Mining for B-Movie Gold

Senta Berger is in charge in Jean-Pierre Desagnat's Les Etrangers (1969)

Senta Berger is in charge in Jean-Pierre Desagnat’s Les Etrangers (1969)

It’s a rare thing when a crime thriller departs from the usual formulaic expectations and rewards the viewer with a much more unpredictable and entertaining twist on a familiar genre. Such is the case with Les étrangers (aka The Strangers, 1969), which begins with a carefully planned diamond heist in a remote desert town that goes spectacularly awry before transitioning into a deadly game of cat and mouse between a fleeing fugitive and a couple that offer him temporary shelter. This is a superior B-movie that feels like an A-picture with its iconic international cast of actors from France (Michel Constantin), Austria (Senta Berger), Spain (Julián Mateos) and South Africa (Hans Meyer), a spaghetti western-flavored score by Michel Magne and Francoise de Roubaix, and atmospheric cinematography by Marcel Grignon, who received an Oscar nomination for Is Paris Burning? (1967) and filmed such cult favorites as Roger Vadim’s Vice and Virtue (1963) and Walerian Borowczyk’s The Beast (1975).     Continue reading

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Richard Lester’s Feature Film Debut with the Mad Jazz Beat

Ring-A-Ding RhythmWhile producer Sam Katzman was busy exploiting the youth culture in the U.S. with quickie productions like Twist Around the Clock (1961) and Don’t Knock the Twist (1962), his contemporary Milton Subotsky was doing the same in England but with a different musical focus. London was in the midst of a British jazz revival driven by the music of New Orleans and Dixieland and this is the sound that inspired It’s Trad, Dad! (1962, aka Ring-a-Ding Rhythm), which also marks the feature film debut of Richard Lester, whose subsequent film was A Hard Day’s Night (1964) for The Beatles.  Subotsky didn’t just stack the deck with jazz groups though; he also added a generous helping of current pop acts and even tried to scoop Katzman with showcasing Chubby Checker in the new novelty dance, the twist (Katzman still beat him to the punch with Twist Around the Clock which was released first in the U.S.).      It's Trad, Dad! Continue reading

The Secret Cinema Experiment (Feb. 1980 – Dec. 1981, Athens, Ga.)

Secret Cinema program Oct. 1980Have you ever had a fantasy about running and programming your own repertory cinema? Any self-proclaimed film buff probably has and for me it became a slowly emerging fantasy from the time I was seven or older. Unlike those kids who wanted to be firemen, astronauts, professional athletes or other revered professions, I pictured myself as a movie theater owner who could show what I wanted and print availability or attendance was never a concern. While this fantasy faded over the years as I became aware of the realities and headaches of film distribution and theater management, the love of programming movies always stayed with me and for a brief period (Feb. 1980 – Dec. 1981), I ran an invitation only film series out of my home in Athens, Ga. on Pulaski Street that I called Secret Cinema. Continue reading