Review Page and Column
Strange Victory 07/17/18
‘This Picture Kills Fascists’ might be a motto for this bombshell essay documentary. Leo Hurwitz’s film wasn’t made welcome in 1948 and would surely be controversial today, as it’s just too &%#$ truthful and blunt about good old American bigotry and injustice. The passionate, jarring plea for humanist sanity really shakes up viewers, in a constructive way. Hurwitz said that one TV executive compared it to The Sermon on the Mount. It’s still a lightning bolt against fascist ideas flourishing in the Land of the Free. Narrated by Alfred Drake, Muriel Smith, Gary Merrill, Saul Levitt and Faith Elliott Hubley. On Blu-ray from The Milestone Cinematheque.
I Walk Alone 07/17/18
One of a number of Paramount noirs seemingly forever MIA on disc, Hal Wallis’ glossy production reunites Burt Lancaster and Lizabeth Scott with promising newcomers Kirk Douglas and Wendell Corey. It’s light on action but strong on character — and it contains a key scene in the development of both the noir style and the gangster genre. Co-starring Kristine Miller, George Rigaud, Marc Lawrence, Mike Mazurki, and as a cocksure hoodlum, Mickey Knox. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Ready Player One 07/17/18
Lifelong gaming fan Steven Spielberg goes all-in for motion capture, with much different results than The Adventures of Tintin. It’s an ode to 1980s videogame fads and pop culture that could be re-titled ‘Astounding Adventures in Licensing.’ It’s Star Wars, TRON and Avatar mashed together for young teens, and more interesting than it ought to be. With Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Simon Pegg and Mark Rylance. On Blu-ray from Warner Home Video.
Just a note today from correspondent Bill Dodd, after screenings of The WAC’s Billy Budd brought back memories of renaissance talent Peter Ustinov. July 14, 2018:
Glenn — one of the less desirable things about getting older is the feeling that one may be repeating one’s self. If I’ve already waxed poetic about Billy Budd back when the DVD came out, please forgive me and disregard this.
I saw the movie when it first came out, and three things are burned into my mind: Robert Ryan’s performance which deserved every award possible. Terence Stamp’s first role which probably also deserved every award in the book. The end, when Billy shouts “God Bless Captain Vere,” the look on Sir Peter’s face was beyond anything I’ve ever seen in the movies.
Later, in 1966, Ustinov was in town for the San Francisco Film Festival. I walked a couple of blocks from the radio station where I was the morning guy and stumbled into him, almost literally. I told him how much I loved the movie, and left him to his activities.
But there was more. The owner of the British Motorcar Distributors was a friend of Ustinov and asked him to do some radio commercials for the upcoming Imported Car Show. I was elected to record these on a Saturday morning. It was an incredible three or so hours I will never forget. I rolled the tape and he ad-libbed, about 3 minutes each. Voices, sound effects, the whole thing. I was then faced with the agony (you will understand) of cutting these down to sixty seconds each. I managed, and they were incredible. Did I save them? No. What an idiot!
Anyway, during a break we all wandered out onto the roof of the Nob Hill building where the radio station occupied the top floor. I wandered over to the ledge and sat on the very wide surround. Sir Peter came flying across the roof, pulled me off and said “Don’t do that! I can’t stand heights!” So I asked him how he managed to direct all those scenes in Billy Budd where people were up in the masts, and he replied “I let other people direct those parts!”
I have no idea if that’s true or not, but I can tell you that’s what he said. And he gave a 22 year-old broadcaster an unforgettable day. I managed to write a letter to him about a month before he died to thank him for that day. I hope he got it. — Bill Dodd, Retired Broadcaster and movie freak.
