Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Clint Eastwood’

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.
Advertisements

Read Full Post »

In honor of my daughter’s recent graduation with a B.A. in Psychology from Cornell University (magna cum laude, I might add), I have dipped into the archives of the Bradley Video Library to excavate a smattering of films with academic settings or themes.  I’ve omitted the Hammer films Fear in the Night, Lust for a Vampire, and The Witches (aka The Devil’s Own), each of them covered in an installment of my multi-part post “If I Had a Hammer,” so as not to be too repetitious.

The Beguiled:  One of five films in which The GREAT Don Siegel directed Clint Eastwood, the best known of which is the original Dirty Harry (made that same year), this shows that as far back as 1971, Clint was interested in doing something out of the ordinary, a trait that’s enhanced his own directorial career as well.  Here, he’s a wounded Yankee solider, given refuge by the man-hungry inhabitants of a Southern girls’ school, whom he thinks he can easily wrap around his finger—but he learns differently, in a macabre and surprising finish.

Bunny Lake Is Missing:  Otto Preminger’s willfully offbeat film was adapted from a novel by Evelyn Piperas was Hammer’s The Nannyby John and Penelope Mortimer (he of Rumpole fame).  Carol Lynley is a transplanted American who says her young daughter disappeared on her first day at an English school, although evidence increasingly suggests she may never have existed; Laurence Olivier underplays beautifully as the police inspector; Keir Dullea is her devoted brother; Noël Coward is her twisted landlord; and Anna Massey (daughter of Raymond and sister of Daniel, later to appear opposite Dullea in Richard Matheson’s ill-fated De Sade) is the headmistress.

Cosa Avete Fatto a Solange? (What Have You Done to Solange?, aka Who Killed Solange?, Solange, Who’s Next?, Das Geheimnis der Grünen Stecknadel [The Secret of the Green Pins], The School That Couldn’t Scream, Terror in the Woods):  Given that this film is filled with naked girls, and concerns a school-based serial killer who puts very large knives into a very unpleasant place (which, given the eventual solution, is less gratuitous than it might be), the last thing one would expect is that it would be dull.  But Massimo Dallamano proves yet again that, although he reportedly came up with Sergio Leone’s signature widescreen closeup as he was photographing the first two films in the Dollars Trilogy, he’s no director.  Adding to that is the fact that the protagonist is very unsympathetic; with the pivotal title character dragged in out of left field about two-thirds of the way through to provide a motive, this is a minor giallo, indeed.

Ladybug, Ladybug:  Independent director Frank Perry and his then-wife, screenwriter Eleanor Perry, crafted this Cold War tale about the effects of a threatened nuclear attack on the students and faculty of a rural school, with William Daniels (unforgettable as John Adams in 1776), Nancy Marchand, and Estelle Parsons in a bit part among the largely star-free cast.  Sobering stuff and sadly so timely today.  It should be noted that the previous year, the Perrys gave Dullea one of his earliest and most acclaimed screen roles in the breakthrough independent hit David and Lisa, adapted from the case history of a couple who fall in love at a school for disturbed youths.

Lord Love a Duck:  I found this black comedy written and directed by George Axelrod, the screenwriter of John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, to be entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying, most likely because it lacks a solid storyline.  Instead, it’s a scattershot satire of contemporary life with some neat ideas (e.g., a drive-in church) and a good cast headed by Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld.  A young Harvey Korman is quite memorable as the wacky high school principal.

Lycanthropus (aka Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory, I Married a Werewolf, Bei Vollmond Mord, Monster Among the Girls, The Ghoul in School, Ghoul in a Girls’ Dormitory):  This characteristically atmospheric but decidedly low-key Euro-horror outing is most interesting when considered in context.  It’s from screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (aka Julian Berry), who according to Wikipedia “has collaborated with Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Riccardo Freda, Tonino Valerii, Sergio Martino and Sergio Leone, [and] as such…can be regarded as a chief architect of the giallo and [spaghetti] Western film,” and Paolo Heusch, the nominal director of La Morte Viene dallo Spazio (Death Comes from Space, aka The Day the Sky Exploded), which Bava photographed and reportedly co- (or actually) directed.  The unusually convoluted plot involves not only the titular werewolf (who, if I’m not mistaken, never actually gets inside said dorm in his hairy form, although there are plenty of [sadly non-titillating] scenes set there) but also multiple whodunits, a deformed and sinister groundskeeper (Peter Lorre lookalike Luciano Pigozzi [aka Alan Collins], who appeared in the Gastaldi-scripted La Frusta e il Corpo and several other Bava films), and blackmail.  Just for good measure, the interiors were filmed in an actual castle that was also used for La Frusta e il Corpo and La Danza Macabre.  Curt Lowens, who plays the director of the school, looks and—in the dubbed version—sounds uncannily like Noel Willman from Hammer’s Kiss of the Vampire and The Reptile.  Don’t expect many fireworks.

Night of the Eagle (aka Burn, Witch, Burn):  Notwithstanding George Baxt’s controversial claims to have rewritten it substantially, this is one of Matheson’s best films, and marked his only big-screen collaboration with friend and fellow Twilight Zone scribe Charles Beaumont.  Based on Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife (filmed earlier with Lon Chaney, Jr., as one of Universal’s Inner Sanctum mysteries, Weird Woman), it concerns a college professor (Peter Wyngarde) whose wife and colleagues are using magic to help and hurt his career, respectively.  Directed by Sidney Hayers, as were Baxt’s Circus of Horrors and Payroll.  As a side note, Matheson also adapted his story “One for the Books,” in which a college janitor becomes the unwitting—and unwilling—recipient of alien-infused knowledge, as an episode of Amazing Stories.

La Residencia (The Boarding School, aka The Finishing School, The House That Screamed):  This is an unusual, if at times overwrought, Spanish horror film set in a French school for “difficult” girls run by Lilli Palmer.  John Moulder Brown is her teenaged son, who understandably finds the students of interest but is urged by Lilli to wait until he can have “a woman like me”—advice that, unfortunately, he takes all too literally.  Given the film’s European origins and its none too subtle thematic threads of sexual repression, lesbianism, and sadism, it is not as explicit as you might think (or hope, as the case may be).  Trivia fans will note that the “body-building” plot element was used previously in the 1966 Chamber of Horrors and subsequently in May.

What’s the Matter with Helen?:  This may be pushing the “academic” criterion, but because its cast includes the late Yvette Vickers, I’ll let it slide.  Following How Awful About Allan, it’s the second collaboration between director Curtis Harrington and author/screenwriter Henry Farrell of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? fame.  Shelley Winters and Debbie Reynolds are the mothers of convicted killers who try to make a new start opening up a dancing school for kiddies in Depression-era Hollywood, but as usual in a Harrington film, the past comes back to haunt them, which sends Shelley around the bend.

Read Full Post »

It’s Movie Night at the Villa in Ozone Park, and we’re kicking off with an excellent choice that I provided:  Phase IV, the sole directorial effort by Saul Bass, famed for his title sequences for Alfred Hitchcock, e.g., Psycho.  It’s kind of like The Andromeda Strain meets The Naked Jungle, with a dash of 2001: A Space Odyssey thrown in, as scientists Nigel Davenport and Michael Murphy grapple with the threat to humankind from ants that are, for once, not giant but super-intelligent.  The only other main character is a young woman who might be considered collateral damage, and is played by Peter Sellers’s sometime wife, Lynn Frederick.

Besotted with the ’70s as I am, I argue that a film like Phase IV seems unlikely to be made today, and it’s worth watching for the microphotography by Ken Middleham (The Hellstrom Chronicle) alone.  But our follow-up film, Night of the Lepus, is quintessentially ’70s in a rather different way, featuring a dubious collection of pseudo-stars (Stuart Whitman, Rory Calhoun, DeForest Kelley) alongside the still-luminous Janet Leigh.  We chuckle over the challenge posed to MGM’s marketing department by a film involving giant killer bunnies (someday I’d love to track down the novel on which it’s based, Russell Braddon’s The Year of the Angry Rabbit), and the hilarious special effects involving blown-up shots of real rabbits meant to look menacing.

During our affectionately raucous evening, there is considerable debate over the degree, if any, to which I dislike films specifically due to downbeat endings; Tom is asking Gilbert and me for examples fitting that description and, amusingly enough, all that keep coming up are downbeat films I DO love.  There are, naturlich, exceptions to the I-don’t-like-unhappy-endings rule, but right now it looks like more exception than rule!  This forms a pattern repeated with slight variations all night long, as my increasingly porous memory is consistently unable to exemplify various tenets of my cinematic likes and dislikes, which Gil and I know exist.

The less said about the lowbrow comedy Gentlemen Broncos the better, but Tom really knocks it out of the park with his next pick, Kelly’s Heroes, and as anyone who knows me well can tell you, for me, there’s just no bad time to watch Kelly’s Heroes.  We marvel yet again over the indomitable force of nature that is Clint, and remark upon the film’s interesting place in the Eastwood oeuvre, coming at a time when he had already made Leone’s spaghetti Western trilogy but not yet become the iconic Clint of the Dirty Harry films.  He exhibited a fun and funky dynamic while willingly sharing the spotlight with Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, and Don Rickles or—as he did in director Brian G. Hutton’s other BOF favorite, Where Eagles Dare—Richard Burton.

This, by the way, is what Bugs Bunny would call “a momentous hysterical occasion,” because for the first time in my memory, instead of ordering in takeout, The Host with the Most is treating us to a homemade meal of spaghetti and meatballs, a hearty and scrumptious change of pace.  At least partly out of courtesy to our late arrival, Chris, whose work schedule obligated him to come around 10:00 (Gilbert was already there when I showed up at 7:45, after a door-to-door trip of three hours and ten minutes from MBI), the pasta does not make its appearance until very late in the game.  Not surprisingly, though, it is well worth the wait, and of course we’ve had Tom’s usual snack spread—plus Madame BOF’s walnut chocolate-chip cookies—to tide us over.

Tom attempts to entertain us with some DVD extras from a recent documentary on his main man, Motorhead mainstay Lemmy Kilmister, but then appears to have second thoughts, and fortuitously hits on the beginning of BOF underdog fave Strange Days.  Unfortunately, Gil has to get up in the morning, and I don’t want to keep him awake, so shortly before 4:00 AM we reluctantly shut off Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett.  I sleep better than usual (when not in my own bed) for a few hours before Tom’s freakish-looking alarm clock gets Gil going, and gives me the opportunity to kick back for a bit before I have to begin the long journey home from the Villa.

Read Full Post »

Eighty-fifth birthday wishes to Richard Matheson as we belatedly conclude the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.

Touch of Evil:  Beginning with a single, unbroken, three-minute crane shot following a car with a bomb in the trunk until it explodes, this is one of Orson Welles’s best films.  Welles directed, adapted Whit Masterson’s novel Badge of Evil, and plays the corpulent sheriff of a spectacularly sleazy Mexican border town; a mustachioed Charlton Heston stars as a Mexican-American cop trying to enjoy his honeymoon with Janet Leigh (and who wouldn’t?) when the explosion changes his plans.  Brilliantly shot, written, and acted, it creates a palpable atmosphere of corruption and evil.  With Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Weaver, Joseph Cotten, Zsa Zsa Gabor (!), and Mercedes McCambridge (who dubbed the nasty bits for Linda Blair in The Exorcist) in supporting roles of various sizes and a splendid jazz score by Henry (The Pink Panther) Mancini.

2001: A Space Odyssey:  Madame BOF is perhaps not the only one whose patience is put to the test by this film’s rather, shall we say, leisurely paced 140-minute running time.  But she is too quick to dismiss its technical expertise, its profound script by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (at that time an extremely rare cinematic venture by a world-famous SF writer, who expanded considerably upon his short story “The Sentinel” and, at Kubrick’s insistence, took sole authorial credit for the novel they wrote simultaneously), that famous Strauss theme song, and the sheer ballsiness of MGM in making the damn thing, which render it unique and influential.  A huge, featureless black monolith appears at various points in humankind’s development, its purpose initially unknown, and so begins Keir Dullea’s voyage aboard the aptly named Discovery.  “Open the pod bay door, Hal.”

Unforgiven:  To date, this is my favorite among Clint Eastwood’s directorial efforts, and I seem to be in good company, because the Academy awarded it not only Best Picture and Director but also Best Actor (Gene Hackman) and Film Editing.  He supposedly acquired the script by Blade Runner co-writer David Peoples (who also copped a nomination, as did Clint for his performance) and stuck it in a drawer for a decade until he thought he was ready to play the part of Bill Munny, who hung up his guns out of respect for his late wife, and only reluctantly picks them up again to support his two children when times get tough.  Joined by old pal Morgan Freeman and young gun Jaimz Woolvet, he goes after a bounty offered by a group of prostitutes for the cowboys who defaced one of their own.  But things don’t go according to plan, and he runs afoul of brutal sheriff Hackman.  Clint dedicated the film to his directorial mentors, BOF faves Sergio Leone and Don Siegel; the heart-wrenching score, guaranteed to choke me up, is by his longtime collaborator, Lennie Niehaus.

Up in Smoke:  Although I think one of my brothers started it by bringing home their album Big Bambu, my late father and I shared a perhaps inexplicable fondness for the drug-(dis)oriented humor of Richard “Cheech” Marin and Thomas Chong, who made their film debut in this stoner comedy that made “Low Rider” one of my theme songs in later years.  Their next movie (titled, with breathtaking originality, Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie) was followed by the likes of Nice Dreams, Things Are Tough All Over, and Still Smokin’.  Those looking for detailed descriptions of and/or penetrating insights into those later films are, at least for now, doomed to disappointment, because I haven’t seen most of them for years.  They do all tend to blend together, and quite frankly they’re probably all terrible in hindsight, but this one, at least, stands up to repeated viewings, and since my wife and daughter—who would no more toke up than ski down Everest—love it as well, it’s not just me.  In this, they unwittingly smuggle a van made of dope across the Mexican border.

Vertigo:  A Hitchcock masterpiece, probably almost neck and neck with Psycho in my book, featuring a stunning James Stewart performance (as an obsessive character whose make-over of a woman is, for Hitch, stunningly self-revelatory) and an absolutely shattering final scene.  Say what you want about Kim Novak’s acting, I think she does just fine with her dual role, and as always, Bernard Herrmann’s score is superb; the credit sequence alone is a breathtaking mix of image and music.  You’ll catch many nuances after mastering the complex plot, based on a novel by celebrated French crime-writing team Boileau-Narcejac.  “I don’t want to get mixed up in this darn thing!”

Walkabout:  Erstwhile cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (The Masque of the Red Death) made his solo directorial debut with this unique film.  Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run), stunningly beautiful on the cusp of womanhood, and her younger brother (Roeg’s son Lucien John) are forced to embark upon an odyssey through the Australian Outback that intersects with, and in some ways parallels, the titular coming-of-age ritual of Aborigine David Gulpilil.  The bittersweet (or, per the somewhat less nuanced response of Madame BOF, “sad”) story is perfectly complemented by the film’s ravishing cinematography, also by Roeg, and its heartbreaking score by the late, great John Barry.

Where Eagles Dare:  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!  Only Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, and Mary Ure could play the stalwart leads, who massacre countless German soldiers with only one flesh wound among them!  Only Ferdy Mayne, Anton Diffring (Shatter), Donald Houston (The Longest Day), and Derrin Nesbitt could play the nasty Nazi villains!  Only Brian G. Hutton (Kelly’s Heroes) 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), and even the Mad magazine parody.

The Wild Bunch:  In my opinion, this is director Sam Peckinpah’s greatest achievement, although Tom is free to prefer Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (admittedly one hell of a film).  William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Jaime Sanchez, Bo Hopkins, and Edmond O’Brien are among the members of this aging gang, running out of banks to rob and pursued by ex-member Robert Ryan, railroad man Albert Dekker, and sleazy bounty-hunters Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones.  The sanguinary finale is the apotheosis of Peckinpah’s “poetry of violence.”  Absolutely superb.  Even my Mom liked this, surprisingly.  My favorite quote says it all:  “When you side with a man, you stay with him.  And if you can’t do that, you’re like some animal—you’re finished.”

The Year of Living Dangerously:  I don’t think anybody saw this one and didn’t like it.  Reporter Mel Gibson and diplomat Sigourney Weaver mix it up in politically unrestful Indonesia in 1965 to spectacular effect.  This exceptional thriller was directed by Peter Weir, is extremely faithful to the excellent novel by Christopher J. Koch (who also co-scripted with Weir), has a score by Maurice Jarre (although I later learned that my favorite piece was written by Vangelis for another film entirely), and co-stars Linda Hunt in her Oscar-winning performance (as a man, yet).  Note for trivia buffs—Gibson’s character is the namesake of Goldfinger’s director, Guy Hamilton.  Coincidence?

Yellow Submarine:  I think you either love this one, as Alexandra does, or hate it, like Loreen and Gilbert.  Since the Beatles are my favorite group EVER, you do the math, even though the Fab Four did not voice the dialogue for their animated likenesses.  It features a bunch of their best songs (e.g., “Eleanor Rigby,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “All You Need Is Love,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Nowhere Man,” “A Day in the Life”), amidst surrealistic Peter Max-style animation, as they try to save Pepperland from the ravages of the Blue Meanies.  “O-BLUE-TERATE THEM!”

Read Full Post »

Presumptuous though it may be, when someone I’ve interviewed dies, I always feel like I’ve lost one of my own, and this is truer than usual in the case of Ingrid Pitt, who left us Tuesday at 73, although she seemed far younger—fitting for a star who embodied a vampire more than once in her memorable career.  First and foremost, of course, she played Heidi in my favorite film of all time, Where Eagles Dare (1968), as well as appearing in two other works that loom large in my legend, The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Smiley’s People (1982).  When I spoke with Ingrid for what became the cover story in Filmfax #62, I felt both an incredible vivacity and a far stronger connection than I have had with many of my other “victims,” despite her being an ocean away.

Ingrid’s relationship with the horror/SF genre dates back at least as far as her early Spanish credit El Sonido Prehistorico (The Prehistoric Sound, aka The Sound of Horror, 1964), which concerns an invisible dinosaur…one way to economize on special effects, I suppose.  Her other pre-Eagles roles reportedly included uncredited appearances in films ranging from Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight and David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (both 1965) to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966).  Just before being featured in Alistair MacLean’s blockbuster, Ingrid starred in W. Lee Wilder’s justly obscure genre effort The Omegans (1968); I’ve already shared some of her recollections about that film and the Brothers Wilder in “The Wilder Bunch, Part I.”

Ingrid related an amusing story about being cast as Heidi:  “I was doing [an episode of] Dundee and the Culhane with John Mills.  Ralph Meeker was also on it.  He rang me up and asked me if I would like to go and play poker at [famed stuntman] Yakima Canutt’s house.  I had laryngitis but I thought, well, I couldn’t miss a big opportunity like that.  We went and it was absolutely amazing….When I’d lost all my money and had to cry ‘Uncle,’ Yak walked me to the door.  As I got in the taxi, he leaned in and said, ‘There’s a part in the film I’m just starting, why don’t you go for that?…Mention my name,’ he said as he slammed the cab door.  Of course, mentioning certain people’s names is magic.  I got to see Brian Hutton for three seconds the next day…”

Ingrid had several memorable scenes, and inspired a hilarious line from Richard Burton:  “She’s been one of our top agents in Bavaria since 1941, and…[leering at her ample décolletage] what a disguise.”  She enjoyed making the film, but lamented that “they gave me really lousy billing.  [Producer] Elliott [Kastner] had promised me, ‘Introducing Ingrid Pitt’…[but] it didn’t happen.  He forgot—he said.…I was just at the very end, since my name starts with ‘P,’ and the cinemas are empty by the time my name comes around.”  She experienced another disappointment with Hutton’s follow-up film, which reunited him with Clint Eastwood:  “I was going to be in Kelly’s Heroes [1970], and then he decided he didn’t want women in it after all.  I nearly killed him.”

Eagles is best known for action sequences such as its legendary fight atop a cable car.  “Yak was doing the great shot of the stuntman, Alf Joint, jumping from one cable car to the other….Alf was hovering in front of the camera as the cable car started to go.  (And didn’t he look just like Richard hovering there?)  The next cable car came towards him, and you must imagine hundreds of people, everybody watching.  They got into frame and Yak said, ‘Get those people out of the way!’…Anyway, when Yakima…said, ‘GO!,’ Alf went.  Unfortunately, the force of the thrust as he leapt for the other car caused the cable car to swing and the camera fell off.  Luckily none of the crew followed it.  Elliott went berserk.  They had to shoot the whole dodgy sequence again.”

Next, Ingrid appeared in a trio of films that ensured her iconic status among horror fans:  Roy Ward Baker’s The Vampire Lovers and Peter Sasdy’s Countess Dracula (1971) for Hammer, and the Robert Bloch-scripted anthology film The House That Dripped Blood (1971) for Amicus.  As fond as I was of Ingrid, I’ve never been a big fan of Countess Dracula, which in spite of its title concerns not a vampire but Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614), the Hungarian countess who was said to retain her youth by bathing in the blood of virgins.  At least I’m consistent, because I feel the same way about other films directed by Sasdy (Taste the Blood of Dracula, 1970; Hands of the Ripper, 1971) or inspired by Báthory (Daughters of Darkness, 1971; Blood Castle, 1973).

Of her nude bathing scene in The Vampire Lovers, Ingrid said, “I had asked Jimmy [Carreras] to call his two producers [Harry Fine and Michael Style] up to London to show rushes.  I thought I might be a little inhibited.  They had this way of looking at me.  I thought, if they’re in London with Jimmy, then maybe it would be a sort of closed set…I came out of my dressing room and saw [the two producers] coming down the corridor en route to the car park with heads hanging down, very sad.  I thought, ‘God damn it, look what I’ve done!’  I had this terrycloth robe on and felt an uncontrollable urge to brighten their lives, so I whipped it open, did a bit of a jiggle and said, ‘Woo-whee!’  I tell you, Matthew, it made them so happy!  They were so bloody happy!”

Ingrid shared billing with Peter Cushing in The Vampire Lovers and The House That Dripped Blood, and with Christopher Lee in the latter, although the three starred in separate segments; she also appeared with Lee in Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973), written by Anthony Shaffer of Frenzy and Sleuth (both 1972) fame.  Other credits included two multi-part episodes of Doctor Who (“The Time Monster” and “Warriors of the Deep”) and the Reginald Rose-scripted action films The Final Option (aka Who Dares Wins, 1982) and Wild Geese II (1985).  But it is for the sanguinary roles she approached with such good humor and joie de vivre that we will remember Ingrid, and for the enthusiasm that made the word “fantastic” a veritable mantra in our interview.

Read Full Post »

When Richard Matheson published Journal of the Gun Years in 1991, he won the Golden Spur Award for best novel from the Western Writers of America straight out of the gate.  This was quickly followed by The Gun Fight, the collection By the Gun, the horror-tinged Shadow on the Sun, and the fact-based The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok.  Many readers might not know that, rather than representing yet another new facet to the ever-protean author’s oeuvre, these books marked a return to territory he had trod at the beginning of his career on both page and screen.

While recuperating in a British hospital from combat-related injuries suffered in Germany with the U.S. Infantry in World War II, Matheson read two Westerns a day.  He did not neglect the genre when he began publishing stories in a wide variety of magazines a few years later.  His contributions were “They Don’t Make ’em Tougher” (Dime Western, May 1951), “The Hunt” (West, March 1952), “The Conqueror” (Bluebook, May 1954), “Too Proud to Lose” (Fifteen Western Tales, February 1955), and “Son of a Gunman” (Western Magazine, December 1955).

At the time Matheson and his friend Charles Beaumont eagerly plunged into the burgeoning medium of television, Westerns ruled the airwaves; 29 sagebrush series reportedly aired in prime time in 1959 alone.  The fledgling screenwriters decided that they would benefit from a little mutual support outside their normal bailiwick of horror, science fiction, and fantasy.  This led them to collaborate on episodes of various oaters and the now-obscure detective shows Bourbon Street Beat, The D.A.’s Man, Markham, Philip Marlowe, and Richard Diamond, Private Detective.

They fared better with Westerns, co-writing episodes of the classic series Wanted: Dead or Alive (“The Healing Woman”) and Have Gun—Will Travel (“The Lady on the Wall”), as well as the lesser-known Buckskin (“Act of Faith”).  Matheson went solo on one episode of the long-running Cheyenne (“Home Is the Brave”) and six for Lawman, more than he wrote for any series except The Twilight Zone.  Producer Jules Schermer ensured that his teleplays, including two based on unsold stories later published in By the Gun, were filmed as written, and used talented directors.

Other series to which Matheson contributed are readily available on DVD, including Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and now Thriller.  But Encore Westerns has been airing episodes of Lawman weekdays at 9:00 AM, giving viewers a chance to catch some of his work that might previously have eluded them.  The show features John Russell—who later popped up in Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Honkytonk Man (1982), and Pale Rider (1985)—as the titular lawman, Marshal Dan Troop of Laramie, Wyoming, with Peter Brown as his young deputy, Johnny McKay.

In the second season’s “Thirty Minutes,” adapted from “Of Death and Thirty Minutes,” Jack Elam is the heavy who holds the occupants of a saloon hostage, demanding that Troop disarm.  Matheson won the Writers Guild Award for his first of four third-season episodes, “Yawkey,” with a gunman (Ray Danton) stating his intention to meet Troop in the street and kill him.  Stuart Heisler directed both “Yawkey” and “Samson the Great,” in which Walter Burke offers fifty dollars to anyone who can stay in the ring for two minutes with Mickey Simpson, previously seen in “Home Is the Brave.”

“Cornered,” based on “Little Jack Cornered,” puts Johnny at center stage as he is forced into a fatal confrontation with Frank DeKova, and then endures pressure to face up to his presumably vengeful son.  “Homecoming” evokes the real-time structures of both “Thirty Minutes” and the classic High Noon as Troop awaits the arrival of escaped convict Marc Lawrence (also the director of “Cornered”).  In the show’s fourth and final season, John Carradine made a memorable guest turn as “The Actor,” an alcoholic Shakespearean who brings dramaturgy and tragedy with him to Laramie in equal measure.

Long ago, Matheson adapted The Gun Fight into an unproduced screenplay with his friend William R. Cox, stuck the then-unsold novel into a drawer…and forgot he had written it in prose form, until he stumbled across it after the success of Journal of the Gun Years.  I remember him telling me that he’d heard Martin Scorsese was interested in the genre, and he hoped to get a copy of Journal into Scorsese’s hands, but I don’t think anything ever came of it.  He later adapted it for a miniseries to have been directed by Dan Curtis, only to have the project fall apart, yet we can still savor Lawman.

Read Full Post »

I’ve only recently become aware that Elliott Kastner, who produced my favorite film, Where Eagles Dare (1968), died of cancer at 80 on June 30; it’s a strange coincidence that he and the film’s co-star, Clint Eastwood, were born the same year.  By another curious coincidence, I recently covered his three Philip Marlowe movies (see “Everybody Loves Raymond, Part II”):  The Long Goodbye (1973), Farewell, My Lovely (1975), and The Big Sleep (1978).  Born in New York City, Kastner worked primarily in England, where he died in London, and was the stepfather of actor Cary Elwes, who appeared in his films Yesterday’s Hero (1979), Oxford Blues (1984), and Never on Tuesday (1988).

During and shortly after my tenure as a publicist at Viking Penguin, I had the honor of working with Jeffery Deaver on several novels, two of which, A Maiden’s Grave and The Bone Collector, were subsequently filmed (the former as Dead Silence).  Jeff was then working with Kastner on one or more projects that sadly never panned out, and being as good a friend as he was a writer—although I’m sorry to say we’ve lost contact—he very kindly arranged a luncheon.  Kastner disappointed me by saying he never did interviews, which would have been an even bigger thrill, but entertained us with stories of how he had recruited Alistair MacLean on Richard Burton’s behalf to write Where Eagles Dare.

It’s a common but understandable misconception that Eagles was based on MacLean’s 1967 bestseller, when in fact the story was first conceived as a screenplay and only then turned into a novel, which was published before the film was released.  It turned out to be Kastner’s first of four MacLean outings, followed by the now-elusive When Eight Bells Toll (1971); Fear Is the Key (1972), which marked Ben Kingsley’s film debut; and the Charles Bronson vehicle Breakheart Pass (1975).  All but Fear Is the Key were adapted by the author himself, and along with the non-Kastner Puppet on a Chain (1971) marked the only entries in the MacLean filmography on which he received screenwriting credit.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Kastner’s career, especially his later work, but he had a number of noteworthy films in his oeuvre, including his first, Bus Riley’s Back in Town (1965), a drama penned by esteemed playwright William Inge.  Jack Smight’s Harper (1966) followed, with Paul Newman as the renamed private eye from Ross Macdonald’s first Lew Archer novel, The Moving Target, although Kastner was not involved with Stuart Rosenberg’s belated sequel, The Drowning Pool (1975).  Following Smight’s crime caper Kaleidoscope (1966), he made a Peter Sellers comedy, The Bobo (1967), and his first film with Eagles director Brian G. Hutton, the drug thriller Sol Madrid (1968).

Clearly fond of continuity as well as literary properties, Kastner hired Hutton to direct X, Y and Zee (1972) and, after Roman Polanski was forced to flee the country, the Lawrence Sanders adaptation The First Deadly Sin (1980), featuring Frank Sinatra.  He also made multiple films with Marlon Brando, who starred in the kidnapping thriller The Night of the Following Day (1968); Michael Winner’s The Nightcomers (1971), a bizarre prequel to Henry James’s oft-filmed “The Turn of the Screw”; and opposite Jack Nicholson in Arthur Penn’s offbeat Western The Missouri Breaks (1976).  Winner also directed The Big Sleep and Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy A Chorus of Disapproval (1988) for Kastner.

Kastner produced screen adaptations of works by Vladimir Nabokov (Tony Richardson’s Laughter in the Dark, 1969), Iris Murdoch (A Severed Head, 1970), Donald E. Westlake (Cops and Robbers, 1973), Stephen Sondheim (A Little Night Music, 1977), Peter Shaffer (Sidney Lumet’s Equus, 1977, with Burton), Erich Segal (Man, Woman and Child, 1983), and Harper scenarist William Goldman (Heat, 1986), many of them scripted by their original authors.  He also made the occasional genre film, e.g., Roddy McDowall’s sole directorial effort, The Devil’s Widow (1970); Alan Parker’s Angel Heart (1987); and the 1988 remake of The Blob (1958).  But Where Eagles Dare was probably his biggest box-office success.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »