Rupert Pupkin Speaks: July 2015 ""

Friday, July 31, 2015

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - TRUCK TURNER and REAL MEN on Blu-ray

TRUCK TURNER (1974; Jonathan Kaplan)
When Jonathan Kaplan originally signed up for TRUCK TURNER, he was told by A.I.P. that it was going to be a vehicle for Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin or Robert Mitchum. Something like a day later he was told that it was now an Isaac Hayes movie. Hayes was hot off an Academy Award win for his Theme from SHAFT and A.I.P. was looking to capitalize on that with another all Isaac Hayes soundtrack. I find this interesting because film companies that often deal with exploitation product usually want to take advantage of certain actors for box office value, but in this case it was more about the soundtrack. It was that soundtrack that ended up being Kaplan and Hayes' ticket to being pretty much left alone to make the movie they wanted to make. The script was originally much more of a DIRTY HARRY kinda thing and both Kaplan and Hayes had little interest in that or in a straight action movie in general. What they ended up going for was a movie with much more humor to it and something that was basically a send-up of the Blaxploitation genre in a lot of ways. It is the humor that really makes the movie memorable in my mind. It is the humor and Hayes' approach to the character of Turner that really makes it one of the best films of this cycle for my money. I mean, I am fond of saying that it is truly my favorite Blaxploitation movie and this Blu-ray just reminds me how much I love it. Not only does it have a very solid looking HD transfer to show off, but there are a couple of great supplements that really bring the whole thing up to a Criterion-level package. The first is an excellent anything-goes commentary track with director Jonathan Kaplan. This is a delightful track and it is moderated by the venerable Elijah Drenner (documentary filmmaker behind AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE and THAT GUY DICK MILLER). So often a moderator for a commentary seems somewhat arbitrarily chose and it really leaves the hardcore film fan rather disappointed because there are so many lost opportunities and missed questions that could have been asked. Well Mr. Drenner is "one of us" for lack of a better phrase and is a guy who not only knows Kaplan's filmography very well, but is also just genuinely interested and fascinated by the stories that the director has to tell about this movie. He really helps bring out the best in Kaplan and Kaplan is a great storyteller so it is a truly winning combination. There are tons of great stories and insights packed into this track and it is absolutely fantastic to hear so much of the behind-the-scenes on a movie I have loved so dearly for so long. This may be my favorite commentary track of the year, right up there with Tm Hunter's commentary on RIVER'S EDGE and the Twilight Time track with Dennis Christopher on their BREAKING AWAY Blu-ray.
The second extra feature is a recorded Q&A from a 2008 screening at Los Angeles' New Beverly Cinema. It runs about eight minutes, features Kaplan and Stuntman Bob Minor and is moderated by none other than Joe Dante himself. Some retellings of the commentary stories here, but other stuff too.
Here's a great Trailers From Hell with Ernest Dickerson on TRUCK TURNER:

REAL MEN (1987; Dennis Feldman)
The name Dennis Feldman may not immediately ring a bell with you the first time you hear it, but believe me, you know the man's work. He wrote the script for JUST ONE OF THE GUYS (which is one of my favorite 80s movies), as well as THE GOLDEN CHILD (which is an underrated Eddie Murphy movie for sure). On top of that, he also wrote SPECIES! Anyway, REAL MEN is clearly the vision of one individual cause it's just weird enough to have somehow gotten made in 1987 with Feldman writing and directing. It's one of those wild adventure movie comedies that we just don't see anymore. Kind of a James Bond spoof, but also just a farce of a certain kind of wackiness that I remember fondly from that era. Enjoyably cast as the everyman turned action-hero here is the late great John Ritter. He is brought into a far-reaching and out there (literally) conspiracy by a near-rogue C.I.A. agent played by Jim Belushi. This was prime time for Belushi's comedy stylings for me. He would make RED HEAT the next year and K-9 the year after that. He certainly elevated both of those movies and does exactly the same here. His ability to play comedy in what would otherwise be seen as an extremely serious scene is something I've always been wowed by. Belushi genes I guess. And as for Ritter, I see him as one of the somewhat unsung comic geniuses of his generation. He was a physical comedian of the highest order first and foremost and could have held his own with the Chaplins and the Keatons of cinema in my opinion. His ability to make his body got to jelly at a moment's notice is something I think a lot of people forgot about when they were so eager to sing the praises of Jim Carrey during his comedic heyday. Ritter and Belushi are a superb duo here and they really keep the energy of this very frenetic and fast-talking screwball of a movie trucking right along. I think that this is one that a lot of folks caught on VHS back when and so it has a bit of a cult following now, but not nearly what it should have. I am elated to see it get the Blu-ray treatment and know that this will mean more fans joining the REAL MEN team shortly.
Transfer is good here too, no complaints. It is certainly nice to see the film widescreen after a 4x3 DVD prior to this release.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Underrated '65 - Sarah Jane

Sarah Jane has seen over 4,500 films. She is partial to exploitation genre. She originally hails from Southern California but it currently stuck somewhere in the South West. She once studied to be a script supervisor. She generally uses a lot of curse words in her writing. Her ramblings can be found at

She's also on twitter:
See her Underrated '85 and '75 lists below:

Bad Girls Go to Hell - Directed by Doris Wishman
Doris Wishman was something of a rebel. Even now, the majority of films are directed by men and Doris was directing as early as the late 1950s. Granted, they were nudies, but still, she was out there making movies. Bad Girls Go to Hell marksWishman’s foray into the sexploitation genre. The plot involves a housewife who kills a man for attacking her. She goes on the run in New York City and moves from situation to situation. Doris Wishman films are an amazing time capsule of an NYC long gone. Streets and the people are equally grimy, especially on 42nd Street. You’re also pretty much always guaranteed a lot of shots of women walking around in a lonely and cold Central Park.

Beach Blanket Bingo - Directed by William Asher
Before I met my husband, I had never seen a “Beach Party” movie. Sure, I’d seen pieces of them on the television over the years, but I hadn’t sat and watched one all the way through. And, if I’m honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to it all thatmuch. In my film snobby way, I had dismissed these as silly. Well, yeah, they still are that but they are also a whole lot more; they are sweet and charming. They have an innocence about them. Beach Blanket Bingo is the 5th in the series of AIP Beach Party films. Although these movies are supposed to be about Frankie and Dee Dee, it is the co-stars that interest me. This film really packs them in; John Ashley, Debra Walley, Jody, McCrea,Timothy Carey, Harvey Lembeck, and one of my favorite people of all time, Don Rickles. The plot of the movie is just too involved to include here but it does include a mermaid, sky-diving, amazing swimsuits, a buzz-saw, and Rickles laying into Frankie and Dee Dee, “You’re 40 years old!”

Carry On, Cowboy - Directed by Gerald Thomas
My introduction to the Carry On series was when I went to live in England after graduating high school. My uncle was watching Carry On, Cleo. I was hooked right from there. For those who are unaware of the Carry On films, they are your typical naughty British sex comedies. Lots of broad jokes, winks and nudges (know what I mean, know what I mean?), double-entendres and buxom women. The films are set in various time periods in history (Carry On, Cleo) and take on different genres (Carry On, Nurse, Carry On, Screaming). This film takes on the Western. You get silly names like Marshall P. Knutt, Chief Big Heap (these films are not terribly PC, either) and equally silly situations. Kenneth Williams is one of my favorites of the series and he never disappoints. I do not usually like these types of films but there can be something charming about them.

In Harm’s Way - Directed by Otto Preminger
In Harm’s Way is one of my favorite war films. The fact it is shot in black and white lends to the manner in how it depicts World War II in the Pacific before and after Pearl Harbor. The film isn’t flashy or garish; it is no-nonsense. It doesn’t glamorize the war, it tells it like it is. The cast is almost as expansive as its storylines; it includes John Wayne, Pat Neal, Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Slim Pickens, Carol O’Conner, and Burgess Meredith. I’m not the biggest John Wayne fan but he won me over in this. His relationship with Neal is lovely. Great performances all around.

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors - Directed by Freddie Francis
This is the first of the Amicus anthology series of films. I used to think of Amicus as a rather low-rent version of Hammer. But, if it’s good enough for Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, it is good enough for me. The wrap-around story here is five men board a train in London. Another man enters their car toting a pack of tarot cards. He whips ‘em out and proceeds to tell each of the five men their fate. Directed by the most excellent Freddie Francis and starring the aforementioned Cushing and Lee, along with Roy Castle, Michael Gough, Bernard Lee, and Donald SutherlandThe nice thing about these anthologies is if youdidn’t like the story, you didn’t have to wait long before the next one came up.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! - Directed by Russ Meyer
Yeah, yeah, I know, this is another choice of mine that isn’t exactly underrated in the sense that it is one of the most awesome pieces of exploitation ever committed to film. But, if you polled the average American (then again, why would youreally want to?), I’m pretty sure they haven’t heard of Russ Meyer or this movie. So, in that sense, it is underrated and it is going on this list. And, what isn’t there to love about this movie? Three go-go dancers go to the desert and mayhem ensues. If that doesn’t make you want to watch this, there is something wrong with you. Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams are your three pneumatic leads. They kick, punch, and wrestle their way through the film in the most fantastic way ever. If it has been awhile since you’ve watched it, pop it in this weekend and give yourself a little 83 minute black and white treat.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Underrated '65 - Justine Johnson

Justine Johnson is an obsessive former video-store employee and current midnight movie curator at The Black Box in Providence, Rhode Island. You can reach her via the internet on Twitter @moviessexa.
Have a peek at her Underrated '85 list here:
Underrated '65:

Inside Daisy Clover (1965)
Directed by Robert Mulligan

The Sandpiper (1965)
Directed by Vincente Minelli

Gypsy Girl (Sky West and Crooked) (1965)
Directed John Mills

Bus Riley's Back In Town (1965)
Directed by Harvey Hart

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)
Directed by Silvio Narizzano

I Saw What You Did! (1965)
Directed by William Castle

Who Killed Teddy Bear (1965)
Directed by Joseph Cates

Monday, July 27, 2015

Underrated '65 - Samuel B. Prime

Samuel B. Prime is a writer, film curator, and archivist based in Los Angeles, where he currently works in film distribution. He is presently writing and editing a two-volume set for The Critical Press on the pioneering and highly influential LA-based pay cable station, the Z Channel, which existed from 1974 - 1989. As a film curator, he has helmed high-profile screening events for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and UCLA's Melnitz Movies. Otherwise, he deeply admires Dick Cavett's savoir faire. Find him online at for essays and free streaming movies.
Samuel also moderated a cool commentary track with director James B. Harris on the new Blu-ray of SOME CALL IT LOVING which just recently came out from Etiquette Pictures:
Have a look at his Film Discoveries list for RPS from back in 2012 in which he mentions SCIL:

Also Check out his Underrated '85, and '75 lists here:

Don Owen is a gentleman who hustled hard and made the films he wanted to with money from the Canadian government. Often he was under contract to produce and direct short documentaries, but would instead make narrative features (ex. NOBODY WAVED GOODBYE, THE ERNIE GAME) or in this case a forty-five minute portrait of Leonard Cohen when he was a poet but the world didn't know it. This is pre-songwriting Leonard Cohen. All three of the films mentioned here are freely available to stream via the National Film Board of Canada:

Vincent Price as a mad scientist. Sexy bikini-clad ladybots. A catchy theme song by The Supremes. If this is not mankind's greatest achievement, it is surely one of its very strangest. 

3. THE KNACK... AND HOW TO GET IT (Richard Lester, 1965)
Dick Lester's Palme d'Or-winning satire that is too often dismissed in today's world as a willfully misogynist fairy tale. The central joke is the chasm of gossipy disdain made manifest by the elder generation in reaction to the mods, rockers, and other youth in various stages of finding out who, what, and why they are. Absolutely one of the most unforgiving, wonderfully uncomfortable and funniest films ever.

4. THE 10TH VICTIM (Elio Petri, 1965)
In the not-so-distant future, the 'most dangerous game' is also the nation's favorite sport. This is kind of like the art house predecessor to Paul Bartel's DEATH RACE 2000, but since it features Marcello Mastroianni you know that it is more about marriage and romance than murder-sports. 

5. FILM (Alan Schneider, 1965)
Samuel Beckett's first and final filmic foray. Buster Keaton must go on, can't, though he will. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Underrated '65 - Eric J. Lawrence

Eric J. Lawrence is the Music Librarian over at KCRW(a wonderful radio station) and I have been a fan of his radio show there for more than 12 years now. It is truly my favorite radio program out there. Quite an eclectic mix of new and old songs, it's described on KCRW's site as thus:
"A musical line-up of criminally overlooked tunes, hidden gems, guilty pleasures and standout selections from the latest releases... from Jacques Brel to Mott the Hoople to Gary Numan to the Fall, and everything in between. Like playing poker with dogs -- only better."
I can't really recommend the show higher than a decade of listenership can I? Check it out!
check out his Film Discoveries of 2014 list too:

1965 is an interesting year to be thinking about film, as I feel that the pop music explosion going on in the wake of the British invasion, Motown, etc. was sucking up much of the creative energies in the commercial arts (just look at all the films that featured on-screen appearance from live bands). For the movies, the studio system was long gone, and the old school Hollywood stars were entering their twilight; television was in its ascendancy, serving as the replacement for revival house cinemas, while contemporary B-movie sub-genres like Hammer films were past their prime; even the French New Wave’s first fiery burst had died down, while the gritty realism, sex & violence of the American New Wave hadn’t really kicked in yet. This is why you’ll probably find more commonalities amongst the various contributors’ “underrated” selections for this year – in a shallow pool, the best of the bunch are obvious & fairly easy to spot. But I’m honored to throw my two cents into the mix and share some of my favorites from that year.

Two on a Guillotine/Brainstorm (both dir. William Conrad)
I have no clue what led to character actor Conrad directing three feature films for Warner Bros. in 1965. He had helmed a slew of TV shows, from “Have Gun – Will Travel” to “77 Sunset Strip,” and as an actor he was a familiar face and especially a familiar voice, being an iron man of radio drama and the narrator on shows like “The Fugitive” and “Rocky & Bullwinkle.” But why three quickie B&W thrillers in ’65? Dunno, but they are very watchable little films, at least the two that I’ve seen. “Two on a Guillotine” is an “Old Dark House” variant with a couple of genuine shocks, as Connie Stevens is menaced by the legacy of her crazy stage magician father (played by Cesar Romero, on the cusp of his late career stardom as the Joker). Dean Jones gets a nice fairly-straight role too, just before becoming the face of Disney’s live action films. “Brainstorm” is more intense, working like a cross between “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Shock Corridor,” as computer scientist Jeffrey Hunter falls for his boss’ wife (Anne Francis, and who wouldn’t!) and embarks on a plan to kill him & get away with it by feigning insanity. Hunter’s tragic death a few years later hinders his acting legacy (he was the original captain of the Enterprise, you know), but this film is a great showcase for him, devolving from clean-cut company man to genuinely certifiable. I’ve never seen eyes sparkle so intense than Hunter & Francis’ here. Dana Andrews gives a nice noir touch as the domineering boss. Both films offer a nostalgic glimpse of mid-60s California, with the third feature, “My Blood Runs Cold,” putting a virtual close on Conrad’s directing career.

Ballad in Blue (dir. Paul Henreid)
I love unexpected pairings in the movies, but this is one of unlikeliest I’ve encountered. What is Paul Henreid (of “Now, Voyager” & “Casablanca” fame) doing directing Ray Charles (as himself) mentoring a young boy through his own struggles with blindness smack in the middle of London’s Swinging 60s? Seeming influenced by the flood of rock & roll movies popular at the time, this one is more “Room at the Top” than “A Hard Day’s Night,” with a heavy dose of kitchen-sink melodrama laid over Charles’ stylized music performance sequences. There are lots of weird moments (See Ray Charles shave! See Ray demonstrate his braille watch! See Ray drive a bumper car!), the acting is a little sketchy, and the plot is wildly implausible (everyone is so damned nice!) But there is something genuinely heartwarming and almost tear-jerking about the whole affair. Henreid cowrote the story and even cast his daughter in it, so he must have been invested, but still seems an odd combo!

The Railrodder/Buster Keaton Rides Again (dir. Gerald Potterton/John Spotton)
Buster Keaton’s final silent film, the 24-minute short “The Railrodder,” is often paired with the documentary, “Buster Keaton Rides Again,” which documents the making of the aforementioned film (and happens to be over twice as long!) Either way, one gets the pleasure of seeing one of the great cinematic comedians at the top of his game despite his age and infirmity (he would die of lung cancer, almost certainly exacerbated by his alcoholism, the following year). In the short Keaton crisscrosses Canada by means of a speeder rail car, demonstrating typical Stone Face gags the whole way. The doc makes clear how precise and intuitive a comic he was, relying on a seemingly-endless strength of physicality to make something so simple as sitting up dead straight in a fast-moving car really punctuate the joke. The doc also gives a glimpse into his private life, relying on his wife for support, shying away from the official spotlight of the adult world, but loving signing autographs for young fans. An elegant through-line to the Golden Age of Silent Films of nearly 50 years prior.

The Sleeping Car Murders (dir. Costa-Gavras)
Greek-French director Costa-Gavras made his feature debut with this nifty late-noir. A perfect blend of Maigret-like, hard-nosed police detective work (with Yves Montand in the role of the inspector in charge of a baffling murder aboard a train) and a “Hill Street Blues”/Ed McBain 87th Precinct-style procedural, as a whole slew of familiar French faces filling the roles of various policemen work together to solve the case. Loads of other legendary actors participate, including Simone Signoret (from “Les Diaboliques” & “Room at the Top,” as well as Montand’s wife at the time), Catherine Allegret (“Last Tango in Paris” & Montand’s step-daughter), Michel Piccoli (“Contempt,” “Topaz”) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (“The Conformist,” “A Man and a Woman”). Mostly devoid of the political themes with which Costa-Gavras later made his name, this is pure entertainment, with some unexpected twists, bursts of violence, a ridiculously catchy theme song and a stunning car chase finale, making for a great blend of B-movie satisfaction for the Francophile.

The Bedford Incident (dir. James B. Harris)
The quintessential submarine hunting movie, this Cold War relic still holds its power and anti-war message, mostly through the conviction of its stellar cast. Richard Widmark stars (and co-produces) as crusty & self-proclaimed “mean bastard” Capt. Finlander, who revels in his mission. Sidney Poitier plays a reporter embedded on the ship, while Martin Balsam, Wally Cox and “Hawaii 5-O”’s James MacArthur are all on duty & suffer at the hands of the Captain’s monomania (Donald Sutherland also makes a brief appearance). Finally Eric Portman, one of my favorite British actors, plays a former German Commodore, who advises Widmark on his hunt. One can be just as claustrophobic on a Destroyer ship as one can aboard a sub (at least cinematically speaking), and director Harris keeps things fairly tightly confined, so that one can fully appreciate the weariness the crew must be experiencing, a weariness that proves to be dangerous by the film’s dramatic conclusion.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Underrated '65 - Aaron West

Aaron West is an art film enthusiast, a Criterion obsessive (as evident from his writings at Criterion Blues) and can be found on Twitter @awest505.
Check out the Criterion Blues FB Page here:
Check out his Underrated '85 and '75 lists too!

THE HILL (1965; Sidney Lumet)
Sidney Lumet has had quite a career with several classics, but I feel he doesn’t get enough due for this war prison film. When reading the premise, the film does not sound too engaging. It is basically a North African war prison with five fellow prisoners doing their best to endure. While the conflict is often with the prisoner officers, many of whom do not see eye to eye, the real fight for survival is primarily against themselves, the hot sun, and the man-made hill that they are required to constantly climb at the officer’s whim.
I could say plenty about the top notch writing, the black and white cinematography, and I will talk some about the acting, but what I like most is how this simple little hill is used. It is an instrument of power. If one of the superiors tells a prisoner to climb it, then he expected to obey. The hill then centers his struggle away from the officers and is internalized into the prisoner’s psyche. Sure, they all hate the prison officers, but not as much as that heap of sand that gets taller and steeper each time they climb it. It can also be a metaphor for war itself, which could be argued to be a pointless man-made creation with little consequence. We see a great deal of sweat and anguish as they try to survive the hill, which is in a way a war away from the war.

All of the acting is superb, even leading man Sean Connery, who was playing a character far away from the James Bond role he was already tethered to. The most impressive performance to me is Ossie Davis. He brings the issue of civil rights into the narrative, while also questioning the nature of power. He simply reaches a breaking point and refuses to obey. The officers are beside themselves on how to handle him. Ultimately they could and would have handled such an act of defiance, but it does beg the question that in order for one person to hold power over another, someone’s rights have to be given. What happens when someone refuses to give those rights away? What if he forces those in power to play their hand? Ossie Davis not only gives a comical and enjoyableperformance, but he makes a profound statement about pacifism and non-violence in the face of oppression. This was a heated topic during the 1960s.

The Zatoichi franchise can be fairy criticized as being formulaic, escapist entertainment, which borrows some of the framework established by the best of the Japanese auteurs. Nevertheless, these were being produced by many of the same people who were involved with classic art films. They do tend to follow a formula, but they are put together extremely well. Because they are part of such a lengthy series, it is easy to underrate the individual films. After watching many of them, they tend to blend together. Some of them are not as good as others, although all of them are watchable and entertaining. At their lowest point, I liken them to a mediocre TV series that follows a template. Watching today, it is similar to binge-watching a TV series, and Zatoichi would move to TV during the 1970s. However, at their highest point, they do reach a level of artistry. I’ve seen over two-thirds of the series and have found myself stunned by the quality of a specific title more than once.

ZATOICHI AND THE CHESS EXPERT is one of the early examples of being pleasantly surprised. It follows one of my least favorite iterations, ZATOICHI AND THE DOOMED MAN, and it precedes a few films that I find are amongthe best in the franchise. By 1965, they producers had been cranking out approximately three films per year, and they had fallen into a lull of sorts. It was time for something to breathe life back into the series, and the Chess Expert accomplished this.

Even though Zatoichi films are essentially soloadventures starring the fantastic Shintarô Katsu, the quality of each individual film often depends on who he teams up with. Some of my favorite iterations could be seen as “buddy” films. This is partly the dynamic that began the series, withZatoichi finding mutual respect with a formidable samurai from a rival clan. Their bond transcended these small territorial squabbles.With the Chess Expert, Zatoichi finds a similar type of chemistry, and his counterpart is a strong masculine character. Conversely, Zatoichi tends to be demure and quiet on the outside, yet deadly on the inside, which is why he is continually underestimaged. Even though this edition still follows a formula, the two actors elevate the characters. The audience gets invested in them, and subsequently we care more about the outcome of the final fight.

THE MOMENT OF TRUTH (1965; Francesco Rosi)
I’m a sucker for sports films. It isn’t just because I enjoy sports (which I do) or because there are the predictable sports tropes that revolve around winning and losing. I enjoy them because sports are a good mechanism to show a person’s passion for something. Of course there are a lot of good football and baseball movies, but I find myself gravitating to smaller, individual sports. For instance, I love Peter Yates’ BREAKING AWAY, which is about cycling, but is also about youth, obsession, and coming of age. THE MOMENT OF TRUTH touches on many of the same themes. It is about bullfighting, an unfamiliar sport to most Americans, but with the heightened risk, it is an intense portrayal of what drives someone to choose a path towards being a matador.

Rosi uses film language to get into the character’s heads both during and outside of the action. We learn what drives them towards the career, the yearning for glory, the insecurity, and most importantly, the deep-seated fear. If they fail, they die. If they succeed, they achieve celebrity. The scenes during the actual bullfight are quiet, yet exhilarating.  We are immersed in the culture and find ourselves rooting for and becoming invested in Miguel, similarly to how we root for Dave, only the stakes are higher in THE MOMENT OF TRUTH because death is in the equation.

Those who are squeamish about animal violence should avoid this film. Many do see the practice of bullfighting as abusive and cruel to animals. I don’t disagree with their arguments, but regardless, the sport exists and is worth examining. I like that Rosi does not hold back on showing the graphic violence, usually towards the bull. We see many fights during the film and get an understanding of how the fighter conquers the bull. Yet it is not just the cultural educational value that makes me love the film,but the way it shows the perspective of ambition and the survival instinct. Rosi intentionally shows equates the bull and the matador as being on equal platforms, with it being a game and a lust for blood from both of them.

YOYO (1965; Pierre Etaix)
As an avid Criterion Collection fan, I appreciate that they bring some under-the-radar talents from classic film to the surface. Pierre Étaix is not exactly unknown. He has worked with some tremendous filmmakers, but his own films wereunavailable for a long time. Without his films being out there and aging, he has lost out on many of the accolades that other French filmmakers have received. He is compared most often with Jacques Tati, who he actually worked with as Assistant Director on MON ONCLE. I’ve seen him called a lesser Tati, but that is not fair to Étaix. Yes, they both operated as silent and comedic filmmakers, but they have different styles and come from different entertainment backgrounds (Tati was a mime, Étaix a clown). In reality, they probably influenced each other’s styles.

Étaix’s films are lighter than Tati’s. He makes plenty of cultural and economic statements, especially in YOYO, which I think is his best film, but he could never have made a film like PLAYTIME. I don’t hold that against him, but instead just understand that he is a different type of entertainer. In YOYO, he belittles the concept of wealth and shows that making people laugh is a higher virtue.

Like TatiÉtaix was also an actor, but again, a different sort of actor. He is actually a tremendous entertainer and has a flair for the camera. Without him in front of the camera, his films would not have had the same spark, which arguably would not be the case with TatiÉtaix’sperformance in YOYO is dazzling and he simply finds a way to put a smile on my face. The fact that he pulls out all the stops with his circus acts, including using elephants, makes this film a joy to watch. He has such charisma that he sells the thesis that doing what you love is more important than doing what makes you rich.

FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965; Robert Aldrich)
As I prepare this list, I’ve found a few constants. Aside from Zatoichi and Étaix , my choices are about endurance and survival, and they criticize the idea of power (which Zatoichi does too). FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX is also about survival, but rather than focusing strictly on the individual, it focuses on the collective. A twin-engine aircraft flying in Libya is caught in a sandstorm and has to crash land. Stuck in the hot sun, the group has to try to work together to not only not wither away, but also get themselves out of the mess.

Phoenix was a mainstream Hollywood film with a large cast, most notably Jimmy Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Ernest Borgnine, and Peter Finch. As they try to find a way out of their grave situation, they touch on many themes – including commercialism, industry, distrust, and even a form of nationalism. The latter is explored through the distrust of Hardy Krüger, which processes anti-German sentiment that existed even twenty years after the war had ended. In order to succeed, they have no choice to work together, and the ensemble plays off each other effectively. Essentially we have a feature length film set in the middle of the desert with talented actors and a good script. They make it work, and even if it sounds dry (just like THE HILL does), it flows well and resembles an adventure film more than any of the others on the list.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT (1964; George Roy Hill)
This is one of those movies that has cast a wide net of influence and yet remains relatively obscure. Certainly its primary influencee has got to be Wes Anderson. The coming of age story and narrative point of view in this delightful George Roy Hill film would seem to have directly impacted things like RUSHMORE and MOONSRISE KINGDOM for sure and perhaps some of his other movies as well (THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS perhaps). Further, Terry Zwigoff's film GHOST WORLD not only features the poster for HENRY ORIENT prominently, but also bears more than a passing resemblance in terms if its plot (two young girls become unhealthily obsessed with an older guy). Between those Wes Anderson films and GHOST WORLD, that's quite a significant handful of movies with highly passionate followings that can trace back to this movie. 
Once you've seen THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT, you may understand why it is much beloved by these filmmakers. It's one of the better coming of age films basically ever and one of a far-too-tiny group of movies with girls as the main focus. It's the kind of thing that I as the father of six year old girl will be showing her as soon as I think she's be into it. It's the kind of thing that I think could end up being one of her favorites. The girls in the movie are silly and quirky, but decidedly their own people. They inhabit that space between girlhood and puberty when the innocence is far from gone, but some more mature interests begin to slowly creep in. They still have bright and effervescent imaginations and have yet to become concerned with what the way that other people see them. There are many components to this movie that would make it difficult to produce today. First off, you've got two girls basically stalking and older man. That alone isn't too much, but the unsophisticated and unfiltered crush the girls have on Henry Orient would be hard up pull off (and might look a bit creepy). The narrative connection of the "schoolgirl crush" seems to have dissipated a bit over the years. I'm not 100% sure why that is.  Henry Orient as a character is just the right kind of mid-level prima donna that Peter Sellers can knock right out of the park. He's pompous and vain pianist who is even prone to pounding on the piano keys in a Looney-Tunes kinda way when he performs. Even though he fancies himself a ladies man, he is rather ineffectual in that department in the this current squeeze is a married woman (Paul Prentiss) who will only make out with him on secluded rocks in Central Park. Suffice it to say that Henry is a bit insecure and psychologically vulnerable. So vulnerable in fact that he is completely discombobulated by these two girls following him around. It starts to drive him a little nutty and that gets progressively funnier (to a point) throughout. Sellers is just a small piece of the puzzle though. The girls (Merrie Spaeth & Tippie Walker) really make it what it is. Not only is this a movie with two great lead performances by a couple young inexperienced actors  but on top of that it, it is also one of those amiable love letters to New York City as well.
THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT is an adorable little movie and one I recommend highly. Think of it as GHOST WORLD meets THE PATTY DUKE SHOW or something along those lines (in fact, it's been said that Patty Duke and Hayley Mills were considered for the leads in the movie). It's a jubilant New York City adventure for two young ladies on the cusp of womanhood.  It is better than I'm making it sound. I should also mention that I find it interesting that director George Roy Hill would go on to make BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID only four years after this. To go from an intimate story of two young girls to one of the more iconic pieces of decidedly male cinema is an interesting turn to say the least. That said, he brings a remarkable energy and exuberance to the proceedings which makes the movie quite unforgettable. 
The transfer here looks good overall and makes me have no qualms about tossing my old MGM DVD.

Special Features:
-This disc includes yet another terrific commentary track by Twilight Time regulars Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, who are joined by  Film Historian Jeff Bond as well. It is the usual mix of background on all aspects of the production, and its key players. A highly informative and gratifying listen.
-Also included is an isolated score track.

Here's a great little Trailers From Hell commentary from the great screenwriter Larry Karaszewski:

THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1959; Jean Negulesco)
Here's another tale of an older movie and its influence on a present day creative type. Among the many films that had some kind of impact on Matthew Weiner and in some ways brought about him finally writing the pilot for MAD MEN (THE APARTMENT, VERTIGO and DEAR HEART among them), THE BEST OF EVERYTHING was a significant piece of the puzzle. In an article for Vanity Fair, Weiner said of the movie, 
"A highly stylized and star-studded adaptation of Rona Jaffe’s 1958 best-seller, this film became part of the group mind-set for the pilot. Although I felt that it was a visually glamorized, and extremely melodramatic, I could see that its story was a well-observed representation of working women in New York at the time. The workings of the office, the romantic complications, and the living situations all smacked of the truth. Like many popular films of the time, it helped to inform our characters—they certainly would have seen it, and it would have had an impact on their real expectations."

I've always had a great deal of fondness for the design, architecture, clothing, furniture and general ambience of films that came out in the late 50s and early 60s. This could be based on the real styles and fashions of this time, or I could just be in love with the way Hollywood portrayed it. Another thing I love in films of this era is meaty melodrama. THE BEST EVERYTHING has that in spades. It plays like soap opera in the best possible way. It is a story about three women  who work as secretaries at a publishing firm in Manhattan. The three gals (Hope Lang, Diane Baker and Suzy Parker) share an apartment together in the city and have high hopes about their workplace and living life in the big city. What they don't anticipate is problems with both men and women at their jobs (mostly men though). Joan Crawford plays one of the powerful higher ups to the girls in the steno pool. Classic Crawford here as she plays both a tyrannical boss and a jilted lover (a combination I've seen her play before I think). The supporting male case includes Stephen Boyd, Brett Halsey and Robert Evans (yes, THAT Robert Evans), but the men in this movie are pretty much bad news across the board. I was reminded a bit of Sidney Lumet's THE GROUP whilst rewatching this. Both are tales of women who have a tendency to run afoul of bad fellas.

While THE BEST OF EVERYTHING has no real connection to THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT outside of them both sharing a New York City backdrop, I think it is intriguing to look at them back to back as I did. One might possibly think of THE BEST OF EVERYTHING as "what could happen" scenario for the girls in HENRY ORIENT (even though the film takes place five years prior). In my head I can't completely imagine either of the girls ending up at a company like this, but you never know. Anyway, it the two films do certainly seem to take place in two different universes for sure. Whilst HENRY ORIENT does its best to avoid melodrama, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING charges headlong into it without any regret. Director Jean Negulesco is a a guy ho certainly had no fear of the melodramatic / soap opera-ish story conventions and they can be found lovingly exalted in many of his films. 
The transfer on this Twilight Time Blu-ray was something of a revelation. It's a very good looking movie with lovely colors and production design. The color palette itself is a big earth-toney in parts, but there are some lovely pastels that really pop. There's strong detail throughout and fans of this movie should be quite pleased.

Special Features:
-An audio commentary with Author Rona Jaffe and Film Historian Sylvia Stoddard is included here. It's a bit more dry than a Redman/Kirgo track, but is nonetheless stimulating in that Jaffe recounts a lot of the things in her real life experiences that led to her writing the book upon which the movie is based.
-An Isolated Score track is also included.

Twilight Time Blu-rays can now be purchased directly from TT via their new website!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Underrated '65 - Hal Horn

Hal Horn is the man, plain and simple. I love his blog, The Horn Section ( and give it my highest personal recommendation, so get yoruself on over there!
Also, check out Hal's Underrated '85 list right here:
also - his Underrated '75:
I limited my list to films that haven't been mentioned yet, but deserve a little love here:

BOEING BOEING (1965; John Rich)
Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis teamed for the first and only time.  This childhood fave doesn’t look quite as good to me today as it did then--a bedroom farce that suffered from being released a few years before the Production Code’s demise.  Curtis is an American journalist working in Paris who has three different fiancees--all flight attendants with different international airlines whose respective schedules allow Tony to keep them separated at all times.  With a little help from harried housekeeper Thelma Ritter, who resigns roughly every ten minutes.  Curtis’ charmed existence is turned upside down by two arrivals--faster airplanes (resulting in pending schedule changes) and Lewis, who insists on staying with his “old friend” a few days.  Lots of door slamming and well timed comic denials follow.  Very much a product of its time, but it has been successfully remade and restaged multiple times in the half century since.  If this film isn’t as racy as it should be, Lewis and Curtis keep it agreeably funny.  A Christmas release in ‘65, this ended up being Lewis’ Paramount swan song, ending a sixteen year association.

BILLIE (1965; Don Weiss)
The first theatrical starring vehicle for Oscar winner (THE MIRACLE WORKER) Patty Duke, who was at the height of her popularity from her eponymous TV sitcom in 1965.  Duke is the tomboyish titular character, with a bobbed haircut and a talent for track.  How much talent?  Enough for this 15 year old girl to make the boys’ track team, something scandalous in this town of busybodies.   Complicating matters, Duke’s father (Jim Backus) is running for mayor, and her sister Susan Seaforth is secretly married--and pregnant.  Great cast of very familiar TV faces from the period, including Dick Sargent, Ted Bessell, Charles Lane, Billy De Wolfe and Richard Deacon (as the school’s principal,  of course).  Duke also sings “Funny Little Butterflies”, which charted in September 1965.  Directed by TV vet Don Weis.  Fun.

MARRIAGE ON THE ROCKS (1965; Jack Donohue)
Some have called this the worst Rat Pack movie, and it was the last screen teaming of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra until 1984’s CANNONBALL RUN II.  But while it is no classic, it doesn’t deserve the hate either.   Sinatra is a conservative advertising executive(!) who is neglecting wife Deborah Kerr.   Dino is his second in command at the agency and a swinging bachelor.  Frank and Dino are envious of each other’s lives.   In an effort to rekindle his marriage, Sinatra takes Kerr to Mexico for a second honeymoon, and after a series of misunderstandings Kerr ends up divorced from Frank and married to Dino.   With Nancy Sinatra (in a role originally intended for Frank’s then-squeeze Mia Farrow), John McGiver, Cesar Romero and Joi Lansing (who--let’s face it--could make any film worth a look all by herself).  Directed by Frank and Dino crony Jack Donohue.

WILD ON THE BEACH (1965; Maury Dexter)
Ok, this is not on my list because it is a good film; quite honestly, it’s my pick for the worst “Beach” party film ever made, since it takes place on the beach for all of about 11 seconds and doesn‘t live up to the first word of the title either.  But WILD ON THE BEACH isn’t without points of interest, and no one has mentioned it yet during Underrated ‘65.   A battle of the sexes over access to a beach house, with Sherry Jackson (one of those points of interest) leading the ladies and Frankie Randall repping for the males.   Supercheap Maury Dexter project is mainly watchable for the songs, but it does feature the screen debut of future Oscar winner Cher, singing “It’s Gonna Rain” with then-husband Sonny Bono.  The bulk of the music is from the Astronauts (Dexter’s SURF PARTY, which was better), but the biggest surprise is Russ Bender (THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN) who sings “Yellow Haired Woman” as he plays the hip oldster trying to woo the young ladies with promises of recording stardom.