No Man’s Land

The Hungarian poster for THE RED AND THE WHITE (1967).

Imagine a life during wartime where your country is invaded by foreign forces and your friends and neighbors have either joined the resistance or sided with the enemy in order to save their own skins. The lines were more clearly drawn during the American Civil War where geography, uniforms and flags were the distinguishing physical differences but in Europe, wars and revolutions were much more complicated and confusing for the opposing sides. Consider, for example, The Red and the White (Hungarian title: Csillagosok, Katonak, 1967), directed by Miklos Jancso, in which Hungary collapses into chaos in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. As depicted by Jansco, the landscape becomes a no man’s land where the roles of the oppressors and the oppressed are constantly switching and non-partisan peasants are caught in the middle with no control over their fates. The result is a visually mesmerizing, almost absurdist view of power changing hands almost as rapidly as gamers in an interactive duel.

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Michael Powell’s Penultimate Film

Peeping Tom, the 1960 psychological thriller about a homicidal cinematographer who uses his camera to capture the death throes of the models he murders, is regarded today as one of director Michael Powell’s masterpieces. At the time of its release, however, it was universally reviled by most critics and brought an abrupt halt to Powell’s career. Some even mistakenly believed it was his last film and even Powell wondered if he’d ever work again. But the celebrated director would go on to helm four more feature films, a made-for-TV production of Bela Bartok’s opera Herzog Blaubarts Burg (aka Bluebeard’s Castle, 1963) and the documentary Return to the Edge of the World (1978). Among his post-Peeping Tom work, Age of Consent (1969), his penultimate feature, is an underrated delight and features Helen Mirren in her first starring role.

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I Was a Teenage Peeping Tom

Craig Fowler (Paul Anka) is a lonely, insecure teenager who likes spying on his female neighbors in LOOK IN ANY WINDOW (1961).

Among the many teen idols of the fifties who climbed to fame with top forty hit records, only a few made the successful crossover to film acting. Pat Boone was groomed by 20th-Century-Fox as a teen matinee idol in Bernadine (1957), Tommy Sands stayed in his comfort zone playing an aspiring pop star in Sing Boy Sing (1958), Fabian made his screen debut with the family-friendly backwoods drama Hound-Dog Man (1959), and Bobby Rydell played your average boy-next-door opposite Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie (1963). Paul Anka, on the other hand, appeared in the most unlikely vehicle for his first major starring role – Look in Any Window (1961).   

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High on Adrenalin

Married news reporters Bob Tur and Marika Gerrard are probably not familiar to most people but over a 15-year period from the early 1980s to the late 1990s they covered news events from their helicopter above Los Angeles. You’ve probably seen some of their televised stories since they were among the first to capture the L.A. riots of April 1992 and the violent beating of truck driver Reginald Denny as well as the O.J. Simpson freeway pursuit in June 1994. Earlier the reporting team had gained notoriety for crashing the Madonna-Sean Penn wedding of August 1985, with the bride giving them the finger. Bob and Marika have since divorced (in 2003) but their intertwined professional career and marriage is chronicled by director Matt Yoka in Whirlybird (2020), a riveting documentary that touches on enough topics from freedom of the press to gender reassignment surgery to fuel the narratives of a dozen feature films.

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These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends

The William Shakespeare tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, has served as the inspiration for countless movies about star-crossed lovers such as Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953), West Side Story (1961) and the zombie comedy Warm Bodies (2013) but it has rarely been re-imagined as a spaghetti western. One of the few but notable exceptions is Dove si spara di più (1967), which is also known under the alternate release titles of Fury of Johnny Kidd, Ultimate Gunfighter and Ride for a Massacre.

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Destination: Ferness, Scotland

First of all, there is no Ferness, Scotland. It is a fictitious seaside town created by writer/director Bill Forsyth for his 1983 film, Local Hero. It is also a place that lives on the hearts and minds of moviegoers who were bewitched by its picturesque beauty, eccentric but appealing residents and its tranquil setting far removed from urban blight and the madding crowd. To outsiders, it might look like a slice of heaven, an ideal place to live or revisit. But Forsyth’s film slyly juxtaposes this romanticized environment against the inevitability of progress and creates a gentle culture clash comedy that has far more resonance than you’d expect. It’s not sentimental or cynical but an intoxicating mixture of the wry and whimsical with a bittersweet finish.

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Deadpan Lunacy

Amid the avalanche of overproduced and overmarketed films that flooded movie theaters in the summer of 2006 (Poseidon, Miami Vice, Lady in the Water and Snakes on a Plane to name a few), a gallic import flew in under the radar and delighted any moviegoer willing to give in to its droll sense of humor and fond appreciation of the spy thriller genre of the sixties. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies was a huge box-office hit in France and Europe but it barely lasted a week in many of its U.S. playdates.

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Life is a Carnival

The Japanese film poster for THE WIND-OF-YOUTH GROUP CROSSES THE MOUNTAIN PASS (1961).

Most Japanese film fans and cult movie buffs are certainly familiar with maverick director Seijun Suzuki for his ultra-stylish and unconventional yakuza thrillers Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Branded to Kill (1967). Not as well known are the numerous genre films he was assigned by his studio Nikkatsu in the late fifties/early sixties. One of his most atypical efforts is The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass (Japanese title: Toge o wataru wakai kaze, 1961), which is like a more adult variation on James Otis Kaler’s Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks with a Circus except, in this case, the protagonist is not a kid but a college student majoring in economics. There is also no circus, just a traveling carnival troupe with an uncertain future. Yet, the tone is surprisingly upbeat and cheerful with moments of slapstick comedy, musical interludes, dramatic incidents and a subplot involving competitive yakuza gangs, who are closer to bumbling schoolyard bullies than menacing gangsters.

A massive lantern float lights up the nightime sky in THE WIND-OF-YOUTH GROUP CROSSES THE MOUNTAIN PASS (1961), a Japanese film about a traveling carnival troupe.
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The New Orleans Streetfighter

If you have never been tempted to see Charles Bronson in one of his many top-billed action vehicles, then you also probably wonder why he enjoyed superstar status on an international level. But put aside your skepticism for a moment and consider Hard Times (1975), a Depression-era tale about a mysterious drifter named Chaney who makes a living as a bare-knuckle streetfighter.

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Having a Wild Weekend

In the late sixties there were a number of sun-drenched erotic romps from Italy filmed in picturesque settings around the Mediterranean such as Giuliano Biagetti’s Interrabang (1969) and Ottavio Alessi’s Top Sensation aka The Seducers (1969). Most of these promised and delivered sexy scenarios with abundant nudity (primarily female), murder and risqué situations for the sexploitation crowd. The Sex of Angels (Italian title: Il Sesso degli Angeli, 1968) comes on like the ultimate softcore fantasy but turns out to be a complete tease. In fact, unlike others of its ilk, The Sex of Angels is actually a morality tale about the consequences of hedonism as well as a critique of the free love generation.

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