Thursday, March 26, 2020

Cursed Films: Review by Ally Russell

Review by Ally Russell

Cursed Films is a five-part documentary series about some of Hollywood’s most troubled horror movie productions. From real skeletons on the set of Poltergeist (1982) to The Omen (1976) star Gregory Peck’s airplane being struck by lightning, Cursed Films examines the factual and fictional stories surrounding The Exorcist (1973), Poltergeist, The Omen, The Crow (1994), and Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).

These films were plagued with on-set accidents, seemingly supernatural occurrences, and even tragic deaths, like that of young film star Heather O’Rourke (Poltergeist, 1982). But were these films actually cursed (or blessed by the Devil himself—as claimed by the crew of The Omen)…or did they simply suffer from a series of untimely but purely coincidental occurrences?

Beauty Day (2011) was filmmaker Jay Cheel’s debut documentary, and in addition to it premiering at the New York Museum of Modern Art as part of the Canadian Front Programming series, the film was also nominated for a Genie Award in the Best Doc category and was an official selection at the Hot Docs. Cheel is also the co-host of the podcast Film Junk.

Considering his enjoyable and compelling film short Twisted (2016) and the subject matter of his 2016 documentary How To Build a Time Machine, writer and director Jay Cheel is no stranger to subjects that are taboo or just plain weird, including urban legends and curses.

I was granted access to episodes two and three of Cursed Films (2020). Episode two, which focused on the 1982 film Poltergeist, was outstanding. Woven throughout with commentary from horror fans and expert interviews from individuals like film critic April Wolfe and science writer Matthew Hutson (The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking), episode two offered insightful analysis on society’s obsession with one of the horror industry’s most beloved films.

The episode delved deep into the film’s history with interviews from Special Make-Up Effects Artist Craig Reardon (Poltergeist, 1982) and Director Gary Sherman (Poltergeist III, 1988), both of whom serve up some sage advice about our collective ability to get swept up in the sensationalism of Hollywood horror and its gory details.

What I found most enthralling about episode two of Cursed Films was Jay Cheel’s treatment of the subject matter. Cheel is careful to avoid cheap thrills and instead handles the topic with sensitivity—letting the horror of the history speak for itself.

With commentary and past footage, Cheel explores the anxiety, fear, and grief that the cast and crew experienced and gently reminds viewers about the unfortunate loss of human life that occurred during and after the filming. That combination of horror and heart makes for a strong documentary episode about the tragic legacy of a film that has touched the lives of many horror fans.

Episode three, which focuses on the 1976 film The Omen, is enjoyable and worth watching, but it is noticeably less cohesive than episode three. And while episode two is emotionally charged, episode three seems to lack that same sentiment because we don’t spend as much time with the cast and crew.

The beginning and end of episode three focus on the unfortunate events surrounding the production of The Omen, including airplane and automobile accidents, but the remainder of the episode is dedicated to commentary from expert occultists. Commentary from these individuals is interesting and provides viewers with a new perspective on the occult and curses in popular media. However, interviews with these experts shift the focus of the narrative away from the film itself, so viewers who are hoping to get an in-depth look at the dark history of The Omen may be disappointed with the change in tone between episodes two and three.

For those reasons, episode three of Cursed Films felt slightly disjointed and didn’t seem to complement episode two.

It’s undeniable that Cheel has respect for the genre and endeavors to give horror fans more than the recycled and regurgitated content that we’re used to. So, despite the contrast between episodes two and three, I’m still looking forward to watching the remainder of the series when it premieres on AMC’s streaming video service Shudder.

Opting for sentiment over sensationalism, Cursed Films gives horror lovers the documentary series they deserve; a worthwhile watch for horror fans and film history buffs alike.

Ally occasionally creates content for the Horror Writers Association’s Young Adult & Middle Grade blog, SCARY OUT THERE. She also hosts the FlashFrights podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud. Ally lives in Boston and works in publishing. She can be found on Instagram at @OneDarkAlly.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Funeral in Berlin (1966)

Ex-con turned British spy Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) is sent to Berlin on a mission. He must find Soviet intelligence officer in charge of the Berlin Wall, Colonel Stok (Oskar Homolka) and make him defect from his position. Palmer is tasked to concoct an elaborate escape out of Berlin for Stok with the help of his contact Johnny Vulkan (Paul Hubschmid) and hires criminal mastermind Otto Kreutzmann (Gunter Meisner) to help him. In the meantime Palmer becomes enamored with the beautiful Samantha Steel (Eva Renzi), an Israeli spy sent to hunt down a former Nazi. This target holds the secret documents that reveal where jewels stolen during WWII are hidden. Things get really complicated for Palmer when he's double-crossed, important figures in the mission keep dying and the true identity of the Nazi is revealed.

Directed by Guy Hamilton, Funeral in Berlin (1966) is the second of the Harry Palmer spy films starring Michael Caine. He also appeared in The Ipcress File (1965) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967) and the character was revisited with two more films in the 1990s. Funeral in Berlin was shot on location at a time when crossing the Berlin Wall was met with a lot of red tape or was highly dangerous to do illegally. Funeral in Berlin is the least interesting of the three Harry Palmer films I've seen. Mostly due to a lack of character development and the numerous double-crossings make the plot difficult to follow. However, one could watch all three Harry Palmer films back to back and enjoy them immensely. Caine is so friggin' cool as Harry Palmer with his neatly pressed suits, combed back hair and thick rimmed eyeglasses.

Funeral in Berlin is a Cold War spy thriller that is not as captivating as the other Harry Palmer films starring Michael Caine but still delivers enough intrigue to be worth a viewing. I read that Akim Tamiroff was supposed to play Colonel Stok and I can't help but think it would have been a better movie with him in it!

Funeral in Berlin (1966) is available on DVD from Paramount. You can purchase a copy at my MovieZyng store.

 Thank you to Allied Vaughn for sending me a copy of Funeral in Berlin (1966) for review.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Great McGinty (1940)

Dan McGinty's (Brian Donlevy) life had a meteoric rise and fall and now he finds himself on the other side of things. Working as a bartender in a banana republic he entertains a drunk American banker Tommy (Louis Jean Heydt) and his gal pal (Steffi Duna) with his life story. Told in a flashback, we follow McGinty has goes from being a hobo to the governor of his state. At first he's hired by Skeeters (William Demarest), the right hand man to crooked mobster known as The Boss (Akim Tamiroff), to vote under assumed names in a rigged election. McGinty, wanting to make an extra buck, votes a whopping 37 times impressing The Boss who takes him under his wing. McGinty is transformed into a mayoral candidate complete with a new wife Catherine (Muriel Angelus) and her two children. McGinty is along for the ride until things get complicated. He finds himself falling for Catherine despite their strictly business arrangement, for family life and pushes back when The Boss makes certain demands of McGinty once he's governor.

The Great McGinty (1940) is Preston Sturges directorial debut. Up until this point he had been a screenwriter working on dialogue and adapting screenplays. Sturges wrote The Great McGinty, originally entitled The Story of a Man. The story goes that Paramount offered him $10 for his original script but Sturges refused to sell it unless he could direct the film as well. This was a brilliant career move. The film went on to be a box office hit and won Sturges an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay. He went on to direct a dozen more films including The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan's Travels (1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942) and Unfaithfully Yours (1948). In his film The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1943), Brian Donlevy and Akim Tamiroff reprise their roles as McGinty and The Boss.

The Great McGinty is a charming picture. It's lighthearted approach to the rather heavy topic of political corruption and morality makes this a big spoonful of medicine you want to take. Donlevy is fantastic as the stubborn vagabond with a heart of gold. If you know me, you know that I simply adore Akim Tamiroff and will watch him in anything. The Boss is a plum role for Tamiroff and he gets a lot more screen time than he usually does in a film and he has some great conflicts with Donlevy that are just fun to watch. And of course William Demarest is at his best as The Boss's sidekick schemer. I was sad to read that this was Muriel Angelus's final film. She plays Catherine McGinty with grace and charm and left Hollywood after that to return to the theater. The wardrobe in this film especially McGinty's flamboyant suits and Catherine's fabulous gowns were designed by the great Edith Head.

Kino Lorber Classics recently released The Great McGinty (1940) on Blu-ray. This edition includes a brand new 4K master restoration which looks fantastic. It also includes English subtitles (which I mention because I use these all the time), audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan and Kino Lorber Classics movie trailers.

When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of this set for review.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Bombshells and Dollies

Inspired by the look of classic pin-up queens and movie stars like Lauren Bacall, Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Ava Gardner, etc., modern day pin-up models embrace the aesthetic of a bygone era. They embody a classic feminine beauty, there is also an acceptance of all women regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, body shape or whether they have tattoos or not. The vintage lifestyle extends beyond hair, makeup and clothing to music, cars and of course classic movies. 

The new documentary Bombshells and Dollies, directed by Daniel Halperin, chronicles the 2015 Viva Las Vegas 18 pin-up competition. Viva Las Vegas is a weekend long Rockabilly festival held every year in April. Over 25,000 vintage enthusiasts travel to Las Vegas every year for live music, car shows, burlesque shows, Tiki parties, bowling, dancing and much more. Twelve women compete to be chosen as Miss Viva Las Vegas. Five competitors are chosen by judges, one is chosen by those five, and the audience chooses the other six. In Bombshells and Dollies we get to meet each of the 12 competitors as well as other Viva Las Vegas regulars, organizers and the vintage pin-up queen herself Dita Von Teese. The pin-ups are from around the world: the U.S., Canada, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. One of the competitors, Miss Victory Violet, is one of my favorite vintage models on INstagram and I was excited to watch the documentary to learn more about her. 

The documentary follows the competition up until the winners are chosen: best wardrobe, best hair, best makeup, second runner up, first runner up and Miss Viva Las Vegas. The interest in 1940s and 1950s style and even WWII era culture is discussed at length. For those classic film fans who are interested in vintage looks and have interest in or have been to Viva Las Vegas themselves, this documentary is a must watch. There are a few classic film references and one of the competitor's outfits was even inspired by something Linda Darnell wears in My Darling Clementine (1946).

Bombshells and Dollies is available on digital through TriCoast Entertainment. You can find the documentary on Amazon Prime, InDemand, DirecTV, AT&T, FlixFling, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu and FANDANGO.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (14)

Books, books and more books. One can never have enough books, especially classic film ones! I keep hearing from folks that you love these round-ups so I'll keep bringing them to you. They're a labor of love (no, seriously it's about 2 weeks worth of research!) and I hope if anything they're useful.

Are you new to my list? Here are the details. The books include biographies, memoirs, scholarly texts, coffee table books and more from a variety of publishers. Publication dates range from January to June 2020 and these are subject to change.

 Links go to Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Powell's. When you use my buy links to purchase and order a title you’re interested in you help support this site. Thank you!

by Barry Moreno
Arcadia Publishing
128 page – Available Now

The Life and Films of Angie Dickinson
By James Stratton
Bear Manor Media
624 pages – January 2020

Fourth Edition
By Maria Pramaggiore and Tom Wallis
Laurence King
472 pages – January 2020

The Amazing Story of Forgotten Hollywood star Mary Maguire
by Michael Adams
Hachette Australia
368 pages – February 2020

By Ben Hecht
Yale University Press
680 pages – February 2020

By Wendy Mitchell
Laurence King
128 pages – February 2020

edited by Christopher Beach
University Press of Mississippi
225 pages – February 2020

A Silver Valley Childhood
By Cynthia Ackley Nunn
America Through Time
96 pages – February 2020

Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock
by Christina Lane
Chicago Review Press
400 pages – February 2020

Hollywood and the Comedy of Self-Reference
By Burke Hilsabeck
SUNY Press
224 pages – February 2020

The Films, 1929-1984
By James McKay
McFarland & Company
337 pages – February 2020

Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake
By Veronica Lake
Dean Street Press
February 2020

A Life in Movies
Stories from 50 Years in Hollywood
By Irwin Winkler
Abrams Press
304 pages – March 2020

Great Lives in Graphic Form
By Katie Greenwood
Ammonite Press
96 pages – March 2020

The Greatest Year at the Movies
By Stephen Farber and Michael McClellan
Foreword by Bill Condon
Rutgers University Press
270 pages – March 2020

By Neil Freeman
Crowood Press
160 pages – March 2020

23 Actresses Who Suffered Early Deaths, Accidents, Missteps, Illnesses and Tragedies
By Laura Wagner
233 pages – March 2020

A Pocket Guide to Key Genres, Films, Techniques and Movements
By Ian Hayden Smith
Laurence King Publishing
224 pages – March 2020

Why We All Love Hollywood Cliches
By Steven Espinoza, Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kaay, and Chris Vandar Kaay
Laurence King Publishing
240 pages – March 2020

Quick Takes
By Lester D. Friedman
Rutgers University Press
198 pages – March 2020

Film Music and the Integrated Soundtrack
Edited by James Buhler and Hannah Lewis
University of Illinois Press
352 pages – March 2020

Edited by Frank Burke, Marguerite Waller and Marita Gubareva
Wiley Blackwell
375 pages – March 2020

European Stardom in Silent Hollywood
By Agata Frymus
Rutgers University Press
260 pages – April 2020

The True Tale of Borris Morros, Film Producer Turned Cold War Spy
By Jonathan Gill
Abrams Press
336 pages – April 2020

His Career as Actor, Director and Photographer
By Michelangelo Capua
207 pages – April 2020

The life and Works of a Hollywood Cinematographer
By Wayne Byrne and Nick McLean Sr.
151 pages – April 2020

A Daughter’s Take on the Legend of Nicholas Ray
By Nicca Ray
Three Rooms Press
336 pages – April 2020

The Wharton Brothers and the Magic of Early Cinema
By Barbara Tepa Lupack
Cornell University Press
408 pages – April 2020

Sing and Shout
The Mighty Voice of Paul Robeson
By Susan Goldman Rubin
Calkins Creek
288 pages – April 2020

Edited by Christopher Lane
University Press of Mississippi
208 pages – April 2020

By Julian Baggini
96 pages – May 2020

Biographic Audrey
By Sophie Collins
Ammonite Press
96 pages – May 2020
Amazon – Barnes and Noble – Powells

From Mammy to Minny, What the Academy Awards Tell Us about African Americans
By Frederick Jr. Gooding
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
320 pages – May 2020

Photographed by Terry O’Neill
By Terry O’Neill, edited by James Clarke
ACC Art Books
256 pages – May 2020

The Directors Guild of America and the Construction of Authorship
By Virginia Wright Wexman
Columbia University Press
296 pages – May 2020

By A.L. Kennedy
88 pages – May 2020

From Rocky to Star Trek: The Amazing Creations of Hollywood’s Michael Westmore
By Michael Westmore and Jack Page
Lyons Press
320 pages – May 2020

Titan of Cinema
By Vanessa Harryhausen
ACC Art Books
208 pages – May 2020

By Michael Newton
136 pages – May 2020

By Richard Deming
104 pages – May 2020

Gender and Sex in the Films of George Cukor
By Elyce Rae Helford
The University Press of Kentucky
206 pages – May 2020

by Art Evans
McFarland & Company
154 pages – May 2020

Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time
By Stephen Rebello
Penguin Books
352 pages – June 2020

My Conversations with the New Hollywood Director
By Peter Tonguette
The University Press of Kentucky
204 pages – June 2020

The Jets, the Sharks, and the Making of a Classic
By Richard Barrios
TCM and Running Press
232 pages – June 2020

Do any of these titles pique your interest? Let me know in the comment section.

Here are my previous round-ups:

New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (1)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (2)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (3)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (4)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (5)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (6)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (7)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (8)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (9)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (10)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (11)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (12)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (13)

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