Thursday, September 28, 2023

Book Review: A MASTERPIECE IN DISARRAY--David Lynch's Dune: An Oral History


A few years ago I wrote a blog review on THE MAKING OF DUNE, a book written by Ed Naha and officially sanctioned by Universal Pictures, detailing the filming of the controversial 1984 science-fiction film directed by David Lynch. In that review I said that someone should write a book called THE AFTERMATH OF DUNE, looking back from the perspective of today and determining why the movie failed to become successful at the box office and among critics. 

A MASTERPIECE IN DISARRAY--David Lynch's Dune: An Oral History is exactly what I asked for. Written by Max Evry, the book is a deep, deep dive into just about everything connected with the 1984 production of DUNE. 

Evry covers the many attempts over the years to film Frank Herbert's famed novel before David Lynch came on board the project. The author also examines the actual filming in Mexico, the post-production, and how the movie was received by audiences and the press. Evry also goes into the true aftermath of the film, and how it is perceived today, when fans are far more knowledgeable about how the movie was edited and how it fell short of David Lynch's vision. 

The highlight of this book is the massive amount of interviews Evry was able to score with nearly every important surviving member of the DUNE cast & crew. Among the people sharing their memories and opinions are actors Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young, and Virginia Madsen, along with producer Raffaella De Laurentiis, costume designer Bob Ringwood, and FX artist Barry Nolan. Evry was even able to have a (very) brief talk about DUNE with David Lynch himself. Now that 40 years have passed since the production of the movie, the participants are able to be much more candid about their thoughts and experiences on it. There's also a 32-page picture section. 

Other subjects dealt with are the marketing of the film and the merchandise created for it, the other two filmed versions of DUNE made since, and how the '84 version differed from the novel. 

A MASTERPIECE IN DISARRAY is over 500 pages, and the information included in it is exhaustive. For me, that's not a problem--if you are going to write a book like this, you might as well go all in. Max Evry is undoubtedly a fan of David Lynch's DUNE, but he's not an apologist for it. He has no issue dealing with the problems that both the theatrical and extended versions of the film have. 

Does one have to be a fan of David Lynch's DUNE to appreciate this book?? I would say you don't have to love the movie to enjoy it, but I think you need to have more than a passing interest in it. The sections dealing with the preparation, filming, and post-release of the film will be fascinating to any major film geek. Evry has a straightforward, concise writing style, and he doesn't get bogged down in any florid prose, so the book isn't a slog to get through. 

The one thing the author and nearly all the interview participants agree on in A MASTERPIECE IN DISARRAY is that the biggest problem the '84 DUNE had was that David Lynch did not have final cut on it. The '84 DUNE is frustrating, rewarding, head-scratching, visually spectacular, and blessed with one of the best cast ensembles of all time. Oftentimes the background and history of a movie that doesn't meet expectations is far more interesting than that of an established classic. Max Evry's A MASTERPIECE IN DISARRAY does David Lynch's DUNE more justice than Universal Pictures ever did. It's also one of the best "making of" books I have read in the past few years. 

Saturday, September 23, 2023



THE HOUSE IN MARSH ROAD is a 1960 British-made ghost story. The movie gets a mention in Jonathan Rigby's book ENGLISH GOTHIC, but there's nothing particularly Gothic about it. 

The Lintons are a married couple with a lot of issues. David (Tony Wright) is a disagreeable fellow who complains that he needs time to write a novel, while Jean (Patricia Dainton) knows that her husband drinks too much and doesn't really want to work. Jean's aunt passes away, and she leaves her niece a sum of money and the family home, called Four Winds. David and Jean move in, and immediately find out that the place is considered haunted by the locals. A number of strange occurrences take place in the house, and David tries hard to convince his wife to sell it, but she refuses. The bitter David starts up an affair with a woman named Valerie (Sandra Dorne), who he has hired to type up a manuscript. David and Valerie want to go off together, but Jean is the one that controls all the money--and the house. Valerie suggests that Jean be done away with, but David finds out this isn't all that easy, since the spirit that inhabits Four Winds is protective of the woman. 

THE HOUSE IN MARSH ROAD is more of a soap opera than a true supernatural tale, with the problems of the Lintons front and center. Tony Wright's David is such an annoying jerk that one wonders why any woman--let alone attractive blondes like Jean and Valerie--would want to have anything to do with him. He's such a tiresome character that it's hard to get into the story. 

The story, by the way, is set in contemporary times, and the film is in black & white. The production has almost no atmosphere whatsoever--the exterior and interiors of the house of the title are rather basic. Four Winds looks just like a typical English country home instead of a place with a notorious reputation. The few supernatural occurrences feel more like random events than forceful statements by a powerful spirit. (It doesn't help that said occurrences are staged and filmed in a basic manner.) The idea that the house is somehow protecting Jean isn't developed or articulated properly. 

I was not familiar with the two lead actors, and they're not all that charismatic (they spend most of their time onscreen arguing with each other). Sandra Dorne as homewrecker Valerie does have a bit of a Diana Dors vibe, while Anita Sharp-Bolster steals scenes as the Lintons' Irish cleaning lady, who calls the house's spirit "Patrick"--she's kind of a poor man's Una O'Connor. Sam Kydd, who appeared in a few Hammer films, has a small role. 

This movie was directed by Montgomery Tully, a British B movie veteran who obviously was more interested in getting things done as quickly and as efficiently as possible instead of injecting any sort of style or suspense. The main plot point of the film--a protective force from beyond that wreaks vengeance on those that actually deserve it--has plenty of possibilities, but THE HOUSE IN MARSH ROAD doesn't go through on them. While watching this film on Tubi last night, I kept thinking how the usual 1960 Hammer crew could have made this much, much better. 

Monday, September 18, 2023



STOLEN ASSIGNMENT is a 1955 lighthearted British mystery film directed by Terence Fisher. Despite being filmed at Bray Studios, and having a number of Hammer Films veterans in front of and behind the camera, this movie is not a production of that company. 

The film deals with reporters Mike Billings (John Bentley) and Jenny Drew (Hy Hazell), who are involved in a relationship and work at the same newspaper as well. An heiress unhappily married to an artist (Patrick Holt) goes missing, and Mike and Jenny inject themselves in on the case, much to the consternation of Inspector Corcoran (Eddie Byrne). 

STOLEN ASSIGNMENT has a plot that was old by the time it was made. All the major elements in the film--a pair of noisy reporters who compete and argue with each other even though they're in love, a grumpy editor, a police inspector who is annoyed by the media--will be familiar to old movie buffs from seeing them in plenty of Warner Bros. flicks made in the 1930s. The thing is, those Warner productions were fun and energetic. STOLEN ASSIGNMENT is an in-betweener--it isn't serious enough to be a suspenseful mystery tale and it's not amusing enough to be entertaining. The whodunit aspect of the story is rather weak. 

John Bentley is a rather underwhelming hard-driving reporter (he's no Lee Tracy, that's for sure.) Eddie Byrne, who would work with Terence Fisher a number of times, gives a solid performance as the no-nonsense Inspector. Blonde, beautiful, and charismatic Hy Hazell gives the movie what liveliness it has as Jenny (her character should have been given far more screen time). Hazell is so appealing that you wonder why her Jenny is involved with such a dull guy as Mike. 

John Bentley and Hy Hazell in STOLEN ASSIGNMENT

I had never seen this film before, and while doing research on it, I found out that STOLEN ASSIGNMENT is actually a sequel to another Terence Fisher directed film for an independent British company called FINAL APPOINTMENT. That movie also featured John Bentley as Mike Billings, but Eleanor Summerfield played Jenny and Liam Redmond played Inspector Corcoran. Both movies were produced by Francis Searle and written by Kenneth Hayles. As a matter of fact, the characters of Mike Billings, Jenny Drew, and Inspector Corcoran would appear in two other low-budget British features made somebody must have liked them. 

STOLEN ASSIGNMENT gets almost no coverage in the books and magazine articles about Terence Fisher, and it's easy to see why. It's only about an hour long, and it's not even as interesting as the many crime/noir movies Fisher directed for Hammer in the early 1950s. Humor was not exactly Terence Fisher's forte, and this movie needed much more rhythm, and better byplay between the two leads. STOLEN ASSIGNMENT will be of interest to Hammer fans due to the fact that it presents several views of the exteriors of Bray Studios. You could even say it's an early Hammer film in everything but name only. 

Sunday, September 17, 2023



ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT is a 1957 film based on an actual incident during the German occupation of the island of Crete in World War II. It was the last film written, produced, and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger for their production company The Archers. 

The movie details the activities of two British officers in the SOE, Patrick Leigh Fermor (Dirk Bogarde) and Bill Moss (David Oxley). Fermor is known as "Philedem" among the Greek resistance fighters he assists on the island of Crete. Fermor comes up with a bold idea to kidnap German General Kreipe (Marius Goring), get him off the island, and transport him to the British base in Cairo. Fermor and Moss manage to capture the General with help from various locals, but they still have to transport him through difficult terrain to the coast, while evading thousands of German soldiers searching for them. 

Being that this is a Powell-Pressburger movie, one shouldn't expect ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT to be a typical WWII adventure--and it isn't. Dirk Bogarde and David Oxley are not hard-bitten tough guys--they're both understated and droll. At times the duo seem more like a couple of mischievous fellows pulling off a prank than two agents attempting a wartime mission. One even wonders if the mission is that important in the first place--Fermor states that it will cause embarrassment for the Germans throughout Greece, but will it actually affect anything to do with the occupation itself? 

As usual with Powell and Pressburger, there's plenty of quirky story and editing choices. One main plot element is the difference between the colorful natives and the very British Fermor and Moss. There is a notable attempt to inject some local atmosphere into the tale, particularly with Mikis Theodorakis' music score. The brutality of the German occupation of the Greek islands is hinted at, but not really touched upon in a major way. 

The main German character in the film, General Kreipe, is also portrayed unexpectedly. He's not a ranting & raving Nazi buffoon--Marius Goring plays him as an intelligent, well-mannered man who quietly tries to take advantage of his situation. General Kreipe and his British captors even wind up having a mutual respect for each other at the end of the film. 

Among the supporting members of the cast are Christopher Lee in a small role as a German officer (Lee gets killed off right after he shows up), and Michael Gough, who is almost unrecognizable as a Greek resistance fighter. David McCallum makes his film debut here (I didn't spot him), and it needs to be mentioned that David Oxley was the evil Hugo Baskerville in Hammer Films' version of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. 

While watching ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT for the first time last night, I was convinced the outdoor scenes had been filmed in either Crete or Greece. They weren't--the location shooting was in France and Italy. The hills and mountains that were used are visually spectacular, even in black & white. (Another WWII film made by Powell and Pressburger a few years earlier, THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE, was in color, and more epic in scope.) 

Apparently neither Michael Powell or Emeric Pressburger were happy with how ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT turned out. The duo had disagreements with the Rank Organization (which financed the film) and each other. I liked the movie, but it must be said that it's not a hard-hitting action-packed story. There's a fair amount of suspense in whether the British officers can get away with their German prize, but the tone of the film is almost whimsical at times. 

One other thing that needs to be touched upon--the movie was titled NIGHT AMBUSH in America. I can understand the title change, since ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT (which is a line from Shakespeare) sounds more fitting for a romantic melodrama. But why pick such a generic title like NIGHT AMBUSH?? 

Saturday, September 16, 2023

LAUREL & HARDY: YEAR ONE On Blu-ray From Flicker Alley


This two-disc set will no doubt wind up on my top five home video releases of 2023. LAUREL & HARDY: YEAR ONE contains 15 silent short subjects, each one featuring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. What's notable here is that this set shows the beginnings of the Laurel & Hardy partnership. 

It was 1927 at the Hal Roach studios that Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy began to be cast together on a number of comedy two-reelers. It still took awhile for the duo to be branded as an official comedy team, and this set presents that process, as the two men move from just happening to be in the same film, to being antagonists, to finally becoming the Stan & Ollie we know and love. 

All of the short subjects presented here have been painstakingly restored. For years, many of the shorts were not available in any having them all together in a major Blu-ray set, with all sorts of extras, is an important event. 

The 15 shorts will be an intriguing revelation to L & H fans who have never seen them before. Even in the entries where Stan & Ollie are basically a team, their characters are still a bit different than what audiences are used to. The shorts themselves are also a bit different from what Hal Roach fans will expect. The Roach comedies of the 1930s were known for characterization and story situations rather than wild gags and slapstick. These 15 shorts have all sorts of madcap goings-on, with characters constantly running about and plenty of physical action. 

There's plenty of debate on what the first "real" Laurel & Hardy comedy is--for my money it is DO DETECTIVES THINK?--but the other candidates for that honor are here as well, such as DUCK SOUP and THE SECOND 100 YEARS. In my opinion the best short on this set is THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY, which starts out as a boxing satire, but then becomes the movie pie fight to end all movie pie fights. The very first film that Laurel and Hardy appeared together in, THE LUCKY DOG, is also included. This was made years before they started working together for Hal Roach. 

L & H fans will find plenty of familiar faces among the supporting players in these shorts, with appearances by favorites such as James Finlayson, Mae Busch, Anita Garvin, and Charlie Hall. A few of the shorts on this set were photographed by George Stevens, and some of them were supervised by Leo McCarey, the man who many give credit for coming up with the idea of making Laurel & Hardy an official team. 

