The Loved One
Besides being one of the funniest, yet strangest comedies ever made, The Loved One may be the greatest satire of life in Los Angeles during the 1960s and has one of the most eclectic, but well used casts of all time (including Jonathan Winters in dual roles, Robert Morse, Milton Berle, Rod Steiger, John Gielgud, Paul Williams, Tab Hunter, Roddy McDowall…oh, and Liberace). Morse plays Dennis Barlow, a young British poet who shows up in Los Angeles to visit his uncle, Sir Francis Hinsley (John Gielgud), a film studio worker. After the uncle dies Dennis gets involved with Aimee (Anjanette Comer), an employee at the sinister funeral home, Whispering Glades.
Based on the book by the big-time British novelist Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited), The Loved One was adapted for the screen by the American satirist Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove) and the haughty author and critic Christopher Isherwood (A Single Man). To make this motley crew even more improbable it was directed British filmmaker Tony Richardson who arose to much acclaim during the “angry young man” movement of British filmmaking in the late '50s and early '60s and won an Oscar for Tom Jones. But after The Loved One, he was never able to find his filmmaking footing. The film was shot beautifully in black and white, giving a crisp, yet gothic look to the Los Angeles locations, by legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, Bound For Glory) and it was edited by the soon-to-be-major director of the '70s, Hal Ashby (Harold And Maude, Coming Home). All of these very improbable voices came together to create one of the more unique films of the decade.Continue Reading
Gone With The Wind
For 40 years, until of the era of the blockbuster (beginning with Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., and perhaps The Sound Of Music and The Godfather before them), Gone With The Wind was the ultimate blockbuster. Other films may have passed it in overall box office, but that’s because ticket prices have risen. No film had more people go see it in its day than Gone With The Wind. And yes, it’s a melodramatic soap opera with an eerie romantic schoolgirl crush on the Old South, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is impeccably crafted with one of the most stunning performances by an actress in film history.
Based on Margaret Mitchell’s massive Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the fall of the antebellum American South, Gone With The Wind follows the young Southern belle, Sacrlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), through her many marriages, before, during, and after the Civil War. The dashing and worldly Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) is the man for her, but like any spoiled creature, she wants what she can’t have. The stiff, but proud Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) is the object of her near obsession, but he is engaged to her kindly cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland).Continue Reading
Dark Of The Sun
As of writing, the tough as nails action flick Dark Of The Sun is still not available in the U.S. on DVD. To see it at home you have to endure an old pan n’ scan VHS edition, which is reportedly edited (for violence) from the original cut that graced cinemas in the late '60s. Also known as The Mercenaries, even with the low quality options, it’s worth watching. Filled with spectacular African locations, cool action, solid performances, and, most importantly, a wildly inventive score by the French composer Jacques Loussier, Dark of The Sun is a lost gem that deserves to be rediscovered.
Less preachy in its mission than more recent films like Blood Diamond, the social statements about race and economic exploitation of Africa are there, but Dark Of The Sun is more concerned with action. Ultra-cool Rod Taylor (The Birds) plays Captain Bruce Curry, a mercenary in the Congo. He is hired to retrieve a load of diamonds deep in the mountains and, while there, rescue a group of white company workers about to be attacked by rebel soldiers (Simbas). Aided by his top man, Sergeant Ruffo (American football star Jim Brown), and a drunken British doctor Wreid (Kenneth More), they put together a team of Congolese soldiers led by a nasty German Nazi officer, Henlein (Peter Carsten). Along the way they pick up a saucy Belgian care worker, Claire, who has some obvious chemistry with Curry (Yvette Mimieux, Taylor’s love interest a decade earlier in The Time Machine) and fight though UN roadblocks, rebel soldiers, and airplanes.Continue Reading
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
When it’s all said and done Jack Nicholson has probably had the most iconic film career of all time. He may have more important films and performances under his belt than any other American actor, including such film giants as Bogart or James Stewart. He helped to define the late '60s and '70s with roles in Easy Rider, Chinatown, and Five Easy Pieces. He’s worked with a diverse group of directors including Kubrick, Antonioni, Kazan, Ken Russell, Mike Nichols, and Arthur Penn (though the outcome was some of his least successful films of the era). Nicholson has continued through the decades since with relevant work in films like Reds, Terms Of Endearment, The Departed, Prizzi’s Honor, and About Schmidt, as well as the blockbuster, Batman. Even with such a giant filmography, one film still defines him and remains his most signature performance, Randle P. McMurphy in Milos Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
Producer Michael Douglas originally bought the rights to beatnik-turned-LSD-guru Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel as a vehicle for his father Kirk, who starred in a New York stage adaptation. As the years passed with the film not getting made, eventually Kirk was deemed too old and unbankable. In stepped Nicholson and Czechoslovakia-born director Milos Forman known for his two Czech new-wave flicks, Loves Of A Blonde and The Firemen’s Ball, as well as for his ultra-hip American debut, Taking Off. Like so many films before it (from Charlie Chaplin to Midnight Cowboy) it often takes a foreigner to appreciate and understand the American spirit.Continue Reading
Inspired by the critical and commercial success of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s arthouse shocker, Les Diabolique, Alfred Hitchcock took a break from his big budget Technicolor thrillers to make a little horror film called Psycho. Like the French film, he would shoot on a shoestring budget and in black & white. After the massive success of his previous film, North By Northwest, most of the suits at the studio thought their cash cow was off his rocker. Forgoing most of his big money crew he had worked with for years, he used the team from his anthology TV series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, knowing they could work fast and cheap and would be more open to some of the new radical tricks Hitchcock was hoping to try out. With no one understanding what the master had up his sleeve, in the end, Psycho has proved to be one his biggest hits and one of the most influential films of all time.
Perfectly taut and compact, every line of Pyscho's dialog, every camera movement, and even the casting is all carefully constructed for the scare and suspense payoffs to come. Based on a then little read novel with the same title by Robert Bloch (Strait-Jacket), Hitchcock burned through a couple of screenwriters before Joseph Stefano got the vibe he was looking for. Bloch was inspired by the horrific true-life serial killer Ed Gein (whose ghastly crimes would inspire a number of films from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Motel Hell).Continue Reading
Before the success of Fast Times At Ridgemont HIgh and John Hughes’ condescending acne epics, the teen movie genre barely existed. In the late 1970s, the early teen years were usually either scary (Over The Edge) or whimsical (A Little Romance). The terrific film, My Bodyguard, manages to combine both and then split the difference. Journeyman actor Tony Bill made a very effective directing debut with My Bodyguard, it’s now considered a minor classic of the teen genre. He would follow it up with the awful Dudley Moore/Mary Tyler Moore weeper, Six Weeks, but then redeem himself with the interesting cult flick, Five Corners. Since then he has become a reliable TV director.
Clifford Peache is a typical teen movie nerd - shy, sensitive, and unpretentious (played by Chris Makepeace who did an even wimpier version of this character a year earlier in Meatballs). Clifford’s father manages a fancy Chicago hotel where he lives with his kooky Grandma (played by Martin Mull and Ruth Gordon, their eccentricities are a little sitcomy and are the least memorable parts of the film). The good stuff happens at school where Clifford, the new kid, gets off to a rocky start with the resident bully, Moody (Matt Dillon), who continues to sadistically harass Clifford and the other school nerds. One kid at school has even the bullies spooked, Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin), a hulking outcast who was said to have killed his brother. After Clifford learns from a teacher that his brother died by accident, he begins to stalk Ricky, eventually employing him as his bodyguard against Moody. The two end up bonding and help each other become better people and all that.Continue Reading
A half decade before his breakthrough films Salvador and Platoon would make Oliver Stone a major director with a political conscience, The Hand proves to be an odd film for Stoneaphiles. It’s his second following his unwatchable low budget horror flick, Seizure, and it works well as a suspenseful psychological horror thriller, but more importantly it proves that no matter how ridiculous the material Michael Caine makes anything worth watching.
Caine plays a successful comic book artist in Vermont. He and his younger wife (Andrea Marcovicci) are having marital problems - his wife wants to go to New York City to study at a groovy yoga center, he just wants to be left alone. He loses his hand in a freak car accident, which is the worst thing that can happen to an artist. The hand is never found. He is forced to get a mechanical prosthetic glove. After his wife leaves him, he takes a job teaching at a central California college. He begins an affair with a student (Annie McEnroe) and gets a yahoo drinking buddy (Bruce McGill, D-Day in Animal House and later a respected character actor in films like The Insider). Suddenly people around him start to turn up dead (including director Stone playing a wino). They are murdered on screen by a walking hand, but it may all be in Caine’s head. Is he actually doing the killing?Continue Reading
Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Learned To Love The Bomb
In the heart of the Cold War, after the Cuban missal crisis, fresh from the assassination of President Kennedy, the world seemed to be on the brink of nuclear destruction. It was a tense era, as reflected by a number of the paranoid films that were produced - Fail-Safe, Seven Days In May, On The Beach, to name a few. Knowing the world it was released into makes the attitudes of the "black comedy" Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Learned To Love The Bomb, particularly black. While many Americans had fall-out shelters in their backyards, Stanley Kubrick's film was laughing at the ridiculousness of world annihilation, while wondering who are the hopeless leaders we have entrusted with our nukes and our planet’s future?
Kubrick co-wrote the script with satirist Terry Southern (The Loved One, Easy Rider), kinda sorta based on a novel Red Alert, an actual thriller by Peter George. Dr. Strangelove was the final film of Kubrick’s outstanding black and white period, following his other classics, The Killing, Paths Of Glory, and Lolita, a foursome as relevant and as diverse as any young American director has had. And like Lolita, Dr. Strangelove would be a showcase for the acting range of Peter Sellers. Here he would take on three utterly different roles, to much acclaim.Continue Reading
The Omega Man
In The Omega Man, as Robert Neville, Charlton Heston drives around an abandoned Los Angeles in his convertible. He steps into a torn out department store and grabs a new track suit; he gets the generator working on an old movie theater and watches Woodstock; then he chats and plays chess against a bust of Caesar. Spotting some hooded figures in the darkness, he pulls out his machine gun and opens fire, killing them - you see, as the poster proclaimed, “The last man alive…is not alone!”
Before The Omega Man, Richard Matheson’s brilliant 1954 post-apocalyptic mini-novel, I Am Legend, was adapted into a Vincent Price snoozer called The Last Man On Earth. More recently the book was the source for a Will Smith vehicle that kept the title but went overboard with the CGI (a fantastic first half, it loses its way by the third act). Though it may be closer in spirit to Matheson’s book than The Omega Man, for pure fun the Heston version is the most entertaining of the three.Continue Reading
The Grapes Of Wrath
When Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) returns to his Oklahoma farm after four years in prison, he learns that nothing is what it was. It’s the 1930s, the depression is on, and his family has lost their farm and home to the bank. So begins an amazing journey for Tom - as he sees the social injustice around him he grows from petty criminal to labor activist. The Grapes of Wrath is a monumental film by a monumental director, John Ford, based on a brilliant book by another monumental figure, John Steinbeck. The truths laid out in the book and film may be just as true today as they were then. Tom leads his family from the dustbowl in search of work and a promise for a better life in California, but all they find are lies, police corruption, and corporate exploitation of desperate workers. It sounds a lot like the plight migrant workers from Mexico and Central America still face in search of the supposed American Dream.
The Grapes Of Wrath almost plays like a post-apocalyptic adventure as Tom, along with his Ma (Jane Darwell), Pa (Russell Simpson), and the preacher, Casey (John Carradine), pack the entire Joad clan into the truck and head west, where the world they encounter is a hostile and burnt out place. They are encouraged by pamphlets to head to California, but they get there to find themselves hoarded like cattle in a police state where their every move is monitored (another piece of futureshock, the dystopian state). Tom, at first naive, then confused, slowly realizes that all the cards are fixed against him and all the little people of the country. By the end, on the run from the cops, he tells his Ma in one of the great speeches in film history, "Wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there..." It’s a dark conclusion for the Joad family (and for the American Socialist dream, as WWII and then the Cold War are just around history’s corner).Continue Reading