Tag Archives: 1967

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST (1967)

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DIRECTED BY: Theodore J. Flicker

FEATURING: James Coburn, Joan Delaney, Godfrey Cambridge, Severn Darden

PLOT: Dr. Sidney Shaefer is chosen to provide his psychoanalytical services to the president of the United States, making him target number one for sinister agents both foreign and domestic.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHAThe President’s Analyst begins as a cute exploration of the 60s craze for psychotherapy; but at an accelerating speed, cute spirals into silly, then into zany, then to madcap, before climaxing in a jaw-dropping finale plucked straight from a giggling paranoiac’s subconscious.

COMMENTS: Psychological analysis is a slow process: trust is built, feelings are explored, and emotions’ roots are teased out over time. The President’s Analyst, on the other hand, is a speedy journey through a pinball plotline, a zany zipping from point A, to B, to C—through the entire alphabet, perhaps, as director Theodore J. Flicker maneuvers an unflappable James Coburn from humble sitcom beginnings all the way through an explosive climax and a joyfully jaded denouement.

To speed along the plot necessities, Flicker amply uses cinema’s age-old time quickener: the montage. He establishes Dr. Sidney Shaefer’s profession before the opening credits wrap up, then intercuts that montage with another laying out the “thriller” angle: shady guy passes off envelope, envelope receiver winds through city streets, then is murdered by Don Masters, sneakily in broad daylight. Don is a CEA agent (not at all to be confused with a CIA agent) in a rush: “I gotta hurry, or I’ll be late for my analyst.” Scenes move along with purpose, often with a 1960s “ahhh-AHHHH-ahhh” woman’s chanting musical cue in moments of peril (and there are many moments of peril), with plenty of smoooooth lounge-style synth work.

Events escalate badly for Dr. Shaefer. Against the wishes of the FBR chief (not at all to be confused with the FBI chief, particularly as this man’s organization is staffed entirely by somber men who stand below five-foot-tall), Shaefer has been groomed and selected to serve the president. This leads our hero to acquire too much knowledge, and hostile forces stack up quickly to either kill or kidnap him: the Russians (through the machinations of friendly super-spy Kropotkin, friend of Don Masters), the Chinese, the Libyans, the Cubans, the British—and even, we find, the Canadian Secret Service. The FBR (who, along with the CEA, were not consulted for this film) are after Shaefer as well, sending two of their top short men.

The second half of The President’s Analyst is “Spy v. Spy” writ large, but with character-building moments breaking into the many montages. The two FBR agents are distinct, established in a delightful little scene in a New Jersey suburb, one admonishing the boy of the house about racist language. Don’s and Kropotkin’s friendship is touching, as two long-career spies working from opposite sides of the Cold War divide. And James Coburn is a combination of James Bond and Dr. Hartley from the “Bob Newhart Show,” thinking on his feet (at one point he stumbles onto a tour bus and ends up dressed as a hippie-band gong maestro), both for survival and analysis.

Looming in the background is a most unlikely nemesis: bigger than any petty foreign agency, bigger than the KGB, bigger, even, it seems, than the US government. This reveal, with its concurrent implications of technological grandeur and the power to enslave humanity, forced my long dropped jaw to remain open until the finish.  Casino Royale, eat your heart out; “The Prisoner,” eat your heart out—The President’s Analyst is a prescient, madcap, disturbing, hilarious, thrilling adventure which fuses Cold War paranoia with ’60s-silly cinematic sensibilities.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a psychedelic mega-satire with sado-burlesque overtones… a full-scale, mind-bending comic nightmare.”–Giles M. Fowler, Kansas City Star (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Mel Arkey, who called it “an all time fave of mine and most definitively weird.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: MARKETA LAZAROVÁ (1967)

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DIRECTED BY: Frantisek Vlácil

FEATURING: Frantisek Velecký, Magda Vásáryová, Ivan Palúch, Josef Kemr, Michal Kozuch, Pavla Polaskova

PLOT: In the early Middle Ages, a pair of brothers rob a caravan under protection of the King, setting off a chain of events that eventually leads to the kidnapping of Marketa, a virgin pledged to the convent.

Still from Marketa Lazarova (1967)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Dreamy pagan sequences adorn a stylized and hallucinatory landscape in Vlácil’s stark medieval epic.

COMMENTS: Although Marketa Lazarová is almost universally praised, everyone remarks on its confusing narrative. The film, which begins with a highway robbery and kidnapping, starts off with a lack of context, and the remainder of the story is fragmented, peppered with abrupt changes of scene, and with dreams, visions, and flashbacks which are sometimes impressionistic, sometimes indistinguishable from reality. The plot elements are comprehensible—a petty noble goes too far and angers the king, a virtuous maiden is snatched from her home—-but the main problem is keeping track of who is who, and where their loyalties lie. If you are prepared for confusion, you can soldier through it and the parties should sort themselves out within an hour or so. But if you would like some guidance, I’ll start this review with a short overview of the major players to get you oriented.

Despite providing the film’s title, Marketa Lazarová herself is not a prominent character until the film’s second half. The story atually centers on her eventual abductor, Mikoláš, a lanky and handsome man in a tight beard. Mikoláš’ brother and partner in banditry, Adam, is easily identified because he has only one arm (although watch out for flashbacks where he has two). Although they behave like highwaymen, Mikoláš and Adam are pseudo-nobles, the sons of Kozlík, a bald and bearded feudal yeoman who rules the walled town of Roháček. Long-haired temptress Alexandra, a brunette contrast to Marketa’s blond innocence, is their sister. In the first chapter the brothers kidnap Kristián, a German youth of noble blood, intending to ransom him. Meanwhile, Lord Lazar rules Obořiště, Roháček’s rival village; he is Marketa’s doting father. Mikoláš spares Lazar after catching him scavenging the wreckage of the caravan the Kozlík clan intends to loot, but later regrets his mercy when Lazar refuses to provide assistance against the king. In revenge, Mikoláš kidnaps the virginal Marketa, whom the (relatively) pious Lazar has pledged to the nunnery. The relentless Captain “Beer,” the king’s military representative in the region, is easily distinguished by his bushy mustache. These are the major players; many minor characters enter and leave, but if you can keep these straight, you should be able to navigate the main thrust of the tale—though details are often elusive.

The narrative confusion matters less because the film is so beautiful. The black and white vistas show off the wintry Bohemian countryside, bare interiors where scar-faced men in furs and chainmail Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: MARKETA LAZAROVÁ (1967)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SOMETHING WEIRD (1967)

DIRECTED BY: Herschell Gordon Lewis

FEATURING: Tony McCabe, Elizabeth Lee, William Brooker, Mudite Arums

PLOT: Electrical worker Mitch is horribly disfigured in an accident, acquires psychic powers, and is blackmailed by a hideous hag who promises to restore his looks in exchange for becoming her lover.

Still from Something Weird (1967)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: It is honestly surprising that we haven’t yet found a way to include the Godfather of Gore among our honorees, although it would be amusing if the movie that did so failed to feature any of his trademark bloodshed or exposed skin. Still, it says a lot that the man responsible for such no-room-for-nuance titles as Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs chose to call this one Something Weird. The combination of ESP, LSD, and witchcraft ladled with heavy doses of terrible acting, barely decorated sets, and herky-jerky editing make Lewis’ titular assessment feel pretty spot-on.

COMMENTS: Before I’ve watched a frame, this movie has me at a disadvantage. Look at that title, practically daring me to leave it off our list. Think you can do my job for me, do you, movie? Well, I’ll be judging whether you’re truly something weird, thank you very much.

It does seem like they’re on to something, though. The first few minutes make a strong case for its peculiarity, with dramatic swings in tone and a schizophrenic mix of characters and locations. The opening credits share the screen with a murder-in-progress. (The interruptions are a mercy, as Lewis offers a credit to seemingly every actor in the film, and possibly a few that aren’t.) This is immediately followed by a karate demonstration in which one untalented black belt lectures another even-less-talented black belt. Their sparring gives way to a different kind of wrestling, in which a couple’s heavy petting leads to the woman’s to declare, “You’re electrifying!,” which gleefully segues into an actual electrocution. Even at this point, there’s room for a quick educational voiceover about the fascinating and totally real world of extrasensory perception before our story can truly begin. It’s a dizzying kickoff.

The actual tale threatens to be a major letdown, as our hero is the newly scarred, newly psychic Mitch (an insufferably smug McCabe). He’s immediately unlikeable, assaulting a nurse, bemoaning his fate, and barely concealing his contempt for the clients who visit his fortune-telling parlor. Fortunately, he meets his match in a hideous crone resembling a “Laugh-In” dancer whose makeup was done by a 5-year-old and whose laughter is so forced that it manages to go past sarcastic and come all the way back around to creepy. We don’t see it happen, but Mitch and his mysterious companion Ellen (the unnamed harridan now in disguise as a beautiful young woman who can’t act) quickly become the toast of the town with their incredible abilities.

Somehow, the story still hasn’t gotten started at this point, because Lewis seems unsure where the focus belongs. Is it Mitch trying to Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SOMETHING WEIRD (1967)

CAPSULE: THE RED AND THE WHITE (1967)

Csillagosok, Katonák

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DIRECTED BY: Miklós Jancsó

FEATURING: Krystyna Mikolajewska, József Madaras

PLOT: During the Russian Civil War (1918-1920), the Reds and the Whites battle over a monastery on the banks of the Volga that keeps switching hands.

Still from The Red and the White (1967)

COMMENTS: The Red and the White begins with a regiment of horsemen, sabres and rifles raised, charging in slow-motion directly at the camera as a martial trumpet fanfare plays. This stirring sight creates an expectation of an epic about proud Hungarian volunteers coming to the aid of their Soviet brothers against the meddling, foreign-sponsored counter-revolutionary Whites. And that was, indeed, the propagandistic picture producers envisioned for this Soviet-Hungarian co-production, commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution. But Miklós Jancsó instead delivered a virulent anti-war/anti-authority classic, with only the slightest ironic hints of patriotic sentiment. (Some accounts say the completed film was screened in Russia only in a severely edited form, while others report it was banned outright).

It’s hard to tell who is who in The Red and the White. The Whites’ officers have more elaborate uniforms festooned with medals and insignia, but that’s about it for distinguishing the two sides. Perhaps contemporary audiences were able to identify the rivals more easily, but there’s every reason to think that the lack of clarity is entirely intentional, and contemporary confusion only heightens the effect. The movie is told as a series of vignettes, which play out to an individual climax but then follow a new character into the next story (five years before The Phantom of Liberty). Sometimes, characters will return in later episodes, giving the movie a mild sense of narrative continuity, but the general effect is to immerse the viewer into the fog of war. Time often seems to expand within a single scene, and fortunes reverse in an instant: a Red officer goes to investigate why his sentry isn’t responding and is suddenly ambushed, and when the camera circles back the Whites now control the territory. The narrative style and lack of characterization is disorienting, but forces us to identify more with groups than individuals. Soldiers on both sides spend more time bullying civilians and prisoners of war than they do fighting each other. (At one point, POWs are set loose to play a round of “The Most Dangerous Game“). Jancsó particularly loves scenes where the ascendant side forces their captives to strip as a way of asserting dominance. (Although we see nothing, rape is suggested as an inevitable offscreen event.) Due to the lack of an identifiable protagonist, our sympathies are drawn to the innocent pawns in these power games as a group: local farmers, a band of nurses who tend the injured of either side, and the poor conscripts and Hungarian volunteers, who are constantly being captured and liberated in an endless reshuffling of pieces. The Reds play the same cards as the Whites, and Jancsó’s vision conveys an implicit message of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” that could not have been pleasing to Soviet authorities.

The scenarios are repetitive in their cruelty, but purposefully so.  Jancsó invests each anecdote with its own level of suspense (captives are arbitrarily toyed with and freed or toyed with and executed, so you can never be sure who will live and who will die). Occasionally the adventures travel into the absurd, as when one group of interrogees are led into a white birch forest to perform a waltz accompanied by a military band. The rest of the time, the audience enjoys the spectacular long tracking shots that brought Jancsó renown. The flowing camera reinforces the sense of constantly changing front lines on a battlefield where an individual soldier never knows what is happening meters away: one man is executed on the banks of the Volga, while we can see his comrade hiding nearby in the reeds. One battle sequence has the outnumbered Reds singing “The Internationale” before charging a superior White position, only to be mowed down. It’s a maneuver only slightly more effective than lining up against a wall to be shot, but it’s the type of scene that could be sold to the Soviet backers as a portrait of heroic sacrifice. In full context, however, it’s just another example of how the common man finds himself cast into a no-win situation in service to one camp or another of brutes more united by sadism than divided by ideology.

In 2022, Kino Classics re-released its Jancsó catalog on Blu-ray for the first time. The Miklós Jancsó Collection includes The Round-Up, The Red and the White, The Confrontation, Winter Wind, Red Psalm, and Electra My Love, along with a host of supplements and short films. About half of those had never been released on home video in North America, or were hard to find. If you just want the essential Jancsó, they released his two most popular films, The Round-Up and The Red and the White, in a separate 2-disc package, with the seven short films also included. Kino restored all six films in 4K for these releases.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

‘…both masterful and absurdist, using cutting-edge cinematic techniques to show the chaos and pointlessness of war.”–Christopher Lloyd, Film Yap (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: THE UNKNOWN MAN OF SHANDIGOR (1967)

L’inconnu de Shandigor

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DIRECTED BY: Jean-Louis Roy

FEATURING: Daniel Emilfork, Marie-France Boyer, Marcel Imhoff,

PLOT: After Swiss scientist Herbert Von Krantz develops a method for nullifying nuclear explosions, various world powers plot to steal his secret.

Still from The Unknown Man of Shandigor (1967)

COMMENTS: I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that this film is quite an oddity. It features Daniel Emilfork, the eccentric performer who portrayed the memorable villain Krank in The City of Lost Children, and perhaps the strangest character actor to come from France. The film looks like Godard‘s take on film noir channeled through a smirking Cold War nihilism. There’s death by “carbonic foam from Siberia”, which unfolds in a boogie-woogie-blasted rave-cave. Russian and American agents feud in the natural history section of a grand museum replete with stone busts and huge prehistoric skeletons. And the movie features one of the oddest ’60s set-pieces I’ve ever seen: a gang of shorn-headed goons prepare the corpse of their chief spy while their boss croons “Bye-bye, Mr. Spy” over a cabaret-ragtime tune he plays on a pipe organ in the embalming room.

The bad news is the narrative is ill-executed, making The Unknown Man of Shandigor a heaving stew of intermingling lumps that, on inspection, feels empty. Herbert von Krantz (the unceasingly overblown Daniel Emilfork) has invented a method of negating the effects of nuclear explosions, haughtily declaring that future wars will now unfold “however I want them to.” As so often occurs when a genius tilts the balance of power, greater forces come out of the woodwork to “rectify” things. Enter four different spy troupes, each introduced by an incongruous subtitle. The Russians want professor von Krantz’s “Canceler” device as a gift for the proletariat: what better way to reward the working masses than with the gift of military dominance? They have set up shop in a chateau teaming with gilt and mirrors, and focus their efforts on abducting the professor’s albino assistant. The Americans, led by ex-Wehrmacht scientist “Bobby Gun”, hang out in a nearby bowling alley while they undertake a similar plot to steal the formula.

The other two agencies are beefier in their weirdness: a shadowy outfit of bald-headed, spectacle-wearing operatives led by the aforementioned organist; and coming out of left field (or, more precisely, East Asian field) in the final act, the “Black Sun Orient,” who seem to be commanded by some manner of artificial intelligence. This all sounds very exciting on paper, and while the strangeness is served up by ladleful, the effect somehow is no more than occasional wide-eyed smiling to interrupt a coursing streak of tedium. I should not have felt bored much of the time, but this film felt half again as long as it actually was. The inconsistency of tone—messianically grand at times, slinking at others; unnervingly bizarre for stretches, ho-hum-drum elsewise—prevents this from attaining either standard greatness or so-bad-it’s-greatness. Though The Unknown Man of Shandigor largely fails as a movie, it is still worth a look for its succulent morsels of peculiarity. Just bear in mind there’s a lot of bitter broth in the bowl.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

A wild mix of Euro-spy trappings, French New Wave-styled visual flourishes and quirky, black comedy… The Unknown Man Of Shandigor is really a bit of a pop art masterpiece.” -Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop!