People usually have certain expectations when they invest the time to watch a movie, especially if it has been advertised as a genre film like a western, sci-fi or horror thriller. This must have been a perplexing problem for the distributors of Arcana (1972), Guilio Questi’s mysterious tale of a widow and her brooding son who use fortune telling, tarot cards and seances to con a gullible clientele. The film dabbles in the supernatural but it also flirts with other topics like voyeurism, incest, Macedonian rituals, neglected children, middle class despair and inept bureaucracies. Some critics have pigeonholed Arcana as a horror film and it is certainly horrific in tone and attitude but don’t expect the movie to conform to genre conventions. The director even issues a disclaimer at the beginning: “To the watchers: This movie is not a story but a game of cards. For this reason both its start and the epilogue are not believable. You are the players. Play smartly and you’ll win.” Make of that what you will, I think Arcana works best as a puzzle, even if it is an often inscrutable and unsolvable one that is presented in two acts. Continue reading
If U.S. moviegoers are familiar with the name Tinto Brass at all, it is probably due to the infamous 1979 epic Caligula which featured world renowned actors (Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, Malcolm McDowell, etc.) and hardcore sex scenes (which were later added by producer/Penthouse tycoon Bob Guccione against the wishes of Brass who disowned the film). Brass had already established himself as a master of art house erotica/perversity with 1976’s Salon Kitty about a brothel in WWII Berlin where the prostitutes were undercover spies. But after Caligula, Brass seemed much happier directing more modestly budgeted, softcore adaptations of literary works like The Key (1983, based on the novel by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki) and Paprika (1991, inspired by the novel Fanny Hill), which showcased his increasing obsession with shapely female bottoms.
In retrospect, his early career is a contemplation of the paths not taken: documentary (Ca ira, il fiume della rivolta aka Thermidor, 1964), avant-garde cinema (L’urlo aka The Howl, 1970) and eccentric genre offerings such as Col cuore in gola aka Deadly Sweet, 1967). Of the latter, Yankee (1966), the only spaghetti western ever directed by Brass, is definitely worth a look. Continue reading
Often overlooked in the Spaghetti Western hall of fame, The Ruthless Four (1968) is a riveting, well-crafted tale of a ill-fated search for hidden gold that bears some thematic similarities to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. While it is not quite in the same league as John Huston’s 1948 classic, the cast alone should still pique the interest of any film buff starting with the top-billed Van Heflin and Gilbert Roland, two Hollywood legends with some classic Westerns to their credit; Heflin with Shane (1953) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and Roland with his series of “Cisco Kid” oaters that began with The Gay Cavalier in 1946. The curiosity factor is also undeniable with the eclectic casting of Uruguay-born actor George Hilton, a veteran of countless giallos and Euro-westerns, and the inimitable Klaus Kinski, who has a substantial role here unlike many of his genre efforts where his appearance is often little more than a cameo or brief walk-on. Continue reading
The plays of William Shakespeare have provided a bottomless well of material for filmmakers as either faithful adaptations or unacknowledged inspirations since the birth of cinema. Yet, the western genre seems under-represented in this regard with only a few examples coming to mind such as a thinly disguised version of Othello (Delmar Daves’ Jubal,1956) or a re-imagining of The Tempest (William A. Wellman’s Yellow Sky, 1948) or a gender twist on King Lear (Edward Dmytryk’s Broken Lance, 1954). Continue reading