Monthly Archives: September 2014

ONCE UPON A TIME

My first book for I.B. Tauris was published in the UK 10 years ago today. ‘Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers’ Guide to Spaghetti Westerns’ was the first of what has become a series of volumes looking at genres through ‘great’ (or at least, in my opinion, very good) films.

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I began writing the book in the late 1990s, as a project that would discuss 20 key spaghetti western films. This format hadn’t been done before for spaghettis and I thought it was an interesting way of approaching the subject, as the 20 films acted as a ‘narrative’, telling the story of the genre’s development from the early days of ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ to the ‘end of the west’ western ‘My Name is Nobody’. It was the first book I had ever tried to write, outside of individual films reviews. But by starting with a defined structure – 20 films, in chronological order – it was easy to be aware of the ‘shape’ of the book from an early stage. The working title at this time was ‘The Good, The Bad: Once Upon a Time in the Italian West’. This was in the age before DVDs and all the films discussed were only available on videotape – and sometimes only in English language versions cut, dubbed or with Greek or Dutch subtitles.

While I was writing it, I had a book commissioned by Paul Duncan at ‘Pocket Essentials’, also about spaghetti westerns. I wrote this – a look at 33 key spaghettis – over four months in late 2000 and it was published in paperback in May 2001. It ran about 36,000 words and was text only. The book sold well and is now out-of-print. It was subsequently reissued in a slightly expanded version – 40,000 words, with a colour section of posters – by Kamera Books in 2010 and is still available. The first version has ratings for each film discussed. The second version only has ratings for films mentioned in the appendix. I added reviews for ‘Adios Sabata’, ‘Today it’s Me…Tomorrow You!’ and ‘Cemetery Without Crosses’ to the Kamera edition and completely updated the resource section on books, websites and DVDs. Technology has changed a lot since 2001. By 2010, DVDs of most of the main spaghetti westerns had been released – though some key titles were still absent. In 2014 all the films discussed in my book are out, often in ‘special editions’, on DVD and several on Blu-ray. 41fn0R8sh6L[1]

Immediately after my ‘Pocket Essential Guide to Spaghetti Westerns’, I had another ‘Pocket Essential’ book published – a history guide to ‘The American Indian Wars’, which was issued in September 2001 (this is out-of-print now too). After that I began approaching publishers with an outline and two complete chapters of my spaghetti westerns project. Philippa Brewster, editor for visual culture at I.B. Tauris, expressed an interest in the book and commissioned it. Tauris had already had success with a reprint of Christopher Frayling’s seminal ‘Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone’. Tauris came up with the ‘Filmgoers’ Guide’ subtitle and we ditched ‘The Good, the Bad’ and the project became known as ‘Once Upon a Time in the West: The Filmgoers Guide to Spaghetti Westerns’. The original text ran to about 150,000, but after rigorous editing, the published version is around 110,000. The book was published in hardback today in 2004. The dust jacket was designed by Chris Bromley Design and featured Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, blue sky and the Almeria desert. The book was well received – garnering several positive reviews, including in ‘The Times’, ‘Empire’ and an endorsement from Sir Christopher Frayling – and was published in a paperback edition in 2006. Howard Hughes - Kindle

The Filmgoers’ Guide format – pick a bunch of great films that tell the story of a genre – has served me well. I followed ‘Once Upon a Time in the Italian West’ with ‘Crime Wave: The Filmgoers’ Guide to the Great Crime Movies’ in May 2006. This was published in collaboration with movie channel TCM and was released to accompany the channel’s ‘Crime Wave’ thriller season that July. In 2008 ‘Stagecoach to Tombstone: The Filmgoers’ Guide to the Great Westerns’ was published. I think this is my personal favourite of the series so far. I like the way the title mentions the two films that bookend the narrative and it’s had by far my best feedback from readers. For ‘When Eagles Dared: The Filmgoers’ History of World War II’ in 2011 the format was altered slightly – I still look at key films from the genre, in this case war films, but they are discussed in the chronological order of the historical events featured in each film, rather than in theatre release order. The latest edition to the series in April 2014 is ‘Outer Limits: The Filmgoers’ Guide to the Great Science-Fiction Films’. This looks at films from silent classic ‘Metropolis’ to 3D blockbuster ‘Avatar’. There will be more Filmgoers’ Guides to come in the future, but today the series is a decade old.

Here’s a rundown of the films I’ve covered in the FILMGOERS’ GUIDES so far:

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE ITALIAN WEST A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, A PISTOL FOR RINGO, THE RETURN OF RINGO, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, DJANGO, THE HILLS RUN RED, NAVAJO JOE, THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL, DJANGO KILL!, THE HELLBENDERS, THE BIG GUNDOWN, DEATH RIDES A HORSE, FACE TO FACE, DAY OF ANGER, THE BIG SILENCE, A PROFESSIONAL GUN, SABATA, THEY CALL ME TRINITY, MY NAME IS NOBODY

CRIME WAVE THE PUBLIC ENEMY, HIGH SIERRA, THE MALTESE FALCON, WHITE HEAT, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, KISS ME DEADLY, THE BIG COMBO, POINT BLANK, BONNIE AND CLYDE, ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, GET CARTER, SHAFT, DIRTY HARRY, THE GODFATHER, CHINATOWN, THE GODFATHER PART II, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, LETHAL WEAPON, GOODFELLAS, PULP FICTION, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, OCEAN’S ELEVEN

STAGECOACH TO TOMBSTONE STAGECOACH, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, RED RIVER, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, HIGH NOON, SHANE, JOHNNY GUITAR, VERA CRUZ, THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, THE SEARCHERS, GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL, FORTY GUNS, RIDE LONESOME, RIO BRAVO, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, ONE-EYED JACKS, RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF!, THE WILD BUNCH, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, McCABE & MRS MILLER, ULZANA’S RAID, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, UNFORGIVEN, TOMBSTONE

WHEN EAGLES DARED DUNKIRK, BATTLE OF BRITAIN, SINK THE BISMARCK!, TORA! TORA! TORA!, DAS BOOT, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, THE BATTLE OF EL ALAMEIN, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, STALINGRAD, ANZIO, THE DIRTY DOZEN, WHERE EAGLES DARE, THE LONGEST DAY, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, A BRIDGE TOO FAR, SANDS OF IWO JIMA, BATTLE OF THE BULGE

OUTER LIMITS METROPOLIS, WAR OF THE WORLDS, GOJIRA, TARANTULA, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, FORBIDDEN PLANET, THE TIME MACHINE, PLANET OF THE APES, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, BARBARELLA, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, ALIEN, MAD MAX 2, BLADE RUNNER, THE THING, BACK TO THE FUTURE, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, APOLLO 13, INDEPENDENCE DAY, THE MATRIX, GALAXY QUEST, MINORITY REPORT, STAR TREK, AVATAR

All five Filmgoers’ Guides are available directly from I.B. Tauris, from booksellers and online, in hardback, paperback and ebook.

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MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: THE OAKMONT STORY

In the last six issues of film magazine CINEMA RETRO, I’ve been writing a series titled MISSION ACCOMPLISHED about Oakmont Films’ series of World War II B-movies from the late 1960s/early ‘70s. Previous features have looked at ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST, MOSQUITO SQUADRON, SUBMARINE X-1, THE THOUSAND PLANE RAID and THE LAST ESCAPE.

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The latest issue of CINEMA RETRO, #30, looks at the last film in the series, 1970’s action-packed HELL BOATS, which was set (and filmed) in the Mediterranean. HELL BOATS is mainly set on Malta, which was an Allied stronghold and the island was fiercely fought over during World War II. In recognition of the resolute Maltese defence, King George VI awarded the island the George Cross for bravery in 1942. HELL BOATS depicts the sea war and commando action on Malta and Sicily, and pitted German E-boats against the Allies’ speedy Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs). Set in 1942, HELL BOATS has Lt Commander Tom Jeffords transferred to Valletta on Malta. There he’s assigned to plan an attack on a well-fortified former Italian submarine base at Augusta on Sicily. Augusta’s submarine pens are now being used by the Germans to store radio-controlled glider bombs. Jeffords must get his men and his MTBs in close enough to destroy the weapons dump – he decides on stealing an E-boat and entering the harbour disguised as Germans. Matters are further complicated when Jeffords begins an affair Alison Ashurst, the wife of Jeffords’ commanding officer.

German E-boat

HELL BOATS was directed by Paul Wendkos, who had also worked in the same capacity on Oakmont’s ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST. The film stars James Franciscus as Tom Jeffords, Elizabeth Shepherd as Alison and Ronald Allen as Jeffords’ love rival and superior officer Roger Ashurst. The actors’ performances are good, with this central trio enacting the love triangle romance of two officers in love with the same woman, the clichéd feature of so many World War II movies. You can’t beat a good location and artful cinematography to give a film a lift and HELL BOATS has both. This Oakmont production was filmed in its entirety in Malta, including Fort Manoel in Marsamxett Harbour (see below).

Fort Manoel

Other Maltese locations, including ruins, a harbour, a railway bridge and a village were used for a Sicilian cove, the fishermen’s village and the submarine base at Augusta. The scene where Jeffords first meets Alison was filmed on the Delimara Peninsula, on the southern tip of Malta. The Mediterranean magnificence as a backdrop to Tom and Alison’s dalliance is perfect and the romantic scenes are well played, on beaches or overlooking the harbour, in appealingly photogenic Maltese tourist board tableau. If the Oakmonts are of their time, with the glossy aesthetics of late-1960s cinema sometimes at odds with the serious, occasionally tragic, subject matter, they survive today as entertaining B-movies.

The titles of the six-part CINEMA RETRO series and their issue numbers are:
Issue #25 STEADY AS SHE GOES: BOY’S OWN ADVENTURE IN ‘ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST’
Issue #26 BOMBS AWAY! THE WOODEN WONDERS OF ‘MOSQUITO SQUADRON’
Issue #27 LOCH AND LOAD: SUB-AQUA XCAPADES ABOARD ‘SUBMARINE X-1’
Issue #28 DEATH FROM ABOVE: TAKING THE FLAK ON ‘THE THOUSAND PLANE RAID’
Issue #29 BOOM BOOM! A BRUSH WITH DANGER IN ‘THE LAST ESCAPE’
Issue #30 HEAD ON, DEAD CENTRE! DAMN THE TORPEDOES WITH ‘HELL BOATS’

Back issues can be ordered here from eBay:
http://stores.ebay.com/SPY-GUISE-INC-AND-CINEMA-RETRO/CINEMA-RETRO-MAGAZINE-/_i.html?_fsub=1017344&_sid=2869494&_trksid=p4634.c0.m322

By coincidence, UK DVD company 101 Films is releasing SUBMARINE X-1, THE THOUSAND PLANE RAID and ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST on DVD as part of ‘The War Collection’, which also includes PLAY DIRTY and the rarity HORNETS’ NEST.
SUBMARINE X-1 is out on Monday 8 September 2014, with more to follow in October and November. The DVDs are Region 2.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Submarine-X-1-DVD-James-Caan/dp/B00IYTT4SS/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1409846402&sr=1-1&keywords=submarine+x-1