If you haven't picked up Warner Home Video's release of Clint Eastwood's 1992 Oscar-winner Unforgiven on Blu-ray, don't delay another day. The film made its debut in Blu-ray earlier this year to commemorate the movie's 20th anniversary. For those of us who were long-time champions of Eastwood's abilities as an actor and director, the accolades the movie received made us seem a bit self-satisfied. In the early 1980s I co-authored a book about Eastwood's films and was told by my editor that while his movies were enjoyable, I was guilty of mistaking him for a world-class talent. No one was saying such things after Unforgiven, a classic Western that ranks among the best of the genre. Originally shot under the title The William Munny Killings, the film is a dramatic look at both the best and worst elements of human nature. (The film's final title did seem rather uninspired at the time, given the fact that John Huston had made a high profile western titled The Unforgiven in 1960) No one is completely good or bad in this film, including the Sheriff Little Bill (an Oscar winning performance by Gene Hackman), who runs his small town with an iron fist. He considers himself to be a good man and he certainly is courageous and incorruptible. However, when he doles out mild punishment for a man who used a knife to commit an atrocity on a local prostitute, her fellow hookers pool their hard-earned savings and offer a bounty to the man or men who kill or bring to justice the culprit and his companions. Answering the call is William Munny, an aging widower with two small children who is desperate to renounce his past as a hard-bitten saddle bum with a penchant for spilling blood. The bounty money will afford him the chance to start a new life. He is aided by his old friend Ned (Morgan Freeman) and a green horn who goes by the name of the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett, who should have gone on to stardom). The Kid claims to be a hardened killer but his older mentors realize immediately he is all bluster. This disparate trio begins to track down the man who abused the prostitute and end up on a hellish journey that has unforeseen, tragic consequences.
Eastwood, who kept the screenplay by David Webb Peoples on a shelf until the time was right to dust it off, provides assured, top-notch direction as well as giving one of the best performances of his career. (He also wrote the film's haunting theme song for good measure). The supporting performances are all outstanding with Richard Harris making an odd, but unforgettable mid-film appearance as an egotistical British gunslinger who gets his just desserts at the hands of Little Bill. Every nuance of the movie rings true right down to the final gun battle in saloon that is brilliantly directed by Eastwood.
The deluxe version of the Blu-ray release comes in the format of a small, hardback photo book with an introduction by Eastwood. The photo content is worth the price of the set alone, with script pages, rare pre-production ads and behind the scenes photos displayed. Best of all is the bonus content which has been available on the previous DVD release:
Commentary track by Eastwood and biographer Richard Schickel
All on Accounta Pullin' a Trigger, which features recent interviews with cast and crew about the making of the film
Eastwood... A Star, a retrospective look at the screen legend's career
Eastwood and Company: Making 'Unforgiven': Schickel's outstanding one hour documentary that originally aired on broadcast TV
Eastwood on Eastwood, in which the actor/director reflects on his long career
A vintage episode of Maverick in which Eastwood plays a hardcase cowboy who goes up against star James Garner
In summary, it would be unforgivable not to add this deluxe Blu-ray of Unforgiven to your library. (The film is available as a bare-bones Blu-ray, but spring for the deluxe edition.)
Despite a title that implies an epic mini-series, World War III (originally broadcast in 1982) is far less grand than other major network specials of the day. This was the golden age of TV mini-series, when seemingly every week produced a classic such as Rich Man, Poor Man, Roots, Shogun and The Thorn Birds. All of those projects had opulent budgets as well as big name casts. World War III does boast three big names of the day, Rock Hudson, Brian Keith and David Soul but the similarities stop there. It seems all of the money went into these actor's salaries, leaving the rest of the production to cope with a budget that seems to be akin to that of a high school play. The show was aired during tense times of the Cold War period and the paranoia about Soviet expansionism helped ensure Ronald Reagan's triumphant rise to the Presidency. The problems begin with the screenplay, the premise of which is fairly absurd. Seems U.S. President McKenna (Hudson) is heating up the Cold War by imposing a grain embargo on the Soviets that threatens the very fabric of their society. McKenna's aim is the reign in their military adventures but the Soviets respond by sending a commando team into a remote part of Alaska with the intention of overtaking a small military outpost that defends a pivotal oil pipeline. The Reds plan to threaten this crucial source of oil if McKenna doesn't back down on the grain embargo. The Soviet patrol is discovered by the small contingent of Americans guarding the facility and a fierce firefight erupts. The stakes quickly rise to nuclear threat levels and a summit meeting is quickly convened between McKenna and Soviet Secretary General Gorny (Brian Keith). Both men want peace, but Gorny's attempts to defuse the situation are sabotaged by Kremlin war mongers. The film intercuts the political intrigue with the ordeal of both Russian and American fighting men facing death in a snowy wasteland.The notion that America could be brought to its knees but a few soldiers capturing an oil facility may seem crazy but at the time you couldn't go broke trying to scare people into thinking the United States could actually be invaded by a conventional army. (Think Red Dawn, the other kooky invasion thriller of the era that only the paranoid could love.)
The American leading role is played by (then) red-hot David Soul as a colonel who finds himself commanding an outgunned and out-manned group of soldiers who fight valiantly against seemingly insurmountable odds to stave off Soviet occupation of the oil pipeline. This being TV in the early 1980s, there is some sexual byplay squeezed in between Soul and Cathy Lee Crosby, who plays a sexy intelligence officer equally at home in a snowsuit or evening gown. Naturally, she ends up toting a gun and helping Soul repel the Soviet onslaught. The notion of generals seeing more action in the bedroom than in the battlefield might have seemed like a stretch at the time, but in the age of General Petraeus, the screenwriter now seems like an oracle. The acting is all perfectly fine, with Hudson giving a commanding performance as a dovish president forced to be a hawk. Watching him square off with the great Brian Keith is one of the show's few true pleasures, along with an opening sequence that is well acted and directed and features a startling act of treason. However, World War III plays like a bargain basement version of Fail Safe, right down to the film's final sequence which is literally stolen verbatim from that classic movie. Most of the film is shot in claustrophobic interiors that never convince you that the action is taking place anywhere but on a studio sound stage. The worst aspects of the program, however, are the scenes set in the Alaskan frontier. There seems to have been no more than twenty square feet of studio space allocated to these sequences and to get around it, the actors are often filmed in close-up. The production design is also rather laughable with plastic and foam snowbanks that you would expect to see decorating your local ice cream parlor. If you think the arctic scenes in Ice Station Zebra looked bad, wait until you see these amateurish creations.
In fairness, comments readers on IMDB indicate people have very fond memories ofthis production, which was directed by the usually competent David Greene after the original director, Boris Sagal, died during production in an accident involving a helicopter. I hate to be a wet blanket about nuclear war, folks, but World War III is a pretentious, cheapo production that uses a few big names to justify its existence. The diplomatic sequences are corny and predictable and feature the kind of preachy, Kumbaya moments that would send the likes of Rush Limbaugh into a frenzy. Skip this one, unless you have three hours of your life you don't value, and stick to an intentionally funny Cold War film, Dr. Strangelove.
Click here to watch clip and order from the Warner Archive
Sony has released the 1963 remake of the 1932 James Whale horror film The Old Dark House as a burn-to-order DVD. The difference between the versions is supposedly night and day (I haven't seen the original). The remake is a broad, comedic take on the horror genre that keeps only the basic premise of the story, which was based on a novel by J.B. Priestly. Tom Poston, in a rare leading role, plays Tom Pendrel, an American living in London where he works as a car dealer. His flatmate Caspar Femm (Peter Bull) is a strange man who he hardly ever sees. Nevertheless, Caspar induces Tom to deliver his new car to the family's estate in the British countryside. When Tom arrives, he finds Caspar dead, supposedly from an accidental fall. He's already laid out in his coffin in a parlor. Tom then finds himself among a strange group of other Femms, all of whom reside in the crumbling, once grand mansion. Roderick (Robert Morley), the elder statesman of the family, is a pompous eccentric who explains that the family members must reside in the mansion and be indoors by midnight every night if they want to continue living from the family patriarch's estate. The other strange characters introduced to Tom are Caspar's cousin Cecily (Janette Scott), a sexy relatively "normal" family member whose flirtations with Tom induce him to stay overnight; Potiphar (Mervyn Johns), a silly and perpetually amused man; Agatha Femm (Joyce Grenfell), the matriarch of the family who knits endlessly even though she doesn't have a clue as to what she is creating; Morgana (Fenella Fielding), a sex-starved vamp; her seemingly mute, violent father Morgan (Danny Green) and Caspar's identical twin brother Jasper (also played by Peter Bull). It doesn't take Tom long to realize he's made a mistake by spending the night with this group of eccentrics, but in true horror film fashion, he finds himself unable to leave due to mechanical problems with his car and a raging rainstorm. Before long, there are attempts on his life and other members of the household turn up dead under bizarre circumstances.
I was prepared to dismiss this film as a hokey kid's movie, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Poston plays it relatively low-key as the "normal" person among a group of weirdos. The supporting cast is wonderful, one and all, with the imitable Morley and Peter Bull delivering truly amusing performances and Fenella Fielding is particularly alluring as an outwardly attractive young woman who (almost) manages to cover up some very unsettling eccentricities of her own. The film has a curious history. It was produced and director by legendary shlockmeister William Castle in collaboration with Hammer Films. It was shot in color but released in the United States in black-and-white, which is inexplicable given the fact it is a rich-looking movie with excellent production design by John Draper. Adding to its bizarre fate, the movie did not premiere in the UK until 1966. The movie clearly inspired the classic Addams Family TV series, as evidenced by the fact that the main titles were designed and drawn by Charles Addams himself. There's also an appropriately entertaining musical score by Benjamin Frankel. The Old Dark House is consistently amusing throughout and a bit daring for its day in terms of sexual suggestiveness. It remains an oddity in the Hammer canon, which did not often emphasize overt comedy in the studio's films. Give this one a try: if you like retro horror (even played for laughs), you'll find it to be a rewarding experience.
The DVD features a gorgeous transfer and includes the original trailer.
Years before Michael Cimino released his Socialist-themed Western Heaven's Gate, director Stanely Kramer took a less heavy-handed approach with his 1973 film Oklahoma Crude. Unlike Cimino's dark and message-laden epic, however, Kramer made the political aspects of his film secondary to the lighthearted tone of the story. Faye Dunaway, seen here in the least glamorous role of her career, plays Lena Doyle, a bitter, man-hating independent woman who is determined to make a success of her wildcat oil drilling venture on the plains of Oklahoma during the early 1900s. Beset by the frustration of consistently having her rig dig up dirt instead of oil, she also has to contend with a bigger threat: a major oil company is determined to seize her land by hook or by crook. When she turns down the offer of a buyout from their cut throat representative (Jack Palance), the oil company moves a virtual army on to Lena's land with the intention of taking her rig by force. Although a crack shot, Lena concedes she can use help and reluctantly hires a down-and-out drifter, 'Mase' Mason (George C. Scott) to help her keep her the assailants at bay. The two have an abrasive relationship, with Lena never smiling or showing an interest in anything other than drawing oil from her rig. They are also assisted by Lena's father Cleon Doyle (John Mills), a charismatic Englishman who is trying to win Lena's love and respect after having deserted her many years ago. Lena can barely stand the sight of him, but faced with the thugs are her doorstep, she has to accept his help.The story mostly takes place on the hillside where Lena's cabin is situated. 'Mase' proves to be a courageous and innovative ally, acquiring U.S. Army hand grenades and using them with devastating effect against the heavily armed gangs from the oil company who try repeatedly to take Lena's hilltop rig and cabin by force.
Oklahoma Crude was a late career project for Kramer (he would only make two more films). Dismissed at the time as a routine Western comedy, the film comes across as a sheer delight when viewing it today. The thin storyline isn't the main attraction. Rather, it's the combined talents of four Oscar winners- Scott, Dunaway, Mills and Palance- that add so much zest to what could have otherwise have been a routine experience. They are all delightful to watch, with Scott at his best and Mills in a scene-stealing, wonderful performance as a flawed but charming tenderfoot who summons incredible courage when it is needed most. Kramer hired the best of the best for his crew including cinematographer Robert Surtees, who makes every other frame look like an Andrew Wyeth painting. There is also a fine musical score by Henry Mancini which perfectly fits the "never a dull moment" mood of the movie.
Sony has released the film as a burn-to-order DVD. Transfer quality is excellent. The film is a sheer delight from beginning to its finale, which features a refreshing plot twist.
On the heels of his outstanding success with the 1953 3-D horror film House of Wax, Vincent Price would be heretofore known primarily as a giant of this film genre. That may have been unfair to Price, who was an outstanding actor able to play diverse roles in diverse films, but it did cement his stature as a Hollywood legend. The studios immediately wanted to capitalize on this new horror star and Columbia quickly signed Price to star in The Mad Magician, which was also presented in the short-lived 3-D process. The film has none of the production values of House of Wax: it was shot in B&W and, aside from an establishing opening scene, every sequence in the movie was (very obviously) shot in a studio. The plot finds Price in what would become a familiar scenario for his characters: a likable, honorable man driven to madness and murder by the unscrupulous people in his life who have betrayed him. The story is set in the early 1900's (people have telephones, but still travel via horse and buggy). Price is Don Gallico, as aspiring magician who is frustrated by the fact that he creates all of the amazing tricks and hardware that other magicians then utilize to gain fame and fortune. He decides to perform on stage with his own inventions under the name of Gallico the Great (okay, so he doesn't get an "A" for creativity when it comes to marketing). As he about to utilize his most ambitious achievement- the"beheading" of his lovely assistant Karen (Mary Murphy) via a buzz saw device, the show is abruptly closed down. Gallico's employer has received an injunction based on an obscure point in a contract that states that any and all inventions belong to the company, not Gallico. The situation deteriorates further when Gallico learns that his great achievement is to be given to a rival magician (John Emery), who he despises. Gallico ends up murdering his employer and enacting an outlandish scheme in which he adopts his identity, using skillful makeup. (In actuality, the film's makeup team's achievements are indeed impressive.) Soon, things begin to go wrong even as Gallico, now free to perform on stage, is finding enthusiasm for his shows. Matters become even more complicated when his floozy, ex-wife (Eva Gabor), who had married his employer, reappears on the scene and threatens to reveal his scheme.
The Mad Magician is a modest but fun film that would resonate even greater today if Columbia had afforded the production something other than threadbare production values. The performances are all enjoyable (including young Patrick O'Neal as the romantic lead) and the sheer predictability of the events that unfold add to its many pleasures. Primarily, of course, there is Price, who would continue to dominate the screen in every role, making so many minor films such as this highly entertaining experiences.
Sony has released The Mad Magician as burn-to-order DVD title. Quality is excellent. There are no extras.
Now that Severin Films has bounced back into circulation with their outstanding Blu-ray release of The Wild Geese, the company has also released a more obscure, star-studded title: the 1979 adventure film Ashanti. Never heard of it? Most people haven't and only a relatively few people have ever seen it in the American/British market, despite the impressive cast of high profile names. The film takes on what is probably the world's second-oldest profession: slave trading. Although human trafficking is high on the list of international crimes today, when the film was made, great pains had to be taken to educate viewers that slave trading did not get extinguished in the age of the horse and buggy and remains a very modern criminal activity. The film, directed by old hand Richard Fleischer, opens in Africa when an interracial married couple - doctors David and Anansa Linderby (Michael Caine and Beverly Johnson)- are seen providing medical services to remote tribes who reside in isolated regions. When Anansa decides to take an ill-fated skinny dip in a local river, the beautiful young woman is mistaken for a member of the tribe and brutally kidnapped by slavers headed by the notorious Suleiman (Peter Ustinov), an Arab trader of human misery. When David discovers his wife's fate, he launches an ambitious rescue effort but is hampered by corrupt or incompetent local officials. He decides to take matters into his own hands, with the help of a local humanitarian (Rex Harrison) and a sympathetic mercenary (William Holden). Despite their assistance, David finds the only man who can really help him is Malik (Kabir Bedi, who makes a striking screen presence), a Rambo-like figure who lives in the desert and is consumed by his own wife's abduction and murder at the hands of Suleiman. He agrees to assist David and the two make an arduous trek across the blazing Sahara in an attempt to rescue Anansa and her fellow victims before they can be sold at a private auction to rich men who want to abuse the slaves sexually.
Ashanti doesn't stint on the plight of those victimized by slavery. The slaves are treated brutally on the walk across the Sahara and given a minimum amount of food and water. The plan is to bring them to a "fattening house", a deplorable cellar, where they will be brought back to health in order to maximize their price at auction. Along the way, both young women and little boys are molested at will. David and Malik make for a disparate but determined team. David, who is unskilled in fighting or the use of weapons, must rely on his hot-tempered ally, who is capable of taking on numerous adversaries at the same time and prevailing. Meanwhile, Anansa tries to use logic with Suleiman to gain her freedom, pointing out that she is employed by the United Nations and her kidnapping will bring authorities down on him. He is unimpressed and claims that her natural beauty will result in his making enough money to retire and leave the slave trade before he can be found.
Ashanti is a consistently compelling adventure film, well-directed by the veteran Fleischer. Caine is a refreshing screen hero because he isn't a superman. He does acquit himself well in a climactic fight scene but his unfamiliarity with firearms realistically results in tragic consequences for one of his key allies. Ustinov channels his role from Spartacus as a charismatic scoundrel. Even when he engages in deplorable acts, he is personally charming. The real find is model Beverly Johnson, who gives a very fine performance in what is really the starring the role in the film. Harrison and Holden have extended cameos and their presence adds greatly to the enjoyment of the movie, as does a late-in-the-story appearance by Omar Sharif. If there's a weak aspect to the production it's the musical score by Michael Melvoin, which would be more appropriate in a disco-themed romance than an action film.
Severin's Blu-ray edition features an extensive, recent interview with Beverly Johnson, who discusses the fact that she was the "breakthrough" African American female model of the 1970s. (She is also an activist for social causes and was recently honored by Oprah Winfrey). Johnson is very verbose and amusing in recounting the film, which she is proud of. She found herself the only girl among a team of hard-drinking guys on the production company, but recalls some sound advice given to her by Rex Harrison ("Never perform your own stunts!) that she ignored with almost tragic results. She still swoons at the memory of aging William Holden's handsome features and speaks bluntly about having to cope with former husband Danny Sims' on-set antics, which she says included bedding seemingly every female in sight. She also blames Sims, who was a high profile record producer, for the film's awful song, heard over the end credits which he convinced her to sing in order to promote a record album that no one bought. Johnson says the film's producer alienated the "suits" at the studio and they decided to get even by burying the movie, despite its expensive production values. Regardless of its theatrical fate, Ashanti remains a fast-moving, well-acted adventure movie that entertains even as it outrages viewers with an honest look at how cheap human life is in certain parts of this planet.
The special edition also includes the original trailer.
In 1978, I was still in college and was happily fulfilling my duties as film critic for the campus newspaper. It was a good gig: I got to go to press events, advance screenings and meet filmmakers all for free, which fit comfortably within my discretionary spending budget that amounted to zero dollars. I had seen advance teaser ads for the upcoming mercenary adventure movie The Wild Geese, which boasted the kind of all-star cast that impressed even in an era when all-star casts were anything but unique. I attended the press screening in New York and was instantly blown away. Here were great stars like Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris, Hardy Kruger and Stewart Granger adding considerable glamor to a gritty British war movie that was in the best stiff-upper-lip tradition of great British war movies. Having been weened on the likes of Zulu, The Wild Geese immediately became one of my favorite movies, one that I knew I would revisit many times more in the years to come. Adding to the pleasure of the experience was the opportunity to attend a press conference with the film's producer, Euan Lloyd and Col. "Mad" Mike Hoare, the legendary real-life mercenary who served as technical adviser on the movie. I found Lloyd to be an extraordinary man: kind and appreciative of my comments. In an extraordinary gesture, he invited me to breakfast at the Plaza the following morning, a pleasure most struggling blue collar college kids would not enjoy. Lloyd read some of my reviews and said he was suitably impressed (or was kind enough to pretend he was.) We spent a couple of hours talking about film history and movie making before parting company. I would not see him again for about 25 years, but that one meeting was pivotal in convincing me to write about film as a living.
I have indeed seen The Wild Geese numerous times over the years. The film's release was somewhat botched in America but it was a mega-hit for Lloyd worldwide. The story, in the tradition of Dark of the Sun, is based on a novel by Daniel Carney. It involves four middle-aged, seemingly over-the-hill mercenaries who are hired by a London millionaire to rescue a deposed African President from his captors and restore him to office. Something about copper rights is at the heart of the scheme, but the mercenaries (Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger) are largely apolitical and only get involved for their own self-interests. Only the Harris character is somewhat reluctantly drawn to the mission on the basis of human rights issues: the man he hopes to rescue will presumably replace the murderous dictator who had him deposed. The old friends are reunited and go about recruiting an eclectic group of hard-bitten fellow mercenaries who are parachuted into Africa to accomplish this deadly mission. All goes well until an unexpected plot development leads them stranded in a barren wasteland as an army of vicious Simbas advance upon them. Now the Wild Geese ust devise desperate plans to escape certain death.
This is the best movie ever directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, an old hand and pro at directing action movies. He is surprisingly at ease in this most British of story lines and deftly handles his talented cast, bringing out each actor's best qualities. The movie is so exciting that it seems unfair to provide many more details, as it might spoil at some of the film's many pleasures. Lloyd, a former protege of legendary producer Cubby Broccoli, hired many crew members from the James Bond series including editor John Glen, title designer Maurice Binder, stunt coordinator Bob Simmons and production designer Syd Cain. These were the best in their chosen professions and the film benefits greatly from their contributions. There is also a rousing score by Roy Budd and a fine title song written and performed by Joan Armatrading. One of the great joys of the movie is watching the three middle-aged leads accentuate their ages. Those who were amazed Burton could still carry off an action film with Where Eagles Dare were even more impressed he could do so again a decade later with this movie. The supporting cast is wonderful, with stalwart tough guy Jack Watson particularly good as the hard-as-nails R.S.M who whips his aging recruits into shape. Granger gives a fine, late career performance as the erudite baddie and the final confrontation between him and Burton is wonderfully written (the impressive screenplay is by Reginald Rose, who wrote Twelve Angry Men) and performed by the two seasoned pros. The film's scene-stealer is veteran British character actor Kenneth Griffiths, who plays an effete gay medic who nonetheless is a vicious warrior on the battlefield. Lloyd's films are filled with such progressive messages that denounce stereotypes based on sex, race or sexuality. The film's pleas for racial understanding come across as a bit too pat by today's standards, but this was edgy stuff in 1978 in the era of apartheid. (Lloyd broke racial barriers by hiring black actors and crew members and insisting they be housed, paid and treated equally- a rather controversial notion in Africa at the time.)
The most vivid image from the film is famous sequence in which the Geese free fall over Africa before landing by parachute. It's beautifully filmed and inspired Cubby Broccoli to use free-falling stunts as the opening sequence of his next James Bond film, Moonraker. The movie's breakneck-paced conclusion finds the Geese incurring major losses against a seemingly insurmountable army as Roger Moore's Sean Flynn attempts to use an aging airplane as a rescue vehicle. It's as exciting of a battle sequence as you can imagine and ranks with the best sequences in any film of this genre.
Severin Films, one of our favorite niche market DVD labels, has been largely dormant this year but has come back with a vengeance via this superb Blu-ray/DVD dual pak release. The film transfer is highly impressive and the bonus extras will be appreciated by fans. The release imports all of the special features from the previous UK release: a vintage, extended featurette about the making of the movie (all of the stars agree it was one of the best experiences of their professional careers), producer Jonathan Sothcott's excellent documentary about Euan Lloyd's life and career (most appropriately titled Last of the Gentleman Producers, a commentary track by Roger Moore, the original trailer and news coverage of the film's London premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square Theatre and the after-party at the Dorchester. Two new major features are unique to this release: recent filmed interviews with Andrew V. McLaglen and 94-year old mercenary Michael Hoare.
In all, a superb celebration of one of the great British films of its era.
Synapse Films continues to release interesting, quirky niche market films to the DVD market including the latest Schoolgirl Report edition, this one labeled #9 : "Mature Before Graduation". It is a 1975 German softcore sex film that actually has some resonance in the international cinema of that era, as this series proved to be sensationally popular with mainstream audiences. For the most part, couples could safely enjoy the naughty fun without the stigma of being seen entering a theater that specialized in showing hardcore films. This entry follows the tried and true adage of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" in that it presents the standard scenario for the series: a number of vignettes centering on nubile high school girls who, we are specifically and painstakingly told, are 18 years of age or older (probably to prevent any legal challenges.) The movie begins with a reckless game of "chicken" involving drunken teenagers in two cars. The inevitable accident leaves several of them at death's door, with some of the girls reflecting on their relationships with the boys involved in the crash, though this plot device seems to be dropped and reappear at random. One story follows a young girl who is determined to marry her boyfriend against the objections of her parents, who claim she is too young. Predictably, they are proven right. On the wedding night, she is less than impressed by her new husband's sudden drop in libido- and the fact that he now wears dorky pajamas. The story meanders to a conclusion, having existed in the first place only to show the sex scenes. (In one amusing sequence, an elderly widow who rents a hotel room to the honeymooners finds various schemes to walk in on them during the most delicate moments.) In a bizarre story, a young girl finds she can't enjoy sex because she is haunted by having been "flashed" by an exhibitionist who was sporting a giant, rubber phallus (a common occurrence that virtually all of us can relate to). Another segment centers on a scenario that many of us actually can relate to: a teenage girl whose parents are away on a trip invites her friends over for a party that soon gets out of hand- only to have her mom and dad return home early. The skit is played (or over-played) broadly for laughs. In another vignette that is fairly funny, two middle-aged parents go to extremes to show their daughter and her boyfriend that they are hip. However, they are at least ten years behind the times and sport the type of mod outfits that would embarrass Austin Powers. It's a cute segment with a few genuine laughs. The most poignant story centers on a teenage girl who is caught experimenting with lesbianism with her best friend. She is blackmailed by her unscrupulous stepfather into entering a sexual relationship with him with devastating consequences to all involved.
The Schoolgirl Report films are fairly low-end in terms of production values, with herky jerky camerawork in some scenes and humor that is relatively broad and unsophisticated. Yet, there is something nostalgic about this type of erotica. While the films clearly exploit the female participants, they were made in an era in which the actresses could at least appear in a natural state. This is unlike today's erotic films in which the women have to incur treatments of Botox, implants, collagen and more wax treatments than a floor at Wal-mart would be subjected to. There is a certain innocence about the series and they never degenerate into being truly vulgar. They may not be everyone's cup of tea but retro movie lovers may have a few naughty memories rekindled by watching them.
The Synapse Films release offers the uncut version of the movie in German language with English sub-titles. There are no extras on this edition.
Heist movies are like spaghetti dinners in that even the worst one is still pretty good. The Split, a 1968 crime caper, is very good indeed. Jim Brown, seen here at the pinnacle of his career, plays McClain, a petty crook who masterminds a high risk plan to rob the boxoffice and concession proceeds from a Los Angeles Rams football game. (Amusingly, the top price for a ticket during those days was $7.50, which could possibly buy you a hot dog at today's prices.). McClain follows the usual cinematic crime caper route by assembling a group of talented low-lifes as his confederates, each with their own specific talent for pulling off the crime. He also involves his estranged, gorgeous wife (Diahann Carroll), who wants nothing to do with the plan. She berates McClain for having abandoned her, but still can't resist being a push-over for him, especially when he takes off his shirt (a main staple of any Jim Brown film of the era). The cleverly-plotted caper is carried off relatively flawlessly in suspenseful scenes made all the more entertaining through the use of actual football game footage, a technique John Frankenheimer would employ a decade later for Black Sunday. Predictably, things fall apart in the aftermath, when the stolen loot is compromised, leading McClain's gang to mistakenly believe he has stolen it. To reveal what actually happens to the money would be to disclose too much, suffice it to say that it pertains to a completely unexpected plot device that effectively comes out of nowhere.
The film is stylishly directed by Gordon Flemyng, who was primarily known as a TV director, though he did helm the Doctor Who feature films as well as the top notch mercenary flick The Last Grenade. Fleming keeps the action moving at a fast pace and benefits from an extraordinary cast that includes such heavyweights as Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Julie Harris, Donald Sutherland, Jack Klugman, Gene Hackman and James Whitmore...that's right, all of these people are in one movie. In the 1960s, films routinely showcased such amazing talents collectively in films that were basically considered to be run-of-the-mill projects. Brown is at his tough guy best and each of these talented actors contributes significantly to the enjoyment of the movie.
The Split has plenty of unforeseen twists and turns, imaginative action sequences and a score by Quincy Jones. Largely unheralded, this is one of those films that probably plays far better today than it did at the time of its initial release. The Warner Archive has released it as a burn to order DVD that includes the original trailer. By all means, give it a try.