Review Page and Column
Things Change 02/23/21
David Mamet’s gangster fable benefits from a casting match made in heaven — Don Ameche and Joe Mantegna. A showshine vendor is tapped to take a rap for a mob boss, but the hoodlum delivering him to court instead takes him on a two-day escape to Reno … against mob orders. It’s low-key comedy with delightful characters and the sobering knowledge that the weekend will end in jail … or the morgue. After a forty-year hiatus Ameche makes a marvelous return to starring glory… just think, a Mamet film where we really warm up to the players! Also starring Robert Prosky, J.J. Johnston, Ricky Jay, Mike Nussbaum, William H. Macy, J.T. Walsh and Felicity Huffman. On Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Runaway Train 02/23/21
Akira Kurosawa wrote the original story for this slam-bang action picture that finally got Cannon Films on a, ‘Hey this is a great movie’ list or two. Mean, nasty, desperate men make an impossible escape attempt across a frozen landscape that might as well be on the moon. Jon Voight gets to use the same eccentric gimmicks that Dustin Hoffman exploited, and comes off great while Andrei Konchalovsky showed Cannon what a brilliant director could do. The show also established Eric Roberts and Rebecca De Mornay as talents to watch. Co-starring Kyle T. Heffner, John P. Ryan, T.K. Carter and Kenneth McMillan. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
On this first item, we get the word straight from correspondent Gary Teetzel:
“The Orson Welles fan website Wellesnet has posted a link to about five minutes of outtakes from The Lady from Shanghai. No, it’s not long-lost footage from the fun house–it just looks mostly like humdrum second unit stuff of doubles for Welles and Rita Hayworth in the streets of Chinatown, San Francisco. At the end are some shots of the yacht Zaca in its movie ‘role’ as the Circe: Lady from Shangai Outtakes.
Some of the slates display the name ‘Butler.’ The only Butler listed in the IMDB for Shanghai is Lawrence W. Butler, listed as ‘special effects – uncredited.’ One slate does list Welles and DP Charles Lawton Jr.. The Zaca footage lists William Castle on the slate.
Wellesnet seems to think we’re seeing the real Rita Hayworth in the Chinatown footage, but to me it could be a double working with the second unit. ‘Welles’ in the footage would seem clearly to be a double.
Also according to Wellesnet, the Shanghai footage is edited from a longer ten-minute reel of outtakes ‘associated with producer William Castle.’ The non-Shanghai footage involves a fire sequence. Does any William Castle expert know if any of his Columbia Bs from this period included a fire scene? Does anyone recognize the actor climbing the stairs against the flow of traffic? The Wellesnet page offers a link to the full ten minutes, too.”
And we got plenty of positive feedback for the Column’s George Feltenstein piece last Saturday, just in time for the illustrious Dick Dinman to hand off two more new DVD Classics Corner On the Air podcasts about The Warner Archive Collection featuring interviews with George himself. The titles are Dick Dinman Salutes the Warner Archive Part One and Part Two.
On Part One George and Dick discuss the new Blu-rays of Waterloo Bridge, Sergeant York, Libeled Lady, The Mortal Storm, The Pirate and 80th Anniversary Bugs Bunny Collection.
On Part Two the focus of discussion is on Mr. Roberts, The Shop Around the Corner, Young Man with a Horn, Holiday Affair and The Harvey Girls.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
San Francisco 02/20/21
MGM’s glamour factory hit heights of grandeur with this nostalgic disaster spectacle, which retains its power even as its pious sentimentality runs amuck. We don’t believe the characters but we believe the STARS: Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy succeed with sheer personality. Best of all are the sensational special effects featuring the highly cinematic earthquake montage by Slavko Vorkapich and John Hoffman. Co-starring Jack Holt, Jessie Ralph, Ted Healy and Shirley Ross. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo García 02/20/21
Blood, gore and the smell of gunpowder! Sam Peckinpah’s booze-soaked Odyssey sends Warren Oates on a grisly fool’s errand to retrieve a rotting, fly-bitten… oh, just read the title will ya? Resolutely sordid and debased, and soaked in ugly exploitation values, the tale of ‘Machete Bennie’ nevertheless scores as Peckinpah’s last successful movie — if Edgar Allan Poe went crazy locked in a room with rotting corpses, he might have come up with this idea. Co-starring Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Helmut Dantine, Emilio Fernández and Kris Kristofferson. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
I want to say something about George Feltenstein, who I am told has just stepped down from an executive position at Warner Home Video. George’s name has been a pillar of the Home Video industry since the early VHS videotape days, when he headed up MGM/UA Home Video.
I was George’s employee at MGM/UA roughly from 1991 to 1996, when home video profits were motivating the big studios to create film restoration departments. George had a mandate to search the vaults for exploitable content, and his efforts brought forth vast quantities of unused musical numbers and original session recordings for famous scores and songs. Many of these became remastered soundtracks, always with ‘extras.’ Multi-track master recordings made it possible to remix famous musical numbers by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly in true stereophonic sound.
When I arrived at MGM/UA George was in the midst of a pet project called ‘The Ultimate Wizard of Oz‘, a lavish laserdisc that compiled an enormous quantity of audio and video extras for the most magical of MGM musicals. At over $100 dollars a copy (in 1993 dollars) I don’t know how many of the big laserdisc boxes were sold but I’ve proudly kept mine intact. A big part of the job was promoting revivals of MGM product, which put George in contact with numerous legends from his beloved old musicals. MGM/UA sometimes felt a little like TCM, years before TCM came into being.
My first personal contact with George was through the VHS sampler promos I’d cut for cassettes that were distributed monthly to thousands of video stores, everything from Singin’ in the Rain 40th Anniversary to a colorized Jailhouse Rock. We also cut elaborate themed montages for trade shows, and giveaway laserdisc samplers with collage-montages of WB cartoons, Busby Berkeley musical numbers and George’s Forbidden Hollywood series of provocative early talkies that would later be known as pre-Code attractions. Although George’s personal specialty is musicals he lavished special attention on every item in the library regardless of genre. When a classic United Artists science fiction film came up on the release schedule George went to great pains to obtain the original, longer version from an English archive.
George also executive-produced some of the first long-form home video documentaries, for movies like Midnight Cowboy and That’s Entertainment III. Phone calls for George were often routed to the editing room. Some were rather startling, as when a bright-voiced Ann Miller popped on the line in a chirpy Texas accent: “How ya doin’ honey? I’m Ann Miller! Is George around?” Equally unforgettable was the marvelous vocal talent June Foray, who asked basically the same thing, except with the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel. Coming out of the blue, the effect was surreal. At that moment Rocky and Bullwinkle were alive and real.
I do not have the full story on George Feltenstein’s broader career. A bit before the introduction of DVD, I think he left MGM/UA to work for Warners, or was it perhaps first for Turner? When Warner Home Video finally committed its deep film library to the DVD format around 2001 or 2002, George took charge.
One of George’s biggest achievements is the creation of The Warner Archive Collection, an entirely new home video marketing concept. The WAC’s high-quality made-on-demand discs ran an end-run around the shrinking market for DVD disc sales. After an initial hiccup or two the brand took off like wildfire. George made sure that every WAC title be released in its original aspect ratio. Thus fans, collectors, writers and researchers were given ready access to a huge quantity of MGM, Warners and RKO film history.
George put his full energy into promotions. His team maintained a fan-friendly website and frequently plugged their new releases and restorations in person at conventions. Whenever I inquired about some new restoration that was cooking he’d return my calls to explain what was being done. I’d get both the whole story and the part that was safe to print. In other words, George personally made Warners the most consumer-friendly of studio Home Video companies, generating a mountain of good will. Clear evidence of this can be heard in the Warner Archives’ Apple Podcasts, all 425 of them.
The latest news is that George will continue to be a consultant for the company, which is a smart move on Warners’ part. His judgment and fine taste will continue to have a positive influence on the industry.
And let me sneak in a link to an article by my associate Marc Edward Heuck at the blog ‘Rupert Pupkin Speaks.’ For the last twenty-odd years Marc has amazed me with his photographic memory for everything concerning film. Every year Marc would issue a ‘best-of’ feature list, and his recommendations could be counted on to be both 1) titles I’d not even heard of, and 2) titles that were great. The pandemic year didn’t slow Marc down — he calls this screening report Film Discoveries of 2020.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Frank Perry’s version of the shootout at the O.K. Corral shapes up as a fine western and an even better drama — the revisionist angle is supported by an excellent script and thoughtful, challenging characterizations. Tombstone’s frontier folk are dirty, vulgar and corrupt, but Stacy Keach and Faye Dunaway generate a rough-hewn romantic harmony. Harris Yulin’s Wyatt Earp is a revelation as well — if this were modern times Earp would get a lock on city hall politics and go into the land development racket. The beautifully filmed movie looks terrific on disc. Alex Cox delivers a solid audio commentary as well. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
So Evil My Love 02/16/21
How many ways can a total rat take advantage of someone who loves him? Ray Milland knows! The suave romancer can play silky-sinister better than anyone: Alias Nick Beal, Dial M for Murder. This is one of the darkest ‘Gaslight Noirs’ ever: poor Ann Todd is seduced, abused, victimized and two-timed, yet volunteers to enter her lover’s evil world. That’s true love for you — the crying shame is that we didn’t get the review up in time for Valentine’s Day. Reviewer Charlie Largent really went for the show and strongly recommends it. Co-starring Geraldine Fitzgerald, Leo G. Carroll and Moira Lister. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
It looks like both Charlie Largent and I drew disc reviews of great movies this week — I was very pleasantly surprised by “Doc”. I know the disc won’t be out for another month but I felt like writing about it now. Today’s review posting is a bit late because of an outside project … so please accept CineSavant’s non-apology apology. Not all timing works out.
My sole column item today comes courtesy of David J. Schow, who would seem to be just as big a fan of maladroit Sci-fi favorites as am I. It’s a funny ourculture article by Christopher Stewardson and its title needs no explanation: In Defence of Reptilicus. Ourculture’s artwork is by Revised Fiasco Design. For some reason I see that picture and the English spelling and it keeps reading, ‘Reptilicus Is On The Fence.’
I promise, no more Reptilicus– related links this year!
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Good News 02/13/21
The Arthur Freed MGM musical unit gives this 1927 musical remake the old College Try! It’s a vehicle for the wartime sweetheart June Allyson, aided by Peter Lawford, who is quite good if not real musical material. The fun original tunes are joined by a couple of new ones, including an all-time terrific song & dance number staged by Robert Alton and performed by the incredible Joan McCracken. The new restoration does wonders with the 1947 Technicolor and the WAC adds hilarious, eye-opening musical excerpts from the crazy 1930 early talkie version with Penny Singleton. Good news indeed. With Patricia Marshall, Mel Tormé and Tommy Rall. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
The Deep 02/13/21
Peter Benchley’s follow-up to Jaws is a treasure hunt thriller starring Robert Shaw and filmed in the pearly waters off Bermuda. The exciting underwater scenes boosted the careers of Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset but the memory that stuck in the minds of millions was a particular wardrobe decision for Bisset’s siren of the deep. Who needs Spanish gold and a fortune in lost morphine? This import disc features a commentary by actress Illeana Douglas. Also starring Louis Gossett Jr. and Eli Wallach. On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
I have to admit that hard video media continues to follow positive trends — good old Kino Lorber has announced that it’ll be releasing a 4K Ultra HD disc set of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil this summer. So far the news about the disc is all good. I was just thinking about pulling out my (very good) Blu-ray of the show and thought, gee, if they do put this on 4K it will probably just be the re-thought and re-edited 1998 version. Nope, Universal and Kino are going to give us all three variants, which means my favorite (#2, the long 1958 cut) will be there. And once again I’ll get to boast about seeing it just as it was discovered at UCLA, around 1972 or 1973.
Touch of Evil is on the short list of American films so unique in style and approach, they stand out as special successes — Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter is another that comes to mind. Not being appreciated when new adds to the ‘legendary’ cachet as well.
In researching films by Philip Yordan and Samuel Bronston and to keep up with Hollywood blacklist history I finally read the career autobiography of Bernard Gordon, entitled Hollywood Exile, or How I Learned to Love the Blacklist. Gordon offers detailed background information on the production of The Day of the Triffids, which he wrote although Philip Yordan took the credit.
We also learn much about the making of Gordon’s other movies, from The Zombies of Mora Tau to 55 Days at Peking, and there’s even a mention of Philip Yordan’s crazy ‘Utah’ films produced in the early ’80s on which my friends Steve Nielson and Wayne Schmidt worked as editors. Gordon’s a good writer, too. But somebody tell me: why has the official IMDB page for The Day of the Triffids started listing it as Invasion of the Triffids, or sometimes, Revolt of the Triffids? I think somebody’s pulling a fast one.
