Monthly Archives: October 2011

Roma Therapy 6

This week three Italian films from the early 1970s that look at murder in its varied forms – as a political tool, as a living wage and as a way of life.

The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)

The Conformist

Despite his considerable achievements – and greater commercial success – with projects after this film, Bertolucci’s political thriller is still, in my opinion, his best. Jean-Louis Trintignant gives a marvellously uptight performance as Marcello Clerici, who just wants to blend in, to become one of the crowd, to give a semblance of ‘normal life’, even if the reality is anything but. His facelessness also facilitates his mission – he works for fascist organisation OVRA and is assigned to assassinate a prominent anti-fascist in exile in Paris. Georges Delerue’s haunting score and Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography make this Bertolucci’s most effective, emotional work. Locations include Rome and Paris and the period setting – the late 1930s – is recreated perfectly. The exemplary cast features Gaston Moschin and Ezio Tarascio, and Dominique Sanda and Stefania Sandrelli perform a sexy tango in Joinville. The Conformist expands on ideas first seen in Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution (1964), but with more coherence and greater resonance, both politically and emotionally. The chopped up, non-linear narrative is a trademark of editor Franco Arcalli, who also worked on Django Kill! and Once Upon a Time in America.

The good news is that The Conformist is being released in the UK on dual format Blu-ray/DVD in January 2012.

It is currently available in the US, on Region 1.

Delerue’s rare score is available on CD and vinyl.

Violent City (Sergio Sollima, 1970)

Violent City

This sees Charles Bronson at the zenith of his European-based popularity, before he finally broke into the US market in 1974 with the mega-hit Death Wish. ‘Hits’ are also on Bronson’s mind in this movie, as he plays Jeff Heston, a professional hitman who finds himself a pawn in Jill Ireland’s rise to mafia Godmother. This is easily the best of the films Bronson and his wife Ireland made together. The strong Euro-cast includes Michel Constantin and Umberto Orsini, and Telly Savalas shows up as a New Orleans crime kingpin and head of the billion-dollar ‘Organisation’. Violent City was shot on location in the US (including New Orleans) and the Island of St Thomas in the Virgin Islands. In the wake of The Godfather’s success, it was released, abridged, in the US as The Family. The excellent stunt work and car chases were staged by Remy Julienne, who oversaw the Minis in The Italian Job (1969)

Ennio Morricone provided the score, including the pulsating, whining, still-popular theme tune.

The uncut version is now available on DVD in the UK and in the US.

The Marseilles Connection (Enzo G. Castellari, 1973)

Marseilles Connection

Also known as High Crime, Castellari’s cop movie is one of the finest examples of Italian ‘poliziotteschi’ (police films). Franco Nero played Vice-commissioner Belli of the Squadra Volante (Flying Squad) who attempts to sever the Marseilles Connection – a drug smuggling route from France to Genoa. Its obvious inspiration is The French Connection (1971) and Fernando Rey reappears here as gangster Cafiero. James Whitmore played Belli’s by-the-rules boss. Like Violent City and The French Connection, Marseilles Connection features a car chase – here cut to G & M De Angelis funky ‘Gangster Story’ cue which reappeared in many other films, including Violent Rome (1976 – Forced Impact) starring Maurizio Merli. Nero worked with Castellari on several occasions during this period, including the crepuscular western Keoma, a hokey sharksploitation movie The Shark Hunter (Guardians of the Deep) and a Death Wish vigilante flick, Street Law. Marseilles Connection is their best collaboration and one of the top cop movies of the 1970s.  The trailer is a classic.

The Marseilles Connection is currently only available in the UK on videotape, but there are rumours that a DVD release is in the offing

It is also available on tape in the US as High Crime.

The De Angelis brothers’ score to Violent Rome, which includes the ‘Gangster Story’ cue, is available on CD.

If you’d like to read more about The Conformist, Violent City and The Marseilles Connection, and other films discussed here, they (and many more) are included in my book, Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult.

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Roma Therapy 5

This week all’Italiana, three great Italian films which feature memorable villains – a loco bounty hunter, a comic book super-thief, a black-clad murderer – and a trio of timeless Ennio Morricone scores.

The Big SilenceThe Big Silence (Sergio Corbucci, 1967)

Corbucci’s snowy western, largely shot near the ski resort at Cortina D’Ampezzo, is perhaps the best non-Sergio Leone Italian western. Jean-Louis Trintignant starred as mute gun-for-hire Silence, who lets his Mauser Broomhandle machine pistol do the talking. But it’s the despicable villain, Loco, a cowled killer stalking in a winter wonderland, that you’ll remember. He’s played by madcap Klaus Kinski in one of his finest performances. The memorable supporting cast includes Vonetta McGee, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega. Morricone composed the emotive music which is quite unlike his ‘Dollars’ trilogy scores and compliments the chilly setting perfectly.

It’s available on DVD in the UK and in the US.

It is worth seeking out the UK Eureka! release from a few years ago, which also features the Italian language cut of the film, with newly-translated English subtitles.

Morricone’s soundtrack CD also features Un Bellissimo Novembre.

DiabolikDiabolik (Mario Bava, 1968)

This comic book masterpiece is Fellini-meets-Bond, in a wild collision of pop art visuals, groovy outfits and futuristic gadgets. John Phillip Law plays masked thief Diabolik, who with his bombshell lover Eva (Marisa Mell) steals from the rich to keep it for himself. His colourful underground lair, with its fleet of E-type Jags, is a sight to behold. This may be Bava’s best movie – it’s certainly his most consistent and pacy. Michel Piccoli, Adolfo Celi and Terry-Thomas crop up in support.

It is available on DVD in the UK and the US.

Both releases feature highly informative, entertaining commentary tracks, with Bava’s biographer Tim Lucas in conversation with John Phillip Law.

As all fans of the film know, two different English language audio dubs of Diabolik were prepared: one for theUS market, one for international release. The alternative English language dub is still available in the US on VHS tape.

Ennio Morricone’s score is one of his most sought-after with collectors, as it has never had an official release, though there have been bootlegs. The title song, ‘Deep Down’, sung by Christy, is included on the excellent 1960s vocal compilation ‘Canto Morricone’, which also contains ‘Se Telefonando’ by Mina.

The Bird With the Crystal PlumageThe Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Dario Argento, 1970)

Argento’s directorial debut is an astonishingly assured murder mystery. From its opening gallery murder scene, with a witness trapped helplessly between automatic glass doors like a fly twixt double-glazing, this one never lets up. Tony Musante played Sam Dalmas, an American writer in Rome, who is the star witness to the gallery attack. Suzy Kendall was his girlfriend Julia and Enrico Maria Salerno played Inspector Morosini, who thinks that Sam isn’t telling him everything. With his passport confiscated, Sam turns amateur sleuth which leads to both his and Julia’s lives being endangered. The visuals, in widescreen Cromoscope, are breathtakingly shot by Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor). Morricone composed a bold, avant-garde score, which echoed his work with experimental group Nuova Consananza.

The definitive version of this film is Anchor Bay’s Region 1 release, available in the UK and US.

Morricone’s score is available on CD with two more Argento movies, Cat O’nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet

To read more about The Big Silence, Diabolik and The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, check out my book, Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult.

My spaghetti western book Once Upon a Time in the Italian West includes an in-depth discussion of The Big Silence, and Corbucci’s film also features, alongside 33 other important movies, in my Kamera Guide to Spaghetti Westerns


		
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Roma Therapy 4

Continuing my look at essential films of the golden era of Italian filmmaking (roughly the late-1950s to the early-1980s) with three from ’66: a classic of political cinema, a murder mystery without a body and the quintessential spaghetti western.

Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)

Battle of Algiers

A ‘how to’ guide for starting your own insurrection, Battle of Algiers was shot by Pontecorvo and his 9-man Italian crew on location in the city. This visceral docu-drama tells the story of the Algerian peoples’ struggle against French occupation and colonialism. The principle story follows Omar Ali, alias ‘Ali La Pointe’ (Brahim Haggiag), an Algerian street criminal who joins the rebel National Liberation Front (FNL). The film, an Italian-Algerian co-production, was co-written by Franco Solinas, who also worked on many other Italian political films, including Salvatore Giuliano, Hands over the City, The Big Gundown, A Bullet for the General, A Professional Gun, Tepepa and Burn! The anthemic, elegiac score was co-composed by Pontecorvo and Ennio Morricone. This powerful depiction of revolution and counter-revolution admirably doesn’t take sides and in 2003, during the occupation of Iraq, it was screened in the Pentagon.

It is available on DVD in the UK and as an excellent Criterion Collection release in the US.

Blowup (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)

Blowup

Antonioni’s murder mystery is one of the most iconic ‘London’ films of the 1960s. Like The Ipcress File, it presents the city via the cold paranoid gaze of a fractured lens, a million miles away from ‘Swinging London’ as depicted by the popular media of the era. Photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) snaps a couple embracing in Maryon Park, Charlton, but when he develops the photos he discovers he has witnessed as murder – blow-ups of the images reveal a gunman hidden in the bushes. The interesting cast includes Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, Peter Bowles, Jane Birkin and the Jimmy Page-era Yardbirds. How the mystery unravels makes for riveting cinema, in this, Antonioni’s most accessible and commercially successful film.

Blowup is available on DVD in the UK and US.

The excellent soundtrack, featuring cues by Herbie Hancock, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Yardbirds and Tomorrow, is also available.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The third of Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy, this would today be called a threequel, though it’s actually a prequel to Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965). Three gunmen become entangled in a search for a $200,000  Confederate army payroll buried in a war cemetery, as the Civil War sweeps through New Mexico in 1861-62. Clint Eastwood played bounty hunter Blondy, Lee Van Cleef was hired killer ‘Angel Eyes’ and Eli Wallach was garrulous Mexican bandido Tuco Ramirez. This is the great Italian western and career highpoints for all concerned. The Spanish landscapes look beautiful, the long desert sands filling the screen with their emptiness. The cast features a rogue’s gallery of craggy-faced spaghetti western regulars including Aldo Sambrell, Benito Stefanelli, Lorenzo Robledo, Antonio Molino Rojo, Romano Puppo, Frank Braña, Al Mulock, Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega. The famous score was by Morricone and includes the towering ‘L’estasi dell’oro’ (The Ecstasy of Gold), with its soaring soprano vocal by Edda Dell’Orso, which Morricone still conducts today in his live concerts – a reprise of the composition is often used as the final encore.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is available in many versions, of varying quality and length, but the classic version is still the 154 minute international release (161 minutes in the US) which is available on DVD in the UK and US.

The Complete Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from GDM features 21 tracks, including many that have previously remained unreleased.

Eli Wallach includes several interesting anecdotes about the film’s making in his autobiography, The Good, the Bad and Me.

The film tie-in by Joe Millard is available too.

To read more about Battle of Algiers, Blowup, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and other films discussed here, buy my book Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult.

Also, my Once Upon a Time in the Italian West includes an entire chapter devoted to the making of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

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Black Cats

Seeing as the cat has one expression, it’s amazing how many expressions the cat has.

Black Cat

Contented

Black Cat

Guilty

Black Cat

Disdainful

Black Cat

Awesome!

Black Cat

Feed Me

The black cat is the star of one of the great tales of horror fiction: Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’, a short story first published in 1843. The account, one of the author’s most famous works, details in the first person the drunken protagonist’s torment of his title pet and ends with the cat giving away the location of a concealed corpse, as the protagonist has ‘walled the monster up within the tomb!’

There have been many attempts to bring Poe’s tale to the big screen. There’s the Karloff-Lugosi version, directed in 1934 by another Edgar – Edgar G. Ulmer – which though called The Black Cat bears no resemblance to the tale. Perhaps the most famous version is the second episode of Roger Corman’s three-part Tales of Terror (1962). Peter Lorre portrayed Montresor Herringbone, an alcoholic, whose wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson) begins an affair with pompous wine taster Fortunato Luchresi (Vincent Price). When he discovers their betrayal, Montresor walls up his adulterous wife and her lover in the cellar – alive. When the police investigate, the cat’s yowl again gives the game away. Tales of Terror, the fourth of Corman’s eight Poe adaptations, aimed for macabre laughs, with the likes of Price and Lorre at their hammiest. This style was fully realised in Corman’s next Poe film, The Raven (1963), with its broad comedy, duelling magicians and the unholy trinity of Price, Lorre and Karloff.

Among many other adaptations, Harold Hoffman’s The Black Cat (1966) was explicit in its gore and blunt in its intent, Mario Bava used elements of the story for his Shock (1977) and even Dario Argento had a crack at the tale, with his contribution to the two-parter Two Evil Eyes (1989). George A. Romero directed an adaptation of ‘The Facts in the Case of M. ValdemarBlack Cat’, starring Adrienne Barbeau, while Argento’s ‘The Black Cat’ reworked the central protagonist as Rod Usher (Harvey Keitel), a photographer whose portfolio of murder images reference other Poe tales, including ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ and ‘’Berenice’.

I’ve recently seen another Italian director’s reworking of the tale: Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat (1981 – Il gatto nero). This Italian-financed, shot-in-England production starred Patrick Magee as Professor Robert Miles, a medium who makes ‘tape recordings’ of the moaning, wailing dead. Mysterious disappearances in the small English village where Miles lives are investigated by American tourist Jill Travers and Inspector Gorley of Scotland Yard, played by Italian exploitation movie favourites Mimsy Farmer and David Warbeck. There’s excellent, prowling, low-level Technovision cinematography by Sergio Salvati, an effective Euro-score by Pino Donaggio and a supporting cast that includes Dagmar Lassander, Bruno Corazzari and ‘Al Cliver’ (Pier Luigi Conti). This is a solid, suspenseful horror from Fulci, a director who often overbalanced the tension and effectiveness of his films, when he wallowed in bloody, over-the-top special effects at the expense of all else, as for example in his tour-de-gore The Beyond (1981).

My enjoyment of Fulci’s Black Cat was probably enhanced by a combination of the lateness of the night, a bottle of Perroni and the fact that my jet black cat was prowling around the lounge throughout, becoming, in a strange way and rather disconcertingly, part of the action. This was like watching the film in 3-D and reminded me of the horrific moment in Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998 – Ring), the celebrated J-Hôra ghost story from Toho Studios, when lank-haired, fractured video killer Sadako (Rei Ino’o) emerges from the well towards the TV screen, out through the television and into the room, to scare her victims to death.

Not realising his contribution to my three-dimensional experience of Fulci’s movie, my black cat’s expression was one of mild bemusement – or was it menace? I couldn’t quite tell.

Black Cat

The Black Cat © Howard Hughes 2011

Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat is available on DVD in the UK and in the US.

Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat is available on DVD in the UK and as part of a Lugosi set in the US.

Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror is available on DVD in the UK and the US.

Two Evil Eyes are available on DVD in the UK and the US.

Ringu is available on DVD in the UK and the US

To read Poe’s original tale of terror, it’s included in this classic Tales of Mystery and Imagination collection.

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