Showing posts with label Rod Steiger. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rod Steiger. Show all posts

Monday, November 5, 2018

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971)

Shon, Shon... Shon, Shon

Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) didn't set out to become the hero of the Mexican Revolution. He just wanted to rob a bank. After a successful heist in which Juan and his extended family take over a coach transporting members of the wealthy elite, Juan sets his sights on something bigger: the Mesa Verde National Bank. He gets the idea when he meets John Mallory (James Coburn), a dynamite expert, I.R.A terrorist and fugitive on the run. Juan meets John, John meets Juan... it's destiny. Juan wants John on his team but John likes being a lone outlaw just fine. John finds a way to work Juan's bank heist idea into this own plans only to have Juan discover that the bank has no money. Instead it was a makeshift political prison. Juan just freed hundreds of prisoners and has been declared a national hero. But Juan's troubles are just beginning. The Mexican army wants to rid the country of the revolutionaries. When a major tragedy befalls Juan and when one of John's allies turns traitor, this reluctant duo must come face-to-face with the oppressive regime. It's a battle that culminates into one explosive finale.

I only learned one thing from you. - Juan
Oh what's that? - John
How to get fucked. - Juan

Director Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) is a Zapata Western, a sub-genre of the Spaghetti Western in which the stories are set in Mexico, often during the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s. This sub-sub-genre sets out to take a look at the revolution that is vastly different from the Hollywood stories that came before. Leone's film has a long and complicated history. The story is based on an original idea by Sergio Donati. Leone and Donati fleshed out the story and worked with writer Luciano Vincenzoni on the screenplay. Leone didn't intend to direct the film. Both Sam Peckinpah and Peter Bogdanovich were considered but neither worked out for different reasons. For the two leads Clint Eastwood, Jason Robards, Eli Wallach, Malcolm McDowell and George Lazenby were all considered. In fact Wallach, who was initially reluctant to take the part, dropped his current project upon Leone's encouragement. However, United Artists had already hired Steiger for the role of Juan Miranda and wouldn't budge. As a result, Wallach sued.

There are so many versions of this film that it's hard to keep track. First off there's the title. In Italy it was released as Giu la Testa which translates to Keep Your Head Down. Leone historian Sir Christopher Frayling has said that Keep Your Head Down would have been an excellent title for the movie and I agree. Instead the English-language title was Duck, You Sucker, a line often repeated by James Coburn's character John Mallory. However that title wasn't going to jive with American audiences so it was changed to A Fistful of Dynamite, a reference Leone's landmark Spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars (1964). And in Europe the film was also referred to as C'era una volta la rivoluzione or Once Upon a Time.. a Revolution. The different releases worldwide came with different cuts. Several scenes were deleted or shortened depending on the market. For example, in one version the extended slow-motion flashback scene at the very end when John is remembering a menage trois with his girlfriend Coleen (Vivienne Chandler) and his best friend Nolan (David Warbeck) is shortened to 30 seconds essentially removing a bit of storyline essential to understanding John's relationship with Nolan.

A Fistful of Dynamite was shot in Spain and Ireland. While its set during the Mexican Revolution, the film serves as a general commentary of war, imperialism and is even influenced by the Italian political climate of the time. Several scenes were inspired by works of art depicting important moments in history. Leone's film has great depth that really can't be fully explored in just one viewing. I'm not well-versed in Leone's Spaghetti Westerns and I came to this mostly to watch Rod Steiger and James Coburn, two of my favorite actors. I was particularly fascinated with Coburn's John Mallory and the film's slow-motion flashbacks to his life back in Ireland. And the possible suggestion that John and Nolan had a romantic relationship. The movie meanders, takes its time with its characters and even with that explosive finale. There was no rush to tell the story and it allows viewers to settle into this world.  The true hero of the film though is Ennio Morricone's music. The various themes and the chants (Shon, Shon... Shon, Shon) are entrancing.

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) is dark, gritty Leone classic ready to be rediscovered. It's available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!'

The Blu-Ray contains two separate audio commentaries by filmmaker Alex Cox and film history Sir Christopher Frayling, 6 featurettes ranging from 7-22 minutes each, 2 animated galleries, 6 radio spots and several Sergio Leone movie trailers. The case comes with a reversible jacket.

Thank you to  Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) on Blu-Ray to review.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Cry Terror! (1958)

Cry Terror! (1958) has a plot so taut with tension that I watched it wide-eyed at the edge of my seat in wonder and a bit of terror. Based on an original story by director Andrew L. Stone, this fantastic Film Noir from MGM benefits from a brilliant cast, a fast-moving storyline, great editing, excellent build up of suspense and a MacGuffin. A term made famous by director Alfred Hitchcock, a MacGuffin is something in the story that drives the characters to action. What's interesting about a MacGuffin it's only purpose is to drive the plot but ends up being of little importance in the overall scheme of the story. For Cry Terror! the MacGuffin is a bomb on a airplane with the threat to plant more. The real story however is about the kidnapping of the bomb's inventor and his family by terrorists.

Paul Hoglin (Rod Steiger) hires his old army buddy Jim Nolner (James Mason) to develop a bomb.
Jim thought he was working on a government project. Much to his surprise Paul is the head of a terrorist group and the bomb winds up in a commercial airplane. At first no one is hurt but the threat mobilizes FBI into action. Just as Jim was about to report his friend to the FBI, Paul shows up to the Nolner home and kidnaps Jim, his wife Joan (Inger Stevens) and their young daughter.  The kidnapping gives the terrorists time to put their plan into action which includes extorting the FBI for $50,000 which Joan must pick up and deliver to them.

Paul's terrorist group is made up of a bunch of misfit characters including Neville Brand as the Benzadrine addicted Steve, Angie Dickinson as Paul's girlfriend Eileen and Jack Klugman as Vince the thug. The FBI team led by Kenneth Tobey as Agent Frank Cole still believe Jim was part of this original group of terrorist. Once they learn that Jim was merely a pawn in the terrorist group's game they work to help save the kidnapped family. Little do Paul Hoglin and his co-horts know that they messed with the wrong family. The Nolners are never complacent and constantly scheme to fight back against the terrorists and protect their young daughter.

James Mason gets top billing but the two real stars of this movie are Rod Steiger and Inger Stevens who both deliver powerful performances. Steiger is truly terrifying and delivers a powerful yet nuanced performance as the lead villain. Stevens plays Mason's wife and while she is in a constant state of terror, she rises above being just a victim and proves to be a strong character. She fights tooth and nail to protect her family and never allows herself to be paralyzed with fear. The Nolners are a true power couple. When they're first kidnapped, the terrorists threaten to separate them from their daughter. This is simply unacceptable to the parents. They decide to walk out the door together to their certain death than to bear a separation. Such a move forces the terrorists to regroup and modify their plans. This is the first of many brave acts.

Steiger and Stevens dominate the film but James Mason has his moments to shine. There is a wonderful scene when Mason makes a daring escape through an elevator shaft.

Jack Klugman, Rod Steiger and Angie Dickinson in Cry Terror! (1958)

I'm a big fan of Angie Dickinson and Jack Klugman so I was delighted to see them both in this film. Neither of them though are truly effective as villains but Neville Brand makes up for it in spades. Brand's Steve is a serial rapist and murderer and we fear for Joan (Stevens) when they are left together. Those scenes are unsettling and add to the growing tension in the film.

Inger Stevens and Neville Brand

A few points in the film, the inner monologue of Joan (Inger Stevens) or Jim (James Mason) takes over as narrator. In most movies this sort of narration is not always effective. In this film it worked beautifully. Their thought processes help audiences understand their fear and gave us insight into their scheming.

The film was shot on location in New York City and Hoboken, NJ. There is an extended sequence where Stevens travels from NYC to NJ to deliver money and there are lots of great views of the drive. Rod Steiger and Inger Stevens suffered carbon monoxide poisoning when they filmed a scene in a real subway tunnel. They were given oxygen and suicidal Inger Stevens at first refused the help because she wanted to die. Stevens committed suicide 12 years later at the age of 35.

Provocative and effective and with excellent pacing, Cry Terror! (1958) is a must-see for Film Noir fans.

Cry Terror! (1958) is an MGM film available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me this title for review!

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