Friday, April 30, 2010
This time out Moore plays Lily Krenshka, who has the misfortune of getting arrested on her first night on the job at a clip joint. She claims that she didn't know what went on there, but the cops don't care as they warn her out of town. She flies into a rage when someone snaps her picture outside the police station, but ends up trusting the old drunk with the camera when he invites her to his apartment so he can develop the rest of the roll before surrendering her shot. The old rummy is too good to be true. He makes no advances on her, but offers to teach her his trade. She's a quick study, and soon enough she's off to the big city to earn an honest living.
As Lila Crane, Lily proves a master photo-psychologist. She knows exactly what to say to manipulate people into the most flattering poses. After impressing one grand dame of high society, she rises rapidly to become a leading society and fashion photographer. All the while, Russell pleads with her to return to photojournalism, her true calling. This tension between Lily's social climbing and her alleged vocation reminded me of Irving Rapper's Bad For Each Other from Bad Girls of Film Noir Vol. 1. In that picture, Charlton Heston is a physician (but not a bad girl) who betrays his vocation to become a society doctor and "ghost surgeon" rather than tend to his town's needy miners. There's probably a generic term for this kind of story, but "film noir" isn't it. On the other hand, Over-Exposed takes a more positive view of professional women, for the most part, than Women's Prison did. In that film, Ida Lupino's career as a cruel prison warden is implicitly blamed on her inability to feel love the way a real woman would. In this one, the leading lady isn't condemned for having a career, but exhorted to do more challenging work. There's also a kind of gender-role reversal, as Richard Crenna comes across as the emotionally needy partner in this particular couple. He actually gets a bit annoying as he constantly lectures Lily against selling out, and when he asks her to accompany him on some global reporting tour, his ulterior motive is all too obvious.
Over-Exposed is basically a social melodrama in a film noir shell. The opening promises something more sleazy than we get for the next hour, but things get rougher in the final 20 minutes. Lily has accidentally taken a picture of Club Coco's gangland backer that could ruin his alibi for a murder. Her first impulse when she realizes what she has is to suddenly take up Russell's offer of a vacation in Maine. Once she returns, her career collapses after the gossip columnist steals a not-for-publication pic of a dowager dying on the dance floor for use in a Confidential-style rag. Blackballed by her old society patrons, who blame her for the photo's publication, she desperately decides to blackmail the gangster in order to get one more big payday. Had this been a film noir, she would have blackmailed him instantly, especially since the film has told us that money is her only interest. But since this is a social melodrama, her mercenary motives lapse into complacency, leaving her content to make a fool of herself on some Person-to-Person style TV interview show. Only when she's kicked off the social ladder does she become once more the reckless mercenary we saw in the early reels. Only this time she's in over her head. While she plans carefully and sets up safeguards to deter the gangster from killing her, she doesn't anticipate being kidnapped outside her home as she leaves for the crucial rendezvous.
Col. Trautman, single-handedly taking out a gang of gangsters to save Lily from torture or worse. This twist is pretty unconvincing, as is Lily's last-minute submission to her rescuer. You get the impression that she's giving up any kind of photography for good in order to be Russell's wife, but not his partner. It makes you think that neither Russell nor the screenwriters really meant that talk about Lily doing serious work, and it ends the movie on a sour note.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
By now Rizzo has become the captain of the Naples Narcotics Squad. Despite his triumph over the Marseilles mob in the first movie he's had a hard time stemming the drug tide. Naples is just a stop in a global network, the scope of which brings an American law-enforcement official (Robert Webber) to town to advise the local authorities. Already burdened by the usual idiot police bureaucracy, Rizzo resents the American's interference. The sequel maintains the original's reactionary, almost anti-imperialist tone regarding the U.S. presence, as our hero complains that the Americans treat Naples "like a colony." At the same time, an even more menacing American arrives: Frank Barella, a deported mobster who seems intent on muscling in on the drug network that extends all the way to Asia. He looks like the prime suspect in the death of the current boss. That man was beaten to death, and we've already seen that Barella is nearly as good with his fists as Rizzo is. Of course, the manner of death makes Rizzo himself an object of suspicion in the eyes of his stupid superiors. One thing everyone knows is that the dead gangster had an informant inside law enforcement, known only to him and his contacts in Asia. To get to the bottom of the corruption on his own side, Rizzo must race Barella to Bangkok, and from there to Hong Kong, to get the info that will help one break the network, while possibly making the other its master....
Captain Rizzo (Bud Spencer) pumps the locals for information in Bangkok (above) and fulfills his title obligation by being in Hong Kong (below)
Al Lettieri, as Frank Barella. I don't know what was going on with his career that sent him to Italy in the last year of his life after a tremendous run of Hollywood work (The Godfather, The Getaway, Mr. Majestyk etc.) but this film is staged on such a global scale that it doesn't look like he was slumming. As a mighty lummox in his own right he's a perfect foil for Bud Spencer, and he brings enough two-fisted charisma to the part that you buy him as a worthy antagonist for Rizzo. The only disappointment you might feel is that a plot twist late in the story makes what looked like an inevitable fist-to-fist showdown between the two stars impossible.
One thing Rizzo has going for him is an ability to soak up damage. This comes in handy often during Flatfoot in Hong Kong.
Al Lettieri in Flatfoot in Hong Kong. Below, Rizzo pretends that he's the mobster while Barella's a cop. So what's the truth?...
The English-language trailer (under the alternater title Flatfoot Goes East) also plays up "the little Japanese boy" a lot more than the picture justifies. It was posted to YouTube by Spencerhilltrailer:
And for the sake of comparison, here's a German trailer that makes no distinction between "Buddy" Spencer and the character he plays. This one was uploaded by Rialtofilm:
Monday, April 26, 2010
Boris Szulzinger's film is a deservedly obscure oddity that illustrates the rapidly shifting fortunes people can suffer in the movie racket. It features not one, but two performers from iconic Seventies films. Louise Fletcher, taking the title role, was just five years removed from her Oscar-winning portrayal of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, while Maria Schneider had Last Tango in Paris and Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger on her resume. Were they lured with big bucks after others steered clear, or were they already forced to be less choosy about their work? They would certainly have to be after this project, which could have been an understandable career killer for anyone involved.
Erzsebet Bathory under a more marketable name. She may be Countess Dracula (not that that causes anyone alarm outside of a small Transylvanian suburb) but she lives in Castle Bathory, is named Erzebet, bathes in the blood of virgins and was once bricked inside the walls of her castle centuries ago. As she explains, the place was riddled with secret passages so it was easy to escape. Since then, she's been practicing the same hygenic regimen that has kept her looking like a big-boned American woman in her forties. But times are getting tougher. "In zis decadent modern vurld of ours," she asks in her charming accent, "vere can vun find wirgins?"
Above, Maria Schneider receives an undeserved tribute from the Mama Dracula Dancers. Below, Louise Fletcher tries to think happy thoughts.
In her desperation she turns to modern science, summoning the allegedly eminent Dr. Peter Van Bloed to Transylvania for a "Blood Congress." It's a congress of one, as the egotistical little nebbish (he fantasizes out loud about getting the Nobel) finds himself the sole guest of the Countess and her eccentric twin sons, Vladimar and Ladislaus. While their mother aspires to elegance, and would never dare bare fangs (though she does offer to "bare you my secrets"), her boys -- wherever they came from -- oh, where to begin?
If you've ever tried to watch the Ritz Brothers in movies from the 1930s and 1940s, you might have an idea of our problem with Marc-Henri and Alexander Wajnberg. While the Marx Brothers and the Howard brothers crafted distinctive individual personalities for themselves, the Ritzes tried to be a sort of zany collective that forced you to laugh by sheer strength of numbers. You had three guys you couldn't really tell apart all yelling, laughing, pulling faces, etc. at the same time. There are only two Wajnbergs, but they're just as bad -- and English isn't their first language. Wendigo gives them credit for trying, but he assumes that they were cast for their goofy looks. They look like funhouse mirror versions of Frank Langella's Dracula and wear the full vampire regalia when they're not working their day jobs at the Vamp dress shop in the nearby big city. They seem to have been given little direction except to be funny, and they may not have understood the direction.
