Archive for Dino de Laurentiis

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.

Fellini Vs. Casanova

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2020 by dcairns

Thrilled to publish David Ehrenstein’s appreciation of FELLINI CASANOVA. I should note that I don’t yet have the Blu-ray, so my frame-grabs from the “Hollywood Classics” DVD are a touch hideous.

FELLINI CASANOVA

By David Ehrenstein

Across the course of his peerless career Federico Fellini has produced films both sweet and sour. The “Felliniesque” is cinema at its most bizarre and most moving — often simultaneously as in his primary masterpieces 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita. But sometimes they’re strikingly separate entities. Consider Fellini Casanova — just released as a beautifully produced Kino Lorber blu-ray, replete with a highly informative commentary track by critic Nick Pinkerton.

        Coming right on the heels of Amarcord — arguably the warmest and most convivial of all his works, this meditation on  the life and character of a man whose very name is synoymous with seduction is as cold as the ice featured in its finale. There the anti-hero is seen waltzing on ice skates on a frozen lake with the love of his life — not a woman but a meticulously crafted automaton. Beneath the smooth enamel mask of a face is an actual actress, Leda Lojodice, who goes through her paces so perfectly it’s barely possible to regard her as “real.” This matches Casanova himself as embodied by Donald Sutherland in a performance which, while expert, is a world away from the romantic anti-heroes so memorably embodied by Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini’s most famous films. Even Terence Stamp in the maestro’s other English-language work Toby Dammit (1968) is more simpatico.

        Outfitted with a prosthetic nose and chin Sutherland is the image of Giacomo Casanova. And Fellini Casanova is nothing but image, rather than individual. The project came to him as a “film de commande” of sorts in the Dino Di Laurentiis, the original producer (he left the project before pre-production got underway and was replaced by Alberto Grimaldi) thought a Fellini film about Casanova would fit perfectly into the then-current trend of sexually semi-explicit “art films” made by such greats as Nagisa Oshima and Pier Paolo Pasolini. But while Fellini’ films have been filled with beautiful women for Marcello to make love to (Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimee, Barbara Steele and Nico to name just a few) he wasn’t playing the lead here. Sutherland operates from an emotional remove as Casanova — and so does Fellini.

        As Pinkerton explicats as he got into the project Fellini discovered that the “great lover” was someone he didn’t really like. While the youthful anti-heroes of Fellini Satyricon (1970) romped with all and sundry with great elan, Sutherland’s Casanova copulates as if he were drilling into concrete to lay a new pipe for Con Edison. While Margaret Clementi, Tina Aumont and Olympia Carlisi are more than lovely Fellini seems as  removed from them as his anti-hero. Perhaps this proceeds from the problems the film faced when a great number of reels were stolen from the lab during production and had to be reshot. The thieves were fascist thugs looking for Pasolini’s Salo, then in production as well. They thought it was going to expose their current activities. Instead it was a flashback to the Mussolini period. Fellini portrayed that time as curiously convivial in Amarcord. Perhaps Fellini Casanova would have had a lighter tone had this theft not taken place, necessitating his cancelling of a sequence that would have featured Barbara Steele. But what we have is far from cinematically unsatisfying. It’s a  full frontal attack on machismo and male vanity in every form. Fellini may not be able to feel for Casanova as a man but he does feel for the spectators, male and female, who long for this mythical figure of romance as a kind of “role model” however imperfect.

After this Fellini’s City of Women reunites him with Mastroianni and takes up the subject of feminism — a movement Fellini freely admits he cannot comprehend. He loved women and celebrated them throughout his career, but his love isn’t always reciprocal. And in this Fellini may have been closer to Casanova than he suspected. The films that follow, And the Ship Sails On, Ginger and Fred and Intervista are exercises in nostalgia and his last the sadly neglected The Voice of the Moon an exploration of the fantasy life of a”village idiot’ with a perfectly cst Roberto Benigni. It’s quite warm. But those of us who love Fellini may well prefer Casanova’s frozen cold “Replicant” pas de deux.