Cinerama Disaster

In the disaster film genre, Krakatoa, East of Java (1969) holds the distinction of being the only one presented in the Cinerama widescreen format but is also the most erroneously titled movie of all time. As many historians and movie critics have pointed out, Krakatoa is west of Java but veracity is not one of Hollywood’s strengths in producing historical epics. And Krakatoa, East of Java is not a factual recreation of the famous 1883 volcanic eruption in the Indian Ocean but a lavish B-movie adventure that uses the cataclysmic event only as the background and climactic resolution to its cavalcade of international stars and multiple subplots that play out as pure soap opera.  Continue reading

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Two of a Kind

A slice of early Americana. A showcase for some of W.C. Fields’ best gags and funny bits of business. The second screen pairing of two comedic actors that audiences loved seeing together. Tillie and Gus (1933) is all of those plus it marks the first major role of that pesky little Baby LeRoy, soon to be a regular tormentor of Fields. It also includes a scene-stealing trained duck and several eccentric character actors who make perfect foils for the title characters such as Clarence Wilson, George Barbier and Edgar Kennedy. Tillie and Gus might not be my favorite Fields’ movie (that’s a toss-up between The Bank Dick and It’s a Gift) but it is a constant delight and well worth seeing or revisiting for any Fields beginner or hard core fan.  Continue reading

Comic Strip Addiction

If you went by title alone, Alain Jessua’s Jeu de Massacre (released as The Killing Game in the U.S. and as Comic Book Hero in other territories) suggests it might be a murder mystery or a James Bond-like spy thriller which was still in vogue at the time of the film’s release in 1967. Instead, the film is a witty black comedy about the addictive power of pulp fiction – in this case, a superhero comic book – to ignite dangerous fantasies in readers whose grasp on reality is fragile.   Continue reading

The President We Deserve

Timothy Carey (on throne) plays a self-proclaimed messiah who starts his own political party in the underground satire, The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962).

You might not know the name but you know the face. One of the most eccentric character actors in American cinema, he has had the rare distinction of working with everyone from James Dean and Elia Kazan (East of Eden) to Marlon Brando (The Wild One; One-Eyed Jacks) to Stanley Kubrick (The Killing; Paths of Glory) to John Cassavetes (Minnie and Moskowitz; The Killing of a Chinese Bookie) to The Monkees (their feature debut Head) to Mr. T, Bill Maher and Gary Busey in D.C. Cab. Let me add a few more to that already impressive filmography which includes appearing with Clark Gable (Across the Wide Missouri), Francis the Talking Mule (Francis in the Navy) and Shelley Winters and Debbie Reynolds (What’s the Matter With Helen?) and god knows who else. We’re talking about Timothy Carey and probably his greatest role is the one you’ve never seen – The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962).  Continue reading

A Western Greek Tragedy

By the 1950s, the popularity of the Western genre was in decline and Hollywood studios tried to revitalize the once box office proof formula by trying everything from Technicolor and Cinemascope visual enhancements to hybrid novelties such as 1954’s Red Garters (a musical with stylized sets) and 1959’s Curse of the Undead (featuring a vampire gunslinger) to topical approaches that reflected a growing interest in psychology such as The Furies [1950] and High Noon [1952]. Into the latter category falls The Halliday Brand [1957], one of the more intense but least well known of the adult Westerns being produced in that era.  Continue reading

The Darling of Berlin

Eva Renzi makes her screen debut as an international model in Playgirl (1966), directed by Will Tremper.

A new kind of female protagonist emerged in the sixties who was free-spirited, independent, hedonistic and willing to exploit her beauty and charm for social advancement without being categorized as a typical prostitute. Audrey Hepburn certainly set the standard as the unconventional Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) but other famous examples include Julie Christie’s self-absorbed model in Darling (1965) and Genevieve Waite’s wide-eyed waif in Joanna (1968). Lesser known but a distinctly German variation on this prototype is 1966’s Playgirl (also known as That Woman in the U.S.) featuring Eva Renzi in her feature film debut.  Continue reading

The Monkees’ Film Debut

It sounds like someone’s LSD flashback. Frank Zappa, boxer Sonny Liston, Annette Funicello, female impersonator T.C. Jones, San Francisco’s legendary topless dancer Carol Doda and other cult celebrities appear in a movie co-scripted by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces, 1970) that showcases the TV-created pop band The Monkees in the leading roles, who in one scene play dandruff in Victor Mature’s hair. Entitled Head (1968), this Cuisinart-puree of pop culture infused with anti-establishment posturing and served up in the then-current style of a trippy experimental film could only have happened in the late sixties when Hollywood studios were in a try-anything phase to capture the rapidly receding youth market.

The Monkees get to play dandruff in Victor Mature’s hair in Head (1968), directed by Bob Rafelson.

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