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Posts Tagged ‘Martine Beswick’

One Million Years BC (1966) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

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Stars – Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Martine Beswick
Director – Don Chaffey

Released by Kino Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Anytime one of Ray Harryhuasen’s film makes it to Blu-Ray it is a cause for celebration.  Touting Ray’s animated dinosaurs and Raquel Welch in a leather bikini the film went on the become the highest grossing picture ever made by Hammer Films. This is a caveman and dinosaur picture with natural dialogue. The tribes speak a minimum of words so what carries the day is the wonderful visuals. There are many long takes of the incredible looking landscapes. Rocky vistas stretch over the desolate hardscrabble grounds. The effects crew use these colorful sulphur bombs to give the impression of volcanic dust wafting in the air. The film opens slowly. We see violent explosions of flame and molten lava under the credits. There is an elongated sequence of a sunrise.

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The film begins with a little narration and then focuses on a tribe of black bearded men and their cowering women. They fight over food. Life is tough. The strongest man rules and takes what he wants. He has a fight with one of his sons and with a few whacks of a stout staff he sends him on his way. John Richardson looks quite good here. Both Martine Beswick and Raquel Welch remark in their interviews that they were stopped in their tracks when they first saw him. Raquel says that next to her he was the real pretty one. Richardson as Tumac makes his way through the barren lands. He eventually finds the ocean. The sight blows him away. Then he sees a group of blonde women fishing and frolicking in the water. This is all too much. Suddenly he is attacked by a giant tortoise. The creature looks great. In this new transfer we can make out all kinds of detail in the skin textures etched into the body by Harryhausen. Anytime one of his models is on screen the picture is fantastic. There is a pretty lengthy battle. I’ve heard Harryhausen say that whenever he has one of his creature enter people usually go after it with a bunch of sticks and poke at it. They sure do here as well.

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Tumac is smitten with Luana the name of Raquel’s character. While all the other women have these scraggly looking one piece costumes she’s got a well crafted leather bikini. She also sports the most fantastic make up with eye shadow and eye liner never out of place. The blonde tribe is more evolved. They seem to cook better. They make better spears with sharpened rocks tied onto the ends of their staffs. While all the black haired tribe seems to do is yell and fight the blondes seem to have more fun. Tumac discovers laughter. When we have had just about enough of this another of Ray’s dinosaurs makes a welcome entrance. The scene with the Allosaurus is a terrific set piece. He’s not that much taller than the cavemen he attacks. The way Haryhausen manages the interaction is a joy to behold. The actors have to shoot the scenes pretending while looking at empty space without anything there. Ray will make a model of one of the people and switch from the real person to a model in peril with his dinosaur. It’s a great effect. The best example of this is when a huge flying pteranodon grabs Ms. Welch and carries her off into the air. That scene features a fight between two flying monsters in mid air. Watching this bit recalls the harpies flying around in Jason and the Argonauts. While comparing the social evolution of the two tribes has its merits it’s the Dino action we are in this for. At times the length between those scenes stretches out a bit too long. I will say though that while watching this new Blu Ray I found those interim portions much easier to take.

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This is a remake of a classic Hal Roach film One Million BC (1940) that stared Victor Mature and Carole Landis. Carole sported a bathing suit like outfit that while fetching enough was not the sensation that Raquel’s became. Posters were popular in the mid sixties. Comic book heroes, comedians, action stars and all kinds of counter culture types were available in these large 27 x 41 sized prints that you could tack to your wall. They were very affordable, too. The photograph taken of Raquel during the filming became a huge sensation. It was everywhere and without a doubt made her the star that she became. It had to have helped put a few more dollars in the Hammer coffers, too. The other woman in the film that had a bikini was Martine Beswick. She did a great fight scene between two Gypsy girls in the James Bond film, From Russia With Love. She gets another fight scene in this one, too. The encounter with Raquel is well choreographed. You can clearly see that the two of them are actually doing all the moves themselves. Martine does mention in her interview that her bikini was not near as well tailored as Raquel’s. This was something she made sure to negotiate for in her next Hammer film.

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It is a real treat to have this Harryhausen film in such good shape. Kino has included both the International cut and the shorter by 9 minute US version. Among the trims were some shots from the Harryhausen effects scenes. Tim Lucas in his commentary finds this completely without cause. This is why everyone came to see this film. Why would you take even a frame away from any of the work he contributed? Tim’s commentary is full of stories and generous details about the film. He has a nice relaxed delivery and apparently is drawing information from a huge trunkful of information about the film. He credits his sources at several times which is a very nice touch. The interviews with Raquel Welch and Martine Beswick are very candid and lot of fun. The best though is hearing Ray Harryhuasen himself talk about his work on the project as he shows off a few of the actual models that he used in One Million Years BC. So yes, the ridiculous dialogue of the cavemen can be over the top and there may be a bit too much of them altogether. However the dinosaurs are the main attraction and they are served up wonderfully here. Highly recommended.

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Video – 1.85:1
The cover boasts a brand new 4K restoration and once you fire up this disc it backs it up.  Both the US and International cut appear to be in terrific shape. Each version gets their own disc. Colors are strong. Black levels are nice and deep without any distortion or noise. Sure you can tell when matte work is in the background or optical effects are being used but this overall picture is outstanding. The landscapes and vistas in the exteriors all look magnificent. There is quite a bit of time between the dinosaur encounters with only the locations and bikini clad merits of Ms. Welch and Beswick on hand to fill the time so be glad the picture looks so good.

Audio – DTS HD 2.0
Not that you really want to hear it but all of that monosyllabic dialogue is easy enough to follow. The music is brash and supports the film well.

Extras – Commentary by film historian Tim Lucas | In the Valley of the Dinosaurs: Interview with Star Raquel Welch | An Interview with SFX Legend Ray Harryhausen | Interview with Actress Martine Beswick | Animated Montage of Posters and Images | Trailers.  On the inside cover there is a reproduction of a controversial publicity picture.  That’s a nice cheeky touch by Kino.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent (Classic for Ray Harryhausen fans)

A Bullet for the General: Blu Ray Review

Friday, June 1st, 2012

A Bullet for the General (1967)

by Troy Howarth

Directed by Damiano Damiani; Screenplay by Salvatore Laurani and Franco Salinas; Starring Gian Maria Volonte, Klaus Kinski, Lou Castel, Martine Beswick, Jaime Fernandez, Andrea Cecchi, Aldo Sanbrell

An American (Lou Castel) infiltrates a gang of Mexican revolutionaries lead by the charismatic El Chuncho (Gian Maria Volonte), but his motives have nothing to do with futhering their cause…

The Spaghetti Western blossomed into an international phenomenon in 1964 with the release of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars.  Leone was not the first Italian to tackle the old west – Italians had been dabbling in the genre as far back as the silent era – but he was the one who hit on the ideal formula, and his success spawned a veritable tidal wave of imitations and cash-ins.  Leone’s slightly cockeyed epic also helped to make a star of TV actor Clint Eastwood, and others would also see their careers reiginited (Lee Van Cleef, formerly a minor bit player in Hollywood, for example) or rise to international prominence.  Gian Maria Volonte belongs to the latter category – already revered in Italy as one of the finest actors in Europe, Volonte’s over the top turn as the villain in Fistful – an act he improved upon in Leone’s follow up, For a Few Dollars More (1965) – brought him to the attention of moviegoers around the globe.  Yet, while actors like Van Cleef – or Tomas Milian or Franco Nero – would embrace typecasting in a slew of cheaply produced westerns, Volonte’s political  activisim would prompt him to branch out in other directions.  Not surprisingly, he soon parted ways with the avowedly unpolitical Leone and his forays in the Spaghetti Western would be few and far between; the ones that drew him back, of course, would play into his political fervor.

A Bullet for the General therefore emerges as one of the most overtly ‘left wing’ of Spaghetti Westerns.  It is also something of a send up of the genre, with director Damiano Damiani poking fun at the conventions and finding ways to trump expectations at every turn.  The setup is simple enough, but it evolves in surprising ways.  The mysterious American is sidelined in favor of the considerably more interesting Mexican revolutionary figure, though this may have more to do with the casting than anything else.  As the story unfolds, the tone varies from light to dark, gradually lurching towards full fledged comedy of manners before ending on a more sober – and politically impassioned – note.

Volonte dominates the proceedings as El Chuncho.  He clearly relished playing the character, and he does a commendable job of giving it real shading.  El Chuncho is a fairly typical opportunist at the start of the picture, but he evolves into a more sympathetic figure as the drama unfolds.  He is a revolutionary poseur who evolves into a truly red blooded activist over time.  The American is played by baby faced Lou Castel, familiar to Euro Cult enthusiasts for his turns in such erotic tinged gialli as Umberto Lenzi’s Orgasmo (1968).  Castel was never the most interesting of actors, but he does a competent job – Damiani clearly favors Volonte over him anyway, so his main function is to keep out of the kinetic star’s limelight, which he accomplishes gracefully enough.  Klaus Kinski is on hand to play the most unlikely Mexican revolutionary imaginable, but he gives a committed, intense performance; he’s not very believable as Volonte’s brother, on the face of it, but the script is sensible enough to comment on their lack of physical similarity (they sprang from the same mother, but they had different fathers).  Kinski nails the character’s intense spirituality and, of course, has no problem channeling the proper wild-eyed ferocity.  Sultry Martine Beswick (Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde) is on hand to lend a bit of romatic interest, and she manages to make her character more spunky and determined than the usual Spaghetti Western heroine.  Andrea Checchi (Black Sunday) and Aldo Sanbrell (For a Few Dollars More) are also on hand to lend solid support.

Director Damiani – whose subsequent credits include the likes of How To Kill a Judge and Amityville II: The Possession – keeps the action moving at a good pace.  He does a great job with the various big set pieces, but never loses sight of the human drama the core of the picture.  The relationship between the American and El Chuncho makes for a very interesting dynamic, with a slight hint of homosexuality creeping into the proceedings.  The comedic elements are smoothly integrated, and there’s never a sense that Damiani is thumbing his nose at the genre – merely that he is having a bit of fun with it.  Technical credits are quite accomplished, though the score by Luis Bacalov and Ennio Morricone isn’t one of their more memorable compositions – truth be told, the main theme sounds like it was just slightly retuned from Morricone’s score for an earlier – and inferior – Spaghetti Western, titlted Tepeppa.

Video:

Blue Undergound has gone all out for their new BD release of A Bullet for the General.  The disc includes two edits of the film – the familiar US theatrical edit, as well as the slightly longer International edit.  Both cuts are in good shape, and are presented in 2.35/16×9/1080p.  Colors are strong, detail is as strong as the materials will allow, and there’s a nice coating of grain on the image.  This being a Techniscope film, there are of course limitations in terms of sharpness and clarity, but all told this is avery satisfactory presentation of the film.

Audio:

Audio options include the English and Italian dubs, both in DTS-HD mono.  The English track is a bit wooden (none of the actors provide their own dubbing, so far as I can tell), making the more expressive Italian track preferable by a wide margin.  The Italian track is also in better shape, sounding more full bodied than the somewhat muffled English track.

Extras:

In addition to porting over the extras from the old Anchor Bay release – trailers, poster and still gallery, and a too-short on-camera interview with Damiani – BU have also included a second disc, dedicated to a DVD presentation of the feature length documenatry Gian Maria Volonte: Un Attore Contro.  This comprehensive look at the life and career of the great actor/political activist runs a little under 2 hours and should have fans salivating to see more of his films released to DVD and Blu Ray.  The transfer suffers from limitations in the source materials – it was shot for Italian TV, is not in HD, and the clips utilized look a little rough – but the comments and insights from so many of the actor’s surviving friends and colleagues makes for a fascinating portrait of a complex artist and human being.

Overall:

A fine Spaghetti Western gets a Grade A release from Blue Underground.

Film: **** out of *****

Video: **** out of *****

Audio: **** out of *****

Extras: ***** out of *****