Forgotten Films: Netflix Streaming Theatre Edition
We’re interrupting the usual rant to bring you a “Forgotten Films” Special Streaming Edition courtesy of your friends at Netflix and MGMHD. As of this moment you can “Watch Instantly” dozens of cult or curio films unavailable on VHS, Laser or DVD. Some of these can be had on generational bootlegs (thank Gawd) but through some movie miracle via a slew of MGM and Paramount owned titles, you can viddy such MIA rarities as HARRY IN YOUR POCKET (1973); THE FINAL OPTION (1983); BOBBI JO AND THE OUTLAW (1976); A CHILD IS WAITING (1964); FAST BREAK (1978); SHOUT AT THE DEVIL (1974); VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET (1960); LORD JIM (1965); THE EVICTORS (1976); FITZWILLY (1967); among more I’ll be listing here. The prints are generally terrific remasters, as in the case of PUSSYCAT, PUSSYCAT, I LOVE YOU (1970), while others aren’t even wide-screen, but they’re tight-clean. You should watch them while they’re available. It’s been a film treat to Ludovico myself to the ol’ Instant Queue since the selections are literally overwhelming. So Let’s Get DOWN:
CULT OF THE DAMNED (1969) – Originally released as the more apropos ANGEL, ANGEL, DOWN WE GO, the title was changed after the prescient plot reflected the horrific Manson murders. I’ve always wanted to see this American International Pictures rarity, the spiritual sequel to Robert Thom’s nihilistic anti-youth, WILD IN THE STREETS (1968), a big hit that allowed him the chance to write/direct his own film. And man, you ain’t seen nothing until you see what might be AIP’s most avant-garde feature after THE TRIP (1966). Starring folksinger Holly Near as Tara Steele, the tart, cherubic scion of a fucked-up wealthy family, under the thumb of her dominating mother, Astrid, outrageously played by Jennifer Jones. Then there’s Jordan Christopher in the proto-Christopher Jones role as the improbably named rock guru, Bogart Peter Stuyvesant; lacking smoldering charisma, he comes off more like Dick Shawn playing Jim Morrison. Roddy McDowall pops in to steal his scenes as the very gay groupie, Santoro, and gets to spit out Thomisms like “God..Is…American!” Lou Rawls is in there as well for some reason since he does no singing. Thom’s script and direction is something to behold, filled with pop psychology and Bergmanesque symbolism, capped by an astounding scene with Holly Near scarfing down food in an orgy of abasement. Any movie with Jennifer Jones saying, “I never faked an orgasm” and skydiving as death trip metaphor must not only be seen, but experienced.
LEO THE LAST (1970) – We all remember this award-winning United Artists’ John Boorman film starring Marcello Mastroianni…You know, about a privileged monarch resting at his family’s mansion and becoming shocked by the impoverished black neighbors whilst his advisors plot a counter-revolution…What do you mean you’ve never ever heard of LEO THE LAST? Well, you’re in for a fascinating adventure – this is Boorman’s strangest, most experimental movie (which is saying a lot) written by him and William Star, beautifully shot by Peter Suschitsky. Any film that contains long, lingering verite-style shots of Marcelo Mastroianni’s telescopic view of his deprived neighbors going about their surreal business is ripe for rescue from the vaults. This is 70’s major studio fringe cinema at its nadir, swathed in social commentary and maxiumum metaphor, featuring one of the great leading actors of the decade. And the fact that Boorman won Best Director at Cannes for LEO THE LAST shows how much the cinematic landscape has changed.
THE SWINGER (1965) – A rarely-screened, incredible, ridiculous effort from George Sidney, the director of BYE, BYE, BIRDIE (1963), whose camera eye practically qualifies for visual harassment against Ann Margaret. This is almost like a living trashy 50’s pulp novel ill-fit into the groovy 60’s with its risque tale of a writer who pretends to be a sexual adventurer to serialize her work in “Girl-lure” magazine. Sleazy editor Tony Franciosa falls in love of course and attempts to steer her straight while the sleazier publisher attempts to comically assault her. The sexual politics are neanderthal, and worse, the most risque scene is her writhing on a beatnik club floor in gallons of paint. This must be the most brain-dead film Ann Margaret ever made, but it’s also the height of her Tiger Grrl persona porn (next to KITTEN WITH A WHIP) and she changes wild outfits at practically every cut. In an attempt to cash in on the campy “Batman” series mania, a new opening and ending was added with Ann Margaret go-going at dutch angles replete with sound effects balloons — POW!
INSERTS (1974) – Another famous X-Rated film starring Richard Dreyfuss, Veronica Cartwright, Bob Hoskins and Jessica Harper in her stunning debut as stag movie makers in early 1930’s Hollywood. You mean you haven’t…Well, it was briefly available on VHS, and finally released uncut on a bare bones DVD last year. Written and directed by John Byrum (THE RAZOR’S EDGE (1984), shot on a low-budget, one set in London, INSERTS could probably work as a daring stage play; yet this is another prime example of the kind of movie Hollywood would never make nor distribute today, the X-Rated Studio Film. Dreyfuss stars as a burned-out boy wonder director reduced to shooting stag reels for a wannabe big shot producer, played by a thin, youthful Bob Hoskins. Veronica Cartwright plays the junkie actress who’s seen better days when she was a recognizable extra in silents, and Stephen Davies is the dumb stud with big dreams of breaking out. Hard to believe this was also Jessica Harper’s debut as Hoskin’s excitable gal pal. Harder to believe are the graphic sex scenes that would get the film an NC-17 today. Cartwright is a revelation in a sexy, brave, wounded performance that should have garnered her a Best Supporting Actress nom; Harper is no slouch herself in a less defined role. Of course it’s Richard Dreyfuss’s show all the way (one year before JAWS), and his descent into brash obscurity is an actor’s dream part, yet I’m less impressed with his literary reasons for withdrawing from the movie mugs of Holly and Wood Land – though Lord knows I understand. Nonetheless, INSERTS is required viewing for film students and scholars of the decade.
HURRY SUNDOWN (1966) – Otto Preminger does the Deep South. John Philip Law and Faye Dunaway in a love shack. Law told me that Preminger knocked their heads together when they kissed to force them into passion. Dunaway bought out her contract with Otto so she would not have to appear in SKIDOO. Meanwhile, racist judge Burgess Meredith rants against a “syphillitic nigger” and proud farmer Robert Hooks ain’t gonna take it from The Man. Jim Backus kills as a liberal lawyer versus corrupt slicker Robert Reed. For good measure, Jane Fonda suckles on Michael Caine’s saxophone and he paws her breast. Nuff said, y’all hear?
DIRTY O’ NEIL: THE LOVE LIFE OF A COP (1974) – The sub-title isn’t listed on the print but that’s how it’s advertised on the poster and exciting trailer that piqued my interest since I’d never even heard of this AIP release co-directed by Leon Capetanos and Lewis Teague (!). Starring the amiable Morgan Paul as a Vietnam vet turned local police officer, he narrates a variety of tonally uneven adventures, primarily sexual, with the only narrative thread being the three thugs who taunt him and end up assaulting a girlfriend among their other acts of random violence. Then he shows this sleepy corrupt town what a Dirty O’Neil can do with a pistol and a bulldozer. Even by AIP standards, this film is sloppy, albeit sleazy, and probably why it had such a limited shelf-life. I imagine Teague was learning his directorial chops that would serve him better in ALLIGATOR (1980) and the nature of the co-director bill remained elusive until I learned that he was replaced by Capetanos for unknown reasons. DIRTY O’NEIL would make a great streaming double-bill with the equally unavailable-on-DVD, LITTLE CIGARS (1973). For drive-in AIP completists like me, this is still worth a view along with a few beers and a pizza, followed by a shower.
GAILY, GAILY (1969) – I’ve wanted to see this off-the-radar film ever since I noted the Henry Mancini LP always tucked within the soundtrack section of record stores through the years. Directed by Norman Jewison hot off his success with THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING (1966) and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967), this big budget United Artists picture starring Beau Bridges and Brian Keith was based — oh so loosely — on the autobiography by Ben Hecht, famous cynical Chicago journalist and Hollywood screenwriter. Produced by Hal Ashby, this lavish production shot through the rough lens of the New Cinema is a strange egg, and it’s easy to see why the soundtrack is more available than the film. Which immediately loses its street credibility by turning Jewish Ben Hecht into WASP “Ben Harvey” — an overanxious youth with a penchant for lust, writing and innocence, who displays not an iota of Hecht’s world-weary wit. He escapes his confining small-town life for the big city newspaper world, ending up a mascot of a brothel favored by politicos, and confronts the forces of greed and venality with a Candide-like attitude that never fits the character. Bridges was being groomed for stardom and sadly, he was ill-served by the screenplay, which reduces him to an almost mental cretin in some scenes. Brian Keith fares better as the hard-drinking reporter who takes Bridges under his crooked wing, and Margot Kidder makes her debut as the prostitute with a heart of…you know. Jewison’s direction is uneven, bouncing from hand-held nuevelle vague cuts to glossy big-studio slapstick machinations. “He’s jammed up with his juices!” shouts the boy’s crusty grandmother in another attempt at risque controversy; as in many films of this era straddling the old and new cinema, the tone is always inconsistent, thus unlikely to satisfy a blue-haired Radio City Music Hall audience or the revolutionary cinephiles of Bleecker Street. While GAILY, GAILY is but a footnote to a fascinating period, I’m glad to finally view this forgotten epic made at a time when the whole world was jammed up with the juices of movie-love.
ZANDY’S BRIDE (1974) – The year’s biggest box-office phenomenon was this quiet, “dirty western” of which Gene Hackman might be the king. Okay, nobody saw this film and I only learned of its existence two days ago (!). From possibly the most disturbing western ever made, THE HUNTING PARTY (1971) (which Pauline Kael termed “loathsome”) to the frivolity of BITE THE BULLET (1975) to the revisionist UNFORGIVEN (1991), Hackman specialized in a cold, calculating, bully and he’s in fine form here as a quiet farmer who orders a spinster mail bride played by Liv Ullman. Treating her as child-bearin’ property, he wastes no time in raping her the first night and then the Taming Of The Brute begins in earnest. Ullman is very good as is the whole cast, especially Susan Tyrell as the one pining for Hackman, and it’s nice to see Harry Dean Stanton as a more enlightened cowboy here who advises Ullman, “Just cross your legs until you get what you want.” Directed with uber-70’s low-key style by Jan Troell, he captures the grime and conformity of the period as well as the cruel, casual sexism. I was grateful the film wasn’t out to depress me with western sadism, and though Ullman’s attempt to civilize Hackman are questionable under the circumstances, his own enlightenment is handled with subtlty and satisfaction. Sadly, this is not in its proper Panavision ratio though its intimate scope fits the Netflix screen.
THE KEEP (1983) – This unique Michael Mann supernatural horror epic was severely cut by Paramount, reducing the story’s coherency to nil and keeping audiences from entering the narrative. Basically the tale of Nazis versus a monstrous force in the Transylvania Alps, the book’s author, Paul Wilson, was confused that Mann refused to identify the vampiric origins of the creature, Molasar, among other things: “He did not build character. He did not tell a coherent story. When I read the script, I wrote to him and I pointed out all of this to him in a very gentle, non ego trampling way, I thought. But he ignored me, and when I did make a visit to the set, he was very cool. I don’t know if he felt threatened, or what, but he wanted no input at all from anyone. It was to be a Michael Mann picture.” And a Mann picture it is, whose style you either like or do not (I’m more in the latter camp) with lingering shots of steely atmospheres and the electronic throb of Tangerine Dream, which gives this period piece an odd sonic flavor the same way as their score for LEGEND. The story is indeed truncated to obliqueness, despite good performances by Jurgon Pronchow and Gabriel Byrne, strange ones by Scott Glenn, whose mystic character is not even named, and Ian McKellan, who sounds as if he’s from Brooklyn by way of the Thames. Still, there is stunning production design, old-school giant expressionist sets and nifty make-up in Molasar, the awesome red and blue creature that was not well-reviewed. His mist-cloaked introduction is like a modern Cocteau image in Technicolor, one of the most unique scenes in genre history. Wally Veevers did the effective effects, and sadly died in mid-production; the film is dedicated to him. It’s no surprise THE KEEP has attained cult status and hopefully there’ll be an official release of the three-hour version — for now, Netflix has an excellent widescreen print to exhume.
CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER (1978) – Joan Micklin Silver’s cult adaptation of Ann Beattie’s novel is a bittersweet, humorous look at the dissolution of a troubled love affair, starring John Heard and Mary-Beth Hurt in career highlight performances. This movie will sting you with its honesty and naturalism, and Silver’s ambitious script capture Beattie’s wry literary style. Produced with loving care by Mark Metcalf (“Neidermyer”)’ Griffin Dunne; and Amy Robinson, it’s a pleasure to hear terrific actors, including Metcalf, Dunne, Peter Reigert (in full Jamie Gillis fro-mode), Kenneth McMillan, and Gloria Grahame speaking witty, insightful dialogue. McMillan has a lovely scene dancing in a hospital that defines what the 70’s Cinema was all about. John Heard has never been seen as much as he should onscreen, and he’s excellent as the overtly-obsessed boyfriend who can’t give up on his love. The character is almost a stalker, but the story never confronts this issue, although he has enough insight to understand when he’s crossing lines. Mary Beth Hurt is funny, revealing and they make a watchable pair. The film was initially released with the lame title, HEAD OVER HEELS, then re-titled and re-edited with a less happy ending. It’s great to see this resonant piece that favors truth over exploitation. Silver’s other rare film, HESTER STREET is also available on streaming, but MIA is my favorite of her ouvre, BETWEEN THE LINES (1976), about a Boston underground newspaper.
GORP (1980) -AIP’s last theatrical release is a MEATBALLS/ANIMAL HOUSE clone, with the minor interesting cultural difference being that the action takes place in the Catskills between the young residents of a Jewish resort (“Gorp” is trail mix). The film is fascinatingly incompetent and manages to miscast Dennis Quaid, fresh off the lovely BREAKING AWAY (1979), as one of the worst “wacky military psychos” in comedy history. Michael Lembeck and Fran Drescher add to the stoic merriment while future Salkind SANTA CLAUS David Huddleston is the beleagured head of Camp Oskemo. The wacky hijinks are the usual cut-rate gags involving sex, food and toilets minus actual wit or humor. The requisite glassy nerd character is particularly appalling, as is the whole motley crew. Joseph Ruben shows no skill in setting up any kind of joke or scene, and the editing is so half-hazard as to be incomprehensible. The best thing (sic) about GORP outside its scarcity and unexplained title is the scene where the camp watches a screening of I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, bringing the awesome exploitation legacy of Samuel Arkoff and American International Pictures full circle…
THE HAPPY ENDING (1970) – I’ve been wanting to see this Richard Brooks rarity for a long time that nonetheless garnered Jean Simmons (his wife) a deserved Best Actress nomination and some critical brickbats. Brooks is an interesting writer/director, a tougher Stanley Kramer who navigated the censorious studio system with his own high-minded pursuit of Truth, from the explosive THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955) that unleashed the first rock n’ roll credits to the controversial ELMER GANTRY (1959) to the 1960’s literary bloat of LORD JIM (1965) to the verite stylings of IN COLD BLOOD (1967). Not surprisingly, his biggest hit was a Western and the most personally thematic of his films, THE PROFESSIONALS (1966). THE HAPPY ENDING fits perfectly with the period’s cultural malaise and self-loathing, a scathing attack on marriage that pounds most points with the subtlety of a jackhammer: it’s not enough to show a roomful of women sweating on exercise machines, “God Bless America” must be played over the scene for maximum obvious irony; an anniversary party is just a cover for suburban excess, addiction and debauchery, replete with Nanette Fabray holding a tray of pills and Dick Shawn ogling under a woman’s dress; Robert aka “Bobby” Darin shows up as a pathetic Bahamas hustler amid too many references to CASABLANCA. Of course, Simmons wants the classic storybook romance, yet she’s trapped by the conformity of her life with bland John Forsythe; while Brooks aims for a liberated filial manifesto, the women are so stupefied by men and marriage that they all seem like “zombies” as Tina Louise calls herself. Shirley Jones (very sexy here) plays a serial adulterer whose world-weary cynicism is supposed to pass for world-weary wisdom. Brooks presents the wife’s awakening with fragmented timeline and Michael Legrand montages, plus his patented cinematic histrionics, all gorgeously shot by Conrad Hall. THE HAPPY ENDING was certainly ahead of its time, the prologue to 70’s feminist films such as DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE (1970), AN UNMARRIED WOMAN (1977) and proto-feminist films like Brook’s own LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR (1977). A worthy entry in cinema obscura with a startlingly apropos final scene.