WolfmanOz at the Movies #73

One flew East . . . One flew West.

The 70s produced some of the most interesting and worthy Hollywood movies. Before the era of blockbusters, and ever increasing dumbing down of the cinema art by the Hollywood power-brokers and greedy moneymakers, there was this short but truly amazing window of time that produced many timeless gems. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, directed by the great Czech director Miloš Forman and released in 1975, is the 2nd of the 3 great films from 1975 that I’m reviewing (the first was Barry Lyndon). The third will be reviewed in 2 weeks time.

Based on the novel by Ken Kesey, the story follows Randle P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), who, in an attempt to get out of spending more time in prison, pleads insanity for his crime, and is therefore sentenced to time in a mental institution. This was McMurphy’s intention, as he believes the conditions in a “crazy house” will be significantly easier to contend with than another harsh stay in prison. However, he quickly finds out that surviving the institution with it’s desolate patients (including Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, Vincent Schiavelli and an absolutely brilliant Brad Dourif as the stuttering Billy Bibbit) and the monstrously repressive Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher, in a career defining role) is considerably harder than he imagined. McMurphy plays pranks, horseplay, and is generally defiant to the rules of the institution in an attempt to raise spirits. His constant optimism and reckless defiance to the out of date rules in the institution can be very uplifting, and often quite funny as well, but much of the movie can be very depressing – the generally decrepit state of the institution is a consistently (and intentionally) bleak background to a superb story with a truly bittersweet ending.

Jack Nicholson is at his best here, in one his two great signature roles (the other is as Jack Torrance in The Shining). McMurphy is an apparently unquenchable optimist, refusing to succumb to the defeated spirit of all the other patients. His livewire antics, inspiring the patients are generally uplifting, and when his indomitable spirit is finally broken, we really feel for him and his fellow patients. Nicholson conveys the essence of McMurphy to perfection, demonstrating his excellent understanding and interpretation of the character. When McMurphy announces that he is going to lift a huge stone fountain and hurl it through the window to escape, the other patients are so caught up in his intoxicating spirit of freedom that they honestly believe he can do it, despite the fact it would be impossible for him to do it. When McMurphy finally discovers that despite his best efforts, he cannot lift the fountain, he is so openly crushed that we can’t help but feel for him. Beneath the frequent profanities and livewire antics, there are real human emotions, which come across as truly touching.

Matching Nicholson is Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in one of cinemas truly great villainess roles. But here there is no chewing the scenery or histrionics but a cold, heartless and pitiless tyrant; Nurse Ratched has become a popular metaphor for the corrupting influence of institutional power and authority in bureaucracies. We see this displayed in the following clip and notice the final shot of her look of quiet anger and resentment at McMurphy.

Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a landmark in cinema. Pretty much everything in this film is at or close to perfection. And rightfully so, it became only the 2nd film (one of three films in history along with It Happened One Night and The Silence of the Lambs) to win the top five Academy Awards – Best Picture, Actor (Jack Nicholson), Actress (Louise Fletcher), Director (Miloš Forman), and Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman).

What more can be said about One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest which hasn’t already been said? It has an excellent storyline, top notch acting, painfully bleak visuals, perfectly setting the tone for the movie, and alternates between being truly uplifting to devastatingly depressing. It features one of the most memorable film ending ever, next to a man on his horse riding off into the sunset, and leaves the viewer beaten down by the conflicting emotions, but enthralled by its glorious entirety. It’s hard to produce a final outcome any better than this.


and the tease for next weeks post . . . I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #72

Damn you all to hell !

In the year 1968, two movies came out that changed modern day science-fiction films forever – Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey has been the most celebrated out of the two (and my all-time favourite movie), but Planet Of The Apes stands on its own ground and has become a classic that is universally acclaimed. The original Planet Of The Apes is still far superior to any of the sequels and remakes that has been subsequently made.

Planet Of The Apes is based on a 1963 French novel, La planete des singes, by Pierre Boulle, most famous as the author of La pont de la riviere Kwai (1952), which became the 1957 film The Bridge On The River Kwai

Rod Serling did the first drafts of the screenplay, simplifying the plot by fitting it into the mold of his Twilight Zone TV series and introducing an anti-nuclear war theme not present in the Boulle novel. Because of budget constraints the modern ape civilization had to be reduced to a less technological one, something more reminiscent of ancient Greece. In fact, after Michael Wilson was brought in to do the final script drafts what emerged was a political allegory more akin to an Aesop fable than a Voltairian satire.

Charlton Heston was the perfect choice to play the arrogant and dislikable American astronaut George Taylor, where he, and his doomed colleagues, find themselves stranded on a distant planet where it seems to be inhospitable with no life. However, after travelling throughout the place they discover that man’s role as the superior life form has been reversed with the apes. 

As simians, Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter, as Cornelius and Zira, and Maurice Evans, as Dr. Zaius, enjoy some of the best performances on the screen, bringing the then-innovative makeup design of John Chambers to life under the intelligent and stylish direction of Franklin J. Schaffner. Also excellent is veteran cinematographer Leon Shamroy’s Panavision lensing, which makes great use of remote areas of southern Utah around Lake Powell to suggest an alien world, and Jerry Goldsmith’s avant-garde musical score, which has become a landmark, cannot be emphasised more for contributing to the eerie mood of the movie. Rarely has a movie score so fit like hand-in-glove than this one.

Once Hestons’ character, Taylor, is captured by the apes his mere existence throws the existing order of ape society into disorder. Their sacred texts do not allow for the evolution of ape from man, and they often speak of man being brutish, untamable beasts. Taylor, who would have agreed with Dr. Zaius in the beginning if talking about humanity as a whole, must fight the idea that he is of that same race, prone to the same violence. He always wanted to be apart from humanity, giving him the reason for his deep space adventure in the beginning, but faced with the reality that he’s being judged for humanity’s failings and he’s going to pay for them, he has to fight back and stick up for the humanity he ran from.

So, Taylor has made his defense of humanity at an archaeological site that showed ancient humanity’s advances over ape, and he walks away still confident of his race’s superiority. Dr. Zaius immediately has the site destroyed, confident of his own beliefs in humanity’s faults and that Taylor would find the truth of humanity’s history out there beyond the Forbidden Zone.

Of course the ending is justly famous where Taylor promptly discovers his destiny, and the truth. Man is indeed the harbinger of death, and by the megaton. The final image is laden with symbolism, and the scene is a visual scream.

Today, the film’s makeup may pale in comparison to the performance capture of the recent reboot movies but in terms of performances, script, wit and audacity, the original film towers over them all.

The film was a box office smash in 1968, but if ever there was a movie that was more a victim of its own success it’s this one. Four sequels, two TV series, numerous novelizations and comic book adventures, a lamentable remake in 2001 and a reboot in 2011 have been spawned by its popularity, most of which has been so inferior in quality to have tarnished the reputation of this classy, intelligent and superbly made science fiction landmark film.

Planet Of The Apes really has stood the test of time, and it’s not because it has some memorable quotes or a great twist ending. It’s well anchored by a great central character and journey, elevated by Charlton Heston giving a surprisingly committed performance whilst dressed in rags. It explores its themes of racism, class structure, animal abuse, tribalism, genocide and religion with intelligence and irony whilst treating its character’s path with surprising cynicism and cruelty, one of the traits of 60s and 70s science fiction that I find quite appealing. It’s a movie classic for all-time.


and the tease for next weeks post . . . One flew East . . . One flew West !

WolfmanOz at the Movies #71

The ultimate man of conscience

It is a widely accepted axiom that it is easier to make a good movie out of a bad play than out of a good one; a bad play can be altered with a clear conscience so that its mishandled virtues are brought to the fore in a different medium, whereas there is a natural reluctance to tamper with a work of dramatic stature, even though the qualities that made it effective on stage will work against it on the screen. For me, Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons is one of the great plays of the 20th century

Bolt, acting as his own scenarist, and director Fred Zinnemann did a superb job of turning the play into a movie. Cinematic pacing, rhythm and verisimilitude are achieved in part by “opening up” the film to just enough scenes of court pageantry and the quiet loveliness of the Thames, which was the principal artery of communication between the court and its ministers.

Also the Common Man has been omitted from the film version. Besides serving as a unifying device in the play, this cheeky epitomiser of expediency was a constant reminder to us that we are not like More, the symbol of an unyielding selfhood but like the self-serving compromisers around him. But what worked on the stage may have seemed gimmicky on the screen.

The main cinematic tool, however, is the camera, artfully capturing the faces of superb actors speaking superb dialogue – dialogue that is the outward manifestation of electrifying confrontations and inner conflicts. A Man For All Seasons seemed to me, however, to possess much greater clarity and intellectual and emotional force than the play did, and I doubt that I could make this judgment except for what the film itself accomplishes.