Next, correspondent Keith West sent in this link to a truly unusual comic book tie-in for MGM’s 1951 Quo Vadis … a ‘Komik’ book with art reminiscent of that seen in classic Prince Valiant comics … and apparently only released in the Philippines, in the Tagalog language.
And finally, we’ve got another pre-order announcement guaranteed to burn a hole in the wallets of EuroHorror fans: Severin Films has something completely unexpected coming up on May 25 and available for pre-order now: a 9-disc ‘EuroCrypt of Christopher Lee’ boxed set containing five of his European features (Crypt of the Vampire, Castle of the Living Dead (↑), Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (↓) and Challenge the Devil) — plus a full Polish horror anthology TV series Theater Macabre hosted by Lee.
The plentiful extras include the short documentary HORROR! containing behind-the-scenes footage from Masque of the Red Death and The Gorgon, plus audio commentaries, a CD soundtrack for Castle of the Living Dead and an 88-page book. Details for the set are at the Severin Films page; the release date is May 25. Also offered is a very limited, extra pricey ‘bundle’ that will include a signed copy of Tony Dalton’s forthcoming biography of Terence Fisher, an enamel pin and a poster. Here’s a link to the entertaining four-minute Official Trailer for Severin’s The EuroCrypt of Christopher Lee.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Dark Intruder 02/09/21
Reviewer Charlie Largent gets to assess this long-MIA 1960s horror item, a TV pilot that got the boost to a theatrical release — at only 59 minutes in duration. Long before his name became synonymous with comedy, Leslie Nielsen plays a clever investigator tracking down a serial killer, who turns out to be tangled up in an Asian curse with a supernatural sting. The movie’s just rare enough to warrant a good look-see. Also starring Judi Meredith and Mark Richman; the impressive cinematography is by John F. Warren. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Parallax View 02/09/21
Paranoia strikes deep! Alan J. Pakula made THE Watergate-era conspiracy creepshow in this sinister update of political trends. Warren Beatty’s investigative reporter thinks he has an inside track to expose and destroy what looks like a shadow assassination bureau. If the technology of 1974 could be this efficient, our own Brave New World of ‘truth control’ seems even scarier. Pakula and cameraman Gordon Willis found a Panavision style that fully expresses the faceless corporate menace; the ‘Parallax Recruitment Montage’ is still the most terrifying piece of psych-out Agit-prop ever assembled. With Paula Prentiss, Hume Cronyn, William Daniels, Walter McGinn and Jim Davis. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
It’s being reported that Joe Dante’s terrific 1985 fantasy / sci-fi classic Explorers will be coming to Blu-ray in May. A trio of barely-teenagers build and fly their own interplanetary spaceship, to a rendezvous with aliens in outer space. Cleverly worked out from a script by Eric Luke, the computer-age First Men in the Moon addresses Junior-High problems and adolescent romantic fantasies. It stars a very young Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix and Jason Presson, with Brooke Bundy, Amanda Peterson, Robert Picardo and Dick Miller, and music by Jerry Goldsmith. I’ll be looking forward to finding out how the special effects were accomplished… ’85 is fairly early in the development of computer graphic effects.
After about a year I’m happily back in contact with Swedish correspondent Stefan Andersson — we were able to exchange local Coronavirus reports. Stefan loves to report film-related online links …. in this note he pointed to a bunch of great links, starting with a way to see 3 Early Max Ophuls Films with English subtitles.
Stefan also sent a link to the 3-minute musical promo for an unreleased silent restoration, the Munich Filmmuseum’s reconstruction of Der Golem, with a new recording of the original music score by Hans Landberger. It’s said to be more complete than the Murnau Stiftung’s (really impressive) 76-minute Golem restoration that I reviewed last May. The Munich Filmmuseum’s cut is said to run 91 minutes — could some of the difference be because of a slower film speed?
And finally, correspondent Phil Lantis asked me to plug his organization’s New Hallywood Silent Film Festival, which is run out of Santa Clarita. This year the festival, which runs for three days starting on February 12, will be virtual. The flyer says they’ll be holding ‘sessions’ on Fatty Arbuckle, William S. Hart and Georges Méliès.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson