Tag Archives: 1976

CAPSULE: FELLINI’S CASANOVA (1976)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:

PLOT: The dashing Venetian nobleman Casanova wanders around 18th century Europe seducing every woman who catches his eye.

Still from Fellini's Casanova (1976)

COMMENTS: Federico Fellini agreed to direct Casanova before he had read the Venetian libertine’s memoirs, which had only been published in 1960 in their complete uncensored form. After he did, he discovered that he hated the protagonist.

Perhaps that distaste partially explain why Donald Sutherland seems so wrong for the role of the notorious Lothario. The film’s Hollywood backers initially wanted Robert Redford for the part; Fellini vetoed them. Fellini wanted ; the suits vetoed him. Sutherland was a compromise. But, in keeping with his loathing of the character, Fellini chose to outfit Sutherland with a grotesque fake chin and nose, powder his face, and shave his head and eyebrows and replace them with a ridiculously coiffed wig and stenciled brows so that he looked like a rejected contestant from Ru Paul’s 18th Century Dandy Drag Race. It’s hard to imagine even the most desperate Renaissance floozy being hard up enough to willingly lift her petticoats for this Casanova. Perhaps that’s why, in an odd decision that bothers me more than it probably should, everyone in the movie keeps their frilly long underwear on during the manic but completely unerotic sex scenes. Casanova also has a golden wind-up mechanical owl, who pistons up and down and accompanies his assignations with a series of blips and bloops scored by Nino Rota. The lovemaking scenes are supposed to be comic—I think—but they comes across as slightly creepy, like sex scenes choreographed by an alien who’d fast-forwarded through a couple of Eurotrash sex films the night before, but didn’t have human sexual mechanics completely down.

To be fair, Sutherland does look the part of the spent, past-his-prime Casanova eeking out a humiliating living as a librarian for Count Waldstein; and the end of the film is where Fellini, too, finally shows some compassion for the drained rake. But overall, Casanova is overlong, unsympathetic, miscast, and a failure of tone. That’s not to say it’s entirely without interest, however; this is Fellini, so there’s always the possibility that some carnival with a 7-foot woman attended by two dwarfs in powdered wigs is waiting around the next bend. The costuming and set design are superlative. Fellini recreates the capitals and castles of old Europe on Cinecittà‘s indoor sets, including the impressive opener in Venice, where a giant bust of Venus rises from a canal during Carnevale as fireworks splatter the sky. Even the stormy Adriatic Sea is recreated as a sea of rustling black plastic tarps. And you can look forward to such oddities as a dinner party of necromancers, and Casanova finally discovering the great love of his life: a lifelike automaton complete with realistic artificial genitalia.

Although there’s a reason Casanova has been neglected all these years (Fellini once called it his worst movie), it easily merits a guilty peek for curiosity-seekers. In some ways, the scarcely-controlled extravagance and emphasis on mise-en-scène above all else reminds me more of early than it does late Fellini.

Fellini filmed an episode with that was cut from the final edit of the film. (Her name still appears prominently in the credits, and I kept waiting for her to show up to see what Fellini was going to do with her, er, talents).

Despite winning an Oscar (for costuming), Fellini’s Casanova was always a neglected entry in the Maestro’s canon. It didn’t even earn a DVD release in the US. In 2019, Cinecittà restored Casanova in the course of their massive remastering of Fellini’s catalog. Criterion apparently passed on it for their Fellini box set, but in December 2020, Kino rescued the film from home video limbo, sending it straight to Blu-ray.  A thoroughly-researched audio commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton is the only special feature of this edition.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…much less about the self-proclaimed 18th-century philanderer, his life and his times, than it is the surreal, guilt-ridden confessions of a nice, middle-class Italian husband of the 20th century… I don’t know how else to interpret this strange, cold, obsessed film, which I find fascinating, because I find the man who made it fascinating, a talented mixture of contradictory impulses, and as depressing as an eternal hangover.”–Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Caleb Moss, who argues “Any question of this film’s weirdness can be directed to the scene where Sutherland performs a bizarre sex-change ritual with two women that involves a candlewax head dress…” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: SEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN (1976)

DIRECTED BY: Michel Lemoine

FEATURING: Michel Lemoine, Joëlle Coeur,

PLOT: French aristocrat Count Boris Zaroff is haunted by his decadent ancestors and resorts to murdering stray women for kicks.

Still from Seven Women for Satan (1976)

COMMENTS: Normally I jump on any Eurosleaze movie with “Satan” in the title, reasoning that if it has tits and horns, I’m bound to like it. Sadly, Seven Women for Satan is yet one more occasion where the infernal moniker is merely applied metaphorically. The French title of this movie is Les week-ends maléfiques du Comte Zaroff (The Evil Weekends of Count Zaroff), and, where English Wikipedia let me down, French Wikipedia translated to English tells me that another alternate title is Seven Women for a Sadist. Since IMDB is mum on the reason that this movie was banned in France, this same resource also explains the censors’ motives: “This film presents, under cover of an appeal to the strange and the surreal, a complete panoply of moments of sadism, cruelty, eroticism and even necrophilia which are not tempered neither by the least poetry, nor by humor. It can only be seen by adults.” There’s your review, ladies and gentlemen, goodnight!

In fact, I was counting, and it was not exactly seven women. Really, this movie is just a very loose translation of “The Most Dangerous Game,” except you replace the prey with naked women who aren’t given a remotely sporting chance. Count Boris Zaroff (Lemoine) lives an aristocratic life with his castle, cottage, butler, a handsome Great Dane, and his 1964 Peugeot 404 Coupé which handles off-road scenes most admirably. Zaroff is helplessly torn between his loneliness and homicidal urges that kick in about five seconds after he’s aroused by any female. His ancestor was actually the one hunting people for sport; our Zaroff tries to shake off that urge to randomly murder but, you know, “destiny” dude! That destiny is fortified by his manservant Karl (Howard Vernon), serving as the Svengali/Rasputin influence on poor ol’ Zaroff, who doesn’t want to date-rape hitchhikers and run them over; but he just can’t help himself, doggone it. Karl acts as the enabler for Zaroff’s habits, serving him women like dessert with the enticing line: “she is willing to submit to all that you might desire.” Zaroff, burping from the evening’s dinner, half-heartedly gropes a breast but laments that he just can’t do it tonight. He already hid one body today and he’s dog-tired, so Karl will save her for morning. It’s good to be the count!

Karl isn’t even the only negative vibe in Zaroff’s life. There’s also Anne (Joëlle Coeur), the ghost of his father’s mistress. She died under sketchy circumstances but still shows up for the occasional thunderstorm-lit ballroom dance with Zaroff. Then it turns out that the castle is still outfitted with a torture chamber, ready-made to fascinate guests who can’t resist playing with the deathtraps. In between all this, a march of fresh victims fall into Zaroff’s hands through sheer luck, and the movie dissolves into a hodge-podge of random erotic scenes, random death scenes, and random filler in between. It’s a pointless slog that somehow manages a dragging pace despite shifting gears every five minutes.

Reviewers invariably bring up Jess Franco, and well they should, because you will swear that surgeons sneaked into Franco’s bedroom and stole this whole thing from his brain while he slept. Unfortunately, with the disjointed pacing and characters who lack the survival instincts and common sense that God gave an alert stalk of celery, it will also remind you of Jerry Warren.

Since Seven Women for Satan is empty of substance, it’s a good thing that it’s so pretty to look at. If you enjoy watching the idyllic French countryside in all its spring glory, with crumbling medieval architecture and an occasional panicked woman running through it, then it’s a pleasant enough diversion. Every small lake has a convenient canoe tied to the shore in case a body needs emergency disposal. The dog, happily chomping leftovers from the dinner table or eagerly hunting down human prey, steals every scene he’s in. The soundtrack is relentless, so it’s a good thing that composer Guy Bonnet does his Euro-trashy best on squawking synthesizers and jazzy pianos. Hang in there and you’ll be rewarded with plenty of sexy eye-candy, such as a nymph contorting on a bed with a blue feather boa, which is apparently the best lover she’s ever had.

Final score: middle-of-the-road sleaze/horror which ranks as “interesting” at best, but not at all weird except for the stumbling, drunken pace. Seven Women for Satan is a movie with no reason to exist except as the cinematic equivalent of Grey Poupon flavor chewing gum. Check it off your Eurotrash bucket list and move along.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Lemoine conjures up and effectively exploits a weird, dream-like ambience right from the start of the film and manages to keep that vibe going up until it’s over. While we’re not treading and real new ground in this movie in terms of the story, there are plenty of quirky, interesting and exploitative elements and a thick atmosphere of weirdness that make it a pretty entertaining romp.”–Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop! (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: LET MY PUPPETS COME (1976)

DIRECTED BY: Gerard Damiano

FEATURING:  Al Goldstein, , Viju Krem, Gerard Damiano

PLOT: A board room full of executives get into deep debt to a mobster named “Mr. Big,” so they decide to create a porno to earn the dough.

Still from Let My Puppets Come (1976)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: After the shock of “puppet porn,” this movie runs out of steam really, really fast. It leaps off the platform of its premise and tumbles down the pit of mediocrity before it ever reaches for the trapeze swing to True Weirdness.

COMMENTS: A puppet porno, all mine to review? I cackled and sharpened my barbs. I prepared all my smart-ass observations: “When a puppet gets pregnant, why doesn’t the fetus fall out?” and “Technically, doesn’t all puppet sex count as a hand job?” and “How do you stay lubricated when you’re covered in felt?” Then I never got to use them, because this movie was just tragically unlucky. I don’t want to mock it, I want to treat it to an ice cream cone and pat it on the head and tell it “There there, it just wasn’t your time.” I rank “Making Puppets Edgy” right up there with “Perpetual Motion” and “Squaring The Circle” in the category of “Things That Never Work But People Never Stop Trying.” Between Meet the Feebles and The Happytime Murders, the puppetry tag on this site alone goes on for three pages, which is two and a half pages longer than anybody needed. So of course you expect Let My Puppets Come to be a Feebles rip-off, until you find out that Puppets was, hot damn, the very first adult puppet movie! No really, wiki and weep. It even predated The Muppet Show, which debuted in September of that year. When you consider all this and view the movie in the context of 1976—Patty Hearst was on trial, Apple Computer was just founded, was still alive—Let My Puppets Come gets 100x bigger balls. Neutered ones, sadly.

The plot is a loose framework wherein three (puppet) business executives doing business things receive a telegram delivering bad business news: they owe a half million bucks to a mobster, “Mr. Big,” with no way to scare up the funds. The telegram delivery boy has a swell idea: make a groovy porn flick! The group speculates on what kinds of stories they want to do, with swirly transitions to fantasies. That’s the first thing to know about this movie: it’s a loosely connected series of sketches, even down to parodies of popular TV commercials of the time (a bit like Kentucky Fried Movie, released the very next year). The structure makes it sleepy, despite the very first sex scene being between a puppet woman and her puppet dog, who seals the deal by reassuring her “I have all my shots.” (Hey, you bought a ticket to a puppet porn, it’s a little late to pretend you have standards now.) We swim along through more sketches, like a massage parlor and the canonical nurse-on-patient fantasy, all the porn standards. The gents frolic off to make their movie, recruiting from an adult toy shop clerk just so we can gawk at all the kinky novelties. There’s a Diana Ross stand-in, a Pinocchio stand-in, and a rip-off of the puppet character Madame.

All these scenes amount to exactly one lame joke each. A couple of them are funny, more of them are a groan, and the rest just die before they hit the floor. There’s random songs tossed in and multiple parodies of contemporary pop culture. The puppet sex is mostly puppet blowjobs, which take the form of clumsy duels between inflexible clam-shell lips and wobbly foam willies. I lost count after the third time the “William Tell Overture” was played over a sex scene to make it “funny.” There’s also original songs, all pleasant enough, but none of them show-stoppers. You get so used to looking at foam actors that when a real live go-go stripper shimmies onto the screen, it takes you a while to work out what’s wrong with her before it dawns on you that she’s made out of meat. In making a movie about characters making a porn movie, director Gerard Damiano gets in some good therapeutic role-playing to recover from the scandals around his infamous Deep Throat (1972). This extends right to the puppet directors being thrown into puppet jail for obscenity charges.  Damiano tastefully cuts his pillow-sobbing short to allow the movie an ending, which brings out Luis de Jesus as “Mr. Big,” and then wastes him.

Let My Puppets Come is not without its tacky, corny charm, but it’s a shaggy dog story that goes on too long. I am a proud supporter of pansexual freedom, and a dirty old pervert too, so I wanted to like this movie more. The puppetry is on-point, at least. Good puppetry takes time to film, which makes it all the sadder to see it go to waste. This movie is left without an audience. It’s too silly for Vanillas to consider sexy, and doesn’t get nearly freaky enough to arouse the kinky, despite the puppet-on-human spanking scene. It isn’t funny enough to work as a comedy, doesn’t have enough songs to qualify as a musical, and isn’t even campy enough to get a cult following when the opportunity is practically handed to it. The poor thing is so ambitious that it sabotages its own mission. Had Let My Puppets Come just relaxed and been happy with what it is, it could have been a cult classic.

For the record: There’s various cuts of the film with time-spans ranging from 40-75 minutes. The full, uncut version is now available on a Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray, which means you’ll no longer have to resort to the low-res pirated version on PornHub (which is how I originally saw it). I love my career.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There’s nothing that can prepare you for [Damiano’s] 1976 feature film Let My Puppets Come, an XXX film where the main characters are puppets…. truly one of XXX cinema’s most unique films.”–Cliff Wood, 10K Bullets (Blu-ray)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: 9 LIVES OF A WET PUSSY (1976)

Nothing Sacred

DIRECTED BY: Abel Ferrara (as “Jimmy Boy L”)

FEATURING: Dominique Santos, Pauline LaMonde, Joy Silver,  Abel Ferrara (as Jimmy Laine)

PLOT: Gypsy reminisces about her relationship with Pauline while working out how to keep her wild lover faithful to her alone.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: 9 Lives is a porno, but Abel Ferrara’s artistic direction coupled with the epistolary and dreamy nature of the narrative make this an odd porno.

COMMENTS: A piece of trivia: the review for Blue Movie has gotten about fifteen hits a day since it was first posted. That’s not because it’s particularly insightful,1 but because 366 gets a bit of overseas traffic for “blue movies“—and few I’ve seen come “bluer” than Abel Ferrara’s 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy. Any systematic discussion of movies (weird or otherwise) would be remiss not to include cinema’s less respected peer, pornography. Since mankind could sculpt, then paint, then photograph, there has been a healthy inclusion of carnality in art. Film is no exception, and so it was without trepidation that I dove headfirst into 9 Lives.

The tone is set immediately, with the opening credits intercut with a graphic scene that flirts with abstraction via novel camera focus and expressionistic lighting. The story proper begins with a narration playing over a steamy encounter with “the French stable boy”, which we quickly learn is being read from a letter to Gypsy (Dominique Santos) from her on-again, off-again lover, Pauline (Pauline LaMonde, Ferrara’s girlfriend at the time). Through Gypsy’s emotional lens, we witness Pauline’s insatiable sexual appetite, her transcendent approach to pleasure, and her unbridled freedom. Various segments illustrate Pauline’s character: an encounter with a gas station attendant while her husband waits in the car; her upbringing—and its Lot-ian results—under a strict, Catholic father; and a long-term affair with her Nigerian lover, Nacala (Joy Silver). All the while, we return to Gypsy talking directly to us as she maneuvers to retrieve Pauline and keep her to herself.

What could have been a mindless framework for an anthology of loosely related set-pieces becomes something considerably more under Abel Ferrara’s oversight. Gypsy’s mysticism appears throughout; her name indicates her archetype. Ferrara himself plays another archetype—the religious, domineering father—in one of the episodes, breaking the incest taboo in his very first film. 9 Lives‘ rape scene, however, suggests Ferrara’s future. Ms. 45, Bad Lieutenant, and even New Rose Hotel all explore sexual violence and guilt. We expect that from gritty dramas; much less-so from dirty movies. The movie climaxes with a nebulous scene that underlines the film’s contrast between dreaminess and physicality while mirroring the opening: Pauline with Nacala, together, intercut with shots of Gypsy wandering with aimless purpose through a forest.

It works well enough as a story (I was interested in the development of Gypsy’s and Pauline’s relationship), and Abel Ferrara gets the job done, as it were, as a straight-up pornographer. However, I highly recommend watching the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray with Samm Deighan’s commentary. She provides the film’s context and a thorough sketch of the director as a young man (he was 25 at the time). Beginning as he did in hardcore film, I’m not surprised that Ferrara remained on cinema’s fringes throughout his career; the passion that robbed him of mainstream success, however, is the key to his oeuvre’s staying power.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an opium-stoned hostess introduces several sexual vignettes, and though slightly classier than the usual cum pageants, it’s impossible to achieve a Lady Chatterley-like decadence when you’re saddled with an Al Adamson-like cast… a must-see embarrassment!” –Steven Puchalski, Shock Cinema

CAPSULE: LOOK WHAT’S HAPPENED TO ROSEMARY’S BABY (1976)

DIRECTED BY: Sam O’Steen

FEATURING: Stephen McHattie, , , Patty Duke, Broderick Crawford

PLOT: Picking up where the slightly more famous original left off, we join young Adrian/Andrew as his mother takes him from his Devil-cult overseers across the country; reaching manhood, the hour of reckoning approaches when the world may see the rebirth of Satan.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTLook What’s Happened… is utterly ridiculous, to be sure, but with nothing more than the inherent camp to be found in a ’70s made-for-TV movie (and one that’s a sequel to an established classic, at that), it is “merely” an amusing, benign curio for those lucky enough to find it.

COMMENTS: In case you were wondering, that pantomime fellow behind the hippie chicks in the still is the young man conceived and born in Roman Polanski‘s more famous Rosemary’s Baby. The actor on the stage strutting his stuff is none other than this Fantasia’s special guest, Stephen McHattie, in one of his earliest onscreen appearances. McHattie introduced the movie—still mostly unseen and unknown after all these years—at the 2019 special screening at the Fantasia Film Festival. Let me tell you the story.

Roman and Minnie Castevet make for somewhat inept guardians, as they allow Rosemary to escape with young Andrew (born Adrian, and now age eight) into the world. A violent storm picks up when they leave the Satanic cultist’s lair, and they take refuge in a small storefront used as a synagogue. Rosemary feels that the boy is being sought out, and demands that the assembled Jewish men “Pray! Pray! Pray!” in an attempt to block the probing psychic eye of Minnie Castevet (whose parallels with a stereotypical Jewish grandmother border on the “uncanny”). Rosemary gets dumped somewhere in Nevada after her boy nearly kills some kids for teasing him, and is shuffled off onto a bus… with no driver(!!!). Andrew/Adrian is raised by a hooker in a a gimmicky “Castle Casino.” And… my goodness, I’m feeling like an idiot relaying this plot. Some later highlights: a self-driving car, a big black cake with a pentagram of birthday candles, a hospital for the criminally insane, and much, much more.

The screening was made even more special by the inclusion of mid-’70s advertisements spliced into the feature (including one for the bitchin’ roadster that Adrian drives around pointlessly). It was also preceded by McHattie’s film debut, “Star Spangled Banner”, an antiwar short that won a prize at Cannes back in 1970 (?). It impressed me greatly—I appreciated the irony of a young Canadian actor standing in for a doomed US soldier. With the titular song played in the background (as covered by The Grass Roots, a late 1960s folk-rock band), a young GI runs from enemy fire while quick clips of home, youth, love, and innocence are interspliced with his panic. Hokey-sounding, to be sure, but strangely moving to watch. I just wish I could find it again.

But it was not a night for politics: it was a night for the audience, along with one of Canada’s veteran character actors, to see an impressively awful movie together for the first time. McHattie quipped afterwards, “That looks like it was two-hundred years old.” For all its crumminess, there was an earnestness to Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby, and at the very least, McHattie’s career survived the hit. He’s been in more than 200 roles since.

WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:

“Connoisseurs of bad movies will likely find this misconceived project a worthwhile hunt, especially given its strange period details (imagining Adrien as a ‘60s hippie rocker despite the ‘70s setting) and the manner in which the story pushes a plot along through sequences that can generously be called anti-horror. “–Nick Allen, RogerEbert.com

Q & A AUDIO

CAPSULE: KEOMA (1976)

AKA Django’s Great Return; The Violent Breed

DIRECTED BY: Enzo G. Castellari

FEATURING: , Donald O’Brien, William Berger, Olga Karlatos

PLOT: A half-breed gunslinger returns to his home town after serving in the Civil War to find it overrun by an outlaw gang.

Still from Keoma (1976)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: If you remove the infamous soundtrack, this movie is a candidate for a standard, artful, but pretty ordinary spaghetti Western. Grim as Hades’ gruel and dark as midnight, yes, but not weird. The soundtrack, moreover, qualifies less as weird and more as a hate crime against eardrums.

COMMENTS: What chance does a Western have on this site? In the category of weird Westerns, there is El Topo, and the buck pretty much stops there. Nobody else need bother applying. It scored #10 on March Movie Madness out of the whole 366 List. Sure there’s a few more weird Westerns on the List, but by and large, Westerns are the most conservative, vanilla genre out there. I know some fans will be ready to thrash me for saying so, but I hate this genre. It’s BORING! The same horses, the same guns, the same hats, the same saloon fight. Show me an establishing shot of an old ghost town with a tumbleweed blowing by and I’m yawning already. El Topo is my favorite Western, Blazing Saddles my second-favorite, and every other one is tied for last place, spaghetti Westerns included. Yes, I will grant, there are many well-done Westerns—don’t think I don’t appreciate them—but I can only stare at the same paint on the same wall for so long, even if Picasso painted it. Even worse is another Django (1966) knock-off (albeit starring the original Django). During the copycat Western period, all cowboys were Django, the way all Mexican Luchador wrestlers are Santo.

So, in the boring, boring west, Keoma (Franco Nero) comes home from the Civil War to find his home town overrun by outlaws. Team Bad Guy–cackling evildoers of the Snidely Whiplash variety—is led by Caldwell (Donald O’Brien), who doesn’t tie screaming damsels to train tracks but might as well, since he solves a plague epidemic by hunting the victims down like dogs. Worse yet, Keoma’s half-brothers despise him because he’s a half-breed Indian and have thrown in their lot with Caldwell. Keoma’s only allies are his father and a few town stragglers, so together Team Good Guy is going to solve this with lots of fighting, featuring saloon punch-outs and gunfighter duels at the O.K. Corral. Notice how this plot flies right through your brain without hanging onto any details? Horses are ridden, oats are eaten, honky tonk pianos are played, poker cards are dealt. The most original element is an old crone who observes Keoma’s progress and advises him from time to time.

Let’s talk about the dead, stinking elephant in the room: The Worst Soundtrack EVER! Keoma has the bad luck to be famous mainly for its cursed music. It’s as bad as every review says it is, and worse. The female vocals sound like Tiny Tim doing a falsetto after inhaling helium, and then the male accompaniment comes in sounding like what everybody swears to God is Arnold Schwarzenegger with a head cold. But wait, there’s more! The music sings the entire narration, an invisible Greek chorus punctuating every major scene in operatic detail. And not only that, the music is not at all Western, but sounds more like an amateur Renaissance Fair ballad. This takes what should have been the grand finale of the spaghetti Western genre and turns it into excruciating torture to sit through. Nails on a chalkboard, a cat-fight on acid, your ears will throw up. You want so badly to appreciate the dramatic moments but the manic chipmunk with croaking frog accompaniment just WILL NOT SHUT UP.

Notwithstanding this one crippling handicap, Keoma is hailed by many as a spaghetti Western classic. Even the most rabid genre fans will admit it’s derivative, but this came out in the twilight years of Prego horse operas, so it’s unavoidable. Director Castellari at least keeps the camerawork interesting, peeking at the action through barrel knotholes and from between the spokes of wagon wheels. Reportedly, the script was written on the fly while filming, which is impressive because lines of dialogue hint at spirituality and a Zen view of the world, and snippets have Shakespearian aspirations. But sadly, Westerns have been so spammed in cinema that even the Taoist ones are a dime a dozen.

The defining feature of Keoma, music aside, is grimness. This film takes place in a world that’s just a big sack of crap for everybody, where they’re all damned souls struggling to kill each other in the most sadistic ways possible on the shores of Hell. Which, even if you love Westerns, makes it hard to give a damn about anybody here. The only thing you care about after it’s over is sticking your head in the microwave on high to see if that purges the soundtrack from your memory.

Arrow Video released a deluxe special edition Blu-ray in 2019, newly restored and with a host of special features.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Aside from the peculiar mismatching of Nero and his role, the movie’s almost random collection of elements gives it an appealing recklessness and energy that sells it. The main drawback is the music…”–Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA (1976)

DIRECTED BY: Lewis John Carlino

FEATURING: Jonathan Kahn, Sarah Miles, , Earl Rhodes

PLOT: A young boy growing up in a seaside English town with his widowed mother is involved in a cultlike group of juvenile delinquents, but idolizes a passing sailor who woos his mom… for a while.

Still from The Sailor Who Eell from Grace with the Sea (1976)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is one of the all-time great titles, but definitely not one of the all-time weirdest movies. What little weirdness it has is more of a function of its unfashionable (some might say “clumsy”) use of symbolic narrative than anything else.

COMMENTS: Lewis John Carlino (screenwriter of Seconds) adapted The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea from a novel by oddball nationalist Japanese writer . Some critics argue that, in changing the location from Japan to Wales, the movie fails to achieve greatness because it can’t translate Mishima’s specifically Japanese cultural concerns to screen.

I disagree. I think The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea fails to achieve greatness on its own merits. Specifically, the movie is poorly paced, losing rather than gaining steam as it goes on, and the acting is flat and uninspired. Sarah Miles does best as the young widow hiding her simmering sexuality under the cover of prim country Victorianism (although her mournful masturbation scene in front of her dead husband’s portrait is risible). Kris Kristofferson is mainly there as a manly prop for the sex scenes, a duty he performs well enough. The main acting issue is one that brings down many coming-of-age films: the reliance on young, untrained actors in crucial roles. Star Jonathan Kahn, whose only other credits were literary parts in BBC juvenile television adaptations, is just serviceable: he has the look of a conflicted adolescent, but he can’t channel the surging hormonal rage needed here. Earl Rhodes, as “Chief,” is more of an obstacle to success. He gives theatrical speeches that sound like a schoolboy’s self-serving impressions of Nietzsche (“morality is nothing more than a set of rules adults have invented to protect themselves.”) He always sounds like he’s reading from a script and never develops the sinister charisma necessary for us to buy him as a mini-Manson; and if we can’t believe he seduces his schoolboy chums into bizarre acts of anti-adult rebellion (like a ritual involving a poor kitty), the delicate credibility of the plot falls apart.

Hints of perversity and sex can’t overcome the movie’s over-solemnity (the tone they were going for was “haunting,” but it’s a near miss). Sailor‘s lack of spark is a shame, because the film raises a multitude of interesting topics: youthful rebellion, missing father figures, Oedipal desire, the foundations of morality, the lure of romanticism, the tension between pure ideology and real life. While there is a certain fateful irony in the conclusion (optimistically promoted as “startling” in the tagline), it’s deliberately telegraphed so that there is no suspense. A few indicia of derangement–dissonant baroque music played on prepared piano during the boy’s memory of seeing his nude mother, a stuttering montage as the boys prepare their final act–give the movie the slightest touch of formal strangeness.

There is one major support for the interpretation that the film is a failure of translation. Mishima likely intended the novel as an allegory for Japan’s postwar situation, and viewed the boys as the upcoming generation of heroes and patriots who would overthrow Western domination of “pure” Japanese culture. In Carlino’s hands, these brats are misguided monsters, Lords of the Flies refugees, who make the parents into tragic victims of their misguided fanaticism. Obviously, that’s a seismic thematic shift—but again, I don’t think that’s the reason the movie fails to hit its mark. With more vital direction, they could have pulled the reversal off.

At the moment The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is free to watch on Tubi.tv (no way to know if that will still be true by the time you read this, naturally).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…has an intriguing effect by virtue of its very strangeness, with its uneasy combination of a sex-starved widow and twisted kids making for, at the very least, a memorable experience, if not entirely for the right reasons.”–Graem Clark, The Spinning Image

(This movie was nominated for review by “Mina.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)