Monday, January 31, 2011

Cloris Leachman & Martin Balsam in A Brand New Life 1973

Victoria Douglas (Leachman) has a nice life. She's been married to a wonderful man (Balsam) for 18 years, has a good job, good friends... A routine visit to her doctor is about to change all that. Victoria is pregnant. This film takes a look at what that means for a middle aged couple who have settled into a life alone together. Both Cloris Leachman and Martin Balsam give lovely, low key, nuanced performances as the couple facing a big change in this simple story. Look for veteran character actress Mildred Dunnock as Victoria's mother.

This film has been available on DVD since 2005. It was originally a TV movie and consequently has quite a low profile. It's rarely if ever aired on TV now, and there's very little video of it online. The trailer above is from

Obscurity factor: 8 (available on DVD, virtually unknown)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bette Davis & Robert Wagner in Madame Sin 1972

When it comes to casting apocalyptic females David Greene got it right with Bette Davis. Madame Sin is about a shadowy figure with seemingly unlimited funds out for world domination. She kidnaps a CIA agent (Wagner) and through mind control, forces him to assist her in stealing a Polaris submarine. With distinct overtones of James Bond, this film is high on sleek 70's glamor and bleak 70's pessimism. Bette parades around in the most outlandish wigs, makeup and fashions and exudes some serious evil. This was originally a television movie for ABC. It was intended to launch a series which never happened, so after its initial airing in the states it was released theatrically abroad. Look for Denholm Elliot as Madame Sin's henchman.

The film isn't available on DVD, but there was a VHS release of it years ago - that's how I saw it. It's available on and the trailer above is uploaded to YouTube by DVDFilmFun. It's unlikely it will ever see a television schedule again, so the above options are probably your best shot at screening it.

Obscurity factor: 9 (No DVD, just old VHS copies available, never screened on TV, available on

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Now Hear This 1962

The last in our series of Chuck Jones animated projects, this was produced by Warner Brothers, shortly before Jones decamped for MGM. It's a delightful pastiche of graphic elements, fields of color and fonts and musical ques and sound effects. The story line is ultra simple - an English gentleman who is hard of hearing discards his old ear trumpet for one he happens upon. The new trumpet turns out to be the horn of a devil and causes him no end of very clever problems. It's an exercise in visual and aural jokes and gags that is very sophisticated and enjoyable.

This short, like last weeks is available on a compilation of animated shorts - Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 6. It's rarely, if ever screened on TV and because it doesn't feature any of the signature WB characters it is mostly unknown. The short is above, uploaded to YouTube by xJxPxH.

Obscurity factor: 9 (rarely if ever screened, largely unknown, available on DVD)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Genevieve Bujold & Michael Douglas in Coma 1978

My first experience of this film was seeing the best selling Michael Crichton novel in the thrift shops I haunted as a teenager. Because of the success of the book, it was pretty ubiquitous. The image of the body suspended by wires on the cover was creepy, but it was the kind of creepy you couldn't turn away from.
The success of the book pretty much guaranteed there would be a film, and a film there was. It was released in 1978 and was a Michael Crichton project from start to finish - novel, screenplay, and direction. Susan Wheeler (Bujold) is a doctor at the prestigious Boston Memorial Hospital. When a good friend (Lois Chiles) comes in for a routine procedure and ends up in a coma she's devastated and wants to know why. As she starts looking into it she finds that a lot of operations on young, healthy people end up with the patient in a coma. Is this just coincidence or is there something more sinister a foot? Her investigations lead her into the dark heart of a conspiracy and very real danger, but even her Doctor boyfriend (Douglas) has trouble believing her.  Look for Richard Widmark as the head of surgery at the hospital and Tom Selleck in a small role as a patient. In an interesting side note, the executive producer of the film is Martin Erlichman, Barbra Streisand's manager.

This film was a big hit when it was released and there's a lot of media of it out there - it's on DVD, VHS, laser disc... the soundtrack is even available. That being said, it sort of flies under the radar. It's infrequently screened on TV, and is rarely talked about. Still, it's remembered by many as a favorite. The trailer is above, uploaded to YouTube by augustotrek. The poster above is available on

Obscurity factor: 2 (easily found on many types of media, rarely screened or discussed)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Susan Hayward in Stolen Hours 1963

With the upcoming debut of the Obscurity Factor screening series on Monday featuring The Opposite Sex, the 1956 remake of The Women (1939) I thought we'd take a look at another remake. This film is a remake of the Bette Davis tour de force Dark Victory, also from 1939.

There are a few changes to the details, but the story remains the same. The venue has changed from the North East to England, where Susan Hayward plays Laura Pember, a divorcee. The doctor (played by a beautiful Michael Craig) isn't a research physician, he's a London practitioner who tends to the wealthy. As their romance and marriage develops, Laura convinces him to go home to the seaside town where he was reared and take up the life his father lead - that of a country doctor. While this version doesn't have the fire of the original - you don't get as much of a sense of Laura Pember as a take-no-prisoners party girl as you do with Ms. Davis, it's still a 3 hankie tear jerker, and the ultimate nobility of Laura Pember is nicely portrayed. Look for Diane Baker, looking especially lovely as Ms. Pember's younger sister.
There hasn't been a DVD release of this film as of yet, though it is available on VHS with a few copies to be had on I recently saw this on TCM, so it's occasionally aired on TV. While the entire film hasn't been uploaded to YouTube, there are some scenes to be seen. Above is one from early in the film, uploaded by LorreB. The poster above is available from

Obscurity factor: 7 (not on DVD, available on VHS, occasionally aired on TCM, not on YouTube in full)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Walter Matthau & Glenda Jackson in House Calls 1978

Widow Dr. Charley Nichols (Matthau) has just reentered the dating scene. It's the swinging 70's and opportunity abounds. Imagine his surprise when he encounters Ann (Jackson), a charming, intelligent woman who likes him, but has no patience for his fast and loose new lifestyle. Ann is a handful, but then again, so is Charley.
This is a charming comedy of manners that is handled deftly by the seasoned cast. Also in the film is Art Carney, Richard Benjamin, Candy Azzara and Dick O'Neill. It wasn't a runaway hit, but it did spawn a television series that ran for three years (1979 - 1982) and starred Wayne Rogers and Lynn Redgrave.
There is no video of this film available online, but there is some of the resulting television series. Above is the opening credits for it uploaded by bretmaverick2004. The film is available on DVD, though is mostly only known to hard core fans of Matthau and Jackson. The poster above is available at

Obscurity factor: 7 (available on DVD, largely forgotten)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Farrah Fawcett & Charles Grodin in Sunburn (1979)

I love this film. It's a great combination of glamor and action, even if the plot is outrageously convoluted and hard to follow. After a man in Acapulco dies, an insurance company hires Jake Decker (Grodin) to investigate. He enlists the help of a model named Ellie to pose as his wife as they go under cover among the chic, monied ex-pat set. He also calls on a friend (Art Carney), another investigator living down there for information and assistance. The investigation leads them into a hornets nest of organized crime, exiled Nazis and a very lusty Joan Collins. Farrah Fawcett changes clothes every five minutes, to great effect and Charles Grodin and Art Carney nimbly handle the comedy. There's a wonderfully choreographed car chase toward the end that finds Farrah tearing around a bull ring in a yellow Datsun hatchback. All this is set to a soundtrack of great 70's top 40 hits from the likes of Wings and 10cc.
In addition to Grodin and Carney, the cast has a great collection of character actors including John Hillerman, William Daniels, Keenan Wynn and Jack Kruschen. It was based on a book called The Bind by Stanley Ellin and was not a huge commercial or critical hit.
It's difficult to find this film. The trailer is above, uploaded to YouTube by Surfstyley4. It's not available commercially on DVD, at least not domestically, though there is a Japanese release out. This was released on VHS and a few are available on Amazon. I discovered it on TV years ago, but haven't seen it on lately. I did, however, find a reliable source for it on The poster above is available at

Obscurity factor: 8 (available on VHS, but not on DVD, rarely screened on TV, not on YouTube)

Monday, January 24, 2011

June Allison & Joan Collins in The Opposite Sex 1956

Recently the seminal 1939 classic The Women was remade (rather disastrously) with Meg Ryan and Annette Benning. What many people don't know is that it wasn't the first remake. This film from 1956 has that distinction. The familiar story of infidelity and its effects on a group of female friends had a bit of a makeover for this version. For on thing, it includes the men. Another change is the venue - in the original it was society, in this one it's the theater. Kay Hilliard (June Allison playing what was Mary Haines in the original) is a former singing star who married a Broadway producer. Crystal Allen (Collins) is a show girl instead of a shop girl. This gives them a chance to add some lively musical numbers to the proceedings. The cast, which is great includes Agnes Moorehead, Ann Miller, Charlotte Greenwood, Caroline Jones, Joan Blondell, Dolores Gray, and Leslie Nielson (as Kay's husband) in addition to Allison and Collins. Of course its choc full of production values - sensational costumes, great color cinematography, glamorous sets...

This film has recently been released as an on demand title on DVD. It was formerly only available on VHS. It's aired occasionally on TV and there are scenes available on YouTube.

I'm happy to say that this will be the first film to be screened for Brini Maxwell's Obscurity Factor film series here in New York. It will be shown a week from tonight, on January 31. I hope to see you there!

Obscurity factor: 6 (recently available on DVD, available on VHS, occasionally shown on TV)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Anthony Newley & Sandy Dennis in Sweet November 1968

In the realm of romantic tear jerkers few can hold a candle to this forgotten gem. Sandy Dennis plays the tragic Sara, a quirky, bohemian girl who helps men get over the problems that limit their abilities to function in some aspect of life by inviting them to live with her for a month. The only stipulation is that when the month is up they have to leave. Charlie Blake (Anthony Newley) is chosen as Mr. November because he's forsaken personal intimacy for business acumen. He, like others before him, finds himself falling in love with Sara. The difference is, this time, she's falling in love too. Will she decide to break her rule and let Mr. November stay on? I'm tearing up just thinking about it...
This film started life as a play, but Universal Studios convinced Herman Raucher to adapt it to a screen play before it ever reached the stage. It's a bittersweet story that you'll need a box of Kleenex to get through. The fine performances by the principals flesh out the characters and the warm screen play and simple direction by Robert Ellis Miller really says something about the opportunity for personal change inherent in relationships. The trailer is below, uploaded to YouTube by Charlizetheronitalia

The film was remade in 2001 with Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron and while much fresher in the public consciousness, it too is somewhat obscure, probably because of poor critical response. The trailer for it below was uploaded to YouTube by chr0n0phasia.

Both versions are available on DVD (thanks to a 2009 print on demand release of the 1968 version). The '68 version is also occasionally aired on TV. I haven't seen the 2001 version yet and haven't seen it in television listings.

Obscurity factor: 6 (largely forgotten, occasionally aired on TV, recently available on DVD)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Bear That Wasn't 1967

Based on a best selling children's book from 1946, this film has the distinction of being the last animated short ever produced at MGM. It wasn't, however, the last animated project there - that was the feature film The Phantom Tollbooth.  Penned by Frank Tashlin, a former colleague of Chuck Jones who was in charge of the animated unit at MGM at the time, it tells the story of a bear who wakes from hibernation to find a factory built above his cave. He's mistaken for a "silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat" and is told so by a progression of higher-ups at the factory and by other bears who are in the zoo until he believes it. He spends the year working at the factory until its time to hibernate again, when he realizes that no matter what they all tell him, he really is a bear. The animation is very stylish with great graphic elements, a real extension of Jones' style. The story is cute, but lacks the bite and sophistication of other animated shorts. Tashlin was reportedly unhappy with the finished product, for a number of reasons, most notably the fact that the bear has a cigarette in several scenes, which seems to prove the nay-sayers true. In any case, it's a charming short, and worth seeing.

As with many shorts it's difficult to find this on DVD or on TV because it's not long enough to be noted in listings or to warrant its own DVD release. It can, however, be found on the compilation Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3. It's also available online in several places. The version above is on DailyMotion, uploaded by bluebird111.

Obscurity factor: 4 (available on DVD, on YouTube/DailyMotion, aired occasionally on TV)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Rosalind Russell in Mrs. Pollifax, Spy 1971

This is the last in my series of obscure cold war films, simply because I can't think of any more. Any suggestions?

Mrs. Pollifax has become a much beloved character since the first book (The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax) was written by Dorothy Gilman in 1966. At the time of this film, however, the full arc of the series had yet to be revealed. So Rosalind Russel took on the role in her last film with a great deal of gusto. Not only did she play the part, she also wrote the script under the pen name C. A. McKnight. Widow Emily Pollifax is bored with her life. Her children are grown and except for the garden club and her volunteer work at the hospital she doesn't have much to do. So she decides to do something she's always wanted to and applies for work as a spy at the CIA. The astonished man she presents herself to puts her in a waiting room, where she's seen by Mr. Carstairs, who thinks she's just perfect for a small courier job in Mexico - innocent tourist type, simple mission. Of course when all hell breaks loose and she ends up in a notoriously inescapable prison in Albania with a weathered professional agent they give her up for dead. But don't count out Mrs. Pollifax! She has some tricks up her sleeve.

Fans of the book series don't like this film very much. Part of the problem is that the series took shape in the years after this film was conceived. Consequently there are conclusions drawn and plot points that are changed that don't jive with the character as readers think of her. If you can put that aside or if you haven't read the books the film has some charming moments, and Rosalind Russel is spry and delightful in her last film. The theme music is by Lalo Schifrin and is very stylish. Darrin McGavin plays the agent she meets in Albania and look for Harold Gould as an Albanian guard. There was another film made with the Mrs. Pollifax character in the 90's with Angela Lansbury that I've never seen. If anyone knows it or better yet, has it please get in touch.

This film can now be seen on Netflix Instant: The short above was produced to promote the film and has been uploaded to YouTube by jleepoxprod. There is no DVD or VHS of it available commercially. It has been available on in the past, but isn't there at the moment. If you're interested in it, post a request there and someone will probably answer it. If you can wait, it's occasionally aired on TCM. The poster above is available at

Obscurity factor: 9 (hard to find, no DVD, rarely screened on TV)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Charles Bronson & Lee Remick in Telefon 1977

Another cold war thriller based on a novel, Telefon has a very interesting premise. Sleeper agents, planted in the USA, brainwashed to believe they're American citizens each have one mission of sabotage to perform. This program put in place by the Soviet government has been back burnered by a new, less militant regime. Enter Donald Pleasence, an idealistic lower level Soviet bureaucrat who doesn't like the new detente. He starts setting off these living time bombs, much to the chagrin of the Soviet government. To solve the problem, they send in Charles Bronson (who else would you send to solve a problem like this in the 1970's?) and Lee Remick. Meanwhile, the American government is trying to figure out what's going on, and a mid level analyst (Tyne Daily) may be on to something. Will Bronson get to Pleasence before the FBI does?

 In truth, this is the only Charles Bronson film I enjoy, and enjoy it I do. It's a taut thriller with some great suspenseful scenes and an engrossing story line. The book (by Walter Wager) is better, but the film really holds its own. Look for Sherri North as one of the brainwashed agents.

This film is fairly recently (2009) available on DVD. It was put out on a double bill with St. Ives. It's not available on YouTube in its entirety, but the trailer is above, uploaded by Vivadjango. The poster above is available at

Obscurity factor: 6 (available on DVD, occasionally screened on TV, not well remembered, generally)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Brini Maxwell's Obscurity Factor Screenings

I have some great news for all you obscure film fans. Brini Maxwell (my alter ego) will be hosting monthly screenings of obscure films at the Chelsea Clearview Cinemas here in New York. I hope to see you there! If you come please say hello.

The first film will be The Opposite Sex, the rarely shown 1957 remake of the 1939 classic The Women. Look for a write up of it next week.

The  schedule for the next three months can be found here. I hope to see you there!

The poster above can be purchased at

Doris Day & Richard Harris in Caprice 1967

Second in our lineup of cold war films is this one from 1967. It was not well received at the time, and there are problems with it - a meandering plot, unbelievable circumstances and cartoonish characterizations, but it has some things going for it as well. The story has to do with industrial espionage in the cosmetics industry with Doris playing Patricia Foster, an industrial designer caught in the act of stealing trade secrets. Partly because of her duplicity, she's hired by Edward Mulhare, the head of a rival company. Working for him is the dashing Christopher White (Harris) and the sparks fly far and wide when they meet. Of course all is not as it seems in the Femina Cosmetics company and Patricia soon finds herself in over her head in intrigue.
Though it's not a cold war film, per se, it does have many elements of the espionage thrillers of the period. There are some wonderfully zany moments in the film. Look for a delightful scene in a cafe where Patricia foils Christopher's attempt to bug their conversation.  Also remarkable is the art direction. The sets and costumes are stunning, as only Hollywood could make them and the title sequence is ultra stylish and very clever. Look for Lilia Skala and Ray Walston in small but pivotal roles.

This film was much maligned  at the time of its release and, consequently hasn't had much of a profile since. It was released on DVD in 2007 and is occasionally aired on television, though usually on off hours. The trailer was uploaded to YouTube by JetSetTelevision and can be seen above.

Obscurity factor: 4 (Available on DVD, though largely forgotten)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Julie Andrews & Omar Sharif in The Tamarind Seed 1974

Yesterday's film (The Odessa File, 1974) got me thinking about suspenseful films of that era. Many of them had a Cold War theme to them, so for the next few days I'll be featuring some obscure cold war cinema.

In 1974 Julie Andrews starred in this film directed by her husband Blake Edwards. Also starring was Omar Sharif as a Soviet agent who meets Ms. Andrews (a British Home Office worker) on holiday. They begin an affair, platonic at first, and it causes all sorts of problems for both of them with their respective governments. This film is based on a book of the same name by Evelyn Anthony and, except for a venue change from New York to London, is (as far as I remember) fairly faithful to it. One of the most intriguing aspects of Mr. Sharif's character is his deft ability play the game of espionage while still maintaining his integrity with Judith Farrow (Andrews) and the audience. His honesty is very refreshing. As Cold War dramas go, The Tamarind Seed has it's share of edge-of-your-seat action and doesn't disappoint on dramatic effects. There's a bit of a melancholy quality to the film but the resolution is quite a surprise. Look for veteran character actor Oskar Homolka as Omar Sharif's boss.

The film is available on VHS and on region 2 (UK) DVD, but has yet to come out on DVD for the USA/Canada market. It can be found in its entirety on YouTube and The first installment of it is above, uploaded by DrageReborn.

Obscurity factor 7 (available on VHS, YouTube & and on DVD in the UK, rarely screened on TV, largely forgotten)

Monday, January 17, 2011

John Voigt in The Odessa File 1974

German journalist Peter Miller (John Voigt) has become obsessed with a tightly knit group of surviving Nazi leaders whose names have been collected in something called The Odessa File. He pursues them with undying zeal at considerable personal peril and in the face of disapproval and apathy from his superiors and even his own mother who was victimized by Nazis as a young woman. His all consuming obsession in the face of the cold war German desire to just let sleeping dogs lie is perplexing to all who encounter him, but he has a very personal reason for discovering the truth. The Odessa File is based on a novel by Fredrick Forsyth and is a taut, political style thriller that has a great pay off at the end. I've both seen the film and read the book, and while the book is better (as they usually are), the film holds up its end of the bargain.

This film has been available on DVD for quite some time. It was released in 2000. It's one of those films that has cruised along under the radar, rarely seen on TV but is worthy of a look. The trailer is above, uploaded by arriegua1.

Obscurity factor: 6 (largely forgotten, available on DVD, rarely screened on television)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Doris Roberts in The Honeymoon Killers 1969

When Doris Roberts looks back on her long and illustrious career I wonder what she thinks about this little film. It's a strange, low budget production, done in black and white and has garnered a cult following since it was released in 1969. It's based on the true story of the Lonly Hearts Killers, Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, who's deadly alliance left as many as 20 victims in its wake. Doris plays Bunny, Martha's best friend and the one who writes, in her name, to the lonely hearts club where she eventually meets Raymond. As the two get more and more involved Martha learns of his true occupation as a con man and joins him, as his sister, in conning women out of their money. Her jealousy leads them to add the crime of murder to their repertoire. The film has an odd, pensive quality to it, and presents the story of the couple in a style that walks a fine line between tragedy and exploitation, with a bit of black comedy thrown in for good measure. It has the distinction of having a few scenes directed by a young Martin Scorsese, and of being named as Francois Truffaut's favorite American film.

A remastered DVD of the film was released in 2003 by the prestigious Criterion Collection, giving it a some luster as one of America's notable independent films. It can also be found on YouTube (uploaded by Baiafy) and is occasionally shown on networks like IFC, which is where I believe I first saw it. It's primarily known to film buffs, and has had little penetration into the mainstream consciousness.

Obscurity factor: 2 (available on DVD and YouTube, occasionally shown on TV, highly regarded by film buffs)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Robert Morely in The Dot and the Line 1965

Last Saturday I featured a film produced by Chuck Jones and based on a book by Norman Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth 1970). Five years earlier another one of his books was turned into a short subject by Jones that has been rarely matched in charm and sophistication. It was called The Dot and The Line, A Romance In Lower Mathematics.

The story is very simple, a line falls in love with a dot, but the dot, capricious as they are, has feelings for a squiggle. The line, determined to win the object of his affection, goes about a program of self improvement, learning to bend and curve and create all sorts of shapes and patterns. The dot, of course, is delighted and in the end is won over by the versatile line. The film is a faithful reproduction of the graphics in the book, which are very clever and elegant, combining photographic elements with fields of color and hand drawn line. Add to that the delightfully somber narration by Robert Morely and you have a winning product. Winning, indeed - it was the 1965 best animated short subject winner at the Academy Awards.

Being a short subject, it can be difficult to locate this on recorded media. It was included with the 2005 release of The Glass Bottom Boat and can be found on the 2008 Warner Bros. Academy Awards Animation Collection as well. It's available on YouTube in its entirety and can be seen above, thanks to an upload by nuullt. It's also occasionally screened on TCM

Obscurity factor: 2 (Well known in film and graphic design circles, available on YouTube and as DVD extra)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bette Davis & Gena Rowlands in Strangers 1979

Strangers, The Story of a Mother and Daughter one of Ms. Davis' later triumphs. She plays a crusty New Englander whose estranged daughter comes home to try and mend fences. The tenuous relationship they develop is threatened when the daughter confesses that she's dieing of cancer. The subject matter could be maudlin and sentimental were it not for the well crafted script by Michael De Guzman in the hands of two such talented performers and the capable direction of Milton Katselas. This television production premiered on Mother's Day in 1979 and has since been largely forgotten. It's worth a revisit.

This production isn't available on DVD, but there was a VHS release of it in 1989 and you can still find copies on Amazon. It's also available on YouTube. The first installment, uploaded by BDEyes81 is above.

Obscurity factor: 8 (not on DVD, available on VHS and YouTube, rarely screened on TV)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Anthony Newley & Joan Collins in Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humpp and Find True Happiness 1969

When it comes to solipsistic, self indulgent feature films, few can match the intensity of this one. Released with an X rating, it was written, scored, directed by and starred Anthony Newley and deals with a musical star who is approaching middle age and trying to drown that fact in cheap tawdry affairs. He spends a lot of time in the nude. That being said, there is some fabulous stuff in this film if you're a lover of camp. I haven't been able to get a hold of the whole film. I do, however, have the sound track album, which I found with a stash of similar albums at a thrift shop years ago, and some of the music is delightfully silly.
Take for example the video below (uploaded to YouTube by myfirstlovesong). It's the dance number Chalk and Cheese sung by Newley's wife at the time, Joan Collins (playing Polyester Poontang). The concept is a zodiac wheel that comes to life and some of the costumes are outrageous. This film was really savaged by critics when it was released. Vincent Canby of the New York Times went so far as to call it "as a self indulgent as a burp." But, as I said, it's value now lies in its camp qualities and as a cultural time capsule of the free wheeling 60's.

This film isn't available on DVD (no surprise there) but has survived in pieces on YouTube (no full upload yet). It was buried long ago and has been forgotten but if you find a digital version of it out there, let me know. I'd love to see the whole thing.

Obscurity Factor: 10 (no DVD, not available in full anywhere)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dick Van Dyke & Debbie Reynolds in Divorce American Style 1967

In light of yesterdays post (The Happy Ending, 1969) I thought it would be interesting to discuss a film that was made 2 years earlier, also with Jean Simmons that takes a lighter look at relationships. The plot of this one finds Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds unhappily wed. Through a series of standoffs where neither party is willing to blink first, they end up getting a divorce. This leads to awkward dating episodes, greatly reduced circumstances for Dick, heartless lawyers and another divorced couple (Simmons in a role that could been seen as an extension of her role in The Happy Ending and Jason Robards) scheming to get Dick to marry Jean and get Debbie married off to Van Johnson, so everyone's money woes can be solved. If you like your comedy black with just a touch of sugar, this film will please. Also in the cast are Van Johnson, Shelly Berman, Lee Grant and a young Eileen Brennan. Look for a wonderful cameo by nightclub performer Pat Collins - the Hip Hypnotist.

This film is available on DVD, though it's not well known. There are some scenes from it uploaded to YouTube, but not the whole film. I just love the trailer above, put together by FilmBuff2000. It really captures the feel of the film.

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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jean Simmons & John Forsythe in The Happy Ending 1969

The late 60's found the women's movement in full swing. Housewives everywhere were questioning the scope of their lives, exploring new possibilities, wondering what was possible for them out in the world. Mary Wilson (Jean Simmons) was one of those housewives. Disillusioned with her marriage and with nothing to occupy her time or challenge her intellect, she sinks into depression, drinking and acting out her frustrations in childish episodes of petulance and profligate spending. Her husband (John Forsythe) says he loves her, but doesn't take the time or effort to understand her. So, she runs away to Nassau, and on the way she meets an old college friend (Shirley Jones) who's tried it the other way - as a mistress to wealthy men.

