The Honeymoon Killers (1970)

the honeymoon killers 1970 film review

This is one of those films in which case the story of its production is more interesting than the film itself. Warren Steibel, a television producer, had an ambition to make a movie and convinced a wealthy friend to put up $150,000 to make it. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) had been released recently so Steibel suggested to his roommate, Leonard Kastle, a composer, that they make a film based on the true story of an obese nurse and a Spanish-American con man who fleeced and sometimes murdered women they met through lonely hearts clubs in the late 40’s. Steibel convinced Kastle to write the screenplay, arguing that he had the necessary experience since he had written librettos for his operas. They fabricated a screenwriter’s name for the producer’s sake while Kastle researched court records for the case and came up with the screenplay. After the producer read and approved the screenplay they revealed their ruse. Martin Scorsese was hired to direct but fired after a week when it became obvious that his approach to the film would cause them to exceed their limited budget. A few scenes that Scorsese directed were used in the film. Kastle ended up directing with assistance from cinematographer Oliver Wood, who has had the most illustrious career, besides Scorsese, of all those who worked on the film. Kastle detested Bonnie and Clyde due to its glamorization of violence and chose a quasi-documentary style for his film, making his characters and their deeds as unglamorous as possible. One of the advantages of using unfamiliar actors in a film is that the viewer is never sure whether they are acting or not which works especially well with Kastle’s documentary style. As one critic remarked, he forgot he was watching a film and felt he was peeping through a keyhole. I found it to be a bit like an early John Waters film minus the camp. It has its humorous aspects but overall one is left with a feeling of disgust which most likely was the intention. Despite writing several more screenplays, Kastle never made another film and refused offers to make a sequel or something similar to The Honeymoon Killers.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

The Honeymoon Killers  at imdb.com

As of April, 2017, The Honeymoon Killers is available to rent on DVD from Netflix.com.

The Terence Davies Trilogy (1976-1983)

terence davies trilogy film review

Three short films by one of England’s and cinema’s most highly renowned directors. I decided to explore his first three films based on the strength of the superb The House of Mirth (2000), the only other Davies film I’ve seen. All three films, Children (1976), Madonna and Child (1980), and Death and Transfiguration (1983) are autobiographical depictions of his ordeals growing up poor, Catholic, and gay in Liverpool. Davies originally wanted to act and write. Unsuccessful in his attempts to sell the screenplay for Children, he eventually received an offer from the British Film Institute to direct the film himself despite the fact that he had absolutely no experience directing. Based on that film he managed to get accepted at the National Film School where he created the second film as his graduation project. The final film, made on a minuscule budget, demonstrates his maturation as a filmmaker and establishes his signature cinematic style which has been described as poetic. His first two feature films, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992) are also autobiographical. On the commentary track Davies claims that being gay and Catholic ruined his life. “I am celibate, although I think I would have been celibate even if I was straight because I’m not good-looking; why would anyone be interested in me? And nobody has been. Work was my substitute.” Even though he renounced Catholicism and became an atheist at age 22 he says he cannot lose the sense of guilt instilled in him by what he calls “that pernicious religion”. The films and commentary may strike some as being full of self-pity though Davies would probably say he was just being brutally honest, trying to convey his frame of mind in the period of his life depicted in the films. The films are bleak and challenging and as one American critic put it, “make Ingmar Bergman look like Jerry Lewis”. Considering how many of the world’s greatest artists led miserable lives, it almost seems as though a tortured soul is a prerequisite for great art. Though making films about his past may not have had a cathartic effect for Davies, it has led to the creation of some great cinema.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

The Terence Davies Trilogy at imdb.com

As of September, 2016 The Terence Davies Trilogy is available to buy on a Region 2 DVD from Amazon.com.

o.k. (1970)

o.k. 1970 film review

o.k. is Michael Verhoeven’s fourth feature film. Unlike his excellent The Nasty Girl (1990), o.k. is an experimental film undoubtedly inspired by other films from the New German Cinema. For this film that translates to a minuscule budget with a deliberate disregard for realism creating a Brechtian distancing effect. The story is based on the Incident on Hill 192, the torture, gang rape, and murder of a young Vietnamese girl by U.S. soldiers which occurred in 1966 during the Vietnam War. However, there is no mention in the film itself that it is based on real events nor any hint in the beginning of its serious subject matter. Before the story gets started the actors, out of character, introduce themselves and sort out their wardrobe. They portray American soldiers but speak German throughout the entire film while a clearing in a Bavarian forest stands in for the Vietnamese jungle. The Vietnamese girl is played by Austrian actress Eva Mattes (who has also appeared in films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog). The first half of the film is actually quite funny as the five men dig trenches, play cards, tell jokes, and tease each other. The rape and torture scenes however are graphic and disturbing. The innovative cinematography is by Igor Luther who also shot The Tin Drum (1979). Despite the unconventional approach this is a well made film including some remarkable editing and naturalistic performances. It created a controversy leading to the cancellation of the 20th Berlin International Film Festival when jury president George Stevens (director of Shane) resigned after failing to get the film removed from the festival, claiming it was anti-American. Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War (1989) is also based on the same event.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

o.k.  at imdb.com

As of July, 2016 o.k. isn’t available on DVD as far as I can tell but can be streamed at rarefilmm.com.

Last Known Address (1970)

last known address Dernier domicile connu film review

Last Known Address (Dernier domicile connu) is based on the eponymous novel, part of a trilogy of police procedurals featuring a police inspector and his rookie female partner by American writer Joseph Harrington. Lino Ventura plays the inspector, Marceau Leonetti, an efficient but sometimes brutal cop. An influential lawyer manages to malign his reputation which causes his demotion after Leonetti arrests his son for driving under the influence. Relegated to a position in a small town, Leonetti is paired up with novice Jeanne Dumas (Marlène Jobert – whose best claim to fame these days probably is being Eva Green’s mother) to catch perverts in movie theaters. Their work becomes more interesting and dangerous when they are assigned to track down a witness to a murder who has eluded the police for five years. The murderer, the head of a criminal gang, is due to stand trial in a week and his henchmen are out to kill the witness before he can testify. The suspense is built in and the noir atmosphere and downbeat ending make the film seem fresh despite its age though the investigations that turn out to be dead ends felt a bit repetitive. The only things that date it are some parts of the score, editing, and camerawork. The director, José Giovanni, whose real name was Joseph Damiani, was sentenced to death for collaborating with the Nazis, blackmail, and murder but ended up spending only eleven years in prison. Upon his release he wrote his first novel Le trou, based on his attempt to escape prison. Le trou and his third novel Classe tous risques were both adapted for films which were released in 1960. Dernier domicile connu is his third directorial effort.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

Last Known Address at imdb.com

As of June, 2016 Last Known Address is only available on a Region 2 DVD without English subtitles. However, a version with English subtitles is available for streaming at rarefilmm.com.

Michael the Brave (1970)

michael the brave film review

Considered by many to be one of the best if not the best Romanian film ever made, Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul) is an epic historical drama depicting the efforts of a late 16th Century Wallachian prince to unite the Romanian principalities of Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moldavia into one nation. He successfully waged war against the Ottoman Empire but his most dangerous enemies turned out to be his so-called Christian allies in Europe. The cast of thousands, courtesy the Romanian Army, makes for some impressive battle scenes. This film is only available on YouTube as far as I know which is unfortunate as I’m sure it would be visually stunning on the big screen or if it was restored for release on DVD or Blu-ray.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

Michael the Brave at imdb

 

Maidstone (1970)

maidstone 1970 film review

Norman Mailer noticed in the late 50’s that the novel was no longer a hot medium, started visiting the Actor’s Studio, and adopted “The Method.” By 1967 he felt he was ready to write, direct, and star in his own films using John Cassavetes’ improvisational approach despite the fact that he had no screen presence nor acting ability. Criterion has included three of Mailer’s films in Maidstone and Other Films by Norman Mailer as part of their Eclipse Series. Mailer’s only other directorial effort was Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987). Maidstone, Mailer’s third film, stars Mailer as Norman Kingsley (Kingsley was Mailer’s middle name), who makes soft core porn and is also running for president. Mailer assembled a large cast on several estates in the Hamptons, provided drugs and alcohol, and shot 45 hours of material over five days in cinéma vérité style with a crew that included five cameramen. Things apparently fell apart during what was to be a climatic ballroom scene with one cast member seemingly suffering a psychotic episode. The following day Mailer assembled his cast and crew and tried to explain what he was trying to do. This was also filmed and included in the final cut and followed by footage of actor Rip Torn and Mailer having an actual violent and bloody confrontation. Unsurprisingly, the result is a train wreck of a film that must have been or still is an embarrassment to anyone involved. Only recommended to the curious or fans of bad cinema.

★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ (4/10)

Maidstone at imdb.com

As of April, 2016 Maidstone is available on DVD from Amazon.com and also on YouTube:

Wanda (1970)

Barbara Loden (1932-1980) was the first woman to write, direct, and star in her own feature film, Wanda, which was never widely released and has remained somewhat neglected even though it won the International Critics Award at the 1970 Venice Film Festival and was praised by New York film critics. Wanda is semi-autobiographical for Loden who grew up in an environment similar to the film’s eponymous central character. Loden left her impoverished life in North Carolina at age sixteen for New York where she worked as a pin-up girl, dancer, and eventually started acting in Broadway productions. She met Elia Kazan in 1955, became his mistress, and they married in 1967. Kazan cast her in his films Wild River (1960) and Splendor in the Grass (1961). She won a Tony Award for her performance in Arthur Miller’s After the Fall (1964) which Kazan directed.

