Steve Pick: I’ve seen that image of Humphrey Bogart towing a boat down a river in Africa, but I had no idea how he got there, or why he was doing it, or what Katharine Hepburn was doing at the time. The African Queen is a film quite unlike other flicks I’ve seen. For 95% of its running time, Bogart and Hepburn are the only two characters on screen, not counting stock footage of hippos, monkeys, elephants, giraffes, and other animals, or some animated mosquitoes. I think we’ll find some interesting things to discuss, from the Christian/Western exploitation of Africa to the most literal representation of marriage as a death sentence ever in fiction. Along the way, well, we can bask in the skills of two magnificent actors making us forget, mostly, all the tics and trademarks that had made them famous in the years before and since this one was made in 1951.
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Now on Blu-ray are gorgeous HD transfers of two 1970s Italian genre films from director Umberto Lenzi. He made Gang War in Milan and Spasmo one after the other, but in a logical world he’d have made them in reverse order, for Spasmo is the last of his string of early ‘70s giallos while Gang War is the first of ten gangster/cop thrillers he’d make before the end of the decade.
Gang War in Milan focuses on Salvatore Cangemi (Antonio Sabàto), a handsome, high-living pimp from Sicily who, while supposedly running a wholesale produce business, markets a different kind of flesh entirely. He’s suddenly muscled in on by a dapper Frenchman (Philippe Leroy) who wants to partner with the whores to distribute heroin. The gang war is on, with the prostitutes’ bodies as the battlefield. The police are a virtual non-factor as the story’s parable of unrestrained capitalism winds toward cynical if credible “tragedy” about the replaceability of bosses and the transactional nature of love and sex.
Convoy is another of those movies that divide the auteurist from the average filmgoing hedonist. To the ordinary viewer, it’s one of many 1970s vehicles (no pun intended) where cars or trucks speed and crash primarily for the delectation of Southern drive-ins, only it doesn’t happen to star Burt Reynolds or come from Roger Corman. In other words, it’s a throwaway, a project tossed together to cash in on C.W. McCall’s 1975 hit song of the same name, now with new PG-rated lyrics.
Yes, but: to the fans of Sam Peckinpah, this is the spectacle of a great director slumming. Since he couldn’t help making personal cinema, it kicks up plenty of his dust, not least in his distinctive style of editing action by intercutting regular and slow-motion bits from different angles. This recognizable and effective trait analyzes the violence in a self-conscious “alienating” way while making it more vivid and disorienting in the cinematic approximation of an adrenaline rush.
Steve Leftridge: I remember when Simon and Garfunkel reunited at the Grammys a number of years ago, Dustin Hoffman showed up to introduce them, describing them as “the voice of a generation”. The same is occasionally said about The Graduate itself—that the film encapsulates essential Sixtiesness, perhaps more than any other film. I know that any such definitive declaration is highly debatable, and that the soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, as one of the most popular folk-rock groups of the late-Sixties, has plenty to do with the thought that The Graduate is particularly representative of that decade. But let me open our chat by asking you to identify 1967 in The Graduate, beyond obvious fashionography. That is, what thematic, socio-cultural, psychological elements are here that people who grew up in the Sixties would especially identify with, and why aren’t these elements simply universal to all young people of all eras?
Cinematically, each era produces bits of musical nonsense that could only have come from that time. Just as Breakin’ 2: Electric Bugaloo could have only been made in 1984, Oh, Sailor Behave! can only hail from 1930, a moment in the talkie transition marked by creaky stage properties of forgettable songs, unfunny schtick, and impudently, gloriously inane plots. The taste for lavish musicals died as quickly as it flowered in that year, and the result is a movie that, while intended for Technicolor, was released in black and white. It’s now available on demand from Warner Archive, looking and sounding none too spiffy for its obscurity in the vaults.