6 Months of Film Writing


I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting Cinebeats again but I’ve been busy with various personal projects and obligations. I’ve also recently started writing for Publishers Weekly but I thought I’d finally update with some highlights from TCM’s Movie Morlocks. Here’s some of the more interesting (in my estimation) film related writing & entertaining babble I’ve produced in the last 6 months. You might notice that the topics I cover have gotten a little “lighter” in content and that’s by design. TCM’s blog readers generally prefer light reading about familiar topics so I’ve been trying to accommodate them more often.

March, 2015:
Superhero Saturdays on TCM: BATMAN (1943)
Bold! Noble! Daring! BATWOMAN (1968)
William Mortensen in Hollywood
Hammer Noir: A Poster Gallery
April, 2015:
“Robbery & Murder Were Their Code of Living!” – THE CATS (1968)
A Troy Donahue Top 10
Cooking with Sophia Loren
Orson Welles at One Hundred
May, 2015:
Think Pink: The Enduring Appeal of Lady Penelope
Two on the Run: DEADLY STRANGERS (1975)
The Hollywood Style
June, 2015:
Hollywood Comes to Hearst Castle: Memories & Musings
Men Among Monsters: Remembering Christopher Lee & Richard Johnson
Bugging Out! A Poster Gallery
Classic Hollywood Actors Discuss Women, Beauty & Femininity with Arlene Dahl
July, 2015:
Underrated ’65
Elisabeth Lutyens: Horror Queen of Film Composers
Midsummer Reading Suggestions
Q&A: Michael Kronenberg From the Film Noir Foundation
Birdwatching in Bodega Bay
August, 2015:
A Few Fun Facts About Michael Caine
The Kitten & The Cowboy: When Ann-Margret Met The Duke
Mae Clarke: Frankenstein’s First Bride
Closing Act: Shelley Winters

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)

Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu


I promised more Kinski and now I’m delivering…

Over at the Movie Morlocks you can find my recent post on Werner Herzog’s 1979 film NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE. It’s one of my favorite Herzog films and I think it contains one of Klaus Kinski’s most compelling performances. This modern reimagining of F. W. Murnau’s NOSFERATU (1922) is really more of a tribute than a remake but it’s a wonderful example of how a director can reinterpret an old film for a new audience. I don’t hate remakes. Some of my favorite films are remakes. But I do hate bad movies with big budgets and no imagination. And there’s way too many of them taking up valuable real estate at multiplexes across the country while an army of compliant critics champion their failings. With all that in mind I decided to write about Herzog’s film because when I’m asked about my favorite remakes NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE often comes to mind. Do I think it’s better than Murnau’s original? No. But I do think it’s just as good in its own unique way. A sample paragraph from my post:

“One of Herzog’s smartest directing choices was casting Klaus Kinski in the role of Dracula, which was a part previously played by Max Schreck. Klaus Kinski makes a formidable vampire and his dynamic working relationship with the director undoubtedly impacted his performance. Strangely enough, the role of Dracula in NOSFERATU also provided Kinski with one of his most sympathetic and humane roles. Although Kinski is obviously playing a hideous undead creature, he manages to give Dracula some genuine humanity and it’s one of the actor’s most fascinating and strangely touching performances. Instead of directly following in Max Schreck’s footsteps, Kinski seems to have been inspired by the tragic monsters found in classic Universal horror films such as FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and THE WOLF MAN (1941). In Klaus Kinski’s autobiography he articulated how much the physical aspect of playing a vampire had transformed him.

In Holland and Czechoslovakia and all the way to the Tatra Mountains on the Czech-Polish border. The departure point is Munich. Four weeks before shooting starts, I have to fly there for costuming. And this is where I shave my skull for the first time. I feel exposed, vulnerable, defenseless. Not just physically (my bare head becomes as hypersensitive as an open wound) but chiefly in my emotions and my nerves. I feel as if I have no scalp, as if my protective envelope has been removed and my soul can’t live without it. As if my soul has been flayed.

At first I go outdoors only when it’s dark. Besides, I wear a wool cap all the time even though it’s spring. You may think ‘So What? Some guys are bald.’ But the two have absolutely nothing to do with one another. What I mean is the simultaneous metamorphosis into a vampire. The nonhuman, nonanimal being. That undead thing. That unspeakable creature, which suffers in full awareness of its existence.” – Klaus Kinski from Kinski Uncut

Want to read more? Please visit The Movie Molocks!
Reimagining a Classic: Werner Herzog’s NOSFERATU @ TCM’s Classic Film Blog

Klaus Kinski as Ahmed Kortobawi


Today would have been Klaus Kinski’s 85th birthday if he were still alive. I’ve written birthday tributes to Klaus before but today I thought I’d share a little something about one of my favorite Klaus Kinski films, Jess Franco’s remarkable Venus in Furs aka Paroxismus (1969).

From the DVD box:
“Of all the twisted hits from cult director Jess Franco (SADOMANIA, 99 WOMEN), this is the one that fans and critics alike call his masterpiece! James Darren (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, DEEP SPACE NINE) stars as a traumatized trumpeter sucked into a whirlpool of psycho-sexual horror along with his sultry girlfriend (singer Barbara McNair), a kinky lesbian (Margaret Lee of THE BLOODY JUDGE), a depraved playboy (the legendary Klaus Kinski) and the mysterious, insatiable beauty (luscious Maria Rohm of JUSTINE) who may lead them all straight to Hell.”

Paroxismus (1969)If that description doesn’t grab your attention, nothing will! As stated above, Kinski plays a wealthy sadist named Ahmed Kortobawi who’s obsessed with sexual pleasure that finally erupts in an act of bloody violence. After he participates in the kinky murder of a beautiful woman (Maria Rohm), Kinski and his cohorts (Dennis Price & Margaret Lee) are haunted by her ghost (or are they?). Franco’s incredibly sensuous and decadent film isn’t a straightforward horror movie but imaginative viewers should appreciate the supernatural elements of Venus in Furs. As Cathal Tohill & Pete Tombs explain in their book Immoral Tales, Franco was inspired to make his film after a conversation with jazz legend, Chet Baker. The acclaimed trumpet player discussed how getting lost in musical improvisation could create images in your head that explode in flashes of memory. Franco used this idea for the basis of his story and Venus in Furs unfolds in a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards that lend it a surreal quality accentuated by the fantastic nature of the film, the creative set design and the director’s ability to create awe-inspiring imagery. As usual Klaus Kinski manages to steal every scene he appears in and his final screen moments are unforgettable. The jazz infused score was composed by British beat artist Manfred Mann who also makes a brief appearance in the film as a musician. With its lengthy nightclub and party scenes, decadent fashions and groovy soundtrack, Venus in Furs is a film that begs for multiple viewings.

One of my favorite pieces on Franco’s Venus in Furs was written by Mike Kitchell and can be found on his blog, Esotika Erotica Psychotica. And for more on Jess Franco and his fabulous films please visit Robert Monell’s blog I’m in a Jess Franco State of Mind

You can expect to see more of Kinski @ Cinebeats soon!

What’s It All About, Alfie?

Michael Caine

Michael Caine was one of the coolest actors working during the ’60s and ’70s but he was also incredibly sexy. He had unconventional good looks and I love the thick black glasses he used to wear that often hid his eyes and amazingly long lashes. Michael Caine may have played a British tough guy on numerous occasions but he had some of the loveliest eyes I’ve ever seen on an actor. He’s also incredibly talented and appeared in a lot of terrific movies including The Ipcress File (1965), Alfie (1966), Gambit (1966), Funeral in Berlin (1966), Billion Dollar Brain (1967), Deadfall (1968), The Magus (1968), The Italian Job (1969), Get Carter (1970), Sleuth (1972) and John Huston’s remarkable epic adventure, The Man Who Would Be King (1975), which was recently re-released on DVD and Blu-Ray a few weeks ago, just to name a few. Caine’s lengthy filmography is incredibly impressive, which is why he’s a living legend today. If you’re interested in learning more about the actor I highly recommend his 1992 autobiography “What’s It All About?” I recently picked up a copy for 50 cents at my local Goodwill store and it was a fast and fun read. Michael Caine writes with the same sense of humor that is apparent in many of the interviews he’s done. Here’s a few choice quotes from his book…
Michael Caine

“One of the biggest movie companies in Britain at the time was Associated British Pictures, who ran their operation like an old Hollywood studio, with a rota of actors under contract. I was sent to see their chief casting director, a very powerful man called Robert Lennard… “My son is an accountant.” he said, “and he has more chance of success in this business than you do.” I sat there quite numb but smiling. He went on, “This may sound unkind, but you will thank me in the long run. I know this business well and I can assure you that you have no future in it. Give it up, Michael.”

“Terry (Stamp) and I made a pact at the beginning of the year. Because our profession was so unpredictable and we never knew who was going to be making any money, we promised each other that whichever one of us was working, if the other one could not pay his share of the rent, the one with the money would cough up. We shook hands on the deal, a sign of the true bond and depth of our friendship, and that is how it remained until we eventually made enough money for flats of our own.”

“The sixties had arrived in London. The Beatles were playing endlessly on the radio, The Rolling Stones were gathering fans and David Bailey was taking pictures of what he called “Dolly Birds.” This particular breed was brand new and all of a sudden more numerous than the London sparrow. All at once it seemed that every pretty girl with no tits was modeling clothes and every pretty girl with big tits was modeling those.”
Michael Caine

“I had never imagined that Alfie would be released in the US and had played the role in a very thick Cockney accent with lots of slang words that would have made it impossible for an American to understand. Shelly Winters once told me many years later that she had never understood a single word I said to her in Alfie, and had just waited for my lips to stop moving and taken that as her cue to speak.”

“Working with Sean (Connery) was an absolute joy for me. I had rarely worked with an actor who was so unselfish and generous, so much so that you could experiment and take chances and not expect to find a knife in your back if it went wrong. We did all sorts of improvisations, which are less easy in films than in the theatre because of the technology involved, but it was all done in a completely relaxed atmosphere, because John (Huston) trusted us and we trusted each other.”

“There used to be a hardware store right on Beverly Hills Drive* where you could buy mundane things like nails and string, but where you could see the most extraordinary people buying them. I once saw Fred Astaire buying sandpaper and Danny Kaye buying one light bulb. The most frightening sight I ever saw during my whole stay in America was in that hardware store. I hid behind a shelf of tools and watched Klaus Kinski buying an axe. It cleared the store.”

*I believe Michael Caine is referring to Hollywood’s historic Pioneer Hardware store on Crescent Dr. in Beverly Hills, where you can still purchase some sandpaper or an axe if the need ever arises.

Stalking Klaus Kinski or How I Worshiped a Madman

Klaus Kinski b. October 18, 1926 – d. November 23, 1991

Today would have been Klaus Kinski’s 83rd birthday and in honor of the event I thought I’d share something I originally wrote about the actor back in 2003 on Valentine’s Day but have since expanded on.*

One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real.” – Klaus Kinski

I don’t get star-struck often. There are only a few celebrities that can make me weak-kneed and slack-jawed and one of them is the deceased, but not forgotten actor, Klaus Kinski.

When Klaus appears in a film it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him. He always manages to steal whatever scene he’s in. He’s not conventionally beautiful or typically handsome but his face is a remarkable canvas that seems to exude life itself. You can see the poverty Klaus suffered as a child, the time he spent in asylums and prisons, his unhinged sexuality, passion for life and unbridled anger pouring out of his eyes and every pore of his ragged skin. Real or imagined, this is a man who lived and loved life. The myth of Klaus Kinski the actor and Klaus Kinski the man are one and the same. And I fell in-love with the whole package.

I watched Klaus in many movies while I was growing up and I was always drawn in by his presence. He appeared in countless horror films, thrillers and great spaghetti westerns throughout the ’60s and ’70s that ran on television when I was a kid and I couldn’t help but notice him. He was unlike anyone else on my TV. By the time I was a teenager I had seen at least 10 or 12 of Klaus Kinski’s films and I knew him by name. Klaus became one of my favorite performers and I started to actively seek out the movies he had appeared in whenever they played on television.

When I discovered Werner Herzog’s films in the late ’80s my interest in Klaus Kinski turned into a full blown obsession. Herzog is an amazing director and his films with Kinski such as Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Woyzeck (1979), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Cobra Verde (1987) are all incredible movies that managed to capture Kinski’s unrestrained personality and exploit his acting talents to their fullest. I was also lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of Klaus Kinski’s autobiography in the late ’80s. Reading about Kinski in his own words was an eye-opening experience. His autobiography is a fascinating, lust-filled rant that is impossible to forget.

I didn’t have access to the internet or eBay back then so I had to satisfy my cravings for more Kinski by trying to locate the films he had appeared in on video at local rental shops or through mail-order catalogs. I also tried to buy posters for films that Klaus appeared in but that wasn’t an easy task. I did manage to get my hands on a poster for Aguirre, Wrath of God, which hung proudly on my wall announcing to anyone who noticed it that I was a card-carrying member of the Klaus Kinski fanclub.

In the summer of 1991 I was an impetuous and slightly naive young woman living with two friends who both worked at a local video store. I occasionally did part-time work there myself whenever I needed a few extra bucks. It was a popular place for film fanatics and it had one of the best selections of videos for rent in the entire Bay Area. Notable locals like director George Lucas and Terry Zwigoff were regular customers and filmmakers like Les Blank often visited the store when they were doing research. When news got to me that Les Blank had started visiting the store I got really excited. I knew Les had worked with both Herzog and Kinski so I tried bumping into Les Blank on the days the staff thought he might show up but it never happened. I didn’t have a car so when I got a call telling me Les was at the video store I could never get their quickly enough. Finally I got word in the late summer of 1991 that Les Blank had casually mentioned that Klaus Kinski was actually staying in the area for awhile. Then another customer who owned an art supply store in town started casually mentioning that a “creepy” German actor named Kinski was coming in regularly to buy art supplies at her shop. When this all got reported back to me I flipped out! In his later years Klaus apparently spent a lot of his free time in the Bay Area focusing on his art. With this new information handed to me I became determined to meet Mr. Kinski.

I started going to the art supply store where Klaus Kinski was a regular customer whenever I could. I hung around aimlessly thumbing through books like How to Sketch a Nude for hours hoping that Klaus would suddenly appear. I don’t know what I expected to happen if I did see him. I imagined throwing myself at his feet and telling him how much I admired him even though I was sure that he would laugh at my groveling behavior. Maybe I hoped we’d end up at his Lagunitas home and get drunk on too much red wine while we talked for hours about art and cinema? Most likely I just wished that he would make crazy violent love to me right there in the art supply store and at the end of our passionate encounter we’d be covered in paints, pastels and charcoal while the other customers looked on in disbelief. Unfortunately whatever I dreamed up in my wild imagination never happened.

For almost two months I aimlessly hung around the art supply store waiting for Klaus to show up. The store owner was tolerant of me since I was the only person in her small shop most of the time and she was somewhat aware of my fascination with “creepy” Kinski. On one occasion I was told I had missed him by only 20 minutes. On another day I was told he had come in a day earlier. Then one afternoon the shop owner finally told me that she had not seen Kinski for a few weeks and thought he might have left town. I was devastated. But I didn’t give up and throughout the rest of the summer I occasionally stopped by the art supply store hoping Klaus would suddenly materialize there. I was sure that something of him had stayed behind amid the paint fumes and paper remnants. A hair strand? A fingerprint? A memory?

My quest to meet Klaus Kinski finally came to a sad end when I got word that he had died on November 23, 1991. It really pained me at the time since only weeks before I had been so close to meeting him. But now I knew that was never going to happen. I still feel close to Klaus whenever I see one of his films or watch him go head-to-head with Werner Herzog in My Best Fiend. Maybe it’s because I nearly met him? Or maybe it’s because I can understand Herzog’s appreciation and fascination with his friend since in some very small way I experienced it myself?

I’ve never stalked a celebrity before and I will never do it again. It’s not something I advocate or recommend but young women (and men) often do impulsive and silly things when they’re obsessed with a boy (or girl). That said, I have no regrets about trying to meet Klaus Kinski during that long hot summer of ’91. I think Klaus would have appreciated my harmless determination and mad devotion.

There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.” – Nietzsche

Klaus Kinski in San Francisco

For more on Klaus Kinski I highly recommend visiting Dan Taylor’s terrific site The On-Line Guide to Klaus Kinski!

* An edited version of this piece was originally published in my Livejournal blog on Feb. 14, 2003.

10 Characters I Love

The task: Make a list of 10 of your favorite film characters.As much as I tend to dislike these blog memes, I couldn’t say no to The Agitation of the Mind, Coosa Creak Cinema and Bubblegum Aesthetics so I finally took the plunge and decided to participate. Like any self-respecting film enthusiast I have hundreds of favorite film characters, but here’s a short list of 10. I decided not to comment on my selections so I’ll leave it up to my readers to figure out the why’s and what for behind each of my choices.

1. Freddie Clegg as played by Terence Stamp
The Collector (William Wyler; 1965)
"You could fall in love with me if you tried.
I’ve done everything I could to make it easy. You just won’t try!"
2. Roslyn Taber as played by Marliyn Monroe
The Misfits (John Huston; 1960)
"Maybe all there really is is just the next thing. The next thing that happens.
 Maybe you’re not supposed to remember anybody’s promises. "
3. Turner as played by Mick Jagger
Performance (Donald Cammell/Nicolas Roeg; 1970)
"The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness. "
4. Nami "Sasori" Matsushima as played by Meiko Kaji
Female Prisoner Scorpion films (Shunya Ito/Yasuharu Hasebe; 1972-73)
"To be deceived is a woman’s crime."
5. Tuco Ramirez as played by Eli Wallach
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone; 1966)
"When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk."
6. Angel Blake as played by Linda Hayden
Blood on Satan’s Claw (Piers Haggard; 1971)
"Little Mark had the Devil in him so we cut it out."
7. Marcel as played by Pierre Clementi
Belle de jour (Luis Bunuel; 1967)
 "Many girls would love to be in your place."
8. Countess Bathory as played by Delphine Seyrig
Daughters Of Darkness (Harry Kümel; 1971)
"Let the dead bury the dead."
9. Maude as played by Ruth Gordon
Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby; 1971) "It’s best not to be too moral. You cheat yourself out of too much life.
Aim above morality. If you apply that to life, then you’re bound to live life fully."
10. Klaus Kinski as Klaus Kinski
My Best Feind (Werner Herzog; 1999)
"I am not your superstar."
As usual, I’m supposed to pass this meme along to 5 other film bloggers so My Life in Movies, Impossible Funky, Hammer and Beyond, Film Walrus and I’m in a Jess Franco State of Mind are invited to participate if they’d like to.

My Top 20 Favorite Films of 1968

At the Britannica blog Raymond Benson has finished listing off his Top 10 Favorite Films of 1968 so if you’re interested in the final results stop by and give them a look. I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions how much I dislike making lists of favorite films myself since they’re limited by what I’ve seen and are subject to change at anytime. Roger Ebert recently asked his blog readers to “. . . agree that all lists of movies are nonsense.” I agreed with him wholeheartedly at the time, but in the process of watching Raymond Benson share his list favorite films from 1968 I naturally began thinking of my own favorite films released the same year.

Compiling a list of favorite films restricted by their release date without implying that they’re “the best” (whatever that means) started to seem like a fun exercise. And while reading the complaints and reservations about Raymond Benson’s own selections I even suggested that it would be interesting if all the participants of the Britannica blog “round-table” supplied their own list of Top 10 Favorite Films for 1968 so we could compare them. I figured that if we were going to scrutinize Raymond Benson’s selections we might as well scrutinize each other. I also thought that it would probably enrich the discussion. No one else seemed willing or able to share a list of there own picks, but for the past two weeks I’ve been quietly compiling a list of my own favorite films from 1968.

I wasn’t planing on sharing my own list with anyone, but over the weekend I listened to an interesting discussion between Greencine’s David Hudson, Film Comment‘s Gavin Smith and film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum about the current state of film criticism that got me contemplating my list again. During the discussion Jonathan Rosenbaum smartly pointed out that, “People love lists now because they need to. There’s too much to navigate through.” In my own experience I’ve found this to be very true. Since I started blogging my “Favorite DVDs of the year” lists for 2006 and 2007 have become some of my most popular posts and they’ve generated some lively discussions and lots of email. I think other people appreciate them because they offer a brief look at some films I’ve enjoyed and recommend. And in the words of Jonathan Rosenbaum, the lists are easy to navigate through.

So without further explanation, here’s a list of some of my own favorite films from 1968. I couldn’t manage to narrow all my choices down to a mere Top 10 so I just decided to share my Top 20 list instead. I purposefully left off documentaries so you won’t find any listed and four of the films on my list were also on Raymond Benson’s list. The numerical order doesn’t mean much and naturally my list is subject to change at anytime since I’m continually being exposed to new movies. It also should be noted that after looking at various print and online sources I’ve come across different release dates for some films. As far as I know, the following 20 films were originally released in 1968.


1. If…. (Lindsay Anderson; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about If…. can be found HERE and HERE.

Black Lizard (1968)
2. Black Lizard aka Kurotokage (Kinji Fukasaku; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Black Lizard can be found HERE.
I’m currently working on a much longer article about the film and its star that I hope to share here soon.

Spirits of the Dead (1968)
3. Spirits of the Dead aka Histoires Extraordinaires
(Federico Fellini, Louis Malle & Roger Vadim; 1968)

Some of my thought about Spirits of the Dead can be found HERE.

Teorema (1968)
4. Teorema (Pier Paolo Pasolini; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Teorema can be found HERE.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick; 1968)

Diabolik (1968)
6. Diabolik aka Danger: Diabolik! (Mario Bava; 1968)
Some of my brief thoughts about Diabolik can be found HERE.

Succubus (1968)
7. Succubus aka Necronomicon – Geträumte Sünden (Jesus Franco; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Succubus can be found HERE.

8. The Great Silence aka Il Grande silenzio (Sergio Corbucci; 1968)
Some of my thought about The Great Silence can be found HERE and HERE.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
9. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski; 1968)

Petulia (1968)
10. Petulia (Richard Lester; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Petulia can be found HERE.

11. Blackmail Is My Life aka Kyokatsu koso Waga Jinsei ( Kinji Fukasaku; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Blackmail Is My Life can be found HERE

Boom (1968)
12. Boom! (Joesph Losey; 1968)
My lengthy look at Boom! can be found HERE.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
13. Night of the Living Dead (George Romero; 1968)

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
14. The Thomas Crown Affair (Norman Jewison; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about The Thomas Crown Affair can be found HERE.

Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)
15. Girl on a Motorcycle aka Naked Under Leather (Jack Cardiff; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Alain Delon and Girl on a Motorcycle can be found HERE.

16. Once Upon a Time in the West aka C’era una volta il West
(Sergio Leone; 1968)

Some of my thoughts about Once Upon a Time in the West can be found HERE.

17. Death Laid an Egg aka La Morte ha fatto l’uovo (Giulio Questi; 1968)
I briefly mentioned my fondness for Death Laid an Egg HERE.

The Devil Rides Out (1968)
18. The Devil Rides Out aka The Devil’s Bride (Terence Fisher; 1968)

19. The Party (Blake Edwards; 1968)

Barbarella (1968)
20. Barbarella (Roger Vadim; 1968)

Honorable mention goes to the wonderful Yokai Monster films that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

A Spaghetti Western Top Ten

I love Spaghetti Westerns. The best ones are what I would call “gothic westerns” since they combine some of the best aspects of Italian gothic horror films and literature with classic American westerns and western novels. They are filled with high drama but laced with subtlety. They offer romantic views of the west but they’re often very dark and at times even frightening. Suspense, death, blood, dirt, graveyards, coffins and religious iconography are reoccurring aspects of Italian westerns. Silence and sound were equally valued by directors and atmosphere was as important as story. Good and evil are often irrelevant and humanism – with a misanthropic streak – is king.

Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the politics at play in many Italian westerns. Many of the directors, composers and actors who made these films were card carrying Communists. Capitalism and Imperialism were often the real bad guys and many of the best Italian westerns managed to present their Marxist ideals in an incredibly entertaining way.

Recently Keith Brown over at Giallo Fever asked his blog readers what their “Top 10 Spaghetti Westerns” were. I had a hard time putting my list together because I like a lot of Spaghetti Westerns, but I thought I’d share my current Top 10 List here.

1. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (a.k.a. Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo, 1966, Sergio Leone)
This is my favorite Leone film for many reasons. It’s a thoughtful, funny and entertaining movie with an amazing Morricone score. I really love the writing and I think the script is just brilliant, plus Leone films it all beautifully. Eli Wallach gives one of the greatest performances of his career as Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and in my opinion he steals the show from Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. The scene between Wallach and his brother (the priest – Luigi Pistilli) is one of my favorite scenes from any film ever made. Wallach is not just reviving his character Calvera from The Magnificent Seven here, he’s giving him depth and making him one of the most enduring characters in the history of cinema. It’s a movie I’ve watched countless times and I never get tired of it.

Watch: Lengthy clip leading up to my favorite scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

2. The Great Silence (a.k.a. Il Grande silenzio, 1968, Sergio Corbucci)
I’ve already written a bit about why I love The Great Silence but the movie deserves a few more words. I think it’s Corbucci’s best film and definitely one of the most violent westerns ever put on film. There is deep humanity and brutal realism at play in The Great Silence and I think the movie has a kind of surreal quality that’s hard to put into words. Klaus Kinski gets to play one of the most ruthless characters ever created and that’s reason enough why this movie is one of my personal favorites but I also love Jean-Louis Trintignant’s performance as the tragic and doomed Silence.

Watch: Great clip of Klaus’s brutality in The Great Silence

A Bullet for the General (1966)

3. A Bullet for the General (1966, Damiano Damiani)
I wrote about this terrific film last month and explained why it’s one of my favorite westerns so I won’t bother with the details again. Please check out my previous review.

4. Once Upon a Time in the West (a.k.a. C’era una volta il West, 1968, Sergio Leone)
This is another great Leone film with a terrific Morricone score that I love. I think Henry Fonda is wonderful as the cruel killer Frank and the infamous scene where he murders the boy and his family is one of the most brutal scenes ever captured on film but the rest of the cast (Bronson, Cardinale and Robards) also offer worthwhile performances here. In the end though Once Upon a Time in the West is really an epic about the birth of the civilized west and the landscape that gives it life. The story and the directing are the real stars. It’s a beautiful love letter from Leone to all Spaghetti Western fans.

Watch: Clip from my favorite scene with Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West

5. For a Few Dollars More (a.k.a. Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965, Sergio Leone)
This is my second favorite Leone/Eastwood film. The story is wonderfully told and the film’s really entertaining but I especially love the interplay between Klaus Kinski’s hunchback character Wild and Lee Van Cleef’s Col. Mortimer. Both actors are my favorite western bad boys and their scenes together in For a Few Dollars More are truly priceless. Kinski’s performance is full of his typical twitches and outbursts, and Lee Van Cleef gets in his usual cold hearted stares. Eastwood is really good here and he looks truly fantastic in his poncho and hat but in the end this is really Lee van Cleef and Gian Maria Volontè’s movie. Both actors are terrific in their starring roles alongside Eastwood and once again Morricone delivers a fantastic score that really compliments the action and drama.

Watch: Great Kinski vs. Cleef fan video compiling clips from For a Few Dollars More

6. Django (1966, Sergio Corbucci)
I love the Django series and I had a hard time choosing between three Django films to list here. Django Kill – If You Live, Shoot! (1967) and Strangers Gundown (1969) are also worthy of being added to my Top 10 list, even if they’re inclusion in the Django cannon is debatable. In the first film the handsome actor Franco Nero stars as the enigmatic Django and his performance as the coffin carrying gunslinger is equal to Clint Eastwood’s best performances as “the man with no name.” The story of Django is well told and beautifully directed by Corbucci. The film also boasts a great score by composer Luis Enríquez Bacalov which is comparable to some of Morricone’s best work. All three of the Django films I mentioned are well worth a look if you like your spaghetti westerns dished up bloody and a bit surreal.

Watch: The final 6 min. of Django

7. Death Rides A Horse (a.k.a. Da uomo a uomo, 1967, Giulio Petroni)
The story treads familiar ground but it’s still one of the most entertaining revenge westerns ever shot. Lee Van Cleef and the very cute John Phillip Law give two of their best performances here as Ryan and Bill, and I think they have a surprisingly good chemistry together. The movie boasts some creative camera-work and it features one of Morricone’s most unnerving scores. One of my favorite scenes involves a poker game between Bill (John Phillip Law) and bad guy Burt Cavanaugh (Anthony Dawson), but Lee van Cleef gets a lot of great scenes in Death Rides A Horse as well.

Watch: One of my favorite scenes from Death Rides a Horse

8. Massacre Time (a.k.a. The Brute and the Beast/Tempo di massacro, 1966, Lucio Fulci)
I wrote about Fulci’s Massacre Time back in March so I won’t bother going over it again but I will add that besides Fulci’s stylish directing, Massacre Time includes one of George Hilton’s best performances and it has a great score by composer Coriolano Gori (a.k.a. Lallo Gori).

9. My Name Is Nobody (a.k.a. Il Mio nome è Nessuno, 1973, Tonino Valerii & Sergio Leone)
I really enjoy the humorous westerns that feature Terence Hill and this one is my favorite of the bunch. It’s probably Sergio Leone’s most lighthearted effort but he works well here with Tonino Valerii who directed some great Italian thrillers. Henry Fonda delivers a terrrific performance as an old gunslinger and he has some wonderful scenes with Terrence Hill. Morricone’s score is really playful at times which works well with the movie’s comedy. My Name Is Nobody is a fun film but it’s also a touching farewell to the old west and it confirms that Leone offered Fonda some of his best and most interesting roles late in his career.

Watch: One of my favorite scenes from My Name Is Nobody

10. Dragon Strikes Back (a.k.a. Shanghai Joe/Il Mio nome è Shangai Joe, 1972, Mario Caiano)
When I was a kid Kung Fu was one of my favorite TV shows. The impact that the show had on me is hard to explain but the philosophy it championed definitely made an impression on me. Dragon Strikes Back is basically a drawn out movie version of Kung Fu with Chen Lee (a poor man’s Bruce Lee) playing David Carradine’s role. It’s plain silly at times and the story is thin but it also has some great moments such as the fantastic bullfight and the duel between Chen Lee and Klaus Kinski (once again playing a nasty bad guy here). The combination of Spaghetti Western and Kung Fu action flick is a strange mix that really works. The movie also has a great Bruno Nicoli score (with borrowed bits from Have a Good Funeral, My Friend) and overall the movie is just a really entertaining treat.

Note: Keoma (1976), Companeros (1970), A Bullet for Sandoval (1969) and Duck, You Sucker (1971) all came close to making my list.

I’ve only seen about 25 or 30 Spaghetti Westerns and there are hundreds so my list is subject to change in the future.

A Bullet Doesn’t Care Who It Kills

Like the Bandit… Like the Gringo… A bullet doesn’t care who it kills!

Blue Underground recently re-released the excellent spaghetti western A Bullet for the General (El Chuncho, quien sabe?, 1966) on DVD and I thought I’d take some time to write about the film since it’s one of my favorite westerns.

The movie begins as a young American “gringo” named Bill (Lou Castel) is arriving in war torn Mexico at the height of the Mexican Revolution. He watches indifferently as a group of young rebels are brutally executed in front of him. He then heads towards the railway station where he jumps the queue and pushes ahead of a long line of people to buy himself a train ticket to Durango. While he stands in line a young Mexican boy (Antonio Ruiz) asks him what he thinks of Mexico and he coldly responds, “Not very much.”

These opening minutes offer an unapologetic look at an “ugly American”, whose innocent appearance and expensive suit can not mask his arrogance and lack of empathy towards the poor Mexican peons (unskilled labors) that surround him. But underlying Bill’s behavior are much darker motivations that become clearer as the film progresses.

As Bill rides the train towards Durango his journey is suddenly interrupted by a gang of Mexican bandidos led by El Chuncho (Gian Maria Volonté) banging a drum in time with composer Luis Bacalov’s excellent film score (supervised by Ennio Morricone). The bandits want the train’s cargo of guns so they can sell them to the revolutionary army led by the respected General Elías (Jaime Fernández).

Instead of joining the fight against the bandidos, Bill helps in the raid and tricks Chuncho into believing that he’s a wanted man so he can join his gang of bandits. This sets the stage for the rest of the film as we’re introduced to the bandits and discover that they’re not typical thieves. Chuncho and his gang have political as well as financial motivations, and much like Robin Hood and his Merry Men, they try to help the poor while stealing from the corrupt Mexican government. Of course the cold-blooded American has plans of his own and things get complicated when his personal motivations conflict with the idealistic bandidos.

This terrific spaghetti western has lots of spectacular gun battles and makes great use of the beautiful desert scenery but the radical political ideas that were taking shape in the war torn sixties are the real focus of director Damiano Damiani’s impressive western. Damiani makes an admirable case against American capitalism and imperialism in A Bullet For the General, which he obscures within a very entertaining movie.

The script is based on a story by Salvatore Laurani that was adapted for the screen by Franco Solinas. Solinas is well-known for his leftist political leanings and he was a member of the Italian Communist Party. His scripts written during the sixties and seventies for films such as The Battle of Algiers (1966), Tepepa (1968), Burn! (1969), The Assassination of Trotsky (1972) and Mr. Klein (1976) brazenly expressed his political views in thoughtful but often controversial films.

