movie censorship relaxed in the early 1970s, Mel Welles’ horror film “Lady
Frankenstein” added sex and nudity to the familiar Frankenstein formula of the
single-minded and arguably demented scientist who creates a monster and lives
to regret it.In the 1971 production,
now available in a handsome, fully loaded Blu-ray edition from Nucleus Films
encoded for Region B, Dr. Tanya Frankenstein (Rosalba Neri) returns home to the
family estate after completing medical school.Having inherited the family obsession, she is determined to help her
father (Joseph Cotten) realize his long-frustrated ambition of creating human
life in his laboratory.When Baron
Frankenstein and his associate Dr. Marshall (Paul Muller) balk at including the
refined young woman in their gory experiments, she fiercely overrides their
objections:“Stop treating me like a
child!I’m a doctor and a surgeon.”Frankenstein and Marshall successfully
reanimate a creature that they’ve stitched together from plundered cadavers,
but events take a turn for the worse, and soon a suspicious police officer,
Inspector Harris (Mickey Hargitay), begins nosing around the Frankenstein
Frankenstein” was filmed in Italy and independently marketed in Europe, where
Rosalba Neri, Mickey Hargitay, and Paul Muller were popular actors in genre
movies.In the U.S., it was distributed
by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures.Inexplicably, New World billed Rosalba Neri as “Sara Bay” in the
American credits and promotional materials, and depicted the exotically
beautiful brunette actress as a blonde in the poster art.Like many other exploitation films from the
same period, notably New World’s own series of Women-in-Prison productions like
“The Big Bird Cage,” it professes to have a feminist message while at the same
time including a fair amount of female nudity to meet the expectations of the
grindhouse audiences to which it was pitched, here and abroad.
feminist aspect is clear when Tanya discusses the resistance she faced in the
conservative halls of higher learning.“Was it difficult, very difficult, being my daughter?” her father asks sympathetically.“Sometimes,” Tanya responds, “but mainly
because I was a woman.The professors
still have a lot of old-fashioned ideas about a woman’s place.”In the wake of recent news events, many of us
will sympathize with Tanya’s dilemma and reflect that things haven’t changed a
lot in the male-dominated corridors of power, either in the two hundred years
since the early-1800s setting of “Lady Frankenstein,” or indeed in the
forty-seven years since the film was made.
as the story progresses and Tanya takes center stage, she begins to employ sex,
seduction, and murder to achieve her ends.You may start to wonder:do her
ruthless and increasingly cruel methods invalidate the movie’s claim to advance
a feminist theme . . . or underscore it?When one character is murdered in cold blood at her suggestion while she
has sex with him to distract his attention, does the film idealize -- or
objectify -- Rosalba Neri’s bare breasts and ecstatic facial expressions?When the infatuated, middle-aged Marshall
professes his love for her, does Tanya practice gender bias in reverse by
suggesting that she respects his intellect, but she’d respect it more if
Marshall were also young and handsome? The answers, I suppose, depend on your
interpretation of female empowerment.
By the mid-to-late1970s, the legendary Henry Fonda was deemed all-but-through as a leading man. What was a screen icon to do in an industry that no longer appreciated his talents? In Fonda's case, he began farming out his services in cameo roles, often playing scientists or presidents and bringing a bit of gravitas to such decidedly underwhelming productions as "Tentacles", "City on Fire", "The Swarm", "Wanda Nevada" and "Meteor", along with the hit WWII film "Midway". Clearly, Fonda was frustrated by being relegated to cinematic window dressing, which probably explains his participation in "The Great Smokey Roadblock", which went into production in 1976 and which received a spotty release the following year. Fonda probably disapproved of the fact that the studio had changed the title from the more appropriate "The Last of the Cowboys" in order to cash in on the CB radio craze and the unexpected success of "Smokey and the Bandit". It is rather shocking to see Fonda starring in this bare bones production shot entirely in rural California. But he brings dignity to his performance as "Elegant John", a well-known aging trucker who is revered by his peers for his record of reliability. Seems he's never missed a scheduled delivery and is known as a true professional. However when an illness confines him to a hospital, John falls behind on his truck payments and the vehicle is confiscated. Facing bankruptcy and the loss of his livelihood, John steals his own big rig and immediately becomes a wanted man. Low on cash and resources, he gives a lift to a young hitchhiker, Beebo Crozier (Robert Englund), a naive and shy young man who possesses enough cash to fill up the gas tank at least once. The pair hightails it to a bordello run by John's old friend Penelope Pearson (Eileen Brennan), who presides over a group of happy young hookers. However, they have just been busted by the cops and face arraignment. They concoct a daring scheme to move their possessions into the back of the big rig and take off for South Carolina, where for some vague reason, everyone feels they can safely start a new life. (Apparently, they have never heard of extradition laws.) John states that he may be doomed but he wants to make one last, big successful run.
No corn pone trucking comedy would be complete without a buffoonish lawman and in this case he's played by the inimitable and always amusing Dub Taylor. The plot finds the group arrested by Taylor and his equally dopey deputy but they turn the tables on them by using sex as a temptation. The big rig then takes off at high speed but now inter-state warnings are out and John and the girls are becoming the stuff of popular legend. Along the way, the rag tag group attracts more lovable misfits including a down-and-out DJ played by master impressionist John Byner and a crazed hippie from New Jersey played by Austin Pendleton, who seems to be channeling the future performance of Dennis Hopper as the whacky photographer of "Apocalypse Now". Soon, the entourage of counter-culture types forms a nomadic family that is perpetually one-step ahead of their pursuers. (Picture "The Outlaw Josey Wales" with motorcycles and a big rig.) The only action set piece in the film comes during the climax when police have set up the titular roadblock that Elegant John and his followers are determined to smash through on their way to a new life. The scene itself is well staged and features the requisite amount of crushed police cars for a film of this peculiar genre.The movie borrows heavily from director Richard C. Sarafian's 1971 cult flick "Vanishing Point". Both films center on outlaws who become populist legends by avoiding capture by the police. The film even has John Byner blatantly imitate the DJ from "Vanishing Point" played by Cleavon Little by having him broadcast propaganda to the masses on behalf of the outlaws.
Kino Lorber continues its welcome habit of unearthing cinematic rarities and making them available to retro movie lovers. Case in point: "Tiger by the Tail", a long-forgotten crime thriller filmed in 1968 as an independent production but not released until 1970. The film is the epitome of a good "B" movie from the era: lean, fast-moving and efficiently made with an impressive cast. The movie is typical of low-brow fare from the 1960s. It's primary purpose was to shot quickly and turn a modest profit. Many of these films, which often played as the second feature on double bills, had the asset of affording leading roles to actors and actresses who rarely had the opportunity to get top billing. Such is the case with this film which features Christopher George in the leading role. He plays Steve Michaelis, a recently discharged U.S. Army Vietnam War veteran who is returning home to New Mexico. However, he makes a nearly fatal pit stop in Mexico and the opening scene is a bit of a shocker. He's a about to bed a local beauty when two thugs enter the room and a brutal fight ensues that he barely escapes. This seems like an irrelevant scene, given all that follows, but we find out later its pertinent to his fate. Steve arrives in New Mexico where he reunites with his older brother Frank (Dennis Patrick), who raised him after their parents died. While Steve is down-and-out and broke, Frank has prospered as the majority share holder in the local horse racing track which fuels the local economy. The two men have a frosty reunion that is strained even further when Steve discovers that his former girlfriend Rita (Tippi Hedren) is now romantically involved with Frank. Nevertheless, the two men reconcile and things appear to be heading in the right direction. However, fate takes a tragic turn when the racetrack is robbed and Frank is murdered in cold blood. This sets in motion a complicated series of events. Steve learns he will inherit his brother's share of the racetrack stock, something that doesn't sit well with Frank's partners who inform Steve they intend to use a legal loophole to pay him off at a bargain basement price and assume total control of the operation. Steve soon discovers that he may not even get that money, as it becomes apparent someone has ordered him to be killed. Worse, he is being framed for the murder of his brother. The film follows the formula of old film noir crime thrillers and that isn't a bad thing. We see him use his wits and considerable fighting ability to thwart attempts on his life as he tries to find out who is out to get him. The logical suspects are the racetrack shareholders, a group of greedy elitists who don't want to be in business with him. Red herrings abound and Steve learns he can't trust anyone including Rita who informs him she wants them to resume their relationship now that Frank is in his grave.
"Tiger by the Tail" feels and looks like a TV movie of the era and that isn't a coincidence. Director R.G. Springsteen was best known for his work in television where he excelled in directing episodes of classic western series, and his colleague on those shows, writer Charles A. Wallace wrote the screenplay for the film. (This would prove to be Springsteen's final work in the film industry before his death in 1989.) Springsteen's direction is workmanlike in some areas but more inspired in others. He milks a good deal of suspense from the plot and keeps the action moving at a brisk pace across the movie's 99 minute running time. Springsteen, perhaps because of budget limitations, shoots virtually every scene in a real location which adds authenticity to the production. The film boasts a good cast of supporting actors, all in top form: Lloyd Bochner and Alan Hale as the greedy stockholders, Dean Jagger as a Scrooge-like banker and most intriguing, John Dehner as the local sheriff (in an excellent performance) with a penchant for using twenty dollars words in his vocabulary and who, along with his hot-headed deputy (Skip Homeier) may be complicit in working with the bad guys. Steve's only friends are Sarah Harvey (Glenda Farrell), the perky owner of a gun and souvenir shop who performs ballistics tests in the shop and New Mexico State Trooper Ben Holmes (R.G. Armstrong) who offers Steve whatever limited advice and support he can. The singer Charo (yes, that Charo) is cast in a superfluous role to provide a couple of songs in a local bar and to add a bit of additional sex appeal when we aren't gawking at Tippi Hedren sunning herself poolside in a bikini. As a leading man, Christopher George is top-notch. He's handsome, rugged and capable with fists and a gun as he takes on seemingly insurmountable odds. George should have been a success on the big screen. He was coming off a run in the hit TV series "The Rat Patrol" but never quite got his opportunity to shine on the big screen. "Tiger by the Tale" represents one of his few leading roles in a feature film, though he impressed as villains in the John Wayne westerns "El Dorado" (1967) and "Chisum" (1970). He died in 1983 at only 51 years of age from heart complications.
The Kino Lorber transfer is impressive, as usual, though there are some occasional speckles and artifacts. However, it's doubtful that there are many pristine prints of the film floating around, given its lowly stature. The Blu-ray features a very good commentary track by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, both of whom show a good deal of respect for the movie and all involved in its production. They are especially kind to Tippi Hedren, pointing out that she was long underrated as an actress. (She unfairly took most of the blame for the failure of Alfred Hitchcock's "Marnie" in which she starred.) The release also includes a gallery of other action films and mysteries available from KL, though no trailer is included for "Tiger by the Tail". I don't want to overstate the movie's merits. It certainly isn't a lost classic but I suspect you'll find it far more impressive than you might have suspected. Recommended.
those sage words of advice, 15 year-old Fannie Belle Fleming leaves her home in
the backwoods of West Virginia in 1950 to pursue a career in show business.What happens next is not exactly what the
aspiring country singer had in mind.
(1989 Touchstone/Disney), recently released on Blu-ray by Kino-Lorber, is based
upon the true story of the vocalist- turned- stripper who changed her name to
Blaze Starr and became scandalously involved with Governor Earl Long of the
Great State of Louisiana.
played by Lolita Davidovich (Raising Cain, Leap of Faith, Cobb), is persuaded
by sleazy club owner Red Snyder (Robert Wuhl) to try stripping, which he
assures her is a form of dancing.“Trust
me,” he tells her.After a timid start,
Blaze becomes a star on the Burlesque circuit moving from New York to Baltimore
and finally landing in New Orleans in 1959.
is there in the Big Easy that Blaze encounters the colorful Earl K. Long,
portrayed in bigger than life fashion by Paul Newman.One night Earl stumbles into a Bourbon Street
establishment where he apparently knows most of the strippers on a first name
basis.Immediately taken with her beauty
and figure, Long asks if he may take Blaze to dinner.Remembering her mother’s words, a sadder- but
-wiser Blaze asks the Governor “Can I trust you?” and is quite pleased when he
answers “Hell no!”Their brief, but
passionate affair was the stuff of legend in a state not unfamiliar with
political shenanigans.While not
addressed in the film, both the Governor and Ms. Starr were married to others at
Ron Shelton’s film follows a late ‘80s trend of comedy-dramas from south of the
Mason-Dixon Line, featuring a quotable script and likeable characters who are
anything but the backwoods stereotypes we are accustomed to seeing.Much like Steel Magnolias, Fried Green
Tomatoes and Shelton’s own Bull Durham, this movie gives us another strong
female lead, confident in choosing her path in life without relying on the support
or approval of men.Ms. Davidovich’s
portrayal of Blaze is both comic and intelligent in that she is able to partner
with Governor Long and guide him through his campaign for Congress.
Newman chews his way through Shelton’s script as a conflicted, progressive
politician caught in a system that still sees women and minorities as
second-class citizens.On the one hand
he supports a civil rights act that will guarantee voting and equal employment
opportunities for blacks in 1960 Louisiana, but at the same time he still holds
some of the racist beliefs of many in his own political party. “We can’t keep sleeping with them at night,
and kicking them during the day” he says during a raucous meeting with state
Lorber Studio Classics has released “A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die!,” a 1968
Italian Western, in a Blu-ray edition.In the movie, Gov. Lem Carter (Robert Ryan) offers amnesty to outlaws in
a bid to quell lawlessness in 1880s New Mexico.On the run from deputies and bounty hunters, desperado Clay McCord (Alex
Cord) decides to seek the governor’s clemency.McCord suffers from paralytic spasms of his gun hand.The attacks have become more frequent and
more severe, and he fears that they represent the onset of epilepsy, the malady
that disabled and eventually killed his father.But enemies on both sides of the law make it difficult for him to go
straight as he wishes to do.Bounty
hunters surround the town of Tascosa, where McCord must go to sign the needed
papers, and even if he can elude them, the cynical marshal, Roy Colby (Arthur
Kennedy), is disinclined to give him a break.The gunfighter is equally unwelcome in nearby Escondido, a haven for
fugitives, after antagonizing Kraut (Mario Brega), the brutal hardcase who
controls the rundown settlement.It’s
even money on who will bring McCord down first, Kraut’s pistoleros or Colby’s
deputies.Although I can’t find any
sources to either confirm or refute the speculation, I believe that Brega’s
dubbed English voice as Kraut belongs to American actor Walter Barnes, who made
several Italian and German Westerns in the 1960s.
an American executive producer, three high-profile ‘60s American actors in
starring roles, an Italian producer, an Italian director, and an Italian
supporting cast dubbed into English, “A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die”
straddles the divide between the earnest tradition of U.S. Westerns and the
violent, anything-goes approach of the Italian kind.It opens with a long (actually, too long)
outdoor sequence of McCord and a pal eluding a posse, like characters in “One-Eyed
Jacks” and any number of other classic Westerns.Then follows a scene of two sadistic gunmen
roughing up a frightened priest in front of an altar, and eventually shooting
him in the back.Try to find a situation
like that in a John Wayne or Roy Rogers movie.The two gunmen are played by Aldo Sambrell and Antonio Molino Rojo, who
-- like Mario Brega, the Ernest Borgnine of Italian Westerns -- are instantly
recognizable from Sergio Leone’s stock company of scruffy character
actors.An unsympathetic critic might
speculate that a respectable if unexceptional American Western could have
resulted had the moviemakers tightened the script, dialed back the film’s high
body count, and substituted homegrown character actors for Italian ones in the
supporting cast.On the other hand, for
those of us whose moviegoing tastes were formed in the Cinema Retro era, the
manic unevenness of the picture as it exists has a certain freewheeling charm
of its own.
Kino Lorber’s cover
notes advertise the Blu-ray as a new high-definition master from a 4K scan of
the original negative.Although the
daytime scenes have some graininess, the nighttime lights and darks are clear
and sharp.The label’s resident
Spaghetti expert, Alex Cox, contributes an informative, droll, but respectful
audio commentary.Those new to Italian
Westerns will learn a lot about the genre from Cox’s remarks, while fans will
have fun matching their knowledge against his in spotting familiar Italian faces
in the movie’s supporting cast.As
another supplement, the disc also includes the original ending from the
European print of the movie, transposed from an old, overseas VHS tape.This bleak denouement is stronger by far than
that of the U.S. cut.
Kino Lorber has released “Singing Guns” (1950), a
Republic Pictures “singing cowboy” western filmed in Trucolor. The film is
based on a western novel by Max Brand, and is pretty unremarkable except for
the fact that the cowboy anti-hero, Rhiannon, an outlaw with a long bushy beard
who has been robbing stagecoaches to the tune of over a $1 million, isn’t
played by Roy, or Gene Autry, Rocky Lane Rex Allen, or any of the other western
stars in Republic’s stable. Rhiannon, is played by a popular singer from that
era named Vaughn Monroe.
I remember Vaughn Monroe when I was a kid. I used to hear
him singing “Racing with the Moon,” on the radio. He had a rich baritone voice
and my mother would turn up the radio every time it came on and sort of stare
out into space with a funny look in her eyes. Monroe also had another big hit
with “Mule Train,” with lyrics like “clippity clop, clippity clop, Muuuuuule
Traaaainn.” Whips cracking. Well, it appears “Singing Guns “was made so that
Vaughn could have a chance to sing “Mule Train” in a movie. The song has
nothing to do with the story, but fits in with a scene where Vaughn drives a
wagon pulled by two mules--- not exactly a train, but close enough, I guess.
Monroe sings three other tunes in the film as well.
The script by the screenwriting team of Dorrell and
Stuart McGowan concerns the attempts by Sheriff Jim Caradac (Ward Bond),
doctor/preacher Jonathan Mark (Walter Brennan), and lady gambler Nan Morgan
(Ella Raines) to catch, reform, and fall in love with the aforementioned stagecoach
robber, respectively. The movie has a real corkscrew of a plot, starting with
Rhiannon holding up the stage occupied by Nan and Sheriff Mark. When Rhiannon
finds out the sheriff outwitted him by making sure there was no gold on this
trip, he humiliates him making him march into town wearing a pair of Nan’s
bloomers and a hat that looks like a flower pot. The sheriff, furious, gets to
his office, grabs his other guns and chases Rhiannon out into the desert.
Rhiannon gets to his mountain hideout and shoots the sheriff off his horse. He
later goes down to bury him (he’s a decent sort of outlaw) but the sheriff was
faking it and gets the drop on him.
He’s about to take Rhiannon in, but in another twist,
Rhiannon jumps him and shoots him. In another weird turn, he decides to take
the sheriff to town so the doctor can patch him up (like I said he’s a real
decent sort of outlaw). Doc Caradac tells Rhiannon the sheriff needs a
transfusion. The outlaw rejects his call for help (he’s not that decent, he’s gotta get out of
town), forcing the doctor to slip him a mickey and perform the transfusion
while he’s unconscious. (Aren’t there ethics rules being violated here?) Even worse
than taking his blood, the doc also shaves off Rhiannon’s beard! When he wakes
up he’s not only a quart low, he’s clean shaven!! And here comes the most
unbelievable plot element. Without the beard, when he wakes up, nobody
recognizes him. He’s just some guy who saved the sheriff’s life!!!
The story goes on like that with the plot switching back
and forth, with the sheriff sometimes wanting to help Rhiannon and other time
wanting to jail him, and Nan sometimes hating Rhiannon and sometime loving him,
and Doc Caradac saying he’s just as interested in saving his patients’ souls as
he is healing their bodies, and just wants everything to be okay.
Ignoring the ridiculous plot, perhaps the best thing
about “Singing Guns” is the way it looks. It’s a brand new master by Paramount from
a 4K scan of the original 35mm Trucolor nitrate negative. It’s sensational
looking. And for the first time I’m aware of, “Singing Guns” shows how
beautiful Ella Raines’ eyes were. The film she’s remembered for most is
“Phantom Lady” (1944), the noir thriller based on Cornell Woolrich’s novel. It
was shot in black and white, so you couldn’t see what color her eyes were. Film
historian Toby Roan in his highly informative audio commentary said that
cinematographer Reggie Lanning had trouble getting the color right; sometimes her
eyes looked green, sometimes blue, sometimes yellow. Roan says he thinks
they’re turquoise. Whatever they are they’re fascinating to look at, so much so
I found myself having to reverse the disc in several places because I’d lost
track of what she was saying. Maybe I was hypnotized. Raines only made 20 films
in her lifetime. It’s a pity she didn’t make more..
“Singing Guns” is directed by R. G. Springsteen, who also
directed Monroe’s only other western, “Toughest Man in Arizona.” The film is
also notable for the number of familiar faces in the cast, including Jeff
Corey, Harry Shannon, Rex Lease, and Jimmy Dodd (as well as Eleanor Donahue,
and Billy Grey, who would later play Robert Young’s kids on “Father Knows Best”).
Bonus features include the aforementioned audio commentary and several trailers
for other KL Blu-rays. It’s another one of those discs that astonish you in
regard to how good an old movie can look and sound when it’s done right. They
can’t release enough of these to satisfy me.
Samuel Fuller is today regarded as a revered name among directors. Unlike his peers- John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Howard Hawks, to name but a few- Fuller didn't get much respect when he needed it, at least from critics and studio heads who regarded his talents as workmanlike. Consequently, this talented director, screenwriter and occasional novelist and actor, toiled under meager budgets and scant support from studio executives. Fuller was typical of directors of his generation who had come of age during the Great Depression and World War II. He had a tough guy persona and had learned to survive on the mean streets of Manhattan where he worked as a crime reporter in the 1930s. Fuller could have landed a cushy job in the military during the war but eschewed the opportunity in favor of volunteering for combat duty in the European campaign. His scripts were tightly-written, no-nonsense affairs and his direction was direct and to-the-point. Fuller cut a larger-than-life figure with an out-sized personality and his penchant for indulging in cigars that were so large they looked as though they were inspired by cartoons. Despite the budgetary limitations on his films and the fact that he never enjoyed a career-defining breakaway hit, Fuller's movies have stood the test of time and before he died in 1997, he had witnessed his work being favorably reassessed by a new generation of directors and critics.
"Underworld U.S.A." is one of Fuller's true gems. A 1961 film noir crime story, the movie gave an early career boost to Cliff Robertson but its significance goes much deeper. Although viewed as a typical low budget crime thriller back in the day, the movie is a a true classic of the genre. The film opens with 14 year-old Tolly Davlin (David Kent), a street-wise product of a crime-infested unnamed big city, witnessing the beating death of the father he idolized by a pack of enforcers from a mob syndicate that he had crossed. Tolly's dad, himself a low-life who was teaching his son how to survive in the urban jungle by being more cunning and ruthless than the competition. Tolly, now orphaned, finds the only friend he has is Sandy (Beatrice Kay), a tough-as-nails saloon owner who takes a maternal interest in Tolly, though he rarely heeds her advice. Tolly is consumed with avenging his father's death. He arranges intentionally builds up a criminal record leading to him being incarcerated in a juvenile detention center- but all the while he is painstakingly following leads about who his father's murderers were and who employed them. The story jumps ahead and we find Tolly now a young man in his late twenties (played by Robertson) having been incarcerated in a prison that houses one of the killers, a man who is literally on his death bed in the hospital ward. That doesn't stop Tolly from smothering him with a pillow and making it look like natural causes. When Tolly is released from jail, he reunites with Sandy and has a chance encounter with a sexy gun moll who is nicknamed Cuddles (Dolores Dorn) who has been marked for death for having failed to carry out a mission for the mob. Tolly saves her life and secretes her in Sandy's apartment while he begins his pursuit of two other men who killed his father that fateful night. Having succeeded in getting his street justice, he goes for bigger game: the syndicate bosses.
Fuller's film is somewhat unique in that he avoids the cliche of showing the mob echelon as seedy, Al Capone types. Instead, they are elite, sophisticated and corrupt businessmen and elected officials who run a major complex called The National Projects which ostensibly benefits the poor because periodically the Olympic-sized swimming pool welcomes neighborhood children. In reality, the top bosses live in splendor in penthouse apartments there and ruthlessly oversee their crime organization. In a clever plot device, Tolly works with the local crime-busting city official (Larry Gates) and volunteers to go undercover and work with the mob in order to bring them to justice. He then tells the mob he's a double agent, so to speak, and really working for them. Ultimately, he devises an inspired scheme by which he places circumstantial evidence to convince the crime lords that their partners are out to betray and kill them, thereby leading them to "off" each other and ensuring that Tolly's hands are clean. It's a plot device that was used in "The Godfather Part II" when the mob boss Frankie Pantangeli becomes mistakenly convinced that Michael Corleone tried to have him assassinated and tries to do the same to him. Similarly, in the 1989 James Bond film "Licence to Kill", 007 infiltrates a major drug gang and convinces the big boss that his key people are betraying him, thus leading to their murders.
Universal has released a superb boxed set of their horror classics. Here is the official press release:
City, California, August 22, 2018 – Thirty of the most iconic
cinematic masterpieces starring the most famous monsters of horror movie
history come together on Blu-ray™for the first time ever in the Universal
Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection on August 28, 2018, from
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Featuring unforgettable make-up,
ground-breaking special effects and outstanding performances, the Universal
Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection includes all Universal
Pictures’ legendary monsters from the studio that pioneered the horror genre
with imaginative and technically groundbreaking tales of terror in
unforgettable films from the 1930s to late-1950s.
the era of silent movies through present day, Universal Pictures has been
regarded as the home of the monsters. The Universal Classic Monsters:
Complete 30-Film Collection showcases all the original films featuring
the most iconic monsters in motion picture history including Dracula,
Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf
Man, Phantom of the Opera and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Starring
some of the most legendary actors including Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon
Chaney Jr., Claude Rains and Elsa Lanchester in the roles that they made
famous, these films set the standard for a new horror genre and showcase why
these landmark movies that defined the horror genre are regarded as some of the
most unforgettable ever to be filmed.
Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collectionincludes
a 48-page collectible book filled with behind-the-scenes stories and rare
production photographs and is accompanied by an array of bonus features
including behind-the-scenes documentaries, the 1931 Spanish version of Dracula,
Featurettes on Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., and Jack Pierce, 13
expert feature commentaries, archival footage, production photographs,
theatrical trailers and more. The perfect gift for any scary movie fan, the
collection offers an opportunity to experience some of the most memorable
horror films of our time.
Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection includes Dracula
(1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible
Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Werewolf of London (1935),
Dracula's Daughter (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), The
Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Invisible Woman (1940), The
Mummy's Hand (1940), The Wolf Man (1941), The Ghost of
Frankenstein (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1942), The Mummy's Tomb (1942),
Invisible Agent (1942), Phantom of the Opera (1943), Frankenstein
Meets the Wolf Man (1943), Son of Dracula (1943), House of
Frankenstein (1944), The Mummy's Curse (1944), The Invisible
Man's Revenge (1944), House of Dracula (1945), She-Wolf of London
(1946), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), Abbott and
Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954,
and includes a 3D version), Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955), Revenge
of the Creature (1955 and includes a 3D version) and The Creature Walks
Among Us (1956).
3D Versions of Creature from the Black Lagoon and Revenge of the
Spanish Version of Dracula
on Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., and Jack Pierce
Expert Feature Commentaries
Not mentioned in the press release is the impressive collector's booklet packed with rare photos and movie poster artwork.
One caveat to note: the set was accompanied by a letter from Universal explaining that some of the Blu-ray discs containing the 3-D version of "Revenge of the Creature" and the 2-D version of "The Creature Walks Among Us" had some manufacturing snafus and customers might experience some playback problems on this one disc. If that occurs, Universal will send you a corrected disc if you E mail them at: USHEConsumerRelations@visionmediamgmt.com
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" has long posed a conundrum for film critics and historians. How do you assess a film that is brilliantly made but which promotes a hateful message? The 1934 production which was created as a love letter to Adolf Hitler and his rapidly-rising National Socialist movement has been relatively shunned at film festivals and the art house circuit over the decades. It's undoubtedly been most widely seen in classrooms and on home video. Yet the passing of time has allowed the film to be more actively shown in recent years and it is nearly always accompanied by an introduction that rightly explains its relevance both to the period in which it was made but also as it pertains to today's world. Director Riefenstahl had been a popular actress in German cinema who had caught the eye of Adolf Hitler, who was quite the movie fan (his favorites included "Gone With the Wind" and Laurel and Hardy.) Riefenstahl had recently become a pioneer as one of the first women to enter directing in the era of sound films. Hitler commissioned her to film the Nazi party's annual meeting in Nuremberg in the expectation that it would bolster the movement as well as increase the fanatical cult of personality that was already attached to him. Hitler had tried to overthrow the German government a decade earlier but ended up in jail. He turned this to his advantage by becoming a martyr to the cause and writing his personal bible Mein Kampf from his jail cell. By the time he was released, even those who had prosecuted him were trying to curry favor with the future dictator. Hitler ran for office and won the election to become Germany's chancellor. In reality he had most of the political power but was prudent enough to bide his time until the ceremonial head of state, Von Hindenburg, passed away from natural causes. Hitler knew that the public would not abide him disrespecting the beloved Von Hindenburg, who was regarded as a national war hero.As it had so many times in these early days of Hitler's rise, fate cooperated with his interests. Von Hindenburg passed away and Hitler went full throttle to establish himself as a virtual dictator. His first order of business was to eradicate Germany's fragile hold on democracy, first attacking the free press and then nationalizing it as a propaganda arm. The nation had come out on the losing side in WWI and was suffering terribly from onerous war reparations that had to be paid to the Allies, who were basically using Germany as a cash cow. Hitler quickly put to rest the last remnants of the loathed Weimar Republic and combined the offices of chancellor and president, thus giving himself unchallenged power over the country. He then persuaded the Reichstag to voluntarily cede most of their powers to him, thus making the series of checks and balances in the government a rubber stamp for Hitler's policies. Hitler still had important goals to fulfill. It was important to mobilize the nation as a fighting force in the expectation of war. However, he was bound by the Treaty of Versailles which mandated that Germany's armed forces number no more than 100,000 men. Hitler got around this by organizing numerous civic and political groups and turning them into paramilitary organizations. In this way he was able to train millions of Germans as soldiers even if they carried picks and shovels instead of rifles. Hitler also did some controversial "house cleaning" within his party by personally ordering the murders of SA head Ernst Rohm and his top lieutenants. The SA was Hitler's personal bodyguard but had grown to the size of an army. He worried that Rohm had political aspirations of his own and that he might orchestrate a coup. On the so-called Night of the Long Knives, the top echelon of the SA was systematically executed. Hitler appointed a more benign stooge, Viktor Lutze, as the new head of the SA. Hitler's biggest challenge was to ensure that he and Lutze could convince the rank and file SA men to stay loyal to the party and Hitler himself. This he intended to do at the Nuremberg rally, where he would give speech extolling his appreciation of the SA. The ploy worked and any dissension never spilled over into a threat to Hitler.
"Triumph of the Will" presents a sanitized picture of all these dastardly goings-on. What emerges is a nation that is completely behind Hitler and the Nazi cause. This was nonsense, of course. There were countless people who opposed the regime and over the course of the next few years they would pay dearly for their protests against the demise of German democracy. Nevertheless, as a propaganda piece the film is probably unrivaled in its impact. Although the movie was shown internationally, it didn't quite have the alarming impact one might have assumed. The Western democracies still thought of Hitler as primarily a quirky crank whose influence would be confined within Germany's borders. Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was a master of using cinema as a tool of manipulation. Not wanting to alarm the Allies before Germany had been rebuilt militarily, the film was given rather non-threatening sub-titles to accommodate its international showings. Meanwhile, within Germany, the messages were more ominous. When viewing the film even today one gets the feeling that Germany was an invincible power. One can only imagine the trepidation Allied troops must have felt when they finally had to go up against what had become a seemingly unstoppable war machine. The clues were in the film. The legions of robot-like paramilitary adherents are presented as fanatical loyalists to the new dictator. In fact the "real" armed forces were featured so slightly in the film that they raised protests. To appease them, Hitler commissioned a second film by Riefehstahl titled "Day of Freedom" (also included in this set). The movie has her trademark use of imaginary camera angles but it amounts to basically a sop to the armed forces by showcasing their prowess through military training exercises. More powerful are the scenes in "Triumph of the Will" that carefully showcase Hitler as a demi-god. He is seen traveling to Nuremberg by the small plane he favored for use in his political campaign stops. (Hitler was the first politician to eschew the traditional whistle stop train tours in favor of using a plane in order to cover more territory.) The images of his plane flying through the spectacular cloud formations are truly stunning. We also watch him as he stares down at the massive rally forming in expectation of his arrival. When Hitler does arrive at the rally he is preceded by a small army of his top officials who were being formally introduced to the German people through this film. In retrospect, they formed the perfect "Rogue's Gallery" and would go on to perpetrate some of the most heinous crimes of the 20th century. Most paid for their sins with their lives though others were sentenced to jail terms in the aftermath of the war. When Hitler takes to the podium he uses his trademark practice of starting his speech in a low voice but gradually rising in tone and emotion into a virtual scream. The most disturbing part of the film occurs when all of the countless thousands of participants march past the podium and pledge their loyalty, not to Germany, but to Hitler personally. The film then concentrates on the ancillary fanfare that took place during this seminal week in the nation's history as we watch torchlight parades march past Hitler's hotel balcony where he looks on approvingly. At all times Riefenstahl diminishes the notion of individualism in order to present Hitler in an almost superhuman manner. He is photographed from angles that make him seem literally larger than life.
The Synapse Blu-ray, which features a restoration by Robert A. Harris, contains some valuable extras, the most informative being a feature-length commentary track by Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, an expert on German history. Santoro's calm, laid-back manner is somewhat jolting at times, given the gravity of what we are viewing, but he provides excellent information regarding the nuances of these scenes and the fate of the individual Nazi top brass.Where the track falls a bit short is in Santoro's discussions of Riefenstahl and her legacy. He acknowledges her talents as a director but doesn't put much meat on the bone in regard to her personal life and legacy. (She lived until the age of 101 and never fully repented for her association with Hitler, nor was she ever prosecuted. She would defensively point out that she never actually joined the Nazi party, which is indeed surprising.) She would go on to make another important propaganda film for Hitler in 1938, "Olympiad", an equally whitewashed account of the 1936 Olympics that were held in Berlin and which also managed to elevate Hitler as a star attraction even though he was largely a bystander. Arguably, "Olympiad" was the more important and effective film as it was meant to appease foreign concerns about the atrocities that were just being implemented in Germany. Some of the slack from the commentary is addressed in excellent liner notes written by director and film historian Roy Frumkes, who delves deeper into Riefenstahl's fascinating life. Frumkes points out that the film should not really be considered a documentary because many of the "spontaneous" scenes were staged by Riefenstahl and some were shot repeatedly in order to get the desired footage. The new 2K restoration is impressive on all counts and does justice to Riefenstahl's astonishing camera angles. This presentation also boasts newly interpreted English sub-titles that accommodate the film's original German language version. It's beneficial to watch the film first then view it again with Dr. Santoro's commentary to provide context.
Compromised genius: Riefenstahl directing Triumph of the Will.
"Triumph of the Will" is indeed a major cinematic achievement- but tragically it promoted the greatest evil of the 20th century. The mind reels at what Leni Riefenstahl could have achieved had she not been compromised by her political beliefs. More importantly, the movie clearly illustrates that democracies are fragile states that can deconstruct under the influence and spell of one man.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
MURDOCH MYSTERIES: Home for the
DVD/Blu-ray Debut from Acorn TV on
September 18, 2018
Special feature-length episode of the
hit Canadian and Acorn TV period mystery series
Praise for Murdoch
haven’t seen it, you must.” —Globe & Mail
procedural police drama” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
Bisson is perfect as Murdoch.” —Deseret News
fast-paced fun” —The Globe and Mail
more than two dozen Gemini® nominations and the sole 2016 ‘Fan’s Choice Award’
at the Canadian Screen Awards for Yannick Bisson, MURDOCH MYSTERIES: Home for
the Holidays makes its DVD/Blu-ray debut on September 18, 2018 from Acorn TV. Set
in Toronto in the late 1890s and early 1900s during the age of invention, Murdoch
Mysteries (aka The Artful Detective) centers on Detective William Murdoch
(Bisson), a methodical and dashing detective, who enlists radical new forensic
techniques to solve some of the city’s most gruesome murders. This DVD/Blu-ray
1-Disc features a feature-length Christmas special from Season 11 and bonus
behind-the-scenes featurettes ($24.99, Amazon.com). Murdoch Mysteries: Home for
the Holidays made its U.S. debut in December 2017 on Acorn
TV. The series is currently in production on Season 12. Called a “glorious
streaming service… an essential must-have” (The Hollywood Reporter), Acorn TV
is North America’s most popular and largest streaming service focused on
British and international television.
detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson, Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye) must solve a
holiday whodunit in this feature-length special of the award-winning mystery
series set in Edwardian Toronto. Days before Christmas, Murdoch and his wife,
Dr. Julia Ogden (Gemini® winner Hélène Joy, Durham County), travel to Victoria,
British Columbia, to spend time with Murdoch’s eccentric brother. But instead of
a relaxing holiday with Jasper (Dylan Neal, Dawson’s Creek) and his family,
they end up investigating a murder at an archaeological site.
Toronto, Constables Crabtree (Jonny Harris, Still Standing) and Higgins (Lachlan
Murdoch, Copper) try to impress their sweethearts before a skiing outing, and
Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig, Where the Heart Is) and his wife invest in
a money-making scheme run by a man named Ponzi. Guest stars include Kate
Hewlett (The Girlfriend Experience), Jake Epstein (Degrassi: The Next
Generation), and Megan Follows (Reign, Anne of Green Gables).
September 18, 2018
Feature length episode – Approx. 89 min., plus bonus – SDH Subtitles – UPC
1-Disc: Feature-length episode – Approx. 89 min., plus bonus – SDH Subtitles –
If you trust the biographical sketch included on his 1963
LP As Long as the Grass Shall Grow (Folkways
FN 2532, 1963), the folksinger Peter LaFarge hailed from Fountain, Colorado, a
farming and ranching town settled ten miles south of Colorado Springs.If you trust the memory of his own mother,
Peter LaFarge was actually born Oliver Albee LaFarge on April 30th,
1931, in New York City.The
singer-songwriter was the son of the notable anthropologist, author and
historian, Oliver LaFarge.The senior
LaFarge’s 1929 novel documenting life on a Navajo reservation, Laughing Boy, would earn him a Pulitzer
Prize in fiction in 1930.
Though separated early on from his biological father due
to his parent’s divorce in 1935, Peter remained his father’s son in his
studious devotion of America’s indigenous people.His mother, with whom Peter remained, remarried
in 1940 to Alexander Kane, a rancher in aforementioned Fountain, CO.Through his stepfather’s business, LaFarge fell
in love with horses and roping and rodeo life, eventually dropping out of high
school to try his hand at saddle bronc riding.Though he had become a cowboy in vocation - suffering numerous injuries
during his brief association with rodeo life - he remained more absorbed by his
birth father’s scholarship into the folklore, art, history, and customs of the
LaFarge was a restless spirit, tending to drift in and
out of things.He served on the U.S.S.
Boxer during the Korean War, sparred as an amateur pugilist, studied acting at
the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago, and wrote several (as of yet) un-produced
plays.Befriending the folksinger Cisco
Houston, an occasional singing partner of and best friend to Woody Guthrie,
LaFarge’s existing interest in folklore ignited his enthusiasm for the folksong
revival of the late 1950s.Upon his
arrival in Greenwich Village with an intention of inaugurating a career in folk
singing, the young LaFarge seemingly burnished his credentials by telling
everyone he was the descendant of the Narragansett Tribe of the Rhode Island-
based Algonquians.One of his stories
was that once the Narragansett’s had been “wiped out,” he found himself adopted
by “the Tewa Tribe of the Hopi Nation, whose reservation is near Santa
Fe.”This appears to have been the tale
he chose to settle on.He would write in
a 1963 issue of the seminal folk music magazine Sing Out!, “The Pima Indians, whose reservation is just outside of
Phoenix, Arizona, are cousins of my people, the Hopi Indians of the New Mexico
If LaFarge’s assertions of a direct ancestral lineage to
indigenous Americans are suspect - as most music historians now believe - the songwriter
was certainly not alone in such self-mythologizing.Another recent Village transplant from the
Midwest, Bob Dylan, was also telling friends and colleagues a similar fiction.Dylan, ten years LaFarge’s junior, famously suggested
to a doubtful Izzy Young of Greenwich Village’s venerable Folklore Center that
he was of Sioux Indian descent.To be
fair, even Johnny Cash – who is, of course, more or less the central figure in
Antonio D’Ambrosio’s moving 2015 documentary We’re
Still Here: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited, now available on DVD
courtesy of Kino-Lorber, was not above such mythologizing.In an infamous letter to Billboard (published August 22, 1964), Cash would describe himself
as “almost a half-breed Cherokee-Mohawk,” whatever that means.It’s therefore somewhat perplexing that,
regardless of the best intent and justice-seeking goodwill of all involved, D’Ambrosio’sfilm makes not even a passing mention
to all of these innocent subterfuges.
Does any of this really matter?I suppose not.What does matter is that LaFarge, whether a
full, half or non-fledged ancestor of indigenous Americans, wrote some of the
most poignant, bitter and insightful songs somberly documenting the Indians’
experience in the United States.LaFarge’s
intimate knowledge of Indian customs and folklore were, ultimately, far more schooled
and convincing than either Cash’s or Dylan’s more clumsy appropriations which
were easier to dismiss.While Cash and
Dylan would, of course, both go on to be deserved long-standing totems of the
music industry, LaFarge remained a mostly obscure figure, one very much on the
fringe of the popular music scene.LaFarge
would productively wax new no fewer than six albums between 1962 and 1965, but only
“Ira Hayes” and Other Ballads
(Columbia CL 17995/CS 8595) had been recorded for a major label with pop-music
market distribution.It sold
poorly.His following five albums were
waxed for Moses Asch’s more austere and cerebral Folkways Records, whose eclectic
catalog included everything from educational LPs, to anthropological studies, to
early jazz and blues recordings.LaFarge’s addition to the Folkway’s roster was something of a more
comfortable – if less royalty generating – fit for the artist.Asch, a supportive “fellow traveler” of
left-wing causes, judiciously used his record label to provide an open
microphone to such genuine folk music artists as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly,
Cisco Houston and Pete Seeger.It was a
defiant gesture as well as a pragmatic one.The political climate made most labels in the late 1940s and early 1950s
wary of recording rabble-rousers armed with guitars and 5-string banjos.
One of the best WWII productions made while the conflict was on-going, "Destination Tokyo" is available on DVD through Warner Home Entertainment. The film was released in December, 1943 when the war was in full throttle. Cary Grant is well-cast and in top form as Capt. Cassidy of the U.S.S. Copperfin, a submarine that is being deployed on a top secret and highly dangerous mission to infiltrate Tokyo Bay in order to scope out key logistical data for the first planned bombing raid of the city by U.S. forces, historically known as the Doolittle Raid. The film's ample running time of 135 minutes allows the story to unfold in a leisurely manner and for supporting characters to be fully developed as distinct personalities. John Garfield is the co-star but he spends most of the time regaling his shipmates with tales (or perhaps tall tales) about his sexual conquests. Alan Hale provides additional comic relief as the vessel's cook and there are any number of other character actors who would go on to be mainstays in the film industry: John Forsythe, Tom Tully, Whit Bissell, Dane Clark and William Prince among them. The film marked an impressive directorial debut for Delmar Daves, who also co-wrote the script with Albert Maltz. Grant's Captain Cassidy is very much a populist officer, concerned about his men and well-acquainted with each one individually. Consequently, they'll do anything for him. That includes Garfield's character, who volunteers along with two other sailors to undertake a dangerous mission to leave the sub and use a rubber raft to land on Japanese soil where they can record vital statistics for the pending raid on Tokyo. In order to enter the bay, the Copperfin must deftly avoid mines and a submarine net, then escape detection while the volunteers spend the night on land recording their findings. Director Daves milks a good deal of suspense from this scenario, which of course delivers the pay-off war time audiences expected: a depiction of the actual Doolittle Raid, which is shown here as doing devastating damage to Tokyo. In reality, the raid only did minor damage to the city but the psychological effect on the Japanese population of having their seemingly invincible homeland penetrated scored a major coup for the U.S.
Some of the best scenes in "Destination Tokyo" don't involve violence. They explore the relationship between Capt. Cassidy and his men. In the most dramatic scene, a sailor suffers appendicitis. While fathoms below in the submarine, without an on-board surgeon, Cassidy must assist a pharmacist's mate in performing the life-saving operation with crude instruments. It's a tense and moving scene that was apparently based on a real-life incident. Although there are plenty of references to killing "Japs" as one might expect in a WWII era film, the screenplay also presents a more nuanced point-of-view with a discussion about how the Japanese people were hoodwinked by their militaristic leaders. It's an unusual instance of humanizing the enemy in a film that was made for propaganda purposes.
The DVD has a good transfer and contains the trailer and a 1934 musical comedy short "Gem of the Ocean" with French starlet Jeanne Aubert. There is also a Cary Grant trailer gallery beginning with "Bringing Up Baby" and culminating with "North by Northwest". Recommended.
Kino Lorber has released the 1992 British farce "Blame It on the Bellboy" on Blu-ray. The film is a fast-paced homage to old Hollywood screwball comedies that makes fine use of a very talented cast. Like all good farces, the script involves mistaken identities, extraordinary coincidences and an eclectic (and eccentric) collection of characters. The action takes place entirely in Venice where a nervous milquetoast, Melvyn Orton (Dudley Moore) is sent by a tyrannical boss to buy a villa. Simultaneously, a hit man with a similar name, Mike Lorton (Bryan Brown) arrives in the city to assassinate a local crime boss, Mr. Scarpa (Andreas Katsulas), who knows he has been marked for death but doesn't know the identity of his would-be killer. Scarpa and his men are determined to assassinate the assassin. Both Orton and Lorton are staying at the same hotel, so you can pretty much guess where this is going. Among the other guests is yet another man with a similar name, Maurice Horton (Richard Griffiths), the lord mayor of a small British city, who has told his wife Rosemary (Alison Steadman) that he is on a business trip to Boston. In fact, he has signed up with a tacky "dating service" that promises to arrange a meet-up with a woman who is also on holiday through the agency.She is Patricia Fulford (Penelope Wilton), a middle-aged lonely hearts who wants to find passion and love when she meets up with her mystery date. Meanwhile, local real estate agent Caroline Wright (Patsy Kensit) is awaiting a meeting with a prospective client to buy a white elephant of a villa on the Grand Canal so that she can collect an extravagant fee.
Through a mishap involving the hotel's inept bellboy (Bronson Pinchot), who delivers messages to the wrong rooms, there ensues a massive case of mistaken identities. Maurice thinks the sexy Caroline is his date, and a prostitute as well, whose "services" are part of his holiday package. Caroline thinks he is her client to buy the villa. Melvyn is mistaken by Scarpa as his assassin and is kidnapped and tortured. Meanwhile, the real assassin, Mike Lorton, is mistaken by Patricia as her mystery date. Adding to the zaniness is the unexpected arrival of Maurice's wife, who hopes to catch him in the act of cheating. What ensures is a wild, mind-spinning series of comedic events, all very deftly carried out at lightning speed by director Mark Herman, who makes the most of shooting on location amidst the eye-popping Venetian backgrounds. Herman, who also wrote the screenplay, ensures that this extraordinary mix of actors and characters never becomes too confusing for the viewer to follow, despite elaborate plot twists. There are chases on foot and by boat, people darting in and out of each other's bedrooms and it's all set to a jaunty score by Trevor Jones. "Blame It on the Bellboy" isn't a comedy classic but it's consistently funny with the impressive cast all in top form. Recommended, especially if you like a modern take on a Marx Brothers comedy. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray has a very good transfer and includes a vintage video promotional trailer for the film as well as an assortment of other trailers for K/L releases.
MVD has released director Albert Pyun's 1997 thriller "Blast" as a Blu-ray edition. If you've never heard of the film, most of its cast members or director Pyun, you're not alone. But Pyun has a long-standing and enthusiastic fan base that credits him for being a pioneer in launching the cyborg sci-fi genre in the 1980s. His fans admire him for churning out independent films often under trying circumstances and very limited budgets. Despite having a few surprise hits at the boxoffice, Pyun has often been associated with films that were terminated or unreleased due to financing problems. Still, like the ultimate trooper, he continued to persevere and even today, while battling some significant health problems, Pyun remains determined to be a player in the indie film market. "Blast" enjoyed its "premiere" on home video, something that has apparently enhanced its reputation among enthusiasts for "direct to video" fare ("DTV" for those in the know...). While most movie lovers used to avoid DTV product on the assumption that it was deemed to be too bad to merit a theatrical marketing campaign, these fans enjoy making silk purses from sow's ears and claim that many underrated films have suffered the DTV syndrome. They are probably right, but "Blast" isn't one of them. The film was made when audiences were still obsessed with the blue collar working man hero generally played by the likes of Stallone, Willis, Van Damme and occasionally Schwarzenegger. The "grunt and punch" aspect of these heroes relegated them to limited dialogue, save for the precious "tag line" they will inevitably mutter in the course of the film in the hope that it will become the next "Make my day"-like catchphrase with the public.
"Blast" is set at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics games. The American women's swim team enters the pool area to practice even as the President of the United States and other world leaders arrive in the city for the opening of the games. Just as the women's swim team arrives, the complex is taken over by terrorists led by Omodo (Andrew Divoff) and his band of fanatical followers who have posed as workers for the Olympic organization. The terrified female swimmers under the guidance of their coach Diane Colton (Kimberly Warren) are verbally abused and one of the women is shot to death as a sign to the authorities that the terrorists mean business. Omodo is well-known to international authorities and is wanted by police throughout the world. Seems that Omodo's ego is bruised because his last two terrorist actions have fizzled even though they left behind a string of dead bodies. He is determined to regain his reputation by ensuring the Olympics operation is a success. (Apparently, when terrorists get together at their annual picnic, no one wants to be the butt of colleagues' jokes.) The terrorists quickly kill off any guards and begin operating the complex's security system, thus giving them views of any police attempts to enter the building, which they have made into a fortress by mining the entrances with bombs. Omodo's demands from the authorities must have been fairly mundane because minutes after he issued them, I forgot what they were. In any event, the only person in the complex left to combat the terrorists is Jack Bryant (Linden Ashby), a one-time Olympic star who has seen his life fall apart due to his own demons. He's now working in the building as a janitor. Omodo and his men can occasionally see him on the vast networks of security cameras but Bryant is a savvy guy and learns how to keep on the move and pick off the terrorists one-by-one. (Like most janitors, Bryant is also a world-class martial arts expert). For some melodramatic elements, we learn that Bryant and Diane had once been married but he lost her when his life went into a downward spiral. With the authorities virtually helpless, it's up to Bryant to thwart the terrorists...although he has a an ally in the Atlanta Police Department: Leo ((Rutger Hauer), a wheelchair-bound, eccentric detective who is an old nemesis of Omodo and who manages to provide Bryant with some helpful tips.
"Blast" is a storehouse of every action movie cliche from films of this era but it's not as bad as you might think. Director Pyun does the best he can to disguise the movie's limited budget (virtually all of it is shot in one location with a few exterior shots tossed in to break the monotony). Pyun keeps the action moving at a brisk clip and avoids at least a couple of anticipated cliches from coming to pass. However, the sheer monotony of seeing Bryant and the bad guys chase each other up and down very similar-looking hallways and staircases quickly grows wearying. The cast performs gamely, with Linden Ashby suitably hunky and capable of delivering the film's obligatory "tag line": "I'm coming to get you!!!!" Andrew Divoff brings some Bond villain-like qualities to his role but he's undermined by Pyun insisting that he imitate every vocal mannerism of Arnold Schwarzenegger imaginable. The gimmick proves to be distracting, though Divoff has a few standout moments. The musical score by Anthony Riparetti starts out well but becomes grating because it seems to consist of a constant repetition of the same few notes. The film is occasionally suspenseful and exciting but Pyun goes off the rails during the climax which sees a knock-down fight to the death between Bryant and Omodo that incorporates some ridiculous elements including a bomb explosion that is so poorly rendered that it looks like a frame from a Road Runner cartoon was utilized. Also puzzling are the brief appearances of Rutger Hauer as a potentially intriguing character but the role is drastically under-written.
MVD has released "Blast" as a nice-looking Blu-ray edition as part of their "Marquee Collection". The box art features a cringe-inducing rip-off of the main poster art for "Die Hard" including an exploding skyscraper, even though there are no skyscrapers in "Blast", exploding or otherwise. There is a bonus trailer gallery of other similarly-themed titles from MVD, although the trailer for Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Lionheart" looks like a poor VHS transfer.
Glenn is a down on his luck American boxer who gets caught in the middle of a
blood feud between Japanese brothers in “The Challenge” available on Blu-ray
and DVD. Glenn’s character Rick accepts a job smuggling a valuable sword into Japan
and is quickly swept up in intrigue as rival brothers seek ownership of the
sword which was taken from Japan at the end of WWII. Hideo (Atsuo Nakamura) is
a powerful businessman and convinces Rick to train under his brother, Yoshida
(Toshiro Mifune). This close proximity should enable him to steal the sword in
Yoshida’s possession and deliver it to Hideo. This is not a civil family feud,
as a half dozen people are murdered within an hour of Rick’s arrival in Japan.
honors the traditional samurai traditions and runs a school for practitioners
of these teachings. Rick is a reluctant participant in the deadly feud and his
loyalties are challenged as he is attracted to Yoshida’s daughter, Akiko (Donna
Kei Ben), as well as to the traditional samurai philosophy and her father’s
cause. Rick is skeptical of the training, but goes through the standard ordeals
we’ve come to expect from this genre such as eating exotic foods including live
lobsters and octopi with tentacles slithering on plates. He’s also reduced to performing
seemingly mundane tasks like sweeping floors and cleaning up only to discover it
was a test of his commitment and resolve.
one point, Rick spends days buried up to his neck in a pit as ants and bugs
crawl on his face while being denied food and water. He complains throughout
the training, backing out and returning several times, and even steals the
sword at one point, only to return it and learning this too was a test. He
finally pledges his obedience to the samurai order under Yoshida and completes
his training. Sound familiar? Yes, but it’s all part of the central trope of
this genre and it works very well to further the story.
by John Frankenheimer, the film is exciting with plenty of action and the
climactic sword fight in the office complex is very well staged. While not
quite a martial arts movie, the film offers a veritable buffet of combat techniques
with fists, samurai swords, bow & arrows and knives. The location shooting
in Japan and the action scenes kept my interest and the film culminates in a
battle at Hideo’s office headquarters as Rick, Yoshida and Akiko sneak in and fight
their way to Hideo and the inevitable confrontation between him and Yoshida.
movie features familiar American television character actors Calvin Jung, Clyde
Kusatsu and Sab Shimono in supporting roles and was the first starring vehicle
for Glenn with a script by John Sayles and Richard Maxwell. Sayles was brought
to Japan to make changes to the story which was radically altered after Glenn
accepted the role. Disappointed, Glenn was persuaded by Mifune to take it in
stride and enjoy the experience. This was the final of three collaborations
between Frankenheimer and Jerry Goldsmith who provides a terrific score. Steven
Segal also worked as a technical advisor and stunt coordinator for the movie. I
enjoyed the movie a great deal and so should fans of action and martial arts
in July 1982 by CBS Theatrical Films, the movie was a modest success for
Frankenheimer and it has grown in status over the years with a solid fan base
due to broadcast television and home video release. The movie clocks in at 110
minutes with a great looking transfer and sound quality. Bonus features on the German
Blu-ray/DVD two disc set release by Explosive Media include the theatrical
trailer, TV trailers, a poster gallery and the cropped TV version on the DVD.
The set also includes a photo-filled 24-page booklet featuring poster art,
lobby cards and an essay by Andreas Volkert of All About Movies Bayreuth.
(Note: this region-free title is available through Amazon Germany. However, Explosive Media titles often surface through third party dealers on other Amazon and eBay sites.)
Twilight Time has released the 1965 action adventure film "Genghis Khan" as a limited edition (3,000) Blu-ray. The film was released almost ten years after Howard Hughes produced the notorious clinker "The Conqueror" starring John Wayne as the legendary Mongol leader. A decade later, producer Irving Allen ensured he did not make the mistake of laughably miscasting the leading man. Omar Sharif, then a red-hot up-and-coming star, was cast in the title role, and while an Egyptian actor might not seem to be an obvious choice, Sharif possessed an exotic international appeal that saw him convincingly play characters of many different ethnic backgrounds. Ironically, while Allen had successfully hired a leading man, his judgment did not extend to the key supporting roles. If you want to enjoy "Genghis Khan", there are many positive aspects to the film- but you will have to overlook some jaw-dropping casting errors. That feat is a bit like trying to calmly peruse a newspaper in your living room while ignoring the 800-pound gorilla who is sitting across from you, but more about that later.
The film opens with a brutal raid on the tribal home of the young Mongol Temujin and his family. The raid is led by a rival Mongol tribe headed by the merciless Jamuga (Stephen Boyd), who murders Temujin's father and enslaves the women of the tribe. The story then jumps ahead a number of years and we find Temujin (Omar Sharif) has now grown to manhood and is still a captive of Jamuga. He's forced to wear a giant wooden yoke around his neck as a reminder of his humiliation. Ultimately, Temujin escapes captivity with the help of holy man Geen (Michael Hordern) and a mute Mongol warrior named Sengal (Woody Strode.), much to the chagrin of the infuriated Jamuga. Temujin vows to bring the warring Mongol tribes together so that they can form an unstoppable army capable of conquering the known world. How he achieves this is never shown but before long we see he has indeed amassed a devoted army intent on uniting the remaining Mongol tribes, one of which is headed by Jamuga.One of Temujin's obsessions is to humiliate Jamuga, which he does by kidnapping his woman, Bortei (Francoise Dorleac), who he then makes his own wife. As played by the gorgeous but ill-fated Dorleac (she died in a car crash in 1967), Bortei sports a modern hair style and the latest trends in makeup. She's a Mongol by way of the emerging mod scene on Carnaby Street. Dorleac is miscast but at least her performance isn't embarrassing. The same cannot be said of some of her otherwise revered cast members.
Since the film is designed to entertain, not enlighten, we are presented with a truncated historical record of Temujin's conquests. In short order, he and his army become feared as they relentlessly conquer seemingly any land they want to occupy, either by having the inhabitants willingly accede to their demands or face defeat in battle. The script boils down these tumultuous events into a Cliff Notes adaptation of a Classics Illustrated comic book. Temujin next sets his sights on the legendary land of China, and are admitted entrance through the Great Wall. Here they are guided by Kam Ling, a wise man who serves as chief adviser to the Emperor. The role is played by James Mason and if you thought, as I did, that this great talent was incapable of presenting a bad performance, be prepared to be enlightened. Mason sports a sem- Fu Manchu mustache and seems to be foreshadowing those now cringe-inducing Chinese detectives that would be played by Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov. But wait! Mason's performance seems positively inspired compared to that of Robert Morley as the Emperor. Yes, that Robert Morley, the rotund and usually delightful British character actor who played every role in precisely the same manner. Thus, we have the Emperor of China depicted as a prissy, comical figure. (Presumably, Paul Lynde was not available for the role.) The miscasting of these two pivotal roles makes it difficult to concentrate on the otherwise compelling script by Clarke Reynolds and Beverly Cross. Fortunately, events move quickly. The Emperor treats Temujin and his army with great reverence and respect- and Temujin is even giving the honorary title of Genghis Khan ("Great Conqueror"). But Temujin correctly suspects that they are being held as captives in a gilded cage. Seems the Emperor realizes that Temujin suspects that the Chinese military is a paper tiger and that he would be tempted to gather an even bigger army and take the nation by force. In a creatively-staged scene, the Mongols use the Chinese fascination with fireworks as an elaborate method to affect a daring escape. Armed with the advanced military technology they have secured from China, the Mongols' ever-growing armies continue to sweep through kingdoms far and wide. Jamuga, who had been held captive by Temujin but managed to escape, refuses an offer to join Temujin's forces- and even insults him by implying that Temujin's young son had been fathered by him. This results in a "Mongol Duel" in which both men go mano-a-mano, with the surviving winner taking control of the armies. The sight of two sweaty, hunky shirtless men grappling with each does have an unintended and amusing homo-erotic aspect but the scene is quite suspenseful.
Watch the original U.S. TV spot for Milos Forman's superb (but underrated) 1981 drama "Ragtime", the adaptation of E.L. Doctprow's bestselling novel. The film brilliantly interweaves the sagas of disparate characters in a grand, lushly produced production that marked the final feature film appearance of James Cagney, who was lured out of retirement after twenty years. If you've never seen "Ragtime", make sure you do. (By the way, the DVD is out of print in America and has never been issued on Blu-ray. Are you listening, Paramount?)
name Sergio Martino will strike a chord with anyone who has even a passing
interest in Italian exploitation pictures of the 70s and 80s. Once seen, who
can forget The Great Alligator or The Island of Fishmen – both of which are
favourites of this writer in their showcasing of Barbara Bach at her most
radiant – or premium Suzy Kendall giallo Torso, or for that matter once ‘video
nasty’ and Ursula Andress headliner The Mountain of the Cannibal God? Marking Martino’s
second giallo, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (o.t. La coda della scorpione),
was released in 1971, sandwiched between a couple of his most highly regarded
titles, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and All the Colours of the Dark. Scorpion’s
Tail isn’t quite on a par with either of those, but it’s still a respectable
entry in the sub-genre.
her husband is killed in a plane accident on a business trip to Greece, his
unfaithful wife (Evelyn Stewart) is informed she’s beneficiary to a $1 million
inheritance, with the one caveat that she has to travel to Athens to finalise
her claim. However, there are a number of people intent on getting their hands
on the not insubstantial sum, and at least one of them will remorselessly
resort to murder to do so. A turn of events results in the arrival of an
insurance investigator (George Hilton), who hooks up with a reporter (Anita
Strindberg) to check out some irregularities, and they inadvertently set
themselves up as targets for the killer.
enjoyable enough, if not particularly remarkable giallo then, touting a
convoluted plot loaded with sufficient a measure of misdirection to keep things
unpredictable. Opening in a very clean looking London and moving on to various
Greek locales, the travelogue location work certainly functions in the film’s
favour, lending it production value that eclipses the slightly ponderous
narrative of the screenplay (a collaborative affair from Eduardo Manzanos,
Ernesto Gastaldi and Sauro Scavolini). Most of – if not quite all – the
standard giallo trappings come into play, primarily there are a number of
graphic murders perpetrated by a fedora-wearing, razor-wielding maniac attired
in black (who’s not averse to donning a scuba wetsuit when the moment is
propitious). Some of them are pretty nasty too, including a startling– if not
particularly realistic – moment of eye-violence (squeamish viewers be warned!).
However, there’s a conspicuous dearth of nudity, in fact it’s about as coy as
they come that department; of course, nudity is seldom (if ever) pertinent, but
it’s standard enough a constituent within this sub-genre as to be noticeable
when it’s missing. The showdown on a forebodingly rocky stretch of desolate
Grecian coastline is fantastic, combining vertiginous camera angles and
suspenseful POV to maximum dramatic effect.
up a strong cast – which includes Alberto De Mendoza, Ida Galli (aka Evelyn
Stewart), Janine Reynaud and Luigi Pistilli – are George Hilton and Anita
Strindberg. Hilton also starred for Martino in the aforementioned pair, The
Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and All the Colours of the Dark. His rugged good
looks found him top billing in a slew of spaghetti westerns – he was a one-spin
Sartana – as well as a run of crime and gialli pictures such as The Case of the
Bloody Iris, My Dear Killer and The Two Faces of Fear... though 1965’s spoof
Bond caper Due mafiosi contro Goldginger (in which he played Agente 007) can
probably be safely disregarded! He’s on top form here and rubs along well with
the very lovely Anita Strindberg. This writer first became aware of her in Who
Saw Her Die?, in which she appeared alongside George Lazenby and Adolfo Celi.
She didn’t enjoy as prodigious a career as Hilton, but she did score a lead
role in Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key for Martino, as well
as featuring in such renowned fare as Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and Women in
Cell Block 7. Her performance in Scorpion’s Tail is among her finest and there’s
no denying that the scene she spends clad in a sheer, clingy wet shirt affords the
audience a prurient bonus treat.
The James Bond films may represent the longest-running movie series produced by the same company, but ol' 007 doesn't hold a candle to the longevity of Sherlock Holmes as a big screen hero. Holmes has been a cinematic staple since the silent era and though his popularity has soared and waned over the decades, he has remained a presence in popular culture throughout the world. In recent years, younger people have embraced Holmes as a hero thanks to hip, updated interpretations of the character on television and the big screen. However, there were long periods in which Holmes had disappeared from motion pictures. The films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were enormously popular from their first appearance in 1939 through their final cinematic adventure in 1946. Holmes and Watson would not re-emerge on the big screen again until Hammer Films produced the first color Holmes movie, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in 1959. The plan was to launch a Holmes series for the studio starring Peter Cushing and Andre Morrell. Although the film is very well regarded today, it was not a financial success and the series never materialized. The next major studio release of a Holmes adventure was "A Study in Terror", which has been released on Blu-ray by Mill Creek. The movie starred John Neville as Holmes and Donald Houston as Watson- and both of them performed admirably in the handsomely-mounted 1965 production. The concept of Holmes facing off against Jack the Ripper has been done numerous times to date both in literature and on the screen, but "A Study in Terror" was the first Holmes property to exploit the duel-of-wits between the fictional detective and the real-life serial killer.
"A Study in Terror" has the look and feel of a Hammer Studios film of the period and one expects Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee to pop up somewhere along the line, but we must console ourselves with a very fine cast of character actors, each of whom is used well thanks to the intelligently-written screenplay by Donald and Derek Ford and the assured direction of James Hill, who would go on to direct "Born Free". Among the standout appearances: John Fraser, Barbara Windsor, Adrienne Corri, Anthony Quayle as a seemingly devoted surgeon who might just be the killer, Georgia Brown as a beer hall singer, Peter Carsten as a shady pub owner, Robert Morley as Mycroft Holmes- and keep an eye out for young Judi Dench. Frank Finlay appears as Inspector Lestrade, but his role is frustratingly underwritten. The film has a lush production design that masks the fact that virtually all of it is shot in the studio, with the exception of some exteriors of stately mansions, and the score by John Scott is appropriately atmospheric. The story opens with the horrendous murders of prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London, a seedy place in the Victorian era where pollution was often so bad that one could barely see across the street, a factor that aided Jack the Ripper in escaping justice for his crimes. When police can't solve the string of murders, Holmes and Watson take up the cause and, as one might expect, the list of suspects includes a number of red herrings. This was the first Holmes movie to benefit from the new-found screen liberties. Thus, there is a blatant sexual element that would have been unthinkable a decade before. In addition to plenty of heaving bosoms and boisterous bar girls, there is also more violence and gruesome elements than had ever been seen previously in a Holmes feature film. It also features Holmes and Watson demonstrating their prowess with fisticuffs. As with most Holmes mysteries, the fewer details divulged, the better the element of surprise for viewers. Suffice it to say that the story moves at a brisk pace and that Neville and Watson both give spirited performances that should have led to sequels. Alas, "A Study in Terror" was not a boxoffice hit. The lack of marquee names along with a preposterous marketing campaign that emulated the "Batman" TV series (referring to Holmes as "The Original Caped Crusader!") seemed to ensure that the film would not be a popular success. However, that doesn't dilute its many qualities. The Mill Creek Blu-ray has an excellent transfer that does justice to the rich color schemes and fine set designs. Unfortunately, there are no bonus extras. Do we recommend it? The answer should be elementary: of course.
The early-to-mid 1970s was the heyday of grungy cop thrillers. Films exploring the seamier side of police work arguably got its biggest boost from the 1968 release of "Bullitt", which dared to show cops intertwined with ethically-challenged politicians in their common quest for career advancement. With the release of "The French Connection" and "Dirty Harry" in 1971, the genre kicked into high gear. In these films, the anti-hero disregards constitutional protections to take the law into his own hands. With America reeling from soaring crime rates, audiences cheered on these dubious symbols of our justice system. It's safe to say that watching these films from today's standpoint, one might have a different reaction to the tactics used by Popeye Doyle and Harry Callahan. However, there were more nuanced looks at modern urban police departments in films that explored corruption without the benefit of an superhuman anti-hero. Sidney Lumet's "Serpico" certainly exemplifies this type of film, with the protagonist being an every day cop who suffers terribly for calling out the blatantly criminal acts being committed by his peers. Similarly, a lesser-known film dealing the same subject matter- "Report to the Commissioner"- took a cynical look at the NYPD and found a nest of bribery, payoffs and other illegal methods used by many cops. This was not just some left-wing fantasy. The experience of Frank Serpico and fellow whistle-blower cop David Durk had blown the lid off massive corruption in the NYPD. The result was the formation of the Knapp Commission which uncovered widespread graft in the department and instituted radical changes to clean up the NYPD. A number of criminal indictments were handed down. "Report to the Commissioner" was released in 1975, well after the Knapp Commission had released its findings but during a period when faith in the NYPD remained weak among the citizens, who were shocked at the level of corruption unveiled in the Knapp probe. Adding to the public paranoia was the recent Watergate scandal. The film went into production shortly after President Nixon resigned in disgrace just two years after being re-elected in the biggest landslide in American history.
The story centers on the experiences of rookie undercover cop Bo Lockley (Michael Moriarty), who from the get-go seems too naive and sensitive to fit in with the hard-boiled detectives he's been assigned to work with. They cruelly subject him to hazing and never stop mocking him for looking like a hippie, even though he's not supposed to look like a cop since he works undercover. Lockley is shown the ropes around the Times Square district by fellow officer "Crunch" Blackstone (Yaphet Kotto), a hard-bitten veteran who strolls through the grimy neighborhood like a king, routinely abusing its denizens by words and physical actions. Lockley is appalled but Crunch warns him that survival in this part of the city depends on being feared, not being admired. The script introduces a parallel story line in which a young female undercover cop, Patty Butler (Susan Blakely) comes up with a dangerous plan to bring down local crime kingpin "Stick" Henderson (Tony King), who has evaded being arrested despite being the area's most feared pimp and drug dealer. Patty requests permission to pose a teenage runaway, seduce Stick and ultimately become his "old lady" with the intent of being able to witness his day-to-day operations and gather enough evidence to arrest him. The plan obviously violates departmental regulations but both Patty and her two superiors are eager for the promotions that would result from bringing Stick to justice so they approve her plan. Patty makes good on reeling in Stick and before long she's shacking up with him. Lockley, doggedly trying to find and rescue her on the assumption she is a runaway in distress, manages to trace her to Stick's apartment where the two men engage in a gun battle. Patty is tragically killed in the incident, and Lockley pursues Stick in a wild foot chase that includes Times Square before culminating in the men encountering each other inside an elevator in Saks Fifth Avenue. This is the most suspenseful sequence in the film. The police shut the power off, stranding Lockley and his prey in a sweltering, confined space with both men pointing guns at each other. Over time, they engage in a conversation in which Stick tries to persuade Lockley that they are both doomed because if they are allowed to live, their stories will bring disgrace to higher-ups in the NYPD. The conspiracy aspects of the script reflect the mood of the era. Nobody in the film is a traditional good guy except Lockley and he's treated like a fish-out-of-water.
"Report to the Commissioner" succeeds in presenting a gritty, realistic view of New York City during its decline in an era when crime was soaring, the streets were dirty and the future looked grim. Anyone visiting Gotham today would surely pronounce the city's turn-around as a miracle but there is no doubt that New York went through some difficult years and these were reflected in the movies of the era. However, the film is flawed in some key areas. Director Milton Katselas, who was revered as a playwright and academic more than a filmmaker (he directed only a handful of movies), is saddled with an erratic script by old pros Ernest Tidyman and Abby Mann, based on a novel by James Mills. The story isn't told in a linear fashion and instead jumps back and forth from present to past and vice-versa, making for an occasionally confusing experience for the viewer. Consequently, while some scenes are highly engaging, the film never gels satisfactorily as a whole. Not helping matters is the performance of Michael Moriarty as Lockley. We know he is supposed to be a naive rookie but at times Moriarty plays the part like he just stepped off a turnip truck and is seeing New York for the first time. His wide-eyed innocence often strains credibility. More convincing is Yaphet Kotto, who commands the screen in every scene in which he appears. Sadly, he vanishes from the middle section of the film, much to its detriment. Tony King is excellent as "Stick" and young Bob Balaban excels as a double-amputee who acts as a police informant. The scene in which he uses his crude, wooden wheeled "dolly" to hitch a ride on a speeding car makes for a thrilling experience. However, certain other cast members over-act and dilute the impact of their scenes. Even the great Elmer Bernstein's score seems unusually mediocre.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a very fine transfer that captures the glitter and the gutters of New York during this period. The Blu-ray includes the original theatrical trailer.
Like Marlon Brando, director John Huston was often considered to be a has-been during much of the 1960s into the early 1970s. He worked steadily, but- like Brando- it was assumed his glory days were behind him simply because most of his films during this period didn't generate sparks at the boxoffice. (The success of his 1975 film The Man Who Would Be King would temporarily restore his luster.) His acting career got a boost from his great performance in Chinatown, but even some of his directorial flops look far better today than they did at the time of their theatrical release. One major disappointment, artistically as well as financially, was the seemingly sure-fire hit The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, made in 1972 and starring Paul Newman fairly fresh from his triumph in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The movie is a whimsical tale that is nevertheless loaded with violence and gallows humor (literally). The story is (very) loosely based on the real Roy Bean, an outlaw who became a self-appointed judge who called himself the "only law West of the Pecos" at a time when parts of Texas were a no-man's land of thieves, murderers and swindlers. Bean became known as a hard-ass judge who dispensed lethal justice. In reality, he only sentenced two men to be hanged and one managed to escape. Nevertheless, his colorful background provides screenwriter John Milius with plenty of imaginative fodder for fictitious encounters and incidents. We first meet Bean when he ambles into a remote outpost where he is robbed and beaten mercilessly by the denizens. He returns shortly thereafter and single-handed kills them all, thus instantly making him a local legend among the peasants who live in the area. Bean becomes obsessed with studying the law and showing mercy on the poorest elements of society. He even takes a lover, a young Hispanic woman (Victoria Principal, in her screen debut). Bean appoints himself as a "judge" despite not having any legal authority to do so. He enlists a group of slovenly "deputies" to dispense justice in his courtroom, which is the bar in which he was robbed. Before long, Bean is holding kangaroo trials and routinely lynching anyone who incurs his wrath. Despite this, he gains a reputation for being fair and defending the defenseless. He adopts a bear and the movie presents some amusing sequences of Bean and his friends interacting with this over-sized "pet". The film traces his experiences over a period of years as the remote outpost becomes a bustling town. Bean is gradually sidelined as a force of influence. The death of his young wife during the birth of their daughter depresses him further and he rides off into oblivion. Twenty years later he returns to find that oil has been discovered on his property and that the corrupt mayor (Roddy McDowall) is using legally questionable methods to displace Bean's 20 year old daughter (Jacqueline Bisset) so he can control the oil on her land. Bean's reappearance causes a sensation as he rounds up his motley, aging group of former deputies to help his daughter fight for her rights. A fairly spectacular battle climaxes the film.
Bean offers many pleasures, not the least of which is a terrific supporting cast that includes cameos by Anthony Perkins, Tab Hunter (surprisingly good in an off-beat role), Anthony Zerbe, Stacy Keach (wonderful as a crazed, albino gunslinger), Ava Gardner as the legendary Lily Langtree, the object of Bean's romantic obsession even though he never meets her, and John Huston himself in an amusing appearance as Grizzly Adams. There are also plenty of familiar faces in the supporting cast including Ned Beatty, Bill McKinney (reunited from Deliverance with happier results) Richard Farnsworth and stuntmen Dean Smith and Neil Summers. The attempt to capitalize on the success of Butch Cassidy is fairly apparent, as evidenced by a fairly sappy love song and romantic montage that is obviously meant to emulate the famed Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head sequence from the former film. Nevertheless, Bean is a consistently enjoyable, rousing Western that probably plays much better today, when we can realize just how special acting ensembles like this truly are. Maurice Jarre's fine score adds immeasurably to the the enjoyment of the experience.
The Warner Archive has released the film as fine-looking Blu-ray. The only bonus extra is the amusing original trailer.
Paramount has issued a 10-DVD collection of Jerry Lewis films, all but one of which pertain to his solo career. ("The Stooge" co-stars Dean Martin). The set is packed with 90 minutes of bonus materials including trailers, commentaries by Lewis and rare archival films and materials. Here is the official press release:
Paramount Home Entertainment has issued a repackaged DVD set containing ten Jerry Lewis feature films. Here is the official press release:
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Relive some of the greatest
film moments from comedy legend and Hollywood icon Jerry Lewis with the
new JERRY LEWIS 10 FILM COLLECTION, arriving on DVD June 12, 2018 from
Paramount Home Media Distribution. Celebrated for his remarkable range of
characters, outlandish antics, and uninhibited physicality, Jerry Lewis’ work
continues to delight audiences around the world and inspire new generations of
Featuring 10 of Lewis’ most beloved comedies, the JERRY
LEWIS 10 FILM COLLECTION is headlined by 1963’s enduring classic The
Nutty Professor, which celebrates its 55th anniversary this year.
Considered by many to be Lewis’ finest and most memorable film, The Nutty
Professor was included on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100
funniest American films of all time and was selected for preservation in the
U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2004.
The 10-DVD set includes the following:
Stooge (1951)—Features one of Lewis’ earliest pairings
with Dean Martin as a musical-comedy duo
Delicate Delinquent (1956)—A “teenage terror” is recruited
for the Police Academy
Bellboy (1960)—Lewis plays a friendly but clumsy bellboy in
this slapstick classic
take on the classic Cinderella story
Errand Boy (1961)—Paramount enlists a bumbling Lewis to spy on
their productions in this hilarious film studio comedy
Ladies Man (1961)—A girl-shy man finds work in a women-only
hotel with uproarious results
Nutty Professor (1963)—A socially awkward professor
invents a serum that turns him into the handsome but obnoxious Buddy Love
Disorderly Orderly (1964)—Lewis wreaks havoc in a private
Patsy (1964)—Lewis directs and stars as a novice
recruited to replace a big-time comedian
Family Jewels (1965)—Lewis directs and plays seven
distinct roles in this family inheritance farce
was arguably the success of A Fistful of Dollars that really set the ball
rolling on the slew of shameless spaghetti western rip-offs and cash-ins that
proliferated throughout the 1960s, as film-makers jostled to get a taste of the
sauce and chow down on a cut of the rewards from what quickly became a very
profitable arena in which to be operating.
rode into town a little later than popular gunslingers such as Sabata, Django
and Ringo, but he made enough of an impression to warrant a number of official
sequels – and several unofficial ones too. Just five legitimate Sartana films
were lensed, with Gianni Garko (billed as John Garko) headlining in four of
them and George Hilton just one. Cucumber cool antihero Sartana was notably
more dapper than most of his mud-spattered box office rivals, a real snappy
dresser in fact; with his black cape lined in red silk, sharp matching cravat
and crisp white shirt, he cut a fine figure riding through desolate wasteland,
deck of cards in one hand, natty miniature four-shooter in the other, always
ready to spit out a death sentence when the moment was called for. In the first
film he even retrieved a musical pocket watch from a corpse and proceeded to
use its tinkly chime to taunt his nemesis.
fabulously contrived titles of the five films belied a series of enjoyable
enough but not exactly top-tier western actioners. Dripping with all the
requisite tropes of the genre, and occasionally sprinkling a few unexpected
condiments into the pot, they’re perfectly watchable fare, but it’s unlikely many
would favour any of them over a Sabata instalment or, indeed, an Eastwood
classic. If, for this writer, there’s any problem at all with the Sartana
series – and it’s one that prevents them from residing up there among the
genre’s finest – it’s that in every instance a plot suited at best to the
50-minute TV episode format was, out of necessity, stretched to feature length,
the resultant slightness of narrative rendering them all far too leisurely
five official Sartana films have now been issued on Blu-ray by Arrow Video in
an impressive collectors’ box set. Accompanied by an illustrated book, each
film is individually packaged and boasts reversible sleeve art, and the entire collection
is housed in an attractive slipcase.
series kickstarter was 1968’s If you meet Sartana pray for your eath (O.T.
Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte), directed by Frank Kramer, a.k.a.
Gianfranco Parolini. (Note: in Italian film titles, only the first word is
capitalised.) Among the most enjoyable of the quintet, the plot concerns a pair
of dodgy bankers who hire a group of Mexicans to steal a strongbox filled with
gold, subsequently allowing them to claim on the insurance. In fact, the
precious cargo has been substituted with rocks, the valuable contents having
already been squirrelled away in a coffin. Following the heist, the Mexicans
are quickly eliminated to wipe out any evidence of the scam. It’s up to Sartana
to uncover the truth and retrieve the gold. Any anticipation engendered by the
opening credit “with the special participation of Klaus Kinsky” (sic) is
swiftly quelled; it’s anything but special, for the A-class actor – who
possessed one of cinema’s most expressive faces (and intimidating grimaces!) –
is relegated to sideline status for much of the action. At least any
disappointment on that score is appeased by the presence of a satisfyingly
formidable bad guy in the shape of wild-eyed, buttercup-chewing William Berger
as Lasky, who, when he’s not gleefully massacring bandits with his hand-cranked
Gatling gun, proves to be a single-shot marksman, planting bullets
centre-forehead in more unfortunates than it’s possible to keep tally of. An
ace cardsharp, Sartana makes a fast enemy of Lasky when he cleans him out at the
poker table. Despite the paucity of plot, director Kramer manages to sustain
interest, layering in double and triple crosses as Sartana gently manipulates
the wrong-doers into turning on each other. There’s a stab at comic relief too
in the form of Franco Pesce as the town’s undertaker, but for this writer his
theatrical gurning and cartoonish mannerisms eclipse the intended amiable
quirkiness to become distractingly irksome.
2K restoration from the original film materials displays a fair amount of
grain, but aside from one brief moment of picture damage at the outset and a
slightly protracted patch of vertical scratching further along, the print is in
very respectable shape. The film can be viewed in either an English dub or its
original Italian with newly translated English subtitles. Supplements comprise
a commentary from film historian (and Cinema Retro contributor) Mike Siegel, an
interview with director Kramer, a helpful guide to the characters in the
Sartana universe, and a gallery of artwork and stills.
year later, in 1969, I am Sartana, your angel of death (O.T. Sono Sartana, il
vostro becchino) was unleashed. In this one our man (Garko again) appears to
have been involved in a bank robbery and finds himself at the top of the most
wanted list, with a $10,000 dead or alive price on his head. He didn’t do it,
of course, so has to hunt down the real perpetrator to clear his name, whilst
evading bounty hunters hot on his trail and intent on bagging the reward. It’s
a decent enough follow-up from director Giuliano Carnimeo (credited as Anthony
Ascott), which showcases another fine Garko performance (with Sartana now
displaying a knack for sleight of hand card tricks) and the return of Klaus
Kinski (spelt with the “I” this time) in a meatier, albeit less threatening
role, that of a gambler-cum-bounty hunter with the best character name of
anyone in the entire run of Sartana pictures: Hot Dead. Unfortunately, Franco
Pesce (uncredited this time) is also back, now promoted to town mayor,
fortuitously only briefly on screen but every bit as annoying. The story
unfolds at a sedate price, but Ascott and cinematographer Giovanni Bergamini
keep things percolating with some stylish set-ups, the camera lurching sideways
whenever bodies spin and hit the dust. One brief scene stands out for this
writer, if not for the right reason; when Sartana dodges a spray of bullets
from a trio of pursuing gunmen by zigzagging left and right, any sense of
suspense is undermined by spurred memories of the amusing Peter Falk/Alan Arkin
‘serpentine’ sequence in 1979’s The In-Laws!
had access to the original camera negative for this one and the 2K restoration
is very nice indeed. Again sound options are English and Italian. Extras
comprise a commentary from historian and filmmakers C Courtney Joyner and Henry
Peake, interviews with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi and stuntman Sal Borgese,
plus a gallery of European poster art and German lobby cards.
My only memory of "Swashbuckler" was seeing it for the first time when it was already in release for a year. The occasion was that this was an in-flight movie on my first trip to Europe in the summer of 1977. In those ancient times, films were still shown on 16mm projectors on pull-down screens in the main cabin. I remember being unimpressed with the film but the distraction of the (then) free liquor service might have affected my opinion. As Cinema Retro's latest issue features coverage of the 1977 film "The Deep" starring Robert Shaw, I decided to revisit "Swashbuckler" largely because it also stars the estimable Shaw, who never gave a bad performance. I found my opinion of the pirate tale had improved considerably since the first viewing. It's a raucous, old-fashioned yarn that perhaps too earnestly tries to recapture the vim and vigor of those old screen adventures that would star Errol Flynn or young Burt Lancaster. Ably directed by James Goldstone, who takes full advantage of the lush Mexican locations (representing old Jamaica), the film opens in the court of Lord Durant (Peter Boyle), the corrupt British governor of Jamaica who rules the island like a tyrant. When honest nobleman Sir James Durant (Bernard Behrens) runs afoul of him, Durant has him arrested and imprisoned to await execution of a death sentence. He also commands that Durant's wife (Louisa Horton) and daughter Jane (Genevieve Bujold) be evicted from the family estate and forced to live in a tenement. Durant's main nemesis is the pirate Ned Lynch (Robert Shaw), who- along with his merry men- acts as a sort of Robin Hood, stealing from the corrupt rich and dispensing much of their fortunes to the poor. Predictably, Jane has an encounter with Ned and professes to loathe him, but as these things inevitably play out, we know the two are attracted to each other. After much griping and fighting that literally includes a duel between Jane and Ned, she implores him to come to the aid of her father, who is facing imminent execution. Ned and his men launch a full-throttle attack on Durant and- if you haven't guessed it- save the day.
"Swashbuckler" is undistinguished on most levels except for the fact that it is exciting and lives up to its title by including an abundance of terrific sword fights. Kudos to all the actors, who performed these extended and exhausting duels with great professionalism, including Bujold, whose slight build must have certainly posed an obstacle in filming these scenes. The supporting cast includes some esteemed names including Geoffrey Holder (in full "Live and Let Die" Baron Samedi mode) and Beau Bridges as a bumbling British army officer appropriately named Major Folly. The action is impressively filmed by cinematographer Philip H. Lathrop and it's all set to a lively score by John Addison. Shaw seems to be having the time of his life in what must have been a physically taxing role for him. Although the stuntmen are in abundance, it's quite clear he did many of his own action scenes. (Shaw says in the production featurette on the DVD that the film was more physically challenging than "Jaws"). Bujold does well as the gutsy young woman who defies sexual stereotypes and Peter Boyle is a great deal of fun as the evil Durant, even if he is miscast as a British nobleman. James Earl Jones has a prominent role as Ned Lynch's right-hand pirate. "Swashbuckler" wasn't designed to win awards or become a boxoffice blockbuster. It represents the kind of modest production that was designed to entertain and make a quick profit in an era before every release represented a major financial risk for the studio.
The Universal DVD features a very nice transfer and some welcome extras including an interesting original production featurette about the making of the film, cast and crew biographies and production notes and the original trailer. Recommended.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
for the Very First Time at Retail, the 6-Disc Set Features 24 Complete,
Remastered Episodes Loaded with Classic Sketches and Incredible Guest Stars Including Raquel Welch, Steve Allen, Johnny Cash,
Bing Crosby, Gene Hackman, Rita Hayworth, Hugh Hefner, Bob Hope, Liza Minnelli,
Carroll O’Connor, Carl Reiner, John Wayne, Henny Youngman and Many More!
correctness met its match with Rowan
& Martin’s Laugh-In, NBC-TV’s groundbreaking variety series that became
a cultural touchstone and part of the fabric of ‘60s-‘70s era America.Every Monday night at 8pm from 1968-1973, straight
man Dan Rowan and wisecracking co-host Dick Martin led a supremely talented
comic ensemble through a gut-busting assault of one-liners, skits, bits and non
sequiturs that left viewers in hysterics and disbelief.ROWAN
& MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, from the award-winning TV
DVD archivists at Time Life, makes its retail debut on July 10 in an uproarious
set featuring all 24 re-mastered episodes from the fifth season (September
13,1971-March 20, 1972).
COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, after years of shameless name dropping, Dick finally
gets his wish when bombshell Raquel Welch kicks off the new season with her
first and only appearance on the show.Former
Hogan’s Heroes POWs Richard Dawson
and Larry Hovis escaped CBS to join the cast. And, along with alumni Judy
Carne, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Jo Anne Worley and Teresa Graves, they help to
celebrate Laugh-In’s landmark 100th
episode (September 1, 1971).THE
COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON also trots out many of the 20th century’s greatest
talents, including Steve Allen, Johnny
Carson, Johnny Cash, Carol Channing, Charo, Petula Clark, Bing Crosby, Tony
Curtis, Henry Gibson, Gene Hackman, Rita Hayworth, Hugh Hefner, Bob Hope, Arte
Johnson, Paul Lynde, Liza Minnelli, Agnes Moorehead, Joe Namath, Carroll O’Connor,
Vincent Price, Carl Reiner, Debbie Reynolds, Sugar Ray Robinson, Bill Russell,
Vin Scully, Doc Severinsen, Jacqueline Susann, Tiny Tim, John Wayne, Raquel
Welch, Henny Youngman, and more!
COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON also includes such classic features as “Cocktail Party,”
“Fickle Finger of Fate,” “Joke Wall,” “Gladys and Tyrone,” “General Bull
Right,” “Big Al,” Lily Tomlin’s legendary “Ernestine” and “Edith Ann,”
“Tasteful Lady,” and “Ruth Buzzi’s Hollywood Report”.Additionally, Mod, Mod World takes on sports,
toys and games, families, politics, nutrition, leisure, year’s end, Manhattan,
television, small towns, crazy people, and the theater, Robert Goulet, Charo,
and Three Dog Night perform the Laugh-In
news song and there’s a hilarious “Salute to Santa” and a very modern Christmas
Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Lily Tomlin, Ruth Buzzi, Arte
Johnson, Gary Owens, Alan Sues, Ann Elder, Dennis Allen, Barbara Sharma, Johnny Brown, Larry
Hovis, Richard Dawson
Format: DVD/6 Discs
Running Time: 1239 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
About Time Life
Time Life is one of
the world's pre-eminent creators and direct marketers of unique music and
video/DVD products, specializing in distinctive multi-media collections that
evoke memories of yesterday, capture the spirit of today, and can be enjoyed
for a lifetime. TIME LIFE and the TIME LIFE logo are registered trademarks of
Time Warner Inc. and affiliated companies used under license by Direct Holdings
Americas Inc., which is not affiliated with Time Warner Inc. or Time Inc.
Sam Spiegel was one of the most revered and accomplished producers in Hollywood history. His achievements included such classics as "On the Waterfront", "The African Queen", "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia". His body of work, though not nearly as extensive as that of some other producers, was notable in the sense that Spiegel thought big and shot for the moon when it came to bringing to the screen stories that spoke to the human condition. Following the triumphant release of "Lawrence" in 1962, Spiegel did not make another film for four years. When he did, the movie - "The Chase"- turned out to be a star-packed drama that won over neither critics or audiences. Spiegel had a more ambitious idea for his next production, a screen adaptation of the best-selling WWII thriller "The Night of the Generals" by Hans Helmut Kirst. Spiegel had the inspired idea of reuniting his "Lawrence of Arabia" co-stars Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif. They were reluctant to take on the project, but they certainly owed him. Both were virtual unknowns until Spiegel gave them the roles that made them international stars. Spiegel also added to the mix an impressive cast of esteemed British actors ranging from veterans such as Donald Pleasence and Charles Gray to up-and-coming young actors Tom Courtenay and Joanna Pettet. He chose Anatole Litvak to direct. Litvak had been making films for decades and had a few notable hits such as "Sorry, Wrong Number", "Anastasia" and "The Snake Pit". Spiegel being Spiegel ensured that the production benefited from a large budget and an appropriate running time (148 minutes) that would allow the story to unfold in a measured process.
"The Night of the Generals" is certainly a unique spin on WWII films. There are no battles or major action sequences, save for a harrowing sequence in which the German army systematically destroys part of the Warsaw Ghetto. Instead, it's very much a character study populated by characters who are, indeed, very interesting. The film opens with a tense sequence set in occupied Warsaw. The superintendent of an over-crowded apartment building accidentally overhears the brutal murder of a local prostitute in a room upstairs. From a hiding place he witnesses the killer walk past him. He does not see the man's face but recognizes his uniform: he is a general in the German army. The man keeps this information to himself on the logical assumption that divulging it might mean his death sentence. However, under questioning from the army investigator, Major Grau (Omar Sharif), he tells the shocking details of what he witnessed. From this moment, Grau becomes obsessed with finding the killer. Grau may be a German officer, but he is a pure cynic when it comes to the Nazi cause and the brutal methods being employed to win the war. He can't control the larger picture of how the war is being waged but he can control what is in his jurisdiction: bringing to justice the man who committed this one especially savage murder. Grau soon centers on three suspects. The first is General von Seiditz-Gabler (Charles Gray, channeling his future Blofeld), an effete, well-connected opportunist who is in a loveless marriage to his dominating wife Eleanore (Coral Browne). Then there is General Kahlenberg (Donald Pleasence), a man of slight build and low-key personality who has some eccentric personal habits that may include murder. Last, and most intriguing, is General Tanz (Peter O'Toole), a much-loathed and much-feared darling of Hitler's inner circle whose ruthless methods with dealing with civilian populations disgust his colleagues. Tanz has been sent to control or obliterate the Warsaw Ghetto.
The screenplay (which includes contributions by an uncredited Gore Vidal) is a bit disjointed and cuts back and forth to the present day in which we see a French police inspector, Morand (Phillippe Noiret), investigating the case twenty years later as he tries to tie together Grau's findings with dramatic developments that occurred during his handling of the case. Morand also appears in the war era sequences, having befriended Grau, who does not seem at all disturbed when he learns that Morand is actually a key figure in the French Resistance. Grau becomes particularly intrigued by General Ganz. He is an elitist snob who is devoid of any humor or compassion. A workaholic with seemingly no human weaknesses, Tanz is ostensibly under the command of his superior officer, Gabler, but it becomes clear that his political connections make him the top general in Warsaw. Major Grau interviews all three suspects and finds that any of them could be the murderer. When he becomes too intrusive, he is conveniently promoted and transferred to Paris, presumably to shut down his investigation. However, as the fortunes of war decline for the Third Reich, the top brass is eventually moved to Paris and Grau resumes his investigation when he discovers that prostitutes are being brutally murdered there as well. There is a parallel story that accompanies that of the murder investigation. It centers on Corporal Hartmann (Tom Courtenay), a young soldier who has been reluctantly acclaimed to be a national hero. It seems he was the last surviving member of his unit after a bloody battle. The brass used him as a propaganda tool, bestowing medals on him for heroic actions. In fact, he is a self-proclaimed coward whose only goal is to stay alive through the war. Hartmann confesses this to his superior, General Kahlenberg, who is amused by his honesty. He assigns him to be General Tanz's personal valet and orders him to show Tanz the history and sights of Paris. Neither he nor Tanz wants to partake in the venture, but Gabler orders Tanz to take a few days vacation, largely because he despises the man's presence. The scenes in which Hartmann tries to appease the mercurial Tanz without making any missteps are fraught with tension and suspense. Tanz is a fascinating character, presumably devoid of the vices most men have. However, in the course of their time together, Hartmann realizes that Tanz is somewhat of a fraud. He surreptitiously drinks to excess and changes into civilian clothes in order to meet with prostitutes in seedy bars. Although Tanz chews out Hartmann for every minor infraction, he seems to come to respect the younger man's professionalism. This sets in motion another complex plot development that also involves Hartmann's secret romance with General Gabler's free-spirited daughter Ulrike (Joanna Pettet).
Just trying to summarize the various plot strands of "The Night of the Generals" in this space is fairly exhausting. Oh, did I mention that another subplot involves Field Marshal Rommel (a cameo by Christopher Plummer) and the July, 1944 plot on the part of rebellious German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler? Nevertheless, although the various story lines become quite complex, they are all tied together eventually in clever and compelling ways. The film is part "Whodunnit", part political statement and part war movie. The movie moves back to the present for its intense conclusion as Inspector Morand is finally able to solve the crime and attempt to bring the culprit to justice. When the killer is revealed it's about as shocking of a development as the revelation that the butler did it in one of those old British film noir mysteries. Still, director Litvak (who shares the producer credit with Sam Spiegel because he owned the screen rights to the novel) keeps the action flowing briskly running time and elicits outstanding performances from his cast. O'Toole, who would later capitalize on playing larger-than-life characters, was at this point in his career still very immersed in portraying introspective, quiet men. He is quite mesmerizing as General Tanz and quite terrifying as well. Sharif is, at least on the surface, badly cast. I'm not aware of any Egyptians who became prominent German officers. Sharif has the map of the Middle East on his face and lingering remnants of his native accent. It's to his credit that he overcomes these obstacles and gives a very fine performance as the charismatic investigator who doggedly pursues his suspects with Javert-like conviction. All of the other performances are equally outstanding, with Courtenay especially impressive- and one has to wonder why the very talented Joanna Pettet never became a bigger star. The international flavor of the cast gives the film a Tower of Babel-like effect. Some of the actors attempt to affect a quasi-German accent while others speak with British accents, and then we have the French and Poland-based sequences with even more diversity of languages. Still, if you could accept Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood speaking "German" in their native tongues in "Where Eagles Dare", you won't find this aspect of "The Night of the Generals" to be particularly distracting. I should also mention the impressive contributions of composer Maurice Jarre, cinematographer Henri Decae and main titles designer Robert Brownjohn (remember when films even had opening titles?) In summary, the film-which not successful with critics or the public- is a thoroughly intriguing experience and affords us the joy of watching some of the best actors of the period sharing the screen.
"The Night of the Generals" has been released as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The transfer is gorgeous, giving full impact to the impressive cinematography and lush production design. There is also an isolated score track, the original trailer and an informative booklet by film historian Julie Kirgo, who examines Sam Spiegel's attempts to rebuild his career in subsequent years only to find that he was out of place in the new Hollywood.
Lorber has released the obscure 1969 Western “More Dead Than Alive” in a
Blu-ray edition.Discharged from prison
in 1891 after serving an eighteen-year sentence for murder, legendary
gunslinger Cain (Clint Walker) determines to stay away from firearms, find
honest work, and save enough money to buy a ranch.But his reputation as “Killer” Cain precedes
him, and chances for employment are slim until he encounters conniving showman
Dan Ruffalo (Vincent Price).“People
would have something to talk about, if they could see you using this notched
Colt of yours,” Ruffalo chortles.He
encourages Cain to cash in on his notoriety and join Ruffalo’s traveling show
as its star sharpshooting attraction, relegating the show’s current marksman,
Billy (Paul Hampton), to a subsidiary role.Monica, a free-spirited artist (Anne Francis), strikes up a friendship
with Cain and thinks it’s a bad idea for him to pick up a gun again, however
limited his options.Meanwhile, the
reformed pistoleer’s old enemies hope to see him dead, including outlaw Santee
(Mike Henry), who carries a grudge from a botched jailbreak.
the sheer number of Westerns produced in 1969, it’s a sure bet that some
pictures released in the shadow of that year’s Big Four -- “The Wild Bunch,”
“Once Upon the Time in the West,” “True Grit,” and “Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid” -- deserve rediscovery and reappraisal.In the case of “More Dead Than Alive,” fans
will welcome the chance to see Clint Walker, Vincent Price, Anne Francis, and
Mike Henry again in prime form.Script
and direction, not so much.The
action-packed poster, reprinted as the sleeve art for the Kino Lorber Blu-ray,
would lead you to expect a gritty, violent movie along the lines of “A Stranger
in Town,” “God Forgives -- I Dont!,” and other Italian Westerns that were
beginning to play widely that year in the U.S., following the breakout success
of Sergio Leone’s three “Dollars” movies.Instead, the gunplay and blood squibs are confined to the opening scene
and two sequences near the end.Otherwise, it’s a plodding, talky production that ambles from one
situation to the next without building up much momentum, like an episode from
one of the sedate television Westerns of the late ‘60s.The direction by TV veteran Robert Sparr is
dutiful but listless.Characters are
introduced whom we think will have major roles in the story (like a lady saloon
owner played by Beverly Powers), only to have them soon drop out of sight,
never to be seen again.Mike Henry’s
Santee is a terrific bad guy who stacks up believably against big Clint
Walker’s hero in size and macho presence, but he’s missing in action for most
of the picture.Once the script
remembers to bring him back, a well-staged, knock-down fistfight between the
two characters near the end of the movie injects a welcome jolt of energy that the
rest of the film could have used.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray offers “More Dead Than Alive” in an acceptable, 1920x1080p
encoding.As a bonus feature, the disc
includes an interview with the late Clint Walker, recorded in 2014.In discussing the film, his colleagues, and
his career in Hollywood, Walker is modest, dignified, and thoughtful --
qualities sadly lacking in today’s media parade of rancorous politicians,
Reality Show exhibitionists, and Internet provocateurs.
Although I have a weak spot for Italian westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, most can be appropriately evaluated by paraphrasing Longfellow: "When they were good, they were very, very good, and when they were bad, they were horrid." "Blindman" is a curiosity from 1971 that I previously panned after viewing an allegedly "remastered" DVD edition that looked barely better than a VHS transfer. The film fits rather comfortably into the latter part of Longfellow's famous nursery rhyme. Although the movie has a devoted fan base, when I first reviewed it I call it "a pretty horrid experience and inexcusably amateurish in execution, given the well-seasoned people involved". The good news is that Abkco Films has released a truly remastered DVD version that considerably improves one's perception of the film. As the title implies, it's about...well, a blind man. He's played by Tony Anthony, who did rather well for himself as a sort of Clint Eastwood Lite character known as The Stranger in a series of Euro Westerns (Any similarity to Eastwood's Man With No Name must have been purely coincidental). Anthony went on to star in any number of lucrative, low-budget action films, the most notable being "Comin' At Ya!, a 3-D flick that has also built a loyal cult following. His co-star in "Blindman" is Ringo Starr. More about him later. The film was based on a Japanese movie titled "Zatoichi" about a blind samurai hero. As with "The Magnificent Seven", which was based on Kurasawa's "Seven Samurai", the story has been transplanted to the American west. When we first see the Blindman (whose name is never mentioned), he rides into a one-horse town and confronts his former partners. Seems they had a lucrative contract to deliver 50 mail order brides to some horny miners. However, a better offer was made from a Mexican bandito named Domingo (Lloyd Battista), who has exported them South 'O the Border to force them into prostitution. Blindman apparently has a sense of honor in terms of fulfilling the original contract. He manages to kill his former partners and sets off to Mexico to rescue the women, presumably so they can sold into another form of prostitution. At first the premise of this film intrigued me. How, after all, can you logically present a story about a blind gunslinger? The answer is you apparently can't. You could get away with it if the film was a satire, but there is surprisingly little overt humor in "Blindman". Yes, in true Eastwood fashion, the hero sometimes makes some snarky quips before, during and after dispatching his adversaries, but for the most part, the film takes itself far too seriously.
How does the Blindman find his way around? Well, he has his own "wonder horse" who seems more like a companion than a beast of burden. The hoofed hero is always at his disposal and seems to be able to do everything but read a map for him. Speaking of maps, Blindman gets to various destinations by running his finger over maps that engraved in leather...sort of a braille system. Given the fact that he has to navigate the state of Texas, then Mexico, one would think he would require maps the size of rolls of kitchen linoleum, but somehow he gets by with navigational tools that fit neatly into his pocket. When Blindman arrives in Mexico, he has numerous confrontations with the brutal Domingo and his army of thugs. He suffers the ritualistic beatings of any hero in the Italian western genre, but always manages to get the better hand by his deadly use of the rifle that he uses as a walking stick. Somehow the Blindman can use instinct and an uncanny hearing ability to gun down his would-be assassins with uncanny precision, though occasionally he does impose on some allies for advice. He also confronts Candy (Ringo Starr), Domingo's equally sadistic brother, who is keeping a captive woman as his mistress. What follows is a seemingly endless series of chases, confrontations and the obligatory imitation Morricone score, all of it under the pedestrian direction of Ferdinando Baldi, who has a revered reputation with some fans of the genre and does manage to set off some impressive explosions. (Amusingly, the concept of showing the "50" mail order brides must have taxed the limited budget so we only get to see them in small clusters.). There are a couple of sequences that stand out in terms of creativity. One involves the surprise slaughter of a barroom filled with Mexican soldiers. The other has a bit of suspense as the Blindman is served a food bowl that he doesn't realize contains a deadly snake. The finale of the film finds Blindman wrestling with Domingo, who has been blinded by a cigar! (Don't ask...) It's supposed to be a tense confrontation, but the sight of the two blind guys rolling around in the dirt looks like an outtake from a Monty Python sketch. The most intriguing aspect of the film is what led Ringo Starr into appearing in it. He had considerable on-screen charisma that he parlayed into a successful acting career. Here, however, his role is colorless and bland. He doesn't even play the main villain, but rather a supporting character who disappears from the story before the movie even reaches the one-hour mark. Starr supposedly was looking to jump-start his film career and worked with Tony Anthony to develop this production. While he acquits himself credibly, he might have at least given his character some memorable lines or characteristics.
The previously reviewed version of the film pointed out that the packaging had indicated the film had a running time of 105 minutes, which matches with the original timing cited on on the IMDB site. However, the screener we reviewed ran only 83 minutes and it looked like it had been edited with a meat cleaver. The ABCKO version is the actual 105 minute cut and the transfer is excellent, a vast improvement over the muddy mess we had previously reviewed. Seeing "Blindman" again under these conditions has allowed me to reevaluate my opinion of the film. While it certainly never rises to the standards of a Sergio Leone production, the movie's quirky premise and the amusing performance by Tony Anthony made the experience far more enjoyable the second time around.
Earlier this year, Acorn Media Enterprises with Free@Last TV
announced Acorn TV’s first sole commission with the return of Agatha Raisin,
Series 2 starring Ashley Jensen (Love, Lies & Records, Catastrophe), which
begins filming this summer.
“Lonely Boy: The Benny Hill Story” is an original drama that
spans the life and times of Benny Hill from his early days as a part of a
double-act to his heady height of fame as the most-loved British prime-time
comedian lauded on both sides of the Atlantic. The series will chart his tragic
decline and fall in the late 80’s as a new generation of rising stars usurped
Lonely Boy will follow the journey of a cripplingly insecure
young lad with a single-minded desire to make people laugh, through the dying
last days of variety and who is ultimately saved from obscurity by television. The
series will also examine the double-standards of the tabloid press.
Helping him achieve his goal will be a surrogate family; a
‘brother’ in comedy writer and lifelong friend Dave Freeman and a ‘father’ in
producer/director Ken Carter – and later Dennis Kirkland. These men believe in
Benny when no-one else does. They help him, hone him – emotionally and
An uplifting, deeply moving story with a universal truth at
its core; how our parents, for good or bad, shape who we are.
‘Lonely Boy’ takes
its name from one of Benny Hill’s classic 1960’s hits and was developed by
Free@Last TV’s David Walton in partnership with writer Caleb Ranson.
The series consultant is Hilary Bonner who was the co-author
of the Benny Hill biography 'Benny & Me' with Benny's long-term TV
collaborator Dennis Kirkland.
Barry Ryan, Creative Director of Free@Last TV noted, “Benny
Hill is a lost national treasure and a much-misunderstood man. Our drama will
reignite his legacy and address some of the misconceptions about the man and
his material while also chronicling the dying days of variety entertainment and
the birth of television”.
Writer Caleb Ranson said, “When I was a kid growing up in
the 70s and 80s I loved Benny Hill, his skits and wordplay and especially his
songs. Then as I got older, like the rest of the country, I fell out of love
with him. Why was that? What happened? Around the world he’s still revered but
here in the UK, he’s all but forgotten. A punchline to a bad joke. I want to
reclaim him from the comedy dustbin of history, to explore the Benny nobody
knows, the ahead of his time comedy genius of the 50s and 60s and why in his
twilight years he fell so hard and so quickly out of favour”.
Free @ Last TV was founded in 2000 by Barry Ryan and David
Walton. The company has produced over 450 hours of television for a variety of
channels including Gina Yashere: Gina Las Vegas, Martina Cole’s Lady Killers
and the comedy-drama Agatha Raisin. The company has a full development slate
including Reginald Hill’s thriller ‘Death of a Dormouse’, ‘The Charles Paris
Mysteries’ and ‘Spilsbury’ written by award-winning writer and actress Nichola
Acorn Media Enterprises commissions, co-produces and
acquires a diverse slate of international dramas for Acorn TV, North America’s
most popular streaming service for British and international television. This
news follows Acorn Media Enterprises and Acorn TV’s recent commission
announcements for the straight-to-series order of British drama London Kills Series
1 and 2 as well as a co-production announcements for Aussie comedy Sando and Irish
comedy Finding Joy from Amy Huberman, as well as the licensing of hit British
police procedural No Offence, Jack Irish, Season 2 starring Guy Pearce, and
Welsh drama Hidden. Read recent announcements at https://www.rljentertainment.com/press-room/
In 2018, Acorn Media Enterprises has already featured five
North American co-productions and Acorn TV Originals with Series 3 of
universally adored BBC comedy Detectorists starring Mackenzie Crook and Toby
Jones; Kay Mellor’s ITV drama Girlfriends starring Phyllis Logan (Downton
Abbey), Miranda Richardson (Stronger, And Then There Were None), and Zoe
Wanamaker (Agatha Christie’s Poirot); Irish legal drama Striking Out, Series 2
starring Amy Huberman; record-setting Welsh thriller Keeping Faith starring Eve
Myles (Torchwood, Broadchurch); and Aussie family comedy Sando.