It is a historical drama writ large on the silver screen in all its lavish splendour. On the surface, the film traces the familiar tale of Henry VIII and his infamous domestic issues, but really it’s the story of Sir Thomas More, the chancellor who served the king through these troubled times. 

A film can accomplish nothing unless it first entertains. I would further suggest that, in practice, few films that entertain do, in fact, elevate,  A Man For All Seasons is about the best we can hope for in the way of a great theme given consonantly great treatment (for which, incidentally, we are indebted to an agnostic playwright and a Jewish director of great skill and integrity).

As big and multi-layered a tale of court intrigue and political playmaking that it’s possible to imagine, unfolding over two hours, it’s peopled with an impressive cast of heavyweight acting talent and blessed with the kind of sumptuous cinematography you could lose yourself for a week in.

Made in Britain, with the American money of Columbia Pictures, this is historical drama the way it used to be, all plush vistas, moody verbal stand-offs in decadent courtyards and old-school acting masterclasses.

The film opens with More (Paul Scofield) being called to Hampton Court for a meeting with Cardinal Wolsey (Orson Welles).  It seems King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) wants to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Redgrave). Trouble is, the Pope has refused his request and now More, a devout Catholic, must attempt to balance his loyalty to the crown and his troublesome conscience. More chooses not to give his approval and stays silent instead, sparking off all kinds of trauma within the corridors of power where the likes of Thomas Cromwell (a superb Leo McKern) is gunning for his head.

For history buffs the story is a well worn one and Bolt doesn’t stray too far from the truth in his retelling of it, but the performances lift A Man For All Seasons into a filmic league of its own. Paul Scofield, a stage titan rarely seen in movies, is absolutely sublime, playing up the moral torment and complexity of the chancellor caught in a web of palace intrigue with dignity and grace.

Even the small roles are filled out beautifully, with Orson Welles standing out as Cardinal Wolsey. A minor part in some ways, Welles imbues it with gravitas; his light may have dimmed somewhat by 1966 but he wasn’t above giving the kind of actorly performance that almost steals the show.

A Man For All Seasons deals head on with a subject that has vanished from the films of today, and that’s one reason why I lament for what cinema has become today.

The very concept of a person standing up for, much less dying for, their strongly held convictions seems like ancient history to many, where Paul Scofield’s More is weary but confident, wanting to live, but much less afraid of dying than of betraying his faith. Subject matter for films today is mostly about seeking and finding pleasure, or absurdity, or offensiveness, in every aspect of the story. Naturally, A Man For All Seasons would not be made today: where audiences are so much in a hurry to get to the killing, or the special effects, or the explicit sex, or the sugar-coated, feel good ending.

I’m forever grateful that this film was made. It marks a place in film history where we were asking hard questions of ourselves; and, in Paul Scofield portrayal we have one of the greatest screen performances ever captured on film preserved for all-time.


and the tease for next weeks post . . . Damn you all to hell !

WolfmanOz at the Movies #70

A Tale of the Christ

There are some films that make a lasting impression when you see them for the first time, and Ben-Hur (the 1959 version) is one such movie for myself.

I first saw it on a re-release in the early 1970s when my parents took the family to see it on a huge cinema screen, and for one young lad the experience was simply mesmerising. Awe and wonder filled me as I watched this story of shocking betrayal, revenge and forgiveness unfold on screen, and by the time the heart-stopping chariot race was over, my fate as a future movie addict was sealed. 

Despite its 212 minutes running time, this is storytelling at its finest that knows how to entertain; as we follow the story during the time of Jesus of a Jewish prince, Judah Ben-Hur, who is betrayed and sent into slavery, whilst his family is imprisoned, by his Roman friend Messala. He regains his freedom and returns back for revenge. His dramatic journey just never lets up and immerses you completely.

It’s hard to imagine anything more cinematic: if ever there was an epic that was meant to be seen on the big screen in all its bombastic glory, it’s Ben-Hur. And even now, after I’ve seen the film many, many times, I feel like this story has a certain sense of greatness to it that is touching (and I don’t just mean that in a religious sense).

What’s not to love about Ben-Hur ? It’s a film that tells an epic story in an epic way, filling every shot with artistry and colour until the screen overflows with splendour, which is all enhanced by Miklos Rózsa’s magnificent score. Despite the lengthy running time, the pacing never flags. The episodic structure of the storyline works in the film’s favour, ably chronicling the adventures of the lead character as he undergoes a thrilling journey to hell and back.

It has Charlton Heston playing his most famous role and being incredibly heroic and strong in it. It has a cast of seasoned performers in support, not least Jack Hawkins as a sympathetic Roman general and Stephen Boyd as the villainous Messala. And, of course, it has the most spectacular and complex action sequence ever put on film in the shape of the chariot race, which is just as thrilling and breathtaking as it was when it was first released in cinemas.

The film was directed by William Wyler, one of Hollywood’s greatest directors from its Golden Age period. He was able to steer a huge production and keep his sanity and perspective whilst showcasing the human emotions amidst the spectacle.

Wyler’s handling of the religious scenes where Jesus appears is both sensitive and touching; and, in the following scene where Judah and the other slaves are marched to the galleys they stop in Nazareth to water the Romans’ horses. Judah begs for water, but the Roman commander refuses. Judah collapses but is revived when Jesus gives him a drink. It is masterfully directed.

The chariot race in Ben-Hur was directed by Andrew Marton and Yakima Canutt, filmmakers who often acted as second unit directors on other director’s films. The chariot arena was modelled on a historic circus in Jerusalem. Covering 18 acres, it was the largest film set ever built at that time. Planning for the chariot race took nearly a year to complete. The chariot scene took five weeks (spread over three months) to film and required more than 320 km of racing to complete. The end result is simply one of cinema’s greatest set-pieces that will never be surpassed.

Unfortunately, YouTube won’t allow me to show the chariot race as one clip, however I can show it all as two clips.

Finally, it’s a film that engages the senses and the emotions. It never forgets, amid all the glory and the epic wonder of the scenery and action, that this is a human story about real people struggling with their lives. There’s a message there for any viewer, Christian or otherwise, and that’s the reason why Ben-Hur hasn’t dated a day since it was first released. It’s a true classic for a reason.

Ben-Hur is nothing like the many sandal and sword or Bible films of that era; it is (at least to me) the ultimate film epic. With its touching story and fantastic action sequences, Ben-Hur is among the milestones of its era and part of film history.


and the tease for next weeks post . . . The ultimate man of conscience.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #69

Good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor they are all equal now

Based on the 1844 novel The Luck Of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray, Barry Lyndon (released in 1975) recounts the exploits and later unravelling of an 18th-century Irish rogue and social climber who marries a beautiful rich widow to assume her late husband’s aristocratic position.

Now regulars here would gather I am huge fan of Stanley Kubrick – IMO he’s one of the very few genuine artistic geniuses of cinema, but I will be the first to admit that Barry Lyndon is not for everyone given its deliberate slow-pacing but for those prepared to immerse themselves into the film and it’s setting it’s an unforgettably rewarding experience.

In terms of story this is on the surface at least, the simplest thing Kubrick ever made. However in terms of its’ technical aspect, it was one of his most challenging. The plot is basically about how greed, arrogance and ignorance can easily become the ruin of a man. The story itself is superbly told, but mostly quite straight forward. The humour keeps us interested in the story, as does its undeniable visual beauty. It is not a stretch to say that this must be among the most beautiful looking films ever made. Every scene is filmed in all natural light, whether it be by sun or fire, and the landscapes and architecture handpicked by Kubrick himself are amazing. As in all Kubrick films, so much attention to small details equates to a great result in the end. Steven Spielberg called this film “possibly the most beautifully shot film in history.”.

In terms of the film’s technical achievement, it is a landmark movie. Even for all the story’s simplicity, there is a startling statement in the film that certainly can give the viewer real pause and thought. The finality of this world, the equality of all things in the end. It is certainly an interesting, powerful and very humbling down to earth observation. It is the kind of worldly observation that could perhaps lead some people to ruin, and yet lead others to strive for perfection. Perhaps that is part of Kubrick’s thinking here, a Kubrickian challenge if you will, as he certainly was always an artist that was challenging his viewers.

The beauty, the depth, and the mystery of this film are unsurpassable – what Kubrick was doing with light is just a miracle. Special lenses were designed to shoot interiors and exteriors in natural light; and no scene better encapsulates this where at the gambling table Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal) and Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) stare at each other in the candlelight. The beauty of the cinematography, the music (Schubert’s Piano Trio 2nd movement), the costumes, the furtive looks of the characters and the humorous narration at the end which punctuates it makes it one of the most memorable scenes in cinema history and one of my all-time favourites.

Scene after scene is perfection and harmony. Costumes and sets were crafted in the era’s design, where the Age of Enlightenment with its gallantry, wars, and duels, was recreated in the film with the precision of the celebrated landscape and portrait masters of the period such as Thomas Gainsborough; Sir Joshua Reynolds; George Romney to name just a few. If nothing else, watching Barry Lyndon is an aesthetic delight in its purest form.

I feel sure (without having read Thackeray), that this was the proper way to adapt a long story from novel to screen. Each scene is either allowed as much time as it needs to make its point and its impact, or it’s cut altogether – you won’t catch Kubrick skating too quickly over his material for no better reason than to fit it all in. The third-person narration (consisting of witty, beautifully crafted sentences superbly spoken by Michael Hordern) almost performs a kind of dance with the images, gliding in just when we need it, taking a step back when we don’t (so rarely is a third-person narration used so well).

Barry Lyndon is the most compelling and compassionate realisation of the inevitable finality of everything in this world which was presented by the visionary director with elegant sensual melancholy. Stanley Kubrick known for his detached, seemingly remote and non-sentimental style chose to reach out to his viewer directly during the epilogue, “It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personalities lived and quarreled, good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now”. I don’t recall any other movie that would illustrate the old wisdom, “everything will pass” in such sublime and deeply moving way.

For me Barry Lyndon is one of the great films of cinema – it’s in my top 20 favourite films of all-time; and it’s the first of 3 great films from 1975 I will be reviewing in the coming weeks.


and the tease for next weeks post . . . A Tale of the Christ.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #68

Hope is a good thing

Was what prisoner Andy Dufresne says to his fellow prisoner and close friend Ellis “Red” Redding in the superlative prison drama film The Shawshank Redemption.

Released in 1994, the film was a box-office disappointment and despite being nominated for a swag of awards it wasn’t until its release on VHS that the film found its mass audience where it has become one of the most beloved films of the last 30 years. Ironically then, most people have not seen it in a movie theatre. I know I haven’t as I missed it and like so many I viewed it first on home media and it has remained a favourite of mine ever since.

Based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption the film tells the story of banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), who is sentenced to life imprisonment in Shawshank State Penitentiary for the murders of his wife and her lover, despite his claims of innocence. Over the following two decades, he befriends a fellow prisoner, contraband smuggler Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), and becomes instrumental in a money laundering scheme led by the prison warden.

The film is narrated by Morgan Freeman’s character where he gives a commanding performance which makes him a much stronger figure than simply an observer. Freeman’s performance is especially moving when describing how dependent Red had become on living within the prison walls. It’s a great performance.

The discovery by Andy of The Marriage Of Figaro record is described in the screenplay as akin to finding the Holy Grail, bringing the prisoners to a halt, and causing the sick to rise up in their beds; and as a piece of cinema it is simply sublime.

The significant and enduring public appreciation for the film has often been difficult for critics to define. I certainly can think of no other film that has captured the growing and deep friendship of two people as this film does whilst being an uplifting, deeply satisfying prison drama with sensitive direction by debutant Frank Darabont plus uniformly fine performances by the entire cast.

The film’s ending with the two re-uniting on the beach in Zihuatanejo is a perfect coda as the concept of Zihuatanejo resonates with the audience because it represents a form of escape that can be achieved after surviving for many years within whatever “jail” someone finds themselves in.


and the tease for next weeks post . . . Good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor they are all equal now.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #67

Those who about to die salute you

With the introduction of cinemascope/widescreen in 1953 starting with The Robe, cinema saw a growing popularity of Biblical/historical epics throughout the 1950s and 1960s. One of the best, and, certainly one of the most discussed was Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 film Spartacus.

The film was inspired by the life story of Spartacus the leader of a gladiator and slave revolt against the Roman Empire in 73-71BC. It starred Kirk Douglas in the title role, Laurence Olivier as the Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus, Charles Laughton as Senator Gracchus, Peter Ustinov as a slave trader, John Gavin as a young Julius Caesar, Jean Simmons as Spartacus’ love interest, and Tony Curtis as a runaway slave..

Spartacus was also one of those films where the back-story of it’s making was almost as interesting as the story told on the screen. With star and producer Kirk Douglas providing doctored scripts to each major cast member emphasising their role to be greater than it actually was. The intense dislike that Laurence Olivier and Charles Laughton had for each other. The script which was written (and ultimately credited to) by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo which Douglas triumphed in breaking the Hollywood blacklist; and the firing of director Anthony Mann after one weeks filming (the opening mining pit scene was filmed by him). Mann was replaced by a very young and inexperienced Stanley Kubrick who had impressed Douglas immensely with their working together on Paths Of Glory (1957) and which Douglas assumed he would be able to manage him – this did not transpire.

Kubrick quickly fell out with veteran cinematographer Russell Metty who complained about Kubrick’s unusually precise and detailed instructions for the film’s camerawork, whilst also disagreeing with Kubrick’s use of light. On one occasion, he threatened to quit, to which Kubrick told him: “You can do your job by sitting in your chair and shutting up. I’ll be the director of photography.” Metty won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for this film !

Kubrick also antagonised Douglas by removing most of his dialogue in the first 40 minutes where Spartacus was being trained in the gladiator school. Douglas was considering firing Kubrick but the rushes being produced were of an exceptional quality although Douglas did remark that Kubrick was “a talented shit”.

Kubrick would later distance himself from the film. Although his personal mark is distinct in the final picture, his contract did not give him complete control over the filming, the only occasion he did not exercise such control over any of his films.

But despite all this, the end result was a historical epic that ranks with the best of them in its telling of an inspiring story.

The film does have its weaknesses ie. the romance between Spartacus and Varinia is very cliched in a very typical Hollywood fashion and the character of Spartacus is almost saintly in its depiction. But the production and cinematography is magnificent and the political manoeuvrings of the Roman senators Crassus and Gracchus (no doubt helped by the actors antipathy towards each other) is endlessly fascinating.

I do not know, in the climatic battle scene, if this is how the Roman legions were deployed when on advancement, but the depiction here is superbly staged.

Following Spartacus’s utter defeat by the legions of Crassus the surviving slaves are given the offer of pardon (and a return to enslavement) if they identify Spartacus, living or dead. Every surviving man responds by shouting “I’m Spartacus !”. 

As a result, Crassus has them all sentenced to death by cruxifixction along the way between Capua and Rome, including Spartacus as the last slave to be crucified.

Over the years, the strength of some of the performances – especially Olivier’s fire, Douglas’ strength, and Laughton’s mild amusement at the foibles of humankind continue to stand out. Plus there’s a delightful supporting performance by Peter Ustinov, who upstages everybody when he is onscreen (he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor).

Kubrick in a sense out-DeMilled, the old master in spectacle, without ever permitting the story or the people who are at the core of the drama to become lost in the epic narrative.


and the tease for next weeks post . . . Hope is a good thing.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #66

Star of stage, screen and alimony

Was the epitaph suggested for himself by actor and comedian Peter Sellers. Sellers was a prodigious talent, touching on genius at times, although almost all of his best work had been completed by the mid 1960s.

Born Richard Henry Sellers in 1925. He began accompanying his parents in a variety act that toured the provincial theatres. He first worked as a drummer and toured around England as a member of the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). He developed his mimicry and improvisational skills during a spell in a wartime Gang Show entertainment troupe, which toured Britain and the Far East.

After the war, Sellers became a regular performer on various BBC radio shows. During the early 1950s, Sellers, along with Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine took part in the enormously successful radio series The Goon Show, which ended in 1960.

He made his film debut in the 1951 comedy Penny Points To Paradise featuring his Goon Show colleagues Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan. His breakout role was in The Ladykillers (1955) as the the slow-witted and punch drunk ex-boxer which lead to a string of notable performances in the mid-to-late 50s in films such as The Smallest Show On Earth, The Naked Truth, Up The Creek, Carlton-Browne Of The F.O. and The Mouse That Roared (where he played three distinct leading roles).

Then in 1959 he starred as union official Fred Kite in I’m All Right Jack which became the highest-grossing film at the British box office in 1960. In preparation for his role, Sellers watched footage of union officials. His superb performance earned him a BAFTA Best Actor award and stardom now beckoned.

Other notable films Sellers starred in the early 1960s were the comedy The Battle Of The Sexes; the crime thriller Never Let Go as a vicious criminal; the romantic comedy The Millionairess with Sophia Loren; the comedy The Wrong Arm Of The Law as an incompetent crime boss; the satirical comedy Heavens Above ! as a naive prison chaplain and the comedy Waltz Of The Toreadors as a retiring general.

Then in 1962 he accepted a supporting role in Stanley Kubrick’s polarising adaption of Lolita. Kubrick allowed Sellers to adopt a variety of disguises throughout the film which enabled Sellers to adapt a range of accents and personalities. It was another outstanding performance.

In 1963 he accepted another supporting role, in which Peter Ustinov was originally cast for, as the incompetent and bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the comedy classic The Pink Panther. Director and co-writer Blake Edwards seeing what Sellers was delivering expanded the role where he became, by accident, the leading player.

A sequel A Shot In The Dark was released in 1964 which focused entirely on the character of Inspector Clouseau.

But also in 1964 Sellers delivered one (or is it three) of the great film performances in cinema history in Stanley Kubrick’s nightmare black comedy masterpiece Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb which satirises the Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. 

Sellers was unforgettable and absolutely brilliant in three roles as the RAF Group Captain Mandrake, the ineffective US President Merkin Muffley and, of course, as the title character, the ex-Nazi Dr. Strangelove. He was to have played a fourth role as Major T. J. “King” Kong, the B-52 bomber’s commander and pilot but a sprained ankle precluded him from playing it. It was played hilariously by Slim Pickens.

It is alleged that Sellers improvised much of his dialogue, with Kubrick incorporating the ad-libs into the written screenplay so that the improvised lines became part of the canonical screenplay, a practice known as retroscripting.

Unfortunately after Dr. Strangelove, Sellers output in terms of quality rarely approached what he delivered from the mid-50s to the mid-60s. He appeared in mediocre after mediocre film which are almost all forgettable, except for a couple of minor exceptions, for example, The Party released in 1968, directed by Blake Edwards. It was like Sellers was paying a Faustian price for his earlier successes.

He even reprised his Inspector Clouseau character in three Pink Panther films in the 70s, and, although they were financially successful, they were generally uneven and not to the same quality as the two films from the 60s.

He did have one final success in 1979 as Chance the simple-minded gardener addicted to watching TV who is regarded as a wise sage by the rich and powerful in the black comedy Being There. Sellers had wanted to play the role for many years, and during filming, remained in character. It was a superb performance, but, alas, it was to be his final great role.

On 21 July 1980 Sellers arrived in London from Geneva. He checked into the Dorchester Hotel  He had plans to attend a reunion dinner with his Goon Show partners Milligan and Secombe, scheduled for the evening of 22 July. On the day of the dinner, Sellers took lunch in his hotel suite and shortly afterwards collapsed from a heart attack. He was taken to the hospital, and died just after midnight on 24 July 1980, aged only 54.

As a comedian and actor Sellers, could at times touch the levels of a genius and because of his retained dignity, Sellers was a the master of playing men who had no idea how ridiculous they are.

However, it would appear as a person he was a very vain, unsympathetic and neurotic individual who treated his four wives and children appallingly. A very good TV biography The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers was made about him in 2004 starring an excellent Geoffrey Rush as Sellers. It’s well worth a look.


and the tease for next weeks post . . . Those who about to die salute you.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #65

Follow the money

Is the phrase, master screenwriter William Goldman attributed to Deep Throat (aka Mark Felt), the informant who took part in revealing the truth behind the June 1972 Watergate break-in in the superb 1976 political thriller All The President’s Men, although the phrase did not appear in the book or in any of the Watergate documentation.

The film covers the first seven months of the Watergate scandal with The Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) investigating the Watergate break-in and the events that unfurled culminating in the film’s climax with Woodward and Bernstein typing the full story, whilst a television in the newsroom shows Nixon taking the oath of office for his second term as POTUS in January 1973.

I was drawn to writing about this film after watching it again on my recent flight back from NZ and it struck me that the journalism depicting in the film was driven by curiosity and news sense whereas today journalism is now almost totally corrupted by left-wing ideology where the profession is no longer curious about anything which given the events across the world for the last 10 years beggars belief.

It would be quite easy to get waylaid by recent and current events, especially in the USA, which is not the purpose of this review but instead it is to focus on the outstanding quality of this film.

The film was directed by Alan J. Pakula, and was the third film of his paranoia trilogy, which included Klute (1971) and The Parallax View (1974). All three display his hallmark understated delivery and I was considering devoting a post on the trilogy but I simply couldn’t stand having to write about Jane Fonda, a woman I absolutely detest, although she arguably gave her best movie performance in Klute.

The Parallax View is certainly worth catching again as it’s a very under-stated, although downbeat thriller starring Warren Beatty as a reporter investigating into a secretive organisation, whose primary focus is political assassination.

But back to All The President’s Men, this is a wholly absorbing film where the craft in its making is simply impeccable. From the sets of The Washington Post’s news room to the performances of a terrific cast, the film effortlessly depicts the complex details which the viewer can follow with comfort.

Both Redford and Hoffman were utterly convincing as the two reporters, with Martin Balsam and Jack Warden proving excellent support as their editors; plus Jason Robards was fully deserving of his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as Ben Bradlee, the managing editor of The Washington Post.

Back in 1976, Rocky won the Best Picture Oscar when both All The President’s Men and Network were nominated. Now I enjoyed Rocky as an escapist entertainment but in terms of film quality it pales into insignificance against either All The President’s Men or Network. I guess the Academy were fwits even then.

All The President’s Men provides the most observant study of working journalists we’re ever likely to see in a feature film; and it succeeds brilliantly in suggesting the mixture of exhilaration, paranoia, self-doubt, and courage that permeated The Washington Post as its two young reporters went after a presidency.


and the tease for next weeks post . . . Star of stage, screen and alimony.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #64

Not a lot of people know that

Is the catchphrase that many impersonators use in mimicking Michael Caine which came from his habit of informing people of obscure facts that he had remembered.

Celebrating his 90th birthday only a couple of weeks ago, Michael Caine has not only appeared in over 160 movies that has spanned over seven decades but he is also a beloved British cultural and film icon.

Born Maurice Micklewhite in 1933, he started acting in school plays as a child and in 1952 was called up to do his national service where he saw active service in the Korean War.

He resumed his acting career after his national service but it barely took off until by chance he landed the part of a foppish officer in the 1964 film Zulu after he had initially shown interest in the part of a Cockney private. Initial expectations were low for Caine but he confounded everyone with his excellent performance which he followed up with two of his best known roles – the rough-edged petty-crook-turned-spy Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File (1965) and the womanising young Cockney in Alfie (1966).

Re-watching Alfie a few weeks ago I thought it hasn’t aged well although Caine is splendid in his first Oscar-nominated role; but The Ipcress File, for me, still stands as one of the best spy thrillers from the 1960s. Every time it features on Fox Classics I always catch it (and I even have my own digital copy of it as well).

With Alfie, Caine now became a big name in America and roles beckoned over there, but one thing that has always marked Caine’s career over the years is that he has appeared in quite a number of turkeys over the years. If anyone can explain The Magus (1968) please comment !

Caine had a huge hit with the 1969 comedy caper The Italian Job where he plays the leader of a Cockney criminal gang released from prison with the intention of doing a “big job” in Italy to steal gold bullion from an armoured security truck. It is one of the most celebrated roles of his career.

In 1971 another iconic role was as the violent and vicious gangster Jack Carter in Get Carter. It’s a pity Caine didn’t explore more of the dark side in the roles he played over the years, as he’s particularly menacing in this film.

Caine continued with successes including Sleuth (1972) starring opposite Laurence Olivier and The Man Who Would Be King (1975) co-starring his good friend Sean Connery, in which both films received widespread acclaim.

In the later 70s he continued his knack for appearing in some awful films with The Swarm, Ashanti and Beyond The Poseidon Adventure.

He was cast against type in the psychological thriller Dressed To Kill (1980) and in 1983 was superb as the alcoholic and jaded teacher in Educating Rita. He finally won his first Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his part in Woody Allen’s ensemble comedy Hannah And Her Sisters.

He continued his list of turkeys with Jaws: The Revenge. However, Caine said “I have never seen the film, but by all accounts it was terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”

Caine also played a suave English conman, opposite a grifting American played by Steve Martin, in the comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) – a far superior remake to the original Bedtime Story (1964), where Caine showed his gift for comedy timing.

Parts came harder to come by in the 1990s and in 1993 he wrote his the first of his three volumes of memoirs, What’s It All About? in 1992, The Elephant to Hollywood in 2010, and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: And Other Lessons in Life in 2018. All three are terrific reads.

Caine has continued to work extensively this century particularly featuring in almost every one of Christopher Nolan’s films including The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar etc. And it looks like he will continue to act so long as directors and audiences want him too.

So what makes Michael Caine so special ? For me he has been personifying British cool since the 1960s. He has brought some of British cinema’s most iconic characters to life and introduced his very own laid-back Cockney gangster into pop culture. He has doggedly retained a regional accent where his accent has become his calling card. There’s just something about him that I just like as a person, someone you could easily have a beer or wine with to pass the day away.

I’ve only detailed a handful of his films and performances, I’m sure Cats will have their own special memories of a true legend of cinema.


and the tease for next weeks post . . . Follow the money.