Monday, April 15, 2024

THE LOOTERS On Blu-ray From Kino

THE LOOTERS is a 1955 black & white melodrama produced by Universal. It appears as if this film has never had a home video release of any kind before, so once again kudos to Kino for putting out a rare product. 

The story concerns Jesse Hill (Rory Calhoun), who works as a guide in the Colorado mountains. Jesse gets an unexpected visitor in the form of old war buddy Pete Corder (Ray Danton). Jesse and Pete hear a plane crash nearby, and the duo decide to trek out to it and see if they can be of any help. The two men find the wreckage, but things get complicated when one of the survivors turns out to be an attractive model (Julie Adams) and a quarter of a million dollars is discovered at the site. 

THE LOOTERS is a decent enough film, more like a B movie. It could also be called an "outdoor noir", with a collection of cynical people and a ton of loot driving everyone against each other. It does take a while to get going, and none of the characters are all that appealing (even Rory Calhoun's, even though he's ostensibly the hero). The outdoor locations (which were actually filmed in Colorado) do help things out from a visual and dramatic standpoint. 

Ray Danton is excellent as the untrustworthy Pete, who, in time-honored noir fashion, turns out to be a coward when the chips are down. Even Julie Adams is more hard-boiled than usual here, but her natural likability still manages to come out. (Danton and Adams would soon marry after this film.) Tomas Gomez does well as a wreck survivor, a middle-aged man dissatisfied with his life and willing to do anything to get his hands on all the loot. As another survivor Frank Faylen provides what little comic relief there is. 

THE LOOTERS was directed by Abner Biberman, who keeps things on a tight leash and works up some suspenseful moments. The story elements won't surprise anyone, but there is a truly explosive ending. 

Kino presents THE LOOTERS in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The picture quality is very good, though a bit soft at times. A brand new commentary is provided featuring Toby Roan, who once again spends most of his time reciting personal and career details about the major members of the cast & crew (he only occasionally talks about the movie). 

I had never seen THE LOOTERS and certainly didn't know anything about it. It's not a major production, but it's an effective film for its type, and it's to Kino's credit that they decided to finally give the movie its home video debut. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024



This mammoth documentary about legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone was originally released in Europe over two years ago. An English-language version of the film is finally available for streaming in America. Why it took so long to get here is beyond me, but let's be glad it has arrived. 

ENNIO is over two and a half hours long, and it was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (who collaborated most famously with Morricone on CINEMA PARADISO). It details Morricone's long and fruitful life, with his playing trumpet in small gigs while still a young student, to his studying classical composition, his success in the Italian pop music world as an arranger, and his groundbreaking and game-changing career as the creator of hundreds of scores for feature films. 

There's plenty of famous folks on hand to express their love and admiration for Morricone, but what makes this documentary special is that most of it is made up of the man himself on camera sharing his thoughts and ideas on his life and work. It's fascinating to hear Morricone give insight on how he created his most renowned themes. The man was nearly 90 when he took part in this project, but when discussing those scores that mean the most to him he becomes particularly energetic and vibrant, revealing his overall passion for music. 

One of the main themes in this documentary is how Morricone often felt he wasn't given enough credit as a "serious" music composer. Watching this film it's obvious this feeling still bothered him after all his many accomplishments. No matter what your definition of "serious" music may be, no one can deny that Ennio Morricone has had more impact on global popular culture than almost any other artist of his time. That is Morricone's true legacy. 

There's plenty of rare footage here not just of Morricone, but also of performances of some of the pop tunes he arranged in the early 1960s, and of course plenty of scenes from the many, many films he wrote scores for. I'm sure there's going to be someone who will view this film and say "Why didn't they talk about this film? Or that score?" All things considered, I feel ENNIO gives an effective and comprehensive overview of Morricone's career. Giuseppe Tornatore provides a good rhythm to the proceedings, and thankfully he lets Morricone himself be the true star of the show. 

I've been an unabashed Ennio Morricone fan for decades, so it's no surprise I wholeheartedly endorse this documentary. You don't even need to totally adore Morricone's work to enjoy ENNIO--a true love of cinema will be enough for anyone to appreciate it. The music selected for this film alone is enough of a reason to watch it. 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Book Review: CONVOY--The Comprehensive Yet Untold Story


It seems hard to believe that anyone would want to write a book about the making of CONVOY. The 1978 film inspired by a novelty song with the same title isn't considered a great movie, and some even say that it might be director Sam Peckinpah's worst feature. Dan Bruno & Mike Siegel have, however, taken the tempestuous background of the film's production and turned it into an intriguing, if sad, tale, called CONVOY--The Comprehensive Yet Untold Story. 

Dan Bruno is an American trucking enthusiast and expert, while Mike Siegel is a major Sam Peckinpah historian. The two have combined to detail the full history of CONVOY, from the creation of the song that inspired the project to the shooting of the film in 1977 New Mexico. 

Bruno starts off the book with a quick background of the American trucking history and the national interstate highway system, and the advent of the CB radio craze in the 1970s. Those three factors combined to achieve a cult interest with the American public, and producers Robert Sherman and Michael Deeley thought a movie with box-office clout could be made from those elements. 

The project turned into something different when Sam Peckinpah was hired to direct. By the making of CONVOY Peckinpah's notorious reputation as being almost impossible to deal with was well-known, but the producers thought (mistakenly) that they could handle him. 

As soon as production started, Peckinpah began arguing with the producers, and causing delays with the shooting schedule. The project began to get out of hand, and Bruno & Siegel document this with a day-for-day report of the shoot, and the various complications that kept piling up. 

Eventually Peckinpah was taken off the project during the editing process. The result is that CONVOY (which I re-watched after reading this book) was a disjointed mess, a movie that doesn't know whether it's supposed to be a examination of what working-class Americans go through or a redneck comedy. The film did make a decent amount of money but it is generally looked upon now as a missed opportunity. 

Bruno & Siegel vividly show that it's a miracle that CONVOY was finished at all, with such obstacles as the various trucks and vehicles to be used, unique shooting locations, and the overall personal problems of Sam Peckinpah. When it comes to directors vs. producers, most film geeks will favor the directors every time. Despite the fact that the authors are both huge Peckinpah fans, they don't shy away from detailing that the man's self-destructive habits and iconoclastic attitude hindered the film's production and personally affected many of the cast & crew in a negative way. (At the climax of the book Dan Bruno offers his own analysis and reasons for Peckinpah's behavior.) 

The book has several behind-the-scenes photos taken during the shoot, courtesy of Mike Siegel, and Dan Bruno provides expert info on the many trucks and trailers used during the filming. Bruno also reveals what happened to most of the vehicles after the movie was finished. 

This book truly is a comprehensive and thorough look at a troubled production and the troubled director behind it all. It is also a window into 1970s America (as someone who was a little kid in that era, I can assure you that CB/trucker culture was a big thing, especially in rural areas). I've usually found that movies that are unsuccessful or have problematic shooting histories are more interesting to read about than box-office or critical hits. CONVOY the book is another example of that. 

Friday, April 5, 2024

Book Review: LOVE AND LET DIE--James Bond, The Beatles, And The British Psyche


On October 5, 1962, the very first Beatles single "Love Me Do", and the very first James Bond film, DR. NO, were both originally released in Britain. In the 60+ years since that auspicious day, both franchises have continued to thrive, and to define and reinterpret what it means to be British. LOVE AND LET DIE, written by John Higgs, details how the Beatles and Bond have affected pop culture and society, and how they have surprisingly intertwined over the years. 

Higgs puts the difference between the Beatles and Bond in Freudian terms--the Beatles represent "Eros", or love, while Bond represents "Thanatos", or death. It's a lofty thesis but the author is able to back it up without becoming too pretentious. 

Higgs details how when the Beatles first rose to prominence in the early 1960s, they were seen by many as a threat to the British establishment. At the same time, the Bond films were starting to dominate the box office. The irony of that according to Higgs is that the character of Bond, as portrayed by his creator Ian Fleming, was that of a man whose job it was to defend and protect the British establishment. 

The book also contrasts the backgrounds and upbringings of the four Beatles and Ian Fleming, and shows how the personal lives and experiences of each affected their creative outputs. 

The connections between the Beatles and Bond are far more numerous than one would expect. There's the obvious ones: Paul McCartney writing the title song for LIVE AND LET DIE and Ringo Starr being married to Barbara Bach, the female lead of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. Higgs uncovers several others, such as the many links between A HARD DAY'S NIGHT and GOLDFINGER, probably the two most influential films of 1964. 

Higgs also presents how the critics have reacted to both franchises over the decades (and yes, I think now it's appropriate to refer to the entity known as the Beatles as a franchise). 

This is a thought-provoking book, especially if you are a fan of both Bond and the Beatles (which I am). While I didn't agree with all of the author's ideas, he does have some perceptive analysis. He also gets extra credit from me by having a chapter on Christopher Lee, who started working on THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN a few weeks after taking part in the photo shoot for the cover of Paul McCartney's BAND ON THE RUN album. 

It appeared to me that Higgs is much more a Beatles than a Bond fan. The author looks at things from a 21st Century perspective, and the character of Bond, as portrayed in the original Fleming novels, does not hold up well to those with a politically correct globalist attitude. Higgs is far more appreciative of NO TIME TO DIE than I am. This is still an impressive book, especially for those who are Beatles and Bond fans. The volume is also about 500 pages, but there's plenty in it, and plenty to think about while you are reading it. (I purchased the book at a discount from Edward R. Hamilton Booksellers.) 

Wednesday, April 3, 2024



HEARTS IN BONDAGE isn't a romantic melodrama--it is actually a 1936 Civil War story, dealing with the famous battle between the ironclad ships Merrimack and Monitor in 1862. This movie was produced by Republic Pictures, and it was directed by actor Lew Ayres (the only feature he ever would direct). 

James Dunn plays U.S. naval officer Kenneth Reynolds, and David Manners is his best friend and fellow officer Raymond. As the Southern states start to split from the Union, Reynolds stays with the North, while Raymond joins the Confederate cause. This causes complications, since Raymond's sister Constance (Mae Clarke) is engaged to Kenneth. When Confederate forces attack the Union's naval base at Norfolk, Virginia, Reynolds, in charge of the Merrimack, disobeys orders to destroy the ship and tries to save it instead. Reynolds is dishonorably discharged, and soon learns that Southern agents are raising the Merrimack and planning to use it to end a Union blockade. Reynolds, desperate to prove his worth, helps his uncle, inventor John Ericsson, in developing the Monitor, an ironclad vessel that will be a match for the similarly refurbished Merrimack. As the two technologically advanced ships battle, Kenneth and Raymond find themselves facing off against each other. 

HEARTS IN BONDAGE isn't a film filled with historical accuracy, despite the inclusion of real-life figures such as Abraham Lincoln, David Farragut, Gideon Welles, and John Ericsson. The main characters are fictional, and most of the story is built around their trials and tribulations. Like most Civil War tales made during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the main plot deals with friends or family members driven apart due to the conflict. Raymond's main reason for going over to the South is because his lady love (Charlotte Henry) has a father that has joined the Confederate side. This man is played by Henry B. Walthall, who of course had played a major role in the most famous Civil War picture made until that time, THE BIRTH OF A NATION. HEARTS IN BONDAGE also goes the classic Hollywood route in portraying both sides as noble and heroic (slavery is never mentioned). 

Lew Ayres signed a special contract with Republic Pictures in order to be able to direct this film. Today well-known actors directing features is not unusual, but in 1930s Hollywood it was unheard of. (A larger studio like MGM or Paramount probably wouldn't have given Ayres the chance that the smaller Republic did.) I thought Ayres did a very good job. The film has a nice pace to it (the running time is only 72 minutes), and one can tell that Ayres tried hard to give some visual flair to the proceedings. Republic was known for having an excellent special effects department, and the use of models and miniatures to create the final battle between the ironclads is expertly done for the period. Some might look at the effects now and not be impressed, but the other Hollywood studios of the time would have handled the battle in probably the same way. 

What hurts the film is the main characters. James Dunn and David Manners are not exactly the first actors you would think of when it comes to heroic military adventurers. (Lew Ayres himself would have been better in either role.) Mae Clarke does the best she can with her underwritten role, but her Constance comes off as a wet blanket to Kenneth's attempts to serve the Union. It is to Clarke's credit that Constance doesn't wind up being unappealing. Among the supporting cast are Gabby Hayes and Etta McDaniel, the lookalike sister of Hattie McDaniel. 

It's too bad that Lew Ayres didn't get a chance to direct another feature film, because I think he would have turned out some interesting projects. HEARTS IN BONDAGE is a well-done production that would have been much better if it had stronger male leads (and a stronger title). The main plot only scratches the surface when it comes to the story of the Merrimack and the Monitor, and it doesn't stand up to close historical scrutiny. Nevertheless, it's worth checking out. 

Monday, April 1, 2024



This is a 1972 Euro Western in the Trinity style, a "comedy" that deals with a very different type of bounty hunter and the scruffy, doltish outlaw he keeps capturing and turning in over and over again. 

Spaghetti Western icon Tomas Milian plays Providence, a bounty hunter who, with his scruffy suit, bowler hat, and umbrella, resembles Charlie Chaplin instead of The Man With No Name. Unfortunately Providence acts like Charlie Chaplin as well. He travels throughout the Old West in a former Wells Fargo coach tricked out with all sorts of gimmicks and gadgets. Providence's latest venture is capturing the Tennessee Kid (Gregg Palmer), turning him in for the reward, and breaking him out and repeating the procedure. The Tennessee Kid isn't very happy with this arrangement, and he and Providence have a series of bizarre adventures involving a deceitful saloon girl, a lawman who is a counterfeiter, a group of drunken Confederates, and a congregation building a church. 

LIFE IS TOUGH, EH PROVIDENCE? was directed by Giulio Petroni, who made a number of excellent serious Euro Westerns such as DEATH RIDES A HORSE. Apparently Petroni wanted to jump on the Trinity bandwagon here, but the humor here falls even short of what Terence Hill would accomplish. PROVIDENCE is filled with some of the lamest gags I've ever seen, along with cartoonish stunts and a series of slapstick brawls that would make even Jules White sadly shake his head. Perhaps 7 and 8 year olds might find this funny, but I think little kids would just wonder why all these adults are acting so weird. 

Tomas Milian must have seen this role as a change of pace. Instead of Milian's rebellious machismo, we get the actor attempting to channel silent movie comedians. Milian's performance here has all sorts of facial ticks and physical contortions--he must have known the material was weak, so he decided to play it as broadly as possible. American character actor Gregg Palmer also hams it up as the Tennessee Kid (Bud Spencer must not have been available, because the role of the Kid was essentially made for him). 

Horst Janson (CAPTAIN KRONOS) has a very small role as a sheriff, while Euro Cult veteran Paul Muller, who doesn't show up until the last part of the film, is wasted in what is also a very small part. The movie does feature a quirky score by Ennio Morricone. 

PROVIDENCE doesn't have what one would call a proper plot--it's mainly a series of goofy incidents that the two main characters find themselves involved in. The silly elements get tiresome after a while, especially since there's no real point or overall goal to the story. For whatever reason, this movie was successful enough in Europe to prompt a sequel also starring Milian and Palmer. (Dare I watch that as well??)

I discovered LIFE IS TOUGH, EH PROVIDENCE? on the Tubi streaming channel. It was in the proper aspect ratio and uncut, with an English voice track. Euro Western and Tomas Milian fans might want to see it as least once, but it's nothing more than a subpar Trinity knockoff. 

Sunday, March 31, 2024



The Warner Archive Collection has released John Ford's 3 GODFATHERS (1948) on Blu-ray, and the picture and sound quality is spectacular. What also makes this release notable is that the Archive has included on the disc a 1936 version of the story, titled THREE GODFATHERS. Both films are based on a novel by Peter B. Kyne, and the plot has been filmed or borrowed for several other adaptations over the years. (John Ford had even made a silent version with Harry Carey.) All the versions deal with three desperadoes on the run from the law in the Old West coming across an abandoned dying woman and her baby. 

The 1936 THREE GODFATHERS was produced by MGM and directed by Richard Boleslawski. It's a very different film from John Ford's 1948 version. The 1936 version is in black & white, and it lacks the sentimentality of the Ford film. The 1936 version has more of an edge to it. In Ford's film, the three fugitives/godfathers (John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, and Harry Carey Jr.) are lovable rogues rather than hardened criminals. In the 1936 version, the trio of bandits (Chester Morris, Lewis Stone, and Walter Brennan) are not particularly appealing, especially at first, and gang leader Bob (Morris) is most assuredly a man who is willing to break any law to get what he wants. 

The 1948 Ford version has the three bandits rob a bank and go on the run very soon after the story starts. The 1936 version spends more time at the beginning setting up the town of New Jerusalem and its eccentric citizens. It also establishes Bob as a dastardly fellow--when the bank robbery does happen in the '36 version, he shoots an unarmed man, a man who is engaged to a former flame of Bob's. 

In the 1936 version, after the trio ride off into the desert and come upon the dying woman and her baby, there's a debate between Bob and his two partners on what to do with the infant. Doc (Lewis Stone) and Gus (Walter Brennan) are all for taking care of the child and getting him to safety, while Bob, worried about the money from the bank robbery and the fact that their horses have ran away and their water is almost gone, thinks they should just leave it. In the Ford version there's no question as to what to do--the three bandits are bound and determined to save the baby. 

The ending of the 1936 version is darker as well--Bob finally redeems himself, but only after paying the ultimate price. In the Ford sound version, community and fellowship wins out over all. 

Walter Brennan, Lewis Stone, and Chester Morris 

Chester Morris is perfect casting as this version's Bob. In every movie I've seen Morris in, he has a surly, sarcastic attitude, and he certainly has that here. When the black-garbed Bob finally breaks down at the end, Morris makes it believable. Lewis Stone is a very unusual choice for the role of Doc--it takes a while to accept Andy Hardy's dad as a bandit in the Old West--but he manages to steal the film. Doc is a well-spoken man who carries books in his saddlebags. The movie never explains why an educated man like Doc is now robbing a bank in a remote Arizona town, but the sad look in Stone's eyes tells the viewer all they need to know about how far this man must have fallen in his life. Walter Brennan as Gus plays another of the actor's many old coot roles, but as usual he makes the ruffian entertaining to watch. 

Richard Boleslawski was no John Ford--there's no shame in that--but he uses the outdoor locations quite well, and he and the production team proficiently establish the plight that the three bandits and their charge are going through. There's a starkness and a realism to the portrayal of the West in this film that I think Ford himself would have appreciated. 

Both the 1936 and 1948 films on this Warners Blu-ray have been remastered, and the sound and picture quality is fantastic for both. Original trailers for both films have also been included on the disc. 

I prefer the 1948 3 GODFATHERS over the 1936 THREE GODFATHERS. 3 GODFATHERS is directed by John Ford after all, and the color photography by Winton Hoch is breathtaking. There's also the fact that it features John Wayne and several members of the John Ford stock company. 

I do have to say that I was impressed by the 1936 THREE GODFATHERS. It was better than I thought it would be, and it provides two surprising performances by Chester Morris and Lewis Stone. I'm glad that the Warner Archive included it along with the more famous 3 GODFATHERS on this standout Blu-ray release.