Explosive Media, the German based boutique video label, has released the 1975 Charles Bronson crime thriller "Breakout" on Blu-ray. Bronson was riding high at the time, coming off the sensational success of "Death Wish". The film was originally supposed to star Kris Kristofferson under the direction of Michael Ritchie but those plans soon fell apart. Bronson took over the lead role with veteran director Tom Gries at the helm. The film finds Bronson well-cast as Nick Colton, a shady businessman/con man/grifter who operates a variety of small time business ventures on the Mexican border with his partner Hawk Hawkins (pre-kooky Randy Quaid.) Nick is living hand-to-mouth when he is approached by Ann Wagner (Jill Ireland) with a proposition to help her husband, Jay (Robert Duvall), escape from a Mexican prison where he has been sentenced after being framed for a murder. Time is of the essence because Jay is in declining health and may well be too weak to help effect his own escape. Colton and Hawk's first attempt to spring him ends disastrously and they barely escape back to America. Colton concocts an audacious plan for a second escape attempt that involves split-second timing. He will arrange for a helicopter to land in the courtyard of the prison and in the inevitable confusion, Jay is to make his way on board and presumably fly away to freedom. In order to pull off the caper, Nick enlists the help of a professional helicopter pilot as well as Myrna (Sheree North), a married ex-call girl who will be used to distract some of the guards when the copter lands inside the prison. When the pilot gets cold feet, Nick is forced to fly the chopper himself despite the fact that he only has minimum experience doing so. Another complication ensues when Jay is confined to the prison hospital and doubts he will be able to be in the courtyard at the precise moment Colton lands.
"Breakout" was inspired by an incredible 1971 real life escape in which an American was indeed rescued by helicopter from a Mexican prison. The screenplay has some other sub-plots that are poorly developed and quite confusing, but some of which are obviously related to the actual escape including some rumored involvement by the CIA. In the film, Jay Wagner's frame-up takes place at the behest of his evil tycoon grandfather, Harris Wagner (John Huston) for reasons that never become clear. Apparently, Harris is concerned that Jay may inherit some control over the company Harris runs with an iron fist, though these plot points remain murky as does the involvement of some CIA characters. Another potential plot device, which finds Nick and Ann obviously attracted to each other, also goes nowhere. The film has a rushed look to it and there are some unsatisfying aspects caused by the movie's rather abrupt ending. The movie studio, Columbia, apparently felt the film was a rather weak production and thus gambled on a massive ad campaign that probably cost more than the film's modest budget. Ads for "Breakout" were everywhere: in newspapers, on TV and on radio. Additionally, the film opened wide in 1,000 American theaters, which was a big number in 1975. The movie was dismissed by critics with Variety calling it a "cheap exploitation pic", and indeed the main poster artwork and graphics looked surprisingly amateurish considering this was a golden age for film poster designs. Nevertheless, Bronson's appeal seemed to override these negative factors. "Breakout" proved to be a major hit and helped cement his status as a top boxoffice attraction though his clout would gradually diminish henceforth.
Like a lot of older movies, "Breakout" probably plays better today than it did at the time of its initial release. Bronson is in top form and gives an unusually energetic performance that allows him to stress his rarely-used talent for light comedy. The only other standout member of the cast is Sheree North, as the epitome of the sexy cougar. She's a fast-talking, tough cookie who parades about in sexy lingerie in an attempt to seduce Bronson. (Surprisingly, Bronson's character does not engage in any sexual action throughout the movie.) Robert Duvall is largely underutilized in a low-key role and performance that could have been credibly played by almost any other competent actor. Huston's presence in the movie is disappointing, also. His role is confined to a few scattered cameo appearances that probably don't last more than two minutes. Some other familiar faces include Paul Mantee, Alejandro Rey, Roy Jenson and the Mexican cinema's favorite bad guy, Emilio Fernandez. As for Bronson teaming for the umpteenth time with real life wife Jill Ireland, the gimmick was wearing thin. Some screen couples could team without wearing out their welcome. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made many films together but they were always playing entirely different characters in entirely different scenarios. Bronson and Ireland, despite being competent actors, were no Liz and Dick. It became clear that their films together were largely made possible by Bronson's clout with the studios. Although Ireland always gave credible performances, she never lit up the screen. After a while the sheer predictability of their on-screen teamings probably undermined Bronson's popularity because it constrained him from interacting with other actresses. It was a trap Clint Eastwood also fell into for a period of time when he cast Sondra Locke in the female lead in six of his movies over a period of only seven years. Despite these gripes, it must be said that director Tom Gries keeps the pace moving briskly and there isn't a dull moment. He also knows how to milk some genuine suspense out of the helicopter escape scene, which is exceptionally well photographed by the great cinematographer Lucien Ballard. Jerry Goldsmith also contributes a typically fine score. The movie was shot in a wide number of locations including California, Mexico, Spain and France, where the impressive edifice that serves as the prison is located.
Scene stealer: Sheree North in posed cheesecake publicity photo for the film.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray looks terrific and contains the original trailer and an impressive stills gallery. The film is presented in either the English or German language versions. The region-free Blu-ray can be ordered through Amazon Germany or through Amazon UK.
The tagline for the 1971 crime movie The Last Run reads "In the tradition of Bogart and Hemingway..." That would probably seem preposterous to assign to an action film with most of today's soft-boiled leading men, but it seemed perfectly appropriate at the time for a movie starring George C. Scott. The script by Alan Sharp, who also wrote such underrated gems as The Hired Hand, Night Moves and Ulzana's Raid, is perfectly tooled to Scott's persona. With facial features that look like they were chiseled out of granite, the actor, who had just won the Oscar for Patton, is well-suited to the tough-as-nails character of Harry Garmes. Harry has forsaken a life in crime for a seemingly idyllic retirement in a small Portugese fishing village. Happiness, however, does not follow him. Shortly after their young son died, Harry's wife left for Switzerland to have her breasts lifted only to run off with another man. In one of the film's most amusing lines, Harry says he thought she was having them lifted as part of a surgical procedure. He finds that old adage "Be careful what you wish for- you just might get it" has special pertinence to his life abroad. He has succeeded in establishing the low-key, no risk lifestyle he so badly desired. However, he is now bored and feels out of place. He has a friendship with a local fisherman (Aldo Sanbrell) and a middle aged hooker who genuinely likes him (Colleen Dewhurst), but he feels he'll die of boredom. Thus, he decides to take on one more simple crime run, a seemingly low-risk job that involves transporting an escaped convict over the border to France.
The escape is cleverly planned and goes well, but Harry immediately gets a bad vibe from his passenger, a smart-mouthed, often manic career criminal named Paul Rickard (Tony Musante in a truly unnerving performance.) Ignorant of what the caper is actually all about, Harry is soon disturbed to learn he has to pick up Rickard's sexy young girlfriend Claudie (Trish Van Devere) to accompany them. Harry is the kind of man who doesn't like unexpected developments and his instincts prove correct. Before long, he finds himself wrapped up in a complex situation defined by double crosses and deathtraps. To say much more would ruin some of the more surprising elements of Sharp's gritty script, which is punctuated by smart dialogue. Director Richard Fleischer and the great cinematographer Sven Nykvist fully capitalize on the exotic scenery (the film was actually shot in Spain) and eschew studios to shoot even the interiors in actual locations. The decision adds immeasurably to the atmosphere of the movie, which is tense and engrossing throughout.
The film also benefits from a wonderful score by Jerry Goldsmith and fine supporting performances. From a trivia standpoint, the movie afforded Scott to star on-screen with then-present wife Dewhurst and future wife Van Devere.
The Last Run is an atmospheric crime thriller. It may not have looked like a work of art in its day but today it approaches that status, basically because when it comes to stars like George C. Scott, they just don't make 'em like that anymore.
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Kino Lorber has been doing yeoman work by releasing first rate Blu-ray editions of obscure films that have largely been lost to time. Case in point: the little-seen "Wolf Lake", shot in 1979 by veteran director Burt Kennedy, who also wrote the screenplay. The production was an oddity for Kennedy, who was primarily known for working within the western movie genre (among his gems: "Hannie Caulder", "The War Wagon", "Support Your Local Sheriff" and "The Train Robbers".) Apparently, Kennedy had an enthusiasm to make this low-budget ($1 million) contemporary suspense thriller. Through his friendship with aspiring producer Lance Hool, Kennedy was able to get the film off the ground with Rod Steiger as the only "name" actor at the time. The story opens at the titular location, a sleepy benign remote location deep in the Canadian wilderness (filming actually took place in Mexico because of investments made by the Mexican government). A group of old friends led by Charlie (Steiger) arrive by seaplane for their annual hunting trip but for reasons never explained, their guide is not waiting for them. As they are helpless to move about the area without him, the men are confined to the lake area and several log cabin lodges that are built to house hunters. The only other people on hand are the new caretaker David (David Huffman), a long-haired, bearded young man that the ultra conservative Charlie takes an immediate dislike to. He taunts the quiet, intense David with typical anti-hippie wisecracks from the era. The vacationing men also discover that David has a live-in girlfriend, Linda (Robin Mattson), whose job is to cook for the men. The situation becomes increasingly tense when the four older men make overtly insulting and sexist remarks about Linda within earshot of the attractive young woman. A confrontation follows and things go downhill from there. Making matters worse, Charlie learns that David is a deserter from the American military- a fact that gnaws at him because he is still mourning his own son who was killed in Vietnam. Charlie and his friends are all WWII veterans and have little sympathy for David's situation, even when he tries to explain that he did not desert because of cowardice, but rather, because of disillusionment when he participated in a massacre of innocent Vietnamese civilians. The briskly-paced script sees Charlie becoming increasingly incensed at David's presence as he attempts to goad him into a violent confrontation. Initially, the other three men are able to keep Charlie from resorting to violence but after a while, he induces them to follow his lead. After encouraging the men to get extremely drunk, he has them break into David's cabin, knock him unconscious and then violently gang rape Linda. In the aftermath, Charlie correctly assumes that David will want vengeance. A shootout occurs in which one of Charlie's friends is killed by a stray bullet. With the gloves now completely off, Charlie and his two surviving partners-in-crime ruthless try to hunt down their younger prey. The finale of the film finds the couple trapped in a hunting lodge as their stalkers try various ways to gain entrance and kill them.
At first glance "Wolf Lake" is a low-budget rip-off of Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs". The film recreates the Peckinpah movie in many key aspects: the slow-to-anger protagonist, the sexual degradation of his lover and the finale that finds the heroes holed up in an confined space while under relentless siege. However, Burt Kennedy's script does try to introduce an original angle that was very much in the American psyche at the time: the aftermath of the recently-concluded Vietnam War. The character of Charlie is like a combination of Archie Bunker and the title character played by Peter Boyle in the movie "Joe", a hardcore, old-time conservative who laments the changing face of America and increasing tolerance of diversity. Although Charlie is clearly a venomous personality (he's even nasty to his friends), there at least is some legitimate nuance in that one can understand his resentment of David since he has lost his own son in the war. The movie does have some aspects that stretch reality. Would the sight of a single attractive young women turn a group of otherwise "normal" middle-aged men into sex maniacs? Also, while there is no doubt that mixing drunken men and guns can result in dire consequences, it seems hard to believe that Charlie could turn his gullible companions into cold-blooded murderers. Nevertheless, this is a tightly-scripted thriller that generally works. Steiger, who often has a tendency to chew scenery, never goes over-the-top and gives a genuinely chilling performance. David Huffman is very fine as the object of Steiger's rage (tragically, Huffman was killed in real life in 1985 while trying to thwart a minor crime), and the sparse supporting cast is also very good: Mattson and character actors Paul Mantee ("Robinson Crusoe on Mars", "A Man Called Dagger"), Jerry Hardin and Richard Herd (best known for playing George Constanza's boss, Mr. Wilhelm, on the "Seinfeld" TV series). Director Kennedy doesn't provide anything original in terms of concept or execution but he does wring enough suspense out of the tired premise of humans hunting humans to make the film reasonably entertaining.
My earliest introduction to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s
immortal Faust was not through the
original work of the revered German playwright. Perhaps original work is not
the best description of Goethe’s exploratory tragedy. The premise behind its conception – the
selling of one’s soul to the Devil for personal rewards and glorified ambition
- were based firmly in the tradition of austere Germanic folklore and accompanying
Teutonic condemnation. This allegorical fable
has formed the basis of so many subsequent films, books, and television scenarios,
that the concept has now passed into cliché.
My earliest encounter with a Faustian fable was likely Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1936 celebrated
short story The Devil and Daniel Webster. Benét’s tale transported the misguided and
tragic exchange of souls from Goethe’s grim, decaying German village to the
rugged hills and blue skies of New Hampshire. Benét’s short story was simply one more link in a long tradition. His tale was inspired by an earlier (1824) Washington
Irving short story also inarguably Faustian in execution.
One of my favorite films from childhood was RKO’s Academy
Award winning production of The Devil and
Daniel Webster (1941), which featured Walter Huston as the titular demon. If the fresh air setting of The Devil and Daniel Webster was
filtered almost completely through a prism of Americana, F.W. Murnau’s silent
epic Faust: a German Folktale (1926) is
most certainly its grim progenitor, one mirroring the darkest impulses of pre-War
Weimar Republic Germany. Working closely
from the storyboard charcoal sketches and ink and pencil concept drawings of his
imaginative expressionistic set designers Robert Herlth and Walter R?hrig, his
production of Faust Murnau would effectively
create a visually sodden and nightmarish world.
The film begins with a brilliantly choreographed
celestial argument between a gleaming, white-winged Archangel and a series of
Devils (the “Three Scourges of Hell”). The former champions the notion that man is essentially righteous and of
good will. The Devil’s cynically counter
– sadly, perhaps more realistically - that “No man can resist evil.” Choosing to test their argument, the Devil’s
wager they can tempt and transform a good man such as the humble, learned Faust
into a selfish, self-interested individual, motivated only by his personal
Faust (played by Swede G?sta Ekman) is a doctor and a
well-intentioned man of science, frail, elderly, and long-bearded. He is spending his golden years in a humble
garret, warmed by a hearth and surrounded by the piles of books accumulated over
a lifetime. These books, essentially,
signify the collective knowledge of man. Though he is also a dabbling alchemist, there’s no notion he’s
interested in the accumulation of gold in pursuit of riches and comfort. He’s more interested in the exacting exercise
of scientific formula.
There was a time once, in the far long ago, when
a kid, on any given Saturday, could take a quarter from his allowance and spend
an entire afternoon at his local neighborhood movie theater. The “Saturday Matinee”,
as it was called, was a weekly event that usually included the showing of a
couple of cartoons, a bicycle race, a Three Stooges short, a double feature, a serial
and a popcorn fight or two. Serials, in case you don’t know, were short,
two-reel chapters of a story that usually ran for 12 chapters, each chapter
ending in some kind of a cliffhanger in which the hero of the story seemed to
face imminent doom. You’d have to come back the next Saturday to learn how the
he got out of it.
Several studios produced serials during the Cliffhanger’s
heyday, which spanned the period from the 1930’s to the 1950s. They leaned
heavily on newspaper comic strips for their sources. Universal brought Flash
Gordon to life in perhaps three of the best serials ever made with Buster
Crabbe in the starring role. Columbia released a couple of Batman serials as
well as Superman, the Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician. But the studio that
produced more serials than any other—and some would argue the cream of the crop—was
Republic Studios. In terms of production values, scripts, stunts, and clever
cliffhanger chapter endings, no one else came close. And without doubt, one of
Republic’s best was “Daredevils of the Red Circle” (1939).
“Daredevils of the Red Circle.” What a great
title. Has certain ring to it, doesn’t it? You might wonder how they came up
with a title like that. Well, first of all, you need to know that as the story
begins a deranged criminal has escaped from prison. Harry Crowl, who refers to
himself only by his prison serial number, 39013 (pronounced Thirty
Nine-Oh-Thirteen) was sent to prison by millionaire philanthropist Horace
Granville (Miles Mander). Crowl has vowed revenge on Granville, and has
dedicated himself to destroying all of the wealthy industrialist’s various
properties. Crowl is played by none other than Charles Middleton, best known as
Ming the Merciless in the Flash Gordon chapter plays. Said to be a really nice
guy in real life, Middleton’s craggy face, hollow eyes and deep menacing voice
kept him in demand as one of the best movie villains ever to appear on the
As the story opens he has already set his sights
on the Granville Amusement Center as his next target. It so happens that a trio
of circus daredevils is appearing there, including aerialist Gene Townley
(Charles Quigley), escape artist Bert Knowles (Dave Sharpe), and strong man Tiny
Dawson (Herman Brix). Quigley is a barely known actor who never gained much of
a reputation but he does a good job here as a true blue hero. He probably could
have been cast as Captain Marvel if he’d had a better agent. Dave Sharpe was
one of Republic’s best stunt men, and although he was doubled for some of the
more dangerous stunts this time around, in this one he took quite a few flying head-first
leaps and had an abundance of fist fights. Herman Brix played Tarzan in an
earlier serial filmed in Guatemal and later had a fairly distinguished acting
career after he changed his name to Bruce Bennett.
But let’s get back to explaining how they
came up with the serial’s title. Thirty Nine-Oh-Thirteen’s men set fire to the
Granville Amusement Center which results in a personal tragedy for the trio of
acrobats. Now out of a job anyway, they offer their services to Granville to
help track down Thirty Nine-Oh-Thirteen
and bring him to justice. Granville has a daughter, Blanche, (Carole Landis)
who lives in the Granville Mansion with her father. Granville is a sickly old
man who can only communicate with visitors by telephone from inside a sanitized
room on the other side of a glass barrier. (Did you know Blake Edwards wrote a
character like that in one of his scripts for an episode of “Peter Gunn”? Guess
he was a Daredevils fan.) There are a couple of big surprises in the first
chapter alone, including the fact that Granville isn’t exactly who he appears
to be. As the story progresses chapter by chapter, the Daredevils receive help
from a mysterious, cloaked, and hooded figure who creeps around the Granville
mansion leaving cards with clues and hints written on them, all of them signed
by someone calling himself The Red Circle. Thus the title “Daredevils of the
For 12 thrilling chapters, the daredevils,
using their individual skills and strengths, manage to escape Thirty
Nine-Oh-Thirteen’s fiendishly clever machinations and death-dealing devices. Among
other perils, they avoid drowning in a flooded tunnel, being burned alive, gassed
to death, blown up, and disintegrated by a death ray. Will they finally capture
Thirty Nine-Oh-Thirteen and discover who is the mysterious Red Circle? You won’t
find out until Chapter 12, “Flight to Doom,” where all is revealed.
“Daredevils” was directed by William Witney
and John English, the team that turned out 17 of Republic’s 66 serials. This
was number 14 for them. Witney handled the action scenes, English did the
dialog scenes. The script was by written by five screenwriters including Barry
Shipman, Franklin Adreon, and Ronald C. Davidson, all veteran serial writers
who were adept at devising clever and believable cliffhanger chapter endings.
Kino Lorber has done another terrific
restoration job on the Blu-ray of “Daredevils of the Red Circle,” just as they
did with Roy Rogers’ “Sunset in the West,” reviewed earlier. The picture
quality of the 1080p transfer from a 4K scan is outstanding. A lot of the
serial was filmed outdoors in various locations around Los Angeles, all of
which look great in high def. It’s a fascinating look at LA before it was
ruined by the freeways, over-development, traffic congestion and
Informative and entertaining commentary on
several of the chapters is provided by film historian Michael Schlesinger on a
separate audio track. The disc also includes some trailers for other KL Studio
Classics releases. I recommend you get this one. Just make sure you have plenty
of popcorn and soda pop on hand. I guarantee once you start Chapter One, “The
Monstrous Plot,” it will be hard to switch it off. Thirty Nine-Oh-Thirteen and
the Daredevils will keep you hooked for the whole three and half hours.
Olive Films has released the 1963 Jerry Lewis comedy "Who's Minding the Store?" on Blu-ray. The film was made at the peak of Lewis's solo career following the breakup of Martin and Lewis some years before. The movie was directed by Frank Tashlin, who collaborated with Lewis on his best productions. It can be argued that, with the exception of Lewis's inspired "The Nutty Professor" (released the same year as "Store"), his work never reached the heights that he achieved by working with Tashlin, a talented director and screenwriter who never quite got the acclaim he deserved. "Store" is one of Lewis's best movies because it's also one of his funniest. He plays Norman Phiffier, a nerdy manchild who fails at even the most elementary of careers. When we meet him he's trying to make ends meet by running his own dog-walking service, which provides some amusing sight gags as Norman attempts to control about twenty dogs at the same time. Despite being a loser in terms of career, he's landed the right girl: sexy Barbara Tuttle (Jill St. John), an heiress to the famed Tuttle department store chain. Barbara shuns her heritage largely because she is estranged from her overbearing and dominating mother, Phoebe (Agnes Moorhead) and wants to make a career on her own instead of relying on her mother's bribes to live life under her terms. Barbara works at a Tuttles store in the innocuous career of being an elevator operator, working under an assumed last name. Her nice guy father John (John McGiver) plays along with the charade though he, too, suffers from his wife's constant nagging and insults. When Phoebe learns that Barbara is dating a common man with no financial resources, she devises a plan to break up their relationship before they can get married. She instructs her sniveling store manager Quimby (Ray Walston) to hire Norman and then assign him a series of humiliating and seemingly impossible tasks with the intention of having him fail and therefore lose Barbara's respect. However, despite a series of chaotic mishaps, Norman perseveres and frustrates Quimby by using some inventive methods of carrying our his assignments. These scenes are the highlights of the film, with Lewis in top form whether he is inching out on a horizontal flag pole on a skyscraper in order to fulfill a minor paint job or dealing with obnoxious customers who make extravagant demands. (Among them is Nancy Kulp as a legendary female big game hunter whose dictatorial demeanor results in Norman destroying an entire department). In the finale, Norman has to contend with an errant super vacuum cleaner that goes out of control and sucks up everything from women's furs to their pet dogs. It's a marvelously funny and inventive sequence that feature some highly impressive special effects work.
"Who's Minding the Store?" finds Jerry Lewis and Frank Tashlin in top form. The cast of esteemed "second bananas" are all wonderful, especially the great John McGiver who finally gets to find his mojo at the movie's climax. Other familiar faces from the era include Lewis's favorite foil, Kathleen Freeman and Richard Deacon. Francesca Bellini is memorable as Walton's sexpot secretary who is intent on sleeping her way to the top. Most of the comedic scenarios are highly predictable (once you see Lewis handling an appliance, there's no doubt he's going to wreak havoc with it) but predictability is an asset in a Lewis film. Not having seen the movie in many years, I was pleasantly surprised that it still made me laugh out loud.
The Olive Films Blu-ray looks very good indeed but the release continues the company's rather frustrating trend of almost never including any bonus material. C'mon guys, throw in at least a trailer (we'll provide one for you here). Highly recommended.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of "Tough Guys", the 1986 crime comedy that is best remembered for being the final screen team-up between old friends Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. The film had unusual origins. In the early 1980s, Lancaster and Douglas made a very funny joint appearance on an Oscars broadcast and joked about being beyond their years as matinee idols. Up-and-coming screenwriters James Orr and Jim Criuckshank were greatly amused and began to ponder the possibility of pairing both actors for the first time since 1963, when they co-starred in the Cold War classic "Seven Days in May". Both actors were enthused about the project and Disney gave the film the green light. The movie opens at a penitentiary where Harry Doyle (Lancaster), age 72 and his partner in crime Archie Long (Douglas), age 67, are preparing to enter the free world for the first time since they were convicted in 1956 of committing the last train robbery in American history. Upon being released, they are told by their sympathetic probation officer Richie Evans (Dana Carvey) that they are prohibited from seeing each other for a period of three years, an edict that the men promptly ignore. They find a new world has come about during their years of confinement and getting used to the new technologies and more liberal social attitudes takes quite a bit of adjusting. Both men are committed to staying on the "straight and narrow" but things quickly go awry. Archie lands some menial jobs but balks at the abuse he is forced to take by both employers and customers. Harry ends up being forced to live in a senior citizen home where the meek residents are routinely exploited and belittled by the cruel staff. Before long he gets a reputation as a trouble-maker for instigating the residents to stand up for their rights. Both men do have success in resurrecting their romantic lives. Harry reunites with Belle (Alexis Smith), a former flame who coincidentally also lives in the same senior citizen home. Archie gets picked up by Skye (Darlanne Fluegel), a sexy twenty-something who finds novelty in bedding a much older man who is in such superb physical condition. A running gag in the plot finds Harry and Archie being stalked by Leon B. Little (Eli Wallach), a once-feared hit man who is now virtually blind. Leon was hired thirty years ago by a gangster to carry out a contract on the men but he can't remember why. Nevertheless, he's determined to carry out the task. Archie and Harry also have run-ins with Deke Yablonski (Charles Durning), the obnoxious detective who had them jailed thirty years ago and now stalks them like Javert, warning everyone that he suspects they will resort to crime once again. Ultimately, he's right. Fed up with being disrespected, Harry and Archie decide to live life on their own terms- and this includes pulling off an audacious caper by robbing the old time train they had originally targeted in 1956.
"Tough Guys" exists solely for the purpose of reuniting two Hollywood legends. If not for the presence of Lancaster and Douglas it would probably have been made as a TV movie. While the screenwriters deserve praise for bringing this reunion to fruition it must be said that their script is never quite as funny as you might expect it to be. The situations tend to be predictable and some of the scenarios play out in an overlong fashion, such as when Archie ends up working in an ice cream parlor and has to contend with an obnoxious kid. While the entire enterprise is consistently amusing, we never get the belly laughs that the various scenarios seem to promise. There's plenty to like about the film, however. Just seeing the gracefully-aged Lancaster and Douglas, dressed to the nines in their suits and fedoras from the 1950s, is a true pleasure- especially when we realize that both men would suffer terribly debilitating health problems in the years to come. The film benefits from the light touch of director Jeff Kanew, who had previously worked with Douglas on "Eddie Macon's Run". Kanew doesn't go over-the-top in a quest for a yuck and allows the charisma of his two stars to shine brightly. The supporting cast is very good across the board but it's Eli Wallach who steals every scene he is in and provides the funniest moments of the movie. I should point out that the opening credits (remember when movies had them?) are terrific. We see the camera glide over the relics of Archie and Harry's past, frozen in time: custom-made suits, expensive liquor, newspaper clippings of their capers, fine cigars, etc. As the credits unfurl, the sequence is set to a marvelous song, "They Don't Make Them Like They Used To", written by Henry Mancini and Carol Bayer Sager and nicely crooned by Kenny Rogers. It evokes a real sense of past glories even before we're introduced to the characters. The musical score by James Newton Howard is not nearly as impressive, relying on dated synthesizer sounds that sound cheesy today. Some of the more amusing aspects of the movie find our heroes getting used to "modern" society in 1986 when the era looks like ancient history today: girls with big hairdos in spandex involved in the new aerobics craze, not a cell phone in sight, slam dancing and the shocking novelty of accidentally walking into a gay bar.
In 1973 film critic Roger Ebert described Michael Winner’s The Stone Killer (1973) as a ‘superior example of its type - tough cop against the mob - and probably the best violent big-city police movie since Dirty Harry.' The Stone Killer certainly does have a lot working in its favour. The film arrived during a period where the tough cop drama was arguably at its peak. One could perhaps argue that, most would follow a particular formula or style, but they fulfilled a demand. The police vs the mob was certainly nothing new but the subject matter was still trending successfully during the early to mid-Seventies. As a police sergeant proclaims to Bronson’s character, ‘nothing changes, only the names.’
Director Michael Winner had certainly turned a corner after completing the western Lawman in 1971. The decision towards making American movies is one that Winner adapted to well. Bronson was considered by some as an awkward actor to work with, but by the time of The Stone Killer, Winner and Bronson had already completed two films together, the revisionist western Chato's Land (1972) and the action thriller The Mechanic (1972). Clearly there was a happy medium between both director and star and the partnership was also proving to be lucrative.
The Stone Killer doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. If 95 minutes of tough, no nonsense action is something you seek, then Bronson delivers the goods - hard and fast. Bronson plays Detective Lt. Lou Torrey an ex-New York City cop who is side-lined to the L.A. Police Department following criticism over his style of law enforcement. In L.A. he begins investigating a mysterious chain of events involving a violent campaign of murder. The trail eventually leads Torrey to the Mafia and Al Vescari (Martin Balsam). Vescari has hired an outfit of Vietnam veterans to stage an ambush that will wipe out the entire Italian mob leadership, thereby gaining revenge for a series of assassinations of Sicilians on April 10, 1931.
In general, the plot is somewhat thin, so it’s perhaps not worth spending too long examining it or dissecting it to any major degree. In short, it’s Bronson in a cop thriller with plenty of great action pieces, some great stunts and a whole lot of gun play. Winner’s direction is fast-paced and tight and the whole thing is wrapped up in a superb Roy Budd score which undoubtedly provides extra bite and attitude. The supporting cast also seem to relish their roles, no more so than Paul Koslo as Alfred Langley, a super character actor and the bad guy we all love to hate. Koslo had a knack of carving out these niche roles for himself, appearing in Joe Kidd (1972) and cult classics like Cleopatra Jones (1973), Freebie and the Bean (1974) and reuniting opposite Bronson again in Richard Fleischer’s Mr. Majestyk (1974).
Indicator’s region free Blu-ray marks its UK premiere and an impressive package it is, too. The Stone Killer is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and in 1080p. Sourced from Sony’s HD remaster, the picture quality stands up incredibly well, there is an especially well defined and vivid look about the film, especially in the daylight scenes of which there are plenty. It is an extremely clean picture, with a minor amount of original grain. Its colour retains a nice natural and consistent look which works well. It appears that Sony have appeared to resist the temptation of tinkering and adjusting too much and as a result, the film holds on to its 70s taste and texture. The same can be said for the audio department, which is both clean and true. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track is punchy and free from any form of distortion or defects.
Indicator’s bonus material is led by an audio commentary from journalist and film programmer Nick Pinkerton who examines the history and production of The Stone Killer. It’s an interesting walk through in which Pinkerton clearly demonstrates he has done his homework and keeps the viewer engaged. Keeping with the audio delights, the disc also includes composer Roy Budd’s complete isolated score in stereo. Licensed by way of the Twilight Time Blu-ray release, Mike Matessino’s efforts to make these scores available is always welcome, and of course, appreciated a great deal by soundtrack enthusiasts in general. Roy Budd’s work here is regarded as one of the great retro scores and its inclusion here is close to essential.
Also included is an audio only recording of Michael Winner’s John Player Lecture. Recorded on September 13th, 1970 and with a running time of 65 minutes, Winner is interviewed by Margaret Hinxman at the National Film Theatre, London. The interview finds Winner in a relaxed, confident and incredibly humorous mood. Always with a plenty to say, he speaks without hesitation and with a ‘take it or leave it’ honesty. He is both entertaining and engaging throughout and often has his audience breaking out in spontaneous laughter. It’s a super find and entirely worthy of inclusion.
it was actually his second film, 1988’s Stormy Monday marked the big screen debut of Mike Figgis; his
earlier feature, four years prior, was made for television. Given that it
was essentially a debut, though, the cast that the director managed to assemble
was quite remarkable; Tommy Lee Jones, Melanie Griffith, Sting and Sean Bean
(who looks about 18 but was actually 29) headline in a grim tale of corruption
set against the nightclub scene in Newcastle. With almost every frame screaming
1980s – from the neon-tube title emblazoned across the screen to Bean’s
trousers and Griffiths’ hairdo – the blend of jazz and sax-infused score
affords the proceedings a vaguely noir vibe. Unfortunately little of the above
provides sufficient grist to save the resulting film from the morass of
midst of a week of festivities celebrating everything American, drifter Brendan
(Bean) gets a job as a cleaner at the Key Club, a successful jazz nightspot
owned by Finney (Sting). Brendan clicks with his employer who quickly identifies
the lad as someone he can trust, with more worth to him than someone sluicing
vomit off the toilet floor. Finney is currently being harassed by shady
American businessman Cosmo (Jones) to sell him the club. As a man whose first
tactic is to send in the heavies to mete out a little physical persuasion, Cosmo
will clearly stop at nothing to get what he wants. Brendan meets and enters
into a relationship with waitress Kate (Griffith), but he's unaware that she's
affiliated with Cosmo…
Now, I accept
that I’m in the minority, but I should say upfront that I've never been able to
engage with Stormy Monday on any
significant level. Its pacing is just that little too sedate and it's gloomy to
the point of depressing. There’s also a serious dearth of likeable characters;
in a film of this ilk there should always be someone to root for, and the absence of sympathetic characters
completely undermines a climactic sting (lame pun intentional), robbing it of
the dramatic weight and emotional heft it desperately cries out for.
real stumbling block for me is the insipid performances. Sting is a terrific
musician, but I've never found him a particularly compelling screen presence
and his dialogue delivery here is shallow and unconvincing. Injuriously though,
he's only one among a number of surprising offenders. Jones too – a marvellous
actor with a bevy of splendid character performances under his belt – exudes
disinterest and proves frustratingly bland. Most disappointing in this respect,
however, is Griffith, who I absolutely adored back in the 80s; the same year as
Stormy Monday she appeared in The Milagro Beanfield War and Working Girl, the latter for which she
was Best Actress Oscar nominated; such a lacklustre turn sandwiched between two
such outstanding ones is a bitter pill to swallow. It may well be that these
underwhelming performances are a reflection of (what I consider to be) the colourless
narrative that the characters populate. I can’t decide, because Bean – in the
infancy of what would build into an impressive screen career – is decent
enough, with all the signs of a star in the making in evidence and there are
also small but memorable roles for Alison Steadman and James Cosmo (as a
deliciously simmering psychotic). Bond buffs meanwhile will want to keep an eye
open for Clive Curtis, Dulice Liecier (fresh off her glam CIA agent spin in The Living Daylights) and Prunella Gee.
there nothing worth dipping in to Stormy
Monday for? I honestly feel there isn’t. Roger Deakins' cinematography is
suitably moody, and those familiar with Newcastle might glean some pleasure
from the extensive location footage of the great City as it looked three
decades past. But beyond that, this one’s probably for diehard fans of the
actors within and Figgis completists only. Said
completists will doubtless be delighted with the fine new hi-definition Blu-Ray
release of the film from Arrow Video. Supplements are slender but add value; along
with a Figgis audio commentary moderated by Damon Wise, there's a 33-minute
retrospective documentary in which critic Neil Young discusses the film at
length whilst strolling around some of the film's locations, a stills gallery
and the original theatrical trailer. The release includes reversible sleeve art
and a limited edition collectors' booklet.
‘I was there; I was in that picture, fighting
the Cyclops on the beach, running from the dragon! I was enthralled. It's one
of my strongest childhood memories.’ It’s very hard to argue with director John
Landis’s vivid account of his earliest memories and the fantasy films of Ray
Harryhausen and producer Charles H. Schneer. They seemed to touch us all in an
indelible manner and took us into a fantasy realm far beyond our imagination.
Indicator has (for the first time in the UK) combined the three Sinbad
adventures in one very handsomely produced package. It’s a magical box that has
very little trouble in sending us on a journey, and back to a place called
The Seventh voyage of Sinbad (1958) was
something of a revelation back in its day. Ray Harryhausen’s pioneering stop-motion
animation had worked so well in films such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
(1953), It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) and 20 Million Miles to Earth
(1957). However, he was about to enter a new period and face a new set of
challenges. Along with his producer Charles H. Schneer, Harryhausen was about
to embark on their next collaboration, The Seventh voyage of Sinbad, and it was
to be made in full colour.
The story of The Seventh voyage of Sinbad was
quite simple and uncomplicated. Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) and Princess Parisa’s
(Kathryn Grant) plans of marriage are interrupted by the evil magician Sokurah
(Torin Thatcher). Sokurah insists that Sinbad return a lamp that he lost on the
island of Colossa. Sinbad at first refuses, which leads to Sokurah shrinking
Parisa and blackmailing Sinbad and his crew on a dangerous adventure in order
to save her.
Exciting as the story was, the real magical
elements were of course in the monsters and creatures the Sinbad would
encounter along the way and was very much were Harryhausen stepped in.
Considering its age and taking into account the combination of early colour
film and special effects techniques, Harryhausen’s work was nothing less than
miraculous. From that startling entrance of ‘the Cyclops on the beach’ that
Landis so excitingly refers to, we as an audience are hooked. The blending of
an enormous, mythical creature and real life people, seemingly in a real
location, was enough to take any child’s breath away and leave them both complexed
and in wonder. There was naturally more to come, the giant Roc, the mysterious
snake woman, the fire breathing dragon and perhaps most enthralling of all
sequences, Sinbad’s sword duel with the living skeleton. The results were not
only seamless, but utterly mindboggling.
The new 4K restoration of The Seventh voyage
of Sinbad (from the original camera negative) really brings it to life. Colours
are both rich and vivid. Certain backgrounds may occasionally look a little
grainy, but nevertheless perfectly acceptable and no doubt down to separate
film elements used in the film’s original production. The high resolution scan
perhaps highlights these limitations to some degree. It’s necessary to also
remember, this production was working to a tight schedule and an even tighter
budget. However, simply look at the level of detail in close-ups and location
shots, and the real revelation of the restoration becomes extremely clear. The
audio also sounds marvellous and is presented in both mono and DTS
Speaking of revelations, Indicator’s
collection of bonus material is exhaustive – ‘exhaustive’ in the most
complementary way I might add. Firstly, we have a commentary track (from 2008) which
not only features Harryhausen at the helm, but a whole host of industry
wizards. Producer Arnold Kunert, visual effects experts Phil Tippett, Randall
William Cook and Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven Smith all provide fascinating
insights and their respect towards Harryhausen’s work is undeniable.
Also included are the original Super 8mm cut
down versions. As any serious movie fan of a certain age will recall, these
were essential, especially if you were growing up in the 70s. Before the
introduction of videocassettes, these 200ft spools contained around 8-9 minutes
of film and featured condensed sequences or key scenes from the movie. You
could buy these in different versions such as b/w silent or colour sound (which
were a lot more expensive). Four parts were released for The Seventh Voyage of
Sinbad – The Cyclops, The Strange Voyage, The Evil Magician and Dragon’s Lair –
which was the reel I owned and watched over and over again. Each of these
segments is presented in their raw state, complete with speckles and tram line
scratches, but to be honest, I wouldn’t really want them any other way. They
are a wonderful, retrospective reminder of those glorious days. I should also
point out that parts 1 and 4 are in their colour / sound versions while parts 2
and 3 are in b/w / silent. There is also an option to play individual reels or
The Secrets of Sinbad (11.23) is a featurette
with Phil Tippet (in his workshop) recollecting on how he grew up on
Harryhausen’s films. He talks about the whole period and Forrest J. Ackerman’s
Famous Monsters magazine and how this became a key influence in his own career
Remembering The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad
(23.31) has Harryhausen talking about the struggle in getting the film made. He
talks about various elements including the shooting in Granada, Spain, and
Majorca. Kerwin Matthews, the building of giant props, his creature designs and
his disapproval over the English censoring of the skeleton fight are among the
many other subjects discussed.
A Look Behind the Voyage (11.52) is a TV
featurette from 1995. It looks to be from a video source, which was being used
regularly during this period. This short piece features interviews with both
Schneer and Harryhausen and looks back at the early work such as Mighty Joe
Young and his fairy tale films. It also looks at the importance of his parents
and the role they played, the difficulties in moving from b/w to colour and
working to tight budgets. It’s a nice informative, condensed piece.
Music promo (2.34) – Well this is a nice rare
little piece and the sort of thing that really grabs my interest. In 1958,
Colpix (the record division of Columbia pictures), produced this 7” 45rpm
single to be played in cinema lobbies, radio shows and for giving away as kids
competition prizes. The song ‘Sinbad May Have Been Bad, But He’s Been Good to Me’
is as cheesy as hell, but oh so wonderful. It’s presented here in beautiful,
clear sound and played over a piece of Seventh Voyage poster artwork.
The Music of Bernard Herrmann (26.52) is a
fascinating essay on composer Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann biographer Steven
Smith presents an insightful and eloquent account of the composer’s love of
fantasy films. Smith takes us through his early work including CBS radio, Orson
Welles’s Mercury theatre, his innovative instrumentation style and his use of
Theremin, Brass and electronics. All of which is fascinating.
Keeping on the subject of Bernard Herrmann,
Indicator have pulled off a real treat with the inclusion of Herrmann’s full
isolated score. Presented in Stereo, the score is rousing, clean and dynamic,
it is also plentiful as Herrmann leaves very few scenes unscored. I believe
this marks its debut as an isolated score, but 2009 complete score CD (released
by Prometheus) came with a total time of 71 minutes, so expect a lot of great
Birthday Tribute (1.00) features a short
birthday tribute to Harryhausen from Phil Tippet’s studio – complete with
The Trailer Gallery starts with the original ‘This
is Dynamation!’ trailer (3.26). This is a fascinating preview that presents the
process of Dynamation and includes some rare behind the scenes footage, effects
shots and Kerwin Mathews practising with his fencing coach for the skeleton
fight. We then have the same trailer introduced and with a commentary from
Trailers from Hell presenter Brian Trenchard-Smith (4.47). Finally, there is
the re-release trailer which I believe is from 1975 (1.46).
The image gallery is quite comprehensive and
contains approx. 75 steps. This is a little misleading as a great deal of
portrait shots are placed side-by-side, so in reality there’s a great deal
more. Here you will find original promotional material, Harryhausen drawings,
b/w stills, mini lobby cards, comic books and poster art from around the
The Warner Archive has released the 1972 MGM thriller The Carey Treatment. James Coburn has one of his best roles as Dr. Peter Carey, a rebellious but esteemed pathologist who moves to Boston to take a prominent position at one of the city's most esteemed hospitals. The charismatic Carey loses no time in gaining friends, alienating top brass and bedding the comely chief dietician (Jennifer O'Neill). However, he soon finds himself embroiled in a politically volatile investigation when a fellow surgeon is arrested for performing an illegal abortion on the 15 year old daughter of the hospital's crusty administrator (Dan O'Herlihy). (The movie was released a year before the landmark Roe V. Wade decision that legalized abortion in America.) Coburn believes his friend's protestations of innocence and decides to launch his own investigation into the matter. The case soon unveils a lot of skeletons that some prominent people would prefer to be kept in their closets and Carey finds himself subjected to blackmail and physically assaulted as he comes closer to discovering the shocking truth behind the young girl's death.
Dario Argento – whose directorial career has
now spanned almost 50 years, positioning him as a genuine icon of terror cinema
– is probably best associated with his clutch of intoxicatingly imaginative chillers,
each of them ornamented with brutal (and increasingly graphic) murder scenarios,
stylishly lurid lighting schemes and wildly inventive camerawork.
Throughout the second half of the 1960s
Argento had found a degree of success in writing stories and screenplays for movies;
he most famously worked alongside Sergio Leone for 1968's Once Upon a Time in the West. But it was taught 1970 thriller The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (o.t. L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo) that
marked his debut in the director’s chair and set him on the path to becoming
the Godfather of the giallo.
Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante), an American
writer currently residing in Rome, walks past a brightly lit art gallery late
one night and sees inside a shadowy figure, clad in black, stabbing a woman.
Attempting to intervene, Dalmas manages to get himself trapped in the entrance
between two sets of locked sliding doors, unable to prevent the assailant from
fleeing and helpless to assist the woman left bleeding to death on the floor.
Fortunately, aid arrives and the woman – Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi), wife of
the gallery's owner – survives. It transpires that Monica was the almost-victim
in a series of attacks that have left several beautiful women dead. Dalmas becomes
obsessed with the case, replaying what he saw over and over in his head,
convinced that he's missing a vital clue to solving the mystery. But in getting
involved he inadvertently sets himself up as a target for the killer.
Argento not only directed but also wrote The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (basing
it thematically on a 1949 pulp novel, “The Screaming Mimi”, by Frederic Brown).
He would go on to make better movies but for a debut feature this really is an
exemplary piece of film-making, bearing many of the embryonic flourishes – clearly
influenced by the works of Alfred Hitchcock and Mario Bava – that would later
become his trademark; specifically the faceless, black-gloved killer whose
nefarious activities are often shot POV and, on a more cerebral level, the misperception
of a witnessed moment, with characters struggling to retrieve a clue buried in
their subconscious, the significance of which failed to register upon them when
initially glimpsed. These recurrent themes would play out to varying degrees of
success in many of Argento's later films, most significantly Four Flies on Grey Velvet (o.t. 4 mosche di velluto grigio, 1971), Cat o'Nine Tails (o.t. Il gatto a nove code, 1971), Deep Red (o.t. Profondo rosso, 1975, considered by many to be the greatest of all
the Italian gialli), Tenebrae (o.t. Tenebre, 1982), Phenomena (1985), Opera (1987),
Trauma (1993), The Stendhal Syndrome (o.t. La
sindrome di Stendhal, 1996), Sleepless
(o.t. Non ho sonno, 2001), The Card Player (o.t. Il cartaio, 2004), Do You Like Hitchcock? (o.t. Ti
piace Hitchcock, 2005) and Giallo
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage itself is a masterpiece of sustained
suspense. The escalating tension during a scene in which the hero's girlfriend
(Suzy Kendall) is menaced by the killer – who uses a large kitchen knife to
methodically chip away at the lock on her apartment door – is as perfect an
example as one could wish for as to why Argento is often referenced as the
Italian Hitchcock. The violence – notably an out-of-shot vaginal stabbing – was
transgressive for its day, and in spite of the fact that far more shocking
atrocities have been unflinchingly splashed across the screen in the decades
since, several moments in Argento's fledgling offering still pack quite a visceral
Few would argue that George C. Scott was one of the greatest actors of stage and screen. His presence in even a mediocre movie elevated its status considerably and his work as the nutty general in "Dr. Strangelove" was described by one critic as "the comic performance of the decade". When Scott won his well-deserved Oscar for Best Actor in "Patton" (which he famously refused), he seemed to be on a roll. His next film, the darkly satirical comedy "The Hospital" predicted the absurdities of America's for-profit health care system in which the rich and the poor were taken care of, with everyone else falling in between. The film earned Scott another Best Actor Oscar nomination despite his snubbing of the Academy the previous year. From that point, however, Scott's choice of film roles was wildly eclectic. There were some gems and plenty of misfires that leads one to believe he was motivated as much by commerce as artistic expression. One of his worst films, the 1974 crime comedy "The Bank Shot", has been released on Blu-ray with a gorgeous transfer by Kino Lorber. If only the film itself lived up to the quality of the transfer. It's pretty hard to bungle a comedic crime caper. Alec Guinness used to knock out classics like "The Lavender Hill Mob" , "Kind Hearts and Coronets" and "The Ladykillers" seemingly in his sleep. In the 1970s Hollywood studios were enamored of the works by novelist Donald E. Westlake, whose books provided ample fodder for lightweight caper comedies such as "The Hot Rock" and "Cops and Robbers", both of which had much to recommend about them. Not so with "The Bank Shot". Not having read the novel, it's possible that it had plenty of merits, but suffice it to say that the film's director, Gower Champion, and his equally estimable screenwriter, Wendall Mayes, needed to provide a light hand in transferring it to the screen. Instead, they ended up with a lead foot.
Scott plays Walter Ballentine, a notorious and famous heist master whose last caper went awry. When we first see him he's serving a life sentence in a desert prison camp run by his arch nemesis, a lawman named Streiger (Clifton James, essentially recreating his role as dopey Sheriff J.W. Pepper from "Live and Let Die", with the addition of constantly smoking foot-long Churchill cigars.) Ballentine receives a brief visit from one of his confederates in crime, Al Karp (Sorrell Booke), who informs him that he has a plan to help him break out of the prison camp with the intention of joining his new gang. He sneaks Walter the plans for an audacious caper in which the gang will put a small Los Angeles bank on a set of wheels and literally steal it by attaching it to a truck and driving it away. In the first of many preposterous scenes, Ballentine manages to break out of prison using a Caterpillar earth mover and despite the fact that the vehicle moves about fast as a real caterpillar, the police are unable to catch up with him. He meets up with El (Joanna Cassidy), a bored rich beauty who is financing the caper seemingly out of boredom. She and Ballentine meet up with Karp and several other misfits who will work together to pull off the robbery. In order for even a nutball comedy premise to work it has to have its roots in some sense of believability. However the screenplay asks us to believe so many far-fetched premises that is never remotely believable. As with all similar films, the initial stages of the caper go well only to have unexpected twists of fate threaten to thwart the best laid plans of the lovable culprits. Why George C. Scott chose to be involved in this modest enterprise is anyone's guess but it may have been the rare opportunity to work with director Gower Champion, a legend for his work on Broadway. Champion only directed two feature films in his life (the other being the little-remembered 1963 romantic comedy "My Six Loves") and its equally puzzling as to why "The Bank Shot" lured Champion back to the film industry after a full decade. In any event, Champion is the main culprit for the film's failures. He seems determined to recreate the screwball comedies of the Keystone Cops era. Supporting characters dress absurdly, wear ludicrous disguises and the actors who portray them are encouraged to chew the scenery with over-the-top performances. (Among the other talents victimized by Champion's direction is young Bob Balaban.) Even Scott doesn't emerge unscathed- he sports exaggerated eyebrows that make him resemble Leonid Brezhnev. Champion goes for belly laughs but most fall embarrassingly flat, like that drunk at a party who tries to get laughs by dancing about with a lampshade on his head. You desperately want to like "The Bank Shot" and occasionally there are a few genuine chuckles to be found amidst the debris, which is all set to a jaunty score by John Morris. However the only crime worth remembering from this caper is that people wasted their money to see it in theaters.
The Blu-ray release contains an original trailer that features original footage of Joanna Cassidy in a bathtub that plays up the sexual aggressiveness of her character in the film. There is also a trailer for the far superior "Cops and Robbers", which is also available from Kino Lorber. Kudos to the company for retaining the wonderful poster art by Jack Davis for the sleeve.
Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” emerged as a surprise box-office smash
in the early months of 1972, studios and distributors hustled to meet popular
demand for more movies about life in the Mob. In New York, a dubbed print of Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 film “Le
Samourai” was hurriedly retitled and screened as “The Godson” in a masterful
example of bait-and-switch marketing. Melville’s chilly, claustrophobic picture about a hit man portrayed by
Alain Delon is a fine crime drama, but it had no connection to Coppola’s
picture or, for that matter, to any aspect of American Mafia lore at all. “The Valachi Papers,” based on Peter Maas’
bestselling nonfiction book, followed as a more legitimate successor. Rushed through production by Dino De
Laurentiis in spring and summer 1972, the film was scripted by Stephen Geller
and directed by Terence Young. Shooting
largely took place at De Laurentiis’ Rome studio. The producer claimed that he’d originally
intended to film wholly in New York, and some preliminary exteriors were shot
at Sing Sing prison. Then the production
relocated to Europe upon receiving threats from the Mafia, publicity materials
said. It’s a good story, whether or not
it was completely true. (I suspect that
De Laurentiis was motivated less by fear of the Mob than by the expediency of
getting the movie in the can as quickly as possible. That was easier done in Rome than in New York
or Hollywood.) Released by Columbia
Pictures, “The Valachi Papers” opened in U.S. theaters on November 3, 1972. The strategy of riding Coppola’s shirttail
was successful; despite largely mediocre reviews, “The Valachi Papers” earned
healthy ticket sales and became one of the top-grossing pictures of 1972.
movie follows the series of murders, double-crosses, and power struggles across
four decades of Mafia history that Maas chronicled in his 1968 bestseller,
based on accounts by informant Joseph Valachi. As a young man, Valachi (Charles Bronson) is inducted into the Mafia, or
La Cosa Nostra, after a chance meeting in a jail cell with Dominick “The Gap”
Petrilli (Walter Chiari) in 1923. Valachi works first for Gaetano Reina (Amedeo Nazzari) as the Gap’s
apprentice and partner. When Reina is
shot to death by a rival faction in a 1931 gang war, Valachi and Gap are
recruited by the big boss, Salvatore Maranzano (Joseph Wiseman). Later that year, the two join the crime
family of Vito Genovese (Lino Ventura) after the dictatorial Maranzano is
murdered in a Mob shake-up engineered by Genovese and Lucky Luciano. Valachi marries Gaetano Reina’s daughter
Maria (inevitably played by Jill Ireland), acquires a restaurant as a business
front, and dutifully toils for Genovese as a driver, collector, and occasional
hit man over the next two decades.
loyalty begins to fray when Genovese orders other minions to castrate his pal
Gap for unwisely going to bed with Genovese’s mistress. (The real Gap was the victim of a 1953
gangland murder, but not for the reason invented for the movie.) When Valachi is sent to federal prison on a charge of drug trafficking in 1959,
Genovese -- also serving time for narcotics distribution -- begins to suspect
that Valachi will rat him out for other crimes. In turn, Valachi fears for his life once he receives the “kiss of death”
from the boss during a tense meeting in Genovese’s cell. A botched hit follows in the prison shower
room, as Valachi jumps and overcomes a would-be shooter before the other man
can gun him down. Anticipating a further
attack, Valachi believes that he’s being stalked by another inmate in the prison
yard, and beats the man to death with an iron pipe. Later, he finds out that the stranger he
killed had nothing to do with Genovese or the Mafia. Facing additional time for murder and the
ongoing threat of a contract on his life, Valachi agrees to reveal the workings
of the Mafia to an FBI agent (Gerald S. O’Laughlin) and to testify at a Senate
hearing on organized crime.
script efficiently compressed Maas’ sprawling history into two hours of
camera-ready copy and added a dramatic center by focusing on the initially
respectful but increasingly uneasy relationship between Valachi and
Genovese. That it’s essentially a
two-man show revolving around those two characters, and not a solo spotlight
for Bronson, is appropriately reflected in Bronson’s and Ventura’s dual billing
above the title in the opening credits. Dramatically, the strategy of giving Valachi and Genovese nearly equal
prominence compensates for the fact that Valachi himself is largely a passive
character on a low rung in the Cosa Nostra organization. Aside from the opening sequence of Valachi
getting the jump on his would-be killer in the shower room, there’s a dearth of
physical action for Bronson. Genovese’s
Mob ambitions drive most of the plot. Too, the shared billing was probably a shrewd commercial move by De Laurentiis
and Columbia to guarantee strong box-office in the important European market,
where Ventura was immensely popular. At
that, Bronson’s star was still rising, and he’d shared top billing in other
recent movies like “Red Sun” (with Toshiro Mifune), “You Can’t Win ‘Em All”
(Tony Curtis), and “Adieu l’Ami” (Alain Delon). “The Mechanic” (released on November 17, 1972), “The Stone Killer”
(1973), and “Death Wish” (1974) put him on Hollywood’s upper tier, by himself.
Behind every ghoulish, nightmarish creature
brought to life on the silver screen, there are stories that blur the line
between history and myth. In this grey area of human history, we are forced to
question the limitations of man and contemplate the possibility of the
impossible. Two such stories are explored in the History Channel’s double
feature DVD release of Frankenstein: The
Real Story and The Real Wolfman.
The Real Wolfman (2009) follows a two man
investigation team who’ve traveled to France to search for the truth behind the
accounts of the fabled “Beast of Gevaudan.” The first half of this unlikely
pair of investigators is a cynical, retired New Jersey cop of 25 years. He plans to use modern criminal analysis to
prove it was a flesh and blood human behind 102 killings in the summer of 1764.
His partner is an experienced crypto-zoologist whose deep knowledge of the
myths and lore of lycanthropy lead him to believe that there was a supernatural
element behind the attacks. Together the two investigators suggest an
assortment of hypotheses and arguments, ranging from devil worshippers to a
well trained dog. Their inconclusive findings
ultimately cater to both believers and non-believers alike.
Frankenstein: The Real Story is actually a
collection of three separate documentaries produced by the History Channel. This, in effect, makes this double feature a generous
quadruple feature. The first
documentary, titled In Search of the RealFrankenstein (2006), focuses on the possible real world
inspirations for the character of Dr. Frankenstein as imagined in Mary
Wollstonecraft Shelley’s original novel. In exploring four major scientific minds
of the time, historians attempt to piece together how an 18-year-old girl could
create a story encompassing mankind, humanity, and the risks of trying to play
God. The second documentary is simply titled Frankenstein (1997), and explores Mary Shelley’s life and the men
who inspired her to write of a character who would create artificial life
through electricity. It also explores the character of the Frankenstein monster
and how the creature’s persona has evolved over the years. Ultimately, we’re forced to face the
question: is evil born or made?
The last and most inclusive documentary (also the
longest) explores nearly every interpretation of the Frankenstein legend and
the ever-evolving relationship between the monster and the media. It’s Alive: The True Story of Frankenstein (1994)
focuses heavily on the original Universal Studio’s film of 1931 and its many
sequels. But the film also goes on at
some length to talk about the Frankenstein series as imagined by Britain’s Hammer
Studios, the evolution of the monster’s makeup, Mel Brooks’ cult classic Young Frankenstein, and such modern day
spoofs like The Rocky Horror Picture
Show. This documentary also includes an impressive amount of celebrities,
historians, and fans of the Frankenstein legacy sharing their impressions,
including cameos by Eli Wallach, Sara Karloff, Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Robert
DeNiro, Roger Corman, and special effects artist Rick Baker… just to name a
few. Although seemingly out of his element, It’s
Alive! is hosted by the late, great Sir Roger Moore. In light of his recent passing, Moore’s
kindly face and baritone voice will undoubtedly bring a heavy hearted sigh to
Sir Roger Moore hosts the documentary "It's Alive: The True Story of Frankenstein".
The History Channel has provided four extremely
well researched and interesting documentaries about two of the world’s most popular
and enduring monsters. Frankenstein: The Real Story and The Real Wolfman are both enjoyable and
educational investigations… but I’m a history major, so I may be a little
biased here in my opinions. With their exploration of both the folklore origins
and real life accounts of monsters and werewolves, these four thoughtful documentaries
are a “must see” for avid fans of horror film and literature… or anyone,
really, interested in the evolution of two of the world’s most famous and
enduring myths and legends.