Jimmy Shuman, dressed like a lower-caste Time Lord, flanked by the incredible Wajnberg Brothers.
Our whole future lies in biosynthesis, in generic engineering. Imagine being able to transfer the genetic qualities of human hemoglobin to the e. coli chromosome by the plasmid method, and thus control the regulation of the genetic structure of cells!...But I'm never going to find the necessary genes in rabbit blood!
Dr. Bloed is introduced as if he's going to be the main character of the movie, just as Virginia the virginal but horny barmaid he encounters at a Transylvanian inn seems set up to be the film's romantic interest. Wrong on both counts. This film just keeps throwing new characters on top of the old ones, adopting the Hellzapoppin approach of trying everything in the hope that anything will work. Thus Maria Schneider is introduced as an assistant vampire hunter to a blustering inspector in a deerstalker. He assumes the Countess and her boys are innocent because he sees them in broad daylight. It's this defective detective, in fact, who finally deflowers Virginia, making her fair game for every other lout in the tavern until the whole building explodes. Transylvania, apparently, is where they put the bang in gangbang.
And in the middle of this, Dr. Bloed and his questionably-gendered assistant Rosa burst in to announce the success of their great experiment. Until then, the incompetent scientist had only been able to make gold. But once Rosa suggested the formula "E=mc2," artificial blood became a reality with utopian promise for mankind. Let a vampire explain it to a mummy:
You, poor think! There is no need to be scared of dyink anymore. From now on, blood is awailable anytime, anyplace, buckets of it! Anyone who vants to be a wampire can be a wampire ven they would alike, vere they would alike, and vit who they would alike. Humanity can live in the lap of luxury. Eternity is vithin reach!
It's still not exactly funny, but it is almost charmingly insane, a rare moment of mad inspiration saved for last. But it's a hard slog to get there. Wendigo says that if he hadn't been watching it socially he might have given up on it early. So if you dare, watch it with a friend -- and hope he'll be your friend afterward.
Wendigo sees the film as a complete mess, a mishmash of acting styles, Fletcher's overacting not exactly counterbalanced by Schneider's underacting -- or is it non-acting? He had a hard time wrapping his mind around the odd geography that requires the Draculas to commute through a primitive village to their modern shop in a thoroughly modern city -- a shop that is apparently directly linked to their castle by an underground tunnel. He was demoralized initially by how derivative the film was -- the wirgin-blood concept is stolen from Andy Warhol's Dracula, and the brothers seem influenced by The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Worse, at every moment the Mill Creek copy is a murky mess in its own right. But as the film snowballs downhill it develops a shape and momentum of its own. It eventually got one thing right: it ceased to be a mere vampire-movie parody and achieved its own uniquely idiotic inspiration. It ended up being not quite one of Wendigo's favorite vampire comedies, but one of the damnedest movies he's ever seen. He recommends it to bad-movie buffs only, whether they're vampire fans or not.
Mama Dracula might be enjoyed more thoroughly in a dinner-theater format with the right cuisine, but we have our doubts.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
The Korean title names the film after its main character, a chicken farmer who runs a roadside restaurant. While she's attractive, she was unpopular in school because she was a bit of a hick who, as one classmate says, smelled of chicken shit. Her father disappeared during the 1980 uprising, and she goes to the nearby big city on every anniversary date to see if the authorities have fresh info on his fate. In a way, she's stuck in the past, sneered at by the same classmate who moved out and up in the world. That woman gets a plate of food dumped on her head for her trouble, while Soon-ji has to catfight another female customer who thinks she's flirting with her husband. Jung, a local cop, has his heart set on her, but she's about to be swept off her feet by an unlikely suitor.
One night, three guys in grungy period costumes drive up to the restaurant in a jeep just after closing. She sends them away, but after listening to the radio, which is rebroadcasting its original coverage of the uprising (much as American TV reprises its 2001 reporting every September 11) she decides to whip up some poultry and take it to where the three knuckleheads are camping out. They're reenacters, two of whom are in it for fun. The third, Jagu, is either quite the amateur Method actor or barking mad. He talks about the Uprising as if it's happening now. His passion on the subject, on top of his good looks, attract Soon-ji, and after helping them break into a police armory (and beat up Jung) to get weapons for the re-enactment, she makes love with Jagu. There's an eerie quality to these scenes; Jagu's confusion of past and present, perhaps provoked by the radio broadcasts, seems to make the past present, so that what unfolds is not so much reenactment as recurrence.
After promising Jung to make up for her misdeeds, Soon-ji travels to Gwangju, where her own mental balance is challenged by the disorienting blend of serious reenactment and public celebration. Jagu and his cronies are in the front line of the reenactment, ready to take fake fire. But when one goes down, Jagu freaks out, despite the obvious ritualistic activity going on around him. He really thinks the government has killed his friend, and his panic, if not his delusion, spreads to Soon-ji. Before long he's out looking for revenge -- and his gun, unlike most others, has live ammo in it....
"When the lying Buddhas stand up, a new world will begin." Soon-ji discusses a dream with Jagu (Kim Yoon-seong). We will only see the dream itself, sort of, at the end of the film.
Above, a scene from the Gwangju reenactment. Below, Soon-ji and Jagu's private drama nears a bloody conclusion above the celebration.
Here's a pretty long trailer for Soon-ji, uploaded to YouTube by m2m129:
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Easy. For starters, make your women convicts the least hard-boiled, least menacing bunch of cons you can imagine. The inmate population are really a merry sorority once you get to know them, and once you get over your own terror at the prospect of exile from home and hubby. We actually get off to a strong start as we follow Helene Jensen (Phyllis Thaxter) into the can. She's no criminal, but she happened to kill a kid while speeding. She can't take the confinement and isolation, and spends her first night on a non-stop crying jag until the guards have to put her in a straitjacket and dump her in a padded cell.
"I'd know those legs anywhere!" Juanita Moore welcome Jan Sterling back to stir. Below, the hand won't look as good as those legs after this stunt.
Dr. Crane: May I tell you what's wrong with you?...You dislike most of the women here because, deep down, you're jealous of them.
Van Zandt: That's absurd.
Crane: You're feminine, attractive. You must have had opportunities to marry. Maybe you even cared for somebody once in your cold way.
VZ: How dare you!?
Crane: But possibly he turned to someone who could give him what he really wanted: warmth, understanding, love. There's hardly a woman inside these walls who doesn't know what love is.
VZ: Yes, and that's why most of them are here.
Crane: Exactly. Even the broken wrecks have known some kind of love, and that's why you hate them.
The film goes on to confirm this laymen's analysis when Van Zandt is cornered inside the padded cell by a vengeful male con during a riot. Threatening him with reprisals against his wife, not knowing that she's already dead, the warden cracks and raves "I hate them all! I hate them all!" before Dr. Crane calls for the straitjacket. Maybe I'm being politically correct, but there's something ugly about this. There've been evil and sadistic male wardens in prison films, and some of that evil sadism may well be blamed on sexual or social dysfunction, but the way Women's Prison goes about it you're invited to assume that something's wrong with Van Zandt just for being a warden instead of somebody's wife. Having to perform this role seems like a penance for Lupino, an almost unconscious punishment of her by Hollywood for being uppity enough to become a producer and director. However, if you resist reading too much into the role, you can probably get some campy pleasure out Lupino's chic villainy, whether she's slapping the daylights out of a pregnant con or virtually climbing the walls of that padded cell.
Above, Lupino lays the smack down on Audrey Totter. Below, disguised escapees (l-r) Jan Sterling, Cleo Moore and Vivian Marshall threaten revenge.
