Hour of the Wolf (1968)

Hour of the Wolf (1968)

“They want to separate us; they want you for themselves.”

Synopsis:
While visiting a remote island, a mentally unstable artist (Max von Sydow) and his pregnant wife (Liv Ullmann) encounter a variety of odd and menacing characters.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Artists
  • Ingmar Bergman Films
  • Liv Ullmann Films
  • Max von Sydow Films
  • Mental Breakdown
  • Psychological Horror
  • Scandinavian Films

Review:
Ingmar Bergman’s feature-length follow-up to Persona (1966) was this unique entry in his oeuvre: a surreal, psychologically dense horror tale which comes across like a fever dream. The film opens and closes with Ullmann narrating the story:

… but she is otherwise relegated to an observer’s view, as her husband experiences increasingly troubling memories, encounters, and visions. Early on, he shows Ullmann a series of art works that we can’t see, but which all eventually — later — come to life in some fashion.

“Look here; I haven’t shown these to anybody. You see, I’ve drawn them. This is the most common figure: he’s almost harmless. I think he’s homosexual.”

“Then there’s the old lady who’s always threatening to take off her hat. You know what happens then? … Her face comes off with it, you see.”



“Here. This is the worst one. I call him the Bird Man; I don’t know if it’s a real beak or if it’s only a mask. He’s so remarkably fast! He must be related to Papageno from The Magic Flute. The others: the flesh-eaters, the insects, and especially the spider man.”

“Here, the schoolmaster with the pointing stick in his trousers, and the chattering, hard-as-metal women.”

None of this makes much logical sense — though it does take place within an actual visit to a castle on the island, populated by a chattering group of art-lovers:

… who seem to dabble in the macabre.

Events culminate in a morbid reunion between von Sydow and his former lover (Ingrid Thulin), who he’d “seen” formerly on the rocks.

The film ends with an incomplete sentence spoken by Ullmann.

“There are so many things to ponder — so many questions; sometimes you don’t know up from down, and you get completely…”

What? We’re not sure. End scene.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Max von Sydow as Johan Borg
  • Liv Ullmann as Alma Borg
  • Sven Nykvist’s cinematography
  • Numerous memorable images

Must See?
Yes, as another unique and intriguing Bergman movie. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

  • Important Director

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

Links:

Madigan (1968)

Madigan (1968)

“Damn that Madigan; he was bound to get caught in a wringer sooner or later.”

Synopsis:
In New York City, two police detectives (Richard Widmark and Harry Guardino) lose their gun while attempting to bring in a suspect (Steve Ihnat) who got away, and are given 72 hours by their police commissioner (Henry Fonda) to find him. Meanwhile, Fonda is distracted both by his affair with a married woman (Susan Clark), and by news that his long-time colleague (James Whitmore) has been caught taking a bribe; and Widmark must try to placate his lonely wife (Ingrid Stevens).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Don Siegel Films
  • Henry Fonda Films
  • James Whitmore Films
  • New York City
  • Richard Widmark Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Don Siegel directed this police drama that, regrettably, has been overshadowed by his later Dirty Harry” — indeed, he argues “it’s a brilliantly crafted film that all directors should study to see how action scenes should be staged, photographed, and edited.” He points out that the film structure “is split in two,” with one storyline telling the “efforts of tough street detectives” (Widmark and Guardino) “trying to nail a psycho killer who got away from them”:

… and the other focusing on “the efforts of police commissioner Henry Fonda to deal with some minor police corruption involving his life-long friend James Whitmore.”

The juxtaposition of these two narrative threads offers an opportunity for effectively contrasting “Widmark’s frantic world of killers, pimps, addicts, hookers, drunks, stoolies, midgets, and assorted lowlifes and outcasts”:

… with “Fonda’s serene and secure world.” Peary notes that “Widmark gives a standout performance as a very believable cop, one of Siegel’s renegade heroes: he has no idea how to comfort his wife (Inger Stevens), who expects him to lead a normal home life”:

… “and he acts like a nervous kid with his hand in the cookie jar in the presence of the commissioner”:

… “but on the streets he is king, the number-one man at getting the job done” — he is “the man crooks fear and despise and outcasts trust.” Peary further adds that this “exciting, atmospheric film takes time to explore the characters so that by the end we know exactly what makes each tick and what they find most essential in their lives.”

While I’m not quite as much a fan of this film as Peary is, I agree that it’s expertly crafted and offers up enjoyable entertainment. The action sequences alone merit close review given how skillfully they portray rapid-fire movements made on the spot, with potentially life-and-death consequences — from the opening scene in Ihnat’s apartment (which very quickly goes in an unexpected direction), to the tragic closing sequence. This one remains worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Richard Widmark as Daniel Madigan
  • Steve Ihnat as Barney Benesch
  • Russell Metty’s cinematography
  • Excellent use of location shooting throughout New York (as much as possible)

Must See?
Yes, as a fine police thriller.

Categories

  • Good Show
  • Important Director

Links:

Savage Seven, The (1968)

Savage Seven, The (1968)

“Those bastards wanted to play cowboys and Indians; let’s give ’em a game.”

Synopsis:
When a gang of motorcyclists led by Kisum (Adam Roarke) roars into an Indian village, both mayhem and tentative alliances — particularly with Johnnie (Robert Walker, Jr.) and his sister (Joanna Frank) — ensue.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Gangs
  • Motorcyclists
  • Native Americans

Review:
Richard Rush — best known for The Stunt Man (1980), though he also helmed GFTFF titles Hells Angels on Wheels (1967), Psych-Out (1968), and Getting Straight (1970) — directed this exploitation film which holds the distinction of being selected for the First Quentin Tarantino Film Festival (held in Austin, Texas in 1996). There is very little to it other than numerous confrontations between obnoxious bikers and Native Americans who live in a small town run by a corrupt businessman (Mel Berger).

As described in the New York Times’ review, “The movie is one continuous uproar of unmuffled motors and head-cracking and emphasized cruelty from one and to another.”

Robert Walker, Jr. — perhaps best known by GFTFF fans for his supporting performance as an explosives expert in The War Wagon (1967) — plays a central Native American role:

… and Joanna Frank has quite a bit of screentime as his sister, pursued by Adam Roarke’s Kisum.

Note: Viewers may enjoy spotting Penny Marshall in her screen debut, eight years before she achieved lasting television fame in “Laverne and Shirley.”

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • László Kovács’s cinematography

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

Links:

No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)

No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)

“You see how I’ve fooled ’em? I’m a master of disguise!”

Synopsis:
A serial killer (Rod Steiger) uses a variety of disguises to kill middle-aged women across New York while playing cat-and-mouse with a detective (George Segal) whose overbearing mother (Eileen Heckart) and new girlfriend (Lee Remick) keep him otherwise occupied.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cat and Mouse
  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • George Segal Films
  • Lee Remick Films
  • Rod Steiger Films
  • Serial Killers

Review:
Shortly after his Oscar-winning turn in In the Heat of the Night (1967), Rod Steiger starred in this adaptation of William Goldman’s novel, itself loosely based on an article about the Boston Strangler. The storyline is decidedly formulaic in its — well, formula of repeatedly showing Steiger dressed up in an outlandish costume and sporting a convincing accent while stealthily killing a gullible woman, then calling Segal to brag about his deed. He impersonates an Irish priest:

… a German plumber:

… an effeminate wig seller:

… a police detective (nice nod to Chief Gillespie):

… a cross-dressing woman in a bar:

… and a waiter.

Meanwhile, interspersed between these murders and follow-up phone calls, we see Segal henpecked by his Jewish mother:

… and romancing Remick, who very conveniently falls for him and thus serves as gorgeous eye candy throughout. (Her character is too good to be true.)

There are plenty of cringe-worthy moments throughout the screenplay — including all scenes between Segal and Heckart (though her fans will likely be happy); the appearance of a dwarf (Michael Dunn) who insists he is the killer and takes offense when he’s not believed:

… and Steiger’s caricatures of a gay man and a trans woman (though I suppose those could be explained as his own character’s poor acting choices). While nothing about this storyline is particularly surprising, viewers who enjoy a straightforward whodunit filled with plenty of complex disguises will likely appreciate it. Watch for Barbara Baxley and Doris Roberts as two sisters who manage to escape Steiger’s clutches.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine location shooting throughout New York
  • Jack Priestly’s cinematography

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

Links:

Death by Hanging (1968)

Death by Hanging (1968)

“For human beings, death comes when one consciously accepts it.”

Synopsis:
When a Korean-born Japanese man (Yung-do Yun) who has been sentenced to death by hanging “refuses” to die, his captors debate the ethics of killing him again, and try to get him to remember his identity and his crimes.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Black Comedy
  • Death and Dying
  • Japanese Films
  • Nagisa Oshima Films
  • Race Relations and Racism

Review:
The second film by Japanese director Nagisa Oshima listed in Peary’s GFTFF — after the disappointingly talky Night and Fog in Japan (1960) — is this much more intriguing dark comedy about the ethics of life, death, crime, race, and capital punishment in post-WWII Japan. The film starts off in a documentary-like style, as we’re walked through the process of how “death by hanging” is carried out in Japan: no details are spared, from a description of the section of the prison where the execution chamber is located, to what’s inside the chamber, to the final rites and rituals offered up to the man who is about to die (including “his last cup of tea and last cigarette”).

Everything seems to be going according to routine — but the first surreal plot twist in the film comes when the men in charge of overseeing this process discover that the criminal’s heart won’t stop beating; in other words, the man’s body seems “unwilling” to actually die. What to do next? Nobody seems to agree, or to want to take ultimate responsibility. The perverse dilemma is summed up in the following exchange:

“Sir, allow us to execute him again.”
“Execute him again? He wasn’t executed!”

Indeed. What does it even mean to “be executed”? We learn that according to Japanese rules, the condemned man’s “noose can’t be undone until five minutes after death” — but since he “hasn’t been executed yet,” the noose can’t come off. He can’t receive another “prayer and hymn” since “he’s already received his last communion.”

Given that “his soul is with God” but “his body’s alive,” is he “mentally incapacitated” — in which case “the execution must be halted”? (After all, the team would “get in trouble for executing someone who’s unconscious” given that “the point isn’t just to take his life; the prisoner’s awareness of his own guilt is what gives execution its moral and ethical meaning.”) The men try to resuscitate the prisoner, leading to such darkly humorous and perverse justifications as, “Warden they’re trying to revive him so they can kill him again!” and “Let’s revive him first; the execution is a separate issue.”

Eventually the story takes yet another weird turn, as the prisoner (Yun) is revived but claims not to remember who he is or what he’s done. When Yun is told about what he — “R” — has done, he claims “I don’t feel I’m R at all.” Very convenient — to claim one no longer “relates” to the acts one has carried out, given that the lethal consequences of said acts remain very much real.

However, R can’t (or shouldn’t) be executed if he’s not consciously aware of his crimes — therefore the hanging team begin re-enacting his life and crimes, during which time we learn that he had a rough childhood as a Japanese of Korean descent growing up in a large, impoverished family. (Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945.) It seems that the executioners may even be gaining some perverse enjoyment out of recreating Yun’s toxic crimes of passion and vengeance:

… and the fact that everyone heads out of the prison itself during the reenactments speaks to how surreal things have become.

Discussions of Yun’s racial identity take center place in the final third of the film, especially as he engages in discussions with someone referred to as his sister.

By the film’s finale, we have a bit more sympathy for how and why Yun ended up as a criminal — which perhaps was Oshima’s primary goal; and meanwhile, we’ve certainly been made to reflect more deeply on what it means to consciously take someone’s life in exchange for their crimes against others.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Yasuhiro Yoshioka’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

  • Foreign Gem

Links:

Hell in the Pacific (1968)

Hell in the Pacific (1968)

“Oh – for a second I thought you were a Jap.”

Synopsis:
During World War II, an American pilot (Lee Marvin) and a Japanese captain (Toshiro Mifune) are marooned together on a deserted island and must learn how to get along with one another to survive.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Deserted Island
  • John Boorman Films
  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Survival
  • Toshiro Mifune Films
  • World War II

Review:
Shot entirely on location in the Rock Islands of Palau, this unusual World War II-era film has just two actors — neither of whom speak each other’s language — and is primarily focused on how the men negotiate existence with one another. Will they continue to fight and possibly kill each other, as they have been trained to do?

At first, this is absolutely on their minds; but gradually they come to realize that collaboration for survival makes so much more sense. With Marvin and Mifune in the lead roles, we are always intrigued to see what will happen next — and Conrad Hall’s cinematography brings everything to vivid life. While it’s not must-see viewing, it’s well worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune as the stranded men
  • Conrad Hall’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s definitely recommended for one-time viewing.

Links:

Immortal Story, The (1968)

Immortal Story, The (1968)

“I don’t like prophecies.”

Synopsis:
In 1860s Macao, an aging merchant (Orson Welles) tasks his assistant (Roger Coggio) with finding a sailor (Norman Eshley) and a woman (Jeanne Moreau) who can act out an oft-told story of a one-night encounter.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Historical Drama
  • Jeanne Moreau Films
  • Orson Welles Films

Review:
Orson Welles’s feature-length — well, hour-long TV-length — follow-up to Chimes at Midnight was this adaptation of a short story by Isak Dinesen (one of Welles’s favorite authors), whose oeuvre Welles had hoped to tap into even more. It tells a simple yet very odd tale of a wealthy man:

… determined to make a sexual fantasy story come true (There really isn’t much more to it than this.) Welles’s assistant (Coggio) finds Moreau — who has a grievance against Welles given he is living in the house previously owned by her father, who committed suicide — and then Eshley to play the central roles in the apocryphal legend of a couple who experience an “earthquake” during their lovemaking.

To say more would spoil this almost-barely-there story — but suffice it to say, not too much else happens.

Note: This film was released in the United States on a double-bill with Luis Buñuel’s Simon of the Desert (1965).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Willy Kurant’s cinematography

Must See?
No; this one is only must see for Welles completists.

Links:

Beyond the Law (1968)

Beyond the Law (1968)

“I did nothing — absolutely nothing.”

Synopsis:
An Irish-American lieutenant (Norman Mailer) presides over a fictional Manhattan precinct while two of his detectives — Rocco (Buzz Farber) and Mickey (Mickey Knox) — mercilessly grill various suspects.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Marsha Mason Films
  • Police
  • Rip Torn Films

Review:
Norman Mailer’s second of four directorial outings (his third, Maidstone [1970], is also listed in GFTFF) was this documentary-esque independent film, inspired by Andy Warhol, which according to Wikipedia “was shot over four nights with three film crews and sound professionals” and made with “next-to-no script;” instead, the actors were told to “wing it” and “explore some ideas that echo [Mailer’s] literary concerns, like the psychopathic hipster, the home-grown totalitarian, complex give-and-take of lovers, and the existential relationship between the cop and the criminal.”

Is it successful, or at least interesting? Marginally so — but this one will really only appeal either to fans of ’60s independent films and/or Mailer. Watch for Rip Torn as “Popcorn”:

… Marsha Mason as a young woman out to dinner with the detectives:

… George Plimpton as the town’s visiting mayor:

… and, of course, Mailer himself.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • D.A. Pennebaker, Nicholas Proferes’ and Jan Welt’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look if you’re curious.

Links:

Charlie Bubbles (1968)

Charlie Bubbles (1968)

“What do you do all day?”

Synopsis:
A hugely successful writer (Albert Finney) living and working in London travels with his secretary (Liza Minnelli) to his hometown of Manchester, where he visits his ex-wife (Billie Whitelaw) and child (Timothy Garland).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Albert Finney Films
  • Liza Minnelli Films
  • Writers

Review:
Albert Finney’s sole directorial outing was this highly personal film — scripted by Shelagh Delaney — about the downsides of fame. As the movie opens, we see Charlie (Finney) talking about taxes and money in a high-brow restaurant, where he encounters an old friend (Colin Blakely) who brings out the child in him.

Unfortunately, this is the most carefree we see Charlie throughout the entire film; after getting drunk with Blakely at a working men’s pub, he returns home to his glacially austere residence, with surveillance cameras set up in every room:

… and a young secretary (Minnelli) eager to do anything and everything for and with him.

However, Charlie is clearly both exhausted and unhappy, to the point where even a beautiful young assistant can’t meet his needs. A road trip to visit with his son results in an awkward outing to a soccer game:

… and his ex-wife seems equally miserable, raising chickens and making awful organic food from scratch while smoking non-stop.

The paparazzi won’t leave Charlie alone, either. What’s a poor rich man to do? Well, the film’s final scene provides one convenient option, though it can’t last for long.

It’s easy to see why Finney gravitated towards this material — surely it mirrored many of his own sentiments and experiences — though it doesn’t leave the viewer with a particularly satisfying feeling, other than to be grateful for a lack of fame and fortune in our own lives.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Warkill (1968)

Warkill (1968)

“It’s just another war, Mr. Sutton — and I’m just another guy doing a job.”

Synopsis:
A war correspondent (Tom Drake) sent to investigate a renowned guerrilla colonel (George Montgomery) in the Philippines is dismayed to learn that Montgomery is brutally no-holds-barred in his approach to finding and killing Japanese soldiers.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Journalists
  • Jungles
  • Soldiers
  • World War II

Review:
Ferde Grofé Jr. (son of composer Ferde Grofé) wrote and helmed this low-budget action flick filmed in the jungles of the Philippines, set during World War II but released during the height of the Vietnam War. I wasn’t able to learn too much more about the film — it has only four User Reviews on IMDb, and no External Reviews — but it effectively tells the tale of a writer whose rosy image of the “war hero” he’s written about in books for children:

… becomes instantly deflated upon meeting and spending time with him. Drake is disgusted to learn that Montgomery has no mercy at all for the enemy, resorting to whatever means necessary to find and kill them, and never taking prisoners of war — except in one particularly brutal sequence when he uses a wounded soldier as bait to lure more men out. When Montgomery and his crew (nicely populated by a mix of races):

… arrive at a hospital housing wounded Japanese POWs, he has no intention of doing anything to protect them, even upon learning that they will be mercilessly slaughtered by their own commanders if found. The main arc of the storyline shows Drake and Montgomery in a sort of cat-and-mouse tension with one another, as Drake becomes increasingly disillusioned while we (and he) simultaneously learn more about why Montgomery makes the choices he does. This isn’t easy viewing, but it nicely challenges our expectations about war heroes — which I believe was precisely Grofé Jr.’s point.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Many tension-filled moments

Must See?
No, but it’s strongly recommended for one-time viewing if you can find it. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book, which makes sense.

Links: