Review Page and Column
The Prisoner 04/20/19
Alec Guinness transfers an acting challenge from the stage to the screen, in this account of a Cardinal forced to knuckle under to a Communist regime — instead of extracting a confession with torture, Jack Hawkins’ Inquisitor uses psychology to find his prisoner’s weakness. The picture is uneven but its key performances are choice, with a special assist from Wilfrid Lawson as a jailer. It’s Guinness’s second appearance as a priest in two years — just prior to his drama, he played the title role in Father Brown, Detective. On Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.
In between Paramount’s Superman cartoons and the independently-produced TV show of the 1950s came this pair of exciting Columbia serials starring Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill. In the first fifteen-episode Superman Kal-el fights the nefarious Spider Woman, while the sequel Atom Man vs. Superman he faces a more familiar nemesis, none other than Lex Luthor! Charlie Largent is on special assignment, but his alter ego The Caped Reviewer dropped off his coverage on his way to The Forbidden Zone. Perhaps Charlie — I mean ‘Caped Reviewer’ — can make sense of the animation sequences showing Superman performing his super-heroic duties. On DVD from The Warner Archive Collection.
The Heiress 04/20/19
William Wyler and a trio of fantastic actors make indelible movie history from a grim story by Henry James. How much of love is bald opportunism? How many successes married their way into money? And what’s a lovesick woman to do when a beau may not be true? This may be the key Wyler picture, with the strongest ‘staircase’ scene of them all. Superb performances from Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift and Ralph Richardson, with music by Aaron Copland. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
The Noir City festival is landing in Austin Texas next month, from May 17 to 19; then it moves on to Boston, Chicago and Detroit … what is this, a new kind of organized crime syndicate? I heartily recommend the opening night ‘premiere restoration’ of Richard Fleischer’s Trapped, with Lloyd Bridges and Barbara Payton — it was a big hit at this month’s Hollywood installment of Noir City. It may be the only movie where the intrepid undercover agent who takes the risks and cracks the case… is played by that masculine hunk, John Hoyt!
Noir City also offers a good chance to meet Eddie Muller and Alan Rode, on this the festival’s 20th or 21st year (I lost count). Full information is said to be at the Alamo Drafthouse website.
And we’ve finally been told — Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 science fiction / spy epic Alphaville now has a hard release date on Blu-ray from Kino, July 9. It’s the one Godard film that’s really grown on me, for obvious reasons — and also because it was my entry into the mystery of European Art Films. The Captain in charge of the Norton Air Force Base movie club I got involved with in high school had the book of the screenplay and loaned it to me — and a week later I drove to Riverside to see Alphaville at an annex ‘art’ theater atop the Fox theater, down the street from the Mission Inn. I didn’t follow the story very well, but boy I was hooked. I look forward to seeing a presentation that’s an improvement over Criterion’s old DVD.
And intrepid CineSavant investigator Gary Teetzel checked from the field to report on an interesting find. Gary’s message just arrived from CineSavant’s decoding room:
“While noodling around the Media History Digital Library, I can across a multi-page graphic spread devoted to Gaumont-British productions. Many were familiar, like The 39 Steps and Transatlantic Tunnel. But then there was this:”
“At first I thought that Dr. Nikola might be an early title for one of Boris Karloff’s British films, but, nope, that wasn’t it. A little research revealed that this show was to be based on a character that appeared in a series of five novels by author Guy Boothby. Quite popular in their day, the series revolved around Dr. Nikola, a master criminal with knowledge of the occult who sought immortality, resurrection of the dead and world domination. The books inspired two silent films and a play. It would appear that Nikola was a key figure in developing the pop culture notion of the super-villain. His first appearance came two years after Professor Moriarity made his debut in the Sherlock Holmes stories, and he is believed to have helped inspire both Fu Manchu and Bulldog Drummond’s arch-nemesis Carl Peterson. There may also be a connection between the cat depicted in the artwork (a feature in the books) and Ian Fleming’s Blofeld (a connection helpfully pointed out by Darren Gross). Blofeld didn’t have a cat in the novels, but it’s certainly possible Fleming was familiar with the Nikola books.”
“The nefarious Dr. Nikola seems largely forgotten today, but it looks as though his legacy lives on — Gary.”
