Review Page and Column
Blade Runner 2049 01/16/18
After 35 years Philip K. Dick’s brainstorm returns in a film sequel worthy of the original; Denis Villeneuve does right by the concept, but the show will be tough sledding for ADD-plagued modern viewers. Ryan Gosling follows in Harrison Ford’s replicant footsteps, surrounded by an impressive group of supporting actors. It’s long, it’s moody, it’s not for babies — but it is rewarding. Also with startling appearances by Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Carla Juri, Jared Leto, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis, Sean Young, and Hiam Abbass. A Dual-Format edition on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
Take a trip into the depths of German silent film in a documentary that links expressionist cinema with dark political undercurrents. Director Rüdiger Suchsland’s essay adapts a famous & worthy but slightly outdated book, yet is an excellent overview of movies in the Weimar period. On the dark side of the force is the black-gloved master criminal Schranker from “M”. On the side of the angels are the carefree picnic girls from People on Sunday. The Golem, Nosferatu and the False Maria are in the thesis, too! On DVD from Kino Lorber.
It’s links! And they’re ALIVE! Joe Dante has circulated a link to a ‘cool BBC radio hour on the origins and legacy of Frankenstein,’ which is comin’ at ya via a link cleverly entitled Archive on 4 Frankenstein Lives!
Correspondent Ed Sullivan has found something great at Vimeo, Brian Reddin’s hour-long 2015 documentary of a great actor: Robert Shaw – Jaws, Deoch & Deora. One of the interview subjects is the actress Sarah Miles.
In terms of incoming discs, we here at CineSavant Central are hotly awaiting Arrow’s Le Streghe aka The Witches. And Criterion’s newsletter just announced that an April Eclipse disc set will contain six Ingrid Bergman pictures made in Sweden before her leap to Hollywood, The Count of the Old Town, Walpurgis Night, Intermezzo, Dollar, A Woman’s Face and June Night.
Also, Gary Teetzel informs me that Arrow has announced a forthcoming release of G.W. Pabst’s 1932 fantasy Die Herrin von Atlantis / L’Atlantide with Brigitte Helm, one picture I’ve narrowly missed for 40 years. Helms’ Antinea is the all-powerful queen of a lost kingdom under the desert. I don’t think she is supposed to be immortal, but Antinea inherited some customs from her good-lookin’ forerunner Ayesha: kept on display in a secret subterranen gallery is a collection of Antinea’s former lovers, all embalmed and standing in a row like statues.
I wonder which language version will be released? Is my memory correct that producer Seymour Nebenzal repurposed some of L’Atlantide’s more grandiose scene seventeen years later for his Universal semi-remake Siren of Atlantis with Maria Montez? And what exactly is in that basement room my wife keeps locked, that she says I’ll be able to see when she gets really, really fed up with me?
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Hanging Tree 01/13/18
“To really live, you must almost die,” sings Marty Robbins, a lesson learned by Austrian import star Maria Schell. Delmer Daves’ best western puts virtue and faithfulness to the test: Gary Cooper’s distrustful, manipulative doctor hides his dark secrets and punishes those that admire and love him. Yet the ultimate reckoning demonstrates that sins can be forgiven and goodness rewarded, even in a corrupt and lawless community. That’s a fairy tale I still want to believe in. Also starring Karl Malden and, in his first feature film, George C. Scott. On Blu-rayfrom The Warner Archive Collection.
Bend of the River 01/13/18
The second Anthony Mann / James Stewart western displays excellent direction and impressive Technicolor location photography high in the high mountains of Oregon. A matinee staple, it delivers everything — Stewart’s mostly good hero and Arthur Kennedy’s mostly bad hero spar and tangle and eventually fight to the death near the timber line. And the handsome Rock Hudson receives prime billing, mostly for flashing his incredible ‘Dazzledent’ smile. With Julia Adams, Lori Nelson and Jay C. Flippen. On All-Region Blu-ray from Explosive Media.
Dick Dinman liked my coverage of Criterion’s Young Mr. Lincoln, and for his latest audio show, Salutes Young Mr. Lincoln Director John Ford with the help of interview subject, director Andrew V. McLaglen. Let the crazy stories about the charismatic, crotchety director begin. Dick’s show also offers Ford tributes from Lee Marvin, Roddy McDowell, Richard Widmark, Robert Wagner, Charlton Heston, James Stewart, Jack Lemmon and Maureen O’Hara.
And over at Trailers from Hell, Joe Dante gives the 1959 Sci-Fi turnip The Cosmic Man the TFH commentary treatment, offering some personal memories that connect with the movie. Yep, there’s not a whole lot to that picture, but it doesn’t matter to me — I had to wait ’til age forty to actually see it, and I remember staring at the poster at the AF Base theater for twenty minutes, back when I was eight or nine.
New discs in our mitts, with reviews on the way include the Eclipse Claude Autant-Lara Collection, Warners’ Blade Runner 2049 (not 3-D, alas), Criterion’s G.W. Pabst classic Kameradschaft and Severin’s Amicus Collection.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Raw Deal 01/09/18
Special Edition. Style can be the star in Classic Noir, making a less prestigious film more entertaining than one with bigger names. Dennis O’Keefe, Claire Trevor and Marsha Hunt spin an excellent crime-love-murder triangle, for a road picture that’s one of the best Noirs not made by a big studio. Director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton dial up the intensity for an experience as rich as the best pulp crime fiction. With expert extras input from Alan K. Rode, Max Alvarez, Jeremy Arnold and Julie Kirgo. On Blu-ray from ClassicFlix.
Charlie Largent takes on Terry Gilliam’s followup to Monty Python and The Holy Grail and ambitious and creative medieval romp suggested by Lewis Carroll, turning it into a low-key mud ‘n’ rags farce. Michael Palin is the only Python in sight and most of the comedy is in droll observations and muted satire — Palin’s sad sack hero just wants a job, not rewards, but he must go out and face the fearsome monster Jabberwocky anyway. Gilliam made the movie to establish his brand as a director, and Cinema 5 Distributing slapped ‘Monty Python’s Jabberwocky’ on the posters against his wishes. From The Criterion Collection.
Not as a Stranger 01/09/18
What? Doctors aren’t perfect? And some practicing doctors are incompetent? Stanley Kramer’s All-Star medical soap opera takes two unlikely students (Robert Mitchum and Frank Sinatra) through med school and confronts them with a number of pat dramatic complications. But the movie belongs to top-billed Olivia de Havilland, who lends a touch of class to the entire iffy enterprise. The picture also stars Broderick Crawford, Gloria Grahame, Charles Bickford and Myron McCormick. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
This time I caught something link-worthy, all on my own. The CBS Evening News aired a sentimental sign-off piece a few days ago about a grand lady named Tao Porchon-Lynch, who at 99 years is still dancing ballet and conducting yoga classes. No complaints about the story, as she’s no less worthy than the cute animals and heroic veterans we’re given as human interest on the network news.
About halfway through “100-Year-Old Yoga Instructor, Ballroom Dancer on Life Well Lived” the image cuts to a still from the 1940 Thief of Bagdad, showing that film’s impressive multi-armed clockwork statue. The voiceover identifies it it as a sample of Ms. Porchon’s film work: “… her roles included the Golden Idol (?) in the 1940 remake of Thief of Bagdad.”
Here’s Tao Porchon’s IMDB page, and that of Mary Morris, the actress actually credited as playing the classic mechanical femme fatale. Note that Ms. Morris’ portrait is a dead ringer for the six-armed statue — it’s nice that Korda allowed her to use her own face, not an anonymous mask. Morris played a substantial role in Pimpernel Smith, as well as the later Brit Sci-fi TV serial A For Andromeda (1961), which incidentally introduced audiences to Julie Christie.
