Archive for Aldo Tonti

Sniper at the Gates of Dawn

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2022 by dcairns

Sergio Sollima’s VIOLENT CITY (1970) is one hell of a thing. As with the same director’s BIG GUNDOWN, I was familiar with the score for decades, but have only just heard it in context. And what context!

The title is misleading, semi-irrelevant. It’s not about any particular city. What you need to know is, Charles Bronson IS Jeff Heston. And you will know it, because everyone calls him Jeff in every single line of dialogue, it feels like. And we also know that Telly Savalas is Al and Jill Ireland is Vanessa.

Jeff is a hitman — the kind of character who was only just becoming possible as protagonist — spaghetti western amorality spreading its web over the urban thriller — though Seijun Suzuki was there first with BRANDED TO KILL (an influence? — Leone and Morricone certainly exerted a big influence in Japan, did it return to Italy, more twitchy and psychotic?) — and I guess there’s the remarkable MURDER BY CONTRACT (“To buy one of these things you have to be a civilized country. Are you a civilized country?” “Me? I never even finished high school.”)

Anyhow, Jeff is pretty ruthless and Bronson is the right guy to play him. Sollima delivers extended setpieces of pure cinema in eye-searing colour, with or without Morricone’s slamming electric guitars. It’s as sexist as any pulp fiction potboiler — the director’s only technical weakness is his bizarre cutting of Jill Ireland’s body double scenes, as if he really really wants us to know it’s not her. Jeff H. is pretty well a rapist as well as a murderer, but Vanessa doesn’t hold that against him.

Jeff Heston, put your vest on!

The (fuzzy) political edge of REVOLVER — this thing goes all the way to the top! — is mostly absent, except a wildly misjudged scene meant to show the corruption of powerful men. The film’s geography is crazy — Jeff drives from New Orleans to Michigan by way of the Florida Keys, but this one scene finds him in a Southern version of the Playboy Club where the Bunnies are Mammies. It’s absolutely horrific, ludicrous — some kind of satire is evidently intended and it lands as grotesquerie but actual people had to wear those costumes…

This all suggests hard limits to Sollima’s political awareness, and my sense that he’s at heart somewhat superficial intensifies — but I’m more impressed than ever by his image-making, and that of cinematographer Aldo Tonti (BARABBAS, THE SAVAGE INNOCENTS, NIGHTS OF CABIRIA).

Kiss Kiss Bang Whimper

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2022 by dcairns

My friend Kiyo asked me to track down a copy of KISS THE GIRLS AND MAKE THEM DIE, a De Laurentiis espionage caper he remembered from childhood. I found it, and then, having rather enjoyed MATCHLESS, another De Laurentiis espionage caper I remembered from my own childhood, I decided to look at his one. It has some of the same personnel — Jack Pulman on dialogue (with the usual football team of Italian scribes), Nicoletta Macchiavelli on glamour, Andy Ho on Yellow Peril. Direction is credited to veteran Henry Levin, who was implicated in the odious Matt Helm series around this time, but IMDb adds mention of Dino Maiuri, who was also mixed up in the script and producing. It’s shot by Aldo Tonti who has a truly staggering CV but this is not a staggering-looking film, at least in the fuzzy pan-and-scan edition available to me. I tried cropping it to 1:1.85 on the guess it might have been shot open-matte (the compositions seemed roomy) and that helped the framing but did nothing for the fuzz.

Like SUNSET BLVD it’s narrated by a dead body and like BARRY LYNDON it’s narrated by Michael Hordern, but MH does not appear as the dead body, merely dubbing his perf in later. The presence of Richard Lester’s regular producing partner Denis O’Dell in the credits may account for Hordern’s posthumous postproduction contribution. The corpse-in-waiting is personified by Terry-Thomas in crappy makeup, who also plays another, unrelated character later, and for no reason.

As hero, Mike Connors is an empty linen suit, hair of finest Corinthian leather burnished to a gleam, his face a pasteboard Identikit of other forgettable male leads (Bob Cummings with the last vestige of flavour boiled away, Rod Cameron hollowed-out and inflated with odourless gas). Talks into his wristwatch, you know the type.

But he’s surrounded by quirky types. Dorothy Provine does a skilled comic cut-glass English accent; Raf Vallone, grey-eyed Satan, is an Armenian criminal mastermind; Terry-Thomas is Terry-Thomas, which is after all what he’s paid for, but if they’d wanted a really funny spy spoof, letting either Vallone or TT play the hero would have been a good call. TT as criminal mastermind might also have been chortlesome. Casting him as a comic relief character shows a lack of genuine humorous outlook. Comedy relief is the first recourse of the unfunny mind.

After the Hordern mumblings in the rainforest there’s really rather a good shoot-out inside the big Jesus they have in Rio, unquestionably the best-staged shoot-out in a messiah I have ever seen. It goes one better than Hitchcock’s Statue of Liberty chase by virtue of being, so far as I can see, almost entirely genuine and shot-on-location. Genuine in the sense of being the actual statue, not the actual Jesus. Permission to shoot inside the actual living Christ would have taken a skilled location manager indeed.

The Bondian hi-jinks are hyped up to heights of abstraction — why is the eyebrowless killer after Our Man In Rio? Why does he need to save the breathy blonde from the scorpions planted in her bouquet? Why does the anonymous voice on the phone warn O.M.I.R. to get out of town just as a submachine gun is about to extirpate him anyway? Who is anybody and why? It doesn’t seem to matter. Cause and effect are suspended, like a 007 eyebrow. One wonders if the dialogue writer actually read the script or just riffed off the edit, Woody Allen style?

Mario Nascimbene, filling in where Ennio Morricone would be more expected, has no trouble making the music ridiculous enough to satisfy. When Marilu Tolo walks into Vallone’s lair, we get what is known as a lush rephrasing of The Girl from Ipanema, just like that, without compunction.

Unexpectedly fell in love with these boffin/minions, Jean Cocteau and the Vulcan Francois Truffaut, desultorily flicking switches in a model submarine. They only have about a dozen switches before them, and their whole attitude suggests a weary acceptance of the truth that when they’ve thrown every switch, they will only have to unthrow them and start over and the switches aren’t connected to anything anyway.

I guess Terry-Thomas didn’t want to be a leading man — he writes in his memoir about really enjoying getting paid ridiculous sums for a couple of days work. But he has quite a lot to do here as the story proceeds, and his “James,” the chauffeur to Provine’s Lady Penelope type, even partakes in some vigorous karate. Which just makes me want a Terry-Thomas Bond parody all the more keenly. THE MAN FROM T.W.I.T.

The plot or “plot” as it transpires involves a scheme to sap and impurify the precious bodily fluids of the American male, turning our friends into a sexually apathetic nation of Lil Abners. Unlike the wretched Kommissar X series, this one has proper production values, control rooms and stuff. Although the action is all confined to one setting, at least Brazil offers cityscapes, monuments, ocean and jungle. It beats Calgary. Sorry, Calgary.

Finally, it turns out that the plan is based on Nazi concentration camp experiments in sterility, an idea in the foulest bad taste since it’s based in fact. Vallone is freezing sexy girls for the time when he’s the last fertile man on earth. They go into his machine nude, and emerge in jars wearing shiny skintight cossies. When Raf gets kicked into his own device, he goes in full clad and emerges in a jar… fully clad. Even the doomsday devices are sexist. But Provine is allowed to save the day, with Mannix-Bond standing by with his metaphorical dick in his hand, so that’s nice.

List of ingredients: amphibious vehicle, absurd gown, gratuitous cheesecake shots, inane quips, eccentric millionaire baddie, figures badly matted into CCTV comms system, fancy cars, gloating, sinister Chinese element, sliding panels, exotic locales, villain’s lair, stagey punch-ups, colourful laboratory, rescue by aircraft, bondage, feats of escapology, black-tie reception, ring with hidden needle, fancy Rolls-Royce.

KISS THE GIRLS AND MAKE THEM DIE stars Joe Mannix; Bonnie Parker; Giuseppe Garibaldi; Capt. Romney Carlton-Ricketts; Sayonara; Tipsy; Lovey Kravezit; Olympia; Jacky Vein; Klytus Observer No. 1; and Poseidon.

The Unchosen One

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2021 by dcairns

I picked up BARABBAS on DVD from a charity shop along with KING OF KINGS, £1 each, and was amazed at how good it was. I mean, this is Richard Fleischer’s widescreen period and I was pretty disappointed by 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. But Fleischer was good at widescreen and 3D and stuff, at least sometimes. I don’t quite know how to account for his patchiness.

But BARABBAS is based on an acclaimed novel by Pär Lagerkvist and adapted by Christopher Fry (The Lady’s Not for Burning) with an uncredited assist by Nigel Balchin (The Small Back Room). It has De Laurentiis’ millions behind it — but used with a winning combination of intelligence and taste and sheer vulgarity. When we first see the Coliseum, for instance, it’s a massive great set, with real extras in every row, not foosball figures rising and falling in rows, and the area is packed with brawling gladiators, some of them little people, with elephants, a tiger pit, flaming waters — absolutely crazy excess. And that’s basically just an establishing shot, though it’s about twenty shots.

This is one of those BEN-HUR jobs, biblical maginalia — take a character who’s around at the time of Christ and follow his wacky misadventures. Here it’s the thief who was spared crucifixion, played by Anthony Quinn in a boldly sullen, bovine manner — remarkable to have such an epic built around such an uningratiating figure. He’s surrounded by a good, eclectic cast that includes Katy Jurado, Silvana Mangano, Ernest Borgnine, Arthur Kennedy. Strongest impressions are made by Jack Palance as a sadistic gladiator — terrifying! — Harry Andrews, once described by Richard Burton as the world’s greatest wearer of costumes — and Michael Gwynn, building on his REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN experience by playing an eerie Lazarus.

(I bought the Burton diaries, btw. He also OUTS Harry A., thus rocking my world. NEVER would have guessed that.)

They shot a genuine solar eclipse for the crucifixion, but the jaw-dropping set pieces and beautiful compositions and lighting by Aldo Tonti (NIGHTS OF CABIRIA) make that a mere sideshow. Look at this shot (below) — the figures seem like hanging garlands dropping from the central hub, and the different skin tones of the various faces give it a floral look too.

Here we see the guy making the crown of thorns — unsung artisan of torture — and he pricks his finger making it. I said it was vulgar. They want to make you feel the sharpness of the thorns because we’re so used to the image we’re numb to it, but it’s pretty cheap. Still, I prefer it to the Mel Gibson solution which would just be to show graphic penetrative skin-ripping detail in close-up. And where would a biblical epic be without at least a bit of trivialising vulgarity?

It’s all amplified hugely by Mario Nascimbene’s score — his favourite trick is to sit down on the low notes of his piano in some reverberant cavern, creating an awesome slam. Sometimes we don’t even get the slam, just the dead echo of its passing. Spooky.

Barabbas has an encounter with the early Christians in Rome’s catacombs — it has a phantasmal quality that reminds me of Philip K Dick’s hallucinatory musings — “The Empire Never Ended” — anything taking place that far back in time should give us temporal vertigo, but so few movies pull it off — SATYRICON does, and so do bits of this.

Just when I thought I couldn’t like the film any more, for what it is, along comes the ANSWER TO A MYSTERY — beautiful depth-composed tracking shots of mass crucifixion — as used as stock footage with a lava overlay by Ken Russell in ALTERED STATES. I told you I really really wanted to know where that stuff came from. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I can die happy — I just had my second Covid jab and I want to get the benefit — but I’m absurdly pleased to have sorted that out.