Doctor Faustus (1967) | Richard Burton’s mesmerising adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s tragic play
First up, a bit of history about how this 1967 film came about. Back in 1944, while completing a six-month course in Oxford, a 19-year-old Richard Burton got his first standing ovation – in the Oxford Dramatic Society (OUDS) performance of Measure for Measure. His then English tutor, Neville Coghill, made Burton promise that he would one day return to Oxford to act in another OUDS production.
In 1966, Burton kept that promise when he and his wife Elizabeth Taylor (who had now become the darlings of the cinema following the success of Cleopatra and The Taming of the Shrew) appeared in Coghill’s production of Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan tragedy Doctor Faustus at the Oxford Playhouse. The money raised from the sold-out shows ended up going towards the building of a 50-seater extension, now known as the Burton Taylor Studio.
A year later, Burton reunited with Coghill to record the performance on film for prosperity – the result being this very film. Again using OUDS undergraduates, it was shot at the Dino de Laurentiis studios in Rome over three weeks, with Burton making his directorial debut and using a team that included Vittorio De Sica’s favourite cinematographer Gábor Pogány (who would go on to photograph Burton’s Bluebeard in 1972).
In an abridged version of Marlowe’s 1588 play (which also manages to slip in elements from The Jew of Malta and Tamburlaine), Burton takes on the title role of the Wittenberg University scholar whose craving for arcane knowledge leads him into using necromancy to conjure up the demon, Mephistopheles (wonderfully played by Andreas Teuber, who later ditch acting to become a professor of philosophy).
Faustus then makes a pact with Lucifer (David McIntosh): his soul in exchange for 24 years with the demon as his servant. But when Mephistopheles starts to become untrustworthy, Faustus decides to renounce magic and repent. In a bid to keep his to his pact, Lucifer arranges for the personification of the seven deadly sins to visit the scholar. But failing to see them as warnings, Faustus spends his remaining years in constant conflict with himself before he is summarily dragged to Hell at the appointed hour…
Elizabeth Taylor (in her sixth of 11 films with Burton) makes a silent cameo as Helen of Troy, and her mute turn was not treated kindly by critics of the day – nor was the film, which was called ‘a sad example of university drama at its worst’ and dismissed as a vanity project for the couple.
Regardless of those negative reviews, Doctor Faustus is the nearest you’ll ever come to seeing Burton delivering an as-live stage performance. And here he is is, in full flight, with that fantastic booming voice bringing Marlowe’s blank verse and prose to dramatic life.
Also impressive are the nightmarish visuals (especially Faustus’ descent into Hell and the faceless monks) and the moody sets littered with skulls and bathed in primary hues of red, blue and green that evoke the 1960s Gothic horrors of Mario Bava and Roger Corman.
Providing the electronic Wagnerian theme music is Mario Nascimbene, best known for scoring genre films like The Vikings (1958) and One Million Years, BC (1966). Keen ears will recognise Helen of Troy’s theme as it was also used as main title theme for 1968’s The Vengence of She. Doctor Who fans should look out for Ian Marter (aka Harry Sullivan in the Tom Baker years) in the roles of Pride and the Emperor.
As for Elizabeth Taylor, well, she may appear to be solely decorative and a cunning ploy to sell the film as another Burton-Taylor film, but like her hubby, she’s mesmerising every time she appears on screen in yet another fantastical wig and costume.
Doctor Faustus is out on DVD (region 2) in the UK from Fabulous Films
Dr Cyclops (1940) | ‘Honey, I’ve shrunk the scientists!’ – Technicolor thrills await in the vintage sci-fi adventure
Deep in the South American jungle, physicist Dr Thorkel (Albert Dekker) is using a seam of radium in his mysterious experiments. When his eyesight starts to fail, he invites three scientists from the US to help him to help him complete the project.
Refusing to return home without proper explanation as to the exact nature of Thorkel’s work, the scientists, their mule driver and Thorkel’s assistant end up being shrunk down to doll size. A cat-and-mouse game then ensues as they try to escape Thorkel’s compound…
Based on a short story of the same name by Henry Kuttner, Paramount’s Dr Cyclops was the first attempt since The Mystery of the Wax Museum to use Technicolor in a horror film. It also marked a return to the genre for director Ernest Schoedsack, best known for Most Dangerous Game and King Kong, who really goes to town on the special effects, which would earn the film an Oscar nomination.
In his Classics of the Horror Film, renowned film researcher, collector and regular visitor to the UK’s famed Gothique Film Society, William K Everson, called Dr Cyclops ‘diverting hokum – but one of the wasted opportunities among films’. It’s a bit harsh, but not without some truth.
Yes, there’s virtually no horror on display, with the miniaturised cast mainly running and hiding amongst the oversized props and from a giant hand, and feigning distress in sequences featuring back projection shots of Thorkel’s snarling black cat Satanus (great name) and stock footage of a variety of animals and birds (kookaburras – in the Amazon?). While the lush colours and gay musical score does turn it into something akin to a live action cartoon adventure.
Looking like a cross between Peter Lorre’s Mr Moto and Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld with his shaved head and thick, round glasses, Dekker brings much sympathy to his scientist with a God complex (I blamed the radiation for his increasing mania); while the rest of the cast (Thomas Coley, Janice Logan, Charles Halton, Victor Kilian and Frank Yaconelli) are all effective in their respective stereotype roles.
There are, however, some genuine thrills, notably the death of one of our little heroes (who’s killed when he learns the miniaturisation effects are only temporary), the group’s efforts to train a rifle on their sleeping tormentor, and the gripping climax. Perfect for younger viewers and for revisiting on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Dr Cyclops is available on DVD in the UK from Fabulous Films
David Niven’s super smooth Count Dracula is strapped for cash and renting his Transylvania castle out as an upscale B&B and corporate event facility. But when he uses the blood from four finalists doing a Playboy photo-shoot to resurrect his beloved wife, Vampira (Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’s Teresa Graves), he gets the shock of his life when Vampira turns black.
Packing his coffin, old Drac, his jocular manservant Maltravers (Peter Bayliss) and Vampira leave the Carpathians behind for swinging London and a haunted Hampstead mansion to track down the right ‘donor’ to restore Vampira…
Known as Old Dracula in the US (to cash in on Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein), this 1974 vampire comedy was written by Jeremy Lloyd (of Are You Being Served? and ’Allo ’Allo fame) as a vehicle for David Niven, who brings a real touch of class to director Clive Donner’s Carry On meets Confessions of a Biteable Playmate farce.
One-liner vampire jokes are the order of the day, with the best of them deservedly going to Bayliss, although Niven does get some nifty ones like: ‘That look of horror when they realise that it’s me is so exciting’. Drac’s castle dinner show, complete with creepy organ-playing and flying bats, effectively spoofs Hammer’s horrors, while his gimmicky haunted London pad with its screaming, laughing ghosts, satanic imagery and rat-infested well is a nod to William Castle and AIP’s 1970s shockers.
Lloyd and Donner also pay homage to blaxpoitation and spy flicks by turning Vampira into jive-talking disco queen after watching Black Gunn, and giving Niven some nifty weapons, including a cane with a deadly blade, which he uses to rescue a damsel in distress; while Anthony Newley’s jaunty theme tune sung by UK soul band, The Majestics is played over Bond-esque silhouetted credits. Mind you, Niven blacking up for the film’s final shot may have been misguided.
Psychomania‘s Nicky Henson plays horror writer Marc, who comes under the Count’s hypnotic control in order to put the bite on the likes of Jennie Linden and Veronica Carlson; while sex kitten Linda Hayden makes an early exit when her just-turned waitress Helga gets staked with a crossbow. Comedy actors Bernard Bresslaw and Frank Thornton make their hilarious cameos count, while the other ‘stars’ are the gritty Soho locations and David Whitaker’s funky music that has an air of Geoff Love’s fake 1970’s exotica group Mandingo about it. Fangs for the laughs, folks!
Meet Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) – who may or may not have come unstuck in time. During the Second World War, the young soldier is captured and sent to a German POW camp. On route, he witnesses the bombing of Dresden, an event that unhinges his fixity in time and causes him to live his life simultaneously as a POW, an optician in 1970’s America, and as the elderly abducted resident of a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore, where his captors provide him with a mate in the form of a porn star.
This thought-provoking anti-war, sci-fi from directed George Roy Hill (best known for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting) is based on American author Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s most influential and popular work, the 1969 satirical semi-autobiographical novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, which drew on the author’s own experiences as a prisoner of war when he was captured at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.
Thought to be impossible to film given its intertwining storylines and timelines, it went on to win the Prix du Jury at Cannes, as well as the praise of Vonnegut who remarked: ‘I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book’.
The Bach compositions used in the movie were supplied by celebrated classical pianist Glenn Gould, while the film’s star Michael Sacks later retired from the entertainment industry in the mid-1980s to become a technology industry executive for Morgan Stanley. Amongst the cast is Ron Leibman (TV’s Archer), Valerine Perrine (Lenny) and Perry King (Class of 1984).
Paying homage to classic Forties film noirs, 1982’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid starred Steve Martin (giving one of his best performances) as the Philip Marlowe-styled gumshoe Rigby Reardon, who is hired by Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) to investigate the death of her father, a noted scientist, philanthropist and cheesemaker…
Originally released on 21 May 1982, the film is irresistibly silly and very funny (aside from the misogyny of course, which was typical of films of the era). But the best thing about the comedy is how it cleverly intercut 19 classic movies into its spoof adventure. Whilst writing the film, Carl Reiner and George Gipe spent countless hours looking for specific shots and ‘listening for a line that was ambiguous enough but had enough meat in it to contribute a line’, while 85 sets were constructed in order toe edit in and merge the old film footage.
Then, of course, there was that amazing cast of Hollywood greats who ended up being Martin’s co-star. Alan Ladd, Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, Burt Lancaster, Humphrey Bogart, Eva Gardner, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Charles Laughton, Joan Crawford Veronica Lake, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Fred McMurray, James Cagney and Vincent Price.
Check them all out here.
Available on Blu-ray in the UK from Fabulous Films, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid really makes you want to revisit the classic films spliced into the light-hearted spoof. And here they all are.
Johnny Eager (1941)
Keeper of the Flame (1942) (uncredited)
This Gun for Hire (1942)
The Glass Key (1942)
Double Indemnity (1944)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
The Killers (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
I Walk Alone (1947)
Dark Passage (1947)
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
White Heat (1949)
The Bribe (1949)
In a Lonely Place (1950)
The Magic Christian (1969) | Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr and a shipload of famous faces make this comic misfire worth a revisit
This wildly undisciplined 1969 British comedy sees a homeless man called Youngman (Ringo Starr) being adopted by the world’s richest man, Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers), who sets out to prove that money can make people do anything through a series of practical jokes and bizarre stunts…
Shot with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality by one of the seven directors of the dire Casino Royal (The Goon Show’s Joseph McGrath), The Magic Christian is an absurd satire on capitalism, greed, and human vanities based on a novel by Terry Southern, whose warped imaginings also turned out screenplays for some of my favourite ‘out-there’ movies, Candy, Barbarella, The Loved One and Dr Strangelove.
Southern co-wrote the film with McGrath, but much was altered when the film’s star Peter Sellers – who loved Southern’s book so much he bought 100 copies to give to friends – got Spike Milligan, John Cleese and Graham Chapman to rewrite some scenes, some of which didn’t end up in the final cut. The biggest change was Ringo’s character, which was created especially for the movie.
Not that Starr brings much to the film, apart from hanging on Sellers’ every word (which the comedy legend utters in a vast array of vocal mimicry), as he carries out his ‘Grand’ schemes. These include getting Laurence Harvey’s Shakespearean actor to do a striptease during a performance of Hamlet, blowing the shit out of a squire’s sedate country shoot, fixing the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, and inviting a bunch of city types to bob for pound notes in a vat of animal blood, piss and manure.
Along for the wacky ride are Spike Milligan as a traffic warden who eats a parking ticket for £500, Hattie Jacques as a vain train passenger with a penchant for Nazi torture porn, Yul Brynner (voiced by The Rag Trade’s Miriam Karlin) as a transvestite singing Mad About the Boy to Roman Polanski, John Cleese as a surly Sothebys auctioneer, and Raquel Welch as a whip-wielding galley slave mistress, while Christopher Lee has fun sending up his Dracula persona. Shamefully, however, Leonard Frey (of Boys in the Band fame) is called Faggot.
The hit and miss satire ends in a shambolic riot aboard the eponymous Magic Christian, a luxury liner berthed in the Thames where London’s elite gather for the social event of the year (as reported by Michael Aspel and Alan Wicker).
While it certainly fails as an incisive satire (probably on account of it being lost in translation), The Magic Christian does have those fun cameos to tickle your funny bones, and the central London locations (with a Thames bursting its banks) are a real nostalgia trip. Watch out for the grotesque dining scene which could very well be the template for Monty Python’s Mr Creosote sketch in 1983’s The Meaning of Life (well Messrs Chapman and Cleese probably wrote that as well).
As for the Beatles-sounding theme tune ‘Come and Get It’, well that was written and produced by Paul McCartney for the Welsh rock band Badfinger, who released it as a single in December 1969 on the Beatles’ Apple label.
Fabulous Films presents the film on DVD in an unrestored version (some slight flecks appear here and there), with no extras.
Praised by Quentin Tarantino and George Lucas, Wizards is an epic sci-fi fantasy adventure created by the legendary animator Ralph Bakshi in 1977, and it’s now available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK featuring a new high definition print.
Millions of years after a nuclear holocaust, the Earth is divided between the Badlands, where goblins and demons dwell, and the Goodlands, which is home to fairies and elves. During a violent storm, the queen of Montagar gives birth to two wizards– Avatar and Blackwolf, who are fated to enter into a deadly battle between magic and technology.
‘A cross between Tolkien’s Hobbit, Mel Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man, and Marvel Comics’ Howard the Duck’ according to Tarantino, Wizards is without doubt a fantastical animated adventure from a master craftsman, but it also works as a none-to-subtle allegory on the creation of the state of Israel in the wake of the Holocaust.
Featuring the vocal talents of Bob Holt (Hong Kong Phooey), Jesse Welles (The Return of Count Yorga), and a pre-Star Wars Mark Hamill, this was the subversive cartoonist’s boldest gamble following his adult-themed flicks Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic. But it is also became a trailblazing calling card for his next foray into animated fantasy, 1978’s The Lord of the Rings.
The 2016 Fabulous Films region 2 DVD and Blu-ray release includes a new high-definition transfer, audio commentary from Bakshi, isolated music and effect audio track, a featurette on Bakshi, trailers and a gallery including conceptual drawings.
Filmed as a fictional documentary, 1980’s Rude Boy follows a Brixton punk (Ray Gange) as he quits his job in a West End sex shop to become a roadie for The Clash during their Clash on Patrol and Sort It Out UK tours of 1978.
Set against the backdrop of late 1970s Britain, this is an unparalleled film document of the iconic band (Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon) as they tour the country and headline the legendary Rock Against Racism Carnival in Victoria Park, London (which happened on 30 April 1978), while also going into the rehearsal rooms and the recording studio to lay down tracks for their second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope.
The Clash regretted their involvement with the film after watching the rough cuts and asked producer/directors David Mingay and Jack Hazan to edit the film to just concert footage, when Mingay and Hazan refused the band had pin badges made with the statement ‘I don’t want Rude Boy Clash Film’. The film, however, was released in 1980 and won an Honorable Mention and was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 30th Berlin International Film Festival.
Rude Boy featuring The Clash is available on DVD and for the first time on Blu-ray – fully restored in high definition with all new 5.1 surround sound, from Fabulous Films, from Monday 6 April. It includes 19 songs, 28 performances and 72 mins of live Clash footage.
THOSE EXTRAS IN FULL
• Audio commentary from producer/directors David Mingay and Jack Hazan
• Interviews with Ray Gange and Clash road manager Johnny Green
• Interviews with Jack Hazan and David Mingay
• 2 bonus live tracks that never made the final cut
• 4 deleted scenes
• 1980 theatrical trailer
• 1980 30sec radio ad
• Just Play The Clash’ separate song menu
• Clash discography with original sleeve artwork
• Clash image gallery
• The Clash Live in Munich 3rd October
• 7 songs, plus backstage interview
• Original 1980 promotional fanzine
• Rude Boy photo book
Having rattled us with his twisted monochrome terror tales in The Twilight Zone in the early-1960s, Rod Serling took one step beyond in the 1970s with his weird and colourful Night Gallery, an anthology series set in a ‘shadowy museum of the outré’, where he unveiled a collection of artworks which all told stories of horror, the supernatural and the fantastic.
‘Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way- not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.’
Following a knockout TV movie in 1969, which gave Hollywood grand dame Joan Crawford a fitting swansong to her acting career and marked the directorial debut of Steven Spielberg (check out the interview below), the series kicked off proper in December 1970, and ran for three seasons before closing its doors in May 1973, but not before earning itself an Emmy with the first season episode They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar.
While the majority of the teleplays were written by Serling and producer Jack Laird, many were adapted from the works of HP Lovecraft, August Derleth, Seabury Quinn, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, and George Langelaan (best known for The Fly), which gave the series a darker, scarier tone than that of The Twilight Zone.
But the show also had its whimsical side, with a number of comedic shorts running under 10 minutes. While these were a bit hit or miss, the some of the stories really do make your hair stand on end like Certain Shadows on the Wall with Agnes Moorhead (Betwitched) and Grayson Hall (Dark Shadows), The Return of the Sorcerer with Bill Bixby and Vincent Price, and The Doll, which caused a very very young Guillermo del Toro to wet himself as a child (you can hear about it from the man himself in the extras).
But like The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery also featured a fantastic roll call of big-name stars, who all got to show their dark side over the 43 episodes (and pilot), and these have now all been collected in one big DVD box-set, complete with a host of extras, including the once lost episode, Witches Feast, and the uncut original version of Little Girl Lost. Plus, there’s audio commentaries from Scott Skelton and Jim Benson, the authors of the must-have companion book.
Amongst the familiar faces are a number who also played guest villains in Batman, including Cesar Romero (The Joker), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Victor Buono (King Tut), Roddy McDowall (Bookworm) and Vincent Price (Egghead), plus a host of TV stars including a pre-Dallas/post I Dream of Jeannie Larry Hagman, Bob Crane (Hogan’s Heroes), John Astin (The Addams Family) and Forest Tucker (F-Troop).
The macabre artworks were also the show’s other big feature, and these were conceived by Thomas J Wright (who went on to become a TV director on shows like Supernatural and NCIS), while Jaroslav ‘Jerry’ Gebr did the ones for the pilot. These now collectable pieces are also explored in the extras.
So, who is up for a hanging in the Night Gallery…?
Rod Serling’s Night Gallery is available on DVD in the UK from Fabulous Films
• CLICK HERE to check out the fantastic website devoted to the series, who also were responsible for the fab montages you see on this page