Thursday, May 23, 2013

ANGEL FACE 1952

As a child, the only film directors whose names and faces I recognized were Alfred Hitchcock and Otto Preminger. Hitchcock: for the obvious reasons (Honestly, was there ever such a talented, yet at the same time, tirelessly self-promoting, self-mythologizing director? One had to wonder when he found time to plot out all those famously intricate shots while still having the energy to chase Tippi Hedren around the set); and Otto Preminger: for his frequent, colorful and quotable appearances on television talk shows like Merv Griffin, but especially for his portrayal of supervillain, Mr. Freeze, on the Batman TV series.
Based on the quality (or, more accurately, the lack) of his latter-career output (Hurry Sundown, Skidoo, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, Such Good Friends), for the longest time I considered Otto Preminger more an eccentric TV personality than a serious director. It wasn't until my late-in-life exposure to some of his earlier films on TCM that I came to appreciate the diversity of this filmmaker’s output and the strides many of his films made in the battle against censorship. 
Although I still only enjoy but a handful of the films Preminger directed in his nearly 50-year career, among my favorites is Angel Face. A film, if Hollywood legends are to be believed, green-lighted by RKO studio head Howard Hughes specifically to make life miserable for soon-to-depart contract actress and recent Hughes object-of-obsession, Jean Simmons. (Check out IMDB’s Trivia section for details, or better still, the commentary track on the DVD.)  
Jean Simmons as Diane Tremayne
Robert Mitchum as Frank Jessup
The plot of Angel Face is your typical '50s femme fatale film noir to the point of déjà vu. Yet, one enlivened considerably by a particularly unsympathetic turn by genre stalwart Robert Mitchum, and the pleasingly against-type assaying of the role of an alluring psychopath by the beautiful, but to me, usually ineffectual, Jean Simmons.

Ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Mitchum) falls for dark-eyed socialite/siren, Diane Tremayne (LOVE that name!) when called to her estate to look into a suspicious case of gas inhalation suffered by Diane’s wealthy stepmother. With surprisingly little effort on her part, the distraught but grateful heiress insinuates herself into the life of Frank and standby girlfriend Mary (Mona Freeman), successfully opening up a chasm between the couple she’s more than willing to step into. In record time, and without alerting the suspicions of the shrewd but somewhat opportunistic Frank, Diane not only gets the laid-back lothario to detail for her the particulars of his love life and professional aspirations (a former race car driver, Frank dreams of opening a garage of his own), but unsubtly unburdens herself to him her own woeful tale of how she and her beloved father (Herbert Marshall) have fallen under the despotic sway of her bridge-club-addicted, purse-strings clutching, wealthy evil stepmother, Catherine (Barbara O’Neil).
Family Plot
Ever-leery moneybags Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O'Neil), listens guardedly as Diane (Jean Simmons) transparently campaigns to have hunky ambulance driver Frank Jessup taken on as a personal chauffeur. Meanwhile, emasculated novelist and full time lapdog Charles Tremayne (Herbert Marshall) just hopes he's not doing anything to draw his wife's ire...like breathing.

Faster than you can say Double Indemnity and before that hearkened-after postman has had a chance to ring even once, Frank and Diane find themselves suspects in a nasty case of double homicide. Was it really an accident? Were they in on it together? Did you ever doubt it for a minute? To fans of the genre, the who, what, where, and whys of the plot won’t come as much of a surprise. What really makes Preminger’s steamy goulash of Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain so much black-hearted fun are its characters. The dark alleys of obsession and fixation Angel Face takes you through are murky with hidden agendas, neurotic pathologies, and the kind of moral cynicism that made noir films such a narrative oasis in the desert of suburban conformity that was Hollywood in the postwar years.
"Do you love me at all? I must know."
"Well, I suppose it's a kind of love. But with a girl like you, how can a man be sure?"

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
I've always had a thing for film noir. I love all the intrigue, double-crosses, plot twists, and 11th hour surprise reveals characteristic of the genre, but what has always appealed to me most is the genre's core of nastiness. It always seemed like such a brazen challenge to the Production Code-mandated moral conventions of the day.
In today’s climate of moral relativity, we have iniquity devoid of stakes. Barring an overriding imperative of decency, the kind of bad behavior exemplified by Charlie Sheen, Chris Brown, Lindsay Lohan, and the whole reality show “betray each other to win” mentality, exists within a misanthropic vacuum. That's why I have no patience with contemporary films which revel in the display of bad people behaving badly (cue, Quentin Tarantino); there's no measurable "good" behavior in these films for contrast.
Conversely, film noir works as the yin to the yang of America's idealized self-perception during the '40s and '50s. A time when movies, TV, and advertising all promoted a standard, middle-class image of conformity typified by those “social guidance films” shown in schools back then. 
The Ladies Who Lunch
Diane not-so-innocently sets up a lunch date with Frank's girlfriend, Mary (Mona Freeman), to let her know that Frank was not at all where he said he was the previous night.
The nihilism of film noir stood as a thrilling alternative to all those inevitable happy endings in movies from the 1940s & '50s. It is almost exhilarating to see movies in which people operate out of flagrant self-interest and behave in ways totally unconcerned with bettering society or helping their fellow man. Another nice difference is that so many of the women of film noir are so independent-minded. They're dangerous, sexually aggressive, and exert power over their lives. These extreme cultural contrasts are what give film noir its kick. Without the subtextual context of a repressed culture for the lead characters to rebel against, film noir would be like a great many of the movies and TV programs of today: just a bunch of unsympathetic people meeting bad ends.
Otto Preminger would revisit the theme of a close father/daughter relationship threatened by
 a stepmother in 1958s Bonjour Tristesse  

PERFORMANCES
Prior to seeing Angel Face, I’d read so many accounts of how unhappy Jean Simmons was during the making of the film that I leapt to the assumption that her portrayal of a wicked vamp was one of those against-type embarrassments like Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun (Simmons' embarrassment would come many decades later, as Helen Lawson in the 1981 TV version of Valley of the Dolls). I couldn't have been more wrong. Although I've only seen Simmons in a handful of films (she’s particularly appealing in 1953s The Actress), her Angel Face femme fatale is one of her strongest, most persuasive screen performances. 
As the always-plotting Diana, Jean Simmons' somewhat remote, coy appeal is used to great effect in Angel Face 
Of course, Simmons’ performance is greatly enhanced by the chemistry she shares with co-star, Robert Mitchum. A sleepy-eyed hunk o’ burnin' love a person doesn't need Method Acting to believably express a sexual obsession over. Mitchum may not be an actor with a particularly broad range, but within that range, there’s not another leading man who can touch him. In the films I consider to be his best: Angel Face, Out of the Past, His Kind of Woman, Cape Fear, and The Night of the Hunter, Mitchum's slouching brand of masculine charisma has always revealed a hint of vulnerable malleability. Either that or outright sexual menace. In either instance he dominates the screen with a natural ease that makes him a charismatic, fascinating actor to watch.
Fave character actor Leon Ames plays defense attorney Fred Barrett. A reversal of his chores in 1946s The Postman Always Rings Twice.

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Fans of film noir generally agree that much of the genre’s predominately male perspective is fueled by a fear of women. Perhaps that’s what makes them so entertaining. It's like the male id unleashed...a woman with any kind of power perceived only as a threat to manhood. Indeed, unlike the self-sacrificing heroines of the popular “women’s films” of the day, the women of film noir tend to call all the shots and are as likely to kill a man as kiss him. Angel Face consistently juxtaposes Frank's loutish neglect of his girlfriend Mary, with his being manipulated and led around by the nose by the scheming Diane. At a time when women held very little social power and were inevitably relegated to supporting, serving, and supplicating, film noir provided one of the few arenas where women were allowed to show some moxie and guts. Alas, because the vast majority of these films were written and directed by males, women with power were also almost always made to pay for their gender transgressions, with "natural order" usually restored by fadeout.
なぜあなたは死んでドロップしない!
Roughly translated, Tremayne household maid Chiyo (Max Takasugi) tells her put-upon husband, Ito (Frank Kamagai) to "Drop dead!"
The world of Angel Face is one where the natural order is corrupted by domineering women (Diane, Catherine, and Chiyo) and emasculated men (Frank, Charles, and Ito, the household butler who laments, "The only trouble with America...it spoils the women!").

Revealing herself to be a far more self-possessed and level-headed character than initially perceived, Mary, having had enough of Frank's seesawing emotions, opts for the solid and loving Bill (Kenneth Tobey), a man who doesn't make her compete for his affections.

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
If I were to pick my absolute favorite Otto Preminger movie, it would have to be Bonjour Tristesse (1958), that film is just a dream. But for pure noir bliss, I rate Angel Face above even the superior Laura (1944), which in spite of its excellence, has always seemed a tad too cool and never really has done much for me. Angel Face has the feel of a cheap pulp novel brought to life, complete with its economy of narrative and straight-to-the-point characterizations. While falling short of being a true classic of the genre, it stands as an example of the genre at its best. A fast and dark thrill ride through the Hollywood Hills...but I'd skip the short-cuts if I were you.

Copyright © Ken Anderson

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

UNDERAPPRECIATED TALENT: OLIVIA WILLIAMS

In a profession boasting an unemployment rate hovering somewhere around 85%, one can hardly call an actress as consistently employed as Olivia Williams an underutilized talent in the literal sense. On the contrary, while continuing to work extensively in both theater and television, Ms. Williams has appeared in major and independent films every year since first coming to the attention of U.S. audiences in Kevin Costner’s epic flop, The Postman in 1997.

It’s just that (in my not-so-humble opinion) Olivia Williams, in proportion to her talent, beauty, and versatility, deserves to be a bigger star than she is. Whether in roles comedic, Lucky Break – 2001; maternal, Peter Pan – 2003; earthy, Flashbacks of a Fool – 2008; sensitive, Rushmore – 1998, insightful, An Education – 2009, or (my personal favorite) vitriolic, The Ghost Writer – 2010; Williams has amassed an impressive catalog of unflaggingly impeccable screen performances. Performances that have rightfully granted her a reputation as an accomplished supporting actress capable of enlivening even the most prosaic of projects, but also performances that, by rights, should have made her into one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading ladies.
 
Traditionally, America has never really quite known what to do with British actresses, their alienating accents allocating them to roles of teachers, nannies, historical heroines, authority figures, or Joan Colins-esque divas. Too often, unless a British actress is capable of adopting an American accent for high-profile roles (a la, Kate Winslet, and indeed as Williams did in both The Postman and The Sixth Sense), she finds her fate to be something akin to that of Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, and Maggie Smith: significant Stateside success reserved for middle age and beyond.

A member of The Royal Shakespeare Company, Olivia Williams has shined in many prominent roles, winning a British Independent Film Award for The Heart of Me (2002) and being named Best Supporting Actress by the National Society of Film Critics and the London Critics Circle for The Ghost Writer. Yet, owing in large part to her posh speaking voice, short-sighted casting directors have failed to make use of William’s intelligent, Julie Christie-like sensuality and drop-dead sexuality (so often hidden behind desks and corseted in period clothing, few seem aware that Olivia Williams has a killer body).
 I’m no doubt making a plea for a brand of stardom and recognition the actress is probably not in the least bit interested, but when I read how she’s completed work on a forthcoming Arnold Schwarzenegger action film (Ten - 2014) or has lent her smooth, sonorous voice to the animated, Justin and the Knights of Valor (2013), my mind can’t help but go to the analogy of using a thoroughbred racehorse to pull a milk cart.

Recommended for Olivia Williams fans: The Sixth Sense (1999), Anna Karenina (2012), Hanna (2011), Hyde Park on Hudson (2012), Seasons 1 & 2 of Dollhouse on DVD.

The versatile and award-winning co-star of Maps to the StarsRoman Polanski's The Ghost Writer, The Sixth Sense, An EducationRushmore, Anna Karenina, and many others, is the topic of my Moviepilot article - Underutilized Natural Resource: Olivia Williams. Click on the title to read my tribute to one of the best  actresses to come out of Great Britain since Julie Christie!

AUTOGRAPH FILES;


Copyright © Ken Anderson

Thursday, May 16, 2013

THE SENTINEL 1977

The search to find a horror film as gratifying to me as Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby has largely proved a futile one, but through my efforts I've discovered several reasonable and unreasonable contenders for the crown which I've nevertheless enjoyed a great deal.
Of all the films released in the post-Rosemary’s Baby Modern Gothic vein, the real standouts for me have been: The Mephisto Waltz (1971), Don’t Look Now (1973), The Exorcist (1973), The Stepford Wives (1975), The Omen (1976), Burnt Offerings (1976), and Polanski’s The Tenant (1976). All are films for which I held high hopes before release, all are excellent-to-exceptional movies in their own right; yet none coming close to capturing Rosemary’s Baby’s distinctive way of drawing the viewer into an empathetic identification with its protagonist through the the skilled manipulation of the medium of film and an understanding of the central, elemental vulnerabilities of fear.

When a book critic in 1974 described Jeffrey Konvitz’s new novel The Sentinel as a cross between Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, I was instantly intrigued. When sometime later I read in the movie magazine Rona Barrett’s Hollywood that Universal Studios had acquired the motion picture rights and that Kate Jackson of The Rookies (Charlie’s Angels was just taking off) was being considered for the lead, I was interested. Later still, when I heard that Jackson had passed on the role and Nashville’s relatively unknown Cristina Raines was to head an all-star cast opposite Dog Day Afternoon Oscar/Golden Globes nominee Chris Sarandon (whose rising star was not yet tarnished by the still-to-be-released Lipstick), I was completely sold. 
Cristina Raines as Alison Parker
Chris Sarandon as Michael Lerman
Deborah Raffin as Jennifer
Eli Wallach as Detective Gatz
Burgess Meredith as Charles Chazen
What am I saying? I was stoked! I got the book from the library and positively raced through it, the cliché “I couldn't put it down!” a most apt description of how engrossing I found it. A novel so influenced by Rosemary’s Baby that it bordered on plagiarism, yet taking its overlay of then-trendy Catholic-based horror to effectively creepy and unexpected twists.
Meanwhile, the Hollywood trade papers ran items on an almost daily basis announcing which new star (Eli Wallach, Ava Gardner, Martin Balsam…) had just been signed to the film. A good book, a good cast, a high-profile director (Michael Winner of Death Wish, who, had I been familiar with his work at the time, would have given me pause)…I had the feeling that The Sentinel could be the post-Rosemary’s Baby Satanic thriller I’d been waiting for.
Like Rosemary’s Baby, The Sentinel is a story of a lapsed-Catholic who comes to pay dearly for her loss of faith. The godless infidel in this case being beautiful New York model Alison Parker, a fragile, two-time suicide attempt with father issues and a sleazy, albeit caring, lawyer boyfriend with a shady past (Sarandon). Afraid of duplicating her mother’s unhappy life of emotional and financial dependence, Alison seeks to live on her own for a time before committing to marriage, her search leading to a picturesque riverfront Brooklyn Heights brownstone that is to die for...literally.
Contemporary audiences are apt to find The Sentinel’s most startling, gasp-inducing scene to be the one in which real estate agent Ava Garner informs Raines that the outlandishly spacious, fully furnished apartment is available to her for only $400 a month! A detail so outlandish in relation to today's housing crunch that even after the story begins dropping hints that the building is built over the very entrance to Hell itself, I doubt if any modern viewer would find that  bit of info to be a deal-breaker for such a bargain. More than likely it would only serve as a reason to take on more renters insurance. 
Predictably, it's the renting of the too-good-to-be-true apartment that seems to trigger all manner of maladies and calamities for Alison. The strange neighbors, the noises coming from the empty apartment above, the piercing migraines, the blackouts, the hallucinations. And just what is it with the blind priest on the top floor who sits all day at the window, seemingly watching all the events unfold? What does it all mean? 
Finding out the answers to these questions makes for devilishly good, often unpleasantly gross-out, entertainment. The Sentinel is nowhere near as accomplished as Rosemary’s Baby (indeed at times it’s downright amateurish) but it’s a nicely constructed, slightly old-fashioned thriller of considerable suspense and scares that veers agreeably back and forth between chilling and campy, depending on which scene and whose performance you’re watching.
Sylvia Miles and Beverly D'Angelo play Gerde and Sandra, a quirky lesbian couple residing in the mysterious brownstone. Thanks to Ms. Miles' questionable Swedish accent and D'Angelo's, shall I say, commitment to her craft, their scene has become something of a cult classic.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
It’s clear from the start that the makers of The Sentinel are shooting for an unholy union of Rosemary’s Baby's brand of sophisticated urban horror crossed with the graphic gross-outs of The Exorcist and The Omen. There’s the emotionally fragile heroine plagued with guilt over abandoning her faith; the ominous-looking apartment-house filled with elderly eccentrics; a disturbing, cryptic nightmare; the suggestion of a plot against our heroine that her shady boyfriend may or may not be involved in; and the heroine’s deteriorating mental and physical health. It’s all there…cloaked in a solemn portentousness worthy of a religious parable on sin and redemption. 
Alison  seeks the counsel of Monsignor Franchino (Arthur Kennedy)
In The Sentinel, the battle between good and evil is metaphorically evoked (and a good many plot points telegraphed) by the colors black and white. 

The Sentinel never quite comes together as a great horror film (the script is too weak and performances all over the map), but as your better-than-average, big-budget B-movie, it’s very much like one of those amusement park haunted house rides. You get scared, you jump, sometimes you have to cover your eyes, other times you laugh - but through it all there's a great great time to be had, provided you don't take any of it too seriously.
Photographer Jeff Goldblum offers assistance to a headache-plagued Cristina Raines while concerned friend and fellow model Deborah Raffin looks on.

Here's a tip for budding screenwriters: if you really want the audience to like and feel sorry for a character, don't make her a fashion model. We don't take models seriously. For starters, nobody considers what they do to be real work, secondly, deep down we're all slightly envious or resentful of their genetics-based charmed lives and therefore tend to harbor secret hopes that terrible fates befall them. On a side note, scenes of beautiful, heavily made-up women suffering in high-fashion clothing is the stuff of unintentional guffaws and camp, not drama.
Top Model: looks like the result of not having Tyra Banks yelling at you about your posture in 1977 

PERFORMANCES
In the I Love Lucy episode titled “Ricky’s Screen Test,” it’s learned that the producers of Don Juan plan to cast a newcomer in the lead and build him into a star by surrounding him with big-name performers. Pretty much sounds like what they had in mind with the casting of the lovely but largely unknown Cristina Raines in her first major screen role. 
Raines possesses an overall impassive countenance, a somewhat flat speaking voice, and a very un model-like way of walking and standing, yet in spite of all this, I found myself being totally won over by her in this movie. Aside from liking the whole preachy Catholic thing used as a basis for horror, Raines is the main reason I've seen The Sentinel so many times. I know that sounds strange given what I've just said, but in roles that require an actor to be the one upon whom an audience must invest its sympathies and identification, personal appeal and likability can often trump technique. Cristina Raines registers rather stronger in the scenes of her character's decline than she does in the film's earlier scenes, as such, she makes for an appealingly vulnerable protagonist in the war between good and evil. 
Top-billed Chris Sarandon followed his attention-getting supporting role in Dog Day Afternoon with two career-killing unsympathetic lead roles in two poorly-received motion pictures. He was a sweaty serial rapist in Lipstick, and in The Sentinel he plays a corrupt lawyer with an unflattering '70s porn-stache that makes him look way too much like Paul Snider (of Dorothy Stratten/ Chippendales infamy). Sarandon has proven himself to be a wonderful character actor, but I'm afraid he makes for a stiff, blank, leading man.

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Even more than I love seeing all those bell-bottomed jeans and '70s fashions; more than I love the New York locations; more than I love Gil Melle's ghoulishly symphonic scoreI really get a kick out of the roster of talent assembled for this movie.
Clockwise from top left: Arthur Kennedy,Ava Gardner,Martin Balsam, Christopher Walken,Jose Ferrer, and John Carradine.
Clockwise from top left: Jeff Goldbum, Jerry Orbach (the original Billy Flynn in Chicago),Charles Kimbrough (Murphy Brown), Reid Shelton (the original Daddy Warbucks in Annie), Hank Garrett (Car 54, Where Are You?), and William Hickey (Prizzi's Honor) .
That's Richard Dreyfuss in this brief street scene and Tom Berenger  makes an appearance in the film's epilogue

THE STUFF OF DREAMS NIGHTMARES
Every horror film worth its salt in the 1970s had a big setpiece moment. The Exorcist had projectile pea soup, and The Omen had that spectacular beheading. The big moment in The Sentinelnot exactly a surprise, as it was prominently featured in the paperback cover art and on the movie poster for the filmis the rising of the demons and denizens of hell. The gates of hell spill open and all of Satan's minions come forth to terrorize and unleash (more) evil into the world. It is a peak horror moment and everyone involved with making The Sentinel knew it was going to have to top The Omen and The Exorcist if it had any hope of doing similar business.  
What many people apparently knew but failed to let me in on at the time (there was some pre-release controversy that somehow got by me) was that director Michael Winner had decided to take a disturbing page from the harrowing conclusion of the 1932 cult horror film classic Freaks, and used people with real deformities and disabilities to portray the demons.
To say this sequence is unsettling is a major understatement. It's creepy, it's gory, it's so weirdly grotesque it borders on the distasteful. To this day I still can't bring myself to watch it except through extremely close-knit fingers over my eyes.
In 1979 I had an opportunity to speak briefly to Cristina Raines and asked her about this scene. (I was working at a Honda dealership at the time and she came to pick up her car.) She told me that the entire film was very difficult but this sequence was especially tough because it was Winner's intent to get her genuine reactions and was apt to surprise her to keep her off guard. She told me than many of her screams and reactions are the real thing, and that much of what we are seeing she was seeing for the first time as well. She also said that the people hired for the sequence (I think she said it took a week) were having a ball. They formed a kind of fraternal clique among themselves and seemed to enjoy the attention and special treatment that came with making the film. She recalled how they appeared to enjoy practicing their demon walks and getting into their tattered zombie costumes. 
With the horror genre currently in the hands of many filmmakers I consider to be hacks and gorehounds (Rob Zombie, Sam Raimi, Eli Roth...the inauspicious list goes on....all of whom make Michael Winner look like Alfred Hitchcock), and favorites like Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg, and Brian De Palma all in their 70s and beyond; I've more or less put an end to my search to find a horror film as flawless as Rosemary's Baby. And maybe that's how it should be. Perfect is great, and you're lucky when you find it...but The Sentinel is a terrific reminder of how imperfection can sometimes be a lot of scary fun, too. 
"Blind? Well then what does he look at?"
Copyright © Ken Anderson

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

SUMMER MOVIES AND THE BLOCKBUSTER MENTALITY

The Summer Movie Season:  Sit-Out or Be-In?*: 
A child of the 60s looks at the phenomenon of the summer blockbuster
*For the uninitiated, a “Be-in” was a 60s counterculture social event (a “happening”) similar to a “Love-in.”
Like many people my age (never mind), I have a tendency to look back on specific aspects of the past through decidedly rose-colored glasses. Motion pictures in particular are vulnerable to this alchemy, as I fell in love with movies during the late-60s and 70s: a time of groundbreaking innovation in film.

The growing pains of American cinema that typified the New Hollywood years, in many ways mirror my own. Both the era and the films it produced are inextricably linked in my mind to my adolescence and my nascent understanding of the world. So much so that if often felt that Hollywood and I were both growing up at the same time. 
While such a subjective, emotional response to movies is at the core of every film buff, the negative by-product of such a polarized form of passion is that it makes one’s assessment of past films dangerously prone to a nostalgic sentimentality. Nothing wrong with deserved praise meted out to the films of the past, just so long as that rear-view adulation doesn't prevent the fair and objective evaluation of contemporary films.

A typical rant of mine is to bemoan the annual summer blockbuster season. I complain about the dearth of watchable films released during the summer months and bellyache about how those without a taste for sequels, comic books (pardon me, graphic novels), or Michael Bay blowing things up, must content themselves with Netflix or cable until September.
(MORE ...read my complete article HERE on Moviepilot ).

Xanadu. This particular Olivia Neutron-Bomb was detonated 8-8-80 
The winter and fall months were once reserved for high-profile holiday releases, films hoping for Oscar attention, and the so-called “prestige-film” (self-serious movies - often with literary, historical  or cultural significance - that may or may not have had big boxoffice potential, but were calculated primarily to bolster a studio’s image as a maker of important, “quality” films).  Summer was once the season studios chose to release their difficult-to-categorize films. Films that took chances or failed to fit specific marketing genres.

A great many of my all-time favorite movies that have gone on to become classics were summer releases. Something I can't imagine myself saying about today's crop of overproduced CGI cartoons...even if I were a target-demographic adolescent.

Click on the titles below to read more extensive commentaries on each film.
The Day of the Locust /  May 1975
Petulia  / June 1968
Rosemary's Baby / June 1968
Bonnie & Clyde / August 1967
Klute  / June 1971
Nashville / June 1975
Night Moves / June 1975
Of course, I’m not an absolute, head-in-the-clouds idealist. I’m well aware that if a work of corporate calculation like the entire Marvel Comics movie franchise can literally rake in billions for what is essentially a money-making industry….that’s the direction things are going to continue to go. But as any child of the 60s can tell you, what’s good for The Establishment and Big Business isn't exactly good for humanity.

The Summer Blockbuster Season has a lot in common with the lyrics to the Adam Freeland song, “We Want Your Soul”

Go back to bed America, your government is in control again.
Here. Watch this. Shut up.
You are free to do as we tell you.
You are free to do as we tell you.

...indeed, free to buy more merchandise disguised as film.

Copyright © Ken Anderson

Friday, May 10, 2013

DIRECTOR TRIBUTE: BRYAN FORBES 1926 - 2013

Director Bryan Forbes with actress Katherine Ross on location in Connecticut filming The Stepford Wives
While America waited with bated breath to read on IMDB the latest update of Iron Man 3's global boxoffice performance, or learn the details of Lindsay Lohan's most recent rehab plans; on Wednesday, May 8th, with little mention by the American entertainment press, director Bryan Forbes passed away at age 86.

The British-born director who made a splash with his first film, Whistle Down the Wind (1961) passed away at his home in Surrey, England after a long illness. Although never as well-known to American audiences as fellow countryman Alfred Hitchcock, Forbes nevertheless achieved a kind of anonymous Hitchcock-ian immortality with the original film adaptation of Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives (1975). A film not well-received upon release, but now a genuine full-tilt, cult hit. It's also a movie that ranks among my all-time favorite motion picture thrillers.

Forbes is also responsible for the terrifically chilling Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), an atmospheric minor classic of suspense that I discovered only recently, but has joined the ranks of beloved favorites.

If you're unfamiliar with the director's work, I encourage you to check out the titles: The Whisperers (1967); The L-Shaped Room (1962); the charming Cinderella musical, The Slipper and the Rose (1976); King Rat (1965), or The Madwoman of  Chaillot (1969). Although I only recommend the latter to die-hard fans of Katherine Hepburn or the dashing (even in a turtleneck) Richard Chamberlain.

In honor of Bryan Forbes' passing, click on the titles below to read my more extensive, previously-posted blog essays on the films The Stepford Wives and Séance on a Wet Afternoon:



My tribute to the late Bryan Forbes on Moviepilot:
Bryan Forbes, director of the classic 70s suspense thriller, The Stepford Wives dies at age 86

To read Mark's Random Ramblings on the career of Bryan Forbes from a genuine British bloke's perspective, click Here.

Copyright © Ken Anderson