Monday, April 29, 2024



At the beginning of this month I examined the goofy comedy Euro Western LIFE IS TOUGH, EH PROVIDENCE? Today I'll look at its sequel HERE WE GO AGAIN, EH PROVIDENCE?, originally released in 1973. 

The second Providence film is far more ridiculous and outlandish than the first, and that's saying something. Once again the Charlie Chaplinesque Providence (Tomas Milian) and his rough-and-ready partner (Gregg Palmer) engage in various wacky schemes to enrich themselves. (In the version of LIFE IS TOUGH that I saw, Gregg Palmer's character was called The Tennessee Kid, and in this movie he's called The Hurricane Kid.)

HERE WE GO AGAIN is so bizarre that it really is more of a surreal fantasy than a dopey Western. It has a production design that resembles a cross between CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. The entire intent of HERE WE GO AGAIN was apparently to enlarge and outdo the silly antics of LIFE IS TOUGH. 

The writers of HERE WE GO AGAIN seem to have gone the "Everything but the kitchen sink" route. This film has a rather elaborate can-can routine that segues into a brawl, a slapstick sequence set on an ice rink, a kung fu battle, and a scene where Providence and his buddy are saved from being executed by a firing squad due to......bird droppings. In LIFE IS TOUGH Providence traveled around in a tricked-out Wells Fargo coach, and here he cavorts about in a zany locomotive-like device that doesn't have to run on rails. This vehicle has even more unique gadgets, and it's driven by Providence's Chinese manservant who is called "So Long" (groan). 

The movie also includes a hot-air balloon, a bank built from giant Lego blocks (I'm not making this up), plenty of corny dialogue, gags that were better used by the Looney Tunes gang, TV commercial parodies, and characters breaking the fourth wall. There's a lot going on in HERE WE GO AGAIN, but none of it is particularly entertaining or amusing. (I must admit I did laugh out loud once, at a line of dialogue concerning the Red Baron.) 

Tomas Milian is even more in a silent-movie comedian mode than he was in the first Providence film--his pants are way baggier, and his ties have gotten more clownish. Milian also gets a song-and-dance routine of his own. Unfortunately his broad mugging becomes very irritating. 

HERE WE GO AGAIN, EH PROVIDENCE? was directed by Italian genre veteran Alberto De Martino. Among the De Martino films I've covered on this blog are THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER and OPERATION KID BROTHER. Those films are way. way better than HERE WE GO AGAIN--it appears that De Martino decided to go totally off the rails and throw a bunch of stuff up against the movie screen to see what would stick. As in the first Providence film, the music score is by Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, and it's just as weird as everything else in this movie. 

The best way I can sum up HERE WE GO AGAIN, EH PROVIDENCE? is to state that it's one of the strangest films I've ever seen. There's nothing wrong with being strange, at certain times.....but this movie offers nothing else. 

Saturday, April 27, 2024



STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING, released in 1972, was one of the very few Hammer films I had not seen. (The movie is available on Tubi.) It was one of the many attempts by Hammer in the early 70s to go in a more modern & different direction, and, like most of those attempts, didn't make much of an impact. 

The main character of the story is Brenda (Rita Tushingham), an awkward young girl who lives with her mother in a drab flat in Liverpool. Brenda spends most of her time dreaming and writing fairy tale stories, and she decides to go to London to find her Prince Charming (after lying to her mother about being pregnant and having to seek a father for her baby). In the big city Brenda meets a strange, handsome fellow named Peter (Shane Briant), after returning his lost dog Tinker. Brenda becomes more and more involved with Peter's weird life, but doesn't realize until it's too late that the young man is a murderous psychopath. 

STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING sees Hammer dealing with a more mainstream director (Peter Collinson) and a more mainstream star (Rita Tushingham). The story is also set in a very contemporary London that is far more realistic than the one portrayed in DRACULA A.D. 1972. Due to this the movie has a dreary feel to it instead of being thrilling or exciting. 

