17 items from 2016
“We’ll remember you forever, Eddie / Through the sacrifice you made / We can’t believe the price you paid / For love”
After a brief, eerie opening voiceover from Rod Serling, Brian De Palma’s biting 1974 Phantom of the Paradise opens with these lyrics from The Juicy Fruits — a literally named bubblegum nostalgia pop outfit — that combine the easily digestible with the macabre. The song’s musician subject exploits the American cult of celebrity, becoming an overnight sensation by strategically committing suicide for chart success. This mesh of exploitation and idealism peaks as ghoulish producer Swan (Paul Williams) and aspiring singer Winslow Leach (William Finley) do Faustian battle over the fate of music and their souls. In De Palma’s first big-budget film — relatively: it was twice the cost of 1973’s Sisters — the money went to making the biggest, flashiest middle finger to creative industry you could ask for while cementing his meta-fascination with death. »
- Jacob Oller
Dirty cops were a movie vogue in 1954, and Edmond O'Brien scores as a real dastard in this overachieving United Artists thriller. Dreamboat starlet Marla English is the reason O'Brien's detective kills for cash, and then keeps killing to stay ahead of his colleagues. And all to buy a crummy house in the suburbs -- this man needs career counseling. Shield for Murder Blu-ray Kl Studio Classics 1954 / B&W / 1:75 widescreen / 82 min. / Street Date June 21, 2016 / available through Kino Lorber / 29.95 Starring Edmond O'Brien, Marla English, John Agar, Emile Meyer, Carolyn Jones, Claude Akins, Herbert Butterfield, Hugh Sanders, William Schallert, Robert Bray, Richard Deacon, David Hughes, Gregg Martell, Stafford Repp, Vito Scotti. Cinematography Gordon Avil Film Editor John F. Schreyer Original Music Paul Dunlap Written by Richard Alan Simmons, John C. Higgins from the novel by William P. McGivern <Produced by Aubrey Schenck, (Howard W. Koch) Directed by Edmond O'Brien, Howard W. Koch
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Here's the kind of '50s movie we love, an ambitious, modest crime picture that for its time had an edge. In the 1950s our country was as blind to the true extent of police corruption as it was to organized crime. Movies about bad cops adhered to the 'bad apple' concept: it's only crooked individuals that we need to watch out for, never the institutions around them. Thanks to films noir, crooked cops were no longer a film rarity, even though the Production Code made movies like The Asphalt Jungle insert compensatory scenes paying lip service to the status quo: an imperfect police force is better than none. United Artists in the 1950s helped star talent make the jump to independent production, with the prime success stories being Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. But the distribution company also funded proven producers capable of putting out smaller bread 'n' butter movies that could prosper if costs were kept down. Edward Small, Victor Saville, Levy-Gardner-Laven. Aubrey Schenck and Howard C. Koch produced as a team, and for 1954's Shield for Murder Koch co-directed, sharing credit with the film's star, Edmond O'Brien. The show is a smart production all the way, a modestly budgeted 'B' with 'A' ambitions. O'Brien was an industry go-getter trying to channel his considerable talent in new directions. His leading man days were fading but he was in demand for parts in major films like The Barefoot Contessa. The producers took care with their story too. Writers Richard Alan Simmons and John C. Higgins had solid crime movie credits. Author William P. McGivern wrote the novel behind Fritz Lang's The Big Heat as well as Rogue Cop and Odds Against Tomorrow. All of McGivern's stories involve crooked policemen or police corruption. Shield for Murder doesn't tiptoe around its subject matter. Dirty cop Detective Lt. Barney Nolan (O'Brien) kills a hoodlum in an alley to steal $25,000 of mob money. His precinct boss Captain Gunnarson (Emile Meyer) accepts Barney's version of events and the Asst. D.A. (William Schallert) takes the shooting as an open and shut case. Crime reporter Cabot (Herbert Butterfield) has his doubts, and lectures the squad room about the abuse of police power. Barney manages to placate mob boss Packy Reed (Hugh Sanders), but two hoods continue to shadow him. Barney's plan for the money was to buy a new house and escape the rat race with his girlfriend, nightclub cashier Patty Winters (Marla English). But a problem surfaces in the elderly deaf mute Ernst Sternmueller (David Hughes), a witness to the shooting. Barney realizes that his only way forward is to kill the old man before he can tell all to Det. Mark Brewster (John Agar), Barney's closest friend. Once again one of society's Good Guys takes a bite of the forbidden apple and tries to buck the system. Shield for Murder posits an logical but twisted course of action for a weary defender of the law who wants out. Barney long ago gave up trying to do anything about the crooks he can't touch. The fat cat Packy Reed makes the big money, and all Barney wants is his share. Barney's vision of The American Dream is just the middle-class ideal, the desirable Patty Winters and a modest tract home. He's picked it out - it sits partway up a hill in a new Los Angeles development, just finished and already furnished. Then the unexpected witness shows up and everything begins to unravel; Barney loses control one step at a time. He beats a mob thug (Claude Akins) half to death in front of witnesses. When his pal Mark Brewster figures out the truth, Barney has to use a lot of his money to arrange a getaway. More mob trouble leads to a shoot-out in a high school gym. The idea may have been for the star O'Brien to coach actors John Agar and Marla English to better performances. Agar is slightly more natural than usual, but still not very good. The gorgeous Ms. English remains sweet and inexpressive. After several unbilled bits, the woman often compared to Elizabeth Taylor was given "introducing" billing on the Shield for Murder billing block. Her best-known role would be as The She-Creature two years later, after which she dropped out to get married. Co-director O'Brien also allows Emile Meyer to go over the top in a scene or two. But the young Carolyn Jones is a standout as a blonde bargirl, more or less expanding on her small part as a human ashtray in the previous year's The Big Heat. Edmond O'Brien is occasionally a little to hyper, but he's excellent at showing stress as the trap closes around the overreaching Barney Nolan. Other United Artists budget crime pictures seem a little tight with the outdoors action -- Vice Squad, Witness to Murder, Without Warning -- but O'Brien and Koch's camera luxuriates in night shoots on the Los Angeles streets. This is one of those Blu-rays that Los Angelenos will want to freeze frame, to try to read the street signs. There is also little downtime wasted in sidebar plot detours. The gunfight in the school gym, next to an Olympic swimming pool, is an action highlight. The show has one enduring sequence. With the force closing in, Barney rushes back to the unfinished house he plans to buy, to recover the loot he's buried next to its foundation. Anybody who lived in Southern California in the '50s and '60s was aware of the massive suburban sprawl underway, a building boom that went on for decades. In 1953 the La Puente hills were so rural they barely served by roads; the movie The War of the Worlds considered it a good place to use a nuclear bomb against invading Martians. By 1975 the unending suburbs had spread from Los Angeles, almost all the way to Pomona. Barney dashes through a new housing development on terraced plots, boxy little houses separated from each other by only a few feet of dirt. There's no landscaping yet. Even in 1954 $25,000 wasn't that much money, so Barney Nolan has sold himself pretty cheaply. Two more latter-day crime pictures would end with ominous metaphors about the oblivion of The American Dream. In 1964's remake of The Killers the cash Lee Marvin kills for only buys him a patch of green lawn in a choice Hollywood Hills neighborhood. The L.A.P.D. puts Marvin out of his misery, and then closes in on another crooked detective in the aptly titled 1965 thriller The Money Trap. The final scene in that movie is priceless: his dreams smashed, crooked cop Glenn Ford sits by his designer swimming pool and waits to be arrested. Considering how well things worked out for Los Angeles police officers, Edmond O'Brien's Barney Nolan seems especially foolish. If Barney had stuck it out for a couple of years, the new deal for the L.A.P.D. would have been much better than a measly 25 grand. By 1958 he'd have his twenty years in. After a retirement beer bash he'd be out on the road pulling a shiny new boat to the Colorado River, like all the other hardworking cops and firemen enjoying their generous pensions. Policemen also had little trouble getting house loans. The joke was that an L.A.P.D. cop might go bad, but none of them could be bribed. O'Brien directed one more feature, took more TV work and settled into character parts for Jack Webb, Frank Tashlin, John Ford, John Frankenheimer and finally Sam Peckinpah in The Wild Bunch, where he was almost unrecognizable. Howard W. Koch slowed down as a director but became a busy producer, working with Frank Sinatra for several years. He eventually co-produced Airplane! The Kl Studio Classics Blu-ray of Shield for Murder is a good-looking B&W scan, framed at a confirmed-as-correct 1:75 aspect ratio. The picture is sharp and detailed, and the sound is in fine shape. The package art duplicates the film's original no-class sell: "Dame-Hungry Killer-Cop Runs Berserk! The first scene also contains one of the more frequently noticed camera flubs in film noir -- a really big boom shadow on a nighttime alley wall. Kino's presentation comes with trailers for this movie, Hidden Fear and He Ran All the Way. On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Shield for Murder Blu-ray rates: Movie: Good Video: Very Good Sound: Excellent Supplements: Trailers for Shield for Murder, Hidden Fear, He Ran All the Way Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None Packaging: Keep case Reviewed: June 7, 2016 (5115murd)
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Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson
- Glenn Erickson
Take a look @ footage from the classic 1950's CBS TV western series "The Rifleman", originally developed by Sam Peckinpah, gaining a new generation of fans for 6' 6" actor Chuck Connors as 'Lucas McCain' and Johnny Crawford as his son 'Mark', airing every Saturday morning on AMC. But one big question always remains: just how many bad guys did McCain kill in total throughout the series entire 5 year run ?
Peckinpah, developed, wrote and directed many of the best episodes from the first season, basing characters and situations on real-life scenarios from his childhood growing up on a ranch.
His insistence on violent realism and complex characterizations, as well as his refusal to sugarcoat the lessons he felt the Rifleman's son needed to learn about life, soon put him at odds with producers at Four Star and he left the show...
...to create another TV series "The Westerner", followed by »
- Michael Stevens
Luis Buñuel's most direct film about revolutionary politics brandishes few if any surreal touches in its clash between French star Gérard Philipe and the Mexican legend María Félix. Borrowing the climax of the opera Tosca, it's an intelligent study of how not to effect change in a corrupt political regime. La fièvre monte à El Pao Region A+B Blu-ray + Pal DVD Pathé (Fr) 1959 / B&W / 1:37 flat (should be 1:66 widescreen) / 96 min. / Los Ambiciosos; "Fever Mounts at El Pao" / Street Date December 4, 2013 / available at Amazon France / Eur 26,27 Starring Gérard Philipe, María Félix, Jean Servais, M.A. Soler, Raúl Dantés, Domingo Soler, Víctor Junco, Roberto Cañedo, Enrique Lucero, Pilar Pellicer, David Reynoso, Andrés Soler. Cinematography Gabriel Figueroa Assistant Director Juan Luis Buñuel Original Music Paul Misraki Written by Luis Buñuel, Luis Alcoriza, Charles Dorat, Louis Sapin from a novel by Henri Castillou Produced by Jacques Bar, Óscar Dancigers, Gregorio Walerstein »
- Glenn Erickson
Bernard Herrmann music + weird landscapes = Nirvana. This big-star western tale has an unbreakable story but terrible dialogue and weak characters... yet for fans of adventure filmmaking it's a legend, thanks to a thunderous Bernard Herrmann music score that transforms dozens of uncanny, real Mexican locations into something other-worldly. Garden of Evil Blu-ray Twilight Time Limited Edition 1954 / Color / 2:55 widescreen / 100 min. / Ship Date May 10, 2016 / available through Twilight Time Movies / 29.95 Starring Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward, Richard Widmark, Hugh Marlowe, Cameron Mitchell, Rita Moreno, Víctor Manuel Mendoza. Cinematography Milton R. Krasner, Jorge Stahl Jr. Art Direction Edward Fitzgerald, Lyle Wheeler Film Editor James B. Clark Original Music Bernard Herrmann Special Effects Ray Kellogg Written by Frank Fenton, Fred Freiberger, William Tunberg Produced by Charles Brackett Directed by Henry Hathaway
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
"The Garden of Evil. If the world was made of gold, I guess men would die for a handful of dirt. »
- Glenn Erickson
By Lee Pfeiffer
MGM has released the 1970 Western Cannon For Cordoba as part of their burn-to-dvd line. This is yet another film that was written off as "run of the mill" at the time of its initial release but probably plays far better today when Westerns are scare commodities. The film is clearly designed to capitalize on movies such as The Professionals and The Wild Bunch, and while it certainly isn't in the league of those classics, it's a consistently engrossing and highly entertaining horse opera. Set in 1916, when the Us was embroiled in assisting the Mexican government in suppressing "revolutionaries" who were really bandits, the plot centers on a crime kingpin named General Coroba (well played with charm and menace by Raf Vallone), who launches an audacious raid on American General Pershing's troops and succeeds in stealing a number of valuable cannons that will make him almost invulnerable »
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Cinema Retro)
With editors and cinematographers chiming in on the best examples of their craft in cinema history, it’s now time for directors to have a say. To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Directors Guild of America, they’ve conducted a poll for their members when it comes to the 80 greatest directorial achievements in feature films since the organization’s founding in 1936. With 2,189 members participating, the top pick went to Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather, one of three films from the director making the top 10.
Even with films from nonmembers being eligible, the male-dominated, America-centric choices are a bit shameful (Kathryn Bigelow is the only female director on the list, and the first foreign film doesn’t show up until number 26), but not necessarily surprising when one looks at the make-up of its membership. As with any list, there’s bound to be disagreements (Birdman besting The Bicycle Thief, »
- Jordan Raup
Guns! Guns! Guns! John Milius' rootin' tootin' bio of the most famous of the '30s bandits has plenty of good things to its credit, especially its terrific, funny cast, topped by the unlikely star Warren Oates. The battles between Dillinger's team of all-star bank robbers and Ben Johnson's G-Man aren't neglected, as Milius savors every gun recoil and Tommy gun blast. Dillinger Blu-ray + DVD Arrow Video U.S. 1973 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 107 min. / Street Date April 26, 2016 / 39.95 Starring Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Michelle Phillips, Cloris Leachman, Harry Dean Stanton, Geoffrey Lewis, John Ryan, Richard Dreyfuss, Steve Kanaly, John Martino, Roy Jenson, Frank McRae. Cinematography Jules Brenner Special Effects A.D. Flowers, Cliff Wenger Edited by Fred R. Feitshans, Jr. Original Music Barry De Vorzon Produced by Buzz Feitshans Written and Directed by John Milius
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
There it was in the dentist's office, an article in either »
- Glenn Erickson
This Sunday marks the birthday of William Holden, who was born April 17, 1918. The actor ranked No. 25 on AFI’s list of all-time great leading men. Since he had classic good looks, an expressive voice, and was an excellent actor who starred in some of Hollywood’s most memorable movies, why wasn’t he even higher on the list? Maybe because Holden had a special talent for always making his co-stars look so good.
He starred in many hit films opposite actors who had flashier roles: Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard,” Judy Holliday in “Born Yesterday,” Audrey Hepburn in “Sabrina,” Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in “The Country Girl,” Alec Guinness in “Bridge on the River Kwai,” and Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch in “Network.” Significantly, many of these actors won Oscars for their work. They gave great, showy performances, but Holden was the anchor of the films. It’s hard »
- Tim Gray
By John M. Whalen
“Kill or Be Killed” (2015) aka “Red on Yella, Kill a Fella,” is a low budget horror-western released on DVD by Rlj Entertainment that also attempts to be a tribute to the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s and Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch.” The plot is about a gang of outlaws in the year 1900 traveling 500 miles through Texas to get to a stash of gold that’s hidden at the bottom of a well in the sand dunes of Galveston Beach. The group is hounded on their journey by a mysterious being and one by one the gang members get picked off.
Like Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch these outlaws are a motley crew. Their leader, Claude “Sweet Tooth” Barbee, played by co-writer/director Justin Meeks, is very loosely based on real-life outlaw Sam Bass. As Meeks portrays him, Barbee is a man obsessed with »
- email@example.com (Cinema Retro)
The icon-establishing performances Marilyn Monroe gave in Howard Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959) are ones for the ages, touchstone works that endure because of the undeniable comic energy and desperation that sparked them from within even as the ravenous public became ever more enraptured by the surface of Monroe’s seductive image of beauty and glamour. Several generations now probably know her only from these films, or perhaps 1955’s The Seven-Year Itch, a more famous probably for the skirt-swirling pose it generated than anything in the movie itself, one of director Wilder’s sourest pictures, or her final completed film, The Misfits (1961), directed by John Huston, written by Arthur Miller and costarring Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift.
But in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) she delivers a powerful dramatic performance as Nell, a psychologically devastated, delusional, perhaps psychotic young woman apparently on »
- Dennis Cozzalio
Nothing gets the blood flowing quite like a solid filmmaker retrospective, and this weekend, the Film Society at Lincoln Center in New York City is kicking off a doozy. Starting on Thursday, March 31, and running through the following Thursday, genre fans will be treated to a complete retrospective of the films of Sam Peckinpah. This series draws on previous programs at the Locarno Film Festival and in Parisian arthouses and will take a complete look at Peckinpah’s career, ranging from the director’s well-known pictures like The Wild Bunch to the less-screened cult hits like Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. All told, twenty-two films will show in the next seven days, and I cannot wait to tell people how close I was to attending any of them. I pride myself on my ability to almost attend screenings. Since I live in New York, I’m on the email lists for all the major arthouses »
- Matthew Monagle
The first major retrospective of his work in 20 years is coming to New York, but is Bloody Sam’s reputation for blood and guts well-earned or slightly skewed?
“Only a madman would call this creation! It’s not art! It’s not cinema! It’s pure wasted insanity!” That reaction-card from the Kansas City sneak preview of The Wild Bunch on May Day 1969 offered a foretaste of the controversy that would engulf Sam Peckinpah’s unprecedentedly bloody and bleak, revolutionary western on its release six weeks later. It was a film that would saddle its director forever with the moniker “Bloody Sam”.
The Wild Bunch was a hand grenade throw under the tent-flap of America’s assumptions about violence and our culpability in it. It tore the increasingly bloody and reprehensible Vietnam war off the nightly news and hurled it like a scarlet paint-pot all over the silver screen. The »
- John Patterson
For a man who created forward-thinking, boundary-pushing cinema embraced by small, devoted sects of cinephiles, Andrzej Żuławski‘s Sight & Sound list of favorite films is, in so many words, surprisingly traditional. Few would look upon it and say it contains a single bad film on it, but those who’ve experienced his work might expect something other than Amarcord; maybe, in its place, an underground Eastern European horror film that’s gained no real cachet since the Soviet Union’s collapse.
That isn’t to suggest something inexplicable, however. The Gold Rush‘s fall-down comedy could be detected in some of Possession‘s more emphatic moments of physical exhaustion, and, while we’re at it, visual connections between On the Silver Globe and 2001‘s horror-ish stretches aren’t so out-of-bounds. So while this selection may not open your eyes once more to cinema’s many reaches, one might use it »
- Nick Newman
“Why do they call you ‘Dirty’ Harry?”
It’s a question that courses throughout the 1971 thriller that gave birth to the Clint Eastwood character of the same name. The answer is different every time: He hates minorities, he always gets stuck with the dirty jobs, he’s a part-time pervert, he’s always getting the [wrong] end of the stick… And so it goes.
But what was it about Dirty Harry that endured to spawn four sequels and give Eastwood’s already-surprising career a big-time second act?
First there’s Eastwood himself. A bit-part actor through the ‘50s, Eastwood found his stride in westerns throughout the ‘60s, first with the TV series "Rawhide" and then the Sergio Leone Man with No Name films. »
- Shane McNeil
Julie Andrews, Max von Sydow and Richard Harris bring James Michener's true saga to life -- but it's the story of the destruction of paradise. A huge success just the same, producer Walter Mirisch's film testifies to the skill with which he brought together big talent for a show that doesn't compromise with a happy-happy historical revision. Hawaii Blu-ray Twilight Time Limited Edition 1966 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 161 min. / Ship Date January 19, 2016 / available through Twilight Time Movies / 29.95 Starring Julie Andrews, Max von Sydow, Richard Harris, Gene Hackman, Carroll O'Connor, Jocelyne Lagarde, Manu Tupou, Ted Nobriga, Elizabeth Logue. Cinematography Russell Harlan Production Designer Cary Odell Art Direction James W. Sullivan Film Editor Stuart Gilmore Original Music Elmer Bernstein Written by Dalton Trumbo, Daniel Taradash from the novel by James Michener Produced by Walter Mirisch Directed by George Roy Hill
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Well, fans of James Michener that missed the »
- Glenn Erickson
With the recent conclusion of the 73rd Golden Globe Awards and the announcing of the 2016 Oscar nominations, awards season in Hollywood is officially upon us. Now’s the time for filmgoers to binge on all, or as many of the Oscar frontrunners as possible before February 28th. Some of us get as much, if not more enjoyment out of emotionally attaching ourselves to potential nominees and winners than the actual film-going experience. Our investment in these films is such a not-so-quiet reverence of the work itself, playing favorites is one of our most cherished annual pastimes. Who we align ourselves with isn’t a complicated process. While we can side with a film for a whole host of reasons, odds are if a particular auteur’s newest offering is in the running, our selection is made for us.
If you frequently pay attention to Rotten Tomatoes scores, maybe it surprises »
- William Penix
17 items from 2016
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