The Swiss Conspiracy (1976, directed by Jack Arnold)


In The Swiss Conspiracy, David Janssen growls his way through another international crime thriller.

Janssen plays David Christopher, a former Treasury agent who is now living in Geneva.  When a Swiss bank is contacted by blackmailers who threaten to reveal the secret account numbers of some of its most prominent and unsavory clients, the bank’s president, Johann Hurtill (Ray Milland), hires Christopher to find out who is behind the plot.  Unfortunately, one of the account holders is a U.S. gangster named Robert Hayes (John Saxon, naturally) and he’s not happy about having to work with a former fed.

With The Swiss Conspiracy, you know what you’re getting into the minute that the film opens with a narrator giving a lengthy explanation about how Swiss bank accounts work.  This is one of those 70s thriller where the budget is low, the plot is often nonsense, and the entire cast seems to be more interested in hitting the slopes than actually making a convincing movie.  The cast is full of familiar actors who, at the time of filming, had seen better days.  Along with Ray Milland, John Ireland, Anton Diffring, and Elke Sommer all have small roles while “German screen sensation” Senta Berger is cast as the woman who might be in love with David Christopher.  Martin Landau is not in this movie but it certainly feels like he should have been.

David Janssen made a lot of movies like this in the 70s.  Janssen was a good actor and he was especially skilled at playing grizzled tough guys but in The Swiss Conspiracy, he seems to be more interested in checking out the sights than in anything else.  You can’t really blame him because the film was shot on location in Zurich and the local scenery is always more interesting than anything else that’s happening on screen.

The Swiss Conspiracy was directed by Jack Arnold, a veteran B-movie director who was also did The Creature From The Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man.  His direction in The Swiss Conspiracy is workmanlike and undistinguished but he does make great use of the locations.  The Swiss Conspiracy may not be a great movie but I’ll damned if I don’t want to hop on the next plane and head to Switzerland for the week.

Film Review: Fahrenheit 451 (dir by Francois Truffaut)


Tonight, HBO will be premiering a film version of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  This version will star Michael B. Jordan as “fireman” Guy Montag and Michael Shannon as Montag’s boss, Captain Beatty.  It’s one of the more eagerly anticipated films of the current television season but it’s not the first version of Fahrenheit 451 to be filmed.

The first version was released, by Universal Pictures, in 1966.  It was the first (as well as only) English langauge film to be directed by the great French filmmaker, Francois Truffaut.  (It was also Traffaut’s first color film, allowing the flames to burn in bright yellow and red.)  Unfortunately, Truffaut would later describe the film as being his “saddest and most difficult” film making experience.

Though there are a few noticeable differences, the film sticks closely to the plot of Bradbury’s novel.  Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) is a “fireman” in the near future.  Montag lives in a society where books have been banned and the populace is kept to docile through a combination of pharmaceuticals and mindless television programming.  Montag’s wife, Linda (Julie Christie), is content to live life without questioning anything.  However, when Montag meets a school teacher named Clarisse (also played by Christie), all of his previous assumptions are challenged.  What if the government isn’t always right?  What if ignorance isn’t bliss?  What would happen if, instead of burning books, Montag actually read one?  After witnessing a woman choosing to self-immolate herself so that she can die with all of her books, Montag is finally ready to quit being a fireman.  But his captain (Cyril Cusack) tells Montag that he needs to go on one more call, this one to Montag’s own house.

Truffaut’s film leaves out most of the overly sci-fi elements of Bradbury’s original novel.  For instance, in the novel, Montag is terrified of the robots dogs that the firemen use but the dogs never appear in Truffaut’s film.  As well, Traffaut totally eliminates the character of Faber, the former English professor who uses a portable communicator to keep in contact with Montag.  (Today, of course, that hardly seems like science fiction.)  In Truffaut’s film, the setting is designed to appear as contemporary and familiar as possible, a reminder that the story may have been sent in the future but that the issues it dealt with were relevant to the present.  With this film, Truffaut asked the audience, “How different is the world today from the world of Bradbury’s novel?”

Truffaut’s other big departure from Bradbury’s text was to cast Julie Christie as both Clarisse and Linda.  In the book, Montag’s wife was named Mildred and Bradbury went of out of his way to establish her as being the exact opposite of Clarisse.  In Truffaut’s film, the double casting of Christie seems to suggest that Clarisse and Linda are two sides of the same character.  Montag loves them both, though each appeals to a different part of Montag’s psyche.  Linda appeals to the side of Montag that wants to just accept things the were they are and be happy.  Clarisse, meanwhile, represents the part of Montag that wants to be free to feel everything, even if it means occasionally being unhappy or uncertain.  When Montag finally meets the Book People, he discovers that they are just as fanatical about memorizing and reciting books as Linda was about watching her television shows.  Was this intentional on Truffaut’s part, a suggestion that both the government and the rebels are, like Clarisse and Linda, two sides of the same coin?

It’s an intriguing but uneven movie.  Truffaut apparently didn’t have a great working relationship with Oskar Werner and, at times, Werner doesn’t seem to be particularly invested in the role of Montag.  (Interestingly enough, it’s also been suggested that Jacqueline Bisset’s character in Day For Night was inspired by Truffaut’s experiences working with Julie Christie in this film.)  When the characters interact, the dialogue sometimes feel stiff and dull, as if Truffaut never got over his discomfort with having to direct a film in something other than his native French.  At the same time, the film is full of hauntingly beautiful images, from the defiant woman standing in the middle of her burning books to the Book People walking through the snow.  Truffaut makes brilliant use of color and the visuals are often strong enough to overcome even Oskar Werner at his most sullen.

Fahrenheit 451 is an imperfect movie but one worth seeing.  Will the new HBO version be able to match it?  We’ll find out soon enough.

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Faceless (dir by Jess Franco)


FacelessPoster1988

Whenever it comes time to review a film like 1988’s Faceless, movie bloggers like me are faced with a very important question.  Which name should we use for this film’s prolific director?  The director was born Jesus Franco Manera and, for a very small handful of his 200+ film, he’s actually credited by his full name.  However, for the majority of his films, he dropped the Manera.  Sometimes, he is credited as Jesus Franco and then other times, the director’s credit reads Jesse Franco or just simply Jess Franco.

Myself, I usually prefer to go with “Jess Franco,” because it just seems to go with his “never give up” style of filmmaking.  At the same time, it seems rather appropriate that Franco is known by more than one name because he was a director with a many different personas, occasionally a serious artist, occasionally a subversive prankster, and sometimes a director-for-hire.  Franco was a lover of jazz and his films often had a similarly improvised feel.  Sometimes, the results were, to put it lightly, not very memorable.  But, for every Oasis of the Zombies, there was always a chance that Franco would give the world a film like Female Vampire.  The imdb credits Franco with directing 203 films before his death in 2013 but it’s generally agreed that he probably directed a lot more.  A lot of his films may not have worked but the ones that did are memorable enough to justify searching for them.

Faceless is Franco’s take on Eyes Without A Face, as well as being something of a descendant of his first film, The Awful Dr. Orloff.  All three of these films deal with a doctor trying to repair a loved one’s disfigured face.  In Faceless, the doctor is Dr. Flammad (Helmut Berger), a wealthy and decadent Paris-based plastic surgeon.  One night, while out with his sister Ingird (Christiane Jean) and his nurse and lover Nathalie (Brigitte Lahaie, the former pornographic actress who appeared in several of Jean Rollin’s best films, including the brilliant Night of the Hunted), Dr. Flammad is confronted by a former patient.  Flammad botched her operation so the patient tries to get back at him by tossing acid in his face.  However, Ingrid shoves Flammad out of the way and ends up getting splashed by the acid instead.

Now disfigured, Ingrid spends her time hidden away in Flammad’s clinic and wearing a mask.  Flammad and Nathalie start to kidnap models and actresses, searching for a perfect face.  Flammad’s plan is to perform a face transplant, giving Ingrid a new and beautiful face.

Needless to say, a face transplant is not a simple thing to do.  In order to get some advice, they go to the mysterious Dr. Orloff (Howard Vernon) and Orloff directs them to a Nazi war criminal named Dr. Moser (Anton Diffring).  Now, if you’re not familiar with Franco’s work, the scene with Dr. Orloff will probably seem like pointless filler.  However, if you are a Francophile, you will feel incredibly relieved to see Howard Vernon suddenly pop up.  When it comes Franco’s films, a Howard Vernon cameo is usually a good sign.

Flammad’s search for the perfect face is complicated by the fact that his assistant, the moronic Gordon (Gerard Zalcberg), keeps accidentally killing and otherwise damaging all of the prospects.  As the bodies continue to pile up, Nathalie even points out that there’s “too many dead bodies” in the clinic.

(Of course, Nathalie isn’t doing much to solve that problem.  When the film got to the moment where Nathalie plunged a syringe into one troublesome patient’s eye, I ended up watching the movie between my fingers.)

Eventually, Nathalie kidnaps a coke-addicted model named Barbara (Caroline Munro).  Flammad thinks that Barbara might finally be the perfect face that they’ve been looking for but there’s a problem.  (Actually, two problems if you count Gordon…)  Barbara’s father (Telly Savalas) is a wealthy industrialist and he wants his daughter back.  He hires an American private investigator, Sam Morgan (Chris Mitchum, looking a lot like his father Robert), to track her down.

Actually, it’s not that much of a problem.  It quickly turns out that Sam is kind of an idiot.  Plus, since he’s American, nobody in Paris wants to help him.  A Paris police inspector orders him to go home, yells at him for always chewing gum, and then adds, “You are not Bogart!”

And things only get stranger from there…

Faceless is one of Franco’s better films, a mix of over-the-top glamour (Faceless was filmed in Paris, after all) and grindhouse sleaze.  Though there is a definite storyline, the film still feels like an extended improvisation, with characters and plot points coming out of nowhere and then disappearing just as quickly.  If we’re going to be totally honest, the film is kind of a mess but it’s a glorious and stylish mess, one that is never less than watchable.

One of the great tragedies of American politics is that Chris Mitchum has twice been defeated when he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (though he did come close to winning in 2014).  Not only would it be great to have Robert Mitchum’s son as a member of Congress but it would be even better to know that our laws were being written, in part, by the star of Faceless.  Unfortunately, Chris is sitting out the 2016 election.  Hopefully, he’ll reconsider and file for at least one office.

Run, Chris, run!

Horror on the Lens: The Beast Must Die (dir by Paul Annett)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have The Beast Must Die.  In this 1974 film, millionaire Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) invites a group of people to spend the weekend at his mansion.  Tom explains that one of them is a werewolf and therefore “must die.”

But who is the werewolf?  Tom has come up with several werewolf tests but, actually, it turns out that the easiest way to discover the identity of the werewolf is to just let the werewolf kill everyone who isn’t a werewolf.  Or, at least, that’s the way it seems to me.

The best thing about The Beast Must Die is that it features a 30-second werewolf break where the audience is encouraged to announce who they think the werewolf is before the actual solution is revealed!

Seriously, many movies would be greatly improved with a werewolf break.

Enjoy!