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Month: November 2021

Moonshine County Express (1977)

Moonshine County Express (1977)

“It’s real fine whiskey, so sell it dear — and get yourself out of these hills. Life is too hard, and the men are mean and ignorant.”

Synopsis:
When their dad (Fred Foresman) is brutally murdered by his greedy former business partner (William Conrad), a young woman (Susan Howard) and her two sisters (Claudia Jennings and Maureen McCormick) refuse to give up his secretly buried stash of aged whiskey, instead seeking help from a local racer (John Saxon) in outwitting Conrad and his men.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Bootlegging
  • Claudia Jennings Films
  • Deep South
  • Inheritance
  • Strong Females

Review:
Following her lead in The Great Texas Dynamite Chase (1976), Claudia Jennings took a less central role in this backwoods adventure flick about three feisty females protecting their rightful inheritance and planning to make a bundle selling their dad’s secret stock of whiskey:

This film is mildly notable for featuring Maureen McCormick in a post-“Brady Bunch” role playing the wide-eyed youngest sister “Sissy” (that’s sure a change from oldest-sister Marcia Brady!):

… and should be commended for portraying the three sisters (well, primarily the two older ones) as competent, resilient, and resourceful rather than merely passive sex objects. Otherwise, it’s a fairly standard (if well made) drive-in flick featuring lots of car chases (and crashes) on dusty roads:

… and a minor romantic subplot that doesn’t take up too much space, but allows Saxon to play an important supporting role:

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • A refreshing depiction of strong young females standing up to a local bully

Must See?
No, though fans of such flicks will of course want to check it out. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Lovers, The (1958)

Lovers, The (1958)

“Raoul adores you; isn’t that enough?”

Synopsis:
The bored wife (Jeanne Moreau) of a busy newspaper owner (Alain Cuny) passes time by making regular visits to Paris to see her best friend (Judith Magre) and her polo-playing lover, Raoul (Jose Villalonga) — but when her car breaks down and she meets a stranger (Jean-Marc Bory) who drives her home, her entire life changes.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • French Films
  • Infidelity
  • Jeanne Moreau Films
  • Louis Malle Films
  • Romance

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “this once scandalous romance” — adapted by “Louise de Vilmorin from Vivant Denon’s 18th-century story ‘Point de Lendemain'” — was “banned in several U.S. towns and had footage excised in others,” and “obscenity charges were leveled at several theater owners, leading to precedent-setting court decisions that cleared the way for more sexual freedom in the cinema.”

It’s also notable for providing “the role that gained [Moreau] international fame.” As Peary notes, “Bory is, yes, boring — you forget what he looks like a minute after the film ends; but Moreau is something special: when she lets down and brushes her hair and walks outside in her white nightgown, she makes the quickest transition from dowdy” (I wouldn’t exactly call her that!) “to ethereal in cinema history.”


The film was groundbreaking for the time in its depiction of “mutually enjoyable sex,” without (as Malle himself put it) slowly panning away to the window at a critical moment — though it should be pointed out there’s nothing graphic at all. Unfortunately, the rest of the storyline is a rather bland tale of marital tensions and boredom among the bourgeoise:


… all of which simply serves to highlight how empty Moreau’s existence is before allowing herself to fall for Bory. Interestingly, the most controversial aspect of the film for numerous countries was the fact that Moreau is a mother who seems to be putting her personal satisfaction above her parenting:

Film fanatics will likely want to check this film out once given its historical notoriety, but it’s not an especially rich or satisfying classic.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jeanne Moreau as Jeanne Tournier
  • Henri Decaë’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, once, simply for its historical significance.

Categories

  • Controversial Film
  • Historically Relevant

Links:

In the White City (1983)

In the White City (1983)

“I dreamt the city was white, the room was white, and loneliness and calm were white, too.”

Synopsis:
A sailor (Bruno Ganz) on indefinite personal leave in Lisbon romances a waitress (Teresa Madruga) while writing letters and sending videos to his partner (Julie Vonderlinn) back home.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alain Tanner Films
  • Bruno Ganz Films
  • Expatriates
  • Sailors
  • Swiss Films

Review:
Peary lists five of Swiss director Alain Tanner’s films in his GFTFF: Charles, Dead or Alive (1969), La Salamandre (1971), The Middle of the World (1974), Jonah Who Will Be 25 In the Year 2000 (1976), and this solipsistic drama of a man hoping to somehow unmoor himself from the world while still remaining very much in it. Thank goodness Ganz — a highly watchable actor — is in the lead role, since he helps us remain engaged far longer than we otherwise would.

However, it’s difficult to sympathize with a man who unself-consciously proclaims things like, “I’m a liar who wants to be sincere” and “If all clocks went backwards, the world would work properly.”

Madruga is appealing as Ganz’s Portuguese love interest, and it’s easy to see why he falls for her:

… but it’s infuriating watching Ganz write letters to his partner back home, assuming she will simply put up with him telling her about his new lover.

(Vonderlinn gets rightfully pissed off at him at one point, but then is back to waiting patiently for his letters — this is a film made from a male-privileged point of view, after all.) The biggest selling point of the movie is the gorgeous cinematography of Lisbon, which does indeed look like a city one wouldn’t mind getting lost in for awhile.

It’s too bad the narrative, such as it is (it was apparently largely improvised), doesn’t do the city justice.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Bruno Ganz as Paul
  • Beautiful cinematography

Must See?
No; this one is only for fans of Ganz or Tanner. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Mon Oncle Antoine (1971)

Mon Oncle Antoine (1971)

“I’m not happy. I’m not made for the country. I hate it here.”

Synopsis:
An orphaned teenager (Jacques Gagnon) living in the countryside with his aunt (Olivette Thibault) and uncle (Jean Duceppe) helps them run their general goods store and undertaker business — but when tragedy strikes a local family, Gagnon learns some harsh truths about his adoptive parents.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Canadian Films
  • Christmas
  • Coming-of-Age
  • Death and Dying
  • Orphans

Review:
Named as one of the best — if not the best — Canadian film for many years, this coming-of-age drama by renowed Quebecois director Claude Jutra (d. 1986) has since been marked by scandal given revelations about Jutra’s alleged abuse of minors for years. (Awards named after Jutra were quickly stripped of that title, as were local streets and parks in Quebec.) With that said, on its own merits, Mon Oncle Antoine remains a well-made, heartfelt film with a strong sense of time, location, and fully human characters.

The storyline is episodic in nature, but all takes place within one Christmas holiday, thus adding to the sense of communal festivity:

We learn quite a bit about the town from action taking place at or near the general store, where folks gather not only to purchase items but to gawk at others (as when Gagnon sneaks a peak at the town beauty trying on a girdle):

… to celebration (as when a young woman comes in asking for a bridal veil and drinks are served all around).

Eventually, however, more challenging events and dilemmas emerge, forcing Gagnon to accept that the world he’s growing into is flawed and confusing; at one point, he literally takes the reins from the ineffectual adults around him:

Fans of coming-of-age films will certainly want to check this film out, and it’s of general interest to film fanatics given its status within Canadian (specifically Quebecois) film history.

Note: Jutra himself co-stars as an assistant at the store who appreciates Thibault’s middle-aged charms:

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Michel Brault’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, once, for its historical relevance.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links:

Loulou (1980)

Loulou (1980)

“I like it that he’s always available.”

Synopsis:
An unhappily married woman (Isabelle Huppert) has an affair with and becomes pregnant by an unemployed man (Gerard Depardieu) she meets at a nightclub, but continues to visit her husband (Guy Marchand) on the side.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cross-Class Romance
  • French Films
  • Gerard Depardieu Films
  • Isabelle Huppert Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Marital Problems
  • Sexuality

Review:
Director Maurice Pialat made numerous shorts before branching out into feature films, two of which are listed in Peary’s GFTFF: A Nos Amours (1983) and this earlier film about an unhappily married bourgeois woman seeking joy and sexual satisfaction from someone much more spontaneous and earthy than her husband.

Unfortunately, while the leads all give vibrant and nuanced performances, there isn’t much of a storyline to hang on to: we’re never clear whether Huppert is simply willing to put up with Depardieu’s criminal/lower-class lifestyle in exchange for their sex, or actually finds some kind of vicarious thrill from it herself.

Meanwhile, seeing Marchand abusing Huppert in the very first scene makes it hard to feel much sympathy for him at all.

Pialat’s films were purportedly somewhat autobiographical in nature (A Nos Amours similarly depicts familial dysfunction and escape through sex), so authenticity shines through — but to what end?

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine performances from the leads

Must See?
No; you can skip this one unless you’re a fan of Pialat’s work.

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

Links:

Unholy Rollers, The (1972)

Unholy Rollers, The (1972)

“Young Karen Walker — there’s a girl who’s certainly on fire tonight!”

Synopsis:
A working class woman (Claudia Jennings) joins a local roller derby team and quickly rises to the top of her ranks — but will her key rival (Betty Anne Rees) fight back?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Claudia Jennings Films
  • Rivalry
  • Roger Corman Films
  • Sports

Review:
Inspired by the production of another film about the roller derby circuit — Kansas City Bomber (1972) — Roger Corman produced this action-packed exploitation flick starring Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings, whose fiery personality is put to good use. Jennings throws cat food at her (soon-to-be-ex) employer:

… goes for a joyride after nearly being savaged on a pool table by her teammates:

… doesn’t hesitate to point a gun at her lover (Jay Varela):

… and is feisty as all get-out in the rink:

At first this gutsiness serves her well, as she develops a fanbase (yes, that’s Princess Livingston of Russ Meyer fame in the crowd):

… stars in a few commercials — shown here with a teammate (Roberta Collins):

… and is able to afford some luxuries. (Watch for Kathleen Freeman in a tiny role as Karen’s mother.)

Eventually, however, the dog-eat-dog nature of such a brutal sport comes back to bite Karen — though she’s more than ready to fight in whatever ways she can.

Note: Martin Scorsese is credited as supervising editor, early in his career:

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Claudia Jennings as Karen Walker
  • Enoyable authentic footage of rolly derby-ing in action

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for one-time viewing. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Great Texas Dynamite Chase, The (1976)

Great Texas Dynamite Chase, The (1976)

“We are the dynamite women — and we’re here to rob you.”

Synopsis:
When an ex-con (Claudia Jennings) pairs up with a recently fired bank teller (Jocelyn Jones), the duo carry out a string of robberies, picking up a “hostage” (Johnny Crawford) along the way.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Claudia Jennings Films
  • Ex-Cons
  • Outlaws
  • Strong Females

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while “cultists of the late [Claudia] Jennings, the Playboy cover girl who went on to become the star of several sexy ‘B’ action movies, regard this as one of her best films,” he thinks “it’s disappointing,” noting that given she was “injured shooting a getaway scene, Jennings doesn’t have her usual vitality, and her sense of humor, much in evidence in her other films, is virtually non-existent.”

“So it is,” Peary adds, “that bright-eyed, enthusiastic Jones, who has a better part because of her character changes throughout, steals the film.”

However, he points out that while “Jennings and Jones play well together,” “before their interaction really develops, Johnny Crawford (formerly of The Rifleman) joins the bank-robbing team” and “the film becomes too serious.”

Peary argues that “the picture is so lazily scripted that it has no dramatic conflict” and “nothing has to be resolved;” he suggests that “the film should have one major villain on the women’s tail,” and “also they should have a reason, other than to get rich, for robbing banks.” I agree. While this film is notable as an obvious precursor to Thelma and Louise (1991), its storyline is much less compelling.

Peary elaborates on his review of The Great Texas Dynamite Chase in Cult Movies 2, where he primarily focuses on Jennings’ cult following. He writes:

“We admire Jennings’s [characters] because they sought lifestyles and occupations that were both challenging and daring. Jennings is a roller derby star in Vernon Zimmerman’s The Unholy Rollers (1972), probably her best film; the driver of a semi in Mark Lester’s Truck Stop Women (1974); the lawyer for and a member of a group of lovers who deliberately test the country’s marital laws in Stephanie Rothman’s satirical Group Marriage; a racer of superspeed cars in Deathsport; a seller of illegal alcohol in Moonshine County Express (1977), [Peary’s] favorite Jennings film; and a bankrobber in Dynamite Chase.”

Peary also lets us know he appreciates the fact that when Jennings “wasn’t undressed [in her films], there was a good chance she’d be in an unbuttoned blouse, a see-through mini-dress, or, as in Gator Bait, tight cut-off jeans and an open vest with nothing underneath.” (!)

Yes, I can see how this would be important to lovers of such films. All-purpose film fanatics, however, don’t need to bother to check this one out unless they’re curious.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jocelyn Jones as Ellie-Jo

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one-time look for its cult status.

Links:

Marseillaise, La (1938)

Marseillaise, La (1938)

“This song will unite all Frenchmen.”

Synopsis:
In late 18th century France, a group of citizens from Marseille march to the Tuileries Palace to revolt against King Louis XVI (Pierre Renoir) and Marie Antoinette (Lise Delamare).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • French Films
  • French Revolution
  • Historical Drama
  • Jean Renoir Films
  • Revolutionaries
  • Royalty and Nobility

Review:
Made just after La Grande Illusion (1937) and just before La Bete Humaine (1938), this historical drama was one of director Jean Renoir’s personal favorites. His goal was to present the story of the French Revolution from the perspective of ordinary people on the ground:

… while also (secondarily) humanizing the King and Queen.

According to TCM, this film is:

… at once a pageant (the lavish costumes for the aristocrats and monarchs was provided by Renoir’s friend, Coco Chanel), a socio-political debate, a call to arms, and a celebration of social justice that echoed the spirit of the short-lived Popular Front government. Renoir called it “a film by the people for the people,” and initially it was to be financed by subscriptions from ordinary citizens (a more traditional financing model was found when the subscriptions came up short).

Film fanatics should be forewarned that this movie presumes a baseline understanding of French history, given that most “significant” events take place off camera. Instead, Renoir focuses his camera on banter, survival, love interests:

… on-the-ground fighting:

… and a growing sense of collective will to bring about political change.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography and historical recreations


Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look. Listed as a film with Historical Importance.

Links:

Kameradschaft (1931)

Kameradschaft (1931)

“A miner is a miner.”

Synopsis:
When a team of French miners get stuck down in a shaft, a nearby German miner (Ernst Busch) convinces his comrades to form a rescue committee to help retrieve the surviving men; meanwhile, a retired French grandfather (Alex Bernard) sneaks into the mines to rescue his grandson (Pierre Louis), and a young woman (Elisabeth Wendt) turns back from a trip to Paris to ensure her brother and boyfriend are okay.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Disaster Flicks
  • German Films
  • G.W. Pabst Films
  • Mining Towns

Review:
G.W. Pabst’s 14th film — and the last of his titles listed in Peary’s GFTFF — was this French-German co-production (a.k.a. Comradeship) based on the Courrières mine disaster of 1906, in which more than a thousand miners died. Pabst and his writers updated the action to take place just after World War I, thus highlighting the understandably lingering animosity between the two nations — as epitomized when a trapped French miner tragically reacts with post-traumatic aggression upon seeing a gas-masked German rescuer appearing in front of him.



As noted in Criterion’s essay:

… national tensions are mirrored by the mines on either side of the border. The French have more jobs but can’t sell much of their coal; the Germans make futile daily trips to the border to ask for jobs. On the other hand, the two mines are actually one big one, artificially sectioned off by a wall in the middle.

The catastrophic accident in the French mine spurs the German workers — despite feeling marginalized and belittled by their French counterparts — to put on their rescue gear and help out, thus leading to a temporary sense of solidarity among the miners regardless of nationality or language. As such, it’s a surprisingly “feel good” film for such a bleak topic.

Most impressive of all are the highly effective (and realistic) cinematography and sets, recreating both the dangerously labyrinthine mines and the worried townspeople above ground; we truly get the sense we’re there in this place and time, following the gripping action.


Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Erno Metzner and Karl Vollbrecht’s sets
  • Fritz Arno Wagner and Robert Baberske’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for its historical relevance. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links:

American Hot Wax (1978)

American Hot Wax (1978)

“The only way you can protect me is if I stop playing rock ‘n roll.”

Synopsis:
Radio DJ Alan Freed (Tim McIntire) deals with pushback from law enforcement while promoting his upcoming (and final) rock ‘n’ roll show at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Biopics
  • Radio
  • Rock ‘n Roll

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that director “Floyd Mutrux’s affectionate facts-out-the-window tribute to the late Alan Freed” — “regarded as the first white deejay to play black music” — has “as flimsy a storyline as those fifties ‘B’ rock ‘n’ roll movies in which Freed appeared.” “Nevertheless,” he asserts, it “has great drive and sustained momentum, a chaotic atmosphere that properly reflects the wild era it depicts, and familiar music from 1957-60 (both performed by acts in the film and played on the soundtrack) that will make you feel joyfully nostalgic.”

“Best of all,” Peary adds, is “Tim McIntire giving a dynamite performance as the former ‘Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll'” — someone who “really loved rock music.” We see Freed “respectfully spinning platters on his radio show”:

… “taking a quick look at aspiring acts whom agents march through his office”:

…”amiably chatting with teenagers on the street”:

… “stopping to listen to unknown doo-wop groups… who always cross his path between his car and a building”:

… and “watching a rousing recording session (of ‘Come Go With Me’).”

Peary argues that “McIntire’s Freed is totally believable,” and “looks as if he walks through this cluttered, special world every day.” He points out that “while the film hints at Freed’s imminent downfall (because of a payola scandal)”, it ends on a “high note,” with special performances by “Chuck Berry (doing a really dirty version of ‘Reelin’ and Rockin”), Jerry Lee Lewis, [and] Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.”



There are also a few minor subplots woven throughout, including a young boy (Artie Ripp) who shows up at Freed’s station as the President of the Buddy Holly Fan Club:

… a quibbling couple (Jay Leno and Fran Drescher) working for Freed:

… and an aspiring songwriter (Laraine Newman) trying to convince her dad (Garry Goodrow) about her dreams:

Indeed, this film very much has the feeling of a sprawling Robert Altman flick, with a cast of dozens; perhaps this was intentional, to show us how many rock ‘n’ roll lovers were orbiting Freed’s universe. It’s not must-see viewing, but those interested in this era of music history will certainly want to check it out.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • An intriguing glimpse into the unique world inhabited by Freed

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended if you’re interested in this subgenre.

Links: