The President We Deserve

Timothy Carey (on throne) plays a self-proclaimed messiah who starts his own political party in the underground satire, The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962).

You might not know the name but you know the face. One of the most eccentric character actors in American cinema, he has had the rare distinction of working with everyone from James Dean and Elia Kazan (East of Eden) to Marlon Brando (The Wild One; One-Eyed Jacks) to Stanley Kubrick (The Killing; Paths of Glory) to John Cassavetes (Minnie and Moskowitz; The Killing of a Chinese Bookie) to The Monkees (their feature debut Head) to Mr. T, Bill Maher and Gary Busey in D.C. Cab. Let me add a few more to that already impressive filmography which includes appearing with Clark Gable (Across the Wide Missouri), Francis the Talking Mule (Francis in the Navy) and Shelley Winters and Debbie Reynolds (What’s the Matter With Helen?) and god knows who else. We’re talking about Timothy Carey and probably his greatest role is the one you’ve never seen – The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962).  Continue reading

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A Western Greek Tragedy

By the 1950s, the popularity of the Western genre was in decline and Hollywood studios tried to revitalize the once box office proof formula by trying everything from Technicolor and Cinemascope visual enhancements to hybrid novelties such as 1954’s Red Garters (a musical with stylized sets) and 1959’s Curse of the Undead (featuring a vampire gunslinger) to topical approaches that reflected a growing interest in psychology such as The Furies [1950] and High Noon [1952]. Into the latter category falls The Halliday Brand [1957], one of the more intense but least well known of the adult Westerns being produced in that era.  Continue reading

The Darling of Berlin

Eva Renzi makes her screen debut as an international model in Playgirl (1966), directed by Will Tremper.

A new kind of female protagonist emerged in the sixties who was free-spirited, independent, hedonistic and willing to exploit her beauty and charm for social advancement without being categorized as a typical prostitute. Audrey Hepburn certainly set the standard as the unconventional Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) but other famous examples include Julie Christie’s self-absorbed model in Darling (1965) and Genevieve Waite’s wide-eyed waif in Joanna (1968). Lesser known but a distinctly German variation on this prototype is 1966’s Playgirl (also known as That Woman in the U.S.) featuring Eva Renzi in her feature film debut.  Continue reading

The Monkees’ Film Debut

It sounds like someone’s LSD flashback. Frank Zappa, boxer Sonny Liston, Annette Funicello, female impersonator T.C. Jones, San Francisco’s legendary topless dancer Carol Doda and other cult celebrities appear in a movie co-scripted by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces, 1970) that showcases the TV-created pop band The Monkees in the leading roles, who in one scene play dandruff in Victor Mature’s hair. Entitled Head (1968), this Cuisinart-puree of pop culture infused with anti-establishment posturing and served up in the then-current style of a trippy experimental film could only have happened in the late sixties when Hollywood studios were in a try-anything phase to capture the rapidly receding youth market.

The Monkees get to play dandruff in Victor Mature’s hair in Head (1968), directed by Bob Rafelson.

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Be Careful What You Wish For

Horror films based on Jewish folklore and Talmudic literature are not that commonplace but one of the early classics of silent cinema was based on a 16th century tale of a rabbi, Judah Low ben Bezulel, who brought a hulking clay figure to life to protect the Jewish community from anti-Semitic forces. German director/actor Paul Wegener was so taken with the legend that he made three films based on it, a 1915 version, which only exists in fragments, a 1917 parody entitled The Golem and the Dancing Girl (now considered a lost film) and the 1920 version, which is the most famous. There were other remakes in later years, including Julien Duvivier’s 1936 sound version, but a new variation on the menacing title creature from the Israeli filmmaking team of Doron Paz and his brother Yoav, takes a decidedly different approach to the famous legend, courtesy of Ariel Cohen’s screenplay. Continue reading

Paul Mazursky’s Sophomore Slump?

What do you do for an encore when your directorial film debut becomes a critical and commercial hit? That was the problem Paul Mazursky was facing in 1969 after Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice became the talk of the New York Film Festival where it was the opening night feature. His follow-up film, Alex in Wonderland (1970), expresses this dilemma but, if critics attacked the film for being an overt homage to Federico Fellini, Mazursky took the Italian maestro’s original concept and made it his own in an often absurdist portrait of Hollywood in the late sixties-early seventies and his own role in – and out – of it. Continue reading

Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff: A Lifetime Love Affair with Jazz

There have been many outstanding and critically acclaimed documentaries on the subject of jazz and jazz musicians over the years from Aram Avakian & Bert Stern’s Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959) to Bruce Weber’s Let’s Get Lost (1988) and Jean Bach’s A Great Day in Harlem (1994). But what is surprising is the fact that until recently no filmmaker has attempted to document the importance of Blue Note Records and its importance in the advancement of this uniquely American, home grown music. Suddenly, we have two documentaries on the subject, Eric Friedler’s It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story (2018) and Sophie Huber’s Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes (2018), both of which are currently on the film festival circuit.  Continue reading