Cleaning Out The DVR: Sodom and Gomorrah (dir by Robert Aldrich)

I think we all know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

As told in the book of Genesis, Sodom and Gomorrah were two of the wickedest cities in what was then the civilized world. God grew so sick of their wickedness that he decided to wipe both of the cities and all of their inhabitants out of existence. However, because Abraham’s son, Lot, was living in Sodom with his family, God sent two angels to Sodom to warn Lot. Lot tried to argue that, if he could find 10 good people in the city, Sodom should be spared. However, then the people of Sodom showed up and demanded to “know” the angels and that pretty much sealed their fate. Lot and his family were told to leave the city and to not look back while it was being destroyed. Unfortunately, Lot’s wife just couldn’t resist the temptation and she ended up turning into a pillar of salt.

The 1962 film, Sodom and Gomorrah, recreates the Biblical story, though it takes a lot of liberties with the established narrative. Stewart Granger plays Lot. Anouk Aimee plays Bera, the decadent queen of Sodom who refuses to believe that the incoming destruction of her city is anything more than a dust storm. Pier Angeli plays Lot’s wife, who is imagined here as formerly being one of Bera’s slaves. Though she loves Lot, she loves her former life more and …. well, we all know the story. And then there’s several characters who were created specifically for the film. The most prominent of these is Astaroth (Stanley Baker), who is Bera’s scheming brother and who later is attracted to one of Lot’s daughters. The film was directed by Robert Aldrich. If you know anything about Aldrich’s filmography (Kiss Me Deadly, Twilight’s Last Gleaming, and Hustle among others), he’s not exactly the first name that comes to mind when you think of a director who you would expect to find directing a Biblical epic. And indeed, when compared to his other films, Aldrich often does seem to just be going through the motions when it comes to telling the film’s story.

Sodom and Gomorrah suffers from a problem that afflicted many Biblical epics. It takes forever to get to the good stuff. We’re all watching because we want to see the cities get destroyed and we want to watch Lot’s wife get transformed into a pillar of salt. However, this film — which has a running time of two and a half hours — takes forever to reach that point. First, we have to spend a lot of time listening to Astaroth plotting against his sister and scheming how to take over the Salt Trade, which is the source of the wealth of both of the cities. Then we spend an endless amount of time with Lot and his family wandering through the desert. There are a few good battle scenes but the film still feels dragged out. It takes forever to get to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and it’s a bit of a let down when it finally does happen. The ground shakes, Dust fills the sky. Buildings start falling on people. Throughout it all, the Sodomites continue to behave wickedly, which leads to a few odd moments. (A man and a woman stop fleeing for a few minutes to make out against a wall. Naturally, the wall is the next thing to collapse.) After all of that build-up, the destruction scenes are maddeningly pedestrian.

Lot is probably one of the most interesting characters in Genesis, an imperfect man who tried to do the right thing but who often seemed to have terrible luck. Unfortunately, Stewart Granger is a bit of a stiff in the lead role and he’s never convincing as someone who could lead his people through the desert. He doesn’t have the innate authority that Charlton Heston had in The Ten Commandments. Far more successful are the performances of Stanley Baker and Anouk Aimee. Aimee, in particular, seems to being having a blast being bad. Or at least, she is until the walls come tumbling down.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Guns of Navarone (dir by J. Lee Thompson)

The Oscar nominations are finally due to be announced on March 15th and the Oscars themselves are scheduled to be awarded at the end of April.  In anticipation of the big event (and the end of this current lengthy awards season), I am going to spend the next two months watching and reviewing Oscar nominees of the past.  Some day, I hope to be able to say that I have watched and reviewed every single film nominated for Best Picture.  It’s a mission that, with each passing year, I come a little bit closer to acomplishing.

Tonight, I decided to start things off by watching the 1961 best picture nominee, The Guns of Navarone.

The Guns of Navarone takes place in 1943, during World War II.  2,000 British troops are stranded on the Greek island of Kheros and the Nazis are planning on invading the island in a show of force that they hope will convince Turkey to join the Axis powers.  The Allies need to evacuate those troops before the Nazis invade.  The problem is that, on the nearby island of Navarone, there are two massive guns that can shoot down any plane that flies over and sink any ship that sails nearby.  If the British soldiers are to be saved, the guns are going to have to be taken out.

Everyone agrees that it’s a suicide mission.  Even if a commando team manages to avoid the patrol boats and the German soldiers on the island, reaching the guns requires scaling a cliff that is considered to be nearly unclimbable.  Still, the effort has to be made.  Six men are recruited to do the impossible.  Leading the group is Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle), a natural-born leader who is described as having almost supernatural luck.  Franklin’s second-in-command is Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck), an American spy who speaks several languages and who is an expert mountain climber.  Spyros Pappadimos (James Darren) and Butcher Brown (Stanley Baker) are both assigned to the team because they have fearsome reputations as killers, though it quickly becomes clear that only one of them kills for enjoyment.  Colonel Stavrou (Anthony Quinn) is a member of the defeated Greek army and he has a complicated past with Mallory.  Finally, Corporal Miller (David Niven) is a chemistry teacher-turned-explosive expert.  Waiting for the men on the island are two members of the Resistance, Spyros’s sister Maria (Irene Papas) and her friend, Anna (Gia Scala).  The mission, not surprisingly, the mission doesn’t go as planned.  There’s violence and betrayal and not everyone makes it to the end.  But everyone knows that, as tired as they are of fighting, the mission cannot be abandoned.

The Guns of Navarone was a huge box office success when it was originally released, which probably has a lot to do with it showing up as a best picture nominee.  It’s an entertaining film and, watching it, it’s easy to see how it served as a prototype for many of the “teams on a mission” action films that followed.  Though none of the characters are exactly deeply drawn, that almost doesn’t matter when you’ve got a cast that includes actors like Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, and David Niven.  At it best, the film works as a triumph of old-fashioned movie star charisma.  Peck is upright and determined to do whatever needs to be done to get the job done.  Quinn is tempermental and passionate.  David Niven is cynical, witty, and very, very British.  Quayle, Darren, and especially Stanley Baker provide strong support.  Before Sean Connery got the role, Stanley Baker was a strong contender for James Bond and, watching this film, you can see why.

Seen today, there’s not a lot that’s surprising about The Guns of Navarone.  It’s simply a good adventure film, one that occasionally debates the morality of war without forgetting that the audience is mostly watching to see the bad guys get blown up.  Some of the action scenes hold up surprisingly well.  The scene where the team is forced to deal with a German patrol boat is a particular stand-out.

The Guns of Navarone was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  Though it lost the top prize to West Side Story, The Guns of Navarone still won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

30 More Days of Noir #5: The Criminal (dir by Joseph Losey)

From 1960, it’s British noir!

Johnny Bannion (Stanley Baker) is a career criminal, one who divides his time between long stretches in prison and short visits to the real world.  He’s handsome, he’s charming, he’s clever, and he’s totally trapped.  Baker moves through the film like a natural-born predator, waiting for the moment to strike.  When he’s in prison, he’s as defiant as a caged tiger.  When he’s out of prison, he’s always stalking the next prize.

Johnny has a hard time staying out of prison.  When we first meet him, he’s in prison and it quickly becomes clear that he’s quite a respected figure behind bars.  When he gets out, the first thing that he does is team up with his old associate, Mike Carter (Sam Wanamaker), and make plans to rob a racetrack.  Mike and Johnny have an interesting relationship.  On the one hand, Mike kept Johnny’s apartment for him while he was locked away and Johnny obviously has enough faith in Mike to work him.  On the other hand, neither man seems to truly trust the other.  That’s the world of criminals, I suppose.  Never trust anyone.

Of course, it quickly turns out that there’s actually a good reason to never trust anyone when you’re living a life of crime.  As soon as Johnny, Mike, and the gang pull of the racetrack robbery, Johnny’s betrayed.  Johnny ends up locked away once again, all thanks to Mike.  However, it turns out that Mike may have acted too soon because Johnny hid all the money before he was sent back to prison.  Now, Mike has to figure out a way to pressure Johnny into revealing where the money’s buried while Johnny has to try to survive in a world of ruthless prisoners and guards who are ineffectual at best and crooked at worst.  Mike’s not the only one who is interested in where Johnny put all that cash….

