Deadly Companions, The (1961)

Deadly Companions, The (1961)

“You don’t know me well enough to hate me that much.”

Synopsis:
A wounded Union soldier (Brian Keith) on a mission to find the man (Chill Wills) who tried to scalp him during the war finally discovers Wills with a gambling partner (Steve Cochran), and convinces the pair to rob a bank with him — but soon the trio are accompanying a grieving mother (Maureen O’Hara) on her journey to bury her young son across Apache territory.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Brian Keith Films
  • Maureen O’Hara Films
  • Revenge
  • Sam Peckinpah Films
  • Westerns
  • Widows and Widowers

Review:
Sam Peckinpah’s first cinematic outing was this quirky western which Peary refers to in his Cult Movies review of Ride the High Country (1962) as an “impressive” and “rarely screened” debut film. It was panned by Bosley Crowther upon release, who referred to it as burdened by a “tasteless plot” that is only “partly relieved by scenic color photography and a capable cast”, and moves “at the pace of a hearse”. While it’s no masterpiece — and does feel a tad slow-moving at only 93 minutes long — it’s a distinctively quirky film with an unusual premise, one that shows Peckinpah’s nascent talents (and would likely have been better if he’d been allowed to tinker with the script as he desired).

Keith, Wills, and Cochran all give convincing performances (with Cochran especially slimy):

… and William Clothier’s PanaVision cinematography is effectively colorful.

Meanwhile, seeing the treatment of O’Hara’s “Kit Tildon” — nobody in town believes her story that she was married for a few weeks to her son’s deceased father — is heartbreaking, and paints a sobering portrait of social norms at the time; O’Hara is so determined to give her son a “proper” burial next to his father that she risks her life to achieve this goal, all because she’s been so unwelcomed and ridiculed in her new town. It was a rough time for women, indeed.

Note: The unusual soundtrack by Marlin Skiles doesn’t always “work”, but is unique and distinctive.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • William Clothier’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though of course Peckinpah fans will be curious to check it out. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book, which makes sense.

Links:

Love Bug, The (1968)

Love Bug, The (1968)

“If I’d wanted a trick car, I’d have bought one in a joke shop!”

Synopsis:
When a down-on-his-luck race car driver (Dean Jones) and his roommate (Buddy Hackett) “inherit” a sentient Volkswagen Beetle which Hackett names “Herbie,” they find themselves embroiled in a bitter rivalry with the a luxury car shop owner and racer (David Tomlinson) whose personal assistant (Michele Lee) grows increasingly fond of both Jones and “Herbie”.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Car Racing
  • Comedy
  • Fantasy
  • Rivalry

Review:
This beloved Disney live-action film about an anthropomorphic VW Beetle spawned an entire franchise of sequels, as well as a 1997 remake. It’s a surprisingly amiable comedic-adventure flick centering on a dastardly villain (Tomlinson, best known as the father in Mary Poppins) who will stop at nothing to win races:

The first portion of the film focuses on “Herbie” making himself known as a sentient presence in the lives of dense Jones and the unexpectedly-wise Hackett, who has done some soul searching in Tibet and “gets” what the little car is trying to say.

Indeed, it’s Hackett’s special bond with “Herbie” that drives the film’s narrative throughout, as we hope the others will finally get a clue and stop treating the car like simply a hunk of machinery. Unfortunately, Jones is a pretty dull protagonist:

… but at least Lee has more spunk:

… and the car race sequences are reasonably exciting.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Good use of authentic San Francisco locales

Must See?
No, though of course live-action Disney fans will be curious to check it out.

Links:

Crimes of the Future (1970)

Crimes of the Future (1970)

“His body, he insists, is a galaxy — and the creatures are solar systems.”

Synopsis:
In a dystopian future wherein all adult women have died from chemicals used in make-up, the disciple (Ronald Mlodzik) of a renowned dermatologist goes in search of his missing mentor.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Canadian Films
  • David Cronenberg Films
  • Dystopia
  • Science Fiction

Review:
David Cronenberg’s second feature film — following his highly experimental debut flick, Stereo (1969) — was this equally perplexing art film with a “storyline” so bizarre I didn’t even try to fully explain or describe it in my synopsis above. Suffice it to say it follows around the narrator — creepy Mlodzik as “Adrian Tripod” — as he wanders through various buildings and compounds engaging in a form of foot fetishism:

… and interacting with random gender-fluid individuals in bizarre rituals seemingly meant to memorialize or evoke women, including using nail polish:

… and carefully laying out feminine undergarments.

