Sunday, January 29, 2023



MARCH OR DIE is a 1977 movie about the French Foreign Legion, with a big-name international cast, including Gene Hackman, Terence Hill, Catherine Deneuve, and Max von Sydow. It has just been released on Blu-ray by Shout Factory as part of a double feature with ESCAPE TO ATHENA, another late Seventies action-adventure film. Both movies were produced by Lew Grade's ITC company. (I wrote a blog post on the weird & wacky ESCAPE TO ATHENA in 2020.) 

MARCH OR DIE begins at the end of World War One, when a Major Foster (Gene Hackman) of the French Foreign Legion returns to Paris with what remains of his regiment. The Major is then ordered to go to Morocco to help protect a group of archaeologists from native tribes. Foster, disillusioned by the horrors of WWI, doesn't agree with his assignment, while various dregs of society are "recruited" to fill out the ranks in his regiment. It all leads to a showdown between the Foreign Legion and the tribes at the archaeological digging site. 

One expects MARCH OR DIE to be jam-packed with action, but it's more of a drama about men in difficult circumstances than a adventure story. The movie takes a while to get going, and the characters are not very appealing. Gene Hackman's Major Foster is sarcastic and cynical, and he isn't very happy about what he is doing (which means the viewer won't be all that excited about what he's doing either). Hackman seems out of sorts here, but it must be pointed out that he suffered an injury during the shooting, and he is playing a man who appears to be suffering from what we now call PTSD. (Hackman shows Foster's inner torment by drumming on something from time to time.) Foster is a hard character for any actor to portray--on the one hand he's angry about the way his men are used by the French government, but at the same time, he belongs to a military organization that treats soldiers like disposable trash, and he himself isn't exactly the most sensitive guy in the world. (He also doesn't seem too anxious to take up a new profession.) 

Euro Western superstar Terence Hill plays new Legionnaire Marco, who joins up to avoid going to jail as a jewel thief. Hill spends most of his time wearing the same goofy grin he constantly sported in his spaghetti westerns--one wonders if he thought he was making TRINITY GOES TO THE DESERT. But Hill's antics don't fit in very well with the movie's heavy dramatics. Catherine Deneuve plays the daughter of an archaeologist who was tortured by the natives, and of course nearly every male character in the film is attracted to her. Max von Sydow is the lead archaeologist, while Ian Holm makes the biggest impression as the charismatic leader of the native tribes. 

Among the supporting cast are cult faces such as Jack O'Halloran (SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE), Wolf Kahler (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK), Walter Gotell (General Gogol in the James Bond series), and Hammer veteran Marne Maitland. MARCH OR DIE was directed by Dick Richards, who provided the story, with the screenplay by David Z. Goodman. 

MARCH OR DIE has plenty of fine technical aspects, including moody photography by John Alcott, and a music score by Maurice Jarre, which will immediately remind you of another more famous movie set in the desert that Jarre worked on. The production design is impressive, and the desert scenes are atmospheric enough (most of the film was actually shot in Spain). The final battle is very well done, with exciting stunts and effective editing. If the main characters had been more interesting or memorable, MARCH OR DIE could have been one of the better war/action films of the 1970s. 

Shout Factory's presentation of MARCH OR DIE on Region A Blu-ray is very good, although the movie does look a bit soft in some spots. It is shown in 1.85:1 widescreen, and the only extra is a trailer. 

I had never seen MARCH OR DIE. It's a decent film, but it's the type of story that would have been better handled in 1930s or 40s Hollywood. The cast & crew involved in it makes it of interest alone. If you're a reader of CINEMA RETRO magazine, you'll probably want to see this picture. 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

RAWHIDE--"Incident On The Edge Of Madness"


So I'm writing a post on a episode of a TV show that first aired over 60 years ago?? Well, it's my blog, and why would I write about anything new on TV today?? Besides, this episode gives cult legends Lon Chaney Jr. and Marie Windsor a chance to shine. 

"Incident on the Edge of Madness" was one of the very first episodes of RAWHIDE. It was the fifth entry in the series' first season, and it originally aired on Feb. 6, 1959. It used a plot element that would become very familiar over the entire run of RAWHIDE--an individual (or individuals) show up on the cattle drive and cause disruptions and chaos among the drovers working the herd. 

Gil Favor (Eric Fleming) and his men are irritable, bored, and tired. The last thing Favor needs is an annoying distraction--and he gets it with the arrival in camp of a former Confederate colonel named Millett (Alan Marshal). Millett (who Favor served under in the Civil War) is trying to sign on men to help him in a mad scheme to restore the Confederacy in Panama (with Millett as Emperor). Millett makes all sorts of wild promises, and he has with him the charming and enchanting Narcissa (Marie Windsor), who flashes her devastating smile on the discouraged and dusty drovers. Favor quickly sends Millett and his lady out of camp, and tries to tell his men that the scheme is a fool's errand, but many of the drovers are intrigued--none more so than Jesse Childress (Lon Chaney Jr.). 

Lon Chaney Jr. and Marie Windsor

Jesse is a "big, dumb ox", but he aspires to be more, and when Marie Windsor looks into his eyes and smiles at him, he's overwhelmed. Jesse leaves the camp and becomes Millett's "first officer". He also convinces himself that he and Narcissa have an "understanding", although in reality the woman is merely using him. Other drovers join up as well. Favor, needing all his men for the drive, rides into the nearest town (which is controlled by Millett) to try and bring them back. While at Millett's plantation house, Narcissa turns her wiles on him, hoping to lure him into the scheme. Favor also finds out that Millett intends to rob an army payroll to obtain the funds needed for his plan. Favor is determined to stop his wayward men from getting killed or thrown in jail....but a jealous Jesse demands Narcissa's love, and the big lug kills Millett when he tries to intervene. At the local saloon Jesse declares that he's in charge of the expedition now, but he's shot and mortally wounded before he can cause any more trouble. 

"Incident on the Edge of Madness" was directed by the efficient (and underrated) Andrew V. McLaglen, and the well-written script is credited to Herbert Little and David Victor. The real highlight of the episode is Lon Chaney Jr. The character of Jesse obviously has a lot of Lon's Lennie from OF MICE AND MEN in him (Jesse even has an attachment to a stray calf that he takes care of during the story), but Chaney doesn't just do an easy imitation of his former famous role. Jesse is an uncouth, scraggly working man, who's obviously had a hard life...but Chaney subtly shows that the man realizes Millett's scheme might give him a chance to be respected, and, in the form of Narcissa, to even be loved. It's a unrealistic chance, and certainly Jesse is too naive and uneducated to understand he's fooling himself--but Chaney makes the viewer kind of feel sorry for the big lummox, and even hope he ends up all right. I've seen Lon Jr. in a number of movies and TV shows, and I have to say that this is one of his best performances. His Jesse is loud, boisterous, and overeager, and at times even dangerous, but the actor is still able to show the man's sadness underneath, and his need of love and respect. (And...he even engages in a knock-down, drag-out fistfight with Gil Favor.)

This episode is also a great showcase for Marie Windsor. Windsor (who looks exquisite here) had the beauty and the acting chops to be a major leading lady, but she never got to that level, maybe because she was too talented. She's best known now as a femme fatale or bad girl, but she could play any role, under any circumstance, and do it well. Technically Narcissa is a "bad girl'--she effortlessly flirts with any man to get what she wants--but Windsor gives you a sense that this woman has also had a hard life as well, and that she's also trying to better herself. It's Narcissa that's the real force behind Colonel Millett. The silver-tongued Millett is actually more talk than substance, and Narcissa knows very well how weak the man truly is. 

Alan Marshal is all right as Millett, but I wonder how it would have been if a stronger actor had played the role (could you imagine what, say, someone like Vincent Price could have done with it?). Then again, Millett is meant to be a lesser figure, more a guy strutting around in a uniform than a man of substance. 

You might have noticed by now that I've not yet mentioned Clint Eastwood, who played Rowdy Yates, the second male lead of RAWHIDE. The fact is, Rowdy has almost nothing to do in this episode--he spends most of his time off to the side, observing what is going on. "Incident on the Edge of Madness" is a prime example of one of those American TV series episodes where the guest stars get all the glory, and the series regulars are somewhat in the background. 

The "Guest Star of an episode" was a very important element of classic American television. Many of these guest stars were movie legends who got the chance to do things and play roles they never would have been able to do on the big screen. Whenever I read a biography of a notable actor or actress, it bothers me when that person's television work is ignored, or merely mentioned as a footnote. With all the retro TV shows streaming all over the place now, I believe these TV guest star performances should be analyzed and discussed just like a feature film role would be. Lon Chaney Jr. in "Incident on the Edge of Madness" is a case in point. Lon Jr. gets far more of a chance to impress here than in any big-screen movie he appeared in during this period. 

