Hannie Caulder (1971)

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With the help of bounty hunter Price (Robert Culp), Hannie Caulder (Raquel Welch) goes after the three marauding Clemens brothers (Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam and Strother Martin) who killed her husband and have raped her.

Worth to be a cult movie, this (almost) forgotten gem is a kind of an oddity in the history of the Western film. American director Burt Kennedy (who wrote and directed many Westerns like Return of the Seven, The War Wagon, Dirty Dingus Magee and Young Billy Young) took charge of this British production that kicks in at the last years of the declining  cycle of the Spaghetti Westerns in Europe and the Revisionist Western in the US.  There is only half a dozen British Westerns (A Town Called Hell, Catlow, Chato’s Land, The Man Called Noon,  Shalako, The Hunting Party) that became in/famous, and even those stood very much in the shadow of the glory of their Italian counterparts. 

Hannie Caulder is an attempt to combine Spaghetti Western elements (ugly bad guys, dark incidents, cool costumes, funky one-liners, Spanish landscapes and a rousing score) with revisionist ideas (critical, more realistic depiction of the West, activation of stronger female roles, avoidance of an idealistic hero) and a bit of British humor and elegance (ironic and over-the-top characterizations of the bad guys, and Robert Culp and Christopher Lee do represent a dash of British gentlemanship).  The plot moves very fast and is not always “airtight”, but the film certainly can stand as a standard example for an European Western with the additional twist that in the center of the story is not a tough gunman, but the sensuous Raquel Welch who I believe still can be considered a role model for a newer generation of women who is self-confident with its femininity, mental strength and ability to manage male skills.  It took many years, arguably until the Nineties, that female leads appeared in mainstream US cinema who are strong – without adding fictional or overemphasizing masculine traits (or portraying them as femme fatales). Yet, “Hannie Caulder” was strangely shying away from being too consequent and therefore having a stronger ending…

When being asked why the western lost popularity in the public, Burt Kennedy answered in an interview for the MovieMaker Magazine: “Because of the tempo of a western—the attention span [it requires]. We’ve educated audiences to see things blowing up. In the old days we used to do stories.” This movie certainly represents a bridge between old and modern filmmaking. Welcome to the wild Seventies!

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068675/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_29

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Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

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A gang of three go-go dancers that are used to take whatever they want, may it be with sex or with violence, are after the big money. Do they get it through ransom, seduction or killing?

A sexploitation cult classic from independent filmmaker Russ Meyer (1922-2004), who could be considered as the counter model of Ed Wood: Despite very low budgets, Russ Meyer continued to deliver sexy, wild and fast paced softcore action flicks catering to the grindhouse audience. A great example for an auteur who successfully turned his personal obsessions into art – with disregard to authorities or studios. Owning the rights of almost all of his films, he retired as a rich man in the Seventies, continuing making millions through selling videos and DVDs until his dead. 

A part of his success derived from the choice of his actresses who all stand out through their impressive physicality. In “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” we can admire “Miss Japan Beautiful” Tura Satana, and the exotic dancers Haji and Lori Williams. Not much to say any further, enjoy this type of “exclusively American” picture!

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059170/?ref_=nv_sr_2

ED WOOD (1994)

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Tim Burton pays homage to “world’s worst” fringe filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr., featuring some reenacted scenes of Wood’s most infamous films: GLEN OR GLENDA (1953), BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1955), NIGHT OF THE GHOULS (1959) and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959).

The film not only focuses on the artistic struggles of this director, but also sympathetically portrays his obsessions, his love live, and many of his unusual friends.

Martin Landau was awarded the Academy Award and the Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor for his role as the forgotten horror legend Bela Lugosi (“Dracula”, 1931). [The movie garnered its second Oscar for the Best Make-Up.] Wood is played by a very enthusiastic young Johnny Depp, and you can also enjoy Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Sarah Jessica Parker, Vincent D’Onofrio and other great character actors in this film.

Despite being critically acclaimed, this film is the first of Tim Burton’s legendary financial failures with only making back a third of its budget in the USA [the other ones are: “Corpse Bride”, “Dark Shadows”, “Frankenweenie”, “Big Fish” and worst of all “Mars Attacks!” which again interestingly is a different form of homage to Ed Wood!]. It also marks Burton’s first R-rated film.

