The Manchurian Candidate (1962) John Frankenheimer

   Manchurian Candidate 1   Frank Sinatra was never shy about expressing his political beliefs. As far back as 1945, he made The House I Live, an eleven minute short film with a plea for tolerance. By 1960, Frank was back on top of the entertainment world. He was one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood. Still a political liberal, Sinatra wanted to produce and direct a serious film. He chose William Bradford Huie’s non-fiction book, The Execution of Private Slovik (1954), the story of the only American soldier executed since the Civil War. Sinatra hired Albert Maltz, who coincidently happened to have written the The House I Live In script to do the adaptation. Maltz was one of the original Hollywood Ten blacklisted in Hollywood. By 1960, HUAC and the witch hunts were over, though remnants of the stink it created remained. Many writers still could not get a job, at least under their own name.  Continue reading

In Cold Blood (1967) Richard Brooks

incold.png   They were cold blooded senseless murders. Truman Capote had read about the 1959 killings of Herbert Clutter and his family which consisted of his wife, Bonnie, and two teenage kids, Nancy and Kenyon. Clutter was a well to do farmer in Holcomb, Kansas. After learning about the murders, Capote decided to travel to Holcomb to write an article about the crime. He took along with him his childhood friend, fellow author Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird), working as his assistant. Neither one knew it at the time, but they would spend the next four years or so interviewing, recording, and writing hundreds and hundreds of pages of notes turning it into a bestselling and stunning piece of investigating reporting. The killers, caught six weeks after the murders, were two life-long losers named, Richard ‘Dick’ Hickock and Perry Smith. Continue reading

A Hard Day’s Night (1964) Richard Lester

Beatles4   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

Mamma Roma (1962) Pier Paolo Pasolini

Mamma_RomaIt 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

The Rise and Fall of Legs Dimaond (1960) Budd Boetticher

DimaondIn 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 DiamondContinue reading

Tony Rome (1967) Gordon Douglas

TOnyRome23The 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

Short Takes: Two Anti-War Classics

dirk_bogarde_king__countryKing 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