Review Page and Column
Sacco & Vanzetti 05/21/22
Welcome to Ground Zero for ‘Committed Cinema’ Italian style. Director Giuiano Montaldo filmed his dream project on location in Ireland and a bit in Boston, with top stars Gian Maria Volontè and Riccardo Cucciolla. In one of the highest-profile American ‘media’ trials ever the famed immigrants Sacco and Vanzetti were tried for a crime but convicted by politics: even the judge asserted they were guilty by definition. Montaldo shows how wrongly justice can be served without whitewashing the defendants. UK actors Cyril Cusack and Milo O’Shea up the performance level, and the Ennio Morricone / Joan Baez songs have kept the film alive. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Ben & Charlie 05/21/22
UK correspondent Lee Broughton returns with coverage of a well-realised Spaghetti Western, Michele Lupo’s irony-laden semi-comedy Ben & Charlie. The film’s eponymous anti-heroes are played by fan favourites Giuliano Gemma and George Eastman and the duo receive great support from a number of familiar faces including Marisa Mell, Aldo Sambrell and Giacomo Rossi Stuart. Looking great on Blu-ray from Explosive Media GmbH.
Ilya Muromets 05/21/22
Accept no substitutes! Aleksandr Ptushko’s fairy-tale folk hero saga is the real deal in medieval spectacle. When the nation calls, warriors rise from the steppes to defend against invaders, even if they have to defy royal authority. The first Soviet film in anamorphic scope and stereophonic sound, Ilya Muromets is an eye-opening series of fantastic characters and storybook episodes, loaded with Ptushko’s amazingly beautiful special effects and jaw-dropping scenes with entire armies filling the scene. The capper is one hell of a fierce dragon — the fire breathing, three-headed Zmey Gorynych! On Blu-ray from Deaf Crocodile Films.
Advisor-correspondent Gary Teetzel reports that Kino Lorber has signed a 65-title Blu-ray deal with Paramount. It’s actually 71 features after adding in 3 ‘Paramount renewals’ and 3 ‘CBS renewals,’ whatever that means. No specific titles were mentioned, but ‘The Kino Insider’ has stated that
— 43 titles will be released for the first time on BD in the U.S., 8 of them the first time on disc.
— “A few” of the titles in the new deal have been previously released by [Imprint].
— The list includes no titles previously released by Olive.
— Kino will remaster a number of titles, any from two to three dozen (seems a safe way to estimate).
— Some films are from the Republic library, but ‘not many.’
— No silent films — No Elvis films — No Miramax titles.
That much information encourages the kind of wild & irresponsible speculation we’re happy to provide here at CineSavant, always no extra charge. Subjectively desired titles offhand include The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (it didn’t migrate to Universal with the other Preston Sturges pics), William Wyler’s The Desperate Hours, with Humphrey Bogart as a gangster, and why not Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets? We’d like to see Catch-22, Oh, What a Lovely War, Dragonslayer, The Tin Star and Wild is the Wind.
My readers are indeed eager for domestic Blu-ray releases of the [Imprint] Sci-fi pictures When Worlds Collide, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, etc.; and I’d like to review them again.
Finally, one 3-D title, unnamed, is said to be part of the deal. We immediately began dreaming that the 3-D Hondo with John Wayne might sneak in there: if we’re going to be unreasonably optimistic, why not go all the way? Unfortunately, ‘The Kino Insider’ put the kaibosh on that notion pretty quickly. Paramount’s arrangement with Batjac doesn’t allow for the title to be sublicensed. So no The High and the Mighty on Blu either.
Outside of that news, Kino has announced that another 3-D title has been added to the release schedule, licensed from MGM. It’s the 1952 3-D picture that launched the Eisenhower-era 3-D craze, Bwana Devil. Written and directed by Arch Oboler, it stars Robert Stack, Barbara Britton and Nigel Bruce.
