Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '66 - Lars Nilsen ""

Friday, September 16, 2016

Underrated '66 - Lars Nilsen

Lars is a programmer at Austin Film Society and there he curates repertory series in addition to midnight movies, new releases, independent films and classics. The bottom line though is that Lars is a man who has really immersed himself in interesting and offbeat cinema and has a lot to offer even the most dedicated cinephile as far as recommendations go.
Lars is on Twitter @thelarsnilsen:
The Austin Film Society can be found here:
and Lars' excellent AFS Viewfinders Facebook group can be found here: 
Check out his Underrated '65 list here:

Not many people seem to talk about this one. Neil Simon and Cesare Zavattini adapted Simon's play about an Italian mama's-boy super-thief (Peter Sellers) who concocts a plan to pose as an egomaniacal director making a film in a rustic seaside village. During the "shoot" a boatload of smuggled gold is to arrive and be unloaded by his "actors". Victor Mature stars, as himself more or less, and is very funny. With Britt Ekland as Sellers' sister, of whose virtue he is jealously protective. Vittorio de Sica is an odd choice to direct this one, but it all works really well and is one of the funniest movies of its time.

There are several instances of Roger Corman acquiring the rights to a foreign film with great special effects or location footage and assigning his young proteges to film new material around it and make a passable movie. This is one of those, and the lucky recipients of the task were Jack Hill and Stephanie Rothman. It's not what you would call a spectacularly cohesive final product, but the atmosphere is great - a lot of Venice Beach locations are used nicely - and it's plenty weird. Sid Haig pops up in this, and it's filled with beautiful, somewhat spooky actresses (Marissa Mathes, Sandra Knight, Lori Saunders) who add a lot to the California gothic tone. Important note, the MGM "Limited Edition" DVD is missing a really important sequence. Be careful.

The films of Francis D. Lyon have their own special quality of psychotronica. Born in 1905, Lyon began in the movie business at the beginning of the sound era. In all the movies he made as a director the spirit of the early talkies is kept alive by actors who speak very deliberately and are framed in medium and long shots throughout. This style of filmmaking is disorienting and strange in any era, but especially so in the bright postcard colors of the mid-'60s. DESTINATION INNER SPACE, along with MONEY JUNGLE (1967), THE DESTRUCTORS (1968) and, especially, THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1969) are like fine vintage cognac for connoisseurs of these kinds of movies, and a mirror that reflects an adjacent reality. Here, Scott Brady, Sheree North and company play deep sea biologists who discover a sea monster and, perhaps, an even more insidious secret about the nature of life on earth.

It may be that the films of Jess Franco can no longer be called underrated, and in fact the pendulum may have swung in such a way that some individual Franco movies can now be considered overrated. This is not one of those. Adapted by the great Jean-Claude Carrière from a story by Franco, and produced by Serge Silberman, this is the Franco movie with the most legit serious-film pedigree. It is full of arthouse in-jokes and is unabashedly weird and perverse. The daughter of a semi-mad scientist gets revenge on the unbelieving colleagues who drove him to his death. How does she do this? The way any of us would, by finding a sexy nightclub entertainer who calls herself Miss Death, equipping her with poisonous claws and using her as bait to drive the offenders into the metal arms of her fathers' deadly robot.

If this film came from, say, behind the iron curtain, we would be talking about it as a sparkling example of the power of absurdist comedy to blast through the walls of alienation and totalitarian thinking. Instead, it was made by Americans, so we just think of it as a Dumb Movie. Part beach movie/youthquake, part Jerry Lewis-style manic comedy, all super-weird. With Jayne Mansfield, Brian Donlevy, Jack E. Leonard and Phyllis Diller (who KILLS) playing a character named Camille Salamander. Director Joseph Cates (father of Phoebe) also made WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR?

Russ Meyer approaches this fake documentary about the big-bust scene with camera and moviola blazing. There's some of Orson Welles' endless creativity and playfulness here, and Meyer's technical proficiency is so strongly on point that he can afford to try canted angles, odd perspectives, mid-century-modern compositions and then cut them up in a rhythmic frenzy that plays like a parody of fast editing. A movie about large-breasted women dancing wildly in various locales would hardly be considered politically progressive by most, but there's something subversive about it, in a MAD magazine kind of way.

An Italian omnibus film à la BOCCACCIO '70. I love these films, as they are just thematically connected short films, generally made by master directors, with great stars, strung together into features. In THE QUEENS the gimmick is that the stars of each segment are all beautiful actresses. This one features Monica Vitti - at her absolute comedic best - in a masterpiece of a performance as a woman in distress; Claudia Cardinale in a short by the great Mario Monicelli; Raquel Welch in the requisite dud sequence; and Capucine, directed by Antonio Pietrangeli and abetted by the mastery of Alberto Sordi. The following years' THE WITCHES, which has a mind-blowing Pasolini segment, is possibly even better.

An important film. In the films of Ray Dennis Steckler we can see that the anarchic spirit of early Hollywood that delighted in chases, double-takes and gorilla-perpetrated abductions was not, in fact dead, but in fact alive in the imaginations of at least one balding, sneaker-wearing dad. More home movie than exploitation film, this looks like a lot of fun and it is. It appears that this was originally intended to be a riff on the then-popular Batman TV show but Steckler and company seem to have become possessed by the ghosts of Keaton and Mack Sennett and they enact a chase that seems to build up more historic/cinematic momentum as it goes.

In Joe Sarno's best films he truly is the sex-film Ingmar Bergman. This is the film where it all comes together. A roadside fortune teller is in fact the high priest of a pagan cult called the Daughters Of Delphi whose robed rituals are very picturesque and strange, involving roses that emanate some kind of mind-control drug. The cheap black and white look of the film, along with Sarno's always excellent dialogue and some high energy performances from his regular stock company, elevate this one to the top level of Sarno movies. Sarno made seven (!!!) other films in 1966, by the way.

Michael Reeves is justly acclaimed for his WITCHFINDER GENERAL, and somewhat less so for THE SORCERERS. Pretty much nobody likes THE SHE-BEAST though. It's been out in the world on public domain sources in a TV-cut black and white version for years. The Dark Sky DVD release of the film was a revelation because it could finally be seen in color and uncut. It's weird and very funny, with a kind of low-budget FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS spoofiness. But genius is genius, and Reeves couldn't make a bad film if he tried. Ian Ogilvy and Babrara Steele are top notch as a pair of English tourists, on a trip through an unnamed Eastern bloc country, who accidentally animate a long-dead and submerged witch who comes back with revenge on her mind. The horror sequences are genuinely frightening and unsettling and the movie will surprise you.

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