As mentioned earlier, "Incident on the Edge of Madness" was one of the very first episodes of RAWHIDE. One notices here that the characterizations of the recurring cast had not been finalized (long-time RAWHIDE fans will note that Eric Fleming is much more emotional and talkative here than he would be during his time on the series). It's still an excellent hour of TV, especially if you are a fan of Lon Chaney Jr. or Marie Windsor. The episode can be viewed for free on the Pluto TV streaming channel. 

Friday, January 20, 2023

SANTO VS. DR. DEATH On Blu-ray From Vinegar Syndrome


From Vinegar Syndrome comes a limited-edition Blu-ray of SANTO VS. DR. DEATH (original title SANTO CONTRA EL DOCTOR MUERTE). 

Most of the films starring the silver-masked professional wrestler-action hero El Santo were made in Mexico, and despite their far-fetched plots, had a basic style and look to them. SANTO VS. DR. DEATH was a 1973 production, filmed in Spain. This movie is far more stylish than the average Santo outing, with a smoother flow, much better editing and camerawork, and finer visual sense from director and co-writer Rafael Romero Marchent. 

One knows right away that this isn't the same old Santo flick due to an impressive pre-credits sequence that shows a man breaking into a museum at night. The man has used a chemical to damage a famous painting that is being sent to Madrid. Interpol decides to assign El Santo to investigate the case (he's already contracted to be in Madrid to wrestle). In Spain Santo contacts Agent 9004 (Carlos Romero Marchent) and the duo question artist and art expert Dr. Mann (Jorge Rigaud). It turns out that the mysterious doctor is causing tumors in the beautiful women he hires as models, in order to create a substance that allows him to make perfect copies of renowned works of art. Santo uses all of his wits and brawn to stop this doctor of death.  

SANTO VS. DR. DEATH is as crazy as just about any other entry featuring the sliver-masked man, but it's done so effectively and impressively it comes off rather well. There's plenty of well-staged fist-fights and stunts involving cars, speedboats, and a helicopter. Even the obligatory wrestling matches have more verve than usual. There's no comic relief, either...all the bizarre happenings are played totally straight, which in my opinion is the best way to do this sort of story. 

This movie also has a far better supporting cast than the usual Santo feature, with the delectable Helga Line as Dr. Death's assistant, and Mirta Miller as an agent who goes undercover as a model to infiltrate Dr. Mann's Spanish castle. (The fact that Helga Line and Jorge Rigaud are here makes this something of a HORROR EXPRESS reunion.) With the Spanish locations, and the plot element of a number of Euro babes being used for experiments, SANTO VS. DR. DEATH has a very Jess Franco-esque feel. 

Vinegar Syndrome has restored SANTO VS. DR. DEATH in 2K from an original 35mm negative, and it is presented uncut in its 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The visual aspect of the movie is impressive, as is the sound, which showcases the funky music score by Gregorio Garcia Segura. 

The Blu-ray comes in a special slipcase, with a reversible poster of the slipcase artwork. The disc has the original Spanish audio track, with English subtitles, and a English dubbed track. The English dub isn't all that bad, but for me the original Spanish version is preferable. Spanish and English trailers are included on the disc. 

The extras include a 15 minute video essay by Orlando Jiminez, who, in Spanish, makes general observations about the film while various scenes from it are shown (English subtitles are included). Unfortunately there isn't an audio commentary. There's a alternate English main title sequence, and a very short image gallery. The disc case states that this Blu-ray is playable for Region A,B, and C, and this is a limited edition release of 5,000. 

Out of all of the Santo movies I have seen so far, SANTO VS. DR. DEATH is by far the best of them. It will appeal to fans of wild action-adventure and also those who love Eurocult cinema. It's a fun time for those who are able to use their imaginations, and Vinegar Syndrome gives it a first-class presentation with this Blu-ray. 

Monday, January 16, 2023



Lee Van Cleef is one of my favorite actors, and I've seen nearly every Western in which he had a major role in. One picture that I had not seen, until last week, was EL CONDOR, a 1970 release that co-stars Van Cleef and Jim Brown. The movie was filmed in Almeria, Spain, a location very familiar to Van Cleef. 

