Saturday, January 27, 2024



The Cohen Media Group and Kino Lorber have released a double feature of British 1950s black & white WWII films directed by Lewis Gilbert. The movies are ALBERT R.N. and THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM, which I will be covering in this post. 

British director Lewis Gilbert had a long and distinguished career. He's not as well known as some of his contemporaries, probably due to the fact that he made films of all types, and he didn't have a particular "style" that film buffs could pin down. Gilbert directed contemporary comedy-dramas like ALFIE and EDUCATING RITA, but he also directed three very big-budget James Bond spectaculars, and plenty of historical war features. 

Gilbert made a number of movies concerning WWII, including well-regarded ones such as REACH FOR THE SKY and SINK THE BISMARCK! This disc has two of Gilbert's lesser-known Second World War features. 

THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM deals with a very little-known aspect of the Royal Air Force--their air & sea rescue units. The main story, set in 1944, concerns the search for the crew of a Hudson plane shot down over the North Sea. The crew tries to survive the harsh conditions while riding out the choppy waters on a dinghy, while a RAF rescue boat searches for them. Among the crew of the shot-down plane are Michael Redgrave and Dirk Bogarde, while the crew of the rescue boat contains a number of fine British supporting actors. 

The British WWII films of the 1940s and the 50s have a tendency to be much more lower-key and realistic than the ones made in Hollywood. British WWII films mostly focus on a group working together and putting their issues and problems aside instead of any individual heroics. You won't find any John Wayne or Errol Flynn types in movies like THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM. In that film you will see a firm but fair skipper of the rescue boat (played by Anthony Steel), and a gruff but caring Flight Sergeant (played by Nigel Patrick). Michael Redgrave and Dirk Bogarde are the most notable names in the credits, but they do not have much more screen time (or importance) than the rest of the cast. 

Of course, there's all sorts of trials and tribulations for the characters to go through before the men in the dinghy can be rescued. One thing that is made clear in THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM is how bad the conditions are--nearly everyone in the cast winds up wet, chilly, and miserable. The rainy, freezing weather is so vividly portrayed that one might need to have some blankets and hot chocolate handy when watching this Blu-ray. 

THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM does not contain major battle sequences, and most of the actors spend a lot of time on sets in front of a process screen. This might annoy modern viewers who are not used to classic films, but the story is dramatic enough to make one put aside such details. 

Any movie made in Britain in the 1950s is going to have connections to Hammer Films, and THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM has plenty. Among the supporting cast are actors such as Victor Maddern, Eddie Byrne, Michael Ripper, and Anton Diffring, who plays a downed German fighter pilot. Anthony Nelson Keys was associate producer on the film, and the art director was Bernard Robinson. 

The film is presented on this Cohen Media Group Blu-ray disc in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The print used here is not in the best condition. Wear and damage can be seen from time to time, and the image is not very sharp. It's certainly watchable, but considering this is a Blu-ray one wishes a better looking version of the film had been available. 

Despite the condition of the film THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM is a very good WWII drama, and it's another example of the fine directorial work of Lewis Gilbert. I'll be looking at ALBERT R.N. (which much of the cast & crew of THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM also worked on) in the future. 

Sunday, January 21, 2024



This is a fantastic four disc, eight movie set, dedicated to the British actor Tod Slaughter. Slaughter was referred to as "The Horror Man of Europe", but these films are really Victorian melodramas, while Slaughter himself doesn't play monsters in the traditional sense. He plays over-the-top villains whose aims revolve around two basic drives: greed and lust. 

I had never actually seen a Tod Slaughter film before I bought this set, but I had certainly heard of him. If you read any book or article about the history of horror films, particularly British ones, his unique career is usually mentioned. Slaughter was a barnstorming stage actor who, in the 1930s, started appearing in movies mostly based on the blood & thunder plays he had performed in the theater. 

Slaughter was known for his grandiose acting style--if you prefer subtle, refined performances, this box set is not for you. In the eight films in this set, Slaughter essentially plays the same role--he's a heavy-set, middle-aged man who is after money and innocent young women, and he'll do just about anything to obtain what he wants. Slaughter's characters almost always go about in a flowing cloak and a top hat, and he usually sports a flamboyant mustache. As soon as he appears in one of these films, you know right off the bat that Slaughter is up to no good--yet it takes almost the whole running time for the supporting cast to figure out the villain's true intentions. (Most of the supporting cast in these films are played by the same actors, playing the same types of roles in each.) 

