Sunday, July 12, 2020

THE LAST VALLEY On Blu-ray From Kino










THE LAST VALLEY is a somewhat obscure historical drama released in 1971. The movie was produced, written, and directed by James Clavell. It has been recently released on home video by Kino Studio Classics.

The story is set during the Thirty Years' War, a time of religious persecution and cruelty. A motley group of mercenaries, led by a no-nonsense German Captain (Michael Caine) comes upon a remote village nestled in a picturesque valley in Central Europe. A man of learning, who has been trying to stay one step ahead of the wars for years (Omar Sharif) convinces the Captain that he and his men should take shelter in the village and protect it, instead of despoiling it. The Captain comes to an uneasy understanding with the locals, including the town leader (Nigel Davenport). But the mercenaries and the villagers can't help but follow their own agendas, while the Captain realizes he can't truly escape the war.

THE LAST VALLEY is another film that I don't ever remember being shown on TV. It wasn't successful at the box office, and it's easy to see why. The Thirty Years' War was not exactly a popular subject among English-speaking audiences (and it still isn't). The movie, despite being rated PG, does not shy away from the brutality and militant religious attitudes of the period. (The opening scene shows a small settlement attacked by Caine's men, and the people who live there are either killed or raped, simply because they just happen to be in the way.) There are no "good' or "bad" characters--each person deals with the situation of the Captain's group staying in the valley in their own way, putting survival over morality.

Michael Caine is a revelation here. This isn't the Caine of ALFIE or GET CARTER. Here he speaks with a clipped German accent, avoiding his usual dialogue patterns. His Captain doesn't have to shout or scream to get his point across. The man is a professional killer, but he's also rather cunning, and he's able to take advantage of whatever situation he may come across. The Captain is not a likable person, but he's not supposed to be. Caine makes it believable that this man could survive such a violent time and still be able to control a bunch of bloodthirsty soldiers. I think this is one of the best performances Michael Caine ever gave.

Most of the supporting cast is made up of European actors. Omar Sharif does very well in his role--he plays a man who is constantly straddling the fence at all times, but avoids making the character seem weak or fawning. Nigel Davenport is excellent as the village leader, a man who in his own way is just as cunning and brutal as the Captain.

The outdoor locations for THE LAST VALLEY were filmed in Austria, and they are spectacular. James Clavell and cinematographers Norman Warwick & John Wilcox take great advantage of the terrain. The action sequences are few, but they all have a Kurosawa-type of grittiness to them. (The Captain and his men do participate in a major battle near the end, but it's quite short--it could have been the basis of an entire movie itself.)

The transfer of THE LAST VALLEY that Kino has used for this Blu-ray is not good. There's visible damage spots on it, the frame jerks a bit at times, and the day-for-night scenes are very murky. I had never seen THE LAST VALLEY before, so I certainly can't compare it to any other version that might be out there. But it is disappointing that this Blu-ray does not look better, especially with all the visual splendor presented in the film. The sound quality, on the other hand, is very bold, and it does justice to John Barry's magnificent music score. (I was so impressed with Barry's work on the film that I went on Ebay and ordered the movie's soundtrack album.)

The only extra for this Blu-ray, other than some trailers for other Kino product, is a brand-new audio commentary with Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson. The trio analyze various aspects of the production, but they have a tendency to wander away from it when they discuss the careers of the people who worked on it.

THE LAST VALLEY is not a rousing epic filled with exciting battles. It's a thinking man's historical tale, dealing with a time and a society that most will not be familiar with. There's no sense of closure, or of right triumphing over wrong. What one does get from this movie is how each person's religious and political beliefs are only as deep as their immediate situation (organized Christian religion does not come off well here). This film is worthy viewing, especially when one considers what's going on today, with "cancel culture" and "Agree with me 100% or else" politics. THE LAST VALLEY also contains one of Michael Caine's best (and unusual) performances.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Ennio Morricone (1928-2020)









How does one even attempt to define the majestic genius of Ennio Morricone??

Even declaring him the greatest and most prolific film composer of all time barely scratches the surface. Morricone's impact on popular culture--heck, modern society--is immeasurable.

Morricone didn't just produce scores for Euro Westerns. He worked in every genre, on every type of story, and with all sorts of directors. Whatever genre he worked on, he redefined it, musically.

His work has also been quoted, imitated, and-for lack of a better phrase--ripped off thousands and thousands of times. But nothing sounds like the music of Ennio Morricone.

The very first movie soundtrack I ever bought--on cassette tape, back in the 1980s--was THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. I own hundreds of movie soundtracks now, many of them also by Morricone. The man's music opened up whole new worlds for me. One of the main reasons I am a film geek is due to Ennio Morricone.

I'm sure plenty of others have stories like mine. And there will be plenty of others in the future who will be influenced by the man. Morricone's music belongs to no time, or country, or genre--it is eternal. His work and his career are absolutely unique.

I could write paragraph after paragraph, using up all the superlatives there are in discussing Morricone.....but instead of doing that, why don't we all listen to some of his music today??

Saturday, July 4, 2020

THE PLAINSMAN (1936)













Pandemics, social unrest, a screwed-up baseball season....none of that is going to stop me from buying cheap DVDs or Blu-rays whenever I can. My latest discount purchase is THE PLAINSMAN, a 1936 Western saga from the legendary Cecil B. DeMille.

THE PLAINSMAN deals with three legends of the Old West: Wild Bill Hickok (Gary Cooper), Calamity Jane (Jean Arthur), and Buffalo Bill Cody (James Ellison). It begins after the end of the Civil War, with Hickok somewhat miffed that his friend Cody has gotten married and decided to settle down. Wild Bill is also annoyed by the attentions of Calamity Jane, a sparkplug of a gal who'll do anything to get his attention. The famous trio deal with Native Americans, the U.S. Army, and gunrunners.

Like most films directed by C.B. DeMille, THE PLAINSMAN is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. The first scene in the film shows Abraham Lincoln having a meeting with his cabinet. The President is going on about how important it will be to tame the West, when Mrs. Lincoln walks in and mentions that they're late for the theater. The main villain of the film (played by Charles Bickford), an ornery fellow who sells guns to the Indians, is so obviously a bad guy that one wonders why anyone would have any dealings with him whatsoever. THE PLAINSMAN is big, bold, and brash, and it has very little to do with the actual lives of its main characters....but it is entertaining.

Gary Cooper's Wild Bill has somewhat of a rebellious streak in him, while Jean Arthur steals the film as the sassy, whip-cracking Calamity Jane. It's very doubtful that the real Calamity looked anywhere near as pleasant as Arthur does--despite the fact that she's supposed to be a 1860s tomboy, Jean still has perfect hair and a flawless complexion. Arthur is still fun to watch, and apparently this was one of the very few projects she actually enjoyed working on. Cooper and Arthur had just made MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, and their reunion here is most welcome, although their characters have a relationship much different than that in the Frank Capra classic. (Cooper would go on to work with DeMille a number of times.)

It's surprising that DeMille didn't try to get a third star to play Buffalo Bill Cody. James Ellison is all right, but such a figure needs an actor with a more outstanding personality. Maybe DeMille didn't want Cooper to be overshadowed, but I doubt that would have happened.

As is typical in a DeMille production, there's plenty of interesting actors in the supporting cast, such as Francis Ford (John Ford's brother), Gabby Hayes, and a very young Anthony Quinn, who plays a Cheyenne who gives a very spirited description of the Battle of Little Big Horn. George Custer appears in the story, along with other historical characters as Edwin Stanton and Schuyler Colfax.

THE PLAINSMAN is a very fanciful rendition of the American West, but it is meant to please audiences--which is something Cecil B. DeMille always tried to do.




Friday, July 3, 2020

SPACE: 1999--"Missing Link"




Regular readers of this blog know very well that Peter Cushing is my favorite actor of all time. Last night I finally viewed one of his most notable TV guest-starring roles--an appearance on an episode of the science-fiction series SPACE: 1999. The episode was titled "Missing Link", and it was first broadcast in 1976.

SPACE: 1999 was created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the married couple behind such cult TV series as THE THUNDERBIRDS. SPACE: 1999 was a live-action series, detailing the adventures of the crew of Moonbase Alpha. In 1999 (of course), a nuclear explosion causes the Moon to be knocked out of its orbit, and it goes hurtling into space. Those on Moonbase Alpha wind up trapped as the Moon becomes something of a giant spaceship.

In the first-season episode in which Cushing appears, Moonbase Alpha's Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) and some of his staff are traveling on the base's reconnaissance spaceship. The group escapes from pull of a nearby planet only to crash on the Moon. The passengers are rescued and brought back to the base, with Koenig seeming to be in a death-like coma. The Commander, however, is experiencing something different in his mind. He's being kept under watch by beings from the nearby planet, which they refer to as Zeno. The planet's leading anthropologist, Raan (Peter Cushing), wants to study the Commander, believing him to be the ancestral "missing link" of the race that occupies Zeno. Koenig doesn't want to be Raan's guinea pig, and he starts to rebel--but he soon develops a relationship with Raan's daughter Vana (Joanna Dunham). Koenig eventually convinces Raan to allow him to go back to his body on Moonbase Alpha.

