Review older films here: 1979 and earlier - Page 31 - AVS Forum
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post #901 of 1347 Old 01-21-2013, 12:15 PM - Thread Starter
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I just noticed something: in the last two panes above Ryan and Fleming are supposed to be facing each other, but from the background and shadows it looks like they are facing the same direction. Better angle for the camera, I suppose.

-Bill
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post #902 of 1347 Old 01-22-2013, 04:14 PM - Thread Starter
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Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962), produced and directed by Albert Zugsmith.

Action Vincent Price! Penetrating the opium dens and slave girl markets underneath San Francisco's Chinatown!

The first 10 minutes -- a hokey scene of landing a bunch of unhappy young women on the beach and fighting over them -- are dreadful, but it picks up in quality when Vincent Price appears, without ever turning into an actual good movie.

He's a sardonic, philosophical seaman acquainted with the secret societies of China. Without much struggling he gets pulled into a gang war and we have continuous fighting, hiding, secret passages, underground rivers, and a really long bit with dancing girls at the underground slave market. He does a moody voice-over narration during much of this.

Sort of 1962 Big Trouble in Little China, it has a couple of points of interest:

  • Apart from Price almost the entire cast are Asian actors, something of an employment program for them, although they have to speak in stilted English and be inscrutable. Many familiar faces from Charlie Chan to the Kung Fu TV series and beyond.
  • We have a bizarre sequence of psychedelica when Price smokes opium and does slow-motion fighting with the bad guys. (Research project: Vincent Price + drugs. There is another hallucination scene in The Tingler).

There is an historical context for the tong wars:
Quote:
Tongs participated heavily in importing women from China both for marriage and to serve as prostitutes. A large percentage of the "tong wars" -- disputes between the rapidly growing and powerful tongs -- of the 19th and early 20th century often centered around these women. In the early years they employed "hatchet men" or boo how doy as hired killers to fight the bloody street battles that ensued over turf, business, and women.

The score is of mixed value: we have the generically absurd action music held over from the 1950s, but also eerie theremin bits for the suspense and dope dream.

Finally, the titles read "Thomas de Quincey's classic --". I've read de Quincey and I suspect he would giggle over the association.

Warner Archive title available for rent from ClassicFlix. Variable quality, but some of the scenes are remarkably good in detail and black levels. 1.66 aspect ratio, 85m long.



-Bill
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post #903 of 1347 Old 01-24-2013, 11:25 AM - Thread Starter
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Death Race 2000 (1975), directed by Paul Bartel.

In the future, cross-country racers get extra points for running down civilians. It's a satire on...something, made to capitalize on Rollerball, but you could file it with other "violent sports of the dystopian future" films like The Running Man or The Hunger Games. A small genre, and this is definitely the goofiest entry. David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone are the big competitors.

Produced by Roger Corman and it has his trademark "fast, cheap and barely in control" look. Outlandish with dumb jokes, low satire, plenty of boobage and other nudity. Some quick flashes of gore, all meant to be comical.

It's in bad taste: the racers get extra points for infants and old people. Hospitals put their seniors in the road for "Euthanasia Day." We also have some good driving stunts (with tiny little cars) and a few explosions.

Stallone has some of the best lines:
Quote:
You know Myra, some people might think you're cute. But me, I think you're one very large baked potato.

Remade in 2008, with later direct-to-DVD prequels.

Available on Blu-ray.



-Bill
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post #904 of 1347 Old 01-26-2013, 02:56 PM - Thread Starter
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Dial M For Murder (1954), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

The perfect murder: what could go wrong?

Random notes after another viewing, my first time on Blu-ray:

  • Drawing-room murder plots are supposed to be light, cozy crime stories. Here, only Milland acts the part of dapper stage villain, and even he becomes creepy and unsettling in his cold-blooded, intelligent focus on murdering his wife. Cary Grant wanted the part but it's hard imagining him being quite so sinister.
  • But watch his face when he listens to her being strangled: it hurts him. He has regrets. Later he won't sleep in her bed while she's in prison waiting to be hanged. He's bad, but not beyond feeling guilt.
  • The lovers are guilty, too. What do they deserve?
  • Like the heist film, in the perfect murder plot we wonder how much will work and where it will go wrong. We want the villain to succeed, and we want him to be caught.
  • The husband has a cunning Plan A where nothing can go wrong. Everything goes wrong. But in seconds he devises an even better Plan B, blaming his wife for murder with no suspicion on himself. We can't help but admire his quick, bold thinking.
  • To our surprise, boyfriend Bob Cummings comes up with Plan C, a fictional version of the original Plan A. He's just trying to fabricate an alibi for her, even if it means the husband has to sacrifice himself.
  • Police Inspector John Williams (a Hitchcock regular) devises his own secret Plan D to catch the murderer. He seems like a stock stage policeman and not until the final moments do we realize how scary-good he is at his job.
  • The murder attempt on Grace Kelly is really quite brutal for this type of picture. Their grappling seems like sexual convulsions. We see the scissors driven into his back.
  • Let us note how utterly believable Anthony Dawson is as the would-be murderer, a petty scoundrel who will kill if (a) he has no other choice and (b) there is sufficient money involved.
  • One of the Japanese "Taxing Woman" movies has a semi-comic quote: the woman is being strangled as she reaches back to the camera...finally grabbing a tape dispenser (?) and bashing her assailant.
  • Adapted from a play. Hitchcock obviously didn't mind using a limited set: see Lifeboat, Rope and Rear Window.
  • He said the natural impulse when filming a play is to "open it up" and make it more cinematic, but that this is an error, just wasting time. He demonstrates his own technique here: a couple at breakfast reading the paper, news of a ocean liner arriving, quick shot of the boat, then the illicit lovers locked in an embrace, she in a passion-red dress. Just a few seconds, much more efficient than you could do it on stage, but you have to learn not to elaborate the plot just to make it more film-like.
  • Why did he make it? He needed something safe at that moment. You want a sure success: film a stage play.
  • Truffaut: "This is one of the pictures I see over and over again. I enjoy it more each time I see it. Basically, it's a dialogue picture, but the cutting, the rhythm, and the direction of the players are so polished that one listens to each sentence religiously."
  • Hitchcock: "I just did my job."
  • Years ago someone asked me: "I fell asleep during Dial M For Murder last night; how did the police finally figure it out?" I had to pause: "It had something to do with the keys..." but then muddled the explanation. They are hard to track.

Available on Blu-ray in the original 3D, which I suspect few people saw at the time it was released.

I watched it in 2D. Detail is very poor for Blu-ray, hardly better than the DVD. The heavy grain is intact so this may be due to the lenses required for 3D. There seems to be a very narrow zone of good focus with everything closer or further away looking blurry. From time to time we'll see a face that begins looking pretty good, then the scene shifts and we lose it. I don't recall this effect on the DVD so I'm not sure what's up.

Still, the color is good and the aspect ratio is the correct 1.85:1. The DVD had been cropped to 1.33, which makes a difference.



-Bill
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post #905 of 1347 Old 01-27-2013, 10:06 AM - Thread Starter
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Circle of Iron (1978), directed by Richard Moore.

In a mythical land in an unknown time, a martial arts seeker embarks on a quest to wrest the Book of Enlightenment from its mysterious guardian.

This is not loved by many. Viewers are expecting either a Conan genre film (the landscape is right) or a pure martial arts flick. What they get is an awkward leading man in a series of Zen tales, comic and serious, punctuated by kung fu incidents.

It was Bruce Lee's idea, developed with James Coburn and eventually completed by others. He wanted a presentation of Zen philosophy. I'm unqualified to judge; it seems to me mostly half-assed, but strangely enough it kind of works in the end. I liked it better this time than when I saw it way back when.

It's of interest to David Carradine fans. He ramrodded the project after Lee died, plays four roles and is obviously having a blast, although he broke his nose twice.

(As an aside, a Carradine story I heard just after his death, told, I think, by actor/author Jim Beaver. They were in Mexico working on a little film and he said to Carradine: "This isn't a very good movie, is it?" Reply: "This modest little western is a shining diamond in the stinking pile of s*** that is my career.")

Roddy McDowall, Eli Wallach, and Christopher Lee each have one scene.

One mild passion scene, girly in it's softness.

This is the director's only feature film. He was a cinematographer and there are some pretty shots.

Filmed in Israel with some lovely found locations: natural caves and Roman ruins.

Available on Blu-ray. On the commentary track the director is interviewed by someone from Blue Underground:

  • They agree the film would have been strengthened by a better leading man, but Jeff Cooper was Carradine's pal.
  • Moore was a co-founder of Panavision, innovators in widescreen camera lenses.
  • He fell in love with the passion scene actress and "almost" married her.
  • The given title was picked by the studio and he hates it because it doesn't mean anything. He knows the film as The Silent Flute.
  • They suggest the bamboo flute/staff reappeared in Kill Bill, but I don't recall it well enough to confirm that.



-Bill
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post #906 of 1347 Old 01-28-2013, 11:09 AM - Thread Starter
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The Harvey Girls (1946), directed by George Sidney.

How the west was won: by singing and dancing waitresses!

The thesis is worth considering: when the Good Girls show up on the frontier, the rough cowpokes give up on the Bad Girls and shift to the other side of the street. The gambling halls and bordellos move farther west. Heck, the church may even reopen.

Lots of sexual politics here, all between the two camps of young women. Each side is curious about the other, with some hostility that might be overcome in the end. Cyd Charisse (in her first speaking role) must cross over to the saloon to dance while the Irish tenor plays piano. And then we have the huge all-girl barroom fight. The times they are a-changing.

Judy Garland is head Good Girl, always with great comic talent, awkwardly wielding six-shooters in the bar. Smoldering Angela Lansbury is head Bad Girl, impossibly young at 21, but always looking older.

The show-stopping number occurs early: "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" was a smash hit that year. It's one of those mind-virus tunes that plagues you for days. On the melancholy side, "It's a Great Big World" is a lovely song.

Providing extra comic relief: Chill Wills, Marjorie Main and dancer Ray Bolger. The big waltz scene is dizzying.

The director's commentary track on the DVD is a fond reminiscence of the golden age of the studio system, rambling but fact-filled:

  • He was in the movies at age 5, went to work for MGM at 14 and did just about every job on the lot.
  • This movie was to be a straight western with Clark Gable, but they kicked it around for years and finally sent it to the musicals department.
  • Judy Garland had a great ability to focus. You'd give her direction and she'd stare blankly off into space. You'd think: "She's not even listening". Then she'd go and nail it first time, one take.
  • This is a rare musical where the leading man doesn't sing.



-Bill
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post #907 of 1347 Old 01-29-2013, 08:55 AM - Thread Starter
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Vanishing Point (1971), directed by Richard C. Sarafian.

Kowalski delivers cars, this time a white Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco. He doesn't pull over when a motorcycle cop directs him to. Keep that up and the movie can end in only one way. Which is different than the beginning, even though the beginning and end are the same scene.

What's his problem? He's been The Man and maybe he responds poorly to authority. He lives on cigarettes and amphetamine so maybe his judgment is impaired. He says SF is home. I think he's just had enough.

The first half is just tremendous "they don't make them like that anymore". It's pretty enough to be an art film, has enough action for gear-heads, and qualifies as an existential epic. I have seldom seen the vastness of the American West used to such advantage. The camera brings us not only the speed of the chase, but the inertial swoop of the curves.

The second half slacks off and drifts into a series of encounters with improbably colorful characters:

  • an eccentric old-timer (Dean Jagger) collecting snakes
  • Christian charismatics singing in the desert
  • violent gay hitchhikers (I thought this was a spoof on Truman Capote and In Cold Blood the first time I saw it; I'm less sure now)
  • a hippie biker and his naked girlfriend (the actress suffered for the role: sunburn and blisters on sensitive anatomy I will not detail here; she needed a doctor)
  • in the UK cut: phantom hitchhiker Charlotte Rampling

Kowalski also becomes less mysterious as we learn his suspiciously impressive resume: wounded Vietnam vet, Medal of Honor recipient, ex-uniformed patrolman, ex-police detective, former motorcycle and car racer.

A good subplot is the almost telepathic bond with a blind DJ who cheers him on, sort of a "Run, OJ, run!" episode. He is injured in a police riot later. I'm not clear how he got back on the air or who was impersonating him in the interim.

Some nudity. Made by Fox for $1.3 million. According to the wikipedia article they had five white Challengers; I thought the director said nine with only one remaining at the end, but maybe he was including other cars.

Available on Blu-ray with both the US and UK cuts; the only difference is a 5 minute scene with Charlotte Rampling in the latter. The director provides a calm, reflective commentary track.



-Bill
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post #908 of 1347 Old 01-29-2013, 12:57 PM
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An old friend Bob Segarini wrote some of the music for the film. I have a LD copy in my collection, I should look for the BD. The film is a little snippet of the culture of the time.
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post #909 of 1347 Old 01-31-2013, 07:40 AM - Thread Starter
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How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), directed by Jean Negulesco.

Three women (Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable) snag a luxury apartment and use it as a bachelorette pad to trap rich men. Being a romantic comedy, it doesn't work out as expected, but all are made happy in the end. Love triumphs over mercenary motives.

It's pretty light, although the sexual politics are revealing. Just as the stereotypical male cares about only one thing (that being sex, of course), the female cares only about money. Both views are cynical if you take them too literally, but neither are those inclinations entirely nonsensical.

It's part of the Marilyn Monroe box set, although all three women get equal time. Both Bacall and Grable work in mentions of their real-life husbands (Humphrey Bogart and Harry James).

This was the first CinemaScope film, although The Robe was released first. 2.55:1 aspect ratio. They were still figuring out the lenses; faces appear a bit wide and vertical lines curve inward at the top and bottom.

Lots of New York City cityscape to show off the format, but not many closeups. I don't know if that was because they wanted to make use of the widescreen with group shots or if there was an optical problem in getting too close.

Alfred Newman score with a seven minute visual overture featuring the orchestra itself!

Available on Blu-ray.



-Bill
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Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

This was the first CinemaScope film, although The Robe was released first. 2.55:1 aspect ratio. They were still figuring out the lenses; faces appear a bit wide and vertical lines curve inward at the top and bottom.

Lots of New York City cityscape to show off the format, but not many closeups. I don't know if that was because they wanted to make use of the widescreen with group shots or if there was an optical problem in getting too close.

-Bill

CinemaScope Mumps

The Problem and the Fix... The problem was called "CinemaScope Mumps", in which the center of the image received less horizontal squeeze when the lenses were focused at short distances. When projected, the center of the image was expanded more than its original compression. In the early days of anamorphic photography close-ups were avoided. When they were deemed necessary, the actor was placed either to the right or left of center where the inconsistent squeeze would pose no problem.

http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/wingup1.htm

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Movies

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post #911 of 1347 Old 01-31-2013, 10:40 AM - Thread Starter
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CinemaScope Mumps

MM's legs certainly have the mumps in pane #4 above. The good kind. Here's the full size shot:



-Bill
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post #912 of 1347 Old 02-02-2013, 12:38 PM
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Circle of Iron (1978), directed by Richard Moore.

In a mythical land in an unknown time, a martial arts seeker embarks on a quest to wrest the Book of Enlightenment from its mysterious guardian.

This is not loved by many. Viewers are expecting either a Conan genre film (the landscape is right) or a pure martial arts flick. What they get is an awkward leading man in a series of Zen tales, comic and serious, punctuated by kung fu incidents.

It was Bruce Lee's idea, developed with James Coburn and eventually completed by others. He wanted a presentation of Zen philosophy. I'm unqualified to judge; it seems to me mostly half-assed, but strangely enough it kind of works in the end. I liked it better this time than when I saw it way back when.

It's of interest to David Carradine fans. He ramrodded the project after Lee died, plays four roles and is obviously having a blast, although he broke his nose twice.

-Bill
Fans of Asian Martial Arts cinema will like Circle Of Iron. There are some cheesy things in it, but the basic idea works very well for that genre. Put a dynamic Bruce Lee in Carradine's role and the movie would be fondly remembered today.
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post #913 of 1347 Old 02-06-2013, 04:31 AM - Thread Starter
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The Brasher Doubloon (1947), directed by John Brahm.

Theft of a rare gold coin uncovers blackmail and leads to several murders.

This is a lower tier hardboiled genre movie only 71 minutes long. I review it because it is adapted -- sometimes closely but mostly very loosely -- from Raymond Chandler's The High Window and I'm trying to be a Philip Marlowe completist.

George Montgomery is tough enough but also has lighter comic wit than Marlowe as written. He is more of a ladies man than in any of the books, like a cross between Bogart and Gable. They throw in scenes from Hammet's The Maltese Falcon and assemble everyone for the big reveal like an Agatha Christie novel.

And yet: the camera work is sometimes rather good and the hot LA wind is evocative of the stories. As always, Marlowe's work takes him from the top to the bottom and back again. He's hassled by the police and encounters tough guys, both the wannabes and the real thing.

Fox Cinema Archives DVD-R, available for rent from ClassicFix.



-Bill
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post #914 of 1347 Old 02-12-2013, 04:37 AM - Thread Starter
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In Like Flint (1967), directed by Gordon Douglas.

The second and last of the Coburn "Flint" films.

Women, tired of being Pleasure Units in the first movie, plot to take over the world this time. Flint thinks this is absurd and, since dominating women is one of his super-powers, puts a quick end to the proto-feminist insurrection.

More of the same, bigger budget and looking glossier and more expensive. More chasing and fighting and Jerry Goldsmith amps up his fun musical score. Some location shooting in Jamaica.

If you just want more, it's fine. But the joke is only funny once. We could use something new and don't get it. 1h54m is a bit long for this and the real action doesn't start until about 40m.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The image looks a bit better than the previous film. The same two film scholars provide another excited and wide-ranging commentary on the 60s and spy films in general. Isolated score.



-Bill
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post #915 of 1347 Old 02-13-2013, 12:37 PM - Thread Starter
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Macbeth (1948), directed by Orson Welles.

The eccentric headgear edition with notably striking photography in a great windy, gloomy castle that is part rocky cavern. The film moves between gritty realism in outdoor scenes with pigs running underfoot, to a more stage-bound filmed play. The set is very large but they don't attempt to conceal the studio location: you can see shadows on the walls and ceiling.

Nice touches:

  • After the murder of King Duncan, everyone immediately suspects the Macbeths. They can't conceal it.
  • Lady Macbeth wilts at the word "barren" when her husband says "Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown / And put a barren sceptre in my gripe". (No, she's not in the scene in the text).
  • It is clear that Banquo's ghost is summoned to the banquet by Macbeth's injunction "Fail not our feast."
  • Macbeth comes upon his wife at the end of her sleepwalk; she awakens and runs screaming from him.
  • Curiously, Banquo is shown as a schemer after Duncan's death. I would play his verdict on "honor"--"So I lose none / In seeking to augment it" -- as a polite refusal of Macbeth's offered bribe.

I had trouble with Orson Welles's performance this time. As Macbeth goes mad he blusters and has staring and madly rolling eyes. This probably worked on stage, and perhaps I'm being unfair: this is a filmed staged play and maybe we should judge the acting accordingly.

The rest of the cast is fine, with Jeanette Nolan hamming it up just a bit as Lady Macbeth, Dan O'Herlihy appropriately fierce as Macduff, and the usually aristocratic Alan Napier pretty spooky as the long-braided Holy Father.

The actors attempt thick Scots accents and I wished for subtitles a couple of times, but it is a short play and pretty well known. That's actually a problem: how to do such a popular story without either lapsing into routine or launching out into the experimentally bizarre?

I think modern horror and action film techniques might be of use here: the Macbeth's murderous unconstrained ambition has opened a breach through which the powers of darkness may enter, turning Scotland into Hell. Malcolm and the English forces are the counter-attack, and we might imagine them being led by heavenly powers in the Harrowing of Hell. That's stretching the text a bit far, although Macduff does say "If thou be'st slain and with no stroke of mine / My wife and children's ghosts will haunt me still", suggesting that he is having his own visions.

I'll have to see Kurosawa's Throne of Blood again soon.

The historical Macbeth was King of Scotland just before the Norman Conquest of England.

Jacques Ibert score.

Available on Blu-ray from Olive Films. The print has some damage but a few closeups show good detail. No subtitles, alas.



-Bill
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post #916 of 1347 Old 02-16-2013, 10:31 AM - Thread Starter
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Harold and Maude (1971), directed by Hal Ashby.

Harold is a sensitive, morose young man who drives a hearse and attends funerals. I suppose today he'd be a Goth. His problem is his mother, a real piece of work. He tries to get her attention by staging elaborate fake suicides, but her attention is not worth having. He also has memorable ways of driving off the blind dates she arranges for him.

He meets Maude, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who has reached the age of 80 years minus 1 week. Ever wonder what happens to those characters? The girlish free spirits who make their own rules, including traffic laws? Now you know.

He falls in love with her. All the way. You don't see that every day.

Bud Cort is just outstanding, a performance that I think could be done only once. Ruth Gordon's "Maude" is a memorable creation, a kooky and vivacious face on a tragic life.

It's a 60s countercultural anthem (Vietnam looming large in the background) and the other characters are foils for our rebels to mock: police, army, shrinks, clergy, straight society in general. Although: Vivian Pickles is pretty tremendous as the mother.

If would be a much darker film without Cat Stevens's fine score, bright and soulful and tragic as needed, as when we go out on "Trouble":

Quote:
Originally Posted by me
Trouble
Oh trouble can't you see
You have made me a wreck
Now won't you leave me in my misery

I've seen your eyes
And I can see death's disguise
Hangin' on me

I'm beat, I'm torn
Shattered and tossed and worn
Too shocking to see
This is another of those films not much regarded at the time, more appreciated since. Critics hated it and it bombed at the box office.

Criterion Blu-ray. The commentary track is patched together observations by one of the producers and a Ashby biographer but has many good details.



-Bill

Last edited by wmcclain; 07-05-2014 at 07:18 PM.
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post #917 of 1347 Old 02-16-2013, 07:36 PM
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Harold and Maude (1971), directed by Hal Ashby.

Harold is a sensitive, morose young man who drives a hearse and attends funerals. I suppose today he'd be a Goth. His problem is his mother, a real piece of work. He tries to get her attention by staging elaborate fake suicides, but her attention is not worth having. He also has memorable ways of driving off the blind dates she arranges for him.

He meets Maude, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who has reached the age of 80 years minus 1 week. Ever wonder what happens to those characters? The girlish free spirits who make their own rules, including traffic laws? Now you know.

He falls in love with her. All the way. You don't see that every day.

Bud Cort is just outstanding, a performance that I think could be done only once. Ruth Gordon "Maude" is a memorable creation, a kooky and vivacious face on a tragic life.

It's a 60s countercultural anthem (Vietnam looming large in the background) and the other characters are foils for our rebels to mock: police, army, shrinks, clergy, straight society in general. Although: Vivian Pickles is pretty tremendous as the mother.

If would be a much darker film without Cat Stevens's fine score, bright and soulful and tragic as needed, as when we go out on "Trouble":
This is another of those films not much regarded at the time, more appreciated since. Critics hated it and it bombed at the box office.

Criterion Blu-ray. The commentary track is patched together observations by one of the producers and a Ashby biographer but has many good details.

Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful old film. I have always thought that the then elderly Ruth Gordon may have given her finest performance in Harold and Maude, although she inexplicably didn't receive an Oscar nomination. Bud Cort, who played Harold, has had an odd career. Although he has worked pretty much continuously since the '60s, so far as I can recall, he never hit another loud foul ball for any performance other than Harold and Maude.
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post #918 of 1347 Old 02-18-2013, 07:16 AM - Thread Starter
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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979), directed by John Irvin.

Little gray spy-master George Smiley is ejected from his job after an Intelligence fiasco. A few months later he is secretly brought back to hunt down a Soviet mole operating at the very top of the agency. He has to spy on the spies.

You often hear complaints about both this version and the 2011 feature film with Gary Oldman as Smiley, that the puzzle plot is so intricate that it is hard to follow, and that the movies give little help to the viewer.

I think there is a reason for that and it is a bold choice, both by the filmmakers and by John le Carré.

The reality is that these people never answer direct questions and people learn not to ask them. They collect information, little hints and clues and hold their suspicions close. This is particularly the case when an unknown traitor is in the middle of all the operations; you can't ask or reveal anything without alerting him.

Smiley lives with uncertainty and ambiguity, skillfully drawing the invisible net tighter until he knows the truth, lays a trap and gets out his gun.

The book tracks that reality and the films track the book. The reader and viewer have to follow the clues and figure it out without reading the minds of the characters. The clues are often people revealing things they are not supposed to know.

One of the great charms of this story is how much is unspoken. In a more standard treatment the Undersecretary would call in Smiley and say "Sorry you took the fall for that business last year but we need you back for a special mission. There is an unflushed toilet at the top of MI6 and you have to find it. This is all secret and the Minister will disavow any knowledge of your actions."

None of that happens. We have a suspicious incident that should not happen and Peter, Smiley's former assistant, is smart enough to call the Undersecretary directly. Smiley listens to the evidence and says "I'd like to keep Peter and I'll need Control's old copper, Mendel." That's it. The game's afoot.

The Brits are very good at this spy-craft and secret mole story based on historical experience: their intelligence was once compromised at a high level by the Cambridge Five.

This mini-series was in 7 parts in the UK, edited down to 6 for the US. The DVD and Blu-ray versions are also 6 episodes.

Available on Blu-ray and these are the only discs Netflix has. Image quality is like a middling DVD.



-Bill
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I have owned the DVDs of the Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy miniseries, starring Alec Guinness, for many years. It remains one of my favorites. I also have the sequel, Smiley's People and rewatched both a couple of weeks ago. I have intentionally not replaced the DVDs with BDs because the video apparently remains pretty murky. No matter, this Tinker, Tailor is great drama, not to be missed by LeCarre fans.

I agree with Bill that the complaints some have made about both the Tinker Tailer miniseries and the feature film, starring Gary Oldman. stem from the intricacy of the plot and how much is left unsaid. As I rewatched the Tinker, Tailor and Smiley's People miniseries, I realized that I enjoyed them more than ever. This convinced me that my patience with LeCarre always seems to be rewarded.

George Smiley has long been one of my favorite literary characters and his relationship with his wife, the lovely Lady Ann Sercomb Smiley, one of the saddest I know. Smiley and the Lady Ann were introduced in LeCarre's first Novel, Call for the Dead. At the end of Call for the Dead, Smiley receives a letter from Ann, now divorced from him and tired of her current lover tells Smiley that she wants to come back. Smiley, to his continuing sorrow, gets on the next plane to Zurich to do just that. To Smiley's credit, he finally tells Ann that it is all over in Smiley's People. What a fascinating but essentially sad figure George was!
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post #920 of 1347 Old 02-20-2013, 08:34 AM - Thread Starter
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Sinbad, the Sailor (1947), directed by Richard Wallace.

It's a busy week for Sinbad: steal the royal yacht, evade a mysterious assassin, frustrate the ruthless emir, get the girl, and find Alexander the Great's long-lost treasure island.

These Arabian Nights fantasies were a staple of the afternoon movies when I was a kid. Were they intended for children when made? The dialogue and action are geared to that level, with the smooching scenes flying by quickly. Although...that harem scene...

Despite the Technicolor (which I never saw on TV at the time) and rich costumes, these productions look inalterably cheap, a result of being done completely on sound stages, even the sailing scenes. I was glad to see it again, but it's a rental, not a keeper.

Not much swashbuckling, just lots of comical escape and evasion. Douglas Fairbanks Jr is acting peculiar with a silent-film style of hearty, flamboyant poses. Is this an early retro-adventure, hearkening back to the silent era? Maybe he is just imitating his father, a noted adventure film actor of that period.

Vast quantities of flowery pseudo-Persian declamations. All these Americans and Europeans playing Middle Eastern characters contribute to the children's pageant fantasy aspect. Everyone's skin is darkened -- even Anthony Quinn's -- with the exception of Maureen O'Hara, who we are to believe is a Kurdish princess.

Another appearance of Mike Mazurki, the hardest working big ugly guy in Hollywood.

This is only the second time I have seen bastinado performed in a motion picture.

Warner Archive title available for rent from ClassicFlix. This is the first dual-layer manufactured-on-demand DVD I can recall.

Note: he isn't really fondling her boobs in pane #6 below. She is smiling, though. Sort of.



-Bill
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post #921 of 1347 Old 02-25-2013, 01:12 PM - Thread Starter
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Cape Fear (1962), directed by J. Lee Thompson.

After eight years in prison for rape and assault, a violent ex-con is looking for revenge against the man who put him there. A masculine hulk of sadism and craft, he wages a campaign of terror with blood-curdling threats against the wife and daughter.

As a thriller this is the real deal. It starts quickly and never lets up. The genre is "let's terrify the women with sexual menaces" while the husband, stalwart and capable as he is, suffers agonies as how to protect them.

You could legitimately call this "Hitchcockian" in the Psycho sense of terror:

  • The director revered Hitchcock and often asked himself: How would Hitch do this scene?
  • The film editor and both art directors were Hitchcock people.
  • Bernard Herrmann provides another panic-inducing score.
  • Gregory Peck is our hero but is also slightly guilty: he crosses the line in trying to cope (although he still has our sympathy). He hires thugs to beat Max Cady and then lures him into a trap where he can be legally murdered, using his daughter as bait.
  • Cady is too much of an animal to elicit much sympathy from us, but we see some things that bring us uncomfortably closer to him. He's been in prison for eight years while his enemy lives a comfortable, respected life with a big house and grounds and a lovely family. He can call on the police to harass Cady. He's a connected insider with everything. And Cady is an alpha male who must command respect: he makes his own way, not asking permission or giving a damn.

In Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum we have two powerhouse actors of that era in an unforgettable face-off. Peck picked out the story and produced the film, but he knew that Mitchum would be the star.

Mitchum's performance is one for the record books: unbelievably scary, he seems to inhabit the role.

I haven't seen much of Polly Bergen but she seems very natural in her role as the wife. Much of her sweaty egg-splatter encounter with Mitchum was improvised and she said there was "no acting required", it was really wrenching and terrifying.

Worthy contributions by Martin Balsam and Telly Savalas. Lori Martin is fine as the daughter, although the director wanted Hayley Mills, who he had discovered for Tiger Bay, but she was booked up with Disney.

I want to make particular note of Barrie Chase, the woman Cady brutalizes. She was a dancer who had only small acting parts and deserved more. Her mute, haunted suffering is one of the creepiest scenes in movies. Her shock and pain, the way she moves: they can't say it, but I'm sure we're supposed to be thinking forcible sodomy.

Normal, decent society is still on top here and worth defending. The Martin Scorcese remake is set in an entirely different moral universe.

Available on Blu-ray with a very pleasing image. ClassicFlix has it, Netflix doesn't.



-Bill
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post #922 of 1347 Old 02-25-2013, 01:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Cape Fear (1962), directed by J. Lee Thompson.

Available on Blu-ray with a very pleasing image.

-Bill

Amazing that Netflix doesn't even have the DVD of this title. rolleyes.gif
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post #923 of 1347 Old 02-25-2013, 01:41 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rdgrimes View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Cape Fear (1962), directed by J. Lee Thompson.

Available on Blu-ray with a very pleasing image.

-Bill

Amazing that Netflix doesn't even have the DVD of this title. rolleyes.gif

I've edited to add "ClassicFlix has it, Netflix doesn't."

For those who don't use them: ClassicFlix is a Mom & Pop internet disc rental store, similar to Netflix disc rentals. They specialize in pre-1970 titles and I often get discs from them that Netflix doesn't have.

They have only one location (Lincoln CA) so shipping is not as fast as Netflix for most of us.

-Bill
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post #924 of 1347 Old 02-27-2013, 12:02 PM - Thread Starter
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You Only Live Twice (1967), directed by Lewis Gilbert.

Is James Bond dead? No, just undercover in Japan to prevent Blofeld from starting World War 3. He fits right in until they make him up to look Japanese and people start staring at the stooping Scotsman.

Like iron to a magnet he is drawn to the secret island rocket base under an exploding volcano to face hundreds of minions serving the evil overlord, who this time has piranha rather than sharks in the tank. That's bold screenwriting.

On the one hand Bond #5 is a real Connery adventure and the large-scale ninja assault on the island is pretty epic. On the other, plot quality takes a serious dive, although it's not as bad as his next -- Diamonds Are Forever (1971) -- where they just give up even trying. The nonchalant chitchat with the exotic orientals becomes painful, although Japan is impressively modern-looking for the 1960s.

John Barry score, with Nancy Sinatra singing the title song.

Available on Blu-ray.



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post #925 of 1347 Old 03-05-2013, 07:22 PM - Thread Starter
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The Duellists (1977), directed by Ridley Scott.

During the tempestuous years of Napoleonic France (the emperor was in, then out, then in, then out again) two cavalry officers fight a series of duels in a life-long grudge match. There is no cause, no point to it: just rage and outraged honor by a touchy rising "man of the people" who has singled out an aristocrat as his enemy.

They use various weapons, the scariest being no-kidding meat cleaver sabers. It's exhausting just holding and swinging them.

Scott's first feature film (he'd done between one and two thousand commercials) is a remarkably fine production made for $900,000 (some of it his own money), a shoestring budget for a costume picture. They built no sets, but tried to be meticulous in costumes, hair and fighting techniques. He says he was much influenced by the then recent Barry Lyndon, but this is shorter, faster and with more action.

Keith Carradine uses a affected, lightly posh accent I find distracting, but get past that he is fine as a brave man caught up in a pointless vendetta he finds maddening. He is terrified by the prospect of the duels, but "honor" drives him on. He has a different code than the other officers: it requires him to secretly save the life of his enemy when he is scheduled to be executed.

Harvey Keitel of Brooklyn had never held a sword or been on a horse before and this actually helps his performance. In Napoleon's time many men of the peasantry rose to high position, which would not have been allowed in the old order. Keitel's officer in not suave or polished, but is instead driven by resentment and testosterone. Focus and rage replaces experience and early training. His "honor" is fighting. I'm glad I didn't know this guy.

Scott's first choice was Michael York and Oliver Reed but he couldn't afford them. The studio gave him a list of actors and Carradine and Keitel were the only ones that made sense.

Many other familiar faces from British cinema.

The story is by Joseph Conrad, inspired by true events where the men fought 30 duels over 19 years.

Available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory. The director provides a typically fascinating commentary track and there is a combined isolated score and commentary by composer Howard Blake.



-Bill
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post #926 of 1347 Old 03-07-2013, 10:27 AM - Thread Starter
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Easter Parade (1948), directed by Charles Walters.

A rich and colorful Irving Berlin musical with a typically negligible plot: Judy Garland loves Fred Astaire who loves Ann Miller who loves Peter Lawford who loves Judy Garland... It's something of a Pygmalion plot packed with singing and dancing. Nothing to do with Easter.

Several last-minutes cast changes: Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse had injuries and were replaced by Astaire and Miller (who had also hurt her back but wanted the job). Lawford came in for Frank Sinatra for some reason.

I wish I could have seen a version with Kelly and Charisse: it would have been an entirely different picture. No replacing Judy Garland, of course: the superstar who loved the clowning bits.

One of Astaire's numbers is done in something that looks like "brown face" makeup. I've never seen anything like it in a musical. "Steppin' Out with My Baby": meant to be Creole? The song was introduced in this film.

Available on Blu-ray with a happy and fact-filled commentary track by a film historian and Astaire's daughter.



-Bill
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post #927 of 1347 Old 03-12-2013, 02:10 PM - Thread Starter
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Spirits of the Dead (1968)

Three eerie, decadent tales inspired by EA Poe stories.

Available on Blu-ray, a multi-region import sold by Amazon. It has both an English dub track and an original language track, some of which is English. Rather good image in the bright scenes.

Metzengerstein, directed by Roger Vadim.

In a fantasy dress-up piece, wicked and scantily clad Countess Jane Fonda lives a life of cruel debauched orgies. (She needs to meet Prince Prospero from The Masque of the Red Death (1964)). When her gentle cousin (real life brother Peter Fonda) refuses to play her games, she has his stables burned. He dies in the fire, but a magnificent black horse emerges from the flames.

Avenging fury or not, she falls under its spell. She likes this horse. We're given to understand she really likes this horse. Vengeance from beyond the grave can't end well, and in the end she welcomes the fire.



William Wilson, directed by Louis Malle.

Sadistic rogue Alain Delon has been plagued by a mysterious double all his life. Destroy the other, destroy the self?

There is some early giallo gruesomeness with scalpels here, and erotic bondage. The implication is that the main character is impotent, but he gets off by flogging Brigitte Bardot when she loses at cards.



Toby Dammit, directed by Federico Fellini.

This is the show piece of the set, a delirious nighttime Roman adventure, both comic and disturbing. Very Fellini. What an eye that guy has.

Drunken film star Terence Stamp descends into Rome for a new movie and an awards ceremony. "Where's my Ferrari?" I say "descends" because he is obviously in Hell. He seems to know it, in a bemused and tormented way.

Stamp is just excellent as a temporary celebrity at the end of his rope. He has such a distinguished skull-like face. The film delivers a tremendous sense of speed and doom as he races through the murky streets of nighttime Rome.

A story: Michael Caine wrote that he and Stamp shared an apartment when they were starving actors. Stamp became famous first (for Billy Budd) and a flood of beautiful young women suddenly wanted to know him. As a loyal roommate, Caine's job was something like an air traffic controller, easing the previous date out the back door while the next one came in the front.

"Toby Dammit" is a character from Poe's comic tale "Never Bet the Devil Your Head". Very little relation to the film.



-Bill
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post #928 of 1347 Old 03-14-2013, 10:58 AM - Thread Starter
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The Lord's of Flatbush (1974), directed by Martin Davidson and Stephen Verona.

A small indy film, the episodic lives of members of a 1950s street gang. They goof off in high school, shoot pool, steal cars, and rumble when they have the gang together. (No one-on-one fighting). Mostly they chase babes. Pregnant girlfriend? Oh man, I'm too young to get married.

Not strongly plotted but some performances worth watching. Sexual politics provides the emotion. It's an illustration of the different agenda men and women have. For men, sex is a goal in itself, not an aid to achieving anything else. Women have different priorities: the destination is children, or a home, or just being loved.

Susan Blakely provides a fine example of the bitter choices a young women makes: trade certain sex for the remote chance of love? She and Perry King are making out hot and heavy and he says, trying to be persuasive: "I love you!" She sits up and turns away: "What color are my eyes?" That's a dirty trick.

Nice bit: the tough guys harmonizing doo-wop in the diner.

Sylvester Stallone before Rocky, Henry Winkler before Happy Days.

And yes, it's the "Lord's", possessive. They don't belong to themselves.

The DVD image is very soft.



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post #929 of 1347 Old 03-21-2013, 07:58 AM - Thread Starter
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The Night Porter (1974), directed by Liliana Cavani.

Twelve years after the end of the War, a concentration camp survivor and her nazi persecutor meet again. They resume a tormented relationship of love and hate, pain and pleasure.

She could turn him in. He could have his friends kill her; the place is full of wanted war criminals hiding in plain sight. Instead they protect each other. Once reunited they will not separate again.

The filmmaker attempts to mirror their perverse universe of dread and desire. Much full nudity and sadistic sex acts, cold and unappealing. (Well, maybe one genuinely erotic moment, when they make mostly-clothed love, more or less like normal people: the last two panes below).

It could happen. They really are in love, of a strange and tortured type. Because the story is told in flashbacks, the role reversals come so quickly that the distinctions between who is weak and who is strong are lost.

For such lurid material it's not quickly paced. I tried to watch it years ago and remember fast-forwarding the video tape. It goes on and on.

Strong casting in the leads: Dirk Bogarde has always been sexually and morally ambiguous. Charlotte Rampling has frail, haunted and exotic beauty, and is thin enough to look like a death camp prisoner.

The Criterion DVD is 4:3 letterboxed. There are Blu-ray imports but DVDCompare has some cautions. See DVDBeaver for more.

The slightly different width of the thumbnails below is in the video itself.



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post #930 of 1347 Old 03-23-2013, 08:43 AM - Thread Starter
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Laura (1944), produced and directed by Otto Preminger.

I reviewed this previously here and the new Blu-ray is an excuse for revisiting it.

It was adapted directly from a novel but could just as easily have been a stage or radio play. It's all about the characters and the hypnotic influence lovely Gene Tierney has over them. It differs from other romance mysteries in (1) the character of exquisitely bitchy Waldo Lydecker as played by Clifton Webb, and (2) the anguished dilemma of detective Dana Andrews, falling in love with a dead woman, hanging out in her apartment and drinking her booze, fingering her lingerie and reading her private letters and diaries.

David Raksin's theme has become a jazz standard and is said to have been recorded over 400 times.

Available on Blu-ray with two commentary tracks. The whites look very bright on this, although we still have decent black levels. An extended cut has an extra 3 minutes of Laura being transformed into a society woman and advertising executive.



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