Review Page and Column
Charley Varrick 01/20/18
It’s the loose-censored early 1970s, and screen bandits shootin’ up the American movie landscape are no longer suffering the once-mandated automatic moral retribution. Walter Matthau launched himself into the genre with this excellent Don Siegel on-the-run epic, about an old-fashioned independent bandit who accidentally rips off the mob for a million. It’s great, wicked fun with Joe Don Baker, Andy Robinson, John Vernon, Felicia Farr, Sheree North and Jacqueline Scott. On Region B Blu-ray from Indicator (Powerhouse).
CineSavant is going lean for several installments — it’s vacation time for academics, and we’re taking advantage of the break. Trusted Trailers from Hell cohorts will try to get at least one review up per posting, but it may be hit and miss. And I don’t know If I’ll be able to update this home page, so if nothing changes on Tuesday, you can always directly check at TFH for the CineSavant list of recent reviews, at a link called Articles: CineSavant.
But I do have links today! Up new at the Current Thinking on the Western page is an archival item, Bill Shaffer’s Eli Wallach interview from back in 1975. Shaffer’s an old friend; and I don’t doubt that he could convince nearly anybody to record an interview for him, long distance.
An online page called Film School Rejects has an article recommended by Joe Dante, called The Integrity of Aspect Ratios. One of the directors posting there makes an excellent point: TV commercials are routinely letterboxed on digital TV of all kinds, but cablecasters like HBO are routinely pan-scanning anamorphic-ratio features!
And Gary Teetzel sends along this YouTube video from The Slow Mo Guys, showing us how TV images are ‘written’ as a scanned beam of light: How a TV Works in Slow Motion. It’s very educational.
I’m told that Kino Lorber is bringing out a new Blu of Duck You Sucker on March 6. They seem to be calling it A Fistful of Dynamite once again, after we moved heaven and Earth back in 2003 to get MGM to use the original Duck You Sucker title, the one that makes the film’s final joke make sense. Kino grossly fumbled our featurette extras for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by improperly bumping them up to HD and making them unwatchable. They’re promising our extras for Duck here as well, so I have my fingers crossed.
Okay, we’ll see if we can keep the CineSavant content flowing in the next few days … Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Blade Runner 2049 01/16/18
After 35 years Philip K. Dick’s brainstorm returns in a film sequel worthy of the original; Denis Villeneuve does right by the concept, but the show will be tough sledding for ADD-plagued modern viewers. Ryan Gosling follows in Harrison Ford’s replicant footsteps, surrounded by an impressive group of supporting actors. It’s long, it’s moody, it’s not for babies — but it is rewarding. Also with startling appearances by Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Carla Juri, Jared Leto, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis, Sean Young, and Hiam Abbass. A Dual-Format edition on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
Take a trip into the depths of German silent film in a documentary that links expressionist cinema with dark political undercurrents. Director Rüdiger Suchsland’s essay adapts a famous & worthy but slightly outdated book, yet is an excellent overview of movies in the Weimar period. On the dark side of the force is the black-gloved master criminal Schranker from “M”. On the side of the angels are the carefree picnic girls from People on Sunday. The Golem, Nosferatu and the False Maria are in the thesis, too! On DVD from Kino Lorber.
It’s links! And they’re ALIVE! Joe Dante has circulated a link to a ‘cool BBC radio hour on the origins and legacy of Frankenstein,’ which is comin’ at ya via a link cleverly entitled Archive on 4 Frankenstein Lives!
Correspondent Ed Sullivan has found something great at Vimeo, Brian Reddin’s hour-long 2015 documentary of a great actor: Robert Shaw – Jaws, Deoch & Deora. One of the interview subjects is the actress Sarah Miles.
In terms of incoming discs, we here at CineSavant Central are hotly awaiting Arrow’s Le Streghe aka The Witches. And Criterion’s newsletter just announced that an April Eclipse disc set will contain six Ingrid Bergman pictures made in Sweden before her leap to Hollywood, The Count of the Old Town, Walpurgis Night, Intermezzo, Dollar, A Woman’s Face and June Night.
Also, Gary Teetzel informs me that Arrow has announced a forthcoming release of G.W. Pabst’s 1932 fantasy Die Herrin von Atlantis / L’Atlantide with Brigitte Helm, one picture I’ve narrowly missed for 40 years. Helms’ Antinea is the all-powerful queen of a lost kingdom under the desert. I don’t think she is supposed to be immortal, but Antinea inherited some customs from her good-lookin’ forerunner Ayesha: kept on display in a secret subterranen gallery is a collection of Antinea’s former lovers, all embalmed and standing in a row like statues.
I wonder which language version will be released? Is my memory correct that producer Seymour Nebenzal repurposed some of L’Atlantide’s more grandiose scene seventeen years later for his Universal semi-remake Siren of Atlantis with Maria Montez? And what exactly is in that basement room my wife keeps locked, that she says I’ll be able to see when she gets really, really fed up with me?
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Hanging Tree 01/13/18
“To really live, you must almost die,” sings Marty Robbins, a lesson learned by Austrian import star Maria Schell. Delmer Daves’ best western puts virtue and faithfulness to the test: Gary Cooper’s distrustful, manipulative doctor hides his dark secrets and punishes those that admire and love him. Yet the ultimate reckoning demonstrates that sins can be forgiven and goodness rewarded, even in a corrupt and lawless community. That’s a fairy tale I still want to believe in. Also starring Karl Malden and, in his first feature film, George C. Scott. On Blu-rayfrom The Warner Archive Collection.
Bend of the River 01/13/18
The second Anthony Mann / James Stewart western displays excellent direction and impressive Technicolor location photography high in the high mountains of Oregon. A matinee staple, it delivers everything — Stewart’s mostly good hero and Arthur Kennedy’s mostly bad hero spar and tangle and eventually fight to the death near the timber line. And the handsome Rock Hudson receives prime billing, mostly for flashing his incredible ‘Dazzledent’ smile. With Julia Adams, Lori Nelson and Jay C. Flippen. On All-Region Blu-ray from Explosive Media.
Dick Dinman liked my coverage of Criterion’s Young Mr. Lincoln, and for his latest audio show, Salutes Young Mr. Lincoln Director John Ford with the help of interview subject, director Andrew V. McLaglen. Let the crazy stories about the charismatic, crotchety director begin. Dick’s show also offers Ford tributes from Lee Marvin, Roddy McDowell, Richard Widmark, Robert Wagner, Charlton Heston, James Stewart, Jack Lemmon and Maureen O’Hara.
And over at Trailers from Hell, Joe Dante gives the 1959 Sci-Fi turnip The Cosmic Man the TFH commentary treatment, offering some personal memories that connect with the movie. Yep, there’s not a whole lot to that picture, but it doesn’t matter to me — I had to wait ’til age forty to actually see it, and I remember staring at the poster at the AF Base theater for twenty minutes, back when I was eight or nine.
New discs in our mitts, with reviews on the way include the Eclipse Claude Autant-Lara Collection, Warners’ Blade Runner 2049 (not 3-D, alas), Criterion’s G.W. Pabst classic Kameradschaft and Severin’s Amicus Collection.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Raw Deal 01/09/18
Special Edition. Style can be the star in Classic Noir, making a less prestigious film more entertaining than one with bigger names. Dennis O’Keefe, Claire Trevor and Marsha Hunt spin an excellent crime-love-murder triangle, for a road picture that’s one of the best Noirs not made by a big studio. Director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton dial up the intensity for an experience as rich as the best pulp crime fiction. With expert extras input from Alan K. Rode, Max Alvarez, Jeremy Arnold and Julie Kirgo. On Blu-ray from ClassicFlix.
Charlie Largent takes on Terry Gilliam’s followup to Monty Python and The Holy Grail and ambitious and creative medieval romp suggested by Lewis Carroll, turning it into a low-key mud ‘n’ rags farce. Michael Palin is the only Python in sight and most of the comedy is in droll observations and muted satire — Palin’s sad sack hero just wants a job, not rewards, but he must go out and face the fearsome monster Jabberwocky anyway. Gilliam made the movie to establish his brand as a director, and Cinema 5 Distributing slapped ‘Monty Python’s Jabberwocky’ on the posters against his wishes. From The Criterion Collection.
Not as a Stranger 01/09/18
What? Doctors aren’t perfect? And some practicing doctors are incompetent? Stanley Kramer’s All-Star medical soap opera takes two unlikely students (Robert Mitchum and Frank Sinatra) through med school and confronts them with a number of pat dramatic complications. But the movie belongs to top-billed Olivia de Havilland, who lends a touch of class to the entire iffy enterprise. The picture also stars Broderick Crawford, Gloria Grahame, Charles Bickford and Myron McCormick. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
This time I caught something link-worthy, all on my own. The CBS Evening News aired a sentimental sign-off piece a few days ago about a grand lady named Tao Porchon-Lynch, who at 99 years is still dancing ballet and conducting yoga classes. No complaints about the story, as she’s no less worthy than the cute animals and heroic veterans we’re given as human interest on the network news.
About halfway through “100-Year-Old Yoga Instructor, Ballroom Dancer on Life Well Lived” the image cuts to a still from the 1940 Thief of Bagdad, showing that film’s impressive multi-armed clockwork statue. The voiceover identifies it it as a sample of Ms. Porchon’s film work: “… her roles included the Golden Idol (?) in the 1940 remake of Thief of Bagdad.”
Here’s Tao Porchon’s IMDB page, and that of Mary Morris, the actress actually credited as playing the classic mechanical femme fatale. Note that Ms. Morris’ portrait is a dead ringer for the six-armed statue — it’s nice that Korda allowed her to use her own face, not an anonymous mask. Morris played a substantial role in Pimpernel Smith, as well as the later Brit Sci-fi TV serial A For Andromeda (1961), which incidentally introduced audiences to Julie Christie.
I don’t blame Ms. Porchon for the mistake — maybe there was a ‘golden idol’ in the film that I missed, and she wasn’t billed. Maybe she was one of the dancing harem girls. Or could she have been one of the extra sets of arms behind Mary Morris? Porchon was indeed working in London at the time parts of Bagdad were filmed. But hey, CBS needs to be a little more careful with its research . . . don’t forget what happened to Dan Rather.
Colleague and fellow reviewer Charlie Largent forwarded this Hollywood photo from the TV show My Mother the Car, starring the late Jerry Van Dyke. The 1965 camera view looks East across the intersection of Melrose and Larchmont, three blocks from my house. I’ve added a detail inset to point out the ‘Desilu’ logo written on the old RKO globe. The corner lot was originally RKO, then became Arnaz and Ball’s Desilu Productions, and eventually was gobbled up by the next-door Paramount lot. When I arrived in 1970 the ‘Desilu’ logo was already gone, leaving just the blank globe.
They’ve been talking lately about tearing down part of Paramount including this iconic corner building, and replacing it with huge buildings. Every few years they try to cross Melrose and buy up some of Larchmont, my local neighborhood. Resisting developers isn’t as easy around here as it once was; Larchmont’s ace in the hole has always been the ritzy Hancock Park neighborhood just to the South of us, that surely sees us as a needed buffer zone between them and commercial anarchy (not to mention the less desirable neighborhoods to the North). I’d say they ought to re-erect the RKO tower and globe as a historical landmark and leave the rest alone. If they really want to impress the tourists, they should bury the forest of power and telephone poles underground so this stretch of Melrose won’t be so &%#@ ugly.
If you have a desire to visit Hollywood, sooner would definitely be better than later. The telltale redevelopment cranes are everywhere, and high-rise buildings are demolishing all the places I once worked, when film work was like a cottage industry scattered around town.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Executioner’s Song 01/06/18
Reviewer Charlie Largent assesses Lawrence Schiller’s film of the Norman Mailer book about Gary Gilmore, a death row convict who petitioned not for a reprieve, but to have his sentence carried out. The famous TV movie was photographed by Freddie Francis and stars Tommy Lee Jones, Eli Wallach, Christine Lahti and Roseanna Arquette. This is a good call to remaster classic TV movies before they disappear: if available at all, too many can be seen only in wretched quality. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Young Mr. Lincoln 01/06/18
Viewers looking (desperately) for American leaders to admire can’t do better than to reflect on John Ford’s folksy, at least partly authentic honorarium to one of the greats. Henry Fonda is 100% dead-on as a vision of Abe Lincoln to bring tears to our eyes. Imagine . . . there’s such a thing as political integrity, or simply a person that puts the public good ahead of personal advantage. Criterion’s older extras are augmented with a fine new feature commentary by John Ford authority Joseph McBride. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Legend of the Lost 01/06/18
America’s top box office star John Wayne sneaks away to a remote corner of the Sahara Desert with the top Italian sex symbol Sophia Loren … and foolishly brings an entire camera crew with him. Henry Hathaway’s impressive desert adventure boasts a fairly amazing, bona fide Lost City, made even more impressive through the Technirama cinematography of the legendary Jack Cardiff. Rossano Brazzi co-stars as a treasure hunter, who can’t handle the truth about his explorer-father. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.