Review Page and Column
The Body Snatcher 03/23/19
This bona fide classic may be, as Greg Mank says, the best American horror picture of the 1940s. The teaming of Boris Karloff and Henry Daniell is sensational, as a grave-robbing cabman and a brilliant but unscrupulous surgeon in need of cadavers to teach anatomy. Producer Val Lewton gives the players career-best characterizations and dialogue, and director Robert Wise adds tension and chills. Bela Lugosi is in for a memorable supporting part. Icing on the chiller cake is a new 4K scan from the original negative — we can forget the dull and dark prints seen in the past. They showed this in high school as an educational film — we learned not to strangle people, but to ‘Burke’ them! With Russell Wade and Edith Atwater. On Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
The Fiancée & The Invisibles 03/23/19
Why do stories about resisting the Nazis seem so important right now? Here are two discs from different labels, with one subject. Both stories are set in Germany during the war, but the approaches are quite different. A political prisoner struggles to subsist in The Fiancée an East German classic from the part-educational DEFA Film Library. Then the recent The Invisibles from the reunited Germany chronicles the true story of four Jewish Berliners, who went underground and hid right through the war. It’s two views of resistance, from different political perspectives. Separate releases on DVD from DEFA Film Library, Kino Lorber/Greenwich.
The Lone Reviewer is plugging away dutifully on CineSavant discs this week, with not a lot of hot news to report, except a touch of rain, and perhaps a Mueller report.
But I’m looking forward to the arrival of the Noir City Hollywood Festival of Film Noir at the American Cinematheque starting on March 29. I’ve never attended their opening or closing parties, so I think I’ll be taking a look this year.
Won’t Come Back from Mae West Curve! (Jan and Dean?)
It’s a neighborhood notice! A few blocks West of CineSavant headquarters on shady Rossmore Ave. are two famous apartment buildings. The fancier of the two is the El Royale which is old but very classy looking, and has a top two floors that are like a mansion in the sky. In local lore, probably exaggerated, the El Royale is said to have been the assignation spot for The Rat Pack (did Peter Lawford live there?) and where Frank, Dino and JFK would meet with various folk, including Marilyn Monroe. You can see the El Royale’s impressive sign in the first shot of the sequence in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, where Bette Davis makes a right turn on the way to visit her bank.
But up the street is the Ravenswood, which has long been known as the home of the legendary Mae West, from her saucy heyday ’til the batty end. Last week I got this notice on a Larchmont neighborhood chat board:
“Help us designate Mae West Curve in Hancock Park, Los Angeles, CA! …. We would like to see a brown city sign erected in the legendary Hollywood actress Mae West’s name on Rossmore Avenue between Melrose Avenue and Beverly Blvd. to commemorate the 50 year span that Mae West had residing on Rossmore Avenue in the Ravenswood Apartments as well as her groundbreaking history as a woman in Hollywood. The sign and stretch of land would be known as MAE WEST CURVE. It is important that we show community support to the city of Los Angeles for this project. We have been working with them to make this happen and will continue to update you on the next and necessary steps.
Mae West is a Hollywood maven often copied for her style and wit and deserves this honor to solidify her place in history as Hollywood’s first blonde bombshell and as well as saving Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy. In short, there probably would not be any Hancock Park to speak of without her contributions to the movie industry that built the neighborhood.”
‘First blonde bombshell?’ Well, it’s for a good cause. The petition authors sound very organized … if this happens I’ll definitely post a picture here. When people ask for directions to my house, I’ll be able to say, ‘Oh, just go to Mae West Curve and turn right.’
More semi-personal non-news: the mysterious emissary Wayne Schmidt breezed into town and con-fabbed with fellow 1980s filmmaking folk Paul Gentry and Steve Nielson. Wayne’s on a secret Sci-fi Blu-ray- related mission, purpose to be announced soon.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The man who did what and then what? Robert D. Krzykowski’s first feature isn’t a throwaway joke, but an elegantly crafted and designed fantasy grounded in human values. Sam Elliott’s crusty sixty-something secret agent comes out of retirement to save the world again — will the slaying of another bizarre horror lay to rest disturbing memories of a secret WW2 mission? This thing will be a pleasant discovery for those in pursuit of ‘something completely different.’ The intentionally awkward title is jarring, but it fits because I’ve never seen anything quite like this before. On Blu-ray from RLJE Films.
Cleopatra Jones 03/19/19
The devastatingly gorgeous Tamara Dobson is a highlight of the blaxploitation subgenre, although the emphasis in her starring debut shifts away from innercity vice to bigger-than-life comic book fantasy. Trailers from Hell’s Charlie Largent lays out all the reasons to celebrate this original, before she invaded The Casino of Gold. Co-stars are a gallery of favorites: Bernie Casey, Antonio Fargas, Bill McKinney, Esther Rolle and Shelley Winters enjoying herself mightily as the evil druglord, ‘Mommy.’ On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
The Glass Bottom Boat 03/19/19
It’s wacky, daffy and incredibly square, yet Frank Tashlin’s late career Doris Day romp has a certain gotta-watch interest factor: the male cast of clowns performs the sexist comedy well, and Ms. Day’s unbeatable screen personality brightens everything. Space-age executive lothario/sexist Rod Taylor hires Doris just for romantic purposes, while Arthur Godfrey, John McGiver, Dom DeLuise, Edward Andrews, Paul Lynde and Dick Martin execute dated slapstick amid ‘futuristic’ gadgets from the days of Buck Rogers. I suspect that Tashlin was prevented from employing his subversive brand of surreal excess — the gags are all quite literal. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Josh Olsen and Joe Dante’s interview guest on Trailers from Hell’s The Movies that Made Me podcast from last week is Robert D. Krzykowski, the director of The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot. I listened in — it’s quite a far-reaching, elevated discussion.
Correspondent Jonathan Gluckman pointed me toward Nina Paley’s ‘Copyleft’ feature animation Seder-Masochism, which begins with five minutes of beautiful storytelling animation and then goes forward to present an interesting take on the Book of Exodus. Ms. Paley’s Wiki Page gives us a very organized activist who puts her ideas into her art — on subjects as conceptually daring as the Free Culture Activism and the the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. I’m not ready to endorse all of her causes, but I like her fighting spirit. Seder-Masochism interprets the Bible to “show the rise of patriarchy and the fall of goddess worship.” In and of itself, the animation is terrific.
Longtime correspondent Allen saw Fort Apache on TCM and then read the Savant review, where I mention being a ’50s kid who naturally got a ‘Fort Apache Playset’ for Christmas. Allen not only knows about the things, he collects them, and wrote a note and explained:
“I was delighted at seeing the Marx Playset. Attached is my Fort Apache set that is currently set up in my basement. This one is #3660 from 1956 with the rare blood red Indians that only came in a few sets. I have been collecting Marx playsets since about 2000. I only have about 15 or so with many of them set up in displays along my basement walls. They are totally complete with the original play set bags, instruction sheets and very nice boxes. Yes..I am a purist when it comes to my play set collection. I also have the rare 1951 Fort Dearborn..a hard one to find in pristine condition.”
Like many people, we moved around so much during my childhood that my toys disappeared at regular intervals, but this brings back visions of being four years old again, trying to keep the ill-fitting pieces of the fort from falling apart! I uploaded the image at full resolution, so open it in a new window if, like me, you want to start playing.
And Twilight Time has announced their June discs — I’m still staring at the mailbox itching for the March titles. They’re good: The Horton Foote/Steve McQueen/Lee Remick Baby, The Rain Must Fall, James Stewart, Raquel Welch & Dean Martin in Bandolero, Marlon Brando in Morituri, and the Henry Fonda/Richard Widmark/Anthony Quinn western Warlock.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The work of a great, original, natural filmmaker, Wanda continues to confound viewers that don’t recognize honest human reality when they see it. A woman dispossessed, uprooted and adrift no longer has a self-definition, just a basic drive to subsist and find someone who values her. Morals? It’s hard enough just to survive. Director-actress Barbara Loden isn’t Wanda, yet she is — her film erases the distinctions between movies, theater and reality, something John Cassavetes never quite accomplished. Co-starring Michael Higgins. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
The Deadly Mantis 03/16/19
It’s big, it buzzes, and it screams like a banshee. So why is the Mantis monster so ho-hum? Universal-International tries to squeak out another boffo big bug epic, but 1957 screens were already crowded with grasshoppers and scorpions — and the screenplay is derivative — and somebody allowed producer William Alland to throw in every stock shot that wasn’t nailed down. Craig Stevens, William Hopper and Alix Talton wait 78 minutes to finally get a photo op with the insectoid monster. On Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
There are lots of new and upcoming discs to get excited about here at CineSavant, but a couple of arrivals from Kino Lorber and the BFI have us smiling: two silent pictures by Anthony Asquith. So far we’ve seen Underground and it will take some explaining to say what’s so special about it — as in his silent film A Cottage on Dartmoor, Asquith utilizes wall-to-wall clever visual short-hand storytelling techniques, like those Alfred Hitchcock used in his silents like The Ring. They seem half-derived from comic strips, and are marvelously creative. The second Asquith title being released at the same time is called Shooting Stars, and we’re seeing it in a couple of days. The street date is far off (April 23), but I’ll be reviewing these a lot sooner than that.
And yet more interesting Silent classic news: on May 28, Flicker Alley will be giving us restored Blu-rays of Universal’s The Man Who Laughs and The Last Warning, films by the great Paul Leni (The Cat and the Canary). Not too many of us have seen The Last Warning, but it has a good reputation; The Hardy Encyclopedia of Horror says it’s about a mysterious phantom in a theater — using the same sets from The Phantom of the Opera. The Man Who Laughs is a played-straight, lavishly mounted historical horror-epic from Victor Hugo; it established some of the classic look of the best Universal horrors of the ’30s, making us wish that Leni had directed Lon Chaney’s Phantom or his The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The Man Who Laughs also stars Olga Baclanova, and as the title character in one of the most bizarre make-up jobs ever, Conrad Veidt.
Some teasing commentators on my review for Frank Tashlin’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? took me to task for not praising it enough, calling me a curmudgeon and asking if I chase kids off my lawn. Well, lawns are important, and I was acquitted on all counts. But wait, high dudgeon curmudgeonliness cuts both ways. After seeing a depressing extended trailer for the new live-action Dumbo, I’ve elected to watch the marvelous, can’t-beat-it original 1941 Dumbo again this weekend. Even recalling bits of music from that great show reminds me of showing it to my daughter at around age 2.5 … it was ‘our’ movie. So strange that it found its way into 1941.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
This is a big one, the restoration we long thought would never come. CineSavant tries to explain what makes Edgar G. Ulmer’s masterpiece uniquely memorable, how it works its Loser Noir magic, and why this particular restoration bodes well for a certain class of picture mired in murky rights issues. Meet Al Roberts, a hard luck case happy to bend your ear for an hour, explaining how Fate has Done Him Wrong. This PRC gem transcends Noir pessimism, because a sensible read forces us to conclude that Al is his own worst enemy, a self-made misery man. This hitch-hiking epic carries an extra added jolt: Ann Savage delivers what has to be the boldest, most caustic hell-to-pay performance of ‘forties Hollywood. Plus a supporting cast that … well, there really isn’t a supporting cast. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
The Tarnished Angels 03/12/19
Douglas Sirk took our heads off with this intense, thematically adult tale of love and obsession in a Depression-Era flying circus that’s the open air equivalent of the marathon dance craze — pilots die to thrill the crowd. The terrific-looking show provides career near-best roles for some deserving actors: Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, Jack Carson and Robert Middleton … but the newly-minted star Rock Hudson seems miscast. Taken from a novel by William Faulkner, this impressive B&W + CinemaScope film is the one Douglas Sirk decided was his favorite. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The 50 Foot Art Of Reynold Brown 03/12/19
For two decades poster artist Reynold Brown defined the moviegoing experience as much as the movies themselves, creating One-Sheet masterpieces for Universal, American-International and special projects for other studios including Walt Disney. The Illustrated Press, an offshoot of Illustration Magazine, published Reynold Brown: A Life in Pictures in 2009 and followed up in 2017 with an expanded edition adding eighty new pages of art to an already voluminous project. Charlie Largent offers an illustrated look at both the book and its subject. A Book Review from Charlie Largent.
Whoah — I’m looking on Amazon under ‘Film Noir Boxed Sets,’ for DVD boxed collections that came out in the last ten years from Warners, Sony, etc.. A bunch must be OOP because some of the prices are through the roof: $110 for the First Warners Film Noir Classics Collection, most of the contents of which is now on Blu-ray. I remember one reader who was trying to nab one of the Sony collections just a couple months after its release, was frustrated because it was no longer available.
But new things are on the horizon. On April 9, Kit Parker will be releasing a jumbo box of films noir, entitled Noir Archive Volume 1: 1944-1954 9 Movie Collection. I’m curious to find out the quality of this 3-disc set, as Parker takes great care in his products — if the movies are under eighty minutes, three B&W pictures to a single Blu-ray need not suffer in quality. All the titles appear to be new to Blu-ray. I’ve never seen several of them.
The lineup is as follows: Address Unknown (1944), William Cameron Menzies; Escape in the Fog (1945), Budd Boetticher; The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947), Henry Levin; The Black Book (aka Reign of Terror) (1949), Anthony Mann; Johnny Allegro (1949), Ted Tetzlaff; 711 Ocean Drive (1950), Joseph M. Newman; The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) and Assignment Paris (1952) both, Earl McEvoy; and The Miami Story (1954), Fred F. Sears. CineSavant hopes to snag a review copy — !
Helpful Constantine Nasr answered a message sent a few days ago and confirmed that a most-highly anticipated science fiction Blu-ray is indeed still on its way from Scream Factory, and in fact, work on its extras is almost complete. The movie I’m talking about is none other than Val Guest’s Quatermass 2, the first sequel in Hammer Films’ Quatermass series. I didn’t ask for more details because people working for disc companies must stay mum about unreleased product details. But it is good news just knowing that the disc hasn’t been cancelled. I’m hoping that it gets a release date before the summer.
I guess Q2 must be my favorite science fiction film, simply because I watch it so often. In my Savant Science Fiction Reader it takes place of pride for the best UK Sci-fi with two other gems. Also directed by Guest is the suspenseful, realistic The Day the Earth Caught Fire, which today seems more relevant than ever due to its theme of a man-made weather cataclysm. That show is out on a beautiful BFI disc, unfortunately not in Region ‘A.’
And the third UK Sci-fi classic, Joseph Losey’s These Are the Damned is definitely in the works for Powerhouse Indicator’s next Hammer Films box. The word is that it hasn’t yet been announced because they’re taking extra time to get the extras right. Having been thoroughly reexamined since it was restored to its original length in the 1990s, Losey’s film is important enough to merit a major reassessment.
Actually, These Are the Damned’s first stab at Blu-ray availability will be from Germany. An Explosive Media disc is coming on May 23. It should be closer to a plain-wrap presentation, but definitely All-Region.
But back to Quatermass 2! Like I say, I couldn’t ask for inside information, even though I’m dying to know what Q2 is going to look like. Twenty years ago, when Image released the existing open-matte flat DVD, we were told that the only source that could be found was a print held by the BFI. The reason that part of its opening scene did not look good, is because the print was too dark to yield an acceptable image in telecine. Here’s hoping that improved elements have been located.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Verily, Blu-ray 3-D is better than most theatrical 3-D! Paramount’s fourth and last 3-D production went out to theaters only in 2-D, so for all practical terms this Kino/3D Archive restoration is a depth-format premiere. Expect a kissing scene or two: lusty Fernando (¿Quién es más macho?) Lamas and demure Rhonda Fleming succumb to the sweaty allure of the tropics. He pushes the sex appeal more than she does! Together they take a 3-D trek to where the headhunters roam, into a jungle to secure a golden treasure. With Brian Keith, Lon Chaney Jr., Richard Denning, Rita Moreno, and Marvin Miller. On 3-D Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.