Review Page and Column
The Changeling 09/22/18
Morbid spirits are on the loose … Peter Medak directed this much-respected ghost story, that finds new wrinkles and some great characters in a haunted house. George C. Scott adds another fine performance to his record, as a master musician who discovers a secret room and a horror story that happened seventy years before. The nervous supporting cast features Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Jean Marsh, John Colicos, Barry Morse, and Madeleine Sherwood. On Blu-ray from Severin Films.
The Trip to Bountiful 09/22/18
Horton Foote strikes again, with a warm and thoughtful tale of life as it was lived in East Texas in 1950. Geraldine Page won an Oscar for her unguarded portrait of Carrie Watts, a woman who has outlived her peers and been uprooted from an ideal hometown of her youth. Her trip to recover her life becomes a bittersweet acknowledgment that some things just need to be accepted with as much grace as can be mustered. The great ensemble cast teams Fitzgerald with John Heard, Carlin Glynn, Rebecca De Mornay and Richard Bradford. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Death in Small Doses 09/22/18
This ’50s drug epic is not about hopheads on dope, but working folk frying their brains on amphetamines. Peter Graves’ undercover narc seeks the source of deadly pills that are wreaking havoc in the trucking industry; the film’s wild card is an unhinged Chuck Connors — yes, that Chuck Connors — as a deranged pill-popper running amuck on the highways. Seat belts recommended. Co-starring the formidable Mala Powers and Merry Anders in showcase roles. On DVD from The Warner Archive Collection.
Correspondent Lee Kaplan sent me a marvelous 2001italia.it article from 2013, Making the Starchild in ‘2001’: a tribute to Liz Moore. We can’t necessarily blame Stanley Kubrick for not crediting all of his technicians and artisans, for that didn’t happen until 1977 and Star Wars. Steven Spielberg followed George Lucas’s generous example, which is why an effects worker in a minor capacity (me) could be given screen credit, a real miracle. Ms. Moore would appear to have been quite an artist and master fabricator of effects marvels. This tribute is deserved — she contributed a major image to the 20th century culture.
The new disc announcements keep coming: Arbelos Films has announced a November 13 date for the release of its Blu-ray of Dennis Hopper’s legendary The Last Movie. About 48 years ago I worked a Westwood parking lot next to the Regent Theater, which disgorged a constant flow of weed-heads from this picture’s brief run. And earlier this year in the high country of Perú, I passed through the town of Chinchero, and realized it was Hopper’s filming location. I look forward to seeing if the film measures up to its reputation.
Kino’s KL Classics Blu-ray line has solidified its schedule through December, nailing down dates for some highly desirable titles. There are plenty more, but the ones that grab me at first glance are Sangaree 3-D (October 16), Ray Milland’s A Man Alone and Lisbon (November 6), The Outer Limits Season 2 & The Mamie Van Doren Film Noir Collection (November 20), The Puppet Masters & The Atomic Café (December 4) and The Last Command (December 11).
And I haven’t hard dates in hand but the next Blu-rays from The Warner Archive Collection have been announced: Bad Ronald, Robert Altman’s Brewster McCloud and a pair of Chris Lee Hammer vampire pix, Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula. Those two Halloween- flavored titles join Bert I. Gordon’s The Cyclops, which does have a hard street date, September 25.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
My Man Godfrey 09/18/18
For my money this is the brightest, most endearing and wittiest ’30s comedy to be given the name ‘screwball.’ Everyone on screen is flawlessly magnificent — Carole Lombard, William Powell, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Jean Dixon, Eugene Pallette and Mischa Auer — and Gregory La Cava’s direction is so good, it’s invisible. No kidding, I’ve never watched this with a group or individual that didn’t immediately rank it among the best entertainments they’ve seen. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Universal’s four-disc set includes all six transparent epics (The Invisible Man, The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, The Invisible Agent, The Invisible Man’s Revenge and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man), starring Claude Rains, Vincent Price, Jon Hall, Virginia Bruce and Arthur Franz as various invisible leading players. Reviewer Charlie Largent sorts them out. The original Griffin is a maniacal murderer (beware monocaine!) but subsequent no-see-’em folk are innocent good guys, a Nazi-fighter and a sexy woman! On Blu-ray from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Day of the Jackal 09/18/18
Fred Zinnemann’s counter-assassination thriller remains topflight filmmaking, torn from reality and shot through with an unsentimental dose of political realism. Edward Fox’s implacable killer outwits the combined resources of an entire nation as he stalks his prey, and when bad luck forces him to improvise, he racks up more victims on his kill list. Step aside Bond, Bourne and Marvel — the original Jackal is the man to beat. Starring Edward Fox, Michel Lonsdale, Delphine Seyrig, Cyril Cusack, Alan Badel, Olga Georges-Picot, Derek Jacobi and Jean Martin. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
Cine Savant Column
A brief news bit today. Just last night the Academy screened Edgar G. Ulmer’s amazing ‘loser noir’ classic Detour, the new restoration that premiered at the AMIA’s The Reel Thing a few weeks back. As one of the more desired of Hollywood pictures partly tied up in the hands of private collectors, Detour has been languishing in an unrestored state far too long. I wasn’t able to attend last night’s scheduled screening, and am curious to know what if anything was said about the film’s ownership status. Ulmer’s daughter Arianné Ulmer Cipes has been promoting her father’s career and restoring his films for the last 25 years or so; finally bringing the director’s most celebrated picture back to the fore must be a big step for her. I interviewed Arianné about life her with her adventurous filmmaking parents on last year’s Blu-ray of The Man from Planet X. Around 2003 or so she opened her files to show me PRC paperwork proving that Detour wasn’t quite the phantom shoestring film that overzealous reviewers had made it out to be — its shooting schedule was brief but she assured me that the budget ($135,000, I think) was above average for a PRC picture in 1945. When Arianné wrote to let me know me about last night’s screening she hinted that a Blu-ray would be on the way soon, from Criterion. I hope that works out to be true.
The Criterion Collection did just announce its December titles: Donald Sutherland in A Dry White Season, Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns (↑), Ingmar Bergman’s Sawdust and Tinsel, and Julien Duvivier’s highly-recommended Panique. Plus Olive Films has released full extras details for its Olive Signature disc of Invasion of the Body Snatchers: two audio commentaries and multiple retrospective featurettes. The presence of the late Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter in the extras may mean that Olive has been able to access highly desirable materials assembled upwards of ten years ago, for a special edition that was never released.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Sangaree (3-D) 09/15/18
‘3rd Dimension!’ ‘Technicolor!’ Paramount underwent a difficult post-production learning curve getting this early entry in the 3-D craze out the door and into waiting theaters. Fernando Lamas and Arlene Dahl decorate the colonial-era costume drama, injecting some heat into their frisky wrestling match meet-cute love scene. Rip those bodices! Also starring Tom Drake, Patricia Medina and Francis L. Sullivan; comes with an educational restoration comparison extra. On 3-D Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Man Who Cheated Himself 09/15/18
The Film Noir Foundation has helped revive yet another difficult-to-see noir gem — the murder coverup tale begins with a shooting in a mansion and races across San Francisco to a finale given classic lines by director Felix Feist. And the casting: Slightly saggy Lee J. Cobb as a romantic leading man? Sunny, everybody’s-mom Jane Wyatt as a duplicitous killer? Bring it on! Also starring John Dall and Lisa Howard, whose political backstory is one of the strangest in Hollywood history. On Blu-ray + DVD from Flicker Alley.
Just in time for Halloween, Shout Factory has announced a Blu-ray of Roger Corman’s The Wasp Woman, the initial Filmgroup production and nearly the only one made in Hollywood, before new Guild guidelines prompted Corman to flee out of town for filming, to North Dakota, Puerto Rico and finally Europe. The specs make us hope for a quality item, with two commentaries, a theatrical aspect ratio and an extra version with padding scenes added for TV (which might look strange matted to 1:85…). The show is small-scale but much liked, thanks to Susan Cabot’s energetic performance and Corman’s tapping into an interesting office vibe. In a good version it ought to be a keeper. Just don’t expect a literal representation of the famed poster illustration to show up — the title insect looks like a hot date for one of the Zanti Misfits.
By all means Shout Factory, keep unearthing quality encodings of more arcane ’50s items, from Corman and others.
CineSavant is gearing up for a busy September and October review season, with Charlie Largent helping out. Likely titles already in hand are Scenes from a Marriage, Looker, The Trip to Bountiful and the sublime, irreplaceable My Man Godfrey (↑). I’m expecting a wave of must-review items in the door at any time: The Last Hurrah, The Other Side of Midnight and The Bravados from Twilight Time, Andrei Rublev, A Raisin in the Sun and The Naked Prey from Criterion, and Good Times, The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler, The Spiral Staircase and Trilogy of Terror from Kino. Plus we must catch up with an August title that slipped by, Severin’s The Changeling.
Although it hasn’t really surfaced yet, people online are scratching their heads about color choices for the new Criterion Blu-ray of Brian De Palma’s Sisters. I haven’t seen it either, but I can attest that original preview prints and A.I.P.’s release prints — I saw it three times when new — were not things of beauty, with mismatched color, and the A.I.P. print sickly green and grainy, too. I never got the Arrow Region B, so I can’t compare with that either. GOOD movie, though!
And I finally caught up with a 1940 picture, The Monster and the Girl, from Paramount, that seems created in a different galaxy than the horrors from Universal. It’s the only ape-on-the-loose picture I’ve seen where an ape-suited character is consistently well handled… some of the scenes are quite impressive. In researching it for TCM, I read contemporary trade reviews that theorized that its story had been severely altered by the Production Code office, mostly to neutralize a sidebar theme of forced prostitution. But the movie is much more weird than that — it enters into a series of flashbacks from which it never returns — even the confusing The Locket doubles back to its starting point. The story is ostensibly the memory of the leading lady Ellen Drew, yet she has no knowledge of most of what happens … and never even finds out the ‘secret identity’ of the title ape monster! Somebody page Tom Weaver to straighten me out — I have to see it again, just to find out if I ‘read’ it wrong.
The web’s Dark Corners offers a pretty funny crazy video review of The Monster and the Girl.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Farmer’s Daughter 09/11/18
A solid mainstream hit for 1947, Loretta Young and Joseph Cotten’s political fairy tale maintains its charm despite the usual populist dodges — a spirited young woman finds both romance and The American Dream when she runs for Congress. With Ethel Barrymore as a political party kingpin, and the very young Lex Barker, Keith Andes and James Arness as Loretta’s farm-fed brothers. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Queen of Outer Space 09/11/18
“I hate her! I hate dat qveen!” Despite being one of the most maladroit sci-fiers of the ‘fifties, color and ‘scope and Zsa Za Gabor’s hilarious accent make this Allied Artists offering a must-see head scratcher. Bad taste! Tacky art direction! Infantile sexist humor! The word on the street is that the Me Too movement has this embarrassing howler on their kill list. With Eric Fleming, Dave Willock, Paul Birch, Laurie Mitchell and Lisa Davis. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
My 3-D setup is getting a bit of a workout this week, what with viewing and re-viewing the Creature Legacy Collection. I took Universal up on their offer to replace the disc, which should arrive in a month or so. But the Legacy Collection is still being sold on Amazon, with delivery promised all but instantaneously. So I’m not sure what’s going on — a replacement, but no recall?
But an early check disc of the 3-D, Technicolor Sangaree is in hand, a Paramount feature starring Fernando Lamas and Arlene Dahl. A very early release in the 3-D boom, this one is a costume picture set in the Carolinas just after the Revolutionary War. The 3-D Film Archive had to do a lot of work to revive the faded film elements, especially the color. I hope to be reviewing it for this Saturday, the 15th.
Joe Dante’s ultra-long The Film Orgy is still circulating, and apparently on tour? It just showed in Glasgow, Scotland, as reported by the engaging (and highly contagious) critic David Cairns. There has never been a theatrical experience comparable to The Movie Orgy’s huge conglomeration of excruciatingly funny clips from the cultural Quisinart of TV spots, TV shows and crazy feature films, collected by Dante and Jon Davison ‘back in the day’ and originally shown on college campuses. A YouTube excerpt from 2011 serves as a sampler. And here’s my review from ten years ago when it screened at The New Beverly. I think I captured the crazy mood well. As they once said of rampaging movie monsters, there’s no telling where this thing will turn up next.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Tree of Life 09/08/18
Terrence Malick’s magnum opus fully expresses what might be called his ‘Unified Theory’ of cinema — which embraces the human experience from the core of family life to the creation and destruction of the universe. Even Stanley Kubrick didn’t go that far: he never filmed merciful dinosaurs or anything as simple as a mother who experiences rapture rolling in the grass with her young sons. Starring Jessica Chastain, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Hunter McCracken and several soulful dinosaurs. The set contains an added Extended Version. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.