Not on Netflix: My Dream List Queue, Part 1

I’m a habitual listmaker and one list I am always revising is the short list of films I long to see. Occasionally titles fall off the list as they become available on DVD, Blu-Ray or via streaming but so many continue to remain elusive on the domestic front. Netflix certainly offers some welcome options not available from local rental stores but even that outfit can’t provide access to the much sought-after and unavailable fare I’m seeking. Here is my current short list which contains a few titles that will probably NEVER be available – or only available in some horribly comprised version of the original…..but I can dream.

1.   CONVENTION CITY

Along with the original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons, London After Midnight and the missing reels of Greed, this infamous Pre-Code delight from 1934 vanished after enduring numerous cuts ordered by the Production Code office before its brief theatrical run. Despite rumors that Jack Warner had ordered every print of the film destroyed to satisfy the PCA, there were sightings of the film as late as 1937 in the U.S. with foreign prints of it being screened as late as World War II. Today there is no trace of it – even the trailer for it is considered lost – but that doesn’t mean places like the Eastman House have given up the search (the latter, in fact, houses a large collection of production and publicity stills from the film). From all reports, it was a risqué and fast-paced sex comedy that could easily have been inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s 1900 play, La Ronde, except it focused on the white collar working class instead of the diverse social strata served up in the former.

CONVENTION CITY was directed by Archie Mayo and followed a bunch of amorous employees of the Honeywell Rubber Company getting frisky after convention hours in Atlantic City.  However, this was no B-movie quickie like Beauty and the Boss or The Mind Reader and featured a top flight cast including Adolphe Menjou, Mary Astor, Joan Blondell and Dick Powell (who were married to each other at the time). It also was graced with such great character actors as Guy Kibbee, Frank McHugh, Ruth Donnelly and Hugh Herbert. Allegedly Joan Blondell was so fond of the movie (she owned a copy) that she would often screen it for friends at parties. Now I wonder what happened to her print? For more information on this fascinating lost movie, read Ron Hutchinson’s article for the Vitaphone Project below.

http://jazzage1920s.com/conventioncity/conventioncity.php

2.   LES COUSINS

So many of Claude Chabrol early films remain unavailable despite his importance as one of the most prolific and well-regarded French directors of the sixties and seventies with unexpected masterpieces emerging periodically all the way up to the current decade. But those early years are ripe for rediscovery with such long unavailable titles as Landru (1963), his take on the Bluebeard legend starring Charles Denner, and Orphelia (1963), a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Andre Jocelyn, Alida Valli and Juliette Mayniel. It’s true that these and many middle period films such as Alice or the Last Escape (1977), an Alice in Wonderland homage with Emmanuelle star Sylvia Kristel, were not well received by most critics and might look even more suspect today. But I’d rather see second rate Chabrol than just about anything coming out of Hollywood currently and LES COUSINS (1959), his second feature, sounds like an major stepping stone in his career.

Pauline Kael called LES COUSINS “one of the major New Wave films” and many critics voiced the same opinion in 1959. The story of a naïve country boy coming to Paris and hanging out with his sophisticated, urban cousin, the movie reversed the familiar clichés of the innocent being corrupted by the decadent. In this film, the innocent becomes the destroying angel. As a portrait of French student life in the fifties, LES COUSINS is said to be the quintessential time capsule and the cast is nothing less than iconic with Gerard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy (reunited after playing the young leads in Chabrol’s debut film Le Beau Serge), Juliette Mayniel and Stephane Audran (Chabrol’s wife from 1964-1980).

3.   BOY

A veteran of the Sino-Japanese War is unable to hold a regular job due to injuries suffered in combat and, with his second wife’s participation, begins to exploit his young son in an ongoing scam; he has the boy pretend to be injured in staged accidents involving cars and then extorts money from drivers by threatening to involve the police. Nagisa Oshima reportedly based his 1969 film on a true account he followed in the newspapers and from the reviews I’ve read it sounds like his most atypical film in terms of style and tone. BOY has been on must-see list for years but rarely surfaces.

The following excerpt from Derek Malcolm’s review appeared in The Guardian in 2000: “Oshima tells this odd tale, which could have sprung from Dickens, without sentimentality and secures from the boy the kind of natural performance that makes us weep. He seems a very normal child in abnormal circumstances, indulging in science-fiction fantasies and longing for a hero to believe in….Some of Oshima’s films, which all come from the left….seems to be influenced by either Godard or Bunuel, as well as by a deep suspicion of Japanese traditions. But BOY, if it is to be compared with any European work, is more like a Truffaut film. Its comparatively straightforward narrative is linked to a warmth of expression that Oshima has seldom emulated since.”

4.   THE WILD EYE

Originally released in 1967 by American International in an English dubbed version on the same bill with the motorcycle drama Hell’s Belles, THE WILD EYE (Italian title: L’occhio selvaggio) prefigures Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980)  as well as The Blair Witch Project (1999) in terms of a gut-level premise : a group of filmmakers become blind to their  relationship to their subject. In this case, the assignment is led by a ruthlessly opportunistic director (Philippe Leroy as Paolo, named after the director of this film) travel to remote third world locations to capture extreme acts and possibly even a human-death-on-camera for their next mondo-like documentary.

Director Paolo Cavara was one of the original directors of Mondo Cane (1962) and possibly this movie was a thinly disguised attack on his former collaborators Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi in reaction to their ultra-violent shockumentary Africa Addio (1966); it was said that the filmmakers of the later film bribed some Congolese mercenaries to execute their prisoners on camera for them. Whether true or not, I doubt Cavara can lay claim to THE WILD EYE being a more moral vision of the world . Still, a fictional film about the kind of moviemaker who revels in exploiting the worst aspects of human behavior for profit sounds like a funhouse mirror held up to the current Mondo Cane-like documentaries, which were often accused of being mostly faked or staged documentaries anyway.

5.   DAYS AND NIGHTS IN THE FOREST

While many of Satyajit Ray’s greatest films are available on DVD, one of his most acclaimed films from 1970, DAYS AND NIGHTS IN THE FOREST still remains elusive. The story of four friends from Calcutta (aka Kolkata) who vacation together in the countryside, this is a movie of self-discovery for as they interact with the local villagers while pursuing love affairs of their own. In a critique of the film for his survey Eighty Years of Cinema, Peter Cowie wrote, “Throughout the film, Ray hints at the primitive forces that lie just beneath the civilized veneer of these pompous characters…Few films are at once so graceful and so sinister as DAYS AND NIGHTS IN THE FOREST, its sophisticated satire disguising a profound regret for human indiscretion.”

The Faber Companion to Foreign Films notes that “Chekhov and Jean Renoir (with whom Ray worked) come to mind, especially in the magical picnic scene, but the subtle revelation of character through the purposely slow tempo and the deceptively simple cinematic effects are all the master Indian director’s own.”

6.   CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES

Spaghetti Westerns are a decidedly acquired taste and if you don’t fall in love with the operatic and stylized revisionist takes on the Hollywood western by masters like Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars, Once Upon a Time in the West) then don’t bother with such dream-like delirious frontier re-imagings as The Great Silence (1968, directed by Sergio Corbucci) and Giulio Questi’s Django, Kill! (1967). Sure, there are plenty of duds and timewasters in this short-lived mini-genre yet I continue to find fascinating oddities like Johnny Hamlet (1968), which Morlock David Kalat covered here recently, and radical departures from traditional narratives like Marco Ferreri’s Don’t Touch the White Woman (1974, aka Touche pas a la femme blanche).

Thanks to Alex Cox’s excellent survey of the genre, 10,000 Ways to Die (It’s a UK publication but you can buy it from most major booksellers), I now have a growing queue of titles I want to see but CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES (1969, aka Une corde, un Colt….) is at the top of the heap. Curiously enough, the film is not by an Italian director but by French actor/screenwriter/director Robert Hossein (who won numerous award nominations for his 1982 screen adaptation of Les Miserables with Lino Ventura).  Equally intriguing is the fact that cult horror director Dario Argento is one of the screenwriters and French sexpot Michele Mercier of Francois Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player and Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath is the star. Just the opening descripton by Cox grabbed me: “This film – like Once Upon a Time in the West, and One-Eyed Jacks, and El Topo, and The Last Movie – is an Art Western. The visuals are striking, the acting good, the sets amazing. And what is really striking is the absence of dialogue. John Ford said a Western was good when it was ‘long on action, and short on dialogue.’”

7.   THE WIZARD OF BABYLON

This 1982 documentary by German actor Dieter Schidor, who appeared in some films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder including his final one Querelle, is an intimate talking head portrait of the director that was filmed ten hours before his untimely death. I am actually surprised that this in-depth interview with Fassbinder has not surfaced since its release but possibly the Fassbinder Foundation under the leadership of Juliane Lorenz, his former editor, are working to make it available again.

According to a review by Vincent Canby in The New York Times, Fassbinder’s mother tried to have the film blocked from exhibition….but why? Was it a matter of personal vanity?  Canby states, “Fassbinder, wearing jeans, a pink shirt, a gray fedora and dark glasses, lounges on a leather couch. He smokes constantly and looks like a skeptical, beached walrus as he responds to Mr. Schidor’s questions. Some of these he clearly finds silly though others prompt serious, carefully considered answers that certainly aren’t those of someone strung out on booze or drugs, at the end of his rope.”  Canby also endorses the film writing that, “though THE WIZARD OF BABYLON is not an independent achievement to equal Les Blank’s “Burden of Dreams,” about the making of Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo,” it is an effectively insinuating trailer for “Querelle” and should become one of the sources for all future students of Fassbinder’s work.” The Fassbinder addicts among us certainly hope that last statement becomes a reality.

8.   THE MONK aka La Moine

I first learned about this 1972 film in The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies (edited by Phil Hardy) which didn’t exactly give it a thumbs up rating but since the screenplay was written by Luis Bunuel and his frequent collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere (who makes a rare cameo appearance in the recent Certified Copy by Abbas Kiarostami), I figured it was worth investigating. Hardy’s description of the plot sounded like a typical Bunuel scenario a la Viridiana or Simon of the Desert: “Set in the middle ages, Le Moine tells of Father Ambrosio ([Franco] Nero) and his lethal passion for a novice who turns out to be a diabolical seductress ([Nathalie] Delon), leading him to perdition by delivering to him the virginal Antonia ([Eliana] de Santis) whom he keeps in a dungeon and rapes.  The depraved monk escapes the wrath of the Inquisition by making a pact with the devil.”

From other online reviews and imagery I’ve seen of the film, it seems to straddle a variety of genres without fully committing itself to any and becomes a Eurotrash/art film/horror drama/monksploitation hybrid. It was also the final film for Ado Kyrou, a Paris-based Greek filmmaker who once wrote an influential book on Luis Bunuel, and the film co-stars Nicol Williamson and German film star Nadja Tiller.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTFnc50ZR1E]

20 Responses Not on Netflix: My Dream List Queue, Part 1
Posted By dukeroberts : April 3, 2011 10:26 am

I would like to see Convention City. It is a shame that the Production Code could cause most of the copies to be destroyed. Hopefully Joan Blondell’s copy will one day surface, and in decent condition. The same for London After Midnight and the original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons. Those are two that I have hoped would be unearthed someday for quite some time.

Posted By dukeroberts : April 3, 2011 10:26 am

I would like to see Convention City. It is a shame that the Production Code could cause most of the copies to be destroyed. Hopefully Joan Blondell’s copy will one day surface, and in decent condition. The same for London After Midnight and the original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons. Those are two that I have hoped would be unearthed someday for quite some time.

Posted By David Kalat : April 3, 2011 3:42 pm

Thanks for the Chabrol shout out, Jeff! I haven’t seen LES COUSINS, but LANDRU and ALICE are both terrific. I am indebted to European friends who’ve recorded off-air broadcasts of these for me because, as you note, not nearly enough of CC’s prodigious and prolific output are represented on disc in this country. And, as you rightly note, cut-rate Chabrol is usually superior to top-shelf anything else.

Posted By David Kalat : April 3, 2011 3:42 pm

Thanks for the Chabrol shout out, Jeff! I haven’t seen LES COUSINS, but LANDRU and ALICE are both terrific. I am indebted to European friends who’ve recorded off-air broadcasts of these for me because, as you note, not nearly enough of CC’s prodigious and prolific output are represented on disc in this country. And, as you rightly note, cut-rate Chabrol is usually superior to top-shelf anything else.

Posted By suzidoll : April 4, 2011 11:02 am

Would love to see CONVENTION CITY and CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES.

Posted By suzidoll : April 4, 2011 11:02 am

Would love to see CONVENTION CITY and CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES.

Posted By mbm : April 4, 2011 7:20 pm

others to consider:
-Letty Lynton (1932), out of circulation for years due to a lawsuit by the family of the author of the book the film is based on
-Hats Off (1927), the only Laurel and Hardy film that’s lost!
-some of the early talkie musicals from ’29-’30
-the lost silents of Theda Bara, Clara Bow, Lon Chaney, Mary Pickford, Louise Brooks, Harry Carey, John Barrymore, and directors John Ford and Oscar Micheaux (there’s rumors that the so-called vault fires never happened and that collectors are hoarding a majority of lost silent films)

Posted By mbm : April 4, 2011 7:20 pm

others to consider:
-Letty Lynton (1932), out of circulation for years due to a lawsuit by the family of the author of the book the film is based on
-Hats Off (1927), the only Laurel and Hardy film that’s lost!
-some of the early talkie musicals from ’29-’30
-the lost silents of Theda Bara, Clara Bow, Lon Chaney, Mary Pickford, Louise Brooks, Harry Carey, John Barrymore, and directors John Ford and Oscar Micheaux (there’s rumors that the so-called vault fires never happened and that collectors are hoarding a majority of lost silent films)

Posted By morlockjeff : April 4, 2011 10:04 pm

Ok, mbm, your response puts me to shame. Of course, we should save the early stuff first. There’s gold in them there hills. Louise Brooks, Lon Chaney, Clara Bow, Oscar Micheaux, John Barrymore get the first lifeboat. Who’s Theda Bara? Just kiddin’ those readers born in 1900. I did learn something today…Hats Off, the only missing short of L&H. Thanks.

Posted By morlockjeff : April 4, 2011 10:04 pm

Ok, mbm, your response puts me to shame. Of course, we should save the early stuff first. There’s gold in them there hills. Louise Brooks, Lon Chaney, Clara Bow, Oscar Micheaux, John Barrymore get the first lifeboat. Who’s Theda Bara? Just kiddin’ those readers born in 1900. I did learn something today…Hats Off, the only missing short of L&H. Thanks.

Posted By dukeroberts : April 5, 2011 12:07 am

Ah yes! Mysterious Theda Bara, native of exotic Cincinnati, Ohio.

Posted By dukeroberts : April 5, 2011 12:07 am

Ah yes! Mysterious Theda Bara, native of exotic Cincinnati, Ohio.

Posted By Mary : April 5, 2011 1:52 pm

Convention City is my number one pick that is not available on video, too!! Just wanted to make a correction: Joan Blondell and Dick Powell did not marry until 1936.

Posted By Mary : April 5, 2011 1:52 pm

Convention City is my number one pick that is not available on video, too!! Just wanted to make a correction: Joan Blondell and Dick Powell did not marry until 1936.

Posted By Henry : April 6, 2011 10:29 am

I’ve been looking for “Boy” ever since PBS showed it in the early 70s in its series of Japanese films; once a local movie house was showing it–the day after I was scheduled to leave the country. You can find the unsubtitled version on the internet.

It’s strange, but poignant; not as obsessively morbid as Oshima’s later work. Keep looking and good luck.

Posted By Henry : April 6, 2011 10:29 am

I’ve been looking for “Boy” ever since PBS showed it in the early 70s in its series of Japanese films; once a local movie house was showing it–the day after I was scheduled to leave the country. You can find the unsubtitled version on the internet.

It’s strange, but poignant; not as obsessively morbid as Oshima’s later work. Keep looking and good luck.

Posted By Andrew Monroe : April 8, 2011 3:02 pm

CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES is well worth seeking out, the performances from Hossein and Mercier are amazing. It’s one of the bleakest spaghetti westerns you’ll ever see. The film also features a terrific soundtrack from Hossein’s brother Andre, with a title song, “A Rope, A Colt” that’s guaranteed to stick in your head for ages. If you’re region free it’s been released by Anolis in a gorgeous wooden box (PAL) and a Japanese NTSC disc from SPO as well, both are English friendly but quite expensive(and possibly oop).

Posted By Andrew Monroe : April 8, 2011 3:02 pm

CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES is well worth seeking out, the performances from Hossein and Mercier are amazing. It’s one of the bleakest spaghetti westerns you’ll ever see. The film also features a terrific soundtrack from Hossein’s brother Andre, with a title song, “A Rope, A Colt” that’s guaranteed to stick in your head for ages. If you’re region free it’s been released by Anolis in a gorgeous wooden box (PAL) and a Japanese NTSC disc from SPO as well, both are English friendly but quite expensive(and possibly oop).

Posted By Al Lowe : April 11, 2011 8:11 am

According to my reference books, Joan wed cinematographer George Barnes in August, 1933. He worked on some of her films – like HAVANA WIDOWS, SMARTY, DAMES, HE WAS HER MAN and FOOTLIGHT PARADE.

But not CONVENTION CITY. That was William Reese.

Posted By Al Lowe : April 11, 2011 8:11 am

According to my reference books, Joan wed cinematographer George Barnes in August, 1933. He worked on some of her films – like HAVANA WIDOWS, SMARTY, DAMES, HE WAS HER MAN and FOOTLIGHT PARADE.

But not CONVENTION CITY. That was William Reese.

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