Tracy, Bogart and Ford

One of the great pleasures of watching Hollywood films from the early thirties is seeing a future screen icon at the dawn of his career such as Spencer Tracy in the low-budget prison comedy Up the River (1930). An added bonus is seeing another film legend, Humphrey Bogart, as Tracy’s cohort (billed fourth in the credits). Both were trying to make the transition from stage to screen along with a director – in this case, John Ford – who had recently moved from silent to sound features.    Continue reading

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The Sound That Kills

Movies about people who murder with weapons or their bare hands are nothing out of the ordinary but what about a film where a man can kill with his voice? It might seem preposterous but The Shout (1978), directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, takes this concept and turns it into something that is both plausible and unsettling.   Continue reading

Gabriel Axel’s The Red Mantle

The name Gabriel Axel might not be familiar to most American moviegoers but many are familiar with his 1987 film Babette’s Feast which became a surprise art house hit and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, beating out Louis Malle’s Au Renoir les Enfants. Ironically, Axel was almost 70 and at the end of his filmmaking career when he experienced a career resurgence. But the film that is considered his first international art house breakthrough is Den Rode Kappe (1967), which was released in Europe as Hagbard and Signe and is best known under the title The Red Mantle in the U.S. The poster above with the awkwardly edited quote – and movie spoiler – from Time magazine also includes the reference “From the producers of Dear John” which means nothing to anyone today but that film was a slightly risque art film in its day (due to the nudity) and a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film of 1965 (It lost to Elmar Klosand and Jan Kadar’s The Shop on Main Street). Continue reading

The Forgotten Rock Opera

Now here is a curiosity that I plucked from a pile of discarded DVDs at a television station. I knew absolutely nothing about The Butterfly Ball (1977) except for the fact that I had seen it listed as a credit in Vincent Price’s filmography. So I popped it into the DVD player and immediately had a psychedelic flashback to the early seventies. The Butterfly Ball is, on the surface, a filmed rock opera that was staged at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1975 and featured an all-star cast of British musicians, a few celebrities (supermodel Twiggy and Vincent Price) and some local talent (The Trinity School of Croyden Boys Choir), performing songs and verse from a score composed by Roger Glover, best known as the bassist and songwriter/composer of Deep Purple.    Continue reading

A Tale from the Slums of Rome

In its own way, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1961 directorial debut Accattone could be seen as the last gasp of the Italian neo-realism movement. It is also a remarkably self-assured first film that blends the lyrical with the sordid in its depiction of life on the outskirts of Rome where pimps, thieves and petty criminals scrounge for a living with little hope of ever escaping their dead-end existence. Based on Pasolini’s second novel, Una Vita Violenta, Accatone successfully launched Pasolini as a film director but also marked the beginning of an acting career for Franco Citti in the title role. What is most interesting is that Una Vita Violenta was again adapted for the screen under that title the following year but it is hardly ever mentioned or revived. Pasolini had no involvement with the production but it did star Franco Citti in the central role of Tommaso, a character similar to Accattone, and the two films would make a fascinating double feature in terms of their contrasting tones and directorial style.  Continue reading

In Conversation with Peter Bogdanovich

Writer/Director/Producer Peter Bogdanovich

The following conversation with Peter Bogdanovich was conducted in April 2010 just prior to the first official TCM Classic Film Festival in which the director co-hosted a screening with Vanity Fair writer David Kamp of Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons. Bogdanovich, of course, was a close friend of Welles’ and is the creator of that indispensible interview collection, This is Orson Welles. Among other topics discussed are such films as Targets, What’s Up, Doc?, Paper Moon, Saint Jack, unproduced Welles’ projects like Heart of Darkness and Welles’s obsession with fake noses. This is a revised version of the original interview that first appeared on Movie Morlocks, TCM’s official blog.   Continue reading

Preston Sturges’ Off-Season Yuletide Homage

For many people the Christmas holidays wouldn’t be complete without a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street or some version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol whether it features Reginald Owen, Alastair Sims, Mr. Magoo or Bill Murray. But there’s no reason why Preston Sturges’ Christmas in July (1940) shouldn’t become an annual seasonal favorite as well. Granted, it doesn’t take place in December, contains no wintry, snow-covered landscapes or appearances by Santa Claus but like the Frank Capra and Charles Dickens favorites it conveys the spirit of Christmas, one of selfless giving and generosity to those less fortunate than you. It also reaffirms the importance of family and friends over the materialistic traps of the world but accomplishes it with wit and high style in a breathlessly paced sixty-seven minute rollercoaster ride.  Continue reading