The first African-American to direct a major film for a Hollywood studio was Gordon Parks, whose feature film debut "The Learning Tree" was released in 1969. Parks may have shattered the glass ceiling but there wasn't a tidal wave of opportunities that immediately opened for other minority filmmakers, in part because there were so few with any formal training in the art. One beneficiary of Parks' achievement was Ossie Davis, who was internationally respected as a well-rounded artist. He was a triple threat: actor, director and writer but his directing skills had been relegated to the stage. In 1970 Davis co-wrote the screenplay for and directed "Cotton Comes to Harlem", a major production for United Artists. The film was based on a novel by African-American writer Chester Himes and proved to be pivotal in ushering in what became known as the Blaxploitation genre. In reality, it's debatable whether "Cotton" really is a Blaxploitation film. While most of the major roles are played by black actors, the term "Blaxploitation" has largely come to symbolize the kinds of goofy, low-budget films that are fondly remembered as guilty pleasures. However, "Cotton"- like Gordon Parks's "Shaft" films which would follow- boasts first class production values and top talent both in front of and behind the cameras. Regardless, the movie had sufficient impact at the boxoffice to inspire a seemingly endless barrage of Black-oriented American films that were all the rage from the early to mid-1970s. The Blaxploitation fever burned briefly but shone brightly and opened many doors for minority actors.
The film was shot when New York City was in the midst of a precipitous decline in terms of quality of life. Crime was soaring, the infrastructure was aging and the city itself would be on the verge of bankruptcy a few years later. Harlem was among the hardest hit areas in terms of the economy. The once dazzling jewel of a neighborhood had boasted popular nightclubs, theaters and restaurants that attracted affluent white patrons. By the mid-to-late 1960s, however, that had changed radically. Street crimes, organized gangs and the drug culture spread rapidly, making Harlem a very dangerous place to be. It was foreboding enough if you were black but it was considered a "Forbidden Zone" for most white people, who spent their money elsewhere, thus exacerbating the decline of the neighborhoods. "Cotton Comes to Harlem" serves as an interesting time capsule of what life was like in the area, having been shot during this period of decline. Director Davis was considered royalty in Harlem. Despite his success in show business, he and his equally acclaimed wife, actress Ruby Dee, never "went Hollywood". They stayed in the community and worked hard to improve the environment. Thus, Davis was perfectly suited to capture the action on the streets in a manner that played authentically on screen. Similarly, he had a real feel for the local population. As with any major urban area, Harlem undoubtedly had its share of amusing eccentrics and Davis populates the movie with plenty of such characters.
The film opens with a major rally held by Rev. Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart), a local guy who made good and who is idolized by the population of Harlem. O'Malley is a smooth-talking, charismatic con man in the mode of the notorious Reverend Ike who uses religion as a facade to rip off gullible followers. This time, O'Malley has launched a "Back to Africa" campaign for which he is soliciting funds. It's based on the absurd premise that he will be able to finance disgruntled Harlem residents back to the land of their ancestry. The hard-working, semi-impoverished locals end up donating $87,000 in cash but the rally is interrupted by a daring daytime robbery. An armored car filled with masked men armed with heavy weaponry descend upon the goings-on, loot the cashbox and take off. They are pursued by two street-wise local cops, "Grave Digger" Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and his partner "Coffin" Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques). Davis provides an exciting and colorful car chase through the streets of Harlem, as the cops fail to snag the robbers. They also discover that O'Malley has gone missing, leading them to believe that he orchestrated the heist himself so he could keep the proceeds raised at the rally. The plot becomes rather convoluted, as Jones and Johnson learn that a bale of cotton has arrived in Harlem and its somehow connected to the crime. They assume that the stolen money has been stashed in said cotton bale, which quickly changes hands among the most unsavory characters in the community. Getting in on the action is a white mob boss and his goons who are also trying to recover the cotton bale. The cotton itself is resented in Harlem because of its historical links to slavery and by the end of the film, the bale ends up in a stage show at the famed Apollo Theater where it is used as a prop in a bizarre production that involves historical observations about the black experience intermingled with a striptease act! Through it all, Jones and Johnson doggedly chase any number of people through the streets, engage in shoot-outs and car chases and come in and out of contact with Rev. O'Malley, who professes his innocence about being involved in the robbery. The Rev isn't so innocent when it comes to other unscrupulous activities such as chronically cheating on his long-suffering girlfriend Iris (Judy Pace) and manipulating other women in a variety of ways.
The most delightful aspect of the film is the showcasing of some very diverse talents of the era. Godfrey Cambridge (who made it big as a stand-up comic) and Raymond St. Jacques enjoy considerable on-screen chemistry even if the script deprives them of the kind of witty dialogue that would have enhanced their scenes together. They make wisecracks all the time and harass some less-than-savory characters but the screenplay never truly capitalizes on Cambridge's comedic potential. The film's most impressive performance comes from Calvin Lockhart, who perfectly captures the traits of phony, larger-than-life "preachers". He's all flashy good looks, gaudy outfits and enough narcissistic behavior to make Donald Trump look humble by comparison. Lockhart seems to be having a ball playing this character and the screen ignites every time he appears. There are some nice turns by other good character actors including pre-"Sanford and Son" Redd Foxx, who figures in the film's amusing "sting-in-the-tail" ending, John Anderson as the exasperated white captain of a Harlem police station that is constantly on the verge of being besieged by local activists, Lou Jacobi as a junk dealer, Cleavon Little as a local eccentric, J.D. Canon as a mob hit man and Dick Sabol as a goofy white cop who suffers humiliation from virtually everyone (which is sort of a payback for the decades in which black characters were routinely used as comic foils). The film has a surprisingly contemporary feel about it, save for a few garish fashions from the 1970s. It's also rather nostalgic to hear genuine soul music peppered through the soundtrack in this pre-rap era. Happily, life has not imitated art in the years since the film was released. Harlem has been undergoing the kind of Renaissance that would have seemed unimaginable in 1970. The old glory has come back strong and the center of the neighorhood, 125th Street, is vibrant and thriving once again. These societal perspectives make watching "Cotton Comes to Harlem" enjoyable on an entirely different level than simply an amusing crime comedy.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains the original trailer and the sleeve is adorned with the great Bob Peak's superb poster art.
CULVER CITY, CA – April 18, 2016 – Fueled by the positive response to its programming blocks
celebrating rare classic television series,getTVhas launched an all-new weekday
schedule focusing on hard-to-find favorites. The lineup includes 14
television series to start, with more to be added throughout the cycle. The new
schedule is divided into three distinct blocks—Comedies, Westerns,
and Action/Crime—airing weekdays from 7 a.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET,
beginning May 2. In a special kick-off event, getTV will present the
two-hour premiere of the 1984 series RIPTIDE, starring Perry King, Joe
Penny, and Thom Bray, as part of the network’s Silver Screen Favorites block on
Sunday, May 1, at 8 p.m. ET.
Highlights of the daytime programming
lineup include charming long lost comedies THE GHOST & MRS.
MUIRandNANNY AND THE PROFESSOR; the Old West
epic THE RESTLESS GUN, which makes its getTV debut after
having rarely been seen on television since its original run; and a
wall-to-wall afternoon block of rarely seen, but beloved crime favorites
featuring the Aaron Spelling standout S.W.A.T; Ernest Borgnine and
Jan-Michael Vincent in AIRWOLF; RIPTIDE and HARDCASTLE
AND MCCORMICK, created by award-winning crime author and TV
producer Stephen J. Cannell;
a special 30th Anniversary year presentation of THE
EQUALIZER, which spawned the hit 2014 Denzel Washington thriller of the same name, and its upcoming
2017 sequel. The daytime series block concludes with back-to-back
episodes of the gripping police drama IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT,
starring Carroll O’Connor, based
off 1967's OscarÒ-winning Sidney Poitier/Rod Steiger movie of the same name.
have made it clear that, in addition to the classic films we’re known for, they
also want to dig even deeper into their favorite long-lost TV programs of
yesteryear,” said Jeff Meier, Senior Vice President, Programming, getTV. “This
new lineup allows us to give our audience the best of both worlds, as we
present great series during the day, and memorable movies at night.”
getTV’s all-new weekday programming lineup is as follows:
7 a.m. ET—THE THIN MAN (1957-1959)—Peter
Lawford and Phyllis Kirk star as married sleuths Nick
and Nora Charles, solving crimes and getting wrapped up in shady schemes in
this spin-off of the 1934 Pre-Code comedy of the same name. Guests
include Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Don Rickles, Marion
Ross, and more.
7:35 a.m. ET—THE JIMMY STEWART
SHOW (1971-1972)—Beloved leading man James Stewart makes
his television debut, as a small town professor in this charming family comedy
that also stars Julie Adams and John McGiver.
Notable guests include Vincent Price, Regis Philbin, Kate
Jackson, M. Emmett Walsh, and Cesar Romero.
8:15 a.m. ET—NANNY AND THE
PROFESSOR (1970-1971)—Juliet Mills stars as a magical
young nanny who may or may not be psychic, with Richard Long as
her widowed professor of an employer and top contemporary reality and
tabloid star Kim Richards in her breakthrough role as one of
Long's three kids. Notable guests include Jodie Foster in her
third TV appearance, as well as Elsa Lanchester, Ida Lupino, Lee
Meriwether, and Van Johnson.
8:50 a.m. ET—THE GHOST & MRS.
MUIR (1968-1970)—Hope Lange won two EmmyÒ
Awards for Best Actress in a Comedyas a widow who befriends the
spirit of a sea captain (Edward Mulhare) haunting her New England home.
Notable supporting cast includes game show stalwart Charles Nelson Reilly in his most significant acting role, and
notable guests include Richard Dreyfuss, Danny Bonaduce, Dom
DeLuise, Yvonne Craig, and more.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Evening with MURRAY MELVIN
Saturday May 7th 2016 – 7.30pm
The Masters House, 2 Dugard Way (Off Renfrew Road )
London SE11 4TH
Nearest tube stations Kennington and Elephant & Castle
nearly 70 years Murray Melvin has been an actor. For the past 20 years he
has also been the archivist at Theatre Royal Stratford East.
started at Theatre Royal with the legendary Joan Littlewood at her Theatre workshop.
Very soon he became its young leading man, appearing in new groundbreaking
plays: A Taste of Honey, written by a 17
year- old Shelagh Delaney, which ultimately transferred to the West End. He
repeated the role of Geoffrey in the film version directed by Tony Richardson,
for which he won the Palme d’or for Best Actor in Cannes. He continued at the
Theatre Workshop with The Hostage by Brendan Behan and Oh! What a Lovely War,
the epic musical about WWI, devised by Joan Littlewood and her ensemble.
Melvin also has countless BBC radio plays and almost hundred film and
television to his credit. He was a regular in many of the films directed by Peter
Medak including A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, based on Peter Nichols’ play,
Let Him Have It, Ghost in the Noonday Sun and The Krays.
of Ken Russell’s film repertory company, he appeared in such films such as The
Devils , The Boy Friend , Lisztomania and Prisoner of Honor.
of his other films and the directors he has worked with over the years are -Barry
Lyndon – Director Stanley Kubrick
Defiant! And Alfie - Director Lewis
at the Devil and Gulliver’s Travels –
Director Peter Hunt
Story – Director Stephen Weeks
Fixer – Director John Frankenheimer
Risk – Directors John & Roy Boulting
Can’t Sing – Director Joan Littlewood
– Director Steven Lisberger
Phantom of the Opera - Joel Schumacher
recently, he appeared in television sci-fi series Starhunter and Torchwood.
terrific and entertaining raconteur, Murray Melvin will be sharing his memories
of the actors and directors he has worked with and what it was like on the set
of films, in this illustrated retrospective with one of our very finest actors.
In what has been a terrible year for the loss
of great stars we all grew up with in film and music, the news of the sudden passing
of Vince Rotolo, creator of the much loved B Movie Cast podcast has hit hardest.
Vince was a huge supporter of Cinema Retro and
always mentioned it in his weekly “Sunday Service”. He would always say that Retro was
exceptional and its time that we said the same about him. Vince was such a cool
and engaging presence that he put all those he spoke to at ease. He was a fan of
the fan because he was a fan himself. I spent many great times with Vince, his
beloved wife Mary and co-host Nic Brown both here and in the States. His shows
were like listening in on a family chat about movies over Sunday lunch and I can’t
tell you the amount of times they made me laugh out loud as I listened back to
them on my commutes to work and getting many a strange look from fellow passengers.
Both myself and fellow Retro contributor Adrian Smith appeared on the cast and
would regularly phone in with comments, which Vince loved, always saying he
couldn’t believe his cast was being listened to “across the pond”.
As both Vince and the shows homely and
approachable reputation and perception grew, the B Moviecast became a world-
wide bridge for fans, with calls from all corners of the globe in his much
loved “feed-back section” on the back of undervalued movies we here at Cinema
Retro also celebrate. I will really miss Vince’s dulcet tones telling us to “Grab
a beer and a TV dinner and listen to the cast” as I will contributing to it. I
was due to participate in a couple of weeks and had only been in contact with
Vince the day before his passing. Facebook has been inundated with posts but
the one that rings truest was from Chrstopher Page when he wrote: “Vince set a
table and let us all pull a chair up just so we could chat. That is a table I
will miss terribly. I think I speak for everyone when I say, his family, Mary,
and his friends (which he made every one of us feel like), will always be in
our thoughts and our hearts.”
(Photo: Mark Mawston. )
Vince was one of us but in all honesty,
there was something about him that we all looked up to. He was like everyone’s
favourite uncle or the older brother who introduced you to cool things and I
was glad and honoured to have known him as a friend. Our thoughts go out to his
wife Mary and co- hosts Nic Brown & Juan. Sundays will not B the same
without you my friend. Ciao.
Janson-Smith passed away on Friday, April 15, 2016, at the age of 93. He was a
giant in the world of British publishing, a major figure in that arena for
nearly seventy years. Serious James Bond fans will know him as Ian Fleming’s
literary agent, the man who spearheaded the exploitation of Fleming’s 007
novels around the world from 1956 until Peter’s retirement in 2002.
a personal level, Peter’s death is a great loss. For me, he was a mentor, a
friend, a teacher, and someone I called my “English dad.” He was instrumental
in the research for my 1984 book, The
James Bond Bedside Companion, and he hired me to write the continuation
James Bond novels in the mid-90s. In short, I owe much of my career to him.
was born on September 5, 1922, in Navestock, England, which is now overtaken by
the sprawl of greater London, but he spent much of his childhood in Dorset. Peter
went to university in 1941, attending St. Edmond Hall at Oxford, where he
obtained what was then called a Wartime Degree. During the war, Peter served as
a 2nd Lieutenant in the army, becoming the adjutant of an anti-aircraft battery
that was part of the defenses for the city. He ended his military duties as a major.
Actress Honor Blackman meets with board members of the Ian Fleming Foundation in 2008. (L to R: Raymond Benson, Doug Redenius, David Reinhardt, Dave Worrall, Peter Janson-Smith, John Cork, Michael VanBlaricum.)
his release to civilian life in 1946, Peter signed on as a trainee literary
agent to A. D. Peters. He joined Curtis Brown Ltd. in 1949 as the manager of
the agency’s foreign language department, where he started selling author Eric
Ambler’s translation rights. It was Ambler who encouraged Peter to leave Curtis
Brown and strike out on his own as a literary agent, which he did in 1956.
same year, Ian Fleming phoned Janson-Smith on Ambler’s recommendation. Fleming
was unhappy with his foreign sales and hired Peter to act as his agent for the
world, excluding England and the U.S. Beginning in 1960, Peter began handling
Fleming’s British sales and all matters of serialization, including the comic
strips in the Daily Express. In 1964,
after Fleming’s death, Peter was appointed to the board of Glidrose
Publications (the company that oversaw Fleming’s literary business), and later
became Chairman. Glidrose is now called Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.
supervising the post-Fleming continuation 007 novels by Robert Markham (aka
Kingsley Amis), John Gardner, and myself, as well as the John Pearson and
Christopher Wood offshoot Bond projects in the 70s, Peter worked with a number
of respectable authors, including Richard Holmes, Gavin Maxwell, and even
Anthony Burgess (Peter sold Burgess’ A
Clockwork Orange). Peter was for some years a Family Director of Agatha
Christie Ltd., and responsible for the works of Georgette Heyer. For over
thirty years was the Executive Trustee of the Pooh Properties Trust (i.e.
Winnie the Pooh), the senior treasurer of the Royal Literary Fund, and the
president of the Ian Fleming Foundation.
Peter Janson-Smith was married three times and
had four children. His partner since 1985 was Lili Pohlmann, whom he declared was
the “love of his life.” He will be dearly missed by his family, his publishing colleagues, and his many friends around the globe.
By the late 1960s the Spaghetti Western genre was no longer a magnet for second-rate American actors. As with the Bond-inspired secret agent rage of a few years before, many big stars were burning up phone lines demanding that their agents get them over to Europe to cash in on the craze. Among them, apparently, was James Garner, whose credentials as a major and respected international star certainly provided an indication about how lucrative and popular the once lonely Euro Western productions had now become. In fact such Westerns had existed prior to the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone trilogy of the mid-1960s but it was definitely those "Man With No Name" films that shot the genre into over-drive. In fact they were a producer's dream: a compliant host government eager to get some Hollywood glamour and providing lucrative tax breaks, pre-exisiting desert towns that minimized the need to build opulent, expensive sets and efficient Italian producers who generally oversaw production and could ensure that films wrapped up on time and within budget. Garner's first and only foray into the realm of Spaghetti Westerns occurred in 1970 when he starred in "A Man Called Sledge", a film that is largely unremarkable except for Garner's presence and the fact that he plays against type as a rather despicable anti-hero.
The story opens with Sledge (Garner) and some cohorts robbing a stagecoach. The robbery goes awry when a guard on the stage is accidentally killed by a shotgun blast. Now wanted for murder, Sledge and his men rendezvous in a nearby saloon to talk strategy. His two main confederates are Ward (Dennis Weaver) and Hooker (Claude Akins). Sledge also brings along someone he refers to as the Old Man (John Marley), an aging ex-con who has informed him about a fantastic hoard of gold that is occasionally stored in a local prison camp where he had once served time. The Old Man says that periodically the gold shipment, which is heavily guarded, passes through the area and is locked up overnight so the guards can get some rest. Sledge and his men immediately begin to plan an audacious scenario in which they will cause a riot at the prison and steal the gold. In order to do so, Ward poses as a U.S. Marshal and "arrests" Sledge on the murder warrant. He brings him to the prison where Sledge has only a few hours to find a way to overcome a guard, steal the keys, liberate the other prisoners, locate the gold in the confusion and, with the Old Man's help, access the treasure behind a seemingly impenetrable vault. Although the stern, humorless Sledge fancies himself to be a criminal mastermind, most of his major decisions run into snafus. Once the riot ensues, he and his cohorts manage to access the gold, but in "Treasure of Sierra Madre" style, this only ensures that greed and paranoia now overtake the group and the thieves start killing each other off.
The film was directed by actor Vic Morrow, who does a reasonably good job of keeping the action moving at a brisk pace. The film has a more polished look than most European westerns largely because a major producer- Dino De Laurentiis- provided a larger-than-normal budget that afforded the hiring of Garner, Weave and Akins. IMDB reports that the film was shot in Italy but I'm skeptical if only because several of the locations resemble where sequences from Spanish-based westerns of era were filmed. The village where the finale takes place (atmospherically set during the Day of the Dead festival) looks an awful lot like the setting for "For a Few Dollars More". The biggest drawback with the film is that all of the characters are villains. Unlike the Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, who was a rogue with at least a semblance of conscience, Garner's Sledge is an irredeemable bad guy whose only human quality is a genuine love for a local hooker (Laura Antonelli). He's responsible for the deaths of innocent people and he uses violent threats even against the Old Man to get what he wants. In his memoirs, The Garner Files, the actor wrote about the film: ""One of the few times I've played a heavy and one of the last. I wish I could remember why I let Dino De Laurentiis talk me into this turkey, The poster says "Not Suitable for Children". It should say "Not Suitable for Human Consumption.". That's a bit harsh. The film is consistently entertaining and boasts some exciting action sequences, even if Garner's considerable charisma is completely absent due to the morbid screenplay. It's also good to see Garner in the company of Dennis Weaver, Claude Akins and John Marley, all of whom provide solid supporting performances.
"A Man Called Sledge" has been released on Blu-ray by German-based Explosive Media. Their DVDs are primarily available on Amazon Germany's site but imports often pop up on Amazon USA and eBay. The film has an excellent transfer and a selection of trailers and TV spots from the film- but make sure you don't watch them before viewing the main feature, as they give away every plot surprise.
Would you pay $50 to stream Adam Sandler's next movie for 48 hours?
BY LEE PFEIFFER
If you haven't heard of The Screening Room, you surely will. It represents a new technology championed by Silicon Valley wiz kid Sean Parker (one-time founder of Napster and President of Facebook) that would allow movie lovers to stream new films in their homes on the same day the film opens in theaters. There is a catch- and it's an expensive one. The program requires you to purchase a set-top box for $30 and then pay $50 for the privilege of streaming a new movie for a period of 48 hours. We at Cinema Retro have long railed against the extortionist price of movie theater tickets but this almost makes them look like a bargain. The Screening Room is obviously gambling that there are enough well-heeled movie fanatics out there who will find this to be yet another excuse not to get up from their living room recliners and journey out to a theater. Nick Schager, writing in The Daily Beast web site, points out that the advantages might be the ability to enjoy a new film without rude people around you texting, chatting or trying to shut up their screaming toddlers. Fair enough. But the technology would also increasingly alienate people who have already become socially alienated due to their obsessions with social media. How many times have you gone to dinner with people only to have someone whip out a mobile phone and begin breezing through E mails and instant messages? It has happened enough to me that last year I posted a plea on my Facebook page: if you find my company so boring that you can't sustain a conversation with me over a dinner table for an hour without being tempted to see who E mailed or texted you, then kindly make an excuse when I ask you to join me for a meal and spare me the indignity of competing for your attention. Remarkably, I had some people take issue with my request, saying it's part of contemporary society to engage in such behavior. To that I responded, "Well, would it be appropriate if I was a dinner guest in your house and during the meal I took out "Moby Dick" and began to read it?" Inevitably, the answer was met with silence because the logic is obvious: it would be inexcusably rude to read from a novel at a dinner table just as it would be rude to read a cell phone. New technology such as streaming movie services is wonderful in many ways but there it might diminish the collective experience of seeing movies with appreciative audiences. Even the best of screen comedies are so much better when you are joined in the laughter by others. In the case of The Screening Room, there is scant evidence that this particular program would be successful. Pay for View concerts and sporting events can command such prices but they are largely paid by groups of people who gather in the same room and share the expense of streaming the one-time event. Does anyone think they will be able to rally friends and neighbors to chip in to see the latest Nicolas Cage or Adam Sandler flick? Then there is the instinct among moviegoers to share the experience of seeing a major new film in a state-of-the-art theater with superior sound and a giant screen. It's doubtful that anyone would have bypassed the chance to see the latest "Star Wars" or James Bond flick in a theatrical environment where such movies are often attended by groups of friends who enjoy debating the merits of the film afterward.
Despite the drawbacks associated with the Screening Room business plan, Nick Schager points out that once such technology has been invented it seems unlikely it won't find a way on to the market in some format. Certainly Sean Parker knows this. Napster was founded because record companies were tone deaf to hearing about the prospects of allowing people to download music legally for a fee. Thus, Napster allowed them to download songs illegally. Suddenly it was all the rage. Instead of embracing the technology the record companies took legal action to close down Napster...but it was too late. Ironically, when the record companies finally did reluctantly embrace legal downloads, the technology proved to be the remedy for sinking CD sales. Basically, it saved the music industry. It seems likely that the ability to download and screen current movies that are playing in theaters will indeed become a normal part of the viewing experience once it's decided to price the service at a non-prohibitive level. Movie theater owners are scared...and well they should be. The film industry had long ago declared virtual war on them by taking increasingly bigger shares of ticket revenues and mandating that theaters undergo costly conversions to digital projection (though, in fairness, studios covered much of the cost if theaters implemented the new technology by the deadline date.) As I've pointed out previously, some theaters only survive by turning into semi-restaurants. The film ticket revenues can't pay the rent so the chicken wings and pizza have to fill in the slack. The Screening Room concept has also divided the Hollywood community itself. Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg are proponents and Christopher Nolan and James Cameron have opposed it.
We don't want to adopt a Chicken Little philosophy and claim that the sky is about to fall in. The demise of movie theaters was predicted when sound was first introduced on the bizarre premise that audiences weened on silent movies would not accept the new technology. In the 1950s it was advent of television that would cause theaters to close, but Hollywood studios responded with the wonders of color, widescreen productions that no B&W TV screen could hope to match. In the 1980s it was the skyrocketing popularity of the VCR that would bring an end to traditional movie-going. It's doubtful that the Screening Room technology will ever ensure the closure of movie theaters. People still like to go to movies on dates or on family outings. However, if the concept does unexpectedly take off, it could further hurt independent small town theaters that are struggling every day to survive. We at Cinema Retro will always be advocates of watching films the way they were meant to be seen: on the big screen. (Pity the poor soul who is introduced to "Lawrence of Arabia" by watching it on a mobile phone.) Home theater advances are wonderful and exciting but there is simply no substitute for the traditional movie-going experience.
A rare 35mm revival screening of Bernardo Bertolucci's
1979 controversial drama LA LUNA, organized and hosted by Cinema Retro
columnist David Savage and co-sponsored by Iconic Linx, brought near-sellout crowds to Anthology Film Archives
in Manhattan last Monday night, April 25th, including the family of the late
Jill Clayburgh (1944-2010) star of the film.
Organized both as a belated tribute to Clayburgh and an
attempt, as described by Savage, to bring the neglected film back into popular
and critical consciousness, the screening was a family affair for the beloved
Clayburgh-Rabe family, bringing together Jill's husband, famed playwright David
Rabe, their actress daughter Lily Rabe (star of the forthcoming "Miss
Stevens") and their actor son Michael Rabe. Matthew Barry, Jill
Clayburgh's co-star and son in the film, now 53 and a casting director, flew in
from Los Angeles to attend the screening and panel discussion that followed,
moderated by Savage.
They were joined by David Rabe, who was in Italy during most of the filming and
had many interesting anecdotes to share, including the fact that Bertolucci,
incredibly, broke both arms in a disastrous fall during the making of the film
and was put in casts on both arms, forcing a two-week halt in production.
Matthew Barry admitted that his acting career did not take off as he had hoped
after the release of the film, but did not appear to be looking back in
bitterness. His stories and memories of making the film brought laughter from
the crowd and communicated a lifelong love of his co-star "mother"
Jill Clayburgh, Bertolucci, character actor Franco Citti (in one of the film's
most memorable cameo appearances), and Tomas Millian, who played his real
father in the film. In the film's final scene, Milian slaps his son's face with
an unmistakable force. Unfortunately, Matthew told the audience, the director
instructed him to do it successively harder and harder in numerous takes.
David Savage and actor Matthew Barry.
Perhaps most surprising was the personal video greeting
from the director himself that preceded the screening, which brought a gasp of
delighted surprise from the audience. "There is something very unfair
about you all being able to see my face, but I cannot see yours," he said
from his living room in Rome, looking like more of a beloved grandfather figure
than a reclusive auteur. He seemed touched at the return to New York of
"La Luna," which was not greeted enthusiastically when it premiered in
1979, adding that he particularly wished he could see his young star Matthew
Barry's face as it looked now. He also saluted the rising prominence of Lily
Rabe, confirming that he's heard great things about her as an actress.
Concluding by wishing the audience, "buona visione" (literally
"happy watching"), the greeting nicely framed the film itself,
projected from a flawless 35mm print on exceptional loan from Twentieth Century
Fox Archive. The print's quality showed off the artistry of cinematographer Vittorio
Storaro -- a frequent Bertolucci collaborator and three-time Oscar winner.
Finding the print, Savage told the audience in opening remarks, took him nearly
The film was available on home video only back in the VHS
days, and has never been on DVD in the States. However, that may change later
in 2016 or early 2017 as an American home video label, wishing to remain
anonymous at present, says it has purchased the packaged media rights to the
film for the US market, and will be bringing out a Blu-ray/DVD. Further details
to come as they are made available.- Lee Pfeiffer
One of the positive elements of the Blaxploitation film genre that exploded in the 1970s was the emergence of many hitherto unknown talents. Among them was Bahamian-born actor Calvin Lockhart, who immigrated to New York and immersed himself in theater, studying with the legendary Uta Hagen. Lockhart didn't find immediate success but hop-scotched between the U.S. and Europe, where he found more opportunities on stage and in film. By the time he returned to America, the Blaxploitation rage was in its early stages and Lockhart nailed down a key, scene-stealing role in director Ossie Davis's film version of "Cotton Comes to Harlem" in 1970. He also earned the starring role the same year in "Halls of Anger", playing a besieged inner city teacher who is trying to keep the lid on inter-racial tensions. Lockhart also starred in the crime thriller "Melinda", which- perhaps because of its bland title- is not as well-remembered as lesser entries in the Blaxplotation genre. Thus, it's good news that the film has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive. "Melinda" is impressive on any number of levels. Unlike most Blaxploitation movies, which were actually produced, written and directed by white filmmakers, this one was brought to the screen entirely by African-American talent: director Hugh A. Robertson, producer Pervis Atkins, screenwriter Lonnie Elder III and composers Jerry Butler and Jerry Peters. The movie also has an intense, realistic tone that affords Lockhart to give what is arguably the performance of his career.
Lockhart plays Frankie J. Parker, the morning drive DJ on a popular L.A. soul music radio station. Frankie is a showman supreme. His combination of unapologetic narcissism combined with his snarky, biting sense of humor sets him apart from the competition- and makes him a local legend among black listeners. Frankie is living the life. He makes a lot of money, drives a fancy sports car and has a bachelor pad apartment where he entertains a stream of beautiful young women. He's so in love with himself that he has the place adorned with posters and photos of himself and looks in the mirror every morning verbally express how damned good looking he is. One fateful day, however, Frankie's charmed life goes into a tailspin when he meets Melinda Lewis (Vonetta McKee), a sexy new arrival from Chicago who is very much a woman of mystery. When she resists Frankie's standard pick-up lines and shows she is wise to his well-worn methods of seduction, she becomes a challenge for him. He wines and dines her and shows her off at a high profile party aboard a yacht owned by his old friend Tank (Rockne Tarkington), a black athlete who has made good. On board, he has an unexpected encounter with a former lover, Terry Davis (Rosalind Cash), who makes it clear she still carries a grudge against Frankie because of his philandering ways. Later that evening, Frankie and Melinda return to his apartment where they finally get down to business- but she makes it clear that she is in control of the situation. Unbeknownst to either of them, the heated sounds of their love-making are being enjoyed by a shady character who has been following Melinda since she arrived in L.A. and who is know pleasuring himself outside the apartment door! The next morning, Frankie realizes that this time he is genuinely in love- and Melinda seems to reciprocate. To say much more would be to provide some unintended spoilers. Suffice it to say that Frankie learns that "Melinda Lewis" is an alias and that his new lover is the former mistress of a ruthless Chicago mob boss, Mitch (Paul Stevens) who is desperate to track her down because she has deposited a cassette tape in a bank safe deposit box that implicates him in a high profile murder. Before long, the mob links Frankie to Melinda and thinks he in cahoots with her. He is framed for a ghastly murder and pummeled and beaten by cops before he finally makes bail. Realizing he has limited time to get to the bottom of what is going on and clear his name, Frankie finds he has to enlist the aid of estranged lover Terry Davis, who becomes the only friend he can trust. The two become amateur detectives trying to get access to the bank vault and the evidence that would give them leverage over Mitch and his gang of murderous goons who are now in L.A. Things go awry, however, when Frankie is framed for yet another sordid murder and Terry is kidnapped by Mitch and held for ransom under threat of death unless Frankie delivers the incriminating evidence against him. Frankie knows that if he does, he and Terry are as good as dead so he enlists some unusual allies- the fellow students of his karate academy. It helps when the Grand Master is real-life martial arts expert and future "Enter the Dragon" star Jim Kelly. In the film's only truly over-the-top sequence, Frankie and the karate students ambush the gangsters, Before you can sing "Everybody was Kung Fu fighting", everybody is Kung Fu fighting. The film culminates with Frankie and his allies laying siege to Mitch's mansion, where they find Terry locked in a glass gazebo surrounded by rattle snakes and other dangerous critters.
Until its rather fanciful finale, "Melinda" is a realistic urban crime movie packed with interesting characters and intriguing mysteries that are revealed slowly. Like a Hitchcock film, it centers on a completely innocent man who is swept up in fantastic and deadly events beyond his comprehension. Lockhart gives an outstanding and commanding performance, turning from a carefree, narcissistic playboy to a man who is willing to do anything necessary simply to survive another few hours. He gets able support from both female leads, gorgeous Vonetta McKee as the mystery woman who affords Frankie an evening of sexual bliss that turns his life into a nightmare and Rosalind Cash, in full tough girl mode as she was the previous year opposite Charlton Heston in "The Omega Man". On the other extreme, Paul Stevens makes for a suitably slimy villain. The direction by Hugh A. Robertson is quite impressive and he overcomes the relatively modest budget by capitalizing on the street locations which he uses to maximum atmosphere and effect. "Melinda" is a superior entry in the Blaxploitation film genre. Highly recommended.
The Warner Archive DVD includes the original theatrical trailer.
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If "Another Time, Another Place" is remembered at all, it's probably for all the wrong reasons. The 1958 film afforded Sean Connery his first major leading role, even though he gets killed off a little more than half-an-hour into the story. I'm not giving away a spoiler here...you can see it telegraphed from the early moments of the movie. Connery was given "Introducing" billing, a common fallacy on the part of studio marketing departments that implied an actor or actress was making their big screen debut. In reality, Connery had been kicking around the British film industry for a couple of years prior to making this movie, but only in supporting roles. The other bit of trivia for which this film is remembered is due to a tragic real-life scandal. While co-starring with Lana Turner, Connery began to spend a lot of his free time with her off set. This didn't set well with Turner's jealous boyfriend, a mobster named Johnny Stompanato, who tried to bully Connery into staying away from Turner and got punched out by the Great Scot. Stompanato let it be known that Connery was a marked man. When filming was done, the future 007 didn't tempt fate by hanging around with Turner any longer, though things could hardly have been worse if he did. Shortly after the production was completed, Turner was being physically menaced by Stompanato and her teenage daughter Cheryl Crane stabbed him to death in order to defend her mother. The result was one of Hollywood's great scandals. The studio brass were ever opportunistic and were said to have expedited the release of "Another Time, Another Place" in order to capitalize on the sensational trial of Crane, who was exonerated on the basis of justifiable homicide.
As for the film itself, it defines what used to be quaintly termed as "a woman's picture". It's basically a feature film length soap opera set in 1945 London during the waning days of WWII. We first see Connery as daring war correspondent Mark Trevor, whose on-the-scene radio reports from hot spots around the globe leave listeners mesmerized. Among his admirers is Sara Scott (Lana Turner), a sassy New York newspaper columnist who works out of the bureau's London office. Sara is very much the liberated lady, having made a name for herself in an industry that was then dominated by men. We soon see that she and Mark secretly carrying on a torrid love affair. A complication arises when Sara's lover Carter Reynolds (Barry Sullivan) arrives from the States. Reynolds is not only engaged to Sara, but he is also her employer, as he owns the newspaper she works for. She breaks the news to him that she is now in love with another man but Reynolds seems dismissive of her statement and feels she will ultimately come to her senses and return to him. On the eve of Mark leaving for Italy, Sara informs him that she had been engaged to another man but now that won't matter- she wants to spend her life with him. Mark, however, drops a bit of a bombshell himself. Turns out he's married with a young son and intends to return to his family. Both he and Sara are clearly in love and both are heartbroken by the circumstances. Sara tries to persuade Mark to leave his wife and child to be with her. He sends mixed signals, originally rejecting the overture but later implying he would do so. With that, he leaves for Italy with his assistant, Alan Thompson (Terence Longdon), the only one in his life who knows about his affair with Sara. The following night Sara is listening to the radio when she learns that Mark has been killed in a plane crash en route to Italy, although Alan has managed to survive. Wracked with grief, Sara is inconsolable. She makes a dramatic decision to visit Mark's village in Cornwall and see the house he lived in. While doing so, she has a chance encounter with Mark's son Brian (Martin Stephens), who, in turn, introduces her to his mother, Kay (Glynis Johns). The odd and awkward encounter results in Sara becoming Kay's house guest and helping her write a book about her husband's career. The two women become fast friends, though only Sara knows they are both grieving for the same man. This is where the film is elevated from standard tearjerker to a rather compelling drama that examines the effects that infidelity can have on all of the parties involved. Both Alan and Carter Reynolds track down Sara, who- in one of the film's weakest sequences- attempts suicide off camera, apparently in an attempt to drown herself. As Kay nurses her back to health, Alan and Reynolds try to reason with her and convince her to return to New York, 'lest Kay learns that her new best friend was her husband's secret lover. Things come to a boil when Sara decides to spill her soul to Kay and tell her everything.
"Another Time, Another Place" is primarily a showcase for Lana Turner, who- under the competent, if uninspired direction of Lewis Allen- gives an earnest performance that is still overshadowed by her supporting cast members. The biggest knock about Turner's presence in the film is that she looks too glamorous. Her hair is perfect, her mannerisms are perfect and -in the film's most absurd sequence- she is fished from bay after a suicide attempt and brought to Kay's cottage for medical attention, yet she still looks like she just stepped out of a fashion display in Harrods window. Much is made over her character being a tough woman able to exist in a man's world (she even plays poker with the boys), but in reality she's just another heroine of the era who cannot seem to function without a man in her life. Turner delivers a competent performance but is hampered by the fact that she came to stardom in an era in which very mannered acting methods were in vogue, especially among the Hollywood sex symbols. In terms of portraying a realistic character, she is out-shown by the more natural acting style of Glynis Johns. The male supporting leads are also adequate, if unexciting. The major "find" of the production was Sean Connery, whose impact is somewhat hampered by the fact that he has relatively little screen time. There is little to suggest that he was a superstar in the making and he spends most of his time cooing words of love to the smitten Turner. His character does develop a bit of an edge when we learn that, at heart, he is actually a cad who is cheating on his adoring wife. He develops a conscience and sense of guilt and tries to terminate the affair but is locked into the frustrations of the age-old meange-a-trois dilemma.
"Another Time, Another Place" was shot on an obviously low budget with scenes of wartime London relegated to the back lot. Things open up a bit with some on-location shooting in Cornwall but the majority of the action takes place in living rooms, offices and kitchens. Despite the movie's flaws, it's a reasonably compelling story about inherently good people who become involved in an immoral love affair. For Connery fans, the movie affords them the opportunity to see how his raw talent was rather quickly developed into a very distinctive acting technique that would ultimately make him one of the true icons of international cinema. "Another Time, Another Place" performed disappointingly at the boxoffice and Connery seemed headed toward oblivion. A Fox contract didn't go far but he was loaned out to Disney to star in "Darby O'Gill and the Little People". Ironically it was through viewing that film that producer Cubby Broccoli's wife Dana was impressed by his raw masculinity. That would pay off for him a few years later when he sought to play the role of James Bond. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Warner Archive has re-issued the exact DVD transfer that was once available through Paramount- right down to identical packaging. The transfer is very good but there are no bonus extras.
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It's probably a safe bet that most adults have seen at least some of the notorious film footage shot during the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. However, no one has ever seen the definitive denouncement of these camps for genocidal practices because the project was stopped in its tracks in the immediate aftermath of WWII. When British, American and Soviet troops stumbled upon the seemingly endless number of concentration camps in the final days of the war, they were not prepared for what they saw. There had been frantic warnings from the Jewish community about the barbaric nature of what was occurring in these hell holes but they were generally thought to be overstated, if not impossible to believe. Such were the mind-boggling horrors that greeted them that the Allied high command ordered that the places be filmed in order to capture for posterity the types of acts that future generations would not otherwise be able to imagine. The camps were always terrible beyond description but they got even worse when it became clear that the German defenses were collapsing and Allied troops were inevitably overrunning what was left of the retreating Third Reich. Even at this late date, with defeat inevitable, the Nazi brass was determined to fulfill Hitler's extermination policies. Tens of thousands of half-dead prisoners were forced on torturous marches to other camps. It was a journey most did not survive. Those who were deemed too weak to move were often systematically murdered often just days or hours before their liberation would have occurred. However, even these barbarians could not succeed in executing the sheer number of these hapless souls and so it was that many were still alive when Allied troops marched into the camps. Even the most battle-hardened troops could scarcely believe the panorama of human misery that greeted them. Surviving prisoners, too weak to stand, had been haphazardly tossed into mountains of corpses. The ovens that incinerated others were still warm and filled with bones and ash. Warehouses of personal possessions from the doomed prisoners dotted the camps, filled to the roofs with items that were to be recycled. The ever-efficient and cost-conscious Reich even ground up the bones of the cremated and sold them wholesale to local farmers as fertilizers. Such was the horror that even General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe, personally felt the need to witness these horrors. So, too did General George S. Patton.
A joint decree by the Allies resulted in British, American and Soviet cameramen frantically filming the horrors as they unfolded. The dead and dying seemed to film every frame but there was also indescribable joy on behalf of those who knew that, with proper care, they would most likely survive. Ultimately the task of coordinating all of this footage fell to Sidney Bernstein of the British Ministry of Information. The Allies decided that a feature film should be created by Bernstein with the intention of having it widely shown to citizens of Germany to reinforce their feelings of guilt over what had been done in their name. Bernstein's vision went beyond simply providing a cinematic chamber of horrors and he wanted to construct the movie as professionally as possible. Thus, he reached out to Alfred Hitchcock to assist him as a creative consultant. Hitchcock had already left his native England for Hollywood, where he was finding great success. However, he heeded the call to return to England to work on the project partly out of frustration that he had been "too old and too fat" to have served in the British military. He viewed this as an opportunity to contribute to the war effort even though the war was now over. Hitchcock and Bernstein labored over the film project for months as the British military became increasingly frustrated. They wanted speed, not artistry. Ultimately the decision was made to take the film away from Bernstein. This was due to a number of factors. One was based on the premise that it became clear that the German public, by and large, was being sufficiently contrite over the war time crimes of the Nazis. The nation was a bombed out wreck in urban areas and the Allies wanted to rally the public to help rebuild their land. Forcing them to watch films of atrocities that many had witnessed when they were made to visit the camps after liberation was now being seen as rubbing salt in their wounds. There was also a political factor, however. Before the war had even ended, it became clear to Britain and America that the Cold War was starting with the Soviet Union. Stalin, emboldened by FDR's death and the shocking loss of Winston Churchill in elections to comparatively weak Clement Attee, was ratcheting up his drive for land grabs in eastern Europe. Britain and America needed to ensure that all of Germany didn't fall into the Soviet orbit. It was decided that attempting to drive home the subject of war crimes would only alienate the public at large. Ultimately Germany would suffer being divided into two separate nations, with the Soviets taking control of the eastern portion of the country and subjecting its citizens to another cruel dictatorship. Still, the footage of the concentration camps had to be seen somewhere, somehow. Director Billy Wilder, himself an immigrant from Germany who got out during the rise of Hitler, was approached to now helm the project. Uncredited, he oversaw production of what became known as "Death Mills". The film ran a scant 22 minutes and was originally made with a German soundtrack, as it was to be screened for select audiences in Germany and Austria. Although not long in terms of running time, it's hard to imagine that even an elongated version would better convey the stomach-turning tortures meted out by the Nazis. Wilder's film didn't bother with artistry or nuance. It was the antithesis of what Bernstein and Hitchcock had envisioned- a non-stop depiction of cruelties with no pretense of having been made by professional filmmakers.
In 2014 director released "Night Will Fall", a documentary made for Britain's Channel 4 and which ultimately would be telecast in America on HBO. Singer had amassed the disparate footage from the aborted Bernstein/Hitchcock project and combined it with "Death Mills", which had been created from the same pool of British, American and Soviet films. Singer went the extra mile, tracking down elderly death camp survivors who, to great emotional effect, are interviewed on screen, in some cases viewing footage of themselves being liberated from the camps. Cinema doesn't get much more emotional than this. The only reason some of these people survived was because they were twins and caught the eye of the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, who had a mad passion for conducting horrendous "medical experiments" on them. Mengele was obsessed with seeing if science could manipulate hereditary features through experimentation on twins. Most ended up dying and others were executed when Mengele tired of them, but some survived and were captured on screen as Allied soldiers freed these helpless children from certain death. Singer's film also puts into context the Hitchcock and Wilder associations with the project and combines a coherent time line about the use of the footage. His film also describes the sense of disbelief on the part of American, British and Soviet soldiers who generally entered these camps without the slightest idea about what they were about to experience. The effort to care for survivors was immediate and intense but many of the prisoners died even after liberation because of the sheer neglect they had suffered. Eisenhower ordered that local residents be forced to personally visit the camps. It became clear that many really didn't know the full extent of the horrors. Footage shows hundreds of villagers jovially walking down country lanes en route to a camp. The narrator points out they appear to be on the way for a pleasant day in the country. Upon seeing the thousands of dead and dying, however, most are moved to shame and tears. Bulldozers are used to control typhus outbreaks by burying piles of men, women and children in mass graves, denying them even the dignity of being identified. Children who survive often have forgotten their names and refer to themselves only by the numbers tattooed on their arms. For this viewer the most unbearable aspect was to watch scenes that don't involve people but object that represent people. In a warehouse filled to the roof with eyeglasses from victims that were to be recycled for the Reich, the narrator aks that even if one in ten prisoners needed glasses, how many had to be killed to amass such a supply. In another storage building sacks are opened containing women's hair which was being packaged and sold to German industries. There are house decorations such as lampshades made from tattooed human skin. Even shrunken heads were deemed as novelty items by SS brass. Perhaps saddest of all are the mountains of toys confiscated from children to be sent to other children in the Reich. These ghastly souvenirs bare silent witness to the cruel fates that befell the Nazi's youngest victims. In other particularly moving scenes, Soviet doctors examine victims in a vain attempt to save them. One is a young man who was shot in the head because he was caught sharing a crust of bread with another man. A young girl of about eight years old was forced to stand all day barefoot in ice and snow because her productivity was deemed to be disappointing. I fully confess to averting my eyes from the screen during much of the footage shown.
An inmate who thought she was doomed expresses her thanks to a British soldier.
"Night Will Fall" is an important and mesmerizing film and its getting additional exposure through its recent release on DVD by the Warner Archive. It's message is essential and should be required deemed viewing for any thinking, rational person. One of the reasons the Allies were intent on documenting these atrocities is because they predicted in years to come, some people would try to deny they ever occurred. Sadly that has proven to be the case. The internet, in particular, has given voice to fringe groups and kooks worldwide who have no trouble attracting fellow conspiracynuts. Some may be harmless eccentrics, such as people who still believe the moon landing was a hoax. Others, however, deal in far more dangerous beliefs such as denial of the war time atrocities inflicted by Hitler and his madmen. The existence of such people make the continuation of genocide possible and the practice is alive and well today in various parts of the world. However, we can never prove how many people were positively influenced by films such as "Night Will Fall". Clearly the majority of the world's population has thus far thwarted the rise of another Hitler, even if such dictators exist within their the confines of their own borders. It is imperative that good people everywhere keep the truth alive. Perhaps we should all heed the warning that "Those who neglect history are compelled to repeat it."
The Warner Archive DVD contains bonus extras including Billy Wilder's "Death Mills" film, the Soviet film "Auschwitz", which chronicles the liberation of the camp and the atrocities that were uncovered, and an extended contemporary interview with Prof. Rainer Schulze on the premises of the notorious Bergen-Belsen death camp where he discusses the events that transpired there.
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“Robber’s Roost” (1955), a colorful western filmed in
Durango, Mexico with George Montgomery, and a host of other familiar faces from
the fifties, was a movie a decade ahead of its time. Based on a Zane Grey
novel, it tells the story of a mysterious stranger known only as “Tex”
(Montgomery) who rides into the town of Junta Grande, and joins one of two
gangs working for crippled rancher “Bull” Herrick (Bruce Bennett). Hank Hays
(Richard Boone) is the leader of one gang, and Heeseman (Peter Graves) heads up
the other. Herrick believes the best way to protect his herd of 6,000 cattle
from rustlers is to hire the two rival gangs to keep an eye on each other. “There’s
an old saying,” he says. “Set a thief to catch a thief.” Well, that sensible
adage proves to be unworkable here. Who
in his right mind would hire a bunch of cattle thieves to guard his herd? It’s
explained that Bull injured his spine when his horse rolled over on him and put
him in a wheelchair. Maybe they left out the part where he suffered some brain
damage as well.
Nevertheless, Herrick hires Tex as part of Hays’ outfit,
but somehow this tall stranger with two six-guns and an extra-wide brim hat
doesn’t really seem to fit in. For one thing, he asks too many questions. He’s
especially interested in the “Circle K” brand on the horses Hays and his men
are riding. Herrick’s sister Helen (Sylvia Findley) arrives from back East to
provide some love interest in a film overcrowded with male actors and tries to
convince Bull to sell the ranch and get his spinal injury tended to. Bull, who
got his nickname by being bull-headed, tells her he won’t leave until he gets
his cattle to market. Add to this mix Robert Bell (William Hopper) a wealthy
rancher who wants to marry Helen and you’ve got the full cast of characters. And
a full cast it is, indeed, with anywhere from six to a dozen characters on
screen in most of the scenes. Director Sydney Salkow must have needed a traffic
director to keep them from bumping into each other.
But it’s the constant butting of heads between two gangs
that hate each other, as they wait for the chance to double cross Herrick and
steal his cattle, and the mystery surrounding Tex and what he’s doing in the
middle of all this, that makes “Robber’s Roost”, in its own weird and unusual way,
rather interesting to watch. One of the
more bizarre aspects is the character played by Richard Boone, who is good as
usual playing a hard case. But for some odd reason he keeps curling his lip up
over his front teeth as if he were sucking on a lemon. Hard to know if he had
just been fitted with a bad set of caps or he thought he had to keep snarling
to look tough. Fortunately for him and us it is a distracting mannerism that he
never repeated throughout the rest of his career.
As the film progresses we learn, of course, that Tex
isn’t an outlaw like all the others, despite a wanted poster that Helen
discovers, but has tracked Hays and his gang to Junta Grande in pursuit of the
unknown men who raped and killed his wife. With so many bad guys, and Helen
thinking he’s one of the baddies, Tex has his hands full trying to bring them
to justice and save “Bull” Herrick’s herd, especially after Hays and Heeseman
finally realize their best course is to stop fighting each other, steal the
whole herd and split the profits. Golly! I guess Bull never thought that would
happen. The final climax takes place in the mountains of Durango, complete with
a lookout post that features a boulder balanced on a rocky spire, which I
suppose must be the titular Robber’s roost.
Despite the oddball touches and the somewhat implausible
plot, “Robbers Roost” is fun to watch. And, as noted at the beginning of this
review, there are two things that make this movie prophetically ahead of its
time. One is Herrick’s idea of pitting two rival gangs against each other to serve
his own purposes. It’s more like a plot from a gangster movie and I can’t think
of any westerns up until then that have a similar story line. However, nine
years later Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars,” (1964) would serve up the
same idea although in a slightly different and more believable way. Of course,
“Dollars” is an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo,” which was supposedly
inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s “Red Harvest.” Zane Grey wrote “Robbers Roost”
in 1932, three years after “Red Harvest” was published. Perhaps “Robber’s Roost”
can be counted as one more film ultimately inspired by Hammett, who knows?
The other thing that sets “Robbers Roost” apart from the
films of it time is the fact that except for Tex, Herrick and his daughter,
just about all the main characters, especially Hays and Heeseman are really bad
men. They cheat, steal and kill without qualm. They would have been right at
home in a Leone or Peckinpah film, but they were far from the usual black and
white hats that populated westerns in 1955.
In addition to an unusual story line, “Robber’s Roost”
benefits by having been filmed on location in Durango, Mexico. As usual in a
Zane Grey story, the landscape is as important an element as the characters. Kino
Lorber’s Blu-ray transfer presents the 1.85:1 theatrical print in good
condition, with vibrant color and impressive detail, giving the rugged Mexican
mountains landscape real depth and beauty. The film shows some signs of wear
and tear and the original mono soundtrack is a bit on the rough side. But
somehow, it gives the movie a rugged authenticity.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics deserves kudos for presenting
films like “Robbers Roost” in high definition, giving modern day viewers a
chance to see them the way they were originally seen in neighborhood theaters. It’s
far from being a classic western on the order of “Shane” or “The Wild Bunch,”
but viewed as a film spanning the transition from the standard western fare of
the mid-fifties to the “adult” westerns of the sixties, it’s certainly worth
catching. And you don’t want to miss Boone’s final dying words, as he sucks on
his front teeth and makes a clean breast of everything, including killing Tex’s
wife. “I’m not trying to horn in with the almighty,” he says. “I just want an
edge when they line up for the last showdown.”
What more is there to say after that?
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents “Robber’s Roost”
with no frills, although there are previews for three other Blu-rays including
“The Gunfight at Dodge City” with Joel McCrea.
The Metrograph is a two-story, rather flat and
rectangular building located at 7 Ludlow Street. The theater is sandwiched inconspicuously
between a funeral parlor and an iron works foundry, a couple of blocks east of
the Canal Street entrance to the Manhattan Bridge. It’s here, where the Lower East Side meets -
or perhaps blurs - with the border of Chinatown, New York City’s cineastes will find the borough’s
brightest new twinplex – one specializing exclusively in indie, art house, and repertory
programming. Since it’s opening in March
2016, the theater has already screened an intriguing variety of shorts, foreign
films, retrospectives, and silents.
The Metrograph’s primary theater is a 175 seat room on
the ground floor, with a second more intimate screening room of fifty seats perched
on the second level. A glass window
partition allows curious filmgoers a rare peak into a projection room outfitted
with two 35mm and one DCP projectors. The second level also features the “Commissary,” a comfortable space
with a small bar and assortment of tables and couches where patrons and artists
are not only welcomed, but encouraged, to congregate before and after screenings
to discuss films and their own creative work. I was told by one Metrograph associate that the theater’s vision to completely
transform this loft space into a small café is approximately three weeks
away. The northernmost corner of the
room that overlooks Ludlow Street has been reserved as a book-selling stall
that will exclusively feature filmmaking-related texts and journals. (Click here to visit theater web site.)
On the weekend of April 8-10, the Metrograph partnered
with Subway Cinema (the 501(c) (3) non-profit that has steered the New York
Asian Film Festival since 2002) to host the sixth annual “Old School Kung-Fu
Fest.” This year’s series of wild martial
art extravaganzas was programmed to celebrate the legacy of Golden Harvest
Productions, the Hong Kong based-studio founded by rogue producer Raymond Chow and
Leonard Ho following their break with the Shaw Brothers. It was through a series of Bruce Lee films
released through Golden Harvest that martial arts-action films would make their
first successful inroads into western markets. Lee, justifiably disappointed by his treatment in Hollywood and relegated
to sidekick and second-fiddle parts, moved to Hong Kong where he would star in no
fewer than four Golden Harvest productions from 1971 through 1973. (Lee’s fifth and final film for the company, the
posthumously released Game of Death (1978)
was cobbled together from bits of footage left behind following his tragic
death at age 32).
Though only Lee’s seminal Enter the Dragon (1973) would be screened over the course of this
weekend’s festival – to a sold-out audience, of course - the “Little Dragon’s” long
shadow remains omnipresent throughout. As might be expected at any celebration of cinematic martial arts mayhem,
the program would feature eight films – seven screened from 35mm elements, one
(The Prodigal Son) via DCP – that arguably
constitute some of the finest work of Lee’s contemporaries, protégés and pretenders.
The film I was most anxious to revisit – for the first
time in nearly forty years - was Brian Trenchard-Smith’s The Man From Hong Kong (1975) (aka The Dragon Flies), featuring Jimmy Wang Yu (“The One-Armed
Swordsman”) and one-shot James Bond George Lazenby. Having brashly walked away from the role of Bond
following his single-turn in On Her
Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), the former model-turned-actor had anxiously
found subsequent film work mostly unavailable. He reportedly financed a good portion of his first post-007 motion
picture, Cy Endfield’s Universal Soldier
(1971), out of his own pocket. In 1972,
Lazenby would accept an offer to appear in the grim and disturbing Italian
Giallo Chi L’ha Vista Morire? (Who Saw Her Die?). As director Aldo Lara would later recall in a
supplemental interview accompanying the film’s DVD release:
Lazenby had already played the role of James Bond and acquired a certain
international fame. This was useful for
the producers… He had deep issues with (Cubby) Broccoli and the entire James
Bond organization… In the end, he didn’t make a lira. He was going to the casinos, staying in big
hotels, and nothing was free. At the end
he was shown the bills and everything had been deducted from his pay… he had
made nothing. His only dream was to
return to his homeland of Australia, buy a boat and sail off alone. He was happy that [this film] would earn him
the money to buy the boat. He was very
available and very nice, but he disappeared after this.”
Well, not entirely. Near broke and recently married with a child on the way, Lazenby was
wandering around London’s Leicester Square where, on a whim, he caught a
late-night screening of Bruce Lee’s Fists
of Fury (aka The Big Boss, 1971). Though sensing a window of opportunity had
opened, the actor hadn’t done his homework particularly well. Lazenby booked a flight to Singapore, only to
discover Hong Kong was Lee’s actual base of operation. He caught a second flight to Hong Kong and, following
a brief meeting with the powerful but uninterested Shaw Brothers, found his way
to Raymond Chow’s office. Though Chow also
seemed indifferent to Lazenby’s unannounced visit, the producer did have the
presence of mind to call down to Lee (“James Bond is here to see you. Can I send him down?”). Though Lee’s answer was a curt “No,” an hour
later the martial arts star emerged from his screening-room session. He asked the down-and-out Australian if he’d
care to share a luncheon with Chow and himself. Midway through that meal – and to Raymond Chow’s sputtering surprise –
Lee coolly instructed his business partner to write out a check in the amount
of $10,000. “I want George to come back
here and do a movie with me, [Game of
Death] and I know he’ll come back if he’s got my money.”
Though he had already begun work on Game of Death, production was temporarily suspended when Golden
Harvest teamed with Warner Bros. for the international breakthrough Enter the Dragon. We’ll never know exactly what role Lee had in
mind for the former James Bond since, on July 20, 1973 and only four days following
their first meeting, Lee was found dead. The executives at Golden Harvest were
devastated. Not only had they lost a
friend and essential creative partner, they now inherited the liability of having
George Lazenby on the company payroll. The
company’s chagrin wasn’t personal. The
truth of the matter was their newly signed leading man was Hong Kong box-office
dead weight: he had absolutely no
kung-fu training and couldn’t speak a word of Mandarin.
Tired of hanging around Hong Kong waiting for something
to be offered in the weeks following Lee’s passing, Lazenby returned home. In January 1974 the actor announced to
reporters that he was offered a role in The
Golden Needles of Ecstasy to be shot “in both Hong Kong and Los
Angeles.” The plot was to involve
ecstasy-producing acupuncture needles of solid gold that “are “So precious […] people in the Orient will do anything to acquire
them.” Though that film actually would see
the light of day – as the disastrous Golden
Needles – Joe Don Baker and Jim Kelly had been assigned the lead male roles
and Lazenby was, once again, left out in the cold.
"Young Billy Young" is the kind of film of which it can be said, "They don't make 'em like that anymore". Not because the movie is so exceptional. In fact, it isn't exceptional on any level whatsoever. Rather, it's the sheer ordinariness of the entire production that makes one pine away for an era in which top talent could be attracted to enjoyable, if unremarkable, fare such as this. Such films, especially Westerns, were churned out with workmanlike professionalism to play to undemanding audiences that didn't require mega-budget blockbusters to feel they got their money's worth at the boxoffice. Sadly, such movies have largely gone the way of the dodo bird. In today's film industry, bigger must always be better and mid-range flicks such as are no longer made. However, through home video releases such as Kino Lorber's Blu-ray of "Young Billy Young", it's possible to still enjoy the simple pleasures that such movies provide.
The story opens with botched robbery in Mexico committed by Billy Young (Robert Walker) and some cohorts including Jesse (David Carradine). The plan to steal horses from the Mexican military goes awry and Billy is forced to split from his fellow robbers with the army in hot pursuit. Making his way back across the border to New Mexico, he is penniless and desperate. He has a chance encounter with Ben Kane (Robert Mitchum), a tough, sarcastic older man who he encounters again in a nearby town. Here, Billy is being cheated at cards by the local sheriff, who goads him into a gunfight. Billy ends up killing him but stands to be framed for the sheriff's death. He's saved by Ben, who rides along with him to another town where Ben has agreed to take on the job of lawman. Ostensibly he is there to keep order and collect back taxes from deadbeats but in reality, he is on a mission of revenge. Some years before, Ben's son had been gunned down by a criminal named Boone (John Anderson) and Kane has learned that Boone is a presence in the new town and that he is being protected by a local corrupt businessman, John Behan (Jack Kelly). Ben makes his presence known immediately by enforcing the law in a strict manner. He's confronted by Behan, who tries to intimidate him. This results in Behan being slapped around by Kane. Behan also grows to resent the new lawman because he is flirting with his mistress, saloon entertainer Lily Beloit (Angie Dickinson). When Behan abuses her as punishment, he gets another beating from Kane. Meanwhile, Billy runs into Jesse and accuses him of having deserted him in Mexico. The two men fight it out and Jesse is later involved with the accidental shooting of the town's beloved doctor while in the employ of Behan. Kane learns that Jesse is Boone's son and holds him in jail as bait for Boone to come out of hiding. The plan works all too well. Boone turns up with a small army and lays siege to the jailhouse where Kane and Billy are holed up.
Original French lobby card.
"Young Billy Young" was compared to a TV show by New York Times critic Howard Thompson on the basis that it contains so many standard elements of westerns from this time period. There is the bad girl with the heart of gold, the evil business tycoon, the brash young gun and his wiser, older mentor, the heroes outnumbered by superior forces and a lovable old coot (played against type by Paul Fix in full Walter Brennan/Gabby Hayes mode.) Yet somehow it all works very well, thanks mostly to Robert Mitchum's stalwart presence. With his trademark ram-rod stiff walk and cool persona, Mitchum tosses off bon mots like a frontier version of 007. Even the Times acknowledged that "Mitchum can do laconic wonders with a good wise-crack". He has considerable chemistry with Dickinson, though the action between the sheets is more implied than shown. Robert Walker Jr. acquits himself well in the title role and David Carradine makes an impression even with limited screen time. The film was directed by Burt Kennedy, an old hand at directing fine westerns in reliable, if not remarkable, style and it all culminates in a rip-snorting shoot-out that is genuinely exciting. The fine supporting cast includes Willis Bouchey, Parley Baer and Deanna Martin (Dino's daughter) in her acting debut. One oddball element to the film: Mitchum croons the title song over the opening credits. If this sounds strange, keep in mind that Mitchum improbably once had a hit album of calypso music.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes the original trailer as well as trailers for other westerns, "Support Your Local Sheriff", "Support Your Local Gunfighter" and "The Wonderful Country", which also stars Mitchum.
one hundred years of turning dreams into cinematic reality, Technicolor became
only the second company to be awarded a coveted Star by the Hollywood Chamber
of Commerce.The ceremony took place on March 30.
world famous for bringing color to the movies, especially in iconic films like
Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, Technicolor has adapted to the
times. It withdrew from 35MM film
processing a number of years ago and is now firmly in the digital era. The company also holds over 40,000 patents
and its technology can be found in flat screens and other consumer
the ceremony, attended by actor Edward James Olmos and distinguished
cinematographer and ASC President Richard Crudo, Technicolor’s CEO, Frederic
Rose said the company strives to “bring a soul, a spirit, a feeling to what is
being created.” Since Technicolor is
known as a “Creative Technology Company”, Rose noted that “technology is an
enabler, it’s something that allows a director or cinematographer to stretch
the boundaries and create something that has never been seen before.”
Technicolor senior executives at the unveiling ceremony.
70% of current blockbusters and 50% of the recent Super Bowl ads feature visual
effects created by Technicolor through companies like the Mill and MPC in London. Some of their recent triumphs include providing
visual effects for The Revenant and winning an Oscar for sound mixing on
Whiplash. James Bond fans will remember
the rich Technicolor look of many of the classic films and the company has
continued that partnership in the 21st Century by creating striking visual
effects on Skyfall and Spectre as well as sound mixing on both films. (Skyfall’s audio mix won an Oscar for sound
the star was unveiled, members of the press were escorted to an expansive
conference room where examples of Technicolor’s classic film library
restoration and upscaling (from SDR to
HDR) were being played. Let’s just say a
treated 36 year-old clip looked jaw-droppingly crisp, the colors popping off
the screen. The company is also heavily
involved in next generation technologies like VR. Goggles were available to see demo reels
including an amazing clip of The Martian VR Experience, Sony’s Goosebumps and a
project for Gatorade that makes the viewer feel what it’s like to be a major
league baseball player.
was a proud day for the venerable company, but as CEO Frederic Rose promised,
“the next 100 years will be even more exciting.”
Guy Hamilton and Roger Moore on the set of "The Man With the Golden Gun" in Thailand, 1974.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Cinema Retro mourns the loss of director Guy Hamilton, who has passed away at age 93. Guy was an old friend and supporter of our magazine and a wonderful talent and raconteur. Hamilton, though British by birth, spent much of his life in France. After WWII, he entered the film industry in England and served as assistant director to Sir Carol Reed, working on the classic film "The Third Man". He also served as AD on John Huston's "The African Queen". Gradually, he moved up the ladder to director and helmed such films as "An Inspector Calls", "The Colditz Story" and "The Devil's Disciple", the latter starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier. In 1964 Hamilton was hired to direct the third James Bond film "Goldfinger" and made cinema history. Hamilton found the perfect blend of humor and thrills and the film started the era of Bondmania that would see Sean Connery boosted to the status of international superstar. He also directed the Michael Caine spy thriller "Funeral in Berlin" for Bond producer Harry Saltzman in 1967. He worked once again for Saltzman on the ambitious epic WWII film "Battle of Britain" in 1969, a highly complex film to make given the logistics of recreating dogfights in the skies over England.
Bond producers Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli reached out to Guy Hamilton again in 1971 to direct "Diamonds Are Forever", the film that marked Sean Connery's return to the James Bond series after a four year absence. The film was an enormous success but it also initiated a swing toward more overt humor, which reflected Hamilton's personal vision of the series. When this writer asked him over a dinner in London many years ago if he felt that the increase in jokes and gags was an artistic mistake, Hamilton insisted it was not, although he acknowledged that he had probably alienated some of the more traditional Bond fans. In fact, Hamilton said that his initial plans for the script of "Diamonds Are Forever" would have seen Bond in Disneyland battling SPECTRE agents dressed as famous Disney characters. Hamilton's emphasis on laughs in the Bond films perfectly paved the way for the Roger Moore era which began in 1973 with "Live and Let Die". Hamilton was retained to direct that film as well. Moore agreed with Hamilton's emphasis on overt humor and that angle would largely define the Moore films which lasted through "A View to a Kill" in 1985. Hamilton would direct Moore's second Bond film, "The Man With the Golden Gun" in 1974. He was initially scheduled to direct "The Spy Who Loved Me" but due to his residency in France, tax complications ensued regarding his ability to work for an extended period in England. Ultimately, Lewis Gilbert directed the film. Hamilton's post-Bond era movies included the Agatha Christie thrillers "The Mirror Crack'd" and "Evil Under the Sun", as well as "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins" and "Force Ten From Navarone". Of the latter, I once asked him if the disappointing movie went wrong during filming. Characteristically, Hamilton told me that it had a lousy script from day one and he knew it would be a lousy movie. However, he was winding down his involvement in the film industry and agreed to do the movie because the producers purchased a beautiful home for him in Spain. He said it was truly "an offer I couldn't refuse".
As age took its toll, Hamilton made fewer trips outside of Spain. However a few years ago, Cinema Retro's Dave Worrall and Gareth Owen accompanied Hamilton to an outdoor screening of "Goldfinger" in London. He had the satisfaction of seeing how well received his movie was even after half a century. Guy Hamilton was the epitome of the British gentleman and a skilled filmmaker as well. His contributions to the movie industry, and the James Bond series in particular, are secure in film history.
For fans of "The Magnificent Seven", the sands in the hourglass have finally run out. Since the mid-1990s, there have been attempts by studio executives to bring director John Sturges' classic 1960 Western back to the big screen. There was a reasonably popular TV series based on the film that aired in the 1990s but no big screen feature film ever went into production- until now. We realize it is irresponsible to judge a film simply on the basis of its trailer. However, it is appropriate to judge the trailer on its own merits. Suffice it to say that the trailer for the new big screen version of "The Magnificent Seven" stinks-- on ice. First, it's cut in the same style that virtually every action movie trailer now follows. It's as though the creators of these trailers are in arrested development from the era of when MTV videos were all the rage. It moves at lightning speed and tells you precious little about the story. What we can glean is that the notion of a band of misfit gunfighters traveling to Mexico to protect innocent villagers from banditos has largely been altered. Apparently all of the action in the new film takes place north o' the border. Denzel Washington takes on the lead role, following in the footsteps of Yul Brynner, Lee Van Cleef and George Kennedy. (Brynner excelled in the first film but plodded through the first sequel, "Return of the Seven". Kennedy and Van Cleef registered even worse in the ill-advised sequels "The Magnificent Seven Ride!" and "Guns of the Magnificent Seven".) At least all of those films had a consistency in that the lead character's name was "Chris" throughout. This time around, Washington plays someone named "Sam Chisholm". We're told that this movie isn't a remake but a "re-imagining" of the classic film. "Re-imagining" is now often used as a justification for taking elements of a superior film and tampering with them for commercial purposes. This version seems like a cookie-cutter attempt to make some fast cash. It seems devoid of any passion or even respect for the original and is filled with wise-cracking characters who fire off one-liners while blowing things up. How can you even think about making any version of "The Magnificent Seven" without utilizing Elmer Bernstein's classic score? Well, they've apparently done it. The late James Horner provided the score for this version and we'll reserve judgment. However, the musical instincts found in the trailer are foreboding, as the action is set to a rock version of "House of the Rising Sun". After all, nothing brings out a feeling for the Wild West like "House of the Rising Sun". Maybe the final cut will feature Madonna's "Vogue", as well. The film reunites Denzel Washington with his "Training Day" co-star Ethan Hawke and that film's director Antoine Fuqua. They are all talented men but Washington long ago relegated his status as one of America's finest actors in favor of taking a quick pay check in lousy action movies and Fuqua has been associated with a number of "by the numbers" action films in recent years. We at Cinema Retro are also calling upon studios to make more Westerns so we don't want to judge the final product until we actually see "The Magnificent Seven" when it is released later this year. Perhaps we'll be pleasantly surprised- but based on this dreadful trailer, we're not counting on it.
Lean’s Brief Encounter, based on Noël
Coward’s one-act play Still Life and
adapted for the screen by Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, and Ronald Neame,
represents one of the most admired and poignant love stories ever put on
celluloid. The picture frequently lands on various “best” lists and is often
called one of the great movie romances. It is also a decidedly British picture,
one that deftly captures the zeitgeist of
immediate post-war England with a focus on middle-class values and morality of
the time. It appeared in British cinemas in late 1945 and was released in the
U.S. in 1946; thus, it was nominated for the ‘46 Academy Awards for Best
Director, Best Actress (Celia Johnson), and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Criterion Collection released the film on DVD years ago, both alone and as part
of the box set collection, David Lean
Directs Noël Coward (the collection was
also released on Blu-ray); however, until now the title was not available as a
separate Blu-ray disk. All of the supplements from the box set edition have
been ported over to this single disk version.
Brief Encounter is the story of Laura
(wonderfully played by Johnson), a respectable, happily-married woman who
happens to meet a respectable, happily-married doctor named Alec (Trevor
Howard) one day in the train station. There is a mutual attraction, and they
begin to see each other on day outings over the next few weeks. They fall in
love, of course, and the next big question is... will they or won’t they?
Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2
underscoring the affair, this is lush, romantic stuff.
was Lean’s fourth collaboration with Coward (their first picture, In Which We Serve,was co-directed by both) and it’s the piece that exhibited Lean’s
growing artistry as a filmmaker. For a man who went on to make big budget epics
like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, Brief Encounter is strikingly small and intimate, and that’s the
reason it has such charm and resonance. The two leads are superb. Johnson (whom
James Bond fans may know was, in real life, the sister-in-law of Ian Fleming)
displays such controlled emotion (in a manner that is distinctly British), that
it becomes heartbreaking to watch. Howard’s conflict between desire and
responsibility is palpable. Their rapport is very real and totally believable,
even seventy-one years later.
Blu-ray disk contains a high-definition digital transfer of the BFI National
Archive’s 2008 restoration, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. There is
an audio commentary from 2000 by film historian Bruce Eder.
supplements include an insightful interview from 2012 with Noël
Coward scholar Barry Day; a terrific short documentary on the making of the
film; a nearly-hour-long 1971 television documentary on Lean’s career up to
that point; and the theatrical trailer. An essay by historian Kevin Brownlow
appears in the booklet.
Brief Encounter is the perfect date
movie. Watch it tonight with someone you love.
It is no secret that the earth is in a state
of constant and rapid change. Global
warming, economic impoverishment for a growing number of people who have few
options available to them, the threat of earthquakes in areas of the country
that are long overdue for a massive shaking – all of these are stress factors that
large segments of the population contend with daily.
The Chevron Richmond Refinery in Richmond, CA
was constructed by Standard Oil in 1901 and opened in 1902 (John D.
Rockefeller, who was a founder, chairman and major shareholder of the company,
became the richest man in the world following Standard Oil’s dissolution into
33 smaller companies). The refinery has
had its share of problems over the years, suffering explosions and fires in
1989 and again in 1999. On August 6,
2012, there was an eruption of such intensity that it displaced over 15,000
people living in the surrounding areas, residents who are still suffering the
ill effects of the disaster in the form of everything from respiratory infections
to cancer. It is this catastrophe that
begins Shalini Kantayya’s new documentary Catching
the Sun, a film that echoes a theme that is discussed at length by another
documentary that was recently released, Requiem
for the American Dream, in that the decisions made by a select few often
have vast and negative repercussions for many. Whereas the latter clearly paints a dark picture of the current state of
economic affairs in present-day US of A, the former offers a far more hopeful
view of life.
the Sun follows two people each representing two
superpowers. Wally Jiang, the president
of WesTech (a Chinese company from Wuxi, China though their website now shows
their China office as being in Shanghai) who believes that renewable energy
(RE) in the form of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells is the wave of the future, is
in a race with the US to become the dominant provider of PV solar panels which
convert sunlight into electric energy. Van Jones (author of The Green
Collar Economy and Rebuild the Dream) is a self-appointed gadfly in the US who dedicates his life’s work to improving
the lot of others through his attempts to get people on board with solar
power. In his view, this form of RE is
not just the answer to reducing the carbon footprint (i.e. pollution), but it’s
an excellent way to educate people, make them feel like productive members of
the community and therefore reduce crime and violence. In essence, give them a job, the prospect of
a decent future and ultimately, hope. Michele McGeoy, the founder of Solar Richmond, echoes his sentiment that
good jobs are an antidote to violence and crime. Paul Mudrow and Hal Aronson are both Solar
Richmond trainees studying to become photovoltaic solar panel installers. They hope that this will be their ticket to
a lucrative future.
Danny Kenny, CEO of Oakland-based Sungevity, points
out that the cost of solar has dropped 80% in last five to seven years. Oakland, unfortunately, is also home to much
abject poverty, and many young African-American males who never thought about
anything outside of their neighborhood, take classes and training on RE. Director Kantayya is obviously fascinated by
her subject, and her film does an admirable job of illustrating not only how
two countries see an opportunity for developing a nascent technology that has
yet to reach its potential, but also educating the audience on solar power in
layman’s terms. In the 1960’s, the race
to the moon by that decade’s end put the US and the then-Soviet Union (now
Russia) in a duke-it-out race wherein the US prevailed, due Americans’ resolve
to kick its nemesis’s bol'shaya
As of the writing of this review, China
reports that they have developed a way to make solar panels that convert not
only sunlight into energy, but raindrops into energy when it rains. This is a huge development as current solar
panels do not respond to anything other than sunlight.
Hopefully, the documentary will shed more
light on this fascinating subject (no pun intended).
Click here to
read more about Catching the Sun,
find screenings at nearby theaters, and also rent or download it on Vimeo.
Hawks’ 1939 adventure/drama/comedy/musical (yes, it’s all of those) is firmly
among the director’s best pictures, made at a time when aviation was glamorous,
thrilling, and dangerous. As Hawks himself says in an interview supplement, when
people heard a plane flying in the sky in those days, they’d rush outside to
take a look at it. The job of an air mail carrier, at the time, was something
for only the bravest—or the craziest—of men.
(Cary Grant, in one of his most memorable performances) runs an air mail
operation in a remote corner of South America, and part of the flight routes
traverse the Andes mountains. It’s an extremely hazardous occupation for pilots
of single prop planes, for there are often rainstorms, fog, and other obstacles
to prevent smooth flying. It’s no wonder that his team is a motley crew of
ne’er-do-wells, alcoholics, and daredevils. When Bonnie (Jean Arthur), a
touring entertainer, shows up en route to her next gig, she provides Geoff with
another peril—love. That’s something Geoff doesn’t want any part of. This set
up is classic Hawks, for, along with Frank Capra, he was a primary referee for
the war between the sexes on screen. Only
Angels demonstrates this in spades.
get even more complicated when Bat (Richard Barthelmess), a pilot with a dark
reputation, shows up with his wife, Judy (Rita Hayworth, in one of her very
first screen appearances). Judy happens to be Geoff’s old flame, and Bat was
apparently responsible for once bailing out of a plane and leaving his mechanic
to die in the crash. That mechanic was the brother of Geoff’s best friend and
employee, Kid (Thomas Mitchell).
that weren’t enough plot, Hawks throws in the exotic foreign setting of a small
South American village and its occupants, late night saloon parties complete
with pianist (a la Casablanca, three
years prior to that film’s release), hair-raising flight sequences, and
screwball comedy antics between the leads. It’s pure Hollywood, made in a year
that is often called one of the best in the industry’s history.
Criterion Collection’s new 4K digital restoration looks marvelous, and it has
an uncompressed monaural soundtrack that brings the plane engines into your
living room. Supplements include excerpts from an audio interview between Hawks
and Peter Bogdanovich, in which the director talks about his aviation pictures,
his mixed feelings about Jean Arthur, and other topics; a new interview with
film critic David Thomson, who makes a strong case for subtle homosexual
interpretations of the male camaraderie in the picture; a new documentary about
Hawks’ aviation movies featuring film scholars Craig Barron and Ben Burtt; the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation from 1939,
starring Grant, Arthur, Hayworth, Barthelmess, and Mitchell, hosted by Cecil B.
DeMille; and the trailer. An essay by critic Michael Stragow appears in the
Only Angels Have
an exhilarating look at an era long time gone, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
Don’t be late for the flight!
The seemingly promising teaming of Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale, both at their most glamorous back in 1968, goes hopelessly astray in the comedy/crime caper film "A Fine Pair". The movie is the kind of lazy effort that makes one suspect the only motives for the stars' participation were quick, sizable paychecks and the opportunity to enjoy some exotic locations at the studio's expense. (Think "Donovan's Reef" without the fun.) The film opens in New York City and we find Hudson as NYPD Captain Mike Harmon, a conservative, no-nonsense career police officer who runs his precinct with the same strong-arm tactics that General George S. Patton employed to keep his troops in line. Out of nowhere pops Esmeralda Marini (Cardinale), a glamorous and almost annoyingly perky young woman who has arrived unannounced from her native Italy. Turns out she has known Harmon most of her life as he was a good friend of her late father, who was an Italian police captain. It's never adequately explained how the two law enforcement officer's professional careers intersected but it turns out that Harmon became close enough to the Marini family that Esmeralda has long considered Harmon like a favorite uncle. The absurdities start almost immediately as Esmeralda confesses that she has possession of some stolen jewels that she has stolen from a prominent Italian family, the Fairchilds, who are now on holiday in New York. She says that she has regrets about having participated in the crime and wants to break into the Fairchilds' fortress-like chateau in Austria so that she can return the jewels before they find they are missing. One would think that a streetwise New York City police captain would see this as a rather bizarre and implausible yarn, but not Harmon. On a moment's notice he decides to take a leave from his job and flyoff for Austria with Esmeralda in a quest to undo the wrong she committed by stealing the jewels. Oh, did I mention that Harmon is also married? He dismisses this by saying that he was simply vague about his reasons for taking off suddenly for a week in Austria. I'd be curious to hear about the outcome of any married man who decides to employ the same tactics.
Once in Austria, Harmon is alternately bemused and annoyed by Esmeralda's party-hearty lifestyle. She is a magnet for eccentric young men of the counter-culture, who she beds with guilt-free abandon. However, it doesn't take long before conservative Harmon is joining in the partying but there is still the slight problem of breaking into the Fairchild's estate. Harmon uses a false scenario to convince the local police chief (the marvelous character actor Leon Askin) to give him a tour of the security devices inside and around the perimeter of the mansion. While it might be a professional courtesy to share such information with a fellow police captain, one would have to wonder how the absent family would feel about strangers treading around their private property and discussing all their top-secret burglar alarm devices. Harmon is stunned by the sophistication of the anti-theft system and concerned that the mission of breaking into the home will be impossible- and Esmeralda is vague about how the original theft was originally orchestrated except to say that her accomplice managed to pull it off. Against all logic, Harmon decides to risk his life and career in order to carry on with the plot. In some of the most absurd scenes, he becomes a poor man's "Q" Branch by devising ways to use ordinary objects such as champagne bottles and mingle them with chemicals in order to gain access to the house and neutralize the alarm system. It's a plan that would have challenged Einstein, but Harmon feels secure enough to continue with the caper. He and Esmeralda decided to undertake the top secret and illegal task of mixing dangerous chemicals by doing so in the communal toilet of the tiny bed and breakfast lodge they are staying at. Even Inspector Clouseau wouldn't be that careless.
Harmon's plan requires artificially raising the interior temperature of the room the Fairchilds' safe is in to a scorching 194 degrees Fahrenheit because somehow he has figured out that this will prevent the alarms from being triggered. The entire sequence is ludicrous and seems designed simply as an excuse for Cardinale to strip down to her bra and panties, which provides the only break in the tedium. It doesn't take much skill to make a caper film sequence suspenseful but director Francesco Maselli (who also committed the sin of co-writing the screenplay) manages to bungle even this "can't miss" opportunity. There is no tension whatsoever and the scene ends prematurely with the caper successfully carried out. However, Esmeralda now has a second break-in she wants Harmon to help with. By this point, he is smitten with her and they become lovers. Given the fact that he has been a de facto "uncle" to her, the "Yuck" factor kicks in right away. Before long Harmon has changed his entire personality, ditching his conservative lifestyle for the free-wheeling, anything-goes philosophy of Esmeralda. Harmon's transformation is as likely as someone entering the voting booth with the intention of voting for Ted Cruz and suddenly deciding to pull the lever for Bernie Sanders. The remainder of the film concerns this second, equally implausible, crime plan. By this point Harmon has discovered that he has been played for a sucker by Esmeralda, who had him place worthless jewels in the Fairchild safe. While he was preoccupied doing so, she used the opportunity to steal real jewels. In fact, she had never been inside the mansion before and had conned him into giving her access. Got all that? Then please explain it to me. Harmon is so enamored that this career police captain with a distinguished career in law enforcement decides to become a professional jewel thief and give up his profession. In a "Oh, by the way..." moment he conveniently also explains that he phoned his wife and requested a divorce, which she immediately complied with. Before long, the happy couple is off to Rome for their next caper. Not even Jules Verne could come up with such fantastical scenarios.
"A Fine Pair" has more problems than poor direction and a terrible script. It's perhaps the worst-photographed major film release I've ever scene. Cinematographer Alfio Contini has a distinguished record in the movie industry so maybe this was an aberration. However, he employs some amateurish techniques that make it appear the film was photographed by an amateur who stumbled onto the set while he was on his lunch break. There are head-spinning swirls and dreadful use of the zoom lens. Contini also squanders the early sequences in New York by focusing on tight close-ups of the actors instead of the city's exotic locations. The choppy editing doesn't help and we're left with an upbeat, jaunty score by Ennio Morricone as the film's sole asset. While I've always enjoyed Rock Hudson's work in movies, he gave very few truly impressive performances ("Giant" and "Seconds" among them.) He was best suited for light comedies which he had a natural flair for which is why it's a telling sign that he's pretty awful in this film. You can almost see a thought bubble above his head with the question "What the hell am I doing in this mess?" He gives a listless and uninspired performance throughout. Cardinale is at least lively but her character is poorly written and completely unbelievable. Regarding their performances, New York Times critic Roger Greenspun astutely wrote at the time, "...the film at times seems like "Mission: Impossible" performed by the cast of "Captain Scarlett and the Mysterons"- with facial expressions that cleverly imitate life."
The Warner Archive DVD was mastered from the best elements available. Fittingly they are awful and, thus, so is the transfer. The color quality varies wildly and some scenes are so dark that it feels as though you are staring into an inkwell. Not helping matters is that the movie suffers from bad dubbing and sound mixing so that even Rock Hudson sounds like he is being dubbed by a different actor. The movie is of primary interest to loyal fans of Hudson and Cardinale and those who get a kick out of watching promising cinematic premises that turned into disasters.
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We at Cinema Retro like nothing more than to make our readers aware of emerging new talents in independent film making. Two of the most impressive young movie creators whose work we've experienced recently are Steven Piet and Erik Crary, two personal friends who teamed up to fulfill their dream of making their own feature film. The duo wrote the screenplay for "Uncle John" and Piet made his directorial debut with the movie, as well. The film is a highly stylized, oddball concoction that blends two seemingly disparate storylines that intersect logically as the movie proceeds. The story grabs you from the opening frames in which we see Dutch (Laurent Soucie), a hulk of a man staggering in a dazed condition on the dock of remote lake in Wisconsin. We see he is being followed by another man, John (John Ashton), who is wielding the oar of a rowboat that he has apparently just slammed Dutch in the head with. He's about to administer the coup de grace when Dutch falls into the shallow water and conveniently drowns. We then watch John, a man in his late sixties, struggle mightily to cover up evidence of the murder. He wraps Dutch in an improvised body bag and painstakingly drags him to his truck, loads him into it and drives to an isolated field where local farmers burn brush. Here, he buries the body under a mound of branches and pours some gasoline on top, making for a gruesome bonfire. Who are these men and why has one murdered the other? The answers are given but not until much later in the story. Meanwhile, we see that John isn't a madman. Rather, he's well-established in the small farming community and respected for his low-key personality and slow-to-anger temperament. He earns a modest living on his farm, which he's converted to a woodworking shop where he does freelance carpentry jobs for local residents. About the only excitement in his day-today activities is getting together each morning with a group of local good ol' boys for coffee at the local diner where they discuss gossip and the affairs of the day. It doesn't take long before word gets around that Dutch has gone missing. Apparently Dutch has been a loose cannon and troublemaker for decades. Recently he's found Jesus and decided to repent. As part of his self-imposed penance, he's been visiting the locals and confessing to various misdeeds he's done against them and begging for their forgiveness. As the days pass with no sign of Dutch, the group begins to speculate that maybe someone didn't decide to forgive him for a specific transgression. Through it all, John keeps a poker face and pretends he is ignorant of Dutch's fate. But as the local sheriff keeps digging around, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable and perhaps is coming to regret having committed the murder.
The script cleverly presents a completely parallel and seemingly unrelated plot that centers on Ben (Alex Moffatt), a 29 year-old designer in a hip marketing studio in Chicago. A new employee, Kate (Jenna Lyng) has been brought on board to oversee projects. On one level he resents the hiring of this new supervisor but on the other hand he's understandably smitten by her charm and good looks. Before long they begin a romantic relationship. The two stories blend later in the film when we learn that Ben was raised by "Uncle John" when his mother died and his father deserted him. He decides to visit John and introduce him to Kate. The timing of the visit couldn't be worse for John, who is becoming increasingly concerned about being unveiled as a murderer. Adding to his woes is the nagging presence of Dutch's brother Danny (Ronnie Gene Blevins), who is all-too-obviously suspicious that John is hiding a terrible secret. Danny, like Dutch, is a local trouble maker with a short-fuse and a penchant for drinking. He drops by John's farm during the visit by Ben and Kate, who remain oblivious to the uneasy banter between the two men. Director Steven Piet ratchets up the tension in this marvelously-constructed sequence in which John and Danny enact a sequence that reminds one of a Bond movie in that the protagonist and villain talk politely to each other but barely mask their hatred for one another. John knows the noose is getting tighter and fears that Danny will take matters into his own hands if he doesn't stop him first. Worse, Danny make seek to avenge his brother's murder by making Ben and Kate his victims. The only element of the film I found somewhat disappointing is the final scene which has sense of irony about it but doesn't quite deliver the payoff I had hoped for. Nonetheless, "Uncle John" is a real winner in every respect. If you enjoy Hitchcock thrillers, give this one a try. In fact, the film reminded me of Hitchcock in the sense that the Master always tried to show just how difficult it is to kill a human being and dispose of a body. In "The Trouble With Harry", the titular corpse keeps popping up around town to the dismay of the locals. In the kitchen murder sequence of "Torn Curtain" we see exactly how ill-equipped an everyday person is to kill someone else. "Uncle John" explores this territory by showing us the pain, tension and aggrevation John must endure to cover-up his misdeed.
The sheer intelligence of the screenplay of "Uncle John" is what impressed me the most. The film doesn't rely on violence or gruesome scenes of bloodletting. Instead we get realistic characters talking in a realistic manner. Uncle John is one of those complex characters we've seen in films of this type before. On the surface he is the villain who has committed a deplorable deed. However, you end up inadvertently admiring his creativity and resolve in avoiding being detected as a murderer. He is played with enormous skill by character actor John Ashton, who finally gets a well-deserved starring role. Ashton's performance is award worthy, as he captures the essence of a very complex character and makes him sympathetic even though we can't condone what he has done. He is the consummate professional, bringing both pathos and cringe-inducing murderous instincts to his portrayal. He's matched by equally excellent performances by Alex Moffatt, Jenna Lyng and Ronnie Gene Blevins, all of whom should have promising futures in the film industry. The same goes for Steven Piet, whose debut as director is rather remarkable. He has a real eye for how to set up a scene and milk it for all its worth. I should mention that the casting of the film is outstanding. Even the smallest role is expertly played. Kudos to cinematographer Mike Bove, who does wonders with lighting elements that add immeasurably to the foreboding atmosphere. There is also a fine musical score by Adam Robbi and Shawn Sutta.
The Kino Lorber DVD includes a montage of scenes from the film set to the soundtrack music, a teaser trailer, original trailer and a rather clever interview with the filmmakers conducted by their own moms. In it, they discuss the trials and tribulations of making films such as these on micro-budgets. They may not have made much money from this project but it's far superior to most of the over-produced, overly-costly mainstream fare churned out by the major studios.
“Barquero”(1970) stars Lee Van Cleef as Travis, an
ex-gunslinger living a quiet life as the owner/operator of a barge that is the
only way to cross the river at a certain spot between Texas and Mexico. When we
first see him he’s in bed with Nola (Marie Gomez), a hot looking Mexican chick
who likes to suck on cigarillos. Everything’s fine until the creepy Fair (John
Davis Chandler) shows up at his doorstep leering down at the naked Nola and
says he and two men with him want to go across the water to Texas. Travis
doesn’t like the way he’s looking at Nola and tells him “A ride across the
river is all your money’s going to buy.” They get across and Fair pulls a gun
on him and tells his amigos to tie him up.
Meanwhile, in a town a few miles to the north Remy
(Warren Oates), leader of an outlaw gang, watches from the bedroom of a
whorehouse as his gang robs the bank and shoots up the entire town. Once
they’re done shooting everything full of holes they ride south, expecting the
barge to be ready to take them to Mexico. Only trouble is Travis has a friend
named Mountain Phil (Forrest Tucker in a show-stealing performance) who is
handy with a knife. He kills the two of the desperadoes and neutralizes Fair
with the help of some “tasty” fire ants. Once freed, Travis quickly rounds up a
bunch of squatters, including Anna (Mariette Hartley) and Nola and takes them
over to the Mexican side. Remy is pretty ticked when he gets to the river and
sees there’s no barge ready to help them flee to Mexico. It’s pretty much a
standoff for the next hour of the film as both sides try to get the upper hand.
Producer Aubrey Schenck intended to make “Barquero” a
combination of the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and the bloody westerns
of Sam Peckinpah. He hired Van Cleef, who was a star of two Leone westerns Oates, a member of Peckinpah’s
regular stock company, for the lead roles. He had a script by George Schenck
and William Marks that had a fairly strong premise. The idea was to set up the
clash between Van Cleef and Oates and let it explode.
It succeeds as far as it goes, but could have been much
better. Schenck originally hired TV director Robert Sparr to helm “Barquero”
but Sparr was killed in a helicopter crash scouting location in Colorado and
the job went to veteran director Gordon Douglas (“Them!” “Rio Conchos”). You
can see the Leone influence, especially when Remy starts cracking up and begins
smoking some loco weed, reminiscent of Indio (Gian Marie Volante) in “For a Few
Dollars More.” The bank robbery scene that opens the film is imitation
Peckinpah, complete with an astronomical bullet count. But it’s obvious Douglas,
capable though he was, lacked the crazed inspiration of either Peckinpah or
Leone. You would really need an inspired mad man to make “Barquero” work and Douglas
just wasn’t crazy enough. “Barquero” is
something of a misfire rather than the cult classic it could have been. Nevertheless,
it’s a treat to see two of the baddest badasses together for the one and only
time in their careers, and if you take it for what it is, it’s a wild ride.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray presents “Barquero” in its 1.85:1
theatrical aspect ratio. The picture is crisp and clear, with good color. Some
film elements are more worn that others, but overall it’s in good shape. The
only extra is trailer. Kino Lorber
deserves to be commended for the way it’s releasing these terrific
looking-Blu-Ray transfers of hard-to-find-movies like “Barquero,” especially at
a time when most of the market is heading away from actual physical discs to
on-line streaming. I hope they keep them coming.
“Kill or Be Killed” (2015) aka “Red on Yella, Kill a
Fella,” is a low budget horror-western released on DVD by RLJ Entertainment
that also attempts to be a tribute to the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s
and Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch.” The plot is about a gang of outlaws in
the year 1900 traveling 500 miles through Texas to get to a stash of gold
that’s hidden at the bottom of a well in the sand dunes of Galveston Beach. The
group is hounded on their journey by a mysterious being and one by one the gang
members get picked off.
Like Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch these outlaws are a motley
crew. Their leader, Claude “Sweet Tooth” Barbee, played by co-writer/director
Justin Meeks, is very loosely based on real-life outlaw Sam Bass. As Meeks
portrays him, Barbee is a man obsessed with recovering the hidden loot from a
previous robbery. He’ll stop at nothing
to get it. He’s abetted by a gang of cutthroats capable of anything, and he’s
willing to overlook their bloody crimes if it will help him get to the gold. He’s
even willing to go as far as looking the other way when one of his men, a
hulking brute called Blocky (Gregory Kelly), brutally rapes and murders a girl
in her early teens.
Meeks explains in the DVD’s audio commentary that Barbee
needs Blocky’s muscle, so he’ll overlook what he did. But it turns out he’s
even willing to go farther than that. When the girl’s father pulls a shotgun on
Blocky to give him his just desserts, Barbee shoots the father in the head. Meeks
points out however, that as bad as that seems, Barbee, at least, has a line he
won’t cross. He doesn’t allow the girl’s mother and little brother to be killed.
Well, I guess...
Meeks and his co-writer/director Duane Graves, came up
with a script that tries to outdo the violence and sadism of the films that
inspired it. They set out to show bad men being bad and paying for it all in
the end. The addition of the horror element provides for a little extra gore. As
far as it goes, it’s not a bad premise for a movie. But the question is how far
across the line can you let your characters go before they become so
reprehensible that the audience cannot relate to them? Peckinpah’s bunch were
men on the wrong side of the law, but he gave them a sense of honor. They were
bad but not as bad as the posse of degenerates pursuing them, or Mapache, the
bandit chief they rob a train for. Barbee and his men, on the other hand, are
on a level even lower than that.
In another scene that comes out of nowhere, our
anti-heroes try to rob a black man (whom Barbee calls “Jimmy”) with a wagon of
furs, but when they find out he has no money, Barbee tells his men to get a
rope and “put his boots in the trees.” Smells like a lynching to me. But who can tell? The scene ends with one of
the gang coming toward the man with about three feet of rope in his hands. How
do you hang somebody with three feet of rope? Were they just going to tie him
up? I went to the audio commentary hoping the filmmakers would shed some light
on what was going on and why they included such an unnecessary and repugnant scene
in the first place. But instead all they discussed was how much they spent on
the props, including a gold coin they bought on eBay. It’s just one example of
the confused direction and writing in this film.
Meeks and Graves also seem to be fond of throwing red
herrings at the audience. As the members of the gang are killed one by one in mysterious
ways, there are scenes involving a giant savage with flaming eyes, which we’re
told in the commentary, is some kind of Viking who appeared in one of their
earlier shorts. Exactly why he’s in this film isn’t explained. He only appears
in Barbee’s dreams, but how can a dream image manage to slit at least one
character’s throat while he’s sleeping? Turns out he didn’t. The explanation of
who the real killer is pretty fantastic. Like really unbelievable, man.
The cast is full of indie movie players including Michael
Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Edwin Neal (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre),
Arianne Martin (Don’t Look in the Basement 2), Luce Rains (No Country for Old
Men) and Paul McCarthy-Boyington (The Human Race). Veteran character actor Pepe
Serna (Black Dahlia) is credited with being one of the producers and also has a
part in the picture. He plays a man named Rudy Goebel who, with his wife and
son or sons (not immediately clear), runs a ramshackle boarding house. We find
him drugging his latest boarder and then shooting him in the head when he
suspects his soup has been doped. When his hysterical wife asks him how long he
can keep doing this, he smashes her head on the wooden table top several times,
killing her, and throws her, the boarder, and one son into a root cellar. What
the hell? I don’t know. You explain it to me. There are a lot of unexplained
things in “Kill or Be Killed.”
Near the end of the DVD audio commentary Meeks remarks
that it’s always “good to leave a few questions unanswered at the end of a
film, just enough so if you watch maybe a second of third time it might link
some of the gaps.” It’s too bad Meeks and Graves didn’t take the trouble to
fill in the gaps themselves. If they had, and if they had written a script that
had some sort of morality to it, “Kill or Be Killed” might have been an
impressive entry in the weird west sub-genre category. But this is the 21st
century and in the world of indie films anyone with a camera can throw anything
they want up on the screen and call it a movie. As it is, it’s a somewhat pathetic example of
ambitious indie film making swinging for the bleachers and coming up with a
foul to left field.
The RLJ Entertainment DVD presents “Kill or Be Killed” in
a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which does justice to Brandon Torres’
cinematography. He captures some nice views of the West Texas country. The
soundtrack by John Constant is imitation Ennio Morricone, but has some merits
of its own. The disc contains the usual
extras, including audio commentary, interviews and deleted scenes. I’m sure
there is some sort of audience for films like this. The gore and horror
reviewers on the web seemed to like it. It’s definitely not for everyone.
teenage boys discover a gunshot outlaw and nurse him back to health in “The
Spikes Gang,” a 1974 western directed by Richard Fleischer available for the
first time on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Lee Marvin plays Harry Spikes, an outlaw
who inspires Gary Grimes, Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith to join him as
outlaws. Harry is calm, cool and calculating, endearing himself to the boys who
have romanticized his life as an outlaw.
(Grimes), Les (Howard) and Tod (Smith) are farm boys seeking excitement and
adventure and find it in Harry who recovers from his wounds with the boy’s help.
The three boys are bored with the farm life as well as the harsh treatment they
receive from their parents. Harry offers the boys a reward for helping him, but
they turn him down instead asking to join Harry who declines their offer. The
boys, determined to get away from their life as farmers, depart on what they
believe will be a life as successful outlaws. They attempt a bank robbery in
the first town they arrive, but things go terribly wrong as they end up killing
wanted outlaws with no money or food, the boys flee to Mexico where they find menial
work cleaning and washing dishes. Life on the run is dusty, dirty and bleak and
the boys bump into Harry who takes pity on the boys who want to join him. He
feeds them, buys them new clothes, gives them money and says goodbye. The boys press
their request and Harry relents. He puts them through a sort of outlaw training
camp and is impressed with the boys shooting skills and ability to follow
instructions. When they ask Harry if they will rob the town’s bank, he states
that his money is in that bank. They plan their robbery across the border back
in the U.S. However, tragedy intervenes, leading to unexpected deaths and Will’s
confrontation with Harry, the man he had idolized.
Howard and Tod are very good as the misguided boys seeking adventure only to
find death and betrayal. They give performances full of hope for the adventure
that never happens in this gritty and realistic western. Lee Marvin is very
likable and easy going as Harry Spikes and although I wanted the boys to find
adventure with him, he’s like a scorpion. His true nature as a ruthless outlaw
is what drives him, not loyalty, friendship. or helping three farm boys find
their vision as romantic outlaws. The boys want a safe adventure with money and
success, but that only happens in the dime novels and newspaper stories they
on the novel “The Bank Robbers” by Giles Tippette, the screenplay was written by
Irvin Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. who
collaborated on several movies together including “The Long, Hot Summer,”
“Hud,” “Hombre,” “The Reivers,” “The Cowboys,” “The Carey Treatment,” “Conrack”
and “Norma Rae.” The story reminded me a bit of “The Cowboys,” if only because
of the surface similarity in both stories of an experienced man leading boys to
become men. In this case the wrong kind of man.
music by Fred Karlin is familiar as it resembles a few of the cues from his
work on “Westworld” which was released the year before in 1973. The score
doesn’t quite work in this movie and is a little too cheerful. What does work
is the cinematography by Brian West, emphasizing the bleak dusty landscapes as
he did in the Australian classic “Wake in Fright.” Richard Flescher’s direction
is top notch, emphasizing Harry’s charm and charisma with a brilliant
performance by Lee Marvin.
United Artist release was co-produced by Walter Mirisch and also features Arthur
Hunnicutt and Noah Beery Jr. There’s also a credited performance by Robert
Beatty (Carnaby in “Where Eagles Dare”) as the sheriff, but his scenes were
obviously deleted from the final cut, a not uncommon occurrence that actors
have to face. The picture looks good and plays very well on the small screen,
clocking in at a brisk 96 minutes. The only bonus feature on the disc is the
trailer for this and two other movies. Whether you’re a fan of Lee Marvin,
Richard Fleischer or revisionist 1970s westerns, this movie is well worth a look.
In 1976 Frank Sinatra hosted a CBS television special: "An All-Star Party for John Wayne". Among the guests was Charles Bronson, a man who made few public appearances and made even fewer speeches. Here he pays sentimental tribute to Wayne, who surprisingly he had never met until that evening.
Ed Mason, who ran the film fairs at Westminster Central
Hall for over 18 years has suddenly died, leaving behind him an enormous legacy
with the film fairs and the shop he had on King’s Road in London for a great
Being part of the film fairs since they started
back in September 1973, he was responsible for introducing the now-highly
collectable Belgian posters with their great art work to the UK, and kept the
world of original film memorabilia going all through his life. Ed was also responsible
for bringing over the best poster and stills dealers from Europe and America to
his London collector fairs, which also influenced the opening of many cinema shops
both in London and around the country.
In the late 1980’s and early 90’s Ed Mason
organised the first public autograph signings at Westminster, where Caroline
Munro , Ingrid Pitt and Suzanna Leigh
did their first autograph events. Others, like Dave Prowse , Michael Ripper and
Shirley Anne Field followed.
The legacy left by Ed Mason is carried on by Thomas
Bowington at Westminster, with the London Film Convention six times a year, with
it’s themed shows and annual “ Hammer Horror Film Day “, The James Bond and
Carry On specials among them. Caroline Munro , Dave Prowse and Shirley Anne
Field still attend the shows and are as popular at Westminster as they were
over 20 years ago, with many of the legendary dealers such as Martin and Philip
Masheter and Al Reuter still in attendance.
Ed Mason’s knowledge about all things film and film
memorabilia had few, if no equals. To
those who knew him he was always a most fair, reliable, kind and helpful man.
The best and most supportive of friends, a mentor, and almost a father figure
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of Richard Lester's zany 1967 military comedy How I Won the War. The film has long elicited debates among those who consider it a scathing and witty denouncement of militarism and those who dismiss it as a pretentious train wreck of a movie. Count this writer among the latter. The film plays like an extended Monty Python sketch - with all the energy and talent, but none of the laughs. To be fair, one must take the movie into the context of the era in which it was released. Shot in 1966, the movie is seen by many as a protest against the increasing U.S. military presence in Vietnam. Although the anti-war movie didn't get into full gear until 1968, this premise is not unfounded because one of the characters makes a blatant reference to Vietnam by name. Set in WWII, the film follows the misadventures of a small unit of British soldiers stationed in North Africa. The central target of screenwriter Charles Wood, writing from a far more traditional novel by Patrick Ryan, is that the common soldier is used as cannon fodder for elitest, unqualified officers, who are uniformly presented here as ignorant dilettantes. This notion is personified by the character of Lt. Goodbody (Michael Crawford), a young man of privilege who seems blatantly jubilant about the prospect of heading into war. His ludicrous optimism makes him blind to the fact that he is hated by his own men.
The film is basically a well-photographed, but emotionally uninvolving series of juvenile gags and slapstick humor. Unlike films like M*A*S*H and Catch-22, How I Won the War suffers from being completely surrealistic on every level, thus removing the audience from any real empathy with the characters. Goodbody talks directly to the audience, soldiers appear inexplicably in bizarre costumes and props appear out of nowhere to help set up a joke. The dialogue is so rapid-fire and spoken with such thick British accents that I could barely understand a word - and I've spent a good deal of my life traveling around England. Director Lester, whose lesser works I've often defended, squanders an excellent cast that includes Roy Kinnear, Michael Hordern and John Lennon, whose appearance here represents his only work in a non-Beatles film. That pop culture footnote actually makes more of his appearance than is merited. Although he acquits himself very well, Lennon does not have any stand-out scenes and his role could have been played by virtually any other actor.
The confusing story line, such as it is, follows the platoon from North Africa to Europe. Though at one point it implies they are part of Montgomery's disastrous invasion of Holland, the platoon suddenly appears near the Remagen Bridge in Germany. The latter part of the film plays better because Lester includes some semi-realistic battle scenes that are actually quite exciting. There is also an interesting sub-plot involving Goodbody being captured by the enemy and making friends with a German officer who is equally immune to the horrors of war. However, these factors are bit "too little, too late" to salvage the overall movie. One of the reasons the film didn't resonate with audiences at the time is likely because the British public could hardly relate to WWII as one of those useless, unnecessary conflicts. While it is true that Britain's involvement in the war was one of choice, the price of staying out of it would have meant the country would have existed only as a lapdog for a Europe completely dominated by National Socialism. Thus, using "The Good War" as a metaphor for a more controversial conflict such as Vietnam seems somewhat ill-advised in retrospect. Robert Altman's M*A*S*H succeeded using the Korean War as a backdrop because it was a situation the average person never adequately understood or supported and it made for a more direct comparison to Vietnam.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is most welcome but that doesn't mitigate the fact that this particular film is definitely for Lennon and Lester purists only.
Time has issued a new Blu-ray edition of Fritz Lang's classic 1953 film noirThe
Big Heatas a
limited edition (3,000 units). The movie ranks among the top films in the noir
genre and time has only increased its appeal. Glenn Ford is Dave Bannion, a
dedicated police detective who begins to suspect that the apparent suicide of a
fellow cop might be linked to department-wide corruption. His hunch proves
correct as it becomes evident that virtually the entire police department,
right up to the commissioner, is controlled by local crime kingpin Mike Lagana
(Alexander Scourby). When Bannion receives warnings to lay off the
investigation, he ignores them and continues to pursue leads. Before long, not
only he but his beloved wife (Jocelyn Brando) and daughter are targeted for
death. Lang's penchant for creating a dark, foreboding atmosphere is on display
here. Most of the scenes are interiors or dank, dangerous locations. The film's
central plot is mesmerizing from the shocking opening frames. As a leading man,
Ford could usually be described as handsome, affable and reliable but
"dynamic" would hardly be associated with his screen persona. InThe
Ford gives what is arguably the best performance of his career. As the
gangsters take their toll on him, he becomes a man obsessed, menacing men and
women alike. His only ally is Debby Marsh (wonderfully played by Gloria
Grahame), a ditzy but lovable gun moll who suffers terribly from her attempts
to aid Bannion. Director Lang brings real pathos to the proceedings. Bannion is
the ultimate family man-- and he has a sexually playful relationship with his
wife, something refreshing for a film from this period. When his wife and kid
are menaced, Bannion's rage brings him to the brink of committing murder
himself. Supporting characters are tortured, scalded, and even children are
many memorable scenes in the film and most feature an impressive array of
terrific supporting actors including Lee Marvin outstanding as a charismatic,
but vicious thug who squares off with Bannion in the action-packed finale. Lang
loved his adopted country, America, ever since he had fled Nazi Germany rather
than serve as one of their propagandists. However, he was always dismayed by
instances of injustice and often reflected these concerns in his films.The
well have been the most daring expose of police corruption seen in any film
until that time. The film remains a mini-masterpiece of its kind and all retro
movie buffs should have it in their movie libraries.
Twilight Time Blu-ray presents a terrific transfer that does full justice to
the outstanding camerawork of Charles Lang. The package includes the usual
informative collector's booklet written by Julie Kirgo, but don't read it
before watching the film as it is filled with spoilers. New features include on-screen separate interviews with director Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann, who both provide valuable insights into why they consider this to be one of the greatest of film noirs. An original trailer is also included.
Occasionally we at Cinema Retro like to demonstrate that our interest in films doesn't end in the era when scripts had the fingerprints of Steve McQueen or Henry Fonda on them. Regular readers know that we try to promote worthy independent films by up-and-coming directors. Case in point: "The Heart Machine", an intriguing mystery that marks the feature film debut of director/screenwriter Zachary Wigon. His film, originally released in 2014, is now available on DVD from Kino Lorber, a company that also tries to expand awareness of worthy indie films. The movie grabs you within the first few minutes, a necessary ingredient for any mystery. Cody (John Gallagher Jr.) is a 29 year-old, average guy who makes a modest living as a freelance writer. He lives in Brooklyn, which is now the center of the universe for hipsters. When we first see him he's engaging in a Skype video chat with Virginia (Kate Lyn Shiel), an attractive young woman his own age who resides in the same neighborhood he does. The two make small talk and it seems they are in a committed relationship and that she is on a trip to Germany. We soon learn that they have actually never met although they consider themselves to be boyfriend/girlfriend. Virginia is ostensibly studying for six months at an institute in Berlin. Their flirtatious remarks inevitably lead to some graphic phone/video sex via Skype. (Thus demonstrating an unintended benefit of the advances in technology). Cody is clearly not only smitten but madly in love with Virginia and they talk about their impatience at having to wait months before finally meeting in person. However, some disturbing suspicions enter Cody's mind. They begin when he hears an ambulance siren in the background on Virginia's Skype feed. He has recorded the chat and goes back to research what German ambulance sirens sound like (the wonders of Google!). He's even more disturbed to find that they sound nothing like what he has heard in his chat session with Virginia. The next day he is on a subway train to Manhattan and sees a young woman sitting opposite him who is an exact ringer for Virginia. She doesn't make eye contact with him but when he later mentions that he's seen her virtual twin on a train, Virginia acts a bit uncomfortable. Cody begins to suspect that the woman he saw was indeed Virginia and from here the plot segues into a Gen X version of "Vertigo". Cody becomes increasingly determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. If Virginia isn't in Germany, what is her motive for carrying out his elaborate hoax?
In his conversations with Virginia he maintains that everything is normal. However, when he throws out a couple of phrases in German and tells her he is studying the language she becomes inexplicably angry. Cody then begins an odyssey to try to prove that, like Sheila Levine, she is indeed alive and well and living in New York. He becomes an amateur detective and uses his skills with social media to track her movements through old Facebook posts. He becomes obsessed with his quest and begins to frequent places she might have visited, hoping to find people who know her. (The film is certainly a cautionary tale reminding us that the price we pay for technology is an almot complete loss of privacy.) The story builds in suspense because the viewer doesn't know any more than Cody does at one particular time. However, Zachary Wigon, the screenwriter, does a disservice to Zachary Wigon, the director by tipping us off way too early regarding a key plot point. It certainly doesn't entirely ruin the sense of suspense but it surely diminishes it. Alfred Hitchcock made the same mistake with "Vertigo", at least in this writer's opinion, by letting us in on the fact that the woman who is the exact double of his former lover is indeed the same woman. I always thought that it would have been more effective for the script to hold that relevation until a bit later in the story. Nevertheless, if Hitchcock could make such a misstep, one can hardly blame novice filmmaker Wigon for doing the same. The problem with reviewing mysteries is that the reviewer must tread carefully so as to not reveal too much. "The Heart Machine" can't actually be termed a thriller. At no time is anyone is any real danger, but Zigon shows an admirable skill for generating legitimate suspense from seemingly nondescript situations. When Cody gains entrance to a young woman's apartment by feigning interest in her, his real quest is to confirm that she is a friend of Virginia's. When she goes to another room, Cody accesses her laptop and begins to scroll through her personal messages. The sequence is especially intense in terms of being nerve-wracking for both him and the viewer. Zigon also has the knack for capitalizing on the New York locations, thus giving the movie an air of authenticity. Rob Leitzell's stylish cinematography aids immeasurably. Best of all are the performances. John Gallagher Jr. is gives a finely-tuned performance an everyday guy caught up in an extraordinary quest caused by his increasing obsession with a desirable woman (much like James Stewart in "Vertigo"). Gallagher is so good, in fact, that he loses himself completely in his character. His performance is quite remarkable. Although we see the object of his desire, Virginia, primarily through video chat screens, Kate Lyn Sheil is every bit his equal. She manages to be alluring, innocent and yet somehow foreboding all at the same time. You can well understand why Cody becomes obsessed with her. The supporting cast is peppered with fine performances from some very impressive young actors. The movie's conclusion and the resolution of Cody's quest is a bit unsatisfying in its ambiguity. Nevertheless, as both director and screenwriter, Zachary Wigon displays a great deal of promise. Here's hoping that in the "dog eat dog" world of indie filmmaking, he gets his chance to capitalize on that promise. I, for one, am very much looking forward to his future work.
The Kino Lorber DVD has an excellent transfer and a brief trailer. Here's hoping they will one day issue a Blu-ray release with commentary track.
It was forty years ago today that director Alan J. Pakula's landmark ode to journalism, "All the President's Men", opened in movie theaters. It was, of course, based on the best-selling book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose dogged investigation of a seemingly trivial break-in of Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern's campaign HQ would turn the story into an international thriller that would ultimately bring down what Bernstein has called "the criminal" administration of President Richard M. Nixon. As with most scandals, the break-in itself was just the tip of the iceberg. By the time Nixon's embattled Presidency was over in August 1974, even Republicans had been calling for his head. Nixon was determined to face impeachment hearings. It fell to that symbol of conservatism, Sen. Barry Goldwater, to inform the President that the scope of the crimes committed during his administration would not be condoned by members of his own party: he had to resign because recent revelations about the cover-up convinced his fellow Republicans that they could no longer give him any benefit of a doubt. Nixon did resign, ending his political career in disgrace just shy of two years since enjoying the greatest landslide re-election in American history. (Ultimately, dozens of his adminstration members would go to jail, some for crimes unrelated to Watergate. In the midst of the scandal, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned after pleasing "no contest" to charges he had been accepting bribes that were delivered directly to his office in the White House.) Pakula's film version of the Watergate investigation was released just two years after these dramatic events had occurred and they were very fresh in the minds of the public. In a new article for The Washington Post, writer Michael Cavna extols the importance of the film and interviews Woodward and Bernstein about their impressions of the movie. He also justly cites the role of cinematographer Gordon Willis in bringing to life one of the greatest suspense stories of our time. - Lee Pfeiffer
Drew was a pioneer who changed the way we think about the documentary film. As
first a writer/editor at Life Magazine
in the 1950s, and then the head of a unit that produced short documentaries for
Time Inc., Drew knew how to tell a story visually. When he formed his own
company, Robert Drew & Associates, he was the guiding force for other
talented (and later, more well-known) filmmakers such as D. A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back, Monterey Pop), Albert
and David Maysles (Gimme Shelter),
and Richard Leacock, among others. Together they invented a novel way to
present a documentary film, something historians coined “direct cinema.”
had previously been scripted, usually shot to order, and more often than not,
were textbook dull. Drew and his colleagues developed the you-are-there style
of following subjects around as they did their business, capturing significant moments
as they occurred. Like today’s reality television.
team’s work featuring President John F. Kennedy in the early 60s was especially
influential and lauded with international film and journalism awards, and much
critical acclaim. The Criterion Collection’s new release features four of these
short films and an abundance of supplements.
up, the most well-known title, Primary
(1960). This was made during the Wisconsin primary race between Kennedy and
rival Hubert Humphrey for the Democratic nomination. Cameras follow both
candidates around the state as they campaign in various halls and meeting
places. Both Kennedy and Humphrey agreed to the project, of course, for they
and their staff are exemplary at ignoring the cameras and pretending the
filmmakers aren’t there. Surprisingly, there is no self-consciousness on the
part of the subjects. Besides the historical significance of seeing a young
presidential hopeful—whom we know will be dead within four years—it is striking
to see how differently a primary race was handled in 1960 as opposed to today.
Adventures on the New
(1961) captures a day in the life of the president, filmed around a month after
Kennedy took office. We see how his day begins, who his close assistants in the
White House are, how meetings are handled, and how he makes some tough
decisions. The cameras also then follow the various men to whom the president
has given orders, and we see how those missions are carried out. Most of the
day’s concerns regard an airline strike and conflicts in Africa. At one point,
JFK has to take a break in his busy schedule to sign a bunch of photographs—for
his sister’s family.
Crisis (1963) is the most engaging
film because it’s the most dramatic. There are cameras not only in the White
House, but in Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s home and office, and the
residence and office of Alabama Governor George Wallace... during a tense time
in the history of the civil rights movement. Wallace is attempting to block two
black students’ entry into the University of Alabama (even though the students,
Vivian Malone and James Hood, had already been accepted by the school). A
Federal court order has been issued to allow the students to attend, and
Wallace is ready to stand fast. Will the National Guard be called out? Will the
Feds have to arrest a standing governor? We now know, of course, who was on the
right side, but watching the drama unfold in real time is fascinating. It’s
also a kick to see that everyone is
smoking—cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos... The clothing, furnishings, and
automobiles truly capture those same years featured in Mad Men.
Faces of November (1963) is a very
short montage of images from Kennedy’s state funeral, more of a poetic silent
movie than a documentary. Again, recognizing the young faces of Jacqui, Bobby
Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Peter Lawford, and even JFK’s children, is a remarkable
first three films are fifty-three minutes each, the fourth only twelve. There
is also an alternate twenty-six minute cut of Primary, edited by Richard Leacock. No director is credited on any
of the pictures—only cameramen, editors, and other technicians. The Blu-ray
features new 2K digital restorations of all five documentaries.
include an audio commentary on Primary
with excerpts from a 1961 conversation between Drew, Leacock, Pennebaker, and
film critic Gideon Bachmann. Robert Drew
in His Own Words is a new documentary with archival footage of the man at
work; there’s a new conversation between Pennebaker and Jill Drew, Drew’s
daughter-in-law and general manager of Drew & Associates today; Outtakes from Crisis is just that,
discussed by historian Andrew Cohen, author of Two Days in June; particularly interesting is an
interview/discussion with former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and Sharon
Malone (Holder’s wife and sister of Vivian Malone, one of the students featured
in Crisis); an interview with Richard
Reeves, author of President Kennedy:
Profile of Power, in which he points out the disparities between the worlds
of Washington D.C. then and today; and footage from a 1998 event at the Museum
of Tolerance in Los Angeles, featuring Drew, Pennebaker, Leacock, and Albert
Maysles. An essay by documentary film curator and writer Thom Powers appears in
The Kennedy Films of
Robert Drew & Associates is a spellbinding look into the past with a
microscope on one of our country’s most charismatic and eloquent presidents. The
films provoke a sobering speculation of what the world’s history might have been
like had the events of November 22, 1963 not occurred.
has released John Frankenheimer’s “The Holcroft Covenant” (1985) in new Blu-ray
and DVD editions, superseding a previous DVD release on the MGM label in
1999. Frankenheimer fans will be
pleased to see this relatively obscure title available in remastered Hi-Def. Privately, even they may have to admit that
it’s deservedly obscure because it’s a clunker, marking a sad decline from the
excellence of “The Manchurian Candidate” two decades before. With that 1962 masterpiece, Frankenheimer and
scenarist George Axelrod benefited from superlative source material, Richard Condon’s
razor-sharp Cold War political thriller. “The Holcroft Covenant” was adapted from lesser stuff, a bestselling but
stumble-footed 1972 suspense novel by Robert Ludlum. Multiple screenwriters are credited: George
Axelrod, Edward Anhalt, and John Hawkins. The problems with the movie suggest a combination of Ludlum’s lame
storytelling to begin with, additional troubles in trying to turn the rambling,
528-page potboiler into a leaner, 100-minute-long movie, and questionable
choices by Frankenheimer himself.
Holcroft, a German-born New York architect, learns that he is the main trustee
of a covenant drawn up 40 years before, in the last hours of the Third Reich,
by three officers of the Nazi High Command. One of the officers, General Clausen, was Holcroft’s father. Once it’s signed by Holcroft and the children
of the other two officers, the covenant will release $4.5 billion from a secret
Swiss account, a fortune accrued over four decades from Nazi funds diverted by
the three officers during the war. Clausen’s posthumous directive specifies that the trustees are to spend
the fund for beneficent purposes, to atone for Hitler’s atrocities. Holcroft must locate the other trustees --
the son and daughter of General Tiebolt and the son of General Kessler -- so
that the covenant can be activated. His
mother Athene (Lilli Palmer), who had fled Clausen and Germany early in the
war, cautions Holcroft to walk away from the arrangement because his father
couldn’t be trusted and neither can the directive: “He was a Nazi through and
through.” But Holcroft idealistically
proceeds anyway, joining in Berlin with the Tiebolt brother and sister, who
have taken the name Tennyson, and the Kessler son, a symphony conductor now
calling himself Maas. Mysterious characters
enter the story in Zurich, New York, London, Berlin, and finally Zurich again,
seemingly intent on derailing the covenant, as bodies begin to pile up around
I mention that Holcroft is played by Michael Caine, because, well, if you need
an actor to play a German-born New Yorker, you want Michael Caine? As Frankenheimer notes in a director’s
commentary track repeated from the 1999 DVD, the “New York” scenes in the film
were actually shot in London, so why not simply transfer the phony U.S. setting
to the U.K., ignore the character’s New York upbringing from the novel, and
make him a German-born Londoner to match Caine’s accent? Reportedly, Caine was a last-minute
replacement for James Caan, who walked off the movie, so Frankenheimer may not
have had time even for minor script adjustments. A good trouper, Caine honestly appears to
invest a lot of energy in the part, accent aside. But it hardly matters because Holcroft is a
dolt who does anything he’s asked to do without a second thought, no matter how
inconvenient, nonsensical, or dangerous. Drop everything and fly to Zurich at the behest of a total stranger who
claims to be a representative from an international bank? Wouldn’t you? Hop over to London at the request of another total stranger and agree to
meet yet a third stranger in Trafalgar Square at 5 p.m. tomorrow? (“And don’t
look for him. He’ll find you.”) Sure, why not. Rendezvous at a church with a mysterious
woman in a bad disguise, and then hide out with her in a sleazy Berlin brothel
to avoid the bad guys? I’m on it.
of the Berlin brothel, Frankenheimer clutters several scenes with unnecessarily
eccentric background details. The
brothel business leads to a chase in and out of a nighttime street festival of
prostitutes and cross-dressers. In his
commentary, Frankenheimer says he wanted to use the brothel and the street
festival, which provide an excuse for some unattractive, R-rated nudity, to
evoke classic novels and films about the decadent Berlin of the 1930s. Instead of distracting the viewer so you’re
less likely to notice that the scene itself makes little sense, the clutter
only underscores the absurdity. When Holcroft first meets his fellow heir Maas
(Mario Adorf), Maas is conducting a symphony rehearsal -- because,
Frankenheimer says, he always wanted to film a scene of a symphony orchestra
performing. Simpler would have been
better, had Frankenheimer merely told his actors hit their marks, deliver their
lines, and move on. It doesn‘t help that
Adorf is miscast as a conductor (physically, he looks about as much the part as
Jack Black or John Goodman would), and that most of the other actors are
undistinguished. Only Victoria Tennant
and Anthony Andrews emerge relatively unscathed, even though Andrews enters
with an unflattering mustache that seems
to be part of a disguise, except that he never gets rid of it. It took me a while to realize that, more than
likely, it was an attempt to make Andrews look older so that the age difference
between him (37) and Caine (52) would not be so obvious, since their characters
are supposed to be contemporaries.
story turns on a “surprise twist” about the real purpose of the covenant and
the real motives behind Andrews‘ and Tennant’s characters. I saw it coming about 20 minutes into the
picture, without even trying. Frankenheimer stages the climactic scene in Alfred Hitchcock fashion,
with Holcroft and the chief villain struggling over a revolver in a chaotic
crowd setting, in this case a press conference. There’s even a Hitchcockian
close-up of Caine’s hand clamped desperately over the cylinder of the gun to
keep it from turning, inter-cut with shots of the two men struggling and the
crowd surging around them in panic. It’s
the only scene in the film that comes even remotely close to the gripping
visual style of “The Manchurian Candidate.”
viewers (admittedly, not a likely audience demographic) may smile when the
characters marvel over the $4.5 billion in the covenant. It was probably an impressive sum in 1985 but
now it seems like pocket change next to Bill Gates’ $77.7 billion bank
account. I’m reminded of Dr. Evil’s
comment in one of the Austin Powers movies, “Why make trillions when we can
make . . . billions?” The bad guys‘
ulterior purpose for the $4.5 billion? “To consolidate every terrorist group in the world into one cohesive,
overwhelming force to create international crises and chaos . . . until the
world is reduced to a state of anarchy, ready to accept a strong new leader who
can restore order and take command.” Given the past 15 years’ experience of 9/11, the global economic
meltdown, unending catastrophe in the Middle East, the growing chasm between
the haves and have-nots in the United States, and the rancid tenor of the 2016
Presidential campaign primaries, reality has left Ludlum’s and Frankenheimer’s
pulp fantasy in the dust. Never mind a
neo-Nazi conspiracy. Our perfectly
legitimate financial, political, judicial, and military systems have brought us
nearly to the same end.
Kino-Lorber Blu-ray disc’s 1920x1080p image is less than pristine but
acceptable. In addition to the director’s alt-track commentary, there is a
trailer gallery and menu, but unfortunately no English captioning for the hard
of hearing.Given that any audience for
the film is likely to fall into the age range for which captioning is a welcome
bonus, this is an unfortunate omission.
Producer Mark Tinkler and director Henry Coleman are planning a 90 minute documentary titled "Zulu and the Zulus" that will trace the making of the classic British war movie from 1964, "Zulu". The film was produced by Cy Endfield and Stanley Baker. It was directed by Endfield and starred Baker, along with Jack Hawkins and up-and-coming Michael Caine, who would achieve stardom through this role. Tinkler and Coleman have unearthed 26 minutes of rare "behind the scenes" footage that will form the nucleus of the new documentary. The silent footage has been professionally restored to its original luster from the 16mm master. Tinkler and Coleman plan to visit the filming locations in Natal province, South Africa to shoot additional footage. To raise funds for the effort, they are sponsoring a "Zulu" night at the Cinema Museum in London. In addition to a screening of the original classic movie, they will also be showing attendees the restored 26 minute behind the scenes footage. There will also be an auction of film memorabilia. The event takes place on 16 June and tickets and more information can be had by clicking here.
Altman in the 1970s was a force to be reckoned with. Mostly his work displayed
unconventional experimentation with form, narrative, and especially sound—and
too often his stylistic choices failed to connect with a large, general
audience. The iconoclastic director made some truly great pictures (M*A*S*H, Nashville) and some eccentrically inventive ones (Brewster McCloud, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The
Long Goodbye, 3 Women, A Wedding). He was often hit-or-miss, and
certainly more on the miss side when he got into the 1980s. The 90s found
Altman back on stable footing with a couple of additional brilliant films (The Player, Short Cuts), and more misses.
was, and still am, a Robert Altman fan. I “got” what he was trying to do in his
ensemble pictures—the ones featuring a large cast and a loose, improvisational
storyline. However, in 1976, when Buffalo
Bill and the Indians was released, I was not impressed. I remember
intensely disliking the picture, especially after Nashville had been my favorite film of the previous year. I wrote
off Buffalo Bill as one of Altman’s
misses, and I never saw it again over the next forty years.
now viewed Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray release, I feel as if I’ve just seen a
completely different movie from what I remembered. Granted, Buffalo Bill is still not one of the
director’s classics—it assuredly belongs in the “miss” category (or rather, in
this case, a “misfire”)—but it is much more fascinating and entertaining than
it was for me in 1976.
by Arthur Kopit’s Broadway play Indians,
the film attempts to be a revisionist satire on show business, myths and
legends, and the Wild West itself. The opening titles proclaim it as “Robert
Altman’s Absolutely Unique and Heroic Enterprise of Inimitable Lustre!” Set in
the 1880s, Buffalo Bill focuses on
William F. Cody himself (wonderfully played by Paul Newman) and his “Wild West
(Show)” that toured the country and Europe, “re-enacting” famous Indian battles
and other historical events in front of an audience. It was the “Medieval
Times” of its day. The entire movie takes place at the arena where the company
aka Buffalo Bill, was a man whose exploits were turned into myths by
journalist/writer Ned Buntline (played in the film by Burt Lancaster), and he
has come to believe them. Egocentric to the nth degree, Cody rewrites history for
the benefit of showmanship. Newman is often hilarious in the role, but he gives
the character a disturbing layer of madness. His entire team—his producer (Joel
Grey), his nephew (Harvey Keitel), his publicist (Kevin McCarthy), and others
in the troop— treats him like royalty, and Cody won’t have it any other way.
things change when none other than Sitting Bull (Frank Kaquitts) is hired to be
a performer. The fearsome Sioux chief (who really did perform in Buffalo Bill’s
actual Wild West show for a few months) turns out to be a small, silent man who
speaks through his large, imposing interpreter (Will Sampson). Sitting Bull
eventually causes Cody to face the hard truths of his “lies.” By his insistence
on recreating history as it actually happened, Sitting Bull symbolizes the
plight of the Native Americans at the hands of the white conquerors.
stuff for a movie released in America’s bicentennial year.
performances are top notch, especially those of Newman, Grey, and Geraldine
Chaplin as Annie Oakley. (There are also fine cameos by Altman regulars Shelley
Duvall, Pat McCormick, John Considine, and Allan Nicholls.) The picture elicits
quite a few laughs throughout, and the overall look and feel of the piece is
dead on. What doesn’t work is the haphazard structure, the Ned Buntline
interludes, and the bizarre finale in which Sitting Bull comes back from the
dead to haunt Cody. It’s an acquired taste, something I apparently didn’t
achieve back in 1976 when I first saw the picture. I like to think I’m older
and wiser now, and therefore today the movie made more sense.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks all right, very colorful, if not pristinely restored.
The extras include a not-quite five minute behind-the-scenes featurette, the
teaser trailer, and the theatrical trailer.
new release is a purchase for Robert Altman and/or Paul Newman fans, and, if
you’re like me, someone who hasn’t seen the film since its original release. It
might be time to give Buffalo Bill and
the Indians a revisit.
One of seemingly dozens of Universal westerns
released in the 1960s and early ‘70s, ‘A Man Called Gannon’ is a remake of the
tough Kirk Douglas western ‘Man Without a Star’ (1955). Rather than using Dee
Linford’s novel of the same name as its source, the film uses the screenplay by
D.D. Beauchamp and Borden Chase from the 1955 version, with additional writing from
Gene R. Kearney. Tony Franciosa stars as Gannon, a drifting cowboy without a
horse. While riding the rails west by locomotive cattle car, he meets young
Easterner Jess Washburn (Michael Sarrazin). The pair end up working as cowhands
on the Cross Triangle ranch, where the tough old hand teaches the tenderfoot
from Philadelphia how to ride and shoot like a pro. They both become romantically involved with
the ranch’s owner, Beth Cross (Judi West), which causes friction, while Jess
also clashes with the ranch’s bullying ‘top hand’ Capper (John Anderson). The
open range is being fenced in by the cattlemen and with the arrival of a
massive consignment of barbed wire, Gannon and Jess end up facing each other on
opposite sides of the fence.
It’s unfair to compare the film to ‘Man
Without a Star’, which benefits from Frankie Laine’s snappy title song and a
cast filled with memorable, seasoned performers like Jeanne Crain (as rancher
Reed Bowman), William Campbell (as greenhorn Jeff Jimson), Richard Boone, Jay C.
Flippen, Mara Corday, Sheb Wooley, Paul Birch, Roy Barcroft and the great Jack
Elam. In ‘A Man Called Gannon’, Tony
Franciosa is good in the title role, as a drifter ‘ex of Texas’, aimlessly
wandering the range. Like Kirk Douglas’ Dempsey Rae, Gannon is tormented by his
bad experiences of barbed wire – his little brother Jim was killed when he was
caught on a fence in a cattle stampede – which allows Franciosa a grandstanding
‘drunken trauma’ scene. I like Franciosa. He was an agreeable screen presence
in everything from the Raquel Welch spy vehicle ‘Fathom’ (1967), to Dario
Argento’s bloody giallo ‘Tenebrae’ (1982). My favourite of his roles is the
wily cutthroat Rodriguez in the gunrunning western ‘Rio Conchos’ (1964) and you
can see why he was reputedly up for the role of Manolito in ‘The High
Chaparral’ TV show (he lost out to Henry Darrow).
There are some familiar faces in the ‘Gannon’
cast – such as Sarrazin, Anderson, James Westerfield and Gavin MacLeod – but otherwise
it’s not the best-known cast. Emmy-award-winning TV director James Goldstone
uses trippy overlaid double exposures for some scenes (in the manner of Peter
Fonda’s acid western ‘The Hired Hand’) and also rapid cross-cutting in moments
of tension, like a spaghetti western. According to Judi West, who played rancher
Beth Cross, Goldstone had her voice dubbed, even though she was an accomplished
actress who had numerous film, TV and theatre credits and had taught acting
classes. The jaunty cowboy title song ‘A Smile, a Mem’ry and an Extra Shirt’
was sung by Dave Grusin. The narrative ballad ‘commenting’ on Gannon’s
adventures is very 1950s in method, if folksy 1960s in style. Grusin also
worked on ‘The Graduate’ (1967) and wrote the narrative ballad ‘Code of the
West’ for the James Coburn comedy western ‘Waterhole #3’ (1967).
New to DVD in the UK is ‘Arabella’, an
Italian period comedy set in that hotbed of hilarity, pre-WWII fascist Italy. Virna
Lisi stars in the title role – known variously in the film as Arabella Danesi
and Arabella Angeli – who determines to save her grandmother from destitution
by finding ingenious ways to pay off her elderly relative’s crippling tax bill.
The film is structured rather like those
1960s Italian portmanteau comedy-dramas, such as ‘Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’,
‘The Witches’ or ‘Woman Times Seven’. Such films were intended as vehicles for
one female star, be they Sophia, Silvana or Shirley, to demonstrate their versatility
in a variety of roles. But instead of separate stories, with different
characters, ‘Arabella’ has one continuous story arc, with Lisi’s sexy heroine
adopting various costumes, personas and wigs to seduce and blackmail her way
through a string of lovers, who are then conned out of cash to pay off granny’s
debts. Some of her victims are played by
Terry-Thomas. It is he who gets to show off his comedy skills in a variety of
roles, though despite costume and make-up changes, they all resemble
Terry-Thomas – there’s no disguising that tooth gap. He plays a girdle-wearing,
monocled British general Sir Horace Gordon, an Italian hotel manager angered by
the installation of a public urinal in the street outside his swanky
establishment and the rich duke who hires Arabella to ‘cure’ his gay son
Saverio. Terry-Thomas and Lisi had
already worked together to great success on the Hollywood black comedy ‘How to
Murder Your Wife’ (1965) and he’s clearly enjoying himself here in the various
The cast of this Italian-UK co-production –
shot in Rome, Naples and Venice – is an interesting one. Margaret Rutherford
plays Arabella’s debt-ridden granny, Princess Ilaria, James Fox is Arabella’s mysterious,
louche shadow Giorgio, and Rutherford’s old partner Stringer Davis from the
big-screen 1960s Miss Marple films shows up in an amusing cameo as Ilaria’s
gardener, Nazzareno. Giancarlo Gianni played Saverio, who pretends to be gay,
so that his father continues to send in alluring women to try to ‘cure’ him. Familiar
Italian supporting players appear, too – Renato Romano played General Gordon’s
batman, Renato Chiantoni is one of the tax inspectors hassling Ilaria, Giuseppe
Addobbati is a hotel guest and Ugo
Fangareggi is a policeman.
‘Arabella’s disjointed, jumpy plotting bears
the signs of considerable cutting for international distribution and it
eventually falls to pieces as a movie – in exactly the same way so many very
good 1960s Italian films that have been edited and dubbed for international
audiences fall to bits. The film was released internationally by Universal
Pictures and its associate producer was Dario Argento’s father, Salvatore,
before he began producing his son’s legendary gialli thrillers. The big plusses
are the art direction (by Alberto Boccianti) and superb 1920s period costumes
by Piero Tosi (Visconti’s designer on ‘Death in Venice’ and ‘The Leopard’), so
visually the film is splendid. Of most interest to me was the chance to hear
one of Ennio Morricone’s many little-heard scores of this period. ‘Arabella’
was directed by Mauro Bolognini, whose dramas ‘He and She’ (1969 – ‘L’assoluto
naturale’), ‘Un bellissimo novembre’ (1969 – ‘That Splendid November’) and ‘Metello’
(1970) are all worth a look, or rather a listen, for their memorable Morricone
scores. Bolognini also directed the erotic period drama ‘La Venexiana’ (1986),
aka ‘The Venetian Woman’ starring Laura Antonelli and Jason Connery, which also
benefits from a lovely Morricone score. The maestro’s score here is a mixture of
lush period orchestrations and comedic, clockwork themes which resemble early
drafts of Morricone’s title cue to ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion’
(1970). The descending flute trill from ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ makes a brief
appearance, but in the main, this is a playful score, befitting the material, with
a lovely violin theme for the Venetian scenes towards the end of the movie.
The Region 2 DVD from Simply Media is
presented in 4:3 screen ratio, which looks cropped at the sides. This seems to
be the case, as the IMDB lists the aspect ratio as 1.85:1. The film was 105
minutes in Italy, but cut drastically to 88 minutes for US release. Simply
Media’s habit of printing the US running time in promotional material continues
here, as the UK DVD actually runs 84 minutes. The picture quality has nowhere near the sharpness and clarity of some
of Simply Media’s other releases – notably its Universal westerns such as ‘A
Man Called Gannon’ and ‘Calamity Jane and Sam Bass’. ‘Arabella’ is rated 12 (for
‘moderate sex references’).
For 1960s Commedia all’Italiana, Terry-Thomas
and Morricone completists this is worth a look, but others might find it hard
going. A definite curio however and a long-lost one at that.
Though this welcome Scream Factory issue marks the first
time Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971)
and The Dunwich Horror (1969) have
been made available on domestic Blu-ray, both films enjoyed a previous release
on DVD as part of MGM’s long-suspended “Midnite Movies” series. Rue
Morgue was first paired with Cry of
the Banshee (1970) in 2003, with Dunwich
and Die Monster Die! (1965) following
in 2005. Though both of these earlier sets
are now technically out-of-print, copies remain generally available. Regardless, the more discerning horror-film
aficionado would be well advised to seek out this new Blu edition. Not only does Scream Factory’s HD master
offer a significant upgrade in visual presentation, the studio has also
restored bits of censored footage missing from the Y2K releases.
H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Dunwich Horror was written in the summer of 1928 and first
published in the April 1929 issue of the appropriately titled Weird Tales magazine. It’s likely the best known of the celebrated author’s
horror tales, having been recollected and reissued throughout the 20th and 21st
century in any number of literary horror anthologies. Though A.I.P. and director Daniel Haller (a
well-tested art director on many previous films for the company) have taken a
number of liberties bringing Lovecraft’s original tale to the screen, the author’s
basic premise is mostly preserved.
Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell) is the great-grandson of
Oliver Whateley. The elder Whateley was
a practitioner of the black arts who, two generations earlier, had been hanged for
his heresy by vigilantes in the otherwise sleepy village of Dunwich. The Whateley’s have long been a bane to the frightened
residents of the ocean-side community, shunned and ostracized as devil-worshippers. Technically, this is a misunderstanding as the
family worships neither God nor Satan. They spend most of their nights secluded in a creepy cliff-side home on an
otherwise postcard-pretty coastline. The
Whateley’s mostly putter about the old house trying to summon the “Old Ones” who,
we are told, are an amorphous super-race of beings from another dimension that will
bring an end to mankind.
Wilbur’s grandfather (Sam Jaffee) has actually backed-off
a bit on the family’s over-zealous determination in this regard. He’s understandably wary as his own quarter-century
old attempt at summation – one which involved Wilbur’s mother, Lavinia –had
gone horribly wrong. The strange and
dangerous rumblings of a creature still imprisoned behind a locked closet door
will attest to that. But Lavinia’s surviving twenty-five year old progeny,
Wilbur, has not gone soft; he’s determined to succeed where his ancestors have failed. The young man needs only two components to
achieve his goal. He first requires
access to the Necronomicom, an
ancient and priceless book of which only two copies survive. Conveniently, one copy sits in a not terribly
protected glass display case in the University library in Arkham, only a mere forty
miles up the road.
More problematically, Wilbur requires a female virgin; and
good luck trying to find one in the summer of 1969. This is where Bayonne, New Jersey’s own Sandra
Dee, best known for her healthful and morally salutary screen-image, comes
in. It seems only a pure virgin can
serve as the conduit through which the “Old Ones” can, at long last,
emerge. With her post-Gidget acting career stagnant, Dee was desperate
to hone a new screen image at decade’s end. Here she is effectively cast both with and against type as the
beleaguered Nancy Wagner. Not all of the
former teenage star’s innocent ways were so easily expunged. The actress had her limits and was modestly body-doubled
in a number of brief nude scenes. Her
antagonist is the wild-eyed, nearly non-blinking Wilbur Whateley, and Stockwell
plays him as a complete nutcase, mysterious, emotionally remote, and not
particularly charming. It’s somewhat
difficult to believe that Nancy would fall for him so hard though it’s
suggested a combination of hypnotism and drug-laced tea keep the young woman in
tow. The drugging would also explain the
trippy, psychedelic dreams she suffers following her first share of the teapot
with weird Wilbur.
It’s actually the addition of this central
damsel-in-distress element that causes Haller’s film to deviate wildly from the
original Lovecraft tale. With the
exception of the aforementioned Lavinia, there’s nary a central-character
female present in the original short story. The movie’s climatic birthing of the “Old Ones” on a sacred altar atop
the cliff-side “Devil’s Hop Yard” is a near complete invention of the
filmmakers. In what was an already a customary
A.I.P. tradition, executive producer Roger Corman, and producers Samuel J.
Arkoff and James H. Nicholson were no doubt hoping to exploitatively piggy-back
off of the surprising success of Polanski’s classic Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
As was the studio’s modus
operandi, A.I.P. rolled out The
Dunwich Horror in a sweeping west-to-east geographic fashion, supporting
this new release at drive-ins and theaters with one or two other fiendish films
from the company catalog: The Tomb of the Cat (a more pronounceable
re-title of Roger Corman’s The Tomb of
Ligeia), The Oblong Box (1969),
and even Destroy All Monsters (the
legendary 1968 production of Japan’s Toho Productions, but issued in the U.S. by
A.I.P. in the late summer of 1969.)
In addition to being a reliable and fairly popular leading man, Ray Milland also showed some talent as a film director. In total, he directed five movies- among them "The Safecracker", a 1958 low-budget British film noir made by MGM. The fast-moving story concerns one Colley Dawson (Milland), an expert safecracker who uses his skills for a home security company. He is hired out to design safes for wealthy clients that can be deemed impossible to crack. Although regarded as a genius in his field, Colley is in a deep funk. He's in his fifties, has no home to call his own and still lives with his doting, aging mother (Barbara Everest) in a small home in a nondescript street in London. When Colley lands a major, lucrative contract for his company, his skinflint boss "rewards" him with a bonus of a measly five pound note. Colley's fortunes change when he is contacted by Bennett Carfield (Barry Jones), a wealthy man who divulges that he earns his income through trading in stolen antiques. He entices Colley to use his safecracking skills to form a criminal partnership with him in return for 50% of the profits. Colley doesn't need much persuasion. Feeling he is on the road to nowhere, he is eager to finally enjoy the finer things in life and has no ethical reservations about how to acquire them. Before long he is sneaking into affluent people's homes and relieving the owners of prized possessions. He adopts a dual identity. During the work week, he remains the wimpy employee of an ungrateful boss. On weekends, however, he tools around in a fancy sports car, dates a glamorous, sexually-charged minor actress and bets extravagant sums on horses. Things come to a crashing halt, however, when Scotland Yard gets wind of his activities. Carfield urges him to stop his safecracking because he is under suspicion but the arrogant Colley insists on pulling off one more caper- which he does with disastrous consequences. He soon finds himself in jail facing an eight year sentence. However, two years into his term, England is at war with Nazi Germany. He is approached by military intelligence with a tempting offer: accommodate a team of commandos on a highly dangerous mission in occupied Belgium in return for a full pardon. The plan revolves around a list of German secret agents in England that is being stored in safe inside a heavily guarded country chateau. The plan is to infiltrate the house, have Colley and the team penetrate the safe and photograph the list. If it works, the Nazis will be none-the-wiser that their agents' identities are now known. Colley agrees to go but proves to be a handful for the unit in which he will serve. He's not only long in the tooth, he's got tusks. Still, he completes a crash course in parachuting techniques and before long finds himself behind enemy lines but separated from his companions. From this point, the plot revolves around Colley meeting up with his team because their mission is useless without his participation. As director Milland manages to milk some occasional suspense out of the proceedings and sensibly turns his age into an asset. He can't keep up with his younger companions and his newly-found playboy lifestyle intrudes when his attempts to romance a Resistance girl almost compromises the mission. The final scenes of the film, set inside the chateau, are handled well and the ironic ending is rather moving.
"The Safecracker" is definitely "B" movie fare, but that isn't meant as a knock. It's quite entertaining throughout and Milland gives a highly amusing performance as a rogue who finds himself serving his country's war effort with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. The film features a fine cast of British character actors with Barry Jones particularly impressive. The Warner Archive release features considerable artifacts but they are a minor distraction. Most annoying is the fact that the night footage (much of it derived from newsreels) is so dark that you feel as though you are peering into an inkwell. Still, this is consistently entertaining film that will have cross-over appeal for lovers of crime movies, spy flicks and WWII films. A weather-beaten original trailer is also included. The DVD is region-free.
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The Vinegar Syndrome video label continues to unearth obscure examples of 1960s erotica. None is more bizarre than "Infrasexum", a 1969 concoction by director/actor Carlos Tobalina, who would ultimately be regarded as one of the more prolific hardcore filmmakers. Back in '69, however, it was still difficult to get theatrical showings of hardcore films, which were generally relegated to 8mm film loops sold in adult book stores. Tabolina tried to push the envelope with "Infrasexum" but was still confined by the dreaded "community standards" obscenity laws that mandated only soft-core movies could generally be shown without causing a major legal flap from local conservative groups that had routinely declared war on pornography. "Infrasexum" (I have no idea what the title means and apparently neither did Tobalina) attempts to tell a poignant story about the toll the aging process takes on sexual libido. The film opens in the offices of Mr. Allison (Eroff Lynn), a fifty-something successful business executive who is despondent over the routine lifestyle he is leading. He has money galore but exists in a gloomy state of mind. He's also depressed (in this pre-Viagara era) about his inability to perform sexually with his bombshell wife (Marsha Jordan), who prances about their penthouse clad in a see-through nightee. Determined to start a new life, Allinson sends his wife a goodbye letter, turns the control of his company over to two trusted employees and takes off for parts unknown. He immediately feels liberated from the day-to-day grind. He ends up in Las Vegas and almost reluctantly wins $250,000 in cash. He doesn't need the money but for the first time in ages he feels he's on a winning streak. He drives to L.A. where he has a chance encounter with Carlos (Carlos Tobalina), a somewhat kooky but charismatic man who routinely grubs money from him but also introduces him to a new lifestyle with his hippie friends. Before long, Allison is taking in rock shows in discotheques on the Sunset Strip and experimenting with pot. Carlos tries on several occasions to cure Allison's sexual problems by setting him up with willing young women but the result is always frustrating failure to launch. At one point an unrelated sub-plot is introduced in which Allison is kidnapped by two thugs who threaten his life and shake him down for big money. They also murder a helpless young woman in his presence. In one of the lamest action sequences ever filmed, Allison breaks free and kills both men in an unintentionally hilarious manner. Allison treats this presumably life-altering incident as though it's a minor distraction and before long is taking up his lifetime's goal of becoming a painter. An admiring young woman invites him back to her house but, once again, Allison can't seal the deal between the sheets and he has to call Carlos over to act as his stand-in!
It's difficult to say exactly what Tobalina expected to accomplish with this film. Is it an attempt to present a poignant look at the frustrations of the aging process with some full-frontal nudity tossed in? Or did he intend to simply dress up a sexploitation film with some legitimate dramatic story line aspects? In either case, the result is downright weird. Tobalina's insertion of a gruesome murder also seems like an after-thought designed to appeal to horror movie fans. It's got plenty of gore but is so unconvincingly shot and directed that the sequence elicits more laughter than chills. Whatever early talent Tobalina might have conveyed on screen is compromised by the bare bones production budget, which was probably close to zero. Technical blunders abound. In some scenes you can see the shadow of the cameraman in center frame. In others, people's voices are heard even though their lips aren't moving. Still, the film at least aspires to be superior to most soft-core grind house fare of the era. As a trip back in time, it has merit. It presents some wonderful, extended views of the Las Vegas Strip, for example, and we can relish the marquees extolling such performers as Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Don Ho and Little Richard. Tobalina also gets out of the bedrooms long enough to take us on a scenic tour of local L.A. sites as well as the Sierra Nevadas. Tobalina is at his best when he gets out of the boudoir and shows us travelogue-like footage. On a coarser level, the film also provides an abundance of good looking young women who romp around starkers. The movie would be primarily of interest to baby boomer males who want a trip back in time to an era in which such fare was considered daring and controversial. It's bizarre qualities will also appeal to fans of cult sexlpoitation films.
The Vinegar Syndrome release looks great and the remastered print even shows us the grit and dirt that occasionally appeared on the camera lens. An original trailer is also included that is truly a laugh riot, in that a God-like voice virtually commands us to see "Infrasexum" because it's a "classic".
The dividing line between a film being an homage and a rip-off is sorely tested with "Forsaken", a 2015 Canadian Western by director Jon Cassar, who is best known for his acclaimed, award-winning work in television. This is a rare venture into feature film making for him and the result left me with decidedly mixed emotions. The film marks another collaboration between Cassar and actor Kiefer Sutherland, who starred in Cassar's wildly successful TV series "24". That the two men are comfortable with each other's style is immediately apparent from the first frames of the film. We want to extend kudos to them for bravely venturing where few in the movie industry dare to tread any longer: the realm of the Western, a genre that has been routinely neglected for decades. Despite the success of Westerns such as "Unforgiven", "Dances With Wolves" and "Open Range", studio chiefs can't seem to get over the ""Heaven's Gate" syndrome, the monumental 1980 Western that almost sunk United Artists. Even hardened criminals are punished less time than the poor Western genre,so we extend our respect to anyone who tries, no matter modestly, to revive it. The problem with "Forsaken" is that a lot of talented people are doing fine work in a film that is so blatantly inspired by Clint Eastwood's Oscar winning "Unforgiven" that it comes close to bordering on parody. The initial blame begins with screenwriter Brad Mirman, who depends far too heavily on elements from Eastwood's magnificent production. Let's start with the title, which is a transparent attempt to evoke "Unforgiven". (In fairness, Eastwood himself was less-than-original in his use of this title. He changed the film's title from "The William Munny Killings" and replaced it with the name of an unrelated John Huston Western from 1960, "The Unforgiven".) Then there is the movie's protagonist, John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland), who carries similar baggage to Eastwood's William Munny. He is haunted by a violent past and a penchant for committing bloodshed. He has returned to his hometown after a period of years and hopes to live his life as a pacifist, a lofty goal that the viewer will recognize as being doomed from the get-go. He soon finds that the town is populated by cowardly people who are letting a greedy land baron, James McCurdy (Brian Cox) use a mercenary gang to intimidate or even kill any homesteader who refuses his offer to buy their land. As in "Unforgiven", our hero is initially slow to anger and resists his inner demons. In Clayton's case, he is routinely abused, insulted and beaten by the mercenaries, who are led by Frank (Aaron Poole), who is so vicious that he even gets chastised by his employer, McCurdy. I kept waiting for a character to appear who would emulate Richard Harris's English Bob, the aristocratic gunslinger from "Unforgiven". Sure enough, along comes Gentleman Dave Turner (Michael Wincott), who displays the wit and gallows humor of dear ol' English Bob. Not helping matters is director Cassar, who aids and abets this pantomime by insisting that Sutherland pretentiously pose like Eastwood in "Unforgiven", as well as speak like him (distinctive, barely audible voice) and dress like him (he even wears a hat that is more than coincidentally similar to Eastwood's from that film). The "homage" syndrome goes into overdrive in the film's violent conclusion, which- to the surprise of no one familiar with "Unforgiven"- also takes place in a saloon, where a heavily-armed Clayton enters and engages a small army of bad guys in a one-man massacre. At times, it appears to be a frame-by-frame remake of the Eastwood film.(In fairness, Cassar does dip a bit outside of the "Unforgiven" pool long enough to replicate a sequence from the climactic barroom shootout from "The Shootist".) The epilogue imitates "Unforgiven" in an unforgivable manner, with scenes at an isolated grave while a narrative fills us in on the fate of the main characters.
Despite all of these reservations, it may come as a surprise to you that I liked and admired "Forsaken" very much. The script does introduce a few original elements. When Clayton returns home many years after experiencing the horrors of the war, he discovers that his former lover, Mary-Alice (Demi Moore), had presumed he was dead and ended up marrying a local man. They now have a small son and although Mary-Ellen professes to be perfectly happy, it's quite apparent there is still a spark between she and Clayton. More intriguingly, there is Clayton's relationship to his father, William (Donald Sutherland), the local reverend, who welcomes his estranged son back by informing him that his mother died and that her last hope was to see him but he never came. The two men settle into a tense domestic situation until John finally unburdens himself about a terrible secret that has been haunting him and that has inspired him to renounce violence. He also blames himself for the accidental death of his brother when they were kids. Ultimately, the clearing of the air leads both father and son to form a close bond but it is threatened by McCurdy and his men- and we know it will only be a matter of time until John takes up arms again. This plot element (the reluctant gunslinger) has been a staple of the Western genre for many years. (Think "The Gunfighter", "Shane", "The Shootist") but it still provides ample dramatic circumstances for a good director to capitalize on- and Jon Cassar is a good director. He has a real feel for the Western genre and elicits uniformly excellent performances from his entire cast, including Demi Moore who is refreshingly cast in a mature, non-glam role. To credit screenwriter Mirman, he capitalizes on the first screen teaming of both Sutherlands by providing realistic and engrossing situations and dialogue. The two actors bring a certain emotion and pathos to their on-screen relationship that is obviously enhanced by their real-life status as father and son. The movie is also gorgeously photographed by Rene Ohashi and features a fine score by Jonathan Goldsmith. Perhaps because I've seen "Unforgiven" so many times and have written about it extensively, I may be more sensitive to the similarities between the films, which I did find admittedly distracting. More casual viewers will probably not encounter this dilemma and enjoy "Forsaken" for what it is: a superior entry in the Western genre.
The Blu-ray from Entertainment One features only one bonus extra: a "making of" documentary which consists of the usual bland observations by people who were interviewed while a movie is still in production. (Who is going to say anything negative when they have to still work with each other?) Although director Cassar and Kiefer Sutherland acknowledge they emulated the traditional Western film elements in the making of the movie, neither man comes clean by mentioning "Unforgiven" specifically, which is a little like ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the saloon.
There have been a few effective "non-traditional" Westerns of recent vintage, "The Hateful Eight" being the most prominent but I would also highly recommend the Kurt Russell-starrer "Bone Tomahawk". However, if you have been starving for a Western that sticks with basic elements, this is the best I've seen in a number of years.
Sofia Coppola is said to be preparing a remake of director Don Siegel's "The Beguiled", a Gothic drama set during the American Civil War and set in a dilapidated school for young women in the war-torn South. Clint Eastwood starred in the original film which was released in 1971. It marked a rare boxoffice bomb for Siegel and Eastwood, who would team again for the smash hit "Dirty Harry" later that year. Eastwood played a wounded Northern soldier who is given shelter and care by the students in the school and their headmistress, played by Geraldine Page. Over a period of weeks, the Eastwood character realizes that the women around him are all sexually frustrated and that he can manipulate them into doing his bidding. Before long he is carrying on multiple affairs but jealousy inevitably rears its head and leads to some ghastly developments. The film was a bold departure for Eastwood, as he played a manipulative and unsympathetic character. Although the movie was under-appreciated in its day, its stature has grown with critics and film scholars, some of whom regard it as a major achievement in both Eastwood and Siegel's careers. The Coppola project is said to have an impressive female cast lined up that includes Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning. We're told this will be a "new take" on the original film. We're tempted to say "Uh oh", but Coppola is a skilled director so we'll give her the benefit of the doubt until more information is released. Pivotal to the film's prospects will be the casting of the male lead, which has not been announced yet.
(For full analysis of "The Beguiled", see Cinema Retro's special issue "The American Westerns of Clint Eastwood". )
Hudson is an American commando sent to blow up a dam in “Hornets’ Nest,” a 1970
WWII action adventure set in 1944 Italy as the Allies advance on the German
occupation force. Directed by Phil Karlson (“Hell to Eternity,” “Kid Galahad,”
“The Silencers,” “The Wrecking Crew” and “Walking Tall”), the movie was an
American-Italian co-production filmed in Italy with a mostly all Italian cast
movie opens as the residents of Reanoto are massacred by German soldiers after
they refuse to give up the location of Italian resistance fighters. Meanwhile,
American commandos parachute in on a mission to blow up a nearby dam, but all
are killed except for Capt. Turner (Hudson). A group of boys hiding in the
hills when the German’s murdered their families rescue Turner and hide him from
the Germans. Turner is running a fever from his wounds and the boys convince a
local doctor, Bianca (Sylva Koscina), to help Turner. Von Hecht (Sergio
Fantoni) is the officer in charge of a local contingent of German soldiers
searching for Turner.
Colleano is Aldo, the leader of the boys. He’s understandably angry and wants
revenge against the Germans who murdered his family and the families of all the
other children. The boys form a band of partisans seeking to convince Capt.
Turner to teach them to shoot so they can kill Germans. They have guns and
ammunition hidden in a cave in the hills where they’ve been hiding. Turner
convinces the boys to help him retrieve his radio in order to contact his
headquarters and then complete his mission of destroying the dam. It’s not
precisely clear why the dam needs to be destroyed because the American forces
link up with him within minutes after the dam is blown up.
actor Sergio Fantoni (with dyed blonde hair) is unconvincing and miscast as Von
Hecht, but he’s a familiar face to fans of a pair of classic WWII movies from the
era. He was Capt. Oriani in “Von Ryan’s Express” and Capt. Oppo in “What Did
You Do in the War, Daddy?” It’s odd seeing him as a German officer in “Hornets’
Nest” and it doesn’t really work. It’s also not quite clear if Koscina is
supposed to be playing a German doctor or an Italian doctor in service of the
Germans, but that’s quickly forgotten soon after she’s taken prisoner by the children
and joins Turner in blowing up the dam. Koscina was cast after Sophia Loren
passed on the movie.
obvious criticism of the film is one I have for other movies and TV series from
the period. Hudson’s hair is too long and the sideburns and handlebar mustache,
while stylish in the 1970s, would not have been acceptable for military service
during WWII through to today. Koscina’s big hair, like Hudson’s hair, is
strictly from the late 60s and early 70s and the boys look like they were
plucked off the streets of Rome circa 1970 and wear the clothing they had
hanging in their closets at home.
movie moves at a brisk pace with plenty of action and Colleano is sympathetic
as Aldo. Hudson is good as Capt. Turner and this would be his final military
action role before settling into the successful TV series “McMillan & Wife”
which ran from 1971-1977. Koscina is beautiful and gives an acceptable
performance as Bianca, but she has little to do other than react to the boy’s
vengeance driven behavior, a rape attempt, having her clothing ripped, nurture
the small children and look enticing. Apart from Hudson, Apart from Colleano
(American father and English mother) and Karlson, the rest of the cast and crew
are made up of Italians and Yugoslavians. Italian second unit director Franco
Cirino even received a co-director credit on Italian prints of the movie.
story, written by S.S. Schweitzer and Stanley Colbert, was based on an actual
incident during the American advance in Italy. The screenplay is standard fare
for the era and among the last of this type of war movie. Critics at the time
disliked the depiction of children killing, being killed and participating in
war. I remember seeing this movie as a kid and I loved every minute of it. As a
fan of WWII movies and TV series, I wanted to be one of those boys fighting the
Kino Lorber release is the first time on Blu-ray for “Hornets’ Nest” and
features the trailer for this and two other Kino military- themed releases as
the only supplements. The movie clocks in at 110 minutes, looks and sounds
great with an outstanding score by Ennio Morricone. Originally released in
theaters by United Artists in September of 1970, the movie became a must see
movie for me when it turned up on TV throughout the 70s.
Actress Patty Duke, who won an Academy Award for her performance as young Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker" has died at age 69 from complications relating to an intestinal disorder. Duke was 16 years old when she won the Oscar for Best Supporting actress opposite Anne Bancroft in the classic film. Duke also starred in the popular 1960s sitcom "The Patty Duke Show" and went on to star in the feature film "Valley of the Dolls", which was lambasted by critics but which proved to be a major boxoffice success. However, Duke suffered from mental health problems and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982. Duke's tumultuous personal life extended to her love life, which saw her marry four times. Her husbands included director Harry Falk, rock promoter Michael Tell, actor John Astin and Michael Pearce, who was not in show business. She was the mother of actor Sean Astin, who took the Astin name due to Duke's belief that John Astin was his father. Biological testing later proved this was not the case and that Michael Tell is his real father. Despite her personal problems, Duke worked steadily throughout her career and also became a leading advocate for curing mental health disorders. For more click here.
No matter what you think of the porn films created in the old days, their producers had an instinct for capitalizing on the hottest trends in mainstream movies. Take for example "Sensual Encounters of Every Kind", which was released in 1978, a year after Steven Spielberg's blockbuster "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". The film was promoted with marketing materials that implied it would be a sci-fi spoof but, alas, that promising premise ended with the posters. In fact the movie only has only a dotted line link to a supernatural premise. The plot centers on an ancient necklace that has the power to make its owner sexually irresistible to those around him or her. The caveat is that it only works once and then it must be passed on to another unwitting owner. Good thing it only works once because the benefits of the necklace might well result from death by exhaustion if the sexual action were to be engaged in on a regular basis. The plot line, such as it is, consists of several humorous vignettes loosely linked by the aforementioned premise. First up is a young, wealthy and bored young beauty (Lesile Bovee) who is bemoaning her dormant love life. Fortunately, the benefits of the necklace kick in just as three hunky gardeners are working at her estate. When they start to show a communal interest in her, she resists their advances but since this is a male-oriented porn flick she quickly has a change of heart and ends up having the time of her life with all three simultaneously. The next story centers on genre legend Georgina Spelvin ("The Devil in Miss Jones") as a tutor for teenage brother and sister who are spoiled rotten and prove to be snarky and disrespectful. Adding to their bizarre sense of "family relations" is their sexual relationship with each other, which they demonstrate in front of their tutor who predictably can't resist participating. Another vignette is the broadest in terms of comedy with a U.S. senator carrying on with his sensuous secretary (Serena) when his wife returns home unexpectedly. The belabored premise might work well with Peter Sellers or David Niven as the protagonist, however, it's as flat as a pancake here- and just as erotic. The final chapter has porn veteran Jamie Gillis as the male coach of a female college athletic team who is seduced in a gym by two of his students. The film's premise of an anthology of stories connecting diverse characters around the same object could have worked. (Think "The Yellow Rolls Royce" with hardcore orgies thrown in.) However, the comedic aspects are undone by weak writing and generally poor performances with only Spelvin delivering something akin to a performance (she had Broadway training and appeared in "Funny Girl"!) On the plus side, the real raison d'etre for the film is the sex scenes and the director, Richard Kanter, at least has the instinct to generally cut the lame jokes during these scenes and manages to make them quite erotic.
Vinegar Syndrome has released the film on DVD and it boasts a pristine transfer that probably makes it look better than it did at the time of its original release. An interesting bonus is a rather garbled phone interview with porn actor Jon Martin, who appears uncredited in the film. His conversation is feature-length and he provides some interesting insights, not only about the porn industry of the era, but his own career as well. (He studied with Stella Adler and Uta Hagen, though it's doubtful those legendary acting teachers envisioned exactly how he would end up employing his talents.) In all, another winning package from Vinegar Syndrome.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release
regarding the film “Culloden” and “The War Game”.
These startling and controversial films by Peter Watkins,
first broadcast on BBC TV, have been newly remastered to High Definition and
will be released on Blu-ray for the first time on 28 March 2016, presented
together in a Dual Format Edition (contains Blu-ray and DVD discs). An array of
special features includes a new interview by film editor Michael Bradsell, who
worked with Peter Watkins at the BBC, audio commentaries for both films and
short films about each one.
Hailed as a breakthrough when it was first broadcast in
1964, Culloden – which brilliantly reconstructs the famous battle of
1746 – stunned viewers by approaching its historical subject matter in the
style of contemporary TV news coverage.
Watkins’ The War Game, about a limited nuclear
attack on Kent, blended fact and fiction to create a disturbing vision of the
personal and public consequences of such an attack. Banned from TV screens for
twenty years, it was through its cinema release in 1966 – and its Academy Award
for Best Documentary Feature in 1967 – that it gained a loyal and vociferous
Newly remastered and presented in both High Definition and
Michael Bradsell Interview (2015, 21 mins): the
film editor talks about working with Peter Watkins at the BBC
John Cook audio commentary on Culloden (2002)
Culloden on Location (Donald Fairservice, 1964, 8
mins): colour footage of the cast and crew during the filming of Culloden,
with a 2002 commentary by John Cook
Patrick Murphy audio commentary on The War Game (2002)
The War Game: The Controversy (2002, 19 mins):
Patrick Murphy charts the production history, banning and eventual distribution
of The War Game
The War Game book: on-screen gallery of the complete
1967 book, published to accompany the film
Illustrated booklet with new essays by John Cook, David
Archibald and William Fowler, and full film credits
It’s great to
see Vocalion continuing to release a further addition in their remarkable
series of original library music. Last year the label launched a new series of Bruton
music releases to add to their catalogue and further strengthen their commitment
to the genre. Vocalion has released a new CD featuring a superb collection of
music from the archives of, arguably the most famous of all library music
labels, KPM. Flying Start - a collection of contemporary scores from the KPM
1000 Series (1968-1978) (CDMSL 8516) is an excellent compilation featuring 28
of the finest 1000 Series compositions. The focus here is very much on their majestic
orchestral and big band sounds with contemporary rhythm. But there is also so
much more, romantic interludes, avant-garde spacey jazz, and abstract
underscores all equate to a varied and rewarding listening experience. Keith Mansfield’s ‘World Series’ will be instantly
recognisable to thousands, and was used for years as the signature tune of BBC
Television’s athletics coverage.
In addition to Mansfield, there is a whole host
of KPM stalwarts including Neil Richardson, David Lindup, Nick Ingman, John
Dankworth and Johnny Pearson. The CD has a genuine filmic feel to it and
crammed with exquisite orchestrations. Vocalion’s audio quality is stunning,
and reflective of the mastering process (taken directly from the original
stereo analogue tapes). Thankfully, Vocalion’s packaging for this release is of
the standard we have come to expect, consisting of an eight-page booklet with a
lengthy essay detailing the background of the KPM 1000 Series as well as
composer biographies and a discussion of the music itself. Overall, it’s
another wonderful addition to a marvellous series of releases.
The Warner Archive has released "Go Naked in the World", a 1961 screen adaptation of a novel by Tom T. Chamales that apparently caused a bit of a sensation back in day with its forthright and adult look a highly-charged sexual relationship. The film, directed by Ranald MacDougall, opens with Nick Stratton (Anthony Franciosa) returning home on leave from the U.S. Army. We know things are somewhat tense with his family because he doesn't immediately tell them he is back, preferring to do some partying first. When his father Pete (Ernest Borgnine) discovers this, the tension builds immediately. Pete is a well-known construction magnate whose projects dot the city. Nick is in rebellion against his overbearing father, who feels that his son must follow him into the construction business. Pete loves his family, which consists of his long-suffering wife Mary (Nancy R. Pollack) and their two children, Nick and his teenage sister Yvonne (Luana Patten) but he alienates them with his heavy-handed demands that everyone march to his tune. He relegates Mary and Yvonne to the roles of helpless females and obnoxiously dictates his daughter's dating habits to the point of humiliating her. Mary, his wife of 30 years, has no say in any important matters. However, Nick is more rebellious and constantly stands up to his father, leading to explosive confrontations. Things only worsen when Nick falls head over heels for the vivacious Guilletta (Gina Lollobrigida), an independent party girl with a knock-out figure who can only be described in the vernacular of the era as a "bombshell". Nick has no trouble luring Guilletta into bed but he can't understand why she wants to leave it as a one-night stand. Nick is more than smitten- he's in love but Guilletta continues to inexplicably try to keep him at arm's length even though it's clear she loves him. Turns out that Nick is rather naive in his understanding of her lifestyle. He soon learns that she is a notorious hooker. Worse, his own womanizing father is among her clients! Nick still can't leave her- but his relationship brings the feud with his father to an even more alarming level. Caught in the middle is Guillette, a woman who is ashamed of her lifestyle but not sufficiently ashamed enough to quit it. She acts as an unwitting catalyst for the destruction of Nick's family's relationships that extends to Mary and Yvonne finally confronting Pete about his dictatorial ways. Wracked by guilt, Guillietta attempts to leave Nick again and again, as she suspects their love affair can only end tragically. Still, she is drawn to him with the same passion he has for her and their relationship continues even as it leads them to mutual disaster.
"Go Naked in the World" is extremely steamy in its treatment of sex when one considers it was released in an era in which such activities could only be hinted at. Nick and Guillette clearly love sex and the film doesn't paint them judgmentally as "bad people" for engaging in this behavior, which was fairly progressive for the time. The film is essentially a soap opera but a very engrossing one. Franciosa gives a powerful performance as a young man torn between his love for his father and the fact that he resents his attempts to dominate his life. Lollobrigida is terrific. She was often written off as another Italian sex symbol but I have never seen a film in which she didn't give a highly impressive performance. Her abilities range from light comedy to tragic dramas such as this. Borgnine, another great reliable force in old Hollywood, dominates every scene he is in and convincingly plays Franciosa's father even though he was only ten years old than him. The script has some melodramatic aspects but remains consistently interesting thanks to an intelligent, believable screenplay and fine direction. The impressive supporting cast includes Will Kuluva and Philip Ober. High recommended.
The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer and is region free.
Twilight Time has released a Blu-ray edition of "The Hawaiians", which was released in England under the title Master of the Islands. The 1970 big budget movie was a critical and commercial failure in its day, but evaluating it after all these years leads the viewer to accentuate its many positive elements. The story is actually an official continuation of James Michener's Hawaii, which was made into a major film in 1966 that curiously also underwhelmed critics and public. This sequel doesn't have the epic proportions of its predecessor, but it does boast some impressively lush production values and a typically enticing score by Henry Mancini. For this film, Heston reunited with director Tom Gries, with whom he made the vastly under-appreciated 1968 Western "Will Penny"which Heston regarded as one of his most satisfying artistic accomplishments. He is cast against type here in a somewhat unsympathetic role during a period of his career in which he was typically cast as a stalwart heroic figure. Heston plays Whip Hoxworth, a hard-nosed sea captain who transports luckless Chinese immigrants to Hawaii where they become cheated, abused and enter into what amounts to indentured servitude. The opening sequence finds the Chinese crammed into the sweltering hold of the ship and falling victim to illness and malnutrition. Hoxworth only adds to their misery by applying beatings and coldly calculating his human cargo in terms of acceptable deaths, 'lest his ultimate profits fall short of expectations. Hoxworth is the black sheep of a wealthy family. He is cut out of his father's will and has a contentious relationship with his siblings, who have little use for him. Barred from further sea duties, he is relegated to a failing plantation which he is determined to turn into a success, if only to spite his relatives. Geraldine Chaplin is his half-Hawaiian wife, whom he adores but who, for reasons never satisfactorily explained in the script, turns frigid after their son is born.
The film tells a parallel story about the plight of two immigrants who work on his plantation: Nyuk Tsin (Tina Chen) and Mun Ki (Mako), two people who, through necessity, live as man and wife even though Mun Ki tells Nyuk Tsin that the children she has borne him will not be considered hers. Instead, Chinese tradition dictates that they will ultimately return to China where his wife will assume the mantle of mother and Nyuk Tsin will be relegated to the status of an aunt. The couple's hard work appeals to Hoxworth's generally dormant sympathies and he allows them to prosper financially, especially when they successfully grow the first pineapples on Hawaii - a development that makes Hoxworth rich. However, the film piles crisis upon crisis on each of the major characters, including political intrigue, armed revolution and, in particulalry affecting sequences, outbreaks of leprosy and plague. John Phillip Law appears late in the 134-minute film as Heston's grown son, whose humanitarianism brings him into direct conflict with his father's Machevellian ways.
The Hawiians is big-budget soap opera at every level, but it's a consistently engrossing one. Heston excels playing part that takes him into new territory as an actor. The supporting cast is equally good, with both Mako and Tina Chen giving outstanding performances. It can't be said that the film is an unqualified success, but it's never boring and it probably seems more impressive today than it did at the time of its initial release. It should be mentioned that the movie has a fine score by Henry Mancini. There are worse fates than spending a couple of hours with Heston under any circumstance.
The Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray (3,000 units) is right up to the company's high standards. It includes a trailer and the usual informative liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo.
the mid 1980’s, I caught ABC-TV’s premiere broadcast of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and it changed me
forever. I became a huge fan of both
Stanley Kubrick’s and Stephen King’s work, as well as classical music. Despite the protestations of many a film
reviewer regarding the casting of Jack Nicholson, I greatly admired his performance
in the film, and eagerly sought out all of his films that I could find on home
video and television at the time. Among
them was a film that I had not heard of before, the story about two Navy lifers
transporting a convict to the “brig”, a military prison, for having stolen
$40.00 out of the Polio contribution box (the Commanding Officer’s wife’s favorite charity – oops!!). Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (1973), which opened in New York on Sunday,
February 10, 1974 (having premiered in L.A. in December of 1973) , contains my favorite film performance by Jack
Nicholson, which is saying a lot considering that his turn as R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
is the role that most critics think of when they discuss his work. Here he plays Billy "Badass"
Buddusky, a U.S. petty officer who, along with Richard "Mule" Mulhall
(the late Otis Young), is tasked with escorting a sailor, Larry Meadows (Randy
Quaid), from their home base in Norfolk, VA to Portsmouth Naval Prison up in
Maine. On the surface, this looks like a
fairly routine affair as Buddusky and Mulhall go through the motions of taking
Meadows by train to his final destination. Initially by-the-book and aloof, they begin to feel sympathetic towards
the nebbish Meadows following a shoplifting episode. He’s obviously a kleptomaniac and, even
though he’s only 18, probably feels as though his life is over. Along the way, they start to think of the
things that Meadows will miss out on – his first sexual experience, having his
first beer, and getting into all sorts of fun trouble. Buddusky takes on the
role of the leader, and he sets out to show Meadows a good time. They break into laughter following Buddusky’s
outburst at a bartender (the language his uses in this scene could very well have
been a first for the time) and Meadows looks like a kid rang someone’s doorbell,
ran off and has gotten away with it. He’s obviously enjoying himself with his newfound “friends”. They get beer on their own and get drunk,
then spend the night in a hotel room and laugh to their heart’s content.
time progresses, Buddusky and Mulhall cannot help but take a liking to Meadows,
and eventually start to feel sorry for him, feeling that he got a raw
deal. They take time to seek out his
mother during a stop in Philadelphia (they don’t find her), and then they watch
him attempt to ice skate in Rockefeller Center in New York and fight with
Marines at Penn Station (which looks completely different than it does today). In Boston, they take Meadows to a whorehouse
for his first sexual experience (Carol Kane plays the prostitute). Michael Chapman, the cinematographer who shot
the movie, plays the taxi driver who gives the boys a ride (Mr. Chapman would
go on to shoot Taxi Driver for Martin
Scorsese in the summer of 1975, and actually appears as a cab fare in that film). They also sit it on a session with Nichiren
Shoshu Buddhists and Meadows attempts to put into use the chant that he is
taught in order to obtain good fortune. The
late Luana Anders makes an appearance in this scene, as does the late Gilda
Radner; they both died of cancer in 1996 and 1989 respectively. Another party they end up at features a very
young Nancy Allen, who is told by Jack Nicholson in a very funny speech about
why he loves his uniform. Even director
Ashby shows up: he can be seen sitting at the bar in the dart-throwing sequence,
sporting glasses and his trademark white beard. By the end of the film, we know that inevitably they must follow their
orders, and it’s painful to see Meadows incur Buddusky’s wrath following a
failed attempt to escape. The ending is
poignant, but a far cry from the tremendous downer that ends the novel of the
same name by Daryl Ponicsan upon which the film is based. Thankfully, the film is a tad more