Review Page and Column
The Prince and the Showgirl 03/25/23
What a difference a digital remaster makes! Marilyn Monroe’s self-produced English comedy leaps back to life with a new restoration of Jack Cardiff’s stunning color cinematography. Monroe’s a delight co-starring with Laurence Olivier, amid the stuffy formal-dress diplomacy and giddy midnight seductions. Adapted from a formal stage play, the farce of manners is far more enjoyable than I remembered. Olivier delivers an exacting high-toned performance, but Monroe takes full control with her first smile. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Dragonslayer 4K 03/25/23
Hal Barwood & Matthew Robbins put everything they had into a medieval sword ‘n’ sorcery epic, filmed in England and finished in California by the best artists at ILM and VCE. It’s basic gee-whiz sorcerer- George vs. The Dragon material, but more brutal than expected. Word of mouth about some unnecessarily gory scenes tipped off parents that it wasn’t safe for small fry. Fantasy fans applauded its formidable dragon Vermithrax Pejorative, brought to life via second-generation stop-motion animation, and it’s still admired by stop-motion professionals. The 4K resolution delivers every slimy, fiery detail. On 4K Ultra HD + Digital Code from Paramount Home Video.
Our first entry on this hopefully-dry California day comes from the dependable Gary Teetzel, who is always on the prowl for anything Karloff-related. A YouTube poster named Gino Cuddy has loaded up an entire old filmed celebrity quiz show from 1941, Information Please! with Boris Karloff.
This certainly feels rare to us. We’re told that the RKO quiz short was based on a radio show. Some visual clues are added to make it more suitable for the movies. It’s unusual to see extended footage of Boris ‘out of character’ from this period in his career. He doesn’t do particularly well in the quiz, but the final answer he gives is rather appropriate given his screen image. One of the ‘guest interrogators’ on the Information Please! panel is Oscar Levant.
Was the Shock and Awe of last year’s Babylon too much for you — but you still crave a noxious dose of show business shame and sleaze? CineSavant correspondent Michael McQuarrie may have found the answer.
From the vaunted Internet Archive comes a 1922 pamphlet publication that assures us was ‘Reported by a Hollywood Newspaper Man’: The Sins of Hollywood, by the Hollywood Publishing company. I can firmly attest that the grammar and spelling therein are fairly commendable. I noted that they called the Mexican town Tijuana, ‘Tia Juana.’ I think that was common, though.
Hide this from the kids! Sampled chapters: “Strip Poker and Paddle Parties” … “A Wonderful Lover” … “The Girl Who Wanted Work” … “Sodom Outdone.”
I looked really hard, honest, and regret to report that I found nothing about the raw, naked truth of Elephants at Hollywood orgies.
The good news has already circulated, but CineSavant has no qualms about reporting it after everyone else has: Kino Lorber says it has a 4K Ultra HD disc for Charles Laughton’s superlative The Night of the Hunter on the way. I’m assured that the 4K scan is definitely NEW.
This one hasn’t faded one iota in 68 years — it’s Americana art from the get-go, disturbing and powerful and unique. It ought to look great in 4K. Tim Lucas is the audio commentator of note. Kino’s stats say the show will carry an isolated Music and Effects Track. That’s good news, as the original vinyl soundtrack for this show is a rare, rare item. The projected street date is May 30.
Film devotees really need TWO discs of Night of the Hunter. If the older Criterion disc is still available, its feature-length extra by UCLA archivist Robert Gitt is a must-see: an assembly of sync sound outtakes, preserved by Elsa Lanchester. It’s an incredible record of Laughton’s direction. It’s biggest surprise is that it shows Robert Mitchum giving a major directing assist with the child actors. Mitchum would seem the most creatively co-operative, patient leading movie star in Hollywood.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Party Girl ’95 03/21/23
Here’s the eager New York independent production that snagged Parker Posey for her first starring role — as a Manhattan party animal who eventually finds stable footing as a (gasp) librarian. Life is tough when you can’t make the rent. This latter-day Holly Golightly has problems with flaky instability, but the guy selling falafel downstairs is a cute distraction. The bid to revive the screwball comedy illuminates Ms. Posey’s appeal, aided by a number of capable supporting actors. Despite a budget that doesn’t allow for big scenes or production frills, director & co-screenwriter Daisy von Scherler Mayer keeps the fun going. FCE’s extras give us the main players in new interviews. On Blu-ray from Fun City Editions.
Black Sunday ’77 03/21/23
John Frankenheimer’s big-scale terrorism conspiracy tale benefits from the director’s no-nonsense attitude to action. Thomas Harris’ first novel spins on a ‘high concept’ gimmick that surely launched a studio bidding war: what if somebody blew up the entire Super Bowl, in mid-game? Robert Shaw, Steven Keats and Marthe Keller play well with the tense effort to detect and stop the attack, but favorite Bruce Dern steals the show with his career-best deranged villain — who is also the most sympathetic character. This domestic release has all-new extras. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
A link from Gary Teetzel makes us aware of something new for Kaiju fans.
Well, here’s a surprise: The University of Minnesota Press is going to publish English translations of the original 1950s novelizations of Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again written by novelist Shigeru Kayama, who is credited with the original stories for both films. Kayama also contributed to Half Human and The Mysterians. According to the description on Amazon.com: “The novellas reveal valuable insights into Kayama’s vision for the Godzilla story, feature plots that differ from those of the films, and display the author’s strong anti-nuclear, pro-environmental convictions.”
The listing states that these are ‘the first English translations of the original novellas about the iconic kaijû Godzilla.” We’ll have to find out if a 1950s Japanese film novelization is better than the average U.S. novelization, at least the ones written to capitalize on fantasy, horror and sci-fi movies.
According to Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski’s book on Ishiro Honda, Kayama was mostly a writer of detective fiction and ‘speculative adventure’ tales a la H. Rider Haggard. Prior to writing the treatment for Godzilla, he wrote a short story called Jira Monster in which a ‘giant bullet-repelling lizard that walks on its hind legs terrorizes primitive people.’
This link goes directly to the Amazon page: The Original Godzilla Novels.
Gary T. is always on the lookout for horror and Sci-fi rarities on the web, as when he found episodes of The Jack Benny Show with Billy Wilder and Rod Serling.
Continuing the tradition of behind-the-scenes personnel appearing as themselves in 1950s sitcoms, here’s an episode of The Phil Silvers Show in which the legendary producer and showman Michael Todd appears as himself. I can’t remember seeing much if any footage of Mike Todd, anywhere.
Depending on the source we check, this aired in either March or April of 1957, a few months after Around the World in 80 Days premiered, and slightly less than a year before Todd’s death: The Phil Silvers Show (Sgt. Bilko) “Bilko Goes Around the World.”
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Babylon – 4K 03/18/23
Is it a train wreck or an unrecognized masterpiece? Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt topline this enormous, enormously profane epic of silent-era Hollywood — that immediately earned the scorn of critics decrying it as a gross distortion of historical reality. Word Of Mouth focused on the film’s blizzard of gross bodily functions, which surely inspired walkouts in the very first scene. You’ll never again approach your local zoo’s elephant enclosure with confidence. Director Chazelle pitches almost everything over the top, and the actors certainly get in the spirit of orgiastic decadence: Diego Calva, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, Jean Smart and Tobey Maguire. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital from Paramount Home Entertainment.
Mildred Pierce 4K 03/18/23
‘Washed up’ at MGM, Joan Crawford bounced back with one of the smartest, best-judged career rethinks in Hollywood history. As James M. Cain’s independent housewife-careerist she soars to heights of California success, only to be brought down by runaway maternal blindness. Michael Curtiz guides a pack of indelibly selfish characters — Jack Carson’s slimy business associate, weasley upscale lounge lizard Zachary Scott, and Daughter from Hell Ann Blyth. Plus one authentic wonder woman, Eve Arden. Criterion’s two-disc set sports on-camera interviews with Joan Crawford and James M. Cain. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
The Warner Archive Collection’s esteemed George Feltenstein announced the WAC’s titles for April, and in a Podcast yesterday also let loose an unexpected and very welcome bit of news for fans of pre-Code ‘Forbidden Hollywood’ cinema. Thanks to a newly recovered film element, the WAC will be releasing a much improved Blu-ray of William Wellman’s ‘damned’ 1931 pre-Code melodrama Safe in Hell starring the cult figure Dorothy Mackaill. It’s one of the most uncompromisingly lurid pre-Codes of them all, with a jaw-droppingly downbeat finish. The WAC released a barely passable DVD in 2011 made from the only known surviving 16mm print.
I got the story from George Feltenstein two days ago — he located an improved film element for this title by chasing documentation of Warner Bros.’ 1956 sale of pre- 1949 films to a TV syndication company that later became ‘Associated Artists Productions.’
George examined three bound books of elements turned over to the TV people, discovering that the original negatives to several major WB features were gone even way back then. But the logs did include one 35mm nitrate release print of Safe in Hell. The print itself was found in the collections of the Library of Congress. George reports that “It’s amazing to see it look and sound so good.” This disc ought to be something special, for the existing DVD is a pale shadow that almost looks like a kinescope, and surviving stills are choice.
Could today’s emphasis on inclusion and diversity have helped spur this Blu-ray release? Safe and Hell features the acting and singing participation of the celebrated Nina Mae McKinney, a major figure in African-American show biz history. Director Wellman tossed out the script’s ‘Negro dialect’ speeches and allowed McKinney and the other black actors (Clarence Muse, Noble Johnson) to talk normally.
The April lineup for the Warner Archive is all classic-era pix: besides Safe in Hell: William Powell and Kay Francis in Tay Garnett’s One Way Passage, James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland and Rita Hayworth in Raoul Walsh’s The Strawberry Blonde, Ginger Rogers, Doris Day, Ronald Reagan and Steve Cochran in the Klu-Klux Klan-themed Storm Warning, and James Cagney in a tale of a political demagogue, also from Walsh, A Lion Is in the Streets. Feltenstein promises more exciting surprises to come.
For Los Angeles area fans of The Outer Limits: associate & friend David J. Schow reports that TONIGHT, Saturday March 18th, at 7:30 p.m. at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum in Westwood will be a special screening of two episodes of the 1963 TV show, using original 16mm and 35mm network prints.
The premiere episode The Galaxy Being will be shown from the episode’s original 35mm pilot print. The program notes for the second episode The Bellero Shield (presented with its original commercials) quotes Jeffery Sconce:
“a rich and conflicted text in what it says about the relationship of marriage, gendered ambition, and domestic asylum in the early ’60s.”
Yes, that’s hard core Sci-fi, all right. Speaking in person will be authors Joanne Morreale, David J. Schow, and Marc Scott Zicree; family members of Joseph Stefano & Leslie Stevens will be present. Admission is free — the full info is at this UCLA library Link for We Are Controlling Transmission.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Long Wait 4K 03/14/23
This Mickey Spillane noir tale is a pleasant surprise: star Anthony Quinn gives a solid ‘tough guy’ performance, sizing up a quartet of thrill-crazy Spillane dames that promise no end of trouble. The surprisingly clever script dares to exploit the gimmicks of both amnesia and plastic surgery — without insulting our intelligence. Peggie Castle is our new favorite in the glamour sweepstakes, and Gene Evans, Charles Coburn, Mary Ellen Kay, Shawn Smith, Barry Kelley, Jay Adler and Bruno VeSota co-star. And remember: ‘Evil to Him who Evil Thinks.’ On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from ClassicFlix.
Something to Live For 03/14/23
Hollywood’s postwar shift to social consciousness addressed familiar issues like bigotry and discrimination. On his way to making his gargantuan, serious epics, famed director George Stevens paused for this almost entirely forgotten contemplation of American anxiety in the business rat race, with a side order of alcoholism and potential adultery. Ray Milland is the troubled ad man who tries to help the drink-impaired actress, Joan Fontaine. Wife Teresa Wright waits patiently back home, but for how long? Is Stevens just dabbling in neorealistic doldrums, or did he feel the wave of dull existential despair as well? It’s one of his least-known films. On Region Free Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
Hello! — I confess I didn’t pay attention at all to the Oscars this year … I DVR’d it — did anything happen that I ought to play back and enjoy? Was the obituary montage worthwhile?
Meanwhile, here are the Winners in the Online Film Critics Society awards, my peer group that runs a well organized, tight ship. I’ve been a happy voting member since 2001.
This happy announcement at the Cartoon Brew web page amplifies the news that Warner Bros. Home Video will be releasing a new Blu-ray of all the Paramount Superman Theatrical Cartoons on May 16.
The seventeen Technicolor short subjects were released between 1941 and 1943 — does that make Superman the very first animated superhero? The cartoons have reportedly been restored from their three separation negatives, digitally recombined.
Most of the cartoons aren’t that rare now, but they were never available when we were growing up in the 1950s — in fact, the first one I saw had to be in 1975, in an ‘experimental animation’ compilation. Then Greg Jein loaned me his 16mm collection, which was quite a revelation. This was of course before Star Wars and the real explosion of comic book culture.
Cartoon Brew publisher Amid Amidi lists the extras to be in included on the Blu-ray disc, and includes his fun short video, Superman’s Secret Cartoon History. We’ve contacted WB in hopes of receiving a review screener for CineSavant animation enthusiast Charlie Largent.
Joe Dante circulated a nice music novelty item over the weekend — it’s The Tingler featuring Thurl Ravenscroft, a singer with the deepest voice imaginable. The fab vocal group credited are “The Tinglers,” which surely means that the novelty platter is a producer’s concoction. It looks as if the credited producer being one George Duning, Columbia’s longtime music director and composer.
As Joe remarked it’s no competition for Burt Bacharach and Hal Davis smash obscurity The Blob, but it’ll do. Yes, we agree that the earworm ditty for The Blob isn’t a tie-in, but was heard on the film itself.
Back in 2019 CineSavant spent a few hours compiling Movie Tie-In Novelty Records sent in by helpful correspondents, and the chances are that some of the links we posted still function. And what do you know, Joe’s new addition was there, albeit forgotten by me.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Mississippi Mermaid 03/11/23
François Truffaut is back with another Hitchcock-influenced adaptation of a Cornell Woolrich murder thriller. Stars Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo are lovers – criminals – fugitives. Partly filmed in a remote French island in the Indian Ocean, it’s a tale of a mail-order bride, larcenous deception, and irrational amor fou run amuck. The things we do for love sometimes obey no logic. Also starring Michel Bouquet. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Third Man on the Mountain 03/11/23
An old DVD of this Disney favorite exists, but it’s pretty bad; Charlie Largent reviews a nice new remaster not yet available on disc. James MacArthur dodges dirty dishes and saccharine dish Janet Munro, and dares to follow in his family footsteps as a mountain climber. Michael Rennie encourages his quest with both help and obstruction from a gallery of English actors we know from fantasy films: Herbert Lom, James Donald, Laurence Naismith, Lee Patterson, Ferdy Mayne, Roger Delgado. Don’t jump on Amazon or contact the Disney Video Club, because it’s Not on Home Video.
Here’s a great resource that’s been around for years — a Toronto-based website run by Editor-In-Chief Lola Landekic, and “dedicated to title sequence design in film, TV, and beyond.” A whole heap of main titles creativity is on tap at The Art of the Title.
Scores of sequences are available to view just on the front page … and they include many classics. The graphics in the many new title sequences are a real education. Just for fun, here are a couple of immediate winners: Old and New.
And Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ Matt Barry knocked us out on Thursday with the announcement of April titles, many of which I’m curious about and want to review.
It’s a month for collectors — some unfamiliar but very attractive vintage titles are included. Fans of Irene Dunne will note Rouben Mamoulian’s High, Wide and Handsome and Gregory La Cava’s Lady in a Jam. Fans of pre-Code naughtiness will be interested in the lurid Search for Beauty with Ida Lupino and Buster Crabbe. For Fritz Lang and Kurt Weill completists is the gangster comedy You and Me with Sylvia Sidney. There’s even something for the growing Basil Rathbone fan base, a John Brahm adventure called Rio.
The same goes for Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XII which for once offers some genuine noirs: William Castle’s Undertow, Richard Basehart in Outside the Wall and Hugo Haas with John Agar and Cleo Moore in the weird Hold Back Tomorrow.
Getting into the 1950s, Tyrone Power stars in The Mississippi Gambler. Then we finally get a Blu-ray of Robert Rossen’s They Came to Cordura, its all-star cast topped by Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth and Van Heflin. Somehow I’ve never had a chance to see the whole thing. Sidney Lumet’s classic 12 Angry Men debuts in 4K Ultra HD. The extra resolution ought to let us count Henry Fonda’s facial pores, and see which actors are wearing toupees.
The ’60s titles are a happy surprise. Don Siegel’s Hell is for Heroes should have been out in Blu long before now — it stars Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Bob Newhart, and was one of our favorite combat pictures as kids. We’re less familiar with The Truth about Spring with Hayley and John Mills, and Moment to Moment with Jean Seberg and Honor Blackman.
Newer pictures are equally desirable: Dennis Hopper’s cult item Backtrack, also in its alternate cut Catchfire, with Jodie Foster, Vincent Price and John Turturro; James Frawley’s disaster film comedy The Big Bus, with an all star cast. We then will tap the much-desired 4K Ultra HD of Sidney Lumet’s Serpico with Al Pacino. It’s going to be a lot to cover . . .
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson