April & May at The Movie Morlocks

hatchethbava
Highlights from my April & May contributions to TCM’s Movie Morlocks. You can read all the articles by following the links below:

Happy Birthday Doris!
Excerpt: “The legacy of this vivacious movie star, popular vocalist, television personality and animal rights advocate is truly unparalleled. And knowing Doris Day’s is still here with us doing good work that benefits us all is something worth celebrating!”

When Insects Attack: GENOCIDE (1968)
Excerpt: “The unexpected blend of film genres makes GENOCIDE a unique viewing experience that benefits from some impressive psychedelic inspired visuals. Director Kazui Nihonmatsu uses a number of imaginative film techniques including superimposition and slow dissolves to express the fractured state of mind of his tormented cast as well as the apocalyptic nature of their plight. And the relentless close-ups of actual insects munching on human flesh gives this low-budget production an uncomfortable documentary-like ambiance. Fans of Toho’s more atypical outings such as THE H-MAN (1958), THE HUMAN VAPOR (1960) and MATANGO (1965) will appreciate GENOCIDE and if you enjoy a good bug invasion movie as much as I do you should find this interesting little gem worthy of your time.”

Matrimony, Madness and Murder: HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970)
Excerpt: “What sets HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON apart from many other pretty-boy “psycho-thrillers” (a term I’m borrowing from film journalist Kim Newman) that were prevalent in the late sixties and early seventies is its international setting and baroque setpieces. Bava’s film was shot in France, Italy and Spain and used the elegant villa of the infamous Generalissimo Francisco Franco as one of its backdrops. The House of Harrington contains an extravagant bridal salon adorned with mannequins that model beautiful wedding gowns and resemble the lifeless corpses of dead brides. And it is in this enclosed and highly stylized setting that the killer feels most at home as does Bava’s camera which lovingly lingers over every macabre detail allowing us an intimate look into the murderer’s mind.”

Rough, Raw & Randy: UP THE JUNCTION (1968)
Excerpt: “Peter Collinson’s effective slice-of-life drama UP THE JUNCTION (1968) makes its DVD and Blu-ray debut in the U.S. this week thanks to Olive Films. Today the film is often fondly remembered by fans of sixties cinema for its South London setting, colorful mod fashions, beehive hairdos, boastful bikers and jazzy psychedelic pop score by Manfred Mann. But UP THE JUNCTION has more to offer viewers besides an abundance of great style and an unforgettable soundtrack.”

Bad Movie Mothers We Love to Hate
Excerpt: “TCM is celebrating Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 11th) with a great program of classic films showcasing notable mothers. While looking over Sunday’s line-up I was surprised to spot NOW, VOYAGER (1942), which features Gladys Cooper as the incredibly cold and domineering mother of Bette Davis. Cooper won an Oscar nomination for her memorable performance and went on to play another overbearing mother in SEPARATE TABLES (1958) who torments poor Deborah Kerr. While considering Gladys Cooper’s portrayal of two heartless mothers I started thinking about other horrible movie moms that I’ve enjoyed watching over the years.”

Spy Games: BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! (1966)
Excerpt: “BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! Is just one of hundreds (possibly thousands) of spy spoofs that were released in the sixties following the world-wide success of the early James Bond films. Its unwieldy plot and cookie-cutter characters will be familiar to many but thanks to a solid cast, the spectacular North Africa locations and some thrilling action sequences this amusing romp managed to keep me entertained throughout its 92 minute running time.”

Mystery & Melodrama: THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE (2012-2014)
Excerpt: “It’s a shame that so many women who took on incredibly difficult and challenging jobs during WW2, such as flying planes, driving tanks, nursing the wounded, spying for their governments and breaking complicated codes shared by enemy nations, have been overshadowed by their male counterparts. Rosie the Riveter has become a symbol of female ingenuity during wartime but women did much more in WW2 besides working in ammunition factories. THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE shines a welcome light on a group of heroic women that have all too often been forgotten by history and brings them to vivid life.”

“The World’s Most Beautiful Animal!” – Ava Gardner in THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954)
Excerpt: “Ava Gardner makes one of my favorite film entrances of all time in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954), which airs on TCM June 1st. If you want to kick off the new month with a bang I highly recommend making time for this verbose Technicolor-noir that critiques Hollywood excess and the powerful studio system that frequently exploited its stars. Mankiewicz’s film is a heady brew of CITIZEN KANE (1941), LAURA (1944), SUNSET BLVD. (1950) and the director’s own ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) shot with abundant style by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff.”

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February & March at The Movie Morlocks

eastwoodvcI’ve been neglecting Cinebeats again. Having a hard time getting back into the swing of things around here and other endeavors are keeping me from the blog. But I thought I’d finally update with a quick list of some highlights from my February & Mach contributions to TCM’s Movie Morlocks. You can read all the articles by following the links below.

Wanna Rumble?
Excerpt: “I usually go out of my way to avoid ruffling the feathers of my fellow film fanatics but there are plenty of things that get me riled up on a monthly basis. Sometimes a girl’s just got to let off a little steam . . .”
Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of TCM with a free screening of CASABLANCA
Excerpt: “What fires up my imagination (about CASABLANCA) are the peripheral characters that linger around the film’s rough edges. The shady rogues, crooked cops, war criminals and usual suspects are the glue that holds this movie together for me.”
Play it Again, Morricone: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965)
Excerpt: “While Leone’s camera lovingly lingers on dust covered streets, decaying buildings, weather worn leather boots, gleaming gun barrels and the expressive faces of the actors that make up his cast, Morricone breathes life into them through his music and sound design. Together they’re one of cinemas most extraordinary and ingenious duos and it’s become impossible to think of one man without acknowledging the talents of the other.”
Unfinished Films: Where Can I Buy My Ticket?
Excerpt: “Jodorowsky’s story isn’t uncommon and there are thousands of forgotten unmade movies that we’ll never get the opportunity to see although they may not have had the same ambition or scope as the long lost DUNE. With this in mind I decided to compile a list of some particularly intriguing film projects that never made it to the big screen. These are the forgotten dreams of frustrated directors and writers but from time to time I find them unspooling in my head…”

thirst03
Ancient Evil is Now a Modern Industry: THIRST (1979)
Excerpt: “Few film subjects have been as exploited, examined and scrutinized as vampires. These blood sucking monsters are a favorite topic of horror filmmakers and fans, morbid romantics and angst-ridden pubescent teens. In recent years the vampire has lost some of its bite thanks to a spat of predictable and tired films made for kids and indiscriminate adults but this wasn’t always the case. The 1970s was a particularly inventive time for our fanged friends…”
The Nightmarish World of Maya Deren
Excerpt: “MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON appears to take shape within the troubled mind of its doom-laden female protagonist. It’s propelled by dream logic without any familiar narrative structure but it contains elements and visual metaphors found in countless horror movies beginning with a locked door that leads viewers into a vacant house that seems alive with apparitions..”