SPACE: 1999 was produced in England, and this allowed the series to feature several unique guest stars, such as Cushing. (Christopher Lee and David Prowse, along with many other actors associated with Hammer Films, also appeared on the show.) One has to remember that Cushing worked on this episode before he played the role of Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS. Cushing was also a close friend of Barry Morse, who was a regular member of the SPACE: 1999 first-season cast (ironically Cushing and Morse have no scenes together in this episode).





Peter Cushing as Raan in SPACE: 1999



Cushing doesn't have all that much to do in this episode. With his long hair, robes, gold-painted face, and puffy hat, Raan looks like a cross between a medieval nobleman and a member of a glam-rock group. Cushing still winds up coming off as scientific and distinguished, a testament to his natural talents. Many guest stars in TV shows such as this would take the opportunity to ham it up, but Cushing goes the opposite route.

The episode's plot will be very familiar to science-fiction fans. An ancient alien race that can control minds and is beyond emotions, a human male being observed by strange beings, the choice between living in a beautiful cage or continuing to exist in a imperfect situation...all these elements have been used in countless movies and TV episodes. There's also Raan's comment on how much violence and anger is within the human race--that type of line has been used an untold number of times. Koenig's and Vana's interest in each other brings a Captain Kirk-like aspect to the tale, but it seems forced. (By the way, Joanna Dunham and Peter Cushing both starred in different segments of the movie THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.)

I haven't seen a lot of episodes on SPACE: 1999, but I can understand why the series lasted only two seasons. The show reminds me of the third season of the original STAR TREK. It has some interesting ideas, but the presentation of those ideas is somewhat lacking.

One major thing I noticed while watching the "Missing Link" episode is how little warmth and camaraderie there is among the Moonbase Alpha crew. SPACE: 1999 was meant to be a "serious" science-fiction show, and that's fine, but STAR TREK was able to be serious while still using humor and appealing characters. The main characters of SPACE: 1999 do not have a lot of vitality--they're stuck in a situation they don't want to be in. During the "Missing Link" episode, there's a sub-plot concerning how everyone on the base is so upset over the fact that the Commander is in a deep coma, they've started to fight and squabble among each other. These aren't the type of characters one wants to watch over and over again.

Whatever one thinks of SPACE: 1999, Peter Cushing certainly didn't embarrass himself by appearing in it. It gave him another role in the science-fiction genre, and it also gave the series itself some clout. For those who are interested in watching "Missing Link", all the episodes of SPACE: 1999 are available on the Tubi streaming channel.






Monday, June 29, 2020

The Ray Harryhausen Centennial









On this day 100 years ago, Ray Harryhausen was born. Such an occasion deserves a tribute...but being the ordinary guy that I am, how can I properly articulate his greatness and legacy??

Ray Harryahusen was more than just an exemplary special effects artist. He was a creator, a man who inaugurated a series of films that continue to be regularly enjoyed to this day. Harryhausen was not a writer or director, but all the movies he worked on bear his individual stamp. His influence on fantastic cinema is as important as, say, a Mario Bava or a George Lucas.

Harryhausen could have easily used his immense talents to work on just about any project he wanted, but he chose stories and ideas that he personally wanted to see. He wasn't interested in being a gun for hire, or following any current trends--he made the movies he wanted to make. That's the thing that I admire the most about Ray Harryhausen.

Harryhausen was at the top of his form when he and his producing partner Charles Schneer began a series of colorful fantasy adventures in the late 1950s with THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Over the next couple decades Harryhausen and his collaborators adapted ancient myths, and the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. These films featured exotic locations, distinguished supporting casts, beautiful women, wonderful music scores from the likes of Bernard Herrmann....and of course the fantastic creatures that sprung from Harryhausen's imagination. These tales do not age--they can be watched by any generation, at any time.

The early 1950s black and white science-fiction films that Harryhausen dedicated his talents to are still entertaining as well. As a matter of fact, is there any Harryhausen film that could be considered terrible?? Not from my viewpoint.

Ray Harryhausen truly loved the power of storytelling, the power of imagination, and he devoted most of his life and art to bringing those loves to the big screen for all to enjoy. An untold number of artists and creators have been, and are still being, influenced by him and his work. I'm sure the films that bear the mark of Ray Harryhausen will have an impact for the next 100 years.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

My Favorite Live-Action Performances In The Films Of Ray Harryhausen





June 29 of this year will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ray Harryhausen. I've spent some time thinking about putting together a tribute post for the occasion....but what sort of tribute post? A list of my favorite Harryhausen films? Or a list of my favorite Harryhausen stop-motion creatures?

Those ideas seemed somewhat generic, so I asked my friends Tim Durbin and Joshua Kennedy if they had anything to offer. It was suggested that I write a list of my favorite human performances in the Harryhausen movies.

The more sarcastic would venture to say that Harryhausen's creations were the best actors in the films he worked on (this has been suggested in several books and articles). It's an easy point to make, but I think it's unfair. The films showcasing Harryhausen's work are filled with capable performers, particularly the colorful adventures made in the 1960s and 70s. It's fair to say that at times the leading men in the Harryhausen films were not as dynamic as one would expect, but the titles always featured notable supporting casts that enlivened the productions.

Any actor who was able to make a mark in a Harryhausen film, when having to compete with fantastic monsters, deserves credit. I think if one looks back on the Harryhausen Cinematic Universe, the overall acting is more than proficient.

Here's my list of favorite live-action performances in films featuring the FX work of Ray Harryhausen.


Kenneth Tobey as Pete Mathews in IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA
Tobey was the quintessential sci-fi movie hero of the 1950s--a stalwart, no-nonsense fellow who looked perfect in a military uniform, and who brought a sense of reality to whatever bizarre situation he was involved in. Tobey appeared in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, but I appreciate his performance here more, because he's the actual leading man of the film.

Kerwin Mathews as Sinbad in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD
If THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is the ultimate Harryhausen film, then Mathews is the ultimate Harryhausen hero. The actor looked like he came out of a storybook. Whenever I see Mathews in a film or TV show that has a modern story, he seems out of place--he just doesn't look right in modern clothing. Mathews also had the lead role in THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER.

Torin Thatcher as Sokurah in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD
The ultimate Harryhausen villain. A variation on the character of Sokurah appeared in just about every film that featured Ray's work after 7TH VOYAGE. Thatcher has the same fairy tale quality about him as does Kerwin Mathews.

Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Lom's Nemo doesn't get as much attention as James Mason's interpretation of the legendary character. But it's a fine performance, with this Nemo being a true loner, without any sort of crew. Lom is as much of a castaway as the people he decides to help, and the actor elevates the entire production.

Niall MacGinnis as Zeus in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
Laurence Olivier played Zeus in CLASH OF THE TITANS, but I much prefer MacGinnis' take on the role. MacGinnis' Zeus isn't overpowering or bombastic....he has a bemused, bored attitude towards the mortals he rules over. He appears to realize that the human race isn't really worth bothering with--the whole thing is a game that he's tired of playing. MacGinnis as Zeus defies expectations, which is why he is so memorable.

Nigel Green as Hercules in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
This is my all-time favorite performance in any Harryhausen film. Green's Hercules isn't an exaggerated muscle-bound super-being...he's real, with actual emotions and feelings. Green makes such an impact that after his Hercules winds up leaving the main story, the rest of the film feels as if it's missing something.




Nigel Green as Hercules in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS



Patrick Troughton  as Phineas in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
Troughton plays the pathetic Phineas, a man tormented by the Gods and rescued by Jason and his crew. It could easily have been just another "funny old man" role, but the always-excellent Troughton makes it far more than that. Since I'm on the subject of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, I might as well point out that it has the best overall human performances of any Harryhausen film--other actors in it such as Douglas Wilmer, Jack Gwillim, and Michael Gwynn could have made this list as well.

Nancy Kovack as Medea in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
Jason again! Actually this is my choice for a female representative of the Harryhausen Cinematic Universe. "Hammer Glamour" is a well-known film geek phrase, but what about "Harryhausen Glamour"? The movies Ray worked on were filled with beautiful women, such as Faith Domergue, Joan Taylor, Beth Rogan, Martha Hyer, Raquel Welch, Martine Beswicke, Caroline Munro, and Jane Seymour. I picked Nancy Kovack as Medea mainly due to her sultry and exotic presence in JASON, and the fact that she's actually much more than just a damsel in distress.

John Phillip Law as Sinbad in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD
Law's Sinbad is more down-to-earth than Kerwin Mathews' portrayal of the character, and the actor infuses the role with some dry humor. Law is still able to be heroic and swashbuckling when he needs to be.

Tom Baker as Koura in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD
Koura is basically another version of Sokura, but due to Baker's unpredictable and eccentric acting style, the character stands out. Baker lets it rip at times, but he's perfect for a Harryhausen film.

There's plenty of others I could have put on this list, and I'm sure I'll be reminded of that on social media. Whatever your personal choices may be, this list reminds one that the films of Ray Harryhausen had plenty of great human performances to go along with all the FX master's outstanding creations.



Sunday, June 21, 2020

EERIE TALES (UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN)





EERIE TALES (also known as UNCANNY TALES, or the original German title UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN) is a 1919 silent German anthology film, comprising five tales. All five of the stories feature the same three actors playing the lead roles in each: Conrad Veidt, Reinhold Schunzel, and Anita Berber.

I've read about EERIE TALES in a number of books, but it wasn't until recently that I was able to see it. Tim Lucas' Video Watchblog alerted me to the fact that a version of the movie is on YouTube, with English subtitles. This version runs about 97 minutes.

The film was produced, directed, and co-written by Richard Oswald, and it is the forerunner of the many anthology horror features that would be made decades later, such as DEAD OF NIGHT and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.

Like those other titles, EERIE TALES has a linking story which introduces all five episodes. After closing time in a bookshop, the figures in three paintings leave their frames and browse through the various tomes. The figures are the Devil (Reinhold Schunzel), Death (Conrad Veidt), and a woman referred to as "The Flirt" (Anita Berber). The first tale is "The Phenomenon", by Anselma Heine. A man (Veidt) saves a young wife (Berber) from her maniacal husband (Schunzel). Veidt and Berber go off together to a hotel, but when Veidt awakens the next day, the woman has disappeared, and the hotel staff deny any existence of her.

This story would be used several times in the future, notably in the British film SO LONG AT THE FAIR and many episodes of numerous TV series. Reinhold Schunzel makes the biggest impression as the mad husband--he gives off a Peter Lorre-type vibe, even though it would be years before Lorre would appear in a film.




Reinhold Schunzel, Anita Berber, and Conrad Veidt in EERIE TALES



The second tale is called "The Hand", by Robert Liebmann. In this one Veidt and Schunzel once again vie for the attentions of Berber, who is a cabaret dancer here. Schunzel kills Veidt, but soon starts to see the man's ghost everywhere. Eventually the "hand" of Veidt takes its revenge.

This entry has some very expressionistic acting by the performers, plenty of creepy closeups of Veidt, and it gives Berber a chance to display her dancing talents.

The third story is an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat". While in a cafe a man (Veidt) overhears that a drunken lout's (Schunzel) wife (Berber) is quite attractive. Veidt takes the drunk home and experiences the lout's repulsive behavior and the wife's charm. After Veidt leaves the drunk flies into a rage and kills his wife. After Veidt learns of the wife's disappearance he goes with the police to the drunk's house, but nothing seems to be amiss--until the woman's beloved black cat reveals what has happened.

What's striking about this version of "The Black Cat" is that it's very similar to the adaptation of the story by writer Richard Matheson and director Roger Corman in the 1962 TALES OF TERROR, particularly in the aspect of the love triangle. Because this is a silent film, we of course cannot hear the cat's cries behind the wall constructed to hide the wife's body--the cat is shown clawing a hole out of it instead.

The fourth tale is "The Suicide Club" by Robert Louis Stevenson. A man (Schunzel) stumbles upon an old house, where a bizarre club holds forth. The club's saturnine leader (Veidt) allows the man to join in the festivities, much to his regret.

Veidt is at his creepiest here in the fourth story, which is enlivened by the set design for the club's secret room and the twist ending.

The fifth and climatic story, "The Spook", is a disappointment. In the 18th Century, the wife (Berber) of an aristocrat (Veidt) is annoyed by the fact that her husband doesn't spend enough time with her. A man (Schunzel) who has been injured in a nearby carriage accident stays at the aristocrat's house, and starts to flirt with the wife. The aristocrat engages in some trickery to make his guest think supernatural happenings are afoot.

Director Oswald is credited as the writer of "The Spook", and this entry brings the film to a desultory end. "The Spook" shouldn't have been put at the climax--it probably shouldn't have been in the film period. It's a drawing-room comedy that has nothing in common with the other tales.

Overall, EERIE TALES has more historic than entertainment value. It's shot in a very flat, ordinary manner, and it's nowhere near as atmospheric as the famed German Expressionist films that would follow in its wake. I do have to point out that the version of the movie I watched on YouTube had a very soft picture quality, and it was hard to make out much background detail. I'm sure the film would look much more effective in a restored print.

As expected, Conrad Veidt makes a major impression in all his roles. His tortured physicality is amazing, and he seems even more emaciated here than he did in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (which he starred in after EERIE TALES). Veidt is truly a sight to see in the linking story, where his Death resembles a cross between a ghoul and the lead singer of a heavy metal-Goth rock group. Reinhold Schunzel (who would much later wind up in Hollywood as part of the supporting cast of Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS) more than holds his own against Veidt. Anita Berber doesn't get to chew the scenery as much as her male co-stars, but she's alluring as the cabaret dancer in "The Hand" segment. Before EERIE TALES even starts, the audience is visually introduced to actors Veidt and Schunzel, along with Richard Oswald. For some reason Berber does not appear in this prologue.

EERIE TALES is important for setting the template for all the anthology horror films to follow. (Richard Oswald would do a  sound semi-remake, with the same title, in 1932--I haven't seen that one yet.) What hurts this movie is that the five tales--and the linking story--lack the time and story information to make any one of them truly outstanding. A company like Kino or Flicker Alley needs to release a properly restored version of the silent EERIE TALES on home video, with extras that give background info on the production.



Saturday, June 20, 2020

STREET PEOPLE









STREET PEOPLE isn't a film detailing the problems of the homeless....it's a Italian production from 1976 dealing with the Sicilian mob and stolen drugs. What makes it notable are its two English-speaking stars--Roger Moore and Stacy Keach.

A Sicilian-born mob boss, now based in San Francisco, has a giant crucifix shipped from his hometown church to America, supposedly for the benefit of immigrant dock workers. Over a million dollars worth of illegal drugs has been hidden in the cross, and the stuff has been stolen by the three men assigned to protect it. The mob boss assigns his nephew, the half-Italian-half-English Ulisse (Roger Moore) to track down the thieves. Ulisse happens to be his uncle's lawyer, and he's also a fixer for the "Organization" that the uncle is part of. Ulisse calls in an old friend, a professional race car driver named Charlie (Stacy Keach) to help him on the case. The pair cut a violent swath through San Francisco to get to the drugs and find out who is behind it all.

While watching STREET PEOPLE one can't help but feel that Roger Moore somehow wandered onto the set of the wrong production. It's hard to figure out why, in the middle of his run as James Bond, he chose to be in a R-rated, hard-edged Eurocrime movie. The fact that his character looks and acts just like....Roger Moore, is explained by it being stated that Ulisse had an English father, and he had an English education. It's a good try, but having Moore in this story is the equivalent of casting Abe Vigoda in an episode of DOWNTON ABBEY.

Stacy Keach does a bit better in his role as Charlie, although one wonders why a hot-shot race car driver does special work for the mob (maybe he's a lousy hot-shot race car driver??) Keach also provides the film's humor, even though most of it comes off as silly and out-of-place. Charlie's profession allows for plenty of car chases along with plenty of gunplay. The action scenes are handled well, even if they don't have the slickness of big-budget Hollywood features.

Despite being mostly set in San Francisco, STREET PEOPLE is a thoroughly Italian production, with Moore and Keach being the only major English-speaking actors listed in the cast. The version of this film I saw has an English soundtrack, and the dubbing is mediocre at times (most of the male characters sound almost alike). At times the story is hard to follow--the running time of the cut I viewed was around 92 minutes, and IMDB lists longer edits. I assume that there's a longer European version of the movie out there that might clear up some of the plot points.

Then again, a longer cut of the film might be even more confusing. There's two different directors listed in the credits (Maurizio Lucidi and William Garroni), and eight different writers (including Ernest Tidyman). Eurocult expert Troy Howarth informed me that Roger Moore stated he didn't even understand what type of movie he was working on.

STREET PEOPLE tries hard to be a violent crime story (it's no coincidence that it was released in the U.S. by American-International Pictures). It doesn't present a "tourist" look at San Francisco--the city is presented here as grungy and grimy. (One wonders if S.F. was picked as a location in an effort to try to remind viewers of such films as DIRTY HARRY and BULLITT.) It does have a decent music score by Luis Bacalov, and some Sergio Leone-style flashbacks that examine the past of Ulisse and his Uncle. But none of the characters are very appealing, and most of the situations feel contrived. If anything, STREET PEOPLE proves that Roger Moore didn't belong in Clint Eastwood-Charles Bronson-Don Siegel territory.




Sunday, June 14, 2020

7 WOMEN





I have long maintained that the greatest film director of them all was John Ford. I've seen nearly every one of his films that are available--but it wasn't until this weekend that I was able to watch his final theatrical feature, 7 WOMEN, released by MGM in 1966. 

The decade of the 1960s was a time of great personal and professional crisis for John Ford. He turned 70 before making 7 WOMEN, and he had a number of physical ailments. His last two pictures, CHEYENNE AUTUMN and YOUNG CASSIDY, were not financial or critical successes, and he was depressed over the state of America at the time. It is said that Ford chose the story that 7 WOMEN was based on to prove to critics that he was not just a relic who could only make cowboy pictures. 

7 WOMEN is set in 1935, at a remote Christian missionary post near the China-Mongolia border. The mission is run by an efficient and dour woman, Miss Andrews (Margaret Leighton). The teachers at the post are on edge due to rumors of Mongolian bandits laying waste to the nearby villages. A new doctor arrives at the mission--a very independent-minded woman named Cartwright (Anne Bancroft). Andrews and Cartwright immediately clash, but the doctor is able to stop a cholera epidemic and take care of a high-strung teacher who is expecting a baby (Betty Field). Two British missionaries (Flora Robson and Anna Lee) arrive fleeing from a village that has been ravaged by the bandits. The Mongolians eventually arrive at the post and take over. Dr. Cartwright chooses to make the ultimate sacrifice to allow the other women to get away to safety. 

7 WOMEN is not a Western, but it easily could be rewritten to pass as one. The remote Christian mission could be turned into a lonely frontier outpost, and the Mongolians could be changed into Native Americans. There are no major strong male characters who come riding in to save the day, however. The pregnant teacher's husband, the only white male at the post (played by Eddie Albert) is a milquetoast--he does become courageous later on, but his heroic act isn't even shown onscreen. The strongest character by far is Anne Bancroft as the doctor. She dresses like a man, smokes like a chimney, and has a cynical attitude toward the entire situation. Bancroft takes the part and runs with it, even though it times she seems too modern. The actress' performance does prevent the film from being totally maudlin. 



Anne Bancroft and Sue Lyon in 7 WOMEN


Much of the story deals with the contrast between the repressed Miss Andrews and Dr. Cartwright. The film suggests that Andrews has feelings for the youngest teacher at the post, a pretty girl played by Sue Lyon (LOLITA). Lyon's character in turn starts to admire the outspoken doctor. The rivalry between Andrews and the doctor grows even more when the Mongolians take over. The bandit chief (Mike Mazurki) desires the doctor, and the woman uses this to help out the rest of the group. Miss Andrews, however, sees the doctor's actions as proving her to be a "scarlet woman", and her religious mania grows as her control over the post goes away. 

Margaret Leighton's acting gets broader as the film goes toward its climax, and there's plenty of other broad performances to go with hers. For me this is the big problem with 7 WOMEN. Maybe John Ford didn't have the energy or the inclination to tone people down, but many of the characters are over the top. Betty Field is so shrill and whiny as the pregnant teacher that one winces whenever she's onscreen. Eddie Albert and Anna Lee are very strident at times as well, and the Mongolians, led by the very non-Asian Mike Mazurki and Woody Strode, are portrayed as brutish louts--they're more cartoonish than dangerous. Flora Robson steals the film with her understated acting. Ironically Sue Lyon was paid more than anyone else in the cast--according to various sources MGM thought she was going to be a big star. Lyon doesn't have all that much to do, and she just can't compete with all the other female acting talent. 

Patricia Neal was originally cast as Dr. Cartwright, but she suffered a stroke a few days into filming. Anne Bancroft was brought in as an immediate replacement. Considering the circumstances, Bancroft did quite well, but one wonders if Neal might have made the doctor come off less contrarian. 

7 WOMEN was not a hit with audiences or critics. Many in the press suggested that John Ford didn't fit in with modern cinema. The movie is shot in a very traditional manner, and it was filmed at MGM studios in California, not on any exotic location. Most of the story was shot indoors on the mission post set, and the movie has a cramped, low-budget look about it. In fairness, this wasn't supposed to be a high-energy adventure tale, but that's what the public seemed to expect from Ford. What they got was a slow and talky drama, devoid of humor, concerning the emotional problems of a very unusual group of women. (I do need to make mention of the movie's fine music score by Elmer Bernstein.)

The film still has a mixed status today among John Ford scholars. In his biography on the director, Joseph McBride defends the film, and states that Ford was proud of it, and that he treated the female cast very well. In his book on Ford, Scott Eyman (who didn't like the movie) suggests that the director was disinterested during the making of it.

7 WOMEN isn't among the top tier of John Ford's work, but it's far more watchable--and thoughtful--than the very last films of many other great directors.





Saturday, June 13, 2020

THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE On Blu-ray From Kino










The 1966 British science fiction film THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE has been released on Region A Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. It is an Amicus production, directed by Freddie Francis with a script by Milton Subotsky. 

Somewhere in England, a group of meteorites, flying in a perfect "V" formation, land in a farmer's field. A scientist who has been researching the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, Curtis Temple (Robert Hutton), is asked to investigate, but due to a recent car crash, he is not allowed to go. A team of his colleagues is sent instead, and they are possessed by alien beings. Due to the strange occurrences happening at the landing site, Temple decides to personally find out what is going on. He discovers a conspiracy involving plague, frozen bodies, and secret rocket trips to the moon. 

THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE is based on a novel called, believe it or not, THE GODS HATE KANSAS. For whatever reason the book struck Milton Subotsky's fancy, and his script for the film contains many ideas that resemble themes from other sci-fi movies such as IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and QUATERMASS 2. The story, though, is more derivative than engaging. Freddie Francis and cinematographer Norman Warwick try to bring some visual spice to the tale, but they are hampered by a low budget and some mediocre effects work. 

The big problem with THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE is that it feels like it was made in 1956 instead of 1966 (at least it's in color). The 1950s feel is enhanced by having a past-his-prime American actor like Robert Hutton is the leading man. Hutton is okay, but the movie needed someone with a more distinct personality. 

One issue with the story is that the viewer is shown that the scientific team has been possessed early on. This means that while Hutton spends a lot of time trying to find out what is going on, the audience already knows. Hutton is immune to being taking over by the aliens due to his character having a silver plate in his head because of the car accident, and at one point he makes what looks like a coffee strainer for one of his colleagues to wear to avoid possession. Much of the other "futuristic" technology, such as the aliens' ray guns, resembles kid's toys. 

The climax reveals that the supposed plague is just a front for the aliens to use the "victims" as slave labor, and Hutton stowaways on a rocket to come face to face with the being behind it all--Michael Gough in a guest-starring role as the "Master of the Moon". Unfortunately Gough gets very little to do, and the movie wraps up in a very anti-climatic manner (it's as if everyone involved got together and decided "Let's just end this thing and get out of here"). 

The movie does have several connections to Freddie Francis' other features. Robert Hutton would go on to work with Francis a number of times. Leading lady Jennifer Jayne not only worked for Francis often, she even wrote scripts for him. Francis regular Hedger Wallace is here, credited as Geoffrey Wallace. There's also cameos by Katy Wild and Kiwi Kingston, who appeared in the Francis-directed THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN. 

THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE is presented on this Kino Blu-ray in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and the transfer is very good. The only extra, beside some trailers, is a new audio commentary with David Del Valle and David DeCoteau. The duo mention just about every other Amicus film, and every other British science fiction film....but they don't seem all that interested in discussing THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE. 

This certainly isn't a great film, but it's not as horrible as some would make it out to be. It will be of interest to Amicus and Freddie Francis fans. For some reason this title has wound up on a number of public domain releases. This Blu-ray is now the best version to get, for those that really want it. 


Sunday, June 7, 2020

THE ANATOMIST






I recently discovered on the Tubi streaming channel a 1956 British TV production called THE ANATOMIST. The program is based on a play by James Bridie, which deals with the infamous Dr. Knox and his connection with the legendary murderers and body snatchers Burke & Hare in early 19th Century Edinburgh.

THE ANATOMIST is notable due to the names attached to it. The always entertaining Alastair Sim plays Dr. Knox, and Hammer legend Michael Ripper plays Hare. Other actors with later links to English Gothic that are present here include George Cole (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS), Jill Bennett (THE NANNY), and Adrienne Corri (CORRIDORS OF BLOOD). Various sources also list exploitation maven Harry Alan Towers having a hand in it as well, either as co-producer or co-writer. The onscreen credits list Dennis Vance as producer and director. Internet info also claims THE ANATOMIST was theatrically released in America in 1961.

The story of Dr. Knox's involvement with Burke & Hare has been adapted numerous times for the big and small screen. In my opinion the best version is THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, made a few years after THE ANATOMIST. Both productions have similarities, but THE ANATOMIST is far tamer.

George Cole is a young doctor assisting the renowned Dr. Knox, who must choose between continuing his anatomical studies or going off with his fiancee (Jill Bennett). The fiancee is mistrustful of Knox and his somewhat notorious reputation. After an argument with his betrothed, Cole goes off to get drunk at local pub, where he encounters a sultry streetwalker (Adrienne Corri) and two disreputable cads named Burke (Diarmuid Kelly) and Hare (Michael Ripper). Later that morning Cole discovers to his horror that Burke & Hare have brought in the woman as a corpse to be used for Dr. Knox's anatomy classes. The story then shifts six months later, after Cole's fiancee returns from an extended trip to Europe. The young woman discovers that Burke & Hare have been hanged as murderers, and the public have turned against the unrepentant Knox.

THE ANATOMIST is very much like a stage play instead of a filmed story--much of it takes place in the drawing room of Cole's fiancee. It's also very talky, with much discussion over morality and the pursuit of science. There's no bodies--or violence--shown (we hear about Burke & Hare's activities rather than see them). Thankfully Alastair Sim is on hand as Dr. Knox. He's always worth watching, using his dialogue like a weapon and out-acting everyone in the cast. Because of the story's setting and costumes, one is immediately reminded of Sim's Scrooge in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Not only does Knox resemble Scrooge to a certain extent, he sounds like him as well (at one point he even calls someone a "humbug"). There's also the fact that George Cole played the young Scrooge in the '51 A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Burke & Hare have actually have very little screen time here, but the actors portraying them make a major impression, Michael Ripper in particular. This version of Hare is one of the most evil characters Ripper ever played, sporting a battered top hat and flashing a crazed grin. One wishes there were more to do with the detestable duo--their executions are described, but not shown.




Michael Ripper as Hare in THE ANATOMIST


Adrienne Corri brings some passion in her small role (she's playing the same character that Billie Whitelaw memorably portrayed in THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS), but like Ripper, she doesn't have enough screen time. She's also a bit hard to understand, due to the thick Scottish brogue she uses. As a matter of fact, most of the dialogue in the film is not easy to decipher, because the sound quality of the print on Tubi is poor, and most of the actors have heavy Scottish or Irish accents.

THE ANATOMIST is in black and white, and because it was originally made for television, it's not in widescreen. The sets are quite simple and generic, and the film has a flat visual style. The majority of the few close-ups are given to Michael Ripper's creepy countenance.

The production is nothing more than a curio....but there was one thing about it that caught my fancy. At one point, grave robbers are referred to as "Sack 'em-up men".

Sack 'em-up men....isn't that a great description?? I need to figure out how to use that phrase....



Saturday, June 6, 2020

IN SEARCH OF DRACULA On Blu-ray From Kino









The book IN SEARCH OF DRACULA, by Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu, was one I checked out of school libraries multiple times. The book proposed a link between the character of Dracula created by author Bram Stoker and the real-life Transylvanian historical figure Vlad Tepes. In the early 1970s it was adapted into a film of the same name, with appearances and narration by none other than Christopher Lee. Kino has released the project on Region A Blu-ray.

The film IN SEARCH OF DRACULA was directed by Calvin Floyd, who would go on to make a very authentic version of the Frankenstein story (TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN). The movie had production help from Sam Sherman's Independent-International Pictures, which is why scenes from Al Adamson's infamous DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN appear in it.

IN SEARCH OF DRACULA is another of those productions I had read about for years, but never actually seen. It's something of a haphazard affair, jumping from one aspect of vampire lore to the next. Several atmospheric European locations are used, including a number in Romania that have a personal connection to Vlad Tepes.

Many legends concerning the undead are presented and discussed (some of these sound as if they come from the imaginations of a writer rather than historical research). There's plenty of examples given about Vlad Tepes' cruelty....if the guy really did commit all the atrocities accredited to him in this film, he'd hardly have time to do much of anything else. (One does have to realize that in a project like this, the "juicy stuff" is going to get the most attention.)

After about an hour, the film starts to slack off (apparently it was lengthened to make it a full-length theatrical feature). A sequence from a silent movie starring Theda Bara is shown (for the sole reason that the actress was a famed "vamp"). There's a discussion about how Mary Shelly created FRANKENSTEIN, and then there's another silent film sequence featuring Bela Lugosi, which has nothing to do with vampires. (Even the stills shown of Lugosi here are not of him as Dracula--obviously no one connected with the production wanted to get sued by Universal.)

What makes IN SEARCH OF DRACULA worthy is the presence of Christopher Lee. His narration is efficiently serious, without being bombastic. Lee not only appears onscreen as himself, he also has a few scenes as Stoker's Dracula, confronting a young woman who is apparently playing Mina Harker. (In these scenes, Lee looks very much like he did in Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA.) Lee also appears as Vlad Tepes, wandering around various locales. In this guise Lee greatly resembles the historical representations of Vlad, and one automatically thinks about what type of movie could have been made with the actor giving a proper portrayal of the Transylvanian nobleman. There's also a few clips of Lee as the Count in Hammer's SCARS OF DRACULA (thankfully the worst aspects of that film are not shown). Considering what Lee had to say about his association with the character in interviews over the years, it's surprising he was involved in this project at all--but the fact that he was gives the film a degree of respectability that it otherwise would not have had. (Lee evens ends the film in a way that will greatly entertain classic monster movie fans.)

This disc has IN SEARCH OF DRACULA in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The sound and picture quality is very good, not spectacular (one has to remember that this was a low-budget documentary made up from several different sources).

Kino does offer up a brand new audio commentary, from Lee Gambin and John Harrison. The talk is as haphazard as the film itself. The duo are enthusiastic, but their conversation goes off on several tangents. I wish they had gone more into the production history of the film itself.

The main reason I bought this Blu-ray of IN SEARCH OF DRACULA was Christopher Lee. The actor's fans will not be disappointed in his involvement in it (his onscreen appearances are cleverly spaced out throughout the film). If Lee had not been in this movie, it wouldn't have merited more than a cursory viewing.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED










The other film on the Mill Creek "Classic Crime Double Feature" Blu-ray is NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED, a 1955 Columbia film produced by Sam Katzman and directed by William Castle.

Former Navy man Dan Corbett (Arthur Franz) arrives in New Orleans looking to purchase a military surplus boat in order to start his own business. To earn money for it, Corbett starts working on the local docks, where he finds out that corruption means more than honest effort. Dan becomes friendly with his foreman Joe (William Henry). The foreman is killed on the orders of a crime boss (Michael Ansara) who is the real power on the docks. Dan decides to join up with the city authorities to root out the gangsters, at the risk of his life.

NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED starts out with narration stating how important the city's port is, along with a recommendation of the story by a Louisiana senator, and a text thanking various officials for their cooperation. It's fairly obvious those behind the movie didn't want to tick off anyone in New Orleans so they could film there--a few real-life city bigwigs, including a labor leader, have roles as themselves in the picture.

Despite all the official a-okays, the movie still tries to act as if it's a hard-hitting expose of the Big Easy....which it really isn't. There's a couple of dock brawls (in which the participants spend most of the time stumbling and fumbling about), and the murder of Joe the foreman is brutal for the time--he gets multiple slugs in the back. Michael Ansara is a quite effective villain, with Mike Mazurki as one of his main goons. But one has to wonder--if New Orleans is really on the up and up as all the real-life officials attest, how was Ansara able to build up such a criminal organization over the years?

Whenever I see Arthur Franz, I think about all the science fiction movies he was in during the 1950s. Even as a good guy Franz seemed to have a pensive quality about him, and he uses it well here. Franz's character impresses the men at the docks with his fighting prowess, but it must be said that the actor throws some very awkward punches here (even though he had already played a boxer in ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN).

Beverly Garland does her usual fine job as Joe's wife, who becomes close to Dan. Her natural manner gives life to the good girl role. The "bad girl" role (even though she isn't that bad) is filled by Helene Stanton, who plays Ansara's moll.

What makes NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED stand out is the use of actual locations throughout the city, including (of course) the French Quarter. It gives the story a much more refreshing look than the usual studio backlot sets that would normally be used for such a production. The city locations also breathe some life into William Castle's directorial style.

NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED is in black & white, and it is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There are no extras.

I wouldn't call either of the films in this Mill Creek "Classic Crime Double Feature" great, but they are decent endeavors with notable performers in each. Both movies also prove that William Castle could handle a "regular" screen story.







Monday, June 1, 2020

HOLLYWOOD STORY










Mill Creek has recently released what they call a "Classic Crime Double Feature" on Blu-ray. The gimmick is that both films on it (HOLLYWOOD STORY and NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED) were directed by the famed William Castle. Before Castle re-invented himself in the late 1950s as a self-proclaimed master of exploitative shock, he helmed several low-budget Hollywood features.

The first film I'll be looking at is HOLLYWOOD STORY, a 1951 murder mystery made by Universal. It concerns a New York producer named Larry O'Brien (Richard Conte), who has traveled to Hollywood to make his first movie on the West Coast. While examining a run-down studio lot, O'Brien finds out that a leading silent film director named Franklin Farrara was murdered on it in 1929. The case was never solved. O'Brien thinks that Farrara's story would make a great picture, and he begins to investigate what actually happened to the murder victim. O'Brien is warned off the case by a number of people, most of them suspects themselves. The producer keeps digging, endangering his own life along the way.

HOLLYWOOD STORY is an okay B picture which will be of interest to film buffs. Many real-life Hollywood locations are used (at one point we are shown a Christmas parade going by Grauman's Chinese Theater). One can't help but think of SUNSET BOULEVARD when discussing HOLLYWOOD STORY, but Castle's approach is far lighter in tone. Four silent film veterans are given cameos here: Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum, Helen Gibson, and Betty Blythe. SUNSET BOULEVARD portrayed leftovers from the silent era as veritable phantoms, but the quartet of past stars in HOLLYWOOD STORY are shown as happy and well-adjusted.

Conte's investigation of the long-ago murder of a silent film director brings to mind the real-life homicide of William Desmond Taylor. Taylor's case had all sorts of tawdry details attached to it, while Franklin Farrara's murder is humdrum in comparison. At one point Conte goes to a screening room to see some of Farrara's movies....and a clip of the 1925 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is shown. It is stated that it was directed by Franklin Farrara! (This must have been big news to any of Rupert Julian's relations.)

