Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Bette is Madame Sin

Here's a delicious doozy for a dull winter afternoon. Bette Davis as MADAME SIN, a 1972 release, originally meant as a pilot for a tv series, but released in cinemas here in Europe. Another unintentional comic Trash Classic! 

Bette Davis is Madame Sin, a sinister-looking, totally evil, half-Chinese woman who indulges in endless machinations. Ensconced in a Scottish castle that is packed with an array of spy gadgetry, she runs afoul with counter spy, American CIA agent Anthony Lawrence (Robert Wagner), who is out to counter her plots for control of a Polaris submarine.
The budget ran to a helicopter and renting a castle in Scotland - Robert Wagner, a friend of Bette's, co-stars and co-produces, some British stalwarts are lined up: Denholm Elliot, Gordon Jackson, Dudley Sutton, Roy Kinnear ... what, no Harry Andrews? but it all looks rather cheap and second rate capturing that seedy London of the early 70s. 

Bette though has a whale of a time chomping out her lines in that Eurasian get up - is she channelling Ona Munson as Madam Gin Sling in THE SHANGHAI GESTURE or maybe Gale Sondergaard in her own THE LETTER, or even Death (in that black cape) in THE SEVENTH SEAL? She needed to do something to liven it up, Wagner looks good here in his early 40s, and there is an unexpected ending. Director David Greene did some interesting 60s films but is on auto-pilot here. Perhaps for Bette addicts only?
This was the year she appeared before us at the London BFI  (right) and brought the house down - as I have reported before - Bette, NFT labels, so it must have been after she filmed this. 

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Un Autre Homme, Une Autre Chance, 1977

Time for another look at Claude Leouch's 1977 western: This is my original review in 2010:

ANOTHER MAN ANOTHER CHANCE - Not really French, this long unseen rarity is a pleasure to see it again now. It is of course a western reworking by Claude Lelouch of his 1966 mega-hit UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME - as this is another man and another woman in a different time and place. Its a handsome pleasant hazy re-creation of the old west (well apart from the rape and murder of vet James Caan's wife, Jennifer Warren...). It begins in revolutionary Paris as photographer Francis Huster and wife Genevieve Bujold decide to move to the new world and travel by ship to America, then they are on a covered wagon and attacked by redskins and finally decide to settle and open their photography business. Caan also arrives in town, having sold his ranch, and deposits his baby with the underwritten part of the school-teacher - a too-little seen Susan Tyrell. Then cue the influences of Lelouch's original: some years later they visit their children at the school, she misses her stagecoach drive home, the teacher asks him to give her a drive, they slowly open up to each other, he asks to meet her husband and then we get the flashback about how he was killed .... instead of motor cars and racing tracks there are stagecoaches and horse races - and the ending is perfect as he rides on horseback to join her and the children [having brought his wife's killers to justice] as the camera pulls back to leave them as figures in a landscape with a neat voiceover as it fades to a sepia photograph in a photo-album. It turns out it is the story about the grandmother of the man we see at the start ... 
If you loved the '66 original, you will get a lot of pleasure out of this too, particularly with Caan and Bujold at their most pleasing, both are very likeable here, and as charistmatic as Trintignant and Aimee in the 1966 film,. Lelouch though seems to be out of fashion now, unlike Demy, Malle, Truffaut or Chabrol... We love Bujold of course in films like De Palma's OBSESSION or the ace thriller COMA

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

RIP, continued ...

Still they come - music legends passing away this year. I am really sad to hear the demise of Leon Russell, shortly after Leonard Cohen and Mose Allison, see below. - and now also, Colonel Abrams.

I loved Leon's funky rock circa 1970 and later, and his great song "A Song For You", sung by so many, but particularly great by Donny Hathaway and Aretha Franklin. 
Leon Russell, (1942-2016) aged 74, was a singer, songwriter and session musician who led Joe Cocker’s band MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN, took part in the Concert for Bangladesh in Madison Square Garden, and wrote several hit songs like "Delta Lady" and I liked those groovy tracks like "Shoot Out On The Plantation". 
After languishing in relative obscurity for several decades he reappeared six years ago to partner Elton John on THE UNION, John’s gospel-tinged album, which was described by Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph as “a rich, lyrical stew of southern country soul”.
Leon had a wild look with all that hair and beard and hats, and I am sure he had a great rock'n'roll life.

I've been so many places in my life and times
I've sung a lot of songs, I've made some bad rhymes
I've acted out my life on stages
With 10,000 people watching me
But we're alone now and I'm singing this song to you
. . . . .
I love you in a place where there's no space and time
I love you for my life, you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song to you.


Colonel Abrams (1949-2016), aged 67. The Colonel may have been a one hit wonder here, but what a hit. We loved "Trapped" back in 1985, and it charted several times, and remains an imperishable club classic, from that heady decade.  He was one of the creators of house music and had several club hits but "Trapped" remained his signature song, sad that despite its success and millions of sales, he was said to be almost destitute and homeless in New York in his final days. RIP indeed. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Dolce Vita Confidential

Christmas has come early for me with this terrific read, a new book on that Roman La Dolce Vita era, which really began in 1958 and into the early Sixties, that terrific time when Rome was the centre of the movie universe. Lets quote the blurb:
"Shawn Levy has composed an exuberant portrait of postwar Rome and the film-makers, movie stars, fashion designers, journalists and paparazzi whose supreme hunger, energy and creativity transformed it into the most stylish city in the world. He brings an infectious and free-wheeling enthusiasm to every page as he reintroduces us to the extravagant romanticism of fast cars, reckless hedonism and beautiful people behind the resurrection of the Eternal City.".

From the ashes of World War II, Rome was reborn as the epicenter of film, fashion, creative energy, tabloid media, and bold-faced libertinism that made Italian a global synonym for taste, style, and flair. A confluence of cultural contributions created a bright, burning moment in history: it was the heyday of fashion icons such as Pucci, whose use of color, line, and superb craftsmanship set the standard for womens clothing for decades, and Brioni, whose confident and classy creations for men inspired the contemporary American suit. Rome's huge movie studio, Cinecitta, also known as Hollywood-on-the Tiber, attracted a dizzying array of stars from Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, and Frank Sinatra to that stunning and combustible couple, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who began their extramarital affair during the making of Cleopatra. And behind these stars trailed street photographers Tazio Secchiarioli, Pierluigi Praturlon, and Marcello Gepetti who searched, waited, and pounced on their subjects in pursuit of the most unflattering and dramatic portraits of fame.
Fashionistas, exiles, moguls, and martyrs flocked to Rome hoping for a chance to experience and indulge in the glow of old money, new stars, fast cars, wanton libidos, and brazen news photographers. The scene was captured nowhere better than in Federico Fellini s masterpiece, La Dolce Vita, starring Marcello Mastroianni and the Swedish bombshell Anita Ekberg. It was condemned for its licentiousness, when in fact Fellini was condemning the very excess, narcissism, and debauchery of Rome s bohemian scene.
Gossipy, colorful, and richly informed, Dolce Vita Confidential re-creates Rome's stunning ascent with vivid and compelling tales of its glitterati and artists, down to every last outrageous detail of the city's magnificent transformation.

Shawn Levy is new to me, but I like his vivid prose and great use of language. He captures it all here, the era of Ponti and De Laurentiis, Loren and Lollo, Fellini and Antonioni ("the anti-Fellini" as Shawn says, but he highly rates the Antonioni films), plus visiting stars like Belinda Lee, the Burtons and all that scandal. Rome is at the centre of it all, with of course all that Italian fashion - those stylish mens' suits, the new scooters and the rise of Italian food.
Eternal Rome: all roads lead to it, it wasn't built in a day, and when in Rome you do as the Romans do. 
As Levy says the Italian movie renaissance began with a destitute man and his son looking for his bicycle, and follows with a newspaperman on a Vespa scooting an errant princess through the picturesque ruins, and ends with another newspaperman, among a throng of hungover aristocrats, staring at the bloated corpse of a sea monster on a wind-swept beach. 
Along the way the producers, directors, hucksters, hanger-ons, playboys and playgirls, pararazzi and others had a whole lot of fun, and a lot of it is captured here. 
So, for lovers of Italian movies, and Italy in general, and the international high life, there is a lot to enjoy here. I am now looking forward to getting Levy's take on London in the Swinging Sixties: READY STEADY GO!  

Cover Girl - an occasional series

I had this TOWN magazine when I was 16, in 1962, showing young starlet and girl about town Sarah Miles, then making a name for herself, with the release of TERM OF TRIAL, which she would follow up with THE SERVANT, she has been creating headlines for a long time. Great to see her a few years ago, as per Sarah label. More TOWN girls coming up. 
It was that large stylish men's magazine covering the London high life, and copies fetch a good price now. (I got this and the Vitti and Monroe cover issues reasonably cheap a while ago ...). The photo is by Terence Donovan, as is this 1966 shoot with Joanna Lumley ....

The Colossus of Rhodes

Back in the heyday of new dvds, a fun collection were the 'Cult Camp Classics': Vol 4 was Historical Epics and featured those perennial camp favourites (but also great entertainment) LAND OF THE PHAROAHS and THE PRODIGAL, plus THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES from 1961, which I remembered enjoying as a kid. It had all the required elements: colour, spectacle, earthquakes and that giant colossus straddling Rhodes harbour .... it featured a past-it ageing American star: Rory Calhoun, in a selection of mini-togas and nice shoewear and capes, a young cutie (Angel Aranda) and of course a slinky lady - Lea Massari, the girl who vanished from that island in Antonioni's L'AVVENTURA and fetched up here. 
This one is notable now as the first feature by Sergio Leone, who does give it some imaginative touches. It is though almost as satisfying as ATLANTIS THE LOST CONTINENT, also '61, and Aldrich's sadistically camp SODOM AND GOMORRAH from 1962 (before he returned to America to tackle Blanche and Baby Jane Hudson....)
Seeing it again now its rather fun, and there are some fun comments on it, over at IMDB:
Sergio Leone's directorial debut is rife with scantily clad men whose rippling muscles and abs are fully exposed while they wrestle or undergo torture and bondage. The national pastime in Rhodes must have been doing crunches and lifting weights, because even the mature men have flat tight stomachs and bulging biceps. 
Meanwhile, the women, while lovely of face, remain chastely clothed and relegated to the sidelines. The homo-erotic visuals of this tale of ancient Rhodes call into question the film's intended audience. Were there enough closeted gays in the early 1960's to make a success of mediocre movies such as this? 
American actor, Rory Calhoun, a fading western hero who was obviously hired only for his name, wanders through the proceedings like a stranger in a strange land in more ways than one. Portraying the Greek Darios as an American on holiday, Calhoun remains nonplussed in the face of death, torture, and the lures of beautiful women. Decidedly less buff than his Italian counterparts, Calhoun nevertheless overwhelms men whose physical strength obviously exceeds that of his own lean build. Perhaps his attire gave him self-confidence. The stylish mini-togas with colorful scarves thrown over one shoulder and white, laced boots to the mid-calf make Calhoun resemble Captain Marvel more than an ancient warrior. Right: Calhoun with Leone. 
In the scenes between Calhoun and Lea Massari as Diala, there is little doubt that neither performer knows what the other is saying. Calhoun recites his lines in English while Massari recites hers in Italian. It's a genuinely spectacular affair offering pretty much everything you could want from a peplum – muscle men, corrupt rulers, rebels and conspiracies, torture in the dungeons and the arena, the spectacular destruction of a city in a natural disaster and imported American star Rory Calhoun imitating Victor Mature. Steve Reeves still ruled. Delirious or what!

Romy & Ludwig

Some lovely new photos of another of our perennial favourites Romy Schneider as Elizabeth of Austria in Visconti's 1973 opus LUDWIG. Romy had began playing Sissi in those German films of the 1950s, but returned to the role for Visconti, creating an older, more cynical Sissi who tries to help Ludwig of Bavaria - Helmut Berger is quite astonishing here too. and we also get Silvana Mangano and Trevor Howard as the Wagners, plus - as per with Visconti - a lot of handsome men. More on it at Visconti, Romy labels. 
SISSI, 1955

LUDWIG did not fare too well at the time, it hardly played in London but I saw it at the Film Festival - the dvd now has a good print and there is a lot to fascinate in it. 








































The Ballroom of Romance

William Trevor, the great Irish writer has died at age of 88. We celebrate his great output of novels and short stories. Some of them, like FELICIA'S JOURNEY, FOOLS OF FORTUNE, THE OLD BOYS have been filmed. Here is a lovely version of his short story THE BALLROOM OF ROMANCE, made in 1982. It captures that lonely Irish life on farms perfectly and the frustrations of single women looking for the right, or any, man ... Trevor is worth investigating if you do not know his work. His other short stories are perfect too: "Angels At The Ritz", "The Day We Got Drunk on Cake", "Lovers Of Their Time". "The Hill Bachelors", "The News From Ireland" etc. 

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Plan B

Many thanks to Colin for this treat.

Bruno is dumped by his girlfriend; behind a calm, indifferent expression, his mind plans a cold, sweet vengeance. She, a modern girl, keeps on seeing him once in a while, but has another boyfriend, Pablo. Bruno becomes Pablo's friend, with the idea of eroding the couple, maybe introducing him to another woman. But, along the way, the possibility of a plan B arises, a more effective one, which will put his own sexuality into question.

Set in Buenos Aires, this witty beguiling 2009 feature by Argentine-born director Marco Berger masquerades as a romantic comedy, only to confound expectations by testing its boundaries of gender. The film invites us to explore contemporary ideas of freedom and desire, and to question what it means to play with love and bisexuality. PLAN B is Berger’s first feature film and was presented at the London BFI Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and then taken on tour.

This is a charming gay-tinged Latin American film, following on from DONA HERLINDA AND HER SON in 1975 from Mexico, or Cuaron's  Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, and Peru’s UNDERCURRENT (reviews at gay interest label), and the Canadian CLOUDBURST
The initial problem is that the guys are not the usual good-looking stereotypes of gay movies, they both look scruffy, if not scuzzy, to our eyes now – all that hair and beards, but as we get to know them this does not matter and we really being to root for them to discuss their feelings, which happens in that blissful final scene. We liked it a lot.  There is no actual sex, we just see the guys on sleepovers getting more familiar with each other, as the girlfriend is still there, seeing them both separately.
Then they finally come together.
The BFI said: “A beautifully shot reflection on male foibles and friendships …. Grounded in two outstanding performances by Manuel Vignau and Lucas Ferraro that avoid empty rhetoric and easy clich├ęs”. 

Belinda

One more fabulous lady before we move on to other things ...... we like Belinda Lee a lot, I first saw her as a kid in the 1957 DANGEROUS EXILE and she had some other Rank Organisation starrers too, like THE SECRET PLACE, MIRACLE IN SOHO, NOR THE MOON BY NIGHT, as per reviews on them at Belinda label. 

She was also a player in European cinema and got caught up in that LA DOLCE VITA era in Rome in the late Fifties, having a scandalous romance with an Italian married prince Filippo Orsini, which caused headlines, with both of them attempting separate suicide attempts. Belinda though was not long for this world, but certainly crammed a lot into her 25 years, before perishing in a car accident in California in March 1961. She now has a headstone in a Rome cemetery. (Above with Gerard Philipe). 

She starred in a lot of Italian peplums like APHRODITE in '57, MESSALINA, THE NIGHTS OF LUCREZIA BORGIA (now on YouTube) and was starting to appear in French New Wave items like LES DRAGUEURS in 1959, and a great Italian drama, Vancini's THE LONG NIGHT OF '43 which showed she could be another Loren or Mangano, she is also fun in a comedy with Mastroianni and Gassman GHOSTS OF ROME in 1960. I have covered her career in more detail in earlier posts. (A starlet had to pose looking busy in the kitchen too...)
Thanks to Jerry, whom I met for drinks and swops on Friday, he gave me a Belinda fridge magnet ! (right). Ta doll. He has been busy tracking down her more obscure items. She began of course as one of THE BELLES OF ST TRINIANS in 1954 (the glamorous one), and was foil for Benny Hill, Ian Carmichael and other comedians - no wonder she went to Italy! She remains England's lost siren, the glamour girl who did not survive, unlike contemporaries Anita Ekberg, Shirley Eaton, Diana Dors, Anne Heywood etc. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Kay

Another favourite lady, I see a theme here .... Kay Kendall, a patron saint of The Projector, as per the posts on her, at label. 















LONDON TOWN is a perfectly dreadful British musical from 1946 - trying to copy the Americans who were doing this kind of thing so much better.  It stars a comedian Sid Field, who has not aged well at all and looks terribly dated now - give me Arthur Askey any time - with a very young Petula Clark as his daughter, and Kay - just 18 here - is the ingenue, a young showgirl. The film was a huge flop and practically sunk her starting career, the Forties fashions do not suit her at all, but one can see her emerging talent - she went back to being a showgirl, with her sister - but seven years later she got that role that defined her, the trumpet playing model in GENEVIEVE. (She had already done bits in DANCE HALL, IT STARTED IN PARADISE and more). 

GENEVIEVE was followed by favourites like THE CONSTANT HUSBAND, SIMON AND LAURA, QUENTIN DURWARD, then thankfully Cukor, Minnelli and Donen got her in her prime for their delicious treats, they knew how to showcase stylish ladies -
 she went to Hollywood for LES GIRLS (above, with Gene Kelly) taking pal Gladys Cooper's corgi June with her for company (right); THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE teamed her with new husband Rex Harrison (and Angela Lansbury and Sandra Dee, below) and is sheer bliss too, she looks sadly frail in ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, her last film, she died of leukemia in Sep 1959, aged 33. 
I have been to that nice churchyard in Hampstead, where her stylish headstone is just right. (See previous posts at label). As a stylish comedienne she was compared to Carole Lombard, and was a friend of Dirk Bogarde's, and a favourite of Monica Vitti - see post below. Lots on LES GIRLS at label.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Monica

Some super black and white shots of our goddess Monica Vitti, by Elisabetta Catalano. I have finally got my hands on that 2011 issue of Italian "Vanity Fair" with 12 pages on Monica, with some terrific photos and comments and features on her, on her then 80th birthday.  There is also now that new Blu-ray of L'AVVENTURA .... Those Antonioni films find new admirers all the time. 
My first appreciation on Monica back in 2010 is at Monica 1 label, got over 2800 views then. She is still a major European star even if she has been silent for some years .....
The landscape and architecture of that face ... and that distinctive voice and sense of fun.
I came across a piece on her by Alan Stanbrook from 1990:
"There are two Monica Vittis: the husky, effervescent comedienne, which is how she sees herself, and the grave, statuesque beauty gazing into a haunted future which is how director Michelangelo Antonioni saw her. They worked together five times, between L'AVVENTURA in 1959 and THE OBERWALD MYSTERY in 1980. A presence more than an actress, Vitti was moulded into a Bernhardt (and the face of European cinema) when she wanted to be a Betty Hutton or Kay Kendall. Humour has surfaced throughout her career, from CHATEAU EN SUEDE to MODESTY BLAISE.. The first film she directed SECRET SCANDAL (unavailable here) is also a comedy. A thick Roman accent denied her an international career, but, with Antonioni, she had more than that: like Jeanne Moreau, hers became the face of our troubled times."  

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Two favourites: Lee & Kate

Two of our favourite ladies here are Katharine Hepburn and Lee Remick, and thanks to Daryl for sending me these two stills from their 1973 film A DELICATE BALANCE. I have used them before (see sidebar for that cover of "Films In Review" magazine), but lovely to see them again. 
I never saw Hepburn in person but got to meet Remick in 1970, as detailed before at her label, and also saw her on stage in London in BUS STOP in 1975. 

The story I have told before is that in 1957 when Lee was starting out she was up for the negligible role of one of the office girls in Hepburn's DESK SET with Tracy (the role played by Dina Merrill in the film). Kate advised her to take small parts to get noticed, but Spencer told her to hold out for a better role, which she certainly got in Kazan's A FACE IN THE CROWD that year - what a debut. Five years later of course they are both up for Best Actress in 1962, and a decade later played mother and daughter in the film of Albee's A DELICATE BALANCE, rather ignored at the time, but a real acting treat now.  Paul Scofield is marvellous here too as is Kate Reid, and they do Albee's play justice. Its one of Tony Richardson's better later efforts. (He also directed Lee in the 1961 SANCTUARY, a rare one we tracked down some years ago, as per review).  

"That'll be the day"

A western double bill, for late autumn afternoons. Only the best western ever: John Ford's THE SEARCHERS, and a routine oater from 1949 MASSACRE RIVER, only of interest now for teaming of the young Guy Madison and Rory Calhoun - see previous on them, below, or at labels.

We have written about THE SEARCHERS here before, and my 2010 appreciation on Jeffrey Hunter is at 'Jeff Hunter 1' label. Looking at Ford's classic again (I also have it on Blu-ray, as Martin would say) it is a timeless American Classic and the climax is as emotionally stunning as the end of CITIZEN KANE or CASABLANCA. Maybe they are the Top Three American Movies Of All Time?  Its certainly in my Top 10 (along with my other favourite western JOHNNY GUITAR)
The images and the scenery - did Monument Valley ever look more iconic? - stun one again, as does Ford's narrative, Wayne is superlative, Jeff Hunter has his best ever role as halfbreed Martin Pawley - he and Natalie are so poignant together, a perfect Fifties pair, Vera Miles excels as ever, and grown men cry when Ethan picks up Debbie at the end ....
Ford has some amusement too with Wayne's son Patrick and the regulars are all here from Ward Bond down. The early sequence when the settlers realise that Scar is about to attack is chilling and brilliantly done too, as is the scene where Ethan and Martin meet Debbie again in the wigwam with those scalps. Ford orchestrates it all perfectly, as per previous reports; and of course that line of Wayne's "that'll be the day" which gave Buddy Holly the title of one of his best songs ... Max Steiner's score is one of his most evocative and complements the images perfectly. 
Ethan Edwards is racist towards the Indians and the depiction of them may be problematic for some now, though Ford 'atoned' for that with his CHEYENNE AUTUMN in 1964; the squaw Martin gets married to is despatched rather heartlessly. 

MASSACRE RIVER on the other hand is pure studio dross, but a very rare film. I had ordered the dvd only to see it crop up on our Western channel, otherwise known as TCM uk. This must be where Guy Madison and Rory Calhoun got pally, as per my previous on them, and the various reports on their longtime relationship, despite their marriages, and some scurrilous rumours, but there are lots of photos of them together - just like Cary and Randy. 
They share a tub in this and one can see the chemistry between them. Calhoun was an ex-con who got into the movies, mainly rememered now for his two with Monroe and with Hayward in WITH A SONG IN MY HEART. Madison continued in westerns and dramas - both were filming in Europe by the early Sixties, Calhoun in the rather good COLOSSUS OF RHODES by Sergio Leone, so maybe they were meeting up then too. 

THE SEARCHERS though will live forever.