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
A Face in the Crowd 04/16/19
Elia Kazan never stopped making great pictures, but much of his output after 1952 was politically defensive in nature. This powerful indictment of American media madness is a genuine classic, but it also points up the need for ‘good folk’ to sometimes betray their associates. The target this time around is the most kill-worthy monster in the history of sardonic satire: Lonesome Rhodes, a faux-populist master manipulator of the pushover public. Kazan and Budd Schulberg’s premise has come to pass in real life, but their silver bullet of truth has lost its power: even when unmasked publicly, some media monsters thrive. Stars Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, and Walter Matthau, and introduces none other than Lee Remick. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
A plug for commercial exterminators everywhere, William Alland’s titanic hairy spider provided plenty of chills for 1950s drive-ins, delivering exactly the naïve monster thrills teenagers craved. John Agar and Mara Corday do what they can with the clunker script and Jack Arnold’s direction, while Leo G. Carroll saves face by retreating below a rubber mask that makes him look like Droopy Dog. But for fans that like their monsters as big as the Great Outdoors, Clifford Stine and David Horsley’s startling special effects provide a spider-verse of sensational, surreal insect fear. Tom Weaver’s in-depth commentary scrubs away the pretentious theorizing, on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
I’m at present thinking of things to distract myself from what has happened to Notre Dame de Paris — it doesn’t look as if I’ll be going inside the great cathedral, as I always thought I would someday. A coherent reaction is hard to come by at the moment… maybe I should watch Is Paris Burning? again soon to contemplate more about impermanence in general.
Here’s something stirring, that might cut the sadness: Mireille Mathieu singing Paris brûle-t-il by Maurice Jarre.
You thought the IMDB couldn’t be trusted: Stuart Galbraith IV checked in to remind us how absurd publicity handouts can be. The following was written up by Universal-International on behalf of newsmen seeking production information on 1957’s The Deadly Mantis:
Stuart asked, “A miniature as big as a 747? Made from papier-maché, yet fitted with a hydraulic system? Too bad Universal never published any photos.”
Yes, I wonder if that Mantis blurb might have been a parting shot by a bitter pub writer who had just been fired. But much of the studio publicity of the past was always hokum, and I’ve read copy by writers and disc producers that don’t understand the ‘print the legend’ aspect of vintage ballyhoo, which often reverted to making up whatever story would get printed. At UCLA I once came across several pages of typed pub material from the Mexican location for 20th Fox’s Garden of Evil, all apparently invented by a pub writer ordered to produce stories about Susan Hayward. In the whopper story, Hayward was made out to be instrumental in saving a local boy’s life. That kind of stuff was common enough, but I didn’t expect to read it in pub sheets for modern discs of the movie.
I started editing Video Press Kits and pub materials around 1990 or so, and have watched so many hours of interviews that it became easy to tell when actors or whoever were just making up stories, or outright lying. It was also obvious when the set was not a happy one, or that an actor didn’t like being told that his contract mandated cooperation with presskit people. Interviews frequently began with the actor complaining that the stupid interview was an ambush. One black actor on a Disney baseball picture put obscenities in everything he said, in an effort to make sure it wasn’t used. One actor (whose work I admired) was openly hostile; his interview was unusable because he wouldn’t affect the ‘everybody loves everybody’ attitude needed for fluff flackery, and answered questions by saying everything was screwed up.
Editors swap stories that can’t be believed, but the weirdest ‘interview subject gets fed up with the interviewer’ incident I remember seeing first-hand was for a long-ago documentary for the 007 film Thunderball. An editor from the next cutting room called me in to watch the raw camera footage of special effects great John Stears losing his temper on-screen. Apparently fed up with the questions and the delays and the interruptions — ‘could you say that all over again, the tape wasn’t running?’ — the visibly incensed Stears ended the session with a ridiculous whopper, saying that to make Emilio Largo’s hydrofoil yacht Disco Volante explode, his demolition men blew up the real boat with dynamite. Stears said the explosion blasted it right up into the sky, so that it didn’t come down until a half hour later! The producer didn’t even seem aware of why Stears would say something like that; amazingly, the nonsese story made it into the final cut.
Last week I was able to get in contact with my old friend and fellow MGM editor Todd Stribich again, and had a good time watching old WW2 propaganda films made by Disney. I follow Todd on facebook and watch him building these intricate wooden ship and airplane models from scratch, using the kind of skills I only wish I had… Todd would have been a natural for the 1941 miniature crew.
So I was surprised when he showed up with a gift, a beautiful P-40 model with a wingspan of about 30″, all painted up to resemble Wild Bill Kelso’s plane from the 1979 movie. It even has a bullet hole in the cockpit windshield, the one that John Belushi stuck his finger through… in this .jpg, the bullet hole is a little white dot!
CineSavant’s host page for reviews Trailers from Hell just got a fine plug in an article at Culture Sonar entitled The Most Addictive Kind of Coming Attraction. It may be purely a praise-o-thon, but it’s appreciated anyway. The trailers and the authoritative and/or funny commentary make Joe Dante’s creation a worthy resource. And the words ‘outstanding’ and ‘Glenn Erickson’ appear in the same sentence, which makes it a rare collectable! The writer of note is John Visconti.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Reckless Moment 04/13/19
One of Max Ophüls’ best American movies is a razor-sharp ‘domestic film noir’ with excellent acting and a premise that was probably too sordid-real for 1949: cheap crooks blackmail an ordinary housewife trying to protect her family. Joan Bennett confronts the crisis head-on, facing down James Mason’s unusually sympathetic ‘collector.’ It’s a low-key, sordid tale that almost feels like neo-realism … it’s compellingly believable. In his third American picture, Mason is probably the most attractive man in postwar film; he and Ms. Bennett form an unusual, lopsided emotional bond. On Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Frankenstein 1970 04/13/19
We make it a point to give reviewer Charlie Largent the tough jobs, and in Allied Artists’ 1958 Boris Karloff opus he has his work cut out for him. This is the Karloff film that begins with a highly atmospheric scene of gothic terror, only to revert to 80 minutes intrigues in a movie company that decides to film in Dr. Frankenstein’s creepy castle, the kind with a Mad Lab in the cellar. Charlie exposes the spiritual epiphany that helped director Howard W. Koch fashion this monument of cinematic art, that sums up everything important in human existence. The part where he explains that the bandages over the monster’s waste-basket head are … but I shouldn’t spoil the illuminating connections Charlie makes to the works of Marcel Proust and Irving Klaw. The disc features a beautiful CinemaScope transfer. Also with Tom Weaver’s entertaining commentary — his guests are Bob Burns and star Charlotte Austin. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Bend of the River 04/13/19
The Anthony Mann – James Stewart crowd-pleaser now comes to Region A Blu-ray. With its bright Technicolor hues, it’s the wagon train movie fans remember first after Red River.Stewart is a good guy with a dark background who tries to atone by helping some settlers. The thorn in his side is an unrepentant former outlaw played by Arthur Kennedy in high style — togther they rever to their old ways and practically burn down the new town of Portland, Oregon (on the Universal back lot). Also shining bright is everyone’s favorite Universal contract player, Julie (Julia) Adams, who outclasses even the snowy peaks of Mt. Hood. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
And greetings from Los Angeles, which has survived a windstorm with a lot of power outages, luckily not in my neighborhood.
A book I’ve heard mentioned several times in the past week uncovers an almost unknown chapter in the life of star Audrey Hepburn. Associate Dick Dinman highlights it in his podcast Dick Dinman salutes the shocking Audrey Hepburn biography Dutch Girl. Dick’s guest is biographer Robert Matzen whose new book chronicles for the first time teenager Hepburn’s intense ordeal through five years of Nazi occupation, including a stay in Arnhem during the failed ‘Market Garden’ campaign, and the near starvation winter that followed. Through it all, Audrey had to contend with the fact that both her parents had sided with the Nazi occupiers.
Imagine having to make that choice before the age of sixteen. After that kind of experience, taking on the rougher aspects of show business must have been easy for the sharp minded young woman.
Helpful colleague Gary Teetzel points us to a fun bit of home movies, taken in Texas in 1964 and encoded at the Texas Archive of Moving Images. The The James Stowe Family Collection, no. 1 shows us a little fun-fair that received a publicized visit from horror star Lon Chaney Jr., and the movies capture a fairly charming chunk of his stay, especially him greeting young movie fans. It’s a nice view of a favorite personality, to counter the negative stories of personal problems, etc.. Lon looks great, too. The caption tells us that the little boy in a Frankenstein mask is none other than future special effects supervisor and publisher Ernest Farino.
And in the interest of shameless self-promotion, I’ll just say here that I’m waiting for the arrival of a new French Wild Side deluxe box Blu-ray of Les forbans de la nuit, otherwise known as Night and the City. I went on camera for an hour three years ago to talk in a video piece to go with the fancy presentation, which like a Wild Side French disc several years ago of Gun Crazy, comes with two versions, tons of extras and a fat book… in French, of course. The release isn’t at all Region A – friendly, for more than one reason, but I’ll likely review it just for the record.
Les forbans de la Nuit translates as ‘Pirates of the Night,’ which isn’t a bad title at all; remember that Raoul Walsh’s Musketeers of Pig Alley was about street hoodlums. I couldn’t resist putting up this frame grab, of me imitating a goldfish gasping for oxygen.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Noir Archive 9-Film Collection 04/09/19
Mill Creek and Kit Parker package nine mid-range Columbia features from the 1940s and 1950s, not all of them strictly noir but all with dark themes — crime, creepy politics, etc. None have been on Blu-ray, and if you couyld still find them all on DVD the tab would come to a couple of hundred dollars, in lesser quality. All but one are in fine condition: Address Unknown, Escape in the Fog, The Guilt of Janet Ames, The Black Book, Johnny Allegro, 711 Ocean Drive, The Killer That Stalked New York, Assignment: Paris and The Miami Story; the leading stars include Paul Lukas, Nina Foch, Rosalind Russell, Robert Cummings, George Raft, Edmond O’Brien, Evelyn Keyes, Dana Andrews, and Barry Sullivan. On Blu-ray from Mill Creek / Kit Parker.
The Whole Town’s Talking 04/09/19
John Ford outdoes Frank Capra, and Jean Arthur establishes her screwball persona opposite Edward G. Robinson, who plays a double role in this crazy comedy about a milquetoast clerk mistaken for Public Enemy Number One. Maybe this is great because Ford and writers Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin lay off the sentiment — it’s just plain funny, especially when the leads play off confirmed scene stealers like Edward Brophy, Wallace Ford and Donald Meek. And them that looks fast might catch Lucille Ball in a tiny part. A welcome unsung comedy masterpiece on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
On the Basis of Sex 04/09/19
With two major movie accolades in one year, Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the real Wonder Woman, bar none. Mimi Leder’s dramatic biography takes on a relative small piece of Ms. Ginsberg’s life, but the simplifications aren’t a problem. It does have the feeling of an old-fashioned celebratory bio, with colorful characters and hiss-able villains. But Leder and screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman never lose track of their central theme. Felicity Jones is the young Ruth, Armie Hammer her husband Marin, Justin Theroux her ACLU confederat, Sam Waterston a dean of Harvard Law School, Kathy Bates an old-school activist lawyer, and Cailee Spaeny as Ruth’s equally feisty daughter. On Blu-ray from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
I’m not seeing any fun links or amusing stuff to pass along today, so I’ve decided to revert, default, and retreat to another highly entertaining and daringly scandalous round-up of what discs and reviews are on the way. In hand and ready for reviewing are Criterion’s The Kid Brother; Kino’s Bend of the River, House of the Seven Gables and Rider on the Rain, The Warner Archive Collection’s Superman: The Kirk Alyn Serials, The Red Skelton Whistling Collection and Frankenstein 1970 (pictured); Powerhouse Indicator’s The Reckless Moment and Lilith; ClassicFlix’s Stand-In, and Arrow’s Mélo and Iguana with the Tongue of Fire.
Reportedly on their way to CineSavant central are a big French box of Les forbans de la nuit (Night and the City), complete with a large book en Français; Scream Factory’s Tarantula; and The Warner Archives’ Mysterious Island (1929) (pictured). Twilight Time has Highway Patrolman, Three Coins in the Fountain and Melvin and Howard in the promises-promises chute, but they might not be here for another week or so.
We’re very much looking forward to Kino’s upcoming Fantomas 3 Film Collection, Gone to Earth (The Wild Heart) and The Silent Partner; Twilight Time’s Warlock, Robbery and Baby, The Rain Must Fall; Scream Factory’s Quatermass 2 and Quatermass and the Pit and Criterion’s War and Peace (pictured), Blue Velvet, The Heiress, My Brilliant Career and A Face in the Crowd.
It’s like summer in Los Angeles; 82 degrees and sunny (Monday afternoon). We’re presently concerned about an onslaught of termites… where’s James Whitmore when we need him? Take care and
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson