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Babylon Berlin (2017)
The Boring Twenties
The Germans discover a – well, not all-too – new kind of humour. The investigating Kommissar here is named Gereon Rath, apparently having been baptized with Gereons Koelsch and Rats Koelsch, two beer brands from Cologne, and he's played by Volker Bruch of SK Koelsch fame, another Krimi series from the 00s. And now, whoosh!, he's transported from, yup, Cologne, to 1929 Berlin to solve a period case in Babelsberg involving porn, blackmail, Russian expatriates and shady characters that actually don't trigger too much enthusiasm; you've seen 'em all, as well as the good-cop-bad-cop routine or the struggling shorthand typist Charlotte (Liv Lisa Fries, despite her 20s cutie outfit easily recognizable as one of those gentrification moms from the Prenzlauer Berg area), and the never-ending club and dance scenes are about as scorching and authentic as a show of the Max Raabe Palast Orchester, a modernish nostalgia schlager ensemble for Berlin's higher earners. Compare them occasionally to the rousing nightclub action featuring sax player Sidney Bechet in Hanns Schwarz' comedy Einbrecher (1930). That was cinema. This is pseudo-hipster chic, small screen style.
Bezeten - Het gat in de muur (1969)
In 1968, young German actor/ producer Dieter Geissler had a job for a certain Martin Scorsese who had recently filmed his debut Who's That Knocking at My Door in Amsterdam. And so 25-year-old Marty sat down and refined a Dutch Peeping Tom script with his very genius. Very good!", he encouraged with a blue pen, or reprimanded: Whole masseuse-chase sequence is much too detailed." While he penned those priceless suggestions, Hitchcock buff Francois Truffaut recommended composer Bernard Herrmann to director Pim de la Parra, and BH – hold on to your hat – actually had a few sheets left on his escritoire he had forgotten there in 1932. Apart from the opening sequence, next to nothing works in this ill-conceived Rear Window homage despite (not all too much) sex, drugs and, erm, Bernie's ghastly dated soundtrack. At least the masseuse-chase scene was trimmed – it makes no f*ckin' sense anyway –, and Marty returned to the Netherlands six years later to ask his old friend Pim whether he knew someone who could do the soundtrack for his latest project Taxi Driver. Oddly enough, a few weeks later Bernard Herrmann churned out a quite cool and modernist jazz score for that one. While Marty recalled with a smile that those Dutch fellows had paid him 500 American bucks for his expertise back then. With a smile, yes, but more of a knowing grin: There's plenty of ways to spend half a grand in Amsterdam.
Nachts, wenn der Teufel kam (1957)
Yo, Super Mario. Though while later Eurocrime "cult" actor Mario Adorf does quite a convincing job as the retarded serial killer in Robert Siodmak's Nazi noir The Devil Strikes at Night, ex-boxing-champion Claus Holm – imagine a German Van Heflin – as the crippled police Kommissar and Hannes Messemer as his SS-Obergruppenfuehrer opponent easily steal the show from him: Their confrontations, chock-full of icy dialogue, constitute the epicentre of this sardonic high tensioner that doesn't lose its momentum for a single second, due to Siodmak's remarkably concentrated direction, aided by the unobtrusive, but perfectly effective camera work by unjustly forgotten cinematographer Georg Krause (who did Kubrick's Paths of Glory – !! – a year before), competent editing by Walter Boos (who went on to do some Schulmaedchen-Reports in the 70s), and excellent supporting performances by Werner Peters and the strikingly beautiful Annemarie Dueringer. "Belief? Where did you dig up that word?", Messemer's slick SS herrenmensch asks the crushed Kommissar. Once, they even had great screenwriters in Germany, among them Werner Joerg Lueddecke, who sets the fast-paced, bitter, cynical and sometimes darkly humorous tone of the movie. When the Kommissar is sent to war in the end – the year is 1944 –, he reassures his trembling girlfriend: "It won't take much longer. Soon, you can reach the front line by city train."
To the Fullest
A German friend of mine once was assigned to write a review about a Dominik Graf movie for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, but when he told the editor he didn't like the flick, he was informed that Graf and the chief film critic of the paper, the late Michael Althen, were close friends and a negative review strictly impossible. Now holy cow and zoom world champion Graf, who directs pretty much everything from doughy period pieces (Beloved Sisters) to FAZ-lauded crime yawners (Im Angesicht des Verbrechens, which ruined the production company), comes up with a declaration of love for the German genre film of the 70s, proposition: Once upon a time there were, opposite to the spiritless and stuffy Autorenkino, bold and untamed movie makers out for danger, velocity, and sensuality. Unfortunately, there weren't, and Graf's proof" is downright risible – misogynist scheißedreck like Rolf Olsen's boorish Bloody Friday, or Roger Fritz' dim-witted and amateurish girl hunters fantasy Maedchen mit Gewalt. The cherry on top of the mythmaker bullcake provide the interviews with Mario Adorf, Graf's role model for physicality" – 'cept Adorf needed Italian directors like Fernando di Leo (not to speak of his extraordinary performance in Pietrangeli's Io la conoscevo bene) and seldom acted as boffo as in Roland Klick's narcisisstically artsy Deadlock. While the near-senile Mario tells mildly amusing anecdotes, you can hear Graf's sycophantic giggle in the background. That's the bonus of the movie: You rarely hear a fellow so full of himself.
The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
If you want to know why Ligeia is the most Hammer-esque of Roger Corman's Poe adaptations, check cinematographer Arthur Grant's records, among them The Devil Rides Out and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. The splendid photography alone makes the last entry in the series a standout, along with Kenneth V. Jones's lush, pseudo-Victorian score. Enter Corman/ Poe regular Vincent Price, this time an amateur egyptologist living in a decaying abbey mourning his deceased ex and soon after falling in love with a blonde lookalike of his dead spouse – who acts out her jealousy in feline form. All-too-conscious of not being in a Poe story, but in a delirium fusion of Vertigo and Rebecca, Price plays his perv Maxim de Winter/ Norfolk Necrophiliac role with a tongue-in-cheek aplomb Laurence Olivier garnered not until eight years later in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Sleuth, and wait until Vince gets in cat chasing mood. Though a bit convoluted, Ligeia is morbid, meow & kinky fun, actually Corman's last noteworthy movie as a director (next was his racist swastika biker dreck The Wild Angels). And the darn critter? Moved on to Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento flicks. That's called Hello Kitty déjà-vu.
Cream - Schwabing-Report (1971)
A Weisswurst Shade of Pale
A Disneyland for sex named Porn City, that's what aspiring smut producer George (simply dreadful: Rolf Zacher) has in mind, while his Italian friend and wannabe writer Franco (about as Italian as a menora: Sabi Dorr) is frolicking with a lonely MILF as well as with several young dishes from Munich's early 70s hipster scene. Sounds cool? It ain't. While the movie's title promises a fine slice of sleaze, it actually breathes the unhealthy bore-you-to-death spirit of the German Autorenkino, delivers nothing the trailer of the U.S. version promotes ("See the social freedom these cute young things have and find out why the boys call them superchicks!"), and don't let the American title fool you: A "School Girl Bride" is nowhere in sight. Instead you get an annoying voice-over storyteller, clumsy acting, abhorrent dialogues, a few nude scenes as sexy as the Loewenbrau truck roaring by, plus the obnoxious theme tune by highly overrated Krautrockers Can repeated ad nauseam. Probably 27-year-old American rookie director Leon Capetanos had a good time with Brezeln and Weisswurst over there in Bavaria, and maybe he even believed himself after a barrel of Augustiner that he was "one of the greatest talents from the New York Film Factory", as the German movie poster says. But whoa: A decade later he began a long-time collaboration with acclaimed filmmaker Paul Mazursky, resulting in highly successful massmarket flicks like Moscow on the Hudson. And so, in a way, this behemoth of a dud actually had a happy ending.
