Picaresque Americana

Everyone involved creatively with the making of Arthur Penn’s landmark of sixties cinema, Bonnie and Clyde (1967), benefited greatly from its astounding international success. Certainly the director and all the key cast members saw an immediate acceleration in their careers and it enabled screenwriter Robert Benton to make his directorial debut in 1972 with Bad Company, working from a script he penned with his Bonnie and Clyde writing partner, David Newman. Structured in a manner similar to the Arthur Penn film, it was a picaresque and episodic road movie, set during the Civil War, with an authentic sense of period detail and moments of biting wit and sudden, shocking violence that gave a contemporary edge to the Americana on display.   Continue reading

Battle of the Bands Throwback

Among the many titles being released through the no-frills Warner Archive Collection are a few oddball orphans and obscurities that didn’t get much love the first time around such as 1971’s Dusty and Sweets McGee, a docudrama of Los Angeles heroin addicts, Carny (1980) starring The Band’s Robbie Robertson, Jodie Foster and Gary Busey, the eccentric Italian sci-fi thriller Wild, Wild Planet (1966) and The Cats aka The Bastard (1968), a Eurocrime drama with Rita Hayworth and Klaus Kinski. These are definitely worth a look but the one that has the potential to make you pogo is Urgh! A Music War (1981), a compilation concert film featuring 33 live music acts recorded in different cities in the U.S. (Los Angeles, New York) and Europe (London; Portsmouth, England, Fréjus, France). Some of the more famous groups featured include X, Devo, The Police, The Go-Gos and The Dead Kennedys but there are also now forgotten acts like Chelsea, John Cooper Clarke and The Alley Cats. And for some reason, Splodgenessabounds, who performed “Two Little Boys,” were completely omitted from the Warner Archive DVD-R.   Continue reading

The Age of Assassins (1967)

A paranoid conspiracy thriller delivered in a droll tongue-in-cheek style with generous helpings of black comedy and anti-establishment satire doesn’t really fit neatly into any genre and Kihachi Okamoto’s The Age of Assassins (1967 aka Epoch of Murder Madness; Japanese title: Satsujin Kyojidai) was generally dismissed by critics and avoided by audiences when it was first released in the late sixties. Like many of Okamoto’s films, it didn’t receive theatrical distribution outside of its own country and that’s a shame because the film has the essential goods to become a bona fide cult classic on the order of Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill (1967) or Kinji Fukasaku’s Black Lizard (1968). The Age of Assassins arrived at the tail end of the secret agent craze but it is not really a James Bond parody. Think of it instead as a crazy quilt journey through an off-kilter, pop culture universe where no one is who they appear to be.   Continue reading

Reelin’ in the Years with Buck Henry

Screenwriter/actor/director/producer Buck Henry

Buck Henry has had a remarkable career in the entertainment industry, one that has encompassed acting, screenwriting, directing, producing and even dubbing foreign language film imports. Not content to sit on his laurels, Henry at age 86 remains active in Hollywood where he is allegedly working on the screenplay to Get Smart 2. His previous assignment was writing the screenplay for The Humbling (2014), a comedy-drama directed by Barry Levinson starring Al Pacino and based on the novel by Philip Roth.

In April 2010, Buck Henry was a guest at the first annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood and was present at a retrospective screening of The Graduate to answer questions from Vanity Fair contributor Sam Kashner. I conducted the following interview with Henry about his career prior to that festival for TCM’s official blog, Movie Morlocks.  Continue reading

Jacques Tourneur’s Pulp Fiction Pipe Dream

RKO may have been seen as low on the totem pole in the Hollywood hierarchy compared to MGM, Warner Bros. and other larger studios but their importance in film history is assured by a remarkable roster of talent that at one time included such directors as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford. One of RKO’s most famous contractees was Jacques Tourneur who secured his reputation in the forties with Cat People (1942), I Walked With a Zombie (1943), The Leopard Man (1943) and Out of the Past (1947).

Tourneur’s work in the early to mid-fifties might not have matched his glory years at RKO but he still managed to turn out occasional gems like the underrated Joel McCrea western, Stars in My Crown (1950), a late period noir (Nightfall, 1956) and a cult horror classic, Curse of the Demon (1958). Even the less distinguished films from his final years are worth a look and Timbuktu (1958) is a genuine curiosity, flaws and all.  Continue reading

Love is a Battlefield

Is there something weird in the water in Australia..or maybe the air is different? All I know is that that culture has produced some of the quirkiest and most unusual films of any country beginning in the seventies with such movies as Peter Weir’s The Cars That Eat People (aka The Cars that Ate Paris, 1974), Stone (1974), and Thirst (1979), and continuing through the ensuing decades with such cult items as Jane Campion’s Sweetie (1989) and Rolf de Heer’s Bad Boy Bubby (1993). More surprising is that a few have gone on to become highly profitable hits in the U.S. such as Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom (1992), Muriel’s Wedding (1994), and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). But one of my favorites – Love Serenade (1996) – didn’t strike box-office gold like the above three titles. It’s a strikingly original black comedy for those who fancy that often unappreciated mixture of the macabre and the comical which is rarely executed with this much wit and verve.   Continue reading

Lee Tracy Does Washington

Whenever a repertory cinema like NYC’s Film Forum or a film archive like the George Eastman Museum programs a Pre-Code series you can bet that Lee Tracy is bound to be in a few of the famous titles such as The Strange Love of Molly Louvain, Love is a Racket, Doctor X, Blessed Event (all released in 1932) and Bombshell (1933). He’s also likely to be playing some kind of shady careerist such as a carnival barker, ambulance-chasing lawyer or tabloid newsman. That’s probably due to his legendary performance on Broadway in 1928 as reporter Hildy Johnson in The Front Page, written by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to play the role in the 1931 screen version – Pat O’Brien won that honor and Rosalind Russell played the female version in Howard Hawks’ 1940 remake, His Girl Friday – but Fox Pictures realized Tracy’s potential and brought him to Hollywood in 1929.  Continue reading