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Thursday, Nov 6, 2014
Eugenio Martin's 1966 spaghetti western is a thrill ride all the way to the close, which features one of the most dramatic death scenes in the genre.

Samuel Fuller, the great American director of twenty-nine powerful, provocative, pulpy pictures including Pickup on South Street (1953), Shock Corridor (1963), and White Dog (1982) said that “If a screenplay doesn’t give you a hard-on in the first five pages, throw it in the goddamn garbage.” With The Bounty Killer (1966), the first Spaghetti western in which the always brilliant Tomas Milian blesses us with his presence, director Eugenio Martin adapts a screenplay that not only gives you a hard-on in the first five minutes, but gives you one that will last until the film closes with one of the most dramatic death-scenes in the genre.


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Thursday, Nov 6, 2014
Nasty Habits tries too hard to be a Nixonian allegory set in a pseudo-convent, forcing its plot parallels onto places they don't belong.

Nasty Habits transfers the details of the Watergate scandal into a Philadelphia convent, with Glenda Jackson playing the Nixon role of an icy abbess who secretly tapes everyone. As a satire of Watergate, it feels pointless and cumbersome; it might work better as a satire of the Church by implying that all hierarchies of power can use similar methods. The movie at first feels like such a takedown; it opens by showing the nuns drinking, smoking, swearing, and fornicating with Jesuits. Then, however, the screenplay throws in some exposition between a monsignor in Rome (Eli Wallach) and his “PR priest” (Jerry Stiller) in which they explain that this convent isn’t really an official part of the Catholic Church but some bizarre fabricated reactionary order that doesn’t recognize the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and they may end up having to correct it or disown it. So there goes that interpretation.


They even explain that this Philadelphia order is an off-shoot from one in Crewe, England, because the film is based on Muriel Spark’s novel The Abbess of Crewe, but why bother? So much of the film induces this sense of “why bother”. Why bother to have two seminarians “break in” to the abbey to steal one troublesome nun’s love letters, which she keeps in an unlocked box in a public place, and have them come back the next day to be caught? Couldn’t any senior nun have taken the letters? Ah, but it’s all necessary to parallel Watergate. When your allegory takes precedence over common sense in your main story, you’re in trouble.


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Wednesday, Nov 5, 2014
These two Arsène Lupin pictures give viewers a glamorous look at the lives of jewel thieves, with sparkling dialogue and double-crosses abound.

Arsène Lupin, the dashing French jewel thief, was created by Maurice Leblanc soon after E.W. Hornung created the similar English thief Raffles. Warner Archive recently issued two Raffles movies as a double-feature on demand, and they’ve also obliged us with this terrific two-fer of MGM films about Lupin. While the Raffles movies are sophisticated entertainments, the Lupin films cross into real brilliance, and these prints are as sparkling as the dialogue.


In both films, the debonair Lupin plays cat and mouse with a clever and relentless detective. In Arsène Lupin, brothers John and Lionel Barrymore play these mighty opponents, with John constantly displaying his profile as the handsome Lupin while his limping brother fumes and frets as the crafty policeman.


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Tuesday, Nov 4, 2014
There are only 364 days left until next Halloween, so get prepared to face the real horrors of the world with these ten titles.

It’s officially over. We’re done for another year. No more witches and warlocks, no more ghosts and goblins, o more zombies, werewolves, vampires, axe murders, hockey masked psychos, chainsaw wielding cannibals,  and other pop culture novelties. (Which reminds me that there’ll be no Frozen costumes—thank goodness.) Yes, another 31 October has come and gone, and with it, the desire for fright fans to indulge in all things menacing and macabre. For most, it’s a one shot deal, a night out in costume, a chance to have a few relatively safe scares and, maybe, to pull a few pranks.


For others, it’s a lifestyle, a 354-day-a-year struggle that only the last day in the tenth month can cure. All over social media and the blogsphere, those taken with terror post their Best and Worst Of lists. But once the bats have returned to the belfry, what then? How can someone celebrate the season of scares without having to go back to the Voorhees and the Myers, the Romeros and the Carpenters?


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Tuesday, Nov 4, 2014
These two versions of the minor classic character Raffles are two peas -- or pearls -- in a pod.

A.J. Raffles was a cricket player and “Amateur Cracksman” (in other words, a safecracker) created by E.W. Hornung, the brother-in-law of Arthur Conan Doyle. Just as Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes took the public by storm and launched a thousand detectives, so did Raffles cover the other end of the criminous street with the concept of the “gentleman thief” who would raise so much hay in popular culture. After featuring in three silent films, Raffles made his succesful talkie debut in 1930 in the person of Ronald Colman, thanks to producer Samuel Goldwyn. David Niven played the role with as much success in the 1939 remake. Both versions are available on demand in this generous bargain from Warner Archive.


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