“It’s a human drama thing.” That’s how Benny Perkins, one of the contestants in the “Hands on a Hard Body” contest, describes this unusual endurance contest in Longview, Texas which was once an annual event that officially began in 1992. I first became aware of S.R. Bindler’s enthralling, hilarious and often moving 1997 documentary of the event during a visit to New York City in 1998. Scanning the film section of The Village Voice for showings of movies unlikely to come to Atlanta, the title Hands on a Hard Body caught my eye and sounded like a softcore exploitation film, possibly set during Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale. Continue reading
Often overlooked among the films George Cukor directed in the fifties, The Marrying Kind (1952) starring Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray might have suffered from the fact that it was not a pure comedy like Pat and Mike (1952) and It Should Happen to You (1954). It is quite unique from anything else that Cukor attempted and it deserves more than the no-frills DVD release that was issued from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment back in 2003. This is one that cries out for a Criterion Collection Blu-Ray upgrade with all of the extra features that celebrate the featured film in context to its time, place and creation. The Marrying Kind is also an intriguing reminder of the career Aldo Ray might have had if other directors had not cast the actor in roles that accented his imposing physical presence over his acting ability. Continue reading
The success of the James Bond series, beginning in 1962 with Dr. No, had an amazing impact on the international film world. For almost a decade or more, hundreds of imitations from Asia, Europe, the U.S. and other parts of the world flooded the market. The majority of these were formulaic, action-oriented B movies like Kiss Kiss – Bang Bang and Secret Agent Super Dragon (both 1966) but occasionally a few would depart from the heroic fantasy scenarios to present much more realistic depictions of the espionage underworld such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), based on John le Carré’s novel, and The Quiller Memorandum (1966) with a screenplay by Harold Pinter.
Jean Delannoy’s La Peau de Torpedo (1970) doesn’t fit comfortably into either camp even though it does traffic in the grim, Cold War paranoia associated with le Carré’s novels while spinning a wildly improbable tale that makes the Roger Moore 007 adventures seem almost plausible in comparison. What makes the film worth seeing besides the eclectic international cast that includes Stéphane Audran, Lilli Palmer, Michel Constantin, and Klaus Kinski is the unconventional story arc which begins like a routine espionage thriller and then unravels spectacularly about thirty minutes into the film with an act of violence that injects a welcome note of unpredictability into the rest of the proceedings.
Along with his film adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark (1969), Tony Richardson’s The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967) is probably the most obscure and rarely seen film from the director’s middle period, a time when he was floundering and unable to match the earlier critical and commercial success of his 1963 Tom Jones adaptation. There are many reasons for that, of course, and Richardson would probably admit it was one of his biggest disasters, if not the biggest. It also wasn’t intended for the average moviegoer and was much more attuned to art house cinema patrons with its enigmatic story based on the novel Le marin de Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras, whose screenplay for Hiroshima, Mon Amour received an Oscar® nomination in 1961 (even though the film was released in 1959). To date, The Sailor from Gibraltar is still missing in action with no legal DVD or Blu-Ray release available. Continue reading
Sometimes a great promotional gimmick is reason enough to make a movie and this certainly proved to be a successful strategy for director William Castle who made box office hits out of low-budget horror thrillers such as Macabre (1958, admission included an insurance policy from Lloyds of London against death by fright), House on Haunted Hill (1959, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton swooped over the audience at a key point in the movie) and The Tingler (1959, selected seats were wired and vibrated when the title creature got loose in a movie theatre). Not all promoters have been as lucky as Castle though and Wicked, Wicked (1973), produced by William T. Orr and writer/director Richard L. Bare, features one of the best movie gimmicks of its era but was poorly distributed and has languished in obscurity for years…until the Warner Archive Collection released it on DVD in November 2014. Continue reading
If you go back and look at the very first film that Stanley Kubrick made – a twelve-minute short subject entitled Day of the Fight (1951) – it is obvious that the former photographer for Look magazine already had a striking visual aesthetic and strong sense of narrative technique. Together with his friend and collaborator Alexander Singer, an employee at Time Inc., where The March of Time newsreels were produced, Kubrick decided to create a short film in the style of the popular newsreel based on his photo essay for Look, “Prizefighter,” which profiled middleweight boxer Walter Cartier in the January 18th issue of 1949. Kubrick had learned that a typical eight to nine minute segment for The March of Time cost approximately $40,000 to produce and vowed he could do it more effectively for only $1,500 and make an enormous profit on the film sale. Continue reading
One of Spain’s best known and critically acclaimed filmmakers in his own country, Carlos Saura is less well known in the U.S. where his mentor Luis Bunuel and his predecessor Pedro Almodovar are more famous. Yet, Saura was one of the guiding lights of the Spanish New Wave movement in the early sixties, beginning with his neorealistic social drama The Delinquents (1960). Saura would hit his stride with his two subsequent features, La Caza (1966, aka The Hunt) and Peppermint Frappe (1967), both of which explored the political, social and sexual repression of the Franco regime through the guise of allegory and psychological melodrama, respectively. Continue reading