Wednesday, May 24, 2017

40 Things I Love About STAR WARS








In honor of the 40th Anniversary of the original STAR WARS, here are 40 things I love about the movie. These are listed in no particular order, except for No. 1.



40. The way everyone pronounces Alderaan a different way--it's either Alder-RON or Alder-RAN.
39. The R2 unit decked out in New York Jets colors that we saw at the Rebel Base on the Yavin moon.
38. The three drunk Jawas sitting out in front of the Mos Eisley cantina.
37. "THANK THE MAKER!! THIS OIL BATH IS GOING TO FEEL SO GOOD!!"
36. The opening sequence. Still gives me chills every time I see that Star Destroyer fly over.
35. The sound of the lightsabers.
34. The fact that Han shot first.
33. Carrie Fisher's attempt at a English accent during certain parts of the film.
32. The Millennium Falcon.
31. How whiny Luke sounds throughout the movie.
30. Darth Vader's personal TIE fighter.
29. "That's no moon....it's a space station."
28. The way our heroes are totally dry about a minute after getting out of the trash compactor.
27. Every single note of John Williams' score.
26. "Evacuate!!?? In our moment of triumph!!??"
25. Hyperspace.
24. Gaffi sticks.
23. "When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master."
22. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
21. Vader putting Admiral Motti in his place.
20. The end credits font.
19. The fact that Darth Vader wears a cape, even though it is totally unnecessary.
18. The two stormtroopers bull%^&*$#@+ while Obi-Wan is turning off the tractor beam.
17. Porkins....never forget his sacrifice.
16. There's about a thousand stormtroopers in this movie, and 99% of them are basically useless.
15. The uniform of the TIE fighter pilots.
14. "Boring conversation anyway..."
13. The Imperial Star Destroyer.
12. The idea that, in this movie at least, there is sound in space.
11. "Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper??"
10. The way Han rolls his eyes when he first meets C-3PO.
9. The way Alec Guinness pauses when Luke asks him, "How did my father die?"
8. "These aren't the droids you're looking for."
7. Every member of the Empire is an arrogant white guy.
6. The seats the Rebel pilots are sitting in during the briefing on how to destroy the Death Star look as if they come from a junior high school.
5. Princess Leia's lip gloss.
4. Gold Leader's speaking pattern.
3. The scene where Luke stares out at the twin suns of Tatooine.
2. The fact that I have contributed immensely to George Lucas' personal fortune.
1. And the No.1 thing I love about STAR WARS is....I love EVERYTHING about STAR WARS!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

THIS TWEETING IS POINTLESS! Announcing The Star Wars 40th Anniversary Tweetathon!











Thursday, May 25, is the exact 40th anniversary of the original theatrical release of STAR WARS. How can we celebrate such a momentous occasion? One way is to hold a Tweetathon--which means everyone gets out their personal home video copies of STAR WARS, starts them all at the same time, and goes on twitter and makes all sorts of brilliant comments while the movie is playing.

This Tweetathon is being co-hosted by my good friend, independent filmmaker Joshua Kennedy. I can assure you that Josh feels the same way about STAR WARS as I do--the both of us could probably tweet ever single line of dialogue, in order, without watching the movie. Josh and I have held a Tweetathon before--we covered THE GORGON, and I think about two or three people participated. Hopefully the 40th anniversary of STAR WARS will attract more attendees.

I assume that nearly everyone has STAR WARS on DVD or Blu-ray--and if you don't, what is wrong with you?? For the purposes of this Tweetathon, I am going to be playing the Blu-ray version of STAR WARS that was released in 2011. I realize that this is not the version of the film that came out 40 years ago. I do have that version on DVD--when the Star Wars Trilogy was re-released on home video in 2006, the original theatrical versions of the films were included as a "bonus". I know that many folks do not have these DVDs, which is why I'll be playing the Special Edition of the film. I'd like to get as many people involved as possible, so whatever version of the film you have, you are more than welcome to join in.

The start time for this Tweetathon will be 8 PM, American Eastern Standard Time, on Thursday, May 25. The hashtag we will be using on our tweets will be #SW40. Josh's twitter handle is @JoshKennedy39, and mine is @cushinglee. If you have any questions or suggestions about the Tweetahon, please leave a comment below.

I'm really excited about this project--I think I can speak for Josh when I declare that this movie has had more influence on us than any other type of filmed production. So please join us on twitter for the 40th anniversary of the greatest movie ever made--and may the Force be with you.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

THE INDIAN FIGHTER





THE INDIAN FIGHTER (1955) is a Cinemascope Western starring Kirk Douglas, with a fantastic cast of supporting actors--Walter Matthau, Lon Chaney Jr., Alan Hale Jr., Hank Worden, Elisha Cook Jr., and several other faces that will be familiar to fans of American retro television. Kino has just released the movie on Blu-ray. I had never seen it before, and while it's more of a B type of Western, it does have its moments.




Lon Chaney Jr. and Kirk Douglas



Kirk Douglas plays Johnny Hawks, a frontier scout in the post-Civil War American West. Johnny tries to keep the peace between a band of Sioux Indians and the settlers at a nearby fort. Johnny attempts to lead a wagon train through Sioux country, but he's distracted by the Sioux Chief's beautiful daughter (Elsa Martinelli) and foiled by a couple of vicious scalawags (Walter Matthau and Lon Chaney) who are after gold.

THE INDIAN FIGHTER was directed by Andre De Toth, who is best known for helming the 3D classic HOUSE OF WAX. De Toth did make a number of very good Westerns, including a few with Randolph Scott. He uses the Cinemascope format very well, and makes excellent use of the movie's Oregon locations. The story moves along quickly, and a "Indians attacking the fort" sequence at the end of the film is impressively mounted.

Kirk Douglas is intensely energetic as usual, leaping on and off of horses, and of course, fighting Indians (at one point he takes part in a Native American version of a joust). It's a bit hard, though, to really like Douglas' character because of the way he "romances" Elsa Martinelli's native girl. He basically assaults her--and she responds to it, bringing up all sorts of unpleasant connotations. It doesn't help that the Italian Martinelli seems more like a peasant girl from Rome instead of a true Native American. The beginning of the film features Martinelli skinny-dipping, with Douglas looking on approvingly.

This is Walter Matthau's second film, and he's very devious as the "brains" between him and his partner, Lon Chaney Jr. Lon plays another of his brutish simpleton roles (at least this time he gets some dialogue). The story puts the blame on Matthau and Lon Jr. for all the trouble--they are the ones who get the Sioux riled up by trying to find gold on native land. 21st Century viewers may be dismayed by non-Native American actors "playing injun", but this movie is a lot more sympathetic toward the Sioux than one would expect from the title. This was the first production made by Kirk Douglas' own company, and his ex-wife Diana Douglas has a role as a settler interested in Johnny Hawks.

Kino presents THE INDIAN FIGHTER in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen. The movie looks very good. The major extra is an audio commentary from Toby Roan. He gives out many production factoids about the film and the actors, but not much critical analysis (there's also a lot of silent stretches).

I would say that THE INDIAN FIGHTER is an above-average Western, but not a great one. The movie's best attributes are the glorious locations photographed in Cinemascope. The script has a lot of cliches, but a few interesting touches as well (Ben Hecht, of all people, is one of the credited writers). It's the type of movie best appreciated by film buffs.




Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What Do You Call STAR WARS?





What do you call STAR WARS? What I mean is...how do you refer to the 1977 film that was originally released by that name?

The reason I ask this is that I have noticed more and more people on social media call the film "A New Hope" or even "Episode IV". When STAR WARS is shown over broadcast television, my onscreen cable guide refers to it as "STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE". Technically, the movie's "official" name is now STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE.

But that's not the name of the movie I saw back in 1977.

There wasn't any "Episode IV: A New Hope" before the opening crawl of the original STAR WARS. That was added when the movie was re-released in 1981. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was the first Star Wars film to receive an episode number. Apparently George Lucas wanted to put the Episode IV sub-title on the original Star Wars, but Fox executives were worried that moviegoers would be confused and wonder about the first three episodes.

Now, from my personal experience, I don't remember anyone referring to the Star Wars films by episode number in the 1980s. STAR WARS was just called STAR WARS, EMPIRE was EMPIRE, etc.. Of course there was only three movies to deal with back then (it's hard to imagine now, but there was a time when folks were wondering if there would ever be another Star Wars film made). Social media didn't exist, but magazines like STARLOG did, and they never used the episode numbers.

It's my recollection that major use of the episode numbers came into being when the Special Editions of the Star Wars films were released in 1997. That's when the A NEW HOPE title started to gain traction, and when Lucasfilm began to heavily use it, The Star Wars prequels officially integrated the episode numbers into their titles--if you look at the original theatrical poster for THE PHANTOM MENACE, it is called STAR WARS EPISODE I--THE PHANTOM MENACE.

I've never gotten into the swing of using the episode numbers. I say ATTACK OF THE CLONES, not Episode II. If someone says to me, "I really can't stand Episode VI", I have to think about what movie that person is referring to. Adding an episode number to an already existing title seems a bit unwieldy to me, and calling a movie "Episode Something" seems generic.

The real reason I don't use "A New Hope" is that my favorite movie of all time--the one I first saw in 1977--wasn't called that. It was called STAR WARS, and that's the title I'll always use. Mind you, I'm not saying that my opinion is the right one--you can call the movie ERNEST VS. BLACULA for all I care. It's just my personal preference.

I would assume that younger Star Wars fans are more apt to use the episode numbers or the A NEW HOPE title. Most of the "kids" have probably never seen the original version of STAR WARS (which is a shame). Their version of STAR WARS is the Special Edition. The subtitle EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE has been used frequently their entire lives, and I'm sure most of them believe that is the proper name. The thing is, I feel the special edition of STAR WARS is a different film from the original. So maybe it is proper to refer to the Special Edition as A NEW HOPE.

But if that is true, then George Lucas just didn't rework scenes from one of the most famous movies of all time--he managed to change its title. As a old horror/science fiction film fan, I'm used to movies with multiple titles--but this is something totally different. I can't think of any other hugely successful movie that has been called a alternate title decades after its original release. I understand this was the filmmaker's decision, and I'm not questioning the right of that decision. I'm merely pointing out, from a film buff's perspective, how unusual that is. You couldn't imagine say, GONE WITH THE WIND or THE GODFATHER having an alternate title.

I was hoping, since this year marks the 40th anniversary of the original theatrical release of STAR WARS, that the 1977 version of the film would finally be released on Blu-ray. It doesn't look like that's going to happen...it may not ever happen. That means the Special Edition of that film is going to wind up being the only edition. And the A NEW HOPE title is going to be considered the true title.

If you want to call the movie EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE, that's fine. I choose not to call it that. Am I being silly in my decision? Maybe. But when a movie like STAR WARS has had such a major impact on one's life, that person tends to have strong feelings about it. Besides, I could get really anal and start using BLUE HARVEST instead of RETURN OF THE JEDI.

*What do you call STAR WARS? Leave comments below.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

THE VAMPIRE BAT--Looking Better Than Ever On Blu-ray









THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) has long been a staple of public domain home video. The fact that it features stars such as Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, and Dwight Frye has given several fly-by-night companies the incentive to slap a copy of it onto a videotape or a disc. Those cheap versions are now rendered obsolete by a new Blu-ray of the movie from The Film Detective, restored from 35mm elements preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Saying "it's like seeing it for the very first time" may seem like hyperbole, but in this case it is true. This presentation of THE VAMPIRE BAT blows away anything else available. The picture is sharper and more defined, and the black & white contrast is excellent. This Blu-ray isn't 100% visually perfect--this is a 80+ year old movie, after all--but that's alright, because it does not have the overly processed look of some restored older titles. The sound quality is also improved slightly. During the part of the story where Dwight Frye's creepy Herman is chased by torch-wielding villagers, the torches have been tinted a fiery orange (apparently this was done on some prints of THE VAMPIRE BAT in 1933). It is an intriguing, eerie effect, and at least there is some historical justification for it.

Watching this Blu-ray gave me a better appreciation for director Frank Strayer's camera set-ups. The movie still has a low-budget sensibility to it--it was produced by a company called Majestic instead of a major Hollywood studio--but it plays a bit better in this restored print. The improved visuals still do not cover up some plot problems. Even though the movie is only 63 minutes long, it's not until the very end that Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray are allowed to go into full-blown mad doctor and scream queen mode. Most of the film follows Dwight Frye's red herring Herman ("BATS...SOFT!"), and Maude Eburne, who plays Fay Wray's comic relief spinster Aunt, gets way too much screen time. (If you're the type of film buff who is annoyed by Una O'Connor, Maude Eburne will really drive you nuts.) Most old monster movie fans tend to overlook the flaws of THE VAMPIRE BAT and look upon it fondly, probably because they are so familiar with it. (If you'd like to read more about my thoughts on the film, please check out my February 2016 blog post for "The Mad Scientist Blogathon", in which I wrote about Lionel Atwill's performance.)

I have to point out that this Blu-ray disc is Made-On-Demand, instead of a regularly pressed one. (I experienced no playback problems with my copy.) The back cover of the disc package says that this Blu-ray is Region Free. The Film Detective has provided two bonus features, one of them being a very short interview with Gregory Hesselberg, the son of Melvyn Douglas. The other is an audio commentary by cult independent film producer Sam Sherman. Sherman proves that he is a knowledgeable film buff, and he does offer up a few interesting nuggets of info, but his talk is very rambling, and it strays away from the movie several times. A Greg Mank or a Tom Weaver would have been better. Ironically, Weaver himself recently posted on the Classic Horror Film Board that it wouldn't have been worth featuring either Mank or him on this Blu-ray, because there's isn't anything new that can be said about THE VAMPIRE BAT. Personally, I think Mank or Weaver could have easily spent 63 minutes successfully discussing the film.

THE VAMPIRE BAT isn't on the level of most of the Universal Monster Classics made during the same time period, but the cast and subject matter make it worthwhile viewing for those who are fans of retro horror films. The main treat of this Blu-ray is seeing it in a fine, restored print.






Saturday, May 6, 2017

If STAR WARS Had Been Made By Hammer Films.....





.....the cast list might have looked like this.


Luke Skywalker--Simon Ward
Princess Leia--fill in the name of your favorite Hammer Hottie
Han Solo--Oliver Reed
Obi-Wan Kenobi--Andre Morell
Grand Moff Tarkin--Peter Cushing
Darth Vader--Christopher Lee
C-3PO--Francis Matthews
R2-D2--Skip Martin
Uncle Owen--Michael Ripper
Aunt Beru--Freda Jackson
Chewbacca--Kiwi Kingston
Greedo--Marne Maitland
Mos Eisley cantina bartender--Duncan Lamont
Wedge--Richard Pasco
Biggs--John Carson
Admiral Tagge--George Woodbridge
Admiral Motti--Michael Gough
Red Leader--Charles Lloyd Pack
Gold Leader--Peter Madden
Porkins--Francis De Wolff
Stormtrooper who bumps his head--Barry Andrews

Friday, May 5, 2017

If STAR WARS Had Been Made In The 1960s.....





.....the cast list might have looked like this.

Luke Skywalker--Robert Redford
Princess Leia--Natalie Wood
Han Solo--Steve McQueen
Obi-Wan Kenobi--Ralph Richardson
Grand Moff Tarkin--Lee Van Cleef
Darth Vader--Christopher Lee
C-3PO--Roddy McDowall
R2-D2--Michael Dunn
Chewbacca--Ted Cassidy

Thursday, May 4, 2017

If STAR WARS Had Been Made In The 1950s.....





.....the cast list might have looked like this.

Luke Skywalker--Paul Newman
Princess Leia--Debbie Reynolds
Han Solo--Kirk Douglas
Obi-Wan Kenobi--William Powell
Grand Moff Tarkin--James Mason
Darth Vader--James Arness
C-3PO--Clifton Webb
R2-D2--Peter Lorre
Chewbacca--Tor Johnson

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

If STAR WARS Had Been Made In The 1940s.....





.....the cast list might have looked like this.


Luke Skywalker--Van Johnson
Princess Leia--Ida Lupino
Han Solo--Humphrey Bogart
Obi-Wan Kenobi--Walter Huston
Grand Moff Tarkin--Claude Rains
Darth Vader--Lon Chaney Jr.
C-3PO--Edward Everett Horton
R2-D2--Mickey Rooney
Chewbacca--Glenn Strange

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

If STAR WARS Had Been Made In The 1930s.....





.....the cast list might have looked like this.


Luke Skywalker--James Stewart
Princess Leia--Myrna Loy
Han Solo--Clark Gable
Obi-Wan Kenobi--Lionel Barrymore
Grand Moff Tarkin--Basil Rathbone
Darth Vader--Boris Karloff
C-3PO--Franklin Pangborn
R2-D2--Billy Barty
Chewbacca--Noble Johnson

Monday, May 1, 2017

CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER On Arrow Blu-ray










The 1959 Italian science fiction/horror film CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER may not be magnificent, but the Arrow Blu-ray of this title certainly is. Jam packed with relevant extras, CALTIKI gets the type of treatment that most mainstream box office hits do not rate.

CALTIKI was a collaboration between two famed cult filmmakers: Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava. The movie's direction is officially credited to Freda, but he left before the end of production, and Bava took over. As director of photography and creator of special effects, Bava's contribution to the film was probably more than Freda's in any event. CALTIKI is a low-budget monster flick, but a master of the fantastic like Bava makes much more out of it than a viewer would expect.

The story of CALTIKI is set in Mexico, where a scientific expedition investigating Mayan ruins has inadvertently unearthed a gruesome creature called "Caltiki" after a Mayan Goddess. Caltiki resembles a slimy mass of pulsating flesh, and it has the ability to divide and grow to enormous proportions. Dr. John Fielding (John Merivale), the leader of the expedition, discovers that fire is the only force that can defeat Caltiki....but can he save his wife and child in time?

CALTIKI is a wild fusion of giant monster sci-fi and Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Radiation plays a part in Caltiki's reign of terror, as it usually does in this type of story, but the idea that the creature has lived for eons, and may have been the reason for the destruction of the Mayan race, brings a mythic tone to the proceedings. The movie is very reminiscent of similar films such as THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT, X THE UNKNOWN, and of course THE BLOB. I also believe that THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON--in which a group of white English-speaking scientists disturb a legendary monster residing in a hidden Latin American grotto--may have been an inspiration for CALTIKI as well. Bava's sublime black & white photography also brings a touch of Universal Gothic, as does Roberto Nicolosi's music.

CALTIKI is rather gory compared to other films of its type made during the same period. The monster literally shreds human beings to the bone, and it turns one of the members of the expedition, played by Gerard Haerter, into a human monster. The actual Caltiki was made of tripe, and as it slithers and writhes its way through the film, there's a disturbing aspect to it. The movie has a few drawbacks--even at only 76 minutes, there's more than a few scenes that feel like padding. The dialogue (in both English and Italian versions) is very clunky, and leading actors John Merivale and Didi Sullivan are somewhat bland (Didi is rather attractive). Gerard Haerter can't help but steal the film from all the other human performers, since he has the showiest role. The real star of CALTIKI is without doubt Mario Bava. The practical effects he whipped up for this film may seem quaint to audiences of today, but when one takes into consideration what he had--and didn't have--to work with, Bava has to be looked upon as a true creative genius of cinema.

Arrow Video brings us a fantastic, sharp as a pin print of CALTIKI (with Italian credits), presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. CALTIKI is one of those features that seemed to be only available on YouTube or grey market home video, so Arrow's version has to be considered the definitive one. The movie has both Italian and English voice tracks, along with English subtitles. A full-frame presentation of the film is included, along with an alternate U.S. credit sequence, and a original U.S. trailer.

Arrow gives us two audio commentaries from writers Troy Howarth and Tim Lucas. Two commentaries may seem like overkill, and there is some overlap between the discussions....but both talks are welcome and informative. Both men have written books about Mario Bava, and they are both experts on Italian fantastic cinema. Listening to both commentaries will give one just about all the information that is needed about CALTIKI. There's also a short interview with the prolific Kim Newman, who places CALTIKI in context with other fantastic films of the 1950s. Luigi Cozzi gives a short discussion on the film, and Stefano Della Casa briefly talks about Riccardo Freda. A 36-page booklet is included, which has essays about CALTIKI by Kat Ellinger, Roberto Curti, and Tim Lucas, and stills and poster art from the film. As usual with Arrow releases, a DVD version of CALTIKI is part of the package, along with a reversible cover sleeve.

Arrow has pulled out all the stops for this disc. Some may ask, "Is a movie like CALTIKI worth it?" I say, "Why not?" For me, inside knowledge on a production like CALTIKI is far more interesting than the typical fluff pieces trotted out for the average modern-day blockbuster. I have a feeling this Blu-ray is going to wind up on my annual top five list at the end of the year.