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ROOTS (Guguli Mgeladze, 1987) **1/2
Although I was an admirer of the works of Hollywood legends Rouben Mamoulian and Akim Tamiroff (whom I had mistaken for being Georgian), a Georgian friend just told me they are actually of Armenian descent...as is, after all now that I've checked, the controversial film-maker Sergei Paradjanov - although a street in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi has recently been named after him! In any case, upon alerting me that she was about to watch "a very old, patriotic Georgian movie from 1987", I made sure I made it the very first proper Georgian movie that I watch.

To get the negative aspects off my chest first, the copy I found on "You Tube" was so battered that the film seemed (at least) 20 years older than it actually was; to make matters worse, the English subtitles accompanying it were of the "auto-translate" variety which entails an almost constantly ungrammatical English translation with the odd Italian word thrown in for good measure. Fortunately, this wasn't my first attempt at watching a "broken English" version of a film made in a language foreign to me so the experience wasn't overly annoying and, in any case, the film itself was brief enough at just 83 minutes in length. The one thing about it I did find distracting was that the significant amount of French dialogue (which is a language I am familiar with) in it was all overdubbed in Georgian!

The storyline is very simple: a Georgian young man - named Giorgi, of course to emphasise the patriotic element - leaves his home country and travels throughout Europe in search of better prospects until he finally settles to a life as a cab driver in the French port city of Marseilles. One of his cab fares is a young French girl whom he marries faster than you can say "Miq'varkhar" (Georgian for "I love you") and they raise a family but, before long, the young man's heart is aching for his Georgian roots. Even so, he spends 60 years away from his home country and eventually dies without ever realizing his dream of going back.

To counter this plain narrative, we follow a complex structure of present-day sequences - showing Giorgi's grandson travelling from Marseilles to Georgia by train carrying an urn containing his grandfather's ashes - intertwined with flashback sequences depicting the child Giorgi with his relatives on the family farm, the young sailor Giorgi befriending his entrepreneurial lifelong friend Henri, Giorgi's cab-driving phase which takes him through WWII and beyond and, finally, the older Giorgi's melancholic twilight years (where he bemoans his apparent forgetfulness of his mother tongue) and his interactions with his grandson as boy and young man himself.

While the film-making style on display is not particularly notable (apart from the aforementioned cross-cutting structure), I found the following 5 sequences to be particularly outstanding: the delightful segment where Henri stumbles upon the idea of selling Matsoni (a Georgian type of yogurt) on the side and employs his stevedore friends to boost their sales and impress a potential backer; the "meeting cute" sequence between Giorgi and his future wife on a rainy night; the impromptu execution (and its aftermath) by Giorgi of a Gestapo officer during the performance of his day-job; another delightful sequence where the old Giorgi takes his grandson on a cab ride and they burst into a Georgian folk song; the powerful ending where the arrival of Giorgi's grandson at the train station is met by literally hundreds of people as if Giorgi's entire village came out to greet him. Although I'm far from being a patriot myself and local immigration issues are as topical as ever, I have to admit that this coda resonates universally and brought a lump to my throat.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (Dave Filoni, 2008) **1/2
After a lengthy hiatus from movies reviewing - broken in July 2015 by my still ongoing marathon tribute to Christopher Lee - I return intermittently to both with this, ironically my first ever STAR WARS-related write-up. Obviously, I came to this in the wake of the latest entry in the saga; I must admit that, while I enjoyed the initial movies in my childhood days, they had lost much of their charm growing up - and the notorious tweaking done to them by George Lucas did not help, either.

The second trilogy to be filmed (which actually comes first in the chronology of the saga - you know the drill, by now!) was justly lambasted by critics as a massive come-down from the originals (save for the third, which possessed some undeniable gravitas amid the gadget-laden action). Incidentally, the movie under review could well have been titled "Episode 2.5" - which rather begs the question as to why return to a goodly Anakin Skywalker at all, having witnessed his definite crossover to The Dark Side 3 years previously; with this in mind, I sure hope we do not get to see Kylo Ren's own 'transformation' - from EPISODE VII - somewhere down the line, which would simply amount to a mercenary act in order to pump some more money into the already over-burdened franchise! Another link between THE CLONE WARS and EPISODE VII is the fact that we have a female heroine - here an aspiring Jedi taken (initially reluctantly) under his wing by Anakin Skywalker.

The hardly-exciting plot involves the kidnapping of the slimy Jabba The Hut's infant son (unamusingly dubbed "Stinky" throughout) by Count Dooku, who then conspires to frame Skywalker for the deed - so that Jabba's loyalty within the intergalactic arena lies with the Separatists rather than with the Resistance. While the animation is certainly no great shakes, the film is not unwatchable for what it is - though I can see how a fanatic of the series, who even likes the middle (i.e. 1999-2005) trilogy, would be disappointed by the inherent dullness and utter lack of purpose of this particular venture! For the record, only 3 actors from the series accepted to also lend their vocal talents to this, namely Anthony Daniels as the ubiquitous C3PO, Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu and Lee as Count Dooku; the latter is typically authoritative but, apart from one lightsaber duel with Skywalker, he does little more than connive or otherwise coach and chide his would-be deadly underling. On a final confusing note for the uninitiated, there were similarly-titled TV series in 2003 and - immediately following this - in 2008.

The Golden Compass

THE GOLDEN COMPASS (Chris Weitz, 2007) **1/2
While I am usually a sucker for fantasy adventure movies, we the audiences have been so flooded with them ever since the "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy emerged at the start of the century that one tends to greet a new one with a gasp rather than a cheer! With the film under review, it was similarly planned as a three-part saga but which got stalled after merely the first entry in the wake of its disappointing reception.

Having watched it for myself, I can say that I was not particularly engaged by the unfolding narrative - which was, at once, muddled and undernourished anyway. It feels like the film-makers were taking it easy here, hoping to be able to expand on the themes at its core in subsequent 'episodes' - but, since this was not to be, the end result unfortunately never gathers much in the way of momentum and strides along solely on the strength of its star cast and the undeniably spectacular visuals (the Visual Effects were even rewarded with an Academy Award).

Incidentally, given that I have once embarked on an infrequent review for this particular viewing, hints at the participation therein of the late great Sir Christopher Lee: at age 85, however, his contribution is restricted to one very brief exchange towards the beginning of the picture! Not that the rest of the name actors get to shine much, apart from slinky villainess Nicole Kidman (whereas ostensible leading man Daniel Craig barely registers, despite the prominence given him on the posters!). Though Sir Ian McKellen's unmistakable vocal rendition of a heroic polar bear is typically commanding, others like Sam Elliott's incongruous cowboy routine and Eva Green's surprisingly benign witch come across as eccentric while boasting little substance (read: apparent purpose) to the uninitiated. In fact, the real protagonist proves to be a child actress - who does reasonably well under the circumstances - but, as I said, she is defeated by the plot never standing a chance because it is kept so much in the background (the over-abundance of such colourful high-falutin' terms as "Magisterium", "Daemons" and "Gobblers" notwithstanding)...


MOSES {TV} (Roger Young, 1995) **1/2
This is at least the seventh version of the Biblical events encompassing the Hebrew exodus from Egypt and the laying down of God's law in the form of the Ten Commandments that I have checked out: the others were THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1923 and 1956), MOSES THE LAWGIVER (1974; TV Mini-Series), the relevant three-part entry in GREATEST HEREOS OF THE BIBLE (1978-79; TV Series), the animated THE PRINCE OF EGYPT (1998) and, the most recent (and most radical), EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (2014; in which the leading man here, Ben Kingsley, also features). Incidentally, the film under review itself forms part of a series, spanning 8 years and 17 TV-movies, collectively dubbed "The Bible Collection" - of which I am only familiar with Ermanno Olmi's GENESIS: THE CREATION AND THE FLOOD (1994), Nicolas Roeg's SAMSON AND DELILAH (1996) and director Young's own JESUS (1999).

Despite its 183-minute duration and the over-familiarity (not to mention, repetitiveness) of the proceedings, the pacing surprisingly only occasionally drags its feet throughout; that said, the brownish hue of the cinematography (sometimes undercut by more appealing bluish tones) lends the whole an unnecessary drabness! Anyway, the film brings together a reasonably competent crowd in the way of cast (albeit not all were readily discernible!) and crew: music consultant Ennio Morricone, Ben Kingsley (in the faithfully-rendered title role, having the same year already essayed the role of another Egyptian Hebrew, JOSEPH - also helmed by Young), Sonia Braga (her role of Moses' spouse Sephora is grossly underplayed!), Anna Galiena (as Moses' noble surrogate mother), Anthony Higgins, Frank Langella (as the new Pharaoh and Moses' former Egyptian 'brother'), Christopher Lee (briefly seen as the surly Ramses {sic}), Philippe Leroy, Enrico Lo Verso (as Joshua, Moses' successor), Geraldine McEwan (as Moses' sister Miriam), Maurice Roeves (as the inevitable opponent to Moses among his own people), Philip Stone (as Moses' father-in-law - occupying, oddly enough, a prominent part!), David Suchet (as Moses' brother Aaron) and Dudley Sutton.

Moses' life in Egypt is rather swiftly dealt with (a mere half an hour in, he has already embraced his Jewish faith!) - but, then, it goes farther than most after the climactic Ten Commandments 'incident' (notably, Miriam's turning against her own brother and its depiction of the demise of all three siblings). Ultimately, this is typically reverent fare (certainly in keeping with, and on the level of, the other entries in "The Bible Collection"): worthwhile - if mainly for the sake of comparison - and, while technically proficient enough, emerges as dramatically uninspired in the long run.

The Far Pavilions

THE FAR PAVILIONS {TV Mini-Series} (Peter Duffell, 1984) ***
I recall this star-studded epic being broadcast on TV during my childhood; in fact, it was one of a number of such efforts intended for the small screen that emanated at the time (others like it were THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN {1984}, THE SECRET OF THE SAHARA {1988} and THE MYSTERIES OF THE DARK JUNGLE {1991} - the last two were actually Italian productions and I was enough of age to catch them when new). Such exotic and intrinsically old-fashioned fare may have been borne from the Oscar triumph that was GANDHI (1982) but, needless to say, the various TV mini-series took a more romantic and action-oriented approach (especially since they were often derived from best-selling novels to begin with)!

Still, THE FAR PAVILIONS' five hour-plus running-time sensibly also encompasses numerous intrigues, plenty of local colour and even a smidgen of philosophy (particularly with respect to the conflicted protagonist, raised as an Indian only to discover that he is really English and, later, serving as a soldier - his knowledge of the country and its customs coming in handy for undercover missions - is entrusted with the protection of the woman of royal lineage he loves on her journey to be wed to a much older man from a neighbouring state). Being one of the most expensive made-for-TV projects up to that time, the production values were unsurprisingly top-notch: it was lensed (in evocative auburn hues) by the great Jack Cardiff and scored by the renowned Carl Davis, no less; among the more striking set-pieces, then, are the massacre at the Afghan fortress and the climactic funeral rite.

Casting is generally effective, with both veterans (notably Rossano Brazzi, John Gielgud, Christopher Lee and Omar Sharif) and newcomers (Ben Cross, Rupert Everett, Amy Irving, Benedict Taylor {lead of the recently-viewed 1982 TV adaptation of BEAU GESTE} and Art Malik) ably filling their roles and given their due amid the expansive, episodic proceedings. Finally, it is worth noting that this was eventually condensed (to a mere 110 minutes!) and renamed BLADE OF STEEL for theatrical consumption.

Goliath Awaits

GOLIATH AWAITS {TV} (Kevin Connor, 1981) **1/2
I am unsure whether I had watched this as a kid, which I recall turning up on prime-time Italian TV during the early 1980s, so I opted to check it out now regardless as part of my ongoing tribute to Sir Christopher Lee.

This tied in with two current movie-making fads: the disaster film and the juvenile adventures (of which director Connor already had a few under his belt); in fact, the narrative involves an ocean liner sunk by a German U-boat at the start of WWII whose remains are discovered by an exploratory sub some 40 years later (evoking parallels also with the contemporaneous, Malta-shot RAISE THE TITANIC {1980}). The thing is that, having gone down with over 1000 passengers, over 300 of them are found to be still living - not to mention having fostered a new generation which have obviously never set foot on dry land or experienced the natural warmth of the sun! However, it gradually begins to transpire to the rescuers that these people do not exactly want to be saved from their current predicament; indeed, under Lee's God-like leadership, they have set up a microcosmic (if self-styled) state...where there are even outcasts from the system relegated to the depths of the wreck!

So far so intriguing, but the script - pardon the pun - sinks under the weight of its various themes, which not only prove inconsistent (the passengers are supposed to hate the Nazis and appear genuinely glad that Hitler got defeated after all, but Lee's stern authority over them is no less Fascistic and, chillingly, comes with its own 'final solution'!) but also rather silly (as I said, the renegades seem to have strayed in from one of Connor's epics about lost civilizations!). Aiding Lee is a way over-the-top Frank Gorshin, incessantly mugging his way through the proceedings in what feels like a mix-up of the acting styles of James Cagney and Barry Fitzgerald! To be sure, some notable actors are involved: Eddie Albert, Alex Cord, Robert Forster and Mark Harmon constitute the salvage team, while also on board the "Goliath" are the likes of old-timers John McIntire (as a senator carrying a much-coveted vital document) and a sadly arthritis-ridden John Carradine (as a former star of swashbuckling flicks), and Emma Samms and Duncan Regher among the youngbloods. Interestingly, this has the further distinction of including in its cast three performers who had or would subsequently incarnate the iconic vampiric figure of Count Dracula, i.e. Carradine, Lee and Regher (in THE MONSTER SQUAD {1987})!

All in all, the TV-film is generally enjoyable, albeit uninspired - at 192 minutes, it is also decidedly overlong, with the busy climax fatally moving at a snail's pace rather than generating the requisite excitement!


MOTHER! (Darren Aronofsky, 2017) **1/2
Director Aronofsky has said that he came up with the idea for this film after a screening of Luis Bunuel's THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962) & his own thinking on the current human condition! As I lay watching the film - undoubtedly the most controversial release of the year - I was also reminded of many other films: Bunuel's own VIRIDIANA (1961; in the way in which invited guests unceremoniously take over a household) & SIMON OF THE DESERT (1965; throngs of people invading the personal space of & expecting answers from their idol); Roman Polanski's REPULSION (1965; a repressed woman who never ventures outside her home & loses her mind), ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968; a struggling artist invites a sinister couple into his marital home & they take over to the chagrin of the introverted & pregnant wife) & THE TENANT (1976; which had been the director's own male version of REPULSION anyway); Mike Nichols' WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRIGINA WOOLF? (1966; a younger married couple are the disbelieving witness to the constant squabbles of an older couple); & any number of Euro-horrors climaxing in conflagration & reincarnation (including Francesco Barilli's THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK [1974])!! The narrative is clearly an allegory but I found the implied biblical connotations heavy-handed & the overt criticism of modern-day fame perfunctory. Most audiences were shocked by the gory climax & some critics deemed this a black comedy; frankly, I was neither horrified nor entertained! All the characters involved (except for the perennially barefooted Lawrence) range from the slightly unsympathetic (Bardem) to the downright annoying (Harris & Pfeiffer)...one can't really fault Aronofsky's technical prowess here but, as Biblical tracts go, I preferred his more irreverent NOAH (2014), while BLACK SWAN (2012; still his best work) was a far more interesting & satisfying 'descent into the maelstrom'.

Il mio viaggio in Italia

MY VOYAGE TO ITALY {Parts I & II} (Martin Scorsese, 1999) ***1/2
I've often claimed that I admire Martin Scorsese far more as a film historian than as a film-maker & something like this only reaffirms that notion. While I've watched A PERSONAL JOURNEY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE THROUGH American CINEMA (1995) years ago, I've only managed now to catch up with its follow-up; although it doesn't seem to me that the previous documentary was as selective as this one, his later (& much shorter) A LETTER TO ELIA (2010) was equally choosy. While in a way this stringent choice of material - in this case, some 20 movies discussed over a 4-hour time slot - makes for a rigorous analysis of the films in question (almost playing like a selected, scene-specific audio commentary from a distinguished fan), one can't help feeling that the movies or film-makers which have been bypassed are being unjustly discriminated against! Yet, this is Scorsese speaking about the handful of Italian movies that have meant the most to him on a personal & artistic level...so there are (mainly) 8 Rossellinis, 4 De Sicas, 3 Viscontis, 3 Fellinis & 2 Antonionis. As much as I enjoyed listening to him dissecting each of these films for 10 minutes at a time, the fact that he (mostly) concentrates on celebrated World Cinema classics to begin with also means that he is not really stating anything new (unlike, say, his then-'surprising' championing of Allan Dwan's neglected oater SILVER LODE [1954] in his previous documentary which had stuck with me enough to purchase the film on DVD much later on & come to love it myself)! While I can understand that some of the omitted titles just might not have been available to view as he was growing up, some of the missing stuff IS perplexing: he doesn't mention De Sica's classic MIRACLE IN MILAN (1951) but instead concentrates on the lesser-known THE GOLD OF NAPLES (1954; the only film included I've yet to watch) & skips over LA NOTTE (1961) when he gets to Antonioni's famous trilogy! He also commits the common mistake of dismissing Rossellini's work between his Bergman & TV phases (1955-1965); I, for one, am glad that his VIVA L'ITALIA (1961) is being released on BluRay by Arrow next year in 2 versions! Again, the decision on what to include may have willfully been restricted to his formative years...but, the thing is, he is so good at analysing the films included that one longs to learn his opinion on lesser-known masterpieces like Mario Monicelli's THE GREAT WAR (1959), Luigi Comenicini's EVERYBODY GO HOME! (1960), Dino Risi's THE EASY LIFE {IL SORPASSO} (1962), Vittorio Cottafavi's THE 100 HORSEMEN (1964) & Valerio Zurlini's THE CAMP FOLLOWERS (1965)! His complete passing over of Mario Bava, Pasolini & Bertolucci is genuinely baffling, to say the least...but, for what it's worth, what is included makes one yearn to watch the films again & it served as a personal reminder that some of these I've only watched once ages ago!!

Das Rätsel der roten Orchidee

THE PUZZLE OF THE RED ORCHID (Helmuth Ashley, 1962) **1/2
This is yet another "Krimi" pairing Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski; the hero this time around is, like them, a Jess Franco regular i.e. Adrian Hoven, and the leading lady future "Euro-Cult" starlet Marisa Mell. The film, however, is not only inferior to THE DEVIL'S DAFFODIL (1961) – which preceded this viewing – but only marginally a genre entry…as, rather, than a sadistic masked killer (the German "Krimis" were obvious precursors to the Italian "Gialli") we get rival gangs of Chicago hoodlums who improbably relocate to London to first extort and then dispatch various wealthy elders when they invariably turn to Scotland Yard for protection! Why this is done is never quite clear, especially since they never get to collect; incidentally, we start off with one mobster eliminating his opponents – but the only survivor, Kinski, soon sets up his own unit of gun-happy thugs whilst retaining an ostensibly respectable front as a tobacconist. One of the victims bequeaths his fortune to his secretary (Mell) rather than his sole ne'er-do-well relative (who has a propensity for orchids, the only link to the title – that is to say, extremely cursory – provided by the narrative!); still, he proves to be not what he seems – with his final trapping of the heroine inside a bank vault one of the very few scenes pertaining to the form's recognizable style (another highlight has a car going off the rails after a large mirror set up along the road gave the illusion to the bewildered driver of an imminent head-on collision).

Lee does not have much of substance to do as an F.B.I.(!) agent, but he at least gets to display his quick two-gun draw in a shoot-out with one of the baddies. Somewhat more prevalent, regrettably, is a comic-relief butler who happens to have served each of the murdered parties immediately prior to their untimely demise…and, ultimately, even offers his would-be expert services to both one of the perpetrators – who promptly winds up dead himself – and the Police!

Jaguar Lives!

JAGUAR LIVES! (Ernest Pintoff, 1979) **
I had first recorded this off late-night Italian TV but, thankfully, had not yet checked the movie out before it turned up in English: a vague James Bond rip-off in which the protagonist (one Joe Lewis) happens to be a martial arts expert – for the record, the two styles had already clashed, far more successfully, in Bruce Lee's last-completed and best vehicle i.e. ENTER THE DRAGON (1973). Even if the producers of this one were wily enough to recruit a roster of co-stars – no fewer than 5 of whom had appeared in previous Bond extravaganzas (Barbara Bach, John Huston, Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasence and Joseph Wiseman)! – the result is, while not boring, hardly thrilling, in spite their being practically no let-up to the action!!

Incidentally, much is made of the mysterious identity of the chief villain (at least, they had the good sense to not cast an established actor in the role – who would have invariably blown the hero out of the water in that department!) when the pre-credits sequence gives this away all-too-plainly!! Lewis' "sensei" is Woody Strode and, among his adversaries, is Capucine (who, having failed to dispatch the "Jaguar" herself, later calls on Lee and insists to be informed when this is finally accomplished!); the latter, however, displays an admirable code of ethics when he lets Lewis go after he has repeatedly defeated his goons inside a Japanese cemetery! Wiseman plays blind and Huston (amusingly, his character is named Ralph Richards!) wheelchair-bound, so that only Pleasence has fun as the self-appointed but – inevitably – cowardly dictator of a banana republic.

As I said, the action highlights (personally choreographed by the leading man) are not exactly ground-breaking and too often merely silly – at one point, he takes on a gang of motorcycle thugs, not to mention the various minions at a factory, whom he overcomes not via his usual karate moves but by throwing every kind of accessory which comes his way at any approaching assailant!; then again, it must be pointed out that director Pintoff had started out in animation. The film, at the very least looks good – helped in no small measure by the globe-trotting nature of the plot – but, atypically, Lewis proves oddly resistant to female company (save for ex-colleague Sally Faulkner, who has improbably forsaken espionage for a nun's habit!). The concluding moments show the protagonist once again having his training sessions interrupted by the arrival of agent Bach…but, unsurprisingly, no sequel ever surfaced (or was likely ever commissioned, though the star would in fact return to the big screen for FORCE: FIVE {1981}, directed by ENTER THE DRAGON's own Robert Clouse!).

Massarati and the Brain

MASSARATI AND THE BRAIN {TV} (Harvey Hart, 1982) **1/2
Yet another made-for-TV espionage thriller – after the recently-viewed ONCE UPON A SPY, also with Christopher Lee, and S*H*E* (both 1980) – with an even more comical and juvenile bent, considering that the "Brain" of the title is no more than a whizz kid of 10! Lee dispensed with his moustache for this one but not his wicked ways – he plays an ex-Nazi bent on retrieving a sunken fortune in rare coins. The hero, then, is the typical luxury-loving womanizer whose penchant for impromptu karate sessions with his Oriental manservants is also straight out of some Inspector Clouseau vehicle!; his abode, then, is not unlike the Bruce Wayne manor minus the Batcave, faithfully overseen by a long-suffering butler/chef whose recipes continually go unappreciated!

The director had made the impressive horror thriller DARK INTRUDER (1965), a failed TV pilot subsequently released to theaters; this one feels like it had the same intent and, likewise, was not picked up for a series! The film is not terrible per se, but neither is it especially engaging or memorable – though Lee's commitment to his roles in even such substandard fare is indeed admirable (incidentally, as in AN EYE FOR AN EYE {1981}, he gets to express befuddlement at his opponents' sheer resilience but, given that he had previously left them tied up at the mercy of a time-bomb, this reaction is perhaps understandable here!). As expected, the protagonist has any number of females crossing his path, be they colleagues, clients or criminals; also on hand is ill-fated child actress Heather O'Rourke, soon to briefly attain fame in the same year's POLTERGEIST.

Once Upon a Spy

ONCE UPON A SPY {TV} (Ivan Nagy, 1980) **1/2
This continues the string of bad-to-middling pictures Christopher Lee lent his services to after he went the Hollywood route; while not terrible as such – at the very least, it reunited him with former Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster – the end result is best described as terminally bland.

Rather than imitating the James Bond formula (though John Cacavas' score certainly throws several cues in that direction), the film seems like a belated addition to the myriad espionage TV series of the 1960s yet fully embracing the absurd obsession with technology that was redolent of the era in which it was made; interestingly, Lee's shrinking of a cumbersome computer to portable size can be seen as a prophetic indication of the extensive progress achieved in this particular field! He plays a reclusive tycoon, bound all the way through in a snazzy missile-carrying(!) wheelchair, whose everyman nemesis (Ted Danson) not only happens to be an old rival but ultimately contrives to hoist the older man with his own petard. Aiding the protagonist is a female secret agent (a relationship which, typically, starts off on the wrong foot and inevitably ends in romance) and, to further accentuate the feminist viewpoint, Eleanor Parker fills in for the Agency Head.

The film, then, is not unentertaining for what it is and, if anything, manages a nod to both Hitchcock (Danson is about to be eliminated when a crowd of tourists bursts upon the scene and he joins them on their way out towards safety) and the cult TV series THE PRISONER (hero and villain conduct a deadly board game utilizing human pieces).

Safari 3000

SAFARI 3000 (Harry Hurwitz, 1982) **
Made in the wake of THE CANNONBALL RUN (1981), this racing-car comedy actually features David Carradine in the lead, who had starred in the similar (but more violent) DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) and the unrelated CANNONBALL (1976). The heroine, then, is Stockard Channing and the villain Christopher Lee – appearing here in a silly Darth Vader get-up, albeit claiming to be a descendant of the Borgias and irritatingly prone to opera singing, not to mention being flanked by an unfunny and long-suffering "navigator"!

The African setting allows both ample travelogue footage and, ostensibly, added peril for the contenders; that said, the race itself is curiously lacking in excitement and, besides, while we are told there are as many as 93 participants, we only ever see a handful of stereotype members (Brits, French, Japanese, Australians and one female team) apart from the central rival duo…who, needless to say, end up neck-and-neck near the finishing line but, unsurprisingly, Carradine and Channing emerge victorious in spite of Lee's every attempt to thwart their progression. Incidentally, this could have taken a leaf from the "Wacky Races" cartoons of the late 1960s, itself inspired by THE GREAT RACE (1965) – that is to say, it should have been broader, but perhaps the film-makers did not want to go the route of THE CANNONBALL RUN…which rather let the result fall between two stools, hence s virtual obscurity since its year of release!

While it is watchable enough for what it is, especially as the picture runs for a mere 86 minutes, there is hardly anything memorable going on for the entire duration – which makes the involvement of renowned producers Jules V. Levy and Arthur Gardner (their last effort) and Oscar-winning composer Ernest Gold all the more baffling!

An Eye for an Eye

AN EYE FOR AN EYE (Steve Carver, 1981) **1/2
Back when I had watched THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012), I acquired about a score of vintage Chuck Norris vehicles; I was familiar with only a few of them, and this was the first opportunity I have had to check one of the others out – albeit in tribute to Sir Christopher Lee.

The film is very typical action fare of its era – comparable, for instance, to the contemporaneous flicks Charles Bronson was starring in – but obviously incorporating Norris' brand of martial arts to complement the expected gunplay. The plot, too, is pretty routine: the star, along with his cop partner, gets ambushed (due to a snitch within the Police force) during a raid on some drug dealers – with the latter losing his life in gruesome fashion. Receiving no support from his superior (Richard Roundtree), he gives up his gun and badge – but, needless to say, continues the investigation on his own. This becomes even more personal when his partner's Asian TV reporter wife (engaged in her own expose' of drug trafficking) first contacts Norris that she may have acquired a lead on the villains and then winds up dead herself before she can divulge the information to the hero. Soon, however, he acquires a couple of associates: the dead woman's father (Mako), himself a martial arts expert and who often comments wryly on Norris' own skills; and her co-worker, who just happens to live in the same building, and who eventually goes to live with our protagonist and his dog after her own place is ransacked (at one point even comforting a perspiring Norris in the wake of a nightmare).

Lee plays the TV station head, but his mere casting gives away his identity as the head of the smugglers, while Matt Clark is the crooked cop who gets to die violently for his double face. The film, then, is not bad as these things go (aided by a rather good score)…but there were a few instances of unintentional humour (Lee's chief goon is a club-footed giant – played by wrester "Professor" Toru Tanaka – so that his pursuit of the female journalist in a train station, which havoc apparently goes completely unnoticed by the authorities, emerges as awkward, to say the least), misjudged direction (when she calls Norris and is bluntly interrupted, the latter keeps asking her what is going on rather than precipitating to her rescue!; likewise, Roundtree keeps antagonizing Norris when their goals are clearly the same) and outright silliness (Lee, realizing that his operation is jeopardized, exclaims Norris's character name upon seeing him at his mansion, as if he had not been sufficiently set-up as his nemesis all through the picture).

Too Hot to Handle

TOO HOT TO HANDLE {Black-&-White Version} (Terence Young, 1960) **1/2
According to the IMDb, apart from the delightful Jack Conway-Clark Gable-Myrna Loy screwball comedy from 1938, there are 5 more movies that go by the name of TOO HOT TO HANDLE. The film under review (retitled PLAYGIRL AFTER DARK in the U.S.) is the would-be steamy noir-ish Jayne Mansfield vehicle made in Britain and co-starring actors who normally are above this sort of thing – Leo Genn, Carl Boehm and Christopher Lee – but which decidedly help in raising it above the rut of contemporaneous quota-quickie gangland thrillers; indeed, Patrick Holt – whom I recently watched in a film from that very ilk, SERENA (1962) – even plays the Police Inspector here!

The American "Blonde Bombshell" plays Midnight Franklin, the star attraction of a Soho strip club called "The Pink Flamingo"; suave Genn is her boss whom he affectionately calls "12 O'Clock" and she has feelings for; Boehm (in his second British film) plays an inquisitive journalist reporting on the sordid London nightlife – typically he falls for one of the girls but, surprisingly, it is not the leading lady but gloomy Danik Patisson; and Lee is Novak, Genn's double-faced right-hand man/MC. Another well-known figure (pun intended) that is featured further down in the cast list but whose violent demise plays a pivotal role in the film's climax with respect to the major characters' fate is future "Carry On" star Barbara Windsor.

Indeed, the film's unhappy ending – in which most characters show their true (and uglier) colours – is its real trump card…more so than the much-touted "hot" numbers of Miss Mansfield; speaking of which, unfortunately, not only is the print I watched shorn of colour (which is how it is widely available today – probably a disservice to the great Otto Heller's original lensing – and which, arguably, also enhances its ties with the aforementioned sub-genre)…but her two songs are bereft of sound, too!! Luckily enough, the sequences are intact – if still just as monochromatic and chaste – when looked up individually on "You Tube" (which is where I came across the film in the first place) and, apparently, TOO HOT TO HANDLE is available in colour on a German DVD.

Incidentally, while the film may have been intended as a dramatic showcase for its shapely star, she had fared much better in Paul Wendkos' debut, the superior noir THE BURGLAR (1957), which I have caught up with just the other day; besides, while it may seem odd that a film originally shot in colour would "exist" solely in a black-and-white print, this is the 10th such instance I have come across in my film collection alone


JINNAH (Jamil Dehlavi, 1998) ***
Though I knew how proud Christopher Lee was of his achievement in this film, I had been wary of checking it out in view of the subject matter – which was as foreign to me as it must have been for most audiences (indeed, the movie was a straight-to-DVD release in the U.K., the star's very own native country!). However, I need not have worried since, not only was it a compelling biopic (the titular founder of the Muslim state of Pakistan was a contemporary – and religious rival – of "Mahatma" Gandhi) but one that was tackled in a quite original fashion for pictures of its ilk.

Having mentioned the beloved Hindu leader, at 110 minutes against the 188 of Richard Attenborough's GANDHI (1982), the film under review feels somewhat like a subplot within the epic narrative of that multiple Oscar-winner – in which Jinnah is said to have been unflatteringly portrayed (I have not watched it for years, so I cannot really say myself). As such, the plot here follows much the same pattern – following Jinnah from his youth as a barrister to an interracial marriage (though he would later disown his daughter for doing the same!) and his dealings with the British rulers (represented by war hero Lord Mountbatten – played by James Fox – whose wife apparently carried on an open affair with the future first Prime Minister of an independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru!). Ironically, despite their often radically different approach (Jinnah coming across as Malcolm X to his Martin Luther King), Gandhi was assassinated by his own people because of his ultimate consent to the country's "partition" – allowing the Muslim minority in India to have its own nation; in the film, he even meets Jinnah in the computer-driven(!) afterlife and chides him for it.

Incidentally, it is scenes such as the latter – which surprisingly abound here – that stand out, even more perhaps than the expected stirring speeches (powerful though these undeniably are); in fact, the movie emerges as more of a fantasia (though obviously far removed from the self-indulgent excesses of Ken Russell's treatment of many a classical composer in his 1970s heyday) than a typical biopic. This may have been done so as to give 76 year-old Lee maximum screen-time – but the notion of having him look over his life accompanied by a sharp-witted heavenly "narrator", to determine what good he has done but also where he went wrong (the moving finale has him asking forgiveness of his subjects for the great hardships they had to endure as a direct result of his honest struggle to lend them "dignity"), was certainly an inspired touch – shades of "A Christmas Carol" and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)! That said, some confusion is not avoided: not only does Lee see himself as an old man – but he is even shown advising his younger self (Richard Lintern) on what course of action to take! One of the best sequences, then, has him fictionally take up law one last time in order to try Lord Mountbatten for what he deems betrayal i.e. having renounced his pro-Pakistani stance – again, a welcome fanciful passage that reminds one of THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (1941) and A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946)!!

While the production went through much financial difficulties that almost saw it abandoned and Lee's casting was reportedly the cause of an uproar in Pakistan itself, it must be said that the actor's commanding performance really holds this together and, thus, he was justified to hold it in such high esteem within his extensive and varied canon.

Das Geheimnis der gelben Narzissen

THE DEVIL'S DAFFODIL (Akos von Rathony, 1961) ***
I have still barely scraped the surface of the popular "Krimi" thrillers made in Germany between the late 1950s and the early 1970s; this one – atypically, a British co-production filmed simultaneously (on location in London) in both languages – is, however, easily among the better entries that I have come across. The reasons for this are mainly due to an above-average cast that includes regulars Joachim Fuchsberger and Klaus Kinski, along with the likes of Christopher Lee, Marius Goring, Albert Lieven and Walter Gotell, and the striking monochrome cinematography by the renowned Desmond Dickinson (though the credit titles are appealingly displayed in red).

The expected murder sequences are reasonably well-staged (though an old-wheelchair-bound-woman-falling-downstairs bit is entirely gratuitous!) – one of them, occurring at night in the busy Piccadilly Circus area, is especially evocative of a classic Hitchcockian set-piece; eroticism, another gene requisite, is briefly touched upon here in a titillating nightclub act. By the way, the film was only the second effort I have watched from this director, and the result is certainly a more substantial achievement than CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1964) – its chief liability being the unconvincing screams from the various female victims/damsels-in-distress throughout!

The complex Edgar Wallace (from whose extensive work and that of his son, Bryan Edgar, all these flicks were derived) plot involves the ostensibly harmless importing of the titular flower serving as a front for heroin smuggling; twists relating to the identity of two of its principal characters are belatedly, yet effectively, incorporated into the fray. On the trail of the culprits are airline investigator Fuchsberger and Oriental sleuth Lee (coming across like a more ruthless Charlie Chan – complete with a steady flow of aphorisms, at one point causing a woman particularly unreceptive to his genial wit exclaiming "Sod off, Confucius!" to his face).

Actually, it is amusing to note how the film plays havoc with nationalities – where Germans are not only made to pass off as English, but the only true Brit on hand (albeit speaking in fluent German for the duration) is saddled with an Asian countenance! As for Kinski, he surprisingly plays it cool for the most part – with his signature intensity only emerging at the climax. Interestingly, too, Goring, Lee and Lieven would be reteamed for next year's similarly-titled British espionage thriller THE DEVIL'S AGENT (a recent viewing in my continuing marathon of Lee movies). Incidentally, I recall coming across a small poster of this in an old film scrapbook of my Dad's many years ago under its British moniker...since it was later retitled DAFFODIL KILLER for U.S. consumption.

Fortune Is a Woman

FORTUNE IS A WOMAN (Sidney Gilliat, 1957) ***
The esteemed British writing-producing-directing team of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder seemed to divide their work between stylish thrillers and broad comedies - though not always each member of the unit would be responsible for their entries in any one particular genre, Gilliat's efforts tended to be more serious and therefore generally worthier of attention and less prone to become dated with the passage of time.

Anyway, this film again features Christopher Lee in just one scene (albeit an amusing one as a black-eyed movie star attempting to pull off an insurance fraud!) and, in a more substantial role than in the previously-viewed PORT AFRIQUE (1956), Dennis Price. The elaborate plot also involves arson, fake paintings, a blackmail scheme, and even the shaky rekindling of an old romance. The rather mismatched stars are Jack Hawkins (immediately prior to embarking upon his international/movie spectaculars phase with the same year's THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) and American Arlene Dahl (just as unconvincingly married here to asthmatic and unbalanced aristocrat Price) who run the gamut of emotions trying first to hide their prior affair then facing it head-on following Price's fiery death, Hawkins accusing Dahl of the murderous deed and then compromising his position in the insurance firm he works for by sticking by her (even if he knows the blaze was deliberately ignited) and fend off the inevitable vultures - knowledgeable of this fact - over Price's estate. This being the 1950s, everything works its way satisfactorily towards a happy ending - down to Hawkins' associates literally chasing after him out on the streets in the final scene to retract his decision to resign rather than bring shame upon his colleagues and superiors!

As I said, the film is classy (even managing a few dream sequences to cloud Hawkins' mind during his mission) and reasonably absorbing (the identity of the chief blackmailers is quite a surprise) throughout - but taking care to also provide meaty supporting turns by the likes of Ian Hunter (as the proverbial "friend of the family"), Geoffrey Keen (as Hawkins' sympathetic superior), Bernard Miles (a similar role to the one he had just played in Hitchcock's THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH {1956}), Greta Gynt as a middle-aged nymphomaniac(!) and Michael Goodliffe (as a dogged Police Inspector). Incidentally, the print I watched sported the somewhat more appropriate U.S. moniker of SHE PLAYED WITH FIRE and, while pristine enough, suffered from the occasional jerkiness

Port Afrique

PORT AFRIQUE (Rudolph Mate', 1956) **1/2
This British mystery thriller (not a Foreign Legion adventure, as I had anticipated!) owes an obvious debt to CASABLANCA (1942), but the end result – despite having the usually reliable Mate' at the helm – is unquestionably a disappointment. It was wrong to start off with a title song, followed by female star Pier Angeli performing another tune at the inevitable café, so that the expected noir-ish mood seemed almost like an afterthought! That said, the colour scheme throughout (courtesy of cinematographer Wilkie Cooper, not forgetting that Mate' had himself cut his teeth in that department) was occasionally striking. While the plot is no great shakes either, it is peopled by offbeat characters that keeps one somewhat interested: crippled WWII veteran Philip Carey returns home to his wife – who is said to abhor imperfection! – only to find her dead from an apparent suicide. Soon, however, it transpires that this in fact was a case of murder – not to mention that the victim had not quite been the dutiful spouse.

Typically, a number of suspects are on hand: Angeli herself (who had somehow become the woman's permanent guest), shady café owner James Hayter (Angeli's "keeper", who apparently came into money overnight, having previously served as the local beachcomber!), a rather wasted Dennis Price as Carey's business partner, and even painter Christopher Lee (who admits in his one scene to having had a dalliance with the deceased). To be fair, though, the identity of the killer was a surprise here – not that the investigation had elicited much in the way of suspense or action! Besides, the requisite romance between the protagonists barely gets going during the trim 87-minute duration (though the TV-sourced print I watched seemed obliged to pause for commercials after every reel!)…but they get the obligatory fade-out clinch regardless! Also among the cast are Eugene Deckers as the military official in charge who knows far more than he lets on and Anthony Newley (still not having fully attained his adult look) as an animated Portuguese airline pilot who becomes chummy with Carey.

As often happens to me when watching routine fare, something in the narrative sets me off wandering on the actors' careers or private lives; here it was the fact that Lee had already played a dubious painter in his first notable film role, PENNY AND THE POWNALL CASE (1948); Angeli would herself commit suicide in 1971; and, irony of ironies, up-and-coming star Price would have his career destroyed by alcoholism and homosexuality but, in this film, his character not only berates his wife for drinking but was on the point of eloping with Carey's philandering spouse!!

The Keeper

THE KEEPER (T.Y. Drake, 1976) *1/2
I do not know what it was with Christopher Lee during the mid-1970s, but he seemed to accept pretty much every script that came his way in an attempt to obtain for himself some kind of Guinness World Record for movie roles played (which he probably holds anyway)!; with this in mind, a sizeable amount of titles from his extensive career remain obscure to this day and, having watched a few of them already in my ongoing tribute to him, I regret to say that this status is justified certainly for the majority emanating from this vintage (with only ALBINO {1976} emerging thus far as being undeservedly forgotten).

This Canadian thriller (erroneously considered horror by some sources but, then, this would often prove the case with this particular genre icon) is a genuine dud, and one really has to strain to determine just what could have attracted the star to become involved!; it may have been the fact that he plays a cripple, but his condition is never explained and has no bearing whatsoever on the plot, or perhaps the notion that he can control minds by way of hypnosis – but the sessions conducted are downright laughable, with himself adopting a perfectly idiotic diabolical countenance throughout! Anyway, he plays the head of an insane asylum but insists on being referred to as "keeper": it transpires that his patients (one of whom turns out to be a "sympathetic" twin with another, shady character within the narrative) are all well-to-do and that their relatives – in line to inherit them – are being eliminated; since this would make Lee the eventual beneficiary of their fortune, a cop has been infiltrated into the establishment to investigate…but he too has been virtually reduced to a puppet in the master's hands!

Incidentally, this is given a period setting – complete with trenchcoat-sporting detective hero (though far removed from the hard-boiled prototype) and a resourceful shoeshine boy – but, since there was no concerted attempt at sustaining mood, the option was no more than a randomly-deployed gimmick! However, perhaps the most head-scratching decision here was to make the inevitable Police Inspector – first clashing with, then abetting – the protagonist a highly-strung and accident-prone buffoon, obviously intended to supply comedy relief but only serving a litany of cringe-inducing antics one would think hard before including even in an outright slapstick comedy! I am afraid THE CRAPPER would have been an equally appropriate moniker

Innocents in Paris

INNOCENTS IN Paris {Edited Version} (Gordon Parry, 1953) **
I am obliged to review this very minor effort due to Christopher Lee's uncredited involvement in it, which lasts for all of 30 seconds(!), appearing merely to inspect an English military band before and after their flight to the titular location. The film is a British comedy, very typical of its era, and pitting established (Alastair Sim and Margaret Rutherford) with emerging (Claire Bloom) talent – not forgetting local, i.e. French, star presences (Claude Dauphin and Louis De Funes). To be honest, caricatures of various types emanating from these two countries have been done to death over the years – to have them engage in a clash of cultures, then, is even more lamentable (though it was obviously devised and intended as an irresistibly hilarious notion!)…and to which is even added that of the humorless Russian diplomat, who takes offense when his British counterpart (the perennially-flustered Sim) rather tastelessly compares the effect of drinking vodka to the devastation caused by an atom bomb – and who can only concede to the Western way of thinking while under the influence himself!!

Unsurprisingly, the narrative takes up several strands of plot as the various passengers of a plane enjoy a week-end in the French capital; most of these are wafer-thin and alternate between improbable romantic trysts (including a Scotsman falling for a local girl) and the idiosyncratic pursuit of a particular hobby (painting and indoor cricket!). Mind you, the film is tolerable enough for what it is – but it is certainly not among the better examples of its kind, especially when considering that the copy I acquired ran for 86 minutes against the movie's official duration of 102…which makes me wonder just how long was the print shown on local TV during the early 2000s, but which I had not managed to either view or record back in the day! Suffice it to say that, while Laurence Harvey's name and face is prominently featured in some of the film's theatrical posters (apparently playing a French waiter!), he was nowhere to be seen in the print I watched!!

Diagnosis: Murder

DIAGNOSIS: MURDER (Sidney Hayers, 1975) ***
I had long wanted to check out this British thriller (mainly because the Leonard Maltin Movie Guide gave it a surprisingly favourable write-up) co-starring Christopher Lee – but had been wary of the prospect since all the sources I have checked give the film's running-time as 95 minutes, whereas the only available print lasted for only 83!; with the actor's recent passing, I acquired it regardless to include in my ongoing tribute. Having watched it now, I pretty much agree with Maltin's opinion – but, to be fair, for most of the duration I was prone to slash off half-a-star from the rating; the reason for this is the fact that the film-making on display is essentially no different to what was contemporaneously being proposed on TV: one would expect a theatrical release from this era – particularly since British cinema was virtually in the doldrums by then – to include a modicum of sex and violence, but these are hardly in evidence (if at all)! As I came to learn after the fact, the film was indeed intended for TV but was released theatrically anyway; whatever the case, the opening abduction sequence plays out like something out of the cult espionage TV series THE AVENGERS (1961-69)!

The premise is straightforward and typical, but nonetheless engaging (if somewhat improbable): the wealthy wife of a doctor (Lee) goes missing and he comes under suspicion, especially since he may be carrying on an affair with his secretary (Judy Geeson); the police investigation is handled by a gaunt-looking Jon Finch (due to an as-yet untreated diabetic condition) who, apart from keeping his hair long and drinking on the job, is struggling with 'domestic' problems of his own (he contemplates quitting girlfriend Jane Merrow, who is forced to tend to her ungrateful crippled husband). Eventually, it transpires that Lee is really guilty – with Geeson soon made an unwitting accomplice – and wants to inherit his spouse's fortune (whom he keeps hidden away in a remote countryside place, leased under an alias, and is slowly poisoning); at one point, he tries to explain himself to his lover by saying that he does not have 40 years to live that he can comfortably wait for what is lawfully coming to him – in hindsight, it is quite moving to realize that Lee had exactly that amount of time at his disposal before passing away! Despite having a full schedule of patients and with a policeman constantly tailing him, the doctor is regularly able to flee his workplace in order to carry out this nefarious plan with relative ease (indeed, Lee's portrayal is perennially cool and collected – albeit with a barely-disguised sadistic streak).

The film is certainly enjoyable along the way (though the ostensibly redundant subplot involving Merrow's plight is admittedly dull) and is aided immeasurably by Laurie Johnson's pulsating score; what really gives DIAGNOSIS: MURDER (nothing to do, incidentally, with the much-later and long-running TV show starring Dick Van Dyke) its raison d'etre, however, is the clever double twist at the climax (the first of which recalls to some degree the ending of TASTE OF FEAR {1961}, also with Lee) and the second proving quite cynical (stressing the comparable situations plaguing both hero and villain within the narrative).

Faerie Tale Theatre: The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers
Episode 7, Season 3

Faerie Tale Theatre: THE BOY WHO LEFT HOME TO FIND OUT ABOUT THE SHIVERS {TV} (Graeme Clifford, 1984) **1/2
I usually watch episodes from this fantasy series over Christmas but, since this one co-stars the recently-deceased Christopher Lee, I thought I might as well get to it now. The cast actually includes Peter MacNichol as the fearless titular figure, Jeff Corey as his ultra-superstitious father, David Warner as a scheming innkeeper in cahoots with the regal Lee, Frank Zappa as the latter's mute hunchbacked servant, and even Vincent Price providing the narration (making this the fourth and final collaboration between the two Horror icons, obviously discounting the THIS IS YOUR LIFE TV episode devoted to Lee I recently watched).

The film is likable enough and occasionally amusing (Corey's antics to fend off misfortune at the start and, while spending three nights at Lee's ostensibly haunted castle, the protagonist is not only averse to terror but he even teaches the visiting ghouls how to play bowling with a skull!), but the attempts to scare the hero and his gauche obliviousness to them are often too silly – in the vein of a "Scooby Doo" cartoon – to elicit much interest from an adult audience! This is all the more telling when it transpires that MacNichol is basically afraid of growing up…since he gets all shivery when ultimately offered the hand of Lee's daughter in marriage upon completing his endurance test!

The Girl

THE GIRL (Arne Mattsson, 1986) **
Given that director Mattsson made his name with the ground-breaking Swedish erotic drama ONE SUMMER OF HAPPINESS (1951), it was perhaps inevitable that during the twilight of his career he would return to this theme. The film (distributed in the U.S. by Roger Corman's New World Pictures!) is basically a variation on "Lolita" – with successful married lawyer Franco Nero falling under the spell of a teenage schoolgirl and all but ruing his life for her. What is more, here, the protagonist's wife is herself involved in an affair with a much-younger man; though Mattsson understandably has the young Clare Powney disrobe quite often, he also gives middle-aged Bernice Stegers her share of nude scenes!

The temptress of the title comes from an eminent family, so her sudden elopement with Nero leads to an ambitious journalist tracking the couple down to an island retreat – complete with mute servant girl (I thought Jess Franco cornered that particular market?!) – and eventually attempt blackmail; the girl, obviously wiser than her years, seduces and knifes him (twice at one go!) in order to deal with his threat – a befuddled Nero can only contrive to dispose of the body and his personal effects. Ultimately, both elder parties decide to get together again, which the youngsters do not take lightly; Stegers' boyfriend begins hounding her, so she opts to come clean – but somehow Nero never does and pays the price with his life…only, since the death occurs in an apartment separately shared by the clandestine couple and to which the young man also has the key, it is he who is accused of the crime by Christopher Lee (once again playing at upholding law and order)! The latter appears during the very last stages of the film but his presence add some much needed gravitas at that point.

To be fair, the film is not devoid of interest throughout – but the tedious plot and sluggish pacing only exacerbates the redundancy of the whole enterprise, while the palpable decline in the quality of movies being offered at this point in time to international stars the likes of Nero and Lee – who had previously appeared together in THE SALAMANDER (1981) – renders it that much sadder to watch! Incidentally, I recall the VHS poster of THE GIRL from one of the magazines dedicated to that home video format I used to pore on in my childhood days

Mask of Murder

MASK OF MURDER (Arne Mattsson, 1985) **
Certainly among Swedish director Mattsson's best-known work is the "Giallo" precursor MANNEQUIN IN RED (1958); with this in mind, the film under review can be seen as his contribution to the then-prevalent (albeit much-maligned) "Slasher" subgenre. While he should be commended for not following much of the established trappings (if anything, the teenagers who usually make up the victims' list barely feature here) and for managing to attract a serviceable cast (Rod Taylor, Valerie Perrine and Christopher Lee, who – as with the recently-viewed ALBINO {1976} – plays the ineffectual Police Chief), the results are still far from memorable and even downright inept at times.

The main problem with the script is that it tries too hard to lend psychological depth to the narrative when its outcome is fairly obvious and predictable from the start. Cop Taylor discovers wife Perrine is having an affair with his closest colleague at the same time as he is investigating a spate of throat-slashings. But since the murders, following the same modus operandi, resume soon after Taylor's execution of the serial killer and Taylor himself had been the last to handle the latter's 'kit' (razor and featureless mask – at one point, the latter is amusingly stated that it makes the wearer look like Yul Brynner; if anything, it actually reminded me of the assailant of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN {1976}!), there is little doubt as to the identity of the second murderer, given the lawman's state of mind!

This effectively dilutes the proceedings of both tension and interest, especially since our anti-hero goes on about his Police business regardless, i.e. probing locations and witnesses for possible clues to the killings he is himself clearly responsible for, and even adding further red herrings in the unconnected razor assault on a drug-dealing barber committed by a gangland collector! Alas, all the satirical socio- political points brilliantly made by Elio Petri via an exact same scenario in the Oscar-winning INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION (1970) are completely bypassed here in favour of the lowest common denominator (read gratuitous softcore nudity). That said, we are still spoon-fed the protagonist's having the cloud of suspicion over himself: he happens to have a similar razor as the murder weapon and one of the people he questions actually says that the current perpetrator has a similar build as his…and, all the while, the bed-ridden Lee (having been shot by the first slasher before being machine-gunned by an already- unbalanced Taylor) contemplates whether the dead man's spirit could have found a new 'vessel' in order to continue his apparently motiveless killing spree (but which Taylor perversely suggests might be brought on by sexual inadequacy)!

The snowy backdrop (supposedly Canada but really Uppsala, Sweden – that is to say, Ingmar Bergman's birthplace!) is undeniably attractive and unusual for this type of fare; however, this is continuously undercut by the kitschy 1980s fashions and settings (including obligatory and awfully-scored disco-bar and strip-joint sequences) and some hilariously overstated moments (notably Taylor and Lee's reactions at, respectively, his wife's infidelity – captured from a distance via binoculars – and his friend's guilt – by the symbolic throat-slashing of "Playboy" centrefolds conveniently stashed in a drawer of his work-desk!).

The finale, then, emits a false air of cynicism by not only having Taylor frame his duplicitous pal for the murders (he foolishly re-enacts the slaying of a woman witnessed by her young son who, of course, exclaims "That's him!" upon seeing the masked assailant) but by the fact that he is allowed to get away with it (though assured by his superior that he is on to him)! For the record, Lee would re-unite with Mattsson on the director's subsequent effort, i.e. THE GIRL (1986), which also happens to be my next entry in the ongoing tribute I am paying to the recently-deceased Horror icon (incidentally, Rod Taylor also passed away earlier this year – so I got to watch MASK OF MURDER for his sake as well)

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