Celebrating Films of the 1960s & 1970s
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Limited-Edition 35th Anniversary Blu-ray™ Steelbook Arrives June 8, 2021
Blu-ray™ Steelbooks of Pretty In Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful Also Debut June 8
Writer/director John Hughes’ seminal comedy about a high school student’s wild adventures in the Windy City during a single, glorious day off continues to be enjoyed, quoted and revered 35 years after its theatrical debut. Originally released on June 11, 1986, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF captures the uproarious antics of Ferris and his friends as they relish the freedom of being not quite grown up.
In celebration of the film’s 35th anniversary, Paramount Home Entertainment will release a FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF Limited-Edition Blu-ray Steelbook on June 8, 2021, which includes access to a digital copy of the film, as well as the following legacy bonus content:
· Getting the Class Together: The Cast of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
· The Making of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
· Who is Ferris Bueller?
· The World According to Ben Stein
· Vintage Ferris Bueller: The Lost Tapes
· Class Album
Matthew Broderick stars as the delightfully charming Ferris who, with his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and best bud Cameron (Alan Ruck), ditches school to enjoy one perfect day as a kid with no responsibilities. In 2014, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF was added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, which serves as a compendium of films that have been judged to be culturally, aesthetically or historically important.
Two more John Hughes classics will arrive in Blu-ray Steelbooks on June 8: Pretty In Pink, which also celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, and Some Kind of Wonderful. Both films were written by Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch. The Steelbooks include access to digital copies of the films, as well as previously released bonus content.
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BY LEE PFEIFFER
In days of old, there were precious few opportunities to see documentaries about the making of specific films. In 1960, John Wayne hosted “The Spirit of the Alamo”, a one-hour publicity special for his epic film. In 1965, the James Bond film “Thunderball” was promoted with a one hour prime time TV special, a strategy that was repeated in 1967 for “You Only Live Twice”. However, these were the exceptions. In most cases, “making of” documentaries were short featurettes lasting between five and ten minutes on average. Movie fans would only encounter them by accident. American viewers might catch one of them if a network needed something to fill some time gap, such as a rain delay in a live baseball game. The only way die-hard movie buffs could watch such films on demand required access to a 16mm film projector and the ability to know where to purchase them on the collector’s circuit. Things were more liberal in the UK, where a thriving 8mm collector’s market made it possible for fans to purchase full length feature films and occasionally production shorts. Today, of course, even the most inconsequential feature films generally have “making of” featurettes included on DVD and Blu-ray releases. If you’re a John Wayne fan, you might like to know that buried in the thousands of unpromoted indie titles available for streaming on Amazon Prime is “John Wayne: Behind the Scenes”, a mishmash compilation of featurettes pertaining to the Duke’s films between 1967 and 1975.The quality ranges from awful to barely acceptable, but that doesn’t diminish the pleasure of indulging in the short films.
The compilation isn’t a documentary, per se. It’s simply a group of individual promotional featurettes strung together without any narration. The shorts included pertain to the following films:
- “The War Wagon” (1967): this rather lengthy featurette covers the making of the fun-filled Western that paired Wayne with Kirk Douglas. It remains one of the Duke’s most popular films among fans. The featurette is primarily geared to showing the logistics involved in staging the film’s centerpiece fight scene, a big barroom brawl and shows Wayne, Douglas and co-star Howard Keel working with the stunt crew to stage the elaborate scene. The narration is hokey but it does give a good idea of how much work and precise timing goes into filming a major action set piece.
- “The Green Berets” (!968): Wayne’s propaganda film in support of the Vietnam War was predictably quite controversial in its day but still grossed a sizable sum. Wayne, who starred and directed, is shown overseeing the staging of a major battle scene along with co-stars David Janssen and a young and unidentified George Takei.
- “The Undefeated” (!969): is a relatively short featurette in which the movie’s plot about a major drive of horse herds to Mexico is narrated by a horse! (Actually, the voice of Chill Wills, who had provided the voice of Francis the Talking Mule in the feature film series.) The movie shows glimpses of Wayne and co-star Rock Hudson, but most of the footage is dedicated to the challenge of working with hundreds of horses. (Stunt legend and future director Hal Needham can be seen in some scenes.)
- “Chisum” (!970): John Wayne’s first feature film following his Oscar win for “True Grit” is commemorated by a mere TV spot. It isn’t a featurette at all, but does open with footage of Wayne at the Academy Awards showing off the Oscar to adoring crowds.
- “The Cowboys” (972): One of Wayne’s very best films. The featurette is excellent, too, as it shows director Mark Rydell working with trained young actors who didn’t know how to ride horses and, conversely, boys who could ride horses but couldn’t act!
- “Cahill: U.S. Marshall” (1973): One of Wayne’s few late career duds, “Cahill” is not generally fondly remembered by his fans. The featurette is unremarkable, as well.
- “McQ” (1974): Wayne made a surprisingly good detective film with this title. Unfortunately, the “Behind the Scenes” relegates coverage of the movie to the theatrical trailer. A pity, since a featurette was made that showed how the film’s spectacular car chase on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state was filmed. As a public service, we are presenting the featurette here.
- “Brannigan” (1975): Wayne was back in detective mode, co-starring with Richard Attenborough in this fun romp set in London. The lengthy featurette shows Wayne enjoying the sights and sounds of the city and charming the locals. It also interviews Attenborough, who was not an action star, about his trepidation in squaring off against the Duke in a major pub brawl.
Considering how many other featurettes were available but left off this compilation is a bit frustrating but beggars can’t be choosers and Wayne fans will enjoy this trek down Memory Lane.
BY TIM MCGLYNN
The Paramount Presents Series recently released The Golden Child on Blu-ray and it is a beautiful disc to behold even though the movie has a few flaws.
It’s 1986 and Eddie Murphy is riding high on the success of Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours and Trading Places and it is time to create another blockbuster for this talented star.What do you do?Well, let’s keep the same formula and feature Murphy as a hip, wisecracking hero who this time finds lost children. Then, throw in a bit of martial arts in the style of John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China and add some Asian mysticism that reminds viewers of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.Make sure your lead character displays an anti-authority attitude and even include a humorous scene where he pretends to be a government official flashing a phony badge.Mix it all together and you have 1986’s The Golden Child directed by Michael Ritchie.
Hollywood loves to rehash successful formulas in the hopes that audiences will enjoy seeing the same thing over and over.The Golden Child doesn’t quite make it, however, although the talent is there both in front of and behind the camera.The magnificent Charles Dance is evil Sardo Numpsa who kidnaps a young Buddhist mystic from Nepal known simply as the Golden Child.He also just happens to be the savior of mankind. Sardo wants to channel the special powers the child possesses to advance the Dark Forces and their desire to control of the Earth.
Beautiful Kee Nang(Charlotte Lewis) sees Chandler Jarrell (Murphy) interviewed on a public access television show as a finder of lost children.Charles Levin is hilarious as the 3rd rate TV host in this scene and is reminiscent of John Candy in Little Shop of Horrors.Kee identifies Jarrell as the Chosen One, the only person who can rescue the Golden Child from the clutches of the evil Sardo.Jarrell initially doubts his choice as the Chosen One, but joins Kee on this mission as he is intrigued by her martial arts skills and attracted to her stunning beauty.Along the way we meet a bumbling high priest played by Victor Wong who helps the pair in their mission, although he doubts they will succeed.
Randall “Tex” Cobb plays a dim but kind-hearted henchman named Til who serves as captor for the Golden Child.Til is easily distracted when his prisoner performs feats of magic in an effort to charm the big oaf.One of these tricks is the bringing to life a discarded Pepsi can in what has to be one the longest, most blatant product placements I’ve ever seen.Cobb was an odd casting choice as an Asian giant, but this was the 80s and Hollywood hadn’t become enlightened as of yet.
Kee and Jarrell do finally rescue the child, but in the process must confront Sardo and all the forces of the Dark World.The Golden Child has the ability to restore life to one who has died, but only as long as the victim is still touched by sunlight.This power becomes necessary during the final battle with Sardo and his minions.
The special effects are outstanding as they are practical and predate the CGI madness of recent films.ILM not only created the Dark World and all the evil creatures doing battle with our heroes, the company served as a producing partner for the film.
The film is bright, colorful and loud which was typical of adventure movies from the 80s.Alan Silvestri and then John Barry were the first two choices as composer but were then replaced by Michael Colombier in an effort to produce a more pop- sounding score.This works well in the Los Angeles settings but seems a bit out of place when the action switches to Nepal.This is a bit disappointing as I am a big fan of the Andrew Powell rock score for Ladyhawke that was produced by Alan Parsons.
It appears that Paramount hedged their bets when test audiences didn’t buy Jarrell as an adventure hero.Murphy was brought back for re-shoots and allowed to improvise some of his dialogue with humor in the style of Alex Foley from Beverly Hills Cop.Being a PG-13 movie, however, there is a lack of the expected profanity.This did not hinder Murphy from dressing down an uptight businessman perusing a porn magazine in one of the funniest scenes. The problem occurs when the finished film doesn’t know which route to take.Not enough humor and a compromised adventure story make this movie kind of a mess.As Archie Bunker once said on All in the Family, ‘Too much of both and not enough of neither.”
Michael Ritchie created a handsome film with first-rate cinematography and special effects.It might have been interesting to see how John Carpenter would have treated this story, as he was the original choice for director.Carpenter went on to helm Big Trouble in Little China instead.
As for the Blu-ray itself, this is one of the first offerings from the Paramount Presents series and it is magnificent.The digital transfer is outstanding with sharp contrast, dense colors and a wonderful 5.1 mix that is a bit heavy on the bass.If this is the quality continues, we’re in for a treat.Extras on the disc include The Making of The Golden Child in HD, The Chosen Ones, Daggers, Design and Demons as well as a theatrical trailer.I personally enjoy the short features on the technical aspects of adventure movies especially when practical effects are used.A commentary track would have been a nice addition, but director Ritchie is sadly no longer with us and Eddie Murphy has all but disowned this movie.
The Golden Child as a whole does have some problems, but individual scenes of action and humor are outstanding.As a gorgeous looking film presented in 1.85, my preferred aspect ratio, it is a great title to show off your video and audio components.
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BY JOHN M. WHALEN
“Springtime in the Sierras” (1947) is one of Roy Rogers’ better movies. There are three or four great action scenes, half a dozen songs, a solid cast, including the most cold-blooded villainesses to ever show up at a Saturday matinee, and a worthy theme dealing with wildlife protection. Republic Pictures must have splurged on the budget for this one too, just for wardrobe alone. By my count Roy wore a dozen of those colorful western shirts that John McClain said he was so partial to. It’s a very cool movie but it’s a pity that most people have only seen a version of it that has 20 minutes of footage missing. A quarter of the original 75 minute version ended up on the cutting room floor back in the 1950s, when it, along with many other of Rogers’ movies, were sold to television and had to be edited to fit into a one-hour TV broadcast. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is a full-length version available. It’s not perfect but better than the alternative. We’ll get into the details later.
“Springtime in the Sierras” starts with Roy and the Sons of the Pioneers delivering a herd of horses to Jean Loring (Stephanie Bachelor) the new owner of the Lazy W ranch in the Sierra Nevada country where Roy grew up. Things seem normal at first except for an abandoned fawn that Roy finds wondering in the forest. He takes the fawn to an animal sanctuary run by his old friend, game warden Cap Foster (Harry Cheshire), where he finds the fawn’s mother dying of a gunshot wound. Foster tells him a lot of animals are being killed out of season by a gang of professional hunters who sell the illegal meat at a high profit to big city restaurants and private clubs.
Roy leaves the game warden, who puts Bambi’s mother out of her misery, and goes into town where he meets with old friends, brother and sister Bert (Harold Landon) and Taffy Baker (Jane Frazee). Taffy is gaga over Roy and while Bert seems to be glad to see Roy, there’s a dark cloud of some kind hanging over him. The next day Roy spots a hunter with a high-powered rifle and chases him through the woods. The hunter manages to get away, but Roy suspects, much to his dismay, that it was Bert. A little later, Cap Foster comes upon the gang of hunters, which, as it turns out, includes Bert, and attempts to place them under arrest. Jean Loring, with her vicious sidekick Matt Wilkes (Roy Barcroft), comes up behind Foster and take his gun. Bert is horrified when Jean aims Cap’s pistol at the game warden, saying very casually, “This might hurt a little,” and cold-bloodedly shoots him. For a movie filled with cuddly animals, and cowboy serenades, this, nonchalant burst of brutality comes as a shock. It certainly unnerves Bert, who decides he no longer wants any part of the hunting racket.
Let’s stop the action here and discuss this unusual twist in the screenplay by A. Sloan Nibley, who wrote this and several of Roy’s other flicks. Normally a writer would have had Roy Barcroft, as Jean Loring’s henchman, do the killing. But Nibley and director William Witney give the story a decidedly dark turn by having the femme fatale shoot him herself. And from that point on the story takes a decidedly weird direction, especially when Cookie Bullfincher (Andy Devine), the local photographer, tells Roy that shortly after Loring bought the ranch she had a bunch of refrigeration equipment brought in. Dum-de-dum-dum. Of course I don’t have to tell you that the freezers are used to store the illegal meat and that it won’t be too long before Roy and Bert both end up hogtied and left to turn into popsicles in one of the freezers.
While Roy and Bert freeze, Jean is all smiles hosting a big party for everyone, as a farewell tribute to the late Cap Foster no less. She was a cold one. Obviously Roy isn’t going to freeze to death, and I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say it involves the use of a large white truck. That’s right a truck. And that’s exactly what makes Roy Rogers’ movies so unique. Up until that scene, which is near the end of the movie, we’ve seen every one riding on horseback, dressed in cowboy outfits in scenes that could have taken place in the 1880s. But now all of a sudden there’s a big 1947 Ford Box Truck in the movie and you know what? We really don’t even notice the incongruity. We’re not jolted by it because Roy Rogers’ movies take place in a world of their own. In a Roy Rogers movie, the horses and stagecoaches of the Old West exist in the same world as modern day airplanes, cars, radios and movies.
Quentin Tarantino, who is a big William Witney and Roy Rogers fan, in an interview once said Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” tops his Top Ten List of great movies, because Leone creates his own world in his films. He said Leone is a combination of “a complete film stylist, where he creates his own world, and storyteller.” The same thing is true in a good Roy Rogers film, especially those directed by Witney. They exist in Roy Rogers’ special world, and it’s a damn cool world.
While the most often seen version of “Springtime in the Sierras” is the 55-minute one, back in 2012 Film Chest released a DVD that it billed as a “restored” version “in its original Trucolor.” At the current time, it’s the only full-length version available, but if you’re expecting to see a Blu-ray quality picture in vivid color and detail, you’ll be disappointed. There’s been no attempt to clean up the DVD, and the result is something about as good as a decent VHS tape. It’s a far cry from Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray restoration of “Sunset in the West,” which has brilliant color and sharp picture detail. What has been “restored” in “Springtime in the Sierras,” apparently, is the film’s original 75-minute length. The DVD has gone out of print but is still available through Amazon and other outlets, and until someone like Kino Lorber, decides to restore it on Blu-Ray, it’s the best version available.
There’s another feature that makes this DVD even more worth checking out. As a bonus feature, there’s a copy of a 1961 Chevy Show, an Easter special starring Roy and Dale Evans, with special guests that include Charley Weaver and a rare live appearance by Martin Milner and George Maharis, the two dudes from the “Route 66” TV series. They actually do a live Chevy commercial—something they never did on “Route 66,” even though Chevrolet sponsored the adventures of the two guys in the Corvette. Maharis, who was trying to launch a singing career at the time, gets to sing “Free and Easy.” It’s a real curiosity. Does anybody do Easter specials anymore?
So there it is—the good the bad and the ugly of “Springtime in the Sierras.” All in all, it’s a DVD worth owning until a truly “restored” version becomes available. Happy Trails.
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(John M. Whalen is the author of “Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto”. Click here to order from Amazon.)
Click here for the complete list of nominees and winners from the Oscars.
BY DOUG OSWALD
“WWII: Behind the Front Lines of the War that Shook the World” is a six-DVD set comprising three documentaries released by Mill Creek Entertainment. While the first documentary in the set is about WWII, the second, “Combat Aircrafts,” is a five-part series tracing the history of aviation from the pioneers to modern military aircraft and partially touches on the topic of WWII. The third, “Waves of Freedom,” is a documentary film about American volunteers who helped break the British blockade of Palestine in 1947.
“The Finest Hours of the Second World War” is a 21-part series originally released in 2009 and is a Spanish American co-production from Pacific Media. Written and directed by Jose Delgado, the film footage shot during the war is mostly familiar to those of us who have enjoyed watching similar documentaries over the years. Each episode is about 52-minutes long and was probably designed to fit an hour long time slot. The series begins with events leading up to WWII starting with the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Each episode focuses on one aspect of the war and explains in detail the motivations and mistakes behind the memorable moments of World War II in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific.
The series is narrated by Drew Crosby with the original Spanish narrator, Jose Ma del Rio, also credited. Unfortunately, there is not a Spanish language track or subtitles on this set. The narration is presumably translated from Spanish and the English speaking narrator has a distinctive diction. Crosby places the wrong emphasis on the syllables of certain words, such as strategist, which can be distracting and results in what my high school French teacher called spastic speech. Other than that, the research is sound and when combined with the film and maps, makes for a very interesting take on the war.
Unfortunately, the presentation is in full frame and is also letterboxed on top of that, resulting in a small image area and cropped film footage on the top and bottom. Movies in this era used the full frame ratio of 1.33:1. I found it best to leave the picture as is because messing with it to fit a contemporary wide screen monitor contributed to more fuzziness in a product which is not high definition. The image quality is okay and what you’d expect from film of this era going on 80 years. Overall, the picture and sound were fine, but the image area was distracting. Music and sound effects credited to Rosa Perez & Bakery Publishing were also good. In what is often silent film footage, they added the sounds of men, machinery, gun fire and other sounds of war one would expect which brings the film to life. All 21 episodes are presented on four discs with “The Dawn of War” made up of 11 episodes spread over two discs and “The Fight for Freedom” making up the remaining 10 episodes on the next two discs.
The second documentary, “Combat Aircrafts,” is a five-part series on the history of military aviation with two parts devoted to WWII. This documentary series was also produced by Pacific Media and co-written and directed by Jose Delgado in 2010. Each episode is 52 minutes in length and relies on mostly black and white archival footage. The series is narrated by Drew Crosby with the original Spanish narrator, J. Angel Juares, also credited. The narration has the same issues as the previous title starting with the title which is spelled out on screen as “Combat Aircrafts” and pronounced in the narration as “Combat Aircraft.” It would have been helpful if a native English speaker with knowledge of WWII and military aircraft had proof reviewed the product prior to releasing it to the English speakers. I’m not certain where this was originally presented, but my guess is it was sold independently to various cable television and broadcast outlets. Overall, the presentation is good, presented in full frame, this time without letterboxing the image area. Each episode held my interest in spite of the distraction in the pronunciation style of the narration. All five episodes are presented on one disc.
“Waves of Freedom” is a documentary film about Americans recruited to smuggle Jewish refugees into Palestine which was still controlled by the British in 1947. The men were a combination of Merchant Marine and U.S. Navy veterans of WWII of mostly Jewish background who were recruited on a secret mission to bring European Jewish refugees into Palestine which would soon become the nation of Israel. Made for television in 2008, the documentary was written, directed and co-produced by Alan Rosenthal and is narrated by Antony Thomas. The film clocks in at 52 minutes and features excellent picture and sound quality in the full frame presentation which uses a combination of archival black and white footage from the post-war period and contemporary interviews with the men who took part in the mission which are filmed in color. The movie is presented on its own disc.
The discs on this set offer no supplements of any kind. The set is hard to recommend with so many other better offerings on the same topics. The third stand alone documentary, “Waves of Freedom,” is the documentary of greatest interest, but it doesn’t have much to do with the other programs in this set. (This release also includes digital copies.)
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BY LEE PFEIFFER
Writing on the Den of Geek web site, Kirsten Howard relates how the forthcoming auction of the late actor David Prowse’s personal script for “The Empire Strikes Back” demonstrates the length that producer George Lucas went to in order to preserve the legendary surprise ending regarding the relationship between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. While Prowse was hired to physically play Vader, Lucas always intended to have his voice dubbed in the final cut by James Earl Jones. Prowse was unaware of this during filming. The script copy he used did not have the famous shock revelation that Vader was Luke’s father. Even Mark Hamill, who played Luke, was unaware of this shocker right up until the pivotal scene was being filmed, though director Irvin Kershner was in on the secret. The scripts had omitted the revelatory line entirely. These tactics caused hard feelings between Prowse and Lucas, as Prowse had felt deceived that it had been decided all along not to use his voice in the final cut. However, few would argue that the gravitas of Jones’s instantly recognizable voice added far greater impact to character of Darth Vader. For more, click here.
When it was released in 1985, director/star Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky IV” was lambasted by critics who griped about the film’s abbreviated running time (91 minutes) and Stallone’s use of considerable footage from previous movies in the franchise to pad out the production. Still, Sly had the last laugh when fans embraced the Cold War-themed plot and ensured the movie would gross over $700 in today’s equivalent if adjusted for inflation. Now Stallone has let it be known that he is finishing his director’s cut of the film but is being mum about precisely what changes will be made. Click here for more.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Latest Addition to the Paramount Presents Line Debuts June 1, 2021 with New Special Features
The endlessly quotable and unforgettable drama MOMMIE DEAREST celebrates its 40th anniversary with a brand-new Blu-ray in the Paramount Presents line, debuting June 1, 2021 from Paramount Home Entertainment.
Newly restored from a 4K film transfer, MOMMIE DEAREST is presented in a limited-edition Blu-ray Disc™ with collectible packaging featuring a foldout image of the film’s theatrical poster and an interior spread with key movie moments. TheBlu-ray includes a new Filmmaker Focus with biographer Justin Bozung on the film and its director Frank Perry, a new audio commentary with American drag queen Hedda Lettuce, access to a Digital copy of the film, as well as previously released bonus content. Special features are detailed below:
· Commentary by American drag queen Hedda Lettuce –NEW!
· Filmmaker Focus: Biographer Justin Bozung on director Frank Perry –NEW!
· Commentary by filmmaker John Waters
· The Revival of Joan
· Life with Joan
· Joan Lives On
· Photo Gallery
· Original Theatrical Trailer
Based on Christina Crawford’s controversial best-selling tell-all novel, MOMMMIE DEAREST features a powerhouse performance by Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, struggling for her career while battling the inner demons of her private life. While the public Crawford was a strong-willed, glamorous object of admiration, behind the scenes is a private Crawford—the woman desperate to be a single mother and trying to survive in a devastating industry that swallows careers thoughtlessly.
About Paramount Presents
This collectible line spans celebrated classics to film-lover favorites, each from the studio’s renowned library. Every Paramount Presents release features never-before-seen bonus content and exclusive collectible packaging. Additional titles available in the Paramount Presents collection on Blu-ray include: Fatal Attraction, King Creole, To Catch a Thief, Flashdance, Days of Thunder, Pretty In Pink, Airplane!, Ghost, Roman Holiday, The Haunting, The Golden Child, Trading Places, The Court Jester, Love Story, Elizabethtown, and The Greatest Show on Earth.
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“SKIP THE JUVENILE DELINQUENCY AND GET RIGHT TO THE SEX”
By Raymond Benson
Kino Lorber and Something Weird Video continue their collaboration to present “Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Picture” with Volume 10—Wages of Sin. Unlike the other exploitation titles that have appeared over the last two years, Wages is not an American picture; instead, it comes from Switzerland and was originally released as a serious drama examining the social problem of illegal abortions and the need to educate the public in birth control, as well as make a case for the legalization of a woman’s right to choose. The original German title translates to, roughly, The Doctor Says… or The Doctor Speaks Out…
However, American producer/director/actor Donn Davison, who at the time was a practitioner in the grindhouse and exploitation film circuit, secured the U.S. rights to the film and released it in 1966 with the salacious title of Wages of Sin. The movie was dubbed into English—although the dubbing actors speak with German accents, so go figure. Davison would appear in a “professional” capacity as a doctor (it is unclear if he really had any medical credentials) to provide a short lecture to the audience and hawk “how-to” sex manuals during intermission. Davison filmed his 15-minute presentation to show at drive-in theaters, where obviously he couldn’t speak in person. (This filmed lecture is included as a supplement on the new Kino Lorber/Something Weird disk, and it is hilarious. He tells us that we “may have seen him on Johnny Carson talking about juvenile delinquency and sexual matters… but tonight he’s going to skip the juvenile delinquency and get right to the sex.”)
These delicious and suitably sleazy pictures in the “Forbidden Fruit” series were made cheaply and outside the Hollywood system, and certainly in this case outside of the U.S. They were distributed independently in the manner of a circus sideshow, often by renting a movie theater for a few nights, advertising in the local papers, and promoting the scandalous title as “educational.” For adults only, mind you, but exhibited all in the good name of science or health or whatever.
Wages of Sin is such a serious and sincere take on the subject matter that it is mind-boggling to think that anyone would be titillated by it. One can imagine trench coat wearing patrons complaining to the theater management afterwards and asking for their money back, because there is absolutely no nudity or sex in the film. Instead, there is real, clinical footage of childbirth, frank talk about birth control, and dramatized depictions of back-alley abortions.
The story concerns well-meaning Dr. Maurer (Tadeusz Lomnicki) and his superior Dr. Diener (René Deltgen) as they deal with several female patients for various maladies regarding pregnancy, botched abortions, and childbirth. Some of the women’s stories end happily, but others are not so fortunate. Maurer is determined to get the illegal abortionists behind bars but also stop the insane law that criminalizes the women who receive the procedure. In short, the film, while melodramatic and a bit stodgy, has an important message that is still relevant today.
And yet, in the U.S., the picture was promoted with sensational taglines such as, “Shocking! Beyond Description!” and “No one under 16 admitted without parents!” Shocking indeed.
At most exhibitions of Wages of Sin, a second feature, The Misery and Fortune of Women (aka Frauennot, Frauenglück)was shown. This picture, from 1929, is also a Swiss production of the same ilk—a serious drama about pregnancy, illegal abortions, and childbirth—that was just as potent in its original year of release as today. In fact, it might be the better movie in the “package.” It was directed by Eduard Tissé, but the picture was “supervised” and co-edited by none other than Sergei Eisenstein (of Battleship Potemkin fame)! One can see Eisenstein’s influence, especially in the close-ups of faces.
The new Kino Lorber Blu-ray presents both features in high-def restorations and they both look remarkably good. Wages of Sin comes with an informative audio commentary by film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who brings a welcome feminine point of view to the proceedings. Supplements include the previously mentioned Donn Davison “lecture” and two shorts that were sometimes also exhibited with the two main features—Life and Its Secrecies (with clinical footage of various types of childbirth), and Triplets by Cesarean Section (a silent film of the real delivery of triplets). Both the latter short films suffer from poor visual quality, but it doesn’t make them less icky. Trailers from other Forbidden Fruit titles round out the package.
For fans of exploitation pictures, or for those interested in how the subject matter was handled both in 1966 and 1929, the Wages of Sin disk is for you!
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REVIEW: OTTO PREMINGER’S “ROSEBUD” (1975) STARRING PETER O’TOOLE AND RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH; KINO LORBER BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION
BY FRED BLOSSER
“Rosebud” (1975), Otto Preminger’s next-to-last film, has been released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics in a 2K Blu-ray restoration.In the political thriller, a terrorist cell kidnaps five teenaged girls from a luxury yacht, the “Rosebud” of the title.The kidnappers are members of Black September, an extremist Palestinian faction — a reference that would have been better known by audiences then than now.Their reasons for seizing the young women become clearer as they open communications with the girls’ parents, an international power elite of politicians, industrialists, and financiers.Sending along a film of the five young women on the deck of the commandeered yacht, nude and shivering, the terrorists dictate that it be televised as a prelude to a series of demands that will demean Israel and it allies on the global stage.If the demands aren’t met as each is put on the table, the girls will be killed one by one.
Fargeau (Claude Dauphin), the grandfather of one of the hostages, engages Larry Martin (Peter O’Toole), a Newsweek correspondent, to advise on the negotiations.It seems to be an open secret that Martin’s press badge is only a subterfuge.He’s actually a CIA operative.Playfully, Martin neither confirms nor denies involvement with U.S. intelligence as he holds down his desk at Newsweek’s Paris bureau.It’s a little like the movies where James Bond’s cover story as a salesman for Universal Export never fools anyone.Helped by an Israeli Mossad agent, Yafet (Cliff Gorman), and calling on his friends in West German intelligence, Martin begins multi-tasking several challenges at once.It’s a daunting checklist but he takes it in stride, much as the rest of us would balance our weekly chores: Find the teenage hostages, who are being held in an undisclosed bunker.Design and execute a rescue plan.In the meantime, counsel the parents on strategies to buy time as various political hurdles arise.And locate and neutralize the elusive mastermind of the kidnapping, Sloat (Richard Attenborough), a wealthy, radicalized convert to Islam.Because the girls are being held in one-far flung location and Sloat is hiding somewhere else, the job becomes even more complicated.
Critics were primed to savage “Rosebud” when it opened on March 24, 1975, after months of behind-the-scenes cast changes, script revisions, and other production difficulties.They didn’t disappoint.“Incoherent plotting,” “ineptitude,” “Idiotic,” and “flaccid” were some of their kinder comments.Preminger’s stunt casting of former New York Mayor John V. Lindsay came in for particular derision.As a U.S. Senator whose daughter (Kim Cattrall, in her movie debut) is one of the kidnapped girls, Lindsay’s “manner of looking worried is to look elegant,” Vincent Canby joked in his New York Times review.Never mind it’s a relatively small role that required Lindsay to do little more than look elegantly worried anyway.Besides, where would Hollywood be without stunt casting?
Robert Mitchum was originally set to play Larry Martin, but he quit (or was sent packing) after he and Preminger clashed.Enter Peter O’Toole.Probably anticipating that fussy viewers would wonder why a CIA operative looks and sounds British, the script pointedly calls Martin a “mercenary.”The implication is that he’s a freelancer on retainer, not technically a CIA employee of U.S. citizenship.
Rumpled and unruffled, O’Toole delivers a sharp performance that’s nicely counterbalanced by Attenborough’s icy turn as the fanatical Sloat and Gorman’s as the intense Israeli agent.The cover of the KL Studio Classics Blu-ray reproduces the original poster artwork of assault rifles, machine guns, and nudity.The collage promises a strong dose of exploitative action, but the script by Erik Lee Preminger and Marjorie Kellogg is primarily a meticulous, gather-the-clues espionage drama.It’s more John Le Carre than “Die Hard.”Martin and his associates are too busy sifting through aerial photographs, geologic charts, and eyewitness statements to provoke any premature shootouts with their adversaries.Once they have the evidence they need, they decide that their objectives — rescuing the kidnapped girls and apprehending the mastermind — are better accomplished using subtlety, not large-scale confrontation.The critics called it boring, but the scenes move at a nice pace, and fans who favor movie brains over brawn will be pleased.
There’s also less nudity than the art suggests, at least in the U.S. version offered in the KL Studio Classics print, where the girls are briefly shown from the back as they’re herded on deck to be filmed.Reportedly, an alternative print for other markets depicted full-frontal nudity.It isn’t likely that, today, in the #MeToo era, filmmakers would enact a similar scenario about victimized young women, nudity or not.Sadly, other things haven’t changed in the past 46 years, except for the worse, as Middle Eastern conflicts continue to take a dreadful human toll.
The handsome Kino Lorber disc of “Rosebud” may inspire home video enthusiasts to visit Preminger’s late-career film and reappraise its virtues and shortcomings for themselves.Special features include the theatrical trailer and a full, informative audio commentary by filmmaker/historian Daniel Kremer.
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(Fred Blosser is the author of “Sons of Ringo: The Great Spaghetti Western Heroes”. Click here to order from Amazon)
Most people think of Audrey Hepburn as the epitome of Hollywood glamour. But as a young girl, she came of age during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.The famous star said little about her experiences between the time in which her country was occupied and its ultimate liberation by Canadian troops. Reporting in Den of Geek, David Crow examines the dramatic secret life of Hepburn during the war years. It may well surprise you. Click here to read.
James Dean at his best in “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955). Curiously, he’s sharing the scene with two future TV icons: Jim Backus, excellent as his milquetoast father and Edward Platt, who would go on to be a great comedy star in “Get Smart”.
DVD REVIEW: “THE HIGH COST OF LOVING” (1958) STARRING JOSE FERRER AND GENA ROWLANDS; WARNER ARCHIVE RELEASE
BY LEE PFEIFFER
“The High Cost of Loving” is yet another worthy film that has been plucked from obscurity by the Warner Archive. The 1958 comedy offered a rare starring role to Jose Ferrer as well as an opportunity for him to direct a feature film. Ferrer plays Jim Fry, a 15 year veteran of working diligently in the purchasing department for a mid-size company. He is frustrated with the corporate red tape that inhibits productivity but is overall happy in his work as well as with his home life. Why not? He’s in his late 40’s and his wife Ginny (Gena Rowlands in her big screen debut) is a ravishing blonde beauty twenty years younger than him (though the poster for the film simply ignores this and refers to them as the “young couple”.) The film opens on an amusing note that will be familiar to many working couples. We see Jim and Ginny go through their morning workday rituals in an almost robotic fashion, barely saying a word to each other as they each perform their unspoken duties. He gets breakfast ready, she serves him orange juice in the shower. They both sit silently at the table, each taking a quick read of sections from the newspaper. They both climb into their vehicles and pull out of the garage in tandem before, each en route to their jobs. Ginny, against the fashion of the day, has her own career working at a small company. Jim still considers himself a rising star in his own company, a conceit that is reinforced by the news that his employer is being taken over by a much larger corporation. Warned that this often results in layoffs, Jim feels he is immune. He also isn’t sympathetic to those who might lose their jobs, attributing it to social Darwinism and “the law of the jungle”.
Jim’s smug attitude goes into a nosedive when he discovers that virtually all of his fellow executives have been summoned to a forthcoming luncheon as a get-acquainted meeting with the new brass. The problem is that he didn’t receive the invitation. Assuming it must have been a mistake, he pretends he did receive it and joins in all the backslapping among his colleagues who view this as a way to make a good impression on the new bosses and rise the corporate ladder. As the days pass, it becomes apparent an invitation isn’t in the cards for him. His concern turns to paranoia as he tries to analyze why all his years of devoted service have resulted in him being bypassed. He becomes obsessed to the point that he barely acknowledges Ginny’s news that she is pregnant, something that both have been hoping for quite some time. (Although the film hints at sexual activity, the prudish norms of the time in the film industry relegates both husband and wife to separate beds.) To bolster his spirits, Jim’s best friend from the office, Steve Heyward (Bobby Troupe) arranges for he and his wife Syd (Joanne Gilbert) to go to dinner with Jim and Ginny. However, the evening is ruined by Syd’s incessant chatter about the importance of the corporate luncheon, which she doesn’t realize Jim has not been invited to. The script plays out predictably with Jim interpreting every action (or inaction) of his new bosses as a sign that he is about to be fired. He looks up an old business contact in hopes of getting a new job but not only are there none open, but he is warned that in terms of his age, he might be considered “over the hill” in the corporate world. Now enraged, Jim plans to have a showdown with the brass and tell him what he thinks of them, unaware that his snub from the luncheon was due to a bureaucratic mistake that they intend to rectify.
“The High Cost of Loving” is a modest production shot in B&W on a fairly low budget (most of the scenes are studio interiors). However, the movie signifies that paranoia about one’s place in their jobs is not a new phenomenon and that discrimination based on age in the corporate world is also a long-standing concern. There is also plenty of sexism that never gets addressed. When she announces she is pregnant, Jim orders Ginny to quit her job ASAP. The corporate world is made up entirely of men in management positions and bosses refer to keeping an eye out for good “men” they can promote. All of the women in the office are clearly in secretarial positions. Ferrer gives a wonderful performance (did he ever not?) and has a deft hand at the comedic elements of the script. He never allows the characters to depend on slapstick or one-liners to get a quick laugh. They all talk the way real people would in the circumstances. There is also a great deal of pathos involved as Jim comes to a life lesson that no one should define the worth of their character on the basis of a specific job. The film boasts a wonderful supporting cast with Rowlands displaying the star qualities that would serve her well in the years to come. There are also some fun appearances by TV sitcom stars of the future including Jim Backus (“Gilligan’s Island”), Werner Klemperer (“Hogan’s Heroes”), Edward Platt (“Get Smart”) and uncredited appearances by Nancy Kulp (“The Beverly Hillbillies”) and Richard Deacon (“The Dick Van Dyke Show” and the only character in the film allowed to go a bit over the top.)
The film is not only delightful but unexpectedly poignant. The DVD includes the original trailer.
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Cinema Retro continues to shine the spotlight on independent films of merit.
BY GIACOMO SELLONI
Written by Lucie Borleteau, Clara Bourreau, and Mathilde Boisseleau
Directed by Lucie Borleteau
In French and English with English subtitles.
Alice Lesage is a woman with her life in flux. We first meet her, swimming nude, on a secluded, rocky beach watched by her lover and fiancé. She is approaching thirty and engaged to Felix Bjornsen, a Norwegian cartoonist. She seems happy and at ease. But Alice has a strange occupation for a woman. She is an engineer on a freighter charged with keeping the ship’s engines healthy. She’s a very good one. But she is a lovely young woman, the only woman on a new assignment on a ship that’s new to her, the Fidelio. It may be the name of the ship but it may also be viewed as an omen, Fidelio is eerily similar to the French word “fidèle,” which translates into English as “faithful.”
She boards the ship only to find the captain is, Gaël Levasseur, her first love. Even in her dirty, blue, grease-stained overalls, she is an appealing woman. Her competency at her job (she is the second engineer) just makes her moreso.Can a young woman, with a woman’s heart, desires and longings who will be away from home and Felix for three months, visiting many ports remain faithful?
Ariane Labed is charming as Alice. Melvil Poupaud as Captain Levasseur strikes all the right notes as her temptaion on the ship. Watching them dance around their feelings is intoxicating. When the obvious happens and Felix discovers it, their relationship seems doomed. Anders Danielsen Lie as Felix, is superbly understated as a man in pain from being cuckolded. When home with her family and Felix she receives a new, unexpected offer. The first engineer of the ship has passed away and the position is offered to her.Originally released in 2014 Fidelio, Alice’s Odyssey won a number of film festival awards for Lebed and Lucie Borleteau. Well deserved for both. I found the film compelling and the lack of a resolution made me want more of the triangle.
Warning. There are sexual situations and full frontal nudity (both sexes) in the film.
The film rated 82% on Rotten Tomatoes and is available on ITunes and OVID.tv.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
CULT EPICS INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN FOR “SYLVIA KRISTEL: FROM EMMANUELLE TO CHABROL Written by Jeremy Richey HARDCOVER BOOK”+ SYLVIA KRISTEL 1970s COLLECTION 4x Blu-ray set.
Los Angeles, CA (April 2021)
For Immediate Press release.
SYLVIA KRISTEL: FROM EMMANUELLE TO CHABROL
A trailblazing figure in film and popular culture, Netherlands native Sylvia Kristel became one of the biggest stars in the world as Emmanuelle in 1974. Alongside her most famous role, directed by Just Jaeckin, a little-known fact is that Sylvia Kristel also appeared in over 20 films between 1973 and 1981 featuring exceptional work with some of the greatest directors in film history including Walerian Borowczyk, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Roger Vadim and Claude Chabrol. Now the story of Sylvia’s astonishing career in the ’70s is told in Sylvia Kristel: From Emmanuelle to Chabrol, written by Jeremy Richey. Featured are new interviews with Just Jaeckin, Pim de la Parra, Robert Fraisse, Joe Dallesandro and Francis Lai among others. Sylvia Kristel: From Emmanuelle to Chabrol is a film-by-film guide to one of the most distinctive and uncompromising careers in modern cinema, and a celebration of a most remarkable woman in a fully illustrated coffee-table book written by author Jeremy Richey.
A homage to Dutch movie star Sylvia Kristel, to be released as a Hardcover book written by Jeremy Richey, and produced by Cult Epics.We have launched an INDIEGOGO Campaign for the book, please Join Us. Together with the Book we are offering four of Sylvia Kristel’s 1970s films previously unreleased on DVD and Blu-ray as an Exclusive Perk + bonus disc Interview.
SYLVIA KRISTEL: FROM EMMANUELLE TO CHABROL Written by Jeremy Richey.
New Hardcover coffee-table book, 10×12 inches, 352 pages, fully illustrated with over 200 images, edited by Nico B. Pre-order your exclusive signed copy on Indiegogo.
Sylvia Kristel: From Emmanuelle to Chabrol Hardcover book. Support and Contribute:
BY HANK REINEKE
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from half-a century or more of watching Hollywood films, it’s this; the distant future is no place in time I wish to visit. This pandemic of 2020-2021 aside, the future Tinsel Town promises is made up of things far worse: robots gone crazy, desolate landscapes, warring hordes of mutants and an assortment of post-nuclear zombies running amuck.And that’s not to mention, of course, the bland and unfashionable unisex leotards we’ll all be expected to wear as uniforms.So I stand firm in this conviction and, truth be told, Ib Melchior’s The Time Travelers (American International Pictures, 1964) does little to convince me that I’m wrong.
Melchior’s story is OK.A laboratory accident allows a team of scientists to be catapulted from 5 July 1964 to one hundred and seven years in the future.This event is the result of an overzealous technician pushing the already overloaded circuit board to maximum power.In doing so, the fuses spark and give out.This turn of events is unfortunate as it allows a free floating, collapsible portal to suddenly appear.If you are stupid enough to walk through the portal… Well, it’s a one-way trip.Once entered, the awkwardly hanging portal does not allow anyone to return to the humdrum existences of the present day.This, we’re told, is due to the presence of a circular electrically-charged force field barrier that prevents such return.
The scientists soon learn that the desolate, bleak and rocky landscape they’re walking through is planet Earth.The only difference is that it’s now the year 2071 and Earth is dying, the remnants of mankind huddled together for their own safety.We’re told that this unfortunate situation was caused by “man’s own folly,” and the spliced-in stock footage of atomic-bomb blasts pretty much explain how the handful of remaining humans found themselves in their present situation.The survivors have spent most of their time living in subterranean caves.They pass the time by fighting off radiation-scarred mutants who continually try to gain entrance to their shelters so they can rip them to pieces.
Actually, they do little of the fighting themselves.To defend themselves from the mutant-barbarians, the survivors have engineered a race of androids with inverted football-shaped heads to battle it out for them.Sure, they might have committed themselves to take up arms in their own defense.But they’ve been pre-occupied with other matters.They’re building a big starship that – if all goes well – will jettison all of them – sans-mutants – to another solar system and the planet of Alpha Centauri.They reckon it will be a long flight, but Alpha Centauri is the best they can hope for, gas being the price it is.It’s the only other planet – that they’re aware of, at least – that can sustain human-life due to its Earth-like atmosphere.
The problem is one less altruistic and self-serving member of the survivor community is convinced that the starship – as presently designed – will be unable to handle the additional weight of the four time travelers who arrived at an inopportune time due to a stumble through a time portal.So he has plans to leave behind the new and uninvited visitors from 1964 to fend for themselves.
I like bad vintage sci-fi as much as the next guy, but The Time Travelers isn’t a particularly riveting film.Even with a running time of some eighty-four minutes the film seems much longer.You’ll likely be hitting the “Pause” button a few times for a run to the kitchen for a hot snack or a cold beverage.Unless you’re on a strict diet, of course, whereupon you will be glancing incessantly at a clock while pondering if the minute hand is broken.Time seems to be passing by much too slowly.On the surface, The Time Travelers seems a late starter to the glory days of Silver-Age 1950’s sci-fi which – all things considered – should be a good thing.Except in this case it’s not.
Melchior’s screenplay is, at best, workmanlike and the film’s direction is pretty listless (His co-written script for another 1964 film, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, in far more intriguing).The camera of Director of Photography William Zsigmond frustratingly lingers over long-shots of protracted length as people and mutants lumber through the desolate stone canyons of Barstow, California.No one could ever confuse the editing of Hal Dennis to be hyper-kinetic since the completed film’s pacing is, to put it mildly, pretty sluggish throughout.Out of curiosity – and a guilty sense that my own opinion of Melchior’s film might be overly harsh and unfair – I decided to look up the original November 1964 Daily Variety review of the film.I have to say, I can find no fault or hold an opinion contrary to that journal’s own critic:“David Hewitt’s effects are stagey and William Zsigmond’s camera work and Hal Dennis’ editing is so-so.”(Zsigmond would ultimately redeem himself and go on to become a legend in his field.)
There are far too many moments in this film where we wish – and wait – for anything interesting to happen. Melchior’s screenplay, from a story by David Hewitt and himself, is ponderous and predictable.There is a sense that the story might evolve into something when a non-mutant survivor of the nuclear holocaust tries to find refuge in the caves with his brethren.Instead of being welcomed and rescued, he is turned away due to a suspicion of “outsiders” and plain ol’ human selfishness.But this sub-scenario examination of the failures of human empathy and compassion passes by without much fuss or notice.
On the plus side, Melchior’s film may have inspired a couple of future filmmakers to more fully develop ideas proposed here for their own films and TV series. Sexual pleasure in 2071 comes courtesy of a partner-less “Love Machine” that allows survivors who – due to the present lack of resources – need to suppress their emotional and sexual desires until they all land on Alpha Centauri.In the meantime, they can get their rocks off in a more mechanical way, without the messiness or warmth of a human partner.Could this have been the genesis of Woody Allen’s “Orgasmatron” in Sleeper?
And while the tech-minded survivors have not been able to construct a starship capable of handling an extra six-hundred pounds of human cargo, they have succeeded in building a neat matter transporter.This transporter would precede that of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek series by a couple of years.Melchior’s transporter is less dynamic in presentation, making subjects lie sown in a supine position ala a rotisserie chicken, before being whisked away to… Well, to wherever, but mostly not all that far from the place they began.
BY TODD GARBARINI
Film director Richard Rush, perhaps best known for his unorthodox and original 1980 film The Stunt Man, passed away in Los Angeles, CA on Thursday, April 8, 2021 just one week shy of what would have been his 92nd birthday following years of health issues. He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Claude (née Claude Cuveraux); his son, Anthony; and his grandson, Shayne.
Mr. Rush was born on Monday, April 15, 1929 in New York City and broke into the film industry through the UCLA film program and later worked for producer and director Roger Corman as the co-writer and director of Too Soon to Love (1960), alternatively titled High School Honeymoon, about high school sweethearts who go all the way and the girl ends up pregnant. This was heady subject matter for the time and Jack Nicholson has a small role in the film. Of Love and Desire (1963), a sexually charged film, followed. Hells Angels on Wheels (1967) had Jack Nicholson as part of a motorcycle gang, and Thunder Alley (1967) starred Annette Funicello and Fabian. Another teen, heartthrob Tab Hunter, starred in The Cups of San Sebastien (1967) as a religious artifact thief. A Man Called Dagger (1968) featured Terry Moore in a film about a scientist’s attempts to revive the Third Reich. Psych-Out (1968) was a far-out psychedelic trip about a hearing-impaired runaway searching for her brother in San Francisco, with Jack Nicholson again along for the ride.
Mr. Rush ended the Sixties with crazy bikers in The Savage Seven (1968) and began the Seventies with the counter-culture film Getting Straight (1970), a comedy-drama with Elliott Gould and Candice Bergen. 1974’s Freebie and the Bean pitted Alan Arkin and James Caan against crime as cops, one of the earliest buddy/cop films, but it was his ambitious film interpretation of Paul Brodeur’s 1970 novel of the same name that captivated filmgoers. Years in the making and the victim of a poor advertising campaign and minimal distribution, The Stunt Man pits an escaped convict named Cameron (Steve Railsback) into the middle of an action sequence that is actually the set of a war movie, unexpectedly causing the death of the stunt man of the film within the film. The director, Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole), then puts Cameron in the film, specifically in all sorts of dangerous situations, in order to get truth onscreen. Cross’s manipulation of Nina Franklin (Barbara Hershey) is exceptionally cruel. The film is a litmus test for audiences as we have to keep track of what is real and what is in the reel – reality as opposed to the movie-within-the-movie. I see the film as a challenge and it’s a rewarding experience.
Mr. Rush was a true maverick director and was nominated for both a co-writing and directing Academy Award, as was Mr. O’Toole for his performance of the out-of-control director. Despite not getting the wide audience that it deserved, The Stunt Man lives on in the world of home video.
Mr. Rush’s last film was Color of Night with Bruce Willis and Jane March in 1994.
BY TODD GARBARINI
I love home video. It has introduced me to the films that have been held near and dear to me in a far more intimate way than broadcast television ever could. The first home video system that I ever owned was the RCA SelectaVision Capacitance Electronic Disc system, a $500M failure that nearly bankrupted its creator, RCA, just five years after its inauspicious introduction in March 1981, Following 17 years of research and development hell, it proved to be a technological also-ran even before it left the gate. Star Wars (1977) and Poltergeist (1982) were the first two films that I owned on a caddie-enclosed 12-inch capacitive disc that were played over and over again during the spring and summer of 1983. These were not just movies that I saw, these were movies that I owned. They were mine and they became a part of my identity.
I came of age during the video store rental era. I broke my VHS rental cherry by illegally duplicating the only store copy of Media Home Entertainment’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) on Independence Day in 1985 from a local drug store’s video department. I did this even before I owned a VCR and before the anti-copying encoding scheme called Macrovision infiltrated pre-recorded tapes, forcing me to finagle work-arounds. Like so many towns in the surrounding areas, video stores proliferated with their original scent resulting from a mixture of the new carpet and the video boxes that adorned the aisles and shelves. Despite the eclectic assortment of titles, each store was severely limited in terms of the sheer number of VHS titles that they carried. One store actually rented Beta cassettes!
In December 1988, a new and exceptionally large video store with blue and yellow lettering appeared three miles from my house. It was called Blockbuster Video and it offered movies I never knew even made it to home video. I managed to see Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), Brian DePalma’s Sisters (1973), Ulu Grosbard’s Straight Time (1978), and James Toback’s Fingers (1978) all from this one store. I was in heaven! The glaring absence of adult titles was curious since all the local stores had them, even the corporate chains like Palmer Video and later on Easy Video. Porn was most definitely a lucrative part of a store’s weekend intake, but the religious-owned Blockbuster spurned such fare in favor of unrated violent gorefests like Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985) and Bad Taste (1986). Little by little, however, Blockbusters started to show up in neighboring towns sporting multiple key differentiators: having upwards of 25 VHS copies of the newest releases on hand whereas local stores generally only had one copy in stock; allowing renters to keep movies for three days and two nights as opposed to two days and one night; and allowing renters to return the tape to a store after hours through a drop box.
Once VHS was supplanted by DVD as the primary method of home video viewing, Blockbuster was forced to change as well and after having pushed out many of the local rental shops into bankruptcy, Blockbuster found itself up against Netflix, a company that Blockbuster was offered to purchase for $50M – but simply did not have the capital to do so. It is this event (misunderstood by lay people as Blockbuster simply not wanting to buy Netflix), coupled with poor management and the elimination of late fees, that sounded the death knell for the ubiquitous company that at one time had over 9,000 locations. The Last Blockbuster, a 2020 documentary produced by Netflix ironically enough (ouch!), directed by Taylor Morden and narrated by Lauren Lapkus, attempts to both chronicle the rise and fall of one of the most well-known companies in the United States and answer the questions as to why the company ultimately failed. The film succeeds for the most part, but my favorite sections of the film are people reminiscing about renting tangible cassettes and DVDs.
The title itself refers to the last single remaining Blockbuster Video located at 211 NE Revere Avenue in the town of Bend, Oregon, about three-and-a-half hours southeast of Portland. It is still a functioning video rental store, run by the Harding Family. It began life in 1992 by Ken and Debbie Tisher who opened it as Pacific Video until it was franchised and rebranded Blockbuster Video in eight years later. Today, the store finds itself in the same dilemma that it put so many local stores into decades ago – either soldier on or fold. Sandi Harding has worked for the company for over 15 years and pretty much takes care of the entire store. The film depicts her coming in early, checking back in the titles left in the drop box, and disclosing what it takes to keep a store like this in business. She keeps a collection of old computers salvaged from long shuttered Blockbusters in an attempt to keep the database and methods of renting titles up-to-date and running.
The film is not focused on just this last remaining store but rather bemoans the lost art of getting in one’s car and going to the video store to peruse the aisles and pick out something to watch on the weekend. Hanging out with the person behind the checkout counter on slow evenings to talk about movies is another casualty in the time of the Internet and movies at our fingertips. Among the other personalities interviewed in the film are Kevin Smith, Ione Skye, Brian Posehn, Doug Benson, Paul Scheer, and Samm Levine.
As with any disruptive technology, the previous methods of watching movies are invariably swept away and forgotten by the masses. However there is always a small and significant percentage of people who recall with fondness the halcyon days of renting movies from a store. Watching The Last Blockbuster, it becomes clear that video stores were my generation’s equivalent of a drive-in.
Passion River’s DVD/Blu-ray package of the film contains an assortment of extras:
The film’s original trailer.
Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee – This is a four-and-a-half-minute piece about a video store that opened in Los Angeles in December 1968 as a thrift store and over the next few decades amassed an enormous collection of tapes and discs. COVID-19 forced this store to temporarily close in May 2020 as they were looking for a new venue.
More with Kevin Smith – Director Kevin Smith is the most fun to listen to, as he really has a true love of movies. His explanation of working as a video store clerk and wanting to do that for the rest of his life is heartfelt and honest. He talks about renting Bloodsucking Freaks, a movie that I have heard of but still have not seen despite growing up with sick friends who loved the 1980 film Mother’s Day. This bit runs six minutes.
Talkin’ Movies with David McAbee – Just over two minutes, this is another movie fan who explains the joys of buying tangible product. I completely agree!
JC from Scum and Villainy – This bit is about two-and-a-half-minutes and echoes similar cineaste sentiments.
Andres The Last Blockbuster Music Video – Under three minutes, this is a clever song about renting movies.
Our Chat with Coach Pete – This piece runs under one minute and discusses the love of renting. I wish that these pieces were longer!
MTV’s Matt Pinfield – This runs about three-and-a-half minutes – I share Matt’s love of going to the record stores and video stores, talking with fellow music lovers and movie lovers, and having other people recommend titles I would not have normally gone for.
Wordburglar “Rental Patient” Music Video – At four minutes, this is a clever song about renting movies.
Ska-Punk show at Costa Mesa, CA Blockbuster Video – This is something that I think you had to be there in order to appreciate it.
The Last Blockbuster is a loving tribute to the extraordinary experience of renting and watching movies. It will not win the Academy Award for Best Documentary, but it belongs in every movie lover’s collection.
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BY LEE PFEIFFER
If you’re among the very few who were impressed by John Wayne’s performance as Genghis Khan in “The Conqueror”, you’ll be delighted to know that the obscure 1978 film “The Norseman” has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in collaboration with Scorpion and it affords an abundance of delights that range from similar historical inaccuracies along with the inventive casting of a leading man in what would appear to be a highly inappropriate role. We speak of Lee Majors- yes, that Lee Majors- who had been enjoying considerable success on the small screen as “The Six-Million Dollar Man”. Now, Majors wouldn’t be the first actor to come to mind to star in a film about Vikings, but, hey, if you accepted the Duke as Genghis Khan, you’ll have no problem with Majors in this particular role. Like many actors who found fame and fortune on the small screen, Majors obviously wished to expand his influence to the silver screen. After all, Tony Curtis had been overcoming being severely miscast for many years and made favorable impressions in “Spartacus” and- wait for it!- “The Vikings”, playing heroic slaves in both films despite his undisguised New Yawk accent. Majors, a native of Michigan, attempts the same feat here, but alas, with less successful results. He plays Thorvald (presumably no relation to the Marvel Comics hero Thor, but you get the drift), a deadly earnest Viking warrior who is on a mission of rescue and revenge. Seems his father, King Eurich (Mel Ferrer,) set sail to seek out new lands for conquest and he and his crew haven’t been heard from since. Thus,Thorvald and his crew attempt to retrace his route in hopes of finding and rescuing him. When they finally reach their destination, you may be perplexed as to why it looks a great deal like Florida. That’s because the film was shot in Florida, despite the fact that Vikings didn’t get within thousands of miles of the future Disney World. They are instantly attacked by an Indian tribe, which leads to one of the dullest action scenes in memory. Turns out ol’ King Eurich and his not-so-merry men have been held captive by the particularly cruel chief of the tribe, who has systematically blinded them and forced them to work as slaves. With the help of a vivacious tribal maiden (are there any other kind in movies of this type?), Thorvald locates his dad and constructs a “Mission: Impossible”-type plan to free him and escape.
The film was written, produced and directed by Charles B. Pierce, who had gained a good deal of credence through his atmospheric 1972 cult horror films “The Legend of Boggy Creek” and “The Town That Dreaded Sundown”, both of which proved to be extremely successful for low-budget independent films. This time around, however, Pierce eschewed the horror film genre that had served him well in favor or making a horrible film, albeit one with plenty of camp appeal and an abundance of unintended knee-slapping dialogue. The first problem is that the viewer can’t avoid being distracted by the sight of Vikings cavorting through Floridian terrain. The second problem is Majors in the lead role. As with Duke Wayne’s Genghis Khan, he makes no effort to affect an exotic accent and delivers the dialogue in his normal Midwestern accent in a bored, somnambulatory manner, as though he began to have second thoughts about starring in the film the moment the cameras started turning. Among the other victims is the esteemed Cornell Wilde, a fine actor and director, who is reduced to playing Majors’ right-hand Viking and shouting out innocuous orders to the crew. Mel Ferrer is made up in a long white wig and beard that seems to be channeling Christopher Lee’s future appearances in “The Lord of the Rings” films. Director Charles Pierce cast his son Chuck as Majors’ teenage brother, through whose eyes the tale is told. Debutante actress Susie Coelhoe is the helpful maiden Winetta, who gets to dash through the Florida swamps in a sexy one-piece number that seems to be the Viking era equivalent of the mini-skirt centuries before the design was ripped off by those rogues on Carnaby Street. Contemporary American football star Deacon Jones of the Los Angeles Rams doesn’t escape unscathed, either. He’s bizarrely cast in a nondescript role that includes a single line of dialogue, which unfortunately doesn’t explain how his character became history’s only African-American Viking. Rounding out the hodgepodge of veteran and novice actors is Jack Elam (!) as a wizened Viking prophet who is shrouded in a hood so that, we are told, his face can never be seen (despite the fact that his face is plainly visible throughout the film.) It should be noted that many of the Viking characters are attired in horned headgear, which actual Vikings did not wear. It seems that director Pierce’s historical research didn’t extend beyond Hagar the Horrible comic strips. The best news for Lee Majors was that the film never hurt his career, probably because so few people saw it. He went on to star in another hit TV series, “The Fall Guy” with his reputation unscathed.
Although one can be sarcastic about wacky movies such as “The Norseman”, it must be said that it’s a good thing that companies such as Kino Lorber and Scorpion devote time, energy and resources to keep them in circulation. Even bad films don’t deserve the dignity of falling into oblivion and this one is fun to watch, even if for all the wrong reasons. The Blu-ray features a very nice transfer with the trailer and a trailer gallery of other Scorpion releases as the only extras.
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An underrated gem from 1970 is director Martin Ritt’s “The Molly Maguires” which told the story of oppressed Irish coal miners in Pennsylvania and how they launched a violent resistance campaign in the quest for gaining livable wages and working conditions. The film was a major flop despite the presence of stars Sean Connery and Richard Harris but time has been kind to Ritt’s thoughtful and engrossing film and its moral issues still resonate today.
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BY EVE GOLDBERG
The Hustler (1961) is a gritty, unsettling drama set in the seedy underbelly of the American Dream. Produced, directed, and co-written by Robert Rossen, and starring Paul Newman in one of his best performances, the film is a hard-edged gem in which all the elements—writing, directing, acting, cinematography, set design, editing, and music—are superb, and all the players are at the top of their game.
On the Page — Origins
The Hustler began as a short story, “The Best in the Country,” written by Walter Tevis and published in Esquire in 1953. Tevis drew from his own experiences as a pool hustler knocking around the dingy bars and pool halls of Lexington, Kentucky. Later, he expanded the story into a novel—The Hustler—published in 1959.
The book centers around Eddie Felson, a small-time pool hustler with dreams of beating the best player in the country, Minnesota Fats. He challenges Fats to a pool match and loses, then dumps his longtime friend and manager, Charlie. In a desolate bus station he meets Sarah, a crippled, alcoholic woman. Eddie and Sarah begin a relationship, but it’s clear that she wants more from him than he wants to give. He also encounters Bert, a gambler who recognizes Eddie’s talent, but calls him a “born loser.” Bert offers to manage Eddie, teach him how to become a winner, and stake him to a big-time pool hustle. Eddie turns down the deal because Bert’s percentage of his winnings would be too high. Desperate for money, he goes to a bar in a rough area of town to make some money hustling pool, but gets his thumbs broken by some guys who don’t like being hustled. As Sarah nurses him back to heath, their relationship deepens. After Eddie recovers, he accepts Bert’s offer and they head out to the Kentucky Derby where he successfully hustles a rich southern billiards player. He then beats Minnesota Fats in a re-match. At the end of the book, Eddie’s fate is left in limbo: Will he continue his relationship with Sarah? Or will his life be loveless like Bert’s, dedicated only to winning at any cost?
Tevis’s novel was a popular success…and Hollywood came calling. The property made its way around the movie industry; at one point Frank Sinatra was attached, but that deal eventually dissolved. Then writer/director Robert Rossen optioned the book.
Robert Rossen — Regret and Redemption
Robert Rossen had a lot to prove. His life, and especially his relationship to Hollywood, was complex and troubled.
Rossen was raised on New York’s Lower Eastside, the son of impoverished Russian-Jewish immigrants. As a youth, he hustled pool and pinochle to get by. Eventually, he attended college and became involved with radical-left theater during the Depression of the 1930s. Like thousand of other artists and progressives at that time, he also joined the Communist Party.
Rossen broke into the movie business as a writer. Under contract to Warner Brothers, his screenplays, including Marked Woman and Dust Be My Destiny, were about tough characters in a tough world. His depictions of gangsters, slums, and political corruption were hard-hitting and street-wise, epitomizing the socially conscious Warner Brothers’ style of the 1930s and 40s.
When the U.S. entered World War II, Rossen helped mobilize Hollywood to assist in the war effort and fight against the Nazis. After the war, he joined a picket line in front of Warner Brothers Studio where laborers in the Conference of Studio Workers were striking. His relationship with Warner’s was over. But his directing career, and the gut-wrenching ethical dilemma that would shape the rest of his life and career, was about to begin.
In 1947, the U.S. Congressional House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), subpoenaed 19 Hollywood writers, directors and producers, to testify about their political affiliations, including their involvement in the Communist Party. Robert Rossen was among them. The first ten to testify, including screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, stood on their First Amendment right to freedom of association, and refused to answer the Committee’s questions. All ten were sent to prison for Contempt of Congress. They became known as The Hollywood 10. The eleventh person called to testify was world-renowned poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht. Brecht sparred with the Committee during a morning session, then boarded a plane for Europe never to return to the United States again.
Hollywood luminaries, including Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, and Lauren Bacall, rallied in support of the Hollywood Ten. The HUAC hearings became a media circus, and the Committee decided not to call the remaining eight to testify. Robert Rossen went home.
The Hollywood 10, plus several hundred others named as “subversives,” were blacklisted out of the entertainment industry. Careers and lives were ruined. For the moment, Rossen was spared. Right before the HUAC hearings, he had directed the noirish boxing drama, Body and Soul. Now he went on to direct All the King’s Men about corrupt Louisiana political boss, Huey Long. The movie won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1949. By this time, Rossen had left the U.S. Communist Party, unhappy with its connection to the repression and terror of Stalin’s Soviet Union. But HUAC had not finished its work. In 1951, Rossen was again subpoenaed to testify. He was questioned not only about his own political affiliations, but was also asked to “name names”—to snitch out other people. He refused to name names and was blacklisted. His career came to a screeching halt.
Two years later, Rossen was once again called to testify before HUAC. This time his desire to work trumped his desire to do what he knew was right. He cooperated with the Committee, naming 57 people as Communists. Thanks to his cooperation with HUAC, Rossen revived his career. But he spent the rest of his life justifying, defending, and being eaten up inside by his decision to name names.
The Hustler is one of only a handful of movies Rossen made following his HUAC testimony. In it, he explores the themes closest to his heart—and his heartache: the corrupting forces of capitalist society; human weakness; the emotional cost of selling out.
While Rossen’s screenplay for The Hustler remains essentially true to the novel’s plot and themes, one major change darkens the mood, and drills down into its ultimate meaning: In the movie, Sarah kills herself. Anguished by Bert’s cruelty towards her, her self-destructive impulses win out. Right before her suicide, she writes in lipstick on a bathroom wall: Twisted Perverted Crippled. Eddie is devastated by her death. He continues on to defeat Minnesota Fats in their re-match, but it has taken Sarah’s suicide for him to break free of Bert. To break free from the win-at-any-cost mentality. He’s done selling out. He’s finally acquired “character.”
Rack ‘Em Up — Assembling the Cast
As producer, director and co-writer (with Sidney Carroll), Robert Rossen had control over all creative aspects of The Hustler. He knew, however, that in order to obtain funding and distribution for the movie, he would need a star.
At the time, Paul Newman was coming up in the ranks of Hollywood actors. He had studied at the Actors’ Studio in New York and had the reputation as a kind of pretty-boy Brando. He had acted on Broadway and television, and co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor in the film version of Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Then he made Exodus. This big-budget production was not a great movie, and it was widely recognized that Newman’s appeal was what made it a box-office success. Paul Newman was now a top, bankable star.
Rossen believed that Newman had just the right qualities to play cocky, good-looking, loser Fast Eddie Felson. But the actor wasn’t available, already scheduled to star opposite Elizabeth Taylor in Two for the Seesaw. Others were considered for the part, including Bobby Darrin. Then Rossen got lucky. Taylor became sick and plans for Two for the Seesaw fell apart. Rossen sent Newman his script for The Hustler. “I read half of it,” the actor recalled, “and called my New York agent at six o’clock in the morning and said, ‘Get me this film.’ And he did.”
With Paul Newman on board, Twentieth Century Fox agreed to put up the money and distribute. The movie was a go.
Rossen’s casting of the supporting roles is crucial to The Hustler’s quirky, dark vibe. The talent and chemistry of the terrific cast is key to why it’s become a classic.
Piper Laurie was chosen to play self-hating, alcoholic Sarah. She brings to the role a fragility and a yearning to be loved that is painful to witness. She portrays Sarah as heartbreakingly vulnerable, but also as someone with reserves of inner strength. When she limps, we see her pride attempt to triumph over her self-loathing.
George C. Scott was cast as Bert, the vicious gambler who vies with Sarah over Eddie’s soul. Like Newman, Scott had cut his acting teeth on stage and television, transitioning to film in the 1950s. While he doesn’t possess Newman’s romantic-lead good looks, he radiates power in all his roles. In The Hustler, Scott plays Bert as a man who has sold his soul for money and wants Fast Eddie to follow down the same path. He’s cruel and cunning; an astute judge of character and a master manipulator. As critic Pauline Kael comments, “George C. Scott in The Hustler suggests the personification of the power of money.”
And finally there’s Jackie Gleason. What inspired casting! Known primarily as a comedian, and especially for his loudmouth bus driver Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners, Gleason was not an obvious choice. But he was the perfect choice.
Gleason’s Minnesota Fats is gracious and regal. He’s an elegant dresser, ruling his shabby pool hall kingdom with a fresh carnation in his lapel. He moves with the grace and fluid precision of a dancer. He’s a man in control of his game. Unlike Fast Eddie, he knows when to quit and cut his losses. Forty hours into their marathon pool match, with Eddie slumped in a chair, drunk and exhausted, Gleason’s Fats genteelly freshens up in the loo. There’s also a sadness in his eyes; he holds no illusions about the life he’s chosen.
* Fun Fact: Minnesota Fats was a wholly fictional character created by novelist Walter Tevis. After the success of the film, an overweight New York pool hustler, Rudolf Walderone, renamed himself Minnesota Fats. Walderone cashed in on his new identity with book and TV deals, including a series of widely televised matches with top-ranked pool professional, Willie Mosconi.
As important as the supporting cast is, The Hustler is still Paul Newman’s movie. He has said in interviews that he viewed Fast Eddie as a man trying to find himself, to express his talents, to be a somebody instead of a nobody. Newman identified strongly with Eddie’s struggle: “I spent the first thirty years of my life looking for a way to explode. For me, apparently acting is that way.”
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Own 14 of John Wayne’s Most Essential Films in One Collection for the First Time
Relive some of the greatest performances by legendary actor John Wayne with the JOHN WAYNE ESSENTIAL 14-MOVIE COLLECTION, arriving on DVD May 11, 2021from Paramount Home Entertainment.
An American hero and icon, Wayne had an epic, 50-year film career in which he played the lead in over 140 films.He was nominated* for three Academy Awards®, winning the Best Actor award for his performance in True Grit.
Representing Paramount’s biggest John Wayne collection ever, this 14-movie set spans nearly 25 years of Wayne’s exceptional career and includes his only Oscar®-winning performance in True Grit and his final lead role in The Shootist.Encompassing epic stories of integrity and dramatic battles of will, these fan-favorites capture the virtue, courage, and humor of an American original.
The films in the DVD collection are:
- · Hondo (1953)
- · Island in the Sky (1953)
- · The High and the Mighty (1954)
- · The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
- · Hatari! (1962)
- · Donovan’s Reef (1963)
- · McLintock! (1963)
- · In Harm’s Way (1965)
- · The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
- · El Dorado (1966)
- · True Grit (1969)
- · Rio Lobo (1970)
- · Big Jake (1971)
- · The Shootist (1976)
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Cinema Retro has been invited by Kino Lorber to premiere the trailer for the new feature film “Lust for Gold: A Race Against Time.”. Here is the official press release:
Like the 1949 Columbia Pictures release of Lust for Gold, this present-day true story is about obsession, greed, and the hunt for gold. Boyhood dreams of treasure lead to a lifelong search when a retired missile scientist makes a monumental discovery and tempts fate for fortune as he hatches a secret plan to prove his claim. With his estranged son at his side, he secures an entertainment/personal injury lawyer who assembles a team –a retired blackjack dealer, a veterinary assistant, and a dog. The plan? To covertly remove gold bullion from within the most restricted area of Federal land deep within Superstition Mountain, Arizona. But the one risk greater than facing the unforgiving terrain and Federal prosecution is time.
The Feature Presentation is preceded by a Featurette,The Tomb, which follows the same team in their efforts to unearth a Jesuit Tomb said to contain millions of dollars of gold bars, jewels, coins and paintings.
When we’re young, our futures seem endless. Yet time has a way of passing at increasing speed. Lust for Gold: A Race Against Time is about holding onto our dreams and embracing adventure. For gold hunters, it’s the search for an undiscovered vein or a buried cache. What drives us to seek something that’s not ours –to risk injury or death to find an unearned prize? For most, that prize eludes them. For some, it hides right under their feet, while others are just too late. But for all, their undying belief lives on. It is the human condition that interests me. All the characters in our film have a thirst for adventure, but they’re also in search of something else. While finding gold is at the forefront of their minds, they each have other motivations, some conscious, some unconscious. They seek redemption, praise, purpose, to prove their human value, to change their lot in life –all part of the human experience. While our story rides on the surface of our characters’ actions, their actual story plays deeper and is there for the observant. It’s not just about a lust for gold, but for life–what’s left to discover, what will be our legacy? I’m inspired by those who have taken the risk in their search and allowed us to follow them on their adventure.
LUST FOR GOLD: A RACE AGAINST TIME will have its premiere Sunday, April 18 as part of the Arizona Film Festival. The screening will be preceded by a Treasure Hunt (Lust For Gold Treasure Hunt – Senart Films), from 11am to 4pm at the Mercado District. The Treasure Hunt event is free and open to the public.
The film is available from Kino Lorber for virtual/theatrical screenings. The Blu-ray, DVD and digital release date is June 15th.
REVIEW: “LASH OF THE PENITENTES” (1936); BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FROM KINO LORBER AND SOMETHING WEIRD VIDEO
“WHIPPING OUT A STORY”
By Raymond Benson
Kino Lorber and Something Weird Video continue their collaboration to present “Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Picture” with Volume 9—The Lash of the Penitentes. Like the other exploitation titles that have appeared over the last two years, Lash is another piece of American celluloid that will surely elicit jaw-dropping, eye-rolling, and headshaking. How did these things ever get made and distributed? Who went to see them? How corrupted was one after a viewing?
These delicious and suitably sleazy pictures in the “Forbidden Fruit” series were made cheaply and outside the Hollywood system. They were distributed independently in the manner of a circus sideshow, often by renting a movie theater for a few nights, advertising in the local papers, and promoting the salacious title as “educational.” For adults only, mind you, but exhibited all in the good name of science or health or whatever. Reefer Madness. Narcotic. Ingagi. Test Tube Babies. She Should’a Said No!. Mom and Dad. That sort of fare.
The Lash of the Penitentes, from 1936, is sort of a documentary with re-staged and fictionalized elements. Los Hermanos Penitentes, the “Penitentes” of the title, (were? are?) a real religious sect in New Mexico and Colorado that practices extreme rituals on Good Friday of every year. The main course is a re-enactment of Christ’s passion by having “penitents” carry crosses up a mountain while being flagellated by the religious leaders, and then ending with the “chosen penitent” being crucified on a cross (not with nails). The film implies that the man dies, but that is unlikely. Apparently, for decades, these activities were public until more recent years in which the whole gruesome spectacle is performed in private and probably with more care not to really hurt anyone.
However, back when the picture was made, this was some seriously twisted stuff. And much of the real thing is caught on camera.
It has an interesting history, too. A cameraman named Roland Price (we think) went to New Mexico and surreptitiously filmed some of the ritual for the purposes of a future documentary. However, nothing was done with the approximately 18,000 feet of footage. Then, in early 1936, a journalist by the name of Carl Taylor went to write about the Penitentes. He was caught spying on the ceremony, which is forbidden to outside parties. He was murdered. The crime made headlines.
Enter exploitation moviemaker Harry Revier (also responsible for another “Forbidden Fruit” entry, Child Bride). He somehow acquired the rights to the documentary footage, fashioned a fictional murder mystery plot to wrap around it, and shot new material with actors. Of course, the mystery is based on—or at least inspired by—the true killing of Taylor.
In Revier’s version, journalist George Mack (José Rubio) goes to New Mexico to whip out a story about the Penitentes, hires a local young man, Chico (William Marcos), to assist him, and then witnesses the sensational ritual. He is discovered and then slain.
The approximately 48-minute movie was titled The Penitente Murder Case. Besides the (for the time) violent depiction of the flagellation and the creepy religious sect stuff that would assuredly freak out “normal” American Christians of 1936, the motion picture also contained footage of actress Marie DeForrest also being stripped and flagellated on the mountainside, and then “crucified” naked. Why this was included is unclear plot-wise, but it has something to do with her helping Mack in his mission.
The censors (the Hays Office) understandably would have nothing to do with the movie, so Revier edited his masterwork down to 35 minutes—deleting DeForrest’s footage and making other trims. This version was then released to the public as The Lash of the Penitentes and this is what grindhouse cinemas on the exploitation circuit have shown since. It was even released on VHS and DVD in this version by fly-by-night companies in the past.
Now, Kino Lorber has issued a high-def Blu-ray of the full-length 48-minute version that looks about as best as it can get. It comes with a highly informative audio commentary by Bret Wood, co-author of the book Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Film and curator of the “Forbidden Fruit” series for Kino.
Also included is the 35-minutecensored version. What makes the entire thing even more mysterious is the inclusion of the theatrical trailer, which contains scandalous footage that does not appear in either edit of the film. The trailer has scenes of a woman being assaulted by her boyfriend, saved by a young boy, but then flagellated while hanging from her arms. Full nudity. In a trailer. None of it is in The Penitente Murder Case or The Lash of the Penitentes. One supposes that this was the only way the distributors could lure an audience—mostly male, it is assumed—to come see the picture when it opened.
Since both versions of the feature are short, Kino Lorber and Something Weird probably could have added another “Forbidden Fruit” title to the disk; after all, several other Volumes in the series contain double features. Why not this one? With that the only quibble, The Lash of the Penitentes should appeal to those fans of film history, exploitation films, and just plain kooky, weird stuff.
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BY MARK CERULLI
Mike Henry, the rugged former football player-turned-actor, passed away on January 8, 2021 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease and Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, likely from his heavy physical contact during his years in the NFL playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and LA Rams.Although not a household name, Henry carved out an impressive career playing heroic roles, most notably Tarzan in three films from 1966 – 68.I remember stumbling across Tarzan And the Valley of Gold on network TV as a kid and being enthralled by this hulking, well-spoken Tarzan who wore a suit in one scene and the traditional loincloth in the next. (The series’ producer, Sy Weintraub, cannily tried to jump on the then-raging Bondmania in 1966 by offering up a suave Tarzan equally at home in a city as in the jungle.The fact that Henry bore a passing resemblance to Sean Connery didn’t hurt.)Henry took over the role of Tarzan from Jock Mahoney (who suffered dysentery making Tarzan’s Three Challenges that was so severe, he emerged emaciated from the shoot in Thailand.) Blessed with a chiseled physique that Weintraub crowed looked like it was “sculpted by Michelangelo”, Henry could easily handle the athletic demands of the coveted part.
What Henry endured making the Tarzan films was even more heroic than the role itself. While filming Tarzan and the Great River, the script called for Tarzan to pick up Cheeta (a chimpanzee) and run with him.The film was shot in the jungles of Brazil, so all the onscreen animals had to be flown in – one imagines they were under severe stress in a totally unfamiliar environment.The chimp reacted by biting Henry in the face, requiring 20 stitches in his jaw and a stay in the local hospital for bouts of “monkey fever”.
In the course of making his three Tarzan epics, Henry suffered a severe ear infection, food poisoning, fatigue, liver ailments, almost got clawed by an enraged leopard and was so exhausted by the back-to-back film shoots that when his contract required him to jump right into a Tarzan television series, the actor wanted out. Who who could have blamed him?Ron Ely took over as Tarzan on TV and racked up an equally impressive number of injuries including numerous broken bones and several lion bites during its 2-year run.Henry, reportedly one of the most humble and affable people in the biz, was so traumatized that he sued producer Weintraub for almost $1 million for “maltreatment, abuse and working conditions detrimental to my health…” (Both this and a related lawsuit were unsuccessful in court.)
Although he had a successful career behind the camera, producing TV commercials and documentaries, Henry continued to act – in films like The Green Berets, The Longest Yard, Soylent Green and on episodes of M*A*S*H, The Six Million Dollar Man, Scrubs, Fantasy Island and others.His role as Jackie Gleason’s dimwitted son in three Smokey and the Bandit movies introduced this versatile performer to a new generation of fans. Sadly, due to his illnesses, he had to retire from the industry in 1988.
I made several attempts to interview Mr. Henry, especially when I discovered he lived near me in Los Angeles, but Covid and not wanting to intrude kept me from pushing too hard.Still, he is one of the actors I most remember from my movie-going youth and his dashing appearances at Tarzan, in spite of all the trauma he personally endured, makes him a true hero in my book.Thanks for the magic, Mike.
In this 1972 clip from “The Dick Cavett Show”, guest Michael Caine discusses the controversies surrounding both “Zulu” and his latest film, “X, Y and Zee” (UK title: “Zee and Company”).
In this undated clip from “The Dick Cavett Show”, Orson Welles is in top form: he’s humble (or pretending to be), witty, jocular and a master ranconteur., and he relates marvelous tales all the while puffing on one of his signature Churchill cigars. Here, he reflects on the making of “Citizen Kane” and a chance encounter with publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, on whom the Kane character was partly based. Welles also explains about how his naivety and “dumbness” in terms of his knowledge of filmmaking helped ensure the artistic success of the movie. He also reflects on the great contributions of cinematographer Greg Toland. Welles claims he hadn’t seen “Kane” since its premiere. That may be true, but keep in mind that Welles was, among many things, a master fabulist.
BY DOUG GERBINO
In an episode of the Jack Benny radio show from 1948, Jack and Mary Livingstone are being driven to the Warner Bros. studios in his “trusty” Maxwell by his butler Rochester (Eddie Anderson). They are stopped at the gate by the studio guard, voiced by the wonderful Mel Blanc. When the guard demands identification in order to be admitted, Jack tells him that he is Jack Benny. The guard still demands ID. Benny pleads with him to recognize him: “…after all, I made a film here a few years ago, The Horn Blows at Midnight…I am sure you remember that!” “Remember it??? I directed it!!!” replies Blanc as the guard. Such amusing set-ups became some of Jack Benny’s most famous self-deprecating jokes. The Horn Blows at Midnight has become legendary because of Benny’s making fun of it but as we can now see through this DVD, the comedy legend was being unnecessarily harsh. The Warner Archive’s release of the film gives us a chance to evaluate this 1945 film for ourselves. People who can remember the endless jokes Benny made at the expense of this much-maligned movie will be surprised to learn that it was directed by the great Raoul Walsh and boasted a great score by Franz Waxman. Benny is backed by a wonderful Warner Bros. supporting cast: Guy Kibbee, John Alexander, Franklin Pangborn, Margaret Dumont, Allyn Joslyn, Reginald Gardiner, Mike Mazurki, a young Robert Blake, and the beautiful Alexis Smith. The production values are high and it has some good special effects for its time. So why the jokes?
The main answer is that it did disappointing business at the box office. One possible reason for the poor reception is that it was released within the same week that President Franklin D. Roosevelt died. Another possible reason is that, although it is a Jack Benny movie and Benny is very good in it, it is not the familiar Jack Benny persona that the public had come to know and love through his #1 top-rated radio show.
He plays Athaneal, a questionable trumpet player in a radio studio orchestra that is playing in a broadcast for a program sponsored by Paradise Coffee (“The Coffee That Makes You Sleep”). Athaneal actually falls asleep during the broadcast. He dreams that he is an angel in Heaven who is being sent back down to planet number 339001 — “Earth,” a six-day project rush job — to blow Gabriel’s Horn at midnight to bring an end to that planet.
Here we have the first thing that people found fault with: they make Jack Benny an inept trumpeter. A trumpeter? Come on…everyone knows Jack Benny was an inept violinist. Oh, well. He reaches planet number 339001 (Earth) by borrowing a Times Square hotel’s elevator to get there. The always wonderful Franklin Pangborn plays the prissy hotel detective trying to solve the mystery of how an elevator just disappears. Once he’s arrived, Benny plays the part with naive wonder as an angel back on Earth after being dead for 250 years. As a matter of fact, he died in New York, or “New Amsterdam” as it was called when he was last there. He has to contend with two “fallen angels” played so wonderfully by great character actors John Alexander (“Teddy” from Arsenic and Old Lace) and Allyn Joslyn, who know that once Athaneal blows Gabriel’s Horn it’s down south to a warmer climate for them because they’re no longer welcome in Heaven. The only side effect that they suffer on Earth is a comic case of convulsions on the hour every hour (“Well, that one wasn’t so bad.” “No, comparatively mild.”). All the aforementioned character actors meet up for a surrealistic rooftop climax as Athaneal races the clock and the “villains” while getting tangled up with a big neon advertisement atop the Times Square Hotel. Will he see to it that the horn blows at midnight?
This film gives you an opportunity to see Jack Benny play a part other than “Jack Benny.” Are there any of the well-known Benny mannerisms? Sure, we can see glimpses. The Benny walk is there, of course. His ineptitude is a major plot device. The closest gag involving his epic “cheapness” is a joke involving his heavenly boss played by the great Guy Kibbee telling him that down on planet number 339001 he will need some “money.” When he hands him the dollar bills, Athaneal asks: “What are dollars?” Yeah, right? Jack Benny asking what dollars are!
The overall picture and sound of the Warner Archive’s region-free DVD are very good and the original trailer is included. At 78 minutes it is an excellent Warner Bros. comedy. A great non-Jack Benny Jack Benny film. Get this one.
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BY TODD GARBARINI
In January 1998 I attended a book signing in New York City emceed by author Russell Banks and film director Atom Egoyan. They were on hand to autograph copies of Mr. Bankss 1991 novel, The Sweet Hereafter, which had been made into a 1997 film of the same name by Mr. Egoyan. Despite varying greatly, the novel and the film both concern the aftereffects of life in a small town in the Adirondacks when fourteen children die following an accident involving their school bus when it careens off a slippery, snow-covered road and sinks into the frozen waters of a nearby body of water. Mr. Egoyan claimed that he was inspired to make the film because, he felt, something terrible will happen to everyone at some point in his or her life, and they will need to find a way to move on.
A terrible fate befell nineteen-year-old Jacquelyn M. Lyn Helton in 1969 when, just after giving birth to her daughter, she suffered from terrible leg pain that was misdiagnosed as bursitis; it turned out to be osteosarcoma (bone cancer). She sought medical treatment and was dealt grim news: either have her leg amputated and hope that the cancer did not spread or take a chance on chemotherapy and radiation. The former was not an option for her, and so in earnest she began recording her thoughts and feelings about her life with her photographer/musician husband Tom so that her daughter would hear the tapes and know her after she died. This tragic and heartbreaking story inspired the made-for-television film Sunshine which premiered on CBS-TV on Friday, November 9, 1973 (Mrs. Helton passed before the film was made). Reportedly the most viewed TV-movie up to that point in time, Sunshine stars former model turned actress Cristina Raines as Kate, a pregnant divorcee who meets Sam (Cliff De Young), a photographer/musician who has no real means of supporting her but manages to assuage her tantrums by singing John Denver songs to her. The film begins with her death and her ashes scattered, so we know the outcome from the start.
Sam agrees to raise her child, Jill, as his own in the midst of their carefree lifestyle, leftover from the Flower Children of the Sixties, driving around in a small van painted in carefree love motifs. The film deals sensitively with the issues that no adult wants to face in their lifetime: adultery, premature death, and the fear of the unknown. Ms. Raines gives a heartfelt performance as a woman who is both positive and life-affirming but one who also is angry at the fate dealt her. Ms. Raines gave up acting nearly two decades after Sunshine to become a registered nurse, a career path change also shared by former actress Tisa Farrow. Cliff De Young is also a singer and musician and turns in a likeable performance as Sam. Meg Foster is also excellent as Nora, the woman next door who begins an affair with Sam and is ultimately enlisted to help raise Jill. Brenda Vaccaro is also terrific as the doctor who wants desperately to help Kate and tries to convince her to stay the course, to no avail.
Director Joseph Sargent, who honed his craft in directing television series in the 1960s and helmed 1970s Colossus: The Forbin Project, would follow up Sunshine with the last project one would expect from him: 1974s brilliant, hilarious and completely politically incorrect New York City film The Taking of Pelham 123. Bill Butler, who turns 100 this year and photographed The People vs. Paul Crump (1962) for William Friedkin, Something Evil (1972), Savage (1973), and Jaws (1975) for Steven Spielberg, and replaced Haskell Wexler on both The Conversation (1974) for Francis Coppola and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1975) for Milos Forman, does his best to make Vancouver, BC a suitable stand-in for Spokane, WA. Credit should also be given to twins Rachel Lindsay Greenbush and Sidney Greenbush who both played Jill. The film was produced by George Eckstein, who also produced Steven Spielbergs Duel (1971).
If the premise of the film seems a bit familiar, a similar story was written by author Nancy Kincaid as Pretending the Bed is a Raft (1997) and was filmed by director Sarah Polley as My Life Without Me (2003), in which Ms. Polley also starred. Whether or not author Kincaid based this short story on Mrs. Heltons story, I do not know. Ms. Polley, incidentally, also starred in the aforementioned The Sweet Hereafter.
Sunshine has been released on Blu-ray from the Twilight Time sister label, Redwind Productions, however I cannot verify if they released any other titles. There was talk of releasing Loving You (1957), the Elvis Presley movie.
The transfer was made from either the original camera negative, the interpositive or internegative and was scanned in 4K. It looks like the movie was just made.
The Blu-ray comes with a booklet discussing the films impact on the world and how it was released theatrically world-wide.
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BY LEE PFEIFFER
Rodney Dangerfield became a comedy sensation, most improbably, when he was middle-aged. The guy who grew up in blue collar Kew Gardens in Queens, New York, had dabbled in standup early in his life but found little success. He quipped at the time that when he decided to quit show business, no one knew he had even been in it. Dangerfield married, raised a family and sold aluminum siding to make ends meet. However, the siren call of the stage led him back to show business. A hard-won slot on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1967 had a sensational reaction from the audience and Sullivan’s many millions of viewers. Dangerfield was on his way. The key to his success was capitalizing on his blue collar background. He looked and sounded like the New Yawker who would have lived next door to you. His shtick was self-deprecating humor, which he developed into an art form. He recognized that everyone likes someone who can make fun of themselves, an attribute that certain elected officials would do well to adopt. Dangerfield was flying high and in 1969 opened Dangerfields, a landmark New York City comedy/dinner club that would enjoy a very respectable lifespan. Dangerfield had played bit roles in movies before scoring big with a supporting role in the hit 1980 comedy “Caddyshack”. To know one’s surprise, Hollywood eventually came calling with an offer to star in his own film. The result was “Easy Money”, released in 1983 and written by Dangerfield and first-time screenwriters Michael Endler, Dennis Blair and the estimable P.J. O’Rourke, one-time editor of National Lampoon magazine.
Production on the film was problematic. The original director, Joseph Sedelmaier, quit over creative differences with Dangerfield. He was replaced by TV director James Signorelli. The film’s cinematographer, Jack L. Richards, was fired and replaced by Fred Schuler. Nonetheless, the production was successfully completed with principal photography primarily shot in Staten Island, another middle-class borough of New York City. The script presents Dangerfield as Monty Capuletti, a high-strung family man with a wife, Rose, (Candace Azzara) and 12 year-old daughter (Lili Haydn) who makes his living as a photographer of children. When we first see him, he’s girding himself for the forthcoming marriage of his 18 year-old daughter Alllison (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to a sleazy looking guy named Julio (Taylor Negron, very funny indeed), who is eager for the wedding night after a sexless courtship with Allison, who has been kept in a sheltered life by Monty and Rose. He’s also bothered by his nagging, cynical mother-in-law, Mrs. Monahan (Geraldine Fitzgerald), a widow who owns the multi-million dollar department store that bears the family name. Mrs. Monahan announces to the family that, upon her death, she will bequeath her $10 million fortune to Rose- on the condition that Monty reform his wicked ways and over a period of one year lose weight and permanently give up gambling, drinking, philandering and pot smoking. Since Monty routinely indulges in all of these vices with his best friends (Joe Pesci, Val Avery and Tom Noonan), it looks like he would have to achieve a “Mission: Impossible” scenario- something that occurs when Mrs. Monahan dies in a plane crash.
Much of the fun is watching Dangerfield and Fitzgerald’s characters exchange insults in the manner in which Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden used to spar with his mother-in-law in episodes of “The Honeymooners” and Monty’s subsequent attempt to redeem himself while he is surrounded by his friend’s vices. Dangerfield is in great form and was described by Chicago Tribute critic Gene Siskel thusly: “The big discovery in the comedy “Easy Money” is that Rodney Dangerfield, unlike most stand-up comics, does not need dialogue to be funny. He is funny just standing still–or his version of standing still, which includes nervous twitching, profuse sweating, pained expressions and rolling of the eyes.” Dangerfield gets fine help from a marvelous supporting cast that includes Jeffrey Jones as a snooty brother-in-law who tries to sabotage Monty’s attempts at reform so that he can inherit the fortune. The scene-stealer is up-and-comer Joe Pesci playing what would become a traditional Joe Pesci character: rude, crude and loud-mouthed. The film ably presents men as knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who put having reckless fun above all else, a flaw that many of us might have sadly identified with at some point in our lives.
“Easy Money” is consistently funny and has aged very well because of its timeless comedic scenarios. Adding to the pleasures is a title song by Billy Joel that is said to have been a tribute to James Brown. So give Dangerfield some respect and give it a try.
(Note for fans of the film: the scene in the trailer of Dangerfield ogling a sunbathing beauty was shot specifically for the trailer and TV broadcast version. In the film, she is seen topless. Also, the film’s TV premiere featured a scene not in the theatrical cut in which Monty and his friends attend a boxing match at which he experiences haunting hallucinations. This not seen in the streaming version, which is the theatrical cut. The DVD is currently out-of-print.)
“A BIOGRAPHY OF A FILM”
By Raymond Benson
Lately there has been a new trend in film books that are more like biographies than simply non-fiction treatises on the making of a movie. A “biography of a film,” as critic Molly Haskell calls it, treats a particular motion picture in the same way a researcher would examine a person’s life—from the inception to its lasting influence and impact today, meticulously illustrating each step and examining the personnel involved along the way. The recent Space Odyssey by Michael Benson (a “biography” of 2001: A Space Odyssey) is a fine example.
Glenn Frankel’s Shooting Midnight Cowboy—Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic is one such biography of a film, and it is a magnificent tome. Besides dissecting the all-important sociological milieu that was in the background while Cowboy was being made, the book is an excellent lesson in the filmmaking process.
The film, Midnight Cowboy, was released in 1969 and went on to become the first and only X-rated movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (as well as a trophy for director John Schlesinger, and one for the Adapted Screenplay by Waldo Salt). It was, at the time, a cause célèbre. Controversial, shocking, and undeniably powerful, the picture was a prime example of “New Hollywood” and how the trend was taking hold of the industry. Once the Production Code collapsed in 1966-67, and the new ratings system was instituted in 1968, Hollywood studios began to look toward the younger, “hip” filmmakers to deliver product that would appeal to a younger, hip audience. More adult fare was acceptable. There was indeed a liberation in terms of sex and violence that could be shown on the screen.
Frankel’s book begins, as it should, with novelist James Leo Herlihy. Tall and handsome, Herlihy in many ways was a more intelligent and sophisticated version of his character, Joe Buck, although Herlihy was not from Texas. Novelist, playwright, and actor, Herlihy was also a gay man in a time and place in which one must remain closeted—although he was anything but. His early work, which included more plays for the stage than novels, had subtle homosexual themes and characters. His novel Midnight Cowboy was published in 1965. It did fairly well, but it didn’t take the literary world by storm. Luckily, the book landed in the hands of British filmmaker John Schlesinger, another gay man who struggled with his sexual identity in public.
John Schlesinger was coming off the success of his 1965 “swinging London” eye-opener, Darling, which had garnered Oscar nominations of Picture and Director, and had awarded Julie Christie with Best Actress. As he embarked on making his period adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, he teamed up with producer Jerome Hellman to make Cowboy after that.
It was a rough road for both the producer and director, especially when Madding Crowd (1967) bombed at the box office. Luckily, the duo found an ally in David Picker, an executive at United Artists. UA was known for its liberal policies of allowing filmmakers to do their thing without interference, as long as they stuck to an agreed upon budget. Picker’s instincts were canny—he knew that Schlesinger would deliver a work of art, so he convinced his colleagues to go with Midnight Cowboy.
Casting the film was a challenge. Dustin Hoffman was an early contender for the role of Rico “Ratso” Rizzo, even before the release of his star-making vehicle, The Graduate (1967). Hoffman had to convince Schlesinger he could do the part after The Graduate came out by improvising a costume and showing up in character for a meeting on the streets of New York for a “meeting.” The pivotal protagonist role of Joe Buck was more problematic. Schlesinger had his eye on Michael Sarrazin, but newcomer Jon Voight was also in the wings hoping for a chance. The casting director, Marion Dougherty (whose contribution to the film is duly emphasized in Frankel’s book), fought for Voight. When Sarrazin’s agent asked for more money than what was originally agreed upon, both Hellman and Schlesinger decided to go with Voight. While Sarrazin might have performed in the role quite well, the choice of Voight was a significant move.
And then there is screenwriter Waldo Salt, formerly blacklisted during the HUAC witch hunts, who brought another set of baggage to the production.
The book also provides the reader with a history of the Times Square area of New York City, and how it changed in the 1950s and 60s to the sleazy hunting grounds for hustlers that we see in the film (and it would get worse in the 70s—witness Taxi Driver!). All of this is vitally important to how Midnight Cowboy was conceived and shot, and the background is fascinating.
One of the most surprising revelations about Shooting Midnight Cowboy is the story of its X-rating. The book tells us that the movie ratings board initially rated the movie R for Restricted Audiences! It was Arthur Krim, the head of United Artists, who on the advice of a psychiatrist friend, insisted that the picture be rated X because of its depiction of homosexuality. Later, after the film won the Best Picture Oscar, UA went back to the ratings board and asked that the movie be re-rated to R. The board, befuddled by the request (“hey, that’s what we originally rated it!”), did so… and to this day, Midnight Cowboy is still rated R without any cuts.
Glenn Frankel’s Shooting Midnight Cowboy delivers a filmmaking lesson, a history lesson, a candid portrait of all the personages involved (complete with interviews with Hoffman, Voight, and others who are still alive to talk about it), and a snapshot of one of the greatest American films—seen through the eyes of a British director—ever made.
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BY LEE PFEIFFER
In 1986, Paul Hogan rocked the film world, coming out of nowhere in the Australian independent comedy “Crocodile Dundee”. Shrewdly marketed to international audiences, the film became a blockbuster worldwide and catapulted Hogan to major stardom overnight. He had already been a very popular personality Down Under but his genial comedic skills were largely unknown to most of the world. Hogan found himself to (briefly) be the toast of the film industry as well as an unofficial goodwill ambassador for his native country. Two years later, a sequel to the film would also be deemed a major success but by the time a third Dundee movie was released in 2001, the bloom was off the rose. Hogan didn’t have viable follow-up plans for a post-Dundee film career that would appeal to international audiences, even while he has remained revered in Australia. Thus, it must have seemed like a good idea to revisit Hogan and his Dundee persona in a mockumentary-style film that would show the world what he has been up to in recent years. The result is “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee”, directed by Dean Murphy and co-written by Murphy and Robert Mond.
The film presents Hogan living a very comfortable lifestyle in Hollywood, sharing his home with his party boy son (Jacob Elordi), when he is invited to a studio meeting to discuss making another sequel to “Crocodile Dundee”. Hogan is old school, set in his ways and out of step with contemporary society. During the pitch meeting with the studio executives, Hogan is shocked to find they intend to cast Will Smith as his biological son. When he tries to point out that this would be an absurdity, he is quickly labeled a racist and his name is back in the news for all the wrong reasons. The film follows the beleaguered Hogan as his innocent statements and good deeds are misconstrued and his reputation continues to suffer, endangering a possible knighthood from the Queen (who is unnecessarily referred to as “The Queen of England”) The meandering script never has a central focus, just unconnected vignettes peppered by cameos from well-known stars. Some of them are moderately funny. Chevy Chase appears a couple of times and the joke is that he is widely beloved by his peers in the entertainment industry, when, in fact, his real-life reputation is somewhat less than sterling. Olivia Newton-John convinces Hogan to fill in at the last minute for John Travolta for a “Grease” reunion charity benefit with predictably disastrous results. Wayne Knight becomes an uninvited house guest of Hogan’s as he manically tries to hide from his wife. Most amusing is a financially-strapped John Cleese who is making ends meet as an Uber driver without a license. But Hogan’simage as a nonplussed personality results in his performance being virtually lifeless. One can appreciate his ability to indulge in self-deprecating humor and one wishes certain prominent political figures might possess the same attribute. However, the film is largely a misfire that seems to have been improvised rather than scripted. The tossed salad scenario drifts between sight gags and mushy sentimentalism as Hogan connects on Facetime with his granddaughter in Oz. A particularly unfunny aspect is a plot device that sees him befriend a comically inept paparazzi. Director Dean Murphy doesn’t help by encouraging his cast to play to the rafters and overact at every turn.
One hates to be a grump about a Paul Hogan comeback movie, but the movie squanders its comedic possibilities as we observe Hogan treading and plodding the streets of L.A. (some of which is doubled by location shooting in Melbourne) and encountering the requisite weirdos. There are some (almost) saving graces. While the film remains refreshingly free of smutty humor and overt political statements, it does take a couple of pot shots at contemporary society, mostly aimed at a “woke” Hollywood culture that is all-to-eager to crucify anyone who doesn’t meet its standards of inclusiveness. There are also some humorous observations about the gullibility of the public to believe all manner of absurdities: a portly street impersonator of Crocodile Dundee is deemed to be more believable than Hogan, who tries to convince him that his recitation of a key line of the film’s dialogue is being misquoted. Chevy Chase has convinced the public that he is an Oscar winner, despite Hogan’s attempts to correct the record.The point being that if a lie is told often and sincerely enough, vast numbers of people will believe it even in the face of opposing facts, an observation that certainly is especially relevant today.
The Lionsgate DVD offers a crisp, clear transfer and includes a very brief “behind the scenes” featurette and a trailer. The film bypassed theaters due to the virus epidemic and is also available for viewing on Amazon Prime. Stay through the end credits because you’ll catch a glimpse of Hogan in his Dundee attire. It only makes you wonder why he didn’t simply choose to return as the legendary character in another sequel. It would have been interesting to see his take as an 80 year-old screen hero.
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INSIDE “AREA 5150”: CINEMA RETRO’S MARK CERULLI TAKES YOU BEHIND THE SCENES ON AN INDIE HORROR FLICK
Cinema Retro columnist Mark Cerulli has long championed indie horror films. They generally have one thing in common: the need to use innovative methods to compensate for less-than-extravagant budgets. Cerulli finally decided the best way to experience what it’s like making one of these films was to participate in aspects of its creative process. Here is his report.
BY MARK CERULLI
As a writer/producer for HBO, I had been on a number of film sets to do interviews and shoot “B-roll”… tolerated, sometimes even welcomed but never a part of the actual film. As a scriptwriter I had also piled up an impressive number of “passes” (my favorite was from Steven Seagal’s nutritionist!).Then in a Hollywood coincidence I met director Sean Haitz at the premiere of Rob Zombie’s Three from Hell. We discovered that we shared an interest in Area 51, the mysterious military base in the high desert outside Las Vegas and UFOs.We batted ideas around, agreed on a story and I wrote a first draft.Sean came up with a catchy title – AREA 5150 – and revised the script.At age 34, this would be Sean’s 4th film. (His latest, Cannibal Comedian will be out soon.) He gets things done. Last December, we even took a quick trip to the real Area 51 to shoot some exteriors, all under the watchful eye of “the Cammo Dudes”, the private security force who guard all approaches to the base.
After 10 or 11 drafts, Sean’s very capable Assistant Director, CJ Guerrero, imported our script into studio software where it underwent further changes.My first inkling of that was when Sean cheerfully said, “You might want to wear a cup.”
At the end of February I, along with the cast and a young crew of 15, were in Morongo Valley, a quiet desert community about 30 mins from Palm Springs.Sean had the run of a sprawling vehicle graveyard – cars, buses, construction equipment and the abandoned property next door (“a trap house” as actor D’Shae Beasley called it).Set decorator, prop master and makeup artist Andrea Davoren turned the vacant house into a functional-looking home – albeit without heat, running water or even plumbing.Much mayhem ensued with the walls pierced by hammers, screams and a custom chainsaw.And, of course, splattered with fake blood.(Fun fact: there are two varieties – one for the body, and a minty version for spewing out of your mouth!)
The most surreal event was staging a dinner scene that Sean wanted to do as an homage to Texas Chainsaw Massacre.Since the house had no electricity we had to use an outside generator so the floor was always a forest of cables. (My dropping an axe on one, cutting the power didn’t help!)Since our script had a crazy father role, I asked to play it as I had acted in high school and college and took some classes in NYC before chickening out on pursuing it full time. Even so, I underestimated what was involved in being in front of the camera…
Inside the house, the only source of heat was the old hearth, which production assistants thankfully kept filling with branches from the overgrown property.As it got later and later, the temperature dropped into the 30s.By the time we got ready to shoot dinner – around 2AM – we were all freezing. The others at the table – Aaron Prager (star of Sean’s upcoming Cannibal Comedian), lovely Claire Brauer (a real trooper in a skimpy cutoff t-shirt) and Rob Wight (playing my dimwitted son #2) were all professional actors. Assistant Art Director August Kingsley played my mutant offspring, Timmy, under a custom latex mask. I had foolishly written a speech for my character and suddenly realized I had to deliver it. My first take – sometime after 3 AM – was…um… lackluster. “We’re all tired. You look it and sound it…” the director said from behind the monitor. I took a deep breath and remembered what Bruce Glover (who teaches acting when he’s not trying to kill James Bond) said about “locking up”. I managed a better delivery and we finally wrapped for the night.
For a small film, Sean Haitz managed to get maximum bang for every buck – like getting a helicopter for a key scene.Original landing location dropped out?No problem: he staged a landing on a side road next to a busy highway! Our female lead tried to get away in a car so my (screen) daughter, Ruby Rose (played by our special effects guru, Matthew Lucero) crushed the car and flipped it over with a backhoe!We benefitted from having a great young Director of Photography, Kraig Bryant, who was shooting his first feature after working on music videos.He and cameraman Josh Wagner made full use of every hour of daylight, literally shooting until the sun went down.
Every movie villain deserves a wicked death and mine was a doozy – involving a circular saw and a certain body part. (Hence the cup.) I was wired with tubes running up my pants to a compressor tank filled with a gallon of fake blood.The result was a spectacular Tarantino-ish shower of gore! I drove back to the hotel drenched in drying blood, praying not to get pulled over by a cop.
After 8 long, exhilarating days, over 8 terabytes of data were digitally “in the can”.We had a movie!And I had a new cinematic family – we had all grown close during those days in the desert. That is the part of making Area 5150 I think I cherish the most.
Cinema Retro continues to shine the spotlight on worthy independent films.
BY GIACOMO SELLONI
Three pensioners in Rome find love where they least expect it. In themselves.
Citizen of the World is a sweet and ultimate touching story that centers around two old friends, now retired, collecting their pensions that barely keep them afloat in expensive Rome, who discuss leaving Italy to find a place where they can “live as kings” on their measly pensions. Giorgio Colangeli plays Giorgetto, a cantankerous ne’er do well who’s rarely worked in his life and is addicted to scratch off lottery tickets. He lives in a ramshackle apartment, the bathroom of which is up a spiral, metal staircase. He allows a homeless immigrant from Africa, Abu, (a sweet performance by first time actor Salih Saadin Khalid), to use his shower.
The director, Gianni Di Gregorio (called Italy’s “Larry David” for the films he makes that are about nothing and everything) portrays Il Professore. A retired professor of Latin and Greek, hes much of day in a little bar/cafe musing with Giorgetto about their hard lives. He, at least, has a more hospitable abode. It’s filled with books, some rare.Giorgetto says he knows a guy who moved to Santo Domingo and lives like a king. He doesn’t actually know the guy, but he ‘knows’ the guy’s brother. He gets the brother’s phone number and arranges a meeting at the man’s villa in Tor Tre Treste (a district of Rome outside of the city walls) where they hope to question him and “get some info.” But a trip to Tor Tre Treste requires a long walk to a bus, to a train and than another kilometer walk to find this villa, “the one with a motorcycle in the yard.” Here the meet Attilio (a wonderful Ennio Fantastichini), the jack-of-all-trades whose brother lives in Terracina, a city on the coast, 56 kilometers south of Rome, not in Santo Domingo. Attilio also dreams of leaving. He’s traveled, whereas Il Professore and Giorgetto have not. He has as many stories as Aesop and numerous occupations. Now he sells and restores antique furniture. He, unlike his new friends, does not receive a pension. But, he says he’s thought about it and he can leave if he wants; he’s a “citizen of the world. I’m a free man!”
The entire story plays out over the course of one week. We witness the ups and downs of planning where they could go. On the advice of one of Attilio’s clients (another professor) they learn it must be a place with a good exchange rate, purchasing power, a stable government, little chance of disease, natural hazards… Xenophobia could be a problem; they’ll be foreigners. You get the picture.
They need to come up with funds, a float to get them on their way. They go about it in different ways. Do they get it? Do they go to….? And what about Abu, the homeless immigrant?
Our three main characters gel and spar with great chemistry. Also of note is Daphne Scoccia, who plays Attilio’s, free-spirited, beauty salon owning daughter, Fiorella.
One of the most touching parts of this film has little to do with the script. Salih Saadin Khalid, in real life, was a homeless migrant living in Rome. His pay from this film allowed him to join what’s left of his family in Canada.
Viewing this film has me interested in seeing more of Di Gregorio’s films and more of Ennio Fantastichini’s work as well. He passed away at the age of 63 in December of 2018 with 94 film credits in his career.
I highly recommend traveling with these citizens of the world.
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BY LEE PFEIFFER
Released in 1962, Boys’ Night Out was considered to be a rather racy comedy that touched upon sexual infidelity in the era when June and Ward Cleaver represented the average American household. The story centers on four businessmen- James Garner, Tony Randall, Howard Duff and Howard Morris- who indulge in a weekly night out that consists of nothing more daring than having some drinks and discussing sex. In a moment of deviancy, they decide to chip in and rent a plush Manhattan apartment, with Garner- the only bachelor of the group- acting as the beard and putting the lease in his name. They then intend to hire a hot blonde to service them on different nights of the week. The plan seems to work swimmingly. The apartment is rented and the requisite blonde (Kim Novak) appears ready, willing and able to indulge. What they don’t know is that Novak is actually a student working on a thesis about sexual habits of the typical suburban male. She concocts various ways to ensure that each of her paramours never consummates the relationship, yet all the while maintaining the persona of a woman of easy virtue.
The plot becomes as predictable as yesterday’s news as each of the men tries to con his friends into thinking he’s had sex with Novak, when, in fact, the relationships remain completely chaste, as was the norm with these sexless sex comedies of era. Complications occur when Garner falls head over heels for Novak, but believing she is a prostitute, can’t bring himself to become seriously involved with her. Although the men are paper tigers in the lovemaking department, they are deceiving their wives and families about the boys’ night out, which leads to feelings of guilt and remorse. What elevates this above standard sitcom fare of the era is the remarkable cast. Aside from the charismatic leads, the supporting players include Jim Backus, Fred Clark, Oscar Homolka, Jessie Royce Landis, William Bendix and Patti Page, whose warbling of the catchy title song became a major hit on the charts at the time. It’s a fun romp, despite the cliches, and Howard Morris, in his big screen debut, is most amusing in the role of an everyday guy. Henceforth, he would primarily play wacky eccentrics on TV and in film as well as earn a reputation as a top comedy director. Novak is stunningly beautiful, and the fashions she wears accentuate the reason she became a Hollywood glamor icon.
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RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
“THE LADY VANISHES ONE MORE TIME”
BY RAYMOND BENSON
The Criterion Collection has issued a Blu-ray upgrade to a previous winning DVD release—Carol Reed’s World War II suspense adventure, Night Train to Munich. It’s a terrific example of the fine cinema Britain was managing to produce even while at war. Released there in August of 1940, the country was already in the conflict, although the Blitz had not yet occurred. (The picture was released in the U.S. in December 1940, smack dab in the middle of the Blitz.)
What’s more striking is its resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938) in tone, setting, and even characters. Marketing pushes at the time suggested that Night Train to Munich was a “sequel” to Vanishes, which was an extremely popular movie on both sides of the Atlantic. Night Train is not a sequel, though—it’s more of a remake.
Somebody at the studio must have thought they needed “another movie like Lady Vanishes” so writers Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, who were responsible for the previous screenplay, were secured to pen the new one. Both pictures have plots that involve spies, double agents and Nazis, and a major portion of the stories takes place on a passenger train. To sell the “sequel” concept even more to the public, popular actress Margaret Lockwood, the star of Vanishes, was cast as the lead, this time opposite a young Rex Harrison instead of Michael Redgrave. Most curious, though, is the inclusion of two characters (and the actors who played them) from Vanishes—the duo of the very British, comical, possibly gay men known as Charters and Caldicott (played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne). The couple was such a hit the first time around, the two fellows had to be passengers on board Night Train, too. There has been much discussion about Charters and Caldicott’s sexual orientation since their several appearances in these and a few other films of the late thirties and early forties. Are they gay? There are certainly several humorous “clues” in these two first titles to suggest it. Since something like that couldn’t be blatantly talked about in those days, it was best for the audience to simply find it funny that two men are traveling together (again, on a train?) and possibly using the same bed (in Vanishes).
In Night Train, Lockwood plays the daughter of a Czech scientist who is the MacGuffin of the story—both the Allies and the Nazis want him. When father and daughter are captured and held in Berlin, Harrison, a British agent whose cover is to perform and sell sheet music in an English seaside town, is sent to Germany to free and bring them back to the U.K. He impersonates a Nazi major in order to get “inside,” and his impromptu escape plan involves the boarding of a train traveling from Berlin to Munich (with fellow passengers Charters and Caldicott willing to help!). In the meantime, a Nazi captain played by Paul Henreid (here credited as Paul von Henreid—before he moved to Hollywood to be in Casablanca) is dedicated to keeping the scientist and his daughter under the thumb of the Reich. Never mind that both Harrison and Henreid are both in love with Lockwood.
Sounds pretty far-fetched, doesn’t it? Forget it—this is a fast-paced, intelligently-written, well-acted, and suspenseful adventure film. Mixed in with all the excitement is light humor, in the tradition of Hitchcock’s picture, thus providing viewers with an entertaining ride. Reed, who would go on to make other classic British thrillers such as Odd Man Out and The Third Man, handles the material with panache and style—just as Hitchcock did—but with a more personal, friendlier touch.
The new disk comes with a restored, high-definition digital transfer, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The image is remarkably clear and sharp, a testament to the outstanding job Criterion does in presenting vintage cinema. Supplements include a fascinating 2010 conversation between film scholars Peter Evans and Bruce Babington about the director, writers, and the socio-political climate at the time the picture was made, and an essay in the booklet by film critic Philip Kemp.
So “All aboard!” and take another ride on the thriller-adventure train. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know The Lady Vanishes—Night Train to Munich stands on its own as top notch filmmaking. Better yet, get them both and make it a double feature!
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This 1970 film industry trade advertisement promotes forthcoming films for release from the now-defunct Cinerama Releasing company. A brief glimpse at the titles indicate that, with the exception of “Willard” and “The House That Dripped Blood”, all of these titles were financial bombs. That doesn’t mean some didn’t have artistic merit, but it does indicate why Cinerama Releasing’s days as a major film distribution company were winding down.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Actress Jessica Walter has died peacefully in her sleep at her home in New York City. She was 80 years old. Walter enjoyed a distinguished career that included an Emmy win and three other nominations. She made her big screen debut in “Lilith” in 1964 and two years later joined other female stars-in-making for director Sidney Lumet’s “The Group”. She went on to appear in “Grand Prix”, Lumet’s comedy “Bye, Bye Braverman” and opposite Charlton Heston in “Number One”. However, her star-making role was as the female lead opposite Clint Eastwood in the 1971 thriller “Play Misty for Me”, which marked Eastwood’s debut as a director. In the film, Eastwood has what he believes is a one-night stand with Walter, who makes it clear she expects them to be in a traditional, monogamous relationship. When Eastwood spurns her, she unveils psychotic and murderous tendencies. Walter’s performance was so powerful, it arguably merited an Oscar nomination.
Walter’s big screen career never took off, although she did land a plum role in the hit 1984 comedy “The Flamingo Kid”. However, she found great success in live theater and on television. She won an Emmy for the 1970s TV series “Amy Prentiss” and would be nominated three other times. In recent years, she played a key role in the popular sitcom “Arrested Development”. She also served as 2nd National Vice President of the Screen Actors Guild and also served on the Board of Directors. Click here for more.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark with All Four Indiana Jones Movie Adventures on 4K Ultra HD for the First Time
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (March 15, 2021) – Relive the unforgettable exploits of world-renowned, globetrotting hero Indiana Jones in spectacular 4K Ultra HD when the INDIANA JONES 4-MOVIE COLLECTION arrives in a new 4K Ultra HD set June 8, 2021 from Lucasfilm Ltd. and Paramount Home Entertainment.
The cinematic classic that started it all—Raiders of the Lost Ark—celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, having first introduced audiences to the man with the hat on June 12, 1981. Forty years later, the legendary hero continues to captivate new generations of fans.
Now, for the first time ever, all four films are available together in 4K Ultra HD with Dolby Vision® and HDR-10 for ultra-vivid picture quality and state-of-the-art Dolby Atmos® audio*. Each film has been meticulously remastered from 4K scans of the original negatives with extensive visual effects work done to ensure the most pristine and highest quality image. All picture work was approved by director Steven Spielberg.
In addition, all four films were remixed at Skywalker Sound under the supervision of legendary sound designer Ben Burtt to create the Dolby Atmos® soundtracks. All original sound elements were used to achieve the fully immersive Dolby Atmos® mixes while staying true to each film’s original creative intent.
The INDIANA JONES 4-MOVIE COLLECTION includes a collectible booklet with behind-the-scenes images from all four films. Each film is presented on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc with original theatrical trailers and access to digital copies. The set also includes a Blu-ray™ with seven hours of previously released bonus content as detailed below:
· On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark
From Jungle to Desert
From Adventure to Legend
· Making the Films
The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 documentary)
The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Making of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
The Making of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The Making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (HD)
Behind the Scenes
The Stunts of Indiana Jones
The Sound of Indiana Jones
The Music of Indiana Jones
The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones
Raiders: The Melting Face!
Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies (with optional pop-ups)
Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations (with optional pop-ups)
Indy’s Women: The American Film Institute Tribute
Indy’s Friends and Enemies
Iconic Props (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) (HD)
The Effects of Indy (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) (HD)
Adventures in Post Production (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) (HD)
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BY LEE PFEIFFER
Actor George Segal has passed away at age 87. Segal became a rising young star in the 1960s and went on to enjoy success in both feature films and television. He made his big screen debut in “The Young Doctors” in 1961 and within a few years had appeared in “Ship of Fools” and his first starring role in “King Rat”. The 1965 adaptation of James Clavell’s novel found Segal as an American prisoner in a Japanese P.O.W. camp in WWII. He uses his guile and survival skills to not only stay alive but to thrive, much to disgust of British P.O.W.s who think his actions border on collaboration with the enemy. Segal’s biggest break came the following year when he was cast in Mike Nichols’ screen adaptation of Edward Albee’s Broadway smash “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. The film has only four main characters in it. Segal played the key role of Nick, a handsome young college professor who, along with his immature wife (Sandy Dennis), spend a fateful evening in the company of his colleague George (Richard Burton) and his vulgar wife Martha (Elizabeth Taylor). In the course of a seemingly endless evening, witty banter turns to heavy drinking, personal insults, illicit sex and the revelation of secrets about each person that leaves the two couples emotionally shattered. The film is regarded as a classic. Taylor won the Best Actress Oscar and Dennis won for Best Supporting Actress. Burton was nominated for Best Actor and Segal was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Now a bankable leading man, Segal went on to star in an eclectic selection of films including the spy thriller “The Quiller Memorandum”, “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”, “Bye, Bye Braverman”, “No Way to Treat a Lady” and the cult comedy “Where’s Poppa?”. In 1969, Segal was filming the WWII movie “The Bridge at Remagen” in Czechoslovakia with Robert Vaughn and Ben Gazzara when the Soviet invasion occurred, leaving the stars and production company to fend for themselves to escape the country.
Segal’s other prominent films include “The Owl and the Pussycat” (opposite Barbra Streisand), “Loving”, “Blume in Love”, “The Hot Rock”, “A Touch of Class” , “Rollercoaster” , “Fun with Dick and Jane”, “Look Who’s Talking” and “The Cable Guy”. In the 1997, he was cast in the hit sitcom “Just Shoot Me!”. More recently, he he played the role of Albert “Pops” Solomon in the long-running TV series “The Goldbergs”. Segal’s final episode of the series is to broadcast in April.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Warner Archive has released the 1966 thriller Eye of the Devil on a burn-to-order basis. The MGM movie, directed by J. Lee Thompson, is one of the last major B&W studio releases. The film had a troubled production history. The female lead had been Kim Novak, but when she was injured during filming, Deborah Kerr took over and had to reshoot all of her scenes – a costly and troublesome process. However, this meant that Kerr was reunited with her Separate Tables co-star David Niven (the pair would be seen on screen again the following year in Casino Royale). Eye of the Devil is an atmospheric thriller with supernatural overtones. Niven plays the heir to a massive French vineyard, though he keeps his distance from the massive rural chateau, preferring to be with wife Kerr and their two young children in an urban setting. An emissary from the vineyard summons him back to the chateau, presumably because the harvest is failing, but Niven’s emotional turmoil indicates that there are other factors dictating why he is reluctant to return. When Kerr and the children show up, things deteriorate quickly. Kerr finds the locals to be frightened and unfriendly. Inside the chateau, the staff and Niven appear to be collaborating on hiding information from her. Additionally, a strange brother and sister team (Sharon Tate in her first major role and David Hemmings) are an omnipresent and threatening presence. Kerr ultimate suspects that the presence of a local priest (Donald Pleasence) is inciting people to dabble in witchcraft and the black mass. All of this leads to the prequisite sequences in which a helpless woman is tempted to poke about dark castle corridors and crypts to find the facts.
The film is disturbing from minute one, largely because it is devoid of any humor whatsoever. Every minute exudes a sense of menace. The cinematography adds greatly to the tension and the cast is highly watchable, even if no one attempts to hide their full-throated British accents while playing French characters. (The exteriors were shot in France, the interiors were filmed at MGM’s Borehamwood Studios). The movie is consistently engrossing, even if it never reaches the level one might expect, given the sterling cast. Tate makes a significant visual impression, but it should be noted that her immaculate British accent was dubbed. One quibble: Turner Classic Movies often shows an original production featurette from the film. One wishes it was included with this release, which is devoid of even a trailer. However, spending any time with Niven and Kerr is time well-spent.
(Note: the trailer below is not included on the disc. Despite its poor quality, we are showing it to give you the flavor of the film.)
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HATE IS A LOADED GUN
By Raymond Benson
The years of the 1940s following World War II exhibited a striking change in Hollywood movies. The moods and world outlooks of post-war GIs and the people they had left behind and to whom they returned were more reflective and serious. Awareness of societal ills that had always been with us were now at the forefront and Hollywood stepped up to address this new American angst in the form of a) what film historians call social problem films that tackled issues such as alcoholism, drug addiction, anti-Semitism, racism, government corruption, and other hitherto taboos of motion pictures, and b) film noir, the gritty crime dramas that never sugar-coated anything and portrayed both men and womenthe femmes fataleas hard-boiled, cynical, and paranoid.
Two pictures were released in 1947 that tackled anti-Semitism with frank, hard-hitting realism. One was Elia Kazans Gentlemans Agreement, a more passive investigation of anti-Semitism in America that won the Oscar for Best Picture. Often overlooked today, however, is the other Best Picture nominee of that yearthe film noir crime drama, Crossfire, which examined the subject in a more violent and edgy concoction. Directed by Edward Dmytryk, who would just a year later be under investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee and ultimately become one of the infamously blacklisted Hollywood Ten, Crossfire could very well be the more substantially shocking movie of the two. It also appeared in theaters three months earlier.
Besides the Best Picture nomination, Dmytryk was nominated for Best Director, the script by John Paxton was up for Adapted Screenplay, and both Robert Ryan and Gloria Grahame were nominated for Supporting Actor and Actress, respectively. Crossfire was no throwaway B-movie film noir. It is both a film noir and a social problem film!
Ironically, the story was not supposed to be about anti-Semitism at all. The movie is based on a novel, The Brick Foxhole, by Richard Brooks (yes, the same Richard Brooks who went on to become a formidable screenwriter/director in the 50s, 60s, and 70s). The novel is about the murder of a homosexualnot a Jew! At the time, there was no way the Hays Office (Production Code) would allow a film to be made with this subject matter, so producer Adrian Scott and Dmytryk changed the tale and yet the film could really be about any other against whom racist, bigoted, homophobic, or intolerant people might hate. As police captain Finlay (Robert Young) says in the picture, Hate is a loaded gun. The murder victim could have been homosexual, black, Asian, Irish, or whateverand the movie would have the same potency.
A man named Joseph Samuels is found beaten to death in his apartment. We later learn that the man was Jewish, which was the motivation for his killing. The story unfolds that a group of GIs have been demobilized in Washington DC and are waiting for either further orders or a discharge. They are all disillusioned and restless. Sergeant Keeley (Robert Mitchum) is the world-weary leader of the group, which consists of hot-headed and abrasive Montgomery (Robert Ryan), sensitive and lost Mitchell (George Cooper), and hard-up-for-money Bowers (Steve Brodie). Flashbacks reveal that Montgomery, Mitchell, and Bowers met civilian Samuels (Sam Levene) and his girlfriend, Miss Lewis (Marlo Dwyer) in a bar. Samuels empathized with Mitchells unhappiness and invited him to come along to dinner with them. They stopped at his apartment first while Miss Lewis went home to change. Montgomery and Bowers followed them, thinking that the party had simply moved locations. Later, once Captain Finlay begins the investigation, Mitchell has disappeared and has become the prime suspect. But all is not what it seems.
This is a tightly-wound, suspenseful picture presented in classic film noir style (expressionistic lighting and photography, brutal characterizations, and plenty of tough talk). The actors are all excellent, especially Young, who handles the proceedings with calm, thoughtful deliberation. Ryan, in this early appearance, established himself as a contender with a showy role that justifies the Oscar nomination. Gloria Grahame, in a small role, portrays a jaded, no-nonsense bar girl whom Mitchell befriendsshe, too, displays the hallmarks of many of her onscreen characterizations.
Warner Archives new Blu-ray restoration looks terrific in its glorious black and white. It comes with an audio commentary by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini, and there are audio interview excerpts with director Dmytryk. A short featurette on the films making and impact is also a welcome supplement.
Crossfire is still relevant todayperhaps even more so than it was in 1947. The only thing dated about it is the 1940s film noir filmmaking styleand whats wrong with that? Nothing! Highly recommended.
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BIG TOP SOAP OPERA
By Raymond Benson
One of the more controversial Best Picture Oscar winners is Cecil B. DeMilles The Greatest Show on Earth (it won the top prize for the year 1952, as well as a trophy for Best Storya category that was discontinued four years later). The movie is often cited in pundits lists of Worst Best Picture Oscar Winners, mainly because many film buffs believe that there were more deserving nominees that year (such as High Noon or The Quiet Man, or even Singin in the Rain, which wasnt even nominated!). The win for Greatest Show was perhaps somewhat of an overdue honor for DeMille, who had been working in Hollywood since the 1910s, was a hugely successful and popular director, and he had never won a Best Picture Academy Award. In this case, then, why didnt he win Best Director (John Ford did for The Quiet Man)?
Controversy aside, The Greatest Show on Earth is still spectacular entertainment and worth 2-1/2 hours of a viewers time, especially with Paramount Presents new Blu-ray restoration that looks absolutely gorgeous. Steven Spielberg has often pointed to Greatest Show as a landmark for him because he remembers it as the first movie his parents ever took him to see, and he has placed nods to it in some of his own features. It is grand, Hollywood epic-style spectacle, much of which overshadows the rather melodramatic and soap opera plot going on in the story. It must be said that the melodrama is often corny and eye-rolling in its heightened angst. Furthermore, its a plot that probably couldnt be made in todays social/political climate of #MeToo. But, hey, this is a movie from 1952.
The Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey Circus was indeed known as the greatest show on earth during its magnificent heyday decades of the early part of the 20th Century to at least the 1980s, after which the circus began to have PR problems and audience dwindling. Animal rights activists, especially, came down hard on all circuses, and eventually the sensation became something of a past glory of a bygone era.
When DeMille set about making a motion picture about the circus, he made a deal with Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey Circusthen the biggest and bestto be in the movie. Thus, there literally is a cast of thousands in the filmall 1,400 of the circus employees appear in it, along with the select Hollywood actors cast to play important roles. The story follows the day-to-day running of a circus tour in an almost documentary-like fashion, complete with DeMille himself narrating sections of the movie as we see crews assembling the big top tent, loading/unloading equipment, performers rehearsing and dressing, and the breakdown and travel after each stop on the road. This is surely the best aspect of Greatest Showit is a time capsule of what circus life was really like in those halcyon years.
Brad Braden (Charlton Heston, in an early screen performance) is the manager of the traveling circus, and he is very much a show must go on type of guy who takes no guff or excuses from anyone, even his on-again, off-again girlfriend, trapeze artist Holly (Betty Hutton, who receives top billing on the film). In order to keep the circus in the black and do a full tour, he is forced by the corporate bosses to hire a big star for the center ring, and this comes in the form of The Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde), a ladies man and a fellow known for trouble. Holly is hurt by being kicked out of the center ring to the first ring, so she begins to make a play for Sebastian to make Brad jealous. In the meantime, elephant act performer Angel (Gloria Grahame) also has eyes for Brad, but she is the object of affection of not-so-nice elephant trainer Klaus (Lyle Bettger). Then there is lovable Buttons the Clown (James Stewart, who is in clown makeup through the entire movie and never reveals his clean face!), who we learn is on the run from the law because of a mysterious crime in his past. Added to all this are some gangsters led by Mr. Henderson (Lawrence Tierney) who run crooked midway games, and one of his men plans to rob the circus of its takings during a harrowing train holdup.
Thus, there are love triangles and criminal shenanigans going on, but mostly the movie is a visual documentation of the circus-going experience. We see many acts in full, and there are numerous reaction shots of audience members (some of whom are cameo appearances by celebrities like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Danny Thomas, and more).
Perhaps the most impressive thing is that the actors learned how to do much of their characters jobs in the circus. For example, Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde really did learn and perform, on camera, the trapeze acts. Whether or not the terribly difficult ones are done by Hutton and Wilde (doubtful), the Hollywood PR machine insisted that they did all their own stunts (unlikely). Nevertheless, thats really Gloria Grahame being picked up by the mouth of an elephant and carried away as she lounges happily for the audience. James Stewart performs silly slapstick routines with none other than the great Emmett Kelly and Lou Jacobs, two of the greatest clown performers in circus history.
Paramount Presents Blu-ray disk is impressive and a treat for the eyes. Unfortunately, the only supplement is a 7-1/2-minute featurette about the movie narrated by Leonard Maltin, which is fine as an intro to viewing the picture, but one wishes that more documentary making-of material could have been included.
The Greatest Show on Earth may not have been the Greatest Best Picture Oscar Winner, but it is still a fun and colorful spectacle that captures a now long-lost phenomenon.
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We are pleased to announce that Cinema Retro magazine has once again been nominated for Best Magazine by the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. (Rondo Hatton was the famed character actor who often played villains in “B” movies that are now cult favorites.) Although Cinema Retro differs from most of our worthy competitors because we are not strictly a horror-themed magazine, apparently we do cover the genre enough to impress the nominating group. It’s a lot of fun participating in the awards which cover many other categories such as best film, best DVD/Blu-ray commentary, best DVD/Blu-ray extras, best restoration, etc. We’ll put a blatant plug in for our own contributing writer, Tom Lisanti, whose biography of actress Carol Lynley has been justifiably nominated for Book of the Year. We’re also proud of our London photographer and writer Mark Mawston, who has been nominated in the “Best Article” category for his commemoration of Ray Harryhausen’s 100th birthday. Mark obtained tributes for the late, great SFX genius from the likes of John Carpenter, John Landis, John Richardson, Caroline Munro, Martine Beswick and Ray’s daughter Vanessa. The article was published in Scary Monsters issue #119.
You can click here to submit your votes. Thanks for your continued support.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Alan R. Trustman wrote the screenplay for the 1968 version of “The Thomas Crown Affair”, which presented Steve McQueen as a master crook who becomes romantically involved with Faye Dunaway as the insurance investigator who is trying to bring him to justice. In the 1973 film “Lady Ice”, Trustman co-wrote the screenplay that presents Donald Sutherland as an insurance investigator who becomes involved with master criminal Jennifer O’Neill, who he is trying to bring to justice. Clearly, the acorn hadn’t fallen far from the tree. “Thomas Crown” had been a major success but, alas, few remember “Lady Ice” in spite of- or perhaps because of the plot similarities between the two films. Nonetheless, it’s a reasonably entertaining and stylish caper film directed by the often underrated Tom Gries.
O’Neill plays Paula Booth, who, along with her lover Eddie Stell (John Cypher) and her widowed father Paul (Patrick Magee), operate a daring, highly successful jewel theft operation out of Miami. The buy high end stolen gems and then convert them to unrecognizable pieces which are fenced to buyers at eye-popping prices. Sutherland is Andy Hammon, a mysterious and somewhat ethically challenged freelancer employed by insurance companies to thwart crimes and recovered stolen loot. He successfully retrieves a priceless necklace from a courier before he can sell it to the Booths. The mob in Chicago assumes the hapless man has stolen it for himself and assassinates him. Hammon makes it known to the Booths and Stell that he has the precious necklace and a cat-and-mouse game ensues in which we are never sure what Hammon’s motivations or allegiances are. There are double crosses and shady characters in abundance, as the self-assured Paula carries on relationships with Eddie Stell and a secret lover in the smuggling racket, Peter Brinker (Eric Braeden), all the while flirting with Hammon. There are plenty of car chases, beatings and a driving 70s score by Perry Botkin Jr. The plot becomes a bit confusing and convoluted but it moves at a brisk pace and the locations in Miami, Chicago and Nassau are marvelously photographed by the great Lucien Ballard. Sutherland is always a joy to watch and he is well-tailored to the role he plays here. Jennifer O’Neill provides the glamour and a very good performance, which makes it all the more distressing that chaotic developments in her personal life largely compromised her promising career in feature films. One gripe: Robert Duvall is largely wasted in a bland, colorless role as a Miami police detective who butts heads with Sutherland.
The Scorpion Blu-ray is of superb quality. Bonus extras include a recent, interesting interview with composer Perry Botkin, Jr and a gallery of trailers for other Scorpion video releases.
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Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Debuting May 25, 2021, 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray Combo Includes Over Two Hours of Bonus Content
Relive the romance, music, and comedic charms of the indelible classic MY FAIR LADY, debuting on 4K Ultra HD May 25, 2021 from Paramount Home Entertainment.
Winner of eight Academy Awards*, including Best Picture, MY FAIR LADY also won the Best Picture Golden Globe and was selected for the Library of Congress National Film Registry. Adapted from the Broadway stage hit, the film stars Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins, a role that earned him the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Audrey Hepburn as the unforgettable Eliza Doolittle.
The 4K Ultra HD release features stunning picture quality courtesy of a recent 8K film transfer, as well as English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD sound for the finest home presentation. The 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray Combo also includes access to a digital copy of the film and more than two hours of previously released bonus content as detailed below:
4K Ultra HD Disc
· Feature film in 4K Ultra HD
· More Loverly Than Ever: The Making of My Fair Lady Then & Now
· 1963 Production Kick-Off Dinner
· Los Angeles Premiere 10/28/1964
· British Premiere
· George Cukor Directs Baroness Bina Rothschild
· Rex Harrison Radio Interview
· Production Tests
o Wilfred Hyde White make-up
o Covent Garden lighting test
o Alt. Higgins/Pickering screen test
· Alternate Audrey Hepburn Vocals
o Show Me
o Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?
· Comments on a Lady
o Andrew Lloyd Webber
o Martin Scorsese
· Theatrical Featurettes
· Story of a Lady
· Design for a Lady
· The Fairest Fair Lady
· Theatrical Reissue: Poster Illustration
· Theatrical Reissue: Poster Illustration Reserved Seats Trailer
· Theatrical Reissue: Poster Illustration Awards
· Theatrical Reissue
o Rex Harrison BFI Honor
o Rex Harrison Golden Globe Acceptance Speech
o Academy Awards Ceremony Highlights 4/5/65
This beloved adaptation of the Broadway stage hit stars Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, a sassy, working-class London street vendor, and Rex Harrison as the elitist Professor Higgins, who attempts to turn Eliza into a sophisticated lady through proper tutoring. But, when the humble flower girl blossoms into the toast of London society, her teacher may have a lesson or two to learn himself.
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BY GIACOMO SELLONI
You may be aware of the fact that Christopher Columbus was not the first European to reach the Americas. Do you also know that he was not Italian? He couldn’t read, write or even speak the language. He was either a “Converso” – a Jew who converted to Christianity to avoid Ferdinand and Isabella’s Inquisition, or hid his Judaism. He spoke Spanish among other languages including Greek, Latin and, most telling, Ladino – the Spanish equivalent of Yiddish. Letters to his son were written in this language, and the pages contained coded Jewish references. He also knew the world was spherical (most sailors, by his time, were aware of this), his first voyage had calm seas, not dangerous ones and the crew weren’t mutineers.[See: Lies My Teacher Told Me – James W. Loewen, The New Press 2nd Edition 2007andhttps://www.aish.com/jw/s/Christopher-Columbus-Secret-Jew.html]
You may be asking “what does this have to do with a review of a film documentary?”The reason is most historians are lazy and habitual plagiarists. When adding something new to the historical record they often reprint the same falsehoods that were disseminated generations earlier. Not unlike many superstitions, tall tales, and mistaken attributions. Cary Grant never said: “Judy, Judy, Judy…”
And thus were the accomplishments of Alice Guy-Blach, arguably the first storytelling film director of all time, were glossed over, ignored or attributed to someone else; to all men, by the way. Her story is told in the documentary Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blach, directed by Pamela B. Green and narrated by Jodie Foster. The film is now available on DVD from Kino Lorber.
Yes, Edison and the Lumire Brothers made the first moving pictures but what did they give us?
Edison: The Sneeze – a four second film starring assistant Fred Ott. The Kiss – an 18-second long reenactment of the kiss between May Irwin and John Rice from the final scene of the stage musical The Widow Jones.
The Brothers Lumire: – Their first films were of such exciting subjects as: “The exit from the Lumire factory in Lyon,” “The disembarkment of the Congress of Photographers in Lyon,” and the riveting “Jumping onto the Blanket.” Along with seven other films, all lasting between 38 and 49 seconds (approximately what a filmstrip of 17 meters long would run hand cranked through a projector) they were screened before a paying public in December of 1895 in Paris.Were these pioneers first efforts”Films” as we know them? Not to this reviewer. Moving pictures are not FILMS. They can be called films only by the fact that film was the medium they were created and distributed upon.
Nine months earlier, on March 22, 1895, The Lumires demonstrated their new invention, the Cinmatographe, beating Edison to the market with the first reliable method to project motion pictures, in front of a small audience of friends and colleagues.
Among those in attendance were Lon Gaumont, then director of the company the Comptoir Gneral de la Photographie and his 22 year-old secretary Alice Ida Antoinette Guy (later Guy-Blach).”Something better can be done than documenting daily life. Why not tell stories through film?” she thought at the time.
With the approval of her boss, in 1896 she writes, directs and produces what is generally thought to be the first narrative film ever made La Fe Aux Choux” or “The Fairy of the Cabbages” that brought to life the story parents told their younger children about where babies come from. The success of this film led to her becoming the lead director and Head of Production for Gaumont Studios. She was one of the first to use many film techniques such as close ups, hand-tinted color, stop action, reverse cranking of the camera and synchronized sound. Her success as a filmmaker helped add to Gaumont’s success which enabled them to build the biggest studio stage in the world.
Alice Guy produces and directs the first film shot in the new studio. La Esmralda, based on Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. While hiring new directors and set designers for the company she continues to write and direct her own takes on fashion, children, parenthood, even child abuse. She wrote roles for children when no one else was doing so.
She made comedies of seduction, chase films, utilizing methods she had learned at Gaumont from her mentor, Frdric Dillaye.
Writer/Director Peter Farrelly on The Gamekeeper’s Son – “I was tense watching it, afraid for the kid. The father died, it was heartbreaking, and that she could tell that kind of story in four of five minutes and get you at the edge of your seats was incredible.”
Alan Williams, film historian/author – “She was the first great comic director. Most of her comedies have just absolute perfect comic timing. The timing on The Drunken Mattress is really astonishing.” “Whoever that was who kept picking up that mattress should get an Academy Award. I’ve never seen anybody fall down so much.” – Peter Bogdanovich.
Many of her comedies were “raunchy films,” especially for the times.See The Sticky Woman for example. Her 1906 The Consequences of Feminism is described by Bogdanovich: “I think is very witty. It’s a satirical comment on male fear of feminism.”Julie Taymor: “Still to this day I haven’t seen anything like that, where she has women in women’s clothes and men in men’s clothes, these men are acting like women and the women are acting as men. It’s revolutionary.”She was making great comedies more than a decade before anyone heard of Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd or the Keystone Cops.
In his memoirs, Sergei Eisenstein recalls that he saw this film at eight years old. “The women rebelled. They started frequenting cafes. talk politics, smoke cigars, while their husbands sat at home doing the washing.” Eisenstein named it his main influential film which can be seen in his 1928 film, October.
Guy uses the Tissot Bible as reference material for her largest production to date, The Passion. She creates 25 episodes with about 300 extras to tell the story of the life of Christ. The series contained some very early special effects. In one case Jesus rising out of the cave.
BY ADRIAN SMITH
We have been made aware that Norman J. Warren, best known for his series of gory low-budget horror films in the 1970s, passed away on 11 March following a lengthy illness. He was a regular on the film convention and festival circuit and loved to meet fans to talk cinema. He was very approachable and friendly, and this easy-going personality meant that everyone who worked with him, no matter how low the budgets or tight the schedule, always had nothing but praise.
His films Satan’s Slave, Prey, Terror and Inseminoid were challenging, taboo-breaking films that always entertained and were hugely successful around the world. He also made comedies and dramas that were less well-known but equally idiosyncratic and memorable. He was very supportive of this writer’s attempts to compile a career-spanning oral history book, which is now nearing completion and should be published by the end of 2021.
BY TODD GARBARINI
Tsugunobo Kotani is a film director whose name does not roll off the tongue throughout film circles. A handful of titles to his credit consist of Hatsukoi (1975), The Last Dinosaur (1977), The Ivory Ape (1980), and The Bloody Bushido Blade (1981), and there are a good number of Japanese-language titles that appear in his early filmography. An Internet search of Tom Kotani, the Americanized variant of Tsugunobo and the directors name as it appears in some of his movies, yields even less information. While most people may not recognize him, there is a small but significant percentage of film viewers, yours truly included, who have been deeply affected by one of his films in particular: the made-for-television undersea effort The Bermuda Depths. Filmed in the British Overseas Territory of the Bermudas in 1977, The Bermuda Depths is mysterious for several reasons. It is a film that is difficult to categorize as it touches upon several genres: action, fantasy, romance, and science fiction. It attempts to mix several elements of the fantastic (a giant turtle and its relation to a voluptuous young maiden lost at sea) with the realistic (a young man in search of the truth behind his fathers mysterious and untimely death).
Arguably the most memorable film inspired by Stephen Spielbergs Jaws (1975), The Bermuda Depths was originally broadcasted on the ABC Friday Night Movie on January 27, 1978 and was repeated on Friday, August 29, 1980. A smattering of repeat broadcasts and a curiously unheralded VHS release followed. It benefits from a touch of myth from Ambroise Pars On Monsters and Marvels and plays out in a dreamlike fashion. Leigh McCloskey stars as Magnus Dens, a drifter who returns to the scene of his fathers death hoping to find closure. He encounters an old friend, Eric (Carl Weathers), who is completing his masters degree in Marine Biology while working for the avuncular Dr. Paulus (Burl Ives). The scientists are both interested in abnormalities and gigantism in sea life, technically known as Teratology, and are looking for any sea creatures that live in the deepest depths of the ocean to study them. At the heart of all of this is an enigmatic woman named Jennie Haniver (Connie Sellecca) who may or may not be real. Jennie lives in the ocean and comes ashore when Magnus shouts her name. Jennie and Magnus used to play together as children, and on the beach they found a large turtle upon which they inscribed their initials. Now the turtle has reached enormous physical proportions and lives deep in the ocean, occasionally rising to the surface. The last third of the film concerns Erics futile attempts to capture the sea creature and gives the filmmakers the opportunity to put the three men on a boat a la Sam Quint, Matt Hooper, and Chief Martin Brody, with the Panulirus sitting in the for the Orca.
If The Bermuda Depths is about anything that we can be absolutely sure of, its that highly successful films inevitably spurn imitations. This was certainly the case during the mid-1970s when everyone and his brother was scrambling to re-enact the success of Jaws. The Bermuda Depths takes the unusual step of adding a supernatural love story into the mix and successfully creates a tragic tale of love and doom. Mr. McCloskey was a successful television actor by this point, best known for the Rich Man, Poor Man (1976) mini-series, and sports the natural Southern California good looks that make Magnus appealing to young women. Carl Weathers of Rocky (1976) fame embodies Eric with terrific zeal, although his truncated half-shirt near the films ending is a questionable wardrobe choice. Burl Ives is wonderful as the elder who tries his best to get Eric to look at the situation through scientific eyes. Connie Sellecca, in her first film role at age twenty-two, does an exceptional turn as Jennie Haniver. She possesses a magical, ethereal quality and is achingly beautiful. Julie Woodson, Playboy Magazines Miss April 1973, is remarkably beautiful and quite good as Erics wife Doshan. Ruth Attaway, who played the nurse in The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974) to comedic effect, is mysterious and eerie as Delia, the housekeeper and proverbial party pooper who warns Magnus about the Legend of Jennie Haniver, seemingly a believer in the supernatural.
The Rankin Bass team responsible for their wonderful collaborations in the Sixties and Seventies on the Christmas holiday television show specials that millions grew up on, especially Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) which also featured Mr. Ives, produced the film. There is a definite Rankin Bass feel to The Bermuda Depths, particularly in the special effects which today look quite amateurish: the helicopter crash sequence near the films end looks similar to the finale of the Mad Monster Party? explosion on the island, and close-up shots of the vessels propeller and the trawler crashing against the ocean waves in slow-mo look as though they was filmed in a bathtub. The special effects-laden ending almost compromises the intriguing supernatural and romantic mystery that precedes it. This is a case where the films style almost outweighs its substance. Despite this, however, the low-budget effects add a certain charm to the film, a reminder of filmmaking from days gone by when less money and more ingenuity was considered an asset.
The film possesses more than its share of derivations: Dr. Pauluss throwaway line about needing a bigger boat; Erics decision to pursue the turtle on the Fourth of July of all days; Delias unexplained disappearance from the second half of the film; and Magnuss inquiry into his fathers death mirrors Luke Skywalker asking the same of Obi-Wan Kenobi, whom Dr. Paulus even resembles. Composer Maury Laws provides a beautiful score which I always wished would appear as a soundtrack album. Hopefully, some independent label (i.e. Waxwork Records) will give this score its due.
While the film does appear somewhat corny after more than forty years, it possesses an innocent quality about it that is sadly lacking in most entertainment product of late. The slow and languid images of Magnus and Jennie on the beach and in the cave recall a time in American filmmaking when the audience failed to be bombarded by fast editing and could actually digest the images presented to them. Unquestionably there are those who will complain about the films slow pace, but there are plenty of treasures here film to make it one that deserves a new generation of admirers: the eerie day-for-night photography which Mr. Spielberg also employed in the opening of his 1975 masterwork; Maury Laws soothing title tune Jennie with vocals by Claude Carmichael; and the use of Antonio Vivaldis elegiac Largo from his Concerto for Lute (Guitar), Two Violins and Basso Continuo in D Major as the lovers theme.