I have to admit that I’m probably a bit biased when it come to The Criminal because it’s a British crime film that I actually saw while in the UK.  It’s one thing to watch a tough British crime film from the safety of Texas.  It’s another thing to watch it at 2 in the morning while in a hotel room with a nice view of the Thames.  As opposed to the watered down British-American co-productions that we tend to get used to here in the United States, The Criminal was British through-and-through, from the tough working class accents to the harsh urban landscape to the stylish suits that were worn even inside the prison.

It’s a dense movie.  Though Stanley Baker is undoubtedly the star, director Joseph Losey is just as interested in the other people who come within Johnny’s orbit and, as a result, we get to know not just Mike but also the guards and the other prisoners.  Partrick Magee, who was a favorite of Kubrick’s, makes a strong impression as Barrows, the prison guard who may be a manipulative sadist or who may just be a man who is doing what he has to do to maintain some sort of order in the prison.  The film’s portrayal of Barrows is ambiguous but the same can be said for almost everyone in the movie.  In classic noir fashion, there are no traditional heroes.  Johnny’s bad but he’s a little bit less bad than the men who betrayed him and who are willing to go to extreme lengths to discover where Johnny hid that money.

Directed by Joseph Losey, The Criminal alternates between scenes of hard-edged reality and scenes that feel as if they could have been lifted from some sort of Boschian nightmare.  The scenes outside the prison are harshly realistic while the inside of the prison feels almost like some sort of surrealistic dreamscape where demons take human form.  The Criminal is an effective and violent British noir, one that will encourage you to keep your eyes on the shadows.

Italian Horror Showcase: A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (dir by Lucio Fulci)

The 1971 film A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin is a story of greed, love, lust, repressed desires, bloody murder, and two rather hateful hippies.  It’s a surreal tale that manages to combine LSD, politics, therapy, and a good old-fashioned whodunit.  It’s a film that clearly a product of the late 60s and the early 70s and yet, it’s also a film that is so shamelessly sordid and wonderfully strange that it feels timeless.

And not surprisingly, it was directed by Lucio Fulci.

Over the course of his career, Lucio Fulci was credited with directing 56 films and one television miniseries.  Though we tend to primarily think of Fulci as being a horror director, he actually worked in every genre.  He directed peplums.  He was responsible for some of the best and most violent spaghetti westerns ever made.  He even directed comedies and an adaptation of Jack London’s White Fang!

Still, it is for his horror films that Fulci is best-remembered and his non-compromising and frequently surreal style was perfect for the genre.  Though 1979’s Zombi 2 is frequently cited as Fulci’s first excursion into the horror genre, he had actually dabbled in it before with a set of stylish and violent giallo films that he directed in the early 70s.

For example, A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin deals with a horrific crime and features some of Fulci’s most striking and disturbing images.  The film deals with Carol Hammond (Florida Bolkan), who is the daughter of a politician (Leo Genn) and the wife of a wealthy attorney (Jean Sorel).  Carol is haunted by bizarre dreams involving her decadent neighbor, Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg).  In her latest dream, Carol not only has a sexual encounter with Julia but also stabs her to death immediately afterward!  It’s only after Julia’s dead that Carol realizes that she’s being watched by two hippies, who appear to be amused by the whole thing.

After telling her therapist about the dream, Carol learns that Julia Durer has indeed been murdered.  In fact, she was stabbed in exactly the same way that Carol saw in her dream!  Was it just a dream or did Carol really murder of Julia?  Or did someone find out about her dream (which she recorded in her journal) and then murder Julia in order to frame her?  But who would want to do that?  Could it be maybe her weaselly husband, who is having an affair with his secretary?  Or maybe someone looking to embarrass her father?

And what about the two hippies?  It turns out that they’re real and they have a story of their own tell….

The mystery at the heart of A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin is a convoluted one and while the film’s plot did hold my interest, this film is less about the story and more about the way that Fulci tells it.  Dealing with hippies, visions, LSD, and a potentially unstable protagonist gave Fulci whatever excuse he needed to turn Lizard In A Woman’s Skin into a surrealistic carnival ride of psychedelic images and sexually-charged dream sequences.  From Carol’s nightmares to the scene where an intruder chases Carol through a sanitarium, A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin is full of strange images that are designed to keep the viewer just as off-balance as Carol.  The film’s most shocking scene — which involves Carol coming across four dogs being used in a medical experiment — actually led to Fulci and special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi being taken to court and forced to prove that the dogs in the scene weren’t real.  (Fortunately, Rambaldi brought his dog props to court with him.)  It’s a shamelessly sordid film, one from which you will not be able to divert your eyes.

Florinda Bolkan gives a great and sympathetic performance was Carol while Antia Strindberg is properly decadent as Julia.  Penny Brown and Mike Kennedy plays perhaps the most hateful and callous hippies of all time and Kennedy especially makes a strong impression.  Trust Lucio Fulci to make a film where the hippies are just as frightening as the zombies who populated his later work!

A Lizard in A Woman’s Skin is a classic giallo and one of Fulci’s best.

Celebrate National Trivia Day With The Actors Who Could Have Been James Bond!


Today is National Trivia Day so I thought why not share some trivia?  I love film trivia.  I especially love trivia about who was considered for certain films.  Hell, one of my most popular posts on the Shattered Lens dealt with all of the actors who were considered for the Godfather!

(I even came up with an alternative cast for The Godfather, even though I consider the actual film to be the best cast film in history.)

I also happen to love the James Bond films.  (Well, not so much the recent Bond films.  I’ve made my feelings on SPECTRE clear.)  As a franchise, I absolutely love them.  So, with all that in mind, here is a look at the actors who could have been Bond.  I’ve compiled this article from many sources.  And yes, you could probably just find a lot of the information on Wikipedia but then you’d miss out on my editorial commentary.

Hoagy Carmichael

Ian Fleming himself always said that his pick for Bond would have been the musician, Hoagy Carmichael.  He even made a point, in Casino Royale, of having Vesper Lynd exclaim that Bond looked like Hoagy Carmichael.  Of course, the first actor to actually play Bond was Barry Nelson in a 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale.  Nelson is probably best remembered for playing Mr. Ullman in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Barry Nelson, the first James Bond

When Dr. No went into production in 1961, many actors were considered for the role before Sean Connery was eventually cast.  Many of them were very well-known actors and, had they been cast, Dr. No would not have been remembered as a Bond movie.  Instead, it would be remembered as a star vehicle for … well, let’s take a look at some of the better-known possibilities:

Among the famous actors who were mentioned for Bond in 1961: Cary Grant, Richard Burton, James Mason, Trevor Howard, Stanley Baker, George Baker, Jimmy Stewart, Rex Harrison, and David Niven.  (Of that list, I think Burton would have made for an interesting Bond.  If the Bond films had been made in the 1940s, Grant would have been my first choice.  Trying to imagine Jimmy Stewart as a British secret agent is … interesting.)

Once it became obvious that a star was not going to play Bond, the role was offered to Patrick McGoohan and Rod Taylor.  McGoohan had moral objections to the character.  Rod Taylor reportedly felt that the film would flop.  Steve Reeves, the American body builder who became famous for playing Hercules in Italy, was reportedly strongly considered.  At one point, director Terrence Young wanted to offer the role to Richard Johnson, who later played Dr. Menard in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2.

Of course, the role went to Sean Connery and made Connery a huge star.  In 1967, after Connery announced that he would no longer play the world’s most famous secret agent, there was a huge and widely publicized search for his replacement.  Some of the names that were considered are intriguing.  Others are just bizarre.

Oliver Reed

To me, perhaps the most intriguing name mentioned was that of Oliver Reed.  Reed definitely would have brought a rougher edge of the role than some of the other actors considered.  However, that’s one reason why Reed wasn’t picked.  Apparently, it was felt that he did not have the right public image to play the suave Mr. Bond.

Somewhat inevitably, Michael Caine was sought out for the role.  Caine, however, refused to consider it because he had already starred in three back-to-back spy thrillers and didn’t want to get typecast.  Caine’s former roommate, Terrence Stamp, was another possibility but wanted too much control over the future direction of the Bond films.  Future Bond Timothy Dalton was considered to be too young.  Another future Bond, Roger Moore, didn’t want to give up his television career.  Eric Braeden has the right look for Bond but was German.  Rumor has it that producer Cubby Broccoli even considered Dick Van Dyke for the role, though I find that hard to believe.  An even more surprising possibility was the nobleman Lord Lucan, who was offered a screen test in 1967 and who, ten years later, would vanish after being accused of murdering his children’s nanny.

Lord Lucan

Among the actors who auditioned before George Lazenby was cast in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Michael Billington, Jeremy Brett, Peter Purves, Robert Campbell, Patrick Mower, Daniel Pilon, John Richardson, Anthony Rogers, Hans De Vries, and Peter Snow.

After the mixed reception of both Lazenby’s performance and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Lazenby was soon out as James Bond.  Even today, there’s a lot of controversy about what led to Lazenby being dismissed from the role.  Some say Lazenby demanded too much money.  Some say that Lazenby was merely used a pawn to try to get Sean Connery to return to the role.  Regardless, Lazenby only made one film as Bond.  (Of course, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has retroactively been recognized as being one of the best of the series.)

With Connery still claiming that he would never return to the role, the film’s producers went through the motions of looking for a new Bond.  Once again, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton were considered.  Connery suggested that a talk show host named Simon Dee should play the role.  An actor named Roger Green auditioned.  So did Michael Gambon, though he later said he was turned down because, in his own words, he “had tits like a woman.”  Interestingly, several Americans were mentioned.  Clint Eastwood as James Bond?  Burt Reynolds?  Adam “Batman” West? The mind boggles but their names were mentioned.

John Gavin

And interestingly enough, an American was cast.  John Gavin is best known for playing Sam Loomis in Psycho but he was also, briefly, James Bond.  After Gavin accepted he role and signed a contract, Sean Connery announced that he would be willing to return to the role.  Gavin was paid off and Connery went on to star in Diamonds are Forever.

After Diamonds, Connery left the role for a second time and, once again, Bond was recast.  This time, Roger Moore would finally accept the role.  However, before Moore was cast, several other actors were considered.  Some of the regular possibilities were mentioned again: John Gavin, Simon Oates, Timothy Dalton, and Michael Billington.  Others considered included Jon Finch, Ranulph Fiennes, Peter Laughton, and Guy Peters.  Some of those names are probably as unknown to you as they are to me but it’s intriguing to think that Guy Peters may not be a well-known name but, at one time, there was a possibility that he could suddenly become one of the biggest stars in the world.

Looking over the history of the Bond franchise, it’s interesting to see the number of times that Moore tried to leave the role, just to be talked into returning.  Every time that Moore considered quitting, a new group of actors would be considered for the role of Bond.  In 1979, when Moore said he might not return after Moonraker, Timothy Dalton, Michael Jayston, Patrick Mower (who was also considered for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and Michael Billington were all considered as replacements.  So was Julian Glover.  Ironically, when Moore did agree to return to the role, Glover was cast as the villain in For Your Eyes Only.

David Warbeck

To me, the most intriguing actor mentioned as a replacement for Roger Moore was David Warbeck.  Warbeck was a television actor and model who subsequently had a nearly legendary film career in Italy.  Not only did he play a key role in Sergio Leone’s Duck You Sucker!, but he also starred in Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat and The Beyond.  He also appeared in the best of Italian Apocalypse Now rip-offs, The Last Hunter.  In interviews, Warbeck claimed that he was under contract to Cubby Broccoli to step into the role in case Roger Moore ever walked off the set.  The likable and rugged Warbeck would have been an interesting Bond.

In 1983, when Moore again said he might not return to the role, Michael Billington (who actually did appear in a Bond film when he played a KGB agent killed at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me) would be once more considered as a replacement.  British TV actors Lewis Collins and Ian Ogilvy were also considered for the role.  In a repeat of what happened with John Gavin in Diamonds are Forever, American actor James Brolin was actually put under contract until Moore agreed to play the role in Octopussy.

James Brolin, in a screen test for Octopussy

After A View To A Kill, Moore left the role for the final time.  Famously, future Bond Pierce Brosnan was actually cast as his replacement until the surge of interest created by his casting led to the renewal of Remington Steele, the American television show in which Brosnan was starring.  Once the show was renewed, Brosnan could no longer work the Bond films into his schedule.

Among the other names mentioned: Sean Bean, Simon MacCorkindale, Andrew Clarke, Finlay Light, Mark Greenstreet, Neil Dickson, Christopher Lambert, Mel Gibson, and Antony Hamilton.  Sam Neill was another possibility and reportedly came very close to getting the role.  Watch any of the films that Neill made when he was younger and you can definitely see hints of Bond.

Sam Neill

In the end, Timothy Dalton finally accepted the role.  Ironically, for an actor who spent 20 years being courted for the role, Dalton turned out to be a bit of a flop as Bond.  He made two movies (both of which were considered to be disappointing when compared to the previous Bond films) and then left the role.

Looking over the contemporary reviews of Dalton as Bond, one thing that comes through clearly is that a lot of people resented him for taking a role that they felt should have gone to Pierce Brosnan.  When the Bond films resumed production with Goldeneye in 1994, Brosnan finally stepped into the role.  Reportedly, if Brosnan had turned down the role, the second choice was Sean Bean.  Much like Julian Glover, Bean may have lost out on 007 but he did end up playing the villain.

Sean Bean

Among the other actors who were reportedly considered before Brosnan accepted the role: Mark Frankel, Paul McGann, Liam Neeson, Russell Crowe, and Lambert Wilson.  Ralph Fiennes, who has been M since Skyfall, was also considered.

As opposed to his predecessors, Brosnan seemed to be very comfortable with the idea of playing Bond and never threatened to leave the role.  Looking over the Bond-related articles that were published from 1995 to 2004, I found the occasional speculation about whether Rupert Everett would be the first gay James Bond or if Sharon Stone would be the first female James Bond but I found very little speculation about Brosnan actually leaving the role.  Indeed, when Brosnan officially retired as Bond in 2004, it was less his decision and more at the prodding of the franchise’s producers, who felt that the series needed to be rejuvenated with a new (and younger) actor.  After Brosnan left, the series was rebooted and Daniel Craig played the role in Casino Royale.

In the past, I’ve made it clear that Daniel Craig is hardly my favorite Bond.  I loved Skyfall (and I consider it to the 2nd best Bond film, after From Russia With Love) but, even in that case, I felt that the film succeeded despite Craig instead of because of him.  With Casino Royale, we were supposed to be seeing a young and inexperienced Bond.  That’s never come through to me, probably because Craig looked like he was nearly 50 years old when he made Casino Royale.

Among the actors who were mentioned for the role before Craig received the role: Ralph Fiennes (again), Colin Salmon, Ewan McGregor, Henry Cavill, Rupert Friend, Julian McMahon, Alex O’Laughlin, Clive Owen, Dougray Scott, and Goran Visjnic.  Dominic West, who I think would have been great in the role, reportedly ruled himself out because he heard a rumor that Brosnan would be returning to the role.

Dominic West

Daniel Craig, of course, has been talking about leaving the role ever since he was first cast.  I think Skyfall would have been a perfect movie for him to leave on.  (It would have saved the world from SPECTRE.)  However, Craig has apparently agreed to do at least one more Bond film.  Maybe two.

When Craig does leave, who will replace him?  Idris Elba, of course, is probably the most widely discussed possibility.  James Norton has also been named as a possibility.  Others that I’ve seen mentioned: Tom Hardy, Jack Huston, Aidan Turner, Tom Hiddleston, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, and Henry Cavill (again).

My personal choice?  Dominic Cooper.  He’d be an off-center Bond but I think it would still be an intriguing pick.

Dominic Cooper

Who knows what the future may hold for 007?  All I know is that I look forward to the speculation.

Happy National Trivia Day, everyone!