Review Page and Column
The Blue Lamp 05/11/21
It’s the granddaddy of British cop dramas of the modern era. The most popular English picture of 1950 introduced PC George Dixon, a warm-hearted constable who would become a staple on BBC TV for 21 years. T.E.B. Clarke’s screenplay of a murder manhunt is stocked with actors American fans know well — Dirk Bogarde, Bernard Lee — and some we should know better — Jack Warner, Robert Flemyng, Dora Bryan. The show was made by the top craftsmen of Ealing Studios, and its fast pace and Brit sensibility will definitely impress. And remember — the Bobbies on the beat don’t even carry guns. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Nightmare Alley 05/11/21
One of the most glamorous / unsavory films noir ever, this creepy tale of a master con-man undone by warped ambition was planned as a career-altering role for the big star Tyrone Power. Power plumbs the depths of personal degradation in terms that even today skew to the squeamish side of human experience. Almost as fascinating are the women Power uses, arrayed in dynamic contrast by Coleen Gray, Joan Blondell and Helen Walker. Yes, this is the movie about ‘The Geek’… Hollywood hadn’t been this intimate with the seamy underside of carnival life since Tod Browning’s Freaks. The disc extras include top contributions from James Ursini and Alain Silver, Imogen Sara Smith and even Coleen Gray. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Donnie Darko 4K 05/11/21
The 4K Ultra HD crowd has a treat in store, for Donnie Boy is back for theatrical quality home screenings. Richard Kelly’s dreamy/morbid teen fantasy has gained in stature in the twenty years (gasp) since the nasty bunny-man ‘Frank’ raised his ugly chrome head… and young Donald’s psychic sci-fi ordeal seems more relevant than ever. Arrow’s 4K-only release shows the label once again proving its mettle in the hard media video biz, with full-res encodings of both the theatrical and director’s extended cuts. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Patrick Swayze, Holmes Osborne, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Noah Wyle, Drew Barrymore, Katharine Ross. On 4K Ultra HDfrom Arrow Video.
Whenever I want to start a discussion with readers, all I have to to is mention the magic name of composer Bernard Herrmann. Following up on my post last Saturday, correspondent Kit McFarlane has generously written in with two more highly interesting links. This Internet Archive page called CBS Radio Crime Classics allows one to audit a dozen or so half-hour TV shows with soundtrack scores by Herrmann. The one I listened to was very entertaining.
Kit follows up with a link to his Pop Matters article that’s mostly about the Crime Classics radio shows, The Seven-Layered Arsenic Cake of Madame Lafarge and other Crime Classics. I didn’t know about any of this Kit, thank you.
We really enjoyed some of the restored films shown last weekend at the TCMFest, held online for the second year in a row. A beautiful new copy of the French Josephine Baker musical Princesse Tam-Tam (1935) will happily replace the ragged remnant that’s been shown for years. We also greatly enjoyed the early Tay Garnett / Helen Twelvetrees drama Her Man, which was made in 1930 but has technical and artistic qualities (a complex soundtrack, impressive tracking shots) that critics often ascribe to later ‘auteurs.’ Some of the knockabout slapstick comedy is really good.
Sneaking into the mix was an obscure 1951 ‘social problem’ picture that I frankly had never heard of, despite the fact that it was directed by the famed Robert Siodmak. The Whistle at Eaton Falls stars Lloyd Bridges and Dorothy Gish, and sports amazing early film work by Anne Francis, Ernest Borgnine, Arthur O’Connell, Carleton Carpenter, Murray Hamilton and James Westerfield, most of whom look years younger than we are used to seeing them. The show was so good that I yesterday obtained a phone interview with David Strohmaier, who restored it, and am working up a part-review article.
Eaton Falls is about a labor struggle in a New England plastics factory. It grabbed me because 1) of its unusual high quality, 2) because it all but dropped off the face of the Earth after its initial run, and 3) because it feels like one of those pessimistic ‘America isn’t working right’ movies of the time — yet it pays off quite differently. It’s especially impressive because its reasonably positive finish doesn’t negate its complexities — it doesn’t end with a phony Frank Capra reconciliation. The fact that movies like this drop in out of nowhere, is a great motivator to stay around to see what might be next.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Near the pinnacle of director-driven ’70s cinema is this marvelous comedy about an ‘American Miss’ contest, and the swirl of personalities that come to support, promote and ogle the teen beauties just learning the ropes of the good old U.S. hype machine. Bruce Dern, Barbara Feldon and Michael Kidd are just wonderful as the adults in charge of the pageantry; Annette O’Toole, Joan Prather and Melanie Griffifth are among the hopefuls, learning an early lesson in a time honored, entirely bogus Americana ritual: as Michael Kidd says, he teaches these sweet kids to dance and behave like Vegas showgirls. It’s deceptively, distractingly funny — and as true as the day is long. With Eric Shea, Geoffrey Lewis and Nicholas Pryor. On Blu-ray from Fun City Editions.
They Won’t Believe Me 05/08/21
The Warner Archive’s latest major restoration premiere restores a full 15 minutes of scenes to this classic-era domestic film noir about the havoc wreaked by a lousy husband on three unfortunate women. There’s no accounting for love, and the lesson taught by the cad Robert Young carries a murderous sting. All that Susan Hayward, Rita Johnson and Jane (swoon) Greer need to explain to me, is what they saw in Robert Young in the first place. It’s top-flight RKO noir, beautifully remastered; CineSavant spells out exactly which scenes are newly restored. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
First up, here’s a call-out to CineSavant’s resident reviewer Charlie Largent, whose coverage of The Dungeon of Andy Milligan Collection last Tuesday has been getting rave reviews and comments on Facebook and in my email queue. Charlie is the same talented writer (and screenwriter) who wrote great content for Video Watchdog and I’m very proud to have him contributing to CineSavant.
Then, Gary Teetzel tells that the season finale episode of Shudder’s Creepshow TV series featured a story called Night of the Living Late Show in which Justin Long invents a Virtual Reality device that allows the user to seemingly transport themselves into any old movie. (↑) Perhaps the machine’s sophisticated programming makes sure that the movie in question is Public Domain, so Shudder doesn’t have to pay for a bunch of expensive clips. Fortunately for the show’s budget, it just so happens that Justin Long’s favorite movie is the PD classic Horror Express. Justin Long ‘meets’ Christopher Lee in the trailer from Dread Central. We get an extended look at Long entering the alternate reality of the movie in this Second Clip, which somehow manages to look less impressive than similar effects from Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid from forty years years ago.
The episode has garnered a generally favorable response from fans. According to the IMDB, actress Hannah Fierman is credited with the role of ‘Countess Petrovska,’ played in the original by Española Silvia Tortosa. Is it fair to guess that Justin Long interacts with the Countess far more than he does with Professor Saxton or Dr. Wells? We wonder if the episode director Greg Nicotero arranged for the KNB effects shop to recreate the original film’s scary caveman/alien monster. Finally, inquiring busybodies want to know: Horror Express is in the Public Domain, but was a deal made with the estates of Lee and Cushing for the use of their likenesses?
And thanks to the input of Gary Teetzel and Craig Reardon, today is a link-heavy day for Bernard Herrmann fans. Gary offers a steer toward an NPR radio review of a new recording of some of Herrmann’s postclassical, non-film music, with excerpts. The album in review also has Hitchcock’s 1968 reworked suite Psycho: A Narrative for Orchestra. NPR’s reviewer talks about the Psycho music as if it were some long-lost piece that nobody heard until John Mauceri ‘rediscovered’ it. The Naxos Records album in question seems to be called Whitman.
Craig turns our attention to Michael McGehee’s New Discovery Recordings, specifically, a series of ‘Melodram’ re-recordings of vintage radio music composed by Bernard Herrmann. It’s a sales page, but I have to admit that I never heard of this music, and I’m tempted to investigate: New Discovery Recordings: Bernard Herrmann. The titles are interesting: ‘The Younger Brothers, Why Some of Them Grew No Older’, “Pizzaro, His Heart on a Golden Knife” and “Blackbeard’s 14th Wife, Why She Was No Good For Him.” The program notes are illuminating as well… there was apparently a Herrmann radio ‘Western Suite’ library library of music cues that were used on countless television programs throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Here’s a video clip of a Melodram rehearsal session for a recording of Herrmann’s The City Brass.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Fearless Charlie Largent pries back the dungeon doors to give a full report on yet another exhaustive Severin box o’ gore devoted to a horror filmmaker on the margins of cinematic validity. More squeamish than Al Adamson! More appalling than William Grefe! Meet the man who showed 42nd Street grindhouses a new bottom below the bottom of the barrel! Charlie took the time to sort out the fourteen features and innumerable extras on the eight Blu-rays in the box, with titles like The Ghastly Ones, Bloodthirsty Butchers, Fleshpot on 42nd Street and that nostalgic tearjerker The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! I tell you, even the face pictured on the box top looks like the work of a police artist, drawn from the memories of Milligan’s victims! On Blu-ray from Severin Films.
Columbia Noir #3 05/04/21
Witness six noir heroes, doing what noir heroes do: one crooked gambler, one psycho, another psycho with access to a gun, a dope railroaded into a prison sentence, and an even bigger dope who doesn’t realize he’s poisoning himself. That’s only five, but the sixth is a cop, and not a particularly compromised one, the way we like ’em in noir. Johnny O’Clock, The Dark Past, Convicted, Between Midnight and Dawn, The Sniper and City of Fear can boast name directors, beautiful HD transfers and some fascinating short subjects as extras. With Dick Powell, Nina Foch, William Holden, Edmond O’Brien, Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford, Marie Windsor, and Vince Edwards; on Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Dick really goes for this movie; the two of them compare and contrast it with the 1936 James Whale version. I have to admit that I too was impressed with the Technicolor restoration, even if my Irene Dunne fan membership precludes me from doing somersaults for Kathryn Grayson.
Is the science news of late imitating cinema? This Land of Science article reports on a fairly amazing real phenomenon: Scientists Discover a Free-Range Planet with Unbelievable Magnetism. This celestial body is bigger than Jupiter, orbits no star and presently roams the cosmos only 20 light years distant. Although not a star itself, it radiates its own heat and is incredibly hot. Most importantly, it generates and incredibly powerful magnetic field, 4 million times greater than that of the Earth. It’s described as a ‘planetary Goliath.’
A ‘planetary Goliath?’ Shouldn’t Takashi Shimura or Morris Ankrum be saying that?
If that’s not enough, Land of Science’s visualization of the Lone Star Bandit Astral Body, sporting a ring of polar lights like our own Aurora Borealis made into a gas stove burner, looks remarkably like a certain nefarious planetary interloper that gave Earth (and Toho films) considerable grief back in ’62. It’s really big (check), extraordinarily magnetic (check) and on a collision course with Earth (no it’s not, that a total lie). Remember, we at CineSavant are avid science readers, but only when reality fuels our adolescent sci-fi fantasies.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Night of the Following Day 05/01/21
Hubert Cornfield’s smoothly directed, moody kidnapping story is mysterious, engaging and well acted, but opts for an anti-thriller vibe with a curiously unsatisfying ending. Was this really the plan, or did the irksomely capricious Marlon Brando just not want to cooperate with the director? Brando is terrific anyway (and in great shape, too). The well-cast Rita Moreno, Richard Boone and Pamela Franklin are short-changed by directorial and editorial decisions that don’t give us enough of a purchase on the characters. The overcast weather on the French coast is a plus, but not the director’s choice of a downbeat, arty finish. On Blu-rayfrom KL Studio Classics.
Broadway Melody of 1940 05/01/21
For his first teaming sans Ginger, Fred Astaire hot-foots it to MGM and the waiting tap & sweep partner Eleanor Powell, already a terrific box office draw in her own right. These were the days when the caliber of talent in Hollywood justified the exalted, glamorous aura of star status. The story is a backstage mixup with sidebar singing and joke acts, decent dialogue and not much else. But when these two alight on a dance floor — not just ‘a’ dance floor but an enormous expanse of glittering glass — Hollywood hits a too-glamorous-to-be-real peak. The music by Cole Porter includes Begin the Beguine. Just-okay George Murphy is the third wheel on this musical bicycle, with Frank Morgan serving as fuddy-duddy comic relief. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Viavision [Imprint] just sent out a teaser for their July Blu-ray titles, which turns out to be an interesting selection of horror pictures including two boxed sets and a couple of rarities. The stand-alone releases are David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone, Mike Newell’s The Awakening, Lewis Gilbert’s Haunted, and Bernard McEveety’s The Brotherhood of Satan.
A “Hammer Horror: Four Gothic Horror Films” box gives us a quartet of 1970s features: Peter Sasdy’s Countess Dracula and Hands of the Ripper, John Hough’s Twins of Evil and Robert Young’s Vampire Circus ( ↑ ).
And a “Silver Screams Cinema” box reaches way back for new Blu-rays, three of which I’ve never seen: John English’s The Phantom Speaks, Lesley Selander’s The Vampire’s Ghost, Phil Rosen’s Return of the Ape Man, Philip Ford’s Valley of the Zombies, Kurt Neumann’s She Devil and Charles Marquis Warren’s The Unknown Terror. ( ↑ ) That’s a nice selection of arcane oddities.
We can’t wait to review some Viavision [Imprint] items coming sooner: Alfie, The President’s Analyst, their “Essential Film Noir Collection 2” box and The Face Behind the Mask.
But there’s still more — we finish off with Arrow Films’ welcome announcement of a big Daiei Daimajin triple bill box, with all three of the 1966 films about the perpetually pissed-off giant samurai warrior made of stone, Daimanin, Return of Daimajin and Wrath of Daimajin. The announced release date is July 26.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Switchblade Sisters 04/27/21
The always-dynamic director Jack Hill goes teen-gang wild with this absolutely crazy take on JD pictures, pitched three octaves higher than normal exploitation drama. All the nasty-rasty thrills are here, from an episode of WIP sadism to brutal misogyny to a gang skirmish fought on a roller skating rink. Hill’s gang epic is so stylized, it’s almost a fantasy. What began as one of those exploitation cheapies with three women, comes alive with the dynamic Robbie Lee, Joanne Nail and Monica Gayle — even with all the sexist cruelty on view, the no-limits performances feel liberating, energizing. With some good interview and analysis extras. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
Quick Change 04/27/21
On the short list of post- classic-era comedies I can see over and over again is this beautifully executed Bill Murray crime comedy, which he co-directed. The fact that its basically silly main joke is whining about New York City doesn’t keep it from being hilarious from one end to the other. When it comes time for a getaway to the airport, Manhattan might as well be an impenetrable maze, an island of doom. Geena Davis and Randy Quaid give excellent comedy support, while Jason Robards holds up the police dragnet end of the story. The disc has no special extras but Murray’s movie is as satisfying as ever. With Bob Elliott, Jamey Sheridan, Phil Hartman, Tony Shalhoub, Garry Goodrow, Stanley Tucci, Victor Argo, Philip Bosco, Kurtwood Smith. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.