Review Page and Column
Merrily We Go to Hell 06/15/21
Marriage, social pressure, professional disappointment — and if you want to be really unhappy, add alcohol to that mix. Fredric March and Sylvia Sidney are convincing sophisticates but also vulnerable people negotiating fragile lives. What can be done when one’s mate is dissolving in booze and drawn to the arms of another? Dorothy Arzner’s best picture shows us a woman who won’t give up on her marriage, for the right reasons. It’s a serious and adult pre-Code drama, the kind that sounds more salacious than it is. Sylvia Sydney crafts a portrait of a fine woman under pressure, who maintains her dignity even in an attempt at an ‘open marriage.’ The unusual title is a light-hearted toast reflecting inner despair. The disc comes with excellent extras on director Dorothy Arzner. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
It happens every time: all we want to do is cruelly betray somebody, but LOVE keeps getting in the way. When evil Dan Duryea sics con-man louse John Payne on the saintly war widow Joan Caulfield, three other women come tagging along as well, ’cause Payne is just too attractive. The swindle in George Sherman’s unsure noir gets uglier and then loses its way in the third act, with clunker dialogue and a climax that dissolves when it should resolve. Look out for super femme input from Shelley Winters, Dorothy Hart and Patricia Alphin. It’s an early featured role for Winters, and she doesn’t hold back. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Wow, two disc reviews today and both are U.S. products and Region A. No complications. They do everything but wear masks and show their vaccine cards.
First up are some interesting disc announcements. Yesterday, the Warner Archive Collection named four titles on the way for July. The first two are well-known quantities. Errol Flynn stars in Objective Burma!, the brutal WW2 combat film that offended the Brits; Hollywood Ten writers Alvah Bessie and Lester Cole really let loose with the anti-Japanese hate invective. Then, Gene Kelly, Esther Williams and Frank Sinatra star in the Technicolor Arthur Freed picture Take Me Out to the Ball Game. It’s Busby Berkeley’s last full job of feature musical direction, credited.
The second two are fairly obscure thrillers that will excite hardcore noir aficionados. → Step by Step re-teams Lawrence Tierney and Anne Jeffreys from his breakthrough Dillinger, in a weird wartime spy tale set on a California beach. We’ll have to find out how ‘noir’ it is.
I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes ↑ is one I’ve wanted to see for ages; for a while it was thought to be lost. It’s the second film produced by Walter Mirisch, when he was at Monogram — Walter was sufficiently shrewd to use source stories from Cornell Woolrich, guaranteeing built-in hardboiled noir interest.
We’ve also got confirmation for two disc releases from The Film Detective. The cringe-inducing Frankenstein’s Daughter is due out on October 19, with extras; it’s the second of the four Richard E. Cunha horror shows from 1958-59.
Two weeks earlier on October 5, the same label will issue a Blu of the excellent noir The Amazing Dr. X aka The Spiritualist. It stars Turhan Bey, Lynn Bari and Cathy O’ Donnell — I hope they eventually spell her name correctly. The expressive visuals come courtesy of camerama wizard John Alton. If the transfer does Alton justice it’ll be a great disc.
We finish the Column with a list of links from Gary Teetzel. They’re video files from Getty Images, Newsreel Clips with fun film connections. There’s a stack of them, so I’ll get right into Gary’s notes:
1.) Footage from the L.A. premiere of TOMB OF LIGEIA, with fans taking part in a costume contest to award the title of ‘Mr. Gruesome.’ Vincent Price is of course present. Elizabeth Shepherd seems to be there as well, although the narrator never bothers to point her out. She doesn’t look very happy! (Note: John McElwee says that the actress we think is Shepherd, is really Maila ‘Vampire’ Nurmi, and he has a promo flyer to back it up.) Other guests include Caroll Borland from Mark of the Vampire and Elsa Lanchester. Watch as Forry Ackerman rudely shoves the latest issue of Famous Monsters in front of Lanchester. Only the back cover is seen and all he does is startle the great actress.
