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Month: May 2022

Once Before I Die (1966)

Once Before I Die (1966)

“We should be able to do everything — to see everything in this beautiful world — at least once, shouldn’t we? That’s right, isn’t it?”

Synopsis:
When a beautiful young Swiss woman (Ursula Andress) flees through jungles of the Philippines with her lover (John Derek) after the attack on Pearl Harbor, she watches a sadistic lieutenant (Richard Jaeckel) become increasingly invested in killing the Japanese, and befriends a young virgin (Ron Ely) hoping for a sexual experience before he dies.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Refugees
  • Ursula Andress Films
  • World War II

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “John Derek directed and starred with his onetime wife Ursula Andress in this peculiar WWII action drama,” a “bleak and brutal” film in which it’s “hard to tell what’s going on at times.” He points out that at least “Andress (more sensitive and vulnerable than usual) is always watchable”:

… “Richard Jaeckel is perfectly cast as a bald, psychopathic soldier”:

… “and, surprisingly, Derek’s direction (so awful in his films with Bo) is often interesting, particularly when using superimposures and freeze frames.”

Indeed, in his debut film, Derek seems to be having plenty of creative fun with all sorts of cinematic tricks, making this a visually intriguing outing above all else.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Creative direction

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

Links:

Subject Was Roses, The (1968)

Subject Was Roses, The (1968)

“Tell her the roses were your idea.”

Synopsis:
When a young soldier (Martin Sheen) comes home from fighting in WWII, he soon finds himself caught between the squabbling marriage of his mother (Patricia Neal) and father (Jack Albertson).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Grown Children
  • Marital Problems
  • Martin Sheen Films
  • Patricia Neal Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Veterans

Review:
Belgian director Ulu Grosbard helmed this adaptation of Frank Gilroy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play (which he also directed on stage). Jack Albertson and Martin Sheen reprised their original roles, while Patricia Neal — having spent the previous few years recovering from a series of aneurysms — took over the lead female role, using this as an opportunity to prove to herself that she could still perform (she very much could). The tale itself is harsh and challenging; however, the truths it unearths about a troubled marriage — as well as the direct impact this can have on kids well into their adulthood — is timeless, and well played.

Unfamiliar viewers should note that the film takes place just after WWII, not the Vietnam War, as one might think from Judy Collins’ folksy music playing across the credits.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Patricia Neal as Nettie
  • Jack Albertson as John
  • Martin Sheen as Timmy

Must See?
Yes, as a fine adaptation of Gilroy’s play, and especially for Neal’s performance.

Categories

  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

Links:

L-Shaped Room, The (1962)

L-Shaped Room, The (1962)

“I can’t be brave all the time; only in small doses.”

Synopsis:
A pregnant unwed French woman (Leslie Caron) finds lodging in an l-shaped room in a boarding house run by a stingy woman (Avis Bunnage), where she quickly befriends a trumpeter (Brock Peters) and a former music hall performer (Cicely Courtneidge), and falls for an aspiring writer (Tom Bell) who doesn’t know about her unborn baby.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Bryan Forbes Films
  • Leslie Caron Films
  • Pregnancy
  • Strong Females

Review:
Peary doesn’t review this “kitchen sink drama” by director Bryan Forbes in his GFTFF, but does name Caron Best Actress of the Year in his Alternate Oscars, where he notes she “broke out of her Hollywood shackles with a bold performance.” He provides some context for this seemingly “pro-life” (actually pro-choice) film, noting that “in its day” it “was quite daring because it broke away from the tradition of having the pregnant woman either suffer a miscarriage, give birth to a stillborn baby, or die herself” as “a payback for having ‘sinned.'”

POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT

He points out that “Caron’s Jane doesn’t have the baby because she is against abortions per se (at one time she takes pills to cause a miscarriage) but because her baby’s birth will be a means of injecting ‘life’ – figuratively and literally – into her dreary existence.” While she “loves the people in her boardinghouse,” they “are all lonely, unfulfilled, and unhappy” — what you might call “deadbeats.”

Peary writes that in this non-MGM film, Caron “revealed a sexual maturity that her fans were unprepared for,” looking “like a real woman for a change” and “more appealing than ever.” Moreover, “there was something enticing as well as admirable about this woman who refuses to marry the man who impregnated her, or let a quack male doctor give her an abortion so he can pay his bills, or get an abortion though it would guarantee the love of Toby [Bell], the man she loves.”

Indeed, Caron’s nuanced, highly empathetic performance grounds this film, reassuring us that Jane herself will be okay no matter how others around her treat her (which is often quite shabbily). It’s a harsh film but a daringly frank one, and well worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Leslie Caron as Jane
  • Fine supporting performances
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, primarily for Caron’s performance but also as an overall good show. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

  • Good Show
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

Links:

Hot Box, The (1972)

Hot Box, The (1972)

“Teach us public health, so we can teach the villages we liberate!”

Synopsis:
Four beautiful American nurses (Margaret Markov, Andrea Cagan, Ricky Richardson and Laurie Rose) working in a Latin American hospital are kidnapped by the leader (Carmen Argenziano) of a revolutionary group and forced to help them as medics.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Jonathan Demme Films
  • Prisoners
  • Revolutionaries

Review:
This jungle exploitation flick was made explicitly to show off girls, guns, sex, and violence — and that’s exactly what it provides in spades:



The film’s production history says most of what one needs to know about how it emerged, and why; as noted on Wikipedia:

The film came about because Roger Corman had a production deal in the Philippines with a young producer there, Cirio Santiago. Corman wanted to give Santiago a story outline and [director Joe] Viola did up a treatment in an afternoon, which became the film. Jonathan Demme shot some second unit footage, which impressed Roger Corman enough to support Demme’s debut as director, Caged Heat (1974).

There you go. The dialogue and delivery are at least occasionally laughably bad, for those who enjoy that sort of thing:

“Do you know what I hope? I hope someday you’re on a date, and then some maniacs come along and shoot your date, and drag you into the jungle, and then attack you, and then not even tell you why!”

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Effective use of location shooting

Must See?
Nope, unless this genre is your cup of tea.

Links:

Hail, Hero! (1969)

Hail, Hero! (1969)

“Long hair on boys is one of the things wrong with this country, if you ask me.”

Synopsis:
When a college dropout (Michael Douglas) returns home to share he’s enlisted in the army, his kind mother (Teresa Wright) is glad to see him, but his no-nonsense father (Arthur Kennedy) remains convinced that Douglas’s disabled brother (Peter Strauss) is the only brave child in the family.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Arthur Kennedy Films
  • Counterculture
  • Generation Gap
  • Michael Douglas Films
  • Teresa Wright Films

Review:
Michael Douglas made his cinematic debut in this low-key film about an artistic young man clashing with his ultra-patriotic father, who is fond of reminiscing about the “good old days” of his service in World War II.

There’s not much to this simple story other than Douglas interacting with various people in his hometown, including a couple of girls he meets while swimming out at the lake:

…. and a pot-smoking old woman (Amy Stuart) who for some reason gifts Douglas with a creepy mummified baby.

Wright doesn’t have much to do except look and act like the reasonable parent in the family (albeit with a secret of her own):

… and Virginia Christie (in her final role) comes and goes quickly as the wife of a senator.

Douglas does bring some needed energy to the film, but his enthusiasm is not enough to save this one from obscurity.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Michael Douglas as Carl

Must See?
No, unless you’re curious. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Soldier in the Rain (1963)

Soldier in the Rain (1963)

“Good boy, Eustis!”

Synopsis:
A country bumpkin (Steve McQueen) eager to finish his peacetime service tries to convince his enlisted friend (Jackie Gleason) to leave with him — including enticing Gleason with a beautiful but bubble-headed teen (Tuesday Weld).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Friendship
  • Military
  • Steve McQueen Films
  • Tuesday Weld Films

Review:
Shortly on the heels of his notable performances in The Hustler (1961) and Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), Jackie Gleason was given another somber role in this military comedy based on a novel by William Goldman, co-written by Blake Edwards, with a score by Henry Mancini. Unfortunately, the nearly non-existent storyline has nowhere to go: McQueen’s pathetic Sergeant Eustis Clay (a caricature of a dumb hick) for some reason spends the first half-an-hour of the film trying to hustle a fan:

… and the rest either getting into hijinks with his moronic friend Jerry (Tony Bill):

… or for some reason trying to get Gleason to hook up with Weld.

None of these characters or relationships make much sense — and they’re certainly not compelling. While this film is purportedly about Gleason and McQueen’s enduring friendship, it’s challenging to see why we should care about them.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jackie Gleason as Master Sergeant Maxwell Slaughter

Must See?
No; you can skip this one.

Links:

Love With the Proper Stranger (1963)

Love With the Proper Stranger (1963)

“I’m sick and tired of the kind of life I lead.”

Synopsis:
When a department store clerk (Natalie Wood) seeks out the musician (Steve McQueen) who got her pregnant, she’s disappointed to learn he doesn’t even remember her. Soon Angie (Wood) is considering marriage with an earnest restauranteur (Tom Bosley) who her mother (Penny Santon) and overprotective brothers (Herschel Bernardi, Harvey Lembeck, and E. Nick Alexander) want her to be with — but do Wood and McQueen actually have a chance at romance after all?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Arc
  • Musicians
  • Natalie Wood Films
  • Pregnancy
  • Robert Mulligan Films
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Steve McQueen Films

Review:
Director Robert Mulligan’s follow-up film after To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) was this romantic “dramedy” about a young Italian woman (Wood) who uses her unexpected pregnancy as a catalyst for moving away from her dominating family and living life on her own terms.

Indeed, both Wood and McQueen undergo significant character arcs in this film, with time and space given in the pacing of the screenplay to show the inner shifts occurring for each of them. McQueen is at first presented as a self-absorbed hustler living with an equally narcissistic showgirl (Edie Adams) whose apartment is littered with evidence of her love for herself (and her dogs):

… while Wood is literally smothered on all sides by her domineering Italian family, who want to monitor her every move.

It makes sense that both Wood and McQueen would gravitate towards a less extreme, more balanced existence of some kind — but meanwhile, Wood’s pregnancy needs taking care of, and we’re shown the extreme challenges of this situation in a pre-Roe v. Wade world. While the movie’s tone is a bit uneven — veering from more serious drama to slapstick (i.e., how clumsy both Bosley and Wood are during dinners with their respective families) — this remains overall a well-filmed drama with good use of authentic New York location shooting. It’s worth a one-time look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Natalie Wood as Angie
  • Steve McQueen as Rocky
  • Tom Bosley as Anthony
  • Edie Adams as Barbie
  • The daring abortion “clinic” sequence
  • Good use of NYC locales
  • Milton Krasner’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for Wood’s performance and as an overall good show. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Merrill’s Marauders (1962)

Merrill’s Marauders (1962)

“What’s Merrill volunteering us for this time?”

Synopsis:
During a Burmese campaign of World War II, General Frank Merrill (Jeff Chandler) pushes his men to the brink of exhaustion, leading his second lieutenant (Ty Hardin) to question his leadership, and his doctor (Jack C. Williams) to worry about his health.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Jeff Chandler Films
  • Sam Fuller Films
  • World War II

Review:
Jeff Chandler’s final film (before dying prematurely at age 42) was this World War II-era drama based on a non-fiction book by Charlton Ogburn, about the heroic efforts of a volunteer “long-range penetration” patrol that culminated in the Siege of Myitkyina in Burma. Its primary focus is on Chandler’s (Merrill’s) relentless determination to push his men towards this final goal, despite their obvious exhaustion and his own ticking timebomb of a heart condition.

As noted by DVD Savant in his review, Fuller’s film — often referred to as a precursor to his dream personal project, The Big Red One (1980) — remains “a refreshingly straight combat film” with “war movie clichés [kept] to a minimum” and only one obvious instance of comedic relief, as Charlie Briggs adoringly cares for a hatted mule named Eleanor.

However, it will primarily appeal to fans of wartime flicks, since there is little else to hold our attention except the fighting (and preparation for fighting). The film’s most strikingly filmed scene occurs when “the troops take a railroad yard, engaging in a crazy-suicidal close combat in an Escher-like maze formed by concrete supports for oil tanks.”

William Clothier’s cinematography is also a plus.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • William Clothier’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though Fuller fans 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:

Loss of Innocence (1961)

Loss of Innocence (1961)

“He’s interested in that young girl, and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

Synopsis:
When their mother (Joy Shelton) suddenly falls ill while vacationing in France, a teenager (Susannah York) and her three younger siblings — Hester (Jane Asher), Wilmouse (Richard Williams), and Vicky (Elizabeth Dear) — stay in a hotel run by brusque Mademoiselle Zisi (Danielle Darrieux), whose lover (Kenneth More) quickly develops an attraction towards pubescent York.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming of Age
  • Love Triangle
  • May-December Romance
  • Susannah York Films

Review:
Susannah York’s breakthrough cinematic leading role was in this adaptation of a 1958 novel by Rumer Godden called The Greengage Summer, directed by Lewis Gilbert. Unfortunately, it comes across as melodramatic and not quite believable, thanks in part to the miscasting of Kenneth More as an avuncular presence who not only falls for an underage girl within his care, but for some reason has a shockingly shady past. While it’s easy to see why he would be attracted to beautiful York (actually 21 at the time of filming):

… the drama that plays out between all the various parties — including not just the triangle of York, More, and Darrieux, but Darrieux’s [coded] lesbian lover (Claude Nollier):

… as well as a resentful young teenager (David Saire) working at the hotel:

… comes across as too many subplots vying for space; and this doesn’t even account for the sudden appearance of a police inspector (Raymond Gérôme) who More is keenly interested in hiding from.

Poor Darrieux is relegated to playing a jealous middle-aged woman who deeply resents the children for intruding on her affair with More; many of her lines are quite laughable, as when she says to York: “I had not understood that any of you were so… so big!”

You can skip this one unless you’re curious.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Susannah York as Joss Grey

Must See?
No; this one isn’t must-see.

Links:

Eaten Alive (1976)

Eaten Alive (1976)

“That ain’t no common gator.”

Synopsis:
When a prostitute (Roberta Collins) refuses to service a man (Robert Englund), she runs away from her brothel’s owner (Carolyn Jones) and seeks refuge at a hotel run by a psychotic manager (Neville Brand) with a voracious “pet” crocodile.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Deep South
  • Horror Films
  • Mel Ferrer Films
  • Neville Brand Films
  • Psychopaths

Review:
Tobe Hooper’s follow-up to his breakthrough horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was this over-the-top grindhouse flick centered on one basic premise: muttering Brand viciously attacking his guests with a scythe and tossing them to his pet crocodile.

It’s filled with “cameos” — for instance, by Carolyn Jones as brothel-owner “Miss Hattie”:

… Mel Ferrer as Collins’ father, who has come looking for her:

… Stuart Whitman as the sheriff attempting to help Ferrer and his other daughter (Crystin Sinclaire) in their search:

… and William Finley as a bizarre father whose young daughter (Kyle Richards) is traumatized by the loss of her pet dog ‘Snoopy’ to the crocodile:

… and whose wife (Marilyn Burns) spends most of the film tied up in a bed screaming for her life.

This gothic horror flick is really a mess, with odd (often red) lighting, a chaotic soundtrack, and poor-to-non-existent effects for the lethal crocodile, who’s barely seen. You can skip this one unless it sounds like your cup of tea.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Neville Brand’s unhinged (albeit often incomprehensible) performance

Must See?
No; skip this one unless you’re a diehard Hooper fan. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links: