Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Universal City, California, November 1, 2018 – Five of
some of the most timeless holiday films come together on Blu-ray™ and DVD in The
Original Christmas Specials Collection: Deluxe Edition available now from
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Featuring all-new bonus features and
unforgettable characters, experience these five classic holiday specials with
your whole family.
‘Tis the season to enjoy the timeless holiday classics in
The Original Christmas Specials Collection: Deluxe Edition featuring 5
unforgettable stories. Produced by the legendary Rankin/Bass, Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town and The Little Drummer Boy
feature iconic Animagic™ stop-motion animation and Frosty the Snowman and Cricket
on the Hearth are beautifully illustrated. Starring the voice talents of Fred
Astaire, Jimmy Durante, Mickey Rooney, Danny Thomas, Burl Ives and many more,
these favorites also feature some of the most beloved songs of the season and
are sure to entertain audiences of all ages for generations to come!
The Original Christmas Specials Collection: Deluxe
Edition includes Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Frosty the Snowman (1969),
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Cricket on
the Hearth (1967). Along with The Original Christmas Specials Collection:
Deluxe Edition, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and Santa
Claus is Comin’ to Town are also available in individual new Deluxe Editions on
Blu-RayTM and DVD.
· The Animagic
World of Rankin/Bass: An all-new documentary celebrating the legacy of the
holiday specials created by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass including
interviews with filmmakers and historians.
· Restoring the
Puppets of Rudolph: Discover how the puppets from the beloved special were
· Reimagining Rudolph
in 4D: A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the new Rudolph the Red-Nosed
Reindeer attraction film.
· Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer Attraction Film: A short stop-motion film originally created
for a Rudolph 4D experience.
Rudolph and the Reindeer Games: A video storybook including the untold story of
the Reindeer Games
· Frosty the
Snowman Original Pencil Test
on Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
has released an interesting time capsule of a boxed set that features early work
by director Brian De Palma and starring a very young Robert De Niro before
either of them were significant names in the motion picture industry. The films
are The Wedding Party (made in 1963,
released in 1969), Greetings (1968),
and Hi, Mom! (1970).
Palma had embarked on a film career in the very early 1960s when he was a
student at various institutions. While at Sarah Lawrence College in New York,
he collaborated with then-theatre-professor Wilford Leach (who went on to
become a major stage director, designer, and writer) and Cynthia Munroe (who
provided much of the script and funding) to make a feature entitled The Wedding Party. Most accounts (including
IMDb) state that the movie was made in 1963; however, an essay by Brad Stevens
in the accompanying Blu-ray booklet claims that the film was shot in 1964-65. It
was eventually copyrighted in 1966, but wasn’t released until 1969, after the
moderate success of De Palma’s first mainstream (of sorts) picture, Greetings (released a year earlier in ‘68).
most interesting thing going for The
Wedding Party is that it also sports the movie debut of De Niro, as well as
Jill Clayburgh, William Finley, and Jennifer Salt (although De Niro’s name is
misspelled in the credits as “Denero”—go figure). It’s one odd little movie,
very low-budget, shot in black and white, and in a style reminiscent of early
silent comedies (although it has sound). In a supplemental featurette, critic
and filmmaker Howard S. Berger cites Richard Lester’s The Running, Jumping, and Standing Still Film (1959) as an
influence, and one can see that. There is speeded-up footage in which
characters run around, jump, fall, and drive cars in a comic, Keystone Cops
fashion. There is also a French New Wave feel in that the picture is full of
radical jump cuts. De Niro’s character, Cecil, is really a supporting role/groomsman
to protagonist Charlie (Charles Pfluger), the groom of the titular event, and
Josephine (Clayburgh), the bride. William Finley, who went on to star in other
De Palma pictures, particularly Phantom
of the Paradise, is another groomsman. The
Wedding Party is a black comedy about the hypocritical rites of a wedding
and the familial events leading up to it. There’s a laugh or two.
Greetings was another black
comedy made in collaboration with co-writer/producer Charles Hirsch as the kind
of pseudo-underground, low-budget, counterculture art film that budding
filmmakers were creating to appeal to the college crowd in the late 60s (movies
like Bob Rafelson’s Head or some of
Roger Corman’s hippie-biker pictures come to mind). De Niro shares protagonist
status with Gerrit Graham and Jonathan Warden as Jon, Lloyd, and Paul,
respectively. Each young man is rebelling against society in some way. Paul
wants to avoid the draft (so his pals help him be “gay”); Lloyd is obsessed
with the Kennedy assassination and seeks to uncover its secrets; and Jon wants
to be a pornographer. The picture is shot in a similar vein as was Wedding Party, albeit in color this
time, with even more uncompromising editing. This time it’s got the whole
late-60s pop thing going for it—shock-value subject matter, political
commentary, drugs, violence, and sex. In fact, the latter component earned Greetings the distinction of being the
first American mainstream movie to be officially given the “X” rating by the
newly-established MPAA (it has since been re-rated “R”).
to Hirsch, Greetings got mixed
reviews but did good business, especially in New York, where it played well at
art houses. It was decided that a sequel was in order, originally called Son of Greetings, but the title was
eventually changed to Hi, Mom!
Released in 1970, Mom almost received
an “X” rating, but De Palma deleted part of a scene to get an “R.”
Hi, Mom! is yet another black
comedy, and this one’s particularly subversive. It focuses solely on De Niro’s
character, Jon, who has returned to New York after serving in Vietnam. Now he’s
radicalized and wants to make a statement to the world. Hirsch calls the character
“Taxi Driver Light,” and one can see a glimpse of Travis Bickle here in De
Niro’s Jon. This time, Jon continues his venture into smut-making (with the
help of pornographer Allen Garfield, continuing a role he started in Greetings) by filming across the street
into people’s apartment windows, Rear
Window-style. He falls for one of the victims of his voyeurism, Judy
(Jennifer Salt). Most notable in the picture is a disturbing black and white
sequence in which an off-off-Broadway troupe of black actors perform a show
entitled “Baby, Be Black,” in which white audience members are forced to participate
in the show, put on blackface, eat soul food, and then be terrorized by the
actors (who are painted in whiteface). Not sure how this sequence would play
for a modern audience! Look for early appearances by Charles Durning (credited
as Charles Durnham) and Paul Bartel.
has done a top-notch job with these cinematic oddities. The High Definition
Blu-ray (1080p) presentations with original English mono audio (uncompressed
LPCM) look and sound surprisingly good. There are optional English subtitles. Supplements
are plentiful. There’s a new audio commentary on Greetings by Glenn Kenny, author of Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor; a new appreciation of De Palma’s
and De Niro’s collaborations by critic and filmmaker Howard S. Berger; new
interviews with Charles Hirsch; the pressbook for Greetings; the theatrical trailer for Hi, Mom!; reversible sleeves on the two jewel cases with
commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin; and booklets featuring pieces on the
films by Brad Stevens, Chris Dumas, and Christina Newland, and an archival
interview with De Palma and Hirsch.
three films are curiosities, certainly fare for film historians and serious
enthusiasts of De Palma and De Niro. For others, the trio will be considered
very strange pieces of cinema that merely reflect the times in which they were
wonders if Billy Wilder’s magnificent comedy-drama, The Apartment, could be made today in the age of #MeToo. Probably
not, despite its brilliant script, exceptional cast and performances, perfect
direction, and its positive message against sexual harassment in the workplace.
so, in some circles The Apartment was
considered controversial upon its release in 1960. Hollis Alpert in the Saturday Review called it a “dirty fairy
tale.” Then again, The Apartment was
coming off the heels of the hugely successful and popular Some Like it Hot, which the more-Puritan side of America may have
called illicit and tawdry, too. Or perhaps co-writer and director Wilder was
simply good at telling grown-up tales for adults within the context of a
rapidly-maturing culture that was on the verge of a decade known for its freedom
of expression. The 1960s was an explosion in breaking taboos—in all the arts, as
well as in politics, civil rights, and sexual mores. It was the decade of revolution,
protest, and the Pill.
Weiner was most assuredly influenced by The
Apartment to create his groundbreaking television series, Mad Men, which also spotlighted sexual
harassment in corporate America in the 1960s. The executives of Mad Men’s Manhattan advertising firm
often behaved like their counterparts in the New York insurance company that is
at the center of The Apartment. To
think that Wilder did it first, and at the beginning of the actual decade in
question, is a kind of eerie premonition.
the film, written by Wilder and his relatively new (since 1957) scribe partner,
I.A.L. Diamond, several executives at the firm take advantage of schlemiel C.
C. “Bud” Baxter (a career-defining performance for Jack Lemmon) by borrowing
the underling’s Upper West Side apartment for extramarital affairs, often with
women from the office. Baxter hopes for a promotion out of the deal. One of the
bosses, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, playing against type once again for
Wilder) wants the apartment for a liaison with Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine,
in a career-making performance), who
is a lowly elevator operator at the firm. The problem is that Bud is sweet on
a screwball comedy, a love story, a treatise on gender politics, and a cynical
take on American morality, all done with Billy Wilder’s singular flare for
caustic wit and irony. Oscar voters thought it was special, too, for the
picture walked away with the statues for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best
Original Screenplay, as well as Art/Set Direction (black and white) and
Editing. Lemmon and MacLaine were nominated in the leading acting categories,
as was Jack Kruschen (who plays an initially bewildered—and then
helpful—neighbor) for Supporting Actor.
Blu-ray release is a marvel. The brand new 4K restoration looks astonishingly sharp
and crystal clear, an absolute perfect representation of the film. It comes
with an uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack, with an optional 5.1 remix in
lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. There’s an audio commentary by film producer and
historian Bruce Block.
previous home video releases, this Arrow release contains loads of supplements.
The Key to the Apartment is a
wonderful and concise introduction to the movie by film historian Philip Kemp,
who also provides selected scene commentary throughout the picture. The Flawed Couple is a new video piece
by filmmaker David Cairns on the unique collaboration between Wilder and
Lemmon. Hope Holiday, who plays one of Bud’s bar pickups, is featured in a
short interview with anecdotes about the making of the movie. Of interest to
budding screenwriters is an archival interview with Wilder for the WGA Oral
Histories program on how he writes a script. Also included are
previously-released documentaries from 2007, Inside the Apartment, a making-of featurette, and Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon—but
now presented in high definition. A reverse sleeve on the jewel case presents
the original artwork for the film poster and newly commissioned artwork by
Academy is rapidly becoming one of the great classic film restorers on Blu-ray.
The Apartment is a testament to its quality-control.
Billy Wilder’s masterpiece (one of several!) is also a work of genius that, considering
today’s sexual politics, still stands the test of time.
Warner Archive has just released the 1951 RKO science-fiction classic The Thing
From Another World on Blu-ray and it is a definite improvement over the current
Hawks produced this tight 87-minute thriller from a script by Charles Lederer
and the original story Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell.Lederer removed the shape shifter aspects of
the alien visitor and dialed back the paranoia that John Carpenter explored in
his graphic 1982 remake.Here, the
scientists who discovered the crashed remains of a flying saucer under the ice
near the North Pole are shocked to find the remains of an
extra-terrestrial.After returning to
the base camp with their frozen visitor, an accident allows the creature to
thaw and wreak havoc upon the researchers and the Air Force team sent to
creature, played by James Arness, needs blood to survive and reproduce, and two
members of the crew are found hung upside down with their throats slit.Kenneth Tobey leads the team of soldiers and
scientists, now isolated due to a storm, in a desperate battle to subdue the
alien before they are all killed.
strong supporting cast includes Robert Cornthwaite, Margaret Sheridan, Dewey
Martin, Douglas Spencer and in a rare on-screen appearance, voiceover master
Paul Frees.The pace is fast and furious
with not a scene or line of dialogue wasted in this chilling story of do-or-die
survival against a seemingly undefeatable foe.The monster, compared by the scientists to a form of plant-life, is
unaffected by bullets and demonstrates it has the ability to reproduce itself
after a sled dog attack severs its arm.A spectacular sequence features an attempt to incinerate the creature by
dousing it with kerosene and setting it ablaze.What follows is a thrilling action set that critic Roger Ebert admitted
scared him to death as a youth.Director
James Cameron, in the sci-fi documentary Watch the Skies, noted it as the first
full body burn in a Hollywood movie and marveled that “the entire scene was lit
by the guy on fire.”
followed the completion of The Thing as to who actually helmed the film.Direction is credited to Christian Nyby, but
many critics claim that the film is very close to producer Hawks in style and
execution.Subsequent interviews with
several cast members reveal that even the actors weren’t sure who was in
and Nyby were clever in never showing an extended close up of Arness as the
Thing, thus keeping him more mysterious and anonymous.Later interviews revealed that Hawks was
never satisfied with the look of the creature and actor Arness was somewhat
embarrassed by the costume and make-up effects.The story comes to an electrifying conclusion that asks the world, in the
midst of numerous real-life UFO sightings across the country, to “watch the
technicians at Warner Archive have done a masterful job at rescuing this
favorite classic from the ravages of time.The new disc was created from a 1080p high-definition master in 1.37
preserving Russell Harlan’s claustrophobic framing and his beautiful black and
white photography.All scratches, dirt, pops
and instances of flicker have been removed.The contrast is sharp and the blacks are rich with fantastic detail now
revealed in every scene.What might have
been stock footage of the Air Force plane landing at the North Pole is crisp
and appears to be second-unit work specifically for this film.Several sequences that were inserted back
into the original print, such as the “close the door” scene with General
Fogarty, are nearly as clear as the rest of the film.Watch for the scene where we first meet Dr.
Carrington and notice that the elements on the periodic table above his head
may be clearly read.
mono sound is very crisp and makes it easier to follow the rapid-fire dialogue,
which was a hallmark of Hawks’ productions.The humorous romantic exchanges between Tobey and Sheridan are
especially helped by this sonic enhancement.The re-mastered soundtrack also allows us to fully appreciate the
growling brass and eerie theremin tonalities from Dimitri Tiomkin’s score.The opening credits might remind you of
Tiomkin’s themes during the graveyard scene in It’s a Wonderful Life, which was
made at RKO six year prior to this film.
Warner Archive Blu-ray release of The Thing from Another World is an occasion
where it is definitely worth the cost of upgrading from the DVD, although the only bonus extras are a couple of trailers.This is a film that John Carpenter, Steven
Spielberg, George Lucas and James Cameron all cite as a major inspiration for
their own works.This new print shimmers
and would make a worthy addition to your home library.
Universal has released the 1967 Don Knotts comedy "The Reluctant Astronaut" as a Blu-ray release. The film was Knotts's second feature film for the studio following the surprise success of "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken". This time Universal raised the production budget, thus allowing director Edward Montagne to shoot on location at both the Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers. Knotts again recreates what is essentially his Emmy-winning portrayal of Deputy Barney Fife from "The Andy Griffith Show", complete with that character's requisite "salt-and-pepper" suit. When we first see his character, Roy Fleming, he's a 35 year-old nervous type whose "career" is playing an astronaut on a rocket ship ride in a children's amusement park. He still lives at home with his doting mother (Jeanette Nolan) and his overbearing father, Buck (Arthur O'Connell), who keeps bragging about his heroics in WWI and instills military discipline in the household. ("Well, he was a corporal, and you know how bossy they could be!" explains Roy's mom.) Buck wants his son to live up to his own self-proclaimed achievements in the Great War and without Roy's knowledge, sends in an application to NASA under his son's name. The goal is to get Roy into the astronaut training program. When an acceptance letter to report to NASA arrives in the mail, Roy goes into panic mode at the prospect of being an astronaut. He's suffered from a fear of heights since childhood and he reminds his mother that he can't even bring himself to get on the step stool to reach the marmalade jar. Attempts to share his fears with his father fall on deaf ears as Buck is a big-mouthed blowhard who immediately starts bragging to the entire town about his son's achievement. Soon, Roy is the reluctant guest at a party in which he is already cited as a local hero. Not wanting to humiliate himself or his father- not to mention local girl Ellie (Joan Freeman), who is trying to impress- Roy leaves for the NASA training center. (An amusing, on-going gag finds Roy pretending to board planes but secretly slipping away so he can take a safer mode of transportation: a Greyhound bus.)
