Review Page and Column
Mona Lisa 09/18/21
Bucking the trends for ’80s crime films, Neil Jordan’s tale of a low-rung hood attached to Cathy Tyson’s ‘complicated’ call girl becomes a love story about meaningful relationships. Sort of the ‘anti- Travis Bickle,’ Bob Hoskins’ low-class mug discovers emotions and an ability to commit that could even be called Chivalric. Michael Caine chills as an all-too real villain, the boss that doesn’t think Hoskins worthy of a straight answer. Topping it off, cinematographer Roger Pratt makes this possibly the best-looking British crime film in color. With a new interview with director Jordan and star Cathy Tyson. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Wikipedia tells of the mighty struggle of a family of ‘space barbarians’ that with their fighting monster pets — Zok, Tundro, Igoo, Gloop and Gleep — fight off marauding ‘Faceless People, Destroyer Ants, Raider Apes, Mutoids, Arnoids, Zorbots, Mekkano men and the Ogs.’ Yes, let’s not forget the Ogs. A great show for the Vietnam generation, Hanny Barbera’s disc contains all 18 original episodes from the 1967 series on three discs. Every kid needs his territorial imperative reinforced: “We must defend Planet Quasar!” On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
This item has nothing to do with movies or video discs, which is fine with me. As a kid I loved the lizards known as ‘horny toads’ and was always delighted when they showed up around our little housing development in San Bernardino circa 1961. I think they became scarce as soon as people moved in, with their cats and cars. The tough little lizards had saucer-shaped bodies and really interesting scaly hides, with spikes and bumps like the dinosaurs we kids daydreamed about. I don’t think these horned lizards could be found back East. Tough luck, New Jersey.
This article gives me a big lift. Scientists are going to the trouble to try to breed the things: “Fort Worth Zoo to Release 1,000th Texas Horned Lizard Into the Wild.” We never tried to make them pets. They ate red ants but never in captivity. We’d hang onto them for a few minutes and let ’em go. Loved those guys!
The Film Detective recently brought us dandy restorations of Flight to Mars and A Life at Stake, and they now have firm release dates for their next two releases. These two are special because of FD’s remastering efforts, the first film especially. It has yet to be seen in an acceptable video transfer.
Arriving on October 5 is The Amazing Mr. X, an excellent film noir thriller with a great cast. Turhan Bey is given a substantial role for once. Lynn Bari and Cathy O’Donnell are quite good, and the film’s terrific noir look is by the legendary cameraman John Alton.
The company’s second entry in the Richard Cunha ‘quadrilogy’ of 1958-59 horror sci-fi is a real Z-picture, Frankenstein’s Daughter. It’s the one where the monster-mask maker didn’t read the script — the female monster seemingly undergoes a sex change. Tom Weaver handles commentary chores. This one will get here on October 19, just in time for Halloween.
Never thinking of himself, our esteemed associate Gary Teetzel helpfully gives you a break! He knows you’re already wracking your brains, trying to think of what to give him — ‘the fan who has everything’ — for Christmas.
This year the solution is easy: just send him one of these fancy Godzilla Pinball Machines. Sadly, the Limited Edition is already sold out, so you’d better hurry to send Gary either the Pro or the Premium. He only asked for one, but we can do better than that — if he gets ten or twelve of these gaudy machines from grateful, cash-rich CineSavant readers, all the better. When you want to play Godzilla Pinball, what’s worse than having to walk all the way to the next room?
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Prince of the City 09/14/21
Sidney Lumet’s harrowing film is a true-life account of a NY narcotics detective- turned goverment informant; its length and intensity can be emotionally overpowering. Treat Williams is the idealistic cop who blows up his whole life and ends up betraying all the people he hoped to protect. He doesn’t seem to understand the ruthless, opportunistic nature of ‘systemic reform’ as he goes from good guy to the object of hate for both crooks and cops, and a target for the very same system that welcomed his help. The WAC made an excellent choice with this one — it’s one of the most deserving, underappreciated films of the early 1980s. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Columbia Noir #4 09/14/21
Powerhouse Indicator moves forward to their fourth fancy box of noirs from the studio of Harry Cohn, six pictures stretching from the postwar boom to the end of the original classic noir era. This time around we have some notable directors, and a nice selection of stars — Dennis O’Keefe, George Murphy, Fred MacMurray, Kim Novak, Jean Simmons, Rory Calhoun and Richard Conte. Kim Novak makes her starring debut as a femme fatale; noir icon Richard Conte shines in a movie that marks a turn into a new kind of existential, paranoid thriller. And speaking of paranoid, we again get to lighten up with another selection of theme-appropriate Three Stooges shorts. The contents:Walk a Crooked Mile, Walk East on Beacon, Pushover, A Bullet is Waiting, Chicago Syndicate, and The Brothers Rico. On Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
First up today is one big, happy surprise — MGM’s underdog 1935 horror classic Mad Love will be arriving very soon, on October 19. Peter Lorre, Colin Clive, Frances Drake … directed by Karl Freund. Who forgets Ed Brophy’s date with the guillotine? It’s a real favorite.
And there’s still more time before Halloween for more possible horror to be announced.
Next, we have a double link to a horror tale by the Uruguayan author Horacio Quiroga (1878-1937): if you harbor a penchant for mainline Edgar Allan Poe- type fiction and haven’t heard of Quiroga, this may well appeal. There’s a great deal of macabre fiction in classic Latin American literature, beyond Luis Borges.
The story in question is 1907’s The Feather Pillow, original Spanish title El Almohadón de Plumas. It’s extremely brief yet packs a real sting of dread into its five-minute read.
This first link is to a beautiful stop-motion version of the short story, filmed by Hugo Covarrubias in Chile in 2007: El Almohadón de Plumas. It’s handsomely done. It uses the original text, and has English subtitles.
You can read the surprisingly brief original short story as well, on this The Short Story Project page, in English or Spanish (or Hebrew!). And if you want to read about the disturbing, Poe- like life of author Horacio Quiroga, here’s his Wikipedia Entry. This guy seemingly had various forms of death following him around his whole life.
Now it’s fun clippings time. This is self-explanatory — it’s a full-page trade paper ad from Warners touting the big success of Them! in 1954. Its box office heft is being compared to that of the previous year’s The Beast from 20,000 fathoms, a major hit that surely prompted the studio to green-light a noirish sci-fi thriller about giant ants.
It reminds me of similar trade paper ads from 1977, when George Lucas was kidding Steven Spielberg, boasting in expensive full page announcements that Star Wars had overtaken the previous $$ money bonanza Jaws at the ticket turnstyles. This battle of the monsters 23 years before is nowhere near as historical, but I thought CineSavant readers would appreciate it.
Bird, Bird, Bird … the Bird is the Word.
This has been a frantic research week! Looking for trade paper references to back up the idea that, yes, maybe a Mexico City company did produce special effects for Sam Katzman’s glorious turkey turkey The Giant Claw, Gary Teetzel couldn’t access The Hollywood Reporter, that definitely reported Mexican location filming. The coverage found in three other trade papers ranged from mundane, to unbelievable. The images are zoom-able, if the print is too small…
How about Variety? No, keep moving, nothing exciting to see there:
The Motion Picture Exhibitor review got an early crack at the show, with a derisive dismissal:
And what’s with Motion Picture Daily’s review? “The technical effects are some of the best ever devised?”
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Yes, sometimes a producer could earn ‘auteur’ status making B pictures. A name that’s never going to be uttered in the same breath as Val Lewton is Sam Katzman, who for the 1950s settled into a profitable tenure making Columbia program pictures. They pretty much stayed in the category of ‘obvious junk’ yet include a number of endearing favorites. And Katzman deserved to slip through the pearly gates just for helping get Ray Harryhausen’s feature career into motion. Besides their minimal production outlay, Katzman’s horror/sci fi attractions have one strange thing in common: they don’t carry Columbia torch Lady logos. PART ONE of this review takes on two of the four features in Arrow’s gorgeously appointed boxed set; reviewer Charlie Largent will follow with reviews of the second pair of creature features. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
The Heroes of Telemark 09/11/21
Any WW2 action adventure involving the Norwegian resistance is OK in my book, and this big-star saga about sabotage efforts to stop the Nazis’ atom research is a natural — much of what happens in the story is true. The show can boast marvelous locations and excellent action scenes but the script and characters aren’t very strong. Did Columbia curb epic director Anthony Mann’s greater ambitions, or did star Kirk Douglas interfere to enhance his leading character into a combo scientist, playboy and sure-shot action man? Also starring Ulla Jacobsson, Richard Harris, Michael Redgrave, and every over-fifty English name actor not nailed down. On Blu-ray from Sony Home Entertainment.
Correspondent Bart Steele came through with something really arcane: a link to a 1952 product, apparently marketed in the U.K., that’s a direct tie-in with a certain Technicolor George Pal movie. This link to The ‘ZYRA’ Spaceship Jetex Rocket Kit explains the whole thing.
But wait, there’s more: this second article about the toymaker gets more specific about what came inside the box. And interior links take you to details like the blueprint plan sheet partly illustrated above.
Who cares about “Come back Shane?“” When I dream of somebody I wish could ‘come back’ it’s the fabulous Lina Romay of Xavier Cugat fame. (↑) The authentic Latin from Manhatan (well, Brooklyn) had mostly small roles in maybe twenty movies, often uncredited. But animation fans know her best from a to-die-for nine second cameo in Tex Avery’s 1949 Droopy Dog cartoon Señor Droopy. Experts agree: the sequence proves that by 1949 sex had definitely been invented, and was building in popularity. To quote the sober-voiced little Basset Hound, “Caramba!”
Lina comes to mind because Jerry Beck over at Cartoon Research has divulged the title lineup and other details of the upcoming Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 3. The Warner Archive Collection disc is due in just a month, on October 5.
Señor Beck’s lists lets us know that this batch of restored, remastered short subjects includes more personal CineSavant favorites than either Volume One or Two: Blitz Wolf, Swing Shift Cinderella, King Size Canary, Señor Droopy, Billy Boy, Cellbound, just to name six. Beck describes some of the restoration work that was accomplished, including a reinstated ‘censored’ gag or two.
Another highly coveted disc will be arriving even sooner from the Warner Archive Collection, on September 21: a restored & remastered Warner Archive Blu-ray of the second Anthony Mann-James Stewart western, 1951’s Technicolor MGM offering The Naked Spur. If the WAC recaptures the look of original Technicolor prints, this ought to be outstanding.
Starting with Bend of the River, the Mann-Stewart westerns began to skew toward ‘niceness:’ Stewart’s frontier adventurer still had a suspicious, perhaps lawless past, but care was taken to make law abiding consensus family values firmly reassert themselves by the fade-out. The Naked Spur isn’t as pessimistic as a couple of Mann’s non-Stewart westerns, but this is the actor’s most neurotic character — bitter, frustrated and desperate.
The Colorado scenery seems hostile, even in gorgeous 3-strip Technicolor. Mann’s gritty details are telling: a tagline could have been, “You will FEEL what it’s like to receive a painful rope burn on both hands!” The cast alone should convince: Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Ralph Meeker, Millard Mitchell.
An unbelievable Funeral procession.
Thanks to David J. Schow for this: BFM TV’s coverage of The Funeral of Jean-Paul Belmondo is absolutely spectacular, all the more so for the musical selection, a live orchestra playing Ennio Morricone’s Chi Mai. Somebody has impeccable taste. 25 years ago, my wife heard the pure, emotional use of strings in this theme and declared it one of her favorite pieces of music — and she doesn’t push opinions around as loosely as I do. David Schow noted, ‘look how the French revere their artists!’
What’s even more amazing? I see people applauding, waving, crying — but few if any are holding up cell phones. It’s the classiest, most emotional ritual I’ve seen in years.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Little Rascals Volume 2 09/07/21
The ClassicFlix Restorations hits us with eleven more Hal Roach ‘Our Gang’ short subjects (averaging 25 minutes each), starting with ‘Pups is Pups’ in 1930 and ending with ‘Dogs is Dogs’ in 1931. Every one of these little hoodlums is here, from Jackie Cooper, Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins, Mary Ann Jackson, to kids given the PC-poison names ‘Wheezer,’ ‘Stymie’ and ‘Chubby.’ Director Robert F. McGowan worked with Charley Chase in preparation for these crazy pictures, and wrangled kids and fought off stage parents for over eighty partly improvised Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts spread over four years. Charlie Largent continues the Our Gang / Rascals story. On Blu-ray from ClassicFlix.
The Grifters 09/07/21
Every once in a while a movie makes me think, ‘this one’s too good to review, just tell them to see it and they’ll understand.’ John Cusack is a penny-ante small stakes cheat, his girlfriend Annette Bening hooks on the side while seeking a partner for ‘long cons,’ and his mother is an operative for the Mob, placing large bets at the race track to manipulate the odds on select horses. Each worships the ‘left-handed form of human endeavor’ and depends on it to the degree that human trust just can’t be maintained. Paramount’s plain wrap re-issue touts the film’s four Oscar nominations; the Stephen Frears film is the best adaptation yet of a Jim Thompson crime novel. With great acting contributions from Pat Hingle and J.T. Walsh. On Blu-ray from Paramount Home Entertainment.
I’ve never been tempted to sign on for Spotify, but Gary Teetzel forwarded this link to something special, The Complete Original Music Score to Marnie. The Bernard Herrman music is for me the element that makes Marnie watchable.
I understand the music is free with commercials; I guess I’m just reluctant to be out there with another marketing tag on my personal info and maybe another password to forget. Or maybe I’m just settling into good old superannuated curmudgeon status!
And we’re happy with the news that George Feltenstein is now reconnected with The Warner Archive Collection; may the restored and remastered Blu-rays continue to flow. The latest WAC release announcement is a Val Lewton Double Bill from Warner Archive that will be coming in October, a pairing of Bedlam with Boris Karloff and Anna Lee, and The Ghost Ship with Richard Dix. After those two the final Val Lewton horror pix wanting Blu-ray releases will be the all-time classics I Walked with a Zombie and The Seventh Victim.
Why Bedlam is considered 2nd-rank Lewton I’ll never understand. Yeah yeah, it’s more of a costume drama than out & out horror, but the script and acting are terrific and it can boast excellent chills, including what I think is the movies’ classiest Edgar Allan Poe horror moment. The Ghost Ship is also a winner, a moody psycho thriller that confronts us with an entirely modern irrational serial killer.
We’re told that also appearing in October from The Warner Archive Collection will be Night Shift and Tex Avery Volume 3.
Deadline has a nice interview that ties in with my review of Dune 4K just last week: Francesca Annis Lifts The Lid On Life Behind The Scenes Of David Lynch’s 1984 Epic. It reminds me why I questioned the delay of a new long-form interview documentary. No previous disc release for Dune ’84 has ever carried a commentary or an interview with any of the filmmakers; the only voice we’ve heard is the official story as related by the film’s producer.
Don’t expect any shocking revelations from Ms. Annis, but her vivid memories are very welcome, especially her positive remarks about director Lynch.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Illustrious Corpses 09/04/21
Yet another masterpiece from the Italian director Francesco Rosi, adapting a fiction novel about a political murder conspiracy that is altogether too much of a good fit for the troubled Italy of 1975. Crime star Lino Ventura is the incorruptible detective investigating a series of killings of high-level judges, who begins to intuit that his superiors want the murders to continue. Dark and moody, Rosi’s picture is impeccably directed for a kind of nagging, uneasy suspense, with frightening hints that Ventura is being drawn into a bigger, more sinister frame. With Charles Vanel, Max von Sydow and Fernando Rey, and music by Piero Piccioni. The insightful audio commentary is by Alex Cox. The original Italian title is even more blood-curdling: Cadaveri eccellenti. On Blu-rayfrom KL Studio Classics.
A Life at Stake 09/04/21
It’s low-rent Noir A Go-Go: Angela Lansbury is a double-crossing femme fatale in this independent cheapie with modest charms. You can’t trust anyone these days, especially real estate developers with plans to collect YOUR life insurance. Lansbury is the seductive ‘motivator’ with a preference for late-night rendezvous in the high mountains, where everything is a long drop, nudge nudge wink wink. She makes with the hotcha come-ons but rugged Keith Andes is the one who goes around topless for an entire reel. One of the most obscure ’50s films noir, this one gives us a peek at an evocative Hollywood location or two. On Blu-ray from The Film Detective.
Dependable Gary Teetzel came across this about a week back … some Newly recovered news film of Marilyn Monroe on the Coronado Hotel location for Some Like it Hot back in 1959. The brief footage offers a good selection of shots and angles on Marilyn, the hotel, the crowds, Joe E. Brown, Billy Wilder, plus Jack Lemmon in drag. It’s B&W and silent, and different than the old 8mm color footage seen on Criterion discs.
Thanks to Christopher Rywalt for straightening out the link to the Marilyn Monroe clip!
U.K.’s Arrow Films keeps hitting us with gloriously appointed special Blu-ray editions. This one is for the exotic horror item Mill of the Stone Women from 1960. The goodies arrayed in the product photo above look like a toy layout from a vintage Spiegels Christmas catalog… even the poster is attractive. Due out November 29, the set includes several regional versions of the film — the original Italian and English export versions, the French version which contains exclusive footage, and the re-cut US version ‘with alternate dubbing, re-ordered scenes and added visual effects.’ We presume that the corresponding languages are all present, presumably with full English subs, which an earlier German disc set lacked. Plus learned input from Kat Ellinger, Tim Lucas, Roberto Curti and Brad Stevens, and interviews with actors Liliana Orfei and Wolfgang Preiss.
Mill of the Stone Women is a medical horror item with a charming period flavor. Its overall tone is that of a regional legend — it begins with a ferryboat scene reminiscent of Dreyer’s Vampyr, substituting a traditional Flemish barge canal. In warm, suffused Eastmancolor the exteriors play out under hazy overcast skies. It comes off like a fairy tale, even with its drugs and semi-repressed hints of nudity. We really like the movie and look forward to seeing it in an improved presentation.
Finally, Gary Teetzel bounces back with another research-related item, a promotional tie-in linking the obscure 1954 Fox comedy The Rocket Man and the Captain Video TV show. Gary recently saw that The Rocket Man was being shown on a cable channel. It’s technically a science fiction film because it’s about an orphan (George ‘Foghorn’ Winslow) who is gifted with a ‘magic ray gun’ by a man from outer space. This is the launching point for basically nothing, as the movie stays firmly in the grip of small-town romantic issues. While on the edge of our seats wondering if frog-voiced Winslow’s previous co-star Charles Coburn will tie the knot with Spring Byington, we also note the welcome presence of sci-fi stars Anne Francis, John Agar and Beverly Garland… all in a movie with minimal sci-fi content. Oh, and we get to see parts of spacesuits from Destination Moon and The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Unlike the ’70s groaner Laserblast, this alien ray gun doesn’t reduce Agar or Garland to a pile of steaming ash. The gun isn’t really used much, and all it does is grant little Winslow’s wishes, like make a fire hydrant burst or a politician tell the truth. The zinger is that the co-credited screenwriter is none other than Lenny Bruce. No hint of the comedian’s personality is present, not even in the ‘making the politician say the truth’ bit.
Gary had some comments of his own, and of course took the subject for a ride:
“Watched The Rocket Man last night. Pretty lame, sort of a prototype ‘Shook-Up Shopping Cart’ movie but without as many zany hijinks as would be featured in those later Disney comedies.
In spite of its weaknesses The Rocket Man has several important lessons to teach kids:
— If a stranger offers you a gun, take it.
— It is okay to cheat at cards, as long as the money goes to a good cause.
— Lying about who you are is a great way to win over girls.
— A stranger may appear in your bedroom in the middle of the night while you are sleeping. This is perfectly fine and nothing to be concerned about.
— Bringing a gun to a political rally and aiming it at the candidate is a Great Idea.
The movie was promoted by having TV’s actual Captain Video — actor Al Hodge — go on tour with a big rocket mockup (↑) mounted on a semi-truck trailer. Could the rocket have been the same prop seen in Republic serials, repainted? Imagine how disappointed kids must have been to go to the movie expecting thrilling outer space adventures — and then having to sit through the geriatric romance between Charles Coburn and Spring Byington.
“You can read details of the promotion at this Film Bulletin exhibitor’s report article,
→ Note that on the same page it says that actor Jay Robinson, ‘garbed in royal toga,’ is doing a promotional tour for Demetrius and the Gladiators, including stops at school assemblies and parent-teacher groups. I’d love to think that he actually made these appearances as Caligula, screaming and ranting and hamming it up as he does in the movie. That would make for the greatest school assembly ever:
CHILDREN! Do you renounce your false god? My power is as great as ANY god’s — I have the power of life and death over every being in the empire! Now go forth and bring me THE ROBE! CLASS DISMISSED!
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson