Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jean Vigo’s Poetic Vision: L’Atalante

Consult countless lists of the greatest films of all time and you will find this 1934 French classic. Considered to be director Jean Vigo’s masterpiece, L’Atalante is a surrealist love story for the ages. It is also a testament to Vigo’s artistic passion—he was deathly ill as he made it, often directing from a stretcher. He died shortly after filming was completed and could not edit the film himself. Instead, the editing task fell to some overenthusiastic Gaumont editors who cut the film from 89 to 65 minutes; somewhat damaging the film’s overall artistic composition. Thankfully, it was restored in 1990 and now truly resembles Vigo’s vision.

atalanteThe beginning of the film finds handsome barge captain Jean (Jean Daste) marrying his proper girlfriend Juliette (Dita Parlo). Whoever said the honeymoon can’t last forever must have been thinking of poor Juliette, because she doesn’t get one. Instead, she and her new husband immediately board their humble floating abode, the L’Atalante, where they also share quarters with the rough Jules (Michel Simon) and his assortment of cats, as well as a cabin boy. Basically, this is a story about a simple man who wants simple things and a fanciful young woman who dreams of seeing Paris.  The story takes a dramatic turn when the barge docks in Paris and Juliette goes ashore without telling her husband. When he finds her gone he doesn’t wait for her return; instead, he angrily take the L’Atalante out of port—leaving his provincial wife to fend for herself in the big city.

There are many things to enjoy about this film. Using his signature style of poetic realism, Vigo captures both the sensual, tender relationship between Jean and Juliette in an almost ethereal sense, as well as capturing the grunginess of a cramped barge and the squalor of Depression-era L-Atalante-006Paris in a direct, unflinching manner. The love that the couple share is Vigo’s conception of beauty, while most of the outside world represents his vision of all that is crude. When they are together on the barge, even when they are fighting about soiled sheets and unkempt, crude Jules, they are truly happy. It is only when they are both physically and emotionally separated that the couple truly feels anguish and pain.

The most striking sequence in the film comes about due to this separation. Remembering that Juliette had once told him that she had opened her eyes lat1under water to find her true love and had seen his face before she had ever met him, Jean jumps into freezing water and finds a smiling Juliette below the surface. When he returns to the boat he holds tight to a block of ice as if it were Juliette. It is a touching, spectacular scene to watch.  This is one of many great images that cinematographer Boris Kaufman captures. Truly, the film is a visual marvel, especially for 1934.

While both Parlo and Daste are more than memorable in this film, the one standout performer is Michel Simon as Jules. A master crafter of character, Simon always makes you believe he is his character. Still a relatively young man when he took on this role, Simon embodies the image of a sea-worn, old sailor who has seen and done everything.  In addition, atalante-1934-11-ghis strange relationship with Juliette is something to behold. He is at once crass and lecherous, and in the next moment sweet and thoughtful. Capturing Jules’ dual nature, Vigo created a spectacular image of Simon, through the use of dissolved exposures, when Jules wrestles himself on deck, which comes across as two ghosts fighting over his body.

Francois Truffaut wrote that this was one of the films that shaped his own cinematic vision. It is easy to see why. Loaded with breathtaking images, as well as a tender love story, L’Atalante is a truly entertaining film.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Trivia Time - Part 60

Who Am I? My Hollywood career began in a film directed by Fritz Lang. I was in three movies with Vincent Price, was directed twice by Joseph Mankiewicz, and appeared once with Jessica Tandy. Who Am I?

Who Are We? The person from the first Who Am I? made three films with each of us separately. In addition, the two of us made one film together without Who Am I? #1. Who Are We?

1. Name all of the films mentioned in Who Am I?.

2. Name all of the films mentioned in Who Are We?.

3. Name at least two things these films have in common: Plymouth Adventure, Holiday Inn, and Miracle on 34th Street.

4. Name four films starring both Van Johnson and Spencer Tracy.

5. Name Walt Disney's first animated wide-screen movie and the format it was filmed in.

6. Name five things the following films have in common: Red River and Rio Bravo.

7. Name at least one thing the following films have in common: It Happened One Night, Devil Dogs of the Air, The Mortal Storm, and It's a Wonderful Life.

8. Name the movie that always seemed to be playing at the local theater on the TV series, Dobie Gillis (Maynard G. Krebs mentioned it frequently).

9. Name a British-born, Oscar-winning male character actor who was married only once for less than one year, directed four times by Alfred Hitchcock, and who was less than 5'6" tall.

10. Who was MGM's first choice to play Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, in the Wizard of Oz?

Trivia Time - Part 59 - the Answers

I noticed in a recent post that some were wondering how I come up with my Trivia Time questions. Just to re-affirm what I've said in earlier posts...I make up all the questions myself, I don't copy them from games or books or other websites. They are the products of my twisted little mind and/or the warped mind of my rocket-scientist (no kidding!) wife.

By the way, thanks to everyone who sent prayers and good wishes; the medical issue is now resolved, but last week was pretty intense. I hope all and sundry had a Happy Thanksgiving and ate plenty of turkey (without watching too many turkeys of the cinematic variety!).

Here are the answers to the Trivia Time posted two weeks ago:

1. Who was the male star of the film, Because They're Young?

Answer: Dick Clark

2. For a free pass for the entire month of December, name four members of the "back-up" band on Because They're Young.

Answer: Shelly Manne, Red Callender, Howard Roberts, Barney Kessel

4. Name three actors that Tony Curtis made more than one film with.

Answer: there are more than three actually, but you only had to name three....Stephen McNally, Burt Lancaster, Larry Storch, Audie Murphy, Kirk Douglas were some of the actors who made two or more films with Curtis.

5. This famous actor and this famous director made five films together, but only one was a drama. Name them and the drama.

Answer: Cary Grant and Howard Hawks; Only Angels Have Wings

6. Name all directors who made at least 3 movies with Tony Curtis.

Answer: Blake Edwards, Rudolph Maté, Joseph Pevney

7. Tony Curtis made 3 films with this actress (not Janet Leigh!). Name her.

Answer: Rick got Piper Laurie, which is correct, but I was looking for Natalie Wood.

8. In which movie did Tony Curtis make a reference to Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot?

Answer: Sex and the Single Girl

9. In the 1940s John Ridgely portrayed a Mountie in two films. Name the films and the stars.

Answer: Becks got Northern Pursuit (Errol Flynn); the other one was Iron Curtain (Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney).

Moguls and Movie Stars, Episode 5 - Warriors and Peacemakers

The fifth installment in TCM's ambitious documentary on the history of film, from the its first days through the turbulent 1960s, chronicles Hollywood in the 1940s.

The opening scenes focus on landmark films such as The Grapes of Wrath, Citizen Kane, The Great Dictator, and Casablanca. Gore Vidal and others comment on the lasting influence of Orson Welles and Kane. They also offer fascinating stories behind the making of Welles' classic, to include the origin of "Rosebud" and a memo from William Randolph Hearst "encouraging" one of his newspapers to offer a kindly review of Buster Keaton's The Cameraman.

Much of the episode obviously keys on Hollywood's contributions during World War II, spanning from Frank Capra's Why We Fight series to films promoting Americana (e.g. the Andy Hardy series) to the USO shows with Bob Hope and the Hollywood Canteen for servicemen. This segment ends appropriately with the Sam Goldwyn's post-war Best Picture The Best Years of Our Lives.

Wasserman kept a phone at the
family dinner table--to talk with
clients whenever they called.
My favorite part of Warriors and Peacemakers is a segment that traces the rise of agents, a side of the film industry often ignored in documentaries and reference books. Yet, there can be no doubt that the influence of Lew Wasserman, the first "super agent" and MCA, had a significant impact on the studios. The increasing power of agents, along with the "de Havilland decision" and the breakup of studio-owned theatre chains (both also addressed here), led to the eventual collapse of the "studio system."

Due to the constraints of its one-hour running time, the episode only touches briefly on the emergence of films with strong female characters, the treatment of minorities in the 1940s (e.g., Home of the Brave), the McCarthy hearings, and the birth of film noir. The latter is especially disappointing given the later influence of noir classics such as Laura and Out of Past.

A more serious omission is the migration of great foreign filmmakers from war-torn Europe to Hollywood. Fritz Lang made classic 1940s fare such as Scarlet Street, while Jean Renoir (The Southerner), Julien Duvivier (Flesh and Fantasy) and other foreign filmmakers made memorable Hollywood contributions.

Such criticism is minor, given the goal of covering a historically-packed decade in sixty minutes. Viewers unfamiliar with Hollywood in the 1940s will gain some valuable insight from Warriors and Peacemakers. More serious film buffs will enjoy the film clips, newsreel footage, and commentary on many of their favorite movies.

YouCast Corporation provided a screening copy of this episode to the Classic Film & TV Cafe.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Holiday Gift Ideas for the Classic Film & TV Fan (2010 Edition)

One of the Cafe's most popular articles last year was a list of holiday gift ideas from our contributors (click here to read last year's recommendations). This year, we are proud to present the sequel! Without further discussion, here are some gift ideas for the classic film and/or TV lover in your family.

Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut and Helen G. Scott (recommended by Rick29). This 1985 nonfiction book consists of a series of Alfred Hitchcock interviews conducted by filmmaker and film critic Francois Truffaut. The two film giants start with Hitchcock's first movie and work their way through his filmography, analzying each picture. It's a fascinating book--not just for Hitchcock fans--but for anyone that loves classic film. In preparation for the interviews, Truffaut watched every film discussed and his insights are often as absorbing as Hitchcock's. This is my favorite film reference book..and the one that I peruse the most frequently. It's available in both hardback and paperback.

Mission: Impossible - Seasons 1, 2, or 3 (recommended by Toto). Need to overthrow a ruthless dictator? Rescue a kidnapped scientist? Frame a big-time gangster? Recover a few million in gold bullion? Then, you need the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), which accompishes these seemingly impossible tasks on a weekly basis. Each episode unfolds like an intricate heist plot with only part of the plan revealed to the viewer. Seasons 2 and 3 feature the best-known cast with Peter Graves as the group's leader and the team consisting of Barbara Bain, Martin Landau, Greg Morris, and Peter Lupus. The first season boasts Steven Hill as the IMF leader. I was skeptical about Season 1 after watching the always-smooth Graves as the head of the IMF. However, Hill is quite good, too, bringing his trademark intensity to the role. In short, you can't go wrong with choosing any of the first three seasons as a gift.

3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg (recommended by TheLadyEve). My Christmas suggestion is a gift for both the silent film fan and the classic film lover who is just becoming acquainted with them. This new Criterion Collection, released last August, includes: Underworld (1927), widely considered the first film gangster film (and an Oscar winner): The Last Command (1928) which stars Emil Jannings, who won an Oscar for his performance; and Docks of New York (1928), another much-celebrated silent classic. A quote from my TCM Classic Film Union friend (and silent film aficionado) Gagman66: "the Von Sternberg set is the event of the year for silent film fans," and "...if you don't know much about silents, these von Sternberg's are an outstanding introduction. In my opinion they are every bit as good if not better than his early 30's sound films...."  For more information, click here.
Golden Girls: 25th Anniversary Complete Collection (recommended by Sarkoffagus). Picture it: Miami, 1985. Four elderly ladies living together under one roof: tough, caring, and occasionally sarcastic Dorothy Zbornak; sweet and naive Rose Nylund; free-spirited Southern belle Blanche Devereaux; and Dorothy's mother, Sophia Petrillo, a firecracker who speaks her mind and asks questions later. Containing all seven seasons, the series is packaged in a replica of Sophia's ever-present wicker handbag. A perfect gift for gals (or guys) who cannot get enough of Dorothy's cynical remarks, Rose's stories of St. Olaf, Blanche's escapades, or the lovable Sophia. And, of course, the gift is only complete with a card attached that says, "Thank you for being a friend."

The Spy Collection Megaset (recommended by Rick29). This unique boxed set contains episodes from four spy TV series from the 1960s and early 1970s:  Patrick McGoohan's cult classic The Prisoner; The Champions; The Persuaders with Tony Curtis and Roger Moore; and The Protectors starring Robert Vaughn and Nyree Dawn Porter. Note that you get some episodes from each series, but all the episodes from none. Thus, this boxed set makes a terrific sampler...but if you get hooked on The Prisoner (as you probably will), you'll have to make another purchase to get the full series. The best of this megaset is McGoohan's one-of-a-kind series, of course. However, I thoroughly enjoyed The Champions, which traced the exploits of a trio of agents that are imbued with superhuman powers when their plane crashes in the Himalayas. Despite their casts, The Persuaders and The Protectors fail to live up to expectations, but they're both diverting and boast cool theme music (the former was composed by John Barry).

Busy Berkeley 9-Film Collection (recommended by Dawn). The musical fans on your holiday shopping list will love this ten-disc boxed set that includes: 42nd StreetGold Diggers of 1933; Footlight ParadeDames; Gold Diggers of 1935; Gold Diggers of 1937Varsity ShowHollywood Hotel; and Gold Diggers in Paris. A added bonus is "The Busby Berkeley Disc," a toe-tapping compilation of 21 of the choreographer/filmmaker's greatest dance numbers.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) (recommended by Rick29). Looking for an inexpensive stocking stuffer for the classic film fan in your family? You can't go wrong with this well-priced DVD of the timeless science fiction classic (click here to read the film review). The DVD offers some great extras: commentary by director Robert Wise and Nicolas Meyer; a "making of" documentary; shooting script; newsreel footage; restoration comparison (the new print is awesome); trailer; and stills. Merrry "Klaatu barada nikto" to you!

Now Playing, a Viewer's Guide to Turner Classic Movies (recommended by ClassicBecky).  Have the classic film fans in your family always wanted to subscribe to TCM's magazine, but just never wanted to spend the money on themselves? Get them a gift subscription! Now Playing, which is published monthly, has interesting articles, great pictures, descriptions of the movies--all kinds of things that would be fun to read.  A subscription would be a wonderful present for a classic movie fan.

The Val Lewton Collection (recommended by ClassicBecky). A collection of movies by the great Val Lewton would be a welcome addition to many movie lovers' collection.  His wonderful, subtle brand of eerie movies, such as Cat People, The Seventh Victim, and I Walked With a Zombie are a few of his films featured in this six-disc set containing all his RKO horror films.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gangsters of the New World in Kinji Fukasaku’s “Battles Without Honor and Humanity”

A former soldier, Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara), is living among the chaotic streets of Hiroshima following the second World War. When one of his fellow soldiers is apparently attacked, Hirono and others initiate a bloody retribution that results in Hirono gunning down a man in the open air of the black markets. He is imprisoned for the crime, where he meets and befriends yakuza (gangster) Wakasugi (Tatsuo Umemiya). Upon his release, Hirono is asked to join the yakuza, and he is subsequently thrown into a world in which men prove their loyalty with murder. Rival yakuza gangs wage war against one another, and life becomes less about finding a place to stand in the midst of constantly shifting power, and more about survival of the individual.

Kinji Fukasaku’s 1973 Battles Without Honor and Humanity (original title:仁義なき戦, anglicized as Jingi naki tatakai) popularized the yakuza film genre in Japan. Yakuza, a Japanese criminal organization or a member of su
ch an organization (and typically equated -- at least in the U.S. -- with the mafia), were an alternative to the samurai who dominated Japanese cinema screens. However, some of the early yakuza films displayed similar characteristics as the samurai. These films, known as ninkyo eiga (“chivalry films”), told stories of men who were yakuza but were also men of honor. The films took place before the war, with the men still brandishing swords.

Though Fukasaku had previously tackled the yakuza genre with 1971’s Sympathy for the Underdog (Bakuto gaijin butai/aka Gamblers in Okinawa) and Street Mobster (Gendai yakuza: hitokiri yota) the following year, Battles Without Honor and Humanity was the biggest commercial and critical success and would change the face of the genre. The title alone is letting the audience know that the jingi (“honor”) upheld by the previous cinematic yakuza is a thing of the past. The world has changed, epitomized by its Hiroshima setting, in the aftermath of World War II (Fukasaku begins the movie with footage of an atomic bomb’s mushroom cloud). One of Fukasaku’s most notable points in restructuring the yakuza genre is the reason that Hirono is sent to prison: for shooting and killing a man armed with a sword, a man who seems to belong in a ninkyo film.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity, like many of Fukasaku’s yakuza films, is shot in the style of a documentary. There’s a steady impression of a camera trailing behind and around the characters, like a cameraman literally chasing the action. The movie is teeming with characters, and although the significant characters are pres
ented with an inter-title and a freeze frame, there remains a feeling of a rushed introduction before continuing with the story. In Fukasaku’s world, violent outbursts are sudden and sharp, and they are only intensified within the context of an already rapidly paced movie. Like in real life, violence seems to come out of nowhere before quickly disappearing, everything changing in a single unexpected moment. There are even instances of humor among the violence, such as the dark but amusing sequence when Hirono is preparing for yubitsume (amputating a little finger by way of an apology for an offense), and, in a room full of tough yakuza, it is the seemingly meek and modest wife of a yakuza who explains how best to slice through the finger. Fukasaku’s filmmaking is aggressive and kinetic, and it is sometimes exhausting to watch.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity
was immensely popular and initiated a series of films, beginning with the first sequel, Hiroshima Death
match, in 1973, and followed by Proxy War that same year and Police Tactics and Final Episode in 1974 (each was a subtitle to Battles Without Honor and Humanity). Fukasaku directed and Sugawara starred in all five films. Fukasaku also helmed a three-movie series titled New Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1974-76), with Sugawara appearing in each film. (The Battles Without Honor and Humanity five-part series was released on U.S. DVD in 2004 as The Yakuza Papers.)

Actor Bunta Sugawara, although unfortunately typecast in yakuza roles, displays unprecedented charisma. He’s an engaging actor, turning the simple act of lighting a cigarette into a stylized maneuver. In addition to Fuka
saku’s jingi movies, Sugawara also starred in the director’s Street Mobster and 1975’s Cops vs. Thugs (Kenkai tai soshiki boryoku) -- actually playing a cop in the latter film, though he was no more ethical than the yakuza. More recently, he provided the voice for Kamajii (the spider-esque old man) in Hayao Miyazaki’s outstanding and hugely successful 2001 anime, Spirited Away (but not, of course, for the English dub) and made an appearance in Takashi Miike’s winsome, family-friendly The Great Yokai War (2005).
Kinji Fukasaku stayed mostly in the yakuza film genre, but as the genre became less popular, he did direct samurai films and movies of other genres. Though most fans consider Battles Without Honor and Humanity his masterpiece, the director nearly eclipsed himself with Battle Royale in 2000. The story of young students forced to play a game in which they must kill one another (the last surviving player sent home a “winner”), the film was a rousing triumph, both in its native land and overseas. Production for a sequel was barely underway when Kinji Fukasaku succumbed to cancer in January 2003. The movie, Battle Royale II: Requiem, was completed and released that year, directed by Fukasaku’s son, Kenta Fukasaku, who has since become a filmmaker in his own right.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity is frenetic filmmaking at its best. But there is order to Fukasaku’s chaos. Underneath the layers of fists, blood and gunfire are magnetic characters, enveloped in a world presented to viewers at breakneck speed. Such is the cinema of Kinji Fukasaku. Sit down, take a breath, and enjoy the ride.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Road Down Memory Lane Leads to Ingmar Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries”

Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström), an aging physician and widower, is to receive an honorary degree from his alma mater, Lund University. After having a disconcerting dream of a lonely street, a clock with no hands, and a horse-drawn carriage (transporting a coffin with the professor’s lifeless body inside), Isak leaves for the ceremony earlier than planned, much to the dismay of his sassy but nimble housekeeper, Miss Agda (Jullan Kindahl). Traveling by car, Isak begins his journey with his daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Thulin), stopping at the summer home from his childhood and encountering a trio of youngsters, including a girl who reminds him of his first love (both named Sara and both played by Bibi Andersson). Plagued by more dreams, Isak’s trip becomes a catharsis, as he must comes to terms with his apathy towards others, his estranged son, and his despondent marriage.

Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman was known for his somber movies, such as The Virgin Spring (1960), Hour of the Wolf (1968), and Cries and Whispers (19
73), many of them wrought with misery and tortured characters. Considering this, the director’s 1957 Wild Strawberries (original title: Smultronstället) is refreshingly optimistic. Isak’s dreams are unmistakable representations of his fears: loneliness, his impending death, and his days of elation to forever remain distant memories. Once on the road, Marianne ruthlessly informs the professor that his son hates him, reminding Isak of the cold manner in which he allowed his daughter-in-law to stay with him (insinuating that problems between the couple were not his concern) and a loan that his son is slowly paying back (Marianne believing that the wealthy professor does not need the money). Isak is also forced to remember that his deceased wife, Karin, was an unhappy woman, which she blames on the man’s detachment and passivity.

Notwithstanding the dismal dreams and recollections of a rueful life, Bergman’s film is encouraging, for the simple fact that Isak is acknowledging that his uncaring behavior is a character flaw. Furthermore, he is experiencing an emotion he has likely never previously felt: guilt. Perhaps for the first time, Isak is seeing how his dispassion has affected the people in his life. When Isak and Marianne visit his mother, the professor sees the coldness in his mother that he has shown to his wife, his son and his daughter-in-law. The elderly lady rummages through a box filled with items of the past, her memories nothing more than keepsakes. It’s a sad scene, but one in which Isak recognizes that he does not want souvenirs of his youth but rather the happiness associated with it. More importantly, he does not wish upon his son memories of sorrow and pain.

There are a number of uplifting moments in
Wild Strawberries. The young Sara is not simply an expression of Isak’s carefree childhood, but, with her genuine enthusiasm over seeing the professor awarded his honorary degree, she likewise represents happiness that remains within reach. In one sequence, the group stops at a gas station, where the attendant (Max von Sydow) fondly recalls Isak, who once had an office nearby. The man so admires the professor that he refuses payment, and as he praises the man’s kindness to his wife, the typically doleful Marianne flashes a bright, honest smile.

Wild Strawberries was awarded the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, won for Best Film and Best Actor at the Mar del Plata Film Festival, and won a Best Foreign Film Golden Globe (Samuel Goldwyn International Award), along with four other films that year. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Thulin, Andersson and von Sydow were frequent collaborators with Bergman, appearing in a number of the Swedish director’s movies. Sjöström was a prominent film director in Sweden during the silent film era and directed a number of U.S. films (under the Americanized name of Victor Seastrom). He only made a few talkies before focusing his efforts as artistic director of the production company, Svensk Filmindustri, in the 1940s and acting in theatrical productions. This was the final film for Sjöström as either actor or director. He died a little more than two years later in 1960.

Although not an official remake, Woody Allen’s film, Another Woman (1988), borrows several thematic elements from Wild Strawberries and is generally considered an homage to Bergman’s movie. Similarly, the very basic plot to Allen’s film, Deconstructing Harry (1997), resembles both Wild Strawberries and another Bergman film, Through a Glass Darkly (1961). This is typical of Allen’s movies, as he often makes what can be considered his version of an European film, including yet another Bergman movie, 1955’s Smiles of a Summer Night (Allen’s 1982 A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy), as well as films from Italian director Federico Fellini (e.g., Allen’s 1980 Stardust Memories being his take on Fellini’s 1963 ).

It is abundantly clear by the film’s end that Isak wishes to make a change in his life and hopes that it will spark changes in other people’s lives as well. The interaction between Isak and Miss Agda is pleasantly droll, but the most rewarding relationship in the film is the one between the professor and his daughter-in-law. They are the two characters who develop the most throughout the film, both stubborn people who gradually find contentment, shared and personal alike. The title refers to the wild strawberries growing in a field near Isak’s childhood home, but it is not merely a hint of childhood and nostalgia. The strawberries are wild because they are free, unburdened by regret and not restrained by old-world ways and traditions or fearing what is to come. They find their peace in simple existence.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bunuel’s Depiction of Hell on Earth: Las Hurdes (Land Without Bread)

las hurdes

This 1933 documentary by Luis Bunuel is strange, but not unwatchable. Filmed in a poor region of Spain known as Las Hurdes Altas, this documentary presents the dire conditions faced by the region’s inhabitants through a surrealist lens. Hence, why I found this movie disturbingly strange at times. I just don’t know how one can effectively use surrealism to document the true hardships of a people without violating the documentarian’s unspoken code of neutrality—perhaps Michal Moore is a fan of Bunuel?

The English title of this film is Land Without Bread hurdesbecause bread was nowhere to be found in Las Hurdes—it had to be brought in as a luxury item. Tucked away in a mountainous region, Las Hurdes Altas has poor soil that yields very few crops. The one foodstuff they have an abundance of is honey, and even this isn’t very good—unless, of course, you want to smear a sickly jackass with it and watch bees swarm.

Like in most Bunuel films, the Catholic Church is portrayed as decadent and unmoved by the plight of the poor. Using one of his favorite cinematic tools, juxtaposition, Bunuel goes from depicting malnourished, impoverished people to showcasing the lushness of an abandoned convent.

lasAs a completely isolated region, Las Hurdes Altas suffers from not only bodily starvation but intellectual starvation as well. There are no arts to speak of, and the people practice inbreeding, which in turn contributes to a number of mentally challenged and handicapped people. As I watched Bunuel’s portrayal of these people, I kept asking myself if he could find them why hadn’t the 20th century somehow nudged itself into this horrible place? I suppose that was Bunuel’s point: no one cared if they lived in almost medieval conditions.

I often find it difficult to believe that Bunuel came from a wealthy background. He has an almost searing hatred of everything bourgeois and traditional. In addition, his depiction of his homeland (Spain) is often extremely vitriolic. This, no doubt, contributed to his expatriation under Franco.

Under a half an hour long, Las Hurdes is a disturbing look at a people and region that time forgot. Through shocking images, such as decapitated chickens and countless shots of filth and disease, Bunuel forces his viewer to see, in his words, “hell on earth”.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bond Is Forever: “Thunderball”

Getting much needed rest and recovery at a health clinic, agent James Bond (Sean Connery) is so skeptical of a man he encounters that the spy makes a call to MI6. Subsequent investigation uncovers a SPECTRE plot to switch identities with a Vulcan bomber pilot. When the jet bomber is hijacked and its atomic weaponry stolen, MI6 initiates a mission codenamed Thunderball to recover the bombs. Included in the dossier is a photograph of the pilot and his sister, Domino (Claudine Auger), and 007, knowing that the pilot who boarded the Vulcan was an impostor, requests to be reassigned to the Bahamas to trail Domino. Once there, Bond learns that the woman is the mistress of SPECTRE No. 2, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi). The agent must covertly inspect Largo’s ship, the Disco Volante, and try to stay ahead of SPECTRE before the nefarious conglomerate can detonate the atomic bombs.

Thunderball (1965) was dire
cted by Terrence Young, who also helmed the first Bond film, Dr. No in 1962, as well as From Russia with Love (1963). There are familiar faces (Bernard Lee as M, Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny and Desmond Llewelyn as Q) and familiar elements (various gadgets and the beautiful Aston Martin), but Thunderball also plays with conventions and expectations. For instance, Bond is asked his name a few times but never responds with his popular, “Bond... James Bond,” instead saying James Bond or simply Bond. Additionally, he enters the office at MI6 headquarters and is clearly prepared to toss his hat toward the coat rack, only to see his target next to the door. In a similar vein, CIA agent and Bond pal Felix Leiter is introduced to the audience before 007 sees him. Bond knows him, but viewers, in actuality, do not, as Rik Van Nutter is the third actor in as many movies to portray Leiter. Therefore, the audience fears the mysterious man shadowing the British agent, almost as if the film is mocking the ever-changing role.
One of the best ways in which Thunderball challenges the series’ conventions is the Bond villainess Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi). Volpe is an amalgamation of Bond Girls and Bond Villains, more seductive than Rosa Klebb of From Russia with Love and more clearly a villain than Tatiana of the same film and Pussy Galore of Goldfinger (1964). She is introduced in the film in a nightgown, lying in bed (and equated with Bond, who was in bed with a female in the previous scene). Moments later, she is in the same room with a dead man, a man in uniform, and a man with a gun, but she is undeniably the person in charge (and still wearing her nightgown). Throughout the film, she is dressed in bright, pastel colors, but her actions contradict her dainty apparel, as she races in her Ford Mustang at 100 mph (making her passenger, Bond, visibly anxious) and brandishes a shotgun (expertly hitting the clay targets). Volpe is an assassin, but like 007, who is licensed to kill, the notions of sex and violence are interchangeable (further exemplified by Bond, even in 1965, being dubbed “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” in Europe and Japan). But it is Volpe who initiates an intimate encounter with Bond (waiting for him in his bathtub), and then subsequently ridicules the agent’s promiscuity, since Volpe did not succumb to his charms. The fiery-haired Paluzzi, who easily outshines the rest of the supporting cast, originally auditioned for the role of Domino. She lost the part but was offered Fiona Volpe, and it is difficult to imagine anyone else in the role.
Martine Beswick, who plays Bond’s assistant,” Paula, also appeared as a gypsy woman engaged in fisticuffs in From Russia with Love (1963). Italian actor Adolfo Celi also had a role in Mark Robson’s Von Ryan’s Express (1965) and starred in Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die? (aka Chi l’ha vista morire?/1972) with George Lazenby, whose sole portrayal of 007 was 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Actor Robert Rietti (sometimes credited as Rietty), who dubbed Celi’s voice for Thunderball, had a small role in the unofficial Bond film, Never Say Never Again (1983). Anthony Dawson and Eric Pohlmann as, respectively, Blofeld’s hands/body and his voice, also shared the role in From Russia with Love (the former also appeared in Dr. No).

The rocket pack utilized by Bond as a means
of escape in the pre-credit sequence was the Bell Rocket Belt, a fully functional machine developed by the U.S. Army. The producers originally wanted the debonair Bond to fly it without a helmet, but the pilot who was actually operating the rocket pack refused. O.H.M.S. (On Her/His Majesty’s Service), an officially authorized marking, is witnessed in Thunderball on the dossier Bond receives as O.H.M.S.S., which, of course, stands for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the name of a Fleming novel and corresponding adaptation. The title song was originally “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” (a reference to Bond’s “name” overseas), recorded by Shirley Bassey and then rerecorded by Dionne Warwick. However, the producers wanted the title and lyrics to reference the film’s title, so the song was rewritten and was performed by Tom Jones.
The year of 1965 also saw the release of The Ipcress File, featuring another British spy, Harry Palmer. Based on a novel by Len Deighton (with a nameless protagonist), the film follows agent Palmer (superbly portrayed by Michael Caine), almost an antithesis to the flamboyant 007. Harry Saltzman produced, and Bond alumni Peter Hunt (editor), John Barry (score), and Ken Adam (production design) were a part of the movie. Two sequels followed, Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967), also starring Caine and produced by Saltzman (Adam was also the production designer for the first sequel). Guy Doleman, who was Count Lippe in Thunderball (the man whom Bond initially suspects at the health clinic), plays Palmer's superior, Colonel Ross, in all three films. Doleman was also the very first Number Two (an ever-changing role) in the cult TV series, The Prisoner. Number Two’s voice, typically featured in the opening credits, was voiced by Rietti in numerous episodes.

The journey to the big screen for Thunderball was one of epic proportions. In 1959, after Ian Fleming had garnered fame with his James Bond novels, the author had worked on an original story for 007’s cinematic debut. Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham also collaborated on the screenplay. When the project was ultimately abandoned, Fleming wro
te a novel based on the story, and in March 1961, McClory, having seen an advanced copy of the book, filed suit. Producers Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli acquired rights to the Bond novels and the Bond character, and the plan was to first adapt Thunderball. However, due to the lawsuit, they chose instead to bring Dr. No to movie theater screens. The suit was finally settled out of court, and future publications of the Thunderball novel were to include on the copyright page: “Based on a screen treatment by K. McClory, J. Whittingham and Ian Fleming.”

McClory had also been allowed the rights for a cinematic adaptation, and he made a deal with Saltzman and Broccoli in producing what would be the fourth movie of the Bond series. Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins were given screenplay credit, but McClory and Whittingham were credited (with Fleming) for “original story,” Whittingham for “original screenplay,” and McClory received a credit as a producer. An agreement between EON Productions and McClory maintained that he would not make another adaptation for 12 years. McClory attempted such an adaptation in 1976 but was halted when United Artists filed suit against him. Receiving financing and assistance from producer Jack Schwartzman (actress Talia Shire’s husband) and Warner Bros., McClory was able to produce a Bond film in 1983, Never Say Never Again (released the same year as an “official” entry from EON, Octopussy). McClory’s film was directed by Irvin Kershner, who also helmed the 1980 The Empire Strikes Back (aka Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back), and starred Connery as Bond (the first time he portrayed the fictional agent in 12 years), Kim Basinger as Domino, Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush (an alternative to Fiona Volpe) and Max von Sydow as Blofeld. The year of 1983 was referred to by the media as “Battle of the Bonds,” and although Octopussy made more money at the box office, both films were successful.

Sadly, the Thunderball legal scrimmage continued. In the 1990s, after years of trying to get Marvel comic book character, Spider-Man, onto movie screens, Sony/Columbia Pictures were awarded rights to Spider-Man via Marvel. MGM/UA disputed this, claiming that, in a previous settlement, it owned all rights related to Spider-Man screenplays and drafts. In retaliation, Sony announced another adaptation of Thunderball, and MGM, fearing substantial loss of the dependable Bond revenue, agreed to a trade-off. (During the legal turmoil, Sony additionally sued MGM with the claim that Kevin McClory had co-authored the film version of Bond, a suit which was dismissed in 2000, as it had not been filed in a timely manner.) Sony released Spider-Man in 2002, and MGM had no worries over a competing Bond movie. In 2005, Sony purchased MG
M and the following year released a new Bond film, Casino Royale.

John Stears won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for Thunderball. Production designer Ken Adam was nominated for a BAFTA (as well as other Bond films), but lost to himself for The Ipcress File.
I can find little to complain about with Thunderball. It’s a cinematic delight, with topnotch action, glorious villains, and the always reliable Connery. Fiona Volpe is one of my favorite baddies of the Bond series; her surname is Italian for “fox,” and the redheaded Italian actress is most definitely a fox. I think the film only falters in an extended underwater battle sequence. It has a strong start, but eventually just feels like a series of vignettes to highlight snazzy subaquatic attacks and kills. But that’s a minor flub in an otherwise smashing entry to the 007 movies. Any thoughts on Thunderball?

Bond Is Forever will return next month with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The 1935 “Mutiny on the Bounty” Gets the Blu-ray Treatment

Frank Lloyd’s 1935 adventure-at-sea, Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Charles Laughton, Clark Gable and Franchot Tone, arrives on Warner Bros. Blu-ray today. Inspired by historical events, the movie details a mutiny led by Fletcher Christian (Gable) against the captain of the Bounty, William Bligh (Laughton).

Winner of an Academy Award for Best Picture (the category officially deemed Best Outstanding Production), Mutiny on the Bounty was also nominated for Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music (score), and Best Writing, as well as nods for the three leading men (all nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, as the Academy would not have a Supporting Actor/Actress category until the following year).

The film was based on a 1932 novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, and was remade in 1962, directed by Lewis Milestone (who also helmed 1960’s Ocean’s 11) and starring Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian and Trevor Howard as Capt. Bligh. Preceding Lloyd’s movie, there were two Australian films produced based on the incident on the Bounty: a 1916 silent film, The Mutiny of the Bounty, that reportedly has no existing prints; and 1933’s In the Wake of the Bounty, which features Errol Flynn in his screen debut as Fletcher Christian. In 1984, The Bounty was released with Anthony Hopkins as Bligh, Mel Gibson as Christian, Laurence Olivier as Admiral Hood, and early performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson.

The Mutiny on the Bounty Blu-ray displays sharp, sublime black and white cinematography and an impressive hi-def soundtrack. Considering the film’s age, the images and audio are worthy of praise, and the entire presentation looks and sounds admirable. The single-disc release is packaged in a handsome book format, loaded with publicity stills and trivia. Extra features include an MGM short, “Pitcairn Island Today”, 1936 newsreel of Frank Capra presenting the Oscar to producer Irving Thalberg (who gives a brief word of thanks), and trailers for the film and the 1962 remake. Mutiny on the Bounty in hi-def would make a great gift for the upcoming holidays!

For details on the movie and its production, check out Kims Cafe write-up here. For more information on the new release, you can visit the Warner Bros. Blu-ray site.

Warner Bros. provided a copy of this Blu-ray to Classic Film & TV Cafe. Photo stills courtesy of Warner Bros.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Trivia Time - Part 59

Who Am I? I'm an Arizona music legend who scored a Top Ten hit for the film, Because They're Young. I also acted in a few films and a couple of episodes of Have Gun Will Travel. Who Am I?

Who Am I? I began in the theater, and didn't really start to appear in many movies until 1949. I frequently played the mother of the main character, and I tended to steal the show! My career really took after I played the mother of the star of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. In reality, I was only 7 years older than he was. Who Am I?

1. Who was the male star of the film, Because They're Young?

2. For a free pass for the entire month of December, name four members of the "back-up" band on Because They're Young.

3. Who Am I? #2 played her mother twice in movies made in the 1950s. Name the actress in question and the films.

4. Name three actors that Tony Curtis made more than one film with.

5. This famous actor and this famous director made five films together, but only one was a drama. Name them and the drama.

6. Name all directors who made at least 3 movies with Tony Curtis.

7. Tony Curtis made 3 films with this actress (not Janet Leigh!). Name her.

8. In which movie did Tony Curtis make a reference to Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot?

9. In the 1940s John Ridgely portrayed a Mountie in two films. Name the films and the stars.

10. Name three things these films have in common: The Fighting 69th and God is My Co-Pilot.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Trivia Time - Part 58 - the Answers

Who Are We? We met by accident at the barbershop at Universal Studios. One of us had just been fired, while the career of the other was on the rise. One of us leaned over to the other and said, "Hey, would you be interested in doing a TV show for me?" Between the two of us, we changed the face of television, films and popular music. Who Are We?

Answer: Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini

3. Name the TV show mentioned in Who Are We?.

Answer: Peter Gunn

4. What do these three films have in common: White Heat, Forever Amber, and Random Harvest?

Answer: Margaret Wycherly

6. Name a great star of stage and screen who had a recurring role as him/herself in this late '60s/early '70s TV series? Name the series, too.

Answer: Ethel Merman, That Girl

7. In this TV series third season opener, it lampooned its major time slot opposition. Name the show and the opposition.

Answer: Rip Tide and Moonlighting

9. Name the other co-stars of the film in #8.

Answer: David Niven, Donald Crisp, Melville Cooper, Barry Fitzgerald

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Jean Vigo’s Surrealistic Zero De Conduite (Zero for Conduct)


I am not a big fan of surrealism and this 1933 French film is pretty darn surreal.

Under 45-minutes long, this Jean Vigo film was based on his own childhood experiences in a French boarding school. Vigo examines the struggle between freedom and authority. He uses his own unique style of poetic realism to create an allegory about the way the lower rungs of society view those who hold all the power. It must have been a thinly veiled allegory, because it was quickly banned in France.

zeropic4The storyline of this film about school children revolting against their teachers plays a secondary role to the visual elements presented by Vigo. At times it can be difficult to determine what is truly taking place. The children have a number of internal thoughts that are presented as happening in the external. It sometimes takes a moment to realize that what has happened is a farce. For example, when the children have their big “revolution” on the school roof and throw garbage and cans at alumnae at an alumni ceremony, it takes you a second to realize that the alumnae are just dressed up dummies—literally.

The most famous image from Zero De Conduite is zero1the slow-motion pillow fight. With feathers slowly floating through the air, the children eerily march as though they are an army caught in a snowstorm. I must admit, this innovative shot makes this film almost bearable—almost.

Not nearly as bad as other surreal “classics”, such as Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1928)http://1001moviesblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/un-chien-andalou-1928.html and L’Age D’Or (1930 http://1001moviesblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/lage-dor-1930.html, Zero De Conduite just isn’t the type of film I enjoy. However, Vigo did make one surrealist film that I do like, L’Atalante (1934). Although Vigo only completed four short films before he died from blood poisoning at age 29, his work was highly influential on the French New Wave. Some critics believe that Francois Truffaut’s 400 Blows was a direct descendant of Zero De Conduite.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Giulietta Masina, a Bright Light in Federico Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria”

Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) is spending a day with her boyfriend, Giorgio. When they approach a river, Giorgio snatches Cabiria’s purse and pushes the woman into the water. Cabiria is saved from drowning by several locals, but, refusing to believe that Giorgio has simply stolen her money, she returns to her home to find him. Such is the life of Cabiria, who earns her living as a prostitute. She endures hardship and heartbreak, maintaining a firm grasp on the notion that one day she will find a true companion, a generous and selfless man who will shower her with love.

Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (aka Le notte di Cabiria/1957) is sometimes viewed as a bleak, often depressing film. Cabiria suffers through life’s adversities, which is not always easy to watch, compounded by the fact that she seems naive and so desperate for affection. She encounters men who are disrespectful or self-centered. She wanders into situations which ultimately leave her embarrassed or humiliated. There are times when Cabiria is alone, inside her small house or walking the barren land just outside the city, and a sense of loneliness will betray the woman’s confidence.

But what makes Fellini’s movie anything but a tragedy is Cabiria herself. Despite a childlike exterior, Cabiria is undoubtedly experienced and intelligent. Rather than let herself become overwhelmed with sadness, she retains hope with a smile and a spring in her step. Soon after Giorgio’s treachery, Cabiria is on the streets with others in her profession, dancing to music. Even after another woman insinuates that Giorgio is her man and Cabiria attacks her, the woman’s fury does not linger, and before long, she’s once again dancing in the street. She sees the beauty in so many things, a woman who is proud of the tiny house that she owns and whose happiness cannot be washed away in the pouring rain. The title is certainly appropriate: as the night blankets everything in darkness, Cabiria stands there, forever shining brightly.

Masina, who was married to the director for many years until his death in 1993, was a tremendous actress and provides Nights of Cabiria with a beautiful and unforgettable performance. Many of Fellini’s films either contained a circus or were reminiscent of one, with a motley assortment of characters, each with his/her own distinctive qualities and in a world that had no choice but to embrace every single person. Masina, quite suitably, was much like a clown. She could move from comedy to tragedy with the greatest of ease, and her face was incredibly expressive. Her grins radiate with joy, and her frowns are shrouded in sorrow. Her character in an earlier Fellini film, La strada (1954), played a clown, but that attribute is clear even without the makeup.

In 1998, Nights of Cabiria was restored by Rialto Pictures and was re-released in theaters. In addition to improving the overall quality of the film’s images, a seven-minute sequence with a character usually referred to as “the man with the sack” was included. The previously cut scene involved Cabiria, walking home alone in the early morning, seeing the man pull up in his car. Curious, she watches as he brings food and clothing to people living in what looked to be holes (translated in the subtitles as “caves”). It enhances the film greatly, as Cabiria meets a charitable man who seems to represent what she desires. Likewise, one of the people in the caves is a former prostitute whom Cabiria recognizes, and the woman, once wealthy from the spoils of her profession, is the embodiment of what Cabiria fears.

Nights of Cabiria won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and Masina was awarded the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the Zulueta Prize at the San Sebastián International Film Festival held in Spain. Fellini was awarded the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar three additional times, for La strada, (1963), and Amarcord (1973). His actress wife was also nominated for a BAFTA for both La strada and Nights of Cabiria.

Nights of Cabiria editor Leo Catozzo, who had worked on other films with Fellini, designed and patented the CIR-Catozzo Self-Perforating Adhesive Tape Film Splicer (sometimes called the CIRO and/or guillotine splicer). He was awarded an Academy Award for Technical Achievement in 1990.

Federico Fellini had begun making films during the movement known as Italian Neorealism, which can essentially be defined as social commentary presented in a realistic manner (e.g., shooting on location, amateur performers, etc.). Certainly later in his career, Fellini moved beyond neorealism, with as a clear turning point, much more surreal than based in reality. However, even Fellini’s earlier movies rejected the notion of realism. There was a poetic and spiritual quality to his films, and this is prevalent in Nights of Cabiria. The film concludes with a violation of the fourth wall, a lyrical moment which gives the movie bittersweet closure, and just a little more sweet than bitter.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Las Vegas and Its Casinos Don’t Stand a Chance Against “Ocean’s 11”

World War II veterans, members of the 82nd Airborne, are being rounded together for “a, uh... reunion” -- as Roger (Henry Silva) so succinctly puts it to electrician and recently released convict, Tony (Richard Conte). Soon, Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) has collected ten of his men, also including Sam (Dean Martin), Josh (Sammy Davis, Jr.), Jimmy (Peter Lawford), Mushy (Joey Bishop), Vince (Buddy Lester), Curly (Richard Benedict), Peter (Norman Fell) and Jackson (Clem Harvey). Ocean finally explains that the “project” is a rather ambitious heist -- to knock off five Vegas casinos on New Year’s Eve, and each man walking away with one million dollars to fill his pockets.

Lewis Milestone’s Ocean’s 11 (1960) features all five members of the so-called “Rat Pack” -- Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Jr., Lawford and Bishop. The film also stars Angie Dickinson as the estranged Mrs. Ocean, Cesar Romero as the shady fiancé of Jimmy’s mother (Ilka Chase), and Russian actor Akim Tamiroff as Spyros Acebos, who helps Danny organize the caper. There are also a few cameos: George Raft as a casino owner, Shirley Maclaine as a woman who’s had a few too many (and is easily distracted by Martin’s character), and a hysterical Red Skelton as himself, who makes a scene when the casino refuses to take his check (since he has clearly hit his limit).

Ocean’s 11 is not memorable solely for the cast. It also emphasizes lively characters and an exceptional plot. Ostensibly dropped in the midst of a story already begun, the audience is immediately presented with a multitude of individuals, generally discussing a scheme of some sort (referred to as an operation, a picnic, etc.). Some of the men are looking for others, almost like a chase, which is fitting for viewers who may feel as if they’re trying to keep up with the little details they’ve been provided. The film is nearly halfway complete when Danny reveals what the men will be doing.

Many of Ocean’s eleven are highlighted, individualizing certain characters so that the gang doesn’t blur together as i
nterchangeable thieves. Tony has lost touch with his wife and young son since he served time. He needs the money so that he can settle and hopefully reconnect with his son in military school; at the same time, Tony sees a doctor and receives distressing news. Similarly, Vince wants to get his wife out of a burlesque club, and Jimmy wishes to be independent of his wealthy mother. Their trade may be larceny, but these men are not ruled by greed. They face the same troubles and concerns as many other people. Danny loves his wife, Beatrice, but must acknowledge that they can no longer be together. Josh was forced to give up his dreams of playing baseball due to an injury sustained during the war. Strong, likable characters make the team construct all the more sound, and because they fought together as a team in World War II, it’s easy to overlook the fact that, in the very basic sense, they’re stealing money.

The performances from the entire cast are delightful. As much fun as it is to watch the men being recruited, it’s even more gratifying to watch the caper go down. The inevitable obstacles heighten the suspense, with Danny’s ex-girlfriend, Adele (Patrice Wymore), and Jimmy’s stepfather-to-be creating waves. Actor Silva was more popularly known for playing villains (e.g., John Frankenheimer’s 1962 The Manchurian Candidate -- with his Ocean’s 11 co-star, Sinatra -- and Steven Seagal’s debut, 1988’s Above the Law), and he is surprisingly charming as Roger. Romero might be best remembered as The Joker in the 1960s Batman TV series. Fell was known to television audiences as Mr. Roper in the successful series, Three’s Company (for which he won a Golden Globe in 1979), as well as its spin-off, The Ropers. He was also nominated for an Emmy for the 1976 mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man.

Milestone had twice won an Academy Award for Best Director, for 1927’s
Two Arabian Knights (the very first year for the Academy Awards, the only time that the Best Director category was split into “comedy” and “drama” -- Milestone’s was the latter) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). He was also nominated for The Front Page (1931), and his 1939 Of Mice and Men was nominated for Best Picture. Actor Tamiroff was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and won a Golden Globe (at the Globes’ inaugural ceremony) for the 1943 film, For Whom the Bell Tolls. The same year as her cameo in this film, Maclaine starred in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, for which the actress was nominated for an Academy Award and awarded a Golden Globe (and also won, for good measure, a BAFTA for Best Foreign Actress).

In 2001, Steven Soderbergh directed a stellar remake with a star-studded cast, including George Clooney as Danny Ocean, as well as Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, and Don Cheadle. Though not as dramatically engaging as the original, it was an amusing and highly enjoyable affair, performing well at the box office. Two stars of the original, Silva and Dickinson, appear in cameos. Two rather bland and lamely titled (although successful) sequels invariably followed, Ocean’s Twelve (2004) and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007).

Marking its 50 year anniversary, Ocean’s 11 makes its Blu-ray debut today. The features, although all carryovers from the previous DVD release, are a treat: an audio commentary with Frank Sinatra, Jr. and Angie Dickinson, Las Vegas Then and Now map casino vignettes (focusing on each of the targeted casinos -- the Desert Inn, the Flamingo, the Riviera, the Sahara and the Sands), an excerpt from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Sinatra as guest host and Dickinson as star (and with a spoiler alert, as they discuss the film’s ending), and trailers. There’s also an Easter egg; just look for the extra pair of dice. The hi-def transfer is beautiful, with rich, bold colors and an immaculate soundtrack. For more information on this release, see the Warner Bros. Blu-ray site.

Warner Bros. provided a copy of this Blu-ray to Classic Film & TV Cafe. Photo stills courtesy of Warner Bros.