Once he reports to NASA, Roy is both relieved and bemused by the fact that he has not been accepted for astronaut training but, in fact, is a janitor-in-training. When his father and his friends make a surprise visit to the facility, Roy tries to cover up his shame by dressing as an astronaut and demonstrating a new rocket sled with predictably disastrous results. Upon being fired and unmasked as a fraud, he returns to his hometown in shame, leaving his father heartbroken. However, this familiar dilemma in all of Knotts's feature films is resolved in predictable fashion by fate allowing him a chance to redeem himself. NASA learns that the Soviets are about to demonstrate the effectiveness of their new automated space capsule by launching a dentist who has no experience with astronaut training. NASA is eager to beat them to the punch and decides to ask Roy to volunteer. The scenes of the panic-stricken nerd trying to cope with space travel are among the funniest bits in the film. Naturally, a disaster occurs and Roy saves the day by summoning hidden courage that even he didn't know he possessed.
"The Reluctant Astronaut" doesn't have the cult following that "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" has built but it's equally good and at times laugh-out-loud funny thanks to Knotts' comedic genius and an inspired supporting cast that includes Leslie Nielsen (still trapped in pre- "Airplane" mode when studios didn't realize his comic potential), Arthur O'Connell, Jesse White, Jeanette Nolan, Frank McGrath and Paul Hartman. There are other familiar elements of the Knotts feature films: a good script by Everett Greenbaum and Jim Fritzell (head writers of "The Andy Griffith Show") and fine direction by Knotts's frequent collaborator, Edward Montagne. Naturally, there's also a zippy and amusing score by Vic Mizzy.
Universal has once again provided a terrific Blu-ray transfer with eye-popping colors. Not to sound like an ingrate, but I feel compelled to repeat my only criticism of these Knotts releases, which is their complete lack of bonus materials, especially since the DVD editions contained the original trailers which are easily available for the Blu-ray releases. However, even if you have the DVD editions in your library, the quality of the Blu-rays releases merits upgrading if you're a true Knotts fan.
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model Tina Cassidy (Kathryn Witt) visits Hollywood plastic surgeon Larry
Roberts with a specific list of tiny imperfections that need to be corrected at
the request of Reston Industries, a producer of glossy television
commercials.Dr. Roberts becomes curious
when he realizes that several of his recent patients have had the same type of
follows is a science fiction/police procedural that involves the murder of
these same models.The police become
suspicious when it is discovered that all the victims were patients of Dr.
Michael Crichton once again makes predictions based on emerging
technologies.His first feature film, Westworld
(1973), pioneered the use of digitized imagery to present the point of view of
Yul Brynner’s android gunslinger.
Looker, we have actors being converted to computerized images that may be
manipulated through animation.These
digital actors communicate subliminal messages that cue the audience to respond
favorably to the product.Once these
models are scanned by the L.O.O.K.E.R. (Light Ocular-Oriented Kinetic Emotive
Responses) program, there’s no need for humans to create commercials.And if the process works so well at
convincing television viewers to buy, why not use it to manipulate a national
election and allow a corporate-friendly Senator to be elected President?
one effective scene, Tina returns to her home to visit with her parents and
finds that they can’t take their eyes away from a comedy show they are
watching.Mom and Dad have been drawn in
Industries is also preparing the L.O.O.K.E.R. technology for military
applications with a gun that renders an enemy immobile for several minutes
leaving no memory of the event.A
henchman hired to kill Dr. Roberts employs the weapon to almost humorous effect
as he taunts his victim.
good thriller requires a great cast and director Crichton chose wisely with
Albert Finney as the mild mannered
surgeon Dr. Roberts.One might wonder if
this character was at all inspired by the Beatles’ song of the same name.Also on hand are James Coburn as sleazy corporate head John Reston, Susan
Dey as model Cindy Fairmont, the always
beautiful Leigh-Taylor Young as marketing director
Jennifer Long and Dorian Heywood as
people may be aware of this film only from its claustrophobic pan and scan
showings on pay cable during the 80s and 90s.The Warner Archive’s’widescreen Blu-ray provides a beautifully restored
edition of Looker in all its Panavision glory.The stereo sound is properly re-mastered and showcases the music score
by Barry De Vorzon, who created a terrific techno-thriller
soundtrack that avoided the cheese factor and aged well.And then there’s that title song, performed
by Sue Saad, that will definitely earworm its way into your head for days.
new Blu-ray version of Looker will propel you back to the 80s in style and
comfort. Bonus features are the original trailer, an informative introduction by Michael Creighton and a deleted scene that was included in the TV broadcast of the film. Another great addition to the
Warner Archive library.
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It took Sean Connery years to successfully cast aside the shadow of James Bond and establish himself as a diverse actor. Connery had made some fine non-Bond films even during the peak of 007 mania - The Hill, Woman of Straw, A Fine Madness and Marnie. Each of these worthy efforts afforded Connery a role that was significantly different than that of Bond but, much to his frustration, all of them were box-office disappointments, although he did have the satisfaction of seeing The Hill win international acclaim. When Connery left the Bond series in 1968, he made some more fine films. The Western Shalako was an international box-office success, as was The Anderson Tapes, which cast him as a charismatic crook. Yet, Martin Ritt's The Molly Maguires, an ambitious film about exploited coal miners, failed to click with audiences, as did The Red Tent, which afforded Connery top-billing even though he only had a supporting role. Connery returned to the Bond fold in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever and then quit the part once again. He gave one of the finest performances of his career in Sidney Lumet's micro-budget drama The Offence, but it played in only a few art houses before slipping into oblivion. John Boorman's Zardoz, which has attracted a cult following today, was a critical and box-office flop at the time of its release, as was a minor Connery thriller The Terrorists (aka Ransom). But Connery was not about to be counted out. He scored with Murder on the Orient Express, The Wind and the Lion, Robin and Marian, The Great Train Robbery and, most significantly, The Man Who Would Be King. All were critical successes even if they were not blockbusters. Connery also played a key role in the WWII epic A Bridge Too Far, a fine and underrated film. Soon thereafter, however, his choice of film projects became erratic. Although the films Cuba, Wrong is Right and Outland all under-performed at the box-office, they at least afforded him the opportunity to work with acclaimed directors Richard Lester, Richard Brooks and Peter Hyams, respectively. But the cheesy disaster flick Meteor could only be attributed to the desire to make a fast buck.
As Connery matured as a man and actor he still would take on films with limited commercial appeal if he felt the project was artistically rewarding. This was the case with the 1982 film Five Days One Summer which proved to be the final cinematic work of Oscar-winning director Fred Zinnemann, who had made such classics as High Noon and From Here to Eternity. Zinnemann had scored a late career triumph in 1977 with Julia but hadn't made a film since. The movie was an odd choice for both men since the story was small in scale and seemed to have no hope of attracting mainstream audiences. Five Days is very much an art house movie that was nevertheless given wide release based solely on Connery's presence as the leading man. Predictably, it had a quick playoff to largely empty theaters but perhaps more surprisingly, the critics who had lauded Zinnemann with praise for Julia now accused him of making a film that was too small in scope for a collaborative project with Sean Connery. Zinnemann was seventy-four years old when he made the movie and perhaps he felt he had paid his dues to the big studios over the decades. Now in the twilight of his years he might have simply wanted to make a very personal film that appealed to him, if not everyone else. The script is based on a 1929 short story, Maiden Maiden by Kay Boyle. The film was shot under this title before the decision was made to change it to the equally ambiguous Five Days One Summer. In fact, Maiden Maiden was a more intriguing title because it has a dual reference. The first is the the female protagonist of the story and the second is to The Maiden, an imposing mountain in the Swiss Alps where some dramatic events occur. The story concerns the taboo relationship between Kate (Betsy Brantley), an attractive young woman in her mid-twenties and her uncle Douglas (Sean Connery), a successful doctor in his fifties. Since she was a little girl Kate has had an uncontrollable crush on Douglas and as she grew older, came to resent his wife Sarah (Jennifer Hilary). Director Zinnemann zig-zags back and forth in time to show how a schoolgirl crush developed into a forbidden sexual relationship that finds Kate excluding any other potential lover in favor of Douglas. She alternates between joy and depression, the latter mood hitting her whenever she dwells on the fact that she can never be in anything but a secret relationship with the man she loves. Even if Douglas were to get a divorce, the incestuous love affair could never be made public.
The main part of the film concerns Douglas and Kate pulling off a risky holiday trip that will allow them to spend time together in a remote lodge in the Swiss Alps where they can indulge in their mutual passion for hiking and climbing. To avoid any suspicions, she poses as Douglas's wife in a May/December romance. At first she is as giddy as a schoolgirl because she can finally share a bed with Douglas and they can openly express affection for each other. Things get complicated, however, when their hiking guide turns out to be Johann (Lambert Wilson), a handsome young man who is Kate's age. From minute one he awakens long suppressed sexual desires in her for someone other than Douglas, who immediately perceives the unspoken attraction between the two. The trio enjoy a cordial and professional relationship as the hike and take in the scenic wonders around them. However, Johann becomes more forthright when he learns that Kate isn't married to Douglas (though she does not confide he is her uncle). Johann is outraged and tries to convince her to leave him, telling her that she is in a dead-end love affair with a married man that can't end well. Meanwhile, on a dangerous hike with Douglas, Johann also confronts him while they are atop the summit of the Maiden (not the most opportune place to have an argument with each other.) Douglas maintains that he is not using Kate and really loves her. Meanwhile, she has made up her mind to leave Douglas and marry Johann. Before she can give Douglas a "Dear John" letter, word comes that there has been a disaster on the mountain and that one of the men in her life has been killed in an avalanche. In the final scene, she sees a distant figure emerging from the snowy mountain landscape, staggering towards her and a group of rescuers. Is it her lover or her would-be lover? Either way, the result will affect her life in a dramatic way forever.
"Five Days One Summer" has been likened to the German "mountain romances" that were enormously popular in pre-WWII Germany. These films were known to have skimpy plots but magnificent scenery. If critics were kind to any aspect of the movie, it was Giussepe Rotunno's impressive cinematographer. Most reviewers wondered what it was about this modest story that appealed to Fred Zinnemann, who worked infrequently but generally made "important" movies. Despite the low-key nature of the scenario that unfolds on-screen, there is much to like about the film. The performances are first-rate with newcomers Brantley and Wilson making both faring well in their first major roles in a feature film. (Ironically, Wilson screen-tested for the role of James Bond in "Octopussy" when it seemed doubtful that Roger Moore would return to the 007 franchise.) Connery dominates the film, however, with an excellent performance playing a complex character who at times is sympathetic and at other times somewhat of a villain. He's all superficial charm but he cruelly risks destroying his niece's own life by using her as a bed mate. There's no doubt he loves her, but it's clear he isn't about to endanger his marriage to be closer to her. When she finally expresses her frustration and threatens to leave him for Johann, he reacts violently and slaps her. Equally complex is the character of Kate. We're left to speculate as to just why her obsession with Douglas has presumably led to the exclusion of any other men in her life. In this respect, the script is either lacking or intriguing, depending upon the views of individuals in the audience. The only easily definable character is that of Johann. He's a young man of simple means who has no interest in the world outside of the immediate domain in which he was raised. When he is smitten by Kate, his goal isn't to share her life experiences but rather, to incorporate her into his own world. In this respect, Kate's choices of lovers have one thing in common: they both want her to submit to their ideas about what is in her best interests. Douglas has clearly deluded himself into believing that his relationship with Kate is not harmful to her. Johann offers her a more independent, traditional life but still makes it clear that if she marries him, she would have to be content to live in a beautiful but remote mountain region. The end of the tale finds Kate finally exerting her own will and finding a determination to pursue her own destiny.
"Five Days One Summer" is barely remembered, let alone discussed, in evaluations of Sean Connery and Fred Zinnemann's careers. However that shouldn't negate its many merits. I liked the film far more today than I did upon its initial release. The Warner Archive has released the film on DVD. The transfer is a bit problematic. Some of the sequences in the lush mountain areas do justice to the magnificent cinematography but certain other scenes have excessive grain. Additionally, interiors are over-saturated to the point that characters who are seen in dimly lit rooms are sometimes reduced to shadowy blobs. The film is a prime candidate for a Blu-ray, remastered edition. The only bonus extra is the original trailer. It is a region-free release.
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A controversy over the style of drapes for a mansion's library would not seem to be the fodder for a sizzling screen drama but it is the catalyst for the events that unwind in The Cobweb, a 1955 soap opera that involves the talents of some very impressive actors and filmmakers. The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli and produced by John Houseman, based on the bestselling novel by William Gibson. The cast features an impressive array of seasoned veterans as well as up-and-comers. Among them: Richard Widmark, Lauren, Bacall, Charles Boyer, Gloria Grahame, Lillian Gish, Oscar Levant, Susan Strasberg and John Kerr. The action all takes place in a psychiatric institute called "The Castle". It's actually a mansion house and the patients are seemingly there voluntarily. They are an assortment of eclectic types ranging from elderly eccentrics to young people with severe problems interacting with others. The nominal head of the institute is Dr. Devenal (Charles Boyer), an erudite, once-respected professional who long ago ceded actual power to his second-in-command, Dr. Stewart MacIver (Richard Widmark), who has implemented very progressive and controversial theories about patient treatment that involve giving those afflicted with psychiatric disorders a voice in the policies and events pertaining to the institute. He's routinely criticized for going too far in trying to build patient self-esteem but MacIver is convinced that such programs are the only way to ensure that those in his care can become self-sustaining members of society. The Castle is hardly the kind of loony bin depicted in most Hollywood films of the era. In fact, it looks more like an upscale bed and breakfast. Everyone is nattily dressed, exceedingly polite and indulges in social activities. MacIver is the one who seems closest to a complete breakdown. His marriage to his sultry young wife Karen (Gloria Grahame) is on the skids. She accuses him of being a workaholic who puts his career before the needs of his wife and young son (Tommy Rettig). On a more personal level, she makes it clear that she is sexually frustrated, as MacIver has moved into a separate bedroom, telling Karen that she is a self-obsessed party girl. There is truth in both accusations. The chain smoking MacIver does seem to be married to his job. Predictably, things get more complicated when MacIver has an affair with a co-worker at the institute (Lauren Bacall) and Karen's ill-conceived flirtations with the perpetually horny Dr. Devenal backfire and cause distress for both of them. The fragile tranquility among the patients also becomes strained when a controversy erupts over MacIver's plan to allow them to design and create new draperies for the library. This inspires the most problematic inmate, a young man named Steve Holte (John Kerr) who is traditionally anti-social but who comes alive by using his creative talents for the project. However, the institute's busy-body secretary, Victoria Inch (Lillian Gish) has already ordered expensive draperies from a company and she objects to using the patients' creations. This sets in motion a series of dramatic circumstances that has major consequences for all the main characters.
The premise of the screenplay reads like something out of a Monty Python sketch and critics at the time of the film's release pointed out the absurdity of having draperies serve as the catalyst for such dark goings-on. The film was considered a major disappointment and has largely been forgotten. However, looking at the movie today, one is impressed with the sheer amount of talent involved in the production. It should also be pointed out that saying the movie is about curtains is as inaccurate as saying The Titanic is a movie about icebergs. In fact, The Cobweb is a reasonably compelling drama that sustains interest despite an "everything but the kitchen" sink formula for introducing crisis after crisis for the main characters and a tacked on happy ending that deviated from the book. Widmark is a commanding screen presence and Gloria Grahame excels as his sex-starved wife. Grahame completely overshadows the presence of Lauren Bacall, who underplays to the point of invisibility. There is also a scene-stealing performance by Lillian Gish as an insecure administrator with no life outside of her office duties and who is immediately threatened by any incursion into her spheres of influence. Charles Boyer is an odd but inspired choice as the institute's director, a man who has sold out in terms of his professional ethics simply to enjoy a cozy life and a fat pay check. John Kerr and Susan Strasberg also impress as anti-social young people who predictably become attracted to each other.
The Cobweb is a potboiler, pure and simple. While it's not a "lost classic" by any means, it seems the film does deserve to be re-evaluated for its many merits.
The movie is available on DVD through the Warner Archive and is region-free. The transfer is very good and includes the original theatrical trailer.
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seventh grade English teacher was an interesting character. From 1981 to 1982 he
encouraged us to write our own stories and introduced us to collections of macabre
short stories in paperback format (he even read us a story that he wrote
himself, about a man who cooks and eats his wife!) The names Richard Matheson,
George Clayton Johnson, Charles Beaumont and the like became household names to
me, just a few years before I dove head first into Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone as these masters of
storytelling frequently adapted these stories from Alfred Hitchcock paperback collections
into episodes of that extraordinary series. They were classy, spooky, and
bereft of violence and gore and sent a chill down one’s spine.
you mention the character names of Julie, Millicent, Therese, and Amelia to
die-hard horror film fans over the age of forty, they will no doubt recognize
them as the characters portrayed by the late actress Karen Black in what is
unquestionably one of her most famous horror outings, Dan Curtis’s made-for-TV
movie Trilogy of Terror. Originally
aired on the ABC Movie of the Week on Tuesday, March 4, 1975, the film was
presented with the warning, “Due to mature subject matter, parental discretion
as the title tells us, there are three stories, or segments. The first is
“Julie,” adapted by author William F. Nolan from the short story “The Likeness
of Julie” by the late-great author Richard Matheson which first appeared in the
Ballantine Books collection Alone by
Night: Tales of Unlimited Horror in 1962. A college student, Chad Foster (Robert
Burton, Karen Black’s then-husband whose casting in the film compelled Ms.
Black to sign on to the three-segment project) cannot help but notice his English
teacher’s thigh, and wonders what she must look like under the minimal war
paint and her plain-Jane clothes. He watches her through a window as she undresses
and then gets the idea to ask her out on a date but Julie initially refuses,
then later accepts. They go to a drive-in movie and Chad spikes Julie’s drink
which puts her to sleep. Chad drives her to a motel and photographs her in
various sexually suggestive positions. He develops the photos in a darkroom and
shows her the photos. Julie is furious, and the story ends with a strange
twist. “Julie” is elliptical in a way, the structure calling to mind John
Fowles’s The Collector (1963). Actor
Gregory Harrison has a small cameo in this segment.
second story, “Millicent and Therese”, adapted also by Mr. Nolan from Mr.
Matheson’s story “Needle in the Heart” which was originally published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in October
1969, is arguably the weakest of the three. Millicent is a sexually repressed
woman with dark hair who fights with her twin sister Therese who is sexually
free and blonde. Millicent truly believes that Therese is evil and creates a
voodoo doll with the desire to kill her. Dr. Ramsey (George Gaines of Punky Brewster), Millicent’s
psychiatrist, does his best to help her, although the ending can be sensed from
a mile away. In lieu of “Millicent and Therese”, I would have liked to
have seen a version of Mr. Matheson’s “The Children of Noah” appear in this
collection, a short story that I read in that classroom in 1982. It left quite
an impression on me.
third and final segment is called “Amelia” and is based upon Mr. Matheson’s
short story “Prey”, originally published in the April 1969 issue of Playboy
Magazine. Mr. Matheson wrote the teleplay adaptation of his own source material
and it is this segment that has given Trilogy
of Terror its notoriety as being one of the scariest TV-movies of all-time.
Ms. Black plays the titular woman, Amelia, who has finally gotten away from her
physically overbearing mother. After spending a few hours shopping, Amelia
returns to her new apartment with a package containing a horrifically scary
wooden doll of an aboriginal warrior that possesses sharp teeth, a spear and a gold
chain that, according to the paper that accompanies it, must remain intact on
the doll in order to prevent it from coming to life. It is just the sort of
thing that any single woman would want to bring into their home.
mother still holds a sway over her and a one-sided telephone conversation
reveals that despite moving out, Amelia still feels guilty about her renewed
independence. Unfortunately, the chain on the Zuni hunter doll falls off, and
Amelia becomes embroiled in a life and death struggle against the crazed
spirit. Director Curtis employs many effective cinematic devices that make this
episode truly frightening, including low-to-the-ground P.O.V. shots of the doll
chasing Amelia, screaming and brandishing its spear. The creepy ending and
terrifying final shot make this segment the hands-down winner in a rather
uneven overall film. Try to imagine seeing this segment in 1975. The violence
and bloodletting alone was unprecedented for its time. The nightmares that this
segment must have induced in children no doubt still linger to this day.
Matheson, who is most famous for his short story “Duel” which appeared in the
April 1971 issue of Playboy Magazine and inspired the television movie of the
same name, directed by Steven Spielberg, collaborated again with Mr. Curtis in
1976 on Dead of Night (1977), another
creepy TV-movie that consists of three segments.
Cobert brings his own special brand of musical spookiness to the film. He and
Mr. Curtis certainly made quite a team! Perhaps not on the order of Hitchcock
and Herrmann, but very close.
"The Shakiest Gun in the West" was one of the feature film Don Knotts starred in for Universal after leaving his role as Deputy Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show"- a role that saw him win multiple Emmy awards. Released in 1968, the comedy is as plain vanilla as all of Knotts's Universal flicks, as it's family friendly throughout. There is one unusual aspect to this production, however, in that it is a remake of the 1948 Bob Hope comedy hit "The Paleface". Directed by Alan Rafkin, who helmed Knotts's first film for Universal, "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken", "Shakiest" follows the formula that Knotts knew his fans wanted to see. He always played essentially the same character- a likable nerd with a lack of self-esteem who blunders into becoming a local hero only to be discredited and shamed. The conclusion of every Knotts film finds him performing some act of extraordinary courage that results in him becoming a legitimate hero and winning the girl, as well. Oh, yes, there's usually a scene in which Knotts's character ends up getting very drunk, thus allowing Knotts to slip and slobber, much to the delight of his audience. Although the original film was written for Bob Hope, a few tweaks by long-time "Andy Griffith Show" screenwriters Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum easily convert the story into a suitable vehicle for Knott's signature nervous guy persona. Both Hope and Knotts excelled at playing cowards. Hope would respond to dangerous situations with a string of quips delivered with the rapidity of a machine gun. Knotts, however, would fall physically and mentally into a virtual nervous breakdown. The result was always amusing and Knotts lived by the adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Audiences- especially in rural areas- made his modestly-budgeted feature films very profitable.
"Shakiest" opens in Philadelphia in 1870. Knotts plays Jesse Heywood, a dental student who must complete an examination on a patient in order to get his degree in dentistry. Unfortunately, the patient is a woman who refuses to open her mouth. Jesse tries to cajole her with childlike sweet talk but when she still refuses, the situation turns into a physical battle royal with both of them engaging in a knock-down wrestling match that starts the film off on a very funny note. Jesse then decides to follow the advice of Horace Greeley and "Go West, young man." Presuming there is a dearth of available dentists in the newly-settled territories, the meek city slicker joins a wagon train (after being bilked by used-wagon salesman Carl Ballantine). A simultaneous plot line revolves around Penelope Cushings (Barbara Rhoades), a vivacious redhead who also happens to be a notorious bandit. When federal agents catch up to her, she is offered a deal: she can avoid a jail sentence if she acts as an undercover agent for the government and joins the wagon train to find out who among the passengers are intending to smuggle a cache of rifles to the Indians. At the last minute, the agent who was to pose as her husband is shot dead, leaving her with a dilemma: no single woman can be unaccompanied on the wagon train. Desperate, she uses Jesse as a pawn, fawning over the incredulous newly-minted dentist who can hardly believe his good fortune. Within hours they end up getting married but the minute the ink is dry on the license, Penelope gives a cold shoulder to her new husband. (The only sexually suggestive aspect to the film revolves around a running gag of Jesse being increasingly frustrated by his wife's stalling techniques when it comes to consummating their marriage.)
Once the wagon train is on the move, Penelope snoops around for the gun smugglers, who turn out to be a phony preacher (Donald Barry) and his partner (Jackie Coogan) who are secreting the weapons inside cases marked as containing bibles. Along the way, Jesse allows his wagon to fall behind the others and it is attacked by Indians. In mounting a seemingly futile defense, he is shocked to find that he has killed a dozen of his attackers, not realizing that the deadly shots were actually fired by Penelope. When word gets out of his achievement, Jesse is hailed and feted as a hero. The legend is reinforced when he is challenged by a notorious outlaw, Arnold the Kid (Robert Yuro), who is also slain in a gundown with Penelope secretly firing the fatal shot. (Shades of "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"!) Ultimately, Jesse learns the truth and courageously admits to his fellow travelers that he really isn't a hero. He is rewarded for his honesty by being shunned and mocked. His misfortune continues with the admission by Penelope that she was only using him as part of her cover operation. The dejected Jesse is at a low point in his life when Penelope is kidnapped by the gun smugglers and brought to the Indian camp. Determined to save her, Jesse manages to locate the camp and infiltrate it while dressed as an Indian maiden(!). Needless to say, he finds his inner strength and in acts of courage saves the day and redeems his reputation.
Sam Peckinpah’s “The Ballad of Cable Hogue,” (1970)
recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection, is a movie that
doesn’t fit neatly into any specific category. Peckinpah, more notable for his
violent action pictures about outlaws who’ve run out their string and go down
in a blaze of glory, maintained that “Hogue” is a comedy. But co-star Stella
Stevens, in an interview included on this Blu-Ray release, disagrees. She claims
it’s a love story—a tragic love story. The answer, in my opinion, is that it probably
falls somewhere in between.It’s both a
comedy and a love story, and as such, is probably the most honest film about
the human condition the hard-nosed Peckinpah ever made.
The story is a simple one. Jason Robards plays the
titular character, a man left to die in the Arizona desert by two disreputable
partners, Taggert (L. Q. Jones) and Bowen (Strother Martin). Hogue swears he’ll
survive somehow and someday get vengeance on the double crossers. He wanders in
the desert for 4 days without water, occasionally raising his eyes heavenward, to
address the Almighty.“Ain’t had no
water since yesterday, Lord,” he says at one point. “Gettin’ a little thirsty. Just thought I’d mention it. Amen” Just when
he’s about finished he discovers a spring, the only water for 50 miles either
way along a stagecoach road. He builds a house there and calls the place Cable
A wandering preacher by the name of the Rev. Joshua
Duncan Sloan (David Warner) rides in. The Reverend claims to be the head of a
church of his own revelation. As dubious as he appears he reminds Cable that he
had better file a claim on the land he’s on if he wants to keep it. Cable takes
the preacher’s horse and rides into the town of Dead Dog. One of the first
things he catches sight of is Hildy (Stella Stevens), the town prostitute.
After he files his claim and secures a loan from a bank, he pays a visit to
Hildy, who lives in a room on the second floor of the town saloon. He’s
immediately smitten with her but when he tries making love to her, the sound of
a preacher holding a Bible meeting next door reminds him of Rev. Sloan, who at
this very moment might be trying to jump his claim. He runs out on Hildy, promising
he’ll be back soon as he can.
The rest of the film is about the Cable/Hildy
relationship in which Peckinpah presents about as honest a portrayal of human
beings and their struggle to survive and find comfort in one another in a
brutal world as has ever been put on film. At one point Hildy asks Cable if her
being a prostitute bothered him.
“Hell no, it never bothered me,” he answers. “I enjoyed
it. Now what the hell are you? A human being? Trying the best you can. We all
got our own ways of living.”
“And loving?” Hildy asks.
“Gets mighty lonesome without it.”
Despite the hard-boiled attitude both characters profess
to adopt, after they’ve spent some time living together in his house, in one
brief moment it all comes down like a house of cards. They’re having dinner
with the Rev. Sloan and talk turns to Hogue’s penny pinching ways, charging
everyone for water and food when they stop at the Springs. The reverend says
he’s surprised Cable doesn’t charge Hildy for supper. “Why would I charge you?”
Cable tells her. “You never charge me.” And, because of that one thoughtless
sentence, suddenly you see a dream die on Hildy’s face. It’s the end of their
relationship. The scene -for all its subtlety - has a devastating emotional
There’s more to the story, including Hildy’s return after
living in San Francisco, and the long- awaited showdown between Cable and his erstwhile
partners, Taggert and Bowen. Strother Martin and L. Q. Jones, who were part of
Peckinpah’s informal stock company, having appeared in several of his films,
are perfect here. Nobody took a bullet and died on film better than L. Q.
The ending is not comedic at all. It is filled with a sad
irony that shows as simply and as understatedly as possible, what a puzzling
thing life really is.
As with any major film star who dies young, Jean Seberg has become a cult of personality to some film fans, partly due to the fact that she died in Paris from an overdose of barbiturates at age 40 in 1979. Her death was ruled a suicide but conspiracy theories still abound because she was deemed a political radical by the FBI due to her association with far left wing causes and her support of the Black Panther party. On screen, however, Seberg's characters were generally not radical, although her breakthrough film did find her as the female lead in Godard's classic 1960 crime flick Breathless. Still, there were some hints of Seberg's liberated woman persona in her early career. One such film was In the French Style, a largely forgotten 1963 production based on Irwin Shaw's novel. Shaw wrote the screenplay and the film was directed by Robert Parrish, a respected veteran of the movie industry who never enjoyed a career-defining major hit. (The closest he came was directing segments of the bloated 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale.) The movie opens in Paris with Seberg as Christina James, a 19 year old free spirited girl from Chicago who has come to the City of Light to hone her skills as a painter. In the process of trying to acclimate herself to the metropolitan lifestyle, she meets Guy ((Philippe Forquet), a headstrong, sometimes arrogant 21 year-old who is nonetheless charismatic and quite handsome. He woos Christina and before long, they are a couple swept up in a whirlwind romance. However, it isn't long before there are strains due in part to their impoverished lifestyle. Guy, being a typical guy, tries to get Christina into bed, but she says when it happens, it will be on her terms and conditions. When the big moment arises, Guy's romantic evening turns into a disaster because he only has enough money to rent a room at a flophouse hotel without heat. In the course of the strained evening, Guy confesses to Christina that he cannot perform sexually because he is too nervous. He makes a shocking confession: he is actually a 16 year old high school boy and a virgin at that. While this does bring the story into a completely unexpected direction, it's the one element of the film that strains credibility largely due to the fact that Forquet was actually 23 years old at the time and looks it. Nevertheless, this plot device takes us away from what was shaping up as a conventional "boy meets girl" romance and plunges the viewer into unknown waters.
The story then jumps ahead in time and we find Christina now in her early twenties and very much in step with the Parisian lifestyle. She is the toast of her neighborhood's social scene and the belle of the ball in terms of attracting male suitors. In a rather progressive depiction of a single woman for the year 1963, it is made abundantly clear that Christina has her pick of lovers and routinely engages in short-term sexual affairs. Every time she meets the "right man", it turns out that differences in their lifestyles prevent them from enjoying a traditional relationship. Her father (very well played by Addison Powell) visits her from Chicago and, again Shaw's script goes against the conventional depiction of father and daughter relationships generally seen in movies during this era. Instead of being a square old fuddy duddy, Dad is actually amused by his daughter's somewhat hedonistic lifestyle and he asks her how many lovers she has had. "A couple", she replies, but it becomes clear that both of them regard that as a drastic understatement. When her father asks to see the paintings she has been working on for years, he gently informs her that they are below the quality he had expected. He cautions her that her party-filled lifestyle may be compromising her potential. Christina objects and two part company under a strain, but it becomes clear that her father's words have resonated with her and that it might be time to develop plans for a more productive career path.
All of that changes when she has a chance encounter with Walter Beddoes (Stanley Baker), a hard-drinking international newspaper journalist. They enjoy a torrid affair and fall in love but, alas, fate rears its ugly head once again when Walter's requirements to travel extensively takes him away from Christina for months at a time. He confesses to her that, while abroad "I don't live like a monk". Christina says she accepts that he will have other lovers but makes it clear that she will, too. Such behavior from a young couple was rarely depicted so honestly on screen in 1963, an era in which sexually assertive women were generally painted as floozies. By the time Walter returns from a three month stint in Africa, he finds Christina has a new boyfriend, an American doctor from San Francisco (James Leo Herlihy), who she says she intends to marry. She has a civilized lunch with both men, as Walter tries to persuade her to resume her affair with him. She confesses that she has seen her share of former lovers ultimately drop her to marry the girl of her dreams, a status she somehow never attains in their eyes. This climactic sequence left me a bit disappointed because in the end, Christina- that most liberated of young women- decides to throw in the towel to become a doctor's wife and live in San Francisco. However, director Parrish does afford us the nagging possibility that she knows she is selling out by doing so.