Called “Netflix for the Anglophile” by NPR and featuring “the
most robust, reliable selection of European, British, Canadian and Australian
shows” by The New York Times, Acorn TV
exclusively premieres several new international series and/or seasons every
month from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, and other
from a youth spent shooting their own movies on 8mm – the heartfelt intent and
burning enthusiasm for which sometimes (but not always) rendered the
made-for-pennies mini-epics amusingly watchable today – in 1987 the
enterprising Chiodo brothers finally got to stage their first feature film
production, which was released to decent acclaim in 1988. Produced and
co-written by Charles, Edward and Stephen Chiodo, with the latter occupying the
director’s chair, that film is every bit as bizarre as you’d expect of one
bearing the title Killer Klowns from
of Crescent Cove is under assault by alien beings, which appear in the form of
freakish clowns and whose spaceship adopts the facade of a circus tent. These
aliens are abducting the populace and cocooning them in a flesh-eating
substance resembling candyfloss. It’s up to local cop Dave Hansen (John Allen
Nelson), clean-cut lad Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer) and a pair of simpleton ice
cream vendors – the Terenzi brothers (Michael Siegal and Peter Licassi) –
to rescue Mike’s girlfriend Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) from a horrible fate and
save the town.
hyperbolic to say that Killer Klowns from
Outer Space is a comic-horror caper like no other. A kooky, colourful
confection of chuckles and gore, the Chiodos lay on the (pop)corny gags and
cheesy SFX with unrestrained relish. How much fun there is to be found in
balloon animals coming to life, pieces of ‘living’ popcorn mutating into
aggressive clown-headed snake-creatures, human ventriloquist dummies,
acid-laced cream pies, and giant shadow puppets eating spectators is, of course,
entirely subjective. For this viewer it has to be said that by the time the
final reel unspools the silliness overload runs out of fizz, but there’s
certainly no faulting the imagination and passion at play here. And it’s hard
not to enjoy something that gifts John Vernon with a frothy bad guy role; although
for many (myself included) he’ll always be Animal
House’s Dean Vernon Wormer, he’s on good form here as a bully-boy cop who
gets his just desserts. Coulrophobics
should unquestionably avoid this one, for the titular Klowns are the ugliest,
most rotten-toothed bunch you’ll find this side of a Billy Smart’s Circus OAP
reunion. But for everyone else, as daft as the whole shebang may be, this is
post-pub Friday night fodder of the highest order.
Video has issued the film on Blu-ray with a Big Top’s worth of supplemental material,
though it’s as interested in the careers of the Chiodo brothers in general as
it is Klowns-specific. The key lure
is a documentary about the Chiodo’s passion for the home movies mentioned at
the start of this review, and HD transfers of the half a dozen titles shot
between 1968 and 1978 are included, technically proficient and evidencing their
love of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion monster animation. There’s also a tour of
Chiodo Bros Productions in the company of Stephen. Tied to Klowns itself there’s a feature-accompanying Chiodo commentary.
Interviews with actors Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder, along with theme song
performers The Dickies, are appended by archival pieces from Charles Chiodo,
effects supervisor Gene Warren, creature creator Dwight Roberts and composer
John Massari. There are 2 deleted scenes (with optional commentary), bloopers,
Klown auditions footage, a vintage trailer and a gallery of artwork,
storyboards and stills. It’s so par for the course now that it scarcely needs
mentioning, but the usual Arrow sugar-coating of a reversible sleeve is present
Jack London was an American literary phenomenon. He had a
rough and tumble childhood, but was always a voracious reader. Lacking the
money for college, he was basically self-educated. On his own he read Spencer,
Milton, Nietzsche, and Darwin and lived a life you only read about in story
books. He was a sailor, a hobo, a gold prospector in the Yukon, worked in a
Chinese laundry, and before he died at age 40, was the author of 50 books, at
least two of which are considered literary masterpieces: Call of the Wild, and The Sea
It was in The Sea
Wolf that he created one of fiction’s most unforgettable characters—Wolf
Larsen, the larger-than-life captain of a three-masted seal-hunting schooner,
who was London’s idea of the Nietzschean Superman. Many critics thought The Sea Wolf was written in praise of
Nietzsche’s ideas, but London maintained it was actually the opposite, and felt
that the public just didn’t get it. That may be the case, but there is no
ambiguity in Robert Rossen’s screenplay for Michael Curtiz’s 1941 film adaption
of the novel. In this version (one of about a dozen going back to the silent
era), Larsen (Edward G. Robinson) is portrayed as a sadistic monster, admirable
only for his ability to overcome storms at sea and mutiny by the sheer force of
In the novel the story is told through the eyes of Humphrey
Van Weyden (Alexander Knox), an effete intellectual, and an idealistic, or as
they called them in those days an altruist. His viewpoint is thrown into sharp contrast
with Larsen’s “might makes right” philosophy. In the film, George Leach (John
Garfield), a man on the run from the law, becomes the point of view narrator,
giving the story a slightly different angle. Thrown into the mix is Ruth
Brewster (Ida Lupino), a girl from the Barbary Coast who’s got a police record.
The film is set almost entirely on board the schooner, while the novel covers
more territory, including an island where Van Weyden and the girl are washed up
Rossen’s screenplay is a bit more sharply focused than
the novel. In a scene between Larsen and Van Weyden that takes place in the
captain’s cabin, we learn that Larsen is widely read, much like London himself.
He adopts a line from Milton’s Paradise
Lost as his motto, the words of Lucifer: “It is better to reign in hell,
than to serve in heaven.” In both book and movie, Larsen gets his kicks by
setting up his victims with what at first appears to be praise, only to turn it
into brutal humiliation. There is some discussion of morality and man’s place
in the universe, with Larsen maintaining aboard the ship he has the power of a
god over everyone on board and can make them do anything he wants. To which Van
Weyden replies: “But there is a price no one will pay to go on living.”
“The Sea Wolf” was made at a time when fascism was
sweeping over Europe. Nations were learning the price they had to pay in order
to survive in a world threatened by a brutal dictator. That message may be just
as pertinent today with similar political currents “infesting” world politics.
Robinson, Lupino, Garfield and Knox give first rate
performances, with Robinson especially good as the megalomaniac captain. He
manages to conjure up some sympathy for Larsen who suffers from headaches that
eventually make him blind, and as in the novel, you have to admire his ability
to overcome and dominate his environment as few men can.
Even though “The Sea Wolf” was once a staple on TV Late
Shows back in the Sixties, it never really got much attention when it aired.
One reason for its neglect was the fact that after its initial 1941 release the
movie was re-released in 1947 in a shorter version, with 14 minutes edited out
of it. For 70 years that was the only version available. Film archivists
searched for the lost footage for years and only recently discovered a 35 mm
nitrate element in a storage unit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The
Warner Archive disc presents the full length version in 1080p high def. Picture detail is sharp and clean. Sol
Polito’s (“The Sea Hawk”) cinematography hasn’t looked this good since the
film’s original run. The 2.0 DTS mono soundtrack is first rate. Every word of
dialog is clear and every note of Eric Korngold’s dark, brooding score is heard
to full advantage. Extras include a theatrical trailer and the audio of a 1950
radio broadcast of Screen Director’s Playhouse’s truncated version of the film
starring Robinson.Highly recommended.
CLICK HERETO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
A film by
Kevin Brownlow &
Edition release, 23 July 2018
Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo’s immensely
powerful It Happened Here
depicts an alternative history in which England has been invaded and occupied
by Nazi Germany. Coming to Blu-ray for the first time, on 23 July 2018,
the film is presented in a new 2K remaster (from the original camera negative) by
the BFI National Archive, supervised by Kevin Brownlow, to mark his 80th
birthday. A raft of exceptional extras include previously unseen
behind-the-scenes footage, new interviews, news items, trailers and more.
‘The German invasion of England took place in July
1940 after the British retreat from Dunkirk. Strongly resisted at first, the
German army took months to restore order, but the resistance movement, lacking
outside support, was finally crushed. Then, in 1944, it reappeared.’
That is what happened when history was rewritten:
Nazi Germany has won the Second World War and England is under occupation. Kevin
Brownlow was only 18 when he and Andrew Mollo – just 16 – embarked on this
ambitious neorealist-tinged drama, which took eight years to complete, helped
along by financial support from Tony Richardson (Woodfall Films). Shot on both
16mm and 35mm, with a mainly amateur cast and with incredible attention to
detail, the impressively polished result is a chilling and timely reminder of
what might have been had Nazism not been defeated.
The newly remastered film will be premiered
on the big screen at a special Blu-ray/DVD launch event at BFI Southbank on its
release date, Monday 23 Julyat 6.00pm, followed by a discussion with Kevin
Brownlow and Andrew Mollo. More
details and tickets from www.bfi.org.uk/southbank
High Definition and Standard Definition
·Mirror on the World (1962, 10
mins): full version of fake German newsreel
·It Happened Here: Behind the Scenes (1956-66,22 mins):
previously unseen footage with a new commentary by Kevin Brownlow
·Original UK and
US trailers (1966)
·It Happened Here Again (1976, 7 mins): excerpt from a documentary on Winstanley
excerpt with the directors(2009, 2
·The Conquest of London (1964/2005, 4 mins): Italian TV item
·On Set With Brownlow and Mollo (2018, 12 mins):interview
with Production Assistant Johanna Roeber
·Kevin Brownlow Remembers It Happened Here (2018, 65 mins)
·Introduction to How It Happened Here: text of David Robinson’s foreword to the book (Downloadable PDF –
booklet with writing by Kevin Brownlow and new essays by Dr Josephine Botting,
DoP Peter Suschitzky and military historian EWW Fowler
RRP: £19.99/ Cat. no. BFIB1298 / Cert PG
/ 1964 / black and white / 100 mins / English language, with optional
hard-of-hearing subtitles / original aspect ratio 1.33:1 / BD50: 1080p, 24fps,
PCM 1.0 mono audio (48kHz/24-bit) / DVD9: PAL, 25fps, Dolby Digital 1.0 mono
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of the little-remembered 1970 romantic comedy "How Do I Love Thee?" The film's primary distinction is the interesting teaming of Jackie Gleason and Maureen O'Hara. By this point in his career, Gleason was a force of nature in the American entertainment business. When his variety show went off the air, CBS couldn't induce him to do another series so the network actually paid him not to work for any other network. When you get paid a fortune not to work, you know you're doing something right. Gleason had settled in Miami Beach in the early 1960s as one of the demands he made of CBS in return for doing his variety show. The location offered what Gleason liked most: sun, golf, plenty of drinking establishments and no shortage of beautiful young women. Gleason's impact on elevating Miami Beach's popularity was notable. It was widely believed that the city's rebirth as a hip destination as opposed to a retirement destination was due in part to Gleason referring to Miami Beach as "The sun and fun capital of the world!". Gleason, like his contemporary Dean Martin, had long ago tired of working very hard. If you wanted him, the mountain had to come to Mohammed, so to speak. Thus, it's no coincidence that "How Do I Love Thee?" was filmed in Miami Beach, thereby ensuring Gleason prime opportunities for maximizing his play time and minimizing his work before the cameras. (Gleason had a photographic memory and famously refused to rehearse very much, often to the consternation of his co-stars).
The film focuses on the character of Tom Waltz (Rick Lenz), a twenty-something professor who is rising up the ladder at his university. He's a got a nice house and a beautiful wife, Marion (Rosemary Forsyth) but when we first meet him, he's filled with anxiety. Seems that while visiting the "miracle" site of Lourdes in France, his father Walt (Jackie Gleason) has suffered a major health crisis. Tom's mother Elsie (Maureen O'Hara) implores Tom to race over to France and visit his father, who seems to be dying. Tom wants to go but Marion reminds him of the lifetime of contentious situations he has endured with his father and tells him that this is just another method of Walt trying to gain attention. Indeed, as we see through a series of flashbacks, Walt is a real handful. He owns his own moving company but still has to break his back loading and lifting furniture all day long. He has a pretty fractious relationship with Elsie, largely due to her strong religious convictions that conflict with his atheism. As young boy, Tom witnesses a lot of fighting in the household. When he accompanies his dad on jobs, he discovers that his father is not the devoted family man he thought he was- especially when he witnesses Walt trying to seduce a ditzy social activist and amateur photographer (Shelly Winters in typical over-the-top Shelly Winters mode) who is one of his clients. Walt is similar in nature to Willy Lohman of "Death of a Salesman" in that both men are past their prime but working harder than ever to provide for their family. Walt is a good man, but he's subject to self-imposed crises generally related to his short temper, drinking habits and flirtatious nature. Ultimately, Tom opts to take the trip to Lourdes, even though Marion threatening to divorce him over his decision. The majority of the tale is told in flashbacks that present some moderately amusing situations and some poignant dramatic scenes as well. There's also a good dose of sexual humor, typical for comedies of the era that were capitalizing on new-found screen freedoms.The direction by old pro Michael Gordon ("Pillow Talk") is fine but the screenplay, based on a novel by Peter De Vries, punts in the final scenes, tossing in an improbable extended joke about cars going amiss on their way to a funeral and a feel-good ending that wraps everything up quickly in a style more befitting a sitcom episode of the era. Still, the performances are fun with Lenz and Forsyth quite good as the young couple and Gleason and O'Hara registering some genuine chemistry on screen.
The Blu-ray transfer is generally fine but around the 80-minute mark some speckling and artifacts appear during the final reel, although it isn't distracting enough to bother the average viewer. The bonus extras don't include the trailer for the feature film but do present trailers for other KL comedy releases including "Avanti!", "The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!" and " The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother".
In 1973, director William Friedkin adapted William Peter Blatty's bestselling novel "The Exorcist" for the screen. The film shocked the industry by becoming an international phenomenon and the movie's impact continues to resonate with audiences of all ages even today. In 2016 Friedkin decided to return to the subject of demonic possession by personally filming the rite of exorcism performed by a priest, Father Amorth, the Chief Exorcist of the Diocese of Rome. The result is his new documentary "The Devil and Father Amorth", which has enjoyed some limited art house screenings while simultaneously being released on DVD. Before we go any further, it is appropriate when covering a film of this type for the reviewer to state his/her personal beliefs or lack thereof in terms of the subject matter. After all, Friedkin does the same in his film, stating that he is predisposed to believe in the possibility of demonic possession. I'm not. Friedkin is clearly a man of religious faith. I'm not, having happily lived most of my life as an agnostic who keeps an open mind but who has never seen an inkling of evidence that a higher being presides over the universe. So there we are....with one additional caveat. Although I have never met William Friedkin, I have conducted two separate, extensive interviews with him for Cinema Retro regarding his films "Cruising" and "Sorcerer", both of which I believe were very underrated. Based on those interviews, I can say that I like Friedkin and greatly respect him as a filmmaker.
With those explanatory remarks out of the way, let's delve into "The Devil and Father Amorth". Friedkiin acts as an on camera host of the movie, which opens with some brief archival interviews with William Peter Blatty, who relates that he was a student at Georgetown University in 1949 when he read a remarkable account in the Washington Post about a 14 year-old boy who had undergone the rite of exorcism. Other respected news outlets picked up on the story and it became a sensation. Blatty was fascinated by the alleged possession and hoped to write a non-fiction account of the incident. However, the priest who performed the exorcism refused to release the identity of the boy or his family and imposed upon him to respect their privacy. Blatty went the fictional route and turned the victim into a 12 year-old girl. The rest, as they say, is history- except that over the decades, the incident has been studied by skeptics who point out that there is scant evidence that the exorcism involved anything other than a boy who had a vivid imagination and that he may well have simply staged the incidents for those predisposed to believe in possession. (The boy's late aunt was a "spiritualist" who had influenced the boy's interest in the supernatural.) Whatever one thinks of the historical facts and theories, Blatty's book was a chilling page-turner and Friedkin's film version would motivate even the most headstrong skeptic to sleep with a nightlight on. Friedkin's documentary has some early scenes of him returning to actual locations from "The Exorcist". The action then shifts to Rome, where he introduces us to Father Amorth, then 91 years-old and proud of his position as Chief Exorcist, claiming to have performed the ritual thousands of times. Friedkin also interviews a woman who underwent the rite and who claims to have been saved by Father Amorth. Her brother, who went on to become Father Amorth's assistant, relates disturbing and fantastic accounts of his sister's alleged possession. Father Amorth gave Friedkin rare permission to film an actual exorcism on the provision that there would be no artificial lighting employed or any crew members present. Friedkin agreed to shoot the rite himself using just a small, hand-held camera.
The subject of the exorcism is Christina, a 46 year-old architect who has been bedeviled by what she claims are frequent instances in which she becomes possessed by a demon. She claims not to remember the occurrences but those who surround her relate that, when possessed, she speaks in strange languages, exhibits Herculean strength and shouts threats in a voice that is not her own. We learn that the exorcism Father Amorth is to perform will be the ninth time he has conducted the rite in relation to Christina. When we finally do get to observe what Friedkin is filming it certainly is disturbing. Christina is restrained by two men as she wriggles and resists their grip, all the while shouting insults at the priest in an unfamiliar voice. Unlike the famous scenes of the ritual depicted in "The Exorcist", the real-life exorcism is performed in front of a room full of people, presumably friends and relatives of the victim. We watch as Father Amorth doggedly remains fixated on reciting the religious phrases that are supposed to expel the demons. (At one point, the "possessed" Christina identifies herself as Satan.) The Friedkin footage seems relatively brief and he doesn't provide any context as to how much footage may have been edited out of the final cut. While the episode we witness is certainly "harrowing" (as Friedkin describes it) and the affected Christina is clearly suffering from severe disorder, there is nothing in the footage that is likely to convince skeptics that they have just seen proof of a supernatural event. There are no signs of superhuman strength and the admittedly frightening voice Christina speak in could clearly be her own, since every person on earth is able to significantly alter their manner of speaking. Furthermore, there is no context provided regarding whether Christina ever sought professional psychiatric help. Friedkin asks her if she did, but her answer is vague. She simply says that doctors can't cure her, leaving it ambiguous as to whether she ever underwent a psychiatric diagnosis. This is a pivotal point that is not pursued. If she did seek medical help, it would be imperative to interview her doctors. If she did not, then her affliction is one that is self-diagnosed. Friedkin interviews prestigious doctors in America to get their views of the case, having shown them the footage. They all give the answer that people of science would be expected to give: we can't explain it without having examined the patient. They profess to keep an open mind but none will go on record as endorsing the premise that demonic possession could really be behind the victim's affliction. At the end of the film, Friedkin himself stops short of stating for certain that he believes he has witnessed a supernatural event, but the implication is that he clearly thinks he has.
The unexpected success of Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum in "The Greatest Showman" has obviously provided Mill Creek Entertainment to release the largely forgotten 1986 production "Barnum" on DVD. The made-for-television production has one distinction: it stars Burt Lancaster as the legendary marketing genius. I found I liked the Jackman film more than I suspected I would, though I doubt I'll ever have the yearning to view it again. It made many concessions to modern audiences that robbed the film of its authenticity. (I loathe the gimmick found in many period dramas in which the characters speak in present-day vernacular.) "Barnum" is much more low-key and seems to make a sincere effort at presenting the titular figure's fascinating life with some degree of accuracy. Not being a Barnum scholar, I'll take for granted there's plenty of "artistic license" on display here as well. The movie opens with Barnum as a young boy, influenced by his uncle's encouragement to see and embrace the more fantastical aspects of life. The action quickly cuts to him as a young man (played by John Roney, who bears absolutely no resemblance to Lancaster at any stage of his life) working in a dead end job in a small town general store. He finds a way to turn a quick profit by engineering a sweepstakes in which the winner will get a substantial credit at the store. The result is a significant profit for the delighted owner, who shares the proceeds with him. The story meanders a bit through Barnum's early years as he falls in love with Charity (Laura Press), who he married at age 19. The couple would remain together for 50 years until her death. The film is interspersed with occasional scenes of elderly Barnum breaking the "Fourth Wall" and addressing viewers directly. The production gets a boost when Lancaster is finally on screen for the remainder of the tale. The screenplay clearly wants to present the showman in a favorable light and he's seen as a kindly, honest figure who delights in using hyperbole to sell his presentations of nature's oddities (including animals and people.) The script takes pains to point out that Barnum always resented being labeled as the man who said "There's a sucker born every minute" and we see him rage against this "quote" that was made up by a newspaper columnist. In the film, Barnum admits to using creative marketing techniques but stresses he treasures and respects his audiences. The movie addresses some of his personal shortcomings, as well. Apparently, the great showman was also a lousy businessman, and we see him make and lose fortunes due to dubious financial dealings with dubious partners. The film chronicles his career highlights from making the little person he dubbed Tom Thumb (Sandor Raski) into an international phenomenon who was invited to meet Queen Victoria. There was also the building of his museums, both of which burned down (once by arson). In his later years, he rebounds and it's interesting to note that Barnum never owned a circus until he was over 60 years old. His importation from England of the giant, trained elephant Jumbo elevated his reputation once again. The film also compellingly shows how he audaciously signed singer Jenny Lind (well played by Hanna Scygulla)to tour America without ever having heard her sing a note. When he discovers no one in America ever heard of her, he embarks on an aggressive marketing campaign that made audiences salivate for the eventual arrival of the woman dubbed "The Swedish Nightingale". (The film avoids any of the speculation that he engaged in a romance with her, a historical debate that is given prominence in the Hugh Jackman movie.)
"Barnum" was directed by Lee Philips, a respected television director whose work here is efficient but unremarkable. The production values are impressive but the pace is often pedantic and unexciting. The strategy of having Barnum address the viewer to relate the highs and lows of his life chronologically looks like an attempt to check off the boxes by rote in order to cram facts into a production that had to make room for commercial breaks. Still there are areas of interest. Following his first wife's death, for example, Barnum found wedded bliss again by marrying at age 64 to a woman who was 40 years younger. The story ends with the formation of his partnership with James Baily to create the famed circus that bore their names (though it doesn't delve into their many business disputes.) The TV movie rests almost entirely on Burt Lancaster's broad shoulders and even at age 72, he still had the trademark toothy smile and distinctive laugh and charisma. Lancaster never gave a bad performance he brings gentle dignity to the role of Barnum.
The Mill Creek transfer is disappointing and at times looks like it was mastered from a VHS tape. Doubtless, the company used the best transfer available but there should be a disclaimer saying as much at the beginning, a policy the Warner Archive often employs. As with most Mill Creek releases there are no bonus features. However, the company is generous in providing digital copies of their releases and this is the case with "Barnum" as well- and it's most welcome.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
MPI Home Video and The George Carlin Estate are proud to
announce a special gift to his fans today – the GEORGE CARLIN COMMEMORATIVE
COLLECTION, a 10-disc must-have DVD, CD and Blu-Ray boxed set which features
more than five hours of previously unreleased bonus material including rare performance
footage from Carlin’s personal archive. The GEORGE CARLIN COMMEMORATIVE
COLLECTION will be released on Tuesday, June 12th and the announcement was made
upon the occasion of what would have been Carlin’s 81st Birthday.Carlin was born May 12, 1937 and passed away
at the age of 71 in June of 2008.
George Carlin’s daughter, Kelly, who helped compile
material for the Box Set commented, “While digging around in dad’s stuff, we
found a few gems that we just couldn’t keep for ourselves. It’s amazing to
think that ten years after his death, we keep finding stuff I’d never seen
George Carlin was not only one of America’s greatest
comedians whose albums topped the charts, he was a pioneer of cable TV’s concert
format that has become a benchmark of success for all humorists ever since.
And now, all of Carlin’s pointed, often controversial but
always hilarious specials originally shown on HBO have been gathered for the
first time in the GEORGE CARLIN COMMEMORATIVE COLLECTION. Encompassing over
five decades of George Carlin’s groundbreaking career, all 14 of the legendary funnyman’s
Emmy nominated HBO specials are now available in one package – a remarkable set
that also contains a previously unreleased HBO special entitled 40 Years of
Comedy hosted by Jon Stewart plus Carlin’s posthumous audio release, I Kinda
Like It When a Lotta People Die.
One of the key bonus pieces of material is Carlin’s first
stand-up special from 1973, The Real George Carlin which has not been seen
since it first aired. Additional bonus material includes APT 2C (a never-aired HBO
pilot from the ’80s) plus two one-hour stand-up comedy club performances that
features material performed by Carlin for the first time.There is also never-before-released material
from the 1960s – when Carlin was a clean-cut, suit-wearing guest on the variety
shows such as Talent Scouts, The Jackie Gleason Show and Hollywood Palace.
The box set features also includes both DVD and Blu-ray discs
of the HBO specials Life Is Worth Losing and It’s Bad for Ya plus liner notes
written by comedian Patton Oswalt.
George Carlin, a fearless commentator on society and a champion
of free speech, now finally gets the boxed set he and fans of great, enduring
comedy deserve and the GEORGE CARLIN COMMEMORATIVE COLLECTION represents the
most complete collection of Carlin performances to date.
About George Carlin
George Carlin was a Grammy-winning American stand-up
comedian, actor and best-selling author whose career spanned more than five
decades and literally changed the face of stand-up comedian. His most famous
routine "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" sparked a free
speech controversy that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2008, Carlin was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for
American Humor, and in 2017, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him the “Second Best
Stand-up Comic of All Time.” To date, Carlin is also the only comedian to have
a dedicated SiriusXM radio channel solely to his work.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from the Warner Archive:
Burbank, Calif., (May 17, 2018) Get ready for one of the liveliest, leaping-est, sassiest
and happiest musicals ever, as Warner Archive Collection proudly unveils its
Two-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray™ release of the Oscar-winning 1954 MGM classic
Brides for Seven Brothers.
by Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain),
and starring Jane Powell (Royal Wedding,
Hit the Deck) and Howard Keel (Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate),Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was
nominated for four Academy Awards® and won for Best Scoring of a
Musical Picture. This Western musical is distinguished by a wonderful score of
original songs by composer Gene de Paul and lyricist by Johnny Mercer (Li’l Abner) along with brilliant,
acrobatic dancing scenes choreographed by Michael Kidd (The Band Wagon,Guys and
for the first time on Blu-ray, featuring a new 1080p HD master from a 2018 2K
scan in its original 2.55 CinemaScope aspect ratio, with DTS-HD Master Audio
5.1 audio t (based on the original 4 track magnetic mix, but re-built from
recording session masters and original stems), the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Two-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray has extras to please every mountain
man or woman, including the rarely-seen alternate widescreen (1.77 aspect
ratio) alternate version presented for the first time in 1080p HD, a commentary
from the film’s director Stanley Donen, a comprehensive cast & crew
documentary, vintage featurettes including the famous “MGM Jubilee Overture”
short (presented in its original CinemaScope 2.55 aspect ratio for the first
time in 1080p HD with 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio sound), premiere newsreel footage
note is that two versions of the film exist, one in CinemaScope and the other
in traditional widescreen. In 1953 when
Cinemascope was brand new, MGM was concerned that if it was a fad they would
have an unusable film in the long-run, so for protection they shot the film
twice. Two different takes of each shot with different staging was filmed which
reflect the different frame size of traditional widescreen (which is less wide
and more rectangular) and CinemaScope. By the time the film was released,
CinemaScope had proven a huge success and the alternate version was rarely seen
until its release on DVD in 2004.
About the Film
Brides for Seven Brothers, Adam (Howard Keel), the eldest of seven
brothers, goes to town to get a wife. He convinces Milly (Jane Powell) to marry
him that same day. After they return to his backwoods home she discovers he has
six brothers -- all living in his cabin. Milly sets out to reform the uncouth
siblings, who are anxious to get wives of their own. Then, after reading about
the Roman capture of the Sabine women, Adam develops an inspired solution to
his brothers' loneliness... kidnap the women they want from the surrounding villages.
by studio executives during production as a ‘second-tier musical’, the film
suffered budget cuts during production that precluded location shooting.
Overcoming these circumstances, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was
an obvious hit in the making when previewed, and opened to great reviews at
huge box office success at New York’s famed Radio City Music Hall. This film
was so successful that it was theatrically re-issued for many years thereafter,
and holds the achievement as one of the highest-grossing musicals ever produced
by M-G-M’s “dream factory”. The unique story behind the making of the film is
well chronicled by director Donen’s commentary, as well as the comprehensive
documentary on the disc, hosted by star Howard Keel, and including interviews
with co-stars Jane Powell, Tommy Rall, Russ Tamblyn, and Jacques d’Amboise, as
well as director Donen, choreographer Kidd, and Musical Supervisor Saul Chaplin (who earned an
Oscar for his contribution), among others.
Disc One: (BD50)
·Audio Commentary by Stanley Donen
·Short Subject shot in CinemaScope and Color,
featuring the M-G-M Symphony Orchestra, led by Johnny Green, playing a medley
of eleven well-known songs used in some of the studio's best-known musicals. (Remastered
in 1080p HD, 16x9 2.55 anamorphic aspect ratio with 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio)
·Documentary "Sobbin' Women: The
Making of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," hosted by Howard Keel
(Produced 1996, updated and revised 2004)-SD
·Radio City Music Hall Premiere - July
22, 1954 (SD)
Following his break-out performance as Superman in the 1978 blockbuster, Christopher Reeve deftly avoided being typecast in the role despite appearing in several sequels. However, his non-Superman flicks were a decidedly mixed bag. Virtually none of them were successful at the boxoffice at the time of their initial release, although Somewhere in Time found a loyal cult audience over the years and Deathtrap seems more entertaining now than it did in 1982. Reeve proved to be a good, if unremarkable actor, who had an affable screen presence and the kind of handsome features and physique that recalled the more traditional Hollywood leading men of days gone by. (Think Rock Hudson). However, Reeve's scattershot record of choosing film projects prevented him from fully capitalizing on his potential. There were too many boxoffice bombs along the way and Reeve sometimes returned to his first love, live theater, to continue to grow as an artist. One of Reeve's least-known films, The Aviator, has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The movie was based on the novel by Ernest K. Gann, who specialized in aerial adventure stories. (He wrote the novel and screenplay for John Wayne's smash hit The High and the Mighty.) The film opens intriguingly at a military air base in WWI. Reeve is Edgar Anscombe, a cocky pilot who is training a novice on his first flight when things go wrong. The trainee panics and the plane crashes, leaving the student pilot dead and Anscombe suffering from severe burns. The plot then jumps ahead by a decade. Anscombe is now a bitter and introverted man still haunted by his wartime experiences, especially the deadly training accident that he feels responsible for. He's now working for Moravia (Jack Warden), the owner of a small air fleet that delivers mail from Nevade across the western states. In order to supplement the company's meager profits, Moravia sometimes accepts a passenger to accompany the pilots on their route. Along comes Tillie Hansen (Rosanna Arquette), a perky but troubled 17 year-old whose father (Sam Wanamaker) finds her to be incorrigible. Against Tillie's wishes, he decides to send her to a strict, disciplinarian aunt in order to teach her social and personal values. Anscombe immediately resents having to take Tillie along on his next flight. He snubs her overtures at friendliness and makes it clear that he wants no part of socially interacting with her. However, while in flight over a remote mountain region, their plane develops a problem with the fuel line, forcing them to crash land. Both Anscombe and Tillie emerge unscathed but their trials and tribulations are just beginning. Anscombe admits he went off course to take a short-cut, making it unlikely that rescue parties will find them. Additionally, they lack shelter and food and are menaced by a pack of hungry wolves. All they have for a weapon is a pistol with a few rounds of ammunition.
Once the survivalist aspect of "The Aviator" kicks in, the film should soar beyond the bland opening scenes that predictably thrust the viewer into yet another one of those scenarios in which the leading man and leading lady bicker and kvetch at each other. However, director George Miller (not the same director George Miller of the Mad Max movies, unfortunately) establishes a leaden pace that makes The Aviator resemble a TV movie. You're practically waiting for the commercials with that omnipresent, creepy guy hawking My Pillow to pop up any minute. The film lumbers through some moments of crisis that don't pack much suspense. Dopey Tillie wants to smoke a cigarette and ends up burning down the wreckage of the plane the stranded couple had been using for shelter. Anscombe manages to kill some game for much-needed sustenance only to have it ripped from him by wolves. The couple decides they must try to make the arduous climb down the mountain to find help. In the film's only unexpected twist, Anscombe comes across a remote cabin only to find its eccentric inhabitant won't help him and threatens him with a gun. Reeve makes for a bland, boring hero in the under-written role of Anscombe and Arquette grates on the viewer like nails on a blackboard with her ditzy Valley Girl-like interpretation of a liberated young woman from the 1920s. The last, inexcusable cliche the screenplay thrusts up us finds the once-bickering Anscombe and Tillie now falling in love.
The Aviator does have some aspects to commend. Jack Warden, Sam Wanakmaker and Scott Wilson manage to outshine the leading actors and put some much-needed realism and empathy into their roles, although Tyne Daly is largely wasted in a minor role. There is a suitably old-fashioned score by the estimable Dominic Frontiere and the film boasts some impressive camerawork by David Connell. The film was shot entirely in Yugoslavia but it must be said that the locations convincingly resemble the American northwest. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray features the usually excellent transfer we've come to expect from the company and an original trailer is included. The Aviator isn't a terrible movie, just an unnecessary one that unfortunately helped contribute to the likeable Christopher Reeve's less-than-inspired career choices.
Olive Films has released aa Blu-ray edition of the 1971 comedy Cold Turkey. Written
and directed by Norman Lear, the fanciful plot is set in Eagle Rock,
Iowa, a struggling small town of 4600 residents in Iowa that has fallen
on hard times. The town is on the verge of financial catastrophe with
most of the once-thriving businesses having moved away when a local air
force base was closed. Potential salvation comes in the form of a
contest sponsored by a major tobacco company to award $25 million to any
town that can give up smoking for a period of 30 days. In fact, the
offer is a mere ploy by a cynical tobacco executive, Merwyn Wren (Bob
Newhart), who assures his bosses that the contest will improve the
industry's reputation without ever incurring the prospect of having to
pay off. That's because every person in the town would have to sign a
pledge to not smoke for 30 days. A single offense would result in
disqualification for the prize. What Wren doesn't count on is the
determination of Eagle Rock minister Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke), a
disillusioned and depressed reverend who finds renewed vigor in his
determination to see his town win the contest and revitalized itself
with the prize money. Brooks goes on a one-man crusade to persuade the
town's population to sign the petition- not an easy task because
seemingly everyone has turned to smoking in order to cope with the
stress of their financial hardships.
The film bares a resemblance to Norman Jewison's The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! in
that it centers on an a diverse number of small town eccentrics, all
wonderfully played by a sterling cast of great character actors: Vincent
Gardenia, Tom Poston, Jean Stapleton, Graham Jarvis and Judith Lowry
among them. (The latter is as hilarious as ever, playing her typical
ancient, foul-mouthed great granny character). There are also
appearances by Edward Everett Horton as the senile tobacco company owner
and the great team of Bob and Ray as thinly-veiled impersonations of
legendary network anchors Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David
Brinkley who come to Eagle Rock when the town becomes the center of
national news stories. Pippa Scott is very amusing as Van Dyke's
long-suffering wife, who barely gets a word in due to the benevolent
dictatorship he has established in their marriage. When the Reverend
turns to sex as a substitute for smoking, Scott accommodates him with a
bored demeanor and a pained look on her face. While most films that
depict a rural population tend to go overboard in portraying them as
cute and kind, Lear's film takes a more sarcastic tone. Initially,
everyone gets along fine, but as pressure builds to meet the challenge,
the townspeople turn on each other. The local doctor (Barnard Hughes) is
especially targeted for attention due to his weak will and hopeless
addiction to smoking. Graham Jarvis delivers a very funny performance as
the nerdy local leader of a Tea Party-like political group that
typically disdains "big government" until they decide "big government"
can be profitable for them. Even the once-modest reverend gets swept up
in his new-found fame as Eagle Rock swarms with tourists, many of whom
are wearing masks of his likeness. As the town nears the final hours
until the deadline, Merwin and the tobacco company brass invoke every
dirty trick imaginable to ensure the prize money doesn't have to be
paid. The madcap finale finds the town awash with a variety of
individuals seeking to capitalize on the town's quest. Even President
Nixon gets into the spotlight!
Cold Turkey is a gentle comedy with an occasional sharp edge. It evokes memories of The Andy Griffith Show, but
manages to make a statement about human traits that can be found
everywhere: greed, deceit and selfishness. Van Dyke is excellent in the
lead role and he benefits from a terrific supporting cast and a
typically "hummable" title song by Randy Newman. I found the film itself
to be quite addictive.
The Blu-ray release offers a very fine transfer, but sadly, no bonus extras.
When it opened in 1969, New York Times critic Vincent Canby assessed French director Jacques Demy's "Model Shop" as "a bad movie, but a sometimes interesting one." It's easy to understand how Canby- or any viewer- could come to that conclusion. However, watching the film today, it has a lyrical and occasionally beautiful quality. Demy, who made a splash with the international success of his 1964 film "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg", was inspired to make "Model Shop" after visiting Los Angeles on vacation. He was mesmerized by the city and decided to make a cinematic valentine to a place that many others criticized for its pollution and congestion. Ah, but as Preston Sturges famously quipped, "The French, they are a funny race", and Demy saw only the positive aspects of the city, which gives the film an unusual aspect. At a time when Johnny Carson was making night cracks about L.A.'s smog levels, Demy saw it as an appropriate setting for an offbeat love story. It's difficult to describe "Model Shop" because not much happens in it. The film traces 24 hours in the life of George Matthews (Gary Lockwood), a 26 year-old hunky guy who has graduated from Berkeley with a degree in Architecture. When we first meet him, he's in bed with his petite blonde girlfriend Gloria (Alexandra Hay). Before they even get dressed, they're embroiled in a bitter argument, which we are led to believe is a daily occurrence. This is a relationship on the rocks. Turns out George is a lazy deadbeat. He refuses to look for a job in his chosen profession because he objects to working for crassly commercial corporations, which sounds like a cop-out similar to what many unmotivated people might invoke. Gloria points out that they are dead broke and he has no plan for changing the situation. Gloria isn't burning up the want ads section in the newspaper, either. She's a bit of a ditz who dreams of being an actress and spends most of her time being sexually exploited by opportunistic producers and casting directors. She clearly isn't George's intellectual equal but when she strolls around the house in her bra and panties, it's easy to see why he's made the decision to stay with her.
The film kicks into gear when a repo man arrives at George's house (which bizarrely is situated directly next to an oil rig that operates 24/7) to take away his prized, vintage convertible MG, a luxury he can't afford but can't live without. He buys a few hours time by promising to raise $100. We then follow him around L.A. as he tries to hustle the money from friends who are as broke as he is. He has a chance encounter in a parking lot with an exotic looking woman (Anouk Aimee) who he immediately becomes obsessed with. She's the picture of class and elegance and George creepily decides to follow her. She ends up entering a luxurious home in the Hollywood hills. Hours later, he is motivated to return to the place, only to find her car gone and a disembodied voice from inside the house tells him she was never there and to leave the property. By the kind of sheer coincidence that can only happen in movies, George spies her later in the afternoon on the street and follows her to a seedy Skid Row "modelling studio" where sexually frustrated men can "rent" a model for a 15 minute session for $12 (only $20 for a half-hour!) during which they must remain chaste but can photograph the model in a tacky boudoir setting (film and camera included.) He learns the woman's name is Lola, and it turns out she's the same character Aimee played in Demy's 1961 film "Lola". George snaps a few photos of her and they engage in some awkward conversation before he departs. We follow him as he makes some other pit stops including visiting a small counter-culture newspaper where his friends offer him a job. He's interested but makes a fateful phone call to his parents only to learn that he has received his draft notice and must report for induction in two days. Adding to his misery, his father jovially equates getting drafted to fight in Vietnam to the good times he manged to enjoy in the Pacific campaign in WWII. George, however, is emotionally devastated and fails to see the allure in risking his life in the hope of enjoying some male bonding. Distraught, he returns to the modeling studio and this time engages Lola in conversation. Turns out she is an immigrant from Paris whose husband deserted her. She has a 14 year-old son in France who she is trying to support but is about to throw in the towel because she can't get a work visa and has to rely on the demeaning "career" of posing for naughty photos. Although Lola initially rejects George, she is moved by the fact that he really seems to be in love with her. They are two young people who are going through a life crisis and before the night is over, they share a single lovemaking session before George leaves for the army and Lola catches a flight back to Paris.
Kino Lorber, in conjunction with Redemption Films, has released British crime flick "The Orchard End Murder" as a Blu-ray special edition. Never heard of it? Don't feel bad- neither had I, but the film's obscurity makes this release all the more interesting when one learns the story behind it. The film was shot in the lovely countryside in Kent in 1981 by writer/director Christian Marnham. With only a small budget to work with, Marnham had to restrict his running time to a mere 48 minutes, which precluded the movie from ever being shown as a main feature in theaters. Consequently, it plays out like a TV episode, albeit a very good one. The film opens with a young woman, Pauline (Tracy Hyde), making a phone date to meet up with Robins (Mark Hardy), a young man she met the previous night in a pub. Pauline is clearly a modern woman. She's attractive, dresses stylishly and wants some excitement and, presumably, sex. However, she is frustrated when Robins insists that she first accompany him to his local cricket match, where he is scheduled to play with his team. She becomes bored and decides to take a walk through a large apple orchard, emerging onto the street of a bucolic country village with a small train station. She stops to admire an attractive cottage with a large collection of garden gnomes. She is greeted by the owner (Bill Wallis), who happens to be the local station master. She accepts the kindly eccentric's invitation to come in for a cup of tea but things get disturbing with the abrupt arrival of his lodger, Ewan (Clive Mantle), a tall, mentally disturbed man who brutally slaughters a rabbit in front of Pauline without saying a word. Understandably, she cuts her visit short and walks back through the apple orchard to the cricket match. Along the way, she is intercepted by Ewan who now shows a kinder, more sensitive disposition. Tracy humors him by giving him a kiss but it proves to be a fatal mistake. He lures her deeper into the orchard and when she resists his sexual advances, he strips and strangles her. When evening falls, Robins, informs the police she has gone missing and before long a major search is launched. The station master discovers the murder when he sees Ewan stroking and kissing Pauline's dead body. Knowing there will be a house-to-house search of the neighborhood, he puts into motion a plan to bury the body in an area the police have already searched.
"The Orchard End Murder" is a slick, well-made mini thriller that is very ably directed by Christian Marnham. Best of all are the performances, with every actor hitting the right note, including well-known character actor Raymond Adamson as a village businessman who may play a crucial role in solving the crime. It must be said that the scene-stealing performance is provided by Bill Walllis, who plays the frumpy station master with a disarming sense of friendliness and gentleness. Nothing riles him, including having to bury a nude woman in the dead of night. His attachment to Ewan is never quite explained, as to whether its based on a fraternal relationship or a sexual attraction. Tracy Hyde gives a brave performance, with much of her screen time being displayed and abused as a nude dead body.
There are several extras included pertaining to the film. Director Marhham gives a thorough review of its production history, stating that the film was released in 1981 as the second feature along with a major hit, "Dead and Buried". However, because second features didn't share in the theater revenues, everyone involved never saw any compensation beyond the pittance they were paid as a flat salary. There are also informative interviews with star Tracy Hyde, who was a flash-in-the-pan childhood star in the 1970s. Sadly, adult stardom never followed and she retired from the industry. Also interviewed is David Wilkinson, who had a small part in the film before quitting acting and becoming a successful film producer.
"The Orchard End Murder" is a remarkably accomplished work. It's a pity that a director as talented as Marnham didn't find greater success in the film industry.
Imagine, if you will, that you are a Hollywood producer in the year 1969. ABC TV has recently launched its venture into producing theatrical motion pictures and you have a doozy of a concept. It centers on a spoof of Charlie Chan movies with the distinction that you have enlisted some very eager partners in Japan, thus the main character will have to be Japanese. You are sitting around a long table in a studio conference room with executives deciding how to move forward. The promising venture will be filmed on location in Japan and. thus, will offer the promise of some exotic locations at your disposal. Since the project is very much inspired by the Pink Panther movies, you've scored a bullseye by enlisting screenwriter William Peter Blatty to author the script. Blatty knew a thing or two about the Pink Panther franchise, having co-authored the screenplay for "A Shot in the Dark". Yes, it's all coming together very nicely. Now comes the fun part: who to cast as the Japanese incarnation of Inspector Clouseau, a bumbling detective named Hoku Ichihara. Names are bandied about and you smile in a patronizing manner because you already know who the most logical actor is to cast: Zero Mostel!!!! A collective gasp from those around the table ensues, along with plenty of backslapping on your stroke of genius. Yes, when it comes to playing a bumbling Japanese detective, who could possibly think of someone more suited for the assignment than the rotund Jewish actor from Brooklyn?
One doesn't know if this is how the film "Mastermind" came into existence but its safe to assume at some point a room full of executives had to green light the casting of Zero Mostel in the lead role in what must surely be one of the most ill-advised films of the era. The concept seems even more egregious in these more enlightened times once you get your first view of Mostel decked out in his makeup, which includes slanted eyes and a droopy mustache that makes him look like a cross between Max Bialystock and Fu Manchu, though to be fair, for decades other unsuitably cast Caucasian actors portrayed Asian detectives, Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov among them. The film is a jumbled mess that opens with the theft of a prototype of an amazing new human-like robot that has a comprehensive understanding of virtually every command. Some shady characters have also kidnapped the scientist who invented the robot, which is named Schatzi and is played by actor Felix Silas. The bad guys intend to appropriate the design plans for nefarious purposes. If anyone gets in their way, they utilize as hi-tech weapon that puts people in a permanent state of suspended animation. The gimmick is played out ad nauseam and reminds us of why it's generally a mistake to have live actors playing statues or inanimate beings (just look at "The Man with the Golden Gun" for further proof.) Inspector Ichihara is called in to solve the case along with his British sidekick Nigel Crouchback (Gwan Grainger) and immediately makes a muddle of things, a la Clouseau.
Anyone can make a bad movie but it's a true rarity to make a movie that is so bad it falls into that prized category of being a guilty pleasure; a film that you may want to revisit for all the wrong reasons. "Mastermind" meets that criteria. How had is the film? It's "Which Way to the Front?" kind of bad. The director, Alex March, had recently saw the release of two major studio films, "Paper Lion" and "The Big Bounce". He gamely plows through some juvenile sight gags and even speeds up film frames to emulate the old Keystone Cops films, a concept that already had moss on it by 1969. It must be said that March does a credible job of capitalizing on the Japanese locations and manages some impressive set pieces among the teeming city crowds, most notably a well-staged car/motorcycle chase. Beyond that, however, there is little to recommend. Zero Mostel gamely goes through the humiliations of playing out every cringe-inducing stereotype that had been assigned to Japanese characters in movies of the era. Most notable are the scenes in which his character fantasizes about being a great samurai warrior, which gives you the heart-stopping vision of what it might have looked like if Kurosawa had cast him in the leading role of "Seven Samurai". Mostel is not alone in having made a Faustian deal in return for a free trip to Japan, as Bradford Dillman is also in the cast.
One man’s cinematic trash is another man’s cinematic
treasure, so I will tread lightly here.Simply
put, the low budget horror From Hell It
Came (1957) is not a very good movie.The fact that the folks at Warner Archive have made this available on
Blu-ray allows film fans a glimmer of hope that their own personal cinematic
Titanic might yet see release in this upscale format. This is tough review for
me.As a devotee of Silver Age Sci-Fi
movies, I wish I could be more charitable of this film’s few merits, but Richard
Bernstein’s screenplay offers little more than a cycle of endless chatter.This causes the film’s relatively brief 71-minute
running time to seem even more meandering and interminable.That producer Jack Milner and
director-brother Dan Milner (The Phantom
from 10,000 Leagues (1955) were able to bring this unremarkable film to
fruition is laudable, but while this movie has achieved some low-grade cult
status - and a memorable monster that has spawned a thousand snickering
mockeries – it’s nowhere in the league of such entertaining monstrosities Phil
Tucker’s Robot Monster (1953) or Ed
Wood’s seminal Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).
I suppose, if caught in the right combination of shadow
and light, the titular tree monster from Hades might be of somewhat cool design…
if still not particularly threatening.I
think I should mention, in the interest of full disclosure and despite my
critical brickbat here, I actually purchased
the original DVD release of this when first issued in 2010.So I’m not immune to the film’s (very) limited
pleasures.Set on an unnamed island in
the South Seas, From Hell It Came manages
to unashamedly mix the timeworn clichés of nearly every B-picture worthy of the
designation: jungles, quicksand pits, scientists, voodoo doctors, atomic energy
and, of course, a lumbering monster.Released in the summer of 1957, From
Hell It Came was paired with another Allied Artists voodoo-themed release The Disembodied (a somewhat better film also
available as a MOD DVD release through Warner Archive).
Having been born in the first decade of the 20th
century, the aging Milner Bros. were either already over or nearing their chronological
half-century mark when they unleashed From
Hell It Came on unsuspecting teenage moviegoers.I suppose it’s to their credit that they
chose not to pander to their teenage audience – as, for example, that decade’s immensely
popular beach-party and biker movies most certainly would.The Milner’s, conversely, seem to have little
interest in promulgating lowbrow teen culture.They display an almost refreshing disinterest in appearing hip; this is most
evident in their disparagement of the ascendant rock n’ roll phenomena.The natives’ tribal drums are referenced sarcastically
as providing “a nice anthropological beat.” The killjoy egghead scientists on
the island suggest the crazy, primitive, and percussive tribal rhythms are so
“out there”, they’re worthy of topping the contemporary hit parade.
The film’s casting team – assuming there was one, of
course – were, at best, making what they could from the shallow pool of available
talent.While some of the island’s natives
share some physical characteristics of Pacific islanders, most of the indigenous-to-the-island
roles are handled by actors who…Well,
let’s say they could have been plucked from the sidewalk of the Gambino’s
Bergin Hunt and Fish Club of Ozone Park, Queens. Similarly, the best that can be said of the
film’s wardrobe and costume department is that they made good use of their 50%
off summer clearance coupon at Tommy Bahama.
Though badly mounted, this film is essentially one more formulaic
allegory pitting old world superstition against modern science.The tribe’s blood-thirsty medicine man –
perhaps sensing his position as exalted healer might soon become redundant - is
at the center of the mayhem.He’s
clearly unhappy that his healing herbs and folkloric healing incantations have
been neatly usurped by the “Devil Dust” of the American scientists, the healing
pharmaceuticals of modern medicine.He’s
so upset, in fact, that the film opens in a rather savage manner, with poor islander-collaborationist
Kimo (Gregg Palmer) being put to a grim death for his collusion with the infidel
American doctors.In his last spoken declaration
before meeting his maker, the bound and aggrieved Kimo threatens to come back
from Hell itself, if only to make the witch doctor and his minions pay dearly for
putting him to this terrible end.
Having been grotesquely and mortally staked through the
chest, the islanders bury poor Kimo, for no apparent reason, vertically.To no one’s surprise he reemerges later as Tabonga,
described – rather aptly - as an all powerful “creature of revenge.” Tabonga is
a lumbering monster tree stump that frightens the primitive and enlightened
alike… sort of a physical repository of the island’s accumulative evil spirits
and bad karma.
On Sept. 15, 2000 the New
York Times ran an interview with Quentin Tarantino in which the famed
director raved at length about a Roy Rogers movie called “The Golden Stallion
(1949).” He absolutely loved the film and its director, William Witney, calling
him a “forgotten master.” According to Tarantino, Witney was the ultimate genre
film director, making everything from the classic Republic Pictures serials, to
western feature films (including 27 Roy Rogers flicks). He later did films for
American International, and shot numerous TV series including “Bonanza.” The
thing that appealed to QT the most about “The Golden Stallion” was the way
Witney was able to sell the idea that Roy Rogers regarded Trigger as much a
friend as any human being could ever be. He does five years on a chain gang to
save his horse from being destroyed after being framed for killing a man. As far-fetched
as that idea sounds, Tarantino thought Witney,Roy and Trigger absolutely made you believe it. (Click here to read the NY Times article.)
In “The Golden Stallion” Trigger has a bit of a fling
with a mare that smugglers were using to transport diamonds across the border.
A colt named Trigger Jr., was the result of that dalliance, and screenwriter
Gerald Geraghty picked up that thread to build a new story for Roy’s next
picture. In some ways, the result, “Trigger, Jr.,” is an even better movie,
with a story line that has darker undertones and a shocker of an ending.
In this picture, Roy is in charge of his father’s
traveling circus and sets up headquarters for the winter at the ranch of his
dad’s former partner Colonel Harkrider (George Cleveland). Roy’s publicist,
Splinters (Gordon Jones), thinks the idea of wintering there will bring good
publicity, but the Colonel isn’t too happy about it. The Colonel’s older daughter
was recently killed in an accident during her bareback riding routine. As a
result of the trauma her death caused, the Colonel himself has been wheel
chair-bound ever since. Worse, his grandson, Larry (Peter Miles), is terrified
of horses. He has nightmares about them. The Colonel constantly berates the boy
for being a coward. The Colonel’s younger daughter, Kay, (Dale Evans) hopes
having the circus on the ranch will help the two of them recover their
psychological balance. But she knows it won’t be easy.
It doesn’t help that all the local ranchers in the are
being muscled by a villain with no less a sinister name than Manson (Grant
Withers), who heads The Range Patrol, an outfit that provides protection for a
price. Those who don’t join up find barns burning, and livestock suddenly
disappearing. No sooner does Roy arrive than he finds Trigger Sr. and Jr. about
to be kidnapped by a couple of rangers. Roy and Splinters manage to rescue the
horses after some fisticuffs, of course. (People complain about violence in
films today, and say they wish movies could be like they were in the old days.
I guess they never saw any of Witney’s Rogers films. They were full of
shootouts, fistfights, bar room brawls, and they didn’t spare the fake blood
Roy and the Colonel convince the other ranchers to stop
paying the Range Patrol, which prompts Manson to put more pressure on them.
There’s an interesting historical element introduced into the story at this
point. At a horse auction, Roy finds out that there was an Army remount station
nearby. The remount stations were where the Army bought, trained and sold horses
for service in the U.S. Calvary. The station is out of use now, but a white
stallion “killer” horse is being kept there pending its destruction by lethal
injection. Roy tries to buy him but the sheriff informs him that there’s a
court order calling for the horse’s destruction. However, Manson puts the doctor
(I. Stanford Jolley) on his payroll and they take him to a hideout in the hills
so they can use him to terrorize and kill the ranchers’ horses. He becomes
known as The Phantom and it isn’t long before the other ranchers cave in the
Rangers and Roy and the Colonel find themselves alone in opposing them.
The situation worsens as Trigger is attacked by the
Phantom and a blow to his optical nerve renders him blind. Trigger goes down
and he can’t get up. Things get pretty tense as Larry decides he must be a
coward as his grandfather says, since he’s too afraid to even help Trigger. He
runs away and in the meantime more livestock are being killed. I don’t think
I’ve ever seen any other western where so many horses are shown dead or dying
out on the prairie, in this case all victims of the Phantom.
“Trigger, Jr.’s” brisk pace (it’s only 66 minutes long) moves
over the downbeat elements of the story so quickly, you don’t get much time to
react. But when you think about them later, you realize it’s all pretty heavy
stuff. There are only three musical numbers in the movie and one of them is the
haunting “Stampede” which is used to illustrate one of Larry’s nightmares. Jack
Marta’s cinematography and lighting create an impressionistic mini-masterpiece.
It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. The colorful circus wagons, the scenes
of the acrobats and aerialists rehearsing, the lions and trained seals performing
provide splendid splashes of color to offset the somber story line.
I have a weakness for any movie starring John Wayne- even the bad ones. If you can find something of merit in "The Conqueror", in which the Duke played Genghis Khan, then you've really crossed the Rubicon. "A Man Betrayed", made during Wayne's tenure with "B" movie studio Republic, has been released on Blu-ray by Olive Films. It isn't one of those aforementioned bad Wayne movies, but it's no more than a minor entry in his career. Wayne had been toiling in the film industry since the silent era. His first big break came with the starring role in Raoul Walsh's massive western epic "The Big Trail", which was released in 1930. However, the film was released during the Great Depression and bombed at the boxoffice. For the next nine years, Wayne was starring in quickie westerns that were termed "One Day Wonders". John Ford came to his rescue by casting Wayne as the male lead in his 1939 classic "Stagecoach". It elevated Wayne to star status but he didn't fully capitalize on the opportunities that "Stagecoach" seemed to afford him. He slogged through starring roles in largely undistinguished productions for many years, interrupted by a few more ambitious productions (Ford's "The Long Voyage Home" and "They Were Expendable" and DeMille's "Reap the Wild Wind"). It wouldn't be until the late 1940s that the plum roles finally came his way and Wayne was seen as something more than "B" actor. "A Man Betrayed", released in 1941, fits comfortably into the bulk of Wayne's work during this period of his career. It's a low-budget affair, unremarkable in every respect, but still reasonably entertaining.
The film opens in an unnamed city at a scandalous nightclub called Club Inferno, where all sorts of notorious practices take place. (The sign advertises "30 Girls and 29 Costumes!"). Inside, staff members dress as the Devil and exotic dance numbers take place amidst overt gambling. In the first scene, a young man stumbles outside the club and is seemingly electrocuted during a torrential rainstorm when the lamp post he is leaning on is struck by lightning. A closer examination, however, proves he had been shot. Shortly thereafter, we're introduced to Lynn Hollister (Wayne), an affable small town attorney who comes to the city to investigate the death of the young man, who was a close friend of his. In short order he arrives at the home of Tom Cameron (Edward Ellis), a local rich widower who lives in a mansion and who owns the Club Inferno (though is rarely seen there.) Turns out Cameron is the local crime kingpin who controls the political machine and employs an army of thugs and assassins to do his bidding. He presents an affable personality and pretends to cooperate with Lynn's investigation. Lynn meets cute with Cameron's daughter Sabra (Frances Dee), a frisky, witty beauty who takes to him immediately. Before long, Lynn is staying in the guest room and he and Sabra are a couple. Cameron tries to use the relationship to manipulate Lynn but the more Lynn probes into the murder, the more convinced he is that Cameron directly or indirectly was responsible. Cameron is about to run for re-election to political office and like all crooked elected officials, is impatient for Lynn to wrap up his investigation. However, Lynn has uncovered massive evidence of voter fraud with indigent men being paid to vote numerous times for the "right" candidates. As he gets closer to the truth he is also physically threatened by Cameron's thugs. All of this sounds very dramatic but, in fact, "A Man Betrayed" is actually a romantic comedy, with the exception of the dramatic murder scene. Director John H. Auer (who had directed another, unrelated film with the same title a few years before) keeps the mood light and pace fast and gets fine performances from Edward Ellis and Frances Dee, the latter especially good as the spoiled rich girl who learns the father she has idolized is, in fact, a crook. As for Wayne, he was somewhat victimized by studios who wanted to squeeze him into contemporary romances in the hopes he would emerge as the next Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper. But at this period in his career, Wayne looked like a fish out of water in such productions. He gamely goes through the motions but he appears to be a bit uncomfortable without a horse and saddle. As he matured, he got better, as evidenced by his fine work in "The Quiet Man" , his war-based films and his late career detective movies "McQ" and "Brannigan".
"A Man Betrayed" is fairly entertaining even by today's standards. It's a hoot seeing Frances Dee sporting the over-the-top high fashions of 1941 and there is a cryptic reference to the war in Europe months before anyone realized America would soon be part of it. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film is the early teaming between Wayne and Ward Bond, who would become close friends and occasional co-stars. Bond is cast against type as a mentally-challenged violent thug who has a knock-down brawl with the Duke. The resolution of the murder and corruption scandals are wrapped up in a rather absurd ending that seems to have been developed to ensure that audiences left the theaters smiling.(Incidentally, the film was also later released under the title "Wheel of Fortune" and was marketed as "Citadel of Crime" in the UK.)
The Olive Films Blu-ray is unremarkable. The transfer is reasonably good but the film lacks any bonus extras.
Steve McQueen's second-to-last feature film "Tom Horn" remains one of his least-seen. The troubled production was a long time in the making and was a personal obsession for McQueen, who was well-versed in the life of Horn, a celebrated frontier scout in the Old West who had reached legendary status, though his name doesn't resonate today the way Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickok's have. Horn distinguished himself in the Apache Wars and played a role in the defeat of the fiercely independent tribe. Ironically, he met Geronimo at his surrender to the U.S. Army and befriended the great chief, who came to admire Horn. McQueen produced "Tom Horn" through his own production company, Solar, and the film was also released under the umbrella of First Artists, the company he had formed years before with Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Barbra Streisand and Paul Newman with the goal of giving actors more control over the final content of the movies they made. The production was a mess from day one. McQueen had last enjoyed a major hit with the 1974 release of the blockbuster "The Towering Inferno". He was one of the biggest stars in the world but his long-festering personal demons got the better of him. He went into semi-retirement, emerging only to release an art house film production of Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People" in 1978 that barely saw release. At the same time, McQueen's personal appearance had changed radically. He grew a unkempt beard and long hair and began to resemble Grizzly Adams. Simultaneously, his reputation for being difficult and unpredictable alienated him from the major studios. By the time McQueen decided to make a comeback in mainstream films, the welcome mat was no longer out for him. Still, he succeeded in getting a distribution deal for "Tom Horn" through Warner Bros.
Troubles began even before the cameras turned. McQueen had numerous directors involved with the project (including Don Siegal) but they found McQueen too demanding and impossible to work with. He wanted to direct the film himself but wasn't a member of the Director's Guild. As he did with his 1972 bomb "Le Mans", McQueen hired a director he felt he could manipulate. In this case it was William Wiard, a respected veteran of many well-known TV series but who had never directed a feature film before. (Rumors flew that McQueen actually "ghost-directed" much of "Tom Horn".) McQueen also caused celebrated screen writer William Goldman to leave the project but he was replaced by Thomas McGuane, who was recognized as an expert on the life of Tom Horn. (The script was co-written by Bud Shrake, who only wrote a few little-seen films previously.) Just prior to filming, McQueen, a lifelong chain smoker, developed a bad cough that persisted throughout the shoot. It was an omen that bode ominously for McQueen.
The film opens with Horn arriving in Wyoming, already a celebrated legend of the west. He's low-key and lives on the hoof, traveling lightly with his beloved horse, whose ornery nature acts as a weapon for Horn when he finds himself in tight spots. He's approached by John C. Coble (Richard Farnsworth), representing the local Cattleman's Association. They are being robbed blind by rustlers and the local lawmen are either impotent or in on the robberies. Coble hires Horn to stop the rustling by whatever means necessary as long as the Association isn't tied to his actions. In short order, Horn sets to work, gunning down numerous cattle thieves even when he's outnumbered. Before long, the rustling stops but by then the carnage caused by Horn has instilled a backlash in the local population, who suspect he was working as a secret assassin for the Association- which, in fact, he was. The Association decides that Horn is now expendable. He is framed for a murder (though in real life, it was never proven whether he committed the crime or not), is arrested and sentenced to hang by a kangaroo court.
By the time "Tom Horn" opened in early 1980, word-of-mouth on the film was that it was a lemon. The arduous editing process increased the production costs and Warner Bros. was eager to simply be rid of it. Critics loathed the film and it bombed at the boxoffice, marking a major setback for McQueen's plans to re-establish himself as a major boxoffice star. A re-edited version fared no better and "Tom Horn" vanished from theaters quickly. Still, there is much merit in the film beginning with McQueen's low-key playing of Horn as a quiet, humble man. He even keeps his dignity on the scaffold when a new-style hanging device powered by water leaves Horn in the torturous situation of waiting patiently for the water to rise in a bucket in order to activate the trap door. The film is peppered with some wonderful character actors, the most impressive being Richard Farnsworth as Horn's only true friend. Farnsworth had been in so many westerns he practically looked like he walked directly out of a Frederic Remington painting. Also to be found: Billy Green Bush, Elisha Cook Jr, Geoffrey Lewis, Harry Northup and Slim Pickens (who had appeared with McQueen in the 1972 hit "The Getaway"). Linda Evans is cast as a schoolteacher with an exotic background (she immigrated from Hawaii) but her role seems to have suffered in the editing process. She has virtually nothing to do other than provide McQueen with an underwritten love interest. The film boasts great cinematography by John A. Alonzo and a fine score by Ernest Gold, who relies on drumbeats to provide an appropriate dirge-like quality. "Tom Horn" isn't a great western, but it's a very good one and it deserved a better fate. McQueen was already in the early stages of cancer when the movie opened. He managed to complete one more mainstream film before his death: the lightweight action comedy "The Hunter", also released in 1980. Ironically, it proved to be a modest hit and might have helped McQueen revive his career had he not succumbed to his increasingly serious health issues.
The Warner Bros. DVD of "Tom Horn" has a very impressive transfer and includes the original trailer and a promo clip for the video release of McQueen's TV series "Wanted: Dead or Alive". Given the interesting background to the film, it calls out for a special edition.
like us; we ain't such dogs as we think we are’
glad to report that Eureka’s new Blu-ray release of “Marty” (the film’s debut
on Blu-ray in the UK) is certainly no dog. Over 60 years on, the film still
remains a warm and sentimental favourite. On the surface, Paddy Chayefsky’s
story is arguably as thin as they come. A lonely Bronx butcher in his mid-30s,
Marty (Ernest Borgnine) by nature is both shy and uncomfortable around women.
The story sees Marty again facing another regular weekend hanging out with his
buddies. It’s as dull a prospect of his life as it might equally appear on
paper. However, this peach of a film has plenty of richness tucked away in its
reserve tanks. Marty wins on a great deal of levels, warm characters, great
performances (Borgnine won the Best Actor Oscar) and above all, a super screenplay. It’s a magnificent script that manages
to hook you in from the opening scene and rightly saw Chayefsky rewarded with
an Academy Award. On this fateful weekend, Marty’s life is about to change. A
chance meeting with lonely schoolteacher Clara (Betsy Blair) is about to adjust
Marty’s destiny. It’s not an easy journey, as there are plenty of tests and
decisions that Marty has to face - small subplots that gently but effectively
hold the frail narrative together and strengthen the story.
has presented a beautiful Blu-ray/DVD dual format package for Marty. The moody (but handsomely crafted)
monochrome photography is crisp and clean for the best part of its 90 minutes
with just a few brief scenes looking a little softer in places Print quality is
also fine throughout with only a few odd speckles evident on some darker scenes
or static backgrounds – but overall, there is really little to quibble about
here. Audio is also clear and sharp with no significant problems.
the bonus material is the full length 1953 TV play (performed live) which was
presented on NBC. Also directed by Delbert Mann, the play features Rod Steiger
in the title role. It’s a lovely little discovery which showcases nicely
Marty’s journey from written page to TV and eventually its big screen triumph.
Also included is a short piece hosted by Eva Marie Saint, a collection of
interviews with (among others) Steiger and Mann provide a great deal about the
production and co-producer Burt Lancaster’s input behind the movie. This
featurette manages to pack a lot into its fairly short time and works
especially well as an introduction to the movie.
is also a newly filmed and very enjoyable retrospective account of “Marty” by
film scholar Neil Sinyard. Many of the film’s key aspects are explored,
including how the principles landed their roles, how the film was almost
scrapped before completion and again how significant the intervention of Burt
Lancaster was to the production – all of which is very engrossing stuff and
lasting some 20 minutes. After watching this interview, I was left convinced
that Sinyard could have provided a very interesting commentary - it’s just a
shame that the opportunity was not picked up and followed through.
original trailer concludes the bonus features, and a welcome one it is too. Screen
legend Burt Lancaster introduces the trailer and provides the narration
throughout. As a co-producer he was naturally available to lend his influential
power and weight to the film – and naturally does it very well indeed. Full of
spectacle and sparkle, it’s a great example from the Golden age of Hollywood.
still holds up incredibly well and there’s very little (if anything at all) not
to like about it. It’s an everyman tale that arguably still relates to a lot of
people and continues to warm hearts. In today’s somewhat cynical world, it
still works as a timely reminder of a much more innocent and respectful time.