The Natural Vision ‘depthie’ is on the books as the first full-length color 3-D feature; its success bankrolled Arch Oboler’s next twenty years of oddball film experiments, capped by his development of an improved one-filmstrip, over & under 3-D process called Space Vision.
I’ve not yet seen Bwana Devil — friends that attended the 3-D festivals assure me that . . . it’s a landmark picture, all right!
And we just heard the news about Viavision [Imprint’s] disc lineup for August, and it’s a really impressive list — all desirable features with collectors in mind.
Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach is a two-disc set that includes the 2013 documentary Fallout, about the Shute novel and the making of the movie.
The Essential Film Noir Box 3 contains four definite winners, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, No Man of Her Own, The Turning Point and The Desperate Hours . . . which we were just asking for, above.
The Scarlet Hour is a rare VistaVision noir from 1956 with the movie debut of cult figure Carol Ohmart; also a commentary by Alan K. Rode.
I Am the Law is a seldom-seen 1938 Columbia gangster film with Edward G. Robinson, and a commentary by Jason A. Ney.
Secret of the Incas is the Charlton Heston thriller filmed in Peru at Macchu Picchu; a bogus conspiracy theory has circulated about this show’s relationship to a certain Steven Spielberg adventure thriller.
Storm Center is the 1956 Bette Davis drama about book-banning and political extremism.
Golden Boy is the classic with William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck.
The World of Susie Wong is the drama with William Holden and Nancy Kwan, in a two-disc set with a documentary on the life of Ms. Kwan.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Counterfeit Traitor 05/17/22
George Seaton connected an ideal cast to this true-life WW2 story so good that a lazy script and slack direction can’t sink it. William Holden is the American-Swede who spies for the Allies, ruining his own reputation and schmoozing with Nazis that will kill him if he slips up. Wonderful Lilli Palmer is the patriot-agent who steals his heart. The locations are impressive but one inspired scene captures with perfection the utter depravity of fascist power. If ever a WW2 movie needed a remake, this one qualifies. On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
Double Indemnity 4k 05/17/22
It’s back and Criterion’s got it, so be prepared for sharp-talking insights on Billy Wilder’s nearly flawless, cinema-changing ode to cold-blooded murder, Los Angeles style. Edward G. Robinson wants Fred MacMurray but Barbara Stanwyck has him wrapped around her trigger finger. James M. Cain tapped into our city’s domestic malaise — who doesn’t know somebody they’d like to trade in for some extra cash? What about the extras? The Big C has Noah Isenberg, Imogen Sara Smith, Eddie Muller, Angelica Jade Bastién. Plus, we get the legendary Wilder interviews with Volker Schlöndorff, uncut and völlig ungeklärt. Revolver under the sofa cushion, anyone? On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
The good news is that Kino’s new 4K encodings of Sergio Leone’s first two Italo ‘Dollars’ oaters look terrific, with Fistful showing a lot of improvement: the basic restorations are from prime Italian film elements. And the packages are collector / home theater enthusiast friendly — standard Blu-ray encodings are part of the deal. As the films are still licensed from MGM, they include the extras from 2007 of which we’re very proud. The end results may be the first Leone disc release that makes this viewer ‘The Man with No Complaints.’ Don’t forget, they’re separate purchases. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Dick Dinman has a particularly good podcast presently up, hosting Alan K. Rode to Salute the Blu-ray Restoration of 3 Rare Classics. Alan Rode is incredibly busy these days. He also didn’t slow down for a second during the pandemic, turning out a new commentary or producing a Blu-ray disc seemingly every few weeks.
Three big collectors’ titles are discussed in this show, and I’ve vouched for all three of them in reviews: Alfred Werker’s Repeat Performance, Robert Siodmak’s The Whistle at Eaton Falls and Lewis Milestone’s A Walk in the Sun. Theater owners a long while back tended to over-use the sales motto, ‘Movies are Better than Ever!’ I’m not so sure if that blurb fits today’s movies, but Restorations Definitely ARE Better than Ever.
An upcoming slate of films on Turner Classic Movies is cause to wear out one’s eyeballs, or program the DVR: on Saturday May 21st the cable channel will present three pictures Directed by Cy Endfield including a special debut title. The wonderfully subversive The Underworld Story is practically a telegram to the HUAC, shouting ‘blacklist me!’ Endfield’s action hit Hell Drivers stars a full dozen great Brit actors including Stanley Baker and Sean Connery.
The third show is a premiere of ANOTHER new noir restoration by the Film Noir Foundation, Endfield’s first personal directing effort The Argyle Secrets. I’m told that it’s about tracking down U.S. collaborators with the Nazis, after the victory. The fuzzy image above got my attention, so I hope it’s actually from the movie . . .
TCM’s intro article by Jeremy Arnold is a good introduction to Cy Endfield, whose better-known movies include Zulu and Try and Get Me!
Jeremy tells us that Hell Drivers was restored in 2016 in B&W VistaVision. I’ll be tuning in to find out if TCM will replace the miserable old B&W copy they’ve shown for years. Endfield’s movie and Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger’s 1957 Ill Met By Moonlight were both filmed in B&W VistaVision but something went wrong at the U.K. lab — Powell complained that after lugging heavy VistaVision cameras all over the island of Crete, the finished prints didn’t look any different than normal 35mm (actually a bit worse). The 35mm print I saw of Hell Drivers at the Cinematheque carried a VistaVision logo too — and it didn’t have the visual snap we always associate with VistaVision.
Correspondent Mark Forer recommended that I see Kino’s new Blu-ray of “Mamba” so I’m going to give that a shot.
Mark also reminded me of the Vitaphone Project Facebook Page , and that got me looking also at the very informative (intense, actually) Vitaphone Varieties page. It only seems to have run between 2006 and 2009 but I find the articles fascinating, with so much detail.
Take a look — if it appeals, you may spend more time there than you thought you would.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Francis the Talking Mule 05/14/22
7 Film Collection. Universal’s ongoing franchise used tricks to make a mule talk (with the voice of Chill Wills) providing Donald O’Connor with steady work but also shoehorning him into a role unworthy of his talent — as a high-stepping dancer he was the equal of Gene Kelly any day. Universal put everybody on the contract roster in these shows: actresses Julie Adams, Piper Laurie, Lori Nelson, and one show is the official credited debut of Clint Eastwood. The final entry is a real oddity, with Mickey Rooney taking over for Donald O’Connor and Paul Frees as the Mule’s voice. Will Francis sound like Toshiro Mifune? On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 4K 05/14/22
What a great title to revisit — John Ford’s ‘Kabuki’ western is less about action and more about form and tradition — especially the way the truth gets plowed under in ‘the West,’ which is of course America reduced to a mythological keepsake. John Wayne, James Stewart and Lee Marvin’s characters seem to know they are playing roles that never change. We might question the values but there’s no denying that said values prevailed as the country’s consensus self-image. Paramount’s new 4K makes a great-looking movie look even better, Pilgrim — and we don’t tolerate no disloyal debates ’bout film grain North of the Picket Wire. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from Paramount Presents.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) 05/14/22
In just her fourth American movie the Swedish import Ingrid Bergman proves herself the most sensual creature in Hollywood, running away with Spencer Tracy and Victor Fleming’s remake of Mamoulian’s pre-Code classic. The morals are cleaned up and the sex angle tamed down (except for Fröken Bergman) and the acting is less stylized — overall it’s a fine show. Ingrid learned quickly how things were done at MGM — she swiped the film’s plum role from Lana Turner. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Well hey, things are bit disorganized around here — I took my 2nd Covid booster (4th shot) Wednesday and had the biggest reaction yet — was just wiped out for 24 hours. I still need to go over my two reviews and my head is just beginning to clear. With that in mind the CineSavant Column is even less organized than usual.
But while laid up I did take in Deaf Crocodile’s new Blu-ray of Alexander Ptushko’s Ilya Muromets, which turned out to be a real eye-opener. It’s a rich fairy-tale epic on a beautiful canvas; much of the movie looks like a painting. A thousand years ago, mighty peasant warrior Ilya defends the Russian (Rus) homeland against an evil pagan from the East, turncoats on his own side and a slacker Prince who has him locked up for ten years for being disrespectful (just honest, actually). The fairy tale aspect is truly charming — the leading lady sings with birds and little animals like a Disney princess, and various forms of magic show up in every scene.
In Ilya Muromets a city is attacked by an Asian horde as well as a flying, fire breathing three headed dragon. It seemed especially emotional that the city under siege is Kiev, presently in our thoughts every day. I’ll be reviewing the movie very shortly.
I’ve rounded up a list of titles I’ll be reviewing soon — it’s an embarrassment of riches, that’s for sure.
In hand and ready to go. Some are a little older but I still want to find space for them:
Dancing Pirate (Film Detective) — interesting early 3-color Technicolor release; The Final Option (Kino Lorber) — anti terrorist movie I’ve balked at because it’s so bloodthirsty-reactionary; good cast with Judy Davis; Eastern Promises 4K (Kino Lorber) — Cronenberg action thriller, less gross than his new picture; The Indian Tomb (Kino) Original silent movie recommended long ago by James Ursini; The Round Up / The Red and the White (Kino Lorber) — saw these and was knocked out: just describing them is difficult; In the Heat of the Night 4K (Kino) — Charlie Largent did the Criterion of this last year; I can mainly check out the quality. ; Film Noir The Dark Side of Cinema VI – Singapore, Johnny Stool Pigeon, The Raging Tide (Kino) — I suspect these aren’t particularly noir but the casts are good. It’s fun to see Tony Curtis learning to play movie star; The Counterfeit Traitor [Imprint] ; Across 110th Street [Imprint] ; The Wicker Man [Imprint] — Charlie Largent will be reviewing this; The Brotherhood [Imprint] ; The Don is Dead [Imprint] — this carries a commentary by Marc Edward Heuck and myself, recorded about a year ago; Twisting the Knife, Four Films by Claude Chabrol (Arrow) ; The Carey Treatment (Warner Archive) ; Sacco and Vanzetti (Kino) ; Son of Samson (Kino) ; The Funeral (Criterion) ; Violent City (Kino) ; A Fistful of Dollars 4K (Kino) ; For a Few Dollars More 4K (Kino) ; Double Indemnity 4K (Criterion)
Expected Soon, or not so soon:
The Untouchables 4K (Paramount) ; Tales of Hoffman (Criterion) ; Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema VII – The Boss – Chicago Confidential – The Fearmakers (Kino) ; Raiders of the Lost Ark 4K (Paramount) ; Love Slaves of the Amazon (Kino) ; The Horse Soldiers (Kino) ; The Brain from Planet Arous (The Film Detective) ; Killers Kiss 4K (Kino) ; Out of Sight 4K (Kino) ; Bullfighter and the Lady (Powerhouse Indicator) ; Putney Swope (Powerhouse Indicator) ; Creatures the World Forgot (Powerhouse Indicator) ; Planet of the Vampires (Kino) ;
Invaders from Mars (Ignite) — (September)
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Mr. Klein 05/10/22
Expatriate blacklistee Joseph Losey is the perfect director for this excellent, strange tale, a big award winner in France. The terrible Occupation-era victimization of the Jewish citizens of Paris is told tangentially from the viewpoint of a jackal-like opportunist who buys art and valuables cheaply from Jews desperate for cash. But Klein has a little ‘doppelgänger’ problem straight out of Franz Kafka . . . and finds himself in an existential nightmare that’s strangely . . . appropriate. This original, superior thriller also stars Jeanne Moreau, Francine Bergé, Michael Lonsdale, Juliet Berto and Suzanne Flon. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Some Like It Hot 4K 05/10/22
This knockout comedy rates as one of Hollywood’s funniest ever — although it could be ‘cancelled’ any day now, so get ready to deny ever having laughed at it. Ultimate movie star glamour meets the apex of screenwriting hilarity: liberated by 101 cross-dressing jokes Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond jam sly sex innuendo into almost word spoken. We still don’t know how the censors passed one of of Marilyn Monroe’s costumes: Raymond Durgnat described the resulting visual effect as ‘The Hanging Gardens of Marilyn.’ Everybody’s tip top in this one: Jack Lemmon prances, Tony Curtis does his Cary Grant imitation, and Billy Wilder tosses in a score of his favorite 1920s tunes. On 4K Ultra HD from KL Studio Classics.