Even at just an hour long, this silently filmed movie with post-dubbed voiceover and sound effects feels somewhat interminable — and by the final (controversial) sequences, you will simply be grateful for the ability to exit this bleak cinematic universe. As Neil Young writes in his review for Jigsaw Lounge, “Well, we all have to start somewhere” — including Cronenberg. This one is strictly a curiosity for his die-hard fans.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Stark sets

Must See?
Nope. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Drive-In (1976)

Drive-In (1976)

“What do you mean, better? He’s got a van!”

Synopsis:
A group of teens — including a young woman (Lisa Oz) trying to break up with her abusive boyfriend (Billy Milliken) and a date a shy redhead (Glenn Morshower) — hang out and wreak havoc at first a roller rink, then a local drive-in theater while a movie called “Disaster ’76” is playing in the background.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Small Town America
  • Teenagers

Review:
This hectic ensemble comedy about hijinks at a roller rink and drive-in is pure nostalgia fodder for those wanting a glimpse back at mass entertainment in the 1970s.

Unfortunately, it’s undone by a script that is no longer nearly so funny as it presumably once was — including countless wince-inducing lines by thuggish Milliken (“I’m gonna kick your lying ass until you look like the leftovers from Jaws.”), gross treatment of a black doctor (Bill McGhee) and his wife (Gloria Shaw):

… and the dumb antics of a moronic pair of crooks (Trey Wilson and Gordon Hurst). As described in the New York Times’ review, this film “possesses the virtue of fresh faces, the drawback of uneven acting, the irritation of occasional overwriting and the limited appeal of what is basically a juvenile story.”

Its primary interest (though limited) is in seeing how the faux disaster flick in the background — a mash-up of Airport (1970), The Towering Inferno (1974), and Jaws (1975) — plays out.

Be forewarned that the annoyingly catchy soundtrack — including the Statler Brothers singing “What Ever Happened to Randolph Scott?” and George Jones and Tammy Wynette singing “God’s Gonna Get You For That” — may become an earworm.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Authentic glimpses of the drive-in phenomenon

Must See?
No. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book, but it surely no longer has that status.

Links:

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

“We must understand what is happening to this man — how he lived through such intense radiation, how others can survive!”

Synopsis:
When a fugitive (Ron Randell) is accidentally trapped in a nuclear test site, he becomes irradiated and turns into a metal-absorbing mutant. Meanwhile, the crime boss (Anthony Caruso) who initially framed Randell tries to capture him and gets his frightened moll (Debra Paget) to attempt seduction — but Randell turns instead to a loyal girlfriend (Elaine Stewart) hoping to shelter him, and wonders whether to trust a kind doctor (Tudor Owen) who wants to study him.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Allan Dwan Films
  • Atomic Energy
  • Debra Paget Films
  • Fugitives
  • Gangsters
  • Science Fiction

Review:
Canadian-born director Allan Dwan’s final film was this unconvincing gangster/sci-fi mish-mosh featuring highly atmospheric cinematography overlaid onto a silly atomic mutation storyline.

Paget and Stewart are conveniently posited as flip sides of female loyalty (Paget is deceptive, Stewart is eternally nurturing):

… while “good guy” gangster Randell (he was framed, after all) becomes increasingly harder to sympathize with as the film progresses:

… and Caruso simply oozes slime.

Check out DVD Savant’s review for an interesting overview of this film’s production history, where he notes that it “certainly looks like it was filmed by a crew just going through the motions, doing every scene with a minimum of lighting and as few camera setups as possible.” Feel free to skip this one unless you’re curious.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Highly atmospheric cinematography

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

Links:

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

“That’s what happens to girls who go wild and boy crazy.”

Synopsis:
In 1920s Kansas, a teenager (Natalie Wood) and her boyfriend (Warren Beatty) struggle with managing their sexual urges while listening to confusing advice given by the adults around them — including Beatty’s dad (Pat Hingle) and Wood’s mom (Audrey Christie).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming-of-Age
  • Cross-Class Romance
  • Elia Kazan Films
  • First Love
  • Historical Drama
  • Mental Breakdown
  • Natalie Wood Films
  • Pat Hingle Films
  • Sandy Dennis Films
  • Sexual Repression
  • Warren Beatty Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “William Inge scripted and Elia Kazan directed what is still the quintessential film about young love — first love, true love, eternal love — which is wonderful but terribly confusing while it lasts, [and] mercilessly cruel when it ends.” He points out that “this [was] also the first film that dared emphasize that teenagers are ruled by their sexual drives and that, because of their immaturity and inability to get practical information and advice from their parents, doctors, ministers, etc., they are unable to cope with their feelings.”

He argues that “Kazan has tremendous sympathy for [the] lovers and beautifully conveys their painful sexual frustration and confusion,” and notes that the film “perfectly captures feelings of most who have met former lovers years later and have been disappointed… by [the] person whom you once were obsessed with.”

He writes that “throughout [the] film, Kazan’s direction of actors is superlative,” with Beatty “very controlled and sympathetic in his screen debut,” but the film ultimately belonging to “Wood, who has never been more ravishing, sexy, energetic, or revealing of her own personality.”

In Alternate Oscars, Peary names Wood Best Actress of the Year for her performance here as “Deanie” Loomis. While conceding that “Natalie Wood was an inconsistent actress whose bad performances were deserving of the Harvard Lampoon awards given her,” he asserts that “on those rare occasions when she played characters with problems to which she could relate, she opened up as few actresses could, stripped off all her protective pretenses, revealed herself completely, and turned in portraits that were emotionally shattering.”

Although Wood and Beatty dominate our attention in the lead roles, strong performances are given by other members of the cast as well — including Hingle as Beatty’s overbearing father:

… Christie as Wood’s over-protective, misguided mother:

… Barbara Loden as Beatty’s alcoholic sister:

… and Zohra Lampert — star of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) — as a kind young woman who takes an interest in Beatty when he’s away at college.

Also watch for Sandy Dennis in her film debut as one of Wood’s circle of friends:

… and Phyllis Diller in her film debut as a performer named “Texas Guinan”.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Natalie Wood as Deanie Loomis
  • Warren Beatty as Bud Stamper
  • Audrey Christie as Mrs. Loomis
  • Pat Hingle as Ace Stamper
  • Vibrant cinematography

Must See?
Yes, primarily for Wood’s performance but also as an overall powerful show.

Categories

  • Important Director
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

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

Links:

Ride the High Country (1962)

Ride the High Country (1962)

“That mining town is a sinkhole of depravity — a place of shame and sin.”

Synopsis:
In early 20th century America, aging former sheriff Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) is hired to transport gold from a mining town to a bank, and enlists help from his former colleague Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) and Scott’s young assistant Heck Longtree (Ron Starr), not realizing that now-corrupt Scott and Starr plan to make off with the gold. Meanwhile, the trio end up coming to the rescue of young Elsa Knudsen (Mariette Hartley), who is desperate to escape the grip of her hyper-religious father Joshua (R.G. Armstrong) and has gone to town to marry her beau Billy (James Drury) without realizing his four aggressive brothers — Henry (Warren Oates), Elder (John Anderson), Sylvus (L.Q. Jones), and Jimmy (John Davis Chandler) — believe they will have “access” to her as well.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Joel McCrea Films
  • Outlaws
  • Randolph Scott Films
  • Sam Peckinpah Films
  • Warren Oates Films
  • Westerns

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this Sam Peckinpah film as the director’s “finest achievement, and one of the best westerns ever made”; indeed, in Alternate Oscars, he names it the Best Picture of the Year, and calls it “a fitting swan song for two of the American Western’s icons, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott.”

He also discusses the film at length in his third Cult Movies book, and I’ll cite from all three of his overviews interchangeably in my review here. Peary writes that while Peckinpah’s “second film hasn’t the scope of his expensive, expansive, more famous The Wild Bunch,” it’s “equally beautiful thanks to their common cinematographer, Lucien Ballard,” the use of CinemaScope, and “breathtaking scenery.”

He argues that Ride the High Country is “several cuts above most westerns… because it has themes important to both the genre and to Peckinpah,” and writes that he sees “the film as a parable in which the corrupted Westrum, novice sinner Heck, and Elsa learn from watching Judd the rewards of leading a moral Christian life.”

Peary points out “many memorable scenes” in the film, including “Judd showing up for the bank job and being told he’s older than the man they expected”:

… “Heck racing a camel against a horse”:

… “Judd and Knudson arguing and quoting Scriptures over a tense dinner, while the amused Westrum quotes “Appetite, Chapter 1”:

… “the terrified Elsa saying her vows during a tinted, hallucinatory, Felliniesque wedding-orgy scene, complete with a drunk judge, a fat madam as a bridesmaid, whores as flower girls, and the boozing Hammond brothers about to pounce on the bride”:

… “Judd and Heck exchanging gunfire with the Hammonds on the wind-swept mountains”:

… and “Westrum, forgetting his own welfare, riding to the rescue when the Hammonds have Judd and Heck trapped in a ditch.” He calls out the finale as “one of the greatest final scenes in movie history,” “ranking up there with the final shots of such films as Queen Christina (1933), The Roaring Twenties (1939), Citizen Kane (1941), Casablanca (1942), The Breaking Point (1950), and The 400 Blows (1959).” He closes his review in Alternate Oscars by noting that “whenever the last movie Western is made, this is the scene that should put the genre to sleep.”

Peary writes in much more detail about the film’s themes, actors, and connections to other classic movies in his Cult Movies review, where he notes, for instance, that “Judd serves as moral inspiration for and the conscience of Westrum in the same way Pat O’Brien does for James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces (1938), Humphrey Bogart does for Claude Raines in Casablanca (1942), and John Heard does for Jeff Bridges in Cutter’s Way (1981).” He points out that “McCrea, Scott, Starr, and Hartley are supported by fine veteran character actors,” and that “Peckinpah regulars Warren Oates and L.Q. Jones… are well cast.”

I’m overall in agreement with Peary’s positive assessment of this film. While I wouldn’t necessary consider it the single best western ever made, I agree it is must-see viewing, and remains a fine, unique entry in the genre.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Joel McCrea as Steve Judd (nominated as one of the Best Actors of the Year in Alternate Oscars)
  • Randolph Scott as Gil Westrum (nominated as one of the Best Actors of the Year in Alternate Oscars)
  • Mariette Hartley as Elsa Knudsen
  • Lucien Ballard’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a classic western.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director

Links:

Time for Dying, A (1969)

Time for Dying, A (1969)

“Guns is all I know.”

Synopsis:
A gun-loving farm boy (Richard Lapp) hoping to become a bounty hunter helps rescue a naive young woman (Anne Randall) from work at a brothel, and ends up being married to her the next day by Judge Roy Bean (Victor Jory) — then, shortly after running into Jesse James (Audie Murphy), Lapp finds himself confronting a punk outlaw known as Billy Pimple (Bob Random).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Audie Murphy Films
  • Budd Boetticher Films
  • Newlyweds
  • Outlaws
  • Westerns

Review:
Budd Boetticher’s final fiction film (made through a production company formed with Audie Murphy before his death in a plane crash) was this disappointing western that seems better suited for television than the big screen. The storyline often aims for slapstick or lowbrow humor, as when Lapp first arrives in town to the cacophony of rowdy men catcalling and throwing hats to a stable of prostitutes:

… or when Lapp and Randall find themselves forced to marry one another in front of Jory’s irrepressibly quirky Judge Roy Bean:

… and are then doused with water as a playful prank when entering into their hotel suite as newlyweds.

Other scenes, however — particularly the final ones, when Lapp has no choice but to confront Billy Pimple — are more serious.

The tone is ultimately uneven, and isn’t helped any by Harry Betts’s often-intrusive score. A Time for Dying was unfortunately was not a worthy ending to Boetticher’s esteemed career as a director of many fine westerns; film fanatics should look to his earlier works instead.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Lucian Ballard’s cinematography

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

Links:

Alphaville, A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution (1965)

Alphaville, A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution (1965)

“I see: people have become slaves to probability.”

Synopsis:
A secret agent posing as a reporter known as “Lemmy Caution” (Eddie Constantine) arrives on the planet of Alphaville hoping to find a missing colleague (Akim Tamiroff), discover the planet’s creator (Howard Vernon), and destroy its sentient supercomputer; once there, he falls in love with Vernon’s daughter (Anna Karina) and attempts to teach her the concepts of love and conscience.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Akim Tamiroff Films
  • Dystopia
  • French Films
  • Jean-Luc Godard Films
  • Journalists
  • Science Fiction

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, in this “amusing” film, Jean-Luc Godard “blends popular lowbrow entertainment — comic books, pulp fiction, ‘B’ detective movies, James Bond, and sci-fi — with political satire,” filming the entire futuristic flick (set in “intersidereal space”) in “undisguised modern office buildings and large tourist and small seedy hotels in Paris.”

He describes Alphaville as a “computer-run, robotized society where technology has replaced humanity”:

… “where there is repression/murder of all who don’t think logically”:

… “whose women, like the leader’s daughter, Natasha (Anna Karina), have numbers tattooed on their backs”:

… “and function as first-, second-, or third-class prostitutes/seducers; where words such as ‘conscience’ and ‘love’ do not exist in its Bible-dictionary.” He points out that “picture has the novel twist of having a two-fisted tough guy teaching a sensual female the meaning of ‘love'”:

… and he notes that while “the political themes aren’t that novel,” “Godard’s direction is consistently offbeat and fascinating.” For instance, he notes that Godard’s “use of flickering lights (including those from Lemmy’s camera), sounds (including a monstrous male voice on a loud-speaker), ominous suspense music, choice settings…, and sudden, unexpected actions by characters… makes us feel we’re in another world whose look and rhythm are different from our own.”

He posits that while the “film isn’t altogether successful,” it “has moments of brilliance” and features “exceptional cinematography by Raoul Coutard.” He also notes that “the casting of ‘B’-movie actor Constantine was inspired”:

… and points out that Akim Tamaroff, playing “a corrupted ex-agent,” looks “like his co-star in Touch of Evil, Orson Welles.”

I’m essentially in agreement with Peary’ assessment of this unexpectedly provocative, typically low-budget Godard film — one in which, as DVD Savant puts it, “what we see and what we hear are at constant odds with one another”. There are enough interesting ideas explored here, in visually creative ways, that it’s easy to stay engaged; and film fanatics will surely take note of how closely some aspects of this film — particularly the end — resemble (and perhaps inspired) Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Raoul Coutard’s cinematography
  • A provocative script:

    “No one has ever lived in the past; no one will ever live in the future. The present is the form of all life.”
    “We are unique. Wretchedly unique.”
    “You shouldn’t call this dump Alphaville; it’s Zeroville.”
    “The present is terrifying because it is irreversible.”

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

Categories

  • Cult Movie
  • Important Director

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

Links:

Elvira Madigan (1967)

Elvira Madigan (1967)

“One day people will be able to choose more than one way to live.”

Synopsis:
A tightrope walker (Pia Degermark) and a married lieutenant (Thommy Berggren) who has left his post and his family have a final romantic trip before they must decide how to handle their untenable situation.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Historical Drama
  • Infidelity
  • Romance
  • Runaways
  • Scandinavian Films
  • Star-Crossed Lovers

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, writer-director “Bo Widerberg’s romantic classic” — “set in Denmark in the 1880s” and “based on a true story that has achieved legend status in Scandinavia” — shows a young couple whose “love for each other is so great that they are willing to sacrifice all, to blissfully detach themselves from society.”

However, “they must keep on the move (their photos are in the paper), and their money runs out. They have nothing to eat. They fall into despair, and realize there is only one solution.” Peary adds that while this “film is often lumped with A Man and a Woman, that other famous European romance of the ’60s,” “this is far superior.” He refers to it as “poetic, yet unsentimental,” “with excellent, intelligent acting by Berggren — his character is very likable and interesting”:

… and “the lovely presence of amateur Degermark” (whose real life took a tragic turn in the years after her brief acting career.)

Peary also calls out the “gorgeous cinematography” of “faces, countryside, [and] provincial towns” by Jorgen Persson, and “a compelling theme which appealed to the drop-out-and-love generation.” He points out that the “picture has several memorable moments, including: Sixten’s apology to Elvira”:

… “Sixten inquiring about his children”:

… “hungry Elvira eating flowers and wild mushrooms”:

… and more. Others that stand out to me include a servant shyly showing Elvira how to knit and sew:

… Elvira rigging an impromptu slack-rope to practice her walking on:

… and Elvira’s enjoyment of a visiting string quartet.

While it’s challenging to go into this story knowing the tragic outcome, the film itself remains a surprisingly lyrical and absorbing tale of star-crossed lovers in their final days together.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Thommy Berggren as Sixten Sparre
  • Pia Degermark as Hedvig Jensen
  • Luminous cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

Categories

  • Cult Movie
  • Foreign Gem

Links: