Archive for Dino de Laurentiis

Cox’s Orange Pippins: You Say Zapata, I say Sabata

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2022 by dcairns

So, I watched NAVAJO JOE, about which opinions differ — Tarantino I believe is a fan, Alex Cox less so, and Burt Reynolds even less so. I suspect I’ll never be a huge Corbucci fan, but I thought it was pretty good. Reynolds was maybe hoping it would do for him what Clint’s Italian westerns had done for Clint, an unrealistic hope.

Reynolds is good — physically impressive, but is that even his voice in the English dub? And the role doesn’t give him any humour, which holds back his effectiveness. Burt is a good example of the all-round leading man type, a light comedian with an edge. We also get Aldo Sambrell as a good, vicious baddie, and Fernando Rey as Father Rattigan, the town’s complacent priest (dubbing Rey with a stage Oirish accent actually WORKS, somehow).

I have a theory that The Pied Piper of Hamelin would make a good spaghetti western plot. This one comes fairly close to it, but lacks the Piper’s final vengeance. Since HIGH NOON, revisionist westerns had traded in the trope of the unworthy town. Gary Cooper’s town clearly doesn’t deserve its sheriff, but the movie doesn’t question the necessity of saving it. In YOJIMBO and FISTFUL, the town is practically destroyed in the course of being “saved”. By the time we get to HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, Eastwood’s most Italianate western (lacking only the high style), the town is intrinsically corrupt.

Alex Cox assembles plenty of Corbucci interview material in which the maestro says things like “I think it’s best not to put women in these films,” which is very weird since his best westerns feature strong women. Navajo Joe has some honest saloon girls and a heroic maid. And it showcases Corbucci’s strongest suite, his sense of landscape. Really magnificent wide shots.

Ennio Morricone, billed as Leo Nichols for some strange reason (Corbucci is Corbucci, De Laurentiis is De Laurentiis, and the credits brag about the Almeria locations so they’re not trying to pass this off as an American film) gives it an epic score of wailing and chanting, but it may be slightly misjudged — most of the biog musical scenes show the bad guys riding into action, so this celebratory theme — “Navajo Joe, Navajo Joe!” — feels emotionally off. But judged purely as music, which is how I first encountered it on one of my many Morricone LPs, it’s pretty great.

Best exchange is between Burt and one of the awful townspeople, who calls himself an American. “Where was your father born?” asks Burt. “Scotland.” “Well my father was born HERE, and his father before him and HIS father before him. Which of us is the American?”

We get yet another crucifixion, when Joe is hanged upside down, arms outstretched, like St. Peter.

Cox’s objections to the juddery zooms and day-for-night shooting strike me as frivolous, especially when the film provides us with Joe’s horse’s POV in a shot/reverse shot that seems to imply man-to-horse telepathy.

ADIOS, SABATA (aka INDIO BLACK, SAI CHE TI DICO: SEI UN GRAN FIGLIO DI…, 1970) is a weird one. Released in the US as a SABATA film, and from the director of the first in that series, Gianfranco Parolini, it was intended to launch an entirely different character, Indio Black. It stars Yul Brunner, not Lee Van Cleef, and he is outwardly a different guy — lots of tassles on his black costume, gold-plated repeater shotgun and pistol. But “Indio Black” and “Sabata” require entirely different mouth movements to say, so I was expecting flamboyant lip flap whenever the hero is named. Didn’t happen. So it seems like the English version was always planned as a Sabata film, or at least, it was while they shot it.

Parolini (aka J. Francis Littlewords) then went on to shoot THE RETURN OF SABATA with Van Cleef, and Indio Black was never heard from again.

The movie deals with some of Cox’s irate objections to Parolini’s cheap-looking first SARTANA — it has great Spanish locations in place of an Italian chalk quarry, looks big and impressive, and attempts to be about something — the Mexican Revolution. Gerald Herter, the Teutonic gunfighter in THE BIG GUNDOWN and the alien-infected swine in CALTIKI, is again an excellent Austrian antagonist.

But it’s not just a Tortilla western and a Zapata western — it’s what Cox calls a “circus western” — it has acrobats and gadgets and gimmickry galore. There’s a guy who kills enemies by flipping steel balls at them with his feet. The baddie has a model galleon rigged up with cannons that fire real bullets. As with most Parolinis, there’s an element of James Bondery, but the other influence is the peplum films, which often featured tumblers. Parolini had worked exclusively in peplums and Bond knock-offs before he got into westerns.

Cox’s main objection to the first SARTANA and SABATA films was that the action was meaningless, and that’s still sadly a bit true here — the Revolution could have provided a grounding, but Indio Black / Sabata is out for himself, as is just about everyone else. As usual, he’s borrowing from Leone without understanding Leone. The Civil War in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY was more than a colourful background, it made a point — Leone cited MONSIEUR VERDOUX (another Chaplin connection!) to make his moral relativist point — how can we condemn the likes of Tuco, Angel Eyes and Blondie in the face of so much greater carnage wrought by people fighting over actual issues rather than just loot? Parolini has no such idea in mind, and his film would clearly work better if his heroes were more idealistic.

I think the cynicism of the Italian western can be seen here as echoing that of the filmmakers — the director as hired gun, taking on a job, not really caring whose side he’s on, just wanting to get rich, looking for any chance to screw his employer…

Brynner, who is charismatic as ever, is supported by the exuberant Ignazio Spalla (upper right) and singer Dean Reed, whose style is peak spaghetti — blorange hair and shoe-polish tan. An offense to the eye and soul. And he’s called Ballantine, because the Scots are never to be trusted in the spaghetti west, whether they’re called “Murdok” or not. The honourable exceptions are the MacGregors. heroes of a short series of films scored by Morricone, who are a sort of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS team.

The movie ends with a character doing a big swear, interrupted by Bruno Nicolai’s (beautiful, inappropriately elegiac) score, a clear Leone swipe. What have we learned? Nothing. But it’s been fun — this would seem like a great adventure movie if you were 10.

Rocketing to Earth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2022 by dcairns

Mike Hodges tells me that Larry “Buster” Crabbe was quick to condemn his 1980 FLASH GORDON. “He couldn’t quite bring himself to say this great American hero might be GAY! Hey Ho!”

If not gay, then certainly camp.

Join Larry “Buster” Crabbe and his chums for the final episode of the 1936 series!

We open, more or less, with the ceiling falling in on our heroes after they descend through a convenient trapdoor to escape aerial bombardment. The whole “Trapped in the Turret” thing is rather a misnomer as they never go upstairs. “Trapped in the Basement” would be closer to the truth, but they’re never trapped either: immediately downstairs from the “turret-which-is-played-by-a-cave” next to the “Lake of Rocks” which is just a desert, they find a corridor leading to the dungeon which allows them to rescue Prince Barin who is being escorted there. They belatedly realise that it wasn’t Barin who had been bombarding them.

Oh, and King Vultan has been injured. He’s covered in plaster and looks quite woebegone. Covering someone in plaster will have this effect, but it turns out if they’re wearing big rigid fake wings the effect is enhanced.

Fiona, having skipped most of the episodes, is amused all over by Princess Aura’s way of aiming her knockers at people. “She said, bustily.”

There is toing and froing. Or “to-ing and fro-ing” I guess since the previous iteration looks like it should rhyme with “boing.” It having been established that anyone can just barge into Ming’s throne room whenever they feel like it, our heroes do so. They also encamp in Ming’s laboratory and Zarkov electrifies the door to keep intruders out. Ming is so ineffectual, in other words, his abductees can make themselves more secure IN HIS HOUSE than he can himself. Zarkov, previously dejected by his wrecked invisibility machine, is briefly triumphant about his electric wood, until Ming outsmarts him by shutting the power off. Outsmarted by a tinpot dictator who uses common sense: there’s something to be dejected about.

Speaking of tin pots, here come the Lion Men in their “gyro-ships,” pronounced by Charles “Baldy” Ming Ming with a hard G and Frank “Knobbly Knees” Shannon with a soft one. This time, I feel Zarkov has the right idea, despite Ming being the native speaker.

“It must be hell in there,” says Fiona, gazing upon the wobbly, twirly, smoky and buzzing craft. Thun, standing at the controls as if operating a Moviola, somehow seems to have a view that isn’t constantly panning 360, which would admittedly be irritating.

At 9: there’s another of those delightful moments when a line of dialogue is yelled in by an off-camera director or AD: “It’s Thun, and his Lion Men!” Truly hilarious. The first two words have been loosely synched to “Larry “Buster” Crabbe’s lip movements, the rest play over a wide shot of rampaging cat-dudes. The voice is inept and very camp. It’s exactly the way I imagine the voice of the AD on Mankiewicz’s JULIUS CAESAR when he famously shouted “Now here comes Julius!”

There is a huge, uncoordinated fight, resembling the slapstick donnybrook at the end of HELP! Just a bunch of random shoving and falling over. In this fashion is Ming finally vanquished.

Defeated, Ming runs — RUNS! — “Max Von Sydow was far too dignified to go flapping about like that,” argues Fiona — to the only other standing set or location of any use, the tunnel leading to the recently exploded fire dragon. The smirking High Priest, who puts me in mind of comedian Joe Melia, watches him go, and, in a literal puff of smoke, Ming just vanishes.

This seems pretty weak, but I can’t recall being disappointed by it as a kid. One can even argue that the abstraction of it — transparently a means to preserve the possibility of Ming returning, Fu Manchu-style (“Mongo shall hear of me again”) — has a certain grandeur. Middleton plays it as if it’s Shakespeare, helped by the fact that there’s no dialogue to remind you that it’s not Shakespeare.

I’m then reminded that Von Sydow does a similar fade-out in the Mike Hodges version, and that as a kid I DID feel a pang of disappointment — there’s a huge build-up to Flash flying towards Ming’s palace, setting up the expectation that he’s going to do something pretty dramatic when he gets there. But no — he just crashes into it. This, of course, is perfect — Sam “Not Buster” Jones’ dim-witted Flash isn’t going to save the day in any other way than by direct collision. And it ends with “THE END?”

I’ve read numerous accounts of how the big finish of STAR WARS — boring pageantry with stirring march music — is derived from TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, but it’s clearly derived from right here, where it’s done quicker and cheaper. Pomp and reduced circumstances. FG being Lucas’ stated inspiration, and in fact the film he would have made had Dino De Laurentiis granted him the rights.

What’s left of the ’36 outing is diminuendo with the emphasis on DIM. Flash, Zarkov and Dale depart leaving Aura enthroned, to govern Mongo with the scheming and vacillation wisdom she has demonstrated in the previous twelve episodes, but the smirking High Priest plants a bar-bell bomb in the rocketship. Then, for no reason, he confesses this, still smirking, which allows Barin and co to alert the earth-chums. They open the door and chuck the bomb out. No biggie.

Fiona is convinced that actor Theodore “Smirky” Lorch is spoofing the whole thing with his scare-quotes “performance” but he was a former silent movie actor (Chingachgook in the Clarence Brown-Maurice Tourneur LAST OF THE MOHICANS) whose talking career was all bit-parts and serials, mostly in fact bit-parts IN serials, so I see no reason to assume he’s driven by anything other than delusions of competence.

Then there’s an unsuccessful attempt to inject drama into the flight back to terra firma and stock footage. Finally, in their native skies at last, Flash and Dale stare wonderingly into each others’ eyes (they could hardly stare into their own) in a doomed search for meaning or intelligent life, while Zarkov smiles creepily upon them, a father substitute in unsettling shorts.

THE END?

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.