Audie Murphy: Role Model

Audie Murphy plays an angel of death in the semi-allegorical western western, No Name on the Bullet (1959), directed by Jack Arnold

Clint Eastwood certainly carved out his own genre niche as “The Man With No Name” gunslinger of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western trilogy but he wasn’t the first to craft his screen persona as an archetype of the tight-lipped, deadly frontier drifter. Audie Murphy had already perfected the prototype in No Name on the Bullet (1959), a much darker variation on the heroic lawmen the actor usually played in westerns. Continue reading

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The Corporate Ladder and How to Climb It

Despite a long and prolific career, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is more famous for being the son of the silent era superstar Douglas Fairbanks Sr., his Hollywood social connections (including ex-wife Joan Crawford) and a handful of films in which he’s overshadowed by his co-stars (Greta Garbo in A Woman of Affairs [1928], Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar [1931], Katharine Hepburn in Morning Glory [1933], and Cary Grant in Gunga Din [1939]).  Continue reading

Cult of the Arachnids

By the mid-1980s the Italian film industry was in a state of major decline. The glory years of the fifties and sixties were now fondly remembered footnotes in the history of world cinema and even the popular film genres – giallo, poliziotteschi, spaghetti western and horror – were near the end of their heyday. There were still a few determined stragglers such as Tinto Brass with his fetish based erotica (The Key, Miranda, Snack Bar Budapest) and Enzo G. Castellari, who soldiered on with formulaic hybrids like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Tuareg: The Desert Warrior and Striker. But the horror genre, in particular, was suffering with masters of the macabre Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento trying but failing to top past high water marks like The Beyond (1981) and Suspiria (1977). It was during this downward trend that Gianfranco Giagni made his directorial debut with The Spider Labyrinth (Italian title: Il Nido del Ragno, 1988).  Continue reading

Missing in Action: William Klein’s Quirky Portrait of Little Richard

Richard Wayne Penniman
aka Little Richard
circa 1950s

Those who follow the contemporary art scene and are well versed in art history know William Klein as one of the most influential American photographers to emerge in the fifties along with his contemporary Robert Frank. Famous for his unconventional fashion shoots for Vogue as well as his candid documentation of New York City street life, Klein went on to apply his photo-diary approach to Rome, Moscow and Tokyo in the sixties, all of which are available individually as photography collections. He is less well known for his idiosyncratic films (Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther, 1970) and shorts (Broadway By Light, 1958) but luckily some of his best work is available on DVD – his intimate 1969 portrait of Muhammad Ali, Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee (aka Muhammad Ali, the Greatest) and the Eclipse collection, The Delirious Fictions of William Klein that includes Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966), Mr. Freedom (1969) and The Model Couple (1977). But I still want to see more of his cinema explorations made available and The Little Richard Story (1980), a West German production, is at the top of my list. Continue reading

Way Out West With Zoot Suit Jessy

Quick, name your favorite film by Robert Downey, Sr., director/father of two-time Oscar nominated actor Robert Downey Jr. Drawing a blank? If film buffs know him at all it is probably due to his 1969 underground cult film Putney Swope or The Eclipse Series 33 box set from The Criterion Collection, released in May 2012 as “Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.” which included the former film plus Babo 73 (1964), Chafed Elbows (1966), No More Excuses (1968) and Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight (1975). His most representative films are satiric time capsules of his era and the New York independent film scene but I think Greaser’s Palace (1972) is his funniest and most subversive film in his 41-plus years as a writer/director.    Continue reading

Martyrdom, Italian Style

Ingrid Bergman in Europe ’51 (1952), directed by Roberto Rossellini.

The second film collaboration between Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Europe ’51 (1952) might be the most overlooked and misunderstood feature of the famous director-actress team during their turbulent and controversial relationship. Between 1950 and 1955, the couple made five features together and one episode for the five chapter compilation film, We, the Women (1953). Although most film critics seem to regard 1954’s Journey to Italy as their peak achievement, Europe ’51 (aka Europa ’51) received a second chance at reappraisal in September 2013, thanks to The Criterion Collection, which released the film on Blu-Ray and DVD in a set with Stromboli (the first Bergman-Rossellini film from 1950) and Journey to Italy (aka Viaggio in Italia, 1953) .     Continue reading

Vintage Peplum

The French film poster for My Son, the Hero (1962)

Remember the Italian sword and sandal films (known as peplum in their native land) that enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the U.S. from around 1958 to 1964? There was never any question about the appeal. What’s not to like about muscle-bound super heroes, beautiful, curvaceous slave girls, princesses and evil queens, despicable, hiss-worthy villains, amazing feats of strength, epic battle scenes, exotic dance sequences, bizarre tortures and stylized sadism, picturesque locations, atmospheric set design, and disaster film calamities (earthquakes, volcanoes, storms)?   Continue reading