One main issue is the character of Brenda. When she appeared in this film Rita Tushingham had already played a number of social misfits, but here Brenda is such a sad sack that it's hard to feel sympathetic toward her or even worried about her plight. At one point Brenda gets a makeover in order to be more attractive for Peter, but she can't even do that right--she winds up looking dowdy instead of glamorous. The script even seems to suggest that someone like Brenda deserves to wind up with a psycho like Peter. 

As for Peter, Shane Briant is perfect for the role. Briant had pretty-boy looks combined with an off-putting, quirky personality. Briant was the type of actor that you never knew what he was going to do or how he was going to react. Much of Peter's deadly activities are left vague, which actually makes him more of a threat--but the reasons behind his actions are left vague as well. He has a Peter Pan fixation (which is the point of the film's title), but even this isn't explored enough. Hammer put a lot of effort into showcasing Briant in the early 1970s, but despite his talents he didn't go on to bigger stardom. 

Katya Wyeth, as Brenda's sexy co-worker, fulfills the obligatory Hammer Glamour quotient very effectively--so much so that one wishes her character had been the main focus of the story. 

Peter Collinson (best known for THE ITALIAN JOB) injects a lot of showy editing techniques and unique shot compositions, but these seem self-indulgent rather than necessary for the story. There isn't a lot of suspense in this film--it's very easy to ascertain where the story is going to go. It's almost embarrassing to watch Brenda constantly make a fool of herself, and the movie has some very disturbing moments, such as a sequence in which torture by audio is used, and a horrid scene that will drive animal lovers to the brink (this scene is probably why one never sees this film on broadcast television). I'm sure STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING was meant to be depressing and upsetting, but it also means that it's not a movie one wants to watch multiple times. 

Saturday, April 20, 2024



THE THREE MUSKETEERS: MILADY is the followup to THE THREE MUSKETEERS: D'ARTAGNAN. The two films, produced in France and both directed by Martin Bourboulon, form a major new cinematic adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' famed novel. 

MILADY continues on from the events of the first film, with the impetuous D'Artagnan (Francois Civil), now an official musketeer, searching for his true love Constance (Lyna Khoudri), who has disappeared. Meanwhile he and his friends Athos (Vincent Cassel), Aramis (Romain Duris) and Porthos (Pio Marmal) become deeper involved in the religious factionalism threatening to tear apart France, while a war looms with England. Lurking behind it all is the mysterious and alluring Milady De Winter (Eva Green), whose actions have major consequences for all the main characters. 

MILADY is well-titled, since the film provides a great showcase for Eva Green. You could even say that she is the main star instead of any of the musketeers. The background of Milady is a major factor here, and the script takes great pains to give the woman's side of the story. This is very much a 21st Century element of storytelling, and in this instance it didn't bother me, although some might look askance at the changes this film makes toward Milady and the ending of Dumas' novel. 

The epic sweep of D'ARTAGNAN is also continued here, along with that film's gritty action scenes. (The battle for La Rochelle is a big highlight of MILADY.) 

What really made these two new Musketeer movies work for me is that while they are enjoyable and entertaining, they avoid the silly attitudes and dopey humor one usually finds in modern Hollywood action-adventure blockbusters. There are plenty of plots and counter-plots galore in these two Musketeer films between various religious and political factions, and there's also a depth to the main characters. The production design is very impressive, but there's also a reality to it--both films actually being made in France certainly helps. 

The ending of MILADY sets up a path toward future adventures with these characters, and I'm all for that, as long as the same cast & crew are involved. MILADY and D'ARTAGNAN are excellent examples of classic cinematic storytelling, and I heartily recommend both. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

THE LOOTERS On Blu-ray From Kino

THE LOOTERS is a 1955 black & white melodrama produced by Universal. It appears as if this film has never had a home video release of any kind before, so once again kudos to Kino for putting out a rare product. 

The story concerns Jesse Hill (Rory Calhoun), who works as a guide in the Colorado mountains. Jesse gets an unexpected visitor in the form of old war buddy Pete Corder (Ray Danton). Jesse and Pete hear a plane crash nearby, and the duo decide to trek out to it and see if they can be of any help. The two men find the wreckage, but things get complicated when one of the survivors turns out to be an attractive model (Julie Adams) and a quarter of a million dollars is discovered at the site. 

THE LOOTERS is a decent enough film, more like a B movie. It could also be called an "outdoor noir", with a collection of cynical people and a ton of loot driving everyone against each other. It does take a while to get going, and none of the characters are all that appealing (even Rory Calhoun's, even though he's ostensibly the hero). The outdoor locations (which were actually filmed in Colorado) do help things out from a visual and dramatic standpoint. 

Ray Danton is excellent as the untrustworthy Pete, who, in time-honored noir fashion, turns out to be a coward when the chips are down. Even Julie Adams is more hard-boiled than usual here, but her natural likability still manages to come out. (Danton and Adams would soon marry after this film.) Tomas Gomez does well as a wreck survivor, a middle-aged man dissatisfied with his life and willing to do anything to get his hands on all the loot. As another survivor Frank Faylen provides what little comic relief there is. 

THE LOOTERS was directed by Abner Biberman, who keeps things on a tight leash and works up some suspenseful moments. The story elements won't surprise anyone, but there is a truly explosive ending. 

Kino presents THE LOOTERS in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The picture quality is very good, though a bit soft at times. A brand new commentary is provided featuring Toby Roan, who once again spends most of his time reciting personal and career details about the major members of the cast & crew (he only occasionally talks about the movie). 

I had never seen THE LOOTERS and certainly didn't know anything about it. It's not a major production, but it's an effective film for its type, and it's to Kino's credit that they decided to finally give the movie its home video debut. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024



This mammoth documentary about legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone was originally released in Europe over two years ago. An English-language version of the film is finally available for streaming in America. Why it took so long to get here is beyond me, but let's be glad it has arrived. 

ENNIO is over two and a half hours long, and it was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (who collaborated most famously with Morricone on CINEMA PARADISO). It details Morricone's long and fruitful life, with his playing trumpet in small gigs while still a young student, to his studying classical composition, his success in the Italian pop music world as an arranger, and his groundbreaking and game-changing career as the creator of hundreds of scores for feature films. 

There's plenty of famous folks on hand to express their love and admiration for Morricone, but what makes this documentary special is that most of it is made up of the man himself on camera sharing his thoughts and ideas on his life and work. It's fascinating to hear Morricone give insight on how he created his most renowned themes. The man was nearly 90 when he took part in this project, but when discussing those scores that mean the most to him he becomes particularly energetic and vibrant, revealing his overall passion for music. 

One of the main themes in this documentary is how Morricone often felt he wasn't given enough credit as a "serious" music composer. Watching this film it's obvious this feeling still bothered him after all his many accomplishments. No matter what your definition of "serious" music may be, no one can deny that Ennio Morricone has had more impact on global popular culture than almost any other artist of his time. That is Morricone's true legacy. 

There's plenty of rare footage here not just of Morricone, but also of performances of some of the pop tunes he arranged in the early 1960s, and of course plenty of scenes from the many, many films he wrote scores for. I'm sure there's going to be someone who will view this film and say "Why didn't they talk about this film? Or that score?" All things considered, I feel ENNIO gives an effective and comprehensive overview of Morricone's career. Giuseppe Tornatore provides a good rhythm to the proceedings, and thankfully he lets Morricone himself be the true star of the show. 

I've been an unabashed Ennio Morricone fan for decades, so it's no surprise I wholeheartedly endorse this documentary. You don't even need to totally adore Morricone's work to enjoy ENNIO--a true love of cinema will be enough for anyone to appreciate it. The music selected for this film alone is enough of a reason to watch it. 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Book Review: CONVOY--The Comprehensive Yet Untold Story


It seems hard to believe that anyone would want to write a book about the making of CONVOY. The 1978 film inspired by a novelty song with the same title isn't considered a great movie, and some even say that it might be director Sam Peckinpah's worst feature. Dan Bruno & Mike Siegel have, however, taken the tempestuous background of the film's production and turned it into an intriguing, if sad, tale, called CONVOY--The Comprehensive Yet Untold Story. 

Dan Bruno is an American trucking enthusiast and expert, while Mike Siegel is a major Sam Peckinpah historian. The two have combined to detail the full history of CONVOY, from the creation of the song that inspired the project to the shooting of the film in 1977 New Mexico. 

Bruno starts off the book with a quick background of the American trucking history and the national interstate highway system, and the advent of the CB radio craze in the 1970s. Those three factors combined to achieve a cult interest with the American public, and producers Robert Sherman and Michael Deeley thought a movie with box-office clout could be made from those elements. 

The project turned into something different when Sam Peckinpah was hired to direct. By the making of CONVOY Peckinpah's notorious reputation as being almost impossible to deal with was well-known, but the producers thought (mistakenly) that they could handle him. 

As soon as production started, Peckinpah began arguing with the producers, and causing delays with the shooting schedule. The project began to get out of hand, and Bruno & Siegel document this with a day-for-day report of the shoot, and the various complications that kept piling up. 

Eventually Peckinpah was taken off the project during the editing process. The result is that CONVOY (which I re-watched after reading this book) was a disjointed mess, a movie that doesn't know whether it's supposed to be a examination of what working-class Americans go through or a redneck comedy. The film did make a decent amount of money but it is generally looked upon now as a missed opportunity. 

Bruno & Siegel vividly show that it's a miracle that CONVOY was finished at all, with such obstacles as the various trucks and vehicles to be used, unique shooting locations, and the overall personal problems of Sam Peckinpah. When it comes to directors vs. producers, most film geeks will favor the directors every time. Despite the fact that the authors are both huge Peckinpah fans, they don't shy away from detailing that the man's self-destructive habits and iconoclastic attitude hindered the film's production and personally affected many of the cast & crew in a negative way. (At the climax of the book Dan Bruno offers his own analysis and reasons for Peckinpah's behavior.) 

The book has several behind-the-scenes photos taken during the shoot, courtesy of Mike Siegel, and Dan Bruno provides expert info on the many trucks and trailers used during the filming. Bruno also reveals what happened to most of the vehicles after the movie was finished. 

This book truly is a comprehensive and thorough look at a troubled production and the troubled director behind it all. It is also a window into 1970s America (as someone who was a little kid in that era, I can assure you that CB/trucker culture was a big thing, especially in rural areas). I've usually found that movies that are unsuccessful or have problematic shooting histories are more interesting to read about than box-office or critical hits. CONVOY the book is another example of that. 

Friday, April 5, 2024

Book Review: LOVE AND LET DIE--James Bond, The Beatles, And The British Psyche


On October 5, 1962, the very first Beatles single "Love Me Do", and the very first James Bond film, DR. NO, were both originally released in Britain. In the 60+ years since that auspicious day, both franchises have continued to thrive, and to define and reinterpret what it means to be British. LOVE AND LET DIE, written by John Higgs, details how the Beatles and Bond have affected pop culture and society, and how they have surprisingly intertwined over the years. 

Higgs puts the difference between the Beatles and Bond in Freudian terms--the Beatles represent "Eros", or love, while Bond represents "Thanatos", or death. It's a lofty thesis but the author is able to back it up without becoming too pretentious. 

Higgs details how when the Beatles first rose to prominence in the early 1960s, they were seen by many as a threat to the British establishment. At the same time, the Bond films were starting to dominate the box office. The irony of that according to Higgs is that the character of Bond, as portrayed by his creator Ian Fleming, was that of a man whose job it was to defend and protect the British establishment. 

The book also contrasts the backgrounds and upbringings of the four Beatles and Ian Fleming, and shows how the personal lives and experiences of each affected their creative outputs. 

The connections between the Beatles and Bond are far more numerous than one would expect. There's the obvious ones: Paul McCartney writing the title song for LIVE AND LET DIE and Ringo Starr being married to Barbara Bach, the female lead of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. Higgs uncovers several others, such as the many links between A HARD DAY'S NIGHT and GOLDFINGER, probably the two most influential films of 1964. 

Higgs also presents how the critics have reacted to both franchises over the decades (and yes, I think now it's appropriate to refer to the entity known as the Beatles as a franchise). 

This is a thought-provoking book, especially if you are a fan of both Bond and the Beatles (which I am). While I didn't agree with all of the author's ideas, he does have some perceptive analysis. He also gets extra credit from me by having a chapter on Christopher Lee, who started working on THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN a few weeks after taking part in the photo shoot for the cover of Paul McCartney's BAND ON THE RUN album. 

It appeared to me that Higgs is much more a Beatles than a Bond fan. The author looks at things from a 21st Century perspective, and the character of Bond, as portrayed in the original Fleming novels, does not hold up well to those with a politically correct globalist attitude. Higgs is far more appreciative of NO TIME TO DIE than I am. This is still an impressive book, especially for those who are Beatles and Bond fans. The volume is also about 500 pages, but there's plenty in it, and plenty to think about while you are reading it. (I purchased the book at a discount from Edward R. Hamilton Booksellers.) 

Wednesday, April 3, 2024



HEARTS IN BONDAGE isn't a romantic melodrama--it is actually a 1936 Civil War story, dealing with the famous battle between the ironclad ships Merrimack and Monitor in 1862. This movie was produced by Republic Pictures, and it was directed by actor Lew Ayres (the only feature he ever would direct). 

James Dunn plays U.S. naval officer Kenneth Reynolds, and David Manners is his best friend and fellow officer Raymond. As the Southern states start to split from the Union, Reynolds stays with the North, while Raymond joins the Confederate cause. This causes complications, since Raymond's sister Constance (Mae Clarke) is engaged to Kenneth. When Confederate forces attack the Union's naval base at Norfolk, Virginia, Reynolds, in charge of the Merrimack, disobeys orders to destroy the ship and tries to save it instead. Reynolds is dishonorably discharged, and soon learns that Southern agents are raising the Merrimack and planning to use it to end a Union blockade. Reynolds, desperate to prove his worth, helps his uncle, inventor John Ericsson, in developing the Monitor, an ironclad vessel that will be a match for the similarly refurbished Merrimack. As the two technologically advanced ships battle, Kenneth and Raymond find themselves facing off against each other. 

HEARTS IN BONDAGE isn't a film filled with historical accuracy, despite the inclusion of real-life figures such as Abraham Lincoln, David Farragut, Gideon Welles, and John Ericsson. The main characters are fictional, and most of the story is built around their trials and tribulations. Like most Civil War tales made during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the main plot deals with friends or family members driven apart due to the conflict. Raymond's main reason for going over to the South is because his lady love (Charlotte Henry) has a father that has joined the Confederate side. This man is played by Henry B. Walthall, who of course had played a major role in the most famous Civil War picture made until that time, THE BIRTH OF A NATION. HEARTS IN BONDAGE also goes the classic Hollywood route in portraying both sides as noble and heroic (slavery is never mentioned). 

Lew Ayres signed a special contract with Republic Pictures in order to be able to direct this film. Today well-known actors directing features is not unusual, but in 1930s Hollywood it was unheard of. (A larger studio like MGM or Paramount probably wouldn't have given Ayres the chance that the smaller Republic did.) I thought Ayres did a very good job. The film has a nice pace to it (the running time is only 72 minutes), and one can tell that Ayres tried hard to give some visual flair to the proceedings. Republic was known for having an excellent special effects department, and the use of models and miniatures to create the final battle between the ironclads is expertly done for the period. Some might look at the effects now and not be impressed, but the other Hollywood studios of the time would have handled the battle in probably the same way. 

What hurts the film is the main characters. James Dunn and David Manners are not exactly the first actors you would think of when it comes to heroic military adventurers. (Lew Ayres himself would have been better in either role.) Mae Clarke does the best she can with her underwritten role, but her Constance comes off as a wet blanket to Kenneth's attempts to serve the Union. It is to Clarke's credit that Constance doesn't wind up being unappealing. Among the supporting cast are Gabby Hayes and Etta McDaniel, the lookalike sister of Hattie McDaniel. 

It's too bad that Lew Ayres didn't get a chance to direct another feature film, because I think he would have turned out some interesting projects. HEARTS IN BONDAGE is a well-done production that would have been much better if it had stronger male leads (and a stronger title). The main plot only scratches the surface when it comes to the story of the Merrimack and the Monitor, and it doesn't stand up to close historical scrutiny. Nevertheless, it's worth checking out. 

Monday, April 1, 2024



This is a 1972 Euro Western in the Trinity style, a "comedy" that deals with a very different type of bounty hunter and the scruffy, doltish outlaw he keeps capturing and turning in over and over again. 

Spaghetti Western icon Tomas Milian plays Providence, a bounty hunter who, with his scruffy suit, bowler hat, and umbrella, resembles Charlie Chaplin instead of The Man With No Name. Unfortunately Providence acts like Charlie Chaplin as well. He travels throughout the Old West in a former Wells Fargo coach tricked out with all sorts of gimmicks and gadgets. Providence's latest venture is capturing the Tennessee Kid (Gregg Palmer), turning him in for the reward, and breaking him out and repeating the procedure. The Tennessee Kid isn't very happy with this arrangement, and he and Providence have a series of bizarre adventures involving a deceitful saloon girl, a lawman who is a counterfeiter, a group of drunken Confederates, and a congregation building a church. 

LIFE IS TOUGH, EH PROVIDENCE? was directed by Giulio Petroni, who made a number of excellent serious Euro Westerns such as DEATH RIDES A HORSE. Apparently Petroni wanted to jump on the Trinity bandwagon here, but the humor here falls even short of what Terence Hill would accomplish. PROVIDENCE is filled with some of the lamest gags I've ever seen, along with cartoonish stunts and a series of slapstick brawls that would make even Jules White sadly shake his head. Perhaps 7 and 8 year olds might find this funny, but I think little kids would just wonder why all these adults are acting so weird. 

Tomas Milian must have seen this role as a change of pace. Instead of Milian's rebellious machismo, we get the actor attempting to channel silent movie comedians. Milian's performance here has all sorts of facial ticks and physical contortions--he must have known the material was weak, so he decided to play it as broadly as possible. American character actor Gregg Palmer also hams it up as the Tennessee Kid (Bud Spencer must not have been available, because the role of the Kid was essentially made for him). 

Horst Janson (CAPTAIN KRONOS) has a very small role as a sheriff, while Euro Cult veteran Paul Muller, who doesn't show up until the last part of the film, is wasted in what is also a very small part. The movie does feature a quirky score by Ennio Morricone. 

PROVIDENCE doesn't have what one would call a proper plot--it's mainly a series of goofy incidents that the two main characters find themselves involved in. The silly elements get tiresome after a while, especially since there's no real point or overall goal to the story. For whatever reason, this movie was successful enough in Europe to prompt a sequel also starring Milian and Palmer. (Dare I watch that as well??)

I discovered LIFE IS TOUGH, EH PROVIDENCE? on the Tubi streaming channel. It was in the proper aspect ratio and uncut, with an English voice track. Euro Western and Tomas Milian fans might want to see it as least once, but it's nothing more than a subpar Trinity knockoff.