Friday, May 15, 2015

Oddball Film Report: MOTHER HOLLY (1961)

Note: This review originally written for www.jabootu.net as a Video Cheese piece, and has been published here first by the very kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

Here's the video cover, because I couldn't find a single pic from this flick...

MOTHER HOLLY (1961 - color)
   "Frau Holly rules over a mystical, magical land of enchantment and wonder. She's also far creepier than she should be."

   When reflecting on The Golden Goose, I noted that I come to the table with certain expectations, one being that I expect fantasy flicks for kids to be shot on interior sets. I'm not sure why this is, unless the toy-like, artificial quality of these stories best translates to film through the use of toy-like, artificial sets. Or maybe fairy-tales lend themselves to film better than any other genre, so you expect it to look rather more artificial than any other genre. 

    When I watched Old Yeller, I was struck by the way Disney films always look. Old Yeller was shot on location, yet everything looks so, well, just so perfect, that I found it hard to fully grasp that all this was shot outdoors! I guess that's what I expect from kiddie fantasy pix, a version of reality so perfect that it can only be done with man-made sets. Someone in Germany didn't think the same way, though, because I can't recall a single frame of Mother Holly to be shot on an interior set. This was the big thing I took away from the film.

   You may recall I noted how The Golden Goose gave me the impression that maybe German kiddie flicks aren't as wacko as the Mexican stuff. I was wrong about that, for Mother Holly is every bit as twisted as Puss N Boots (well, maybe not THAT twisted, but close enough). Moreover, the film is, in a vague way, the same story as Santa Claus

   Holly is a kindly old soul who helps children develop better relationships with adults, and there is an invisible demonic imp who's personal mission it is to make children do naughty things. Some very minor changes, and our subject could have been released as a spin-off story starring Mrs. Claus. The narrator for our subject even echoes Santa's interpreter, although this guy gets a little too emotionally involved in what's happening.

   On another tiny note, while the transfer for The Golden Goose was about the best one could hope for, Mother Holly is a bit more along the lines of what we expect for such an obscure film. While not bad, the print has some wear and the color is slightly faded. Still, SWV isn't known for letting customers down. (I do wonder if they are aware that the collection of trailers at the end of the tape, the same as we saw on The Golden Goose, play silently this time. )

   Anyway, on to our feature presentation...

   There's this town in Europe somewhere (I'm guessing Germany, myself), and no one has been born there for about 20 years. This is because there's this big fountain on the town square which Mother Holly has blessed and promised that any couple wishing to have children need only to drink from the water. Our heavy, Black Peter, has tossed trash into the fountain to make the water undrinkable. They don't explain how not drinking the water means that no child is born. You'd think there'd still be a birthrate seeing that there are still married couples roaming around, and they'd do the things that married couples do. 

   (The film is sort of the polar opposite of another German film, the sex comedy Run, Virgin, Run, in which a small town is famous for its birthrate supposedly due to winds that sweep down from the north. The married menfolk go out for a few hours to soak up the virility winds, while the women take turns bedding the town's blacksmith, who is the father of nearly every kid in town. That film was where I learned that, prior to the mid 70s at least, German women didn't shave their armpits. Seeing masculine armpits on a female body tends to really screw with one's mind. I quickly traded away the film.)

  This fountain includes life-sized statues of Holly and Peter, and said statues are the only means by which these figures can enter our world. These 'statues' are also obviously actors painted gray and trying not to move, and not being very convincing. Holly is said to rule over 'her underground kingdom' which already gives her an unwanted Blofeld-ish vibe. 

   For his part, Peter can only run around and cause havoc when Holly isn't watching him. He's apparently powerless whenever Holly gives him a command. As if he were a ghost (or super imposed image), Peter emerges from his statue and sets out to do horrible (yet General audience-friendly) things.

  Time to meet our heroine, Rose Marie, er, I mean Rosemarie. Rosemarie is basically playing Cinderella. She's happy and hard-working and fairly attractive and doing the wash when we meet her. 

   Peter tries to upset her by throwing a muddy frog onto her nice clean wash. "Oh no," the narrator mourns, "he can't do that! Can't somebody stop him?" 

   I guess now is a good time to point out the film looks like a silent movie. It appears to have been shot silent and then dubbed over (and then dubbed over again for American consumption). There's endless music cues and sparse sound effects, to say nothing of the wildly overdone acting. Rose, for example, doesn't just smile. She seems to trying to make sure you can see her smiling from across town. 

   Anyway, much to Peter's dismay, Rose isn't upset with the frog and tosses the animal back to the bushes (where it hits Peter in the face).

  Rose has a vapid mother and sister. Sis is named Elise, and she's considered (mostly by her mother) to be the main dish in town. Mother's mission in life is to get Elise married off to a wealthy gentleman, per tradition ignoring the similar needs of her other child. Elise and Mother take off to do the town and hunt for a husband in the marketplace. Elise sticks Rose with the laundry, and Rose smiles. Even when Rose breaks free to go into town, she carries a spinning wheel with her so she can continue her (and her sister's) chores. 

   The other players in our story. 

   Hans, the handsome young milk salesman who pines for Rose but can't support her enough to ask for her hand. 

   Hans' Mother, who has to send Hans away after he pays for damages caused by Peter at the market (for Hans gave away all their money to be kind and Mother can't support him now, or something). 

   Hans' Pop, who doesn't do much but give advice. 

   Finally, there's Baron Von Pants, the secretly broke aristocrat who Elise is trying to snare. Got all that?

   Hans, after giving away his (and I guess his family's) money, goes to Nuremburg to become a fountain builder. This occupation is more or less presented as the equivalent of being a bridge builder, rail designer, or an aircraft manufacturer. Who knew?

   Peter wanders about playing various tricks on the locals, like sliding a bucket of fish under a guy who is about to sit down. I kept wondering why people couldn't see the objects he was manipulating, like a floating fish or apple or whatever. When Peter gets covered in flower when one of his pranks backfires, why don't people see the Peter-shaped flour hovering about like a ghost and head for the hills?

   Two orphans wander into town and Pitch, er, I mean Peter, convinces them to make trouble. Peter is better at his job than Pitch ever was, for these two poor children suddenly go berserk and start knocking over and tearing down stands. They quite nearly destroy the whole market place! 

   Hans and Pop hide the kids in an apple barrel. Peter shoves Pop off the barrel and rolls it away to let the kids do mischief elsewhere, but Frau Holly has appeared and Peter is about to get his! (Actually, Holly tells Peter to let the kids out of the barrel and then lets him dash off. Mostly, she stands around and laughs at things.) 

   Holly demonstrates her superpowers of footage reversal and sets the market place back in order before she takes the kids into the fountain and away to her underground lair.... No doubt she'll force them to build a rocket for her and she'll launch it from the base of the fountain unless 007 can stop her.

   Holly puts Rose to sleep before she passes by with the children. Rose seems to see Holly during this, so is only Peter invisible? You got me. 

   Rose has to get involved more proactively in our story, so when she wakes, she drops her spindle into the fountain. Reaching in to retrieve it, she falls in and is whisked away to Holly-land. Said kingdom is outdoors, and features wide fields and running rivers, so I guess this is supposed to be Holly's timeshare in Pelucidar. Not quite the underground kingdom I imagined. 

   Anyway, Rose wanders around until she finds a huge gateway in the woods. Once she enters, an invisible set of bars prevent any escape (and I guess no one ever thought about walking around the gateway, since its clear on either side)! Rose, as you might expect, smiles and wanders around some more.

   Rose walks by an outdoor oven and hears the bread inside asking to be let out! (I thought this was just the song on the soundtrack, so it looks like she just wanders across an oven, opens it, and removes some loaves.) Then she hears the apples on a tree ask for, something, I didn't really catch it, and Rose shakes the tree to make the fruit drop. 

   Then Rose is sticking out the upper window of a house and beating feather pillows! Holly drops by and gives Rose the lowdown. Rose will be staying there a year and working for Holly, alongside dozens of small children who have ended up here. (Did they all fall down Holly's fountain? You'd think the town elders would board the fountain up if people keep vanishing into it. On a side note, I seem to recall a Twilight Zone just like this, but involving a swimming pool!)

   The two orphans, meanwhile, are supposed to answer for their sins. In what plays like a satire of our legal system, the two kids are placed on trial. The tribunal is made up of young children, and the orphans' defense attorney is a little girl. Her argument is that the kids are not at fault for their actions, but are victims of society. The judges buy this and let the kids go with little more than a slap on the wrist. If this scene didn't ring so true, it would be hilarious.

   Back in the 'real' world, Rose's family hasn't been mourning very strongly over her supposed death. Von Pants is still hanging around, so I guess Elise still has her claim staked and he hasn't let the women onto the fact that he's poor (in fact, I don't think he ever does). Hans returns from his period of study in the city, and is now one of the most famous fountain builders in Germany. Really.

   Holly gives Rose a few months off for good behavior and sends her home (the loaves of bread salute her as she leaves!) and wearing a golden dress. This impresses everybody. Hans still doesn't think he can support Rose, but he lets her know he loves her. (So much for the economic stability of being the best fountain builder in Germany. If he's the best, you'd think it'd pay off a little.)

   Elise and Mother see the gold dress and plot for Elise to get one too. Elise is given a spindle and pushed into the water. Displeased, Holly has Mother step onto the statuary and take a position there. No one will make much of this, although Hans later notes that the statue almost looks like Rose's mother. You'd think Rosie here would say something, given all she's seen over the past few months.

   In the other dimension, Elise runs into the now-visible Peter, and the two strike up an alliance. I'm not sure what Peter wants with a gold dress, but I'm sure I don't want to know. Holly welcomes both characters into her world, Elise asking for a three-month contract.

   Obviously, Elise isn't into hard work or else she wouldn't have pawned off her chores on Rose back in the real world. The bread requests to be let out. Elise yawns. The Apples want to be shaken, she doesn't care. Holly assigns Elise to pillow shaking duties, but pillows are for napping. (I'm not sure what's so special about the feathers in those pillows, but Holly earlier used a shower of them to magically make a boy's clothing fit better.) 

   Meanwhile, the fountain is being worked on all of a sudden, and the foreman audibly regrets that that famous Nuremburg fountain maker isn't with them. But look! Hans shows up to observe the work! Whats more, he pitches in without being asked to help! (So I should draw a Superman issue, then charge DC for my work? Seems an awkward way to get a job to me, but maybe Hans is so popular because he works for free all the time. I think I've figured out why he can't afford to marry Rose.) I guess the foreman pays Hans later, because he and Rose are headed for the church by the end of the movie (oops, I hope I didn't spoil that for you).

   Elise and Peter are even more lazy than one would think possible, since neither has enough gumption to reach up and pull down an apple. Instead, we watch the two try to eat an apple without using their hands! 

   The kids labor hard under Holly's rule, and try to remind Elise that she's their cook. Elise would rather sleep. Finally ready to execute some vague master plan against Holly, Peter plays piper and leads the kids into the woods. Holly allows this, even removing the invisible bars to the gate. Here we learn there is a dry bridge between these two worlds, although we never see it. Judging from Peter's forced march with the kids, Holly's place is just down the road a piece from town.

   Holly's specter remains in action as the kids spill into town. I've already lost track of what Peter's plan was. His plan falls right in line with Holly's plan, though, so she's pleased. The kids break off into groups and are instantly adopted by various families. 

   Hans and Rosemarie decide to get married, and I notice she's never changed out of that gold dress. Her family probably gave all her clothes to Elise, but Rose has supposedly been living alone for three months. Hard to figure a woman wearing the same dress every day...

   The kids taken care of, Holly wakes up Elise and quizzes her to see if she's learned a thing. She hasn't. She's lead out the gate expecting a gold dress of her own, but is instead rained upon with some black sticky substance. (Oil! There's oil in the fountain! Now that I think about this, I'll bet this junk is supposed to be the trash Peter threw in the fountain twenty or so years earlier.) 

   Mother is thawed out in time to see the pitiful sight of her favored daughter's return. Elise is properly disgraced in front of the townsfolk, Peter is banished to live in his statue for eternity by Holly (what exactly is her position in things, anyway? How much power does she wield? Why didn't she do this twenty years ago?), the kids have families, and Hans and Rose are getting married. And I'm sure they all lived happily ever after once Holly entered her own statue.

   There was plenty of material here to report, but my system prevents too much depth. For reasons too complicated to get into, I can't review a picture as I watch it. I have to watch a movie, sleep on it, then report the impression it has left the next day. Sometimes a flick will stick with me scene by scene, sometimes no. (I also have just so much time to devote to these reviews, so that's a factor too.) I don't feel I've done Mother Holly justice, its much stranger if you wish to hunt down a copy. I just wanted that out there.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

VTTPOTCW top seller for distributor!






   Since it's recent release, VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF TEENAGE CAVEWOMEN shot to the top and remained hovering within the top seller position for the film's distributor, New Alpha. This has been a truly overwhelming series of events, and certainly reflects well on Mr. Kennedy!

   Being my first screen credit (as co-writer), I'm understandably thrilled about the news! Many thanks, and God bless to all those who have made this happen! The film is available via the "Sexpots From Space" double feature DVD. The less said about the B picture, however, the better....

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Video Cheese: ROSEBUD (1975)

Note: this review was originally written for www.jabootu.net's Video Cheese feature, and has been presented here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

ROSEBUD (1975 - color)
   "A British agent must locate the daughters of wealthy industrialists, who have been kidnapped by terrorists."

   To, I must admit, my shame as a devoted student of the 60's spy craze, I have yet (as of this writing) to see the famous Harry Palmer movies starring Michael Caine. My understanding is that Palmer was intended to be the more realistic answer to James Bond's surreal adventures. 

   007's films were noted for their exotic and beautiful locals populated with exotic and beautiful women, the fantastic gadgets, and the glamorous play-to-win lifestyle of the tuxedo-clad secret agent who only visited the most expensive and luxurious places (not to say Bond couldn't do his job in the trenches -he obviously could, and did many times- but the 007 aesthetic could best be summed up by the scene in Goldfinger where Bond removes his commando uniform and underneath is a perfectly tailored and wrinkle-free white tux). Bond's adventures were comic book escapism (to quote from the book The Incredible World of 007, only in a Bond film would India be shown as a paradise), getting wilder and wilder as their popularity grew. 

   Not that there was anything wrong with that, since the films gave their audiences exactly what they were after. (They remained somewhat grounded in reality, though, and managed to survive well beyond the craze that gave rise to pop adventure movies about Matt Helm and Derek Flint. In fact, prior to the making of Rosebud, 007 had encountered his only real flop, The Man With The Golden Gun. His producers spent the next couple years reshaping the franchise before releasing what remains one of the most successful Bond pictures, The Spy Who Loved Me. Financial failure has not stalked 007 since, and the character has managed to survive the changing times better than any other pop culture figure -some would argue to his detriment, though.)

   Harry Palmer, on the other hand, was more like a department cop. There was nothing glamorous about his world. Everything was very low-tech, dirty, and true-to-life. ROSEBUD seems to be inspired by the Harry Palmer aesthetic, as what we see unfold is a fairly low-key take on the sort of spy adventure big in the previous decade. (Although, as one can see from the poster art above, it was advertised as a bit more in line with the exciting 007 adventures, promising much more action than we're actually served.)

   The events we see here could easily have been the subject of a film featuring James Bond or Napoleon Solo: Palestinian terrorists board a yacht and make off with the daughters of industrialists who do business with Israel, then ransom the girls back in exchange for the humiliation and damaged business concerns of their fathers. Larry Martin, a British agent experienced with the Palestinians, helps the authorities track down and liberate the girls and capture the terrorist leader behind the plot. But this isn't the romantic world of Helm or Flint. All this is anchored very firmly in the real world, and terrorism doesn't stop just because you take down one sect of a perverted cult.

   The title reflects the name of the yacht the girls were taken from, the Rosebud. Early on, they settle things for us by noting the boat was named after an element in "some film" and then they move on (odd, though, that the character would know this but not the title of what has to be the most famous movie ever made). Once the girls are abducted from the boat and taken to a secret vault under a country farmhouse, the authorities find the boat drifting. The Rosebud has no further significance and leaves the picture. I guess the title was picked to fit into the more serious tone of the story (based on a best-selling novel of the same name), as opposed to something more grabbing like "The Rosebud Conspiracy" or "Girls For Ransom" or "Operation Israel."

   Peter O'Toole plays Larry Martin, a role intended for Robert Mitchum before he and director Otto Priminger (!) didn't see things eye to eye. Martin is cool and slow to have his feathers ruffled, yet follows his assignment with the kind of dedication it takes to get the job done. When called in to a meeting with a prominent business man, Martin knows his host can afford things so he doesn't refuse when the butler asks out of habit if he can get anything for his guest. Martin asks for a sandwich and a glass of milk, while he was obviously expected to wave his hand and say 'no thank you.' 

   He's a bit of a jerk at first, but he quickly snaps in line to do anything he can to help this man get his daughter back alive. There follows a hunt for clues to lead him and his Israeli agent friend (sort his own personal Felix Lieter) back to the girls. He's like Bond in a sense, yet his digging doesn't bring periodic assassination attempts, car chases, or fist fights. Martin is too good at his job to let the opposition know he's onto them. 

   Where Scaramanga or Largo might have set a death trap, knowing Bond was due to storm their secret lair, these baddies have no reason to expect Martin to come so close to them. Also, rather than a big sequence ending with the explosive destruction of the enemy compound, this movie plays it straight. As you might see in a real commando raid, the action is simple and straight forward. The objective is obtained with little muss or fuss.

   The most colorful element that could have been cartoonish if done in a more traditional 'spy' fashion is that one of the killers has developed a special weapon to use in the field. Essentially, it's a spike on a handle that he can hold in his hand and punch effortlessly into his victims. He's been tinkering with the design for a while, and now has a perfect tool for murder. When we see it used, it slides right into the skull of it's victim (the captain of the Rosebud, who is in on the snatch) providing a clean and painless kill. In another movie, this would have been 'color.' Here, it's 'character.' The guy is fighting for a cause, part of a family that's trying to make ends meet while they're waiting for Israel to fall, not some hulking henchman with a scar and metal eyeball.

  Being a big 'serious' film, we take our time getting through the plot. Being a big 'good' film, though, the trip doesn't feel like a waste of time. We are rather leisurely introduced to various characters and slowly learn how they all fit together. Ultimately, everything pulls together and the whole picture is pretty nicely crafted. Frustratingly, this copy is cropped, so there are multiple scenes where you hear two people talking but all you see is a lamp or something in the middle of the frame.

  Preminger is noted for tackling controversial themes, and here he finds something timely and terrifying to latch onto -how Palestinian radicals wish the destruction of Israel and what monsters populate Islamist regimes (not that we didn't already know this). What's most unsettling here is that the problem hasn't been solved in the 40+ years since this picture came out. 

   There's even a scene here that champions capitalism over over the communist dream of a salivating leftist teacher. Given that 'Red' Hollywood has, since the late 60's, no love for (other people using) capitalism, or Israel, one can understand why the film got ripped to shreds by the critics. Priminger himself fled Nazi Germany, so it stands to reason he'd know evil when he sees it (word has it that for the scenes here he shot in Germany, he did so from inside his car, because the locations were so close to where he had earlier evaded the Nazis!). 

   Interestingly, however, Priminger keeps everything in perspective. The radical teacher, despite backing the Palestinians, isn't a bad guy, and the industrialist who offended him (by noting how capitalism makes men free) has no objections to he being the choice of his daughter for a mate, and even regrets that the guy left early and they didn't have a chance to have a longer, more civil, chat. This certainly isn't the stark the-way-I-think-is-best world of Tom Laughlin. There is good and evil and everything in between. Priminger has set his spy story in the real world.

   The bad guys here all have motivation for their evil deeds. Only the leader of the sect, Sloat (the one really odd casting choice, Richard Attenborough, who is typically marvelous but never suggests the Arab blood he's supposed to have) is portrayed as an out-and-out madman (though his followers are blinded by their faith in him as well as their prophet). 

   Again, though, they don't pretend here that evil dies because one man is taken down. We're left knowing Islamist terrorism is a very real thing and many more people are going to die before the problem is solved (I do doubt, however, that they expected the problem to stay with us so long).

   Rosebud, I felt, was pretty good. It has its weak spots, as some of the lesser actors aren't all that good. The girls (one a young Kim Catrall) are pretty bland, talent-wise, for example. Also, there are times when you wish they'd embraced the 'spy' formula a bit more strongly. The lack of an explosive finish (in the traditional sense, at least) leaves the affair feeling sort of flat. Even later 70's films which tried to realistically portray espionage capers (like, say, BLACK SUNDAY) usually did so with more tension and action in their final reels.

   All in all, though, not bad for the spy fan who's looking for a more realistic story to contrast with the brassy, thrill-a-minute structure of the James Bond (and majority of other spy) movies.