Love Hurts

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson have a traumatic love affair in Autumn Leaves (1956).

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson have a traumatic love affair in Autumn Leaves (1956).

In 1956 directed Robert Aldrich surprised everyone by trying his hand at a “woman’s picture,” a melodramatic soap opera that on the surface appeared to be a complete departure from his previous work which included two westerns (Apache, Vera Cruz), a film noir (Kiss Me Deadly) and a drama (The Big Knife), whose emotional volatility equals the physical violence in the three preceding films.  Continue reading

In the Shadows of the OAS

L'Insoumis (1964)L’insoumis (1964) aka The Unvanquished is a relatively unknown but deeply compelling and haunting French film from director Alain Cavalier that aired several years ago on TCM in an English language version titled Have I the Right to Kill? (It was originally distributed by MGM in the U.S.) Shot in glorious black and white by master cinematographer Claude Renoir, the film plays like a politically-charged film noir and it could easily be the best of Alain Delon’s early performances. In the other key role, Lea Massari, the beautiful Italian actress who is best known as the warm, charismatic mother in Louis Malle’s Murmur of the Heart (1971), has rarely been more appealing.  Continue reading

The Cinema Legend You Don’t Know

Robert Donat plays film pioneer William Friese-Greene in The Magic Box (1951), directed by John Boulting.

Robert Donat plays film pioneer William Friese-Greene in The Magic Box (1951), directed by John Boulting.

In the annals of forgotten inventors, unsung geniuses and visionaries who have fallen through the cracks of time, William Friese-Greene should be near the top of the list. Even though his gravestone bears the inscription, “The Inventor of Kinematography,” his reputation as an early film pioneer is still challenged by some movie scholars while others believe he was a victim of bad luck and deserved the credit and fame that others like Thomas Edison enjoy today. The Magic Box (1951), directed by John Boulting, favors the latter view and was one of the most prestigious productions of its year. It was produced exclusively for the Festival of Britain, a national exhibition that opened in London in May 1951 and marked the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition.   Continue reading

Tinto Brass Directs a Spaghetti Western

Yankee film poster 1966If U.S. moviegoers are familiar with the name Tinto Brass at all, it is probably due to the infamous 1979 epic Caligula which featured world renowned actors (Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, Malcolm McDowell, etc.) and hardcore sex scenes (which were later added by producer/Penthouse tycoon Bob Guccione against the wishes of Brass who disowned the film). Brass had already established himself as a master of art house erotica/perversity with 1976’s Salon Kitty about a brothel in WWII Berlin where the prostitutes were undercover spies. But after Caligula, Brass seemed much happier directing more modestly budgeted, softcore adaptations of literary works like The Key (1983, based on the novel by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki) and Paprika (1991, inspired by the novel Fanny Hill), which showcased his increasing obsession with shapely female bottoms.

In retrospect, his early career is a contemplation of the paths not taken: documentary (Ca ira, il fiume della rivolta aka Thermidor, 1964), avant-garde cinema (L’urlo aka The Howl, 1970) and eccentric genre offerings such as Col cuore in gola aka Deadly Sweet, 1967). Of the latter, Yankee (1966), the only spaghetti western ever directed by Brass, is definitely worth a look.   Continue reading

From Tenement to Penthouse: A Pre-Code Affair

Warren William and Marian Marsh in the Pre-Code drama, Under Eighteen (1931), directed by Archie Mayo.

Warren William and Marian Marsh in the Pre-Code drama, Under Eighteen (1931), directed by Archie Mayo.

One of several Pre-Code dramas helmed by Warner Bros. contract director Archie Mayo in 1931, Under Eighteen is a cautionary tale for the working girl that was lost in the shuffle of too many similar programmers released that same year. Seen today, it provides a unique window into the past when studios like Warner Bros. catered to Depression Era-audiences, particularly women, with movie plots that mirrored situations and circumstances in the lives of their audience.    Continue reading

Totally Mod

Duffy (1968)The Hollywood film industry is usually a few beats behind the rhythm of any new emerging counterculture and by the time they try to capitalize on it the parade has usually moved on. Duffy (1968) had the misfortune to be released in the dwindling days of the swinging sixties when the mod look of films such as Blow-Up and Kaleidoscope (both 1966) was being edged out by an rougher, less glamorous subgenre of youth oriented movies about bikers, drug dealers and rebels giving the finger to the establishment.    Continue reading

The Feel Bad Bachelor Party

The Bachelor Party (1957)As you can see this is not the raunchy 1984 comedy, Bachelor Party starring Tom Hanks and Tawny Kitaen but the 1957 drama The Bachelor Party, adapted for the screen by Paddy Chayefsky and featuring Don Murray who had just made a big splash in his feature film debut opposite Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop that same year. Made two years after Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning breakout hit Marty, The Bachelor Party continues the author/playwright’s preoccupation with the urban male in a drama brimming with angst, alienation and other candid observations of the human condition. A comedy it is not though there are moments of idiosyncratic humor sprinkled throughout but nothing that comes close to the scathing satire of Chayefsky’s later work such as The Hospital (1971) or Network (1976).    Continue reading