What really makes this set stand out are the extras. There's a 36 page illustrated booklet included with the set, which contains all sorts of detail on each short, including the now-lost film HATS OFF! The booklet also has a short history on Blackhawk Films, and an article by Serge Bromberg, who produced this set. 

Bromberg also hosts a short featurette on the restoration of the included films, and there's a video essay by historian John Bengston on some of the shooting locations used in the shorts. There are image galleries for each short, along with a special still presentation on the lost HATS OFF! Each short also has an informative audio commentary by L & H expert Randy Skrevedt (THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY also has a commentary by Serge Bromberg). 

Before the beginning of each short, there is a text explaining the various elements involved in restoring the film. Because of the multiple elements used, the picture quality varies at times throughout the set....but the important thing here is that these shorts are available period. None of the shorts are in what I would call a horrible condition, and they all have new scores. (Some of the shorts have alternate music tracks from French re-releases in the 1930s.) The discs are coded for Regions A,B, and C. 

This is an absolutely magnificent set, and it's also a major event in movie preservation. All of the Laurel & Hardy sound films are available in one form or another, but now their silent work gets some much needed attention. I had never seen any of the films on this set, but I had read about them years ago in various books about Laurel & Hardy. (Ironically, at the time those books were written, many of the silent shorts were still considered lost.) I'm hoping that there will be a LAUREL & HARDY: YEAR TWO set in the near future. Randy Skretvedt, Serge Bromberg, and everyone at Flicker Alley deserve as much praise as possible for this set.  

Wednesday, September 13, 2023



This is the third book in a series that includes volumes pertaining to the 40th anniversary of STAR WARS in 2017 and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in 2020. RETURN OF THE JEDI--FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW follows the same pattern as the earlier two books. It features 40 stories from 40 different authors, each one focusing on a part of RETURN OF THE JEDI from a different angle than that presented in the film. The stories are roughly in the same order as the timeline of the movie. 

A number of supporting and background characters get the spotlight here, including Moff Jerjerrod, EV-9D9, Mon Mothma, the Rancor trainer, the Sarlaac, and Wedge Antilles. There are also stories with plenty of minor Imperial and Rebel Alliance functionaries, such as the officer who Luke Skywalker surrenders to on the moon of Endor.

Speaking of Endor....yes, there are multiple chapters dealing with the Ewoks, and the book verifies one important fact about the notorious teddy bear-like creatures: they do cook and eat humanoids whom they consider a threat. 

The book also makes references to a couple of the Disney+ Star Wars TV series, and also to some recent story lines in the various Marvel Star Wars comic books. (Gotta make sure you tie all the Star Wars product together, so the fans will have more things to spend money on.) 

RETURN OF THE JEDI--FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW is over 550 pages, which is most appreciated--it seems nowadays that as the price of books goes up, the number of pages in them goes down. 

I believe the FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW series of books is more for the hardcore Star Wars fan, but I would recommend them to anyone. I think the idea of taking a famous film and examining it through a series of stories from the viewpoint of minor or even off-screen characters is a creative and intriguing idea, and it would be great if other legendary movie series got the same treatment. 

Monday, September 4, 2023



STOLEN FACE is a 1952 melodrama from Hammer and directed by Terence Fisher. I finally caught up with it on the Tubi streaming channel. 

STOLEN FACE is unlike most of the productions Hammer made in the early 1950s in that it is not a crime story with noir elements. The story deals with Dr. Phillip Ritter (Paul Henreid), a hard-working, selfless plastic surgeon. While on a much-needed vacation, Ritter meets a beautiful American concert pianist named Alice Brent (Lizabeth Scott). The two fall for each other, but Alice is involved with another man (Andre Morell), and she leaves for a tour of Europe. Depressed, Phillip performs surgery on a female convict who was disfigured during WWII. Phillip transforms the woman (named Lily) into a duplicate of Alice, and he even marries her. Lily may be changed on the outside, but on the inside she's still the same dysfunctional person, despite Phillip's efforts to provide her a better life. Alice decides to return to Phillip, but the surgeon is now tied to the vindictive Lily, as he realizes his attempt to create happiness has only hurt the lives of everyone involved. 

One main thing Terence Fisher fans will discover when watching STOLEN FACE is how it anticipates some of the director's future work. The idea of a brilliant man creating a "duplicate" of a lost love was also explored in Fisher's THE FOUR SIDED TRIANGLE, and FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN also had a master surgeon totally changing a disfigured young woman's appearance. (The producer of STOLEN FACE was Anthony Hinds, who wrote the screenplay for FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN. You have to believe that the earlier film was on Hinds' mind.) If you want to get even more film geeky about it, you could also say that STOLEN FACE is a prime example of a theme that runs throughout Fisher's work as a director: the "charm of evil", or the idea that the most attractive and dynamic personalities are the ones who create the most harm to others. 

There's also a slight resemblance to VERTIGO after Dr. Ritter performs the surgery on Lily. He steers her toward having the same hair color and using the same makeup as Alice, and he also gets her a brand new wardrobe. And just like James Stewart in VERTIGO, Paul Henreid sadly comes to the conclusion that the recreation of his lost love can never come close to matching the original. 

Paul Henreid is quite good as Dr. Ritter, who is basically a decent man that makes a major mistake in trying to create love instead of having it happen naturally. Some critics have felt that Henreid wasn't desperate or obsessed enough, but this is a kindly middle-aged man who has spent his life helping others--he's not a mad scientist. Lizabeth Scott also does well in a dual role. The part of the pre-surgery Lily was played by Mary MacKenzie, and she dubbed Scott's voice as the post-surgery Lily. 

It appears that Hammer (along with co-producer Robert Lippert) tried to have STOLEN FACE come off at a higher level than the usual product the company was making at this time. Along with the two Hollywood stars, the movie has a lush music score by Malcolm Arnold, and Lizabeth Scott's wardrobe was designed by the legendary Edith Head. The movie is still essentially a B picture--it is only 71 minutes long, and Fisher's style is typical for this period--he shows the viewer exactly what they need to see, without wasting time or using any excess frills. STOLEN FACE also has something that is very much in common with Hammer's overall product, even its horror films--an abrupt ending that tries to tie things up a bit too neatly. 

I believe STOLEN FACE is one of the better entries in Terence Fisher's early Hammer career. The story is much more intriguing than the generic crime stories Fisher was directing around this time, and Paul Henreid and Lizabeth Scott give the movie a high-class sheen. It needs to be pointed out that before he became known for Gothic horrors, Fisher directed not only Henreid and Scott, but such notables as Dirk Bogarde, Jean Simmons, Herbert Lom, George Brent, Diana Dors, Tom Conway, and Pat O'Brien. Even if Terence Fisher hadn't become tied to horror films, I think he would have handled any of his assignments efficiently and effectively. 

Friday, September 1, 2023



BRASS TARGET (1978) is a WWII/espionage/conspiracy tale centered around the death of General George S. Patton in December of 1945. 

Patton's death (which came about from injuries he suffered in a car accident) has long been fodder for conspiracy theorists. BRASS TARGET doesn't try to be a realistic expose, it's more of a fanciful attempt to connect Patton with a horde of Nazi treasure. The movie starts out with the train robbery of $250 million worth of Nazi gold that is being transported by American troops (one of the better sequences in the film). Patton (George Kennedy) decides to head the investigation himself. Also working on the case is a former OSS operative named Major De Lucca (John Cassavetes). De Lucca quickly realizes that it was an inside job, and Patton's own life may be in jeopardy. 

BRASS TARGET is a typical 1970s adventure thriller, with an international cast, European locations, and a post-Watergate "everything is a scam" attitude. The movie was filmed in Germany and Switzerland, and director John Hough gets the most out of the locations. BRASS TARGET also presents a fairly accurate look at Europe right after the end of World War II. 

Independent movie icon John Cassavetes is somewhat of an unusual pick to play the main hero in this type of story--at times you wonder if the sullen De Lucca was actually in on the robbery. The major players who were part of the plot (played by Robert Vaughn, Patrick McGoohan, and Edward Herrmann) are an eccentric lot--they act so quirky and suspicious it's hard to believe they were able to manage to become officers in the U.S military. Sophia Loren gets top billing in the credits, but for most of the running time she hasn't much to do. She plays a Polish (!) refugee who not only is an old flame of De Lucca's, but also has connections with other major characters in the story, thereby tying various plot threads together. George Kennedy doesn't get a lot of screen time as Patton, and he plays him as the average viewer would expect--outspoken and belligerent. 

BRASS TARGET is almost two hours long, and the pace drags at times--it's not an action-packed thrill ride. There is a nice sequence that has a shoot-out and a chase inside a church, and the story does have a strong THE DAY OF THE JACKAL vibe, especially when it deals with Max von Sydow's character. The element concerning the Nazi gold gets overshadowed by the plot to kill Patton, to the point where the loot seems almost forgotten. The story even drags in Lucky Luciano at one point, but I highly doubt the filmmakers expected the audience to truly think their version of events had anything to do with reality. 

John Hough (TWINS OF EVIL) directs capably, and the movie has a decent look to it, but considering the cast and subject involved, I expected more out of BRASS TARGET.