A Suitable Case for Treatment

David Warner in Morgan!

Is mental illness a laughing matter? When it comes to cinematic treatments, it all depends on the filmmaker’s approach and this was an issue that divided critics and audiences over Morgan! (1966, released in the U.K. as Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment). Whether embraced as a wild, eccentric anti-establishment farce or derided as a schizophrenic mess that can’t decide whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy, Morgan!, remains a polarizing film even today; there is no middle ground here. Most people either love it or hate it.

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The Great Displacement

At the end of WW2, it was estimated that more than 6 million people had been displaced from their homes and roughly 180,000 of these were children. Some were concentration camp survivors, others were orphaned or separated from their families, hiding in monasteries or living with strangers. There have been a handful of films that dealt with this traumatic situation and Fred Zinnemann’s The Search (1948) is probably the most famous post-war American film on the subject. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and won a special Juvenile Oscar for Ivan Jandl as a homeless kid separated from his Czech mother. Europe also produced some landmark films about displaced children during WW2 including Roberto Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero (1948) and Rene Clement’s Forbidden Games (1952) but Somewhere in Europe aka It Happened in Europe (Hungarian title: Valahol Europaban) from Hungarian director Geza von Radvanyi was one of the first films to address war orphans trying to fend for themselves. Released in 1947, the film is less well known than other post-war dramas from the same period but it is a harrowing portrait of a dire situation affecting Eastern Europe, especially Hungary, during the final days of the war.

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A Marriage of Convenience?

Almost everyone has a good reason for why they want to get married but for Hugues, there is a very specific need. He wants to find a woman with a place of her own, preferably one with ample square footage that includes a sitting room and a large, walk-in closet. Love or companionship isn’t a main objective. Nor does he have any particular preferences concerning the woman’s appearance or personality as long as she is close to the same age. Strangely enough, Hugues finds the ideal candidate through the Duvernet Agency, a professional matchmaker. Jeanne is not only lovely and charming, if a bit elusive, and she has never been married before. Plus, she resides in a sprawling ground floor apartment once owned by an uncle. What could be better?  So begins 1970’s L’Alliance (also known as The Wedding Ring), an exceedingly peculiar tale that slowly lures the viewer down a rabbit hole.

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Mickey Rooney Hires a Wet Nurse

In the many peaks and valleys of his long career the Mickster never shied away from taking on difficult or questionable roles in his relentless desire to perform and entertain. While this adventuresome spirit might alienate part of his fan base that prefers to remember him as Andy Hardy or Judy Garland’s musical partner, it has won him an entirely new set of admirers. I’m talking about those who have seen and been amazed by his participation amid those lost post-MGM years in such eclectic fare as The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960), Platinum High School (1960), Everything’s Ducky (1961 with Buddy Hackett and a talking duck), Roger Corman’s The Secret Invasion (1964), How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965), the Mafia-Hippie-LSD comedy Skidoo (1968), and 1971’s The Manipulator (aka B.J. Lang Presents), where he plays a psychotic former director living in an abandoned warehouse with a female captive.

Rooney’s energy, range and versatility are truly awe-inspiring from his desperate loser of Quicksand (1950) to his subtle, moving portrayal in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) to his unexpected cameo in Babe: Pig in the City (1998). But I’m willing to bet that La Vida Lactea (aka The Milky Life), made in Spain in 1992, is probably the weirdest thing he’s ever done and very few people have seen it.  Continue reading

From Graphic Novel to Animated Feature: The Making of Luis Bunuel’s Las Hurdes

Gkids is a New York based film distributor that represents Japan’s famous Studio Ghibli with such family-friendly animation features as My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) as well as more adult oriented titles like the harrowing WW2 survival tale Grave of the Fireflies (1988) and the Oscar-nominated Chico & Rita (2010), a passionate love story set in pre-revolution Cuba. Salvador Simo’s Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, one of Gkid’s recent acquisitions, belongs in the latter category and is currently playing selected theaters in the U.S. with an iTunes streaming release in the near future.  Continue reading

Dietrich and von Sternberg’s Last Tango

When The Scarlet Empress (1934), Josef von Sternberg’s lavish historical epic starring Marlene Dietrich as Catherine the Great, proved to be a critical and commercial disaster for Paramount, the director realized his days were numbered at the studio. So why not go for broke in one last picture? The result was The Devil is a Woman (1935). 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

Jess Franco’s Attack of the Robots

Imagine a science-fiction influenced spy thriller about humanoid assassins directed by Jess Franco with a screenplay adaptation by Jean-Claude Carrière (a frequent collaborator with Luis Bunuel), a cool jazz score by Paul Misraki (Alphaville, Le Doulos, Les Cousins) and an international cast featuring Eddie Constantine, Fernando Rey and Francoise Brion. It sounds like a film buff’s fever dream but it actually exists. Released in 1966 during the height of the James Bond craze, Cartes sur table aka Attack of the Robots is a stylish and amusing entertainment that takes a standard world domination-by-madman scenario and infuses it with a cheeky sense of humor. The film will come as a surprise to those who only associate Jess Franco with Eurotrash favorites like 99 Women (1969), Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and Wanda, the Wicked Warden (1977).

Eddie Constantine as Interpol agent Al Pereira in Jess Franco’s Cartes sur table (aka Attack of the Robots, 1966).

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Polyurethane Companion

Michel Piccoli and his polyurethane companion in Luis Garcia Berlanga's Life Size (Grandeur Nature, 1974)

Michel Piccoli and his polyurethane companion in Luis Garcia Berlanga’s Life Size (Grandeur Nature, 1974)

The topic of men preferring lifelike dolls or mannequins to real women is nothing new in cinema and has been treated as poignant character study (Lars and the Real Girl, 2007), rom-com fantasy (Mannequin, 1987) and bleak psychological drama (The Doll aka Vaxdockan, 1962) to mention just a few examples of the different paths taken. Luis Garcia Berlanga’s Life Size (French title: Grandeur nature, 1974) takes a more ambiguous approach to its tale of a successful dentist and his new obsession and could be interpreted as a critique of misogyny, an attack on bourgeois values or a dark, perversely amusing character study.  Continue reading

The Games People Play According to Eloy de la Iglesia

Juego de amor prohibido posterTwo college students, Miguel (John Moulder-Brown) and Julia (Inma de Santis), take advantage of a school holiday to run off together for parts unknown. Their plan is to shack up somewhere where their parents can’t find them but their impromptu road trip takes an unexpected detour. The young lovers soon find themselves prisoners at a sequestered mansion and estate under the control of Don Luis (Javier Escrivá), an aristocrat with a passionate love of fine arts and the music of Richard Wagner. He also happens to be one of their professors at college and the one who picked up the hitchhikers while he was blasting “Ride of the Valkyries” from his car stereo. This is the set-up for Eloy de la Iglesia’s Forbidden Love Game (Spanish title: Juego de amor prohibido, 1975) but if you think you know what’s coming, you’re probably mistaken.   Continue reading