WolfmanOz at the Movies #22

Operation: Daybreak (Anthropoid)

Tomorrow, May 27th, will be the 80th anniversary of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, the Nazi commander of the Reich Main Security Office and the acting governor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Although not initially killed in the attack on May 27th, Heydrich died of his wounds on June 4th, 1942.

The assassination, codenamed Operation Anthropoid (in this film named Daybreak), was carried out by soldiers of the Czechoslovakian army-in-exile after preparation and training by the British SOE (Special Operations Executive).

The operation was the only government-sponsored assassination of a senior Nazi leader during World War II.

Reinhard Heydrich was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and many thought he would be the ultimate successor to Hitler given his ruthlessness, intelligence and position within the SS (he was Himmler’s deputy). He was also given overall command of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”(the Holocaust) in Europe.

Operation: Daybreak isn’t wholly correct in some of the finer details, but it is still a reasonably accurate re-telling of what happened 80 years ago, and, IMO, is the best film version of these events.

The film was directed by the under-rated Lewis Gilbert (Sink The Bismarck!, Alfie, The Spy Who Loved Me, Educating Rita and Haunted) from a script by Ronald Harewood (The Dresser, The Pianist) as the film chiefly follows the 2 main Czech protagonists – Jan Kubiš (played by Timothy Bottoms) and Jozef Gabcík (played by Anthony Andrews) – as they parachute into Czechoslovakia, contact the local resistance and plan the assassination.

At the same time the film also show the activities of Heydrich, played superbly by Anton Diffring, who, although too old for the role, captures the arrogance and cold hearted evil ruthlessness of this thoroughly repugnant man.

The irony was that Diffring, who made a career playing mostly Nazi officers in war films of the 1960s and 1970s, had left Germany in the 1930s to escape persecution due to his homosexuality.

Heydrich’s death led to a wave of tragic reprisals by the Nazis where thousands of Czechs were murdered/executed, including the total destruction of a number of villages (most notably Lidice aka Liditz).

Ultimately the 2 assassins and their 5 accomplices were trapped in the Saints Cyril and Methodius Cathedral in Prague and, after a fierce gun battle on June 18th with a Waffen SS battalion, they were all killed either by the Germans or by committing suicide.

Note there have been 3 other films which have directly covered the events of Operation Anthropoid:

Atentát (1964) – a rarely seen Czech version which is worth catching.
Anthropoid (2016) – a recent and a pretty good version of the story
The Man With The Iron Heart (2017) – a film of 2 halves which shows the rise of Heydrich in the 1930s and the build-up to the assassination. IMO a very average movie portrayal of the grim events.

Another highlight of Operation: Daybreak is the unusual but highly effective music score by David Hentschel in which the music was played on an ARP synthesiser.

Today this film is now often overlooked but I feel is still one the best World War II dramas ever made based on true events as it emotionally captures the incredible courage and sacrifice of the men and women involved in this major episode of WWII.

Enjoy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #21

In space no one can hear you scream

One of the downsides (I’m sure there’s many others) of the internet is that the surprise element in movies is very much negated. In addition, releases are now pretty much worldwide, especially as so many films are then released onto a streaming service within weeks of their cinema debuts.

So a film, like Alien, would somewhat lose its shock/surprise element to an audience today.

In the late 70s, sci-fi films were on a tidal wave of popularity, following Star Wars astounding success in 1977. There was Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Battlestar Galactica, Superman, Star Trek; The Motion Picture, The Black Hole etc etc. Anything related to science fiction was now serious box office.

But Alien was something else. It was a horror film that just happened to be set in a futuristic science fiction setting where it was more akin to a haunted house story than science fiction.

As we all know now the film follows the crew of a commercial space ship, who, after investigating a mysterious derelict spaceship on an undiscovered moon find themselves up against a particularly aggressive and murderous extraterrestrial alien that stalks their spaceship.

It has spawned numerous sequels, prequels, novels, comic books, video games etc. where now it is a cultural icon, especially in the alien itself.

The production was incredibly fortunate where screenwriter Dan O’Bannon introduced director Ridley Scott to the artwork of H.R. Giger who was then hired to work on all design aspects of Alien and its environment including all form of the alien from the egg to the fully developed alien.

Whilst exploring the derelict spaceship, one of the crew members, unfortunately, has a parasite attaching itself to his face. Once back on their spaceship it eventually frees itself from him and the crew have a final meal before returning to stasis . . .

The impact of this scene on audiences worldwide was startling. The sense of dread had been slowly building through the film but we weren’t expecting something like this. It also stands as a superb example of practical effects which are so utterly convincing. It also surprised the cast during filming who were not expecting the sudden outburst of blood and gore. Their reactions caught on film are genuine.

The crew now decide to locate the creature but it has grown . . .

The alien proceeds to kill the remainder of the crew, with the exception of Warrant Office Ripley who escapes from the spaceship aboard a shuttle but the alien has also boarded the shuttle. With ingenuity Ripley blasts the alien into deep space which allows the audience to regain their composure as the film ends.

Despite initial mixed reviews, Alien has received critical acclaim over the years, particularly for its realism and unique environment. One of its great strengths is its pacing. It takes its time. It waits. It suggests the enormity of the crew’s discovery by building up to it with small steps.

A sequel was inevitable but it would be another 7 years before the release of Aliens in 1986.

IMO, this is one of the very few times in movie history where a sequel has matched the original, albeit it is styled entirely differently in that it is more akin to a war movie . . . the catchline for the movie was “This time it’s war”.

Set years later, Ripley is sent back to the moon where the alien was first was discovered on, accompanying a squad of space marines to investigate why communications have been lost with a human colony on the moon.

Like the original film, Aliens is an incredibly intense experience with a standout performance by Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. It also cemented director James Cameron as a serious talent to be noticed.

Unfortunately after this movie the series petered out in a number of very poor sequels and recently there has been a couple of attempts to revive the franchise with 2 prequels – Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.

Despite both being directed by Ridley Scott, neither came close to replicating the visceral sense of horror and excitement of both Alien and Aliens.

Enjoy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #20

Broadsword calling Danny Boy

Post WWII, one of the most popular genres for approx. 30 years was the war adventure/action film where, whether it be land, sea or air, the films would provide escapist entertainment reinforcing the image of the Allied victory against both the Germans and the Japanese.

The anti-war messages tended to be somewhat muted given the clear moral choices that tended to differentiate WWII from WWI.

The stories told were mostly fiction e.g. The Guns Of Navarone or The Dirty Dozen, and, if based on historical drama, tended towards embellishment e.g. The Great Escape released in 1963.

But the ultimate in action and suspense in a war adventure film came with the release in 1968 of Where Eagles Dare. Even now, 54 years later, it still stands as one of the most exciting films ever made and a true classic.

The genesis of the film started with star Richard Burton in which Lizzie Taylor’s kids wanted to see him in a film they could watch so Burton contacted producer Elliott Kastner who then consulted with best-selling author Alistair MacLean who wrote the screenplay which he then adapted into a novel.

MacLean was noted for his popular thriller and adventure novels which often had convoluted plots with numerous twists all of which was on display in Where Eagles Dare.

Starting off as a somewhat straight forward rescue mission, where British intelligence send in a team of seven agents to rescue a captured American general (who is the chief planner for Operation Overlord), who has been taken by the Germans to a mountaintop castle in the German Alps castle accessible only by cable car.

The team is lead by Major Smith (Burton) with an American, Lt. Shaffer (Clint Eastwood) also assigned to the British team who are then all parachuted into Germany where a number of them are mysteriously killed and then they are all captured.

Smith and Shaffer then manage to escape and then prepare to enter the castle via the cable car.

Once in the castle the true nature of the mission is revealed which the following 2 clips detail – Richard Burton was in his prime.

Needing to escape the castle, the team then go on a series of incredible death-defying stunts and sequences in which the cast dubbed the film Where Doubles Dare.

And the film ended with one last surprise twist !

So why was the film so successful ?

I believe it was just a lucky combination of the right talents, both in front and behind the camera, coming into play at the right time. From the top cast of mostly British actors to the level of tension generated by director Brian G. Hutton, a ridiculously contrived plot that enabled the viewer to willingly plant their brain under their seat whilst they enjoyed the absurdities and twists. And not forgetting the terrific music score by Ron Goodwin that perfectly supported the mood of the film.

I vividly recall first seeing this film on release when the family was on holiday at the Isle of Wight. It was a very wet afternoon and the family went to see it not really knowing much about it . . . oh for the days before the internet.

Well this young lad was utterly transfixed in whether he wanted to replicate Clint Eastwood shooting dozens of Germans (who couldn’t shoot straight) or Richard Burton confusing the Nazis with his double and triple crosses.

It holds a special place for me and is still one of the most purely entertaining films I have ever enjoyed and continue to do so.

Enjoy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #19

1970s Disaster Movies

I’d imagine a fair percentage of Cats would be Baby Boomers and would probably recall the huge popularity in the 1970s with the disaster movies genre.

Invariably featuring a large cast of Hollywood stalwarts the plot device was mostly a natural disaster with the focus then on the numerous characters’ attempts to escape, cope or avert the disaster.

The genre was supposedly kicked-off with Airport released in 1970 but for me the genre came into prominence with the release in 1972 of The Poseidon Adventure.

As we all probably know this film dealt with an ageing luxury liner where on New Year’s Eve it is overturned by a tsunami with passengers and crew trapped inside, whilst a preacher (played by Gene Hackman) attempts to lead a small group of survivors to safety.

The film epitomises the disaster film genre and made a huge impression on me as a young lad when I first saw it on release in early 1973 as it was the last film the family saw at the cinema before we emigrated from the UK to New Zealand . . . by ocean liner !

The genre reached its peak in 1974 with the release of The Towering Inferno and Earthquake.

The Towering Inferno featured a terrific cast in Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire and so on in which a huge fire engulfs the world’s tallest building during its opening night and the firefighters’ attempts at rescuing the occupants trapped in the top floors. Even today, the film stands as a terrific entertainment of the type that Hollywood no longer seems to make with any skill anymore. In addition, the practical effects are still outstanding and, for me, are still way preferable to the CGI effects we see so often today.

Earthquake depicted a massive earthquake which levels Los Angeles. It also boasted the gimmick of Sensurround where massive sub-woofer speakers were installed in theatres to recreate the vibrating sensation of an earthquake, which proved to be highly effective and quite unsettling.

The genre continued with another airport disaster film in Airport’75, a historical event in The Hindenburg, a mad bomber in Rollercoaster, an avalanche at a ski resort in Avalanche and so on.

Ultimately, the genre tended to burn out by the late 70s with such unforgettably bad films like The Swarm (featuring killer bees) and sequels like Beyond The Poseidon Adventure that eventually saw the genre peter out into self-parody which culminated in the riotous Airplane! released in 1980 which spoofed the entire genre.

What favourites and memories do others have ?

Enjoy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #18

Dorothy, Josephine and Daphne

Today in the world of woke, a man can say he is a woman and gender is fluid ??? Oh well ! ! !

So today I’m looking at 2 of my all-time favourite American comedies – Tootsie (1982) and Some Like It Hot (1959) where the male leads need to become a woman.

In Tootsie, the main character, Michael Dorsey (played by Dustin Hoffman) is a talented but temperamental actor whose reputation for being difficult makes him unemployable.

He then adopts a new identity as a woman called Dorothy Michaels and attends an audition for a female hospital administrator on a popular daytime soap opera.

Successfully winning the role he/she finds his life increasingly complicated as he falls for one of the leading ladies in the TV show whilst her father falls for “her”.

It gets all too much for Michael/Dorothy that he has to find a way out of his predicament.

This comedy is expertly directed by the ever reliable Sydney Pollack and boasts a terrific cast including Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Bill Murray, George Gaynes and even Pollack himself.

However, it is Hoffman who dominates proceedings with, IMO, his best ever film performance as he superbly mixes comedy, pathos and social commentary without resorting to caricature.

Then we go back to 1959 for my all-time favourite comedy in Some Like It Hot directed and co-written by the incomparable Billy Wilder.

Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, two musicians (Joe played by Tony Curtis and Jerry played by Jack Lemmon) are forced to go on the run after witnessing a gangland massacre where they disguise themselves by dressing as women named Josephine (Joe) and Daphne (Jerry) so they can join an all-female band heading by train to Miami.

Joining them with the female band is Sugar Kane (planed by Marilyn Monroe) as the band’s vocalist and ukulele player.

Soon Joe lusts after Sugar and attempts to seduce her by pretending to be an oil millionaire, the heir to Shell Oil.

Tony Curtis was never better in film, either as the hustler Joe, as Shell Oil Junior by employing a hilarious Cary Grant parody and as Josephine. I never thought he has got the plaudits he deserved compared to Lemmon and Monroe.

And of course sultry Marilyn was never sexier in her Orry-Kelly designed dress.

Billy Wilder was asked about making another film with Monroe:
“I have discussed this with my doctor and my psychiatrist and they tell me I’m too old and too rich to go through this again.”

But he also admitted:
“My Aunt Minnie would always be punctual and never hold up production, but who would pay to see my Aunt Minnie ?”

And to top it all off the film has one of the best endings/last line in movie history as Jerry/Daphne has been wooed by the much-married and ageing mama’s boy Osgood Fielding III.

I never tire of watching this marvellous movie – I probably watch it at least twice a year as it never fails to make me laugh and bring a smile to my face, something which is so rare in these unsettling times.

Enjoy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #17

The Very Voice of God

Released in 1984 and based on the play by Peter Shaffer, Miloš Forman’s magnificent film Amadeus tells the fictional stories of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri where Salieri as an old man claims to have murdered Mozart.

During his confession to a priest in a mental asylum, Salieri recounts how he could not reconcile Mozart’s boorish behaviour with the genius that God has inexplicably bestowed upon him.


Salieri cannot believe that God would choose Mozart over him for such a gift. Salieri renounces God and vows to do everything in his power to destroy Mozart as a way of retaliating against his Creator, whilst pretending to be Mozart’s ally to his face while doing his utmost to destroy his reputation and any success his compositions may have.

Therefore the central tenet of the film is how someone can compose music that is beyond the capability of mere mortals.

The film never asserted to be an accurate biographical portrayal of these 2 men. In fact both Forman and Shaffer claimed it was a “fantasia on the theme of Mozart and Salieri”.

I have to admit to having a great love for classical music, especially the music of both Mozart and Beethoven. This passion started when I was a teenager and probably grew from my late father who was a handy amateur pianist although I can’t play or read a note of music.

Therefore, I was thrilled when I first saw the film on release 38 years ago in that finally a serious movie was trying to explore the essence of musical creativity. It certainly captures the essence and wonder of Mozart’s genius and marvellously brings his music to the screen.

At the heart of the movie is F. Murray Abraham’s glorious performance as Salieri – it’s one of my top 3 favourite performances on film. He superbly captures the jealously and bitterness of his character whilst also showing his utter frustration in that it appears that only he can really hear and appreciate the genius of Mozart’s music.

His obsession with Mozart was pathological but at the same time he seemed to have a deep, but flawed, understanding of him although he was in utter bewilderment as to how he could compose such music.

He was fully deserving of his Oscar for Best Actor.


The film also presents a number of scenes from a number of Mozart’s operas which are beautifully staged in the Count Nostitz theatre in Prague where Don Giovanni debuted nearly two centuries before. The Commendatore scene from this opera is arguably the finest depiction of an opera scene in film history.


As Mozart lies dying in his bed, he is still trying to finish his final composition, the Requiem Mass where he has Salieri taking dictation. It’s a remarkable scene as it shows where Mozart’s composition is on a different plane to that of anyone else.


Winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Film, Director, Screenaplay and, of course, Actor, it’s incredible that the film was made at all given its subject matter and the cost of producing it, but a financial success it was, as well as being an artistic and critical triumph.

The film is impeccably produced and boasts a glorious soundtrack where the music was supervised and conducted by Neville Marriner and played by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields; the film sits as one of my all-time favourites.

Enjoy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #16

The Holocaust

Given current events in Europe it is well worth remembering that the defining event of the last hundred years was probably the Holocaust.

Man’s inhumanity to man reached its zenith with the wholesale genocide of European Jews during World War II in which the Nazis systemically murdered some six million Jews, in addition there were probably at least another six million people murdered by the Nazis during the same period.

It would be fair to say, post World War II, cinema has struggled to come to terms in depicting the unbelievable events that occurred during this time . . .

I’ll be focusing on three films that focused on the Holocaust in differing ways.

1982’s Alan J. Pakula’s film Sophie’s Choice dealt with survivor’s guilt and had one of the most distressing scenes ever filmed as Meryl Streep starred, and was superlative in her best ever performance as a Polish immigrant with a dark secret from her past at Auschwitz.

Next was the how the Holocaust moved towards the factory style death camps that was never better dramatised in the superlative 2001 made-for-TV film Conspiracy starring Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich and Stanley Tucci as Adolf Eichmann.

This drama is brilliantly acted by a terrific ensemble British cast which depicts the infamous 1942 Wannsee Conference which used the only surviving recorded transcript from the meeting.


And finally, to what I consider one of the best films ever made, and one of the most important in the way it brought the Holocaust into the conscious of many people in the last 30 years. Of course I am referring to Steve Spielberg’s masterpiece Schindler’s List, released in 1993.

Never has a film, IMO, dramatised so poignantly and with such ruthless detail as to what the experience of the Holocaust was in the way Spielberg achieved here in the telling of the Oskar Schindler story.

I have a dedicated playlist from this movie on my channel which has 10 clips, from which I have selected the following two:

If you can, enjoy and discuss.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #15

Inspector Callahan

Or Dirty Harry, is one of Clint Eastwood’s most iconic film characters, along with The Man With No Name.

There were five films produced between 1971 and 1988 featuring the San Francisco Police Department Homicide Division Inspector Harry Callahan; in which the character became notorious for his unorthodox, violent and utterly ruthless actions against criminals and killers he had been assigned to apprehend.

The series also contained many scenes and lines which have become iconic film moments.

The first film was Dirty Harry, released in 1971, in which Callahan pursues a psychopath killer, clearly modelled on the Zodiac Killer.

The film caused huge controversy when it was released, inciting debate over issues ranging from police brutality, the nature of law enforcement and victims’ right.

Now it is regarded as a classic police thriller in which there is not an inch of fat in its’ depiction of Harry’s relentless pursuit of the psychotic killer.


A sequel was inevitable and in 1973

Magnum Force was released where Harry investigates a serious of murders of criminals in which it is revealed are being conducted by a renegade group of vigilante cops.


Unfortunately after the first two outstanding films, the series tended to drift off into being predictable police thrillers spiced by one or two excellent set pieces.

In The Enforcer (1976) Harry is assigned a female partner as they take on a terrorist ring. It’s mostly routine, but, there’s always at least one memorable scene to enjoy.


Then in 1983 we had Sudden Impact, which was directed by Eastwood himself. A rather nasty police thriller in which Callahan is sent to a small town to follow up a lead in a murder case which leads to a case of revenge.

But, of course the film is notable for one of cinema’s most famous catchphrases:


The final film in the series The Dead Pool was released in 1988 in which Harry finds he is among the subjects of a game betting on the deaths of celebrities. A rather lame end to a series that started off so well.

One thing is for sure today, they won’t be making films like Dirty Harry or Magnum Force anymore as the woke brigade would have nightmares about it.

Enjoy

WolfmanOz at the Movies #14

The Woke Oscars

Next Monday (Australian time) the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will “honour” the “best films” released between March 1st and December 31st, 2021.

Not that long ago, say 10-15 years ago, there was a time where you could actually enjoy watching the Oscars as the films being honoured were generally well acted, excellently crafted, told an interesting story and were invariable popular or at the very least, had an audience that actually saw them.

Not anymore . . .

With rare exceptions, actors and celebrities have always been self-involved narcissists. If you think about it, in a way, the profession demands it. But what’s changed over the last 10-15 or so years, and this has coincided directly with the death of the movie star, in that celebrities now dine out on their self-involved narcissism.

What creates a long career is holding on to the public’s goodwill. And you earn that goodwill by being likeable. In real life, you might be a bastard. Plenty of movie stars during the Golden Age were bastards. But in public, they were humble, grateful, and self-deprecating.

Not anymore . . .

So the broadcasting of the Academy Awards (Oscars) has produced a rapidly declining audience every year now. An audience who no longer care about award shows that feature movies that they have not seen or even wish to see. They simply don’t give a damn anymore.

Hollywood award shows have gone from fun showcases of talented actors and movie technicians with real star power to network televised lectures, in which the most privileged and pompous people on the planet talk down to and insult the audience who helped make them rich.

If you can bear it, catch Joaquin Phoenix’s absurdly ridiculous acceptance speech back in 2020.


The way it is going, I doubt very much if we will see Oscar celebrating 100 years. Or if we do there will be no-one left to care.

For the last few years I have no longer bothered watching the Oscars as invariably the films are often of poor quality, compared to years past, the presenters are insufferably woke and humourless and the whole show is interminable in it’s self-congratulatory tone.

In Jean Cocteau’s marvellous 1950 film Orphée the poet asks what he should do. ‘Astonish me’, he is told. Today’s movies never do that, certainly not in the sense that a great work of cinema can make you wonder how its creation was ever accomplished.

But, to end on a more positive note, here are a few clips of some of my favourite Best Picture Oscar winners when outstanding quality films were made in a much better time, one which I regret to say I don’t think we’ll ever see ever again.

All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)


Casablanca (1943)


On The Waterfront (1954)


Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)


The Godfather (1972)


Amadeus (1984)

Enjoy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #13

Music in Movies – Lalo, John and Ennio

Film is a collaborative art form, it’s not just about who is in front of the camera or the directors/screenwriters behind it but also the editing, music, makeup, cinematography, production design, sound etc.

So I was amazed, but not surprised, to read the other day that the woke Oscars (Academy Awards) have announced that at this years ceremony eight awards will not be broadcast live and will be pre-taped an hour before the start of the telecast. The reason given was to “allow more time for comedy, film clips and musical numbers”. More likely it will be more time for insufferable Z grade talented actors and actresses lecturing us with their bulltish . . . but more of that for next weeks post.

Some of cinema’s greatest moments are the combinations of images and music

Here are a few of my favourites . . .

Lalo Schifrin, who’s still with us, is an Argentine-US film composer who produced a terrific range of scores, mostly in the 60s and 70s, especially for urban police thrillers and he also composed the iconic theme for the TV series Mission: Impossible.

But the piece I always go back is his music for the Steve McQueen classic Bullitt. The set-up for the amazing car chase scene is superbly under-scored by his jazz inspired music.

Another great film composer from the 60s is John Barry, a particular favourite of mine.

Most famous for his scores for the early James Bond movies, Barry was a prolific film composer whose scores also enhanced such films as Born Free, The Ipcress File, The Lion In Winter, Somewhere In Time, Dances With Wolves, Chaplin to name just a few.

But my favourite is his lush and romantic score for Out Of Africa, which is marvellously presented here with the sweeping scenes of the bi-plane flying over the plains of Africa.

And who could not include the maestro himself in the late, and great, Ennio Morricone.

It would be tempting to include a clip from one his collaborations with Sergio Leone, but I’ve gone for the end scene from Cinema Paradiso, as Salvatore watches Alfredo’s reel and discovers it comprises all the romantic scenes that the priest had ordered Alfredo to cut from the movies.

Enjoy.

PS Following up from last weeks post and especially for jupes who first mentioned it.