Review Page and Column
Master of the World 07/24/21
One of Jules Verne’s most fantastic sci-fi fantasies got the big screen treatment from American-International, which hopped on the Verne bandwagon that raked in big $$ for Disney and others. A production challenge given a minimum of resources, the colorful show is still admired for the performance of Vincent Price as Robur the Conqueror, a mad terrorist. Charles Bronson also gets high marks as the proto- G-Man dispatched to put an end to Robur’s Albatross, an aerial ‘weapon of mass destruction.’ We also fell in love with art director Daniel Haller’s magnificent design for the airship — even if the special visual effects no longer seem as special as they should be. Also with Henry Hull, Mary Webster, David Frankham, Vito Scotti, Wally Campo, and Richard Harrison. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage 4K 07/24/21
The newest addition to the stable of horror and sci-fi on Ultra HD is Dario Argento’s debut feature, the game-changer that launched the full-blown giallo thriller. Argento takes a few twists from the Hitchcock playbook but otherwise shapes his whodunnit with a new, slick style of his own. Cinematography by Vittorio Storaro and design by Dario Micheli emphasize visual texture and tactility — we contemplate soft skin, slippery plastic and sharp straight razors. The horrors embrace architecture and high fashion, exchanging visual fetishes for psychological depth. And don’t forget a typically eccentric Ennio Morricone music score. As always, Arrow includes a full menu of extra delights. Starring Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi and Mario Adorf. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
It looks like Arrow Films has performed a new restoration on Giorgio Ferroni’s Mill of the Stone Women, the 1960 CineSavant favorite that is said to be the first Eurohorror pic in color. Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses trailed it by just a few weeks, at least by the IMDB’s reckoning. The Fantasia Fest 25 website is displaying beautiful images of the new restoration. That’s the stunning Scilla Gabel in the image above as Elfi, a temptress who is also the victim of strange medical experiments.
Elsewhere on the Fantasia Fest page we learn that Synapse will be premiering a new restoration of Amando de Ossorio’s Tombs of the Blind Dead, aka La noche del terror ciego, the first entry in his ‘Blind Dead’ series. NOBODY expects Los Caballeros Templarios!
Even more enticing, another company is re-premiering Jean-Louis Roy’s 1967 The Unknown Man of Shandigor (L’inconnu de Shandigor), an espionage-sci fi picture we want badly to see. I have no idea if it’s any good, but what difference does that make? The stills of scenes filmed on the rooftops of Antoni Gaudí buildings in Barcelona seal the deal.
These are only festival screenings — but we of course are hoping for follow-up announcements of Blu-ray disc releases.
And I’ve just learned that Paramount Home Entertainment has prepared an Audrey Hepburn 7-Movie Collection with some very desirable contents — seven special edition discs of Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face, War and Peace, Paris When it Sizzles, My Fair Lady and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s timed for the 60th anniversary of Breakfast, and will street on October 5.
Checking the IMDB, it looks like, yes the list encompasses almost the entire Audrey Hepburn filmography at Paramount… in this household it’s four stone classics, two very good movies and one that I don’t know all that well. Hepburn was always a given as class goods — her Billy Wilder picture will always be my favorite. I’m told that she dominated the ’50s as a sort of an anti-matter Marilyn Monroe, opposite in every way but just as feminine and just as magical.
Hepburn didn’t only play opposite male stars twenty years her senior. The recent biography only strengthens her image, relating her WW2 experience as a young teen in Belgium and Holland. Everything we’ve ever learned about this woman says ‘character,’ which makes our star-worship even easier.
I was impressed to learn that Hepburn’s War and Peace, despite not having the best reputation, was extremely popular in the Soviet Union. Russians thought Audrey Hepburn so epitomized the Natasha character, that when it came time to cast the Bondarchuk super-epic Hepburn’s image became the model, the benchmark.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
La piscine 07/20/21
It’s French! It’s hot! Jacques Deray’s most unusual film is an intimate, minimalist murder story that digs deep into the affairs of four very superficial people. Among the wealthy set are four pleasure seekers with a laissez faire take on relationships, that think they’re above basic drives — jealousy, possessiveness, resentment. The movie also makes book on the fame & notoriety of the off-on show biz couple Romy Schneider and Alain Delon — the film’s opening seems to celebrate their bigger-than-life glamour and beauty. A notable extra is a 2019 documentary with Delon and his co-star Jane Birkin, plus the film’s famous writers. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Ziegfeld Follies 07/20/21
Years in the making! The glory of MGM on parade! Enough studio resources to film twenty pictures were expended on this paean to showman Florenz Ziegfeld. It’s really Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s Technicolor valentine to itself, showing off the studio’s enormous stable of musical talent, along with various of its comic performers. Arthur Freed and Louis B. Mayer’s notion of ‘something for everyone’ results in weird stack of grandiose musical numbers and mostly weak comedy. The biggest draw is the incredible color cinematography that peeks through in three or four jaw-droppingly elaborate musical spectacles. The picture is a workout to find the artistic limits of the Technicolor system. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Hide your significant other’s credit cards ! — For the Ray Harryhausen fan who has everything, a company called Star Ace is offering for sale detailed soft rubber Gwangi replicas — you remember, the snarly, chompy Mexican Allosaurus from a certain 1969 Charles H. Schneer movie. Tipster Gary Teetzel has given the online sales presentation for the Valley of Gwangi (Deluxe Version) doll some careful thought:
“Mighty nice… but for $275 Gwangi should come with a minimum of extras: multiple cowboys on horseback with lariats; an evil dwarf figure that fits in his mouth; an elephant for Gwangi to fight; and a cathedral play set that comes pre-soaked in kerosene for easy burning. That non- flame-resistant cathedral feature is a one-time play opportunity.“
Next, thanks to a tip from David J. Schow we have Jenny List’s Hackaday article End of an Era: NTSC finally goes dark in America. Already obsolete when finally adopted in 1954, The National Television System Committee’s analog color system is officially dead now, at least in the U.S.. I worked with it roughly for twenty years, and heard nothing but abuse from video engineers. It was of course mocked with the acronym Never Twice the Same Color.
My video scientist friend long ago convinced me that the system adopted was chosen because it fit the proprietary needs of large corporations — something that’s happened every step of the way when universally-applicable systems were introduced. One of the latest and most ignominious examples is HD TV … the system adopted wasn’t the best but was sponsored by a corporate giant. (Just the same, it looks pretty good to me.) Wikipedia’s article about NTSC and the conversion to digital formats is here.
Sorry, it’s not the photo above that’s fuzzy, CineSavant has made YOUR EYES go bad! Tom Weaver noted this long-lost Kinescope of an interstitial horror-host segment from Shreveport, Lousiana late-nite movie show called Terror! Is it an incredible, fantastic keepsake from the old (NTSC) years of TV broadcasting? (I ask because Tom was none too impressed.)
The host segment appears meant to fit between screenings of Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman and The Mummy’s Tomb. Lon apparently reads his tirade from a teleprompter, and finishes with a ‘Mummy Walk’ into the lens. When he rhapsodizes incoherently about ‘gators ‘n’ crocks,’ we wonder if whoever wrote Lon’s copy had in mind his character in the 1959 The Alligator People. That movie does take place in Louisiana, after all.
Maybe it’s just plain awful, but hey, it’s Lon, perhaps earning some money on a public appearance tour, for what we can’t say. The excerpt isn’t dated but the IMDB says that KSLA Channel 12 Shreveport ran the Terror! show between 1963 and 1965. Ruth Sprayberry was “Evilun;” her sidekick witch Malicea was played by Billie Jardine. The Youtube entry is called Evilun Hosts KSLA’s Terror! with Lon Chaney Jr..
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Flight to Mars 07/17/21
The Wade Williams Collection yields another ’50s sci-fi notable, Monogram Pictures’ ambitious space travel movie filmed in glorious green-challenged Cinecolor. Cameron Mitchell and Arthur Franz sign up for a semi-suicidal space expedition, but instead of murderous Bat-Rat-Spider-Crabs, waiting for them on Mars is the glamorous, mini-skirted Marguerite Chapman. It’s core sci-fi fun from early in the Golden Era. The Film Detective adds a commentary, two new featurettes and an insert booklet; the film itself is lovingly restored to its original Cinecolor brilliance. On Blu-ray from The Film Detective.
What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? 07/17/21
George Seaton’s literal feel-good comedy is the flipside of pandemic films like Contagion: a powerful virus ‘cures’ grumpiness and bad vibes, encouraging a kind of Urban Utopia. The picture has nothing more to say than ‘have a nice day,’ yet it’s difficult to argue with any positive sentiment. George Peppard and Mary Tyler Moore battle nobly with the material, which varies from good parody (Dom DeLuise) to awful vaudeville schtick to wafer-thin satire to terrible musical interludes. A Toucan bird from South America steals the show — his trainer Ray Berwick should have won an Oscar. Featuring Susan Saint James, Don Stroud, Dom DeLuise, John McMartin, Charles Lane, Nathaniel Frey, George Furth and AMIGO the TOUCAN. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
First up — Region A sci-fi fans are expressing happiness over Criterion’s announcement of an October release for Richard Matheson’s 1957 The Incredible Shrinking Man. The extras appear to include some items seen on Region B releases — like director Jack Arnold’s somewhat flaky 1983 video interview. In the past Criterion has sometimes been a bit condescending with sci-fi and horror, but their new extras sound good: Joe Dante just recorded a conversation about the show, and Tom Weaver will be contributing a full commentary.
Tom has been writing that he thinks a missing shot or two (?) will be recovered; perhaps the audio jump-cut we’ve heard in Robert Scott Carey’s spider battle will finally be cured. And we’re promised that we’ll have both Orson Welles- narrated advertising pieces, the teaser we’ve seen many times, and a full trailer as well.
Among other titles, Criterion in October is also releasing Blu-rays of Warner’s High Sierra and the Japanese horror classic Onibaba.
And Gary Teetzel forwards a prompt found on Facebook to a short preview reel of excerpted shots from the 1935 Japanese silent fantasy Princess Kaguya. The previously lost film was early work in the career of special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya: “Film by ‘God of Special-Time Photography’ found … directed by Eiji Kutani”. I know it’s a Google Translate construction, but to me ‘God of Special-Time Photography’ is as good as any descriptor for Eiji Tsuburaya.
We’re told that the old tale, alternately known as Princess from the Moon and Princess Moonlight, was filmed at least seven times. The original monogatari story, from the 9th century, is called The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes 07/13/21
Producer Walter Mirisch’s second film is another satisfying mystery drama from author Cornell Woolrich. Dancers Don Castle and Elyse Knox find some money, and suddenly he’s arrested, tried and convicted for a murder, all on circumstantial evidence; detective Regis Toomey tries to find the real killer to please Mrs. Knox. The Monogram noir lacks fancy trimmings and was perhaps a bit rushed, but the story is good and the performances are sincere. We’re told that this one was at one point thought to be completely lost, but it sure plays well now — it looks untouched. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Hollywood acknowledges the existence of America’s proto- C.I.A. intelligence agency with this espionage tale of Yanks working with the resistance in occupied France. It’s basic cloak ‘n’ dagger action, with intrepid Alan Ladd and the daring Geraldine Fitzgerald risking life and limb to plant plastic explosive bombs. The details are fairly interesting: Ladd outwits the Gestapo by working with a turncoat inside their ranks. The outcome is grimly realistic, even if that old Paramount glamour is part of the package. The writer-producer is Richard Maibaum, who would later write almost thirty years’ worth of James Bond’s adventures: why, what 007 collector can be without this? With Patric Knowles, John Hoyt, Gloria Saunders, Richard Webb, and Richard Benedict. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
A big response came in regarding the little neighborhood story about Adriana Caselotti in last Saturday’s CineSavant Column… people from everywhere love that woman, and know a lot more about her than I do. Ken Henderson in Australia wrote to explain that his mother met Ms. Caselotti when she toured Australia, and appeared at the Tivoli, a theater long gone now.
And Trailers from Hell sent me this YouTube link, but didn’t provide the name of the tipster: it’s Adriana Caselotti on The Julie Andrews Show from 1972. She sings a quick medley of ‘I’m Wishing’ & ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’. It’s Ms. Caselotti all right, looking a lot fancier than I remember seeing her — you know, we literally interrupted her watering her garden. The clip certainly makes Julie Andrews seem gracious and appreciative.
And this just came sailing in the door, courtesy of The Film Detective and Wade Williams. It’s Walter Mirisch and Monogram Pictures’ 1951 feature
Flight to Mars, and it’s said to be fully restored in two-color Cinecolor. The trailer at the FD page looks pretty good — I believe it contains every special effect shot in the movie. And we love the trailer narration script that declares that Mars is the only planet that can support life. Ah, how about our planet?
The extras also sound enticing. This ought to be a big improvement on the old DVD (almost anything would be) and I look forward to writing a review. There are still many vintage ’50s sci-fi pictures not available on quality disc… even if they’re not screaming masterpieces.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee 07/10/21
Charlie Largent takes on Severin’s most prestigious ‘big box’ compilation collection to date, a grouping of several of Christopher Lee’s on the Continent features in mostly excellent, uncut editions. For instance, we’ve seen The Torture Garden of Dr. Sadism many times in feeble quality, cut and dubbed and re-titled; this set practically re-premieres it as Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel, full-length, in gorgeous color and in two languages. The Eight-disc set contains five features, including Lee’s impressive Castle of the Living Dead, plus a TV anthology series, endless expert extras and a full 88-page book by Jonathan Rigby. On Blu-ray from Severin Films.
In Harm’s Way 07/10/21
Hollywood’s last big all-star war epic in Black & White? Otto Preminger took a happy film company to Hawaii for this enormous saga about the Naval push in the Pacific Theater of WW2, with none other than John Wayne as the competent commander leading the charge. Soap-opera scenes aside, it’s a thrilling epic directed with Preminger’s well-known reserve. The star-gazing isn’t bad either — Kirk Douglas! Patricia Neal! Henry Fonda! Paula Prentiss! The finish is a huge naval battle with impressive live-action special effects, and given a moody music score by Jerry Goldsmith. On Blu-ray from Paramount Viacom CBS.
A short note today, mainly because relatives are in town, and terrific Column items haven’t been flying in the door. We took a walk after eating a few nights ago and someone said, ‘What about the wishing well lady,‘ that we went by when we were kids, the one that sang to us?’ Somewhere around 1981-1985 we were told that the little, old-fashioned decorative well in a particular front lawn was the home of the singer who sang for Snow White in Walt Disney’s original Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, over forty years before. So we walked down the street to see if the well was still there. It was behind a fence and a hedge. Since I’m not giving out any address or directions here, I feel safe in posting the photo we took.
Back in the 1980s when the kids were tiny we had this habit of similarly walking around the neighborhood on Easter morning, when we were all dressed up. On this one morning we went looking for this well, found it and read a little sign pinned to the well, that may have simply read, ‘I’m wishing.’ The lady was standing right there — she immediately put down her garden hose and sang a full set of measures of the famous song. Our four-year-old was delighted, as she was hip to the gag, so to speak — she’d seen the movie and had the cassette of the music. The nice lady didn’t talk to us — it was apparently her custom to sing but not to engage in conversation, at least not with people like us that didn’t force ourselves on strangers.
We swung back the next year almost by accident, to see if the well was still there. I think I was halfway through saying, ‘I guess we didn’t get lucky this y– ‘ when the door popped open and the elderly lady came out singing, in the same warbling, high-note style. It was almost like a cuckoo clock — she popped out, sang her song and popped back in, with a smile. We were again charmed.
We caught her name in the newspaper once, which explained the story of how she was hired by Disney. The article made it look as if she’d gotten a raw deal. The wiki link for Adriana Caselotti isn’t so harsh, yet it seems that her contract with Disney did curb her performing career — she couldn’t sing as Snow White anywhere else.
So Ms. Caselotti’s memory remains something of a local legend here, in a place where one can run into familiar performing faces even when one is not looking. She sang to my kids and made them feel special, so thinking of her will always make me smile.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson