Last month, Variety panned a thriller called Iron Cross. But the review has been disappeared from Variety's web site, which probably has something to do with the $400,000 Iron Cross' producers paid to Variety for an awards campaign.
Iron Cross, which ended up being Roy Scheider's last film (he died during production), is a Holocaust revenge fantasy in which Scheider, a Holocaust survivor and NYPD cop, hunts down and kills the SS officer who killed his family. It's also, according to Variety freelancer Robert Koehler, who reviewed it for the Hollywood trade paper on January 20, "hackneyed," "preposterous," "mediocre," "choppy," and "uncertain."
We're told publisher Brian Gott ordered it removed after the movie's producers called to complain. They had a point—according to the Los Angeles Times, they'd paid Variety $400,000 in a failed bid to mount an Oscar campaign:
To that end he has gotten his investors to agree to a "substantial" buy (about $400,000) in the Hollywood trade paper Variety with ads of one sort or another running every day until Oscar voters have turned in their ballots in late January.... The film is booked into Variety's LA, NY and San Francisco screening series, where [director Joshua] Newton and his son Alexander, who's in the movie as the young Scheider, will do Q&As.
Iron Cross' presence on Variety's screening series, which is usually reserved for actual Oscar contenders and serves to give members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a chance to see potential nominees in the theater before the voting begins, was a mystery to many in Hollywood. It was a tiny film by relatively unknown director Newton, and was notable only for the unfortunate fact that Scheider died while making it. But Newton and his fellow producers' huge outlay to Variety certainly explains its presence, as well as the January Variety story touting the otherwise unremarkable picture as "a World War II revenge drama [that] has hit the screens with hopes of awards."
We asked Gott why Koehler's review was spiked, and he replied, "Unfortunately Variety does not comment on internal matters. I hope you understand." We tried to reach Iron Cross' producers, including Newton, without success. Koehler didn't respond to an e-mail.
UPDATE: We still haven't reached Newton, but we've obtained an e-mail he wrote to a tipster in December saying that Variety removed Koehler's review due to "the absolute embarrassment endured by Variety bearing in mind we have worked with them for months to develop an effective Oscars campaign." How embarrassing! Here's the entire e-mail, which notes that Koehler isn't a staff writer and argues that his "views on the film are not shared by anyone else at that publication." Newton also accuses Koehler of being "sneaky" in catching Iron Cross at one of its few public showings rather than at the one of the paid Variety screenings that he purchased a slot in, and says "he must have known that his review would compromise our Variety campaign." Here's the full e-mail:
Robert Koehler is in fact not a staff writer for Variety and his views on the film are not shared by anyone else at that publication. One of the top staff journalists had been assigned to do a review after the Oscars campaign, but Koehler took it upon himself to review the film first and managed to sneak it into the publication. You can imagine the absolute embarrassment endured by Variety bearing in mind we have worked with them for months to develop an effective Oscars campaign. If you do a search, this will confirm that Variety have now deleted the article from the database. This is because Koehler's review was considered sloppy and grossly unfair and that he described the events in the film incorrectly. Kindly note as follows: Roy Scheider does not imagine taking a chainsaw to a random German's throat. Roy does not realise the guy they abducted is the wrong man. That is not the reason why he couldn't pull the trigger. I set out below the film's synopsis, which you can see is somewhat different to Koehler's and your friend's description:
"IRON CROSS is a revenge drama in which the late Roy Scheider stars as JOSEPH, a retired New York police officer tormented by memories of escaping the execution of his family as an 18-year old in Nazi-occupied Poland. The faces of TWO SS men, one the COMMANDER in charge of the massacre, the other a PRIVATE who pursued Joseph through the forest, have obsessed him ever since. When Joseph arrives in Nuremberg to reconcile with his son RONNIE (Scott Cohen), he coaxes him into abducting SHRAGER, (Helmut Berger) a neighbour, convinced that he is the aging SS Commander living under a false identity. En route to the execution site in a stolen truck to deliver what Joseph considers justice but what Ronnie protests to be vengeance, Joseph recounts to his son for the first time his harrowing escape from the massacre and his teenage love for a heroic Polish girl, Kashka. As flashbacks to the 1940s depict Young Joseph (Alexander Newton) and Kashka (Sarah Bolger), the face and eyes of the SS private who chased Joseph through the forest plague him with increasing intensity — nightmarish visions that challenge his humanity and lead both the past and the present to a gripping and unforgettable climax."
Roy's last performance is outstanding and Oscar-worthy. Last week we had three Variety-organised oscar screenings to packed 300-seat theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, each followed by considerable applause, praise and a Q&A. Koehler was not at any of these, instead he chose to view it without his colleagues knowing under the radar at the picture's one week qualifying run in a tiny theater with terrible sound in West Hollywood. Had he been at the official Variety screenings or bothered to check with his colleagues or get Production Notes from our publicists, he would have known that the story is inspired by my late father, a holocaust survivor and based on a question I asked myself a couple of years ago "What would my dad do if he came across the person responsible for the murder of his family? Would he take the law into his own hands? Would he ask me to help him kill this man?". He would also have known that there are several strange coincidences surrounding the production of this film. In particular, Roy was playing a character modeled on my father – and when I cast Roy I had no idea he had the same cancer my dad had -– multiple myeloma. Both died from it, my dad on May 10th 2007, Roy on February 10th 2008 –- and Roy's memorial service took place on May 10th 2008 -– exactly to the day one year after my father's passing. I can't say why Koehler took such a negative view –- but his actions were sneaky and he must have known that his review would compromise our Variety campaign. He didn't even mention the film's wonderful score performed by the London Symphony Orchestra or the stunning cinematography. I have checked him out. For instance, look at this list of reviews for the hit comedy Rat Race:
You'll note the very high percentages awarded by the top critics – reaching 100% by the San Francisco Chronicle. Koehler, who trashes many movies, gave it only 20%, stating "A lineup of comic actors running on empty long before the dust settles". Clearly a man without a sense of humour. Which probably explains why he hated Iron Cross. In the first act of the film, well before the neighbour is abducted, I depict several humorous moments, amongst which Roy's character imagines what he'd like to do to the man he believes killed his family –- not as your friend suggests, some random German. These include gassing, hanging and cutting off his head –- three methods the Nazis used to kill people. These moments — and several others –- received widespread audience laughter, as intended, at the three Variety screenings we have had. The rest of the film is a serious study into the mind of a man whose heart is filled with anger — the consequences of which are tragic. It's an anti-killing story, that if watched with attention offers the viewer much below the surface and raises meaningful discussion.
Except for the synopsis, this email is sent to you in strictest confidence and not for publication – many thanks.
Joshua Newton | Producer-Director | Calibra Pictures