Jane’s Calamity


One of the Sixties’ merriest cinematic treats, 1965’s rollicking-frolicking CAT BALLOU moseys into town via a limited edition from the galoots at Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures Industries.

A total surprise summer offering, CAT took the nation by storm, delighting both critics and audiences – grossing nearly $21M in its original release.  It finally pushed title lead Jane Fonda into the A-list category, as well as a host of other talented folks.

Westerns and western parodies are genre and sub-genre favorites of mine.  There’s a direct post-WWII evolutionary link that one can follow, if you pull out the comedy team efforts.  In pure begattin’ terms, Son of Paleface begat CAT BALLOU begat Blazing Saddles begat A Million Ways to Die in the West.  This can be gaged by a progression of genre stock character jokes, increasingly vulgar gags (that’s a good thing), overall B-western spoofin’, and strong female protagonists (Jane Russell, Fonda, Madeline Kahn, Charleze Theron), all leaning toward the lawless side.

Director Elliot Silverstein inventively took the standard set pieces and juiced them up, similarly to what Richard Lester did with the musical.  CAT BALLOU tells the tale of a prim and proper school marm who returns home to Wolf City, WY where she finds her once-prosperous rancher father now near-penniless – due to the greedy machinations of those involved and corrupted by the encroaching railroad.  Wolf City has been taken over by Eastern corporation underlings and infested with hired guns – most frighteningly, the noseless Tim Strawn, much to the chagrin of Cat, her pop and her newfound friends (inept uncle-nephew outlaws Clay Boone and Jed and Native American – and possibly Jewish – Jackson Two-Bears).  In retaliation, the resourceful Ms. Ballou decides to hire her pulp (or “penny dreadful,” as they were then called) novel hero, the celebrated Kid Shelleen; however, Shelleen turns out to be a washed-up alcoholic, who can’t keep his holster on, let alone his pants.

How this band of misanthropes become the scourge of the West (well, Wolf City) is a 97-minute fun ride that, unlike Shelleen’s buckskins, still holds up.

The secret to CAT BALLOU was the fact that the script writers, working from Roy Chanslor’s novel, weren’t your standard comic scribes; they were none other than super-serious/noirish icons Walter Newman (Ace in the Hole, Macao, The Man with the Golden Arm) and Frank R. Pierson (Cool Hand Luke, Dog Day Afternoon).  In addition, the grand supporting cast (with the exception of the same age nephew and uncle appearances by Michael Callan and Dwayne Hickman) were all Western and noir grizzled punims Bruce Cabot, John Marley, Arthur Hunnicutt (as Butch Cassidy), Jay C. Flippen, Chuck Roberson, etc., but, specifically, the male lead (more on him later); that said, a sprinkling of occasional screen jokesters smooth over the unshaven edges (Burt Mustin, Paul Gilbert, plus newbie Tom Nardini, and particularly one-time silent screen comedy matinee idol Reginald Denny).

The fact that it was all produced by Burt Lancaster’s former business partner Harold Hecht leads me to believe that (at some point) this was all to be taken somewhat seriously (perhaps with Burt as Shelleen).  The switchover to pure farce, ribbing the likes of Jesse James, Belle Starr, Dodge City, Rio Bravo and even Destry Rides Again made it all refreshing and uproarious.

Back in 1965, I was so taken by CAT that I went back to the Onteora to see it again.  And, then, again (once even convincing my “never repeat” pals to join me for a second helping).  I loved everything about it, not the least being the brilliant idea of sporadic cutaways to balladeers Stubby Kaye and Nat “King” Cole (the latter in his final screen role, released posthumously), who hilariously chronicle the gang’s exploits in song (as composed by Mack David and Jerry Livingston).

