Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

Traditional, Artsy, Genre-Within-Genre: A Little Something for Everyone

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT #1

Hello to my subscribers, those I’m subscribed to, and anyone who may come across my writing,

I thought it would be fun and different to open-up a suggestion space for films, actors/actresses, filmmakers, and special topics you all out there would like to see me talk about.

I do have a set of criteria I would like anyone interested in this to follow: Films between 1915 to 1985 are what I’m most interested in, my favorite all time Blu Ray labels are The Criterion Collection, Arrow Video, Arrow Academy, Eureka! Masters of Cinema, Eureka! Classics, Studio-Canal, Koch Media, X-Rated/ELEA, 88 Films, and Shameless Screen Entertainment, my favorite genres are Classic Genre Cinema, Italian Westerns, Comedy, Giallos, French Neo-Noir, Japanese Samurai, Japanese Gangster/Crime, Italian Polizioteschi, some Musicals, and some Horror.

Some things I’ll talk about on occasion if I find the subject interesting enough are Sci-Fi, Martial Arts, and Eastern European Cinema.

What I absolutely won’t talk about is: Gore Horror and all its subsidiaries, sleazeploitation, most exploitation type films (I will accept some titles as long as they have some class), stoner comedies, teen comedies, and material based off video games.

To keep this fun and exciting I encourage you all to think of some more obscure, boutique type of films that not many people know about and should. I really want to bring a lot of films back from the dead and give them the exposure they should be getting. I do like mainstream stuff for those who are curious to know, but I want to keep this blog unique and different, so let’s try to avoid material everyone already knows about please.

I have two region free Blu Ray players so I can view any Blu Ray and DVD from anywhere, and so most suggestions are plausible.

Please keep suggestions reasonable, realistic and within the guidelines I’ve placed above if possible. Keep in mid there are some I’ll have to turn down because I don’t have access to them or have seen them and didn’t like them. I’m on a budget so right know I’m focusing on Birthday/Anniversary/Holiday gifts for my family and friends. Not everyone will have their suggestions picked, but rest assured I’ll look at them all.

This is a suggestion page only and any and all negative replies will not be tolerated. Repetition of this will lead to this page’s comment section being turned off. Let’s be fair and considerate everyone.

Anyway, please have fun with this, and let’s shake things up with new and exciting films to talk about.

MOVIE FAN MAN

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Filed under: Annoucements

Una Grande Attrice Italiana dalla Spagna

A Look at Nieves Navarro

by Tony Nash

(All opinions are of the author alone)

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The 1960’s saw many Spanish actors and actresses coming to Italy for the creative freedom they couldn’t get in Franco run Spain. The Western genre was the most prolific for these performers, and once this genre played out and lessened in popularity, many of these actors and actresses went back to their native land. One actress who managed to survive the burnout of the Western and leap to the Giallos, Horror, and Sex Comedies was Nieves Navarro.

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Though born in the Southern part of Spain, Navarro’s look was different to her heritage, which allowed her to be cast in various non-Hispanic roles, along with playing traditional Spaniards and Mexicans. Unlike most Spanish actresses, Navarro somehow managed to get offers from Italian producers and made the decision to relocate to Italy. Starting out in a comedy with Italian comic Toto, Navarro initially started out playing the seductive foreigner who was on the side of the hero. This was unusual even for European films as most actors/actresses in these roles were often depicted as having wavering allegiances, usually playing both sides for their own benefit. Even in these early stages, Navarro showed herself as a capable actress, holding her own with top-notch talent. While leading lady roles were few and far between for her, Navarro would get to show romantic interest in her male co-stars, though rarely did it go into anything substantial, but when it did, it was really beautiful.

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Her real break through in films was when the Italian or “Spaghetti” Westerns were beginning to become popular in Europe. Usually set in towns that were on the border between the US and Mexico, many Spanish actors and actresses were sought for the roles of Mexican peons, bandits, and well-to-do’s. Navarro’s debut in Una Pistola per Ringo (A Pistol for Ringo) had her playing a role that was unconventional even for Italian Westerns: a gun-packing female bandit. While a supporting role, Navarro did get the opportunity to enjoy a romantic attachment to fellow Spanish actor Antonio Casas’s character Major Clyde. Her performance was so good she was asked to come aboard for the in-name only sequel Il Ritorno di Ringo (The Return of Ringo) a year later. In spite of playing a more traditional, non-interesting saloon girl part, Navarro’s beauty and talent is still on great display. Her only other major parts in the Westerns were in La Resi Dei Conti (The Settling of Accounts/The Big Gundown) and Una Nuvola di Polvere… un Grido di Morte… Arivva Sartana (Cloud of Dust.. Cry of Death… Sartana is Coming/Light the Fuse, Sartana is Coming) as The Widow and Sra. Belle Manassas respectively. The majority of her roles in these films were usually just as eye candy for the hero, but in the four films just mentioned she got to play characters with depth and substance that went beyond the norm of most Italian Westerns. Not used as much as many other Spanish actresses of the time, Navarro with her sultry and exotic looks were able to leave a valuable and lasting impression that still resonates today.

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It was during the shooting of the Ringo films that Navarro would meet and fall in love with Italian screenwriter/producer/director Luciano Ercoli, and later marry him. He catapulted her to fame with an important supporting role in his first Giallo Le Foto Proibite di una Signora per Bene (Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion). By this period she’d become a naturalized Italian citizen from her marriage to Ercoli and was fluent in the Italian language, but her strong Spanish accent required voice dubbing for her roles. With the advent of Crime Dramas, Crime Action, and Giallo films Navarro found herself having to adopt the American pseudonym Susan Scott, sometimes spelled Susanne (or Suzanne) Scott, but audiences still knew who she was from the Westerns. Looking more like a native Italian than Hispanic, Navarro was able to transition with ease to the new trends of cinema in Italy. Her center roles in her husband’s most famous Giallos La Morte Cammina con i Tacchi Alti (Death Walks on High Heels) and La Morte Accarezza a Mezzanotte (Death Walks at Midnight) cemented her status as a powerhouse player in the genre and well showcased her acting talents. Another great, though more of a supporting role in the genre was in Sergio Martino’s Horror mood effort Tutti i Colori del Buio (All the Colors of the Dark), playing fellow sex symbol Edwige Fenech’s sister.

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Sadly, by the mid to late seventies, Navarro soon saw her talents being wasted in exploitative horror films and comedies. Realizing tastes were changing in cinema and that she was getting older, Navarro decided to head back to her native Spain and try to re-ignite her career there. While she made a couple of films, her being away from Spanish cinema (even though many of the Westerns were filmed in her native Almeria) for the majority of her career and not being immediately recognizable to audiences past and present, had Navarro realizing her time as an actress had passed, though she was totally willing to play matriarch type characters. With the support and love of her husband, they both relocated permanently to Spain as Ercoli had long retired from filmmaking at this time after receiving a considerable inheritance from a late distant relative. They remained together until Ercoli’s death a few years earlier.

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While many of her roles had her playing the damsel in distress or the object of a killer’s obsession, Navarro always played her characters with a sense of independence and intelligence, very often strong-willed and fiery. Navarro may not have gotten the same acclaim as some of her contemporaries or the more internationally recognized actresses of the time, but its clear fans always enjoyed seeing her were captivated in one way or another by her. Having no regrets of where her career took her and still enjoying the admiration it brought her, Navarro still talks about her career in films today and has happily offered to do recorded interviews for various DVD and Blu Ray releases of the films she appeared in. Not an immediately recognizable name when asked of, her face is one fans, new or old, will never forget and will always be happy to see. A character actress all the way, she had that rare mixture of talent and beauty that took her far and wide. She could’ve easily made it as an important film actress and leading lady, but clearly loved the Western, Giallo, and Comedy roles she was being offered to her. An actress that certainly deserves and needs more recognition, but the Italian Subgenre category has a very loyal and devoted fan base.

(I highly recommend most of Senora Navarro’s pre-1976 films as those are her best work. She’s one of my favorite actresses and I’m thankful to companies like Arrow Video and Shameless Films for bringing her back to the public in the form of Blu Rays)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/Nieves Navarro

Wikipedia/Nieves Navarro

Spaghetti-Western.net/Nieves Navarro

 

Filed under: Film: Actor/Actress Spotlight

Never Pay Someone to Kill a Man…..

Unless You’re Paying Sartana!!!

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

by Tony Nash

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Some spoilers may follow)

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C’e Sartana…Vendi la Pistola e Comprati la Bara! (I Am Sartana…Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin) (1969) PG-13 ****

George Hilton: Sartana

Charles Southwood: Sabata the Sabbath

Erika Blanc: Trixie

Piero Lulli: Samuel Spencer

Nello Pazzafini: Mantas

Carlo Gaddi: Baxter

Luciano Rossi: Flint Brand (as Lou Kamante)

Federico Boido: Joe Brand (as Rick Boyd)

Aldo Barberito: Angelo

Luigi Bonos: The Posada Bar Owner

Marco Zuanelli: Dead Eye Golfay

Linda Sini: Maldida, Mantas’ Woman

Spartaco Conversi: Emiliano

John Bartha: Sheriff

Written by: Tito Carpi

Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo (as Antony Ascot)

Synopsis: Bounty Hunter/Gunman Sartana witnesses a stagecoach robbery as he awaits the arrival of outlaws to collect reward money on. After surveying the goings on at a ghost town, Sartana discovers a plot between Mexican bandito Mantas and crooked bank manager Samuel Spencer to cheat the mining town of Appaloosa out of the gold they discovered. Teaming with Saloon owner Trixie and ally Sabata the Sabbath, Sartana begins to play Mantas and Spencer against each other. Complications arise when allegiances are uncertain of being compromised and questions of who can be trusted quickly become reality.

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The third film in the Sartana series is a little different from the first two, and the next two to follow. For starters, George Hilton replaces Gianni Garko as the lead and the film takes on a more lighthearted approach to its storytelling. This doesn’t take anything away from the film nor does it detract the popularity of its predecessors, if anything it gives the film its own voice and allows it to be just as fun as well. In a strange way the change of lead actor helps the filming style a great deal as Hilton was equally adept at playing straight roles and humorous roles well, and the lightheartedness and one liners of the character suit Hilton’s style well, something that would’ve been out of place with Garko. The film keeps the concept of the Sartana character looking to put a stop to a gang of baddies trying to outwit people in some way or another out of their money, though this go around is a little more straightforward, without the twists and turns that made the first two so unique. It’s still fun though to see Sartana working his magic with trickery and gunplay, staying one step ahead of his adversaries, keeping the audience wondering what he’ll do next. Sadly, the gadgetry is not on display in this one, but it makes the film so much more entertaining to see Sartana work with what’s only readily available to him.

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George Hilton, a Uruguayan actor who some believed overplayed everything in his roles, is quite excellent and entertaining as the replacement Sartana. The character is still out for himself for the majority of the film, but Hilton offers viewers a brief glimpse into the softer/gentler side of the character in a scene where he accepts a boy’s job offer to free his mother from bad guy Mantas’ men but doesn’t take money for it, even giving the grateful pair part of his earnings from a previous job to start life afresh in Mexico. Not all Italian Western characters went to this degree, but it wasn’t uncommon to see them do just one task simply because it was the right thing to do, without earning a dime from it. Hilton delivers some of the best one liners, and even lines in general in this film, showing that Italian Western Anti-Heroes were capable of dry humor, not the gallows humor normally associated with the genre. The character is not a comedic one by any means, but Hilton mixes enough seriousness with lightheartedness that it makes a perfect blend that allows Sartana to maintain his stoic mysteriousness, but at the same time remind viewers this Sartana is different from Garko’s.

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Charles Southwood, another of the many American actors who went to Italy to get their start, is a scene stealing amazement as Sabata the Sabbath. While only appearing towards the end of the film, for about 35 minutes in total, his automatic attention grabbing performance is not one to forget. A little like Clint Eastwood in his use of stares and body gestures, what makes Southwood’s role interesting is that the character is very proper, dresses all in white and grey, and has a love of reciting poetry. Like Sartana, Sabata has agility in keeping his enemies guessing as to where he is and how to get him. He may not be a trick shot, but he has enough stealth and ingenuity to be a proper ally, competition to Sartana, and offers an interesting solution to handling a group of banditos by hooking up a group of rifles to his horse reigns. Like Sartana, Sabata the Sabbath is a mysterious figure whom very little is known, except he’s a gunman and has encountered Sartana in the past. Unlike Sartana as well, Sabata the Sabbath is soft spoken, but when he speaks, it’s always neat to hear what he says. The duo constantly keep people guessing as to of they’re friends or enemies with profound respect and admiration for each other.

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Italian Western regulars Piero Lulli and Nello Pazzafini delight as supporting player villains Spencer and Mantas respectively. Lulli does the educated slime ball baddie and Pazzafini does the uneducated, but street smart bandito baddie. This contrast of villainy is similar to the one between William Berger and Fernando Sancho in the first Sartana film, but what separates the two is that Sancho and Berger had an uneasy alliance, while Lulli and Pazzafini have no alliance at all. Pazzafini’s wanted bandito is taking all the risks while Lulli’s slimy banker can keep his respectability without his partnering with Pazzafini being made public. Their predecessors were content with just double crossing and killing their partners while these two play up taking the money and running, leaving the other holding the bag to get hung. A nice touch is that Pazzifini had one of his first bigger roles in films, as he normally held secondary roles to the main villains. Here he gets to shine with good character development and show he was just as good an actor as others. Lulli has his usual good fare as the cowardly Easterner trying to survive in the Wild West.

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It should be noted that Gianni Garko only turned down the film because he thought the story and how his character was to be portrayed was too silly. Now it’s understandable that Garko would see the character a particular way, having played him twice already and of course there’s a more humorous feel to the film, so no one can really blame Garko in the long run. Garko did have a little humor in the roler, but he felt the character was better suited to being straightforward with a little humor thrown in to ease the tension. The fact that he returned for the fourth film of the Saga shows he didn’t mind some lightheartedness, just that the particular story of the previous film didn’t work for him.

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The third Sartana film has been argued about whether it should be canon in the Saga among Italian Western fans, but it’s still a fun and entertaining spectacle that everyone who’s a fan of the genre should see. George Hilton is no Gianni Garko by a long shot, but he’s not playing Garko’s Sartana, he’s playing his own interpretation of the character, which works very well for him and is believable. It is a different film after all, but works well either way. The cast is excellent, the camera work is cool to look at, and the whole vibe is just fun. It’s a playful film, but doesn’t go too far in the silliness or make light of any of the character’s situations. It’s not really fair to call it a Comedy Western as it doesn’t make too many attempts to be intentionally funny, though Sartana has some good dialogue worthy of a chuckle and some amusing music that works well in the scenes they’re used in. Sartana might not be the mysterious loner he was in the other films, but he’s still a wondrous enigma that keeps piling the surprises of his ingenuity and skill.

(Like with the first two, I highly recommend this film, in spite of many Italian Western fans citing it as an unofficial Sartana film. It mixes action and comedic styling well enough that it works on every level. Look to my writings on the first film if you wish to purchase the boxset.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/Sartana’s Here, Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin

Spaghetti-Western.net/Sartana’s Here, Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin

Wikipedia/Sartana’s Here, Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

When Imitation Has Advantages:

The Stranger’s in Town

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

by Tony Nash

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Some spoilers may follow)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Un Dollaro Tra I Denti (A Dollar Between the Teeth/A Stranger in Town) (1966) *** ½

Tony Anthony: The Stranger

Frank Wolff: Aguilar

Jolanda Modio: El Chica

Gia Sandri: Maruca Pilar

Raf Baldassarre: Corgo

Aldo Berti: Marinero

Lars Bloch: Lt. Ted “George” Harrison

Fortunato Arena: Captain Cordoba

Salvatore Puntillo: Aguilar Gang Member

Written by: Warren Garfield & Giuseppe Mangione (as Jone Mangione)

Directed by: Luigi Vanzi (as Vance Lewis)

Synopsis: A bandit gang led by Aguilar plans on heisting a cash box full of Union Army gold. A wondering vagabond gunman agrees to help for a share of the loot and poses as a Union Captain helping a group of Federales. When he’s betrayed and beaten, he goes after them with a vengeance while protecting a local woman and her baby son.

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By the late 1960’s, early 70’s, the Italian Western was beginning to experience the early stages of internal cannibalism within itself as a genre. The success of filmmakers like Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, Gianfranco Parolini, and Enzo G. Castellari had every producer in Italy thinking Westerns were automatic money makers and a flood of average to subpar to downright awful Westerns began flooding Italian theaters. Only a handful of filmmakers, including the above mentioned, were still making good Westerns, but these were few and far between the less than stellar product of others. Relief came from an up-in-coming actor from the Mid-West who studied at the Actor’s Studio named Tony Anthony. Initially beginning with more serious-minded filmmakers in supporting roles, Anthony finally saw his chance at stardom, and along with his friend and producing partner Allen Klein, pitched an idea for an Italian Western that would help reignite the genre and make money.

(Author’s note: Allen Klein would later become noted as the lackluster manager of The Beatles in their declining years)

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Ironically Anthony’s debut, Un Dollaro Tra I Denti, wasn’t a hit with the Italians, most likely it was seen as a poor man’s version of Leone’s Per Un Pugni di Dollari (A Fistful of Dollars), but was successful in the United States, seen as a successor to Leone’s debut Western, and where a sequel was immediately green-lit. Many Italian Western fans are divided as to whether this is a worthy entry into the genre’s great pantheon of classics as its slow-paced, lacks in plot, has little dialogue, and has something of a repetitive score. While it’s all true about the film, it makes up for its low-budget with a good amount of suspense and atmosphere that’s able to keep to the viewer interested and intrigued as to what will happen next. Many critics of the genre are right in that it lacks what many of its predecessors and some successors were able to accomplish with smaller budgets, but because its even lower in budget than what other filmmakers started with, the film gets that maverick guerilla-style cinematic quality to it that has viewers feeling this was a film made by a bunch of people with little prospects, hoping to find even a small audience who would appreciate it.

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Tony Anthony, who would later become a producer successful both abroad and in the States, is not at all bad as the character of The Stranger. Normally akin as a poor imitation of Eastwood’s Man with No Name character, Anthony brings something new and different to this type of character. Normally Italian Western Heroes/Anti-Heroes have some sense of how they’re going to one up the bad guys they’re up against, but The Stranger plays what he does totally by ear, at times even unsure of how he’ll get out of his situation. Not a coward by any means, Anthony’s The Stranger is more of a common man type, going from town to town trying to earn a few bucks and then move on. He never sets out to be a hero, but a personal vendetta and a type of ethics cause him to take on his foes. It was Anthony who gave fans of the genre the torture-revenge Western as his character is majorly driven by getting payback for having the crap beaten out of him by the bandidos not once, but twice. While the Lee Van Cleef & John Philip Law Western Da Uomo a Uomo (From Man to Man/Death Rides a Horse) solidifies and expands the revenge themed Western and popularizes it, it was Anthony and Un Dollaro that began the concept.

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Frank Wolff, one of the major stalwarts of the Italian Western, and Italian Cinema in general, is in his usual fine form as the villainous bandit Aguilar. Adept at playing a wide variety of roles, Wolff plays a Mexican bandit with ease and uses his UCLA training well. He doesn’t go too in-depth with the character, but he does the conniving, sneaky, and despicable antics of the atypical villain to a tee. Like any good villain he’s after money and women, and likes to beat up potential rivals and scammers for his amusement. In keeping with the idea that this is a poor man’s Per un Pugni di Dollari, Wolff appears to take some aspects of Gian Maria Volonte’s introduction in the film as he guns down a militia of Federales to get away with his scheme to steal money from the US Army, all with a smile on his face. Even in scenes were he appears to do nothing and just watch his comrades drink and carouse, Wolff uses his facial features to give off the idea that Aguilar is constantly thinking of his next move and even the next few moves afterward. Another good performance by a well versed actor.

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A point of interest is that the screenplay of the film was co-written by a man whose work all lovers of cinema have seen, but never knew he was behind them. Warren Garfield, the man responsible for thousands upon thousands of movie trailers was somehow asked to help in the writing of this film, one of only two screenplay credits he received, the other being for a one episode stint of the Western TV series High Chaparral. Garfield’s effort proves interesting and is a shame he didn’t try to write more scripts, but his passion was editing movie trailers so one can’t really blame him for sticking to what he loved.

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While many have dismissed this as an oddity, even for Italian Western standards, this film is still well worth watching as it attempts to breath new life into a genre many were already aware was slipping into that loop of over-extension that would soon lead to its downfall. What this effort provides is a completely different take on an already established character prototype and put him into a new terrain and personality that does manage to work. The minimalist style used in the film was put to much better use and effect in Robert Hossein’s Une Corde, Un Colt (Cimiterio Senza Croce, The Rope and the Colt, Cemetery Without Crosses), which is the true minimalist Western with its use of landscape and faces, though it’s hard to deny the approach works very well in this one too. What helps the film as well is the feeling and knowledge that it doesn’t try too hard or be obvious that it’s a reworking of a previous classic, that it’s an original work that does its job in bringing up interest. Hardly perfect, but still very interesting and intriguing to look at and watch, Un Dollaro Tra I Denti is an overlooked, underappreciated, and under the radar film that deserves to get a second chance.

(Not a perfect film, and even a little slow and wooden, Un Dollaro Tra I Denti is still a worthwhile oddity to check out and enjoy. I myself recommend it for being different and managing to find its own voice in spite of the limits of the budget and script. The German double pack DVD of the film and its first sequel Un Uomo, Un Cavallo, Una Pistola (A Man, A Horse, and A Gun/The Stranger Returns) is the best quality out there and the recommended purchase. Avoid the Warner Archive edition as even though it contains the first three films, is a cheap DVD-R copy. There’s a Japanese Blu Ray of the first film, but I believe it’s either out of print or very hard to find)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/A Stranger in Town

Wikipedia/A Stranger in Town

Spaghetti-Western.net/Un Dollaro Tra i Denti

https://www.amazon.de/Stranger-Collection-Dollar-zwischen-Z%C3%A4hnen/dp/B00QU0WAJ8/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1536168095&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=Stranger+Collection

For those preferring a single disc edition of the film

https://www.amazon.de/Ein-Dollar-zwischen-den-Z%C3%A4hnen/dp/B01GOCU3M2/ref=pd_sbs_74_2?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B01GOCU3M2&pd_rd_r=29f37e56-b130-11e8-8dbb-41abd883f66d&pd_rd_w=hnwYQ&pd_rd_wg=cXqqU&pf_rd_i=desktop-dp-sims&pf_rd_m=A3JWKAKR8XB7XF&pf_rd_p=946762da-975a-438a-9e2b-a585cbe769b5&pf_rd_r=4MA3TEZR6Y9QDGX587WK&pf_rd_s=desktop-dp-sims&pf_rd_t=40701&psc=1&refRID=4MA3TEZR6Y9QDGX587WK

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

Vikings, As Done By The Italians:

Mario Bava’s Erik the Conqueror

by Tony Nash

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Some spoilers may be present)

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Gli Invasori (Erik the Conqueror/Viking Invasion) (1961) ****

Cameron Mitchell: Eron, Viking Prince/King

George Ardrisson: Erik, Viking Prince/Duke of Helford (as Giorgio Ardrisson)

Alice Kessler: Rama, Vestal Virgin, lover of Erik

Ellen Kessler: Daya, Vestal Virgin, lover of Eron

Françoise Christophe: Queen Alice (as Françoise Cristophe)

Andrea Checchi: Sir Rutford

Franco Giacobini: Rustichello

Jean-Jacques Delbo: King Olaf (as Jacques Delbo)

Raf Baldassarre: Blak (as Raffaele Baldassarre)

Joe Robinson: Garian

Franco Ressel: King Lotar

Folco Lulli: King Harald, Viking leader

Written by: Oreste Biancoli, Piero Pierotti, & Mario Bava

Directed by: Mario Bava

Synopsis: Viking brothers Eron and Erik, separated as children after their father King Harald and his horde are massacred by soldiers of the British Isles they tried enslaving, grow up to become Viking King and English Regent respectively. Wanting revenge for the deaths of their beloved people and King, the Vikings decide to invade England a second time. Neither brother knowing the other survived the original massacre is put against each other in combat. Further complicating matters is the brothers’ romances with Vestal Virgin twins and the machinations of an evil Knight who murdered the British King years earlier.

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Mario Bava, seen by many as the King of Italian Horror, and a jack-of-all-trades filmmaker by his colleagues as cinema lovers, steps into the world of the Peplum film with this tale of Vikings and Knights. A loose remake of Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Ernest Borgnine, Bava brings his own flavor and interpretation of the tale and in the process outdoes Fleischer at his own game. Italy was of course most famous for its subgenre take on classic Hollywood films, whether they were “A” film epics or “B” fan favorite crowd pleasers, most times making average to subpar to poor imitations, sometimes making imitations that were equal to, or even outdoing the films they remade. Gli Invasori falls into the 2nd category as it is well made, and even surpasses the origin film by a mile in both story and structure. Not as lavish as the Fleischer’s original, but its atmosphere and Bava’s ingenuity more than make up for the lack of budget. Bava’s period as a cinematographer and special effects man was a great advantage for this age of films as figuring out the best shots and lighting for such productions helped in hiding what was beyond the budget. Most Peplum films tended to be a little on the hokey side, including monsters and effects that were limited in design and a clear indication of the period they were made, but Gli Invasori and a few others rise above this status and have held up well over the years.

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What makes Bava’s loose interpretation of The Vikings different is that instead of having the brothers being unaware of their familial relations, he has them being separated as children, who believe the other has died in the ensuing battle that claimed their father and village. The only animosity between them is the war that erupts between the Brits and Vikings when the vicious Knight Sir Rutford betrays his King and the Viking King’s proposed peace talks that would’ve allowed the Vikings control of uninhabited areas of the North Sea. By having hostilities be the result of political/religious intrigue and betrayal instead of the elder Viking brother being consumed by bloodlust and tyranny makes the story far more interesting as audiences wonder how the reaction the brothers will have upon finding out the other is in fact alive. While Richard Fleischer was able to rely on spectacle and a good-sized budget that allowed him to travel to Norway for on-location shooting, Bava only had 100,000 Lira at his disposal having to improvise and was able to achieve spectacle like Fleischer by having atmospheric, moody, psychedelic-like lighted sets that make it seem like the Vikings are born and bred of an area that is not of this World. Bava was a master of being able to create massive looking sets for so little money via optical illusion and this film is no exception, particularly with the epic sea battle mid film.

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Cameron Mitchell, a rugged looking American leading man whose advancing years led to a decline in such roles is wonderful in the role of Eron. Unlike Kirk Douglas’ vicious and brutal Viking Prince in The Vikings, Mitchell’s Viking is a more humane and educated individual who begins realizing some of the customs of his people are unfair and unnecessary, going so far as to plead on behalf of a Vestal Virgin who has broken her vows for the love of a man. He still believes in some of the Viking ways, but his more philosophical reasoning in love and religion make Eron a somewhat complex and multilayered character that senses he’s part of a dying breed slowly on the way to extinction. His wish to lead another invasion of England is to primarily avenge the deaths of his father and brother, not really wanting another war, but also lied to in that the British are bloodthirsty tyrants with no honor. Mitchell, good in most of the roles he was given, is at his finest here, and makes viewers feel for Eron as he goes through a series of various emotions throughout the film. His most poignant moment is a positive life changing realization that results in a harsh act of destiny against him for his own love of a Vestal Virgin. In spite of his voice being dubbed over in Italian by Nando Gazzolo, Cameron Mitchell is still able to convey through facial and physical movements, the character’s thoughts and actions that still make it his performance.

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Giorgio Ardrisson (usually credited as George Ardrisson), a consistent working handsome faced Italian character actor gets to sink in teeth into a rare romantic lead as Erik. Having already worked with Bava earlier in the year in Ercole al Centro della Terra (Hercules in the Center of the Earth/Hercules in the Haunted World) (which will be reviewed and looked at later this year), Ardrisson was a no brainer for the romantic lead of Erik, a part which he excelled at. A Viking raised by the barren British Queen as an Englishman after believing himself the only survivor of a massacre against his father and village, Erik early on shows his abilities as a leader and warrior as he valiantly leads his soldiers into battle. Still aware of his Viking heritage, but not in conflict with himself because of the needless death he witnessed as a child, Erik would like nothing more than to remain at peace with the cultures around him, but feels obligated to avenge the death of the King, the husband of his adopted mother the Queen, who was wrongly led to believe a Viking killed him. When he falls in love with the twin sister of his yet to be rediscovered brother’s forbidden lover/fiancé, his mission becomes complicated as he slowly begins to see the non-violent side of the Viking way of life. When he mistakes Eron’s wife for the woman he met and lets his passions get him captured, he must overcome prejudices and find the truth to save his mother, his brother and their respective cultures and lands. Ardrisson appears to be a fairly underrated actor as he appeared primarily in crowd pleasing favorites and not the “important” films of more highly respected filmmakers like Fellini, Visconti, and Rossellini, but this didn’t detract from his talent as put much emotion into his work that made his performances all the more memorable.

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Some critics of the time put down the film for its excessive (for the time) violence as arrows and spears are shown penetrating the bodies and necks of certain characters in the opening and toward the end of the film. The violence is not overtly graphic or bloody, but at the time it was made, the amount of fights and death seen in the Peplums was usually half or a quarter of what is seen in the film, but what came out in the last 40 years in the States and some of the 70’s Italian Westerns, Giallos, and Poliziotescchi made what is done in Gli Invasori look lightweight. There’s definitely more violence in this one than the standard fare of the time, but because Bava mixes in Catholic and Pagan symbolism with certain scenes, it’s not violence for the sake of it or sensationalism but rather to illustrate a point, juxtapose unique imagery and meaning, and showcase what the history of the time was really like, it’s a forgivable action.

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Looking more lavish and big budgeted than most of the Peplums of the period than the money Bava had to work with make Gli Invasori a well worth watch for fans of not only Italian Peplums, but lovers of Action, Adventure, and Romance films too. Certain scenes may look low-budget to today’s viewers, but Bava’s ingenuity to make what little he had to work with look grand is a feat worthy of any viewer’s amazement and time. Sword play, adventure, and a dual love story thrown in add to the beauty of this piece and raise it above the average status most films of the period were usually looked upon, but were still fun all around. What sets were available look great, the cast is fabulous in their roles, and the effects of the time are actually impressive for the period and means they had at their disposal. A little more money might have made it an “A” list picture, but it’s quite good as is and looks just fine with what it had to work with.

(I highly recommend this film, even more so because it really hooked me after my first viewing. The Arrow Video release offers a gorgeous transfer and crisp Italian audio with English subtitles and a fair English dub)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/Erik the Conqueror

Wikipedia/Erik the Conqueror

Mondo-Esoterica/Erik the Conqueror

Peplum Blog/Erik the Conqueror

The US Blu Ray

https://www.amazon.com/Erik-Conqueror-2-Disc-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B071S3Q3ZT/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1536118153&sr=8-1&keywords=erik+the+conqueror+blu+ray&dpID=61SWjSavjvL&preST=_SY300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

For any UK/Region B people

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Erik-Conqueror-Blu-ray-Cameron-Mitchell/dp/B07285YKR7/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1536118299&sr=1-1&keywords=erik+the+conqueror

For anyone who’s found interest in the rebirth of Vinyl

https://www.amazon.com/Conqueror-Original-Motion-Picture-Soundtrack/dp/B0794Y2B61/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1536118213&sr=8-1&keywords=erik+the+conqueror+vinyl

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Conqueror-Original-Motion-Picture-Soundtrack/dp/B0794Y2B61/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1536118315&sr=8-1&keywords=erik+the+conqueror+vinyl

       

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview

Twice the Villain, Twice the Fun:

Anne Baxter in Batman

by Tony Nash

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Some spoilers may be present)

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Miss Anne Baxter who delighted audiences with her roles in The Magnificent Ambersons, The Ten Commandments, and All About Eve was at her most divine and excellence in the TV Series Batman starring Adam West. Now the who’s who of Hollywood wanted to be guests in the series, whether as people Batman had to save, or as his adversaries. Many got the opportunity; others were slated for it, but missed out because the show was canceled. Anne Baxter is a unique figure in the show’s plethora of guest villains, because she got the chance to play two totally different villains. She first appeared in season 1 as Zelda the Great, then as Olga, Queen of the Cossacks in Season 3. She played Olga several times to Zelda’s sole single appearance, but Baxter left pretty good impressions on more than one occasion during her tenure on the show. While not as talked about as Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Julie Newmar, Victor Buono, and Frank Gorshin, she’s still a worthy player in the cavalcade of Batman players.

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I hate robbing banks! All I ever wanted to be was a poor but honest magician!

Anne Baxter as Zelda the Great

What makes Zelda the Great an interesting Batman villain is that she’s not a villain by choice, or to be more precise, she never intended to be one. It’s discovered that in order to pay supplier Eviol for the elaborate props in her magic act, Zelda must rob the Gotham National Bank once a year. When Batman & Robin foil the most recent robbery with fake money, Zelda’s forced to kidnap Miss Harriet Cooper, Robin/Dick Grayson’s Aunt for a fresh stash. Being forced to abduct Miss Cooper is the final straw for Zelda, and tells Eviol she’ll have no more parts in actions that might get people hurt. Batman and Robin sense Zelda’s natural decency and come to realize she only acted out of necessity to earn a living to survive. Not wanting to see her talents as a magician wasted, Batman/Bruce Wayne asks that upon her parole, Zelda be hired as the Gotham City Hospital’s Children’s Ward magician, a role that raises her spirits.

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Zelda provided the rare occasion on Batman that an individual doesn’t look to be a criminal, nor is seduced by a known high player of the criminal underworld for the easy life. Instead Zelda, who loves performing her magic tricks and bringing joy, laughter, and entertainment to her audiences is forced by unforeseen debt to become a criminal in order to be able to continue her work as a magician. At first indifferent because she’s only required to rob a bank once a year, and doing so in an ingenious manner that avoids people getting hurt slowly becomes infuriating to Zelda because it goes against her moral code. Being a naturally good-hearted person is what convinces Batman to insist on a lighter sentence for Zelda, causing him to realize not all criminals are in the game for the thrill and spoils, that some have no choice or are forced by matters out of their hands to enter into the criminal life. Baxter, with her years of study and training, conveys all these emotions and feelings well, and not only mark her spot as the show’s first female baddie, but also the first sympathetic one.

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Baxter does well with the role and clearly made it her own all the way, not giving into standard TV clichés regarding these types of roles. Normally a character like this would start out bad, but somehow be brought back on the right path, whereas Baxter plays Zelda as a nice person from the start, coping with making poor choices, unsure of how to break away from the life. By having Zelda wanting out, and her proving as such to Batman, Baxter creates a whole new dimension to a villain like role that allows the audience to sympathize with her and hope in the end she’ll make that courageous choice in spite of the risks Many stars of the 40’s and 50’s found new audiences filming TV shows like Batman and so on, and Baxter was no exception.

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Cossack Queen is permitted up to six husbands. Oh, but do not worry Batushka, you will always be number one in my heart.

Anne Baxter as Olga, Queen of the Cossacks

In season 3, regular villain Egghead was joined in his schemes by exiled Cossack Queen Olga. Olga’s a more traditional Batman villain in that she has plans to become rich, but has much ambitious plans to reclaim the regency of all of Eastern Europe for herself. While many Batman villains were hokey in appearance and voice, Baxter makes a quite believable White Russian who prefers to wear red with a fine accent and dialogue delivery. She portrays Olga as a firm believer in the customs and rituals of her homeland, but juxtaposes a desire to take over the land and the surrounding provinces, giving her this interesting dynamic that pleases viewers to watch her. Her schemes with Egghead include obtaining rare treasures of the Old World to cornering the egg market to bringing back to life a species of dinosaur, all of which Baxter does with believability and a straight face, something most other actors/actresses got a little over the top with.

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Baxter is more interesting as Olga, in spite of not having the depth and background story of Zelda, that comes from Baxter’s abilities as an actress and the believability with which she is able to get audiences to enhance their imagination and go along for the ride she enjoyed taking them on. Olga is a very animated character and gives Baxter the freedom to put all her talents to their greatest use and sees her in one of the best performances of her later career. Zelda was an interesting character for certain, but Olga has a little more spirit and an intelligence that makes her quite the worthy adversary for Batman, as she takes him head on, while accomplice Egghead shifts to the side when confronted by him.  Even though she’s a villain, Olga manages to have viewers curious as to what she and her Cossacks will do next and maybe even root for her a little too.

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Anne Baxter was a rare talent among Hollywood elite, an individual who doesn’t get the same accolades as other stars of her generation, and certainly should. While many other stars were great at their guest stints on Batman, Baxter took it to a whole new level with her professionalism and dedication, giving every bit of herself to the parts she got to play. Her role as Olga may have been silly, but it was one of the most restrained and believable role out of all the Batman female baddies. Zelda provided a rare glimpse into the mind of an individual who never intended to be a criminal, and manages to come out with a better reputation than before, and a fresh start that re-ignites the passions she thought she had lost. A fine actress doing well in a zany and fun series.

(Despite most die-hard Batman comic book and Micheal Keaton & Christopher Nolan film fans, the Adam West series of the 60’s is a fun series and all the classic stars who appeared on it were as good in it as in their other amazing roles. I highly recommend picking it up)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

All quotes from Baxter’s acting page at IMDB under her Batman appearances

For more information

IMDB/Anne Baxter, Batman appearances

Wikipedia/Anne Baxter, Batman villains

Batman series Wikia

https://www.amazon.com/Batman-Complete-Television-Blu-ray-Various/dp/B00PVBCSNA/ref=sr_1_2_atc_badge_A2N1U4I2KOS032_twi_blu_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1535909346&sr=1-2&keywords=batman+the+series

For UK/Region B fans

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Batman-Original-Blu-ray-Region-Free/dp/B00Q6Z16F6/ref=sr_1_2?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1535909885&sr=1-2&keywords=Batman+the+Series

Filed under: Film: Actor/Actress Spotlight

Not As Bad As People Might Think:

The Three Stooges Debut in Woman Haters

by Tony Nash

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Though the title of this Stooges short suggests misogynistic tendencies, neither the author nor the Stooges fan base support any kind of bad treatment to women)

(Some spoilers may follow)

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Woman Haters (1934) **** ½

Moe Howard: Tom (as Moe)

Curly Howard: Jack (as Curley)

Larry Fine: Jim (as Larry)

Marjorie White: Mary

Bud Jamison: WH Club Chairman

Walter Brennan: The Train Conductor

Written by: Jerome S. Gottler

Directed by: Archie Gottler

Synopsis: The Stooges decide to join the Woman Haters Club after so much bad luck in love. This decision quickly sees complications when Larry (called Jim) falls in love with a woman named Mary and asks her to marry him. In the ensuing attempts to break up the wedded bliss, Moe (called Tom) and Curly (called Jack) find themselves being tempted by the beautiful Mary, who has discovered their involvement in the group.

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The Stooges first ever solo short, after permanently breaking ties with abusive bully Ted Healy is a unique debut. Done in a sing-song, every line rhymes style dialogue, The Stooges are seen giving up women forever for whatever reason they have. In the fashion that would quickly become their trademark, this decision is easier said than done, and the boys find themselves fighting temptation after temptation to stay true to their club, even going so far as to try to foil one’s happiness when he discovers he can’t go through with it. Not the usual fare the Stooges found themselves in, it’s still interesting to see how they work with material before they could put their own fine spin on it. What adds to the uniqueness of the short is that it’s loosely based on William Shakespeare’s Loves Labors Lost, which offers good credence for the rhyme scheme style dialogue; though more argue it was an axed entry into Columbia’s Musical Novelty series that was simply recycled for the Stooges debut. Granted it might be cheap to some in getting their first shot at stardom, but everyone starts somewhere, and this really isn’t a bad debut for The Boys.

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The colorful antics that America and the World over would come to love about the Stooges are not on display here, and they are truly different people in this short. That they go by the names Tom, Jack, and Jim in the script and short itself shows it was indeed originally penned for something else that later become theirs. This would be the only time the Stooges would use totally different names when performing, though years later they would play totally separate characters who weren’t a team. The Stooges themselves were never happy with this short as their introduction as a solo group, but because they wanted to be rid of Ted Healy and be paid what they felt they were worth, probably had no choice. Even though it comes off as totally alien to what audiences loved the trio for, sight gags like the eyepoke and the head & face slaps make their debut as well in the short, and already have the markings that fans all over would soon recognize as part of the trio’s repertoire.  Interestingly enough, the short came in right around the time The Pre-Code Era was ending and The Hays Code was starting to be rigidly enforced, and while not explicit in anything, some sequences with Mary could be seen as somewhat risqué, even for the period it was made.

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The Stooges are in fine form as always, even when it’s clear this was the first time they were the headliners the story and action would be following around. All three, Moe especially, may look completely out-of-place talking like they were in a spoken word play, or a musical without tempo and tone, but even from the beginning they had a clear-cut idea of what they wanted in terms of chemistry from each other. Moe is the “Boss” Stooge from the very start, managing in one way or another to keep the other two in check. Moe really didn’t do much different throughout the years, but in this first starring short, speaks more calmly and isn’t bursting into his usual modem of rage and shouting, though still makes it clear he’s mad at Larry for breaking the oath they just made.  Curly is surprisingly not the buffoon he would heavily play up not too long into their success and is fairly straightforward in his acting. This is quite interesting to see because it offers a different side to Curly not many fans got to see, and apart from a couple of sight gags with Moe, he’s more of a levelheaded pal for his older brother and their man in the middle. His goofball antics always a blast, it’s interesting and refreshing to see how Curly was in those early days before their routines were finely honed. Larry is interestingly played up as the goof in this one, desperately, and humorously trying to keep two different events that occurred in the span of a few weeks from both his wife, and his buddies. Larry was normally the levelheaded one of the group, and to see him be flustered, bewildered, and unsure of how he’ll juggle marriage and being a member of the Woman Haters Club is quite funny to look at. While not what most fans are used to, it’s still intriguing to see how the boys shaped what they would eventually be famous for.

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Marjorie White, the Stooges first leading lady, offers a wonderful and bittersweet performance (as she would pass away months later in a car accident), as Mary, Larry (Jim)’s wife. An up-in-coming comedienne leading lady from Canada, White had all the makings of starlet. A combination of beauty, wit, charm, and dialogue delivery, White was an equal to Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly, and Zasu Pitts in comedy, and a precursor to talent like Fran Drescher, Madeline Kahn, and Phyllis Diller. She acts as both foil and love interest to the Stooges, playing all three against each other, trying to figure out why husband Jim is acting so strangely on their honeymoon. Her singing is also quite good thanks to a successful stint in Vaudeville, belting out lyric after lyric. With only a small number of appearances under her belt it’s a bit of a difficulty in nailing down exactly what White’s style was, but it’s clear she was a talent that would’ve gone a long way had that unfortunate accident not prematurely ended both her career and life.

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In a surprising debut that viewers will have to look twice to notice is Walter Brennan in an unaccredited role as a train conductor. Normally known for Westerns and Dramas, Brennan’s start is in a laugh a minute comedy, acting as a flunky for the Stooges. Put through the wringer by Moe and Curly as they initiate him into the Woman Haters Club, Brennan takes the boys brand of comedy stride, and even make a second appearance, again unaccredited, as their father.

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This might not have been the Stooges favorite of their own work, but it’s still quite a good watch for anyone who likes the Stooges. It’s not perfect, not by a long shot, but it offers good fun, a unique method of dialogue delivery, and a good story that stands the test of time. Everyone starts somewhere, and this is unique enough a piece that it gives old fans an idea of how the Stooges had to start, and gives new fans something to compare the latter half of their career to see how they grew. In some places it comes off and clunky, but the Stooges even in this transition from one studio to another, showed they were consummate professionals who knew their craft and worked with even the mot slimmest of scripts that still needed fine tuning. Not something they would ever do again, Woman Haters is a nice one-off shot by The Stooges in what was soon to become one of the top-selling draws of the Great Depression and WWII eras.

(It might be clunky in spots, but Woman Haters is an interesting point for one of the greater comedy teams in The Three Stooges and is a must look at for anyone who loves them and/or comedy)

(I already have a link for the Stooges boxset in my other Stooges write-up, so just look up that review to buy the set)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/Woman Haters

Wikipedia/Woman Haters

The Stooges Wikia

 

 

 

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

Il Imprenditore Returns:

Sartana, the Angel of Death

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

by Tony Nash

(all opinions are of the author)

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Sono Sartana, Il Vostro Becchino (I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death) (1969) PG-13 **** ½

Gianni Garko: Sartana (John Garko)

Frank Wolff: Buddy Ben

Klaus Kinski: Hot Dead

Gordon Mitchell: Deguejo

José Torres: Shadow (as José M. Torres)

Sal Borgese: Sheriff Fisher Jenkins

Ettore Manni: Baxter Red

Renato Baldini: The Judge of Poker Falls

Federico Boido: Bill Cochran (as Rick Boyd)

Tullio Altamura: Omero Crown

John Bartha: The Sheriff of Hot Iron

Samson Burke: The Judge’s Right Hand

Written by: Tito Carpi, Enzo dell’Aquila, & Ernesto Gastaldi

Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo (as Anthony Ascott)

Synopsis: When a gang with a leader dressed like gambler/gunslinger Sartana rob the Hot Iron Bank of $300,000, the cleaver fast draw must work fast to clear his name. Complicating matters is a $10,000 reward offered for Sartana’s head being sought by three men: Southern Aristocrat gunman Deguejo, stealthy Mexican tracker Shadow, and down-on-his-luck gambler Hot Dead, all former associates of Sartana. Helping Sartana stay free and alive is his friend, the grungy, but loyal, outlaw Buddy Ben.

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Sartana’s second appearance is just as fun as his first, perhaps a bit more because he gets fairly creative in catching his quarry and eluding those out to get him. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Sartana has to play detective again and try to figure out which of several individuals could’ve pulled off the job. Gianfranco Parolini had intended to continue with the Sartana character, but when the producer suggested a more light-hearted approach to the character, Parolini refused and gave up his rights to the character. This approach doesn’t do Sartana an injustice, though it’s understandable Parolini intended for the character to have different types of adventures. The light-heartedness of the film adds a great deal and makes it a fun ride anyone can enjoy. It’s not quite as silly as the later ones would slowly become, but some of the music allows for a good chuckle that allows the pace to remain steady. The James Bond craze was in full swing and having Sartana become a master of various weapons and other trickery made the character far more interesting and exciting to watch on-screen, audiences wondering what he would come up with next to outwit the bad guys. Granted Sartana had this aspect in the original film, but heightening it up for the first follow-up gives the character a special edge the keep one step ahead of the competition.