Slaughter is so enamored with his villainy that he spends most of his onscreen time with a disconcerting grin on his face, and during most of his nefarious deeds he actually chortles with glee. Slaughter is more of a cartoon villain than a supernatural or psychological threat. 

At times while watching these films I wondered if one was supposed to react to them as if they were amusing. The thing is, what Slaughter does isn't amusing. He commits all sorts of murders, and in one film he kills a child! He assaults women, he steals, lies, ruins the reputations of others, threatens folks with blackmail, etc. The movies in this set fall into a strange category--they're not out-and-out camp, but at the same time it's hard to take them absolutely seriously. The one movie in the set that is an outlier is SEXTON BLAKE AND THE HOODED TERROR. It's set in contemporary times, and while Slaughter is still the main villain, he's not as over-the-top, proving he could act in a "normal" setting. 


A number of these films can be found on the internet in terrible public domain versions. This Indicator set presents the films in brand new restorations, and they all look and sound fantastic. I had always assumed that the films Slaughter appeared in were very low budget. While it's obvious that there wasn't a lot of money spent on the films in this set, they don't look cheap. The production design and costumes are very well done, and these movies are much more impressive looking than, say, the Hollywood poverty row horrors made by PRC and Monogram. All of the films in this set were either produced or directed by George King, a British low-budget filmmaker who was the real guiding hand behind the Tod Slaughter movie persona. 

I wouldn't call any of these films magnificent, but they are all entertaining, especially if you accept the stories for what they are and get into the spirit of the proceedings. SWEENEY TODD is the best-known film in the set, but I would say THE FACE AT THE WINDOW and CRIMES AT THE DARK HOUSE are the best overall. CRIMES AT THE DARK HOUSE, by the way, has art direction by future Hammer veteran Bernard Robinson, and the story, which is based on the Wilkie Collins novel THE WOMAN IN WHITE, is the type of thing Hammer should have made during the comapny's heyday. 

All the films are in black & white (with the photography being very atmospheric at times), and the features average about 70 minutes in running time, which, I believe, is very fitting for the melodramatic tales being told. 

Indicator has filled this set to the brim with important extras. First of all, the set comes with a 120 page illustrated booklet that includes cast & crew credits for all the films, along with a number of articles dealing with Tod Slaughter's life and acting career. Each of the four discs in the set has plenty of extras as well. Each film has an audio commentary with such luminaries as Kim Newman, Jonathan Rigby, and Stephen Jones. Each film also has an image gallery. Along the other items spread among the discs are recordings of Tod Slaughter, silent film footage of him acting on stage, an interview with Slaughter's great-niece, and featurettes on the supporting actors and the Slaughter's film career in general. The set is Region Free. 

This truly is an impressive release, and film geeks will appreciate that it shines a light on an obscure and very unusual talent. I've seen just about everything when it comes to classic horror cinema, but I never took the opportunity to delve into the films of Tod Slaughter. I wouldn't put him on the same level as Karloff or Lugosi--he's more of an Atwill or Zucco type--but he is entertaining in his own unique way, and these films in this set are much more impressive than I thought they would be. The extras in this set give you all the info you need about Tod Slaughter's life and career. Indicator deserves as many compliments as they can get on this excellent release. 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

UMBRACLE On Blu-ray From Severin


My last post dealt with VAMPIR-CUADECUC, which Severin has put on a Blu-ray also containing UMBRACLE. Both films were directed by Spanish artist Pere Portabella, and both feature Christopher Lee, who is the main reason to watch these films. 

UMBRACLE has a lot in common with VAMPIR-CUADECUC other than director and star. Both films are in a high contrast black & white, and both have a soundtrack filled with discordant sounds and strange musical choices. Both films also have almost no dialogue whatsoever. But while VAMPIR-CUADECUC at least deals with the filming of Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA, UMBRACLE is far more idiosyncratic and harder to pin down. 

Much of UMBRACLE has Christopher Lee wandering around various Spanish locations, doing such things as examining exhibits in a museum and buying cigars. Along the way we are shown a couple of men discussing the censorship involved in the Spanish film industry, a very long excerpt from a film made in the 1950s about the Spanish Civil War, and a clown act on an empty stage. Lee also has a couple of encounters with a mysterious young blonde woman, played by Jeannine Mestre, who was one of Dracula's brides in COUNT DRACULA. 

The big highlight of the film is when Lee states that he wants to sing--and he does, first in German and then in French. Lee then decides to recite Poe's THE RAVEN, but first he goes on to "explain" the poem....and his explanation is almost as long as the recital. (Those who know Lee's reputation for pontificating will be rather amused.) Lee's singing and poetry reading are worth buying the Blu-ray alone. 

As for the rest of the film, what does it all mean? It's supposed to be a critical statement on the Franco regime in Spain, but for most viewers it will be just a random set of weird events strung together. Near the end we are shown chickens going to their doom in a slaughterhouse, while a cover version of The Carpenters' "Close To You" plays on the soundtrack, not exactly the most subtle moment. 

The highly political Portabella and the very British Lee would seem to be a strange pairing, but the director was able to get an international star in his very non-mainstream film, while Lee was able to get some critical plaudits beyond his usual acting work. (In Jonathan Rigby's book CHRISTOPHER LEE: THE AUTHORIZED SCREEN HISTORY, it states that according to Portabella Lee appeared in UMBRACLE so he could get the chance to sample some Spanish golf courses.) 

As a huge Christopher Lee fan, I'm very happy that Severin decided to put VAMPIR-CUADECUC and UMBRACLE on high quality Blu-ray. Both films are among the most obscure items in Lee's acting career, and they both allow the viewer to get a better appreciation of Lee as an actor and a person. VAMPIR-CUADECUC is much more watchable than UMBRACLE, but both movies are not "normal" productions. 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

VAMPIR-CUADECUC On Blu-ray From Severin


In 2023 Severin did not release a third THE EUROCRYPT OF CHRISTOPHER LEE Blu-ray set, but they did make available two of Lee's most obscure appearances. VAMPIR-CUADECUC and UMBRACLE are a couple of almost undefinable productions directed by avant-garde Spanish filmmaker Pere Portabella, and they have now been released on HD for the first time on a single disc. 

VAMPIR-CUADECUC was made during the filming of Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA in late 1969. COUNT DRACULA was an attempt to make a more authoritative version of Bram Stoker's novel, but it fell far short of its goals. (One can understand why with the director being Jess Franco and the writer-producer being Harry Alan Towers.) Christopher Lee had hoped that this project would finally give him the chance to truly portray Stoker's character faithfully (as opposed to the series of Dracula films he was involved with at Hammer), but the actor also had to have known what he was going to be in for (he had worked with Franco and Towers before). 

I've never been a big fan of COUNT DRACULA. Lee is as majestic as expected, but the film feels rather lifeless (no pun intended). It also looks rather threadbare--it comes nowhere near matching the epic scope of the novel. (My copy of COUNT DRACULA is the DVD from Dark Sky, which I think I got from a Walmart for $5.) Severin now has a brand new 4K restoration of COUNT DRACULA for sale, along with copious extras. If I saw that, would my thoughts about the film change? Maybe. 

VAMPIR-CUADECUC isn't so much a documentation of the making of COUNT DRACULA, it's more like an alternate version of the film. The thing is, in my opinion, it's more atmospheric, and more cinematic, than COUNT DRACULA. VAMPIR-CUADECUC was filmed in grainy, high contrast black & white, and the only audio (until the very end) consists of weird sound effects and strange musical cues. Watching VAMPIR-CUADECUC is like having a bizarre dream about viewing a movie, while seeing how it is being made at the very same time. 

VAMPIR-CUADECUC follows the COUNT DRACULA storyline very closely, except that I believe Portabella's shot choices are much more interesting and dramatic. We not only see the story unfolding, we also see what goes on behind the scenes. Stagehands create fake cobwebs and mist, while actors are made up. We see performers such as Lee, Maria Rohm, Soledad Miranda, Paul Muller, and Herbert Lom at work, and we even get to see good old Jess Franco himself. (Klaus Kinski was also in COUNT DRACULA, but he doesn't appear in VAMPIR-CUADECUC. I'm sure Kinski's scenes were shot at a different time and at a different location, but when one thinks about it, putting a camera on the volatile actor in between shots wouldn't have been the best idea in the world.) 

We also get such treats as Soledad Miranda pensively smoking a cigarette before a scene, and Maria Rohm dressed like a fashion model as she serenely observes a sequence being shot. There's also the fact that Lee is very well aware of Portabella's camera, and he reacts to it a number of times in a surprisingly playful manner. (Would Lee have been as playful behind the scenes of a Hammer Dracula film?) For whatever reason, Lee and Portabella seemed to hit it off--Lee would later appear in the director's UMBRACLE (which I have not yet watched). 

