Once upon a time a highly successful film director named Blake Edwards teamed with his very popular actress wife to make a big budget Paramount musical called "Darling Lili". Released in 1970, the WWI-era movie was a major flop. Edwards blamed studio head Robert Evans for having made significant cuts to the final version of the film, though Paramount maintained that the film's budget had gone out of control and they had to exercise their right to salvage it through whatever means necessary. Several years later, Edwards had a contentious relationship with MGM that  was exacerbated by the studio altering his final cuts of "The Carey Treatment" and "Wild Rovers". Hell hath no fury like a director scorned, especially a director who was not lacking in self-esteem. Ultimately, Edwards sought his revenge with the release of his notorious 1981 madcap comedy "S.O.B."  The movie is a take-down of the film industry, presenting an ugly picture of Hollywood as a place populated by crooks, shnooks, disreputable studio brass and disloyal hangers-on all willing to sell their souls to advance their careers. Doubtless, Edwards was done wrong by certain studio executives but by all accounts, he wasn't "Mr. Popularity" either. Edwards had fractious working relationships with many people including Peter Sellers, with whom he made several successful "Pink Panther" films despite the fact the men came to loath one another. I was having lunch with a former studio big wig in 2010 when I informed him that the news just broke that Edwards had died. His response: "It's a shame it took so long." Ouch! 

Edwards was indeed multi-talented. He was capable of directing successful dramas ("Days of Wine and Roses") and the occasional thriller ("Experiment in Terror") but his niche was comedy and for a period of years he produced some great successes including "Operation Petticoat" and "Breakfast at Tiffanys" as well as the best-received Inspector Clouseau films ("A Shot in the Dark" and "The Pink Panther".) By the 1970s, however, his films were under-performing. In 1975, more out of necessity than sentimentality, he and Peter Sellers returned to the "Pink Panther" franchise and scored three more hits. "S.O.B." was his most personal film, however, and allowed him to figuratively put his considerable list of enemies in his cross-hairs. Edwards wrote, produced and directed the film which boasted an impressive all-star cast, including Julie Andrews, who would break new ground in her career by famously baring her breasts (thus causing Johnny Carson to quip to Andrews that he was thankful to see that "the hills were still alive!")

The film begins with a comical suicide attempt by once-esteemed film director Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan), who can't cope with the demise of his career due to the catastrophic boxoffice returns on "Night Wind", his mega-budget family musical starring his wife Sally Miles (Julie Andrews). Felix bungles the attempt which will become a running gag throughout the film as fate keeps preventing him from taking his own life. Now suffering from a mental illness, Felix is convinced that he has heard advice from God about how to salvage his film and career. He approaches the Machiavellian studio chief David Blackman (Robert Vaughn, whose character is supposedly based on Robert Evans.) Felix offers to reimburse the studio for their investment in the musical so that he can own all the rights and reshoot it as a pornographic production complete with the songs intact, only with an S&M take. Blackman jumps at the chance to redeem his own reputation and agrees, but Sally is a tough sell. Her entire career has been built on playing sweet, innocent characters, much as Andrews's career was defined in the early days. She is appalled at Felix's mental state and the fact that he hocked their entire net worth to pull off this madcap scheme. She turns to the film's original director, Tim Culley (William Holden) for advice and he and their mutual friend, quack physician Irving Finegarten (Robert Preston) for counsel. They both convince her the daffy scheme might work and would prove to be a good career move. With Sally reluctantly immersing herself into a sex-filled musical, word around Hollywood gets out that Felix might actually be creating a potential blockbuster. This causes Blackman to renege on the deal. Felix now goes entirely off the deep end and "kidnaps" the reels of his completed film in order to thwart Blackman from exploiting him.

Movies that present Hollywood as a soulless climate are as old as the film industry itself but "S.O.B." is in a class of its own in this regard. There are no sympathetic characters. As Felix devolves into complete madness, his family, confidantes and friends all conspire to take advantage of him for their own selfish purposes. Edwards presents a Devil's Playground of cheating lovers, emotionless sex and untrustworthy partners. It was a parlor game back in the day to guess which real-life personalities were being portrayed on screen. For example, there was little doubt that Shelly Winters' obnoxious talent agent was based on the much-feared Sue Mengers. Loretta Swit, playing the film's most grating character, seems to be a compilation of every gossip columnist who Edwards grew to loathe. Other well-known stars are also used to good effect including Larry Hagman, Robert Webber, Robert Loggia, Marisa Berenson, Stuart Margolin and Craig Stevens. Ostensibly, the star is Richard Mulligan, who gives a very spirited performance that is ultimately undone by Edwards having him cross over into theater of the absurd. Because of the large cast, most of the actors don't get much screen time but those who do resonate very well especially Andrews, Holden, Preston, Webber and Vaughn. The latter has a show-stopping scene that almost rivals the unveiling of Andrews' prized bosoms when it is revealed that his character of the macho studio executive has a passion for making love to his mistress (Berenson) while he is attired in female lingerie.

"S.O.B." is genuinely funny but, as previously stated, Edwards goes overboard into silliness especially in the last third of the film. Until then the events that we witnessed have been mostly plausible but Edwards goes over the top and resorts to almost slapstick as well as introducing some characters such as a manic Asian chef and an Indian guru (played respectively by Benson Fong and Larry Storch) who would be far more at home in a Pink Panther movie. Still, it remains a biting satire that is mostly quite enjoyable- and it's all accompanied by a score from Edwards' frequent collaborator, Henry Mancini.

Journalist and author Bill Mesce provides an article for the Goomba Stomp web site that is sure to resonate with Cinema Retro readers: his recollection of seeing "The Magnificent Seven" for the first time and how the film's qualities continue to impress him today.  He also describes how the 1960 John Sturges classic afforded up-and-coming actors the ability to showcase their talents in ways that would ensure stardom. Click here to read. (Note that in this original trailer, the hokey song that was added was fortunately not included in the film itself...also the marketing people spelled  Robert Vaughn's name wrong!)

The Warner archive has released the 1972 crime comedy "Every Little Crook and Nanny" as a burn-to-order DVD. The film boasts an impressive cast with Lynn Redgrave top-lined as Miss Poole, a comically stereotypical prim and proper young British woman of good manners who operates an etiquette school for boys and girls. When she is evicted so that the school can be utilized as a site for nefarious doings by crime kingpin Carmine Ganucci (Victor Mature), Miss Poole is facing destitution and the loss of her livelihood. When she goes to Ganucci to explain her plight, she is mistaken for one of many young women who are applying to be the crime lord's family nanny. He is instantly smitten by her good manners and eloquent speech and hires her on the spot. Miss Poole devises a plan to take advantage of the situation. She accepts the position and is soon regarded as an indispensable employee of Ganucci and his wife Stella (Margaret Blye). It seems Miss Poole is the only one who can control the couple's independent-minded, pre-pubescent son Lewis (Phillip Graves.). The kid is a real handful. He's sassy, sometimes arrogant and not prone to following orders, even though he seems to idolize his father for being a feared Mafia don. When Carmine and Stella leave for a romantic vacation in Italy, Miss Poole enacts an audacious plot to stage a phony kidnapping of Lewis in the hopes that she can extort just enough money from Carmine ($50,000) to reopen her etiquette school in another location. To carry out the scheme she enlists her former piano player at the school, Luther (Austin Pendleton) to pose as the kidnapper. The perpetually tense, nerdy young man bungles virtually every aspect of the caper but manages to get Lewis back to his apartment, where the young "victim" forms an instant bond with Luther's doting wife Ida (Mina Kolb), who not only views Lewis as the child she always wanted but uses his presence to chastise her husband for their sexless marriage. Meanwhile, Miss Poole reports the kidnapping to one of Carmine's low-level mob guys, Benny Napkins (Paul Sand). Benny is less-than-happy about being chosen to help Miss Poole deal with the kidnap situation, especially since he knows Carmine will have him murdered if Lewis is not returned safely. Miss Poole assures him that, if they can devise a ruse to get Carmine to send the $50,000 to them, they can retrieve Lewis before Carmine even realizes a kidnapping has occurred. To carry out this aspect of the plot, she goes to Carmine's lawyers (Dom DeLuise and John Astin), who immediately realize that their lives are on the line if they don't get Lewis back safely. An unexpected plot device is introduced wherein Carmine, oblivious to his son's fate, enters a deal with some minor criminals in Italy that requires payment of a sum of money that coincidentally equals the ransom demand. From this point, everyone gets confused (including the viewer) as the main characters scramble about, often working against each other's interests in order to save Lewis as well as their own lives. One of the more off-the-wall elements of the film is dual personality of Miss Poole, who generally acts like a dowdy Mary Poppins-like personality, but who is willing to drop her knickers in order to keep Benny Napkins in line. 

The cleverest aspect of the film is it's witty title. Unfortunately, the screenplay, based on the novel by Evan Hunter,  doesn't carry through on a promising scenario despite (or because of) the fact that it was developed by three writers. The director, veteran screenwriter Cy Howard, who had enjoyed a recent success with Lovers and Other Strangers, keeps the pace brisk and sometimes frantic, and gets spirited performances from a fine cast (Austin Pendleton is most amusing). However, the film never delivers the belly laughs the scenario seems to promise and the movie ends up being more likable than genuinely funny. The DVD includes an original trailer that amusingly plays up the return of Victor Mature as a leading man ("The ORIGINAL Victor Mature!"). Mature, who hit it big in the 1940s and 1950s, had only appeared sporadically on film in the decade prior to this movie. The film does afford him a rare opportunity to show off his skills with light comedy, and he delivers a very funny performance.

Here is some rare (but sadly silent) film footage of the 1967 London premiere of the James Bond film "You Only Live Twice" at the Odeon Theatre in Leicester Square. The performance was the first Bond film premiere to be attended by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Star Sean Connery had already given his notice that he was quitting the role of 007. He is seen sporting a mustache that he intended to be seen with in his new Western "Shalako" before producer Euan Lloyd convinced him to shave it off. There are other celebs to be spotted including Laurence Harvey, Jerry Lewis, Tony Bennett,  Phil Silvers and Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes, who were filming "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" for Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli at the time.

Alfred Hitchcock’s early British period of work (1927-1939) has been in the public domain and/or out of copyright and available in poor quality renditions online and cheap home video bargain collections for many years. Most of these are unwatchable, not due to the films themselves, but because of the wretched condition of the images. Granted, not everything the Master of Suspense did during these years is up to par with his later Hollywood output that most of us know. Nevertheless, of the 25+ films Hitch made then (nine of them silent), there are indeed some select winners (The Lodger, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Sabotage, and The Lady Vanishes all come to mind).

