Tuesday, September 27, 2022

#2,822. What's New Pussycat (1965) - Paula Prentiss Triple Featuire


A sex comedy written by Woody Allen (his first produced screenplay), What’s New Pussycat is a ‘60s film through and through. It is painfully dated. But at times it is also very, very funny.

Fashion editor Michael James (Peter O’Toole) is the most sought-after playboy in all of Paris. Women throw themselves at him, and more often than not Michael is only too happy to oblige his admirers. But Michael has a problem: he is deeply in love with Carole (Romy Schneider), and wants desperately to stay faithful to her.

To this end, he seeks the help of noted psychiatrist Dr. Fritz Fassbender (Peter Sellers), who is having romantic problems of his own. Shunning his overbearing wife (Edra Gale), Dr. Fassbender flirts openly with Renee Lefevre (Capucine), one of his patients. Unfortunately for the good doctor, Renee has fallen under Michael’s spell, as has stripper Liz Bien (Paula Prentiss), who attempts to kill herself every time Michael rejects her.

Surrounded by amorous beauties, Michael is fighting an uphill battle. But when Carole begins dating Victor (Woody Allen), a jealous Michael comes to the realization that he may finally be ready to settle down.

From its flashy costumes to its misogynistic leanings, What’s New Pussycat plays like a relic from the past, with moments that will undoubtedly make modern audiences cringe. While recounting his earliest sexual experiences, Michael talks of an affair he had with his teacher, Miss Marks (Barbara Somers), which we witness during a brief flashback. “Michael, this can’t work”, Miss Marks says as she and Michael embrace, “I’m 34 and you’re 12”.

And yet, for some reason, I did enjoy What’s New Pussycat. It has an energy that is infectious, building and building from one bizarre scene to the next. Michael attends one of Dr. Fassbender’s group sessions, which quickly (and hilariously) devolves into chaos, but this is nothing compared to what happens later on, when all of the characters meet up (most by chance) at a Chateau, then try to outrun the police (who have been called to restore order) by jumping into go-carts and taking off down the street! There’s even a scene in which pretty blonde Rita (Ursula Andress) parachutes into Michael’s car as it is speeding down the highway. And keep an eye out for Richard Burton, who makes a cameo as himself (he shares the screen for about 15 seconds with O’Toole, who co-starred with Burton a few years prior in Becket).

In addition to the film’s unbridled anarchy, writer Allen occasionally pays homage to a handful of cinematic classics. A scene set by a river, featuring Allen and Sellers, harkens back to a similar moment in Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights; and there is a dream sequence that looks as if it was lifted straight out of Fellini’s 8 ½!

Filled to its breaking point with slapstick, one-liners, sexual innuendo, and gobs of male chauvinism (Michael calls every pretty woman he meets “pussycat” because it's easier than remembering their name), What’s New Pussycat will not be for everyone. And while I can’t blame you if it rubs you the wrong way, don’t hate me just because I thought it was a blast.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Sunday, September 25, 2022

#2,821. Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972) - Paula Prentiss Triple Feature


Nobody talks like the characters in a Neil Simon production. I’ve never met anyone as quick-witted as Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple or even Ira Parks in Seems Like Old Times. Yet Simon infuses his characters with enough personality that we have no problem believing they are 100% genuine.

Such is the case with Barney Cashman, the focal point of 1972’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Played to perfection by Alan Arkin, Barney leads a humdrum life. A middle-aged businessman (he owns a Seafood restaurant in New York City) with a wife and kids, Barney feels as if he’s missing out on all the excitement, and decides to have an affair.

Using his mother’s apartment (she spends every Tuesday volunteering at Mount Sanai Hospital), he will, over the course of several weeks, invite three separate women - customer Elaine Navazio (Sally Kellerman), pretty stranger Bobbi Michele (Paula Prentiss), and his wife’s friend Jeanette Fisher (Renée Taylor), whose husband cheats on her regularly - to join him for an afternoon tryst. Alas, none go according to plan, leaving Barney to wonder if he’s really the cheating type, or if he’s just unlucky.

Arkin is in top form as Barney, who, despite being a successful restauranteur, comes across as one of life’s losers. The scenes sandwiched between his ”romantic” encounters feature Barney waking up in the morning, driving to work, and dealing with employees. Throughout these moments, he maintains a running internal monologue, lamenting his ordinary existence. “I could rob a bank, nobody would look up”, he says to himself at one point.

Unfortunately, his attempts to break the routine and live a little prove equally unfulfilling. Sally Kellerman’s Elaine is there for sex and nothing more, but the inexperienced Barney feels they should spend some time getting to know one another. Bobbi Michele, played by the always reliable Paula Prentiss, is a flighty actress whose mood changes from happy to angry and back to happy again without a moment’s notice; while family friend Jeanette is depressed, and knows a little too much about Barney and his wife for comfort. All three women are as sharp and funny as Barney, and their give-and-take with him will have you in stitches.

So while I may have never met anyone as quick-witted as Oscar Madison, Ira Parks, or Barney Cashman, I feel as if I’ve known dozens just like them. And that is the magic of Neil Simon.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, September 23, 2022

#2,820. Brotherhood of Death (1976) - Brotherhood Triple Feature


I went into 1976’s Brotherhood of Death knowing that its cast featured a number of professional football players. Producer Ron Goldman (who also came up with the story) was friends with a handful of Washington Redskins, and convinced them to appear in his movie.

It was a good idea, using non-actors who nonetheless had some notoriety, but I admit, when I heard this, it tempered my expectations and didn’t give me much hope for the film.

Turns out I was both wrong and pleasantly surprised. The performances, by actors and football players alike, ranged from serviceable to good, but the characters and story grabbed me right from the get-go and held my attention throughout, leading up to a final showdown that absolutely blew me away.

After a run-in with a local KKK member (Ron David), Raymond Moffat (Roy Jefferson), his brother Junior (Haskell V. Anderson III), and their friend Ned (Le Tari), leave the town of Kincaid behind and enlist in the army. All three are shipped off to Vietnam, where they’re taught by their commanding officer, Capt. Quinn (Mike Bass), how to avoid the deadly traps set by the Viet Cong.

When their tour of duty ends, the three return to Kincaid, only to find things haven’t improved much for the black community. Initially, Raymond and the others, spurred on by their Baptist preacher (Ed Heath), rely on legal means to bring about change, convincing every African American in Kincaid to register to vote. But when the KKK, led by Harold Turner (Rick Ellis), resorts to threats and even violence to keep the status quo, Raymond, Junior and Ned decide it’s time to hit back… and hard!

Of the three main leads in Brotherhood of Death, only Roy Jefferson was a pro football player, and while his performance isn’t quite as strong as either Anderson’s or Tari’s, he certainly isn’t bad, and is especially believable in the last act, when things get rough.

There are elements of the story that also work well, and carry Brotherhood of Death above your typical exploitation film. The entire sequence involving the vote, where Raymond, Junior and the others are trying to bring about change the legal way, getting every black citizen in town to vote the racists out, was handled well, and had me rooting like hell for them (even if the results were a foregone conclusion).

But while Brotherhood of Death occasionally dabbles in loftier areas, the ending, a fight to the finish between our heroes (using their army training to their advantage) and the bigots, is 100% exploitation goodness, and is as satisfying as they come.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

#2,819. The Brotherhood of Satan (1971) - Brotherhood Triple Feature


Shots of a wind-up army tank - a child’s toy - are interspersed with close-ups of a car being demolished by what we’re led to believe is an actual tank. We never see the destruction; from off-screen, we hear the occupants of said car, first their shock and confusion, then their agonizing screams as the vehicle is crushed with them inside. The chaos eventually subsides, and a young boy walks away from the carnage, strolling a short distance until he is met by three other children.

These are the opening images of 1971’s The Brotherhood of Satan, a horror film that ignores traditional narrative as it weaves the story of a Satanic cult and the mayhem it unleashes on a small desert community.

Widower Ben Holden (Charles Bateman) is driving down a secluded road with his daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl) and girlfriend Nicky (Anha Capri) when he happens upon the wreckage from the opening scene. Racing to the nearby town of Hillsboro to alert the police, Ben is instead assaulted by the sheriff, Pete (L.Q. Jones), and other locals. It seems that Hillsboro has been inexplicably cut off from the rest of the world for days now, during which time dozens of citizens were brutally murdered and a number of kids have gone missing. With Ben’s help, Sheriff Pete, his deputy Tobey (Alvy Moore), and kindly Doc Duncan (Strother Martin) try to figure out what’s happening in this normally peaceful town.

What none of them realize is a coven of Satan-worshipping witches has descended upon Hillsboro, and are luring the town’s children to a dilapidated mansion, where, in a few days’ time, they will participate in an ancient ritual. And the leader of this cult is none other than Doc Duncan himself!

Directed by Bernard McEveety and written by William Welch (credited) and L.Q. Jones (uncredited), The Brotherhood of Satan is a bizarre motion picture that, as its story unfolds, raises more questions than it answers. Yet I found myself drawn into it, and the weirder the movie got, the more intrigued I became.

And believe me, this movie gets plenty weird! While at home one evening reading from the bible, Hillsboro resident Ed Meadows and his wife Mildred are attacked and killed by their daughter’s doll; and the scene where the witches, all of whom are senior citizens, initially gather features both head-scratching dialogue and the brutal slaying of one of their number, Dame Alice (Helene Winston). The murder of Dame Alice is shocking in that it seemingly comes out of left field, with only a faint explanation of who this person was, and why they were killed. Then there’s Nicky’s peculiar dream, tinted in red and littered with dead bodies, that randomly pops up in the final act.

Yet as unusual as it all is, I never once believed the events unfolding in The Brotherhood of Satan were as random as they seemed. I trusted that every odd image, every fantastic killing, every random interaction between two characters was another piece of a puzzle, and regardless of how long it would take to piece it all together, I was in it for the long haul.

It took two viewings (both in the same night) of The Brotherhood of Satan for me to decide whether or not my faith in the filmmakers was justified. Happily, it was, but that’s not to imply the movie is perfect. The scene with the doll-turned-killer has a handful of unintentionally funny moments, and tonally the film never really comes together, teetering between arthouse and exploitation without fully embracing either. But its unique approach, coupled with an unforgettably creepy final scene (that also featured a twist I didn’t see coming the first time through) do their part to make The Brotherhood of Satan a unique addition to the late ‘60s / early ‘70s Satanic craze, ranking alongside The Devil Rides Out and Rosemary’s Baby as one of the subgenre’s most unforgettable entries.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Monday, September 19, 2022

#2,818. The Brotherhood (1968) - Brotherhood Triple Feature


Released four years before The Godfather, director Martin Ritt’s The Brotherhood is a mafia / crime film in which a mob boss’s loyalties and sense of honor force him to choose between his current associates and the tradition he holds so dear.

As the film opens, Frank Ginetta (Kirk Douglas) is hiding out in Sicily. When he hears that an American has arrived by plane, Frank assumes it’s an assassin sent to kill him. To his delight, it’s actually his kid brother Vincent (Alex Cord), paying a surprise visit. Frank is thrilled to see his brother, but Frank’s wife Ida (Irene Papas) worries that Vincent may have another reason for turning up out of the blue.

It’s at this point The Brotherhood flashes back a few years, to when Frank was one of the top men in New York’s crime syndicate. Vincent, fresh out of the military, marries Emma (Susan Strasberg), daughter of Frank’s longtime friend Dominick Bertolo (Luther Adler). Though he has a bright future ahead of him, Vincent tells Frank that he would like nothing more than to join him in the family “business”.

But times have changed since their father was a Mafia Don. Organized crime now operates like a corporation, with Frank, Dominick, and fellow bosses Egan (Murray Hamilton), Levin (Alan Hewitt), and Rotherman (Val Avery) functioning as a committee that oversees all aspects of the criminal underworld. Despite this new way of doing things, Frank maintains a close friendship with his father’s old associates, and continues to mourn his father, who was shot to death years earlier.

Frank finds himself in hot water when he refuses to go along with a new venture supported by the rest of the committee; even Vincent is convinced his brother is making a mistake. It’s around this same time that Frank learns the identity of the traitor responsible for his father’s murder, setting in motion a chain of events that will force the embattled mob boss into hiding in Sicily.

Kirk Douglas delivers a bravura performance as Frank, a modern crime boss who every now and again still resorts to the “old” way of doing things. At the start of the New York flashback, two of Frank’s men drag a guy to an abandoned lot and shoot him dead. They then put a dead canary in their victim's mouth, telling the world he was a snitch. The supporting cast is solid as well, especially Cord as Frank’s argumentative brother. But The Brotherhood is Douglas’s film from start to finish, and he definitely delivers, giving us in Frank a complex character who realizes times have changed, yet is reluctant to let go of a past that means so much to him.

Along with Douglas’ performance, The Brotherhood makes great use of its locations, both in Sicily and New York, and Ritt’s solid direction keeps this dialogue-heavy tale moving along at a brisk pace. Ritt and screenwriter Lewis John Carlino also keep the bloodshed to a minimum, though the moments that do feature violence are effective (especially shocking is the scene in which Frank finally avenges his father’s death).

Those expecting another Godfather will likely be disappointed. This movie has neither the scope nor the grandeur of Coppola’s 1972 masterpiece. But if you’re a fan of organized crime flicks, The Brotherhood should be the next movie you watch.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Saturday, September 17, 2022

#2,817. Black Mama White Mama (1973) - Eddie Romero Triple Feature


The first 20 minutes of Eddie Romero’s Black Mama White Mama play like your average women in prison flick. There are catfights, an extended shower scene, and a lesbian guard (Lynn Borden) who gets her jollies peering at the girls through a peephole.

Then, without warning, the story veers off in an exciting new direction.

Two of the prison’s most recent arrivals, prostitute Lee Daniels (Pam Grier) and revolutionary Karen Brent (Margaret Markov), are being transferred to a facility in Manila, where they’re to be questioned by government officials. Lee’ pimp, Vic (Vic Diaz), is a ruthless prick, and the authorities want to put him away for good; whereas Karen might hold the key to crushing the rebellion once and for all.

Handcuffed together, Lee and Karen are loaded onto a bus and sent on their way. But once on the road, Karen’s compatriots, led by Ernesto (Zaldy Zshornack), launch a surprise attack to free her, and in the confusion she and Lee slip away, spending the next several days hiding in the jungle.

Ordered by his superiors to recapture the duo as soon as possible, Captain Cruz (Eddie Garcia) of the Manila police force enlists the help of bounty hunter Ruben (the great Sid Haig) and his thugs to track down the escaped prisoners. As for Lee and Karen, who are still shackled to one another, they stay on the move, narrowly avoiding the law, the bounty hunters, the revolutionaries, and Vic’s cronies (who want to retrieve a briefcase full of cash that Lee swiped) every step of the way.

That’s a lot of story to cram into an 86 minute film, yet director Romero and his writer H.R. Christian (whose screenplay was based on a story by Joe Viola and Jonathan Demme) somehow make it work, keeping the movie flowing at a solid pace while at the same time giving weight to each and every character. Grier and Markov are strong as the escapees who have no choice but to team up, a la Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in 1958’s The Defiant Ones (which also featured escaped prisoners handcuffed together). But unlike that earlier movie (and despite this film's title), race is never an issue between the two leads. Though they start out as adversaries (while in prison, they get into a fight and are thrown in “the oven” as punishment), Lee and Karen are never really enemies. They just have different goals: Karen wants to return to her friends in the revolution, while Lee’s intention is to get off the island as quickly as possible with the money she stole from Vic. The camaraderie between the two builds over time, and comes across as 100% genuine.

Also good is Sid Haig as the cowboy vigilante. His character is a hard-ass, but he’s also responsible for most of the film’s laughs, like when he’s cavorting with a subordinate’s two daughters as the poor guy sits in the next room, hearing everything that’s going on behind the closed door. In addition, Black Mama White Mama is an impressive action film, with a handful of memorable gunfights, as well as a solid thriller.

So while it may have started off as a run-of-the-mill prison flick, Black Mama White Mama ultimately proved, in true Eddie Romero fashion, it was a lot more than that.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Thursday, September 15, 2022

#2,816. The Twilight People (1972) - Eddie Romero Triple Feature


The Twilight People is Eddie Romero’s take on The Island of Dr. Moreau. What’s more, it’s a great version of that story, ranking alongside 1932’s Island of Lost Souls as one of my favorite interpretations of H.G. Wells’ classic novel.

While diving off the coast of a tropical island, Matt Farrell (John Ashley) is kidnapped by Steinman (Jan Merlin), the henchman of scientist Dr. Gordon (Charles Macauley). For years now, Dr. Gordon has been conducting a series of bizarre experiments, crossing humans with animals in an effort to create a “super race”.

Gordon intends to use Farrell as his next experiment, but when his daughter / assistant Neva (Pat Woodell) falls in love with the prisoner, she and Farrell team up to free Dr. Gordon’s “specimens” and, with them in tow, attempt to make their way off the island.

Despite its meager budget and reputation as a grindhouse classic, The Twilight People offers a lot more than simple exploitative goodness. For one, as mentioned above, it’s a damn fine take on Wells’ novel, and director Romero dedicates a fair portion of screen time to building the personalities and relationships of his characters. Whether it be Farrell’s love affair with Neva or his mano-et-mano showdowns with the dangerous Steinman, we get to know our heroes (and villains) well enough to be completely invested in what happens to them.

Then there are Dr. Gordon’s “experiments”, the part human – part animal hybrids who join Matt and Neva on their journey to freedom. Primo the Ape Man (Kim Ramos), Kuzman the Antelope Man (Ken Metcalf) and Lupa the Wolf Woman (Mona Moreno) all get a chance to shine, but Ayessa the Panther Woman, played by the always amazing Pam Grier, is a definite standout. Never uttering a word save some growls, Grier does a fine job making us both fear and admire her character, and though she appeared in The Twilight People a year before her star-making turn as the title character in Jack Hill’s Coffy, Grier’s screen presence is just as strong.

That said, nobody… not even the great Pam Grier… can draw attention away from Darmo the Bat Man, played by Tony Gosalvez. Sporting wings that don’t look very impressive, Darmo spends the early portion of the escape perched in a tree, acting as lookout. The more I saw Darmo, the more I wanted to see him fly. Or at least try to fly. Then, towards the end of the film, I got my wish, and I was blown the hell away! Not that Darmo’s flights are particularly convincing; they aren’t (the effects are shoddy at best). But that doesn’t make these sequences any less awesome, and the final shot of the movie is one I guarantee you will never forget

A lot happens in The Twilight People, not the least of which is Eddie Romero solidifying his reputation as a first-rate storyteller, but it’s Darmo the Bat Man who ultimately steals the whole damn show!
Rating: 8 out of 10