The Mighty Mountain Will Punish the Bad

The Japanese film poster for Ginrei no hate aka SNOW TRAIL (1947).

Many people believe they are masters of their own fates but occasionally mother nature steps in to remind them that there are outside forces they cannot control such as a mountain wilderness or a blizzard or an avalanche. Such is the case in Snow Trail (Japanese title: Ginrei no hate, 1947), an engaging B-movie crime drama in which three bank robbers flee to the snow-covered slopes of Mount Hakuba, located in the northern alps of Nagano Prefecture. With the law in close pursuit, the trio soon find themselves in dire straits with no experience in mountain climbing or dealing with extreme weather conditions. Nature is simply indifference in such matters.  

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The Perfect Yuletide Mix of Schmaltz, Schmerz and Schmutz

That was how Preston Sturges described his screenplay for Remember the Night (1940), directed by Mitchell Leisen. Overlooked and underrated for years, this small scale but intimate romantic drama has become a Christmas favorite in recent years thanks to frequent airings on TCM and its availability on DVD.  

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A Double Dose of Santo and Blue Demon

For American moviegoers weaned on comic books and superheroes like Superman, Batman and The Hulk, the names El Santo and Blue Demon might not be as familiar. But in Mexico, they are major cultural icons. They were the main attractions in a popular film genre known as the lucho libre (wrestling hero movies) but had first established themselves as bona-fide professional wrestlers. In real life, Santo and Blue Demon were often rivals in the ring but they teamed up on the screen nine times and two of their most representative features together are Santo y Blue Demon vs. Dracula y el Hombre Lobo (Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man, 1973) and Santo y Blue Demon contra el Doctor Frankenstein (Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein, 1974), which are good entry points for beginners.

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John Wayne in 3-D

Out of distribution for years, Hondo (1953), one of the key Westerns starring “The Duke,” was finally restored by the John Wayne Society in 1995 and made available for viewings again. It was said to be Wayne’s personal favorite of all of his Westerns and the storyline has a classic simplicity which captures the true spirit of the frontier: a cavalry scout (Wayne) comes to the aid of a homesteader (Geraldine Page) and her son (Lee Aaker) when the Apaches go on a rampage. Based on a novel by Louis L’Amour, Hondo was also surprisingly liberal in its attitude toward Native-Americans for its time and subtly addressed racial issues through the romance between the half-breed scout and the white heroine.

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The Lost Souls of Sao Paulo

Long Day’s Journey into Night is the title of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1956 play but it could also serve as a succinct capsule description of numerous movies from the 1960s that were clearly influenced by Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura (1960) and its themes of alienation and existential despair. Some examples include Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s Il Mare (1962) which follows three strangers on the isle of Capri during a bleak winter season as they try to connect with each other. Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965) depicts a dystopian futuristic society in which a detective finds himself out of place in a modernistic Paris controlled by an oppressive artificial intelligence. And Jacques Demy’s Model Shop (1969) uses the urban sprawl of Los Angeles and its smog-creating car culture as a backdrop to an unemployed architect’s search for meaning in his life. Yet, the most Antonioni-like film of all and the least known is probably Noite Vazia (1964) by Brazilian director Walter Hugo Khouri, which traces a dusk-to-down encounter between two men and two women amid the sterile cityscapes of modern Sao Paulo.

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Sucker Play

After purposely avoiding it for years due to its terrible reputation, my curiosity finally got the best of me when TCM aired Tentacles (Italian title: Tentacoli, 1977) earlier in 2022, and I finally watched it from start to finish. One of several ill-conceived and pathetic attempts to cash in on the box office success of Jaws, the Italian produced Tentacles is a perversely entertaining nature run amok thriller that stands out from the other killer shark imitations like Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976) and Tintorera: Killer Shark! (1977) by substituting a more elusive title menace – a giant octopus.

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Wild Child

A young boy from the Danish West Indies (Jimmy Sterman) and his pet fox hide from villagers in his new home near Copenhagen in PAW (1959) aka Boy of Two Worlds.

Prior to the 1960s, it was unusual to encounter more than a few women film directors working in Europe, much less the U.S. One of the rare exceptions was Astrid Henning-Jensen, who is considered one of first female directors in the Danish film industry to achieve international recognition. Two other female contemporaries of Henning-Jensen, Bodil Ipsen and Alice O’Frederick, were equally famous in their native Denmark but Henning-Jensen is the only one to enjoy wider recognition in America due to her 1959 film, Paw aka Boy of Two Worlds, which was an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film that year (It lost to Black Orpheus).

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