Wednesday 17 June 2015

The Fly [1958]

THE FLY is an American horror film that was directed by Kurt Neumann for 20th Century Fox and originally released in July 1958.  It stars Vincent Price, Patricia Owens, David Hedison and Herbert Marshall.  Price plays François Delambre, a man investigating the bizarre death of his scientist brother Andre, seemingly at the hands of Andre’s wife Helene.

I will readily admit that prior to seeing this film for the first time a few days ago I had it pegged as a ridiculous campy classic, inferior to its 1986 remake by David Cronenberg.  I based that assumption on a few production stills showing ropey special effects and the presence of Vincent Price.  Now I’m a big fan of Vincent Price, who was probably the most versatile of all the great horror stars, but it has to be said that he did deliver several campy performances.

Herbert Marshall (L) as Inspector Charas and Vincent Price (R) as François Delambre

However, I’m happy to say that Price is here in one of his subdued, good guy roles and that the film is a sober and moving tale of a essentially decent man pushing back the boundaries of science one step too far.  Yes there are one or two moments that don’t work, especially one right at the last minute, but that is judging the film by today’s standards rather than in the context of its own time.  In actual fact the photography and visual effects are exceptional and look great in HD; the rubbery effects not so much but still passable.

The five stages of the teleportation process, beautifully designed and shot.

All that is in contrast, deliberately so I expect, to the plush soft furnishings of the Delambre household to a degree which recalls the middle-class cosiness of the families in Douglas Sirk’s films.  As in Sirk, the happiness is only surface-deep for Helene Delambre is neglected by her husband and coveted by her brother-in-law.  Andre is obsessively driven in his work and for all his genuine love for his wife it is displaced by his love for his work.  This flaw is what brings about his downfall, Shakespeare style.

The happy family in their happy home

The film has an arresting opening in which a man’s body is found crushed beneath a massive industrial press, completely obliterating his head and left arm.  A woman is witnessed fleeing the scene.  Initial investigations lead to Helene Delambre and then in flashback she relates how her husband met his fate.  That set-up reminded me of how a lot of film noirs are structured: a protagonist whose guilt is established from the outset – for the murder of a partner – who then recalls how he / she came to be there with a return to the present for the final determination of his / her fate.  It’s an indication that the film has aims beyond those of a typical horror film: to intrigue, to eschew moralising, to sympathise.

Unable to speak and struggling to think, Andre types heartbreaking messages to Helene

The body discovered at the beginning of the film

Some sci-fi and horror films, particularly in the 1950s, point the finger of blame at science itself for the horrors on display; witness the innumerable films whereby the monster is created through scientific experimentation, usually with radiation.  These films often show that it is left to the military to resolve the mess science has created by blasting the monster into oblivion.  Occasionally  science is less to blame than rogue scientists pushing the envelope too far, which is basically the same conservative, anti-intellectual position.  This second accusation is one of which it could be argued that THE FLY is guilty.  Andre Delambre is guilty of pushing the envelope too far, albeit with the best of intentions, and also of hubris  However, he is also shown to be a fundamentally good man who is on the cusp of a discovery so fantastic that it would change human life forever.  So I’d be inclined to exclude this film from those films which are characterised by a hostility to science and knowledge.

Vincent Price is of course one of the six great horror stars along with Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, John Carradine, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  With Lee’s passing in June 2015 all are now dead and a chapter has been closed.  We’re currently in something of a boom time for horror film production: they are so plentiful that it’s almost impossible to keep up.  There are multiple franchises of which I have seen few instalments and in some cases none, including SAW, FINAL DESTINATION, WRONG TURN, RESIDENT EVIL and so on ad infinitum.  Unfortunately a lot of these films are chock full of bland teenagers and so proper iconic stars aren’t developing.  The only ones I can think off the top of my head are Jeffrey Combs and possibly Robert Englund.  There are of course minor icons such as Michael Berryman and Barbara Crampton but it’s a stretch to describe them as lead actors.  Sadly I think the era of classically-trained actors becoming movie stars is over, period, not just in horror, where it’s even less likely – perhaps because the gothic horror films which the aforementioned six stars made have fallen out of favour.

David Hedison as Andre Delambre

Of the rest of the cast of THE FLY it’s worth mentioning David Hedison, here credited as Al Hedison.  He’s one of very few actors I can think of who made a number of screen appearance before changing their name (excluding Italian actors who did so for English-speaking markets).  Indeed he is top-billed in THE FLY above Vincent Price.  Generally speaking, in the 30s and 40s contracted stars changed their name before their career had begun and it’s unusual to find one who did so after it had begun.  Anyway David / Al Hedison is most familiar as Felix Leiter, James Bond’s CIA oppo, in a couple of those movies.  He has a slick appearance which has played well on TV where he has done most of his work.

Patricia Owens as Helene Delambre

Patricia Owens is not an actress with whom I’m familiar; this is to date the only film of hers which I’ve seen.  She’s good though and a quick scan of her filmography demonstrates that she got some good parts – including as second billing to Brando in SAYONARA [1957] – in the early part of her career.  There are also a couple of entries which could make an appearance on Cinema Delirium in the future, such as GHOST SHIP [1952] and Richard Donner’s sci-fi film X-15 [1961].  Coincidentally Owens is in FIVE GATES TO HELL [1959] which was the directing debut of novelist James Clavell who wrote the script for THE FLY.

Karl Struss at work.  NB This image comes from the excellent website  Apologies for pinching it.
The superb Cinemascope photography is by Karl Struss who had been in the film industry since its infancy: he’d had a 40-year career by the time he worked on THE FLY.  He had worked on the original silent BEN-HUR [1925], Murnau’s SUNRISE [1929], for D. W. Griffith on ABRAHAM LINCOLN [1930] and on Rouben Mamoulian’s DR JEKYLL & MR HYDE [1932].  So a grade A cinematographer then and he was apparently also someone who was always at the forefront when it came to new camera technology and was particularly interested in 3D photography.  For reasons I haven’t been able to determine, in the late 40s he increasingly worked on far less prestigious films: his penultimate picture was THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE [1959] for Roy Del Ruth.  Del Ruth directed the original pre-Code version of THE MALTESE FALCON [1932] about which you will be able to read on Cinema Delirium in the near future.

Helene's reaction to seeing her husband's transformation

Director Kurt Neumann was a German ex-pat who had a long career making B-pictures for various studios, including several of the Johnny Weissmuller (and one Lex Barker) era Tarzan pictures for RKO.  Those films were always on television in the UK during the summer holidays and as such I remember them very fondly.  The Buster Crabbe serials were also often shown so kids like me in those days had what was virtually a Saturday morning picture house bill.  That’s a phenomenon which has totally disappeared from television here and indeed it’s unthinkable that kids would watch such stuff now.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Alberto De Martino [1929 - 2015]

Back in the pre-internet era one gathered information about films wherever one could get it.  For mainstream films it usually came from Halliwell's Film Guide and Filmgoers Companion.  If like me, and presumably you since you are reading this post, you enjoyed more obscure stuff then you looked to specialist magazines and fanzines and the occasional glossy reference book.  From reading these sources I came up with a list of directors, and a few actors, who I judged to be significant figures in exploitation cinema.  Naturally enough with Italy being the home of exploitation cinema most of these guys were Italian so I kept lists of the work of people like Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Antonio Margheriti, Riccardo Freda and, among many other, Alberto De Martino.

Alberto De Martino

I think I must have included De Martino because he helmed two of the most successful  and widely-distributed Italian exploitation films of the glory days of the 70s in THE ANTICHRIST [1974] and HOLOCAUST 2000 [1977].  Rip-offs of THE EXORCIST [1973] and THE OMEN [1976] respectively they had decent budgets, decent casts and a professional sheen that a lot of Italian genre pictures lacked.  

So much so that in most respects they resembled mainstream Hollywood movies which is no doubt why they performed well at the box office.  HOLOCAUST 2000 even turned up on British TV occasionally in the 80s and 90s which was unthinkable for 99% of Italian exploitation films.

I'll put my hands up and confess that 20 years on from that youthful data-gathering I've yet to see more than a couple of de Martino's films.  HOLOCAUST 2000 is one; the other is THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER aka Horror [1963] which is a decent little gothic horror tale.  

He wasn't all about the horror though: he made films in most of the major exploitation genres, i.e. peplums, spaghetti westerns, polizitescchi, giallo and Eurospy.  He directed an entry in the Ringo series one of the big three spaghetti western franchises in $100,000 DOLLARS FOR RINGO [1965] and what be one of the lamest gimmick films of all time in OPERATION KID BROTHER [1967] starring Sean Connery's brother Neil.  

De Martino also supervised the dubbing on Federico Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA [1960] and shot the second unit footage on his good friend Sergio Leone's GIU LA TESTA [1971] aka Duck You Sucker! aka A Fistful of Dynamite.

I'm always sad when one of these directors passes away because it is one less link to what, for me, is a golden age of genre cinema.  Off the top of my head I can only think of Sergio Martino and Ruggero Deodato of those lists of mine who are still with us and neither is what you could call prolific these days.  So if you get a chance to see either of those guys at film festivals grab it with both hands.

Sunday 7 June 2015

Battletruck [1982]

BATTLETRUCK is a New Zealand post-apocalypse action movie that was directed and co-written by Harley Cokeliss and originally released in January 1982.  It was known in the US as WARLORDS OF THE 21ST CENTURY.  It stars Michael Beck, James Wainwright and Annie McEnroe.  In a post-apocalypse world where oil is scarce and common humanity even more so, surviving humans are dominated by a former soldier who roams the landscape in his enormous and heavily armed battletruck.

Let’s get the MAD MAX comparisons out of the way to start with as they are so apparent.  Practically all the elements of that series, and particularly the second film, made the year before, are present in BATTLETRUCK

Thinking about it afterwards, Hunter's bike doesn't actually do anything remarkable

Instead of a souped-up car our hero has a souped-up motorbike but otherwise it’s all familiar: he joins up with a peaceful community to help them against sadistic barbarians and buggers off into the sunset at the end.  Nothing wrong with recycling in itself: I mean, that basic plot is George Stevens’ SHANE [1953] in a nutshell.  It’s more a case of what you do with the recycled stuff.

"My work here is done."

Battletruck racks up the miles in New Zealand

Considering his relatively low budget ($1M NZ, according the inestimable imdb) Cokeliss created a good looking (if not terribly colourful), entertaining movie, in a manner reminiscent of the Italian recycling of US films like THE WARRIORS [1978] and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK [1981], among many others.  The special effects are cheap and cheerful, there are plenty of excellent car chases, demolished buildings, mano a mano punch ups and even a ‘cue the music’ car building sequence.  What more could you possibly want?

Battletruck piles int,o or rather out of, another building

Michael Beck is a beefy, surly leading man whose style is well suited to a role such as this (and indeed the aforementioned THE WARRIORS): the lone avenger.  Mel Gibson’s Mad Max is a pretty boy but Michael Beck’s Hunter is nails.  No dog or feral sidekick for him; no sidekick of any sort in fact.  He lives in a purpose built shack / fortress powered by chicken shit (and I’m not even kidding) which he is fully prepared to blow to smithereens if pressed.  Which he is: when Straker (James Wainwright) rocks up in his Battletruck and sends his goons in, Hunter tools up and totals everything. Having said that, underneath that impassive exterior beats a heart of monosyllabic sentimentality and Hunter is not averse to birding it up when time permits.  Which is where Corlie (Annie McEnroe) comes in; only she belongs to Straker and he’s not going to surrender her without a fight.  Or several fights to be precise.

Battletruck trying (and failing) not to look like his brother from DUEL

If you think all this makes BATTLETRUCK sound like mindless fun then you’d be right: it is.  There are hissable villains and saintly heroes and they duke it in a literal cliff-hanger out until one man is left standing; no prizes for guessing who that is.  There really isn’t much more to say than that about the film except that the locations – and it all looks to be have been filmed on location – are beautiful.

Michael Beck as Hunter

Michael Beck’s time as a leading man in movies was short.  As he said himself: “THE WARRIORS opened a lot of doors in film for me, which XANADU [1980] then closed.”  It sounds a similar story to that of Ken Hutchison about whom I wrote in my review of THE WRATH OF GOD [1972] which you can read here.  XANADU was a disaster, although it does now have devoted fans who are drawn to its shonky campness.  It killed Beck’s mainstream movie career and pretty much did for Olivia Newton-John’s too.

Beck did get two or three more leading roles (of which BATTLETRUCK is one and the superfluous second sequel to torture porn western A MAN CALLED HORSE [1970] another).  He’s also in an action picture called MEGAFORCE [1982] which I’ve not seen but sounds perfect for Cinema Delirium.  After that I’m afraid it was TV all the way for Michael Beck including three separate cracks at my friend Neil’s beloved MURDER, SHE WROTE.  His imdb biography says he auditioned for the role of Lancelot in John Boorman’s barking EXCALIBUR [1981] but didn’t get it.  Considering it went to the beefy but bland Nicholas Clay one can only say that was a regrettable missed opportunity.  Beck is exactly the kind of actor admired by Cinema Delirium and if my planned interview section of this site ever gets off the ground I hope to speak to him about his career.

Annie McEnroe as Corlie

Annie McEnroe is a decent actress but if I’m totally honest she’s a little bland.  This was only her third feature film so it’s perhaps fair to cut her some slack.  In the early part of her career she was in some properly delirious stuff – SNOWBEAST [1978], Oliver Stone’s terrible horror film THE HAND [1981] and THE HOWLING II: STIRBA - WEREWOLF BITCH [1986] – but from that trajectory you can see the overall direction she was headed.

James Wainwright as the sadistic Colonel Straker

James Wainwright has fun as the chief baddie Straker.  Wainwright started in TV and ended in TV bar the delirious-sounding HELL RAIDERS [1988] apparently a cheapo Portuguese war movie which, bizarrely, also stars Guy Doleman, the urbane actor who plays Michael Caine’s handler Colonel Ross in the wonderful Harry Palmer trilogy.  Since I don’t watch a lot of TV there’s not much else I can say about James Wainwright other than that he makes a good bad guy (if you’ll pardon the expression) in BATTLETRUCK.

John Ratzenberger as the mechanic Rusty (gedditt?!)

Support comes from John ‘Cliff Klaven’ Ratzenberger and Bruno Lawrence as Straker’s insane attack dog Willie.  Lawrence is an interesting actor who up until his untimely death at 54 seems to have been in practically every film ever made in New Zealand.  The best of these, in my opinion, is Geoff Murphy’s terrific end of the world picture THE QUIET EARTH [1985] which has a unique atmosphere and a beautiful score by John Charles that accompanies an awesome final sequence.  I must get round to reviewing it sometime because it's a high quality but genuinely strange film.

Bruno Lawrence as Willie

Harley Cokeliss is another interesting guy who helmed a few genre movies in the 1980s before subsiding, if that’s the correct word, into work directing TV episodes.  He made the fondly-remembered short film GLITTERBALL [1977] for the Children’s Film Foundation in the UK and, after BATTLETRUCK, made three films in two years including the flawed but interesting British horror film DREAM DEMON [1988] which featured the once-in-a-lifetime casting of Kathleen Wilhoite and Jimmy Nail.

There are two names to mention on the technical side.  First is the cinematographer Chris Menges who later came to prominence on Roland Joffe’s films THE KILLING FIELDS [1985] and THE MISSION [1987] and never looked back.  Second, and buried deep in the credits as ‘boom operator’, is Lee Tamahori whose début feature as director – ONCE WERE WARRIORS [1994] – got him his Hollywood break and indeed a crack at a James Bond picture, the disappointing DIE ANOTHER DAY [2001].  I can heartily recommend his excellent adventure picture THE EDGE [1997] which stars Anthony Hopkins and a properly terrifying bear.

Saturday 6 June 2015

The Postman Always Rings Twice [1946]

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE is an American film noir that was directed by Tay Garnett and originally released by MGM in May 1946.  It stars Lana Turner, John Garfield and Cecil Kellaway with support from Leon Ames and Hume Cronyn.  Based on the novel by James M. Cain it tells of the doomed love affair between a drifter and the seductive wife of his boss, who runs a filling station-cum-hamburger joint.

Strictly speaking this movie is outside the remit of Cinema Delirium in that it’s well known, highly regarded and has attained classic status.  It is neither obscure, unjustly neglected nor weird.  The sole reason I am writing about the film is that it stars John Garfield, an actor who was very popular in his day but who latterly suffered at the hands of HUAC and died at the age of just 39.  I am interested in Garfield because he is almost totally forgotten today, outside of movie buffs.  Show his picture to 100 people in the street and I’d be astounded if five knew his name. 

This process by which famous stars pass into obscurity is fascinating to me and I’m drawn to those who have suffered that fate (if suffered is the correct word).  I often wonder whether this phenomenon will happen to stars of more recent vintage.  Back in the 30s and 40s there were far more films being made and consequently far more actors and actresses about; only the most successful would emerge from that mass so it follows that a lot of talent would fade from the memory.  Of course it was much longer ago too and there will always be this tendency to forget.  So perhaps I’m not talking so much about stars being remembered, in a physiological sense, but stars whose fame endures over several generations.  For instance, James Dean was a handsome, talented and hugely popular actor who died young; exactly the same is true of Garfield and yet he is almost completely forgotten.  The same comparison can be made with Marilyn Monroe and Gail Russell. The question of why one and not the other is what interests me.

These days there are far fewer films in production so there are fewer stars to remember but fame seems to be more fleeting.  Josh Hartnett, Chris Klein and Chris O’Donnell are examples of those whose fame has declined almost as quickly as it arose.  Female stars have it even worse because the point at which the phone stops ringing comes a lot earlier than it does for men.  Consider Oscar winner Faye Dunaway: she was arguably the foremost female star in the mid-70s but she’s more or less unheard of these days.  This intrigues me too: stars whose fame disappears while they are still alive.  How must that feel?

When he appeared before HUAC in April 1951and was asked to name friends who were or had been Communists Garfield refused and his film career was over at a stroke.  Unlike Elia Kazan, Garfield was unwilling to sacrifice the careers of others in order to advance his own.  As it happens Garfield had never been a Communist but he certainly identified with leftist and liberal ideals and concerns about those on the margins of society, no doubt due to his own tough working-class upbringing.
These qualities are why I think he is so effective as Frank Chambers in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE.  

Frank lives a rootless, hand to mouth existence; he is charming but emotionally inarticulate; he is a man tired of not being able to dine at the top table; he is feckless but believes life owes him something.  When he meets Cora he sees someone who can satisfy all his cravings but from the moment he lays eyes on her he is embarked on a path that only leads one way.  Although Frank has streetwise cunning he is basically a sap who thinks he is one step ahead only to find that when yanked out of his natural milieu into the world of judges and lawyers he is miles behind.  The sap who isn’t as bright as he thinks is the archetypal male protagonist of the film noir.  And indeed of the neo-noir: as Kathleen Turner says to William Hurt in BODY HEAT [1981], "You're not very bright are you? I like that in a man."

What I liked about the film is the way the idea to kill Cora’s husband Nick develops organically, in synch with the growing passion of Frank and Cora’s relationship.  There’s no moment at which you can say either one is responsible for it: Frank mentions it first but as a joke; the idea comes to Cora later but she is more serious.  Did Frank plant a seed?  Was Cora thinking of it already?  Or did it spark into life when they were both thinking it at the same time?  The film doesn’t make this clear; what we do know is that once the plan is hatched they are both in it together.

Nick is played by Cecil Kellaway as basically a nice bloke but who isn’t handsome enough or young enough or vital enough for Cora.  His affability makes the plot to kill him more unforgiveable but indicates the irresistible passion Frank and Cora have for one another.  In Bob Rafelson’s 1981 remake Nick is played by John Colicos who by looks and behaviour is a much less sympathetic character; when the plot is hatched in that version you’re practically rooting for them.

Lana Turner is an actress I have obviously heard of but up to this point had never seen in a movie.  I’d read that she wasn’t a great actress but I have to say she’s good in this.  The female role is crucial in a film noir because you have to believe she is someone for whom the man will do anything, even be drawn into crime and murder.  Turner does this very well in this picture; it helps of course that she is drop dead gorgeous.

The supporting cast are also good: Leon Ames as the dogged prosecutor determined to bring Frank and / or Cora to justice.  Hume Cronyn plays Cora’s crafty, cynical lawyer; I like Cronyn: he was particularly memorable as Warren Beatty’s editor boss in Alan J. Pakula’s paranoid thriller THE PARALLAX VIEW [1974] but appeared in many good films.  He was also half of one of Hollywood’s most enduring marriages, to Jessica Tandy.  Audrey Totter has a small role too; she’s not very well known but late in the 40s she made three terrific films in three years: this one, THE LADY IN THE LAKE [1947] and THE SET-UP [1947] which is possibly the best sports film ever made and stars my hero Robert Ryan.  You’ll also spot Morris Ankrum as the judge: he was also in THE LADY IN THE LAKE but is more familiar to me as grizzled authority figures in a number of good and very bad sci-fi movies in the 50s.

Tay Garnett is not a name you hear or read much about these days, possibly because his best work was done a very long time ago and the latter part of his career was mainly in TV episodes.  But in the 40s he directed some very accomplished pictures including this and BATAAN [1943] an excellent WW2 movie coincidentally (or perhaps not) also shot by Sidney Wagner.

The Wrath of God [1972]

THE WRATH OF GOD is an American adventure / western that was directed by Ralph Nelson and originally released by MGM in July 1972.  It stars Robert Mitchum, Ken Hutchison, Victor Buono and Frank Langella.  In an unnamed South American country in the 1920s, a defrocked priest, a fugitive IRA gunman and a disgraced English army officer are coerced into killing a counter-revolutionary leader.  Unjustly obscure this is a rollickin’ action picture that creates memorable characters and gives them interesting things to do.

Quite why THE WRATH OF GOD is so obscure is possibly because of a pretty graphic cockfighting sequence.  It lasts less than a minute but British censors have traditionally been pretty tough on animal cruelty.  Monte Hellman’s COCKFIGHTER [1974] has never been released in the UK for similar reasons.  So why then has Sam Peckinpah’s PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID [1972] been judged acceptable; it features chickens having their heads shot off.  Even the godlike genius Andrei Tarkovsky’s ANDREI RUBLEV [1966] has a scene in which a horse is shot.


However, thanks to DVD it is now possible to see these films without having to wait for the censors to relent.  Not that it has come out over here (yet) so it’s still relatively unknown to British audiences.  Your humble correspondent has seen it though and will strive to draw your attention to it.
It has a top notch cast.  Mitchum of course is great, as he almost always is; Victor Buono – an actor I’ve never been fond of - gives his best performance in my opinion; Langella and John Colicos chew the scenery and there’s even a small role for Rita Hayworth, her last in films.  Although suffering from Alzheimer’s, which affected her ability to remember lines, she still radiates a luminous beauty and a kind of melancholy. 

Rita Hayworth as Senora de la Plata

However, the most interesting actor is Ken Hutchison.  He first came to attention as one of the vile thugs in Peckinpah’s harrowing STRAW DOGS [1971] and off the back of that was cast in THE WRATH OF GOD.  It was pretty good casting because he makes a charismatic and athletic leading man.  He’s funny, warm and effortlessly charming.  Unfortunately this was as close as he ever got to a proper film career.  Quite why is hard to fathom.  I’ve read that he was difficult, a big drinker and seemingly indifferent to playing the Hollywood game but that’s true of a lot of major stars, not least co-star Mitchum.  I can’t find any details on how it did at the box office but another possibility is that it tanked, and when that happens aspiring young actors can find themselves quickly discarded.

Ken Hutchison as Emmet Keogh

The film itself is a thoroughly enjoyable romp that nevertheless finds time to ask a few questions about politics and religion.  Neither the revolutionaries nor the counter-revolutionaries are shown to be anything more than brutally violent tyrants motivated by spite, revenge and self-interest.  Mind you, the heroes aren’t motivated by much more than self-interest themselves.  Similarly the rabidly anti-Catholics and the devoutly delusional are made to look pretty dismal.

In fact, while it isn’t a classic I can’t really find any faults in it.  Sometimes the violence is a bit too strong seeming out of place with the generally light and freewheelin’ atmosphere and Ralph Nelson is partial to the clichéd Peckinpah-style slo-mo death scenes; it’s also about 15 minutes too long but I’m nit-picking really.  If you can get hold of it then I would recommend it highly.

Father Van Horn lobs the Holy Hand Grenade

Robert Mitchum as Father Oliver Van Horn

Mitchum, Hayworth and Langella don’t really need an introduction from me but I will say Mitchum is one my all-time favourite actors not just for his talent but also his outlook on life and the sheer number of brilliant films he was in.

Frank Langella as Tomas de la Plata

John Colicos as Colonel Santilla

John Colicos was a general purpose actor whom I particularly remember from the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series and as Jessica Lange’s husband in Bob Rafelson’s remake of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE [1981] although he’d actually been in the film and TV business since the early 1950s.  Victor Buono was a kind of American Roy Kinnear, inasmuch as he seemed to get cast because of his bulk and generally daft appearance.  For that reason I’ve never been keen on him but I can’t deny he was in some decent films, including two reviewed on these pages Giuseppe Colizzi’s BOOT HILL [1969] and Gus Trikonis’s THE EVIL [1978] and of course as King Tut in the BATMAN TV series.  He died of a heart attack aged just 43.

Victor Buono as  Captain Jennings

Gregory Sierra as Jurado

A couple of other actors to mention are Jorge Russek who was for a while a member of Sam Peckinpah’s stock company, and Gregory Sierra, an incredibly versatile and prolific actor who plays the loathsome, one-eyed henchman Jurado.

Director Ralph Nelson, like Peckinpah (whom I seem to have mentioned a dozen times in this review) paid his dues in TV and eventually graduated to feature films which tended to be eminently watchable rather than outstanding.  His is most remembered for the western SOLDIER BLUE [1970] which caused a fuss on its release for daring to depict the violent atrocities perpetrated by US soldiers on Native Americans.

THE WRATH OF GOD was written by Jack Higgins under the pseudonym James Graham, adapting his own novel.  The music was by Lalo Schifrin and the excellent 2.35:1 photography by the Mexican cinematographer Alex Phillips Jr who also shot BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA [1974] directed by – you guessed it – Sam Peckinpah.