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Month: October 2020

Wild Wild World of Jayne Mansfield, The (1968)

Wild Wild World of Jayne Mansfield, The (1968)

“I hope nobody’s watching me; I’m basically very shy.”

Synopsis:
Jayne Mansfield narrates her travels through Rome, Paris, New York, and Hollywood, coyly marveling at the spectacles she sees.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Documentary
  • Jayne Mansfield Films

Review:
The intended audience for this mondo documentary — featuring Jayne Mansfield gawking at and within all sorts of “naughty” spaces — is clearly either adult-film aficionados, and/or Mansfield fans; but all-purpose film fanatics may get a kick out of “Mansfield” (her voice-over was likely done by someone else) making hilariously self-aggrandizing comments such as the following: “I was in love with Rome, and Rome was in love with me… Once again, I was in my own brand of heaven. Admirers flocked around me.” I’m tempted to make the bulk of this review an overview of the humorous narration, which tickled me time and again (at least during the first half):

While strolling through the streets of Rome: “I didn’t mean to break up their game, but suddenly I was surrounded by 50,000 adoring, wonderful, handsome Italians. If I could have kissed each one, I would have — but I didn’t have time that day.”

While looking at nude statues of gladiators in Rome: “My statue became blood and flesh and muscle in my silly, wicked little daydream… Any one of them would be able to overpower me. I wondered if I would ever meet anybody who could be a tenth of a man those Roman gladiators were: they lived hard, died hard, and — from what I’ve heard — they loved hard.”

At a nudist colony: “I walked over to a lonely pile of rocks. ‘Jaynie,’ I said to myself, ‘It’s your turn!'”

The most uncomfortable moments are when Mansfield visits transvestite clubs and is so clearly unnerved by the “boy-girls” she sees; young film fanatics raised in a more pro-trans social environment may be shocked by the candid expressions used here. Also terribly upsetting, of course, are the abrupt final scenes showing photos of Mansfield’s death by car accident, and a tour of her house with her widowed husband and two young sons — talk about exploitative! However, Mansfield was nothing if not eager to show herself off to the world, so perhaps this was the most fitting exit for a 33-year-old buxomy “dumb” blonde (who received a college degree and had a high IQ).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An unexpectedly humorous travelogue through “Jayne Mansfield’s” mind


Must See?
Yes, simply for its camp value, and as a historical document of Mansfield’s travails before her untimely death. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

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Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)

Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)

“This guy is only interested in action!”

Synopsis:
A small-town piano teacher (Ray Walston) with enormous jealousy issues around his beautiful wife (Felicia Farr) is convinced by his song-writing buddy (Cliff Osmond) to let lecherous Vegas singer “Dino” (Dean Martin) spend the night in Walston’s house so the duo can try to sell him some of their songs. However, when Walston realizes Martin will inevitably be attracted to Farr, he fakes an argument with his wife and sends her away, while bringing over a local prostitute (Kim Novak) to impersonate his “wife” and be seduced.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Billy Wilder Films
  • Dean Martin Films
  • Jealousy
  • Kim Novak Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Romantic Comedy

Review:
Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond collaborated on the screenplay for this notoriously “risque” sex comedy which opens with Dean Martin making a decidedly dated and inappropriate joke on stage (Pointing to a show girl behind him: “Is this a bit of terrific, eh? Last night she was banging on my door for 45 minutes! pauses But I wouldn’t let her out.”) From there, we’re made to know under no uncertain terms that Dino “needs” his nightly sex fix or he gets a “headache” — which sets up the entire premise of the situation, in which songwriters Walston and Osmond (but mostly Osmond) are so desperate to make it big (and what could be “bigger” than Dean Martin crooning one of your ditties?) that they’ll willingly sacrifice the women around them to make this happen. Unfortunately, we don’t like any of these men to begin with: Martin is is meant to be a complete sleaze, but it’s harder to watch Walston steaming at the ears with envy about every single man his beautiful wife interacts with (he’s a dangerously unhinged, possessive, and paranoid husband, to be sure), and Osmond — giving a memorable performance — is no catch, either: without compunction, he severs the fuel line in Martin’s car to ensure he’ll come back to the tiny town of Climax, Nevada and be forced to spend the night.

So, how do the women do in this film? Poor Farr wants nothing more than to help her (ungrateful) husband celebrate their five-year anniversary (she seems like a peach), but has to battle relentlessly against his unreasonable jealousy — and then she’s lied to and belittled for the “greater cause” of Walston and Osmond selling songs. Meanwhile, Novak — given a “bad cold” to try to help her character seem more… sympathetic? — is hyper-sexualized, and seems to accept that she’s sold off to any reasonable bidder wanting her “services” for the evening, simply so she can save up money to buy a car and get out of town. Her genuine crush on Walston complicates things even more: we don’t blame her, but — what about poor Farr, who’s done nothing wrong at all? Ay, what a dilemma. While many fans appreciate this film’s ahead-of-its-time candor with all things sex-related (especially in the restored-ending version now available on DVD, which empowers Farr even further), I found it challenging to sit through.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Cliff Osmond as Barney
  • Joseph LaShelle’s cinematography
  • Andre Previn’s score

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look if you’re curious, given its notoriety. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book, which makes sense.

Links:

Zambizanga (1973)

Zambizanga (1973)

“The Rich are the Poor’s enemies. They see to it that the Poor stay poor. “

Synopsis:
When a black construction worker (Domingos Oliviera) in 1961 Angola is suddenly arrested as a political prisoner, his wife (Elisa Andrade) sets out with their baby to find him in the capital city of Luanda.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • African Films
  • Class Relations
  • Labor Movements
  • Prisoners
  • Race Relations and Racism
  • Revolutionaries
  • Strong Females

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary informs us that this “radical film” — “directed by Sarah Maldoror, French-born black feminist, and co-written by her husband, a leader in the Angolan resistance” — was, according to Maldoror, “made ‘to make Europeans, who hardly know anything about Africa, conscious of the forgotten war in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau‘.” (I, for one, will admit that I knew nothing about the Angolan War of Independence before watching this film.) Peary writes that as the “politically naive” wife of a secret activist “goes from prison to prison in search of her husband,” she “discovers that what is happening to prisoners (including her husband) is horrific,” and “she develops a political consciousness.” He argues it’s a “terrific, unforgettable picture,” one that “reveals the horrid nature of political oppression in colonial countries where there are liberation movements” — and I would definitely agree. It’s not at all an easy film to watch, especially given that Maldoror highlights not only the toxic effects of colonialism but the stark reality of racism and gender inequality. However, it also portrays the resilience of people who band together for mutual support (one woman even breast-feeds Andrade’s baby for her during a rest stop), and demonstrates that Oliviera’s torture is not suffered in vain.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A powerful neo-realist tale of political resistance and marital devotion


Must See?
Yes, as a unique window into a specific cultural time and movement, and for its historical significance as what was likely the first feature film directed by a woman in Sub-Sarahan Africa.

Categories

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Blood and Sand (1941)

Blood and Sand (1941)

“The cow hasn’t been born yet that can give birth to the bull that can hurt me!”

Synopsis:
A Spanish toreador (Tyrone Power) weds his childhood sweetheart (Linda Darnell) and achieves tremendous fame in the bullfighting world, but risks losing it all when he falls for a sultry socialite (Rita Hayworth).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anthony Quinn Films
  • Bullfighting
  • Femmes Fatales
  • Infidelity
  • John Carradine Films
  • Laird Cregar Films
  • Linda Darnell Films
  • Rise and Fall
  • Rita Hayworth Films
  • Rouben Mamoulian Films
  • Tyrone Power Films

Review:
Rouben Mamoulian’s Technicolor remake of Rudolf Valentino’s 1922 blockbuster is a visual gem, with nearly every scene looking like a gorgeous painting. Unfortunately, the storyline (as in the original version) leaves much to be desired: an illiterate, bullfighting-obsessed upstart is lucky enough to win the love and loyalty of a beautiful girl, but throws his marriage away when a soulless femme fatale comes lurking. (Could it be that fame… corrupts?) Meanwhile, Power’s tiffs with a portly journalist (Laird Cregar) and rivalry with his friend (Anthony Quinn) play out entirely predictably, and the film’s Christian symbolism runs far too deep. (I wouldn’t exactly refer to bullfighters as martyrs dying on the cross of their inevitably short-lived careers — but that’s what the story seems to posit.) A brief moment of aural beauty comes when the film’s soundtrack composer, Vincente Gomez, performs a guitar solo; this was my favorite scene in the film.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ernest Palmer and Ray Rennahan’s Oscar-winning Technicolor cinematography


Must See?
No; you can skip this one unless you’re a fan of the stars.

Links:

Hollywood Boulevard (1976)

Hollywood Boulevard (1976)

“This is Hollywood — we change everything; we have to.”

Synopsis:
An aspiring starlet (Candice Rialson) hoping to make it big in Hollywood signs on with a hard-working agent (Dick Miller) and is soon working for a pretentious director (Paul Bartel) whose leading lady (Mary Woronov) detests her competition, and whose other actresses are mysteriously being killed off, one by one.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aspiring Stars
  • Hollywood
  • Movie Directors
  • Satires and Spoofs
  • Serial Killers

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that the “main claim to fame” of this “self-parody” is “that it was made in record-breaking time on a pocket-change budget” by “Joe Dante and Alan Arkush, New World editors” who “wanted to prove to studio head Roger Corman that they could effectively direct quickie sexploitation films in the Corman mold”. He notes that “Patrick Hobby’s script is inventive and funny”, with “a barrage of surprisingly clever sight gags and references to Corman’s style of filmmaking; and the entire cast hams it up to perfection.” He points out that “Paul Bartel is hilarious as a director who tries to inject ‘art’, ‘meaning’, and character motivation into his trashy films — while maintaining a large quantity of T&A, car crashes, and massacre scenes” — but I’m more fond of Woronov, who has delicious fun skewering her own image as a “big-name” cult star. Peary argues that the “film falters toward [the] end, when it gets a bit too serious and includes a needlessly vicious knife murder”, but writes that “surprisingly, the film” — which incorporates “inserted footage from previous Corman productions” — “looks polished.” I’m essentially in agreement with Peary’s assessment, though I don’t think modern film fanatics need to see this one unless it piques their interest.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Mary Woronov as Mary McQueen
  • A shameless skewering of “quickie” exploitation movies
  • Good use of L.A. locales

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.

Links:

Time Machine, The (1960)

Time Machine, The (1960)

“At last, I found a paradise — but it would be no paradise if it belonged to me alone.”

Synopsis:
A Victorian-era scientist (Rod Taylor) builds a time travel machine that allows him to travel to the very-distant future, where he meets a beautiful young woman (Yvette Mimieux) whose colony, the Elois, are ruled over by underground monsters known as Morlocks.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Dystopia
  • George Pal Films
  • H.G. Wells Films
  • Rod Taylor Films
  • Science Fiction
  • Time Travel
  • Yvette Mimieux Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “enjoyable, colorful George Pal production of H.G. Wells’s novel” has “excitement and imagination, an excellent beginning, special effects, [and] scary-looking monster men,” and notes that the “time-travel sequences are especially well done.” Peary points out that “Pal, who also directed, ignores Wells’s intention to set up two distinct classes, the workers (the Morlocks) and the decadent leisure/capitalist class (the Eloi), as well as Wells’s application of Social Darwinism to the survivors of the nuclear war,” instead focusing on “how the Eloi make the choice not to be ‘cattle’ raised for slaughter but to regain human traits (to care for one another, to love, to fight for survival, to gather their own food, to work) — which are distinct from the beastly traits of the Morlocks.”

Although it’s been quite a while since I read the original novel, I would say that Pal’s narrative choice (working with a script by David Duncan) is a smart one: seeing the opening sequence with the Eloi — in which “young, blond, ignorant, pathetic, and carefree people living in an Edenic garden” pay no attention “when a young woman… almost drowns” — reminds us that “paradise” is relative, and that beauty and comfort don’t correlate with authenticity, satisfaction, or integrity. Mimieux is appropriately beautiful and guileless as “Weena” (how does she speak English so well??), while Taylor makes a ruggedly sympathetic protagonist, someone we can easily root for along his travails — especially as it’s clear he wants nothing but the best for humanity.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Rod Taylor as George
  • Vibrant cinematography and production design

  • Fine special effects

Must See?
Yes, for the Oscar-winning special effects and as an effective sci-fi adventure.

Categories

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Being There (1979)

Being There (1979)

“As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.”

Synopsis:
When a mentally challenged gardener (Peter Sellers) is forced to leave his lifelong home after his guardian’s passing, he is accidentally hit by a car owned by a wealthy woman (Shirley MacLaine) who takes him to her mansion to receive medical help and meet her dying husband (Melvyn Douglas). “Chance” (Sellers) — referred to by the couple as “Chauncey Gardener” — quickly impresses MacLaine and Douglas with his forthright simplicity, and an opportune meeting with the president (Jack Warden) gives him instant fame. What will Chance’s future hold in store for him and the nation?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Hal Ashby Films
  • Intellectually Disabled
  • Melvyn Douglas Films
  • Millionaires
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Peter Sellers Films
  • Shirley MacLaine Films

Review:
Hal Ashby’s adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel became Peter Sellers’ swan song — his next-to-last film before dying from a heart attack at the age of 54. Thankfully, it’s a fitting and honorable role for Sellers, allowing him to portray a much wiser, less hectic character than usual — someone able to pass his unique gifts along simply by being himself. There’s a surprising amount of humor gleaned from the central premise of Chance being an interpretive slate for whatever people choose to make of his utterings; only his former colleague (Ruth Attaway) knows how “feeble-minded” he really is, and just one other person — Douglas’s doctor (Richard Dysart) — suspects anything. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography perfectly captures the grandeur of the Rands’ existence in a truly palatial mansion, large enough to house a hospital unit within it. Chance’s chance meeting with MacLaine can easily be seen as a divine — perhaps even Biblical — opportunity to allow Americans to connect in an out-of-the-box way; we may need our own “Chauncey Gardener” right around now to help heal our nation…

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Peter Sellers as Chance
  • Shirley MacLaine as Eve Rand
  • Melvyn Douglas as Ben Rand
  • Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Sellers’ performance and as an all-around good show.

Categories

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Lolita (1962)

Lolita (1962)

“You and I, we have lots of fun — don’t we, Lolita?”

Synopsis:
After killing a playwright named Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers), a professor (James Mason) recounts in flashback his saga of marrying a lonely widow (Shelley Winters) in order to gain access to her twelve-year-old daughter, Lolita (Sue Lyon).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Black Comedy
  • Flashback Films
  • James Mason Films
  • Obsessive Love
  • Pedophiles
  • Peter Sellers Films
  • Shelley Winters Films
  • Stanley Kubrick Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while “Stanley Kubrick’s ambitious black comedy about a high class of degenerates was initially blasted for being inferior to and taking liberties with Vladimir Nabakov’s much loved novel,” it “looks better with every passing year.” He argues that “perhaps we’ve begun to accept Kubrick’s sophisticated cinematic techniques (use of visuals, music) as a storytelling alternative to Nabakov’s celebrated prose (i.e., use of language); we better appreciate the mannered comedy of Peter Sellers (this was before Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, What’s New, Pussycat? and The Pink Panther); and we have now seen enough Eric Rohmer films — in which sophisticated ‘gentlemen’ can fall madly in love with bland, beautiful teenagers simply because they have tantalizing, dimpled knees — to understand that 12-year-old Lolita (Sue Lyon) need do absolutely nothing sexually provocative (other than sit around in a skimpy bikini and heart-shaped glasses) for nymphette-lover Humbert Humbert (James Mason) to be in uncontrolled heat.”

In his description of the film’s narrative, Peary notes that after Winters (giving “a hilarious performance”) is “run over (conveniently), Humbert whisk[s] Lolita out of camp” (Camp Climax!) “and [takes] her on a lengthy trip, from one motel to the next”, becoming increasingly “possessive of Lolita and [forbidding] his young lover to date once they settle down and she [goes] to school.” However, Lolita has been “going out on the sly with the openly perverse Quilty [Sellers], the director of the school play in which she had the lead”, and eventually she runs “off with Quilty, whom she considered a genius.” Peary notes that “to this naive girl Humbert [is] normal” — though “of course, Humbert isn’t normal at all — and much humor comes from his difficult attempts to appear normal/moral to the people he comes across (so they won’t suspect him of improprieties with Lolita) only to discover that those who judge him are as wacko as he is.”

Peary writes that the “picture is at times screamingly funny,” that “the performances by Sellers… and Mason — talking smart yet acting like a five-year-old, displaying a sickly smile — are marvelous,” and that “pretty Sue Lyon, only 13… but looking sexy and 17, gives a very self-assured, naughty (notice that smile, indicating she knows what Humbert’s up to) Carroll Baker-like portrayal.” Indeed, Lyon’s performance is at the heart of this film’s success — she’s preternaturally able to embody this challenging role and convince us that events are playing out exactly as seen on screen. (It’s too bad Lyon had such a tough time with Hollywood, since her performance here indicates she was a natural.) Mason, of course, is stellar as always, and Sellers shows the genius for characterization he would demonstrate to greatest effect in Dr. Strangelove just two years later. While not for all tastes, Kubrick’s adaptation of Nabakov’s novel remains a provocative, well-made classic, worthy of at least one-time viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Sue Lyon as Lolita
  • James Mason as Humbert Humbert (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
  • Peter Sellers as Quiltey
  • Shelley Winters as Charlotte
  • Oswald Morris’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a cult classic by a master director.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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Magic Christian, The (1969)

Magic Christian, The (1969)

“The old values are crumbling.”

Synopsis:
An eccentric billionaire named Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers) adopts a homeless young man as his son (Ringo Starr), and then proceeds to spend large amounts of money bribing people into doing his whims — ultimately proving that money really can buy just about anything.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Black Comedy
  • Christopher Lee Films
  • Counterculture
  • Father and Child
  • Laurence Harvey Films
  • Millionaires
  • Nonconformists
  • Peter Sellers Films
  • Raquel Welch Films
  • Richard Attenborough Films
  • Ringo Starr Films
  • Roman Polanski Films
  • Yul Brynner Films

Review:
This loose adaptation of Terry Southern’s 1959 comic novel is unambiguous in its relentless skewering of capitalism and corruption — though it’s challenging to know exactly what to make of this perspective, especially since Sellers’ character isn’t sympathetic and we wish he would spend his money in more productive and charitable ways. DVD Savant is clearly not a fan of this flick, writing that “despite the fact that some find this show absolutely hilarious, it all just sits there, daring us to pick about for whatever scraps of inspiration can be found in the wreckage.” He adds that “There isn’t much shock value here, only a mild crudity that only makes the film seem less imaginative.” With that said, some bits stand out as amusing — including the inspired auction scene, and random cameos during final sequences on board the “Magic Christian” cruise ship. Ultimately, however, this one really isn’t for all tastes, and will be of most interest to those who appreciate all manner of zany cinema coming out of the late 1960s.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some creatively surreal imagery and scenes


  • Amusing cameos by a host of big names

Must See?
No. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)

“That’s a brownie!”

Synopsis:
A square lawyer (Peter Sellers) with a nagging mom (Jo Van Fleet), a hippie brother (David Arkin), and doubts about marrying his earnest girlfriend (Joyce Van Patten) ends up eating hash-laced brownies, falling for a free-spirited young woman (Lauren Taylor-Young), and questioning his entire lifestyle.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Black Comedy
  • Character Arc
  • Counterculture
  • Peter Sellers Films

Review:
Three years after donning a ridiculous wig-with-bangs to play sex-obsessed psychoanalyst Dr. Fritz Fassbender in What’s New, Pussycat? (1965), Peter Sellers had another chance to go long-haired in this time-capsule movie about “finding oneself” in the midst of the counterculture revolution. Sellers’ character here (Harold) is hard to sympathize with: he treats his fiancee (Van Patten) terribly, he never stands up to his domineering mother (Van Fleet), and his shift to a hippie lifestyle rings completely false. This is all meant to be played for laughs — yet there’s clearly an undercurrent of supposed “Truth” behind Paul Mazursky’s screenplay as well, with guileless Taylor-Young coming across as the most authentic of the bunch. Meanwhile, the scenes with a Latino family seeking compensation for a fender-bender are simply offensive.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Good use of location shooting in Los Angeles

Must See?
No; you can skip this one. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

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