Mamma Roma (1962)

Mamma Roma
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Written by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Arco Film
First viewing/Netflix rental


The mark which has dominated all my work is the longing for life, this sense of exclusion, which doesn’t lessen, but augments this love of life. – Pier Paolo Pasolini

I loved my introduction to director Pier Paolo Pasolini.  I’m looking forward to the rest of his work.

Mamma Roma (Anna Magnanni) is a successful streetwalker and force of nature.  She finally ditches her pimp who has gotten married.  Mamma now has saved enough to buy a nice flat and market stall and to bring her son back from the countryside where he has been raised by a respectable family.

Unfortunately, Mamma’s pimp is not cut out for married life and will not leave her alone. The story follows the journey of her son from innocent to criminal and Mamma’s heartbreak.

I didn’t know what to expect and was a little nervous knowing that Pasolini also directed Salo.  I needn’t have worried.  This is a beautiful combination of sublime classical music and cinematography with unflinchingly gritty real life. It is one of the few movies where the largely non-professional cast is totally convincing.  I thought this was one of Magnanni’s best performances in a career full of great ones.  Recommended.

Clip – no subtitles but not really needed

Siberian Lady Macbeth (1962)

Siberian Lady Macbeth
Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Written by Sveta Lukic, story by Nikolai Leskov from a play by William Shakespeare
Avala Film
First viewing/Netflix rental


“All causes shall give way: I am in blood/ Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,/ Returning were as tedious as go o’er.” ― William Shakespeare, Macbeth

This is more like The Postman Always Rings Twice than Macbeth but doesn’t work all that well as either.

Beautiful Katerina lives on a pig farm with her cranky father-in-law who berates her constantly for having no children.  Her husband is away on business.  The farm is always looking for strong workers and hires serf Sergei when he shows up looking for work.  He is a likely lad and soon is having an affair with Katerina.  At her instigation, the couple systematically does away with anybody who gets in the way of their love or money.

I’ve loved everything I’ve seen so far by director Wajda but this left me cold.  The characters aren’t well developed and it drags. He seems to have been meant for his native land and contemporary themes.

Clip (no subtitles)

The Suitor (1962)

The Suitor
Directed by Pierre Etaix
Written by Pierre Etaix and Jean-Claude Carriere
C.A.P.A.C/Cocinor/Copra Films
FilmStruck/First viewing

“You don’t need scores of suitors. You need only one… if he’s the right one.” ― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

If you like Tati, you really ought to give Etaix a try.

Pierre (Etaix) is a truly strange and obsessive young man. As the movie begins, he seems to spend of of his time in his lavishly decorated bedroom studying astronomy and/or astrology.  His parents decide it is time for him to marry.  The amiable young man is only too happy to switch one obsession for another.  He starts off by asking the Swedish au pair who lives with the family but she doesn’t understand English.

So Pierre must hit the streets.  First, he happens upon a bossy drunk who is as obsessed with marriage as himself.  But she is not for him and he falls for a singer he sees on TV.

This contains lots of dialogue-free visual comedy a la Tati with the same kind of funny sound effects.  Pierre creates just as much mayhem as Monsieur Hulot but is decidedly odder.  I laughed out loud several times.  That earns a recommendation from me.


How the West Was Won (1962)

How the West Was Won
Directed by John Ford, Henry Hathaway and George Marshall
Written by James R. Webb
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Cinerama Productions Co.
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental


Zebulon ‘Zeb’ Rawlings: I said, ‘Now, why’d you get in such a fix? Do you like fightin’ grizzlies?’ He said, ‘Well, not ‘specially. I just wanted to go somewhere and the bear was there first.’ I guess I just wanna go somewhere, too.

The big Cinerama moments are the parts I remember from my childhood.  They are still the best thing about this movie, even on flat screen.

The film covers the conquest of the West starting from the first settlers moving to the Mid-West along the Erie Canal.  This part of the film focuses on the Prescott family and their daughters Eve (Carroll Baker) and Lilith (Debbie Reynolds).  Eve eventually woos and wins mountain man Zeb Rawlings (James Stewart).  Lilith is eager for the finer things in life and, after a disaster that kills her father and mother, becomes a music hall singer. She ends up marrying gambler Cleve Van Allen (Gregory Peck).

We then move on to the Civil War.  By this time Zeb Jr. (George Peppard) is a young man. He goes off to fight for the Union.  After the war is over, he works for the railroad under construction.  He finds the work distasteful and eventually becomes a lawman.  With too many stars to count in smaller roles including Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Walter Brennan, Thelma Ritter, etc. etc. etc.  The film is narrated by Spencer Tracy.  Henry Hathaway directed the bulk of the film with John Ford taking over for the Civil War Segment and George Marshall for “The Railroad”.

I believe I saw this at the Cinerama Dome in LA on its original release (thanks Mom!).  The only part that sticks vividly in my memory is the sequence in the river rapids.  I had forgotten that the film also contains a boffo gunfight and derailment as the climax.  There’s some really stunning scenery throughout.  I found the story a bit too contrived for my liking.  There’s certainly nothing to complain about in the acting department.  Recommended to those curious about the outer limits of widescreen cinematography.

Clip – closing sequence

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die
Directed by Joseph Green
Written by Joseph Green, original story by Green and Rex Carlton
Rex Carlton Productions
Repeat viewing/Amazon Prime


Dr. Bill Cortner: Oh, come on now, Doris. Do I look like a maniac who goes around killing girls?

Not the best in the “brain-in-a-bottle” genre.

Dr. Bill Cortner is a hot-shot young surgeon.  His father cautions him against experimenting on humans but he disregards all advice.  He has been doing horrific operations at the family’s summer place.

Bill is engaged to surgical nurse Jan.  He is called out to the summer place to deal with an emergency and takes her with him.  He is driving way over the speed limit when he crashes into a barrier and down a cliff.  Bill is ejected from the car, which explodes in flames.  He manages to save Jan’s head …

This movie had real potential to be bad movie gold.  The best and most ludicrous part is the doctor’s speedy rescue of the head which he does without a knife or scalpel.  There are also some nice moments with a “creature” and Jan is pretty good.

Unfortunately, the film has been padded out to fill its 82 minute run-time.  This means we have to sit through interminable bad driving sequences, burlesque dancing, etc. before we get to the good stuff.

The Pirates of Blood River

The Pirates of Blood River
Directed by John Gilling
Written by John Hunter and John Gilling; story by Jimmy Sangster
Hammer Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

Brocaire, a pirate: [Realizes the sword thrust through him is fatal] Oh, Mama… [He falls over dead]

The highlight of this movie is Christopher Lee and his French accent.

A couple of generations ago, French Huguenots fled to the Isle of Devon in the Caribbean to escape religious persecution.  The ideals of their forebears have been corrupted and the island is now run by religious fanatics.  As the movie starts, Jonathan Standing (Kerwin Matthews), is caught kissing one of the elders’ wives.  He is tried by a panel including his own father, who is also an elder, and sentenced to 15 years in the penal colony.  This is tantamount to a death sentence as the jailers are brutal.

Jonathan manages to escape and runs into pirates headed by Capt. LaRoche (Christopher Lee). Jonathan makes a deal with LaRoche so that the pirates will take him back to the village to organize a rebellion.  Unbeknowst to Jonathan, the pirates are actually nterested in treasure and will kill until its location is revealed.  This might be a problem as Jonathan is convinced there is no treasure.  Mayhem ensues.   With Oliver Reed as one of the pirates.

Hammer Studios was not known for its pirate movies but the gore carries over from the better-known Gothic horror films.  There are plenty of swordfights and other brutality to be had.  It’s mildly OK.


These Are the Damned (1962)

These Are the Damned (AKA “The Damned”)
Directed by Joseph Losey
Written by Evan Jones from a novel by H. L. Lawrence
Columbia Pictures Corporation/Hammer Studios/Swallow Productions Ltd.
First viewing/Netflix rental

Freya Neilson: You know, someone once told me when a bureaucrat wants to keep his job, he stamps everything ‘Top Secret.’

The story is an uneasy mixture of JD movie with sci-fi thriller.  Director Joseph Losey keeps all of it powerful, if not coherent.

As our story begins American tourist Simon Wells (McDonald Carey) is visiting an English seaside resort.  Joanie (Shirley Anne Field) gives him the eye and he picks her up only to be brutally mugged by a gang of “teddy boys” headed by King (Oliver Reed), her brother. King has an unhealthy obsession with his sister’s virtue (think Scarface).  But Simon is the only man who has ever treated her like a lady and she cannot stay away from him.

We are also introduced to a bureaucrat and his estranged artist wife and learn that the former has some kind of sinister secret.

Simon and Joanie sail down the coast in Simon’s boat and happen to hide out in the bureaucrat’s house, which has been long vacant.  But the estranged wife arrives to spend the summer there and they are found out.  Before too long, Kind and his gang come looking for his sister and trouble.

Simon and Joanie escape and eventually find themselves in a cave with some children who are desperate to escape their current situation.  The bureaucrat’s secret, which involves these children, gradually unfolds over the remainder of the story.  Simon and Joanie are now in danger from both King’s gang and the bureaucrat’s assistant.

The story is really all over the place and does not bear scrutiny.  There were too many coincidences for me.  Also, I don’t want to give away the secret but it is insufficiently fleshed out.  I wish the movie had ditched a lot of the JD parts, particularly the “Black Leather Rock” song.  That would have given some more time to explain.

Setting the story aside, the film is beautifully and powerfully filmed.  Oliver Reed’s acting makes up for Carey’s inherent dullness and the rest of the cast is fine.  Recommended to sci-fi fans.

It was not until I was doing research for this film that I realized Oliver Reed was director Carol Reed’s nephew!



The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty ValanceDirected by John Ford
Written by James Warner Beliah and Willis Goldbeck from a story by Dorothy M. Johnson
Paramount Pictures/John Ford Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Jason Tully: Nothing’s too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance.

John Ford delivers another classic Western late in his illustrious career.

The story is framed by the visit of Senator Rance Stoddard (James Stewart) and wife Hallie (Vera Miles) to Shinbone for the funeral of their old friend Tom Doniphon (John Wayne).  The Senator is big news wherever he goes and the local newspaper editor demands to know why he is in town.  So begins the story in flashback starting when Rance arrived in town, a law book in his hand, many years ago.

Before Rance even arrived, he was robbed, humiliated and left for dead by the outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).  He is nursed back to health by Hallie and her family.  He vows to see Liberty jailed.  Tom informs him that a gun is the only effective way of dealing with this very bad man.

The rest of the movie follows the love triangle between Rance, Tom and Hallie and the conflict between Rance and Liberty.  With Andy Devine as a cowardly marshall, Edmund O’Brien as the former newspaper editor, Lee Van Cleef as Liberty’s sidekick, and a host of Ford regulars.

When two giants like Wayne and Stewart occupy the same screen, you’re bound to get something at least interesting.  Ford makes the movie also meaningful and beautiful.

This one is more intimate than Ford’s other Westerns and I missed the director’s classic desert vistas.  It explores the fact v. legend motif first introduced in Fort Apache (1948).  The acting is all first-rate.  I’d be interested in knowing why the song and its music were not used in the film.  Recommended.

Edith Head was nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.

The missing theme song, sung by Gene Pitney and set to stills from the film

The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962)

The Awful Dr. Orlof (Gritos en la noche)
Directed by Jesus Franco
Written by Jesus Franco
Hispamer Films/Leo Lax Production/Ydex Eurocine
First viewing/Netflix rental

I feel that cinema should be like a box of surprises, like a magic box. And in that world, anything is allowed to enter, as long as it’s always treated with a spirit of “Pop!”. Not in the spirit of “Now you understand the problems of society in 1947”. No, I don’t give a shit about that. I think cinema should be like magic, a surprise, that’s all. That’s why, to conclude, I love movies . . . and stories. – Jesus “Jess” Franco

Though the version I watched left a lot to be desired, there was a much to like about this take on the Eyes Without a Face plotline.

The movie is set at the turn of the last century.  As it begins, we see a blind, scarred zombie-like figure murder a woman in her bedroom and take the body away.  Segue to the police force and we find out there has been a string of missing women.  At first, it was assumed they had run off with men but now it is surely murder.  Soon after, we learn that the blind man is the faithful servant of a doctor who is trying to restore his daughter’s lost beauty.

Naturally, the police inspector assigned to the case has a fiancee who is the spitting image of the doctor’s daughter.  She is eager to help and does the most stupid things imaginable.

Although it is no match for the film it ripped off, there is some really beautiful camerawork in this film.  The horror parts are enjoyably lurid but there is some comic relief that brings the movie down a notch.  This was one of Franco’s first films.  I’m interested in seeing a few of the other 202 films he directed.

Unfortunately, the DVD contained only a dubbed and a French-language version of the film.  I had to watch the dubbed version since there were no subtitles .  Between the poor sound quality and the lack of a match between the dialogue and the lips, I had a hard time understanding the English and it made the acting seem really wooden.  The dissonant score was also an irritant.


The Tale of Zatoichi Continues (1962)

The Tale of Zatoichi Continues (Zoku Zatôichi monogatari)
Directed by Kazuo Mori
Written by Minoru Inuzuka; story by Kan Shimozawa
Daiei Motion Picture Company
First viewing/Filmstruck

“There’s none so blind as those who will not listen.” ― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

The filmmakers keep the standard high in the second of the “Blind Ichi” films.

This is truly a continuation of the story with many of the same characters reappearing.  Ichi is wandering the land.  The mild mannered masseuse cannot seem to help attracting the attention of every sword-happy samurai he meets.  He dispatches about 20 of them in the first five minutes of the film.  Then he is asked to massage a Lord.  In doing so, he is privy to the secret that the noble is a half-wit and the retinue send out a couple of thugs to silence him.  I do not need to tell you what happens to the thugs.  The Lord’s retainers do not give up on doing away with Ichi and hire a local gang boss to slay him.

It is the one year anniversary of Ichi’s duel with the consumptive samurai from the first film and Ichi returns to the same setting to pay his respects to the only man he was able to call friend.  The boss from the first film does not have fond memories of Ichi.  Finally, he encounters women old and new who are attracted to his goodness and his own no-good brother.

This has way more action than the first film.  I was less surprised by the story but equally entertained.  You can see the entire series on Filmstruck but multiple complete versions are also currently available on YouTube.

Clip with extraneous soundtrack – would recommend muting!