Avere vent'anni (1978)
Born To Be Wild
Some time in the mid-70s, out-of-luck director Fernando di Leo had a million dollar idea: Why not do a remake of one of the top grossing blockbusters of 1969, with a slightly altered tagline: "Two chicks went looking for Italia and couldn't find it anywhere." And since those chicks would hitchhike across the country to join a hippie community, they didn't even need those pricey motorbikes! The Captain America role went to Euro teen star blonde Gloria Guida, the Billy part to the lesser-known Lilli Carati, a downright stunning brunette literally acting out every single word of her dialogue: I'm young, hot, and p*ssed off. Does anybody here f*ck?" A radically pessimistic statement from the bleak opening beach scene to the unforeseeable (and utterly disgusting) climax, Avere vent'anni bites off more than di Leo could chew: His counterculture swan song about two female libertines who inescapably will go to the dogs never finds a rhythm, a loose, sloppy concoction of scenes that don't blend, a programmatic reading from Valerie Solanas's SCUM manifesto (A pip-squeak with dysfunctional femininity that despises women: That is man.") remaining fairly more than a nod to the feminist zeitgeist in Fernando's T&A exploitation circus. Two stars for the boisterous performance of the lead actresses, reciprocating between vulnerability, sexual aggression, and pure, breathless joie de vivre, especially in the dance scene on the piazza; another one for Ray Lovelock's fine interpretation of a disenchanted druggie, and one and a half for the super catchy theme song. Ah, and as for Signorina Carati: Eat your heart out, Dennis Hopper.
Rote Sonne (1970)
Dawn of the Hausfrau
There's a long, stringent thread in German art movie tradition: the much-heralded "social relevance" almost always serves as an excuse for brainless ennui. Rudolf Thome's Rote Sonne, enthusiastically hailed in 1970 by Wim Wenders as the future of the so-called Autorenfilm, makes no difference. Slurring slacker Marquard Bohm moves like a grubby sleepwalker through the spartanly furnished rooms of a flat in Munich his girlfriend (astoundingly bland: Uschi Obermaier, anyway good enough for Jimi Hendrix when he was totally doped in 1968) shares with three other gals out to pick a bloody bone with dudes. Unfortunately the hausfrauen fatales never take action; instead, you get witless blather without end, certainly no story – we're in a German movie here, already forgotten? –, zero erotic ambiance, the monotonous repetition of Albinoni's Adagio in C minor, and the zombie-esque performances of the participants that Wenders tried to sell with the following: "The actors are just boldly present in the scenes, talking and acting as if they do not know what's next ..." Well observed, Wim! The shootout at Lake Starnberg – noticeably an homage to Vidor's Duel in the Sun – might be the most amateurish piece of crap Jesús Franco never dared to put in front of a lens, but an even bigger letdown are the 4.99 Deutsche Mark H&M synthetic skirts of the overwhelmingly unsexy chicks. Before you object: The Swedish clothing retailer was founded in 1947.
Occhi di cristallo (2004)
Beyond the Alley of the Dolls
Exquisite settings, technical virtuosity, remarkable images, beautiful cinematography and a sterling cast with Luigi Lo Cascio (star of the noteworthy I cento passi and the phenomenal La meglio gioventù) in the lead: Eros Puglielli's Eyes of Crystal has it all and ends as a wasted opportunity. The story about a serial killer collecting body parts in order to create his Barbie of the Month oscillates somewhere between other genre danses macabres like Fincher's Se7en, Mulcahy's Resurrection, J.A. Bayona's The Orphanage, and Narcisco Ibánez Serrador's The House That Screamed, and that's exactly its problem. You've seen it all before, all that stylish craftsmanship reeks inevitably of rehash, and it doesn't help all-too-much that 70s giallo regular Simón Andreu (Death Walks on High Heels") - finally a real ghost from the past - turns in the probably best performance of his career. Director Puglielli's first lesson? Never collaborate on a script with the creator of Argento's Opera. The second one he grasped only after the premiere: His flick itself was the ghastly doll, beneath the dashing costume just a fly-ridden corpse. When it comes to horror movies, postmodernism is a curse.
Il trucido e lo sbirro (1976)
Starting with a mildly amusing postmodern joke – the movie opening as a western which is actually screened in a penitentiary –, Umberto Lenzi's fourth Eurocrime collaboration with jack of all trades Tomás Milián is already running out of ideas, verve and steam after the credits. While Lenzi's previous efforts (Roma a mano armata, and especially the completely depraved Almost Human) show him on top of the poliziotteschi game, outsmarting each and every other Italian director of the genre with his stunningly fiendish combinations of cynicism, merciless action and ultra-tolchocks, Il trucido e lo sbirro falls victim not only to its half-price production, but also to the stodgy run-of-the-mill story-line – cop & thugs cooperate to rescue a kidnapped kiddie girl – that wouldn't even be accepted by Kanal Ukrayina nowadays, the subprime soundtrack by a certain Bruno Canfora, and foremost the exceptionally unfunny "comic relief" spirit that began to wrecking-ball Italian crime cinema the same year concurrently with the first installment of the dumb-and-dumber Nico Giraldi cop series, also with Milián in the lead. If you want to know why US guest star Henry Silva's screen time lasts only about two-and-a-half minutes, take another look at Milián's beauty treatment. Those sixteen tons of eyeliner certainly did cost a whole lotta dough.
Vacanze per un massacro (1980)
Beaver Hunt, Abruzzo Style
At the end of the 70s, Fernando di Leo's career was going downhill, avalanche-style. The producers of Madness (a.k.a. Toy) generously provided him with two heaps from the used car dealer next door and a ramshackle hut in the Abruzzo region including posters of Marlon Brando and John Travolta on the wall – conditions that made di Leo so enthusiastic that he churned out a script for the libido thriller kammerspiel of the year, at least in his head. Enter the world champion in eye rolling, ex-Andy Warhol protégé Joe Dallesandro, as an escaped convict looking exactly like the village plumber ... and ricky-tick he's laying pipe to two low-rent lascivious gals desperate for a nice and thorough rape ("It wasn't bad at all ... Were you so keen due to abstinence? I enjoyed it. Whenever you feel like it, I'm all yours"), refined with some of the most harrowing canzone from the Italo hit parade 1979 (plus Luis Bacalov's score directly nicked from di Leo's by far best work, Milano Calibro 9). Amateur actress Lorraine de Selle is showing her beaver off for most of the ninety endless minutes, but - pardon me - that's not the reason why the word "lousy" might haunt you for a few days. Another sample of Dallesandro's dialogue, per favore? "And now screw. Show us what men like." It's only a short stop to Joe D'Amato from here. His porn flicks, for sure.
I ragazzi del massacro (1969)
Fruitcake With Aniseed
Be True to Your School: In Milano, a teacher is raped and killed by a class of booze-fueled students, but when the Commissario gives the teener pack the bad cop routine, he hits a wall of silence. Fernando di Leo's fifth film comes along as a predominantly lukewarm, actionless talkie and tries to surf the social commentary wave, a ludicrous endeavour that completely falls to pieces after the first half. Though Pier Paolo Capponi as the tough investigator gives a superb performance – erm, what for? –, soon-to-be Miss Ravishing Italia Nieves Navarro ("The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Beyond Suspicion") is wholly wasted as a mousy social worker, Silvano Spaddacino's soundtrack a jittery alarm-clock pain in the ass, and after 80 minutes of pointless drivel, brace yourself for the cross-dresser jack-in-the-box all of a sudden jumping out of Giorgio Scerbanenco's stenchy script: The conclusion featuring the gross transvestite from transsexual Aniseedonia – presaged with not even the friggin' slightest hint – tops almost any nonsensical rubbish denouement from the giallo department (think Argento's Opera) with mind-blowing panache. As an Emilio Miraglia c-flick, this lesson in ineptitude and stupidità would have been titled "The Closet Queen Kills Two Times", but since di Leo undoubtedly had had the lion's share of the liquor himself he couldn't even come up with a catchy title. And the hangover lasted: Unbelievable, but his next try, Asylum Erotica, is even worse.
Der gute Göring (2016)
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
"This is the story of two brothers, Hermann and Albert Goering. They couldn't have been more different. One was a war criminal, the other was the good Goering, today unjustly forgotten, though he saved many people's lives." Well, in case someone might accidentally snooze off, why not give the point of narrative away right from the start? Obviously, over there in Germany viewers of Third-Reich-related documentaries aren't trusted to have an IQ above 33, and the crudest joke might be that William Hastings Burke's complex and brilliant book "Thirty Four" – the story of a highly contradictory, ambivalent bon vivant with guts and spine, in some ways an operetta character like his also strangely tragic super-Nazi-brother – isn't even mentioned in the credits. Where Hastings Burke's study is, in too brief words, a stunning morality tale about power and conscience, the director of this mess does not even pretend to have the slightest interest in its central characters: the narrative is timid and stereotyped to the dullest max, the dialogue word-processor flatulence, each and every set piece from the bargain-basement, and Barnaby Metschurat's portrayal of Albert Goering nothing less than breathtakingly meager, while Francis Fulton-Smith plays the Reichsmarschall exactly as bogus as he played Bavarian politician Franz Josef Strauss in "Die Spiegel-Affaere". Albert Goering was a sworn enemy of the Nazi state, and come to think of it: The makers of this film are enemies of the arts.
Il poliziotto è marcio (1974)
Papa's Got a Brand New Body Bag
Though generally a tad overrated (neither Milano Calibro 9 nor Il Boss are the transgressive "masterpieces" some Italocinema fetishists want them to be), so-called "cult" director Fernando di Leo manages to strike some grippingly dissonant chords in Shoot First, Die Later, the original title being less sensationalistic than bone dry: The Rotten Cop. While most poliziotteschi are essentially feelgood movies, the degenerates and lowlifes getting what they justly deserve, this one marches to an entirely different drum. At its core a father-son story – the excellent Salvo Randone playing Pops to the opposite of leading beau Luc Merenda –, it's a cynical morality play about a model cop appropriately named Malacarne (literally meaning "bad meat") who feels perfectly comfortable with being on the payroll of the mafia until things go terribly awry: Unlike the cheap-thrills roller coaster violence of other Eurocrime movies, the stark brutality here comes across as callous, pitiless, not even nasty, but unpleasant through and through; actually, the two car chases, skillfully done by stunt coordinator Rémy Julienne, feel like a concession to the regular poliziotto crowd. In its acidly sarcastic Weltanschauung and the complete lack of redeeming qualities, Shoot First, Die Later is doubtless more akin to the cinema of Rosi, Damiani or Elio Petri than to the staccato over-the-top action of Castellari or Lenzi: A doom loop of human failings.
Roma violenta (1975)
Betti Blue - 40°3 al mattino
In autumn 1974, High Crime was a monster hit for the Italian movie industry, but neither superstar Franco Nero nor director Enzo G. Castellari were available for a follow-up cash-in. So the producer of Roma Violenta rang up Maurizio Merli, who had already impersonated Nero in the Jack London rip-off White Fang to the Rescue, and teamed him up with Castellari's papa (!) Marino Girolami. The first part of the Commissario Betti trilogy, a fierce and ferocious vigilante opera, has the rawest, most unleashed feel of the remorseless triptych – followed by the bigger budgeted, slicker and more generic Napoli Violenta and the utterly bleak Italia a Mano Armata – and delivers all the nasty way to hell, culminating quite early in a high class car chase involving an Alfa Romeo Giulia Super 1600 and a BMW 1800. Despite the loose, vignette-esque script by Vincenzo Mannino, Roma Violenta is spot-on throughout, with Merli – who actually considered himself superior to Nero – doing his Italian job with a somber, easy-to-underestimate bravura that serves as the single anchor in the widening gyre of the inferno. Sure, that's crypto-fascist dirt, a shame for a country that got rid of the Duce only three decades before, the most successful poliziottesco ever, and a tightly entertaining affair summarized best in the timeless words of N.Y. punk rockers Ed Gein's Car: "I've got five dollars for each of you/ And a bullet in the back/ Boo f*ckin' hoo."
E tanta paura (1976)
Under the Dining Room Table
Finally, a so-called "giallo" that's working vs. the formula. Corinne Cléry makes it quite clear when the Commissario (Michele Placido) asks her for a dance: "Recite an Apollinaire poem for me." De facto, the shadow of the famous French proto-surrealist is lurking everywhere in Paolo Cavara's tongue-in-cheek, poptastic homage to Heinrich Hoffmann's gruesome cautionary tales, published as "Struwwelpeter" in 1845. At first sight the usual psycho killer rubbish, E Tanta Paura is brimming with bizarre surprises, as in the orgy flashback sequence in the Fauna Lovers Group Sex Club (including a porn cartoon by Italian animatore Gibba) or the acidly humorous slaughterhouse scene, and you won't get much better dialogue for your money ("She cheated on me with a white guy." "But you're white as well." "I'm Neapolitan, that's different"). The denouement might be a bit underwhelming, but Cavara's elegant direction, Franco di Giacomo's skillful cinematography, Daniele Patucchi's versatile soundtrack and the splendid cast – special jury prize for the sardonic John Steiner – add up to an intertextual fun(house) ride breaking it down light-handedly that "giallo" can be a whole lot more than those bland Argento bummers: in this case, a vitriolic grotesque bowing its serpent's head in reverence to the origins of the Grand Guignol.
What's Love Got To Do With It
On the set of The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Beyond Suspicion (1969), redheaded Andalusian b-goddess Nieves Navarro had easily stolen the show from leading lady Dagmar Lassander – and the heart of first-time director Luciano Ercoli. Two years later, he made her the star of Death Walks on High Heels, the first half hour an extended (and highly exploitative) declaration of love to the stunning beauty and her ravishing assets; see Navarro with her thighs wide open in the taxi scene right at the beginning, the gorgeous strip sequence soon after, and certainly Miss Temptation 1972 doing her toenails – a ball for foot fetishists for sure, the superb soundtrack by Stelvio Cipriani serving as the sonic seducer. Sadly, the movie also has a script, penned by the Man with the Steal Claw, Ernesto Gastaldi, as usual an insipid whodunit proving once again that the often reveled "giallo" was nothing but the spaghetti variation of the reeking German Edgar Wallace "Krimis", the bratwurst smell suppressed with some squirts of rosso sauce. As a devout Catholic, Ercoli very well knew that the profane could only be dispelled by the sacred, and that's why Navarro made the difference: A work of unadulterated worship, High Heels leads directly to the inner sanctum of the Holy Church of Nieves.
Born to Kill (1947)
Pushin' the Extreme
Odd things are happening in this picture, and at the Hays Office obviously all were sound asleep: A stinking rich Miss Supersweet is marrying a brick-faced lowlife hunk who preferably shares his bed with an old buddy from jail, while the millionaire girl's foster sister gets soaking wet when it comes to gory murder. Here, in 1947, RKO finally delves headlong into the abyss of Krafft-Ebings Psychopathia sexualis, and though the fatal-attraction plot may not be entirely plausible, Robert Wise's direction is taut and trim, the timing pure excellence, while angel-faced and downright ravishing Claire Trevor – marvelously dressed in one stunning ensemble after another by costume designer Edward Stevenson (Out of the Past) – gives the probably best performance of her career opposed to Lawrence Tierney, the Most Vicious Mutha ever to roam Hollywood Boulevard. Despite its icy brutality a melodrama at heart, Born to Kill moves along the slickest ground amour fou terrain has to offer, chock-full of malevolence, aggression, sexual deviance and a stranglehold feel of utter depravity. The NYT called Wise's first noir "not only morally disgusting, but an offense to a normal intellect" back then. So much about the high art of pushing the envelope.
Rhymes with "Boomerang"
Fifteen years after he had been a protégé of Roberto Rossellini in 1953, Italian director Giuliano Biagetti somewhere stumbled across the term "Interrabang" (now consult your dictionary, per favore) and decided to knit the ultimate meta-thriller around it. The whole intertextual stupor begins with pseudo-existentialist banter between photographer Fabrizio and three trendy dolls (among them Haydee Politoff, who had played the lead role in the first installment of Rohmer's contes moraux, La collectionneuse, two years before) while heading to a rocky island for a fashion shooting, where a blue-eyed poet/ psycho is already waiting for the bikini bunch. The ensuing beach party is refined with Fitzgerald quotes, Daft One Dialogue ("How did you kill your woman?" "I didn't kill her. She was already dead for me."), the per se not-too-bad theme by Berto Pisano varied and overused to the retchy max, plus three dozen ultra-fishy "twists" buzzing off to Spasticland, breakneck-style. When Roberto Rossellini met Biagetti after the premiere, he put an arm around his old colleague's shoulders and told him a little secret about thrillers and postmodernist stunts, though Biagetti didn't listen because he was busy shaking hands with some stunning brunette in those very seconds. "It's no use breaking the rules, amico mio", Rossellini said, "if you don't even know 'em."
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
Blues Run the Game
"You didn't say nothing 'bout the third man being a n*gger." That cold sun glares not only on the wintry New York streets, but also in the dialogues of Robert Wise's Odds Against Tomorrow, a noir implying to be about a bank heist. Actually, it's about the blues, one key scene playing in a nightclub with Harry Belafonte singing When That Cold Sun Goes Down - an intense and intimate performance, and probably the best song Belafonte ever did on or off screen. The tune quasi condenses the mood of the picture, the stark monochrome of the mise en scène, the agonizing rhythm of the doom closing in, and even the cursed melancholia of Robert Ryan's racist character, a rugged, achingly torn individual gone awry; just wait for the scene when he's provoked by some unwitting youngster in a bar. A grim study about desperation, desolation, and self-hate, OAT was a quite discomforting statement, and essentially the project of the man who played more than just the cool dude role here: co-producer Harry Belafonte, who certainly had a special notion of the "Blacklist" he'd been on during the McCarthy reign. In the meantime, he had made a trillion bucks with the godawful Banana Boat Song. Now, finally, he had found something that Day-O money was good for.
Il boia scarlatto (1965)
Bigger Than Life
Before special effects wizard and triple Academy Award winner Carlo Rambaldi worked on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, Dune and E.T., he created not only the legendary size-doesn't-matter giant spider, but also the Lover of Death rag doll and the Tittie-Slice Rotating System for Massimo Pupillo's Bloody Pit of Horror. When Jayne Mansfield's ex-hubby Mickey Hargitay ("Mr. Universe 1958") heard that Fellini cinematographer Luciano Trasatti (I Vitelloni) was on board as well, he happily signed the 1000-Lire-contract to star as The Crimson Executioner, a saucy blend of Batman's Robin, Bertie Bizarro and the Muscle Beach Molester. Though credited to the influence of the Marquis de Sade, the script much more obviously refers to Octave Mirbeau's pre-surreal torture classic Le Jardin des supplices – a highly inventive, stranger-than-fiction dungeon purification wackorama with Hargitay in the role of his life: "The Executioner will torture you ... to death." Probably for a reason: Two years before, Jayne had booted him out of The Pink Palace, their Beverly Hills mansion with the famous heart-shaped pool. He, former plumber Mickey Hargitay, had built it himself, and that's why the Torture of Icy Water has the master touch. Got the subtext? Spell it out, not too loud: This is catharsis.
Louder Than Words
Apparently, Umberto Lenzi's Orgasmo was x-rated in 1969 – probably for the haircut of actor Lou Castel, who looks like a 15-year-old crossbreed of British binge drinking ex-midfielder Paul Gascoigne and a village nutjob. Of course, million dollar MILF Carroll Baker falls immediately for Lou's magic libido set – a very likely story –, and after exactly fifteen minutes you get proof that The Great Lenzi couldn't direct his way out of a darn shower. The rest is something of an unhealthy concoction of Desperate Housewife meets the Teens from Hell (Looney Lou soon being accompanied by a semi-sapphic babe from France), trimmed with an excruciatingly pushy Riviera soundtrack by Piero Umiliani, ridiculous Pornmaster Flesh dialogue ("Yess! Yess! Dirty me!"), unmotivated zooms and other nauseating gimmicks aplenty. Assistente alla regia was future celebrated French A list director Bertrand Tavernier (Coup de torchon), usually a raconteur par excellence when it comes to talking about movies. As for Orgasmo, he has remained silent for almost fifty years.
Così dolce... così perversa (1969)
"Klaus will always come between us."
If you don't get Klaus Kinski, why not simply name the bad guy ... Klaus! After such a cunning production move – Klaus being played by German 60s scoundrel regular Horst Frank, flown in directly from the set of one of Jürgen Roland's stuffy St. Pauli whores-&-pimps flicks –, there's few directions to go but down, and neither pallid Frenchman J-L Trintignant nor "Baby Doll" Carroll Baker can provide the slightest bit of uplift. And in fact, it's not Klaus who's coming between them, but a) Riz Ortolani's annoying soundtrack, especially the ear-cancer inducing theme canzone, and b) the convoluted mess of the script by hackmeister Ernesto Gastaldi, a pseudo-clever double-crossing murder scheme stolen shamelessly from Les Diaboliques (for his version of Strangers on a Train, see the stunning densefest Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh). As for Horst Frank, he's almost as smug as Tarantino favorite Christoph Waltz. Almost, and if legend is true, he also suggested a much more fitting title for this Euro stinker: Klaustrophobia.
How To Solve a Headcase
The more so-called "giallos" you watch, the harder you feel the mighty power of Uncle Yawn – it's Groundhog Day again, with scalpel-wielding headcases, slapped faces, catholic chicks in heat, boobs alert, and another cheeeeesy screenplay fusing the spirit of an imbecile Hercule Poirot with the advanced aesthetics of the busty clip. This time two super-bimbos rent a flat in an apartment complex where a psycho killer hunts ... yo, man, super-bimbos! And the mounting tension indeed leads to some equally puzzling and disturbing questions: Why does Uruguayan coat-tree George Hilton always look like he flew in from Stepford? Was Bruno Nicolai's flatulent jingling originally composed for a Walmart Italia commercial? Did scriptwriter Ernesto Gastaldi really laugh so maniacally all the way to the bank? And why the heck is that pale brunette from the bunny dept. in every second fiasco, pardon me, giallo? Now, folks, that's a damn lot of red herrings.
A long Roman Holiday: That's what washed-up actor Farley Granger and his lover Bob Calhoun spent over in Italy in the 70s, resulting in the most dreadful c-flick bummers of Granger's career. So Sweet, So Dead isn't the worst of the bunch, though also not exactly a Roberto Rossellini movie: A fiendish maniaco sessuale (see Italian title) is slashing adulterous women who by happy chance all give us eye candy galore before they meet their maker – the usual stupido giallo fare, this one despite the lousy exploitation script nonetheless now and again creating a crude indiscrete-charm-of-the-bourgeoisie feel, including the quite intriguing soundtrack by Giorgio "Musica totale" Gaslini culminating in atonal territory while accentuating a Scena Carnale Grande with Miss Drop-Dead Voluptous 1972, Nieves Navarro, getting up for a truly unfaithful ride. Breathless moments the movie can't live up to, the dichotomy between clothes-off and hats-off being a fair way wider than that between the Apollonian and the Dionysian.