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Gianni Garko reprises the role of Sartana in an equally good performance as the original. Gone is the supernatural feel of the character, but the stealth and gadgetry remain the same. Like before, who Sartana really is remains a mystery, though this go around it becomes clear he has a penchant for gambling, particularly poker, and has acted as an unofficial bounty hunter. He’s still got the qualities of the traditional Anti-Hero of the Italian Western, but he differs in that he appears to be generally honest, only taking revenge the people in on the plot to ruin his name and reputation. When three former associates decide to go after the bounty on his head, Sartana shows he valued their friendships and may find it hard to do them in. Frank Wolff, in his final Western role before his suicide two years later, is a blast as Buddy Ben. This guy is grungy and dirty, but he has a quality that often lacks in the Italian Western baddie: a code of ethics. When he first shows up on-screen, he’s looking to take out two men who betrayed him after a botched hold up, showing he takes the breaking of one’s word seriously. At first he seems a little too eager to help Sartana, but because he has a cast iron alibi, and clearly owes Sartana a favor from the past, Sartana accepts his aid. Wolff’s role is primarily as muscle to aid in breaking people for information in clearing Sartana.

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In a trio of extended cameo appearances are Klaus Kinski, Gordon Mitchell, and José Torres, billed under the name José M. Torres, three stalwarts of the Italian Western genre. Kinski plays Hot Dead, a surprisingly likeable gambler with a history of bad luck. Even though he wants the bounty on old gambling buddy Sartana, he would actually find it horrible to do so, especially since he owes the latter money, which for him is a worse sin than murder. Playing likable people was rare for Kinski, but he shows he was capable at it, and it was a real shame he didn’t do more of it. Mitchell plays Deguejo, a Southern Aristocrat who fancies himself a big game hunter. The thrill of the cat-and-mouse game is what draws him to the bounty, in spite of having aided Sartana in a few quests to bring in bad guys. Mitchell’s character is neither bad nor good in the film, he’s merely a presence doing what he loves to do, even if it means his life. Torres plays Shadow, a Mexican tracker/bounty hunter. He sees himself as a friend to Sartana, in spite of wanting the bounty, feeling Sartana would be more likely to die with honor, knowing it was a friend bringing him in. This is the toughest for Sartana as he and Shadow are clearly close friends.

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If there’s any flaw at all, it’s that Frank Wolff, Klaus Kinski, Gordon Mitchell, and José Torres weren’t given more screen time. Wolff is listed as the co-star, but he serves primarily as sidekick to Gianni Garko, which he does well at and isn’t a bad thing, but it would’ve been interesting if Buddy Ben had a little more to do. Kinski, Mitchell, and Torres were really guest stars with extended cameos, but it would’ve been neat to see them tracking Sartana, and maybe asking questions to where he’d been, what he was doing, and where he was going, and culminating it with a massive showdown, with the bad guy in the shadows finally getting his. Not that the finale is terrible, it works well, but it’s still nice to dream about what could’ve been. All of these actors were great character players of the genre who worked well in the roles they got, and brought quite a lot to the table.

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Parolini and others may feel the Sartana sequels got a little silly after a while, but the 2nd outing for the character is still a lot of fun and action packed. The story is well put together and the kill shot scenes are interesting to look at. The mystery aspect of who was the man impersonating Sartana was interesting as well as the man’s face was never shown, only seen from the back, meaning anyone could be the man in the shadows. All the characters are nicely fleshed out and all look as if they have something to hide, save the trio vying for the bounty, and keeps the audience guessing and in the dark as to who the head man really is. True the original aspects of the Sartana character being sacrificed for a more secret agent type is a shame, and would’ve been neat to see that aspect of the character continued, but what he ends up becoming isn’t bad either, and if anything, adds a bit or mystic to him. Sadly, the 1970’s brought about the early part of the demise of the Italian Western with the adding of comedy elements, but this is hardly what the Sartana films are,though the tongue-and-cheek aspect can hardly be seen as comedy. Even if the sequels aren’t up to par with the original, they’re still fun to watch and give viewers a good time with plot and suspense.

(The second Sartana film is just as good as the first, even a little better in it’s well revealed outcome. Like with the original it’s highly recommended and has a nice transfer of both image and sound from the fine people at Arrow Video. As I have a link to the Sartana Box Set in my review of the first film, no link will be added here. If anyone is interested please go to the first Sartana film review.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death

SpaghettiWestern.net/Sartana

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

The Swashbuckler of Swashbucklers:

1937’s Prisoner of Zenda

by Tony Nash

(All opinions are pf the author alone)

(Some spoilers may be present, but I’m sure everyone has seen at least one of the adaptations of this classic)

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The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) *****

Ronald Coleman: Maj. Rudolf Rassendyll/Rudolf V

Douglas Fairbanks Jr.: Rupert of Hentzau

Madeleine Carroll: Princess Flavia

David Niven: Capt. Fritz von Tarlenheim

Aubrey Smith: Colonel Zapt

Mary Astor: Antoinette de Mauban

Raymond Massey: Black Michael

Montagu Love: Detchard

Philip Sleeman: Albert von Lauengram

Written by: John L. Balderston, Edward E. Rose (as Edward Rose), Wells Root, & Donald Ogden Stewart, based on the novel by Anthony Hope

Directed by: John Cromwell

Synopsis: While on holiday in the country of Strelsau, British Major Rudolf Rassendyll discovers he’s the distant cousin and exact double of the future king Rudolf V. When Rudolf’s evil half-brother Black Michael decides to overthrow him, his guardian Colonel Zapt convinces Major Rassendyll to temporarily pose as the king to thwart the plot. When Michael’s slimy cohort Rupert of Hentzau discovers the switch, it’s a cat and mouse game to restore Rudolf to the throne, and avoid an international scandal.

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One of the few Swashbuckling Adventure films Errol Flynn didn’t make (he’d made Captain Blood only two years earlier). Filmed a couple of times in the Silent era, and even done a few times on the stage as a play, The Prisoner of Zenda combines Action, Romance, and even some Thrills, and does it all very well. It’s also one of the first films to deal with political intrigue, as an attempt of a coup against the current Royal Family is being hatched. Things get messy after a visiting foreigner’s aid in the matter is compromised by an even more devious and treasonous turncoat and Suspense pops up as the good guys try to stop the bad guys from turning their failed takeover into an International Incident. Many have agreed that The Adventures of Robin Hood is the all time Swashbuckling film ever made, but The Prisoner of Zenda beats it out by only a few points in how well crafted the twists and turns are in the film. The blending together of the love story, the feeling of adventure, and even some aspects of comedy offers something for everyone, so there’s very little to not like about the film.

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That the book is listed in the credits as a celebrated novel is interesting, as this story has had as many film adaptations as Dickens A Christmas Carol and Christie’s And Then There Were None. By the time of the 1937 film, several Silent Film versions had already been done from the turn of the century to the 1920’s, though the 37 version is considered the quintessential one as it maintained the majority of Hope’s original text. Some adaptations followed including a scene for scene duplicate starring Stewart Granger and a comedy version starring Peter Sellers. Even the TV series Get Smart took a stab at a comedy homage with Don Adams doing a nice imitation of Ronald Coleman in a three episode stint. The timelessness of the tale is what has allowed so many versions to come to the screen the span of almost 50 years, each set of filmmakers bringing their own interpretation to the book.

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Ronald Coleman is at his finest in the dual role as Major Rassendyll and his lookalike cousin King Rudolf V. Coleman, who was known more as a Romantic Drama leading man, got one of his rarer opportunities to be the lead in an Action/Adventure type story and certainly shows he was just as well suited to those roles as his lover parts. One of the tougher aspects of acting is to be able to keep track of two completely separate personalities and remember when you’re supposed to play each part and Coleman succeeds at this. Nothing is ever mentioned s to what Coleman did to keep these two characters from becoming blurry while filming, but it looks as if he kept Major Rudolf as the common man with a touch of class, and King Rudolf as a prima donna who matures into a classy aristocrat of the court. He certainly gives the likes of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. a run for their money as a swordsman, and while his skill isn’t on display very long, Coleman impresses with his ballet like agility. It’s a shame Coleman didn’t get to do more films like Zenda as he was very believable as a hero and could’ve gone even farther in his career has that aspect of his talents been played up more.

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Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the son of famed Silent Screen legend Douglas Fairbanks Sr., is in great form as the slimy Rupert of Hentzau. Fairbanks originally sought to play the dual lead role, wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps as a heroic character. The senior Fairbanks managed to convince his son he would receive much more acclaim as the villain than he would the hero, and he proved right. Fairbanks’ smile and charm allow for an extra dose of bedroom villainy, as Hentzau’s main avarice is pretty women he constantly tries to seduce. Sometimes a smiling villain is more effective than a stone faced or serious one, as what’s really on his mind is a constant mystery. Much of Fairbanks’ dialogue adds to the character as well, as much of what he says reveals his double-faced nature, making everyone, including Michael, see him for the dog he is. In many ways he’s the villain to outdo all villains, as he doesn’t even trust the man willing to give him a good chunk of the kingdom in exchange for getting rid of the king.

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Coleman and Fairbanks play well off of each other in the film, and it’s a shame they didn’t make more films together. The famous dueling scene between them is like watching two boxers duke it out, and the exchange of dialogue between them outdoes the scene between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in The Adventures of Robin Hood by a long shot. Certainly not as witty as Flynn and Rathbone, the way Fairbanks and Coleman compliment each other in the reciting of the lines is sometimes worth more than the words themselves. Both had been working before the advent of sound, and already demonstrated a few times before Hollywood had been right in taking chances on them for the talkies, are in some of their earliest high prowess as actors. The dynamic of the duo is really cool to see play out as it’s like a Master Class for anyone interested in filmmaking and acting, showing what two experienced individuals are capable of in their craft.

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Another interesting point of note is an early effort of future leading man David Niven. While already making waves in Hollywood and his native England, Niven had yet to reach the status he’d become known for. Supporting roles are a good start for any actor, and Niven shows what he’s capable of in a small, but still substantial role. Niven had the grace and eloquence he was always known for, though some might argue he was still getting used to the camera. Not as colorful or in-depth as some of the other characters, Niven shows early on what he was capable of as an actor.

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Even though many versions came before and after it, the 1937 version of The Prisoner of Zenda is (at least in this viewer’s opinion) number one on the list. The acting, story, cinematography, score, and direction are top-notch, even with the director’s complaints of about many of the male cast. Being that it was a couple of years into the sound era, this one had found its tone, pitch, and feet very quickly and was one of the first truly great successes of a format many studio heads secretly hoped would fail. David O. Selznick might have intended this to be his response to Edward VII, Duke of Windsor’s abdication for love, but what audiences really get is a good love story and adventure film that ends happy, just not the way it’s traditionally supposed to. It may not fit the traditional bill, but this one couples can see together, the ladies can watch Ronald Coleman impress Madeleine Carroll and the fellas can enjoy the intrigue and the fighting, so it can make for an amusing date night.

(This version of The Prisoner of Zenda is one of my all time favorite films and in my top 100 list. I highly recommend this version over all others, it is that good.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners.

For more information

IMDB/Prisoner of Zenda 1937

Wikipedia/Prisoner of Zenda 1937

https://www.amazon.com/Prisoner-Zenda-1937-1952-Versions/dp/B000KJU13C/ref=sr_1_5?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1535496239&sr=1-5&keywords=the+prisoner+of+zenda&dpID=51%252BNFto-mAL&preST=_SY300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview

In His Madness, There Was Genius:

A Look at Tomas Milian

by Tony Nash

(all opinions are of the author alone)

In here…in here, is everything, from A to Z. Okay? I could be…a good person, I could be an evil son of a bitch, I could be anything. I could be funny, I could be very dramatic, I can make you cry, if you want.

Tomas Milian

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The old saying goes There’s a method to the madness, and that saying is no truer than with Tomas Milian. The son of a soldier, and brought up in a privileged household, Milian would learn how to thrive on his own after the Cuban Revolution of 1957. It was after seeing James Dean in East of Eden that Milian decided he wanted to be an actor, because he related to the rebellious nature of Dean’s character, something he’d been going through himself. With help from an understanding Aunt, Milian then made the trek from Cuba to Miami, where he began studying English for acting. After some ups and downs, Milian finally succeeded in getting into the famous Actor’s Studio, studying under Lee Strasburg. Unlike contemporaries Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, and Eli Wallach, Milian put what he learned in the Actor’s Studio to good use, utilizing facial expressions, body gestures, etc to make his characters the most believable. Milian never put less than 100% for every role, and would give it his all every time. It was after performing in a theater festival in Paris that offers from Italian filmmakers started coming in. After a series of intellectual roles that eventually became tiresome to the actor, Milian seriously considered relocating back to the States and starting afresh in acting.

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After accepting a role in the Spanish Western El Precio de un Hombre (The Bounty Hunter/The Ugly Ones), Milian found himself a growing icon in the burgeoning “Spaghetti Western” genre that would lead to a series of successful roles. As Cuchillo in La Resa de Conti (Settling of Accounts/The Big Gundown) and Corri Uomo Corri (Run Man Run), Solomon “Beauregard” Bennet in Faccia a Faccia (Face to Face), Jesus Maria “Tepepa” Moran in Tepepa, El Vasco in Vamos a Matar, Companeros (Companeros), and Chaco in I Quattro dell’Apocalisse (The Four of the Apocalypse), Milian created numerous memorable characters, all Mexican or Mexican Indian due to his Cuban heritage, but very different, and very unique. At first it was thought he would crash and burn in the Westerns due to his being primarily associated with intellectual films, but his talent and likability had him packing in theaters and soon becoming one of the top talents and draws of the Italian film industry. For Milian, the Westerns were a fun genre to perform in and preferred them to the intellectual films he had previously made, stating he found he could do more with his training at the Actor’s Studio than he could in the other films.

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When the Westerns started phasing out in the seventies, and the Giallos and Polizioteschi’s were becoming the new fad, Milian started spreading the word he would do these films at half his normal salary and was once again a top draw at the theaters, primarily in the Cop Action films. More memorable characters like Giulio Sacchi in Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo Sparare (Almost Human), Inspetorre Ravelli in Squadra Volonte (Emergency Squad), Vincenzo “Il Gobbo” Moretto in Roma a Mano Armata (Rome Armed to the Teeth/The Tough Ones), Luigi “Chinaman” Miaetto in Il Cinico, L’infame, Il Violento (The Cynic, the Rat, and the Fist), and Stefano Augenti in La Vittima Designata (The Designated Victim) followed in this era, and showed Milian as a capable performer who would try anything at least once. His most prolific time in the seventies was as two characters in two series of films: Nico Giraldi, based off of Al Pacino’s Serpico character, in 12 films over the span of a decade and Sergio “Er Monezza” Marazzi in three films over a five-year period. So identical were these characters the public often confused them with each other. While Milian preferred his Western roles to his Police Action roles, he enjoyed them nonetheless and found more diversity in his roles.

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When the Italian film industry changed in the 80’s, Milian, though still very popular, found roles were less and less in demand, and decided the time had come to return to the States and begin a new chapter in his career. Character parts in series like Murder, She Wrote, Oz, Law & Order, LA Law, and Miami Vice gave him a second career which later led to roles in JFK, Traffic, and Fools Rush In and introduced him to a new audience that would later check out his work in Italy and reignite the popularity he enjoyed in the 60’s and 70’s. Ill health plagued the very later part of his life and he sadly passed away on March 22, 2017 at the age of 84 at his home in Miami. Still very popular in Italy where he spent so many years of his life and finding new audiences in the States and the UK where he films are being restored on DVD and Blu Ray. While he’s gone, he will never be forgotten thanks to a quirky, but lovable personality, and an eclectic body of work that had his face change every time.

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What I want to do is to become the part – to leave Tomas Milian wherever he is and become the character

Tomas Milian

(Tomas Milian is one of my all time favorite actors whom I feel has never given a bad performance. I highly recommend seeking out any of Milian’s films on DVD and Blu Ray, he’s well worth seeing in every film he’s in. Almost Human is one of his best films, but is the hardest to watch because of how evil and despicable his character is. He’s an actor worth rediscovery in the States.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

All quotes courtesy of Milian’s quote section on his IMDB profile.

For more information

IMDB/Tomas Milian

Wikipedia/Tomas Milian

TomasMilian.it. (if your Italian is good)

 

Filed under: Film: Actor/Actress Spotlight