Back then, I ironically thought Cat was the most uninteresting person in the show; looking at it in 2021, twenty-eight-year-old Fonda really does play it perfectly – the embryonic awakenings of feminism now more apparent to me (the suffragette asides, her derring-do, dancing with a Native American at an all-white hoe-down, promoting equal rights, shunning marriage as her choice…pretty remarkable).  Of course, all of this takes a backseat to the greatest success of CAT BALLOU, costar Lee Marvin, outstanding, riotous and scary in the dual roles of Shelleen and Strawn (it took me awhile in 1965 to realize that he portrayed both parts).  Like Fonda, CAT BALLOU propelled Marvin to A-list stardom – with the ultimate reward:  the Best Actor Oscar (a rarity for a Western, an EXTREME rarity for a Western comedy!).  The pic garnered another four nominations (Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Editing, Best Original Song, Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment).

The Twilight Time limited edition Blu-Ray (3000) is a beautiful new 1080p widescreen transfer.  The camerawork of Jack Marta looks as crisp and clear as it did during that hot July summer (especially the Custer County, CO exteriors).  A terrific remixed 5.1 soundtrack (also accessible in original 2.0 mono) has a genuine theater vibe (key to enjoying the throwaway one-liners, sound effects and bouncy Frank DeVol score).  Extras abound, too, and include an IST (Isolation Sound Track to listen to the music and songs), mini-featurettes, supplemental audio commentary (including one by Callan and Hickman), and the theatrical trailer.

Think I’m gonna watch it again now.

CAT BALLOU. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 or 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures Industries. SRP: $29.95.

Design for Dying


Two struggling American artists – a writer and a painter – living in a cramped Paris flat, waiting for success and falling in love with the same woman.  Sound familiar?  Well, you’re wrong, ’cause we’re talking about the 1965 Universal comedy THE ART OF LOVE, now on Blu-Ray from the cineastes at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Home Video.

There are more than artistic goals and coital frolicking going on here, as scripted by supporting cast member Carl Reiner, working with Richard Alan Simmons’s and William Sackheim’s tale (who, in turn, seemed to have also “borrowed” more than a mere theme from Mark Twain’s 1893 short story Is He Dead?)But Sir Noel’s basic subject matter aside, there’s lots cowardly lyin’.

Casey Bennett and Paul Sloane are, as indicated, two buddies fighting to make a name for themselves.  Womanizing journalist Casey seems okay with their situation as long as bud Paul keeps giving him a piece of his regular subsidy money, courtesy of his gorgeous, rich America-situated fiancée Laurie.  But Sloane has had it; he’s gonna pack it in, return to the States, settle down and likely work for one of his bride’s pater’s various companies, knocking out cartoony ads.  This throws Bennett into a tizzy.  And here’s the literary juncture where the clever Noel and the Twain shall meet, via a throwaway verbal snap by unscrupulous art dealer Zorgus (too bad you’re not dead, dead artists sell).

Casey suggests Paul commit faux suicide, allow him to move all his canvasses, reap the rewards and then reappear – a victim of amnesia.  How all of this goes magnificently wrong is both sardonically funny and a bit disturbing (for a wacky Sixties romcom), as it involves Nikki, a genuine suicidal, impulsive lady (who falls obsessively for Paul), Sloane’s grieving fiancée (who falls for Casey), a popular “nightclub” where the female attractions live and have…clients and last, but by far not the least, Paul’s jealous nature wreaking vengeance by framing Casey for his “murder.” 

What a merry escapade!

Lavishly coproduced by Ross Hunter and star James Garner’s Cherokee Company, THE ART OF LOVE tends to lean toward the mean-spirited (something that didn’t connect with my eleven-year-old self during the July 4th weekend in 1965, when I first saw it; I, frankly, loved every frame).  Reiner makes sure to put in plenty of schtick tailor-made for costar (and friend/lead of his iconic sitcom) Dick Van Dyke.  The female leads have less to do, except look consistently beautiful, which they, not surprisingly, manage rather well.  Elke Sommer (as Nikki) does her trademark alluring pout throughout while Angie Dickinson is admittedly more or less wasted in a thankless role as Laurie; her running gag is to faint at each newly-revealed narrative outrage (of which there are many).

The director is Norman Jewison, at the end of his studio-contracted assignments (The Cincinnati Kid would be released that fall), and gearing up for his greatest creative period (the next year’s reteaming with Reiner for the smash hit The Russians Are Coming, followed by In the Heat of the Night).

The lush Technicolor photography is by the superb Russell Metty; a nod must be made to Second Unit a.d.s Douglas Green and Wendell Franklin, as the actual Paris backdrops are among the best match-ups I’ve ever seen (the picture was otherwise entirely shot at Universal City).

The remainder of the cast is 1960’s Character Actor Heaven, most notably Ethel Merman as Madame Coco La Fontaine, but also Pierre Olaf, Miiko Taka, Irving Jacobson, Naomi Stevens, Jay Novello, Maurice Marsac, Fifi D’Orsay, Marcel Hillaire, Nan Martin, and Rolfe Sedan. Roger C. Carmel and Leon Belasco get a special acknowledgment as mercenary art dealer Zorgus and his underling (a Parisian take on the Alan Brady/Mel Cooley relationship) while Reiner himself excels as Garner’s nasty defense attorney.  Curiously, the original choice for the pivotal character of Madame La Fontaine (the movie’s European title is At Madame Coco’s) was Mae West, who agreed and was approved by Universal; it was only when the star demanded that she be able to re-write all her own dialog that she was immediately replaced (West’s “comeback,” the less-than-worthy Myra Breckinridge, would have to wait another five years).  As a sign of the times, Reiner’s script has an overabundance of bungling French detectives – to the extent that the insertion of a line about seeing “too many Peter Sellers movies” became necessary.

Back in ’65, a bit that brought the house down was a raggedly-dressed laughing, old, toothless woman, knitting during the trial scene, cackling “Guillotine!”  All of us – adults and kids – got it (I wonder how many would today).  I’m shocked that in looking at the movie now, the gag is repeated at least a half-dozen times.  I guess the suits thought it was funny as well.

The Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray of THE ART OF LOVE looks excellent in this new widescreen 35MM 1080p master (a recent TCM screening used a 16MM full frame print).  The colors mostly replicate the era’s Technicolor palette, with only flesh tones occasionally appearing a tad pale.  A fine, strong audio track, featuring a sprightly Cy Coleman score adds the final touch.  Extras include audio commentary by film critic Peter Tonguette and a wonderful related trailer gallery.

Often in movies about fictional artists, the paintings leave much to be desired; in THE ART OF LOVE, many of Van Dyke’s “works” are quite lovely.  And for good reason; they were created by artist Don Cincone, who curiously received no credit (why do I think that many of the Universal-paid-for canvasses ended up in producer Hunter’s living room?).

A perfect addition to a Sixties/comedy collection, THE ART OF LOVE, almost forgotten, remains a nifty way for Boomers to pass the afternoon; many did so in 1965 (the pic was a year’s end top earner).

THE ART OF LOVE. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios.  CAT# K25022. SRP:  $24.95.

Not Atoll What it Seems


A Mad Men fantasy project on film, 1964’s all-star farce HONEYMOON HOTEL is available for occupancy via the travel agents at the Warner Archive Collection/Turner Entertainment/Warner Bros. Entertainment.

The movie, sort of a Love, American Style full-length rendition of The Devil’s Disciple (INSERT gobsmacked reaction HERE), is one of approximately 9,000,000,000 “sex” comedies unleashed post-Pillow Talk; everyone who was anyone eventually did at least one – even Brando (the still home vid unreleased Bedtime Story, made the same year as this pic).  In a nutshell, HH relates the unlikely shenanigans involving a wedding from hell gone wrong (or right, depending on how you look at it), a tropical paradise hotel and a plethora of wink-wink-nudge-nudge lechery and debauchery all revolving around maneuvering nubile females into what the great Carrie Fisher dubbed as “surrendering the pink.”

Quasi-good guy schlepp Jay Menlow, a successful New Yorker, is looking forward to his upcoming nuptials to the stunning Cynthia Hampton; his playa roomie, Ross Kingsley, isn’t so sure; in fact, he may not even show up, as Ross can’t fathom being chained to one woman until the “death do us part” thingy.

Cynthia, however, is a harpy in shapely human form, pure evil learned from her parents – affluent one-percenters who nickel-and-dimed their way to a fortune (they even bitch to the hired help at the pre-wedding reception).  No surprise that a rift erupts between the soon-to-be newlyweds, blamed by all upon poor nudnik Menlow, who, with Ross’s aid, escapes the betrothal.  Double problem:  Kinglsey is supposed to be on a big business trip for his aluminum company and Jay has already put down a non-refundable fee on the honeymoon suite.  Ross arrives at the perfect solution (once he discovers that the place in question – the Boca Roca – has ten girls for every man).  They’ll vacay together.  Unfortunately, Ross didn’t read the fine print:  top-heavy femme numbers refer to island residents, not guests – as only honeymooners are allowed to stay at the resort.  Of course, this gives us some gay gags, as the two show up as a couple, but the real fun begins when Cynthia’s super-gorgeous bestie, Lynn Jenley (bizarrely listed as “Lynn Hope” in the end credits), turns up as the hotel’s activities director.  And Ross has some definite activities in mind.  Add to the deception is the arrival of Kingsley’s cheating horndog boss, Mr. Sampson (who lands with buxom ditz doll Sherry in tow), AND Cynthia who decides to give Menlow another chance, AND Menlow himself, who wants to be more like his pal and nail Lynn for himself.

Need to take a breath?  Get the Mad Men ref now?

For all the smutty innuendoes, HONEYMOON HOTEL, like most of the “naughty” Hollywood competition at the time, was innocent enough to send the kiddies to. A bunch of us caught it because of the wonderful Onterora policy:  matinees on Wednesday, Saturday, and rainy days.  There was a torrential downpour on this particular morning, and gaggles of urchins lined up in their slickers at 2:30 that afternoon.  I loved the pic at the time, not getting some of the borderline lurid jokes, but dug seeing a comedy with costars Robert Morse and Robert Goulet as a kind of 1960s Martin & Lewis; I sincerely hoped the movie would be a smash, and that the Culver City dream factory might pair them again (I was starved for a new comedy team).  Interestingly enough, while HH was made at the King of the Musical Studio, MGM never bothered to utilize the considerable singing talents of these two leads (noted Leo suit Pandro Berman even functioned as HONEYMOON‘s producer), although Goulet does get to warble the Sammy Cahn-James Van Heusen sleazy-listening title tune.  The Roberts had become mega-famous due to their individual appearances on-stage in How to Success in Business Without Really Trying and Camelot.  Metro made neither (both would be filmed three years later by other studios, the latter not even costarring Goulet).  Morse, under contract to MGM, never appeared in a musical, and, in his tenure there, only made one picture that is constantly revived (The Loved One).  Not that HONEYMOON HOTEL is a bust; it’s quite entertaining in its way, and perfectly reflects the benign pre-Graduate sex pic era.  The script is by R.S. Allen and Harvey Bullock, two scribes noted for their extensive TV sitcom/any com work, principally numerous episodes of Gomer Pyle, Hogan’s Heroes, The Patty Duke Show, The Love Boat (and, big shock, Love, American Style).  The director, Henry Levin, best-remembered for 1959’s witty adventure Journey to the Center of the Earth, proved that he did have a light touch, so…For me, it’s the beautiful Panavision camerawork that seals the deal technically, thanks to the efforts of Harold Lipstein (the original warm MetroColor now popping ebulliently in ways that the 1964 prints never achieved (thank you, Warner Archive, for this excellent made-to-order DVD).  A perky score by Walter Scharf adds to the froth, and the frothing.

Morse and Goulet aside, it’s the amazing supporting cast that makes this feminist nightmare a must-see.  Keenan Wynn (as Goulet’s boss), Elsa Lanchester, Bernard Fox, Elvira Allman, Sandra Gould, Chris Noel, Beverly Adams, Julie Payne, Vito Scotti, and Naomi Stevens are such fun; however, ultimately, the women leads put it over.  Nancy Kwan steals the picture (and with these pros, that’s quite a feat) as the funny, cool Lynn; the only sore thumb is believing that she could ever be besties with the likes of Cynthia (Anne Helm, usually a pleasant actress, who is so horrific here that it’s actually uncomfortable to watch her screeching shrike of a performance); and, yeah, Kwan gets to show her dancing skills in the only MGM moment, a hilarious and seductive fertility dance.  The unsung hero (well, heroine) is Jill St. John as the bodacious bubblehead Sherry.  St. John, certainly no real-life flake, brought the house down then by her attempt to walk through a glass patio door.

St. John also gave me my one personal lasting memory of HONEYMOON HOTEL.  As we exited the theater, one of my pals checked out a lobbycard showcasing the actress.  “That’s not the color of her clothes and hair.”  Even at ten years old, I was cinema-savvy and began to explain the hand-coloring process that defined the lobbycard art form.  “But why didn’t they just use color photos?,” she reasonably asked (MGM actually did try that briefly in the early Fifties).  “Well, because…they’re lobbycards.” was my brilliant answer.  “That makes no sense!” she stubbornly replied.  57 years later, and I still can’t shake that exchange.  Go figure.

The infamous lobbycard incident that caused a major adolescent controversy in 1964!

HONEYMOON HOTEL. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; mono audio. Warner Archive Collection/Turner Entertainment Co./Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. CAT # B00Y7R9H38.  SRP:  $17.99.

This title and others can be purchased at the Warner Archive Amazon Store or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold*

Fatigued Fatigues


Sometimes when we had exhausted the fare at the Onteora (or if a special “biggie” was playing elsewhere), we’d pile into cars and (usually) head for neighboring Margaretville’s Galli-Curci Theater (no skin off the Onterora’s nose; at one time the same dude – one Max Silberman – built and owned both houses).  A special “biggie,” mostly geared toward grownups, certainly unfurled in July 1963 with the announcement of CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D.,now on Blu-Ray from the staff at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Home Video.

When my mom (who took me along with her pals) saw the cast (especially star Gregory Peck, late of To Kill a Mockingbird, and forever in her heart since Gentleman’s Agreement), she was pumped; when I saw the poster, featuring co-star Tony Curtis, so was I.  The pic was sold as a wacky military WWII comedy, the one-sheet mimicking 1959’s Operation Petticoat.  Count me in!  Boy, was I in for an electro shock.

CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D., while indeed containing many comedic episodes, generally is a drama with many hard-hitting moments.  It takes place at an Arizona military rehab hospital, in 1944.  Here the broken bones are shared (ridiculously) with the broken minds.  Captain Josiah Newman (naturally, Peck) heads the psych ward, battling ailments that were still “new” to the profession (specifically, what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD), but also at war with his superiors…and time.  Six weeks was the max given to cure these “nutjobs,” then send them right back for more.  Of course, this sounds barbaric, since traumatized G.I.s could hardly be counted upon to perform as if normal (whatever that is); worse so for deranged patients with a rank in the high command.  A nightmare waiting to happen.

Newman with his shanghaiing savvy beauteous head nurse Lt. Francie Corum to his side (Angie Dickinson in a really nicely done understated role) and scavenger orderly Cpl. Jackson Leibowitz (Curtis, a neurotic streetwise dude who eventually becomes a self-taught junior shrink, lacking everything but a diploma and a decoding ring) remarkably manages to perform medical miracles, but not without occasional sacrifice and at a devastating cost.

As indicated, CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. was a “big” summer Catskill resort special for Universal (the official nationwide rollout would be in December).  At the time I was surprised that it didn’t play the Onterora, as they usually handled all the Universal output (only rarely did the Gallic-Curci run Universals, most notably with Spartacus).  The picture generally (and deservedly) got rave reviews.  I wasn’t so sure.  The uneven broad marker between the borderline slapstick and dark psychological drama played upon my psyche.  Not a major surprise when one realizes that the director was none other than the previously heralded David Miller, championed here a couple of columns ago with his 1952 noir triumph Sudden Fear (this movie, with its sharp change in tone, has more in common with his freakish 1949 musical Top O’the Morning, which has to be seen to be believed).  I think if the NEWMAN posters hadn’t pointed in one clear direction, maybe I would have felt better (check out the Blu-Ray cover below, which was the one-sheet).  Looking at the movie today with adult eyes makes me appreciate the efforts of all concerned; in fact, in 2021, it’s the lowbrow comedy (which I so loved in ’63) that seems out of place.

NEWMAN, as one might expect, is extraordinary for tackling PSTD, still a controversial subject in the Sixties (and definitely one in the Forties).  The handling (aka Newman’s approach) is quite reasonable and even modern.

Of course, having a cast of psychotics to deal with is a guarantee that you’ll be headed toward Snake Pit territory come Oscar time, and here CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. didn’t disappoint either.  The key lunatics in question are Eddie Albert (two years away from Green Acres, and whose NEWMAN performance terrified me), Robert Duvall (following up on Mockingbird), and Bobby Darin (whose tour de force turn as a racist in the previous year’s Pressure Point won him acclaim); Darin got the Best Supporting Oscar nod, along with screenwriters Richard L. Breen and Phoebe and Henry Ephron for Best Writing Based on Material from Another Medium (the bestselling novel by Leo Rosten); another nom was given to Waldon O. Watson for Best Sound.

Peck and Curtis, who coproduced the show with Universal, give it their all, and exhibit what classic movie star power is all about.  They are ably supported by Bethel Leslie, James Gregory, Dick Sargent, Robert F. Simon, Jane Withers, Vito Scotti, Gregory Walcott, Barry Atwater, Ted Bessell, Cal Bolder, Calvin Brown, Ann Doran, Mike Farrell, Martin West and Curtis’ real-life bestie Larry Storch.  Two Russells likewise did exemplary work, the great d.p. Russell Metty and the wonderful composer Russell Garcia (remember his beautiful music for George Pal’s The Time Machine?), the latter who shared the score duties with house talent Frank Skinner.

It’s terrific to see this oft-faded Eastmancolor title in a crisp, sparkling new widescreen 1080p transfer (only the main credits and occasional opticals briefly mar the pristine look).  Extras include audio commentary by Samm Deighan and the theatrical trailer.

FUN FACT:  author Rosten’s book was based on actual U.S. Army psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson.  In the movie’s climax, Newman is faced with the offer of staying on and further helping returning soldiers with their mental probs, an honor and a privilege to be sure.  Peck weighs the options, and the flick wisely doesn’t reveal his decision.  For good reason.  The real Newman/Greenson ditched the military, and headed West for the monetary glories of Hollywood, where he became ultra-rich analyzing the endless throngs of movie stars, directors and producers.  Oh, well.

Driving back to Fleischmanns after the showing in 1963, my mom turned to me, pleased with the pic.  “Good movie,” she said to me.  I shook my head.  “I dunno, mom, it was good when it was funny, then it got too serious and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.”  My sage parent patted me on the noggin and replied, “Welcome to life.”

CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios. CAT # K25126. SRP: $24.95.

Strange Bedfellows


For the third year in a row (doing a column I originally thought to be a one-off), Supervistaramacolorscope kicks off a month-long series of pictures I remember from my adolescent summer vacations…with a movie I never saw!

Yep, you read right.  We begin this year’s Catskill crop of celluloid with a title so notorious that we kiddies were banned from even talking about it:  the 1963 “shocker” THE BALCONY, now on Blu-Ray from the flesh peddlers at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics, in cahoots with Continental Distributing, Inc.

An indie with undies, THE BALCONY first captured my attention from the enticing duo-tone poster which adorned the Coming Soon side of the Onteora Theater, in the upstate village of Flesichmanns, NY.  From the graphic graphics (half-naked ladies peering over a balcony), I figured it was a dirty movie.  Well, that and a banner pasted across the diameter of the poster with the block letters “NO CHILDREN ALLOWED.”  Of course, I wanted to know why. My mom was very evasive.  I previously had similar conversations with the grown-ups over the no-no rules for Never on Sunday and Lolita

One thing fer sure.  With the husbands all working in the city (their two-week vacays were usually relegated to the last half of August), all the moms were going to partake this nasty show.  It was a babysitter’s bonanza, and it was only playing for one night.

So, what is THE BALCONY?  What were the moms going to get?  Lasciviousness aside, it was an all-star, low-budget adaptation of Jean Genet’s play about the fat cat fantasies of war.  And where better to let unspool a totalitarian wet dream than in a whorehouse?  From the gruesome opening, featuring unedited news footage of revolutionists being beaten by military goons, THE BALCONY immediately moves into the confines of Madame Irma’s (aka Shelley Winters) bordello, the most popular spot in the besieged city (the brothel is a dressed up soundstage because it’s all a play-game, this thing called fascism – especially for the S&M fetishists).

The Madame’s/Winters’, occasional lover is the hothead hawk Police Chief (the only name he’s known by), a particularly agitated Peter Falk, who constantly rants and raves about bitches and whores (two words rarely, if ever, spoken in American movies at the time; remember, it took another five years before Rosemary’s Baby allowed the word “shit” to be uttered on U.S. screens).  The biplay between the two is occasionally interrupted by The Madame’s dealing with Carmen (Lee Grant), a former ho’, now upgraded to executive assistant (but who yearns for the good old days).

The joint really gets jumping when the number one revolutionist ends up in the place, and pitted against a violent Falk.  This particularly gave the movie post-1960s cult legs, as the young man in question is portrayed by Leonard Nimoy.

Falk’s deranged idea that three meek johns who strut their stuff as authoritarian figures (in order to get pleasured) be pushed out to address the masses in their alter egos (the uniforms will make the idiots believe anything) becomes a reality, and sets in motion the final act.  And it was these fellows’ introductions that gave the moms what they paid to see:  three elongated sequences of sex fantasies enacted by a bishop/milkman, a general/CPA and a judge/gas man.  All three men are renowned and respected character actors (Jeff Corey, Kent Smith, Peter Brocco); the women who service them ain’t chopped liver either.  Corey is satisfied by the great Joyce Jameson, and Brocco by Ruby Dee (“lick it, lick it!” she commands the “magistrate” toward the direction of her footwear).  The most erotic of the trio features the least known actress who cavorts with Smith (in Patton-esque riding regale, whipping the equine-tailed lass), and is listed only as “Horse” (Arnette Jens, delivering the most sensual performance in the show).

THE BALCONY was likely the most successful production ever made by the Walter Reade Corporation (they usually distributed pics), even though it was banned in several states; it was quickly filmed at KTTV Studios in L.A. by director Joseph Strick (later to gain greater Bijou fame as the force behind the equally infamous Ulysses and Tropic of Cancer).  The legendary d.p. George Folsey (last seen here as cinematographer on The Harvey Girls) shot the pic in stark black-and-white.  The score essentially uses cuts from the library of Igor Stravinsky.  In short, a very liberal movie made by and starring very liberal folks.  And that ain’t bad.

The widescreen Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray looks near pristine, and comes with the fetching extra comprising an interview with Lee Grant, the only surviving member of the cast (with the exception of the amazing but still obscure Ms. Jens).  Other supplements include audio commentary by Tim Lucas and a gallery of trailers.

Super tame by today’s standards (it could play the morning run on TCM), THE BALCONY was an ultra-notorious offering in 1963 – not so difficult to fathom when one considers that TWO Billy Wilder movies – Irma La Douce and Kiss Me, Stupid –  also got the “ADULTS ONLY” tag, as well as George Roy Hill’s Toys in the Attic.

I can’t imagine what the hopeful maters made of the promise of sinematic sex and getting a massive dose of Jean Genet, certainly more deep dish than deep throat.  I do recall asking my mom if the undressed ladies on the terrace caught cold.  “Yeah,” she replied, before snorting into a case of the giggles.

THE BALCONY. Black and white. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Continental Distributing. CAT # K24726. SRP: $29.95.