Steve Leftridge: For our 17th Double Take, we finally get to a film directed by a woman. Unfortunately, it may be a long while before we get to another. A glance at our 500 Great Films reveals precious few female-directed films, a sad reflection of an historical and ongoing problem in Hollywood. As more and more women are enrolling in film schools, we still don’t see them getting directorial jobs nearly as often as men do. Sofia Coppola, who directed Lost in Translation, is one of only four women to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director. (Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to have won, for The Hurt Locker, in 2009.) So perhaps we can talk about the female angle as we discuss Lost in Translation. But first let me start by asking you, What is this film about?
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In an interview on the DVD to one of his personal triumphs, The Party, director Blake Edwards says he decided to make that film after finishing another project that wasn’t very successful. Here is the one that wasn’t very successful, but it’s sure a great-looking widescreen print on Blu-ray.
What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? is one of the mildly satirical, mostly slapstick WWII comedies that came out in the spate of ‘60s war dramas. A lot of movies were about special teams with difficult assignments, and many of these adopted at least a partly insubordinate tone about ragtag misfits, such as Steve McQueen’s character The Great Escape or the cast of The Dirty Dozen. The ideas are that regular officers are incompetent and war is hell, but rugged individuals can have a grand time. No movies were mentioning Vietnam yet (The Green Berets was 1968), but the shadow of its restless, unspoken presence looms dimly.
In the interview that accompanies the new DVD edition of The Escapees, the late filmmaker Jean Rollin explains that he considers it a failure, too long and too talky, and that basically it went unreleased until he let it show on TV. His assessment is fair in comparison with his more ethereal accomplishments. However, fans of his style and obsessions will appreciate even this minor glimpse of what’s clearly a Rollin film.
Because of the first Sartana film, Gianfranco Parolini’s If You Meet Sartana… Pray For Your Death (1968), I was both wary and excited going into I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death (1969), the second installment in the original cycle of Sartana films. Parolini was replaced with the less experienced Giuliano Carnimeo, and as such, I was concerned that many of the best aspects of the first film would be lost. But with Gianni Garko again playing Sartana, I was also hopeful that this iconic Spaghetti Western character would be further developed and enhanced with this second entry.
If You Meet Sartana… Pray For Your Death introduces Garko’s relaxed acting and mysterious aura as Sartana, that immaculately dressed, quick-witted gambler of an anti-hero who uses a four-barreled Derringer pocket pistol and an assortment of booby-traps to take down his foes with great style. In addition to that, the first Sartana film had two things going for it: its stunt-heavy, acrobatic-like action that added energy to the chases on horseback and the gunfights, and its mind-blowing body-count that distracted from its mess of a plot.
Since Parolini puts both of these traits on show in his Lee Van Cleef-led Sabata trilogy (1969-1971), I assumed that they were unique to him rather than to the first Sartana film and that they would be absent from the second Sartana film, because Parolini himself is. If those redeeming aspects of the first film weren’t presented in the second, then what would we be left with? Garko would surely be able to match his performance as Sartana a second time, but what would Carnimeo offer as director that could make up for Parolini’s missing touch that helps make the first film so entertaining?
Before directing I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death, Carnimeo had only two films to his name: his unbalanced but fun The Moment of Killing (1968), and the mediocre but nicely filmed Jeffrey Hunter vehicle Find a Place to Die (1968). While both films are impressive for an unexperienced director, they are, taken on their own, nothing too memorable; at least, not as memorable as I was expecting the second installment in the Sartana cycle to be.
I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death opens up by showing Sartana lead a gang in a bank robbery. We quickly find out, however, that it is merely someone dressed as Sartana trying to set him up. The set-up is successful, and the real Sartana becomes a wanted man. The rest of the film follows him as he tries to find out who was behind the bank robbery while fighting off an assortment of bounty hunters that are after his head. With the help of an old friend named Buddy Ben (Fank Wolff), Sartana eventually finds out who set him up, but along the way there are a lot of incredibly hard to follow little plot points that come off as completely nonsensical.
In the sense that the story development is a confusing mess, Carnimeo’s I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death is very similar to If You Meet Sartana… Pray For Your Death. But Carnimeo also does a fine job of emphasizing the easy-to-fall-for character traits of Sartana himself that Parolini and Garko originally brought to life: he’s a good-looking, well-dressed charmer with a skill set somewhere between a master illusionist and an all-powerful mystic who doesn’t hesitate to draw his gun or drop a one-liner. There is also, just as in the first film, a role for the always brilliant Klaus Kinski.
For me, an appearance from Kinski always takes a film up a notch or two. But as was the case in the first Sartana film, Kinski is not given nearly enough screen time in I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death. His genius is once again more or less wasted. Nevertheless, the scenes that do feature Kinski are great as always. He plays a dandy-like gambling addict who is just one of the many bounty hunters after Sartana, but, after losing a hand in poker to Sartana, he says the best line of the film: “You only won because I was persecuted by misfortune.” Kinski might very well be the brightest star in the entire spaghetti western genre, and it’s always a shame to see his talent wasted, but some Kinski is better than no Kinski.
The acting in his Sartana film is pretty damn good across the board, and although I prefer Garko’s more subtle, mysterious performance in the first Sartana film, he does an excellent job here of keeping us entertained in spite of the confusing plot that, at times, takes on an uninteresting episodic rhythm. There’s also plenty of the action that is so necessary to the enjoyment of these films, in addition to a solid score by Vasco & Mancuso. But neither the action nor the score reaches the level of what was displayed in the first Sartana film, If You Meet Sartana… Pray For Your Death—which itself was far from being a masterpiece—so although I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death is worth watching for fans of this character, it’s definitely not a high point in the cycle.
The Premature Burial is the third in Roger Corman‘s series of Edgar Allan Poe stories, although the screenplay by Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell elaborates a darker and more complicated story than Poe’s original. It’s an anguished, clammy, claustrophobic chamber piece that never leaves the property of Guy Carrell (Milland), whose mansion abuts a permanently fogbound cemetery. Because of his morbid obsession of being buried alive, he wants to break off his engagement to the strong-minded Emily (Hazel Court), but she won’t hear of it. After the wedding, he grows increasingly obsessed and irritable, and Emily brings in a doctor friend (Richard Ney) and her haughty father (Alan Napier) for advice.
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"From the casting to the concept, this latest attempt to revive the struggling film series is nothing but a CG stunt, a gimmick that gets old quickly.READ the article