The blurb above ran on November 15, 1963 in the Film Daily trade magazine. Carl Foreman's expensive and ambitious WWII drama "The Victors" was screened in advance for war correspondents. The film was a dark and cynical look at the experiences of everyday soldiers in the WWII European campaign. An impressive cast of established stars and up-and-coming talent appeared in the film but the movie had a tortured history. Released during the Christmas season, the movie's downbeat, anti-war message didn't resonate with audiences. The movie was severely cut with different length versions appearing in various areas of the globe. The full director's cut has never been reconstructed. Additionally, the movie has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray in the USA, though it is available in the UK and European markets. Even in a truncated version, Foreman's film still packs a punch.
(The fascinating story behind the making of "The Victors" is covered in detail in Cinema Retro's tribute to films of WWII issue. Click here to order)
it would be a wait of 15 months before it hit British screens, Phenomena –
Dario Argento’s ninth feature release – was first unveiled to Italian audiences
early in 1985. It had been three years since Tenebrae (which despite stiff
competition is my favourite Argento) and at the time Phenomena was broadly
considered his weakest offering. It’s narrative core, which concerns a young
girl communing with insects in order to identify a maniac killer, was indisputably
a shade bananas (rather apt given the significant involvement of a vengeful
primate!), but for me it was by no means his least interesting film to that
point and considering the mixed bag of cinematic fodder bearing his name that’s
appeared in the years since, I’d not hesitate to cite it as one of his more
Corvino (Jennifer Connelly), the teenage daughter of a famous movie star,
arrives at The Richard Wagner International School for Girls in Switzerland
where she learns from her new roommate that a number of girls in the area have
gone missing, the possible victims of a serial killer. Jennifer suffers from somnambulism
and one night she wakens to find herself lost in the woods, whereupon she
encounters a friendly chimpanzee which leads her to safety at the nearby home
of its owner, wheelchair-bound entomologist Professor John McGregor (Donald
Pleasence). Jennifer is fascinated by insects and when she tells McGregor she’s
able to communicate with them telepathically the two become firm friends.
McGregor has been assisting police on the serial killer case in an advisory
capacity and believes that the corpses of the missing girls can be tracked down
by the Great Sarcophagus, a species of fly that can detect rotting flesh. He
duly convinces Jennifer she can help solve the case by using one that he has
captive to guide her to the refuge of the killer.
(with Franco Ferrini), produced and directed by Argento, it’s obvious from the
above précis that Phenomena is structured upon some pretty outré ideas. But
even if the results aren’t entirely satisfying, I applaud the man for
attempting to do something beyond playing safe and recycling the same old
giallo formula. Besides which, overlooking its inadequacies – not least of
which is a run-time that overstretches the narrative’s ability to fully engage –
there’s some really good stuff going on here.
of that run-time, if ever proof were needed that it’s possible to have too much
of a good thing then Phenomena is it. There exist three versions of the movie:
the 116-minute Italian cut, a 110-minute international edit, and an American
theatrical cut (retitled Creepers and which, at 83-minutes, had almost a third of
the Italian original’s run-time sheared off it); against all expectation it’s
the latter tightened-up version that arguably plays best.
I digress. The Swiss locations are breathtaking and in terms of set-up, Phenomena’s
opening sequence – which finds a young girl on a class trip into the mountains
being inadvertently left behind when the coach departs (they used to count us
aboard in my day!) – is terrific. The girl, played by his teenage daughter
Fiore, goes looking for help and happens across a chalet nestled in the
hillside where someone (or something!) tries to kill her. She flees but is
pursued by the grunting, scissor-wielding maniac to an observation platform
overlooking a waterfall. All the pieces are in place for the film’s first
murder sequence and with almost lascivious relish the camera observes a
stabbing, followed by a slo-mo backwards lurch through a plate glass window and
finally a decapitation. There’s graphic mayhem aplenty peppered throughout the
remainder of the movie (including a protracted wallow in a vile stew of rotting
cadavers), but for sheer style this opener is never quite matched.
Connelly was 14-years-old when she shot Phenomena and given that it was only
her second feature film appearance (following a small part in 1984’s Once Upon
a Time in America), it’s remarkable just how confidently she carries the film;
not only a budding beauty but already exhibiting the talent that would carry
her on to great acclaim (including an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind) in the years
ahead. Donald Pleasence showed up in a fistful of Italian chillers of varied
worth during the 1980s and he’s as reliably entertaining as ever here, adopting
a Scottish accent as the academic whose closest chum is a chimp. Argento’s
long-time partner and go-to leading lady (cf. Deep Red, Inferno, Tenebrae, Opera)
Daria Nicolodi delivers with elan, so too for that matter does gorgeous Flesh
for Frankenstein star Dalila Di Lazzaro, present as Jennifer’s chaperone and
school headmistress respectively. It’s good to see prolific player Patrick
Bauchau on hand too, although he’s a tad underused as the investigating police
inspector, very much relegated to the sidelines of the action.
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were immortalized as big screen anti-heroes in Arthur Penn's 1967 classic "Bonnie and Clyde". However, as an article in the Daily Mail indicates, their string of notorious bank robberies and sometimes fatal shoot-outs led to them being media sensations in the 1930s- but also resulted in a rather miserable existence. The basics of the movie's screenplay kept most of the main facts historically accurate, but as you'll see from the article there was also plenty of artistic license as well. Unlike Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, the real life Bonnie and Clyde were far from sex symbols. They did capture the imagination of the American public at a time when the country was grappling with depression from the Depression. It was an era in which the most notorious gangsters flourished, though all met inglorious demises, as did Bonnie and Clyde who were lured into a fatal ambush on a country road. The article presents a wealth of historical photographs of the couple as well as some morbid shots of their dead bodies, which were put on display as though they were carnival attractions. Also featured is a newly-found photograph of the couple embracing that has never been published before. Click here to read.
sports films are ubiquitous in the movie world today, this wasn’t always the
case. The ability of a sports story to
transcend its roots in a game and become a triumphant story of the human spirit
was arguably first done in the 1942 film The Pride of The Yankees. A new book
about this film came out in June of 2017 from Hachette Books, written by
Richard Sandomir: The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper and the Making of a Classic. This work is an impressive look at not only the making of the
film, but also its cultural impact.
of The Yankees is an ultimate hero story: the immigrant son who has a natural
ability in a truly American past time only to be cut down in his prime by a
fatal disease. It may sound like a natural for the film studios to develop, but
as Sandomir points out in his book, this wasn’t always the case. Sam Goldwyn
had to be convinced to make a movie about baseball. What finally moved the
mogul to go ahead with the project was seeing film of Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest
Man” speech on July 4, 1939 in Yankee stadium. The connection was with the
human side of the story, never with the sport.
reading the making of chapters of any book that discusses a film in detail,
it’s always interesting to see who emerges as the main characters in the story
behind the story. Since this film was about Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse” ball
player takes center stage. His strong-willed, independent widow Eleanor
Twitchell is just as an important character, if in fact not more so than Gehrig
himself. As the author lays out, it is Eleanor who made sure that Lou’s memory
stayed alive after his death. Another star that emerges behind the scenes is
Paul Gallico. Although Gallico is best known for his later career as the author
of The Poseidon Adventure and other novels, he was a sports writer during the
1930s and as such became a chronicler of Lou Gehrig’s career. His 1941 book
about the athlete, Lou Gehrig: The Pride of The Yankees became the official
source material for the movie.
as the makers of the movie had to deal with the conundrum of trying to figure
out how much actual baseball to have in the film, the author of a book about a
baseball movie has to balance those two seemingly opposite entities. Sandomir
does a good job in striking just such a balance; the book is much more about
the movie and it’s impact than it is about America’s favorite pastime. This is
an impressive accomplishment when one realizes that the author was a sports
reporter for the New York Times for many years and must have had to resist the
impulse to discuss in heavy detail the intricacies of the sport. When reading
the book, one need only have a very basic knowledge of baseball, and even if a
reader doesn’t possess this information, they should take comfort in realizing
that they still probably know more about baseball than Samuel Goldwyn, the
producer of the movie.
Other sections of this book discuss Babe
Ruth’s career on film and playing himself in Pride; whether or not Gary Cooper,
a natural right hander, actually batted left handed in his baseball scenes or
if the filmmakers reversed the negative; the real life friction between
Gehrig’s widow and his mother and how this was tapered down for the film. An interesting later chapter describes Gary
Cooper on a USO tour in late 1943 in the South Pacific and, after a big demand
from the troops, re-created Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest Man” speech to the best
of his memory.
The Pride of The Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary
Cooper, and The Making of a Classic is an excellent book and a great look at
the making of what may just be the greatest sports movie of all time.
It started with a rather innocuous post on the Cinema Retro Facebook page of the paperback movie tie-in novel for "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" along with a notation that we missed the era in which so many new films spawned the release of these editions. Before you could say "Dr. Zaius", readers from around the globe chimed in with their own memories of reading and collecting these books. Best of all, many of them took us up on the challenge to post any photos they might have from their own personal collections. Before long, there was a plethora of great images posted, bringing back memories of paperbacks based on "Dirty Harry", "Taxi Driver", "Star Wars", "The Mechanic" and so many others. Click here to join the fun and feel free to add your own observations and photos. (Note: to view all the entries, go to the end of the article and click on "View more comments" link.)
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Director Guy Green with stars Elizabeth Hartman and Sidney Poitier on location in Los Angeles for "A Patch of Blue" in 1965. Note that the theater seen in the background is showing a double feature of British oldies-but-goodies: Peter Sellers in "Trial and Error" and Terry-Thomas in "Kill or Cure".
8½ Screenings In Los Angeles with Barbara Steele In Person at Royal Screening
By Todd Garbarini
Fellini’s 1963 film 8½ (Otto e Mezzo) will be shown in special 55th
anniversary screenings at three of Laemmle's theatres
in Los Angeles. Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk
Aimee, Sandra Milo, and Barbara Steele, the film, lauded by Roger Ebert as the
greatest film ever made about filmmaking and the winner of the Best Foreign
Language Oscar for that year, runs 138 minutes and is being showcased on the
big screen in a rare opportunity.
The film will be shown at the following
Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025
NOTE: Actor and film historian Douglas Dunning, longtime friend of actress
Barbara Steele, announces that Barbara Steele is scheduled to appear in person
for a Q & A prior to the screening at the Royal theatre.
Wednesday, January 17, at 7:00pm at the
Playhouse 7, Royal, and Town Center Theatre
Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary
Classics Series launch our Anniversary Classics Abroad program for 2018 with
one of the most influential and highly acclaimed of all foreign films: Federico
Fellini’s autobiographical masterpiece, 8 ½. Fellini had already won two
Oscars in the 1950s, and in 1963 8 ½ scored the most Oscar nominations of any
foreign film up to that time, with a total of five, including Best Director and
Best Original Screenplay (by Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli and
Brunello Rondi). It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and
Piero Gherardi won for his stunning black-and-white costume design.
Marcello Mastroianni, who had starred
in Fellini’s international smash La Dolce Vita three years earlier,
plays Guido Anselmi, a film director struggling to complete his newest film
while also juggling a wife, a mistress, and several other women as he meditates
on sexuality, religion, and mortality. The film is set primarily at a lavish
spa, where Guido’s personal and professional turmoil is continually interrupted
by poignant childhood memories and wickedly witty fantasies. Esteemed Italian
novelist Alberto Moravia compared the film to James Joyce’s
stream-of-consciousness novel Ulysses and the film’s visual flourishes
changed the entire language of cinema. The New Republic’s Stanley
Kauffmann wrote, “In terms of execution I cannot remember a more brilliant
film…we see a wizard at the height of his wizardry.” Writing in Esquire,
Dwight Macdonald called 8 ½“the most brilliant, varied, and entertaining
movie since Citizen Kane.”
In addition to Mastroianni, the cast
includes Anouk Aimee, Sandra Milo, Claudia Cardinale, Rossella Falk, and
Barbara Steele. Other important collaborators include cinematographer Gianni di
Venanzo and composer Nino Rota, whose jaunty circus melodies help to propel the
movie. 8 ½ had a major influence on directors all over the world,
including Mike Nichols, Paul Mazursky, Woody Allen, Francois Truffaut, and
recent Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino.
Burt Reynolds had been gnawing around the boundaries of genuine stardom for more than a decade, starring in short-lived television shows and top-lining "B" movies. He ingratiated himself to the American public by showcasing his wit and comedic abilities by appearing on chat shows. In 1972, he struck gold when director John Boorman cast him opposite Jon Voight as the two male leads in the sensational film adaptation of James Dickey's "Deliverance". Finally, he could be classified as a major movie star. Soon, Reynolds was cranking out major films even while his uncanny ability to publicize himself resulted in such stunts as his famed provocative centerfold pose in Cosmopolitan magazine. On screen, Reynolds sensed that he could cultivate an especially enthusiastic audience if he catered to rural movie-goers. He was proven right with the release of "White Lightning", a highly enjoyable 1973 action/comedy that perfectly showcased Reynolds' favored image as a handsome, unflappable hero with a Bondian knack for tossing off quips while facing death and also engaging in good ol' boy towel-snapping humor. Playing bootlegger Gator McClusky, Reynolds drew major crowds, very much pleasing United Artists, which enjoyed hefty profits from the modestly-budgeted production. Reynolds learned, however, that his audience wouldn't necessarily follow him if he deviated from that image. When he went against the grain in films like "The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing", "At Long Last Love" and "Lucky Lady", the movies bombed. When he stuck to the basics, he had hits with "Shamus", "The Longest Yard" and "W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings". The legendary Variety headline that read "Hix Nix Stix Pix" was no longer true. The American heartland loved Burt Reynolds, especially when he played characters that rural audiences could embrace.
In 1976, Reynolds fulfilled another career milestone by directing his first feature film, a sequel to "White Lightning" titled "Gator". Like the first movie, it was shot entirely on location in Georgia and picked up on the adventures of everyone's favorite moonshiner. When we first see Gator in the sequel, he his getting out of jail only to be targeted by the feds to be used as a pawn in a multi-state crackdown on an epidemic of political corruption that threatens the career of the self-serving, ambitious governor (played very well by famed chat show host Mike Douglas in his big screen debut.) Gator is living in a shack located deep in an inhospitable swamp with his elderly father and precocious 9 year-old daughter when the feds launch a major raid to arrest him on moonshining charges. In reality, they want to use the warrant as leverage to convince him to go undercover for them inside the crime ring. Gator wants no part of it and leads the feds on a merry chase around the bayou in which he is pursued by speed boats and helicopters before finally relenting. The lead federal agent in charge is Irving Greenfield (Jack Weston), an overweight, hyper-nervous Jewish guy from Manhattan who has the unenviable task of ensuring that Gator follows orders. A good portion of the film's laugh quotient comes from Irving's less-than-convincing attempts to "blend in" with small town southern locals. The crime ring is run by Bama McCall (Jerry Reed), an outwardly charming and charismatic fellow who, in reality, uses brutally violent methods to ensure loyalty and intimidate local businessmen to pay protection money. He and Gator are old acquaintances and he doesn't hesitate to give Gator a good-paying job as an enforcer for his mob. Things become more intriguing when Gator sets eyes on Aggie Maybank (Lauren Hutton), an attractive local TV anchor with liberal political beliefs that find her squaring off against Bama in order to protect the poor merchants he is exploiting. "Gator" proceeds on a predictable path but its predictability doesn't detract from its merits, which are considerable. Reynolds is a joy to watch and it's small wonder he leaped to the top ranks of cinematic leading men. His cocky, self-assured persona served him well on the big screen and "Gator" is custom-made to please his core audience. He also proved to be a very able director, handling the action scenes and those of unexpected tragic twists with equal skill. He also gets very good performances from his eclectic cast, with Weston engaging in his usual penchant for scene-stealing. Reed also shines in a rare villainous role and ex-model Hutton proves she has admirable acting chops, as well. The action scenes are impressive thanks to the oversight of the legendary Hal Needham, who would forge a long-time collaborative relationship with Reynolds.
Dutton Vocalion has released three3 more
impressive titles in their SACD range. The Black Motion Picture Experience /
Music for Soulful Lovers (CDSML 8531) is as a twofer release featuring The
Cecil Holmes Soulful Sounds. There’s a perfect symmetry about this particular
CD. Both albums were released on the famous Buddah label back in 1973 and both
were released in Stereo and Quadrophonic pressings. Vocalion’s new CD marks the
debut of both albums in both formats. Both titles were originally released back
in the height of the Blaxploitation boom. The first of the Holmes albums
consists of a great selection of major Blaxploitation themes including Super
fly (1972), Shaft (1971) and Across 110th street (1972), but there’s
also a great deal more than the usual, often repeated titles. Slaughter (1972)
is a nice addition to the track listing, considering a soundtrack album was
never released. Holmes also diverts somewhat curiously with tracks such as Also
Sprach Zarathustra from 2001 (1968) and the Love Theme from Lady sings the
Blues (1972). However, there’s a very nice funky edge to these tracks which never
make them seem out of place and therefore fit in rather seamlessly.
Music for Soulful Lovers works as a perfect accompaniment
to The Black Motion Picture Experience. Again, the album consists of many popular
songs from the period, so expect more vocal tracks. But of course, the vocals
are deep, evocative and very, very smooth. Aside from some very nicely produced covers of songs by Barry White,
Stevie Wonder and The Stylistics, the album also contained three original
compositions, all of which are silky and slick. In fact, it’s Holmes himself
who provides the Barry White-influenced vocals ontwo of these tracks – and hey,
it actually works extremely well!
Vocalion’s mastering by Michael J. Dutton
(from the original master tapes) is pin sharp and contains the punchy clarity
that we have come to expect. Great notes and super use of the irreplaceable
artwork make this a damn near perfect retro experience. (Disc total 73.17)
Vocalion have returned to familiar territory
with their release of Henry Mancini’s twofer CD The Return of the Pink Panther
/ Symphonic Soul (CDSML 8535). Released in 1975, both albums were also launched
in Stereo and Quadrophonic versions. So it’s nice to see Vocalion’s CD make a
welcome debut on the hybrid SACD format. As far as Mancini pairings go, this
selection works extremely well. The choice of Return of the Pink Panther is
undoubtedly a smart move as it is arguably the best of the Panther soundtracks.
Recorded at London’s CTS studios, there’s a nice range of styles spread across
this memorable score. Released on the cusp of the disco era, there’s naturally
a great deal of funky guitar riffs (provided by session musician Alan Parker)
as well as some beautiful pieces such as ‘Dreamy’ which saw Mancini himself
take to the piano. The highlight piece is arguably The Return of the Pink
Panther (parts 1 & 2) which accompanied the theft of the Pink Panther
diamond. It’s a great piece of composition which incorporates both the Pink
Panther theme, a slow (but increasing dramatic) tension builder and a full on
frenzy of brass and strings for its climax.
Supporting Mancini’s soundtrack release is
his studio album, Symphonic Soul. The album was recorded in L.A. and manages to
merge the funky mid 70s sound with Mancini’s lush orchestrations. Mancini
brought a few of his own new compositions to the album including the wonderful
title track. He also took this opportunity to introduce a new souped-up version
of his memorable Peter Gunn theme. There’s also some well-established period
pieces to be found among the track listing including a great variation of The
Average White Band’s funk anthem ‘Pick up the pieces’ and Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly’.
Vocalion’s mastering by Michael J. Dutton
(from the original master tapes) is reflective of the label’s usual high
standards whilst a detailed 8 page booklet rounds off the packaging perfectly. (Disc
The year 1968 proved to be one of the most dramatic in American history. With the Vietnam War protest movement in high gear, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the decision by President Lyndon B. Johnson to not run for a second term, the Chicago riots and the the chaos in the Democratic party that lead to Richard Nixon's return from the political graveyard, at times it seemed like the very fabric of American society was falling apart. So it came as no surprise that the exhausted citizenry would try to find some temporary solace through popular entertainment. The movie "Yours, Mine and Ours" was a considerable hit partly because it starred two Hollywood icons: Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda and partly because it was so far removed from the contentious factors that defined every day living for most people. The film marked Lucille Ball's second-to-last big screen appearance (her final one being the ill-fated 1974 screen adaptation of "Mame"). She was never overly enamored of making theatrical films since she had such a loyal following on television. "Ours" was a notable exception and the film provided her with a good role in which to show she still had the timing that made her a comedy legend.
The film is based on the story of a real-life North and Beardsley families and inspired Helen North Beardsley (played by Lucy in the film) to write a book titled "Who gets the Drumstick?", which explored the humorous anecdotes of running a household with 22 children. Lucy had read the book and saw the potential for a screen adaptation. She enlisted her long-time sitcom writers Bob Carroll, Jr and Madelyn Davis to come up with a story for a feature film. Melville Shavelson, an old pro and directing comedy films, was brought on board to helm the production and co-write the screenplay. The coup was casting Henry Fonda as the husband, Frank Beardsley. The final script tossed out most real-life accuracies in favor of Hollywood schmaltz, which may be why Helen North Beardsley's book isn't officially credited as a source. (In real life, the Beardsley clan ended up mired in divorce and sibling disputes that extend to this day.) The film opens with Frank Beardsley (Fonda), a career naval officer returning from an extended stint at sea. Recently widowed, Frank has ten children ranging in age from late teens to infants. His brother and sister-in-law (the real heroes of the story) have been caring for them all until he returns. Once Frank assumes the dual duties of both mom and dad, he predictably finds the workload overwhelming. He keeps bumping into Helen North (Lucy), an attractive nurse on the naval base and the two are immediately attracted to each other. She has also recently been widowed and has eight children of her own. Amusingly, when the two go on their first date, each is reluctant to reveal to the other that they have such a large family. When the beans are spilled, they decide they can make the situation work to their advantage by getting married.
What follows is predictable bedlam as the kids resist being forced to share their home with the "other' family. Much time is spent on Helen trying to placate both sides and managing to alienate everyone. Meanwhile, hubby Frank resumes his naval duties, thus leaving Helen to deal with the 24/7 chaos but he does amusingly institute a navy-like system of keeping order in the house that mimics Capt. Von Trapp's methods in "The Sound of Music". The film is typical of these big family comedies in that the smaller kids tend to be lovable while the teenagers are self-centered and arrogant. It will not require a spoiler alert to state that in the end a crisis unites everyone to form one big, happy family. The film plays out like a big screen version of a sitcom with every predictable sight gag imaginable, albeit with a bit of saucy sexual humor thrown in. Nevertheless, it manages to be entertaining throughout thanks in large part to the engaging cast. Lucy and Fonda have genuine screen chemistry. Van Johnson pops up occasionally as Fonda's fellow naval officer and close friend and manages to get few laughs in a cliched buddy role. Tom Bosley makes a brief but amusing appearance as a physician who makes a house call on the Beardsley abode only to find the situation mind-boggling in terms of the sheer craziness on display. The film was obviously supposed to serve as a vehicle of tolerance for very large families but unintentionally seems to be a promotion for Planned Parenthood. Despite taking place during the height of the Vietnam War protests, when elder son Tim Matheson ends up being drafted, the family sends him off with all the concern that might be expended on a kid going to 4-H camp for a week. The film is devoid of any reflection of the political and social strife that had affected every American family during this crucial year. However, no one goes to see Lucille Ball in order to be reminded of social problems and director Melville Shavelson does an admirable job of making a cornball scenario play out more successfully than might have been imagined.
The movie has been released on Blu-ray by Olive Films and the transfer looks great. The only bonus extra is a work print trailer that doesn't seem to be finalized.
Director Bernardo Bertolucci with Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider on the set of "Last Tango in Paris". The film's notorious sexual content overshadowed its artistic merits. Among them: a brilliant Oscar-nominated performance by Brando in which he laid bare inner demons that haunted him personally over the course of his life. Brando always dismissed the film by saying that he never knew what it was about but he also implied he regretted doing it because it revealed far too much of his inner turmoils. Maria Schneider was only 19 years-old when she made the movie and would later say that, she too, regretted the experience because she claimed to have been sexually manipulated by both Brando and Bertolucci. Nevertheless, the film remains powerful viewing even today in an era in which it would be unthinkable for a legendary leading man to make a movie this bold and groundbreaking. -Lee Pfeiffer
Business isn’t exactly booming for private
detective Peter Joseph Detweiler, better known as P.J. His makeshift office is
in a bar belonging to his only friend Charlie, his sporadic jobs include
entrapping cheating wives and he is not above drowning his sorrows in liquor. So
when wealthy magnate William Orbison offers him a substantial fee to be a
bodyguard for his mistress, Maureen Prebble, he jumps at the chance. What P.J.
doesn’t know is that Orbison has already hired someone else to commit a murder.
How this murder and the shamus’s new job intersect is the crux of the terrific
1968 neo-noir from Universal, P.J. (U.K.
title: New Face in Hell.)
Private detectives were prominent in the late
1960s and included Harper (1966), Tony Rome (1967), Gunn (1967), and Marlowe (1969).
P.J. appeared in the midst of this
surplus, which may account in part for its box office failure. The movie quickly
disappeared, at least in its original form. Due to one extended and bloody
sequence in a gay bar as well as to other scenes of violence and sexuality,
Universal drastically cut and re-edited the movie for its television network
presentation. Since then, it has never been officially released on home video
and the original version may be lost forever.
Philip Reisman, Jr.’s screenplay is based on
his original story co-written with producer Edward Montagne. The script initially
unfolds as a conventional mystery but gets increasingly complicated with each
twist and turn. Maureen appears to definitely need a bodyguard, in view of threatening
letters as well as a shot fired into her bedroom. And there is no shortage of
suspects who would like to see her dead. Orbison’s emotionally fragile wife,
Betty, resents the very thought of her husband’s paramour. Betty’s relatives despise
Maureen because of her emergence as principle beneficiary in Orbison’s will. Orbison’s
Executive Assistant, Jason Grenoble, due to his apparent affluent upbringing, is
displeased about being used as a flunky. Making P.J.’s job more difficult is Orbison’s
decision to take everyone, including relatives and mistress, to his hideaway in
the Caribbean island of St. Crispin’s. And it is in this tropical setting that
P.J. is forced to kill a suspect. This seems to be the end of the case. But it
is really only the end of the second act. The third act is filled with
intrigue, deception, blackmail and three brutal deaths.
John Guillermin is an underappreciated
director who created admirable films in many genres, including mystery, adventure,
war and western as well as the disaster and monster genres. His success could perhaps be due not only to his
skill but to a style that is unobtrusive. He directs P.J. in a straightforward fashion, not allowing any directorial flourishes
to interrupt the flow of the story. With cinematographer Loyal Griggs, he cleverly
contrasts the seedy sections of New York City with the natural beauty of St.
Crispin’s. However, this beauty is soon tainted by the presence of Orbison, whose
wealth the island’s economy requires to flourish. Guillermin allows each of the
characters within Orbison’s contingent enough screen time to make an impact.
Basically, they all appear to be self-centered, greedy and nasty. Orbison is
especially sadistic, in addition to being notoriously miserly. Maureen doesn’t
apologize for providing sexual favors in exchange for future wealth. Betty is
willing to be repeatedly humiliated to obtain her customary allowance. Grenoble
continually demeans himself to keep his well-paid position. And then there is butler
Shelton Quell, who is not as harmless as his effeminate mannerisms suggest. This
is a sordid group of characters that P.J. is involved with but his dire
financial state has apparently extinguished his conscience, particularly since
he soon becomes intimately involved with the body that he is guarding. P.J.’s
essential irony arises from the fact that he is equally greedy, at least
initially. He also seems to be morally bankrupt. When he encounters Orbison
leaving Maureen’s cottage, it doesn’t faze him that they have just engaged in a
quickie. P.J. knows that he has sold his gun to Orbison just as Maureen has
sold her body.
In the early 1960s, George Peppard became a
major star in expensive films such as The
Carpetbaggers and How the West Was
Won. In mid-decade, he starred in another big-budget film, The Blue Max, the first of three movies
he would make with John Guillermin. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he starred
in several smaller-budgeted movies. While some of them, especially Pendulum and The Groundstar Conspiracy are exceptional, others are unremarkable.
The commercial failure of these movies diminished his star status and he was
relegated to series television. This was regrettable because he had genuine
star quality as well as considerable talent.
As P.J. Detweiler, Peppard creates a unique
private eye that puts him apart from his cinematic brethren. P.J. initially appears
disillusioned with his life and work. Like many film noir protagonists, he is one
of society’s alienated outcasts. He is not just down and out but seems resigned
to his dismal situation. When he is offered the lucrative position of
bodyguard, he is so destitute that he agrees to a humiliating audition of
fisticuffs. As he begins his job, he appears impassive to the decadence of
Orbison’s environment. However, after he has been duped and discarded, he
asserts himself and becomes a traditional detective who is determined to pursue
clues and solve the mystery. But unlike traditional detectives, he doesn’t
derive any pleasure from the solution to the crime. The fact that he has been maneuvered
into facilitating a murder has emotionally drained him. At the end of the film,
he forces a cheerless smile at Charlie but he is unable to sustain it,
replacing it quickly with a look of despair. All of these emotions are
reflected in Peppard’s superb portrayal.
Admittedly I'm not proficient in analyzing Italian "giallo" films. They represent a peculiar genre combining film noir with tinges of crime and overt sexual behavior, often of a perverse nature. Director Giulio Questi's bizarrely-titled "Death Laid an Egg" is a 1968 production that has acquired a significant cult appeal. It's easy to see why. The movie is a mind-bending exercise in quasi-surrealism combined with Hitchcockian elements of kinky people involved in murderous activities. Much of the action takes place in- get this- a state-of-the-art chicken processing plant run by Anna (Gina Lollobrigida), a sexy and dominating woman who constantly berates her long-suffering husband Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The couple has a marriage of convenience and spend much of their time bickering about how to run the plant, which is in financial trouble and is beset with problems with recently fired workers who hang about and exhibiting threatening behavior. The plant is of great concern to their financial investors who are pushing Anna and Marco to develop a mutant form of chicken that will dispense with such unnecessary parts as the head, thereby improving profitability. This strange premise sets the basis for the story, which only gets weirder as the plot progresses. Anna and Marco's marriage is threatened by the presence of their sensuous, live-in secretary Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin), a sexually liberated teenager who has a magnetic hold on the couple. Marco is scheming how to get away from Anna and start a new life with Gabrielle but he's financially dependent upon Anna's fortune in order to survive. Meanwhile, Anna is equally smitten by her and the two women even sleep together, implying they, too, have a sexual relationship. However, Anna is having an affair with another man, Luigi (Renato Romano) who she considers to be her real lover. They are scheming how to manipulate Anna and Marco for their own financial advantage. Complicating matters is Marco's hobby-- which is checking into a roadside hotel frequented by prostitutes and abusing and even murdering the ladies of the night in ritualistic S&M practices. There is also a Felliniesque scene in which pampered members of the social elite engage in a strange party game that involves randomly selected guests forming pairs and entering a deserted room where presumably they are to explore their inner-most sexual fantasies. Toss into the mix a subplot in which chemists realize their dream of creating the mutant chicken, which pleases the financial backers of the processing plant- only to have Marco react with disgust about the development, leading him to suffer a breakdown of sorts that threatens his own livelihood. Got all that? If so, then please explain it to me.
The film's scattershot plot devices make it hard to follow. Director Questi moves the action along at too-brisk-a-pace to fully comprehend what we need to absorb in order to fully comprehend the characters' motivations and who is doing what to whom. You'll probably find yourself revisiting key parts of the movie in an attempt to gain a better understanding of what is going on. Having said that, the film is stylishly presented and is bizarre enough to hold the viewer's attention. Helping matters are the performances of Trintigant, Lollobrigida and Aulin. The first two actors were royalty of the European cinema at the time the movie was made and they deliver the goods. Perhaps most surprising is the fact that young Ewa Aulin, whose brief career has left her regarded as a flash-in-the-pan sex symbol of the era, gives an impressive, nuanced and admirable performance in the presence of her two esteemed co-stars. The film also benefits from an inspired score by Bruno Maderna that perfectly captures the bizarre mood of this very bizarre film.
Fans of "Death Laid an Egg" have had to subside on sub-par home video releases of the movie but now the creative folks at Cult Epics have issued a Blu-ray/DVD edition that must be a substantial improvement over existing releases. The film is presented in its original Italian language version with English sub-titles in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but IMDB lists the original theatrical ratio as 1.85:1, which may explain why the opening credits are subjected to some of the names being partially cropped. Still, it's an impressive release and there are some welcome bonus extras including the original trailer, isolated soundtrack score and a nice photo gallery of promotional materials. The movie is certainly an acquired taste but if you're feeling adventurous, give it a try.
Cary Grant was one of the few actors to defy the effects of aging. The older he got, the more popular his films became. By the late 1950s Grant had become uncomfortable making movies because he realized audiences only wanted to see him as a romantic lead and he felt self-conscious about studio insistence that he be seen on screen romancing female leads who were often decades younger than him. Nonetheless, Grant kept forestalling his frequent vows to retire from acting. He had taken much more control over his career by forming his own production company and the result were some of the biggest hits of his career ("Operation Petticoat", "That Touch of Mink", "Charade"). Grant's primary motivation for not retiring was his desire- or rather, obsession- with winning an Oscar. Alfred Hitchcock had advised him that the best way to do so was to get away from playing the typical Cary Grant type on film and choose a role that was opposite from his usual image. Grant thought this was an inspired idea and agreed to star in a promising vehicle titled "Father Goose", which was written by Peter Stone, the screenwriter of Grant's megahit "Charade". The WWII era comedy would allow Grant to give a tour-de-force performance as Walter Eckland, an amiable, scrubby beach bum who intends to sit out the war in the South Pacific by lazing about getting drunk all day. His tropical paradise is threatened when he is dragooned into service as a coast watcher by his old crony Commander Frank Houghton (Trevor Howard) of the Australian Navy, who informs Walter that he is cutting off his supply of booze unless he makes frequent reports on Japanese ship movements. Each time he does so, Frank will reveal where another bottle of liquor has been hidden. Walter reluctantly concedes, not out of patriotism, but out of personal inability to last long without a drink. (The banter over the radio between Grant and Howard is priceless). Things get complicated, however, when Walter ends up having to rescue a group of young schoolgirls and their teacher, Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron) after they have been shipwrecked on a nearby island. Most of the predictable fun comes from watching Grant's W.C. Fields-like persona having to cope with his young charges as well as their strict teacher, who forbids him from engaging in his generally deviant behavior. Grumpy and unshaven, Grant appears as he never had on film before and he gives one of the best performances of his career. He supposedly felt awkward in the inevitable love scenes with Caron, who was young enough to be his daughter, but the chemistry works on film. Grant's Walter is also a reluctant hero in the mode of Humphrey Bogart's Rick from "Casablanca". He's late to the challenge of doing his bit for the war effort, but he naturally comes through in the end. The film runs almost two hours but it's kept at a breezy pace by the talents of director Ralph Nelson and the jaunty score by Cy Coleman (including the memorable song "Pass Me By") adds immeasurably to the fun.
The Olive Films Blu-ray special edition has some impressive bonus extras. They include an audio commentary by ubiquitous film historian David DelValle. As someone who has recorded numerous audio commentaries, I always find they play out better when I invite other film scholars to join me. Oft times, a single commentator can delve into dull, professorial discussions. However, DelValle defies the odds and his solo track is thoroughly engaging and informative. DelValle did his homework and got access to Cary Grant's personal script from "Father Goose", which adds some insights into his mindset during filming. Additionally, he quotes liberally from Leslie Caron's memoirs about the making of the film, providing candid observations about Grant's unpredictable on-set mood swings. There is also an on-camera interview with Grant biographer Marc Elliott that is very interesting, though Elliott gets his facts wrong when he attributes Grant's late career traveling one-man stage shows as an inspiration for the Academy finally granting him an honorary Oscar. In fact, Grant's Oscar was presented to him in 1970, more than a decade before he initiated his stage appearances. Nevertheless, he provides some fascinating insights into Grant's personal life. There is also a filmed interview with Ted Nelson, son of director Ralph Nelson, who correctly points out how talented his father was- and indeed, how underrated Nelson's contributions to TV and movies of the era were. There is also a 1964 newsreel that includes the funeral of President Herbert Hoover followed by Leslie Caron receiving the "Star of the Year" award from American theater owners. Rounding out the package is a fine essay about "Father Goose" Village Voice writer Bilge Ebiri.
Cary Grant never got a competitive Oscar and indeed was never even nominated for "Father Goose", though Peter Stone won for his screenplay. Yet, he had the satisfaction of seeing the movie become a major hit. He would make only one more film- "Walk, Don't Run"- before going into retirement, leaving a legacy few other actors have equaled.
Olive Films used to take a lot of heat from retro movie lovers for putting out classic movies in bare-bones video editions. Looks like they got the memo because their recent releases feature highly impressive bonus features, as evidenced by this first rate edition of "Father Goose".
"Running on Empty" is one of Sidney Lumet's best films but the 1988 release remains one of his least-seen, despite winning enthusiastic reviews upon its release. Perhaps the offbeat storyline and lack of "boxoffice" names in starring roles prevented potentially appreciative audiences from seeing it. However, the good news is that the Warner Archive has made the title available on Blu-ray. Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti play Arthur and Annie Pope, a married couple who, in the 1970s, were part of a radical leftist group akin to the Weathermen. They carried out a scheme to destroy a facility that was manufacturing Napalm but the bombing had an unintended consequence: a security guard ended up blinded and partially paralyzed. Now it's 1988 and the couple have been on the run ever since, the FBI having doggedly pursued them the entire time. The Pope's situation is complicated by the fact that they have two sons: Danny (River Phoenix) is a senior in high school and his brother Harry (Jonas Abry) is a precocious pre-teen. The family is constantly pulling up stakes and moving out on the spur of the moment if they suspect the feds are closing in on them. When we first meet them in the film, the family is on the run again. They sustain themselves by Arthur getting short-term jobs in each new location, as Annie stays home with the boys. They are aided and abetted by a clandestine secret network of left-wing sympathizers who provide them with seed money to help them manage a lower-middle class lifestyle. Still, the nerve-wracking nature of their existence is taking a toll on everyone, especially Danny, who is of an age where he wants and needs stability. When the family ends up renting an apartment in a New Jersey suburb on the outskirts of New York City, Danny finally finds a niche in the high school. His music teacher, Mr. Phillips (Ed Crowley) recognizes the boy's musical abilities and arranges for him to apply to Julliard for a scholarship, which he wins against all odds. This development causes a family crisis. Arthur maintains that in order to attend the school, the family will finally have to come up with positive proof of Danny's real identity- a revelation that would be sure to bring in the authorities and separate him from the family indefinitely. Annie argues that it's time to put Danny's life dream ahead of their own priorities and claims she can ask her wealthy, estranged father who she has not been in contact with for years, to allow Danny to live with him in Manhattan. Arthur, who has an authoritarian streak, insists that the family stay together. Complicating matters is that Danny has fallen hard for his first true love, a sassy classmate named Lorna Phillips (Martha Plimpton), the daughter of his music teacher. She lives a privileged life but is unhappy because she doesn't adhere to society's idea of conventional behavior. The two teens become emotionally dependent upon each other- but when Arthur learns the feds are closing in again, Danny confesses his real identity to Lorna in order to explain why he has to leave in order to keep his family together.
If all of the above sounds a bit soap-operaish, it doesn't play out that way. Under Lumet's steady and assured direction, and working from a terrific screenplay by Noami Forner, every cast member delivers a superlative performance, including those in supporting roles. (Kudos to the casting director, Todd Thaler, for rounding up such a talented group.) Hirsch is great as the sincere but flawed father who barely hides a dictatorial nature. Lahti is equally good as his committed, but long-suffering wife. The scene stealers are River Phoenix and Martha Plimpton, both of whom deliver superb performances. There is no action, no violence, only pure human emotion. After so many years on the run, fractures appear in the relationship between Annie and Arthur. She had always been content to allow him to dominate the family's actions but now she is daring to defy him. There are so many beautiful and touching scenes in "Running on Empty", but one of the best is a quiet one in which young Danny and Lorna express their love for each other. It's one of the most richly rewarding romantic scenes in any film. There is also a beautiful and touching scene in which Annie defies Arthur by secretly arranging to meet with her estranged dad (superbly played by Steven Hill in an abbreviated but pivotal role). Tensions mount until the highly emotional final scene.
"Running on Empty" provides no villains. The FBI men are shadowy figures but they are just doing their jobs and trying to enforce the law. Annie and Arthur are haunted by the fact that their act of violence claimed an innocent victim but their ideology prevented them from ever taking responsibility for their actions. They are still committed idealists who believe in taking down the Establishment, even if they no longer adhere to doing so through violent means. The film is not only thought-provoking but thoroughly entertaining. It's another outstanding achievement, albeit it a relatively unheralded one, from one of America's master film directors.
For many years Pierce Brosnan has taken control of his own legacy through his production company Irish DreamTime. He's had some mixed results but the bottom line is that he has remained a popular, consistently working leading man. Brosnan's hi-tech thriller "I.T." was released in 2016 with a limited theatrical run that apparently didn't generate any substantial business. The film has been released on Blu-ray where it has been largely savaged by reviewers. Having watched the film, I'll dare to go in the opposite direction and swim against the tide. I found the film to be thoroughly entertaining and very slickly made with rich production values that mask its relatively modest budget.
Brosnan is well-cast as Mike Regan, a mega-wealthy industrialist who is gambling everything he has on the launch of a bold new enterprise. Essentially, it's an Uber-like service that caters to rich executives who need air transportation on a minute's notice. Regan's company has a fleet of private jets ready to serve this limited clientele in return for sky high fees. When we first meet Regan, he's frantically overseeing his company's first official unveiling of the business plan. He still has to get approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission, but feels he has nothing to worry about in that regard. However, upon personally launching the hi-tech, expensive video presentation in front of business executives, the press and potential investors, a serious glitch threatens to spell catastrophe when the video malfunctions. Regan is spared disaster by the intervention of Ed Porter (James Frecheville), an innocuous temporary employee who Regan doesn't even know. Thanks to Ed's quick thinking, the video presentation resumes quickly and is deemed a success. A grateful Regan personally thanks Ed and rewards him with full-time employment. He also invites him to his modern mansion house with a freelance assignment to rewire the outdated wi-fi capabilities. When Ed arrives at the house, Regan introduces him to his wife Rose (Ann Friel) and his attractive teenage daughter Kaitlyn (Stefanie Scott), who is a high school student. Regan gives Ed the royal treatment and encourages him to stay for drinks. Ed, meanwhile, has an ulterior motive. Upon having seen Kaitlyn tanning herself poolside while clad in a bikini, he decides to wire the home in a very unique manner that no one will be aware of. By the time he's done, the Regans have the ultimate hi-tech wiring system- but don't suspect that Ed has secretly installed microscopic video cameras and microphones that allow him to monitor every movement and conversation, which he views at his loft on a wall-sized video screen. Unbeknownst to Regan, Ed had also made some "improvements" to his state-of-the-art sports car that will allow Ed to manipulate the controls and a video system installed on the dashboard. Regan soon discovers that his friendly overtures to Ed have blurred the line between in the employer/employee relationship. Soon, Ed is showing up uninvited at the family home. Of more concern to Mike and Rose is Ed's increasingly obvious interest in Kaitlyn, who seems smitten by the older man. When Ed crosses the line, Regan ends up firing him in a very belittling manner and thereby opening a Pandora's Box of troubles for himself, his wife and daughter.
Ed seeks immediate revenge and he has plenty of tools at his disposal. A master hacker, he forges documents that are leaked to the SEC, causing Regan's pending deal to fall under suspicion of being illegal and gumming up the approval process. He also releases provocative footage of Kaitlyn in the shower that was secretly shot with the hidden cameras. The result is her humiliation among her friends and schoolmates. Regan catches on that his entire world is in the hands of a mentally unstable former employee and he decides to fight back. After trying to physically intimidate Ed- a tactic that fails- he uses his own hi tech genius, the shadowy Henrik (wonderfully played by Michael Nyqvist), who constructs a plan to turn the tables on Ed by hacking the hacker and turning his own world into a nightmare. The result is a cat-and-mouse game between Regan and Ed that escalates to a violent final confrontation between the two antagonists.
Hemmings is “Alfred the Great” in the epic story of the legendary Saxon King.
The film opens as Alfred is about to take his vows as a priest when the Danes
invade to pillage and rape their way across England. Michael York is Guthrum,
the Viking leader of the invaders. After fierce battles, the Saxons and Danes form
a truce and Alfred agrees to Guthrum’s additional terms; swapping hostages.
Guthrum picks Alfred’s wife, Aelhswith (Prunella Ransome), as hostage and takes
her with him across the English Channel to Denmark.
Viking scenes are played for every last ounce of lusty Pagan Medieval violence
and gusto. A relaxing night out with Vikings is no stop at your local coffee
shop. Axe tossing games, knife fights and rape ensue in the great hall while
Guthrum cheers on the Viking good times. Aelhswith retreats to her room to be
with her baby and handmaid, but she’s followed by Guthrum who rapes, though
ultimately she willing accepts him as her lover.
back in England, Alfred continues his struggle to unify the warring Saxons
under his leadership. Alfred is literally wallowing in the mud, surviving along
with his closest associates as they find allies in thieves and other common
folks who are eager to join him against the local barons. They develop tactics
and after savage battles with the feuding kingdoms and form an alliance under
Alfred’s leadership just as an invading fleet of Danes is seen approaching
through the mist-covered river. Another
great battle between Saxons and Danes ensues and Alfred is reunited with his
wife and child. The movie is a serviceable epic, but it’s lacking in several
areas. For one thing, the casting is off. Michael York has far more charisma in
every scene than David Hemmings. The movie would have benefited if York had
played Alfred and Hemmings Guthrum. There’s very little in the way of chemistry
between Hemmings and Ransome and it was entirely predictable that Aelhswith would
become enthused about being Guthrum’s lover.
movie marked the second big screen
appearance, of Sir Ian McKellen who would gain fame in many roles including the
fantasy Tolkien Middle Earth series as Gandolph. The movie also features appearances by
other familiar and up-and-coming actors like Colin Blakely as Asher, Peter
Vaughan as Burrud, Julian Glover as AEthelstan (try and say that name fast
three times) and Vivien Merchant as Freda. For some reason Merchant does not
speak a single word in spite of her prominent role in the movie. According to
critic Pauline Kael, who was no fan of this film, Merchant may have refused to
say her lines because the dialog was unspeakable.
wanted to like the movie, but it isn’t one of those films you yearn to watch
more than once or twice in a lifetime. It has its moments, but lacks the
grandeur you might expect in a film about Alfred the Great. Why was Alfred so great? You’ll have to find
out on your own because you won’t know after watching this biopic.
the Great” was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in summer of 1969 and shown in
some territories in an extravagant roadshow presentation with the 35mm format
blown up to 70mm. The Warner Archive DVD transfer is good and clocks in at 122
minutes with the trailer as the only extra. Recommended primarily for fans of
British historical epics.
Click here to order Cinema Retro's special edition tribute issue to "Where Eagles Dare".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Writing in the Daily Mail, journalist Philip Norman recalls his visit to the Austrian set of "Where Eagles Dare" to interview Richard Burton. As a star-struck 24 year-old, he was given personal access to Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who had accompanied her husband to the film set. All was going swimmingly until an ill-fated, late night social gathering took place in the hotel lobby where Burton and other cast members were still clad in the uniforms of German army officers. An unstable American fan approached Burton to tell him how much he admired him- but when he became intrusive, a war of words broke out and the man pulled a pistol on Burton, threatening his life. In true cinema style, the unflappable Burton dared the man to either use it or stick it up his arse! The tense scene was diffused by the unexpected appearance of Taylor, clad in her nightdress, who paraded into the lobby and seemed more disturbed about the noise from the argument than the man threatening her husband's life. Click here to read the remarkable and amusing tale.