Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Men of Sherwood Forest ( 1954 )

Before Hammer Film Studios began its regular output of horror films, they made quite a number of dramas and also experimented in other genres...including swashbucklers. One year before Richard Greene became the idol of youth in television's The Adventures of Robin Hood, Hammer tried their hand at spinning a yarn of the legendary English outlaw with The Men of Sherwood Forest ( 1954 ). 

In this jolly outing, Robin Hood and Friar Tuck attempt to track down a band of thieves who had attacked an abbot passing through Sherwood Forest, an abbot who was carrying a secret message hidden within a small statue. King Richard, who was held captive in Austria, has been freed and is returning to England to reclaim his throne from Prince John. The message tells where and when he will land, but it is now in the hands of one of Prince John's noblemen who will use the information to set a trap to kill the king. Only Robin Hood and his band of merry men can save the king!

The Men of Sherwood Forest was the first film that Hammer Studios shot in color and it proved successful enough for them to continue making color productions, even though this was costly for such a small production company. In 1951, Hammer signed a four-year distribution agreement with Lippert Pictures, an American producer. Robert Lippert insisted that the films he would be receiving from Hammer have American actors in their leads so that they would be more marketable stateside. Hence, in The Men of Sherwood Forest, we see a band of British outlaws led by a very American Robin Hood - Don Taylor. At first, this bit of casting seems strange ( especially since Don makes no attempt at an English accent ) but as the film progresses, his portrayal of Robin Hood grows more likable and by the film's end you'll find yourself thinking what a fun Robin Hood he made!

The film is indeed a merry lark. The plot is not substantial, romance is minimal, and it is sorely missing the presence of Little John ( although Reginald Beckwith makes up for this omission with his amusing portrayal of Friar Tuck ), but the location filming in England is scenic and the antics and escapades that Robin finds himself in are fun to watch. 

It was refreshing to see a new Robin Hood tale being spun from its old familiar characters. Allan MacKinnon penned the screenplay. Val Guest ( The Abominable Snowman ) did a fine job directing the sprightly 77-minute film, keeping the action flowing and not allowing for boredom.  

Eileen Moore plays Lady Alys in the film, a winsome lass who is captivated by the presence of the famous outlaw. Douglas Wilmer makes a suitably contemptuous villain and Patrick Holt portrays the noble King Richard. Also in the cast are David King-Wood and Harold Lang. 

The Men of Sherwood Forest is available on DVD. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Yellow Rolls-Royce ( 1964 )

Rex Harrison, Shirley MacLaine, and Ingrid Bergman head up the all-star cast of The Yellow Rolls-Royce, a colorful anthology film of three stories linked together by a sparkling 1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom II. 

The opening segment shows the first owner of the beautiful Rolls, the Marquess of Frinton ( Rex Harrison ) purchasing the car as an anniversary present for his wife ( Jeanne Moreau ) who, unbeknownst to Lord Frinton, is engaging in an affair with his attaché John Fane ( Edmund Purdom ). When he spies them together in the Rolls...back it goes to the dealer!

Years later, the Rolls turns up in a showroom in Italy where it catches the fancy of Mae Jenkins ( Shirley MacLaine ), the "fidanzata" of big-time mobster Paolo Maltese ( George C. Scott ). He is giving his lady-love the grand tour of Italy but, when he is called back to America to "settle a score with O'Leary", she ends up having a grand time herself with the amoral photographer Stefano ( Alain Delon ). 

Lastly, the Rolls becomes a transport bus for mercenary soldiers in Yugoslavia when the snooty but socially prominent Mrs. Millett ( Ingrid Bergman ) decides to aid a rebel ( Omar Shariff ) in his fight against the Nazis. 

The Yellow Rolls-Royce was one of only a few anthology films to be released in the 1960s. This was a style of storytelling more frequently seen in British and American films of the 1940s and 1950s ( e.g. Encore, Tales of Manhattan ). These kinds of films are entertaining when all three segments are equally engaging but when one segment is boring it tends to pull the entire film down. In The Yellow Rolls-Royce, the last segment featuring Mrs. Millet is the weakest, even though it is the only segment that hints that the Rolls could be of more use than just a cozy love nest. 

Terrance Rattigan's script tries to include a little adventure and romance in each segment but it ends up leaning heavily on the side of romantic drama. This is just as well as all the leading actors were well-equipped to handle romantic drama. Rex Harrison gives an especially good performance as the jilted husband in the first story. 

The film features beautiful costumes and cinematography by Jack Hildyard ( The Bridge on the River Kwai ) with location filming in England, Italy, and Austria...which was standing in for Yugoslavia. But the most entertaining aspect of watching The Yellow Rolls-Royce is spotting all of the supporting players which included Art Carney, Joyce Grenfell ( affecting a Southern accent ), Wally Cox, Roland Culver, Isa Miranda, Moira Lister, and Michael Hordern. 

Riz Ortolani's musical score is also delightful and includes the catchy "Forget Domani" theme which was performed onscreen by his wife actress Katyna Ranieri and later made popular by Frank Sinatra. Ortolani had a huge success with his song "More" from the pseudo-documentary Mondo Cane released two years earlier. 

The Yellow Rolls-Royce received mixed reviews from critics but was a great hit at the box-office, becoming one of the top ten films of the year. MGM later released a 10-minute promotional short titled "The Car that Became a Star" which gave audiences a glimpse of the grand vehicle on the set of the film. 

The film is currently available on DVD and by streaming through Amazon Prime.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Check it Out! - Mitzi Gaynor singing "Love is Blue" ( 1968 )


Can anyone top a Mitzi Gaynor performance? This glamorous woman was the full package deal....a fantastic dancer, singer, and actress, plus she had a fabulous figure! This performance from 1968 features Mitzi performing "Love is Blue", a Eurovision ballad that French orchestra leader Paul Mauriat made popular in the United States in 1967. 

Sunday, September 4, 2022

For a Greater Attendance: 1962 Release Schedule Promotional Book

Last year I came across a great series of annual promotional books called "For a Greater Audience" that were released by American Broadcasting-Paramount Theatres Inc. in the 1960s. Each catalog contained a section devoted to each studio where the current release schedule for that studio was posted along with movie posters, photos or blurbs describing their upcoming projects. 

These books were most likely distributed to theater chains in America in the hopes that the theater owners would take a greater interest in the various studios' upcoming releases. They are wonderful books to look at but, unfortunately, are quite rare. I managed to snag the 1962 book which has a great selection of films in it and I'll be sharing images from the 1964 and 1966 issues in a future post. 

The catalog is made of colored cardboard with tabbed fold-out sheets separating each studio's release schedule between August and December of '62. It begins with Paramount Studios which, as you can see, were promoting their two big releases of the year: Elvis in Girls, Girls, Girls and the ( now forgotten ) Charleton Heston comedy The Pigeon That Took Rome. Also on their release schedule were two Jerry Lewis comedies and several re-releases ( including Rear Window ). 

20th Century Fox had two epics in their late 1962 lineup: The Longest Day and Cleopatra, which was slated for an early 1963 release. The Spartans was due out in September, Gigot in October, and The Lion in November. 

The photos and posters are great to look at, but what I found most interesting about these books were all the films that were being promoted that later had their titles changed or their casts changed. For example, The Grand Duke and Mr. Pimm starring Glenn Ford and Hope Lange later became Love is a Ball; Not on Your Life starring Robert Preston and Tony Randall became Island of Love; Jason and the Golden Fleece became Jason and the Argonauts, and Gidget Goes to Paris eventually was changed to Gidget Goes to Rome. One can only guess what film Touch Fire-Catch Flame starring Cary Grant was ( Father Goose? ) or Monsieur Cognac starring Tony Curtis referred to.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Coming Soon: TCM Presents Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan ( 1982 )

Mark your calendar, Trekkies! TCM Big Screen Classics will be bringing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan back into theaters for a 3-day special event showing on September 4th,5th, and 8th. This film, the second in a five-film Star Trek series, has Ricardo Montalban's character Khan Singh ( who made a 1967 Star Trek appearance in "Space Seed" ) return to exact revenge on Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise. 

You can purchase tickets online at Fanthom Events or at your local theater. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Home-Made Car ( 1963 ) - A BP Film Short

James Hill was a director of British films ( A Study in Terror, Born Free ) and television series of the 1960s and 1970s. He filmed numerous episodes of The Avengers, The Saint, and Worzel Gummidge, but he is best known as a director of family-oriented short films and documentaries. One of his most popular shorts was Guiseppina ( 1960 ), about a young girl who quietly observes the characters who pass by her father's petrol station. This little film earned him the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject. It was produced by BP ( British Petroleum ) Films, a production company that James Hill made several films for... one of which was The Home-Made Car ( 1963 ). 

This 27-minute color silent short follows the trials of a young man as he builds his own car from spare parts which he finds at a junkyard. Observing his efforts is a little girl who, at first, looks on with curiosity but later lends him a helping hand. He also gets a hand from the local garage owner who, naturally, runs a BP station. Actress Caroline Mortimer has a brief uncredited role as a young woman who works at the garage. Our hero likes her but a man in a flashy Austin Healey takes her out most evenings, so he feels he doesn't have much of a chance of dating her, at least, not until he gets his own car built. 

The Home-Made Car is a lovely little short that is very entertaining to watch, even though the pace is slow and the film is silent. It is ideal for viewing on a rainy day or when you are stuck in bed with a cold. And for some reason, it is so charming that it is easy to watch multiple times. Ron Grainier provides the background music which seems a bit out of sync with the theme. It could have benefited from a spunkier score like Norrie Paramour penned for The Fast Lady. 

The film was shot in and around Farnborough and Cove in Hampshire and we get a glimpse of the beautiful English countryside as he test drives his finished car, which happens to be a Morris Oxford dating from the 1920s. With its bright blue paint job, it looks like Val Biro's Gumdrop come to life ( if only James Hill had made a CFF serial on the adventures of Gumdrop! )

The short was nominated for an Academy Award in 1963 but did not win. However, it became known in every household between 1967-1973 when it was shown almost on a daily basis on BBC2 as one of their afternoon trade test color films ( click here to read more about that interesting subject ).

The Home-Made Car is available as an extra feature - along with Guiseppina - on the DVD Lunch Hour ( also directed by James Hill )

Monday, August 22, 2022

The Tamarind Seed ( 1974 )

Judith Farrow ( Julie Andrews ) is still grieving over the breakup of a rather lurid liaison with her married paramour Group Captain Richard Patterson ( David Baron ). She is vacationing in Barbados, attempting to clear her muddled mind and heal her broken heart, when she meets the suave Colonel Feodor Sverdlov ( Omar Shariff ), a Soviet military attaché who is also vacationing for a respite. Feodor works in the Paris embassy circle and happens to know Captain Patterson. Coincidentally, he is also acquainted with Sam Neilson of the British Home Office, for whom Judith works as a personal assistant. 

Back in London, British intelligence officer Jack Loder ( Anthony Quayle ) and Home Secretary Fergus Stephenson ( Daniel O'Herlihy ) are curious as to why Feodor is in Barbados and decide to keep surveillance on him and his, supposedly, coincidental encounter with Judith. Loder believes Feodor is conspiring to win Judith over "to the other side" so that the Russians could use her as an inside agent. 

Judith thought she met a kind and understanding friend on her holiday but when Loder approaches her with his suspicions of Feodor's motives for meeting her, she begins to wonder if she is indeed being used as a pawn in a political chess game between the East and the West. 

The Tamarind Seed is an engrossing romantic espionage drama from director Blake Edwards. It is a long picture ( 125 minutes ) and the pace is slow, yet the story is riveting and the film never becomes tiresome. This is due to the fine performances of all the principal players and Edwards' compelling script, which was based on Evelyn Anthony's 1971 bestselling novel. 

Julie Andrews, who was married to Edwards at the time, delivers an excellent performance as the bewildered Ms. Farrow. Andrews portrays Judith as a woman of intelligence and strength, lost and confused though she may be. Judith follows her heart, in spite of being warned against doing so. "He's going to recruit you, isn't he?" Loder tells her. "You're wrong. He'll never do anything like that. I know him." "Do you? I doubt that, Mrs. Farrow"...."If you are right and he tries to involve me in anything, I will tell you, but I will not be used to spy against him," she replies. 

Feodor does indeed seem to be the honest, undeceptive gentleman she believes him to be. As their holiday in Barbados comes to a close, they agree to meet again - discreetly - in Paris. Here Feodor informs her that he told his superior General Golitsyn ( Oskar Homolka ) that he is building a relationship with her in the hopes of recruiting her as a KGB agent and that she must be frank and tell Loder of their meeting as well. “Let me teach you the first lesson about these little games,” Feodor explains. “You must try to tell the truth as long as possible. That way, when times change and you have to lie, there is a great chance that you will be believed.” 

Judith has no taste for these Soviet cat-and-mouse games and yet she finds herself embroiled in them through her relationship with Feodor, a relationship she has no intention of pursuing since he is a married man and decidedly Marxist. "It is a good sign that we have many dialectic disagreements and yet get along so well together", Feodor exclaims. Perhaps so, but when Feodor's life becomes endangered, Judith must weigh her feelings for him against her loyalty to her own values.

The Tamarind Seed was released in theaters in the summer of 1974 and was received with critical acclaim. The film was chosen to be shown for a Royal Command Performance and returned over three times its $2.4 million budget at the box office.

Freddie Young's beautiful cinematography elevates the film beyond a standard espionage drama and makes you feel like you are watching an epic. Indeed, with location filming in London, Paris, Barbados, and Switzerland and John Barry's lush score ( not to mention Wilma Reading's wonderful rendition of "Play it Again" ), it could very well be classified as a dramatic spy epic.

Also in the cast are Sylvia Syms, Bryan Marshall, Kate O'Mara, and Celia Bannerman.

The Tamarind Seed is currently available on DVD and via streaming on Tubi.