Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

  
Young soldier Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) stands accused of first degree murder, after he shot the man who raped his wife Laura Manion (Lee Remick). Seeking the help of attorney Paul Biegler (James Stewart), Lt. Manion looks to prove that a moment of insanity made him commit the murder. Will he win his case?

  
Well you’ll have to watch and find out. I’m a sucker for a good courtroom drama, and for the most part Otto Perminger’s ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ delivers. It’s got a great cast too, with supporting acts like George C. Scott, who was nominated for an Oscar. The story is gripping to begin with, and you kind of get an idea of what happened, but since Otto Perminger disliked the use of flashbacks, there are no images to go along with Mrs. Manion’s or the Lieutenant’s account of what happened the night of the rape and murder. As Biegler goes around questioning witnesses of the night Laura Manion was raped, you get the idea that he’s fleshing out his case for the defence of Lt. Manion, but you get no real sense of urgency. A better way of telling the story would be if Lt. Manion had already been convicted and was due to be executed. That way you could build the suspense and really create an interesting drama. 

  
It’s not that ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ is a bad movie, far from it. The problem is at a running time of 2hrs 40mins you feel that a lot of what happens is filler. Often this movie is cited as a masterpiece, but I would be inclined to disagree. I’ve seen other courtroom movies that are a lot more engaging and suspenseful than this. James Stewart is always worth a watch, and he brings that sort of naive, everyman charm to the role of Paul Biegler that he does in most movies I’ve watched him in. Lee Remick is stunning as Laura Manion, and it was interesting to see a young Ben Gazzara as I only really remember him from The Big Lebowski and also as the big bad in Roadhouse.

  

If you’re into courtroom movies then there is a lot to like here. However I felt that the 3rd act was lacking and undid some of the good groundwork laid earlier. Interestingly enough James Stewart’s father was so offended by this movie that he took out an advert in a local newspaper telling people not to go and see it. Reason for his offence was that this was one of the first movies to have words like panties, slut, rape and sperm used in a script. The film was also banned in Chicago upon its release. Worth a watch, but there are better legal themed movies out there. 

3/5

JM

  

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Blood and Black Lace (1964)

 
Directed by Mario Bava, Blood and Black Lace was one of the first giallo’s to be released, but not *the* first as my good friend Kat Ellinger over at http://thegoresplatteredcorner.com/ pointed out to me. I’ll be honest I wasn’t really a fan of some of Bava’s other work like Lisa and the Devil. However that being said Blood and Black Lace really did it for me. 

 
When a beautiful young model is murdered and her body found in a salon the finger is pointed at many who knew her. When her diary is later found it causes many to become worried, as they fear there may be something that could implicate them inside the diary. However has the bodies pile up, and more grisly murders take place, it’s clear there is something far more sinister at play. A masked maniac stalks the women, bumping them off one by one, with the police oblivious to who could be responsible. 

 
Director Mario Bava’s use of colour is extrordinary. They literally pop off the screen, with red being the most prevelant colour. The transfer from Arrow Video is nothing short of sublime. The blacks are rich and deep and the close ups of each actor are vibrant to say the least. It looks like a movie that was made last year and not 51 years ago. My only gripe is the music. Not that it’s terrible, because it isn’t. No, my issue is where it’s used in the movie. It’s far too upbeat to create any tension, so when it’s used in the stalking scenes, I just didn’t feel the tension I felt the director may have been trying to create. Though that really is all I can fault this movie for and that’s saying something. 
 
The acting is great and not at all hammy, like it can be in some Italian movies I’ve seen. The costume and set design is wonderful, and you really do wish you could just step into the movie just for one moment. This copy of Blood and Black Lace was generously provided by the folks at http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/ and is available to purchase now. It’s available in a steelbook release or in a reversible sleeve jewel case. Personally I’d choose the sublime reversible sleeve with the beautiful Graham Humphreys artwork. 

5/5

JM

  

The Untold Story (1993)

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Wong Chi Hang (Anthony Wong) is the owner of the Eight Immortals Restaurant in Macao. His establishment makes the finest pork buns anywhere, but just what exactly *is* inside those tasty buns? After a slew of body parts wash up on the beach Officer Lee (Danny Lee) and his team are led to the Eight Immortals Restaurant, and begin to wonder just how Wong Chi Hang came to be the proprietor.

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A series of flashbacks shed some light on the grisly reality of how Wong Chi Hang came to run the restaurant. After cheating the owner at Mahjong, he butchered the owner, his wife and their kids, so that he could own the restaurant. As the police investigate what happened to the previous owners, Wong tries to cover his tracks, dispatching anyone that might expose him.

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This is one seriously twisted movie. I have long heard of the extreme nature of the Category III movies from Asia, but never expected them to be like this. Seriously, the things that are shown here would never be allowed in Hollywood. Anthony Wong is a tour-de-force as Wong Chi Hang, so it comes as no surprise that he won an award for his role. The movie pulls no punches in terms of gore, bodies are gutted and mutilated by Wong, and you don’t even want to know what he does with a bunch of chopsticks, honestly, I knew there was a reason I use a knife and fork. The team of officers do come off as bumbling, and they’re more like the comic relief. Danny Lee begins every scene he is in with some bit of skirt on his arm, which was funny, but didn’t fit in with the overall tone of the movie. I found that it was quite jarring in terms of tone, and that the film would have worked better if it was all played straight.

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It is definitely worth a watch if you can get your hands on it. It is really shocking though, the raw intensity that Anthony Wong brings to his role really is a sight to behold. The guy is a legend of Asian cinema, and he is hands down one of my favourite Asian actors. However it is not for the squeamish, so if you don’t like gore, steer well clear.

4/5

JM

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White of the Eye (1987)

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A series of grisly murders rocks the area of Tucson, Arizona. Beautiful women have been found mutilated in their homes, some with parts missing. As Detective Mendoza (Art Evans) investigates the crime, his attention becomes quickly drawn to Paul White (David Keith), a local sound engineer that works in the area. As the finger of suspicion keeps getting pointed at Paul, he protests his innocence, but his wife Joan (Cathy Moriarty) begins to see through the façade and uncover some incriminating clues of her own.

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Director Donald Cammell (Performance) never directed many movies, before his suicide in1996 aged 62, but his films had a very trippy style all of their own. White of the Eye is full of strange symbolism, mainly focusing on American Indian rituals, and some intense imagery. However the film is not without it’s faults. To begin with, the editing is all over the place. One minute it’s present day, the next it’s showing a flashback scene. Yet the editing is so jarring that at first I was a little thrown as to what I was watching.

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The actual murders are not really shown on screen, leaving a lot to the imagination. Instead the director decides to focus on the eye of the killer watching his victims breathe their last breath. The camera also likes to focus on glass smashing, and the splash of wine and sauce take the place of the blood that is also being spilt. It’s not pretentious at all,  but instead gives the murders an almost artistic quality. We don’t see the act itself, instead we see what the victim sees, the white of the killers eye.

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David Keith plays the part of the opera loving, sound engineer Paul White very well. He brings a raw intensity to the role, really believing his characters place in the world. Cathy Moriarty is also very good as the inquisitive wife, who slowly comes to the realisation that she really doesn’t know the man she lives with quite as much as she thinks. I have to say this however. The actress that plays the child Danielle White (Danielle Smith) looks a tad strange. There’s no other way to put it. The two front teeth unsettled me, you have to see the movie to understand. I watched this movie on blu ray (available from http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk), and the transfer is immaculate. The extras are great and include a feature length documentary directed by Kevin McDonald and also a short film which was directed by Cammell in 1972. All in all a great package for a good film. Also as I was in a retro mood after talking to my buddies at http://www.80spicturehouse.co.uk on twitter, I thought I’d include the old VHS poster below. Enjoy!

3/5

JM

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Hellgate (1989)

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It’s the 1950’s. A biker gang stop off at a roadside diner, just to cause havoc. A beautiful girl called Josie comes in to the diner and is set upon by the bikers. She is then kidnapped by the bikers and taken to the town of Hellgate. When they get to Hellgate, Josie manages to get off the bike and run away. However she is chased down and ruthlessly murdered by the bikers. Her father who lives in Hellgate witnesses the murder and kills some of the bikers.

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One of the workers in Hellgate is down in a mine when he finds a mysterious blue crystal. The crystal carries a strange aura and has the power to bring the dead back to life. When Josie’s father his handed the crystal, he uses it to bring his daughter back to life. He instructs Josie to lure people to Hellgate so that he can kill them.

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Fast forward 30yrs and we are now presented with three college kids telling ghost stories. They are in a cabin near Hellgate and one girl recounts the story to her friends. Another friend called Matt (Ron Palillo) is on his way to the cabin, when he comes across the alluring image of Josie. He stops to ask her if she’s ok, only for Josie to invite him back to her fathers house. Josie’s father discovers Matt and Josie kissing, becoming angry at the sight. Through some stroke of luck Josie convinces her father to spare Matt, leaving Matt to run screaming from the house. Matt tells his friends what happened and they head to Hellgate to investigate.

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Now if I’ve made that sound at all interesting, believe me when I say it isn’t. There are so many things wrong with this film that I don’t know where to start. Firstly, the acting is just abysmal. I mean laughably bad. It’s like the cast are just mumbling through their lines, no interest whatsoever. Any attempt at drama or danger is so cackhanded that it’s hard to maintain interest. The script is terrible too, which for me just amplifies how bad the acting is. Ron Palillo who plays one of the ‘college kids’ was 39 at the time of filming, which doesn’t help matters at all. There is some clever gore, but it’s let down by some shoddy effects in other places. For instance when a bat springs to life after being struck by the crystal, you can clearly see the strings holding it up. I don’t know if all of the bad things are intentional, but judging from the director’s back catalogue, I’m gonna guess not.

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However if the film itself isn’t quite up to snuff, fear not as there is a silver lining. Arrow Films never fail when it comes to delivering great extras and a sumptuous transfer. The picture is immaculate. There is no grain, and this is just from the DVD version which I tested. The extras are, as always, entertaining and informative. On this DVD we have three interviews. The first ‘Road To Perdition, B-Movie style: An extensive interview with director William A. Levey’ is a mixed bag. This is mainly down to the rambling nature of Mr. Levey. He begins talking about the film, then deviates into a discussion on the Apartheid, as the film was filmed in South Africa at the time. William A. Levey however just lets his brain run riot. He is obviously proud of his movie, though I’m sad to say I don’t share that sentiment.

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The second interview, ‘Alien invasion, Blaxploitation and Ghost-Busting Mayhem: Scholar, Filmmaker and fan Howard S. Berger reflects on intriguing film career of William A. Levey’, is not much different in terms of having a rambling individual comment on Hellgate and other movies of William A. Levey’s career. This is not to the detriment of Mr. Waddell, it’s purely down to Mr. Berger, who mumbles and stutters his way through an interview, commenting on things such as how Ron Palillo was oddly cast as the male lead, and how Hellgate is a movie that should be shown to 6yr olds. I agree with the first comment, but not the second. The final interview is more like it. ‘Video Nasty: Interview with Kenneth Hall, writer of the Puppet Master series’. Kenneth Hall comes across as a likeable fellow indeed. He talks about the direct to video era of the mid 80’s to early 90’s where the lesser known film makers had to make do with moderate budgets and instead use gore and nudity to their favour, helping them sell movies that might not make it on story and acting alone. There is a lot to like in the interviews, some great trivia but some questionable topics of discussion too. This copy of Hellgate was graciously provided by the fine folks over at Arrow Films. If you’d like to purchase your own copy, then you can do so over at http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk.

1/5

JM

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