Sturm und Drang Under Western Skies

One of the more ambitious and offbeat Westerns of the early sixties, The Last Sunset (1961) is an odd duck that has its admirers and detractors with several participants of the film – director Robert Aldrich, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and star Kirk Douglas – being the most vocal about its flaws and unrealized potential. For a frontier tale that attempts to emulate a Greek tragedy on the range, there is an abundance of plot twists and varying acting styles to keep you riveted to the sight of this often visually stunning box office failure. Themes of revenge, incest, and cowardice infused with an overarching cod psychology are baked in a heavy casserole that includes dust storms, a cattle stampede, quicksand, trigger-happy rustlers, embittered ex-Confederates in the post-Civil War years, marauding Indians and a natural phenomenon known as St. Elmo’s fire. Even Leonard Maltin in his capsule movie review for his popular guide calls it “Strange on the Range.”

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High School Was Never Like This!

Among the many peculiar assemblages of cast and crew in Hollywood history, Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) is in a class by itself. A black comedy set in a California high school where someone is murdering female students, the film marked the U.S. film debut of French director Roger Vadim (Barbarella, 1968) with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry producing and writing the screenplay. Mix in a number of seasoned Hollywood professionals (Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Roddy McDowall, Keenan Wynn, William Campbell) with a hip, younger cast of aspiring actors and starlets. Top it off with a music score by Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible, 1996) and a theme song co-written by Christian music mogul Mike Curb and sung by The Osmonds. And the result is a delicious guilty pleasure for some and a cringe-inducing embarrassment for others. There is no middle ground here unless you choose to view the film as a sociology experiment.   Continue reading

The Film Noir That Got Away

Maggie Smith and George Nader in the film noir, Nowhere to Go (1958)

Maggie Smith and George Nader in the film noir, Nowhere to Go (1958)

Ealing Studios. The name conjures up memories of the great British comedies such as The Man in the White Suit, The Ladykillers, The Lavender Hill Mob and Kind Hearts and Coronets.  Film noir, however, is not the genre that usually comes to mind although Ealing rubbed shoulders with it occasionally in It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) and Pool of London (1951). Oddly enough, one of the studio’s final releases, Nowhere to Go (1958) was pure, unadulterated noir and a stylish, terse little thriller to boot. Sadly, it has been overlooked and unappreciated for years even though it marks the feature film debut of director Seth Holt and gave actress Maggie Smith her first major screen role.  Continue reading