2.) Boris Karloff, the Terror Titan of Tennis. Didn’t Karloff play cricket? He doesn’t humiliate himself, unlike his co-players — the synch audio plays like a laugh track.
3.) Boris is one of several celebrities attending a birthday party for Joe E. Brown’s daughter.
4.) A brief shot of Boris and his wife Evelyn attending a movie premiere, 1954.
5.) Another Boris movie premiere snippet.
6.) Bela Lugosi donates blood and afterward enjoys a donut. Is it staged? You’d think Lugosi’s doctors would be giving him blood. This is such a great clip, how come it’s never shown up in a horror documentary? And why does narrator Alan Mowbray call Lugosi a werewolf?
7.) No actual footage of Boris or Bela, but this is cute — some costumed people cavort and pose in front of a theater playing Dracula and Frankenstein. It’s from 1941, if the metadata can be trusted.
8.) Premiere of My Favorite Brunette includes a clip of Lon Chaney Jr. plugging the film in his ‘Lenny’ voice.
9.) Lon Jr. at a ceremony unveiling a bench dedicated to his father. No date given, but Junior is looking fairly young and slender. He’s with child star Edith Fellows.
10.) A brief snippet of Peter Cushing from his pre-horror days–1953, to be precise. With a mustache, I think.
11.) and another brief clip of Cushing at a theater opening, with Orson Welles.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Face Behind the Mask 06/12/21
Is this a horror classic? I’d certainly says yes, just for the shrewd, sympathetic performance of Peter Lorre as an unlucky immigrant whose disfigurement in a fire turns him to life of crime and vengeance. An impossibly young Evelyn Keyes shines as a Chaplin-like blind girl, but the performances and Robert Florey’s good direction keep the tone from going soft. And the chilling ending is as bleak as they come. Whatever you may do, my recommendation is to NOT double-cross Peter Lorre. The disc producers give experts Alan K. Rode and Kim Newman the podium, and they respond with three full extras on this highly unusual, seldom-seen gem of a horror film. On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly 4K 06/12/21
It’s still one of the most popular movies ever, and fans are proving that by shelling out for an umpteenth home video release, this time on the 4K Ultra HD format. Everybody knows exactly what to expect from Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach, but what about the transfer quality and encoding — Sergio Leone’s film was originally shot in the half-frame Techniscope format, which is on the low-res side to scan in 4K. Kino adds a Blu-ray disc and a mountain of accumulated extras from earlier editions. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Where do good eats and Sci-fi history meet? Perhaps in a lot of places, but the one I discovered a while back is a Los Angeles restaurant I’ve been frequenting for almost fifty years. When I first dined at the original El Cholo on Western Avenue it was still a single house with an outdoor patio; I didn’t actually eat on the patio until after it had been remodeled into an interior space, enclosed with a skylight.
CineSavant is at its best when digging up arcane film trivia, the sub-relevant kind that inspires respected film historians to shrug their shoulders. The only research for this particular observation occurred by eating at El Cholo not long after re-seeing Roger Corman’s first production effort, 1954’s Monster from the Ocean Floor. Corman’s movie takes place in Mexico but was filmed in and around Los Angeles. In the first act his leading players Anne Kimball and Stuart Wade take a break from scuba diving for monsters to go ashore for a bite to eat. Corman’s restaurant scene uses only three or four camera angles. We see a row of adobe support pillars, a small courtyard and a decorative tile pattern on a wall. ( ↑ )
I’ve long been convinced that Corman filmed this scene at El Cholo. But my comparisons between the feature ( ↑ ) and El Cholo today ( ↓ ) didn’t convince at first, because the shape of the pillars seemed wrong. The lower section of each pillar, below where the arch begins, seems taller in the 1954 B&W frame grab.
But I was certain that I’d seen the tile pattern on the back wall; for the longest time it stood above a decorative fountain. I think it was there until sometime in the 1980s, when another remodel took place, widening the pillars, adding brickwork, etc..
And I figured out why those adobe pillars seem a little different. In the 1954 screen grab the arches on top are barely visible, and appear to begin at least two feet higher. Then it dawned on me that when the outdoor patio was incorporated into the building, the customers would no longer be eating at ground level, on a lawn. A foundation was constructed to raise the floor to the level of the house interior… effectively lowering the arches. The brickwork added to the arches changed their profile as well.
I can easily imagine Roger Corman wheeling and dealing like a pro on his very first movie, securing a restaurant location that might actually pass for being in Mexico. As the eating area was then essentially outdoors, it would have had natural lighting, too. I wonder if the tyro filmmaker Roger was a patron of El Cholo. The restaurant was noted as a casual hangout for movie people. In the 1975 movie Shampoo Warren Beatty’s hairdresser character says he’s in trouble with his girlfriend played by Goldie Hawn: “Jeez, I was supposed to take Jill to El Cholo.”
Perhaps the inspiration for this column item came from being locked out of restaurants for the last 1.5 years… I’m eager to go out again. Is this perhaps an old piece of Roger Corman trivia that I missed? I’m forever ‘discovering’ things that are common knowledge. Conversely, let me know if the Monster from the Ocean Floor location has been established as some other restaurant … there are other similarities that make me think I’m right. Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Hammer Volume Six Night Shadows 06/08/21
PI’s never-ending series of Hammer attractions now turns to the Universal-held part of the Hammer heritage, with The Shadow of the Cat (it has Barbara Shelley and is said to technically be a Hammer picture), Captain Clegg (known as ‘Night Creatures’ here, and it has Peter Cushing), The Phantom of the Opera (Terence Fisher’s romantic horror with Herbert Lom and Heather Sears), and the Jimmy Sangster/Freddie Francis psycho-thriller known as Nightmare. Expert input comes from a sinister crowd: Bolton, Botting, Haberman, Hallenbeck, Huckvale, Kinsey, Klemensen, Joyner, Nasr, Newman, Thompson — and the much-loved Barbara Shelley herself. Be careful of those people. On Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicat
The President’s Analyst 06/08/21
Here’s a GREAT picture whose time has come — Theodore J. Flicker’s spy spoof is one of the smartest & funniest political satires ever, and probably James Coburn’s finest hour as an actor-producer. A high-class shrink knows too many Presidential secrets, making him an international espionage target in a giddy spy chase. Everything leads to an absurd-sounding Sci-fi conspiracy that’s quickly becoming a reality. Coburn’s hipster cred holds up well, abetted by terrific improv talent: Godfrey Cambridge, Severn Darden, Joan Delaney, Pat Harrington, Joan Darling, and Arte Johnson; also with great input from Barry McGuire, Jill Banner, Eduard Franz, Walter Burke, Will Geer and William Daniels. On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
A quick book review today — really a nod, perhaps — to a book that sounded too interesting to pass up. Foxx Nolte’s Boundless Realm: Deep Explorations Inside Disney’s Haunted Mansion is for committed Disneyland fans, not necessarily casual fans like myself but for people that already know much of the development history of the parks and are ready for something more — more detail and thought. For detail, insightful conjecture, and rather good writing, the book delivers.
The focus on The Haunted Mansion(s) leads one to expect something that the book is not. In his first chapter Nolte explains that he has not written an introduction to the Disneyland and Disney World attractions, nor a history of their development or construction. Nolte instead tells us that in college he got his dream job, which allowed him to work at the Mansion in Disney World. His book is a collection of studies, observations and acquired knowledge about the attraction — how it works, how some of its design elements were developed, and in particular a great many hidden meanings within the design choices… for instance, how certain rooms were conceived for one kind of ‘illusion-attraction’ but ended up with another.
This involves telling some historical backstory (some good spook-house stories, there), culture and literature, and architectural stylings — is the Mansion Victorian, or something else? — and even relating themes from relevant movies. And there’s also a lot of ‘backstage’ employee weirdness — where on the ride the ‘ushers’ stashed their soft drink containers, and what urns in the back of which mansion room are filled with random shoes lost by riders. How they became lost, we’re not told.
I personally first saw Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion on a graduation night in 1970; I was impressed by the weird elevator room, the ghost illusions in the ballroom and Paul Frees’ spooky voice. The book really is intended for a more die-hard fan, the dedicated Disney-dog already familiar with the basics, and is ready to sign up for ‘Haunted Mansion 102.’ Every aspect of the ride is examined, including discussions of conflicts during the design process, abandoned ideas, and what seems to be a focused concentration on every single thing a rider sees and experiences during the ride.
The book is clearly not a Disney publication. Although nothing is controversial, the inner workings of Disneyland is exactly the material The Mouse routinely suppresses. This is all hard content — the illustrations included are explanatory diagrams of things like window patterns for a ‘ghost light’ effect, sketches explaining how individual gags work, and illustrations of particular pieces of interior design that Nolte is discussing.
I’m told that the publishing date for the book was April 18, although Amazon says October 1 of last year. Frankly, if I knew a genuine Disney park Nut, this would make an ideal gift.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
One of Joe Dante’s finest pictures speaks heart-to-heart to gee-whiz space fans — transporting us from our backyard to the far reaches of the galaxy. With a boost from aliens unknown, Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix and Jason Presson are the intrepid space cadets that construct a fantastic vehicle from mysterious dream-signals, no Interociter required. Their dreams hint at the secret desires in their adolescent imaginations, even without an it’s-all-a-dream sandpit. They dare fly where no man has flown before, a genuine escape from the petty pressures of Junior High. New and old input on the Blu-ray finally tells the full story of the making of an underrated wonder movie. On Blu-ray.
Scarface (1932) 06/05/21
Still the fiercest and most cinematic of the first wave of gangster classics, Howards Hughes and Hawks’s pre-Code rule-breaker was the one that brought down the ban on ‘glamorous’ gangster movies. In this case classic hardly means dated: the cars and clothes are vintage but the sex and violence are sizzling hot. Paul Muni is the primitive killer who falls in love with submachine guns and George Raft is his loyal trigger man. Karen Morley and especially Ann Dvorak are indeed the hottest pre-Code seducers in film. Plus, Boris Karloff contributes a mobster snarl as a lightly-disguised Bugs Moran. It’s a bullet-ridden city, that’s for sure, and the filmmakers frequently use expressionist effects: like X Marks The Spot! On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
The newest DVD Classics Corner on the Air web podcast is A Salute to the Blu-ray Debut of Annie Get Your Gun with Dick Dinman once again interviewing George Feltenstein. That pair of experts lay out a concise explanation of the many problems this show had getting to the screen; we’ll also learn a bit more about the way it was remastered for HD. CineSavant’s review from April 20 is here.
And here’s a fun announcement — CineSavant has been enjoying Kino Classics’ recent German restorations from the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, what with The Woman One Longs For and two Douglas Sirk melodramas. They’ve just announced something very exciting for science fiction fans: The 1932 Ufa production F.P.1. Antwortet Nicht aka ‘Floating Platform One Does Not Answer.’ The F.P. in the title apparently stands for ‘flugplattform,’ or ‘flight platform.’ Perhaps others have had better luck but this feature has always eluded me. The floating platform is a high-tech artificial island in the middle Atlantic, a refueling airport for transatlantic flights. Like the next year’s Gold it’s science fiction with a topical edge — no sooner is the F.P. in place than it attracts foreign agents bent on sabotage.
The movie was reportedly a blockbuster hit in Germany. It stars Hans Albers and Sybille Schmitz (pictured center, above), the memorable vampire victim in Dreyer’s Vampyr and whose controversial life was the basis for Fassbinder’s Veronika Voss. Memorable in the cast is Peter Lorre just before he left Germany for England.
Both the original novel and the film script are by Curt (Kurt) Siodmak, who at this time was having more commercial success than his more famous brother Robert … but would soon exit to France, and then America as well.
The confusion sets in with the fact that F.P.1 was also produced in two more foreign language versions, all filmed at the same time: the French-language I.F.1 ne répond plus with Charles Boyer and Pierre Brasseur, and the English-language F.P.1 Does Not Answer starring Conrad Veidt and Jill Esmond. I’ve seen a very poor, incomplete copy of the English version, and assume that the original German is better, especially with Peter Lorre involved. The good news about this disc release, is that it will contain both the German and English versions.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Yearling 06/01/21
Charlie Largent tackles a childhood favorite: MGM went all-out with Technicolor to film Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ tale of subsistence farming on the edge of the Everglades, earning high praise for artistry all around. It still holds up rather well, with fine work from Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman and Claude Jarman Jr. Some grim details from the novel were retained, along with a heartbreaking look at the reality of trying to carve out a living in a harsh environment. The poetic ‘musical’ scenes hit hard as well — both youthful illusions and adult strength are fleeting. The color restoration is breathtaking. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
To New Shores & La Habanera 06/01/21
The Douglas Sirk Collection. Douglas Sirk proves his mettle as a consummate romantic storyteller in these part-musical melodramas from the peak of his career in Germany. They cemented stardom for Zarah Leander, a beauty who could have been an international success had the timing and politics been different. Both pictures send their heroines on far-flung adventures. In To New Shores Leander’s seductive music hall chanteuse is a victim of love, banished to a prison in Australia; in La Habanera she’s the wife of an all-powerful Caribbean landowner, who purposely downplays a plague because it will affect his business. Sirk’s order of the day is to put Leander into intolerable situations, just as he did Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Wyman and Lana Turner in his later Technicolor pictures at Universal. On Blu-ray from Kino Classics.
Gary Teetzel assures me that this page link will be old news to confirmed Godzilla fans, but that amateurs like myself might find it fun … I liked it, and I see that it has only been up for five days and only has 20,000 hits, so here ya go. It looks like somebody nabbed the entire ride on video… it’s called Godzilla The Ride. Are theme park ‘rides’ just wraparound movies now? Imagine paying movie admission for a show that turns over twice an hour, even if the hydraulic seats shake you up and vents spew you with sulphuric Godzilla breath. A park ought to make $$ money $$ on something like that, ya think?
Laserdisc fans are still out there and still going strong, it seems — after last Saturday’s link to the Laserdisc Database, I got a loo-oong note from correspondent Spencer Draper, who told me about his own attempts to nail down the history of the laserdisc format, and the making of his personal 1400-disc collection. Spencer praises the quality of laserdisc picture and sound, and I’ll grant that DVD and BD have indeed altered some movies in ways I don’t like… I’ve kept the three unaltered Star Wars laserdiscs as well. I also won’t argue with the fact that buying old discs is now a bargain. It ought to be, when a laser trade-ins at record stores here in Los Angeles only net one five cents apiece. I don’t expect my own meager sampling of laserdiscs to grow in value.
The enterprising Mr. Draper has lined up some well-delivered podcasts, at his A Damn Fool Idealistic Crusade page — a commentary for a Bond film and a review for the newest CD of the score to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. What I heard sounded pretty profession. Spencer asks if I’ll review the new Ultra HD of GBU, but the window of time on that one seems to be closing … Kino is great to CineSavant but didn’t offer screeners for that particular item. It makes sense — what potential buyer of GBU needs to read a review before plunking down his money?
With that thought about UHD discs in mind, I’m excited about Arrow’s upcoming disc of David Lynch’s Dune on Ultra HD. A couple of my kids have defected from the ’84 Dune fan club, but don’t worry because I stopped disinheriting offspring for those kind of offenses a long time ago. I mean, I showed it to them more than enough times when they were tykes, and they have free will, darn it. I still think the visual imagination of Lynch’s film is superb, along with the casting and the costumes… even if the story feels like a two- hour trailer for a ten- hour movie. And it ought to be a killer in Ultra HD. It’ll come with a second disc of new Blu-ray extras; it’s due out in August. The link is to the page for the identical U.K. release.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson