About JStafford

I am a writer for The Travel Channel, ArtsATL.com, Burnaway.org and other publications. I am also a film researcher for Turner Classic Movies and a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. This blog is dedicated to overlooked, obscure or underrated movies and other cinema topics that I want to share.

The Man With the Codfish Eyes

British actor Donald Pleasence has played his fair share of nutters and villains through the years from infamous grave robber William Hare in The Flesh and the Fiends (1960) to Blofeld, James Bond’s nemesis, in You Only Live Twice (1967) to the dangerous religious fanatic in Will Penny (1968) to the insane scientist of The Mutations aka The Freakmaker (1974). At the same time, he has also specialized in playing cold, analytical authority figures who, while on the side of good, is often more unsettling than comforting as in his iconic role as Dr. Loomis in Halloween (1978) and four of its sequels. His portrayal of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, the most notorious murderer of the Edwardian Age, in Dr. Crippen (1963), however, doesn’t really fit into either category and displays yet another side of the Pleasence persona – a quiet, unassertive enigma, a blank slate for us to fill in the details. The eyes, which reveal nothing, seem to look right through you. 

Donald Pleasence as arch villain Blofeld in the James Bond adventure YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967).
Continue reading

Overnight Sensation

How does one become famous without really having any particular talent or skill? In modern times, you can accomplish this by posting a video on Youtube, Twitter or numerous other social media outlets but it was a lot harder to attract attention in the 1950s. It Should Happen to You (1954), directed by George Cukor, addresses the common fantasy of become famous and idolized by millions at a time when the possibility of an unknown achieving overnight recognition was highly unlikely.

Continue reading

Turkish Delights

The Turkish film poster for THE DEATHLESS DEVIL (1972).

Adventurous film lovers can always rely on Mondo Macabro to expose them to something weird and wonderful like the nutty Indonesian fantasy adventure The Warrior (1981) starring Barry Prima or the diabolically creepy Queens of Evil (1970), an Italian supernatural thriller. Occasionally MM also releases some killer double features such as the twin pairing of the vampire tale Bandh Darwaza (1990) and Purana Mandir (1984) featuring a baby-eating fiend; both of which are featured in Volume 1 of their Bollywood Horror Collection. Still, my favorite double bill from the maverick DVD/Blu-ray outfit is a double dose of Turkish pop cinema that pairs Tarkan vs. the Vikings (1971, aka Tarkan Viking kani), with The Deathless Devil (1973, aka Yilmayan seytan).

Continue reading

What a Piece of Work is Man

John Claudius, a professor of philosophy at Harvard, returns to his home in Germany after 20 years. As a young boy, he was sent to live with his mother’s relatives in Pittsburgh before World War II broke out. In his absence, his father built a financial empire with his munitions plant and became a respected member of the Nazi party. After Claudius senior was killed in a bombing raid, John’s mother Gertrud married Paul Claudius, the younger brother of her husband. The reason for John’s unexpected visit after 20 years is motivated by suspicions that his father was murdered by Paul and he is determined to learn the truth. Sound familiar? It should because The Rest is Silence (1959, German title: Der Rest ist Schweigen) is a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in a post-WW2 Germany.

Continue reading

How Low Can You Go?

Most classic movie fans are well aware of the impressive and versatile film legacy of William A. Wellman, who directed Wings (1927), the first film to win the Best Picture Oscar in the Academy’s history, as well as bona fide classics like the 1937 version of A Star is Born and the gritty WW2 drama, Battleground (1949). It has only been in recent years, however, that Wellman fans have become acquainted with the groundbreaking Pre-Code dramas he helmed in the early thirties thanks to DVD releases from the Warner Archive Collection.  Outside of occasional airings on Turner Classic movies, most of Wellman’s racy, vibrant work in the Pre-Code era had been unseen for years. But suddenly the floodgates were open and film buffs were finally able to enjoy the eyebrow-raising excesses of Night Nurse (1931), Love is a Racket (1932), Frisco Jenny (1932) and Heroes for Sale (1933), to name just a few. The diamond in the rough for my money though is Safe in Hell (1931), featuring a gutsy, no-holds-barred performance by Dorothy MacKaill. When you see this film, you can understand why the Production Code was created.

Continue reading

12 Italian Directors on 12 Italian Cities

In 1989 Istituto Luce, the oldest public institution devoted to film production, distribution and archival material in Italy, produced an omnibus film consisting of 12 segments entitled 12 Registi per 12 Citta (12 Directors for 12 Cities). A documentary/travelogue hybrid, the film was made as a promotional vehicle in support of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Rome and part of its intent was to lure tourists to Italy, particularly to the cities showcased in the film.  The title is not completely accurate; thirteen directors, not twelve, contributed to the project if you count Giuseppe Bertolucci, the younger brother of Bernardo Bertolucci, who co-directed the Bologna section with Bernardo. 12 Registi per 12 Citta is also unconventional in its presentation with each director approaching his subject in his own unique way and the selected cities include some offbeat choices like Udine and Cagliari as well as some major omissions. What, no Venice?

Continue reading

Can Robert Loggia Save the World?

“See cities reduced to ashes! See oceans turned to steam! See mountains turned to molten lava! See interceptor jets and anti-missiles melted in mid-air before your eyes!” These are all taglines from the original poster for The Lost Missile (1958), a relatively obscure sci-fi thriller from the fifties which features Robert Loggia in a rare early starring role.

Continue reading

A Suitable Case for Treatment

David Warner in Morgan!

Is mental illness a laughing matter? When it comes to cinematic treatments, it all depends on the filmmaker’s approach and this was an issue that divided critics and audiences over Morgan! (1966, released in the U.K. as Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment). Whether embraced as a wild, eccentric anti-establishment farce or derided as a schizophrenic mess that can’t decide whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy, Morgan!, remains a polarizing film even today; there is no middle ground here. Most people either love it or hate it.

Continue reading

The Girl with the Fishing Spear

Mari Shirato plays a fisherman’s widow who is preparing to avenge her husband in the 1984 thriller Mermaid Legend, directed by Toshiharu Ikeda.

In 1984 ATG (Art Theater Guild), one of the most experimental and artistic of Japan’s film distribution companies, and Directors Company, released Ningyo Densetsu, directed by Toshiharu Ikeda. ATG had already established itself as a cutting-edge visionary with such releases as Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses (1969), Shuji Terayama’s Pastoral: Hide and Seek (1974) and Seijun Suzuki’s Zigeunerweisen (1980). Ningyo Densetsu was something altogether different – a commercially viable fusion of murder mystery, white collar crime and revenge thriller which looked more mainstream than most of ATG’s previous releases. Also known as Mermaid Legend, the movie is also much more extreme than some of the most infamous exploitation films of its era yet it is distinguished by its artistry in all areas of production. But make no mistake, this is not family-friendly fare or recommended for fans of The Little Mermaid

Continue reading

Melvin Van Peebles in Paris

Is your dream to become a film director? Well, don’t expect Hollywood to give you a leg up. You need to forge your own path and think creatively like Melvin Van Peebles. When he tried to find employment in the Los Angeles-based film industry, a movie executive told him there were no jobs but there might be an opening for an elevator operator. Van Peebles’s solution was to figure it out on his own and taught himself the basics through making some film shorts. Eventually, he relocated to Paris and reinvented himself as a novelist, journalist and short story author. As a writer in France, he was eligible for a director’s card so he applied, got it and adapted his 1967 novel La Permission as his feature film debut under the title, The Story of a Three-Day Pass (1968). The story depicts a brief romance between a black U.S. soldier stationed in France and the French woman he meets in a Parisian nightclub. The premise might sound simple and straightforward but the execution is decidedly original, resembling a merger between Nouvelle Vague filmmaking techniques and Van Pebbles’ own idiosyncratic directorial choices.

Continue reading