Aboriginal Prophecies from Down Under

The rational versus the irrational always creates compelling conflicts in the best kind of fantasy/horror films where scientists and/or investigators are faced with trying to understand or explain supernatural events or mysteries of the occult. A denial of the paranormal fueled the chilling storyline of Jacques Tourneur’s Curse of the Demon (1957, released in the U.K. as Night of the Demon). A similar tone of skepticism is under attack in The Last Wave (1977), one of the rare Australian films to delve into Aboriginal mythology and superstitions but also one that addresses the environment on an apocalyptic level.

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Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Director John Cassavetes broke all the rules, inventing his own and then discarding them as he went along. He improvised and experimented with everything from the cinematography to the performances to the actual financing of the film. He even mortgaged his own home numerous times to subsidize his movies over the years and took on acting jobs purely for monetary reasons. His directorial debut Shadows (1958), with its jerky, hand-held camerawork, vivid location shooting on New York City streets and edgy subject matter involving an interracial romance, is one of the most influential films to emerge from the independent New York City cinema movement of the 1950s. Yet, it was just a warm-up for Cassavetes’s next film, Faces (1968), which was even more provocative and unconventional. 

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Through the Eyes of a Child

Roberto Rossellini’s Roma, Citta Aperta (Rome, Open City, 1945) is generally acknowledged as the film that ushered in the neorealism movement and set the tone and style for the postwar Italian films that followed. But the roots of neorealism can be traced back to Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione (1943) and Vittorio De Sica’s The Children Are Watching Us (1944, I bambini ci guardano), both of which were filmed in 1942 but encountered distribution problems upon their release in the fall of 1942 when the war finally came to Italy and the bombings began. Ossessione was also the victim of Fascist censorship which reduced the film to less than half of its original running time and for years it was denied distribution in the U.S. due to an infringement of copyright (it was an uncredited adaptation of the James M. Cain novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice). The Children Are Watching Us didn’t fare any better during its limited release and for years it was a difficult film to see in its original form, even in its own country. 



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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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Ice Capades

George Roy Hill is a name that should be familiar to most movie fans. Although his claim to fame mostly rests on two Paul Newman-Robert Redford hits, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973), for which he won the Best Director Oscar, Hill is unique in that he could successfully helm big screen epics like Hawaii (1966), art house fare (Slaughterhouse-Five, 1972) or intimate, small scale projects such as A Little Romance (1979). Despite his versatility, he has never enjoyed the sort of critical acclaim or respect afforded such peers as Robert Altman but Hill is clearly overdue for reappraisal and so are some of the overlooked gems in his filmography like The World of Henry Orient (1964) and Slap Shot (1977), which might be his most underrated movie.

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Life After the Bomb

What would life be like after a global apocalyptic event or would there be any life at all? It is certainly a topic that has inspired filmmakers to create an entire subgenre upon the premise. Some of the more famous and/or infamous efforts have usually focused on a handful of survivors like Arch Oboler’s low-budget message melodrama Five (1951), Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach (1959), the interracial menage-a-trois of The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) and Roger Corman’s similar three-character B-picture, The Last Woman on Earth (1960). Other variations have been more epic in scope and ambition with a distinct sci-fi/horror approach like the various film versions of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, The Road Warrior (1981) and other Mad Max sequels and clones as well as post-apocalyptic zombie flicks like World War Z (2013).  Comedies about life-after-the-bomb, however, are a rarity but probably the weirdest and most deeply cynical of them all is The Bed-Sitting Room (1969), directed by Richard Lester.

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Bernard Wicki’s Die Brucke

When film critics compile their favorite top ten lists of anti-war movies, you can usually expect to see titles like King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925), Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957), Kon Ichikawa’s Fires on the Plains (1959), Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot (1981) and Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985) among the favored elite. It has only been in recent years that Bernhard Wicki’s The Bridge (German title: Die Brucke) has popped up on lists, thanks in part to The Criterion Collection, which remastered it on DVD and Blu-ray in June 2015. Almost forgotten since its original release in 1959, the film is just as powerful and moving as it was over sixty years ago.

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White Boy Elgar

Marge (Pearl Bailey) welcomes Elgar (Beau Bridges), her new landlord, to the neighborhood in Hal Ashby’s debut feature, The Landlord (1970).

In the early seventies Hollywood studio executives began to realize there was a huge untapped market for films dealing with African-Americans, a situation made obvious by the unexpected success of Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), an action comedy based on the Chester Himes novel about two black cops, Coffin Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) and Gravedigger Jones (Godfrey Cambridge). In the ensuing rush to capture this previously ignored audience, the “blaxploitation” film was born, but the majority of these films were urban crime thrillers like Shaft (1971) and Superfly (1972). Films which attempted to explore racial issues or feature complicated black and white relationships were a rarity but one unique exception was The Landlord (1970), which was virtually ignored by the public when it opened.

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SoCal Culture Bashing

An immensely talented playwright, screenwriter, and satirist, George Axelrod has rarely received the recognition he deserves within the Hollywood industry yet he was the man behind some of the wittiest screenplays of the fifties and early sixties. Foremost among them are two of Marilyn Monroe’s best films (The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Bus Stop, 1956), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) starring Audrey Hepburn in her signature role, and The Manchurian Candidate (1962), a highly paranoid thriller about a political conspiracy which prefigured President Kennedy’s assassination by a year. Less well known but equally audacious is his go-for-broke directorial debut, Lord Love a Duck (1966), a wicked lampoon of the movie business that nourished him and a satire of Southern California culture with its drive-in chapels, fast food restaurants, and self-improvement seminars.

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Home Alone

No one wants to think about growing old, becoming infirm and having to rely on others for assistance, particularly after a life of relative independence. While some are lucky enough to have family and friends to help out, many elderly people have no one for support and are left to fend for themselves among strangers. The situation becomes even more desperate without savings or financial assistance. Certainly this isn’t a topic that the commercial cinema has often explored for obvious reasons and great films on this subject are rare indeed but occasionally a masterpiece has emerged. Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D. [1952], Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru [1952], and Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story [1953] are prime examples while a handful of other films remain memorable for the performances alone – Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi in Make Way for Tomorrow [1937], Art Carney in Harry and Tonto [1974] and Edith Evans in The Whisperers [1967], Bryan Forbes’s often overlooked and forgotten adaptation of Robert Nicolson’s novel, Mrs. Ross.    Continue reading