Monthly Archives: July 2012

On Her Majesty’s

We’re feeling Olympian in the UK at the moment, with London 2012 having started on Friday 27 July. The opening ceremony, directed by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, was hailed as a great success, with the £27 million spectacle watched by millions around the world. As a celebration of what Britain is, from our history to our culture, the show, broadcast live from London Olympic Stadium in the Olympic Park, included a green and pleasant land that was transformed into a landscape of towering industrial chimneys, and dancing NHS nurses and characters from Britain’s rich tradition of children’s’ literature: J.K. Rowling even made an appearance as a storyteller. The music of The Beatles featured prominently, with Arctic Monkeys covering ‘Come Together’ (they also performed their debut single ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’) and Sir Paul McCartney closing the show with the na-na-na singalong anthem ‘Hey Jude’, for which he was paid £1.

Comedic highlights of the evening included references to iconic British cinema institutions which are recognised worldwide. Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean sat in with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, for a performance of Vangelis’ pulsating instrumental theme from the Best Picture Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire (1981), with Bean desperately trying to sustain a single syncopated synthesizer note throughout the entire piece and then dropping off and dreaming that he was running along West Sands, St Andrews with the athletes, in the film’s most famous scene.

Friday 27 July was also a big day for James Bond fans. As part of the spectacular opening ceremony, a specially commissioned BBC film Happy and Glorious had James Bond (Daniel Craig) arriving at Buckingham Palace by taxi and collecting the Queen. They travel across London by helicopter (to the strains of Eric Coates’ ‘The Dambusters March’), before apparently skydiving into the Olympic Stadium on Union Jack parachutes, like the opening sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me (to Monty Norman’s ‘James Bond Theme’). The Queen and Prince Phillip then made their entrances to the stadium and look their places, to watch the rest of the ceremony, including the parade of the international athletes. It was a wonderfully orchestrated gag and the highlight of the proceedings. The Queen’s jump was actually performed by stuntman Gary Churchill, dressed as the Queen.

Earlier on Friday, the official James Bond site had broken the world exclusive news that Taschen are to publish an official EON approved book to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the James Bond films in November, to follow the release of the new Bond film, Skyfall.

007: The James Bond Archives, a 600 page book in hardback format with over 1100 images, was edited by Taschen’s film editor Paul Duncan and has taken over two years to research and produce. There’s an interview with Paul on the 007 site, where he explains the exclusive access he has had to the EON archives and the wealth of material he has sifted through to make this the definitive story of the series. The full interview can be seen here:

The book covers all the official James Bond films, from Dr No to Skyfall, and also the unofficial films Casino Royale (1967) and the 1983 remake of Thunderball, Never Say Never Again. I’m particularly pleased to announce its publication, as part of the team of writers who created this exciting project I have authored four chapters of the book.

It is available for pre-order from Taschen and the first printing also includes an original strip of film from Dr No.
Read more at:

I also covered the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), my favourite of the 007 series, in depth in my 2006 I.B. Tauris Filmgoers’ Guide Crime Wave: The Filmgoers’ Guide to the Great Crime Movies which is still available from Amazon.



Following on from my Top 20 classic Italian films discussed in previous posts, while I was writing Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult, I also compiled a ‘Top 20 cult movies’, which are more offbeat and well worth tracking down. Some of these are pretty rare, but over the next few posts I’ll describe where, if possible, to find them.

The Trojan War (Giorgio Ferroni, 1961)
Billed as a Steve Reeves vehicle, this recreation of the battle for Troy, via Homer’s myth, is one of the top Italian sword and sandal spectaculars, with large sets, a great score by Giovanni Fusco and a memorable supporting cast – Hedy Vessel makes the screen’s most beautiful Helen and Drew Barrymore’s father John Drew Barrymore played crafty Ulysses. It was shot in Italy and Yugoslavia and deploys hundreds of extras for its impressive battle scenes. Reeves plays Trojan hero Aeneas, who survives the sacking of the city and heads off to found Rome in the sequel, The Last Glory of Troy (1962, aka War of the Trojans).

The Trojan War is available under its US retitling The Trojan Horse, in the boxed set The Adventures of Hercules. This 7-film set also includes The Loves of Hercules (Hercules vs the Hydra) with Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay, Hercules Against the Sons of the Sun, Hercules Versus Moloch, The Lion of Thebes, The Triumph of Hercules and the entertaining Perseus the Invincible under the title The Medusa Against the Son of Hercules. All are panned-and-scanned prints, but are clear, in English (with optional English subtitles) and are far above the usual public domain pepla releases. As it says on the box, ‘a must-have for every collector’.
Buy it in the UK
and US

Maciste in Hell (Riccardo Freda, 1962)
Kirk Morris plays mythological muscleman Maciste, who arrives in 17th century Scotland during a witch trial and travels into the bowels of the Earth to lift a centuries’ old curse. Hellish in its depiction of Hell (and with some hellish acting to boot), this one divides peplum fans – some rate it, some hate it. The vivid Hell scenes, with fires, torments and the writhing Damned, were staged in the grottoes of Castellana in the Apulia region of Italy, which are still open to the public today.
Maciste in Hell is available on Region 1 DVD in a barely-viewable print, under its alternative title, The Witch’s Curse in the UK
and US

A better print is on the better value double-disk, with a great widescreen print of Hercules against the Moon Men.

Sons of Thunder (Duccio Tessari, 1962)
Former stuntman Giuliano Gemma’s first starring role, this peplum send-up was filmed on picturesque locations in Italy and Spain and is a tour-de-force from former scriptwriter Tessari. He later worked regularly with Gemma in a variety of genres, most notably on the Ringo westerns, A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo (the latter was a reworking of Homer’s Odyssey in a post-American Civil War setting). Though it has been shown on TV in some territories with English subtitles, Sons of Thunder remains an obscure film. One of the best mythological epics ever made, its unavailability on DVD in an English-friendly release is mystifying.
You can currently see the entire film, in Italian, here

The Castle of the Living Dead (Warren Kiefer, 1964)
This cult Gothic horror about a troupe of travelling players trapped in a lunatic’s castle is celebrated for several reasons. It was co-directed by Michael Reeves, who later made Matthew Hopkins – Witchfinder General/The Conqueror Worm, before his untimely death in 1969. It stars Christopher Lee in one of his best Italian vehicles and Donald Sutherland in his film debut in not one, but two, roles. Sutherland plays a policeman investigating Count Drago (Lee) and his experiments in the atmospheric castle, and also appears heavily disguised as an old hag who talks in rhymes and warns travellers to avoid the count: ‘Some will live and some will die, before tomorrow’s sun is high’.

It has been released in the UK in 2012 by Odeon Entertainment in a very good print, in English.
In a bizarre link, Parco Di Mostri (Park of the Monsters), the eerie location used as Castle Drago’s grounds which is filled with unusual statues, is also featured in the BBC TV programme Monty Don’s Italian Gardens
, a series which visits several locations used in Italian cinema, including Villa Borghese in Rome.

Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964)
Bava’s contemporary horror film lays the foundations for what later became ‘giallo’ psycho-thrillers, with a maniac knocking off models in a chic fashion house. It’s really just a colourful Krimi, but one made with imagination and a superb eye for visuals. Cameron Mitchell and Eva Bartok are the nominal stars, but the film’s real attraction is Bava’s camerawork. Carlo Rustichelli’s percussive jazz score is his best and is available on CD
The film was heavily cut for its original English language release, and video and DVD releases have been variable. Of the two UK videotape releases I’ve seen, one is the cut version, the other uncut. This one is uncut

It’s also available on DVD on Region 1 in the UK
and US