"The Secret Partner" is yet another unheralded gem from the cinematic past that has been made available through the Warner Archive. It's a fairly low budget British film noir that nevertheless is completing engrossing and will have viewers guessing throughout. Stewart Granger is John Brent, a successful executive at a London shipping company who we find in great distress from early in the film. It seems Brent is being routinely blackmailed by his milquetoast dentist, Beldon (Norman Bird). We don't know what he has on Brent until much later in the story, a clever device used by screenwriters David Pursall and Jack Seddon that only increases the interest of the viewer. Brent understandably despises Beldon but is intimidated enough by him that he continues to pay astronomical sums of money to buy his silence. In the interim, Brent can't explain to his wife Nicole (Haya Haraeet) why their money is disappearing almost as fast as he can earn it. She logically suspects that he is seeing another woman and their marriage very publicly goes on the rocks when she moves out. Meanwhile, Beldon himself is subject to the terrors of blackmail when a masked man with a gun demands that he follows explicit instructions to administer a drug to Brent during his next dental visit. While under the influence of sleeping gas, Brent is injected with a truth serum that results in his telling Beldon the combination of his company's safe. Additionally, Beldon follows instructions to remove Brent's office keys and make a clay impression of them. The masked man promises Beldon a payoff of 15,000 pounds if he complies- and death if he doesn't. Beldon pulls off his end of the scheme and Brent appears to be none the wiser. Predictably, the office safe of Brent's employer is rob of 130,000 quid and he is the logical suspect. The case falls into the lap of Det. Superintendent Frank Hanbury (Bernard Lee), a veteran cop who is counting the days until his imminent retirement. He questions Brent but when Brent realizes he is about to be arrested for grand larceny, he flees. Hanbury relentlessly pursues him even as his investigation leads him to believe that Brent might have been set up as a fall guy. Hanbury repeatedly interviews Nicole and discovers that she is apparently having affairs with some of Brent's most trusted friends and co-workers. Meanwhile, Brent is trying to avoid the police while he conducts his own investigation, desperate to prove he is innocent.
"The Secret Partner" is a prime example of the kind of efficient, low-profile films that used to be turned out regularly decades ago and this one is top notch throughout. It's impressively directed by the ever-capable Basil Dearden, who helmed other gems like "Woman of Straw" and "Khartoum". Granger, who should have been a much bigger star, is dashing and determined as a leading man and he plays well off of the great British character actor Bernard Lee. Lee's slow, unemotional approach to solving the case is a joy to watch, as he patiently absorbs the facts and tries not to jump to conclusions even as he smokes what must be a record number of cigarettes ever consumed by one actor in one film. The film is peppered with fine performances from an impressive supporting cast with Harareet especially enticing as Brent's sexy, estranged wife. Even the smallest roles are well-performed (keep an eye out for Paul Stassino, the ill-fated NATO pilot from "Thunderball" as a pimp!). There is also a funky if somewhat bombastic jazz score by Philip Green and some nice period photography around London. The real pay off is a surprise revelation near the end of the film that I doubt even the most astute viewer will see coming.
"The Secret Partner" is a thoroughly enjoyable film that represents the cliche "They don't make 'em like that any more!"
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of Linda Blair acting in the 1970s, and the ’73 horror classic The Exorcist
will likely be the first film that comes to your mind. But while there’s ample
reason for that movie to stand out as it does, Blair put on an equally
memorable performance – albeit in a completely different type of movie – in
1974’s made-for-TV feature Born Innocent.In that release, which has the feel of an especially harsh ABC
Afterschool Special, Blair plays an average, highly likable teenage kid who
becomes estranged from her worthless parents and winds up in a rough juvenile
detention facility, following some runaway attempts. Born Innocent can be
lumped in with the “babes behind bars” exploitation subcategory of films, but
there’s nothing campy about the TV movie. It’s downbeat, super realistic, and
five months after Born Innocent originally aired on NBC, the network showed
Blair in a similar type of story, with their broadcast of Sarah T.-Portrait of
a Teenage Alcoholic, in February of ’75. Shout! Factory has just introduced a new
Blu-ray version of the film. Blair, who
turned 16 a few weeks before the movie reached households, plays the troubled
title character, Sarah Travis. Sarah is a lot like Blair’s character Chris
Parker from Born Innocent. She’s a normal, relatable, well-intentioned teenage
girl going through some rough times. Sarah’s parents divorced a few years
before the outset of the story, when her materialistically ambitious mother got
tired of her artistically inclined husband’s (played by Larry Hagman)
unreliable ways. The mother (Verna Bloom plays her) remarried a more stable,
financially healthy man (William Daniels), and the family - which includes
Sarah’s older, married sister – moves from San Francisco to an upscale
neighborhood in Southern California.