For this course, this film marks midterm, and from now we will delve into more “modern” and adventurous forms of film production. It will be a break from the classics we have been watching so far, but despite being made in the 90’s, the films setting is the 50’s, and Burton choose to shoot it in B/W, probably aiming to look more “authentic”. It also will introduce you to a different type of film production away from the glamour of Golden Hollywood (despite the studios on “Poverty Row” being at least geographically close).

Wood whose directorial efforts could be considered in the very best case as mixed pleasures, nowadays is admired by many for his strong independent spirit, being an “auteur” type of filmmaker, and having made with “Glen or Glenda” (1953) the world’s first “serious” film about transvestism and transsexualism. Many of his films are also “So Bad It’s Good” type of movies being very enjoyable for their cult audience. The University of Southern California is holding a yearly “Ed Wood Film Festival” in which students are competing to produce short films in Wood’s style. Wood’s films also have been shown in the TV program “Mystery Science Theater 3000″, and there exists even a new baptist group of “Woodites” who celebrate Ed Wood as their savior.

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109707/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_14

HIGH NOON (1952)

 

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On the day of his wedding and retirement, Marshal Will Kane all of a sudden must face gangster Frank Miller, who was released from prison instead of being hanged and has gathered a gang of three to kill him.

This psychological western directed by Fred Zinnemann won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Gary Cooper), Best Editing, Best Music and Best Song (Dimitri Tiomkin), and was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. On a budget of 750,000 US $, it made 18,000,000 US $ in the theaters worldwide in 1952.

The film was very popular despite some mixed reactions, because of it’s political implications. Oddly enough, many of those views feel paradox today: In the communist Soviet Union the film was criticized as “a glorification of the individual.” Actor John Wayne who was a supporter of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA) stated that High Noon was the most un-American thing he had ever seen in his whole life.

The film was shot in the times of the “Second Red Scare“, and writer/producer Carl Foreman (who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for “The Bridge on the River Kwai” in 1957) ended up being blacklisted.

The film’s stars are Gary Cooper as the Marshal, Grace Kelly as his Quaker bride, Lloyd Bridges as Deputy Marshal and Katy Jurado (who won as first Mexican actress ever a Golden Globe for her role) as Helen Ramirez. Look out for “Wolfman” Lon Chaney, Jr. as Martin Howe and Spaghetti Western cult star Lee Van Cleef as one of the bad guys.

“I will always think of myself as a Hollywood director, not only because I grew up in the American film industry, but also because I believe in making films that will please a mass audience, and not just in making films that express my own personality or ideas.” (Fred Zinnemann)

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044706/?ref_=sr_1

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

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Famous silent movie star Norma Desmond’s career has faded to oblivion. Eager to make a comeback she chooses young B-Movie screenwriter Joe Gillis to fix her script. But during the process, Norma starts to fancy him. Financially dependent on her, it becomes more and more difficult for Joe to refuse her.

This film noir was directed by Austrian immigrant Billy Wilder (1906-2002) who is considered to be one of the top directors and writers during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Among his credits are classics like “Double Idemnity” (1944), “The Lost Weekend” (1945), “Sabrina” (1954) and “Some Like It Hot” (1959).

Although not all Hollywood “insiders” – some older movie stars and in particular MGM studio boss Louis B. Meyer – were very fond of Sunset Boulevard, it managed to garner 11 Academy Award nominations and 3 Academy Awards (Best Script, Best Art Direction, Best Score). The critical reception was tremendous, and also financially the film had a moderate success (it did well in the metropolitan areas, but poor in the countryside). In 1998, Sunset Boulevard was selected to be number 12 of AFI’s 100 best American movies.

Director Billy Wilder gathered a great crew (eight time Academy Award winner Edith Head for the costumes, composer Franz Waxman, art director Hans Dreier, make-up artist Wally Westmore) and cast: Gloria Swanson, herself a faded star from the silent era, as Norma Desmond, the up-and-coming William Holden as the young writer, and legendary silent filmmaker and actor Erich von Stroheim as Norma’s servant Max. In special appearances one can see other greats of the past: Comedian Buster Keaton, director Cecil B. DeMille, actress Anna Q. Nielsen and actor H.B. Warner.

The film’s story is said to be inspired by the life of actress Norma Talmadge – a superstar of the silent screen that did not succeed in making the transition to the talkies, had an affair with actor Gilbert Roland (who was 12 years younger than herself) and spent her later days in wealthy retirement. Another reference is to the mysterious murder case of film director William Desmond Taylor.

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043014/?ref_=sr_2