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Columbo: Publish or Perish (1974)
Too convoluted a murder scheme
I love Columbo and all of Jack Cassidy's performances. It's just that the killer's scheme is absurd. Besides the basic plot of his murder plan, he has to lie too much to Columbo, concoctions no murderer could keep up with. As usual excellent performances by a cast of super pros. It's always funny to see how cavalier the police and forensic are with handling property at crime scenes in TV cop shows of the era. Columbo plays the victim's answering machine with bare hands. One funny bit has him borrowing a pencil from a waiter who served him chili at a lux restaurant to write some info in his notebook during a phone call from police headquarters.
Five Golden Dragons (1967)
Only Four Golden Dragons
There are four golden reasons to watch this lightweight comedy- thriller from B-movie programmer king Harry Alan Towers alias Peter Welbeck. 1) the on-location photography of 1960s Hong Kong 2) Margaret Lee who also sings "Five Golden Dragons," a good little tune 3) Maria Rohm 4) Maria Perschy. If not for the latter three, I'd have turned off this movie after 20 minutes. I can't see any reason to actually buy the DVD if you've seen it on TV or Amazon Prime.
Affable Bob Cummings basically plays his TV character from "Love That Bob." Evasive, easy-going, constantly chattering small talk, nervous, clumsy and too-cool-for-school, Bob overdoes wiping his face with a handkerchief in the second half. I don't know what that was all about. An endless stream of beefy Chinese thugs in matching Polo shirts chase him around Hong Kong but can't kill him but they do kill off one of the cast sleeping in his hotel bedroom, while he's on the couch snoozing. The rest of the cast in small roles is a Who's Who of movie legends, well-known faces and international actors.
Bob was lucky not to have any scenes directly opposite mad man Klaus Kinski, unusually subdued here. It has the same kind of fun-B movie time-killing, ambiance as another Towers production, Bang! Bang! You're Dead! (Our Man in Marrakesh) with Tony Randall who supposedly turned down the Cummings role. Towers had a yen for these Sax Rohmer/Edgar Wallace-style films in the 1960s, ultimately producing and writing over 100 films during his lifetime, adding production value with exotic locations like Beirut and Hong Kong. The editing of the night club performances by Lee and Yukari Ito is poor, interrupting their singing for some meaningless cut-away and then back again to the singers.
Miami Vice: Shadow in the Dark (1986)
Shadow in the Dark
This is one of the stand-out stories from season 3, a sharp departure from the sun-soaked, pastel-colored tones of the Miami Vice palette. Michael Mann created (in film) what would become the profiler absorbing too much of his subject's psychological processes, and becoming possessed, with William Petersen in Manhunter (and may have reached its contemporary zenith with NBC's Hannibal). This episode tried to condense the theme with Johnson becoming a profiler and going off the deep end, like the original detective (Jack Thibeau) who winds up in a mental institution. Unlike Manhunter that featured the pursuit of a serial killer, the insane criminal in this story is on his way to becoming one as he busts into houses and conducts bizarre OCD rituals. The daytime sequence when the team first investigates the opening burglary gives way to all night-time sequences. The cinematography is masterful, creating shadows even in the darkness of the homes and in the night-time street scenes. The bizarre mood of the story pulls Johnson in immediately as he inexplicably touches the lipstick drawing on the wall of the burglarized home then smells and licks his finger, something no one would do. This should have been a two-parter because Johnson's transition to obsessed profiler happens too quickly for one 50 minute episode. Thomas' role, and the rest of the cast, is reduced to being the voice of reason, without success. This is Johnson's show and Thibeau as the now-psychotic lieutenant channels Jack Nicholson on steroids before his mental breakdown. Hammer's music is perfect, boosting the eerie tone of the show. Johnson has played it obsessed before (especially in "Definitely, Miami" another top episode) but in this show, he proves his acting skills have always been underrated. While he won a Golden Globe in 1985, he never got an Emmy although nominated. Olmos won in 85 for supporting actor.
All the Sins of Sodom (1968)
Grim and moody in the Sarno way
The European-style title is a bit misleading but that's exploitation marketing at work. This proto-porn sexploitation film by the great Joe Sarno bucks the 1964-1970 tide of roughies that flooded American adult theaters. There's no physical violence against women (like the Olga and Findlay Flesh trilogies) in this basic story of a New York City photographer who screws all of his models in his studio-apartment, falls for one in particular and then makes the mistake of allowing a homeless aspiring model to crash in his spare room.
They eventually have sex that leads to conflict. But there is psychological violence that the loose cannon inflicts on everyone. The girl is a Machiavellian schemer with an odd, erotic appeal who seduces two of his models and him then leaves town but not before ruining his major photo project. This gives him a nervous breakdown at the fade-out. She has an almost supernatural look about her, something I've seen in other Sarno films. The somewhat monotonous sex scenes are shot above the waist in traditional sexploitation style and the stark setting (starkly filmed as well) is claustrophobic. Sarno breaks out of this hermetically sealed environment with a drive to the beach by the photographer and his main squeeze (the girl in the poster) in a fantastic sports car I couldn't identify and a scene in the street outside his apartment.
There's never any understandable reason why his models are all sexually into the shooter, who has more body hair than Sasquatch. The women are erotic but the film as a whole is not erotic. I wonder if Sarno was inspired by Antonioni's Blow-up in the basic set-up. It's a total male fantasy story as pbutterfly writes in her review. What I found most interesting of all was the nearly constant outside background noise of Manhattan's streets, the traffic and the car horns, on the film's soundtrack. This added an immensely strange tone to the entire film because if you have ever lived in a heavily populated urban zone, this is what daily life is like 24/7. Whether this movie was recorded with live audio or was dubbed in a non-soundproof dubbing booth in mid- town Manhattan is something I couldn't find out.
Le meraviglie di Aladino (1961)
Aladdin Italian style
When I was a boy I saw this a bunch of times in the theaters. I've been looking for a good widescreen DVD for years. I've even written to TCM to broadcast it to no avail. In fact it's way too adult for little kids with ample but suggested nudity and hot girls running around in a comic book Italian-style world. Great soundtrack as always by Lavagnino and direction by Bava although Henry Levin gets screen credit. Intense color, the kind not used anymore in this dull digital age. O'Connor was great in this, a departure from his usual yet not a departure, An odd choice for a lead in an Italian fantasy yet he makes it smoke like a genie's lamp. Noelle Adams steals the show, of course.
Can the ten lines of copy be decreased in the future?
I made the mistake of ordering a DVD of this film from Zeusdvds in Florida. I should have checked out the site for review. The owner ripped me off as well as dozens of other customers.
The Paper Chase (1978)
I'm watching the second series from SHO. On a technical level, the cinematography is not as good as that from the CBS show. The colors are reddish, the focus is softer, the grain is very high and the lighting is dimmer. This could be the transfer to DVD. I never saw the show as originally broadcast so I have no basis to compare. Some DVD reviewers have touched on this. Be that as it may, the show is excellent and Houseman's performances are a joy to watch. (I developed an odd affection to Seals & Crofts schmaltzy theme song watching the CBS version--it even became an earworm--but the "Ivy League" instrumental opener of the SHO version is far more appropriate.) What's really great is the series moving from CBS to SHO with all of the primary leads five years later! Has any series ever duplicated this feat? On the downside, some of the CBS episodes really irritated me enough to take a break from viewing it. Hart constantly injecting himself into people's problems, usually to his own detriment, got very annoying and Bell was an exasperating, selfish idiot. The episode in which Hart and Bell were locked in Kingsfield's office closet during the weekend due to Bell's stupid scheme was beyond bad (and the writers didn't get it that people have to urinate?). Those few clunkers aside, great show, the kind that's hard to find today.
Kyônetsu no kisetsu (1960)
Tamio Kawaji gives a an incredible, repugnant, unbelievable performance as a mentally and emotionally disturbed criminal in a film that is STILL ahead of its time 51 years later. He's a hyperkinetic, twitching deviate, a human Road Runner causing trouble wherever he's dashing around, usually shirtless and sweating; eating and drinking in fast motion; stealing; moving like a speed freak; sexually assaulting, attacking. Eio Go is his more standardized criminal buddy who thinks his ticket to life's best is to join a Yakuza gang. The two live with a beautiful young prostitute and wreak havoc everywhere they go, destroying the lives of a middle-class couple engaged to be married. The radical, frantic cinematography is brilliant and the jazz score is integral to the story. I've never seen a film like this before or since. The running time is short which is just as well because it's an exhausting experience. Now just released by Criterion in a beautiful print in Japanese with English sub-titles; Something Weird Video originally released it. Radley Metzger brought the part street-punk, part sexploitation film to the States for a theatrical release as The Weird Lovemakers.
Adieu poulet (1975)
Underrated and ignored
I saw this French cop/buddy film when it originally ran in New York City for a limited time. I still remember the basics. Lino Ventura was sensational as usual, his sardonic, mistrusting self, and Dewaere was great as his partner. They made an enjoyable team, something I can't say for most cop/buddy films. Dewaere took his own life just a few years later, a very sad finale for an excellent actor. I'd love to see this film again but it has never surfaced on tape or disc and never airs on TV. But no worries, with satellite, I have an endless pile of worthless crap movies to surf through while good films like this languish in a vault, forgotten.
I'll invest my time in any Argento, even the gawd-awful Giallo. In the case of Trauma, this is a movie that I avoided watching since it was released and had no interest in. I recently saved an airing on Flix that turned out to be a very nice widescreen print, a big help to inducing me to watch it. Because of personal time constraints, I only watched 15 or 20 minutes at a clip. I mention all this because I'm the first to watch any Dario film straight through. As with most of his films, reality and logic have no real place in his fantasy construct. Trauma is a ridiculous film that makes no sense whatsoever with more holes than a spaghetti strainer. The good points: An atmospheric seance. An unusual decapitation machine that's not well shot during the kill scenes. An atmospheric lake scene and a few other interesting moments. The bad: Bad acting. After the use of leading men like Franciscus, Musante, Hemming and Franciosa in previous classics, Chris Rydell tries but doesn't succeed. He's like a neurotic Judge Reinhold. The cop is REALLY bad. Asia is an acquired taste I don't have although I can appreciate Poppa wanting to give his kid a paycheck. The only redemption in the acting comes from Laurie, Dourif and Forrest. Scenes with the kid are horrendous including what he manages to do at the end. Laura Johnson is completely wasted. The unintentional laughs come from the drugstore scene (hilarious), Rydell's chasing the lesbians, how Rydell finds the killer's house and Rydell accosting Dourif.
TCM should air this film
This is a gritty, melancholy police drama that was very different from the poliziottesco of the 70s, directed by Damiani in a way that tells its grim story without the usual pyrotechnics and flashy physical action of that genre. It's a longtime favorite of mine. Whereas the great Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion veers into fantasy and a giallo-flavored eroticism, the chain of events in this picture is very realistic; when I first saw it, on TV, I thought that this could have happened. The interplay between Nero and Balsam is totally believable and gripping. No extraneous subplots derail the story. The Riz Ortolani score truly piles on the mood of tragedy and hopelessness in the destructive wake of uncontrollable social evils, the utter impotency of the law and political/business corruption. Underrated and ignored. It's ripe for a class-act DVD release since American TV has long since abandoned airing Italian films.