Friday, September 30, 2022

A comment on audio commentaries

As a movie buff and home video collector, I heartily welcomed the laserdisc format. It was a bit unwieldy (phonograph record-size discs that had to be flipped over manually every hour—or half-hour, depending on the format) and expensive (at a time when VHS tapes were in the 20-30 dollar range, laserdiscs were 40-100, depending on the number of discs). But practically every laserdisc release of a widescreen movie was presented in letterboxed widescreen format, whereas VHS versions were still often panned-and-scanned to fit into a square screen format—widescreen TVs were not the standard yet. And laserdiscs could fit extra audio tracks on them, which allowed for the inclusion of audio commentaries on the movies that could be accessed while you were watching the movie. DVDs and Blu-Rays, basically more consumer-friendly versions of laserdiscs, are the standard for home video now. Most releases contain some "bonus features," ranging from short making-of featurettes to full-length documentaries, and audio commentaries continue to be included on many discs.

In my eyes, however, we are long past the golden age, if you will, of commentaries. When newer movies are released, usually the commentary is by one or more of the filmmakers; those may still be relevant and interesting, but I rarely listen to those. My focus is on the classic movie commentaries for films made long enough ago that most of the people involved are no longer with us. I have been a fan of commentaries ever since I started buying DVDs. For me, a good commentary should have the following elements: 1) it should be given in tandem with the movie as it plays so the commentator can talk about specific scenes or actors as we watch them; 2) the commentator should have some knowledge or expertise that the average movie fan may not have; 3) some description of the plot as it unfolds may be necessary, but most of the commentary should fill us in on the background of the production, the career of the actors, and relevant notes about the movie’s reception and influence; 4) while occasionally some humor and criticism are welcome, generally a respectful tone should predominate—in other words, the commentator should actually like the movie we're watching; 5) the best commentaries are ones that have been well planned in advance, with the person reading from a script of sorts or at least an outline.

These days, with the shrinking of the home video market, more classic movie releases include commentaries to attract the fans who may already own the movie on an earlier, bare-bones release. But the commentators are too often amateurs, or self-styled experts with blogs and podcasts, or academics with a narrow field of interest. My gold standard for commentaries are the ones done for the classic Universal horror films of the 30s and 40s by people like David J. Skal, Rudy Behlmer, Steve Hoberman, Tom Weaver, Richard Harland Smith, and Paul Jensen, authors and historians who knew what they were talking about and were enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge. Many of them also did commentaries for non-horror films as well; the late Behlmer spoke on discs of Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, and Laura, and always held my attention. Famous critic Roger Ebert did a couple, and his track for Citizen Kane is considered by some to be the best one ever. Tim Lucas, of the late lamented magazine Video Watchdog, also gives excellent commentary.

Lately, however, classic movie commentaries have taken a big dive in quality, with Kino Lorber being the worst offender. God bless them for continuing to issue new releases of classic films, sometimes long ignored ones, in very good restored prints. But the accompanying commentaries are often quite bad, mostly given by people who are amateurs (at least compared to people like Ebert, Behlmer and Skal, who all were published authors). They usually have little to no background information about the movies they discuss except what's available online at the Internet Movie Database—sometimes you can actually sense them pause as they consult their computer. Often losing track of what they are commenting on, they wind up drifting off topic for long minutes at a time. The track on the recent Blu-Ray of the Peter Ustinov Death on the Nile, by three "historians," is perhaps the worst I’ve ever heard, as they wind up hijacking the commentary to talk at tedious length about the film’s director, John Guillermin and let long, long stretches pass during which they ignore the film completely. I’ve read some complaints about commentators being anti-intellectual (which is true), but even actual academics can give poor commentary. I'm a fan of Jeanine Basinger as a writer, but her commentary on The Philadelphia Story is dry and boring. Emily Carman, on the Back Page disc, spends way too much time on social context, repeating the same points, and keeps getting the name of one the main actors wrong (it’s Claude Gillingwater, not Claude Gillingworth). An occasional snarky comment is OK, bur too much makes me wonder why the person is even interested in talking about the movie (even a pro like Tom Weaver is guilty of this). In the past couple of years, the only commentary I remember fondly is Alan K. Rode's for the WWII movie A Walk in the Sun, which is not a Kino Lorber disc. Even Criterion, a brand which can boast of many good commentaries, has moved away from them in favor of interviews and short featurettes. Kino Lorber should definitely take a lesson from them. Or they should start commissioning commentaries from professionals.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022


Driving through the desert one day, engineer Gene Courtier picks up a hitchhiker named Victor and soon regrets it when he is terrorized by Victor and two other thugs: the tough boss guy Robert and the passive, occasionally sympathetic Luther. When he doesn't have enough money on him to satisfy the trio, they work out a plan whereby Gene will sign over his car to them and they'll sell it for cash. But due to office procedures, they won't be able to sell the car until the next day, so they make Gene drive them to his suburban home where they plan to spend the night with Gene, his wife Doris, and their two kids. Tensions arise not only between the crooks and the family but between the crooks themselves. Victor has a hair-trigger temper that Robert has to keep on eye on, and Luther, who gets cheated out of some of the money owed him, winds up trying to help Gene escape. The next day, when the men leave the house with Gene, Doris manages to call the police; meanwhile, when the thugs discover that Gene's father has some money, they decide to hold him hostage to get a better pay-off. The cops pair up with the phone company to try and trace the ransom phone calls. Nerves continue to fray until the nighttime climax.

I'm not a fan of the home invasion genre of crime film, claustrophobic B-movies which usually wind up as psychological thrillers. This one, for the most part, ignores psychology, but it also forgets to ratchet up the tension very often. The opening sequence when the crooks grab Gene plays out well, but as soon as the somewhat baroque car-sale plan goes into effect, things start to fall apart, for the crooks and the audience. When the thugs have center stage, things are interesting. Threatening hunk Vince Edwards (Victor) and tightly wound John Cassavetes (Robert) play off each other well, while David Cross (Luther) is a bit of a wild card, with his personality being the hardest to read. Hildy Parks, as Doris, is fine even if she has little to do except alternate between being nervous and being brave. Jack Kelly, as Gene, is a bit of a weak link, partly due to how the character is written. He swings from nervous to bold to foolish and back again throughout. One reason why the tension dissipates is that halfway through, when the police get involved, the movie goes to Dragnet-style docudrama, resulting in long sequences showing a kidnapping report going through police channels, the tracing of phone numbers, and the handling of the press—a major plotpoint is that the bad guys have a police radio in their car, so in theory they'll know if Doris calls the cops, but Doris doesn't realize this. The movie is well photographed, all on location which adds to the realistic tone. As others have pointed out, the title is not quite accurate—most of the action of the movie is set in bright, broad daylight. Some call this a film noir, but it's really just a crime film, watchable if rarely compelling. Nice line: Cassavetes telling the couple, "You've both seen too many crime thrillers." Pictured are Cassavetes and Edwards. [TCM]

Monday, September 26, 2022


It's London during the swinging Sixties and it seems to poor Colin (Michael Crawford), a teacher and owner of a boarding house, as if everyone is having sexy fun except for him. He's particularly jealous of his downstairs tenant Tolen (Ray Brooks, below left)—Colin frequently sees dozens of foxy young women, all dressed in white turtlenecks, waiting in line for their snogging sessions with Tolen (though it's not quite clear how much of what we see in this movie is real and how much is imaginative exaggeration, both a strength and weakness of the film). When Colin seeks advice, Tolen tells him protein and good food are essential, but that largely it's intuition, a "knack" that any man can develop. Tolen's friend Rory, also a womanizer (the two men are hosting a reunion of their ex-girl friends at the Royal Albert Hall) is supposed to move in with Tolen, but he never shows up, so an artist named Tom (Donal Donnelly), who paints over the color brown with white whenever he sees it, moves in instead, and the three form a somewhat unbalanced friendship. Tolen is the sex expert, Colin is the desperate student, and Tom, who seems not interested in sex at all, becomes largely an observer. Tossed into this tinderbox is Nancy (Rita Tushingham, pictured at right with Crawford), a young woman new in town, looking to stay at the YWCA and start a new life. The rest of the movie follows their zany misadventures together until we learn that having the knack doesn't guarantee happiness, and not having it isn't fatal to romance.

Directed by Richard Lester, this is a very strange bit of 60s filmmaking. Based on a stage play set completely in the boys' flat, this has been opened up like crazy so you can never accuse it of being stagy. For my money, it spends too much time amping up the visual style at the expense of narrative coherence and characterization. On the plus side, the movie never stagnates, filled as it is with jump cuts, jazzy camera moves, and Greek chorus comments from bystanders. Many reviewers comment on the fantasy elements, such as the opening gaggle of women, but it soon becomes very difficult to tell what’s what. Is the Royal Albert Hall girlfriend meeting real? There is visual evidence that it is, but it also seems like it should be fantasy. There are no cues, visual or otherwise, that separate fact from fantasy so every story element becomes fodder for wackiness. People's actions and motivations are unclear; dialogue is rattled off quickly, like the actor is reading the lines off a teleprompter that is running at high speed. There are scenes inspired by silent slapstick (a lamppost falls on the street and a huge bed frame is transported through the crowded streets of London), there is door-slamming farce, and there is an oddly jarring note injected near the end when Nancy faints while off-and-on flirting with Tolen, then accuses him of rape. Some chuckles may be had in an innuendo-filled scene in which Tolen is engaged in woodworking and tells Colin things like, "I like the twist of a good screw," and "I'm bound to ask for a good finish." There is fun to be had in odd offhand scenes, such as the one in which a clerk compliments Tushingham on her looks, then repeats the exact same words to the next customer. I also like the odd moment or two when Tom seems to accuse Tolen of wanting him. It's hard to judge the acting because none of the characters are allowed to come to rounded life, but all the actors are appealing enough, especially Tushingham and Donnelly (whose role is particularly thankless). I liked a "mods and rockers" reference that is a call back to Lester's previous film, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT. Despite the movie's shiny 60s atmosphere, in the end Colin and Nancy walk down the street together into couplehood, more because the story demands it, not necessarily because we have a sense that they really belong together. Interesting as a period piece mostly. [TCM]

Wednesday, September 21, 2022


After five years of battle, the Greeks (or, whatever people live near the Acropolis which is specifically referenced here) have been conquered by Goliath (not the Biblical figure) and his army. But there is no rest for the battle-weary, as Goliath discovers that back in his hometown (Beyrath?), the evil Bokan has 1) wrested power from the rightful king; 2) started a campaign of terror in which groups of helpless people who can't pay their taxes are tossed over a cliff—and if the fall doesn’t kill them, the brutal giants who live in the valley will; 3) and has sent assassins to take out Goliath. He and his crew take a ship back to Beyrath, and stopping at a desert island to stock up on fresh water, they find lovely blond Elea, bound and suffering. Goliath rescues her, but back on the water, they run into a nasty squall and an even nastier sea monster, leading to a wreck and the death of all except Goliath, his buddy Namath (not a football player), and Elea who all eventually wash up on the shore of Beyrath. Now things get complicated. Suffice to say that Elea is actually an assassin working for Bokan, but when she gets the truth about Bokan from Goliath, she joins forces with him. Also, a tribe of Amazons attack and one of them, Daina, joins up with Goliath. Also, there's another buddy of Goliath, Breseus, who is threatened with a huge torture wheel until Goliath saves him. Goliath and his merry band manage to spark a revolt, and finally in the last 10 minutes, we enter the valley of the giants to find that these fearsome creatures are barely taller than Goliath and look like scruffy cavemen from a grade-B science fiction movie from the 1950s.

As peplum movies go, this has a solid reputation. It's crammed with plot, which occasionally works against it. I’m not 100% sure of all the details in my summary, and I left out a few points I was especially confused about. For example, the opening invasion sequence is narrated in such a fashion that it seems like the invaders are the bad guys, which is par for the course, but then we find out it's our hero Goliath doing the invading. Why? When the men set sail for Beyrath, they discover a young lad named Antheus as a stowaway. The character seems ready-made to be mentored by Goliath, but before we've had time to get to know him, it seems he drowns at sea with most of the rest of the crew. I was sure he'd crop up again somehow, but he never did. So narratively, it's a bit of a mess. But story details are often secondary in these torch-and-toga flicks, and where it really counts, in beefcake and adventure, I give this pretty good marks. Brad Harris is not as beefy as some peplum heroes; he looks OK in a toga but he's not terribly convincing when pulling off feats of brute strength. Fernando Rey is also OK as Bokan, the chief villain, not really showing signs of going on to work in art movies with director Luis Bunuel and co-starring with Gene Hackman in The French Connection. For the record, Gloria Milland (pictured with Brad Harris) is Elea and Pepe Rubio is Breseus. The final revolt scene goes on a bit too long but is effective. The widescreen print on the region 1 DVD looks good. [DVD]

Monday, September 19, 2022


Set during the Japanese occupation of China, this WWII melodrama begins in a Chinese rice field where a small boy is threatened by a Japanese guard for playing rather than working. The laborers are mostly silent, though the kindly Kwan Mei (Anna May Wong, pictured) comforts him. She is also a leader of a local resistance group and when the guards aren't watching, she passes out smuggled weapons to the workers. When an American Flying Tigers plane is shot down, one wounded pilot, Rodney Carr, is taken prisoner but the other one, Pat O'Rourke, is saved and hidden by Kwan Mei and the resistance fighters, though they have to kill and hide the body of one Japanese guard. When the body is discovered, General Kaimura (Harold Huber) orders the execution of all the coolies from the rice paddy, but Kwan Mei talks him out of it by stressing their economic importance in providing rice for the Japanese to sell. Kwan Mei, an educated aristocrat before the occupation, becomes Kaimura's mistress. This causes some of the rebels to accuse her of collaboration even as she negotiates with Hans Gruber, a German hotel owner who is selling arms to the resistance (while predicting Nazi victory in the war). A half-American, half-Russian singer named Lavara (Mae Clarke) is enlisted by Kwan Mei to help the pilot Carr escape, while Kwan Mei, the American pilots, and the Chinese rebels try to destroy an incoming supply of weapons meant for Kaimura and his troops.

Anna May Wong has been made to carry a lot of symbolic weight; as one of the few Asian-Americans to have had lead roles in Hollywood movies in the classic era, her life story is often presented both as something to celebrate (she sustained a career in the 20s and 30s) and as something tragic (she was denied the parts that might have made her an even bigger star). I agree that she is an important symbol in movie history, but I also have my doubts that she could have handled the bigger roles to which she aspired. This, her last leading role, doesn't change my mind; she is attractive but bland here as the self-sacrificing heroine. [Spoiler: she is executed at the end but her spirit continues to speak to us.] Of course, this is a B-movie from Poverty Row studio PRC and B-director William Nigh (who cranked out over 70 movies between 1930 and 1948), so maybe working with grade-A talent might have made a difference in Wong's performances. Still, this is an appealing little war film with some interesting twists and turns (keeping track of the loyalties of both Gruber and Lavara keeps us on our toes) and good performances. As was the Hollywood norm, non-Asian actors play leading Japanese roles—Harold Huber as Kaimura and Ted Hecht as Shimoto, the general’s assistant—but both are very good, as is Ludwig Donath as Gruber, Mae Clarke as Lavara, and Rick Vallin as Rodney. An entertaining 40s B-film. [YouTube]

Thursday, September 15, 2022


Saloon singer Danny Wilson (Frank Sinatra) and his pianist and manager Mike Ryan (Alex Nicol) are a small-time duo looking for a break. Danny has a tendency to be brash and get into fights that Mike has to finish for him, but they are truly the best of friends. One night as they skedaddle out of a cheap, noisy dive where Danny's caused trouble, they run into Joy (Shelley Winters), a dolled-up woman out for a night of drinking, so she gets the two to join her at a fancy bar, hoping their presence will protect her from unwanted male attention. The evening ends in a scuffle with a cop and the three wind up in jail. Their bail is paid by Joy's employer Nick (Raymond Burr), a gangster who runs the club where Joy sings. Sobered up, the three realize they've hit it off and Joy gets Nick to give the fellas a job. The one sticking point: Nick wants 50 percent of all of their earnings, present and future. They agree and Nick says no written contract is necessary, implying he has other ways of ensuring that they'll stick to the agreement. From then, it's a rocket to the top for Danny, always accompanied by Mike. Danny falls in love with Joy, but he is unaware that Joy and Mike are in love, and neither can bring themselves to tell him. Eventually, Danny becomes a big star and chafes under Nick's drain on his income. When Nick has to go into hiding, Danny's tempted to stop making payments to him. At the same time, he impulsively announces that he's going to marry Joy. Melodrama ensues.

This movie has a bit of a tone problem. The first third, and the most enjoyable part of the film, is basically a musical comedy, with Sinatra singing a number of standards ("How Deep is the Ocean," "I've Got a Crush on You") in the context of public performances. The energy between the starring trio is fun, and I especially liked Alex Nicol, who comes off as sort of a cross between Dan Dailey and Sterling Hayden; he's the person we most identify with. Sinatra and Winters are fine, but honestly I was most impressed by Raymond Burr, playing his usual 1950s menacing thug in a very low-key manner that made him all the more threatening. The tone becomes darker in the last half, to the point where I was worried that one of our leads might wind up dead. The screenplay has some nice dialogue. In the jail scene, a guitar player is there because he "hit a be-bop guy right in the goatee," which gets an approving nod from Sinatra. When, early on, Sinatra and Burr are discussing musical tastes, Burr says he prefers Crosby, and Nicol, wanting to get down to business, says, "Now that the byplay is over…" Near the end, when Burr comes out of hiding to get the money Sinatra owes him, Sinatra smarts off by saying, "Sue me." Burr pulls out a gun and says, dead seriously, "Meet my lawyer." The character of Danny Wilson seems obviously based loosely on Sinatra—apparently he was at a career low point when this was made, though the next year, things would turn around with his Oscar-winning role in From Here to Eternity. I knew this movie mostly because it was the inspiration for the one-hit wonder 80s pop band Danny Wilson ("Mary’s Prayer") but it was a short essay online in the New Yorker that made me look this one up. Pictured are Sinatra, Nicol and Winters. [TCM]

Tuesday, September 13, 2022


At the end of THE MYSTERIOUS DR. FU MANCHU Fu (Warner Oland) was apparently dead, Inspector Nayland Smith (O.P Heggie) was victorious, and Fu's adopted daughter Lia (Jean Arthur) was free to marry her sweetheart Jack (Neil Hamilton) who, as the son of Sir John Petrie, one of Fu's primary enemies, was on Fu's most wanted list. Out of respect for Fu's religion, Smith orders that an autopsy not be performed, which turns out to be a big mistake. Fu wasn't actually dead but merely in a state of deep suspended animation, and at his funeral, Fu's henchmen sneak him out of his coffin, and awaken him so he can prepare to do battle again in revenge for the death of his wife and son at the hands of the British. The first clue that all is not well comes when, on the day of Jack and Lia's wedding, Lia gets that strange trance feeling that Fu's presence always had on her. Before the wedding can proceed, the servant Fai Lu enters, says Fu is alive, and drops dead holding a piece of paper with a blood-stained dragon, Fu's infamous calling card. That night, despite the house being guarded, Lia is kidnapped (along with her Aunt Agatha) and used as bait to get at Jack. Both Nayland and Jack wind up in Fu's clutches. Fu plans to inject Nayland with a brain-scrambling drug, and later, a seriously wounded and partially paralyzed Fu forces Jack to operate on him. Will our heroes prevail or will Fu get the upper hand?

This sequel to the previous Fu Manchu film from a year earlier is better made and a bit more exciting, though Oland's Fu is a little less sinister-seeming than Boris Karloff's later iteration. One critic, Mark David Welsh, has written that Oland comes off like a "cuddly uncle" here, and while that's a bit of an exaggeration, Oland does sometimes feel more like a cranky Charlie Chan than an evil mastermind. But overall, this is passable early sound entertainment. The tone and pacing are out of a B-movie serial, with the set for the abandoned dye works that has become Fu's headquarters truly impressive. Jean Arthur and Neil Hamilton (pictured) don't have much chemistry but individually they're both fine—though Arthur has to suffer through one scene being carried out against her will as she yells, "You beast!"—as is Heggie as Nayland Smith. The return of William Austin as the shrieking nelly butler Sylvester is unwelcome. This film was billed in some of its original engagements as The New Adventures of Fu Manchu. The print, from a home video restoration presented by Kino Lorber, is in good shape. [Blu-ray]

Friday, September 09, 2022

JIGSAW (1962)

In the bedroom of a coastal short-term rental house, a woman is trying to get her lover Johnny (whose face we don't see) to loll about in bed with her a little longer, then she tells him that she's pregnant. His reaction, clearly not the one she was going for, is to strangle her. Cut to a few days later when a real estate agent reports a break-in. The agent's mild-mannered associate (compared to the gruff impatience of his boss) came to work to find the office broken into; the only things taken were some rental leases. Eventually, as the police detectives (Jack Warner and Ronald Lewis) follow leads in the robbery, they discover the beach house, leased by a John Campbell, and the dead body inside, which the killer had started to cut up and put in a trunk. They also find luggage with J.S. initials on the outside and assume those are the dead woman's initials. So the hunt is on for the identities of the both the victim and the murderer. Despite some witnesses who met John Campbell, they have a hard time pinning anyone down until circumstantial evidence puts a vacuum cleaner salesman (Michael Goodliffe) at the scene of the crime. But was he there at the time of the crime? Despite the description on the DVD box, this is most certainly not a film noir—it's a straightforward police procedural, mostly set in broad daylight, which is at pains to humanize its characters, including the cops and the suspects. As such cop movies go, this is a bit above average, though it moves slowly and at almost 110 minutes feels too long. But the structure is interesting—as Warner spins possible scenarios, we see them presented as they might have happened. The older Warner and the younger Lewis make an amiable pair, Yolande Donlan is fine as one of the J.S. women, and Michael Goodliffe is especially good as the chief suspect. The location shooting adds to the realistic feel of the film, which is based on a novel which was itself based on the true story of the Brighton Trunk Murders of the 1930s. Pictured is Ronald Lewis. [DVD]

Wednesday, September 07, 2022


Frank Skeffington (Spencer Tracy), long-time mayor of a New England city very much like Boston, is running for a fifth term despite being at an age when most people think about retiring. He's a controversial figure (for reasons that are not made crystal clear, except that it's rich folks and the clergy who tend not to like him), but he seems to truly care about his constituents and is energized by campaigning and by his old cronies who rally around for what is presumed to be his final go. Skeffington gets his nephew, sports reporter Adam Caulfield (Jeffrey Hunter) to cover his campaign. That pretty much summarizes this late-era John Ford movie, which is more driven by character than plot, but the characters are interesting and are played by a wonderful array of classic-era supporting players. Among them: Pat O'Brien (Skeffington's campaign manager), John Carradine (a newspaper publisher bitterly opposed to Skeffington), Donald Crisp (a cardinal), Edward Brophy (a comic relief pal called 'Ditto'), James Gleason, Ricardo Cortez, Anna Lee (in a highlight scene at a wake for an unpopular man), Frank McHugh and Jane Darwell. Some have substantial roles, some are just walk-ons, but it's fun to see them all. Adam is clearly a son figure for Skeffington, as his own son, a flighty gadabout, is a disappointment, although there is a core of family love between them. Adam's father-in-law (Willis Bouchey) despises Skeffington, and Adam's wife (Dianne Foster) is barely sketched out at all. Skeffington's opponents are also vaguely presented, with one becoming the butt for some mild satire of campaign advertising. The biggest problem for me is that even Skeffington remains allusive, which is a problem in a character-driven drama; it's also a problem in a movie about politics when we're not sure what people's politics are. Tracy is good in the role, but I think he would have been even better with more background to work with, though his last scene is a little gem. Despite a flat visual style (the abovementioned wake scene is the most dynamic in the movie) and a gauzy narrative, this is worthwhile viewing for classic movie fans. Pictured are Tracy and Hunter. [TCM]

Thursday, September 01, 2022


The 1960s was a high time for foreign language anthology movies (Boccaccio '70, Spirits of the Dead, Black Sabbath), most of which featured short tales on a particular theme (love, horror). The title of this one might lead you to believe that these stories will involve the supernatural, but no, the only common thread here is the leading lady of each of the five short films, Silvana Mangano. (It could have been called The Bitches, as most of the tales involve bad behavior on the part of Mangano or other women; despite what Wikipedia says, the stories do not actually feature witches.) The first tale, The Witch Burned Alive, seems to be a commentary on vanity, lust and jealousy: Mangano is a reclusive movie star who shows up at a friend's ski chalet in the middle of a weekend party. The men want to sleep with her, and when she passes out, the women strip her and revel in the fact that her beauty is achieved by artificial means (make-up, skin tape, etc.). The second story, Civic Spirit, is a five-minute joke about a woman who appears to be a good Samaritan by offering to take a car accident victim out of a traffic jam and to a hospital, but her real motive is not so civic-minded. The Earth as Seen from the Moon, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, is a fun, slapstick, somewhat surreal tale of a man and his grown son searching for a woman to replace the man's recently deceased wife. They find her a beautiful deaf mute who cleans up their hovel of a home and joins their schemes to make money. The Sicilian Belle is another very short bit in which Mangano complains to her father about a suitor, leading to a killing spree.

The best is saved for last. An Evening Like the Others, directed by Vittorio De Sica, has Mangano and her husband (a young and handsome Clint Eastwood) going through the rituals of a typical boring evening as Mangano wants some excitement and Eastwood just wants to relax. Interspersed are her fantasy visions of what her life could be like, featuring costumed superheroes and Eastwood, mostly naked, flying through the air into bed with her. What this colorful segment has going for it are the elements of surprise and fun, even if ultimately the message, if there is one, is that life will never live up to our fantasies. Overall, I found this a fairly weak anthology film as the parts didn't hang together well. Mangano (pictured in the De Sica story) shows a nice acting range, from cold and unpleasant in the first film to subservient in the third film to a bored fantasizer in the last film. Eastwood is quite fun in this almost sit-com role, an outlier in his career. Italian comic Toto works well with Ninetto Davoli (at the time Pasolini's companion) in the Pasolini story. This and the De Sica segment both have a kind of fun comic-book look. The first story, directed by Luchino Visconti, uses light and color in interesting ways. I don't recommend this highly, but as this movie has been difficult to see for some time, check it out while you can. [Criterion Channel]