A Western for Adults

The Hanging TreeUnderrated at the time of its release, The Hanging Tree (1959) is now considered a superior western from the waning years of that popular genre which coincided with the end of the studio era. It is also considered one of Gary Cooper’s best performances from his final decade in film, comparable to his fine work in High Noon (1952) and Man of the West (1958), and a late period achievement for director Delmer Daves (Broken Arrow, 3:10 to Yuma). I was encountered the film at a Saturday matinee in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania when I was seven years old and remember being disturbed by it. This is an adult western. It is not a film for children.  Continue reading

Marco Ferreri’s Hairy Angel

Annie Girardot in THE APE WOMAN (1964)

Annie Girardot in THE APE WOMAN (1964)

I can remember being fascinated with Marco Ferreri’s The Ape Woman (La donna scimmia) from the first time I saw a still from it in the May 1964 issue 28 of Famous Monsters of Filmland. A woman wearing eye makeup and sporting a beard and hairy legs poses provocatively for the camera while her mate, either a man in a tacky ape costume or a prop gorilla, rests his head in her lap. The photo description, “Beauty (?) and the Beast make a hairy horror pair in THE APE WOMAN,” was the only information offered about this upcoming release and, since it was being featured in FFofF, I assumed it qualified as fantasy cinema. Continue reading

Scandal Sheet Smackdown

Five Star Final posterIn the early thirties, most studios steered clear of social protest films but not Warner Bros. They embraced the genre with the same muckraking glee that characterized some of their subjects. Prison reform was addressed in one of their most famous films, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), with equally controversial topics like the rise in urban crime and drug addiction among war veterans being presented in The Public Enemy (1931) and Heroes for Sale (1933), respectively. Five Star Final (1931), on the other hand, addressed a different type of social problem – tabloid journalism.    Continue reading

Eurotrash or Subversive Satire?

ann and eveIs it possible to make a movie that works as both art house fare and exploitation cinema? Arne Mattsson’s Ann och Eve – de erotiska (1970), which was released in the U.S. in an English dubbed version as Ann and Eve, certainly comes close but still manages to frustrate both intended audiences with a bait-and-switch narrative that moves freely from sexual titillation to Swedish angst a la Bergman to surreal flights of fancy and back again, never revealing whether it should be taken seriously or as a put-on until the final frames. Continue reading

Middle Age Crazy

original posterIt’s hard to imagine a more unlikely prospect for a film adaptation than John Cheever’s short story, The Swimmer, which was first published in The New Yorker. Yet, it was actually adapted into a major motion picture from Columbia Pictures starring Burt Lancaster. Was it a success? Hardly. Even though a handful of critics endorsed it, the public stayed away but for some who were lucky enough to see it, the film resonated for years. Now it is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Grindhouse Releasing and a reassessment is in order. Continue reading

Soul Survivors

11311651-lAlthough less well known today than Stanley Kramer’s Oscar-nominated 1967 drama, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, and still unavailable on DVD/Blu-Ray, One Potato, Two Potato (1964) was the first serious, non-exploitive attempt to deal with an interracial marriage as its main subject and was independently produced outside Hollywood. Set in the fictional small town of Howard (a stand-in for Painesville, Ohio, where it was actually filmed), the movie is bookended by a courtroom ruling on a child custody case and in between is the sad but all too true story of an interracial couple who become social outcasts in both the white and black communities.    Continue reading

Desert Rats

Nigel Davenport (left ) & Michael Caine in PLAY DIRTY (1969)

Nigel Davenport (left ) & Michael Caine in PLAY DIRTY (1969)

Underrated by critics and ignored by audiences upon its initial release in 1969, Play Dirty, directed by Andre de Toth, has slowly but surely acquired an appreciative fan base over the years thanks to high profile advocates of the film like Martin Scorsese who included it on a long list of guilty pleasures for the May-June 1998 issue of Film Comment. Unfortunately, this World War II drama starring Michael Caine had the misfortune to follow in the wake of Robert Aldrich’s box-office hit, The Dirty Dozen (1967), to which it was often unfairly compared. But, outside of a similar assemble-the-team concept which sends a group of criminals on a suicide mission, the film has very little in common with Aldrich’s blockbuster and there is absolutely no reason to feel any guilt over liking it either.  Continue reading