In the French Style is a very worthwhile experience. The Parisian locations add immeasurably to its pleasures and the crisp B&W cinematography Michel Kelber is impressive, as is the Joseph Kosma's atmospheric score. Not much happens dramatically in the film. You keep waiting for some earth-shaking development to emerge but it never does. However, that's part of the movie's charm. It recalls an era in which studios routinely backed small films with fine actors (they are all wonderful here) and gave them intelligent dialogue and direction.
Twilight Time has issued an impressive limited edition (3,000) Blu-ray edition that does justice to the fine B&W cinematography. The bonus extras include an isolated score track, informative commentary by film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, a theatrical trailer and a collector's booklet with liner notes by Kirgo.
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Some of the best private eye thrillers tend to be complex and sometimes incomprehensible affairs. Howard Hawks' "The Big Sleep", for example, had a plot that could not be comprehended even by the people who made the film, but it ranks as one of the great movies in the crime genre. Similarly, director Arthur Penn's 1975 mystery "Night Moves" (the title is- appropriately enough- a metaphor) sat on a shelf for over a year before it went into general release, only to be greeted by an apathetic public. There were some prescient critics like Roger Ebert who foresaw the film's enduring qualities but, for the most part, "Night Moves" didn't get much attention in a year in which the likes of great films like "Jaws", "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Barry Lyndon" were in release. The movie began to gain steam over the decades with the critical establishment and is now considered to be a classic by many, thus its arrival on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive is much appreciated by retro movie lovers.
The film reunited Gene Hackman with Arthur Penn after their triumphant work on "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967). Hackman was a supporting character in that film but received an Oscar nomination. In "Night Moves" he is the front-and-center star, in almost every scene and he dominates the movie with a superb, laid-back performance that is so natural that it reminds us of how Hackman's genius was to make you think you are watching a real-life person. He plays Harry Moseby, an L.A. private eye who isn't down-and-out like most of his cinematic counterparts, but is not setting the world on fire, either. He's a complex man haunted by bad childhood memories and he's got some contemporary problems, as well. His wife Ellen (Susan Clark) is bored and frustrated that Harry is too remote and spends far too much of his time on low-paying cases. He catches her having an affair but it's clear her lover (Harris Yulin) is more of a distraction than a passion. While Harry is trying to reconcile with Ellen, he's hired by Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward), a one-time minor starlet with a knack for marrying rich men. She wants Harry to find her wayward, runaway 16 year-old daughter Delly (Melanie Griffith), with whom she has a terrible relationship. Seems Arlene is dependent upon the funds from a trust that her late husband set up for Delly. As long as Arlene lives with the girl, she can continue residing in a mansion and enjoy a lavish lifestyle. However, once Delly turns 25, the spigot is turned off and Delly gets control of her fortune. The case leads Harry to the Florida Keys where Delly's stepfather, Tom Iverson (John Crawford) (divorced from Arlene) runs a charting plane service. He's surrounded by plenty of unsavory types, some of whom are employed as stuntmen in the movie business. At least two of them- Marv Ellman (Anthony Costello) and Quentin (James Woods)- have had sexual flings with the free-spirited Delly. Harry discovers Delly living openly with Tom Iverson and she resents having to be brought back to L.A. by Harry. She tells him her mother only views her as a source of income. While at Tom's place, Harry also becomes involved with another female with a troubled past, Paula (Jennifer Warren), who had once been both a stripper and a hooker before latching onto Tom and helping him with the plane charter business.She speaks in riddles and her dialogue with Harry is marvelously coy. (When she asks him where he was when Kennedy was assassinated, he replies "Which Kennedy"?).
Alan Sharp's terrific screenplay is witty and complex and chances are that when some of the mysteries are resolved, you'll end up scratching your head wondering what it all meant. "Night Moves" is a film that requires a few viewings before it all makes sense but that's part of the delight in seeing it for the first time. The dialogue crackles with bon mots and there are numerous intriguing sub-plots that sometimes overshadow Harry's primary mission, which, it turns out is explained in part by a MacGuffin. Hackman is superb, as is Arthur Penn's direction. The film has a moody, menacing atmosphere throughout, aided considerably by Bruce Surtees' typically dark cinematography. The supporting cast is letter-perfect with Jennifer Warren outstanding in an early screen role (she should have become a much bigger star, though she has found success as a director.) Also seen in an early role, James Woods impresses substantially in his limited screen time. Susan Clark (long underrated as an actress) is very good indeed, as is veteran character actor Edward Binns and Janet Ward. Young Melanie Griffith also impresses, though, ironically she played essentially the same role in another gumshoe flick that same year, "The Drowning Pool". I also admired the jazzy score by Michael Small. The finale of the film is most memorable. It's not only suspenseful and exciting but also intriguingly ambiguous with Harry on a boat literally spinning in circles, as the viewer may well be in terms of comprehending what has just occurred.
Because the original film elements of "Night Moves" were in decline, the Warner Archive spent a good time of time and money to restore the movie to its initial grandeur. The results paid off with an excellent transfer that does justice to Penn's artistic vision. Kudos to all involved. There are also some bonus extras: an original trailer and a vintage featurette, "The Day of the Director" that provides some very good behind-the-scenes footage of the movie in production. However, the Blu-ray cries out for an audio commentary to allow analysis of the film's many complex aspects. Perhaps a future release will include one. For now, this is a "must-have" for your video library.
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Two years before "Bonnie and Clyde" revolutionized the American crime movie genre a far more modest production centered on a star-crossed pair of lovers who were young, in love and killed people. "Young Dillinger" starred Nick Adams in the titular role, playing notorious gangster John Dillinger who was among the "Most Wanted" criminals of the Depression era. Although the real Dillinger had a hardscrabble life and a dramatic death (ambushed by police when benignly exiting a movie theater), any resemblance to the historic figure and the character portrayed by Adams on screen is purely coincidental. The film was distributed by Allied Artists, which would go on to release some top-shelf hits in the 1970s including "Cabaret", "Papillon", "The Man Who Would be King" and "The Wild Geese". However, in 1965 Allied was strictly a Poverty Row studio that churned out low-budget movies for undiscriminating audiences in hopes of making a quick, modest profit. Shot in B&W, "Young Dillinger" opens with "Johnny" and his girlfriend Elaine (former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley) necking in a car and bemoaning the fact that they are too broke to get married. Elaine must still live at home under the rules set by her mother and father, an inconvenience that intrudes on her not-inconsiderable sex drive. She spontaneously comes up with a plan of action: they can break into her father's office and steal a load of cash that he keeps in the safe. Dillinger is all in immediately but the plan goes awry when they are spotted by a watchman. Still, they get the loot and head off on a cross-country spending spree, indulging in expensive meals, liquor, gambling and hotel rooms. It all comes to an end when the cops track them down and arrest them. Dillinger makes a deal: he will plead guilty if Elaine is not charged. Consequently, he is sent to jail for several years, an experience that leaves him even more cynical and disillusioned. Sure enough, Elaine is waiting for him when he emerges and they immediately take to crime again. Dillinger is hired by professional gangsters to carry out an audacious plan to spring 'Pretty Boy' Floyd (Robert Conrad) and 'Baby Face' Nelson (John Ashley) from a prison farm. When he succeeds in carrying out the plan, Floyd invites him to join him and 'Baby Face' in their newly-formed gang. With Elaine along for the ride, the group terrorizes the Midwest through small-time robberies that eventually lead to daring bank jobs. Before long, Dillinger is on the F.B.I's "Most Wanted" list.
Directed by Terry O. Morse, who was primarily known as an editor, the movie breezes along at a brisk pace even if the style is quite unimpressive and pedestrian. In fact, the film looks like a standard TV episode of "The Untouchables" in terms of production values. Even a fleeting glimpse at Dillinger's biography will make it immediately apparent that story is almost entirely fictionalized. The performances are adequate, nothing more. Adams, who was a seasoned actor, tries to bring some intensity to the role but the script presents Dillinger as a superficial gangster type with no effort expended to provide some of the more interesting aspects of his background. Similarly, we know nothing about Elaine aside from the fact that this "girl next door" type can turn into a hardened criminal on a whim. Why? We never learn anything about her background, either. The supporting actors don't fare much better. Robert Conrad, who would soon find stardom with the hit TV series "The Wild, Wild West" is given little to work with as 'Pretty Boy' Floyd and is mostly seen shooting at the cops. One exception is the inimitable and delightful Victor Buono, who makes a couple of cameos as "The Professor", an eccentric mastermind who provides the gang with operational plans for bank jobs. Equally good is John Hoyt as a mob doctor who Dillinger hires to undergo some plastic surgery (a rare instance of the film depicting an actual event). The doctor botches the surgery but while Dillinger is lying helpless in bed in terrible pain and his face wrapped up like The Mummy, the surgeon takes advantage of the situation by trying to rape Elaine. She has to keep him at bay with a loaded gun while not alerting Dillinger to the crisis when he's helpless to assist her. It's the best scene in the film and the only one that provides a bit of suspense. It also allows Mary Ann Mobley to display her acting chops instead of being presented as Gidget as opposed to a Depression-era gun moll.
The film must have seemed to have the makings of a classic. Director Vincente Minnelli reuniting with Kirk Douglas for the first time since their triumphant The Bad and the Beautiful a decade earlier. Edward G. Robinson co-starring and a supporting cast that included Cyd Charrise, Claire Trevor, James Gregory, George MacReady, George Hamilton and lovely up-and-coming actresses Rosanna Schiaffino and Daliah Lavi. Add to this exotic Rome locations during the era when La Dolce Vita was all the rage plus a source novel by Irwin Shaw -- this had to be a project that couldn't miss. Alas, it did indeed go off-target, but the fact that the 1962 screen version of 2 Weeks in Another Town falls short of its potential doesn't mean it isn't a gloriously trashy spectacle to behold.
Douglas plays Jack Andrus, a washed up, one-time screen legend who is
driven to the brink of insanity by the philandering nature of his
Italian wife (Charisse), who ended up having an affair with Douglas'
friend and collaborator, screen director Maurice Kruger (Robinson).
Years later, Andrus is contacted by Kruger, whose career is also in
decline, to reunite for a Rome-based major film that could revive their
reputations and popularity. When Andrus gets to Italy, he discovers
there is no part for him in the picture, but Kruger felt it would be
therapeutic to have him assist in the dubbing of the film. Before long,
the love/hate relationship between the two men sparks jealous and anger,
with Kruger's Lady MacBeth-like wife (Trevor) constantly finding ways
to cause friction. Adding to the soap opera aspects of the story is the
presence of an Italian screen diva (Schiaffino), whose temper tantrums
have everyone on edge. Andrus does find solace in the arms of a young
lovely (Lavi) but before long is embroiled in enough personal intrigue
and frustration to once again threaten his sanity.
The film is certainly not high art. Douglas dominates the landscape
with the type of eye-popping antics that made him a favorite of
impressionists during the era. Robinson is far more understated and it's
great fun to watch the two conflicting acting styles in the same
scenes. The film benefits from some good location scenery including rare
glimpses of fabled Cinecitta Studios during its heyday, but Minnelli
relies far too often on cheesy rear-screen projection shots that
distract from the byplay among the actors. The story is often overly
melodramatic and somewhat confusing, with the vast number of characters
intertwined in each other's scandals. However, it never reaches the
so-bad-it's-good status the similarly- themed The Oscar, which is
somewhat of a mixed blessing. With a few more "over-the-top" elements,
Minnelli could have created a trash classic. As it stands, 2 Weeks in Another Town is
too campy to be called a truly good film, and not campy enough to
emerge as a cult movie. Still, with all the powerhouse talent involved,
it never commits the cardinal sin of being dull.
The Warner Archive Blu-ray features a very good transfer and includes the original theatrical trailer.
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I've long had admiration for the work of actor Robert Shaw ever since he impressed me at age 8 with his chilling interpretation of the SPECTRE psychotic killer Red Grant in "From Russia With Love". Shaw could always be counted on to deliver a fine performance even if the material he chose was sometimes underwhelming. Shaw was also a talented writer and playwright, having won acclaim for his play "The Man in the Glass Booth", which was inspired by the war criminal trial of Adolf Eichmann. Shaw, like many actors, participated in many questionable films in order to enable his real passion, which was to bring avante garde movie projects to fruition, even if they only appealed to the art cinema crowd. One of Shaw's most interesting vehicles is one of his least seen. "Figures in a Landscape" was his 1970 adaptation of an allegorical novel by Barry England that abounded with reference to the (then) on-going Vietnam war. Shaw dispensed with that aspect of the novel and instead played up its more opaque aspects, particularly those that concern the two protagonists in what is basically a two-character adventure. The film opens with Shaw and co-star Malcolm McDowell on the run in an unnamed country being pursued by unnamed forces (presumably the police and/or military) for unspecified crimes. One senses they are political prisoners in a totalitarian state but this is never addressed directly. Shaw is MacConnachie ("Mac"), a middle-aged man with a colorful past that often found him on the opposite side of the law. McDowell is Ansell, a twenty-something free spirited type from London whose social values are the polar opposite of Mac's old fashioned values. When we first see the men, they are running at a high rate of speed and have to contend with the major obstacle of having their hands bound behind their backs. We never learn how they effected their escape and from whom but these are just several key questions that Shaw's screenplay goes to lengths in terms of not filling in the audience on the details. The two men, bound by their mutual need for one another, bicker and bark at each other like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones" with Mac channeling his future performance as Quint in "Jaws" by constantly attacking the younger man for being the product of a soft generation. As these types of films generally play out, Mac and Ansell are able to win some small victories through mutual efforts and begin to develop a grudging but sincere admiration for each other. (In one of the script's few instances of humor, we learn that Mac is somewhat of a prude by the way he chastises the younger generation for the sexual promiscuity afforded by "The Pill".) They finally figure out a way to free their bonds and obtain food, water and arms. However, they find themselves relentlessly pursued by a helicopter piloted by faceless, nameless men who coordinate a widespread army of pursuers on the ground The image of the helicopter haunts Mac and Ansell throughout their desperate race across a harsh landscape that contains both deserts and high, snow-covered mountains. Throughout their ordeal, the men come to know each other better though Shaw's screenplay, perhaps not coincidentally, gives his character far meatier material than McDowell gets to work with. Shaw is at his best in the quiet sequences, reminiscing about his beloved wife who waits for his return home.
The film falls short of its Kafkaesque pretensions but is never less than engaging, thanks in no small part to the skill of director Joseph Losey in keeping the bizarre aspects of the scripts from becoming too alienating for the audience. There is also superb cinematography that does justice to the magnificent, if sometimes foreboding, Spanish landscapes and a fine score by the estimable Richard Rodney Bennett. It's unclear what Shaw was trying to say in this sometimes puzzling film that at times evokes aspects of Patrick McGoohan's classic TV series "The Prisoner". This jumbled aspect of the story robs the film of some of its potential dramatic payoffs but there is real satisfaction in watching Shaw and McDowell in parts that are this meaty. We only learn enough about each character to tantalize us even further regarding how they ended up in this dilemma and it's probably best that Shaw never provides any easy answers. However, some of the men's actions and interactions cry out for a bit more clarification especially in the exciting climax when Mac is motivated to take on downing the hated helicopter even at an unnecessary risk to his own life.
"Figures in a Landscape" has been released by Kino Lorber on Blu-ray. As with most of the company's titles, this one boasts a superb transfer that does justice to the impressive filming locations. Unfortunately, no extras are included. A pity because this film cries out for a commentary track that could have covered not only the movie itself but also Shaw's remarkable career, one that never completely fulfilled its potential because of his own personal demons.
"Saturday Night Live" spawned many a memorable comic character, some of whom were exploited in feature films. While "The Coneheads" proved to be popular on the big screen, other TV-to-cinema transfers of iconic "SNL" pop culture figures proved to be duds. Al Franken's memorable incarnation of Stuart Smalley was the subject of "Stuart Saves His Family", a 1995 production directed by Harold Ramis that received some surprisingly favorable reviews but ended up with a North American boxoffice gross of less than $1 million. That ranks as a major success compared to "It's Pat: The Movie", released the prior year and starring Julia Sweeney as the androgynous character that proved to be a popular staple of "SNL" during this period. Pat was a visually unattractive figure with an obnoxious manner of speaking that repulsed his/her coworkers, who were constantly striving to discover whether Pat was a male or female. Inevitably, Pat would provide unintentionally ambiguous answers to leading questions that would only heighten the mystery and thwart those who were seeking to unveil Pat's genetic makeup. As the subject of five-minute comedy sketches the concept worked great and Sweeney's Pat became a popular staple of the show. Then Hollywood came knocking. Fox approached Sweeney to turn the concept into a feature film. Sweeney admitted she couldn't envision how Pat could remain interesting to viewers in any format other than TV skits. After putting some development money into the film, Fox agreed and backed off only to have Disney's Touchstone Pictures ride to the rescue and give the production the green light. The result was a disaster. The film was given some sporadic openings only to be pulled within a week due to complete rejection by audiences. The movie's boxoffice gross in North America stands at $61,000. Although modestly-budgeted, the movie still had cost more than $10 million to make. Time has not been kind to dear Pat, as it boasts a Rotten Tomatoes score of 0%. Now those brave souls at Kino Lorber have released a Blu-ray of "Pat: The Movie" and, consequently, it's time to revisit the film.
The plot (such as it is) opens with Pat alienating everyone in his/her orbit with obnoxious behavior. A local store owner gives Pat items for free just to expedite his/her departure. Pat tries various career moves but inevitably loses every job due to ineptness. Just when things seem hopeless, Pat finds love with Chris (Dave Foley in a role originated by Dana Carvey on "SNL"), another androgynous individual. The two set up house together and live as a normal couple, though both seem blissfully unaware that their sexuality is a mystery to those around them. Are they a straight couple? A gay couple? Two men? Two women? A subplot is introduced in which a hunky new neighbor, Kyle (Charles Rocket) and his wife Stacy (Julie Hayden) find their lives disrupted by Kyle's increasing obsession with Pat. He is sexually attracted to him/her, much to the alarm of Stacy, and that attraction turns into a psychological mania that finds Kyle dressing like Pat and even stroking a doll that resembles him/her. Meanwhile, the hapless Pat blunders into some successful career steps by making an appearance with a rock band that leads to him/ her becoming a media sensation. When he/she drops by a radio station to visit a friend, Kathy (Kathy Griffin), who hosts a popular romantic advice show, Pat unintentionally upstages her and gets the hosting gig. Pat's success has alienated Chris, who breaks up the relationship and decides to move abroad. The finale finds Pat coming to grips with his/her faults and making a mad dash to a cruise ship line to prevent Chris from leaving the country.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Get ready for a laugh in the cult-classic comedy that has
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came to fame with his trademark comedy style of portraying a meek, excessively
nervous character. He was Woody Allen before Woody Allen was Woody Allen.
Knotts honed his skills on Steve Allen's show in the 1950s, with his "man
on the street" Nervous Nellie routine sending audiences into fits of
laughter. He co-starred with fellow up-and-comer Andy Griffith in the hit
Broadway production of "No Time for Sergeants" and the subsequent
film version. When Griffith landed his own TV series in 1960 in which he played
the sheriff of fictional small town Mayberry, Knotts imposed upon him to write
a small, occasional part he could play as Barney Fife, Griffith's inept but
loyal sheriff. Griffith complied and the role made Knotts an icon of American
comedy, allowing him to win an astonishing five Emmys for playing the same
character. Five years into the series, Knotts was offered a multi-feature deal
by Lew Wasserman, the reigning mogul of Universal Pictures. Knotts took the
bait and enjoyed creative control over the films to a certain degree. He could
pretty much do what he wanted as long has he played the same nervous schlep audiences wanted to
see. The films had to be low-budget, shot quickly and enjoy modest profits from
rural audiences where Knotts' popularity skewed the highest. His first feature
film was The Ghost and Mr.
Chicken, released in 1966 and written by the same writing team from
the "The Andy Griffith Show". (Griffith actually co-wrote the script
but declined taking a writing credit.) The film astonished the industry,
rolling up big grosses in small markets where it proved to have remarkable
staying power. Similarly, his next film, The
Reluctant Astronaut also proved to be a big hit, as was his
1969 western spoof The
Shakiest Gun in the West. Within a few years, however,
changing audience tastes had rendered Knotts' brand of innocent, gentle humor
somewhat moot. By the late 1960s audiences were getting their laughs from the
new film freedoms. It was hard to find the antics of a middle-aged virgin much
fun when you could see Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice cavorting in the same
bed. Still, Knotts soldiered on, providing fare for the drive-in markets that
still wanted his films. In 1969 he made The
Love God?, a very funny and underrated film that tried to be more
contemporary by casting Knotts as an innocent ninny who is manipulated into
fronting what he thinks is a magazine for bird watchers but, in reality, is a
cover for a pornography empire. Knotts' traditional audience balked at the
relatively tame sex jokes and for his final film for Universal, How to Frame a Figg, he
reverted back to his old formula.
1971, Figg casts
Don Knotts as the titular character, Hollis Figg, a nondescript wimp who toils
as an overlooked accountant in a basement of city hall. The film is set in a
Mayberry-like small town environment but any other similarity ends there. In
Mayberry, only the visiting city slickers were ever corrupt. The citizenry may
have been comprised of goofballs and eccentrics, but they were all scrupulously
honest. In Figg's world, however, the top government officials are all con-men
and crooks. They are ruled by the town's beloved paternal father figure, Old
Charley Spaulding (Parker Fennelly), a decrepit character who hands out pennies
to everyone he encounters, with the heart-warming greeting "A shiny penny
for your future!" In fact, Old Charley has plenty of those pennies
stashed away. He and his hand-picked fellow crooks, including the mayor and
police chief, have been systemically ripping off the state by grossly inflating
the costs of local building projects and secretly pocketing the overages.
Concerned that the accountants might get wind of their activities, they
summarily fire them all except for Figg, who is deemed to be too naive to ever
catch on. They justify the firings by saying it's fiscally prudent and replace
the accountants with a gigantic computer that is supposed to be even more
efficient. Through a quirk of fate, Figg and his equally naive friend, Prentiss
(Frank Welker), the janitor for city hall, discover exactly what is going on.
Figg dutifully reports his findings to the mayor (Edward Andrews), who
convinces him to keep it secret while he launches his own investigation. Old
Charley, the mayor and their cohorts decide to make Figg the fall guy for the
corrupt practices. They give him a big promotion, a new red convertible and
even hire a private secretary for him. She's Glorianna (Yvonne Craig), a leggy
femme fatale who wears mini skirts and oozes sex. When her attempts to seduce
Figg leave him paralyzed with fear because of his allegiance to his new
girlfriend, the equally virginal waitress Ema Letha (Elaine Joyce), Glorianna
gets Figg drunk, takes some embarrassing photos of him and then proceeds to have
him sign a stream of incriminating documents that he has not bothered to read.
Before long, Figg is blamed for all the missing funds and faces a jail
sentence- unless he and the dim-witted Prentiss can figure out how to use the
computer to thwart the real crooks.
13 Hilarious Discs, Lovers of the Three Stooges Will Find Over
Incredible Hours of Content, Including All of the Columbia Pictures
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9-Part Documentary Series "Hey Moe! Hey Dad!," a Collectible,
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Nyuk Nyuk...Why I Oughta..."
over 50 years, The Three Stooges presented a brand of pie-throwing, eye-poking
and head-bonking routines that cracked up multiple generations. They were the
masters of mirth, merriment and mayhem, turning slapstick comedy into an art
form. And, with a body of work including over 300 films, television, stage
shows, cartoons and more - they're forever ingrained in popular culture. Now,
one of the greatest comedy troupes of all time is here to poke, smack, slap and
bonk their way onto your screens with THE BEST OF THE THREE STOOGES!
this riotous DVD set, Time Life has brought together the Stooges greatest hits
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over 45 hours of knee-slapping content brought together for the very first
THE BEST OF THE
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inludingBon Bon Parade (1935), Merry Mutineers (1936), A Hollywood Detour
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discs; 1309 mins)
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collections that evoke memories of yesterday, capture the spirit of today, and
can be enjoyed for a lifetime. TIME LIFE and the TIME LIFE logo are registered
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1960s murder thrillers with Joan Crawford have been released by Mill Creek
Entertainment on single-disc Blu-ray.The cover sleeve bills the package as a “Psycho Biddy Double
Feature.”The films are “Strait-Jacket”
(1964), the first of Crawford’s three pictures with producer-director William
Castle, and “Berserk!” (1967), her first of two with producer Herman
Cohen.In using the possibly ageist and
definitely sexist phrase “Psycho Biddy,” Mill Creek’s marketing department
clearly hopes that audiences will have fond memories of the frenzied, middle-aged
Joan Crawford in 1981’s “Mommie Dearest,” shrieking “I told you!No . . . wire . . . hangers -- ever!” at her
terrified adopted child, Christina.Never mind that the belittling term “biddy” is problematic in the case
of Joan Crawford.There may be plenty of
biddies in the world, but the imperious Joan was never one of them.Never mind either that it was Faye Dunaway
impersonating Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest,” not Crawford herself.For most casual movie fans, the distinctions
are not likely to matter.
“Strait-Jacket,” scripted by Robert Bloch, prosperous farm owner Lucy Harbin
(Crawford) returns unexpectedly from a trip to find her younger husband (Lee
Majors -- his first film role) in bed with another woman.Enraged, Lucy seizes an ax and butchers the
pair as her young daughter Carol watches.Released from a mental institution twenty years later, Lucy is welcomed
home by her brother Bill and her sister-in-law Emily (Leif Erickson and
Rochelle Hudson), who have reared Carol in the meantime.Carol (Diane Baker) encourages her mother to
ease back into a normal routine by looking and dressing as she had, two decades
before.The gray-haired Lucy dons a
black, ‘40s-style wig and trades in her dowdy outfit for a tight dress.The tactic goes awry when Lucy, drinking too
much out of nervousness and getting tipsy, puts a move on Carol’s uptight
boyfriend Michael.More stresses
mount.Lucy hears things, sees things,
and dreads meeting Michael’s even stuffier parents, who are unaware of her
history.As they skip rope outside a
store where Lucy is shopping, two little girls appear to be chanting, “Lucy
Harbin took an ax . . .”Bill’s creepy,
disheveled hired hand, Leo (George Kennedy, almost unrecognizable at first
glance), asks if she wants to use his ax to chop the head off a chicken.Lucy’s therapist drops in for a visit and
observing how tense she is, gravely suggests that she’s at risk of a
relapse.Then one murder occurs,
followed by a second, and evidence points to Lucy.
the headlong pace and gruesome CGI of modern slasher movies, even older viewers
are likely to find “Strait-Jacket” quaint at best.A similar production today would probably
wind up as a made-for-cable, “my mom is a murderer” melodrama on the Lifetime
Movie Network.The film’s pacing is
deliberate, and the carnage is low-tech and mostly implied, despite the old
lobby poster’s promise in grand William Castle style that “Strait-Jacket
vividly depicts ax murders!”Although
the restrictions on movie violence had relaxed a little by 1964, and a
melodrama filmed in black-and-white like “Strait-Jacket” might tease the MPAA
standards on mayhem with slightly more success than one photographed in color,
studios were still careful not to push their luck too far.Of the three ax attacks in the film, only one
explicitly shows grievous bodily harm.Even so, with quick editing and minimal gore, the effect is more
impressionistic than realistic.These
days, grislier special effects routinely appear on prime-time TV crime shows.
movie censorship relaxed in the early 1970s, Mel Welles’ horror film “Lady
Frankenstein” added sex and nudity to the familiar Frankenstein formula of the
single-minded and arguably demented scientist who creates a monster and lives
to regret it.In the 1971 production,
now available in a handsome, fully loaded Blu-ray edition from Nucleus Films
encoded for Region B, Dr. Tanya Frankenstein (Rosalba Neri) returns home to the
family estate after completing medical school.Having inherited the family obsession, she is determined to help her
father (Joseph Cotten) realize his long-frustrated ambition of creating human
life in his laboratory.When Baron
Frankenstein and his associate Dr. Marshall (Paul Muller) balk at including the
refined young woman in their gory experiments, she fiercely overrides their
objections:“Stop treating me like a
child!I’m a doctor and a surgeon.”Frankenstein and Marshall successfully
reanimate a creature that they’ve stitched together from plundered cadavers,
but events take a turn for the worse, and soon a suspicious police officer,
Inspector Harris (Mickey Hargitay), begins nosing around the Frankenstein
Frankenstein” was filmed in Italy and independently marketed in Europe, where
Rosalba Neri, Mickey Hargitay, and Paul Muller were popular actors in genre
movies.In the U.S., it was distributed
by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures.Inexplicably, New World billed Rosalba Neri as “Sara Bay” in the
American credits and promotional materials, and depicted the exotically
beautiful brunette actress as a blonde in the poster art.Like many other exploitation films from the
same period, notably New World’s own series of Women-in-Prison productions like
“The Big Bird Cage,” it professes to have a feminist message while at the same
time including a fair amount of female nudity to meet the expectations of the
grindhouse audiences to which it was pitched, here and abroad.
feminist aspect is clear when Tanya discusses the resistance she faced in the
conservative halls of higher learning.“Was it difficult, very difficult, being my daughter?” her father asks sympathetically.“Sometimes,” Tanya responds, “but mainly
because I was a woman.The professors
still have a lot of old-fashioned ideas about a woman’s place.”In the wake of recent news events, many of us
will sympathize with Tanya’s dilemma and reflect that things haven’t changed a
lot in the male-dominated corridors of power, either in the two hundred years
since the early-1800s setting of “Lady Frankenstein,” or indeed in the
forty-seven years since the film was made.
as the story progresses and Tanya takes center stage, she begins to employ sex,
seduction, and murder to achieve her ends.You may start to wonder:do her
ruthless and increasingly cruel methods invalidate the movie’s claim to advance
a feminist theme . . . or underscore it?When one character is murdered in cold blood at her suggestion while she
has sex with him to distract his attention, does the film idealize -- or
objectify -- Rosalba Neri’s bare breasts and ecstatic facial expressions?When the infatuated, middle-aged Marshall
professes his love for her, does Tanya practice gender bias in reverse by
suggesting that she respects his intellect, but she’d respect it more if
Marshall were also young and handsome? The answers, I suppose, depend on your
interpretation of female empowerment.
By the mid-to-late1970s, the legendary Henry Fonda was deemed all-but-through as a leading man. What was a screen icon to do in an industry that no longer appreciated his talents? In Fonda's case, he began farming out his services in cameo roles, often playing scientists or presidents and bringing a bit of gravitas to such decidedly underwhelming productions as "Tentacles", "City on Fire", "The Swarm", "Wanda Nevada" and "Meteor", along with the hit WWII film "Midway". Clearly, Fonda was frustrated by being relegated to cinematic window dressing, which probably explains his participation in "The Great Smokey Roadblock", which went into production in 1976 and which received a spotty release the following year. Fonda probably disapproved of the fact that the studio had changed the title from the more appropriate "The Last of the Cowboys" in order to cash in on the CB radio craze and the unexpected success of "Smokey and the Bandit". It is rather shocking to see Fonda starring in this bare bones production shot entirely in rural California. But he brings dignity to his performance as "Elegant John", a well-known aging trucker who is revered by his peers for his record of reliability. Seems he's never missed a scheduled delivery and is known as a true professional. However when an illness confines him to a hospital, John falls behind on his truck payments and the vehicle is confiscated. Facing bankruptcy and the loss of his livelihood, John steals his own big rig and immediately becomes a wanted man. Low on cash and resources, he gives a lift to a young hitchhiker, Beebo Crozier (Robert Englund), a naive and shy young man who possesses enough cash to fill up the gas tank at least once. The pair hightails it to a bordello run by John's old friend Penelope Pearson (Eileen Brennan), who presides over a group of happy young hookers. However, they have just been busted by the cops and face arraignment. They concoct a daring scheme to move their possessions into the back of the big rig and take off for South Carolina, where for some vague reason, everyone feels they can safely start a new life. (Apparently, they have never heard of extradition laws.) John states that he may be doomed but he wants to make one last, big successful run.
