Warner Archive New Releases – April 16, 2013

nick carterThis week, the Warner Archive brings us two triple features of classic films. First up is a 3-film set of films featuring Walter Pidgeon as Nick Carter.

Nick Carter Mysteries Triple Feature
Includes:
- Nick Carter, Master Detective (1939)
- Phantom Raiders (1940)
- Sky Murder (1940)

fastNext up is a triple bill of films, all self-described as “fast.’

- Fast Company (1938)
- Fast and Loose (1939)
- Fast and Furious (1939)

The Landlord

The Landlord 1Last week, completely by coincidence I ended up watching both the first and final films from director Hal Ashby. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. His last film was 1988’s “8 Million Ways to Die” featuring Jeff Bridges…review to come soon. His first film, interestingly enough, features brother to Jeff, Beau Bridges in an intriguing look at attitudes on race and class in the early 70’s. The film is 1970’s “The Landlord.”

The Landlord 2Bridges plays Elgar Enders, a rich young man who has been wandering somewhat aimlessly through his life, living off his parents’ wealth. However, he finally decides to do something with his life by purchasing a tenement building in Brooklyn. He plans to gradually evict the residents and renovate the building into a luxury pad for himself.

The Landlord 5It doesn’t take long, however, for Elgar to begin to take a liking to the poor residents of his building. The first person he meets is Marge (Pearl Bailey), who greets him with a shotgun, but quickly treats the new landlord to some home cooking. He also meets Fanny (Diana Sands), a young mother with a live in boyfriend named Copee (Louis Gossett Jr). On their first meeting, Copee threatens Elgar with a bow and arrow. Later, when Copee ends up behind bars, Elgar and Fanny end up hooking up.

Elgar’s family is none too thrilled with this “investment” he has made. His mother, Joyce (Lee Grant in an Oscar nominated performance), especially doesn’t understand this latest endeavor. All of his family are very racist in their attitudes and encourage Elgar to quickly get rid of the building’s residents. Later in the film, when Joyce comes to pay Elgar a visit, she enjoys a few too many drinks with Marge and ends up making somewhat of a connection with her.

The Landlord 8At the same time, Elgar has also become interested in a dancer named Lannie (Marki Bey). At first, Elgar thinks she is white, but she comes from a mixed background and is a very light-skinned African-American. Things get a bit more complicated for Elgar and Lannie later on when he finds out that Fanny is pregnant with his child. Needless to say, the militant, and free once more, Copee doesn’t respond well to this news.

Hal Ashby, of course, went on to a very interesting career, featuring the likes of “Harodl & Maude” and “Being There” before his early death in 1988. “The Landlord” is as strong a directorial debut as you are likely to find. It’s got that gritty feel that is 70’s cinema through and through. At times it is very funny, and at times heartbreakingly tragic.

The Landlord 10Bridges’ approach to his role is spot on! It is interesting to watch the progression of his character. He begins by buying the building to get out of his family’s home, yet, ultimately, he’s still doing it with their wealth. He’s then all too happy to not proceed with his plans of evicting the tenants when he sees how much it rubs his parents the wrong way. Eventually, he truly becomes invested in the lives of the these people. There is a wonderful realism to Bridge’s performance, the type that makes it tough to call it a “performance.” It just feels too natural to label it in such a way.

The Landlord 7I’ve gotta give a lot of credit to screenwriter Bill Gunn. The dialogue is tough, honest…but not heavy-handed or preachy. It all unfolds very naturally. The characters don’t come across as concoctions designed to make a point. These are believable characters. The one character who does seem a bit over-the-top at first is Elgar’s mother. However, it all comes together in the truly remarkable scene shared by Lee Grant and Pearl Bailey midway through the film. That moment alone may have earned Grant her well-deserved Oscar nod.

If ever there was a film worthy of being rediscovered, it is “The Landlord.” It’s a movie that remains as intriguing, poignant, hard-hitting, and funny as it ever was…even 43 years after it’s release.

The Pirate Movie

The Pirate Movie 4In 1980, theater producer Joseph Papp famously brought the Gilbert & Sullivan musical The Pirates of Penzance back to the stage with huge success. A film version featuring many of the original Broadway cast members would follow in 1983, but a year earlier, another film that mixed the original songs with new pop songs and modern cultural references would try to capitalize on the show’s success. It would go down in history as one of the worst films of the 80’s. Remember how pirate films were box office poison before Johnny Depp came along? Well brace yourselves for 1982’s “The Pirate Movie.”

The Pirate Movie 1The film begins in a modern seaside community where a somewhat nerdy teenage girl named Mabel (Kristy McNichol) is often picked on by the other girls. They all have eyes for the handsome young man (Christopher Atkins) who performs in a pirate show on the dock, and they get quite jealous when he invites Mabel on a boat ride. So the girls plot to crash the date and end up getting Mabel left behind. She follows in a small boat, but ends up going overboard and washing up unconscious on a beach.

The Pirate Movie 2From here, the film is all Mabel’s dream. She dreams about a ship full of pirates, ruled over by the Pirate King (Ted Hamilton). The pirates are celebrating the 21st birthday of Frederic (Atkins again), a boy they have raised since they killed his parents when he was a child. The Pirate King sees Frederic as his successor, but Frederic has decided to devote his life to hunting down pirates. So…the pirates send the boy out on a small boat to fend for himself.

The Pirate Movie 3He goes ashore on a nearby island where he spots Mabel (still McNichol) and her many sisters. While her sisters are very proper, Mabel is fond of shoulderless dresses with high leg cuts that would make Angelina Jolie jealous. She immediately falls for Frederic as the two sing a catchy pop tune.

The Pirate Movie 5The two are anxious to get married, though that’s a problem since all of Mabel’s older sisters have to wed before she can. And being that Mabel’s father is “the very model of a modern major general” (cue song here), he’s not exactly up for bending the rules. About this time, the pirates come ashore as well. This leads to a plot where Frederic can win the favor of Mabel’s father by stealing back the family treasure which the pirates stole from him years ago. To do this, they need to get a copy of the map, which is tattooed on the Pirate King’s back. So, Mabel pretends to seduce the Pirate King to get his shirt off, while Frederic draws the map from outside the window. Got all that?

There are many more songs as the film moves on, both from Gilbert & Sullivan as well as poppy new stuff. It all culminates into a big swashbuckling battle between the pirates and Mabel’s father’s forces.

The Pirate Movie 6It may seem like ancient film history, but there was a time when movie musicals were everywhere. They were big business! Even as late as 1978, a musical, “Grease,” was the number one film of the year. So what killed the movie musical? One could make the case that three films, “Grease 2,” “Xanadu,” and “The Pirate Movie,” may have been somewhat responsible. “The Pirate Movie” is a fantastic mess of a movie! I’ve got to give the filmmakers some credit here…I mean, it takes guts to try and mix songs that are over 100 years old, with new teeny bopper wannabe hits. Throw in references to “Star Wars,” Indiana Jones, “The Pink Panther”, and even an animated sequence, and you’ve sailed off the edge of the map and into so bad it’s good territory!

Kristy McNichol is bubbly and cute and completely over-the-top with her performance. In a strange way, it makes her performance right for all the wrong reasons. I also really enjoyed the bombastic performance of Ted Hamilton as the Pirate King. A scene stealer to say the least. Atkins, on the other hand, seems confused and unsure of what to do with himself through much of the film. This was his first film coming off the heels of his debut in “The Blue Lagoon.” The producers even get him to spend a good portion of this film wearing virtually the same loincloth costume he wore in that film.

