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

Hunted and Haunted

Klaus Kinski plays an escaped mental patient in the German psychological drama/thriller, Der Rote Rausch (1962).

Klaus Kinski plays an escaped mental patient in the German psychological drama/thriller, Der Rote Rausch (1962).

When did Klaus Kinski first burst upon the international film world? The evidence points to his portrayal of the obsessive Spanish expedition leader Don Lope de Aguirre in Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God in 1973. He followed that with other critically praised performances in Andrzej Zulawski’s The Most Important Thing: Love (1975), Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Woyzeck (1979) and Fitzcarraldo (1982) and even appeared in mainstream commercial fare like Billy Wilder’s Buddy, Buddy (1981) and George Roy Hill’s The Little Drummer Girl (1984). But most of Kinski’s early work from 1955’s Morituri (in an uncredited bit part) up to the ‘70s were supporting roles; some were breakout parts such as 1955’s costume drama Ludwig II: Glanz und Ende wines Konigs (he was nominated for best supporting actor in the German Film Awards) or superior genre efforts like Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti western The Great Silence (1968). Still, leading roles were a rarity for Kinski but one of the early exceptions was Der Rote Rausch (1962), directed by Wolfgang Schleif.    Continue reading

As American as Apple Pie

Smile (1975)Some aspects of American culture make ideal targets for satirists like the media (Network, 1976) or politics (The Great McGinty, 1940) or even the American family (Lord Love a Duck, 1966). Beauty pageants, on the other hand, seem a little too easy to poke fun at but Michael Ritchie found the perfect balance of irony and empathy in his 1975 satire, Smile.    Continue reading

The Transmutational Music of Arthur Russell

Wild Combination film posterSometimes a figure in popular music will develop a small cult following but never crack the mainstream market because their music is unclassifiable…or as some critics like to say, “ahead of their time.” But what does that mean anyway? Is it too experimental in nature or lacking an easy access point for first time listeners? Or it is simply a matter of underexposure that keeps it from becoming recognized as something truly progressive and unique? A perfect example of this is Arthur Russell, the subject of Matt Wolf’s Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell (2008), an intimate and moving look at an influential figure in New York City’s music scene in the ’70s and ’80s who is finally acquiring the reputation of a musical visionary more than 30 years after his heyday.  Continue reading

A Different Kind of Horror Film from Lucio Fulci

the_conspiracy_of_torture-posterIf Lucio Fulci had only directed the 1979 cult splatterfest Zombie, he would still warrant more than a footnote in any film history of the horror genre. Obviously inspired by the success of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Fulci’s cult favorite pushed the zombie film into over-the-top excess with the famous eyeball-splinter scene and an underwater grudge match between a shark and one of the undead.

Zombie vs. Shark in Lucio Fulci's outrageous Zombi 2 (1979)

Zombie vs. Shark in Lucio Fulci’s outrageous Zombi 2 (1979)

It also launched a whole new genre in the Italian film industry which included such imitators as Cannibal Apocalypse, Nightmare City and Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (all released in 1980). Fulci went on to further heights (or depths according to his detractors) with such supernatural thriller gross-outs as City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981) and The House by the Cemetery (1981). But what most Fulci fans and film buffs tend to overlook is the fact that he was once a director who could occasionally turn out a thought-provoking and artful work of cinema such as his 1969 historical drama, Beatrice Cenci.   Continue reading