A long time ago in our own galaxy, independent movie theaters prided themselves on creating unique promotional stunts, as evidenced from these photos from a March 1968 issue of Boxoffice magazine. In the parlance of the era, theater owners were "taking it to the streets" in order to drum up awareness of their latest showings. Sometimes models were employed and on other occasions, hapless theater employees were subjected to participating in rather bizarre and comical publicity stunts. These two photos show a model on the streets passing out leaflets to seemingly unimpressed passersby for the Joan Crawford thriller "Berserk!" and a mannequin dressed as Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name for "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." Those were the days!
Natalie cools off even as she heats up the audience in Splendor in the Grass.
Kimberly Lindbergs of the Movie Morlocks site presents her "Four Reasons Why I Love Natalie Wood" through analyzing Love With the Proper Stranger, This Property is Condemned, Rebel Without a Cause and Splendor in the Grass. (What? No West Side Story or Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice???) We concur that Natalie Wood's screen presence just seems to get better with time. Click here to find out why.
Those of us of a certain age can recall collecting movie pressbooks (called campaign books in the UK). These were sent by movie studios to theaters and served as a guide to the specific film, loaded with promotional ideas and alerting theater owners to merchandise they could tie into when showing the movie. Pressbooks are now a thing of the distant past, a casualty of the more cost-efficient method of providing publicity materials through on-line sites for which the press is given passwords. It may be more practical but there was great joy for collector's thumbing through these marvelous guides page-by-page. Here are some promotional blocks from the American pressbook for the 1969 comedy crime classic "The Italian Job" starring Michael Caine and Noel Coward. They recall a golden era when you could count on a vinyl soundtrack and paperback novel tie-in to accompany the release of a movie. It may surprise our readers to know that the film wasn't a hit in America but over the decades it has built a very loyal following in the UK where you can still buy a reproduction of the quad movie poster in souvenir stores in Piccadilly. As for the Americanized remake starring Mark Wahlberg, well, the less said the better.
Shirley Jackson's famed ghost story novel "The Haunting of Hill House" was originally made into an MGM film by director Robert Wise in 1963 Jan de Bont's 1999 remake was poorly received and most recently, there is a hit Netflix series inspired by Jackson's book. However, for pure brilliance, Wise's interpretation of the story still stands as a masterpiece of the horror film genre in which ambiguity and unexplained events prove to be more chilling than most films that employ over-the-top special effects. For all of respect accorded the film today, it was not particularly well-received by critics when it originally opened. One of the more positive and insightful reviews was written by James Powers for The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to read.
The web site Looper provides some video evidence of mega-budget cinematic misfires that caused their studios and/or production companies to fold. With the benefit of hindsight, we can all say "What were they thinking???" but at the time these were deemed to be "can't miss" blockbusters.
Feast your eyes on the outstanding American release trailer for Sergio Leone's 1966 masterpiece "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach- although composer Ennio Morricone deserves co-star billing for his legendary score.
This ad culled from the New York Times Archive shows quite a disparity in the films that Columbia Pictures was promoting for the holiday season in 1967: the Oscar-winning "A Man for All Seasons" (which had been in release since the previous year!) along with the third guilty pleasure Dean Martin Matt Helm flick "The Ambushers". Those were the days, indeed.
The AV Club sets its sights on misguided and largely failed efforts to reboot initially popular film franchises. In general, the article illustrates how a franchise can be diminished when its continued without artistic passion but merely for the purpose of creating artificial enthusiasm through aggressive marketing. Among the celluloid victims: Ghostbusters, Robin Hood, the Terminator, Superman and Jack Ryan. Click here to read.
Relive the moving moment at the 1996 Academy Awards at which Kirk Douglas received an honorary (and well-deserved) Oscar, presented by Steven Spielberg. Though compromised by the effects of a stroke, the screen legend looked as handsome as ever and was gracious in his acceptance of the award.
This advertisement from the New York Times Archive from November, 1965 illustrates the wide variety of fine movies that were playing in New York theaters simultaneously. Among them: "The Cincinnati Kid", "The Hill", "Darling" "King Rat", "The Ipcress File", "The Leather Boys", "Ship of Fools", "Repulsion", "The Greatest Story Ever Told", "Return from the Ashes", "The War Lord" and "Sands of the Kalahari".
Joe Dante's "Trailers from Hell" presents Alan Spencer analyzing Robert Wise's 1966 epic "The Sand Pebbles", which afforded Steve McQueen his only Oscar nomination for his superb performance. Spencer succinctly nails down the key aspects of this superb film, which received wide acclaim when released but which is often ignored by the critical establishment today.
Nancy Sinatra and Aron Kincaid are menaced by George Barrows.
Enjoy the original trailer for the so-bad-it's-fun 1966 horror movie spoof "The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini" that somehow boasts an eclectic cast consisting of esteemed movie greats along with cult film favorites. It's painful to see such fine, legendary actors as Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone so discarded by the major studios that they had to appear in celluloid dreck such as this. There were some brighter horizons for some of those involved: Nancy Sinatra would go on to star in "The Wild Angels" and "Speedway" (opposite Elvis Presley). Karloff would still get to appear in two genuinely good films - "The Venetian Affair" and Bogdanovich's classic "Targets", but poor Rathbone only had one more film on his horizon: the equally abysmal "Hillbillies in a Haunted House".
If you're among the many Cinema Retro readers who have read our Movie Classics special issue devoted to epic films of the 1960s, you'll know that the story behind producer Samuel Bronston's ill-fated 1964 epic "The Fall of the Roman Empire" played out like a Greek tragedy (with apologies to the Romans.) Director Joe Dante's addictive "Trailers from Hell" web site presents another esteemed director, John Landis, analyzing the film through its original trailer. While we don't agree with his conclusion that it is a "terrible movie", we did laugh out loud at some of his observations: especially the bizarre tag lines used on screen during the trailer that promise the film displays not just a few emotions, but ALL emotions! In fact, the trailer appears to have put together by someone for whom English was a fourth language.
Retro movie lover Steven Thompson has put together a marvelous web site that pays tribute to his favorite year: 1966. It's hard to argue with his logic, especially if you were growing up then. The Beatles, James Bond, Batman, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., British invasion rock, great comic books, and so much more all at your fingertips. The site features vintage ads for movies, TV shows and products of the day, as well as vintage comic strips and film clips. Click here to view
Movie marketing sure has changed. Studios rarely advertise films in newspapers today (assuming you can still find a newspaper today) but that medium was once the most effective method of promoting new films. Not only were traditional ads run but clever off-beat ancillary campaigns were also featured in the guise of entertainment. For example, here is a promotional campaign for the 1966 epic "Khartoum" starring Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier that was squarely aimed at kids despite the fact that the intended audience was adults. This promotional block seen above was featured in the United Artists pressbook sent to American theater owners to suggest creative local publicity campaigns.
(For extensive coverage of the making of "Khartoum", get the Cinema Retro Movie Classic Roadshow Epics of the 1960s issue by clicking here.)
Curly and Shemp were long gone but even in the 1960s, the "new" Three Stooges continued to gain popularity with a younger generation. The slapstick kings "starred" in a series of cartoons and even inspired a long-running comic book series published by Gold Key. The web blog 1966 My Favorite Year presents a gallery of Stooges comics covers. Click here to view.
Writer Jim George provides an unpublished interview with Stella Stevens conducted in the 1990s in our latest issue of Cinema Retro magazine, #42. It seems fitting to raid Jim's blog to resurrect an article he originally wrote in 1981 about Stevens' co-star in "The Nutty Professor", Jerry Lewis. Click here to read.
The Huffington Post's Jamie Scot takes a fascinating look back at the origins of gay and lesbian paperback novels that flooded the American market in the post-WWII era. It was the first acknowledgement that gays and lesbians represented significant numbers of the population, a fact attested to by the explosive sales of these novels. For the gay population during this period of cultural conservatism, these books provided a bit of titillation that heterosexual men had never had a problem accessing. More surprising to publishers was the significant sales of lesbian-themed books, some of which became bestsellers. (Undoubtedly, many of these sales could be attributed to men, who have always been preoccupied with lesbian sex.) Like any erotic paperbacks of the period, the covers of the gay-themed books featured provocative, highly suggestive artwork. Most of these artists labored in anonymity but today pulp fiction paperback art is considered by many to be an important aspect of American popular culture from this time period. Click here to read
Here's a look back at what was playing in Winnipeg, Canada during one week in 1966. The Sound of Music, Alfie, Doctor Zhivago, the remake of Stagecoach, The Appaloosa, How to Steal a Million, Gigi, The Glass Bottom Boat, Battle of the Bulge, A Fine Madness, The King and I, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Torn Curtain and a great double bill of Our Man Flint and Von Ryan's Express. Those were the days, indeed!
From the rumored suicide of a Munchkin to debates about how many dresses Dorothy wears, there are still controversies attached to the beloved 1939 MGM screen version of The Wizard of Oz. Click here to find the facts behind the legends.
With the recent passing of Neil Simon, let's look back on the smash hit 1968 film adaptation of "The Odd Couple" starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. (Did you know Art Carney played the role of Felix Unger in the Broadway production?)
Cinema Retro tries to remain neutral when it comes to weighing in on political issues of the day. About the only time politics enters our pages is when it's in the context of a review or analysis of the political elements of a film or stage production. However, this is an intriguing story reported by The Washington Post that is of interest to retro movie fans in the sense that it relates how the 1954 film version of Herman Wouk's bestseller "The Caine Mutiny" actually influenced one of the most important elements of American law: the 25th amendment, which indicates under what extreme conditions a president can be removed from power either temporarily or permanently. The amendment was drafted in the 1950s when "Caine" was very much on people's minds. The fictional tale centers on eccentric U.S. Naval Captain Queeg (memorably portrayed in the film by Humphrey Bogart in an Oscar-nominated performance.) He runs his ship as a strict disciplinarian but his quirky habits lead the officers and crew to doubt if he's sane. During a hurricane, Queeg appears to be a in state of panic and is unable or unwilling to give his executive officer, Maryk (played by Van Johnson) explicit orders in regards to navigating the deadly storm. Fearing that the ship will founder, the exec notifies the crew that he is taking command and he ultimately gets the vessel back to port safely. Maryk is placed on trial in a court martial and things look grim. Queeg, after all, is a career officer with a distinguished record and he comes across initially as the voice of reason when he is on the witness stand. However, he soon deteriorates under questioning from the defense counsel (Jose Ferrer) and has a form of breakdown that makes it clear he suffers from paranoia. The Washington Post article outlines how American lawmakers were concerned that there was no constitutional solution for addressing a situation in which a president is physically or mentally unable to perform the duties of office. Ultimately, the 25 amendment was drafted. It's understandably conceived to make it a very tall order to remove any president from power and requires overwhelming support among the president's cabinet and lawmakers in order to enact the amendment. The law is actually quite vague in certain key areas leaving plenty of loopholes to be disputed in the unlikely event the amendment is ever attempted to be enacted- but most interesting is the role "The Caine Mutiny" played in the very creation of the law. Click here to read.
Ridley Scott's Oscar-winning film "Gladiator" impressed critics and the public worldwide. However, as the BBC's Nicholas Barber reports, there were plans for a sequel despite the fact that the main character, played by Russell Crowe, is killed off in the original film. What to do? Well, that's where the fun begins as Barber unveils an almost unbelievable concept for a sequel that rivals "Highlander 2: The Quickening" in terms of audacity, compromising of characters and a very naked attempt to simply make a fast buck. Fortunately for all involved, this unwanted sequel never went into production. Click here to read.
This British trade magazine photo from 1970 show composer Roy Budd, who was then working on the score for the forthcoming crime film "Get Carter". Both the film and Budd's score would go on to become classics. Interesting to note that the film's working title was simply "Carter". Budd also scored many other films including many for producer Euan Lloyd, "Catlow", "Paper Tiger", "The Wild Geese", "The Sea Wolves" and "The Final Option" among them. Other film scores included "Soldier Blue", "Fear is the Key" and "The Stone Killer". He also wrote the theme for the British TV series "The Sandbaggers". Bud died in 1993 at only 46 years of age, but his work lives on. - Lee Pfeiffer
Curly Howard is considered today to be an icon of American comedy thanks to the eternal popularity of The Three Stooges. However, as this mini-biography shows, Curly's real life dilemmas were anything but funny. He was stricken with numerous debilitating strokes while only in his forties and his final days found the comedy legend struggling unsuccessfully to recuperate and lead a normal life.
With the advent of the #MeToo movement, movie lovers are re-evaluating their opinions regarding older films, some of them indisputable classics. Case in point: "Manhattan", Woody Allen's 1979 romcom that sits high on the Woodman's list of significant cinematic achievements. The film's reputation survived Allen's own messy breakup with Mia Farrow and his subsequent marriage to her adopted daughter in the 1990s. However, in light of much greater sensitivities in the post-Weinstein era, some viewers may now find a key plot line in the episodic comedy to be cringe-worthy: Allen's character, a 42 year-old writer in a romantic relationship with a 17 year-old high school student. In real life, there would be moral and ethical consequences pertaining to the clearly sexual relationship that is depicted in the film but at the time of the movie's release critics and audiences were seemingly unconcerned. Writing in the New York Times, Steven Kurutz ponders "How do you solve a problem like "Manhattan?" and examines why some fans of the film are now finding it hard to enjoy its many merits. (Click here to read.) The article raises a larger issue: are we to ignore the artistic merits of cinematic classics because societal norms have changed- or do we still value them but view the films in the context of the times in which they were made?
MacMurray was brilliant in Billy Wilder's 1960 classic The Apartment, playing the philandering married boss of Shirley MacLaine.
For the baby boomer generation, Fred MacMurray was primarily known as the affable widowed dad on My Three Sons and the star of numerous Walt Disney films. However, as Movie Morlocks writer Greg Ferrara points out, MacMurray once excelled at playing charismatic creeps, giving brilliant performances in films such as Double Indemnity, The Caine Mutiny and The Apartment. Click here to appreciate the dark side of MacMurray's talents.
With the blatant "Die Hard" rip-off "Skyscraper" now in theaters, it's time to go back to a really good disaster film: producer Irwin Allen's 1974 blockbuster production of "The Towering Inferno", which benefited from having been made in an era in which it was possible to have genuine all-star casts. When it comes to this particular genre, they really don't make 'em like that anymore.
Here's a gem from the 1952 Academy Awards, which were very low-key back in the day and defined by short acceptance speeches by the winners. Here Greer Garson presents Humphrey Bogart with the Best Actor Oscar for John Huston's "The African Queen".
Here is newsreel footage from the 1966 Royal Film Performance of "Born Free" with Queen Elizabeth attending. Guests include the film's stars Virginia Mckenna and Bill Travers and celebs Rex Harrison and Rachel Roberts, Leslie Caron and Warren Beatty and Ursula Andress, along with Woody Allen, who were in London to film "Casino Royale". The event took place at the Odeon Theatre in Leicester Square, London. (Thanks to reader Dave Norris for the heads up on this. Dave served as chief projectionist at the Odeon for many years.)
Joe Dante's addictive Trailers from Hell presents producer Roger Corman narrating the trailer for his 1966 smash hit The Wild Angels starring Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra. Corman reveals some amusing anecdotes about the making of the film, including a death threat he received from the actual Hell's Angels. Watch the trailer and learn how the ever-resourceful Corman persuaded them that it wouldn't be financially profitable for the Angels to murder him.
CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE "TRAILERS FROM HELL" WEB SITE AND ENJOY HUNDREDS OF OTHER CLASSIC TRAILERS.
What a year it was! In 1966, you could see the following movies playing locally in Winnipeg, Canada: Dean Martin as Matt Helm in The Silencers, James Coburn as Our Man Flint, The Trouble With Angels, Carry on Cleo, The Sound of Music and a quadruple feature of monsters flicks: Die Monster, Die, Eegah, Tomb of Ligeia and Planet of the Vampires.
It wasn't an unusual practice for movie studio's to exploit an actor's popularity by reissuing an old film under a new title. Case in point: director Michael Winner's 1972 crime thriller "The Mechanic" starring Charles Bronson. It's a top notch action flick and did reasonably well on its first release. However, in the wake of Winner and Bronson's massive 1974 hit "Death Wish", United Artists reissued the film under the title "Killer of Killers", an obvious attempt to make it appear as though Bronson was again appearing as a vigilante. In fact, the marketing campaign was deceptive because in "The Mechanic" he plays a criminal...a professional assassin, to be precise. Yes, he's taking out some bad guys but not on the basis of morality but simply because he wants a fat paycheck from other bad guys. The campaign resulted in this interesting, if dishonest, trailer.
It was June 6, 1944 when the greatest military operation in history took place. American, British and Canadian forces landed at Normandy to liberate Europe. The amazing courage of the Allied forces not only saved democracy on the continent but also made it possible for Germany to re-emerge as one of the great nations of the world. No film has ever better captured the overall epic nature of the battle, as seen from both sides, than Darryl F. Zanuck's The Longest Day. Why not watch it ASAP with your kids and grandkids to remind them of how unimaginable courage made it possible for us to have the freedoms we enjoy today? It's also a hell of a good movie!
The web site Geek Tyrant presents evidence to bolster their opinion that, in the world of Batman actors, Adam West is still the guy who kicks ass most. Writer Mick Joest displays five key things that West's Batman could do that no other actor ever attempted in their interpretation of the Caped Crusader...Click here to read and view clips..
The Daily Mail and the web site Bored Panda present an interesting aspect to the design of movie posters. Many years ago, the nation of Ghana's political disruptions resulted in a shortage of professional printing presses. Thus, major motion pictures had to be marketed through hand-painted, custom-made posters created by local artists. The results, to put it kindly, were generally less-than-impressive. However, in a bizarre twist, these "so bad, they're good" posters have now become valuable collector's items, fetching up to $15,000 each. For more click here. (Images copyright Bored Panda).
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Newly released documents and a new book unveil heretofore unknown facts about the infamous meeting between Elvis Presley and President Richard M. Nixon in 1970. The King had written to the President in the hopes of being appointed a federal agent so that he could presumably play a role in Nixon's anti-drug war. In fact, his real motive was simply to acquire the badge as part of his collection of law enforcement memorabilia. Nixon aides persuaded the President to meet with the legendary entertainer at the White House. The meeting was initially awkward for both men. Elvis was out of his element in the White House and seemed a bit intimidated in the presence of Mr. Nixon, who, in turn, was not exactly a leading advocate of rock 'n roll music. Elvis was giddy when Nixon arranged for him to get his badge as an "honorary" agent. In the course of their 30 minute conversation, Elvis discussed how he felt he could have a persuasive effect on young people to avoid drugs (though ironically, he was falling victim to addiction himself). He also made some shocking comments about The Beatles that, when they were revealed publicly, alienated the Fab Four, who had idolized Elvis. For more click here
what I think of a film and why, and my readers know my tastes by now. Some hate
my taste, and so I'm reliable for them, too, since they know they'll like what
Crist, American film critic
BY JOE ELLIOTT
month marks the 96th birthday of American film critic Judith Crist (1922-2012).
Crist was one of the most influential and controversial movie reviewers of her
day. She was a founding film critic for New
York magazine and spent over two decades serving as the in-house movie
reviewer for TV Guide. In addition,
she was a frequent contributor to NBC’s Today
show for many years. She was very much a tell-it-like-it-is kind of critic,
totally unafraid to speak her mind even when this got her into hot water with
powerful people in the industry, which it sometimes did. While it’s hard to
believe today, back in the 1960s and 1970s a bad review from a prominent critic
like Crist could help sink a multi-million dollar film project. Her panning,
for example, of 1963’s Cleopatra
starring show-biz celebrity couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, so
upset executives at 20th Century-Foxthey
threatened to ban her from future screenings of new films.
was equally unafraid to criticize films the public loved, such as the hugely
popular The Sound of Music (1965), a
feature she characterized as
perfect “for the 5-to-7 set and their mommies who
think the kids aren’t up to the stinging sophistication and biting wit of Mary
Poppins.”Well-known Hollywood director and
full-time curmudgeon Otto Preminger sarcastically nicknamed her “Judas Crist,”
meant as an insult but also a sort of unintended backhand compliment to her
sagacity and prestige as a critic. (An antediluvian alpha male type likePreminger
likely would have been especially irked having a woman critique his films.)
Roger Ebert, a great admirer of Crist, credited her for helping turn American
film criticism into a popular art form, bringing to it both a sense of fun and
seriousness. Her work in turn spurred readers to seek out the writings of other
critics and reviewers, including Ebert himself. For this contribution alone we
owe her a lot. Then there was the platform she helped create for other savvy women
like herself who wished to have their own ideas and opinions taken seriously. In her 2012 New
York Times obit it was erroneously reported that she was the first woman to
become a full-time film critic at a major American newspaper.
She wasn’t the first, but certainly among the first, and
probably the first female to gain real prominence in that position. As a result, she helped open the door
for many who followed. In addition, she was an early vocal fan and supporter of
such newcomers as Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford
Coppola, Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen. Not a bad legacy.
what I personally remember most about Judith Crist was her work for TV Guide. Every week my mom would buy a
copy of the guide, then one of the best-selling publications in America, at the
local grocery. Each new edition brought the promise of some exciting new
movies, either recent theatrical releases or those made for television. Crist
reviewed many of these for the magazine. I especially remember the big fall
preview edition that came out each year. This was the time when many of the
movie blockbusters and Oscar winners of the previous season first came to
television as the three major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) did battle during
“sweeps week,” a four-week period of intense rivalry for viewer ratings. There
was always a section by Crist, filled with pithy, often wickedly funny
thumbnail reviews of many of the films. Since I couldn’t watch all of them, I
trusted her to guide me in my viewing choices.
this end, I would carefully read each review as if I were going to be tested on
it the next day in school, taking special care to highlight those titles she
liked best, along with their scheduled air dates. My rule of thumb was, if she
liked it, I’d watch it: call her my first movie arbiter, my sovereign, my
queen. If I had to have one, and I suppose I did at that early age, I could
have done a lot worse. One of the few exceptions I made to this rule were the
“Man With No Name” westerns starring Clint Eastwood. For me, these were
entirely bullet-proof from criticism and I made it a summer ritual to see each
one of them.
Crist's pan of "Cleopatra" outraged executives at Fox.
when I was growing up I’d had a friend like Judith Crist. She said once in an
interview that as an adolescent she sometimes skipped school in order to catch
matinees of such film classics as The
Grapes of Wrath and Grand Illusion.
Doubtlessly she was absorbing everything she saw like a thirsty sponge. She
watched movies where and whenever she could, not because she was necessarily
planning to become a professional critic and writer one day, but simply because
it was her passion and love. They entertained her and broadened her perspective.
They opened her mind and heart to new people and places. They deepened her
understanding of humanity and history. In a word, they brought her joy. Definitely
my kind of girl.
Those were the days! Check out the productions appearing on Broadway during the week of May 21, 1960: The Sound of Music, Toys in the Attic, The Tenth Man, My Fair Lady, Destry Rides Again, Finian's Rainbow, A Raisin the the Sun, Bye Bye Birdie, Henry IV, Gypsy, West Side Story, The Best Man, The Andersonville Trial, The Music Man, The Miracle Worker and many others. Stars appearing simultaneously on the Great White Way included Jackie Gleason, Vivien Leigh, Eddie Albert, Melvin Douglas, Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke, Andy Griffith, Jason Robards, Anthony Perkins, Mary Ure, Jessica Tandy, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. Best of all, you didn't have to take out a second mortgage to afford tickets to these productions.
This writer has always been a fan of the 1971 doomsday thriller "The Omega Man" starring Charlton Heston as the presumably last man alive after biological warfare seems to have eradicated everyone else on earth (he survived by injecting himself with an experimental vaccine.) As Roger Ebert once noted, most of the scenarios that center on "the last man alive" end up providing a Cecil B. DeMille-like cast of characters and "The Omega Man" is no exception. The film's most haunting scenes are in its brilliant opening shots that somehow manage to capture L.A. streets virtually deserted. But soon enough, we see that Heston's character is pursued by a cult of other, disfigured survivors who want to eradicate him because he represents the sins of the old world order. Then he bumps into sexy Rosalind Cash, who becomes his lover and introduces him to her band of survivors. Much of the film creaks with age (Cash's "Black Power" shtick and Heston's final Christ-like imagery seem silly today) but it's still an exciting thriller set in the "future"- 1975! The trailer provides many highlight and hints of Ron Grainer's great score. The film was based on Richard Matheson's novel "I Am Legend" but eschewed the plot about the protagonist being pursued by vampires, as did the 2007 Will Smith remake which did retain the novel's title. The first version of the novel was filmed in 1964 as a low-budget but admirable Italian production that is the only one to date to keep the vampire angle.
Here's the original American theatrical trailer for director Robert Aldrich's classic 1967 WWII adventure "The Dirty Dozen". Interestingly, the narrator provides the actor's personal assessments of the characters they play. For some reason Jim Brown is referred to as "Jimmy Brown" and Donald Sutherland, then a struggling character actor, is only glimpsed and isn't mentioned by name in the credits. He recently told "60 Minutes" that the film helped raise his profile considerably. However, as the trailer was cut long before the film's release, he was still largely unknown at the time.
News blurb from Film Daily, November 20, 1958 regarding the beginning of production on "One-Eyed Jacks". Stanley Kubrick was originally signed to be the director but he had a falling out with star Marlon Brando, who was also producing the film. Brando ended up taking over the direction, a bold move for someone with no experience behind the camera. "Jacks" went far over-budget due to Brando's sense of perfectionism and laissez faire attitude regarding studio concerns. The film wasn't ready for release until 1961, following a contentious period during which considerable footage had to be cut in order to produce a final version of the film everyone felt was acceptable. The movie earned high marks from critics and did attract large audiences that should have ensured a significant profit, but due to the fact the film ended up costing over $6 million, it was deemed a money-loser for Paramount. Nevertheless, Brando did create an innovative take on the western genre and a riveting film, as well. However, he never aspired to direct a film again.
The 1970 film Darker Than Amber should have been a huge commercial success. It
should have been the start of a major film franchise. It should have elevated
Rod Taylor to the ranks of the era’s top action stars. None of these expectations
were realized despite the fact that the movie expertly combines mystery,
action, drama and romance with a unique protagonist.
The movie is based on the seventh in a series
of 21 novels written by John D. MacDonald between 1964 and 1985 featuring Travis
McGee, a self-described beach bum who lives on a houseboat called The Busted Flush in Fort Lauderdale,
Florida. When not enjoying his sporadic retirement, he works as a “salvage
consultant” in return for half of the value of whatever he retrieves for
clients. Though he is not an official detective, he possesses intrinsic investigative
skills and is an enemy to evildoers. On occasion, he may offer his services pro
bono because he is also a knight-errant, though one with sullied armor. His
best friend is Meyer Meyer, an economist who lives in a nearby cabin cruiser
and who provides him with periodic philosophical advice.
was the first and last appearance of Travis McGee on cinema screens. The film’s
box office failure may have been due in part to the inexperience of the
relatively new studios that produced and distributed it. National General
Pictures began distributing films in 1967, including their own productions as
well as movies from Cinema Center Films, the recently-formed subsidiary of the
CBS Television Network. NGP released McGee’s film debut, which was produced by
CCF, with meagre publicity and it disappeared quickly from theaters. (CCF
ceased production in 1972 and NGP stopped distributing films in 1973; Warner
Bros. subsequently acquired the rights to all of NGP’s movies.)
Than Amber begins, McGee and Meyer are fishing in a skiff underneath a
bridge when his line gets snagged by a woman who has been thrown over with
weights tied to her feet. Travis saves her life and brings her back to his
houseboat. Her name is Evangeline Bellemer and she is consumed with shame and
guilt due to a shady past. Her despair combined with her stoic acceptance of
pain intrigues McGee who becomes romantically involved with her. Unwisely, she
makes the fatal mistake of leaving the houseboat to retrieve money from her
apartment. McGee is infuriated by her fate as well as that of his friend, Burk,
from whom he rented the skiff. His ensuing investigation leads him to Terry,
Griff and Adele, a trio of crooks who used Vangie in a scam that victimized men
on cruise ships. McGee hatches a plan of revenge with the help of Meyer and
Merrimay, an actress who resembles Vangie. The plan will take him to Miami, to
Nassau and back to Florida. But he underestimates his adversaries who will kill
anyone that stands in their way. After Griff outfoxes him, he is only saved
from a shallow grave by the appearance of a stray pup. And when his plan to
manipulate Adele fails, he finds that he is no match for the ferociously demented
Terry who proceeds to beat the living daylights out of him.
This was the first movie that Robert Clouse
directed and it is an auspicious debut. Unlike many films in which the location
photography serves as a travelogue, Clouse and cinematographer Frank Phillips authentically
capture Florida’s leisurely sleaze along with its stunning splendor. He also utilizes
peripheral characters to good effect, a good example being the diner scene with
the maid Nicole. However, Clouse excels with the action sequences which are further
enhanced by the credible exposition of the principle characters. Not only are McGee
and Vangie well-defined but Terry and Griff also emerge as atypical villains courtesy
of brief vignettes. Because of this, the inevitable clashes are not just
exercises in wanton violence. While McGee’s bout with Griff is exciting, it is
only a prelude to his eagerly-anticipated fracas with Terry. This bareknuckle brutal
fight, which begins on the cruise ship and ends on the pier, is a thrillingly
staged, bone-breaking, blood-splattering, vessel-bursting battle between two
equally-pitiless antagonists whose only desire is to pummel the life out of one
In the screenplay credited to Ed Waters, the
novel’s title loses its source. In the novel, Vangie is Eurasian and has dark
hair and dark eyes with “irises a strange yellow-brown, just a little darker
than amber.” In the movie, Vangie is blonde and no mention is made of her eyes.
Then again, the title could pertain to the movie if it refers to something that
is quite prominent in the fight sequence: blood. (According to the biography of
John D. MacDonald, The Red Hot Typewriter,
MacDonald disliked the script and contributed to major uncredited revisions
with executive producer Jack Reeves.) Basically, the script follows the novel’s
plotline fairly closely, one exception being McGee’s affair with Vangie, who elicits
more sympathy than the novel’s callous prostitute. The ending of the film is also
more poignant than that of the novel in which McGee is relatively unchanged by
his experiences. In the film, the bruised and battered McGee looks sadly out to
the sea, unable to forget the woman whose life he saved but whose death he was
unable to prevent.
Revisiting A Passage to India (1984)
on Turner Classics the other night, I was struck in a way that I had never been
before by how incredibly beautiful and powerful Judy Davis’s performance is in
this movie. The plot of the film, based loosely on a 1924 novel by English
writer E.M. Forster, revolves around the adventures of two Victorian English
women in early 20th century India. The younger woman, Adela Quested, played by Davis, has come to that
country with the likely intention of marrying a local British magistrate named
Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers). She is accompanied on her sea voyage by Heaslop’s
mother, known in the film simply as Mrs. Moore, played exquisitely by Peggy
Ashcroft. The two women become good friends during the trip and share a disdain
for the kind of English class snobbery they encounter upon their arrival. One
hot afternoon they decide to take a day trip from the city, known as
Chandrapore in the novel, where they have lodgings to visit the fictional Marabar
Caves, a site reportedly based on the Barabar Caves in the Makhdumpur region of Jehanabad
district, Bihar. Note: David Lean, the film’s director and writer, decided against
shooting these scenes at Barabar because he felt the location lacked the scenic
grandeur he so loved to showcase in his pictures.
During the outing, Mrs.
Moore has an attack of severe claustrophobia while visiting the first cave -- a
foreshadowing of her own death within a few short days. She insists that Adela
and Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee), a young Indian physician whose idea it was to
visit the caverns, continue their sightseeing without her. Shortly after this an incident occurs (or does it?)
involving the couple. We see a frantic Adela running down a steep
ravine in a state of great agitation, as if being chased by someone. (In an
important earlier linking scene we saw her riding her bicycle alone on the
outskirts of town where she encountered a number of highly erotic Indian
statues abandoned in the tall grass; an experience which clearly left her
emotionally shaken.)Upon returning to Chandrapore, Aziz is shocked to find himself accused of
attempted rape. He is immediately arrested and jailed to await trial. All this
is prelude to the moment when Adela takes the witness stand for the prosecution
Among my favorite classic American film is Alice Adams (1935), the early Katherine Hepburn
vehicle. There is a moment in that movie when director George Stevens puts the
young actress’s face fully in frame (just as David Lean does in Passage with
Davis, but with less tenderness) holding it there as she muses on small-town
social snobbery. “People do talk about you, oh yes they do…,” Alice says in her
silly, heartbreaking manner. There is something of this same unsparing,
introspective quality in the climatic courtroom scene with Adela: there is much
more, too. Two lives hang in the balance here, the life of the accused and that
of his accuser. What Adela says or doesn’t say at that moment will forever
determine not only Aziz’s fate, but hers as well. She can either choose to save face by
remaining silent on the matter, or risk destroying everything by speaking up. Everything hinges on her decision. I am reminded
of those famous lines from T.S. Eliot: Do I dare/ Disturb the universe? / In a minute there is time / For
decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse… So how should I presume?
In 2013, writer Noel Murray presented a fine article in the AV/TV Club web site that examined the origins and enduring appeal of the classic 1960s spy series "The Avengers", which was actually inspired by a previous TV series, "Police Surgeon". Murray tracked the sensational reaction to the show in the UK and its subsequent appearance on American television. He also outlined the interesting casting with star Patrick Macnee benefiting from two strong female leads- Honor Blackman and her successor Diana Rigg. Most intriguingly, Murray pointed out that the overall quirky appeal of the show is best illustrated by the 1965 episode "Death at Bargain Prices" (telecast in 1966 in the USA). Click here to read.
Chances are you never heard of Oscar Micheaux. However, if you read about his remarkable life, you'll be impressed- especially if you are a retro movie lover. Micheaux was a pioneer in African-American cinema. Like most black people, he was appalled by the content of D.W. Griffith's 1915 cinematic sensation "Birth of a Nation". While the film was a landmark in terms of its technical achievements, it was also one of the most racist films the industry would ever produce, extolling the Ku Klux Klan as heroes while vilifying black men as dangers to civilized society. Micheaux, an industrious young man, had already found success writing and publishing novels. In 1918, he decided to also try his hand at making movies. In those days many theaters were still segregated and Micheaux made intelligent, adult films for black audiences. They became sensations with grateful viewers who were sickened by seeing members of their race depicted in degrading manners in mainstream Hollywood production.s. Micheaux would go on to make 44 films and had just started to bridge the gap into desegregated cinema when he passed away. Writing in The Daily Beast, Gil Troy looks back on the life and career of this under-appreciated filmmaker. Click here to read.
Joe Dante's addictive "Trailers from Hell" web site presents the original trailer for Jerry Lewis's 1964 madcap comedy "The Disorderly Orderly", one of his best solo efforts. The trailer has a commentary track by John Landis, who provides a lot of fun facts in the brief running time. For instance, he informs us that the film was shot at the famed Greystone Mansion, which was also where key scenes from the film "Westworld" were shot. On top of that, there are snippets of Sammy Davis Jr. singing the title song...