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Do Look Back: A Baker's Dozen for Your Swinging '60s Film Fest

Are you in the mood to be retro-hip? Do you get the urge to be mod and pop, '60s style? Sure you do.

Are you in the mood to be retro-hip? Do you get the urge to be mod and pop, '60s style? Sure you do.

A batch of recent Blu-rays (and a couple of more digitally challenged items) offers a cross-section of the cinematic era when you couldn't swing a hepcat without hitting something groovy. Here's a guide to programming your own marathon. Only a few of these titles are certifiable "classics", but they all exude distinctive flavors and aromas of that stylish decade. You can spot them at 100 paces.


The Mask (1961)

What It Is, Man: Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the psychedelic '60s in an explicit metaphor for drug addiction. When a shrink (Paul Stevens) inherits an ancient tribal mask from a dead patient, he can't resist putting it on and channeling 3-D visions from his repressed psyche, which boil down to the idea that men want to prey on women. Canada's first horror feature and first 3-D feature is restored brilliantly by 3-D Film Archive; the Blu-ray plays flat or 3-D depending on your TV.

How It Grooves: Most of the bumpily plotted film is in heavily chiaroscuro'd, expressionist black and white, while the 3-D dreams ("Put the mask on now!") function like experimental musical numbers of sex-and-death surrealism. If you have a regular 2-D TV, these sequences are repeated in an anaglyphic extra (bring your own glasses), and they look terrific. Bonus features include excellent commentary, a profile of Canadian pioneer Julian Roffman, a selection of avant-garde works by great montage artist Slavko Vorkapich (hired and fired from the 3-D scenes), and a lovely new 3-D film based on old stereoscopes of "diableries" (scenes of Hell). It's a fine package.


The Honey Pot (1967)

What It Is, Man: Cecil Fox (Rex Harrison) hires an actor named McFly (Cliff Robertson) to help lure three ex-girlfriends (Susan Hayward, Capucine, Edie Adams) to his Venetian palazzo by pretending Fox is dying. It turns into a murder case as everyone stands around delivering glittering dialogue amid gorgeous sets and costumes, scored elegantly by John Addison. Maggie Smith gets a good showcase as a mousy assistant, and Adolfo Celli is the inspector.

How It Grooves: Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz couldn't help making civilized entertainments full of clever repartee. This one derives from a play by Frederick Knott (Dial M for Murder) and a novel by Thomas Sterling, which were based in turn on Ben Jonson's comedy Volpone. Twenty minutes were cut after the British premiere, which explains why two credited actors don't appear, and it's still on the leisurely side. Such a polished throwback might have seemed out of step with the era's quest for relevance and shock, but today we can appreciate its high style on Blu-ray.


Hotel Paradiso (1966)

What It Is, Man: In 1900 Paris, Boniface (Alec Guinness) arranges an adulterous assignation with his neighbor's wife (Gina Lollobrigida), but several people they know happen to be staying at the same hotel as the night escalates into farcical slapstick. (The premise falls apart if we ask why they go to a hotel when their spouses are away, so don't ask.) Robert Morley plays the husband, who thinks he's chased by ghosts. In the era of What's New, Pussycat, producers looked for naughty storylines in which most people aren't allowed to have sex, and it helped to have the pedigree of a classic French farce by Georges Feydeau. To promote the resemblance, that film's Eddra Gale is dropped gratuitously into this one.

How It Grooves: Director Peter Glenville's films are mostly based on stage projects, including his own, and that applies to this one in which he appears as Feydeau. While the actors are good, the classic restraint of the approach dampens the frantic energy required. This beautifully designed film would look and sound much better if money were spent on restoration, but it's considered too minor for that, so all we have is this mediocre made-on-demand DVD-R from Warner Archive.


Come Fly With Me (1963)

What It Is, Man: Three stewardesses, or airline hostesses, travel to Paris and Vienna, look at postcard sights, go to restaurants, put on water skis, and have predictable if unlikely romantic misadventures with an Austrian baron, a handsome pilot, and a Texas tycoon. Pamela Tiffin, Dolores Hart, Lois Nettleton, Karl Malden, Hugh O'Brian and Karl Boehm dance on the edge between the mod and old-fashioned, the swinging and the moralistic, until Europe is made safe for midwestern values. "I'm the biggest square in Paris!" shouts a hip street urchin. Look sharp for Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) as the fourth hostess. Frankie Avalon sings the title song.

How It Grooves: Ah, the good life, an era when air travel was sold as a glamorous consumer fantasy where (at least in First Class) the champagne, lobsters and caviar were served by sexy models looking for a husband. Director Henry Levin handles the widescreen romp lightly, while classy producer Anatole de Grunwald made the similar airport saga The V.I.P.s the same year. This is another film that would look much better if the Metrocolor were restored to its original sheen instead of being another faded on-demand item from Warner Archive. Alas, no Blu-ray here.


Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)

What It Is, Man: In smoking jacket and gold genie shoes, Vincent Price sends himself up as a megalomaniac who wants to control the world by having powerful men marry bikini'd robots. Frankie Avalon is the bumbling secret agent out to stop him in this sci-fi spy spoof. The Supremes sing the title song in a lark of sexist absurdism very typical of its era, a juvenile comedy yearning for liberation.

How It Grooves: Comedy vet Norman Taurog handles the tongue-in-cheek shenanigans in a manner that marks it as an offshoot of AIP's beach party movies. Historians David Del Valle and David DeCoteau offer chatty commentary. Although without the budget of Hotel Paradiso or Come Fly with Me, these brilliantly colorful HD presentations of the Goldfoot movies make them look better than they are.


Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966)

What It Is, Man: This time the robots explode when kissed, an especially blunt metaphor. Vincent Price returns in an Italian-made sequel that replaces Frankie Avalon with Fabian and highlights the "comedy" antics of Franco and Ciccio, a prolific Sicilian duo popular in Italy and nowhere else. The Italian version supposedly has more of them, which wouldn't make it preferable, but this is the heavily recut US edition.

How It Grooves: This sequel is even more wildly, crazily '60s, thanks to the eye of director Mario Bava, his photographer and designer. The climactic chase occurs on amusement park rides, proving that mindless kinetic energy is more important than linear progress. David Del Valle and David DeCoteau offer friendly, rambling, inconsequential commentary to match the movie.

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