Monday, February 28, 2011

Liza Minnelli & Ingrid Bergman in A Matter of Time (1976)

Obscurity factor: 10

This film tells the story of Nina (Liza Minnelli), a simple girl from the Italian country side who comes to Rome to work as a maid in a run down hotel. There she meets the Countess Sanziani (Ingrid Bergman), an extravagant woman at the end of a remarkable, full life. The Countess teaches Nina how to live.
This film has the distinction of being Vincente Minnelli's last. It's interesting to see Liza, so young and fresh and know that she had this lovely, golden opportunity to be directed by her father. Unfortunately, he wasn't in top form, and eventually lost control, and ultimately, final cut on the production, and it suffers from a skewed point of view. There are flashes of brilliance in the film and the charm of both the Minnellis shine through, as does that of Ms. Bergman. Perhaps, the most delightful aspect is the message that the Countess impresses upon young Nina - be yourself, the world worships originality. Look for Charles Boyer in a small role as the Countess' husband and Isabella Rosselini as a nun.
 
This film has yet to make it to DVD. It was released on VHS and there are copies of it floating around. You can also watch it on YouTube. Installment one is above, uploaded by BroadwaytoRio. It's rarely aired on TV, though I did catch it on TCM during a tribute to Liza Minnelli. The poster above is available at MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 10 (largely forgotten, not on DVD, available on YouTube and VHS)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lauren Bacall & Larry Hagman in Applause (1973)

Obscurity factor: 9

Lauren Bacall made a big splash on Broadway in 1970 with Applause. It's the musical version of the Bette Davis classic All About Eve and it was a big enough hit to inspire this 1973 CBS Television special event. Also starring Larry Hagman (fresh off his success in I Dream of Jeannie) as Bill Sampson and Penny Fuller as Eve, the production lacks the luster of the Broadway success, but has some numbers that are great fun to watch and is noteworthy as the only taped record of Bacall's performance in the show.

Above: the Broadway cast album artwork

The story is a familiar one, established Broadway star Margot Channing (Bacall) takes little Eve Harrington (Fuller) under he wing. Eve charms all Margot's friends, but Margot begins to suspect that Eve is out to take her place. The musical numbers are full of great energy. My personal favorite is "But Alive" which is performed primarily in a gay bar - big news for 1973.
Bootleg copies of this have been passed around among friends and sold on iOffer.com for years now, but if you haven't been in the know it hasn't been available to you. Consider yourself in the know now. You can also find it uploaded in full to YouTube. Installment one is above.

Obscurity factor: 9 (only available on iOffer.com and YouTube)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Peter Ustinov & Cloris Leachman in The Mouse and His Child (1977)

Obscurity factor: 8

This film, based on the book of the same name by Russell Hoban, tells the story of a windup toy mouse and his son who are unpacked from their box and find themselves in a toy shop. They meet the other toys and the child longs for all of them to be a family together. They have a long journey together before that is to come to pass, however. They fall off a counter and break and are discarded. At the dump, they're enslaved by Manny the rat (Ustinov) and forced to work with other discarded windup toys in the rat's casino. They escape, and while being pursued by the rat, attempt to locate the elephant and seal from the toy shop and become self winding.

This is a children's film with the very adult themes of self discovery and actualization, and messages about persistence and intention. The themes are presented overtly and through the use of symbolism. Through out the film, there is an underlying respect for humanity and warmth that is very admirable. One of the more interesting devices used repeatedly throughout the film is the graphics on a can of dog food. The image of a dog holding a can with the image of a dog on it repeated into infinity can be interpreted many ways, but brings to mind the idea of finding our way back to source, as well as the idea of the journey being the destination. Listen for Sally Kellerman as the voice of the seal.
This film is very hard to find. It was released on VHS in 1991, but hasn't been released on DVD yet. Copies of it can run upwards of $100, but there were some used copies available on Amazon for a reasonable price. You can also watch it in full above, thanks to a YouTube upload by CaptainSlug. The poster is available on MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 8 (hard to find, not on DVD, available on YouTube)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ellen Burstyn & Sam Shepard in Resurrection (1980)

Obscurity factor: 8

Based on actual events, this film tells the story of Edna (Burstyn), who after an automobile accident that kills her husband and almost kills her, finds she has the ability to heal people with a "laying on of the hands." She develops a relationship with Cal (Shepard) who has trouble coping with Edna's gift and begins to believe that she is the second coming of Christ.

This film was well received at the time of its release. It was nominated for two Oscars. One for Ellen Burstyn and another for Eva La Gallienne, who played Grandma Pearl. It's since been largely forgotten.

This title is recently available on print on demand DVD - part of Universal's vault series. It's also available on Hulu in full and can be watched above.The poster above is available at MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 8

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tony Curtis in Don't Make Waves (1967)

Obscurity factor: 8

This is a very strange film. It's a farce, with all the door slamming and misunderstandings that the genre implies. It also has a touch of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I guess what makes it strange to me is it keeps shifting focus and you're not sure who to root for.

It's the story of Carlo Cofield (Curtis), a Midwesterner who heads to southern California to start fresh. As he arrives he stops on a hillside to admire the view and a careless girl (Cardinale) bumps his car, which rolls down the hill and catches fire, destroying everything he owns. When the careless girl blames him for blocking the road with his burning car he blows up. They eventually mend fences and she invites him to stay in her apartment for the night so he can get back on his feet. Of course a girl as beautiful as Claudia Cardinale wouldn't be unattached. Her married boyfriend arrives and they hurriedly try and hide his presence and him. The boyfriend eventually discovers him, and Carlo blackmails him into giving him a job selling swimming pools. Here's where the How to Succeed plot line comes in - Carlo is quite an operator. In a few short weeks he wrangles himself a glamorous house perched high on a hill, complete with Rolls Royce. The sub-plots abound aplenty - Carlo has become obsessed with a beach bum sky diver (Sharon Tate) who rescued him from drowning. Everything he's done has been aimed at getting the girl away from her muscle boy boyfriend (David Draper). Laura (Cardinale) wants to marry her already married boyfriend, whose wife owns the company he runs. She finds out and wants to divorce him - from herself and her company. It all culminates in a dramatic rain storm that threatens to spectacularly topple the house on the hill, which they all find themselves in. The cheesecake abounds, but in a nice touch for the ladies and gay men, so does the beefcake - David Draper is very nice to look at. Look for counterculture comedian Mort Saul in several scenes and Jim Backus and his wife Henny playing themselves in a cameo.

This film hasn't made it to DVD yet, but you can find it on VHS and it's uploaded in its entirety to YouTube. It's not aired on TV much, but I saw it as part of TCM's tribute to Tony Curtis, so it's occasionally screened.

Obscurity factor: 8 (not yet on DVD, available on VHS and YouTube, largely forgotten)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Anne Bancroft & Anthony Hopkins in 84 Charring Cross Road 1987

Obscurity factor: 2

This charming little film tells the story of Helene Hanff (Bancroft), a native New Yorker who loved literature. In the early post war period it wasn't as easy as it is now to find the classics of literature. Helene had trouble locating titles she wanted until she saw a small ad for a London bookstore specializing in obscure and antiquated books. In part, due to her gregarious nature and part due to her skill at writing, she developed a friendship with the staff at the store, exchanging care packages to make up for the post-war food shortages in England and buying many different volumes of English literature. The particular manager with whom she developed the closest rapport was Frank Doel (Hopkins). Their correspondence was a warm and important one in each of their lives, chronicling the changes that occurred to them personally and in the world at large from 1949 until his death in 1968.
This film faithfully recreates the unique relationships and is a lovely portrait of the two cities during those times. Also look for Judy Dench as Doel's wife and Mercedes Ruehl as a friend of Helene's.
 
This is the fourth incarnation of this story witch originated as a book by Ms. Hanff. It's well loved by many, though not high in the public consciousness. It's available on DVD and parts are uploaded to YouTube. The trailer is above, uploaded by MariaAlfancinha. The poster is available from MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 2 (on DVD, well loved by fans, unknown to a large portion of the population)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Burt Lancaster in Executive Action (1973)

Obscurity factor: 8

Before there was JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991) there was this film. A shadowy group of conservative business men meet to discuss the problem of Kennedy's liberal agenda and the likelihood of a three president dynasty between the Kennedy brothers and the changes that would effect on the USA. Analyzing the risks to their interests, they decide to take action, enlisting what one assumes are CIA contractors to do the job.

This film, directed by David Miller has a fascinating history. It was written, in part by Dalton Trumbo, who was one of the most visible faces of the Hollywood black list brought on by conservative senator Joseph McCarthy's House Un American Activities Committee. Trumbo and his writing partners Donald Freed and Mark Lane create a fictional account of a possible conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy at a time when the distrust of the government was reaching a fevered pitch. Consequently the film's limited release was cut short in many places and, like The Manchurian Candidate, another film that cut too close to the bone, the film was shelved for many years. Unlike the above mentioned film, however, it doesn't have the compelling drama or the cathartic ending so when it came out from under wraps it didn't gain as much fame. It's still a tight thriller, though, with a plausible plot line, if you favor conspiracy theories. Also giving wonderful performances in the film are Robert Ryan, in his last performance and Will Geer.

Since this film reemerged it's been released on DVD. It's also available on YouTube in full. The first installment of it is above, uploaded by dwayne0t.

Obscurity factor: 8 (largely unknown, on DVD and YouTube)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Barbra Streisand in Up The Sandbox (1972)

Obscurity factor: 6

This is the second film in Brini Maxwell's Obscurity Factor Screenings at Chelsea Clearview Cinemas, here in New York. It will screen a week from tonight on February 28th at 7pm. Join us if you can!


This is a strange film. It's a very personal account of the inner landscape of a housewife and mother in New York in the early 1970's. Margaret Reynolds is bored. Bored with her husband, her friends, her life... She's so bored that she can't keep her mind from wandering into outlandish and outrageous fantasies about meeting Fidel Castro, mortal combat with her mother and taking part in black power domestic terrorism. These fantasies are blended into the storyline so seamlessly that you're not sure they're fantasies until they really get going. Among the forays into the netherworld we get a good dose of Margaret's life - her relationship with her family, her insecurities, her fears about having another child and her desire for deeper meaning in her life. All this adds up to an intimate portrait that is all the more interesting for the cultural references from the era. Look for TV veterans Isabel Sanford, Conrad Bain and Paul Benedict in small roles and for Stockard Channing playing a uncredited part in this, her first film.

This film was not well received when it was released, however time has given it a period perspective that adds luster to it. It was released on DVD a few years ago as part of the Streisand Collection and though it's no longer in print, there are quite a few copies still available. You can also find clips of it on YouTube, though the whole film isn't uploaded. Above is the trailer, uploaded by lewylewel.The poster above is available at MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 6 (on DVD, largely forgotten to all but hard core Streisand fans)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Elliot Gould in The Long Goodbye (1973)

Obscurity factor: 2

Elliot Gould as Phillip Marlowe? Right off the bat you know this isn't an ordinary, hard boiled crime drama. But then, Robert Altman isn't an ordinary director.

Altman's Marlowe is a fish out of water - dubbed Rip Van Marlowe by the director. He's a man with a cut and dried, 1950's sense of right and wrong living in the increasingly amorphous moral climate of southern California in the early 1970's. Marlowe's friend Terry Lennox comes to him early one morning asking for a lift to Tijuana. He's had a fight with his wife, so he says. When his wife turns up dead the police head straight to Marlowe. He won't give them any information, so they rough him up a little and hold him for three days. When he's released he learns that Terry Lennox has committed suicide while in Mexico. In a seemingly unrelated case, Marlowe is hired by the ice cool blond wife (Nina Van Pallandt) of a Hemmingwayesque writer (Sterling Hayden) who has disappeared. Marlowe finds him in detox and returns him to his wife. When he gets home he finds gangster Marty Augustine and his henchmen waiting for him, convinced that he has money that Terry Lennox owed him. As the plot continues to unravel, Marlowe finds the common link in these three stories and his moral code is put to a real test. This film, as with most Altman pictures is highly distilled and creates very polarized reactions among viewers. It's not faithful to the Raymond Chandler novel, which many consider a sacrilege. Some hold it up as a masterpiece of neo-noir cinema, while others consider the forays into character development and scene setting annoying distractions from the story. At the time of its release the film was not well received. It was pulled from theaters and rebranded with a more comedic slant and still didn't fare well. In retrospect, however, it has a lot going for it, with a moody, dark storyline, great performances and beautiful cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond. The washed out pastel effect was created with light struck film. Look for a young Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of Augustine's henchmen and listen for the title song as sung by Jack Sheldon - voice of many of the Schoolhouse Rock cartoons.

Fans of Robert Altman know this film well. To the rest of the film going public, it's not well known. It's available on DVD, and can be seen in its entirety on YouTube thanks to uploads by PrizeFighterEnFuego. The first installment is above.

Obscurity factor: 2 (well known in film circles, relatively unknown generally, available on DVD and YouTube)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Walt Disney's Make Mine Music (1946)

Obscurity factor: 3

The war years had quite an impact on the film industry. Studios retooled, just as factories did, only instead of turning out planes and tanks, they turned out propaganda, training films and projects designed to keep the moral up. Disney's studio was no different. Because of a reduction in development staff they turned to projects like this, which utilized content they already had on the boards.
 Make Mine Music was a compilation of 10 different, unrelated segments that featured songs and stories based around music. Many went on to become pre-show shorts in later years, like the one advertised in the poster above, but they were all brought back together (except for the first one - The Martins and the Coys, which was deemed inappropriate for children by today's standards because of violence) for the VHS and DVD releases. Below are a few of my favorites from the film.
After You've Gone is the second Benny Goodman piece to be featured in the film. You'll see shades of Peter Max and other contemporary animation and illustration styles in this one. Look for the dancing fingers. It was uploaded by epcot
Here's The Martins and the Coys, the segment stripped from the home video releases of the film. It tells a Romeo and Juliet like story of star crossed lovers. It's uploade by 2wingo
The Andrews Sisters provided the song for this addition to the film. It tells the story of a hat who falls in love with a bonnet, but they are separated when different customers buy them.
The other Benny Goodman segment is All The Cats Join In and is very clever in its animation with everything originating from the point of the animator's pencil. This segment above is uploaded by Uncutcartoons247. The film is also the origin of the Disney version of Peter and the Wolf, which was shown to many elementary school students over the years, and The Whale who Wanted to Sing at the Met, voiced by Nelson Eddy.

The entire film is available on DVD in Disney's Gold Classic Collection, minus the hillbilly segment. You can also find many of the segments on YouTube separately.

Obscurity factor: 3 (available on DVD and in pieces on YouTube, known to Disney fans, relatively unknown otherwise)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sally Field & James Caan in Kiss Me Goodbye (1982)

Obscurity factor: 7

In yesterday's film Maxie, the ghost of a flapper takes over a woman's body. It reminded me of this charming little film from a few years earlier with an equally ghostly plot. I remember being enchanted by this film on HBO shortly after it was released. It's based on Dona Flor and her Two Husbands, a Brazilian comedy with Sonia Braga. Kay Villano (Field) has decided to move back into the townhouse she lived in with her late husband, Broadway choreographer Jolly (Caan). Once there, however, she's confronted with Jolly's ghost. Needless to say, this complicates her plans to remarry to Rupert, a charming, but stuffy Egyptologist (Jeff Bridges). Her friends and family start to think she's crazy because only she can see and hear Jolly. Rupert tries to humor her until he's finally convinced that Jolly does exist. Then he brings in an exorcist. Look for  Claire Trevor as Kay's mother, and Mildred Natwick in a small part.
 There doesn't seem to be any online video of this film available anywhere, not even a trailer uploaded to YouTube. It is available on DVD, however. I was recently delighted to see it as a selection on the back of a box of Corn Flakes and diligently saved box tops to get it. Watching it again was delightful. The poster above is available at MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 7 (not available online, on DVD, largely forgotten)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Glenn Close & Mandy Patinkin in Maxie (1985)

Obscurity factor: 7

When Jan (Close) and Nick (Patinkin) move into their new apartment in San Francisco, little do they know the tragic history of a previous tenant will impinge so palpably on their lives. The ghost of Maxie Malone, a free-wheeling flapper still inhabits the apartment and takes possession of Jan's body. Maxie is intent on proving her abilities as an actress and getting the audition she would have had if she hadn't died the night before it. She is also ecstatic to be in a body again, and goes all out to make it her own - new hairstyle, new clothes... Of course this is incredibly disconcerting to the conservative Jan.
Maxie is one of those films that got lost in the shuffle. It's also somewhat controversial - it's a charming comedy that many people remember fondly and others can't stand. Close and Patinkin have some great support in the film. Look for Barnard Hughes as a dotty bishop, Valerie Curtin and Ruth Gordon in her last role as the landlord and former pal of Maxie. 
This is another hard to find film. It's available on DVD, but again, the price is quite high at Amazon - over $60. You can get it for less there on VHS but it's not available on iOffer.com and there isn't a full upload on YouTube. Above is the trailer, uploaded by KaninFamily. The poster above is available at MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 7 (available on DVD, but expensive and rare, not on YouTube in full)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tim Curry & Trini Alverado in Times Square (1980)

Obscurity factor: 5

I was at a friends house a few weeks ago, watching Blank City a new documentary about the No Wave movement in film in the late 70's and early 80's in New York's east village neighborhood. It was a gritty, dangerous time to live in New York and that area was one of the worst parts of the city. Also called the Cinema of Transgression, No Wave had its roots in punk and the films that came out of the movement were dark, edgy and had a nothing-to-lose quality to them. They reminded me of this film.
It's about two misfit girls (Trini Alverado and Robin Johnson) who find each other in a hospital, run away and become media darlings by bucking the establishment. They call themselves the Sleez Sisters and go around dumping television sets off of roofs and performing punk music. They're championed by disc jockey Johnny LaGuardia (Tim Curry) who promotes their activities and builds up their cult image. Times Square, in all it's dirty, neglected glory is the setting for their greatest success - an outlaw concert from the roof of a building.

This is one of those films that has a robust cult following. It's particularly resonant in the gay community because of the lesbian overtones in the girl's relationship. It's rarely, if ever screened on TV now, and the 2000 DVD release is no longer in production, leading to prices for it on Amazon rocketing above $100. It's not currently to be found on iOffer.com either. There are some random scenes available on YouTube, but the entire film hasn't been uploaded. The trailer is above, uploaded by TrailerFood. The poster above is available from MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 5 (Cult classic, extremely hard to find now, largely unknown outside of its cult audience)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Perry King & Meg Foster in A Different Story (1978)

Obscurity factor: 7

This film, from the early days of gay liberation has a controversial reputation. It's about a gay man and lesbian that were thrown together by circumstances and fell in love. Coming, when it did, at the dawn of public recognition and acceptance of gay identity, it rubbed a lot of gays and lesbians the wrong way, which is certainly understandable - with so few productions focusing on gays and lesbians to begin with, it could be seen as a slap in the face to produce a film that shows them denying their identity as gay and coupling together.
However, when you look at it with the perspective of 30 years you can see that it's a film about the fluidity of sexuality and two people who place too much value on societal norms and expectations. I think if we can set aside the politicized notion of gays and lesbians pursuing heterosexual relationships and view it as an exploration of the gray areas of sexual attraction and personal identity, the film still has something to say.
 
Above, is a tribute to the film that was put together by momentbymoment78. Clicking on the video takes you to the YouTube page with a nice write-up of the film. It was released on DVD in 2006, but is still pretty obscure. The only video I could find of it online is the tribute above. The poster is available at MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 7 (on DVD, hard to find online, largely forgotten)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Stockard Channing in The Girl Most Likely To (1973)

Obscurity factor: 8

Before there was Carrie and Heathers, there was this TV movie. Written in part by Joan Rivers, it tells the story of Miriam Knight, a poor, schlumpy girl who can't seem to find a boyfriend or even make platonic friends at the many colleges she attends. Her latest school is no different. She tries and tries, but can't seem to find her niche. The men she meets all play cruel tricks on her and the girls are no better. One night, after a particularly unpleasant experience, she runs away and gets into a terrible automobile accident. The plastic surgery she had to have as a result of the accident turns the ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. Now that she's a knockout she returns to school to reap revenge on the dolts who tortured her so. The story line isn't earth shattering but what really makes this film a gem is Ms. Channing. She throws herself into the role and goes through an amazing transformation. She starts out as a genuine ugly duckling, but the makeup is extremely subtle, and I think it's a real testament to her acting as well that she so naturally transforms herself into a credible schlub. When she's revealed after the surgery, it's as if a different actress is playing the part. It's all very impressive, especially for 70's TV. The writing is very nicely done as well. Some of the early scenes could have been extremely painful to watch, but you really get a sense of Ms. River's humor coming through. She and her co writer, Agnes Gallin are able to mix tragedy and comedy in a way that honors both and is very enjoyable. This film is choc full of recognizable faces. Look for Ed Asner, Fred Grandy, Jim Backus, Ruth McDevitt, Larry Wilcox and Annette O'Toole.
 
This was a made-for-television movie and there is very little video of it available online. The clip above is the only one I could find, and doesn't even feature Ms. Channing. It's uploaded by p0dlingface. The film was released on DVD in 2005, but is currently out of print and highly collectible. The only copies on Amazon go for upwards of $75. You can, however find it on iOffer.com for a lot less.

Update: You can see the film in its entirety right here, thanks to an upload by Charles787980:



Obscurity factor: 8 (on DVD, but very hard to find, not available online)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Christopher Walken & Natalie Wood in Brainstorm (1983)

Obscurity factor: 4

In 1983 we lost a great star - Natalie Wood. Her last film was this one, and though it's not a great film, it wonderful to see her in it. She plays Karen Brace the wife of Michael Brace (Christopher Walken).

They're working on a system that will record and play back human experiences with all their associated senses and emotions. We pick up the story just as they're having a breakthrough. A bright future seems certain for the project until people at the lab start getting addicted to pornographic recordings and the US military gets wind of it and descends on them with all sorts of nefarious plans and schemes. Meanwhile, one of the lead researchers (Louise Fletcher) has a heart condition, and one night, alone in the lab she has a heart attack. Her last act is to put on the recording device and start the machine, taping her death. When another researcher dies while playing it back, it's put under lock and key. Michael Brace is determined to play it through to the end though, and Karen helps him break into the lab to do it. The story line wanders a bit, but there are some very interesting ideas explored in the film. It's worth a look, especially if you're a Natalie Wood or Sci-fi fan. Look for Cliff Robertson as the head of the lab.

Brainstorm is on DVD and is notable because of it's status as Natalie Wood's last film. It's been somewhat lost to the sands of time, however. The trailer above was uploaded to YouTube by RETROvisions. The poster above is available from MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 4 (available on DVD, some scenes available on YouTube, relatively unknown except to specific fan groups)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Spotlight on The Goofy Gophers

When it comes to manners and politeness, no one can beat Mac and Tosh. These two little upper crust rodents who are frequently confused with Disney's Chip and Dale were minor characters in the Warner Brothers cartoon stable beginning in 1947. Unlike their Disney counterparts, they never bickered or competed with each other. These two woodland creatures (one or both of whom were voiced by Mel Blanc) prided themselves on their civility. They're said to be based on character actors Franklin Pangborn and Edward Everett Horton. Their first short subject together was the eponymous The Goofy Gophers. Mac and Tosh matched wits against a nameless dog (somewhat reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote) whose job was to guard a prized vegetable garden. In the grand tradition of cartoons, they, of course, wiped the figurative floor with him. They made a series of 8 shorts during the time Warner Brothers had an animation studio. Below is Lumber Jerks from 1955, uploaded to the Romanian YouTube, 220.ro. Here the boys are pitted against a lumber mill and furniture factory that has appropriated the tree they live in.




In the same year, they were paired with Elmer Fudd, who was furnishing his home and happened to pick a chest that they had chosen to use for nut storage. Pests for Guests is uploaded to YouTube by jgbennie.

 
The gophers have been retired, for the most part since their last short in 1965 (Tease for Two). There have been a few cameos in later films, but they remain mostly forgotten characters in the WB stable. They're available on some of the WB cartoon compilation DVDs, and you can find several of their shorts on YouTube and other video aggregating sites, as above. It's a shame they're not better remembered. The world needs their civility.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Constance Towers in The Naked Kiss 1964

To cap off our week of Noir we have this late entry. 1964 is really the bitter, ragged end of film noir. Many people wouldn't consider this a noir film because of the year it was made, but for our purposes we're going to count it in. In this Leon Fromkess/Samuel Fuller production, Constance Towers is Kelly, a former prostitute who's trying to give it up and walk the straight and narrow. The film opens with a shocking scene of Kelly beating up her pimp, from the pimps point of view. As she pounds at him with her purse her wig falls off and she's bald. He's shaved her head to punish her for transgressions. We next see Kelly getting off a bus in a small town. She meets the sheriff (Anthony Eisley) there and has a fling with him, after which he tells her to leave town and suggests she work at Candy's - a clip joint in the next town over. He's later surprised to find her working at the local children's hospital as a nurse's aid. She tries to convince him that she's cleaning up her act, but he doesn't believe her. Later, she's taken to a party at the home of the town's most eligible bachelor. Well, of course you can guess that they fall madly in love. He's hiding a dark secret, however.

This film is really disturbing on many levels. The close proximity of deviant behavior and children, the exploitation of disabled children to drive sympathy for Kelly, the sanctioning, even championing of Kelly's tendency to viciously attack the people who have wronged her in some way all add up to one twisted film. Look for Virginia Gray and Patsy Kelly in small, but well featured parts, and an especially creepy scene with the above mentioned disabled kids singing "Mommy Dear." Also, look below for my little soap box moment about some implausible plot points in the film - they include spoilers though!
This film has gotten something of a cult reputation in the years since it was made. There was a DVD release by the Criterion Collection back in 1998 and it's also on the Hollywood Bombshells Collection that's been the source of all the films this week. It's uploaded to YouTube in full, thanks to MindsiMedia. Part 1 is above. Many thanks to Steven Menendez for loaning me the set!

Obscurity factor: 3 (film is cult classic, available on DVD, YouTube, largely unknown out of cult circles)

*spoiler alert*
Now I usually don't include spoilers in these write-ups, however this needs to be addressed. There's a big hole in the plot here that has only become more obvious in the age of Law & Order. Kelly is in jail, awaiting trial for killing her fiance, and when the child is found and she confirms her story she's set free, no trial, no other corroboration. She's killed one of the most prominent citizens of the town and is released with a thank you. It completely implausible. At the very most the circumstances would provide a defense lawyer with a case of justifiable homicide, but because there wasn't a specific victim in immanent danger, that defense probably wouldn't have gotten her off. There, I feel better now...
*end spoilers*

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Angela Lansbury in A Life At Stake 1954

Our first film noir post this week featured Angela Lansbury, and here she is again playing another dangerous dame.

Keith Andes plays Edward Shaw, an architect who has lost his business in a deal gone bad. He's approached by an attorney who is looking for someone to partner with his clients (Lansbury and her husband) to take advantage of the post war building boom in Southern California. When he meets Doris Hillman (Lansbury) the sparks fly, and it looks like some pleasure will be mixed in with the business. The deal seems too good to be true - they'll pay off his debt and establish the new company with him with no upfront money from him at all. The only catch is they want to take out an insurance policy on him. This might not phase another man, but Mr. Shaw is nothing if not suspicious - of everyone. When more and more things start to point toward a scheme to murder him to collect on the insurance he starts to run scared. Look for veteran character actress Jane Darwell as Andes' landlady.
 
This film, like the others this week is available on the Hollywood Bombshells Collection DVD, and it's also uploaded in full to YouTube by sdfilmcritic. It's another one of those noir films that's gotten lost among the many available titles, so it's primarily unknown. The poster above is available at MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 6 (available on DVD and YouTube, largely forgotten)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Blonde Ice 1948

Blonde Ice is true film noir. It's a B movie all the way, produced by an obscure production company and showcasing obscure actors, it's left to get by on its own merits. There are a few.

The lead - Leslie Brooks plays Claire Cummings Hanneman, a woman so obsessed with getting ahead that she lets nothing stand in her way. She's willing to lie, cheat, steal and murder to come out on top. She's made a name for herself as a society reporter for a San Francisco newspaper and uses that name to land a wealthy man. The film opens at her wedding, and after the ceremony, she takes the sports writer (Robert Paige) she dumped aside to tell him that she's still in love with him. When her husband finds out on their honeymoon in Los Angeles he leaves her to fly home. She follows and kills him, then goes back to LA to establish an alibi. Despite some boneheaded moves on her part, she gets away with it for a while. The film is entertaining, though you have to suspend disbelief occasionally.
 
Another film available on the Hollywood Bombshells Collection DVD set, this film is also available in full on YouTube, thanks to OpenFlix. There is a stand alone release of this title as well, that comes with several interesting bonus features. It's otherwise all but forgotten. The poster above is available at MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 8 (available on DVD and YouTube, largely unknown)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Loretta Young in Cause for Alarm 1951

Second in our series on film noir is this dark little gem. Loretta Young plays a wife taking care of her invalid husband. His incapacitating disease has started to affect his mind and she and his doctor become the target of his increasing ire. He believes they are plotting against him, attempting to kill him, so he takes action by composing a letter to the prosecuting attorney claiming as much and saying that, should he not survive, they were the cause of it. After getting his wife to mail the letter and confronting her with what she just sent, he attempts to shoot her and then promptly drops dead. What's she to do?! Loretta Young is not the first actress you think of when you think of film noir. This circumstance, however, fits her persona perfectly and also fits beautifully into the genre. The setting is a bright, sunny California day, but the story line is dark as night.

This is one of those films that sort of slips through the cracks. I first saw it on TCM, but it tends to blend in with all the other titles and get lost in the shuffle. It's worth seeking out, however. The entire film is uploaded to YouTube in one large file. You can watch it above, thanks to sdfilmcritic. You can also find it on the Hollywood Bombshells Collection DVD set and occasionally on TCM.

Obscurity factor: 5 (available on DVD and YouTube, occasionally screened on TCM, largely forgotten)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Angela Lansbury & Raymond Burr in Please Murder Me 1956

The phenomenon of film noir produced quite a few obscure specimens. By its very nature, film noir was a low budget medium, despite its more high profile, high budget examples. This week I'll be covering some fun examples of the more obscure film noir titles, thanks to a DVD set that was loaned to me by my neighbor, Steven Menendez.
Angela Lansbury seemed to be cast in more than her share of film noir titles. Please Murder Me is one of them. She plays a femme fatal, one of the stock characters of film noir, who falls in love with her husband's best friend. When the husband turns up dead, his friend defends her for the murder. After he gets her off he finds out that she was never in love with him at all. She used him to murder her husband and get away with it, though his brilliance as a defense attorney. It's then that he plots to have her murder him so he can be sure she'll receive justice. The film has all the elements of good noir. It's moody in its cinematography, clever in its plot points and heavy handed in its acting, in a good way. Raymond Burr is a great counterpart to Lansbury.
 
This film is available on the Hollywood Bombshells Collection compilation put out by Pop Flix. The quality isn't great, but good enough to get the idea. It's also available on YouTube in its entirety, uploaded by VideosbyBob. Installment 1 is above. The poster is available at MoviePosterShop.com

Obscurity factor: 6 (available on DVD and YouTube, rarely screened on TV, largely unknown)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bette Davis in With Malace Toward One 1957

Thanks to YouTuber BDEyes81 here's another obscure Bette Davis teleplay. In this episode of General Electric Theater she plays an accountant who has aspirations of being a writer. In furtherance of those aspirations she attends a writer's conference and meets a rather disdainful editor. Look for Frances (Aunt Bea) Bavier as a seamstress early on.

These episodes are such fun to look back on, and so exciting to find because of their rarity. Thanks to BDEyes81 for uploading these fun glimpses into the past. This title is available in full on YouTube (installment 1 of 3 above) and if you dig deep enough (searching for the title and Bette Davis), can be found on General Electric Theater compilations on iOffer.com.

Obscurity factor: 10 (available only on YouTube and iOffer.com)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

American Pop 1981

1981 was the year for epic animated features pitched to adults it seems. The more successful and well known of the lot was Heavy Metal, the Canadian feature based on the magazine of the same name. American Pop, by Ralph Bakshi was a success at the time, but has flown under the radar ever since. It traces the lives of four generations of Russian Jewish immigrants as they make a place for themselves in American popular music from the 1890's through the 1970's. The characters go through many challenges ranging from clashes with the mob, to homelessness, but find their solace in music.

The process used for the majority of the animation is rotoscoping, which involves filming live actors and using the footage as a basis for the animation. It allows you to recognize character actors in the piece, including Vincent Schiavalli, who plays a theater owner early in the film. The story line tends to be a bit bleak, but it does trace American history from a series of singular points of view, which can be fascinating at times.
The film is available on DVD, and has been uploaded in full to YouTube by Stevers80. Part 1 is above. It's still largely unknown to the general public, however. The poster above is available at MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor 5 (available on DVD and YouTube, largely unknown today)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bette Davis in Fraction of a Second 1958

Television is such a great source for obscure content featuring known stars. Many of them appeared in some wonderful teleplays that have since been completely forgotten. This is one of those forgotten gems that has a very Twilight Zone quality. Bette Davis plays the loving mother of a young daughter. She has a charming home and devoted house keeper (Dorothy Adams - the maid in Laura). She walks her daughter to the corner for school and returns home to find everything has changed - her maid is gone, her home has become a boarding house and no one has heard of her. She's taken to the police and tries to explain what's happened, tries to convince people, but to no avail. The script was based on a Daphne Du Maurier story and was shown as part of the anthology series Suspicion. Look for a young Marion Seldes as a prison matron who escorts Bette Davis to her daughter.
 
This sort of thing is very rarely shown and, unless the series is well known like The Twilight Zone, even more rarely released on DVD. It's available in full on YouTube, thanks to an upload by BDEyes81.The entire series is also available on iOffer.com

Obscurity factor: 10 (Available only on YouTube and iOffer)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Solaris Directed Andrei Tarkovsky 1972

I'm a big fan of elegant sci-fi films like 2001. I'm fascinated by the thought experiments they present. Solaris is one of those films. A psychologist is assigned to survey a remote outpost in space that was created to study a planet that has a strange form of alien intelligence on it. It takes the form of a skin covering a vast sea. The other scientists at the base have either committed suicide or withdrawn into themselves. He arrives to find the base in disarray and shortly thereafter he begins to be affected by the  intelligence as well. He is visited by his wife who has been dead for 7 years. She is unaware of why she is there, though she is quite conscious of who and where she is. It seems that the intelligence is able to search the minds of the people on the base and present, in seemingly living form the people and circumstances that haunt them the most. The visions seem to have lives of their own, however when the wife tries to commit suicide she's healed and continues to live. The experiences of the other members of the team are only hinted at, but seem to be much worse.
The film is based on a 1961 novel by Stanislaw Lem and is very cerebral. It explores the nature of consciousness and questions our understanding of reality. The film is almost hypnotic in its pacing. It's presented in the original Russian with English subtitles. It was remade for an American audience by Stephen Soderbergh in 2002 with George Clooney in the lead, and that film is also somewhat obscure.
This movie is quite well known in film circles - Tarkovsky is one of Russia's premier directors and this is one of his best known films in the west - so its only claim to obscurity is that it has never really entered the public consciousness. It's available on DVD and can be seen in its entirety on YouTube, thanks to an upload by IgorRusland. I have never seen it screened on TV, though it isn't out of the realm of possibility. The poster above is available on MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 3 (on DVD, well known in film circles, largely unknown by the general public)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bette Davis & Ernest Borgnine in Bunny O'Hare 1971

This is turning into a bit of a Bette Davis week. I was surprised to find Bunny O'Hare on the American Life Network last night. American Life Network is one of those life style channels way up in the hundreds. Oddly enough it's pitched to a largely conservative audience, but features very campy content on a regular basis - they used to have both Rhoda and Phyllis on every day at 5 and 5:30. So I was surprised, but not overly so to find this super campy, obscure film on.

Bunny O'Hare is one of those films by the establishment about the counter culture of the 70's. Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine rob banks. They're dress up like hippies, ride a motorcycle and make away with the loot all to support Bunny's (Davis) ungrateful children (John Astin and Reva Rose) whose money grubbing ways have lead to Bunny's house being foreclosed on. The bank tears down the house and she meets Bill Green (Borgnine) in the melee as he's trying to salvage the plumbing. Meanwhile Lieutenant Greely (Jack Cassidy) is trying to solve the crime. He's more than ready to believe that it's being perpetrated by hippies so he brings in a young officer (Joan Delaney) to help him understand the "radical anarchists".  It would be a rip roaring good time if it had been directed more swiftly, but thanks to Davis and Borgnine there's some charm to be had.

This was another one of those lost films that was practically unavailable anywhere until it was picked up by Netflix as a Watch Instantly title. It's not on DVD and there is no video on YouTube. The movie poster above is available at MoviePosterShop.com.

Obscurity factor: 8 (only available on Netflix)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Spotlight on Dolores Gray

Today I'm trying something a little different on the blog. Instead of a film I'll be featuring a performer. I created this short bio of Dolores Gray for last nights screening of The Opposite Sex. She's a remarkable personality and deserves to be better known.

I wouldn't have been able to put this video together without footage and images from the following sources. On YouTube: BestArtsFilms, NealeUK, vaimusic, toldes, LittleMissLounge, JEJE9339. Elsewhere: Annie Wilson at Poetic & Chic, Lypsinka, FanPix.net, Paul Chesne and numerous other sources. The piece is narrated by Brini Maxwell.

For more information on Dolores I suggest reading her obit from The Independent. It's by far the most complete account of her life available on the web.