Review Page and Column
Circus of Horrors 09/14/19
Four out of five psychologists agree that something rotten is alive and well between the sawdust and the high wire in the delirious Circus of Horrors. Lame big-top horror pix are common enough, but this fiendishly entertaining delight would inspire the voyeur-sadist in MisterRogers. Anton Diffring is the steely-eyed medical maniac with a mission to populate an insane circus exclusively with cosmetically-enhanced prostitutes and criminals. And I won’t turn that into a White House joke. On Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
90° in the Shade 09/14/19
Sordid Noir in Czechoslovakia: a one-of-a-kind Czech/Brit coproduction teams fine British actors (Anne Heywood, James Booth, Sir Donald Wolfit) with the home-grown star Rudolf HruSinsky, and the result is neither murder nor mayhem, but a real everyday tragedy that might happen anywhere. The bright B&W images chart an unhappy illicit romance, and a petty crime with awful consequences.. On Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Let me drum for a fine film resource that I go to when I’ve had my fill of grim, realistic movies. It had to be back in 2003 or 2004 when Bill Shepard wrote me about the subject of Film Blanc, a term I picked up at UCLA ages before and had begun to use in various reviews. Bill started his own web page, Film Blanc – The Cinema of Feel-Good Fantasies and has been tending it ever since. He’s discovered more benign fantasies about weird afterlifes, etc., than I’ve ever heard of. He’s devised a way to isolate discussions that would be spoilers, making his page user-friendly for the curious who don’t want to have plotlines revealed… you know, my core modus operandi.
The image above is from Henry Hathaway’s surreal 1934 film blanc Peter Ibbetson, and Bill’s entry for that title is here.
Then we have some news from advisor / authority Gordon Thomas, whose fine academically-oriented articles I’ve linked to in the past. Gary Morris of Bright Lights has just published Gordon’s revised and expanded article on the Soviet epic War and Peace, “Tolstoy and Only Tolstoy. Nothing Comes from Us”: Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace (1966-67) — Criterion Update.
Here’s my review from a few months back, but Gordon’s is the one to read.
And finally, I’m happy to report, even though the ‘report’ must be cryptic, that my blurb last week about a possible special extra for a Powerhouse Indicator release has yielded a good result. The gist is that my note sparked an inquiry that put said special extra back on track again. PI head of production Anthony Nield courteously wrote that they will indeed be able to include it, that it made the deadline.
Include what? What’s the movie? Who you kidding, Savant? ‘Restraints of confidentiality’ are in place, at the moment. But I have located my old writings about the ‘extra’ and will surely find a way to crow more about it closer to street date. Waxing enthusiastic about arcane video news is what we do here…
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Mill Creek and Kit Parker have raided the Columbia vault once again in search of Noir Gold from the ‘fifties. Their selection this time around has a couple of prime gems, several straight crime thrillers and domestic jeopardy tales, and also a couple of interesting Brit imports. They aren’t really ‘Noir’ either, but they’re still unexpected and different. The top title is Don Siegel’s incomparable The Lineup, but also on board is a snappy anti-commie epic by André De Toth. Get set for a lineup of impressive leading ladies: Diana Dors, Arlene Dahl, Anita Ekberg — and the great Colleen Dewhurst as a card-carrying Red! On Blu-ray from Mill Creek / Kit Parker.
Who Saw Her Die? 09/10/19
Giallos run hot and cold, but this one has plenty to recommend it — a serious outlook, a focus on elements other than gore, beautiful cinematography on terrific locations in Venice, and committed performances from Anita Strindberg, Adolfo Celi and an unusual choice, ex- 007 George Lazenby. Director Aldo Lado takes this one in a different direction than Giallo maestro Dario Argento — with a humanistic bent and a compelling performance by child actress Nicoletta Elmi. Plus a piercing music score by Ennio Morricone, sung by a children’s choir. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
I must admit that I was pleased when my discussion of the missing American-International movies (CineSavant Column 8/24/19) got some good things going, primarily two terrific Greenbriar Movie Shows articles, on September 2 (“American-International This Week – Exploitation Brought To a 50’s Boil – Part One”) and September 5 (“Round Two for Jim-Sam: AIP Time For Whatever Turned a Dime”).
The whole shebang was begun by a web board hint that some of the Sam Arkoff-owned A.I.P. titles might be on their way to Blu-ray. Well, correspondent ‘woggly’ aka ‘B’ found a legit announcement about Shout! Factory TV that lists a few Arkoff titles soon to be on that service. (So I haven’t betrayed any confidences.) ‘B’ saw the following Roger Corman-directed titles mentioned: Day The World Ended, Machine Gun Kelly, Rock All Night, Sorority Girl and The Undead.
It’s a helluva list. One genuine Sci-fi classic (Lori Nelson, Touch Connors!), one classic gangster romp (Charles Bronson, Susan Cabot, Barboura Morris!), one kooky horror oddity (Pamela Duncan, Allison Hayes!), one jukebox crime opus (Dick Miller, Abby Dalton!) and one psycho sorority meller (Susan Cabot, Dick Miller, Barboura Morris!).
The upshot of this is this … is it irresponsible to surmise that some or all of those particular Arkoff AIP’s might be among the titles hinted to possibly be coming out on Blu-ray? CineSavant doesn’t mind stirring up rumors like this, if my guesses are based on legit information available to others. Shout! Factory can always clip my wings if I’m wrong, and they shouldn’t mind the publicity.
I went to that Shout! Factory TV link, and saw a ‘Roger Corman Classics’ festival mentioned… and with a little poking around, stumbled onto a free live stream of Day the World Ended. It looks to be be in widescreen, if not full SuperScope.
That 1955 sci-fi title seems doubly relevant right now, ’cause the demolition boys have just finished leveling the old Sportsmen’s Lodge out on Ventura Boulevard in the Valley, prime Raymond Chandler country. I was tipped off long ago that some shots for the pond scenes in Day the World Ended were filmed in the Lodge’s restaurant pool — during the quiet time in the afternoon! If that’s true, late lunchers and busboys may have witnessed Lori Nelson menaced by Paul Blaisdell’s monster.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Fists in the Pocket 09/07/19
You think YOU’VE got mentally unstable relatives? Marco Bellocchio’s debut film made a big splash in ’65 with its tale of a family packed with serious problems, where the relationships have an air of sickness about them. Lou Castel’s brilliant but twisted brother likes to float preposterous ideas, but his latest creepy brainstorm is to start murdering his siblings. This one feels like it should be an allegory for something … but what? Reviewer Charlie Largent knows sick drama when he sees it, and gives us the Euro-thriller low-down. Music by Ennio Morricone! On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Were movie folk blind in 1960? We kids were so dino- crazy, ANY movie about dinosaurs would have cleaned up at the box office. We’re told that Jack H. Harris didn’t do badly with his third turn at the wickets, despite thunder lizards with a complexion of Jurassic Pla-Doh. The Romper Room dramatics didn’t offend my eight-year-old sensibilities, either. The movie had a caveman for comic relief and a klutzy villain that all but eliminates himself, so kid-safe it is even if people are being devoured alive. And hardly any kissing scenes, Ma. With Ward Ramsey, Kristina Hanson, and Paul Lukather. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Hello! Fun links and announcements today — !
Twice in one week I’m steering you back to John McElwee’s Greenbriar Picture Shows. John has followed up his piece on American-International Pictures marketing strategies with more eye-opening good info about A.I.P. and the ‘colorful’ honchos James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff; the date for part 2 is September 5.
As is usual, McElwee’s distribution-centric insights are highly educational — he avers that 1959’s color & ‘scope Horrors of the Black Museum was the attraction that showed A.I.P. a path into the 1960s, with more expensive, more adult color horror pix to replace the cheapie B&W double bills that were beginning to fade. In other words, the profits from Herman Cohen’s London-based production inspired A.I.P. and Corman to roll the dice on the Poes. I like that theory, it’s a good theory, I’m behind that theory a hundred percent.
Valued pal and former fearless editorial leader Richard A. Smith sends along this cheery Guardian article that tells us that Carol Reed’s The Third Man is packed with insights on the Brexit debacle: Why The Third Man is an essential primer for no-deal Brexit.
Since Guardian seems to be celebrating all things Third Man at the moment, here’s another page with several fresh BTS images of serial thrills from “Harry Lime versus the Pure Penicillin League”: The Third Man: behind the scenes of the film noir masterpiece — in pictures. Thanks Richard!
And the Blu-ray shoe finally dropped yesterday with Indicator’s announcement of a fourth Hammer Horror set for November: Hammer Horror Four: Faces of Fear. They’ve saved some of the best for last: Terence Fisher’s The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll; Seth Holt’s Taste of Fear, which is surely Jimmy Sangster’s best Joe Stefano imitation; my favorite of the Hammer Frankensteins The Revenge of Frankenstein, directed by Fisher and starring Peter Cushing; and a deluxe presentation of Joseph Losey’s science fiction masterpiece (These Are) The Damned, with Viveca Lindfors and Oliver Reed.
We’ve been whining for a decent The Revenge of Frankenstein for years now, so hopefully Indicator’s new scan will be a beauty. And it may, just may, have an amazing extra I’ve been writing about for twenty years. And I can’t wait to see what extras are attached to (These Are) The Damned — the company’s disc for Stranglers of Bombay is a wonderment.
This has been a terrific summer for Brit sci-fi, with Quatermass 2 and Quatermass and the Pit finding good Region A releases, plus the earlier stand-alone German disc of These are the Damned. And Val Guest’s The Abominable Snowman is coming in November. I suppose we could beg for worthy exotica like The Trollenberg Terror in HD, but soon the only English sci-fi biggie not available in Region A will be Guest’s The Day the Earth Caught Fire.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Magnificent Obsession 09/03/19
One of the strangest ‘uplifting moral tales’ of the 1950s was a huge hit, and launched Rock Hudson as a major star. Criterion’s deluxe presentation puts it on a par with world cinema, mawkish Kitsch-O-Rama and all. Comes with a restored copy of the slightly less head-spinning 1935 version, too. Co-stars Jane Wyman, Barbara Rush, Agnes Moorehead, and Otto Kruger, whose moral guidance has something to do with ‘contacting one’s power source.’ On Blu-rayfrom The Criterion Collection.
Death Ship 09/03/19
From the golden age of Canadian tax shelters comes a horror movie about a fiendish, fearful freighter fraught with frills, I mean, chills. A notable cast — George Kennedy, Richard Crenna, Sally Ann Howes, Kate Reid — shows up for paycheck duty, and must have gone through real torture getting this one in the can. It’s got a reputation, and if being ripoff-remade is a marker of success, then it’s earned its place on the horror map: SEE George Kennedy apparently really doused in awful oily bilge water! On Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing.
Happy Tuesday, end-of-Labor Day after a perfect Los Angeles weekend, a much better situation than I see playing out on the East Coast, yikes.
Got to have a piece of pie and coffee with fellow reviewer Mark Throop last Friday, and when I returned home I steered myself back to his prodigious stack of concise, funny, insightful takes on a wide range of pictures, over at his page Movies a la Mark. Two recent Throop pieces I can recommend are his takes on Moonfleet and The One That Got Away. It’s great to read somebody whose thoughts and opinions challenge my own …. but not too much, let’s not get silly.
And valued correspondent and defender of the realm Edward Sullivan writes in with a welcome link, about actors Deborah Baxter and Martin Amis. Alex Waterhouse-Hayward’s article from 2008 has a tangential connection to A High Wind in Jamaica which I just reviewed … I’m delighted to be able to read about Ms. Baxter. Nice photo too. The link: Deborah Baxter Smiles, Martin Amis Falls & Rebecca Cries
And wow, just from yesterday, Greenbriar Picture Shows has a GREAT follow-up on my A.I.P. MIA article from last week, with excellent info on the Yo-Ho-Ho Piratical Distribution racket enjoyed by Messers. Arkoff and Nicholson. Don’t miss.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Wagon Master 08/31/19
John Ford’s favorite western of his own work is a curiously gentle, endearingly simple hark-back to the verities of silent filmmaking. Mormons crossing the desert are encumbered by show people and beset by a nasty outlaw family — but don’t worry ’cause the Sons of the Pioneers will still be singing backup for ‘The Chuckawalla Swing.’ Ford rodeo discovery Ben Johnson returns with Harry Carey Jr. and every other Ford stock player not nailed down, and the marvelously direct cinematography is keyed to Ford’s idealized vision of life on the frontier. Joanne Dru, Ward Bond and Charles Kemper round out the ‘refugee caravan.’ On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
A High Wind in Jamaica 08/31/19
Alexander Mackendrick’s exhilarating pirate adventure mixes accurate history with a fine story of innocence corrupting the corrupt: Anthony Quinn’s pirate goes soft for a 12 year-old girl, and jeopardizes his highly insecure professional standing. James Coburn is superb as the first mate trying to keep the skullduggery on course with a passel of interfering kids on board. And young Deborah Baxter offers an un-sentimentalized portrait of the ordinary magic of childhood. No Summer Magic this! A Region-Free German disc, with Lila Kedrova, Nigel Davenport and Gert Fröbe. On Blu-ray from Explosive Media GmbH.
Gary Teetzel points us to yet another authoritative Bill Hunt article at The Digital Bits that makes a lot of sense — three makers of TV monitors are planning to include a ‘Filmmaker Mode’ button on new 4K equipment, that skips the manufacturer’s settings of ‘motion smoothing’ and other extra processing, to simply display the image as registered on the source. Why this hasn’t always been standard slays me — when I get a new monitor, I usually avail myself of a better remote control wrangler to help me with the setup to remove that bad processing — keeping everything as neutral as I can in other departments, so as not to suddenly start reporting that all discs seem to be ‘a little green this week.’ The article is called The UHD Alliance Unveils the Filmmaker Mode Initiative to Ensure 4K TVS Display Movies Properly at Home. I hope the initiative does the same for ordinary Blu-ray signals, too.
I like all this attention to getting the equipment right, but I still gripe that I can no longer buy a reasonable monitor that displays the incredibly good Blu-ray 3-D format, the kind that uses ordinary passive glasses. The ‘industry’ decided not to support it here, although passive 3-D monitors are reportedly still made for overseas distribution. I really hope that that form of 3-D comes back by the time my present LG monitor dies. I already bought a smaller monitor to review discs on, to cut down on the wear and tear on the big, expensive set. I almost elected to buy my daughter’s 3-D capable set, because she doesn’t use the feature. Then I found out that her 3-D is the inferior kind with battery powered ‘active’ glasses. Fudge.
And more distressing rumors are afoot. There were more merger-related layoffs at 20th Fox just a day or so ago, many from their home video department. The word online is that repertory theaters are being told that Fox titles will no longer be made available to them. And just yesterday I heard from a European home video executive, that Fox is no longer licensing its films to him. Is that policy the same for other vendors? Placing paranoia aside, we can figure out for ourselves that Disney isn’t plotting to rake in millions by making Sonja Henie musicals and other Fox oldies only available via its streaming site. The launch of Disney’s streaming platform is revolving around its new Marvel and Star Wars TV series.
Just the same, this might indeed be the beginning of the strangling of hard media, which the big companies have been treating like a necessary irritant for at least ten years. An unanswered question here is, how will this impact MGM discs, when Disney inherits Fox’s home video distribution contract? Already we have Netflix, that seems to purposely not make discs of many of its shows. The choice seems to be hit and miss. The first seasons of the Netflix Marvel shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage eventually made it to Blu-ray in the U.S., but no sign of the second or third seasons, and no sign of Iron Fist, The Punisher or The Defenders. (Some of these have been released on disc overseas.) The Netflix Lost in Space reboot has also appeared on disc. But no sign whatsoever of Roma, The Ballad of Buster Skruggs, Okja, etc. on disc.
I think this is definitely the ‘disruptive’ mode of marketing that happens when a broad field of providers dwindles down to a few behemoth companies — the biggest power no longer just competes on the level of products, it uses its heft to demolish all other competing delivery systems. The idea is to make theaters kowtow to studio demands, and to eliminate most discs. Why go to all the trouble of making a product, when you can instead sell limited access from the web? For the consumer, it may eventually come down to a choice of subscribing to ten different streaming companies, or nothing. What’s available will be at the whim of corporate overseers.
We used to say that movies have lives of their own, but the streaming model may make most of them less accessible than ever. Netflix wiped out Blockbuster with its mail-rent system, and then dropped all but a few of its deep library, both for hard rental, and then on its streaming site. Just think, it will be just like before home video: movies will distributed or withheld, and changed as deemed fit — without our being informed. Hundreds of Fox movies from the 1930s that are already difficult to see, will be shoved deeper into storage, because the corporate committees will deem them to have insufficient profitability to be made available. And since we’ll have nothing permanent in our hands with which to compare an altered presentation, we’ll have to accept the ‘intellectual rights holder’s’ version of the truth. You know, like the ‘rumor’ that there ever was a movie simply called Star Wars, without the ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’ alterations.
With that in mind, the CineSavant office contains twenty years’ worth of older Fox DVDs and Blu-rays of variable quality. They may suddenly jump in value!
But I’d rather that those discs were not about to become rare, that they will instead continue to be readily available to be owned.
Thanks for your reportage Mr. Hunt.
And thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson