With his lean, angular features and narrow, piercing eyes, Lee Van Cleef had the sort of presence you didn’t easily forget in supporting roles, especially villainous parts in westerns (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Bravados) and crime dramas (Kansas City Confidential, The Big Combo). Unfortunately, it took more than 12 years and over 100 film and TV appearances before the actor finally moved into leading roles after a career that began in 1952 with his debut in High Noon. And like Clint Eastwood, he finally found fame in Italy when he was almost forty, opposite the former Rawhide TV star in Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (1965), the sequel to Eastwood’s star-making breakthrough in A Fistful of Dollars (1965). After The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), in which he played “the ugly” Angel Eyes in the final installment of Leone’s Dollars trilogy, he carved out an impressive career in some of the best spaghetti westerns of the late sixties and early seventies such as The Big Gundown, Death Rides a Horse and Day of Anger (all 1967). Less serious than those but just as entertaining is Sabata (1969), which adds some tongue in cheek humor, gymnastic action and fancy weaponry to the spaghetti western formula.Continue reading
A speeding sedan races down a deserted road at night. Suddenly a package is thrown from the vehicle as it speeds away. The next morning two matronly women on bicycles notice the package on the side of the road and decide to investigate in case there is something of value inside. Eagerly opening the crudely tied box, they look inside and scream at the sight of a severed head. Thus begins the 1960 German mystery thriller, Der Rasher (English title: The Avenger), one of the earliest but almost forgotten entries among the cinematic adaptations of Edgar Wallace crime novels that enjoyed a revival in Germany in the late 1950s.Continue reading
I’ve always thought that you had to be a little crazy to be a great actor and Klaus Kinski was more than a little crazy. If you don’t believe me read his purple prose autobiography Kinski Uncut which was also published under the title All I Need is Love in 1988. Or watch Werner Herzog’s 1999 film biography Mein liebster Feind (My Best Fiend-Klaus Kinski) about the German director’s volatile relationship with the actor. Better yet, try to get your hands on Paganini (aka Kinski Paganini), the actor’s only directorial effort and his final film, which was released in 1989. For those with all-region DVD players, you can still find PAL copies of it on Amazon’s German web site in a double disc release from SPV Recordings. If you thought Ken Russell’s film biographies of Tchaikovsky (The Music Lovers, 1970) and Liszt (Lisztomania, 1975) were excessively over-the-top and in flamboyant bad taste, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Paganini also features supporting roles for French actor Bernard Blier (Les Miserables, 1958), Dalilia Di Lazzaro (Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, 1973), Eva Grimaldi (Joe D’amoto’s Convent of Sinners, 1986), Marcel Marceau as – big surprise – a pantomine artist and Kinski’s wife Debora Capriolglio in her first lead role.
No, I am not referring to the 1961 musical by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, which enjoyed successful stage productions in London and Broadway before being adapted for the screen in 1966. I’m talking about the 1970 satire, Fermate il Mondo…Voglio Scendere! (the title translates as Stop the World…I Want to Get Off! In English), which was the directorial debut of Italian actor Giancarlo Cobelli, based on a screenplay he wrote with fellow thespians Giancarlo Badessi and Laura Betti, a close friend and frequent collaborator with Pier Paolo Pasolini. The film is a frenzied attack on consumerism and the Italian media but its bursting-at-the-seams energy emanates not so much from outrage as it does from a madcap sense of anarchy.Continue reading
You might not know the name but you have probably heard his music and the unmistakable sound of his harmonica on countless Italian film scores. The plaintive wail of his instrument on Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) was used as a musical motif for Charles Bronson’s avenging angel, who was identified simply as “the man with the harmonica” in Sergio Leone’s landmark film. Yet that nickname really belongs to Franco De Gemini who has brought his distinctive sound from the background to the foreground in more than 800 movie scores in his lifetime. His talent for expressing conflicting emotions through his music in both minimalist and operatic arrangements is this composer’s secret weapon.Continue reading
When did Klaus Kinski first burst upon the international film world? The evidence points to his portrayal of the obsessive Spanish expedition leader Don Lope de Aguirre in Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God in 1973. He followed that with other critically praised performances in Andrzej Zulawski’s The Most Important Thing: Love (1975), Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Woyzeck (1979) and Fitzcarraldo (1982) and even appeared in mainstream commercial fare like Billy Wilder’s Buddy, Buddy (1981) and George Roy Hill’s The Little Drummer Girl (1984). But most of Kinski’s early work from 1955’s Morituri (in an uncredited bit part) up to the ‘70s were supporting roles; some were breakout parts such as 1955’s costume drama Ludwig II: Glanz und Ende wines Konigs (he was nominated for best supporting actor in the German Film Awards) or superior genre efforts like Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti western The Great Silence (1968). Still, leading roles were a rarity for Kinski but one of the early exceptions was Der Rote Rausch (1962), directed by Wolfgang Schleif. Continue reading
Often overlooked in the Spaghetti Western hall of fame, The Ruthless Four (1968) is a riveting, well-crafted tale of a ill-fated search for hidden gold that bears some thematic similarities to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. While it is not quite in the same league as John Huston’s 1948 classic, the cast alone should still pique the interest of any film buff starting with the top-billed Van Heflin and Gilbert Roland, two Hollywood legends with some classic Westerns to their credit; Heflin with Shane (1953) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and Roland with his series of “Cisco Kid” oaters that began with The Gay Cavalier in 1946. The curiosity factor is also undeniable with the eclectic casting of Uruguay-born actor George Hilton, a veteran of countless giallos and Euro-westerns, and the inimitable Klaus Kinski, who has a substantial role here unlike many of his genre efforts where his appearance is often little more than a cameo or brief walk-on. Continue reading
The success of the James Bond series, beginning in 1962 with Dr. No, had an amazing impact on the international film world. For almost a decade or more, hundreds of imitations from Asia, Europe, the U.S. and other parts of the world flooded the market. The majority of these were formulaic, action-oriented B movies like Kiss Kiss – Bang Bang and Secret Agent Super Dragon (both 1966) but occasionally a few would depart from the heroic fantasy scenarios to present much more realistic depictions of the espionage underworld such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), based on John le Carré’s novel, and The Quiller Memorandum (1966) with a screenplay by Harold Pinter.
Jean Delannoy’s La Peau de Torpedo (1970) doesn’t fit comfortably into either camp even though it does traffic in the grim, Cold War paranoia associated with le Carré’s novels while spinning a wildly improbable tale that makes the Roger Moore 007 adventures seem almost plausible in comparison. What makes the film worth seeing besides the eclectic international cast that includes Stéphane Audran, Lilli Palmer, Michel Constantin, and Klaus Kinski is the unconventional story arc which begins like a routine espionage thriller and then unravels spectacularly about thirty minutes into the film with an act of violence that injects a welcome note of unpredictability into the rest of the proceedings.
Labor Day weekend for most people means a farewell to summer and a final official holiday before the Fall season but for me Labor Day usually means “The Show” – the annual Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. I have been lucky enough to attend several of the festivals over the year but since I won’t be able to attend the 41st annual event (Aug.29-Sept.1), I wanted to pay tribute to it with a blog about my first visit there – The 8th Telluride Film Festival in 1981. Continue reading