The Witches (1967)

aka Le streghe
Article 3379 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-1-2010
Posting Date: 11-13-2010
Directed by Mauro Balognini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Franco Rossi
Featuring Silvano Mangano, Toto, Clint Eastwood
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Anthology of tales about women

Five tales are told. In the first, a beautiful movie star visits the private party of a friend. In the second, a woman volunteers to drive an injured man to the hospital. In the third, a man, upon the death of his wife, makes a deal with his son to remarry, but not until they find a woman they both like. In the fourth, a Sicilian woman reveals to her father the name of her seducer. In the last, a housewife has fantasies to help her cope that her marriage has cooled down.

The title is to be taken metaphorically; there’s no overt witchcraft in any of the five stories here. Nonetheless, there are some fantastic elements here; the third story (whose absurdist comic overtones make it at least marginally a fantasy to begin with) ends with a fantastically-themed twist, and the last story’s fantasy sequences (which include appearances by Diabolik, Mandrake, Flash Gordon and Batman) also add some elements. All five stories feature Silvano Mangano as the star, and she does a fine job throughout. The second and fourth stories are mostly short jokes and are of the least interest here. The first story is directed by Visconti and is the longest of the bunch; it’s an exploration of the love/hate relationship women have with beautiful movie stars that inspire jealousy/emulation as well as a look at the way this beauty is marketed; it has some interesting things to say but gets rather dull. The third story is by Pasolini, here working once again with Toto (in one of his last movies) who is made up to look like an aging Larry Fine. It’s a light-hearted comic fable that is a lot of fun. The last story is directed by De Sica, and is perhaps the best of the lot. It features Clint Eastwood playing against type for the most part, though the fantasy sequences will sometimes feature him in much more expected roles, and he does a great job. The movie is uneven overall (most anthologies of this sort are that way), but it’s satisfying enough. According to IMDB, the German and Spanish versions of this movie run about fifteen minutes longer, which leaves me wondering if there may have been a sixth story, though IMDB does not mention any other one.

Amazons (1984)

AMAZONS (1984)
Article 3378 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-2-2010
Posting Date: 11-14-2010
Directed by Paul Michael Glaser
Featuring Madleine Stowe, Jennifer Warren, Tamara Dobson
Country: USA
What it is: Fantasy conspiracy thriller

A female doctor treats a senator who comes to the emergency room with appendicitis. The senator is killed when a liquid is introduced in his IV that drives him crazy and causes his death by being hit by an ambulance. When the senator’s wife demands an investigation, the female doctor finds herself framed and sued for malpractice. The doctor discovers that she’s the victim of a conspiracy caused by descendants from the ancient race of Amazons.

You know, this movie would probably have ended up better had someone taken a look at the premise and decided it would have been better to play it tongue in cheek. As it is, the silliness of the idea battles with the seriousness of the presentation every step of the way. Its worst problem may simply be that the script is nothing special; it’s full of cliches and often contrived. I also think that any conspiracy of this sort would come up with a more subtle way of recognizing its members than to have them all wear these awkward-looking bracelets with bow-and-arrow medallions. I also think they’d be more apt to stick with guns than the old bow-and-arrow as their choice of weapons, but then, I’m not an Amazon, so what do I know? One of the user reviews on IMDB couldn’t help but notice that this movie (which involves a conspiracy aimed at the presidency and features a presidential candidate who is female) was made about the same time Walter Mondale had picked Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, though I find the movie a little too silly to point at any meaningful political message.

Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

aka The Weekend Murders
Article 3377 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-30-2010
Posting Date: 11-12-2010
Directed by Michele Lupo
Featuring Anna Moffo, Ida Galli, Gastone Moschin
Country: Italy
What it is: Giallo comedy

A group of heirs gather for the reading of a will. Afterwards, someone begins knocking them off one by one.

My copy of this movie was in unsubtitled Italian, but the odd thing is that, despite it being an Italian movie in its native language, it looks dubbed; the words and the lips don’t quite sync up. Nevertheless, the point is that, since I don’t understand Italian, I can’t give any real analysis of the story here. However, I can say this much; for a movie I watched in a language I don’t understand, I was able to follow the gist of many of the scenes. Partly this is because it’s made out of some familiar elements; it is essentially an “old dark house” giallo. Another reason it’s easier to follow is that much of the action is told visually; this is especially true when the movie emphasizes the comedy. Actually, this may be the first comic giallo I’ve seen, and it’s rather unexpected; I didn’t think the giallo form would really lend itself to the humor. I think it works because it’s shot with a sense of style that dovetails nicely with the humor; certain arty shots and editing emphasize the comedy rather than undermine it. So, despite the fact that I had trouble following it, I did find myself consistently amused, and ended up enjoying the movie. I also have to admit that I like the admittedly over-the-top score, especially the use of a Tchaikovsky piece; the last time I heard gunshots used in a piece of classical music was when it was being performed by Spike Jones.

P.S. Shortly after I watched this one, I discovered that it had been released in this country, most likely with English dubbing or subtitles. Talk about bad timing. Still, I may pick it up, and if I do, I’ll re-review it.

An Inspector Calls (1954)

Article 3376 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-29-2010
Posting Date: 11-11-2010
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Featuring Alastair Sim, Jane Wenham, Brian Worth
Country: UK
What it is: Mystery/drama

In 1912, the evening of a well-to-do family is interrupted by the appearance of a police inspector who informs them of the death of a girl by poison, and that he wishes to interview the various members of the family concerning her death. They discover that, unbeknownst to each other, they knew her… and had each engaged in an act of cruelty towards her.

This was based on a popular stage play, but because the story involves the various members of the family having interactions with the girl in question, it keeps from being stagebound by merely re-enacting the various encounters rather than just having the characters talk about it. It’s a powerful, sad story, full of substance, and very well acted by all (but especially by Alastair Sim as the police inspector), and there’s a definite tinge of eeriness about the proceedings as we discover the series of coincidences that led to each member of the family meeting with the girl. Still, that sense of eeriness isn’t the fantastic content here, but I’m not going to elaborate on the latter; the movie is saving it all for the final twist, and it’s best to discover that twist on your own. This one is highly recommended.

The Sadistic Baron von Klaus (1962)

aka La mano de un hombre muerto, Hand of a Dead Man
Article 3375 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-28-2010
Posting Date: 11-10-2010
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Howard Vernon, Hugo Blanco, Gogo Rojo
Country: Spain
What it is: Evil from beyond the grave

The Von Klaus family is under a curse; an evil ancestor returns as a ghost and possesses one of his descendants to go on a sadistic murder spree.

Here we have another of Franco’s earlier films; in fact, it may be the earliest film I’ve seen from his oeuvre. It’s one of his better films, but I wouldn’t rank it with his best; this one is pretty slow out of the gate and doesn’t really get moving until the latter half of the movie. It was also rather daring for its time, so much so that a dungeon scene of torture and nudity was censored, though my copy has the scene restored. It seems that several of the films that I’ve seen of his recently all deal with sadism, and they all come across as some of his better work; there’s no doubt that the subject interested him. As usual, Howard Vernon is quite memorable. The ending is also very good.

Das Geheimnis der Gelben Narzissen (1961)

aka The Devil’s Daffodil
Article 3374 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-27-2010
Posting Date: 11-9-2010
Directed by Akos Rathonyi
Featuring Joachim Fuchsberger, Sabine Sesselmann, Klaus Kinski
Country: West Germany / UK
What it is: krimi

Scotland Yard enlists the help of a Chinese detective in solving a case of drug smugglers who hide their goods in the stems of daffodils, and to find the identity of a killer associated with the smuggling.

This movie was apparently one of the first coproductions between Britain and Germany since World War II. It was the first krimi shot entirely in Britain, and not only does it have a markedly different look than many of the others I’ve seen, it also features a British star; Christopher Lee plays the part of the Chinese detective Ling Chu. It appears that there are two different versions of the movie, one in English and one in German. And, wouldn’t you know it, I found the one in German, and it has no subtitles, and given that krimis can be hard to figure out even when they’re in English, it should be no surprise that I got lost in this one, and I had to go to to get what little plot description I could find. Lee appears to be actually speaking in German in this version; at least there are no telltale signs of his mouth not moving in sync to the German dialogue. Still, I’m not sure that’s his voice I’m hearing; his voice is lacking that deep sonority, though he may just be talking in a higher pitch. I’d really love to know what’s going on, especially in a scene where Lee appears to be torturing a man for some curious reason. Klaus Kinski is also on hand, acting bizarre and twitchy. Some of the murders are quite effectively staged. Now, if only I can find the English version one of these days.

A Trip to Mars (1910)

Article 3373 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-26-2010
Posting Date: 11-8-2010
Directed by Ashley Miller
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Melies-like science fiction

After inventing an anti-gravity powder, a man uses it on himself to propel himself to Mars.

This movie was an early addition to my hunt list, and for the longest time not only could I not find it, but it didn’t even have a listing on IMDB. They added one just about the time I gave up on it and consigned it to my Lost list, but a copy finally became available. This is one that didn’t turn out to be a disappointment; it’s actually quite cleverly done, and works well enough on its own that it transcends being just mock Melies. Some of the special effects are quite impressive, particularly when the traveler interacts with some of Mars’s giant denizens. The movie runs just under five minutes.