You Never Can Tell What Will Walk Out Of The Fog… Indicator’s COLUMBIA NOIR #1 Box Reviewed

Foch & Wright’s brush with The Uncanny saves the world for Democracy…

BD. Indicator. Region B. 12.

ESCAPE IN THE FOG (Budd Boetticher, 1945)
THE UNDERCOVER MAN (Joseph H Lewis, 1949)
DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD (Richard Quine, 1954)
5 AGAINST THE HOUSE (Phil Karlson, 1955)
THE GARMENT JUNGLE (Vincent Sherman and Robert Aldrich, 1957)
THE LINEUP (Don Siegel, 1958)

Indicator’s characteristically lush inaugural trawl through Columbia’s Noir and Noirish output makes for an eclectic and immersive box set experience.

Escape In The Fog (directed by Budd Boetticher before he carved out a comfortable niche for himself in Western territory) is a “B” movie in the truest sense of the term, a second feature clocking in at scarcely more than an hour and consequently rattling along at a fair old lick so that Boetticher and writer Aubrey Wisberg can pack their tale of WWII espionage with nasty Nazis, snappy guys, sexy dames tied up in cellars, dirty double crosses and a surprise supernatural element…. all this plus a “blink and you’ll miss her” appearance by the young Shelley Winters.

The MacGuffin that drives this one along is an unspecified “special plan” to end hostilities early (and just four months after Boetticher’s film hit American cinemas, the Enola Gay released its payload over Hiroshima) but the plot turns on the ineffable moment in which recuperating army nurse Eileen Carr (Nina Foch), out for an insomniac stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge, witnesses Barry Malcolm (Willian Wright) being duffed up by some German agents, which turns out to be a (very fortuitous) premonition of something which hasn’t happened yet. As an inquisitive cop tells her: “You never can tell what will walk out of the fog”. What never emerges from that nebulous bridge, however, is any attempt at an explanation for this rum turn of events, which all the participants just seem to take in their stride. Perhaps we’re meant to infer that Divine Providence really was rooting for the Allies or maybe Boetticher was just copping himself a bit of the then-voguish “inner sanctum” action (a mystery series that has continued to exert its influence as recently and controversially as in Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale, 2002). EITF’s moody meditation on death and destiny, played out in San Francisco, might even have been on Hitchcock’s mind when he shot Vertigo in that city, 13 years later…

Nina Foch fanciers are further served in this box by the Dutch actress’s appearance in The Undercover Man. Here she’s Judith, devoted wife of dedicated IRS agent Frank Warren (Glenn Ford), who’s aiming to bring down Chicago’s “Big Fellow”, after all else has failed, by establishing tax evasion. Although the film never makes this explicit (beyond its vague prologue paean to the unsung heroes of crime cracking), the allusion to the real life and crime story of a certain Alphonse Capone is unmistakable. The principle obstacle to Warren and his tenacious team (below) getting at the truth, of course, is the understandable reluctance of those involved in the numbers, protection and various other rackets to break their silence but ultimately it’s a plucky little granny from the old country who speaks up to settle the crime lord’s hash.

The characterisations in Lewis’s morality play are perhaps more cut and dried, black and white, than is customary in this genre, but the art direction of Walter Holscher, Burnett Guffey’s compositions and low angle photography, plus the slick montages of editor Al Clark, are all out of the Classic Noir playbook. Just who is that “undercover man”, though? Warren whips his warrant card out and starts waving it around at the drop of a hat. Maybe the title character is actually “The Big Fellow”, who conducts his nefarious activities so clandestinely that we never get to see him or even hear his real name.

Glenn Ford played Frank Warren-type roles more times than Posh Spice has had hot dinners but in Drive A Crooked Road (co-written with director Quine by Blake Edwards) we find Mickey Rooney trying to bust out of his goofy nice guy straightjacket and succeeding admirably in the role of Eddie Shannon, a short arsed nobody of a car mechanic who just happens to drive like the clappers. Identifying him as the guy they need to beat police roadblocks after the bank heist they’re planning, cynical hipsters Steve Norris (Kevin McCarthy) and Harold Baker (Jack Kelly) lure the hapless schmuck into their scheme, using sexy Barbara Mathews (Dianne Foster) as the bait in their honey trap. When Babs’ conscience starts troubling her, murderous complications arise. Owing much to the plot of Robert Siodmak’s seminal The Killers (1946), DACR emerges as a strong slice of Noir in its own right and gets an enthusiastic introduction here from Martin Scorsese…

… presumably the director of Casino (1995) is also well aware of 5 Against The House. Phil Karlson’s heist movie features the oldest college students seen on cinema screens until Grease (hang on, they’re Korean War veterans studying on the G.I. Bill… still looking a bit to old to fit even that chronology though, if you ask me) including hunky Al Mercer (Guy Madison), his post traumatic stress-disordered former comrade in arms Brick (Brian Keith) and smart alec Ronnie (Kerwin Mathews), who comes up with the whimsical student wheeze of robbing a casino, just for the fun of it and returning the money. What could possibly go wrong? Enough, potentially, for Al to pull out but he tags along anyway so he can marry his girl Kay (Kim Novak, on the verge of the big time) in Reno. Unfortunately the increasingly deranged Brick won’t stand for anybody punking out and he has no intention of returning any money. Bang bang goes Al and Kay’s honeymoon…

The ensemble acting in this one is pretty strong, though the constant would-be wise cracks from debutant screen-writer Stirling Silliphant quickly wear out their welcome. Never mind (as we’ll shortly see), Silliphant went on to pen some sterling stuff. Kerwin Mathews also gets his first big screen credit, after an anonymous earlier 1955 appearance in Fred Sears’ Cell 2455, Death Row, a thinly veiled dramatisation of the notorious Caryl Chessman / “Red Light Bandit” case. Watch out for a pre-“Cannon” William Conrad too, handling the money in that casino.

Kerwin Mathews is back as Alan Mitchell (above left), another Korean War vet, in The Garment Jungle, returning to take his place in the family fashion business but finding it scarcely less of a battlefield. His father Walter (Lee J. Cobb) has become embroiled with the mob (personified by Richard Boone’s aptly named Artie Ravidge) in an attempt to keep the union out of his shop and takes an eternity to figure out that this attempted cure is actually way more harmful than the perceived illness. He doesn’t seem unduly concerned about union supporting employees being roughed up, organiser Tulio Renata (Robert Loggia) being murdered, nor even his partner / best mate dying in an elevator “accident” but Alan eventually… finally… opens his eyes and takes on the hoods while simultaneously romancing Renata’s widow Theresa (the silver screen’s sexist scouser Sicilian, Gia Scala). This is another forceful effort, with exactly the level of performances you’d expect from such a standout cast. The script was adapted by Harry Kleiner from newspaper articles in which Lester Velie documented the real life struggles of sweatshop workers. As detailed by Tony Rayns in a bonus featurette, Robert Aldrich shot much of the picture but left it to be completed by Vincent Sherman when his desire to emphasise the Jewish experience in Manhattan’s rag trade was thwarted… by producer Harry Cohn (go figure!) As evidenced by the poster below, Columbia would ultimately take a very different tack in the marketing of the film…

Indicator save the best till last on this set, with the great Don Siegel’s The Lineup, on which the aforementioned Stirling Silliphant proved that he had developed into a film writing force to be reckoned with. The action kicks off at San Francisco International Airport, where an apparently bog standard luggage theft escalates into a shootout that leaves a cop and a taxi driver dead. The police discover that a statuette in the purloined case contains heroin, but recognising that its owner is an unwitting dupe, release it back to him, with an innocuous powder substituted for the skag, while they wait to see who tries to pick it up. Enter the intense Dancer (Eli Wallach), his cynical handler Julian (Robert Keith) and their alcoholic driver, collecting from their unwitting mules until they discover that a cute little girl has used all the dope secreted in her dolly as face powder for it, at which point the brown stuff really hits the fan…

As amply demonstrated here (and Anthony Hopkins, please take note) it’s not necessary to chew on the scenery when playing a psychopath. Wallach’s portrayal of the madness simmering away just below his character’s stone cold surface is masterly stuff and when he finally does blow… oh boy!

As underlined in a short accompanying video essay, Siegel’s film makes exemplary use of its locations (many still standing, some of them long gone). But again, why is it called The Lineup? There is a police lineup in it (more than one, actually) but also plenty more noteworthy stuff, including a climactic car chase that (even without the participation of Mickey Rooney) makes for truly thrilling stuff and predates the more celebrated one in Bullitt by a full decade.

All six films are handsomely presented here, for the first time on UK Blu-ray (with The Undercover Man and Drive a Crooked Road making their world Blu-ray premieres). This set also boasts a 120-page book, and is strictly limited to 6,000 numbered units. There are audio commentaries from the likes of Pamela Hutchinson, Tony Rayns, Nick Pinkerton and David Jenkins. On The Lineup you get a choice of two commentary tracks (or why not spoil yourself and listen to both), one courtesy of legendary crime writer James Ellroy with the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller and a more recent one featuring film historian David Del Valle and author / screenwriter C Courtney Joyner. Supporting the main feature on each disc you’ll find apposite bonus materials such as Boetticher’s The Fleet That Came To Stay, compiled from original combat footage captured during the Battle of Okinawa and released shortly after Escape in the Fog; Joseph H Lewis’s 1945 short Man on a Bus, a PR job for the fledgling state of Israel starring Walter Brennan, Broderick Crawford, Ruth Roman and yes, Lassie. There are also archival interviews of various vintage with Kim Novak, Robert Loggia and Mickey Rooney (also a brief bit of publicity puff in which Rooney watches an earlier bit of publicity puff, featuring his childhood self, with a couple of his Columbia pals!) Director and Noir buff Christopher Nolan delivers a quickfire appreciation of the genre. You also get three half hour episodes of the early fifties radio series The Lineup: The Case Of Frankie And Joyce, The Candy Store Murder (written by Blake Edwards) and The Harrowing Haggada Handball Case (co-written by Edwards and Richard Quine).

The expected Image galleries and trailers are present and correct but what really puts the cherry on this cake is that Indicator have taken it as the pretext to trot out a bunch of their Three Stooges acquisitions from the Columbia vault, each amusingly reflecting the subject matter of the main feature whose disc they share. Titles are You Nazty Spy (1940), Higher Than A Kite (1943), Rip, Sew And Stitch and Tricky Dicks (both 1953), Income Tax Sappy (1954) and the decidedly odd (atypically so) Sweet And Hot (1958). Plenty there for fans of Larry, Moe, Curly, Shemp and, er, Joe.

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Style Over Substance Abuse… SUSPIRIA (2018) & CRYSTAL EYES Reviewed

Nadia (or possibly Nidia) about to become fashionably late in the wonderful Crystal Eyes.

Supiria (Italy / USA, 2018). Directed by Luca Guadagnino.

To say I haven’t exactly been in a rush to catch Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria would be a significant understatement. It never seemed remotely like a good idea. Dario Argento’s 1977 original is a unique marriage of his seriously neurotic psyche and formidable technical skill set, the remaking (rebooting, re-imagining, whatever) of which makes about as much sense as somebody having another bash at, say, Eraserhead. It did nothing to allay my misapprehensions when I learned that the film was going to star Tilda Swinton (an actress who regularly missteps from the “worthy of attention” to “desperately seeking attention” category) and that the insufferable Thom Yorke, rather than Claudio Simonetti, would be scoring (Radiohead? Why not just have somebody shit in your ear?) Then the new Suspiria arrived, clocking in at a daunting two-and-a-half-hours plus (really, it’s not like I’ve got anything else to do with my time…) Friends who did brave it and whose opinions I value had nothing good to say about it. Well, I’ve finally grasped the nettle and can confidently (if not exactly happily) report that, against all expectations, I found it Suspiria, 2018 style to be… not unbearably awful.

Much critical discussion of Pasta Paura, certainly the work of its principal practitioners, has centred on the old “style over content” chestnut. Does style crowd content out of these films or subtly enhance and amplify it? Guadagnino seems to have his own definite ideas in this regard, dialling down the style (in cahoots with DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, production designer Inbal Weinberg and art directors Merlin Ortner / Monica Sallustio he’s come up with a very good looking picture, whose good looks sadly pale into insignificance compared with the all out aesthetic assault of Argento’s original) while cramming in extraneous content. So Dakota Johnson’s Susie Bannion (sic) is the victim of a religiously repressive Mennonite upbringing (Suzy’s Mom considers her “my sin… that’s what I smear on the world”… BTW, Greta Bohacek as the young Susie bears a pleasing resemblance to Nicoletta Elmi); instead of being bisected by falling masonry, Pat Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz) gets regrettably wrapped up with the Red Army Fraction (yes, that’s the correct rendering of their name) but also gets to deliver the best line in the film (“They’ll follow me out and eat my cunt on a plate!”); and the witches who staff the Markos Dance Academy seem to have exerted an influence over Hitler and co. So far, so… well, I’m still watching, aren’t I?

Guadagnino gets a bit more milage out of the whole terpsichorean thing. Those witches seem to feed off the energies unleashed by dancing (which can also be turned against their enemies) rather than just eating the dancers, as in the original. The routines here are modern, interpretive stuff, as opposed to the classical ballet in Argento’s film (which, combined with some judicious editing, makes easier for Johnson to pass herself off as a dancer). The 42nd Street references (and I’m referring to Lloyd Bacon’s 1933 musical now) are more overtly stated than before and the mousey teacher’s abrupt suicide reminded me of the pianist’s in Pasolini’s Salo.

Guadagnino’s Suspiria doesn’t drag anything like as much as I’d feared it would and Tilda Swinton’s Kind Hearts And Coronets” turn is significantly less irritating than it could have been. Incidental pleasures include a tiny role for Jessica Harper (the original Suzy Banyon) and a somewhat larger one for the marvellous (and far too little seen, these days) Renée Soutendijk from Spetters, constantly snarking away over some malign gag that only she gets. It’s also quite amusing from a 2020 perspective to see these holistic health freaks chain smoking away like bastards.

In conclusion, Suspiria 2018 is nowhere near as appalling as I’d expected, which isn’t to say that I’m likely to ever watch it again…. two-and-a-half hours of my time is more than enough. I sincerely hope we’ll be spared a four hour “Amazon Original” take on Inferno. No need to worry about a Mother Of Tears rehash because as Darrell Buxton has already pointed out, that’s covered in the mystifying, messy and decidedly overripe final thirty minutes of Guadagnino’s film. The whole experience would have been much more satisfying if they’d changed the title / character names and generally cut back on the allusions to Argento’s masterpiece, riffing on Suspiria 1977 in the same way that Midsommar riffs on The Wicker Man. Courting direct comparisons with what is probably The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made was never going to work out to this film’s advantage. On the other hand…

Crystal Eyes / “Mirada De Cristal” (Argentina, 2017). Directed by Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano.

During a catwalk show designed to let the world know what a tortured existence supermodels lead (“… trapped in a shop window with no escape”), the obnoxious, coke addled Alexis Carpenter (Camila Pizzo) manages to monumentally piss off everybody (going so far as to scar her make up artist for life, with scalding coffee) before accidentally incinerating herself. Most of the tears shed for her are blatantly crocodilian, but an unspecified admirer, somebody who spends their time obsessively watching a VHS compilation of Alexis’ greatest media moments, is also watching out for her legacy. The formidable Lucia Uccello (Silvia Montanari), publisher of the fashion bible Atilla, decides to stage a tribute event on the first anniversary of Alexis’ death, pitting a posse of bitchy models into competition with each other to fill the Jimmy Choos of the former colleague they so despised. In protest or as some misguided tribute of their own, Alexis’ brother and boyfriend decide to steal some of her dresses before they can be used in the show, only for the latter to have his throat cut by a murderous mannequin. He won’t be the last, as the extravagantly disguised killer steadily works his or her way through everybody who was present on that fateful night. Will the tribute show be haunted by this Phantom of the catwalk? Well, what do you think…

Just about any frozen frame from writer / directors Endelman and Montejano’s Crystal Eyes would probably invoke the spirit of Argento’s Suspiria more effectively than is managed during 152 minutes of Guadagnino’s “reimagining”. Clearly conceived without any substantial aspirations whatsoever, this Argentinian effort is an unabashed open love letter to the Italian horror and thriller traditions, a sentiment that will be enthusiastically seconded by legions of admirers around the world. I really can’t abide those Cattet / Forzani desperate Arthouse wannabes, nor those bigger budgeted productions which take the same lazy tack of grafting prime Morricone or Trovajoli cuts onto their “Original Soundtracks” in an attempt to cop some facile giallo cachet, but Crystal Eyes is a different matter altogether, a seriously devotional exercise.

Endelman and Montejano are clearly enthusiastic consumers of all things Yellow and gleefully plunder their favourites for scenes to restage. Carlo Vanzina’s 1985 effort Nothing Underneath (the very title of which riffed on the ol’ “style / substance” chestnut), its sort of sequel Too Beautiful To Die (directed by Dario Piana in 1988) and their end of cycle ilk are heavily referenced, but the directors don’t hesitate to delve right back into the archives of couture slaughter, revisiting Mario Bava’s seminal Blood And Black Lace (1964) for the murder of one of Lucia’ sexy lesbian “nieces” (it was either Nadia or Nidia but I’m buggered if I can tell one from the other). The film’s climax will bring back welcome memories of Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987), too, while Pablo Fuu’s score strikes exactly the right notes for late ‘80s giallo.

Endelman and Montejano were also responsible for the film’s production design and have done a remarkable job recreating the decor of (the original) Suspiria (Lucia’s office comes complete with a dagger plumaged phoenix statue) on the cheap. Cinematographers Cecilia Casas and Vanina Gottardi alternate between the Luciano Tovoli look on Argento’s classic and what Romano Albani wrought on his follow up, Inferno. Outrageous matte shots of city scapes contribute further knowing nods to the influence of Bava and as for that drawer full of Hitchcock artifacts…

Stylistic exercises as sterile as those aforementionend Cattet / Forzani efforts are hardly the most captivating cinematic experiences. Crystal Eyes, in sharp contrast, effectively corrals its cornucopia of stylish genre allusions into a teeming subtext that will tax the brains of those sufficiently versed in the wilder highways and byways of Pasta Paura. It won’t be too hard, for instance, for any horror fan raised on “video nasties” to spot the significance of Lucio the blind lift attendant (Andrés Borghi) and his cataracts, nor to look, er, beyond that and get the reference to a fractured pipe in the basement (send for Joe the plumber!) but how many viewers took Lucio’s blindness as a cue to extrapolate the killer’s identity from what happened in Paolo Cavara’s Black Belly of The Tarantula (1971)? I certainly did… and as it happened I was completely wrong, though Endelman and Montejano have a ball leading us up and down such garden paths throughout their picture.

Essentially as camp as a row of tents, this Fray Bentos thriller is played sufficiently straight faced to pass for a convincing latter day spaghetti slasher… which is, if I can stretch a banal geographical point (and for a film as enjoyable as this, why wouldn’t I?) exactly what it is.

The original and still the best…
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Return Of The Mac… Federico Zampaglione’s TULPA Reviewed.

Tulpa aka Tulpa: Demon Of Desire (Italy, 2012). Directed by Federico Zampaglione.

The whole giallo stabbing match kicked off (by common assent) in 1963, with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much; peaked quantitatively in the first years of the ’70s; qualitatively in 1975 (with Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso); and tailed off after 1987, when Argento chalked up his last top notch picture (Opera) and Michele Soavi made his astonishingly assured directorial debut, Stagefright. Like Irving Wallace in the latter, the genre itself has been pronounced deceased many times but that ol’ death nerve has a habit of twitching back into life, just when you thought it was safe to take another slug of J&B. The results have been decidedly mixed, though once in a yellow moon something as marvellously entertaining as Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano’s Crystal Eyes (2017) turns up… and yes, we’ll be reviewing that one shortly.

Given director Federico Zampaglione’s previous (and for all I know, ongoing parallel) incarnation as an Italian rock star, one might reasonably have feared that his Tulpa (aka Tulpa: Demon Of Desire, 2012) would emerge as some kind of glorified, feature length pop promo. What bodes well for the picture is that he conceived its story in collaboration with spaghetti screen-writing veteran Dardano Sacchetti, who’s penned more A-grade gialli than anybody else (with the probable exception of Ernesto Gastaldi).

Tulpa stars Greta Scacchi lookalike Claudia Gerini (Zampaglione’s partner when they made the film) as Lisa Boeri, a high finance woman whose boss Mr Roccaforte (Michele Placido) is a big cheese in the money markets (see what I did there?) Lisa works hard and plays hard, unwinding from the pressures of bitchy boardroom battles by visiting an Eyes Wide Shut styled upmarket swingers’ club, where she has lashings of fun and is encouraged by Kiran, the cadaverous moloko plus-dispensing bar tender / Tibetan Buddhist adept, to free, surrender to and generally indulge her Tulpa. Apparently if I’d paid more attention to Twin Peaks I’d have got the reference but (evidently unlike Signor Zampaglione), I tuned out of that show very early in its run. The Tulpa, we learn, is a concept borrowed from esoteric Tibetan Buddhism and apparently refers to a physical being, generated from sexual energy, which if allowed too much autonomy, can impact on the material world with demonic intensity.

Are Lisa’s bonking exploits responsible, then, for the black hatted and leather macintoshed spectre slicing its way through her co-swingers and boardroom rivals (not to mention throwing hot chip fat in their faces, putting them on barbed wire carousel rides and interring them in coffins with hungry rats)? Needless to say, there’s no shortage of twists and turns along the way though as in many classic gialli, the killer’s identity is eminently guessable. Which is not to say that Tulpa is a classic giallo, exactly… but you know you’ve wasted many 90 minute chunks of your precious time on plenty worse.

During my interview with Dardano Sacchetti he complained that Zampagline had stressed Tulpa’s soft core aspects over the giallo elements of his story. Regular readers of this blog might well agree. Zampaglione directs competently enough and has clearly familiarised himself with the Argento canon (I would hazard a guess that he was particularly taken with Opera) but never comes close to the visual creativity of prime time Argento or the other terror titans with whom Sacchetti notably collaborated, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci. Together with his brother Francesco, the director also scored his film, waxing Carpenteresque during stalking scenes and approximating Claudio Simonetti’s cacophonic Suspiria crescendo during the climactic revelations. FZ opted for his actors to deliver their lines in English which obviously made some kind of commercial sense, though this decision ultimately backfires on the movie, with stilted deliveries often distracting attention from the on screen action (it’s a problem that dubbing doesn’t always solve, witness Argento’s Tenebrae, 1982).

“Who the fuck are you, to say that?”

If there is any message lurking behind Tulpa’s veneer of recycled style, it’s that sexual repression, rather than sexual expression, creates demons. Amen to that.

Bond girl sex bomb Maria Gracia Cucinotta apparently produced Tulpa. So, er, grazie, Maria…

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Towers Opens Fire… Indicator’s FU MANCHU CYCLE, 1965-1969 BD Box Set Reviewed.

BD. Indicator. Region B. 15

“God save Fu Manchu, Moriarty and Dracula”. The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968.

Now that everything pre-Millennial is being rigorously combed through for possible retrospective violations of an ever tightening political correctness code, with particular reference to actors playing characters of a different racial heritage from their own (i.e. acting), it’s an “interesting” time for Indicator to release a characteristically epic BD box set devoted to five Fu Manchu films produced in the ‘60s by the notorious Harry Allan Towers and starring Christopher Lee as the “Devil Doctor / Yellow Peril incarnate”… that’s “interesting” as in the old Chinese curse: “May you live through interesting times” (am I, as an occidental dude, even allowed to reference that one anymore?)

First things first… the fourteen Fu Manchu novels of Sax Rohmer (1983-1959, aka Arthur Sarsfield Ward, but known to his Mum, when he was growing up in Birmingham, as Arthur Henry Ward) are unashamedly Sinophobic, cashing in on contemporary (well, it’s never really gone away) hysteria over “The Yellow Peril” swamping Western, Christian, capitalist culture. The books are enthusiastically anti-Semitic, into the rotten bargain, but early comic strip, radio and film adaptations emphasised the Sinophobia, reaching a peak with MGM’s The Mask of Fu Manchu (1931), in which Boris Karloff (an actor who did have Asian heritage) as the title character, orders his minions to enslave white men and rape their women. Charles Brabin’s film was so “screamingly racist” (in the words of Christopher Frayling during a bonus interview here) that it was pulled from distribution after official complaints by the Chinese government and VHS copies were being cut as late as the 1980’s. During WWII the American State Department ordered Republic Pictures to shoot no more FM serials after Dreams of Fu Manchu (1940) for fear of offending China, then an ally against imperial Japan.

The series produced by Harry Allan Towers (above), though, are an entirely different kettle of koi carp. For one thing, after the author died (of… get this… Asian Flu) that inveterate adaptor of vintage literature bought the character rights rather than the story rights for the Fu Manchu novels from Rohmer’s widow, saving himself a savvy packet and simultaneously divesting his series of the novels’ racist baggage by penning new stories under his trusty “Peter Welbeck” non de plume. Here, the Doc is less of a ranting maniac and more of a Chinese nationalist, honourable after his own fashion and certainly (until a certain Spaniard got his busy hands on him) a man of his word (even if most of the words he speaks concern his ambitions for world domination, exceeded only by his desire for revenge on his ongoing nemesis… Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, Sir Dennis Nayland Smith). Then there’s Christopher Lee, who obviously brings real physical presence and gravitas to the title role. Lee had already played orientals to impressive effect in two 1961 efforts, Hammer’s Terror of the Tongs (1961) and Rialto Film’s Edgar Wallace adaptation The Devil’s Daffodil, directed by Akos Rathonvi. Lee’s Fu Manchu is no Benny Hill “Cooky Boy” caricature, more a Blofeld-like supervillain. The influence of the early Bond films is unmistakable, though instead of 007, Fu’s up against Rohmer’s answer to Holmes and Watson, in the shape of Smith and his loyal companion Dr Petrie (played in all of these films by Howard Marion-Crawford). The series’ other ever present is Tsai Chin as the Doc’s daughter Lin Tang, an inscrutable chip off the fiendish old block.

