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|24 reviews in total|
Liam Regan's debut film - which screened to a highly appreciative audience at Frightfest 2015 - is a love letter to Troma and the early films of Frank Henenlotter. A low-budget exercise in adoration that often plumbs the depths of bad taste to amusing effect, it's an energetic and gleeful tale that also often reveals a surprising sense of self-discipline and maturity for a first effort. This is clearly a filmmaker whose love for the genre and his film shines through and should hopefully be the start of a promising career. Oh, and if you don't know what the title refers to - or what the film is about - I'm not going to tell you; apart from the fact that the film is about a worm that turns. And what happens to one particular 'worm' made me cross my legs - and may have the same effect on many other male viewers! British exploitation cinema is clearly alive and well and, for that, many thanks Liam Regan!
This offbeat 1970 NY-set character study resembles its central character too closely and is therefore something of a cop-out. Jonathan (Jordan ANGEL, ANGEL DOWN WE GO Christopher) is a lazy Princeton graduate who earns what he describes as 'an easy living' driving a NY taxi 'Because I want to show the world the back of my neck'. Together with his frustrated virginal ex-army pal Winston (Robert Walden), he lives an aimless existence disinterestedly weaving his cab through the often traffic-clogged city streets, drifting through loveless and seemingly joyless no-strings sexual encounters and occasionally chasing pigeons before embarking on a tentative relationship with his new neighbour, college drop-out Jennifer (Jill O'Hara, in her only film appearance) who - in counterculture era drop-out fashion - is trying to find herself. But can Jonathan discover true happiness in his own backyard or is he destined to forever fly free like the pigeons he casts sidelong glances at and occasionally tries to kick? Although this ticks many of the early 70s cinema boxes (there are the obligatory party scenes, generation-gap themes, swishy kaftan-wearing homosexuals, casual sexual encounters, characters bonding during a rooftop pot-smoking session, grungy wintry locations, ghastly woozy love songs warbling away on the soundtrack, a self-loathing misanthropic anti-hero and even a somewhat out-of-place car chase), the sum of the parts don't ultimately add up to a particularly satisfying whole. This is due in no small part to its smug central character whose inner monologues tend to resemble a series of clichéd and generally unfunny observations (e.g. 'It's OK to be homely, lady, but you're abusing the privilege' - which is one of the better zingers on offer) and whose selfish behaviour is most likely inherited (he has a similarly solipsistic mother still pining for her late husband and a lecherous and unfeeling stepfather) but don't really give the film the emotional or dramatic heft of the same year's far superior FIVE EASY PIECES. However, there are a few residual pleasures in those grungy wintry Big Apple locations, a catchy electronic central theme and the window cracked open on a vanished era that may have mostly existed through the refracted lens of a movie camera rather than in actuality. And it's a real obscurity that seems to have virtually vanished following its original release in its longer-titled full-length form and subsequent re-release in the retitled and abridged (86 minutes) form as PIGEONS that I viewed thanks to its apparent one-off appearance on UK TV in the mid-90s. The current scarcity factor alone makes it a must for 'Cinema Obscura' buffs.
Sombre French/Israeli co-production about a Nazi commandant Hans Wernert (Karl Boehm, best known for his lead role in Peeping Tom) who ran a wartime counterfeiting unit in a concentration camp and subsequently lives under the false identity of one of his victims Jonathan Strauss in Israel. However, the truth of his early remark to his unsuspecting pregnant wife Dahlia (Corrine Marchand) that "the past always returns" seems increasingly likely to be borne out when American sociologist Fred Blythe (Brett Halsey) begins digging up the truth as part of his oral history of the holocaust seen through the eyes of the survivors. Seemingly unseen in the West, this film must have seemed timely and relevant in 1964 as it explicitly references the then recent capture, trial and subsequent hanging in Israel of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann whilst musing (often at some length) on philosophical issues concerning the nature of good and evil that are still relevant today. Necessarily downbeat, but decently made and played and never less than dramatically engaging as the viewer is uncertain until the end how it will all play out, the most puzzling issue for many (or those that see it) will be the fact that it appears to have received scant - if any - release in English speaking countries (my DVD is a French language version that features an English subtitled option courtesy of a French DVD release by Les Documents Cinematographiques Collection Classique). Worth a look, then, if you get the chance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This great supernatural noir hybrid deserves to be far better known and released on DVD (Wake up, Paramount!). Shadowy fixer Nick Beal (Ray Milland) is more than he appears to be (Check out his name for starters). When decent D.A. and seemingly "incorruptible enemy of the legions of evil" Joseph Foster (Thomas Mitchell) claims he'd sell his soul to put away an influential racketeer, saturnine Nick Beal gets on his case and subsequently smooths the way to a successful prosecution and, possibly, a path to the governor's office. But what does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul? This modern dress morality play gives us an answer as well as proving to be a gripping tale of character and drama. Smoothly directed by John Farrow - whose previous film was also a noir with supernatural overtones, NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (DVD release too please, 20th Century Fox), and who had directed Milland in the earlier more plot-oriented noir THE BIG CLOCK - and atmospherically filmed by Lionel Lindon (who later shot THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE), this is a gripping and unusual noir. Bolstering this offbeat generic tale are a clutch of great performances, particularly those of the saturnine Milland, tormented Thomas Mitchell and a touching Audrey Totter as the fallen angel waterfront lush enlisted by Beal to carry out the fleshier requirements of his plot. Given the era it was made, the Devil may not ultimately have all the best tunes here (which wasn't quite the case with Al Pacino's older Nick in the not altogether dissimilar THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE) but this is still an unusual and tangy take on personal, spiritual and political corruption that is highly recommended and deserves to be more widely seen. As I said, DVD release please, Paramount!
Director Charles 'GILDA' Vidor's psychological crime drama has a few interesting touches as hard-boiled gangster Hal Wilson (Chester 'BOSTON BLACKIE' Morris) breaks out of jail, kills the warden and, together with his gang, hides out at psychology professor Dr. Shelby's (Ralph Bellamy) riverside home and holds him and his dinner party guests hostage whilst awaiting the boat to take them across the river to freedom. During a long dark night of the soul - and after Wilson has demonstrated his trigger-happy nature by murdering one of the male guests who stands up to him - Shelby manages to psychoanalyse the violent hoodlum and discovers what made him who he is. If this sounds somewhat familiar to crime movie buffs it's because it was remade nine years later as THE DARK PAST (with, respectively, William Holden and Lee J. Cobb in the principal roles of gangster and shrink) when the post-War trend for psychoanalysis may have lent it greater resonance. The culture clash elements in BLIND ALLEY would probably have resonated more with an audience of the day familiar with the narrative and thematic tropes of the earlier THE PETRIFIED FOREST but what makes this interesting today are some interesting stylistic touches like Wilson's recurring nightmare shown in reverse negative and his final recovered memory revealed in subjective I-camera point of view. Otherwise, the film never really betrays its origins as a stage play and often feels rather static and talky even with a running time of just over an hour. Still, it's interesting to see a couple of now almost forgotten 30s stars like Chester Morris and Ann 'SCARFACE' Dvorak as the hard-boiled gangster and his moll as well as a film attempting to do something different with the crime movie staples of the day even if it all inevitably seems a shade simplistic and formulaic in these more morally compromised times. However, it's an elusive title these days and is still recommended to fans of vintage crime movies who get the chance to see it.
This lurid hostage melodrama with sexual overtones must have seemed pretty hot stuff back in 1956 (in fact it was as the UK censors initially refused it a certificate until it was subsequently cut for the most prohibitive X certificate), but like other delinquency dramas of the time BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and THE WILD ONE time has softened many of its harsher elements even if it hasn't quite smoothed of all of its rough edges. Beatnik pianist Kicks Johnson (Nehemiah Persoff yeah, right!) tells us a cautionary tale from the previous year when he was part of the extended rootless network of broken- down ex-football star Tom Kupfen (Anthony Quinn) the "wild party" of the title who was in desperate need of quick cash as well as the easily influenced wayward middle- class teen Honey (Kathryn Grant, the future Mrs Bing Crosby) and suited-up sneering cowardly knife-man Gage (Jay Robinson), who learnt to pass for respectable by hanging out where else but at the movies. One night, Gage persuaded society beauty Erica (Carol Ohmart) and her somewhat reluctant military fiancé Lt. Arthur Mitchell (Arthur Franz) to leave their swanky hotel bar for some "safe excitement" watching jazz pianist Kicks in a downtown cellar bar. Here, the slobbish Tom made the first of a series of brutish plays for Erica (who may not have initially been that reluctant to receive the attention) before a plan took hold to kidnap the upscale "square" couple and extort cash from one of Arthur's connections. Director Harry Horner's most notable works from the period were the earlier RED PLANET MARS, BEWARE MY LOVELY and VICKI (the remake of I WAKE UP SCREAMING) although he enjoyed a near 40 year career as a production designer on the likes of THE HUSTLER, THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY and THE DRIVER and there's something of the latter films' attention to seedy nocturnal detail present here. What Horner served up is another 1950s example of the DESPERATE HOURS middle-class nightmare of the great unwashed fetching up on their doorstep to try and drag them to their doom (a theme that previously surfaced in THE PETRIFIED FOREST but that here seems to foreshadow the likes of LADY IN A CAGE, THE INCIDENT and even THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT). However, this effort suffers from a somewhat wordy script by its source novel's author John McPartland (whose edgy Gold Medal paperback originals are well worth tracking down and whose novel NO DOWN PAYMENT became a key if somewhat elusive late 50s skewering of middle-class ideals) that generally tells rather than allows the film to show and therefore results in a movie which often seems somewhat stagy and static. That said, there's still an often seemingly authentically sleazy atmosphere pervading this long dark night of the soul for the hapless swells and lower depths denizens and if the ending seems rather abrupt and slightly ambiguous as to the fate of one of its principal characters it's nevertheless a punchy and pungent tale (like its 25c paperback origins) and is definitely worth the attention of period genre fans.
Haunting Gothic psychodrama (adapted by Lewis John Carlino whose THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA covers similarly torrid terrain) which, whilst undeniably owing a shade too much of a debt to PSYCHO (as previously noted by another IMDb commentator), whips up an unsettling and uneasy atmosphere of dread, not all of which is dissipated by apparently heavy censorship cuts made to secure a 'PG' for its original U.S. theatrical release in the early 70s. In fact, these often noticeable edits (scenes cut away before they've barely begun) lends the whole enterprise a greater sense of ambiguity by suggesting, rather than showing, the barely suppressed corruption and perversion. Possibly too low-key for popular tastes (which makes it all the more surprising that this was distributed by a major studio and roped in the likes of Robert Shaw) and, although I don't really go a bundle on films which seem to be bending over backwards to conceal their surprise ending (and, yes, I did see this one coming a mile off), this is still a one-off melodramatic curio worth seeking out and which certainly lingers in the mind. Now, how about a nice DVD transfer (my UK video copy is a nasty full-frame RCA Columbia release from the early 80s which doesn't do justice to what looks like impressive cinematography)?...
According to this film, the 'Mayor of the Sunset Strip' is Rodney Bingenheimer. Rodney who? Well, watch this fascinating documentary, directed by George Hickenlopper (HEARTS OF DARKNESS : A FILMMAKER'S APOCALYPSE), and find out! Bingenheimer is seemingly the kind of selfless guy who appears to have initially been a kind of male groupie in the 60s and who subsequently unconditionally promoted U.S. and U.K. rock and pop acts through his L.A. based 'Rodney on the Roq' radio show and is acclaimed in almost reverential tones by those who owe their Stateside break to the airplay which apparently broke them through to the U.S. mainstream. As these artists include the likes of Brian Wilson, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Oasis and Coldplay (not sure I can forgive Rodney those last two), and given that the soundtrack includes these bands and many more individuals and groups (e.g. including a certain Mr. Bowie) which would have set virtually any other movie back several million greenbacks had they not offered their tracks for the minimum cost required to sort the legal paperwork, one can see how revered this apparently somewhat impoverished starmaker is (although his collection of pop memorabilia could set him up for several lifetimes should he choose to part with it). A Zelig-like figure whom the film's archival footage (filmed and photographic) shows to have been present at virtually all the epochal rock moments of the last 40 years, as well as one whose life has perhaps not turned out to be as successful as one might expect (the man still appears to dine at Denny's, for crying out loud!) and who seems to have been let down by those who might have reciprocated more kindly for the leg-up he appears to have given them, is well-served by this compassionate, occasionally hilarious (the Cherie Currie story about sinister svengali producer/performer Kim Fowley and his punchy riposte is a hoot) and ultimately rather sad and cautionary tale of the darker side of the American Dream. A man who, as my friend pointed out afterwards, appears to have inspired The Ramones' choice of tonsorial grooming and who still appears to be occasionally mistaken for The Monkees' Davy Jones (he originally auditioned for Jones' role and was sometimes deployed as his double which, if nothing else, seems to have added a few notches to his bedpost) and whose sad-faced countenance speaks more vividly of a lifetime of let-downs than any rancid verbal outpourings (he actually seems too polite to engage in on-screen badmouthing of even those who might deserve a well-aimed verbal broadside), this features an engaging mixture of talking head and rare archival footage and entertains as it delivers an impressionistic vulture's eye view of the West Coast zeitgeist, leaving one in no doubt that the film's title appropriately rests on this unlikely, slightly-built and spindly-legged character. An enlightening documentary, and highly recommended fare with no 'dead air'.
At last, a British movie with a degree of ambition, even if the ambition remains unfulfilled by the film's fade-out. Basically, this is the old tale of the blocked male protagonist becoming enervated by an encounter with his dark side before ultimately realising the error of his ways (see also FIGHT CLUB). As a meditation on machismo and the male psyche, this certainly passes muster, with the dark side manifestation Billy (a truly scary and, hopefully, career-defining performance by Marc Warren) proving that the devil really does have all the best tunes (literally, as the soundtrack really rocks when the characters get down to their darker doings). However, the invention and insight runs out around the halfway mark leaving us with some sub-Georges Bataille musings and a conventional wrap-up which seriously detract from an interesting set-up which promises much but delivers merely a light cuff when a sucker punch is needed. Still, it's dark, challenging and occasionally disturbing work (the corruption of innocence theme is particularly well handled, as is the direction of all the child actors), and the explicit sexual detail will almost certainly result in a truncated or unrated version being released Stateside. On the basis of this, director Penny Woolcock and saturnine star Marc Warren look to be emergent talents well worth watching. Recommended, albeit with reservations.
Daft remake of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN with glacial Carol Lynley doing a distaff femme fatale take on Robert Walker's classic role. She's disturbed doll-faced Diana, who desires the death of her shrink, who alone realises her malign potential and seeks to have her committed. Fixating on perpetual golf pro runner-up Jerry (stone-faced Paul Burke), she beds the hapless sap and manages to get the admittedly soused sportsman to spout some incriminating pillow talk whilst being unknowingly filmed and recorded by a hidden camera which thereby appears to frame him for his superior golfing rival's subsequent murder as he unwittingly plays into her hands during her switcheroo murder plan pitch. Having held up her end of the bargain (and having purloined both the murder weapon and, as per the original film, a potentially incriminating cigarette lighter which is never flagged up as the classic 'McGuffin' it was in the Hitchcock original, and which both threaten to lead the forces of law and order to his door), the murderous minx now expects him to follow through with his end of the deal but, as Farley Granger found out some twenty years previously, if it isn't bred in the bone the hands will only be used to bash a ball rather than a skull. However, Jerry's reckoning without Diana's in-house editing facility which enables her to overdub the potentially damaging videotape footage (yep, she actually has a video recorder in 1969!) and, with the police circling and madness abroad, the poor dupe has to hack his way out of something more dangerous than the usual sandtrap. Kitsch in the extreme, and lacking all The Master of Suspense's bravura technique and convincing deployment of the transference of guilt theme, this is ultimately an unintentional hoot (especially a climactic dune buggy chase along a beach). Boasting Dayglo cinematography so harsh you almost need sunglasses to watch it, truly atrocious wardrobes (especially for Martha Hyer's estranged wife character) and pointlessly padded out with tedious extended golfing footage, this is really only recommended for true trash mavens as, unlike Ms Lynley's shapely lower limbs, this really hasn't got the legs to follow through on the original classically simple yet intriguing premise ('STRANGERS...' author Patricia Highsmith receives a credit for 'suggesting' the whole concept). Personally, though, I found it a lot of fun.
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