This was one of the first films that took an honest look at the issues of the woman's movement, but it is also a beautiful portrait of relationships. It's told in flashbacks that illustrate the path Mary takes to get where she is, and it's full of poignant moments that are beautifully played by the stellar cast. And the cast is truly stellar! In addition to Simmons, Forsythe and Jones, look for Nanette Fabray, Bobby Darin (billed as Robert), Lloyd Bridges, Teresa Wright, Dick Shawn and Tina Louise. The film is most remembered for the hit song What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? by Michel LeGrand and Alan & Marilyn Bergman, which was nominated for an Oscar and became a very popular standard. Look for a very young Erin Moran (Jonie from the series Happy Days) as the daughter in one of the flashback scenes.

This beautiful little film has been largely forgotten. It hasn't been released on DVD, but there was a VHS release in the late 90's. The scene above was uploaded to YouTube by JeanSimmonsFan. The poster above can be purchased at

Obscurity factor: 7 (not available on DVD, available on VHS and YouTube)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ken Berry & Sandy Duncan in The Cat From Outer Space 1978

The 1970's was an interesting era for Disney films. They had a string of successful live action films, culminating in The Black Hole (1979), while the number of their animated productions fell into decline. One of these lesser known live action productions was The Cat from Outer Space (1978). Experiencing mechanical problems, a UFO lands in a field and attempts to contact the mother ship for assistance. They cannot provide it, so the lone alien must find a way to fix the problem himself. The hatch opens and out comes Jake, a seemingly ordinary household tabby cat with telekinetic and telepathic powers (when he's wearing his blingy light up collar). Of course he must jump through many (figurative) hoops to fix his ship and rejoin his fleet before they depart the solar system. He's aided by Ken Berry, Sandy Duncan and McLean Stevenson. As with all of these 70's Disney films, it's choc full of great character actors - Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg to Dukes of Hazard fans), Hans Conried and Roddy McDowell, to name a few. Jake the cat is voiced by Ronnie Schell, who you may remember from his many appearances on 70's sit-coms. It's silly, diverting fare that is especially enjoyable for cat lovers. I saw it when it was first released (I was 9), and remember enjoying it quite a bit.

There's an extremely poor quality version of it on YouTube, uploaded by mcog2006, and as with most Disney films, it's available on DVD. Unlike its brethren from that era (The Apple Dumpling Gang and to a lesser extent, Candleshoe) It's rarely screened on TV, however.

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

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Burt Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd & Madeline Kahn in At Long Last Love 1975

It was 1975. Directors ruled in Hollywood. With studio movies tanking right and left, the producers decided to give artists that had been coming up with low budget hits like Easy Rider and The Graduate free reign. Another of those films was The Last Picture Show, directed by Wunderkind Peter Bogdanovich. It was a huge hit, and cemented the reputation of Bogdanovich as a bankable director. Two more hits followed - What's Up Doc (one of my personal favorites) and Paper Moon. By the time Daisy Miller had rolled around with a lukewarm reception by the public he was already up and running with this film. At the time, it was considered a disaster, though in retrospect, there's a lot that's quite charming about it. His concept for it was to produce a musical without prerecording the musical tracks - to record the performances of the actors on set. It went against the grain of Hollywood production tenants, and for good reason. When you're in production, time is, literally, money. So the less you have to worry about, the better off you are. Prerecorded tracks eliminate one variable factor - the musical performance, which can take time and attention to get right, freeing up the cast and crew to worry about the myriad other things that make up a scene. It was a daring choice, and it had mixed results.

The story follows two couples (Burt Reynolds and Madeline Kahn and Cybill Shepherd and Duilio Del Prete) as they navigate the ins and outs of love. They warble Cole Porter tunes, and look ultra glamorous in sophisticated 30's clothes and settings, but, ultimately, the plot is not important. This is essentially an exercise in style, and at that, it's extremely successful. Look for delightful turns by Eileen Brennan as Ms. Shepherd's maid, John Hillerman as Mr. Reynolds' Chauffeur and the irrepressible Mildred Natwick as his mother.

This film has been hiding in a corner with its tail tucked between its legs for many years now. No commercial DVD of it exists (though you can find it over at and I don't believe it was ever released on VHS. You can, however, watch it on YouTube, though the uploader has disabled embedding, so you'll have to click this link to see it:

Obscurity factor: 5 (no DVD, available on YouTube & iOffer, legendary for its poor box office and critical reception)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Butch Patrick in The Phantom Tollbooth 1970

We all remember Butch Patrick as the little werewolf child of Herman and Lilly Munster. What few know is that Mr. Patrick had been having, and has continued to have a rather prolific career. In 1970 he starred as Milo in the Chuck Jones animated film of Norman Juster's children's classic The Phantom Tollbooth. Bored, Milo has sort of given up on life at the tender age of about 9. One day, an enormous package appears in his room, and magically unwraps itself to reveal a tollbooth and toy car. With nothing else to do, Milo decides to drive through the toll booth. He comes out on the other side as an animated version of himself, and on a road to Expectations. As he proceeds through this new land he learns lessons about navigating the ins and outs of life and interactions with others and regains his curiosity and desire to rejoin life. The film is beautifully illustrated by the Chuck Jones team, with marvelously witty characters and voiced by such animation luminaries as Mel Blanc. The style of illustration differs greatly from the book, however, so fans of the book are usually disappointed by the film. If you're coming to it fresh, though, it's fun to watch. Also listen for Hans Conried (The 10,000 Fingers of Dr. T.) as King Azaz and The Mathmagician.

This was the last animated film to come out of MGM and it was delayed in release due to the internal problems going on there at the time. The film was actually completed in 1969. It's not available on DVD yet, but a digitally remastered release is in the works. It was released on VHS in the early 90's, and copies are still floating around. In the mean time, you can watch the entire film on YouTube as uploaded by lesinistre. The first installment is above.

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

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bette Davis in The Decorator 1965

I just love this little bit of fluff that Bette Davis did in 1965. I'm just sorry that it wasn't picked up. It would have been a wonderful series. The concept was that Bette was a decorator with a very strange way of doing business. She would move in with her clients while doing over their homes. This first episode finds her being hired by an ego maniacal oil tycoon (Ed Begley) who wants to do over a house on their property in grand style for his daughter and potential son-in-law, in hopes that it will scare him off. Of course, Ms. Davis throws a wrench into the works in traditional sit-com style. She plays her part to the hilt, which is great fun to watch. I'm especially fond of her southern belle routine early on. Also look for the irrepressible Mary Wicks as her assistant.

This is extremely rare. It can really only be found on YouTube, thanks to a three part upload by HeyDeyFan. The first installment is above.

Obscurity factor: 10 (never aired pilot, not available anywhere except YouTube)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

David Niven, Deborah Kerr & Sharon Tate in Eye of the Devil 1966

Something evil is happening in the French countryside and Deborah Kerr is going to find out what it is...even if it kills her! Her husband (David Niven) has been acting very strangely ever since they got to the family estate, and his cousins Odile (Sharon Tate) and Christian (David Hemmings) aren't helping by killing birds with bows and arrows and luring Deborah off parapets. This film from 1966 is most notable for its providing the first significant role for Sharon Tate, and it's well known by her fans. But it has some good qualities in its own right as well. The plot, though byzantine in its presentation is really rather simple, and very dramatically presented. It's full of good, old fashioned suspense, and some great thrills. The cast is stellar, also including Donald Pleasence and the black and white cinematography by Erwin Hiller is extremely beautiful. Look for some wonderful, overwrought scenes of David Niven horse whipping Sharon Tate.

Like yesterday's film, there's some confusion about the release of this on DVD. Amazon says you can pre-order it, but there's no release date published. It also says it will be a print-on-demand title. It's not currently available on YouTube, but is occasionally on TCM. It's worth seeing, if only for the beautiful Sharon Tate. Above is the trailer, posted by SolarCoasterX. The marketing of it was awfully salacious, and there are salacious moments in the film, but it has some dignity as well.

Obscurity factor: 7 (well known to Sharon Tate fans, unavailable on DVD, occasionally on TCM)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Liv Ullman and Gene Kelly in 40 Carats 1973

It was 1973, the taboos of the previous generation were dieing to the general movie going public, but slowly. 40 Carats took a look at one of those taboos - the older woman/younger man relationship (the term "cougar" had yet to be coined). Ullmann plays real estate agent Ann Stanley, recently divorced from an actor (Gene Kelly) and living with her teen aged daughter and mother in New York. While on a trip to Greece she has a chance encounter and one night stand on a beach with a young man. She doesn't bargain on running into him back home or becoming the object of his matrimonial desires. Among her friends and family members she finds skepticism, but eventually acceptance. She, however, is her own worst enemy and is paralyzed with self doubt about the relationship. There's a lot of charm in this film version of the successful Broadway play, but a few flaws as well. Edward Albert (Eddie Albert's son), Gene Kelly and Nancy Walker (Ann's secretary) are just charming in their roles. Binnie Barnes (Ann's mother) and Deborah Raffin (her daughter) are a bit stilted and Ms. Ullmann is a bit bleak. It's also an odd casting choice because she was considerably younger than 40 at the time the film was made, but she seemed to make a career of playing older women in her youth. (She was playing her late 30's in Persona when she was in her early 20's.) The role was originally offered to Audry Hepburn, which would have been much more appropriate casting, but she didn't want to leave her home for a shoot in New York. All in all, it's worth seeing. It's a fun time capsule of the early 1970's in New York and an engaging story. Look for a fun cameo by Natalie Schafer as one of Ann's customers.
There seems to be some confusion about whether this is out on DVD or not. It's listed on Amazon as having been released in 2010, but is unavailable. It can be found on VHS and can be watched on Amazon on demand. There is no video of it on YouTube whatsoever. The poster above can be found on

Obscurity factor: 9 (Confusion about DVD, on VHS, not on YouTube, largely forgotten)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cheryl Ladd & Kris Kristofferson in Millenium 1988

I've always liked cheese, in all its many forms. This film is one of them, but like with most cheese it has robust flavor and heady aroma. The premise is simple (and based on a short story by John Varley). Several thousand years in the future the human race has become sterile in a world overrun by pollution. To ensure a future populated with humans, the ragtag, stitched together  elders have created a system to take people off of doomed airline crashes before they die and replace them with identical replicas of their bodies. One of the women who facilitates the exchanges leaves a tool on one of the flights which is found in the wreckage and must be retrieved before it causes a time paradox. Louise (Ladd) goes back to 1988 to retrieve it and meets handsome flight crash investigator, Kris Kristofferson. They fall in love and complications ensue that threaten the future world Louise lives in. The story line is engrossing, and has some interesting things to say about our effect on our environment, and our relationship with time. It's occasionally mixed with a style of humor that's a bit too cute and sit-commie for the setting, but if you can overlook that it's very entertaining. While not a big budget SciFi film, Millenium has some very interesting effects and some very admirable makeup, especially for the elders. Look for Daniel J. Travanti as a professor who has a pivotal part in the action.

This film has been largely buried by time. It's rarely, if ever shown on television now, though they did do a DVD release of it in 2001. The entire film is available on YouTube, but it's been dubbed into German. Above is the trailer uploaded by Dayneiac. The DVDs are available for as little as $0.80 on Amazon If you're a sci-fi fan, it's worth a watch. If you find the DVD, be sure and look for the hidden alternate ending buried at the end of the cast bios.

Obscurity factor: 7 (largely forgotten, DVD available, on YouTube, but in German)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rock Hudson & Julie Andrews in Darling Lili 1970

I thought it might be fun to contrast yesterday's post with another, very different film also from 1970. In Darling Lili Julie Andrews plays a very unlikely German spy during WWI. She's the darling of Great Britain - a musical hall performer named Lili Smith (nee Schmidt) who has a squeaky clean image. Her controllers are concerned about an Allied squadron that is wreaking havoc on their air craft and give Lili orders to seduce the squadron leader and pump him for information. The squadron leader is, of course, Rock Hudson and they, inevitably fall in love, which compromises Lili's position. The film, directed by Blake Edwards is as much a big budget, glamorous Hollywood production as Alex in Wonderland isn't. The sets, costumes, cinematography and art direction play a huge part in creating the mood of the nineteen-teens as seen through the lens of the late 1960's and the areal segments are spectacular, which is in stark contrast to the catch-as-catch-can settings and photography of Alex in Wonderland. It's a perfect example of the tension that existed between the establishment and the new, rebellious film makers that were starting to make over Hollywood. Aside from all that, the film is charming, especially the original music by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer.

This film was a big budget release in 1970 and though it failed to capture the public's imagination and wasn't a financial success, it was a critical success and found its way into several Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. It's rarely on TV, but it is available on DVD and can be watched in its entirety  on YouTube thanks to DrageReborn's upload.

Obscurity factor: 4 (Available on DVD, can be watched on YouTube, rarely screened on TV)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Donald Sutherland & Ellen Burstyn in Alex In Wonderland 1970

"Now what?" That is essentially the dilemma Alex finds himself in after his first film is heralded as a winner by Hollywood insiders in this film about film directed by Paul Mazursky. He sets about trying to answer that question by taking meetings with producers, reading scripts, brainstorming with friends... His aimless approach leads him to question everything and settle on nothing. It's 8 1/2 for the hippie generation and it wades into both of those iconic entities up to its hips. Alex dabbles in acid and considers social unrest and class warfare as subjects for his sophomore effort, all the while, the film references Fellini's masterpiece directly with scenes parodying it and even features a cameo with the famed director. These self-indulgent, solipsistic scenes are juxtaposed with beautifully rendered moments with Alex and his family, scenes that are so simple and honest that they make the characters and even the more outrageous circumstances seem believable. Ellen Burstyn plays his patient wife and Viola Spolin, the improvisational acting teacher plays his mother. In addition to Fellini, look for a cameo by Jeanne Moreau and one by Mazursky himself, playing a mucho mod producer. There's an autobiographical element to this movie. Mazursky and his writing partner Larry Tucker had just come off the phenomenal success of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969).

While not part of the cultural zeitgeist, this film is on the radar over at TCM. That's where I saw it. It isn't available on DVD, but there are VHS copies of it floating around. There are also a few scenes of it uploaded to YouTube. Above is the fantasy musical sequence featuring Jeanne Moreau uploaded by Filmboblog.

Obscurity factor: 8 (not on DVD, no online video readily available, occasionally on TV)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tallulah Bankhead in A Royal Scandal 1945

Tallulah Bankhead didn't make may films. She was better known for her stage work - she introduced roles that the likes of Bette Davis played on screen. When you did get a chance to see Ms. Bankhead in a film it was a treat, indeed! Her most famous films are the Hitchcock classic Lifeboat (1944) and the unfortunate Die, Die My Darling (1965). This little gem is mostly unknown, however, and that's a shame. It's charming! Bankhead plays Catherine the Great. She has fallen in love with a young officer (William Eythe) much to the consternation of his fiancee (Anne Baxter). The comedy of manners that ensues is deftly directed by Otto Preminger and was conceived and created by Ernst Lubitsch. It has Lubitsch's delightfully frothy and sophisticated style. Also in the cast are Charles Coburn and Vincent Price.

It's not yet available on DVD, but I imagine that it will be soon. It's been getting some play on TCM. You can find the entire film uploaded to YouTube by konway87. The first installment is above. Give it a whirl! It's the perfect diversion for New Year's Day.

Obscurity factor: 7 (Not on DVD, occasionally seen on TCM, available on YouTube)