Voyage of Doom

A former actor from Austria turned film director, Georg Tressler is not a name familiar to most American movie fans but for German filmgoers of the fifties he created a sensation with this 1956 feature film debut, Die Halbstarken (released in the U.S. as Teenage Wolfpack). As topical, incendiary and controversial in its day as The Wild One (1953), Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Blackboard Jungle (1955), Die Halbstarken was a hard-hitting portrait of juvenile delinquency in post-war Germany and featured Horst Buchholz as a manipulative gang leader in a performance possibly inspired by James Dean. It was a huge hit and led Tressler to follow it up with two more youth-oriented films – Noch Minderjahrig (Under 18, 1957) and Endstation Liebe (Two Worlds, 1958). His fourth feature, Das Totenschiff (Ship of the Dead, 1959), was a complete departure from his trilogy in terms of content and was mostly ignored by critics and the public. But timing is everything and today Das Totenschiff looks like a lost classic from the pre-Berlin Wall era. And it may very well be Tressler’s finest achievement.    Continue reading

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James Bond’s Lesser Known Sibling

The James Bond film craze of the 1960s was responsible for launching a secret agent/spy movie sub-genre that thrived for more than a decade. Some of the imitators like Our Man Flint (1966) and The Silencers (1966) even spawned mini-franchises but the majority of them were strictly B-movies with international casts and exotic locations. One of the more obscure and unusual entries is Operation Kid Brother (1967), which is an entertainingly bad knockoff and sports a genuine Sean Connery-007 connection. It stars younger sibling Neil Connery in his screen debut.    Continue reading

Tracy, Bogart and Ford

One of the great pleasures of watching Hollywood films from the early thirties is seeing a future screen icon at the dawn of his career such as Spencer Tracy in the low-budget prison comedy Up the River (1930). An added bonus is seeing another film legend, Humphrey Bogart, as Tracy’s cohort (billed fourth in the credits). Both were trying to make the transition from stage to screen along with a director – in this case, John Ford – who had recently moved from silent to sound features.    Continue reading

The Sound That Kills

Movies about people who murder with weapons or their bare hands are nothing out of the ordinary but what about a film where a man can kill with his voice? It might seem preposterous but The Shout (1978), directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, takes this concept and turns it into something that is both plausible and unsettling.   Continue reading

Gabriel Axel’s The Red Mantle

The name Gabriel Axel might not be familiar to most American moviegoers but many are familiar with his 1987 film Babette’s Feast which became a surprise art house hit and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, beating out Louis Malle’s Au Renoir les Enfants. Ironically, Axel was almost 70 and at the end of his filmmaking career when he experienced a career resurgence. But the film that is considered his first international art house breakthrough is Den Rode Kappe (1967), which was released in Europe as Hagbard and Signe and is best known under the title The Red Mantle in the U.S. The poster above with the awkwardly edited quote – and movie spoiler – from Time magazine also includes the reference “From the producers of Dear John” which means nothing to anyone today but that film was a slightly risque art film in its day (due to the nudity) and a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film of 1965 (It lost to Elmar Klosand and Jan Kadar’s The Shop on Main Street). Continue reading

The Forgotten Rock Opera

Now here is a curiosity that I plucked from a pile of discarded DVDs at a television station. I knew absolutely nothing about The Butterfly Ball (1977) except for the fact that I had seen it listed as a credit in Vincent Price’s filmography. So I popped it into the DVD player and immediately had a psychedelic flashback to the early seventies. The Butterfly Ball is, on the surface, a filmed rock opera that was staged at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1975 and featured an all-star cast of British musicians, a few celebrities (supermodel Twiggy and Vincent Price) and some local talent (The Trinity School of Croyden Boys Choir), performing songs and verse from a score composed by Roger Glover, best known as the bassist and songwriter/composer of Deep Purple.    Continue reading

A Tale from the Slums of Rome

In its own way, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1961 directorial debut Accattone could be seen as the last gasp of the Italian neo-realism movement. It is also a remarkably self-assured first film that blends the lyrical with the sordid in its depiction of life on the outskirts of Rome where pimps, thieves and petty criminals scrounge for a living with little hope of ever escaping their dead-end existence. Based on Pasolini’s second novel, Una Vita Violenta, Accatone successfully launched Pasolini as a film director but also marked the beginning of an acting career for Franco Citti in the title role. What is most interesting is that Una Vita Violenta was again adapted for the screen under that title the following year but it is hardly ever mentioned or revived. Pasolini had no involvement with the production but it did star Franco Citti in the central role of Tommaso, a character similar to Accattone, and the two films would make a fascinating double feature in terms of their contrasting tones and directorial style.  Continue reading