Review Page and Column
Come and See 07/04/20
The director of this unblinking account of the genocide in Belarus in 1942 and 1943 said that “people in America can’t watch my film. They have thrillers but this is something different.” He certainly got that right. A young farm boy is a witness to and victim of horrendous barbarism inflicted on a civilian population… now the most common kind of terror. The Politburo wanted a film to commemorate Victory Day, and director Elem Klimov gave them something nobody would forget. Although cinema gut-wrenchers have gone much further in the last 25 years, Kilmov’s unforgettable horrorshow rivets us through the haunted, paralyzed face of young actor Aleksei Kravchenko, who can scarcely process what he sees. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Africa Screams 07/04/20
Abbott & Costello perform at full strength in this very good, very silly jungle safari comedy. It’s definitely for kids and nostalgic fans — with equal parts slapstick, cornball repetitive vaudeville gags, and Lou Costello’s weirdly endearing infantile schtick. An impressively beautiful restoration has pulled it back from the pit of Public Domain ugliness. Plus ClassicFlix & the 3-D Archive appoint this 2-D movie with a tall stack of creative, relevant extras. With Hillary Brooke, Clyde Beatty, Frank Buck, Max and Buddy Baer, Shemp Howard, Joe Besser, and Charles Gemora. On Blu-ray from ClassicFlix.
Hello! Happy July 4, you lockdown celebrants…
Trailers from Hell for July 3 features an Italian trailer for a movie that raises my curiosity — Vittorio de Sica’s Il Giudizio Universale (The Last Judgment). It’s an ‘end of days’ fable with fifty of the oddest international stars possible, as if Mike Todd had made ‘Around the End of the World in 80 Days.’ I like the way that commentator Joe Dante says that it was a flop, that nobody wanted it, that it was never exported from Italy… and admits that he likes it anyway. I’d likely enjoy it no matter how terrible it is, as I have a soft spot for all Cold War nuke parables: Ladybug Ladybug , Invasion, U.S.A. , A Short Vision.
The legendary Cesare Zavattini was the screenwriter. He must have been a sincere ban-the-bomb moralist, as the previous year he wrote the Yugoslavian movie Rat (War) aka Atomic War Bride. It’s a pre- Dr. Strangelove nuclear satire that mixes terror and slapstick. My review tries to sort it out, but the dubbed version available on DVD doesn’t work very well.
Film culture will not be deterred by a little pandemic! With the American Cinematheque’s theaters out for the count until public film performances are once again viable, the Internet is taking up some of the slack. On August 2 at 5:PM the Cinematheque will hold a virtual event called AC Bookclub: Michael Curtiz – A Life In Film. To me it sounds like a book fair meet ‘n’ greet without a downside. Author Alan K. Rode will be talking about his career bio of the great director. The official tagline is, “Join Author Alan K. Rode Online for a Discussion About the Life and Work of Legendary Director Michael Curtiz.”
The event sounds especially friendly because it’s not limited just to people who happen to live in Los Angeles. Latvian fans of Michael Curtiz can be directly involved, through a Q&A segment that one registers for. Alan is good company in person or on video, and I assume he will be just as interesting in this ‘virtual event’ concept. According to the full details given at the AC page, the event will use Zoom, a program that has made me into a loyal fan..
Another Dick Dinman DVD Classics Corner audio show is now up, this time featuring the Warner Archive’s George Feltenstein to help Dick discuss two new WAC releases, Doris Day’s first film Romance on the High Seas ( ↑ ) and the Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney musical Strike Up the Band. It’s clear that the two of them worship Doris Day; the discussion is as much about Day and her amazing voice as it is Warners’ impressive new Technicolor restoration.
And finally, Kino Lorber has announced its releases for August. There are so many, we can’t help but wonder when are Kino is going to run out of movies to put on Blu-ray. Hopefully not before all my favorites are surface.
Available in August will be collections with Tony Curtis (The Perfect Furlough, The Great Impostor, 40 Pounds of Trouble), Carole Lombard (Fast and Loose, Man of the World, No Man of Her Own) and Audie Murphy (The Duel at Silver Creek, Ride a Crooked Trail, No Name on the Bullet).
Out as singles will be Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies, Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom, Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva, Brian Trenchard-Smith’s The Quest, Emmanuelle Beart & Phoebe Cates in Date with An Angel, Cary Grant & Carole Lombard in The Eagle and the Hawk, John Farrow’s Wake Island ( ↑ ), Budd Boetticher’s Red Ball Express, Richard Burton in Raid on Rommel, John Sturges’ Backlash, Ralph Nelson’s Soldier Blue, Joan Tewkesbury’s Old Boyfriends, Douglas Sirk’s All I Desire and There’s Always Tomorrow, Joseph Strick’s The Balcony, Clint Eastwood’s Breezy, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross, Ben Affleck in Hollywoodland, and the John Ford-Harry Carey silent Hell Bent. It’s a real problem — I really want to review at least two-thirds of these.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Bring back the Age of Aquarius! Olive Films returns with the company’s best Signature Edition ever. The show is an excellent choice for a special edition, as seen by the simply terrific interviews in its battery of added value featurettes. Top creative contributors have been tapped for some great memories. Rather than filming a simple adaptation, Milos Forman reinterprets the hit show, allowing Twyla Tharp’s choreographic genius to soak into most every scene — the result is a marvelous melding of theatrical and cinematic effects. Starring John Savage, Treat Williams, Beverly D’Angelo, Annie Golden, Dorsey Wright, Don Dacus, and Cheryl Barnes. On Blu-ray from Olive Signature.
The Reluctant Debutante 06/30/20
Vincente Minnelli took time out from expensive MGM shows like Gigi to knock off this tale about the London debutante season, a light-comedy Cinderella story without satire or social comment. Young Sandra Dee and John Saxon come off well, but the show belongs to stars Rex Harrison and especially Kay Kendall, whose comedy timing and finesse lift the tame, weightless material. With Angela Lansbury and Diane Clare. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Just two announcements today. I’m informed that the new restoration of the Abbott & Costello comedy Africa Screams is on the way; I might be able to get a review out for Saturday. ←
→ Scream Factory just gave an August 11 date for its special edition of Hammer’s The Phantom of the Opera with Herbert Lom and Heather Sears. Phantom is one of those Universal Hammers that are often transferred at a wide 2:1 aspect ratio; the best item in Scream’s spec list is the news that encodings will be offered at both 1:85 and 1:66.
And Scream has also just released the extras list for their disc of Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, due on August 18. This notice is a bit worrying, as it makes no mention of the biggest fan concern with that film, several missing bits (of surgical gore, I believe) that were left out of earlier home video presentations. You’d think the company would definitely play it up if they had the fully uncut version.
And finally, we’re told that Lionsgate will be releasing a Blu-ray of David Cronenberg’s early horror gross-out Shivers aka They Came from Within. Arrow’s earlier Blu was Region B only. Interestingly, when I reviewed Shivers in 2014 my first words were, “Is this the movie you really want to see while Ebola is running wild?”
Hopefully reviewed soon at CineSavant will be Criterion’s Come and See, Arrow’s interesting-sounding America as Seen by a Frenchman and maybe a backward step to enjoy Kino’s Lonely Are the Brave, which was released back in May.
Onward to July. We’re not halfway through a locked-down year where we learned how to look through windows, all over again. I forgot what a restaurant is like, but my little green lawn is in great shape!
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Spider 06/27/20
Bert I. Gordon rides again, with an excellent encoding of one of his more popular sci-fi monster-ramas. Pert ‘n’ perky June Kenney is so brave that she keeps going back to ‘that old cave outside of town,’ despite not knowing how many giant spiders are on the loose. Teenagers in their thirties and their bebop-crazy rock ‘n’ roll are no match for Gordon’s titanic, screaming arachnid. This spidey is just plain shifty, the kind of unscrupulous fiend that colors his crayons outside the (matte) lines … in crimson B&W blood! June Kenney’s mom knows her girl only two well: “… I hope she hasn’t gone back to that cave.” With some excellent extras, namely about a million rare behind-the-scenes stills from Tom Weaver. On Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
Dark and Stormy Night 06/27/20
It’s a Larry Blamire film, and it’s composed of entirely NEW and UNIQUE elements: a lonely mansion, strange servants, the reading of the will, weird heirs, death threats, snoopy reporters, a midnight seance, mysterious locked rooms, the clutching hands of a phantom menace, and the ultimate terror, Kogar the mighty ape. All new, right? This ‘nothing you’ve ever seen before’ is performed by Blamire’s nimble acting clan, all competing to immortalize some of the silliest dialogue ever written. Two versions of the screwball-nostalgic farce are present on this special edition disc, along with the usual disturbingly offbeat selection of Blamire extras. On Blu-ray from Hydraulic Entertainment.
Is whole world ray gun-happy? Edward Sullivan’s web searches show that there’s an entire underworld of antique toy collectors out there, as indicated by the fab collections of robots and space guns on this page. It makes enough sense — I might go snooping online for images of some really cool toys my aunt sent me from Germany in the late ’50s, early ’60s.
Anyway, Ed also steers us to an Alphadrome Web Board page in which a collector rejoices because he’s found an original Fethalite Space Disintegrator Gun first discussed two columns ago. The scan above is only one of about ten images the collector has taken to document it. He calls it his ‘Aussie Holy Grail’ even though it’s damaged and is missing parts. The toy looks so cheap, I’m surprised it survived at all. No, don’t thank me, this is just another essential CineSavant journalistic investigation of important social issues.
As long as I’m really overreaching for acceptable links, here’s an older Gary Teetzel link to something I know we all need, a Welded Steel AT-AT BBQ Grill. The website Nerdist brings us news we can’t live without — ‘Put another Ewok on the Barbie, Sheila!’ The little video at the page shows that it’s a fully practical item. Maybe even in the snow of the Ice Planet Hoth.
See you on Tuesday — hope to have some actual Blu-ray links and info then. Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The beguiling short-story feel of Paul Dano’s intimate family drama makes us share the experience of a teenager whose parents are ‘going through a rough patch’ that may break up the only security he’s known. The performances of Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan and especially young Ed Oxenbould are low-key and high-intelligence; each seems a study of people we know, or people we might be. The observance of what rural America was like in 1960 Montana (or many places, even now) is acute. Highest recommendations. With Bill Camp; highest recommendations for this very satisfying piece of 21st Century moviemaking. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
He really wanted to review it! Actually, lovers of the strange and arcane in film history are applauding this enormous, if anything OVER-curated box of exploitation errata from the ’60s and ’70s. Everything extant is here as regards the Al Adamson oeuvre, such as it is. I can scarcely believe the reconstruction effort — some of the titles had to be Frankenstein’d back together from random surviving prints. The intrepid, dauntless Charlie Largent digs deep into this monster box, enough to glean a reasonable overview. He earns every nickel of his exorbitant CineSavant salary (and stock options). It’s all here: Fourteen discs! Thirty-one films! Seven Brides for Seven Brothers! After looking at the list of titles one more time, I confess I want to get the box back to check out John Carradine in The Fiend with The Electronic Brain. I think I actually saw that title on a marquee once back in the day. At the present moment Amazon has ONE of these sets in stock — for a generous $6.00 off its stratospheric retail price! On Blu-ray from Severin Films.
Correspondent Keith West sheds light on last Saturday’s CineSavant post about an ad for a ray gun toy, from 1954. His note spells it out in full clarity:
“Hi Glenn, have been enjoying your reviews and comments. The ‘Space Disintegrator Gun’ you mentioned shows up in the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy Artists and Models as a ‘Bat Lady’ toy for kids. Comics publisher Eddie Mayehoff demonstrates the rifle, and a miniature mushroom cloud issues from the muzzle of the gun. The visual effect of the detonation appears to be real footage of an atomic test. I have attached a frame grab of Mayehoff holding the ray gun — Keith West”
Well, that’s pretty sharp ray-gun spotting on Keith’s part, if you ask me. Artists and Models is a 1955 release, so the timing is ideal. I wonder if the original toy was from Hong Kong or perhaps Japan? I Googled ‘vintage ray gun toy images’ but didn’t find this particular model, just small-caliber plastic hand blasters, from Buck Rogers on forward.
Well, half of 2020 is almost gone, and we’re all hoping that the second half won’t be as awful as the first. It’s a slow news day, disc-wise, so I decided to round up a group of releases from the first six months of this year — the ones CineSavant was able to review — that I thought especially attractive to collectors. 2019 was a phenomenal year for fantasy, horror and sci-fi Blu-rays but the first half of 2020 is no slouch either. The box-tops below are also links to the CineSavant reviews.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Tokyo Olympiad 06/20/20
Will there even be an Olympics in our foreseeable future? Kon Ichikawa’s 1964 masterpiece is still the the most spectacular/intimate film about human athletics ever, a celebration of the human body and its abilities. An epic for people that don’t necessarily like sports, it’s less a documentary of the event than a collection of moving impressions. Who knew that sports could be so emotional? Criterion’s beautiful 4K restoration disc comes with extensive interviews with director Ichikawa. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
The Specialists 06/20/20
From guest reviewer Lee Broughton: French rock ‘n’ roll singer Johnny Hallyday joins actresses Francoise Fabian and Sylvie Fennec in Italian director Sergio Corbucci’s best looking Western, filmed in the Dolomites mountain range. The previously scarce 1969 picture is a mystery-revenge tale, on the talky side but beautifully produced. And they have the nerve to give Hallyday’s hero the name ‘Hud.’ With Gaston Moschin and Mario Adorf. On Region B Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment.
The Warner Archive Collection listed its July and August offerings this week, and I saw three that caught my attention. ← 1940’s Greer Garson-Laurence Olivier version of Pride and Prejudice holds up extremely well; it’s one of the better literary adaptations/condensations I’ve seen.
Also in July is Busby Berkeley’s Million Dollar Mermaid, the most spectacular and physically demanding of MGM’s Esther Williams pictures. The Technicolor ought to look good too.
And then in August comes the Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy sports-oriented George Cukor comedy Pat and Mike. The comedy centering on Hepburn’s lady athlete was once considered a takeoff on gender roles and the way women are underestimated; now I’m wondering if it will pass muster with current feminist thinking. Oh, it’s funny at times, and it has an early appearance by Charles Bronson, too.
The only surprising thing is why this choice and Woman of the Year should arrive on Blu-ray before Adam’s Rib, the duo’s only slightly sexist masterpiece, also directed by Cukor. The WAC has also announced the Hepburn/Spencer film Without Love for a little further down the line.
Steve Reeves fans will applaud these three or so minutes of publicity shots of Steve Reeves in Italy. I don’t know who put them online, but I caught it through a helpful Facebook post by Tim Lucas. He arrives and departs by plane, and performs on the set of what looks like one of the original Hercules movies, and perhaps another sword ‘n’ sandal epic. He apparently showed up for work with his Hercules beard already grown.
Naturally, every pub flack has the famous bodybuilder pick up heavy objects — the nearest bellissima attrice italiana, mostly. He obliges every request. They even have him drag a large airport stairway a few feet before he boards his plane, beard shaved. Reeves looks like a friendly and agreeable guy — even though he’s always posing there’s not a hint of narcissism. The publicity clip puts the Enzo Masetti music score in the background. I can’t identify the numerous leading ladies on view. But we certainly recognize the great Gordon Mitchell arriving at the airport as well — what a terrific chiseled face! Offhand I don’t see any movies in which the two actors co-starred.
And this final item should be self-explanatory for anybody who was a little boy in the 1950s. I swiped it without so much as a how-do-you-do from the astute observer of arcane culture, amiable colleague, and fellow family man Richard Harland Smith. I guess it’s from a 1954 Australian trade magazine called Retailer and it appears to be 100% genuine. Who is this kid, Aldo Ray Junior? He works up an impressive Sgt. Rock grimace there. It’s a dirty job disintegrating alien slimeballs, but Little Aldo’s got what it takes.
The graphic becomes bigger and fully readable when opened in a new window.
To fully understand the vibe, you had to have been a 1958 tyke, exposed to twelve weekly hours of gun-and-gundown western fare on TV. I remember a Kellogg’s cereal box that explained how to save up coupons to send away for one of nine different machine gun toys that were pictured. I couldn’t make up my mind.
This ad is actually from a couple of years before my time, in the Space Patrol days when spaceman toys were apparently really popular. I don’t know if the ray gun – helmet combo worn by the little boy in It Came from Outer Space was a commercial item or not. But it’s important for CineSavant to attest to the truth: if I were reading that ad at seven years old, I’d be thinking,
“I can look tougher than him, and I can squint better too. After the outer space monsters are toast, I know a few playground bullies that need to meet ‘my little friend here,’ heh heh heh.”
Look at it this way — it lights up and makes a noise, but it won’t put my eye out. Thanks for reading — Glenn Erickson