2013 at the Movie Morlocks

jfrancoJess Franco 1930-2013

What follows is a collection of links to some of my posts at TCM’s Movie Morlocks from 2013. These are (in my estimation) the best and most interesting articles I wrote last year but you can read my entire output for 2013 at the Movie Morlocks if you peruse the archives. From this point onward on I’ll be collecting links to my Morlocks’ posts and sharing them here at the end of each month.

Rio – Rififi Style! GRAND SLAM (1967)
A Brief History of the Telefilm
Out, out, brief candle: Jon Finch 1942-2012
This is a Time for Ghosts : THE AWAKENING (2012)
All Love is Mad : MAD LOVE (1935)
Does Oscar gold come with an Oscar curse?
Telefilm Time Machine: DAUGHTER OF THE MIND (1969)
Tracing My Irish Roots Through the Movies
The Pulp Adventures of Lee Marvin
Telefilm Time Machine: THAT CERTAIN SUMMER (1972)
In Memoriam: Jesús “Jess” Franco (1930-2013)
Lon Chaney Jr. – Lady Killer
Comic Relief with ARTISTS AND MODELS (1955)
Telefilm Time Machine – FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (1973)
GUN AND SWORD: An Encyclopedia of Japanese Gangster Films 1955-1980
Personal Passions: Alain Delon
Derelict Dancers: Gerard Depardieu vs. Roman Polanski – A PURE FORMALITY (1994)
Hail Cleopatra! Queen of the Nile & Queen of ’60s Style
Arsenic & Ambiguity in David Lean’s MADELEINE (1950)
Final Faces
Francois Truffaut – Friend, Teacher & Film Critic
Someone is Bleeding: LES SEINS DE GLACE (1974)
Oh Dear! What Can the Matter Be? : SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950)
Telefilm Time Machine: Steven Spielberg’s SOMETHING EVIL (1972)
Four Reasons Why I Love Natalie Wood
Julie Harris 1925-2013: “And we who walk here, walk alone.
The Story of Film: UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1928)
In the Trenches with James Whale
Hollywood Goes to the Dolls
Telefilm Time Machine: SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975)
Vincent Price Takes Center Stage
Vincent Price’s Small Screen Successes
Vincent Price & Gene Tierney: A Doomed Romance
In the Kitchen with Vincent Price
Adults Only: HOUSE ON STRAW HILL (1976)
Fighting Prejudice with Sidney Poitier
A Celluloid Revolution – James Dean: Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray
Telefilm Time Machine: HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1972)

They said WHAT?!

Dirk & Monica
Dirk Bograde & Monica Vittii in Modesty Blaise (1966)

From my latest piece at the the Movie Morlocks:

“In June actor Harrison Ford made news after publicly calling, Shia LaBeouf, his young costar from INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (Steven Spielberg; 2008) “…a f–king idiot.” Since then I’ve been thinking about insults that actors have hurled at other actors over the years and a recent piece at Flavorwire titled “The 30 Harshest Filmmaker-on-Filmmaker Insults In History” compelled me to compile a list of 30 of the worst actor-on actor insults I’ve come across. Some of them are surprisingly crude so I thought I should worn potential readers before they plunge ahead. Let the war of words begin…”

A few choice examples:

Bette Davis on Joan Crawford: “I wouldn’t piss on her if she was on fire.”

Dirk Bogarde on Monica Vitti: “I’ve fallen deeply in love with every woman I’ve ever worked with except Monica Vitti. She was a beast.”

Oliver Reed on Jack Nicolson: “Nicholson? As far as I’m concerned, he’s a balding midget. He stands five-foot-seven, you know. He tries to play heavies and doesn’t quite make it.”

Richard Harris on Michael Caine: “An over-fat, flatulent, 62-year-old windbag. A master of inconsequence masquerading as a guru, passing off his vast limitations as pious virtues.”

Want to read more actor-on actor insults? Make your way over to the Movie Morlocks!
They said WHAT?! Classic Insults from Classic Actors @ TCM’s Classic Movie Blog

The Glamorous World of Paul Hesse

The Glamorous World of Paul Hesse
Four of my favorite actresses photographed by Paul Hesse
Top: Gene Tierney and Elizabeth Taylor
Bottom: Bette Davis and Ava Gardner

Like most film buffs, I absolutely love old Hollywood glamor photography. I’m an amateur photographer myself so I own a lot of photography books and some of my favorites are jam-packed with beautiful photos of classic Hollywood film stars. In the ’70s the practice of taking glamorous head-shots of the stars and hiring photographers to shoot on sets seemed to quietly fade away. Studios didn’t want to spend money on it and the public became more interested in fashion photography, rock stars and realistic portraits. But from roughly the ’30s to the ’60s movie magazines around the world were overflowing with glamorous photographs of movie stars. One of the most interesting photographers working during this period was Paul Hesse who helped pioneer the use of color film in commercial art. His colorful and hyper-realistic portraits of celebrities still grab my attention every time I come across one. Hesse had a very distinct style that is still noticeable today. If you’d like to learn more about Paul Hesse or just enjoy some of his other photos you can read my brief write-up about the man and his work at TCM’s Movie Morlocks Blog.

Favorite DVD Releases of 2008: Part II

Apologies for the long delay! My annual list of Favorite DVDs always takes longer to compile than I expect it will. You can find the first part of this list here. Now on to Part II #11-20 . . .

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Cornel Wilde in The Naked Prey (1966)

11. The Naked Prey (Criterion)
You can read my my thoughts about The Naked Prey here.

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Bette Davis in The Nanny (1965)

12. The Nanny (20th Century Fox)
You can find my lengthy look at The Nanny here.

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Yoshiko Tsuruoka and Yukio Mishima in Patriotism (1966)

13. Patriotism (Criterion)
One of the most surprising and unexpected Criterion DVD releases last year was this short film made by the celebrated Japanese author Yukio Mishima. Before Criterion’s official release of Patriotism (aka Yûkoku; 1966) the film was often hard to see and rarely shown anywhere. This 27-minute long movie contains no dialogue and it’s based on a short story written by Yukio Mishima, which was also performed as a modern Noh drama on stage. It’s a rich and deeply moving piece of work full of striking images that reflect the film’s stage origins and explore the writer’s obsession with Japanese nationalism and romantic ideals. Those who are unfamiliar with Mishima’s writing, as well as the Japanese view of death and national honor, may find Patriotism a bit muddled, but the film can be enjoyed as a historical document or an important work of art. It showcases Mishima’s artistic skills and foreshadows the author’s actual suicide, which makes for fascinating as well as thought provoking viewing. The Criterion DVD is beautifully packaged and comes with extensive notes including Mishima’s original story and details about the film’s production. It also includes interviews with Yukio Mishima and a short documentary on the making of the movie. Patriotism is essential viewing for anyone who is interested in Mishima, but it’s also an important Japanese film and Criterion should be applauded for releasing it. If you’d like to read more about Yukio Mishima please see my lengthy piece on the 1968 film Black Lizard, which he also appeared in.

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Phase IV (1974)

14. Phase IV (Legend Films)
This interesting science fiction film was the only feature-length movie directed by the legendary Saul Bass who is mostly remembered by film fans for his graphic design skills. Throughout the ’50s and well into the ’90s, Bass was responsible for some of the most amazing credit sequences and movie posters ever created. His design work for directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, John Frankenheimer and Martin Scorsese is instantly recognizable and hard to top. Saul Bass also had directing ambitions and made many short films, but Phase IV (1974) was the only full-length motion picture he directed. The film’s plot involves a strange occurrence in space that seems to only affect the Earth’s ant population. Phase IV owes quite a bit to previous science fiction films such as Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Robert Wise’s The Andromeda Strain (1971), but it’s still a fascinating entry into the “nature-run-amok” genre that was made popular in the ’70s. Bass’ choice to use lots of macro photography in an effort to humanize the ants in the film really make’s Phase IV stand apart from typical genre exercises. Mayo Simon’s script is also notable for the way it manages to dehumanize the scientists trying to cope with the ant problem and it smartly mixes hard science and speculative fiction to good effect. Unfortunately Legend Films released the DVD with no extras, but I’m glad that the movie is now easily available and the print looks sharp.

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Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina in Pierrot le Fou (1965)

15. Pierrot le Fou (Criterion)
You can read some of my thoughts about Pierrot le Fou here.

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Paul Jones in Privilege (1967)

16. Privilege (New Yorker Video)
When you’ve seen as many films as I have, you tend to become a little jaded so whenever I discover something new that really excites me and makes me fall in love with the possibilities of cinema all over again there is reason to celebrate. Last year I was exposed to the work of director Peter Watkins for the first time after seeing his impressive 1967 film Privilege as well as Punishment Park (1971) and I knew I had stumbled onto something really special. Peter Watkins is a controversial director who likes to use non-professional actors in his pseudo-documentary style films. His work has won him many awards, but his films have also been banned due to the politically charged content and in turn very hard to see. Thankfully that’s changed in recent years and New Yorker Video has given many film enthusiasts like myself the opportunity to see his work on DVD. In Privilege, we’re introduced to an enigmatic pop singer named Steven Shorter (played by the real-life musician Paul Jones) living in a futuristic alternative London in the late ’60s. Like many pop stars and movie actors today, Steven Shorter is controlled by his “handlers” who make almost all of his decisions for him. Steven’s sterile world begins to crumble when his handlers decide that they want him to start promoting conservative values to the youth who adore him. Privilege becomes more dark and cynical as it progresses and we’re left with a smart and creative look at the effects of social conditioning filtered through popular culture. Watkins’ experimental docudrama directing style works really well here and it’s complimented by the film’s great production design and Peter Suschitzky’s excellent cinematography. Suschitzky has worked with some of my favorite directors including Joseph Losey, Ken Russell and David Cronenberg so I was excited to see his early efforts on display in this fascinating film. The performances all very good and Paul Jones does a nice job of playing the deeply troubled pop star. I also enjoyed seeing the beautiful Jean Shrimpton in her first major film role. She shows that she’s got some acting ability in Privilege so it’s a shame that she didn’t go on to appear in more films. I liked the subtle approach she took to playing Steven Shorter’s love interest and I wondered if Shrimpton had followed some acting suggestions from her real-life boyfriend at the time, Terence Stamp. New Yorker Video really did a great job on this DVD release. The film looks terrific and it comes with some interesting extras including a short documentary chronicling the career of American pop idol Paul Anka called Lonely Boy (1962) that inspired Peter Watkins to make Privilege, the film’s original trailer, a stills and poster gallery and a nice collector’s booklet.

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War of the Gargantuas (1966)

17. Rodan/War of the Gargantuas (Classic Media)
I love a good giant monster movie and Classic Media packaged two of director Ishirô Honda‘s best monster movies together for this impressive DVD release. Rodan was Honda’s popular 1956 follow-up to Godzilla and it’s a classic in its own right, but I personally like the unforgettable craziness that can be found in the director’s 1966 effort War of the Gargantuas much more. War of the Gargantuas has never been available on DVD before and if you enjoy ’60s style monster mayhem complete with psychedelic flourishes and a catchy musical number, then you’ll enjoy this sequel to Honda’s Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965). The film stars cult icon Russ Tamblyn in one his most unforgettable roles as a young doctor trying to help a group of Japanese scientists figure out why giant monsters are attacking Tokyo. Are the Gargantuas just unexplainable giant anomalies with bad tempers or are they man-made creatures with a personal vendetta? You’ll have to watch to find out! This 2-Disc DVD set comes with lots of worthwhile extras including two versions of War of the Gargantuas (the uncut Japanese film with English subtitles and the English-dubbed U.S. version) as well as an interesting original documentary called Bringing Godzilla Down to Size.

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Andrew Prine in Simon, King of the Witches (1971)

18. Simon, King of the Witches (Dark Sky Films)
Simon, King of the Witches (1971) is not the best film that made my Favorite DVDs of 2008 list, but there’s something undeniably appealing about this unusual American horror film that has developed somewhat of a cult following over the years. The plot revolves around the rise and fall of one Simon Sinestrari (Andrew Prine). Simon is a charismatic magician who uses his abilities to charm a group of wealthy and influential L.A. residents who shower him with praise and money. Unfortunately, none of them are really prepared to dance with the devil so when things start to go horribly wrong, Simon is forced to take drastic actions. The film was written by Robert Phippeny, a practicing magician who brought a lot of his own experience to the script, but the film never takes itself very seriously. Simon breaks the fourth wall in the movie’s opening minutes by looking straight at the camera and telling us who he is and as the film unfolds the underlying black humor becomes more and more apparent. Andrew Prine is great as the cocky and charismatic Simon and he manages to hold the film together even during its dullest moments. Warhol superstar Ultra Violet even shows up as the leader of some naked Wiccan ritual that Simon ridicules mercilessly. Director Bruce Kessler worked mostly in television during the ’60s and ’70s and there is a static look to the film that screams “made for TV movie” but don’t let that discourage you! The film also features some creative special effects and a great psychedelic scene involving Simon’s trip through a mirror that makes up for how dreary the rest of the film looks. Dark Sky Films really did an outstanding job on their DVD release of Simon, King of the Witches. It includes a nice looking widescreen print of the film, the original trailer and radio spot, as well as insightful interviews with director Bruce Kessler and the film’s star Andrew Prine. It’s a shame that the major studios so rarely put the same kind of effort and care into releasing their films on DVD.

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Patrick Wymark and Peter Cushing in The Skull (1965)

19. The Skull (Legend Films)
The Skull (1965) has long been one of my favorite British horror movies from director and award winning cinematographer Freddie Francis, so I was thrilled to find out that Legend Films would be releasing it in widescreen on DVD. The Skull was adapted from a short story by the talented horror writer Robert Bloch called The Skull of the Marquis de Sade and it tells the dark tale of Dr. Christopher Maitland played to perfection by the late great Peter Cushing. The good doctor likes to collect unusual esoteric relics and when he gets offered the chance to own the skull of the famed Marquis Des Sade naturally he jumps at the opportunity. Unfortunately for him the skull is haunted by the spectre of the malevolent (according to the film) De Sade who begins to take control of the unsuspecting Dr. Maitland. The Skull is one of Freddie Francis’ best color films and also one of the best British horror films ever produced by Hammer rival Amicus. The direction is tops and Francis conjures up some impressive visuals that are sure to please even the most discriminating horror fans. All the performances in the film are solid, but horror regulars Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and the under appreciated Patrick Wymark deliver some of their best work in The Skull. The movie also includes a memorable score by the talented Elisabeth Lutyens. Lutyens was the first female composer to create soundtracks for British film and she made her mark working on great horror movies and thrillers such as Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), The Earth Dies Screaming (1965) The Psychopath (1966) and Theatre of Death (1966).This bare bones DVD release doesn’t offer anything in the way of extras except for the original trailer but the widescreen uncut restored print of the film does look fantastic, which makes this disc well worth owning.

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Richard Harris in This Sporting Life (1963)

20. This Sporting Life (Criterion)
I’d really like to write a more lengthy post about this terrific Lindsay Anderson film and hopefully I’ll find the time to in the future, but in the meantime you can read my brief comments about This Sporting Life (1963) here.

Honorable mentions: The Deadly Bees (1967), Girl Boss Revenge (1973), Last House on the Beach (1978) and Tragic Ceremony (1972).

A few films that might have made my list if I had the opportunity to see them: Ken Russell at the BBC (collection), Blast of Silence (1961), Le Deuxième Souffle (1966), Mandingo (1975) and The Wolves (1972).

And that concludes the third year of Cinebeats annual Favorite DVDs of the year report! Legends Films really made its mark on my list this year and as usual, Criterion dominated it. 2009 is shaping up to be an interesting year for DVD releases and next month I hope to start sharing My Favorite DVDs of the Week with readers once more.

Next month also marks Cinebeats third year anniversary and I want to make it special so if all goes well you can expect to see a flood of activity here in April! In the meantime, you can still follow Cinebeats at Twitter where I often share bits of film and TV-related chatter.

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The Eyes Have It

My blogging buddy Peter Nellhaus over at Coffee, Coffee and more Coffee has asked me to contribute my own list of “20 Favorite Actresses” to a new film meme making the rounds of the blogosphere. Frankly I was just going to blow him off and ignore his request because these meme things tend to make me nuts but Peter is too nice a guy to ignore. I tried to throw caution to the wind and just quickly put together a list of 20 of my favorite actresses, but as usual I spent way too much time thinking about this and managed to give myself a headache in the process. This meme madness must end! But at least it gave me an excuse to post a bunch of fabulous photos of some of my favorite actresses.

Naturally I ignored the rules and decided to post a list of 23 40 favorite actresses instead of limiting myself to only 20. My list could have been even longer and I’m sure I’ll regret forgetting to include a few more favorites but over time I felt the need to keep adding to the list and finally just doubled the size. Some of these talented and lovely women were never offered the better roles they so richly deserved, while others are acclaimed Academy Award winners and celebrated Hollywood legends. They do have a couple of things in common though; they’ve appeared in a lot of great movies and I never get tired of watching them!

So without further blabbering, here are 20 50 Women I Love Watching . . .

etaylor
Elizabeth Taylor

monicav
Monica Vitti

sarahmiles
Sarah Miles

juliechristie
Julie Christie

bsteele
Barbara Steele

crampling
Charlotte Rampling

kimnovak
Kim Novak

annakarina
Anna Karina

cbaker
Carroll Baker

meikokaji
Meiko Kaji

cdeneuve
Catherine Deneuve

isebellea
Isabelle Adjani

bbardot
Brigitte Bardot

nwood
Natalie Wood

deborahkerr
Deborah Kerr

sophialoren
Sophia Loren

genetiereny
Gene Tierney

glendajackson
Glenda Jackson

avagardner
Ava Gardner

uesulaabdress
Ursula Andress

delphinesedge
Delphine Seyrig

annmargret
Ann-Margret

edwigef
Edwige Fenech

ingrid
Ingrid Pitt

judy
Judy Garland

florinda
Florinda Bolkan

marisa
Marisa Mell

kate
Katharine Hepburn

soledad
Soledad Miranda

Barbara
Barbara Shelley

bette
Bette Davis

pamela
Pamela Franklin

barbra
Barbra Streisand

claudia
Claudia Cardinale

anita
Anita Ekberg

paula
Paula Prentiss

Geneviève
Geneviève Bujold

marlene
Marlene Clark

diana
Diana Rigg

Elke Sommer
Elke Sommer

Alida Valli
Alida Valli

Jenny Agutter
Jenny Agutter

Sharon Tate
Sharon Tate
Pam Grier
Pam Grier
Gayle Hunnicutt
Gayle Hunnicut
Linda Hayden
Linda Hayden
Samantha Eggar
Samantha Eggar
Raquel Welch
Raquel Welch
Suzy Kendall
Suzy Kendall
Ewa Aulin
Ewa Aulin

Seth Holt’s The Nanny (1965)

The Nanny (1965)

Evil nannies that are determined to harm the innocent children they care for have become a popular recurring menace in many horror films over the years and last week one of the best nasty nanny movies was finally released on DVD for the first time.

I originally saw Seth Holt’s chilling British thriller The Nanny (1965) when I was just a kid and it terrified me. I haven’t seen the film in its entirety in many years so I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to my fond memories of first watching it but The Nanny managed to exceed my expectations. The great thrillers Hammer produced during the sixties and seventies are often overlooked by critics since they don’t contain vampires, werewolves or any mad doctors but many of them are just as good or better than many of the monster movies the studio made. Great Hammer thrillers such as Freddie Francis’ Paranoiac (1963) and Peter Collinson’s Straight on Till Morning (1972) are some of my favorite Hammer films and The Nanny is another one of the studio’s best and most unusual efforts.

The film stars the late great actress Bette Davis whose 100th birthday was recently celebrated by 20th Century Fox with a wonderful DVD set titled Bette Davis Centenary Celebration Collection, which includes The Nanny as well as four other Davis films. Bette Davis isn’t a name that most film fans associate with Hammer Studios but the actress made two films for Hammer during the sixties. The first one was The Nanny, which she starred in after filming two successful gothic thrillers in Hollywood (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte) and afterward she appeared in Hammer’s black comedy The Anniversary (1968), which was directed by the talented Roy Ward Baker.

In The Nanny Bette Davis gives one of her most remarkable and nuanced performances as a dutiful servant of an upper class British family who has spent her entire life caring for the children of wealthy individuals and neglecting herself. As the film opens we discover that the family Davis’ character currently works for has lost their little girl in a horrible accident. They blame their precocious 10-year old son Joey (William Dix) for her accidental drowning and they’re struggling to deal with his eminent return home after the boy has spent two years away at a juvenile psychiatric facility for disturbed children. When Joey’s father (James Villiers) and the nanny arrive at the school to take Joey home, the audience is introduced to the boy in a beautifully shot but rather disturbing scene that’s reminiscent of Bud Cort’s mock suicide in the unforgettable opening of Harold and Maude made six years later. Joey’s dark sense of humor is clearly troubling to the adults around him and it might seem strange that a 10-year-old would be preoccupied with death. But when a child comes face to face with mortality at an early age it’s not unusual for them to feel the urge to act out in various ways. Before the boy leaves the school a doctor tells Joey’s father that he has developed a strange aversion to middle-aged females and on the ride home Joey makes it clear that he doesn’t like or trust his middle-aged nanny. Since the nanny is played brilliantly by Bette Davis it’s not hard to understand why she might make the boy uncomfortable.

The Nanny (1965)

The Nanny (1965)

The Nanny (1965)

Davis was an unsettling presence in horror films in the sixties and she easily generates a kind of dread and sense of unease when she’s on screen. With a simple raise of her thick arched eyebrow she can send chills down your spine. Young Joey is so frightened by her that he immediately moves into a room with a window near a fire escape so he can quickly get in an out of his family’s luxurious apartment if the need arises. He also refuses to eat the food that his nanny prepares for him and he won’t take a bath until his mother (Wendy Craig) makes the nanny promise to stay out of the bathroom. His gruff father and emotionally unstable mother become increasingly frustrated by their son’s behavior and wonder if they should have kept him locked up. The nanny seems to come to the boy’s defense at first but as the film unfolds she also turns on Joey and the audience is left to wonder who is to blame for the boy’s seemingly erratic behavior. Is the boy’s paranoia justified? Or should the family have kept little Joey locked away forever?

(WARNING: Spoilers ahead!)

After Joey’s father is forced to leave home on business, the boy is left alone with his mother and nanny who have clearly developed an odd sort of codependent relationship over the years. The nanny has been with the family for a very long time and also took care of Joey’s mother when she was a young girl. Joey’s mother is played wonderfully by the British actress Wendy Craig and it’s hard not to sympathize with her since she’s clearly suffering a deep depression following the unexpected death of her young daughter. As the perfect upper class family life she has long imagined for herself begins to unravel all around her, she regresses to a child-like state herself and the nanny is forced to brush her hair and even feed her. When she suddenly falls ill due to food poisoning and must be taken to the hospital, all fingers point to Joey as being the culprit but Joey blames the nanny. He later confesses to his cute teenage neighbor (Pamela Franklin) that he believes the nanny also killed his sister and is now trying to kill him as well. Joey’s accusations are hard to ignore and it’s not much of a surprise when the audience discovers that the nanny is the real source of horror in the film even if a few minor red herrings attempt to focus the audiences attention on the troubled young boy.

What is surprising is the incredibly creative way director Seth Holt chose to shot the film and his wonderful use of flashbacks to show the events as they originally happened. The director also creates some truly terrifying moments in the movie such as when Joey’s aunt (Jill Bennett) who suffers from a terrible heart condition spots Davis standing next to the boy’s bedroom door with a pillow in her hand. Dear old nanny intends to suffocate the child in his sleep but she sweetly tells Joey’s aunt that she is only trying to make the boy more comfortable by bringing him another pillow.

Bette Davis is really remarkable in The Nanny and her understated performance in the film often stands out in stark contrast to her other popular roles in horror films from the same period. Even though the relationship between director Seth Holt and Bette Davis was problematic on the set by all accounts, Davis did manage to follow the director’s recommendation to play the role extremely low-key and internalize aspects of her character that could have easily boiled over the top and found their way onto the screen. The young actor William Dix is also extremely good as Joey. I’m personally very critical of child actors and I often find them too mannered and unbelievable in their roles. But young Dix brings a realism to his role as Joey in The Nanny that is really remarkable at times and he seems to understand his character in ways that would completely escape many experienced adult actors.

The Nanny (1965)

The Nanny (1965)

The Nanny (1965)

The film’s script was written by Hammer luminary Jimmy Sangster and based on a book by author Marryam Modell (using the pseudonym Evelyn Piper) who also wrote Bunny Lake Is Missing, which was adapted into another terrific film by Otto Preminger the same year. The Nanny and Bunny Lake is Missing share somewhat similar themes. Both stories feature children in peril and in order to save them someone must try and convince disbelieving authority figures that a child is in danger or being harmed. I don’t know if Marryam Modell had any experience with child abuse herself, but there is an underlying attitude in both of her stories that suggests she might have.

The talented director Seth Holt began his career co-directing and editing films for Britain’s Ealing Studios, including the wonderful 1945 horror anthology Dead of Night. Holt is mostly known for the entertaining thrillers he made with Hammer Studios and his name rarely comes up when critics are talking about the British New Wave and various kitchen sink dramas but it should. Holt’s first film is a remarkable crime drama called Nowhere to Go that was co-written by Kenneth Tynan who helped usher in the era of “angry young men” as an important theater critic. Nowhere to Go is a stylish modern crime film with a great jazz score by Dizzy Reece and a bleak ending that’s somewhat reminiscent of Godard’s Breathless (1960). It’s an important film in the evolution of British cinema but it’s often overlooked and deserves a wider audience. Seth Holt was also responsible for the impressive editing work in Karel Reisz’s seminal British film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960).

While watching The Nanny I was extremely impressed with the way Holt managed to subtly weave important themes found within the best films of the British New Wave such as the effects of poverty, class divides and youth rebellion into a Hammer horror film. Even though The Nanny could be viewed as a simple thriller about a tormented and troubled child being pursued by a psychotic nanny, underlying that is the complicated background of the nanny herself who was forced into a life of servitude do to her status and background. Her position in life has dire consequences for her own family as well as those she works for. During the film the audience is given the opportunity to sympathize with Davis’ character who is obviously deeply disturbed. This is an incredibly adult and modern approach to take in any horror film about a potential child killer even by today’s standards.

In an unforgettable scene that takes place in a poor British neighborhood clearly suffering from economic and social conditions that plague the lower classes; Bette Davis is forced to confront her past and the death of her own daughter due to a horribly botched back-alley abortion and we watch her quietly fall apart. Unlike the wealthy mother of Joey who lost her own daughter and now relies on the nanny to groom her and feed her, Davis’ character has no one but herself to rely on. In her pain she turns inward and clearly doesn’t like what she finds there. In her psychotic state she ends up cruelly lashing out at the most vulnerable thing she can, an innocent, wealthy, sheltered and pampered little child that she’s been forced to care for who will never know the kind of economic disparity that she’s been struggling with her entire life.

Davis’ last Oscar nomination was for her role in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and it’s often considered her greatest role of the sixties, but in my opinion her greatest achievement as an actress during that decade might be found in The Nanny.

As I mentioned above, The Nanny is available on DVD as part of the 20th Century Fox Bette Davis Centenary Celebration Collection, which is now selling at Amazon or you can purchase The Nanny individually. The film has been beautifully restored by 20th Century Fox and it really looks terrific. The DVD also comes with some nice extras such as poster, stills and lobby card galleries, TV spots, the original trailer and restoration comparisons. The Nanny should also be available for rent online at Greencine and Netflix. If you’d like to see more images from the film please see my Flickr Gallery for The Nanny.

An Ann-Margret Retrospective

Happy Birthday Ann-Margret!

My favorite redhead Ann-Margret was born on April 28 in 1941 and yesterday she celebrated her 66th birthday. To celebrate I thought I’d post an overview of some of the best films she made during the sixties and seventies, as well as share some of my thoughts about her life and her work.

Ann-Margret got her start in showbiz when she was 19 years old after being discovered by the legendary George Burns while auditioning for his annual holiday show in Las Vegas. Following her success in Vegas, Ann-Margret’s career took off and within a few months she had signed a record deal with RCA and a movie contract with 20th Century Fox.

Ann-Margret was a real triple threat when she began her career in the sixties. She could sing, she could dance and she could act. She was also incredibly beautiful, sassy, funny and smart. Unfortunately I’ve always thought that movie studios in the sixties and seventies never really knew what to do with Ann-Margret. She ended up in a lot of lackluster films and had a hard time being taken seriously as an actress. If she had been born 20 years earlier she would have probably had an amazing career in musicals, but musicals where becoming unpopular with film audiences and critics just as Ann-Margret was starting her movie career.

1961-1969

Ann-Margaret’s first movie role was in the Oscar nominated Frank Capra film Pocketful of Miracles (1961), where she played the daughter of Bette Davis. Following that she made State Fair (1962) with Pat Boone and Bobby Darin. She then got her real breakthrough role as the beautiful and spunky Kim McAfee in George Sidney’s great musical comedy Bye Bye Birdie (1963).

Following her terrific performance in Bye Bye Birdie Ann-Margret made a memorable appearance as an animated character named Ann-Margrock in the fourth season of The Flintstones (1963) cartoon series before starring alongside Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas (1964).

Viva Las Vegas is one of Elvis’ best movies from the sixties and Ann-Margret was easily his best co-star. The two have obvious on screen chemistry together that’s really electric and fun to watch. The musical numbers are great and the movie gave both of them the chance to really show off their comedic skills along with their dance moves.

The meeting between Ann-Margret and Elvis on the set of Viva Las Vegas was the start of a great friendship between the two talented stars. It would also mark the beginning of what might be one of Hollywood’s most tragic and unfulfilled love stories. When Elvis met Ann-Margret in 1963 they embarked on a passionate affair. At the time that Elvis met her he was already in a relationship with Priscilla Beaulieu (a.k.a. Priscilla Presley) and was committed to marrying her. After information about their affair made the celebrity gossip magazines many people think Elvis was encouraged to end his relationship with Ann-Margret by his manager Colonel Tom Parker, as well as Priscilla’s parents who threatened to expose Elvis as a pedophile because he started his relationship with their daughter when she was only fourteen years old. Elvis’ career was having trouble trying to recover from his time spent away from the public when he was in the army. This sort of scandal could have easily put an end to his career altogether.

Elvis and Ann-Margret’s romantic affair came to an end, but the two remained close until Elvis’ untimely death. Elvis’ lifelong nickname for Ann-Margret was “Rusty”, which was the name of her character in Viva Las Vegas and up until the day he died he would send a bouquet of flowers to her every time she performed live. Lots of people who were close to Elvis and knew about his complicated relationship with Ann-Margret have said that she was the real “love of his life” and she has called Elvis her “soulmate.” It’s hard not to wonder how Elvis’ life may have been different if he and Ann-Margret had followed their hearts in 1964. In Ann-Margret’s own words she had this to say about their relationship:

“His wish was that we could stay together. But of course, we both knew that was impossible., and that’s what was so very difficult about our relationship. Elvis and I knew he had commitments, promises to keep, and he vowed to keep his word. Both of us knew that no matter how much we loved each other, no matter how strong our bond, we weren’t going to last.” – From her book Ann Margret: My Story.

After Viva Las Vegas Ann-Margret played a sassy bad girl in the entertaining thriller Kitten with a Whip (1964). Kitten with a Whip is one of my favorite exploitation movies about rebellious teens made in the early sixties and Ann-Margret is terrific as a naughty juvenile delinquent named Jody. The role solidified her reputation as a cinema sex kitten but like most of Ann-Margret’s movies, critics were not very impressed with it.

Jean Negulesco’s The Pleasure Seekers (1964) was Ann-Margret’s next movie and it’s an enjoyable film. Ann-Margret plays Fran Hobson in this updated remake of the director’s earlier picture Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), which itself was a remake of his film How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). The musical numbers and fashions are the best part of this cute comedy, which has a somewhat outdated approach to romance for its time, but Ann-Margret and André Lawrence (who plays her love interest in the film) seem to have worked well together and it’s fun watching them drive around Spain on a scooter.

In 1965 Ann-Margret made Once a Thief with the talented French actor Alain Delon. She arguably does her first really good dramatic acting in Once a Thief but she’s predictably over the top as Delon’s troubled wife and her emotional performance stands out in stark contrast to Delon’s understated style of acting. Even though the two seem like an odd pair, they’re both incredibly beautiful and generate a lot of heat when they’re on screen together. Once a Thief is an interesting crime thriller with a great cast that fans of film noir should appreciate.

After starring with Alain Delon in Once a Thief, Ann-Margret got the opportunity to work with another sixties icon in Norman Jewison’s film The Cincinnati Kid (1965). The Cincinnati Kid stars Steve McQueen as a young poker player and Ann-Margret plays the sexually vivacious and unhappy wife of Karl Malden. She wrestles with Tuesday Weld for McQueen’s affection and does some of her best acting in the film. Ann-Margret and Steve McQueen clearly have on-screen chemistry together so you can’t help but wonder why his character in the film ends up with the cute, sensitive and thoughtful, but much less interesting character Tuesday Weld is playing. According to Ann-Margret she developed a close friendship with Steve McQueen on the set of the film since they both shared a similar interest in fast cars and motorcycles.

In 1966 Ann-Margret teamed up with director George Sidney again for the campy sex comedy The Swinger. In The Swinger she plays a journalist named Kelly who poses as a “swinger” to impress the editor of a men’s magazine. The editor is played by Tony Franciosa who she also worked with in The Pleasure Seekers. The Swinger is a entertaining comedy that takes a humorous look at the swinging sixties and Ann-Margret gets to perform some great songs in the film. She also gets to ride a Triumph motorcycle and after making the movie she was featured in Triumph Motorcycle’s official advertisements.

Following The Swinger she made the entertaining Matt Helm spy spoof Murderers Row (1966) with her pal Dean Martin. The Matt Helm films featured Dean Martin as a hard-drinking, womanizing and often bumbling spy. As usual, Ann-Margret’s performance and numerous colorful costume changes are one of the most entertaining things about the film and Murderer’s Row is definitely one of the best movies in the Matt Helm series. Ann-Margret seems to be having a good time in the film with her fellow Vegas star and the Matt Helm films are well worth a look if you enjoy sixties spy movies.

Ann-Margret spent the next few years making movies in Italy including Dino Risi’s Il Tigre (a.k.a. The Tiger & The Pussycat, 1967) and Il Profeta (a.k.a. Prophet, 1968). These sexy comedies with co-star Vittorio Gassman were popular in Europe but they didn’t have much success in the US. In the late sixties film critics were unfortunately starting to dismiss Ann-Margaret and her talents, which is a shame. She worked well with Vittorio Gassman and I think the two movies they made together are enjoyable films.

During this period Ann-Margret married the handsome actor Roger Smith who’s most known for his role as Jeff Spencer in the popular television series 77 Sunset Strip. Coincidentally, they were married exactly a week after Elvis Presley married Priscilla. Roger Smith had been trying to convince her to marry him for awhile but she finally accepted his proposal on May 8, 1967 and they were married in a quick ceremony in Vegas. It’s worth noting that Elvis Presley married Priscilla on May 1st just a few days earlier. It’s impossible to know if these events were in any way connected but Ann-Margret’s marriage fell apart right after she exchanged vows with Roger Smith. She left him after their first night together and went home to her parents but they eventually managed to work things out. Both Ann-Margret & Roger Smith been through a lot of rough times and never had any children, but they’ve been married for 40 years and seem very happy together.

In 1969 she teamed up with Laurence Harvey to make the interesting crime thriller Rebus. Unfortunately the film was not warmly welcomed by the critics but I think it’s an entertaining movie and Ann-Margret performs some nice musical numbers in it that were written for her by the great composer Luis Enríquez Bacalov. Laurence Harvey and Ann-Margret are both over the top performers with a similar acting style who often “play to the back row” so I thought they worked well together in Rebus. They also both look amazing and manage to keep the film watchable even if the script is somewhat lacking.

1970-1979

Following Rebus Ann-Margret made the “so bad it’s good” biker movie C.C. and Company (1970), which was written and produced by her husband Roger Smith. The movie is mainly worth watching for Ann-Margret’s campy performance and she looks terrific on a motorcycle. Unfortunately her co-star and love interest in the movie is the dreadfully dull and unappealing football player, Joe Namath. The rest of the cast is pretty good and biker movie regular William Smith just about steals the show. With another actor in Namath’s role I think the film could have been much better.

Much to everyone’s surprise (particularly film critics) Ann-Margret managed to land a role in Mike Nichols’ critically acclaimed adult drama Carnal Knowledge (1971) next. The film offered her the best dramatic role of her career as the beautiful and troubled Bobbie, who becomes the target of Jack Nicholson’s rage. The emotional scenes between the two in Carnal Knowledge feature some of the decade’s most powerful and raw acting. For the first time in a long time, Ann-Margret got rave reviews for her performance and received her first Oscar nomination for her role as Bobbie.

Following Carnal Knowledge she began shooting The Train Robbers with John Wayne. Ann-Margret has said that she enjoyed working with Wayne and I think you can see that in their on screen exchanges. The Train Robbers was not released until 1973 and received mixed reviews. At a time when directors like Sergio Leone and Sam Pekinpah were exploring new directions with western films, The Train Robbers seems rather outdated and old fashioned but the movie does have it’s charm and I think it’s one of the more interesting and unique films that Wayne made late in his life.

Unfortunately just as Ann-Margret’s film career seemed to be blossoming a horrible accident in 1972 almost killed her. While performing live at the Sahara Hotel in Lake Tahoe she suffered a terrible fall from the stage, which literally destroyed her face and sent her into a coma. The accident was so severe that her face collapsed due to massive bone breakage. Her arm was also broken in the fall and one of her knees was seriously damaged. She lingered between life and death for days and her family and friends wondered if she would ever be able to perform again. With the help of a team of doctors that included a neurosurgeon, a plastic surgeon and an orthopedic surgeon, Ann-Margret managed to fully recover and after just ten weeks she was back performing live again in Vegas.

After her near-death experience, Ann-Margret returned to acting in Ken Russell’s ambitious rock opera Tommy (1975). Russell’s frenzied directing style meshes perfectly with Ann-Margret’s over the top acting in the film and the combination makes Tommy one of the most entertaining musicals of the seventies. Ann-Margret was only a few years older than The Who’s Roger Daltry at the time that Tommy was made but the accident had aged her a little and she does a wonderful job as Tommy’s glamourous mom. Ann-Margret’s frantic performance in Tommy, which peaks with her infamous “nervous breakdown” scene involving lots of gooey foods, is slightly reminiscent of her paint scene from the 1966 film The Swinger. Her performance in the film managed to snag her a second Oscar nomination.

Ann-Margret made a few more films in the seventies including Richard Attenborough’s excellent creepy thriller Magic (1978) where she starred opposite Anthony Hopkins, which is well worth seeking out if you’re a horror fan. But much to my surprise, many of the films Ann-Margret made during the sixties and seventies are not easily available on VHS or DVD. Thankfully Ann-Margret fans can look forward to a new DVD release of her one and only western, The Train Robbers, on May 22.

Final Thoughts

Ann-Margret has had an impressive career in cinema that was often met with a mixed critical reaction but I think she’s one of Hollywood’s most interesting and beautiful actresses. Her filmography features some of the best musicals made in the past 40 years. She’s a stunning woman and her vivacious personality seems to ignite when shes on screen.

Living in the California Bay Area and working as a music journalist for a brief time has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of celebrities. It’s not uncommon to bump into George Lucas or Sean Penn when I’m out shopping, so I’ve become rather jaded but meeting Ann-Margret was one of the few times in my life where I was truly starstruck. I got the chance to pay my respects to the actress in 1994 after her biography Ann Margret: My Story was released. The actress & singer was on a book signing tour and she kindly signed a copy of her book for me. She was very nice and easy to talk to, but I became totally tongue-tied around her. She was still incredibly beautiful at age 53 and while I was shaking her hand I couldn’t help thinking to myself that I was touching a hand that had touched so many of my favorite performers including Alain Delon, Steve McQueen, Laurence Harvey, Oliver Reed and Elvis. Needless to say, I was a little overwhelmed and could barely get out a word in her presence. Thankfully I managed to pull myself together enough to tell her how much I had enjoyed her movies and she seemed genuinely touched by my nervous compliments. I still own my copy of her book and its’ one of my most treasured items simply because  it reminds me of the time I got to meet one of my favorite actresses and on screen personalities. Happy birthday Ann-Margret!

Ann-Margret’s Official Website

Hammer Thrills & Chills

The official Hammer Films website has been bustling with activity lately. As a long time lover of Hammer films, it’s been nice to see the site alive and kicking again. You can also find Hammer news at their new Myspace page.

Hammer has recently announced the release of lots of new offical movie related merchandise such as a nice looking t-shirt line available from Razamataz.com as well as upcoming board games, poker chips and playing cards. Besides releasing new merchandise, Hammer has also been busy signing a deal to make Majestic Films (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Icon Entertainment) its exclusive sales agent. What does that mean for Hammer fans? According to the Hammer Films website:

“In recent years Hammer has licensed a package of 20 leading video and DVD titles in a number of major territories. Majestic will continue this work, packaging other titles from the Hammer catalogue and targeting the hitherto unsold territories.”


Christopher Lee and Stephanie Beacham in Dracula A.D. 1972
Hopefully this new deal with Majestic will lead to a lot more Hammer films being released on DVD in the next few years. Late last year Hammer fans in the US were rewarded with the release of the very groovy Dracula A.D. 1972 on DVD and the wonderful Hammer Horror Series DVD Collection which featured some of Hammer’s best films including Brides of Dracula, Curse of the Werewolf, Phantom of the Opera, Paranoiac, Nightmare, Kiss of the Vampire, Night Creatures and The Evil of Frankenstein. While the quality of the Universal DVD release left a lot to be desired and came with no bonus materials, it was still a great treat for Hammer fans since many of the movies in the set had never been officially released on DVD in the US before.

The most recent Hammer DVD has been the nice widescreen release of The Anniversary from Anchor Bay. This unusual black comedy from Hammer stars the great Bette Davis in one of her most interesting roles and comes with some really nice bonus materials such as Audio Commentary with Director Roy Ward Baker, the original Trailer & TV Spot, Poster & Still Gallery and Talent Bios. Hopefully Anchor Bay will continue to release more Hammer films as part of their ongoing Hammer Collection series.

Next week on May 30th, Hammer fans can expect the release of the Hammer Film Noir Collector’s Set, Vol. 1-3. This nice collection from VCI Entertainment contains six rarely seen Hammer crime films made during the 1950s including Bad Blonde, Man Bait, Stolen Face, Blackout, The Gambler and the Lady and Heat Wave. Many of them are directed by the talented Terence Fisher who is most well known as the man behind some of Hammer’s best horror films. It’s nice to see his non-horror work for Hammer getting some attention now.

Next Month Hammer fans in Southern California can look forward to the exciting three-week retrospective The Golden Age of British Horror: 1955-1975 taking place at the Egyptian theatre in Los Angeles June 8-25th. This impressive event will feature screenings of many great Hammer horror films sourced from brand new prints including films still not offically available on DVD in the US such as The Gorgon, The Stranglers of Bombay, The Nanny, The Quatermass Xperiment and The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll. Other Hammer films playing in the festival include The Revenge of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula and Taste the Blood of Dracula. On June 17 the festival will even hold a Memorial Tribute to the recently deceased director Val Guest (1911-2006) who made many great films for Hammer.

The other two big British horror studios of the same era (Amicus & Tigon) will also be well represented at the festival. Some terrific films will be shown from both studios including The Skull (Amicus) and Corruption (Tigon). Both films star the late great horror legend Peter Cushing and have never been released on DVD. I wish I could move to Los Angeles for a month just to attend this incredible event!


Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in The Gorgon
British horror fans might be able to look forward to future DVD releases of the movies playing at the festival. There are many great Hammer films besides the titles I mentioned above that have still not gotten offical DVD releases yet and that’s a real shame. Many of these movies are made by great British directors like Terence Fisher, Freddie Francis, Joseph Losey and Seth Holt. These films also feature stellar performances from many talented actors such as Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Bette Davis, Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper, Dennis Price and Barbara Shelley. If The Golden Age of British Horror festival is a success it might encourage studios like Sony and Anchor Bay to finally release many of these films. If you’re a local, don’t miss it!