Friday, July 29, 2011

Short Film: Our Wonderful Nature (Germany, 2008)

"Some animals were harmed during the production of this film."

A short and sweet (?) film written and directed by the Tel-Aviv-born filmmaker Tomer Eshed. Our Wonderful Nature has collected a variety of prizes, including the Leipzig DOK Festival (2008 Best German Animated Film) and the Zlín International Film Festival for Children and Youth (2008 Hermína Týrlová Award). This, the English version, is narrated by John Berwick. Our Wonderful Nature, which documents the competition of European water shrews for the right to mate with an available female, is an entertaining (and extremely short) burlesque of nature films crossed with a healthy portion of The Matrix. Tomer Eshed graduated from the Jerusalem School of Arts in 1995 and then went on to attend and graduate (in 2007) from the Konrad Wolf Academy for Film and Television in Potsdam. His latest short film, Flamingo Pride, should be out soon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Casshern (Japan, 2004)

Like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004 / trailer) and Immortal (Ad Vitam) (2004 / trailer), Casshern is one of the first films to be shot entirely on an empty backstage, in front of a greenscreen, upon which all backgrounds are digitally added later.* And like most such films, including the most successful ones to date, Sin City (2005 / trailer) and 300 (2006 / trailer), the results are visually stunning and often overwhelming, if not often oddly distant and impersonal.
The directorial debut of Kazuaki Kiriya, who went on to make the even more extreme ocular smorgasbord Goeman (2009 / trailer), Casshern is a live-action take on the popular 1973 anime series entitled Neo-Human Casshern. (In 1993, four episodes of the original series were edited together to create the less-than-spectacular film Robot Hunter Casshern [trailer]; the animation series has since been rebooted as Casshern Sins [2008 / trailer].) Kiriya's film – which offers an ever-so-slight salute to the original anime source in a lab scene in which the crescent helmet of the anime character is seen on a shelf – retains the basic setting of the techno-futile, war-torn future but adds a dimension of humanity to the hero and his main foes that is lacking in the animation films: in the latter, Casshern is an invincible android with a consciousness that fights robots, whereas in the 2004 live-action version he is a reanimated corpse with a soul encased in a super-warsuit (to control the uncontrollable muscle growth caused by his "neo-cell" reanimation) fighting the "neo-sapians" out to destroy humanity, the robot masses released with this aim in mind and, at times, the war-obsessed humans of the fascist world of the future. In-between, he grapples desperately with the questions of life, love and his place in humanity.
Casshern aims to be a sci-fi Shakespearean tragedy of Wagnerian proportions playing out in a war-obsessed and decadent future populated by handsome men, good-looking babes and incredible scenery but doomed by mankind's greed, desire for power and intemperance. The future presented is one following a fifty-year war between the Eastern Federation and Europe; the Federation has won, but the world is a chemically polluted ruin. The Federation funds Dr Azuma (Akira Terao of Ran [1987 / trailer]) in his research and development of "neo-cells," human cells that in theory can be used to regenerate live human tissues. Dr Azuma's blind wife Midori (Kanako Higuchi of Ashura [2005 / trailer]) is dying of a mysterious disease, and his estranged son Tetsuya (Yûsuke Iseya of Memories of Matsuko [2006 / trailer] and Sukiyaki Western Django [2007 / trailer]) leaves his hot fiancée Luna (Kumiko Asô of Pulse [2001 / trailer]) and his hated father behind to join the military, only to return a year later in a casket. Even as his casket is being carried in, a metallic bolt of lightning from heaven strikes the vats of neo-organs, causing them to join together to create the neo-sapiens, which the Federation yes-man Kaoru Naito (Mitsuhiro Oikawa of Cutie Honey [2004 / trailer]) promptly orders destroyed.
But a few survive the bloodbath and kidnap Midori while escaping, eventually taking refuge in a castle where they discover an army of robots and decide to revenge the destruction of their neo-brethren by destroying humanity. In the meantime, Azuma has rejuvenated his dead son by immersing him in the neo-cell vats, but due to Tetsuya's unstable condition and uncontrolled muscle growth, Luna's father Dr. Kozuki (Fumiyo Kohinata of Audition [2000 / trailer] and Dark Water [2002 / trailer]) takes him back to his own lab/home to put Tetsuya in a new super-battlesuit developed for the military (the suit also functions as a sort of super-girdle, adding stability to his oddly lithe supper-body). The neo-sapiens attack and end up killing Dr. Kozuki, but super-Tetsuya kills the female neo-sapien and, while escaping with Luna, obliterates an army of robots only to be knocked unconscious by the leader of the neo-sapians, Burai (Toshiaki Karasawa of the 20th Century Boys trilogy [2008-2009 / trailer])...
To tell any more of the plot, which is as convoluted and padded but nevertheless simple as any given Shakespearean tragedy, could easily take another 1000 words, so let's just say that the ingenuous story continually takes twists and turns and tangents in an attempt to convey its anti-war message, finally ending as any tragedy should even as it offers an unexpected and almost insanely Genesis-like closing curve into the left field...
To say that Casshern is a 142-minute-long mess is a bit of an understatement, but what a wonderful mess it is indeed. A visual feast of beautiful people meandering within an ennui of loss, egotism, love and war, Casshern is a continuous series of astounding pictorial scenes interspaced with explosions of aesthetic violence in which every lingering death is accompanied by a portentous monologue. An orchestra of emotions conveyed in image and sound, Casshern remains miraculously comprehensible within the overwhelming flood of images and pictures that accompany the numerous narrative contortions. As jaw-dropping as the visuals are, however, the sheer length of the never-ending story does become exhausting – Casshern may be an amazing and mesmerizing film, but it is also definitely not an ideal film for late-night viewing.

*According to Guinness, the first such feature film to be filmed entirely in this process was the low budget sci-fi flick Able Edwards (trailer), also of 2004.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

R.I.P.: Heinz Reincke

Heinz Reincke
28 May 1925 (Kiel, Germany) – 13 July 2011 (Purkersdorf, Austria)

Born Karl-Heinz Reincke, as a young lad he originally followed his father's advice and studied at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in his hometown of Kiel, but by the age of 17, when he got his first theatre role at the city theatre of Landsberg an der Warthe, he knew that he was going to be an actor. His first film role came 12 years later, in 1955, in the TV movie Das heiße Herz ("The Hot Heart"), which was performed and broadcast live; a year later he debuted on the silver screen in Eugen York's Ein Herz kehrt heim ("A Heart Come Home"). At the time of his death at the age of 86 from lung cancer on 13 July 2011, he could look back at a career of hundreds of parts large and small in film, on TV and on stage, not to mention his numerous jobs as the German voice of such actors as James Coburn, Marlon Brando and Alec Guinness. Always a regular face on TV, after 1985 he no longer appeared in cinematic releases and concentrated instead on theater performances and a variety of popular television series, including such popular mainstream drivel as Schwarzwaldklinik ("Black Forest Clinic"), Zwei Münchner in Hamburg ("Two Munich Men in Hamburg") and Der Landarzt ("The Country Doctor"). Admittedly, Heinz Reincke is hardly a familiar name to most readers of this blog. But within the German-language sphere of Europe, neither his face nor name are unfamiliar. He may not have been an award-winning actor or even a cult actor, but he was a popular and long-lasting one and, as such, also offers an excellent example of the film career of the successful (non-international) German actor of the 60s and 70s: unlike, say, Gert Fröbe or Curd Jürgens or even Peter van Eyck, Reincke was a rare face in non-German productions and seldom the headlining star, but like many he moved without second thought between German exploitation and family films, pursuing his career where he could. For that, however, he also had a firm grip in the television industry and on the popular stage, which is perhaps one of the reasons his list of sleazy or exploitive projects is not quite as long as some of his contemporaries. Still, his career was a varied one, which is why it is also an interesting to look back upon.
And thus, here at A Wasted Life, we want to pay our respects to Heinz Reincke not for being the "people's actor" that he was, but for being the character actor he was throughout his career prior to abandoning the big screen in the mid-80s. Particularly during the years of the so-called crisis in German film (the 1960s, when attendance went into a free-fall), when the German film industry cut production and concentrated on genre and exploitation films, he was one of the familiar faces that would fill the important secondary or tertiary role. As such, aside from the occasional "serious" film, he appeared in numerous westerns, crime films, comedies, kiddy films, "Heimatfilme", exploitation films and other such popular movies that enjoyed local success but little international distribution and are today, in Germany, preferably ignored and forgotten by the masses. It is a period of German film history that is dire need of rediscovery and reevaluation, particularly for those who enjoy the type of trash that A Wasted Life does.
Heinz Reincke, may he R.I.P.

Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull / Confessions of Felix Krull
(1957, dir. Kurt Hoffmann)

Confessions of Felix Krull, based on the unfinished novel by Thomas Mann, is Reincke's first film of note, though he has only a small part as "Stanko." The poster above is from the original film release, while the excerpt below actually comes from the 1982 television mini-series remake with which Heinz Reincke had absolutely nothing to do. It is included here merely as an excuse to show some breasts, which we here at A Wasted Life are always happy to do.
Scene from the 1982 version of Confessions of Felix Krull:

Nasser Asphalt / Wet Asphalt
(1958, dir. Frank Wisbar)
A film by Frank Wisbar (née Wysbar), the director of the great but forgotten film Fährmann Maria (1936), who had to leave Europe under the NS because he was married to a non-Aryan. In Hollywood, he spent many a year working for Poverty Row studios such as the Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) making forgotten films like Devil Bat's Daughter (1946), the cheap remake of Fährmann Maria entitled Strangler of the Swamp (1946), and Secrets of a Sorority Girl (1945). Wet Asphalt tells of jailbird Greg Bachmann (Horst Buchholz), a young journalist assigned to cover a "news" story of a blind Nazi soldier who supposedly survived six years in a buried bunker... The film is trashed here at HorrorTalk. Above, the poster; left, Heinz Reincke – you can't see it here on the poster above, but though Reincke isn't listed in the opening credits of the film, his name is on the poster.
Opening Credits:

The Longest Day

Heinz Reincke gets to play a Nazi commander, Oberst Josef Priller, in this perennial favorite war film, available in two versions: the version for idiot masses, in which everyone speaks English, and the version for the rest, in which the dialogue is in the given native language of the characters and subtitled. A star-studded cast, and Reincke is (according to imdb) uncredited, but for that he is seen here in the trailer – he says "Alright, here vee go" in the bomber.

Heimweh nach St. Pauli / Homesick for St. Pauli
(1963, dir. Werner Jacobs)
A Freddy Quinn "drama" – which, to translate for people unfamiliar with German culture, translates into a dull story with musical interludes, Freddy Quinn being a once-popular Austrian singer (who still appeals to the geriatric set). Reincke has a part somewhere in this film that we haven't seen about a Hamburg man (Quinn) who has become a successful singer but is hit by unending homesickness when he runs into an old friend in NYC; his manager tries to stop him from remaining in Germany. Will love conquer? Included here primarily just to be able to share the surreal sight of Jayne Mansfield, a "co-star" of the film, singing in German.
Jane singing Wo ist der Mann:

Wartezimmer zum Jenseits / Mark of the Tortoise
(1964, dir. Alfred Vohrer)
The closest that Heinz Reincke ever got to being in one of the popular Edgar Wallace films of the 60s was this Horst Wendlandt produced krimi directed by Alfred Vohrer, who helmed some of the most outrageously best (and some of the most outrageously worst) Wallace films throughout that decade. What a cast this krimi has: Hildegard Knef, Götz George, Pinkus Braun, Klaus Kinski and others – running around in a movie "based" on a James Hadley Chase novel but that plays like a somewhat earthed Wallace flick.

Freddy, Tiere, Sensationen / "Freddy, Animals, Sensations"
(1964, dir. Karl Vibach)
Reincke somewhere in another Freddy Quinn film, this time one about a successful performer in the USA who returns home (to Germany) to help save the family circus. Big drama. For your aural torture, one of the songs that Freddy Quinn sings during the film –
Vergangen, Vergessen, Vorbei:

Der Mörderclub von Brooklyn / Murderers Club of Brooklyn
(1967, dir. Werner Jacobs)
The fifth of eight Jerry Cotton films starring the strapping and happy George Nader, of Robot Monster (1953 / trailer), as the titular hero, the FBI agent Jerry Cotton. It is also the first color film of the series. Jerry Cotton and his partner Phil take down a murdering group of blackmailers in NYC; Reincke plays a hood named Sam.The Theme to Jerry Cotton:

Wenn es Nacht wird auf der Reeperbahn / When Night Falls on the Reeperbahn
(1967, dir. Rolf Olsen)
Rolf Olsen is one of the great unsung heroes of the German exploitation film industry, a name long and unjustly overlooked, if not forgotten. An actor, writer and director, by the time he retired in 1990 (he died in '98) he had a truly remarkable oeuvre of projects behind him. (One of the lesser projects that he participated in was Mädchen für die Mambo Bar [1959], in which he only acted.) Wenn es Nacht wird auf der Reeperbahn, German trash filmmaking at its finest, tells of a young scion of a rich family who produces LSD for a bunch of drug suppliers who use the drugs to take the will away from young girls that they then procure to old men. The police get active when a young lass dies, but everyone that makes waves also dies. The bodies pile up as the situation goes out of control...

Der Arzt von St. Pauli / Bedroom Stewardesses
(1968, dir. Rolf Olsen)
The great Rolf Olsen does it again! Literally translated, the title would be "The Doctor of St. Pauli", but for the US release it was entitled Bedroom Stewardesses. Another St. Pauli exploiter starring Curd Jürgens, for its re-released in the USA added scenes were shot by Al Adamson, the director of such classics as Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971). Jürgens is a doctor with a heart for the down and trodden; his gynecologist brother, Klaus, only treats the rich and when bored, attends orgies. A murder has a trail that leads to Klaus... who knows where Reincke is in the movie, or how they managed to twist that plot to fit the title Bedroom Stewardesses, but over at Temple of Schlock, we learn it was supposedly briefly first released in the US as Females for Hire* before being redone as Bedroom Stewardesses. Sleaze-film producer Samuel Sherman says: "Bedroom Stewardess will never be seen [again]. It wasn't bad either." The Bedroom Stewardesses poster was drawn by the great Gray Morrow.

*He seems confused here, for other sources generally claim that Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins (see further below) was released as Females for Hire.
Radio Ad to Bedroom Stewardesses:


Himmelfahrtskommando El Alamein / Commandos
(1968, dir. Armando Crispino)

A scene from Himmelfahrtskommando El Alamein:

Read the review here at The third film of Italo trash director Armando Crispino, who co-wrote Requiescant (1967 / trailer) and went on to make such memorable Eurotrash films as 1975 Frankenstein all'italiana (1975 / surreal scene that turned me gay for an hour), Autopsy (1975 / trailer) and The Dead Are Alive (1970 / trailer). In the indiscriminate scene shown above (in German), Heinz Reincke is seen briefly as one of the two soldiers dancing together. The plot, according to Wikipedia: "It is the middle of World War II and in the deserts of Africa, Sgt. Sullivan (Lee Van Cleef) puts together a group of Italian-Americans into disguise as Italian soldiers in order to infiltrate a North African camp held by the Italians. After the soldiers have killed the Italians in their beds, they find a hooker living at the camp. Sullivan's commandos are to hold this camp and its weaponry until an American battalion arrives, all the while these Italian-Americans pretend to be Italian soldiers, often hosting the enemy. Cpt. Valli (Jack Kelly) is a young, by-the-book officer who constantly argues with Sgt. Sullivan, who tells his superior that he has no idea what he is doing. One man on the base is an entomologist who is killed and then things get terrible."
CommandosThe full film:

Die Brücke von Remagen / The Bridge at Remagen
(1968, dir. John Guillermin)
Another war film, this time from the director that brought you Shaft in Africa (1973 / trailer), King Kong (1976 / trailer) and Sheena: Queen of the Jungle (1984 / trailer). Peter van Eyck's last film; filmed in Czechoslovakia, production was interrupted by the Russian invasion of '68.

Heintje Films
Oh, the torture! The torture! The Dondi of Germany. Heintje (true story) was the son of a Dutch coal miner, the family of which was living in poverty. Heintje won a local song contest and then went on to become one of the most popular actors and singers in Germany in the 1960s; his classic song Mama still sends millions of German moms and grandmothers into blissful trances whenever they hear it. The song, like the films, is torture for everyone who isn't German. Without a doubt, a true low in the Reincke's career – he appeared in four of the six films Heintje made – though he probably didn't see it that way. Three of the four films are as follows – prepare to gag.

Heintje – Ein Herz geht auf Reisen / Heintje: A Heart Goes on a Journey
(1969, dir. Werner Jacobs)

Heintje – einmal wird die Sonne wieder scheinen / Heintje: Once the Sun Will Be Shining Again
(1970, dir. Hans Heinrich)


Heintje – mein bester Freund / Heintje: My Best Friend
(1970, dir. Werner Jacobs)

And for the masochistic out there...
Heintje singing Mama in German:

Heintje singing Mama in Dutch:

Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins / Shock Treatment / Females for Hire
(1969, dir. Rolf Olsen)
Another Rolf Olsen exploiter with Curd Jürgens in the lead role and Reincke supporting – and once again, Al Adamson filmed the added material for the 1971 US release, retitled Females for Hire. (The literal translation of the title would be "On the Reeperbahn at Half Past Midnight".) The film is actually a remake of the same-named German "classic" from 1954, which stars Hans Albers and Heinz Rühmann. Curd is former seaman released from 8 years of jail for a crime he was framed for who, since he is forbidden to pursue his old career, tries to get an old bar going again, and Reincke is there to help. Along the way Curd gets a (sexless) thing going with a gal young enough to be his daughter – which she turns out to be. As to be expected with an Olsen film, the movie touches upon murder, drugs, prostitution and corruption.
Radio Ad for Females for Hire:

The trailer for Females for Hire as part of a triple feature with The Naughty Cheerleader and Hard Women:

Der Pfarrer von St. Pauli / The Priest of St. Pauli
(1970, dir. Rolf Olsen)
Rolf Olsen goes to St Pauli, again! Heinz Reincke is there, too. This time around, Curd Jürgens plays a submarine commander who turns to serving God. He's got a heart, fists of steel and an unmovable willy and crosses paths with a gang who see him as interference. St. Pauli, by the way, for those of you who don't know, is the hooker district of Hamburg, so that cleavage-rich gall on your bottle of St Pauli Girl is anything but a simple waitress...

Käpt’n Rauhbein aus St. Pauli / Nurses for Sale
(1971, dir. Rolf Olsen)
The infernal trio – Olsen, Jürgens and Reincke – just can't get enough of them St. Pauli girls! Add twenty minutes of exploitive padding for the US version, and you have Nurses for Sale. (The literal translation of the title would be "Captain Roughneck from St. Pauli".) The Vault of Bunchless says it didn't make it to the US until 1977 and points out the truth about the US poster: "Not very well executed, this poster nonetheless shows off some of the classic elements that make an exploitation movie poster work [...]. Even if the movie sucked, the poster's a whole lot of fun." Capt. Rauhbein (Jürgens) arrives in Hamburg to see his liquor cargo poured into the water by customs and the medical cargo stolen, for which he and his mate go to jail. They escape and go back to South America, where a bunch of nurses have been kidnapped by rebels.... Jürgens saves the day. Claimed by some viewers to be a not very funny comedy.

Fluchtweg St. Pauli – Großalarm für die Davidswache / Hot Traces of St. Pauli
(1971, Wolfgang Staudte)

Heinz Reincke returns to St. Pauli one last time, this time without either Olsen or Jürgens. Instead, a slumming Wolfgang Staudte is behind the lens – how far his career had sunken since The Murderers Are Among Us (1946) and The Man of Straw (1951). Reincke plays the good brother Heinz who takes in his bad brother Willy (Horst Frank) when he gets out of jail; Willy kills a man in a robbery and takes Heinz's wife as hostage. When Heinz goes after him, the police assume he is helping his brother.
One thing German exploitation flicks never had was bad music:

Ein Käfer gibt Vollgas / Superbug, Super Agent
(1972, dir. Rudolf Zehetgruber)
A cheap and crappie German sequel to The Love Bug Rally / Ein Käfer geht aufs Ganze (1970 / trailer), an almost as cheap and just as crappie German version of the Disney's The Love Bug (1968 / trailer) – two more German rip-offs were to follow by 1975. Reincke plays one of the laugh-a-rite thugs.Trailer:

Die blutigen Geier von Alaska / Deadly Eagle
(1973, dir. Harald Reinl)

Director Harald Reinl was already long past his prime when he helmed this B-level Euro-western starring the great non-actor Doug McClure (shot in the Alps, plays in Alaska). For more on the plot, go to Westerns...All'Italian. By now, Reincke had long entered the phase in which he was the last actor listed and always alone – the special five minute appearance, in other words. In fact, the only reason I've included this film here is so I have an excuse to include a clip from Roberto Blanco, a Cuban-born "Schlagersänger," who has one of his rare film appearances in Die blutigen Geier von Alaska, as an ex-boxer who serves a Bud-Spencer-like function in the film. If you truly watch the following clip to its end, you are truly wasting your life.
Roberto Blanco sings a medley of German Schlager hits:

Hurra, die Schwedinnen sind da / Hurray, The Swedish Girls Have Arrived
(1978, dir. Franz Josef Gottlieb)
During the 70s Germany had a wide variety of softcore sex film series on the market, featuring schoolgirls, Bavarians, housewives or whatever. Most aren't very erotic or very funny, though a good introduction to them is the outtakes film Aufklärungsrolle – Als die Liebe laufen lernte (1978). It seems like every German star over the age of 60 has one on their credits list, even though most would prefer to forget them. This film tells of a young hotelier who tries to save his business with the help of some friendly and usually naked Swedish girls and some local manly blokes by converting the hotel into a fitness hotel. Director F.J. Gottlieb had his long starting out with good stuff like the Edgar Wallace flick The Black Abbot (1963 / trailer) and other non-Wallace krimis like Das siebente Opfer (1964 / scene), Die Gruft mit dem Rätselschloß (1964 / trailer) and Das Phantom von Soho (1964 / trailer) before moving into non-funny German comedies and sexploitation like this film. Why Heinz Reincke took part in this film – playing a small part as "Heinz," seen in the background of the image to the left – is a mystery, but he surely enjoyed the sights.

Lady Dracula
(1978, dir. Franz Josef Gottlieb)
The same year Franz Josef Gottlieb made Hurra, die Schwedinnen sind da, he also directed this Brad Harris vehicle, a horror comedy. (Brad Harris, seen here to the left displaying his manliness, is found in many a great film, including the unforgeable flick The Mutations [1973].) Heinz Reincke doesn't really have an important role in this film, but he appears as in an un-credited part as a drunk man no one believes. Good enough a reason for A Wasted Life to include the truly ugly poster and funny trailer – in which you can see Heinz Reinckefor a full half second if you watch carefully...

Das Love-Hotel in Tirol / Love Hotel in Tyrol
(1980, dir. Franz Antel)
More Bavarian "porn", this time by Franz Antel. Two brothers inherit a hotel; one wants to make it turn a profit by filling it with pretty girls from Thailand, the other want to open a house of moral rectitude for girls. Confusion ensues. Hah-hah-hah-hah: White slavery – very funny.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

RIP: Roberts Blossom

(Roberts Blossom as "Doc Wallace" in the 1995 Sam Raimi film The Quick and the Dead.)

RIP: Roberts Blossom
Tuesday, 25th March 1924 - Friday, 8th July 2011

Born in 1924 (and, depending on your source, on either January 1st or March 25th) as Bartholomew Roberts Blossom in New Haven, Connecticut, and raised in Cleveland, the 6'1" character actor, who gained his stride as in his field in his late forties, is anything but a truly recognizable name. Nevertheless, the actor and poet, who retired from acting at the turn of the last century to concentrate on writing poetry, was a recognizable face that often graced the role of the local doc, grandpa, oddball or codger who, be as it may, was either a harmless eccentric, a loner (either friendly or unfriendly) or a nutcase.
A 1941 graduate of Asheville School, Blossom attended Harvard before entering the army and getting shipped overseas. Initially becoming a therapist in Cleveland after returning from Europe, he decided to become an actor and moved to NYC, making his debut Off Broadway in 1955 in a production of George Bernard Shaw's Village Wooing, for which he received his first Obie. During his theatrical career, he worked both on and off Broadway and eventually won three more Obies. In the late-fifties, he made his television debut – according to imdb, in 1958 on the classic detective program Naked City in the Christmas episode And a Merry Christmas to the Force on Patrol. Thereafter, he found regular employment in bit parts both on television and on the silver screen. From 1976 to 77, he had a reoccurring role on the daytime soap Another World, for which he won a Soapy Award. He only ever received star billing at most for two or three films, one of which is a true exploitation classic – and what a classic it is! In 1974 he gave a tour de force performance playing "Ezra Cobb" in the grindhouse masterpiece Deranged, one of the first and best films ever made presenting a relatively realistic version of the famous killer and necrophilia, Ed Gein. And though Blossom made relatively few horror or exploitation films in his career, that film alone burned him into the memory of untold horror-film fanatics, including mine.
Roberts Blossom died at the age of 87 on the 8th of July, 2011, and is survived by a daughter, Debbie, of Los Angeles, and a son, Michael, of Chicago, both from his first marriage to the modern dance choreographer, Beverly Schmidt Blossom. His second wife, Marylin Orshan Blossom, died in 1982.

The year Roberts Blossom retired, in 2000, the filmmaker James Brih Abee made a documentary of the good man entitled Full Blossom: The Life of Poet/Actor Roberts Blossom. Here is the trailer:

And now, a review of Roberts Blossom's films of note – the good, the great and the crappy.

The Sin of Jesus
1961, dir. Robert Frank
Roberts Blossom made his "film" debut in this art film, a forty-minute short by Robert Frank, a well-known photographer who went on to be the creative mastermind behind the infamous Rolling Stones "documentary," Cocksucker Blues (1972 / the first ten minutes). The Sin of Jesus, based on a story by Issac Babel, was supposedly filmed at George Segal's chicken farm in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and the tale it tells, as according to photopedium, is as follows: "[...] A woman on a chicken farm who spends her days working at an egg-sorting machine. 'I'm the only woman here' She is pregnant, her husband spends his days lying in bed, and his friends encourage him to go out on the town with them. The woman talks to herself as she works, lost in the monotony of human existence. She counts the passing days in the same way she counts eggs. Even extraordinary events, such as the appearance of Jesus Christ in the barn, go under the stream of this melancholy solipsism."

The Hospital
1971, dir. Arthur Hiller
Ten years after his art-film debut, Blossom had a small part in this black comedy written by Paddy Chayefsky and starring George C. Scott and the great Diana Rigg. The film won the 1972 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and in 1995 it was even selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Blossom plays a patient named Guernsey, who ends up dying due to medical malpractice in a hospital with a murderer on the loose and a head doctor whose life is falling apart. His death is eventually revealed as being the important incendiary to other specific events in the film.
Couldn't find the trailer to the film, but here's George C. Scott explaining the advantages of impotence to Diana Rigg...
"Impotence is beautiful, baby!"

The Witches of Salem: The Horror and the Hope
1972, writ & dir. Dennis Azzarella
A short docudrama telling the true story of the Salem Witch Trials, a bit dry for home viewing but good for educational purposes. Director Dennis Azzarella's career as a documentary filmmaker was cut short while working on documentary project for National Geographic: on March 13, 1974, the Corvair 440 Sierra Pacific Airlines plane he was on exploded on takeoff, killing all 35 on board. Blossom plays the part of Gov. William Phips.
A clip of some scenes from the film – none with Blossom:

1972, dir. George Roy Hill
The film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s famous cult novel, about which the author himself said: "I love George Roy Hill and Universal Pictures, who made a flawless translation of my novel Slaughterhouse-Five to the silver screen [...] I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book." It is the tale of Billy Pilgrim's life after he becomes unstuck in time; during Billy's life in the future in a zoo on the planet of Tralfamadore, he shares his "cage" with a young and delectable Valerie Perrine, who spends a lot of time topless. Blossom has a small part as the delirious military officer Wild Bob Cody.

The Great Gatsby
1974, dir. Jack Clayton
"Rich girls don't marry poor boys." An all-star, big-budget production of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel which, much like the novel, was a critical bomb when it was released but, unlike the novel, has never been reappraised as a classic. If you like lush and lifeless big-budget period dramas, you could do worse than this film – despite Robert Redford's absolutely lousy interpretation of Jay Gatsby. In this, the third film version of the book, Blossoms has the small part of Mr. Gatz, the father of Jay Gatsby.
Trailer taken from the tube:

Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile
1974, dirs. Jeff Gillen & Alan Ormsby
The same year that he had a small part as a hypocritical preacher in a dying Bible Belt town in the PBS production of Lanford Wilson's play The Rimers of Eldritch, Roberts Blossom also had his only feature film leading role and poster credit in this 42nd Street classic, and boy does he walk away with the film. He is absolutely unforgettable as Ezra Cobb, a small-town eccentric with a thing for his dead mommy. A film truly worth seeing if you get the chance. For A Wasted Life's full review of the Deranged, go here.

Citizen's Band
1977, dir. Jonathan Demme
Jonathan Demme, a graduate of the Roger Corman Film School, made this flick three years after his directorial debut Caged Heat (1974 / trailer / full film), but though Citizen's Band is an obvious attempt to exploit the then-current CB fad, it is much closer in flavor to the Roger Altman school of multi-character interlocking narratives than Roger Corman's T&A with a side of guns and ketchup – which might explain why the film flopped when it came out. Paul LeMat plays "Spider," a CB repairman and volunteer for REACT International who responds to emergency calls and tries to clear the airwaves of frivolous or undesirable CBers such as "The Red Baron," who broadcasts white supremacist monologues, or "The Hustler," a teen that reads porno over the air. Complications ensue between him and others as well as between others and others before everyone joins in together to look for the disappeared "Papa Thermodyne" (Roberts Blossom), Spider's dad, who's only a nice person over the airwaves. A fluff of a film, if my memory serves me right (I saw it years ago on HBO). It was later rereleased as Handle with Care.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
1977, dir. Steven Spielberg
There's really nothing that needs to be said about this little film by the forgotten director Steven Spielberg. Blossom is in yet another tiny but memorable role as a farmer whose had more than a few brushes with the Fortean. He is, of course, seen nowhere in the trailer.

Escape from Alcatraz
1979, dir. Don Siegel
So, who hasn't seen this film? Another film by real men for real men, set in a prison in which no one ever bends to pick up the soap but one man does eat some. The movie tells the tale of the only successful escape from "The Rock," and Ol' Squinty Eyes himself (Clint Eastwood) plays the man who led it, Frank Morris. Roberts Blossom has another small but extremely memorable performance as Doc, an elderly inmate whose only joy left in life is painting. When the vindictive warden (Patrick McGoohan) takes offense at a portrait of him painted by Doc, he has Doc's painting privileges revoked. In a tragic act of crazed defiance, Doc cuts off his own fingers in front of the warden's eyes.

1983, dir. John Carpenter
Carpenter's first film after his first commercial flop, The Thing (1982 / trailer), and he made it primarily because it was the only project offered him. And although it is arguably one of the better adaptations of a Stephen King novel, it is still less than memorable – like most movies based on something written by King. Blossom has a small but important part as George LeBay, the old man that sells Arnie Cunningham the demonic 1958 Plymouth Fury, Christine.

Reuben, Reuben
1983, dir. Robert Ellis Miller
Actually, this film, loosely inspired by Dylan Thomas and directed by a TV director whose next biggest credit is probably the Brooke Shield's vehicle Brenda Starr (1989 / trailer), is exactly the kind of film that we here at A Wasted Life gag over. But it is also the type of film full of "scintillatingly clever" dialog that actors so love to make, so it was surely must have been one of Roberts Blossom's favorite projects. It is also the debut film of Kelly McGillis, who plays Geneva, the love interest of the poet Gowan McGland (Tom Conti) – "He drinks and lies. Sleeps with other men's wives. He hasn't written a word in years...but every woman he meets falls in love with him." Blossom plays Frank Spofford, the owner of the Old English Sheepdog Reuben, after whom the film is named. In the following clip, Blossom delivers some of the scintillatingly clever dialog... to background music that makes me want to go postal.
Film clip:

1984, dir. William Tannen
The debut film of former TV commercial director William Tannen as well as the first theatrical film to be produced by HBO, starring the then-still-hunky Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams as two Texas border guards that find a buried Jeep in the desert, complete with a skeleton, a scoped rifle, and $800,000 in cash. They decide to keep the money, but stupidly ask questions. Soon the Feds are crawling all over the place, out to eliminate everyone connected with the find. The great soundtrack is by Tangerine Dream. Blossom is in a small part as "Amarillo."

Vision Quest
1985, dir. Harold Becker
A crappy coming-of-age film directed by a man better known (if at all) for cop films and thrillers. Louden (Mathew Modine) is an 18-year-old high school wrestler who wants to do something meaningful with his life, so he drops two weight classes to be able to wrestle the hunky Brian (Frank Jasper) from a rival school. Along the way, he starts a relationship with an "older" woman named Carla (Linda Fiorentino) who is passing through town on her way to San Francisco. Blossoms plays Louden's granddad in a film primarily remembered today, if at all, as the first film appearance of Madonna (as a singer in a local bar). The film got renamed Crazy for You pretty quickly after her song of that title for the film became a hit.
Music video to Crazy for You:

Candy Mountain
1988, dir. Robert Frank
Roberts Blossom appears briefly in this film by the maker of The Sin of Jesus (1961) as Archie, the father cop to the son cop (Leon Redbone) who arrests the flick's main character Julius (Kevin J. O'Connor) when he crashes into a parked boat. A road movie of the type that could suddenly get made after Jim Jarmusch gifted the world with Stranger than Paradise (1984 / trailer) and Down by Law (1986 / trailer). Written by Rudy Wurlitzer, who wrote Two Lane Blacktop (1971 / trailer) and Walker (1987 / trailer), the film has cameos galore as it follows a third-rate musician out to find a legendary guitar maker.

The Last Temptation of Christ
1988, dir. Martin Scorsese
Another tiny part in a big film, Blossom appears somewhere in this thing as the "Aged Master." No, contrary to popular opinion at the time The Last Temptation of Christ was released, it was not a remake of I Saw Jesus Die (1974).

Home Alone
1990, dir. Chris Columbus
We here at A Wasted Life hate this film, but seeing that it is the film for which most people recognize Blossom's face, it must be included. A big hit. Blossom has a relatively large part for him as the reclusive neighbor and local pariah Old Man Marley who proves to be a sad but friendly man. Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) does his good Christmas deed by convincing Marley to reconnect and reconcile with his son.

Death Falls
1991, dir. June Samson
Beverly Garland's final feature film, the only known film by the director, and a rare film in that Roberts Blossom (as Hals Johnson) gets misspelled headlining credit on the poster alongside Garland, Rip Torn and Jeffrey Combs (!!!). Who knows if it's any good or what it's really about or who's who, but according to imdb: "A terminally ill man gets his buddy to bust him out of the hospital. But, in the process, the duo antagonizes a city policeman, who trails them to the boonies surrounding their hometown. The local sheriff and their lady friend (who think more kindly of the pair) strive to find the fugitives before the less-compassionate posse, which includes a deranged, rifle-toting foe of the two."

Murder in the Heartland
1993, dir. Robert Markowitz
Yet another film version of the Starkweather and Fugate murders, this time for television. Starring Tim Roth as Starkweather and the eternally desirable Fairuza Balk as Fugate, the flick is (slightly) historically inaccurate but, for a TV flick, exceptionally well made and well acted. (The best take on Starkweather still remains the first film he ever inspired, the B&W exploitation classic The Sadist [1963 / full film] starring the infamous Arch Hall, Jr.) Roberts Blossom appears as Gus Meyer – his first appearance is directly after the credits.
The first 88 minutes of the film:

The Quick and the Dead
1995 dir. Sam Raimi
Roberts Blossom appears in his last theatrical release as the town doctor, Doc Wallace. He's only one of a truly memorable cast – Raimi's cartoony, kinetic take on the classic spaghetti western has the best cast of character actors since Carpenter's The Thing! This tale of a mysterious but hot female gunslinger (Sharon Stone) with a secret agenda who arrives in the town of Redemption, which is ruled with a bloodthirsty, iron hand by Herod (Gene Hackman), features the first appearance in a US film by Russell Crowe and the last film appearance of the great Woody Strode. Unbelievably and unreasonably, the film flopped. If you haven't seen it, you should – it ain't no masterpiece, but it is vintage Raimi and highly entertaining. A worthy last cinema credit for Blossom if there ever was one.