Murphy’s War 05/10/22
Peter Yates’ excellent war-movie follow-up to Bullitt landed in the wrong year: the beautifully produced and directed action thriller was barely seen in America. Royal Navy mechanic Peter O’Toole swears vengeance on the U-Boat commander who sunk his ship and murdered its entire crew. Locals in a Caribbean backwater help him to strike back: he must first teach himself to fly an airplane. With support from Horst Janson, Sian Phillips and the great Philippe Noiret, it’s a wartime suspense nail-biter with a little manic obsession thrown in as well. Indicator’s extras feature the great editor-director John Glen, who relates the exciting story of the filming on location in Venezuela. On Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Three reviews today . . . we’ll get to all these desirable Blu-rays one way or another.
A few weeks back the column floated an article about movie theaters in New York’s Times Square entitled We Wanna Go to the Mayfair and the RKO Palace!. CineSavant advisor and reviewer “B” explained that the Palace Theater was undergoing major renovations, but he didn’t go into detail.
The title for this one-minute CNN Style video magazine article, Watch Iconic Broadway Theatre Rise 30 Feet Above the Ground is basically self-explanatory, but seeing is believing. Time-lapse images show the entire theater being jacked up, in place, a full thirty feet. It’s pretty remarkable. I wonder if the architects and engineers were 100% sure it’s going to work, when they started those hydraulic jacks going. Built in 1913, the theater weighs 14 million pounds!
We also get a peek at the building next door that was once the Mayfair Theater, the one that had the multi-story poster space for new movies. It looks like it now has a similar wrap-around video panel, giant-sized. It’s on the left in the image just above. ↑
This reminds me of a weird dream I keep having. In it I have the millions to have experts jack my entire house off the ground, after which a reinforced concrete lower floor is built, 70% buried in the ground. Then the house is replaced, sitting back on top of the new concrete super-foundation. Underground parking! Utilities all down there! Unlimited storage space! (Dream on, Glenn.)
And we have yet another follow-up for last week’s review of the nifty horror item Dementia. I mentioned an old Saturday Night Live skit, a filmed piece, that I believed could have been inspired by the wailing Marni Nixon soundtrack to the John Parker film. I wrote:
The weird vibe may have been directly lampooned in a vintage skit-film seen on Saturday Night Live. In that skit a female motorist is terrorized by nervous, wailing singing. She traces it to its source — a woman shrieking into a microphone on the floor of her apartment.
I should have known that “B” would respond with all the info I could ask for: Quote “B”:
“Glenn: I coulda sworn this was from a Tom Schiller SNL short, so I was totally misdirected for a while.
It’s a Gary Weis SNL short called The Voice. SNL regular Laraine Newman (left above ↑ ) is the woman who tries to pick up her laundry without a ticket, and is plagued by a wild, haunting voice seemingly singing her inner thoughts. At the end she returns to her home and confronts a woman (Valri Bromfield) (right above ↑ ) ) loudly singing into a tape recorder.
This particular episode is from the show’s third season; the Chevy Chase/Billy Joel episode, airdate February 18, 1978. I just looked at it on Hulu; it might also be available on Peacock. It’s probably online somewhere, but I couldn’t immediately locate it. Best — B.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson