Sunday, April 26, 2015
Over the past couple years, Shout Factory has come out with two different Vincent Price Blu-ray sets. Every Roger Corman-directed Edgar Allan Poe movie starring Price has been included in them....except TALES OF TERROR.
Now TALES OF TERROR has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber, and that company will be putting out several other Vincent Price movies later on this year. If Shout Factory is going to put together a third Price set, I don't know what they are going to be able to put in it.
TALES OF TERROR (1962) was the third Poe adaptation that Vincent Price and Roger Corman had worked on together. It was the fourth Poe movie for Corman.....before TALES he had tried to make THE PREMATURE BURIAL outside of American-International Pictures, so he could get more of the profits back.....but AIP bought the film while it was still in production. (THE PREMATURE BURIAL featured Ray Milland instead of Vincent Price.)
The Poe series was already starting to show signs of over-familiarity, so for TALES Corman and writer Richard Matheson tweaked the ingredients a bit. TALES concerns three stories instead of one, and a comic flavor was injected into the middle segment. Two big-name stars were also added to appear along with Vincent Price: Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone.
The elements of comedy and guest stars would carry over in the next entry in the Poe series, THE RAVEN, which was a full-fledged spoof that added the King of Monsters, Boris Karloff, to join up with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre. Some have suggested that TALES OF TERROR was a turning point in the production of the Poe series--and not in a good way. It must be pointed out, however, that two of the best Price/Corman/Poe films of them all--THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA--were still to come.
The first tale in TALES OF TERROR is "Morella". A young woman named Lenora (Maggie Pierce) returns to her New England home after 26 years away to find that her dissolute, reclusive father (Vincent Price) has been keeping the corpse of her mother (who died after giving birth to her) in an upstairs bedroom. "Morella" is the weakest tale in this film, and it is very reminiscent of HOUSE OF USHER. It also anticipates the later THE TOMB OF LIGEIA. Most of the typical Corman/Poe elements are stuffed into this story--Vincent Price playing a brooding recluse, a portrait of a dead woman having importance, and a fiery climax, in which we get to see the "burning barn" footage that would be used again and again in the AIP Poe series. According to the excellent Tim Lucas commentary on this Blu-ray, "Morella" was originally supposed to be the closing story in TALES OF TERROR--it's a good thing it wasn't.
The second tale is "The Black Cat". You could say that this second segment is made up of two Poe tales--the story takes a lot from "The Cask of Amontillado" as well. Drunken lout Montresor Herringbone (Peter Lorre) finds out that his wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson) has been having an affair with the snooty Fortunato Lucresi (Vincent Price). Montresor's solution to this is a little home-improvement project in his basement, but his wife's hated black cat literally gets in the way. The result is a horror-comic gem, with a hilarious off-the-wall performance by Peter Lorre. Price is very funny as well--the actor still doesn't get enough credit for his sense of humor (and as Vincent would readily admit, there's a very thin line between comedy and horror). Price and Lorre's comedy act would be reprised in THE RAVEN and THE COMEDY OF TERRORS.
The final tale is "The Case of M. Valdemar". Dying and in great pain, Mr. Valdemar relies on the ministrations of a creepy hypnotist named Carmichael (Basil Rathbone) to obtain relief from his suffering. Carmichael asks for only one thing in return--a chance to hypnotize Valdemar at the very point of death. The hypnotist does this, but then holds Valdemar in a kind of purgatory.....all so he can claim Valdemar's wife (Debra Paget). This is what I feel is the best tale of the movie, with a deadly serious Basil Rathbone taking the acting honors--you can almost feel the anger coming out of the man (maybe the reason why Rathbone seems so put out here is that he wasn't too happy about working at AIP in the first place). The "voice" of the in-limbo Valdemar is one of the creepiest sound effects of all time ("RRRREEEEELLLLEEAASSSEEE MMMMMEEEEE..."). The ending of "The Case of M. Valdemar" is more than sufficient enough to put a memorable capper on the entire proceedings.
As mentioned before, Tim Lucas from Video Watchdog contributes another one of his masterful audio commentaries. There is also a second commentary on this Blu-ray from David Del Valle and actor David Frankham, who played the David Manners-like role in "The Case of M. Valdemar". This commentary is an informative and fun-filled chat between Del Valle and Frankham, and Del Valle does make two very relevant points, one being that Roger Corman was more a producer than a director, and the other being that despite AIP's reputation of churning out drive-in movies for the youth market, the company gave out major work to numerous older Hollywood legends (Lorre, Rathbone, Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., Buster Keaton, etc.).
The Blu-ray has a new 10-minute interview with Roger Corman in which he discusses the making of TALES OF TERROR, and a "Trailers From Hell" segment with Corman.
TALES OF TERROR is one of the many classic horror films I first saw as a kid back in the 1980s on TV, and I still have an affection for it. Price, Lorre, and Rathbone are all magnificent, and I can still remember certain lines of dialogue ("It's from the better slopes of the vineyard." "For the love of God, Montresor!!"). Kino has put together a very nice Blu-ray package (the colors really pop on this release), and I'm looking forward to their AIP Blu-rays in the future (although I don't believe my wallet is).
Saturday, April 25, 2015
Shout Factory, under their Scream Factory label, has just released BLACULA and SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM on a single Blu-ray disc, with various special features.
The BLACULA films now have a somewhat notorious reputation, especially among those who have never actually seen them. The very title BLACULA is enough to cause most people to dismiss the films outright. These features were obviously made to cash in on the early 1970s Blaxploitation genre. The company that made the BLACULA films, American-International, was the leading exponent of low-budget drive-in cinema at the time. I'm not trying to say that the BLACULA films are revolutionary in any way, but a re-examination of them shows that they stand up very well to all the other vampire movies of the period....especially the ones from Hammer Films.
The first BLACULA, made in 1972 and directed by William Crain, starts out in the year 1780 with the African Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) in Transylvania, trying to convince Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) to help end the Slave Trade. It isn't long before Dracula shows his true colors, putting the bite on Mamuwalde and sealing the Prince and his wife up in a room at Castle Dracula. Nearly 200 years later, a pair of very gay interior decorators purchase the furnishings in Castle Dracula, including the locked coffin containing Mamuwalde. The pair ship the furnishings back to Los Angeles, where of course they accidentally revive the Prince. Soon victims start popping up all over the city, as Blacula tries to reunite with what he believes is the reincarnation of his wife (Vonetta McGee).
BLACULA is very much a movie of its time. The early Seventies jive dialogue and hair & clothes fashions date it badly. Starting off with the two interior decorators, the movie is very politically incorrect, and most of the attempts at humor will be cringe-inducing to an audience of today. But despite all that....the movie works. Nearly all of this is due to the outstanding performance of William Marshall. His stentorian voice and commanding physical presence make him an outstanding figure of a vampire--it doesn't matter what color he is. Marshall simply elevates this film, and one wishes that the story--and the rest of the cast--where able to be anywhere near on the same level as he is (Vonetta McGee, in particular, just doesn't seem to be passionate enough to arouse Blacula's longings).
In an earlier blog post I included William Marshall among my top ten movie vampires. Most monster-movie buffs agree that Marshall is brilliant as Blacula, but it is forgotten that Marshall--along with Jonathan Frid's Barnabas Collins--was one of the first "romantic vampires". Marshall is the real hero of the story....he even gets to make love to his leading lady, and this was way before TWILIGHT. Marshall also gets a major amount of screen time, and a lot of dialogue.....something Christopher Lee did not get in his Hammer Dracula films of the same period. (By the way, BLACULA makes a great companion piece to Hammer's DRACULA A. D. 1972.)
As for the film itself, BLACULA does have a lot of rough edges, but it also has a few impressive shock scenes, including one featuring the great character actor Elisha Cook Jr.. Seeing Blacula fling around L.A. cops like they were toys is rather ironic in today's times, and the movie's ending is unexpected, and even poignant.
SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM (1973, directed by Bob Kelljan) has long been seen as a dud--I even think it was included in one of those "50 Worst Movies Of All Time" books by the Medved brothers. Seen today, in my opinion, it's not as bad as it's reputation suggests. An elderly voodoo high priestess has died, and the members of her cult choose her foster daughter Lisa (Pam Grier) as her successor instead of her son Willis (Richard Lawson). Willis decides to use a voodoo curse on his sister, but during the ceremony he re-animates Blacula instead. Once again more victims start popping up, as Blacula hopes to use Lisa's voodoo powers to exorcise his vampiric tendencies.
SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM suffers more from the 1970s attitudes than does BLACULA. After Willis performs his voodoo ceremony, the first thing he does is sit down and drink a can of Coors beer.....and after he is vampirized by Blacula, Willis' biggest complaint is that he cannot see himself and his fly threads in a mirror anymore. Blacula's quest to rid himself of his vampire curse is reminiscent of John Carradine's attempt to do the same thing in HOUSE OF DRACULA...and just like those 1940s vampire films, Blacula has the power to turn himself into a animated bat.
The beauteous Pam Grier does a very effective job as Lisa (one wishes that she had been in BLACULA). SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM isn't as good as BLACULA, but it's still better than most horror films made around the same time......and the main reason for that is William Marshall.
The extras on this Blu-ray double feature include an audio commentary on BLACULA by Blaxploitation expert David F. Walker. Walker gives out a lot of information, but the commentary is rather unfocused, and Walker spends a lot of time talking about how bad he thinks the movie is (while at the same time saying he loves it and that he has seen it dozens of times). There is a short interview with actor Richard Lawson about SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM, and there are photo galleries and trailers for both films. The visual and sound quality on both films is excellent...one thing I noticed was how much William Marshall was sweating during both movies (his Blacula costume must have been very hot to wear under the lights).
For those who think that the BLACULA films are jokes, this Blu-ray will show that they come off rather well, all things considering. They are also not nearly as exploitative as most assume (both movies were originally rated PG!). For those monster movie fans who have never seen these features, this Blu-ray is a great opportunity to catch up with them.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Monday, April 20, 2015
Screen Archives Entertainment is the place to go if you are looking for recently released rare movie soundtracks. SAE is particularly known for offering soundtracks from foreign films--they carry more Morricone CDs than you can shake a fistful of dollars at (see what I did there?). I have always loved the music of Spaghetti Westerns, and SAE has just come out with a 3 CD set containing the soundtracks of all three SABATA films.
All three SABATA films were directed by Gianfranco Parolini and written by Renato Izzo. The first starred Lee Van Cleef, and the actor played yet another variation on his "Colonel Mortimer" character from FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The second film wasn't even supposed to feature Sabata....the movie was originally called INDIO BLACK, and Yul Brynner played the eponymous role. The first Sabata film was such a big hit in Europe that INDIO BLACK was rechristened ADIOS, SABATA, even though Yul Brynner didn't look or act anything like Lee Van Cleef. (The idea of changing the title of a Spaghetti Western to copy the success of another popular character was nothing new in that genre. There are dozens of European Westerns which have famous names like Ringo, Django, and Trinity in their titles even though they have nothing to do with those characters.) Van Cleef came back for the third film in the official series, RETURN OF SABATA.
The SABATA films are decent examples of the Italian Westerns. They have a lot more humor than the usual examples of the genre (RETURN OF SABATA in particular). They also have a lot more weirdness, but due to big name stars like Van Cleef and Yul Brynner, the Sabata films are more well known than most of their counterparts.
The score for the first Sabata film was composed and conducted by Marcello Giombini. It certainly isn't as great as Ennio Morricone's work of the period, but it fits the film rather well. The music isn't as heavy or brooding as other Spaghetti Western scores, but SABATA isn't a heavy or brooding movie. This score is disc one in the collection and it has 21 tracks totaling about 55 minutes of running time.
The score for ADIOS, SABATA was composed and conducted by Bruno Nicolai. This one sounds the most like a Morricone work, which isn't surprising, considering that Nicolai had worked as an arranger with Morricone on various films. This score is far more in the expected tradition of Spaghetti Western music, and it is the best CD of the set. Throughout the score you can hear a choir chanting Indio Black! The soundtrack for ADIOS, SABATA has 24 tracks and runs about an hour.
Marcello Giombini returned to do the music for RETURN OF SABATA. This soundtrack is the wildest and most avant-garde of the set, with a title tune that has to be heard to be believed (just go on YouTube sometime and look it up). This score has 18 tracks and runs about 42 minutes.
All three scores feature the work of musician Alessandro Alessandroni, whose guitar work and whistling talent will be familiar to Ennio Morricone enthusiasts. The sound quality on all three scores is superb.
Included in the set is a nice 28-page booklet written by Randall D. Larson. Larson discusses the entire Sabata trilogy, looking at each film individually, and examining each film's music score. The booklet is filled with color photo stills from the film.
This set was produced by Quartet Records, and is limited to a run of 500 units. Screen Archives Entertainment is selling it for $29.95, which I think is a very good price for 3 CDs of rare Spaghetti Western music. Anyone who is a Italian Western fan will tell you how hard it is to get decent, official, high-quality versions of music scores for this genre. This set will make a great addition to any movie music fan's collection.
Saturday, April 18, 2015
My brother Robert Day (not the Robert Day who directed Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in Hammer's 1965 movie SHE) has written a guest post on which he gives a new way of looking at some of the most famously maligned films of all time--the Star Wars Prequels.
I have been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. I was born in 1978 and grew up watching the films with my older brothers. The majority of my fondest childhood memories are tied to George Lucas' galaxy far far away. So naturally when I grew up and had kids of my own, I passed my love of the Star Wars franchise down to them.
My eight-year old daughter Emma has been a fan for several years, but my three year-old son Jackson is just now getting into the fray. The age of three seems to be a magic number for Star Wars to take hold of a young mind. I was about that age when I began my journey, and so was my daughter. Recently, my son, along with his Dad and big sister, have been watching the new Disney XD animated series "Star Wars: Rebels". So with that in mind, the time seemed right for our family to watch the entire film saga together again, starting with episodes 1-3.
The first trilogy of the Star Wars saga, also known as the "prequels" are a controversial series of films to say the least. I was in my late teens when THE PHANTOM MENACE was released, and I was extremely excited to see Star Wars return to the big screen. That excitement, however, quickly turned to disappointment once I actually saw the movie....three times to be precise. Why was the plot so boring? Who thought this Jar Jar character was a good idea? What happened to the "used universe" look of the original trilogy? There were a few fun moments for sure, but all things considered...it was kind of a letdown.
Two more films were released, and they got a little better each time, culminating with a pretty solid REVENGE OF THE SITH in my opinion. But the overall reaction among Star Wars fans was to nitpick, critique, and trash this new version of Star Wars. George Lucas somehow went from the man we all praised, to the object of may Star Wars fans ire. Fanboys everywhere, emboldened by the faceless voice of the internet tore these movies to shreds.
Now that some time has passed, I was interested to revisit episodes 1-3 with my children. What would they think of these much-maligned films? How would they react to the onscreen magic that failed to resonate with so many of us grown-ups? After watching them over the course of four days, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that my kids really enjoyed them. They not only liked them, they hung on every minute of them. My son sat through all of them in their entirety, and he normally can't sit still for five minutes! I knew he was hooked when he turned to me at the end of Episode Three and tried to lift me off the ground with his "force powers".
Children have the uncanny ability to see the good in anything. They laughed at every corny sight gag, and gasped at all the action filled moments. As the resident Star Wars expert of our household, I was there to answer all their questions, and trust me, their young minds had plenty of them! As I sat and watched these films with my kids, I began to view them through the lens of their innocence. Then, something crazy happened, I slowly started to enjoy the films too! I began to take notice of the wonderful performances of Ewan McGregor, and Liam Neeson. I was impressed by how awesome the lightsaber duels were, how great John Williams' score was, and how epic in scale the space battles were. I began to realize this trilogy introduced us to some great new characters too! Heroes like Qui-Gon Jinn, and Mace Windu. Villains like Darth Maul, Count Dooku, and General Greivous. And let's not forget the crusty junk dealer from Tatooine, Watto. (He's always been a favorite of mine for some reason.)
Watching these films with my kids gave me a new appreciation for them. Because let's be honest with ourselves, it's the young and the young at heart who are the target audience. The generation of little boys who grew up playing with Star Wars action figures have all grown up now. Many of them have replaced the sense of wonder they once brought to the movie theater with cynicism and criticism. Seeing my children enjoy these movies for what they were, with no unrealistic expectations to live up to, made me realize that maybe they weren't as bad as I thought they were. Maybe, just maybe the problem was me. My childhood memories of the original trilogy are so strong, that no other film will ever meet their standard. And frankly, that's a pretty unfair expectation for almost any film to meet.
So I strongly encourage you to give the "prequels" another chance. Episodes 1-3 may not be great films, but they're not nearly as bad as we've talked ourselves into believing. Especially when you watch them with a child.
I'm sure everyone who has been on the internet the past couple days knows all about the new trailer that was released for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. I had a lot of skepticism over that upcoming film--and in some ways I still do--but seeing that trailer made me actually look forward to it.
The very first thing you see in the trailer--a shot of a wrecked Imperial Star Destroyer on a desert wasteland of an unknown planet--brought to my mind a David Lean-esque type of feeling, a feeling that this was something from a grand historical epic. The voice-over from Mark Hamill will send any hardcore Star Wars fan into a frenzy, and then of course there's the trailer's revelation of an older Han Solo and Chewbacca, which I think made the entire world stop on its axis. (That shot of Han and Chewie, by the way, is based on a famous photo still from the original film).
What really makes this trailer work is that it leaves more questions than answers. That's what the best movie trailers do (are you reading this, entertainment conglomerate executives?). Who has the remains of Darth Vader's helmet? Why is the helmet still around? Who are the stormtroopers in the trailer, and who are they serving under? In the trailer Han says to Chewie, "We're home." The two of them are obviously on the Millenium Falcon, so does that mean that Han has not seen his ship in a while? And if he hasn't, then what happened to it?
There's a dozen other questions that I could ask from viewing this trailer....and that's the fun of being a fanboy, or being involved in a certain fan community. There's a sense of togetherness from following a certain movie or TV franchise, and discussing and debating it with fellow fans (when those fellow fans are not arguing or insulting one another, which happens way too often). In today's world, human beings are driven apart more and more by religion, or politics, or social issues.....yet people all over the world can come together and reach an understanding through a movie or a TV show. What does that say about the state of society in the 21st Century? (Maybe that's a blog post for another day.)
Another trailer for a major "event" movie has also been released....this one for BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (how pretentious is that title??). I've written several blogs already on how I feel about the movies based on DC comic book characters. This trailer begins with a cacophony of newsanchor-type voices debating the role of Superman on Earth. When then see a statue of Superman painted with graffiti that says "FALSE GOD". Apparently this film is going to go down the same road as the X-Men movies--the whole "Superheroes are enemies of the common folk and must not be trusted" road. I feel this is a mistake. As I have stated before, out of all the famous comic book legends, Superman is the nice one, the good & noble one, the one who is most adjusted and accepting of his role. So why, in all these 21st Century Superman movies, do they surround him with darkness and doubt?? You can make an fun, exciting comic book movie without being heavy and moody--and you can still have the audience take it seriously. Marvel Studios has proven that.
The BvS trailer says it is coming out in 2016--which means Marvel is going to have a few movies out ahead of it. It also means that fanboys on the internet are going to have plenty of time to pick it apart. This movie is supposed to be a game-changer for the DC cinematic universe, but it's hard for me to have any faith in it at this time.
I have also seen trailers for the new Terminator movie. At first I was going to dismiss this out of hand, but after seeing the previews I've got to admit I'm intrigued by the premise. It looks as if this "new" Terminator will be a remake of the first one--but this time Sarah Connor saves Kyle, instead of the other way around. (Has anyone noticed that no matter what anyone does in any of the Terminator movies, Judgment Day still always happens?)
As for the new Mad Max movie, that was another one I shook my head at when first hearing about....but the trailers make the film look so over-the-top crazy, I want to see it. The fact that Mad Max creator George Miller is involved with this is another reason for my interest.
Last year's movie summer....heck, last year's movie year....was kind of blah. This year has a chance to be more memorable.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
In 1978, Burt Reynolds was considered the coolest movie star in the world. That may be impossible to fathom for those who have grown up in the 21st Century, but it's true. Reynolds' last movie, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, was an enormous hit, but the actor already had a huge following (especially among the drive-in crowd) with such films as THE LONGEST YARD, WHITE LIGHTNING, and GATOR. Reynolds had tapped into a certain sub-culture of entertainment--the country action-comedy. You can look down all you want on SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, but the movie was very influential--it spawned many imitators, such as the TV series THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, and even Clint Eastwood got in the act with EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (which wound up being his highest grossing movie of all time).
SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT was directed by Hal Needham, a former Hollywood stuntman who was a personal friend of Burt Reynolds. The success of that film enabled Needham and Reynolds to make a follow-up picture, HOOPER, which has just been released on Blu-ray by Warner Home Video.
HOOPER could easily be called SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT 1 1/2. Not only does the film reunite Needham and Reynolds, the leading lady of BANDIT, Sally Field, is also in it, and the Pontiac Firebird, the iconic car of the BANDIT, makes an appearance as well. Jerry Reed is not in HOOPER, but James Best plays a very Jerry Reed-like role.
As for the lead character of the film, Sonny Hooper, he's basically just like the Bandit....except instead of being the greatest gear-jammer in the world, Sonny is the greatest stuntman in the world. The opening sequence of HOOPER shows Sonny strapping protective padding all over himself while bullfighter music plays in the background. Sonny is currently working as stunt co-ordinator on a James Bond-type movie and doubling for the star, which is none other than Adam West (who plays--and spoofs--himself, long before he did it on FAMILY GUY). Sonny has to deal with an egotistical director (Robert Klein) and the fact that his long years of stunt work have taken a toll on his body. Hooper is constantly being fed painkillers by his assistant and buddy Cully (James Best).
Hooper finds out that there is a up and coming stuntman making the rounds, nicknamed Ski (Jan Michael-Vincent). In a movie made today, these guys would be at each other's throats, but in HOOPER the two men form a bond. (I think that Hal Needham--a former top stuntman himself--didn't want to show fellow stuntmen acting badly toward one another....after all, being a stuntman requires trusting in your colleagues.) Hooper gives Ski work on the James Bond-like film, and soon Ski is coming up with action sequences of his own. The director is so impressed he rewrites the entire ending, setting up a stunt involving a rocket car jumping over a gorge--a stunt so dangerous that no one is sure it will even work.
HOOPER is obviously Hal Needham's tribute to the Hollywood stuntman, and as such, is filled with all sorts of action set-pieces. The stunts performed here look even better today when one considers that no CGI whatsoever was used back then. As for Needham's portrayal of the life of the stuntman, Sonny and his crew spend most of their free time engaged in drunken juvenile hi-jinks (but nothing too nasty--this is a PG rated film after all). There's the usual bar fight, which features a cameo from Terry Bradshaw, who at the time was one of the best quaterbacks in the NFL. (Could you imagine what the reaction would be today if, say, Tom Brady appeared in a similar scene in a movie made now?) Apparently most of the situations in HOOPER were based on real-life experiences Hal Needham had as a stuntman.
As stated before, Sonny Hooper is very much like the Bandit--or rather, very much like Burt Reynolds' typical screen persona. Sonny is cocky, charismatic, and a smart-aleck--but underneath it all he's really a good guy. Sally Field is Sonny's girlfriend. Field and Reynolds were a real-life couple at the time, and just like in SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, the two of them have great chemistry together (and Sally Field looks really good wearing shorts in this movie). Sally's dad in this picture is also a legendary stuntman who is somewhat of a mentor to Sonny, and he is played by Brian Keith, who steals just about every scene he is in.
Keith's character winds up having a stroke, which causes Sonny to reflect on his own health (Sonny's doctor tells him that if he was a horse, he'd be shot). Sonny is also badgered by his girlfriend not to perform the rocket-car stunt. In the end Sonny decides to do it anyway, one of the main reasons being that two men have to be in the rocket car (one has to drive and the other has to monitor the instruments), and Sonny wants to do the stunt with Ski.
The rewritten ending of the movie Sonny is working on has the equivalent of an entire town being destroyed--and this happens before the rocket car jump. Thus the climax of HOOPER has just about every crazy stunt you can think of, and Ski and Sonny pull off the jump, which is pretty spectacular. (This isn't the type of movie that is going to have a depressing ending.)
When it comes to 1970s cinema, HOOPER certainly isn't in the same class as THE DEER HUNTER, but then it isn't supposed to be. It is designed to be crowd-pleasing entertainment, and on that level it does work. An audience of today would view HOOPER with puzzlement or maybe even anger--this is a very politically incorrect film with a working-class American mentality. I can imagine millennials dismissing HOOPER as nothing more than a bunch of white people acting stupid. I have to admit the main reason I bought this Blu-ray was nostalgia--I loved this movie when I was a kid. If you don't get HOOPER, or you don't get why Burt Reynolds was once so popular, that's okay. There's plenty of folks who don't get superhero movies either.
Saturday, April 11, 2015
Arrow Video has just come out with a splendid Blu-ray/DVD release of the 1967 Spaghetti Western DAY OF ANGER, starring genre legend Lee Van Cleef.
In DAY OF ANGER Van Cleef is once again paired with a younger male co-star. This time it is Giuliano Gemma as Scott, a poor orphan who acts as garbageman for the Western town of Clifton. Scott is reviled by the rest of the citizens of Clifton. A stranger by the name of Frank Talby (Van Cleef) rides into town and treats Scott with respect....Talby even shoots and kills a man who is offended by Scott being present in the local saloon. Scott begs Talby to teach him about gunfighting. The older man does, and soon Talby and Scott are running Clifton....but Talby makes an enemy out of just about everyone he comes into contact with, and eventually Scott must face off against his mentor.
DAY OF ANGER was directed by Tonino Valerii, who had worked with Sergio Leone on A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The movie was mostly written by Ernesto Gastaldi, whose name will be familiar with any fan of Italian Western and Giallo films. Many of the locations used in DAY OF ANGER were seen in the first two DOLLARS films, and of course Lee Van Cleef became a Spaghetti Western star due to his appearance in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE as Colonel Mortimer. A number of supporting actors who had roles in the Leone Westerns pop up in DAY OF ANGER, most notably the grizzled Al Mulock, who was featured in two of the greatest scenes in Italian Western history--the "If you have to shoot, shoot don't talk" segment in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and the opening gunfight in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.
Despite the various Sergio Leone connections, DAY OF ANGER really isn't a Leone-like film. For one thing Valerii doesn't have the visual flair of a Leone. Another reason is DAY OF ANGER has no obvious humor in it whatsoever. Van Cleef's Frank Talby is more of an Angel Eyes than a Colonel Mortimer, but there is also a lot of ambiguity to him. Talby genuinely seems to like Scott, and goes out of his way help him--but at the same time Van Cleef shows that Talby is not adverse to taking down anyone who is in his way. In the course of the film Talby becomes more of a town kingpin than a mysterious gunslinger. Talby builds his own gambling establishment (complete with giant gold Colt .45s as front entrance supports!) and even gets Clifton's corrupt judge to try and form an alliance with him. It is hinted in the film that an older gunfighter like Talby may be trying to settle down and start a "home" of his own. It's an interesting plot concept for an Italian Western. Frank Talby is one of Lee Van Cleef's best roles, and the actor totally dominates whenever he is on the screen. (And yes, in this movie Van Cleef gets to wear his "Colonel Mortimer" black outfit.)
Giuliano Gemma does very well as Scott, and he even holds his own when he is in the same scene as Van Cleef (not an easy thing for any actor to do). Gemma also had a long career in Italian Westerns (I have to admit this is the first film I have seen the actor in), and in DAY OF ANGER he has a attractive screen presence--so much so that I found the early part of the film where Scott is ostracized by the community a bit hard to believe. (Now, if Tomas Milian had played the role of Scott--yeah, I could believe the townspeople hating on him.)
As for the rest of the cast, Walter Rilla is fine as Scott's "other" mentor Murph, and Christa Linder makes a big impression with the small role of Gwen, a brothel girl who is friendly toward Scott.
Arrow Video has given DAY OF ANGER the Criterion treatment. The Blu-ray contains two cuts of the film--an 104 minute Italian version, which has a English-dubbed soundtrack and a Italian soundtrack with English subtitles, and a 86 minute "international" version, which is dubbed in English. The longer cut is the far better version of the film--it contains far more plot detail. The extras include interviews with director Tonino Valerii, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, and Valerii biographer Roberto Curti. Valerii compares the script of DAY OF ANGER to the story of Oedipus, and Curti talks about the film's portrayal of competitive capitalism, while Gastaldi states that the movie has no political message. There are also trailers, TV spots, a deleted scene, and a 28 page booklet with information about the film and its stars from Italian cinema historian Howard Hughes.
As for how the movie looks on this Blu-ray, it is stupendous--the days of watching crummy pan & scan prints of Spaghetti Westerns on public domain VHS tapes are long gone. The Arrow version of DAY OF ANGER looks much better than most American 1960s Westerns on home video. The sound quality is excellent, and Riz Ortolani's unusual music score gets a nice showcase here. Arrow's package includes two DVDs--each disc contains a different version of the film and the extras.
Some genre enthusiasts rate DAY OF ANGER one of the greatest Spaghetti Westerns of all time. I think the movie's reputation will certainly be enhanced by this Blu-ray. DAY OF ANGER doesn't reach the wild excesses that most Italian Westerns are known for, which might make it attractive to more traditional Western movie fans. While not too overly violent (especially compared to its contemporaries), DAY OF ANGER does have many well-staged shootouts, with the highlight being a duel performed on horseback with front-loading rifles. If you are a fan of Spaghetti Westerns you should check this Blu-ray out, and if you are a major Lee Van Cleef fan you should definitely buy it. This is one of the first Region A releases from Arrow Video, and I highly anticipate seeing what titles the company will put out in the future.
Sunday, April 5, 2015
A couple years ago Olive Films released a remastered version of John Ford's THE QUIET MAN on Blu-ray. Now the company has put out on home video a 92-minute documentary about that legendary film called JOHN FORD: DREAMING THE QUIET MAN. Many on the internet have wondered why Olive didn't include this feature on THE QUIET MAN release as an extra. The reason is fairly obvious--Olive wanted to make more money off of fans of THE QUIET MAN by releasing the documentary separately.
What is striking about this documentary is that it was made and produced by the Irish. Writer-Director Se Merry Doyle explores why THE QUIET MAN was so important to John Ford, and how Ford's Irish heritage influenced the movie's making. The viewer is taken to such places as Monument Valley, Portland, Maine (where Ford was born--he was not born in Ireland), and the remains of the actual Irish cottage where John Ford's father grew up.
Many of the Irish locations used for THE QUIET MAN are shown, including the village of Cong, which has now become something of a tourist trap. Local villagers who were around during the making of THE QUIET MAN are interviewed (surprisingly there are still quite a few of them left).
Rare behind-the-scenes footage of THE QUIET MAN is shown, and we get a lot of Maureen O'Hara talking about the movie. She steals the show, of course....but she still won't reveal what she whispered in John Wayne's ear at the end the film.
The documentary also has interviews with directors Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, and Jim Sheridan, who discuss the legacy of THE QUIET MAN.
JOHN FORD: DREAMING THE QUIET MAN is a very good piece of work, and old movie buffs will eat it up, especially John Ford/John Wayne/Maureen O'Hara fans. I would not say it is great because the documentary has a tendency to ramble--it starts to make a point about John Ford or the movie, then it goes on to another tack entirely. All the information here is interesting and informative, but it is presented in a leisurely fashion, matched by Gabriel Byrne's equally leisurely narration. One thing I was kind of hoping to see was the opinions of Irish people who are not fans of THE QUIET MAN--I know there are some of Irish descent who feel the movie is a stereotypical view of their country. This feature is something of a celebration of THE QUIET MAN. It works very well when it showcases that classic movie....but it doesn't do as well when it tries to explain John Ford. Then again.....I don't think anybody ever has, or ever will, come close to properly explaining that mercurial cinematic genius.