The Pirate Movie 7It’s probably the musical numbers, though, that push this film over the top. Let’s put it this way, if there is ever a zombie apocalypse, the makers of this film better watch out, because zombie Gilbert & Sullivan have got their number. As for the new songs, a few of them are actually somewhat catchy. Then there are monstrosities like worst-song-title-ever nominee “Pumpin’ and Blowin’.”

Bottom line is, this is a film that must be seen to be believed. When the movie musical died in the early 80’s, “The Pirate Movie” was the one firing shots from the grassy knoll. A terrible movie that I can’t recommend highly enough.

Wonderwall

Wonderwall 5The Beatles weren’t just the greatest band in the history of rock music, all four of them also did a fair share of work in the movies. Beyond the films they made as a band like “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!,” they each had their own solo film efforts. John Lennon appeared in “How I won the War” for “A Hard Day’s Night” director Richard Lester, Paul McCartney took to the screen in the 80’s with “Give My Regards to Broad Street,” and Ringo grunted his way through “Caveman.” But the Beatle who made the biggest impact on the film industry was the quiet one, George Harrison. As a producer, he was responsible for films both memorable, like “Life of Brian” and “Time Bandits,” and notorious flops like “Shanghai Surprise.” But in 1968, while still one of the fab four, Harrison cut his teeth in film by scoring today’s film… “Wonderwall.”

The film centers on a scientist named Oscar Collins (Jack MacGowran). He lives a quiet life, retreating to his small apartment each evening after working in the lab. There barely seems to be any space to move in his small quarters, as it is stuffed from floor to ceiling with papers, books, and various specimens.

Wonderwall 1One night, Oscar hears strange music coming from the apartment next door. In frustration, he tosses an alarm clock at the wall, damaging a case full of butterfly specimens. But then, he notices an upside down silhouette of a woman dancing on his wall. It is a camera obscura effect coming through a hole in the wall. He then peeks through the hole to see his lovely next door neighbor…the way too appropriately named Penny Lane (Jane Birkin). Penny is a model who often poses for sessions in her apartment with her photographer boyfriend (Richard Wattis).

Wonderwall 3Soon, Oscar becomes quite obsessed with the girl next door; going to great lengths to drill more holes in the wall so he can get better views. He watches various photo shoots and even a lovemaking session between Penny and her boyfriend. Strangely, Oscar actually gets to know the boyfriend to some degree when he stops by to borrow some ice for a party he and Penny are hosting.

Wonderwall 2Oscar soon becomes so obsessed that he stays away from work for weeks on end to observe the young model. He even starts to have bizarre dreams where he appears in his pajamas and a magician’s top hat and cape, fencing to win Penny’s attention and dealing with giant lipstick’s. When her boyfriend ends up leaving her, Penny becomes severely depressed and somewhat suicidal. Only Oscar, who has been watching all along, can do anything to save her.

To say the story of “Wonderwall” is thin is an understatement. The filmmakers were obviously more concerned with the visuals. Still, the visuals here don’t really contribute to the story and aren’t really all that creative either. They’re just meant to be trippy. So even though the film has a pretty short running time, it drags.

Wonderwall 4It doesn’t help that there is little opportunity for the characters to become interesting. Oscar spends much of his time alone, peering through holes in the wall. This doesn’t exactly lend itself well to character development. Likewise, Penny is just an image on the other side of the wall. The only character with any real depth is the boyfriend. The scenes in which he pays Oscar a visit show a lot of promise, but unfortunately go nowhere.

Wonderwall 6Of course, what the film is most remembered for is George Harrison’s music. I admit, many of my favorite Beatles songs are the ones penned by Harrison. His efforts always seemed to take an unfortunate backseat to Lennon & McCartney’s work, though he often showed greater creativity. Here, some of the music does show the uniqueness I expect from Harrison, while some of the other music cues, though interesting, are not quite in tune with the visuals.

“Wonderwall” will certainly be of interest to Beatles completists, but film fans will probably struggle with it. With its emphasis on psychedelic imagery, it’s probably accurately called an experimental film. Just remember, not all experiments are successful.