With Don Sharp (“a lovely, make-do-and-mend director” in the words of assistant Ray Andrew) calling the shots, ably assisted by equally dependable DP Ernest Steward, inaugural entry The Face of Fu Manchu (1965) also benefits from a castload of such krimi regulars (the film is a UK / West German co-production) as Joachim Fuchsberger, Karin Dor and Walter Rilla alongside seasoned British pros like James Robertson Justice (“You can’t leave the museum littered with dead Chinese!”) Dublin doubles for London and indeed the Chinese courtyard where we find Nayland Smith (played by Nigel Green) attending the judicial decapitation, for “crimes beyond number” of the title character. Not for the last time in this series, reports of the Doc’s demise would turn out to have been seriously exaggerated…

Back in “London”, Nayland Smith is bored with his desk job, thirsting for action. He tells his friend Petrie of his nagging doubt that Fu Manchu is still alive and of course he is, having substituted a brain washed doppelgänger for himself on the chopping block. As you do. Before you can say “Evil plan to take over the World”, not entirely inconspicuous Burmese dacoits in martial arts outfits are kidnapping scientists and strangling people with Tibetan prayer scarves all over the capital. Fu’s got himself a Limehouse cellar HQ, very handy for drowning his enemies and leaving them floating around in the Thames. Dr Muller (Rilla) is forced to help the villain synthesise a deadly biotoxin from the black hill poppy (ironic stuff, considering the history of the Opium Wars) when Fu kidnaps his daughter Maria (Dor). Karl Jannsen (Fuchsberger) collaborates with our boys to try and save the Mullers but soon Fu is demonstrating the power of his dreaded lurgy by wiping out the population of seaside town Fleetwick, trailered in one of the ominous radio broadcasts he seems to favour. Meanwhile Lin Tang tops Myrna Loy’s Fah Lo See in Mask of Fu Manchu for sheer unabashed sadism, though she is frequently pulled up by her iron-disciplined father, a firm believer in the adage that violence is a tool rather than a toy. The explosive conclusion in Tibet is a little abruptly arrived at and concluded but by the time Fu Manchu has uttered his soon to become familiar threat that the world will hear from him again (and it usually does), all but the most demanding viewers will consider themselves well served by this satisfying Saturday matinee type romp.

Douglas Wilmer replaces Nigel Green as Nayland Smith in Brides of Fu Manchu (1966) another ripping yarn shot partly in Dublin but mostly studio bound, played out in the dungeons where Fu has made his new HQ and keeps his collection of kidnapped / hypnotised eminent scientists’ daughters. Their dads are thus obliged to chip in with their expertise on his project to build a sonic death ray which, after a decoy threat to Windsor castle, disintegrates a British battleship at sea. Westminster Abbey, stuffed with world leaders, is next on the Doc’s hit list but the BBC collaborate on blocking his deadly radio waves and the French foreign legion join an attack on his base, which blows up after Fu cranks the power too high, over the objections of his technical advisor Burt Kwouk. The UK film industry’s most prolific Chinese thesp is joined by familiar British character actors (e.g. Rupert Davis) and this being another co-production with West Germany, a further krimi contingent in the shape of Heinz Drache and Joseph Furst.

With Sharp otherwise occupied on IRA thriller The Violent Enemy and Towers’ Rocket to the Moon, Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967) was directed by the similarly stalwart Jeremy Summers. Reflecting developments in the ongoing Bond franchise, this one’s a bit more self-consciously modern, edgy, violent and gimmicky than its predecessors. Seeking the leadership of international organised crime (represented by Horst Frank as an oddly accented American racketeer), Fu comes up with his most fiendish plan yet, to weaken world wide law enforcement by either bumping off or discrediting its major practitioners. Wilmer’s Nayland Smith is kidnapped and replaced with a surgically engineered, brainwashed ringer who promptly strangles his maid and is sentenced to death. With the real Assistant Commissioner out of commission, his associates (principally Peter Karsten’s Kurt) have to do most of the sleuthing and foiling. Maria Rohm, Towers’ long time companion, adorns the proceedings as Shanghai dive chanteuse Ingrid, though she’s actually lip-synching to the voice of Samantha Jones.

Received critical wisdom has it that after the solid “Hammer-looking” Face, this series declined markedly with each successive entry and it’s been suggested that Towers spent progressively more of each film’s budget on wining and dining himself and favoured members of his cast and crew. In point of fact, the first three entries are roughly comparable in quality and Vengeance, shot partly in Ireland but also at the Shaw Brothers’ studios in Hong Kong, arguably tops the claustrophobic Brides in terms of production values, scenic locations and thrills / spills. Summers was initially signed up to make another three Fu Manchu epics for the producer but when contractual undertakings clashed, Towers had an oven baked (maybe half-baked) alternative ready to go. Depending on your cinematic tastes, its arguable that the rot really set in with Blood of Fu Manchu (1968)… what’s indisputable is that the series now took a sexadelic swerve into a completely parallel universe, the unparalleled universe of Spanish cult director extraordinary, Jess Franco. Towers had already called Franco in to rescue The Face of Eve (1968) when Summers left that one uncompleted. Did dear old Jess ever really rescue a picture? He’s certainly finished off more than a few. Whatever, with him safely ensconced in the Fu Manchu directing seat, this series would never be quite the same again. Blood… is unrecognisable as the work of the director who made e.g. Succubus, the same year. Despite some sub-Bava lighting effects and signature shots of scantily clad women suspended in chains, there are no pretensions to auteurism here, just Jess taking the money (surreptitiously spending much of it shooting scenes for several other movies he’s got in development) and running. Though “Peter Welbeck” remains the writer of record (and Towers was no doubt happy to pay himself for writing it), this one bears the unmistakable stamp of a thousand other Franco screenplays jotted down on the back of a fag packet. One of Daniel White’s more listless scores does nothing to help.

Now based in some Amazon ruins, Fu has resynthesised an ancient Inca poison that will be administered to world leaders via the kisses of beautiful women whom he has kidnapped and brain washed (this one was released in The States, to general indifference, as Kiss and Kill, increasing suspicion that the Fu Manchu brand was losing its box office allure). Nayland Smith (now played by Richard Robin Hood Greene), having copped a mouthful of poison, is incapacitated and unseen for most of the picture (though he re-emerges with a blazing machine gun during its alleged climax). In another wage-bill cutting move Lee’s Fu, having set all this dastardly shit in motion, also disappears for much of its running time. Lin Tang is brought so far to the fore that she’s even seen sitting on Fu’s throne at one point (she’s following her father’s footsteps, she’s following her dear old Dad!) Nor does he discourage her from enjoying the whipping of captives, as he did in the first film. Shirley Eaton apparently never knew that she’d been cut into this one from footage shot for The Girl from Rio (another Franco / Towers Rohmer adaptation released in 1969) so she never got paid for it. Maria Rohm and Franco himself pop up in the cast and during the protracted absence of Lee and Greene from the screen, much of the narrative centres on the oafish antics of bandit Sancho Lopez, another questionable racist stereotype played by Ricardo Palacios (who looks like a refugee from a bad Spaghetti western, though he actually appeared in some of the very best ones). Marion-Crawford’s Dr Petrie is present and correct but he’s been reduced to a bumbling comic relief character, hacking his way through the Brazilian jungle in search of a nice cup of tea. When he does occasionally show, Lee brings something less than 100% conviction to the delivery of his lines, but with doozies like: “Let him wait like an ant on an anvil!”, who can blame him?

The world did hear from Lee’s Fu Manchu one more time, in Castle of Fu Manchu, but it’s anyone’s guess if they knew WTF he was on about. Scrabbled together with finance from the UK, West Germany, Italy, Spain, Lichtenstein and Turkey (anywhere but The States, which Towers was studiously avoiding while he waited out a vice charge) this one was largely filmed in Istanbul. As ever, Franco demonstrates skilful deployment of his “more bang for your buck” locations, but narrative wise this one makes its wobbly predecessor look like The Magnificent Ambersons. The general idea is that Dr Fu has cracked the formula for freezing large expanses of water instantaneously, threatening world shipping routes. He demonstrates this by freezing “the tropical waters of the South Atlantic” (er… are you sure about that, Doc?), something conveyed to the viewer by stock footage copped from Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember (1958). Elsewhere he causes a massive dam to burst, rendered by further footage theft, this time from Ralph Thomas’s 1957 effort Campbell’s Kingdom. At least Burt Kwouk’s scenes have been pinched from an earlier entry in the Fu Manchu series, if not one that Franco himself directed. The active ingredient in Fu’s ocean-freezing formula is (what else?) opium (is there nothing that stuff can’t do?) and to secure a sufficient supply of it, the Doc goes into partnership with Turkish dope mogul Omar Pashu (Jose Manuel Martin) whose evil henchwoman is played by a Fez-wearing Rosalba Neri (we don’t see enough of her but hey, can you ever really see enough of Rosalba Neri?) It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that Nayland Smith (Richard Greene again) ultimately thwarts these megalomaniacal shenanigans. This time the mandatory closing promise / thereat that the world would see Fu Manchu again rings hollow. Despite planning for a sixth entry, Harry Alan Towers decided that Jess Franco had singlehandedly achieved what nobody else ever managed… to kill off Fu Manchu (though no doubt the penny-pinching producer himself had a significant hand in the Doc’s untimely demise).

Could the world’s cinemas feasibly hear from Fu Manchu again in these more “woke” times? One imagines some kind of major revamp would be in order. As a pragmatic jobbing actor, Burt Kwouk was always cool regarding his appearances in this and similar fare. Tsai Chin later said that she felt she’d let her race down by appearing in the Fu Manchu flicks, though no doubt if an occidental actress had played her character, that would now be seriously frowned upon as well. You can’t win, really… just ask that perennially underachieving would be world dominator, Dr Fu Manchu. No matter… his cinematic crusade to rehabilitate the international prestige of Chinese would be achieved (and then some), scant years later, by a certain Bruce Lee.

All films have been handsomely restored from 4K scans of the original negatives. The first three are international BD premieres, the Franco films making their first UK appearances on blu here. Each film is introduced by the BFI’s Vic Pratt. Audio commentaries come courtesy of Stephen Jones / Kim Newman, David Flint / Adrian Smith and Jonathan Rigby. There are archival audio interviews with Don Sharp, Ernest Steward and Jeremy Summers, video ones with Lee (including with the Guardian’s David Robinson and a short piece from the Dublin location of Face), also AD Anthony Waye and clapper loader Ray Andrew on their never-a-dull-moment experiences working for the late Harry Alan Towers. There’s also an entertaining experience with the man himself, who owns up to a “confused” love life (apparently his long-standing partner Maria Rohm sanctioned or disallowed his one night stands on the basis of the proposed conquest’s star sign!) The wonderful Rosalba Neri (below) also talks enthusiastically about working with Franco, whom she remembers as “a genius”.

Kim Newman reflects on Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novels, Jonathan Rigby on Christopher Lee’s early career, Stephen Thrower on the Franco / Towers collaborations and Christopher Frayling outlines the whole “yellow peril” controversy attaching to Fu Manchu on screen. Two silent Stoll Picture shorts from 1923/4, starring H. Agar Lyons as the Doc – The Fiery Hand and (renewed topicality, here) The Coughing Horror – also included here as extras, illustrate just how far back the arguably dishonourable tradition extends (and each is presented with an optional new score by the band Peninsula). If you need the mood lightening a bit after that little lot, this set also includes Jeremy Summer’s Children’s Film Foundation short The Ghost of Monk’s Island… what, no Sammy’s Super T-shirt?!? You do get the requisite shedload of trailers, TV spots, alternative credits and titles, image galleries plus Super 8 presentations and colour test footage of Lee and Tsai Chin from Blood of Fu Manchu. The limited (to 6,000 numbered units) edition also packs an exclusive 120-page book with a new essay on these films by Tim Lucas, appraisals of the eventful lives and careers of Sax Rohmer and Harry Alan Towers, an examination of the work of Fu Manchu creator, new writing on The Ghost of Monk’s Island Stoll Pictures’ silent Fu Manchu serials, archival newspaper articles, pressbook extracts, contemporary critical responses and full film credits, also an exclusive double-sided poster and five replica production stills.

Phew, did I leave anything out?

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“Inhuman & Indecent”… The Ongoing Enigma Of DEMENTIA.

BD / DVD. BFI. Region B. 12.

The first time you watched Eraserhead (1977) or maybe Carnival Of Souls (1962), did you think to yourself: “I’ve never seen anything quite like that before?” If you did, you probably hadn’t seen Dementia (made in 1953, finally released in 1955) though I’d be prepared to wager that David Lynch and Herk Hervey did, before taking up their cameras. This singular cinematic oddity has exerted an unacknowledged influence over countless films, arguably encompassing Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) and offerings as recent as David Slade’s contribution (This Way To Egress) to the 2018 portmanteau effort Nightmare Cinema (2018)… and you know what? I’m even starting to wonder about the opening shots of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960)…

Of course the most maddening thing about this visual record of one psychotic woman (Adrienne Barrett) and her long day’s journey into night is how very little we know (doodly squat, to be precise) about Dementia’s elusive writer / director John Parker. He isn’t even granted either of those credits on any print (“a John Parker production” is as far as it goes) and although Parker family money apparently underwrote the picture, some commentators detect the veiled auteurial hand of associate producer Bruno VeSota, who lent his imposing (Orson Welles-like) physical presence to the casts of such exploitation classics as Tell-Tale Heart (his 1947 screen debut), The Wild One (1953), The Fast And The Furious (1954), The Undead and Rock All Night (both 1957), War Of The Satellites, The Cry Baby Killer and Hot Car Girl (all 1958) and the crucial 1959 quartet of I Mobster, The Wasp Woman, A Bucket Of Blood and Attack Of The Giant Leeches. Then there was Invasion Of The Star Creatures and The Violent And The Damned (both 1962), Attack Of The Mayan Mummy (1964), Curse Of The Stone Hand and Creature Of The Walking Dead (both 1965), The Wild World Of Batwoman aka She Was A Hippy Vampire (1966) and Hell’s Angels On Wheels (1967). Yeah, Bruno got around…

Here he plays “Rich Man”, the sugar daddy who picks up “The Gamin” (Barrett), with the pandering assistance of Richard Barron’s “Evil One”… I think the word “pimp” was probably banned by the Hays Code or something (God knows what Pastor Hays and his office made of the Bunuelian severed hand that scuttles through several scenes of Dementia). As it is, the New York Censorship Board rejected the film for two years on the grounds of its “inhumanity and indecency” (!)

Rescuing “The Gamin” from skid row street hassles and pursuit by a cop who recalls her abusive father (both played by Ben Roseman), “Rich Man” takes her on a date from Hell, culminating in a beatnik jazz club session that describes a queasy crescendo recalling the climax to the mother of all portmanteau horror movies, 1945’s Dead Of Night, resolving itself (or failing to so so) in similarly unsettling fashion.

While Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (another film in which VeSota appeared) renders similar Venice Beach locations as vaguely menacing, this one goes the whole Nightmare Noir bit with distorted Expressionist shots and compositions courtesy of William C. Thompson (raising the barely credible possibility that Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space might not even qualify as the most offbeat item on this one eyed cinematographer’s CV). Special mention for the after dark, Dickensian restaging of the protagonist’s abuse / neglectful upbringing in a cemetery.

In retrospect, despite the glowing testimonial of Preston Sturges (yes, the Preston Sturges, who declared Dementia “a Film To Purge Your Libido & Permeate Your Idioplasm!”) it’s hardly surprising that such an avant garde (and dialogue free) effort struggled to find mainstream distribution. The widest (fragmentary) exposure it’s received up till now undoubtedly came via its inclusion as the film-within-a-film in The Blob! (1958), though that movie’s producer Jack H. Harris also released Dementia in an alternative cut retitled Daughter Of Horror (available among the extras here) in 1957.

Harris also tacked on a truly hysterical voice over track, delivered by the young Ed McMahon, whose most impactful contribution on popular culture has been with the infinitely pithier and punchier “Heeeere’s Johnny!” introduction to Johnny Carson’s long running American chat show. Hey, I wonder if that could be worked into a film about somebody slowly losing their marbles…

Other extras, aside from the expected image gallery and trailers (plus Joe Dante’s trailer micro-appraisal) include a short compare compare-and-contrast exercise underlining the extraordinary care the Cohen Film Collection applied in its restoration of such a niche property and (stop me if you’ve heard these words before) a newly recorded audio commentary by Kat Ellinger. There’s also Alone With The Monsters, a kindred spirit, sixteen minute short in which Nazli Nour explores the dying thoughts of a demented woman. In the first pressing only, you’ll also discover a fully illustrated collectors’ booklet with new essays by Ian Schultz and the BFI’s William Fowler and Vic Pratt.

Sit down, make yourself uncomfortable and “enjoy” Dementia…

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Hey, You’ve Got To Hide Your Hyde Away… I, MONSTER Reviewed.

BD. Indicator. Region B. 12.

Still smarting over their uncredited role in bringing Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) to the screen, always chasing market leaders Hammer, Amicus honchoes Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky released their stab at the “definitive” adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde in 1971, the same year as Hammer’s floridly revisionist Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde arrived. All the better to play up their version’s putative faithfulness to Stevenson’s text, you might have thought, but inexplicably they lost their nerve, opted for a non-Stevensonian title and rechristened Christopher Lee’s alternative identities “Charles Marlowe” (the handsome, well intentioned but fatally hubristic scientist) and “Edward Blake” (his increasingly bubo-infested, dentally challenged malevolent shadow).

There’s been much fruitless speculation (to which I won’t add) over the reasoning behind this but even after we’ve parked that one, the other chestnut that keeps coming up and crowding out any discussion of the film’s actual merits is the abandoned 3-D gimmick which utilised the Pulfrich effect, dispensing with the need for special cameras but requiring Lee to walk from side within static shots more frequently than he oscillates between Good and Evil (while folks in the background typically traverse the screen in the opposite direction!) Amicus thought better of it before releasing I, Monster but it you don a pair of those cardboard glasses (surely every well appointed household is equipped with one?) while watching, you’ll get a pretty good idea of how it might well have worked, via an impressive visual collaboration between DP Moray Grant and art director Tony Curtis (no, not that Tony Curtis!) Personally, I always get a headache watching this stuff… still recovering from that Channel 4 screening of Flesh For Frankenstein!

Visual distractions aside, Weeks keeps things rolling along in satisfyingly entertaining fashion. I won’t insult my readers by assuming that you need a run down of the plot, reasonably faithfully adapted from Stevenson’s 1886 novella by Subotsky (though he can’t resist adding an anachronistic dollop of Freud to the principals’ musings about Rousseau, the nature of Evil, et al). The film is certainly way more faithful than Terence Fisher’s Hammer effort The Two Faces Of Dr Jekyll from 11 years earlier (which neglected to mention RLS at all in its credits / titles). Nor will you need me to point out that the combination of Lee and Peter Cushing (as Marlowe’s bewildered friend Dr. Utterson) makes for “must watch” stuff. The casting of Mike Raven, however, as their colleague Enfield, only exposes the fragility of his big time Horror Icon aspirations.

A root through the lower echelons of the supporting cast, though, does throw up some interesting finds, e.g. Michael Des Barres (who, like the late Raven, has straddled the worlds of film and music) as a “Peaky Blinders” type who gets into a razor fight with Blake and the uncredited trio of Lesley (Blue Peter) Judd (as De Barres’ strumpet girlfriend), future “video nasties” stalwart Ian McCulloch as “man at bar” and – as “girl in alley” – young Chloe Franks, a perennial Subotsky favourite who qualifies as the UK’s answer to Nicoletta Elmi on account of her roles in this, Trog (1970), The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Tales From The Crypt (1972), Whoever Slew Aunti Roo? (1972) and The Uncanny (1977).

Indicator’s limited (to 5,000 units) edition, another BD World Premiere, boasts two cuts of Weeks’ film, the 75-minute theatrical cut and an 81 minute variant, each restored in 2K. The director contributes a new audio commentary in addition to an archive one on which he collaborated with film scholar Sam Umland in 2005. Stephen Laws, who offers a short introduction to the film, also pops up interviewing Weeks in footage shot at the 1998 Festival Of Fantastic Films in Manchester. Carl Davis discusses his score for the film in another new interview. Audio interview wise, a section of Phil Nutman’s epic pow wow with Subotsky is complimented by part one of the BEHP interview with editor Peter Tanner. Yes, you get trailers and image galleries and if you’ve ever wanted to view this film’s trailer with an audio commentary from Kim Newman and David Flint, here’s your chance. I haven’t seen the limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet but am reliably informed that it includes Milton Subotsky’s memoir on I, Monster, a new essay by Josephine Botting, archival interview with Stephen Weeks, overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.

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Welcome To The Pleasure Dome… Pasuale Festa Campanile’s LA MATRIARCA aka THE LIBERTINE On Nucleus BD.

BD. Nucleus Films. Region B. 18.

Chi-chi young widow Mimi (Catherine Spaak) doesn’t seem too devastated at the funeral of her husband Franco, in fact she seems to regard the whole thing as analogous to kicking off an uncomfortable pair of shoes. While going through Franco’s estate with his attorney Sandro (Gigi Proietti), she discovers the deeds and keys to Franco’s secret man pad and on visiting, discovers that its modish fittings include (along with the mandatory J&B bottle bank) over head mirrors, sex toys and a state of the art (in 1968) home cinema set up for screening porno flicks. Although suspiciously professional looking, these turn out to be home movies featuring Franco indulging his hitherto unguessed at penchant for S/M, in the company of various willing strumpets including Mimi’s best friend Claudia (Fabienne Dalì). His secret journal meticulously records marks for aptitude, enthusiasm and imagination against each of his conquests. Turns out Mimi didn’t know Franco very well at all… then again, how well does she know herself?

Affronted as much by Franco’s relegation of her to boring respectability as by his infidelity, Mimi embarks on her own odyssey of erotic discovery by bedding Sandro in her late husband’s garçonniere and demanding his critical feedback. With a second hand copy of Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis as her guide, Mimi continues the obsessive exploration of her own emerging sensuality, fantasising freely and soliloquising salaciously as she relentlessly puts a succession of Eurocult’s finest manflesh to the carnal test… dentist Frank Wolff has no problems filling her cavities, though tennis coach Philippe Leroy fails to smash it during a post match session in the shower. Rough sex with sinister swinger Luigi Pistilli doesn’t really float Mimi’s boat, nor does the elaborate role playing favoured by Claudia’s husband Fabrizio (Renzo Montagnani… “oy oy oy oy oy!”) gel with her own private proclivities. Mistaking her for a working girl, Gabriele Tinti bungs Mimi a fistful of Lire after a spot of “wham bam, thank you ma’am” in his car (“The first money I ever earned in my life” muses the pampered widow). There’s also an unseen tryst with Venantino Venantini, playing the plumber fiancé of Mimi’s long suffering maid Maria (Edda Ferronao).

Through trial and error, Mimi identifies her own (very tame) kink (you might just possibly be able to work out her idea of horseplay from some of the illustrations here) and on finally giving in to her mother’s nagging to get a health check-up, she begins to suspect she might also have found somebody with whom to complete her equestrian quest, in the shape of handsome but vague radiologist Carlo De Marchi (Jean-Louis Trintignant)… but is Dr De Marchi The One? Love says “Ciao”, to quote Armando Trovajoli’s Bacharachesque theme song, belted out lustily (and more than a little Dusty-ly) by Andee Silver, but don’t forget that “Ciao” can as easily mean “see you later” as “Hiya”. Sandro’s still pressing his suit too, but by breaking the mirrors of Franco’s playroom (and administering a quick spanking), Dr D shatters Mimi’s narcissism and proceeding as mutually respectful equals, they discover that love and marriage really do go together like… well, like a horse and carriage.

Bunuel gave us the classic cinematic study of female sado-masochism in Belle De Jour (1967) and who more appropriate to mount a Belle ringer, the following year, than Pasquale Festa Campanile? Seriously though folks, Campanile (best known in English-speaking fan circles for a somewhat rougher take on sexual politics, 1977’s Hitch-Hike) is an infinitely more gifted grafter in the Eurotica mills than Franco, Rollin and the assorted usual suspects, a fact which would doubtless be recognised if only his films were better distributed. Similarly, the divine Spaak, currently best remembered as ice maiden Anna Terzi in Argento’s Cat’O Nine Tails (1971) is every bit as physically beautiful (a beauty which Campanile doesn’t hesitate to lay before the dreaded “male gaze” in this putative feminist tract) as, for instance Edwige Fenech or Barbara Bouchet and is probably (let it be whispered) a significantly better actress than either of those. Further releases featuring these two (together or singly) would be very welcome indeed… how about it, Nucleus?

Messrs Morris and West don’t release films particularly prolifically but when they do, they go that extra mile and then some. Extras here include The Libertine, the US theatrical version released by Radley Metzger’s Audubon distribution outfit, marginally saucier and redubbed to suit American ears. Lovely Jon celebrates Armando Trovajoli as “the voice of Rome” and Kat Ellinger strikes yet again with a characteristically erudite audio commentary on the main feature… let’s also raise a shiny Jimmy Choo, brimming with Bollinger, to Rachael Nisbet for a visual essay that cleverly correlates Mimi’s interior and exterior spaces. Trailers, image galleries, out takes and alternative scenes are present and correct, alongside a Fotoromanzo adaptation, Japanese release promo, gallery of poster for Audubon releases and reversible sleeve options. Giddy up and grab your copy now!

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Two Moreaus Never Know… EVE and MADEMOISELLE Reviewed.

EVE. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15. Released 28/09/20.
MADEMOISELLE. BD / DVD. BFI. Region B. 15. Released 21/09/20.

“The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer: What do women want?” Sigmund Freud.

More pertinently for our present purpose, what did Jeanne Moreau want? The Queen of 1960s European Arthouse Cinema drew a flotilla of moths to her flame… Tony Richardson left his wife (a certain Vanessa Redgrave) for Moreau (whom he directed in Mademoiselle, 1966) and Joseph Losey might or might not have consummated his crush on her (his son Gavrik is undecided) though he got his wings badly singed during the postproduction of Eve (1962). What, exactly, did he expect, tackling the story of Man’s fall from grace at the hands of Woman?

In Losey’s film Tyvian Jones (Stanley Baker) is your basic angry young boyo, a hard living Dylan Thomas type who’s graduated from the Pits of his homeland to La Dolce Vita in Italy, where his novel Stranger In Hell has been adapted into a film that’s taking the Venice Film Festival by storm. Tyvian and the film’s director Sergio Branco (Giorgio Albertazzi) pound the publicity treadmill together, barely concealing their loathing for each other. Branco’s in love with his personal assistant Francesca (Virna Lisi), but she’s besotted with Tyvian, who strings her along while pursuing his own fascination with the manipulative playgirl Eve Olivier (Moreau), a conniving fortune chaser who spends the rare moments she’s not gold digging listening to Billie Holiday and reading her autobiography Lady Sings The Blues (a consummate Artist, Holliday presents, perhaps, not the greatest role model in life… ask Amy Winehouse). “Do you know how much this weekend will cost me?” Tyvian asks Eve one point. “Do you know how much it will cost you?” comes the pointed response.

As well as believing the author to be a cad, Branco has his suspicions about Tyvian’s back story. Indeed, the latter confesses to Moreau that he’s not actually an ex miner, also that, for A Dylan Thomas wannabe, he doesn’t drink very much. It is, however, during a particularly epic session of soaking it up that he makes his really big confession to her: the reason he’s finding it difficult to come up with the follow up script Branco’s bugging him for is that he’s not actually much of a writer, either, having copped the manuscript of Stranger In Hell from his dead brother! Shades of Udo Kier’s character in James Kenelm Clarke’s Exposé (1976). The resolution here is nothing like as lurid as that to Clarke’s “video nasty” but certainly makes for high octane dramatic stuff.

Losey, who was never shy about ‘fessing up to his misfires, believed his original 155 minute cut of Eve (which producers Robert and Raymond Hakim pulled, ironically enough, from the Venice Film Festival and which is now irretrievably lost) to be not just his best film, but one the greatest films ever made. We’ll never know, the longest of the four (!) versions curated here clocking in a good half an hour shorter than the director’s preferred cut. We can thrill to the committed performances of the principals, admire the beautiful black and white photography of Gianni Di Venanzo and (the uncredited) Henri Decaë, ditto Michel Legrand’s cool jazzy score (Losey had wanted Miles Davis) but Eve, as originally envisaged by its director, remains as tantalisingly elusive as Moreau’s character herself, to paraphrase the great Hoagy Carmichael: “the stardust of yesterday / the celluloid of years gone by”.

By one account the Hakims had been hoping for some kind of two-fisted Noir effort (Eve is an adaptation of a James Hadley Chase novel, after all) and their attempts to salvage something remotely approximating such a thing led to the film’s death by a thousand cuts. Alternatively, we hear that they were going for Arthouse from the get go and originally lined up Jean Luc Godard to direct Richard Burton in the Jones role, settling for Baker when that fell through and accepting the actor’s recommendation of his peripatetic mate Losey to direct. You pays your money and you takes your choice…

Liar, thief, braggart, big head, waster of life and love, Jonesy probably had it coming but what did the population of a small French village ever do to deserve the full force malignity of Moreau’s crackers character in Richardson’s film? It was adapted from a story by Jean Genet, so there’s a clue…

Mademoiselle (brilliantly shot, again in black and white, by the great David Watkin) opens with a Catholic rite which is at root no more than an attempt to propitiate the random violence of nature. Meanwhile the local schoolteacher / town secretary (Moreau) is opening the sluice gates that will flood the local farms. She’s already perpetrated several arson attacks and will continue to do so. She also does her best to stoke the fires of suspicion, already smouldering away, against itinerant Italian logger Manou (Ettore Manni) who doesn’t exactly do himself any PR favours by bedding most of the villager’s wives. Mademoiselle makes a point of singling out Manou’s son Bruno (Keith Skinner) for punishment and ridicule in the classroom, when she can bring herself to take time out from teaching the kids about Gilles de Rais. In her spare time she visits petty cruelty upon animals.

So what’s her problem? Flashbacks reveal that the frustrated spinster set her first haystack alight when stalking Manou. He looked so hunky helping to put the fire out that she’s had to restage the experience. Meanwhile her bitterness festers as she watches him bonking his way through half the female population. She ultimately enjoys her own (protracted) session in the fields with him, encouraging the viewer to believe that she might be capable of some kind of redemption… but nah, this is Genet, remember and the proceedings climax and close on a note of unalloyed nihilism, with chumps barely evolved from chimps revering their palpably evil “social superiors” and scapegoating “outsiders”. The comment on Vichy France is clear enough but it’s an observation that still rings depressingly true, as a cursory glance at todays News headlines will readily confirm.

Neither of these films is likely to increase your optimism about the prospects for the human race, in the unlikely event that you still entertained any after the events of the last few years.

Eve bonus features. Aside from the four (count ’em) cuts of the film on Indicator’s limited edition BD world premiere (including a new 2K scan of EYE Filmmuseum’s photochemical restoration of the longest variant), you also get archival interviews with Losey and Moreau and a new one in which Gavrick Losey speculates about his fathers’ mental orientation while making the picture. Neil Sinyard (rapidly emerging as a supplementaries superstar) details Eve’s troubled (nay, tormented) post production and attempts manfully to fill in some of the gaps. In a BEHP audio interview, Reginald Beck talks of the films he edited for Losey. The expected trailers and image galleries are present and correct and if you buy one of the first 3,000 units you’ll enjoy a 36-page collectors’ booklet including Losey on Eve, new essays, an assessment of James Hadley Chase’s source novel, full film credits and contemporary critical responses, plus an account of the EYE Filmmuseum restoration.

The BFI’s beautiful HD presentation of Mademoiselle is complimented by an optional commentary track from Adrian Martin… in a recent interview (so very recent that he refers to “the late Alan Parker”) former child actor Keith Skinner (he was also in Zeffirelli’s Romeo And Juliet, two years after Mademoiselle) recalls his experiences on the shoot and relates how he reinvented himself as a respected Ripperologist… among the bonus materials on this release we also find Jan Worth’s ultra-rare 1982 feature Doll’s Eye (1982), a film commissioned by the BFI but never released, which focusses on three different women trying to make their way in a world dominated by male attitudes. Two of the three are played by Bernice Stegers (from Xtro and Lamberto Bava’s masterly Macabro) and the late Sandy Ratcliff (from Eastenders). There’s the expected trailer and image gallery, while the first pressing will also include an illustrated collectors’ booklet with Jon Dear’s take on Mademoiselle, Neil Young on Richardson’s production company Woodfall, Jan Worth’s remembrance of Doll’s Eye, full credits for both that and the main feature, plus Scala legend Jane Giles on cinematic adaptations of Genet.

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Boy Meets Girl In The Dreamtime… Nic Roeg’s WALKABOUT Reviewed

BD. Second Sight. Region B. 12.

A disturbed businessman (John Meillon) drives his schoolgirl daughter (Jenny Agutter) and her kid brother (Luc Roeg) deep into the Australian outback and attempts to shoot them before torching their car and blowing his brains out. The children set off on a desperate trek across the pitiless landscape in search of a way home. Just when it seems that they’ll be consumed by the environment, they encounter an Aboriginal youth (David Gulpilil) undergoing the walkabout rite of passage to manhood. Despite the initial communication problems, he shows them how to scrape a living from the land and an affectionate bond develops between the three of them but this short lived idyll takes a darker turn when the youth attempts to incorporate romantic courtship into his walkabout bucket list…

Frank Zappa notoriously likened “writing about music” to “dancing about architecture”. If that’s a valid comparison (and personally I regard it as the opening of a discussion rather than the definitive last word FZ probably intended it to be) then no doubt “film” could comfortably be slotted into his equation in place of “music”. It’s difficult to see how a hack scribbler such as myself could put food on the table (short of chasing kangeroos around with a boomerang) if I conceded the essential pointlessness of writing about films. Equally difficult, however, for words to do justice to the beauty, mystery and profundity that pulsates in every frame of Nic Roeg’s breathtaking Walkabout (1971). A sentence would be too much, a multi volume tome not nearly enough…

Luckily Nic Roeg never needed many words to make monumental statements, as evidenced by his DP credits, for Corman, Truffaut… even an enjoyably lightweight bit of froth like Dick Lester’s A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1966) looks… well, quite extraordinary as lensed by him. And then there was Performance, which he co-directed (with Donald Cammell) and shot in 1970 while still trying to get Walkabout off the ground.

The surprisingly good performances Roeg gets from 2/3 of his pricipal players here (a fine performance from Jenny Agutter should come as no surprise to anyone… with the sole exception of Danny Boyle, interviewed on this disc) casts doubt on any conjecture that he stuck to the visuals on Performance while leaving Cammell to handle the cast. Agutter (in her bonus interview) is keen to emphasise the lengths to which the director went to make her feel comfortable, though it remains interesting to speculate on what Roeg took from Cammell and vice versa (the paucity and compromised nature of the latter’s subsequent output certainly doesn’t help)… even on the extent to which Roeg’s elliptical edits evolved from Warner’s insistence that Mick Jagger be moved forward in the running time of Performance.

Topping off John Barry’s sumptuous score, the sound design of Walkabout is (like that of Performance and the later entries in Roeg’s golden period) just revelatory and the interpolations of material as diverse as e.g. Rod Stewart’s Gasoline Alley and A. E. Houseman’s Blue Remembered Hills are nothing short of inspired.

It’s the visuals, though, as evidenced all too well in this beautiful new 4K restoration, that constitute Walkabout’s trump card. In his introduction to the film, Roeg enthuses about the spareness of Edward Bond’s script (adapted from the novel by “James Vance Marshall” = Donald Payne) and clearly he’s more concerned with the epic canvas of the outback (Roeg was still serving as his own DP, Mario Bava like, on Walkabout) and Aboriginal perceptions of time, all the better to convey the theme that recurs again and again throughout his oeuvre – the pitiless magnificence of Nature and its sublime indifference regarding the continuation of our psychic identity / physical integrity.

A film as wonderful as this demands some pretty heroic extras and predictably, those Severin boys rise to the occasion, supplying absorbing interviews with producer Si Litvinoff, Agutter and Roeg Jr. The co-stars are reunited with the director at a Q&A from the BFI in 2011. Luc and David Thompson provide the optional commentary track and there’s also a Severin interview with Danny Boyle, the one in which he expresses his puzzling reservations about Agutter’s performance but also ventures the opinion that short of Powell and Pressburger, there is no British filmmaker of comparable stature to Nic Roeg. Well, Hitchcock springs readily to mind (or as readily as such a portly gentleman could spring anywhere) but apart from that notable omission, Boyle might well have a point.

If you get your skates on and buy one of the first 3,000 copies, you’ll also get three books: Payne’s source novel, a facsimile copy of the original 65 page First Draft Script (with preface by Daniel Bird) and a third featuring new essays by Bird, Sophie Monks Kaufman and Simon Abrams… none of them big Frank Zappa fans, I imagine.

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The Holy Mountebank? Alejandro Jodorowsky’s PSYCHOMAGIC, A HEALING ART Reviewed.

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“Tell me about your mother…”

As contained in Arrow’s limited edition BD Box Set The Alejandro Jodorowsky Collection. Region B. 18.

Whenever the manifold personal qualities of the extraordinary Alejandro Jodorowsky are discussed, modesty and humility are conspicuous by their absence. True to form, El Jodo opens this documentary presentation of Psychomagic (the therapeutic method he has evolved through his life and films) by comparing / contrasting himself to / with Sigmund Freud. Whereas Psychoanalysis is a talking cure that bans touching, he tell us, Psychomagic is an active cure to which physical contact is fundamental. No doubt Jodorowsky is a sufficiently cultured man to realise that he is here revisiting the schism that eventually sundered Freud from one of his longest serving, ablest and most fondly regarded lieutenants, Sandor Ferenczi (1873-1933).

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“Cheer up, Sigi and gimme a cuddle…” Ferenczi and Freud in 1917.

Reasoning that at some level, all of his patients were (or perceived themselves to be) insufficiently loved, Ferenczi began to believe that their analyses could be more readily expedited with the judicious application of kisses, hugs and caresses. Horrified by the implications of this for Transference (the process by which the client reveals important clues about their relationships with significant others by visiting them upon the blank canvas of the emotionally remote analyst), not to mention the potential ethical pitfalls (nobody was worrying about Coronavirus in those days), Freud cried foul. No doubt his prosthetic jaw would have dropped and his ubiquitous cigar fallen to the floor if he had lived to see where Jodorowsky has taken Ferenczi’s heresy.

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The Holy Mountain, 1973

As well as one-on-one and group massage sessions (in such case studies as those entitled “Brothers Competing For Mother’s Love” and “A Man Abused By His Father, On The Verge Of Suicide”), AJ’s prescriptions include theatrical (and often public) ritual. The abused guy on the verge of suicide, for example, is buried alive (with provision made for him to breathe) while vultures pull apart carcasses laid on his grave. Dug up and “reborn”, he attaches a picture of the abusing parent to a balloon and lets it float away.

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“An Australian In Paris, Angry Against His Family” is seen smashing pumpkins (hey, that would be a good name for a band, right?) on the streets of France’s capital while screaming: “Why won’t you listen to me?”, then mails the pieces to his unsupportive family in Oz. “A Mexican Woman Whose Fiancé Committed Suicide On The Eve Of Their Wedding” (by jumping out of their window in her presence) goes through a funeral ceremony for her wedding dress then jumps out of a plane (El Jodo generously allows her the use of a parachute). “A 47 Year Old Man Who Wants To Stop Stuttering” feels like a child so AJ lets him loose in a Disney-style kids’ park wearing a sailor suit and silly hat (a concerned mother hustles her daughter away from him). Then Jod takes him to a church and squeezes his bollocks, telling him:  “In this Holy place I will pass Manly energy on to you… because I am The Father Archetype!”

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As if all this wasn’t enough,  the guy is then painted gold and sent to walk down the street in his skivvies… and yes, he finally stops stuttering. “An 88 Year Old Woman In Deep Depression” probably isn’t up to some of the energetic and bold stuff described above but does seem to benefit from pouring water on the roots of a massive tree every day. In “Coming Out Of The Closet” an actual closet is burned during a gay wedding ceremony and during “The Walk Of The Dead In Mexico City, 2011”, participants chant “Psychomagic against violence!” to protest casualties of the country’s drug wars. In the section “Birth Massage”, a young woman frightened of bearing children is given therapeutic massages by a pair of Psychomagic practitioners and is later shown proudly displaying a beautiful baby bump. “A Couple In Crisis” decide to separate, but on amicable rather than antagonistic terms.

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All of the episodes are illustrated with apposite clips from Jodorowsky’s films and intercut with his sage pronouncements, delivered in front of a corny “psychedelic” background. Their titles are presumably intended to evoke such classic Freud case studies as “The Wolf Man” and “The Rat Man”, though “Is Menstruation A Problem?” (in which El Jodo advises a cellist to daub her instrument with period blood) is more reminiscent, at least to this viewer, of the cod Krafft-Ebing in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex * But Were Afraid To Ask (1972).

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Jodorowsky claims that the shortcomings of classical psychoanalysis “obliged” him to create Psychomagic, a name that (given his cooky reputation) offers hostages to wise cracking fortune. He cites the Tarot, rather than any conventional therapeutic discipline, as the foundation of his method, which blends a frisson of Ferencszi, a jolt of Janov and perhaps a soupcon of snake oil. El Jodo is a charismatic individual and although we see apprenticed Psychomagic practitioners applying his ideas at various points in this film, one wonder how the discipline will fare when he’s gone. Innumerable studies have proven that those in therapy benefit from human company and attention, also (yes, Sandor) from tactile comfort. Jodorowsky has always been an expert manipulator of emotion (a manifestly cool and together lady who accompanied me to The Scala to watch Santa Sangre was reduced to tears during the scene of the elephant’s death) and some of the case studies here are genuinely moving, though I can’t entirely dismiss the suspicion that some of the patients just might be shills. Then I think I’m just being an insensitive heel…

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The thing that troubled me most about Psychomagic, A Healing Art, was the section in which AJ’s helping a cancer sufferer come to terms with her illness and prognosis… fair enough, but entitling this episode “Can Cancer Be Cured?”, in an age of rising quackery (tied in with conspiracy theories, the “post truth” media landscape, Gwyneth Paltrow’s vaginal candles, et al ) seems, to me anyway, to be a seriously questionable move.

Health warning. Embrace Psychomagic. With caution.

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