EL CONDOR doesn't appear to have much of a reputation now, especially compared with the other Westerns Van Cleef made in Spain. One reason may be is that EL CONDOR is not considered a "real" Euro Western--it was made by an American company, directed by an Englishman (John Guillermin), and produced by a Hungarian who immigrated to the U.S. (Andre De Toth). 

A man named Luke (Jim Brown) is an inmate at a Union prison camp in the West of the 1860s. Luke escapes and heads to Mexico to join up with a vagabond called Jaroo (Lee Van Cleef). Luke wants Jaroo to help him attack a fort called El Condor, which supposedly has the entire gold reserve of the country hidden inside. Jaroo is friendly with a group of about 100 Apaches, and Luke believes that they will serve as the perfect army for such a bold scheme. Luke, Jaroo, and the Apaches breach the fort, but they all learn the hard way that all that glitters is not gold. 

EL CONDOR is a hard-charging, rip-roaring movie that is heavy on action and very light on characterization. It's the type of story where something blows up about every five minutes. We get almost no backstory whatsoever on Luke, or Jaroo, or anyone else involved....if you like a movie that gets to the point, and doesn't waste time on unimportant matters, this is one for you. 

EL CONDOR will be of special interest for Lee Van Cleef fans. The actor has a very different role here than the ones he usually played in his other spaghetti westerns. He's not cool, clever, and calculated--his Jaroo is grungy, loud, excitable, and talkative (Van Cleef has more dialogue here than in all his other Euro Westerns combined). The character of Jaroo is more like Tuco than Colonel Mortimer. It's unusual to see Van Cleef acting in this manner, but he's very enjoyable as Jaroo, and it shows he had more range to him than most would expect. Van Cleef even gets to have a scene where he bonds with a little Mexican boy (the fact that the boy's screen mother was the sultry Imogen Hassall might have had something to do with his interest).

Jim Brown has a solid screen presence as Luke, but the character isn't able to stand out due to the fact that you know absolutely nothing about him (he spends most of his time in some sort of physical action). Brown does have a good rapport with Van Cleef (the two men would co-star in a future Euro Western, TAKE A HARD RIDE). Patrick O'Neal plays General Chavez, the man in charge of El Condor. Usually in a Euro Western, an American actor playing a villain would ham it up outrageously, but O'Neal underplays the role, and he doesn't put much effort into making the viewer believe he's a Mexican. Mariana Hill plays Chavez's mistress, who attracts the attentions of Luke. 

The fights, stunts, gun battles, and pyrotechnics are handled and edited very well--one of the second unit directors on this film was Tap Canutt, son of the legendary Yakima Canutt. John Guillermin had a very up-and-down directorial career, but on EL CONDOR he does exactly what he was supposed to do--deliver up an effective action-adventure Western, no more, no less. 

For almost all of its running time, EL CONDOR has a lighthearted air about it (despite the amount of violence and killings). Maurice Jarre's music score even sounds jaunty in a number of places. At the very end the story takes an abrupt turn and gets serious, which I felt was a mistake, since it doesn't match up with the tone of the rest of the film. 

One more reason that EL CONDOR is barely discussed today may be that it has no political or social subtexts whatsoever (present-day writers love finding those things in spaghetti westerns). Luke and Jaroo are not interested in helping others, or the Mexican people, or even the Apaches they ride with--they just want all the gold. (Jaroo even admits he mistreats the Apaches that follow him). The Apache band is portrayed as a faceless mass--only one of them, their chief, is an actual individual character, and he doesn't even speak English (the Apache chief is played by Iron Eyes Cody). 

I must point out that the large fort, El Condor itself, was specifically built for this film, and it's an impressive edifice (it was used in many other films). The fort is as much of a major character as Luke and Jaroo.

EL CONDOR is a movie that is almost pure action, doesn't expect you to think too much, and gives you a chance to see another side of Lee Van Cleef. You also get the bonus of seeing Mariana Hill and Imogen Hassall nude. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

INVADERS FROM MARS On Blu-ray From Ignite Films


Ignite Films' Blu-ray of 1953's INVADERS FROM MARS has finally arrived (at least mine did). There was a lot of anticipation over this release throughout 2022. 

First of all I have to say that the restoration of the film (backed by Ignite Films itself) is stunning. Due to the processes used during the making of the film, it has a fittingly off-kilter color quality in which greens and reds dominate (which makes sense, since those hues are most associated with Mars and Martians). The restoration brings out those colors vividly, without making the print looked smoothed over by modern technology. The sound quality is much improved, with the eerie unearthly choral linked to the alien invaders a major highlight. 

The old Image Entertainment DVD of INVADERS FROM MARS featured both the U.S. and overseas versions of the film. The Ignite Blu-ray just has the original American version, with the overseas alternate ending and a eight-minute scene shot to fill out the running time included as extras. 

The extras also include a restored original trailer and a look at the career of the production designer and director of INVADERS FROM MARS, the great William Cameron Menzies. There's also an interview with the star of the film, Jimmy Hunt, and a talk with various monster kid filmmakers (such as John Landis and Joe Dante) who discuss the impact the movie made on them. A short look at the restoration of the film with Scott McQueen is also here. 

There's also a 20-page booklet inside the disc case, with essays on the movie's production history, and eventual restoration. It's thorough and informative, but I do have a quibble with the booklet--the stills used as restoration examples are very small, and the captions for them are even smaller. Considering that most of the people who would buy this disc are (ahem) of a certain age, I wouldn't be surprised if a few magnifying glasses might be pulled out during the reading of it. 

The extras on the disc give out plenty of info as well, and they are worth seeing....but they are all brief. It takes about a little over an hour to go through them all (a full-length program could be made just on the life of William Cameron Menzies alone). This disc does not come with an audio commentary, and I think it should have, especially since there's more than enough to discuss about the making of the film and the various interpretations of it. 

The reason I mention the brevity of the extras and the lack of an audio commentary is due to the price of the Blu-ray. This was more expensive than a Criterion product (and the 4K version costs even more). I'm not regretting getting it, and I do understand that Ignite Films wants to get the money back that they put into the restoration. I just hope there isn't a cheaper version of this release in the future after so many pre-ordered and waited so long to get this one. 

It is appropriate that INVADERS FROM MARS finally gets a major restoration and a high-end home video release. It's one of the most important and influential science-fiction movies of the 1950s. William Cameron Menzies took the handicap of a low budget and turned it into an advantage, making the story into a true nightmare of a 12 year old boy dealing with those closest to him becoming a threat. The bizarre monsters, the weird shot perspectives, the strange editing choices...INVADERS FROM MARS could have been just another cheap sci-fi tale, but it's much more than that. I have to say that this is an impressive restoration and release (if you can afford it). 

Thursday, January 12, 2023



Ultraman, the silver monster-fighting giant from another galaxy, is the latest legendary character to get a 21st Century reboot with SHIN ULTRAMAN. 

SHIN ULTRAMAN has the same director (Shinji Higuchi) and writer (Hideaki Anno) as the impressive SHIN GODZILLA. The premise is somewhat the same as well--once again Higuchi and Anno place fantastic beings in a "real" world, filled with endless bureaucracy and meddling politicians. I would say, though, that SHIN ULTRAMAN is a warmer film than SHIN GODZILLA.

One thing that must be pointed out is that SHIN ULTRAMAN is an origin story. It starts off from scratch, and you don't have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the dozens of spinoffs, sequels, and alternate versions of the character that have been created since it debuted on Japanese television in 1966. 

SHIN ULTRAMAN focuses on the members of the SSSP, an official group tasked with investigating and battling giant monsters (who, as we well know, constantly attack Japan). The mysterious Ultraman suddenly appears from nowhere, causing the SSSP, the Japanese government, and the nations of the world to wonder if he is friend or foe. 

There's plenty of large-scale kaiju action here, as Ultraman battles monsters and other aliens. But the movie is more than just a slugfest. Takumi Saitoh does very well as the human version of Ultraman, determined to save the human race while trying to understand it at the same time. Masami Nagasawa is quite engaging as the female lead, a gung-ho intelligence analyst who becomes Ultraman's "buddy". 

What I appreciated most about SHIN ULTRAMAN is that it is a movie that can be enjoyed by all, no matter what age. It's not overly violent or explicit in any way, and what humor there is isn't dopey or contrived. It is filled with the spirit of imagination and adventure, but it also has heart as well. It's able to be fun and enjoyable without pandering to a specific audience, and that's a rare thing these days. 

If you weren't able to go to one of the Fathom Events showings of SHIN ULTRAMAN this week in the U.S., don't worry....a North American home video & streaming release of the movie is planned for the spring. 