Loden got the idea for Wanda from a news article about a woman who was sentenced to twenty years in prison for her part in a bank robbery. What struck her about the story was that the woman thanked the judge for sentencing her. As the film begins, Wanda has left her husband and children and sleeps on a sofa at her sister’s house. She passively grants her husband a divorce and relinquishes her rights to the children saying they’d be better off with him. After getting shortchanged and fired from her job at a factory she starts wandering, has a one-night stand with a traveling salesman in exchange for a glass of beer, and has all her money stolen when she falls asleep in a movie theatre. When she enters a bar, unknowingly interrupting a robbery in progress, we are introduced to Mr. Dennis, played by Michael Higgins, the only other professional actor in the film besides Loden. This is where the film takes on a narrative structure that feels familiar as Wanda and Dennis embark on a road trip in a stolen car committing petty thefts. Asked if she was influenced by Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Loden responded, “I wrote the script about ten years before Arthur Penn made Bonnie and Clyde,” replied Loden. “I didn’t care for [it] because it was unrealistic and it glamorized the characters… People like that would never get into those situations or lead that kind of life – they were too beautiful… Wanda is anti-Bonnie and Clyde.”

Not only is Wanda anti-Bonnie and Clyde but it’s also anti-Hollywood. Loden despised slick Hollywood films and found the acting style in them to be too theatrical. As for her performance in the film, Loden is Wanda. You never get the impression that she’s an actress playing a part. In fact, if one was unfamiliar with Loden and Higgins as actors it would be easy to get the impression that the film is a documentary. The film was shot in cinéma-vérité style and edited by documentary filmmaker Nicholas Proferes with 16mm film that was blown up to 35mm. Proferes was responsible for the framing, camera placement and movement while Loden concentrated on the actors. The film most closely resembles the early work of John Cassavetes though the performances are much more low-key in Wanda. In an interview Proferes stated Loden “was very self-effacing, and never intended the film for release… This was a way to take the pressure off – the pressure to produce a work of art – if it didn’t turn out half-way decently.”

Though critical response was generally favorable, one writer, Marion Meade, found what she perceived as the “message” in Wanda disturbing. “But now Barbara Loden arrives at the crux of the problem, which is, where do you go after you reject the only life society permits? And once a woman gains her freedom, what can she do with it? The answer: nowhere and nothing.” I don’t think Loden intended Wanda to be a statement or convey a feminist or anti-feminist message. Wanda is a character study of someone whose plight in life Loden related to. As Loden said about the character, “She doesn’t know what she wants—but she knows what she doesn’t want. And she’s trying to get out of this very ugly type of existence. But she doesn’t have the equipment.” In her in-depth review For WandaBérénice Reynaud writes, “Loden wanted to suggest, from the vantage point of her own experience, what it meant to be a damaged, alienated woman – not to fashion a ‘new woman’ or a ‘positive heroine’.”

After Wanda won the award at the Venice Film Festival Loden began to think of herself as a director. Kazan wrote in his autobiography, “when I first met her, she had little choice but to depend on her sexual appeal. But after Wanda she no longer needed to be that way, no longer wore clothes that dramatised her lure, no longer came on as a frail, uncertain woman who depended on men who had the power… I realised I was losing her, but I was also losing interest in her struggle… She was careless about managing the house, let it fall apart, and I am an old-fashioned man.” Kazan “didn’t really believe she had the equipment to be an independent filmmaker” and didn’t encourage her to make more films. After Wanda the only films she made were two shorts for The Learning Corporation of America in 1975 though she continued writing screenplays, directing Off-Off-Broadway productions, and taught an acting class until her death from breast cancer at age 48 in 1980.  Like her character in Wanda, Loden found that once she gained her independence most doors were closed to her in the film business. Like Wanda’s husband, Kazan had convinced her to divorce him as they had grown apart but the breast cancer was discovered shortly afterwards and they remained married until her death.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

Wanda at imdb.com

As of February, 2016 Wanda is available to rent on DVD from Netflix.

 

Case for a Rookie Hangman (1970)

case for a rookie hangman film review

Pavel Juráček isn’t as well known as other exponents of the Czech New Wave like Miloš Forman and Věra Chytilová most likely because his career ended after the release of his second feature film Case for a Rookie Hangman which was banned and the director blacklisted for the rest of his life. He also wrote the screenplay for Jan Schmidt’s Late August at the Hotel Ozone (1967) and collaborated with Chytilová on the screenplay for Daisies (1966). Case for a Rookie Hangman is loosely based on the third part of Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan. There are also references to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Franz Kafka’s The Castle. It is similar in some respects to Orson Welles’ adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial (1962). The film is divided into chapters, the first of which is Gulliver’s trip down the rabbit hole which contains some of the film’s most striking and bizarre images. The rest of the chapters entail his encounters with the inhabitants of Balnibarbi and Laputa and their absurd rules. He discovers on his visit to Laputa, the flying island where the rulers reside, that no one is in charge, their king has left long ago to become a porter in Monte Carlo and the island has been drifting aimlessly since then. At the end, as Gulliver leaves Balnibarbi with the village idiot he notes that his watch is running backwards. The idiot replies, “At least it’s still ticking!” The Czech New Wave filmmakers were dissenters whose films were meant “to make the Czech people collectively aware that they were participants in a system of oppression and incompetence which had brutalized them all.” 1  Unfortunately, after the Soviet Union crushed the reform movement known as the Prague Spring, these filmmakers either fled the country, were blacklisted, or faced censorship of their work.

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

Case for a Rookie Hangman on imdb.

As of December, 2015 Case for a Rookie Hangman is available on DVD from Movie Detective.net.

The entire film is on YouTube but has no English subtitles:

  1. David Cook, A History of Narrative Film, p. 705

Ostia (1970)

ostia film review

Ostia is a large neighborhood in Rome which happens to be where the cowriter and producer of this film, Pier Paolo Pasolini, was murdered five years after its release. It is the directorial debut of Sergio Citti who collaborated with Pasolini on several films. Knowing that Pasolini was homosexual and a communist will help somewhat in understanding this film though repeated viewings may be necessary to grasp its meaning in full. It’s about two brothers who live together as petty thieves. One day, along with three of their pals, they come upon a young buxom blonde lying in a field, apparently dead. When it’s determined that she is only sleeping the girl is carried to the brothers’ place, undressed, and the three guys have their way with her. She is conscious but strangely passive, as if drugged. The brothers don’t partake but get drunk on wine in the room below. When the men have finished and left, the brothers enter their bedroom, put the naked woman on the floor, fling their clothes on top of her as they undress, and joke about how she makes a good carpet. She continues to live with them but they remain indifferent to her. It is only when she inadvertently shows a preference to one of the brothers that they become interested in her though the jealous brother may be more interested in his brother as indicated by his attempt to make his brother recall an incestuous moment from their youth. The film also contains what can be seen as mocking of Christianity which comes about while the brothers are serving time in jail and a priest comes to hear their confessions. The excellent cinematography adds visual appeal and the editing is also interesting.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

Ostia at imdb.

As of November, 2015 Ostia is available on DVD from MovieDetective.net.

Getting Straight (1970)

getting straight film review

Is this just another “youth” film trying to cash in the success of Easy Rider (1969) by copping an anti-establishment stance? Unlike MASH (1970), which thumbed its nose at authority and Christianity but was essentially a lowbrow comedy, Getting Straight actually contains some meaty material. Elliot Gould plays Vietnam vet, Harry Bailey, (perhaps a reference to George Bailey’s war hero brother, Harry, in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Lifewho has returned to school in order to get his master’s degree in English so he can be a teacher. A former radical, he has decided to work within the system in order to accomplish change and has adopted a cynical attitude towards the younger undergraduates who are trying to change the college’s rules by organizing protests. Eager for his credentials, he agrees to be an intermediary for the college administration and faculty. Yet he is sympathetic to the protesters and the quandary this puts him in is what drives the narrative. At the climax of the story Harry delivers the film’s most important line, which could certainly be considered its message: “It’s not what you do that counts – it’s what you are.” That may mean different things to different people but to me it is the most radical action possible: to change the emphasis from doing to being. Unfortunately the film also contains a lot of fluff: attempts at humor involving Harry’s dilapidated car, his struggle to make ends meet, etc. The biggest problem is the character of Jan, Harry’s girlfriend, played by Candice Bergen. Not only is Bergen unconvincing (just about every review I’ve read mentions how terrible her performance is) but her character is the victim of Harry’s abuse and sexism. Harry is supposed to be the film’s hero and whereas most men will probably sympathize with him I think most women today will find his behavior and attitude deplorable but then again his sexism was pretty much the norm in the era this film was made. The film runs a little over two hours in length. I think if every scene that involves Bergen’s character were cut the film would be much better with enough material left over for a feature length film. It seems that director Richard Rush, who is probably best known for The Stunt Man (1980), was developing his style with this film which uses a lot of close-ups and rack focus. If you pay attention to the editing you’ll notice some amusing match cuts.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

Getting Straight on imdb

As of September, 2015 Getting Straight is available to rent on DVD from Netflix.