I told my own ‘meeting Peter Ustinov’ story in a footnote to my 2010 review of his film Hot Millions.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Irma La Douce 07/14/18
Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s lavish movie boils down to a dirty party joke, but they struck gold just the same. Audiences flocked to see Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine reunited in a fantasy Parisian red light district, in a show that looks like Disneyland for fans of Playboy cartoons. Co-starring Lou Jacobi, Herschel Bernardi and Hope Holiday. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Billy Budd 07/14/18
Forget the ‘famous book’ doldrums — this exciting seagoing drama will take your head off. Criminally unseen and unheralded, Allied Artists’ classic is an impressive feat by director-co-screenwriter and star Peter Ustinov. It introduced Terence Stamp and provided Robert Ryan with a deserved career highlight. Filmed on the high seas in CinemaScope, and co-starring Melvyn Douglas, Paul Rogers, John Neville, David McCallum, Ronald Lewis, Robert Brown, John Meillon and Niall MacGinnis. On Blu-rayfrom The Warner Archive Collection.
The Incredible Shrinking Man 07/14/18
I Still Exist! CineSavant’s own Charlie Largent takes on this dee-luxe 2017 English release, the one with the terrific transfer and some glorious extras. Robert Scott Carey takes the plunge into microscopia, a seventh of an inch per day, passing through a Robinson Crusoe world before confronting the Infinite (and he didn’t even have to fly to Jupiter first). Jack Arnold and Richard Matheson’s classic is still the spiritual experience that knocked kids on their tails back in 1957, and its special magic has not yet been surpassed. On Region B Blu-ray from Arrow UK.
Some odd announcements! Severin has just announced a Blu-ray of Del Tenney’s amazing, spectacular, guaranteed-to-have-sprocket-holes fright film The Horror of Party Beach. I’m sure that’s all that need be said to set off a tsunami of disc sales. Actually, it’s fun, especially the wince-inducing songs.
On the other hand, I immediately leaped to order a BFI disc of Kevin Brownlow’s It Happened Here, the stealth classic about the nature of Fascism. It’s a Savant favorite and one of the first that I reviewed for the old website, eighteen years ago. The audio on that Image DVD was so shaky that I needed to watch the movie with a continuity transcript from MGM. The new disc has subtitles!
Kino Lorber is talking about a new licensing deal with Universal, so we’ll be interested in seeing what becomes of that. Quite a few Universal winners of the ‘forties have come out on Region B discs, but I’m told that the obvious film noir titles are not part of the arrangement. It’s likely half a year off, anyway.
The new Noir City e-magazine is out, from the Film Noir Foundation, and the item being touted the loudest is an Eddie Muller interview with author James Ellroy. The full info on this, and some contests being run this month, is on the Film Noir Foundation’s main page. The cover re-thinks the cast of Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential with actors from the classic noir period. Instead of Kim Basinger playing a hooker who has ‘been cut’ to better resemble star Veronica Lake, they just substitute Veronica Lake. How does that work?
Voice Switches: In case my recent reviews left the wrong impression, some correspondents have offered corrections to information about who dubbed what, in two movies. Reader Andrew Leblanc wrote director Rüdiger Suchsland, who said that actor Udo Kier only narrated the English-language version of Hitler’s Hollywood. But Suchsland hasn’t yet said who voiced the German-language track.
And correspondent Phil Smoot assured me that, on the subject of the 1960 Village of the Damned, actor Martin Stephens didn’t dub his own voice. Perhaps Stephens told me that he dubbed himself for The Innocents the next year and I confused the films. Smoot is convinced that David Zellaby’s voice in Damned is a familiar woman voiceover artist who specializes in children’s voices, one he’s heard in countless English pictures.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Village of the Damned 07/10/18
Inquiring minds want to know — why you’re thinking about a BRICK WALL. John Wyndham’s diabolically clever alien invasion fantasy is taken straight from nature: children fathered by who-knows-what are found to possess a hive mentality and brain-powers that we puny Earthlings cannot oppose. Is it simply Us against Them, or perhaps a paranoid image of estranged, dangerous 1950s teens? Martin Stephens, George Sanders and Barbara Shelley star. We’ve all seen and loved this thriller; this time around CineSavant writes more of an essay than a review. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Smash Palace 07/10/18
From reviewer Charlie Largent: This superior drama won co-writer and director Roger Donaldson breakthrough international attention. The breakup of a family is sensitive and shocking, and takes a turn into violent territory without becoming exploitative or crude. Starring New Zealand’s leading actor Bruno Lawrence. A non-molestation court order for a race car driver to stay away from his wife, leads to bad, self-destructive decisions — the title is the name for an auto junkyard, but really describes a failed marriage. On Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.
