When A Hard Day’s Night was first released everyone was expecting the English pop groups’ version of an Elvis movie, It Happened at the British Open or something as nonsensical as that. Just have John Lennon and Paul McCartney pump out a half a dozen or so new songs, create a soundtrack, release the album and sell millions for United Artists. The studio was just looking to cash in on the music quickly before the fad of Beatlemania would fade from the memory of teenagers around the world. In February 1964, The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show where more than 60 million viewers watched. The time was ripe for a film, but it had to be made quick and cheap, United Artists, not wanting to spring for any extra dollars. What producer, Walter Shenson, got along with the studio, the music critics and the public, instead was a surprisingly energetic, pulsating, witty, frenetic, somewhat fictional day in the life that film critic Andrew Sarris, in his original Village Voice review, called “the Citizen Kane of juke-box musicals.” Continue reading
It took more than thirty years for Pier Paolo Pasolini’s second film, Mamma Roma, to arrive on American shores. Made in 1962, the film finally had its day in 1995 thanks to Martin Scorsese, our patron saint of forgotten cinema. The film made the art house circuit beginning at the Film Forum in New York and then made its way around the country. Why did it take so long? Well, it began when the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival where the local police declared the film obscene. The film made its way around Europe, but met with the scissors from local censors snipping at what they considered objectionable material. Even after the critical and financial success of his third film, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, both here and in Europe, there were no takers to bring his earlier work to these shores. Continue reading
In 1957, Allied Artists released a low budget gangster film called, Al Capone, starring Rod Stieger. The film was an immediate hit raking in over one million dollars. Big bucks back then for a low-budget film. The film is notable for starting a new cycle of gangster films that included Pretty Boy Floyd with Leif Erickson, Machine Gun Kelly with Charles Bronson, The Purple Gang with Barry Sullivan and a young Robert Blake, King of the Roaring Twenties with David Jansen, Mad Dog Coll with John David Chandler and Vincent Gardenia, and Portrait of a Mobster with Vic Morrow. There was even a hit TV series, The Untouchables. Included in this blood shed of works was Budd Boetticher’s The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond. Continue reading
The private detective film made a comeback in the mid to late 60’s thanks to the Paul Newman starring 1966 film Harper. (There were shades of Bogart and a good story line thanks to the source novel The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald). Other films soon followed (P.J., Marlowe) in its successful path including Tony Rome released the following year.
By 1967, Frank Sinatra’s film career was once again on a slide downward, unlike Newman’s who pretty much ruled the screen in the 1960’s. The original Jersey Boy made three mediocre films in a row (Marriage on the Rocks, Assault on a Queen and The Naked Runner). They were films he walked through and he looked as bored as the films were themselves. With Tony Rome, Sinatra, the actor, found his way back with the kind of smart ass, wise guy loner the public always kind of felt the singer/actor was in real life. Sinatra does look a bit too old for the role, he was 51 and looked even older. Just compare a photo of 51 year old Brad Pitt next to Frank, the difference is obvious. However, that hard, tired face and look surely adds to the aura. Continue reading
King and Country is a dark, brutal, effective attack on war by the exiled American director, Joseph Losey. A shell shocked soldier, one Private Hamp (Tom Courtenay), is put on trial for desertion after he walks away from the brutality and loss of humanity of war. The young soldier has already served three years at the front, witnessing the violent, senseless, inhuman pointlessness of trench warfare. Living in rat-infested conditions, witnessing one atrocity after another, Hamp, after one particular brutal day of warfare, leaves. He wants to go home. Continue reading
Filmmakers and photographers have one obsession in common. Well, they actually have more than one. However, the one obsession I ‘d like to point out here, and I have spoken about this before, is they like to watch! Just like the audience, everyone in the audience, no exceptions, they like to look, they are voyeurs. Come on, let’s face it, we all like watch and the safest way to watch others is by watching a movie or looking at a photograph.
We have seen voyeurism in many films as diverse as Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow Up” and Brian DePalma’s early black comedy “Greetings.” Taken to the extreme, voyeurism leads to invasion of privacy and even worst, murder as it does in Michael Powell’s 1960 film “Peeping Tom.”
Hammer studio was known for reinvigorating the horror film with its revisionist versions of Universal icons Frankenstein and Dracula along with providing a gaggle of sexy semi-dressed female vampires. But Hammer was more than just horror. The studio also made a series of suspense/crime films one of which is the 1961 thriller, “Scream of Fear.” Directed by Seth Holt with a script by Hammer main stay Jimmy Sangster the film contains its share of shocks closer in style to a Hitchcockian suspense thriller than Hammer’s better known blend of monsters and vampires. I first watched this eerie atmospheric film years ago on a beat up rented VHS tape and finally got to watch it again recently thanks to a copy I found at a local library. (1)
The film opens with a prologue prior to the opening credits. It takes place in Switzerland; the police dragging a lake for a body, a woman is soon found and identified as Emily Frencham. We later find out she was traveling with her friend Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg), together on vacation, when Emily, for reasons never explained, left her hotel during the night and ended up dead in the lake. Sometime later we meet Penny, a wheelchair bound young woman who returns, for the first time in ten years, to the creepy looking villa of her father on the French Riviera. Her father left England years ago moving to France after divorcing Penny’s mother. After her mother’s recent death and with her father remarried to a woman named Jane (Ann Todd), Penny comes to France meeting her step mother for the first time. Continue reading