All movie lovers have experienced it: a favorite movie theater closes
and is usually replaced by some nondescript cookie-cutter store, usually
part of a big chain..or worse, the place suffers the indignity of the
wrecking ball. Writing in the New Yorker, author Thomas Beller provides a
poignant personal view of the recent closing of a landmark New York
movie theater, the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, that served the community for decades. The landlord
declined to renew the lease despite the fact that the place was
profitable and there was broad community support to keep it open. I
guess that's the price of "progress"...the same "progress" that in
recent years has seen a virtual war declared on Gotham landmarks, the
very establishments that define neighborhoods and give them their
inimitable flavor. You don't have to be a New Yorker to appreciate Beller's sentiments, so read it and weep. - Lee Pfeiffer
Maverick director Sam Peckinpah tried to bring the 1934 novella "Castaway", an offbeat story about a man who survives an unnamed catastrophe by hiding in a department store, to the screen. Despite having collaborated with James R. Silke on numerous versions of the screenplay, the project was never realized despite Peckinpah apparently having found backers as early as 1981. Peckinpah, who had looked forward to directing the movie, was in a career decline at the time due in part to his abrasive relationship with Hollywood studios and his own personal demons. The last feature film he directed was the poorly-received "The Osterman Weekend" in 1983. Peckinpah died the following year. Now, however, there has been new life brought to "Castaway" as a team of producers is planning to finally put the film into production using Peckinpah's original script. Click here for more.
Cary Fukunaga, acclaimed for his direction of the "True Detective" TV series, has been named as the director the next James Bond film which will mark Daniel Craig's final screen appearance as 007. Fukunaga, whose anticipated "Maniac" series is debuting on Netflix on September 21, is the first American chosen to direct a Bond film. He replaces Oscar winner Danny Boyle who dropped out of directing the next Bond film after having "artistic differences" with the producers over the script. The search for a new director has meant that the film's premiere will be moved back from October 2019 to February 2020. For more click here.
With the recent passing of Neil Simon, let's look back on the smash hit 1968 film adaptation of "The Odd Couple" starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. (Did you know Art Carney played the role of Felix Unger in the Broadway production?)
Cinema Retro tries to remain neutral when it comes to weighing in on political issues of the day. About the only time politics enters our pages is when it's in the context of a review or analysis of the political elements of a film or stage production. However, this is an intriguing story reported by The Washington Post that is of interest to retro movie fans in the sense that it relates how the 1954 film version of Herman Wouk's bestseller "The Caine Mutiny" actually influenced one of the most important elements of American law: the 25th amendment, which indicates under what extreme conditions a president can be removed from power either temporarily or permanently. The amendment was drafted in the 1950s when "Caine" was very much on people's minds. The fictional tale centers on eccentric U.S. Naval Captain Queeg (memorably portrayed in the film by Humphrey Bogart in an Oscar-nominated performance.) He runs his ship as a strict disciplinarian but his quirky habits lead the officers and crew to doubt if he's sane. During a hurricane, Queeg appears to be a in state of panic and is unable or unwilling to give his executive officer, Maryk (played by Van Johnson) explicit orders in regards to navigating the deadly storm. Fearing that the ship will founder, the exec notifies the crew that he is taking command and he ultimately gets the vessel back to port safely. Maryk is placed on trial in a court martial and things look grim. Queeg, after all, is a career officer with a distinguished record and he comes across initially as the voice of reason when he is on the witness stand. However, he soon deteriorates under questioning from the defense counsel (Jose Ferrer) and has a form of breakdown that makes it clear he suffers from paranoia. The Washington Post article outlines how American lawmakers were concerned that there was no constitutional solution for addressing a situation in which a president is physically or mentally unable to perform the duties of office. Ultimately, the 25 amendment was drafted. It's understandably conceived to make it a very tall order to remove any president from power and requires overwhelming support among the president's cabinet and lawmakers in order to enact the amendment. The law is actually quite vague in certain key areas leaving plenty of loopholes to be disputed in the unlikely event the amendment is ever attempted to be enacted- but most interesting is the role "The Caine Mutiny" played in the very creation of the law. Click here to read.
Lorber Studio Classics has released “A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die!,” a 1968
Italian Western, in a Blu-ray edition.In the movie, Gov. Lem Carter (Robert Ryan) offers amnesty to outlaws in
a bid to quell lawlessness in 1880s New Mexico.On the run from deputies and bounty hunters, desperado Clay McCord (Alex
Cord) decides to seek the governor’s clemency.McCord suffers from paralytic spasms of his gun hand.The attacks have become more frequent and
more severe, and he fears that they represent the onset of epilepsy, the malady
that disabled and eventually killed his father.But enemies on both sides of the law make it difficult for him to go
straight as he wishes to do.Bounty
hunters surround the town of Tascosa, where McCord must go to sign the needed
papers, and even if he can elude them, the cynical marshal, Roy Colby (Arthur
Kennedy), is disinclined to give him a break.The gunfighter is equally unwelcome in nearby Escondido, a haven for
fugitives, after antagonizing Kraut (Mario Brega), the brutal hardcase who
controls the rundown settlement.It’s
even money on who will bring McCord down first, Kraut’s pistoleros or Colby’s
deputies.Although I can’t find any
sources to either confirm or refute the speculation, I believe that Brega’s
dubbed English voice as Kraut belongs to American actor Walter Barnes, who made
several Italian and German Westerns in the 1960s.
an American executive producer, three high-profile ‘60s American actors in
starring roles, an Italian producer, an Italian director, and an Italian
supporting cast dubbed into English, “A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die”
straddles the divide between the earnest tradition of U.S. Westerns and the
violent, anything-goes approach of the Italian kind.It opens with a long (actually, too long)
outdoor sequence of McCord and a pal eluding a posse, like characters in “One-Eyed
Jacks” and any number of other classic Westerns.Then follows a scene of two sadistic gunmen
roughing up a frightened priest in front of an altar, and eventually shooting
him in the back.Try to find a situation
like that in a John Wayne or Roy Rogers movie.The two gunmen are played by Aldo Sambrell and Antonio Molino Rojo, who
-- like Mario Brega, the Ernest Borgnine of Italian Westerns -- are instantly
recognizable from Sergio Leone’s stock company of scruffy character
actors.An unsympathetic critic might
speculate that a respectable if unexceptional American Western could have
resulted had the moviemakers tightened the script, dialed back the film’s high
body count, and substituted homegrown character actors for Italian ones in the
supporting cast.On the other hand, for
those of us whose moviegoing tastes were formed in the Cinema Retro era, the
manic unevenness of the picture as it exists has a certain freewheeling charm
of its own.
Kino Lorber’s cover
notes advertise the Blu-ray as a new high-definition master from a 4K scan of
the original negative.Although the
daytime scenes have some graininess, the nighttime lights and darks are clear
and sharp.The label’s resident
Spaghetti expert, Alex Cox, contributes an informative, droll, but respectful
audio commentary.Those new to Italian
Westerns will learn a lot about the genre from Cox’s remarks, while fans will
have fun matching their knowledge against his in spotting familiar Italian faces
in the movie’s supporting cast.As
another supplement, the disc also includes the original ending from the
European print of the movie, transposed from an old, overseas VHS tape.This bleak denouement is stronger by far than
that of the U.S. cut.
Kino Lorber has released “Singing Guns” (1950), a
Republic Pictures “singing cowboy” western filmed in Trucolor. The film is
based on a western novel by Max Brand, and is pretty unremarkable except for
the fact that the cowboy anti-hero, Rhiannon, an outlaw with a long bushy beard
who has been robbing stagecoaches to the tune of over a $1 million, isn’t
played by Roy, or Gene Autry, Rocky Lane Rex Allen, or any of the other western
stars in Republic’s stable. Rhiannon, is played by a popular singer from that
era named Vaughn Monroe.
I remember Vaughn Monroe when I was a kid. I used to hear
him singing “Racing with the Moon,” on the radio. He had a rich baritone voice
and my mother would turn up the radio every time it came on and sort of stare
out into space with a funny look in her eyes. Monroe also had another big hit
with “Mule Train,” with lyrics like “clippity clop, clippity clop, Muuuuuule
Traaaainn.” Whips cracking. Well, it appears “Singing Guns “was made so that
Vaughn could have a chance to sing “Mule Train” in a movie. The song has
nothing to do with the story, but fits in with a scene where Vaughn drives a
wagon pulled by two mules--- not exactly a train, but close enough, I guess.
Monroe sings three other tunes in the film as well.
The script by the screenwriting team of Dorrell and
Stuart McGowan concerns the attempts by Sheriff Jim Caradac (Ward Bond),
doctor/preacher Jonathan Mark (Walter Brennan), and lady gambler Nan Morgan
(Ella Raines) to catch, reform, and fall in love with the aforementioned stagecoach
robber, respectively. The movie has a real corkscrew of a plot, starting with
Rhiannon holding up the stage occupied by Nan and Sheriff Mark. When Rhiannon
finds out the sheriff outwitted him by making sure there was no gold on this
trip, he humiliates him making him march into town wearing a pair of Nan’s
bloomers and a hat that looks like a flower pot. The sheriff, furious, gets to
his office, grabs his other guns and chases Rhiannon out into the desert.
Rhiannon gets to his mountain hideout and shoots the sheriff off his horse. He
later goes down to bury him (he’s a decent sort of outlaw) but the sheriff was
faking it and gets the drop on him.
He’s about to take Rhiannon in, but in another twist,
Rhiannon jumps him and shoots him. In another weird turn, he decides to take
the sheriff to town so the doctor can patch him up (like I said he’s a real
decent sort of outlaw). Doc Caradac tells Rhiannon the sheriff needs a
transfusion. The outlaw rejects his call for help (he’s not that decent, he’s gotta get out of
town), forcing the doctor to slip him a mickey and perform the transfusion
while he’s unconscious. (Aren’t there ethics rules being violated here?) Even worse
than taking his blood, the doc also shaves off Rhiannon’s beard! When he wakes
up he’s not only a quart low, he’s clean shaven!! And here comes the most
unbelievable plot element. Without the beard, when he wakes up, nobody
recognizes him. He’s just some guy who saved the sheriff’s life!!!
The story goes on like that with the plot switching back
and forth, with the sheriff sometimes wanting to help Rhiannon and other time
wanting to jail him, and Nan sometimes hating Rhiannon and sometime loving him,
and Doc Caradac saying he’s just as interested in saving his patients’ souls as
he is healing their bodies, and just wants everything to be okay.
Ignoring the ridiculous plot, perhaps the best thing
about “Singing Guns” is the way it looks. It’s a brand new master by Paramount from
a 4K scan of the original 35mm Trucolor nitrate negative. It’s sensational
looking. And for the first time I’m aware of, “Singing Guns” shows how
beautiful Ella Raines’ eyes were. The film she’s remembered for most is
“Phantom Lady” (1944), the noir thriller based on Cornell Woolrich’s novel. It
was shot in black and white, so you couldn’t see what color her eyes were. Film
historian Toby Roan in his highly informative audio commentary said that
cinematographer Reggie Lanning had trouble getting the color right; sometimes her
eyes looked green, sometimes blue, sometimes yellow. Roan says he thinks
they’re turquoise. Whatever they are they’re fascinating to look at, so much so
I found myself having to reverse the disc in several places because I’d lost
track of what she was saying. Maybe I was hypnotized. Raines only made 20 films
in her lifetime. It’s a pity she didn’t make more..
“Singing Guns” is directed by R. G. Springsteen, who also
directed Monroe’s only other western, “Toughest Man in Arizona.” The film is
also notable for the number of familiar faces in the cast, including Jeff
Corey, Harry Shannon, Rex Lease, and Jimmy Dodd (as well as Eleanor Donahue,
and Billy Grey, who would later play Robert Young’s kids on “Father Knows Best”).
Bonus features include the aforementioned audio commentary and several trailers
for other KL Blu-rays. It’s another one of those discs that astonish you in
regard to how good an old movie can look and sound when it’s done right. They
can’t release enough of these to satisfy me.
Samuel Fuller is today regarded as a revered name among directors. Unlike his peers- John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Howard Hawks, to name but a few- Fuller didn't get much respect when he needed it, at least from critics and studio heads who regarded his talents as workmanlike. Consequently, this talented director, screenwriter and occasional novelist and actor, toiled under meager budgets and scant support from studio executives. Fuller was typical of directors of his generation who had come of age during the Great Depression and World War II. He had a tough guy persona and had learned to survive on the mean streets of Manhattan where he worked as a crime reporter in the 1930s. Fuller could have landed a cushy job in the military during the war but eschewed the opportunity in favor of volunteering for combat duty in the European campaign. His scripts were tightly-written, no-nonsense affairs and his direction was direct and to-the-point. Fuller cut a larger-than-life figure with an out-sized personality and his penchant for indulging in cigars that were so large they looked as though they were inspired by cartoons. Despite the budgetary limitations on his films and the fact that he never enjoyed a career-defining breakaway hit, Fuller's movies have stood the test of time and before he died in 1997, he had witnessed his work being favorably reassessed by a new generation of directors and critics.
"Underworld U.S.A." is one of Fuller's true gems. A 1961 film noir crime story, the movie gave an early career boost to Cliff Robertson but its significance goes much deeper. Although viewed as a typical low budget crime thriller back in the day, the movie is a a true classic of the genre. The film opens with 14 year-old Tolly Davlin (David Kent), a street-wise product of a crime-infested unnamed big city, witnessing the beating death of the father he idolized by a pack of enforcers from a mob syndicate that he had crossed. Tolly's dad, himself a low-life who was teaching his son how to survive in the urban jungle by being more cunning and ruthless than the competition. Tolly, now orphaned, finds the only friend he has is Sandy (Beatrice Kay), a tough-as-nails saloon owner who takes a maternal interest in Tolly, though he rarely heeds her advice. Tolly is consumed with avenging his father's death. He arranges intentionally builds up a criminal record leading to him being incarcerated in a juvenile detention center- but all the while he is painstakingly following leads about who his father's murderers were and who employed them. The story jumps ahead and we find Tolly now a young man in his late twenties (played by Robertson) having been incarcerated in a prison that houses one of the killers, a man who is literally on his death bed in the hospital ward. That doesn't stop Tolly from smothering him with a pillow and making it look like natural causes. When Tolly is released from jail, he reunites with Sandy and has a chance encounter with a sexy gun moll who is nicknamed Cuddles (Dolores Dorn) who has been marked for death for having failed to carry out a mission for the mob. Tolly saves her life and secretes her in Sandy's apartment while he begins his pursuit of two other men who killed his father that fateful night. Having succeeded in getting his street justice, he goes for bigger game: the syndicate bosses.
Fuller's film is somewhat unique in that he avoids the cliche of showing the mob echelon as seedy, Al Capone types. Instead, they are elite, sophisticated and corrupt businessmen and elected officials who run a major complex called The National Projects which ostensibly benefits the poor because periodically the Olympic-sized swimming pool welcomes neighborhood children. In reality, the top bosses live in splendor in penthouse apartments there and ruthlessly oversee their crime organization. In a clever plot device, Tolly works with the local crime-busting city official (Larry Gates) and volunteers to go undercover and work with the mob in order to bring them to justice. He then tells the mob he's a double agent, so to speak, and really working for them. Ultimately, he devises an inspired scheme by which he places circumstantial evidence to convince the crime lords that their partners are out to betray and kill them, thereby leading them to "off" each other and ensuring that Tolly's hands are clean. It's a plot device that was used in "The Godfather Part II" when the mob boss Frankie Pantangeli becomes mistakenly convinced that Michael Corleone tried to have him assassinated and tries to do the same to him. Similarly, in the 1989 James Bond film "Licence to Kill", 007 infiltrates a major drug gang and convinces the big boss that his key people are betraying him, thus leading to their murders.
Belgian author, Georges Simenon, wrote close to 500 novels and an abundance of
short stories in his lifetime, and these included 76 novels and 28 short tales
featuring the French police detective, Commissioner Jules Maigret, published
between 1931 and 1972. That’s an impressive achievement in and of itself, but
more importantly, Maigret became a worldwide beloved fictional character in the
mystery genre. Oddly, Maigret is not as well-known to the general public in the
United States as he is in Europe and the U.K. Thankfully, Penguin Books in
America is in the process of reissuing the series in English.
have been numerous film and television adaptations of Simenon’s works. Jean
Renoir did the first feature film adaptation in 1932 (Night at the Crossroads). British television has produced three
different series, with three different actors (Richard Harris, Michael Gambon,
and Rowan Atkinson). France made an overwhelming number of TV episodes with a
couple of actors.
1958 and 1959, two very good Maigret pictures were made in France, elevated to
a high status by the presence of actor Jean Gabin in the role. Gabin is without
question a key figure in French cinema. In many ways he could be called the
“French Spencer Tracy.” Well-regarded for such classics as Pépé le Moko and Grand Illusion
in the 1930s, Gabin enjoyed a long career into the 1970s. He was thus the right
age to play Commissioner Maigret in the late 50s, and he is easily one of the
best of the several actors who have interpreted the role.
Maigret is a no-nonsense investigator
who is smart, gruff, and is never without a pipe. Some might compare him to
Hercule Poirot, but Maigret is decidedly less eccentric of a character. He also
appears in darker, noir-ish tales
that are closer to psychological crime dramas than Christie’s detective ever
did. Maigret Sets a Trap and Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case, the
first two of three Maigret pictures that Gabin made, are indeed surprisingly
dark and deal with some seriously sick criminals.
For example, in Sets a Trap, the perp is a Jack the Ripper type who gets off on
stabbing young women in the street at night—and the filmmakers don’t pull any
punches in frankness. Much of the setting is in sleazy Parisian back alleys. while
gathering clues and focusing his suspicions on various men—and women—Maigret carefully
constructs an elaborate and ingenious net with which to snare his prey.
The St. Fiacre Case takes
place in the country, near Moulins, Maigret’s childhood home. A countess with
whom the inspector was close back in the day has been threatened—and then
mysteriously dies. Maigret quickly determines it was murder, and he sets about
again laying the foundation for a gathering of suspects at the end of the movie
to reveal the culprit.
Director Jean Dellanoy fashions two
stylish whodunnits that maintain the viewer’s interest and keep us guessing.
While there are moments of humor here and there, these pictures take the
Maigret character seriously and faithfully and satisfactorily execute Simenon’s
Kino Lorber’s new restorations of the
two films (separate releases) are marvelous. The images are crystal clear and
without blemishes, and they are some of the best transfers of 1950s material
I’ve seen. The soundtracks are in 2.0 mono and are in French with optional
English subtitles. There are no supplements other than the theatrical trailers.
Fans of Simenon and Maigret, or of Jean
Gabin, or of whodunnits in general, will want to pick up these two releases.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "MAIGRET SETS A TRAP" FROM AMAZON
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "MAIGRET AND THE ST. FIACRE CASE" FROM AMAZON
Universal has released a superb boxed set of their horror classics. Here is the official press release:
City, California, August 22, 2018 – Thirty of the most iconic
cinematic masterpieces starring the most famous monsters of horror movie
history come together on Blu-ray™for the first time ever in the Universal
Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection on August 28, 2018, from
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Featuring unforgettable make-up,
ground-breaking special effects and outstanding performances, the Universal
Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection includes all Universal
Pictures’ legendary monsters from the studio that pioneered the horror genre
with imaginative and technically groundbreaking tales of terror in
unforgettable films from the 1930s to late-1950s.
the era of silent movies through present day, Universal Pictures has been
regarded as the home of the monsters. The Universal Classic Monsters:
Complete 30-Film Collection showcases all the original films featuring
the most iconic monsters in motion picture history including Dracula,
Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf
Man, Phantom of the Opera and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Starring
some of the most legendary actors including Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon
Chaney Jr., Claude Rains and Elsa Lanchester in the roles that they made
famous, these films set the standard for a new horror genre and showcase why
these landmark movies that defined the horror genre are regarded as some of the
most unforgettable ever to be filmed.
Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collectionincludes
a 48-page collectible book filled with behind-the-scenes stories and rare
production photographs and is accompanied by an array of bonus features
including behind-the-scenes documentaries, the 1931 Spanish version of Dracula,
Featurettes on Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., and Jack Pierce, 13
expert feature commentaries, archival footage, production photographs,
theatrical trailers and more. The perfect gift for any scary movie fan, the
collection offers an opportunity to experience some of the most memorable
horror films of our time.
Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection includes Dracula
(1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible
Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Werewolf of London (1935),
Dracula's Daughter (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), The
Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Invisible Woman (1940), The
Mummy's Hand (1940), The Wolf Man (1941), The Ghost of
Frankenstein (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1942), The Mummy's Tomb (1942),
Invisible Agent (1942), Phantom of the Opera (1943), Frankenstein
Meets the Wolf Man (1943), Son of Dracula (1943), House of
Frankenstein (1944), The Mummy's Curse (1944), The Invisible
Man's Revenge (1944), House of Dracula (1945), She-Wolf of London
(1946), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), Abbott and
Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954,
and includes a 3D version), Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955), Revenge
of the Creature (1955 and includes a 3D version) and The Creature Walks
Among Us (1956).
3D Versions of Creature from the Black Lagoon and Revenge of the
Spanish Version of Dracula
on Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., and Jack Pierce
Expert Feature Commentaries
Not mentioned in the press release is the impressive collector's booklet packed with rare photos and movie poster artwork.
One caveat to note: the set was accompanied by a letter from Universal explaining that some of the Blu-ray discs containing the 3-D version of "Revenge of the Creature" and the 2-D version of "The Creature Walks Among Us" had some manufacturing snafus and customers might experience some playback problems on this one disc. If that occurs, Universal will send you a corrected disc if you E mail them at: USHEConsumerRelations@visionmediamgmt.com
As any retro movie lover knows, the 1961 John Huston film "The Misfits" was steeped in tragedy. Both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe would be dead by the time the film was released, making the production the final time either star would be seen on the big screen. Now the Daily Mail reveals that footage of a controversial nude scene Monroe had filmed has been discovered...along with numerous takes of the bedroom scene. Director John Huston ultimately decided not to use the footage in his final cut. Click here to read the fascinating story of a historic find.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" has long posed a conundrum for film critics and historians. How do you assess a film that is brilliantly made but which promotes a hateful message? The 1934 production which was created as a love letter to Adolf Hitler and his rapidly-rising National Socialist movement has been relatively shunned at film festivals and the art house circuit over the decades. It's undoubtedly been most widely seen in classrooms and on home video. Yet the passing of time has allowed the film to be more actively shown in recent years and it is nearly always accompanied by an introduction that rightly explains its relevance both to the period in which it was made but also as it pertains to today's world. Director Riefenstahl had been a popular actress in German cinema who had caught the eye of Adolf Hitler, who was quite the movie fan (his favorites included "Gone With the Wind" and Laurel and Hardy.) Riefenstahl had recently become a pioneer as one of the first women to enter directing in the era of sound films. Hitler commissioned her to film the Nazi party's annual meeting in Nuremberg in the expectation that it would bolster the movement as well as increase the fanatical cult of personality that was already attached to him. Hitler had tried to overthrow the German government a decade earlier but ended up in jail. He turned this to his advantage by becoming a martyr to the cause and writing his personal bible Mein Kampf from his jail cell. By the time he was released, even those who had prosecuted him were trying to curry favor with the future dictator. Hitler ran for office and won the election to become Germany's chancellor. In reality he had most of the political power but was prudent enough to bide his time until the ceremonial head of state, Von Hindenburg, passed away from natural causes. Hitler knew that the public would not abide him disrespecting the beloved Von Hindenburg, who was regarded as a national war hero.As it had so many times in these early days of Hitler's rise, fate cooperated with his interests. Von Hindenburg passed away and Hitler went full throttle to establish himself as a virtual dictator. His first order of business was to eradicate Germany's fragile hold on democracy, first attacking the free press and then nationalizing it as a propaganda arm. The nation had come out on the losing side in WWI and was suffering terribly from onerous war reparations that had to be paid to the Allies, who were basically using Germany as a cash cow. Hitler quickly put to rest the last remnants of the loathed Weimar Republic and combined the offices of chancellor and president, thus giving himself unchallenged power over the country. He then persuaded the Reichstag to voluntarily cede most of their powers to him, thus making the series of checks and balances in the government a rubber stamp for Hitler's policies. Hitler still had important goals to fulfill. It was important to mobilize the nation as a fighting force in the expectation of war. However, he was bound by the Treaty of Versailles which mandated that Germany's armed forces number no more than 100,000 men. Hitler got around this by organizing numerous civic and political groups and turning them into paramilitary organizations. In this way he was able to train millions of Germans as soldiers even if they carried picks and shovels instead of rifles. Hitler also did some controversial "house cleaning" within his party by personally ordering the murders of SA head Ernst Rohm and his top lieutenants. The SA was Hitler's personal bodyguard but had grown to the size of an army. He worried that Rohm had political aspirations of his own and that he might orchestrate a coup. On the so-called Night of the Long Knives, the top echelon of the SA was systematically executed. Hitler appointed a more benign stooge, Viktor Lutze, as the new head of the SA. Hitler's biggest challenge was to ensure that he and Lutze could convince the rank and file SA men to stay loyal to the party and Hitler himself. This he intended to do at the Nuremberg rally, where he would give speech extolling his appreciation of the SA. The ploy worked and any dissension never spilled over into a threat to Hitler.
"Triumph of the Will" presents a sanitized picture of all these dastardly goings-on. What emerges is a nation that is completely behind Hitler and the Nazi cause. This was nonsense, of course. There were countless people who opposed the regime and over the course of the next few years they would pay dearly for their protests against the demise of German democracy. Nevertheless, as a propaganda piece the film is probably unrivaled in its impact. Although the movie was shown internationally, it didn't quite have the alarming impact one might have assumed. The Western democracies still thought of Hitler as primarily a quirky crank whose influence would be confined within Germany's borders. Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was a master of using cinema as a tool of manipulation. Not wanting to alarm the Allies before Germany had been rebuilt militarily, the film was given rather non-threatening sub-titles to accommodate its international showings. Meanwhile, within Germany, the messages were more ominous. When viewing the film even today one gets the feeling that Germany was an invincible power. One can only imagine the trepidation Allied troops must have felt when they finally had to go up against what had become a seemingly unstoppable war machine. The clues were in the film. The legions of robot-like paramilitary adherents are presented as fanatical loyalists to the new dictator. In fact the "real" armed forces were featured so slightly in the film that they raised protests. To appease them, Hitler commissioned a second film by Riefehstahl titled "Day of Freedom" (also included in this set). The movie has her trademark use of imaginary camera angles but it amounts to basically a sop to the armed forces by showcasing their prowess through military training exercises. More powerful are the scenes in "Triumph of the Will" that carefully showcase Hitler as a demi-god. He is seen traveling to Nuremberg by the small plane he favored for use in his political campaign stops. (Hitler was the first politician to eschew the traditional whistle stop train tours in favor of using a plane in order to cover more territory.) The images of his plane flying through the spectacular cloud formations are truly stunning. We also watch him as he stares down at the massive rally forming in expectation of his arrival. When Hitler does arrive at the rally he is preceded by a small army of his top officials who were being formally introduced to the German people through this film. In retrospect, they formed the perfect "Rogue's Gallery" and would go on to perpetrate some of the most heinous crimes of the 20th century. Most paid for their sins with their lives though others were sentenced to jail terms in the aftermath of the war. When Hitler takes to the podium he uses his trademark practice of starting his speech in a low voice but gradually rising in tone and emotion into a virtual scream. The most disturbing part of the film occurs when all of the countless thousands of participants march past the podium and pledge their loyalty, not to Germany, but to Hitler personally. The film then concentrates on the ancillary fanfare that took place during this seminal week in the nation's history as we watch torchlight parades march past Hitler's hotel balcony where he looks on approvingly. At all times Riefenstahl diminishes the notion of individualism in order to present Hitler in an almost superhuman manner. He is photographed from angles that make him seem literally larger than life.
The Synapse Blu-ray, which features a restoration by Robert A. Harris, contains some valuable extras, the most informative being a feature-length commentary track by Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, an expert on German history. Santoro's calm, laid-back manner is somewhat jolting at times, given the gravity of what we are viewing, but he provides excellent information regarding the nuances of these scenes and the fate of the individual Nazi top brass.Where the track falls a bit short is in Santoro's discussions of Riefenstahl and her legacy. He acknowledges her talents as a director but doesn't put much meat on the bone in regard to her personal life and legacy. (She lived until the age of 101 and never fully repented for her association with Hitler, nor was she ever prosecuted. She would defensively point out that she never actually joined the Nazi party, which is indeed surprising.) She would go on to make another important propaganda film for Hitler in 1938, "Olympiad", an equally whitewashed account of the 1936 Olympics that were held in Berlin and which also managed to elevate Hitler as a star attraction even though he was largely a bystander. Arguably, "Olympiad" was the more important and effective film as it was meant to appease foreign concerns about the atrocities that were just being implemented in Germany. Some of the slack from the commentary is addressed in excellent liner notes written by director and film historian Roy Frumkes, who delves deeper into Riefenstahl's fascinating life. Frumkes points out that the film should not really be considered a documentary because many of the "spontaneous" scenes were staged by Riefenstahl and some were shot repeatedly in order to get the desired footage. The new 2K restoration is impressive on all counts and does justice to Riefenstahl's astonishing camera angles. This presentation also boasts newly interpreted English sub-titles that accommodate the film's original German language version. It's beneficial to watch the film first then view it again with Dr. Santoro's commentary to provide context.
Compromised genius: Riefenstahl directing Triumph of the Will.
"Triumph of the Will" is indeed a major cinematic achievement- but tragically it promoted the greatest evil of the 20th century. The mind reels at what Leni Riefenstahl could have achieved had she not been compromised by her political beliefs. More importantly, the movie clearly illustrates that democracies are fragile states that can deconstruct under the influence and spell of one man.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
MURDOCH MYSTERIES: Home for the
DVD/Blu-ray Debut from Acorn TV on
September 18, 2018
Special feature-length episode of the
hit Canadian and Acorn TV period mystery series
Praise for Murdoch
haven’t seen it, you must.” —Globe & Mail
procedural police drama” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
Bisson is perfect as Murdoch.” —Deseret News
fast-paced fun” —The Globe and Mail
more than two dozen Gemini® nominations and the sole 2016 ‘Fan’s Choice Award’
at the Canadian Screen Awards for Yannick Bisson, MURDOCH MYSTERIES: Home for
the Holidays makes its DVD/Blu-ray debut on September 18, 2018 from Acorn TV. Set
in Toronto in the late 1890s and early 1900s during the age of invention, Murdoch
Mysteries (aka The Artful Detective) centers on Detective William Murdoch
(Bisson), a methodical and dashing detective, who enlists radical new forensic
techniques to solve some of the city’s most gruesome murders. This DVD/Blu-ray
1-Disc features a feature-length Christmas special from Season 11 and bonus
behind-the-scenes featurettes ($24.99, Amazon.com). Murdoch Mysteries: Home for
the Holidays made its U.S. debut in December 2017 on Acorn
TV. The series is currently in production on Season 12. Called a “glorious
streaming service… an essential must-have” (The Hollywood Reporter), Acorn TV
is North America’s most popular and largest streaming service focused on
British and international television.
detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson, Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye) must solve a
holiday whodunit in this feature-length special of the award-winning mystery
series set in Edwardian Toronto. Days before Christmas, Murdoch and his wife,
Dr. Julia Ogden (Gemini® winner Hélène Joy, Durham County), travel to Victoria,
British Columbia, to spend time with Murdoch’s eccentric brother. But instead of
a relaxing holiday with Jasper (Dylan Neal, Dawson’s Creek) and his family,
they end up investigating a murder at an archaeological site.
Toronto, Constables Crabtree (Jonny Harris, Still Standing) and Higgins (Lachlan
Murdoch, Copper) try to impress their sweethearts before a skiing outing, and
Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig, Where the Heart Is) and his wife invest in
a money-making scheme run by a man named Ponzi. Guest stars include Kate
Hewlett (The Girlfriend Experience), Jake Epstein (Degrassi: The Next
Generation), and Megan Follows (Reign, Anne of Green Gables).
September 18, 2018
Feature length episode – Approx. 89 min., plus bonus – SDH Subtitles – UPC
1-Disc: Feature-length episode – Approx. 89 min., plus bonus – SDH Subtitles –
It was the
enormously ambitious and costly film project they said would spectacularly
flop; the 1937 feature length cartoon feature that even his own family tried to
talk him out of making; the realised dream of an all cartoon motion picture,
three years in the making, which broke new ground and cemented his place in
film history. It could have failed and it was a gargantuan gamble, but it paid
off handsomely and Walt Disney never looked back after the supremely seminal Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became a
global sensation and set him on his way to certain success with a succession of
captivating cartoon classics. Then came the parks, the publications, the
inevitable merchandise and the rest, as they say, is history. So much for this
being “Disney’s Folly” which Snow White was
unfortunately nicknamed - even during
its production! Indubitably, the film serves as a life lesson in believing in
yourself and following your dream. The visionary that was Walt Disney surely
deserved every cent of success for the wealth of wonder and excitement for
which he was responsible.
Picking up a copy
of “Disneyland” comic from a
selection of periodicals in the doctor’s surgery when I was a very young boy
was enough to captivate me and ordain me as a Disney devotee. It became a
weekly reading staple of mine from that point on, taking in “Mickey Mouse”
comics along the way. I never missed “Disney Time” on the Beeb and the first
big Disney movie for me at the cinema was Lady
and the Tramp. It completely blew me away and even at that tender age, I
knew that there was something extra special about this particular animation;
everything about it was so wonderfully lifelike (I then had no knowledge of
such animation processes and techniques such as rotoscoping). I eventually knew
all the Disney characters by heart and longed to see the other films on the big
screen. One by one, during school holidays and Easter weekends, I would get the
invaluable opportunity to thrill to these masterpieces: Pinocchio (1940), The Jungle Book (1967), One Hundred and One
Dalmatians (1961), The Rescuers (1977). However, the one Disney production
which never played at any of our local cinemas was the one film I wanted to see
most of all. And that was Snow White and
the Seven Dwarfs, having adored the classic Grimms fairy tale as a nipper
and from which the film was adapted. Finally
that day came when I was in my early teenage years and I actually visited the
cinema to see it after all that time. I would have much preferred to have seen
it as a child, but it still cast its magic spell over me and delivered the
goods I had longed to see.
I think what
appealed to me most about the Disney films, especially Snow White, were the genuinely frightening moments in his films
that featured the villains of the piece. That stirred something deep inside me
and was instrumental in making me a horror film aficionado as I grew older.
So, back to Snow White. Disney did something quite
remarkable with the oft-told and much loved Grimms Brothers favourite Everyone
knows the story of how a young princess, forced to flee for her life when her
insanely jealous mother Queen demands she be killed because she is more
beautiful, encounters a cottage full of dwarfs, becomes a mother to them and
then is brought back from death by love’s first kiss, delivered by a handsome
prince for whom she always had the hots. After which, it goes without saying,
they all live happily ever after.
However, making a
short and sweet little story into a full length animated and consistently
entertaining film is no mean feat, but Disney knew exactly what he was doing
and his invention and attention to detail here is extraordinarily admirable. There
are no longeurs whatsoever and the
film is carefully and cleverly paced and crafted to ensure that there is no
extraneous material inserted to pad out the picture which has an the 83 minutes
running time. For a start, the dwarfs are imbued with their own personalities
and named accordingly; then there is that unmistakable anthropomorphic charm
with the woodland creatures who befriend the gentle and sweet-tempered Snow
White, help her with household chores but most importantly play a pivotal part
in the exciting climax; beautifully written songs are introduced into the story
along the way and could easily stand alone as classics in their own right. All
of this works wonderfully well and never looks out of place or appears poorly
Sidney Poitier with his Best Actor Oscar for "Lilies of the Field" in 1964.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced they are "postponing" their controversial new category to honor achievements in "popular" films...whatever that means. The announcement met with a tidal wave of criticism from A.M.P.A.S. members and movie fans in general who accused the organization of simply trying to goose up sagging ratings for the Oscar telecasts by including more coverage of boxoffice blockbusters. Our guess is that this idea will never see the light of day. Sorry, "Ant Man" fans, but you may not get to see the next installment bring home Oscar gold. For more click here.
In the days before the home video revolution
made its way into my family, the only way to see a movie on television was to
either watch it when it was aired or beg my grandmother to ask her brother to
record it for me on his $1200 Magnavox video tape recorder. Just before
Halloween in 1983, she told me of a movie that she had seen in a local theater in
1954 called The Maze, which starred
one of her favorite actors, Richard Carlson. Channel 5 in New York was showing
it at 2:30 am and we later viewed it at her brother’s house on VHS. I recall a
TV trailer for Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession
airing during the commercial break, oblivious that it would become one of my
favorite horror movies seven years later.
which was released in 3-D in July 1953 and played at the RKO Albee Theater in
Brooklyn, NY with William Beaudine’s Roar
of the Crowd with Howard Duff of all things, has all of the charms that one
associates with B-movies of the 1950s. After a brief 1979 theatrical re-release
of TheCreature From the Black Lagoon (1954) in 3-D, the format was
experiencing a resurgence at the box office beginning in the early 1980s with Ferdinando
Baldi’s Comin’ at Ya!, which I was so
disappointed to see was rated R! The Maze
is a film that lacks action, something that was all too familiar in the 3-D
resurgence and exactly what you want from the format. There is a lot of talking
and discussions up until the very end, and this review contains spoilers regarding
the very ridiculous denouement, so
you’ve been warned!
Richard Carlson plays a Scotsman with no
Scottish accent named Gerald MacTeam on vacation in Cannes. He’s engaged to his
girlfriend Kitty (Veronica Hurst) and the pair seem perfectly happy until he
receives a letter from William, his Uncle Samuel’s butler, informing him of his
uncle having taken sick. Despite not having a relationship with his uncle (a
Baronet), Gerald feels a moral obligation to go to his side and pushes aside
his initial reluctance to help. Uncle Samuel resides in the foreboding Craven
Castle, a stately manor bereft of modern conveniences such as electricity or
telephones and it isn’t long before he passes away, his obituary capturing
Kitty’s eye despite no communication from Gerald. Kitty is perplexed by his
silence until he writes her some weeks later, “releasing” her from the
Kitty and her aunt make their way to the
castle and Gerald is unsurprisingly distressed to see them both. He also looks
like he’s aged fifteen years and is unceremoniously aloof. Kitty and her aunt
stay the night, and Kitty discovers a hidden passage (remember the hidden room
in 1979’s The Changeling?) that leads
to a lookout tower which reveals a hedge maze in the rear of the castle (think
1980’s The Shining) and detects
strange noises and movement in the middle of the night. The remainder of the
film attempts to keep this secret from the audience and when its revealed to
eyes 66 years hence, it’s difficult not to laugh. The “secret” is a frog-like
monster who used to be the castle’s master and meets an untimely death
following a horrific illness. In the end, Gerald is able to return to a normal
Cinema Retro proudly announces its annual Movie Classics special
edition for 2018: Roadshow Epics of the '60s! This is an 80-page special
that provides in-depth coverage of the making of five memorable epic
Mutiny on the Bounty
Lawrence of Arabia
The Fall of the Roman Empire
The Greatest Story Ever Told
The behind-the-scenes struggles to bring these monumental productions
to the screen often equaled the events depicted in the screenplays.
Indeed, all but Lawrence of Arabia proved to be boxoffice
failures (or disasters). However, Cinema Retro provides compelling
evidence that all of them were superbly filmed and provided many grand,
memorable moments. This special edition provides fascinating insights
into the often seemingly insurmountable challenges directors, writers,
producers and actors had to overcome in order to bring the films to
completion. These are the kind of movies we think of when we hear it
said "They don't make 'em like that anymore!". This special Movie
Classics issue is packed with hundreds of rare production stills and
on-set photos, as well as rare international advertising and publicity
As with all Cinema Retro issues, this is a limited edition so order now and don't miss out!
(This Movie Classics special edition is not part of the subscription plan. It must be ordered separately.)
AUGUST 2018, VOCALION BOOKS, The Mood Modern,
– 486 pages, Foreword by Keith Mansfield, Hardback and paperback editions –
ISBNs: 978-1-9996796-0-6 (hardback) / 978-1-9996796-1-3 (paperback) – Fully
indexed – Two sixteen-page photo sections, one in b/w, one in colour, both
containing many never-before-published images: from the Phillips family
archive, and of composers, musicians, recording sessions, catalogues, music
scores and studio brochures.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Oliver
Lomax for well over a decade. His superbly produced Dutton Vocalion CD’s have regularly
graced the pages of Cinema Retro. So when he hinted to me some months ago that
he had been working on a book, I knew that it would materialise as something
very special. After reading Oliver’s meticulously detailed liner notes which
had accompanied many of his KPM and Bruton re-releases, it was perhaps no
surprise that he had chosen the history of these legendary labels as the
subject of Vocalion’s publishing debut.
Also known as mood, stock, background or
production music, for decades library music has made an important though
anonymous contribution to the broadcast media, supplying film, radio and
television with innumerable themes and underscores.
The Mood Modern is three books in one,
weaving together the separate strands of company history, biography and
critical assessment of some of the most important music collectively produced
by the KPM and Bruton libraries during the course of a quarter century,
spanning the years from 1956 to 1980. At the heart of the book, however, is the
Phillips family, one of Britain’s great music publishing dynasties, but in
particular Robin Phillips (1939-2006).
The mid-1960s through the ’70s have come to
be regarded as library music’s golden age. In Britain, it was when this
somewhat mysterious branch of the music industry emerged from the chrysalis of
its light music heritage, into a vibrant new era of modern, colourful sounds.
Robin Phillips played a fundamental role in this transformation when, in 1966,
he established a new library – the KPM 1000 Series. Robin would also introduce
several new composers who would quickly become some of the best-known and most
successful names in the library music field: Keith Mansfield, Johnny Pearson,
Syd Dale, Alan Hawkshaw, James Clarke, David Lindup, Brian Bennett and Steve
Gray among others. And thanks to Robin’s guidance, by the early ’70s the 1000
Series had become one of the world’s foremost libraries, its music a ubiquitous
presence in countless films, documentaries, radio programmes and television
But in 1977, at the height of his success,
Robin left KPM for ATV Music – taking with him his right-hand man, Aaron Harry,
and the major composers – where he formed the Bruton Library under the auspices
of his brother Peter (who by now was ATV Music’s managing director) and show
business mogul Lew Grade’s financial adviser, Jack Gill.
Drawing on interviews with members of the
Phillips family (including Peter Phillips) and many of the composers, recording
engineers, musicians and staff of both libraries, The Mood Modern tells the
remarkable inside story of how KPM and, subsequently, Bruton came to be
dominant forces in library music, both in Britain and internationally.
In addition to charting the origin and history
of the music publishing firms – Keith Prowse and Peter Maurice – that merged to
form KPM, The Mood Modern covers numerous related areas. These include the
birth of Britain’s library music industry; the early British libraries and
their inseparable link to the English light music tradition; how the arrival of
commercial television in Britain led to the formation of the Keith Prowse
library in 1956 under the aegis of its manager, Patrick Howgill, which paved
the way for the KPM library; KPM’s legacy as a famous popular music publisher
and its place in the history of Denmark Street (London’s Tin Pan Alley);
Robin’s father, legendary music publisher Jimmy Phillips; the corporate
manoeuvring that saw Keith Prowse, Peter Maurice and KPM bought and sold; and
the clash with management that eventually caused Peter and Robin Phillips to
leave KPM for ATV Music.
The importance of the recording engineer is
acknowledged in The Mood Modern, and those who largely shaped the “sound” of
the KPM and Bruton libraries are featured: Ted Fletcher, Adrian Kerridge, Mike
Clements, Richard Elen (KPM) and Chris Dibble (Bruton Music). There’s detailed
coverage of all the KPM 1000 Series’ overseas sessions – including personnel,
dates, locations and what was recorded – and chapters respectively devoted to
the sessions in Bickendorf, Cologne (along with the stellar lineup of
international jazz talent that played on them) and in KPM’s two in-house
studios. The Musicians’ Union embargo, which had forced British libraries to
record much of their material on the Continent, is also scrutinised, as are the
negotiations with the MU of the late ’70s that finally allowed British
libraries to resume recording in British studios with British musicians.
As well as delineating the setting up of the
Bruton Library, its struggle to get established and the background of the
parent company, ATV Music (itself a division of entertainment conglomerate
Associated Television [ATV]), Bruton’s recording sessions and early output are
placed under the spotlight.
Another aspect of The Mood Modern is the
chapter-length biographical portraits of five of the KPM 1000 Series’ principal
composers: Syd Dale, Johnny Pearson, Keith Mansfield, James Clarke and David
Lindup. This is the first time that any of them have been the subject of an
in-depth portrait, and these chapters take in many associated areas: KPM
library offshoots Aristocrat, Radio Program Music and the KPM International
series; the litany of famous and not-so-famous TV and radio themes within the
KPM library; Lansdowne Studios; British jazz and pop; classical music;
commissioned film and TV scores; BBC Television and Radio; Independent
Television (ITV); the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society; the Performing
Right Society; Phonographic Performance Ltd. and so much more.
A host of other composers also feature in The
Mood Modern. These include KPM and Bruton stalwarts Laurie Johnson, Neil
Richardson, Steve Gray, Dave Gold, Francis Monkman, Brian Bennett, Alan
Hawkshaw, John Dankworth, John Scott, Duncan Lamont, John Fiddy and John
Cameron as well as the KPM 1000 Series’ house bands, WASP and SHARKS.
Putting everything into further perspective
is a thorough examination of the pre-1000 Series KPM library, and a chapter
that focuses on a leading music editor of the ’70s, who describes the processes
and equipment that were used in transferring library music onto the soundtracks
of films, documentaries and television programmes.
The Mood Modern is arguably the most
fascinating and in-depth study of an essential genre within the music industry
and a must for anyone with an intent interest in the history of soundtrack
Glory days: by the late 1970s, Reynolds and Clint Eastwood were the two most bankable stars in the world.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Burt Reynolds has died at age 82 from a heart attack in his home town of Jupiter, Florida. Reynolds had been suffering from poor health in recent years but was still appearing in films. He was announced as one of the stars of Quentin Tarantino's forthcoming "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood". Reynolds entered acting in the 1950s but his rugged good looks sometimes worked against him as he was told he bore too close a resemblance to Marlon Brando. He made "B" movies before gravitating to television where he landed a recurring role as a blacksmith in the hit series "Gunsmoke". Reynolds would go on to star in other short-lived TV series that never capitalized on his real life wit and humor. Of playing the title character in the "Dan August" detective series, Reynolds would quip that he had two expressions: "Mad and madder". Reynolds slogged through undistinguished feature films in the 1960s, some of which were undeniably appealing but none of which resonated with the public. However, he gained considerable attention with his frequent appearances on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" where his self-deprecating sense of humor and racy quips endeared him to Carson's mammoth nightly audience. He agreed to pose nude (well, mostly nude) for Cosmopolitan, which caused a sensation. However, Reynolds said he regretted the decision because it detracted from his ability to be taken seriously as an actor. The release of director John Boorman's "Deliverance" in 1972 changed that. Reynolds gave a terrific performance and the "A"-list roles started pouring in. Most of his films had a considerable element of humor attached to them, combined with Reynolds' ability to do his own stunts. He became popular playing wise-ass characters with a penchant for towel-snapping humor. In 1977, he struck gold by starring in "Smokey and the Bandit", a film which became a phenomenal success with rural audiences. The Reynolds persona was often that of a good ol' boy from the south who took on corrupt cops and politicians. For a period of years, Reynolds could do no wrong and became one of the biggest stars in the world. However, his judgment often failed him and turned down major roles in classic films in order to star in forgettable movies. A misguided stunt on the set of "City Heat" in the early 1980s caused him severe injuries and helped spread rumors that was was suffering from AIDS. His career never fully recovered, but in 1998 he earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for "Boogie Nights". He didn't win and he also squandered the newfound respect he had earned by churning out mediocre films and TV movies. Not helping matters was his messy personal life that saw marriage problems, nasty divorces and bankruptcy issues spread across the pages of tabloids.
Still, Burt Reynolds was a genuine superstar at his peak and he never went out of style, as evidenced by the enduring affection for his films- and yes, he certainly could act.
many filmmakers since the great Stanley Kubrick have had the same kind of
mystique, but one who easily fits that bill is Terrence Malick, a
writer/director who has endeavored to redefine the narrative form of cinema in
visually poetic terms.
doesn’t create movies, he makes cinema in verse. The story in a Malick film is
not a priority, although there is often a profound tale at work. A Malick picture
is all about the emotions, the visual beauty, the aural splendidness, and
taking part in a cerebral, yet primally impressionistic experience.
reclusive filmmaker disappeared from the public eye after his two acclaimed,
more “accessible” works (Badlands,
1973, and Days of Heaven, 1978). He returned
twenty years later and made The Thin Red
Line (1998). Something was immediately different about his art. Malick’s
storytelling was more oblique, nonlinear, and lyrical. This trend continued more
intensely in The New World (2005).
Never one to be labeled “prolific,” Malick brought out his fifth feature, The Tree of Life, in 2011, and it
featured a radical progression in this elegiac, non-traditional way of spinning
The Tree of Life received Oscar
nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography (by Emmanuel
Lubezki), but there were many audience members who just didn’t get it or
refused to meet the film halfway. I remember counting many walkouts from the
theater in which I first saw it. Its comparison to the initial reaction to
Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is
apt. This was a new kind of film, something that challenged the viewer into sitting
back, opening the mind and the heart, and going with the flow.
flow it does… the picture is much like a symphony of sight and sound. The imagery
of the world in all its glory from
the ground, sky, and sea to the plants, animals, and people is breathtakingly sensual.
The music—mostly classical pieces and some original scoring by Alexandre
Desplat—is practically continuous as the pace of the editing moves frenetically.
How anyone could call this a boring movie is mind-boggling.
is a story. The focus is on the
O’Briens, a family in a small town in Texas in the 1950s, particularly utilizing
the point of view of the oldest boy, Jack (played by newcomer Hunter
McCracken). Brad Pitt is the stern, sometimes over-the-top disciplinarian
father, and angelic Jessica Chastain is the loving mother. Jack’s two siblings
are played by Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan. The entire family’s performances
are superb. Scenes in the present day feature an adult Jack (Sean Penn), who is
somberly “remembering” the events of the film. Something has triggered old Jack’s
memory of when the middle brother died at the age of nineteen (we don’t know
how… possibly Vietnam?).
then there’s the creation sequence, something else that is comparable to the
Star Gate section of 2001 (and that
film’s co-visual effects supervisor, Douglas Trumbull, is a consultant on Tree). We see in a nearly twenty-minute
segment how the earth was formed in the heavens, how life began in the waters,
the rise of dinosaurs (yes, dinosaurs!), the predatory disposition of certain
species, and their eventual destruction to make way for man.
When Amazon announced a major creative partnership with Woody Allen to develop original films, it was considered quite a coup. But as The Playlist reports, in the wake of continued allegations of child abuse against Allen, it seems Amazon's investment might be a total lost. The controversy extends back to the messy breakup of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow in the early 1990s during which Farrow accused Allen of abusing their daughter Dylan when she was very young. Dylan, now an adult, has continued to repeat the allegations in a very public way, often backed up by her brother Ronan Farrow, an award-winning journalist. However, Allen and Farrow's adopted son Moses has defended Allen by saying the charges are bogus and that Dylan had been rehearsed by her mother to make the allegations when she was young and impressionable. Police had conducted an investigation at the time, interviewing both Allen and Dylan. No charges were ever filed and there was suspicion at the time that Dylan had been coerced to make the accusations. Nevertheless, the stigma has haunted Allen, who also received bad press when he courted and married Farrow's adopted daughter Soon-Yi. Still, Allen's career was never damaged in any material way and he continued to make and release at least one film a year over the last half-century, a remarkable record of achievement. Now, however, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, Allen finds himself suddenly out-of-demand. He is not attached to any new projects and his film for Amazon, "A Rainy Day in New York" might never see the light of day. Amazon might buy out its contract with the Oscar-winning director at a considerable loss to its bottom line. Additionally, Allen might be having trouble finding financing for his new films even though he generally shoots on a modest budget. Many of the prominent stars who worked with him previously have said they won't do so again. The controversy brings up a creative dilemma: should a major filmmaker's work be suppressed even though there is no proof that the accusations against him are true? Click here for more?
The 1966 WWII film "The Heroes of Telemark" starred Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris in the true story of Norwegian resistance fighters who thwarted the Third Reich's plans to develop the heavy water necessary to build atomic weapons. Although the film had many fictional elements, the basics were accurate: including a devastating decision to sink a ferry boat that was secretly transporting the heavy water, even though it would ensure the deaths of innocent passengers. Now a team of National Geographic researchers will bring the true story to the NG Channel on September 6 along with footage of the 40 barrels of heavy water that was recently discovered the sunken ferry. Click here for more.
(For extensive coverage on the making of "The Heroes of Telemark", order the Cinema Retro Movie Classics WW II Classics issue by clicking here.)
The final film of Orson Welles is the stuff of movie legend because the temperamental genius had spent about 15 years working on the project which remained unfinished upon his death in 1985. Since then, the troubled film, "The Other Side of the Wind", which Welles had hoped would restore him to the kind of glory he had not enjoyed since the 1940s, sat in a disjointed state, its rights the subject of seemingly endless lawsuits and other obstacles. Director Peter Bogdanovich, who viewed Welles as a mentor and friend, took up the task of trying to salvage "Wind" by raising enough funds to construct a coherent film based on Welles' notes and the many discussions they had on the set of the film, in which Bogdanovich appeared in a sizable role. Every time Bogdanovich thought he had found the funding for completion, his hopes were dashed- until recently when Netflix rode to the rescue and provided enough resources for the movie to finally emerge in a coherent state. The film will enjoy a limited theatrical release followed by telecast on Netflix on November 2. It stars John Huston as a grumpy, headstrong, once-great director trying to reclaim his reputation by producing one last classic film. (Welles claimed the movie wasn't autobiographical, but few believed him). Advance reviews indicate that the movie is not a masterpiece but does emerge as a serious and important work from a great talent. Pretty soon retro movie lovers will be able to judge for themselves. Click here for more.
If you trust the biographical sketch included on his 1963
LP As Long as the Grass Shall Grow (Folkways
FN 2532, 1963), the folksinger Peter LaFarge hailed from Fountain, Colorado, a
farming and ranching town settled ten miles south of Colorado Springs.If you trust the memory of his own mother,
Peter LaFarge was actually born Oliver Albee LaFarge on April 30th,
1931, in New York City.The
singer-songwriter was the son of the notable anthropologist, author and
historian, Oliver LaFarge.The senior
LaFarge’s 1929 novel documenting life on a Navajo reservation, Laughing Boy, would earn him a Pulitzer
Prize in fiction in 1930.
Though separated early on from his biological father due
to his parent’s divorce in 1935, Peter remained his father’s son in his
studious devotion of America’s indigenous people.His mother, with whom Peter remained, remarried
in 1940 to Alexander Kane, a rancher in aforementioned Fountain, CO.Through his stepfather’s business, LaFarge fell
in love with horses and roping and rodeo life, eventually dropping out of high
school to try his hand at saddle bronc riding.Though he had become a cowboy in vocation - suffering numerous injuries
during his brief association with rodeo life - he remained more absorbed by his
birth father’s scholarship into the folklore, art, history, and customs of the
LaFarge was a restless spirit, tending to drift in and
out of things.He served on the U.S.S.
Boxer during the Korean War, sparred as an amateur pugilist, studied acting at
the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago, and wrote several (as of yet) un-produced
plays.Befriending the folksinger Cisco
Houston, an occasional singing partner of and best friend to Woody Guthrie,
LaFarge’s existing interest in folklore ignited his enthusiasm for the folksong
revival of the late 1950s.Upon his
arrival in Greenwich Village with an intention of inaugurating a career in folk
singing, the young LaFarge seemingly burnished his credentials by telling
everyone he was the descendant of the Narragansett Tribe of the Rhode Island-
based Algonquians.One of his stories
was that once the Narragansett’s had been “wiped out,” he found himself adopted
by “the Tewa Tribe of the Hopi Nation, whose reservation is near Santa
Fe.”This appears to have been the tale
he chose to settle on.He would write in
a 1963 issue of the seminal folk music magazine Sing Out!, “The Pima Indians, whose reservation is just outside of
Phoenix, Arizona, are cousins of my people, the Hopi Indians of the New Mexico
If LaFarge’s assertions of a direct ancestral lineage to
indigenous Americans are suspect - as most music historians now believe - the songwriter
was certainly not alone in such self-mythologizing.Another recent Village transplant from the
Midwest, Bob Dylan, was also telling friends and colleagues a similar fiction.Dylan, ten years LaFarge’s junior, famously suggested
to a doubtful Izzy Young of Greenwich Village’s venerable Folklore Center that
he was of Sioux Indian descent.To be
fair, even Johnny Cash – who is, of course, more or less the central figure in
Antonio D’Ambrosio’s moving 2015 documentary We’re
Still Here: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited, now available on DVD
courtesy of Kino-Lorber, was not above such mythologizing.In an infamous letter to Billboard (published August 22, 1964), Cash would describe himself
as “almost a half-breed Cherokee-Mohawk,” whatever that means.It’s therefore somewhat perplexing that,
regardless of the best intent and justice-seeking goodwill of all involved, D’Ambrosio’sfilm makes not even a passing mention
to all of these innocent subterfuges.
Does any of this really matter?I suppose not.What does matter is that LaFarge, whether a
full, half or non-fledged ancestor of indigenous Americans, wrote some of the
most poignant, bitter and insightful songs somberly documenting the Indians’
experience in the United States.LaFarge’s
intimate knowledge of Indian customs and folklore were, ultimately, far more schooled
and convincing than either Cash’s or Dylan’s more clumsy appropriations which
were easier to dismiss.While Cash and
Dylan would, of course, both go on to be deserved long-standing totems of the
music industry, LaFarge remained a mostly obscure figure, one very much on the
fringe of the popular music scene.LaFarge
would productively wax new no fewer than six albums between 1962 and 1965, but only
“Ira Hayes” and Other Ballads
(Columbia CL 17995/CS 8595) had been recorded for a major label with pop-music
market distribution.It sold
poorly.His following five albums were
waxed for Moses Asch’s more austere and cerebral Folkways Records, whose eclectic
catalog included everything from educational LPs, to anthropological studies, to
early jazz and blues recordings.LaFarge’s addition to the Folkway’s roster was something of a more
comfortable – if less royalty generating – fit for the artist.Asch, a supportive “fellow traveler” of
left-wing causes, judiciously used his record label to provide an open
microphone to such genuine folk music artists as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly,
Cisco Houston and Pete Seeger.It was a
defiant gesture as well as a pragmatic one.The political climate made most labels in the late 1940s and early 1950s
wary of recording rabble-rousers armed with guitars and 5-string banjos.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST OF THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
"THE SON-OF- A -BITCH
By Raymond Benson
well-known that when John Ford, who had worked with actor John Wayne on a
number of films prior to seeing him in Howard Hawks’ Red River, proclaimed that he didn’t know that “the son-of- a-
bitch could act!”
words were apt. Prior to the release of Red
River in 1948 (it was shot in 1946 but didn’t appear in theaters until
’48), Wayne had mostly played the likable, stalwart “John Wayne” character that
had first appeared in Ford’s Stagecoach (1939).
But in Red River, Wayne plays a role
that turned critical and public opinion of the actor’s thespian abilities. He
pulls off a remarkable feat—Wayne’s character, Thomas Dunson, is a first-class
S.O.B., a guy you really want someone to punch out throughout the movie; and
yet, Wayne manages to make him likable. He carries an audience through over two
hours of hardcore western, and he delivers one of his two or three best
performances. It doesn’t hurt that Wayne is ably supported by Montgomery Clift,
who plays Wayne’s adopted son. In many ways, it’s really Clift’s picture—he’s
the protagonist, and the story is seen through his eyes. But wait—maybe it’s
seen through Walter Brennan’s eyes in the original, rare theatrical cut,
released here in a glorious 2K digital restoration on Blu-ray.
fact, I had never seen the theatrical cut, the version preferred by director
Hawks. A longer cut, by about six minutes, was the one that was shown on
television and appeared on previous home video releases. The longer version was
actually intended as a preview for studio execs; it utilizes on-screen textual
transitions (as if the audience is reading from a book) and an extended final
confrontation between Wayne and Clift. The theatrical cut dispenses with the
textual transitions and instead substitutes sequences narrated by Walter
Brennan, who then, arguably, becomes the character through whose eyes we see
the story. Why this version, which originally played to audiences in 1948,
didn’t become the standard edition after that is a mystery; in actuality, Hawks
was quite right—the theatrical cut is the
better one, except for the trimmed final fight between the two leads. As Hawks tells Peter Bogdanovich in an audio
interview included as an extra in the Criterion Collection’s elaborate box set,
the best way to watch Red River is to
view the theatrical cut up until the last few minutes, and then change to the
preview cut at the point when Wayne marches through the heads of cattle to
confront Clift at the corral.
thing that is remarkable about Red River is
that it was Hawks’ first western. He would go on to make a handful more (good
ones, too!), and was known for making pictures in all genres, but the fact that
he went out of the gate with one of the greatest westerns of all time is truly
an achievement. Red River, without
question, is one of the five best
American films of the genre.
story is a fictional account of the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas
along the Chisholm Trail, the hardships the men overcome, and the battle of
wills between Wayne, the tyrannical leader and father, and Clift, the calmer,
perhaps smarter right-hand cowpoke and adopted son. Hawks manages to capture the
perilous trek with uncanny realism, assured composition and tempo, and drama.
Hawks once said that the key to a good film was “three good scenes and no bad
ones.” Well, Red River has far more
than three good scenes. The stampede sequence is nothing short of astounding.
went all out on this one. It’s a four-disk set—two Blu-rays and two DVDs
containing identical material. Both versions of the film are included, along
with a couple of interviews with Bogdanovich, who explains the difference
between the two cuts and presents his views on the picture. Critic Molly
Haskell talks about Hawks in a new video interview, and film scholar Lee Clark
Mitchell tells us all about the western genre in an interesting piece. There
are audio excerpts from interviews with Hawks and novelist Borden Chase, as
well as a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Red
River featuring Wayne, Joanne Dru, and Brennan. Besides the usual
essay-filled booklet, the box comes with Chase’s original novel, Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail, from
which the film was adapted.