If you think you wouldn't like a "Giant Monsters in Japan" movie like SHIN ULTRAMAN, just think of it as a superhero film....except that this one is much more clever and earnest than most in that genre. 

Saturday, January 7, 2023



LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE is a 1934 film produced by RKO, starring Ben Lyon and Thelma Todd. 

The movie attempts to be a wild madcap comedy, with a beginning set during a rainy, stormy night, that features gun shots, screams, and a couple of disappearing cops. Next morning, in the same neighborhood, a playboy named Steve (Ben Lyon) wakes up from a drunken revelry the night before to find he brought back home with him a smart-aleck vaudeville comic (Walter Catlett) and his fan-dancer wife (Pert Kelton). The conniving pair decides to make themselves at home, while Steve tries to figure out a way to get rid of them before his rich dizzy aunt (Laura Hope Crews) and his fiancee (Thelma Todd) show up. 

The aunt shows up unexpectedly, and it's mistaken identity time, as she believes that the fan-dancer and the comic are Steve's fiancee and her Navy captain father (a situation the couple takes advantage of). As Steve tries to fend off his real fiancee, the film keeps cutting to the cops who disappeared wandering around in the sewers, while a suspicious looking fellow holding a gun keeps popping in and out of the closets in Steve's house. 

The climax is decidedly anti-climatic, with an explanation that weakly ties up everything (it's as if the cast & crew decided to wrap the whole thing up and go home). LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE only runs a little over an hour, and it doesn't have enough time to properly integrate all the crazy complications going on. 

Thelma Todd fans will be particularly disappointed with her role here. Usually when Thelma was cast in a feature film, she was the "other woman", or the bad girl, but she was still able to overshadow the actual leading lady. Here the situation is reversed--she's the nice girl, and the true love of the leading man, while Pert Kelton gets the juicy role of the fan dancer with an attitude. Thelma winds up with very little to do. One does wonder if she still appreciated being in this movie, since she was the top-billed female, she got the guy in the end, and she didn't have to engage in any slapstick (or get her skirt torn off again.) Ironically, after Todd's death, Pert Kelton would wind up filling in for her in a Hal Roach short with Patsy Kelly. 

The rest of the cast doesn't get much of a chance to shine, except for Fred Kelsey, who shows up in the second half of the story as a (you guessed it) blustery cop. There's a lot of running around and frantic behavior, but it never really amounts to much. Journeyman Ben Holmes directed, and he also got a story credit. 

LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE isn't the type of movie that one wants to watch twice. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023



This is another post inspired by John Hamilton's book WITCHES, BITCHES AND BANSHEES. The subject is HENNESSY, a film released in 1975, and another attempt by American-International Pictures to move into more mainstream fare. 

HENNESSY refers to Niall Hennessy, played by Rod Steiger. Hennessy is a demolitions expert, living in Belfast, who at one time gave assistance to the IRA. Hennessy's wife and young daughter are killed in a street riot involving British soldiers, and the man decides to get his revenge by setting off explosives during the State Opening of the British Parliament. Members of the IRA travel to London to stop Hennessy--the Queen and the Royal Family will be at the ceremony, and the IRA knows that if the plot is successful, they will be blamed for it. Scotland Yard is also on Hennessy's trail. Hennessy tries to avoid both groups while determined to carry out his plan. 

HENNESSY is an effective, suspenseful film, capably directed by Don Sharp, with tight editing by Eric Boyd-Perkins. One doesn't have time to think about the unbelievable aspects of the plot because it moves rather swiftly. The movie is kind of a minor league THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, with one major difference--the Jackal was a professional assassin, while for Hennessy, it's personal (Hennessy also knows if he does succeed, he will die as well). 

Rod Steiger is surprisingly subdued as Hennessy--some reviewers felt he was too subdued. The actor's expected over-the-top histrionics are not to be found here, but it's my belief that Steiger was attempting to show that Hennessy is emotionally dead--he's lost everything dear to him, and all his has left is his plot. Hennessy is a calculating and crafty fellow, and he's able to improvise at a moment's notice. He's also able to take care of himself in a fight (it's mentioned that Hennessy fought in WWII), and he's even quite capable at disguising himself. One may wonder how Hennessy has all these abilities, but while watching the story one buys into it. 

Actor Richard Johnson came up with the story idea behind HENNESSY (the screenplay was written by John Gay), and he gets a plum role in the movie as a Special Branch investigator trying to figure out what Hennessy is up to. Johnson plays one of those tough, go-by-their-own-rules movie cops, and he almost steals the show from Steiger. Eric Porter also makes a big impression as an IRA commander and friend of Hennessy who is willing to kill him to stop his scheme. 

The supporting cast also includes Lee Remick (as an old friend of Hennessy's who happens to be living in London), Trevor Howard, Peter Copley, and a young Patrick Stewart as an IRA thug. 

The climax of the film is set at the Houses of Parliament, and uses scenes filmed at Westminster, along with footage taken of an actual State Opening of Parliament ceremony for a newsreel. The newsreel footage, which includes a number of shots of the Queen and members of the Royal Family, is integrated very well into the film...maybe too well. The use of the footage, especially the scene where the Queen almost appears to be reacting to what is going on in the story, caused major controversy. AIP even added a message before the start of the film stating that the footage had not originally been intended to be used in a fictional context. Today the controversy over the Royal footage seems overdone, considering that now the intimate details of the personal lives of the Royals are endlessly discussed on TV and the internet, but it was a big deal back then. 

Usually AIP would welcome any sort of controversial publicity about one of their movies, but this time it backfired. HENNESSY was made at a time when the real IRA was launching attacks on English soil, and a story about a planned attack on Parliament and the Queen didn't set well with major figures in the British film industry. The major British cinema chains didn't want to deal with HENNESSY, and it didn't get the wide release that AIP was hoping for. Many assumed that due to its subject matter, the film was just crass and exploitative, and some felt it was even supportive of terrorism (the filmmakers stated they did not intend to make a story with any sort of political stance, and I agree with them). 

HENNESSY didn't make the inroads that AIP was hoping for. Looking at it now, I thought it was very well done. When one separates it from the various controversies surrounding it when it was made, it's a tight suspense tale, without all the fluff and excess of the action thrillers of today. 

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Book Review--DR. WHO & THE DALEKS: The Official Story Of The Films


DR. WHO & THE DALEKS: The Official Story Of The Films, is a magnificent volume dedicated to the two Dr. Who movies made in the mid-1960s by Amicus that starred Peter Cushing. It is published by Titan Books. 

The Dr. Who movies (notice I do not refer to them as the Doctor Who movies) have caused some controversy among Who fandom, but they were made to be colorful, fun adventures that could appeal to anyone. The author of this book, John Walsh, certainly appreciates them, and the result is that this volume is colorful and fun as well. 

The book is a 10 x 12 inch hardback with an impressive embossed cover, and it's filled with all sorts of rare images detailing the production and release of DR. WHO & THE DALEKS and DALEKS: INVASION EARTH 2150 A.D. 

This volume is more visual than text oriented, but Walsh gives plenty of concise info on all aspects of the Dr. Who films, with interviews and quotes from many of those who worked on them. There's chapters on the special effects, the locations, the cast, the music, and the posters of each film, along with a detailed look at the real stars--the Daleks themselves, and the merchandising mania that was attached to them. 

Walsh also points out the differences between the BBC's DOCTOR WHO TV show and the films, and he discusses Peter Cushing's performance as Dr. Who, which had nothing in common with that of the TV Doctor at the time, William Hartnell. 

I've written blog posts on the two Dr. Who films, and the Region A Blu-ray releases of them. I wouldn't say they're the greatest movies ever made, but I've never understood why some Who and Peter Cushing fans have such a dislike for them. One has to realize that when the Dr. Who films were made, the TV show had only been on for a couple years, and the main character's eventual lengthy and complicated history didn't even exist yet. Comparing the Dr. Who films with what the show eventually evolved into, or comparing Peter Cushing's performance with that of an actor who played the Doctor decades later, is rather pointless. Besides, as Walsh's book makes clear, the movies were built around the Daleks, not Dr. Who. 

This is not an inexpensive volume, but you get what you pay for, and Titan Books puts out top-notch product. The book has a clean, attractive design, and it's easy to browse through. 

For those who do enjoy the Dr. Who films, and those who are rabid Peter Cushing fans, this is a fun, informative book that gives the movies credit for what they are instead of what they are not. The fact that this book was made in association with Studio Canal, the company that has the rights to the films, truly does make it an official project. 

The visual treats to be found in DR. WHO & THE DALEKS: The Official Story Of The Films make it a worthy purchase, but John Walsh's examination of all aspects of the Dr. Who movies is impressive as well.