One of the major attributes of HOLLYWOOD STORY is its supporting cast of fine character actors, such as Henry Hull, Fred Clark, Jim Backus, and Paul Cavanagh. The story is much enlivened by the always welcome presence of Julie Adams, who plays the daughter of a silent screen actress who was involved with Franklin Farrara. Richard Egan plays a police lieutenant that acts so shady, you wonder if he had something to do with the murder. Joel McCrea has a cameo as himself (he's working on the set of a movie that Conte happens to be visiting).

I've always thought that William Castle, once you take away his gimmicks, had a somewhat flat directorial style. HOLLYWOOD STORY has a livelier tone than Castle's usual work, but that's probably due to the fact that Castle didn't produce as well. The style here owes more to what Universal was doing at the time than Castle. The actual mystery isn't all that mysterious, due to the fact that there's not that many suspects.

Surprisingly, Mill Creek gives each of the two films on this set its own disc. HOLLYWOOD STORY is in black & white with a standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The sound and picture quality are fine, and there are no extras.

HOLLYWOOD STORY is a decent film, and at 77 minutes, it won't take up too much of your time. But don't expect a hard-edged thriller.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

DANGER: DIABOLIK On Blu-ray From Shout Factory








A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on my favorite comic book movies. Included in the list was the 1967 film DANGER: DIABOLIK, which was based on a Italian fumetti character. A few folks thought that was a mystifying choice. But DIABOLIK stills holds up as a great comic adaptation, and it is now on Region A Blu-ray courtesy of Shout Factory.

Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by Mario Bava, DIABOLIK is pure comic escapist fantasy. The movie isn't worried about being realistic or gritty--the story doesn't even reveal what time or location it takes place in. The super-criminal Diabolik (John Phillip Law) isn't given a backstory, or an explanation on why he commits his fantastic robberies. There's no social or political aspect to what Diabolik does--he's in it for his own pleasure, and for the pleasure of his unbelievably gorgeous girlfriend Eva (Marisa Mell, who happens to be the film's best special effect).

The wild world that Diabolik inhabits is a fertile playground for Mario Bava's visual and technical artistry. The movie is bold, colorful, and fast moving, and it's not worried about logic or trying to make sense. The entire production is helped immeasurably by Ennio Morricone's vivid and vibrant music score, one of his all-time best.

DANGER: DIABOLIK was released on Region 1 DVD by Paramount in 2005. The new Shout Factory Blu-ray is in 1.85:1 widescreen. There's been a few people on the internet that have complained about the transfer on this Blu-ray.....personally, I think it looks fine (I think some have been spoiled by the many outstanding-looking Blu-ray releases of Bava's work in the past few years). The soundtrack on this disc features the original American voice dub, and Morricone's music in particular comes out bold and clear.

All the extras that were on the old DVD are carried over to this release, including the audio commentary with Tim Lucas and John Phillip Law. This talk is important in that it contains Law's memories and opinions on the making of the film.

The only extra provided by Shout Factory is a brand new commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. Both are Bava fans and experts (Troy wrote the fine book THE HAUNTED WORLD OF MARIO BAVA). They reveal plenty of pertinent info on the making of the film, but they do it in an enjoyable manner--they obviously had a lot of fun talking about this film. They also discuss various aspects of Bava's career and his style.

Just about every film Mario Bava ever directed has been given a major Blu-ray release in the past decade. DANGER: DIABOLIK finally joins the list. It may not have as many new extras as other Bava releases, but any true fan of the director--or of 1960s cult cinema--has to pick it up.


Friday, May 29, 2020

The American TV Version Of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN





My last blog post covered the release of the new Blu-ray of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN from Shout Factory. Among the many extras on the disc is the TV version of the film, prepared by Universal Studios for American network broadcast. (Internet sources claim this TV version was first shown in 1968.)

For this TV version, Universal filmed brand new scenes to lengthen the running time to fit into a two-hour TV time slot with commercials. (The TV version on the Shout Factory Blu-ray runs about 98 minutes.) The new scenes detail a backstory for the character listed in the original movie credits as "Beggar Girl", played by Katy Wild.

In the added scenes, the Beggar Girl is shown as a child, and she's given the name of Rena. Her mother and father are shown, along with a village doctor. The scenes detail how Rena was struck deaf and dumb just by seeing Baron Frankenstein's creation stumbling about in the woods. Later it is revealed that Rena's mother has died, and her father has become a useless drunk. The village doctor suggests that the father take Rena to see a man with new ideas about diseases of the mind--a man called Dr. Freud!!

The added scenes are shot in a rather generic style, and the acting is acceptable, under the circumstances. Needless to say, no one at Hammer Films had anything to do with these added scenes.

The big problem with the TV version's backstory for the Beggar Girl is that it doesn't make a lot of sense. One of the subplots of the original film is that the Beggar Girl has some sort of emotional connection to the Monster, and she treats him with sympathy. If the little girl was so terrified by the Monster that she went deaf and dumb, why would she feel pity for it years later?

Not only did Universal add new scenes to the film, they made a few other changes to it as well. In the original film, the main credits run over a sequence where the Baron is removing a heart from a corpse. This sequence doesn't have gory details--we only see the Baron's face and upper body as he's working. But apparently Universal still thought it was too much, for the TV version has the credits running over a solitary shot of the Baron's laboratory. The heart that the Baron removes is barely shown in the TV version.

The other main changes are the scenes where the Monster attacks the Burgomaster and Zoltan--both of these incidents have been shortened.

As I mentioned in my last post, the TV version of the film that is presented on the Shout Factory Blu-ray looks terrible. The colors have faded considerably, and the sound quality is poor. (I do have to say that the shot compositions are framed rather well for a TV version.) It would be easy to whine and moan about what the TV version looks like here, but at least Shout Factory should get some credit for including it at all.

Watching the poor quality TV version of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN actually brought back some memories for me. You see, when I first starting watching classic horror and science fiction films on TV as a young teenager, they almost always looked as bad, especially the Hammers.

In the 1980s, when I was starting to become a film buff, there wasn't any widescreen TVs, or internet access, or streaming capabilities. Watching any obscure vintage horror film on TV was a treat. Yes, the colors were faded, it was probably edited, and the sound was poor, and it wasn't in widescreen....but back then the important thing was that you were able to see it, period.

There's no doubt in my mind that today's film geeks are spoiled. Every week we get all sorts of super-duper home video releases of films that are not particularly mainstream, and they are filled with all sorts of extras--and inevitably the first thing people do is complain about them. (I'm guilty of this as well). We should be happy that we are able to obtain these films at all--but we obsess over bit rates, aspect ratios, color saturation...yes, these are important, especially with the costs of some of these releases, but when I first saw the majority of Hammer movies on TV back in the day, I wasn't worried about those things.

Watching the TV version of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN took me back to a time when watching the movie was the main thing, not arguing about the minutiae of it on the internet. It was as if I was a teenager again, enjoying the adventures of Peter Cushing, and it was late at night....the only thing that was missing were commercials for local small businesses.


Monday, May 25, 2020

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN On Blu-ray From Shout Factory








Another Hammer Blu-ray from Shout Factory--this time it's the third film in the Peter Cushing Frankenstein series, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, released in 1964.

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN is the odd man out when it comes to Peter Cushing's portrayals of the Baron. It is the only Cushing-Frankenstein film not directed by Terence Fisher, and it does not follow the continuity of the first two films, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The entire affair is something of a reboot, with the Baron given a different backstory and a different monster (he also has a somewhat different manner and attitude).

Freddie Francis was the director for this one, and he concentrates on the visual aspects of the story. There's a great laboratory sequence, and a fiery climax...but Anthony Hinds' script is very disjointed, and the pace drags. Hammer made this film in conjunction with Universal Studios. This is the one Hammer horror film that does feel like it could have been made in America during the 1940s.

Wrestler Kiwi Kingston plays the monster, and Roy Ashton's makeup for the creature does bear a certain resemblance to the famed Jack Pierce design for Boris Karloff. But the makeup for Kingston is mediocre, and it comes off worse in HD. Kingston is more of a Glenn Strange type than Karloff.

Even the Hammer Glamour element is toned down in this one. Buxom Caron Gardner has a small role as the Burgomaster's wife, but the main female character is a dirt-caked mute beggar girl played by Katy Wild. With all the old-fashioned elements--and some very hammy acting by the supporting players--THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN feels like a run-of-the-mill monster flick (not that there's anything wrong with that).

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN has been released before on Region A Blu-ray, as part of the Universal Hammer horror set that came out a few years ago. I thought the transfer on that set looked great, and this one does as well. The movie is presented here in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and the sound quality is excellent.

As usual, Shout Factory gives this Hammer release a number of worthy extras. The new audio commentary features Constantine Nasr, and while he appreciates the film more than most, he does point out its weaknesses. Nasr also refers to the film's original script. There's a making of documentary, with appearances by a number of folks who worked on the film.

"The Men Who Made Hammer" series continues, this time with Tony Dalton discussing the life and career of Freddie Francis. It's revealing and informative, and I wish it could have been longer. I can also say the same thing about a new interview with Katy Wild that is provided. She talks about her work on EVIL and has a telling anecdote about Peter Cushing. There's a very short featurette with Caron Gardner (who seems to enjoy her Hammer girl status), and a short interview with William Cartlidge, who was an assistant director on the film (he reveals he didn't get along with Freddie Francis). The pilot to the proposed late-1950s Hammer-Columbia TV series, TALES OF FRANKENSTEIN, is included as well (this is in the public domain and can be found just about anywhere). A trailer and a stills gallery is also on this disc.

One extra that I have to make special mention of is the American TV version of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN that was prepared by Universal. It has new scenes added by Universal to lengthen the film to fit into a two-hour TV slot. The quality of this TV version is horrible--nearly all of the colors have faded. Yet I have to say that it reminded me of how I first watched many of the Hammer films on late-night TV as a young teenager way back in the 1980s. As a matter of fact I'm thinking about writing a blog post just on the TV version.

Once again Shout Factory has used the talents of artist Mark Maddox to entice Hammer fans to purchase this disc. Those that ordered the Blu-ray direct from the company got an 18x24 poster of Mark's fantastic artwork for the disc sleeve cover (see photo above). The reverse of the disc sleeve shows the original American poster art for the film.

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN may be the least entry in the Hammer-Cushing-Frankenstein series--but the fact that it is part of that series makes it suitable for multiple viewings. As expected by now, Shout Factory's extras provide the impetus for Hammer fans to purchase this title on home video again.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

ESCAPE TO ATHENA





Last night, courtesy of the Tubi streaming platform, I watched a film called ESCAPE TO ATHENA. It is one of those many 1970s big-budget action films that feature an international cast and exotic locations. The movie is set during World War II, and it was made by the same company and producers as THE EAGLE HAS LANDED.

ESCAPE TO ATHENA is a strange concoction. The best way I can describe it is that it's a combination of THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, and HOGAN"S HEROES. The story takes place somewhere in the Greek islands in 1944, with the country under occupation by Nazi Germany. On one particular island a German POW camp doubles as a archaeology site. The camp commandant is a Major Otto Hecht (Roger Moore). The Major happens to be an Austrian art dealer who is more interested in looting ancient treasures than furthering the Nazi cause. Among the prisoners in the camp are a British professor (David Niven), an Italian cook (Sonny Bono), and a American GI (Richard Roundtree). This motley group works with the local native resistance, which is led by Zeno (Telly Savalas). Zeno's headquarters is disguised as a bordello run by his love interest (Claudia Cardinale). Two vaudeville performers with the USO are interred at the camp, played by Elliott Gould and Stefanie Powers. All of the main characters are really interested in the gold plates supposedly hidden in a local mountaintop monastery. But the monastery is hiding something else--a secret Nazi V-2 rocket base. Zeno uses everyone's greed to convince them to attack the monastery and help the resistance.

The first thing one has to discuss about this movie is the casting of Roger Moore as a Wehrmacht officer. If you can't believe Moore in this role, he plays it as if he can't believe it either. Moore uses a slight German accent, but it just makes him sound more comedic. He's still playing "Roger Moore"--complete with his usual 1970s hairstyle and eyebrow raised in bemusement. Moore spends a lot of time trying to charm Stefanie Powers, and much is made of the fact that he's not a Nazi--so you can probably figure out how his character is going to wind up by the climax.




Roger Moore and Stefanie Powers in ESCAPE TO ATHENA


Moore's light approach seems to have affected most of the cast. Nearly everyone else appears to be enjoying their paid Greek vacation, and the scenes in the POW camp come off as silly at times. The camp hi-jinx do not sit comfortably with scenes of Greek partisans being executed by Nazi firing squads. Elliott Gould in particular overdoes the wise-cracking con artist bit. There's nothing wrong with having some fun in an action-adventure war movie. The problem is that the characters played by Gould, Powers, Bono, and Roundtree are set up as goofy, so when the time comes for them to be involved in violent daring-do, their actions feel phony. There's a great motorcycle chase in this film, with the vehicles zooming in and out of narrow back alleys. The chase would have been even more memorable if Gould's character was not on one of the bikes--you can't believe this guy could get on a motorcycle, let alone drive it at hair-raising speeds on unfamiliar terrain. At least Telly Savalas is absolutely serious as the determined resistance leader. (Due to his ancestry, the actor of all people would know how Greece suffered during Nazi occupation.)

The climax involving the rocket base at the monastery has a James Bond-like feel (ironic, considering who the main star of the film is). There's plenty of well-handled action scenes here--the movie's director was George P. Cosmatos, who would go on to make RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II and TOMBSTONE. The stunts were handled by famed co-ordinator Vic Armstrong, and the special effects by John Richardson. The exotic Greek locations are used to full effect by Gilbert Taylor's cinematography. Lalo Schifrin provides an ethnic-flavored music score that at times resembles his work for KELLY'S HEROES.

ESCAPE TO ATHENA has all the trappings of a great WWII action-adventure, but the approach is too inconsistent. Among the highlights--if that is what you want to call them--in this film are Stefanie Powers doing a striptease to distract the Germans while the POWs are taking over the camp, Sonny Bono beating up Waffen-SS soldiers, Telly Savalas and Claudia Cardinale performing a Greek dance, and a brazen in-joke referencing STALAG 17. There's also a disco song during the end credits!

If ESCAPE TO ATHENA had tried to be a all-out serious action story--and if it had a more authentic cast instead of a notable one--it would have been far more effective. The movie was not a box office success--I don't remember ever hearing about it or seeing advertising for it when I was a kid. If one is interested in seeing it, the widescreen print available on Tubi looks excellent.


Saturday, May 23, 2020

FUGITIVE LOVERS









The main reason I watched FUGITIVE LOVERS is that the film featured the Three Stooges. I assumed the movie was heavily influenced by the 1933 award-winning IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, since the two main characters are trying to avoid trouble by traveling on a bus. The influence is there, but instead of being a screwball comedy, the story goes off on some wild tangents. FUGITIVE LOVERS was made by MGM and released in 1934.

Madge Evans plays Letty, who is working in New York City as a chorus girl (the most common profession for young American female movie characters in the 1930s). Letty attracts the amorous attentions of a pushy (but dopey) gangster called Legs, who is played by Ned Pendleton. (The actor would play almost the same exact role in another MGM film of 1934, THE GAY BRIDE--in that one the chorus girl he's chasing after is Carole Lombard.) Letty decides to get away by taking a cross-country bus trip to California, but the annoying gangster gets on with her. While in Pennsylvania the bus literally drives through a prison break (in a rather violent sequence for the time, we are shown convicts being gunned down by guards). One of the escaped prisoners is Paul Porter (Robert Montgomery), who sneaks on the bus. He obliges Letty by keeping her separated from Legs, and the two start to fall for each other. However, the hunt for Porter is quite intense, and despite various ruses the two are tracked to Colorado, where a horrendous blizzard seals their fate.

If you are watching FUGITIVE LOVERS just to see the Three Stooges, you're apt to be disappointed. The trio have very small roles in the film, and they only appear in the first half of the story. The boys play three vaudevillians, and Moe and Larry have normal hairstyles. Moe isn't bossing or even slapping his partners around--as a matter of fact, Curly yells at him! Ted Healy is in this movie as well, but he and the Stooges do not even interact with one another, which is strange, considering that they were still officially connected with each other at the time. Healy plays the role of an obnoxious drunken passenger (which suits him perfectly). MGM was setting up Healy to be a comedic character actor, but it's obvious they had no idea how to use the Stooges in the short time they were under contract to the studio.

FUGITIVE LOVERS starts out as a situation comedy, but then veers off into something different. It's hard to figure what MGM wanted this film to be. Director Richard Boleslawski and cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff use several off-kilter camera angles and extreme close-ups, and the story has many abrupt shifts in tone. The whole production has a very expressionistic attitude to it, and the pace is lightning-fast. Robert Montgomery isn't a lighthearted playboy here--he's unshaven and downcast, constantly darting his eyes to see if anyone is on to him. We find out that Montgomery's character is in jail for manslaughter, but it's suggested that he may have been railroaded and not guilty of the crime. Montgomery is very good and natural here (I've always thought the actor was much better at drama than comedy).

Madge Evans is one of the dozens of young and pretty Hollywood actresses of the 1930s who all seem to look and act alike. Her Letty comes off as too smart and sophisticated to be just a chorus girl. C. Henry Gordon gives good support as a law officer determined to bring Paul Porter in.

What makes FUGITIVE LOVERS stand out is how unusual it winds up being. At the beginning it appears to be a romantic comedy about a bus trip--but then it segues into a determined manhunt, and then at the climax it changes over to heavy melodrama when Porter and Letty have to save a busload of children trapped in a deadly snowstorm. (Five different writers are listed on the movie's credits.) Watching FUGITIVE LOVERS is like watching two or three different movies at once--and you get an appearance by the Three Stooges to boot.


Saturday, May 16, 2020

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM On Blu-ray From Warner Archive








One of my favorite classic movies is the 1933 MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. I first saw it on TV as a young teenager back in the mid-1980s, and I've been fascinated by it ever since. The combination of Gothic horror and Depression-era urban American attitude, the otherworldly look of the two-strip Technicolor process, the fantastic performance by Lionel Atwill--all these elements make the film stand out. (I wrote a full blog post on my appreciation of the movie for a Fay Wray blogathon last year).

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM was in desperate need of major restoration, and it has finally been blessed by one, courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation along with Warner Bros. Warner Archive has released the results on Blu-ray, and it is a magnificent restoration.

It is an old cliche to say "It's like seeing the movie for the very first time", but in this case, that comment certainly applies. A French print of MYSTERY was used to fill in gaps and missing snippets of dialogue and sound effects. The visuals have been cleared up, and everything one sees in the film is more distinct, more vibrant, with much more texture and detail. The entire film, and the characters in it, seem more alive (which is ironic considering the film's plot). The visual enhancement does wonders for Anton Grot's expressive art direction and Ray Rennahan's exquisite cinematography.

Usually Warner Archive Blu-rays contain no extras, but this one has plenty--it must be surmised that the company realized how important this release is. There's a charming interview with Fay Wray's daughter, Victoria Riskin, in which she discusses her mother's life and career in the early 1930s. She also talks about her mother's feelings about MYSTERY director Michael Curtiz. A short featurette on the restoration is provided with narration by film historian and archivist Scott MacQueen.

MacQueen is also featured on one of the two excellent commentaries for this disc. He gives out plenty of background detail on the movie, and his talk includes actual audio of Fay Wray and Glenda Farrell. Alan K. Rode, who has written a book on Michael Curtiz, handles the other commentary, and he reveals plenty of facts as well, but he does it in a conversational manner that avoids being dry or dull. Film buffs will particularly enjoy both talks.

I'm pleased that MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM was the recipient of such a stunning restoration, and I'm even more pleased that Warner Archive chose to release it on home video so that the public can get a chance to properly enjoy it. If there is one Blu-ray that I would proclaim to be a must have for film geeks so far in this mad year, it is absolutely this one.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

TARTUFFE On Blu-ray From Kino










Kino Lorber continues its great line of silent cinema home video releases with the 1925 German film TARTUFFE, made by the famed UFA studios and directed by F.W. Murnau.

What makes TARTUFFE notable is the list of people who worked on it, a lineup of many of the most important talents in the German silent film industry. Besides Murnau, the list includes actors Emil Jannings, Werner Krauss, and Lil Dagover; screenwriter Carl Mayer; producer Erich Pommer; cinematographer Karl Freund; and art directors Robert Herlth and Walter Rohrig.

One would assume that with so many major names involved in the production, TARTUFFE would be a large-scale spectacular. The movie is actually rather intimate, running only little over an hour, and it's certainly not as extraordinary as some of Murnau's other films during this period, such as THE LAST LAUGH, FAUST, or SUNRISE.

The story is an adaptation of a classic play by Moliere, which deals with hypocrisy. A framing sequence depicts a conniving maid and her elderly employer. The old man's grandson knows that the maid is after her employer's money, and to prove this, he takes the rather complicated step of disguising himself and posing as the owner of a traveling cinema. The grandson convinces the maid to let him show a film...which just happens to be based on the story of Tartuffe. The film-within-a-film (which appears to be set in the 18th Century) has the acclaimed actor Emil Jannings as Tartuffe, who has a wealthy gentleman played by Werner Krauss under his spell. The gentleman's wife (Lil Dagover) mistrusts Tartuffe, and she goes to great lengths to prove that this supposed simple and saintly fellow is an absolute fraud.

I had never seen TARTUFFE before, and I expected a heavy drama--but it came off to me as lighthearted in certain sections. The acting is somewhat broad at times, and Emil Jannings' appearance and manner as Tartuffe is so disconcerting that it's a bit difficult to believe he could influence anyone to think he is a man of deep piety. (In his fine audio commentary, Troy Howarth suggests that Jannings' Tartuffe has a slight resemblance to Max Schreck's Nosferatu and John Barrymore's Mr. Hyde.)

Kino presents two versions of TARTUFFE on this Blu-ray, and both of them have been restored by Murnau-Stiftung. The German version runs 70 minutes, and it has German intertitles along with English subtitles. It features a new original score by Robert Israel. The American version runs 64 minutes, and it features a newly recorded adaptation of the original score by Giuseppe Becce. As is usual with a Kino silent movie home video release, the visual quality on both versions is impressive. I do think that the American cut is clearer and sharper.

Author and film expert Troy Howarth does a brand new audio commentary, and even though he doesn't have a lot of time, he manages to mention all the relevant details about the film, while still being able to discuss F.W. Murnau and his filmography. It's worth listening to.

I wouldn't put TARTUFFE on the same level as F.W. Murnau's more well-known silent visual epics, but this is a different type of story. Anyone with a serious interest in German silent cinema would do well to obtain this Region A release.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

A Shocking Personal Revelation About THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK








I take pride in the fact that I am an original Star Wars fan. What I mean by that is I was there at the very beginning in 1977 as a little kid.

Because of that status, I get a lot of questions from those who weren't around to experience the original theatrical releases of the first three Star Wars films. One of the main questions is, "What was your reaction when you first watched THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and found out that Darth Vader was Luke's father??"

The thing about that question is.....I already knew Vader was Luke's father when I saw the movie for the first time.

This requires some explanation.....

When I was a little kid, my love of everything Star Wars was decidedly not shared by my parents. To them, it was some dumb movie about outer space--and it caused them to spend money on buying me various toys, games, trading cards, etc.

My parents were not film buffs by any means. They almost never went to the movies themselves...and they almost never took me and my two brothers to any films. When we did go, it was to a drive-in--as a matter of fact that was how I first saw the original STAR WARS.

My parents also had no interest in anything creative. Their main hobby consisted of arguing with each other, or sitting around watching TV while smoking cigarettes. Actually getting out and going to different places, or doing different things, was not on their radar. They would usually say they didn't have enough money to go out and do things, but they just didn't seem all fired up to experience what was going on in the wide world.

It took me a long time just to get them to take us to see the first STAR WARS. When I found out that THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK would be released in the near future, I immediately went to work trying to convince them that I had to see it.

This wasn't easy. My parents seemed to consider a trip to the local movie theater as complicated as mounting an expedition to Mt. Everest. They didn't want to sit for two hours and watch a silly space movie they had no interest in, and they weren't going to just drop me off so I could watch it on my own (I was 10 years old in May of 1980). My parents also felt that spending money to go see a movie in a theater was a waste, because....won't they show it on TV eventually anyway?? (Trust me, the difference between seeing a film in a theater and it being presented on TV, edited and with commercials, along with the wrong aspect ratio, meant nothing to my parents...and it still doesn't. They literally can't tell the difference between HD and standard def cable channels.)

So, needless to say, I did not get to see THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK on its opening week. (There was absolutely no way any of my parents would have waited in line to see any movie, period.) But that didn't stop me from buying the Marvel comics adaptation of the film.

You have to remember that back then, there wasn't any worry about "spoilers"....heck, there wasn't any internet, or geek culture as we know it now. I was a ten year old kid, and I had no idea when I'd be able to actually see the film. I just had to read the comics adaptation. I just had to know what happened in the movie.

So I read it...and found out that Darth Vader was the father of Luke Skywalker. How did I react to this??

Honestly...I don't remember being overly shocked, or traumatized, or anything like that. I'm sure I was surprised....but even at ten years old, it seemed to make sense to me. I accepted it pretty quickly.

One has to factor in the way it was presented in the original Marvel comic (see panel above, which comes from a reprint). In the comic the revelation is done in a matter-of-fact manner--it is nowhere near as dramatic or emotional as it is in the film. If I had first found out about the revelation in the theater, I'm sure it would have made more of an impact.

I certainly didn't go tearing around the house yelling "Darth Vader is Luke's father!!" For one thing, if my parents had found out I knew the complete storyline already, they wouldn't have taken me to see the movie at all. (Their thought process would have been, "If you know what happens, what's the point of going to see it??")

But...my Dad finally take me to see it, along with my brother John. (My little brother Robert didn't go, because he wasn't even two years old at the time). We saw it at the theater located in the Scottsdale Mall shopping center. (Scottsdale Mall doesn't even exist anymore...as a matter of fact, none of the venues I saw the original Star Wars films in exist now.) I believe we must have seen it sometime in June, 1980.

And what was my response to one of the most anticipated moments of my young life??

I certainly enjoyed the experience...but I must admit that, upon my first viewing, I didn't love EMPIRE the way I did STAR WARS. EMPIRE was impressive, to be sure...but as a little kid I found it to be cold and dark. Granted, at ten years of age I certainly couldn't properly articulate my responses to a certain film....but there was something unsettling about it, something....adult. At the time it felt like a grown-up's version of STAR WARS....and maybe that's why the film is now considered the greatest overall entry in the entire Star Wars franchise.

Did I miss out on a seminal cinematic moment by finding out that Vader was Luke's father before I saw EMPIRE in the theater?? Maybe...but it doesn't change the scope of the moment, or the greatness of the film.