June & July at the Movie Morlocks

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I haven’t been online much the last few months for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I’ve been having some medical problems with my left eye and spending lots of time on my computer reading, watching vids and writing can often be problematic. My eyes get easily irritated and I’m prone to headaches, etc. The other reason is simple net fatigue, particularly on social media sites such as Facebook & Twitter where petty bickering, herd-like behavior and one-upmanship among film fans, critics and journalists can become unbearably tiresome. With that out of the way, I want to apologize to anyone you visits Cinebeats often hoping for new updates (excuses I know… but I seem to be suffering from an extreme case of weltschmerz this year) but you can still find me regularly posting on TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog and I occasionally write articles for TCM’s website. Here are some links to things I’ve written in the last few months:

They Wore It Well: Actors & Mustaches: “Mustaches of all shapes, sizes, widths and weights have long been part our movie history so it’s easy to take them for granted. But a good mustache can have power and presence in the movies and many actors have made great use of their facial hair to seduce costars, entice laughter and menace their enemies.”

Hammer Noir: Terence Fisher’s STOLEN FACE (1952): “While a few of the Fisher’s earlier films, such as SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950), hinted at his penchant for gothic fantasy and costume drama, STOLEN FACE gave the director the opportunity to begin exploring (and exploiting) his apparent fascination with science, philosophy, psychology and medicine that would later permeate his full-color horror films made for Hammer. Amid the noir elements and abundant melodrama that can be found in STOLEN FACE, Fisher spends a noticeable amount of time lingering on strange medical devices while focusing on the doctor’s interactions with patents and colleagues. The doctor also makes a noteworthy trip to a pub where he mingles with some inquisitive locals. This seemingly innocuous event became a staple in Fisher’s horror films…”

Summer Reading Suggestions: “Like many people, I tend to do a lot of reading when the weather warms up and with summer officially about to start on June 21st I thought it would be a good time to share some of the books I’ve been enjoying with my fellow film buffs. My own tastes tend to be somewhat eclectic but I hope readers of all types and stripes will find something that piques their interest when pursuing my list of Summer Reading Suggestions.”

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“I wonder if my brother remembers his brother?” – Remembering Eli Wallach 1915-2014: “Leone famously liked to shoot his actors in extreme close-up or in sweeping wide shots where they were barely visible. But Wallach instinctively knew how to make the most of his screen time and easily navigates between these two very different modes of filmmaking. His eyes speak volumes when Leone’s camera zooms in for a signature close-up but when the director’s camera is out of sight Wallach skillfully used his body language to define his character from a distance. Many actors would get lost in the vast deserts, dilapidated cemeteries and shabby old towns that make up Leone’s film but Wallach seamlessly becomes part of the landscape. We know he’s there even when we can’t see him.”

When Fact Mirrors Fiction: AGATHA (1979): “Redgrave and Hoffman make an unlikely pair and some critics apparently found their height difference distracting but I think the two actors have an incredible chemistry on screen. Redgrave seems to be channeling Garbo while Hoffman displays the kind of arrogant charm that made William Powell so likable. Both performers have rarely been as vulnerable, sympathetic, affable and flat out sexy as they are here, which is partially due to the way they interact and seem to identify with one another’s characters. Their unconventional but utterly convincing on-screen romance is one of the many reasons why I find AGATHA so compelling.”

The Malaise of the Ghetto: LA HAINE (1995): “The broad appeal of Kassovitz’s film can also be traced to another film that mesmerized young audiences in 1955, Nicholas Ray’s timeless classic REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Both films focus on a troubled threesome who form a makeshift family during the span of 24 hours. The neighborhood fighting might be on a much smaller scale and the suburban hood of 1955 Los Angeles appears much more inviting than the suburban slums of 1995 Paris, but both movies use the threat of gun violence to their credit. Neither Plato (Sal Mineo) nor Vinz (Vincent Cassel) can fully comprehend the lethal power of the weapons they’re carrying and their shared desire for some kind of notoriety or control in the face of an indifferent world is something many young people can unfortunately sympathize with . Does LA HAINE have the staying power of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE? That remains to be seen.”

