Archive for Riccardo Freda

Day Two

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2014 by dcairns

White_CCP_FIGX_WFP-WHI081

My second day at Il Cinema Ritrovato and I was for sure going to make it into town in time to see THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE — a serial represented by one tantalising still in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. Sadly, the two episodes screened, fun though they were, did not include the Jekyll-and-Hyde sequence Gifford depicted, so I can’t altogether chalk that one off my list.

Still, the bits shown, two full episodes with some sequences spliced in from elsewhere (those wacky Belgians!) were jolly good fun.

theodora-slave-empress-movie-poster-1954-1020523032

Like a lightweight, I gave myself 45 minutes of daylight before plunging into TEODORA, IMPERATRICE DI BISANZIO (THEODORA, SLAVE EMPRESS), part of the too-brief Riccardo Freda season. This was campy, sword-and-sandal fun, showing signs of the amoral and unsympathetic eye Freda would later turn on his characters. One character, a prison guard is seduced by the vamp-heroine so she can escape her bonds. He’s blinded with a red-hot poker for his troubles (the sadism of the giallo and the spaghetti western is fully present in the peplum). Later, he turns up as a kind of monster, stalking towards Teo in his fur-trimmed barbarian/s&m costume, only to get speared by the hero. Shouldn’t he merit a little sympathy? Apparently not.

The movie also features the best beast attack I’ve ever seen — scores of wild cats of all breeds leaping upon and devouring Roman soldiers. Freda uses the standard formula — shot of real big cat jumping, shot of extra being walloped with stuffed lion — but he cuts so frenetically and does it so many times that the sequence attains a kind of ludicrous, drunken conviction. Hilarious and breath-taking.

The feature screened with a short, I MOSAICI A REVENNA, in which Freda artfully films the religious art of the early Byzantine Empire — and he interpolates a few shots from the doc into his feature to bolster the production values.

On to the big screen at the Arlecchino, for OKLAHOMA! which I could only justify on the grounds that a Todd-AO restoration is an unusual event, and I wanted to see what it looked and sounded like. Well, pristine, for starters. I kind of resented the way the intro was all about the difficulty of the restoration — the challenge seems to have been the main motivation — with no mention of Fred Zinnemann and his achievement, mixed though it may be. On the big screen, with the six-track magnetic stereo sound remastered and the image taken from the decaying negative ten years ago and digitally restored at 50fps 30fps, the film is overwhelming. Rarely have I seen so much of the great outdoors indoors. The micro detail allows you to spot tiny flies and butterflies (and water-snakes) wafting through frame, sometimes to dramatically fortuitous effect. Note also Zinnemann’s innovative direct cutting, achieved without the guiding influence of the nouvelle vague. When Gordon MacRae sings of his putative surrey with a fringe on top, we just cut to the damn thing, on the beat, rollicking along against a massive sky, just as if it had existed all along.

If I started to list the things I missed while watching this jolly 148 minute roadshow pic, complete with intermission, I might start to cry. That’s the curse of the film festival. Oh, very well — Cagney’s debut in OTHER MEN’S WOMEN — a 1935 Mizoguchi and a Takashima of similar vintage — something called IN THE LAND OF THE HEAD HUNTERS — NIGHT NURSE with Stanwyck and Blondell in their scanties — a conference on film restoration — a film by Henny Porten’s sister — Chaplin’s THE VAGABOND and EASY STREET — Giuseppe Tornatore talking about Francesco Rosi’s SALVATORE GIULIANO — Guru Dutt’s PYAASA… and the same impossible choices are offered up from 9am to 9.45pm every day!

Darnell, Linda (My Darling Clementine)_02

By simply remaining in my seat I could catch MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, so I did. Later, Dave Kehr told me about the earlier cut, the authentic Ford cut, which alas does not seem to have been restored. But Linda Darnell on the big screen, even playing a character called Chihuahua ffs, was possibly the most impressive sight of the fest.

In the massive Piazza Maggiore, the public gets in free along with the guests — to watch SALVATORE GIULIANO, in this case, with Tornatore introducing. The restoration makes it look new. It’s a very impressive film, but after 12 hours of screenings I am not taking it in as well as I might — though the film’s unconventional structure (a bit like a CITIZEN KANE in which we see Thompson but don’t see KANE) certainly comes across — when you’re dog-tired and have no idea how far from the end of the movie you might be, you certainly notice.

Sodom & Begorrah

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 4, 2012 by dcairns

Riccardo Freda’s IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE won’t be forming part of my Forgotten Gialli series over at The Daily Notebook — because we’ve got to preserve some standards — but I couldn’t let it pass my retinas without comment.

Set and shot in Dublin, the story follows the odd goings-on at the embassy of an unnamed country, where Anton Diffring is the ambassador so it’s Germany, OK? Flick begins with dull tourist views, and then a woman is splashed with acid and has her throat hacked through in graphic close-up, a brief but shockingly nasty slaying without much of the traditional giallo panache. The ECU effects are unconvincing but nonetheless horrid.

Then we get a thick broth of plot, blending sinister homosexuals, adultery (Anton Diffring is shagging half of Ireland — the wrong half, I’d have said), more murders, unconventional police tactics, and granny-bashing.

Freda, ” a true intellectual” according to his associates, has a genius for concealing his brains and directing like an idiot, which perhaps reflects more on his opinion of his audience than his own capabilities. His vulgar zooms, blatant titty shots and willingness to linger on appalling dialogue distinguish him from his colleague Mario Bava, who endeavored to turn even the lamest scene into chromatic poetry. Freda follows Sidney Pollack’s dictum: “Let the boring crap BE boring crap.”

The cast is a mixture of faded, disdainful Euro-trash glamour and lumpen Irish depressives, with Arthur O’Sullivan (Feeny the highwayman from BARRY LYNDON) the most interesting presence, not so much for his way with dialogue as for his general manner: cold, guarded, a beady-eyed toad.

Luigi Pistilli, a Leone fave (Tuco’s brother in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY), with a dubbed Irish accent, makes an interesting hero, with a Hank Quinlan backstory and a dotty would-be Miss Marple mum. The moment where mum, son, and grand-daughter discover their cat decapitated in the fridge, dripping onto a perfectly good cake, is the film’s strongest moment of horror for me (I love cats and I love cakes).

Valentina Cortese exudes her particular form of high fashion elegance, which at this point consists of dressing like a madwoman with cancer from the nineteen twenties.

Diffring is above it all (and his arse at no point bursts into flames, so that we can’t call the film ANTON WITH A BUM OF FIRE, so just don’t go there) and at one point delivers the Line He Was Born To Say.

“How did you get in here?” asks bonnie colleen Dominique Boschero.

“It doesn’t take much imagination to use a back entrance,” he explains, keeping a totally straight face.

But the most gob-smacking moment (apart from the savage murder of a beautiful woman taking place ENTIRELY OFFSCREEN, surely a first for this genre) is the interrogation of the German chauffeur, who claims he was in a hurry to get to the cleaners.

“Is this the cleaners?” asks O’Sullivan’s associate detective ~

SWASTIKA LAUNDRY LTD. Did Dublin really have such an establishment? I know Ireland maintained her neutrality in WWII, so maybe they felt duty-bound to have matching laundries for balance: perhaps the Swastika was opposite Field Marshall Montgomery’s Wash ‘n’ Go? Or maybe this was an exclusive establishment catering solely to the staff of the German embassy, in a misguided attempt to make them feel at home? It certainly raises many questions more intriguing than the plot of IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE, waiting to beguile you when you get tired of wondering what the title means.

Stop Press: It’s real. Or it was, up until 1980.

Muscle Mary of Scotland

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2012 by dcairns

Like his Gothic spookfest THE GHOST, Riccardo Freda’s MACISTE IN HELL begins with a witch-burning in Scotland. As is traditional in these affairs (dating back directly to MASK OF SATAN, but beyond that to, I guess, I MARRIED A WITCH) the witch curses the townspeople who are about to immolate her.

A title tells us that a hundred years has passed, and suddenly an outbreak of madness is afflicting the women of “Loch Laird” — no reason why the curse should take a century to come into effect, except that it’s impressive yet inexpensive to say “100 years later” in a film of this kind.

And now Charley Law, a young cavalier, rides up with his betrothed, a descendant of the original witch, planning to honeymoon in the bat-infested ancestral castle. An angry mob of torch-wielding villagers promptly batters down the door using one of the few un-tossed cabers in Scotland, and takes his bride into jolly old custody. It looks like she’s going to become a barbecue like her ancestor –

And then Maciste — former Carthaginian slave in CABIRIA (1914), but since then a fair-skinned righter-of-wrongs in a geographically diverse series of 60s peplums (pepla? what’s the plural here?)  – rides up. Nobody questions the abrupt presence of a bodybuilder in a loincloth in 18th century Scotland, they don’t even ask him his name. They just seem to understand. That’s us Scots — an understanding people.

Since we’re in Loch Laird, I’m going to start calling him MacChesty. He’s a sort of naked Lone Ranger figure, and he promptly descends into Hell (located beneath a local cursed tree) to sort things out. This involves MacChesty wrestling a lot of stuffed animals and quizzing Sisyphus and Prometheus, making inquiries, like Columbo in baby oil.

Kirk Morris, in the lead, brings pecs and an Elvis sneer to the part, along with the towering screen magnetism of a polystyrene boulder.

Most of the animal action involves intercutting fake snakes, eagles and lions with the real thing — the live, but very sleepy lion is actually a lioness in drag, adorned with a fake mane. Freda, who is absolute tops in my list of genius-or-idiot? filmmakers, boldly cuts back and forth between Kirk Morris with his frosted highlights earnestly throttling products of the taxidermist’s art in graphic close-up, to longshots where the animals are slightly more animate. Too animate — after MacChesty “kills” the lion, it can be seen contentedly blinking and flapping its ears.

Freda is a filmmaker who loves special effects, but want us to appreciate just how “special” they are, by lingering upon them until their artifice becomes wholly transparent. See also the car crash at the start of A DOPPIA FACCIA, which quite unnecessarily rubs our noses in the substitution of a toy car for the real thing, and even jump-cuts a few tiny explosions in for good measure. “Audacious” doesn’t begin to describe it — and I truly don’t know if Freda is expressing his contempt for the material, or the audience, or a childlike love of magic tricks, or sheer helplessness in the face of a low budget (he began his career with expensive historical epics in the Mussolini era).

But even more thrilling is the fight with Goliath. Goliath laughs at MacChesty, so MacChesty tosses a caber at him. Then we get a great, audiacious, forced-perspective fight between Goliath, a large-ish actor, and some kind of muscular child or jockey doubling for Kirk M.

All the tricks are bold and cunning, and all of them are immediately transparent — my favourite is this one, where Morris stands far enough behind Goliath so he’ll look smaller, and a pair of small plastic hands pretend to throttle the chucklesome titan.

F Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives, but I reckon he was really talking about Italian muscle pics. To pad this one out, we get a montage of Maciste’s greatest hits since 1960, which further develops Freda’s genius for overt, eye-popping juxtapositions, since more of the movies sampled feature different actors playing MacChesty.

The original Maciste, Bartolomeo Pagano, bowed out in 1927. In 1960 the character came back in the form of Mark Forest, who relayed it to a variety of similarly-bulbous he-beings — surely there’s a parallel there with the way German cinema after the war revived characters like Mabuse from its pre-Fascist past, as if to forge a continuity that circumvented the problematic era. At any rate, I’m glad they did, and Freda, the one Italian cineaste who truly rejected neo-realism and everything it stood for, was a natural recruit to the genre.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 386 other followers