Writing on the web site syfy.com, Drew Turney relates the remarkable modern David vs. Goliath story of how a British prop maker became unwittingly ensnared in an international legal case when Lucasfilm filed suit against him and demanded $20 million in damages. His "crime"? Having provided helmets he had previously designed for use by the Storm Troopers in the original "Star Wars" then replicating his own designs for sale decades later as collectibles. Rather than spill the beans in this synopsis, just click here to read the fascinating case that ended up having a happy ending, though not for Lucasfilm.
(Note: this interview with conducted to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 2017.)
By Michael Coate
Ray Morton is the author of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of
Steven Spielberg’s Classic Film” (Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2007). He
is a screenwriter, script consultant, and senior writer and columnist for
Script magazine. His other books include “King Kong: The History of a Movie
Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson” (Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2005),
“Amadeus: Music on Film” (Limelight, 2011), “A Hard Day’s Night: Music on Film”
(Limelight, 2011), “A Quick Guide to Screenwriting” (Limelight, 2013), “A Quick
Guide to Television Writing” (Limelight, 2013), and “A Quick Guide to Film
Directing” (Limelight, 2014).
Cinema Retro:How would you like
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” to be remembered on its 40th anniversary?
Ray Morton:As a wonderful,
As the first true Steven Spielberg movie. “Jaws” is a magnificent film, but in a way an atypical film for
Spielberg in terms of genre and subject matter. “Close Encounters” is the first of Spielberg’s movies to contain
many of the elements that would become closely associated with him in the years
that followed: an uplifting sci-fi/fantasy narrative infused with a tremendous
sense of wonder; a focus on children; an exploration of life in the American
suburbs; broken families; a fascination with World War II; a highly
sophisticated use of visual and special effects; the use of a powerful John
Williams score to create a powerful emotional response; cinematography that
emphasizes backlighting; and Spielberg’s trademarked “push in” close-ups onto
the awed faces of his characters. “Jaws”
made Spielberg hot, “CE3K” made
him a brand name.
As one of the two films that transformed science fiction and fantasy
from vaguely disreputable “B” genres into “A” movie material in the eyes of
both the public and the film industry. The other was, of course, “Star Wars.”
As the masterwork of Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich, and their great
team of visual effects magicians at Future General.
As one of the most intense and honest depictions ever filmed of
obsession and of the rewards and costs of pursuing a dream.
As one of the most authentic, non-idealized, and non-stereotypical
depictions of American suburban life ever shown on screen.
Cinema Retro:Can you recall your reaction to the first time you saw “Close
Morton:I can absolutely
recall the first time I saw “Close
Encounters”—it was the most significant movie-going experience of my
life. I saw it in December 1977 at the Ridgeway Theater in Stamford,
Connecticut—on a school night with my sisters Kathy and Nancy.I loved the movie as a movie—it was intriguing, thrilling, frightening,
funny, awe-inspiring, thought-provoking, and ultimately extremely moving. But the effect “Close
Encounters” had on me went well beyond the simple enjoyment of a very
good film. By the time“CE3K” opened, I had already been a
film fan for a few years, but “Close
Encounters”is the movie
that awakened me to the true power of cinema. Until that night, if you had
asked the very young me what the most important ingredients in a movie were, I
would have said dialogue and performance. Those things are certainly present in“CE3K,” but they are secondary. The storytelling in “Close Encounters”—especially in its
final thirty minutes—is accomplished primarily through the manipulation of the
core elements of cinema: imagery, sound effects, and music. Watching the film
for the first time, I found myself having a profound emotional response to
Spielberg’s masterful orchestration of light and sound—I was filled with
feelings of awe, wonder, and joy so intense they were almost spiritual. When
the movie ended, I just sat staring at the screen, enraptured and unable to
move as I processed the overwhelming intensity of what I had just experienced.
I sat there so long that my sisters finally lost patience with me. “Wake up!”
my sister Nancy snapped. “The movie’s over!” That brought me back to the world,
but I still hadn’t come back to Earth.I realized then and there the powerful effect that movies could have on
an audience — that in the right hands they could transcend mere storytelling
and impact viewers on a much deeper and more profound level. Driving home that
night (in a heavy fog that filtered the headlights of oncoming cars in ways
that mimicked much of the imagery in the movie we had just seen), I knew I
wanted to do something more than just watch movies—that I wanted to make a life
in the cinema as well.
Cinema Retro:Is there any
significance to “Close Encounters”?
Morton:Well, it’s one of
the best sci-fi movies ever made, both creatively and from a production
stand-point. And, as I mentioned earlier, it’s one of the films that made
sci-fi into a respectable genre.
Beyond those two points, however, it was the first major sci-fi film to
depict first contact as a potentially positive experience—that a meeting
between mankind and beings from another world could be a joyous, peaceful,
uplifting event—something that could be good for us—rather than an occasion of
invasion and horror. In the years following“CE3K”and especially “E.T.” that became a commonplace idea,
but in 1977 it was pretty revolutionary.
Cinema Retro:Which edition of
“Close Encounters” do you like best?
Morton:I prefer the 1977
theatrical cut, in part because it’s the first version of the movie I saw and
the one that made such a strong impression on me. But I also prefer it because
it’s the most subtle version of the film. As an example, in the scene in which
Roy has his initial close encounter at the railroad crossing, as he drives off
in pursuit of the UFO, the 1977 version cuts to a long shot of Roy’s truck
driving across the landscape and in the sky above you see a little point of
light moving along. Is it a UFO? Or is it just an airplane or a satellite? We’re
not 100% sure and that adds some mystery and intrigue to the picture—was what
we just saw happen real or did Roy perhaps imagine it? We’re not sure and
neither is Roy until the three UFOs come flying around the corner in the
Crescendo Summit scene a few minutes later. In the Special Edition and the 1997 Director’s Edition, that shot is replaced by the shadow of an
impossibly large UFO zooming across the landscape—all of the ambiguity is gone
and the point is hit right on the head that what we saw was real and that UFOs
are real before they are revealed to us at Crescendo Summit. It takes a little
bit of the magic out of it for me.
As technically wonderful as it is, I feel the Cotapoxi scene has similar
problems. The jeeps leaping over the sand dunes in 1-2-3 formation and the
helicopters zooming low across the desert feel like they belong in a slightly
broader, slightly less real film than the theatrical cut is. One of the things
I like so much about “CE3K” is
that the fantastic events occur in a very real setting—Roy’s world and
Jillian’s world all feel very authentic and real to me—but when people are
zooming around like they are in an action movie, some of that reality gets lost
for me. And, as cool as seeing the ship in the desert is, the scene is really
just a repeat of the opening sequence in which the airplanes are discovered, so
it’s a bit repetitious. I do like some of the family strife material that was put back in for
the Special Edition and the Director’s Edition and some of the
editing in the second act is tighter and less raggedy. But I still prefer the
1977 version. Following that I would choose the 1997 cut and then the Special
Edition. (I think going inside the Mothership was always a mistake.)
Cinema Retro:Where do you think
“Close Encounters” ranks among Steven Spielberg’s body of work?
Morton:Near the top, along
with “Jaws,” “E.T.,” “Raiders,” “Schindler’s
List,” and “Empire of the Sun.”
It has always struck me as being one of his most personal movies.
1970’s were a time of much spookiness and speculation in this country. Unidentified
Flying Objects (UFO’s), a publicity-shy Plesiosaur called Nessie steaking out
the Scottish Highlands, Sasquatch “sightings”, ghosts, satanic cults, witchcraft,
and the threat of nuclear catastrophe highlighted the newspapers when Vietnam, Richard
Nixon and Watergate weren’t. Between 1977 and 1982, Leonard Nimoy’s narration
provided the basis for nearly 150 speculative and generally outright creepy
episodes of In Search Of…Similarly-themed
television specials were even categorized by TV Guide as “speculation” in their
genre listings. I even recall a scenario in 1979 that was reported in a local
newspaper concerning the discovery of ribcages and bowls of blood at a nearby
1970 saw the release of Hal Lindsey and Carole C. Carlson’s book The Late Great Planet Earth, a
grimly-titled caveat in eschatological terms detailing the end of the world and
destruction to humankind as we know it (it was followed up in 1972 with Satan Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth and in 1982 with The
1980s: Countdown to Armageddon). The genesis of this line of
thinking has its roots in the Holy Bible, specifically the Book of Revelation
which is the final book of the New Testament. What better way to get the word
out than in a major motion picture? The book was optioned for a film in 1976 by
Pacific International Enterprises, known as PIE for short, which was both a
film production and distribution company founded two years earlier by Arthur R.
Debs (it folded in 2001) for
the purpose of releasing “family films”. How they came to the subject of
Armageddon is anyone’s guess. Between 1976 and 1978, interviews were conducted
with renowned thinkers, scientists and religious folks to get their views and
interpretations of the Bible and the promise of pestilence.
film sports the same title as the book and was released in a good number of
neighborhood theatres on Wednesday, January 17, 1979. It opens with a sequence
involving a group of men chasing a Gandalf wannabe up a mountain (in reality,
Vaszquez Rocks in California where Captain James T. Kirk fought the Gorn in the
Star Trek episode “Arena” in 1966) and pushing him to his death. These are
actors, of course, and they look like they might have tried out to be the
apostles in Martin Scorsese’s first attempt to bring The Last Temptation of Christ to the screen via Paramount Pictures on
a minimal budget. Orson Welles appears with a skull meant to represent the fallen
man from thousands of years earlier and sets the film’s tone by explaining how
the ancient Hebrews believed that a prophet was God’s Man and spoke the Words
of God, foretelling, many centuries before, of events to come. The prophet was
killed because he wasn’t accurate one hundred percent of the time and therefore
was deemed a fraud.
film talks of the Anti-Christ entering the world of politics – shades of Omen III: The Final Conflict (1983)? There
are many predictions made using stock footage to enunciate impending doom. However
interesting or frightening the claims, the orator’s guessing of the timeline is
vague at best. Something that was
correctly predicted at the time of the film’s shooting was the estimate of the
world population 40 years hence to be roughly 8 billion people. It is closer to
7.5 billion, but not a bad estimate.
world famine, floods, killer bees (I recall this threat in 1979 and wondered
how they came about. The film provides the not-so-surprising explanation) were
the stuff of disaster movies in the 1970s. I’m not sure if Planet Earth is a statement of veracity or pure bollocks, but it’s
an interesting examination of prophesies, nonetheless.
film has been recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber/Scorpion and the transfer is
exceptional. There are two bonus features. The first is a making-of featurette
that runs fourteen minutes and is comprised of interviews with nearly ten
people behind-the-scenes. Roger Riddell is the film’s producer who discusses
how the movie came into being. Alan Belkin, President of American Cinema, a
division of American Communications Industries, shares his memories of the
film. The rough cut was two hours; the film’s running time is 86 minutes. Composer
Dana Kaproff provides an exceptional score that is one of the film’s
strongpoints (it deserves a soundtrack album release) and he explains his role
as a composer. Tom Doddington, head of Sound and Production, explains how Orson
Welles was a consummate professional, going so far as to record his voiceover
at his house. Thomas Nicely, one of the actors running in the opening sequence,
also weighs in. Lynn McCallon and Anne Goursaud were editors on the film. Jean
Higgins, Head of Production for American Cinema, and David Miller, Head of
Distribution, discuss the film’s marketing.
features consist of a selection of trailers: theatrical trailer and TV spot for
The Late Great Planet Earth (1979); Go Tell the Spartans (1978) theatrical
trailer, Charlie Chan and the Curse of
the Dragon Queen TV spot; The Apple
(1980) theatrical trailer; and The
Salamander (1981) theatrical trailer.
Michele Legrand, the French composer who won three Academy Awards, has died at age 86. Legrand originally hit the big time as a crooner and pianist with his 1954 album "I Love Paris" which went on to be an international sensation, selling more than 8 million copies. Other hit albums followed and he began to score feature films. With more than 200 films to his credit, Legrand's style of scoring films would is considered "old school" today, employing lush, romantic melodies that have included some of the most memorable film scores of all time. He first gained international attention in film scoring with the 1964 French production "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg", a romance in which literally every word of dialogue was sung. The film earned him three Oscar nominations and the best known song from the film, "I Will Wait for You" became a major hit that was covered by many artists. He would also create the score for the related 1967 film "The Young Girls of Rochefort".
The following year, Legrand won an Oscar for Best Song for "The Windmills of Your Mind", a puzzling but hypnotic piece with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn that perfectly fit the stylish crime caper "The Thomas Crown Affair". Noel Harrison sung the piece in the film but it was covered by many artists and Dusty Springfield had a Top 40 version of it. Other Oscars followed for his haunting score for "Summer of '42" and "Yentl". For more about his life and career click here.
you’re one of the many moviegoers who are unfamiliar with the Jacques Lacerte
thriller Love Me Deadly, you’re not
alone. A product of early 1970s low-budget motion picture production, this film
is the sole title directed by Mr. Lacerte who passed away in 1988. Lensed in
1971 and released in San Francisco right around the same time as Gerard
Damiano’s wildly popular and controversial couples-flick Deep Throat in June 1972 just before the Watergate burglary, the
film played in roughly ten markets, including rained-out drive-ins, before it nearly
disappeared from view. However, there are subsequent movie posters for the film
that have the audacity to mention William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) and give the impression that spiritual
possession is somehow to blame for the unsavory goings-on. It’s not.
Love Me Deadly was originally titled Kiss Me Deadly, however Mickey Spillane had
the rights to that title, hence the name change. What is billed as a story of
demonic diabolical deeds is rather a heartbreakingly tragic tale of a young
woman who cannot seem to connect with men…who are alive. The film never really
seems to get a grip on how it wants to play out the subject matter at hand but
you get the feeling that the director is attempting to pass the film off as
some sort of dissertation on necrophilia which, in my humble opinion, is one of
the most incomprehensible, disgusting, and desperate of all sexual proclivities
and one that I can only hope is
relegated to the cinema. I interpreted the film from a much different
perspective, so each viewer might see something differently due to the film’s
inability to construct a single tone.
opening credits play over images of a happy young girl, Lindsay Finch, playing
with her father who dotes on her, pushes her on a swing, and comforts her when
she falls. As an adult, Lindsay (Mary Charlotte Wilcox) is a looker who tries
her best to make friends with attractive men. She leads on Wade Farrow (the
late Christopher Stone of 1981’s The
Howling and 1983’s Cujo, sans his
trademark ‘stache) only to rebuff him when he makes sexual advances. Like Harold
and his pal Maude, Lindsay looks through the newspapers and attends afternoon
wakes of complete strangers although her reasons for doing so are far more
disturbing: she attempts amorous contact with the recently deceased. While
about town, she hones in on men who bear a resemblance to her father whom we
can safely assume has passed. Meanwhile Fred (Timothy Scott), a funeral
director of Morningside Mortuary (the name anticipates 1979’s Phantasm), catches her and persuades her
to join him after hours in necrophilic activities with similarly afflicted
gonzos who don black mass-like capes in a ritual prior to becoming intimate
with corpses, the victims of Fred’s nocturnal cruisings along the Sunset Strip
in search of johns and prostitutes.
takes a liking to Alex Martin (Lyle Waggoner) whom she sees as a father figure.
They court and marry soon afterwards, although their bedroom habits suffer
greatly as she’s unable to allow Alex to make love to her. He’s patient and
even sleeps in another room yet becomes suspicious of his wife’s behavior when
he follows her to the funeral parlor and sees her enter the premises. When he
asks her about it later on, she denies going there at all. A brief conversation
with the housekeeper who practically raised her leads Alex to the cemetery in
the film’s most heartbreaking scene wherein Lindsay is dressed in pigtails,
playing around her father’s grave like a child. Anyone who has seen enough
horror films knows how the film will end so while it’s not a shocker, it’s actually
tragically sad given how her father died and the guilt that Lindsay feels. This
is the biggest issue that I have with the film. While the ads promise one
thing, what you get is something much different. The biggest evidence of this
is in the inclusion of elegiac songs sung by Kit Fuller that play over the kinderscene that opens the film and the romantic
silliness between she and Alex. This is, a sequence that seems to have been borrowed
from the overlong romantic interlude that plagues Clint Eastwood’s otherwise
crackerjack Play Misty for Me (1971),
with Roberta Flack crooning on that film’s soundtrack for nearly five minutes. The
original movie poster even claims that Lindsay is 18, however she’s clearly in
her early to mid-twenties.
"The Man from U.N.C.L.E." was not only a TV phenomenon in the 1960s but the mania also extended to the big screen. MGM produced eight feature-length movies derived from two-part episodes of the series. (Some included extra "bonus" footage that would deemed to be too sexual or violent for network broadcast.) These lazily-compiled efforts were astonishingly profitable, especially in England where some house records were set at theaters. (Only three of the feature films were released theatrically in the USA: "To Trap a Spy", "The Spy with My Face" and "One Spy Too Many". "One of Our Spies is Missing" was planned for American release but we've yet to substantiate that it actually was.) This trailer is suitably hokey, mod, cheesy and fun as we once again watch Robert Vaughn and David McCallum save the world from the threat of Thrush!
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"The Secret Partner" is yet another unheralded gem from the cinematic past that has been made available through the Warner Archive. It's a fairly low budget British film noir that nevertheless is completing engrossing and will have viewers guessing throughout. Stewart Granger is John Brent, a successful executive at a London shipping company who we find in great distress from early in the film. It seems Brent is being routinely blackmailed by his milquetoast dentist, Beldon (Norman Bird). We don't know what he has on Brent until much later in the story, a clever device used by screenwriters David Pursall and Jack Seddon that only increases the interest of the viewer. Brent understandably despises Beldon but is intimidated enough by him that he continues to pay astronomical sums of money to buy his silence. In the interim, Brent can't explain to his wife Nicole (Haya Haraeet) why their money is disappearing almost as fast as he can earn it. She logically suspects that he is seeing another woman and their marriage very publicly goes on the rocks when she moves out. Meanwhile, Beldon himself is subject to the terrors of blackmail when a masked man with a gun demands that he follows explicit instructions to administer a drug to Brent during his next dental visit. While under the influence of sleeping gas, Brent is injected with a truth serum that results in his telling Beldon the combination of his company's safe. Additionally, Beldon follows instructions to remove Brent's office keys and make a clay impression of them. The masked man promises Beldon a payoff of 15,000 pounds if he complies- and death if he doesn't. Beldon pulls off his end of the scheme and Brent appears to be none the wiser. Predictably, the office safe of Brent's employer is rob of 130,000 quid and he is the logical suspect. The case falls into the lap of Det. Superintendent Frank Hanbury (Bernard Lee), a veteran cop who is counting the days until his imminent retirement. He questions Brent but when Brent realizes he is about to be arrested for grand larceny, he flees. Hanbury relentlessly pursues him even as his investigation leads him to believe that Brent might have been set up as a fall guy. Hanbury repeatedly interviews Nicole and discovers that she is apparently having affairs with some of Brent's most trusted friends and co-workers. Meanwhile, Brent is trying to avoid the police while he conducts his own investigation, desperate to prove he is innocent.
"The Secret Partner" is a prime example of the kind of efficient, low-profile films that used to be turned out regularly decades ago and this one is top notch throughout. It's impressively directed by the ever-capable Basil Dearden, who helmed other gems like "Woman of Straw" and "Khartoum". Granger, who should have been a much bigger star, is dashing and determined as a leading man and he plays well off of the great British character actor Bernard Lee. Lee's slow, unemotional approach to solving the case is a joy to watch, as he patiently absorbs the facts and tries not to jump to conclusions even as he smokes what must be a record number of cigarettes ever consumed by one actor in one film. The film is peppered with fine performances from an impressive supporting cast with Harareet especially enticing as Brent's sexy, estranged wife. Even the smallest roles are well-performed (keep an eye out for Paul Stassino, the ill-fated NATO pilot from "Thunderball" as a pimp!). There is also a funky if somewhat bombastic jazz score by Philip Green and some nice period photography around London. The real pay off is a surprise revelation near the end of the film that I doubt even the most astute viewer will see coming.
"The Secret Partner" is a thoroughly enjoyable film that represents the cliche "They don't make 'em like that any more!"
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A long time ago in our own galaxy, independent movie theaters prided themselves on creating unique promotional stunts, as evidenced from these photos from a March 1968 issue of Boxoffice magazine. In the parlance of the era, theater owners were "taking it to the streets" in order to drum up awareness of their latest showings. Sometimes models were employed and on other occasions, hapless theater employees were subjected to participating in rather bizarre and comical publicity stunts. These two photos show a model on the streets passing out leaflets to seemingly unimpressed passersby for the Joan Crawford thriller "Berserk!" and a mannequin dressed as Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name for "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." Those were the days!
Natalie cools off even as she heats up the audience in Splendor in the Grass.
Kimberly Lindbergs of the Movie Morlocks site presents her "Four Reasons Why I Love Natalie Wood" through analyzing Love With the Proper Stranger, This Property is Condemned, Rebel Without a Cause and Splendor in the Grass. (What? No West Side Story or Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice???) We concur that Natalie Wood's screen presence just seems to get better with time. Click here to find out why.
Those of us of a certain age can recall collecting movie pressbooks (called campaign books in the UK). These were sent by movie studios to theaters and served as a guide to the specific film, loaded with promotional ideas and alerting theater owners to merchandise they could tie into when showing the movie. Pressbooks are now a thing of the distant past, a casualty of the more cost-efficient method of providing publicity materials through on-line sites for which the press is given passwords. It may be more practical but there was great joy for collector's thumbing through these marvelous guides page-by-page. Here are some promotional blocks from the American pressbook for the 1969 comedy crime classic "The Italian Job" starring Michael Caine and Noel Coward. They recall a golden era when you could count on a vinyl soundtrack and paperback novel tie-in to accompany the release of a movie. It may surprise our readers to know that the film wasn't a hit in America but over the decades it has built a very loyal following in the UK where you can still buy a reproduction of the quad movie poster in souvenir stores in Piccadilly. As for the Americanized remake starring Mark Wahlberg, well, the less said the better.
the financial success of John Carpenter’s Halloween
(1978) and Sean Cunningham’s Friday the
13th (1980), movie studios were making slasher films in large
quantities. They didn’t necessarily want
to, they just knew that there were scores to be made at the box office. Producers
and directors alike were trying to come up with the next big franchise to keep
pumping out money makers for years to come. The success of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
directly inspired The Toolbox Murders
(1978). Likewise, Maniac (1980),
released in New York City on Friday, January 30, 1981 (the same day as David
Cronenberg’s Scanners), was the
result of a brainstorming conversation between the film’s eventual director
Bill Lustig and his friend Frank Pesce (who can be seen as the restaurant manager
in James Toback’s 1978 film Fingers
and as fugitive Carmine in Martin Brest’s 1988 comedy Midnight Run. His life story was also the subject of the 1991
comedy 29th Street,
directed by George Gallo who, incidentally, penned Midnight Run). The idea was to make a horror film that could be
billed as “Jaws on land.” Jaws (1975), of course, changed the
cinematic landscape and how movies are distributed and promoted using catchy tag
lines, effective advertising campaigns, and rolling out a film in hundreds of
movie theaters at once. It also provided the basis for obvious and cheap
imitations and rip-offs. Maniac isn’t
so obvious to the untrained eye.
back-to-back in the fall and brutal winter of 1979 with much of the same crew from
Friday the 13th, Maniac stars the under-rated,
under-utilized and, unfortunately, late Joe Spinell, an actor of considerable
range who, despite his intimidating stance and demeanor, was actually a
thoughtful and exceedingly nice personality on the set and behind-the-scenes,
always eager to help fellow performers. Here he plays Frank Zito, a middle-aged
man who lives alone in a New York City apartment amid toys and mannequins who
double as his friends and personal company following a childhood ruined at the
hands of an overbearing and physically abusive mother whom he lashes out
against when he comes into physical contact with women. Following in the
footsteps of the slasher films of the time, Maniac’s
theme of an outcast with sexual hang-ups has provided more than enough fodder
as a theme for disturbed young men who engage in ruthless killing sprees. Frank
converses with the mannequins which are adorned with the real scalps and
clothing of women who met their end at his hands, thus giving credence to the
notion that serial killers keep trophies of their victims, a point spouted by
Clarice Starling in The Silence of the
Lambs ten years later. Not all his victims are women, however. One night he
follows a couple and shoots the man (Tom Savini!) point blank with a double-barreled
shotgun before adding his girlfriend to his macabre collection. On another night he spots two nurses at a
hospital (one of them is played by former porn actress Sharon Mitchell) and
follows one of them into a subway bathroom in the film’s creepiest and most
chance encounter with a photographer named Anna (Caroline Munro, who actually
got her start as an actress after someone took her photograph and entered the
winning image into a contest) leads him to her apartment. Anna doesn’t appear
to be the slightest bit concerned that he obtained her name and address from
her camera bag and invites him in! They soon begin a platonic friendship, but one
of Anna’s model friends, Rita, catches Frank’s eye at one of her photo shoots
and soon meets a terrible end. Anna is oblivious to this fact until she
accompanies Frank to his mother’s grave with flowers and all hell breaks loose
and heads towards an ending that is inspired until the final shot which is
often relegated to the domain of slasher films, most notably Michele Soavi’s
1987 stylish giallo classic Stagefright.
Maniac developed a notorious reputation for
its then-shocking violence, angering feminists from coast to coast. While it’s
still fairly disturbing even by today’s standards, there is an argument to be
made that AMC’s The Walking Dead is
infinitely more savage. Shot on 16mm, the film holds up very well and has now
been made available on Blu-ray in a three-disc set that includes a transfer
mastered from a 4K restoration of the original camera negative.
Cinema Retro mourns the passing of our friend and colleague Nick Redman,
film historian and Oscar-nominated documentary maker as well as
recognized scholar of the works of Sam Peckinpah. Nick passed away after
a long illness we all had hoped he would prevail over. The film
industry has lost a major champion of classic cinema. Nick, his wife
Julie Kirgo, a fellow film historian, and Brian Jamieson were the
founders of Twilight Time, the boutique video label that puts out first
rate limited editions of retro movie classics. Nick and Paul Seydor were nominated for documentary Oscars for their 1996 film "The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage".
year 1967 was a milestone for actor Sidney Poitier. First, To Sir, with Love garnered sizable box-office for this British
picture, and then Hollywood produced In
the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s
Coming to Dinner, two back-to-back revolutionary movies that solidified Poitier’s
position not only as Tinsel Town’s only black leading man at the time, but also
as an icon of the civil rights movement and the
representative—certainly not by choice—of his race in films to the rest of
America. Throughout his career, Poitier maintained an intelligence and dignity
that was tangible, and this is what made him such a charismatic star.
In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner were Oscar
nominees for Best Picture. A winner of five awards, Heat took home the gold. Rod Steiger, Poitier’s dynamic co-star,
won the Best Actor trophy. Hal Ashby and Stirling Silliphant were honored for,
respectively, editing and the adapted screenplay (based on the novel by John
Ball). It was a year of tough competition (The
Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde were
In the Heat of the Night is still a
terrific movie today, one must place it in the context of the year it was
released to fully understand its impact. The civil rights movement was at its
height. The nation’s television sets were full of images of marches, riots, and
violence. It seemed as if we were sitting on a powder keg, and Heat perfectly captured the tension of
the moment by telling a story set in the South of a racist police chief and a
black detective who unwittingly join forces to solve a murder.
Tibbs (Poitier) is a homicide detective from Philadelphia who happens to be
passing through town on the night a prominent white businessman is found
murdered. Arrested at the train station, Tibbs is brought to Chief Gillespie
(Steiger) and the truth comes out that they have the wrong man. Before he can
leave town, though, Tibbs finds himself embroiled in the investigation—and ends
up leading it—while all around him is the threat of danger due to the color of
then there’s the infamous scene which many critics and film historians called
“the slap heard around the world.” Tibbs and Gillespie go to a cotton
plantation to interview the deceased’s primary competitor, Endicott (Larry
Gates), who is obviously put off by being questioned by a black man. At one
point, he slaps Tibbs—but Tibbs immediately retaliates by slapping the man in
return. In 1967, this was positively shocking. It’s the key moment in this
Oates and Lee Grant also deliver strong performances as a police deputy and the
widow of the murder victim, respectively. With the innovative blues score by
Quincy Jones (and title theme sung by Ray Charles), Haskell Wexler’s gritty
cinematography, and the perfect script by Silliphant, In the Heat of the Night is one of the classic American films.
Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray contains a 4K digital restoration with an
uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The visual quality is much improved over the MGM
Blu-ray of a few years ago (but, unfortunately, does not include the audio
commentary by Jewison, Grant, Steiger, and Wexler from the earlier disk).
Still, there are some good supplements. Brand new interviews with Norman
Jewison and Lee Grant are informative, especially Grant’s treatise on the
blacklisting she had undergone. A new interview with Aram Goudsouzian, author
of Sidney Pointer: Man, Actor, Icon,
presents a capsule portrait of Poitier and his place in Hollywood through the
years. A vintage interview of Poitier from a 2006 AFI piece illustrates the
making of the picture. Ported over from the previous MGM disk is the 2008 documentary,
Turning Up the Heat: Movie-Making in the
60s, which features Jewison, Wexler, and producer Walter Mirisch, plus
contemporary filmmakers John Singleton and Reginal Hudlin on the making of the
film. Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound,
also from 2008, explores the movie’s soundtrack and features Jones, lyricists
Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and Herbie Hancock. The theatrical trailer is
included, and the accompanying booklet features an essay by critic K. Austin
In the Heat of the
a landmark drama that broke new ground on several fronts… but also at its heart
is a cracking good murder mystery! A must-see masterpiece.
of Linda Blair acting in the 1970s, and the ’73 horror classic The Exorcist
will likely be the first film that comes to your mind. But while there’s ample
reason for that movie to stand out as it does, Blair put on an equally
memorable performance – albeit in a completely different type of movie – in
1974’s made-for-TV feature Born Innocent.In that release, which has the feel of an especially harsh ABC
Afterschool Special, Blair plays an average, highly likable teenage kid who
becomes estranged from her worthless parents and winds up in a rough juvenile
detention facility, following some runaway attempts. Born Innocent can be
lumped in with the “babes behind bars” exploitation subcategory of films, but
there’s nothing campy about the TV movie. It’s downbeat, super realistic, and
five months after Born Innocent originally aired on NBC, the network showed
Blair in a similar type of story, with their broadcast of Sarah T.-Portrait of
a Teenage Alcoholic, in February of ’75. Shout! Factory has just introduced a new
Blu-ray version of the film. Blair, who
turned 16 a few weeks before the movie reached households, plays the troubled
title character, Sarah Travis. Sarah is a lot like Blair’s character Chris
Parker from Born Innocent. She’s a normal, relatable, well-intentioned teenage
girl going through some rough times. Sarah’s parents divorced a few years
before the outset of the story, when her materialistically ambitious mother got
tired of her artistically inclined husband’s (played by Larry Hagman)
unreliable ways. The mother (Verna Bloom plays her) remarried a more stable,
financially healthy man (William Daniels), and the family - which includes
Sarah’s older, married sister – moves from San Francisco to an upscale
neighborhood in Southern California.
are some factors that differentiate Sarah Travis’s life predicaments from Chris
Parker’s. While Chris is (was, before being sent to the reform school) being
raised by a physically abusive father and an emotionally absent mother, Sarah’s
three parents are actually trying to be good to her. Her artsy dad doesn’t have
the wherewithal to be a provider to her, and he often leaves her disappointed
by not being available enough to her; but at least he loves her and sometimes
has fun with her. And while Sarah’s mom is a feminist’s nightmare whose answer
to every life problem is “I’ll let my husband decide what to do about that,”
she means well in attempting to create a stable home environment for her
daughter. Ditto Sarah’s stepfather, who tries his best to connect with the girl
and see to her needs, without attempting to completely overtake the role of
father in her life. Also, Sarah has a love interest – a bright, sensitive guy
who is played by Mark Hamill, a couple years before Hamill’s breakthrough role
in Star Wars.
Sarah’s life is challenging for her, even if it’s not as seemingly hopeless as
Chris Parker’s situation. She misses her real dad and feels alienated by how
focused her mother is on social status, and how completely her mom defers to
her new husband in all matters. She’s had to change high schools, and faces the
same social pressures and anxiety any 15-year old would experience in having to
make that adjustment at such a psychologically volatile time in life. And while
the guy she likes enjoys her company and cares about her, he’s not ready to get
emotionally involved with her, the way she would like. All of this leads Sarah
to continually turn to alcohol, to “help me feel good.” What starts as an
occasional sneaky nip during a stressful moment, becomes a debilitating habit.
story of Sarah T. was written by the TV writing/producing husband and wife team
of Richard and Esther Shapiro, who are best known as the creators of Dynasty
and its spin-off series The Colbys. A novel based on the film, which shares its
title and plot elements, was written by author Robin S. Wagner and published as
a Doubleday paperback original a month after the movie aired on television. The
book is not something anyone needs to read if they’ve seen the film, and is
most memorable for its lurid cover image, that shows Sarah’s downcast face
superimposed over the contents of a pint of whiskey. The Sarah T. film was
directed by Richard Donner, whose other directorial efforts from the decade
include The Omen (’76) and Superman (’78).
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Valentine’s Day, give the special people in your life a gift they’re sure to
love: film collections featuring their favorite movie stars.
new Audrey Hepburn 7-Movie DVD Collection features the luminous actress in beloved
classics including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady, Funny Face, Roman
Holiday, Sabrina, Paris When It Sizzles and War and Peace.This is a sensationally affordable gift that sparkles like diamonds. Click here to order from Amazon.
new Paul Newman 6-Movie DVD Collection boasts classic films highlighted by
Newman’s Oscar®-nominated performance in Hud. The collection also includes
dramas Road to Perdition and Fat Man and Little Boy, the comedy/drama Nobody’s
Fool, the romantic comedy A New Kind of Love, and the acclaimed whodunit Twilight. Click here to order from Amazon.
Mark Wahlberg 5-Film DVD Collection celebrates the charisma and range of one of
today’s biggest stars.Featuring
action-packed thrills, dark comedy and drama, the collection includes Shooter, Pain
& Gain, The Fighter, The Italian Job and The Gambler. Click here to order from Amazon.
Oscar winner Al Pacino is the latest major star to move into the realm of streaming TV series. He will star in Amazon's 10-episode series "The Hunt", a thriller set in 1977 in New York City that centers on the search for murderous ex-Nazis, a premise that seems to call to mind elements of the 1976 classic "Marathon Man". Pacino has won two Emmys for previous work in television but this marks the first time he has committed to starring in a series. The show will be produced by director Jordan Peele. For more click here.
Broadway legend Carol Channing has passed away from natural causes at age 97. To call her inimitable would be a misstatement as Ms. Channing was one of the most impersonated stars of all time. With her shocking white hairdo, expansive smile and gravelly voice, she endeared audiences and inspired careers for countless entertainers on the drag queen circuit. Channing became a Broadway star in 1949 with "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and later became inextricably linked to the title role in the 1964 Broadway smash "Hello, Dolly!", for which she received the Tony Award. She was frustrated however, when she was not cast in the film versions of either musical, losing the roles to Marilyn Monroe and Barbra Streisand respectively. Ms. Channing also starred in her own television variety series in the 1960s. Surprisingly, she appeared in only a handful of feature films. She earned a Golden Globe and a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the 1967 movie musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and was among the all star cast in director Otto Preminger's bizarre 1968 comedy flop "Skidoo". Seemingly ageless, Channing performed on stage for decades often in revivals or road productions of "Hello, Dolly!" in which she starred over 4500 times. For more click here.
Variety is reporting that Martin Scorsese is deeply involved in creating a new documentary about Bob Dylan titled "Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese". The Oscar-winning director had previously released "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan" which covered the iconic folk singer's controversial embrace of the electronic sound he adopted in the 1960s. The new film will cover Dylan's acclaimed 1975-76 Rolling Thunder tour, that featured an eclectic group of artists performing in a largely unscripted format. Dylan, who rarely gives interviews, is said to have provided one for Scorsese to use in the new documentary, which is still shrouded in mystery. Netflix will be producing the project. For more click here.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
BY LEE PFEIFFER
It may seem hard to believe in an era in which every personality on screen seems to be wearing a cape and tights but there are some intelligent films still being made for discriminating, mature viewers. The problem is that you often have to search to find them. Case in point: "The Lady in the Van", a 2015 British comedy/drama that found its intended audience but was relegated largely to the art house circuits in big cities. The movie is about as off-beat as you can imagine in terms of the central premise but we are told that it is mostly based on fact. Alex Jennings plays the film's real-life British playwright Alan Bennett, on whose experience the screenplay is based. Jennings was an aspiring playwright in 1974 when he moved to a relatively upscale neighborhood in London's Camden Town section. Bennett was enjoying some success with a show on the West End and was leading a fairly comfortable existence, though - at least in the film- he was frustrated by the fact that he no significant other. As a gay man, his unease was understandable- until 1969 homosexuality was a felony crime in Britain. Coming out of the closet was not something most gay people felt comfortable doing. The film presents Bennett creating his own live-in companion- an imaginary alter-ego with whom he trades barbs and discusses problems ranging from writers block to everyday household chores. His life takes an unexpected turn when a homeless woman arrives on his street driving a barely operable old van. She identifies herself as Mary Shepherd and is about as lovable as a tarantula. Mary becomes the talk of the posh neighborhood, moving her van occasionally to park in front of various houses. Some of the locals are kindly to her while others clearly disdain her, but all of them tolerate her presence and gets used to her. Mary keeps her "alternate side of the street" lifestyle going for several years. The van is her abode and she defends it with pride. She accepts handouts from neighbors but her prickly nature never results in her uttering the words "Thank you". Alan, like most of the locals, regards her with a bit of frustration as well as fascination. When a parking ordinance forces her van off the street, Alan offers his driveway as a place she can park "temporarily". You know how these things go. Before long, Mary has not only established the driveway as a permanent residence but is also making various demands on Alan to allow more privileges. Slowly, the months turn into years and both become accustomed to the bizarre living arrangements.(Mary never enters his home and the resulting effect on her hygiene is played for laughs). The two have a sometimes uneasy relationship but the gentle, meek Alan begins to care about her more than he will even admit to his alter-ego. He is wracked by guilt because his own aging mother is slowly deteriorating both mentally and physically and he feels guilty about having to have her committed to a nursing home. He uses Mary has her proxy so that an act of kindness towards her might help Alan alleviate some of his guilt about his mother.
Ultimately Alan's relationship turns to caregiver. Some of Mary's demands are reasonable (jury-rigging wires from his house so she can watch TV in her van) while others are too extravagant to comply with (constructing a tent so she can indulge in more hoarding of useless objects.) He also learns what the viewer has known from the opening, shocking frames: that Mary is hiding a terrible secret and lives in constant fear of being arrested. She, too, is wracked by guilt because she once killed a motorcyclist in an accident and fled the scene. We also learn that she is being blackmailed by an eyewitness (Jim Broadbent) to the event. Gradually, Alan sees her as a source of material for a writing project. He tracks down her only living relative, a brother who is somewhat estranged from her. He relates some remarkable details about her once-promising life and how it all went wrong when she sacrificed a musical career in order to join a convent. (The Catholic Church and religion play key roles in her life.) Nothing overly dramatic takes place in the leisurely-paced story but there is something remarkable the fact that Alan Bennett allowed this eccentric woman to spend a full 15 years residing in his driveway until her death in 1989.
Bennett published a journal about the experience titled "The Lady in the Van". In 1999, he adapted it into a play starring Maggie Smith. It was a major hit, running over 900 performances on the West End. The play's director, Nicholas Hynter, is a frequent collaborator of Bennett's, having worked with him on adapting Bennett's plays "The History Boys" and "The Madness of King George" for the screen. In 2015 they finally brought "The Lady in the Van" to the screen as well with Maggie Smith reprising the title role. Smith was now of an age where she could be even more convincing as the elderly eccentric and Bennett ensured that the movie was shot in the very house in Camden Town where the actual events took place. For all its charming aspects and the fact that the production presents two extraordinary performances by Smith and Alex Jennings, the end result is a mixed bag that you expect to move you in a more emotional way than it actually does. This is largely because Smith's character remains crusty, self-centered and pretty much an ingrate throughout. In the film's final moments, which details her death, Bennett and Hytner do manage to convey a softening of her persona in the final moments of her life but they then attempt to make her more lovable with an ill-advised funeral sequence in which we see the ghost of Miss Shepherd assuring us that she has found happiness in Eternity. The scene smacks of being a well-intentioned gimmick and seems somewhat out of place with the rest of the film. Jennings, known primarily as a stage actor, gives a marvelous performance as Bennett and manages the considerable achievement of not being overshadowed by the great Dame Maggie. The film starts off rather weakly but becomes more engrossing and satisfying if you stick with it. This is largely due to Bennett slowly unveiling key details about Miss Shepherd's challenges in life and the fact that she missed out on a promising musical career. Although Smith is very amusing in the comedic sequences, she is even more impressive in these dark, dramatic scenes. The end result is a mixed bag. The film is to be commended for presenting that rarest of screen experiences nowadays: an intelligent story aimed at adult audiences who seek fine performances and dialogue rather than mindless explosions. There are uneven and unsatisfying patches throughout but the performances alone merit it for recommended viewing.
Sony has released an impressive special edition Blu-ray of "The Lady in the Van". There are numerous featurettes including extensive interviews with Maggie Smith, Alan Bennett, Alex Jennings and Nicholas Hytner that give some interesting perspectives on the long history of the real life events that inspired the play and film. There is also a director's commentary with Hytner and some deleted scenes, some of which clearly show that Miss Shepherd is actually nt only extremely eccentric but is also suffering from dementia, as evidenced by her belief that she can be elected Prime Minister.
The web site Curbed provides an informative guide to 15 classic movie theaters in Los Angeles, each of which is distinguished not only by its design but also by an eclectic schedule of programming that any retro movie lover will appreciate. Click here to read.
If you think extremist talk radio is a relatively new phenomenon, the release of the 1970 film WUSA on DVD by Olive Films shows just how far back the not-so-grand tradition goes. The notion of reaching out to the fringe elements of society is well-documented here, with Paul Newman as a down-and-out musician with some broadcasting experience who sells his soul by taking a job as a DJ on right wing extremist radio station WUSA in New Orleans. Newman knows he's being used as a pawn for white supremicist tycoon Pat Hingle, but willingly accepts the fame and fortune that he receives when his star begins to rise - despite personally despising the words he reads on the air. In between playing cornporn patriotic ballads, Newman's character, known as Rheinhardt, spouts incendiary rhetoric designed to empower racists who want to combat expansion of the welfare state. Along the way, he hooks up with sexy-as-hell Joanne Woodward, playing an equally down-and-out woman whose fortunes have declined so badly that she is rejected when she applies to be a stripper. If the film seems especially harsh on the right wing fringe, liberals aren't spared, either. Anthony Perkins plays a stereotypical do-gooder, a true believer that LBJ's war on poverty would result in the establishment of his Great Society. What he fails to realize is that he, too, is being used as a dupe by community leaders who are secretly being paid off by WUSA management. Thus, both the forces of right and left collaborate to ensure inertia among opportunities for the impoverished.
Bloom with Clint Eastwood in "High Plains Drifter".
Veteran actress Verna Bloom has died at age 80. Bloom made her screen debut as the female lead in Haskell Wexler's acclaimed 1969 film "Medium Cool". Her performance gained her much traction in the film industry and she went on to star opposite Clint Eastwood in "High Plains Drifter" and "Honkytonk Man". She also memorably appeared in director John Landis's "National Lampoon's Animal House" playing the dean's wife who had a penchant for bedding college students. Her other film credits include "Badge 373", "The Hired Hand", "The Last Temptation of Christ" and the Frank Sinatra TV movie "Pickup on Cherry Street". Click here for more.
The YouTube channel Stanley & Us is devoted to the works and life of Stanley Kubrick. Here they present an interview that was done years ago with the late, esteemed British film critic and historian Alexander Walker, a friend of Kubrick's, who reflects on the fractious relationship Kubrick had with the volatile but ingenious Peter Sellers. While Walker downplays the extent of the disputes they had on the set of "Dr. Strangelove", he does provide some interesting insights into their work together.
It's arguable that Orson Welles's "The Other Side of the Wind" was the most famous unseen film of all time. However, with it's recent release there seems to be little doubt that "The Day the Clown Cried" can take the title. Jerry Lewis went into production in 1972 on the Holocaust drama only to immediately run into a tidal wave of problems ranging from unreliable funding sources to complex copyright disputes. Lewis finished the film but the elements were scattered to, well, the other side of the wind as various investors and stake-holders in the production all claimed their pound of flesh. The end result: there apparently isn't a complete version of the movie anywhere, though substantial portions ended up in Lewis's possession and he cobbled together something akin to a final cut. Very few people were shown the movie and response ranged from underwhelming to appalling. Lewis at various times indicated he wanted the movie to be seen if the legal problems could be resolved but at one point seemed to change his mind, saying he didn't want it shown because he was ashamed of the poor workmanship on the production. New York Times writer Peter Tonguette looks at the current status of the legendary, unseen work. Click here to read.
Once again TCM has created a hauntingly beautiful video tribute to the artists from the film world who passed away in 2018. Inevitably, we find ourselves shocked that some names from the past had left us without getting any attention or fanfare. You will probably be surprised, as well. It's always sobering to recognize how many irreplaceable talents have left us in any given year and 2018 was no exception. The TCM tributes are truly wonderful and makes one wonder why the Academy can't expand their memorial segment on the Oscars broadcast to include the wealth of talents that are represented here. Inevitably, the Oscars tribute, while sensitively done, causes controversy because of the prominent names who are not deemed worthy of mention, including people who were once nominated for Academy Awards. Thanks, TCM, for doing it right.
The mega-budget Waterworld laid a gigantic egg at the boxoffice when it was released in 1995. However, as with many commercial failures, there is considerable interest in the production even today, as evidenced by the ambitious release of a special edition Blu-ray through Arrow Films. Here is their official press release:
The most expensive film ever made at the time of its release,
Waterworld has thrilled audiences through the years with its awe-inspiring
action scenes, gargantuan maritime sets and ground-breaking special effects. A
definitive post-apocalypse blockbuster, Waterworld stars Kevin Costner (The
Untouchables) as The Mariner - a mutant trader, adrift in a dystopian future
where Earth is submerged under water and humankind struggles to survive on
boats and in ramshackle floating cities. The Mariner becomes embroiled with the
Smokers, a gang of pirates who, led by villainous leader Deacon (Dennis Hopper,
Blue Velvet), are seeking Enola (Tina Majorino, Napoleon Dynamite), a girl with
a map to the mythical realm of "Dryland" tattooed on her back. Famous
for both its epic scale and the controversy that swirled around its production,
Waterworld is a key cult film of the 1990s, and an essential entry into the
subgenre of ecologically-minded blockbusters. Presented here in an exclusive
new restoration, in three different cuts, and with a wealth of extra material,
this high-water mark of high-concept Hollywood can now be enjoyed as never
New restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
by Arrow Films, presenting the film in three cuts
Original 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 stereo audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of
Six collector’s postcards
Double-sided fold-out poster
Limited edition 60-page perfect-bound book featuring new
writing on the film by David J. Moore and Daniel Griffith, archival articles
and original reviews
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly
commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the
original theatrical cut
Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld, an all-new,
feature-length making-of documentary including extensive cast and crew
interviews and behind the scenes footage
Original archival featurette capturing the film's
Global Warnings, film critic Glenn Kenny explores the
subgenre of ecologically aware Hollywood blockbusters
Production and promotional stills gallery
Visual effects stills gallery
Original trailers and TV spots
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the
extended US TV cut, which runs over 40 minutes longer than the theatrical cut
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the
extended European “Ulysses” cut, which includes censored shots and dialogue
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
“BLOOD AND PRESTIGE”
By Raymond Benson
of this review are reprinted from the article “Playboy Goes to Hollywood,” by
the same author, which appeared in Cinema
Retro, Volume 2, Issue #5, 2006.)
Criterion Collection has seen fit to release on Blu-ray and DVD (separate
packaging) Roman Polanski’s striking film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, originally released in 1971.
Not very well received at first, the picture’s reputation has grown over the
years such that it is now arguably considered the definitive version of the “Scottish
play” on celluloid (although Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 Throne of Blood is certainly a contender). Gritty, realistic, and
violent, Polanski’s vision is dark and troubling—as the story is meant to be.
It’s possible that some of the negative
press it received in 1971 was due to the fact that it was the first major
motion picture produced by Playboy Productions, with Hugh M. Hefner serving as
executive producer, while Playboy executive Victor Lownes II served as assistant
executive producer (Andrew Braunsberg, a close friend of Polanski’s, was credited
as producer). The film came about as a result of the friendship between
Polanski and Lownes.The director had
been recovering from the tremendous amount of grief he had suffered after the
murder of his wife Sharon Tate at the hands of the Manson family in 1969—he
needed something that would help purge himself of the ugly and violent images
in his head and heart. Shakespeare’s controversial and bloody play seemed to be
the right vehicle. (Some say the play is unlucky—there are still theatre people
who refuse to refer to it by name.)
Indeed, making the film was something
of a catharsis for Polanski—there were a few occasions in which he unwittingly
referred to the lead actress as “Sharon.” Adapted by renowned playwright and
critic Kenneth Tynan, Polanski’s Macbeth
became a poster child for the handful of ultra-violent pictures to be released
in 1971—the same year as A Clockwork
Orange, Dirty Harry, and Straw Dogs. The blood flows freely in Macbeth—a decapitation is even presented
most realistically—but to focus solely on the film’s violence does not do it
justice. The film is a remarkably faithful adaptation of the play.
“Corporate was initially against the
idea,” Hugh Hefner said in a 2006 interview for Cinema Retro. “It was not a very commercial undertaking, and I knew
it wouldn’t make any money. Victor made a strong case to do it and I agreed
with him. It was more of a prestige thing for Playboy. Playboy and Shakespeare?
Who would have thought?”
The film was made in Scotland, of
course, and featured mostly unknown but highly talented stage actors—Jon Finch
as Macbeth, Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth, Nicholas Selby as Duncan, Stephen
Chase as Malcolm, Martin Shaw as Banquo, and Terence Bayler as Macduff. At one
point during production, Polanski ran over schedule and over budget, causing
the insurance backers to drop the guarantee. Hefner had to fly to London, take
stock of the situation, and personally guarantee the completion of the film
with Playboy Productions’ money.
Back home in the States, Hefner viewed
the dailies at the Playboy Mansion. Hefner remembered, “For my birthday that
year, the cast—on film—suddenly stopped the action of a scene and began singing
‘Happy Birthday’ to me.”
The film did receive a number of very positive reviews and a few awards,
too—it won Best Picture from the National Board of Review and won a BAFTA for
Costume Design. “Of course, as I predicted, it didn’t make any money,” Hefner
said. “In fact, it lost money. But we
didn’t really care. It was a good picture and I’m proud of it. I believe since
its release the film has gone into the black.”
Criterion’s new 4K digital restoration,
approved by Polanski, with 3.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is
assuredly the best possible presentation of this remarkable film. The dreary
Scottish landscapes are gorgeous in their own way, and you can feel the mud and
slop in every scene. Extras include a new documentary featuring interviews with
Polanski, Braunsberg, Lownes, and actors Annis and Shaw; a 1971 documentary
featuring rare footage of the cast and crew at work; an interview with Kenneth
Tynan from a 1971 episode of The Dick
Cavett Show; and a segment from the 1972 British TV series Aquarius featuring Polanski and theatre
director Peter Coe. Critic Terrence Rafferty’s essay in the booklet rounds out
this exceptional package from The Criterion Collection.
Grab it! Just don’t ever pronounce the
name of the play aloud!
Cinema Retro's latest season began with issue #43, which has shipped to subscribers in the UK and Europe. Generally, it ships from our North American office to all other worldwide subscribers sometime in mid-January. However, some complications concerning the shipping industry in the UK has caused a two-week delivery delay across the board that has affected all exporters using this service. The factors were industry-related and outside of our control. We now expect delivery of issue #43 to the USA office of Cinema Retro sometime around January 30th. The issue will be sent out to subscribers immediately. The UK shipping industry delay also affects some back issues of Cinema Retro that are due in the same shipment including orders for the Movie Classics Sergio Leone. which are currently sold out in the USA. You can place orders for these issues but they won't be available for shipment until late January. We appreciate your patience. Meanwhile, you can subscribe or renew for season 15 by clicking here.
Shirley Jackson's famed ghost story novel "The Haunting of Hill House" was originally made into an MGM film by director Robert Wise in 1963 Jan de Bont's 1999 remake was poorly received and most recently, there is a hit Netflix series inspired by Jackson's book. However, for pure brilliance, Wise's interpretation of the story still stands as a masterpiece of the horror film genre in which ambiguity and unexplained events prove to be more chilling than most films that employ over-the-top special effects. For all of respect accorded the film today, it was not particularly well-received by critics when it originally opened. One of the more positive and insightful reviews was written by James Powers for The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to read.
The web site Looper provides some video evidence of mega-budget cinematic misfires that caused their studios and/or production companies to fold. With the benefit of hindsight, we can all say "What were they thinking???" but at the time these were deemed to be "can't miss" blockbusters.
At the time of its release in 1962 critics treated director J. Lee Thompson's "Taras Bulba" as just another action epic. Well, back in those days, every week seemed to see the release of a worthwhile action epic. However, retro movie fans have long held this film in a place of honor. It has an intelligent script, fine performances and sequences that are truly magnificent in their scope- all set to the legendary Franz Waxman's superb, Oscar-nominated score. The film is unusual on many levels beginning with the period of history it covers: the battles between the Cossacks and Poles for control of the Ukraine Steppes in the early 16th century. When the film opens, the Cossacks are fighting with the Poles to thwart an invading Turkish army. However, the Poles double-cross their allies after victory has been achieved, slaughtering many of the Cossacks, whom they fear will be a future threat. The mantle of Cossack leadership falls to the courageous warrior Taras Bulba, who vows revenge against Poland no matter how long it takes. The Cossacks spend many years rebuilding their strength. During this time, Bulba fathers two sons: Andrei (Tony Curtis) and Ostap (Perry Lopez), both of whom do instill him with pride for adapting the rough-and-tumble ways of the Cossack warriors. When tensions ease with the Polish government, Taras instructs his sons to attend university in Kiev, ostensibly to get an education. In reality, he wants them to study Polish customs and habits, all the better to serve in the forthcoming war against them that he is planning. While in Kiev, the boys suffer the indignities of ridicule, beatings and hazings. (There is an amusing, if unintended,homo erotic aspect to some of these scenes, with sweaty, shirtless men whipping each other.) Andrei finds it's all worthwhile when he catches a glimpse of Natalia Dubrov (Christine Kaufmann), a beautiful young Polish girl who is from an influential family. Against all odds, he manages to catch her eye and ingratiate himself to her. The would-be lovers find ways to secretly meet to carry out their forbidden romance. (The notion of a Polish noblewoman carrying on a love affair with a crude Cossack warrior may seem far-fetched, but if the Cossack is Tony Curtis, I guess anything is possible.) When Andrei's interest in Natalia is discovered by her brother, a sword fight ensues in which Ostap mortally wounds the Polish army officer. The brothers escape back to the Steppes and the arms of their mother and father but Andrei still pines away for his lost love. Taras rallies the various Cossack tribes to join him in an assault on a city held by Poles. After a vicious battle, he bottles up his enemies inside the walls of the town and begins to starve them out. However, Andrei learns that Natalia is within the city and when plague breaks out, he makes an ill-fated decision to attempt to rescue her. This leads to the film's dramatic and very emotional climactic seen between Taras and Andrei.
"Taras Bulba" has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The transfer is outstanding and is so clear that some of the film's technical weaknesses appear more prominent than they probably did on the big screen. The scenes within Kiev are clearly achieved through the use of studio sets and matte paintings. Some scenes have a noticeable graininess to them and in certain cavalry charges, you might observe horsemen moving at sped up motion in the manner of the Keystone Cops. Nevertheless, this is an epic film indeed when it comes to the action sequences. One scene in particular is literally thrilling: the joining of the Cossack warriors on the open plain, all galloping at high speed to Franz Waxman's addictive musical score. The performances are also first-rate with Brynner giving a larger-than-life interpretation of Bulba in manner that no other actor of this era could achieve. Tony Curtis once again overcomes a New York accent (as he did in "The Vikings") and somehow appears completely credible. (An interesting footnote: Bulba's right hand man Shilo is played by Brynner's "Magnificent Seven" co-star Brad Dexter.) Christine Kaufmann was only 16 years old at the time of filming and the on-screen love affair with Tony Curtis replicated itself in real life: they began dating on the set and ended up getting married, though they divorced in 1968.
The Blu-ray disc includes an original trailer that absurdly proclaims, in the typical hyperbole of the day, that the film should be added to the list of "Wonders of the World"! Not quite. But say this for "Taras Bulba": it represents the kind of first rate action adventure epic of which it is often said "They sure as hell don't make 'em like that anymore."
Andrew V. McLaglen was almost predestined to be a movie director. The son of the legendary character actor Victor McLaglen, Andrew came of age on movie sets. His father often appeared in John Ford Westerns and Andrew developed a passion for the genre. He ultimately gained a foothold in the television industry during the late 1950s and early 1960s when TV Westerns were all the rage. He proved himself to be a capable and reliable director and eventually moved on to feature films. McLaglen scored a major hit with the rollicking Western comedy "McLintock!" starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in 1963. Two years later, he teamed with James Stewart for the poignant Civil War drama "Shenandoah". The film was a big success with both critics and at the boxoffice. Thus, Universal, the studio that released "Shenandoah", hoped to capitalize on the film's success and re-teamed McLaglen and Stewart for a Western, "The Rare Breed". Adding to the reunion aspect of the production, it co-starred Maureen O'Hara and Brian Keith. O'Hara had co-starred with Stewart in the 1962 comedy "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" and Keith was O'Hara's leading man in the Disney classic "The Parent Trap". Got all that? The script by Ric Hardman takes an unusual aspect of the Old West for its central plot line. Martha Price (O'Hara) and her daughter Hilary (Juliet Mills) have arrived in Texas from their home in England. They are bringing with them their prized Hereford bull, a breed not known in America. Their hope is to sell the animal at auction so that cross breeding American cows will eventually result in superior stock. The prim and proper upper-crust British ladies have endured a tragedy that isn't depicted on screen: the death of Martha's husband on the ship en route to America, although they seem fairly unperturbed, as they only fleetingly reference the dearly departed in the course of what follows. The Hereford is mocked by the cattle barons because it lacks the signature horns of traditional Texas steers. In a convoluted plot device, a smarmy rich man (David Brian) with an obsession for seducing Martha, bids on the Hereford to impress her. When his awkward attempts to bed her fail, somehow another unseen buyer steps forward and the beast must be transported to him via the efforts of a wrangler named Burnett (James Stewart). At this point, the story becomes difficult to follow. Suffice it to say that Burnett agrees to escort Martha, Hilary and their prized bull to the far-off destination to conclude the deal. Along the way, they are ambushed by Simons (Jack Elam), a greedy crook who causes a stampede of another cattle herd being escorted by Burnett's friend Jamie (Don Galloway.) In the resulting chaos, Simons intends to steal the Hereford as well as the money Martha has been paid to deliver the bull. If all of this sounds confusing, watching it unfurl on screen makes the plot even more fragmented when Martha accuses Burnett of also trying to swindle her. Ultimately, they all wind up at the outpost of the new owner, Bowen (Brian Keith), a Scottish eccentric who runs his own cattle empire and sees the possibility of crossbreeding the Hereford with his own herd.