Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Blackboard Jungle - Original Trailer 1955

High and Low (by Akira Kurosawa) american trailer

Helen Mirren - Age Of Consent

The Big Knife - Original Trailer 1955

Black Narcissus - Original Trailer 1947

Bob Le Flambeur

À bout de souffle (Trailer)


The Roaring Twenties Trailer

The Shipping News - Trailer

THE YEAR IN MOVIES 2009. Just as I did at the end of last year, I've compiled a list of films which, though not new, were first seen by yours truly this year. Needless to say, I watch a lot of movies. And this is a list of my 25 favourite films which I saw for the first time in 2009. It was a tough job whittling it down to 25 and some runners-up will follow at the arse end of the list. But right now, let's lift up the lid and take a look at my favourite 25 "first see" films:
  1. AGE OF CONSENT (1969) - Michael Powell's last directorial hurrah after the debacle that was PEEPING TOM (1960). James Mason is the burnt-out artist who retreats to the Great Barrier Reef to recharge his batteries but encounters wild child Helen Mirren. The future dame's copiously-displayed pulchritude is also a plus.
  2. THE BIG KNIFE (1955) - Robert Aldrich's backstab at Hollywood is nice and trashy in that mid-50's kinda way. Jack Palance (perhaps miscast but not really a problem) as the big star trying to get out of his movie contract with tyrannical movie mogul Rod Steiger (chewing the scenery as usual) while trying to save his marriage to Ida Lupino. Able support by Wendell Corey, Shelley Winters and Everett Sloane completes the picture.
  3. BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955) - The rock and roll juvenile delinquent classic that still has guts. Richard Brooks directs new teacher Glenn Ford as he takes on a group of unruly, violent students. Sidney Poitier, Vic Morrow, Richard Kiley and Louis Calhern fill out the cast while Bill Haley & the Comets blare out "Rock Around the Clock".
  4. BLACK NARCISSUS (1947) - Classic Powell & Pressburger mad nun movie! Beautiful colour photography and breathtaking scenery. The usual brilliant direction by P&P with a brilliant script and superb acting provided by Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron (in a stunning performance), Flora Robson, an incredibly young Jean Simmons, David Farrar and even Sabu!
  5. BOB LE FLAMBEUR (1956) - Jean-Pierre Melville's answer to TOUCHEZ PAS LE GRISBI, this French caper film may miss the presence of Jean Gabin (he was too expensive) but Roger Duschesne as "Bob the Gambler" is an adequate substitute.
  6. BREATHLESS (1960) - Godard's assault of the "new wave in French cinema" starring the immensely appealing Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg as the murderer on the run and his enigmatic American acquaintance. Hugely influential, it took me a couple viewings to really become immersed in it.
  7. CALLAN (1974) - Veteran director Don Sharp takes the TV series starring Edward Woodward and makes a superb . . . what is it? . . . a crime picture? . . . an espionage picture? . . . I'm not sure. What it IS is a breath of fresh air!
  8. DAY OF WRATH (1943) - Director Carl Theodor Dreyer (of VAMPYR fame) takes us back to the witch trial hysteria of 17th century Denmark and gives us a multi-layered, subtle film about the power of evil.
  9. DOUBT (2008) - Yes, I do watch new films. Trouble is most of them ain't worth watching. This one, while not what I'd call a "great" film concerns the by-now-hackneyed child abuse angle in a Catholic school. However, the film is saved by an intelligent script that draws deeply-layered characters and by the uniformly excellent acting of the cast headed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep.
  10. HIGH AND LOW (1963) - Akira Kurosawa reunites with Toshiro Mifune in a departure for the director: a police procedural in modern-day Japan. Mifune plays the shoe company executive about to try a buyout of the company. A kidnap attempt on his son mistakenly takes a servant's boy instead. Will Mifune scuttle his takeover attempt and bankrupt himself to pay the ransom for his servant's child?
  11. LE JOUR SE LEVE (1939) - The great Jean Gabin plays a murderer holed up in his apartment while the police set up a siege outside. Director Marcel Carne utilizes a series of flashbacks to show us what led this decent-seeming guy to murder.
  12. LADY IN THE WATER (2006) - M. Night Shyamalan's generally lambasted movie is actually a superbly-realized fairy tale which didn't deserve it's incredibly hostile reception. Super acting by all involved with nice special effects that serve the story.
  13. LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN (1960) - Frankly one of the greatest "caper" films I've ever seen. Jack Hawkins leads an all-star cast of delightful British character actors as they plan and execute a bank robbery. Basil Dearden's direction is sure and crackling.
  14. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) - Frequently hailed as one of the best horror films ever made, Tomas Alfredson's exquisitely realized vampire tale is unbeatable!
  15. MASK OF DIMITRIOS (1944) - Far from a classic film, the creepy atmosphere provided by director Jean Negulesco combined with the mystery maguffin element and the reteaming of superb screen team Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet make this a barrel of fun.
  16. ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969) - I've never been THAT much of a James Bond fan but this has shockingly become probably my favourite Bond film of them all! No one could be more surprised than myself. Sure, the absence of Sean Connery is a huge blow to the film but George Lazenby makes an acceptable 007 and, I'm firmly convinced had Connery actually starred in this film it would be known as the best of the lot. Hell, it's even got Diana Rigg in it! What's not to like?!?
  17. RED DESERT (1964) - Michelangelo Antonioni's fourth chapter in his trilogy, I guess you'd call it. The first colour film by the director makes breathtaking use of the colour film. Oh, and Monica Vitti's back! While not up to the heights of L'ECLISSE or L'AVENTURA, it's still wonderful.
  18. ROAD HOUSE (1948) - Director Jean Negulusco is back with this barnstormer of a semi-noir that finds poor Cornell Wilde acting between the two powerhouses of Ida Lupino and Richard Widmark; it's a wonder he didn't get crushed! Lupino is superb as the blousy lounge singer constantly putting out cigarettes on the piano while Widmark wheels out his patented psycho act from KISS OF DEATH. A tremendous treat!
  19. THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939) - One of the greatest of Warner Bros. gangster films. Directed by the great Raoul Walsh (who knows a thing or two about Warner Bros. gangster films) and starring tough guy James Cagney and a still up-and-coming Humphrey Bogart.
  20. THE SHIPPING NEWS (2001) - Just the kind of movie I like: everybody in it is miserable!!! Lasse Hallstrom (CHOCOLAT, THE CIDER HOUSE RULES) directs a superb cast headed by Kevin Spacey, Judi Densch, Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett. More plusses as far as I'm concerned: the movie is set near the sea, it's in the winter in Newfoundland and . . . well, everybody's miserable. I'm a sucker for it all!
  21. THE STEEL HELMET (1951) - The first movie EVER about the Korean War; Samuel Fuller made it while the war was STILL GOING ON!!! As with every Fuller movie, it's hard hitting and pulls no punches. Excellent lead performance by Gene Evans as Sgt. Zack. You can tell this film was made by a guy with actual combat experience. Simply one of the best war films ever made.
  22. SUMMER WITH MONIKA (1953) - Early Ingmar Bergman film gives us this full Bergman treatment. The story of a pair of young lovers who fall in love, run away together and discover that life ain't all beer and skittles.
  23. UNCLE SILAS (1947) - Film adaptation of the classic J. Sheridan LeFanu gothic novel by extremely mysterious director Charles Frank. This delirious fever dream is everything a gothic melodrama should be. Just beginning screen actress Jean Simmons is the menaced ingenue, Katina Paxinou is deliciously evil as her French governness and Derrick De Marney is slimy as all hell!
  24. WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY (2007) - Razor-sharp skewering of all those musical biopics (RAY and WALK THE LINE are particular targets), Jake Kasdan's comedy does something pretty rare these days; it's a comedy that's actually funny. John C. Reilly has the role of his career and the soundtrack is bitingly funny and musically damn good.
  25. WATCHMEN (2009) - Zack Snyder took the movie that couldn't be made and made a pretty respectable film out of it. The revered Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons graphic novel is still better than the film but the sheer chutzpah that made a coherent film of it has got to be respected. Who watches the Watchmen? Well, I certainly did and I enjoyed it.

As promised, I thought I'd mention those movies which I thoroughly enjoyed seeing for the first time this year but just missed being on the list: Ingmar Bergman's THE DEVIL'S EYE, FLASHBACKS OF A FOOL (more miserable people!), Douglas Sirk's monumental tearjerker MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, the hypnotic PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, Kurosawa's RASHOMON, classic 70's chase film VANISHING POINT, Luchino Visconti's early neo-realist classic LA TERRA TREMA and OTOSHIANA aka PITFALL.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I Want You She's So Heavy - Robyn Hitchcock

THE 2009 PENGUIN AWARD WINNERS, YA'LL. Well here they be.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

THE BUTCHER'S BILL 2009. Every year at about this time, I take a moment to remember those persons of note who died during the current year; just as the year itself is about to come to an end. Lord Nelson asked each morning for the "butcher's bill" of casualties who lost their lives in the war against Napoleon. My own butcher's bill is not, however, a celebration of death but a memorial to the many lives that made a difference in our lives. Most of these names did some good while they were here or provided enjoyment to us all through their talent. As you read through, I hope you'll take a moment to remember their contributions towards the endless, cockeyed parade of human endeavor.
  • Pat Hingle, actor "Batman", "Batman Returns"
  • John Scott Martin, actor "Doctor Who"
  • Kathleen Byron, actress "Black Narcissus"
  • Ray Dennis Steckler, director "Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies", "Rat Pfink a Boo Boo"
  • Bob Wilkins, TV horror host "Creature Features"
  • Harry Endo, actor "Hawaii Five-O"
  • Kim Manners, director "Supernatural"
  • Dave Dee, musician "Beaky, Dave Dee, Dozy, Mick & Tich"
  • Patrick McGoohan, actor "The Prisoner", "Braveheart"
  • Ricardo Montalban, actor "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", "Fantasy Island"
  • Angela Morley (nee Wally Stott), composer "The Goon Show", "Watership Down"
  • John Mortimer, writer "Rumpole of the Bailey"
  • Andrew Wyeth, artist
  • Jake, best friend
  • Susanna Foster, actress "Phantom of the Opera", "The Climax"
  • Bob May, actor "Lost in Space"
  • Charles H. Schneer, producer "Jason & the Argonauts", "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad", "Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers"
  • Arthur A. Jacobs, producer "Giant From the Unknown", "She Demons"
  • John Updike, author "The Witches of Eastwick"
  • John Martyn, singer "Solid Air"
  • Billy Powell, musician "Lynyrd Skynyrd"
  • Lux Interior, singer "The Cramps"
  • Philip Carey, actor "Mr. Roberts", "One Life To Live"
  • James Whitmore, actor "Them!"
  • Blossom Dearie, singer "Manhattan"
  • Robert Quarry, actor "Count Yorga, Vampire", "Madhouse", "Sugar Hill"
  • Howard Zieff, director "My Girl"
  • Laurence Payne, actor "The Crawling Eye", "Vampire Circus"
  • Edward Judd, actor "The Day the Earth Caught Fire"
  • Philip Jose Farmer, author "The Riverworld novels"
  • Wendy Richard, actress "Are You Being Served?", "EastEnders"
  • Paul Harvey, radio announcer
  • Theresa Joan Burkett, beloved partner
  • Horton Foote, screenwriter "To Kill A Mockingbird"
  • Jimmy Boyd, singer "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"
  • Millard Kaufman, screenwriter "Bad Day at Black Rock"
  • Sydney Chaplin, actor "Limelight"
  • Ron Silver, actor "Ali", "Reversal of Fortune"
  • Natasha Richardson, actress "Gothic"
  • John Cater, actor "The Duchess of Duke Street", "Doctor Who"
  • England Dan, singer "England Dan & John Ford Coley"
  • Maurice Jarre, composer "Dr. Zhivago", "Ghost", "Fatal Attraction"
  • Frank Springer, comic book artist "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D."
  • Jody McCrea, actor "The Monster That Challenged the World", "Beach Blanket Bingo"
  • Marilyn Chambers, actress "Behind the Green Door"
  • Harry Kalas, sports announcer "Philadelphia Phillies", "NFL Films"
  • Jack Cardiff, cinematographer "A Matter of Life and Death", "The African Queen"
  • Beatrice Arthur, actress "Maude", "The Golden Girls"
  • Peter Rogers, producer "Carry On series"
  • Hans Holzer, ghost hunter
  • Jack Kemp, US Congressman
  • Ric Estrada, comic book artist "Power Girl", "Karate Kid"
  • Dom DeLuise, actor "Fatso", "Hot Stuff"
  • Richard Bojarksi, author "The Films of Boris Karloff", "The Films of Bela Lugosi"
  • Jane Randolph, actress "Cat People", "Curse of the Cat People", "T-Men", "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein"
  • Danny LaRue, comedian/female impersonator
  • Terence Alexander, actor "The League of Gentlemen"
  • Carole Cole, actress "The Silencers", "Sanford and Son"
  • David Carradine, actor "Kill Bill", "Kung Fu"
  • Dave Simons, comic book artist "Ghost Rider"
  • Huey Long, singer "The Ink Spots"
  • KoKo Taylor, blues singer
  • Ken Roberts, radio announcer
  • Gary Papa, TV Sportscaster
  • Colin Bean, actor "Dad's Army"
  • Ed McMahon, TV announcer "The Tonight Show"
  • Sky Saxon, musician "The Seeds"
  • Farrah Fawcett, actress "Charlie's Angels", "The Burning Bed"
  • Michael Jackson, singer "Thriller"
  • Billy Mays, TV pitchman "Oxy Clean"
  • Gale Storm, actress "My Little Margie"
  • Fred Travalena, comedian
  • Jan Rubes, actor "Dead of Winter"
  • Karl Malden, actor "A Streetcar Named Desire", "On the Waterfront"
  • Mollie Sugden, actress "Are You Being Served?"
  • Allen Klein, manager "The Beatles", "The Rolling Stones"
  • Robert McNamara, politician
  • Walter Cronkite, TV anchorman
  • Frank McCort, author "Angela's Ashes"
  • Gordon Waller, singer "Peter and Gordon"
  • Peg Loiacono, beloved friend
  • Harry Alan Towers, producer "Face of Fu Manchu", "Count Dracula"
  • Corazon Aquino, Philipino president
  • Budd Schulberg, screenwriter "On the Waterfront"
  • John Hughes, director "The Breakfast Club", "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"
  • Les Paul, musician
  • Don Hewitt, producer "60 Minutes"
  • Sammy Petrillo, actor "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla"
  • Dominick Dunne, author
  • Edward Kennedy, US Senator
  • Ellie Greenwich, songwriter "Be My Baby", "Out In the Streets", "Leader of the Pack"
  • Erich Kunzel, conductor
  • Army Archerd, columnist
  • Larry Gelbart, writer/producer "M*A*S*H*"
  • Zakes Mokae, actor "The Serpent and the Rainbow"
  • Patrick Swayze, actor "Ghost", "Dirty Dancing"
  • Keith Floyd, TV chef
  • Henry Gibson, comedian "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In"
  • Mary Travers, singer "Peter, Paul & Mary"
  • Art Ferrante, musician "Ferrante & Teicher"
  • Paul Burke, actor "The Thomas Crown Affair", "Shaft", "Thriller - An Echo of Theresa"
  • Susan Atkins, murderer/member of Manson family
  • Alicia de Larrochia, pianist
  • Dick Durock, actor "Swamp Thing"
  • William Safire, author
  • Barry Letts, producer/director "Doctor Who"
  • Al Martino, singer
  • Daniel Melnick, producer "That's Entertainment", "Roxanne"
  • Captain Lou Albano, wrestler
  • George Tuska, comic book artist "Iron Man"
  • Elizabeth Clare Prophet, new age cult leader
  • Howard Unruh, murderer
  • Vic Mizzy, composer "The Addams Family", "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken"
  • Joseph Wiseman, actor "Dr. No"
  • Ludovic Kennedy, author
  • Steve Friedman, radio host "Mr. Movie"
  • Soupy Sales, comedian
  • Collin Wilcox, actress "To Kill A Mockingbird"
  • Clinton Ford, singer
  • Robert Kirby, arranger "Five Leaves Left", "Bryter Later"
  • Claude Levi-Strauss, anthropologist
  • David Lloyd, writer "Mary Tyler Moore", "The Bob Newhart Show"
  • Paul Wendkos, director "The Legend of Lizzie Borden"
  • Ken Ober, comedian/TV host "Remote Control"
  • Edward Woodward, actor "The Wicker Man", "Breaker Morant", "Callan"
  • Paul Naschy, actor "Assignment: Terror", "Werewolf Vs. the Vampire Woman", "Count Dracula's Great Love"
  • Al Alberts, singer "The Four Aces", "Al Alberts' Showcase"
  • Eric Woolfson, musician "The Alan Parsons Project"
  • Richard Todd, actor "The Dam Busters", "Asylum"
  • Thomas Hoving, art correspondent "20/20"
  • Gene Barry, actor "War of the Worlds"
  • Oral Roberts, televangelist
  • Roy Disney, executive "The Walt Disney Company"
  • Robin Wood, film critic
  • Jennifer Jones, actress "Portrait of Jennie", "Duel in the Sun"
  • Dan O'Bannon, writer/director "Alien", "The Resurrected", "Return of the Living Dead", "Dark Star"
  • Brittany Murphy, actress "Sin City", "Freeway"
  • Vic Chesnutt, singer

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bat For Lashes live on Later with Daniel

BEAST - Mr.Hurricane

Dewey Cox - Beautiful Ride - Walk Hard

The Leisure Society 'The Last Of The Melting Snow'

Sia - 'Soon We'll Be Found' on Later... With Jools Holland

WOE BETIDE THE PENGUIN AWARDS in the slimmest year for music since the awards began way back in 1990. However, never let it be said that I cannot salvage something from almost nothing. While the pickins were slim, there were a few worthies and hence we nominated them. Before we start, it should be announced that there will be no award given for "Duet of the Year" this year as duets were thin on the ground in 2009. That being said, the noms are:
LUDOVIC BOURCE - OSS 117: Rio Ne Reponds Pas (Rio Doesn't Answer)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"Now it has become clear to me that it cannot be wisdom to assert the truth of one faith over another. In our troubled world so full of contradictions, the wise person makes justice his guide and learns from all. Perhaps in this way the door may be opened again whose key has been lost."
-- Akbar the Great

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman Trailer

R.I.P. Paul Naschy

INSPIRED BY THE WONDERFUL RECEPTION TO MY WEEKENDS ON WESTFIELD POST, those mad scientists over at our sister audio blog BATHED IN THE LIGHT FROM ANDROMEDA are setting up a tribute to the Wars of the Worlds and all things Martian. At first it may not be abundantly clear what this has to due with my childhood reminiscences. However, for those in the know, it makes perfect sense since the very grandparents I refer to in that post had a certain last name which proves that the family originated from the planet Mars! The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, he said; but the chances of you hearing a bunch of Martian audio is very good if you click on the above link.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

WEEKENDS ON WESTFIELD: A WADDLE DOWN MEMORY LANE. As a child, my weekends were usually spent at my grandparents humongous Victorian house on Westfield Avenue in Pennsauken. I really don't know how many storeys to say it was huge. The basement at one time contained a public bar which had been known to serve a well-known gangster or two who crossed the river from Philadelphia in the 1940's; yes, you would recognize their names if you heard them. Even in my youth during the 1970's the bar was still there in the basement. Above was the ground floor (where my grandparents lived) which also featured a huge enclosed front porch. One storey up was another floor which functioned as a separate apartment for my great grandfather (the owner of the house). Then above that was ANOTHER floor reached by a winding stairs quite like the secret staircase found in the House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts; this led to a floor where my mother had had her room as a teenager. From the top windows you could see the river and Philadelphia.
My grandparents' house was literally two doors away from the borderline between Pennsauken and Camden; and only several blocks away from the site of Howard Unruh's "murder walk" in the 1940's when he became America's first serial killer to take a gun and start shooting random people. My great aunt and uncle once owned the store beneath Howard Unruh's apartment and allowed him to use a shortcut through their garden gate to reach his abode. When they sold the building, the new owners refused to let Unruh use this shortcut; the new owners were among Unruh's first shooting victims. As a child in the early 70's, Camden had not yet become the worst city in New Jersey. I was still able to walk the several blocks from Pennsauken with my grandmother and frequent an old-fashioned candy store that still existed in Camden; the kind with loose candy weighed and given to you in little white paper bags.
The aforementioned basement/bar of the house was naturally almost entirely below ground; only one small window waaaaaaay at the top of the wall (at ground level outside) let in a little light (and a glimpse of the grass above). It was generally too cold to be down there in winter but in warm weather (and especially in the summer) it was delightfully cool and dark. One of those old-fashioned art deco metal electric fans would rotate to and fro as my grandfather (Buster . . .his nickname) and I watched old horror movies like DRACULA on the black and white television positioned in front of an old green couch. The smoke from his occasional cigar would be scattered by the wind from the rotating fan. In a separate room behind the bar area was a laundry room and behind that was the hot water heater etc. In this narrow space between the wall and the water heater could be found a secret art gallery -- a sort of Lascaux cave from my mother's girlhood and teenage years when she would draw in coloured pencil figures of ladies wearing the 50's fashions of the day.
Some mornings my grandmother and I would walk the long length of Westfield Avenue (many many city blocks) towards the destination of Thor's Drug Store. At Thor's I would find my favourite Black Jack gum, new Justice League of America comic books on the rack, possibly a couple packs of Wacky Packs or You'll Die Laughing bubble gum cards which featured stills from classic B&W monster movies with a silly caption and a joke on the back. Along the way we'd pass the grand old-style movie palace the Walt Whitman Theatre; built by my great grandfather the architect. It was here that I remember The Exorcist was playing first run when it came out in 1973 (I was too young) and here also that I met Moe Howard of the Three Stooges on a theatrical tour he made shortly before his death.
Early afternoons on the weekend would generally involve my grandfather taking me to the holy grail of the Pennsauken Mart. This poor people's paradise was a wonderland to a little kid; sadly it was closed and torn down only a few years ago. In my grandfather's old clunker we parked in the parking lot and entered that long, dark hallway leading to the interior of the mart; passing the tattoo parlour where over a decade later I would sit watching my best friend get a Bat-Signal tattoo! Once inside the mart proper, I would make for the Mecca of the trip: the shop that sold all those comic books with the covers torn off. They would also have tables of paperback books (some with the covers torn off and some not) and, behind the cash register, a few actual comic books WITH covers on 'em and in plastic mylar bags. As far as I can remember, the first actual bagged and boarded comic book back issue I ever bought was right here at the Pennsauken Mart: FANTASTIC FOUR #91 . Among those paperbacks would be many of those Mad Magazine reprints in paperback form as well as The Partridge Family series of mystery thrillers (I kid you not) like TERROR BY NIGHT, THE HAUNTED HALL and MARKED FOR DANGER; all written by the bard of pre-pubescents Vic Crume. I still have 'em! Of course, I would always be thrilled if they had one of those RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT paperback books to snatch up immediately. Oh yeah, and CRACKED MAZAGINE (no, that's NOT a typo) was another favourite; MAD MAGAZINE too! If I was lucky they would also have an issue or two of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND to buy as well as many of those classic Marvel black & white horror comics (magazine size with the covers still on 'em) like VAMPIRE TALES (with my favourite Morbius the Living Vampire), DRACULA LIVES or MONSTERS OF THE MOVIES.
Next to the "comic book" store was a little place that sold Italian water ice, popcorn and funnel cakes. However, we could come back to that later because, after the comix, it was imperative to head about halfway down the mart concourse to the Listening Booth record store where I picked up some records (no cds in those days, sorry know-nothing tots). I would buy both 33 1/3rds and 45's. It was there that I bought such LPs as CHRISTMAS WITH THE CHIPMUNKS, THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, BATMAN, 4 MORE ADVENTURES OF BUGS BUNNY, CASPER'S HAUNTED HOUSE TALES and who knows what else. At the same time, I would buy the latest 45's representing the big hits of the day: Ringo Starr's "No No No/Skokiaan", Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way", The Bee Gee's "Jive Talkin'", "The Penalty Box" by Dave Schultz of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team (yes that was a BIG hit song!), Sailcat's "Motorcycle Mama" and many more. I still remember 'em because I've still got those same 45's!
After this, my grandfather would usually stop in the Beef & Ale taproom to get his beer. Yes, he was a drinker. During this time, I would sit next to him at the bar and thumb through my loot: comic books from DC and Marvel as well as my beloved "THE OCCULT FILES OF DR. SPEKTOR", RICHIE RICH & JACKIE JOKERS, MAD HOUSE GLADS, PLOP!, GHOSTLY HAUNTS, and BORIS KARLOFF'S TALES OF MYSTERY. After going up one side of the mart and down the other (possibly grabbing a slice of pizza on the way), it would be time to go back to Westfield Avenue where I would lovingly linger over all my loot! On Sunday, it would also be time to root through the Philadelphia Bulletin for the kid's activity pages and Sunday funnies. That night, after bathtime, the TV would feature MARY TYLER MOORE and THE BOB NEWHART SHOW before it would be time for bed. In summer, I would sleep on the enclosed front porch's pullout bed. All the windows would be up and the screens provided cool breezes and street sounds (sorry again, know-nothing tots, but there wasn't air conditioning either). As I'd flip through an AQUAMAN comic using only the outside street lights for illumination, I would drift off to sleep.
I often find myself back in that house on Westfield Avenue in a dream and, upon awakening, find myself filled with equal parts joy and pain since those days are gone and so is my grandfather and so is that house. Upon the death of my great grandfather, his will stated that the house must be sold and my grandparents moved out into Camelot apartments only a block away from my house in Marlton. That was 1978 and by January 1981 my grandfather was also gone; done in by the booze he consumed his entire adult life. The legend goes that that huge house on Westfield Avenue was split up into separate dwellings and eventually became a house of ill repute. Sometime in the 1990's, it was demolished entirely and now only exists in my dreams. The beautiful Walt Whitman theatre was demolished sometime in the early 1980's and the Pennsauken Mart, as mentioned before, was torn day a couple years ago. If you wait long enough, everything is torn down eventually. But I am so grateful that I can still get to visit that house as it used to be when the simple days of childhood cast that rosy glow over everything and made you believe that they were the good old days even when you were living through them. I can truly say that at that time I was almost always completely happy. That's a valuable thing to carry with you throughout your life.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Edward Woodward - They Didnt Believe Me

A belated tribute to the late Edward Woodward.

Monday, November 23, 2009

IN A WEEK WHEN THAT NEW TWILIGHT MOVIE BECAME THE HIGHEST GROSSING OPENING DAY IN HISTORY (shame on us), I draw your attention to an actual superb vampire movie: Låt den rätte komma in (aka LET THE RIGHT ONE IN). If you haven't seen it, you need to. All the talk is justified. It's been called the best vampire film ever. Weaverman has called it the best vampire film since NOSFERATU (in 1922!!!). It is without a doubt one of the greatest movies of the decade. Period. Just when you thought there was nowhere new you could take a vampire movie, along comes this one. TWILIGHT is not the apex of vampire movies (opinions of 12 year old schoolgirls to the contrary). Hopefully, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN will be.
Now, there is no way I'm going to give a synopsis since the film has to be seen and not described. Suffice it to say that 12 year old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a quiet boy bullied at school who has a strange fascination with knives and a series of bloody murders in the newspapers. (The film takes place back in 1982 semi-Soviet Sweden). While out in the snow-covered play-yard of his apartment block, Oskar meets 12 year old Eli (Lina Leandersson) who immediately tells him they cannot be friends. The entire film basically concerns the relationship between these two kids: both of whom are very odd and one of whom just happens to be a little vampire. As most of you know, I am NOT a fan of child actors as a rule. But Hedebrant and (more particularly) Leandersson are both superb with the young girl turning in an absolutely magnificent performance. I can safely state right now that, should I produce a top ten list of favourite cinematic vampires, little Lina Leandersson would certainly be on it! Director Tomas Alfredson crafts a very quiet, subdued film which periodically erupts without warning into violent and disturbing incidents. There are also nicely done special effects which, shockingly, are done with a great deal of subtlety; they do not knock you over the head and at first cause you to think "Did I really see that" and then "Oh yeah, I really saw that". Here is a film which (sorry know-nothing tots) requires an attention span; you cannot text message, tweet or myspace while watching it -- actually you should never do that while watching ANY movie, you philistines -- you should WATCH a movie when you're watching a movie! But I digress). This type of subtle, intelligent storytelling will never get you a job in Hollywood, Mr. Alfredson. There you have to pummel us over the head repeatedly with a hammer. How dare you not underestimate the intelligence of your audience! Nothing is ever blatantly explained however one never feels lost and everything becomes clear almost subconsciously first -- and THEN it registers on the conscious mind. The only word that came to mind as the end credits rolled was "remarkable". This is a truly TRULY remarkable film and no feeble attempts by me to describe it can possibly do it justice. You really need to seek out this one!
FROM THE SUBLIME TO THE RIDICULOUS: FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER. My mother always told me that if you can't say something nice about somebody, don't say anything at all.
OK I'm done.
"YOUR HOUSE LOOKED LIKE HEAVEN HIGH UP THERE. THAT'S HOW I BEGAN TO HATE YOU!" Akira Kurosawa's TENGOKU TO JIGOKU (1963) aka HIGH AND LOW is something of a surprise to those who are used to most of his other films. For those expecting something like SEVEN SAMURAI, THRONE OF BLOOD, IKIRU, RASHOMON or even DREAMS, this film isn't really what we're used to from Kurosawa. It's actually a police procedural (not actually a "film noir" which it is sometimes called) based on a work by crime novelist Ed McBain. Not exactly Akira Kurosawa territory. But naturally, Kurosawa is a master of cinema and quickly proves that he is as much at home in that genre as in medieval Japan..
The film stars Akira Kurosawa's muse Toshiro Mifune as Mr. Gondo: an executive in the National Shoe company. Gondo is unhappy with the way the company is going (towards shoddier cheap merchandise) and is planning a major stock-buying takeover bid. Gondo's manufacturing malcontent reminded me of a similar character played by William Holden in EXECUTIVE SUITE; an executive who sees the former excellence of his company being brought down by slipshod product. Gondo is planning to spring his takeover buyout of the company the following day. However, on the eve of his undertaking, Gondo receives a phone call informing him that his son has been kidnapped and he will have to pay $30 million smackers for the boy's safe return. Fairly quickly, however, it is determined that the kidnapper goofed and kidnapped the chauffer's son instead. When he realizes his mistake, the kidnapper phones again and informs Gondo that he will STILL have to pay the ransom otherwise the boy will be killed anyway! Of course, if Gondo pays for the return of his chauffer's son, he will not be able to conclude his takeover bid and he will be ruined. This rather interesting moral dilemma forms the crux of the film's "will he or won't he" first half while the remainder of the film concerns the police procedures involved in trying to track down the kidnapper and return the boy safely.
Mifune is, as always, excellent as the hardened yet principled businessman Gondo and he brings a palpable anguish to his moral dilemma. Kurosawa brings quite a few tense moments of suspense to the film. The strengths of the director, however, are brought into sharper focus when Mifune is off the screen and the camera follows the police. Such a departure from a star the calibre of Toshiro Mifune could cause a film to seriously loose steam when re-focussing on a group of basically unknown (to Western audiences) police detectives and the possibly rather dry details of police procedure. It is Kurosawa's serious talent in the director's chair (as well as a tightly written script by Kurosawa's frequent collaborators Hideo Oguni, Ryuzo Kikushima and Eijiro Hisaita) which keeps things every bit as interesting and absorbing. It must be admitted, however, that the police are aided by the inclusion of that OTHER frequent Kurosawa megastar Takashi Shimura (IKIRU et. al) in the small role of Chief of Investigation. The over-two hour film does lose a little bit of steam during a slightly protracted sequence in which the kidnapper goes about town at night trying to buy heroin, but this is only a very minor quibble and doesn't detract from the overall effectiveness of the film. Camerawork, as to be expected in ANY Kurosawa film, is uniformly excellent. There is one particular scene in which the kidnapper (wearing mirrored sunglasses) peers out of the nighttime undergrowth. This scene I found very reminiscent of a similar scene in the early Hammer classic THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (aka THE CREEPING UNKNOWN) in which Richard Wordsworth does much the same thing. Also, the bland yet sinister look of the kidnapper with his shiny shades undoubtedly inspired the look of Elijah Wood's cannibalistic psycho in SIN CITY.
There is a rumoured remake in the offing; the only thing fending off a sinking feeling at such news is the attachment of such names as Mike Nichols and David Mamet to the project.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY JOHNNY MERCER!!! The great songwriter was born 100 years ago on November 18th, 1909. In celebration of his centennial, we have taken over the lunar observatory of Dr. Janos Rukh over at our sister blog "BATHED IN THE LIGHT FROM ANDROMEDA" and will present many of Mercer's greatest songs. So please join us over there for the party. There will be boiled ham, bouillabaisse stew and a weeney bake!!! Oh, and maybe a brandy alexander to wash it all down.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009

THE INAUGURAL RELEASE FROM NEW RECORD LABEL "SACRISTAN RECORDS" IS A WINNER! The two-cd compilation "MOVE IT!: BRITISH POPULAR MUSIC 1954-1964" has just been released and it is a treasure trove of classic platters from the early years of British rock & roll. This compilation is invaluable to those of us in the colonies who have frankly never had a chance to hear most (if not all) of these singles. While named after Cliff Richard's hit song "Move It!" (sorta the big bang in British rock & roll records), Sir Cliff's song does not appear on the compilation. However, we are treated to a version by Chris Andrews to open volume one. This song is followed by Paul McCartney favourite "Twenty Flight Rock" here performed by Vince Taylor and later on the cd performed by Cliff Richard and the Shadows! There are cover versions of such song's as Little Richard's "Slippin' and Slidin'" (performed by Dickie Pride, The Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" (performed by Duffy Power and the Graham Bond Organisation), Louis Armstrong's biblical tune "Shadrack" (performed by Glen Mason) and The Isley's Brothers' "Shout" (performed by Lulu). Standout original tracks include a quartet of songs by The Vernon Girls, Clinton Ford's "Fanlight Fanny" and Dennis Lotis' "Sugaree".
Volume Two opens with the quirky Wee Willie Harris singing "Rocking Chair on the Moon" followed by Shane Fenton and the Fentones' "Walk Away" and a quartet of Joe Brown, Billy Fury, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran singing "My Babe". The famous Tony Sheridan with the Beatles sessions are represented by the ubiquitous "My Bonnie" as well as a cover of "Nobody's Child". The Silver Beatles can be heard rocking "Love of the Loved" while The Quarrymen record "In Spite of All the Danger" b/w the Buddy Holly cover "That'll Be the Day" featured on the 90's Beatles Anthology documentary series is also included. A cover version of the Beatles' "Yesterday" (performed in a bolero fashion by Alma Cogan) stands side by side with boffo original tracks such as Dave King's "Bing Crosbyesque" "You Can't Be True To Two" and Tommy Steele's "Knee Deep in the Blues" and "A Little Bitty Tear" by Miki and Griff. Liberally scattered throughout the disc are appearances by Adam Faith, Shirley Bassey, Helen Shapiro and Anthony Newley.
If you are lucky enough to have a neighbourhood record shop which carries this new Sacristan Records release, comb your ducktail and motor on down to pick up a copy! I predict this terrific 2 cd set indicates many great things to come from further Sacristan releases in the future. Long may they spin!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

SMILE WHEN YOU SAY THAT, MISTER! MR. SARDONICUS, THAT IS. William Castle's 1961 film based on the Ray Russell short story "Sardonicus" is a quiet, quiet film as far as the usual William Castle barnstormer goes. Sure there are suggestions of ghouls eating the flesh of corpses but that never really pans out and there are only really one or two so-called "shock" scenes which, even by 1961 standards were remarkably tame: a maidservant's face covered with leeches, one or two shock cuts of Mr. Sardonicus' gruesome face and the camera-filling spectacle of a dessicated corpse. However, for all the tameness and subdued nature of the film, it's still just barely watchable.
I happen to have been one of those persons who actual read the original Ray Russell short story BEFORE having seen William Castle's film adaptation and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I can reveal that the film is not a patch on the short story. The movie actually plays out more like an episode of Boris Karloff's TV show THRILLER which was running on television at the same time the 1961 film was released. In fact, MR. SARDONICUS' lead actor Guy Rolfe appeared in a much more effective and scary episode of Thriller entitled "THE TERROR IN TEAKWOOD" almost concurrently. The incredibly sepulchral quality of Guy Rolfe, in fact, is the main reason to watch MR. SARDONICUS other than William Castle's whimsical on screen introduction to the film. The two "romantic leads" (Ronald Lewis and Audrey Dalton) are quite bland and unremarkable but Rolfe and his brutish one-eyed manservant Krull (played with Lugosi-like relish by Oskar Homolka) keep things bubbling along with interest. Oh, incidentally Krull has had his eye gouged out by Mr. Sardonicus for disobeying him. Once.
Robert Lewis (also seen in Peter Ustinov's fine film BILLY BUDD) plays a doctor much in the same mold as Henry Daniell in Val Lewton's THE BODY SNATCHER; he in fact is seen in the opening segment miraculously doctoring a paralysed young girl into moving her leg. Lewis' character has recently been knighted for his work in the medical field. He receives a letter from his old flame Audrey Dalton (in fact a veteran of three rather good THRILLER episodes: "The Hollow Watcher", "Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook" and "The Prediction" who was prevented from marrying Lewis because her father said he would never amount to anything. The now-knighted doctor reads the now Baroness Sardonicus' lettre pleading with him to come at once. He arrives in the central European country of Goslava where the film promptly morphs from THE BODY SNATCHER to DRACULA. The local official blanches at the mention of Dracula . . . er, I mean Sardonicus' name and insists that the doctor not go there! Krull arrives with a carriage to take the doctor to Castle Dra. . . er, Castle Sardonicus and it travels through a similar studio-created blasted landscape enshrouded in fog which would've looked perfectly at home in any film adaptation of DRACULA you'd care to mention. The doctor arrives to hear a woman moaning in despair and breaks in to find her tied up with multitudes of leeches attached to her face. It seems the folks at Castle Sardonicus like to experiment with human "guinea pigs" as Krull so bemusedly explains. The doctor is reunited with his old love Baroness Sardonicus but the Baron doesn't make his appearance for a little while longer. When he does, however, his face is shrouded in a blank mask (I suppose the film has now gone from THE BODY SNATCHER to DRACULA to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at this point). There is also a forbidden locked room which no one but the Baron is allowed to enter (shades of every "old dark house" movie you've ever seen) behind which comes hideous slurping sounds. Also, at one point Sardonicus is called away from the dinner table to inspect a bevy of buxom beauties Krull has gathered from the local village. The Baron chooses one of them and sends the others away. The implication of which seems to be that Sardonicus does something horribly monstrous to the girl such as murdering her and eating her flesh like the ghoul he has been implied to be. That would make the movie veer from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA to COUNTESS DRACULA territory. However, this is never even remotely stated in the film and whatever happened to the girl (or any other girls the Baron has brought to his castle in the past) is never explained. For all we know, the Baron and his beauty engaged in nothing more than a night of adulterous whoopee!
Eventually Sardonicus explains his backstory. He was once a poor peasant whose father had been buried with a winning lottery ticket in his waistcoat pocket (the closed captioning of which constantly spells the item of clothing as a "weskit" -- is the whole world mind-numbingly illiterate?!?!?!!!!). Out of poverty and desperation, the poor guy digs up his father's grave but the sight of his decomposed father with a rictus grin somehow causes his own face to twist into a ghoulish permanent grin -- hence the wearing of the mask. Sardonicus pleads with Sir Robert to cure him. And if he don't, he's a-gonna slice up his wife's face to match his so she will no longer bar him from her bedchamber. Events follow along their (ab)normal course and, as I've said, there's really not a lot that happens throughout the film. It does, however, feature the rather nicely cold and merciless "thumbs down" ending where Sardonicus gets his just desserts. Pun intended. Before this ending, Castle famously appeared on screen again with his gimmick "thumbs up" or "thumbs down' card so the audience could vote on whether or not Sardonicus should be punished for his crimes. Although the only crimes we have witnessed the Baron perpetrate are the brief tying up of his wife and threatening her with slicing her face -- which he in fact never does. Oh, well, of course, there WAS that whole "gouging out Krull's eye" incident but that we never see either. Incidentally, contrary to popular legend Castle only ever shot and released the one ending; there was never any chance of a "happy ending" for Sardonicus being shown since it never existed. Admittedly, there's nothing quite like the spectacle of seeing William Castle on the screen counting the audience votes, telling a small boy to sit down so he can count the people behind him, etc. etc. Totally ridiculous and a lot of fun; that's what William Castle was known for and did best. So, while I can't really justify recommending this film to anyone . . . if you've got an hour and a half with nothing to do you could do worse. MR. SARDONICUS is a mildly entertaining (if quiet) movie and after all, it's much better than a poke in the eye.
Oh, sorry Krull. . .