Those Who Can’t, Kill

In the spaghetti western “Sergio” sweepstakes, novices are quick to always cite Leone as the king of the (boot) hill.  This is mostly because they are unaware of the gaggle of other Sergios lying in wait, the dual rivals of Leone (Sollima, Corbucci).  These men are not to be trifled with, as all have created formidable horse operas (with the accent on opera) that often equal and (for many hardcore genre fans) even best the maestro of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West.  Chief among this later claim is Sergio Sollima’s superb 1967 entry FACE TO FACE (aka Faccia a Faccia), now, finally, available in an official release – on Blu-Ray, no less – from the groovy folks at Kino Studio Classics.

FACE TO FACE has all the elements necessary for the success of a spaghetti western (including what the B-western disgruntled denizens from the underrated 1985 comedy Rustler’s Rhapsody correctly identified as “better clothes and music”).  But it goes miles further into the sunset than a mere grand entertainment.  FACE TO FACE is a complex Pirandello-esque saga, rife with political overtones of the 1960s (and earlier) to match each gunshot and large-scale action sequence.

What keeps this epic so engrossing is the terrific cast, headed by three icons of the genre: Gian Maria Volonte, Tomas Milian and William Berger.  While all are excellent, and, indeed Volonte captured the lion’s share of the reviews, it is (for me) Milian’s picture – possibly his finest performance.

This picture opens in late 19th-century Boston, where a revered professor Brad Fletcher(Volonte), plagued by tuberculosis, is being forced to resign.  Unless he fills his lungs with the arid, dry air of the West, his survival odds are nil.  The dean of the school, a smug bully autocrat of the Erich Maria Remarque variety, backhand compliments him out the door with, “Each man chooses his own part in history”).  Fletcher, who lacks the stamina to tell the bastard off, is equally at sea when confronted with the cold beauty whom he loves, but cannot muster the courage to talk to; she simply sneers at his awkwardness.  Inadvertently, these two are fanning the flames of a human tinderbox.  End of Act One.

Act Two.  Fletcher is recovering nicely, baking in the sun, enjoying the stunning scenery and his beloved books.  This sagebrush paradise is rudely interrupted by the arrival of a posse and their prisoner, the notorious bandit leader Solomon Beauregard Bennett (Milian).  Seeing their horrific treatment of their captive, Fletcher begs to give the parched felon some water along with a tincture of mercy.  They reluctantly agree and Bennett, viewing kindness as weakness, uses the opportunity to murder his captors and escape with Fletcher as his hostage.

Wounded in his flight, Bennett is cared for by Fletcher.  Bennett also becomes fascinated with Fletcher’s knowledge, and his New England life.  Tracked by Charley Siringo (Berger), who wants to help Beauregard recruit a new gang, Bennett quickly falls back into his old ways and, now piqued by the perks of mercy, decides to escort Fletcher back to a railway station where the teacher can arrange his return to Massachusetts.

But the violence and freedom of the Darwinian-based “survival of the fittest” mantra have piqued something in Fletcher as well.  He eschews civilization and begs to join the gang, much to Bennett’s shock.

The beautiful women of the camp ultimately unleash the beast long harboring in this closet sociopath; Fletcher brutally rapes a girl he desires.  Offering up a series of strategies based on ancient Greek and Roman tacticians, Fletcher (his misogyny now melding with full-blown sadism), seamlessly takes over the gang, leaving nothing blocking his lust for power, including the murder of children.

In true Devil’s Disciple form, Bennett, outraged by the formerly gentle teacher’s masochism, renounces violence and gradually fades into the background, taken prisoner during a raid.  An old ally (the always welcome Aldo Sambrell), also a prisoner, turns out to be a traitor, as does Siringo, actually a Pinkerton agent, assigned to infiltrate and destroy the Bennett Gang.

In a biblical parable, a pilgrimage into the desert sets the stage for the final act, comprising an inventive twist on the classic showdown.

I can’t praise this movie highly enough.  It’s not only one of the top spaghetti westerns ever made (rated by a poll as one of the Ten Best), it’s easily one of the 1960s greatest westerns.

The acting and terrific photography (in Technicolor and TechniScope by Raphael Pacheco) encompasses a visual feast and a primer for screen acting (Milan uses his body and eyes rather than dialog to convey his amazing transformation).  Add sound to the mix, via a brilliant score by (who else?) Ennio Morricone; it’s one of his best too (and think about that!).

This leaves us with the direction and writing, both due to the inspired creativity of Sergio Sollima.  Sollima, who cowrote the screenplay with Sergio Donati, doesn’t miss a trick.  FACE TO FACE is the last word on the adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s also a thinly veiled comment on the rise of fascism, as valid a cinematic statement on the subject as Bertolucci’s 1900.  That said, don’t let the deep-dish stuff scare you off.  FACE TO FACE is a rousing, thrilling adventure.  Sollima’s direction is always notches above the genre’s standard of excellence.  One of his other two entries, The Big Gundown, is, likewise, a magnificent example of how unique the spaghetti western can be.  While many rate 1966’s Gundown (also with Milian) as his masterpiece, FACE TO FACE must be given serious consideration, especially now in lieu of this wonderful Blu-Ray.

Kino’s 35mm transfer is all that spaghetti western fans could ask for and more.  The platter includes the truncated American version (93 minutes), as well as the full-length Italian cut (112 minutes, w/English subtitles).  Of course, the elongated edition offers a more logical progression into the lead’s loathsome transformation and his costar’s regeneration (albeit in a little rougher physical shape).  And it’s fantastic to have them both available for comparison.  For years, I had a bootleg DVD, copped from an intermediary Japanese print (running 107 minutes), which I spun endlessly.  Kino has even enclosed the trailers for FACE TO FACE and their other recent spaghetti western release, Corbucci’s Navajo Joe (which I also love).

I had mentioned the Devil’s Disciple connection earlier, and, through the years, had heard that this movie was actually based upon a true incident; if so, it’s a lesson in American history that apparently will never be learned.  Certainly, Charley Siringo was a real character, who did work for Pinkerton in exactly the way depicted in this movie.  So, who knows?

To say that this title is one of my favorite Blu-Ray releases of the year (or any year) would be an understatement. In pure spaghetti western (as well as anatomical) terms, FACE TO FACE is head and shoulders above the competition.

FACE TO FACE.  Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition.  2.0 DTS-HD MA. CAT # K1710.  SRP:  $29.95.




Stacked Deck

For hard-boiled journalist turned master filmmaker Sam Fuller, the Chicago Manual of Style has a double meaning.  Sure, that tabloid in-your-gut stiletto-sharp prose hits its mark, but the city’s history of gangland violence plays an equal part in the Fuller cinema legacy.  And Tokyo (with a side excursion to Yokohama), Chicago Style never had a truer meaning than in the director-writer’s magnificent 1955 contradictory (it’s a color-noir) HOUSE OF BAMBOO, now on limited edition from the folks at Twilight Time/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment.

I’ve always loved this movie, and, like so many of the great ones, it just seems to get better with each viewing.  The story, as written by Harry Kleiner (with iconic Fuller additional dialog: “He sure knew how to die,” “A strait-jacket would fit you just right.”), concerns a band of dishonorably discharged American GIs stationed in Japan who form a criminal cartel that rivals Capone’s Windy City mob.  When their crime wave escalates to knocking over a train carrying U.S. military munitions, the Army joins forces with the Japanese police to stop them.  It’s the how, why, where, what and when – you know, the newspaperman’s mantra guideline – that unravels the twisty narrative’s spidery cobweb of fear and deceit with sledgehammer tabloid fashion as the law enforcement factions plant a mole within the already paranoid gang’s top echelon.

Evil, the movie’s inside out moral tells us, is the root of all money – and, thus, its own undoing.  The gang’s motto is the tried and true “take no prisoners.”  Except they’ve freshened it up a bit; not only do they remove all pursuers, but, should one of their own go down, it’s a bullet in dead-men-tell-no-tales head.  This is a non-negotiable edict issued and enforced by the group’s corporate-minded psychopathic leader, Sandy, aka the wonderful Robert Ryan, one of the most memorable of Fuller’s many favorite-monikered Sandys, (to say nothing of Griffs, and there’s one of those too).

But their latest collateral damage sacrifice is clinging to life and semi-consciously reveals that there’s a secret woman who rocks his world, and that his best friend, Eddie Spanier (now doing time in the States), is due to join him upon his release.  Eddie, a vicious thug, arrives and immediately begins horning in on Sandy’s pachinko protection racket sideline.  Spanier’s raw propensity for blood and greed ingratiates him into Ryan’s favor, who risks offering him a top spot in the mob.  Of course, the real Eddie is under wraps in America; this Eddie is special agent Robert Stack, who infiltrates the malicious band as well as his dead “pal’s” squeeze (actually the gunman’s gorgeous Japanese wife), Mariko.  And that’s merely the beginning to this crazed, nightmarish descent into 1950s noirland.

There’s so much to talk about when seriously discussing the complex HOUSE OF BAMBOO, but I’m savvy enough to realize that time and space is of the essence, so I’ll stick to the basics.  First off, the cast.  Each selected actor and actress is letter perfect, although, ironically, Stack wasn’t the first choice.  Fuller insisted that the entire picture be shot on-location throughout the streets of Japan’s largest cities via hidden cameras.  Since the Fifties began, the indie star profit participation programs (where tax incentives were contingent upon highly-paid talent spending a good deal of the year outside the United States), Fox (and other studios) heavily promoted exotic locales for their A-product.  This was a win/win, as it also provided a scenic backdrop for the new widescreen processes.  CinemaScope was as important a selling point as a Clark Gable or Cary Grant or Susan Hayward.  Unquestionably, HOUSE OF BAMBOO was Fuller’s most extravagant and elaborate project to date, and, originally, it was announced that Gary Cooper (already taking advantage of the expat tax perks, a la Garden of Evil, Blowing Wild, Vera Cruz and Return to Paradise) would be playing Eddie.  Alas, test shots of the tall, gaunt actor strolling through the highways and byways of Tokyo aroused the American-movie-mad Japanese citizenry, who mobbed the star within seconds of the hidden cam’s rolling.  It was decided that Victor Mature would be a suitable replacement, but, he similarly, was too recognizable (Samson and Delilah and The Robe had been massive hits in Japan).  Next up was Stack, who fit the bill handily (his international fame in The Untouchables being four years away, and The High and the Mighty had yet to be released in the Far East territories).  This boosted second lead Robert Ryan up to star billing.  Ryan, of course, is terrific as usual – becoming a victim of his own mania.  As Sandy, he disregards his own rules by rescuing a wounded Eddie.  This doubly serves to explain his rabid treatment of Mariko, who has entered Stack’s life; Sandy’s misogyny and unusual compadre compassion is nothing less than his falling in love with Stack’s character, similar to Richard Boone’s attraction to Randolph Scott in Boetticher’s The Tall T.  Transcending the interracial romance, it daringly becomes BAMBOO‘s cloaked taboo.

Then there’s the beguiling casting of the sensuously beautiful Shirley Yamaguchi, whose bio is far more fascinating than any character she ever played:  WWII Rising Sun propaganda cinema queen, accused Chinese double-agent traitor, celebrated singer (heralded as the Judy Garland of Japan), one-time wife of famed artist Isamu Noguchi, American movie star and, last (but definitely not least), Japanese right-wing pundit and politician. Kuso haii, Shirl!  For the actress’s scores of admirers, Yamaguchi’s come-hither wet look, as she alights from a communal bath wrapped only in a towel, remains a key poster graphic, indeed one of the most overtly sexual American movie promotional images of the 1950s.  Eat your heart out, Ann Coulter (on the dubious premise that you have one).

The rest of Ryan’s gang is certainly worth mentioning (Biff Elliott and Robert Quarry), but particularly DeForrest Kelley (slimily Iago-esque) and, in his Fox contract specialty of Hot Head Third Male Lead Who Always Gets Killed (Pony Solider, Garden of Evil, The Tall Men, No Down Payment), Cameron Mitchell.  My fave person of interest in this rogue’s gallery is the brief, yet potent appearance by Harry Carey, Jr., as Ryan’s traveling weapons supplier, essentially a precursor to Steven Prince’s role in Taxi Driver.  Aside from fire power, he also delivers my favorite line in the picture.  Proudly exhibiting his formidable stolen Army wares from a bulging satchel, a cynical Stack sneers, “You must know the ordinance sergeant.”  To which Dobe snarls back, “I AM the ordinance sergeant.”  Yes!

The “good guy” side ain’t chopped liver either.  In a rare positive role, Brad Dexter nails the honest (but kinda thick) military official, while Sessue Hayakawa (dubbed by actor Richard Loo), two years from making an American comeback (in Bridge on the River Kwai) from his silent screen leading man days, is believably calculating as the police Inspector Kito.  And Fuller himself appears as a Japanese policeman!

As indicated earlier, the locations in CinemaScope comprised a major attraction of big-budgeted movies of the era, and HOUSE OF BAMBOO is no exception.  In Fuller’s gifted hands, the spectacular compositions are not merely FitzPatrick Travel Talk rectangular-framed background wallpaper, but play an integral part of the scenario.  Tokyo’s teeming asphalt passages during a planned robbery’s execution are breathtaking, but not as much as perhaps the most amazing, jaw-dropping location in any movie (certainly a noir) – a tense, suspenseful chase and shootout in a sprawling amusement park, built entirely atop the city’s Matsuma department-store skyscraper.  Of course the photography must be mentioned and the various set pieces are superbly staged by Fuller and the great d.p. Joe MacDonald.  The soundtrack, likewise, must be praised; I greatly admire the score by Leigh Harline, specifically the incredibly beauteous intimate theme that audibly captures the growing relationship between Stack and Yamaguchi.

I asked Sam’s widow, actress/producer/writer Christa (Lang) Fuller, if she had any interesting background info on this movie, and, through an email, provided a couple of nuggets that I felt worthy of mentioning.  Not surprisingly (as they were both adhered to the same political ideology), Fuller and Ryan bonded during the filming of BAMBOO.  For years, they seriously discussed forming a production company, a dream that sadly ended when Ryan was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  In a more humorous vein, Christa revealed an incident involving Stack.  “Robert Stack almost got killed by [a] mob during the shooting, because Sam did not tell him that the crowd was not informed about a film being shot and [they] threw themselves on him when [paid extras began to shout] ‘THIEF.’  Stack forgave Sam though because he met his lovely wife Rosemary through him…”

Christa also suggested that interested Fuller fans check out A Fuller Life, a marvelous personal yet comprehensive chronicle of the artist’s career and achievements by their daughter Samantha (  To say that I strongly second that suggestion is an understatement.  The documentary is a quintessential companion piece to the director’s fantastic autobiography A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking (a volume recommended without reservation, and one that contains an entire chapter on HOUSE OF BAMBOO).

The Twilight Time Blu-ray of HOUSE OF BAMBOO is a stunner.  If one had previously purchased the 2005 Fox DVD, they are probably saying, “Hey, this looked pretty good.  Why switch?”  True enough, but, like all excellent Blu-Rays, this master goes one better, more bang for your buck (and there are lots of bangs).  The colors pop just a little bit more to make a difference, and are accentuated by the vastly clearer imagery (in 2.55:1, as opposed to the usual CinemaScope 2.35, narrower to account for the original release’s stereophonic mag track).  The sound, re-mixed from the 1955 stereo elements, in 5.1 DTS-HD, is movie-theater dynamic (with Harline’s aforementioned score available as an IST).  To sweeten the pot, Twilight Time has not only included the DVD optional commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini, but has added a new alternative audio supplement featuring Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman.  There’s also related Fox Movietone newsreels and the theatrical trailer.  Remember, this is a limited edition, so, noiristas, when this is gone – it’s sayonara.  Go Sandy, my fellow movie addicts, and take no prisoners!

HOUSE OF BAMBOO.  Color.  Widescreen [2.55:1; 1080p High Definition] 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Twilight Time/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment.  CAT # TWILIGHT165-BR.  SRP: $29.95.

Limited Edition of 3000, available exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment ( and



Crème de la femme

Growing up in a Washington Heights apartment with three strong women pretty much made the emergence of the Women’s Lib movement a no-brainer.  I had been coached on all the key tenets of feminism most of my life, not only through my mom, grandmother and sister, but from an extremely liberal father.  Three out of these four folks also had been blessed with the excessive humor gene, so, early on, I learned that if one truly wanted to make a point amongst the throngs of the unwashed, do it with wit – or, at the very least, with a modicum of entertainment.

Flash-forward to receiving a press release from Glitterati Incorporated, a publishing house specializing in the dying genre of beautifully produced coffee-table books:  “In chaotically stunning portraits, HER [by photographer Marjorie Salvaterra] captures the inner struggles of every woman.  The stunning black-and-white images truly allows rage, encourages body acceptance, explores creativity, and essentially breaks the facade of female perfection and provides insights into the pressures that women face every day.”  YIKES.  Don’t know about women, but I was starting to feel pressure, the kind when one’s windpipe slowly closes before everything goes dark.

Admirable as this might be to many, HER (subtitled Meditations on Being Female), sure didn’t sound like my cup of reviewing tea.  I wanted to immediately contact the publishers, enclosing the link to my last piece, a dichotomy on the pleasures of Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite.  But instead I bravely scrolled down and clicked open the enclosed sample images.

And, at once, my demeanor changed.   In fact, I burst out laughing.  The first visual (entitled Him) was the featured image chosen for this review (see above), the ultimate comment on every bad, dull, boring and “two fingers down the throat” relationship.  The subsequent shots were equally fetching, and, as quick as my anxious digits could hit reply, I contacted the Glitterati rep, instructing her to send me a copy ASAP.  The rest is HERstory.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover; that’s doubly true for a press release.  While awaiting the arrival of this wise tome, I decided to research its author.

Marjorie Salvaterra, I was delighted to learn (although it’s obvious from viewing her work), is an avid movie buff.  Actually, her start as a photographer began during a stint on motion picture location in Morocco.  I would love to know more about this, and, should the opportunity arise, will pursue the specifics of this adventure.

Not surprisingly, Salvaterra’s unique eye soon caught the more savvy members of various museum directors, who championed her art.  In her pseudo-snarky intro, she admits that “When I first began this project, I assumed most people would think I had lost my mind.”  As if that’s a bad thing!

Again, not surprisingly, many of the compositions reflect classic cinema, especially Fellini, ca. the La Dolce Vita/8 ½  era.  But, whether she’s aware of it or not, Salvaterra has also touched (albeit peripherally) upon the graphic offerings of other Italian filmmakers, including Dario Argento (Old Venice, She Goes On and On and On, You Can Pray or You Can Worry could have been lifted out of Suspira and Inferno) and even George Romero (Lesson in Realism resembles the female zombie answer to Lillith Fair).  But it don’t stop there, my fellow cineastes.  Push (at least to me) recalls a revisionist approach to Keaton’s Seven Chances and The Inevitable brings to mind the most famous image from Mankiewicz’s Suddenly, Last Summer.

But let your taste be your own guide; throughout the 144 lavish glossy pages are 75 of Salvaterra’s prime addictive creations (some accessible via deluxe foldouts), each boldly, merrily skipping along the Plath to inspired insanity.

Some of my favorites are included below, and comprise Sheila’s Leap of Faith, wherein the author’s model of choice dances with glee through a tsunami of Jacqueline Susann dolls; Sheila’s shielding herself with an umbrella at last brilliantly draws the fine line between Gene Kelly and Judy Garland.  Sheila Goes to Market fastidiously captures the housewife grocery experience in all its Stepford glory (and in early/mid-1960s garb).  And Mother Two chronicles that undeniable special bond between mater and daughter.

Okay, see what I mean?  I love this book.  I kinda wish that there was a 2017 HER calendar in the works; however, until then, this smart and in-your-face funny volume will heartily suffice.  And now that we actually have a coffee table at Manse Neuhaus, that’s exactly where HER shall reside.

HER.  144 pages.  8 15/16 x 11 7/8.  Hardcover.  75 black-and-white photographs.  Glitterati Incorporated.  ISBN: 978-1-943876-10-5.  $50.

Rudy Call

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the works of Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch, but, I must admit, there’s a wide niche in my movie comedy world for severe lowbrow humor.  Thus, when the title hero of this Seventies blaxploitation pic tells the audience, “Dolemite’s my name, and fucking up muthafuckas is my game!” I can’t help collapsing on the floor in spasms of laughter.  And that’s just a mild sample of what to expect from DOLEMITE, starring comedian Rudy Ray Moore and now, spectacularly, on Blu-Ray from the folks at the ominously named Vinegar Syndrome.

The movie embraces a Blaxploitation 101 basic plot:  Dolemite, a revered pimp, is framed by his competition (in cahoots with corrupt white cops), and sent to jail on an illegal arms/drugs rap.

From there, star/cowriter Moore, along with actor/director D’Urville Martin (who portrays Dolemite’s arch nemesis, the evil Willie Green), take the tried-and-true narrative and run helter-skelter through the hood with it.

As one might expect, DOLEMITE plays like a blue party comedy album, so those faint-hearted beware.  Indeed, every other word is “muthafucka,” which pretty much mirrors my current verbal lifestyle (so I’m okay with that).  If one is familiar with the DOLEMITE-inspired Shaftman records (and, if you’re not, you should be), you have a pretty good idea where this movie is headed.

The cool thing about DOLEMITE is that he’s Airplane-ing a genre a half decade before Airplane – back when Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers were still asking their mamas for movie money.  Audiences got it (well, anyone who knew Moore’s work, his brown-paper wrapper LPs, standup appearances, etc.) while the few critics who dared review it didn’t.  They chided the movie as being so inept that it was more funny than exciting.  Duh!  Unless they meant Moore funny than…oh, who am I kidding (you’d think that maybe the Comedian International Enterprise credit would be a tipoff?).

I mean, come on, Richard Roundtree and Fred Williamson were…how can we say it? shape.  Dolemite is a middle-aged, pot-bellied potty-mouthed-talkin’ mo-fo, who, nevertheless is the dude all women desire and all men fear.  In truth, his ungainliness is hilarious (I always thought that The Office‘s Craig Robinson would be perfect for a Son of Dolemite sequel).  Dolemite’s lethal dose of revenge isn’t merely physical.  The corkers come during the pic’s many jarring jump cuts to extreme close-ups of Moore doing a rapid-fire tirade of every epithet you can think of directly to the camera.

The plot twists (if you wanna call it that) are unbelievable, even for a blaxploitation opus.  The comb-over-coiffed warden offers our protagonist a full pardon to clean up the drugs and violence that have plagued the community since his incarceration.  “You could lose your life…but you know how to roll.”

But honeycombed within this nefarious nest of ghetto gonifs are Dolemite’s allies, primarily Queen Bee (Lady Reed), who has been watching over the pimp’s ho’s while he’s been in the hoosegow.  Actually, she’s done much more than that; not missing a (box-office) trick, she’s sent the tricks to martial arts karate school.  Now they can protect themselves against shady johns (as demonstrated in one of several riotous flashbacks, where a formerly abused nubile lass has a “Gimme the money, bitch!” moment with a shiftless customer before drop-kicking him out of frame to the joyous sound of off-screen Looney Tune sound effects).

Of course, Martin and Moore (as well as coscripter Jerry Jones, who also appears as the understanding detective who sides with Dolemite against the WASPy untidy whitey cops) are well acquainted with the big gun theory (you know, early-on revealing a formidable weapon which you better goddamnit end up utilizing); in other words, you don’t drop a bombshell like kung-fu hookers unless you intend to use them for a slam-bang multiple girl groin-kickin’ finale.

Dolemite, we should mention, is not only a pimp, a lover and a fighter – he’s also Dolemite, the legendary comedian.  Ho’s notwithlaying, Dolemite’s pride and joy is his Total Experience nitery (which he has to retrieve from Willie, who stole it while the “playa” was in jail), where he performs during the cleverly christened Dolemite Show.  Ergo, there’s a full-stop lengthy segment, where gnarly-looking locals confront the recently released mack, questioning his identity.  Moore responds with a half-reel tone poem that offers his take on the sinking of the Titanic.  I swear, you can’t make this stuff up (ideally, it’s the scenario that, in a perfect world, James Cameron would have followed).  Moore later does another monologue-in-verse on jungle life that has to be heard to be believed.

Among the plethora of outrageous supporting characters are a slimy Reverend (West Gale), who divides his time by dealing illegal guns and ramming the word of God into his PHAT parishioners (“How are we supposed to better ourselves if we can’t trust the Watergate muthafuckas?”).  There are the dumb white cops supplanted by even dumber white hoods (Dolemite makes a bigoted thug “dance” by updating the “shooting at the feet” B-western routine with an assault rifle). BTW, I relish the fact that the greedy scumbag politician (Hy Pike) is named Mayor Daley.

My favorite ancillary character is Creeper (Vainus Rackstraw), Moore’s homage to Popeye’s Wimpy (or Pimpy, as he’s additionally referred to as Hamburger Pimp), a coked-out informant who haunts the nabe lunch wagon until the curvy proprietress tosses food at him just to get the fool off the premises.  Creeper is so stoned that he makes Cheech and Chong look like founding members of the Victorian Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and barely flinches when Dolemite goes off on him like Stuart Gordon’s rendition of Moe Howard.  This results in my number-one choice line in the picture, as an unfazed Creeper tells Moore he can’t be intimidated:  “I’m so bad, I kick my own ass twice a day!”

All of it ends up violently and musically at a sold-out Total Experience re-opening revue laden with dancers, prancers and vixens, thus living up to the club’s moniker.

Natch, DOLEMITE isn’t for everyone’s taste.  You have to have a soft spot for 1970s cinema, blaxploitation and, without question, Rudy Ray Moore.  I must confess that, days after I first screened it, I was still snickering at some of the bits and situations (especially when a newly freed Dolemite goes ballistic over a ho’-gifted shirt: “I don’t wear no fucking cotton!”).

The look and sound of DOLEMITE, for better or ill, is pure 1970s.  You can practically smell the sweat-stained polyester grafted to the cast members.  That said, it’s also part of the fun of the…total experience.

There has been a barrage of unfairly-hurled criticisms about the lousy haphazard photography of DOLEMITE.  This is due to the obvious presence of boom-mikes – so ubiquitous throughout that they probably qualify for SAG cards.  Admittedly, the picture was shot fairly cheaply, filmed on a shoestring by people wearing loafers (a prime investor being Moore himself); in essence, it makes the Pam Grier AIP movies look like David Lean productions.    However, the boom-mike travesty, which has ironically become one of modern viewers’ favorite DOLEMITE attributes, was not the result of crummy camerawork, but rather crummy presentation via four decades of miserable VHS and TV prints.  DOLEMITE was shot for grindhouse/drive-in distribution with the proviso that it be shown with a widescreen 1.85 matte.  Since the sleazy companies who held the home video/television rights had no intention of mastering a separate widescreen transfer (in the pre-letterbox no integrity days), they simply sent out full frame 1.33 copies, sans the top and bottom black borders.

As the boom-mike editions have become part of the DOLEMITE legend (even if incorrectly so), Vinegar Syndrome has included both version in this two-disc Blu-Ray/DVD package.  The crazy thing is that for a lousy-looking Seventies movie, DOLEMITE (apart from occasional out-of-focus and dark available-light shots) doesn’t really look that terrible (at least on this Blu-Ray).  Colors pop, and the images are generally sharp.  And why wouldn’t they – when your d.p. is named Nicholas Josef von Sternberg (and, yeah, that’s no hype; he IS the son of the iconic director of Underworld, The Blue Angel and the subsequent Marlene Dietrich exotic classics)?  The music is terrific (even if the dubbing/lip-synching isn’t), with wacky lyrics and jamming riffs highlighting the score by Arthur Wright.  Plus (likely) bootlegged Warner Bros. gunshots (lots of those).

Vinegar Syndrome knows a winner when they smell it, and have buffed up this dual platter set with a treasure trove of extras, including featurettes, audio commentary by Moore historian Mark Jason Murray and a pair of rude Rudy trailers: DOLEMITE and The Human Tornado.  The former in and of itself is a justifiably celebrated coming attraction, a mini-showcase for the comedian (“From the first to the last, I give them the blast so fast that their life is past before their ass has even hit the grass!”).  One can only hope that other Moore titles are on-deck for similar Blu-Ray/Vinegar Syndrome treatments, including the Exorcist-tinged Petey Wheatstraw and even the disappointing (albeit rollicking) Disco Godfather, arguably the decade’s supreme exploitative title.

DOLEMITE.  Color.  Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 HD-DTS MA.  Vinegar Syndrome.  CAT # VS-113.  SRP:  $29.98.





Film noir fans are in for an unexpected treat with the twisty, delightfully sordid 1954 thriller WORLD FOR RANSOM, now on Blu-Ray from Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment.

An early Robert Aldrich effort (in fact, only his second big-screen endeavor following the baseball drama Big Leaguer), WORLD FOR RANSOM was the result of his bonding with star Dan Duryea. Duryea had just finished a short-lived action series, China Smith, several episodes of which were directed by Aldrich. The idea of doing a progressive suspense adventure utilizing the still-standing China Smith sets intrigued Duryea and he signed on. Aldrich, who acted as coproducer, did the rest, assembling the cast and crew and quickly putting the actors through their paces in eleven days, and for a total cost of under $100,000.

The result is one of the strangest noirs viewers are ever likely to see. Suffice to say, it’s also one of the strangest action pictures, one of the strangest adventures and one of the strangest love stories (extra sauce on the latter).

The 83-minute tale of intrigue and double-crossing was scripted by Lindsay Hardy (with uncredited assist from Hugo Butler) and revolves around one of the director’s pet themes: the ultimate price to be paid for monkeying around with atomic warfare. In this respect, it prefigures his subsequent triumphs Kiss Me Deadly and Twilight’s Last Gleaming – but there embryonic rumblings that would erupt full-force in many of his other later classics.

Duryea plays the mysterious Mike Callahan, a soldier of fortune with a dubious reputation for playing both sides of the fence. The “both sides of the fence” pattern is a major part of the story, as the audience will learn with a breathless gasp.

Even for a film noir character, Callahan wanders through the seamy, steamy nighttime Singapore streets with a disturbing “who cares?” abandon. Indeed, as depicted in WORLD FOR RANSOM, the infamous Asian city is such a noir town that even the interiors are awash with thick, swirling fog.

Callahan is despised by both sides of the law, each of whom, at various points of the movie, beat him mercilessly. “You really got a hoodlum touch,” he honestly tells the chief of police in one of the pic’s plethora of great lines indicative of the genre.

The core of Callahan’s malaise is his being screwed over by his one-time pal and partner Julian March, a particularly slimy Patric Knowles – picking up from where he left off in Don Siegel’s The Big Steal. What really got Callahan’s goat was that the biggest crime March ever committed was stealing and marrying his former (and only) true love, Frennessey, a beauteous chanteuse.

Callahan’s eternal bitterness is sweetened when Frennessey calls him out of the blue, wanting to hire him to find out what her disreputable spouse is up to. Callahan jumps at the chance, hoping to get the goods on the bum and ruin him in the eyes of his beloved – thus winning her back. The fool!

Frennessey is amused by Callahan’s aspirations, and shrugs off the many infidelities she has suffered due to hubby’s womanizing. She just wants to find the slob.

No doubt March is up to no good, but, oh, what no good! It’s beyond even Callahan’s wildest nightmares. He’s aligned himself with Alexis Pederas, a sinister bastard, portrayed by the usually likeable Gene Lockhart.

March, impersonating a British officer, kidnaps brilliant nuclear physicist Arthur Shields (yeah, I know), who is armed with the plans for the new, improved A-Bomb – the H-Bomb.

In walks Lockhart to Governor Nigel Bruce’s office (yup, Nigel Bruce in his final screen role) and calmly demands $5 million in gold, or he’s offering the goodies to folks behind the Iron Curtain.

Believe me, there’s nothing better than hearing the cinema’s beloved bungling Dr. Watson mouth off about the horrors of nuclear warfare to cohorts Reginald Denny and Douglass Dumbrille. There were, I say unabashedly, tears of joy in my eyes.

How Duryea infiltrates these baddies (including a frightening Lou Nova) and apathetically triumphs (all in the name of love) is the picture’s crazed wrap-up. The magnificence of Duryea’s thespian chops are on full display here as he spectacularly reveals that what happens to the world is of little importance to him – he just wants his dream babe back.

The violence in WORLD FOR RANSOM is trademark Aldrich, and, by that I mean shockingly graphic (especially for its time). Jungle fighting, sanguine skewering, innocent bystanders offed without hesitation…It’s a bloodbath at its most unhygienic. The attack on the kidnappers’ compound resembles a low-rent run-through for the climax of The Dirty Dozen, and is almost as exciting.

But the true horror is not the post-war end-of-the-world possibilities, but what awaits Callahan and his anxious reunion with Frennessey.

Alone in her room with the singer, Callahan describes with relish the evil of her now-exed ex. She sneers it off, and when Callahan makes his move to rekindle a flame, he’s met with one of the most vicious bitch-slaps in all of cinema. This physical response, however, no way matches the verbal anger that spews forth from the lady’s lips. She tolerated and even encouraged March’s cheating because he left her alone. “He got me!,” she screams. “Accepted me for what I am.” Duryea (and, presumably, the audience) is (are) to take this as meaning a whore. Nuh-uh. Frennessey has an H-Bomb of her own. She is repelled by men, and adores the pleasures of her own sex. Duryea’s realization is seen by the look of “suddenly-it-all-makes-sense” terror in his face, most likely underlined by earlier sequences of her singing in a nightclub where female performers tend to dress like Marlene Dietrich in Morocco.

An even-more disillusioned Callahan staggers out into the rain-swept streets, disappearing into the night as sultry procurer May Ling taunts sailors outside the Golden Poppy with “Love is a white bird, yet you cannot buy her.” I tell you, this movie is a peach!

The iconic noir theme of double-cross is practiced with a vengeance throughout WORLD FOR RANSOM. Callahan has alternate identities, sometimes known as Corrigan. Knowles impersonates officers. Cops act like thugs, thugs act like ruthless government diplomats, and Frennessey…well…

With his second feature, Aldrich is already at the top of his game, and, with his key crew in place: d.p. Joe Biroc, editor Michael Luciano and composer Frank DeVol.  A teasing ballad about the perils of falling in love without your peepers open, appropriately titled “Too Soon,” was written for the picture by Walter G. Samuels.

Marian Carr, who is introduced in WORLD FOR RANSOM (and appeared on episodes of China Smith) is the berries as Frennessey. Aldrich thought so too, and later cast her in Kiss Me Deadly. Other welcome faces include Keye Luke, Patrick Allen and Strother Martin. Of course, it’s the great Dan Duryea who dominates the proceedings; it’s always cool to see this noir master starring in a movie – and in this one he’s got a lot on his plate. Cold War plotwise, he’s akin to Richard Widmark in Sam Fuller’s Pickup on South Street (and, natch, Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly), except here, it’s pure love that floats his boat, and not the almighty buck. What a sap!

The movie is a catalog of Aldrich visual insanity – dutch angles, creepy moving camera, comically-framed imagery of visceral events…It’s all here and more. As indicated earlier, the dialogue perfectly complements the foreboding compositions. For example, upon hearing a wacky Chinese name, Callahan, in a rare moment of levity, quips, “There’s a pun there somewhere.”

The Olive Films blu-ray, comes from generally excellent 35MM materials. Picture quality is format prerequisite razor-sharp and the mono audio crisp and clear. Originally released through Allied Artists, WORLD FOR RANSOM is a must-see little pulp gem that horrifically lives up to its title. Did I say “peach”? It’s a honey of a peach!

WORLD FOR RANSOM.  Black and white.  Full frame (1.37:1; 1080p High Definition).  2.0 mono DTS-HD MA.  CAT # OF882.  SRP: $29.95.



Impatience and Out Patients

Hypochondria aside, it’s always a treat when the doctor is in, especially if it’s the Western world’s socially inept sawbones champion Martin Ellingham, aka the outstanding Martin Clunes, in the global UK comedy favorite DOC MARTIN, now in SERIES 6, and on DVD from Acorn/RLJ Entertainment.

Since its debut in 2004, the show has gone international in a big way, racking up millions of Ellinghamians.  Indeed, the tale of an extremely dysfunctional, albeit brilliant, surgeon, who, due to his fear of blood, is relegated to practicing in the picturesque seaside hamlet of Cornwall’s fictitious Port Wenn (actually, Port Issac), just seems to get better with each series.  SERIES 6 (there is a 7, which I have yet to see) proves my point with a jubilant Lexapro anti-depressant punch.  It is, to date, my favorite in the show’s twelve-year (and seven season) run.

The wackiness, the quirkiness, the eccentricities and snarky verbal smack-downs often seamlessly mixed with poignancy (to say nothing of accurate medical diagnosing – way more fun than Wikipedia, Google or a Crosby-less Bing) have never been more on-target.  The lunatic locals have become welcome friends in this household (well, most of them; sorry, mean bevy girls), all brought to life by a terrific company of actors (including the four tots who portray Baby Ellingham).  And we can’t forget one main participant, the beauteous Cornwall locale itself, lushly photographed by Simon Archer.

MARTIN was the brainchild of Dominic Minghella, who created the series based, in part, on a role Clunes essayed in the 2000 movie Saving Grace (as envisioned by Mark Crowdy and comedian Craig Ferguson, the latter known to most TV comedy fans as Mr. Wick from The Drew Carey Show).  The eight episodes that comprise SERIES 6 (Sickness and Health; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?; The Tameness of a Wolf; Nobody Likes Me; The Practice Around the Corner; Hazardous Exposure; Listen with Mother; Departure) were superbly written by Jack Lothian, Ben Bolt, Richard Stoneman, Charlie Martin and Julian Unthank, and directed with impish panache by Nigel Cole and Paul Seed.

The comedy with dramatic flairs (some downright dark) is such that it frequently brings to mind the best of the Ealing Studios output from the late 1940s-early 1950s.  And I can’t think of any higher praise.

For those diehard MARTIN fans who have yet to experience SERIES 6, let me give you a wee taste of what delights the 2-disc set holds for collectors.

The premiere installment starts off with a deserved bang – the long-awaited wedding of Martin and his schoolteacher lover (and mother of their child) Louisa (the always excellent Caroline Catz).  Their honeymoon plays like a nightmare from hell (well, in that “comedy is tragedy that happens to others” Freddie Krueger sort of way), a post-wedding sojourn affectionately arranged in gratitude by the Port Wenn citizenry (who include a “bill will be in the mail” disclosure with their fond farewells).  That the pair end up bloodied, disheveled and the prey of a half-mad mountain man (David Sterne) is but a small sampling of the season’s debut, which heartily combines laughs and gross-out thrills in equal Mike Myers and Michael Myers portions.

Things go merrily swirly-whirly in the subsequent shows, including the friendly arguing between the father and son Larges family (Ian McNiece, Joe Absolom) with Al looking to branch out on his own and find true love and poppa Bert, the cesspool maven-turned-restauranteur, who does find late-life amour in the arms of the new pharmacist, Jenn (Annabelle Apison).  But will the return of Mrs. Tishell (Selina Cadell), the original pill-dispenser, fresh from the bug house (after kidnapping Martin and Louisa’s infant as a show of soulmate bonding for the doc) throw a monkey wrench into the October affair?

Al meanwhile has set his cap for Morwenna (Jessica Ransom), Martin’s fetching receptionist, who is quasi-dating the Ellingham’s male nanny (Felix Scott), who is being pursued by M.P.s for going AWOL (he couldn’t understand why the British military couldn’t come to terms with his OCD, apparently too anal even for the rigid corp).

Another return is of harpy Margaret (Claire Bloom), Martin’s mother, now widowed, rife with mercenary ulterior motive.  Margaret’s “you monster” showdown with her sister-in-law is comparable to Toho kaiju at its prime.

Which brings us to the character of the sister-in-law herself (my personal favorite character on the show), Dr. Ruth Ellingham, magnificently enacted by the wonderful Eileen Atkins.  As Dr. Ruth, Atkins possesses all the requirements that her profession demands (she’s a therapist and psychiatrist) with a modicum of Martin cool (in the icy meaning of the word) that adds up to hilariously funny.  Ruth’s appearance on a Kathy Lee-esque radio talk show is a highlight, as is her vocation’s mispronunciation of “town psychic” by the villagers.

The bungling Constable Penhale (John Marquez), too, has much more to do here, proving as ineffectual as ever – no more so than when he literally shoots himself in the foot during a law enforcement survival weekend.

Of course it’s Martin (the Doc and Clunes) who provides the glue cementing the crazy-quilt narratives.  His battling with mother, marriage, babysitting, dumbass patients and a determination to beat his blood phobia zooms SERIES 6 to the top of any comedy fan’s must-have 2016 DVD/Blu-Ray list.  Clunes’s appearance as guest speaker at a children’s day fete is a side-splitter – as well as a prelude to a genuinely suspenseful and truly shocking capper.

The 16 x 9 DVDs look glorious in their colorful depiction of Cornwall and the stereo-surround is a hoot with gulls cawing around one’s media room (plus a nice showcase for Colin Towns’s enchanting music).  With 64 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage as an added incentive, there’s really no reason not to schedule an appointment at Doc Martin’s and pay a visit to Port Wenn, although necessary precautions might be in order for those with allergic reactions to nuts.

DOC MARTIN: SERIES 6.  Color.  Widescreen (1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic).  Stereo-surround. Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment.  CAT # AMP-2145.  SRP:  $39.99.




A sneaky hybrid post-Code/pre-Code entry, the July 1934 release of HERE COMES THE NAVY raucously arrives on made-to-order DVD-R from the formidable vaults of the Warner Archive Collection.

Truly a movie deserved of the accolade “rollicking,” HERE COMES THE NAVY took a (what else?) feisty Jimmy Cagney, fresh from his cine-hoofing debut in Footlight Parade, and gave him more comedy (albeit of the rough-house kind) to play with than ever before.  The results were intoxicating – just the tonic needed for Depression-weary audiences.

Like all Warners pre-1935 flicks, HERE COMES THE NAVY wastes not a frame to tell its tale of an easily riled iron worker who insults on-leave CPO Biff Martin (Pat O’Brien).

O’Brien, looking for a little cushion-pushin’ action, crashes an Iron Workers Ball at the Union Hall and horns in on the Cag’s trampy girlfriend Dorothy Tree (and, as soccer announcers love to shout, SCORES!).  This only further infuriates the screen’s Master Guardian of the Grapefruit, who vows nothing less than ID Channel revenge on the naval officer.  In quick succession, Cagney is relieved of his employment (a polite term) and plots to join the Navy for the supreme purpose of taking O’Brien out (and not in a way).

It should be mentioned that Jimmy’s moniker is Chesty O’Connor, an in-joke amongst sea-faring men of the day.  While one would expect a character named Chesty in a WB pre-Coder to be portrayed by Joan Blondell, Cagney’s evocation is coded language for puffed-up loudmouth.  Or in pure Warners Jimmy Cagney terms, just another of those lovable sociopaths who punched, badgered and shoved their ways into our movie-going hearts, a veritable cranky doodly dandy.

Instantly, Chesty becomes pals with inept, but appropriately named Droopy, played (with his usual panache) by Frank “Ha-ha-ha” McHugh.  That Chesty didn’t realize he’d be under Biff’s command (and not an equal) is merely a temporary hurdle to clear.  There’s a bigger problem though; Chesty has fallen hard for the super-gorgeous Dot (enacted by the super-gorgeous Gloria Stuart, a last-minute replacement for Margaret Lindsay, who bowed out due to illness), who, drat, seems to be strangely affectionate toward Martin.  Well, good news/bad news; she’s not his squeeze, but his sister and a lifelong military brat.  “Look at them lines on that destroyer,” gasps McHugh to Cagney, who, in classic pre-Code form, passionately agrees (he’s ogling Stuart).

That Chesty constantly gets into hot water is what makes HERE COMES THE NAVY so much fun.  The bickering, bantering and bitch-slapping between himself and O’Brien, thugs, mugs, dames and flames seemingly knows no bounds (and that includes the bounding main).  Natch, in real life, Chesty’s breaking all the rules would early-on have guaranteed a court-martial; in this pic, Chesty can do no wrong, and that extends to going AWOL in blackface (well, it is the Jazz Singer studio).

The resolution:  Chesty’s a basically decent guy, who ultimately “comes through” and becomes a hero in a thrilling dirigible finale (remember this was made before the separate advent of the Air Force – when all things aviation-oriented were a sidebar of the Navy).  Thus, one can only applaud Chesty’s reckless behavior; personally I envision him to eventually ascend to officer status, ideally helping to supervise the Manhattan Project.

The script (by Earl Baldwin and Ben Markson, based on a story by Markson) is full of great one-liners (many from uncredited assist by gag writer Joe Traub), delivered in typical fast-talking Warners style by the superb cast (but especially the lead trio, who would become an integral part of Hollywood’s self-dubbed Irish Mafia).  The swiftly paced directed by Lloyd Bacon complements the writing and histrionics; it’s genuinely smooth sailing.

Warners hit a homerun with this movie, gleaning reams of publicity for its location photography.  The pic was largely shot at NAS Moffett Field in Santa Clara, CA, the Navy Yard in Bremerton, WA, and San Diego’s Naval Training Center.  Unintentionally, this accounts for HERE COMES THE NAVY‘s one eerie factor.  The  vessel where Cagney, O’Brien and McHugh practice their craft is none other than the Arizona, the battleship made infamous seven years later during the Pearl Harbor attack (a barrage of Arizona promotion stills with a laughing Cagney and Stuart flooded the fanzines and Sunday supplements).

On an anchors aweigh up note, Cagney & Co. all seem to be having the time of their lives on this movie.  And that unabashed enthusiasm was contagious, jubilantly infecting audiences and the majority of critics alike.  HERE COMES THE NAVY wasn’t merely successful; it was a box-office blockbuster.  Indeed, an abundance of footage had to be edited out before the release, and, even so, the running time is nearly 90 minutes – an unusual duration for a pre-Code Warners title (the included trailer contains bits of unused sequences).

The wildfire effect of HERE COMES THE NAVY was a precursor to what, fourteen years later, would be termed as the Red Shoes phenomenon, where millions of girls pushed the enrollment of ballet school applications to astronomical levels.  Yup, the Navy happily reported that enlistment had noticeably increased once HERE COMES THE NAVY went into general distribution (that bashin’ ‘n’ boffin’ lifestyle was just too good a deal to pass up).  Join the World and See the Navy proudly heralded the slogan parody WB ads, and it caused much grief amongst America’s other service arms of the military, who demanded equal time (much to the delight of the studios, who were subsequently given carte blanche access to our nation’s sprawling bases and boot camps).

With aviation on the rise, Warners wasted not a second in readying Cagney for Howard Hawks’ Ceiling Zero (sadly unavailable, due to rights issues).  Other flying flicks like Devil Dogs of the Air and China Clipper followed (with and without the red-headed dynamo), but with less success, due to the now-rigid guidelines of the Code.  As indicated earlier, HERE COMES THE NAVY (officially Cagney’s first movie after the Legion of Decency’s quarter-century’s reign of terror) made it as a quasi-pre-Code title by the skin of its teeth with just enough raunch to send you to the principal’s office, but not enough (a la Convention City) to ship you to a clinic for reasons respectable folk only whispered about.

As mentioned above, many critics went ga-ga over HERE COMES THE NAVY.  Most prophetically, it was cheered by Time magazine for being “rapid and authentic” and “a satisfactory addition to a series of cinema cartoons which, because of their color and mood are indigenous and timely, may be more interesting than most current cinemas 20 years from now.”  The movie was also nominated for Best Picture by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (losing, like everyone else did in 1935, to It Happened One Night).

The 35mm transfer of HERE COMES THE NAVY is excellent, nicely showcasing the location work of d.p. Arthur Edeson.  And, as is the case with Warners movies, the mono audio is aces, loud and brash like its star.

HERE COMES THE NAVY.  Black and White.  Full frame (1.37:1).  Mono audio.  Made-to-Order DVD-R from The Warner Archive Collection.  CAT # 1000478245.  SRP:  $21.99.

Available exclusively from the Warner Archive Collection: