Adventures of Hajji Baba,” a 1954 Walter Wanger production for Allied Artists
Pictures and 20th Century Fox, has been issued by Twilight Time in a Blu-ray
limited edition of 3,000 units.At the
time of its theatrical release, the film was a commercially successful entry in
the popular 1950s formula of swashbuckling romances about the legendary Middle
East of Sinbad, Ali Baba, and the Arabian Nights.In today’s post-9/11 world, when the American
public is more aware of the region’s grim reality, the Arabian Nights genre
survives, just barely, in rare efforts like “Disney’s Aladdin” and the “Prince
of Persia” video-game franchise.
the 1954 movie, Hajji Baba (John Derek), a young Persian barber, sets out to
make his fortune in the wider world.Meanwhile, across town in the Caliph’s palace, spoiled Princess Fawzia
(Elaine Stewart) wants to marry an ambitious neighboring prince, Nur-el-Din
(Paul Picerni).Her father objects,
having heard about Nur-el-Din’s cruel temper.“Think of all the wives he’s had, and how he’s treated them,” he warns.“No one can hold him.” Undeterred, the
headstrong Fawzia disguises herself as a boy and sneaks out to meet the
prince’s emissary at a nearby oasis.There, she encounters Hajji, whom she mistakes for the courier.She offers him a valuable emerald ring for
help in evading her father’s pursuit.
the two proceed together across the desert, they’re captured by a gang of lady
bandits led by the red-haired Banah (Amanda Blake), and eventually they realize
that they’ve fallen in love with each other.Escaping from Banah, the pair fall into the hands of Nur-el-Din, who
exercises his prior claim on Fawzia’s affections.Surrounded and outnumbered by the prince’s
armed retinue, and believing that it’s Fawzia’s preference anyway, Hajji
relinquishes the princess to Nur-el-Din in exchange for the ring that had been
promised to him earlier.Irked, Fawzia
rides off with the prince, who secretly orders two of his soldiers to ride
back, kill Hajji, and retrieve the ring . . .
of the time were inclined to dismiss Arabian Nights escapism of this sort, as
modern reviewers do every time a new Dwayne Johnson or Mark Wahlberg action
picture debuts.In his New York times
review, Bosley Crowther suggested that the movie needed “someone in it like Bob
Hope to kid and lampoon the ostentation of its lush Oriental gewgawry.”But most middle-class audiences were less
exacting, and looked only for “The Adventures of Hajji Baba” to provide a
couple of hours’ relaxation from the grind of work and school.The kids could enjoy the widescreen swordplay
and horseback chases, Mom might think tingly thoughts about John Derek, and Pop
could ogle Amanda Blake, Elaine Stewart, and the numerous other starlets in the
cast in their skimpy harem girl costumes.That was about as racy as Hollywood products got in those days.Compared with the boxy, black-and-white image
that moviegoers were used to watching at home on TV, the film’s sumptuous
CinemaScope, Color by De Luxe photography was sensational stuff.
2.55:1 widescreen aspect and rich color are beautifully transferred on the
Twilight Time Blu-ray, a welcome upgrade from the pan-and-scan print of the
film that airs now and then on cable’s Fox Movie Channel.Modern viewers may be put off that the Arab
and Farsi characters are played by actors whose accents are more Parsippany,
New Jersey than Persia, but that was standard practice for the day, and even
today’s Millennials will have to admit, if they’re honest, that the
old-fashioned romance between Hajji and the willful Fawzia isn’t much more
contrived than the plot of the average confection today on the Hallmark Movie
Channel, or for that matter the tortuous complications on “reality” TV’s “The
Bachelor.”Fans of ‘50s lounge music are
likely to be amused by the title tune that wends its way through the soundtrack
-- music by Dimitri Tiomkin, lyrics by Ned Washington, arrangement by Nelson
Riddle, and vocal by Nat “King” Cole.The music and effects are isolated on an alternate audio track on the
Twilight Time disc.Other extras are the
original theatrical trailer, SDH subtitles, and an informative insert-booklet
by the reliable Julie Kirgo.The Blu-ray
is available HERE.
Last September, Time Life released the ultimate Robin Williams video set. Here is the official press release:
"You know that cartoon, that Tasmanian devil that comes
out and just spins --
he was that, but eloquent and hilarious."
-- Billy Crystal
"He was like something waiting to happen...a very
-- Steve Martin
"Everybody else prepared, Robin was just a natural...
and he worked on every level."
-- Jay Leno
THIS SEPTEMBER, JOIN TIME LIFE FOR THE
DEFINITIVE DVD COLLECTION CELEBRATING
THE COMEDY CAREER OF A BELOVED ICON
ROBIN WILLIAMS: COMIC
Across 22 DVDs and 50+ Hours, the Electrifying Comic Lights
Up the Room in This Ultimate, One-of-a-Kind Compendium Spanning 40 Years
on TV, Including All Five HBO Stand-Up Specials Together for the Very
First Time, Never-Before-Released Performances and Backstage Footage, Talk Show
and Late Night Appearances, Rare Archival Clips, Brand New Interviews Featuring
Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Jay Leno, Martin Short, Pam Dawber, Lewis
Black, and Zak Williams, a Collectible Memory Book Featuring Archival
Photos, Robin's Tour Notes, and More!
FAIRFAX, VA (September 25, 2018) - Robin Williams was a
generational talent, graced with comedic brilliance, rapid-fire improvisation,
and a deep well of warmth and compassion that translated to every role he
inhabited. From his breakout role in ABC's Mork & Mindy to his Academy
Award®-winning performance in Good Will Hunting, the iconic actor displayed an
inimitable artistry that made him beloved by millions. This September, join
Time Life, in conjunction with the Trustees of the Robin Williams Trust, in
celebrating the incomparable career of the singularly innovative actor with ROBIN
WILLIAMS: COMIC GENIUS.
Available exclusively at RobinWilliams.com
beginning September 25th, this definitive collection of Williams' comedy
highlights arrives as interest in his life and career increases in the wake of
HBO's critically acclaimed documentary, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind
from Emmy® Award-winning director Marina Zenovich and Oscar-winning producer
Alex Gibney, and Dave Itzkoff's biography Robin, a New York Times best-seller.
Celebrating the actor's memorable 40-year career, from his uproarious turn as
loveable alien Mork and his legendary HBO stand-up specials to his numerous
appearances on late night, this handsome, 22-disc collection, housed in deluxe
All five HBO stand-up specials together for the very first
time, including Off the Wall (1978), An Evening with Robin Williams (1983), An
Evening at the MET (1986), Live on Broadway (2002) and Weapons of Self
Never-before-released concert specials, including Robin's
full MGM Grand Garden stand-up from 2007 and the Montreal stop on his last
tour, a conversation on stage between Williams and comedian David Steinberg
Memorable talk show and late night TV appearances on The
Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Oprah
Winfrey Show, The Graham Norton Show, Saturday Night Live and more
Rare, never-before-seen clips including early stand-up, raw
footage from HBO's promo shoots, a hilarious toast to Richard Pryor by Robin as
Mrs. Doubtfire, and more
Brand new interviews with close friends and family including
Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Jay Leno, Eric Idle, David Steinberg, Lewis Black
and Zak Williams
11 hilarious episodes of Mork & Mindy, including the
James Lipton's Emmy® Award-nominated 90-minute interview with
Robin on Inside the Actors Studio, plus deleted scenes
A comprehensive collection of Robin's USO shows around the
Original and newly created bonus features including
behind-the-scenes footage, local highlights from tour stops, promos and more.
Featurettes include: The Early Years, San Francisco: Where It All Started, Comic
Genius, and TV's Best Guest
Critically acclaimed 2018 HBO documentary, Robin Williams:
Come Inside My Mind from Emmy® Award-winning director Marina Zenovich and
Oscar-winning producer Alex Gibney.
"Robin Williams: Uncensored", a collectible
24-page, full-color memory book featuring rare, archival photos from
award-winning photographer Arthur Grace, reminiscences from friends and
colleagues, Robin's personal tour notes and more.
Uncensored, electric, intense and unfailingly hilarious,
Williams made it his life's work to make people laugh--whether he was holding
forth on culture, politics, the human body or drugs--with razor-sharp wit and
insight. As his long-time friend Billy Crystal said, "In the 40 odd years
he was in front of us, especially on television, he never let you down. He was
always funny, he always did something new." And, in unforgettable ways,
ROBIN WILLIAMS: COMIC GENIUS reveals and celebrates the wide range of his incredible
talents like never before.
Adventures of Robin Hood,” which aired on CBS from 1955 to 1959, was an early
example of a television series produced in the U.K. and imported by an American
network into U.S. living rooms with great success -- a forerunner of numerous
hit shows to follow from across the Atlantic, including “The Avengers,” “Secret
Agent/ Danger Man”, too many “PBS Masterpiece Theater” favorites to list, and
more recently “Downton Abbey.”It was
also an early example, replicated as well by “Downton Abbey,” of a popular TV
series leveraged into a big-screen theatrical movie.The year after “The Adventures of Robin Hood”
ended its U.S. network run, its producer Sidney Cole and star Richard Greene
created a feature-film version, “Sword of Sherwood Forest,” in partnership with
Hammer Studios, for release here through Columbia Pictures.Although supporting roles were recast, Greene
returned as Robin, and some principals from the series’ production crew were
reunited as well.Director of
Photography Ken Hodges returned, the screenplay was provided by Alan Hackney,
who had scripted many of the episodes of the series, and the director was
Terence Fisher, already a Hammer veteran, who had directed several series
episodes.Media historians tend to
characterize the TV and theatrical movie industries in the 1950s and early ‘60s
as bitter rivals for viewership, but the two industries in fact often enjoyed a
friendlier synergy of mutual convenience.In the case of “Sword of Sherwood Forest,” the popularity of the earlier
series provided theaters with a built-in audience for the movie.In turn, the film reminded fans to watch for
the syndicated reruns of the TV show, which continued to be broadcast on local
stations well into the 1970s.
the movie, which has been released on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in a limited
edition of 3,000 units, a well-dressed, badly wounded man flees into Sherwood
Forest, escaping from a posse led by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter
Cushing).Through Maid Marian (Sarah
Branch), the sheriff approaches Robin Hood with the offer of a pardon if he’ll
turn over the wounded fugitive, but Robin refuses.He knows, even if Marian has yet to learn,
although she quickly does, that the offer of clemency from his old enemy the
sheriff “isn’t worth the breath he uses to make the promise.”The fugitive eventually dies from his wound,
but not before passing along a brooch stamped with a mysterious emblem, and
mentioning the name of a town, Bawtry.Leaving Little John (Nigel Green) to lead the Merry Men in his absence,
Robin investigates with the help of Marian and Friar Tuck (Niall McGinnis). Gradually,
they uncover a plot involving the charming but secretive Earl of Newark
(Richard Pasco), his henchman the sheriff, an attempted land grab, a visit by
the Archbishop of Canterbury, and plans to carry out a high-level assassination
if the land grab fails.
Kino Lober is releasing a number of value-priced Blu-ray double features with similarly-themed films. Among them is the combo of "Betsy's Wedding" and "Holy Matrimony". The first movie is a 1990 release starring and directed by Alan Alda, who had directed three previous feature films. Anyone who has been involved in planning a wedding knows that the old adage "The more the merrier!" rings hollow. In fact, the logistics of planning a wedding can become increasingly complicated and frustrating in direct correlation with the number of well-meaning people who decide to involve themselves. There's always the risk that the betrothed couple will be overwhelmed by logistics and that the wedding plans are catered to please everyone but them. Such is the case in "Betsy's Wedding". Alda is cast as Eddie Hopper, a successful real estate speculator who invests money in building homes that he hopes to sell for a quick profit. Lately, however, his instincts have been troublesome and his latest venture is proving to be a white elephant that is draining his savings. At the same time, his youngest daughter Betsy (Molly Ringwald) and her boyfriend Jake (Dylan Walsh) announce they intend to get married. Both are left-wing progressives who are also social activists who disdain blatant displays of wealth. They want a low-key civil ceremony with only a handful of guests. However, Eddie and his wife Lola (Madeline Kahn) argue that a much grander, traditional wedding is called for so as not to offend family members. Their resistance worn down, Betsy and Jake reluctant concede, which opens a Pandora's Box of bad luck for all involved. Eddie can't afford to put on the wedding he has lobbied for so he turns to his brother-in-law Oscar (Joe Pesci), a slimy business "tycoon" who, in reality, is also short of cash. Since he can't find the money to lend Eddie for the wedding, he introduces him to a local mob boss, Georgie (Burt Young), who puts up the funds but then integrates himself into Eddie's life and plans for the wedding. A parallel story line centers on Eddie and Lola's other daughter Connie (Ally Sheedy), a New York City police officer who is stuck in a perpetual mode of depression, shying away from people and bruised by the fact that her younger sister will marry before she does. She is elevated from the blues by Georgie's bodyguard Stevie Dee (Anthony Lapaglia), a slick mobster who sounds like Rocky Balboa on steroids but who curiously speaks to everyone with excessive politeness. Has is obsessed with Connie and slowly but surely succeeds in wooing her into coming out of her shell. As the wedding date nears, the pressure mounts on everyone. Eddie's business dealings with George almost get him assassinated in an attempted mob hit, Betsy and Jake are barely on speaking terms and on the wedding day and a torrential rain storm threatens to collapse the large tent structure the reception is being held in. Eddie receives solace from imaginary conversations with his dear, departed father (Joey Bishop).
"Besty's Wedding" was not well-received by critics or audiences back in the day and proved to be the final feature film to date directed by Alan Alda. Yet, I found it to be consistently funny and Alda excels as both actor and director, milking maximum laughs from an inspired cast. The scene-stealer is Lapaglia, one of the few cast members to receive kudos from reviewers. His sensitive tough guy routine is both amusing and endearing. The film isn't hilarious at any point but it's never less than entertaining, as you might imagine any movie that teams Joe Pesci and Burt Young would be.
"Holy Matrimony" was unceremoniously dumped by Disney into a handful of theaters in 1994 before being relegated to home video. It's total theatrical gross in North America was about $700,000. As with "Betsy's Wedding", it was directed by a popular actor, in this case Leonard Nimoy. Ironically, just as "Betsy's Wedding" represented Alda's last direction (to date) of a feature film, so too did "Holy Matrimony" mark Nimoy's last directorial effort on the big screen. The premise is hardly original, centering on a protagonist who seeks shelter in a religious community to evade pursuers. This plot device dates back to the 1940s with John Wayne in "Angel and the Badman" and its unacknowledged 1984 remake "Witness". Here we find Patricia Arquette as Havana, a sultry young woman from the other side of the tracks who is fed up with being exploited by performing provocative routines at a carnival tent located in a fairgrounds. She is paid a miserly wage by the owner who she comes to resent. She and her equally impoverished boyfriend Peter (Tate Donovan) rob the owner and flee in their car, but not before being identified. With the police searching for them, they cross into Canada and take refuge in an Amish-like religious colony where Peter was raised before leaving for the outside world. They pretend to want to immerse themselves in the rustic lifestyle but Havana's coarse nature and foul mouth make the elders suspicious of their motives. Peter hides the cache of stolen loot but before he can divulge its location to Havana, he is killed in an automobile accident. The colony elders view this as a way to get rid of Havana by informing her that customs dictate that she must marry Peter's brother, in this case twelve year-old Ezekiel (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). However, Havana- who needs to stay until she can locate the stash of hidden money- agrees to the arrangement, much to the shock of all involved- especially young Ezekiel who is appalled at having to be married at such a young age. The film deftly handles the possible distasteful elements of this reverse "Lolita" situation by making it clear that both husband and wife sleep in separate rooms. The one funny sex gag involves Ezekiel trying to impress his friends that he is satisfying his new wife only to have the scenario backfire much to his embarrassment when it is revealed he is actually in the bedroom alone.
Much of what follows is predictable. As with all movie plots in which the male and female protagonists start off hating each other, there is no doubt that Havana and Ezekiel will grow to respect and like each other, with Havana acting more like a big sister than a wife. Once the money is located, Havana is told to accompany Ezekiel back to the States to return the loot to its rightful owner. What follows is a road trip in which the two share plenty of personal thoughts and have to avoid a corrupt FBI agent (John Schuck), who is hot on their trail, determined to steal the money for himself. The story climaxes back at the state fair where Havana originally worked. She's now determined to return the stolen money, all the while trying to evade the police and the FBI guy who are hot on her trail. Director Nimoy capably blends both sentiment and comedy during the course of the film, though the movie's main attributes are the performances by Arquette and especially young Gordon-Levitt who shows star power even at this early stage of his career. There is also a very fine performance by Armin-Mueller Stahl as the elder of the religious community. Refreshingly, the film doesn't mock or humiliate the members of the religious colony. Rather, it is "fish-out-of-water" Havana who bears the brunt of most of the humor. While "Holy Matrimony" is nothing very special, it does seem to have suffered an undeserved fate by being released to only a small number of theaters. It is certainly on par with most mid-range comedies but apparently Disney felt it had very little boxoffice appeal.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray combo features very fine transfers of both films and includes their original trailers. Recommended.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST ARTICLES FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCHIVES
By Lee Pfeiffer
Sony has released the 1955 crime drama 5 Against the House as a burn-to-order DVD. The little-remembered film is interesting on a number of levels and boasts an impressive, eclectic cast. The low-budget flick depicts four young ex-G.I.s who fought in Korea who return to the States and enroll in college. Al (Guy Madison) is a straight-as-an-arrow type who is engaged to sultry nightclub singer Kay (Kim Novak). Ronnie (Kerwin Matthews) is a brainy upstart with delusions of grandeur and a superiority complex. Roy (Alvy Moore) is an affable joker who is very much a follower, not a leader. Brick (Brian Keith) is the most troubled of the group. He bares psychological problems from his combat experience and has a hair-trigger temper. The guys' only vices are taking an occasional trip to Reno, Nevada and engaging in some minor gambling and womanizing. However, Ronnie concocts an audacious plan to prove he can outwit the authorities and rob a casino. He suggest that the plan be put into operation with the intention of returning the money to the casino after the fact. Ronnie wants to build his ego, not his bank account. Roy and Brick sign on to the plan, but when Al balks, Brick's anger comes through. He threatens his friends with a gun and forces them to pull off the incredible scheme. The film, deftly directed by Phil Karlson, makes effective use of on location shooting in Reno at a place called Harold's Casino. The movie works best as a character study and the performances are all first-rate, with the exception of Madison, who is a bit of a stiff in the lead role. Novak is her usual sexy self and Keith, long-underrated for his dramatic capabilities, gives a powerful performance. The film is one of the earliest to take a sympathetic look at the emotional toll war takes on returning veterans. 5 Against the House is engaging throughout and although it is unremarkable in the long run, it represents the kind of overlooked gems that the burn-to-order DVD format is rescuing from complete obscurity.
An original trailer is included.
Click here to order from the Cinema Retro Movie Store.
If you’ve ever read one of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan
novels, you know that there has always been a big difference between Tarzan as
he is in the movies versus Tarzan in the books. For some reason Hollywood has
never really been able to get the character exactly right. As much fun as the
Johnny Weissmuller and Lex Barker Tarzan movies are, for example, they really
didn’t get close to Burroughs’ concept of the ape man. The real Tarzan didn’t
speak Pidgin English for one thing. He actually spoke fluent English and French.
He was as at home in an English Tea Room as the son of a British Lord, as he
was in the prehistoric land of Pal-ul-don. While the movies showed Tarzan as
protector of the animals, and friends with cute chimpanzees, in the books
Burroughs present a world where death usually came on four feet, although man
was often the most treacherous enemy. It was a jungle out there, and it was
survival of the fittest, baby.
In 2016, Warner Bros. attempted to restart the Tarzan
series with the $180 million “The Legend of Tarzan.” The film made double its
budget at the box office worldwide, but it didn’t excite audiences or studio
heads enough to continue with a sequel. So it looks like Tarzan will be on
sabbatical for a while. Part of the reason for the film’s failure was the
script’s presentation of Tarzan. They got the outer dimensions of the character
right, but included too many politically correct ideas that weakened the
Burroughs concept. For one thing, Tarzan lost too many fights, with both humans
and apes. You don’t get to be King of the Jungle by losing fights. But I think
it was the total reliance on CGI to create Tarzan’s Africa that was the main
reason for the film’s failure. Except for the occasional aerial footage shot
over the jungles of Gabon, the entire film was shot on sound stages in England.
The movie lacked the reality that a fantasy like Tarzan needs to be believable.
Which brings me to the subject of this review. In the
opinion of most true Tarzan fans there has only ever been one Tarzan film that
really captures what Tarzan is all about. It’s not perfect, but it’s probably
the closest they’ll ever get. In 1959, producer Sy Weintraub took over the
Tarzan franchise from Sol Lesser after it was moved to Paramount Pictures.
Weintraub injected the series with new energy and new ideas. He wanted to make
an “adult” Tarzan flick and he wanted to shoot on location in Kikuyu, Kenya.
He hired a top flight cast of British actors to play the
villains in the piece. Anthony Quayle, whose acting experience ranged from
potboilers to Shakespeare, was cast as the main villain, Slade, an escaped con
and old enemy of Tarzan. Next up, none other than 007 himself, Sean Connery, in
an early role as O’Bannion, a tough Irish gunman, who, being too young for the
Irish Rebellion, decides there are no causes worth fighting for because “They
don’t pay well.” Next is Nial MacGiniss as Kruger, a German diamond expert who
doesn’t want to be reminded of the old days of the Third Reich. Al Muloch plays
Dino, captain of the boat the gang is riding up river, who has a strange
attachment to a locket he wears around his neck. And finally, Italian actress
Scilla Gabel as Toni, Slade’s girl. There’s plenty of internal conflict and
tension among these five on board a small jungle boat as it makes its way up
river to a diamond mine.
The film starts with the theft of explosives from a
compound run by a doctor friend of Tarzan’s. The gang needs the gelignite to
excavate a diamond mine located upriver, just north of Tarzan’s tree house. It’s
interesting to note that the script by Berne Giler is based on a story written
by Les Crutchfield, a veteran writer who wrote 81 Gunsmoke radio scripts, and
was himself an explosives expert and a mining engineer before he started
writing. Explosives figure prominently in the plot.
I have to admit that I hadn't a clue as to what Intruder in the Dust was about until I viewed the DVD released through the Warner Archive. The film is a powerful indictment of the horrors of racism, filmed by MGM during a period when the American Civil Rights Movement was just beginning to heat up. We have a tendency to accuse Hollywood studios of relegating African-American actors to being mere window dressing in films of this era, or worse, casting them as comic relief in often degrading ways. However, this 1949 achievement should be much higher on the radar of retro movie lovers. While most studio productions steered clear of the problem of racism in the American South during the period when segregation was still law, this excellent film addresses the issue head-on. There were some talented people who brought the story to the screen in 1949. Esteemed director Clarence Brown was behind the camera and the screenplay was written by the great Ben Maddow, based on a novel by William Faulkner.
The film was shot on location in Oxford, Mississippi and centers on
the murder of a local white businessman who was shot in the back. The
prime suspect is Lucas (Juano Hernandez), a middle-aged black farmer who
has incurred the wrath of local bigots because he is proud and
independent and fails to take on the subserviant persona of the "good
Negro". Causing more resentment is the fact that Lucas owns his own
farm, a prime piece of land that invokes jealousy from less successful
local whites. Lucas maintains his calm demeanor even when he is jailed
and is awaiting the inevitable murder at the hands of a mob. His one
white friend comes to his aid: a teenager named Chick Mallison (Claude
Jarman Jr.). Chick convinces his uncle, lawyer John Stevens (David
Brian) to defend him. Stevens agrees because he doesn't want a murder
committed, but even he believes Lucas is guilty. He tells the seemingly
doomed man that he can't get a fair trial, that he doesn't believe he is
innocent and that he should have shown proper deference to the bigots
at all times. This attitude is what passed for enlightened thinking
during this period. Ultimately, Stevens becomes convinced that his
client is being framed and the plot turns to to who-dunnit as an oddball
group of progressives fights against time to find the real murderer
before Lucas is lynched or burned alive. The only whites in town who
will assist Stevens and Chick are an elderly woman (Elizabeth Patterson)
and the local sheriff (Will Geer), who has a condescending attitude
towards blacks but is courageous enough to stand up to the worst
elements of the population.
In my review of Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release of the 1979 disaster film "Meteor", I observed that the disaster movie genre had peaked with the release of Irwin Allen's "The Towering Inferno" in 1974. Yet, that didn't stop studios from beating a dead horse in an attempt to squeeze some more juice out of the tried-and-true formula of gathering an all-star cast, then figuring out ways to drown, bury or incinerate the characters portrayed on screen. One of the more obscure attempts to keep the disaster film cycle relevant was "Avalanche", a movie produced by Roger Corman and directed and scripted by one of his proteges, Corey Allen, who would go on to establish a respectable career as a director of major television shows. When you approach a Corman production, you tend to give some special dispensation for certain cinematic sins that you wouldn't accord more mainstream productions. Corman, who happily embraces his legendary status as a man who made major profits from films with minor budgets, knew how to stretch the soup in the cinematic sense. Rarely armed with ample production funds, Corman cut corners whenever possible but still managed to retain a certain elegance to his productions. In 1978, he jumped on the fading disaster movie bandwagon with "Avalanche". He hired Rock Hudson as the leading man because Hudson, at this point in his career, realized that he was no longer a hot commodity as a boxoffice draw in feature films (although he did successfully transition to a popular presence on television.) Corman also cast Mia Farrow and respected supporting actor Robert Forster for additional name recognition. He secured permission to film at a major ski resort in Durango, Colorado and out-sourced the special effects work to a company called Excelsior!
The film follows the general formula of the disaster film genre in that the victims-to-be are gathered for a major social occasion, unaware that nature is working overtime to thwart their fun. Rock Hudson plays David Shelby, an arrogant developer who has invested his life savings to build a vacation paradise in the Rocky Mountains. He has disdain for local environmentalists who have warned him that his destruction of an an abundance of trees on his massive property has removed a natural barrier to the inevitable avalanches that will occur. Shelby is preoccupied with his grand opening festivities and is simultaneously trying to woo back his ex-wife Caroline (Mia Farrow), who is attending as his guest. He's also busy trying to entertain his sassy, wise-cracking mother, Florence (Jeanette Nolan), who is being shepherded around the resort by David's major domo Henry McDade (Steve Franken in a rare dramatic role.) Meanwhile, local environmental activist and nature photographer Nick Thorne (Robert Forster) becomes increasingly concerned about the massive buildup of snow on the mountain peaks that are directly in line with the resort. He attempts to alleviate some of the danger by strategically using a snow cannon to set off controlled mini avalanches. Intermingled with all of this are the expected subplots involving minor characters who are set up to be inevitable victims. Barry Primus is a TV sports announcer who is broadcasting from the grand opening and who must contend with the fact that his estranged wife Tina (Cathey Paine) is on premises and rubbing his nose in it by blatantly carrying on an affair with egotistical super star skier Bruce Scott (Rick Moses). Scott, in turn, is rubbing Tina's nose in it by blatantly sleeping with another woman, thus causing Tina to go ballistic and consider suicide. Meanwhile, David Shelby finds time to unwind by spending some quality time in a hot tub with with his naked secretary (thus allowing Roger Corman to slip in a bit of T&A). Although the story seems set up to have the disastrous avalanche occur during the opening night festivities, screenwriter Allen throws the audience a curve ball by avoiding that cliche and saving the action for the following afternoon when, amid a particularly vicious snow mobile race, a small plane piloted by one of Shelby's employees encounters bad weather and slams into a nearby mountain, thus triggering the avalanche. This is where the movie progresses beyond cliches and becomes unexpectedly enjoyable. All of the standard disaster movie shtick is present, as both lovable and loathsome characters meet predictable fates, but the film's limited production resources somehow work in its favor. We're well aware that we're watching a Corman production but somehow the inventiveness that is required to carry it all off is quite admirable. Certain plot points are introduced and inexplicably abandoned including an insinuation that Shelby has bribed local political officials to overlook his clear violation of environmental protection rules in order to build his resort. This was one of Rock Hudson's final films as an "above the title" leading man. He's grayer and a bit paunchier than we'd seen him during his heyday, but he still had star power to spare and made for a dashing leading man, whether its skinny dipping in the hot tub or personally leading rescue parties in acts of derring doo to extricate victims of the tragedy. The film's showpiece sequence is a climactic scene in which Shelby must rescue Caroline, who is dangling from wrecked bridge above a ravine. It's well-directed and genuinely suspenseful.
It' easy to pick apart a film like "Avalanche", as it squarely fits into the "guilty pleasure" category. However, the film does a lot with very little as opposed to other misfires in this genre that did very little with a lot (aka "The Swarm"). The Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition features the original trailer and a "making of" featurette in which Roger Corman extols the virtues of the film. He admits the effects were rather shoddy and recalls his outrage when he discovered the SFX company had added "red snow". Corman hit the roof and it was changed to a bluish substance that he admits still looks pretty phony. Robert Forster recalls that the "snow" was actually little pieces of plastic that were strewn by the hundreds of thousands over the scenic landscape. He remembers his dismay at the realization that none of these bits were biodegradable and many must still be contaminating the landscape of the Durango ski resort where the movie was filmed. Corman makes the claim that the film was actually a major financial success. He says his budget was only $1.7 million and that a TV sale for $2 million netted him an immediate $300,000 profit. The tale sounds a bit fanciful because it seems hard to believe that even in 1978 you could make a movie like this with three relatively big names for only $1.7 million. (Other sources give unsubstantiated estimates of the budget at around $6 million, which seems more plausible.) "Avalanche" is not near the top of the heap of disaster movies but it certainly doesn't rank at the bottom of the pack, either. The Kino Lorber release has an impressive transfer and the inclusion of those bonus extras make this title highly recommended for fans of this genre.
Samuel Fuller's 1959 crime thriller "The Crimson Kimono" has been released as a Twilight Time limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. The film finds Fuller in full "triple threat" mode as director, producer and screenwriter. It's also fits comfortably into Fuller's oeuvre in that it's an off-beat story with quirky, well-defined characters and relationships. Set in Los Angeles, the movie opens with the shocking cold-blooded murder of a popular stripper by an unseen assassin. As with the works of Hitchcock, Fuller dismisses the notion that there is safety in numbers, as the victim is killed while fleeing her pursuer through crowded streets. The killer gets away and the story introduces us to the detectives assigned to the case. They are Det. Sgt. Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett) and his partner Det. Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta), two Korean War veterans who served together in combat and who are now chummy enough to share a fashionable bachelor pad. They discover that a local artist, Chris Downs (Victoria Shaw), had some interaction with the stripper and is aware of a suspicious man she associated with. When Chris's sketch of the suspect ends up on the front pages, she finds herself the target of a failed assassination attempt. Charlie and Joe suggest that she can be safely hidden away in their apartment. Naturally, sparks begin to fly considering the three principal characters are extremely attractive. Charlie finds himself falling hard for Chris, but she is unaware of his feelings. Meanwhile, she expresses her desires for Joe, who clearly wants to reciprocate but is hesitant to humiliate the love-struck Charlie. If all this sounds like a high school romance it must be said that under Fuller' assured direction, it is anything but. The scene in which Chris and Joe slowly and almost reluctantly admit to their mutual attraction is superbly written and enacted by Shaw and Shigeta and brims with sexual tension.
The murder mystery is clearly the MacGuffin here. It's mostly a catalyst to bring this love triangle to life. Fuller places most of the action in L.A.'s Little Tokyo community and the film concentrates on the character's interactions with the Japanese-American population. The most interesting character is Joe, who is Japanese-American. When we first see him he is confident, witty and charismatic, all traits that are shared by Charlie. The Butch and Sundance-like relationship goes into a nosedive after Joe confesses his love for Chris. Although clearly heartbroken, Charlie keeps his reaction restrained, only to have the guilt-ridden Joe accuse him of latent racism. He's wrong but can't be convinced otherwise. A lifetime of battling to be socially accepted in a predominantly white society has brought out his own paranoia and reverse racism. It all leads to a tension-packed conclusion that mingles the strained relationship between the three characters and a chase for the killer through an exotic parade celebrating Japanese culture that plays out in similar style to the Junkanoo sequence in "Thunderball".
There is much to commend about this film, which- like most Fuller productions- was shot on a modest budget in B&W with actual locations favored over studio sets. Perhaps Fuller didn't have the funds to rely heavily on sets and thus filmed on location. In any event, this tactic adds immeasurable grit and realism to his movies. Glenn Corbett is likable and fine in an understated performance, Victoria Shaw is excellent as the woman who innocently becomes the instrument that divides two good friends and James Shigeta, who along with Corbett made his screen debut with this film, shows the skills that would quickly elevate him to international stardom. Anna Lee is outstanding as "Mac", an aging artist with a gruff personality who swizzles hard liquor and smokes stogies while churning out comments like "A man is just a man, but a good cigar is a smoke!"
When Olive Films released its highly impressive new special Blu-ray edition of the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", the initial run sold out before we even got around to promoting it. Due to overwhelming demand, however, Olive has made the title available again. Here are the details from Olive Films:
“They’re already here! You’re next!” With these chilling words, Invasion of
the BodySnatchers sounded a clarion call to the dangers of
conformity, paranoia, and mass hysteria at the heart of 1950s American life.
Considered one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, Invasion of
the Body Snatchers stars Kevin McCarthy (Academy Award® nominee, Best
Supporting Actor, Death of A Salesman – 1952) as Miles Bennell, a doctor
in a small California town whose patients are becoming increasingly
overwrought, accusing their loved ones of being emotionless imposters. They’re
right! Plant-like aliens have invaded Earth, taking possession of humans as
they sleep and replicating them in giant seed pods. Convinced that a
catastrophic epidemic is imminent, Bennell, in a terrifying race for his life,
must warn the world of this deadly invasion of the pod people before it’s too
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, directed by the accomplished Don Siegel
(Dirty Harry, The Shootist) and co-starring Dana Wynter (Airport),
Carolyn Jones (A Holein the Head), Larry Gates (The Sand
Pebbles) and King Donovan (The Enforcer), was photographed by
Academy Award nominee Ellsworth Fredericks (Best Cinematography, Sayonara
– 1958) with production design by Academy Award winner Ted Haworth (Best Art
Direction, Sayonara – 1958).
High-Definition digital restoration
Commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith
Commentary by actors Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, and filmmaker Joe
Stranger in Your Lover's Eyes" – A two-part visual essay with actor
and son of director Don Siegel, Kristoffer Tabori, reading from his
father's book A Siegel Film
Fear is Real" – Filmmakers Larry Cohen and Joe Dante on the film's
No Longer Belong: The Rise and Fall of Walter Wanger" – Film scholar
and author Matthew Bernstein discusses the life and career of the film's
No More: Invasion of the Body Snatchers Revisited" –
Never-before-seen appreciation of the film featuring actors Kevin
McCarthy and Dana Wynter, along with comments from film directors and
fans, John Landis, Mick Garris, and Stuart Gordon
Fear and the Fiction: The Body Snatchers Phenomenon" –
Never-before-seen interviews with Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, along
with film directors John Landis, Mick Garris and Stuart Gordon, discussing
the making of the film, its place in history, and its meaning
archival interview with Kevin McCarthy hosted by Tom Hatten
to Santa Mira" – An exploration of the film's locations
In a Name?" – On the film's title
of rare documents detailing aspects of the film's production including the
never-produced opening narration to have been read by Orson Welles
by author and film programmer Kier-La Janisse
Years before Michael Cimino released his Socialist-themed Western Heaven's Gate, director Stanely Kramer took a less heavy-handed approach with his 1973 film Oklahoma Crude, which has been released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time. Unlike
Cimino's dark and message-laden epic, however, Kramer made the
political aspects of his film secondary to the lighthearted tone of the
story. Faye Dunaway, seen here in the least glamorous role of her
career, plays Lena Doyle, a bitter, man-hating independent woman who is
determined to make a success of her wildcat oil drilling venture on the
plains of Oklahoma during the early 1900s. Beset by the frustration of
consistently having her rig dig up dirt instead of oil, she also has to
contend with a bigger threat: a major oil company is determined to seize
her land by hook or by crook. When she turns down the offer of a buyout
from their cut throat representative (Jack Palance), the oil company
moves a virtual army on to Lena's land with the intention of taking her
rig by force. Although a crack shot, Lena concedes she can use help and
reluctantly hires a down-and-out drifter, 'Mase' Mason (George C. Scott)
to help her keep her the assailants at bay. The two have an abrasive
relationship, with Lena never smiling or showing an interest in anything
other than drawing oil from her rig. They are also assisted by Lena's
father Cleon Doyle (John Mills), a charismatic Englishman who is trying
to win Lena's love and respect after having deserted her many years ago.
Lena can barely stand the sight of him, but faced with the thugs are
her doorstep, she has to accept his help.The story mostly takes place on
the hillside where Lena's cabin is situated. 'Mase' proves to be a
courageous and innovative ally, acquiring U.S. Army hand grenades and
using them with devastating effect against the heavily armed gangs from
the oil company who try repeatedly to take Lena's hilltop rig and cabin
Oklahoma Crude was a late career project for Kramer (he would
only make two more films). Dismissed at the time as a routine Western
comedy, the film comes across as a sheer delight when viewing it today.
The thin story line isn't the main attraction. Rather, it's the combined
talents of four Oscar winners- Scott, Dunaway, Mills and Palance- that
add so much zest to what could have otherwise have been a routine
experience. They are all delightful to watch, with Scott at his best and
Mills in a scene-stealing, wonderful performance as a flawed but
charming tenderfoot who summons incredible courage when it is needed
most. Kramer hired the best of the best for his crew including
cinematographer Robert Surtees, who makes every other frame look like an
Andrew Wyeth painting. There is also a fine musical score by Henry
Mancini which perfectly fits the "never a dull moment" mood of the
The film is a sheer delight from beginning to its finale, which features a refreshing plot twist.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray release boasts the expected excellent transfer, an informative collector's booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo, an isolated score track and a commentary track by this writer and fellow film historian Paul Scrabo. This release is limited to 3,000 units.
"The Secret Partner" is yet another unheralded gem from the cinematic past that has been made available through the Warner Archive. It's a fairly low budget British film noir that nevertheless is completing engrossing and will have viewers guessing throughout. Stewart Granger is John Brent, a successful executive at a London shipping company who we find in great distress from early in the film. It seems Brent is being routinely blackmailed by his milquetoast dentist, Beldon (Norman Bird). We don't know what he has on Brent until much later in the story, a clever device used by screenwriters David Pursall and Jack Seddon that only increases the interest of the viewer. Brent understandably despises Beldon but is intimidated enough by him that he continues to pay astronomical sums of money to buy his silence. In the interim, Brent can't explain to his wife Nicole (Haya Haraeet) why their money is disappearing almost as fast as he can earn it. She logically suspects that he is seeing another woman and their marriage very publicly goes on the rocks when she moves out. Meanwhile, Beldon himself is subject to the terrors of blackmail when a masked man with a gun demands that he follows explicit instructions to administer a drug to Brent during his next dental visit. While under the influence of sleeping gas, Brent is injected with a truth serum that results in his telling Beldon the combination of his company's safe. Additionally, Beldon follows instructions to remove Brent's office keys and make a clay impression of them. The masked man promises Beldon a payoff of 15,000 pounds if he complies- and death if he doesn't. Beldon pulls off his end of the scheme and Brent appears to be none the wiser. Predictably, the office safe of Brent's employer is rob of 130,000 quid and he is the logical suspect. The case falls into the lap of Det. Superintendent Frank Hanbury (Bernard Lee), a veteran cop who is counting the days until his imminent retirement. He questions Brent but when Brent realizes he is about to be arrested for grand larceny, he flees. Hanbury relentlessly pursues him even as his investigation leads him to believe that Brent might have been set up as a fall guy. Hanbury repeatedly interviews Nicole and discovers that she is apparently having affairs with some of Brent's most trusted friends and co-workers. Meanwhile, Brent is trying to avoid the police while he conducts his own investigation, desperate to prove he is innocent.
"The Secret Partner" is a prime example of the kind of efficient, low-profile films that used to be turned out regularly decades ago and this one is top notch throughout. It's impressively directed by the ever-capable Basil Dearden, who helmed other gems like "Woman of Straw" and "Khartoum". Granger, who should have been a much bigger star, is dashing and determined as a leading man and he plays well off of the great British character actor Bernard Lee. Lee's slow, unemotional approach to solving the case is a joy to watch, as he patiently absorbs the facts and tries not to jump to conclusions even as he smokes what must be a record number of cigarettes ever consumed by one actor in one film. The film is peppered with fine performances from an impressive supporting cast with Harareet especially enticing as Brent's sexy, estranged wife. Even the smallest roles are well-performed (keep an eye out for Paul Stassino, the ill-fated NATO pilot from "Thunderball" as a pimp!). There is also a funky if somewhat bombastic jazz score by Philip Green and some nice period photography around London. The real pay off is a surprise revelation near the end of the film that I doubt even the most astute viewer will see coming.
"The Secret Partner" is a thoroughly enjoyable film that represents the cliche "They don't make 'em like that any more!"
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
of Linda Blair acting in the 1970s, and the ’73 horror classic The Exorcist
will likely be the first film that comes to your mind. But while there’s ample
reason for that movie to stand out as it does, Blair put on an equally
memorable performance – albeit in a completely different type of movie – in
1974’s made-for-TV feature Born Innocent.In that release, which has the feel of an especially harsh ABC
Afterschool Special, Blair plays an average, highly likable teenage kid who
becomes estranged from her worthless parents and winds up in a rough juvenile
detention facility, following some runaway attempts. Born Innocent can be
lumped in with the “babes behind bars” exploitation subcategory of films, but
there’s nothing campy about the TV movie. It’s downbeat, super realistic, and
five months after Born Innocent originally aired on NBC, the network showed
Blair in a similar type of story, with their broadcast of Sarah T.-Portrait of
a Teenage Alcoholic, in February of ’75. Shout! Factory has just introduced a new
Blu-ray version of the film. Blair, who
turned 16 a few weeks before the movie reached households, plays the troubled
title character, Sarah Travis. Sarah is a lot like Blair’s character Chris
Parker from Born Innocent. She’s a normal, relatable, well-intentioned teenage
girl going through some rough times. Sarah’s parents divorced a few years
before the outset of the story, when her materialistically ambitious mother got
tired of her artistically inclined husband’s (played by Larry Hagman)
unreliable ways. The mother (Verna Bloom plays her) remarried a more stable,
financially healthy man (William Daniels), and the family - which includes
Sarah’s older, married sister – moves from San Francisco to an upscale
neighborhood in Southern California.
are some factors that differentiate Sarah Travis’s life predicaments from Chris
Parker’s. While Chris is (was, before being sent to the reform school) being
raised by a physically abusive father and an emotionally absent mother, Sarah’s
three parents are actually trying to be good to her. Her artsy dad doesn’t have
the wherewithal to be a provider to her, and he often leaves her disappointed
by not being available enough to her; but at least he loves her and sometimes
has fun with her. And while Sarah’s mom is a feminist’s nightmare whose answer
to every life problem is “I’ll let my husband decide what to do about that,”
she means well in attempting to create a stable home environment for her
daughter. Ditto Sarah’s stepfather, who tries his best to connect with the girl
and see to her needs, without attempting to completely overtake the role of
father in her life. Also, Sarah has a love interest – a bright, sensitive guy
who is played by Mark Hamill, a couple years before Hamill’s breakthrough role
in Star Wars.
Sarah’s life is challenging for her, even if it’s not as seemingly hopeless as
Chris Parker’s situation. She misses her real dad and feels alienated by how
focused her mother is on social status, and how completely her mom defers to
her new husband in all matters. She’s had to change high schools, and faces the
same social pressures and anxiety any 15-year old would experience in having to
make that adjustment at such a psychologically volatile time in life. And while
the guy she likes enjoys her company and cares about her, he’s not ready to get
emotionally involved with her, the way she would like. All of this leads Sarah
to continually turn to alcohol, to “help me feel good.” What starts as an
occasional sneaky nip during a stressful moment, becomes a debilitating habit.
story of Sarah T. was written by the TV writing/producing husband and wife team
of Richard and Esther Shapiro, who are best known as the creators of Dynasty
and its spin-off series The Colbys. A novel based on the film, which shares its
title and plot elements, was written by author Robin S. Wagner and published as
a Doubleday paperback original a month after the movie aired on television. The
book is not something anyone needs to read if they’ve seen the film, and is
most memorable for its lurid cover image, that shows Sarah’s downcast face
superimposed over the contents of a pint of whiskey. The Sarah T. film was
directed by Richard Donner, whose other directorial efforts from the decade
include The Omen (’76) and Superman (’78).
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Valentine’s Day, give the special people in your life a gift they’re sure to
love: film collections featuring their favorite movie stars.
new Audrey Hepburn 7-Movie DVD Collection features the luminous actress in beloved
classics including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady, Funny Face, Roman
Holiday, Sabrina, Paris When It Sizzles and War and Peace.This is a sensationally affordable gift that sparkles like diamonds. Click here to order from Amazon.
new Paul Newman 6-Movie DVD Collection boasts classic films highlighted by
Newman’s Oscar®-nominated performance in Hud. The collection also includes
dramas Road to Perdition and Fat Man and Little Boy, the comedy/drama Nobody’s
Fool, the romantic comedy A New Kind of Love, and the acclaimed whodunit Twilight. Click here to order from Amazon.
Mark Wahlberg 5-Film DVD Collection celebrates the charisma and range of one of
today’s biggest stars.Featuring
action-packed thrills, dark comedy and drama, the collection includes Shooter, Pain
& Gain, The Fighter, The Italian Job and The Gambler. Click here to order from Amazon.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
BY LEE PFEIFFER
It may seem hard to believe in an era in which every personality on screen seems to be wearing a cape and tights but there are some intelligent films still being made for discriminating, mature viewers. The problem is that you often have to search to find them. Case in point: "The Lady in the Van", a 2015 British comedy/drama that found its intended audience but was relegated largely to the art house circuits in big cities. The movie is about as off-beat as you can imagine in terms of the central premise but we are told that it is mostly based on fact. Alex Jennings plays the film's real-life British playwright Alan Bennett, on whose experience the screenplay is based. Jennings was an aspiring playwright in 1974 when he moved to a relatively upscale neighborhood in London's Camden Town section. Bennett was enjoying some success with a show on the West End and was leading a fairly comfortable existence, though - at least in the film- he was frustrated by the fact that he no significant other. As a gay man, his unease was understandable- until 1969 homosexuality was a felony crime in Britain. Coming out of the closet was not something most gay people felt comfortable doing. The film presents Bennett creating his own live-in companion- an imaginary alter-ego with whom he trades barbs and discusses problems ranging from writers block to everyday household chores. His life takes an unexpected turn when a homeless woman arrives on his street driving a barely operable old van. She identifies herself as Mary Shepherd and is about as lovable as a tarantula. Mary becomes the talk of the posh neighborhood, moving her van occasionally to park in front of various houses. Some of the locals are kindly to her while others clearly disdain her, but all of them tolerate her presence and gets used to her. Mary keeps her "alternate side of the street" lifestyle going for several years. The van is her abode and she defends it with pride. She accepts handouts from neighbors but her prickly nature never results in her uttering the words "Thank you". Alan, like most of the locals, regards her with a bit of frustration as well as fascination. When a parking ordinance forces her van off the street, Alan offers his driveway as a place she can park "temporarily". You know how these things go. Before long, Mary has not only established the driveway as a permanent residence but is also making various demands on Alan to allow more privileges. Slowly, the months turn into years and both become accustomed to the bizarre living arrangements.(Mary never enters his home and the resulting effect on her hygiene is played for laughs). The two have a sometimes uneasy relationship but the gentle, meek Alan begins to care about her more than he will even admit to his alter-ego. He is wracked by guilt because his own aging mother is slowly deteriorating both mentally and physically and he feels guilty about having to have her committed to a nursing home. He uses Mary has her proxy so that an act of kindness towards her might help Alan alleviate some of his guilt about his mother.
Ultimately Alan's relationship turns to caregiver. Some of Mary's demands are reasonable (jury-rigging wires from his house so she can watch TV in her van) while others are too extravagant to comply with (constructing a tent so she can indulge in more hoarding of useless objects.) He also learns what the viewer has known from the opening, shocking frames: that Mary is hiding a terrible secret and lives in constant fear of being arrested. She, too, is wracked by guilt because she once killed a motorcyclist in an accident and fled the scene. We also learn that she is being blackmailed by an eyewitness (Jim Broadbent) to the event. Gradually, Alan sees her as a source of material for a writing project. He tracks down her only living relative, a brother who is somewhat estranged from her. He relates some remarkable details about her once-promising life and how it all went wrong when she sacrificed a musical career in order to join a convent. (The Catholic Church and religion play key roles in her life.) Nothing overly dramatic takes place in the leisurely-paced story but there is something remarkable the fact that Alan Bennett allowed this eccentric woman to spend a full 15 years residing in his driveway until her death in 1989.
Bennett published a journal about the experience titled "The Lady in the Van". In 1999, he adapted it into a play starring Maggie Smith. It was a major hit, running over 900 performances on the West End. The play's director, Nicholas Hynter, is a frequent collaborator of Bennett's, having worked with him on adapting Bennett's plays "The History Boys" and "The Madness of King George" for the screen. In 2015 they finally brought "The Lady in the Van" to the screen as well with Maggie Smith reprising the title role. Smith was now of an age where she could be even more convincing as the elderly eccentric and Bennett ensured that the movie was shot in the very house in Camden Town where the actual events took place. For all its charming aspects and the fact that the production presents two extraordinary performances by Smith and Alex Jennings, the end result is a mixed bag that you expect to move you in a more emotional way than it actually does. This is largely because Smith's character remains crusty, self-centered and pretty much an ingrate throughout. In the film's final moments, which details her death, Bennett and Hytner do manage to convey a softening of her persona in the final moments of her life but they then attempt to make her more lovable with an ill-advised funeral sequence in which we see the ghost of Miss Shepherd assuring us that she has found happiness in Eternity. The scene smacks of being a well-intentioned gimmick and seems somewhat out of place with the rest of the film. Jennings, known primarily as a stage actor, gives a marvelous performance as Bennett and manages the considerable achievement of not being overshadowed by the great Dame Maggie. The film starts off rather weakly but becomes more engrossing and satisfying if you stick with it. This is largely due to Bennett slowly unveiling key details about Miss Shepherd's challenges in life and the fact that she missed out on a promising musical career. Although Smith is very amusing in the comedic sequences, she is even more impressive in these dark, dramatic scenes. The end result is a mixed bag. The film is to be commended for presenting that rarest of screen experiences nowadays: an intelligent story aimed at adult audiences who seek fine performances and dialogue rather than mindless explosions. There are uneven and unsatisfying patches throughout but the performances alone merit it for recommended viewing.
Sony has released an impressive special edition Blu-ray of "The Lady in the Van". There are numerous featurettes including extensive interviews with Maggie Smith, Alan Bennett, Alex Jennings and Nicholas Hytner that give some interesting perspectives on the long history of the real life events that inspired the play and film. There is also a director's commentary with Hytner and some deleted scenes, some of which clearly show that Miss Shepherd is actually nt only extremely eccentric but is also suffering from dementia, as evidenced by her belief that she can be elected Prime Minister.
If you think extremist talk radio is a relatively new phenomenon, the release of the 1970 film WUSA on DVD by Olive Films shows just how far back the not-so-grand tradition goes. The notion of reaching out to the fringe elements of society is well-documented here, with Paul Newman as a down-and-out musician with some broadcasting experience who sells his soul by taking a job as a DJ on right wing extremist radio station WUSA in New Orleans. Newman knows he's being used as a pawn for white supremicist tycoon Pat Hingle, but willingly accepts the fame and fortune that he receives when his star begins to rise - despite personally despising the words he reads on the air. In between playing cornporn patriotic ballads, Newman's character, known as Rheinhardt, spouts incendiary rhetoric designed to empower racists who want to combat expansion of the welfare state. Along the way, he hooks up with sexy-as-hell Joanne Woodward, playing an equally down-and-out woman whose fortunes have declined so badly that she is rejected when she applies to be a stripper. If the film seems especially harsh on the right wing fringe, liberals aren't spared, either. Anthony Perkins plays a stereotypical do-gooder, a true believer that LBJ's war on poverty would result in the establishment of his Great Society. What he fails to realize is that he, too, is being used as a dupe by community leaders who are secretly being paid off by WUSA management. Thus, both the forces of right and left collaborate to ensure inertia among opportunities for the impoverished.
The mega-budget Waterworld laid a gigantic egg at the boxoffice when it was released in 1995. However, as with many commercial failures, there is considerable interest in the production even today, as evidenced by the ambitious release of a special edition Blu-ray through Arrow Films. Here is their official press release:
The most expensive film ever made at the time of its release,
Waterworld has thrilled audiences through the years with its awe-inspiring
action scenes, gargantuan maritime sets and ground-breaking special effects. A
definitive post-apocalypse blockbuster, Waterworld stars Kevin Costner (The
Untouchables) as The Mariner - a mutant trader, adrift in a dystopian future
where Earth is submerged under water and humankind struggles to survive on
boats and in ramshackle floating cities. The Mariner becomes embroiled with the
Smokers, a gang of pirates who, led by villainous leader Deacon (Dennis Hopper,
Blue Velvet), are seeking Enola (Tina Majorino, Napoleon Dynamite), a girl with
a map to the mythical realm of "Dryland" tattooed on her back. Famous
for both its epic scale and the controversy that swirled around its production,
Waterworld is a key cult film of the 1990s, and an essential entry into the
subgenre of ecologically-minded blockbusters. Presented here in an exclusive
new restoration, in three different cuts, and with a wealth of extra material,
this high-water mark of high-concept Hollywood can now be enjoyed as never
New restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
by Arrow Films, presenting the film in three cuts
Original 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 stereo audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of
Six collector’s postcards
Double-sided fold-out poster
Limited edition 60-page perfect-bound book featuring new
writing on the film by David J. Moore and Daniel Griffith, archival articles
and original reviews
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly
commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the
original theatrical cut
Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld, an all-new,
feature-length making-of documentary including extensive cast and crew
interviews and behind the scenes footage
Original archival featurette capturing the film's
Global Warnings, film critic Glenn Kenny explores the
subgenre of ecologically aware Hollywood blockbusters
Production and promotional stills gallery
Visual effects stills gallery
Original trailers and TV spots
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the
extended US TV cut, which runs over 40 minutes longer than the theatrical cut
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the
extended European “Ulysses” cut, which includes censored shots and dialogue
At the time of its release in 1962 critics treated director J. Lee Thompson's "Taras Bulba" as just another action epic. Well, back in those days, every week seemed to see the release of a worthwhile action epic. However, retro movie fans have long held this film in a place of honor. It has an intelligent script, fine performances and sequences that are truly magnificent in their scope- all set to the legendary Franz Waxman's superb, Oscar-nominated score. The film is unusual on many levels beginning with the period of history it covers: the battles between the Cossacks and Poles for control of the Ukraine Steppes in the early 16th century. When the film opens, the Cossacks are fighting with the Poles to thwart an invading Turkish army. However, the Poles double-cross their allies after victory has been achieved, slaughtering many of the Cossacks, whom they fear will be a future threat. The mantle of Cossack leadership falls to the courageous warrior Taras Bulba, who vows revenge against Poland no matter how long it takes. The Cossacks spend many years rebuilding their strength. During this time, Bulba fathers two sons: Andrei (Tony Curtis) and Ostap (Perry Lopez), both of whom do instill him with pride for adapting the rough-and-tumble ways of the Cossack warriors. When tensions ease with the Polish government, Taras instructs his sons to attend university in Kiev, ostensibly to get an education. In reality, he wants them to study Polish customs and habits, all the better to serve in the forthcoming war against them that he is planning. While in Kiev, the boys suffer the indignities of ridicule, beatings and hazings. (There is an amusing, if unintended,homo erotic aspect to some of these scenes, with sweaty, shirtless men whipping each other.) Andrei finds it's all worthwhile when he catches a glimpse of Natalia Dubrov (Christine Kaufmann), a beautiful young Polish girl who is from an influential family. Against all odds, he manages to catch her eye and ingratiate himself to her. The would-be lovers find ways to secretly meet to carry out their forbidden romance. (The notion of a Polish noblewoman carrying on a love affair with a crude Cossack warrior may seem far-fetched, but if the Cossack is Tony Curtis, I guess anything is possible.) When Andrei's interest in Natalia is discovered by her brother, a sword fight ensues in which Ostap mortally wounds the Polish army officer. The brothers escape back to the Steppes and the arms of their mother and father but Andrei still pines away for his lost love. Taras rallies the various Cossack tribes to join him in an assault on a city held by Poles. After a vicious battle, he bottles up his enemies inside the walls of the town and begins to starve them out. However, Andrei learns that Natalia is within the city and when plague breaks out, he makes an ill-fated decision to attempt to rescue her. This leads to the film's dramatic and very emotional climactic seen between Taras and Andrei.
"Taras Bulba" has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The transfer is outstanding and is so clear that some of the film's technical weaknesses appear more prominent than they probably did on the big screen. The scenes within Kiev are clearly achieved through the use of studio sets and matte paintings. Some scenes have a noticeable graininess to them and in certain cavalry charges, you might observe horsemen moving at sped up motion in the manner of the Keystone Cops. Nevertheless, this is an epic film indeed when it comes to the action sequences. One scene in particular is literally thrilling: the joining of the Cossack warriors on the open plain, all galloping at high speed to Franz Waxman's addictive musical score. The performances are also first-rate with Brynner giving a larger-than-life interpretation of Bulba in manner that no other actor of this era could achieve. Tony Curtis once again overcomes a New York accent (as he did in "The Vikings") and somehow appears completely credible. (An interesting footnote: Bulba's right hand man Shilo is played by Brynner's "Magnificent Seven" co-star Brad Dexter.) Christine Kaufmann was only 16 years old at the time of filming and the on-screen love affair with Tony Curtis replicated itself in real life: they began dating on the set and ended up getting married, though they divorced in 1968.
The Blu-ray disc includes an original trailer that absurdly proclaims, in the typical hyperbole of the day, that the film should be added to the list of "Wonders of the World"! Not quite. But say this for "Taras Bulba": it represents the kind of first rate action adventure epic of which it is often said "They sure as hell don't make 'em like that anymore."
Andrew V. McLaglen was almost predestined to be a movie director. The son of the legendary character actor Victor McLaglen, Andrew came of age on movie sets. His father often appeared in John Ford Westerns and Andrew developed a passion for the genre. He ultimately gained a foothold in the television industry during the late 1950s and early 1960s when TV Westerns were all the rage. He proved himself to be a capable and reliable director and eventually moved on to feature films. McLaglen scored a major hit with the rollicking Western comedy "McLintock!" starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in 1963. Two years later, he teamed with James Stewart for the poignant Civil War drama "Shenandoah". The film was a big success with both critics and at the boxoffice. Thus, Universal, the studio that released "Shenandoah", hoped to capitalize on the film's success and re-teamed McLaglen and Stewart for a Western, "The Rare Breed". Adding to the reunion aspect of the production, it co-starred Maureen O'Hara and Brian Keith. O'Hara had co-starred with Stewart in the 1962 comedy "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" and Keith was O'Hara's leading man in the Disney classic "The Parent Trap". Got all that? The script by Ric Hardman takes an unusual aspect of the Old West for its central plot line. Martha Price (O'Hara) and her daughter Hilary (Juliet Mills) have arrived in Texas from their home in England. They are bringing with them their prized Hereford bull, a breed not known in America. Their hope is to sell the animal at auction so that cross breeding American cows will eventually result in superior stock. The prim and proper upper-crust British ladies have endured a tragedy that isn't depicted on screen: the death of Martha's husband on the ship en route to America, although they seem fairly unperturbed, as they only fleetingly reference the dearly departed in the course of what follows. The Hereford is mocked by the cattle barons because it lacks the signature horns of traditional Texas steers. In a convoluted plot device, a smarmy rich man (David Brian) with an obsession for seducing Martha, bids on the Hereford to impress her. When his awkward attempts to bed her fail, somehow another unseen buyer steps forward and the beast must be transported to him via the efforts of a wrangler named Burnett (James Stewart). At this point, the story becomes difficult to follow. Suffice it to say that Burnett agrees to escort Martha, Hilary and their prized bull to the far-off destination to conclude the deal. Along the way, they are ambushed by Simons (Jack Elam), a greedy crook who causes a stampede of another cattle herd being escorted by Burnett's friend Jamie (Don Galloway.) In the resulting chaos, Simons intends to steal the Hereford as well as the money Martha has been paid to deliver the bull. If all of this sounds confusing, watching it unfurl on screen makes the plot even more fragmented when Martha accuses Burnett of also trying to swindle her. Ultimately, they all wind up at the outpost of the new owner, Bowen (Brian Keith), a Scottish eccentric who runs his own cattle empire and sees the possibility of crossbreeding the Hereford with his own herd.
Kudos to everyone at Kino Lorber for bringing about this vitally important set. Here is the official press release:
York, NY -- November 13, 2018 -- Kino Classics is proud to announce the Blu-ray
and DVD release of Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers, a monumental 6-disc
collection, curated by Shelley Stamp (author of Lois Weber in Early Hollywood)
and executive produced by Illeana Douglas, celebrating the ground-breaking
early female directors of American cinema who helped shape the language of
First Women Filmmakers will become available on Blu-ray and DVD November 20,
2018, with a SRP of $99.95 for the Blu-ray and $79.95 for the DVD. The films in
this collection are accompanied by music scores composed by Renee C. Baker, The
Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, Makia Matsumura, Maud Nelissen, Dana Reason,
Aleksandra Vrebalov, and others. Special Features include an 80-page booklet
with essays and photos, eight short documentaries featuring Interviews with
historians and archivists, and audio commentaries for select films.
by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers
continues the legacy begun by Pioneers of African-American Cinema, equally
ambitious in scale, and every bit as historically significant. Presented in
association with the Library of Congress (and drawing from the collections of
other world-renowned film archives), Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers is the
largest commercially-released video collection of films by women directors,
focusing on American films made between 1911 and 1929 -- a crucial chapter of
our cultural history.
2K and 4K restorations of more than 50 films, including features, shorts and
fragments, this collection includes more than 25 hours of material, not only
showcasing the work of these under-appreciated filmmakers, but also
illuminating the gradual changes in how women directors were perceived (and
treated) by the Hollywood establishment. Included are films by such pioneering
filmmakers as Ruth Ann Baldwin ('49-'17), Grace Cunard (The Purple Mask),
Dorothy Davenport (Linda, The Red Kimona), Alice Guy-Blaché (Algie the Miner,
The Little Rangers, Matrimony's Speed Limit, The Ocean Waif), Zora Neale
Hurston (ethnographic films), Cleo Madison (Eleanor's Catch), Frances Marion
(The Song of Love), Alla Nazimova (Salome), Mabel Normand (Caught in a Cabaret,
Mabel's Blunder), Ida May Park (Bread), Nell Shipman (Back to God's Country),
Lois Weber (Hypocrites, Suspense, Scandal, Where Are My Children?), Elsie Jane
Wilson (The Dream Lady), Marion E. Wong (The Curse of Quon Gwon), and many
showcasing the ambitious, inventive films from the golden age of women
directors, we can get a sense of what was lost by the marginalization of women
to "support roles" within the film industry.
names Alice Guy-Blaché, Lois Weber, Dorothy Davenport Reid, and other
significant female directors deserve to have their names celebrated next to
DeMille's, and Griffith's as the early pioneers of Hollywood," said
Illeana Douglas. "Just as these woman told powerful stories to raise
awareness and educate, we must do the same! I am honored to be a part of
Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers, so that these films, and filmmakers, can be
put in the pantheon of cinema where they belong."
played an extraordinary role in early filmmaking, but this history has been
largely forgotten," said Shelley Stamp, author of Lois Weber in Early
Hollywood. "I'm so thrilled that these films have been restored and
re-scored so that contemporary audiences will have a chance to see what female
filmmakers were up to 100 years ago."
the early decades of cinema, some of the most innovative and celebrated
filmmakers in America were women. Alice Guy-Blaché helped establish the basics
of cinematic language, while others boldly continued its development: slapstick
queen Mabel Normand (who taught Charlie Chaplin the craft of directing), action
star Grace Cunard, and LGBTQ icon Alla Nazimova. Unafraid of controversy,
filmmakers such as Lois Weber and Dorothy Davenport Reid tackled explosive
issues such as birth control, abortion, and prostitution. This crucial chapter
of film history comes alive through the presentation of a wide assortment of
films, carefully curated, meticulously restored in 2K and 4K from archival
sources, and presented with new musical scores.
Twilight Time has released the 1969 British anti-war comedy/drama "The Virgin Soldiers" as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. Adapted from the 1966 novel by Leslie Thomas,who based the tale on his personal experiences while serving in Malaya in the early 1950s when British troops were called into action to quell political unrest and violent uprisings. The film has been compared to Robert Altman's "M*A*S*H" which was released the following year and which focused on American forces serving in the Korean War. Both films were riding the wave of anti-Vietnam War protests and their geographical locations could easily be swapped for those in Vietnam. Additionally, the two movies both have a similar tone in that they mix a cynical, comedic view of life in the military with morbid scenes that display the carnage of the conflicts. In "M*A*S*H" the human toll of war is confined to scenes in the operating room where over-stressed surgical teams try to save the lives of those who were badly wounded. In "The Virgin Soldiers", the horrors of war come late in the film with a surprise attack by insurgents on a train carrying soldiers to an location where they were supposed to enjoy some leave time. But there are major differences in the way the story lines are presented. The Altman film dealt primarily with the antics of a trio of wiseguy anti-Establishment types while "The Virgin Soldiers" chronicles the personal experiences of a private, Brigg (Hywel Bennett) and a young civilian woman, Phillipa Raskin (Lynn Redgrave), who is forced to live on a military base where her father (Nigel Patrick) serves as the R.S.M. Most of the screen time is devoted to the Brigg character as he tries to get through his obligatory stint in National Service unscathed. The film presents the usual scattershot collection of men in the regiment as an eclectic bunch ranging from cowards to unlikely heroes. There is even an openly gay couple, which defies credibility since homosexuality in British society was considered to be a criminal act at the time.
The early part of the movie depicts the young soldiers as untested, naive and afraid of actually going into combat- all perfectly human concerns. They are also bored on the base due to lack of female companionship and are desperate for sex with any available woman. Amidst an atmosphere in which his fellow soldiers brag about their sexual conquests, Brigg nervously tries to arrange losing his virginity while posing as an experienced lady's man. He tries to satiate his sexual desires with a local hooker,
Juicy Lucy (winningly played by Tsai Chin), whose heart of gold extends
to giving credit on account to any soldier who suffers impotence from
performance anxiety. The unit's sergeant, Driscoll (Nigel Davenport), instills military discipline in his charges while also acting as a father figure, recognizing that these frightened young men are far away from home and are facing a conflict in an exotic land that they don't even understand. A parallel plot centers on the miserable existence of Philippa whose father is a strutting misogynist and comically inept figure. Her mother (played by Redgrave's real-life mum Rachel Kempson) is a dippy eccentric whose primary focus seems to be on the well-being of her pet goldfish. Phillipa is much-desired by every soldier on the base, given the lack of females in their vicinity. They view her as a sultry woman of the world when, in fact, she, too, is also a virgin, much to the consternation of her father, who constantly derides her for not yet having taken up with a man. He even chides her by telling her that the local gossip speculates she might be a lesbian. Phillipa is emotionally alone in the world in a location she can't relate to and doesn't want to be in, much like the young recruits on the base. She refuses to be a temporary bed mate for soldiers who are moving on.
Any retro movie lover would be forgiven for thinking there would be a multitude of pleasures in The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday, a
1976 Western comedy top-lining such considerable talents as Lee Marvin,
Oliver Reed, Robert Culp, Kay Lenz, Elizabeth Ashley, Sylvia Miles and
the always watchable Strother Martin. Sadly, the film is a complete
misfire with nary a true guffaw to be found throughout. The movie is
directed by Don Taylor, who helmed some fairly good films including Escape From the Planet of the Apes, Damien: Omen II and The Final Countdown. However,
comedy is not Taylor's strong suit, as evidenced by the
over-the-top elements of the movie. The quasi plot finds Marvin as Sam
Longwood, an eccentric plainsman who is partnered with Indian Joe Knox
(Oliver Reed) and Billy (Strother Martin) in an attempt to track down
their former partner Jack Colby (Robert Culp) who fled with the haul the
gold hoarde the four men had discovered years before. Colby has used
the stolen loot to establish himself as a respectable politician. Sam,
Joe and Billy concoct a scheme whereby they will blackmail Colby into
returning their share of the money by kidnapping his wife Nancy Sue
(Elizabeth Ashley), a loud-mouthed and obnoxious woman who has had
romantic ties to Sam in the past. For reasons far too labored to go
into, the trio of men are also accompanied by a seventeen year-old
prosititute named Thursday (Kay Lenz) who is seeking to escape the clutches of her
former madam (Sylvia Miles).
The film has boundless energy but the non-screenplay leads the
characters to dead-ends. Taylor inserts numerous slapstick comedy bits
that bring out the worst in Marvin, as he goes into his over-acting mode
routinely. Most embarrassing is the bizarre casting of Reed as a Native
American. Cursed by having to wear a mop-haired wig and grunting "Me
Tarzan, You Jane"-style dialogue, Reed does the most harm to the image
of the Indian since the massacre at Wounded Knee. The film lurches from
extended fistfights to boring chase sequences, all designed to mask over
the fact that the script is a bland, pasted together conconction. There
is also a jaunty musical score by John Cameron that is played almost non-stop, causing you to keep the remote on "mute" mode. The
only people to emerge relatively unscathed are Lenz, Culp and Martin,
who provided whatever wit and charm the film boasts. On paper, the
project probably looked promising, but in terms of any genuine
laughs...well, they went that-a-way.
Kino Lorber has released the film on Blu-ray with a good transfer and an abundance of trailers (including one for this movie) that prove to be far more entertaining than the main feature.
Racial tensions are flaring in the deep South. White supremacists are marching with members of the Klan, as progressive counter-protestors face off against them amidst a media frenzy. Confederate banners are proudly waved opposite those displaying the American flag. You would be forgiven for thinking this scenario describes the USA in the year 2018 but in actuality it's the setting for the 1996 political thriller "The Chamber", based on the novel by John Grisham. Like other Grisham cinematic tales, it's a complex story of eccentric characters, some laudable, others villainous, and its decked out with an atmosphere of Southern fried hatred. The film opens in Mississippi in 1967 when a Jewish civil rights lawyer makes the fatal mistake of taking his two young sons to work with him on the very day the Klan has placed a time bomb in his office. The resulting blast kills the boys and injures the father, who later commits suicide, leaving his widow (Millie Perkins) to cope with a lifetime of unspeakable sorrow. The story then cuts to the present day (1996) where we find Adam Hall (Chris O'Donnell), a bright, dedicated young lawyer, determined to intervene on behalf of the man who was convicted of the hate crime and who is now about to be executed after many years of exhausted appeals while on Death Row. The culprit is Sam Cayhall (Gene Hackman) and he is Adam's grandfather, though the young man has never met him. This introduces the first problem with the screenplay by the usually estimable William Goldman: we are never really clear about why Adam is so dedicated to savING the life of a grandfather he has never met. He is clearly haunted by the fact that his own father committed suicide when Adam was a child, presumably out of the overwhelming shame of being Sam Cayhall's son. Adam's motives are left murky, especially when there is no doubt that Sam did plant the deadly device in the lawyer's office. Is Adam grasping at straws in trying to reclaim some dignity for his family's name or is he on to something more intriguing? Because this is a Grisham tale, our hero does turn detective and learns that Sam had at least one co-conspirator, a local white supremacist (Raymond J. Barry) who was never on law enforcement's radar. Turns out he is actually Sam's brother and has been living under an assumed name. In a dramatic meeting, Sam's brother implores him not to spill the beans and to continue to cover for him until he is executed a few days later in the gas chamber. Sam responds with a verbal onslaught against his brother, screaming out that the plan was never to kill anyone. If that's the case, why is Sam willing to go to his death to continue to cover up for his slime bag brother? The question is left ambiguous.
There's a lot of legal maneuvering as Adam exhausts the options available to save Sam, who he has met and formed a bond with. Behind Sam's exterior of hatred and racism we learn there is a deep-thinking, intelligent man who is more nuanced than one might think when it comes to race relations. This warm, fuzzy side of the character doesn't ring true and seems to be a plot contrivance to make the audience sympathize with his plight. Helping matters is the fine performance by Gene Hackman, which goes a long way to making Sam accessible from an emotional standpoint even if his conversion is unconvincing. (After all, he still had willingly carried out a terrorist action in the name of racism.) The supporting cast includes Faye Dunaway as Sam's estranged and long-suffering daughter who saw him murder a black man when she was a child. She's now living the life of a Southern belle and is not too happy with being outed as Sam's offspring. The script does allow for father and daughter to have a somber reunion in prison and it's one of the few scenes that works credibly in the film. (It's also enjoyable to see Hackman and Dunaway reunited for the first time since "Bonnie and Clyde" 29 years earlier.) Lela Rochon is tossed into the mix in an under-written role as a young African American attorney who is being manipulated by the Mississippi governor (David Marshall Grant, playing the role like Snidely Whiplash) to befriend Adam in order to find out what legal strategies he is employing. The implication is that the Governor and other top officials have a lot to fear if Sam is not executed on schedule, but these factors are left frustratingly murky.
a banquet, and most sons of bitches are starving to death!”
Warner Archive has just released the Blu-ray version of Mame, 1974’s film
version of the hit Broadway show.The
musical itself was based on the play Auntie Mame starring Rosalind Russell,
also a film and also available from the Warner Archive.
paper, this movie had “hit” written all over it with Mame’s Broadway director
Gene Saks on board along with Bea Arthur (Saks’ wife) and Jane Connell
reprising their stage roles.The popular
score by Jerry Herman was augmented with a new song, Loving You.Phillip H. Lathrop was the cinematographer,
Onna White staged the production numbers and veteran composer/arranger Fred
Werner supervised the music.
casting of the title role created controversy at the time as the star of the
Broadway version of Mame, Angela Lansbury, was overlooked in favor of
television and film legend Lucille Ball.It was decided at the time that Ms. Ball would draw a larger audience as
film musicals had been sputtering at the box office.Previous efforts such as Paint Your Wagon,
Hello Dolly and Lost Horizon had been financial disasters, and the studio
wanted to stack the deck in favor of Mame breaking this trend.
Ball had never been known as a singer and at age 63 she may have not been as
nimble on her feet as she was in earlier musicals.One just has to remember her taming the cat
dancers with a whip in MGM’s Ziegfield Follies in 1946.Ms. Ball’s performance as Mame Dennis is
still enjoyable and, if anything, is somewhat restrained.Scenes involving a comic foxhunt with Mame
riding sidesaddle and a disastrous stage debut could have turned into Lucy
Ricardo style slapstick, but were wisely held in check by director Saks.Ms. Ball conveyed warmth, strength and gentle
humor in her performance as the eccentric, but lovable aunt.
story follows the young and recently orphaned Patrick Dennis being sent to New
York to live with his only living relative: his father’s sister Mame, a
free-spirited bachelorette socialite.Mame instantly takes a liking to her nephew and vows to show him all the
culture and unconventional personalities of Manhattan during the late 1920s.Her friends include a stage actress of dubious
talent, the headmaster of a Bohemian nudist school, a less- than- successful
stockbroker and a loyal houseboy.
escapades with Patrick are made aware to his guardian, a conservative bank
president, who sends the child to boarding school.Despite this setback, Auntie Mame remains the
main influence on her nephew’s upbringing, and the story tracks their
relationship through Patrick reaching adulthood and his preparations to
marry.Along the way Mame encounters the
stock crash of 1929, employment in customer service, marriage to a Southern
aristocrat and a sudden tragedy.Her one
constant through everything is her loving relationship with young Patrick.
fantastic supporting cast includes Bea Arthur as actress Vera Charles, Jane
Connell as Patrick’s nanny Agnes Gooch, Robert Preston as Mame’s love interest
Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, George Chiang as the houseboy Ito, Joyce
Van Patten as Southern belle Sally Cato, Bruce Davison as the adult Patrick and
John McGiver as Mr. Babcock, Patrick’s guardian.
highlights include the beautifully staged title number sung by Robert Preston,
a touching duet, My Best Girl, between Mame and Patrick, the hilariously wicked
Bosom Buddies, where Mame and Vera confirm their lifelong friendship and a
genuine holiday moment with the charming We Need a Little Christmas.
script by Paul Zindel does drag a bit in the second act as adult Patrick
contemplates marriage.There is an
awkward jump as one wedding is called off and another takes place.Zindel does include many of the one-liners
that made the stage version so humorous.Chiang, the houseboy answers a call from Mame’s financial adviser asking
“he wants to know what to do with your stocks before he jumps out the
window.”Vera enters the room after an
all-night binge and declares: “Somebody has been sleeping in my dress!”
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Kevin Costner stars in and directs the triumphant cinematic
masterpiece Dances with Wolves, based on the novel by Michael Blake. Available
November 13th, 2018 from Shout! Factory, this breathtaking three-disc Steelbook
Collector’s Edition includes the original theatrical cut for the first time on
Blu-ray, an extended cut of the film and an entire disc of bonus features.
Winner of seven Academy Awards®, including Best Directing
and Best Picture, this modern classic tells the story of Lt. Dunbar (Costner),
a Civil War hero who befriends a tribe of Native Americans while stationed at a
desolate outpost on the frontier. What follows is a series of unforgettable
moments — from Dunbar’s tender scenes with Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell),
to the thrilling, action-packed buffalo hunt. Experience the excitement,
emotion and sweeping beauty of this cinematic treasure as never before on
Dances with Wolves Bonus Features
Disc One: Theatrical Cut
Disc Two: Extended Cut
Commentary with actor/producer/director Kevin Costner and producer Jim Wilson
Commentary with director of photography Dean Semler and editor Neil Travis
Disc Three: Bonus Features
· A Day in
the Life on the Western Frontier
Original Making of Dances with Wolves
Creation of an Epic - A Retrospective Documentary
· Music Video
Vignettes (Second Wind, Confederate March and Music, Getting the Point, Burying
the Hatchet, Animatronic Buffalo)
How you’ll feel about MGM’s “The Last Hunt” (1956), a
grim depiction of the decimation of the buffalo herds out west in the 1880s,
depends on how you feel about actually seeing buffalo shot down before your
eyes while the cameras rolled. Writer/director Richard Brooks wanted the film to
be a searing indictment of the men who ravaged the western frontier, especially
those who made their living hunting bison. For the sake of authenticity, he and
producer Dore Schary went out on location to Custer National Park, South
Dakota, where they still have a small herd of buffalo. They got some
spectacular footage of the buffalo stampeding over the Black Hills and had
government permission to film during the annual “thinning of the herd,” when sharpshooters
are invited to kill a limited number of buffs to keep them from overpopulating.
As a result. there are scenes in “The Last Hunt” in which we see buffalo
hunters Charlie Gilson (Robert Taylor) and Sandy McKenzie (Stewart Granger)
shooting down a dozen or more of the majestic beasts as they sit peacefully
unaware by a watering hole. It is isn’t a reenactment. It’s real and it’s disturbing
But that was Brooks’ intent. He wanted to show how greed
and hatred of the Indian brought the buffalo to near extinction. Buffalo hides
not only brought the hunters a good price but in their minds a dead buffalo
meant less meat for the Indians. Brooks personifies these attitudes most
vividly in the psychopathic Charlie Gilson. He is a man who hates everything,
especially buffalo and Indians. He gets a real kick out of killing, too. He
says it makes him feel alive. Taylor is convincing as a truly bad man, although
his performance is somewhat one-dimensional. In most of the scenes, he’s either
drunk and surly or just plain mean and surly.
On the other hand, McKenzie is a gentler soul who only
agrees to go on the hunt when his small herd of cattle is wiped out by a
buffalo stampede. He has no animosity against Native Americans and keeps
telling Charlie he needs to chill out. Granger gives a good performance as a
nice guy, but he’s almost too nice to be believable. Also in the hunting party
are Lloyd Nolan as Woodfoot, a skinner with a peg leg and Russ Tamblyn as
Jimmy, a redheaded half-breed, whom Charlie can barely tolerate. Woodfoot could
have been an Ahab-type character with a grudge against buffalo for losing his
leg, but he’s more philosophical than that. He’s seen a lot. He explains
Charlie’s hatred for Indians to Jimmy by showing how much alike they are. He
says Charlie eats without a fork, just like an Indian, he’s free with his women
just like an Indian, he even blows his nose in his fingers like an Indian. “But you see, Charlie don’t like himself very
much,” Woodfoot says, “so it’s only natural he’d hate Indians.”
The four men manage an uneasy coexistence until their
pack mules are stolen one night by a small band of roving Indians. Sandy and
Woodfoot are willing to let it go, but Charlie rides off after them with blood
in his eye. He tracks them down, kills them and wounds an Indian Girl (Debra
Paget) traveling with a small boy. He brings the girl and boy back to camp and beds
down with her, much to Sandy’s dislike. Charlie gets drunk and mistreats the
girl, while Sandy seethes, but remains silent. Sandy and the Indian girl begin
to get closer, however, when Charlie’s not around or just passed out and
tension slowly builds.
Things come to a head when Sandy hesitates to shoot a
white buffalo because he knows it has religious significance to the Indians.
Charlie has no such qualms. He knows the hide will bring a price of $2,000. He
kills it and now both the Indian girl and the white buffalo hide become the
sources of conflict that eventually leads to a violent and chilling climax.
“The Last Hunt” is an interesting film made by an
interesting director. Like some of Richard Brooks’ other films, such as “In
Cold Blood” and “Bite the Bullet,” it’s hard-hitting, almost merciless, in its
portrayal of the darkness that lies just below the thin veneer of civilization.
It could have been a classic, but it has become a victim of the era in which it
was made. It’s not likely that any major studio today would release a film
showing the deliberate killing of live animals, no matter what the reason. For
one thing PETA would make life miserable for the film makers, and today’s
audiences would most likely condemn it as well. The casting of Debra Paget as
the unnamed “Indian Girl” is another strike against it. The casting was not
Richard Brooks’ fault. Movie studios in 1956 never cast Native Americans in
major roles. Indian characters were usually played by Mexican actors like
Delores Del Rio or Gilbert Roland. Paget
does a great job, but it’s a false note in a film that tries so hard to be
But the biggest problems with “The Last Hunt” is its slow
pace. The film focuses too much on the five main characters bogged down in
their own personal conflicts. It takes forever for McKenzie to finally have his
fill of Charlie’s constant bullying and mean-tempered treatment of the woman
and the half-breed. He’s too mild-mannered and when the final showdown does
happen it’s a long, drawn out affair that lacks suspense.
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.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
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.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
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.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
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.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
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.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER TWILIGHT TIME BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION
CLICK HERE TO ORDER SONY BASIC DVD EDITION FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
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.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
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.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
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.