Columbia pitched Women's Prison as a racier film than it really is, and the film presents itself as a kind of social problem picture denouncing the persistence of co-ed prisons -- the sexes are segregated but are all in the same compound. Today, Sony pitches it as a film noir, but despite its dark and shadowy moments it falls short of the genre standard. For a film set in prison there's little sense of criminality or guilt in it. The women prisoners are somehow too good to be true, and that's a no-no for noir. But since Sony is also sort of selling the Bad Girls collections as camp (why else advertise Cleo Moore's limitation as an actress?) Women's Prison would seem to belong. It's definitely a document of its time, and its certainty that it will shock audiences is one of its more charming features now.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Cesar's dad is Felix Mendez, a bigtime gangster who demands the same revenge the title does. After he sends a hitman into Artem's rented home, our hero decides to flee the country, but he and his wife take separate flights. He makes it back to Russia, but she doesn't. Now she'll be killed if Artem doesn't return and submit himself to Mendez's vengeance. Somehow, word of all this has reached the gangster from the first film in his cell in the city of Vladimir. Since Mendez has ties to Russian organized crime, a tough cop (also from the first film?) negotiates a scenario in which the gangster will leave prison, take out Mendez and help Artem rescue his wife. Fearing a double-cross by the cops, the gangster soon violently shakes his police tail. When he and Artem reach America, the gangster promptly delivers Artem to Mendez. But Artem's friends in the States have a hidden ace: the gangster has a son here whom the good guys take hostage, demanding Artem and his wife in exchange. While the intrigues between the Mexican and Russian crimelords play themselves out, Artem has to get back in shape fast to make his title fight date....
I'm not sure what I was expecting that would give this film a distinctly Russian flavor, but I finished it thinking it could have been made practically anywhere. It's filmed in a kind of generic global style that's heavy on needless flashbacks and flashy camera tricks. Megerdichev tries every trick in the book to make his fights visually interesting; the results are inevitably hit-or-miss, but in the climactic title bout especially he does succeed in dramatizing boxing in some fresh ways. To his credit, he doesn't stage Rocky fights in which every punch is a haymaker; his fighters duck and block and make each other miss, and even clinch at times. He films at variable speeds and freeze-frames occasionally to highlight near-misses and decisive blows. He shakes the camera and blurs the image and throws in disorienting montages to portray Artem's punchy perspective at crisis moments. The director's most successful gambit comes just as Artem is making his big comeback. The champ is still getting in some heavy shots, and after one solid hit to Artem's head the screen goes black -- and stays black for tense seconds before fading back in to as Artem shakes off the effects of a powerful blow. Megerdichev also doesn't overdo the comeback; the champ remains a formidible opponent throughout, defying our expectations by getting up not once, but twice after potential knockout blows from our hero. He takes the best Artem dishes out, and that keeps the fight suspenseful until a clever anticlimax. Once the champ gets up that second time, you're most likely asking yourself whether Artem has got anything left to put him down with, and you may be thinking he can still lose -- but then the bell rings to end the fight. That leaves us with a different kind of anticlimax: a split decision.
"Shadow Boxing 2," as it's known in some territories, disappointed me as an action movie -- Artem does too much running and not enough ass-kicking for my taste -- but it ends up an interesting experiment in post-Raging Bull boxing expressionism. If there'd been more boxing in it, I'd be willing to call it at least a halfway-decent fight film. As it is, it's a muddled, overlong, sometimes overstylized affair that might still be of interest to fight-film fans and anyone curious about Russian cinema outside the art houses.
This Russian trailer was uploaded to YouTube by sjada22:
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
A closer translation of the first film's title would be "Bigfoot the Cop," but you can imagine the confusion that'd create in the U.S., however sasquatch-like Spencer may seem at times. "Flatfoot," meanwhile, is good old American slang for a cop and signals the somewhat comical nature of this series. All four Piedone films are directed by the mononymous "Steno" (Stefano Vanzina), who directed many films for the popular comedian Toto. He launches the series with a dynamic action scene that sets the tone for the first episode.
A black American sailor has gone crazy in the middle of Naples. He's made his way to the top of a tall building and has started taking potshots at the crowds below while raving about hating white people and being free. Steno films this on a massive scale with extras fleeing the sailor's gunshots as snipers move into position atop nearby buildings. He films from below, with the sailor a speck high above, and from the roof as the gunman commands a vast expanse of cityscape. Nobody wants to shoot the sailor, but there's no reasoning with him, and an American officer leaves his fate to the police. At that moment, as a cop on street level raises his rifle, a big foot comes down on top of it, and from a low angle we see the full bulk of Bud Spencer as he finishes a cigarette. Who's this guy? the American officer asks. "That would take a long time to explain," a cop replies.
Rizzo thinks he can crack down on the drug trade by getting tough on the Baron -- he may have a code against killing but he's not above using his ham fists to torture folks -- but he's held back by a by-the-book new police commissioner who frowns on our hero's unorthodox tactics and his semi-cordial relations with the Mafia. Rizzo gets suspended after the commissioner catches him in the middle of an unauthorized beatdown of the Baron, but he carries on the fight with still more help from the Mafia and some crucial assistance from his new friend Jho, the cleaned-up American sailor, and some of his fellow gobs. Things get further complicated when one of his favorite informants and the Baron are killed, leaving Rizzo to wonder who the real villain is. Could it be one of his quasi-allies in the Mafia? Could it be the commissioner who seems to do everything possible to impede the investigation? It all gets very confusing, and as Rizzo tells the commissioner, "You know what Flatfoot does when he's confused." If you don't, he punches people, and if he punches enough of them, he may find out the truth in time....
Tough love from Flatfoot. "So, I'm not your father, eh!" Actually, he's not, but he feels entitled to slap anyone, anyway. I'd say, "Bad cop; no donut," except I don't think he eats donuts. Can you imagine if he did???
Flatfoot seems designed as a family-friendly poliziotteschi movie, free from extreme gun violence, nudity and other distinguishing traits of the adult version of the genre. At the same time, its emphasis on choreographed unarmed combat makes it look like an attempted Italian answer to Asian martial-arts films. In this respect, the film is pretty good. Spencer is a convincing brawler and he's supported by a game stable of stuntmen who sell well for him. Steno keeps the different fight scenes lively, particularly one in which Rizzo routs an entire motorcycle gang with just a borrowed chain for a weapon.
Steno can pull off the kind of car and cycle chases you expect from the Italian cop genre, but Flatfoot's unarmed combats are its highlights.
The regrettable exception is the major comic set piece, a melee set on a fishing boat pitting Rizzo and the three Americans against drug smugglers. The problem isn't that the scene is shot for laughs, but that it goes on too long after it runs out of invention. It's amusing to see Spencer swatting people with fish, but Steno clearly runs out of ideas at some point. Worse, one of the Americans is an acrobat. Does it strike any of you that Italians have some odd obsession with acrobats? They seem to like to see guys turning backflips and somersaults without appreciating that stunts like that only make their fight scenes look more fake. I can't suspend disbelief with some idiot tumbling all over the place, but for an Italian audience all that matters is that it looks funny. But that aside, I found Flatfoot fairly amusing just for its peculiar approach to material I'm used to seeing handled in a far more brutal fashion. I'd recommend it to any fan of Italian police movies just for the sake of variety.
Inspector Rizzo becomes a globe-trotter in the three later films, which take him to Hong Kong, South Africa and Egypt. I assume that someone in Europe released the Piedone series on DVD, since Videoasia probably wouldn't have them otherwise. Piedone lo sbirro looks a little battered in spots but comes, as do all the sequels, in nicely letterboxed format. The new collection, deceptively titled Trinity:Hands Up! Eyes Down! Pockets Out! teams Spencer with Terence Hill in two Africa-set adventures, All the Way Boys and I'm For the Hippopotamus, while Hill stars in the two westerns as well as Renegade (which first appeared in Grindhouse Experience Vol. 2) and Virtual Weapon. I'm looking forward to the other Flatfoots and to the two spaghettis, so expect to read more about them in the near future.
Here's an English-language trailer for Flatfoot aimed at the American market, uploaded to YouTube by spencherhilltrailer.