" stars Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet. Now Warner had Bogart, Greenstreet, Rains and Lorre in mind for "Passage to Marseille", which would not-so-coincidentally be directed by Michael Curtiz, who had helmed "Casablanca". For good measure, Warner ensured the film would also benefit from a score by that film's esteemed composer, Max Steiner. For good measure, Warner cast actress Michele Morgan as the female lead. Morgan had originally been considered for the role of Bogart's lover in "Casablanca", but the part ultimately went to Ingrid Bergman. Topping things off, Warner peppered the new film with appearances by other reliable alumni from "Casablanca" in supporting roles- and even made sure he had a character in a Bogart-like hat and trenchcoat meeting up with Claude Rains on an airport runway! For all his enthusiasm about the project, "Passage" was a troubled production. It had been kicking around the studio for quite some time and had been in pre-production a full six months before filming began. Additionally, Humphrey Bogart was not enthused about the movie and argued with Warner that he would rather star in a film titled "Conflict". Warner had demanded that Bogart drop out of that production to star in "Passage" with the intention of replacing him with Jean Gabin. Ultimately a compromise was reached and Bogart would eventually star in "Conflict", but not until 1945.
The film is based upon a novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, who were best known for writing "Mutiny on the Bounty". As with that film, this one deals with a troubled ocean voyage and a mutiny. The plot is very wide-ranging and employs the unusual device of relating events as flashbacks-within-flashbacks. Although director Curtiz does manage to keep things comprehensible, the bouncing back and forth between time periods does require the viewer to pay close attention. The film opens at a secret Free French air base located in rural England. A reporter, Manning (John Loder), is doing a story about the efforts of the Free French forces to help free their homeland of German occupation. He meets with the commander of the base, Captain Freycinet (Claude Rains), who briefs him about military operations and takes him to the runway area where pilots are readying for another bombing run over occupied France, the irony of which finds the pilots having to destroy parts of their own country in order to free it. A particular, somber pilot catches Manning's eye. Freycinet explains he is Jean Matrac (Humphrey Bogart) and he relates his remarkable tale to the reporter. Matrac was the publisher of a political gazette in France that was critical of what he felt was the government's appeasement policies towards Nazi Germany in the months before the war broke out. Ignoring warnings to tone down his criticisms, Matrac continues to criticize elected officials but he pays a steep price for his courage. Government-hired goons raid his offices and destroy the place, killing a man in the process. Matrac is then framed for the man's murder and he finds himself on the lam with his lover Paula (Michele Morgan). With the police closing in, the couple marries shortly before Matrac is finally arrested. He is sent to the French penal colony known as Devil's Island where he and his fellow inmates suffer inhumane abuses and backbreaking work in dangerous swamps. Matrac and four fellow convicts are approached by an elderly fellow French inmate, Granpere (Vladimir Sokoloff) who can arrange for them to make a daring escape by boat- on the proviso that they promise to fight to free France from German forces. The men agree and make their escape but become becalmed in the Caribbean. They are rescued by a steamer ship captained by Freycinet, who immediately suspects the men are actually escaped convicts and discounts their story about being fishermen who were trying to return to fight the Germans. Also suspicious is the obnoxious martinet, Major Duval (Sydney Greenstreet), who represents the French military presence on the vessel. Duval is a turncoat who is demanding that the ship keep on its original course and return to France, where he intends to collaborate with the German government. This doesn't sit well with Freycinet and the escaped convicts, who lead a mutiny that overcomes Duval and his men. The ship then sails to freedom in England where both Freycinet and Matrac join the Free French forces. However, Matrac is a haunted and despondent man because his beloved wife and their young son he has never seen continue to reside under German occupation. Every time he flies with his crew on a bombing mission over France he makes a detour on the way home so that he can fly over their farm and drop a personal message to them.
The wide-ranging scope of the story keeps things moving at a fast clip despite the convoluted plot and abundance of supporting characters. Bogart is grim and somber throughout, with none of his trademark quips or wiseguy cracks on display. The fact that he is playing a Frenchman is a major distraction because he keeps all the Bogart mannerisms in place. He gives a solid performance but isn't believable at all as a French nationalist. Fortunately, his co-stars such as Peter Lorre (as a fellow convict), Greenstreet and Rains are more convincing. There are engrossing scenes in the penal colony (actually California locations) and some very interesting characters that populate the goings-on. There is also an exciting action sequence that takes place when the convicts lead a mutiny but a technical flaw finds the steamer ship rock solid in the water, apparently oblivious to any movement the waves or rolling of the ocean might seem to cause. Rains is as solid and commanding as ever, Lorre and Greenstreet chew the scenery as only they can and Morgan makes for a perfectly suitable romantic interest for Bogart. "Passage to Marseilles" isn't a classic- and it's sentimental final sequence is telegraphed almost from frame one- but it is solid entertainment with a sterling cast.
The Warner Archive Blu-ray ports over all the intoxicating extras from the DVD special edition. They include:
Trailer for the Errol Flynn WWII thriller "Uncertain Glory"
A historical discussions with scholars about the role of the Free French in WWII
A compilation of gag reels and bloopers from vintage WB movies that is more interesting than amusing.
A Chuck Jones WWII-themed cartoon "The Weakly Reporter" that centers on wartime deprivations and rationing.
"Jammin' the Blues", a Oscar-nominated short that showcases African-American jazz greats in concert
"I Won't Play", a corny short film depicting American G.Is in the Pacific, one of whom alienates the men in his unit because of his constant bragging about his musical prowess and his friendship with a major female film star (who just happens to pop by in the jungle to entertain them!)
Various vintage newsreels including one cringe-inducing short that depicts attractive WACs being shown military training techniques in an era long before women would prove they could do these things as well as men. Here, the young ladies are treated like fish-out-of-water, afraid to break their heels while giggling at the obstacles the men have to overcome in training.
In all, an irresistible package for any retro movie lover.
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Issue #36, the final issue of Season 12 of Cinema Retro, has now shipped to subscribers in the UK and Europe. It will ship to all other subscribers from our U.S. office in late September/early October.
Highlights of this issue include:
Dave Worrall and Lee Pfeiffer celebrate the 50th anniversary of "The Professionals" starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Claudia Cardinale, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode and Jack Palance.
*Mark Mawston with a rare exclusive interview with 70's sex siren Linda Hayden
*Cai Ross takes a bite at covering the underrated 1979 version of "Dracula" starring Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier
*John LeMay uncovers the top secret story of the unfilmed "Romance of the Pink Panther" that was to have starred Peter Sellers.
*Peter Cook continues his celebration of matte painting artists
*Tim Greaves uncovers the fascinating career of British "Sex Queen" Mary Millington
*Mark Mawston concludes his interviews with legendary stills photographer Keith Hamshere, who recalls shooting "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and the James Bond films
*Lee Pfeiffer's personal tribute to the late Euan Lloyd, producer of such films as "The Wild Geese" and "Shalako"
*Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau burn up the Old West in "Viva Maria!"
Raymond Benson's Ten Best Films of 1955
*Darren Allison's latest soundtrack news
*Gareth Owen's "Pinewood Past" column
If you have not yet subscribed for Season 12, you can still do so and get all three issues: #34, #35 and #36. Thanks to all of our subscribers worldwide who continue to support classic cinema in print! (As a reminder to our London readers, the Cinema Store is now sadly defunct. However, you can ensure that you never miss an issue by simply subscribing!)
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
The World’s leading James Bond tribute band, Q The Music,
are set to broadcast their next major public event across the world; streamed
on the web in November 2016. They are crowd-funding the project by
selling advanced copies of the stream, as well as DVDs and CDs of the show.
On 27th November, the show returns to The Harlington Theatre in Fleet, Hampshire (UK) – following a sell- out show last year. Ramping
things up this year, the show have added a live String section to the
performance and will be using Nic Raine’s String arrangements. Musical
Director Warren Ringham explained: “Nic Raine is widely regarded as the leading
arranger and orchestrator of Bond music – and after all, he was John Barry’s
orchestrator, working on A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights – so this is
a really exciting for us to be teaming up with him.”
For those who can’t be at The Harlington in person, Q The
Music’s electric and awe-inspiring performance will be available right to
spectator’s homes; streams of the show will be on the web 24 hours later. In
addition, DVDs and CDs will be on sale. “This is something we have
wanted to do for a number of years. We have followers all over the
World who ask about seeing us live, and now they can! We have
already sold streams to the US, Germany, Netherlands, Thailand, South Africa
and of course, the UK.”
As well as the concert itself, the stream is going to be
hosted Chris Wright, a co-presenter of the hugely popular podcast James Bond
Radio. “I’m so happy and excited to have Chris there. As
well as becoming a good friend, he is a huge fan of our show (having seen it
himself), so this will be a great opportunity to team up. Chris is
going to be circulating ‘round the theatre chatting to cast and crew, and also
getting reaction from the crowd at the event.”
The show is being recorded, filmed and mixed by Mark Forster and his company
Worldwide Productions. Mark himself worked at Abbey Road Studios and
was involved and worked on the last three James Bond film soundtrack
The show, on Sunday 27th November, still has limited
tickets available for sale if you want to go in person on: www.theharlington.co.uk
"Gun the Man Down" is yet another Poverty Row low-budget Western shot during an era in which seemingly every other feature film released was a horse opera. Supposedly shot in nine days, the film is primarily notable for being the big screen directing debut of Andrew V. McLaglen, who would go on to be a very respected director who specialized in Westerns and action films. The movie also marked the final feature film for James Arness before he took on the role of Marshall Matt Dillon in TV's long-running and iconic "Gunsmoke" series. After failing to achieve stardom on the big screen, Arness found fame and fortune in "Gunsmoke" when John Wayne recommended him for the part. Wayne had been championing Arness for years and provided him with roles in some of his films. Following "Gunsmoke"'s phenomenal run, Arness seemed content to stay with TV and had another successful series, "How the West Was Won". John Wayne was one of the first actors to successfully launch his own production company, Batjac, which produced this film and Wayne's influence is felt in the project. Andrew V. McLaglen was the son of Wayne's good friend and occasional co-star Victor McLaglen. The screenplay was written by Burt Kennedy, who Wayne would later hire to direct several of his own films. The movie provided young Angie Dickinson with her first role of substance and she would reunite with Wayne years later on Howard Hawks' "Rio Bravo". Speaking of which, another Wayne favorite, character actor Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez appears in both films. Also in the cast is Harry Carey Jr. , son of Wayne's idol and and personal friend, Harry Carey. The cinematography is by William Clothier, who would lens many of Wayne's later movies and the film was produced by Duke's brother, Robert Morrison. "Gun the Man Down" is very much a Wayne family affair.
The film opens with three fleeing bank robbers: Rem Anderson (James Arness), Matt Rankin (Robert J. Wilke) and Ralph Farley (Don MeGowan), who arrive at their hide-a-way cabin with the law in hot pursuit. Rem has been seriously wounded and Rankin makes the decision to leave him behind. Rem's girl, Jan (Angie Dickinson), objects at first but Rankin convinces her to go with them in part because they have $40,000 in loot from the local bank. The law arrives at the cabin and arrests Rem. He is nursed back to health and is offered a deal for a light sentence if he helps track down his confederates. Rem refuses and does his time in prison. Upon release, he begins his mission vengeance and tracks Rankin, Ralph and Jan to a one-horse town where Rankin has used his ill-gotten gains to open a profitable saloon. Upon discovering Rem is in town, Rankin hires a notorious gunslinger, Billy Deal (Michael Emmet), to assassinate him. Jan has a tense reunion with Rem and seeks his forgiveness but her pleas fall on deaf ears. Rem emerges victorious over Billy Deal and Rankin, Ralph and Jan flee town with Rem in pursuit. Their final confrontation takes place in a remote canyon with tragic consequences.
Given the film's meager production budget, "Gun the Man Down" is a surprisingly mature and engrossing Western with intelligent dialogue and interesting characters. (In addition to those mentioned, there is a fine performance by Emile Meyer as the town sheriff). Arness projects the kind of macho star power that Wayne had and Dickinson acquits herself very well as the stereotypical saloon girl with a heart of gold. The film, ably directed by McLaglen, runs a scant 76 minutes and was obviously designed for a quick playoff and fast profit. It has largely been lost to time but the Olive Blu-ray release puts in squarely in the realm of hidden pleasures. Fans of traditional Westerns will find nothing very new or innovative here, but the film does hold up as solid entertainment. The Blu-ray includes the original trailer.
Drive-In was shot in Sydney, Australia in 1986 by English-born Brian
Trenchard-Smith. One of the most significant sparks in Ozploitation cinema
during the 70s and 80s, the director’s renown stems predominantly from his
knack for turning relatively scant budgets into expensive looking pictures with
sharp teeth and blistering attitude. Set in the (then) near future – which is now
some quarter of a century in the past – the film ushers its audience into the
midst of a society that's gone to hell in a handcart; the economy has collapsed,
food is in short supply, unemployment is rife...the latest movie blockbuster is
Sylvester Stallone's Rambo 8: Rambo Takes
Russia! Welcome to a garish neon-lit nightmare, awash with Day-Glo
graffiti, where looters and violent wastrels rule the night, cruising in
souped-up stock cars, exploiting the impotence of the authorities and leaving a
trail of mayhem and destruction in their wake.
One evening Jimmy 'Crabs’
Rossinni (Ned Manning) takes his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to a movie
at the local Star Drive-In theatre. Claiming to be unemployed at the gate in
order to score tickets on the cheap proves to be a big mistake. While Jimmy and
Carmen are making out on the back seat of the car, someone absconds with a
couple of their wheels and they find themselves stuck there for the night. With
the dawn comes the revelation of the establishment's true purpose and the awful
realisation of the gravity of their situation; they have been deliberately confined
in an electric-fence-ringed prison, a hovel where the Government incarcerates
the unemployed populace. Patrolled by police, it's practically a self-contained
township where the inmates are supplied with copious junk food, beer and music
and are thus more than content to stay put, captivity being a preferable
alternative to the starvation and certain death they’d face out on the streets.
Carmen, having fled her home and being something of a loner by nature,
immediately begins to fit in. But Jimmy is determined to escape, no matter the
Tautly directed by
Trenchard-Smith from a Peter Smalley script, fans of vehicular mayhem are
certainly well catered for with Dead-End
Drive-In, especially during an 11th hour chase around the Star’s parking
lot and a spectacular climactic stunt; one imagines that a fair old chunk of
the budget was expended on that alone. But although it all ends on a note of
hope and a truly grand amen, the movie as a whole makes for pretty bleak
viewing (which, to be fair, is a common denominator in most films that envisage
a dystopian future). With its cast of bizarre and feral characters and distinctive
lensed-in-the-80s vibe, Dead-End Drive-In
sits comfortably alongside the era’s top end Troma product (which, I hasten to
add, is intended as a compliment), and there's some amusement to be had in that
the films beaming out of the Star's projection bunker include a couple of
Trenchard-Smith's earlier Ozploitationers, 1982's Turkey Shoot and (this writer's pick from the director’s CV) the cracking
1975 actioner The Man from Hong Kong.
Ned Manning doesn't make for
the likeliest hero figure, yet although he’s scrawny to the point that even his
mother puts him down, he ably steps up to the plate when the moment comes. As
his girlfriend Carmen, Natalie McCurry is gorgeousness incarnate; crowned Miss
Australia in 1989, the actress tragically passed away in 2014 at the age of
just 48. The real scene stealer here, however, is smooth-talking Peter Whitford
as the Star's sly manager, Thompson, who befriends Jimmy but ultimately turns
out to be far from the amiable soul he first appears.
Light on narrative
development but heavy on sleazy atmosphere and flashy action, viewers who like
their post-apocalyptic movies rough around the edges and teeming with
quirkiness are sure to get a rapid-fire buzz from Dead End Drive-In.
The film arrives on Blu-ray
in the UK from Arrow and it’s a worthy upgrade of their DVD release, which appeared
three years ago. A brand new 2K restoration using the original film elements, the
transfer is very impressive indeed with only occasional traces of vertical
scratching in evidence. The deal sweeteners comprise a commentary from the
always interesting Trenchard-Smith, the director’s 1973 TV documentary “The Stuntmen”
(49m), his disturbing 1978 public information film about the dangers of hospital
patients sneaking an illicit cigarette – “Hospitals Don't Burn Down” (24m) –
plus an original release trailer and a short gallery of still images (intercut
with textual information) depicting graffiti art created for the film by
The retro-themed Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn is presenting a rare 35mm showing of the bizarre 1979 horror/chop socky flick "The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula" (not to confused with "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules"). The film was a collaborative effort between the legendary Shaw brothers, who produced kung-fu epics and England's Hammer Studios. The film even stars Hammer perennial Peter Cushing. Following the screening, there will be prizes and themed cocktails. It's all part of "The Deuce" film series, named in honor of the old grind house theaters on 42nd Street. For info click here.
first became acquainted with director Peter Medak’s work in 1983 when I saw his
1980 masterwork The Changeling, one
of the most frightening ghost stories shot in color. Also known for 1972’s The Ruling Class and 1990’s The
Krays, Mr. Medak made the film noir Romeo
is Bleeding, shot in 1992 and released on Friday, February 4, 1994. The film is told in an elliptical narrative
fashion, starting with the end and going back in time to show us how the
protagonist got to where he is. We first
see Jack Grimaldi in a dilapidated diner, his voiceover indicative of a man
full of regrets who is probably in the Witness Protection Program and forced to
lead a life bereft of any true purpose or feeling. Once upon a time, he was a police officer in
New York City and his partners are comprised of actors we know well today: Scully
(David Proval from Mean Streets and The Sopranos), Martie (Will Patton from 24), John (Gene Canfield from Law & Order), and Joey (Larry Joshua
from NYPD Blue). Unfortunately, his lust for money gets the
better of him and he sells out the criminal witnesses to the Mafia. His wife Natalie (Annabella Sciorra) knows
that he’s up to something and is on to his affairs as well (he dilly dallies
with Sheri, a nineteen year-old mistress played by Juliette Lewis who dances
for him among other things), and catches a glimpse of the secret hiding place
that he foolishly stashes his cash in the corner of the backyard.
Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin) is a Russian
assassin who is out to take down the Mafia that Jack works for. The head of that organization is Don Falcone
(Roy Scheider) who pays Jack to kill her and wants the job done yesterday. Unfortunately for Falcone, Mona is drop dead
gorgeous and Jack weakens in her presence while he is guarding her a dumpy
hotel that the police use to hold suspects. Mona exerts a tremendous amount of sexual power and although Jack seems
to buckle under her spell, the two of them also realize that their couplings
are only business. Jack may love
Natalie, but she apparently cannot give him what he gets from Sheri and Mona,
which is to be dominated. Jack uses both
sex and money as a drug, he cannot seem to get enough of either one of
It’s interesting to note that the film
is written by a woman, Hilary Henkin, who also wrote Fatal Beauty (1987), Road
House (1989), and Wag the Dog
(1997). There is an obvious female slant
to the story as the men are reduced to squirming little gerbils while the women
wield all the power. Even Natalie
momentarily and jokingly turns the tables on Jack while pointing a gun at him. We are not sure if she is kidding knowing
what we, the audience, knows and Jack isn’t sure either. It’s a moment that seems to last a very long
time. After all the craziness that
occurs between this moment and the end of the film, we are right bar at the bar
with Jack as he waits for Natalie to show, and we cannot help but wonder if she
Much of the covert action takes place
at night where the probability of being discovered is high. There are moments of questionable judgment,
such as Mona forcing Jack to dig a grave for Falcone in full view of the
Brooklyn Bridge and nearby building complexes, and Jack digging through his
money while any of his neighbors could easily see him. The late Mr. Scheider, who appeared in
a slew of terrific films in the 1970’s (Klute,
The French Connection, The Seven-Ups, Jaws, Marathon Man, Sorcerer, Jaws 2, All
That Jazz), is one of my favorite actors but he is unusually stiff in the
role of mobster Falcone. He also didn’t
look well, as his death from Multiple Myeloma in 2008 confirmed that he was
probably sick for some time. The late Dennis
Farina, on the other hand, after having played Jimmy Serrano in Martin Brest’s brilliant
1988 comedy Midnight Run, does a
funny turn as a mobster turncoat in the single scene that he appears in.
I liked Romeo is Bleeding far more than I did in 1994. I was very naïve about mob life at the time
and how the police handle such matters, so after my graduation from The Sopranos the plot is far more obvious
than it was twenty-two years ago. The
new limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray from Twilight Time boasts a really nice transfer. However, if you are looking for a special feature-laden
set, this is not it. Aside from a
booklet with a nice essay from Julie Kirgo and an isolated score, this is a
very slim package. I love running
commentaries and would have enjoyed one from director Medak who provided an
informative feature-length commentary on the Dutch DVD release of The Changeling.
Time Life has released "Bob Hope: Entertaining the Troops", a priceless presentation of Hope's famous USO shows for American troops serving overseas. The two programs, presented uncut, are a wonderful time capsule of the era. At the time the Vietnam War was raging and the only glimpses concerned Americans got of the fighting men were grim images squeezed into the half-hour evening news during this pre-cable TV era. Thus, Hope's merry band of entertainers allowed some welcome views of the servicemen getting a rare and well-deserved laugh from the songs, skits and stand up presented by Hope and his troupe. Not surprisingly, the biggest reactions are afforded to the sex symbols who traveled with him. In this case, they include Connie Stevens, Lola Falana, Romy Schneider and Ursula Andress. Admittedly, the humor creaks with age but the spirit and good will is timeless. One of the shows is interesting from a historical perspective, as Hope and company kick off their tour at the White House in the presence of President Nixon, then still riding high from his first election and a couple of years away from the Watergate scandal that would bring down his entire administration. There are also some bonus extras, described in the press release below:
"The legendary Bob Hope, one of the greatest entertainers of
the 20th century, was best known for his Christmas specials.Traveling with special guests, he visited US
troops in dozens of locations around the world, performing on battleships and
battlefields -- and sometimes even accompanied by the sound of fighter jets
overhead.His missions were often
dangerous, his schedule brutal, yet for thousands of servicemen and women far
from home there was no one like Hope for the holidays.
On May 10, Time Life®, creator and direct marketer of unique
music and home entertainment products, will deliver BOB HOPE: ENTERTAINING THE
TROOPS, a single DVD featuring three TV Christmas Specials: a rare,
never-before-released 1951 special from The Korean War Era , along with shows
from 1970 and 1971 – two of the most-watched shows in TV history! Featuring Hope’s hilarious monologues and
guest stars aplenty, these shows prove that laughter is truly the best medicine, regardless of the time zone or
terrain. With this DVD release, Hope’s
fans will enjoy more than two and a half hours of Hope’s house calls across
three special troop shows:
The Bob Hope Christmas Special: Around the World with the
USO (Original Airdate: January 15, 1970) --
Hope and company embark on another Christmas tour to
entertain the troops, starting with a send-off from the White House. The 16-day tour then continues through
Germany, Italy, Turkey, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Guam, and on-board the USS
Ranger and the USS Sanctuary. Highlights
include Neil Armstrong, recently back from his historic moon walk, answering
questions from the service members, and Connie Stevens singing the “Wedding
Bell Blues” to four service members named Bill.
The Bob Hope Christmas Special: Around the Globe with the
USO (Original Airdate: January 14, 1971) --
Hope visits U.S. military bases to entertain the troops and
bring them Christmas cheer, starting with rehearsals at West Point and with
stops in England, Germany, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Alaska, and to the USS
John F. Kennedy in the Mediterranean, and the USS Sanctuary in the South China
Sea. Highlights include Hope and Lola Falana doing a song and dance, Hope trading
zingers with Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench, plus a routine with Ursula
Andress, Gloria Loring and Miss World Jennifer Hosten.
Chesterfield Sound Off Time (Airdate: December 23, 1951) – This
rare, never-before-released special was filmed during the Korean War aboard the
aircraft carrier the USS Boxer. Highlights include Hope and Connie Moore crooning
“I Wanna Go Home (With You)”, the Nicholas Brothers performing their acrobatic
style of tap dancing, and Hope, in an extended comedy sketch, taking command of
the ship and sailing it on a secret mission."
Who doesn’t love watching giant monster
movies from the 1950s? The Beast from 20,
000 Fathoms (1953), Them! (1954),
Tarantula (1955), Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) and Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) are
just a few of my favorites. Some of those titles are better than others and
there are many more that are worse such as 1957’s unintentionally hilarious The Giant Claw, but the decade that gave
us rock 'n' roll also created a giant monster flick that never seemed to get
the respect it deserved, which is ironic being that it’s a top-notch production
with a pretty convincing and scary monster. Of course, I’m talking about the
often overlooked 1957 classic, The
Monster That Challenged the World.
Directed by Arnold Laven (The Rifleman), The Monster That Challenged the World, which was solidly written by
Pat Fielder (The Vampire, The Return of
Dracula) and based on a story by David Duncan (The Time Machine, Fantastic Voyage), begins when an underwater
earthquake releases a horde of enormous, prehistoric creatures from
California’s Salton Sea. After one of these creatures kills a sailor,
Lieutenant John Twillinger (Tim Holt from The
Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The
Magnificent Ambersons) discovers an unknown, slimy substance which he
brings to Dr. Jess Rogers (Hans Conried, The
5,000 Fingers of Dr. T). Rogers analyzes it and not only deduces that it comes
from a giant mollusk, but also figures out that, if the creatures aren’t
stopped soon, they’ll multiply by the thousands and destroy every human being
on the planet. With the help of Dr. Rogers’ beautiful secretary (Audrey Dalton,
Mr. Sardonicus), the lieutenant and
the good doctor do everything in their power to stop the creeping terror before
it’s too late.
Made for only $254,000, The Monster That Challenged the World, which was originally titled The Kraken,is an entertaining monster movie that always seems to be
overshadowed by many of the titles I listed earlier. This is strange because
the fun movie is filled with tight, solid direction, plenty of atmosphere and a
great-looking, mechanical creature created by August Lohman (Moby Dick). The well-made film also
benefits from an interesting story as well as some pretty pleasing performances.
To begin with, Tim Holt is appropriately calm, rational and, at times, a bit
stiff as Lieutenant Twilliger, but he also gives his character much-needed doses
of humanity and likeability. Up next, the great Hans Conried is totally
convincing as the knowledgeable Dr. Rogers. He delivers his dialogue about the
giant creatures completely straight and because he seems to believe everything
that he’s saying, we believe it too. Last, but not least, the beautiful Audrey
Dalton is wonderful as secretary, single mom and love interest, Gail. Dalton
brings an inner strength and intelligence to her role, making her character
more than just a screaming, helpless woman who needs saving. All in all, The Monster That Challenged the World is
a well-done creature feature and a bit more than you would expect from a late
50s, sci-fi monster mash.
The Monster That
Challenged the World has
been released on a region one Blu-ray by Kino Lorber and is presented in its
original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The beautiful HD transfer boasts sharp, crystal
clear images and the disc not only contains the original theatrical trailer,
but also an extremely informative and enjoyable audio commentary by film
historian Tom Weaver who tells us just about everything we ever wanted to know
about this entertaining film; great stuff. (Weaver leaves briefly to allow 50s
monster music expert David Schecter of Monstrous Movie Music to discuss the
film’s effective score by Heinz Roemheld). If you’re a lover of 1950s giant
monster movies, this one is definitely above average and I highly recommended
the excellent Blu-ray.
was first introduced to comic books in 1979 by my father’s cousin, Dan, who had
an unusually large collection of them in his parent’s basement. I had already seen Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978) twice and
loved it, completely enthralled with the big screen adventures of the Man of
Steel as embodied by Christopher Reeve. I
knew of Superman’s origins with DC Comics. Dan’s mother remarked, while he was in the basement of course, that she
wished that he would “get rid of the comic books”. It’s a good thing he didn’t. Today, along with Jim Lee, Dan DiDio is the
current Co-Publisher of DC Comics. In
the years hence, I have followed my fair share of comic book characters, but
never with the level of enthusiasm that is on display at the annual San Diego
Comic Con or the New York Comic Con (for the uninitiated, here “con” is
industry shorthand for “convention”, a gathering of fans who exalt with others
over their favorite comic book characters and movies). The level of enthusiasm on display at these
gatherings on opposite coasts, as well as the financial support they give to
their favorite superheroes, are what keep the artists and writers
Comix: Beyond the Comic Book Pages is the new 85-minute documentary that
takes viewers behind the scenes not only at the cons, but also into the world
of making comic books, and what it takes to prevail in a saturated market. It’s also a film about gratitude and
appreciation. Many people give thanks to
their relatives for buying them comic books; others thank the artists for their
favorite characters; still others thank both the artists and publishers for
their advice. Directed by Michael
Valentine, the film is fittingly a valentine to the creators and the fans. Heavyweights in the comic book arena who
appear are Stan Lee, the creator of Spiderman
(he has an amusing story about that); Mike Richardson, the founder of Dark
Horse Comics; Neal Adams; Frank Miller of Sin
City and 300; Todd MacFarlane; John
Romita, Jr.; and Renae Geerlings.
I watch a documentary, I am eager to learn something new. The history of comic books is fascinating as
they were deemed unfit for children, and there was a movement afoot to keep
them out of the hands of the little ones. The making of a comic book is also discussed in-depth in a way that I
had not heard before. There is a distinction
made between the artist who draws with pencils and the inker who applies the
colors. Very often the writers (who
provide character development and dialog) and the artists never speak to one
Comix is accentuated by a spirited score by composer Michael
Crane. The fans depicted in the film are
all shapes and sizes and come from the far corners of the globe. A veritable melting pot of people
encompassing all races and creeds who converge on these convention centers
armed with backpacks, cameras, posters, photos, action figures, and just about
anything else that you can think of to have autographed and the opportunity to
meet their favorite artists, actors/actresses, and writers up close. What amazes me is the phenomenon of Cosplay
(a contraction of “costume play”) wherein fans dress up to look exactly like
the comic book characters they love. As
a frequent convention goer for twenty-nine years, I have noticed a demonstrable
surge in attendance of fans who partake in this role-playing lifestyle. The segments involving Cosplay made me
realize something that I had not thought of before. These people don’t just dress up. They want to become their favorite characters for the duration of the
convention. Their costumes are
magnificent, often indistinguishable from the big-screen counterparts. As a child, Halloween gave me the opportunity
to wear some truly awful and cheap-looking “costumes”. I was a Star
Wars Stormtrooper and wore this costume with a picture on my chest of the
Stormtrooper holding a gun! The
Stormtroopers that fans dress us as at the conventions look like they stepped
out of the actual movie. No comparison
film is now available from Kino Lorber in a nicely illustrated 2-disc DVD set
that comes with a mini comic book and a whole host of extras. On disc one is the documentary, as well as
the following extra outtakes that equal roughly 70 additional minutes:
and Manga (3:56)
Art of Collaboration (10:17)
and the Movies (8:07)
Things to Draw (3:43)
on Comic Book Conventions (6:13)
two consists of interviews with Frank Miller (64 minutes) and Stan Lee (58
It has just been announced that movie comedy legend Gene Wilder has passed away at age 83 after years of battling heath problems. The official cause of death was complications related to Alzheimers disease. Wilder made his feature film debut in the 1967 classic "Bonnie and Clyde", playing an undertaker who is kidnapped and befriended by the infamous outlaws. He hit pay dirt when Mel Brooks cast him opposite Zero Mostel in the 1968 comedy "The Producers". Wilder's performance as the neurotic accountant earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting actor. He collaborated again with Brooks on two other 70s comedy classics, "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein". He also starred in the 1972 children's film favorite "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". In the 1980s Wilder teamed with Richard Pryor for several big screen comedy hits. He married comedienne Gilda Radner of "Saturday Night Live" fame but the marriage was short-lived when Radner died from cancer. Wilder became involved in raising funds to battle the disease that killed his beloved wife. He also wrote a memoir detailing their love affair. Wilder had not been seen on the big screen since 1991, as his health began to decline. He did, however, occasionally appear as a guest star on TV shows and won an Emmy in 2003 for his performance on the sitcom "Will & Grace". For more click here For a look at Wilder's most memorable roles, click here.
Liotta is a police forensics scientist in “Unforgettable” a 1996 crime thriller
available for the first time on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The movie co-stars
Linda Fiorentino as a university researcher who has developed a drug which
allows lab rats to relive the memories of other rats.
Krane (Liotta) has been trying to clear his name after being framed for the
murder of his wife during a drunken rage after he discovers she’s having an
affair. He’s found passed out on the lawn after his wife is found brutally
murdered. A high profile trial results in his release on a technicality. He
returns to work on the police force and moves on with his life, but there’re a
lot of doubts regarding his innocence by family, friends and colleagues. He lost
custody of his daughters who now live with his sister-in-law Kelly (Kim
Cattrall), but sees them on weekends.
attending a lecture by Martha Briggs (Fiorentino) on the topic of her memory
research, David introduces himself and sets up an appointment to learn more. The
drug works in combination with another rat’s DNA while the recipient rat
remains in the location of the DNA’s donor rat in order to experience that
donor rat’s memories. David receives a demonstration of the memory drug and
asks if it’s gone through human trials. It hasn’t and Martha explains the
dangerous side effects including heart attacks and death. Naturally, David
steals a vile of the drug and also takes DNA samples from the victims of a
multiple homicide in a grocery store where he finds a clue that may link those murders
to his wife’s murderer. Martha does some checking, discovers who David is and
realizes he wants to use the drug to find his wife’s killer.
discovery is too late as David has already tried the drug and is on the trail
of the killer after injecting himself with the victim’s DNA at the grocery
store. We see what he experiences in the first person through the victim’s eyes
in a sort of foggy dream-like state. He identifies the killer as Eddie Dutton
(Kim Coates) and starts tracking the man which leads to Eddie’s death in a
shootout at a church.
boss, Don Bresler (Peter Coyote), is relieved and supportive of David and believes
they got the man who murdered his wife. Fellow cop Stewart Gleick (Christopher
McDonald) has always believed David got away with murder and is not so easily
convinced. David injects himself with Eddie’s DNA along with the memory drug at
the scene of his wife’s murder when Martha arrives. She helps him do it again
using a mixture of his wife’s DNA. David and Martha realize there’s much more
to the murder than anyone realized as they unravel a conspiracy involving the
revelation of his wife’s secret life.
movie has elements of crime thriller, Hitchcockian suspense and science
fiction. The memory drug is a fascinating plot element, but the thing I don’t
get is how memories are transferred through blood samples when our memories are
contained in our brain. It really doesn’t matter because it all works to move
the plot as long as one suspends disbelief and accepts the science fiction
and Fiorentino are very good and have nice screen chemistry. McDonald is also good
as the tough cop who believes Liotta got away with murder. David Paymer appears
as Liotta’s frazzled forensics partner and Kim Cattrall is underutilized and
seen briefly in a couple of scenes. Kim Coates plays the low-life creep to
great effect and Peter Coyote is on hand giving his measured and usual fine
performance throughout the movie.
movie underperformed upon its US release in February 1996 and didn’t receive a
release in the UK until nearly a year and a half later in July 1997. Produced
by Dino & Martha De Laurentiis and directed by John Dahl, the movie
deserved to do better. Nat King Cole’s version of “Unforgettable” is heard on
the soundtrack of the trailer which is a nice touch. Use of the song would
appear to be an obvious marketing angle, but for some reason is not heard
during the movie.
Blu-ray looks and sounds very good indeed and the 117 minute thriller has aged
well. Extras on the Kino release include the trailer, a five minute making of
featurette, unedited B rolls consisting of set-up shots and outtakes, and seven
short sound bites by cast, director and producer. The extras are interesting
and worth a look.
You’re an escaped convict who’s just busted out of San
Quentin. You get picked up on the road by a stranger who asks too many
questions, and when he hears the guy on the radio say there’s been a bust out
at the prison he puts two and two together. You tell him to stop the car and
you slug him. You drag him into the bushes and another car comes along. It’s a
beautiful woman named Irene Jansen who looks like Lauren Bacall and knows who
you are and wants to help you. You go with her and hide out at her San
Francisco apartment. But you know you’ve got to run or the cops’ll nab you. Irene
buys you a fresh suit of clothes and gives you some dough, because for some
crazy reason, she believes you’re innocent. You don’t remember her, but she was
at your trial every day. After a few days you take off in the middle of the
night and get picked up by a cab driver who just happens to know a good plastic
surgeon and for a couple of hundred he fixes your face so nobody’ll know who
you are. You go back to Irene/Bacall’s apartment wrapped up in gauze like the
Mummy. After a week or two you take the bandages off and guess what? Now you
look like Humphrey Bogart!
Such is the improbable and gimmicky plotline for “Dark
Passage” (1947), the third feature film vehicle from Warner Bros. to star Betty
and Bogie. And if that were all there were to it, it wouldn’t be much of a
movie. But the flick is based on a novel by David Goodis, the poet laureate of Philadelphia
noir, and in typical Goodis fashion, after Vincent Parry becomes Bogie, his
troubles only multiply. He’s caught in a situation that seems to have no
resolution. He was sent to San Quentin for murdering his wife. Of course, he’s
innocent but the evidence was stacked against him. Now that he’s free, he wants
to find out who did kill her and clear his name. Easy? Not on your life.
The plot involves a shrill harpy played by Agnes
Moorehead, a friend of Irene who seems to get a kick of out of kicking people
when they’re down-- when she isn’t annoying them. There’s the guy who first
picked Parry up and got dumped in the bushes for his trouble. He shows up later
as a blackmailer, because he knows about the plastic surgery. There’s a nice
enough guy played by Bruce Bennet who was too nice to close the deal with
Betty, and knows he’s got no chance with her now that Bogie’s around. There’s a
tough cop at an all-night diner played by Douglas Kennedy who sizes Parry up as
a man on the run and wants to take him downtown. It all spins round and round
with Parry caught in a circumstantial whirlpool, dragging him down into
“Dark Passage” came out the same year as Robert
Montgomery’s “Lady in the Lake.” In that adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s
novel, Montgomery filmed the entire movie using the camera as Philip Marlowe’s
point of view. Everything is seen as though through Marlowe’s eyes. As if “Dark
Passage” doesn’t have a gimmicky enough plot, Daves decided to really gimmick
it up by following Montgomery’s example. He shot the entire first half of the
film using a hand-held camera, one of the first of its kind. All the action in
the first half of the film is from Parry’s eye-level view of things. Sid
Hickox’s cinematography provides some great imagery, especially at the
beginning, as Parry gets his first view of freedom from inside an empty oil
drum. The scenes where Parry is in the chair facing a really creepy plastic
surgeon (Housely Stevenson) and the subsequent nightmare he has about it later,
are classic examples of film noir cinematography.
of this summer, all of Amicus Production’s Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations are
now on Blu-ray from Kino-Lorber: The Land
That Time Forgot (1974); At the
Earth’s Core (1976) and ThePeople That Time Forgot (1977). All
three have excellent transfers and each release features special features to
boot. Overall all three films’ Blu-ray releases are some of the more
extravagant ones from the company. The
Land That Time Forgot and At the
Earth’s Core even come with reversible covers with different poster art on
each side (though The People That Time
Forgot curiously does not).
disc for At the Earth’s Core features
an on camera interview with the director of all three films, Kevin Connor, who
discusses these films along with his other genre output. It also features a
great on camera interview with Caroline Munro, who played Dia in the film,
which even covers her role in The Spy Who
Loved Me (1977). The film’s vintage making-of feature, A Special Art: Monsters, is also included along with the original trailer
and an audio commentary by Connor. The
Land That Time Forgot has the vintage Master
of Adventure making-of featurette of the film, along with the release
trailer and another commentary by Connor, this time moderated by Brian
Trenchard-Smith, director of such films as Leprechaun
3 (1995). The People That Time Forgot
features the film’s trailer along with another Connor/Smith commentary. Naturally,
Connor can’t pack every minute of the commentaries with juicy behind-the-scenes
anecdotes as the movies were made forty years ago, but there are still
interesting nuggets of info to be found that make them worth listening to. One
of the more interesting bits of trivia that Connor drops is that the reason they
never made film adaptations of Out of
Time’s Abyss (the third book in Burroughs Land That Time Forgot trilogy), Pellucidar
(the sequel to At the Earth’s Core)
and the John Carter of Mars series was that the Burroughs Estate began upping
their licensing fees after The People
That Time Forgot. So instead the production team decided to concoct an
original adventure story for their next picture, the result being Warlords of Atlantis (1978). The most
informative pieces on People’s disc are
actually the interviews conducted with female stars Dana Gillespie and Sarah
Douglas. Among the interesting information related is the fact that Gillespie also
auditioned for the role of Ursa for Superman
II, the role her co-star Douglas got. Although relatively short (a little
less than 20 minutes each) they are nearly as informative as the commentary
track in some respects.
in summary, if you already own the films on DVD, the improved picture and
features make the Blu-rays worth the update. And, for more information on the
films’ histories, see Paul Thomson’s article Monsters, Inc. in Cinema Retro #27.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT" FROM AMAZON
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "AT THE EARTH'S CORE" FROM AMAZON
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT" FROM AMAZON
John LeMay is the author of The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies Vol. 1: 1954-1980. (Click here to order from Amazon)
NoHo 7, the Playhouse 7, and the Royal in Los Angeles will all be showing a
double feature of two of Doris Day’s best-known films on Monday, August 29,
2016. At 7:00 pm The Man Who Knew Too Much, the classic 1956 film directed by Alfred
Hitchcock, will be screened as part of its 60th anniversary. At 4:30 pm and again at 9:30 pm, 1961’s Lover Come Back, directed by Delbert
Mann, will be screened as part of its 55th anniversary.
the press release:
Doris Day Double
of our Anniversary Classics series. For details, visit: laemmle.com/ac.
Click here to buy tickets to the 4:30PM Lover
Come Back (includes admission to the 7PM The Man Who Knew Too Much).
Click here to buy tickets to the 7PM The Man Who
Knew Too Much (includes admission to the 9:30PM Lover Come Back).
Laemmle’s Anniversary Classics presents
a tribute to Doris Day, one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood’s Golden
Age. Day was the number one female box office star of the 20th century, but she
was sometimes underrated as an actress. She excelled in musicals, comedy, and
drama and during the 1950s and 60s she was one of the few actresses who
regularly played working women. We offer a double feature of two of her most
popular films, the 60th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and
the 55th anniversary of Lover Come
Back (1961). So you won’t miss any of the fun, the Doris Day double bill
plays at three locations: the Royal in West L.A., Laemmle NoHo 7, and the
Playhouse 7 in Pasadena on Monday, August 29.
We will have trivia contests with
prizes at all three locations.
In ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much,’ one of
Doris Day’s rare forays into the thriller genre, the actress introduced one of
her most successful songs, the Oscar-winning hit, “Que Sera Sera.” But she also
demonstrated her versatility in several harrowing and suspenseful dramatic
scenes. She plays the wife of one of Hitchcock’s favorite actors, James
Stewart. The movie was a box office bonanza for all parties. Hitchcock’s
success during the 1940s allowed the director to employ bigger budgets and
shoot on location for several of his Technicolor thrillers in the 1950s,
including To Catch a Thief, Vertigo, and North by Northwest. For The Man Who
Knew Too Much, a remake of his own 1934 film, Hitchcock traveled to Morocco and
to London for some spectacular location scenes. In his famous series of
interviews with the Master of Suspense, Francois Truffaut wrote, “In the
construction as well as in the rigorous attention to detail, the remake is by
far superior to the original.” The plot turns on kidnapping and assassination,
all building to a concert scene in the Royal Albert Hall that climaxes
memorably with the clash of a pair of cymbals.
‘Lover Come Back’ was the second comedy
teaming of Doris Day with Rock Hudson, on the heels of their huge 1959 hit, Pillow
Talk. Day and Hudson play rival advertising executives who vie for an account
that doesn’t exist, dreamed up by Hudson to throw Day off the track, further
complicated by their romantic entanglement. Screenwriters Stanley Shapiro (who
won an Oscar for ‘Pillow Talk’) and Paul Henning concocted a witty scenario
with deft sight gags, targeting the influence of Madison Avenue in the era, and
their original screenplay was Oscar-nominated in 1961. Day, Hudson, and a
winning supporting cast including Tony Randall, Edie Adams and Jack Kruschen
are all at the top of their game, nimbly directed by Delbert Mann. The New York
Times’ Bosley Crowther raved about “…this springy and sprightly surprise, which
is one of the brightest, most satiric comedies since ‘It Happened One Night.’
The Times also celebrated the box office smash as “the funniest picture of the
No matter the
conveyor-belt of bubblegum product proliferating at 21st century multiplexes,
it will always be the classics that endure. Robert Louis Stevenson's celebrated
novel “Kidnapped” – initially serialised in magazine form before being
published as a single volume in 1886 – has been tailored for cinema and
television many times, notably (for the big screen) in 1948 starring Dan
O'Herlihy and Roddy McDowell and in 1959 featuring Peter Finch and James
McArthur. 1971’s Kidnapped from
director Delbert Mann doesn't seem to get as much love as some of its siblings,
but for this writer it’s one of the most enjoyable of the clan, specifically
due to the presence of Michael Caine atop the cast.
Following the terrible
slaughter at the battle of Culloden, during which the Jacobite forces are
overthrown by government troops, an orphaned lad, David Balfour (Lawrence
Douglas) arrives at the home of his Uncle Ebenezer (Donald Pleasence) to claim
his inheritance. However, intent on securing it for himself, the grasping old
man slyly arranges for his nephew to be shanghaied, whereupon David finds
himself prisoner at sea of Captain Hoseason (Jack Hawkins), destined for sale
into slavery. When they run across notorious Jacobite rebel Alan Breck (Michael
Caine), David seizes the opportunity to ally with Breck and escape. They make
it back to shore and seek refuge with Breck's relatives, his uncle, James
Stewart (Jack Watson), and cousin Catriona (Vivien Heilbron). But their
adventure is only just beginning.
Although, of all Robert
Louis Stevenson's stories, "Treasure Island" remains the premier
boys' own adventure, "Kidnapped" is a cracker of a good yarn. Jack
Pulman's screenplay for this 1971 adaptation draws not only on that story but
also a chunk of its 1893 sequel "Catriona". And regardless of the
fact it all ends rather sorrowfully, it's still a rousing piece of fiction, the
recounting of which is well worth journeying alongside.
Delbert Mann (Oscar winner
for romantic drama Marty and much
admired by this writer for early 60s Doris Day rom-coms That Touch of Mink and Lover
Come Back) treated movie-goers to a star-studded and colourful period
costume drama whose glue, as previously remarked upon, is indisputably Michael
Caine. Admittedly the actor's Scottish accent waivers dreadfully at times, but
otherwise he's on excellent form with his infinite charisma and inexhaustible
brio serving to paper over any perceivable cracks. He certainly outshines
co-star Lawrence Douglas, whose David is more than a touch insipid; Douglas
worked almost exclusively in minor TV roles, with Kidnapped representing his only silver screen appearance of note.
Flame-haired Vivien Heilbron fares a little better as the lovely Catriona and
there's strong support from dependables Jack Watson as her father, Trevor
Howard as the surly Lord Advocate, Gordon Jackson as lawyer Charles Stewart,
Freddie Jones as cardsharp Cluny, and Jack Hawkins as the odious Captain
Hoseason (discernibly dubbed by Charles Gray who, due to Hawkins suffering from
throat cancer, often re-voiced the actor during this period of his career).
Special word for Donald Pleasence (who’s delicious as the slimy and duplicitous
Uncle Ebenezer) and a young Geoffrey Whitehead, nicely reptilian as Loyalist
Thesps aside, the
undisputed star of the film is the beautiful location photography of Paul
Beeson (whose skills can also be admired in the likes of Mosquito Squadron, The Sound
of Music, Never Say Never Again
and the Indiana Jones trilogy); seldom have the Scottish Highlands looked so
stunningly beautiful. Arguably, Vladimir Cosma's music for a late 70s TV
adaptation will probably never be surpassed (so gorgeously honeyed that, if the
mood is right, it has the power to move this writer to tears). However, Roy
Budd's score for Mann's film – along with the closing romantic ballad performed
by Mary Hopkin – is memorably redolent and contributes immeasurably towards
making this more than respectable screen adaptation of its source story a very
worthy investment of one's time.
Network Distributing, who
originally released Kidnapped on DVD
in the UK in 2007, have reissued it in a nicely fulsome package as part of
their continuing 'The British Film' series. The feature itself is a clean
2.35:1 ratio presentation with only the most minimal traces of wear. Caine fans
will delight in the inclusion of no less than three lengthy archive interviews (with
a combined running time of over an hour), two of them hosted by Russell Harty
during the actor's promotional tours for Sleuth
and The Eagle Has Landed, one by
Gloria Hunniford focusing on Educating
Rita. Then there’s a short 1971 behind-the-scenes featurette hosted by
Lawrence Douglas, a gallery of poster art, FOH and lobby cards and an extensive
collection of production stills, plus an original trailer. For those hesitant
as to whether the film alone is sufficient inducement to warrant purchase, the
wealth of supplementary material served up on Network’s disc should definitely
clinch the deal.
Actor Steven Hill has died at age 94. Hill came to prominence in 1966 as the original star of the "Mission: Impossible" TV series. He played Dan Briggs, the head of the Impossible Mission Force, who led a select team of diverse members on highly dangerous espionage missions. Hill, who was an Orthodox Jew, found that the filming schedule conflicted with his religious obligations. He left the series after one season and was replaced by Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, who remained with the franchise henceforth. Hill retired from acting for almost a decade before returning to TV as District Attorney Adam Schiff on the popular NBC show "Law & Order". He stayed with the series for years and earned two Emmy nominations. Among his feature films are "Billy Bathgate", "Yentl", "The Firm", "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Legal Eagles". For more click here.
Alamo Drafthouse cinemas will present the original "Planet of the Apes" starring Charlton Heston on the big screen. At all theaters, the $30 admission gets you an exclusive, limited edition "Make America Ape Again" T shirt designed by Mondo. For tickets and locations click here.
Guttman (Christopher Plummer) is an elderly Jewish New York nursing home
resident whose wife, Ruth, recently passed on. In the early stages of dementia, he finds himself forgetting things,
such as Ruth’s death, which is evident each time that he awakens and calls out
her name. Zev is also a survivor of the
Auschwitz concentration camp (presumably Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which was a
combination concentration camp and extermination camp). Another nursing home resident, Max Rosenbaum
(Martin Landau), recognizes Zev from the camp. While Zev is able-bodied and mentally declining, Max is confined to a
wheelchair yet as smart as a whip and in full control of his faculties. Max reminds Zev that their families were
murdered during World War II at the hands of a ruthless Blockführer named Otto
Wallisch who fled Germany under the name of “Rudy Kurlander”. Max has managed to locate four people living
in the United States under this assumed name and has a hunch that once of them
is the one and only Otto Wallisch. He
has spared no expense to send Zev out on a mission, armed with thousands of
dollars in cash, a handgun, and written instructions to find and murder Wallisch
in retaliation for his actions. Zev
sneaks out of the nursing home and escapes detection, much to the dismay of his
son and daughter-in-law who frantically search for him. When Zev makes his way across the country
looking for the various Rudy Kurlander’s, he comes face to face with people who
fled German occupied countries and sympathizes with them. Bruno Ganz plays the first such fleer and his
role is a small one, however it is revealed on the commentary that he had a
much longer monologue and I wish that it had been reinstated for the home video
release. This actor also played Adolph
Hitler in Downfall (2004).
second Rudy Kurlander is a bedridden homosexual whose plight moves Zev to
tears. Later, a case of mistaken
identity lands Zev unwittingly in the home of an anti-Semite played with
horrific gusto by Dean Norris, an actor who just gets better with every role he
plays. By the time he makes it to the
home of the fourth man he is looking for, the ending is not what we expect, and
it’s easy to carp about whether or not it’s effective or predictable.
have never seen a boring film by Atom Egoyan. One of the most interesting directors working today, Mr. Egoyan’s films
are fascinating cinematic revelations which I look forward to each time he
announces a new project. Canadian
audiences are probably most familiar with his earlier work which consist of Family Viewing (1987) and Speaking Parts (1989). His best works, The Adjuster (1991), Exotica
(1994), and The Sweet Hereafter
(1997), brought him worldwide attention and rightfully so as they are easily
three of the greatest films to come out of the Canadian film industry. Remember
does not quite reach the heights of these three films (it is less cinematically
interesting than its predecessors), but it is still an interesting outing given
his output since 2005’s Where the Truth
Lies which, 2008’s Adoration
notwithstanding, has been fairly uneven. Most of Remember’s detractors
fault the screenplay and the aforementioned denouement, in addition to the
questionable choice of using the Holocaust as a subject for a revenge drama
with characters seemingly fashioned after modern-day stereotypes. All that aside, watching Christopher
Plummer’s portrayal of Zev kept me captivated. It’s a carefully understated interpretation of a role that was written
with him in mind. I first saw him
onscreen as Sir Charles Litton in Blake Edwards’s The Return of the Pink Panther in the summer of 1975 when I was
almost seven years-old and found him to be funny and charming. His turn as Zev is, obviously, much
different, as we follow him through his routines of getting dressed, falling
asleep and waking up in a confused state. Mr. Plummer plays the role with maximum efficiency and basically
inhabits Zev’s skin. His forgetfulness and
need to refer to written notes calls to mind Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000).
Blu-ray from Lionsgate comes with some nice extras. There is a full-length audio commentary with director Egoyan, producer
Robert Lantos and screenwriter Benjamin August who discuss how the project came
about and the casting of those involved. I have always loved commentaries as they give you a terrific insight
into how the creators intended certain scenes to play and how they actually are
presented. Mr. Egoyan has always been
especially articulate when discussing his films and this commentary is no
is also a featurette entitled Performances
to Remember which runs roughly 17 minutes and is essentially a
behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film and on-set interviews
conducted with some of the performers regarding their roles. More than a few minutes are spent on the set
of the anti-Semite’s house and the director explains how it was deliberately
built to accommodate Paul Sarossy’s camera (Mr. Egoyan’s longtime
cinematographer) from a multitude of angles. Mr. Plummer also weighs in on his role of Zev.
A Tapestry of Evil: Remembering the
Past is a featurette that runs about 14
minutes and it focuses on screenwriter Benjamin August’s desire to write a film
about the hunt for Nazi war criminals.
Director Richard Brooks's classic Western "The Professionals" turns 50 this year and Cinema Retro will celebrate with a cover story and extensive coverage of the film in our next issue, #36. Meanwhile, feast your eyes on the original trailer and enjoy the likes of Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Jack Palance and Claudia Cardinale burning up the screen, all the accompaniment of Maurice Jarre's superb score.
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Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
The New York Philharmonic will present the fourth season of
THE ART OF THE SCORE: Film Week at the Philharmonic September 13–17, 2016, featuring
complete screenings of two iconic films set in New York City with ties to the
New York Philharmonic: West Side Story, conducted by David Newman,
and Manhattan, conducted by Alan Gilbert, with the scores — by
Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin, respectively — performed live to the
films. Actor and Philharmonic Board Member Alec Baldwin continues as Artistic
Advisor of THE ART OF THE SCORE.
“Ever since we began THE ART OF THE SCORE, I have hoped to
be able to arrange to present Manhattan with the New York
Philharmonic playing that marvelous all-Gershwin score — which it recorded for
the original sound track — live,” said Alec Baldwin, Artistic Advisor of THE
ART OF THE SCORE. “Now is just the right time for it to finally happen, as it
fits perfectly with the Orchestra’s salute to New York as part of its 175th
anniversary season. This great city has inspired countless filmmakers, so the
challenge was selecting which movie to pair with the Woody Allen classic. When
we thought of West Side Story, with its magnificent music and Bernstein’s
connection to this great Orchestra, the choice was inevitable.”
WEST SIDE STORY
THE ART OF THE SCORE will open September 13–15, 2016, with
a complete screening of West Side Story with New York Philharmonic
Laureate Conductor Leonard Bernstein’s score performed live to the film,
conducted by David Newman. The re-mastered film will be projected in
high-definition, with original vocals and dialogue intact.
Leonard Bernstein was composing the score for West Side
Story when, in November 1956, he was appointed Joint Principal Conductor
of the New York Philharmonic (he became Music Director in September 1958). Set
in Manhattan’s Upper West Side of the 1950s, which later became the New York
Philharmonic’s home with the establishment of and move to Lincoln Center, West
Side Story features Bernstein’s iconic score, which appeared in both the
1957 Broadway musical and the 1961 film, leans heavily on jazz and Latin
American influences, and includes classic songs such as “America,” “Tonight,”
“Somewhere,” and “Maria.” A Robert Wise Production, the film was directed by
Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, and features Robbins’s choreography, Ernest
Lehman’s screenplay, Arthur Laurents’s book, and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics.
Winner of ten Academy Awards® including Best Picture and the most of any
musical film in history, this electrifying musical sets the ageless tragedy of Romeo
and Julietin the slums of 1950s New York and stars Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer.
The New York Philharmonic performed the score toWest Side Story live to
the film in September 2011, led by David Newman, in celebration of the film’s
The Philharmonic inaugurated THE ART OF THE SCORE,
highlighting some of the genre’s most distinctive uses of music, in September
2013 with two programs of film music: Hitchcock! — which celebrated
Alfred Hitchcock and the music written for his films by composers including
Bernard Herrmann, Lyn Murray, and Dimitri Tiomkin through film clips
accompanied by live performances of the scores — and 2001: A Space Odyssey —
which was screened in its entirety as the Orchestra performed the score live,
led by Music Director Alan Gilbert. The second season featured La Dolce
Vita: The Music of Italian Cinema — highlighting iconic Italian film
scores by Nino Rota, Andrea and Ennio Morricone, Luis Bacalov, and others — and
Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times: The Tramp at 100 — paying tribute to
Charlie Chaplin and the 100th birthday of his character, The Little Tramp,
including a complete screening of Modern Times with the reconstructed
score, composed by Chaplin with Alfred Newman’s help, performed live to the
film. The third season featured two complete Academy Award®–winning films
screened with live performances of their acclaimed scores: On the Waterfront, featuring
Bernstein’s Oscar®–nominated score, and The Godfather, featuring Nino
THE ART OF THE SCORE’s second program, September 16–17,
2016, will feature the World Premiere screening of Woody Allen’s complete
1979 film Manhattan with the score, composed by Gershwin, performed live
to the film, conducted by Music Director Alan Gilbert. On September 16 Alec
Baldwin and special guest Tony Roberts, the actor who has appeared in several
Woody Allen films, will introduce the film. The New York Philharmonic, led by
then Music Director Zubin Mehta, recorded 10 of the 13 Gershwin works featured
in the film, including the rendition of Rhapsody in Blue that opens
and closes the black-and-white film, on the same stage in which this
year’s performances will take place. The score has been restored for live
performance for the first time, using the parts from the Philharmonic’s
recording session that were recovered in the Orchestra’s Music Library in 2015,
and reconstructing other musical elements to match their treatment in the film,
including three selections recorded for the film by the Buffalo Philharmonic
Then Principal Clarinet Stanley Drucker recalled Woody
Allen, also a jazz clarinet player, smiling and giving him a thumbs-up after
Mr. Drucker recorded the opening solo of Rhapsody in Blue. Then
flutist Renée Siebert said, “I remember Woody Allen being quite taken with the
sound of that very familiar music coming to him ‘live’ from such a great
orchestra.” Woody Allen said that Manhattan “evolved from the music.
I was listening to a record album of overtures from famous George Gershwin
shows, and I thought ‘This would be a beautiful thing to make a movie in
black-and-white, you know, and make a romantic movie.’”
Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Mariel Hemingway,
Meryl Streep, and Ann Byrne star in Woody Allen’s extraordinary and funny film
that explores the embattled life and loves of a successful New York comedy
writer. With music by George Gershwin, the film is a Jack Rollins–Charles H.
Joffe Production written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, and directed by
Woody Allen. Manhattan was nominated for two Academy Awards® including
Best Original Screenplay.
Historians of Hollywood’s Golden Age will surely remember
the name of Louella Parsons. Using the long
reach of the Hearst Newspaper Corporation as her platform, Parsons was crowned
the “Queen of Hollywood.” She was one of the earliest and foremost conveyors of
tinsel-town gossip. A radio personality
as well as a syndicated columnist, Parsons’ star would only dim when a rival, the
notorious Hedda Hopper, arrived in town circa 1938.
Regardless of the competition, Parsons would soldier on
and enjoy a long career. In her column
of October 28, 1958 (“Shocker Due”), the magpie broke the news that Steve Broidy,
the president of Allied Artists, Inc. had “turned over” the studio’s newest
project “Confessions of an Opium Eater
to Producer-Director William Castle.” The forty-four year-old Castle, only then in the earliest stages of
elevating promotional ballyhoo to an
art form, had already been in the movie business for a decade and a half. Though
no one would confuse Castle as an auteur,
the producer-director-writer could reliably churn out marketable low-budget westerns,
adventure films and thrillers for such studios as Columbia, Monogram, and
In 1958, Castle would direct the moody and atmospheric
horror-mystery Macabre for Allied. Then, in September of that same year, the
filmmaker was busy wrapping up principal shooting on yet another low-budget
horror The House on Haunted Hill. Though The
House on Haunted Hill (with star Vincent Price) would not see release until
February 1959, studio bookkeepers immediately recognized the film’s box-office
potency. Allied moved quickly to sign
the work-for-hire Price to appear in what would turn out to be a more dissolute,
under-performing quickie titled The Bat
Parsons reportage was too early out of the gate. For starters, she was misinformed regarding William
Castle’s involvement in Confessions of an
Opium Eater. Not only had she reported
that the acknowledged “Poor Man’s Hitchcock” was to leave for Tokyo, Japan in
January 1959 for location scouting, Parsons also leaked several other bits of
erroneous information: that Japanese Miiko Taka (“Marlon Brando’s screen-love
in Sayonarra”) had signed on as lead
actress, that the film would be shot in color, and that the resulting
production would be one of the studio’s “high budget pictures for the year.” None of this, of course, would turn out to be
true. Following the success of House on Haunted Hill, both Castle and Price
were able to strike a better deal with Columbia. It was through that studio that the (mostly
monochrome) low-budget horror-flick The
Tingler would be released in late 1959.
It’s difficult to determine exactly why Allied would
choose to press on in their desire to bring Thomas De Quincey’s slim book Confessions of an English Opium Eater to
the big-screen. The fact that it was a
public domain work and therefore free to pillage as source material cannot be
discounted. Truth be told, it’s neither
a particularly engaging story nor a tale worthy of being committed to celluloid.
Originally published in 1821 as a
serial in London magazine, the tale recounts
- in a rather straightforward if vividly described manner - the author’s
addiction to opiates. As a harrowing
medical and psychological treatise, De Quincey’s work was invaluable but, not too
surprisingly, almost nothing other than the slightly amended and grim
exploitative title would be utilized in this subsequent 1962 screen version.
Though the studio was able to entice Vincent Price – if
only briefly - back into the fold, Confessions
of an Opium Eater was the last of four films the actor would appear in for Allied. (His penultimate film for the company was a walk-on
role in the prison drama Convicts 4). Though usually cast in elegant and villainous
roles, Price is – at long last - a hero in this one, though he’s positively
raffish as first person narrator De Quincey. This is odd as the actual Thomas De Quincey was born into a British
mercantile family of means and prestige. Though a wild youth, he attended college, maintained
friendships with such colleagues as Wordsworth and Coleridge, and reportedly never
left the British Isles in the course of his lifetime. In the film however, this educated man of
letters is more provocatively cast as a tough gun-runner who developed a taste
for opium while working the tough streets of China’s mainland. Upon his 1902 return from the exotic east to
the gritty brick and clapboard streets of San Francisco’s rough and tumble Chinatown,
Price’s De Quincey’s conscience is stirred by the sad plight of the sorrowful
women we’re introduced to near the film’s beginning. The women have been kidnapped from their
families or torn from English-speaking Christian missions back home. Upon their arrival in the city by the Bay, they’re
abused, starved, and manhandled by ruthless Tongs who plan to barter their
charms in exchange for opium.
This is the sort of derring-do adventure-thriller programmer
that Monogram Pictures (the forebear of Allied) had churned out plentifully during
the 1940s. Nearly all of the creaky trademark
Monogram tropes are put into play: inscrutable
Asian villainy, exotic, smoky rooms containing secret passageways, routes to
underground labyrinths, trapdoors, drugs, crime, and bamboo-caged damsels-in-distress. The problem is this film was released in 1962
and such caricatures were from a time out of mind and would soon bring swift
biographer-daughter notes that Confessions
was “caught in unwelcome controversy when the Los Angeles Committee against
Defamation of the Chinese protested its release.”
Robert Hill’s purple prose fortune cookie of a screenplay
is possibly the weakest link in a production of already tenuous value. Though the black and white film runs only eighty-five
minutes, it seems much longer. A lengthy
opium-induced hallucination scene goes on too long and is ridiculously unconvincing. Near the film’s climax, there’s a trio of writhing
slave-trade dance numbers featuring a bevy of reluctant female conscripts. These auction-block “interpretative dances” are
merely a preamble to the round of bidding before an audience of salacious Tong
members. These dances were so painful to
sit through that I nearly found myself tempted to partake in a mind-numbing taste
of the special stash myself.
To the film’s credit, the producer was not afraid to cast
an almost-exclusive Asian cast to essay the roles of Asians, no matter how thin
or racially-insensitively drawn these characters were. There’s no casting of such British colonials
as Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee, or Swede Warner Oland, to play ethnic Fu Manchu or Charlie Chan type roles. It’s interesting to note that Confessions
was released the same year as Eon Productions’ Dr. No: in the first James Bond film it’s a Canadian, Joseph
Wiseman, who would assume the role as the titular, sinister and half-Asian
super-villain. So such casting was par
for the course. The problem is that Confessions is no Dr. No. Even for us diehard Vincent
Price fans, this film is little more than a curiosity.
Producer-Director Albert Zugsmith’s Confessions of an Opium Eater is made available as a Warner Archive
DVD-R release. The film is presented in its
original back and white and in a Widescreen 1.66.1 transfer. A true bare bones release, the set features
only the movie itself without even the nominal addition of a chapter selection menu
or theatrical trailer. Though the most
indefatigable of Vincent Price fans (of which I’m one) will likely choose to
add this film to their home library, more casual fans – if interested at all - are
best advised to stream the movie as a one-off.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Angela Gray (Emma Watson), a young woman living with her father
and grandmother in rural Minnesota, accuses her father of sexually molesting
her. The father, John (David Dencik), is
brought in by the police for questioning. A reformed alcoholic and widower, John claims to have no memory of
abusing his daughter, but he is reluctant to deny the accusation because, he
says confusedly, “It must be true. Angela would never lie.” The
department brings in psychologist Dr. Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis) to consult
on the case, and Raines suggests that he hypnotize John to see if he can unlock
the repressed memory. Under hypnotic
regression, John “remembers” being in Angela’s bedroom, witnessing a sexual
assault on his daughter, and photographing it, but he says the rapist was
actually one of the department’s own officers and a family acquaintance, George
Nesbitt (Aaron Ashmore). The senior
investigator assigned to the case, Det. Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke), is quick to
believe the accusations. Convincing his
commanding officer to detain both Gray and Nesbitt, he goes full tilt to find
Supported by Reverend Beaumont (Lothaire Bluteau), the pastor of
the fundamentalist church that she and her family attended, Angela begins to
level increasingly bizarre charges. She
alleges that her grandmother Rose (Dale Dickey) was also involved in the abuse
as a member of a robed, hooded satanic cult that holds secret orgies and
sacrifices infants. “They’re
everywhere,” she tells Kenner, and suggests that the car crash that killed her
mother four years before was no accident. As evidence of her story, she fearfully shows the detective an inverted
cross branded on her stomach. “Now
they’ll kill you too,” she warns. For
Kenner, her charges are given additional weight by a barrage of TV media
reports about a covert nationwide network of Satan worshippers.
Filmed in Canada but supposedly situated in a grim, gray
American Midwest locale that looks like a backdrop from one of H.P. Lovecraft’s
gothic horror stories, writer-director Alejandro Amenábar’s “Regression” (2015)
is presented as a mystery story with horror overtones: Is Angela telling the
truth? Where are the photographs that
would substantiate her story and John’s hypnotically “retrieved” memory? If devil-worshippers lurk among the everyday
townspeople of Hoyer, Minn., who are they?
Viewers under 30 may be just as confounded as Hawke’s driven,
ultra-caffeinated investigator. Others
who are old enough to have watched tabloid TV in the mid-1980s will catch on
faster, especially since Amenábar tips his hand at the outset by informing us
that the story takes place in 1990. During the 1980s, in a series of sleazy TV shows presented as fact,
Geraldo Rivera, Sally Jessy Raphael, and others fostered the scary notion that
devil worshippers formed an incestuous, murderous underground movement in many
American towns and cities. The specious
stories were founded on lurid “memoirs” of people who claimed to be the victims
of satanists, cases of alleged “ritual” child abuse prosecuted by overzealous
authorities on the basis of shoddy investigative techniques (notably, hypnotic
regression), the rantings of deluded or unscrupulous TV preachers, and leftover
memories of the 1969 Manson murders. If
they weren’t true believers already, many middle-class viewers were convinced
when they tuned in to “The Devil Worshippers,” a segment of ABC’s prime-time
“20/20” show in May 1985, and heard host Hugh Downs proclaim: “There’s no
question that something is going on out there.” If the normally unflappable Hugh Downs was worried, they should be
too. Besides, tens of thousands of
parents were already fretting that their kids were being seduced to the Dark
Side by satanic symbolism in Black Sabbath rock videos.
The panic eventually subsided in the early 1990s as the
salacious stories were discredited and clearer thinking finally prevailed. In the meantime, the tabloid hacks had lost
interest and moved on to other worthy endeavors, like cracking Al Capone’s
money vault. But the damage had already
been done to the careers and reputations of many innocent people who had been
slandered as rapists and degenerates.
Although Amenábar’s movie is handsomely (if gloomily) mounted
and well-acted, there isn’t much of a mystery to Angela’s story if you remember
those relatively recent historical events. Consequently, by the time Kenner figures out that he’s being gamed by a
mentally disturbed young woman, TV hype, and his own overheated imagination,
you’ve already there waiting for him to catch up. I thought that Amenábar would put a twist in
the story that Angela’s coven of backwoods satanists actually existed, and Det.
Kenner would wind up like the unfortunate characters in John Moxey’s “City of
the Dead” (1960), José Ramón Larraz’s “Black Candles” (1982), and of course
“Rosemary’s Baby” (1968). But no, Kenner
confronts Angela and the film ends with a written epilogue about the real-life
‘80s satanist scare. No ambiguous final
shot of bystanders secretly wearing inverted crosses and giving Kenner sinister
glances after he walks away. Still,
Amenábar reminds us that it doesn’t take much to prey on people’s fears and
phobias. We may not worry today whether
Joe and Ethel next door have a satanic altar in their basement, but that’s only
because 24/7 cable shows, network news, and internet gossip have given us more
immediate things to fear and revile. Never mind that most are as spurious as Hugh Downs’ devil worshippers.
2016 Anchor Bay DVD of “Regression” is
crisp and sharp. Hawke, Watson, and
Amenábar discuss the film in four short features added as supplements.
The new Metrograph Theater on Ludlow
Street in New York just finished a series called “This is PG?!” which screened
35mm prints of films that traumatized youngsters during their initial releases
after having been granted a PG-rating by the Motion Picture Association of America. Films that were released prior to the July
1984 introduction of the PG-13 rating such as Jaws (1975), Burnt Offerings
(1976), Invasion of the Body Snatchers
(1978), Tourist Trap (1979), Poltergeist (1982) and, most
specifically, Indiana Jones and the
Temple of Doom (1984) all had a hand in helping to create the new rating to
bridge the gap between PG-rated films that weren’t quite R-rated material. Released in New York in February 1976,
actor/director Ray Danton’s Psychic
Killer could have easily been a part of this screening as it, too, secured
a PG-rating. There is a fair amount of
violence and bloodshed in this film, not to mention a fairly gory Psycho-inspired shower murder with
nudity, to raise more than a few eyebrows (ironically, 1960’s Psycho has been given an R rating!)
Ostensibly shot between April and July
of 1974, Psychic Killer is a time
capsule of a film, a veritable authenticated record of gaudy clothes, bad
hairdos, enormous cars and men with oversized ties. Timothy Hutton’s father, Jim Hutton, fresh
from screaming at Kim Darby and her little imaginary creatures running around
the house in ABC-TV’s Don’t Be Afraid of
the Dark (1973), plays Arnold Masters, a sort of mama’s boy who lives like
a bit of a hermit. He is blamed for the
murder of a doctor (he didn’t kill him) and lands in prison where he meets
other disturbed persons. While
incarcerated, his mother passes away and this infuriates him as he feels that
her death is directly attributed to his absence. Masters soon obtains a medallion that has
mystical powers (it almost looks like the headpiece to the Staff of Ra in
Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost
Ark from 1981) and gives him the ability to leave his body in a sort of
Out-of-Body-Experience (OBEE) and seek out revenge against those who put him in
prison and those he deems responsible for his mother’s death (David Cronenberg
wrote a similar storyline several years later in one of his best films, 1979’s The Brood. That film was controversial as it employed
young children as mutant killers). When
Masters kills in this state, his body goes into a condition wherein he appears
dead. The film’s premise is based upon
the Kirlian Effect, which was written about extensively
in the 1970s. The idea is, if nothing
cops assigned to the case are Lieutenant Anderson (Aldo Ray) and Lieutenant
Morgan (Paul Burke), partners who are desperate to stay one step ahead of Masters
before he can kill again. Also eager to
stop Masters is the prison psychiatrist, Dr. Laura Scott (Julie Adams,
real-life then-wife of director Danton). Mrs. Adams may have fled the clutches of TheCreature
from the Black Lagoon, but she has a tougher time bolting from the
occasional silliness that seeps into the script. There is a psychic expert in tow also, one
Dr. Gubner (Nehemiah Persoff) who informally teams with Dr. Scott to stop
Killer was previously
issued on DVD in 1999 and 2008. The new
Blu-ray/DVD combo, which are mastered from a 2K scan of the original camera
negative, are obvious steps above these previous releases, so the third time is
indeed a charm. This version by the fine
folks at Vinegar Syndrome comes with some nice extras specifically made for the
featurette (8:55) is comprised of onscreen interviews with relatives of the
late director of the film, Ray Danton. Steve Danton and Mitchell Danton, his sons, talk about how the film came
about and what it was like to be on the set. Their father’s work ethic had a huge impact on them and their chosen
professions. Their mother, Julie Adams,
appears briefly, as does Ronald L. Smith, the first assistant director. The opening prologue of the film, which
attempts to set the audience up with a serious tone, contains a voice over by
director Danton: "Why should any phenomenon be assumed impossible? The
universe begins to look more and more like a great thought, than a great
of Horror featurette (8:05) features Mardi Rustam, a Kurdish movie fan born
in Iraq who dreamed of making it in Hollywood. Amiable and well-spoken, Mr. Rustam describes writing to the movie
moguls of the day and making his was to the United States. Psychic
Killer’s original script title was I
Am a Demon. He also produced Raphael
Nussbaum’s Candice Rialson vehicle Pets
(1973), Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive
(1976), and 1985’s Evils of the Night,
which is due for a Blu-ray release by the end of the month also from Vinegar
Killer Inside Me (13:32) focuses on producer Greydon
known for Satan’s Cheerleaders (1973), Without Warning (1980),and Joysticks
(1983). He heard about the Kirlian
Effect on the radio and was intrigued by it and thought it would make a great
premise for a film. The Kirlian Effect was also the working title of the film. Mr. Clark also wrote On the Cheap, a book about his adventures in the screen trade.
Rounding out the extras are multiple
television spots and the original theatrical trailer.
For fans of 1970’s cult cinema, Psychic Killer is a fun ride.
All struggling young reporter Mike Ward (John McGuire)
wants is a break. He needs money so he can move out of his crummy room in a
three story boarding house, get his own place, and marry his girl, Jane
(Margaret Tallichet). His break arrives when he becomes the star witness to the
murder of Nick, the owner of Nick’s Coffee Pot, a neighborhood eatery right
across the street from where he lives. The newspaper he works for gives him a raise
and assigns him to cover the murder trial. At first he and Jane are elated
about Mike’s turn of fortune, and they began planning their future. But soon Jane
wonders if the young man Mike is going to testify against, a young cab driver
named Briggs (Elisha Cook, Jr.), is really the killer. “He’s so young,” she
says. Her attitude begins to put a damper on their relationship. After a trial
that seems a mockery of justice, Briggs is convicted on the basis of Mike’s
testimony and sentenced to death. Jane becomes more estranged from Mike as a
result. The lucky break Mike had hoped for now doesn’t seem so lucky.
“Stranger on the Third Floor,” directed by Boris Ingster,
and released by RKO Radio Pictures in 1940, is considered to be the first film
noir ever made. Based on a script by Frank Partos and an uncredited Nathaniel
West, it tells the story of the steady erosion of Mike’s confidence that he did
the right thing testifying against Briggs, and how easy it is to suddenly have
“the fickle finger of fate pointing at you.” The night after the conviction, he
comes home alone and finds a weird-looking stranger (Peter Lorre, looking more bizarre than usual), sitting
on the front steps of his building.
Mike goes up to his room and the film becomes more
introspective, with the addition of Mike’s voiceover, telling us what he’s
thinking. We get an inside look at his
life. He hates the place he lives in. He especially hates the neighbor in the
next room, a man named Meng (Charles Waldron), who is heard snoring on the
other side of the thin walls. In flashbacks, we see how Meng makes life
miserable for him. For one thing, he complained about Mike to the landlady
because of the noise he made when he used to work on his typewriter in the
evenings. In another incident he complained when Mike brought Jane up to the
room to get her out of a rain storm. Unpleasant words were exchanged.
Mike tries to shrug it off. When he goes to use the
bathroom down the hall, he sees the stranger who had been sitting outside,
standing on the stairway. He asks him what he’s doing there and the stranger
runs for it. Mike goes back upstairs, and notices Meng’s room is quiet. He
suddenly wonders if the stranger did something to him. He’s afraid to find out.
He remembers now that at least twice he threatened to kill Meng in front of
witnesses. If he found Meng dead, and reported it to the cops, he might end up
suspect No. 1. With his mind in turmoil, he falls asleep and goes into a dream.
Ingster and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, (who went
on to lens such classics as “Out of the Past,” “The Blue Gardenia,” “Where
Danger Lives,” and “Clash by Night”) pulled out all the stops for the lengthy dream
sequence that makes up the centerpiece of the film. It’s the thing that most
people talk about and remember about “Stranger on the Third Floor”. Full of noir imagery derived from German
expressionism, with exaggerated camera angles, lots of dark shadows, and some
brilliant lighting, the sequence is daring and cinematically compelling. It is
a bit heavy-handed, however, in the way it shows how anyone can be caught in a
criminal justice system that doesn’t care if your guilty or innocent. The
defense attorney is an incompetent shyster who urges him to plead guilty, the
jury is literally asleep during the trial, and all the press cares about is
whether it makes a good story. Even dear Jane is forced to give testimony that
only sinks him deeper. It may be overwrought, but it makes its point.
When Mike awakens from the dream he finally checks on Meng
and finds him dead. His throat is slashed the same way Nick’s was. His first
instinct is to run, but Jane persuades him to call the cops. He does and you
can guess what happens.
It all sounds a little far-fetched and I suppose it is,
but somehow the script manages to bring all of its paranoid element together in
a reasonable fashion, even if the nice, tidy ending is a bit of a stretch. As
you watch “Stranger on the Third Floor,” the filming techniques and the story
line, having become so familiar by now, you may think you’ve seen it all
before. I’m sure you have. It’s been imitated hundreds of times in film and TV.
But this arguably was the first of its kind.
Warner Archive has released this remastered print of “A
Stranger on the Third Floor,” on DVD only. The film looks good, the stark black
and white cinematography has been well transferred to disc. Don’t be alarmed
when you start the movie though. The opening credits look terrible, but after
that, it’s all good. They must have had to use a different film element for the
opening. There are literally no extras on the disc. This obscure 64-minute
movie is well worth watching and is more than just a curiosity. Definitely for any
fan of film noir. The only thing better would be a Blu-ray with some film
historian commentary giving the picture its due.
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John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
Are you a MOVIE BUFF? Do you think you know a lot about
MOVIES? Well, then, Movie Buff is the party accessory for you!
What is it? Movie Buff is a fast-paced, open-ended, very clever trivia card
game for “folks who love spouting movie lines and film facts.” It’s tag line is
“Finally!—a place for all that useless knowledge!”
During the course of the game, players
create “Takes” that consist of a movie title, actor(s) in the movie, role(s) in
the same film, and even applicable quote(s). “Strategy” cards can be thrown to
manipulate the play of the game. Because the game relies on players’ own store
of trivia knowledge, the same game can never be played twice. No expansion
Recently, Cinema Retro correspondent and reviewer RAYMOND BENSON encountered
JUSTIN PURVIS, the creator/designer of Movie
Buff, at Chicago’s Flashback Weekend. He sat down with Justin to find out a
little more about Movie Buff.
RETRO: How did Movie
Buff come about? What’s the origin
JUSTIN: Honestly, I feel
like I've been working on Movie Buff my entire life. Ever since I was old
enough to start watching movies, I have had this connection with films and the
actors in them. And movies became a huge part of my life when I was fourteen,
and I was diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disease that began to slowly
steal my eyesight, leaving me with less than 10% of my vision remaining today.
But when I was diagnosed, I had no idea how long I would be able to see, so I
dove into the escapism of movies, and found that I had a knack for remembering
useless knowledge, like actors in small roles in movies and lines of dialogue
after only watching a movie once. My brother and I would even have
conversations and movie quotes around my parents and they would sit there
quizzically looking at us as if we were speaking a foreign language.
As I grew older, my friends and I started playing different games
to try and stump one another; one was a game that we just called "the
movie game," where I would name an actor and then the next person would
have to name a movie that that actor was in and then the next person had to
name a different actor in that same movie and then the next person had to name
a different movie that the second actor was in, continually moving from a movie
to actor to movie until one of us was stumped and couldn't figure out another
movie or another actor without repeating them. And then in the 90s the game 6° of Kevin Bacon became extremely
popular where any actor can be connected to Kevin Bacon within six steps using
the movie they've done, so my brother and I and our friends would play games
where instead of naming an actor we connect to Kevin Bacon, you name any two
actors, and we would connect them in six steps or less, seeing who can connect
them either the fastest, or in the shortest amount of connections, or in the
most obscure ways.
And coming from a military family, we traveled around a lot. Every
time we would move, we met new friends and found that they were playing this
game that I thought I had invented. And they always had different kinds of
spins on it, anything from the ability to go obscure once in a while, or if you
did something, you could reverse it back on the other person. That got me
thinking about ways that we could create a unifying game that everyone could
play and share their love of films without being snobbish about it, or not
being as snobbish about it. Which prompted me to take this verbal game
that I had been playing most of my life and turning it into a physical game
with more strict rules to cement the game's idea, but also provide the ability
to play strategies to help you overcome obstacles that show up eventually.
Around 2005 or so, I had finally decided that I was going to try
make a prototype of this game and I went online to a "create your own
cards" website and bought the software and the card stock, creating my
very first prototype of what I was calling Movie
Buff at the time, On Set! I went
and got some generic images from the Internet and put them on these cards and
used them, play testing it with friends or with students that I would teach. I
used to teach Improv in Washington DC, and after the classes or the shows we'd
go out for drinks and I would break out the game and we'd play it.
Slowly over that time, in between full-time jobs, full-time life,
and full-time hobbies, I kept chipping away at the idea, putting it aside
whenever something "more important " came along. It wasn't until 2014
when my wife became pregnant with our first child that I realized I had to get
a real job, or make this game a reality. It was after a long conversation with
my wife, Corrie, that I sat back down to re-write out the entire rules and make
sure all the cards I had were the right ones for the game. We then launched
into starting a Kickstarter campaign and reaching out for help in finding a
print house and graphic designer, as well as making sure all of our legal
obligations were met in protecting the game. And then, nine months after our
successful campaign ended in August 2014, I had the very first printing of Movie Buff in my hands. We immediately
began selling it up and down the East Coast at conventions and festivals, as
well as in local comic and game shops. Never being afraid of a challenge, I
even approached non-gaming stores. I'm proud to say that you can even find Movie Buff in the occasional hardware
store and RV sales buildings. Because, let's face it, everyone can benefit from
RETRO: Are there plans to try and sell it to a bigger
JUSTIN: Absolutely! Every
convention we go to, we make new connections with people and we find out new
ways to spread the word about Movie Buff.
And we have been introduced to many people who are connected with game
companies/distributors. We are currently in conversations with a few companies
and are very excited about the prospects of this upcoming year. Of course, we
will let people know any good news we hear from these companies once we lock
down something with them.
On a potential side note, one of the ways we have really felt like
we have made headway is with the celebrities at the conventions we attend. For
those who have seen us at conventions, you know that we have a fun spread set
out, we make fresh popcorn to give out to people, we have a candy dish filled
with goodies, and when we are less busy, I try to make my rounds to the
celebrity tables to offer them popcorn and candy, since they don't always get a
chance to leave and get a meal until the end of the day. And at a lot of these
conventions, after a weekend of plying the celebs with chocolates and popcorn,
they usually ask me about two things - 'what's the deal with the cane?' (I am
legally blind, so I usually have my cane out when I am delivering candy, just so
people don't think I’m a jerk if I bump into them) and 'what is Movie Buff?' (which I then tell them
briefly about and, on many occasions, has resulted in them buying a copy from
me). So there is a small group of celebrities who have become as in love with
the game as we are, which we couldn't be happier about.
RETRO:Tell us about future updates or spin-offs.
JUSTIN: We have some great
games in the Buff Family coming your way soon! For December 2016, we are
debuting TWO new games. Or, rather, one new game and one Director's Cut!
First we are going to have Movie
Buff - Director's Cut!, which will have three new Trivia Cards to add to
the already amazing game. Also debuting will be the second game in our Buff
family, TV Buff. As we have discovered
through our travails in the convention world, we have a pretty unique game
mechanic and it lends itself to some awesome spin-offs. Much like Fluxx, or Monopoly, you can use the same game dynamic and take it in a whole
new direction. TV Buff will use your
own “useless knowledge” of TV shows and make you the Big Shot of the Boob-tube!
After that, we will be debuting Music Buff in Summer 2017, and following that more additions to the
Buff Family will include Comic Book Buff,
Video Game Buff, History Buff, Sports Buff,
and many others, that will allow every single person who has been told that
they have “useless knowledge”' a venue to prove it is worth something
anyone ever said you remind them of Paul Rudd?
JUSTIN: Yes, they have. And
every single time they do, I have one thing to tell them - Totes Magotes,
Joben. I am very glad to hear it, since he is an incredibly handsome man and
quite funny to boot! In fact, when the movie I Love You, Man first came out, I sat down and watched it with my
girlfriend at the time, and when it was over, she turned to me and said, "This
is like watching a home movie of you."
Check out the Movie Buff website to watch other demo videos, find out where
Justin Purvis will be demonstrating the game near you, and how to order the
game, t-shirts, caps, and other useless ephemera to go with Movie Buff. The game itself sells for
only $25.00 plus shipping.
defines “mockumentary” as a portmanteau (a linguistic blending of two words) of
the words mock and documentary. Essentially, it’s a phony,
comic documentary. Woody Allen didn’t invent this sub-genre of the comedy
motion picture, but he delivered two of its more successful examples—his very
first directorial feature, Take the Money
and Run (1969), and Zelig, released
in 1983. The latter can safely be counted as among the writer/director/actor’s best
movies—and seeing that to date he has directed forty-six titles (and that’s not
counting pictures he wrote but didn’t direct), that’s saying a lot.
Zelig, which takes place
in the late 1920s to the early 30s,is
the story of Leonard Zelig (Allen), a “chameleon man,” a nobody who
inexplicably assumes the physical and aural characteristics of whoever he’s
with. If he’s around scientists, he begins to speak the lingo and carry himself
in an academic, erudite fashion; if he’s associating with Chinese folks, he turns
Chinese, facial features included; and if he’s around African-Americans, his
skin darkens. No one can figure out why this marvel occurs.
he knows it, Zelig becomes an international personality. The newsreels “of the
day” are full of him as he rubs elbows with the contemporary rich and famous like
F. Scott Fitzgerald or Jack Dempsey or even Adolf Hitler (all of whom appear in
some way in the remarkable footage on display in this picture). As it was the
“jazz age,” Leonard Zelig’s strange ability is celebrated in popular songs,
dance crazes (everybody is “Doing the Chameleon”!), and merchandise befitting
the lizard-like misfit.
and his cinematographer, Gordon Willis (who was nominated for an Academy Award
for the first time, unbelievably, for Zelig
after acting as DP for such titles as The
Godfather, The Godfather Part II,
All the President’s Men, Annie Hall, and Manhattan, among many others) painstakingly inserted Woody Allen
into frames of black and white still photographs and old newsreels—Forrest Gump-style, but without the
benefit of CGI—to accomplish the amazing visual treatment for Zelig. The look of the film is simply
remarkable, and totally believable, even more so than in Gump.
color footage features 1983-era intellectual luminaries, such as Susan Sontag,
Saul Bellow, and Irving Howe, providing “interviews” and commenting on the
Leonard Zelig phenomenon as if it had really occurred.
only other star of note besides Allen is Mia Farrow, who plays a psychiatrist
who attempts to treat the “chameleon man.” Of course, Zelig and his doctor fall
in love—it wouldn’t be a Woody Allen romantic comedy without the romance. It’s
interesting to note that Allen actually started filming Zelig after Stardust Memories
(1980) and it was the first of twelve films he made with Farrow. However,
the visual effects took so much longer to achieve after principle photography
was shot, that Allen wrote, directed, and released A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) before Zelig was completed.
by Patrick Horgan, a British actor with a voice that sounds astonishingly like
one of those war-era documentarians, Zelig
is a top-notch, sophisticated, and very funny comedy that is brilliantly photographed and directed.
It was well-received at the time, and it launched Allen into a very successful
run of several financially and critically-acclaimed pictures in the mid-1980s.
And, as with all of the writer/director’s films, it helps if the audience knows
a little bit about history, art, and literature—Woody Allen’s movies, then and
now, are intended for a cultured crowd.
Time’s Blu-ray edition looks terrific—and you can’t complain about the
artifacts and blemishes in the images because these were all intentional to
make the old newsreel footage that much more believable. The disk comes with an
isolated score track (and the “original” 20s-era music, adapted by Dick Hyman,
is hilarious and dead-on), and the theatrical trailer. A collector's booklet with extensive liner notes by Julie Kirgo about the making of the film is also included.
too, will be singing along with “You May Be Six People, But I Love You.” Limited
to only 3000 copies, Zelig is a
must-grab for Woody Allen fans.
In the early 1970s celebrated purveyors of screen terror Hammer
Films went through a phase of adapting popular British television sitcoms into
big screen romps. This included churning out at no less than three On the Buses escapades as well as
one-offs for Man About the House, Nearest and Dearest, That's Your Funeral and Love Thy Neighbour. The latter four were
directed by John Robins who, glancing at his CV, largely forged his career out
of light comedy. Where most of these films were fairly weak in terms of entertainment,
they were never less than money-spinning. Love
Thy Neighbour, a box office hit upon its original release, has just been
gifted Blu-Ray status by Network as part of their continuing "The British
Film" collection, though whether it's a film deserving of such lavish
treatment is open to debate.
Neighbour started life in 1972 as a primetime ITV sitcom and ended up
running for 56 episodes across 7 series spanning 4 years. Created by Vince
Powell and Harry Driver (who wrote the lion's share of the televised episodes)
it revolved around the conflict between two next door neighbours, working-class
white socialist bigot Eddie Booth (Jack Smethurst) and educated black conservative
Bill Reynolds (Rudolph Walker), along with the more amicable relationship
between their long-suffering wives, Joan (Kate Williams) and Barbie (Nina
Baden-Semper). The root of the problem between the husbands was Eddie's stubbornly
racist mind-set (though it could be selective when the moment was propitious;
he certainly had a roving eye where Bill's shapely wife Barbie was concerned)
and the constant squabbles derived therefrom. With the two protagonists
frequently hurling insults at each other (which I shall refrain from quoting
here!), using language that simply wouldn't be permitted on mainstream
television today, 21st century viewers would probably be aghast. But
back in the day the programme was enormously popular and frequently topped the
weekly ratings. Additionally, those who retrospectively accuse the show itself of being racist tend to overlook
the fact that for all Eddie's unforgivably offensive remarks towards Bill
(which, admittedly, viewers were being invited to laugh at), most of the time
the guys rubbed along quite well, and Bill not only gave as good as he got, he
usually came out on top, the emphasis falling upon just how foolish Eddie's
Three series had already been screened by the time Hammer's film rolled
into cinemas in the summer of 1973. Starring all four of its television
incarnation’s leads and again scripted by Powell and Driver, it doesn't waste
any time with introductory faff, working instead on the safe assumption that
audiences by and large would already be familiar with the characters. There's
no real plot as such either, just several intertwined storylines (each of which
could have stood alone as a series episode) –
the guys get caught out by their wives when they attend a boozy striptease
show; the guys fall out over union matters in the factory where they work; the
guys' elderly parents (Patricia Hayes and Charles Hyatt) meet and get along
famously, much to their sons' mutual chagrin. The results make for a
mildly amusing if unremarkable time-passer that's very much of its era and the
appeal of which nowadays will boil down to how offended one is (or is not) by the writers' efforts to milk
laughs from both the pervasive racial disharmony and the derogatory insults
tossed around with abandon.
Network's Blu-Ray release presents viewers with the option of
watching the film in its 1.66:1 theatrical ratio or open matte 4:3. Although
the latter opens up picture information top and bottom, it isn't in high
definition – in fact it's
exceptionally poor definition – so having shelled out the extra £s to
own the film in pristine form, I'd suggest few people are likely to want to
watch it that way. The disc also includes a release trailer and an image
gallery comprising production photos, artwork and promotional materials from
the film's original release. It has been simultaneously issued on DVD.
True enthusiasts will be pleased to learn that Network has released
the entire TV series as a 9-platter box set too, packed with bonus enticements
that include the never aired pilot (in essence what would later become the
opening episode, only featuring Gwendolyn Watts instead of Kate Williams as
Eddie's wife), several Christmas and New Year TV specials...and Hammer's big screen film!