I Only Make Passes at Boys Who Wear Glasses

From my latest post at the Movie Morlocks:

Some women like men who drive fast cars; others prefer men with an athletic build while some find a uniform irresistible. Me? I appreciate a good pair of spectacles.

During a recent trip to the eye doctor I started thinking about all my favorite actors who have worn eyeglasses such as the indispensable, Sir Michael Caine. Caine’s eyewear became part of his personality in the ‘60s. He was witty, charming, a notorious lady’s man, and part of his appeal was those thick dark rimmed glasses he often wore. They gave him a mischievous and cultured look that was somewhat at odds with his thick Cockney accent and seemed to represent the very essence of Britannia style cool. If something was swinging in old London town, you could be sure that Michael Caine knew it.

Want to read more & see lots of great photos of many of my favorite actors wearing specs? Follow the link . . .
I Only Make Passes at Boys Who Wear Glasses @ TCM’s Movie Morlocks Blog

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Happy Birthday Joseph Losey!

Losey & Bogarde
Two of my favorite people: Director Joseph Losey & actor Dirk Bogarde

Today marks what would have been Joseph Losey’s 102 birthday. Unfortunately very few of us live that long and Losey died in 1984 at age 75. Lately critics around the world seem to be rediscovering his work and rethinking their opinion of the director’s impressive legacy. Joseph Losey is gaining new fans every day and it’s wonderful to see this sudden resurgence of interest in his films. As a lifelong Losey fan this makes me extremely happy! I’ve enjoyed writing about Losey’s work here at Cinebeats as well as contributing to Harkit Records release of John Barry’s soundtrack for Boom! which happens to be one of my favorite Losey films. I hope to write more about his work in the future but if you would like to read my previous posts about the director you can find them here:
Joseph Losey @ Cinebeats

Ash Wednesday (1973)

Yesterday was Elizabeth Taylor’s 77th birthday. Last year I wasn’t able to properly complete my tribute to Taylor and I never finished writing about a few of her films that I want to cover here sooner or later, but today I thought I’d offer up a few brief thoughts about her 1973 film, Ash Wednesday.

The paper thin plot of Ash Wednesday was summed up perfectly by Roger Ebert in his review of the film (published in his book I Hated This Movie) so I’ll just quote him here:

Ash Wednesday is a soapy melodrama that isn’t much good as a movie but may be interesting to some audiences all the same. It’s about how a 50ish wife (Elizabeth Taylor), her marriage threatened by a younger woman, has a face-lift in order to keep her husband (Henry Fonda). It doesn’t work, but she gets a nice winter in a ski resort out of it and an affair with Helmut Berger.

In all honesty that’s all there is to Ash Wednesday. Trying to read some kind of subtext into Jean-Claude Tramont’s flimsy script is utterly pointless so I won’t bother. But when you consider the film’s 1973 release date, the movie becomes somewhat notable for the way it dared to tackle aging and beauty myths. In a memorable opening sequence featuring actual footage from real operations; viewers are subjected to an appropriately ugly and unflinching look at cosmetic surgery as an elderly Elizabeth Taylor decides to reluctantly go under the knife. The makeup used to age Taylor (who was only 41 years old) is pretty convincing, but she’s soon magically transformed into the flawless middle-aged beauty that she actually was at the time.

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As the film slowly unfolds the audience is supposed to be surprised by the May-September romance that blossoms between 41 year-old Elizabeth Taylor and 29 year-old Helmut Berger, but that’s impossible. Taylor still looked stunning at 41, which only manages to muddle the plot. And when a ragged looking Henry Fonda finally shows up as the cold distracted husband who is having an affair behind Taylor’s back you’re left wondering, why? There is a great scene where Taylor confronts Henry Fonda telling him that she only had plastic surgery in an effort to get him back, but Fonda isn’t moved. Elizabeth Taylor’s character is forced to realize that plastic surgery can’t save a marriage that is emotionally dead.

The only real reason to sit through Ash Wednesday is to watch lovely Liz and handsome Helmut Berger exchange passionate glances and loaded words until they finally fall into bed together. Elizabeth Taylor looks amazing in the film and waltzes through it wearing some fabulous Edith Head costumes and impressive Valentino fashions. Her performance is also rather convincing and low-key even if the material is completely forgettable. She could have easily hammed it up, but Taylor obviously has some emotional connection to the character she’s playing and her sincerity is believable. On the other hand, the talented Helmut Berger is wasted here and he seems more than a little distracted in the film.

Rumor has it that Taylor’s husband Richard Burton thought Ash Wednesday was incredibly vulgar and he was bothered by the love scenes Berger shared with Taylor. Richard Burton was sure that Berger and Taylor were having an affair off screen as well, even though Helmut Berger was open about his homosexuality. According to writer Dominick Dunne who produced Ash Wednesday, the behind-the-scenes drama happening during the making of the film was more interesting than anything going on in front of the cameras. Elizabeth Taylor was chronically late to the set prompting Paramount Studio head Robert Evans to fly off the handle and the fights that occurred between Taylor and Burton were explosive enough to frighten the rest of the cast and crew.

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Director Larry Peerce previously had some success directing episodes of Batman (1966) and The Wild Wild West (1967), as well as popular films such as Goodbye, Columbus (1969), but he brings none of the style or humor from his earlier efforts to Ash Wednesday. The film takes much too long to get going and there aren’t enough bedroom scenes in it, but what does occur is a bit steamy so if you happen to love watching Elizabeth Taylor and Helmut Berger on screen as much as I do, you might find Ash Wednesday worth a look. On the other hand, Ash Wednesday is really just a blueprint for the type of dull and lurid melodrama that you might find playing on the Lifetime Movie Channel at 1am. And if I didn’t know any better I’d swear the script was adapted from some Harlequin romance novel. If that sort of thing holds no appeal you should avoid this film at all cost.

Ash Wednesday is only available on video and I can’t really make a case for its DVD release. Many of Elizabeth Taylor’s adoring fans would probably like to see the film become more easily available, but for now they’re going to have to pick up a used copy of the Paramount VHS at Amazon if they want to see it.

You can find more images from the film in my Ash Wednesday Flickr Gallery.

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.

My TOP 20 FAVORITE FILMS OF 1968

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

Burton’s First Encounter with Taylor

I recently stumbled across this fascinating description of Richard Burton’s first meeting with Elizabeth Taylor written by Burton himself and borrowed from his book Meeting Mrs. Jenkins (1966). I enjoyed reading it so much that I just had to share it. Not only is it an amazing read but it’s also a great showcase for Burton’s wicked sense of humor and his wonderful way with words. Besides acting, directing and producing, Richard Burton was also an avid writer and he kept journals for most of his adult life.

“It was my first time in California and my first visit to a swank house. There were quite a lot of people in and around the pool, all suntanned and all drinking the Sunday morning liveners – Bloody Marys, boilermakers, highballs, iced beer. I knew some of the people and was introduced to the others. Wet brown arms reached out of the pool and shook my hand. The people were all friendly, and they called me Dick immediately. I asked if they would please call me Richard – Dick, I said, made me feel like a symbol of some kind. They laughed, some of them. It was, of course, Sunday morning and I was nervous.

I was enjoying this small social triumph, but then a girl sitting on the other side of the pool lowered her book, took off her sunglasses and looked at me. She was so extraordinarily beautiful that I nearly laughed out loud. I didn’t, of course, which was just as well. The girl was not, and, quite clearly, was not going to be laughing back. I had an idea that, finding nothing of interest, she was looking right through me and was examining the texture of the wall behind. If there was a flaw in the sandstone, I knew she’d find it and probe it right to the pith. I fancied that if she chose so, the house would eventually collapse.

I smiled at her and, after a long moment, just as I felt my own smile turning into a cross-eyed grimace, she started slightly and smiled back. There was little friendliness in the smile. A new ice cube formed of its own accord in my Scotch-on-the-rocks.

She sipped some beer and went back to her book. I affected to become social with the others but out of the corner of my mind – while I played for the others the part of a poor miner’s son who was puzzled, but delighted by the attention these lovely people paid to him – I had her under close observation. She was, I decided, the most astonishingly self-contained, pulchritudinous, remote, removed, inaccessible woman I had ever seen. She spoke to no one. She looked at no one. She steadily kept on reading her book. Was she merely sullen? I wondered. I thought not. There was no trace of sulkiness in the divine face. She was a Mona Lisa type, I thought. In my business everyone is a type. She is older than the deck chair on which she sits, I thought headily, and she is famine, fire, destruction, and plague, she is the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, the on lie true begetter. She is a secret wrapped in an enigma inside a mystery, I thought with a mental man-to-man nod to Churchill. Her breasts were apocalyptic, they would topple empires down before they withered. Indeed, her body was a miracle of construction and the work of an engineer of genius. It needed nothing but itself. It was true art, I thought, executed in terms of itself. It was smitten by its own passion. I used to think things like that. I was not long down from Oxford and Walter Pater was still talked of and I read the art reviews in the quality weeklies without much caring about the art itself, and it was a Sunday morning in Bel Air, and I was nervous, and there was the Scotch-on-the-rocks.

Like Miniver Cheevy I kept on drinking and, in the heady flow of the attention I was getting, told story after story as the day boozed slowly on. I went in swimming once or twice. So did she, but, lamentably, always after I’d come out. She swam easily and gracefully as an Englishwoman would and not with the masculine drive and kick of most American girls. She was unquestionably gorgeous. I can think of no other word to describe a combination of plentitude, frugality, abundance, tightness. She was lavish. She was a dark unyielding largesse. She was, in short, too bloody much, and not only that, she was totally ignoring me. I became frustrated almost to screaming when I had finished a well-received and humorous story about the death of my grandfather and found that she was turned away in deep conversation with another woman. I think I tried to eavesdrop but was stayed by words like – Tony and Janet and Marlon and Sammy. She was not, obviously, talking about me.

Eventually, with half-seas-ed cunning and with all the nonchalance of a traffic jam, I worked my way to her side of the pool. She was describing – in words not normally written – what she thought of a producer at M.G.M. This was my first encounter with freedom of speech in the U.S.A., and it took my breath away. My brain throbbed; I almost sobered up. I was profoundly shocked. It was ripe stuff. I checked her again. There was no question about it. She was female. In America the women apparently had not only got the vote – they’d got the words to go with it.

I was somewhat puzzled and disturbed by the half-look she gave me as she uttered the enormities. Was she deliberately trying to shock me? Those huge violet-blue eyes (the biggest I’ve ever seen, outside those who have glandular trouble – thyroid, et cetera) had an odd glint in them. You couldn’t describe it as a twinkle…. Searchlights can not twinkle, they turn on and off and probe the heavens and so on.

Still I couldn’t be left out. I had to join in and say something. I didn’t reckon on the Scotch though. I didn’t reckon that it had warped my judgment and my sense of timing, my choice of occasion. With all the studied frenzy of Dutch courage I waded into the depths of those perilous eyes.

In my best chiffon-and-cut-glass Oxford accent I said: “You have a remarkable command of Olde-Englishe.”

There was a pause in which I realized with brilliant clarity the relativity of time. Aeons passed, civilizations came and went, brave men and cowards died in battles not yet fought, while those cosmic headlights examined my flawed personality. Every pockmark on my face became a crater of the moon. I reached up with a casual hand to cover up the right-cheeked evidence of my acne’d youth. Halfway up I realized my hand was just as ugly as my face and decided to leave the bloody thing and die instead. But while contemplating the various ways of suicide and having sensibly decided, since I had a good start, to drink myself to death, I was saved by her voice which said, “Don’t you use words like that at the Old Vic?”

“They do,” I said, “but I don’t. I come from a family and an attitude that believe such words are an indication of weakness in vocabulary and emptiness of mind…. Despite Jones’s writing that in times of acute shared agony and fear, as in trench warfare, obscenities repeated in certain patterns can at times become almost liturgical, almost poetic….” I ran out of gas.

There was another pause; more empires fell. Captains and kings and counsellors arrived and departed. She said three four-letter words. These were, I think, “Well! Well! Well!”

Somebody laughed uneasily. The girl had turned away. I had been dismissed. I felt as lonely as a muezzin, as a reluctant piano lesson on a Saturday afternoon, as the Last Post played on a cracked bugle.

I went home and somebody asked, when I told them where I’d been, what she was like. “Dark. Dark. Dark. Dark. She probably,” I said, “shaves.” To nobody in particular I observed that the human body is eighty percent water.”

Joseph Losey’s Boom! (1968)

Joseph Losey’s Boom! (1968) is one of the most famously criticized and misunderstood films from the late sixties. Its original $3.9 million dollar budget ballooned into 10 million by the time shooting stopped and the money was mainly used to pay the million dollar salaries of the film’s two stars (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) and dress Elizabeth Taylor in her amazing Tiziani costumes (many designed by Karl Lagerfeld) and Bulgari jewelery, build a fabulous set and keep the Bloody Marys’ and champagne flowing from dawn to dusk. Critics by and large despised Boom! and many viewers walked out of the theater before the film had ended utterly perplexed by what they had just seen. Boom! was an imaginative and wildly uneven European art film masquerading as a mainstream Hollywood movie and the general public just wasn’t interested. They wanted to see Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in more easily defined roles such as “tenacious slut” (Taylor) or “troubled saint” (Burton). And they longed for simpler drama with a basic narrative that was easy to follow. But by 1968 both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had grown weary of the typical roles Hollywood was offering them and they wanted to make more challenging films together. Boom! would turn out to be one of the most challenging films that the actors ever worked on. But it would also receive the worst reviews of their careers and mark what many consider to be the decline of one of Hollywood’s most glamorous couples. A shared addiction to alcohol and Taylor’s growing reliance on prescription drugs was starting to take its toll on the two actors and their very public marriage. The couple’s wealth, fame and glamorous lifestyle made Taylor and Burton appear larger than life and at first glance unusual film projects like Doctor Faustus (1967) and Boom! appeared to be self-indulgent vanity projects made without much thought for the general movie-going audiences that had helped make them famous. Resentment seemed to be growing between the popular actors and their adoring fans. And critics were all too eager to take a swipe at Hollywood’s royal couple. Boom! became an easy target and it’s not too hard to see why. The film was based on one of Tennessee Williams’ least accessible and most esoteric plays called The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (originally published in 1963) and Williams was also responsible for the film’s script. After two failed Broadway runs of the play Universal Studios still thought they could turn The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore into a hit film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Both actors had appeared in financially successful film versions of other Tennessee Williams’ plays individually including, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks; 1956), Suddenly Last Summer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz; 1959) and The Night of the Iguana (John Huston; 1964) so Universal assumed the couple could easily turn The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore into a hit with their double star power. Taylor and Burton gladly accepted the exorbitant salaries Universal Studios offered them to star in Boom! and they looked forward to working on the project with exiled American director Joseph Losey. Losey had been making smart and successful films in Britain for years and the director seemed capable of effortlessly moving between dark psychological dramas with noir overtones such as The Servant (1963) and entertaining pop art extravagances like Modesty Blaise (1966). If Losey had been able to successfully mix multiple elements of his earlier films, as well as better manage his actors, the final results of Boom! may have been more rewarding but I personally think it’s one of the director’s most fascinating and inspired efforts. Boom! focuses on the last two days in the life of Flora ‘Sissy’ Goforth (Elizabeth Taylor). Mrs. Goforth is a wealthy, self-absorbed and terminally ill woman who has buried six husbands and is spending the summer at her isolated coastal villa dictating her sensational memoirs to her servant Miss Black (Johnna Simcus). Her health problems and tortured memories cause her to be in constant pain so she numbs herself with booze, pills, morphine and shots of vitamin B administrated by her doctor. With “Keep Off” signs surrounding her property and a pack of vicious attack dogs controlled by an aggressive dwarf (Michael Dunn), Sissy Goforth assumes she won’t be bothered. But her isolated existence comes to an end when a handsome stranger named Chris Flanders (Richard Burton) unexpectedly arrives by boat. Chris is a poet who also makes modern Alexander Calder-style mobiles out of metal. These mobiles are designed to symbolize freedom and Sissy Goforth soon finds out that Chris has come to the island to free her from her shackled existence. After inviting her only close friend known as “The Witch of Capri” (played by celebrated playwright Noel Coward) for an unusual dinner of boiled “sea monster” and roasted pig, The Witch uses his powers of divination to inform Sissy Goforth that Chris Flanders is also known as the “Angel of Death” due to his uncanny ability to arrive at the home of wealthy women just as they’re about to die and relieve them of their valuable possessions. Sissy Goforth is sexually attracted to Chris but she’s deeply disturbed when she hears this news. She hasn’t finished her memoirs yet and she has no desire to leave the world and “go forth” into the great unknown, so she refuses to feed Chris and spends her last hours verbally sparring with him (as the couple were prone to do in previous films such as The V.I.P.s, The Sandpiper, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Taming of the Shrew). This strange allegorical fable ends with Sissy Goforth drifting into oblivion as Chris guides her through her final moments and relieves her of her precious jewels, which he promptly throws into the sea. Boom (1968) Boom (1968) Boom (1968) Tennessee William’s script for Boom! is very similar to his original play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore but the title was simplified by using a word that Richard Burton’s Angel of Death character utters every time he hears the waves crashing against the rocks below the cliff-side villa. He explains to Sissy Goforth at one point that “Boom!” is the sound of “the shock of each moment of still being alive” and it’s meant as a sort of wake up call to get her to appreciate her final hours on earth. In some ways Boom! rehashes many of the issues found in Tennessee William’s previous work such as A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which explored the lives of sexually frustrated and isolated individuals, alcoholism and terminal disease, a fear of death and an inability to let go of the past. But Boom! is more of a figurative fable that tackles Williams’ favorite themes in an abstract and metaphorical way. It was also inspired by Japanese kabuki theatre and the structure of the film resembles traditional kabuki plays as re-imagined by the American playwright.

The talented set designer and artist Richard MacDonald was hired to design the lavish set for Boom! which was built in Italy on the beautiful Sardinian coast. McDonald had worked with Joseph Losey on many of his best films such as Eva (1962), The Servant (1963) and Modesty Blaise (1966) but his set design for Boom! would become one of his greatest an grandest creations. In a style that’s reminiscent of the magnificent modern structures designed by architect Le Corbusier, Richard MacDonald gave Sissy Goforth’s isolated summer home curving white walls, round windows and stark interiors framing numerous paintings and objects of art that were often meant to convey death. The structure is supposed to symbolically represent the transitional state that Sissy Goforth has found herself in and it’s surrounded by giant rock sculptures that are similar to the ones found on Easter Island. Losey and the brilliant cinematographer Douglas Slocombe shot the film in spectacular Panavison, which captured every lush detail of the expansive set and gave the film an other-worldly look. Losey has long been one of my favorite filmmakers and in Boom! he resurrects many of the elements that made his previous films so interesting while exploring some of his favorite themes involving alienation and the artificial superiority often caused by class distinctions. Losey is truly a master of framing and composition, and in Boom! these skills are used to great effect in order to show the isolation faced by all the characters in such an expansive, yet claustrophobic space. Characters are seen peering through round windows and shot in distorted mirrors, which can represent a reflective moment or the distorted view that individuals often have of themselves and the world around them. Losey also uses sound very creatively in his film by having Sissy Goforth dictate her memoirs through the villa’s elaborate intercom system so they can be heard by her entire staff. Additionally Sissy controls the music heard in the film by turning the sound system on or off depending on her mood. When the camera zooms in on the sun or an electric light you can often hear a strange shimmering or buzzing sound in the background. And the repetitive noise caused by the sea crashing against the rocks is obviously an important metaphor for the natural ebb and flow of life on the island, which could be seen as a small microcosm of the transitory world that we all live in. John Barry is responsible for the film’s impressive soundtrack and it’s one of the British composer’s most experimental scores. Barry worked closely with Losey on the film and the director made many suggestions that were incorporated into the soundtrack. Unfortunately, Losey’s focus on shooting the fabulous manufactured interiors designed for Boom! and perfectly framing all the drama and action made him somewhat neglectful of his actors. Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Johanna Shimkus and Michael Dunn are all talented thespians and Taylor and Burton are able to deliver truly great performances but in Boom! they often seem a bit lost and in need of direction. At least Noel Coward is very funny in his role and he may have been the only person on the set who completely understood the humor in William’s original script. It’s been assumed and confirmed by Losey himself that the cast and crew were often drunk from too much sea, sun, celebrity and booze during shooting and it’s a shame that the director wasn’t able to gain more control over his cast but I’m sure Taylor and Burton were not very easy to manage at the time. On the other hand, Johanna Shimkus and Michael Dunn don’t fare any better so I’m inclined to blame the uneven performances from all of the actors on Losey’s direction. It’s unfortunate that the dark humor found in Tennessee Williams’ original play seems as if it’s occasionally suffocating under all the artistry of the director’s elaborate production but at its best Boom! should make you laugh as well as think and the film does both at times. Boom (1968) Boom (1968) Boom (1968) Elizabeth Taylor is the undeniable star of Boom! and the film spends most of its 110 minute running time focused on her. Since she looks fabulous in the film it’s easy to understand why. Taylor gives a completely over-the-top and scene-chewing performance that must be seen to be believed. But it’s also a rather daring role for an actress who was much younger then the character in Tennessee Williams’ original play. In one of the movies most unforgettable moments Taylor has a five minute long coughing attack and you can’t help but assume that she’s actually choking to death on the set or attempting to throw up an unwanted lung. The role of Flora ‘Sissy’ Goforth struck a little too close to home for Taylor and she saw a lot of herself in the character. It’s worth pointing out that the script forced the actress to talk on and on about Sissy Goforth’s numerous dead husbands who were abusive and suffered from impotence (two things Taylor had supposedly experienced herself) as well as her “one true love” who was an adventurous mountain climber that fell to his death. As much as Elizabeth Taylor passionately loved Richard Burton, she was also still troubled by the unexpected death of her previous husband, Mike Todd. Todd had been an adventurous man himself who was killed in a terrible plane crash years earlier but his death still deeply bothered the actress. Many of Taylor’s monologues in the film were supposed to be humorous but when the director tried to get Taylor to lighten up and have more fun with her role she would often become withdrawn or overact. Richard Burton told Joseph Losey later that Elizabeth had been haunted on the set of Boom! by the specter of Mike Todd, which could possibly explain the uncomfortable distance between Burton and Taylor that seems strangely apparent in the film at times. Richard Burton’s part was a lot less demanding and in many ways it resembled the phantasm-like role that Taylor previously played in Burton’s own film version of Doctor Faustus. His character was actually a much younger man in the original play and Burton expressed concern about taking the role but he managed to make the most out of his part and the actor actually gives a very measured performance in the film. Burton’s Angel of Death doesn’t speak often but when he does his words are carefully chosen, even when he’s arguing with Sissy Goforth. One of Burton’s greatest gifts was his voice and it’s smartly used in Boom! as a tool to seduce Taylor’s character with. As mentioned above, Burton’s Angel of Death also repeats the phrase “Boom!” over and over again, and in the end it is his booming voice that guides Sissy Goforth towards her death and into the great unknown. Besides providing some unforgettable eye-candy, the elaborate costumes in Boom! add an important element to the film. Since the structure of the script and the original play resemble a modern take on traditional Japanese kabuki plays, Burton’s Angel of Death is dressed in a black kimono throughout the movie. But instead of carrying a scythe, he carries a Japanese samurai sword. Elizabeth Taylor insisted that her own character be dressed in white and black flowing costumes throughout the film, which were supposed to represent death shrouds. Taylor is also seen wearing an elaborate kabuki inspired costume during her memorable dinner scene with Noel Coward and she additionally pretends to act out a bit of kabuki theater after she’s had a few too many cocktails. Even though Boom! has suffered from negative criticism since its original release, the film does have a few noteworthy defenders. Richard Burton believed that Elizabeth Taylor delivered one of her greatest performances in Boom! and Tennessee Williams thought that Boom! was “an artistic success” and he hoped that eventually it would “be received with acclaim.” The critic Andrew Sarris criticized what he thought were the film’s “metaphysical posturing and pretenses,” and the “tendency for nothing much to happen for the longest stretches” but he also complemented Joseph Losey’s skilled use of mise en scène and his ability to create “glamorous fantasy.” Boom! also happens to be director John Waters’ favorite film and he has even championed it at universities. Waters’ considers Boom! to be the ultimate “failed art film” from the sixties. But even with its failings I think there is a lot to enjoy. If you’re not interested in contemplating the larger ideas that Joseph Losey and his cast and crew were trying to communicate with Boom! you can still appreciate the film purely for Elizabeth Taylor’s show-stopping performance, John Barry’s experimental score, Richard MacDonald’s stunning set designs or Taylor’s jaw-dropping wardrobe. Many people consider Boom! to be a “camp classic” and if the original humor of Williams’ script is lost on you, you might still discover plenty of unintentional laughs in Losey’s film. Boom! is currently only available in widescreen on a PAL Region 2 DVD from the Dutch company De Filmfreak Distributie and it currently sells at Amazon for $28.99. You can also still find copies of the original Universal Studios video of Boom! selling at Amazon for ridiculous prices. Hopefully a Region 1 DVD of Boom! will be released in the future. If you’d like to see a clip from the film you can view one at the official De Filmfreak Distributie site linked below: Clip from Boom! It’s taking me much longer than expected to write about some of my favorite Elizabeth Taylor films due to real world responsibilities and lack of free time, so my small Tribute to Taylor will be ongoing for at least another week. There are still some other Taylor films I’d like to cover here. In the meantime, I’ve just learned that Elizabeth Taylor is currently in the hospital and not doing very well. Hopefully she’ll recover quickly since she seems to have an extremely strong constitution that has saved her from numerous brushes with death in the past. NOTE: This text was published as part of the soundtrack notes for the official CD release of John Bary’s score for Boom!.

Richard Burton’s Doctor Faustus (1967)

In 1967 Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were at the height of their shared fame following the success of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Taming of the Shrew (1967). Both films had been well received by critics and audiences loved seeing the two actors on screen together in fictional marriages that many assumed resembled their real-life marriage. There’s no doubt that the two actors brought some of their real-world experience to their roles but it became increasingly hard for the public to separate fact from fiction. Elizabeth Taylor had also become a target for critics and gossip columnists who insisted on labeling her a wanton woman who had destroyed Richard Burton’s previous marriage and was damning the acclaimed stage actor to a decadent Hollywood life spent making movies and drinking too much.

Of course this was only half the story, but unfortunately many people still think of Elizabeth Taylor as the woman who brought about Richard Burton’s downfall and it’s not uncommon for critics and biographers to blame her for the couple’s many problems. The truth is that Richard Burton was a notorious drinker and womanizer long before he ever met Taylor on the set of Cleopatra (1963) and even if he hadn’t fallen in love with her, there’s a high probability that his previous marriage wouldn’t have lasted much longer. Burton had also been making movies long before he met Taylor and the talented actor had expressed his desire to move away from stage acting and focus more on film acting. His high profile relationship with an award-winning star like Taylor gave Burton the opportunity to appear in better films and be more selective about the roles he took. And far from being the wretched shrew that so many critics and gossip columnists saw her as, Taylor was actually supportive of Burton’s stage work and used her Hollywood clout to help Burton gain more creative control over his acting career. Burton also encouraged Taylor’s stage acting because he thought she had the makings of a great actress who was capable of handling the classic plays that Burton had appeared in.

One of Richard Burton’s favorite classic plays was Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, which tells the cautionary tale of a magician who sells his soul to the devil for more knowledge and power. For years Burton had longed to play Doctor Faustus and in 1966 he got the opportunity to in a Nevill Coghill directed production of the play that took place at the Oxford Playhouse in England. The play also featured Elizabeth Taylor in the role of Helen of Troy. Taylor had previously appeared on stage with Burton in 1964 during a poetry reading where both actor’s read the work of various poets including Robert Frost and Elizabeth Barrett Browning but Taylor’s non-speaking role in The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus would mark the first time that the actress would actually be acting on stage in front of a live audience.


Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton in the Oxford stage production of
The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus(1966)

Taylor was one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood at the time and she averaged one million dollars a picture. Burton was making about $500,000 per film himself but both actors didn’t take any money for starring in the stage production of The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. Instead, the couple gave up their high salaries and all the money earned from ticket sales went to Oxford University for a studio-theatre extension, now known as the Burton-Taylor Rooms.

After the success of the Oxford production which played to a crammed full-house every night, Burton expressed interest in starring in a film version of Marlowe’s play and together with Taylor, the couple decided to finance a movie based on The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus simply tited Doctor Faustus (1967). Burton would make his directorial debut with Doctor Faustus in association with Nevill Coghill, who had directed Burton and Taylor on the Oxford stage and Burton and Taylor would once again play the roles of Faustus and Helen. Co-director Coghill also wrote the film’s script.

The film was shot in three months in Rome and besides Taylor and Burton; the entire cast consisted of undergraduates from the Oxford University Dramatic Society. The couple also employed many of the talented people who they had met and worked with on the set of Cleopatra and The Taming of the Shrew to make Doctor Faustus, such as producer Richard McWhorter, art director Boris Juraga, set director Dario Simoni, set designer Italo Tomassi, special effects artist Augie Lohman and stylist Alexandre de Paris who had helped create Taylor’s dramatic look for Cleopatra.

Together with a skilled international crew that included cinematographer Gábor Pogány, this group of creative people helped give Doctor Faustus an impressive look and stunning visual style even though most of the film was seemingly shot on rather small sets. Horror fans who enjoy Roger Corman’s Poe films, Hammer studio’s Gothic productions and Mario Bava’s Italian thrillers might be surprised by how much Burton’s Doctor Faustus seems to resemble horror films from the same period.

Although the script differs from the original play it still manages to follow Christopher Marlowe’s story somewhat faithfully. Nevill Coghill also smartly worked passages from some of Marlowe’s other plays such as The Jew of Malta and Tamburlaine into his script, which spices up the proceedings and gives the film more creative depth and pathos.

Doctor Faustus (1967)

Doctor Faustus (1967)

Doctor Faustus (1967)

Elizabeth Taylor’s performance as Helen of Troy is wordless but she still manages to make a big impact on screen. Burton’s love and affection for his wife comes through in every scene she appears in. Taylor floats through the film like a beautiful siren luring Faustus to his final doom. Throughout countless costume and makeup changes that would make Cleopatra envious, Taylor manages to give her silent role a quiet resonance that allows Burton’s Faustus to truly shine and take center stage.

Elizabeth Taylor has expressed many times how in awe she was of Burton’s acting talents and she’s still deeply hurt that Hollywood never fully embraced or rewarded Burton during his lifetime. While watching Doctor Faustus again I was impressed with the way Taylor acted as a sort of lovely ornament in the film infusing it with color, vitality and warmth. The picture was clearly made in an effort to let her much admired husband showcase his impressive acting abilities and creative skills as a co-director and producer, which Burton does to great effect but it’s also his love letter to the English language and the dramatic arts.

Critics have naturally referred to Doctor Faustus as a “vanity project” for both Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. And there’s no getting around the fact that Burton’s dream of bringing Marlowe’s play to the screen was motivated by his personal desires and hopes, which Taylor completely supported. But I also think that a lot of care, creativity and thought went into the production and it’s plainly obvious that Burton had a sincere appreciation and deep understanding of Christopher Marlowe’s work, which should be obvious to anyone who’s seen the film.

Burton clearly enjoyed playing Faustus and his magnificent booming voice gives a lot of weight to Marlowe’s classic play. In the book Constructing Christopher Marlowe author, performance critic and Professor Lois Potter mentions that Richard Burton’s stage and film adaptation’s of The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus did more for Marlowe’s fame than any other event during the last century which is a remarkable feat.

Unfortunately film critics (who undoubtedly had very little experience with Marlowe’s original work) were not kind to the film. As a matter of fact, they were rather brutal in their harsh dismissal of Doctor Faustus. New York Times critic Renata Adler said of the film in 1968 after it debuted in America that it, “is of an awfulness that bends the mind . . . one has the feeling that ‘Faustus’ was shot mainly as a home movie for them (Burton and Taylor) to enjoy at home.”

In the New Yorker Pauline Kael claimed that “By the time Richard Burton was in a position to star in a movie of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, further dealing with the Devil probably had become anticlimactic” and claimed the film was “The dullest episode in the Burton and Taylor great-lovers-of-history series that started with Cleopatra . . . Burton gives a dead, muffled reading.” And last but not least, Judith Crist added “It turns out to be the story of a man who sold his soul for Elizabeth Taylor.”

Doctor Faustus (1967)

Doctor Faustus (1967)

Doctor Faustus (1967)

It’s easy to dismiss some of the negative criticism of the film as pure opinion without much basis in fact once you’ve seen the film, but it’s impossible to overlook some of the more pointed personal attacks that were aimed directly at Elizabeth Taylor. Both Kael and Crist were clearly comparing Taylor to the Devil and their cruelty is utterly tasteless, catty and unprofessional, as well as weightless when one considers the facts behind the film’s production. Instead of making Doctor Faustus with Burton, Taylor could have spent her time earning a million dollar paycheck in Hollywood. But Taylor clearly supported her husband’s creative desire to make the film and lent her ample financial clout and fame to help him realize his dream. Unfortunately the criticism that followed the rest of the film’s Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made together would often take a similar ugly direction.

Doctor Faustus is not a perfect film and I personally find it a bit too stagy and slow-moving at times for my own liking, which can be blamed on Marlowe’s original play as well as the script. But there’s also a lot to enjoy in the film and it’s a shame that the critical reception was so negative on its release. The special effects are very imaginative for the time and the production employees stylish touches such as a split-screen to convey Faustus’ thoughts and highlight simultaneous actions by various characters.

I would have loved to have seen Richard Burton go on to direct other films or at the very least co-direct. Doctor Faustus proves that he had many other talents besides acting and I think he could have successfully adapted other classic Elizabethan plays for film if he had been given the opportunity. In fact, I feel confident in saying that the negative criticism and lack of respect from Hollywood, which resulted in Burton never receiving an Oscar even though he was nominated seven times, deeply troubled him and did more harm to Richard Burton’s personal life and career than Elizabeth Taylor ever did.

The personal attacks on Elizabeth Taylor found in the criticisms of Doctor Faustus have continued to haunt the film, even though the 2004 DVD release of the movie seemed to generate mostly positive reviews.

In the following clip I came across on Youtube you can witness Elizabeth Taylor take on a group of journalists as they question Richard Burton about his career choices in relation to Doctor Faustus. Taylor had grown-up in the public eye and she had clearly grown weary of thoughtless critics. Burton on the other hand is rather new to this kind of extreme critical attention and he remains calm and collected in the clip. He also seems to get a mild kick out of seeing his wife lash back at the reporters.

Also worth a look is this brief hard-to-see clip shot in 1966 featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton leaving the Oxford Playhouse after the first stage production of Doctor Faustus while they’re being questioned by journalists about their performances.

If you enjoy classic Elizabethan drama or classic gothic horror from the sixties, I recommend giving the 1967 film version of Doctor Faustus a look. The film should also hold a lot of interest for fans of Cleopatra and The Taming of the Shrew since both films could be considered siblings to Doctor Faustus due to the fact that so many crew members worked with Taylor and Burton on all three productions.

If you would like to see more images from the film please see my Doctor Faustus Flickr Gallery.

A Tribute to Taylor

She’s been married eight times to seven different men. She was condemned by the Vatican for her “erotic vagrancy.” She’s received two Academy Awards, four Golden Globes and one Razzie. She saved Montgomery Clift’s life in 1956. She’s given countless millions to charity. Andy Warhol turned her likeness into art and Mattel turned her likeness into a doll. Elizabeth Taylor is a true “Movie Star” and today the legendary actress is celebrating her 76th birthday.

Throughout the following week I’m going to be writing about a few of my favorite Elizabeth Taylor films made during the late sixties and early seventies. Taylor is undoubtedly one of cinema’s great beauties and her early work is often praised by critics who claim that Elizabeth Taylor’s acting talents peaked in 1966 when she made the award winning film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with her husband Richard Burton and director Mike Nichols. Contrary to popular critical opinion, I think some of Taylor’s most interesting roles can be found in the films she made between 1967-1975. During this period Elizabeth Taylor really matured as an actress and with Burton by her side, she was willing to take on risky roles in unusual films that were often financial failures and typically misunderstood and attacked by critics.

In the next week I hope to shine a little light on some of the lesser-known movies that Elizabeth Taylor made during this later period in her career when she seemed to use her age, experience, faults, quirks, addictions, inner turmoil and the passionate relationship she shared with fellow actor Richard Burton to inject her roles with an edgy over-the-top candor that I personally find fascinating to watch on screen.

Related Links:
Elizabeth Taylor at IMDb
Elizabeth Taylor at TCM
Elizabeth Taylor at Wikipedia
Elizabeth Taylor at Divas

DVD of the Week: Anne of the Thousand Days

Genevieve Bujold (1969)
Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn, 1969

I have a confession to make. I love British historical dramas. In fact, I’m a bit obsessed with British history in general, and one of my favorite historical dramas is Anne of the Thousand Days (1969, dir. Charles Jarrott) which is finding its way onto NTSC Region-1 DVD for the first time today.

The film features a terrific cast of talented actors, including the great Richard Burton who gives one of his most controlled and intense performances here as King Henry VIII, but the real reason to watch this rather dark and extremely lush drama is to see one of my favorite actresses, the lovely and talented Genevieve Bujold, in one of her finest roles as the proud and defiant Anne Boleyn. Her incredible performance won her a Golden Globe in 1969 and even garnered her an Oscar nomination. She really is luminous here as the young doomed Queen who gives birth to a daughter – Elizabeth I – and soon finds herself accused of adultery, incest, treason and witchcraft when she can’t give the King a male heir.

Like most historical dramas, the historical accuracy of Anne of the Thousand Days is questionable, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying this terrific film and Genevieve Bujold’s fantastic performance. Much like the great Fred Zinnemann film A Man for All Seasons (1966), Anne of the Thousand Days offers an interesting look at the passions, politics, and religious upheaval that lead to the English Reformation. The film also boasts some nice photography from cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson and a very good period score from the talented French composer Georges Delrue.

The new Anne of the Thousand Days DVD from Universal also comes with director Charles Jarrott’s critically acclaimed follow-up film Mary, Queen of Scots starring Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson. I haven’t seen Mary, Queen of Scots myself yet but if it’s anywhere near as good as Anne of the Thousand Days I suspect that I’ll really enjoy it as well. I’m looking forward to giving it a look soon now that it’s easily available on DVD.

The Anne of the Thousand Days / Mary, Queen of Scots DVD is available from Amazon and it presents both of the films in Anamorphic Widescreen. Extras include a Theatrical Trailer for Anne of the Thousand Days, an Isolated Music Only Track with Commentary from Film Historians Nick Redman and Jon Burlingame for Mary, Queen of Scots, a Promotional Featurette and a Sneak Peek of Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007). I’m disappointed with the extras since I would love to have had a commentary with Genevieve Bujold included with the Anne of the Thousand Days disc, but at only $14.99 for two films I guess I can’t complain about the DVD too much.

The films were obviously finally released on DVD in anticipation of Shekhar Kapur’s upcoming follow-up film to Elizabeth (1998). I actually really enjoyed Elizabeth so I’m looking forward to Elizabeth: The Golden Age. I think it will be interesting to watch the terrific Anne of the Thousand Days again, along with Mary, Queen of Scots before seeing Kapur’s new film.

Recommended Link:
– A nice Genevieve Bujold fan site

Favorite DVD Releases of 2006 – Part II.

This is the second part of my 30 Favorite DVD Releases of 2006 list that I’ve been slowly working on putting together. You can find Part I. here.

Please keep in mind that these are all official NTSC Region 1 DVDs originally released between 1960 and 1979 and the numerical order means absolutely nothing except that I got the reviews written in the order that they appear.

30 FAVORITE DVD RELEASES OF 2006 PART II!

Lifespan
11. Lifespan (Mondo Macabro)
Lifespan (1974) is a fascinating, sexy and understated science fiction thriller that features two of my favorite actors from the period, Klaus Kinski and Hiram Keller, as well as the recently deceased Tina Aumont. The story revolves around Keller and Kinski who both look terrific in the movie as they search for a mysterious “elixir of life” that could hold the secret to longevity. In the meantime, they’re both distracted by the lovely Tina Aumont who may or may not have plans of her own. Lifespan is a thoughtful film that doesn’t offer easy answers to all the interesting questions it raises and I really appreciate it’s ambiguity. The film has a mesmerizing and eerie score by composer Terry Riley and the director creatively uses the film’s lovely Amsterdam location. The DVD looks great and comes with some really nice extras including an interview with the director Sandy Whitelaw, audio commentary with the director and a still gallery. This was easily my favorite Mondo Macabro DVD release of last year and that’s saying a lot since the company released a lot of quality films in 2006.


Petulia
12. Petulia (Warner Home Video)
Petulia (1968) is one of the most interesting films that I saw last year thanks to Richard Lester’s terrific directing, Nicolas Roeg’s wonderful cinematography and Antony Gibbs‘s impressive editing. The film stars George C. Scott as a middle-aged doctor who’s struggling to deal with a divorce that he’s not sure he wants, as well a world that’s quickly evolving around him. Scott meets a young and seemingly care free girl named Petulia (Julie Christie) who’s married, but she seems desperate to start a relationship with him. Scott soon discovers that Petulia’s husband (Richard Chamberlain) is abusing her and gets caught in the middle of their complicated and violent relationship. All the actors are terrific in the film, but Richard Chamberlain gives one of the best performances of his career as Petulia’s abusive and disturbed husband. And Julie Christie is perfect as the fragile and troubled Petulia. She’s also never looked lovelier and wanders around San Francisco is some stunning outfits. George C. Scott is also great in the film along with Shirley Knight who plays his ex-wife. Petulia creatively used its San Francisco location as well as the city’s music (Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company even make a brief appearance) to turn the city by the bay into an important character in the film, which at its center is about individual freedom and the choices we all have to make. The DVD comes with some fantastic extras including a vintage “making of” documentary called Petulia: The Uncommon Movie shot during the making of the film with lots of great behind the scenes footage and The Uncommon Making of Petulia which features new interviews with some of the cast and crew. The original trailer is also included with this terrific DVD.


Equinox
13. 17. Equinox (Criterion)
Equinox (1970) is a low-budget horror film that I first saw on late night TV many years ago. It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think “Criterion,” but I really appreciate that a company like Criterion would take the time to clean up an old horror film like Equinox and offer it up to interested movie viewers and horror fans like myself. The story involves a group of college kids that go to visit one of their professors who happens to be living in a cabin deep in the woods. During their trip a strange old man offers them a mysterious ancient book of magic and the kids soon discover that the woods surrounding them aren’t exactly what they seem to be. When giant monsters start appearing, you know things are going to get nasty! The movie has few scares and the performances are forgettable, but it is entertaining and a lot of fun to watch. Just make sure you have lots of popcorn on hand! Despite its flaws, Equinox was actually a really influential movie that obviously inspired directors like Sam Raimi to make his popular Evil Dead trilogy. Criterion did an amazing job on the DVD release which comes with a lot of impressive extras including two audio commentaries, a video introduction by horror icon Forrest J. Ackerman, interviews with the cast and crew, deleted scenes and outtakes, archival test footage, an extensive gallery, the original trailer and radio spots, and much much more!


Night of the Iguana
14. Tennessee Williams Film Collection (Warner Home Video)
Warner really outdid themselves with this amazing Box Set containing six films based on the work of the great American playwright, Tennessee Williams. Why this DVD set didn’t make it to the top of every critics “best DVDs of 2006” list is beyond my comprehension since you’d be hard pressed to find a collection of recently released American cinema that equals it. This collection contains A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Baby Doll (1956) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) which are three of the finest American films from the 1950s. Three of the films in this set are from the ’60s and that’s why I’m including it in my list of favorite DVDs from 2006. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) stars Vivian leigh in one of her last starring roles as a washed-up movie star trying to find love and acceptance in Rome with a young gigolo played by Warren Beatty. Vivian Leigh is really terrific in the film and makes the desperate Mrs. Stone a very sympathetic character. Watch the movie for her memorable performance and try to ignore Beatty’s bad attempt at an Italian accent. Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) stars Paul Newman as Chance Wayne, a handsome fast talking aspiring actor who returns to the town he grew up in with an aging alcoholic actress in tow (played brilliantly by Geraldine Page) in an effort to further his acting career and impress his childhood sweetheart. Newman is always terrific playing a Tennessee Williams’ protagonist and he looks fantastic in the film, but Geraldine Page really steals the show with her frantic over-the-top performance as Alexandra Del Lago. The rest of the cast includes such talented actors as Rip Thorn, Shirley Knight and Ed Begley, Sr. who won an Oscar for his performance. The real treat in this excellent DVD collection for ’60s & ’70s cinema fans like myself is the incredible Night of the Iguana directed by John Huston. The film is definitely one of Huston’s best movies and it features Richard Burton in one of his greatest roles as a defrocked minister trying to find some kind of salvation in Mexico, where he becomes a tour guide for a group of frustrated spinsters that includes the wonderful Deborah Kerr and a teenage “Lolita” played perfectly by Sue Lyon. After the group finds itself at a rundown hotel owned by the vivacious Ava Gardner, human frustrations as well as sexual and romantic tensions start to stifle the group along with the hot Mexico air and in usual Tennessee Williams’ fashion, emotions are soon erupting with dramatic results. The acting is all top notch and Huston’s directing has rarely been better. Along with Reflections in a Golden Eye which I mentioned in the first part of My favorite DVD Releases of 2006 list, the release of Night of the Iguana is a real treat for Huston fans and makes 2006 one great year for fans of the director’s work. 4 of the 6 films in this terrific collection were released on DVD for the first time and the other 2 films in the set (A Streetcar Named Desire & Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) were both released in Special Editions with a ton of great extras, but all 6 films in this collection feature great extras such as “making of” docs, trailers, etc. and they can all be bought individually if you don’t want to purchase the set. The Tennessee Williams Film Collection also comes with an insightful documentary about the playwright called Tennessee Williams’ South which contains rare interviews with the writer talking about his work as well as a reading of The Glass Menagerie. The 6 films all look fantastic and are presented in widescreen when possible. Altogether this incredible collection from Warner is one of the best box sets I’ve seen released in recent years. Most of these films have been criticized for toning down the original plots of Williams’ plays, but considering the times that these movies were made in it’s understandable. The films still manage to deal with the complicated adult issues they address in creative and interesting ways. Watch them for what they are – great American movies offering some of the greatest performances ever captured on film.


Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
15. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (Paramount Home Video)
Eerie and haunting are two words that quickly come to mind when I think about Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1970), which is one of the most unusual and effective American horror films made during the 1970s. The movie stars Zohra Lampert who gives a memorable performance as Jessica, a woman just released from an institution after suffering a mental breakdown. Jessica moves to the Connecticut countryside with her husband and a friend to recuperate, but soon after arriving at her new home she begins to experience strange events that force her to start questioning her sanity again. I had only previously seen Let’s Scare Jessica to Death on a low quality VHS tape, so I was extremely impressed with this Paramount DVD release, which presents the film in widescreen and looks terrific. Unfortunately the DVD doesn’t come with any extras, but you can forgive Paramount since this is the first time this chilling horror film has been released on DVD.


The Illustrated Man
16. The Illustrated Man (Warner Home Video)
This thoughtful science fiction anthology stars the late great Rod Stieger in one of his most interesting roles as a tattooed man hunting for the woman who “illustrated” his body. The three short stories featured in the movie are all loosely based on original stories by Ray Bradbury and Stieger stars in each one, along with his real-life wife at the time, the talented actress Claire Bloom. Some creative set designs lend impressive eye-candy to the movie and the stories are all told in interesting ways. The Illustrated Man (1969) has long been one of my favorite science fiction films, but lots of critics seem to have very little regard for the movie and even author Ray Bradbury thought it was awful. If you enjoy unusual and stylish science fiction film from the late ’60s a much as I do, I highly suggest giving the movie a look for yourself and ignore any negative reviews you may have read. This is the first time the film has been available on DVD and Warner did a really nice job with the release. The DVD features a beautiful widescreen print, the original theatrical trailer and an interesting featurette from 1969 called Tattooed Steiger.


Sister Street Fighter
17. The Sister Street Fighter Collection (Ronin Entertainment / BCI Eclipse)
Ronin Entertainment / BCI Eclipse has a done a great job of gathering every Sister Street Fighter movie together for this nice new collection which contains Sister Street Fighter (1974), Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread (1974) Return of Sister Street Fighter (1975) and Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist (1976). All four movies star tough girl Etsuko Shihomi, a talented actress and graduate of Sonny Chiba’s famous Japan Action Club, which trained Japanese actors in the martial arts. Etsuko is terrific as Koryu Lee – the “Sister Street Fighter” – who takes on numerous bad guys with much success in the first three films that are all directed by the talented Kazuhiko Yamaguchi. The last film in the series differs a lot from the previous three and is helmed by a different director. In the last Sister Street Fighter movie Etsuko Shihomi plays another character called Kiku and it doesn’t really match the excitement of the previous Sister Street Fighter movies in the collection. This great DVD set comes with trailers for all four films as well as a really nice twenty page booklet with lots of information about the movies and an interview with director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi. All four films are presented in widescreen and look great. The sound quality is also impressive which really helps you appreciate the terrific soundtracks. This set is a real treat for Sister Street Fighter fans like myself!


Murmur of the Heart
18. Murmur of the Heart (Criterion)
I’ve always been especially impressed with the way director Louis Malle dealt with the complex emotions of young people in his films and Murmur of the Heart (1971) is a wonderful example of this as well as one of the director’s finest films. This thoughtful movie about a young man named Laurent (Benoît Ferreux) coming of age in France during the early 1950s is loosely based on Malle’s own life, and in turn it offers an especially personal and unflinching look at growing up with plenty of warmth and humor as well. Many of the issues addressed in the film such as the rather infamous sexual encounter the young man has with his mother, are handled with an understanding that only a great director like Malle could manage. This is the first time Murmur of the Heart has been available on DVD in the US and as usual Criterion has done a great job with the DVD release. The film doesn’t come with a lot of extras but the print looks terrific and the film is presented in widescreen along with the original theatrical trailer and a new essay by film critic Michael Sragow.


Trilogy of Terror
19. Trilogy of Terror (Dark Sky Films)
Karen Black gives a tour de force performance in the terrific Trilogy of Terror (1975). This entertaining horror anthology is probably familiar to anyone who grew up in the 1970s and owned a television and now thanks to Dark Sky Films it’s finally available on DVD for everyone to enjoy. The last episode in the anthology is the most infamous thanks to Karen Black doing battle with a creepy Zuni fetish doll, but the other stories in the anthology are also worth a look thanks to Black’s interesting take on her various roles. The DVD looks great and is presented in fullscreen since it was originally shot for TV. It comes with some terrific extras including a featurette about Karen Black called Three Colors Black and another featurette about writer Richard Matheson called Terror Scribe, as well as an audio commentary with Karen Black and screenwriter William F. Nolan.


Pretty Poison
20. Pretty Poison (20th Century Fox)
Pretty Poison (1968) stars Anthony Perkins as a troubled man just released from a mental institution after spending many years locked away for arson. He moves to a small Massachusetts town and tries to start a new life for himself, but his overactive imagination soon begins to get the best of him. He becomes obsessed with a cute high-school girl played by Tuesday Weld and tries to convince the girl that he’s a CIA agent on a special mission, and she seems to believe him. When Perkins’ fantasy life begins to collide with his real life and spiral out of control, Weld becomes his willing partner in crime. This great black comedy takes a disturbing and somewhat sad turn since Perkins had the ability to create incredibly sympathetic characters who you should be repelled by, but can’t help rooting for. Tuesday Weld is really riveting as a less then innocent 17 year old and manages to give one of the best performances of her career in Pretty Poison. This is the first time this film has been available on DVD and it looks terrific! The original trailer is also included on the DVD.

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