Review Page and Column
The Cuban masterpiece has been restored, and is now viewable on the Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project 3 boxed set. Humberto Solás’ nearly 3-hour national epic revisits two earlier revolutions to tell the stories of ‘three Lucías. The first Lucía is entangled in the war of independence against Spain, and the second opposes the gangland-era despot Machado. The third contemporary Lucía faces a different challenge to revolutionary progress. The show uses several styles to span the years — the women change, but their independent spirit remains constant. Starring Raquel Revuelta, Eslinda Núñez, and Adela Legrá. The unofficial national epic is restored, on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
I, Monster 10/27/20
It’s Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing together in a horror picture, a formula no shock feature fan can resist. Most of us remember staring at the beautiful full-color photo of Chris Lee in monster makeup in Denis Gifford’s picture book about horror movies. Yet this has remained one of the pair’s most obscure items, at least as a quality presentation. Powerhouse Indicator’s expert added value items put all the rumors to rest, including the question that’s been repeated through the years — where’s the legendary 3-D version? Or perhaps more to the point, was there really a 3-D version? And then there’s the other question — is the movie any good? Also starring Mike Raven. On Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Hello! The non-Halloween Halloween is coming, so we need to be prepared!
Confirmed Foolish Monster Fan Guilty Pleasures Department: not a whole lot to discuss today (look Ma, no politics!) but have been thinking about an announced Sci-fi title and a very non-classic horror item that nevertheless sound like fun viewing. Kino and Scorpion have announced that they’ll be releasing on Blu-ray an oddball Sci-fi opus from the 1960s, Ib Melchoir’s colorful, goofy, threadbare The Time Travelers, the show that ends with the rather clever ‘time dilemma.’ We were extra-aware of this show in 1964 because the producers gave Forry Ackerman a part to play — a clever ploy to ensure coverage in Famous Monsters. Alas, most A.I.P. shockers played locally (San Bernardino) only at the drive in, so my personal Time Dilemma was limited to staring at the Reynold Brown poster in the B&W newspaper ad. Or was it a ‘Time Paradox?’ Or maybe a ‘Time Quandary?’
No date is yet set for the release. The Time Travelers is one of the few remaining sci-fi or horror oldies in the MGM library not released on Blu-ray disc. Most of the others are in B&W, but if you ask me, they’re no less marketable than some of the color offerings that have made it to disc, like Cyborg 2087. Is it perhaps time for a disc boutique to bring back a ‘Midnite Movies’ series of double bills? MGM still has Pharaoh’s Curse, that mummy movie with a very non-standard mummy. The 100% Weird Red Planet Mars hasn’t been seen on video since VHS, and I’m not sure that there was a VHS, either.
I don’t see why a Kino or a Scream Factory isn’t going for Edgar Ulmer’s Beyond the Time Barrier. It appears to exist in more than one version, and it has a racy ‘continental cut’ that someone should try to recover. And I’m personally itching to re-see Levy-Gardner’s no-reputation Sci-fi jungle picture The Flame Barrier again, just to check out Pat Fielder’s screenplay and Dick Smith’s makeup. A.I.P.’s The Angry Red Planet improved quite a bit with the jump to Blu-ray … who knows but that one of these less-seen movies might emerge looking much better, like The Beast with a Million Eyes?
I can get away with all this wishful thinking because another ’50s title has been given a hard release date on Blu from The Film Detective. Giant From the Unknown is the filmed-at-Big Bear tale of an enormous Spanish Conquistador come back from the dead. I guess The Wall didn’t stop him, but he did manage to get himself buried for a few centuries. His name is Vargas… and he doesn’t paint pin-ups, gringo.
The release arrives as two separate products. We have to wait until January 19th for the basic Blu-ray restoration, but December 17th will see the release of a Collector’s ‘Giant Cult Film’ Boxed Set — you know, to fulfill all of your Killer Spaniard gift-giving needs. This promotional page has full details on the ‘Giant Cult Film’ package.
Brought to us by those fun-loving producers of She-Demons, Frankenstein’s Daughter and Missile to the Moon, Giant from the Unknown is actually considered the best feature of the foursome. This is credited to a spirited performance by the six-foot, seven-inch Buddy Baer, who snarls and grimaces from behind his 300 year-old Conquistador armor. His makeup is said to be by the legendary Jack Pierce.
If I recall from fuzzy TV screening eons ago, Vargas The Giant worked up some righteous ‘the monster’s gonna get ya’ tension. Unfortunately, it was strong enough for my older sister to change the channel before the finish. So I don’t known if Buddy’s hulking Spaniard falls into a pit, is hit by lightning or takes a streetcar back to Madrid.
I’m staying away from spoilers until the show arrives. Quoting Joe Dante from in his TFH Trailer Commentary, Vargas the Giant does indeed come from another world: “The vanished world of B&W double features that I for one really miss.”
And one more CineSavant Column item arrives just in time for the deadline. Correspondent Michael Cummins saw the CineSavant coverage of Joe Kidd last weekend and thought to send along a film clip of a similar ‘Old West’ locomotive that smashes through a building, in a film shot a number of years before the Clint Eastwood movie. It’s pretty impressive, coming near the end of a typically endless German trailer for the epic ‘Tyrol Oater’ Winnetou 1.Teil.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Hit 10/24/20
If you like Euro-crime and haven’t seen this one you’re in for a real treat. English killers are on the road in Spain, executing a hit on a ‘Supergrass’ who’s spent ten years in protective custody. The brilliant cast — Terence Stamp, John Hurt, Tim Roth and Laura Del Sol give the criminal twists extra credibility. The suspenseful show is one of Stephen Frears’ best, and it builds to a highly satisfying conclusion. It’s also the feature debut of Tim Roth, and as such shouldn’t be missed. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Joe Kidd 10/24/20
Clint Eastwood proves again that he Owns the western genre with this odd tale of land reform insurrection and establishment blowback in New Mexico of 1906. To direct the script by the great Elmore Leonard, Eastwood brought in the western movie legend John Sturges, who discovered that collaboration now meant acceding to whatever the star wanted. The beautifully filmed movie falls apart even though Sturges saved the day with an 11th hour stunt action climax. With Robert Duvall, John Saxon, Don Stroud and Stella García. On Blu-rayfrom KL Studio Classics.
Step right up — for movie fans with deep pockets there’s nothing better than seeing Hollywood history go on the auction block. Icons and Legends of Hollywood Auction has assembled quite a site, 304 illustrated pages of auction items displayed more attractively than in an old Spiegel’s department store catalog. The prime item is Ursula Andress’s white bikini bathing suit from Dr. No, but beyond the racks of famous costumes the pages feature special effects rigs, spaceship miniatures, ancient cameras, an Oscar staturette (aren’t there rules about those things?), and an enormous cache of movie posters. Many items may have originated with the MGM and Fox auctions, fifty years ago.
You can’t help but get hooked by some of what’s being sold — entire picture cars like The Green Hornet’s Black Beauty. Several pages offer early production scripts for King Kong. If that’s not enough, there’s the original miniature of the SS Venture as well…. and all kinds of production art and documentation associated with effects legend Willis O’Brien.
I could just keep naming interesting items… I stopped reading at about page 82, which displays costumes from Planet of the Apes. The James Bond and Star Trek sections go on for pages and pages. Like I say, it reads like a toy store ‘wish book’ from my childhood. Thanks for the link, Mr. Largent.
A timely reminder of something that has finally gone live — the Kickstarter campaign to restore the color Abbott & Costello musical Jack and the Beanstalk that I touted earlier this month, is now open and rolling.
And finally, just a few days ago (October 17 2020) Greenbriar Picture Shows devoted an entire article to a 1.5-second censor cut made to The Incredible Shrinking Man sometime in the 1960s or 1970s. When Robert Scott Carey kills a tarantula with a sewing pin, jamming and twisting the pin into its body, there is a Medium Close-Up of Carey gripping the pin, as a drop of arachno-blood oozed down the shaft and onto his hand, like a big glob of chocolate syrup. Before CGI this was an uncommonly graphic, super-icky moment, what with Carey surrounded by the eight hairy legs and in such close proximity to those scary fangs. On a big screen the scene screams Insect Fear loud and clear, arachnid or no.
I’ve been blinking and going ‘Huh?’ at the scene for years, as at some point Universal opted to drop a shot, creating a stutter where the splice occurred. I’m guessing that it was done because some influential TV client objected to the spidey gore. For DVD the full shot of the blood dripping down the pin returned, but minus 3 frames at the end. Greenbriar’s John McElwee shows us the missing three frames. Until about ten years ago the official version (even in 35mm at the Cinematheque) was pan-scanned flat, but starting with the DVD Shrinking was returned to its widescreen framing. It’s also being shown on TCM widescreen as well… but still with the odd 3-frames replaced by a freeze frame.
Greenbriar guru McElwee reminds us that the original gloopy cut persisted in Universal’s 8mm digest version from the early 1970s. The ‘twisting’ of the pin happens earlier, and the three frames don’t show anything dynamic occurring. They just add an odd freeze frame beat. I think it must be a video fix to make up for film damage — perhaps the splice tore during handling. That’s only a theory.
I don’t believe that The Incredible Shrinking Man has yet been given a Region A Blu-ray release. Correspondent John Black tells me that he read that the studio remastered the movie in just the last year. C’mon, Universal, do the right thing. We really appreciated the amended bits restored to Psycho, and the brassiere industry salutes you for that one as well. Smoothing out the full Shrinking Man spider attack would be a nice post-Covid gift for 2021 !
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Ape 10/20/20
Mad doctor Boris Karloff is tragically misunderstood, just because he kills a few neighborhood pets for his experiments to cure polio/typhoid/Covid/herpes/what-have-you. And that escaped gorilla from the circus? Its pelt is just the thing for Boris to prowl around in at midnight, collecting spinal fluid mooahahahaha. You’d be surprised how endearing and (almost) sane this picture is, thanks to Karloff’s input and dialogue that’s often quite clever. And the stellar supporting cast: Jessie Arnold! Ray Corrigan! Maris Wrixon… wait, Ms. Wrixon is very good. Reviewer Charlie Largent gives this Monogram Special a hearty three-banana rating. The disc comes with twin commentaries from Tom Weaver and Richard Harland Smith, both excellent. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Opposite Sex 10/20/20
This CinemaScope musical remake of 1939’s The Women is highly watchable, especially in this flawless digital remaster. The actresses that bare their claws, compete for husbands and just plain cat-fight are a choice batch, with favorites from the ’50s (June Allyson, Agnes Moorehead) the ’40s (Ann Sheridan, Ann Miller) the ’30s (Joan Blondell, Charlotte Greenwood) — plus a few wildflowers that bloomed cinematically for only a few years (Dolores Gray) and one that somehow managed immortality (Joan Collins). It’s highly watchable despite, or maybe because of, its criminally outdated recipe for marital bliss. Did women really go for this fantasy — did anybody ever really live like this? With Leslie Nielsen, Jeff Richards, Sam Levene, Alice Pearce and Carolyn Jones. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
How’s this for a shocker? Is this an example of that pernicious Kiddie Gore that poisoned the Youth of America? Somebody call The Wretched Doctor Wertham! But don’t fret readers, for Nancy and Sluggo weren’t really murdered. This strip was part of an ad for a comic book that’s … a long story. Those uncomfortably realistic corpses are just dummies posed by artist Ernie Bushmiller, you know, for fun.
Well, it felt like a good Halloween idea….
…..Every Halloween I receive requests for likely Halloween pix to order, but usually closer to the holiday, when there isn’t time to act on a good recommendation. With 11 shipping days still to go, here’s a selection of likely horror thriller candidates that came through the CineSavant doors in the last year or so. The images are encoded as links — just some wallet-lightening suggestions offered as a humble public service. Let the reviews guide you, as they range from all-time classics to hilarious losers.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Easily the best family-oriented black experience movie of the early 1970s, the Third World Cinema Corporation’s first film features Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones in a funny, endearing saga of life in the welfare system, with human feeling and compassion to spare. But the triumphant socially progressive movie fails the 2020 diversity test — its primary producer, cameraman, writers and director are white. Are we still allowed to enjoy it? With Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Tamu Blackwell, David Kruger, Yvette Curtis, Eric Jones and Socorro Stephens. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
DeepStar Six 10/17/20
This big, expensive and well-produced action-suspense Sci-fi epic mostly delivers on its promise to be Aliens at the bottom of the sea. At heart it’s a 1950s pulse-pounder with a bigger monster, a zillion times the budget and a script that does everything but make us care. We appreciate the likable characters but it’s too easy to predict who will ‘get it’ next. The realism factor is not bad at all, although the undersea explorer video training sessions should have given ‘how not to crack up under stress’ more emphasis. And can’t anybody properly mind those pesky nuclear bombs? With Cindy Pickett Matt McCoy, Taurean Blacque, Nia Peeples, Marius Weyers, Elya Baskin and especially Miguel Ferrer. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
For the last twenty years or so the great preservation-restoration guru and new media producer David Strohmaier has been resurrecting the difficult-to-screen legacy of Cinerama travelogues and features, both for 21st Century revivals and a series of comprehensive Blu-ray releases. He’s also given us the Smilebox format, a clever process that approximates the original curved, three-panel Cinerama screen.
MGM produced two live-action narrative features in the incredibly unwieldy format. The restoration team brought the well known and occasionally revived How the West Was Won to Blu-ray in 2008, and it is still a knockout. Now David has announced the remastering of the other Metro Cinerama feature, which we were always told would be the hardest one of all to revive: George Pal’s 1962 The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. I remember seeing it at a Drive-In in adapted CinemaScope, and wondering what those fuzzy lines were all about.
Strohmaier and his associates are nearly finished with their restoration and re-mastering of The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm from 3-strip 35mm negatives. The link will take you to David’s new article at the in70mm.com website. It’s all good news. We can expect Buddy Hackett to slide down the gem-encrusted magic dragon’s neck sometime in 2021. Hopefully Buddy won’t have to wear a mask.
For a third and final time —
— we delve into the bag of old Boxoffice Reviews for our flip comments and reactions. As I think I said before, the Trade Paper coverage for new releases in the 1950s could be unpredictable. Sometimes an unimaginative reviewer just doesn’t see what’s special about a film with new ideas, or told in a new way. And some of these writers showed a bias against certain genres or foreign pictures in general. But then one of them will turn around and appreciate something that the public by and large didn’t. I liked and saved blurbs that impressed me — mostly because the reviewer didn’t hold back with his honest thoughts.
As before, these images are easier to read when opened in a new window. On a Mac you right click, on a PC you ask somebody more informed than I.
The first two capsules are actually a double bill that the reviewer must have squirmed through in agony. Maybe he was worrying about an impending divorce or something. The trade papers were hip to the A.I.P. formula of creating special interest ‘package booking’ double bills but in this case the writer thinks A.I.P. and Roger Corman were stingy with the entertainment protein. I’ve never beheld the bizarre The Undead in a good print, but from what I have seen it’s uniquely weird, something that might delight kids trying to figure out if it was a Fractured Fairy Tale or Shakespeare gone Guignol. The reviewer uses the word ‘criterion,’ which I’d say should be a clue for a certain company to somehow snap up all of the A.I.P. and Allied Artists mini-masterpieces presently consigned to the Phantom Zone of unavailability.
American-International distributed the pictures together with a ‘Made Just for Halloween All Horror All New’ promotion. How did Nicholson and Arkoff react when this trade paper wrote that seeing their double bill features is like a choice between being shot or hanged? Did they even care? Well, the writer does have a sense of humor. I don’t know how the Voodoo Woman double bill fared, as all I’ve seen of it are photos of The She-Creature costume with a new headpiece. Marla English never disappoints in the looks department, but I have no idea how the show stacks up against the mostly risible The Disembodied. I guess the ‘latent talent’ given no chance to shine in Voodoo Woman is Touch Connors. One of the first things we learned from Famous Monsters magazine was that Touch Connors was really TV star Mike Connors, a nice guy frequently written up in TV Guide.
If you hate art pix you can consider Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus elitist, artsy, ponderous or even pompous … but dreary? Seeing the movie cold and only knowing Cocteau from Beauty and the Beast, I was knocked out… it was like Alice and Wonderland mixed with Greek Myth and post-apocalyptic devastation. The reviewer gets all worked up about the fact that the show has ‘too many camera effects.’ Yes, my mind wanders now and then in Cocteau’s earlier Blood of a Poet. But everything works here, even the messages from the Underworld coded like secret radio signals to the wartime resistance. This paper needed an art film reviewer for whom ‘the movies’ means more than John Wayne and Doris Day.
The word was out to squash the pro-Union film Salt of the Earth long before it came within striking distance of trade reviewers. The FBI hounded the shoot as anti-American, deported its Mexican star Sra. Revueltas and investigated everybody who participated, not just the already blacklisted talent (who were denied studio work by an industry-wide reign of economic terror). Remember that this is a trade paper, so it can’t acknowledge that a real blacklist is in force. They don’t refuse to cover the release of the movie, which hasn’t been officially banned or suppressed — that doesn’t happen in America, officially. Suppose you own a theater in Nebraska and might want to show a movie about a labor dispute. The capsule review tells you 1) that Union projectionists refuse to show it, 2) that the filmmakers are mixed up in ‘anti-American’ politics, and 3) that it has no entertainment value despite the leading lady’s ‘extremely moving portrayal.’ Is Anna Lucasta mentioned to remind people that it shares with Salt a prominently blacklisted actor? ‘Recently’ in this case is 1949, five years before. A tiny independent production has no power to demand fair treatment if an expensive print is rented and then lost or damaged before a screening can happen. The capsule gives the address of the unfamiliar distributor, but is it so exhibitors book the picture, or to tell picketers where to show up with their banners?
Ah, let’s get back to genre territory more suitable for the Halloween holiday month. No subversive elements are at work, we assume, in a story of a Venusian monster that vandalizes Roman landmarks. This reviewer likes 20 Million Miles to Earth so much that he gives away all the good parts, just as do modern fanboys and certain (cough) semi-respected reviewers. From Mighty Joe Young forward, Ray Harryhausen is always mentioned and his work praised. Well it ought to be, as Ray’s effects delighted all audiences, in all of his pictures. When I saw a double bill of Mysterious Island and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad early in 1962, I heard the name Harryhausen being bandied about at the popcorn counter, by kids not much older than me.
Yes, I keep coming back to those political movies. This review blurb may diss Harry Horner’s Red Planet Mars out of ignorance: they don’t seem to care that it’s something of a right-wing + religious revival propaganda picture. The bizarre movie only pretends to be about outer space and Martians, but in actuality proposes that the United States become a Christian Theocracy. That idea was a joke until recently — we seem to be trending in that direction even as I write these words. The reviewer sees no entertainment value here either, so I guess the magazine’s editorial staff are pagan idolators. They just can’t appreciate a movie in which world Communism falls and we all worship God… who lives on Mars.
How to end on a high Halloween note? Boxoffice sings the praises of Circus of Horrors, a Brit import that’s called ‘A.I.P.’s finest to date.’ I love the way the reviewer embraces the film’s overt sadism, bloody violence and sexy, fleshy cast as ‘made-to-order’ for teens. I’m in full agreement for this Guignol circus of forbidden thrills, and even love the theme song Look for a Star. Watch out, projectionists… many theater owners used these blurbs to plan schedules and inform projectionists as to what projection lens to use. How many initial matinee screenings of Circus of Horrors popped up on screen incorrectly formatted for CinemaScope?
Well, that’s sort of it for the fun vintage capsule reviews. We’ll concentrate on all the horror, fantasy and Sci-fi related discs we can before Halloween, but I think all but a few have been accounted for. But we do have some few high-profile comedies and westerns in the review hopper, along with the occasional ‘what does Glenn see in that movie?’ head-scratcher. Thanks for the support and enthusiastic notes … use the CineSavant email connection, as I answer every question or comment, even if the answer is, ‘huh, ya got me on that one.’
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Ipcress File 10/13/20
It’s finally back on Blu in Region 1, the ‘sixties spy movie beloved by enthusiasts yearning for something a bit more substantial & nutritious than James Bond. This first Harry Palmer adventure seems even more perfect than when it was thanks to a great espionage recipe and quality ingredients. Michael Caine is sensational as the anti-007, the feel of London streets is intoxicating, and John Barry’s music score is beyond praise. Are Sidney Furie’s directorial mannerisms too show-offy, too fussy? I only raise the question to defend him. The marvelous Mister Caine is aided and abetted by Guy Doleman, Nigel Green, Sue Lloyd, Gordon Jackson, Aubrey Richards, Frank Gatliff, Thomas Baptiste, Oliver MacGreevy, Freda Bamford, David Glover, Mike Murray and Anthony Baird. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Chalk Garden 10/13/20
From reviewer Charlie Largent — Whenever Deborah Kerr signs on as a governess we ought to know that trouble is brewing. Teen brat Hayley Mills maliciously picks apart her new governess’s backstory, and finds enough dirt to bury the woman — but this time around Kerr isn’t as emotionally vulnerable. Why does Hayley’s (rather tame) hellion do bad things like set things on fire? It’s all about liberating young Mills from the unhealthy influence of an unfit grandmother (Edith Evans). Ah, you can’t grow a healthy garden over a foundation of chalk… Producer Ross Hunter grinds off the rough parts of a reportedly edgy play about upperclass rigidity; Ronald Neame directs. With John Mills and Elizabeth Sellars, on Blu-rayfrom KL Studio Classics.
The relentlessly alert Gary Teetzel has found another item of audio interest, this time for fans of Japanese film composer Akira Ifukube: In fewer than three seconds you’ll surely recognize the very familiar melody line of this title tune from a 1946 Shochiku picture, posted nine years ago by ‘nanamatsu100.’ A nine-year offset is pretty efficient for a CineSavant item — it’s likely that this title sequence is common knowledge among confirmed Kaiju folk.
Anyway, the YouTube link is to the original title theme from that timeless favorite ‘Shacho to Onna-Tennin,’ aka “The President and Shopgirl.” Is the music we’re hearing appropriate for an office romance? In Harvey Weinstein’s office, maybe.
Next up, a link to a page that ought to provide good reading for fans of science fiction movies. Finnish journalist Janne Wass gives us ‘Scifist 2.0: A Sci-fi Movie History in Reviews. Herra Janne Wass’s reviews are even more detailed and sidebar-oriented than my own. I like his general outlook and sensitivity to the highlights and limitations of films that seem to interest only devotees like myself. Wass is particularly well wired to the histories and context of early European and particularly Soviet Sci-fi, and backs up his thoughtful reviews with biographical data and expressive images. He has full coverage of films I’ve never heard of, like the German Der Herr vom andern Stern (1948) which predates The Day the Earth Stood Still with a similar premise.
I often have my nose in my writing so deep that I don’t keep up with everything good that’s being done around me — but I learned something with each Wass review. In the territorial, egotistical, self-promoting world of Internet film genre journalism, how often do you read praise of the other guy’s efforts, especially when the other guy is writing nearly the exact same kind of criticism? More power to Mr. Wass.
And it appears that the independently curated, restored and marketed Blu-ray The Puppetoon Movie Volume 2 is finally up for pre-order. Eighteen restored Hi Def Puppetoons adorn Volume 2, and their quality can be seen through a new trailer.
The popularity of George Pal’s Puppetoons has never faded — I was able to attend a tumultuous reception for Mr. Pal at one of the Filmex festivals held in Century City. A day later I discovered him alone in an exhibit of miniatures from his films, and found it very easy to talk to the gentleman. “Nice” was the operative word for the man — it’s hard to believe that he did so well in Hollywood, he was so gentle.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson