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Review older films here: 1979 and earlier - Page 21

post #601 of 1259
Bill, I always read this thread and greatly appreciate your contributions to it. Thank you for providing us such info on classic films. A few that I don't think I've seen you review yet that left an impression on my young mind were Burnt Offerings and The Medusa Touch. Have you seen those? What were your impressions?
post #602 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Run4two View Post

Bill, I always read this thread and greatly appreciate your contributions to it. Thank you for providing us such info on classic films. A few that I don't think I've seen you review yet that left an impression on my young mind were Burnt Offerings and The Medusa Touch. Have you seen those? What were your impressions?

Thanks! Much appreciated.

I don't recall either of those, or maybe just bits and pieces. I'll put them on my want list, but you should post your own reviews of them. We're all looking for recommendations.

post #603 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Halloween (1978), directed by John Carpenter.

Tis the season.

What to say? The simple story is a building block of modern horror movies, endlessly sequeled, imitated, and mashed up for ironic treatment. Although violent, it's not very bloody by today's standards. Most of the time is spent in anticipation, which feature became a key ingredient of the dead teenager genre.

There is no "why" of the movie: a psycho-killer little boy comes back years later and picks out Jamie Lee Curtis and friends for special treatment. He's pure evil and unkillable. How can that be? Like how can zombies be both alive and dead? Sounds like draft beer in a bottle. There is no explanation, so we don't need to solve the puzzle.

Famously, the serious baby-sitter is the sole survivor but her wild gal pals don't make it. Carpenter claims this is not the magic power of virginity, just that the serious girl is more observant.

The dialogue between the girls is pretty dreadful, but maybe that's realistic. I love the classic SF movies everyone is watching on Halloween.

Up front score by John Carpenter. Brief nudity and passion. That's a Captain Kirk mask Michael Myers is wearing. First film for Curtis.

Available on Blu-ray. I recall complaints about color changes but I don't remember the film well enough to comment. The daylight scenes have pleasing detail; the nights less so but that's the nature of the beast.

post #604 of 1259
Thread Starter 
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), written and directed by Dario Argento.

An American in Rome witnesses an attempted murder, part of a string of recent serial killer stabbings. The police suspect him at first, then use him as bait to draw out the real killer. This works, in that the psycho is interested in meeting him again. Our hero becomes obsessed with solving the case, despite the danger to his girlfriend, whose job is to collapse in hysteria when menaced.

Argento's first film as director, it's visually interesting, an attempt to be a late-60s Italian Hitchcock. The story has quite a bit of humor, but also too many red herrings and blind alleys. I did not understand several big plot developments. The police lab scenes are ridiculous, maybe intentionally so. The lead (played by Tony Musante) is not a very appealing character.

Some striking moments and point-of-view perspectives. Parts were commonly censored for years, but are available now, as when a victim is threatened suggestively with a knife and her underwear cut off. It's really not very explicit, but still tense and sexually sadistic (think A Clockwork Orange).

It's an international cast and as is often the case the lip sync and dubbing is very rough.

The only other Argento film I've reviewed was Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971).

Ennio Morricone score.

Available on Blu-ray from Blue Underground, which includes an enthusiastic commentary track by two knowledgeable Argento scholars. They claim that the giallo film conventions had already been laid out (mostly by Mario Brava) but that this was the first internationally successful movie in the genre.

post #605 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), directed by Fred F. Sears.

Taking advantage of the intense saucer flap of the 1950s, Ray Harryhausen & company deliver an SF adventure without any "the truth is out there / I want to believe" teasing. They're here and they're taking over. They talk but don't listen. But might advanced interstellar invaders nonetheless have a weak spot that lowly Earth technology can exploit? They always do... The final battle is in DC with much damage to national monuments.

You might think that animating spinning saucers is not the best use of stop motion Dynamation, but it does give them an interesting, vivid look. The force fields are great and loads of stock footage are skilfully integrated into the story: where would 1950s SF be without captured V2 rockets?

When I was young a very brief scene terrified me, for no reason that I can understand: a saucer passes behind some trees against the evening sky (panel #5 in the thumbnails below). Because of this movie I had alien abduction nightmares long before they had become part of pop culture.

For buffs of computer prehistory, there is a nifty shot of a differential analyzer, an early mechanical analog computer.

Available on Blu-ray; switch between the b&w and colorized versions with the Angle button. Includes a commentary track with Harryhausen and three others, modern effects men having a great time, obviously envious of the control he had over his projects.

post #606 of 1259
Thread Starter 
For a Few Dollars More (1965), directed by Sergio Leone.

Two bounty hunters mix it up with a gang of bank robbers led by a certifiable psycho. The bounty hunter in black is after something more than money.

This is my favorite of the Leone westerns. They've established the mythology with the first film and now have a bigger budget and can be more expansive without going to the epic excessiveness of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly or the leisurely tough guy posturing of Once Upon a Time in the West.

It has the usual sadism and ritual violence, the clear division of the cool hard men and cowering bystanders, but also many comic scenes which parody western conventions.

Somehow I got in to to see this at a young age and was shocked at Indio's fond memories of the time he murdered a man and raped his woman, who then killed herself with his pistol. This is his Precious Moment and he often returns to it. "Adults are so strange", thought I.

Ennio Morricone's score is the finest of the series. I remember it had radio play at the time. This is the first time I have noticed that the musical watch theme plays before the watches appear: it's what ties Mortimer and Indio together and is a haunting element of the story.

The Man With No Name's name: Manco.

Available on Blu-ray with a informative commentary track by a Leone biographer: great background information on the production, influences and people involved. His story of Lee Van Cleef is remarkable. He'd done only small parts and was broke and pretty much retired after an auto accident when Leone showed up with a suitcase of money. He remembered Van Cleef's face and wanted him for the film. He worked for a couple of decades thereafter and became a superstar in Europe. Here his performance is so confident, so spot-on, it's really remarkable.

The Blu-ray has that sort of sharpening that makes faces seem shiny. I presume this is from edge enhancement ringing (the white halos) around skin pores and whiskers. I try not to notice, but once seen it becomes distracting.

post #607 of 1259
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Available on Blu-ray with a informative commentary track by a Leone biographer: great background information on the production, influences and people involved. His story of Lee Van Cleef is remarkable. He'd done only small parts and was broke and pretty much retired after an auto accident when Leone showed up with a suitcase of money. He remembered Van Cleef's face and wanted him for the film. He worked for a couple of decades thereafter and became a superstar in Europe. Here his performance is so confident, so spot-on, it's really remarkable.


I remember one of the most entertaining nights at the movies as a teenager when a bunch of us went to see a double bill of For a Few Dollars More and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. We were already big western fans and were thrilled to get a double dose of the new spin on them.

But one of the things i'll never forget about that night was Lee Van Cleef's performance in FAFDM. It was a packed house and the moment he lowered that book and revealed that sneer, the place went nuts. Because of the smaller roles you mentioned, particularly in some classic westerns, he was at once vaguely familiar yet utterly, frighteningly new. We'd never seen that much of a close up of him before, never seen the camera linger on him so long, never heard him deliver more than a handful of lines here and there.

I remember the women in the audience gasping in revulsion at first sight of him. Women who hadn't seen the movie on its first run but came to see Paul and Robert in BCATSK. Those reptilian eyes and the hatchet-face profile. Then something very interesting occurred during the course of the movie. His tough demeanor, his mastery of his craft and the tools of his trade, won them over. By the end of the movie, I'm not sure if, given the chance, most of the women in the audience wouldn't have been just as likely to jump his bones as Eastwood's, Paul's and Robert's.

Casting him was definitely a stroke of genius on Leone's part.
post #608 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Legend of the Lost (1957), directed by Henry Hathaway.

I had never heard of this before finding it at the public library. Starting from isolated Timbuktu, an adventurer is hired to go deep into the Sahara to find the lost treasure city of Ophir. A prostitute looking for a second chance tags along for some reason. They find treasure in the desert, but also betrayal, madness and murder, faith lost and faith regained.

What could go wrong with this film? We have an experienced director, a script by Ben Hecht and photography by the great Jack Cardiff. And surprise: the leads are John Wayne and Sophia Loren. Who could pass it up?

It's pretty damned dull, having a curious slackness, a lack of energy. They're trying, just not hard enough. Wayne as a romantic lead: it can work in comedy and it's true that you never know what women will go for, but it really doesn't work here.

Filmed in Libya with fine desert locations, and the extensive Roman ruins are impressive. Also some cheap-looking soundstages. Produced by Wayne's company.

post #609 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Sands of the Kalahari (1965), directed by Cy Endfield.

It begins with a prelude in civilization: standing in line, being bored, but at least there's hot running water and bed linen. Then a charter flight, the engines clogged with clouds of locusts, crashes in the south African desert and we have a survival story which is sort of like Lord of the Flies with adults. The civilized veneer is pretty thin.

Young Susannah York has to fend off the amorous attentions of the pilot, but she has eyes only for Stuart Whitman, an American he-man with hunting rifles. He knows how to use them and starts taking "survival of the fittest" seriously. In the end it's him and the local baboon troop, battling for the position of alpha primate.

I've been waiting for decades to see this again and it just became available on DVD and Blu-ray. The baboon fighting special effects (puppets and some men in suits) are easier to see now than I remember. It's not quite as good as I recall.

It's still a well-done survival story of that sort where harsh nature is only half the battle: men are even more dangerous. There was another "plane crash desert survival" movie at about the same time, Flight of the Phoenix, and it has tended to overshadow this one. We have quite a bit of hunting and killing of animals: the men run down a wounded antelope and kill it with knives and rocks. People understand that this sort of thing happens in survival situations but they don't necessarily want to see it in the movies.

The only woman in the party is magnetically drawn to their lead predator. She has a conscience that protests, but biology is strong.

Available on Blu-ray, a bare-bones edition without subtitles. Netflix doesn't have it. I rented it from http://www.classicflix.com/.

post #610 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Two early Kubrick films on a Criterion Blu-ray disc.

The Killing (1956), directed by Stanley Kubrick.

An intricately planned race track heist, with one of the greatest "the gods have a cruel sense of humor" endings I can remember. The crew is businesslike about the operation, but something always goes wrong. Too many people know about it and, as is often the case, letting a wife weasel out the details is bad luck. Especially when she has a boyfriend.

The structure is odd and at times bewildering. The time line jumps back and forth and we see the horse race several times from different points of view. It certainly increases the tension, but at the cost of comprehension. I've seen it before, but still don't understand why Sterling Hayden didn't just give Ted de Corsia the custom shotgun rather than making him pick it up in a bus depot locker.

A fine cast, including Elisha Cook Jr. I like the little bits with Timothy Carey (always weird) as the rifleman who shoots the racehorse (had that happened in movies before?) and James Edwards (always dignified) as the security guard. Hostile, then friendly, then hostile again with race conflict.

Hard charging score. I don't know if the documentary-style narration was Kubrick's idea or whether the studio insisted. The dialogue tends to explain the plot, much like a radio play.

Killer's Kiss (1955), written, produced, photographed, edited and directed by Stanley Kubrick.

I am only a modest fan of Kubrick, but the early talent he displays here is very impressive. At age 26 the tone and composition of his little shoestring film, only 67 minutes long, is heads and shoulders above many studio pictures of the period. The elegance of his designs is apparent here near the very beginning of his career, starting with the film titles.

It's a simple tale, like a short story from pulp fiction. A boxer and a dance hall girl get mixed up with gangsters. We still have time for stories within stories told with flashbacks. Who do you trust, and what would you do to survive?

It builds to a running and fighting segment culminating in a surreal battle among the naked mannikins in a warehouse. It's funny and brutal at the same time: the bad guy has an axe.

Lush classical score. Real NY street locations. The exciting boxing segment is finely photographed, much more realistic than many others. No natural sound at all.

The studio insisted on the improbably happy ending. The point of film noir is "we're screwed" but maybe that doesn't sell tickets.

post #611 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), directed by Philip Kaufman.

I did not like this much in the theater, probably because I was being loyal to the 1956 version. Too much blood and goo for me at the time, although in retrospect there is not that much and it gets a PG rating.

Seeing it later on DVD and now on Blu-ray I appreciate it more. The science fiction premise is revealed at the opening (why not? we all know the story) but the ominous undertone of paranoia is skillfully constructed. People changing, people watching and exchanging glances. Glimpses of strange organic refuse being taken to the garbage trucks.

The original had a political subtext: fear of infiltration and subversion by a foreign menace. This time it seems more personal. The pod people are messing with our relationships. As the shrink suggests, Brooke Adams wants to break up with her boyfriend; isn't saying "he's changed" a good excuse?

The odd thing: how have the pod people changed? They are emotionless, lacking love and hate, and perhaps souls. But they claim to be content. Otherwise they carry on as the humans did before. Curiously, in the case of psychiatrist Leonard Nimoy, it's hard to tell when he "changed".

They throw in some humor. Trying to raise the alarm via the government bureaucracy: have they turned or is that just they way it always works?

That's a great scene where we see the feet turning to pursue our heros. But: only in Hollywood can you blow up a factory by cutting a few ropes with an axe.

For this and Alien, I remember Veronica Cartwright as one of the scream queens of the 70s. Cameos by Kevin McCarthy, Don Siegel, and Robert Duvall.

Brief nudity. I recall the director saying that Brooke Adams really didn't want to do it.

Available on Blu-ray. It comes with a DVD as well, the old 4:3 letterboxed edition with pan & scan on the flip side. Oddly enough, the DVD has a director's commentary and the Blu-ray doesn't.

The Blu-ray image is pretty good in spots, but it is a dark film and the night shots are often noisy and the blacks are light gray.

The Blu-ray is not available at Netflix.

post #612 of 1259
Thread Starter 
The Eagle Has Landed (1976), directed by John Sturges.

A band of German commandos parachute into a small British village to kidnap Churchill. How this will help their war effort is never explained. Hitler and Himmler were impulsive.

Michael Caine is a "good German", in that he is insubordinate, hates the SS, doesn't respect Hitler, and makes foolishly heroic attempts to rescue the innocent. He and his men (who happily enter Valhalla in the end) are all hearty good fellows.

It's a decent attempt at wartime adventure but goes off the rails a couple of times. We spend too much time on rebel Irishman Donald Sutherland's love life. The lovely Jenny Agutter falls for him instantly and commits murder to protect him after knowing him for about a day. Just as the action is heating up we divert into an unfortunate comical interlude as clownish American soldiers are massacred uncomically.

In What's It All About? Michael Caine wrote that it was a great cast and he got on with the director until:


One day when I was talking to him between setups and he informed me that now that he was older, he only ever worked to get the money to go fishing, which was his passion. Deep-sea fishing of Baja, California, he added, which was very expensive. The moment the picture finished he took the money and went. [...] He never came back for the editing nor for any of the other post-production sessions that are where a director does some of his most important work. The picture wasn't bad, but I still get angry when I think of what it could have been with the right director.

The big guy who Donald Sutherland thrashes: his voice is obviously dubbed by Brian Blessed but I can't see any credits for him online.

Lalo Schifrin score.

The DVD is single layer, 4:3 letterboxed. The quality is about what you would imagine. I see it's available on on MPEG2 Blu-ray in the UK, said to be region free.

post #613 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Island of Lost Souls (1932), directed by Erle C. Kenton.

On a unnamed island in the South Pacific, it's evil little scientist/god performs hideous experiments on animals, transforming them into beast-men in his House of Pain. When first a castaway and later his fiance arrive, Moreau has new cross-species experiments in mind.

It's a reasonably close adaptation of The Island of Dr Moreau. They up the sex content by introducing the fiance and Lota the Panther Woman. This is "pre-Code" horror; although there was a production code then it was not as strictly enforced as later. The film was banned in 11 countries and censored in many places. The objections were for the torture of beast-men, intimations of bestiality, and sacrilege. HG Wells was still alive at the time and hated the film.

Of course, by modern standards it is not that intense, but is nicely atmospheric. The Doctor has a rather splendid mansion on that unknown island. What is the Law? Not to go on all fours, not to eat meat, not to shed blood. Are we not Men?

Charles Laughton is, as always, a hammy delight. He's funny and scary at the same time, a perversely dapper madman. Bela Lugosi has so much werewolf hair that only his voice reveals him.

Finally: Lota sacrifices herself in the end. Does that make her more human? Wouldn't a loyal dog have done the same thing? I doubt if my cat would.

Criterion Blu-ray, not available from Netflix. I rented mine from http://www.classicflix.com/. I don't have the DVD to compare, but I doubt if the Blu-ray offers much if any improvement.

The commentary track is a witty, rich source of information on the film, the industry and the people involved.

post #614 of 1259
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Island of Lost Souls (1932), directed by Erle C. Kenton.


Criterion Blu-ray, not available from Netflix. I rented mine from http://www.classicflix.com/. I don't have the DVD to compare, but I doubt if the Blu-ray offers much if any improvement.


Island of Lost souls showed up on the THIS network last month for Halloween. So if people keep a lookout on THIS, it'll probably show up again.

BTW, I concur with your review.

I've gotta admit that Parker had much better self control than I have. I definitely would have tapped Lota.
post #615 of 1259
Thread Starter 
The Bad Seed (1956), directed by Mervyn LeRoy.

Eight-year-old Rhoda is perfectly sweet and smarmy to adults, but also has some type of genetic insanity which makes her a murderer. She's not positively evil, just totally amoral about getting what she wants, "as if she had been born blind."

Like many films adapted from stage plays it is talky and the characters declaim in playwright-speak. A lot of it is like a filmed play. Two hours nine minutes is way too long for this.

A good feature is the subplot with crazed handyman Henry Jones. He's on to Rhoda's game and they are at war, but she's too much for him.

It picks up towards the end and delivers some shocking developments:

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)

Mom, discovering that Rhoda has killed three people, poisons her with sleeping pills and then shoots herself. Both survive.

Rhoda goes down to a boat dock to retrieve a stolen medal and is blown up by a lightning bolt.

The End.

Except...we have credits with a curtain call by all the players. Mom then takes Rhoda to the sofa and gives her a comical spanking.

To which I can only say: "Good grief".

Available on Blu-ray, but not from Netflix. I rented mine from http://www.classicflix.com/. The commentary track is a happy conversation with the adult Patty McCormack (Rhoda).

post #616 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Deliverance (1972), directed by John Boorman.

Four men go canoeing on a remote river just before it is dammed up and have a violent encounter with the locals: assault, rape, and murder. They fight back, but getting out takes some doing.

This is a superior survival story because it is about not just the moments of conflict, but about handling the aftermath, trying to get away with two murders. (Justifiable homicide? Tell it to the judge). After the escape and evasion comes the guilt, seldom seen in this sort of story.

Fascinating character studies. Burt Reynolds gets what he wants: to be a survivor in a state of nature beyond civilization and the law. Jon Voight is forced to be a survivor; it's not what he wanted but having done it, he's not going back. Ned Beatty recovers after being raped and just says "I don't want this getting around."

Beautiful river shots, although the color is desaturated to make it less pretty, more threatening. Unusually, the film was shot more or less in sequence. It was a difficult and dangerous shoot; the cameras had to be repaired every night. A stunt man was used only once.

First film for both Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox. The scene where they find Cox's body with the arm dislocated and bent up behind him: hard to believe, but apparently he could really do that.

James Dickey, author of the novel and screenplay, appears as the sheriff at the end. Earlier they told him to go away because everyone found him too spooky and distracting.

This has the famous scene where Beatty is attacked and sodomized, a degrading and hard to watch segment. Something I've never understood: prison rape is still joke material in Hollywood. You hear it all the time from comedians and in police stories.

Available on Blu-ray. The director's commentary track details his struggles with the studio and the river. The cast and crew were fine, although Jon Voight said "He saved my life [by getting him out of bad roles and into a good one] and then spent three months trying to kill me." They all had a strong bond from making the picture.

Boorman points out that a director really can't "see" his own film until years later, when time has dulled the pain and emotion of the project.

Finally, I used to do technical support for salesmen and I know their folk-ways. Once I was hosting a group of them and one said "It's great getting out of the city and into the country like this." I replied, "Oh, sure. I know you city guys. As soon as you cross the Chicago city limits you start whistling 'Dueling Banjos'". They exchanged guilty looks: How did he know that?

post #617 of 1259
Recently seen bumper sticker:
post #618 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Deep Red (1975), written and directed by Dario Argento.

With my third title I begin to see the pattern of Argento films: a bystander witnesses a psycho-killer's crime, then hunts the psycho while the psycho hunts him. Because it's a psycho there is no "reason" behind the mysteries and the plot details are mostly irrelevant. Throw in some quirky comedy and absurd policemen plus various amounts of gore.

Don't you go breaking into long-sealed hidden rooms. What do you think you're going to find there?

This time we have David Hemmings and his gal-pal, a spunky reporter trying to get into his pants. Sort of a screwball comedy framework, now that I think about it. There is no doubting that Argento and his photographer have a fine eye for composition, and this time we have really strange extreme closeups of physical objects like keys and toys.

He has another eerie trick: for the fade to black between scenes he cuts the set lights while filming. I kept expecting someone to scream at each scene change.

The image quality seems better than I remember from The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, also on Blu-ray.

The music is exceptional this time. It seems totally inappropriate for a slasher/thriller but I like it a lot: it adds another dimension of weirdness and unpredictability.

The gore level of the longer "Italian" cut is more than I like seeing.

Available on Blu-ray from Blue Underground, not available at Netflix. It has both the shorter cut (done by the director) with an English language track, and the longer cut with both English and Italian tracks. The English track reverts to Italian from time to time, but there are subtitles.

post #619 of 1259
Bill, thanks for your review on Deep Red and my appreciation for ALL of the reviews you've posted here. You jogged my memory of David Hemmings whose career I stopped following after the 60's which I think included many of his more successful films either starring or costarring such as Blowup, Camelot, The Charge of the Light Brigade and Barbarella. So imagine my surprise when I saw his name in the credits of Gladiator (2000) and realized I hadn't recognized him in the film. He played Cassius the elderly fat man running the gladiatorial games in the Colosseum and the arena announcer. Hemmings remained active in films until his death in 2003 at the age of 62.

EDIT: For those who enjoy Netflix streaming Deep Red is currently available for your viewing pleasure.
post #620 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Comanche Station (1960), directed by Budd Boetticher.

Hearing that a white woman has been a captive of the Indians for a month, a man travels into their area to buy her back. We later learn that he often does this; his own wife was taken 10 years earlier. On their way back to her home they are joined by three rogues who want her for the reward her husband has offered. They'll kill to take her from her rescuer, but that's easier said than done.

This is another minimalist western from Boetticher, Randolph Scott and Burt Kennedy, shot in 12 days with no interiors. It recycles their familiar themes and situations (and practically a whole scene from Seven Men from Now) and has the realism, technical details and fine horse handling we have come to expect.

Claude Akins is the villain this time, at first seeming more one-dimensional than others in the series. He's affable but appears to have no other side. That's not quite true: he saves his adversary from an Indian attack even though he means to kill him later. Even the villain has a code of honor that says killing must be done in a certain way.

There is a little mini-genre of Westerns about white women kidnapped by the Indians, where the presumption is they are raped, defiled, soiled and ruined. I can think of:
  • The Searchers
  • Trooper Hook with Barbara Stanwyck, available now and in my queue
  • The Stalking Moon

How do the stories deal with the trauma and the aftermath of sex and violence? Here we have this exchange:


Nancy Lowe: If-if you had a woman taken by the Comanche and-and you got her back... how would you feel knowing?

Jefferson Cody: If I loved her, it wouldn't matter.

Nancy Lowe: Wouldn't it?

Jefferson Cody: No ma'am, it wouldn't matter at all.

Scott's character is not just tough and stoic, he is loving and large-hearted.

The DVD has an earnest commentary track, but he tends to narrate what we are already seeing.

post #621 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Mysterious Island (1961), directed by Cy Endfield.

Civil War prisoners break out and steal an observation balloon. High winds blow them way out into the Pacific where they crash on an island of giant creatures. They rescue a couple of English castaways, mother and daughter, and begin to realize that someone else is watching and secretly helping them. Wouldn't you know: Captain Nemo has parked the Nautilus there and is using the island to develop another of his Big Ideas (ensure World Peace, end World Hunger, etc).

This film is jam-packed with good stuff, family entertainment like all Harryhausen projects: castaways, monsters, a submarine, retro-scuba gear, lost cities, pirates, and a volcano. They slip in a romantic element: the young couple often go wandering off together. I especially like how young Elena goes from full Victorian regalia to cave-girl leather tunic in a flash: "They'll think it's too short!" "No, they won't".

Not all is easy going among the men: we have a sour war correspondent and a Confederate who didn't ask to go on this expedition. But they're all stout fellows in the end. The final act is a bit rushed: refloating the pirate ship to escape from the volcano.

I had to look up what that balloon might have been inflated with, since helium had not yet been discovered. Civil War balloons used coal gas or hydrogen, both quite flammable.

Tempestuous Bernard Herrmann score, a favorite of his fans. The Blu-ray has an isolated musical track. Filmed in Spain.

Available in a limited-edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time, mastered by Sony. It's expensive; I don't know if there will ever be a general release.

The Blu-ray is well done with fine detail in the brightly lit direct photography scenes, as on the beach and in the rocks. I see no excess sharpening. However: people need to understand that all Harryhausen films are done with a mixture of optical process shots and not all scenes in the film have the detail needed to make a Blu-ray "eye candy" title.

post #622 of 1259
Thread Starter 
The Comancheros (1961), directed by Michael Curtiz.

It starts as one sort of plot and changes to another. Charming rogue Stuart Whitman kills a man in a duel over a woman, then whiles away his time riverboat gambling and consorting with a mysterious Spanish beauty who vanishes before he is ready to say good-bye. This much is like the setup for a romance novel.

Then Texas Ranger John Wayne arrives to arrest him for the dueling murder. After some up and down episodes they become partners and infiltrate outlaw gunrunners who have established a little kingdom way out in the desert.

It moves along nicely without being too involving, a old-style western adventure in a decade when they were dying out. Wayne kept the genre going for a while longer, always facing danger with a smile and a quip. Whitman gets the romance action this time.

Many familiar faces. In particular we briefly have Lee Marvin with part of his scalp removed. He and Wayne bond by brawling, just as in Donovan's Reef.

Lever action rifles and cartridge guns did not exist during the Texas Republic. I suppose it's pointlessly pedantic to mention it.

Last film for the great Michael Curtiz, who died shortly after. According to the wikipedia article, Wayne took over directing because of Curtiz's health problems. Stuart Whitman said Wayne was impatient with the filming pace and pushed him aside. Patrick Wayne (who is in the film) said his father often directed his movies even when it wasn't his job. No one had the weight to argue with him. It's hard to imagine John Ford putting up with that.

Elmer Bernstein score. Filmed in Utah.

Available on Blu-ray from Classicflix, but not from Netflix. It has a pseudo-commentary track of interviews with some of the actors, not closely related to the film.

post #623 of 1259
Thread Starter 
The Cincinnati Kid (1965), directed by Norman Jewison.

In Depression era New Orleans, professional gambler The Kid (Steve McQueen) has a shot at The Man (Edward G. Robinson), a long time poker champion known for "gutting" his opponents. It's a big event and the whole country is laying bets on the outcome. The Kid also has to cope with his girl (Tuesday Weld), the attentions of his best friend's wife, and a tough rich guy (Rip Torn) who wants to meddle with the game.

The marathon multi-day poker game is pretty exciting and the climactic moment a knockout.

I'd never seen this before and I think it holds up pretty well. I don't find gambling particularly fascinating but had no trouble sticking with it. It's like being inside the tribe of professional gamblers; amateurs sometimes mix with them but never know the score. It begins with the grimy Depression rail-yards and warehouses, becoming more interior and hotel-bound as the big game develops.

Fine cast. Steve McQueen is, as always, laconic and lethally cool. Edward G. Robinson has one of his better roles as The Man, courtly but with a reptilian intensity. I think Ann-Margret was the first woman I heard described as a "sex kitten". A kitten with claws: she's excited by blood at the cockfight. She also cheats at jigsaw puzzles, which shows a deep commitment to cheating.

In a sweet bit The Kid visits his girl's sour parents on the farm and charms them with simple card tricks.

The director insisted on using real money in the games; the actors treat it differently.

Sam Peckinpah was the original director but was fired after two weeks, arguing with the producer over a nude scene. Jewison also argued with the studio; in particular the final reunion moment was tacked on at their insistence. Peckinpah was filming in b&w (for a movie about cards?) so none of his shots made it into the film. No nude scenes.

Lalo Schifrin score.

Available on Blu-ray from Classicflix, but not from Netflix. It's a rather good image for a budget catalog title. The director has a commentary track.

post #624 of 1259
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Mysterious Island (1961), directed by Cy Endfield.

Civil War prisoners break out and steal an observation balloon. High winds blow them way out into the Pacific where they crash on an island of giant creatures.

I had to look up what that balloon might have been inflated with, since helium had not yet been discovered. Civil War balloons used coal gas or hydrogen, both quite flammable.


Bill, thanks for the review on this BD, it sounds like a vast improvement over the wretched DVD I own. I saw this movie in 1961 as a teenager and thought it was pretty cool but upon revisiting it I was wasn't so enamored but that's just me. It's cheesy fun but it could have been much better. As an adult I have a hard time getting around the fact that Jules Verne had this balloon travel from Virginia to just east of New Zealand in 5 days. Granted it's described (in the book) as the 'super-storm' of the ages but in the Northern Hemisphere weather systems of this strength travel from west to east meaning that the balloon would have crossed the northern Atlantic, all of Europe and Asia and at least half of the Pacific to get to its final landing spot, a distance of over 15,000 miles. Even 'super-storms' can't maintain their energy for an around-the-world trip. Verne was an an excellent story-teller but too little was known about global meteorology during his time. I guess this sounds trivial when one is discussing a movie starring a giant crab, chicken and bee.
post #625 of 1259
Thread Starter 
No Way Out (1950), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Two brothers shot up while committing a holdup are brought to the locked ward of the county hospital and treated by a young black doctor (Sidney Poitier). One dies unexpectedly and the surviving brother (Richard Widmark) goes berserk with racist rage. He'll inflame the city into race riots and pursue his revenge without constraint, while the doctor strives to prove that he acted responsibly. The dead man's ex-wife (Linda Darnell) is caught between the sides; doing the right thing isn't easy.

It's a combination of film noir, melodrama and message picture, the message being the evils of racism. Social statement films are perilous because they tend to lecture and risk sacrificing story for good intentions. We have moments of that here, but also enough intensity to make it worthwhile. The assembly and combat of the white and black mobs is exciting and dreadful.

It's a breakthrough film: on one hand serious dramatic roles for black actors (although the doctor's idyllic home life is "message", it does give us a look at the young Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis). On the other: previously unseen raw race hatred and a vocabulary that would make the film unbroadcastable until the cable era.

Sidney Poitier has a tremendous film debut at age 22. He was a natural. Richard Widmark is always the scariest villain of that era, raging and sneering. He really didn't want to do this film but Zanuck twisted his arm. Linda Darnell is rather good, projecting pain and confusion in her character.

Alfred Newman score.

The DVD has a commentary track by a film noir expert who appreciates the film's strengths but also points out the weak scenes. He's hot for Darnell.

post #626 of 1259
Thread Starter 
On the Beach (1959), produced and directed by Stanley Kramer.

It's the end of the world, set in the near future of 1964. Radioactive clouds from a nuclear war have killed everyone and everything in the northern hemisphere and are moving south. The Australians carry on as best they can in the time they have left. They have horses and bikes instead of cars, and a few electric trains.

The last American nuclear sub is based there. Captain Gregory Peck ventures back up north to see if the radioactivity is diminishing (it isn't) and we have an eerie visit to the dead San Francisco Bay. Then down to San Diego to investigate some mysterious morse code transmissions, seeming gibberish:

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Some joker tied a coke bottle to a window shade and it was bumping against a transmitter key.

Then back to Australia to wait for the end, for an odd final 35 minutes. Car racing, fishing, drinking, making love, going to revival meetings, contemplating suicide. What about the children?

That's it. No rescue, no hope except in the Hereafter. This is obviously a dark, pessimistic film. Maybe Love is the light in the darkness, but it is not easy. Love will tear us apart. Again.

Peck is just excellent in a reserved, anguished yet understated performance. Like everyone else, he can't take it all in. He speaks of his wife and children as if they are still alive when he knows they aren't. He starts seeing Ava Gardner who drinks and sleeps around too much. She just wants to be loved and not be alone at the end. In a poignant bit, she has to watch him sail away.

The title is the answer to the question: "Do you remember where we first met?" When you're at the End you think of the Beginning.

Filmed in Australia with real boats and shipyards. With Anthony Perkins and Fred Astaire. None of the American actors make any serious attempts at accents, which is just as well.

The DVD is 4:3 letterboxed, containing the 1.66 aspect ratio image.

The Australians use Waltzing Matilda for their end of the world theme. I'd pick After the Gold Rush: use a cheap piano, no lyrics, but keep the horn solo.

post #627 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Charade (1963), directed by Stanley Donen.

New widow Audrey Hepburn discovers her husband was into some shady business. Several of his dangerous associates show up and demand "Where's the money?" Is dreamy Cary Grant one of them, or is he the one she can trust?

A witty romantic thriller, if not quite as lively as Hitchcock, who owned the genre. We have good leads and colorful villains. Grant is 60 here and although as suave as always, the age difference with Hepburn bothered him and he insisted that she chase him so he wouldn't be a dirty old man. And with all of Paris to use, we spend most of the time in some hotel rooms.

Curiously, the writer and director deny that this is a Hitchcock genre film. They say it harks back to romance/adventure films of the 30s, but couldn't remember any titles.

My wife did not want to see it again; "too 60s", she said. I can see her point. Maybe it's Hepburn's fashions.

Henry Mancini score with a famous theme song.

Available on a Criterion Blu-ray with a light commentary track by the director and writer. They tend to squabble in a friendly way. A story: they were filming in Paris during the Cuban missile crisis, suspended the picture and retired to a bar to watch it on TV to see if there was any point in continuing.

Another story: Donen got Grant to imitate an impersonator and say "Judy Judy Judy" but then lost the film.

The Blu-ray is available from ClassicFlix but not from Netflix.

post #628 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Elgar (1962), written and directed by Ken Russell.

For Ken Russell (1927-2011).

One of his earliest programs, made for TV and only 54m long, the first of his long running "lives of the composers and artists" series. It's a dramatized documentary, fairly straightforward but a novel approach at the time. No speaking parts, just a narrator, and the characters are portrayed as real people rather than dignified historical personages.

It helps if you enjoy his music. I've always been fascinated by those couple of decades just before WW1, when in some ways western civilization seemed to peak. Elgar's music ("wonderful in its heroic melancholy" --Yeats) is essential background to the era.

Born in modest circumstances with no formal music education or any university, he always wanted to compose. He was fortunate in his wife, who was both loving and motivating. Disinherited by her family because he was a tradesman's son and a Roman Catholic, they struggled in poverty for many years and went without a fire for a whole year once. He composed in the open air and wrote it down when he got home on paper hand-ruled by his wife because they couldn't afford anything else.

Finally he was recognized first in Germany (for The Dream of Gerontius) and then in Britain (for Enigma Variations), leading to great fame and fortune. He continued to have money worries and, public tastes changing, outlived his popularity, not that he much cared by then.

This is Russell's least eccentric bio-pic and is extraordinarily moving. You see little motifs he reused several times thereafter: the melancholy music room, for example. It's one of the best hours of television I can remember.

post #629 of 1259
Bill, thanks for this review. Being somewhat of a classical music illiterate I find little known stories like this fascinating. I noticed on Netflix that this is listed under Elgar/The Debussy Film/Always On Sunday. To get a taste of his musical style I visited the Grooveshark.com website where you can listen to both The Dream of Gerontius and Enigma Variations. Lastly I found Elgar on YouTube (of course ) to get a sense of what the film was like and found it complete but broken up into 4 parts.

post #630 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Mr.G View Post

Bill, thanks for this review. Being somewhat of a classical music illiterate I find little known stories like this fascinating. I noticed on Netflix that this is listed under Elgar/The Debussy Film/Always On Sunday. To get a taste of his musical style I visited the Grooveshark.com website where you can listen to both The Dream of Gerontius and Enigma Variations. Lastly I found Elgar on YouTube (of course ) to get a sense of what the film was like and found it complete but broken up into 4 parts.

If I may...

The Elgar music most often remembered today are his Pomp & Circumstance and Land of Hope and Glory tunes. Whenever Monty Python needed to lampoon people in Edwardian dress they would bring up the Elgar.

Of his chamber music, Enigma Variations is a good start.

The Second Symphony is a varied and boisterous musical adventure, somewhat puzzling to audiences at the time. It has imperial bang and thunder, but also a ghostly mystery theme. The second movement is an epic funeral elegy which they can use for me when I'm gone.

His last great work was the Cello Concerto, into which he poured all his sadness. His wife had died, Britain had fought a titanic war against the country which first recognized his work, and he had outlived his time.

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