A Century of Scares: Happy Birthday Bava!: “This week marks the 100th birthday of Mario Bava who was born on July 30th (according to leading Bava researcher Tim Lucas and author of the essential Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark) or 31st (if you want to believe IMDB.com and Wikipedia). The brilliant Italian director, cinematographer, special effects artist and screenwriter died in 1980 but today he’s fondly remembered by horror film enthusiasts as the Maestro of the Macabre. Bava has long been one of my favorite filmmakers so I couldn’t let this important anniversary pass without acknowledging his artistry.”

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A Tale of Two Films: THE PICASSO SUMMER (1969)

Albert Finney & Yvette Mimieux in The Picasso Summer

My latest post at the Movie Morlocks takes a look at the making of THE PICASSO SUMMER (1969) starring the fabulous Albert Finney & Yvette Mimieux. Here’s a brief excerpt from my post:

“Few films come with a pedigree as spotted as THE PICASSO SUMMER. Some names that were directly or indirectly associated with the movie include artist Pablo Picasso, author Ray Bradbury, French directors Francois Truffaut and Serge Bourguignon, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond as well as renowned animators Faith & John Hubley, Wes Herschensohn, composer Michel Legrand and songstress Barbra Streisand. Not to mention producer and beloved comedian Bill Cosby, Spanish bullfighting legend Luis Miguel Dominguín, actor Yul Brynner and the films stars, Albert Finney and Yvette Mimieux. Now that I’ve hopefully got your attention I suggest you proceed with caution. The story of how THE PICASSO SUMMER finally got made and was shelved for years is fascinating, funny and sad. This is a film that deserves to be rediscovered but it’s also a tragic reminder of ‘60s Hollywood excess and it left a lot of battered egos and unrealized dreams in its wake.”



You can read the entire piece & see a clip from the film by following this link:
“A Tale of Two Films: The Picasso Summer (1969)” @ TCm’s Movie Morocks Blog

Vincente Minnelli’s Metaphysical Musical

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Barbra Streisand in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)

Last week I had planned on writing about some romantic films in honor of Valentine’s Day but I never got around to it. I’m still fighting off that cold bug but this week I decided to share some thoughts about one of my favorite romantic movies, Vincente Minnelli’s metaphysical musical On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970). This lush production has gotten a lot of negative press over the years and I’ve never understood why. I think it’s one of Minnelli’s best films and it features Barbra Streisand at her loveliest. It also contains some of the most beautiful costume designs ever created. Few films can boast the talents of Cecil Beaton and even fewer films feature the work of acclaimed fashion designer Arnold Scaasi but On A Clear Day You Can See Forever provided both men with an incredible canvas to showcase their artistry.
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Unfortunately audiences have never had the opportunity to see Minnelli’s original film. An entire 60 minutes of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever ended up on the cutting room floor before it was released. My thoughts on the film as well as my plea to see it restored can be found at The Movie Morlocks.
Vincente Minnelli’s Metaphysical Musical @ TCM’s Classic Movie Blog

Seduced by Pierre Clémenti

pc67 Pierre Clémenti in Listen, Let’s Make Love (1967) Regular Cinebeats’ readers are undoubtedly familiar with my fascination with the French actor and filmmaker Pierre Clémenti. I’ve written about him enough that he’s earned his own blog category so you can imagine my surprise when I came across one of the little seen films that he appeared in playing on Netflix Instant Watch recently. The erotic European drama Listen, Let’s Make Love (1967) is the last thing I’d expect to come across on Netflix but I’m really glad that I stumbled on it. It’s a gorgeous film with some amazing set designs and eye-popping art direction as well as a fantastic score by Ennio Morricone. Fans of Euro cult films like Radley Mizger’s incredible Camille 2000 (1969) should give it a look but be forewarned, I suspect that the version of Listen, Let’s Make Love that’s currently available at Netflix might be edited. The film is dubbed and contains no nudity except for a few derrieres and breasts displayed at an erotic art exhibit. But don’t let that stop you from watching it. Listen, Let’s Make Love is an interesting film and if you’re a Pierre Clémenti fan like myself it’s a must see! You can find my full review and lots of images from the movie posted at the Movie Morlocks. – Seduced by Pierre Clémenti @ TCM’s Classic Movie Blog Listen, Let's Make Love (1967) Listen, Let's Make Love (1967) Listen, Let's Make Love (1967) Listen, Let's Make Love (1967) I’ve also created a Flickr Gallery for the film if you want to see more images from Listen, Let’s Make Love (1967) – Listen, Let’s Make Love (1967) Flickr Gallery

Courage Conquers Death

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Katharine Hepburn in Christopher Strong (1933)

On Friday, August 20th, TCM is devoting the day to the celebrated actress Katharine Hepburn as part of their ongoing Summer Under the Stars event. I really enjoy Summer Under the Stars and this year some of my favorite actors and actresses have been featured. I thought it would be fun to highlight one of my favorite Katherine Hepburn films this week, Dorothy Arzner’s action filled melodrama Christopher Strong (1933). It’s a wonderful early talkie featuring Hepburn in one of her most interesting roles. The cast is excellent and I love Roy Webb’s uncredited but impressive score. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Christopher Strong yet you can catch it on August 20th when it plays on TCM. It’s well worth a look just to see young Katherine Hepburn strut around in the amazing costumes that were designed for her by Howard Greer and Walter Plunkett. The movie is full of wonderful eye-candy and also features some notable horror film actors such as the talented Colin Clive (Frankenstein; 1931, Bride of Frankenstein; 1935 and Mad Love; 1935) and young Helen Chandler (Dracula; 1931). It plays in the early morning hours so you may have to record it if you want to see it but I think it’s well worth the effort. You can find my piece about Christopher Strong over at TCM’s Movie Morlocks Blog.

The Subterraneans (1960)

The Subterraneans (1960)

Tomorrow would have been Jack Kerouac’s 88th birthday and in honor of the event I decided to write about the 1960 film adaptation of his novel The Subterraneans over at the Movie Morlocks blog.

The movie has a lot of problems including beatnik parodies and a terrible script but I still appreciate some aspects of it. If you’re a jazz enthusiast or just like films shot in San Francisco, you might enjoy my brief look at The Subterraneans. Go Daddy-O!

Modern Mondays: Love Songs (2007)

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When I first mentioned that I was going to start “Modern Mondays” at Cinebeats I briefly discussed how much I liked musicals so I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the best musical I’ve seen in recent years, Love Songs (aka Les chansons d’amour; 2007).

Love Songs was directed by the talented French filmmaker and writer Christophe Honore (Ma mère; 2004, Dan Paris; 2006) and features an original musical score by composer Alex Beaupain. It also stars one of my favorite working actors, the incredibly handsome, charming and charismatic Louis Garrel (The Dreamers; 2003, Regular Lovers; 2005, Dans Paris; 2006). The film tells a rather simple but multilayered and bittersweet story about three young lovers living in Paris who are torn apart physically and emotionally after one of them unexpectedly dies. Romantic films featuring bisexual threesomes instead of typical “boy meets girl” couples are rare enough, but I’m pretty sure that Love Songs is one of the first full-length musical involving a ménage à trois.

The film’s unconventional take on love and loss is refreshing and beautifully handled by director Christophe Honore. In many ways Love Songs is the director’s ode to French cinema, particularly musicals, from the 1960s. Fans of classic French films such as Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962) and Jean-Luc Godard’s A Woman Is a Woman (1961) will easily spot their influence on Honore’s film, but like the New Wave artists that he celebrates here, director Christophe Honore is clearly interested in breaking new ground. He sidesteps much of the ambiguity that was often a trademark of ’60s cinema to unabashedly deal in honest human anguish, passion and desire.

Love Songs is a sentimental film and I appreciated its sweetness and romanticism, but it’s also a thoughtful meditation on loss and the painful grieving process that occurs after we loose someone we deeply care about. There’s nothing more agonizing than the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one and I think Love Songs greatest achievement besides its wonderful score, smart script and beautiful cinematography is the way in which it expertly conveys that overwhelming sense of unexplainable sorrow that can become paralyzing when you’re in deep mourning.

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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.

Rethinking Romance

Even though I’m a lady, I don’t often watch what many critics refer to “women’s films” and typical romantic films tend to bore me to tears. It’s always bothered me that I’m supposed to enjoy An Affair to Remember (1957) more than The Dirty Dozen (1967) simply because of my gender. Apologies to the film’s legions of fans, but I find An Affair to Remember to be one of the most insufferably boring movies that Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr ever made and I love Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. On the other hand, if I come across The Dirty Dozen playing on TV there is a good chance that I’ll probably watch it.

So why in the world did I spend 95 minutes of my life watching the first film adaptation of a Harlequin romance novel recently? I could blame my fascination with the talented actor Keir Dullea who stars in Gerry O’Hara’s film Leopard in the Snow (1978). Keir Dullea is the reason I initially wanted to see Leopard in the Snow, but after I did a little background research on the movie my curiosity was piqued and I plunged into this romantic drama without reservation. I was curious to see a feminine approach to what I assumed might be some sexy ’70s style entertainment.

Harlequin novels are published in association with Mills & Boon, which is a well-known publisher of romance novels for women that has been going strong for roughly 100 years. They were originally based in Britain and Canada, but in 1971 they started releasing their books in North America. When Harlequin first debuted they published romantic novels with very little erotic content except the occasional kiss or caress, but after they discovered that their steamier novels were selling the most, Harlequin introduced a second line of books called Harlequin Presents. This second line of books from Harlequin highlighted the work of three popular British romance authors who were responsible for some of the publisher’s most sensual novels. One of these authors was Anne Mather (a pseudonym for Mildred Grieveson) who wrote the original 1974 Harlequin Presents’ novel Leopard in the Snow.

It seems only natural that the popularity of the Harlequin Presents line would lead the book publishers to attempt a film adaptation based on one of their earliest and most popular novels, and in 1978 Harlequin decided to produce a film version of Anne Mather’s Leopard in the Snow, which Mather also wrote the script for. Unfortunately for the book publishers their first foray into feature-length movie making was a financial and critical flop. Harlequin was so disappointed by the poor response to Leopard in the Snow that they didn’t produce another film version of one of their books until the 1994 TV adaptation of Cheryl Emerson’s Treacherous Beauties sixteen years later. Harlequin continues to release television films based on their novels, but Leopard in the Snow is still their only theatrically released film.

I’m not sure what the Harlequin Presents tagline was in 1974 when Leopard in the Snow was first published, but according the official Harlequin website it’s currently:

“Meet sophisticated men of the world and captivating women in glamorous, international settings. Seduction and passion are guaranteed.”

And the original film poster for Leopard in the Snow featured the line:

“Remember when a good love story made you feel like holding hands?”


The 1978 paperback and original film poster for Leopard in the Snow

Since I’ve never read the original novel, I can’t tell you if the film is a faithful adaptation of the book, but I can tell you that the movie features very little “glamour,” “seduction” and “passion.” It’s also not the typical kind of romance film that would encourage lovers to walk out of the theater “holding hands.” As a matter of fact, the film contains very little romance and no sex, so it’s not too surprising that it was a box office disaster for Harlequin. If potential viewers walked into a movie theater believing any of the advertising associated with the book imprint or the film, they were probably going to be a little disappointed. On the other hand, the film takes a surprisingly serious and somewhat unsentimental approach to adult romance.

Leopard in the Snow begins with a pretty upper class London girl called Helen (Susan Penhaligon) getting lost in a snowstorm while she’s driving in the bleak British countryside. Helen’s rescued by an attractive American stranger with a bad limp (Keir Dullea) named Dominic , who happens to be out walking his pet leopard… in the snow. Helen returns with the American back to his country home and as the plot slowly unfolds we discover that Dominic is a reclusive ex-race car driver who was involved in a terrible accident that left him crippled and killed his brother. Helen is told by Dominic and his faithful manservant (Jeremy Kemp) that it’s impossible for her to leave due to the snowstorm, so she finds herself trapped with the cranky Dominic and his pet leopard for days. Instead of romance blossoming between the two strangers, Dominic is strangely cruel and flat out mean to Helen at first and she seems frightened of him and immediately tries to leave. Keir Dullea has always played odd, thoughtful and strangely compelling characters so I wasn’t too surprised by his performance as Dominic and his rather brutal treatment of the helpless young woman, but it seemed really out of place in a “romance” movie.

Things take an even stranger turn when Helen finds out she’s being held against her will. Dominic refuses to let her go because he’s afraid that people will find out where he is. You see, ever since his race car accident he’s been hiding out in the British countryside and doesn’t want to be bothered by pesky reporters and fans who seem to think he’s dead. Naturally the relationship between Dominic and Helen becomes even more uncomfortable and strained. It isn’t until Helen finally succumbs to her captivity and accepts her disturbing situation that she begins to exhibit any real feelings for Dominic. This makes the poor girl’s romantic feelings for her captor seem like they’re fueled by a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome instead of love.

After Helen’s various escape attempts fail, Dominic finally lets her return home to her wealthy family in London where they’re getting ready to celebrate Christmas, but she begs him to let her stay. It turns out Helen’s got a handsome, stable and kind suitor at home who’s been asking for her hand in marriage, but she doesn’t want anything to do with him. Once Helen’s safe at home she can only think of the abusive and self-absorbed Dominic, so she finally decides to return to the place where he held her captive and throw herself at his feet. Following a few minor plot twists and turns, Leopard in the Snow ends happily with Helen, Dominic and his pet leopard literally walking off into the sunset… okay, it was actually more like walking out into a snowy winter landscape, but you get the idea. The title of the novel and film is a painfully obvious metaphor for the strange relationship between Dominic and Helen. I suppose either one of them could be seen as the “wild leopard” that needed to be tamed. Since the film is based on a Harlequin romance novel I expected a happy ending, but this cold and rather unusual film was completely unlike the passion-filled romance I expected it to be, and frankly that’s probably why I finished watching it.

I found the movie strangely compelling, mainly due to the lack of any strong narrative voice, which would have undoubtedly been provided in the original novel by the heroine. Since Helen’s voice is absent in the film except when she’s responding to other characters, viewers have no clear idea of what her feelings are towards her supposed love interest. I’m sure Susan Penhaligon’s rather low-key performance added to the odd feel of the film or maybe she was just having a hard time expressing what her character was supposed to be feeling, but the original novel was probably written from her perspective so readers would have had a clearer understanding of why she was attracted to Dominic. Without Helen’s voice dominating Leopard in the Snow, I was left wondering why she was willing to endure his cruel and controlling behavior. However, if a voice-over had been added to the movie it would have played out more like a Lifetime movie or an episode of Sex in the City, and I would have personally found it a lot less interesting to watch.

It’s really impossible to recommend Leopard in the Snow unless you happen to be a Keir Dullea completist. Gerry O’Hara’s lackluster direction is really uninspired. Much of the film was shot in Canada so the supposedly British countryside looks strangely alien at times and the occasional use of faux snow is distracting. The soundtrack by composer Kenneth V. Jones isn’t bad, but it’s pretty predictable and bland at times. The only thing really worthwhile about the film is the first half of Anne Mather’s script and Dullea’s odd performance as the crippled race car driver Dominic. Susan Penhaligon is really forgettable in her role, which is a shame since she’s a very pretty actress who I’ve enjoyed in other films. The lack of any real chemistry between the two leads definitely hurts the movie. Keir Dullea just wasn’t made for playing a romantic leading man. The American actor seems oddly out of place in Harlequin’s first film surrounded by an entirely British cast. He also doesn’t seem that comfortable with the leopard which he’s rarely shown with in the movie, but that’s not too surprising since he was supposedly almost mauled by the giant cat on the first day of shooting Leopard in the Snow.

Coincidently, Harlequin’s associate publishers Mills & Boon will be celebrating their 100th birthday in 2008 and recently there has been a lot of discussion among female critics and writers about the long-term effects of romance novels like Leopard in the Snow and how they shape or inform women’s romantic relationships and sexual behavior. Harlequin and Mills & Boon have been criticized for decades by critics who rail against what they see as “misogynistic hate speech” and “positive images of rape” in the books they publish and I’m sure plenty of people would be troubled by the way that the romance plays out in Leopard in the Snow, but Harlequin romance novels are written by women and read by women, so using a term like “misogynistic” to describe Leopard in the Snow and Harlequin romances in general, seems utterly absurd to me. It’s not a term I like casually tossing around when discussing movies and I find it impossible to use it when describing female focused entertainment.

In some ways Leopard in the Snow could be seen as a product of the ’70s and it would be easy to dismiss the original novel and film as presenting a dated representation of women and female sexuality, but at a time when movies like Knocked Up and Black Snake Moan are becoming critically acclaimed films, criticizing or dismissing Leopard in the Snow for the way it portrays its female characters seems ridiculous to me. Like all Harlequin romance novels, Leopard in the Snow should be viewed as a romantic fantasy told from a uniquely female perspective, which we rarely get to see in films. I personally think having a healthy fantasy life is essential to human development as long as it doesn’t interfere with daily reality, and Harlequin romance novels seem to enrich the lives of a lot of people even if they aren’t exactly my own cup of tea. Regular Harlequin readers would probably enjoy the film adaptation of Leopard in the Snow since the original novel appears to follow typical formulas often used by romance writers. Romantic entanglements with race car drivers seem to be a popular theme among Harlequin readers. The company recently created a successful new line of books called NASCAR Romances and it’s possible that Leopard in the Snow was one of the forerunners of this unusual romantic subgenre.

Leopard in the Snow was released on DVD by Televista in October and the film is currently available from Amazon. Like all of Televista’s DVD releases, the quality is rather poor so it’s hard to recommend. Hopefully another company will release a better print of the film in the future.

Recommended Links:
Harlequin’s Official Site
Mill & Boon’s Official Site
Teach Me Tonight (A terrific blog devoted to intelligent conversation and scholarly research into romance novels)
Keir Dullea Profile (Richard Harland Smith’s look at the film career of Keir Dullea)

DVD of the Week: The Virgin and the Gypsy (1970)

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In 1969, the talented British director Ken Russell impressed critics and audiences with his excellent film adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. The film would go on to win many awards and inspire greater interest in D.H. Lawrence. It would also inspire other directors to try their hand at adapting Lawrence’s work.

One of those directors was the 32-year-old Christopher Miles, a talented, but often unappreciated British filmmaker and sibling of the great actress Sarah Miles. Before making The Virgin and the Gypsy (1970), Christopher Miles had only made a few films, including the little-seen mod musical Up Jumped a Swagman (1965). The Virgin and the Gypsy was Miles’ first attempt at a literary adaptation and serious drama as far as I know, and he does a fine job of bringing what many consider to be one of D.H. Lawrence’s lesser novels to the screen.

The story revolves around a young British woman named Yvette, who has returned home with her sister after years of education abroad. Both girls are unhappy with their strict and conventional home life and long to escape it. After coming across a handsome Gypsy during a casual outing, Yvette becomes obsessed with him. The Gypsy seems to set fire to her imagination and awaken her repressed passions.

The film is beautifully photographed and features some good performances from its cast including the talented Italian actor Franco Nero as the mysterious Gypsy and actress Joanna Shimkus as the virginal Yvette. The lovely Honor Blackman also appears in an interesting role as the unconventional and very modern Mrs. Fawcett, who helps rescue Yvette from her stifling family in the films final moments. Franco and Shimkus create an interesting chemistry on screen which makes their erotic scenes together very believable. The film also manages to maintain its romantic and melancholy atmosphere throughout its 95 min. running time, which is partly due to composer Patrick Gowers’ haunting score.

The Virgin and the Gypsy has a lot going for it if you enjoy British literary adaptations, but it’s nowhere near as good, transgressive or engaging as Ken Russell’s brilliant Women in Love. Filmmaker Christopher Miles clearly doesn’t possess Russell’s imagination or visual flair, but I think The Virgin and the Gypsy is still an effective film that is often overlooked. The movie has much more in common with Merchant & Ivory’s early productions such as The Europeans (1979) and The Bostonians (1984), then with any of Russell’s movies and it should appeal to anyone who enjoys good period dramas.

After making The Virgin and the Gypsy, Christopher Miles would go on to adapt Jean Genet’s play Les Bonnes for the screen in what is his best and most fascinating film, The Maids (1974). He would also direct an interesting biopic based on the life of D.H. Lawrence called Priest of Love (1981). Both films are well worth watching if you’re interested in seeing more of the director’s work. Unfortunately Priest of Love is still in need of a DVD release.

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Top: Honor Blackman as Mrs. Fawcett
Bottom: Franco Nero and Joanna Shimkus

The attractive actress Joanna Shimkus shows that she had real talent here so it’s a shame that she retired from acting only a year later. She’s mostly known now as the wife of the Oscar winning American actor Sidney Poitier whom she married in 1976.

The Virgin and the Gypsy was released for the first time on Region-1 DVD in the US this week from Televista. As I’ve mentioned before, Televista has been releasing a steady stream of worthwhile films all year and many of them are first time DVD releases, but the quality is often rather poor. The Virgin and the Gypsy is a beautiful movie that really deserves a better DVD release that showcases the lush look of the film’s impressive cinematography. Unfortunately this new Televista presentation contains a gritty and washed out print of the film. The DVD does feature a Slide Gallery with still shots, but that’s the only notable extra. The Virgin and the Gypsy is currently on sale at Amazon and should be available for rent from Netflix and Greencine.