Film Review: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Also known as: 4 mosche di velluto grigio (original Italian title)
Release Date: December 17th, 1971 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Luigi Cozzi, Mario Foglietti
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Francine Racette, Bud Spencer

Universal Productions France, Seda Spettacoli, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Exactly. You see before you a fully-fledged, highly-qualified private investigator with an extensive knowledge of modern science at his very fingertips. And, in spite of this, in three years of honest practice, I haven’t solved a single case.” – Gianni Arrosio

This is the one Dario Argento movie from the ’70s and ’80s that I had never seen and that has more to do with it never streaming anywhere. It’s been in my Prime Video queue for years and I check every month to see if it popped up on any of the services available on my Firestick. Well, it finally did!

It also irked me that it took me so long to see this because it is a part of the loose Animal Trilogy of films that Argento did back-to-back-to-back in less than two years from 1970-to-1971. This is the last of those films and the ones that predate it are The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and The Cat O’ Nine Tails.

Oddly, each film seems to be a slight step down with Crystal Plumage being my favorite of the trio.

That doesn’t mean that this one was bad, it just had two things working against it in comparison to the other two.

The first is that it was pretty predictable. My first hunch as to who the killer was, was correct. However, this could’ve just been due to only having the English language dub to watch, as the voice of the killer made it clear to me that it was probably a woman. I’m not sure how the voice came across in the original Italian language version and this giveaway could’ve just been due to a shit English dub.

The second thing that works against it, is that it was the least stylish and opulent looking of the three movies. It is nowhere near as vivid, cool and exquisite as Crystal Plumage and it also falls below Nine Tails, as well.

I did think the killer mask was creepy as hell and really cool, though. Like the other Argento giallo pictures, this plays like a proto-slasher flick. The slasher-y bits and the kills were all pretty good and the film wasn’t lacking in that regard.

I was also impressed with the end of the film, which features a slowed down, violent car crash.

Overall, this was a good giallo and a good movie in general. While it’s far from Argento’s best it’s still worth checking out if you are a fan of the man’s other work.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Wolf (1994)

Release Date: June 17th, 1994
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Written by: Jim Harrison, Wesley Strick
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, Kate Nelligan, Richard Jenkins, Christopher Plummer, Eileen Atkins, David Hyde Pierce, Ron Rifkin, Prunella Scales, David Schwimmer, Allison Janney

Columbia Pictures, 125 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve never loved anybody this way. Never looked at a woman and thought, if civilization fails, if the world ends, I’ll still understand what God meant.” – Will Randall

Back when this came out, I initially wanted to see it. However, everyone that did really trashed it and since I was still a young teen and my time and funds were limited, I passed on it. But over the years, I did wonder why people seemed to dislike it so much.

I saw it streaming on one of my many services, so I figured that I’d check it out to see what people took issue with. However, I really couldn’t find anything glaringly negative and thought that Wolf was rather good. And I guess the opinion of the public has changed over the years, at it seems to be viewed fairly favorably these days.

I mean, how bad could a film be with this cast?

You’ve got Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer and James Spader and all three give good performances. As does the talented supporting cast that includes Christopher Plummer, Richard Jenkins, Prunella Scales and Ron Rifkin. You’ve also got smaller roles for up and coming actors like David Schwimmer, David Hyde Pierce and Allison Janney. Between all of them, there isn’t a weak link in the bunch.

Plus, this is a werewolf movie! And not just that, it is a werewolf movie featuring Jack f’n Nicholson and James f’n Spader as feuding werewolves! Granted, they start as friends but as the story rolls on, you learn that the young, opportunistic Spader is willing to crush his friends for his own personal benefit. James Spader has always made a great bad guy and it’s kind of refreshing seeing Jack Nicholson playing a very good, moral character that is victimized by his own power hungry protégé.

Speaking of werewolves, the practical special effects here are handled by Rick Baker, who is the greatest werewolf effects guy of his generation after working on both An American Werewolf In London, as well as the original Howling. He also crafted effects for other werewolf related projects like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video and the Fox television show Werewolf, which scared the bejesus out of me when I was too young to watch it.

Baker’s effects in this are top notch and he really takes the best of what he’s learned from his other werewolf projects and utilizes them to great effect, here.

I also liked the story, as it focuses on the rivalry of two literal alpha dogs in the corporate world. However, even the romance stuff was pretty decent. The love story isn’t by any means the greatest ever told onscreen but Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer, despite their age difference, felt like they had a natural connection and it just works.

Now I thought the ending was a bit strange but it doesn’t wreck the film. The actual finale was pretty well done but the the closing moments, after the awesome werewolf fight, were presented oddly. It’s like this went from a pretty straightforward werewolf movie to something overly stylized and artistic in it’s closing sequence. It just felt weird and out of place and I audibly muttered, “Huh?”

Still, Wolf is pretty solid and damn enjoyable.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The Untouchables (1987)

Release Date: June 2nd, 1987 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: David Mamet
Based on: The Untouchables by Eliot Ness, Oscar Fraley
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery, Billy Drago, Patricia Clarkson, Brad Sullivan, Clifton James (uncredited)

Paramount Pictures, 119 Minutes

Review:

“You just fulfilled the first rule of law enforcement: make sure when your shift is over you go home alive. Here endeth the lesson.” – Malone

While this isn’t one of my favorite Brian De Palma movies, it was one of my favorite mob movies back when I was a teenager. As a De Palma picture, though, it’s stylistically very different than his other films, especially those that came before it.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I still love the hell out of this movie.

The Untouchables is full of great actors giving solid performances and telling a really compelling and tragic story, as many of the heroes die very violently while trying to bring one of America’s most violent criminals to justice.

This is a balls out, unapologetic movie that doesn’t shy away from some onscreen carnage and while that’s what made me think this was cool as a teen, it’s actually what makes it so effective and real.

Granted, Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Al Capone is inaccurate, as the real man wasn’t as publicly careless as he appears to be in the film. That’s not De Niro’s fault, that’s the script’s fault but at the same time, I don’t mind it, as it is used artistically to convey who Capone was beyond the public facade.

I love the camaraderie between the four heroes in this film, as they all felt truly chummy and it transcended the picture and made their sacrifices come across as even more genuine. You feel it in your gut when Sean Connery is gunned down and it doesn’t really matter how many times one has seen this picture.

The real standout in the cast to me is Billy Drago, who plays Frank Nitti, the sadistic and blatantly evil henchman of Capone. Drago has been a favorite actor of mine since he played the villain, John Bly, in the grossly underappreciated television series The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Since then, I’ve taken note of everything Drago has been in but then, he’s really hard to miss. Drago takes control of every scene he’s ever been in and can convey chilling villainy like no other actor. That being said, this is probably his greatest and most prolific role.

The movie also has a really unique score, composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone. Even for Morricone, it’s a strange soundtrack while also still sounding like his patented style. I like that this movie allowed Morricone to experiment in a way that he couldn’t when he was doing spaghetti westerns and Italian dramas.

The Untouchables holds up pretty well. It’s not a run of the mill, typical gangster picture. It certainly feels like it’s own thing and I feel like that’s why it still stands out, years later. While I can’t consider it as great as De Palma’s Scarface, Coppola’s Godfather movies or Scorsese’s Goodfellas, it’s still in the upper echelon of the genre.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Brian De Palma crime films, as well as other Robert De Niro starring crime flicks.

Film Review: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Also known as: Exorcist II, The Heretic (working titles)
Release Date: June 17th, 1977
Directed by: John Boorman
Written by: William Goodhart
Based on: characters from The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Max von Sydow, Kitty Winn, Paul Henreid, James Earl Jones, Ned Beatty, Dana Plato (uncredited)

Warner Bros., 117 Minutes, 102 Minutes (VHS cut)

Review:

“Pazuzu, king of the evil spirits of the air, help me to find Kokumo!” – Father Lamont

It has been a really long time since I’ve seen this film but since I’ve reviewed the first and third films in the series, I figured that revisiting this one was long overdue.

I put it off for ages because it’s the only one out of the three that’s not very good. However, it wasn’t as bad as I remembered it.

Honestly, this is a really strange movie that feels like a product of its time, as it uses some modern (for the time) science-based ideas to try and solve the mystery of Reagan’s previous demonic possession and the effects it had and still has on her. It’s kind of hard to explain but there are some neat retro-techie sequences in the film that probably play much better now than they did in 1977.

Additionally, I like that this doesn’t simply try to retread the material and narrative framework of the previous, classic film. Instead, it takes a new and fresh approach. While that can only be as good as the writing and the execution, it still made this an interesting and unusual film that was very different than what was the norm for religious based horror movies of its time.

The film is also loaded with talented actors from the returning Linda Blair, to Louise Fletcher, Richard Burton, Max von Sydow and smaller roles for Ned Beatty and James Earl Jones.

I also really enjoyed the score by Ennio Morricone, which probably deserves more credit than it’s gotten over the years, as the music is overshadowed by the public disdain for the film.

On top of that, I really liked the finale of the film, which saw the good people in the story return to the spot where Reagan was previously possessed. They want to confront and conquer this evil, once and for all, and what we get is a really neat sequence with solid effects and great sets.

The problem with the movie is that it is a very disjointed clusterfuck that drags along at a snail’s pace in some sequences. I think that the better parts of the film offset its general drabness but it’s a bad movie as far as the story and pacing go.

Also, the plot is so far outside of the box, it’s hard to envision this as a sequel to the original, even as it unfolds in front of you, featuring the same young actress playing the same character.

In the end, I get why people hate this movie. Looking at it as its own body of work, it’s palatable. It has some really cool moments but you have to drag yourself through the uneventful portions of the film to reach the more satisfying ones.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: I guess the first and third films but they’re both much, much better.

Film Review: Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

Release Date: September 4th, 1971 (Turin premiere)
Directed by: Paolo Cavara
Written by: Marcello Danon, Lucile Laks
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet, Rossella Falk, Silvano Tranquilli, Barbara Bach

Da Ma Produzione, Produzioni Atlas Consorziate (P.A.C.), 89 Minutes, 98 Minutes (uncut)

Review:

Paolo Cavara was better known for making mondo films. However, he also made two giallo pictures, this being one of them.

Since I had never seen this but heard good things, I figured I’d check it out. It also stars a young Giancarlo Giannini, as well as the immensely beautiful ladies, Barbara Bouchet and Barbara Bach.

Like many giallo pictures, this one plays like a proto-slasher movie. And while it is very artistic and vivid, as giallos go, it doesn’t look as overly stylized as the works of Argento or the two Bavas. Still, it is a beautiful looking picture, a product of its unique time and country of origin, but it feels a bit more grounded in a gritty reality.

The method of the killer in this movie is unique and kind of cool, as he kills his victims in the way that a spider wasp kills a tarantula: paralyzing them with the sting of a needle and then slicing open their stomachs as they are conscious and can feel the agonizing pain without the ability to fight back or scream.

Giannini plays the detective trying to stop the killer but in doing so, finds himself and his girlfriend as targets of the deranged, mysterious killer.

While I can’t put this on the same level as the best giallos to come out of Italy, it is still memorable because of its killer’s methods, as well as the superb cast.

This also came out just as the genre was finding its style and getting its stride. So it might not feel as refined, beautiful and as opulent as later films in the genre but it did help pave the way for them.

Overall, this was pretty enthralling from the perspective of one who generally likes these sort of films. I can’t necessarily call Cavara a giallo maestro just based off of this one film but it did make me want to check out his other giallo picture: Plot of Fear a.k.a. Bloody Peanuts.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other early ’70s Italian giallo pictures.

Film Review: Orca (1977)

Also known as: Orca: The Killer Whale, The Killer Whale (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 15th, 1977 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Anderson
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati, Robert Towne (uncredited)
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Sampson, Bo Derek, Keenan Wynn, Robert Carradine

Famous Films, Dino De Laurentiis Company, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I’d insisted on leaving South Harbor with them. I told myself that somehow I was responsible for Nolan’s state of mind. That I had filled his head with romantic notions about a whale capable not only of profound grief, which I believed, but also of calculated and vindictive actions, which I found hard to be believe, despite all that had happened.” – Rachel

I was originally introduced to this movie by my 6th grade science teacher circa 1991. While most of the class was dozing off, I really enjoyed it, even if it was one of several dozen ripoffs of Jaws.

Orca is somehow better than almost all of the Jaws wannabes, except for Joe Dante’s magnificent Piranha. But the reason for that is due to the movie’s ability to create great sympathy for the killer killer whale as well as Richard Harris’ ability to take a total bastard of a character and make him somewhat noble and redeemable.

I also really enjoyed Charlotte Rampling in this, as she added so much to the film’s context in a great way, as well as having a really organic chemistry with Richard Harris.

Being that I haven’t seen this in its entirety since that day in 6th grade, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the film all these years later. It was actually better than I remembered and there were some scenes I had completely forgotten, like the whale fetus on the boat deck scene, which my 6th grade teacher may have omitted from the movie when he showed us his VHS copy of it.

While this was a Dino De Laurentiis produced picture, which means it had a limited budget, most of the special effects were damn good. Even though I knew that some of the whale celebration moments with destruction in the background were composited shots, they actually look pretty great for the time, even when being seen in modern HD.

The two sequences that stood out to me the most were the coastal house being destroyed by the whale and collapsing into the sea, as well as the scene where the female whale is gruesomely captured and maimed, leading to her death and the death of the baby she’s carrying, all while the male whale watches on in agony. It may sound kind of cheesy but it’s surreal and haunting. Most importantly, it was incredibly effective. You felt the whale’s pain and understood his quest for vengeance against Richard Harris’ captain character.

I also really dug the Ennio Morricone score. The guy is an absolute legend and his score here is enchanting while also being brooding. While it’s not on par with John Williams’ Jaws score, it is very different and fits the tone of this movie, which wasn’t exactlyJaws ripoff. This just used the timing of its release to capitalize off of the killer marine life craze of the late ’70s.

The story is actually closer to Moby Dick and just modernized with a different species of whale. But that didn’t stop it from potentially taking a shot at Jaws by having the killer whale murder the crap out of a great white shark at the beginning of the film.

All in all, I was really satisfied with this. It’s not an all-time classic but it is better than most killer animal ocean movies not named Jaws.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other killer animal horror movies, especially those that take place on the water.

Film Review: Operation Double 007 (1967)

Also known as: O.K. Connery (original title), Operation Kid Brother (US), Kid Brother (US informal title), Divided Evil (alternative title), Secret Agent 00 (Germany)
Release Date: April 20th, 1967 (Italy)
Directed by: Alberto De Martino
Written by: Paolo Levi, Frank Walker, Stanley Wright, Stefano Canzio
Music by: Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Neil Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi, Agata Flori, Bernard Lee, Anthony Dawson, Lois Maxwell, Yachuco Yama

Produzione D.S. (Dario Sabatello), 104 Minutes

Review:

“It’s going to blow up soon. Maybe even tomorrow. With you on board.” – Dr. Neil Connery, “You read too many novels by Fleming.” – Maya

As I’m getting close to finishing my quest of reviewing all the movies showcased on Mystery Science Theater 3000, I saved one of the best pictures for last. That was partially by design, as I remembered seeing this years ago, was somewhat captivated by it and wanted to save something I liked (or was at least interested in) for the tail end of my long journey.

Since the Italians don’t give a crap about copyright law and make unofficial sequels to anything that made more than five lira at the box office, this film “borrows” pretty heavily from the James Bond franchise, which was super popular at the time.

While this film is parody and not a “sequel” it features some of the iconic actors from the early Bond films: Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) and Adolfo Celi (Emilio Largo, the main antagonist from Thunderball). Even nuttier than that, it features Sean Connery’s younger brother Neil, as the super spy hero.

It’s alluded to that he is the younger brother of the more famous spy but the similarities between the two men end there, as Neil doesn’t look the part nearly as well as Sean does and he kind of stumbles through the film without the confidence and panache of any of the actors that played legitimate James Bonds.

In fact, the younger Connery is completely overshadowed by the other actors on the screen, especially the ones that were in actual Bond movies. Celi steals the scenes he’s in and it’s cool seeing Lee and Maxwell here too but none of them can make this a salvageable picture.

The only real high point, apart from how bizarre this is, are the dozens of hot Italian women thrown onscreen simply because this is Italian schlock that is ripping off a franchise that puts a high emphasis on the tried and true ideology that sex sells. You should certainly be pleased with the amount of eye candy here and even if no one is really acting like they care, most of the women heavy scenes are playful, fun and lighthearted.

Comparing this to the typical films that were riffed on MST3K, this is actually one of the better ones even though it’s still a bit shit. It’s that good kind of shit though, especially for fans of the early years of the James Bond franchise.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’60s spy parody films.

Film Review: The Thing (1982)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s The Thing (complete title)
Release Date: June 25th, 1982
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Lancaster
Based on: Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joe Polis, Thomas G. Waites, Adrienne Barbeau (voice, uncredited), John Carpenter (cameo, uncredited)

Turman-Foster Company, Universal Pictures, 109 Minutes, 127 Minutes (extended VHS cut)

Review:

“We’re gonna draw a little bit of everybody’s blood… ’cause we’re gonna find out who’s The Thing. Watchin’ Norris in there gave me the idea that… maybe every part of him was a whole, every little piece was an individual animal with a built-in desire to protect its own life. Ya see, when a man bleeds, it’s just tissue, but blood from one of you Things won’t obey when it’s attacked. It’ll try and survive… crawl away from a hot needle, say.” – MacReady

Horror has been my thing since I was a young kid. I think a lot of that has to do with growing up in the ’80s, a great decade for horror movies because of the directors, the VHS market and the variance in horror styles from body horror, slashers and the supernatural. But I think, most importantly, credit has to be given to the style of the special effects, which were still practical and real, as CGI hadn’t taken over and turned everything into a digital world that doesn’t allow you to be as immersed in the horror on screen.

That being said, I didn’t actually see The Thing until I was a teenager in the mid-’90s when I worked at a video store. I was a John Carpenter fan but I didn’t know much about this film till later. I was inspired to watch it based off of some photos of the production and its monster in an old issue of Fangoria that I was flipping through. It looked like nothing I had seen before and I had to borrow it from the store and take it home for the night. That night ended up being a week.

What resulted from that was me becoming a die hard fan of this film and frankly, for me, it is the greatest horror movie ever made for several reasons, all of which I’ll get into.

To start, I’ve never been scared of horror. I actually find more terror in things that can harm me in a real world scenario. For instance, the Night Slasher and his cult-like gang from Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra was scarier to me than Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which I see as a masterpiece, never scared me even though it was freaky as hell and fucked up. Well, the naked old lady with rotting skin kind of screwed me up for awhile but that’s also because I was maybe a few years older than Danny in the movie when I first saw it.

Anyway, The Thing terrified me, even as a teen. Sure, it doesn’t feel like something that is realistically plausible but it tapped into something primal, as it is about something you never fully understand that can come at you in incalculable ways without you realizing it until you’re ensnared by it. There is just something absolutely dreadful about that and John Carpenter with great help from the stupendous special effects team and the actors was able to crack through my pretty tough exterior and scare the shit out of me. And as a first time watcher of this film, it caught me by surprise and I immediately fell in love with the picture because it made me feel things that I typically don’t from movies.

This brings me to the special effects themselves, as well as the creature. This monster is one of the best, if not the best, ever created for the screen. The imagination that went into the execution of its various, altering physical forms still blows my mind all these years later. I’ve seen this movie a dozen times over and I’m still left breathless in a lot of the key monster scenes. I have also watched special effects films my entire life, especially those from this era, my favorite for this sort of thing, and I don’t know how some of the shots were achieved.

Adding to the horror of the bizarre creature is the horror of human paranoia. As the movie progresses, every character becomes an island unto themselves unable to trust the other men whom they’ve been holed up with at a science research facility in Antarctica for months. What was once a brotherly bond between these men becomes a fight for individual survival against those you considered your friends and colleagues. This is just as much a psychological horror film as it is a physical one. Maybe even more so.

Also, the setting of the film multiplies the dread, as it feels unfamiliar and isolated, which it is. But it immediately sets up a situation where you know that no one can come to help and for better or worse, these men have to figure out this problem on their own with limited resources, limited knowledge and while constantly having to look over their shoulders because anyone or anything could violently kill them at the drop of a hat.

There are so many layers to the horror in this picture that it feels overwhelming, which makes it damn effective. But it also makes for a film that is incredibly intense, especially in the final act, which starts with an insane attack by the creature and culminates in several men tied to chairs as their blood is tested in an effort to figure out who’s been replaced by this “thing”. And all of that comes to a head in a big showdown but even then, we’re left unsure as to what’s what.

The Thing ends brilliantly, as it doesn’t really give you any answers and the two that survive are left in a situation where one of them could still be the creature but it doesn’t even really matter because their time is limited regardless of what happens next.

It’s a perfect ending to a perfect movie though.

When other people talk about this film, they always go on about the monster and how visually fucked up the movie is. But I don’t think enough credit goes to the cast.

The Thing is stacked with talent from Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley and a half dozen other very capable actors. All of the key players have good chemistry and watching their camaraderie dissolve over the course of the movie is troubling and convincing.

Ennio Morricone’s score is also prefect here and what’s really strange about it is that it sounds like a Carpenter score, which is fitting. But it also makes me wonder why Carpenter used Morricone when he usually scores his own movies. While I absolutely love the atmospheric sounds of the score, it’s not typical of Morricone’s style and it just makes me wonder if Carpenter just wanted to collaborate with him because he’s a fucking legend.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is, in my opinion, one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Horror doesn’t get any respect from the weirdos in Hollywood but I’d put this against most Academy Award winning films because the vast majority of them can’t get into your head like The Thing, despite what genre any of them are.

Those weirdos can keep The Shape of Water because I’d watch The Thing a hundred more times before ever going back for seconds on that pro-bestiality fish fuck movie.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other parts of what Carpenter calls his Apocalypse TrilogyPrince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness, as well as other body horror movies of the era like The Fly and David Cronenberg’s early films.

Film Review: Once Upon A Time In America (1984)

Also known as: C’era una volta in America (original Italian title)
Release Date: May 20th, 1984 (Cannes)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini, Sergio Leone
Based on: The Hoods by Harry Grey
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams, Scott Tiler, Rusty Jacobs, Jennifer Connelly, Danny Aiello, William Forsythe, Adrian Curran, James Hayden, Brian Bloom, Darlanne Fluegel, Mario Brega, Estelle Harris, James Russo, Louise Fletcher (only in 2012 restoration)

The Ladd Company, Embassy International Pictures, PSO Enterprises, Rafran Cinematografic, Warner Bros., Titanus, 229 Minutes (original), 139 Minutes (original US release)

Review:

“Age can wither me, Noodles. We’re both getting old. All that we have left now are our memories. If you go to that party on Saturday night, you won’t have those anymore. Tear up that invitation.” – Deborah Gelly

I tried watching this about fifteen years ago but if I’m being completely honest, it bored me to tears. And I’m speaking as a guy that has a deep love for the films of Sergio Leone, a man who sits among the best in my Holy Trinity of Motion Picture Directors. The other two being Akira Kurosawa and Stanley Kubrick, naturally.

So years later, I felt that I really needed to revisit this, as maybe I wasn’t in the right head space and because I generally have a hard time sitting through movies that feel like they could take up an entire day. Well, this took up an entire afternoon and I did have to take a halftime break and make a ribeye.

But regardless of that, I really enjoyed this picture and I can’t deny that it is one of Leone’s best. In fact, I may have to edit my rankings of his films, as I would now put this third behind The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon A Time In the West.

What’s interesting, is that this movie has more in common with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy than Leone’s own pictures, which were mostly top tier spaghetti westerns. But like his westerns, he also employs the talents of musical maestro Ennio Morricone, who gives real life to the motion picture full of mostly understated performances.

This movie is incredibly slow paced but it’s that kind of slow pace that is more like a slow simmering stew of perfection than the chef accidentally setting the burner too low and walking away.

As far as the acting goes, this is a superb film. Robert De Niro and James Woods own every scene that they’re in. However, the supporting cast is also stupendous, especially the child actors, who play the main characters in lengthy flashback sequences.

This is also compelling in that it is full of unlikable, despicable characters yet you are lured into their world and you do find yourself caring where this is all going and how life will play out for these characters. You never like them but that’s kind of what makes this story so intriguing. With The Godfather‘s Michael Corleone, there were things you could connect with and respect about the man, despite his crimes. In Once Upon A Time In America, you don’t really have moments with these characters that humanizes them all that much, in fact it does just the opposite of that. I can see where that might be bothersome to some people but we also live in a world where people saw Walter White from Breaking Bad as some sort of hero.

Once Upon A Time In America also shines in regard to its visual components. It’s a period piece that covers different periods, all of which come off as authentic, even if the city sometimes looks more like it was shot in Europe (some of it was) than truly being Depression Era New York City. But the sets and the location shooting all worked well and this picture boasts some incredible cinematography. It should be very apparent to fans of Leone that he’s taken what he’s learned making fabulous movies and found a way to perfect it, in a visual sense, even more with this, his final picture.

There’s not a whole lot I can pick apart about the movie, other than the pacing being slow. But again, it’s not a painful slow and it certainly isn’t full of pointless filler and exposition. Every frame of this movie needs to exist. But maybe take some breaks or just approach the film like you’re binge watching a short season of a TV show.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Sergio Leone’s other films but this has a lot in common with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather films.

Film Review: Machine Gun McCain (1969)

Also known as: Gli intoccabili (original title), Killer MacCain (Denmark), The Untouchables (European English title), For A Price (English alternate title), At Any Price (US working title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Montaldo
Written by: Mino Roli, Giuliano Montaldo
Based on: Candyleg by Ovid Demaris
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: John Cassavetes, Britt Ekland, Peter Falk, Gabriele Ferzetti, Florinda Bolkan, Tony Kendall, Salvo Randone, Gena Rowlands, Luigi Pistilli

Euroatlantica, Euro International Film, 116 Minutes

Review:

“What do you do? Sell women? Sell marijuana? – what d’you do? Where’d you get the twenty-five thousand? I wouldn’t give you twenty-five cents. What d’you do? – you go out and you hustle yourself all over the street. Small time – no dignity! You don’t beg.” – Hank McCain, “That’s why, Hank – I need this chance. I got tired of being small change.” – Jack McCain, “You’re gonna be small change all your life.” – Hank McCain

If you like Italian gangster films, you should actually check one out from Italy, as opposed to American films about Italian-American criminals doing mafioso shit for the umpteenth time. The Italians weren’t just known for spaghetti westerns and sword and sandal movies back in the ’60s, they also made solid horror and badass crime pictures.

Gli Intoccabili, also known as Machine Gun McCain in the United States, is a high octane, gritty Italian crime thriller that stars a badass American, John Cassavetes. This also has a young Peter Falk in it. But the real treat is the lovely Britt Ekland, who I crushed on hard when I was a kid and saw her in The Man With the Golden Gun.

I like this movie but if I’m being honest, it is completely elevated by Cassavetes, Falk and Ekland. Without them, it would have just been a fairly mundane gangster movie.

There isn’t a lot of stylistic flourish to this film, which is surprising being that it came from Italy in a time when that country was experimenting with very colorful and vivid cinematography. I’m not saying that this needed giallo flair but it does look quite pedestrian when compared to what else was coming out of Italy in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

I really enjoyed Cassavetes’ McCain and I totally bought into his chemistry with Ekland. Falk was an absolute scene stealer though and for fans of his most famous role on Colombo, his part here is a real departure from the norm. It’s also worth noting that one of Sergio Leone’s favorites, Luigi Pistilli, has a small part in this. You may remember him as the priest brother of Tuco in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as well as a member of Indio’s gang in For A Few Dollars More.

I should also point out that movie music maestro Ennio Morricone did the score for this. While it’s not as memorable as his work with Sergio Leone, it is still a nice score that enhances the film and gives it more life than it would have had with a less accomplished composer.

Machine Gun McCain is a film that probably sounds cooler than it is but if I’m being honest, it’s really damn hard to say something’s “uncool” if it’s got John Cassavetes in it.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The Burglars, The Italian Connection, Robbery and Grand Slam.