Oedipus Rex in Drag

Next to William Shakespeare, Sophocles is probably the most enduring and internationally renowned dramatist in terms of his work still being adapted for the stage, television and cinema and I doubt you will find a more bizarre or outre version of his Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex than Funeral Parade of Roses. Directed by Japanese avant-garde filmmaker Toshio Matsumoto, this revelatory 1969 movie – it was his first feature film after several experimental shorts – is just as fresh and startling today as it was when it first appeared over fifty years ago.    Continue reading

Irish Ghostbusters

Can you name five great paranormal comedy movies released in the past decade? I’m drawing a blank. By my estimation, two of the best comedies about the spirit world were released back in the eighties – Ghostbusters (1984) and Beetlejuice (1988) – and there has been nothing to really rival them since then. Of course, if we were to broaden the search to include best horror comedies of the past decade then I would have to pick the 2014 vampire satire What We Do in the Shadows, written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, and their subsequent FX TV series based on the film. If you are fans of those, you will probably get a kick out of Extra Ordinary (2019), a paranormal comedy from Ireland that is almost as witty, twisted and silly as anything the Clement-Waititi team can conjure up. Continue reading

Jack Webb: Drill Instructor

“I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER!” – Sergeant Jim Moore

One of the more popular releases in the Warner Archives Collection, The D.I. (1957) was not a box office smash upon its original release but the cult of Jack Webb has grown considerably since then and The D.I. is undiluted, industrial-strength Webb; the star/director/producer is on the screen almost the entire time during this 106 minute marine training drama.  Continue reading

Abattoir Blues

“I wanted to do something that reflected the way people in the community would see themselves. Coming from another place, you can see a much larger picture. But when you’re in a well, you can only see the narrow light above. If you’ve been living like that for a long time, it can have an unproductive effect on you in many ways. So it wasn’t my personal conflicts. It was the conflict of the community.” – Director Charles Burnett in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine about his film Killer of Sheep.

After more than 42 years, Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977) is now recognized as a seminal film in the indie film movement of the ‘70s even though it didn’t receive a wide release until 2007 via Milestone Films. In fact, Burnett never really intended for the film to have a theatrical release; he made it as his thesis film at UCLA. But retrospective screenings of the film and the resulting critical acclaim culminated in Killer of Sheep winning the Forum of New Cinema prize at the 1981 Berlin International Film Festival. Other accolades followed such as being selected by the National Film Registry in 1990 for film preservation and winning a special award from the New York Film Critics Circle in 2007. Not bad for a movie shot on 16mm and made for a rock bottom budget of $10,000 from film grants.   Continue reading

The Working Woman’s Dilemma

Kay Francis was the most glamorous and popular actress on the Warner Bros. lot in the early 1930s.

By 1935 Kay Francis was at the peak of her film career and the highest paid actress on the Warner Bros. lot. While her image as a chic and stylishly dressed sophisticate eventually worked against her, obscuring her genuine talent as an actress, Francis was amazingly prolific in the early sound era, averaging four to five movies a year opposite such dashing leading men as Ronald Colman (Raffles, 1930), William Powell (Ladies’ Man, 1931), Joel McCrea (Girls About Town, 1931), Fredric March (Strangers in Love, 1932), and Herbert Marshall (Trouble in Paradise, 1932).   Despite the often clichéd and formulaic scripts she was given by the studio, which were mostly soap operas, tearjerkers and romantic dramas, Francis still managed to display her versatility in a variety of films that deserve to be better known today such as the delightful caper comedy Jewel Robbery (1932), the exotic Pre-Code melodrama Mandalay (1934) and the offbeat espionage thriller British Agent (1934). But there are plenty of lesser known efforts in her filmography that deserve rediscovery and one of the most intriguing is Stranded (1935), a curious blend of romance, New Deal optimism, and crime drama directed by Frank Borzage and pairing Francis with George Brent, who first appeared with the actress in The Keyhole (1931). (Brent would soon become Bette Davis’s leading man of choice at Warner with that actress replacing Francis as the queen of the lot).   Continue reading

Wuhan Noir: The Wild Goose Lake

Zenong Zhou (Ge He) is a marked man on the run. He operates a motorcycle theft ring in a designated section of Wuhan but his rivals are itching to take over his turf. The conflict escalates into gang warfare and Zhou is forced to flee the city after accidentally killing a cop. Hunted by both underworld enemies and the police, the fugitive realizes his days are numbered but tries to arrange for his ex-wife Shujun (Regina Wan) to collect the large bounty on his head. Instead, a mysterious woman named Aiai (Lun-Mei Kwei) shows up as a go-between to help facilitate Zhou’s request but can he trust her? This uncertainty drives the narrative of The Wild Goose Lake, the fourth feature film from Chinese director Yi’nan Diao.   Continue reading

Asi era Pancho Villa (1957)

Mexican actor Pedro Armendariz is famous for his many portrayals of folk hero Pancho Villa, particularly a trilogy by Ismael Rodriguez that began with Asi era Pancho Villa (This Was Pancho Villa) in 1957.

The first of three films in a trilogy about the legendary folk hero of Mexico, Así era Pancho Villa (1957 aka This Was Pancho Villa) is essential viewing for anyone interested in Mexican cinema and a colorful example of populist storytelling for the movie-going public south of the border. Directed by Ismael Rodríguez, the Villa trilogy is a fascinating mixture of fact and fiction that attempts to resurrect Villa’s larger than life personality and his exploits which have passed into folklore in his native land.     Continue reading

In the Land of Mah-Na Mah-Na

Between 1967 and 1974 Sweden emerged as the most progressive and liberal nation in the world due to a government that supported a wide variety of social and political interests such as women’s rights, anti-war advocacy and the environmental movement along with a relaxed attitude about sex. Films like Mac Ahlberg’s I, a Woman (1965), Vilgot Sjoman’s I Am Curious (Yellow) from 1967, and Joseph Sarno’s Inga (1968) also helped confirm Sweden’s image as an epicenter of sexual freedom so it was inevitable that such a situation would inspire a moralistic backlash. What no one expected was that it would come from Italy in the form of a Mondo Cane-like documentary directed by Luigi Scattini entitled Sweden: Heaven and Hell (1968).  Continue reading

The Lost Colony of Dalton’s Ferry

For the early settlers of this country, the New World offered freedom as well as the unknown. This was certainly true of the first colonists who had no idea what awaited them on these strange, new shores. The story of The Lost Colony, a settlement on Roanoke Island that was sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh, was one of those childhood history lessons that stuck in my mind as a creepy unsolved mystery. Sometime between the years of 1585 and 1587, numerous attempts were main to establish a permanent base for English immigrants in the Virginia territory. Then supplies for the Roanoke community were cut off for three years during the Anglo-Spanish War so when John White, whose daughter and granddaughter were among the colonists, was able to return from England with aid, he found the settlement deserted with no trace of the people, only the cryptic word “Croatoan” carved into a tree. Much speculation but no evidence has emerged over the fate of The Lost Colony. Some say sickness and starvation killed them off, others say they were captured and assimilated into the local native tribes, either the Croatan or Hatteras. A few historians theorized that the survivors attempted to return to England and were lost at sea. There was also a theory that cannibalism may have decimated their ranks as it did the infamous Donner party.   Which brings me to Eyes of Fire (aka Cry Blue Sky), a little known, independent film from 1983 that has obvious connections to The Lost Colony in its tale of a band of settlers driven from their community and forced to find shelter in the wilderness. There they find themselves at the mercy of hostile tribal groups, the elements and….something much more insidious.    Continue reading

Carole Lombard: Shady Lady

Prior to her breakout role opposite John Barrymore in the screwball comedy Twentieth Century (1934), Carole Lombard was a struggling young contract player at Paramount Pictures where her talent was often squandered in mediocre projects and B-pictures like It Pays to Advertise (1931), No One Man (1932) and Supernatural (1933). There were exceptions, of course, and one of the better examples is Virtue (1932), which confirms Lombard’s promise as an actress in her pre-stardom years.   Continue reading