are some factors that differentiate Sarah Travis’s life predicaments from Chris
Parker’s. While Chris is (was, before being sent to the reform school) being
raised by a physically abusive father and an emotionally absent mother, Sarah’s
three parents are actually trying to be good to her. Her artsy dad doesn’t have
the wherewithal to be a provider to her, and he often leaves her disappointed
by not being available enough to her; but at least he loves her and sometimes
has fun with her. And while Sarah’s mom is a feminist’s nightmare whose answer
to every life problem is “I’ll let my husband decide what to do about that,”
she means well in attempting to create a stable home environment for her
daughter. Ditto Sarah’s stepfather, who tries his best to connect with the girl
and see to her needs, without attempting to completely overtake the role of
father in her life. Also, Sarah has a love interest – a bright, sensitive guy
who is played by Mark Hamill, a couple years before Hamill’s breakthrough role
in Star Wars.
Sarah’s life is challenging for her, even if it’s not as seemingly hopeless as
Chris Parker’s situation. She misses her real dad and feels alienated by how
focused her mother is on social status, and how completely her mom defers to
her new husband in all matters. She’s had to change high schools, and faces the
same social pressures and anxiety any 15-year old would experience in having to
make that adjustment at such a psychologically volatile time in life. And while
the guy she likes enjoys her company and cares about her, he’s not ready to get
emotionally involved with her, the way she would like. All of this leads Sarah
to continually turn to alcohol, to “help me feel good.” What starts as an
occasional sneaky nip during a stressful moment, becomes a debilitating habit.
story of Sarah T. was written by the TV writing/producing husband and wife team
of Richard and Esther Shapiro, who are best known as the creators of Dynasty
and its spin-off series The Colbys. A novel based on the film, which shares its
title and plot elements, was written by author Robin S. Wagner and published as
a Doubleday paperback original a month after the movie aired on television. The
book is not something anyone needs to read if they’ve seen the film, and is
most memorable for its lurid cover image, that shows Sarah’s downcast face
superimposed over the contents of a pint of whiskey. The Sarah T. film was
directed by Richard Donner, whose other directorial efforts from the decade
include The Omen (’76) and Superman (’78).
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
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RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
BY LEE PFEIFFER
It may seem hard to believe in an era in which every personality on screen seems to be wearing a cape and tights but there are some intelligent films still being made for discriminating, mature viewers. The problem is that you often have to search to find them. Case in point: "The Lady in the Van", a 2015 British comedy/drama that found its intended audience but was relegated largely to the art house circuits in big cities. The movie is about as off-beat as you can imagine in terms of the central premise but we are told that it is mostly based on fact. Alex Jennings plays the film's real-life British playwright Alan Bennett, on whose experience the screenplay is based. Jennings was an aspiring playwright in 1974 when he moved to a relatively upscale neighborhood in London's Camden Town section. Bennett was enjoying some success with a show on the West End and was leading a fairly comfortable existence, though - at least in the film- he was frustrated by the fact that he no significant other. As a gay man, his unease was understandable- until 1969 homosexuality was a felony crime in Britain. Coming out of the closet was not something most gay people felt comfortable doing. The film presents Bennett creating his own live-in companion- an imaginary alter-ego with whom he trades barbs and discusses problems ranging from writers block to everyday household chores. His life takes an unexpected turn when a homeless woman arrives on his street driving a barely operable old van. She identifies herself as Mary Shepherd and is about as lovable as a tarantula. Mary becomes the talk of the posh neighborhood, moving her van occasionally to park in front of various houses. Some of the locals are kindly to her while others clearly disdain her, but all of them tolerate her presence and gets used to her. Mary keeps her "alternate side of the street" lifestyle going for several years. The van is her abode and she defends it with pride. She accepts handouts from neighbors but her prickly nature never results in her uttering the words "Thank you". Alan, like most of the locals, regards her with a bit of frustration as well as fascination. When a parking ordinance forces her van off the street, Alan offers his driveway as a place she can park "temporarily". You know how these things go. Before long, Mary has not only established the driveway as a permanent residence but is also making various demands on Alan to allow more privileges. Slowly, the months turn into years and both become accustomed to the bizarre living arrangements.(Mary never enters his home and the resulting effect on her hygiene is played for laughs). The two have a sometimes uneasy relationship but the gentle, meek Alan begins to care about her more than he will even admit to his alter-ego. He is wracked by guilt because his own aging mother is slowly deteriorating both mentally and physically and he feels guilty about having to have her committed to a nursing home. He uses Mary has her proxy so that an act of kindness towards her might help Alan alleviate some of his guilt about his mother.
Ultimately Alan's relationship turns to caregiver. Some of Mary's demands are reasonable (jury-rigging wires from his house so she can watch TV in her van) while others are too extravagant to comply with (constructing a tent so she can indulge in more hoarding of useless objects.) He also learns what the viewer has known from the opening, shocking frames: that Mary is hiding a terrible secret and lives in constant fear of being arrested. She, too, is wracked by guilt because she once killed a motorcyclist in an accident and fled the scene. We also learn that she is being blackmailed by an eyewitness (Jim Broadbent) to the event. Gradually, Alan sees her as a source of material for a writing project. He tracks down her only living relative, a brother who is somewhat estranged from her. He relates some remarkable details about her once-promising life and how it all went wrong when she sacrificed a musical career in order to join a convent. (The Catholic Church and religion play key roles in her life.) Nothing overly dramatic takes place in the leisurely-paced story but there is something remarkable the fact that Alan Bennett allowed this eccentric woman to spend a full 15 years residing in his driveway until her death in 1989.
Bennett published a journal about the experience titled "The Lady in the Van". In 1999, he adapted it into a play starring Maggie Smith. It was a major hit, running over 900 performances on the West End. The play's director, Nicholas Hynter, is a frequent collaborator of Bennett's, having worked with him on adapting Bennett's plays "The History Boys" and "The Madness of King George" for the screen. In 2015 they finally brought "The Lady in the Van" to the screen as well with Maggie Smith reprising the title role. Smith was now of an age where she could be even more convincing as the elderly eccentric and Bennett ensured that the movie was shot in the very house in Camden Town where the actual events took place. For all its charming aspects and the fact that the production presents two extraordinary performances by Smith and Alex Jennings, the end result is a mixed bag that you expect to move you in a more emotional way than it actually does. This is largely because Smith's character remains crusty, self-centered and pretty much an ingrate throughout. In the film's final moments, which details her death, Bennett and Hytner do manage to convey a softening of her persona in the final moments of her life but they then attempt to make her more lovable with an ill-advised funeral sequence in which we see the ghost of Miss Shepherd assuring us that she has found happiness in Eternity. The scene smacks of being a well-intentioned gimmick and seems somewhat out of place with the rest of the film. Jennings, known primarily as a stage actor, gives a marvelous performance as Bennett and manages the considerable achievement of not being overshadowed by the great Dame Maggie. The film starts off rather weakly but becomes more engrossing and satisfying if you stick with it. This is largely due to Bennett slowly unveiling key details about Miss Shepherd's challenges in life and the fact that she missed out on a promising musical career. Although Smith is very amusing in the comedic sequences, she is even more impressive in these dark, dramatic scenes. The end result is a mixed bag. The film is to be commended for presenting that rarest of screen experiences nowadays: an intelligent story aimed at adult audiences who seek fine performances and dialogue rather than mindless explosions. There are uneven and unsatisfying patches throughout but the performances alone merit it for recommended viewing.
Sony has released an impressive special edition Blu-ray of "The Lady in the Van". There are numerous featurettes including extensive interviews with Maggie Smith, Alan Bennett, Alex Jennings and Nicholas Hytner that give some interesting perspectives on the long history of the real life events that inspired the play and film. There is also a director's commentary with Hytner and some deleted scenes, some of which clearly show that Miss Shepherd is actually nt only extremely eccentric but is also suffering from dementia, as evidenced by her belief that she can be elected Prime Minister.
If you think extremist talk radio is a relatively new phenomenon, the release of the 1970 film WUSA on DVD by Olive Films shows just how far back the not-so-grand tradition goes. The notion of reaching out to the fringe elements of society is well-documented here, with Paul Newman as a down-and-out musician with some broadcasting experience who sells his soul by taking a job as a DJ on right wing extremist radio station WUSA in New Orleans. Newman knows he's being used as a pawn for white supremicist tycoon Pat Hingle, but willingly accepts the fame and fortune that he receives when his star begins to rise - despite personally despising the words he reads on the air. In between playing cornporn patriotic ballads, Newman's character, known as Rheinhardt, spouts incendiary rhetoric designed to empower racists who want to combat expansion of the welfare state. Along the way, he hooks up with sexy-as-hell Joanne Woodward, playing an equally down-and-out woman whose fortunes have declined so badly that she is rejected when she applies to be a stripper. If the film seems especially harsh on the right wing fringe, liberals aren't spared, either. Anthony Perkins plays a stereotypical do-gooder, a true believer that LBJ's war on poverty would result in the establishment of his Great Society. What he fails to realize is that he, too, is being used as a dupe by community leaders who are secretly being paid off by WUSA management. Thus, both the forces of right and left collaborate to ensure inertia among opportunities for the impoverished.
The mega-budget Waterworld laid a gigantic egg at the boxoffice when it was released in 1995. However, as with many commercial failures, there is considerable interest in the production even today, as evidenced by the ambitious release of a special edition Blu-ray through Arrow Films. Here is their official press release:
The most expensive film ever made at the time of its release,
Waterworld has thrilled audiences through the years with its awe-inspiring
action scenes, gargantuan maritime sets and ground-breaking special effects. A
definitive post-apocalypse blockbuster, Waterworld stars Kevin Costner (The
Untouchables) as The Mariner - a mutant trader, adrift in a dystopian future
where Earth is submerged under water and humankind struggles to survive on
boats and in ramshackle floating cities. The Mariner becomes embroiled with the
Smokers, a gang of pirates who, led by villainous leader Deacon (Dennis Hopper,
Blue Velvet), are seeking Enola (Tina Majorino, Napoleon Dynamite), a girl with
a map to the mythical realm of "Dryland" tattooed on her back. Famous
for both its epic scale and the controversy that swirled around its production,
Waterworld is a key cult film of the 1990s, and an essential entry into the
subgenre of ecologically-minded blockbusters. Presented here in an exclusive
new restoration, in three different cuts, and with a wealth of extra material,
this high-water mark of high-concept Hollywood can now be enjoyed as never
New restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
by Arrow Films, presenting the film in three cuts
Original 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 stereo audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of
Six collector’s postcards
Double-sided fold-out poster
Limited edition 60-page perfect-bound book featuring new
writing on the film by David J. Moore and Daniel Griffith, archival articles
and original reviews
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly
commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the
original theatrical cut
Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld, an all-new,
feature-length making-of documentary including extensive cast and crew
interviews and behind the scenes footage
Original archival featurette capturing the film's
Global Warnings, film critic Glenn Kenny explores the
subgenre of ecologically aware Hollywood blockbusters
Production and promotional stills gallery
Visual effects stills gallery
Original trailers and TV spots
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the
extended US TV cut, which runs over 40 minutes longer than the theatrical cut
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the
extended European “Ulysses” cut, which includes censored shots and dialogue
At the time of its release in 1962 critics treated director J. Lee Thompson's "Taras Bulba" as just another action epic. Well, back in those days, every week seemed to see the release of a worthwhile action epic. However, retro movie fans have long held this film in a place of honor. It has an intelligent script, fine performances and sequences that are truly magnificent in their scope- all set to the legendary Franz Waxman's superb, Oscar-nominated score. The film is unusual on many levels beginning with the period of history it covers: the battles between the Cossacks and Poles for control of the Ukraine Steppes in the early 16th century. When the film opens, the Cossacks are fighting with the Poles to thwart an invading Turkish army. However, the Poles double-cross their allies after victory has been achieved, slaughtering many of the Cossacks, whom they fear will be a future threat. The mantle of Cossack leadership falls to the courageous warrior Taras Bulba, who vows revenge against Poland no matter how long it takes. The Cossacks spend many years rebuilding their strength. During this time, Bulba fathers two sons: Andrei (Tony Curtis) and Ostap (Perry Lopez), both of whom do instill him with pride for adapting the rough-and-tumble ways of the Cossack warriors. When tensions ease with the Polish government, Taras instructs his sons to attend university in Kiev, ostensibly to get an education. In reality, he wants them to study Polish customs and habits, all the better to serve in the forthcoming war against them that he is planning. While in Kiev, the boys suffer the indignities of ridicule, beatings and hazings. (There is an amusing, if unintended,homo erotic aspect to some of these scenes, with sweaty, shirtless men whipping each other.) Andrei finds it's all worthwhile when he catches a glimpse of Natalia Dubrov (Christine Kaufmann), a beautiful young Polish girl who is from an influential family. Against all odds, he manages to catch her eye and ingratiate himself to her. The would-be lovers find ways to secretly meet to carry out their forbidden romance. (The notion of a Polish noblewoman carrying on a love affair with a crude Cossack warrior may seem far-fetched, but if the Cossack is Tony Curtis, I guess anything is possible.) When Andrei's interest in Natalia is discovered by her brother, a sword fight ensues in which Ostap mortally wounds the Polish army officer. The brothers escape back to the Steppes and the arms of their mother and father but Andrei still pines away for his lost love. Taras rallies the various Cossack tribes to join him in an assault on a city held by Poles. After a vicious battle, he bottles up his enemies inside the walls of the town and begins to starve them out. However, Andrei learns that Natalia is within the city and when plague breaks out, he makes an ill-fated decision to attempt to rescue her. This leads to the film's dramatic and very emotional climactic seen between Taras and Andrei.
"Taras Bulba" has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The transfer is outstanding and is so clear that some of the film's technical weaknesses appear more prominent than they probably did on the big screen. The scenes within Kiev are clearly achieved through the use of studio sets and matte paintings. Some scenes have a noticeable graininess to them and in certain cavalry charges, you might observe horsemen moving at sped up motion in the manner of the Keystone Cops. Nevertheless, this is an epic film indeed when it comes to the action sequences. One scene in particular is literally thrilling: the joining of the Cossack warriors on the open plain, all galloping at high speed to Franz Waxman's addictive musical score. The performances are also first-rate with Brynner giving a larger-than-life interpretation of Bulba in manner that no other actor of this era could achieve. Tony Curtis once again overcomes a New York accent (as he did in "The Vikings") and somehow appears completely credible. (An interesting footnote: Bulba's right hand man Shilo is played by Brynner's "Magnificent Seven" co-star Brad Dexter.) Christine Kaufmann was only 16 years old at the time of filming and the on-screen love affair with Tony Curtis replicated itself in real life: they began dating on the set and ended up getting married, though they divorced in 1968.
The Blu-ray disc includes an original trailer that absurdly proclaims, in the typical hyperbole of the day, that the film should be added to the list of "Wonders of the World"! Not quite. But say this for "Taras Bulba": it represents the kind of first rate action adventure epic of which it is often said "They sure as hell don't make 'em like that anymore."
Andrew V. McLaglen was almost predestined to be a movie director. The son of the legendary character actor Victor McLaglen, Andrew came of age on movie sets. His father often appeared in John Ford Westerns and Andrew developed a passion for the genre. He ultimately gained a foothold in the television industry during the late 1950s and early 1960s when TV Westerns were all the rage. He proved himself to be a capable and reliable director and eventually moved on to feature films. McLaglen scored a major hit with the rollicking Western comedy "McLintock!" starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in 1963. Two years later, he teamed with James Stewart for the poignant Civil War drama "Shenandoah". The film was a big success with both critics and at the boxoffice. Thus, Universal, the studio that released "Shenandoah", hoped to capitalize on the film's success and re-teamed McLaglen and Stewart for a Western, "The Rare Breed". Adding to the reunion aspect of the production, it co-starred Maureen O'Hara and Brian Keith. O'Hara had co-starred with Stewart in the 1962 comedy "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" and Keith was O'Hara's leading man in the Disney classic "The Parent Trap". Got all that? The script by Ric Hardman takes an unusual aspect of the Old West for its central plot line. Martha Price (O'Hara) and her daughter Hilary (Juliet Mills) have arrived in Texas from their home in England. They are bringing with them their prized Hereford bull, a breed not known in America. Their hope is to sell the animal at auction so that cross breeding American cows will eventually result in superior stock. The prim and proper upper-crust British ladies have endured a tragedy that isn't depicted on screen: the death of Martha's husband on the ship en route to America, although they seem fairly unperturbed, as they only fleetingly reference the dearly departed in the course of what follows. The Hereford is mocked by the cattle barons because it lacks the signature horns of traditional Texas steers. In a convoluted plot device, a smarmy rich man (David Brian) with an obsession for seducing Martha, bids on the Hereford to impress her. When his awkward attempts to bed her fail, somehow another unseen buyer steps forward and the beast must be transported to him via the efforts of a wrangler named Burnett (James Stewart). At this point, the story becomes difficult to follow. Suffice it to say that Burnett agrees to escort Martha, Hilary and their prized bull to the far-off destination to conclude the deal. Along the way, they are ambushed by Simons (Jack Elam), a greedy crook who causes a stampede of another cattle herd being escorted by Burnett's friend Jamie (Don Galloway.) In the resulting chaos, Simons intends to steal the Hereford as well as the money Martha has been paid to deliver the bull. If all of this sounds confusing, watching it unfurl on screen makes the plot even more fragmented when Martha accuses Burnett of also trying to swindle her. Ultimately, they all wind up at the outpost of the new owner, Bowen (Brian Keith), a Scottish eccentric who runs his own cattle empire and sees the possibility of crossbreeding the Hereford with his own herd.