October 15th, 2008

MANIAC (1963) **

Hammer Studios is famous for all of their classic reinventions of the Dracula and Frankenstein legends in the 50’s and 60’s but they also produced forgettable Psycho rip-offs too.  This one is all about a newly single American painter played by Kerwin (The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad) Matthews, who goes to a small village in France for a little painting action.  He stays at an inn ran by a hottie MILF who seduces him and eventually convinces him to help her spring her husband from the looney bin.  Of course she neglects to tell Kerwin that her hubby likes to wear a welding mask and blowtorch people to death (think a low rent version of the Exterminator). 

 

There are a lot of twists and turns during the final half hour of the film.  Some of them are predictable, others are not.  While Maniac may offer a genuine surprise or two, the trouble with the flick is that none of the characters are remotely likable, so it’s pretty hard to care once the plot starts to cook. 

 

Director Michael (Prehistoric Women) Carreras offers up one or two atmospheric moments, most of which involves the “Acetylene Murderer” doing what he does best with a blowtorch.  Since this is a black and white movie from ’63, we don’t get to see all gory details though. 

 

Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster also wrote the similarly themed Paranoiac the same year for Hammer. 

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) ****

Sometimes a movie you’ve just finished watching for the first time is a lot easier to review than a movie that you’ve already seen a hundred times.  Such is the case with A Fistful of Dollars.  Everyone knows that it was the movie that made Clint Eastwood a household name.  Everybody knows that it was director Sergio Leone’s westernized remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo.  I don’t have to tell you the plot.  (Okay, here goes:  Clint is The Man With No Name who rides into town and plays the two warring criminal families against one another.)  Y’all know that Clint came back in For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly to kick even more ass.

 

I mean what more is there to add about this movie that hasn’t already been written? 

 

My two cents won’t add to or diminish A Fistful of Dollars’ reputation, but what I can tell you is just how much I love this fucking movie.  I remember back in the day when I was a little kid, TBS Superstation used to be the bomb-diggity of all cable TV stations and they used to play the ever-loving shit out of the Dollars Trilogy.  (Whenever they weren’t running Godzilla or Planet of the Apes marathons, that is.)  They used to play Fistful at 12:05 pm, then More at 2:05 pm, and finally Ugly at 5:05 pm.  (God, remember how fucking ingenious Ted Turner was for starting shit at :05?  Damn, I miss Old School TBS!  Bring it back, Ted!)  Since Ugly is a long damn movie to begin with, the commercials made it play out to 9:05, just in time for bed.

 

Let me tell you something ladies and gentlemen, I spent the whole fucking day in front of the tube and loved every second of Clint blowing people away while saying as few words as humanly possible. 

 

What I loved at that young age (and still do now) is how fucking surreal the movie(s) is.  I mean there is like a larger than life hyper-reality to the trilogy that just sucks you in.  Maybe it was the allure of watching badly dubbed Italians trying to pass themselves off as Mexicans that did it.  (Remember, up to this point in his movie watching experiences young Mitch had only seen badly dubbed actors in Godzilla films, so watching actors’ lips running out of sync with their dialogue was still something of a novelty.)  Also, I loved the extreme close-ups that were so damn close that you could only see the bridge of the actor’s nose.  (Most times you couldn’t even tell who you were looking at.)  Now this was the pre-letterboxing days; so all TV prints of the film were cropped beyond belief.  It wasn’t until DVD came along that you could appreciate Leone’s cinematic compositions, but there is still something to be said for the utter bizarreness of staring at someone’s sweaty T-Zone right before he draws his pistol. 

 

Then there’s Clint.  The man is simply awesome in this movie.  Clint is the only man in the history of cinema who can wear a fucking blanket and still look like a complete badass. 

 

And the score.  Ennio Morricone’s music in the Dollars Trilogy is some of the best music ever written.  I’m not talking just music made for film I’m talking about some of the best music EVER WRITTEN PERIOD.  While the theme for the first movie isn’t quite as good as the music in Ugly, it still rocks hardcore.  I mean there was a time when it was my ringtone for my cellphone.  Folks, I fucking hate people with personalized ringtones, so it says a lot about how much I love the music for me to put it on my damn phone. 

 

For the sequels, Leone opened things up more, giving each subsequent film a grander scope and larger casts, but to me, I always preferred the smaller, more intimate feel of A Fistful of Dollars.  I love all the movies about the same, although I must say, this was the first one I saw.  This is the one that hooked me.  This one is the best. 

 

A Fistful of Dollars is so damn great that it’s Number One on the Video Vacuum Top Ten List for 1964; sitting right on top of Goldfinger.