No corn pone trucking comedy would be complete without a buffoonish lawman and in this case he's played by the inimitable and always amusing Dub Taylor. The plot finds the group arrested by Taylor and his equally dopey deputy but they turn the tables on them by using sex as a temptation. The big rig then takes off at high speed but now inter-state warnings are out and John and the girls are becoming the stuff of popular legend. Along the way, the rag tag group attracts more lovable misfits including a down-and-out DJ played by master impressionist John Byner and a crazed hippie from New Jersey played by Austin Pendleton, who seems to be channeling the future performance of Dennis Hopper as the whacky photographer of "Apocalypse Now". Soon, the entourage of counter-culture types forms a nomadic family that is perpetually one-step ahead of their pursuers. (Picture "The Outlaw Josey Wales" with motorcycles and a big rig.) The only action set piece in the film comes during the climax when police have set up the titular roadblock that Elegant John and his followers are determined to smash through on their way to a new life. The scene itself is well staged and features the requisite amount of crushed police cars for a film of this peculiar genre.The movie borrows heavily from director Richard C. Sarafian's 1971 cult flick "Vanishing Point". Both films center on outlaws who become populist legends by avoiding capture by the police. The film even has John Byner blatantly imitate the DJ from "Vanishing Point" played by Cleavon Little by having him broadcast propaganda to the masses on behalf of the outlaws.
Kino Lorber continues its welcome habit of unearthing cinematic rarities and making them available to retro movie lovers. Case in point: "Tiger by the Tail", a long-forgotten crime thriller filmed in 1968 as an independent production but not released until 1970. The film is the epitome of a good "B" movie from the era: lean, fast-moving and efficiently made with an impressive cast. The movie is typical of low-brow fare from the 1960s. It's primary purpose was to shot quickly and turn a modest profit. Many of these films, which often played as the second feature on double bills, had the asset of affording leading roles to actors and actresses who rarely had the opportunity to get top billing. Such is the case with this film which features Christopher George in the leading role. He plays Steve Michaelis, a recently discharged U.S. Army Vietnam War veteran who is returning home to New Mexico. However, he makes a nearly fatal pit stop in Mexico and the opening scene is a bit of a shocker. He's a about to bed a local beauty when two thugs enter the room and a brutal fight ensues that he barely escapes. This seems like an irrelevant scene, given all that follows, but we find out later its pertinent to his fate. Steve arrives in New Mexico where he reunites with his older brother Frank (Dennis Patrick), who raised him after their parents died. While Steve is down-and-out and broke, Frank has prospered as the majority share holder in the local horse racing track which fuels the local economy. The two men have a frosty reunion that is strained even further when Steve discovers that his former girlfriend Rita (Tippi Hedren) is now romantically involved with Frank. Nevertheless, the two men reconcile and things appear to be heading in the right direction. However, fate takes a tragic turn when the racetrack is robbed and Frank is murdered in cold blood. This sets in motion a complicated series of events. Steve learns he will inherit his brother's share of the racetrack stock, something that doesn't sit well with Frank's partners who inform Steve they intend to use a legal loophole to pay him off at a bargain basement price and assume total control of the operation. Steve soon discovers that he may not even get that money, as it becomes apparent someone has ordered him to be killed. Worse, he is being framed for the murder of his brother. The film follows the formula of old film noir crime thrillers and that isn't a bad thing. We see him use his wits and considerable fighting ability to thwart attempts on his life as he tries to find out who is out to get him. The logical suspects are the racetrack shareholders, a group of greedy elitists who don't want to be in business with him. Red herrings abound and Steve learns he can't trust anyone including Rita who informs him she wants them to resume their relationship now that Frank is in his grave.
"Tiger by the Tail" feels and looks like a TV movie of the era and that isn't a coincidence. Director R.G. Springsteen was best known for his work in television where he excelled in directing episodes of classic western series, and his colleague on those shows, writer Charles A. Wallace wrote the screenplay for the film. (This would prove to be Springsteen's final work in the film industry before his death in 1989.) Springsteen's direction is workmanlike in some areas but more inspired in others. He milks a good deal of suspense from the plot and keeps the action moving at a brisk pace across the movie's 99 minute running time. Springsteen, perhaps because of budget limitations, shoots virtually every scene in a real location which adds authenticity to the production. The film boasts a good cast of supporting actors, all in top form: Lloyd Bochner and Alan Hale as the greedy stockholders, Dean Jagger as a Scrooge-like banker and most intriguing, John Dehner as the local sheriff (in an excellent performance) with a penchant for using twenty dollars words in his vocabulary and who, along with his hot-headed deputy (Skip Homeier) may be complicit in working with the bad guys. Steve's only friends are Sarah Harvey (Glenda Farrell), the perky owner of a gun and souvenir shop who performs ballistics tests in the shop and New Mexico State Trooper Ben Holmes (R.G. Armstrong) who offers Steve whatever limited advice and support he can. The singer Charo (yes, that Charo) is cast in a superfluous role to provide a couple of songs in a local bar and to add a bit of additional sex appeal when we aren't gawking at Tippi Hedren sunning herself poolside in a bikini. As a leading man, Christopher George is top-notch. He's handsome, rugged and capable with fists and a gun as he takes on seemingly insurmountable odds. George should have been a success on the big screen. He was coming off a run in the hit TV series "The Rat Patrol" but never quite got his opportunity to shine on the big screen. "Tiger by the Tale" represents one of his few leading roles in a feature film, though he impressed as villains in the John Wayne westerns "El Dorado" (1967) and "Chisum" (1970). He died in 1983 at only 51 years of age from heart complications.
The Kino Lorber transfer is impressive, as usual, though there are some occasional speckles and artifacts. However, it's doubtful that there are many pristine prints of the film floating around, given its lowly stature. The Blu-ray features a very good commentary track by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, both of whom show a good deal of respect for the movie and all involved in its production. They are especially kind to Tippi Hedren, pointing out that she was long underrated as an actress. (She unfairly took most of the blame for the failure of Alfred Hitchcock's "Marnie" in which she starred.) The release also includes a gallery of other action films and mysteries available from KL, though no trailer is included for "Tiger by the Tail". I don't want to overstate the movie's merits. It certainly isn't a lost classic but I suspect you'll find it far more impressive than you might have suspected. Recommended.
those sage words of advice, 15 year-old Fannie Belle Fleming leaves her home in
the backwoods of West Virginia in 1950 to pursue a career in show business.What happens next is not exactly what the
aspiring country singer had in mind.
(1989 Touchstone/Disney), recently released on Blu-ray by Kino-Lorber, is based
upon the true story of the vocalist- turned- stripper who changed her name to
Blaze Starr and became scandalously involved with Governor Earl Long of the
Great State of Louisiana.
played by Lolita Davidovich (Raising Cain, Leap of Faith, Cobb), is persuaded
by sleazy club owner Red Snyder (Robert Wuhl) to try stripping, which he
assures her is a form of dancing.“Trust
me,” he tells her.After a timid start,
Blaze becomes a star on the Burlesque circuit moving from New York to Baltimore
and finally landing in New Orleans in 1959.
is there in the Big Easy that Blaze encounters the colorful Earl K. Long,
portrayed in bigger than life fashion by Paul Newman.One night Earl stumbles into a Bourbon Street
establishment where he apparently knows most of the strippers on a first name
basis.Immediately taken with her beauty
and figure, Long asks if he may take Blaze to dinner.Remembering her mother’s words, a sadder- but
-wiser Blaze asks the Governor “Can I trust you?” and is quite pleased when he
answers “Hell no!”Their brief, but
passionate affair was the stuff of legend in a state not unfamiliar with
political shenanigans.While not
addressed in the film, both the Governor and Ms. Starr were married to others at
Ron Shelton’s film follows a late ‘80s trend of comedy-dramas from south of the
Mason-Dixon Line, featuring a quotable script and likeable characters who are
anything but the backwoods stereotypes we are accustomed to seeing.Much like Steel Magnolias, Fried Green
Tomatoes and Shelton’s own Bull Durham, this movie gives us another strong
female lead, confident in choosing her path in life without relying on the support
or approval of men.Ms. Davidovich’s
portrayal of Blaze is both comic and intelligent in that she is able to partner
with Governor Long and guide him through his campaign for Congress.
Newman chews his way through Shelton’s script as a conflicted, progressive
politician caught in a system that still sees women and minorities as
second-class citizens.On the one hand
he supports a civil rights act that will guarantee voting and equal employment
opportunities for blacks in 1960 Louisiana, but at the same time he still holds
some of the racist beliefs of many in his own political party. “We can’t keep sleeping with them at night,
and kicking them during the day” he says during a raucous meeting with state
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.
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
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 –
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.
One of the best WWII productions made while the conflict was on-going, "Destination Tokyo" is available on DVD through Warner Home Entertainment. The film was released in December, 1943 when the war was in full throttle. Cary Grant is well-cast and in top form as Capt. Cassidy of the U.S.S. Copperfin, a submarine that is being deployed on a top secret and highly dangerous mission to infiltrate Tokyo Bay in order to scope out key logistical data for the first planned bombing raid of the city by U.S. forces, historically known as the Doolittle Raid. The film's ample running time of 135 minutes allows the story to unfold in a leisurely manner and for supporting characters to be fully developed as distinct personalities. John Garfield is the co-star but he spends most of the time regaling his shipmates with tales (or perhaps tall tales) about his sexual conquests. Alan Hale provides additional comic relief as the vessel's cook and there are any number of other character actors who would go on to be mainstays in the film industry: John Forsythe, Tom Tully, Whit Bissell, Dane Clark and William Prince among them. The film marked an impressive directorial debut for Delmar Daves, who also co-wrote the script with Albert Maltz. Grant's Captain Cassidy is very much a populist officer, concerned about his men and well-acquainted with each one individually. Consequently, they'll do anything for him. That includes Garfield's character, who volunteers along with two other sailors to undertake a dangerous mission to leave the sub and use a rubber raft to land on Japanese soil where they can record vital statistics for the pending raid on Tokyo. In order to enter the bay, the Copperfin must deftly avoid mines and a submarine net, then escape detection while the volunteers spend the night on land recording their findings. Director Daves milks a good deal of suspense from this scenario, which of course delivers the pay-off war time audiences expected: a depiction of the actual Doolittle Raid, which is shown here as doing devastating damage to Tokyo. In reality, the raid only did minor damage to the city but the psychological effect on the Japanese population of having their seemingly invincible homeland penetrated scored a major coup for the U.S.
Some of the best scenes in "Destination Tokyo" don't involve violence. They explore the relationship between Capt. Cassidy and his men. In the most dramatic scene, a sailor suffers appendicitis. While fathoms below in the submarine, without an on-board surgeon, Cassidy must assist a pharmacist's mate in performing the life-saving operation with crude instruments. It's a tense and moving scene that was apparently based on a real-life incident. Although there are plenty of references to killing "Japs" as one might expect in a WWII era film, the screenplay also presents a more nuanced point-of-view with a discussion about how the Japanese people were hoodwinked by their militaristic leaders. It's an unusual instance of humanizing the enemy in a film that was made for propaganda purposes.
The DVD has a good transfer and contains the trailer and a 1934 musical comedy short "Gem of the Ocean" with French starlet Jeanne Aubert. There is also a Cary Grant trailer gallery beginning with "Bringing Up Baby" and culminating with "North by Northwest". Recommended.
Kino Lorber has released the 1992 British farce "Blame It on the Bellboy" on Blu-ray. The film is a fast-paced homage to old Hollywood screwball comedies that makes fine use of a very talented cast. Like all good farces, the script involves mistaken identities, extraordinary coincidences and an eclectic (and eccentric) collection of characters. The action takes place entirely in Venice where a nervous milquetoast, Melvyn Orton (Dudley Moore) is sent by a tyrannical boss to buy a villa. Simultaneously, a hit man with a similar name, Mike Lorton (Bryan Brown) arrives in the city to assassinate a local crime boss, Mr. Scarpa (Andreas Katsulas), who knows he has been marked for death but doesn't know the identity of his would-be killer. Scarpa and his men are determined to assassinate the assassin. Both Orton and Lorton are staying at the same hotel, so you can pretty much guess where this is going. Among the other guests is yet another man with a similar name, Maurice Horton (Richard Griffiths), the lord mayor of a small British city, who has told his wife Rosemary (Alison Steadman) that he is on a business trip to Boston. In fact, he has signed up with a tacky "dating service" that promises to arrange a meet-up with a woman who is also on holiday through the agency.She is Patricia Fulford (Penelope Wilton), a middle-aged lonely hearts who wants to find passion and love when she meets up with her mystery date. Meanwhile, local real estate agent Caroline Wright (Patsy Kensit) is awaiting a meeting with a prospective client to buy a white elephant of a villa on the Grand Canal so that she can collect an extravagant fee.
Through a mishap involving the hotel's inept bellboy (Bronson Pinchot), who delivers messages to the wrong rooms, there ensues a massive case of mistaken identities. Maurice thinks the sexy Caroline is his date, and a prostitute as well, whose "services" are part of his holiday package. Caroline thinks he is her client to buy the villa. Melvyn is mistaken by Scarpa as his assassin and is kidnapped and tortured. Meanwhile, the real assassin, Mike Lorton, is mistaken by Patricia as her mystery date. Adding to the zaniness is the unexpected arrival of Maurice's wife, who hopes to catch him in the act of cheating. What ensures is a wild, mind-spinning series of comedic events, all very deftly carried out at lightning speed by director Mark Herman, who makes the most of shooting on location amidst the eye-popping Venetian backgrounds. Herman, who also wrote the screenplay, ensures that this extraordinary mix of actors and characters never becomes too confusing for the viewer to follow, despite elaborate plot twists. There are chases on foot and by boat, people darting in and out of each other's bedrooms and it's all set to a jaunty score by Trevor Jones. "Blame It on the Bellboy" isn't a comedy classic but it's consistently funny with the impressive cast all in top form. Recommended, especially if you like a modern take on a Marx Brothers comedy. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray has a very good transfer and includes a vintage video promotional trailer for the film as well as an assortment of other trailers for K/L releases.
MVD has released director Albert Pyun's 1997 thriller "Blast" as a Blu-ray edition. If you've never heard of the film, most of its cast members or director Pyun, you're not alone. But Pyun has a long-standing and enthusiastic fan base that credits him for being a pioneer in launching the cyborg sci-fi genre in the 1980s. His fans admire him for churning out independent films often under trying circumstances and very limited budgets. Despite having a few surprise hits at the boxoffice, Pyun has often been associated with films that were terminated or unreleased due to financing problems. Still, like the ultimate trooper, he continued to persevere and even today, while battling some significant health problems, Pyun remains determined to be a player in the indie film market. "Blast" enjoyed its "premiere" on home video, something that has apparently enhanced its reputation among enthusiasts for "direct to video" fare ("DTV" for those in the know...). While most movie lovers used to avoid DTV product on the assumption that it was deemed to be too bad to merit a theatrical marketing campaign, these fans enjoy making silk purses from sow's ears and claim that many underrated films have suffered the DTV syndrome. They are probably right, but "Blast" isn't one of them. The film was made when audiences were still obsessed with the blue collar working man hero generally played by the likes of Stallone, Willis, Van Damme and occasionally Schwarzenegger. The "grunt and punch" aspect of these heroes relegated them to limited dialogue, save for the precious "tag line" they will inevitably mutter in the course of the film in the hope that it will become the next "Make my day"-like catchphrase with the public.
"Blast" is set at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics games. The American women's swim team enters the pool area to practice even as the President of the United States and other world leaders arrive in the city for the opening of the games. Just as the women's swim team arrives, the complex is taken over by terrorists led by Omodo (Andrew Divoff) and his band of fanatical followers who have posed as workers for the Olympic organization. The terrified female swimmers under the guidance of their coach Diane Colton (Kimberly Warren) are verbally abused and one of the women is shot to death as a sign to the authorities that the terrorists mean business. Omodo is well-known to international authorities and is wanted by police throughout the world. Seems that Omodo's ego is bruised because his last two terrorist actions have fizzled even though they left behind a string of dead bodies. He is determined to regain his reputation by ensuring the Olympics operation is a success. (Apparently, when terrorists get together at their annual picnic, no one wants to be the butt of colleagues' jokes.) The terrorists quickly kill off any guards and begin operating the complex's security system, thus giving them views of any police attempts to enter the building, which they have made into a fortress by mining the entrances with bombs. Omodo's demands from the authorities must have been fairly mundane because minutes after he issued them, I forgot what they were. In any event, the only person in the complex left to combat the terrorists is Jack Bryant (Linden Ashby), a one-time Olympic star who has seen his life fall apart due to his own demons. He's now working in the building as a janitor. Omodo and his men can occasionally see him on the vast networks of security cameras but Bryant is a savvy guy and learns how to keep on the move and pick off the terrorists one-by-one. (Like most janitors, Bryant is also a world-class martial arts expert). For some melodramatic elements, we learn that Bryant and Diane had once been married but he lost her when his life went into a downward spiral. With the authorities virtually helpless, it's up to Bryant to thwart the terrorists...although he has a an ally in the Atlanta Police Department: Leo ((Rutger Hauer), a wheelchair-bound, eccentric detective who is an old nemesis of Omodo and who manages to provide Bryant with some helpful tips.
"Blast" is a storehouse of every action movie cliche from films of this era but it's not as bad as you might think. Director Pyun does the best he can to disguise the movie's limited budget (virtually all of it is shot in one location with a few exterior shots tossed in to break the monotony). Pyun keeps the action moving at a brisk clip and avoids at least a couple of anticipated cliches from coming to pass. However, the sheer monotony of seeing Bryant and the bad guys chase each other up and down very similar-looking hallways and staircases quickly grows wearying. The cast performs gamely, with Linden Ashby suitably hunky and capable of delivering the film's obligatory "tag line": "I'm coming to get you!!!!" Andrew Divoff brings some Bond villain-like qualities to his role but he's undermined by Pyun insisting that he imitate every vocal mannerism of Arnold Schwarzenegger imaginable. The gimmick proves to be distracting, though Divoff has a few standout moments. The musical score by Anthony Riparetti starts out well but becomes grating because it seems to consist of a constant repetition of the same few notes. The film is occasionally suspenseful and exciting but Pyun goes off the rails during the climax which sees a knock-down fight to the death between Bryant and Omodo that incorporates some ridiculous elements including a bomb explosion that is so poorly rendered that it looks like a frame from a Road Runner cartoon was utilized. Also puzzling are the brief appearances of Rutger Hauer as a potentially intriguing character but the role is drastically under-written.
MVD has released "Blast" as a nice-looking Blu-ray edition as part of their "Marquee Collection". The box art features a cringe-inducing rip-off of the main poster art for "Die Hard" including an exploding skyscraper, even though there are no skyscrapers in "Blast", exploding or otherwise. There is a bonus trailer gallery of other similarly-themed titles from MVD, although the trailer for Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Lionheart" looks like a poor VHS transfer.
Glenn is a down on his luck American boxer who gets caught in the middle of a
blood feud between Japanese brothers in “The Challenge” available on Blu-ray
and DVD. Glenn’s character Rick accepts a job smuggling a valuable sword into Japan
and is quickly swept up in intrigue as rival brothers seek ownership of the
sword which was taken from Japan at the end of WWII. Hideo (Atsuo Nakamura) is
a powerful businessman and convinces Rick to train under his brother, Yoshida
(Toshiro Mifune). This close proximity should enable him to steal the sword in
Yoshida’s possession and deliver it to Hideo. This is not a civil family feud,
as a half dozen people are murdered within an hour of Rick’s arrival in Japan.
honors the traditional samurai traditions and runs a school for practitioners
of these teachings. Rick is a reluctant participant in the deadly feud and his
loyalties are challenged as he is attracted to Yoshida’s daughter, Akiko (Donna
Kei Ben), as well as to the traditional samurai philosophy and her father’s
cause. Rick is skeptical of the training, but goes through the standard ordeals
we’ve come to expect from this genre such as eating exotic foods including live
lobsters and octopi with tentacles slithering on plates. He’s also reduced to performing
seemingly mundane tasks like sweeping floors and cleaning up only to discover it
was a test of his commitment and resolve.
one point, Rick spends days buried up to his neck in a pit as ants and bugs
crawl on his face while being denied food and water. He complains throughout
the training, backing out and returning several times, and even steals the
sword at one point, only to return it and learning this too was a test. He
finally pledges his obedience to the samurai order under Yoshida and completes
his training. Sound familiar? Yes, but it’s all part of the central trope of
this genre and it works very well to further the story.
by John Frankenheimer, the film is exciting with plenty of action and the
climactic sword fight in the office complex is very well staged. While not
quite a martial arts movie, the film offers a veritable buffet of combat techniques
with fists, samurai swords, bow & arrows and knives. The location shooting
in Japan and the action scenes kept my interest and the film culminates in a
battle at Hideo’s office headquarters as Rick, Yoshida and Akiko sneak in and fight
their way to Hideo and the inevitable confrontation between him and Yoshida.
movie features familiar American television character actors Calvin Jung, Clyde
Kusatsu and Sab Shimono in supporting roles and was the first starring vehicle
for Glenn with a script by John Sayles and Richard Maxwell. Sayles was brought
to Japan to make changes to the story which was radically altered after Glenn
accepted the role. Disappointed, Glenn was persuaded by Mifune to take it in
stride and enjoy the experience. This was the final of three collaborations
between Frankenheimer and Jerry Goldsmith who provides a terrific score. Steven
Segal also worked as a technical advisor and stunt coordinator for the movie. I
enjoyed the movie a great deal and so should fans of action and martial arts
in July 1982 by CBS Theatrical Films, the movie was a modest success for
Frankenheimer and it has grown in status over the years with a solid fan base
due to broadcast television and home video release. The movie clocks in at 110
minutes with a great looking transfer and sound quality. Bonus features on the German
Blu-ray/DVD two disc set release by Explosive Media include the theatrical
trailer, TV trailers, a poster gallery and the cropped TV version on the DVD.
The set also includes a photo-filled 24-page booklet featuring poster art,
lobby cards and an essay by Andreas Volkert of All About Movies Bayreuth.
(Note: this region-free title is available through Amazon Germany. However, Explosive Media titles often surface through third party dealers on other Amazon and eBay sites.)
Twilight Time has released the 1965 action adventure film "Genghis Khan" as a limited edition (3,000) Blu-ray. The film was released almost ten years after Howard Hughes produced the notorious clinker "The Conqueror" starring John Wayne as the legendary Mongol leader. A decade later, producer Irving Allen ensured he did not make the mistake of laughably miscasting the leading man. Omar Sharif, then a red-hot up-and-coming star, was cast in the title role, and while an Egyptian actor might not seem to be an obvious choice, Sharif possessed an exotic international appeal that saw him convincingly play characters of many different ethnic backgrounds. Ironically, while Allen had successfully hired a leading man, his judgment did not extend to the key supporting roles. If you want to enjoy "Genghis Khan", there are many positive aspects to the film- but you will have to overlook some jaw-dropping casting errors. That feat is a bit like trying to calmly peruse a newspaper in your living room while ignoring the 800-pound gorilla who is sitting across from you, but more about that later.
The film opens with a brutal raid on the tribal home of the young Mongol Temujin and his family. The raid is led by a rival Mongol tribe headed by the merciless Jamuga (Stephen Boyd), who murders Temujin's father and enslaves the women of the tribe. The story then jumps ahead a number of years and we find Temujin (Omar Sharif) has now grown to manhood and is still a captive of Jamuga. He's forced to wear a giant wooden yoke around his neck as a reminder of his humiliation. Ultimately, Temujin escapes captivity with the help of holy man Geen (Michael Hordern) and a mute Mongol warrior named Sengal (Woody Strode.), much to the chagrin of the infuriated Jamuga. Temujin vows to bring the warring Mongol tribes together so that they can form an unstoppable army capable of conquering the known world. How he achieves this is never shown but before long we see he has indeed amassed a devoted army intent on uniting the remaining Mongol tribes, one of which is headed by Jamuga.One of Temujin's obsessions is to humiliate Jamuga, which he does by kidnapping his woman, Bortei (Francoise Dorleac), who he then makes his own wife. As played by the gorgeous but ill-fated Dorleac (she died in a car crash in 1967), Bortei sports a modern hair style and the latest trends in makeup. She's a Mongol by way of the emerging mod scene on Carnaby Street. Dorleac is miscast but at least her performance isn't embarrassing. The same cannot be said of some of her otherwise revered cast members.
Since the film is designed to entertain, not enlighten, we are presented with a truncated historical record of Temujin's conquests. In short order, he and his army become feared as they relentlessly conquer seemingly any land they want to occupy, either by having the inhabitants willingly accede to their demands or face defeat in battle. The script boils down these tumultuous events into a Cliff Notes adaptation of a Classics Illustrated comic book. Temujin next sets his sights on the legendary land of China, and are admitted entrance through the Great Wall. Here they are guided by Kam Ling, a wise man who serves as chief adviser to the Emperor. The role is played by James Mason and if you thought, as I did, that this great talent was incapable of presenting a bad performance, be prepared to be enlightened. Mason sports a sem- Fu Manchu mustache and seems to be foreshadowing those now cringe-inducing Chinese detectives that would be played by Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov. But wait! Mason's performance seems positively inspired compared to that of Robert Morley as the Emperor. Yes, that Robert Morley, the rotund and usually delightful British character actor who played every role in precisely the same manner. Thus, we have the Emperor of China depicted as a prissy, comical figure. (Presumably, Paul Lynde was not available for the role.) The miscasting of these two pivotal roles makes it difficult to concentrate on the otherwise compelling script by Clarke Reynolds and Beverly Cross. Fortunately, events move quickly. The Emperor treats Temujin and his army with great reverence and respect- and Temujin is even giving the honorary title of Genghis Khan ("Great Conqueror"). But Temujin correctly suspects that they are being held as captives in a gilded cage. Seems the Emperor realizes that Temujin suspects that the Chinese military is a paper tiger and that he would be tempted to gather an even bigger army and take the nation by force. In a creatively-staged scene, the Mongols use the Chinese fascination with fireworks as an elaborate method to affect a daring escape. Armed with the advanced military technology they have secured from China, the Mongols' ever-growing armies continue to sweep through kingdoms far and wide. Jamuga, who had been held captive by Temujin but managed to escape, refuses an offer to join Temujin's forces- and even insults him by implying that Temujin's young son had been fathered by him. This results in a "Mongol Duel" in which both men go mano-a-mano, with the surviving winner taking control of the armies. The sight of two sweaty, hunky shirtless men grappling with each does have an unintended and amusing homo-erotic aspect but the scene is quite suspenseful.
Watch the original U.S. TV spot for Milos Forman's superb (but underrated) 1981 drama "Ragtime", the adaptation of E.L. Doctprow's bestselling novel. The film brilliantly interweaves the sagas of disparate characters in a grand, lushly produced production that marked the final feature film appearance of James Cagney, who was lured out of retirement after twenty years. If you've never seen "Ragtime", make sure you do. (By the way, the DVD is out of print in America and has never been issued on Blu-ray. Are you listening, Paramount?)
name Sergio Martino will strike a chord with anyone who has even a passing
interest in Italian exploitation pictures of the 70s and 80s. Once seen, who
can forget The Great Alligator or The Island of Fishmen – both of which are
favourites of this writer in their showcasing of Barbara Bach at her most
radiant – or premium Suzy Kendall giallo Torso, or for that matter once ‘video
nasty’ and Ursula Andress headliner The Mountain of the Cannibal God? Marking Martino’s
second giallo, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (o.t. La coda della scorpione),
was released in 1971, sandwiched between a couple of his most highly regarded
titles, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and All the Colours of the Dark. Scorpion’s
Tail isn’t quite on a par with either of those, but it’s still a respectable
entry in the sub-genre.
her husband is killed in a plane accident on a business trip to Greece, his
unfaithful wife (Evelyn Stewart) is informed she’s beneficiary to a $1 million
inheritance, with the one caveat that she has to travel to Athens to finalise
her claim. However, there are a number of people intent on getting their hands
on the not insubstantial sum, and at least one of them will remorselessly
resort to murder to do so. A turn of events results in the arrival of an
insurance investigator (George Hilton), who hooks up with a reporter (Anita
Strindberg) to check out some irregularities, and they inadvertently set
themselves up as targets for the killer.
enjoyable enough, if not particularly remarkable giallo then, touting a
convoluted plot loaded with sufficient a measure of misdirection to keep things
unpredictable. Opening in a very clean looking London and moving on to various
Greek locales, the travelogue location work certainly functions in the film’s
favour, lending it production value that eclipses the slightly ponderous
narrative of the screenplay (a collaborative affair from Eduardo Manzanos,
Ernesto Gastaldi and Sauro Scavolini). Most of – if not quite all – the
standard giallo trappings come into play, primarily there are a number of
graphic murders perpetrated by a fedora-wearing, razor-wielding maniac attired
in black (who’s not averse to donning a scuba wetsuit when the moment is
propitious). Some of them are pretty nasty too, including a startling– if not
particularly realistic – moment of eye-violence (squeamish viewers be warned!).
However, there’s a conspicuous dearth of nudity, in fact it’s about as coy as
they come that department; of course, nudity is seldom (if ever) pertinent, but
it’s standard enough a constituent within this sub-genre as to be noticeable
when it’s missing. The showdown on a forebodingly rocky stretch of desolate
Grecian coastline is fantastic, combining vertiginous camera angles and
suspenseful POV to maximum dramatic effect.
up a strong cast – which includes Alberto De Mendoza, Ida Galli (aka Evelyn
Stewart), Janine Reynaud and Luigi Pistilli – are George Hilton and Anita
Strindberg. Hilton also starred for Martino in the aforementioned pair, The
Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and All the Colours of the Dark. His rugged good
looks found him top billing in a slew of spaghetti westerns – he was a one-spin
Sartana – as well as a run of crime and gialli pictures such as The Case of the
Bloody Iris, My Dear Killer and The Two Faces of Fear... though 1965’s spoof
Bond caper Due mafiosi contro Goldginger (in which he played Agente 007) can
probably be safely disregarded! He’s on top form here and rubs along well with
the very lovely Anita Strindberg. This writer first became aware of her in Who
Saw Her Die?, in which she appeared alongside George Lazenby and Adolfo Celi.
She didn’t enjoy as prodigious a career as Hilton, but she did score a lead
role in Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key for Martino, as well
as featuring in such renowned fare as Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and Women in
Cell Block 7. Her performance in Scorpion’s Tail is among her finest and there’s
no denying that the scene she spends clad in a sheer, clingy wet shirt affords the
audience a prurient bonus treat.
The James Bond films may represent the longest-running movie series produced by the same company, but ol' 007 doesn't hold a candle to the longevity of Sherlock Holmes as a big screen hero. Holmes has been a cinematic staple since the silent era and though his popularity has soared and waned over the decades, he has remained a presence in popular culture throughout the world. In recent years, younger people have embraced Holmes as a hero thanks to hip, updated interpretations of the character on television and the big screen. However, there were long periods in which Holmes had disappeared from motion pictures. The films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were enormously popular from their first appearance in 1939 through their final cinematic adventure in 1946. Holmes and Watson would not re-emerge on the big screen again until Hammer Films produced the first color Holmes movie, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in 1959. The plan was to launch a Holmes series for the studio starring Peter Cushing and Andre Morrell. Although the film is very well regarded today, it was not a financial success and the series never materialized. The next major studio release of a Holmes adventure was "A Study in Terror", which has been released on Blu-ray by Mill Creek. The movie starred John Neville as Holmes and Donald Houston as Watson- and both of them performed admirably in the handsomely-mounted 1965 production. The concept of Holmes facing off against Jack the Ripper has been done numerous times to date both in literature and on the screen, but "A Study in Terror" was the first Holmes property to exploit the duel-of-wits between the fictional detective and the real-life serial killer.
"A Study in Terror" has the look and feel of a Hammer Studios film of the period and one expects Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee to pop up somewhere along the line, but we must console ourselves with a very fine cast of character actors, each of whom is used well thanks to the intelligently-written screenplay by Donald and Derek Ford and the assured direction of James Hill, who would go on to direct "Born Free". Among the standout appearances: John Fraser, Barbara Windsor, Adrienne Corri, Anthony Quayle as a seemingly devoted surgeon who might just be the killer, Georgia Brown as a beer hall singer, Peter Carsten as a shady pub owner, Robert Morley as Mycroft Holmes- and keep an eye out for young Judi Dench. Frank Finlay appears as Inspector Lestrade, but his role is frustratingly underwritten. The film has a lush production design that masks the fact that virtually all of it is shot in the studio, with the exception of some exteriors of stately mansions, and the score by John Scott is appropriately atmospheric. The story opens with the horrendous murders of prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London, a seedy place in the Victorian era where pollution was often so bad that one could barely see across the street, a factor that aided Jack the Ripper in escaping justice for his crimes. When police can't solve the string of murders, Holmes and Watson take up the cause and, as one might expect, the list of suspects includes a number of red herrings. This was the first Holmes movie to benefit from the new-found screen liberties. Thus, there is a blatant sexual element that would have been unthinkable a decade before. In addition to plenty of heaving bosoms and boisterous bar girls, there is also more violence and gruesome elements than had ever been seen previously in a Holmes feature film. It also features Holmes and Watson demonstrating their prowess with fisticuffs. As with most Holmes mysteries, the fewer details divulged, the better the element of surprise for viewers. Suffice it to say that the story moves at a brisk pace and that Neville and Watson both give spirited performances that should have led to sequels. Alas, "A Study in Terror" was not a boxoffice hit. The lack of marquee names along with a preposterous marketing campaign that emulated the "Batman" TV series (referring to Holmes as "The Original Caped Crusader!") seemed to ensure that the film would not be a popular success. However, that doesn't dilute its many qualities. The Mill Creek Blu-ray has an excellent transfer that does justice to the rich color schemes and fine set designs. Unfortunately, there are no bonus extras. Do we recommend it? The answer should be elementary: of course.
The early-to-mid 1970s was the heyday of grungy cop thrillers. Films exploring the seamier side of police work arguably got its biggest boost from the 1968 release of "Bullitt", which dared to show cops intertwined with ethically-challenged politicians in their common quest for career advancement. With the release of "The French Connection" and "Dirty Harry" in 1971, the genre kicked into high gear. In these films, the anti-hero disregards constitutional protections to take the law into his own hands. With America reeling from soaring crime rates, audiences cheered on these dubious symbols of our justice system. It's safe to say that watching these films from today's standpoint, one might have a different reaction to the tactics used by Popeye Doyle and Harry Callahan. However, there were more nuanced looks at modern urban police departments in films that explored corruption without the benefit of an superhuman anti-hero. Sidney Lumet's "Serpico" certainly exemplifies this type of film, with the protagonist being an every day cop who suffers terribly for calling out the blatantly criminal acts being committed by his peers. Similarly, a lesser-known film dealing the same subject matter- "Report to the Commissioner"- took a cynical look at the NYPD and found a nest of bribery, payoffs and other illegal methods used by many cops. This was not just some left-wing fantasy. The experience of Frank Serpico and fellow whistle-blower cop David Durk had blown the lid off massive corruption in the NYPD. The result was the formation of the Knapp Commission which uncovered widespread graft in the department and instituted radical changes to clean up the NYPD. A number of criminal indictments were handed down. "Report to the Commissioner" was released in 1975, well after the Knapp Commission had released its findings but during a period when faith in the NYPD remained weak among the citizens, who were shocked at the level of corruption unveiled in the Knapp probe. Adding to the public paranoia was the recent Watergate scandal. The film went into production shortly after President Nixon resigned in disgrace just two years after being re-elected in the biggest landslide in American history.
The story centers on the experiences of rookie undercover cop Bo Lockley (Michael Moriarty), who from the get-go seems too naive and sensitive to fit in with the hard-boiled detectives he's been assigned to work with. They cruelly subject him to hazing and never stop mocking him for looking like a hippie, even though he's not supposed to look like a cop since he works undercover. Lockley is shown the ropes around the Times Square district by fellow officer "Crunch" Blackstone (Yaphet Kotto), a hard-bitten veteran who strolls through the grimy neighborhood like a king, routinely abusing its denizens by words and physical actions. Lockley is appalled but Crunch warns him that survival in this part of the city depends on being feared, not being admired. The script introduces a parallel story line in which a young female undercover cop, Patty Butler (Susan Blakely) comes up with a dangerous plan to bring down local crime kingpin "Stick" Henderson (Tony King), who has evaded being arrested despite being the area's most feared pimp and drug dealer. Patty requests permission to pose a teenage runaway, seduce Stick and ultimately become his "old lady" with the intent of being able to witness his day-to-day operations and gather enough evidence to arrest him. The plan obviously violates departmental regulations but both Patty and her two superiors are eager for the promotions that would result from bringing Stick to justice so they approve her plan. Patty makes good on reeling in Stick and before long she's shacking up with him. Lockley, doggedly trying to find and rescue her on the assumption she is a runaway in distress, manages to trace her to Stick's apartment where the two men engage in a gun battle. Patty is tragically killed in the incident, and Lockley pursues Stick in a wild foot chase that includes Times Square before culminating in the men encountering each other inside an elevator in Saks Fifth Avenue. This is the most suspenseful sequence in the film. The police shut the power off, stranding Lockley and his prey in a sweltering, confined space with both men pointing guns at each other. Over time, they engage in a conversation in which Stick tries to persuade Lockley that they are both doomed because if they are allowed to live, their stories will bring disgrace to higher-ups in the NYPD. The conspiracy aspects of the script reflect the mood of the era. Nobody in the film is a traditional good guy except Lockley and he's treated like a fish-out-of-water.
"Report to the Commissioner" succeeds in presenting a gritty, realistic view of New York City during its decline in an era when crime was soaring, the streets were dirty and the future looked grim. Anyone visiting Gotham today would surely pronounce the city's turn-around as a miracle but there is no doubt that New York went through some difficult years and these were reflected in the movies of the era. However, the film is flawed in some key areas. Director Milton Katselas, who was revered as a playwright and academic more than a filmmaker (he directed only a handful of movies), is saddled with an erratic script by old pros Ernest Tidyman and Abby Mann, based on a novel by James Mills. The story isn't told in a linear fashion and instead jumps back and forth from present to past and vice-versa, making for an occasionally confusing experience for the viewer. Consequently, while some scenes are highly engaging, the film never gels satisfactorily as a whole. Not helping matters is the performance of Michael Moriarty as Lockley. We know he is supposed to be a naive rookie but at times Moriarty plays the part like he just stepped off a turnip truck and is seeing New York for the first time. His wide-eyed innocence often strains credibility. More convincing is Yaphet Kotto, who commands the screen in every scene in which he appears. Sadly, he vanishes from the middle section of the film, much to its detriment. Tony King is excellent as "Stick" and young Bob Balaban excels as a double-amputee who acts as a police informant. The scene in which he uses his crude, wooden wheeled "dolly" to hitch a ride on a speeding car makes for a thrilling experience. However, certain other cast members over-act and dilute the impact of their scenes. Even the great Elmer Bernstein's score seems unusually mediocre.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a very fine transfer that captures the glitter and the gutters of New York during this period. The Blu-ray includes the original theatrical trailer.
Like Marlon Brando, director John Huston was often considered to be a has-been during much of the 1960s into the early 1970s. He worked steadily, but- like Brando- it was assumed his glory days were behind him simply because most of his films during this period didn't generate sparks at the boxoffice. (The success of his 1975 film The Man Who Would Be King would temporarily restore his luster.) His acting career got a boost from his great performance in Chinatown, but even some of his directorial flops look far better today than they did at the time of their theatrical release. One major disappointment, artistically as well as financially, was the seemingly sure-fire hit The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, made in 1972 and starring Paul Newman fairly fresh from his triumph in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The movie is a whimsical tale that is nevertheless loaded with violence and gallows humor (literally). The story is (very) loosely based on the real Roy Bean, an outlaw who became a self-appointed judge who called himself the "only law West of the Pecos" at a time when parts of Texas were a no-man's land of thieves, murderers and swindlers. Bean became known as a hard-ass judge who dispensed lethal justice. In reality, he only sentenced two men to be hanged and one managed to escape. Nevertheless, his colorful background provides screenwriter John Milius with plenty of imaginative fodder for fictitious encounters and incidents. We first meet Bean when he ambles into a remote outpost where he is robbed and beaten mercilessly by the denizens. He returns shortly thereafter and single-handed kills them all, thus instantly making him a local legend among the peasants who live in the area. Bean becomes obsessed with studying the law and showing mercy on the poorest elements of society. He even takes a lover, a young Hispanic woman (Victoria Principal, in her screen debut). Bean appoints himself as a "judge" despite not having any legal authority to do so. He enlists a group of slovenly "deputies" to dispense justice in his courtroom, which is the bar in which he was robbed. Before long, Bean is holding kangaroo trials and routinely lynching anyone who incurs his wrath. Despite this, he gains a reputation for being fair and defending the defenseless. He adopts a bear and the movie presents some amusing sequences of Bean and his friends interacting with this over-sized "pet". The film traces his experiences over a period of years as the remote outpost becomes a bustling town. Bean is gradually sidelined as a force of influence. The death of his young wife during the birth of their daughter depresses him further and he rides off into oblivion. Twenty years later he returns to find that oil has been discovered on his property and that the corrupt mayor (Roddy McDowall) is using legally questionable methods to displace Bean's 20 year old daughter (Jacqueline Bisset) so he can control the oil on her land. Bean's reappearance causes a sensation as he rounds up his motley, aging group of former deputies to help his daughter fight for her rights. A fairly spectacular battle climaxes the film.
Bean offers many pleasures, not the least of which is a terrific supporting cast that includes cameos by Anthony Perkins, Tab Hunter (surprisingly good in an off-beat role), Anthony Zerbe, Stacy Keach (wonderful as a crazed, albino gunslinger), Ava Gardner as the legendary Lily Langtree, the object of Bean's romantic obsession even though he never meets her, and John Huston himself in an amusing appearance as Grizzly Adams. There are also plenty of familiar faces in the supporting cast including Ned Beatty, Bill McKinney (reunited from Deliverance with happier results) Richard Farnsworth and stuntmen Dean Smith and Neil Summers. The attempt to capitalize on the success of Butch Cassidy is fairly apparent, as evidenced by a fairly sappy love song and romantic montage that is obviously meant to emulate the famed Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head sequence from the former film. Nevertheless, Bean is a consistently enjoyable, rousing Western that probably plays much better today, when we can realize just how special acting ensembles like this truly are. Maurice Jarre's fine score adds immeasurably to the the enjoyment of the experience.
The Warner Archive has released the film as fine-looking Blu-ray. The only bonus extra is the amusing original trailer.
Paramount has issued a 10-DVD collection of Jerry Lewis films, all but one of which pertain to his solo career. ("The Stooge" co-stars Dean Martin). The set is packed with 90 minutes of bonus materials including trailers, commentaries by Lewis and rare archival films and materials. Here is the official press release:
Paramount Home Entertainment has issued a repackaged DVD set containing ten Jerry Lewis feature films. Here is the official press release:
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Relive some of the greatest
film moments from comedy legend and Hollywood icon Jerry Lewis with the
new JERRY LEWIS 10 FILM COLLECTION, arriving on DVD June 12, 2018 from
Paramount Home Media Distribution. Celebrated for his remarkable range of
characters, outlandish antics, and uninhibited physicality, Jerry Lewis’ work
continues to delight audiences around the world and inspire new generations of
Featuring 10 of Lewis’ most beloved comedies, the JERRY
LEWIS 10 FILM COLLECTION is headlined by 1963’s enduring classic The
Nutty Professor, which celebrates its 55th anniversary this year.
Considered by many to be Lewis’ finest and most memorable film, The Nutty
Professor was included on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100
funniest American films of all time and was selected for preservation in the
U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2004.
The 10-DVD set includes the following:
Stooge (1951)—Features one of Lewis’ earliest pairings
with Dean Martin as a musical-comedy duo
Delicate Delinquent (1956)—A “teenage terror” is recruited
for the Police Academy
Bellboy (1960)—Lewis plays a friendly but clumsy bellboy in
this slapstick classic
take on the classic Cinderella story
Errand Boy (1961)—Paramount enlists a bumbling Lewis to spy on
their productions in this hilarious film studio comedy
Ladies Man (1961)—A girl-shy man finds work in a women-only
hotel with uproarious results
Nutty Professor (1963)—A socially awkward professor
invents a serum that turns him into the handsome but obnoxious Buddy Love
Disorderly Orderly (1964)—Lewis wreaks havoc in a private
Patsy (1964)—Lewis directs and stars as a novice
recruited to replace a big-time comedian
Family Jewels (1965)—Lewis directs and plays seven
distinct roles in this family inheritance farce
was arguably the success of A Fistful of Dollars that really set the ball
rolling on the slew of shameless spaghetti western rip-offs and cash-ins that
proliferated throughout the 1960s, as film-makers jostled to get a taste of the
sauce and chow down on a cut of the rewards from what quickly became a very
profitable arena in which to be operating.
rode into town a little later than popular gunslingers such as Sabata, Django
and Ringo, but he made enough of an impression to warrant a number of official
sequels – and several unofficial ones too. Just five legitimate Sartana films
were lensed, with Gianni Garko (billed as John Garko) headlining in four of
them and George Hilton just one. Cucumber cool antihero Sartana was notably
more dapper than most of his mud-spattered box office rivals, a real snappy
dresser in fact; with his black cape lined in red silk, sharp matching cravat
and crisp white shirt, he cut a fine figure riding through desolate wasteland,
deck of cards in one hand, natty miniature four-shooter in the other, always
ready to spit out a death sentence when the moment was called for. In the first
film he even retrieved a musical pocket watch from a corpse and proceeded to
use its tinkly chime to taunt his nemesis.
fabulously contrived titles of the five films belied a series of enjoyable
enough but not exactly top-tier western actioners. Dripping with all the
requisite tropes of the genre, and occasionally sprinkling a few unexpected
condiments into the pot, they’re perfectly watchable fare, but it’s unlikely many
would favour any of them over a Sabata instalment or, indeed, an Eastwood
classic. If, for this writer, there’s any problem at all with the Sartana
series – and it’s one that prevents them from residing up there among the
genre’s finest – it’s that in every instance a plot suited at best to the
50-minute TV episode format was, out of necessity, stretched to feature length,
the resultant slightness of narrative rendering them all far too leisurely
five official Sartana films have now been issued on Blu-ray by Arrow Video in
an impressive collectors’ box set. Accompanied by an illustrated book, each
film is individually packaged and boasts reversible sleeve art, and the entire collection
is housed in an attractive slipcase.
series kickstarter was 1968’s If you meet Sartana pray for your eath (O.T.
Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte), directed by Frank Kramer, a.k.a.
Gianfranco Parolini. (Note: in Italian film titles, only the first word is
capitalised.) Among the most enjoyable of the quintet, the plot concerns a pair
of dodgy bankers who hire a group of Mexicans to steal a strongbox filled with
gold, subsequently allowing them to claim on the insurance. In fact, the
precious cargo has been substituted with rocks, the v