The early 1960s was a turbulent time for the film industry and the Hollywood studio system was becoming a relic of the past as television and other competitors in the entertainment field lured audiences away. Some movie actors could see the writing on the wall and began to pursue film offers outside Hollywood and the U.S. Some of the more famous former studio contract players who escaped and reinvented themselves in Europe were Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Lee Van Cleef, Jean Seberg and Jane Fonda. Even seasoned veterans like Edward G. Robinson, Lee J. Cobb and Bette Davis appeared in movies made overseas but one of the more unusual examples of American actors appearing in an international production is Barry Sullivan and Martha Hyer in Pyro…The Thing Without a Face (1964, aka Fuego in the European market), directed by Julio Coll and filmed in Spain.Continue reading
Tag Archives: Mario Bava
A Double Dose of Santo and Blue Demon
For American moviegoers weaned on comic books and superheroes like Superman, Batman and The Hulk, the names El Santo and Blue Demon might not be as familiar. But in Mexico, they are major cultural icons. They were the main attractions in a popular film genre known as the lucho libre (wrestling hero movies) but had first established themselves as bona-fide professional wrestlers. In real life, Santo and Blue Demon were often rivals in the ring but they teamed up on the screen nine times and two of their most representative features together are Santo y Blue Demon vs. Dracula y el Hombre Lobo (Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man, 1973) and Santo y Blue Demon contra el Doctor Frankenstein (Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein, 1974), which are good entry points for beginners.
The Lost Souls of Sao Paulo
Long Day’s Journey into Night is the title of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1956 play but it could also serve as a succinct capsule description of numerous movies from the 1960s that were clearly influenced by Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura (1960) and its themes of alienation and existential despair. Some examples include Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s Il Mare (1962) which follows three strangers on the isle of Capri during a bleak winter season as they try to connect with each other. Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965) depicts a dystopian futuristic society in which a detective finds himself out of place in a modernistic Paris controlled by an oppressive artificial intelligence. And Jacques Demy’s Model Shop (1969) uses the urban sprawl of Los Angeles and its smog-creating car culture as a backdrop to an unemployed architect’s search for meaning in his life. Yet, the most Antonioni-like film of all and the least known is probably Noite Vazia (1964) by Brazilian director Walter Hugo Khouri, which traces a dusk-to-down encounter between two men and two women amid the sterile cityscapes of modern Sao Paulo.Continue reading
The Runaway Nuclear Physicist
Often considered alongside Luis Bunuel as one of the most important and influential Spanish film directors of the 20th century, Luis Garcia Berlanga (1921-2010) and his work is still being discovered in the U.S. Bienvenido, Mister Marshall! (Welcome, Mr. Marshall, 1953), Berlanga’s post-WW2 satire of the European Recovery Plan aka the Marshall Plan, was the first of his films to receive wide distribution at art houses in America and went on to win the International Prize for Best Comedy Film at Cannes. Placido (1961), a black farce in which a homeless man is invited to a Christmas Eve dinner sponsored by a cookware corporation, was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. And El Verdugo (The Executioner, 1963) might be his most famous triumph with Nino Manfredi as an undertaker who is pressured into taking over his father-in-law’s profession as an executioner. The Criterion Collection released a special edition of it on Blu-ray and DVD in 2016, which helped introduce Berlanga’s satiric masterwork to new audiences. Less well known today but praised by critics during its original release in 1956 is Calabuch aka The Rocket from Calabuch, a seemingly gentle but subversive satire about life in a rustic seaside village which is disrupted by the arrival of an amiable but mysterious stranger.Continue reading
Stare If You Dare at The Hypnotic Eye!
Everybody has probably been haunted or permanently tramatized by some movie they saw as a kid that burned images into their brain they couldn’t process or handle. For me it was a sick little B-movie that popped up on the late show called The Hypnotic Eye (1960), which I saw at the age of nine.Continue reading
Beware of Japanese Cats
Every national cinema has their own homegrown subgenres and mythology when it comes to horror films and I think Japan has some of the most unique and bizarre creatures of all such as the hopping Umbrella ghost from Yokai hyaku monogatari (1968, aka The Hundred Monsters) or the rampaging stone idol of the Majin trilogy which began in 1966. Yet, in terms of eerie beauty and supernatural creepiness, I’m drawn to the bakeneko-mono stories from Japanese folklore with their shape-shifting cat demons and one of my favorites is Borei Kaibayo Yashiki (1958, aka Black Cat Mansion aka Mansion of the Ghost Cat). Continue reading
Comic Strip Addiction
If you went by title alone, Alain Jessua’s Jeu de Massacre (released as The Killing Game in the U.S. and as Comic Book Hero in other territories) suggests it might be a murder mystery or a James Bond-like spy thriller which was still in vogue at the time of the film’s release in 1967. Instead, the film is a witty black comedy about the addictive power of pulp fiction – in this case, a superhero comic book – to ignite dangerous fantasies in readers whose grasp on reality is fragile. Continue reading
Cult of the Arachnids
By the mid-1980s the Italian film industry was in a state of major decline. The glory years of the fifties and sixties were now fondly remembered footnotes in the history of world cinema and even the popular film genres – giallo, poliziotteschi, spaghetti western and horror – were near the end of their heyday. There were still a few determined stragglers such as Tinto Brass with his fetish based erotica (The Key, Miranda, Snack Bar Budapest) and Enzo G. Castellari, who soldiered on with formulaic hybrids like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Tuareg: The Desert Warrior and Striker. But the horror genre, in particular, was suffering with masters of the macabre Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento trying but failing to top past high water marks like The Beyond (1981) and Suspiria (1977). It was during this downward trend that Gianfranco Giagni made his directorial debut with The Spider Labyrinth (Italian title: Il Nido del Ragno, 1988). Continue reading
Eurotrash or Subversive Satire?
Is it possible to make a movie that works as both art house fare and exploitation cinema? Arne Mattsson’s Ann och Eve – de erotiska (1970), which was released in the U.S. in an English dubbed version as Ann and Eve, certainly comes close but still manages to frustrate both intended audiences with a bait-and-switch narrative that moves freely from sexual titillation to Swedish angst a la Bergman to surreal flights of fancy and back again, never revealing whether it should be taken seriously or as a put-on until the final frames. Continue reading
The Many Noses of Orson Welles
“When you are down and out something always turns up – and it is usually the noses of your friends.” – Orson Welles
When you’re a film actor, it’s easy to understand how one can obsess over some less than perfect facial or physical feature that is going to be magnified by the camera on the big screen. But in most cases these fears are usually unfounded and not even something the average moviegoer would notice or care about. Claudette Colbert and Jean Arthur both insisted on being shot from the left side for profiles; Colbert called the right side of her face “the dark side of the moon.” Fred Astaire used movement and positioning to distract people from what he felt were his unusually large hands and Bing Crosby dealt with his increasing baldness by wearing hats at all times (he refused to wear toupees). Orson Welles’ insecurity over the size of his nose, however, is probably the most baffling of the actor hangups I’ve read about.
*This is a slightly revised version of my post that originally appeared on TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog Continue reading