Tag Archives: Sergio Leone

A Decade In Film: The Sixties – 1964

A series where the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade.

This list might have ended up a bit Vincent Price top-heavy, with potentially four out of my five choices being films he starred in from this year. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen three of his movies released in 1964 and to give some others a chance, I’ve only included two of them below. This is also the only year in the entire Decade In Film series in which I could’ve included one of my favourite directors, Carl Theodor Dreyer. I say “could’ve” because Gertrud is by far and away my least favourite of his films, as I explained in my review on this podcast. Two popular choices also missing out are: Goldfinger, as I haven’t seen it since I watched it on VHS as a kid (listen here or here for our James Bond special podcasts from 2012); and Mary Poppins, because I haven’t seen it since I watched it on a VHS as a kid – and didn’t think much of it then, either! So, onto the first Vincent Price movie…

5. The Last Man on Earth

last man on earthThis is Robert Morgan. If somebody can hear me, answer me. For God’s sake, answer me!

Warner Bros. announced this week that they will be rebooting the I Am Legend franchise.

a) Rebooting? Surely they mean they’re doing yet another adaptation of the absolutely brilliant Richard Matheson sci-fi novel, I Am Legend?

b) Franchise? How on Earth do you turn something about the last man alive, one with such an iconic ending, into a movie franchise?

I suppose the bigger question is, why do we even need another reboot of Matheson’s classic story? The answer would most likely be that there’s yet to be a truly faithful adaptation that captures that desperation of being the only one left in a world overrun with cannibalistic vampire-like creatures that makes the original book so magnificent. However, if any of the four film adaptations (I’m including the Asylum’s mockbuster I Am Omega in that) most closely resembles the novella, then it is this apocalyptic movie starring the unnecessarily dapper Vincent Price as “Morgan” (instead of “Neville”). A plague has swept through Europe, eventually reaching the US, killing off everybody and leaving Price as the last surviving human.

It’s split into three sections, with the beginning very similar to the book; it’s all about Morgan’s paranoia and loneliness, struggling to cope with his situation. It never really touches on his burning desire for human contact like the book does (particularly of the female variety), but it does set up the middle of the film quite nicely. The majority of which is told in flashbacks, showing you the plague first reaching the US and how it destroyed his friends, family and work (as a scientist, trying to cure the plague.) The final third is … well… I don’t want to give it away as it is better to go in knowing nothing about it.

There are flaws, particularly around the scripting of certain scenes. Matheson himself part-wrote the script, but it still feels like a slightly convoluted mess on occasion. Essentially, Vincent Price carries a lot of the film all on his own. If he was any less of an actor, then this film would not be as enjoyable as it is.

4. Lord of the Flies

lord of the fliesLet me speak. I’ve got the conch. Which is it better to be? A pack of panting savages, like you are? Or sensible, like Ralph is? Which is better, to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?

No, you aren’t mistaken. Vincent Price isn’t in this. Although I will refrain from comparing it to the book or any other adaptation, like I did with The Last Man on Earth, as quite ashamedly, it’s the only version of Lord of the Flies that I’m familiar with. And that is only because I watched it last week in preparation for this article. I somehow made it to 28 years of age without realising what the bloody hell people were referring to when they used phrases like ‘having the conch’. It’s best I don’t explain what I thought they meant.

Released in the UK in July 1964, almost one whole year since its initial release in the USA and three years since it first went into production, Lord of the Flies couldn’t be more British. Set during the war with a group of children from an array of backgrounds, stranded on a desert island, left to their own devices, they begin to revert into little more than tribal savages. Establishing their own laws and hierarchy, the film (and presumably the novel it’s based on) uses the children to highlight every facet of human indecency. Without existing society and morals to guide humanity, this cynical view of mankind is as disturbing as it is believable.

The acting may be a bit ropey from some of the children, but the friendships and bonds they form appear as natural as their tropical surroundings. Peter Brook does well to make sure the emotional beats are all in tune rather than sloppy or muddled, allowing the demise of certain characters to truly carry depth and meaning.

3. The Masque of the Red Death

masque of red death

The way is not easy, I know, but I will take you by the hand and lead you through the cruel light into the velvet darkness.

My second (and final) Vincent Price film on this list. It’s actually the second Edgar Allan Poe inspired gothic horror movie that Price and director Roger Corman collaborated on in 1964; the other being the not-quite-as-good The Tomb of Ligeia. It shouldn’t be any surprise that this highly rated tale of the maccabre is listed here. After all, it features in the 1001: Movies You Must See Before You Die list as well as being described by Corman himself as one of his personal favourites.

Price stars as the Satan worshipping Prince Prospero. A plague is afflicting his town, which makes people start to bleed through the pores of their skin until they die. He brings all the local nobility to his abbey to avoid the plague. After treating them like garbage, he holds a fancy dress party and notices a strange guest who he believes to be his master, the Lord of the Flies (which neatly ties into my list! Cheers, Poe!)

If you’re expecting a camp Hammer Horror, you may be disappointed. The Masque of the Red Death is in fact a chilling and incredibly atmospheric film. It may be a little over-dramatic on occasion, even perhaps a tad “arty-farty” (as legendary b-movie director Sam Z. Arkoff described it) but it is one of Price’s best. The final 10-15 minutes during the infamous dinner party are despairingly grim. The whole film is a bit ‘off’, disturbing you and making you feel uncomfortable even when there doesn’t appear to be much actually happening that is too upsetting (by horror-film standards, at least). But that party… it sends shivers down my spine just remembering it!

I don’t recall it ever specifying when or where it is set, but being a Poe adaptation, it feels very 16th or 17th century European. With its gothic architecture and poetic dialogue, it goes some way to explaining why there is a very black / dark quality to it – as well as the fact that the always brilliant Vincent Price is a woman stealing Satan worshipping psychopath, of course! Other, earlier Roger Corman films, such as The Terror or A Bucket of Blood are enjoyable in their own right. However, this is clearly a much more refined, much more disturbing and, well, a much better film.

2. A Fistful of Dollars

a fistful of dollarsWhen a man with .45 meets a man with a rifle, you said, the man with a pistol’s a dead man. Let’s see if that’s true. Go ahead, load up and shoot.

In 1964, with his remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo transferred to the wild west, Sergio Leone forever redefined what it meant when you referred to a film as a “western”. Kurosawa himself was heavily influenced by the American western movies he saw, particularly those of the legendary John Ford. B-movie westerns were already a well established part of the genre’s history by the 60’s. Cheap to make and compelling stories, they were the backbone of Hollywood’s success through the 1930’s. It also wasn’t exactly unheard of to remake foreign films and set them in the American West. Hell, even in the same year that A Fistful of Dollars came out, another Kurosawa film, Rashomon, had been remade as The Outrage, starring Paul Newman as a Mexican bandit. But it was Leone and Clint Eastwood that turned the “spaghetti western” it into something unique and special.

Just like in Yojimbo, as chosen in James’ Decade In Film article for 1961A Fistful of Dollars tells the story of a town split in two, plagued by rival gangs. In his first appearance as The Man With No Name, later reprised in the rest of the Dollars trilogy, Clint Eastwood strolls into town looking to solve the dispute whilst at the same time profiting from it. Partly to amuse himself, partly because of his deep-down sense of justice.

There is nothing to dislike about this film. Well, unless you really want to see more hats shot off heads, which doesn’t occur until later Leone movies! Or unless you’d have preferred to see Henry Fonda or Charles Bronson as the man with no name, both of whom were preferred ahead of Eastwood for the role initially. Hard to imagine as he is so synonymous with these movies now – and deservedly so. He’s effortlessly cool and impossibly handsome in a movie full of style. From Ennio Morricone’s iconic score, to the expertly shot action sequences, it is easily one of the best films of the decade.

1. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

dr strangeloveGentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.

Sir, you can’t let him in here. He’ll see everything. He’ll see the big board!

General “Buck” Turgidson: Hmm… Strangelove? What kind of a name is that? That ain’t no Kraut name is it, Stainesey?
Mr. Staines: He changed it when he became a citizen. Used to be Merkwürdigliebe.

Stanley Kubrick. If I have a favourite director, then Stan is that man. Even though he was inducted to our highly coveted prestigious Corridor of Praise last year, it still seems like he isn’t appreciated as much as he should be. For many people – critics, movie makers and fans alike – he is the greatest director of our time. Timeless movies like Dr Strangelove do nothing to dispel that reputation.

Essentially it’s Kubrick’s black comedy about a crazy general in the American army who orders a nuclear strike against Russia. The President and his lackeys then try to stop the attack after it’s revealed that the Russian’s have a Doomsday device. In probably his greatest role(s), Peter Sellers plays at least three different characters and he’s undeniably brilliant as each of them. He has some exceptionally funny lines that are endlessly quotable; when playing the titular Dr Strangelove, the moment he calls the president Mien Fuhrer by accident, he has me in stitches every single time thanks to his exquisite delivery. I cannot overstate his performance enough.

It is just an absolutely brilliant film. It’s funny, brilliantly acted (I often think George C. Scott is under-appreciated in this), full of great characters and iconic scenes. Every time I watch it, I know I’m guaranteed to laugh my arse off and it’s just further proof that Kubrick, no matter which genre he turned his attentions to, was a master at what he did.

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A Decade In Film: The Eighties – 1984

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1984, a year that had lots of good films but only a select few great films..

By Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)

5. Nineteen Eighty-Four

6R4GXbD“If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever”

Based on the George Orwell classic of the same name and directed by Michael Radford, Nineteen Eighty-Four is the story of a dystopian alternative reality whereby the populous are enslaved by a totalitarian government under the watchful eye of the supreme leader known only as Big Brother.

Nineteen Eighty-Four paints a painful and all too realistic view of what big-government without restraint could be like. I happened to watch this for the first time after Netflix launched in the UK just a couple of years ago and I was taken aback by how relevant this is as a pre-cursor to a society that has been conditioned to accept mass-CCTV and government intrusion of their privacy almost as a given.

John Hurt is excellent in the lead role as Winston, a man who longs to love and lust and think for himself, all emotions that are outlawed by the state. The mighty Richard Burton makes his final silver-screen appearance as the state’s brutal iron-hand O’Brien and plays the role with just enough restraint to make him even more sadistically sinister. The film makes great use of colour to remove any touch of individualism from society, everything is steel, grey and cold which further establishes the mindset of a society bred to work for the exclusive benefit of the state.

Without going into spoilers, this isn’t a film to watch if you are looking for a happy-ending. Everything plays out with a ruthless and calculating efficiency of a state built as a machine. As I understand, the film may not quite live up to the splendour of the novel; however, when watched with a clear mind it is astonishingly profound as modern society continues to live under the influence of the metaphorical Big Brother.

4. Birdy

dwsedeg“You ever wondered what our lives down here must look like to a bird?”

Let’s get one thing straight from the get go. This is not a Vietnam movie, but I was somewhat drawn to it initially due to my interest in Vietnam movies. The 80s has a boatload of them, however Birdy is more of a psychological examination that just happens to feature a voyage into Vietnam for the two main protagonists, Birdy (Matthew Modine) and Al (Nic Cage).

The film follows 2 high school friends who are eventually separated and are sent to Vietnam. Birdy is already dealing with mental issues of feeling outcasted from his peers and has an unusually intense fascination with birds and flight. It later becomes apparent this is a metaphor for wanting to flee from the burdens of his life, however the trauma and mental fatigue of the war causes this rather innocent fascination to become an all-consuming fixation as his mental state deteriorates and he eventually winds-up in asylum.

Thankfully, the War element does not get in the way of a complex tale of friendship and adversity but merely acts as a vehicle to deliver to the mental breaking point for the Birdy character. Nic Cage, in an early and refreshing role, performs admirably as the linchpin buddy that keeps Birdy mentally balanced in the real-world. Given that he must act with his face behind bandages for the large parts of the film shows great acting dexterity that is lacking from some of his later performances.

Modine is more Private Pyle than Private Joker as a good all-american kid who finds solace through delusion and again has to dig deep into the actor’s toolbox to perform a role with no human persona during the most intense parts of the movie.

Director Alan Parker does a magnificent job in making a movie that is hard to remove from the psyche – again, for not especially positive reasoning. The story is far from triumphant and is quite depressing in places and is hardly box-office material. However, that is not meant to dissuade you from seeing this film. It is one that lingers in the memory and you’ll find few characters as interesting or as touching as Birdy.

3. The Terminator

terminator 2“Come with me if you want to live..”

If there are movies that can pretty much stereotype a decade, then The Terminator surely has to be on the shortlist. Made with little expectation for box-office success, the pressure was off to deliver a fully adult orientated science-fiction romp for a then little known director, James Cameron.

The film throws you into the deep-end right from the opening sequence, whereby Arnold Schwarzenegger is sent back in time to modern day Los Angeles and turns up butt-naked and looking to acquire his target, Sarah Connor who would eventually give birth to the leader of mankind’s last line of rebellion against the enslaving machines.

At the same time, the rebels from the future send back one soldier to protect her, thus beginning a deadly cat and mouse pursuit between the 2 human targets and an unstoppable force brought menacingly to the screen by Schwarzenegger.

Where The Terminator succeeds is in convincing the viewer that this complex sci-fi story could indeed be a far-out possibility. The mythology is established very quickly in the film through the flashbacks of Kyle Reece (Michael Biehn) that portrays the bleak future that mankind has created in its pursuit of technological advancement.

That said, it’s popcorn friendly at the core. Arnie puts in a fantastic stone-cold performance as the villain of the film and given his enormous physique is entirely convincing as a killing-machine. Linda Hamilton shows great versatility initially as the 80s damsel in distress to slowly maturing into a heroine as she comes to terms with her role in mankind’s future.

The action satisfies, plenty of gun-battles and well choreographed car-pursuits ensure the momentum of the film is heightened throughout as the Terminator is in constant pursuit of the vulnerable human heroes.

Curiously, The Terminator doesn’t even make the top 10 highest grossing movies of the year. This goes to prove what an incredible following the film drew from the home video market and a master-stroke (deliberately or otherwise) in Cameron waiting a further 8 years to give a baiting fan-base the sequel they so longed for.

The Terminator leaves a fantastic legacy in establishing James Cameron as one of the hottest directors in the business setting him up wonderfully for his like Sci-Fi extravaganza in Aliens whilst taking Biehn along for the ride as well as bit-parters Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen, whilst firmly establishing Schwarzenegger as one of Hollywood’s hottest action stars.

2. Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters-PS_612x380“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”

Ghostbusters is a long standing love for many movie-goers, myself included. It’s probably the oldest memory I have of watching movies; those classic old RCA red-spine VHS tapes were pretty unique and haven’t left my memory in all this time. I could ramble on about why Ghostbusters is great and it only narrowly missed out on the #1 spot for 1984 in my assessment. However, Failed Critics has its very own Ghostbusters superman. So to tell you why Ghostbusters is so good and still so revered to this day, I hand over to Failed Critics own, Carole Petts.

On the occasion of Ghostbusters 30th anniversary, I wrote for the Guardian about why this silly science-fiction comedy has ensured in the public consciousness for so long. I’ve tried many times to pinpoint why this is my favourite film of all time, and honestly, it always comes back to the fact that it makes me laugh without fail; that every joke is as fresh now as it was when it was filmed. I’m clearly not alone in this – some of my favourite viewings have been with an audience, who clearly adore the film as much as I do (validating my devotion somewhat, it has to be said) and will quote and laugh along with me all the way through. You simply can’t ask for anything more from a comedy film.

The plot is actually an archetypal product of the early 80s age of Reaganomics. Three Columbia University parapsychologists – Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Peter Venkman (Bill Murray, at the top of his 80s comedy game) are stripped of their public sector funding and forced to start their own business hunting and trapping spooks. Coincidentally, a massive paranormal event is brewing which will bring about ‘a disaster of Biblical proportions’, so that’s handy. The aforementioned calamity is personified by two Central Park West neighbours – Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver, showcasing hitherto unknown comedic muscle) and Louis Tully (Rick Moranis, underrated here but who then received many deserved leading roles as a direct result). The whole shebang is brought to a show stopping finale when the destroyer of worlds is summoned in the form of a giant marshmallow man trademark beloved of Boy Scout camps across America. Stupid? Of course it is. But it’s endearing, and funny, and touching at times as well.

I wasn’t old enough to see Ghostbusters when it was released at the cinema – indeed I had a VHS taped from a TV screening, and only saw the full, uncut version for the first time when I was 18 and received the DVD for Christmas (it still appals me that Egon swears and Ray appears to receive a blowjob from a ghost). I was the perfect age to be scared by the library ghost and the Class 5, full-roaming vapour in the hotel, named in the cartoon as Slimer. I wasn’t old enough to have seen Alien, and to know that Sigourney Weaver was the world’s number one female kick-ass action hero at the time this film was made. But I knew this film was going to stay with me for the rest of my life. As I’ve gotten older, it’s taken on many different meanings to me – I’ve known what it’s like to be part of a public sector organisation that suddenly no longer needs you, and to be thrown into the real world (although I hasten to add my departure was not precipitated by making up test results in order to impress pretty ladies). But if this film has taught me anything, it’s to have faith in my own abilities. And that everyone has three mortgages nowadays.

1. Once Upon a Time in America

ouatia“I like the stink of the streets. It makes me feel good. And I like the smell of it, it opens up my lungs. And it gives me a hard-on”

Once upon a time in America is a Sergio Leone film. No, it’s THE Sergio Leone film! Set in prohibition era New York, the film transcends almost 4 decades following a gang of young hoodlums who engage in petty crime and rise to eventual bosses of the local bootlegging industry. The film is told from the viewpoint of Noodles (Roberto De Niro) who after 30 years of exile returns to New York after a member of his former gang makes contact him with, simultaneously blowing his new identity.

The film segregates beautifully across a complicated time-line and fills the viewer in via well executed flashbacks on the gang’s struggles in a Jewish ghetto in the 1920’s as children and their progression to adults consumed by the greed, lust and power that eventually destroys the gang and their friendships. De Niro is slick and at the top of his game, whilst James Woods puts together what I think is his strongest performance as the overly ambitious and ruthless Max.

The placing of the film amongst the all-time greats is hotly contested, partially due to the varying number of cuts available for the film. On its original release, a heavily edited version was compiled at the request of Warner Bros. At only 139 minutes in length it was a commercial and critical disaster and was put together against the wishes of Leone to attempt to squeeze more screenings per day of the movie and remove concerns over the graphic content.

However, many a critic would praise alternative cuts that remained more faithful to the original Leone edit, with Sight & Sound polling the movie in their top 25 films of all (at #10) and director Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables, etc) ranking it as the best movie depicting the prohibition era. Given that Leone turned down the opportunity to direct The Godfather to work on this project, he had immense belief in the story and his ability to deliver a crime epic that would become his legacy.

I am often surprised at how few people I speak to that enjoy crime movies that have not seen Once Upon a Time in America. That said, to be enjoyed at its best requires a good 3 hours or so dedication making it a tough watch, but boy is it worthwhile. If you’re a fan of The Godfather or Goodfellas or other films of that variety, this is a must watch. Sergio Leone signs off with what is his final and greatest masterpiece, and without question is the best film of 1984.

You can find more of our revitalised Decade In Film articles so far here, from 1963-2004.

A Decade in Film: The Sixties – 1961

A series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade.

We return after the Christmas break with Editor James Diamond’s favourite films from 1961; the year that gave us Michael J. Fox.

5. The Guns of Navarone

The Guns of Navarone“First, you’ve got that bloody old fortress on top of that bloody cliff. Then you’ve got the bloody cliff overhang. You can’t even see the bloody cave, let alone the bloody guns. And anyway, we haven’t got a bloody bomb big enough to smash that bloody rock. And that’s the bloody truth, sir.”

This is exactly the kind of movie Hollywood used to do well, and with regularity. A big ensemble war film with big stars (Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony Quinn), and a story so heroic it bathes in the blood of its defeated enemies. It tells the story of a crack group of soldiers and specialists who set out to defy all logic and destroy the eponymous Nazi cannons that are making the rescue of British forces from the island of Crete impossible.

Directed in style by J. Lee Thompson (who made one of the great war films in Ice Cold in Alex, and went on to direct Peck in Cape Fear), The Guns of Navarone is a classic example of the stories that the victors of horrific wars have been telling for thousands of years. It’s important to remember that this was made only 15 years after the end of the Second World War; a conflict that many of the cast and crew had fought in. By the end of the decade though Hollywood had a new war to obsess over, and the triumphant tone of their WWII films gave way to the self-doubt and self-recrimination of their Vietnam films.

4. Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Breakfast at TiffanysWe’re alike, me and cat. A couple of poor nameless slobs.

This is the first of four adaptations from novels in my list, and it’s interesting to note that Hollywood has always been a magpie of stories. At least the audiences of the time can count themselves lucky that the studios only had books and stage productions to bastardise for their enjoyment, unlike today where films take their ‘inspiration’ from sources as diverse as television shows, computer games, and even board games.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is based on a Truman Capote novella, and directed by Blake Edwards (who would go on to direct The Pink Panther). The reason it’s in this list though, and the reason for its enduring presence in poster form in homes across the world, is down to two words. Audrey Hepburn.

Hepburn’s iconic Holly Golightly is the ridiculously beautiful peg on which this film hangs. Sure, Hannibal from The A-Team does a good job as the struggling writer who falls in love with Holly, and the source material is transferred to the screen with care, but without Hepburn this film is forgotten within a few years. Her dizzying ability to flit from extrovert socialite to vulnerable country girl is at the heart of this film; the highlight being her rendition of Moon River, which shows you don’t need to be an incredible singer to break hearts with your voice. Something Russell Crowe could’ve learned before filming Les Miserables.

Ironically, Capote never wanted Hepburn for the role, and pushed very hard for Marilyn Munroe to be cast. Munroe’s agent thought the moral ambiguity of the role would damage her career (in the original novella Holly has a lesbian affair, takes drugs, and acts more like a prostitute at times) and persuaded her to pass. The rest is history.

Just don’t mention Mickey Rooney’s Chinese landlord character…

3. 101 Dalmatians

101 Dalmatians Cruella De Vil

“My only true love, darling. I live for furs. I worship furs! After all, is there a woman in all this wretched world who doesn’t?”

I have been umming and ahhing about putting this film on my list. My childhood memories are of a great Disney caper film, with cute talking dogs, and a terrifying villain in the shape of Cruella De Vil. That was enough to earn it a spot on the list. Then my two-year-old daughter became obsessed with it, and we watched it every night for a month.

I’m pretty sure than any film subject to such intense interrogation would start to reveal some flaws (except maybe Back to the Future), and sadly this is the case with 101 Dalmatians. It’s not perfect, and it’s not really that brilliant. It does however still feature a fantastic villain, and it heralded a sea change in animation technology which dominated the industry for the next twenty years.

The story is simple enough, with Pongo the dog playing cupid to fix up his bachelor owner with a mate, and snag himself a bitch in the shape of Perdita. Their resulting litter of puppies becomes the envy of Cruella De Vil (the prototype Patsy Stone) who wants to make a fur coat out of them. So far, so grim. The puppies are kidnapped, and Pongo and Perdita venture off to rescue them. It’s pretty standard stuff if I’m honest but, thanks to my daughter, it will forever be etched into my brain.

2. Pit and the Pendulum

Pit and the PendulumYou will die in agony. Die!

This is another of those films I discovered in doing the research for this series. Quite why I hadn’t chanced upon it before I’m not sure. After all, any film directed by the legendary Roger Corman, and starring the national treasure that is Vincent Price is fine by me.

Very loosely based on a short-story by Edgar Allen Poe, Pit and the Pendulum is set in 16th century Spain at the time of the Inquisition. Price stars as Nicholas Medina, an uncharacteristically (for Price, at least) meek and humble lord who has recently lost his wife, Catherine. John Kerr is the unapologetically American-sounding brother of Catherine, who visits Medina to investigate the circumstances of her death. Over the first hour spooky things start to happen in the castle, and Nicholas reveals that he saw his father torture and inter his mother over an affair. Then Price finally gets to cut loose, and the last act is far more shocking, entertaining, and genuinely ghoulish.

Shot in only 15 days, the film is a remarkable testament to what a talented director and magnetic screen presence can achieve on limited resources with an average script.

1. Yojimbo

Yojimbo“I’m not dying yet. I have to kill quite a few men first”

Akira Kurosawa is the missing link between the classic Western genre and the Spaghetti Westerns that became popular in the 1960s, with Sergio Leone arguably perfecting the genre by the end of the decade. Without Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Yojimbo though, it’s hard to imagine anyone could have made The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in America.

Kurosawa applied his cinematic filter to the work of John Ford (Stagecoach, The Searchers) to produce a film that is not only a homage to a genre, but adds something entirely new to its ecosystem. The themes and plot of the film are familiar, and the shots are ‘classic’ Western framing; but the editing, the violence, and the anti-hero nature of the protagonist were new to Western audiences. By the time Leone remade this as A Fistful of Dollars, the landscape of Westerns had already morphed into a more ambiguous, revisionist tone.

Toshirô Mifune plays the Ronin, a samurai whose master is dead and who now roams the lands of feudal Japan looking for freelance work where he can find it. He wanders into a town beset by violence, run by two opposing war lords who make plays to recruit the powerful stranger. The Ronin has other plans though, and conceives a dangerous game to play the opposing factions off against each other.

As is common in all of Kurosawa’s films, the violence is brief and is never needless or gratuitous. At its heart this is a film about human nature, greed, and the power of fear. Make no mistake though, there is still some kick-ass sword-fighting. It’s also very funny in places and its position in the IMDB Top 250, and at number one in my list, is fully deserved.