At first glance it’s easy to assume that A Bullet For the General is full of typical characters found in many westerns but the characters that populate the film are complex and have a lot of hidden depth if you’re willing to go digging for it.

The revolutionary bandits are the movie’s real heroes but they are often portrayed as drunken simpletons unaware of what they’re fighting against and the bourgeoisie land owners are often portrayed as rational and somewhat sympathetic characters. Italian westerns are notorious for the way they refuse to offer typical examples of good guys and bad guys that are so often found in American westerns and A Bullet For the General is a great example of a movie that refuses to easily define any of the characters that populate it.

Gian Maria Volonté is truly magnificent as the bandidos’ leader El Chuncho. Volonté was a respected Italian actor and he had previously acted in two of Sergio Leone’s westerns, A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965), but he passed up the chance to play Tuco (a role later given to Eli Wallach) in Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) in order to play Chuncho. Volonté preferred the more blatant political leanings found in the script for A Bullet For the General to the subtle politics at play in The Good the Bad and the Ugly. Some thought it was a bad decision on his part since Leone’s popular film could have catapulted his career but his role in A Bullet For the General is much more complex and in the films final frames the actor is transformed into one of Italian cinema’s most enduring heroes.

A Bullet For the General chronicles the birthing pains of a new nation. And the personal trials that Volonté’s character Chuncho must endure on his troubled journey to self-discovery brilliantly mirror what’s historically happening all around him. Mexico’s revolution is Chuncho’s revolution and we celebrate the country’s victories as we celebrate Chuncho’s final choices.

Klaus Kinski also has one of his best minor roles in the film as Chuncho’s half-brother Santo but unfortunately he doesn’t get enough screen time. Kinski’s Santo is a religious zealot who dresses in dirty monks robes and shouts political slogans while brutally killing his enemies. He seems driven a bit mad by the government made horrors he has seen the Mexican people suffer and he uses his rage to help the people fight back against their oppressors.

Lou Castel is perfectly cast as the heartless young “gringo” Bill. Castel had previously starred in the complex and dark Italian drama Fists in the Pocket (1965) where he played a deeply disturbed young man who wants to murder his family. He was only 23 when he made A Bullet For the General and his innocent appearance and youth easily mislead the audience into believing that he may not be the cold-hearted killer that he really is.

Spaghetti westerns are often accused of having badly written female characters but critics would have a tough time trying to find any poorly defined female roles in A Bullet For the General. The beautiful and talented actress Martine Beswick plays Adelita, a tough señorita who’s deeply scarred from being raped by a rich land owner when she was only fifteen years old. She’s desperately trying to forge some kind of loving relationship with one of the bandits but their life on the run offers them very few intimate moments together. Stolen kisses and a few hours of passion don’t hold much weight in the violent world they inhabit and Adelita longs for a stable home. When the American arrives Adelita seems attracted to his stoic silence and independence, which often mirrors her own demeanor. She’s pleased when he finally starts paying attention to her but the pleasure she gains from his attention is short lived after he suggests that she should return with him to the United States. Adelita is smart enough to know that a relationship with the gringo would never work in his country. She’s fought hard to be treated as an equal among the men that she rides with and she would loose her hard earned pride and independence if she went to America. Adelita quickly refuses his offer and she stays with her Mexican bandit until his bitter demise.

The name “Adelita” is associated with one of the most famous folks songs of the Mexican revolution and there’s no doubt that the writers purposefully selected the name for Beswick’s character. The “Adelita” song tells the story of a brave woman known as a soldadera (a female soldier) who cares and cooks for the troops but also bravely fights alongside them. Soldaderas became a vital part of the Mexican revolution and were idolized for being beautiful, strong and courageous women, just like the character of Adelita in A Bullet For the General. Martine Beswick does a terrific job of making Adelita a strong and sympathetic woman we can identify with.

Another talented actress, Carla Gravina, also has a small but memorable role in the film as Rosario, the wife of a rich land owner named Don Feliciano (Andrea Checchi). When the bandidos arrive at Don Feliciano’s home and demand justice for the crimes he’s committed against the Mexican people he crumbles and feigns heart troubles so he can hide in his bedroom. Resilient Rosario is unfazed and she confronts the unruly bandits alone. The audience is not asked to sympathize with her politics but it’s hard not be impressed with her grace under pressure. Rosario is unwilling to succumb to the bandit’s threats and she verbally assaults them while trying to diplomatically resolve the highly volatile situation she’s found herself in. All does not go well and Rosario is almost raped by the bandits but she retains her dignity throughout the ordeal.

A Bullet For the General is undoubtedly one of the greatest spaghetti westerns made during the sixties and I’m thrilled to see DVD companies like Blue Underground keeping the film available for new audiences to discover.