Tag Archives: 1963

121. 8 1/2 (1963)

AKA Otto e Mezzo; Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2

CLAUDIA: Let’s leave this place. It makes me uneasy. It doesn’t seem real.

GUIDO: I really like it. Isn’t that odd?

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Sandra Milo, Claudia Cardinale, , Edra Gale

PLOT: Full of doubts and very near to suffering a breakdown from stress, a director is planning to make his next movie, never making much progress. The story is continuously interrupted by flashbacks to his boyhood and dream sequences, including one where he imagines all the women in his life living together in a harem. The production is complicated further by the arrival of his wife on the set, who is humiliated to find that his mistress is also there.

Still from 8 1/2 (1963)

BACKGROUND:

  • By Fellini’s count, this was the 8 1/2th film he directed (counting shorts and co-directing gigs as 1/2 of a movie each).
  • This was Fellini’s first feature after the incredible international success of La Dolce Vita (1960). In the movie, Fellini’s alter ego Guido has just come off of a great success, and everyone around him is expecting him to produce another masterpiece.
  • After making La Dolce Vita and before 8 1/2, Fellini became involved in Jungian psychoanalysis and started keeping a dream diary.
  • 8 1/2 won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1964. It played out of competition at Cannes, because the Italians split up their two 1963 prestige pictures, 8 1/2 and Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, between Cannes and the Moscow Film Festival (a successful strategy, as Visconti took Cannes and Fellini Moscow). 8 1/2 has since far surpassed its companion and become a staple of “best movies of all time” lists. It ranked #9 on the 2002 version of Sight & Sound’s critic’s poll of the greatest movies ever made, and #3 on the director’s poll.
  • The “dance” ending was originally intended as a promotional trailer, but Fellini decided he liked the optimistic tone of this sequence better than the dark ending he had originally planned.
  • Unaccountably, this intellectual meditation on artistic doubt was adapted as a Broadway musical (!) called “Nine,” which was then made into a mediocre Hollywood musical.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It is with great reluctance that I select the image of Marcello Mastroianni flown like a kite above the beach as 8 1/2‘s representative image; not because it isn’t a fascinating and beautiful invention, but because I have to pass on so many other worthy candidates. In particular, I would have loved to pick a shot of Guido with a whip trying in vain to tame the women in the harem of his mind; but that ten minute sequence flows so beautifully and seamlessly from polygamous bliss to infantilism to feminist rebellion that it unfortunately can’t be summed up in a single still.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Watching 8 1/2 is like being dropped inside Federico Fellini’s brain and wandering around inside its convoluted folds. As self-centered stream-of-consciousness filmmaking, this wonderfully masturbatory masterpiece has never been equaled. The film flows smoothly from anxiety-ridden nightmares to wish-fulfillment daydreams to some state we could safely call “reality” (although some new magic is always creeping up on even the most mundane moments of Guido’s confused existence).


Opening scene from 8 1/2

 

COMMENTS: Expressing my disappointment with the middelbrow conventionality of 2009’s Continue reading 121. 8 1/2 (1963)

COMMON LAW WIFE (1963)

Common Law Wife (1963) is a hoot, as most period exploitation films are. This film, directed by the infamous schlockmeister Larry Buchanan and Eric Sayers, gets a lot of mileage out of the white trash melodrama genre.

Nasty old oil miser Uncle (love the name) Shugfoot Rainey (George Edgley) is bored with his worn out, tired-looking, live-in waitress girlfriend Linda (Anne MacAdams). Still, Linda is no pushover and proves it when she refuses to flinch while that mean old Uncle Shug throws darts at her head. But, after five years, Uncle Shug wants new tail, which he plans to get through his niece (!) Baby Doll (Lacey Kelly). Baby Doll is built like a French brick house and Linda, feeling like yesterday’s washrag, ain’t havin’ none o’ that!

Still from Common Law Wife (1963)Baby Doll, fresh from her job as a New Orleans stripper, is plenty willing to put out for some of her uncle’s assets, but she meets a road block in the rejected Linda. That heifer Linda has went and gotten herself a lawyer! Linda’s found out that she don’t haveta go nowhere, cause according to the law, she’s a… COMMON LAW WIFE! What is Shugfoot gonna do? “She’s lived with ya for five years, Shugfoot! That makes her your common law life according to the law!” “Well, gosh darn it, then change the law!” “You can’t change the law Shugfoot, no matter how much money ya got!”

Baby Doll has a past in her uncle’s town. Among her conquests she used and abused was the Sheriff. Now, Baby Doll, thwarted by Linda, plans to get her hooks into Uncle Shug and bust up the Sheriff’s marriage in the process.

Uncle Shug is jealous of the Sheriff. The sheriff’s wife and Linda are jealous of Baby Doll, the local boys can’t keep their eyes of the walking brick house, and when stinky old Uncle Shug finally croaks, you can bet hell hath no fury like women scorned! Cue flying fur!

Baby Doll goes a skinny dippin’, Baby Doll drives the Sheriff crazy, Baby Doll gets chased through the swamp by a potbellied moonshiner! Baby Doll doesn’t know it, but Linda’s now a pistol packin’ mama! The downbeat, brutal ending, enhanced by gritty camerawork, is icing on this sleaze-o-rama cake.

Both Sinister Cinema and Something Weird Video have competing dvd releases of Common Law Wife. Something Weird pairs the film with Jennie:Wife Child (1968) which is another buxom tart/old redneck man exploitation flick with a skinny dipping scene and a ultra hip trash score. Another “bonus” is Moonshine Love (1970) , which is essentially a soft core, tiresome nudie about a naked babe (?) and a carrot. Sinister Cinema’s version has equally good mastering, but comes with no bonuses. However, it was once available in that company’s priceless Drive-In Double Features, which are returning after a bit of a hiatus. A third DVD release is on the inexpensive and low-grade transfer label Alpha Video. Alpha pairs Wife with the equally indispensable Shanty Tramp (1967). Regardless which DVD version you choose, Common Law Wife is best enjoyed with a lot of company and plenty of cheap beer.

ROGER CORMAN’S THE TERROR (1963)

Roger Corman‘s The Terror has been in public domain for half of forever. The result, predictably, has been a plethora of DVD prints, ranging from wretched to execrable. It is a legendary film that his its equal share of fans and detractors. The Terror marks the only time  actually “starred” in a film directed by Corman (1963’s The Raven does not really count, as Karloff was secondary to Vincent Price). How much of the movie Corman directed is debatable. , , , Jack Nicholson, and Dick Miller are all reported to have directed parts of The Terror, although only Corman is credited.

The story behind the film is well known. Corman had finished shooting The Raven ahead of schedule and still had Karloff on contract for four days. Not one to waste money, Corman whipped up a second movie starring the actor. Part of the myth regarding this film is that it was made in its entirety in 48 hours. Actually, Karloff’s scenes were shot in three to four days. Corman utilized the castle set from the first film, later scenes were added, and the entire movie was produced over a nine month period, which is something like an epic for Corman. Corman, of course, masterfully sculpts his own mythology, but filming commenced without a finished script, and that is probably why it took so long to pull something halfway salable out of it. It’s not really an advisable filmmaking method.

Still from The Terror (1963)The Terror has finally been released in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, and has rightfully received accolades for the remastering on the Blu-ray. Unfortunately, the DVD part of the combo has had a high number of reported defects. Regardless, the film looks beautiful in the Blu-ray transfer, rich with 1960s colors. It finally looks nearly as good here as the excerpts we see of it in the Corman produced Targets (1968-dir. Peter Bogdanovich). The Continue reading ROGER CORMAN’S THE TERROR (1963)

CAPSULE: THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN (1963/197?)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: David Bradley/an uncredited director

FEATURING: Walter Stocker, Audrey Caire, Carlos Rivas, Dani Lynn, Bill Freed

PLOT: They (renegade Nazis in South America) saved Hitler’s brain (actually, his entire head).

Still from They Saved Hitler's Brain

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTThey Saved Hitler’s Brain is awfully strange, and strangely awful, but it has one huge strike against it: most people would rather cut off their own head than wade through the nonsensical plot just to see a few brief moments of a Hitler impersonator in a pickle jar.

COMMENTS: If you pick up Hitler’s Brain on a lark because of the title and pop it into the DVD player without any sort of background information, you’re going to be terribly confused.  In one scene, some dull-witted secret agents in miniskirts and bushy Nixon-era haircuts are lackadaisically investigating a research scientist’s assassination; then, in the next scene, men in starched suits with narrow lapels and sturdy Eisenhower-era ‘dos are sitting in at a no-dames-allowed intelligence briefing. We watch people we don’t know get abducted by gunmen in sedans while the female agent calmly watches, then follows from her Volkswagen bug, taking care to stay out of the same shot with the kidnappers.  It’s almost as if someone took two separate movies and slapped them together to make one longer feature (and that impression grows even stronger during a chase scene when the prey is fleeing at night, but the pursuers are chasing him during broad daylight).  In fact, that’s exactly what happened: by all accounts, Hitler’s Brain was the result of persons unknown shooting 20-30 minutes of additional footage to add to a ten-year-old B-movie titled Madmen of Mandoras so that it would be long enough to fill a two-hour television time slot.  The newcomers made little attempt to match the film stock or wardrobes of their additions to the style of the older movie. The main dramatic effect of the added chapter is that, one third of the way through the movie, the lives of the people we assumed to be the hero and heroine are senselessly wasted in what turns out to be a meaningless subplot.  The original Madmen of Mandoras footage is more enjoyable than the newly shot scenes, in the same way that herpes simplex I is more enjoyable than herpes simplex II.  The entire plot, of course, is completely absurd (there’s not even an attempt to explain why Hitler thought it necessary to cut off his own head in order to escape the Allies), and while the movie never quite rises to the level of the truly weird, there are plenty of odd, ridiculous moments: the casual stuffing of a dead body into a phone booth, fact the Mandoran operative insists on calling Hitler by the pet nickname “Mr. H,” and a beatnik chick with a crazy made-up hepcat lingo (“never glum a pony in the tonsils!”)  There’s also the occasional strangely evocative, expressionist shot—as when Nazi soldiers appear in a doorway framed so that their heads are missing—to remind you that filmmaker David Bradley (whose first movie credit was directing Charlton Heston in an adaptation of Peer Gynt) isn’t a complete hack.  Those flashes of talent make the existence of this incompetently plotted movie even more mysterious. Of course, the movie’s chief attraction is the bodyless head man, and Hitler’s brain—er, head—indeed steals every scene he’s in.  The Nazi noggin (played in equal parts by actor Bill Freed and a wax sculpture) only remembers two words of German (“macht schnell!”) but is capable of conveying ludicrous emotions with the body parts he has left, grinning evilly when his henchmen are shot and darting his eyes from side to side nervously when danger approaches.  Still, the pleasures of this film are few and far between; it’s more a movie to watch just to brag that you’ve seen it, rather than something to check out for actual entertainment purposes.  It’s not impossible to enjoy Hitler’s Brain, but to do so will probably require a small group of quick-witted friends ready with quips locked and loaded, and a large supply of adult beverages for anesthetizing your own brain.

We don’t usually link to these kinds of comedic reviews, but this guy’s badmovies.org synopsis/review is worth reading, if overlong and over-sarcastic. They Saved Hitler’s Brain is frequently packaged together with other el-cheapo drive-in films and is available as part of several different collections, including Drive-In Cult Classics, Vol. 2 (8 movies, including the original uncut Madmen of Mandoras for comparison purposes) and Mill Creek’s Pure Terror 50 Movie Pack (where it plays alongside Manos and Horror Rises from the Tomb).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[The added prologue] only adds confusion and a sense of weirdness, as it is patently obvious that the new footage does not match the footage of MANDORAS in any way… [the movie] really only has a great bad title and a couple of campy scenes that entertain; the rest is snoozefest incarnate.”–Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings (DVD)

80. SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963)

“My title became Shock Corridor. It had the subtlety of a sledgehammer. I was dealing with insanity, racism, patriotism, nuclear warfare, and sexual perversion. How could I have been light with those topics? I purposefully wanted to provoke the audience. The situations I’d portray were shocking and scary. This was going to be a crazy film, ranging from the absurd to the unbearable and tragic.”–Sam Fuller, “A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Samuel Fuller

FEATURING: Peter Breck, Constance Towers, Hari Rhodes, Larry Tucker

PLOT: Johnny Barrett is a journalist obsessed with reaching the pinnacle of his profession—winning a Pulitzer Prize—and convinced that an unsolved murder at a mental institution will provide him the investigative opportunity his career needs.  Barrett arranges to have himself committed so he can interview the three patients who witnessed the crime, over the objections of his stripper girlfriend, who fears that he will lose his mind if he enters the asylum.  Once inside, Barrett tries to pry the information he needs out of the three witnesses during their rare lucid moments, but his constant intercourse with madmen, electric shock treatments, and a traumatic incident in the nympho ward take a toll on his own sanity.

Still from Shock Corridor (1963)

BACKGROUND:

  • Samuel Fuller, who had made successful and stylish B-pictures like I Shot Jesse James (1949), The Steel Helmet (1951) and Pickup on South Street (1953) for Twentieth Century Fox, began producing his films independently in 1956 to escape studio control.
  • Fuller’s script was inspired by journalist Nellie Bly, who deliberately had herself committed to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum in 1887 in order to write a piece exposing conditions there.
  • Fuller’s first career was as a journalist; he was a crime beat reporter for the New York Evening Graphic at the age of 17.
  • Shock Corridor was made back-to-back with The Naked Kiss (1964), also starring Constance Towers and also dealing with potentially exploitative, shocking subject matter (in Kiss, prostitution and pedophilia).  The two films are usually considered to be spiritual siblings and are often screened together.
  • The corridor set (the “street”) ended in a painted backdrop meant to give the illusion of stretching off to infinity.  Dwarfs were hired as extras to mill about at the end of the hallway to create a false perspective.
  • Cinematographer Stanley Cortez had previously shot The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and The Night of the Hunter (1955), but ended his career lensing schlock like Madmen of Mandoras, Ghost in the Invisible Bikini and Navy vs. the Night Monsters.
  • The film was shot in about ten days; Fuller friend John Ford dropped by to visit the set and asked, “Sammy, why are you shooting on this two-bit set?” to which Fuller replied, “No major would touch my yarn, Jack.  It’s warped.”
  • The color scenes are composed of unused Japanese location-scouting footage from Fuller’s House of Bamboo, from an unreleased documentary on the Karaja tribe of Brazil, and home movies from a vacation.
  • Fuller claimed that producer Samuel Firks never gave him his promised share of the profits, but was nonetheless happy with the arrangement because the producer allowed the director complete creative control.
  • When Shock Corridor was awarded a special Humanitarian Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival, Fuller reportedly declined with the words “this isn’t a goddamn humanitarian film, it’s a hard-hitting, action-packed melodrama. Give your award to Ingmar Bergman.”
  • Shock Corridor was selected for the National Film Registry in 1996 (the prestigious list of films preserved because of their cultural significance stands at only 550 titles as of 2010).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Though it’s hard to beat the thunderstorm in the corridor, it’s the scenes of Constance Towers as a naughty angel doing her hoochie-coochie dance in a feather boa on Peter Breck’s shoulder while he tries to grab some shuteye that make the biggest impression.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Though it features its fair share of stormy strum und drang hallucinations, Shock Corridor would be a weird movie even without the schizoid interludes. Fuller’s film imprisons us inside a mental hospital full of  patients who act nothing like normal people—but the uncanny thing is that they don’t act anything like lunatics, either. They act like symbols. Drenching the film with melodramatic performances, expressionist visuals, outlandish dialogue, and blatant sensationalism, Fuller (consciously or unconsciously) constructs a uniquely nightmarish vision of Cold War America as a hyperreal asylum.


Trailers from Hell on Shock Corridor

COMMENTS:After nearly 50 years, Shock Corridor has lost much of its power to shock  Continue reading 80. SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963)

SATURDAY SHORT: CHRISTMAS CRACKER (1963)

“Christmas Cracker” consists of three segments that have very little in common with each other, besides the fact that they are Christmas based, and are each introduced by a mime-like jester. Charming and now aged to fine quality weirdness, it may not surprise you that fifty years ago this nearly won an Oscar.