I don’t blame Ms. Porchon for the mistake — maybe there was a ‘golden idol’ in the film that I missed, and she wasn’t billed. Maybe she was one of the dancing harem girls. Or could she have been one of the extra sets of arms behind Mary Morris? Porchon was indeed working in London at the time parts of Bagdad were filmed. But hey, CBS needs to be a little more careful with its research . . . don’t forget what happened to Dan Rather.
Colleague and fellow reviewer Charlie Largent forwarded this Hollywood photo from the TV show My Mother the Car, starring the late Jerry Van Dyke. The 1965 camera view looks East across the intersection of Melrose and Larchmont, three blocks from my house. I’ve added a detail inset to point out the ‘Desilu’ logo written on the old RKO globe. The corner lot was originally RKO, then became Arnaz and Ball’s Desilu Productions, and eventually was gobbled up by the next-door Paramount lot. When I arrived in 1970 the ‘Desilu’ logo was already gone, leaving just the blank globe.
They’ve been talking lately about tearing down part of Paramount including this iconic corner building, and replacing it with huge buildings. Every few years they try to cross Melrose and buy up some of Larchmont, my local neighborhood. Resisting developers isn’t as easy around here as it once was; Larchmont’s ace in the hole has always been the ritzy Hancock Park neighborhood just to the South of us, that surely sees us as a needed buffer zone between them and commercial anarchy (not to mention the less desirable neighborhoods to the North). I’d say they ought to re-erect the RKO tower and globe as a historical landmark and leave the rest alone. If they really want to impress the tourists, they should bury the forest of power and telephone poles underground so this stretch of Melrose won’t be so &%#@ ugly.
If you have a desire to visit Hollywood, sooner would definitely be better than later. The telltale redevelopment cranes are everywhere, and high-rise buildings are demolishing all the places I once worked, when film work was like a cottage industry scattered around town.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Executioner’s Song 01/06/18
Reviewer Charlie Largent assesses Lawrence Schiller’s film of the Norman Mailer book about Gary Gilmore, a death row convict who petitioned not for a reprieve, but to have his sentence carried out. The famous TV movie was photographed by Freddie Francis and stars Tommy Lee Jones, Eli Wallach, Christine Lahti and Roseanna Arquette. This is a good call to remaster classic TV movies before they disappear: if available at all, too many can be seen only in wretched quality. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Young Mr. Lincoln 01/06/18
Viewers looking (desperately) for American leaders to admire can’t do better than to reflect on John Ford’s folksy, at least partly authentic honorarium to one of the greats. Henry Fonda is 100% dead-on as a vision of Abe Lincoln to bring tears to our eyes. Imagine . . . there’s such a thing as political integrity, or simply a person that puts the public good ahead of personal advantage. Criterion’s older extras are augmented with a fine new feature commentary by John Ford authority Joseph McBride. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Legend of the Lost 01/06/18
America’s top box office star John Wayne sneaks away to a remote corner of the Sahara Desert with the top Italian sex symbol Sophia Loren … and foolishly brings an entire camera crew with him. Henry Hathaway’s impressive desert adventure boasts a fairly amazing, bona fide Lost City, made even more impressive through the Technirama cinematography of the legendary Jack Cardiff. Rossano Brazzi co-stars as a treasure hunter, who can’t handle the truth about his explorer-father. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
We offer hearty congrats to Alan K. Rode, whose new book Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film is featured prominently in Kenneth Turan’s L.A. Times article ‘Casablanca’ director Michael Curtiz is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
And I’d like to direct your attention to Milestone Films, which has put out an elaborate web newsletter for January that’s quite informative, with news about screenings, new Milestone Cinematheque discs on the way, and a nice link to the Library of Congress online streaming site.
I’m not exactly a front rank Three Stooges fan, but correspondent Gary Teetzel has done some web research and come up with some clippings and a couple of links that are pretty interesting. Accounts of the making of the 1960 Sci-fi picture The Angry Red Planet tell us that producer and inventor Norman Maurer also tried out his ‘Cinemagic’ effect on the 1962 comedy The Three Stooges in Orbit. The Cinemagic process processed hi-con live action film in such a way as (Maurer’s description) to make them look like animation art; in the space movie it is used to create a Martian landscape with an eerie alien appearance — as if a negative image were partly printed back onto a positive. (Come to think of it, it also looks a little bit like night vision images, only in broad Martian daylight. Gary has found two shaky Three Stooges in Orbit YouTube clips to contemplate. In the movie, a wacky professor supposedly uses an electronic process to turn the Stooges into animated cartoons. He’s essentially doing what Norman Maurer claimed to have done already, for a ‘revolutionary’ process that never took off.
The first In Orbit clip shows the Stooges dancing, wearing the extreme pancake makeup needed for the Cinemagic process. The second clip shows the result. From what I can see, the shot in the final film is just an ordinary sub-par animated cartoon, with figures rotoscoped from the test shot. Gary thinks that perhaps the Cinemagic effect was rejected, a guess that sounds good to me, except that Norman Maurer was the film’s producer as well. If ‘Cinemagic’ was indeed used at all, the effect probably made the entire image look strange, not just the Stooges — and not strange in a funny way. Cinemagic never looked like cartoon animation to me.
But somebody thought it did, as reported in trade paper blurbs unearthed by Gary. As reported in Business Screen Magazine in 1957, Maurer demonstrated a process called ‘Artiscope,’ touting it as a fast and cheap way to create animated cartoons without animating anything! It’s essentially automatic rotoscoping created by washing out character detail, leaving only outlines. They don’t explain how they’d add colors, without resorting to equally expensive animation; the article partly infers that the process can be best used for ‘cartoons’ for monochromatic TV use.
In his book Keep Watching the Skies! the late Bill Warren took this subject in an unexpected direction, faulting Cinemagic as an artistically bankrupt conspiracy to destroy the art of conventional animation. What dastards could possibly consider committing such a terrible cultural crime? . . . sayeth the motion-capture CGI engineers that would arrive several decades later.
In 1959 Sid Pink joined Norman Maurer and re-dubbed the process ‘Cinemagic.’ In Motion Picture Daily Pink said that Cinemagic ‘was being reviewed by the U.S. Patent Office,’ and that his film “Invasion of Mars” was going to roll in September. Back in 1952, Pink had garnered considerable industry credibility as Arch Oboler’s partner in the movie Bwana Devil, which launched the 3-D craze. Gary found articles from 1961 in which Maurer refers to the process with a third name, ‘Dynatoon.’ But Artiscope emerges again, possibly because (according to Maurer) his 1956 Artiscope patent application had finally been granted.
I suspect that all these announcements were efforts to interest potential investors; when Variety reviewed The Angry Red Planet back in late 1959, they surely took the wind out of Cinemagic’s sails with one disparaging sentence: “While it may take considerable ingenuity to produce this effect, the result really isn’t worth it.”
Pooh to that. I’ve watched all of Angry Red Planet maybe four times, but I’ve returned to the film’s impressive Cinemagic sequences more times than I can count. We didn’t see anything like it again until solarized images become popular in the pop art era, especially when used in movie title sequences.
Yes, never forget that, with all the pressing problems in today’s world, CineSavant knows what’s most important to write about.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Hospital 01/02/18
A story of murders in the ER becomes, courtesy of writer Paddy Chayefsky, either a preview of social breakdown or an impassioned examination of why we invest our lives and souls in imperfect institutions. George C. Scott is the doctor coming apart at the seams, who meets his match in a New Age hippie from a New Mexico commune. My instinct is that such a person would not look like Diana Rigg, but everybody needs a dream girl. With Barnard Hughes and Richard Dysart. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.