One of the things I picked up during my trip to Tokyo that I wanted to share with readers is a Japanese film magazine from 1965 called Eiga Story, found at a flea market table in Ueno Park amidst tons of other old film magazines and comics. On the cover is a photo of Hayley Mills, who’d been a child star in Disney movies (e.g. POLLYANNA and THE PARENT TRAP), and had finally graduated to teenage roles at the time, getting her first screen kiss that year in THE TRUTH ABOUT SPRING. I opened the magazine on the spot and was happy to see excellent-looking color spreads devoted to popular Hollywood films and stars of the time with b&w entries devoted to numerous releases in Japan of Hollywood and European films. Since I was going to films regularly in 1965 and had even seen some of these films during their initial release, I was curious to see what Hollywood films got the most hype during their release in Japan.
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)
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.)
I’ve been eager to do a tribute to Italian film composer Ennio Morricone for some time now. Upon watching EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC on VHS last month, it struck me how much a part of the cinematic landscape Morricone was in my peak moviegoing years, particularly the 1970s. So today, on the occasion of the maestro’s 84th birthday, I want to recount highlights of my long relationship with the music of one of my favorite film composers.
Today (August 29, 2012) would have been Barry Sullivan’s 100th birthday. Sullivan (1912-1994) acted on the big screen regularly from 1936 to 1978, with one final screen appearance in a Canadian feature in 1987, and on television from 1955 to 1980. I knew him primarily as an actor in westerns, even though a look at his filmography indicates that he played far more contemporary roles than he did western roles. I first knew him from “The Tall Man,” one of many TV western series I saw as a kid. In it, he played Pat Garrett to Clu Gulager’s Billy the Kid, although I have no memories of any particular episodes. Most of the films I saw him in on TV over the years were westerns, including THE OUTRIDERS, THE MAVERICK QUEEN, DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE, SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN, STAGE TO THUNDER ROCK, and TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE. Plus he played guest star roles on other TV westerns, including “Bonanza,” “The Virginian” (pictured here), “High Chaparral,” and the pilot film for “Kung Fu.”
Yoko Tani (1928-1999) was a Japanese actress/dancer who was born in France but raised in Japan and got her start in movies after she returned to France in the 1950s. I first became aware of her as a child when I saw her in SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD (which played the Bronx in 1963), an Italian muscleman film starring Gordon Scott as Samson (Maciste in the Italian original). Around the same time, FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS, another film Ms. Tani starred in, also showed up in neighborhood theaters and I remember noting Tani’s name in the ads. I didn’t get to see FIRST SPACESHIP at the time and would have to wait some 20-odd years before seeing it on TV.
I first heard about THE PRICE OF POWER (1969) at a table selling videotapes of Italian genre films at a Chiller Theater convention some 30 years after the film’s release. It was described as an Italian western that was a thinly disguised allegory about the Kennedy assassination with Van Johnson as President James A. Garfield (who was himself assassinated). I didn’t purchase it at the time even though it sounded right up my alley. (I think I might have already reached my limit of purchases at that convention.)
Long story short: I didn’t see the film until last Sunday, June 17, when it played at the Film Forum in Manhattan as part of their Spaghetti Western series. The film was shown in Italian with English subtitles, which I found pretty jarring, especially since Van Johnson and a couple of other actors are clearly mouthing their lines in English. Like most Italian films, the entire thing was post-dubbed. I would have preferred an English dub, which is how I’ve experienced pretty much all other Italian westerns I’ve seen. (Given the international makeup of so many of the casts involved in these films—Italian, Spanish, French, German, American, etc.—I find it difficult to consider Italian the original language for such films .)