For a spaghetti western, Twice a Judas (1969) develops slowly; its plot is as meandering as a monk walking in the moonlight. The film begins by showing what looks like two bodies laying dead atop a desolate desert mountain, but when a frenzied flock of vultures begin pecking away at them, one of the the bodies jumps up and unloads several rounds from a shotgun into the flying scavengers. This shotgun-wielding body is Luke Barrett (Antonio Sabato). Although he is alive, he has an extreme case of amnesia. “It’s inside my head,” he says at one point. “This blackness. I can’t remember anything. I don’t even know who I am.”
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Vice and Virtue is a perfect example of how Roger Vadim applied the concept of “seduction” to aesthetics as well as story, providing an operatic exercise in the transgressive and kinky with a veneer of literary cachet. He’d already done this with his modernised Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1960), which is possibly the best of several films from that novel (Milos Forman’s Valmont is also excellent). In the resoundingly artificial and allegorical Vice and Virtue, the high concept is to update the Marquis de Sade’s Justine to Nazi-occupied France at the end of WWII.
Two British comedies with gap-toothed comedian Terry-Thomas are now available on demand from Warner Archive. There’s not much to say about Kill or Cure, a whimsical whodunit with large doses of slapstick, except that it’s amusing. Our hero plays a detective who goes undercover at a health spa and subjects himself to various indignities before bumbling to the solution of his client’s murder. It’s not a masterpiece of hilarity, but it gets the job done, with help from Eric Sykes, Dennis Price, Moira Redmond, Lionel Jeffries and Ronnie Barker.
The Hollywood satire in The Player was most sharply observed by those who worked for and with the big studio system, so in some ways it seems like a movie, with all its insider talk and meta-narratives, that was made not just about the industry but for the industry.
Steve Leftridge: I’ll lead off by suggesting that The Player might not be the ideal Robert Altman film by which to discuss the director, but that’s the nature of the Big Randomizer that picks these titles for us. I saw this film when it was first released in 1992, but not until it had already been established as marking Robert Altman’s big career resurgence and was lined up for awards on both sides of the Atlantic. I can’t quite remember how I made sense of The Player at the time as a film on its own terms or how I considered it within the context and style of the classic films that Altman had already made. But re-watching the film this week, with the benefit of knowing where Altman went from here, I can place it in a more complete context. Plus, I had forgotten so much of it, I was evaluating it anew as a free-standing piece of work. I have a lot of questions for you, Steve, but let me start by asking you those I just introduced: Revisiting The Player for this project, how do you feel it works as a film, regardless of who directed it, and how does knowing that it’s an Altman film inform your understanding or appreciation of it?
The year was 1973, and it was Sam Peckinpah’s last chance in Hollywood. Peckinpah had followed up his massively successful western epic The Wild Bunch with a series of films that, while all of quality, were marred by turmoil as a result of both Peckinpah’s increasingly severe alcoholism and his adversarial relationship with studio executives. His never-before-seen depiction of gritty violence was often the source of controversy, with many critics feeling that Peckinpah’s fiery brand of mayhem bordered on the nihilistic. While Bloody Sam loved to let the bullets fly on screen, his time behind the cameras also proved to be similarly combative, as he became notorious for his clashes with studios over budget constraints and shooting schedules.
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