Tag Archives: Charles Bronson

Filming Across Cultures: Cowboys, Samurai and Kung Fu Champs in the 1970s

17 May

In the 1960s and 70s, the neighborhood theater functioned as a Cinematheque of global genre films, offering Italian westerns, French crime thrillers, English horror, Soviet fantasy, Japanese samurai films and Hong Kong kung fu films, among other genres. I still marvel at the recollection of seeing such international movie icons as John Wayne, Jean Gabin and Toshiro Mifune in new movies at local theaters when I was still a teenager. I once wrote about this particular movie culture in a chapter for a proposed book on 42nd Street theaters. I’d like to share an excerpt from the chapter, after a few paragraphs of introduction.

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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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Happy Birthday, Ennio Morricone!

10 Nov

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.

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CRIME WAVE (1954) – The real L.A. Confidential

2 Mar

Last year, Nicolas Refn’s crime thriller DRIVE, starring Ryan Gosling as a taciturn getaway driver, got lots of praise and was touted by internet fans as a surefire Oscar nominee in several major categories. (It only got one nomination—Sound Editing.) While I enjoyed most of it, its virtues arose from the fact that it was simply a well-executed mid-range genre film, coming out at a time when this kind of film has become quite rare. I thought back to an era when films like this were routinely released, with no fanfare and no critical hype, and tended to be much better than DRIVE. I’m thinking of L.A.-filmed crime dramas and examples of film noir from roughly 1947-1955, e.g. BORN TO KILL, ACT OF VIOLENCE, BODYGUARD, CRISS CROSS, HE WALKED BY NIGHT, HOLLOW TRIUMPH, RAW DEAL, BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN, etc.

Another such film is CRIME WAVE (1954), found on a double feature DVD (paired with DECOY, 1946) from Warner Bros., which I watched for the first time yesterday. It’s short (74 minutes), snappy, and shot almost entirely on location in Los Angeles and its environs. What struck me almost immediately is the naturalistic style of the cinematography, with existing light used where possible, dialogue recorded sync-sound on the spot for most of the scenes, and a complete avoidance of Hollywood gloss. It’s almost like a documentary in parts.

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