Insomnia File #46: Enter the Ninja (dir by Menahem Golan)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

It’s been nearly a year since I did my last Insomnia File.  To be honest, as much as I enjoy writing these posts, I feel like the idea behind the Insomnia File format has become obsolete.  The days of people dealing with insomnia by randomly flipping through movies and infomercials have pretty much come to an end.  Now, if someone has insomnia, they’re more likely to binge an old show on Netflix.

That said, if you had insomnia at one in the morning last night and you didn’t feel like binging The Office for the hundredth time, you could have turned over to TCM and watched the 1981 film, Enter the Ninja.

What would you have gotten out of Enter the Ninja?  Five words: France Nero as a ninja.  Seriously, what more do you need?  Nero plays Cole, a former mercenary who goes off to Japan, trains to become a ninja, and then heads off for the Philippines, where his old mercenary friend, Frank (Alex Courtney), owns a farm.  Frank and his wife, Mary-Ann (Susan George) are having problems because evil businessman Charles Venarius (Christopher George, chewing up the scenery as the bad guy) is determined to force them off of their land.  Add to that, Frank is a pathetic drunk.

Soon, Cole is putting on his white ninja suit and fighting to protect the farm and also dealing with Venarius’s ninja, who just happens to be an old rival of Cole’s.  Cole is also carrying on an affair with Mary-Ann but that’s not big deal because Frank isn’t much of a man.  One of the most interesting things about Enter the Ninja is that it may be a martial arts film but it’s also a modern western and a domestic drama.  Cole could just as easily be a gunslinger, protecting the homesteaders.  Frank and Mary-Ann could just as easily be a couple on a daytime drama.  Instead, they’re all in a ninja film.

The main appeal of Enter the Ninja is Franco Nero, an actor who — in his prime — was one of the sexiest men to ever appear in the movies.  He spends a good deal of the film with his face covered but the important thing is that you can still see those beautiful blue eyes.  As usual, Nero gives a good performance with so-so material.  Nero brings his trademark intensity to the role and he does actually seem to care about whether or not his friends lose their farm.

Enter the Ninja was directed by the legendary Menahem Golan, a filmmaker who understood the importance of never letting the action slow down.  Enter the Ninja is dumb, over the top, and entertaining.  Plus, it’s got Franco Nero!  What else do you need at one in the morning?

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid

6 Trailers For The Sunday Before Halloween


It’s a holiday and you know what that means!

Or maybe you don’t.  Sometimes, I forget that not everyone can read my mind.  Anyway, I used to do a weekly post of my favorite grindhouse trailers.  Eventually, it went from being a weekly thing to being an occasional thing, largely due to the fact that there’s only so many trailers available on YouTube.  Now, Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers is something that I usually only bring out on a holiday.

Like today!

So, here are 6 trailers for the last week of October!

  1. Last House On The Left (1972)

“Two girls from the suburbs.  Going to the city to have …. good time….”  Wow, thanks for explaining that, Mr. Creepy Narrator Dude.  That classic tag line about how to avoid fainting would be imitated time and again for …. well, actually, it’s still being imitated.  This was Wes Craven’s 1st film and also one of the most influential horror films of all time.

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Speaking of influential horror movies, the trailer for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is almost scarier than the film itself!

3. Lisa Lisa (1977)

I  have actually never watched this film but I love the trailer.  Can you guess why?

4. Ruby (1977)

Ruby, starring Piper Laurie!  I’m going to assume this was after Piper Laurie played Margaret White in Carrie.  Don’t take your love to town, Ruby.

5. Jennifer (1978)

Jennifer was another film that pretty obviously inspired by Carrie.  In this one, Jennifer has psychic control over snakes.  So, don’t mess with Jennifer.

6. The Visitor (1979)

Finally, this Italian Omen rip-off features Franco Nero as Jesus, so it’s automatically the greatest film ever made.

Happy Weekend Before Halloween!

Bloody Good Show: Franco Nero in DJANGO (Euro International 1966)


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A solitary man is dragging a coffin through bleak, rocky terrain. He comes across a helpless female tied to posts, being whipped by a gang of banditos. A group of mercenaries, adorned in red scarves, shoot down the bandits. The group, members of ex-Confederate Major Jackson’s marauders, plan on burning the woman alive. The solitary man, watching all this, guns down her attackers with blinding speed, freeing her and offering protection. The man’s name is… DJANGO!

Any resemblance between Sergio Corbucci’s seminal 1966 Spaghetti Western and Sergio Leone’s 1964 A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS   is not strictly coincidental. Both movies are uncredited adaptations of Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 YOJIMBO, though Corbucci’s version of the tale takes more liberties and  he succeeds to out-Leone Leone with the brutal, unrelenting violence, making this a must-see film for fans of the genre.

Django takes the woman, a half-Mexican named Maria, to a desolate ghost town inhabited only by saloon proprietor Nathaniel…

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Never Nominated: 16 Actors Who Have Never Been Nominated For An Oscar


Along with being one of the greatest actors who ever lived, the late Peter O’Toole had another, far more dubious achievement.  He holds the record for being nominated the most times for Best Actor without actually winning.  Over the course of his long career, Peter O’Toole was nominated 8 times without winning.

But, at least O’Toole was nominated!

Below are 16 excellent actors who have NEVER been nominated for an Oscar.  10 of these actors still have a chance to get that first nomination.  For the rest, the opportunity has sadly past.

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  1. Kevin Bacon

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t like Kevin Bacon?  Amazingly, despite several decades of good performances in good films, Kevin Bacon has yet to be nominated.  That said, he seems destined to be nominated some day.  If nothing else, he deserved some sort of award for being the most successful cast member of the original Friday the 13th.  (As well, 40 years after the fact, his cry of “All is well!” from Animal House has become one of the most popular memes around.)

2. Brendan Gleeson

This brilliant Irish actor deserved a nomination (and probably the win) for his brave performance in Calvary.  But, even if you ignore Calvary, his filmography is full of award-worthy performances.  From The General to Gangs of New York to 28 Days Later to In Bruges to The Guard, Gleeson is overdue for some recognition.

3. John Goodman

John Goodman deserved to be nominated this year, for his performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane.  He brought warmth to both Argo and Inside Llewyn Davis.  And he was absolutely terrifying in Barton Fink.  John Goodman is one of the most underrated actors working today.

4. Malcolm McDowell

It’s obviously been a while since Malcolm McDowell had a truly great role.  But who could forget his amazing performance in A Clockwork Orange?  For that matter, I liked his sweetly gentle performance in Time After Time.  Someone give this man the great role that he deserves!

5. Ewan McGregor

Ewan McGregor is an actor who is oddly taken for granted.  His performance in Trainspotting remains his best known work.  But, really, he’s been consistently giving wonderful performances for twenty years now.  Sometimes — as in the case of the Star Wars prequels — the films have not been worthy of his talent but McGregor has always been an engaging and compelling screen presence.  When it comes to playing someone who is falling in love, few actors are as convincing as Ewan McGregor.

6) Franco Nero

Franco!  If for nothing else, he deserved a nomination for playing not only Lancelot in Camelot and not only the original Django but also for playing Intergalactic Space Jesus in The Visitor.  I also loved his work in a little-known Italian thriller called Hitchhike.  Nero is still active — look for him in John Wick 2 — and hopefully, he’ll get at least one more truly great role in his lifetime.

7) Sam Rockwell

Let’s just get this out of the way.  In a perfect world, Sam Rockwell would already have an Oscar.  He would have won for his performance in 2009’s Moon.  He also would have received nominations for The Way, Way Back and Seven Psychopaths.  Sadly, Sam’s still waiting for his first nomination.  Again, the problem may be that he’s such a natural that he just makes it look easy.

Andy Serkis

8) Andy Serkis

Andy Serkis has never been nominated, despite giving some of the best performances of this century.  He should have been nominated for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.  He should have won for Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

9) Harry Dean Stanton

Harry Dean Stanton has been around forever and he’ll probably outlive everyone else on the planet.  He often seems to be indestructible.  Harry Dean is the epitome of a great character actor.  He’s a modern-day John Carradine.  And, just as John Carradine was never nominated, Harry Dean seems to destined to suffer the same fate.  Oscar may have forgotten him but film lovers never will.

10) Donald Sutherland

It’s hard to believe that Donald Sutherland has never been nominated for an Oscar but it’s true.  He probably should have been nominated for his work in Ordinary People and JFK.  Even his work in The Hunger Games franchise was an absolute delight to watch.  I imagine that Sutherland will be nominated someday.

Donald Sutherland and Kristen Stewart

Finally, here are 6 actors who sadly were never honored by the Academy and who are no longer with us:

  1. John Carradine

I mentioned John Carradine earlier.  Carradine was a favorite of many directors and he brought his considerable (and rather eccentric) talents to a countless number of films.  Among his best performances: Stagecoach and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

2. John Cazale

Before his untimely death, John Cazale acted in 5 films: The Godfather, Godfather Part II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter.  All five of them were nominated for best picture.  12 years after his death, archival footage of him was used in The Godfather Part III.  It was also nominated for Best Picture.  Not only is Cazale alone in having spent his entire career in films nominated for best picture but, in each film, Cazale gave a performance that, arguably, deserved to be considered for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  Cazale was an amazing actor and it’s a shame that he wasn’t able to give us more great performances.

3. Oliver Reed

Oliver Reed was a legendary drinker but he was also an amazingly entertaining actor.  I’m not a huge fan of Gladiator but his final performance was more than worthy of a posthumous nomination.

Alan Rickman

4. Alan Rickman

When it comes to the late Alan Rickman, it’s not a question of whether he should have been nominated.  It’s a question of for which film.  I know a lot of people would say Rickman deserved a nomination for redefining cinematic villainy in Die Hard.  Personally, I loved his performance in Sense and Sensibility.  And, of course, you can’t overlook any of the times that he played Snape.

5. Edward G. Robinson

Edward G. Robinson was never nominated for an Oscar!?  Not even for Double Indemnity?  Or his final performance in Soylent Green?  Horrors!

6) Anton Yelchin

It’s debatable whether or not Anton Yelchin ever got a chance to give a truly award-worthy performance during his lifetime.  I would argue that his work in both Green Room and Like Crazy were pretty close.  But, if Yelchnin had lived, I’m confident he would have eventually been nominated.  We lost a wonderful talent when we lost him.

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A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Killer Mermaid (dir by Milan Todorovic)


 

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Killer Mermaid!

That’s a great title, isn’t it?  Originally, the title of this 2014 film from Serbia was Nymph.  However, by the time it reached Netflix, it had become Killer Mermaid.  And really, everything you need to know about this movie is right there in that title.  It’s a movie about a mermaid that kills people.  If you have a strong desire to see a movie about a mermaid that kills people, Killer Mermaid is for you.  If you don’t have that desire, then you’re probably not going to be reading this review.

Killer Mermaid takes place in Montenegro.  Two American tourists — Kelly (Kristina Klebe) and Lucy (Natalie Burn) — are visiting their old friend Alex (Slobodan Stefanovic) and his girlfriend Yasmin (Sofija Rajovic).  (Just in case we forget that Kelly and Lucy are Americans, Lucy wears American flag shorts.)  At first, they do typical Americans-in-Europe things.  Kelly attempts to confront some past childhood trauma.  Lucy sleeps with Alex and then worries about Yasmin finding out.  They meet and flirt with Bobban (Dragan Micanovic), a local who looks a lot like Lost‘s Henry Ian Cusick.

And then they make plans to spend a day on a nearby island and exploring an abandoned old military fortress.  They do this despite a local fisherman, Niko (Franco Nero!), telling them that it’s a terrible idea because the fortress was built by evil Nazis and anyone who explores it is destined to die a terrible death.

“Ha!”  the tourists say, “We’re too young and American to die in Montenegro!  Now, let’s go to the remote island with some guy that we’ve only known for 12 hours…”

Ignoring Niko, they go out to the island and … well, you can probably guess what happens.  There’s a mysterious caretaker (Miodrag Krstovic) wandering around the fortress.  He’s protecting something very important to him and, if that means he has to kill some tourists, so be it.

What is the caretaker protecting?  Well, you can probably guess from the title of the film.  There’s a mermaid (Zorana Kostic Obradovic, who has a fantastically evil smirk) living in the waters around the island and she’s a killer.  Whenever she sings, Alex, Bobban, and the caretaker all go into a state of zombiefication.  As women, Kelly, Lucy, and Yasmin are all immune to the mermaid’s song but it really doesn’t matter because, even with that advantage, no one is anywhere close to being smart enough to survive a horror movie.  Just the fact that they ended up on that island in the first place should tell you all you need to know about the intelligence of the characters in Killer Mermaid

But that’s okay because, with the exception of Niko and maybe Bobban (depending on whether or not you had a crush on Lost‘s Desmond Hume), you really don’t care enough about any of these characters to get upset over their impending doom.  This film is all about the killer mermaid.  It takes her a while to show up and she doesn’t get any lines but she still dominates the entire film.  Say what you will about the script and some of the performances, the filmmakers went to the trouble to give us a believable and viscous mermaid.

Killer Mermaid works far better than it should.  Yes, it’s pretty much your standard killer monster movie but the film looks good and the mermaid is an impressive monster.  While it may never make sense for everyone to have headed off for that island in the first place, the film still makes good use of the atmospheric location.  Add to that, Killer Mermaid delivers exactly what it promises.

And, of course, you’ve got Franco Nero as Niko!  Now, I have to admit that I didn’t recognize Franco when he first showed up.  He’s made up to look as weather-beaten as possible and Nero downplays his trademark charisma, playing Niko as a haunted and emotionally withdrawn man.  To be honest, it’s a far better performance than you would probably ever expect to see in a film called Killer Mermaid but, then again, that’s always been the case with Nero.  He’s always good, no matter how bad some of his movies may occasionally be.  As I’ve said in the past, any movie can be saved by a random Franco Nero appearance and that’s certainly the case with this one.

(That said, it’s hard to imagine that any film will ever top the exhilarating oddness of Franco Nero’s cameo as Jesus in The Visitor.)

That’s Killer Mermaid for you.  It’s exactly what you think it is but, with that in mind, it’s entertaining enough.

And it’s currently available on Netflix!

Horror Film Review: The Visitor (dir by Giulio Paradisi)


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Do you want to see a strange horror film?

Just check out The Visitor, a 1979 Italian film that has recently been re-released by Drafthouse Films and occasionally shows up on TCM.  In many ways, The Visitor is a total and complete mess.  But, as is so often the case with Italian horror films, that very messiness — combined with some genuinely imaginative narrative and directorial choices — serves to make The Visitor into one of the most memorable films that you (possibly) have never heard of.

Like many of the Italian exploitation films released in the 70s and 80s, The Visitor is a rather blatant rip-off of a successful American film.  What makes The Visitor unique is the amount of different movies that it rips off.  The Visitor takes films that you would assume had no connection and mixes them together to create something wonderfully odd.

Franco Nero as Jesus in The Visitor

Franco Nero as Jesus in The Visitor

Much like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Visitor opens with the idea that intergalactic beings have been visiting Earth for centuries and are subtly influencing the development of humanity.  The Visitor literally opens with Jesus Christ (played by Franco Nero!) sitting on a satellite and telling a version of the creation story to a bunch of bald children.  He explains that, long ago, he battled an evil intergalactic demon known as Sateen.  Sateen (who, the film implies, is better known on Earth as Satan) was eventually blown up but his genes were spread throughout humanity.  The bald children surrounding him are the descendants of Sateen.  Whenever one of them is born, Jesus sends an old man named Jerzy Colsowicz (played by director John Huston) to Earth so that Jerzy can bring the child to the satellite.  Of course, whenever Jerzy isn’t kidnapping kids for Jesus, he spends his time hanging out in a psychedelic dimension.

Yes, you did read that correctly.

This is where Jerzy lives.

This is where Jerzy lives.

Once you get past the intergalactic part of the story, The Visitor is a pretty obvious rip-off of both The Omen and Damien: Omen II, with the main difference being that the demon child here is not a cherubic little boy but instead is a rather bratty 8 year-old little girl named Katy (Paige Collins).  However, Katy is not the Antichrist.  Instead, her job is to mate with a male child who also has Sateen’s genes and then her baby will be the Antichrist.  In order to get this male child, Katy is pressuring her mother (Joanne Nail) to have sex with businessman Raymond Armstead (Lance Henriksen, who was also in Damien II: The Omen) so that Katy can have a half-brother to mate with.  (Ewwwwwwww!)  Raymond is a follower of Sateen and, adding to the film’s already odd feel, he also happens to own a basketball team.

(So, along with everything else going on, The Visitor also features a lot of basketball footage, which I guess would be exciting if I knew anything about basketball.)

Despite being a pretty powerful figure in the Sateenist hierarchy Raymond is not the head Sateenist.  No, the head Sateenist is played by Mel Ferrer, an actor who was once married to Audrey Hepburn and who will be familiar to anyone who has ever watched an Italian horror film.  (You can spot Ferrer in Zombie Holocaust, for example.)  Ferrer and the other Sateenists are all old, distinguished looking white men who spend all of their time meeting in an ornate corporate boardroom.

So, Jerzy comes down to Earth  to, with the help of a nanny played Shelley Winters, try to kidnap Katy but, for some reason, he doesn’t just do that.  Instead, he spends most of his time just watching Katy do destructive things.

Much as in The Omen, anyone who gets too close to discovering the truth about Katy ends up dying an elaborate and bloody way.  Often times, their death involves black crows, who the film suggests might actually be all of those little bald kids in animal disguise. So is Jesus sending those crows to kill people?  Seriously, this movie is weird.

Beware the Crows

Beware the Crows

Meanwhile, Katy’s mom is having doubts about both Raymond and her daughter.  She even goes and talks to her ex-husband, an abortionist who is played by yet another film director, in this case Sam Peckinpah.  Katy gets annoyed with her mom and, after happening to come across a gun hidden away inside of a birthday presents, shoots her in the back and leaves her paralyzed.

And did I mention that Katy is telekinetic, much like Carrie?  That’s right!  During my favorite scene, Katy goes skating at the local mall’s ice rink and, after a group of boys bully her, she uses her powers to send those bullies flying all over the mall.  Oddly enough, nobody seems to notice this chaos.  Except, of course, for Jerzy who just stands off in the corner and watches without doing anything…

Seriously, I love The Visitor.  Along with being surprisingly well-acted and visually inventive, the film is just so weird!  In many ways, it epitomizes everything that I love about the old Italian exploitation films.  While it is rather shameless about ripping off other movies, the film still brings its own unique spin to everything.

Normally, I’d say that The Visitor is a good film for Halloween but you know what?  Anytime is a good time for an Italian horror film!

Welcome

Welcome

 

And here’s the Cannes Teaser for Foxcatcher!


Speaking of Cannes, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher has also been shown at the festival and it got a far more positive reaction than Lost River.  Below is the teaser that was released to coincide with its Cannes premiere.

I think everyone is pretty much assuming that both Foxcatcher and Steve Carell are going to be nominated for Oscars.  The big question, right now, seems to be rather Mark Ruffalo or Channing Tatum will join the list of nominees.  I’m also going to be keeping an eye on Vanessa Redgrave, who has a small role as Carell’s mother.  After all, a Redgrave nomination would be a chance for the Academy to honor a respected actress who might not be appearing in many more films.

(As well, it would be a perfect excuse to get Franco Nero to come to the ceremony!)

As for the trailer below — if nothing else, this movie looks intense.  It’s interesting to see Carell in such a dark role but I fully believe that he’s capable of pulling it off.

What Lisa and Evelyn Watched Last Night #65: Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 (dir by Brian Trenchard-Smith)


Last night, after we finished watching the first episode of the new season of American Idol, my bff Evelyn and I watched Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, an evangelical apocalypse film from 2001.

Why Were We Watching It?

Considering that I’m an occasionally agnostic Irish Catholic and Evelyn describes herself as being a “Jewish atheist,” and that Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 is a film about Armageddon told from an evangelical point of view, I think the real question is how could we not watch it?  I mean, seriously.

Along with that, of course, Evelyn and I both wanted to watch something that nobody would ever expect either one of us to ever watch.

What Was It About?

Stone Alexander (Michael York) is President of the European Union and is promoting a plan that he claims will solve all of the world’s problems.  His younger brother, David Alexander (Michael Biehn) is vice president of the United States and wants to keep America from turning into Europe.  David is also in love with Stone’s wife (Diane Venora).  And, of course, Stone is actually the Antichrist while David is Michael Biehn.

Anyway, Stone uses his magic devil powers to cause President Benson (R. Lee Ermey) to die of a heart attack and David becomes President.  David, however, refuses to join Stone’s “new world order” so Stone frames David for the murder of their father.  David goes into hiding with a few loyal American soldiers while Stone makes plans to launch a military strike against Jerusalem.

It all, of course, leads to a huge battle between the forces of Hell and the combined armies of Spain and China (no, really).  David finally gets his chance to confront his brother, many prayers are said, and, eventually, a CGI demon pops up and creates a lot of CGI mayhem.

What Worked?

Evelyn claims that nothing worked in this film but I disagree just slightly.  First off, and most importantly, Franco Nero is in this film!  He plays Stone’s father-in-law and, while he may no longer be the dashing Lancelot from Camelot, Franco Nero is still aging pretty damn well.

Udo Kier is in the film too.  Seriously, Udo Kier pops up in the strangest places.

Michael York is a lot of fun as the wonderfully evil Stone Alexander. York’s performance here makes his delivery of the line, “YOU CAN LIVE!  LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!” at the end of Logan’s Run look restrained.  Also, if you’re going to have a made-for-evil name like Stone Alexander, you might as well be the Antichrist.

On a personal note, I had a lot of fun annoying Evelyn by pointing out that just about every policy proposed by Stone Alexander has also been proposed by Barack Obama.  I imagine that Megiddo must be a very popular film among certain conspiracy-minded segments of the population.

What Did Not Work?

To be honest, the entire film didn’t work.  It’s not a very good film.  The special effects were cheap, the script made the Atlas Shrugged films look subtle, and I imagine that the film probably created more atheists than believers.

That said, Megiddo is still better than Avatar.

“Oh my God!  Just like Evelyn and Lisa!” Moments

None.

Lessons Learned

Franco Nero ages like a fine wine.

Getting the point of Megiddo

Film Review: Camelot (dir by Joshua Logan)


Back when I was 18 years old, I auditioned for a community theater production of Camelot.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been intrigued with the spectacle and romance of the Arthurian legends and I just knew that I would make the perfect Guinevere.  And so, for two nights, I auditioned.  I performed “Baby One More Time” as my audition song, I showed off my dance moves, and I did countless cold readings with countless potential Arthurs and Lancelots.  At the end of the two days, the director told me that he would be in touch and I left with stars in my mismatched eyes, convinced that I had won the role of Guinevere.

Two days later, I got a call not from the director but from the assistant director.  She informed me that while my dancing was impressive, I wasn’t right for the role of Guinevere because:

1) I was too young.

2) I couldn’t sing.

3) My voice carried too much of a rural twang for me to be a believable Queen of England.

However, she did tell me that I had been selected to be a part of the “chorus.”  Well, I may have only been 18 but I still had my pride so I told her that, if I couldn’t I play Guinevere, I had no interest in being in their little production of Camelot.  I was later told that this caused a lot of people to assume that I was a diva but no matter, I stand by my decision.

When I later saw the theater’s production of Camelot, I felt thoroughly vindicated.  It wasn’t just the fact that the actress they cast as Guinevere had no stage presence, no boobs, and a horsey face.  It’s the fact that Camelot itself isn’t a very good show.  As good as the songs are, Camelot is something of a talky mess and Pellinore is one of the most annoying characters ever.

It was only after I saw that mediocre production that I discovered that there was a film version of Camelot. Released in 1967, the Warner Bros. production was one of the many big budget musicals released in the late 60s.  It has a terrible reputation (and was a box office bomb) but I recently decided to watch it for two reasons.

First off, Camelot was nominated for five Academy Awards (though not best picture) and won three (Best Art-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, and Best Music — Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment).  That means that Camelot won two more Oscars than The Graduate and one more than Bonnie and Clyde.

Secondly, this film version of Camelot features Franco Nero (who, in 1967, was literally the most handsome man in the world) in the role of Lancelot.

And so, I recently set aside 3 hours and I watched the film version of Camelot.

Camelot tells a familiar story.  Arthur (played here by Richard Harris) becomes king of England and he marries Guinevere (Vanessa Redgrave).  At the magnificent castle of Camelot, the most noble knights of England gather at a round table and Arthur preaches equality and chivalry.  Eventually, the righteous French knight Lancelot (Franco Nero) travels to Camelot and becomes Arthur’s  greatest knight.  However, Lancelot and Guinevere fall in love and, as a result of the schemes of Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred (David Hemmings), Lancelot and Arthur are soon at war with each other.

Despite my dislike of the stage production, I actually started watching the film version with high hopes.  I have a soft place in my heart for the overproduced musical spectacles of the late 60s and I figured that what was slow on stage might be more tolerable when seen on film.  Unfortunately, I was incorrect.  Camelot is a painfully old-fashioned film and, clocking in at 179 minutes, it’s also one of the most boring movies ever made.  Richard Harris was reportedly miserable while making the film and it shows in his performance.  You get the feeling that King Arthur would rather be anywhere other than Camelot.

The only time that the film comes alive is when Franco Nero is allowed to command the screen.  While the very Italian Nero is somewhat miscast as the very French Lancelot, that doesn’t change the fact that Nero plays the role with a passion that’s missing from the rest of the film.  Franco Nero’s blue eyes did more to make me believe in Camelot than any of the songs sung by Richard Harris.  One need only watch the scenes that Franco shares with Vanessa Redgrave to understand why they’ve been a couple for over 40 years.

Ultimately, Camelot is interesting mostly as an example of how the old Hollywood studio establishment attempted to deal with competition from television and European films.  Instead of attempting to adapt to the new culture of the 60s, the old studio bosses just continued to make the same movies they had always made, with the exception being that they now spent even more money than before to do so.  While it’s easy to mock them, you have to wonder if the Camelot of 1967 is all that different from the John Carter of today.