sex, lies and videotape 07/10/18
Is this show still as daring as it once was? How does it fare in this year of #MeToo? Where are the personal boundaries in relationships, when nobody can risk being entirely honest? We discover a man who wants to relate with women solely through the recordings he makes of them talking about sex — is that OK, or not OK? Steven Soderbergh’s micro-budgeted intimate drama was the definition of independent filmmaking success. With fine, complex performances from Andie MacDowell, James Spader, Laura San Giacomo and Peter Gallagher. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Correspondent Edward Sullivan got snooping for web references to actress Marie Devereaux, the famed Hammer star we’ll be seeing later this month in Indicator’s expected Blu-ray of The Stranglers of Bombay. He first ran into her mention in the diaries of one Edward Jay Epstein, who explains that back in the early 1960s, he filmed a couple-days’ worth of battle scenes in Greece for a never-finished version of The Iliad, that apparently should not have gotten very far, but went forward because the investors and the Greeks thought Marlon Brando was signed up and on the way. It’s a good story; he names a lot of names, and even bad-mouths director Rudolph Maté, calling him a hack.
On his ‘ten years later’ page Epstein mentions that in one of his attempts to salvage the project, The Iliad was to be told from the POV of the Cassandra character — and Marie Devereaux was planned to play Cassandra. At that time she was apparently known as a stand-in for Elizabeth Taylor in the epic Mankiewicz picture Cleopatra, and may be seen in some of the long shots.
Maybe everybody knows about Devereaux and Cleopatra except me. Ed followed up, finding found these images on the IMDB that prove that Devereaux was indeed ‘standing in’ with Richard Burton and others … in full costume. Thanks, Ed !
Miss Devereux is still very much around — this is her facebook page.
New Kino discs just arrived. Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce is reportedly his most popular picture, what with its bright color and co-stars Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon. David Selznick’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is prime ’30s Technicolor, and has a famous cave rescue scene (topical, huh?) designed by William Cameron Menzies. Also here and worth snooping into are the curious-looking Republic thriller A Strange Adventure, and some kind of crime picture I have never heard of called Tiger by the Tail, the poster of which touts, ‘…and Introducing CHARO.’
Finally, I’m heading straight for Kino’s release of a classic noir that’s been M.I.A. for ages, Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in I Walk Alone. It’s directed by Byron Haskin.
And, courtesy of Joe Dante, here’s a link to the actual real estate page for the famed Frank Lloyd Wright Ennis House. Yes, you too can purchase The House on Haunted Hill; all that’s required is a paltry $23 million dollars, the price of a single Trump trip to play golf. I see the Ennis house every two days or so — I shop at an Albertson’s supermarket just below the hill. I took this fuzzy picture a couple of years ago (gotta get a telephoto lens, I guess). In case the sticker price seems high, they say it comes furnished!
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
A Matter of Life and Death 07/07/18
Imagination and resourcefulness accomplishes miracles on a Stairway to Heaven, with visual effects never bettered in the pre-CGI era. The wonder movie of 1946 sees the Archers infusing the ‘Film Blanc’ fantasy with amazing images and powerful emotions. Michael Powell’s command of the screen overpowers a soon-obsoleted theme about U.S.- British relations. David Niven, Kim Hunter and Roger Livesey bring fine performances to bear on the fantastic material. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Nope, this isn’t ET, The Extraterrestrial, not by a long shot. Guest reviewer Lee Broughton offers an assessment of Harry Bromley Davenport’s British cult sci-fi shocker of modest means, a show that would be pure exploitation if not for some creditable performances. It’s nasty but has a basic competence and is not just more cynical grist for the mill. ‘Phone Home,’ my Aunt Fannie: sometimes the difference between a thriller like this and a higher-profile classic is just pretension. On Blu-ray from Second Sight (UK).
Under Capricorn 07/07/18
What could go wrong? Alfred Hitchcock directs Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten in a mysterious tale of marital intrigues and social bigotry in a land populated by ex-convicts. Bergman is the long-suffering wife and Jack Cardiff is behind the Technicolor camera, which swoops through several amazing unbroken moving camera master shots, one fully five minutes long. I respectfully repeat, what could go wrong? Also starring Michael Wilding and Margaret Leighton. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
–written Saturday– It’s burning up out here in the City of Angels … no fires, but I think everyone from Agoura to Thousand Oaks and West to Pasadena is hunkered down in the coolest place they can find, and posting thermostat readings on Facebook as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit. I have the good fortune to be South of the Santa Monica Mountains, where it’s always about ten degrees cooler on hot days — when we went outside at 2p.m. it was only 107°! The hottest weather I’ve ever been in was a hostile 125° in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, around 1972. I had to walk only about fifty feet to my car and by the time I got there I felt faint and I could tell that my eyes were drying out — I had to use my shirt tail to open the car door, and then the car seat burned my back and the steering wheel my fingers — you get the idea. This is a good time to pray the power doesn’t fail, relax under air conditioning and watch something refreshing.
The picture above is a memory of a more pleasant climate — a week or so ago, my son was in Hawaii and was able to get on Hickam Air Force Base, where I lived from late 1958 to late 1961 — from age six to nine. It was heaven, a childhood in a fragrant fantasy land. I gave him my old address (which I still remember!) and he took a picture of the row of houses where we lived. As these residences just off the Hickam Parade Ground haven’t changed since before WW2, the photo is like a time machine for me. Here in Los Angeles almost every place I worked during my ‘career,’ from studios to storefront editing hide-outs, has changed so much that I can barely associate myself with the existing city. But I feel good knowing that Hickam will still be there. At the end of the parade ground is the water tower, which is actually right on the entrance channel to Pearl Harbor… it’s highly visible in the movies Tora! Tora! Tora! and Pearl Harbor. My son took new photos of the tower as well — and I can clearly see the chips out of the concrete. I remember my father pointing to the tower and other stone buildings on Hickam that still bore these scars of the December 7th attack — bomb shrapnel and random strafing from Japanese planes!
I have to say I’ve been pouring over new discs during the day and enjoying Netflix at night with the Missus, who makes good use of her vacations to catch up on everything she misses when working ungodly hours during the school year. Besides my review discs, people loan me things that catch my fancy … I should be reviewing the vintage Science Fiction films I’ve never seen before, just in case the time comes for a new review book. As it’s been six years there’s certainly enough new material for that.
I got a nice note from Mark Throop today, and took a peek at his Movies ala Mark vintage movie review page. I’m breaking a rule among web reviewers, genre fandom faux-celebs and various nabobs by plugging the other guy — I’ve read several of Mark’s reviews already and like both his writing style and his page’s clean layout. Very relaxing. And in these days of dueling opinions, it don’t hurt that Mark’s thoughts
That’s the one link today — I’m presently going over new Blus of Bull Durham, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, Village of the Damned, Maborosi, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, Sex Lies & Videotape, My Gal Sal and The Maids. Anxiously awaited is a July 23 release from UK’s Indicator company, Hammer Volume 3: Blood and Terror with The Camp on Blood Island, The Terror of the Tongs and especially Yesterday’s Enemy and The Stranglers of Bombay. Indicator’s list of disc extras for those shockers is very exciting.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson