Julius Caesar (1970, directed by Stuart Burge)


In ancient Rome, under the direction of Cassius (Richard Johnson), several members of the Senate conspire to kill Julius Caesar (John Gielgud), believing that his death is the only way to preserve the Republic.  Even Caesar’s longtime friend, Brutus (Jason Robards), is brought into the conspiracy.  Unfortunately for the conspirators, after Caesar’s murder, Mark Antony (Charlton Heston) gives his famous speech asking the Romans to lend him their ears and the Roman citizens turn against Caesar’s murderers and instead look to Antony and Octavius (Richard Chamberlain) to lead them.

This was the first adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play to be filmed in color and the assassination of Caesar was portrayed much more graphically than in previous productions.  By the end of the attack, Caesar has been stabbed so many times and there’s so much blood on screen that it doesn’t seem like he should even have the strength to say, “Et tu, Brute?”  Despite the then-modern innovations, this version still feels creaky and stiff.  When Caesar makes his appearance on the Ides of March, all of the conspirators actually stand in a neat line while Caesar enters the Senate.  When Mark Anthony and Brutus make their speeches, the extras playing the Roman citizens looked bored and disinterested.

For most viewers, the appeal of this version of Julius Caesar will be for the cast, which was considered to be all-star in 1970.  Along with Gielgud, Robards, Heston, Johnson, and Chamberlain, the cast also features Robert Vaughn as Casca, Christopher Lee as Artemidorous, Jill Bennett as Calpurnia, and Diana Rigg as Portia.  Surprisingly, it’s Jason Robards, the Broadway veteran, who struggles with Shakespeare’s dialogue, delivering his lines flatly and without much emotion.  Meanwhile, Charlton Heston steals the entire film as Mark Antony, nailing Antony’s funeral oration and proving himself to be much more clever than the conspirators had originally assumed.  (Of course, Mark Antony was the Charlton Heston of his day so I guess it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Heston is perfect in the role.)  I also liked Diana Rigg’s performance in the small role of Portia and Robert Vaughn’s devious interpretation of Casca.

Though he plays Caesar here, John Gielgud previously played Cassius in the 1953 version of Julius Caesar, the one with James Mason and Marlon Brando.  That is still the version to watch if you want to see the definitive adaptation of Julius Caesar.

A Tribute To Diana Rigg


I was sad to hear that Dame Diana Rigg died today in London.  She was 82 years old.

Like a lot of people, I’ll always first think of Diana Rigg as being Emma Peel.  My dad loves the Avengers and I grew up watching reruns of the show with him.  He taped every episode and, a few years ago, he transferred all of his old VHS tapes to DVD.  I think we saw every episode of The Avengers (and The New Avengers, for that matter) that ever aired in the United States.  (The first season, which featured Patrick Macnee working with Ian Hendry, was never aired in the U.S. and, with the exception of three episodes, is now believed to be lost.)

Even though both Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale and Linda Thorson’s Tara King both had their strengths, the show was at its best during those three seasons when Patrick Macnee (as John Steed) was partnered with Emma Peel.  It wasn’t just that Diana Rigg was amazingly beautiful and sexy as Emma Peel, though that was definitely some of the appeal.  It was also that she could take care of herself.  As many people learned over the course of her time on the show, you underestimated Emma Peel at your own peril.  She was as smart as Steed, she was as cunning as Steed, and she was as witty as Steed.  Never a damsel in distress, she was John Steed’s equal in every way and they made for a great team.  She could fight and she could deliver a one-liner with the best of them and, because she was played by Diana Rigg, she did it all with a very distinctive British classiness.

However, Diana Rigg was not just Emma Peel.  Not only was she the best of the Bond girls in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (you could believe that James Bond would settle down and retire just for a chance to spend the rest of his life with her) but she also had a co-starring role in one of my favorite British thrillers, The Assassination Bureau.  In the States, she played Portia in Charlton Heston’s production of Julius Caesar and then, in The Hospital, she proved she could handle Paddy Chayefsky’s dialogue with the same charm and skill as Shakespeare’s.  In the 80s, she took over the job hosting Mystery! on PBS when Vincent Price retired from the job.

Of course, to a whole new generation of viewers, she’ll be best known for appearing on Game of Thrones and for bringing Olenna Tyrell to life.  Rigg received three Emmy nominations for her performance as Olenna and her final scene, in which she voluntarily drank poison without a hint of fear or hesitation, was one of the strongest moments in the series.

I’m going to miss the talented and classy Dame Diana Rigg.  I know I’m not alone.

 

Horror On The Lens: The Haunting of Helen Walker (dir by Tom McLoughlin)


Stop me if this sounds familiar.

In Victorian-era England, a somewhat neurotic young woman is hired to serve as the governess for two children who live in a foreboding estate. Once the governess arrives, she discovers that the children — especially little Miles — can be a handful. She also discovers that there was a governess hired before her, a governess who died under mysterious circumstances. At night, the new governess hears strange noises and soon, she becomes convinced that she’s seen the ghosts of both her predecessor and the old governess’s lover, Peter Quint. Everyone else may think that the new governess has allowed the isolation of the estate to get to her but she’s convinced that the ghosts have possessed the children! She becomes determined to save the children, even at the risk of their own lives….

If that sounds familiar, then you’ve either read Henry James’ Turn of the Screw or you’ve seen one of the several movies that were based on his novella. The Haunting of Helen Walker, which was made-for-television and initially broadcast in 1995, reimagines James’s unnamed governess as Helen Walker, an American woman played by Valerie Bertinelli.

Now, The Haunting of Helen Walker does take some liberties with Henry James’s source material.  The novella was a masterpiece of ambiguity.  The Haunting of Helen Walker is …. less so.  Let’s just say this version doesn’t leave much doubt as to whether or not there’s actually ghosts in the mansion.  That said, it’s still an entertaining made-for-TV movie.

Check out my full review here and watch the film below.

Enjoy!

Christmas With 007: ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (United Artists 1969)


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(Okay, so technically ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE isn’t a Christmas Movie. But neither is DIE HARD, though many consider it to be because it’s set during the holiday season. Well, so is this film, and it’s as close as you’ll get to a James Bond Christmas Movie, so I’m gonna go with that!)

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE was the first Bond film to not star Sean Connery . Instead, newcomer George Lazenby was given the plum role of 007. Lazenby was a model whose claim to fame was a British TV commercial for a chocolate bar; despite having virtually zero acting experience, producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli offered him an audition and gave him the part. Critics of the time derided Lazenby’s performance, more due to the fact that he wasn’t Sean Connery than anything else. Looking back on the film, he isn’t bad at all; he handles the…

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Outrageous Fortune: Vincent Price in THEATER OF BLOOD (United Artists 1973)


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Vincent Price  traded in Edgar Allan Poe for William Shakespeare (and American-International for United Artists) in THEATER OF BLOOD, playing an actor’s dream role: Price not only gets to perform the Bard of Avon’s works onscreen, he gets to kill off all his critics! As you would imagine, Price has a field day with the part, serving up deliciously thick slices of ham with relish as he murders an all-star cast of British thespians in this fiendishly ingenious screenplay concocted  by Anthony Greville-Bell and directed with style by Douglas Hickox.

Edward Lionheart felt so slighted by both scathing criticism and once again being stiffed at the prestigious Critics’ Circle award, he broke up their little soiree by doing a swan dive into London’s mighty Thames. His body was never found, and everyone assumed they had seen Lionheart’s final performance, but unbeknownst to all he was fished out of the river…

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James Bond Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. by Peter Hunt)


By the time Sean Connery was done with You Only Live Twice, he grew tired of being Bond. After all, he’d played the role since 1962 and the ‘70s were on their way. Five movies would do that to you. After that film was done (or near the end of filming it), Connery made it known that he was done with the character and wouldn’t be returning for another installment. Imagine the impact of that. That’s like Daniel Radcliffe having said “You know what? Potter is a tosser and I’ve had it.”, Leaving right after the Order of the Phoenix. That’s not an easy role to fill.

This was the challenge that Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman faced in getting On Her Majesty’s Secret Service made. Before watching the movie, I watched one of the documentaries on the casting. It turns out that among the individuals that they wanted to play Bond, Timothy Dalton was offered the role. However, since he was only about 22 at the time, he felt he was too young to play the suave secret agent. The producers eventually went with George Lazenby, who was famous in Australia for commercials, but had the look they were shooting for.

To help push the changes, the marketing team concentrated on everything being “different” and “new”. The idea was that you were still getting James Bond and everything within his universe, but that the kind of Bond you were getting was something awesome. This is evidenced in the trailer and many of the promotion materials.

Broccoli and Saltzman did a search for a leading lady that would be able to support Lazenby. To this end, they recruited The Avengers star Diana Rigg. Her role as Emma Peel (which was later played by Uma Thurman in the box office adaptation) was well-known, and was used as the basis of her ability to work on an action / drama piece like Bond 6. Her character, Countess Teresa di Vicenzo remains one of the best Bond Girls on film (to me, anyway), because of how cold she is from the start of the film. he same could be said of Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, but then again, Lazenby’s Bond is somewhat different from Connery’s. Additionally, Savalas’ Blofeld came across as very dynamic, and between the two, they help to keep the story exciting when Lazenby’s talking lulls others (like the women at his dinner table) to sleep. I don’t think it’s Lazenby’s fault too much. All of the other Bonds either starred in films, like Daniel Craig or television shows, like Moore and Brosnan. For someone who just came off of commercials, Lazenby did a better than expected job, but after 5 Connery films, it’s a hell of a feat to try to take that place in people’s minds.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the story of how James Bond sought out Ernst Starvo Blofeld  and managed to fall so head over heels in love that he got married. That’s basically it. In between, there’s beautiful snow in Switzerland, but OHMSS is at it’s heart very much a love story. It should also be noted that as this is the first film without Connery, there’s a lot of references to Connery’s tenure as Bond and some of these are smile inducing. Right from the start, when Lazenby’s Bond tries to save the countess from drowning herself, he gets caught up in a fight. By the time he’s able to defeat the thugs, she’s run off. No running into his arms, no “Oh..James!” embrace. All of this leads him to look at the camera and exclaim that this type of thing “never happened to the other fellow”. I liked that, I have to admit. There’s also an interesting scene where Bond decides to resign from MI6 and packs his suitcase. The items that he takes out of this drawer are ones from the first 3 films, complete with the musical cues to match them. Much of the first half of the movie works on paying homage to what was done before while trying to get everyone situated with Lazenby.

The movie moves from the beach to where he finds the Countess. After a little 60s coercion (“Talk!” *smack*), She reveals who she is and spends the evening with him, but by the next morning, she’s run off. That morning, on leaving the hotel, he’s kidnapped and is taken to the Countess’ father. The father explains to Bond that like Merida in Pixar’s Brave, Teresa is a bit spirited and that she should be wed. He even goes so far to offer Bond a million dollars, but Bond states that he enjoys the Bachelor’s taste of freedom, but does decide to follow through if the father can provide information on the whereabouts of Blofeld. This leads Bond to an office and an elaborate safe cracking sequence, the results of which give him information on genealogy. Impersonating the person who’s office he was in, he manages to sneak into an establishment in Switzerland that studies about allergies and how to cure them (but may be doing more nefarious deeds).

One cute part about the genealogy is that we’re shown the Bond Family Crest, which comes complete with the family motto “Orbis Non-Suffici”, which translates into “The World is Not Enough” This would later become the title of a future Brosnan film.

We come to find that what Blofeld really is doing is that he’s brainwashing the women he has at the center for use in planting biological weapons around the world. After an escape on skis and a snowy car chase, Bond is eventually able to stop Blofeld and his henchwoman (or at least wound him, anyway). This all leads up to one of the best endings ever devised for a Bond film, because it catches you completely off guard. If there’s any reason to keep this film on your shelf to watch, it’s because it was daring enough to avoid giving the audience the Bond ending you always see, with him heading off with the girl for one that’s ultimately more emotional and/or meaningful. To date, I feel that only Craig’s Casino Royale (which in essence owes a lot to OHMSS) comes close to actually providing something similar. It only falters in that Royale has Bond’s loss focusing him on the notion that he can’t have anyone in his life out of a lack of trust. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service gives the better reason that Bond simply has too many enemies in his life to warrant the connections others have, which makes him almost a sad character in a way.

Lazenby’s performance as Bond is a mix of hit and miss. From an action point of view, I thought he was pretty good. From an acting point of view, he played it a little too much by the book for me, which made me think that he wasn’t really the most exciting Bond there was. He didn’t have Timothy Dalton’s sense of darkness, Roger Moore’s wit, Brosnan’s narcissism or Craig’s coldness. He was just a guy who knew a lot and could punch you in the face if the need arose. Where Lazenby excelled were his interactions with Rigg. As a love story, OHMSS works just fine. As a Bond film, it’s like drinking coffee without any milk in it. You’re still given the same flavor, but it doesn’t quite taste the same. Perhaps this is why he didn’t stick around for Diamonds are Forever, which the producers did have him in mind for.

Musically, John Barry was back on board, and having to come up with something that defined the “New Bond”, he came up with an entirely new theme song. The music for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is actually pretty damn good, and actually serves to became as much of an Official Theme as “007”, used in From Russia With Love – which actually happens to be my 2nd favorite Bond theme next to “A View to a Kill”.

Tomorrow, the Shattered Lens tackles Connery’s return to form in Diamonds are Forever. Below is the vocal theme for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “All the time in the World” by Louis Armstrong. Enjoy.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: One Million Years B.C. (directed by Don Chaffey)


So, last night, I was talking Oscar fashion over on twitter and, at one point, I somehow ended up promising that if I was ever nominated for an Oscar, I would wear an outfit based the fur bikini that Raquel Welch wore in the 1966 film One Million Years B.C.  Well, everyone seemed to think that this was a pretty good idea on my part but it made me realize that I’ve never actually seen this movie.  As I was already planning on going to Fry’s to buy the Criterion edition of Fish Tank, I decided to buy One Million Years B.C. as well.  When I returned home, I kinda watched it.

I say “kinda” because One Million Years B.C. is probably one of the most draggy movies ever made and my mind wandered considerably whenever there wasn’t a dinosaur on-screen.  The movie opens with a really pompous sounding narrator who explains 1) that One Million Years B.C. was a long time ago and 2) not much else.  I mean, honestly, Mr. Narrator, I could have figured out we were dealing with prehistory just from the fact that there’s a bunch of dinosaurs wandering around.  Anyway, the movie itself is about a caveman (played by a nicely rugged actor named John Richardson) who is exiled from his own savage tribe but who eventually ends up with Raquel Welch’s tribe.  But then his new tribe gets sick of him and decides to exile him as well.  This time, Welch goes off with him and they eventually join Richardson’s old tribe which then goes to war with Welch’s old tribe and then finally, a volcano explodes.  Oh, and there’s a lot of dinosaurs wandering around as well.  On rare occasions, they attack the cave people but, for the most part, they just put out the same aloof vibe as my cat does right after he eats.

Most of the film’s dinosaurs were created through stop motion animation and they’re fun to watch.  However, for me, what truly made the film was a giant turtle that pops up about 30 minutes in.  It’s trying to make its way back to the ocean and, for its trouble, a bunch of little cave people insist on throwing spears at it.  But the turtle just kinda looks back at them and shrugs.  What a cool turtle!

There’s a certain type of viewer — and we all know the type — who will complain that One Million Years B.C. commits the sin of 1) having dinosaurs existing at the same time of cavemen and 2) having all the different dinosaurs living together at the exact same time.  And to those people, I think it’s high time that everyone just finally says, “Shut the fuck up.”  I mean, seriously, instead of nitpicking every little cinematic detail, why don’t you concentrate on losing some weight before you drop dead of a heart attack? 

Just a suggestion.

Oddly enough, this film has a weird connection to the James Bond film series in that, on the basis of their work here, both John Richardson (who also starred in Mario Bava’s classic Black Sunday) and Raquel Welch came close to being cast in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  However, the roles ended up going to George Lazenby and Diana Rigg instead.  (Welch was also nearly cast as a Bond girl in Diamonds are Forever.)   Though neither Welch nor Richardson ever became a part of the 007 franchise, Robert Brown (who plays Richardson’s father here) later played the role of M in a handful of Bond films.