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.


Welcome to Arrow Beach (1974)

Article 3306 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-17-2010
Posting Date: 9-2-2010
Directed by Laurence Harvey
Featuring Laurence Harvey, Joanna Pettet, Stuart Whitman
Country: USA
What it is: Serial killer thriller

A female hitchhiker is invited to spend the night in the home of a Korean war veteran and his sister. When she discovers the man hacking a body with a cleaver, she escapes and tries to tell the police… but they won’t believe her.

If you were just to look at the title of the movie and know that the title tune was warbled by Lou Rawls, you might well expect it to be a drama with romantic overtones, and not a serial killer flick with cannibalistic overtones. I say overtones because the cannibalism is implied rather than made explicit, but that also may be due to the fact that my copy runs only 82 minutes, shorter than IMDB’s time of 85 minutes and much shorter than a Belgian video version that runs 99 minutes; in short, there’s something missing. I’m guessing that some of what’s missing involves a Korean war flashback that in my print is singularly uninformative. There are also a whole slew of other plot elements that are either abandoned or seem extraneous, such as the opening sequence with the hot rodder, the sheriff’s run for re-election, and the police investigation. Though these sequences do play a little into the plot, they are given far more emphasis and time than is necessary for the story as is. Perhaps the longer versions make better use of these elements, and perhaps not. At any rate, those elements did seem to promise a more complex story than we have here. Incidentally, this is Laurence Harvey’s last movie both as actor and director; he died of cancer before it was released.

Welcome Home, Johnny Bristol (1972)

Article 3172 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-19-2010
Posting Date: 4-21-2010
Directed by George McCowan
Featuring Martin Landau, Jane Alexander, Brock Peters
Country: USA
What it is: Psychological drama or Paranoid conspiracy movie?

A POW from Vietnam returns to the states; he was only able to survive his captivity by recalling memories of his hometown in Charles, Vermont. When he’s well enough to leave the hospital, he takes his nurse to visit his hometown… only to find that it doesn’t exist.

It’s a little hard to discuss the fantastic content of a movie like this; for most of its running time, it walks a thin line between the truth and the illusion without letting on which is which, and to talk about what the fantastic content is would be to give away the game. Let’s just say that one possible explanation takes us on an exploration of madness (marginal horror) while another deals with the marginal science fiction of vast conspiracy theories. One of these does apply.

Whatever its fantastic content, I found this TV-Movie to be truly engrossing, it’s well written, well directed, and extremely well acted. In particular, Martin Landau as the tortured POW of the title gives one of his finest performances, but I also have to mention Forrest Tucker, who shines as a fellow patient in the ward. Jane Alexander is also strong as the nurse, and Pat O’Brien has a memorable cameo as a former recruiting sergeant with a faulty memory. The movie does a strong job of keeping you in suspense as to the nature of the truth, and even once you think you know which story is true, you’ll find out there’s still some details that are capable of changing the whole game. The ending is not a disappointment. Highly recommended.

When Women Lost Their Tails (1972)

aka Quando le donne persero la coda
Article 3150 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-27-2010
Posting Date: 3-30-2010
Directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile
Featuring Senta Berger, Frank Wolff, Lando Buzzanca
Country: Italy/West Germany
What it is: Caveman comedy/satire

Five cavemen live in the skeleton of a dinosaur with a woman whom they share. When a stranger shows up and introduces them to the concept of money, they begin to lose everything they have.

One thing I was sure of going into this sequel to WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS; there was no way this sequel was going to demean or lessen the quality of the original movie in my eyes, as that would have been impossible. What did surprise me was that, unlike its predecessor, this one actually seemed to have a focused theme; once the stranger introduces the concept of money to the cavemen, the movie turns into a satire on capitalism, which is here portrayed as the game of a con man. Granted, once you latch on to the theme, the movie becomes more than a little obvious; in fact, it gets pretty repetitive after a while. Senta Berger fans may also be disappointed; because of the thrust of the plot, her character becomes secondary and almost vestigial at times, which is my way of saying that she doesn’t get very much screen time. Still, she does provide a focus for some interesting points; one of the themes that pops up at one point is the changes in standards of beauty, and one of the final scenes involves her encounter with a new con man who equates women’s liberation with prostitution. There’s another sequel out there to this series, but it doesn’t appear that it has the same set of characters, and Senta Berger is noticeably absent from the cast. The basic upshot of this one is that it turned out to be a lot more interesting and sophisticated than I thought it would be. Don’t read too much into that statement, though; I thought this one was going to be totally worthless.

Watermelon Man (1970)

Article 3149 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-26-2010
Posting Date: 3-29-2010
Directed by Melvin Van Peebles
Featuring Godfrey Cambridge, Estelle Parsons, Howard Caine
Country: USA
What it is: Satirical fantasy

An obnoxious white insurance agent wakes up one morning to discover that he has turned into a black man. When his desperate attempts to turn back to white fail, he begins to find his life changing…

In some ways, this is similar to the previous year’s CHANGE OF MIND in that a white man gets to experience what it’s like to be black. It’s an aggressive, over-the-top movie. The first half plays like a slapstick movie and is too shrill for its own good, but it does serve its purpose; by contrasting how people react to his obnoxious behavior when he’s white and how they react to it when he’s black, it does manage to show the various manifestations of racism in action. Estelle Parsons, here playing another white wife of a black man as in THE UFO INCIDENT (albeit one who was initially married to a white man) portrays a character who serves as an interesting example; though a liberal by nature (she watches news broadcasts about the race riots), she finds actual marriage to a black man to be ultimately unsupportable. The movie is quite effective; it’s both sad and fascinating to watch how this initially unlikable boor is forced to adjust to a new life and, ultimately, a new world. There’s some very interesting names in the cast. Erin Moran (who plays the man’s daughter) would go on to play Joanie on “Happy Days”, former Three Stooges foil Emil Sitka pops up as a delivery man, Mae Clarke appears as an old woman in her last movie, and Paul Williams has a cameo as an employment clerk. The most interesting cast member, though, is none other than Mantan Moreland as the man who works at the lunch counter; his reaction to the main character’s change gave me the biggest laugh in the movie, and I’m glad Melvin Van Peebles decided to use him.

Warlock Moon (1975)

Article 3148 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-25-2010
Posting Date: 3-28-2010
Directed by Bill Herbert
Featuring Laurie Walters, Joe Spano, Edna MacAfee
Country: USA
What it is: Low-budget witchcraft flick

A young female art student ends up dating a young man who takes her to an abandoned spa in an out-of-the-way village. There she encounters a strange old woman, and begins to have mysterious experiences with a ghostly woman and two ax-wielding madmen.

Yeah, I could see how this low-budget horror film (shot in an abandoned tuberculosis clinic in San Francisco) could creep you out under the right circumstances, especially if you caught it late at night. To its credit, Laurie Walters is a likable heroine, and, despite the fact that it often moves at a snail’s pace and has too much wandering around, it never quite put me to sleep. However, the heroine is a major fool; she puts her trust in a creepy boyfriend she barely knows and, despite the fact that she could easily drive off at anytime during the last half of the movie, she insists on leaving herself at the mercy of some quite obvious psychos. It has a fair assortment of plot twists, but the movie is so obvious about showing its hand early on that none of the twists really comes as a surprise. Still, I’ve seen far worse, and the good and bad in the movie is so evenly balanced that I can see how opinions would fluctuate wildly; the IMDB ratings chart does show a fairly even distribution of votes throughout the whole quality spectrum. Uneven, but far from worthless.

The Wandering Jew (1904)

aka Le juif errant
Article 3137 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-7-2010
Posting Date: 3-17-2010
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Melies trick film, though on the more serious side

The Wandering Jew dreams of the event that brought about his curse, and then is tormented by a devil and has visions of the Mother of God.

I had given up this Melies short for lost some time ago, but while researching another movie on my hunt list, I discovered a site called the Europa Film Treasures that had it online. It’s Melies in a more somber mood than usual, and the backgrounds, though obviously painted, look much more realistic. In some ways, this is one of Melies’s more impressive shorts; I especially like the lightning that flashes across the sky at the end of the movie. I’m always glad when I can retrieve a movie from my lost list and add it to my watched list.

****NOTE**** This movie also became available through the new collection of Melies shorts from Flicker Alley.