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Aliens, Gunslingers, Samurai and One-Armed Swordsmen: The Genre Films of 1967

15 Nov

The 50th anniversaries of various landmark films from 1967 have been celebrated widely, including in a couple of previous entries here, but this time I want to look back at the unprecedented variety of genre films that came out that year, particularly from other countries, all part of the global cinematic landscape that only gradually came into view to a budding film buff in his formative years and still expanding the more I discover.

I’ve seen more films from 1967 than from any other individual year, 162 at last count, with 71 from the U.S. and 91 from other countries, chiefly Japan, Hong Kong, England and Italy, but also from France, Germany, Mexico and the Soviet Union. My 14th birthday was in 1967 and I saw a total of twenty 1967 releases in theaters in 1967 and early 1968 when lots of 1967 releases finally turned up in the Bronx, nearly all of them Hollywood releases. I saw others in theaters in the following years, including some of my favorites of 1967–EL DORADO, THE DIRTY DOZEN, and Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy–and then quite a few more on TV broadcasts and in revival theaters in the 1970s. I would add more favorites from that year in the home video era as I discovered previously unseen titles on video and DVD, particularly from Japan and Hong Kong. For instance, it wasn’t until 1997 that I finally saw the Jimmy Wang Yu Shaw Bros. classic, ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN.

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The Art of EL DORADO

29 Jun

50 years ago today, EL DORADO opened in New York City. It was the next-to-last film directed by Howard Hawks and it starred John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. I didn’t see it in 1967; I had to wait till it came back as part of a double feature with William Wyler’s last movie, THE LIBERATION OF L.B. JONES, in 1970, shown at the Earl Theater on 161st Street in the Bronx, just a block away from Yankee Stadium. It’s something of a follow-up to Hawks’ earlier western, RIO BRAVO (1959), which had a similar situation of a small band of lawmen holding a powerful prisoner and fending off attempts by the prisoner’s army of gunslingers to free him. In both films, one of the lawmen is a drunk and has to sober up fast when all hell breaks loose. I wrote about RIO BRAVO in my Dean Martin Centennial piece and I’ll write more about EL DORADO in my upcoming Robert Mitchum Centennial piece, slated for August 6, and in an upcoming piece on the best films of 1967. RIO BRAVO is arguably the better film, offering more layered characters and focusing less on plot mechanics than on character relationships and interactions. It’s a more complex, serious film while EL DORADO is more light-hearted and entertaining. RIO BRAVO is more demanding and, ultimately, more satisfying, but I’ve seen EL DORADO much more often (about ten times to RIO BRAVO’s four or five). It has more clever scenes and imaginative bits of action and great chemistry among its group of lead actors (Wayne, Mitchum, James Caan, Arthur Hunnicutt, Charlene Holt). It also introduces the drunk character (Mitchum) when he’s sober and in full command of his faculties, so we know what he’s like before he sinks into an alcoholic daze. In RIO BRAVO, we just have to accept Wayne’s word that the drunk (Dean Martin) was once his best man with a gun, since we only see him in his drunk phase for roughly the first half of the movie.

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VHS Discoveries: Italian Genre Films from Hercules to Bronson

14 Apr

My first exposure to English-dubbed Italian genre films was when I saw TV commercials for “sword ‘n’ sandal” movies when I was a child, including HERCULES, HERCULES UNCHAINED, THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII and THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES. I didn’t get to see any of these in theaters at the time but would eventually see all of them on TV. The first film of this type I would see on the big screen was GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS, starring “Hercules” himself, Steve Reeves, and it played on a double bill with JET OVER THE ATLANTIC, a low-budget black-and-white American thriller set on an airplane, in January 1960, when I was six years old. Two years later, I saw several more Italian mini-spectacles when I began patronizing the Tremont Theater, which offered triple features of movies that had already played every other theater. Among the films I saw there were THE TROJAN HORSE, also starring Reeves; THE MONGOLS, starring Jack Palance and Anita Ekberg; LAST OF THE VIKINGS, starring Cameron Mitchell; and THE MINOTAUR, starring American Olympic athlete Bob Mathias. On March 10, 1963, I saw my first all-Italian double feature, SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD and WARRIORS FIVE, chronicled here on March 10, 2013 in my blog entry entitled, “March 10, 1963: The Making of a Film Buff.”

(Steve Reeves as Aeneas in THE TROJAN HORSE)

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It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: A 50th Anniversary Look Back

2 Dec

On Saturday night, November 30, I realized it was the last night of the 50th anniversary month of the release of IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, which opened in New York on November 17, 1963. So, while I had enough time to watch it in its entirety, I put in my Blu-ray copy of the film and watched it. The Blu-ray, an MGM release, offers the standard theatrical cut of 159 minutes, which includes overture, intermission and exit music. When I saw the film in February 1965 at a neighborhood theater in the Bronx, none of that stuff was offered, so the print I saw back then, according to an issue of Cue Magazine from January 1965 that a friend of mine helpfully consulted, was 152 minutes. This is in contrast to the 2-tape VHS copy I bought many years ago that offers a print of three hours and one minute thanks to numerous “trims” (lines of dialogue or bits of action cut here and there from the heads or tails of different scenes) inserted back into the film. I wasn’t crazy about that version since I tend to think that there was a good reason those bits were taken out in the first place. The film moves quicker and is much more streamlined without them.

Blu-ray cover

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Annette Funicello: My First Hollywood Heartthrob

9 Apr

News of Annette Funicello’s death after a decades-long battle with multiple sclerosis was announced yesterday. I first knew “Annette,” as she was commonly known, from her tenure on “The Mickey Mouse Club” on TV when I was a child in the late 1950s. However, I didn’t come to appreciate her fully until I was a little older and saw BEACH PARTY when it opened in the Bronx in October 1963 (50 years ago this fall) on a double bill with Roger Corman’s race-car drama, THE YOUNG RACERS. Annette was absolutely beautiful in the film and even though I’d have to count Natalie Wood in WEST SIDE STORY, first seen earlier that year, as my first movie star crush (and the one that directly influenced, consciously or subconsciously, my future choice of mate), I have to say Annette imprinted herself on my consciousness that day as the ideal woman, particularly in the scene where her mirror image sings back to her, “Treat Him Nicely.”

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March 10, 1963: The Making of a Film Buff

10 Mar

On Sunday, March 10, 1963 (50 years ago today, which is also a Sunday), around 12 Noon, I left Tremont Methodist Church in my Bronx neighborhood to go to the movies at the Tremont Theater on Webster Avenue two-and-a-half blocks away. My plan was to see Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe-inspired horror comedy, THE RAVEN, starring three horror greats of the time: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and my favorite of the three, Boris Karloff. It would be playing with two co-features. The Tremont, which I’d been attending regularly with my siblings since May of the previous year, ran triple features of older movies, including some from as far back as the 1930s, although the oldest movies I saw at the Tremont were all from 1952. When I got to the theater that Sunday, I pondered the choice I had. There was a new double feature playing at the Deluxe some seven blocks away up Tremont Avenue: SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD, an Italian muscleman movie starring Gordon Scott, and WARRIORS FIVE, an Italian war movie starring Jack Palance. I had just started paying more attention to movie ads and reviews in the New York Post, especially, and wanted to follow new movies coming out instead of just relying on the Tremont’s eclectic schedule (which I’d been enjoying tremendously). So, at the last minute, I opted not to pay the 35 cents admission for the Tremont and instead went up to the Deluxe to pay my full allowance allotment of 50 cents at the Deluxe. I was by myself and all of nine years old. (It was the first time I went to the movies without a sibling.)

Yoko Tani (center) in SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD

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Welcome to my world…

12 Feb

I’m surrounded in this room by DVDs and VHS tapes containing, primarily, Japanese animation (films, TV series, made-for-video productions); Japanese live-action films and TV shows (think Godzilla, Ultraman, and Zatoichi); classic Hollywood movies, particularly westerns; Hong Kong movies, particularly kung fu; and plenty of other stuff (Italian westerns, classic cartoons, Criterion box sets, Japanese pop music concerts, etc.).  I’m a big believer in physical media. I like holding a film in my hand. I like knowing it’s on a shelf where I can get it and not have to depend on a TV station showing it or a website streaming it. (I once worked in a film library where everything was on 16mm film.)

Collection 1

One of my shelves

I created this blog so I can write about some of the stuff I watch, with the emphasis on classic film, anime and Japanese live-action entertainment. Much of it is pretty obscure, so there might not be many places to read about these titles. I like to write reviews for IMDB (Internet Movie Database) when I find something that no one’s yet reviewed or has only one or two comments. (I use my real name on all my reviews and have been submitting them since 2001.) A recent review I submitted was for “Ultra Q,” the 1966 Japanese TV series produced by special effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya and the forerunner of “Ultraman.”

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