By the late 1960s the Spaghetti Western genre was no longer a magnet for second-rate American actors. As with the Bond-inspired secret agent rage of a few years before, many big stars were burning up phone lines demanding that their agents get them over to Europe to cash in on the craze. Among them, apparently, was James Garner, whose credentials as a major and respected international star certainly provided an indication about how lucrative and popular the once lonely Euro Western productions had now become. In fact such Westerns had existed prior to the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone trilogy of the mid-1960s but it was definitely those "Man With No Name" films that shot the genre into over-drive. In fact they were a producer's dream: a compliant host government eager to get some Hollywood glamour and providing lucrative tax breaks, pre-exisiting desert towns that minimized the need to build opulent, expensive sets and efficient Italian producers who generally oversaw production and could ensure that films wrapped up on time and within budget. Garner's first and only foray into the realm of Spaghetti Westerns occurred in 1970 when he starred in "A Man Called Sledge", a film that is largely unremarkable except for Garner's presence and the fact that he plays against type as a rather despicable anti-hero.
The story opens with Sledge (Garner) and some cohorts robbing a stagecoach. The robbery goes awry when a guard on the stage is accidentally killed by a shotgun blast. Now wanted for murder, Sledge and his men rendezvous in a nearby saloon to talk strategy. His two main confederates are Ward (Dennis Weaver) and Hooker (Claude Akins). Sledge also brings along someone he refers to as the Old Man (John Marley), an aging ex-con who has informed him about a fantastic hoard of gold that is occasionally stored in a local prison camp where he had once served time. The Old Man says that periodically the gold shipment, which is heavily guarded, passes through the area and is locked up overnight so the guards can get some rest. Sledge and his men immediately begin to plan an audacious scenario in which they will cause a riot at the prison and steal the gold. In order to do so, Ward poses as a U.S. Marshal and "arrests" Sledge on the murder warrant. He brings him to the prison where Sledge has only a few hours to find a way to overcome a guard, steal the keys, liberate the other prisoners, locate the gold in the confusion and, with the Old Man's help, access the treasure behind a seemingly impenetrable vault. Although the stern, humorless Sledge fancies himself to be a criminal mastermind, most of his major decisions run into snafus. Once the riot ensues, he and his cohorts manage to access the gold, but in "Treasure of Sierra Madre" style, this only ensures that greed and paranoia now overtake the group and the thieves start killing each other off.
The film was directed by actor Vic Morrow, who does a reasonably good job of keeping the action moving at a brisk pace. The film has a more polished look than most European westerns largely because a major producer- Dino De Laurentiis- provided a larger-than-normal budget that afforded the hiring of Garner, Weave and Akins. IMDB reports that the film was shot in Italy but I'm skeptical if only because several of the locations resemble where sequences from Spanish-based westerns of era were filmed. The village where the finale takes place (atmospherically set during the Day of the Dead festival) looks an awful lot like the setting for "For a Few Dollars More". The biggest drawback with the film is that all of the characters are villains. Unlike the Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, who was a rogue with at least a semblance of conscience, Garner's Sledge is an irredeemable bad guy whose only human quality is a genuine love for a local hooker (Laura Antonelli). He's responsible for the deaths of innocent people and he uses violent threats even against the Old Man to get what he wants. In his memoirs, The Garner Files, the actor wrote about the film: ""One of the few times I've played a heavy and one of the last. I wish I could remember why I let Dino De Laurentiis talk me into this turkey, The poster says "Not Suitable for Children". It should say "Not Suitable for Human Consumption.". That's a bit harsh. The film is consistently entertaining and boasts some exciting action sequences, even if Garner's considerable charisma is completely absent due to the morbid screenplay. It's also good to see Garner in the company of Dennis Weaver, Claude Akins and John Marley, all of whom provide solid supporting performances.
"A Man Called Sledge" has been released on Blu-ray by German-based Explosive Media. Their DVDs are primarily available on Amazon Germany's site but imports often pop up on Amazon USA and eBay. The film has an excellent transfer and a selection of trailers and TV spots from the film- but make sure you don't watch them before viewing the main feature, as they give away every plot surprise.
One of the positive elements of the Blaxploitation film genre that exploded in the 1970s was the emergence of many hitherto unknown talents. Among them was Bahamian-born actor Calvin Lockhart, who immigrated to New York and immersed himself in theater, studying with the legendary Uta Hagen. Lockhart didn't find immediate success but hop-scotched between the U.S. and Europe, where he found more opportunities on stage and in film. By the time he returned to America, the Blaxploitation rage was in its early stages and Lockhart nailed down a key, scene-stealing role in director Ossie Davis's film version of "Cotton Comes to Harlem" in 1970. He also earned the starring role the same year in "Halls of Anger", playing a besieged inner city teacher who is trying to keep the lid on inter-racial tensions. Lockhart also starred in the crime thriller "Melinda", which- perhaps because of its bland title- is not as well-remembered as lesser entries in the Blaxplotation genre. Thus, it's good news that the film has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive. "Melinda" is impressive on any number of levels. Unlike most Blaxploitation movies, which were actually produced, written and directed by white filmmakers, this one was brought to the screen entirely by African-American talent: director Hugh A. Robertson, producer Pervis Atkins, screenwriter Lonnie Elder III and composers Jerry Butler and Jerry Peters. The movie also has an intense, realistic tone that affords Lockhart to give what is arguably the performance of his career.
Lockhart plays Frankie J. Parker, the morning drive DJ on a popular L.A. soul music radio station. Frankie is a showman supreme. His combination of unapologetic narcissism combined with his snarky, biting sense of humor sets him apart from the competition- and makes him a local legend among black listeners. Frankie is living the life. He makes a lot of money, drives a fancy sports car and has a bachelor pad apartment where he entertains a stream of beautiful young women. He's so in love with himself that he has the place adorned with posters and photos of himself and looks in the mirror every morning verbally express how damned good looking he is. One fateful day, however, Frankie's charmed life goes into a tailspin when he meets Melinda Lewis (Vonetta McKee), a sexy new arrival from Chicago who is very much a woman of mystery. When she resists Frankie's standard pick-up lines and shows she is wise to his well-worn methods of seduction, she becomes a challenge for him. He wines and dines her and shows her off at a high profile party aboard a yacht owned by his old friend Tank (Rockne Tarkington), a black athlete who has made good. On board, he has an unexpected encounter with a former lover, Terry Davis (Rosalind Cash), who makes it clear she still carries a grudge against Frankie because of his philandering ways. Later that evening, Frankie and Melinda return to his apartment where they finally get down to business- but she makes it clear that she is in control of the situation. Unbeknownst to either of them, the heated sounds of their love-making are being enjoyed by a shady character who has been following Melinda since she arrived in L.A. and who is know pleasuring himself outside the apartment door! The next morning, Frankie realizes that this time he is genuinely in love- and Melinda seems to reciprocate. To say much more would be to provide some unintended spoilers. Suffice it to say that Frankie learns that "Melinda Lewis" is an alias and that his new lover is the former mistress of a ruthless Chicago mob boss, Mitch (Paul Stevens) who is desperate to track her down because she has deposited a cassette tape in a bank safe deposit box that implicates him in a high profile murder. Before long, the mob links Frankie to Melinda and thinks he in cahoots with her. He is framed for a ghastly murder and pummeled and beaten by cops before he finally makes bail. Realizing he has limited time to get to the bottom of what is going on and clear his name, Frankie finds he has to enlist the aid of estranged lover Terry Davis, who becomes the only friend he can trust. The two become amateur detectives trying to get access to the bank vault and the evidence that would give them leverage over Mitch and his gang of murderous goons who are now in L.A. Things go awry, however, when Frankie is framed for yet another sordid murder and Terry is kidnapped by Mitch and held for ransom under threat of death unless Frankie delivers the incriminating evidence against him. Frankie knows that if he does, he and Terry are as good as dead so he enlists some unusual allies- the fellow students of his karate academy. It helps when the Grand Master is real-life martial arts expert and future "Enter the Dragon" star Jim Kelly. In the film's only truly over-the-top sequence, Frankie and the karate students ambush the gangsters, Before you can sing "Everybody was Kung Fu fighting", everybody is Kung Fu fighting. The film culminates with Frankie and his allies laying siege to Mitch's mansion, where they find Terry locked in a glass gazebo surrounded by rattle snakes and other dangerous critters.
Until its rather fanciful finale, "Melinda" is a realistic urban crime movie packed with interesting characters and intriguing mysteries that are revealed slowly. Like a Hitchcock film, it centers on a completely innocent man who is swept up in fantastic and deadly events beyond his comprehension. Lockhart gives an outstanding and commanding performance, turning from a carefree, narcissistic playboy to a man who is willing to do anything necessary simply to survive another few hours. He gets able support from both female leads, gorgeous Vonetta McKee as the mystery woman who affords Frankie an evening of sexual bliss that turns his life into a nightmare and Rosalind Cash, in full tough girl mode as she was the previous year opposite Charlton Heston in "The Omega Man". On the other extreme, Paul Stevens makes for a suitably slimy villain. The direction by Hugh A. Robertson is quite impressive and he overcomes the relatively modest budget by capitalizing on the street locations which he uses to maximum atmosphere and effect. "Melinda" is a superior entry in the Blaxploitation film genre. Highly recommended.
The Warner Archive DVD includes the original theatrical trailer.
If "Another Time, Another Place" is remembered at all, it's probably for all the wrong reasons. The 1958 film afforded Sean Connery his first major leading role, even though he gets killed off a little more than half-an-hour into the story. I'm not giving away a spoiler here...you can see it telegraphed from the early moments of the movie. Connery was given "Introducing" billing, a common fallacy on the part of studio marketing departments that implied an actor or actress was making their big screen debut. In reality, Connery had been kicking around the British film industry for a couple of years prior to making this movie, but only in supporting roles. The other bit of trivia for which this film is remembered is due to a tragic real-life scandal. While co-starring with Lana Turner, Connery began to spend a lot of his free time with her off set. This didn't set well with Turner's jealous boyfriend, a mobster named Johnny Stompanato, who tried to bully Connery into staying away from Turner and got punched out by the Great Scot. Stompanato let it be known that Connery was a marked man. When filming was done, the future 007 didn't tempt fate by hanging around with Turner any longer, though things could hardly have been worse if he did. Shortly after the production was completed, Turner was being physically menaced by Stompanato and her teenage daughter Cheryl Crane stabbed him to death in order to defend her mother. The result was one of Hollywood's great scandals. The studio brass were ever opportunistic and were said to have expedited the release of "Another Time, Another Place" in order to capitalize on the sensational trial of Crane, who was exonerated on the basis of justifiable homicide.
As for the film itself, it defines what used to be quaintly termed as "a woman's picture". It's basically a feature film length soap opera set in 1945 London during the waning days of WWII. We first see Connery as daring war correspondent Mark Trevor, whose on-the-scene radio reports from hot spots around the globe leave listeners mesmerized. Among his admirers is Sara Scott (Lana Turner), a sassy New York newspaper columnist who works out of the bureau's London office. Sara is very much the liberated lady, having made a name for herself in an industry that was then dominated by men. We soon see that she and Mark secretly carrying on a torrid love affair. A complication arises when Sara's lover Carter Reynolds (Barry Sullivan) arrives from the States. Reynolds is not only engaged to Sara, but he is also her employer, as he owns the newspaper she works for. She breaks the news to him that she is now in love with another man but Reynolds seems dismissive of her statement and feels she will ultimately come to her senses and return to him. On the eve of Mark leaving for Italy, Sara informs him that she had been engaged to another man but now that won't matter- she wants to spend her life with him. Mark, however, drops a bit of a bombshell himself. Turns out he's married with a young son and intends to return to his family. Both he and Sara are clearly in love and both are heartbroken by the circumstances. Sara tries to persuade Mark to leave his wife and child to be with her. He sends mixed signals, originally rejecting the overture but later implying he would do so. With that, he leaves for Italy with his assistant, Alan Thompson (Terence Longdon), the only one in his life who knows about his affair with Sara. The following night Sara is listening to the radio when she learns that Mark has been killed in a plane crash en route to Italy, although Alan has managed to survive. Wracked with grief, Sara is inconsolable. She makes a dramatic decision to visit Mark's village in Cornwall and see the house he lived in. While doing so, she has a chance encounter with Mark's son Brian (Martin Stephens), who, in turn, introduces her to his mother, Kay (Glynis Johns). The odd and awkward encounter results in Sara becoming Kay's house guest and helping her write a book about her husband's career. The two women become fast friends, though only Sara knows they are both grieving for the same man. This is where the film is elevated from standard tearjerker to a rather compelling drama that examines the effects that infidelity can have on all of the parties involved. Both Alan and Carter Reynolds track down Sara, who- in one of the film's weakest sequences- attempts suicide off camera, apparently in an attempt to drown herself. As Kay nurses her back to health, Alan and Reynolds try to reason with her and convince her to return to New York, 'lest Kay learns that her new best friend was her husband's secret lover. Things come to a boil when Sara decides to spill her soul to Kay and tell her everything.
"Another Time, Another Place" is primarily a showcase for Lana Turner, who- under the competent, if uninspired direction of Lewis Allen- gives an earnest performance that is still overshadowed by her supporting cast members. The biggest knock about Turner's presence in the film is that she looks too glamorous. Her hair is perfect, her mannerisms are perfect and -in the film's most absurd sequence- she is fished from bay after a suicide attempt and brought to Kay's cottage for medical attention, yet she still looks like she just stepped out of a fashion display in Harrods window. Much is made over her character being a tough woman able to exist in a man's world (she even plays poker with the boys), but in reality she's just another heroine of the era who cannot seem to function without a man in her life. Turner delivers a competent performance but is hampered by the fact that she came to stardom in an era in which very mannered acting methods were in vogue, especially among the Hollywood sex symbols. In terms of portraying a realistic character, she is out-shown by the more natural acting style of Glynis Johns. The male supporting leads are also adequate, if unexciting. The major "find" of the production was Sean Connery, whose impact is somewhat hampered by the fact that he has relatively little screen time. There is little to suggest that he was a superstar in the making and he spends most of his time cooing words of love to the smitten Turner. His character does develop a bit of an edge when we learn that, at heart, he is actually a cad who is cheating on his adoring wife. He develops a conscience and sense of guilt and tries to terminate the affair but is locked into the frustrations of the age-old meange-a-trois dilemma.
"Another Time, Another Place" was shot on an obviously low budget with scenes of wartime London relegated to the back lot. Things open up a bit with some on-location shooting in Cornwall but the majority of the action takes place in living rooms, offices and kitchens. Despite the movie's flaws, it's a reasonably compelling story about inherently good people who become involved in an immoral love affair. For Connery fans, the movie affords them the opportunity to see how his raw talent was rather quickly developed into a very distinctive acting technique that would ultimately make him one of the true icons of international cinema. "Another Time, Another Place" performed disappointingly at the boxoffice and Connery seemed headed toward oblivion. A Fox contract didn't go far but he was loaned out to Disney to star in "Darby O'Gill and the Little People". Ironically it was through viewing that film that producer Cubby Broccoli's wife Dana was impressed by his raw masculinity. That would pay off for him a few years later when he sought to play the role of James Bond. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Warner Archive has re-issued the exact DVD transfer that was once available through Paramount- right down to identical packaging. The transfer is very good but there are no bonus extras.
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It's probably a safe bet that most adults have seen at least some of the notorious film footage shot during the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. However, no one has ever seen the definitive denouncement of these camps for genocidal practices because the project was stopped in its tracks in the immediate aftermath of WWII. When British, American and Soviet troops stumbled upon the seemingly endless number of concentration camps in the final days of the war, they were not prepared for what they saw. There had been frantic warnings from the Jewish community about the barbaric nature of what was occurring in these hell holes but they were generally thought to be overstated, if not impossible to believe. Such were the mind-boggling horrors that greeted them that the Allied high command ordered that the places be filmed in order to capture for posterity the types of acts that future generations would not otherwise be able to imagine. The camps were always terrible beyond description but they got even worse when it became clear that the German defenses were collapsing and Allied troops were inevitably overrunning what was left of the retreating Third Reich. Even at this late date, with defeat inevitable, the Nazi brass was determined to fulfill Hitler's extermination policies. Tens of thousands of half-dead prisoners were forced on torturous marches to other camps. It was a journey most did not survive. Those who were deemed too weak to move were often systematically murdered often just days or hours before their liberation would have occurred. However, even these barbarians could not succeed in executing the sheer number of these hapless souls and so it was that many were still alive when Allied troops marched into the camps. Even the most battle-hardened troops could scarcely believe the panorama of human misery that greeted them. Surviving prisoners, too weak to stand, had been haphazardly tossed into mountains of corpses. The ovens that incinerated others were still warm and filled with bones and ash. Warehouses of personal possessions from the doomed prisoners dotted the camps, filled to the roofs with items that were to be recycled. The ever-efficient and cost-conscious Reich even ground up the bones of the cremated and sold them wholesale to local farmers as fertilizers. Such was the horror that even General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe, personally felt the need to witness these horrors. So, too did General George S. Patton.
A joint decree by the Allies resulted in British, American and Soviet cameramen frantically filming the horrors as they unfolded. The dead and dying seemed to film every frame but there was also indescribable joy on behalf of those who knew that, with proper care, they would most likely survive. Ultimately the task of coordinating all of this footage fell to Sidney Bernstein of the British Ministry of Information. The Allies decided that a feature film should be created by Bernstein with the intention of having it widely shown to citizens of Germany to reinforce their feelings of guilt over what had been done in their name. Bernstein's vision went beyond simply providing a cinematic chamber of horrors and he wanted to construct the movie as professionally as possible. Thus, he reached out to Alfred Hitchcock to assist him as a creative consultant. Hitchcock had already left his native England for Hollywood, where he was finding great success. However, he heeded the call to return to England to work on the project partly out of frustration that he had been "too old and too fat" to have served in the British military. He viewed this as an opportunity to contribute to the war effort even though the war was now over. Hitchcock and Bernstein labored over the film project for months as the British military became increasingly frustrated. They wanted speed, not artistry. Ultimately the decision was made to take the film away from Bernstein. This was due to a number of factors. One was based on the premise that it became clear that the German public, by and large, was being sufficiently contrite over the war time crimes of the Nazis. The nation was a bombed out wreck in urban areas and the Allies wanted to rally the public to help rebuild their land. Forcing them to watch films of atrocities that many had witnessed when they were made to visit the camps after liberation was now being seen as rubbing salt in their wounds. There was also a political factor, however. Before the war had even ended, it became clear to Britain and America that the Cold War was starting with the Soviet Union. Stalin, emboldened by FDR's death and the shocking loss of Winston Churchill in elections to comparatively weak Clement Attee, was ratcheting up his drive for land grabs in eastern Europe. Britain and America needed to ensure that all of Germany didn't fall into the Soviet orbit. It was decided that attempting to drive home the subject of war crimes would only alienate the public at large. Ultimately Germany would suffer being divided into two separate nations, with the Soviets taking control of the eastern portion of the country and subjecting its citizens to another cruel dictatorship. Still, the footage of the concentration camps had to be seen somewhere, somehow. Director Billy Wilder, himself an immigrant from Germany who got out during the rise of Hitler, was approached to now helm the project. Uncredited, he oversaw production of what became known as "Death Mills". The film ran a scant 22 minutes and was originally made with a German soundtrack, as it was to be screened for select audiences in Germany and Austria. Although not long in terms of running time, it's hard to imagine that even an elongated version would better convey the stomach-turning tortures meted out by the Nazis. Wilder's film didn't bother with artistry or nuance. It was the antithesis of what Bernstein and Hitchcock had envisioned- a non-stop depiction of cruelties with no pretense of having been made by professional filmmakers.
In 2014 director released "Night Will Fall", a documentary made for Britain's Channel 4 and which ultimately would be telecast in America on HBO. Singer had amassed the disparate footage from the aborted Bernstein/Hitchcock project and combined it with "Death Mills", which had been created from the same pool of British, American and Soviet films. Singer went the extra mile, tracking down elderly death camp survivors who, to great emotional effect, are interviewed on screen, in some cases viewing footage of themselves being liberated from the camps. Cinema doesn't get much more emotional than this. The only reason some of these people survived was because they were twins and caught the eye of the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, who had a mad passion for conducting horrendous "medical experiments" on them. Mengele was obsessed with seeing if science could manipulate hereditary features through experimentation on twins. Most ended up dying and others were executed when Mengele tired of them, but some survived and were captured on screen as Allied soldiers freed these helpless children from certain death. Singer's film also puts into context the Hitchcock and Wilder associations with the project and combines a coherent time line about the use of the footage. His film also describes the sense of disbelief on the part of American, British and Soviet soldiers who generally entered these camps without the slightest idea about what they were about to experience. The effort to care for survivors was immediate and intense but many of the prisoners died even after liberation because of the sheer neglect they had suffered. Eisenhower ordered that local residents be forced to personally visit the camps. It became clear that many really didn't know the full extent of the horrors. Footage shows hundreds of villagers jovially walking down country lanes en route to a camp. The narrator points out they appear to be on the way for a pleasant day in the country. Upon seeing the thousands of dead and dying, however, most are moved to shame and tears. Bulldozers are used to control typhus outbreaks by burying piles of men, women and children in mass graves, denying them even the dignity of being identified. Children who survive often have forgotten their names and refer to themselves only by the numbers tattooed on their arms. For this viewer the most unbearable aspect was to watch scenes that don't involve people but object that represent people. In a warehouse filled to the roof with eyeglasses from victims that were to be recycled for the Reich, the narrator aks that even if one in ten prisoners needed glasses, how many had to be killed to amass such a supply. In another storage building sacks are opened containing women's hair which was being packaged and sold to German industries. There are house decorations such as lampshades made from tattooed human skin. Even shrunken heads were deemed as novelty items by SS brass. Perhaps saddest of all are the mountains of toys confiscated from children to be sent to other children in the Reich. These ghastly souvenirs bare silent witness to the cruel fates that befell the Nazi's youngest victims. In other particularly moving scenes, Soviet doctors examine victims in a vain attempt to save them. One is a young man who was shot in the head because he was caught sharing a crust of bread with another man. A young girl of about eight years old was forced to stand all day barefoot in ice and snow because her productivity was deemed to be disappointing. I fully confess to averting my eyes from the screen during much of the footage shown.
An inmate who thought she was doomed expresses her thanks to a British soldier.
"Night Will Fall" is an important and mesmerizing film and its getting additional exposure through its recent release on DVD by the Warner Archive. It's message is essential and should be required deemed viewing for any thinking, rational person. One of the reasons the Allies were intent on documenting these atrocities is because they predicted in years to come, some people would try to deny they ever occurred. Sadly that has proven to be the case. The internet, in particular, has given voice to fringe groups and kooks worldwide who have no trouble attracting fellow conspiracynuts. Some may be harmless eccentrics, such as people who still believe the moon landing was a hoax. Others, however, deal in far more dangerous beliefs such as denial of the war time atrocities inflicted by Hitler and his madmen. The existence of such people make the continuation of genocide possible and the practice is alive and well today in various parts of the world. However, we can never prove how many people were positively influenced by films such as "Night Will Fall". Clearly the majority of the world's population has thus far thwarted the rise of another Hitler, even if such dictators exist within their the confines of their own borders. It is imperative that good people everywhere keep the truth alive. Perhaps we should all heed the warning that "Those who neglect history are compelled to repeat it."
The Warner Archive DVD contains bonus extras including Billy Wilder's "Death Mills" film, the Soviet film "Auschwitz", which chronicles the liberation of the camp and the atrocities that were uncovered, and an extended contemporary interview with Prof. Rainer Schulze on the premises of the notorious Bergen-Belsen death camp where he discusses the events that transpired there.
“Robber’s Roost” (1955), a colorful western filmed in
Durango, Mexico with George Montgomery, and a host of other familiar faces from
the fifties, was a movie a decade ahead of its time. Based on a Zane Grey
novel, it tells the story of a mysterious stranger known only as “Tex”
(Montgomery) who rides into the town of Junta Grande, and joins one of two
gangs working for crippled rancher “Bull” Herrick (Bruce Bennett). Hank Hays
(Richard Boone) is the leader of one gang, and Heeseman (Peter Graves) heads up
the other. Herrick believes the best way to protect his herd of 6,000 cattle
from rustlers is to hire the two rival gangs to keep an eye on each other. “There’s
an old saying,” he says. “Set a thief to catch a thief.” Well, that sensible
adage proves to be unworkable here. Who
in his right mind would hire a bunch of cattle thieves to guard his herd? It’s
explained that Bull injured his spine when his horse rolled over on him and put
him in a wheelchair. Maybe they left out the part where he suffered some brain
damage as well.
Nevertheless, Herrick hires Tex as part of Hays’ outfit,
but somehow this tall stranger with two six-guns and an extra-wide brim hat
doesn’t really seem to fit in. For one thing, he asks too many questions. He’s
especially interested in the “Circle K” brand on the horses Hays and his men
are riding. Herrick’s sister Helen (Sylvia Findley) arrives from back East to
provide some love interest in a film overcrowded with male actors and tries to
convince Bull to sell the ranch and get his spinal injury tended to. Bull, who
got his nickname by being bull-headed, tells her he won’t leave until he gets
his cattle to market. Add to this mix Robert Bell (William Hopper) a wealthy
rancher who wants to marry Helen and you’ve got the full cast of characters. And
a full cast it is, indeed, with anywhere from six to a dozen characters on
screen in most of the scenes. Director Sydney Salkow must have needed a traffic
director to keep them from bumping into each other.
But it’s the constant butting of heads between two gangs
that hate each other, as they wait for the chance to double cross Herrick and
steal his cattle, and the mystery surrounding Tex and what he’s doing in the
middle of all this, that makes “Robber’s Roost”, in its own weird and unusual way,
rather interesting to watch. One of the
more bizarre aspects is the character played by Richard Boone, who is good as
usual playing a hard case. But for some odd reason he keeps curling his lip up
over his front teeth as if he were sucking on a lemon. Hard to know if he had
just been fitted with a bad set of caps or he thought he had to keep snarling
to look tough. Fortunately for him and us it is a distracting mannerism that he
never repeated throughout the rest of his career.
As the film progresses we learn, of course, that Tex
isn’t an outlaw like all the others, despite a wanted poster that Helen
discovers, but has tracked Hays and his gang to Junta Grande in pursuit of the
unknown men who raped and killed his wife. With so many bad guys, and Helen
thinking he’s one of the baddies, Tex has his hands full trying to bring them
to justice and save “Bull” Herrick’s herd, especially after Hays and Heeseman
finally realize their best course is to stop fighting each other, steal the
whole herd and split the profits. Golly! I guess Bull never thought that would
happen. The final climax takes place in the mountains of Durango, complete with
a lookout post that features a boulder balanced on a rocky spire, which I
suppose must be the titular Robber’s roost.
Despite the oddball touches and the somewhat implausible
plot, “Robbers Roost” is fun to watch. And, as noted at the beginning of this
review, there are two things that make this movie prophetically ahead of its
time. One is Herrick’s idea of pitting two rival gangs against each other to serve
his own purposes. It’s more like a plot from a gangster movie and I can’t think
of any westerns up until then that have a similar story line. However, nine
years later Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars,” (1964) would serve up the
same idea although in a slightly different and more believable way. Of course,
“Dollars” is an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo,” which was supposedly
inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s “Red Harvest.” Zane Grey wrote “Robbers Roost”
in 1932, three years after “Red Harvest” was published. Perhaps “Robber’s Roost”
can be counted as one more film ultimately inspired by Hammett, who knows?
The other thing that sets “Robbers Roost” apart from the
films of it time is the fact that except for Tex, Herrick and his daughter,
just about all the main characters, especially Hays and Heeseman are really bad
men. They cheat, steal and kill without qualm. They would have been right at
home in a Leone or Peckinpah film, but they were far from the usual black and
white hats that populated westerns in 1955.
In addition to an unusual story line, “Robber’s Roost”
benefits by having been filmed on location in Durango, Mexico. As usual in a
Zane Grey story, the landscape is as important an element as the characters. Kino
Lorber’s Blu-ray transfer presents the 1.85:1 theatrical print in good
condition, with vibrant color and impressive detail, giving the rugged Mexican
mountains landscape real depth and beauty. The film shows some signs of wear
and tear and the original mono soundtrack is a bit on the rough side. But
somehow, it gives the movie a rugged authenticity.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics deserves kudos for presenting
films like “Robbers Roost” in high definition, giving modern day viewers a
chance to see them the way they were originally seen in neighborhood theaters. It’s
far from being a classic western on the order of “Shane” or “The Wild Bunch,”
but viewed as a film spanning the transition from the standard western fare of
the mid-fifties to the “adult” westerns of the sixties, it’s certainly worth
catching. And you don’t want to miss Boone’s final dying words, as he sucks on
his front teeth and makes a clean breast of everything, including killing Tex’s
wife. “I’m not trying to horn in with the almighty,” he says. “I just want an
edge when they line up for the last showdown.”
What more is there to say after that?
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents “Robber’s Roost”
with no frills, although there are previews for three other Blu-rays including
“The Gunfight at Dodge City” with Joel McCrea.
"Young Billy Young" is the kind of film of which it can be said, "They don't make 'em like that anymore". Not because the movie is so exceptional. In fact, it isn't exceptional on any level whatsoever. Rather, it's the sheer ordinariness of the entire production that makes one pine away for an era in which top talent could be attracted to enjoyable, if unremarkable, fare such as this. Such films, especially Westerns, were churned out with workmanlike professionalism to play to undemanding audiences that didn't require mega-budget blockbusters to feel they got their money's worth at the boxoffice. Sadly, such movies have largely gone the way of the dodo bird. In today's film industry, bigger must always be better and mid-range flicks such as are no longer made. However, through home video releases such as Kino Lorber's Blu-ray of "Young Billy Young", it's possible to still enjoy the simple pleasures that such movies provide.
The story opens with botched robbery in Mexico committed by Billy Young (Robert Walker) and some cohorts including Jesse (David Carradine). The plan to steal horses from the Mexican military goes awry and Billy is forced to split from his fellow robbers with the army in hot pursuit. Making his way back across the border to New Mexico, he is penniless and desperate. He has a chance encounter with Ben Kane (Robert Mitchum), a tough, sarcastic older man who he encounters again in a nearby town. Here, Billy is being cheated at cards by the local sheriff, who goads him into a gunfight. Billy ends up killing him but stands to be framed for the sheriff's death. He's saved by Ben, who rides along with him to another town where Ben has agreed to take on the job of lawman. Ostensibly he is there to keep order and collect back taxes from deadbeats but in reality, he is on a mission of revenge. Some years before, Ben's son had been gunned down by a criminal named Boone (John Anderson) and Kane has learned that Boone is a presence in the new town and that he is being protected by a local corrupt businessman, John Behan (Jack Kelly). Ben makes his presence known immediately by enforcing the law in a strict manner. He's confronted by Behan, who tries to intimidate him. This results in Behan being slapped around by Kane. Behan also grows to resent the new lawman because he is flirting with his mistress, saloon entertainer Lily Beloit (Angie Dickinson). When Behan abuses her as punishment, he gets another beating from Kane. Meanwhile, Billy runs into Jesse and accuses him of having deserted him in Mexico. The two men fight it out and Jesse is later involved with the accidental shooting of the town's beloved doctor while in the employ of Behan. Kane learns that Jesse is Boone's son and holds him in jail as bait for Boone to come out of hiding. The plan works all too well. Boone turns up with a small army and lays siege to the jailhouse where Kane and Billy are holed up.
Original French lobby card.
"Young Billy Young" was compared to a TV show by New York Times critic Howard Thompson on the basis that it contains so many standard elements of westerns from this time period. There is the bad girl with the heart of gold, the evil business tycoon, the brash young gun and his wiser, older mentor, the heroes outnumbered by superior forces and a lovable old coot (played against type by Paul Fix in full Walter Brennan/Gabby Hayes mode.) Yet somehow it all works very well, thanks mostly to Robert Mitchum's stalwart presence. With his trademark ram-rod stiff walk and cool persona, Mitchum tosses off bon mots like a frontier version of 007. Even the Times acknowledged that "Mitchum can do laconic wonders with a good wise-crack". He has considerable chemistry with Dickinson, though the action between the sheets is more implied than shown. Robert Walker Jr. acquits himself well in the title role and David Carradine makes an impression even with limited screen time. The film was directed by Burt Kennedy, an old hand at directing fine westerns in reliable, if not remarkable, style and it all culminates in a rip-snorting shoot-out that is genuinely exciting. The fine supporting cast includes Willis Bouchey, Parley Baer and Deanna Martin (Dino's daughter) in her acting debut. One oddball element to the film: Mitchum croons the title song over the opening credits. If this sounds strange, keep in mind that Mitchum improbably once had a hit album of calypso music.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes the original trailer as well as trailers for other westerns, "Support Your Local Sheriff", "Support Your Local Gunfighter" and "The Wonderful Country", which also stars Mitchum.
The seemingly promising teaming of Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale, both at their most glamorous back in 1968, goes hopelessly astray in the comedy/crime caper film "A Fine Pair". The movie is the kind of lazy effort that makes one suspect the only motives for the stars' participation were quick, sizable paychecks and the opportunity to enjoy some exotic locations at the studio's expense. (Think "Donovan's Reef" without the fun.) The film opens in New York City and we find Hudson as NYPD Captain Mike Harmon, a conservative, no-nonsense career police officer who runs his precinct with the same strong-arm tactics that General George S. Patton employed to keep his troops in line. Out of nowhere pops Esmeralda Marini (Cardinale), a glamorous and almost annoyingly perky young woman who has arrived unannounced from her native Italy. Turns out she has known Harmon most of her life as he was a good friend of her late father, who was an Italian police captain. It's never adequately explained how the two law enforcement officer's professional careers intersected but it turns out that Harmon became close enough to the Marini family that Esmeralda has long considered Harmon like a favorite uncle. The absurdities start almost immediately as Esmeralda confesses that she has possession of some stolen jewels that she has stolen from a prominent Italian family, the Fairchilds, who are now on holiday in New York. She says that she has regrets about having participated in the crime and wants to break into the Fairchilds' fortress-like chateau in Austria so that she can return the jewels before they find they are missing. One would think that a streetwise New York City police captain would see this as a rather bizarre and implausible yarn, but not Harmon. On a moment's notice he decides to take a leave from his job and flyoff for Austria with Esmeralda in a quest to undo the wrong she committed by stealing the jewels. Oh, did I mention that Harmon is also married? He dismisses this by saying that he was simply vague about his reasons for taking off suddenly for a week in Austria. I'd be curious to hear about the outcome of any married man who decides to employ the same tactics.
Once in Austria, Harmon is alternately bemused and annoyed by Esmeralda's party-hearty lifestyle. She is a magnet for eccentric young men of the counter-culture, who she beds with guilt-free abandon. However, it doesn't take long before conservative Harmon is joining in the partying but there is still the slight problem of breaking into the Fairchild's estate. Harmon uses a false scenario to convince the local police chief (the marvelous character actor Leon Askin) to give him a tour of the security devices inside and around the perimeter of the mansion. While it might be a professional courtesy to share such information with a fellow police captain, one would have to wonder how the absent family would feel about strangers treading around their private property and discussing all their top-secret burglar alarm devices. Harmon is stunned by the sophistication of the anti-theft system and concerned that the mission of breaking into the home will be impossible- and Esmeralda is vague about how the original theft was originally orchestrated except to say that her accomplice managed to pull it off. Against all logic, Harmon decides to risk his life and career in order to carry on with the plot. In some of the most absurd scenes, he becomes a poor man's "Q" Branch by devising ways to use ordinary objects such as champagne bottles and mingle them with chemicals in order to gain access to the house and neutralize the alarm system. It's a plan that would have challenged Einstein, but Harmon feels secure enough to continue with the caper. He and Esmeralda decided to undertake the top secret and illegal task of mixing dangerous chemicals by doing so in the communal toilet of the tiny bed and breakfast lodge they are staying at. Even Inspector Clouseau wouldn't be that careless.
Harmon's plan requires artificially raising the interior temperature of the room the Fairchilds' safe is in to a scorching 194 degrees Fahrenheit because somehow he has figured out that this will prevent the alarms from being triggered. The entire sequence is ludicrous and seems designed simply as an excuse for Cardinale to strip down to her bra and panties, which provides the only break in the tedium. It doesn't take much skill to make a caper film sequence suspenseful but director Francesco Maselli (who also committed the sin of co-writing the screenplay) manages to bungle even this "can't miss" opportunity. There is no tension whatsoever and the scene ends prematurely with the caper successfully carried out. However, Esmeralda now has a second break-in she wants Harmon to help with. By this point, he is smitten with her and they become lovers. Given the fact that he has been a de facto "uncle" to her, the "Yuck" factor kicks in right away. Before long Harmon has changed his entire personality, ditching his conservative lifestyle for the free-wheeling, anything-goes philosophy of Esmeralda. Harmon's transformation is as likely as someone entering the voting booth with the intention of voting for Ted Cruz and suddenly deciding to pull the lever for Bernie Sanders. The remainder of the film concerns this second, equally implausible, crime plan. By this point Harmon has discovered that he has been played for a sucker by Esmeralda, who had him place worthless jewels in the Fairchild safe. While he was preoccupied doing so, she used the opportunity to steal real jewels. In fact, she had never been inside the mansion before and had conned him into giving her access. Got all that? Then please explain it to me. Harmon is so enamored that this career police captain with a distinguished career in law enforcement decides to become a professional jewel thief and give up his profession. In a "Oh, by the way..." moment he conveniently also explains that he phoned his wife and requested a divorce, which she immediately complied with. Before long, the happy couple is off to Rome for their next caper. Not even Jules Verne could come up with such fantastical scenarios.
"A Fine Pair" has more problems than poor direction and a terrible script. It's perhaps the worst-photographed major film release I've ever scene. Cinematographer Alfio Contini has a distinguished record in the movie industry so maybe this was an aberration. However, he employs some amateurish techniques that make it appear the film was photographed by an amateur who stumbled onto the set while he was on his lunch break. There are head-spinning swirls and dreadful use of the zoom lens. Contini also squanders the early sequences in New York by focusing on tight close-ups of the actors instead of the city's exotic locations. The choppy editing doesn't help and we're left with an upbeat, jaunty score by Ennio Morricone as the film's sole asset. While I've always enjoyed Rock Hudson's work in movies, he gave very few truly impressive performances ("Giant" and "Seconds" among them.) He was best suited for light comedies which he had a natural flair for which is why it's a telling sign that he's pretty awful in this film. You can almost see a thought bubble above his head with the question "What the hell am I doing in this mess?" He gives a listless and uninspired performance throughout. Cardinale is at least lively but her character is poorly written and completely unbelievable. Regarding their performances, New York Times critic Roger Greenspun astutely wrote at the time, "...the film at times seems like "Mission: Impossible" performed by the cast of "Captain Scarlett and the Mysterons"- with facial expressions that cleverly imitate life."
The Warner Archive DVD was mastered from the best elements available. Fittingly they are awful and, thus, so is the transfer. The color quality varies wildly and some scenes are so dark that it feels as though you are staring into an inkwell. Not helping matters is that the movie suffers from bad dubbing and sound mixing so that even Rock Hudson sounds like he is being dubbed by a different actor. The movie is of primary interest to loyal fans of Hudson and Cardinale and those who get a kick out of watching promising cinematic premises that turned into disasters.
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We at Cinema Retro like nothing more than to make our readers aware of emerging new talents in independent film making. Two of the most impressive young movie creators whose work we've experienced recently are Steven Piet and Erik Crary, two personal friends who teamed up to fulfill their dream of making their own feature film. The duo wrote the screenplay for "Uncle John" and Piet made his directorial debut with the movie, as well. The film is a highly stylized, oddball concoction that blends two seemingly disparate storylines that intersect logically as the movie proceeds. The story grabs you from the opening frames in which we see Dutch (Laurent Soucie), a hulk of a man staggering in a dazed condition on the dock of remote lake in Wisconsin. We see he is being followed by another man, John (John Ashton), who is wielding the oar of a rowboat that he has apparently just slammed Dutch in the head with. He's about to administer the coup de grace when Dutch falls into the shallow water and conveniently drowns. We then watch John, a man in his late sixties, struggle mightily to cover up evidence of the murder. He wraps Dutch in an improvised body bag and painstakingly drags him to his truck, loads him into it and drives to an isolated field where local farmers burn brush. Here, he buries the body under a mound of branches and pours some gasoline on top, making for a gruesome bonfire. Who are these men and why has one murdered the other? The answers are given but not until much later in the story. Meanwhile, we see that John isn't a madman. Rather, he's well-established in the small farming community and respected for his low-key personality and slow-to-anger temperament. He earns a modest living on his farm, which he's converted to a woodworking shop where he does freelance carpentry jobs for local residents. About the only excitement in his day-today activities is getting together each morning with a group of local good ol' boys for coffee at the local diner where they discuss gossip and the affairs of the day. It doesn't take long before word gets around that Dutch has gone missing. Apparently Dutch has been a loose cannon and troublemaker for decades. Recently he's found Jesus and decided to repent. As part of his self-imposed penance, he's been visiting the locals and confessing to various misdeeds he's done against them and begging for their forgiveness. As the days pass with no sign of Dutch, the group begins to speculate that maybe someone didn't decide to forgive him for a specific transgression. Through it all, John keeps a poker face and pretends he is ignorant of Dutch's fate. But as the local sheriff keeps digging around, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable and perhaps is coming to regret having committed the murder.
The script cleverly presents a completely parallel and seemingly unrelated plot that centers on Ben (Alex Moffatt), a 29 year-old designer in a hip marketing studio in Chicago. A new employee, Kate (Jenna Lyng) has been brought on board to oversee projects. On one level he resents the hiring of this new supervisor but on the other hand he's understandably smitten by her charm and good looks. Before long they begin a romantic relationship. The two stories blend later in the film when we learn that Ben was raised by "Uncle John" when his mother died and his father deserted him. He decides to visit John and introduce him to Kate. The timing of the visit couldn't be worse for John, who is becoming increasingly concerned about being unveiled as a murderer. Adding to his woes is the nagging presence of Dutch's brother Danny (Ronnie Gene Blevins), who is all-too-obviously suspicious that John is hiding a terrible secret. Danny, like Dutch, is a local trouble maker with a short-fuse and a penchant for drinking. He drops by John's farm during the visit by Ben and Kate, who remain oblivious to the uneasy banter between the two men. Director Steven Piet ratchets up the tension in this marvelously-constructed sequence in which John and Danny enact a sequence that reminds one of a Bond movie in that the protagonist and villain talk politely to each other but barely mask their hatred for one another. John knows the noose is getting tighter and fears that Danny will take matters into his own hands if he doesn't stop him first. Worse, Danny make seek to avenge his brother's murder by making Ben and Kate his victims. The only element of the film I found somewhat disappointing is the final scene which has sense of irony about it but doesn't quite deliver the payoff I had hoped for. Nonetheless, "Uncle John" is a real winner in every respect. If you enjoy Hitchcock thrillers, give this one a try. In fact, the film reminded me of Hitchcock in the sense that the Master always tried to show just how difficult it is to kill a human being and dispose of a body. In "The Trouble With Harry", the titular corpse keeps popping up around town to the dismay of the locals. In the kitchen murder sequence of "Torn Curtain" we see exactly how ill-equipped an everyday person is to kill someone else. "Uncle John" explores this territory by showing us the pain, tension and aggrevation John must endure to cover-up his misdeed.
The sheer intelligence of the screenplay of "Uncle John" is what impressed me the most. The film doesn't rely on violence or gruesome scenes of bloodletting. Instead we get realistic characters talking in a realistic manner. Uncle John is one of those complex characters we've seen in films of this type before. On the surface he is the villain who has committed a deplorable deed. However, you end up inadvertently admiring his creativity and resolve in avoiding being detected as a murderer. He is played with enormous skill by character actor John Ashton, who finally gets a well-deserved starring role. Ashton's performance is award worthy, as he captures the essence of a very complex character and makes him sympathetic even though we can't condone what he has done. He is the consummate professional, bringing both pathos and cringe-inducing murderous instincts to his portrayal. He's matched by equally excellent performances by Alex Moffatt, Jenna Lyng and Ronnie Gene Blevins, all of whom should have promising futures in the film industry. The same goes for Steven Piet, whose debut as director is rather remarkable. He has a real eye for how to set up a scene and milk it for all its worth. I should mention that the casting of the film is outstanding. Even the smallest role is expertly played. Kudos to cinematographer Mike Bove, who does wonders with lighting elements that add immeasurably to the foreboding atmosphere. There is also a fine musical score by Adam Robbi and Shawn Sutta.
The Kino Lorber DVD includes a montage of scenes from the film set to the soundtrack music, a teaser trailer, original trailer and a rather clever interview with the filmmakers conducted by their own moms. In it, they discuss the trials and tribulations of making films such as these on micro-budgets. They may not have made much money from this project but it's far superior to most of the over-produced, overly-costly mainstream fare churned out by the major studios.
“Barquero”(1970) stars Lee Van Cleef as Travis, an
ex-gunslinger living a quiet life as the owner/operator of a barge that is the
only way to cross the river at a certain spot between Texas and Mexico. When we
first see him he’s in bed with Nola (Marie Gomez), a hot looking Mexican chick
who likes to suck on cigarillos. Everything’s fine until the creepy Fair (John
Davis Chandler) shows up at his doorstep leering down at the naked Nola and
says he and two men with him want to go across the water to Texas. Travis
doesn’t like the way he’s looking at Nola and tells him “A ride across the
river is all your money’s going to buy.” They get across and Fair pulls a gun
on him and tells his amigos to tie him up.
Meanwhile, in a town a few miles to the north Remy
(Warren Oates), leader of an outlaw gang, watches from the bedroom of a
whorehouse as his gang robs the bank and shoots up the entire town. Once
they’re done shooting everything full of holes they ride south, expecting the
barge to be ready to take them to Mexico. Only trouble is Travis has a friend
named Mountain Phil (Forrest Tucker in a show-stealing performance) who is
handy with a knife. He kills the two of the desperadoes and neutralizes Fair
with the help of some “tasty” fire ants. Once freed, Travis quickly rounds up a
bunch of squatters, including Anna (Mariette Hartley) and Nola and takes them
over to the Mexican side. Remy is pretty ticked when he gets to the river and
sees there’s no barge ready to help them flee to Mexico. It’s pretty much a
standoff for the next hour of the film as both sides try to get the upper hand.
Producer Aubrey Schenck intended to make “Barquero” a
combination of the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and the bloody westerns
of Sam Peckinpah. He hired Van Cleef, who was a star of two Leone westerns Oates, a member of Peckinpah’s
regular stock company, for the lead roles. He had a script by George Schenck
and William Marks that had a fairly strong premise. The idea was to set up the
clash between Van Cleef and Oates and let it explode.
It succeeds as far as it goes, but could have been much
better. Schenck originally hired TV director Robert Sparr to helm “Barquero”
but Sparr was killed in a helicopter crash scouting location in Colorado and
the job went to veteran director Gordon Douglas (“Them!” “Rio Conchos”). You
can see the Leone influence, especially when Remy starts cracking up and begins
smoking some loco weed, reminiscent of Indio (Gian Marie Volante) in “For a Few
Dollars More.” The bank robbery scene that opens the film is imitation
Peckinpah, complete with an astronomical bullet count. But it’s obvious Douglas,
capable though he was, lacked the crazed inspiration of either Peckinpah or
Leone. You would really need an inspired mad man to make “Barquero” work and Douglas
just wasn’t crazy enough. “Barquero” is
something of a misfire rather than the cult classic it could have been. Nevertheless,
it’s a treat to see two of the baddest badasses together for the one and only
time in their careers, and if you take it for what it is, it’s a wild ride.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray presents “Barquero” in its 1.85:1
theatrical aspect ratio. The picture is crisp and clear, with good color. Some
film elements are more worn that others, but overall it’s in good shape. The
only extra is trailer. Kino Lorber
deserves to be commended for the way it’s releasing these terrific
looking-Blu-Ray transfers of hard-to-find-movies like “Barquero,” especially at
a time when most of the market is heading away from actual physical discs to
on-line streaming. I hope they keep them coming.
“Kill or Be Killed” (2015) aka “Red on Yella, Kill a
Fella,” is a low budget horror-western released on DVD by RLJ Entertainment
that also attempts to be a tribute to the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s
and Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch.” The plot is about a gang of outlaws in
the year 1900 traveling 500 miles through Texas to get to a stash of gold
that’s hidden at the bottom of a well in the sand dunes of Galveston Beach. The
group is hounded on their journey by a mysterious being and one by one the gang
members get picked off.
Like Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch these outlaws are a motley
crew. Their leader, Claude “Sweet Tooth” Barbee, played by co-writer/director
Justin Meeks, is very loosely based on real-life outlaw Sam Bass. As Meeks
portrays him, Barbee is a man obsessed with recovering the hidden loot from a
previous robbery. He’ll stop at nothing
to get it. He’s abetted by a gang of cutthroats capable of anything, and he’s
willing to overlook their bloody crimes if it will help him get to the gold. He’s
even willing to go as far as looking the other way when one of his men, a
hulking brute called Blocky (Gregory Kelly), brutally rapes and murders a girl
in her early teens.
Meeks explains in the DVD’s audio commentary that Barbee
needs Blocky’s muscle, so he’ll overlook what he did. But it turns out he’s
even willing to go farther than that. When the girl’s father pulls a shotgun on
Blocky to give him his just desserts, Barbee shoots the father in the head. Meeks
points out however, that as bad as that seems, Barbee, at least, has a line he
won’t cross. He doesn’t allow the girl’s mother and little brother to be killed.
Well, I guess...
Meeks and his co-writer/director Duane Graves, came up
with a script that tries to outdo the violence and sadism of the films that
inspired it. They set out to show bad men being bad and paying for it all in
the end. The addition of the horror element provides for a little extra gore. As
far as it goes, it’s not a bad premise for a movie. But the question is how far
across the line can you let your characters go before they become so
reprehensible that the audience cannot relate to them? Peckinpah’s bunch were
men on the wrong side of the law, but he gave them a sense of honor. They were
bad but not as bad as the posse of degenerates pursuing them, or Mapache, the
bandit chief they rob a train for. Barbee and his men, on the other hand, are
on a level even lower than that.
In another scene that comes out of nowhere, our
anti-heroes try to rob a black man (whom Barbee calls “Jimmy”) with a wagon of
furs, but when they find out he has no money, Barbee tells his men to get a
rope and “put his boots in the trees.” Smells like a lynching to me. But who can tell? The scene ends with one of
the gang coming toward the man with about three feet of rope in his hands. How
do you hang somebody with three feet of rope? Were they just going to tie him
up? I went to the audio commentary hoping the filmmakers would shed some light
on what was going on and why they included such an unnecessary and repugnant scene
in the first place. But instead all they discussed was how much they spent on
the props, including a gold coin they bought on eBay. It’s just one example of
the confused direction and writing in this film.
Meeks and Graves also seem to be fond of throwing red
herrings at the audience. As the members of the gang are killed one by one in mysterious
ways, there are scenes involving a giant savage with flaming eyes, which we’re
told in the commentary, is some kind of Viking who appeared in one of their
earlier shorts. Exactly why he’s in this film isn’t explained. He only appears
in Barbee’s dreams, but how can a dream image manage to slit at least one
character’s throat while he’s sleeping? Turns out he didn’t. The explanation of
who the real killer is pretty fantastic. Like really unbelievable, man.
The cast is full of indie movie players including Michael
Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Edwin Neal (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre),
Arianne Martin (Don’t Look in the Basement 2), Luce Rains (No Country for Old
Men) and Paul McCarthy-Boyington (The Human Race). Veteran character actor Pepe
Serna (Black Dahlia) is credited with being one of the producers and also has a
part in the picture. He plays a man named Rudy Goebel who, with his wife and
son or sons (not immediately clear), runs a ramshackle boarding house. We find
him drugging his latest boarder and then shooting him in the head when he
suspects his soup has been doped. When his hysterical wife asks him how long he
can keep doing this, he smashes her head on the wooden table top several times,
killing her, and throws her, the boarder, and one son into a root cellar. What
the hell? I don’t know. You explain it to me. There are a lot of unexplained
things in “Kill or Be Killed.”
Near the end of the DVD audio commentary Meeks remarks
that it’s always “good to leave a few questions unanswered at the end of a
film, just enough so if you watch maybe a second of third time it might link
some of the gaps.” It’s too bad Meeks and Graves didn’t take the trouble to
fill in the gaps themselves. If they had, and if they had written a script that
had some sort of morality to it, “Kill or Be Killed” might have been an
impressive entry in the weird west sub-genre category. But this is the 21st
century and in the world of indie films anyone with a camera can throw anything
they want up on the screen and call it a movie. As it is, it’s a somewhat pathetic example of
ambitious indie film making swinging for the bleachers and coming up with a
foul to left field.
The RLJ Entertainment DVD presents “Kill or Be Killed” in
a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which does justice to Brandon Torres’
cinematography. He captures some nice views of the West Texas country. The
soundtrack by John Constant is imitation Ennio Morricone, but has some merits
of its own. The disc contains the usual
extras, including audio commentary, interviews and deleted scenes. I’m sure
there is some sort of audience for films like this. The gore and horror
reviewers on the web seemed to like it. It’s definitely not for everyone.
teenage boys discover a gunshot outlaw and nurse him back to health in “The
Spikes Gang,” a 1974 western directed by Richard Fleischer available for the
first time on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Lee Marvin plays Harry Spikes, an outlaw
who inspires Gary Grimes, Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith to join him as
outlaws. Harry is calm, cool and calculating, endearing himself to the boys who
have romanticized his life as an outlaw.
(Grimes), Les (Howard) and Tod (Smith) are farm boys seeking excitement and
adventure and find it in Harry who recovers from his wounds with the boy’s help.
The three boys are bored with the farm life as well as the harsh treatment they
receive from their parents. Harry offers the boys a reward for helping him, but
they turn him down instead asking to join Harry who declines their offer. The
boys, determined to get away from their life as farmers, depart on what they
believe will be a life as successful outlaws. They attempt a bank robbery in
the first town they arrive, but things go terribly wrong as they end up killing
wanted outlaws with no money or food, the boys flee to Mexico where they find menial
work cleaning and washing dishes. Life on the run is dusty, dirty and bleak and
the boys bump into Harry who takes pity on the boys who want to join him. He
feeds them, buys them new clothes, gives them money and says goodbye. The boys press
their request and Harry relents. He puts them through a sort of outlaw training
camp and is impressed with the boys shooting skills and ability to follow
instructions. When they ask Harry if they will rob the town’s bank, he states
that his money is in that bank. They plan their robbery across the border back
in the U.S. However, tragedy intervenes, leading to unexpected deaths and Will’s
confrontation with Harry, the man he had idolized.
Howard and Tod are very good as the misguided boys seeking adventure only to
find death and betrayal. They give performances full of hope for the adventure
that never happens in this gritty and realistic western. Lee Marvin is very
likable and easy going as Harry Spikes and although I wanted the boys to find
adventure with him, he’s like a scorpion. His true nature as a ruthless outlaw
is what drives him, not loyalty, friendship. or helping three farm boys find
their vision as romantic outlaws. The boys want a safe adventure with money and
success, but that only happens in the dime novels and newspaper stories they
on the novel “The Bank Robbers” by Giles Tippette, the screenplay was written by
Irvin Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. who
collaborated on several movies together including “The Long, Hot Summer,”
“Hud,” “Hombre,” “The Reivers,” “The Cowboys,” “The Carey Treatment,” “Conrack”
and “Norma Rae.” The story reminded me a bit of “The Cowboys,” if only because
of the surface similarity in both stories of an experienced man leading boys to
become men. In this case the wrong kind of man.
music by Fred Karlin is familiar as it resembles a few of the cues from his
work on “Westworld” which was released the year before in 1973. The score
doesn’t quite work in this movie and is a little too cheerful. What does work
is the cinematography by Brian West, emphasizing the bleak dusty landscapes as
he did in the Australian classic “Wake in Fright.” Richard Flescher’s direction
is top notch, emphasizing Harry’s charm and charisma with a brilliant
performance by Lee Marvin.
United Artist release was co-produced by Walter Mirisch and also features Arthur
Hunnicutt and Noah Beery Jr. There’s also a credited performance by Robert
Beatty (Carnaby in “Where Eagles Dare”) as the sheriff, but his scenes were
obviously deleted from the final cut, a not uncommon occurrence that actors
have to face. The picture looks good and plays very well on the small screen,
clocking in at a brisk 96 minutes. The only bonus feature on the disc is the
trailer for this and two other movies. Whether you’re a fan of Lee Marvin,
Richard Fleischer or revisionist 1970s westerns, this movie is well worth a look.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of Richard Lester's zany 1967 military comedy How I Won the War. The film has long elicited debates among those who consider it a scathing and witty denouncement of militarism and those who dismiss it as a pretentious train wreck of a movie. Count this writer among the latter. The film plays like an extended Monty Python sketch - with all the energy and talent, but none of the laughs. To be fair, one must take the movie into the context of the era in which it was released. Shot in 1966, the movie is seen by many as a protest against the increasing U.S. military presence in Vietnam. Although the anti-war movie didn't get into full gear until 1968, this premise is not unfounded because one of the characters makes a blatant reference to Vietnam by name. Set in WWII, the film follows the misadventures of a small unit of British soldiers stationed in North Africa. The central target of screenwriter Charles Wood, writing from a far more traditional novel by Patrick Ryan, is that the common soldier is used as cannon fodder for elitest, unqualified officers, who are uniformly presented here as ignorant dilettantes. This notion is personified by the character of Lt. Goodbody (Michael Crawford), a young man of privilege who seems blatantly jubilant about the prospect of heading into war. His ludicrous optimism makes him blind to the fact that he is hated by his own men.
The film is basically a well-photographed, but emotionally uninvolving series of juvenile gags and slapstick humor. Unlike films like M*A*S*H and Catch-22, How I Won the War suffers from being completely surrealistic on every level, thus removing the audience from any real empathy with the characters. Goodbody talks directly to the audience, soldiers appear inexplicably in bizarre costumes and props appear out of nowhere to help set up a joke. The dialogue is so rapid-fire and spoken with such thick British accents that I could barely understand a word - and I've spent a good deal of my life traveling around England. Director Lester, whose lesser works I've often defended, squanders an excellent cast that includes Roy Kinnear, Michael Hordern and John Lennon, whose appearance here represents his only work in a non-Beatles film. That pop culture footnote actually makes more of his appearance than is merited. Although he acquits himself very well, Lennon does not have any stand-out scenes and his role could have been played by virtually any other actor.
The confusing story line, such as it is, follows the platoon from North Africa to Europe. Though at one point it implies they are part of Montgomery's disastrous invasion of Holland, the platoon suddenly appears near the Remagen Bridge in Germany. The latter part of the film plays better because Lester includes some semi-realistic battle scenes that are actually quite exciting. There is also an interesting sub-plot involving Goodbody being captured by the enemy and making friends with a German officer who is equally immune to the horrors of war. However, these factors are bit "too little, too late" to salvage the overall movie. One of the reasons the film didn't resonate with audiences at the time is likely because the British public could hardly relate to WWII as one of those useless, unnecessary conflicts. While it is true that Britain's involvement in the war was one of choice, the price of staying out of it would have meant the country would have existed only as a lapdog for a Europe completely dominated by National Socialism. Thus, using "The Good War" as a metaphor for a more controversial conflict such as Vietnam seems somewhat ill-advised in retrospect. Robert Altman's M*A*S*H succeeded using the Korean War as a backdrop because it was a situation the average person never adequately understood or supported and it made for a more direct comparison to Vietnam.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is most welcome but that doesn't mitigate the fact that this particular film is definitely for Lennon and Lester purists only.
Time has issued a new Blu-ray edition of Fritz Lang's classic 1953 film noirThe
Big Heatas a
limited edition (3,000 units). The movie ranks among the top films in the noir
genre and time has only increased its appeal. Glenn Ford is Dave Bannion, a
dedicated police detective who begins to suspect that the apparent suicide of a
fellow cop might be linked to department-wide corruption. His hunch proves
correct as it becomes evident that virtually the entire police department,
right up to the commissioner, is controlled by local crime kingpin Mike Lagana
(Alexander Scourby). When Bannion receives warnings to lay off the
investigation, he ignores them and continues to pursue leads. Before long, not
only he but his beloved wife (Jocelyn Brando) and daughter are targeted for
death. Lang's penchant for creating a dark, foreboding atmosphere is on display
here. Most of the scenes are interiors or dank, dangerous locations. The film's
central plot is mesmerizing from the shocking opening frames. As a leading man,
Ford could usually be described as handsome, affable and reliable but
"dynamic" would hardly be associated with his screen persona. InThe
Ford gives what is arguably the best performance of his career. As the
gangsters take their toll on him, he becomes a man obsessed, menacing men and
women alike. His only ally is Debby Marsh (wonderfully played by Gloria
Grahame), a ditzy but lovable gun moll who suffers terribly from her attempts
to aid Bannion. Director Lang brings real pathos to the proceedings. Bannion is
the ultimate family man-- and he has a sexually playful relationship with his
wife, something refreshing for a film from this period. When his wife and kid
are menaced, Bannion's rage brings him to the brink of committing murder
himself. Supporting characters are tortured, scalded, and even children are
many memorable scenes in the film and most feature an impressive array of
terrific supporting actors including Lee Marvin outstanding as a charismatic,
but vicious thug who squares off with Bannion in the action-packed finale. Lang
loved his adopted country, America, ever since he had fled Nazi Germany rather
than serve as one of their propagandists. However, he was always dismayed by
instances of injustice and often reflected these concerns in his films.The
well have been the most daring expose of police corruption seen in any film
until that time. The film remains a mini-masterpiece of its kind and all retro
movie buffs should have it in their movie libraries.
Twilight Time Blu-ray presents a terrific transfer that does full justice to
the outstanding camerawork of Charles Lang. The package includes the usual
informative collector's booklet written by Julie Kirgo, but don't read it
before watching the film as it is filled with spoilers. New features include on-screen separate interviews with director Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann, who both provide valuable insights into why they consider this to be one of the greatest of film noirs. An original trailer is also included.
Occasionally we at Cinema Retro like to demonstrate that our interest in films doesn't end in the era when scripts had the fingerprints of Steve McQueen or Henry Fonda on them. Regular readers know that we try to promote worthy independent films by up-and-coming directors. Case in point: "The Heart Machine", an intriguing mystery that marks the feature film debut of director/screenwriter Zachary Wigon. His film, originally released in 2014, is now available on DVD from Kino Lorber, a company that also tries to expand awareness of worthy indie films. The movie grabs you within the first few minutes, a necessary ingredient for any mystery. Cody (John Gallagher Jr.) is a 29 year-old, average guy who makes a modest living as a freelance writer. He lives in Brooklyn, which is now the center of the universe for hipsters. When we first see him he's engaging in a Skype video chat with Virginia (Kate Lyn Shiel), an attractive young woman his own age who resides in the same neighborhood he does. The two make small talk and it seems they are in a committed relationship and that she is on a trip to Germany. We soon learn that they have actually never met although they consider themselves to be boyfriend/girlfriend. Virginia is ostensibly studying for six months at an institute in Berlin. Their flirtatious remarks inevitably lead to some graphic phone/video sex via Skype. (Thus demonstrating an unintended benefit of the advances in technology). Cody is clearly not only smitten but madly in love with Virginia and they talk about their impatience at having to wait months before finally meeting in person. However, some disturbing suspicions enter Cody's mind. They begin when he hears an ambulance siren in the background on Virginia's Skype feed. He has recorded the chat and goes back to research what German ambulance sirens sound like (the wonders of Google!). He's even more disturbed to find that they sound nothing like what he has heard in his chat session with Virginia. The next day he is on a subway train to Manhattan and sees a young woman sitting opposite him who is an exact ringer for Virginia. She doesn't make eye contact with him but when he later mentions that he's seen her virtual twin on a train, Virginia acts a bit uncomfortable. Cody begins to suspect that the woman he saw was indeed Virginia and from here the plot segues into a Gen X version of "Vertigo". Cody becomes increasingly determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. If Virginia isn't in Germany, what is her motive for carrying out his elaborate hoax?
In his conversations with Virginia he maintains that everything is normal. However, when he throws out a couple of phrases in German and tells her he is studying the language she becomes inexplicably angry. Cody then begins an odyssey to try to prove that, like Sheila Levine, she is indeed alive and well and living in New York. He becomes an amateur detective and uses his skills with social media to track her movements through old Facebook posts. He becomes obsessed with his quest and begins to frequent places she might have visited, hoping to find people who know her. (The film is certainly a cautionary tale reminding us that the price we pay for technology is an almot complete loss of privacy.) The story builds in suspense because the viewer doesn't know any more than Cody does at one particular time. However, Zachary Wigon, the screenwriter, does a disservice to Zachary Wigon, the director by tipping us off way too early regarding a key plot point. It certainly doesn't entirely ruin the sense of suspense but it surely diminishes it. Alfred Hitchcock made the same mistake with "Vertigo", at least in this writer's opinion, by letting us in on the fact that the woman who is the exact double of his former lover is indeed the same woman. I always thought that it would have been more effective for the script to hold that relevation until a bit later in the story. Nevertheless, if Hitchcock could make such a misstep, one can hardly blame novice filmmaker Wigon for doing the same. The problem with reviewing mysteries is that the reviewer must tread carefully so as to not reveal too much. "The Heart Machine" can't actually be termed a thriller. At no time is anyone is any real danger, but Zigon shows an admirable skill for generating legitimate suspense from seemingly nondescript situations. When Cody gains entrance to a young woman's apartment by feigning interest in her, his real quest is to confirm that she is a friend of Virginia's. When she goes to another room, Cody accesses her laptop and begins to scroll through her personal messages. The sequence is especially intense in terms of being nerve-wracking for both him and the viewer. Zigon also has the knack for capitalizing on the New York locations, thus giving the movie an air of authenticity. Rob Leitzell's stylish cinematography aids immeasurably. Best of all are the performances. John Gallagher Jr. is gives a finely-tuned performance an everyday guy caught up in an extraordinary quest caused by his increasing obsession with a desirable woman (much like James Stewart in "Vertigo"). Gallagher is so good, in fact, that he loses himself completely in his character. His performance is quite remarkable. Although we see the object of his desire, Virginia, primarily through video chat screens, Kate Lyn Sheil is every bit his equal. She manages to be alluring, innocent and yet somehow foreboding all at the same time. You can well understand why Cody becomes obsessed with her. The supporting cast is peppered with fine performances from some very impressive young actors. The movie's conclusion and the resolution of Cody's quest is a bit unsatisfying in its ambiguity. Nevertheless, as both director and screenwriter, Zachary Wigon displays a great deal of promise. Here's hoping that in the "dog eat dog" world of indie filmmaking, he gets his chance to capitalize on that promise. I, for one, am very much looking forward to his future work.
The Kino Lorber DVD has an excellent transfer and a brief trailer. Here's hoping they will one day issue a Blu-ray release with commentary track.
has released John Frankenheimer’s “The Holcroft Covenant” (1985) in new Blu-ray
and DVD editions, superseding a previous DVD release on the MGM label in
1999. Frankenheimer fans will be
pleased to see this relatively obscure title available in remastered Hi-Def. Privately, even they may have to admit that
it’s deservedly obscure because it’s a clunker, marking a sad decline from the
excellence of “The Manchurian Candidate” two decades before. With that 1962 masterpiece, Frankenheimer and
scenarist George Axelrod benefited from superlative source material, Richard Condon’s
razor-sharp Cold War political thriller. “The Holcroft Covenant” was adapted from lesser stuff, a bestselling but
stumble-footed 1972 suspense novel by Robert Ludlum. Multiple screenwriters are credited: George
Axelrod, Edward Anhalt, and John Hawkins. The problems with the movie suggest a combination of Ludlum’s lame
storytelling to begin with, additional troubles in trying to turn the rambling,
528-page potboiler into a leaner, 100-minute-long movie, and questionable
choices by Frankenheimer himself.
Holcroft, a German-born New York architect, learns that he is the main trustee
of a covenant drawn up 40 years before, in the last hours of the Third Reich,
by three officers of the Nazi High Command. One of the officers, General Clausen, was Holcroft’s father. Once it’s signed by Holcroft and the children
of the other two officers, the covenant will release $4.5 billion from a secret
Swiss account, a fortune accrued over four decades from Nazi funds diverted by
the three officers during the war. Clausen’s posthumous directive specifies that the trustees are to spend
the fund for beneficent purposes, to atone for Hitler’s atrocities. Holcroft must locate the other trustees --
the son and daughter of General Tiebolt and the son of General Kessler -- so
that the covenant can be activated. His
mother Athene (Lilli Palmer), who had fled Clausen and Germany early in the
war, cautions Holcroft to walk away from the arrangement because his father
couldn’t be trusted and neither can the directive: “He was a Nazi through and
through.” But Holcroft idealistically
proceeds anyway, joining in Berlin with the Tiebolt brother and sister, who
have taken the name Tennyson, and the Kessler son, a symphony conductor now
calling himself Maas. Mysterious characters
enter the story in Zurich, New York, London, Berlin, and finally Zurich again,
seemingly intent on derailing the covenant, as bodies begin to pile up around
I mention that Holcroft is played by Michael Caine, because, well, if you need
an actor to play a German-born New Yorker, you want Michael Caine? As Frankenheimer notes in a director’s
commentary track repeated from the 1999 DVD, the “New York” scenes in the film
were actually shot in London, so why not simply transfer the phony U.S. setting
to the U.K., ignore the character’s New York upbringing from the novel, and
make him a German-born Londoner to match Caine’s accent? Reportedly, Caine was a last-minute
replacement for James Caan, who walked off the movie, so Frankenheimer may not
have had time even for minor script adjustments. A good trouper, Caine honestly appears to
invest a lot of energy in the part, accent aside. But it hardly matters because Holcroft is a
dolt who does anything he’s asked to do without a second thought, no matter how
inconvenient, nonsensical, or dangerous. Drop everything and fly to Zurich at the behest of a total stranger who
claims to be a representative from an international bank? Wouldn’t you? Hop over to London at the request of another total stranger and agree to
meet yet a third stranger in Trafalgar Square at 5 p.m. tomorrow? (“And don’t
look for him. He’ll find you.”) Sure, why not. Rendezvous at a church with a mysterious
woman in a bad disguise, and then hide out with her in a sleazy Berlin brothel
to avoid the bad guys? I’m on it.
of the Berlin brothel, Frankenheimer clutters several scenes with unnecessarily
eccentric background details. The
brothel business leads to a chase in and out of a nighttime street festival of
prostitutes and cross-dressers. In his
commentary, Frankenheimer says he wanted to use the brothel and the street
festival, which provide an excuse for some unattractive, R-rated nudity, to
evoke classic novels and films about the decadent Berlin of the 1930s. Instead of distracting the viewer so you’re
less likely to notice that the scene itself makes little sense, the clutter
only underscores the absurdity. When Holcroft first meets his fellow heir Maas
(Mario Adorf), Maas is conducting a symphony rehearsal -- because,
Frankenheimer says, he always wanted to film a scene of a symphony orchestra
performing. Simpler would have been
better, had Frankenheimer merely told his actors hit their marks, deliver their
lines, and move on. It doesn‘t help that
Adorf is miscast as a conductor (physically, he looks about as much the part as
Jack Black or John Goodman would), and that most of the other actors are
undistinguished. Only Victoria Tennant
and Anthony Andrews emerge relatively unscathed, even though Andrews enters
with an unflattering mustache that seems
to be part of a disguise, except that he never gets rid of it. It took me a while to realize that, more than
likely, it was an attempt to make Andrews look older so that the age difference
between him (37) and Caine (52) would not be so obvious, since their characters
are supposed to be contemporaries.
story turns on a “surprise twist” about the real purpose of the covenant and
the real motives behind Andrews‘ and Tennant’s characters. I saw it coming about 20 minutes into the
picture, without even trying. Frankenheimer stages the climactic scene in Alfred Hitchcock fashion,
with Holcroft and the chief villain struggling over a revolver in a chaotic
crowd setting, in this case a press conference. There’s even a Hitchcockian
close-up of Caine’s hand clamped desperately over the cylinder of the gun to
keep it from turning, inter-cut with shots of the two men struggling and the
crowd surging around them in panic. It’s
the only scene in the film that comes even remotely close to the gripping
visual style of “The Manchurian Candidate.”
viewers (admittedly, not a likely audience demographic) may smile when the
characters marvel over the $4.5 billion in the covenant. It was probably an impressive sum in 1985 but
now it seems like pocket change next to Bill Gates’ $77.7 billion bank
account. I’m reminded of Dr. Evil’s
comment in one of the Austin Powers movies, “Why make trillions when we can
make . . . billions?” The bad guys‘
ulterior purpose for the $4.5 billion? “To consolidate every terrorist group in the world into one cohesive,
overwhelming force to create international crises and chaos . . . until the
world is reduced to a state of anarchy, ready to accept a strong new leader who
can restore order and take command.” Given the past 15 years’ experience of 9/11, the global economic
meltdown, unending catastrophe in the Middle East, the growing chasm between
the haves and have-nots in the United States, and the rancid tenor of the 2016
Presidential campaign primaries, reality has left Ludlum’s and Frankenheimer’s
pulp fantasy in the dust. Never mind a
neo-Nazi conspiracy. Our perfectly
legitimate financial, political, judicial, and military systems have brought us
nearly to the same end.
Kino-Lorber Blu-ray disc’s 1920x1080p image is less than pristine but
acceptable. In addition to the director’s alt-track commentary, there is a
trailer gallery and menu, but unfortunately no English captioning for the hard
of hearing.Given that any audience for
the film is likely to fall into the age range for which captioning is a welcome
bonus, this is an unfortunate omission.
One of seemingly dozens of Universal westerns
released in the 1960s and early ‘70s, ‘A Man Called Gannon’ is a remake of the
tough Kirk Douglas western ‘Man Without a Star’ (1955). Rather than using Dee
Linford’s novel of the same name as its source, the film uses the screenplay by
D.D. Beauchamp and Borden Chase from the 1955 version, with additional writing from
Gene R. Kearney. Tony Franciosa stars as Gannon, a drifting cowboy without a
horse. While riding the rails west by locomotive cattle car, he meets young
Easterner Jess Washburn (Michael Sarrazin). The pair end up working as cowhands
on the Cross Triangle ranch, where the tough old hand teaches the tenderfoot
from Philadelphia how to ride and shoot like a pro. They both become romantically involved with
the ranch’s owner, Beth Cross (Judi West), which causes friction, while Jess
also clashes with the ranch’s bullying ‘top hand’ Capper (John Anderson). The
open range is being fenced in by the cattlemen and with the arrival of a
massive consignment of barbed wire, Gannon and Jess end up facing each other on
opposite sides of the fence.
It’s unfair to compare the film to ‘Man
Without a Star’, which benefits from Frankie Laine’s snappy title song and a
cast filled with memorable, seasoned performers like Jeanne Crain (as rancher
Reed Bowman), William Campbell (as greenhorn Jeff Jimson), Richard Boone, Jay C.
Flippen, Mara Corday, Sheb Wooley, Paul Birch, Roy Barcroft and the great Jack
Elam. In ‘A Man Called Gannon’, Tony
Franciosa is good in the title role, as a drifter ‘ex of Texas’, aimlessly
wandering the range. Like Kirk Douglas’ Dempsey Rae, Gannon is tormented by his
bad experiences of barbed wire – his little brother Jim was killed when he was
caught on a fence in a cattle stampede – which allows Franciosa a grandstanding
‘drunken trauma’ scene. I like Franciosa. He was an agreeable screen presence
in everything from the Raquel Welch spy vehicle ‘Fathom’ (1967), to Dario
Argento’s bloody giallo ‘Tenebrae’ (1982). My favourite of his roles is the
wily cutthroat Rodriguez in the gunrunning western ‘Rio Conchos’ (1964) and you
can see why he was reputedly up for the role of Manolito in ‘The High
Chaparral’ TV show (he lost out to Henry Darrow).
There are some familiar faces in the ‘Gannon’
cast – such as Sarrazin, Anderson, James Westerfield and Gavin MacLeod – but otherwise
it’s not the best-known cast. Emmy-award-winning TV director James Goldstone
uses trippy overlaid double exposures for some scenes (in the manner of Peter
Fonda’s acid western ‘The Hired Hand’) and also rapid cross-cutting in moments
of tension, like a spaghetti western. According to Judi West, who played rancher
Beth Cross, Goldstone had her voice dubbed, even though she was an accomplished
actress who had numerous film, TV and theatre credits and had taught acting
classes. The jaunty cowboy title song ‘A Smile, a Mem’ry and an Extra Shirt’
was sung by Dave Grusin. The narrative ballad ‘commenting’ on Gannon’s
adventures is very 1950s in method, if folksy 1960s in style. Grusin also
worked on ‘The Graduate’ (1967) and wrote the narrative ballad ‘Code of the
West’ for the James Coburn comedy western ‘Waterhole #3’ (1967).
New to DVD in the UK is ‘Arabella’, an
Italian period comedy set in that hotbed of hilarity, pre-WWII fascist Italy. Virna
Lisi stars in the title role – known variously in the film as Arabella Danesi
and Arabella Angeli – who determines to save her grandmother from destitution
by finding ingenious ways to pay off her elderly relative’s crippling tax bill.
The film is structured rather like those
1960s Italian portmanteau comedy-dramas, such as ‘Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’,
‘The Witches’ or ‘Woman Times Seven’. Such films were intended as vehicles for
one female star, be they Sophia, Silvana or Shirley, to demonstrate their versatility
in a variety of roles. But instead of separate stories, with different
characters, ‘Arabella’ has one continuous story arc, with Lisi’s sexy heroine
adopting various costumes, personas and wigs to seduce and blackmail her way
through a string of lovers, who are then conned out of cash to pay off granny’s
debts. Some of her victims are played by
Terry-Thomas. It is he who gets to show off his comedy skills in a variety of
roles, though despite costume and make-up changes, they all resemble
Terry-Thomas – there’s no disguising that tooth gap. He plays a girdle-wearing,
monocled British general Sir Horace Gordon, an Italian hotel manager angered by
the installation of a public urinal in the street outside his swanky
establishment and the rich duke who hires Arabella to ‘cure’ his gay son
Saverio. Terry-Thomas and Lisi had
already worked together to great success on the Hollywood black comedy ‘How to
Murder Your Wife’ (1965) and he’s clearly enjoying himself here in the various
The cast of this Italian-UK co-production –
shot in Rome, Naples and Venice – is an interesting one. Margaret Rutherford
plays Arabella’s debt-ridden granny, Princess Ilaria, James Fox is Arabella’s mysterious,
louche shadow Giorgio, and Rutherford’s old partner Stringer Davis from the
big-screen 1960s Miss Marple films shows up in an amusing cameo as Ilaria’s
gardener, Nazzareno. Giancarlo Gianni played Saverio, who pretends to be gay,
so that his father continues to send in alluring women to try to ‘cure’ him. Familiar
Italian supporting players appear, too – Renato Romano played General Gordon’s
batman, Renato Chiantoni is one of the tax inspectors hassling Ilaria, Giuseppe
Addobbati is a hotel guest and Ugo
Fangareggi is a policeman.
‘Arabella’s disjointed, jumpy plotting bears
the signs of considerable cutting for international distribution and it
eventually falls to pieces as a movie – in exactly the same way so many very
good 1960s Italian films that have been edited and dubbed for international
audiences fall to bits. The film was released internationally by Universal
Pictures and its associate producer was Dario Argento’s father, Salvatore,
before he began producing his son’s legendary gialli thrillers. The big plusses
are the art direction (by Alberto Boccianti) and superb 1920s period costumes
by Piero Tosi (Visconti’s designer on ‘Death in Venice’ and ‘The Leopard’), so
visually the film is splendid. Of most interest to me was the chance to hear
one of Ennio Morricone’s many little-heard scores of this period. ‘Arabella’
was directed by Mauro Bolognini, whose dramas ‘He and She’ (1969 – ‘L’assoluto
naturale’), ‘Un bellissimo novembre’ (1969 – ‘That Splendid November’) and ‘Metello’
(1970) are all worth a look, or rather a listen, for their memorable Morricone
scores. Bolognini also directed the erotic period drama ‘La Venexiana’ (1986),
aka ‘The Venetian Woman’ starring Laura Antonelli and Jason Connery, which also
benefits from a lovely Morricone score. The maestro’s score here is a mixture of
lush period orchestrations and comedic, clockwork themes which resemble early
drafts of Morricone’s title cue to ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion’
(1970). The descending flute trill from ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ makes a brief
appearance, but in the main, this is a playful score, befitting the material, with
a lovely violin theme for the Venetian scenes towards the end of the movie.
The Region 2 DVD from Simply Media is
presented in 4:3 screen ratio, which looks cropped at the sides. This seems to
be the case, as the IMDB lists the aspect ratio as 1.85:1. The film was 105
minutes in Italy, but cut drastically to 88 minutes for US release. Simply
Media’s habit of printing the US running time in promotional material continues
here, as the UK DVD actually runs 84 minutes. The picture quality has nowhere near the sharpness and clarity of some
of Simply Media’s other releases – notably its Universal westerns such as ‘A
Man Called Gannon’ and ‘Calamity Jane and Sam Bass’. ‘Arabella’ is rated 12 (for
‘moderate sex references’).
For 1960s Commedia all’Italiana, Terry-Thomas
and Morricone completists this is worth a look, but others might find it hard
going. A definite curio however and a long-lost one at that.
Though this welcome Scream Factory issue marks the first
time Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971)
and The Dunwich Horror (1969) have
been made available on domestic Blu-ray, both films enjoyed a previous release
on DVD as part of MGM’s long-suspended “Midnite Movies” series. Rue
Morgue was first paired with Cry of
the Banshee (1970) in 2003, with Dunwich
and Die Monster Die! (1965) following
in 2005. Though both of these earlier sets
are now technically out-of-print, copies remain generally available. Regardless, the more discerning horror-film
aficionado would be well advised to seek out this new Blu edition. Not only does Scream Factory’s HD master
offer a significant upgrade in visual presentation, the studio has also
restored bits of censored footage missing from the Y2K releases.
H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Dunwich Horror was written in the summer of 1928 and first
published in the April 1929 issue of the appropriately titled Weird Tales magazine. It’s likely the best known of the celebrated author’s
horror tales, having been recollected and reissued throughout the 20th and 21st
century in any number of literary horror anthologies. Though A.I.P. and director Daniel Haller (a
well-tested art director on many previous films for the company) have taken a
number of liberties bringing Lovecraft’s original tale to the screen, the author’s
basic premise is mostly preserved.
Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell) is the great-grandson of
Oliver Whateley. The elder Whateley was
a practitioner of the black arts who, two generations earlier, had been hanged for
his heresy by vigilantes in the otherwise sleepy village of Dunwich. The Whateley’s have long been a bane to the frightened
residents of the ocean-side community, shunned and ostracized as devil-worshippers. Technically, this is a misunderstanding as the
family worships neither God nor Satan. They spend most of their nights secluded in a creepy cliff-side home on an
otherwise postcard-pretty coastline. The
Whateley’s mostly putter about the old house trying to summon the “Old Ones” who,
we are told, are an amorphous super-race of beings from another dimension that will
bring an end to mankind.
Wilbur’s grandfather (Sam Jaffee) has actually backed-off
a bit on the family’s over-zealous determination in this regard. He’s understandably wary as his own quarter-century
old attempt at summation – one which involved Wilbur’s mother, Lavinia –had
gone horribly wrong. The strange and
dangerous rumblings of a creature still imprisoned behind a locked closet door
will attest to that. But Lavinia’s surviving twenty-five year old progeny,
Wilbur, has not gone soft; he’s determined to succeed where his ancestors have failed. The young man needs only two components to
achieve his goal. He first requires
access to the Necronomicom, an
ancient and priceless book of which only two copies survive. Conveniently, one copy sits in a not terribly
protected glass display case in the University library in Arkham, only a mere forty
miles up the road.
More problematically, Wilbur requires a female virgin; and
good luck trying to find one in the summer of 1969. This is where Bayonne, New Jersey’s own Sandra
Dee, best known for her healthful and morally salutary screen-image, comes
in. It seems only a pure virgin can
serve as the conduit through which the “Old Ones” can, at long last,
emerge. With her post-Gidget acting career stagnant, Dee was desperate
to hone a new screen image at decade’s end. Here she is effectively cast both with and against type as the
beleaguered Nancy Wagner. Not all of the
former teenage star’s innocent ways were so easily expunged. The actress had her limits and was modestly body-doubled
in a number of brief nude scenes. Her
antagonist is the wild-eyed, nearly non-blinking Wilbur Whateley, and Stockwell
plays him as a complete nutcase, mysterious, emotionally remote, and not
particularly charming. It’s somewhat
difficult to believe that Nancy would fall for him so hard though it’s
suggested a combination of hypnotism and drug-laced tea keep the young woman in
tow. The drugging would also explain the
trippy, psychedelic dreams she suffers following her first share of the teapot
with weird Wilbur.
It’s actually the addition of this central
damsel-in-distress element that causes Haller’s film to deviate wildly from the
original Lovecraft tale. With the
exception of the aforementioned Lavinia, there’s nary a central-character
female present in the original short story. The movie’s climatic birthing of the “Old Ones” on a sacred altar atop
the cliff-side “Devil’s Hop Yard” is a near complete invention of the
filmmakers. In what was an already a customary
A.I.P. tradition, executive producer Roger Corman, and producers Samuel J.
Arkoff and James H. Nicholson were no doubt hoping to exploitatively piggy-back
off of the surprising success of Polanski’s classic Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
As was the studio’s modus
operandi, A.I.P. rolled out The
Dunwich Horror in a sweeping west-to-east geographic fashion, supporting
this new release at drive-ins and theaters with one or two other fiendish films
from the company catalog: The Tomb of the Cat (a more pronounceable
re-title of Roger Corman’s The Tomb of
Ligeia), The Oblong Box (1969),
and even Destroy All Monsters (the
legendary 1968 production of Japan’s Toho Productions, but issued in the U.S. by
A.I.P. in the late summer of 1969.)
In addition to being a reliable and fairly popular leading man, Ray Milland also showed some talent as a film director. In total, he directed five movies- among them "The Safecracker", a 1958 low-budget British film noir made by MGM. The fast-moving story concerns one Colley Dawson (Milland), an expert safecracker who uses his skills for a home security company. He is hired out to design safes for wealthy clients that can be deemed impossible to crack. Although regarded as a genius in his field, Colley is in a deep funk. He's in his fifties, has no home to call his own and still lives with his doting, aging mother (Barbara Everest) in a small home in a nondescript street in London. When Colley lands a major, lucrative contract for his company, his skinflint boss "rewards" him with a bonus of a measly five pound note. Colley's fortunes change when he is contacted by Bennett Carfield (Barry Jones), a wealthy man who divulges that he earns his income through trading in stolen antiques. He entices Colley to use his safecracking skills to form a criminal partnership with him in return for 50% of the profits. Colley doesn't need much persuasion. Feeling he is on the road to nowhere, he is eager to finally enjoy the finer things in life and has no ethical reservations about how to acquire them. Before long he is sneaking into affluent people's homes and relieving the owners of prized possessions. He adopts a dual identity. During the work week, he remains the wimpy employee of an ungrateful boss. On weekends, however, he tools around in a fancy sports car, dates a glamorous, sexually-charged minor actress and bets extravagant sums on horses. Things come to a crashing halt, however, when Scotland Yard gets wind of his activities. Carfield urges him to stop his safecracking because he is under suspicion but the arrogant Colley insists on pulling off one more caper- which he does with disastrous consequences. He soon finds himself in jail facing an eight year sentence. However, two years into his term, England is at war with Nazi Germany. He is approached by military intelligence with a tempting offer: accommodate a team of commandos on a highly dangerous mission in occupied Belgium in return for a full pardon. The plan revolves around a list of German secret agents in England that is being stored in safe inside a heavily guarded country chateau. The plan is to infiltrate the house, have Colley and the team penetrate the safe and photograph the list. If it works, the Nazis will be none-the-wiser that their agents' identities are now known. Colley agrees to go but proves to be a handful for the unit in which he will serve. He's not only long in the tooth, he's got tusks. Still, he completes a crash course in parachuting techniques and before long finds himself behind enemy lines but separated from his companions. From this point, the plot revolves around Colley meeting up with his team because their mission is useless without his participation. As director Milland manages to milk some occasional suspense out of the proceedings and sensibly turns his age into an asset. He can't keep up with his younger companions and his newly-found playboy lifestyle intrudes when his attempts to romance a Resistance girl almost compromises the mission. The final scenes of the film, set inside the chateau, are handled well and the ironic ending is rather moving.
"The Safecracker" is definitely "B" movie fare, but that isn't meant as a knock. It's quite entertaining throughout and Milland gives a highly amusing performance as a rogue who finds himself serving his country's war effort with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. The film features a fine cast of British character actors with Barry Jones particularly impressive. The Warner Archive release features considerable artifacts but they are a minor distraction. Most annoying is the fact that the night footage (much of it derived from newsreels) is so dark that you feel as though you are peering into an inkwell. Still, this is consistently entertaining film that will have cross-over appeal for lovers of crime movies, spy flicks and WWII films. A weather-beaten original trailer is also included. The DVD is region-free.
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The Vinegar Syndrome video label continues to unearth obscure examples of 1960s erotica. None is more bizarre than "Infrasexum", a 1969 concoction by director/actor Carlos Tobalina, who would ultimately be regarded as one of the more prolific hardcore filmmakers. Back in '69, however, it was still difficult to get theatrical showings of hardcore films, which were generally relegated to 8mm film loops sold in adult book stores. Tabolina tried to push the envelope with "Infrasexum" but was still confined by the dreaded "community standards" obscenity laws that mandated only soft-core movies could generally be shown without causing a major legal flap from local conservative groups that had routinely declared war on pornography. "Infrasexum" (I have no idea what the title means and apparently neither did Tobalina) attempts to tell a poignant story about the toll the aging process takes on sexual libido. The film opens in the offices of Mr. Allison (Eroff Lynn), a fifty-something successful business executive who is despondent over the routine lifestyle he is leading. He has money galore but exists in a gloomy state of mind. He's also depressed (in this pre-Viagara era) about his inability to perform sexually with his bombshell wife (Marsha Jordan), who prances about their penthouse clad in a see-through nightee. Determined to start a new life, Allinson sends his wife a goodbye letter, turns the control of his company over to two trusted employees and takes off for parts unknown. He immediately feels liberated from the day-to-day grind. He ends up in Las Vegas and almost reluctantly wins $250,000 in cash. He doesn't need the money but for the first time in ages he feels he's on a winning streak. He drives to L.A. where he has a chance encounter with Carlos (Carlos Tobalina), a somewhat kooky but charismatic man who routinely grubs money from him but also introduces him to a new lifestyle with his hippie friends. Before long, Allison is taking in rock shows in discotheques on the Sunset Strip and experimenting with pot. Carlos tries on several occasions to cure Allison's sexual problems by setting him up with willing young women but the result is always frustrating failure to launch. At one point an unrelated sub-plot is introduced in which Allison is kidnapped by two thugs who threaten his life and shake him down for big money. They also murder a helpless young woman in his presence. In one of the lamest action sequences ever filmed, Allison breaks free and kills both men in an unintentionally hilarious manner. Allison treats this presumably life-altering incident as though it's a minor distraction and before long is taking up his lifetime's goal of becoming a painter. An admiring young woman invites him back to her house but, once again, Allison can't seal the deal between the sheets and he has to call Carlos over to act as his stand-in!
It's difficult to say exactly what Tobalina expected to accomplish with this film. Is it an attempt to present a poignant look at the frustrations of the aging process with some full-frontal nudity tossed in? Or did he intend to simply dress up a sexploitation film with some legitimate dramatic story line aspects? In either case, the result is downright weird. Tobalina's insertion of a gruesome murder also seems like an after-thought designed to appeal to horror movie fans. It's got plenty of gore but is so unconvincingly shot and directed that the sequence elicits more laughter than chills. Whatever early talent Tobalina might have conveyed on screen is compromised by the bare bones production budget, which was probably close to zero. Technical blunders abound. In some scenes you can see the shadow of the cameraman in center frame. In others, people's voices are heard even though their lips aren't moving. Still, the film at least aspires to be superior to most soft-core grind house fare of the era. As a trip back in time, it has merit. It presents some wonderful, extended views of the Las Vegas Strip, for example, and we can relish the marquees extolling such performers as Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Don Ho and Little Richard. Tobalina also gets out of the bedrooms long enough to take us on a scenic tour of local L.A. sites as well as the Sierra Nevadas. Tobalina is at his best when he gets out of the boudoir and shows us travelogue-like footage. On a coarser level, the film also provides an abundance of good looking young women who romp around starkers. The movie would be primarily of interest to baby boomer males who want a trip back in time to an era in which such fare was considered daring and controversial. It's bizarre qualities will also appeal to fans of cult sexlpoitation films.
The Vinegar Syndrome release looks great and the remastered print even shows us the grit and dirt that occasionally appeared on the camera lens. An original trailer is also included that is truly a laugh riot, in that a God-like voice virtually commands us to see "Infrasexum" because it's a "classic".
The dividing line between a film being an homage and a rip-off is sorely tested with "Forsaken", a 2015 Canadian Western by director Jon Cassar, who is best known for his acclaimed, award-winning work in television. This is a rare venture into feature film making for him and the result left me with decidedly mixed emotions. The film marks another collaboration between Cassar and actor Kiefer Sutherland, who starred in Cassar's wildly successful TV series "24". That the two men are comfortable with each other's style is immediately apparent from the first frames of the film. We want to extend kudos to them for bravely venturing where few in the movie industry dare to tread any longer: the realm of the Western, a genre that has been routinely neglected for decades. Despite the success of Westerns such as "Unforgiven", "Dances With Wolves" and "Open Range", studio chiefs can't seem to get over the ""Heaven's Gate" syndrome, the monumental 1980 Western that almost sunk United Artists. Even hardened criminals are punished less time than the poor Western genre,so we extend our respect to anyone who tries, no matter modestly, to revive it. The problem with "Forsaken" is that a lot of talented people are doing fine work in a film that is so blatantly inspired by Clint Eastwood's Oscar winning "Unforgiven" that it comes close to bordering on parody. The initial blame begins with screenwriter Brad Mirman, who depends far too heavily on elements from Eastwood's magnificent production. Let's start with the title, which is a transparent attempt to evoke "Unforgiven". (In fairness, Eastwood himself was less-than-original in his use of this title. He changed the film's title from "The William Munny Killings" and replaced it with the name of an unrelated John Huston Western from 1960, "The Unforgiven".) Then there is the movie's protagonist, John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland), who carries similar baggage to Eastwood's William Munny. He is haunted by a violent past and a penchant for committing bloodshed. He has returned to his hometown after a period of years and hopes to live his life as a pacifist, a lofty goal that the viewer will recognize as being doomed from the get-go. He soon finds that the town is populated by cowardly people who are letting a greedy land baron, James McCurdy (Brian Cox) use a mercenary gang to intimidate or even kill any homesteader who refuses his offer to buy their land. As in "Unforgiven", our hero is initially slow to anger and resists his inner demons. In Clayton's case, he is routinely abused, insulted and beaten by the mercenaries, who are led by Frank (Aaron Poole), who is so vicious that he even gets chastised by his employer, McCurdy. I kept waiting for a character to appear who would emulate Richard Harris's English Bob, the aristocratic gunslinger from "Unforgiven". Sure enough, along comes Gentleman Dave Turner (Michael Wincott), who displays the wit and gallows humor of dear ol' English Bob. Not helping matters is director Cassar, who aids and abets this pantomime by insisting that Sutherland pretentiously pose like Eastwood in "Unforgiven", as well as speak like him (distinctive, barely audible voice) and dress like him (he even wears a hat that is more than coincidentally similar to Eastwood's from that film). The "homage" syndrome goes into overdrive in the film's violent conclusion, which- to the surprise of no one familiar with "Unforgiven"- also takes place in a saloon, where a heavily-armed Clayton enters and engages a small army of bad guys in a one-man massacre. At times, it appears to be a frame-by-frame remake of the Eastwood film.(In fairness, Cassar does dip a bit outside of the "Unforgiven" pool long enough to replicate a sequence from the climactic barroom shootout from "The Shootist".) The epilogue imitates "Unforgiven" in an unforgivable manner, with scenes at an isolated grave while a narrative fills us in on the fate of the main characters.
Despite all of these reservations, it may come as a surprise to you that I liked and admired "Forsaken" very much. The script does introduce a few original elements. When Clayton returns home many years after experiencing the horrors of the war, he discovers that his former lover, Mary-Alice (Demi Moore), had presumed he was dead and ended up marrying a local man. They now have a small son and although Mary-Ellen professes to be perfectly happy, it's quite apparent there is still a spark between she and Clayton. More intriguingly, there is Clayton's relationship to his father, William (Donald Sutherland), the local reverend, who welcomes his estranged son back by informing him that his mother died and that her last hope was to see him but he never came. The two men settle into a tense domestic situation until John finally unburdens himself about a terrible secret that has been haunting him and that has inspired him to renounce violence. He also blames himself for the accidental death of his brother when they were kids. Ultimately, the clearing of the air leads both father and son to form a close bond but it is threatened by McCurdy and his men- and we know it will only be a matter of time until John takes up arms again. This plot element (the reluctant gunslinger) has been a staple of the Western genre for many years. (Think "The Gunfighter", "Shane", "The Shootist") but it still provides ample dramatic circumstances for a good director to capitalize on- and Jon Cassar is a good director. He has a real feel for the Western genre and elicits uniformly excellent performances from his entire cast, including Demi Moore who is refreshingly cast in a mature, non-glam role. To credit screenwriter Mirman, he capitalizes on the first screen teaming of both Sutherlands by providing realistic and engrossing situations and dialogue. The two actors bring a certain emotion and pathos to their on-screen relationship that is obviously enhanced by their real-life status as father and son. The movie is also gorgeously photographed by Rene Ohashi and features a fine score by Jonathan Goldsmith. Perhaps because I've seen "Unforgiven" so many times and have written about it extensively, I may be more sensitive to the similarities between the films, which I did find admittedly distracting. More casual viewers will probably not encounter this dilemma and enjoy "Forsaken" for what it is: a superior entry in the Western genre.
The Blu-ray from Entertainment One features only one bonus extra: a "making of" documentary which consists of the usual bland observations by people who were interviewed while a movie is still in production. (Who is going to say anything negative when they have to still work with each other?) Although director Cassar and Kiefer Sutherland acknowledge they emulated the traditional Western film elements in the making of the movie, neither man comes clean by mentioning "Unforgiven" specifically, which is a little like ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the saloon.
There have been a few effective "non-traditional" Westerns of recent vintage, "The Hateful Eight" being the most prominent but I would also highly recommend the Kurt Russell-starrer "Bone Tomahawk". However, if you have been starving for a Western that sticks with basic elements, this is the best I've seen in a number of years.