Christmas Lockdown in the Eternal City

An alternate release poster for the Roberto Rossellini film ERA NOTTE A ROMA (1960)

Available for years in inferior public domain prints and poor video transfers, Robert Rossellini’s influential WW2 trilogy [Rome Open City (1945), Paisan (1946) and German Year Zero (1949)], which firmly established him as the “father of Neorealism”, finally received 4K high-definition digital transfers from The Criterion Collection in 2017. Linked thematically to this trilogy, however, is a latter Rossellini film, Era Notte a Roma [English title, Escape by Night aka Blackout in Rome,1960), which, unfortunately, has never enjoyed the reputation or respect of this seminal trilogy. I first saw a 16mm print of the film from Films Inc. years ago when it still licensed title from The Audio Brandon Collection. I had a chance to revisit Era Notte a Roma again recently on DVD and am still baffled by the movie’s low profile since its original release.

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Once Upon a Time in Russia

“Hordes storm fortress!” “Tartars Abduct Viking beauty!” “Orgy celebrates conquest!” These were some of the tag lines used to promote the period epic The Tartars (1961), one of many European imports that reached American shores during a brief “sword and sandal” craze in the late fifties/early sixties. Hercules, the 1959 peplum sensation starring Steve Reeves, started it all. Producer Dino De Laurentiis bought the rights and distributed it in the U.S. in 1959, transforming it into a box office hit. After that, every major studio was scrambling to duplicate that success and MGM was no exception, importing such muscle-bound contenders as The Giant of Marathon (1960), Morgan the Pirate (1961) and The Son of Spartacus (aka The Slave, 1963) – all of them starring Steve Reeves. The Tartars, however, had a different pedigree and a more distinctive one. Not only was it helmed by Richard Thorpe, one of MGM’s most dependable directors of costume epics (Ivanhoe (1952), The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), Knights of the Round Table, 1953), but it sported two high profile marquee names – Victor Mature and Orson Welles.  

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I Was a Teenage Peeping Tom

Craig Fowler (Paul Anka) is a lonely, insecure teenager who likes spying on his female neighbors in LOOK IN ANY WINDOW (1961).

Among the many teen idols of the fifties who climbed to fame with top forty hit records, only a few made the successful crossover to film acting. Pat Boone was groomed by 20th-Century-Fox as a teen matinee idol in Bernadine (1957), Tommy Sands stayed in his comfort zone playing an aspiring pop star in Sing Boy Sing (1958), Fabian made his screen debut with the family-friendly backwoods drama Hound-Dog Man (1959), and Bobby Rydell played your average boy-next-door opposite Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie (1963). Paul Anka, on the other hand, appeared in the most unlikely vehicle for his first major starring role – Look in Any Window (1961).   

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Highlights from VFF 2018

The annual Virginia Film Festival (VFF) in Charlottesville recently celebrated its 31st year of operation on Nov.1-4 and offered attendees the opportunity to select from over 150 films, many of which arrived leaden with awards and critical acclaim from previous festivals like Cannes and Telluride. Programming content focused on specific themes and topics is also part of the VFF tradition and the 2018 event included a film series on Race in America, which included the premiere of Paul Robert’s Charlotteville about the tragic events of Aug. 11 & 12, 2017, and sidebars on Orson Welles, Virginia filmmakers, American folk culture and music and a vast array of international films.   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.   Continue reading

Reelin’ in the Years with Buck Henry

Screenwriter/actor/director/producer Buck Henry

Buck Henry has had a remarkable career in the entertainment industry, one that has encompassed acting, screenwriting, directing, producing and even dubbing foreign language film imports. Not content to sit on his laurels, Henry at age 86 remains active in Hollywood where he is allegedly working on the screenplay to Get Smart 2. His previous assignment was writing the screenplay for The Humbling (2014), a comedy-drama directed by Barry Levinson starring Al Pacino and based on the novel by Philip Roth.

In April 2010, Buck Henry was a guest at the first annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood and was present at a retrospective screening of The Graduate to answer questions from Vanity Fair contributor Sam Kashner. I conducted the following interview with Henry about his career prior to that festival for Turner Classic Movies.  Continue reading

Norman Lloyd: Hollywood’s Long Distance Runner, Part 1

Norman Lloyd hangs on for dear life in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942).

On November 8, 2017 Norman Lloyd will be 203 and he shows no signs of slowing down. In recent years, he has become the go-to historian for the American film industry’s golden era due to his friendship and working relationships with such cinema legends as Charlie Chaplin, Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, John Garfield, Bernard Herrmann, John Houseman, Joseph Losey and others. Lloyd also continues to take acting roles (he has a nice cameo in the 2015 Judd Apatow comedy Trainwreck starring Amy Schumer) and appear as an interviewee in documentaries such as Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity (2015) and Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age, which is currently in post-production.

*This is a revised and updated version of the original interview which was recorded in March 2010 just prior to Lloyd’s appearance at the first Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival.   Continue reading

Any Port in a Storm

sailor from Gibraltar (fra) posterAlong with his film adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark (1969), Tony Richardson’s The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967) is probably the most obscure and rarely seen film from the director’s middle period, a time when he was floundering and unable to match the earlier critical and commercial success of his 1963 Tom Jones adaptation. There are many reasons for that, of course, and Richardson would probably admit it was one of his biggest disasters, if not the biggest. It also wasn’t intended for the average moviegoer and was much more attuned to art house cinema patrons with its enigmatic story based on the novel Le marin de Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras, whose screenplay for Hiroshima, Mon Amour received an Oscar® nomination in 1961 (even though the film was released in 1959). To date, The Sailor from Gibraltar is still missing in action with no legal DVD or Blu-Ray release available. Continue reading

The Many Noses of Orson Welles

triple Orson Welles shot“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