The ending of VAMPIR-CUADECUC has Lee, in his dressing room, reciting the death of Dracula from a copy of Stoker's novel. It is the only time a person's voice is heard in VAMPIR-CUADECUC, and some might even say that this climax is much better than the disappointing ending of COUNT DRACULA. 

Pere Portabella was not a mainstream filmmaker, but after seeing VAMPIR-CUADECUC, I wish that he had directed COUNT DRACULA--or at least made a true Gothic horror of his own. (I wonder if Christopher Lee himself had broached this proposal to Portabella at one point.) What VAMPIR-CUADECUC does show is that COUNT DRACULA had all sorts of possibilities, but they were not fully realized. 

Severin's Blu-ray of VAMPIR-CUADECUC and UMBRACLE contains a booklet which has an article by Pere Portabella, along with reviews of the two films, all written in the 1970s. The disc also has a featurette on Portabella's background as a filmmaker, with Dr. Alex Mendibil. What the disc does not have are audio commentaries for the films, and they are sorely needed. After viewing VAMPIR-CUADECUC I'd love to know more about the circumstances behind it, and how those involved felt about it. Severin's new 4K/Blu-ray of COUNT DRACULA has listed among its extras a full-length documentary dealing with the making of Franco's film and VAMPIR-CUADECUC. 

VAMPIR-CUADECUC is a must for Christopher Lee fans, and it gives a very rare glimpse into the working lives of some of the most notable names involved with Euro Gothic cinema. It's also a better film than some of the "official" vampire movies made around this time. 

Saturday, January 13, 2024

THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960) On Blu-ray From Film Masters


The Film Masters Blu-ray release of THE TERROR (1963) contains a second disc with another famed public domain cult film: the original THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. 

The production history of the original LITTLE SHOP has become a film geek legend. Roger Corman's ultra-cheap, ultra-quick black comedy might even be his most famous film as a director. A follow-up to another gonzo dark satire, A BUCKET OF BLOOD, LITTLE SHOP bears more of the stamp of its writer Charles B. Griffith than Corman. But Corman must be given credit for letting Griffith's writing--and the comedic talents of the ensemble cast--hold sway. Said cast features Jonathan Haze as the pathetic but endearing Seymour, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, Dick Miller, and a memorable cameo by Jack Nicholson. (And don't forget the hungry plant, Audrey Jr.)

THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS became such a cult item it wound up being adapted into a cult stage musical, which itself was adapted as a big-budget film with a name cast. The film version of the musical has its own charms, but the original LITTLE SHOP is for me the best version of the tale. Its ragged, unpolished production fits the tone of the story perfectly. The musical version may have had a song about Skid Row, but the exteriors for the movie actually were filmed on Skid Row. LITTLE SHOP is ridiculously funny and entertaining, and its laughs per budget spent ratio has to be among the greatest in cinema history. 

Like THE TERROR, LITTLE SHOP has had several fly-by-night home video releases over the years, and its even been sadly colorized at one point. Film Masters gives us a sharp HD black & white print presented in a 16:9 screen ratio. A few purists might be annoyed at that, but I felt the shot compositions came out very well. This print also has the complete opening & closing credits, which most public domain versions do not feature. 

The extras on the LITTLE SHOP disc include a new audio commentary with Justin Humphreys and the movie's star, Jonathan Haze. It's a fun and informative one, with Humphreys providing the historical details and Haze sharing his memories of the shoot, Roger Corman, and the various personalities involved in LITTLE SHOP and other Corman pictures made during the same period. There is also a 17 minute featurette on the Filmgroup Comapny, Roger Corman's own unit, which the prolific director set up while still churning out features for American-International. (THE TERROR and THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS are actually Filmgroup productions--they were just released by AIP.) The featurette is narrated by C. Courtney Joyner. A new trailer for LITTLE SHOP is also provided. The booklet contained in this Blu-ray package has an article on the making of LITTLE SHOP by Mark McGee. 

THE TERROR and THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS have long deserved proper, authoritative home video releases, and Film Masters has accomplished this. Film buffs and movie collectors will certainly want this Roger Corman/Jack Nicholson double feature, although it's more accurate to call it a Jonathan Haze/Dick Miller double feature. 

Sunday, January 7, 2024



One of the best things about the Tubi streaming channel is that it has a great selection of Euro Westerns, and for the most part these films are presented uncut and in their original aspect ratio. One Spaghetti Western recently added to Tubi is the 1966 ARIZONA COLT, starring one of the genre's legends, Giuliano Gemma. 

Gemma plays the title character, a bounty hunter who causes all sorts of trouble for a Mexican bandit chief named Gordo (Fernando Sancho) and his gang. Arizona deals with Gordo almost as if he's playing a game, but things take a sharp turn when the bandit chief shoots Arizona in both of his legs and hands. The injured bounty hunter is given impetus to stop Gordo's rampaging of a frontier town by the attractive daughter of a saloon owner (Corinne Marchand) and a quirky former member of Gordo's gang (Roberto Camardiel). 

ARIZONA COLT is a more traditional type of story as opposed to the more wilder examples of the Euro Western. This fits Giuliano Gemma (the original Ringo) just fine, as he's not the usual Spaghetti Western leading man. Gemma's Arizona Colt isn't a taciturn cold-blooded superman--he's charismatic, engaging, and very talkative. Arizona is an expert shot, but he'd rather trick, disarm, or annoy his opponents. (When asked any sort of direct question, Arizona's usual reply is "I'll think about it.") 

Arizona, however, isn't a goody-goody--he cheats at cards, he's not above using someone else's misfortune for his own personal gain, and at the beginning of the film, he's locked up in a Mexican jail (though we are never told why). Despite the handsome Gemma's ability to woo Corinne Marchand's Jane, he still winds up riding off alone at the end. 

ARIZONA COLT (also known as THE MAN FROM NOWHERE) is rather long for this type of Western (the version I saw on Tubi runs for two hours). It also has an inconsistent tone--it jumps from playful to dark at the drop of a hat, and a lot of innocent people wind up getting killed. One of the victims is Jane's sexy sister Dolores, played by Rosalba Neri (LADY FRANKENSTEIN). The seductive Neri, as usual, makes a huge impression, but sadly she's only onscreen a few minutes before she's bumped off. (It is a bit hard to believe, even for a Euro Western, that the blonde French Corinne Marchand and the dark-haired Italian Neri are sisters.) 

Fernando Sancho played dozens of Mexican bandits in Euro Westerns, but he's particularly bloodthirsty here. Roberto Camardiel gets the bulk of the comic relief as the scruffy Whisky, a member of Gordo's gang who is an explosives expert, and who also decides to change sides and join up with Arizona. Spaghetti Western fans will notice all sorts of familiar locations and faces among Gordo's gang, and there's a memorable "What the??" moment during the final shootout concerning the major way Arizona fools the villains. 

ARIZONA COLT was directed by Michele Lupo and co-written by Ernesto Gastaldi. I wouldn't call it a great Euro Western--it could have used some tighter editing--but it is entertaining, and Gemma is always watchable. This is another film that deserves an official North American home video release.  (I have to point out that Tubi's presentation of the film has an English dubbed voice track.) 

Saturday, January 6, 2024

THE TERROR On Blu-ray From Film Masters


Film Masters has been doing a series of Blu-ray releases involving low-budget horror/sci-fi films from the late 1950s and early 1960s. One of these releases is a two-disc set featuring a couple of films from Roger Corman that are among the most famous public domain titles of all time: THE TERROR and THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. This post will cover the disc containing THE TERROR. 

THE TERROR (1963) is more notable for its production history than for whatever quality it may have as a film. It started out as a way for Roger Corman to use Boris Karloff and the leftover sets from THE RAVEN for a couple days as the basis for a different project. That basis grew into a convoluted shoot involving several months and other directors (including such names as Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, and Jack Hill). Corman even wound up using the sets for THE HAUNTED PALACE to shoot some scenes. 

The result is a hodgepodge of a story that feels more like an imitation of a Roger Corman Poe tale than the real thing. There's plenty of Corman/Poe elements on display, such as a hermit-like aristocrat who shuts himself up in a creepy castle and broods over a dead wife. But the story never really comes together, and the last-minute "explanation" of the plot just confuses the viewer even more. Much of the movie consists of Jack Nicholson (miscast as a Napoleonic soldier) and Boris Karloff (as the hermit-like aristocrat) wandering around. It might have been better for Karloff if he hadn't worked for Corman those two extra days--he isn't used to his best advantage here, and being immersed in waist-deep in water during the climax certainly didn't do the frail and elderly actor any favors. 

Because of its public domain status and the name value of Nicholson, Karloff, and Corman, dozens and dozens of fly-by-night video companies put THE TERROR out on VHS and DVD--I bet the total amount of home video releases of this title number into the hundreds. Needless to say, the general quality of them is sorely lacking. Film Masters states that their release is a new HD restoration from original 35mm elements. This Blu-ray is miles above any other version of the film. The color is much bolder and the picture, for the most part, is much sharper. There are still more than a few scenes that are soft and faded, but this is probably the best that one can expect THE TERROR to look. The sound quality is much better as well, giving heft to Ronald Stein's excellent music score (one of the best things about the movie). The movie is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen format, and the disc is Region Free. 

The extras for this disc of THE TERROR include a long visual essay entitled GHOSTS IN THE MACHINE: ART & ARTIFICE IN ROGER CORMAN'S CELLULOID CASTLE by Howard S. Berger and Kevin Marr. The essay takes a deep, deep analytical dive into the film, proposing that it has all sorts of themes and meanings to it, with a portentous narration by Berger. There's also a brand new audio commentary by C. Courtney Joyner and Steve Haberman. It's a lively discussion, as the two talk about the film's unusual production, the Corman/Poe series, and Boris Karloff's work with American-International Pictures. A 22-page booklet is included with this release, and it has two articles: one by C. Courtney Joyner on the long association that Boris Karloff had with the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and the other has Mark McGee delving into the making of THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. 

I have to say that I'm still not all that impressed with THE TERROR as a film, but I am impressed with this Film Masters release, and the extras that are included on it. Roger Corman and Boris Karloff fans will at least appreciate a proper home video release for this title. I'll be covering THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS disc, and the extras on that, for a future blog post. 

Friday, January 5, 2024



Another movie I picked up cheap from Edward R. Hamilton, RAID ON ROMMEL is a standard 1971 WWII action-adventure produced by Universal.

The director of RAID ON ROMMEL, Henry Hathaway, had helmed THE DESERT FOX, a biography of Erwin Rommel with James Mason as the famed Field Marshal. The star of RAID ON ROMMEL, Richard Burton, had appeared in THE DESERT RATS, a film that also featured Mason as Rommel. RAID ON ROMMEL isn't as good as those earlier films--as a matter of fact, a lot of its footage was taken from another Universal WWII story set in North Africa, TOBRUK. 

RAID ON ROMMEL has elements of WHERE EAGLES DARE, THE DIRTY DOZEN, and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, but it's not on the same scale as those action epics. Richard Burton plays a British intelligence officer who infiltrates a German POW convoy headed for Tobruk. Burton's plan is to use the POWs to attack and destroy shore batteries on the Libyan coast--but most of the commandos who were supposed to help him didn't arrive, and he has to train the POWs while on the way. Of course there's all sorts of complications, including the mistress (Danielle De Metz) of an Italian general, and a meeting with Rommel himself (Wolfgang Preiss). 

There isn't much that's surprising or unique about RAID ON ROMMEL--it's the usual "impossible mission" scenario. According to internet sources, the movie was first planned as a TV project, and it feels like a small-screen story at times. Burton is the only major name of note in the feature, unless you count Euro cult star Wolfgang Preiss, who actually resembles Rommel a bit. 

The action scenes from TOBRUK are spectacular, and are edited in so well that if you didn't know they were from another movie, you certainly wouldn't have guessed it. (Richard Burton's hair is even dyed blond so it could match up with long shots of George Peppard from TOBRUK.) For those who are wondering how a major American studio could reuse so much footage for a movie with a major director and a major star, one must remember that in 1971 there was no home video industry, or 24-hour movie cable TV channels, or geeks minutely examining films on the internet. I'm sure most folks watching RAID ON ROMMEL had no idea of the reused footage. 

If you are also wondering how Richard Burton got involved in such a project, he got paid a lot of money for not a lot of work (he does have to handle a flamethrower in one scene.) RAID ON ROMMEL was actually filmed in Arizona and Mexico, and the tanks used are not of WWII vintage. 

Also not of WWII vintage is Danielle De Metz, who looks (and acts) like a 1970 fashion model--thankfully she doesn't have much to do here. Another item that will annoy WWII buffs is that a title card at the beginning claims the story is set in 1943. In that year Rommel and his dwindling troops were on the run from the allies, and certainly not as powerful as shown in this film. 

If you can look beyond historical nitpicking, RAID ON ROMMEL is a decent, if generic, 99 minutes of action-adventure. (There's plenty of explosions, that's for sure.) I must admit I wouldn't have bought this film if it wasn't at a major discount. 

Monday, January 1, 2024



Joseph Cotten appeared in some of the most famous films ever made, such as CITIZEN KANE, THE THIRD MAN, and SHADOW OF A DOUBT. He also was in Mario Bava's BARON BLOOD, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, Ishiro Honda's LATITUDE ZERO, and he even pops up in HEAVEN'S GATE. Cotten even wound up in a couple Spaghetti Westerns. One of them is a rather notable entry in the genre: Sergio Corbucci's THE HELLBENDERS. The other, THE TRAMPLERS (1965), is much lesser known. (The original Italian title of THE TRAMPLERS is GLI UOMINI DEL PASSO PESANTE.) 

The same production team behind THE HELLBENDERS was responsible for THE TRAMPLERS, except the latter film was directed by producer and co-writer Albert Band. (Many sources credit Mario Sequi as co-director.) THE TRAMPLERS is a much more traditional Western than THE HELLBENDERS--it's not as dark or cynical, and the main plot of a family dispute caused by the rigid head of the clan makes the film feel like something made in 1950s Hollywood. 

The story is set right after the end of the Civil War. Lon Cordeen (Gordon Scott), who fought for the Confederacy, returns home to his family's vast spread in Texas after three years of being away. Lon finds out that his brothers and his father Temple (Joseph Cotten) lord over the nearby town, and act as if the South didn't lose the war. Lon is so disgusted by his family's behavior, he decides to break away and build a life of his own. Lon, with his youngest brother Hoby (Jim Mitchum), sister Bess (Emma Valloni) and her husband Charley (Franco Nero), organizes and begins a cattle drive to raise money. The imperious Temple, however, won't accept the fact that some of his children won't do what he wants them to, and demands that the group be brought back dead or alive. The result is a final showdown between the entire family. 

If THE TRAMPLERS had been made a few years later, when the Euro Western boom was in full swing, it probably would have been a much different film (especially if it had been directed by Sergio Corbucci). The look and feel of the film is very much in the classic American Western tradition--there are no scruffy loners or quirky musical themes here. Gordon Scott, best known for the many sword & sandal films he starred in, actually comes off quite well as a stalwart frontier hero. Jim Mitchum (son of Robert) does well too as youngster Hoby, who grows from kindly innocent to steely-eyed gunslinger. 

Joseph Cotten plays the flamboyantly named Temple Cordeen, who has a resemblance to the character the actor played in THE HELLBENDERS. The difference is that Cordeen has a secure base in which to work from--it's mentioned that the local townsfolk are either afraid of the Cordeen family or in agreement with their political and social beliefs. Behind Cordeen's surface charm & courtesy is an inflexible patriarch who won't take no for an answer. Cotten's Temple isn't a ranting or raving lunatic--he's someone who acts like a Southern gentleman, yet expects his orders to be carried out at all times. (He's also cold-blooded enough to carry out the lynching of a newspaperman at the very beginning of the film.) One wonders how Cotten felt about making Westerns in Italy, but it certainly didn't affect his acting ability. 

Making his Western debut here is Franco Nero (he's billed as Frank Nero). Very soon after working on this film, Nero would get the starring role in DJANGO, and go on to become a cult icon. Nero plays Lon Cordeen's decent upstanding brother-in-law, a far cry from the Euro Western characters he would eventually be known for. (The role of Charley might be the most normal one Nero would play in a Western.) 

THE TRAMPLERS has a much greener and pastoral look than the usual Spaghetti Western (the cattle herd sequences were actually filmed in Argentina). A cattle drive is an unusual plot point in any Euro Western (most characters in that genre are not interested in doing that type of work--or any real work at all). The ending is somewhat surprising as well. There is the obligatory final shootout, but instead of going out in a blaze of glory, Temple Cordeen is shocked into realizing that his actions have destroyed his family. 

I had never seen THE TRAMPLERS, and I had assumed that it wasn't on the same level as THE HELLBENDERS. It's actually a decent Western in its own right, and it has a more traditional feel to it. THE TRAMPLERS certainly deserves to get an official North American home video release.