Category Archives: Sci-fi

2015: THE YEAR IN-STORE

Some exciting new projects to announce for 2015. Arrow Films has recently revealed that it will soon be releasing two important Euro-cult classics – Tonino Valerii’s spaghetti western DAY OF ANGER (1967) and Mario Bava’s giallo thriller BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964).

Day of Anger

Both films are being released in Blu-ray and DVD combo releases, with BLOOD AND BLACK LACE also being issued as a steelbook Blu-ray edition. The editions include both the English language and Italian language versions of the films, and are packed with extras including documentaries, alternative version and interviews. I’m pleased to say that I’ve contributed booklet essays to both releases.

BABL1

All the disks are being released almost simultaneously in the UK and US. DAY OF ANGER comes out in the UK on 30 March, with BLOOD AND BLACK LACE out on 13 April. In America, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE is out on 14 April and DAY OF ANGER will be out on 31 March. Titles are available to pre-order now – from Amazon or directly from Arrow Films.

As a follow-on from my 2013 e-book MARIO BAVA: DESTINATION TERROR (see earlier post), I’m currently working on a new book for I.B. Tauris. TERROR EATS THE SOUL: THE SPINE-TINGLING GUIDE TO EURO-HORROR will be published in paperback in 2016. It will look at all aspects of Euro-horror cinema, from Hammer Horrors and German Krimis, to gothics, zombies, vampires, werewolves and gialli.

RETRO450[1]

I’ve also started writing a new series for CINEMA RETRO magazine on Raquel Welch’s three big-screen western outings. WELCH OUT WEST will be running across the next three issues of the magazine, which is the whole of RETRO’s 2015 season 11. The first part, in issue #31, is “NO NOOSE IS GOOD NOOSE”, which looks at BANDOLERO! (1968) co-starring James Stewart and Dean Martin. The two follow-up parts examine the shot-in-Spain westerns 100 RIFLES (1969) and HANNIE CAULDER (1971).

Welch_bandolero2

[above: publicity still of Raquel Welch on location in Utah for ‘Bandolero!’]

Issue #31 includes my article on the quartet of Italian science-fiction movies made by director Antonio Margheriti and set on space station GAMMA ONE. These lively, colourfully weird cult movies include THE WILD WILD PLANET, WAR OF THE PLANETS, WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS and THE SNOW DEVILS. The Moon may not be made from cheese, but these films certainly are.

POSTER - WILD, WILD PLANET

The issue also includes:

• A tribute to Pam Grier, the “First Lady” of kick-ass cinema • Exclusive interview with film preservationist Charles Cohen of the Cohen Film Collection • “Film in Focus” article dedicated to that great 1970’s film noir flick “Farewell My Lovely” with Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe • Celebrating the life and career of director Ted Post (“Hang ‘Em High”, “The Harrad Experiment”, “Magnum Force”, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes”) • “James Bond’s Portugal” – some of the key OHMSS locations then and now. • Reliving the wonders of VistaVision • “The New Avengers” at Pinewood Studios • Richard Burton and Rex Harrison as gay lovers in the forgotten gem “Staircase” Plus: “Bite the Bullet”, Hammer star Olinka Berova, “Mark of the Devil”, Raymond Benson’s Ten Best Films of 1950, Joe Namath as “The Last Rebel”, all the latest DVD, film book and soundtrack reviews.

Issue #31 is now available and can be ordered from CINEMA RETRO directly. http://www.cinemaretro.com/index.php?/categories/21-Subscribe-to-Cinema-Retro%21

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NEW BOOK RELEASE

 

Outer_Limits

I’ve not posted any articles or news up here for a while, mainly due to work, business and general busyness, as 2014 has turned into a rather hectic year. The new issue of ‘Cinema Retro’ (Issue #29) continues my ongoing series looking at Oakmont Productions’ World War II movies, with the rarity ‘The Last Escape’, starring Stuart Whitman and Pinkas Braun. The next issue will feature the sixth and final part of the series, with an in-depth look at my favourite of the ‘Oakmonts’, the Mediterranean-set ‘Hell Boats’, starring James Franciscus and Elizabeth Shepherd.

Issue #29 is on sale now via the usual outlets, including Ebay and Amazon, and also includes my reviews of the new Lee Van Cleef Blu-ray/DVD combos from Explosive Media, ‘Sabata’ and ‘Death Rides a Horse’.

There’s a full description and ordering details here
http://www.cinemaretro.com/index.php?/categories/21-Subscribe-to-Cinema-Retro%21

I’ve also been working on a project for Taschen, which will be published in the fall, and on ongoing projects including a new spaghetti western film guide. I travelled to Paris in February to see Ennio Morricone’s live concert in Bercy, the second night of his ‘My Life in Music’ tour (more of which in a future post, it was a great concert) and attended Sir Christopher Frayling’s presentation of the spaghetti western classic ‘For a Few Dollars More’ as part of the Bradford International Film Festival 2014 in April, which was superb to see on the big screen at Pictureville, with a large crowd in attendance.

Here’s Ennio Morricone conducting Jill’s theme from ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ in the Palais Omnisports, Bercy, 4 February, 2014, with Susanna Rigacci (soprano) and the Budapest Modern Art Orchestra.

This month sees the publication of my new Filmgoers Guide, ‘Outer Limits’, the fifth in the series after ‘Crime Wave’, ‘Once Upon a Time in the Italian West’, ‘Stagecoach to Tombstone’ and ‘When Eagles Dared’.

OUTER LIMITS: THE FILMGOERS’ GUIDE TO THE GREAT SCIENCE-FICTION FILMS PUBLISHED BY I.B. TAURIS

THE INDISPENSABLE GUIDE TO SCI-FI CINEMA

HOWARD HUGHES’S FILMGOERS’ GUIDE TO SCIENCE-FICTION FILMS DELVES DEEP INTO THE LANDMARK MOVIES OF THIS EVER-POPULAR GENRE, FROM METROPOLIS TO AVATAR AND BEYOND, AND COVERS OVER 300 MORE.

Outer Limits explores science-fiction cinema through 26 great films, from the silent classic Metropolis to today. It reviews the galaxy of stars and directors who have created some of the most popular films of all time, including George Lucas’s ‘Star Wars’ films, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Minority Report, James Cameron’s ‘Terminator’ films and Ridley Scott’s milestones Alien and Blade Runner. It also discusses everything from A-listers 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes, to Japanese monster movies, 1950s B-movies, creature features and cult favourites, depicting time travel, distant planets or alien invasions. Films featured include The War of the Worlds, Independence Day, Tarantula, Godzilla, The Thing, Forbidden Planet, Barbarella, Galaxy Quest, Mad Max 2, Back to the Future, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Star Trek, Apollo 13, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Matrix and many more.

As well as covering acknowledged science-fiction classics, Outer Limits takes diversions into B-movies, looking at everything from Fiend without a Face and IT! The Terror from beyond Space, to Roger Corman’s Not of This Earth and It Conquered the World. There’s colourful, vibrant sci-fi movies from Japan (Invasion of the Astro-Monsters, Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People and Destroy All Monsters) and Italy (Planet of the Vampires and The Wild, Wild Planet), and the bleak, corrosive, monochrome British sci-fi of These Are the Damned and Quatermass 2. Other cult delights covered include I Married a Monster from Outer Space, Android, Trancers, Alien Contamination, Westworld, Goke – Bodysnatcher from Hell, The Creeping Terror, invasion of the Saucer Men, Teenagers from Outer Space, The Giant Claw and The Green Slime. Illustrated with original posters, Outer Limits is an informative, entertaining tour of the sci-fi universe.

invasion_of_saucer_men

For my Top Five underrated sci-fi films that may have passed under your radar, click here to read the I.B. Tauris blog:http://theibtaurisblog.com/2014/06/03/under-the-radar-hidden-gems-of-sci-fi-cinema/

‘Outer Limits: The Filmgoers Guide to the Great Science-Fiction Films’ published by I.B. Tauris is available from Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Guardian Bookshop and many other outlets. It is out now in the UK and is published on 24 June 2014 in the US.

It is available in-store across the UK at all branches of Waterstones.

‘Outer Limits’ is also available as an e-book.

CLICK HERE TO PREORDER FROM AMAZON USA

http://www.amazon.com/Outer-Limits-Filmgoers-Guide-Science-Fiction/dp/178076166X/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400594426&sr=1-4&keywords=outer+limits

CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON UK

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Outer-Limits-Filmgoers-Guide-Science-fiction/dp/178076166X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400594484&sr=1-1&keywords=outer+limits

 

 

ROMADROME 2

This week I take a look at more films I’ve covered in detail in my book ‘Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult’. The first five Italian cult movies I recommended as essential were ‘The Trojan War’, ‘Maciste in Hell’, ‘Sons of Thunder’, ‘Blood and Black Lace’ and ‘The Castle of the Living Dead’. Here are five more essentials no collection should be without.

The Last Man on Earth (Salkow/Ragona, 1964)
This Italian-US co-production starred Vincent Price as Dr Robert Morgan, the lone survivor of a worldwide plague. Apparently immune, he lives in his barricaded house by night, as hordes of vampirised undead attack his stronghold. During the day Morgan travels the city in his hearse-like station wagon, staking the vampires and throwing their bodies in a perpetually burning mass grave, the Pit. This is an ultra-bleak adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel ‘I Am Legend’. It was shot on location in Rome, including the steps of the grand Palazzo Della Civilta and the distinctive mushroom tower of Il Fungo, in the E.U.R. district. The shambling vampires resemble zombies and some scenes look to have inspired George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968).

The old AIP TV print of this is available in many multi-movie sets, such as Mill Creek’s 50 movie ‘Horror Classics’ pack, but to see it in 2.35:1 Alpha Video put out a pretty good letterboxed edition
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Man-Earth-Region-NTSC/dp/B0002HODU4/ref=sr_1_15?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1354122299&sr=1-15

Cornerstone Media release
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Man-Earth-DVD/dp/B000YNS2US/ref=sr_1_5?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1354122114&sr=1-5

It’s also available in a colourised version
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Earth-Digitally-remastered-colour/dp/B002DFE0E2/ref=sr_1_3?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1354122114&sr=1-3

The Wild Wild Planet (Antonio Margheriti, 1966)
Even including Mario Bava’s ‘Planet of the Vampires’ (1965), this is my favourite Italian sci-fi movie. In fact, ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ is a combination of futuristic crime film, horror and fantasy. On space station Gamma One, Commander Halstead is suspicious of the macabre experiments in organ miniaturisation by Professor Nurmi (Massimo Serato). On Earth, people are disappearing mysteriously. When Mike’s girlfriend, Lieutenant Connie Gomez (Lisa Gastoni), accepts Nurmi’s offer to take a vacation on Delphos at Nurmi’s research facility, Mike ends up amid some of the wackiest footage in the sci-fi genre. The supporting cast includes Carlo Giustini, Franco Ressel, Goffredo Unger and a young Franco Nero. The kidnappings are perpetrated by Nurmi’s karate-kicking, robotic women who are accompanied by inflatable henchmen – mysterious anaemic bald zombies, wearing caps, shades and long grey macs – and the finale sees the Delphos space station flooded with blood plasma.

The very good news is that the Warner Archive has released this film on DVD
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wild-Planet-DVD-Region-NTSC/dp/B0049IHWT6/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1354122343&sr=1-1

The film’s prequel ‘War of the Planets’ and another of Margheriti’s sci-fi movies, ‘The Snow Devils’, are also available
http://www.amazon.co.uk/War-Planets-DVD-Region-NTSC/dp/B0049IHX36/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1354122382&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Snow-Devils-DVD-Region-NTSC/dp/B005OT829S/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1354122414&sr=1-1

Django (Sergio Corbucci, 1966)
Like ‘A Fistful of Dollars’, this was another in a long line of spaghettis that used Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Yojimbo’ as inspiration, Corbucci’s ‘Django’ was as influential in Italy as Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy. Franco Nero played gunrunner Django, who drags an example of his wares around with him in a coffin. This violent, muddy anti-western has inspired many ‘Django’ movies, from 1966 through to Quentin Tarantino’s forthcoming western ‘Django Unchained’. In Corbucci’s original, Django mows down the vermin of a ramshackle frontier town teetering on the brink of collapse – the two warring gangs here are red-hooded Confederate zealots and Mexican would-be revolutionaries. A great spaghetti western, however the English dubbing is appalling. Try and track down the Italian language version, with English subtitles from BU
http://www.amazon.com/Django-Franco-Nero/dp/B000PC6Z48/ref=pd_vtp_b_34

This is the English dubbed release from Argent
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Django-DVD-Franco-Nero/dp/B0002VF4OY/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1354122773&sr=1-1

Argent are also re-releasing it in the UK on Blu-ray in January 2013. No word on extras, options etc yet. Let’s hope it has an Italian with English translated subs version
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Django-Blu-ray-Franco-Nero/dp/B009ZWJSLG/ref=sr_1_2?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1354122773&sr=1-2

Special Mission Lady Chaplin (Alberto De Martino, 1966)
Ken Clark played Dick Malloy – C.I.A. Agent 077 – in three entertaining spy movies aping the James Bond films, of which this is the best. The other two are ‘Mission Bloody Mary’ (1965) and ‘From the Orient With Fury’ (1965 – rather than ‘From Russia With Love’). ‘Lady Chaplin’ was directed by De Martino, but has action sequences staged by Giorgio Ubaldi (later of the ‘Trinity’ films) and future director Enzo G. Castellari. Malloy’s on the trail of 16 Polaris nuclear missiles which have been stolen from the wreck of USS Thresher, an atomic submarine. In Spain Malloy investigates wealthy salvager Ken ‘Kobre’ Zoltan (Jacques Bergerac) and encounters sexy French assassin Lady Arabella Chaplin (Daniela Bianchi, from ‘From Russia With Love’). Arabella, a master of disguise, is introduced as a machinegun-toting nun, shooting it out with two industrial spies (posing as monks). Her partner-in-crime is Constance Day (‘Evelyn Stewart’/Ida Galli), until she falls for Malloy’s invisible charms and works as a double agent, scuppering Zoltan’s scheme. This globetrotting instalment was filmed on location in Spain, the UK, the US and France. Bruno Nicolai’s soundtrack is a brassy spy score, and the dramatic title song ‘Lady Chaplin’ is sung by Bobby Solo, who is presumably U.N.C.L.E. agent Napoleon’s brother.

Previously available on DVD from Dorado Films, this seems to be currently unavailable
http://www.amazon.com/Special-Mission-Lady-Chaplin/dp/B000JEPUB6/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1354123097&sr=1-1&keywords=special+mission+lady+chaplin

Django Kill! (If You Live Shoot!) (Giulio Questi, 1967)
Made under the shooting title ‘Oro Hondo’, Questi’s ‘Se Sei Vivo, Spara!’ (‘‘If You Live, Shoot!’) was retitled ‘Django, Kill! (If You Live Shoot!)’ for international release. Tomas Milian’s stranger in town is nameless in the English language print. This is another ‘Yojimbo’ reworking, but this time things get stranger and stranger for the stranger. He is double-crossed by his gringo robber friends, then finds himself in a vicious frontier town (the same Spanish town set used as Fistful’s San Miguel) where he is pitted against a band of sadistic rancheros led by landowner Zorro (Roberto Camardiel) and the lynch-simple yokels, led by religious zealot Hagerman (Paco Sanz) and saloonkeeper Tembler (Milo Quesada), for ownership of a cache of stolen gold. The film ends up veering from a spaghetti western and into the gothic territories of Bava and Poe, as the tragedy culminates in a ‘Fall of the House of Hagerman’ finale, when a house burns to the ground. The fully restored version of ‘Django, Kill!’ (rated 15 in the UK) runs 112 minutes and includes much more violence and plot, but my favourite version of this film is the long-deleted UK home video version, which races along at a pacy 94-minutes and was distributed in UK cinemas by Golden Era in 1969.

This is the 112 minute version, in a very fine 2.35:1 ratio print
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Django-Kill-DVD-Tomas-Milian/dp/B000646798/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1354123405&sr=1-1

NO SENSE OF YUMA

This week it’s a case of Who goes where? I haven’t watched BBC’s ‘Doctor Who’ TV series since the departure of the Doctor’s ninth incarnation Christopher Ecclestone in 2005, but this week’s episode was of interest. It was a western-set story that according to the promo feature in TV magazine ‘Radio Times’ was filmed at Fort Bravo in Almeria, where many spaghetti westerns have been made.

The episode, ‘A Town Called Mercy’ by Toby Whitehouse, was passable B-movie sci-fi. The Doctor (Matt Smith) and his two compañeros Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) are en route to the ‘Day of the Death’ festival in Mexico, when they are waylaid in the desert town of Mercy. The settlement is under siege from a cyborg, The Gunslinger (Andrew Brooke), which is aiming to kill its creator, Kahler-Jex (Adrian Scarborough). I fell asleep in the middle, so can’t elaborate on the plot, but the finale had the Doctor facing The Gunslinger in the main street for a showdown at high noon. Arthur Darvill was given little to do as Rory, while Gillan for the most part looked like she wished she was somewhere else, which fitted the role and her character’s predicament perfectly. Byrd Wilkins was good as the town Preacher and Scarborough was too, as the cyborg’s ‘father’. The cyborg itself was a memorable creation – a B-movie mash-up of the Man With No Name, Django and the Terminator, in a poncho, bandoliers and with a laser cannon for an arm, as though Django’s machine gun has morphed into him. One of its eyes was Terminator-style robotics and given that its creator is called Jex perhaps that makes his creation One-Eyed Jex.

Western sci-fi is notoriously difficult to pull off. When it’s done successfully – as in the third ‘Back to the Future’ film, or ‘Westworld’ – it can work really well. For the reverse, see the hilarity that ensued when singing cowboy Gene Autry encountered the ancient subterranean civilisation of Murania in ‘The Phantom Empire’ (aka ‘Radio Ranch’). Doctor Who has been west before, in the 1966 four-part ‘The Gunfighters’ story. This was back when William Hartnell was the Doctor and his companions were Jackie Lane and Peter Purves. On TV, ‘The Prisoner’ had Number Six ending up as a sheriff in the episode ‘Living in Harmony’ and ‘Star Trek’ had the Enterprise’s crew at the Gunfight at O.K Corral in ‘Spectre of the Gun’. There have also been western-themed episodes of ‘The Twilight Zone’ (including the famous ‘The Seventh is Made up of Phantoms’), ‘The Time Tunnel’ and many others. The most recent sci-fi/western ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ (2011) starred two great action heroes: Indiana Jones himself Harrison Ford and James Bond incumbent Daniel Craig. In the entertaining US TV movie ‘Time Stalkers’ (1987), professor of history and wild west expert Dr Scott McKenzie (William Devane) buys a job-lot of wild west ephemera at auction and finds a tintype photograph from 1886 of three dead outlaws on display in their coffins. The time-traveling mystery begins when he spots Klaus Kinski in the background of the photograph holding a .357 Magnum of 1980 vintage.

Despite its great western settings in Almeria, ‘A Town Called Mercy’ didn’t really capture the period and felt nothing less than a bunch of actors in costume on a western set in Spain. Disbelief was not suspended. The episode was shot at both Fort Bravo and Mini Hollywood. Fort Bravo is better known as Texas Hollywood and was built by Alberto Grimaldi for the Lee Van Cleef spaghetti western ‘Death Rides a Horse’ in 1967. According to the ‘Radio Times’ account of the ‘Doctor Who’ filming: ‘As Adrian Scarborough takes a break from filming his guest role to put on some sun cream, the arch he’s standing under is the one where Henry Fonda hangs Charles Bronson’s brother in ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’.’ This seems highly unlikely, as Sergio Leone filmed this scene in the USA, near Monument Valley, and the arch collapsed years ago. Texas Hollywood has appeared in many shot-in-Spain westerns, including Blindman and several Charles Bronson movies.

Mini Hollywood is the better-known set and was used for more prestigious productions. Originally known as Yucca City, it was built in 1965 for Leone’s ‘For a Few Dollars More’. It was used as Santa Fe and Santa Ana in ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and also appeared in such films as ‘Navajo Joe’, ‘For the Taste of Killing’ and ‘Hannie Caulder’. It’s now known as ‘Oasys (Mini Hollywood)’ and thanks to the Spanish tourist industry, it looks like it will live forever. In 1968 Leone built another set in Almeria to make his fourth western, ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, beside the railroad at La Calahorra. It was also used as the main set in ‘The Price of Power’ and ‘My Name is Nobody’, but in contrast to its predecessors, it has since fallen into ruinous disrepair and near dereliction.

Both Texas Hollywood and Mini Hollywood are tourist attractions that are still open today to day trippers. The Fort Bravo/Texas Hollywood website is www.fortbravo.es. Many of the Almerian western locations are featured on this excellent Japanese spaghetti western locations website: http://y-yasuda.net/

Read more about the westerns made at Mini Hollywood, Texas Hollywood and La Calahorra in my books ‘Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: the Filmgoer’s Guide to Spaghetti Westerns’ and ‘Stagecoach to Tombstone: the Filmgoers’ Guide to the Great Westerns’, both published by I.B. Tauris.

Every Gun Makes Its Own Tune

Hans Shot First

Coming soon in 3D, the ‘Star Wars’ movies are set for release in cinemas once again, with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace due to be unleashed in February 2012.

Researching the chapter on the ‘Star Wars’ phenomenon for my forthcoming sci-fi book Outer Limits, I spent an entertaining weekend before Christmas watching all six of the ‘Star Wars’ films, in chronological order: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  [The Clone Wars fills in the gaps between Attack and Revenge, but as an animated feature it doesn’t count as part of the official series]

As a set of films, the sextet tells a far-ranging saga. The special effects are dazzling, but there’s a gulf in the storytelling between the first three films as released (New Hope, Empire and Jedi) which tell Luke Skywalker’s fight against the Empire – and the second three, which are prequels that depict Luke’s father Anakin’s journey to the ‘dark side’ in much simpler terms. When they are exhibited later this year, the 3D editions of the original trilogy (which were released to great success by George Lucas over a six-year period, from 1977 to 1983) will be the revamped ‘special editions’ that the director created in 1997 and 2004. These differ significantly from the original versions, with many more sound and special effects, more impressive lightsabers, laser blasts and explosions, and in some cases the reinstatement of scenes originally left on the cutting room floor. For example, in A New Hope this includes a conversion between Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt in docking bay 94 in Mos Eisley, and a great deal more footage of the space port itself, which now has busy streets, teeming with extraterrestrial life.

I’m not always a fan of ‘special edition’ redoes and I’m especially not keen on them when the director is dead and the work is carried out by other hands. A prime example of this in recent years is the ‘special edition’ of Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and Ugly, which had a bunch of previously deleted scenes reinstated into the action. Apart from one exception (a scene where Lee Van Cleef visits a Confederate fort), the additions are out-of-place, off-the-pace, and in one case (featuring Tuco recruiting three Mexican gunslingers) downright embarrassing. Worse still, lead actors Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood dubbed themselves in this footage, which only existed with an Italian language track – no English dub had ever been assembled. Their voices now are completely different to their 1960s selves (as you would expect) and only Lee Van Cleef, who died in 1989 and was voiced by an impersonator, works. Perhaps impersonators all round would have been a better option. A big problem with the ‘special edition’ is the sound – many of the gunshots, cannon blasts, explosions and other effects have been replaced with new sound effects and much of the film’s echoing, ricocheting soundscape is lost. As Blondy (Clint Eastwood) says in the film, ‘Every gun makes its own tune’, but in this new version, they’re distinctly off-key. Leone, who also passed away in 1989, was unavailable for comment, though the project was sanctioned by the film’s producer Alberto Grimaldi, whose PEA jointly financed the movie with United Artists. The Italian language version, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo, which Leone did craft, is excellent however, as most of the extended scenes are present, the sound effects are correct and the Italian dubbed voices consistent throughout the movie. An English subtitled version – with newly translated subtitles – would be the ideal way to view this extended version.

With very few exceptions (Blade Runner being the best example), I prefer the original versions of films, as they were first released. After my ‘Star Wars’ marathon I watched the ‘special edition’ of A New Hope, assembled by Lucas in 1997. Without a doubt it’s quite a different film to the original 1977 release, with the laser blasts, effects and general tone more in keeping with the busier, frenetic ‘prequel’ trilogy. In the original film, Han Solo shoots bounty hunter Greedo without warning in the Mos Eisley cantina scene. But in the newer version, Greedo fires first, his shot misses Solo and hits the wall, then Han kills Greedo. This new order of events makes Han more of a ‘goodie’, but prompted dissent among many fans and led to the cult favourite T-shirt ‘Han Shot First’.

I saw the original ‘Star Wars’ film in my local Odeon in the late 1970s. As a gimmick, the theatre owner projected a starfield on the ceiling of the auditorium (like a planetarium) before the film began, to set the scene. When the film eventually commenced, the stars and our cinema ceiling seemed to be part of the film itself. This alone made the film very memorable, even before the Imperial Star Destroyer roared overhead. Three decades later, while walking up and down the aisles of ‘Toys R Us’ over Christmas, it was apparent that not much had changed since the 1970s and 1980s when it came to film and TV tie-in merchandising, with shelves devoted to Transformers, Dr Who and the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, all of which are still among the most popular toys. ‘Star Wars’ has even crossbred with LEGO to create a whole range of products. But it’s hardly surprising – cinema’s as much interested in ‘products’ these days as art.

Just as there are those who think Oasis wrote ‘I Am the Walrus’, The Beatles wrote ‘Twist and Shout’, and Leona Lewis has just ruined Johnny Cash’s maudlin classic ‘Hurt’ (it’s actually a Nine Inch Nails song, written by Trent Reznor), there will be many film buffs out there that think that these ‘special edition’ film reworkings (and 3D editions) are the genuine article, when in fact they are ‘Take Two’ (and sometimes even takes ‘Three’ and ‘Four’) on the classic originals. The song remains the same, but the tune is slightly different.

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