There are also a handful of other admirable and worthwhile gems from the British period, and Kino Lorber has recently issued new high definition restorations of two that have been crying out for facelifts for some time.

Blackmail (1929) is touted as Britain’s first talkie, although it really isn’t. Nevertheless, as audio commentator Tim Lucas says, we’re not going to argue with that notion. Blackmail was such a step forward in technical innovation with its inventive use of sound that the picture deserves to be recognized as, at least, the first British talkie that did sound well. Interestingly, the film exists as a silent film, too. As in the USA, many cinemas across Britain were not yet wired for sound, so Hitchcock made two versions—a silent and a talkie. Originally, the silent picture was longer than the sound version, but some of that material is lost. A recent restoration brings the silent entry in at around 75 minutes, whereas the talkie is roughly 85.

It’s a rather sordid story (then again, it’s Hitchcock!). Alice (gorgeous Anny Ondra) is angry at her police detective boyfriend, Frank (John Longden), so she goes out with an artist, Mr. Crewe (Cyril Ritchard). Crewe attempts to rape her, so Alice murders him with a knife. Unfortunately, shifty street bum Tracy (Donald Calthrop) figures out she’s the one who did it, and he attempts to blackmail both Alice and Frank. Without giving too much away, let’s just say the picture ends with a moral ambiguity.

For an early sound motion picture, Blackmail is surprisingly engaging and suspenseful. Hitchcock’s playful use of the technology (such as in the now-famous scene in which Alice hears the word “knife” repeated and loses her cool over it) is apparent throughout. The picture is also notable for the director’s first big climactic sequence at a famous landmark (in this case, the British Museum).

That said, film buffs may very well find that the silent version of Blackmail to be superior. There is an economy to the purely visual storytelling that the sound entry subtly lacks. They’re both terrific, though.

Note: Although the packaging does not adequately make it clear, Blackmail comes with two Blu-ray disks. The first contains the silent version and the sound edition in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. On the other disk is the sound version in 1.20:1 aspect ratio, which is apparently closer to what the movie was when first released. There is some speculation online regarding the accuracy of these two aspect ratios (see the discussion at https://www.hometheaterforum.com/a-few-words-about-blackmail-in-blu-ray/), but these eyes can find no egregious fault with either presentation. Compared to what we’ve had before with Blackmail, the Kino Lorber release is a godsend. Ironically, the silent version looks the most pristine. Supplements include the previously mentioned audio commentary by Lucas (always listenable), an intro to the film by Noël Simsolo, an audio portion of the conversation between Hitchcock and François Truffaut conducted for the Hitchcock/Truffaut book, Anny Ondra’s celebrated brief screen test, and trailers for this and other Kino Lorber titles.

Continue reading "REVIEWS: ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S "BLACKMAIL" (1929) AND "MURDER!" (1930); KINO LORBER BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITIONS"

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Hailed as “one of the best TV shows of 2018” (RogerEbert.com) and “absolutely terrifying” (Rolling Stone), “THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE” arrives on Blu-ray and DVD October 15, 2019 from Paramount Home Entertainment. 

Certified Fresh with a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and nominated for six Saturn Awards, including Best Streaming Horror & Thriller Series, “THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE” has been renewed by Netflix as an anthology series, telling a new story each season.

“THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE” 3-Disc Blu-ray and 4-Disc DVD sets feature all 10 episodes from the acclaimed first season, including, for the first time, three Extended Director’s Cut episodes with never-before-seen content.  The Blu-ray and DVD also include exclusive commentary by creator and director Mike Flanagan on four episodes.

“THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE” is the critically acclaimed, modern reimagining of Shirley Jackson's legendary novel about five siblings who grew up in the most famous haunted house in America. Now adults, they're reunited by the suicide of their youngest sister, which forces them to finally confront the ghosts of their pasts... some of which lurk in their minds... and some of which may really be lurking in the shadows of the iconic Hill House.

In 1984, the comedy jungle adventure "Romancing the Stone" became a major boxoffice hit thanks in no part to its trio of popular stars: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. Not surprisingly, the studio immediately planned a sequel: "The Jewel of the Nile". This time, however, the stars were not aligned for Douglas, who was also producing. Trouble started in pre-production when Turner said she wouldn't do the film because of deficiencies in the script. Douglas had to exercise a contractual clause to force her to join the production in Morocco- not a good omen for the beginning of an expensive film. Then a tragic accident killed numerous members of the crew, followed by widespread illness on location. Douglas recalled the miserable experience recently, as presented in Deadline. (Click here to read.) Still, the sequel grossed more than "Romancing the Stone" and Douglas and Turner put aside their differences to go on to co-star in the battle of the sexes big screen hit, "The War of the Roses" with DeVito directing.

The fashions, set designs, and social conventions of “Midnight Lace” were finely tuned to the expectations of audiences who trooped to their local theaters to see the film on its release in 1960, making it the year’s eleventh highest-grossing production. Nearly sixty years later, those same glossy Hollywood trappings have an almost campy quaintness. How often do you see anyone wear a pillbox hat anymore, outside of a drag parade? Regardless, the film’s basic plot would still fit nicely into any of today’s TV soap operas. The principal characters would be a little younger, they’d sleep together in the same bed instead of by themselves in separate twin beds, and the male lead would take off his shirt at least once an episode to display his ripped physique -- that’s all.

Kit Preston (Doris Day), an American heiress newly married to British financier Anthony Preston (Rex Harrison) and relocated from the U.S. to London, begins receiving obscene, threatening phone calls from an anonymous stalker. Her husband and her friends are sympathetic at first, but gradually they begin to express skepticism because Kit is the only one who hears the calls. Inspector Byrnes of Scotland Yard (John Williams) is even more cynical: “We waste half our time looking for crank phone callers who don’t even exist, except in the minds of unhappy women. You’d be surprised how far a wife would go to make a neglectful husband toe the mark.” Today a comment like that would get a senior police officer censured for insensitivity if not kicked off the force, but in the mindset of 1960, his opinion seems to be supported by the circumstances. The charming but work-obsessed Anthony spends more time in the boardroom than at home, and as a newcomer to the U.K. the lonely Kit feels isolated. Even her visiting Aunt Bea (Myrna Loy, sharp as a tack and looking terrific at fifty-five) begins to wonder.

From the outset, though, the viewer knows that Kit is telling the truth, and the mystery for us becomes not whether she’s delusional, but who’s behind the threats? The script serves up a rich array of suspects. Is she being menaced by her housekeeper’s smarmy nephew (Roddy McDowell)? By her husband’s financially troubled associate (Herbert Marshall)? By Anthony’s assistant Daniel (Richard Ney), who seems to be nursing other ambitions under his obsequious facade? “So many red herrings!” as critic and writer Kat Ellinger observes in her fine audio commentary on a new Kino-Lorber Blu-ray release of the movie. A handsome construction manager overseeing a renovation next door seems to be a good guy (John Gavin), but he’s troubled by lingering wartime PTSD, and he’s been using the phone in the back room of the local pub to make calls of an undisclosed nature. When a stranger intrudes into Kit’s apartment, inconveniently disappearing when she summons help, he’s likely to become the viewer’s prime suspect, and not only because of his black overcoat and sinister cast of features. He’s played by Anthony Dawson, well-remembered (like John Williams as the police inspector) from “Dial M for Murder.” In the Hitchcock thriller, Dawson was the guy who attempted to strangle Grace Kelly. By and large, the script plays fair in planting its clues and casting our suspicions first on one character and then another, although the resolution may not surprise hardcore movie-mystery fans. The phrase “Midnight Lace” is uttered once in the film as the style of a black negligee that Kit promises to wear if Anthony takes her on their deferred honeymoon to Venice, but it doesn’t have any real bearing on the character’s plight. Still, it’s a classy and evocative title that was repurposed for an inferior, unrelated made-for-TV movie in 1981.

Continue reading "REVIEW: “MIDNIGHT LACE” (1960), STARRING DORIS DAY, REX HARRISON, AND JOHN GAVIN; KINO-LORBER BLU-RAY RELEASE"

The Museum of the Moving Image in New York City will host a major exhibition dedicated to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" that will run between January January 18-July 19, 2020. In addition to displaying costumes, artifacts and concept art from the film, the Museum will be offering screenings in 70mm format. For more click here.

Although apparently it was not a hit when it was first released in 1956, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le flambeur (aka Bob the Gambler) grew in reputation over the ensuing years and soon became a classic French film noir, often cited as one of the better crime films from that country in any decade.

Melville was an artist known for his minimalistic style that influenced many of the younger rebels who initiated the French New Wave. While Melville himself is usually not considered to be a New Wave director, he has been called the “godfather” of the movement. Both Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut have acknowledged him as a mentor of sorts, and in fact, Godard cast him in a small role—as a filmmaker—in his debut picture, Breathless.

Bob le flambeur is mostly a character study about a former thief/bank robber (played by the charismatic Roger Duchesne) who did time, is out of jail, and is attempting to lead a life without crime. His one vice, however, is gambling, and he can’t stop. Whenever he has money, he spends it on a dice game, at the races, at cards, or at the casino. He acknowledges that he has runs of bad luck… but when he’s feeling lucky, the world is his oyster. He tends to do kind things for people, such as help out a young woman, Anne (Isabelle Corey) who is one night away from being a streetwalker, or also showing a young protégé, Paolo (Daniel Cauchy), the ropes with regard to high stakes and the philosophical risks of life itself. Then temptation strikes—there’s the possibility of making a big score by robbing the safe at a casino with the help of a team of specialists. How the plot plays out produces the kind of irony that is reminiscent of what is displayed in, say, Kubrick’s The Killing.

The picture is an early one in Melville’s career, and he would go on to direct other, perhaps better, titles (Le Samouraï, Army of Shadows, Le Cercle rouge), but Bob le flambeur may be his best known work because of its striking style, the melancholic mood it evokes, and the central performance by Duchesne. It is a standout among the many French noirs being made in the 1950s.

Kino Lorber presents a beautifully restored 1920x1080p high definition transfer that looks gorgeous, and it comes with an audio commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton. Also included is the approximately half-hour documentary, Diary of a Villain, about the influence of the picture and its striking style. The theatrical trailer and other Kino Lorber trailers round out the package.

Bob le flambeur is recommended for any fan of film noir and/or French cinema. You’re sure to be a winner with this one.

Eon Productions have announced that the official title of the next James Bond film will be "No Time to Die". Daniel Craig returns for what is said to be his final appearance as 007. The film is scheduled to open in April, 2020.  Here is the official press release:

LOS ANGELES – August 20, 2019 – James Bond Producers, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli today released the official title of the 25th James Bond adventure, No Time To Die. The film, from Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions, Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios (MGM), and Universal Pictures International is directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation, True Detective) and stars Daniel Craig, who returns for his fifth film as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007. Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade (Spectre, Skyfall), Cary Joji Fukunaga, Scott Z. Burns (Contagion, The Bourne Ultimatum) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Killing Eve, Fleabag) No Time To Die is currently in production. The film will be released globally from April 3, 2020 in the U.K. through Universal Pictures International and in the U.S on April 8, from MGM via their United Artists Releasing banner.

No Time To Die also stars Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Billy Magnussen, Ana de Armas, Rory Kinnear, David Dencik, Dali Benssalah with Jeffrey Wright and Ralph Fiennes.

In No Time To Die, Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

Other members of the creative team are; Composer Dan Romer, Director of Photography Linus Sandgren, Editors Tom Cross and Elliot Graham, Production Designer Mark Tildesley, Costume Designer Suttirat Larlarb, Hair and Make-up Designer Daniel Phillips, Supervising Stunt Coordinator Olivier Schneider, Stunt Coordinator Lee Morrison and Visual Effects Supervisor Charlie Noble. Returning members to the team are; 2nd Unit Director Alexander Witt, Special Effects and Action Vehicles Supervisor Chris Corbould and Casting Director Debbie McWilliams.

Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace, Skyfall and Spectre have grossed more than $3.1 billion in worldwide box office collectively. Skyfall ($1.1 billion) and Spectre ($880 million) are the two highest-grossing films in the franchise.

Paging through a dog-eared magazine in a doctor’s waiting room, I happened across a checklist of the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Films. With a combination of surprise and disappointment, I was made aware that I’d only caught about fifty-percent of the films listed. Of the remaining 50% there were about half, assuming the proper mood, that I would be interested in seeing sometime. The remaining twenty-five percent were, to be perfectly honest, films too far out of the scope of personal interest. Regardless, I convinced myself that if I can hold on long enough to manage a pension… Well, perhaps there remained a possibility of catching up on a few of those titles as well.

Regardless, it was soul-searching time. While I have been issued an AARP card, I’m not a bona fide senior citizen yet. So why, I asked myself in painful self-reflection, have I not seen half of the one hundred greatest American films ever produced, yet have somehow managed to sit through Billy the Kid vs. Dracula at least a dozen times. Now that I think of it, I’ve sadly probably sat through this cinematic train wreck a dozen more times than even that calculation.

It goes without saying that John Carradine’s turn as Transylvania’s crown Prince of Darkness in Universal’s House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula was not nearly as iconic as Bela Lugosi’s. Carradine’s Dracula was certainly less menacingly foreign in his manner and accent. His was a more gentlemanly vampire, soft-spoken, elegantly dressed with top hat, cravat and walking stick. Though the “Immortal Count” had visibly aged since Carradine’s 1944 appropriation of the role, his sartorial style would not change a great deal when Billy the Kid vs. Dracula was unleashed in 1966. There were a few changes. While the top hat and cape remained in place, the well-manicured moustache he sported in the Universal films has been replaced with a drooping “Snidely Whiplash” soup strainer. Hanging from the pointed chin of Carradine’s triangular noggin sat a Salvador Dali-style goatee.

It was the same character in name only. In the 1940s, Carradine’s Dracula was an otherworldly figure, distinguished and mysterious. In this William Beaudine cult film he’s cast as more of a lecherous, carpet bagging lunatic with obvious bedroom eyes for the sweet and sassy Betty Bentley (Melinda Plowman). And while we’re on the subject of eyes; if Lugosi’s eyes were mesmerizing and hypnotic and Christopher Lee’s bloodshot and primal, Carradine’s are just… Well, plain goofy. Stretching his eye sockets to ridiculous parameters, Carradine’s sclera and pupils resemble a pair of bulging ping pong balls. The result is a gaze neither mesmerizing nor terrifying, but merely ridiculous. He bears the facial expression of man who witnessed in amazement as someone swallowed an enormous sandwich from the Carnegie Deli in a single bite.

“There are pictures I wish I hadn’t done,” Carradine would confess to interviewers on more than one occasion. Usually citing Billy the Kid vs. Dracula as one of these films, the actor routinely excused his signing on to such disasters since an aging actor still needed to work to pay the bills. Though the actor’s reflection is both gracious and understandable, a grain of salt is necessary to digest his belief that, “I started turning down the bad [roles following Billy the Kid vs. Dracula]. My conscience took over and I’d say I won’t read lines and vomit at the same time.” If this was true, then 1966 would have marked the demarcation line between the good, the bad, and the ugly of Carradine’s prodigious filmography. But if this is the case, then how does one explain Carradine’s presence in such delicious post-1966 cinematic trash as The Astro Zombies, House of the Black Death, Satan’s Cheerleaders, and Vampire Hookers – not to mention the four exploitative quickies he made in Mexico City in 1968? This, sadly, is to list only a few of his mid-to-late career titles. One must also graciously choose to ignore most of his walk-on work from 1970 through 1988.

There’s no point in describing the film’s ridiculous storyline in any detail. In the final tally, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula is neither a very good horror film nor a serviceable western. That’s not to say that the film is not entertaining. It’s just not entertaining in any commendable way. Director William Beaudine – famously referred to as “One Shot Beaudine” due to his economic, time-crunched shooting schedules – had been kicking around Hollywood’s second and third tier studios since near the beginning of the silent era. His specialties were second features - mostly westerns and mysteries - but he wasn’t opposed to taking on any film project if it helped to keep him employed.

Though not considered a “horror” film director by any measure, Beaudine would nonetheless helm two Bowery Boy comedies that brushed against the supernatural: Spook Busters (Monogram, 1946) and Ghosts on the Loose (Monogram, 1943). He would also work with Bela Lugosi on two “Poverty Row” horrors for Sam Katzman: The Ape Man (1943) and Voodoo Man (1944). In fact Carradine was cast in the latter film - a vintage horror film guilty pleasure if there ever was one - though the actor sadly relegated to a small supporting role with little dialogue. He and Beaudine would work together again. On this occasion the Shakespearian-trained Carradine managed top-billing status in the mad scientist flick The Face of Marble (Hollywood Pictures Corp., 1946).

Time-tested vampire tropes are pretty much honored and utilized in Carl Hittleman’s script for Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. Unless, of course, these folkloric blends might interfere with Beaudine’s frantic shooting schedule. One crew member suggested that that Beaudine managed to shoot Billy the Kid vs. Dracula in all of five days, though Beaudine insisted he shot both that film and its companion film Jesse James vs. Frankenstein’s Daughter in sixteen days total. In any event, this is the one vampire film that is unusual as it takes place almost entirely in the light of day. If a night scene had to be included as a dramatic necessity, nightfall is usually suggested – and not too convincingly - by setting a blue filter over the lens. The film’s shortfalls weren’t lost on Carradine. Once speaking of his career in film, Carradine opined, “I have worked in a dozen of the greatest, and I have worked in a dozen of the worst… I only regret Billy the Kid vs. Dracula.”

Continue reading "REVIEW: "BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA" (1966) STARRING JOHN CARRADINE; KINO LORBER BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION"

Writing in Variety, Joe Leydon outlines ten key retro films that feature in Quentin Tarantino's ode to 1969, "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood". As one might expect from the director, the films range from boxoffice hits ("Valley of the Dolls", "Easy Rider", "The Wrecking Crew")  to obscure titles the average viewer will not be familiar with ("Fort Dobbs", "Model Shop"). Click here to read. 

The French caught on to Hollywood’s wave of crime movies in a big way. In fact, the French critics coined the term film noir to describe the types of B-budget, angst-ridden, expressionistic, hard boiled flicks that were made throughout the 1940s and 1950s in America. French filmmakers had been toying with this style of crime picture since the late 1930s, but in the 50s, they, too, emulated what Hollywood had been doing—only they notched up the violence and the darkness.

Classic French actor Jean Gabin, who became known to U.S. and U.K. audiences with his superb performances in Jean Renoir pictures of the 30s (Grand Illusion, The Human Beast) and early gangster flicks (Pépé le Moko), rejuvenated his career in the 50s by starring in several of these European gangster films. Gabin, who might be described as a French mixture of Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart, was a wonderful, charismatic actor who could play tough guys with a touch of empathy, the same way Bogart could.

Touchez pas au grisbi (1954), which translates to, roughly, “Don’t Touch the Loot,” was released in the U.K. as Honour Among Thieves and apparently in the U.S. as simply Grisbi. Gabin is Max, a high-level gangster who has just pulled off a daring heist of gold bars. The idea is to lay low and fence the gold when it’s safe. Unfortunately, a dastardly femme fatale throws a monkey wrench into the plan. Max’s partner, Riton (René Dary) has said too much to his burlesque dancer girlfriend, Josy (a feisty young Jeanne Moreau), who of course blabs it to Angelo (Lino Ventura) a rival gang member who is sweet on her. Trouble ensues.

Razzia sur la chnouf (1955), which translates to, roughly, “Raid on the Dope, or Raid on the Drugs,” was released in the U.S. as simply Razzia. In this picture, Gabin is “Henri from Nantais,” another high-level gangster working in the U.S., who is summoned to France to take over and improve the heroin distribution operation run by a large syndicate. Henri manages a restaurant as cover, and then proceeds to clean house. In the process, he becomes romantically involved with the restaurant cashier, Lisette (the scintillating Magali Noël). As Henri lays down the law among the men, the body count increases, culminating toward an explosive climax.

Both pictures are terrific, but the edge goes to Razzia. While Grisbi employs a fascinating character study in Max, the first half is a slow burn and doesn’t become truly thrilling until the final third—which does indeed erupt in a brutal violence that was uncommon for the 1950s. Razzia is better constructed and is more “colorful” (even though it’s shot in black and white) with the depiction of Chinese and black user drug dens, underworld politics, and the details of the drug operation. Razzia also has a very satisfying twist ending. In both cases, the directors, Jacques Becker and Henri Decoin, respectively, handle the material with firm hands.

Kino Lorber’s two sold-separately Blu-ray packages contain gorgeous, sharp high definition 1920x1080p restorations, in French with optional subtitles, and both also feature an audio commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton. The Grisbi disk has some supplements: a fun vintage interview with Jeanne Moreau; an interview with the director’s son, Jean Becker; and an interview with professor/film critic Ginette Vincendeau. Note that the information on the back of the jewel box states that the film’s run time is 83 minutes, when in fact it is 96. Razzia, unfortunately, does not contain any extras. Both disks offer the original theatrical trailers, plus other Kino Lorber title trailers.

Any fan of film noir, the actor Jean Gabin, and/or gritty crime pictures, will enjoy these two French gems. Sacrebleu!

Ben Kingsley is an escaped Nazi living in Argentina in “Operation Finale” available on Blu-ray from Universal. Kingley is not just any escaped Nazi, but Adolph Eichmann, the highest ranking Nazi to escape justice after World War II. The so called “Architect of the Final Solution” has been living a quiet life in Argentina for 15 years when Israeli intelligence, Mosaad, receive information from blind German ex pat Lothar Hermann (Peter Strauss) and they set a plan in motion to kidnap Eichmann and bring him to Israel to stand trial.

The German community in Argentina is filled with former Nazis who gather for reunions and discuss their mutual hatred of Jews. Lothar’s daughter, Sylvia Hermann (Haley Lu Richardson), meets a boy named Klaus (Joe Alwyn) at the cinema. He invites her to a German party where she is appalled by the overt anti-Semitism. Lothar gets word to the Israelis that Eichmann may be the father of the boy his daughter is seeing. The Mosaad encourage Sylvia to visit the Eichmann home where she meets Vera (Greta Scacchi) and the children as well as Adolph Eichmann himself who is living under an assumed name and working as a mid-level manager. A Mossad agent confirms it is Adolph Eichmann, but they will not know for certain until they capture and interrogate him.

Mosaad agent Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) is part of the team assigned to develop a precision kidnapping and escape plan. As we know from history, the Israelis succeed in getting Eichmann in May 1960 and bringing him to Israel for a public trial. The agents held Eichmann at a safe house for nine days in order to confirm his identity and smuggled him out of Argentina on an El Al flight. The movie depicts the tense moments when the flight plan was waiting final approval until the flight was released for departure.

The days at the safe house are interesting as Eichmann was kept isolated, blindfolded and handcuffed to his bed. His interrogators finally get him to confirm his identity when the head of the Mosaad, Isser Harel (Lior Raz), purposely misreads Eichmann’s SS service number several times until Eichmann’s perfectionism gets the better of him and he corrects Harel. Eichmann states his desire to set the record straight on his role in the Third Reich as little more than a bureaucrat ensuring the trains ran on schedule. The fact that the trains contained human beings who were being transported to their deaths was of no concern to Eichmann and he took no responsibility for his role in the murder of millions under Nazi Germany.

The film was directed by the multi-talented actor, writer and producer Chris Weitz, best known for his work as director and writer on “About a Boy” and “The Golden Compass” as well as the writer of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” The movie does a nice job dramatizing this post-script to World War II and the defeat of Nazi Germany. Oscar Isaac is very good as agent Malkin, especially his interrogation scenes with Kingsley. I do have a problem with Kingsley playing the younger Eichmann in flashback scenes during World War II which make him look like a wax-work figure. The movie ends with Eichmann departing Argentina followed by brief scenes of him on trial. The film includes a coda running prior to the end credits including film of the actual trial and profiles of the agents involved with Eichmann’s capture.

Continue reading "REVIEW: "OPERATION FINALE" (2018) STARRING BEN KINGSLEY; UNIVERSAL BLU-RAY DUAL FORMAT RELEASE "

Peter Fonda, the actor, screenwriter, producer and director, has died at age 79 from lung cancer. His family represented one of America's most legendary acting dynasties. His father was Henry Fonda, his sister Jane Fonda and he was the father of actress Bridget Fonda. He and Jane had a fractured relationship with their father that ultimately saw them reconcile in Henry's later years. Their mother committed suicide when they were very young and they were initially told she had died of a heart attack. Peter almost died as a teenager when he accidentally shot himself in the stomach. He and Jane both found success as actors, following in their father's footsteps. Peter's early films found him in supporting roles but his breakthrough role as a leading man came in Roger Corman's 1966 biker film "The Wild Angels", which was made on a shoestring budget but ended up being a high grossing hit. He had another cult hit for Corman the following year with the drug-themed drama "The Trip". Fonda's position as an icon of Sixties pop culture was cemented with the 1969 release of "Easy Rider", which he co-wrote with Dennis Hopper (who also directed the film) and Terry Southern. Fonda produced the movie on a budget of less than $400,000 and sold the distribution rights to Columbia. The movie revolutionized international filmmaking and went on to staggering grosses and great acclaim, although Fonda and Hopper would have a personal falling out relating to the movie.

In the years after "Easy Rider", Fonda had a checkered career. He directed and starred in the 1971 revisionist western "The Hired Hand" which was a boxoffice flop but which went on to become an acclaimed cult movie, similar to Thomas McGuane's 1975 movie "92 in the Shade" in which Fonda also starred. He dropped out of acting and filmmaking for extended periods of time before gaining an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in the 1997 film "Ulee's Gold". Fonda had been back in the news in recent months in relation to the 50th anniversary of "Easy Rider". He was scheduled to introduce the film at a high profile screening of the movie this September at Radio City Music Hall. For more click here.

Alfred Sole is a production designer who has carved out a nice career for himself in Hollywood, most notably on the television shows Veronica Mars (2004-7), Castle (2009-16), and the reboot of MacGyver (2017-18). Long before he chose that line of work however, he dabbled in the world of film directing. His first film, a 1972 hardcore sex “comedy” called Deep Sleep, which was financed on a bet, must be seen to be believed. He apparently made a follow-up film after that called American Soap which to my knowledge has never seen the light of day. I would be very interested in seeing the latter as despite a few flourishes of cinematic style and several humorous sequences involving dialogue, the former is just a hardcore sex romp featuring folks no one in their right mind would want to see naked, let alone copulating. I only mention it because there is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, in this film to suggest that he would go on to direct one of the greatest and most thematically disturbing thrillers of our time, 1976’s Communion, which is also known as Alice, Sweet Alice and Holy Terror. Mr. Sole’s subsequent films, 1980’s ridiculous Tanya’s Island with the late and impossibly desirable Denise Matthews (credited as “D.D. Winters”) and 1982’s star-studded comedy Pandemonium, both fared poorly at the box office, hence his career change. Thankfully Alice, Sweet Alice, with its high cinematic style and deceptively low production budget, refused to die.

In her screen debut which lasts all of thirteen minutes, Brooke Shields plays Karen Spages (rhymes with “pages”), the younger sister of Alice Spages, the latter brilliantly portrayed by New Jersey-born-now-living-in-Seattle former actress Paula Sheppard. Karen is favored by everyone around her and can do no wrong, mostly because Alice is an instigator. She teases Karen, locks her in an abandoned building to scare her, and mistreats her communion veil. Why the horseplay? Alice was conceived out of wedlock and is not entitled to receive the Holy Eucharist. As if this is her fault.

On the day of her First Communion, Karen is brutally murdered right in the church and all suspicion points to her sister after Alice finds the discarded veil and wears it to the altar in an effort to receive communion. This sets in motion some truly well-acted scenes wherein the identity of the killer is constantly in question. Everyone suspects Alice, even her neighbor Mr. Alphonse (Alphonse DeNoble) who is an obese monstrosity who spends his days feeding his cats and listening to Helen Morgan tunes on his Victrola. Karen and Alice’s mother Catherine (Linda Miller) is grief-stricken and meets her ex-husband Dom (Niles McMaster) at the funeral. Afterwards, there are suspicions about Alice’s whereabouts during Karen’s murder and Alice submits to a polygraph which she mischievously pushes on to the floor. Her Aunt Annie (Jane Lowry) battles with Catherine and the latter accuses her of hating Alice because of her sinful status. Annie refutes this until she herself is attacked in a shockingly bloody sequence which then convinces her that Alice is the killer.

The film takes place in 1961 as evinced by the production design, the old-style cars, a calendar on the wall, and the prevalence of a poster of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) that can be seen if one really looks for it. Originally reviled amid concerns that it’s an attack against the Catholic Church (how can it not be?), the film was met with lukewarm box office. Director Sole was rumored to have stated that the church was simply the milieu he wanted to set the story against, but the commentary infers otherwise. It’s one of the most Catholic-themed films I’ve ever seen, even more so than William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973). It has a look, a feel, and an atmosphere all its own. This film is quite simply one of the best low-budget American horror films ever made. It boasts a superbly eerie score by Stephen Lawrence who scored a handful of other films. Yours Truly has been wishing for a soundtrack album of this music for years, however one has yet to surface. Great editing, wonderful set design, and excellent music all come together to make Alice an enjoyable shocker that can easily be viewed multiple times.

Continue reading "REVIEW: "ALICE, SWEET ALICE" (AKA "COMMUNION") (1975) STARRING BROOKE SHIELDS; ARROW BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION"

Scream and Scream Again (1970) is the second of three films horror maestro Vincent Price would sign onto in his late-stage years of working for American-International Pictures. This film, a very peculiar one by many standards, was bracketed by two other British horrors for A.I.P., The Oblong Box (1969) and Cry of the Banshee (1970). All three films of these films were helmed by director Gordon Hessler, who also doubled as producer of these first and third efforts.

From 1960 through 1964 A.I.P. enjoyed great success with Roger Corman’s cycle of stylistic Gothic horrors. These films were similar in many ways, often featuring a tortured and/or haunted Vincent Price in Corman’s somewhat liberal adaptations of stories by the likes of literary horror masters Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. The successes of these films were mostly in the studio’s rearview mirror by 1965. With the ticket-buying public’s interest in Gothic horror and costume period pieces clearly on the wane, A.I.P. was doing their best to exploit the talent and drawing power of their most bankable contract star. Depending on who you ask, some argue that this trio of British A.I.P. film projects (1960-1970) ministered by Hessler and starring Price were satisfying only to a base of faithful devotees.

Both Hessler’s The Oblong Box and Cry of the Banshee – not to mention Michael Reeve’s controversial Witchfinder General (1968) – were unrelentingly grim in the presentation of their subject matter. They were all very good films, mind you – some consider the Reeves’ film a masterpiece - but their dark and serious themes and depressing atmospherics simply did not allow Price to bring his trademark mix of Devilish charm and menace to his assigned characters. It wasn’t until the releases of The Abominable Dr. Phibes (A.I.P., 1971), Dr. Phibes Rises Again (A.I.P., 1972) and Theatre of Blood (United Artists, 1973), that the ship would be righted, all three capitalizing on the veteran actor’s talent as a colorfully self-mocking, blood-letting, and black-humored eccentric.

In Scream and Scream Again, a modern day sci-fi thriller rather than a traditional horror, Price again was burdened again in a humorless role as “Dr. Browning.” The not-so-good doctor is, in fact, a mad scientist engaged in the creation of super-human “composites,” whiling away his days in the laboratory of his stately manor house. Price is, sadly, wasted in a role that could have been played by anyone. Then again none of this film’s top billed players – Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing – were given much to do. If Price’s is the principal star of this film, it’s simply by default. He merely enjoys the most screen time of the three principals listed… but a bit more on that later.

Dr. Browning is not a terribly interesting character; he’s too thinly drawn by screenwriter Christopher Wicking and we don’t see much of him until the film’s closing minutes. The best of Vincent Price’s on-screen characterizations are the ones where he seems relishing the role. One is never really certain if Price even has any idea what is going on around him in Scream and Scream Again. Director Hessler would more or less confirm this in subsequent interviews, confiding to one writer that he thought Price was not particularly fond of the three films he made under his direction. In the case of Scream and Scream Again, Hessler believed the actor “didn’t know what he was doing in the picture; he thought it was all weird and strange.”

If this was the case, Price was not alone in his confusion. Co-star Christopher Lee (who tragically only shares a brief single scene with Price) expressed similar sentiments. As Lee’s on screen time in this ninety-four minute film (U.S. version) lasts little more than eight minutes or so in total, he could more easily dismiss the film’s shortfalls as he wasn’t burdened with the responsibility of carrying the picture. And for a film that teamed the three-biggest horror movie icons of the 1960s and 1970s for the first of only two full-length features together, it’s something of a tragedy that poor Peter Cushing’s role is little more than a cameo. The scourge of missed opportunity is ever-present throughout Hessler’s opus.

Scream and Scream Again is credited as having been based on Peter Saxon’s 1966 sci-fi-novel The Disorientated Man. But, as with seemingly everything relating to this is film, even that’s vague. In fact there was no actual Peter Saxon; the name was a general pseudonym given to a stable of authors over-used and underpaid by a certain British publisher of mass market sci-fi paperbacks. As I’ve never read Saxon’s novel, I cannot say with any certainty if Hessler’s film is in any form a faithful, cinematic reproduction of the source material. I can attest that the director most assuredly captured the spirit of the book’s title. In the final analysis, it could be argued that Hessler’s multiple, shifting and confusing scenarios in Scream and Scream Again produced The Disorientated Viewer.

I won’t attempt to explain the film’s storyline here. In short Hessler’s mosaic narrative is a series of seemingly incongruous episodes bewilderingly stitched together. These threads do come together, somewhat un-satisfyingly, in the end. It was an unusual approach in telling this complex story cinematically but, in my personal opinion, only occasionally successful. On the other hand, the film is never dull, just confusing in its structure. It can also be argued that for a film masquerading as a police case or espionage caper, there’s no palpable sense of tension building to a satisfying climax. Nonetheless, many of the film’s scenes are memorable in standalone instances. Not particularly suspenseful, but memorable.

The mysterious villains of this film are adorned in both business suits and ersatz-Nazi regalia. It’s never overtly explained if these schemers are jack-booted Communists or Fascists, but they’re most certainly totalitarians. The bad guys are seemingly based out of some unnamed East European nation. The Stasi-like military helmets, the term “Comrade,” and a well- guarded checkpoint suggest a hostile regime resembling that of Communist East Germany. But their interest in scientifically developing an army of super-humans is… well, straight from the Nazi playbook.

Disappointingly, and as referenced earlier, the better part of the film does not prominently feature Price, Lee, or Cushing despite their shared star-billing. The film mostly follows the violent doings (and ensuing police investigation) of a renegade composite; a handsome but murderous, synthetic flesh-eating Cyborg who drives a nifty red sports coupe. His modus operandi in choosing victims is by befriending them at “The Busted Pot,” a swinging and noisy London nightclub. To tell more is to give things away. Should you require a more detailed synopsis there are plenty of erudite and thoughtful treatises on Scream and Scream Again published in books, magazines, and on-line.

Continue reading "REVIEW: "SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN" (1970) STARRING VINCENT PRICE, CHRISTOPHER LEE AND PETER CUSHING; KINO LORBER BLU-RAY RELEASE"

Not usually mentioned in naming off the many classic movies made by master filmmaker Billy Wilder, A Foreign Affair seems to always be lumped in with his lesser efforts. This is a mistake.

After the one-two punch of Double Indemnity (1944) and The Lost Weekend (1945), the latter picture winning Best Picture and Director, Wilder made The Emperor Waltz (1948), which truly is a bit of a dud, and then A Foreign Affair, released that same year.

The film featured the fabulous comic actress Jean Arthur in her last motion picture starring role (she would appear in a supporting part a few years later in Shane, her last movie, but would continue to work in theatre and television), and the marvelous Marlene Dietrich, whose star had diminished somewhat by the late 1940s but was still a screen presence to reckon with. The third corner of the ménage à trois that is the center of the picture is John Lund, a leading man wannabe who never quite broke through after a couple dozen near misses.

Post-war Berlin (where a lot of the film was shot) is still in devastation, policed in four quarters by the Allies. The German people are struggling to rebuild their lives and spirits. A Congressional committee comes to the U.S. sector to visit a military base and assess the morale and progress of the troops. Congresswoman Phoebe Frost (Arthur) from Iowa is one of the more patriotic, prim, and proper members of the team. Handsome and charming Captain John Pringle (Lund) is having an affair with German cabaret singer Erika von Schlütow (Dietrich), but the army suspects her of harboring a Nazi war criminal who was once her lover. Frost snags Pringle to unwittingly be her partner in smoking out von Schlütow and in the process falls in love with him. Pringle pretends to be smitten as well to keep Frost from learning of his relationship with von Schlütow. It all becomes a comedy—and musical—of manners set amidst rather serious, sober times for a country fighting to survive.

Like with most Wilder pictures, the humor conflicts with the drama in unsuspecting ways. This is a comedy with bite.

Poor Lund fades into the background compared to the dynamo star power of Arthur and Dietrich, as they battle each other for not only Lund’s affections, but for the audience’s as well. Arthur, who was in her late forties at the time (sadly considered “old” by Hollywood standards in those days), is as charming and funny as ever. Dietrich, who was a year younger, never seems to age. Her cabaret act recalls her numbers in the early Josef von Sternberg vehicles like The Blue Angel and Morocco. As she is essentially the villain in the story, it’s noteworthy that Wilder was able to persuade Dietrich to play a member of the party she openly despised. The two women are fascinating to watch.

Kino Lorber presents a 1920x1080p high definition transfer that is of mixed quality. Portions of the feature look pristine and sharp—albeit with the requisite and welcome graininess one would expect from a black and white feature from the period. Other sections of the movie, however, contain artifacts and vertical lines that hover for several minutes. Still, it’s nice to have this Wilder rarity on Blu-ray, and it comes with an interesting audio commentary by film historian Joseph McBride. There are no supplements other than the theatrical trailer and other Kino Lorber trailers.

Fans of Billy Wilder, Jean Arthur, and/or Marlene Dietrich will surely get a kick out of this time capsule that captures post-war Germany with a good deal of insight and quite a few laughs.

If you’re wondering whether the original Aston Martin DB5 from “Goldfinger”  is as beautiful in person as it is on screen, wonder no more: it is a pristine specimen, a preserved and likely restored testament to not only the greatest franchise in film history, but a metaphor for ingenuity and quality living.

Displayed prominently recently at New York’s Sotheby’s Auction House on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, I took pictures through the plate glass window, over the course of a few days, once to see the car with the bullet-proof plate raised over the trunk of the car, only to find it lowered back into the car the next day (I assumed that any shooting had stopped) and found the spike protruding from the hub of the rear wheels, which was designed to shred a pursuing car’s tires.

Now if you ask me what it was like to drive what is arguably the most famous car in world history (with the possible exception of the 1966 Batmobile, which I had the privilege of driving), I cannot help you. When I went back for a private media event and asked if it were possible to drive the car, I was politely dismissed by the event’s host and eyed carefully by a powerfully built security guard whose eyes send me a clear message: if I touched the car I would be both shaken and stirred.

The car, one of four James Bond 007 DB5 models built for the two films, of which only three survive, is schedule to be auctioned off this week, August 15, at the Monterey Conference Center in Monterrey, California. Estimate pre-sale for the auction is between four and six million dollars. According to the sleek auction catalog: “Both car and gadgetry have been fully restored by Roos Engineering in Switzerland, ensuring all gadgetry functions as Q intended.”

I am a few weeks away from my 20th anniversary as a film and entertainment journalist and of the hundreds of articles and reviews that I have written, the most often quoted back to me is the following:

“Mounted on the dashboard of my black convertible are two plastic switches, "Grenade Launcher" and "Ejector Seat." They amuse friends and concern wary parking lot attendants. I own high tech gadgets ranging from a big screen television that can do virtually everything except fly, an IBM laptop with a Celeron processor (I do not know what that is either), to the George Foreman Grill, on which I can broil a steak in eight minutes. But I have never disarmed a thermonuclear device with seven seconds left to detonation, and I have never killed or otherwise disabled a dozen enemy agents while skiing backwards down the Swiss Alps. I have never devised a creative escape from a windowless room as the two opposite, spike-laden walls were closing in on me, and I have never had an arch enemy with plans for world conquest. But not unlike most men, regardless of race, religion, or age, I cannot look at myself in a mirror in a tuxedo without smiling wryly and thinking: "Bond, James Bond."

007 survived the Cold War, eleven sitting presidents, and after almost 60 years, still amasses millions of new fans each year, who watch the same movies over and over, and who quote dialogue like gospel. Bond has become the most enduring movie franchise in history. The signature theme punctuated by the four note riff that plays at the beginning of every Bond entry, where 007 walks to the center of the gun barrel, turns and shoots, is arguably the most recognizable movie theme and opening in history.

To anyone growing up in the 1960s and 70s, it was hard to escape the cultural influence and lure of James Bond and his imitators and progeny, ranging from Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, The Men from U.N.C.L.E to Maxell Smart and Agent 99 from “Get Smart” to Jay Bondrock from “The Flintstones” and “The Beverly Hillbillies”’ Jethro Bodine, who after seeing “Goldfinger”, decided he was going to be a “double-naught spy.” At least once a year for the last 20 years I ask my still good friend and now editor, Lee Pfeiffer to walk the streets of Upper East Side near the United Nations in search of Del Florias’s Tailor Shop, where pulling the hook in the fitting room opens the secret entrance to U.N.C.L.E headquarters, New York.. While he politely declines each year, I remain hopeful despite the fact I realize the tailor shop was located on MGM’s back lot.

Bond is still a powerful archetype–a blend of escapism and the need to put order to an otherwise disorderly world. The real enemies in Bond's world are boredom, frustration, and complacency. Bond was and is the rebel within the system: he “gets the job done.” He is a “closer.” In his world there are no complicated decisions or murky choices, no mortgage payments, or unavailable baby sitters. Megalomaniacs are not the people you want to work for, as they get sucked out of airplanes at 30,000 feet or get tossed off their own space platforms. Someone who cuts you off on the highway can be dispatched with a wing machine gun or a laser beam activated from a control panel concealed beneath the armrest and bad dates (despite the fact that they carry guns and scalpels) get killed by hulking silent adversaries with no necks or get dropped into tanks filled with piranha.

Bond was created and nurtured in the hopeful era when it was believed that one intelligent, passionate, and resourceful person could change the world for the better. President John F. Kennedy said “I wish I had James Bond on my staff.”

Ian Fleming created Bond as "an interesting man to whom extraordinary things happen." He appropriated the name "James Bond" from the author of Birds of the West Indies (which he pulled off his shelf) because he felt the name suitably "dull" and "anonymous." The prescient Fleming’s early insight about globalization was that it would be non-states and stateless organizations, not other countries, that would become villains and antagonists in an increasingly globalized world. In a way, Fleming predicted Google and Facebook having the influence they have today.

The James Bond Aston Martin DB5 represents the enduring legacy of 007 not only as quality entertainment but also as an iconic character of hope and progress. To borrow from another classic icon, “The Maltese Falcon”, “it is the stuff that dreams are made of.”

Cinema Retro contributor Eddy Friedfeld teaches film classes at NYU and Yale, including the history of James Bond

If you’re familiar with the work of that French New Wave revolutionary, Jean-Luc Godard, you may not think that he was the type of filmmaker who would make a science fiction film. He did, though, in 1965, and he merged the genre with that of film noir to create a unique hybrid that also contains many of the jarring stylistic elements with which Godard loves to bombard his audiences.

Godard was the “bad boy” of the French New Wave. He seemed to take pleasure in angering viewers and being controversial by choice (unlike, say, Truffaut, whose films were decidedly more commercial and accessible). That said, though, there is much in Godard’s canon that can be not only shocking and challenging, but truly wonderful.

Western audiences may not be familiar with the character of Lemmy Caution. He’s a private investigator of the Philip Marlowe/Sam Spade type, an American, created by British writer Peter Cheyney, and featured in nine novels published in the 1940s as pulp P.I. mysteries. The character also appeared in approximately fifteen motion pictures, made mostly in France, and were never on the radar of English-speaking viewers. American tough-guy actor Eddie Constantine moved to France after he found that he couldn’t get work in Hollywood, and there he enjoyed a career playing the kinds of roles one might associate with Robert Mitchum or Dennis O’Keefe. Constantine played the role of Lemmy Caution in seven French pictures, made as hard-boiled crime dramas, before Jean-Luc Godard made his version of a Lemmy Caution movie (how Godard obtained the rights to the character to make an art film that turns the detective genre on its head is also a mystery!).

Alphaville takes place in an unspecified dystopian future—Alphaville, the city, looks like Paris, and maybe it is, but now it’s run in an Orwellian-style aristocratic fashion. A computer known as Alpha 60 runs everything (and narrates the film), and people are not allowed to show emotion of any kind. Lemmy comes to Alphaville to destroy Alpha 60 and its creator, a shadowy scientist named “Professor von Braun” (is the similarity to Werner von Braun intentional?—probably!). Lemmy meets up with von Braun’s daughter, Natacha (Anna Karina) and, with an uneasy partnership, sets out on his convoluted mission.

The picture uses many traits of classic film noir (expressionistic lighting, trench coats, fedoras, handgun violence, a femme fatale, and good old cynicism and angst) with the paranoia and highly regulated environment of the dystopian future urban setting. The “futuristic” effect was accomplished by filming on location at “modern” buildings (for the time), providing the movie an added thematic aspect that we are already “living in the future.” Godard continues to rely on his signature radical editing techniques that can be discordant, but here it all works. In fact, Alphaville is one of the more enjoyable Godard films from the 1960s, albeit not something that would play well in Peoria, Illinois.

Kino Lorber Classics has released a restored 1920x1080p transfer that looks remarkably good, and it also features an audio commentary by noted film historian Tim Lucas. Extras include a Colin McCabe introduction to the picture, an interesting interview with Anna Karina (who was married to Godard during the director’s first five years of filmmaking), and the theatrical trailer.

Writing in the New York Times, J. Hoberman revisits the summer-themed films of the legendary director Ingmar Bergman: "Summer Interlude", "Summer with Monika" and "Smiles of a Summer Night". Click here to read.

The long awaited release of Barry Gray's freshly remastered score for Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's 1970 live action series UFO will be available worldwide from 13th September on CD, digital and glorious ‘SHADO Lilac’ double vinyl formats.

2019 would have been Gerry Anderson’s 90th birthday. To celebrate his legacy, Silva Screen Records will release a series of freshly remastered and compiled soundtrack albums from the iconic TV shows. Starting with UFO on 13th September, the Silva Screen releases will feature unforgettable TV themes and will cover all the major, worldwide popular series that Gerry Anderson produced. All the releases in this series are being newly compiled, mastered and designed by the creative team at Fanderson - The Official Gerry and Sylvia Anderson Appreciation Society.

Moving away from his signature militaristic sound which relied heavily on the brass and percussion sections, for UFO Barry Gray produced a Jazz tinged period score, rooted in lounge style. The softer sound, with extensive use of leitmotifs, follows Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s first live action sci-fi series. Featuring 26 episodes set in the futuristic 1980s, the series was inspired by two big topics of the 1960s: extra-terrestrials and the first successful heart transplant. The timing was perfect for a story about the earth community defending themselves from aliens intent on harvesting human organs. The storyline follows the constant battle of SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation), a secret organisation defending earth, against the invaders from space.

Barry Gray was both a classically trained composer and a versatile musician who worked as musical arranger for Vera Lynn, Eartha Kitt and Hoagy Carmichael. He was also resident conductor of the RAF camp dance band and a TV composer. Indeed it was Vera Lynn who introduced Barry Gray to Gerry Anderson. Equally at ease composing for big ensembles, electronica, military bands and jazz ensembles, Barry Gray is best known for creating the music for Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Supermarionation television series Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds, UFO, and Space: 1999. His impressive influence on the TV score genre is still evident today.

It would be inaccurate to dismiss Peter Cheyney’s “Lemmy Caution” as just one more James Bond knock-off. Caution was, from the outset, more of a hardboiled gumshoe than super spy. The character also pre-dates the creation of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, with Cheney having churned out ten Lemmy Caution thrillers from 1936 to 1945. James Bond’s creator was certainly conversant with Cheyney’s work in the spy/thriller canon. Fleming’s friend and biographer John Pearson would recount Fleming’s excitement when his first James Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953), was described by one critic as a “sort of Peter Cheyney de luxe.” One review enthusiastically anointed first-time novelist Fleming as “the Peter Cheyney of the carriage trade.”

Such favorable comparisons stoked Fleming’s confidence in his craft. Cheyney’s novels were great sellers in their days, reportedly selling some 1,500,000 copies at peak. Today, with the passing of time, his books are at best-dimly remembered. Much like the novels of Sax Rohmer, they are recalled mostly by bookish types interested in the time-capsule pulp mysteries of the 1930s and 40s. Cheyney’s novels – similarly to unfortunate passages and caricatures present in several of Fleming’s own aging works, to be fair – would be considered too politically incorrect in this day to appeal to most readers of contemporary mysteries.

Following the success of the publication of From Russia with Love - and the attendant hosanna’s of critical acclaim - Fleming would distance himself from the Cheyney comparisons. In a letter to his publisher Jonathan Cape, Fleming expressed a degree of wariness to the interest of the Daily Express in developing James Bond as a character in a proposed comic-strip series. While acknowledging the potential exploitative and financial windfalls of the venture, Fleming argued his champagne enterprise might somehow be devalued by his creation’s appearance in a series of cartoon strips: “A certain cachet attaches to the present operation and there is a danger that if stripped we shall descend into the Peter Cheyney class.” Fleming wasn’t alone in his newly found disapproval of Cheyney’s déclassé novels. Famed mystery writer Raymond Chandler too would dismiss Cheyney as an author having written only “one good book.”

The film adaptations of Cheyney’s “Lemmy Caution” featuring American actor Eddie Constantine would also pre-date EON’s James Bond series by nine years. The first Lemmy Caution film La môme vert-de-gris was released in France in May of 1953, one month following the publication of Fleming’s first James Bond novel that April. If Sean Connery’s tenure as James Bond was occasionally fractious and mostly disowned by the actor, Constantine was more accepting of his typecast as Lemmy Caution. It was a character of whom the American actor was rarely dismissive of.

Continue reading "REVIEW: JESS FRANCO'S "ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS" (AKA "Cartes sur table") (1966) STARRING EDDIE CONSTANTINE; BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION"

Back in 1973, producer Ely Landau and his wife Edie launched a daring and unprecedented cinema series that played in the U.S. for two “seasons,” with a total of fourteen titles (but only thirteen were shown), all renowned works—classic and modern—originally produced on the stage. It was called the American Film Theatre. (A review of a DVD box set of the entire series appeared on Cinema Retro. Click here to read.)

The concept tried something different. The directive was to take a great stage play, not change a word, and in most cases, use the actual play script as the screenplay. The next step was to hire an accomplished film director to interpret the text for the film medium but stay faithful to the play. Sometimes the director was the same person who helmed the original stage production. A further step was to persuade the original casts from the Broadway or London productions of those plays to star in the film; or, when that wasn’t possible, to cast big-name Hollywood or British actors. Thus, the result was indeed a filmed play—but you as an audience member wouldn’t be watching it from the middle of the orchestra or from the side or from the first balcony; instead you were up close and personal in a realistically-presented world (on studio sets and/or real interior or exterior locations)—just like in “regular” movies. You had the best seat in the house, so to speak, but there’s no proscenium arch. It’s a movie. But it’s a play.

Kino Lorber has slowly been re-releasing the titles from the American Film Theatre in individual packages, upgraded to high definition Blu-ray. Two recent titles to receive the treatment are a couple of the best ones in the series, both featuring the brilliant actor, Sir Alan Bates—Butley, which originally appeared in the first season of the AFT, and In Celebration, which debuted in the second season.

Simon Gray’s Butley is a tour-de-force for Bates, and it’s the role he was born to play. The film also stars Jessica Tandy, Richard O’Callaghan, Michael Byrne, and Susan Engel. Ben Butley is an alcoholic, razor-witted schoolteacher who is left by his wife and his male lover on the same day. If there was ever any doubt that Bates was one of the greatest actors of the 20th Century, then Butley is the film to see. The actor dominates the production in every frame. Even though he plays a despicable cad, his charisma and exuberance are infectious. If the film had been allowed to compete at that year’s Oscars, Bates surely would have been a contender. Harold Pinter made his directorial debut with the picture and it exhibits confidence and style. Simply put, Butley was one of the best films of 1974, in or outside of the AFT.

David Storey’s In Celebration, released in 1975, also stars Alan Bates, along with Brian Cox, James Bolam, Bill Owen, and Constance Chapman. It’s the story of a dysfunctional British family as three grown sons return home to Yorkshire to celebrate their parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. Of course, there are long-squelched secrets that need to bubble to the surface, so what starts out as an uneasy reunion turns ugly. Bates is again superb as the eldest (and trouble making) son, but it is Cox who is strikingly charismatic as the silent, youngest son on the verge of a breakdown. And then there’s the unseen, ever-present specter of the son who died at age seven. The film imported the cast directly from the original Royal Court Theatre production, and it is compelling and poignant. Director Lindsay Anderson handles the material with sensitivity and truth.

Both titles are presented in 1920x1080p restored transfers and look decidedly better than the previous DVD versions. There are optional English SDH subtitles. The supplements are duplicated on both disks: a long, engaging interview with Alan Bates from circa 2002 in which he talks about all of his work with the AFT; an interview with Edie Landau, who with her husband Ely produced the films in the series; a short promotional piece featuring Ely that was shown in theaters during the initial run; and several trailers for other AFT titles. An extra supplement, an interview with writer David Storey, appears on the In Celebration disk.

The titles are sold separately and are a must for theatre-lovers and connoisseurs of superb acting. We at Cinema Retro look forward to the appearance of more AFT titles on Blu-ray.

Forty eight years ago, United Artists continued their series of highly profitable Bond double features by releasing arguably the biggest 00 double bill of them all – Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. Both films had coined money on their initial releases, with Thunderball being the highest-grossing 007 film of that era – in fact, of many eras, right up until Skyfall in 2012. Thunderball earned a stunning $141 Million worldwide (over one billion dollars in today’s money), a number that must have had UA’s finance department humming the Bond theme at 727 Seventh Avenue. You Only Live Twice pulled in over $111 Million worldwide, its profits squeezed perhaps by a competing Bond film, the over-the-top comedy, Casino Royale with Peter Sellers, David Niven, Terence Cooper and Woody Allen as various Bonds or an Italian spy knockoff starring Sean Connery’s younger brother, Neil. (More on that later.)

Throughout the 60s, 70s and into the early 80s, United Artists cannily fed the demand for Bond with double features that also served to ignite audience interest between new films. The double-bills were pure cash cows for the studio – the movies had already been produced and paid for, so all UA had to do was book the theaters, buy TV, radio and print advertising, then, as Bond producer Cubby Broccoli was fond of saying, “Open the cinema doors and get out of the way.”

As a (very) young Bond fan in New York City, the exciting double feature TV spots for “The Two Biggest Bonds of All” got my attention and I desperately wanted to go. My father, an advertising and music executive, thought noon on a Saturday was the perfect time – instead we were greeted with a line around the block and a sold out show. Apparently that satisfied my dad’s interest in the movies because we never went back. Almost five decades later, I still regretted missing those two fantastic films on the big screen…

Enter Quentin Tarantino. Throughout July, his New Beverly Theater in LA ran most of the classic Bonds in vintage 35MM IB Technicolor prints, reportedly from his own collection. (The IB refers to “imbibition”, Technicolor’s patented die-transfer process resulting in a richer, more stable color palette.) So while there was no 4-hour, action-packed double feature for me, I finally got to see both films in 1960s 35MM, only a week apart. Even fifty years later, they didn’t disappoint: Thunderball remains a bonafide masterpiece. Fortunately Quentin owns a very good print, so the colors were still lush and it was fairly scratch-free. The main titles set to Tom Jones’ timeless song still popped in an explosion of colors and sound effects. The scenes of Domino and Bond meeting on a coral reef were hauntingly beautiful. The frantic Junkanoo chase fairly jumped off the screen and Thunderball’s iconic underwater battle is still a showstopper. (The filmmakers cleverly refrained from wall-to-wall music so the sequence incorporated underwater breathing and other natural sounds. Kudos again to 00 audio genius, Norman Wanstall.)

You Only Live Twice is a true epic and only the master showmen, Monsieurs Broccoli and Harry Saltzman could have pulled it off. They reached into the highest levels of the Japanese government to secure a lengthy shoot in what was then a very exotic location in a much bigger world. Japan was almost a character itself in their sprawling space age tale that occasionally bordered on sci-fi. Much has been written about Ken Adam’s volcano crater, but seeing it on a big screen really brings out his mind-blowing vision, especially during the climactic battle where the “ninjas” rappel down from the roof as controlled explosions rock the set. One can only imagine how that went over with 1967 audiences who had never seen anything like it. Putting it in context, Tarantino had selected various spy-themed trailers to run before the film – including The Wrecking Crew, The Venetian Affair and The Liquidator. Although they were all successful and well made, their sets and action sequences looked positively cheap in comparison to a Bond film.

Both features starred a young, vibrant Connery whose acting chops were on full display. Connery played Bond for real. He made you believe… once you bought into him as 007, then his strapping on a jetpack to fly over a French chateau, or a SPECTRE construction crew hollowing out a volcano - in secret - to create a rocket base seemed totally plausible. Sure Connery had put on a few pounds between Thunderball and Twice, but he was still fit and looked fantastic in his custom-made suits. And his fight with Samoan wrestler Peter Maivia (grandfather to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) in Osato’s office is still one for the ages.

As most Bond students know, Twice was a grueling shoot for the mercurial star. He was subjected to intense press and fan interest in a country that had gone wild for 007. Connery needed security to accompany him from location trailer to set. Going out for a quiet dinner was out of the question – even visiting the loo was off limits after an overzealous photographer poked his lens into Connery’s toilet stall! But if he was feeling angry or bitter about his situation, he was too much of a pro to let it show in his performance. In spite of the pressures, there were some good times on the Twice shoot during the furnace hot Asian summer of 1966 – now-famous photos show Connery-san laughing with lovely Mie Hama at his 36th birthday party on location, or back at Pinewood, smiling at Donald Pleasence during a light moment in the control room that even had Blofeld’s hulking bodyguard (actor Ronald Rich) laughing in the background.

Continue reading "DOUBLE-0 HEAVEN: CINEMA RETRO'S MARK CERULLI FINALLY CATCHES UP WITH THE 1970 "THUNDERBALL" & "YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE" DOUBLE FEATURE"

One of the most acclaimed films from France in the late 1930s was Port of Shadows (Le quai des brumes), which was among Marcel Carné’s earliest pictures (he is probably best known to Western audiences for his 1945 masterpiece, Children of Paradise). Port was the recipient of the Prix Louis-Delluc, then the equivalent of the “Best Picture” award in its native country.

The film stars the great Jean Gabin in a quintessential role as Jean, an army deserter who wanders penniless into the port city of Le Havre and soon becomes entangled in a conflict between a beautiful young woman, Nelly (the luminous Michèle Morgan), a group of petty gangsters, and Nelly’s creepy guardian, Zabel (Michel Simon). Zabel wants to sleep with Nelly, who finds her godfather disgusting, the gangsters want to kill Zabel for some offence he has committed, and Jean just wants peace and quiet and a meal. Nevertheless, Jean and Nelly quickly fall in love. Much angst is displayed, the gangsters frame Jean for a murder, and our central characters find themselves in an existential crisis.

The picture is billed as a “crime drama,” although in truth it’s more of a melodrama with some shady characters on the periphery who are up to no good. The main focus is on the burgeoning relationship between Jean and Nelly, and apparently this was hot stuff in 1938. The French censors ended up chopping up the movie—especially the sequence in which Jean and Nelly spend the night in a hotel room (shocking!)—and it wasn’t restored to its original form until years later. Some critics have called Port of Shadows an early film noir, but again, the romance takes too much of a center stage in the story for the picture to be thus labeled.

Carné’s direction of Jacques Prévert’s script (based on Pierre Mac Orlan’s novel) is in the style of what was called “poetic realism,” in that the proceedings are not quite as naturalistic as what was achieved later with Italian Neo-Realism. The soft focus, the moody night scenes, and the fog that envelopes the port city combine to create an impressionistic, painterly pragmatism that is indeed realistic, but lyrical as well. It’s good stuff, especially the tangible chemistry between Gabin and Morgan.

Kino Lorber Classics presents a restored 1920x1080p transfer that looks exquisite. It’s in French, of course, with optional English subtitles. Supplements include a video introduction by professor and film critic Ginette Vincendeau; a substantial documentary of the film’s making, On the Port of the Shadows; and the theatrical trailer.

Devotees of French cinema and film history will want to pick up this one. It’s also not a bad date movie.

Last Year at Marienbad should have had the marketing tagline: “Open to Interpretation,” for the film belongs at the top of a list entitled Movies That Make You Go ‘Huh??’

Alain Resnais’ enigmatic, surreal, and puzzling experimental picture from 1961, the follow-up to his acclaimed Hiroshima mon amour (1959), won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The picture has been simultaneously praised and reviled since its release because audiences generally don’t know what to make of it.

Yes, it’s beautiful to look at. The cinematography by Sacha Vierny is magnificent in its black and white, widescreen splendor. The settings at such Baroque palaces as Nymphenburg and Schleissheim in Munich evoke a mysterious past that might be an alternate timeline. The music by Francis Seyrig might belong in a creepy cathedral with its gothic horror organ. The pace is slow, but the picture constantly moves with the radical editing of the French New Wave (albeit of the Left Bank school, which maintained a more refined sensibility than the rebellious Right Bank upstarts like Godard and Truffaut). The endless tracking shots are remarkably fluid and smooth, seeing that the movie was made long before the invention of the Steadicam.

What’s it about? We’re in a “hotel” with upper class, formally dressed guests who play strange table games and speak in elliptical, often repetitive phrases. An unnamed man (Giorgio Albertazzi) is stalking an unnamed woman (the gorgeous Delphine Seyrig) throughout the corridors, rooms, and gardens, attempting to convince her that they met “last year” and were to get together again this year, but she continually denies the encounter. Another unnamed man (Sacha Pitoëff), who may be her husband, appears to be aware of the possible cuckolding, and therefore attempts to dominate the lover with his prowess in the games played in the hotel. Something surely occurred between the man and the woman—an assault, perhaps?—but we’re never really positive. Maybe she ran off with the guy and left her husband. Again, we can’t be certain.

Or one viable interpretation is that these people are all ghosts and they’re trapped in a looping hell of unfulfillment.

The preceding scenario is replicated throughout the 94-minute run time in various configurations of composition, costuming, and spaces. The ultimate effect is hypnotic, perpetuating the notion that the movie is a dream—but whose is unclear. The temporal logic is textbook surrealism, in which an artist attempts to evoke the structure of dreams.

Alain Resnais has always played with the themes of unreliable memory and the flexibility of time as it pertains to our pasts. Last Year at Marienbad could be his quintessential work in that regard. Allegedly it was a huge influence on Stanley Kubrick for The Shining, but one can see its stimulus in such works as Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence and David Lynch’s Inland Empire.

In short, the movie can be fascinating, mysterious, and striking in its presentation and execution; but at the same time tedious, frustrating, and impenetrable.

Kino Lorber has released a top-notch edition with a 4K 1920x1080p restoration that looks spectacular, and a 2.0 mono soundtrack in French with optional English subtitles. There is an audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas.

The supplements are especially interesting. Acclaimed director Volker Schlöndorff worked as an assistant and interpreter on the film. Schlöndorff presents a captivating interview about the making of the picture, as well as narrates a nearly-hour-long assembly of behind-the-scenes 8mm footage shot by the continuity person. Most helpful and informative is the 50-minute visual essay, Last Year at Marienbad A to Z, by James Quandt (programmer for the TIFF Cinematheque). It’s a lesson in filmmaking. There’s also a 1956 short film by Resnais, Toute la mémoire du monde, trailers, and a small illustrated booklet with an essay by Vanity Fair film critic K. Austin Collins.

The final verdict—Last Year at Marienbad deserves to be seen by any serious students of film history who are willing to delve into the unknown and unconventional, but they should be prepared to put on their thinking caps.

"THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO SERIES 2" New Double CD and Digital download: Release date: 23rd August 2019. CD: SILCD1604, Digital album: SILED1604

Ben and Nick Foster’s updated soundtrack to the iconic TV series, featuring synths, electronics and full orchestra follows Barry Gray’s heritage by employing a vast array of brass and percussion. Thus, there is a significant Bondesque quality about it.

Making good use of leitmotifs to signal characters, moods and machines, the composing duo have created a completely up to date, big cinematic sound, whilst retaining reverence for the original.

Thunderbirds Are Go is now screened in more than 40 countries worldwide and Silva Screen's third compilation from the series features music from Series 2. The music from the series has previously received a BAFTA nomination.

Ben is a three times BAFTA nominated composer whose scores include Torchwood, Hidden Kingdoms, Happy Valley, Our Girl and as an orchestral arranger and conductor for 99 episodes of Doctor Who. An amazing 77 tracks are spread across this double CD set. Silva Screen Records have provided an exciting, generous and thoroughly enjoyable set that demands your attention from beginning to end. Small wonder that www.denofgeek.com says: "The Fosters are on top form giving those big moments (and there are lots of them) the blast they need but also serving quieter moments, such as undersea or in space, with more interesting and curious themes and melodies. Just as Murray Gold did with Doctor Who, the music is an absolute rock and lifts the show to a cinematic level".

The year 1969 was an extraordinarily good one for movies. In addition to some of the best major studio releases of all time, the year also saw some innovative independent films. Among the most consequential was "Putney Swope", directed by Robert Downey (now known as Robert Downey Sr. to differentiate him from his offspring, the popular leading man.)  Downey is an unapologetic liberal who thrived during the counter-culture revolution of the late 1960s. "Putney Swope" seemed to be the kind of avante garde filmmaking that would never see a wide release. The film was shot almost entirely in black-and-white during a period in which the format had been deemed uncommercial for years. He also  took some broadside shots at the sacred cows of American capitalism.The movie was saved from oblivion by the owner of the Cinema V theater chain who was enthusiastic about the script and Downey's disregard for conventional opinions. Because Cinema V owned enough theaters to give the film a wide release, it ensured that the critics and public would at least be aware of its existence. No one foresaw that the film would become a highly acclaimed commercial hit. In the process, the film's poster depicting a white hand giving the middle finger salute (with a black woman symbolizing the offending digit) became a iconic image. The cast was largely unknown at the time but some of actors went on to varying degrees of fame (Allen Garfield, Allan Arbus, Antonio Fargas, Stan Gottlieb.) 

The film opens with a striking scene in which a helicopter lands in New York City. A man who appears to be an uncouth biker-type emerges carrying a briefcase and he's met by a senior executive from an advertising firm. At a board meeting, the man who arrived by helicopter informs the executives that the beer they are marketing is worthless and that beer itself is only loved by men with sexual inadequacies. He then promptly departs. This is only the beginning of a very strange journey. Soon, the hapless ad men are squabbling over whether to heed the advice or not. Then the megalomaniac who owns the agency arrives to address them, only to keel over and drop dead on the conference table. Top executives immediately rifle through his pockets and rob him of any valuables before voting on who should be the next chairman. Through an unintended fluke, the choice proves to be Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson), a middle-aged token African-American who relishes now being in charge of an agency that symbolizes hypocrisy and greed. Swope loses no time in making sweeping changes in accordance with bringing about social reforms. He fires most of the white workers and replaces them with an eclectic group of black executives, none of whom seem remotely qualified for the tasks at hand. Swope renames the business as  the Truth & Soul Agency and launches outrageous ad campaigns that are designed to offend everyone. In ads for an airline, female flight attendants are depicted dancing topless and sexually assaulting male customers. In a sweetly filmed commercial, a young interracial couple sing romantically about dry-humping. Ironically, the strategies work and Truth & Soul is making millions from clients who consider Putney to be a messiah of advertising. Soon, he's living the high life, espousing socialist/communist rhetoric and even dressing like Fidel Castro. However, Putney becomes aware of the fact that even his hand-chosen minority employees are not immune from greed and corruption. At home, his new diva-like wife takes pleasure in abusing their white servant girl.  What's the message behind all this? Who knows. Perhaps Downey is simply trying to say that capitalism corrupts across racial lines. In any event, the film ends on a bizarre, cynical note. Oh, and did I mention the casting of little people as the corrupt and perpetually horny President of the United States and First Lady who host group sex encounters?

"Putney Swope" is a brazen and entertaining film even though the script is erratic and scattershot. Much of it is tame by today's standards but the film pushed the envelope back in 1969. (I don't believe it was ever formally given a rating but it was considered to be "Adults Only" fare by most theaters.)  Much of the credit for the movie's unique look must go to cinematographer Gerald Cotts, who had never shot a feature film before. He gets some striking shots and, to emphasize the impact of Putney's offensive TV commercials, these are the only scenes that are shown in color. The performances are uniformly amusing and Arnold Johnson makes for a compelling protagonist even though Downey ended up dubbing his voice with his own, ostensibly because he said Johnson couldn't remember his lines. Some of the gags fall flat and the film as a whole is a mixed bag but there is no denying that it represents the epitome of American independent filmmaking from this era.

Continue reading "REVIEW: ROBERT DOWNEY SR.'S "PUTNEY SWOPE" (1969); DUAL FORMAT SPECIAL EDITION FROM VINEGAR SYNDROME "

Umberto Lenzi was one of the most prolific Italian genre directors working in Italy, but he is virtually unknown here in the States outside of the circles of the most die-hard of genre fans. In fact, his work is so obscure at times that even adherents to his most extreme horror movies don't even follow the other dramatic work for which he is also known despite his roster of titles on the IMDB. Much of International Cinema is “inspired” by American filmmaking (i.e. outright ripped off from) and following the Oscar-winning success of William Friedkin’s masterful 1971 crime drama The French Connection, with its astounding subway/car chase, Italy dove head-first into the Eurocrime, or poliziotteschi, genre headfirst making a slew of action films where the camera’s point-of-view is inspired by Owen Roizman’s work on the aforementioned real-life-inspired crime film. Filmed in late 1975 in Rome and released in New York in July 1978 under the title of Assault with a Deadly Weapon, The Tough Ones is yet another one of those films that is known by multiple titles too numerous to even list. Upon superficial investigation of the beautiful and colorful poster art for the film, one might assume (as yours truly did) that actor Franco Nero is the star. Rather it’s the late Maurizio Merli who, not surprisingly, began his career because he looked like Mr. Nero when the latter was unavailable for White Fang to the Rescue, the 1974 sequel to both Challenge to White Fang (1974) and White Fang (1973).

Mr. Merli plays Inspector Leonardo Tanzi, a hot-headed, self-appointed crime fighter who makes Gene Hackman’s Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty” Harry Callahan look timid in comparison as he tears up each scene that he appears in, slapping and kicking bad guys and even suspected bad guys, at the slightest hint of guilt or provocation. He’s fed up with the crime plaguing his jurisdiction, dishing out his own version of justice by breaking up a hidden casino, tackling a pair of purse-snatchers on a motor scooter, and diving into a bank robbery and killing some of the robbers. One of his best bits is when he is flagged down by a man whose girlfriend has been raped by a gang headed up by a rich kid who was released from jail just hours earlier. Taking a clue from the crime scene, he hunts down the spoiled brat and his cronies, smashing the ringleader’s face into a pinball machine before kicking all their asses in a crazy set piece. Anyone who gets in his way of getting to another criminal gets their ass handed to them. This doesn’t bode well for his girlfriend who is nearly sent to her death when criminals drop her car into a car crusher, stopping it just before it crushes it – with her in it! There’s a weird, typical living-on-the-fringe-of-society character named Vincenzo Moretto (played wonderfully by the late Tomas Milian) who seems frail and timid at first, but he proves to be a lunatic and is later told to swallow a bullet (literally) by Tanzi in a strange exchange at Moretto’s sister’s house.

Continue reading "REVIEW: UMBERTO LENZI'S "THE TOUGH ONES" (1978); BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FROM GRINDHOUSE"

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