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I am painfully aware of, and grimly resigned to, the fact that many of those among my friends and heavily Teutonic extended family are reflexive Francophobes.  But I would urge even those who are, and especially those who are not, if they are any true lovers of the cinema, to tune in to Turner Classic Movies this month for the second installment of their excellent new Friday Night Spotlight series, starting at 8:00 PM ET.  They’re featuring the work of François Truffaut, one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, the former Cahiers du Cinéma critic who spearheaded the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) as the writer-director of The 400 Blows (1959) and the co-writer of the dreaded Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960).

TCM is showing all but two of the 21 features Truffaut directed, and if you do yourself a favor by dipping liberally into his oeuvre, you may find it more diverse than expected.  That’s the experience I had several years ago when frantically attending as much as I could of the comprehensive “Tout Truffaut” festival at New York’s Film Forum (which now won’t even deign to send me a printed schedule, and thus will no longer receive my longtime financial support, but that’s another rant).  Twenty-one features is a sadly small number for such a giant talent, and bespeaks both his criminally short life—he died at 52—and his productivity, averaging almost a film a year through Confidentially Yours (1983).

By way of encouragement, I’m taking the unusual step of enumerating TCM’s entire Truffaut schedule, and while it is beyond the scope of this post to editorialize on every film, I hope it will at least give you some idea of his impressive range.

They kick off on 7/5 with back-to-back showings of his semi-autobiographical Antoine Doinel series, in which we watch Jean-Pierre Léaud age 20 years as his alter ego.  Succeeding The 400 Blows are Antoine and Colette (a short that represents Truffaut’s contribution to the 1962 anthology film Love at Twenty), Stolen Kisses (1968, my personal favorite among his work), Bed and Board (1970), and Love on the Run (1979, both a continuation and a recap of the series, inspired by a marathon showing of the prior entries).  These are followed by the lesser-known but fascinating The Green Room (1978, inexplicably retitled The Vanishing Fiancee), a Henry James adaptation and one of several films in which Truffaut also acts, in which capacity he is best known to American audiences for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

On 7/12, they focus on Truffaut’s noir adaptations, most notably those of Cornell Woolrich (aka William Irish):  The Bride Wore Black (1968), featuring Jeanne Moreau and a score by Hitchcock mainstay Bernard Herrmann, and Mississippi Mermaid (1969), with Breathless star Jean-Paul Belmondo (feh) and Catherine Deneuve, which—like the steamy Banderas/Jolie remake, Original Sin (2001)—was based on Waltz into Darkness.  In between they’re showing his swan song, Confidentially Yours, a black-and-white homage to Hitchcockian romantic thrillers, based on a book by Charles Williams; it stars Fanny Ardant, who gave birth to Truffaut’s daughter Joséphine about a year before he died, and French legend Jean-Louis Trintignant (’nuff said).  Topping it off are Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me (1972), a black comedy from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? author Henry Farrell, and his sophomore feature, Shoot the Piano Player (1960), which has celebrated signer Charles Aznavour in the title role and did double duty during last month’s Friday Night Spotlight segment devoted to noir author David Goodis.

TCM provides a mixed bag on 7/19, starting off with The Soft Skin (1964), a tale of adultery featuring Deneuve’s ill-fated elder sister, Françoise Dorléac, and two adaptations of books by Henri-Pierre Roché, both about romantic triangles:  Jules and Jim (1962), starring Oskar Werner and Moreau, and Two English Girls (1971), also with Léaud.  Next is a real rarity, A Story of Water (1961), a short co-directed with Godard, whose work—excepting Alphaville (1965)—I normally loathe; I have yet to see that or the next offering, The Woman Next Door (1981), with Gérard Depardieu and Ardant as dangerously obsessive lovers.  Finally, The Man Who Loved Women (1977) is one of my least favorite Truffaut films, a situation doubtless exacerbated by the reflected shame of the head-scratching eponymous 1983 Blake Edwards/Burt Reynolds/Julie Andrews/Kim Basinger remake.

Ending on a generally high note, 7/26 opens with Day for Night (1973), Truffaut’s love letter to filmmaking itself, in which he really stretches his range by playing a director, joined by Jacqueline Bisset and Léaud.  I’ve been slow to warm up to The Last Metro (1980), a tale of refugees and the Resistance during the Nazi occupation that stars Deneuve and Depardieu, but I loved The Wild Child (1970), the true story of a late-18th-century doctor (Truffaut) who tries to educate a boy raised by wolves.  As a perfect capstone, Isabelle Adjani—so luminous in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979)—impressively portrays the mental deterioration of Victor Hugo’s daughter in The Story of Adele H (1975)…which, oddly, is not the only film in which we see Adjani go spectacularly mad, e.g., Possession (1981).

The two films not being shown are, fortuitously, both in the Bradley Video Library:  Fahrenheit 451 (1966), his love-it-or-hate-it adaptation of the late Ray Bradbury’s classic SF novel, featuring Werner, Julie Christie in a dual role, and another Herrmann score, and Small Change (1976), a largely improvised composite character study of the children in a small French town, played by non-actors, which is better than it sounds (at least to me).  Meanwhile, inspired by this outpouring of Truffaut-Amour, I’m doing something long overdue, dusting off some of the tapes I made when TCM devoted a similarly thorough marathon to Akira Kurosawa to honor his centennial back in 2010.  In this, at least, Madame BOF is my eager co-pilot, and we’ve already traveled back to the beginnings of his directorial career with The Most Beautiful (1944) and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945); on deck at the moment are my first viewings of Sanshiro Sugata Part Two (1945) and No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), plus One Wonderful Sunday (1947).

Addendum:  Film Forum did finally send me a printed schedule.  “Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles…”

Bradley out.

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Retro Rocket

I’ll have more to say when I’m holding a contributor’s copy in my hot little hands, but in the meantime, if this news flash from Cinema Retro doesn’t send you zooming like a rocket for your wallet, checkbook, or credit card, then you are no true fan of the self-appointed multi-media legend that is Matthew R. Bradley.  There have been issues of Filmfax and Outre in which my story was featured on the cover, but I don’t remember ever seeing my name emblazoned on one before, which I think I would.  Plus I have the honor of sharing cover space with FrenzyDeliverance (which means Fred may even buy it), and Gene Hackman—and whose article did they choose to illustrate, with that wild shot of Big Don Pleasence as Blofeld?

In the immortal words of Felix Unger, “This is it—this is the big one!”

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Comme d’habitude, Turner Classic Movies will salute—pun intended—the sacrifice and bravery of our fighting men and women with its annual 48-hour Memorial Day weekend war-movie marathon, but this year, without even consulting me, they have scheduled six of my favorite films ever (not just war movies, mind you, but movies in general, as demonstrated by the fact that together they constitute 6% of the B100), back to back, for more than sixteen hours of World War II wonderment on Monday. Personally, I can think of no better way to spend the day, but I’ll be remembering in my own way with a visit to Alexandra in Washington, D.C., in the company of the two Mrs. Bradleys; luckily, I own all of these movies, and am already half-way through a pre-emptive strike with The Guns of Navarone. For those of you lucky enough to kick back with a big bucket of KFC and some TCM, here’s a handy-dandy viewing guide, with newly expanded versions of my B100 reviews, and as I look over this list, I guess it says something about me that almost none of these is a traditional flag-waver (Navarone probably comes closest)…but isn’t making you stop and think about war what Memorial Day is all about?

  • Where Eagles Dare (11:45 AM): Quite simply The Greatest Movie Ever Made. Okay, I’m kidding, but it is my personal favorite. Only Alistair MacLean could have concocted this complex tale of triple agents, centering on a commando mission ostensibly to rescue an American general, who knows the details of the D-Day invasion plans, from an inaccessible Bavarian chateau! (I’ve always loved my war movies tinged with espionage, and when he was on his game—which wasn’t always—MacLean was unmatched at that.) Only Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood (in perhaps his only true second-banana role, for which he reportedly requested less dialogue), and the ill-fated Mary Ure could play the stalwart leads, who massacre countless German soldiers with only one flesh wound among them! Only Ferdy Mayne (The Fearless Vampire Killers, The Vampire Lovers), Anton Diffring (The Man Who Could Cheat Death), Donald Houston (reunited with Burton from The Longest Day), and Derrin Nesbitt could play the nasty Nazi villains! Only Brian G. Hutton could direct the exciting action scenes, including the famous cable-car fight! Only Ron Goodwin could compose the rousing, unforgettable score; I even have the soundtrack album on both LP and CD! I also have a first edition of the novel (based on MacLean’s script, but published before the film was released, resulting in decades of chicken-vs.-egg confusion), and even the spot-on Mad magazine parody, “Where Vultures Fare.”
  • The Guns of Navarone (2:30 PM): Immortalized by the very youthful Alexandra as Guns Forever Known. Considering the subsequent and steady decline of director/boozer J. Lee Thompson’s career (e.g., the staggeringly inept Messenger of Death), this is astonishingly good, the first of the MacLean adaptations and one of those that holds up the best. It was, I believe, also the first of the big-budget, star-studded WW II films that were as much rousing adventure as searing drama (like, say, The Bridge on the the River Kwai), and I also think of it as a prototype for the specialized-manly-men-on-a-mission tales like Richard Brooks’s Western The Professionals. Stalwart Gregory Peck, formidable Anthony Quinn, and dubious David Niven join Irene Papas and commandos Anthony Quayle, Stanley Baker, and James Darren on the usual impossible mission on a German-held Greek island during WWII. Not many action films make me mist up, but this one has a beautifully reflective coda, featuring the softer side of Dimitri Tiomkin’s majestic score, that gets me every time. Despite being directed by Guy (Goldfinger) Hamilton, the belated sequel, Force 10 from Navarone (with Robert Shaw and Edward Fox highly unlikely in the Peck and Niven roles, plus Harrison Ford and The Spy Who Loved Me‘s Barbara Bach), is vastly inferior, I’m sorry to say, so stick with the original.
  • The Dirty Dozen (5:15 PM): Robert Aldrich directed this unconventional and influential war movie, based on E.M. Nathanson’s fine novel. Lee Marvin has the unenviable task of trying to forge twelve convicts into a viable fighting unit for a suicide mission in occupied France on the eve of D-Day. The superb cast is full of up-and-coming stars, and includes Donald Sutherland (“Never heard of it”), Charles Bronson (the only member of both The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven), Telly Savalas (unforgettable as the psychotic Maggott), Jim Brown (MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra), John Cassavetes (Rosemary’s Baby), and Clint Walker among the dozen, plus Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me Deadly), and Richard Jaeckel. Aldrich’s trademark genre-subverting style is in full force here, especially with the Last Supper homage, as he makes us root for these misanthropic misfits, and yet, as in The Wild Bunch, these criminals have their own sometimes admirable code of honor.
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai (8:00 PM): No offense to Lawrence of Arabia, but I think this is David Lean’s greatest film. It swept the major Oscars (obviously excepting Best Actress) and deserved all of them. William Holden and Oscar-winner Alec Guinness are at their stellar best as, respectively, an American who leads a demolition team back to the Japanese POW camp from which he’s just escaped, and the British colonel who wages a war of wills with the commandant (Oscar nominee Sessue Hayakawa) and ends up taking too much pride in the bridge his men are building. Originally omitted from the credits in favor of Pierre Boulle (author of Planet of the Apes, oddly enough), who wrote the novel, blacklisted screenwriters Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman (The Guns of Navarone) received posthumous Oscars in 1984. The ending is somewhat different from Boulle’s but, not surprisingly, more cinematic. Holden has always been one of my favorites, especially here and in The Wild Bunch, and the ferocity with which he delivers his unforgettable speech to Jack Hawkins (“You and Colonel Nicholson, you’re two of a kind, crazy with courage. For what? How to die like a gentleman—how to die by the rules—when the only important thing is how to live like a human being!”) still gives me a frisson. With James Donald (Quatermass and the Pit, The Great Escape), Hammer mainstay André Morell, and superb music by Malcolm Arnold (who seemed to quote it in every other damn picture he scored!).
  • The Great Escape (11:00 PM): Turafish considers this The Greatest Movie Ever Made. I won’t go that far, but it’s right up there. Director John Sturges, composer Elmer Bernstein, and cast members Steve McQueen (who, typically, demanded that his part be beefed up to include the famous motorcycle chase), Bronson, and James Coburn are reunited from The Magnificent Seven for this true story co-scripted by James Clavell. During World War II, the Germans decide to place all of their rotten eggs in one basket by herding their most troublesome prisoners into a single camp. Naturally, this leads to a legendary, albeit only partly successful, mass breakout led by “Big X” (Richard Attenborough). The theme song is unforgettable and the cast (also including James Garner, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum, and Gordon Jackson) is unparalleled. Not everyone would probably consider this a war movie, since the cast spends most of its time in a POW camp rather than in combat, but the point is made that by forcing the Germans to devote time and manpower to trying to round up the escapees, they’re keeping them away from the front lines. Besides, for many, being a prisoner of war is part of being a soldier, which is something we would do well to remember on this of all days. “Two hundred and fifty? You’re crazy—you, too.”
  • Kelly’s Heroes (2:00 AM): Eastwood was reunited with Where Eagles Dare director Hutton for this humorous caper film with a World War II setting and a Vietnam-era sensibility, filmed in Yugoslavia, where they still had lots of vintage military hardware available (future director John Landis was a young PA on the film). The members of Clint’s platoon have been getting the short end of the stick since they hit the beach at Omaha, so when they learn of a fortune in Nazi gold kept in a bank behind enemy lines in occupied France, they decide to do a little extracurricular activity (a plot borrowed for the Gulf War film Three Kings). With a stellar cast (Savalas, Sutherland, Don Rickles, Carroll O’Connor), excellent dialogue courtesy of the late Troy Kennedy Martin, an outstanding score by Lalo Schifrin, and a Leone/Wild Bunch parody. Along with The Dirty Dozen, this is clearly the most cynical of our little sextet, yet the cost of war is not ignored (I’m thinking in particular of the poignant aftermath of the minefield sequence, which always chokes me up), while those who enjoy slam-bang battle scenes will not be disappointed, and overall it makes some keen observations about the regular joes at the sharp end of war. Relax and enjoy.

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Tor.com has posted the latest installment of my “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” series today, and it was quite a challenge tackling his miniseries The Martian Chronicles, because despite its many detractors, I think he did a superb job adapting Ray Bradbury’s book.  In other Matheson news, the first trailer for Real Steel (a remake of his Twilight Zone episode “Steel”) is making the rounds and getting raves for the filmmakers’ wise decision to use motion-capture—coached by Sugar Ray Leonard, yet—to create its robot boxers.  Finally, I’ll hold off on a formal publication alert until it’s in my hot little hands, but the official word is out from Cinema Retro that the cover stories in their Exorcist issue include the William Peter Blatty interview I did with Gilbert Colon.

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Speaking of blogs, it looks like your humble correspondent may soon be dividing at least some of his time between BOF and Tor.com (see blogroll at right).  The latter is, of course, the online presence of Tor/Forge Books, Matheson’s primary trade publisher; Gauntlet Press releases his work in handsome limited editions and, through its Edge Books imprint, the occasional trade paperback such as Visions Deferred.  My friend Greg Cox, who has been Matheson’s editor ever since 7 Steps to Midnight was acquired in 1991 and became one of the first books they published under the Forge imprint, told me that they might want me to contribute some Matheson posts.

Seems that with so much Matheson activity afoot (e.g., Tor’s trade edition of the Gauntlet tribute anthology He Is Legend; his new novel Other Kingdoms, coming out in March; the forthcoming Hugh Jackman movie Real Steel, based on his story “Steel”), they want to do a series of posts on Matheson’s movie career.  Boing!  So, despairing of finding someone with genuine expertise on the subject—heh heh—they decided out of pure desperation to fall back on the author of Richard Matheson on Screen.  And they wanted me to start with that old standby, the screen versions of I Am Legend, effectively requiring me to condense 23 manuscript pages into a mere 1,241 words.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, when it comes to the subject of You-Know-Who on you-know-what, my brain is now analogous to a supersaturated sponge:  just poke it a little, and a huge amount of water comes gushing out.  So, writing mostly off the top of my head, I banged out a couple of pages of hyperdistilled prose that—miraculously—managed to cover what I consider the high points of three separate sections from my magnum opus, written in a conversational style more appropriate to a blog than to a quasi-academic tome.  Mind you, I don’t have the thumbs-up from the folks at Tor.com just yet, but if I get it, you can be the judge.

So by all means check out Tor.com, and of course keep watching this space (although that should go without saying) to find out when my posts will be appearing, which may begin as early as the week of September 13.  In the meantime, I’ll keep waiting for word from McFarland about when the book will actually be out and keeping you, uh, posted to the best of my ability.  Bradley out.

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Since I first reported last month on what I’ve experienced while trying to spread the word about my book in the blogosphere (see “Captain’s Blog, Stardate 64026.3”), I have visited many more sites and commented on quite a few; in fact, hardly a day goes by when my old reliable Google Alert doesn’t turn up at least one comment-worthy post, and often several.  They continue to run a fascinating gamut from quickie, typo-ridden “reviews” to thoughtful pieces that in some cases really get to the heart of what makes many of Matheson’s works such enduring classics.  I’ve seen stuff with egregious errors, and I’ve seen stuff that was surprisingly well-informed…especially considering the bloggers didn’t have access to Richard Matheson on Screen yet!  🙂

One of the things that has impressed me the most, in light of the blogosphere’s reputation for slanging, is how congenial most people have been, expressing support for the book and in a few cases inviting me to send a link to McFarland (which, as publication draws near, I have taken to including automatically).  At the worst, they’ve ignored my comments, which is absolutely their prerogative, since I’m merely throwing out information that might be of interest to those who are reading or writing about Matheson, and then again, it might not.  A few inexpressibly generous souls have devoted entire posts to my upcoming magnum opus, and others have requested review copies, which I am duly passing on to the folks in the pleasantly receptive marketing department.

I will say I’ve stopped apparently wasting my time with those sites that appear to be little more than glorified—if that is the word—selling tools; not that I don’t have something to sell myself, but I think even the harshest critic will agree that on a good day, BOF is much more than a shill for my book.  Although some solicit comments as well as wildly divergent customer reviews, the comments don’t seem to spark any actual discussion or feedback, and many of mine languished in “awaiting moderation” limbo indefinitely.  So I saw no reason to follow up on those or create new ones, especially since on some of the sites, the level of discourse, as it were, is exemplified by those half-dozen or so Rhodes scholars who trashed Duel on a post that I can’t seem to forget!

Posts on I Am Legend and its adaptations and influences—most notably the original Night of the Living Dead, natch—continue to dominate, including not one but two reviews of Robert Hood’s album Omega, inspired by The Omega Man.  (This is not to be confused with the soundtrack by Ron Grainer, composer of the immortal themes for Dr. Who and The Prisoner, a copy of which a certain Count Drax recently gave me for my birthday.)  But others have ranged from Matheson’s early collection Third from the Sun, the influence of Shirley Jackson on Hell House, and his own influences on Stephen King and Justin Cronin to his Westerns, The Stranger Within, and his ill-fated script for Jaws 3-D, which means that he is as ubiquitous as ever, and that’s all to the good.

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And here is Tor’s catalog listing for Other Kingdoms, the new Matheson novel due out in March:

For over half a century, Richard Matheson has enthralled and terrified readers with such timeless classics as I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Duel, Somewhere in Time, and What Dreams May Come.  Now the Grand Master returns with a bewitching tale of erotic suspense and enchantment….

1918.  A young American soldier, recently wounded in the Great War, Alex White comes to Gatford to escape his troubled past.  The pastoral English village seems the perfect spot to heal his wounded body and soul.  True, the neighboring woods are said to be haunted by capricious, even malevolent spirits, but surely those are just old wives’ tales.

Aren’t they?

A frightening encounter in the forest leads Alex into the arms of Magda Variel, an alluring red-haired widow rumored to be a witch.  She warns him to steer clear of the wood and the perilous faerie kingdom it borders, but Alex cannot help himself.  Drawn to its verdant mysteries, he finds love, danger…and wonders that will forever change his view of the world.

Other Kingdoms casts a magical spell, as conjured by a truly legendary storyteller.

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