Irving Lerner Double Feature

Irving who? The name may not be familiar to you but if you are a film noir fan, you might know the titles Murder by Contract (1958) and City of Fear (1959), two low-budget crime dramas, both of which star Vince Edwards. These were the third and fourth films in the filmography of Irving Lerner and the more famous of the two is Murder by Contract, which has often been championed by Martin Scorsese over the years. In recent years it has enjoyed wider exposure due to its release on DVD as well as retrospective screenings at events like the Noir City Film Festival, hosted by film noir expert Eddie Muller.  Murder by Contract is a tautly directed minor masterpiece with an exceptionally chilling performance by Edwards. He plays Claude, a coldly efficient hit man who likes to make a nice clean kill with no mess, no slip-ups, and no surprises due to poor planning – “I wasn’t born this way. I trained myself! I eliminated all personal feeling.” 

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Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

The Hippie movement of the mid-sixties, which first flourished in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, has rarely been captured accurately in Hollywood feature films but there have been a few exceptions and one of the most notable is Psych-Out (1968). Filmed on location in San Francisco by cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, under the director of Richard Rush (The Stunt Man, 1980), the American-International release captures a moment in time as well as any documentary on the same subject. On a visual level, you couldn’t ask for a better snapshot of the period from the clothes to the hair styles to the social behavior and counterculture attitude. Even the now dated hipster jargon, some of which will make you cringe, seems true to the period. If only the musical acts featured had been less a top forty fabrication than the real thing (Only The Seeds have any credibility among the groups on display), Psych-Out might have had a more significant impact upon its release.

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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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Elio Petri’s Portrait of the Artist as Mental Patient

Italian director Elio Petri is probably best known for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), which won the Oscar for Best Screenplay (by Petri and Ugo Pirro) in 1972. Yet, most of his other work, with the possible exception of the cult sci-fi satire The 10th Victim (1965), remains overlooked or forgotten when film historians write about the great Italian directors of the sixties and seventies. And 1968’s A Quiet Place in the Country (Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna) is easily one of his most intriguing and visually compelling films.

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The Films of Richard Rush: An Interview

Director Richard Rush poses with a flyer for his most famous film, The Stunt Man

Richard Rush has had his ups and downs in the unpredictable world of Hollywood. His more than three decades of filmmaking have included memorable collaborations with such fellow industry legends as Jack Nicholson and cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs as well as long, arduous years in development hell. It took ten years for The Stunt Man to finally reach the screen. Despite it all, Rush remains an eternal optimist with a wonderful sense of humor, genuine love for his craft and a steadfast loyalty to his cast and crew members. The following interview was conducted in April 2010 just prior to the first TCM Classic Film Festival where The Stunt Man was screened and covers some of his films and experiences in the movie business.

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