Review Page and Column
George Cukor’s classy late-’30s Park Avenue romp gives us Katharine Heburn and Cary Grant at their best; Grant is especially good in a particularly demanding comedy role. The original play is warmed up a bit with comedy touches, and some pointed political barbs slip in there as well. The marvelous acting ensemble gives terrific material to favorites like Jean Dixon and Edward Everett Horton; also starring Doris Nolan, Lew Ayres, Binnie Barnes and Henry Daniell. A special extra: an entire HD encoding of the early talkie version of Holiday, starring Mary Astor. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Under the Shadow 02/25/20
Guest reviewer Lee Broughton returns with a rundown on Babak Anvari’s smart tale of supernatural happenings in the Middle East. The Farsi-language British production filmed in Jordan is set in Tehran at the height of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. The atmosphere of fear and anxiety generated within a bombed-out apartment block attracts a group of demonic Djinn intent on evil-doing: the spiriting away of a vulnerable young girl. On Region-free Blu-ray from Second Sight.
A trusted correspondent wrote me excitedly the other day to say that he’d seen the BFI’s recent restoration of John Huston’s Moulin Rouge in 4K. He reports that it looked great — wonderful color and not a bit of dirt or damage to be found anywhere. The audio is the same as it has been, good but not terrific. Moulin Rouge is an exceptional Technicolor feature in that Huston and his DP Oswald Morris experimented with ways to approximate the palette of colors associated with Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, a process which gave the Technicolor experts fits. I saw the show once in original IB Tech and remember it as being eye-popping. I hope a Region A Blu-ray is forthcoming.
One point of interest is, of course, that Moulin Rouge is the first film with both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. We’re not counting Olivier’s Hamlet, for even if Chris Lee is there lurking in the background, we don’t see him. When José Ferrer bitterly rattles off a list of the superior qualities of Peter Cushing’s Marcel to Suzanne Flon:
“He is everything a woman could desire . . . tall . . . handsome . . . rich . . .”
I wanted him to add:
“He can keep you safe from vampires. If you die he can bring you back to life.”
My correspondent thinks that what we need is a fake trailer for Moulin Rouge, one that gives proper respect to the presence of Lee and Cushing:
THE RED WINDMILL!
The SIN-SOAKED, BLOOD-RED refuge of the most DEPRAVED SOULS of Paris!
Who was the HIDEOUS MALFORMED man who came there each night to stare at the beautiful women?
Starring Christoper Lee as Seurat, the man who reduced women to mere splotches of tiny dots on canvas!
And Peter Cushing as the mysterious Marcel! What was the STRANGE, UNNATURAL secret behind his winning race horses?
Special guest appearance by José Ferrer.
Rated P.I. — only Post Impressionists admitted.
For fans of great song melodies and lyrics, here’s a link to a new interview recorded by correspondent Christopher Rywalt. The host is Bill Weinberg, and his interview subjects are Ernie and Deena Harburg, the son and daughter-in-law of Yip Harburg, the lyricist of The Wizard of Oz and Finian’s Rainbow, among many other songs and musicals.
Much of the interview discusses Broadway musicals, with some talk about New York’s Lower East Side, where the Harburgs still live. I’m told that there’s also a lot of political talk, since Yip was very progressive and poured a lot of that into his work — he co-wrote ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime. Harburg was blacklisted for a few years in the 1950s. Christopher says that the interview will probably be edited a bit before going live, he describes it as a ‘little rambly’ at the moment, but adds that Yip’s thoughts touch on some interesting things about Oz. I myself have only listened to the first few minutes, so like, caveat emptor, hepcats.
Today’s ‘Why is this picture here?’ link up top is a somewhat sad story, as there is still no really proper commercial Blu-ray available of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock out there that can be fully recommended. The link given is to Olive’s just-okay encoding of the English language cut. I find it really inferior to the great Italian original — which so far doesn’t exist in any officially subtitled version running at 24fps. Were Riccardo Freda’s film readily available, I think it would create a demand for its terrific but nowhere-to-be-found Roman Vlad soundtrack, which in my not-so-humble opinion is at or near the top of the all-time best-of list of spooky/haunted horror music. Bernard Hichcock’s slimy forbidden desires (muah-ha-hahahah) ooze through the weird, swooning music score.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Canyon Passage 02/22/20
This great, unheralded western is divorced from the usual concerns of law and order and gunslinger protocol. As in most every film by Jacques Tourneur, we feel a strong empathy for characters that behave like real people working out real problems. The Oregon Territory is pioneered by imperfect people — opportunists, knaves and hopeful dreamers — all rich in personality. Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward lead a large cast in a tale with just as much conflict and violence as the next western, but with an integrity one can feel. The icing on the cake is the presence of ‘troubadour’ Hoagy Carmichael and his beautiful music. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
It Started with a Kiss 02/22/20
It’s another big-star MGM romantic comedy, and not exactly a classic. Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford pick their way through a travelogue story that seems made of leftovers from I LOVE LUCY, inventing flat-farce gimmicks to sex things up without offending the Production Code. What’s the movie most remembered for? It features the exotic concept car that became TV’s Batmobile. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Last time out I was discussing a special effect in West Side Story, and contradicting the explanation for how it was done as presented in a CBS Sunday Morning news piece. I said that the shot shown above, of Richard Beymer against the stylized New York background, is not a large scenic backdrop painted on a giant canvas, but a transparency of a much smaller painting, rear-projected behind the singing actor walking on a treadmill. Of course, after that statement was out half a day, I found myself digging out a Blu-ray of West Side to make sure I remembered the shot correctly.
But Gary Teetzel again came to the rescue — how many times is this now? He looked up a 1961 article in American Cinematographer that offers proof that I read the shot correctly. If you open the grab of the article on the right in a new window, it will be big enough to read. →
Or you can skate back 59 years and read the entire article.
I make my share of mistakes about movies and try to own up to my goofs as best I can. I remember asking Michael Arick once about a 70mm IB Technicolor print of something. He just patiently folded his hands on the desk in front of him and said, “Think about it, Glenn. There is no such thing as 70mm IB Technicolor.” Oops, live and learn.
I just don’t want to be one of those clowns in a Joe Dante movie that’s always sneering at ‘blue matte lines’ or saying, “A real general wouldn’t say that” … except that’s almost exactly what I do in the review today of the Glenn Ford — Debbie Reynolds comedy.
A few months back I happily joined in the chorus of web optimists reacting to the rumor that Susan Hart, the sole owner of a sizable number of 1950s American-International movies, was about to release them to home video. The obnoxious state of affairs is that they have been mostly withheld from circulation through the entire era of DVD and Blu-ray, to the frustration of fans everywhere. Most of the folks who saw the shows new back in 1956 – 1959 are older than I am, and as a group are beginning to mosey on up into that big cattle ranch in the sky.
Well, a few days ago author-interviewer Tom Weaver popped our collective balloon of hope for this one, posting on a web board:
Tom: “Here comes the wet blanket (me). Susan Hart called today to gossip about this and that, and I told her about this [web board] thread — the claim that she’s making a deal with Shout! and that her pictures would soon start appearing. I knew what she’d say before she said it:
“That’s ridiculous. A total fabrication! I’m giving Shout the rights to NNNNNNNNNNNoth-ing!”
I have collector friends with whom I just can’t discuss certain touchy subjects — I’ve given up asking why they don’t find a way to release films they control, that simply can’t be seen in good quality anywhere. It doesn’t matter to them that the fan base of the films is thinning out. Property is property and they just don’t see a way of making a profit from it, without losing total control, without ‘giving it away.’ And it’s their business, not mine, so there’s nothing I can do about it. Except whine once in a while.
I have the solution for President Trump’s slam at the Academy for awarding the Best Picture Oscar to a South Korean movie, instead of something All-American, wholesome and politically acceptable like Gone With the Wind. If he screens ‘Parasite’ at the White House, show him This Version.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Guest reviewer “B” returns to write a full review article on the first Blu-ray collection of cartoons by the unchallenged king of animated hilarity. The 19- title collection includes a fistful of no-contest classics, plus a number of Avery’s oddball character cartoons, best represented by the anarchic Screwball Squirrel and the surreal Droopy Dog. The lead-off headliner is Red Hot Riding Hood, (no cover, no minimum), who inspires Old Wolfie into fits of, uh, stimulation that defied the pious Production Code. Animation Nirvana, beautifully remastered. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Endless Night 02/18/20
We love Hayley Mills, and wish she made more good movies as an adult. This suspense thriller adapted from an Agatha Christie novel once again casts Ms. Mills opposite Hywel Bennett, in a slack tale that spins its wheels, sets up a lot of material that goes nowhere, and eventually becomes a depressing, desultory murder mystery. But every film has something, and this one can boast one of Bernard Herrmann’s final movie scores, one that’s never been available on records or discs. That’s all many fans will need to give it a try. With Britt Eklund, George Sanders and Per Oscarsson. On Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator .
My thanks to Toby Roan, who after reading an older article about a Special Effect Shot in Kronos, tracked down the magazine I remembered reading, and sent me a copy! FantaScene Vol. 1 No. 2 was from Summer 1976, and was indeed put together by Robert and Dennis Skotak, using their interview material with Hollywood effects folk like Jack Rabin, Irving Block, etc.
The FantaScene cover art made me realize that my eye is critical of some visuals and not others. In Forbidden Planet’s Id Monster attack scene, the invisible creature is ‘painted’ by the disintegrator blast of the Space Force’s ray guns. But I just realized now, that what literally happens is that the red-fire flux illuminates a line drawing of the Id Monster. For a few seconds, he becomes The King of Cartoons, atomic edition. A remake of this scene would seem a perfect subject for CGI work, with the sizzling energy flowing over parts of the monster. Perhaps sections would be disintegrated, only to be instantly regenerated by the Krell energy projector.
I hope that Robert Skotak does follow through on his promises to publish more of his research … I enjoyed his book on Ib Melchior, and he’s accumulated a huge volume of original research on Eastern Bloc sci-fi pictures. His commentary on last year’s Blu-ray of This Island Earth, good as it was, only scratched the surface of his discoveries.
Gary Teetzel sent this link along a week or so ago, and I’ve just now found the time to check it out. Rescuing Scenic Backdrops from Hollywood’s Golden Age gives us a good look at those giant movie artworks that used to be everywhere in pictures — a while back, I even noted a severely wrinkled city backdrop in Roger Corman’s The Wasp Woman. Most seem to be from MGM, which maintained a dedicated building for the painting of huge CinemaScope backdrop canvases. That art shop had an elevator to raise and lower the canvas into a slot in the floor, so the artist didn’t have to work on a scaffold.
It’s pretty cool to see the landscape of Altair-4 unfurl. ( ↑ ) I’m pretty sure the giant cycloramic backdrop we see is just one of two or maybe three, that wrapped around the soundstage in a big circle, partly surrounding the spaceship.
The common mistake I’ve noticed with backdrops seen through doors and windows, is giving them a perfect exposure, that often says, ‘artificial studio work.’ When we take photos indoors, windows almost always burn out, at least a little. Overexposing what’s outside the window a little bit always makes the scene look more real.
Some of the scenic paintings in the news piece (like one I think from the June Allyson Little Women) are in static, locked-off shots, with the effect that they resemble matte paintings, much smaller artworks combined in the camera. I had always thought that the view of the Yellow Brick Road on the way out of Munchkinland was a matte painting, not a large backdrop, because the shot doesn’t move. Maybe these people know better, and it indeed was an artwork backdrop.
On the other hand, there’s the news piece’s questionable example of Richard Beymer against the stylized New York background from the original West Side Story. I’m fairly certain that what we see is not a scenic background, but a smaller matte painting, rear-projected behind the singing actor walking on a treadmill. I know that the background artwork of the city buildings was painted on a piece of masonite about eight feet wide, because the original hung over a sofa in Linwood Dunn’s reception room at his Film Effects of Hollywood building. Hoyt Yeatman and I visited that office in 1975, and immediately recognized it.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Hipster film folk love a good black comedy, and one that doesn’t hit too close to home can become a big hit. Bong Joon-ho has been making smart, clever movies for years, and this intense satire hit pay dirt, commercially. Neon played their Oscar season cards beautifully as well, with the personable director seemingly omnipresent at festivals and on NPR. The film itself? I find it wickedly clever, yet fundamentally humanist — it’s not mean-spirited. Starring Choi Woo Shik, Song Kang Ho, Chang Hyae Jin, Cho Yeo Jeong, Park So Dam, Lee Sun Kyun, Jung Ziso, Jung Hyeon, and Jeong-eun Lee. On Blu-ray from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment / Neon.
X The Unknown 02/15/20
Hammer’s copycat Quatermass picture stands apart from similar ‘mystery sci-fi monster’ thrillers by virtue of its serious tone and realistic presentation. Talk about a sober semi-docu style: there are no major female roles and the leading character is a mass of radioactive mud. (Is there an election year joke in that?) Hammer found a new writer in Jimmy Sangster, imported the Yankee name actor Dean Jagger, tried to hire the expatriate director Joseph Losey. With Edward Chapman, Leo McKern, and other people that just can’t take the heat, plutonium-wise. Former child actor Anthony Newley has a small part, but he doesn’t get to sing X’s theme song: “Who can I turn to, when nobody needs me, because the flesh is melting from my skull?” On Blu-rayfrom Scream Factory.
The Great McGinty 02/15/20
Charlie Largent reminds us why we love Preston Sturges with his first feature film, the near-perfect political satire with Brian Donlevy and Akim Tamiroff showing future demagogues how to put the $$ in good old honest American corruption. Ya got a state with budget problems. It needs a few new highways and few more dams! Donlevy’s Dan McGinty learns too late that a little reform can be a big headache. It’s one of the brightest director debuts, with one of the all-time best American comedy screenplays. With Muriel Angelus, and a lot of Sturges’ stock company already checking in to work: William Demarest, Thurston Hall, Esther Howard, Frank Moran, and Jimmy Conlin. How many people do YOU see in this photo of a sports event grandstand? That’s an inside joke. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
I missed Valentine’s Day, but compensations abound. Here’s Guy Maddin’s rapturous, stylized Valentine to the undying spirit of movies: KINO! The giddy confabulation of agit-prop and Gance delirium lasts only six chaotic minutes and is given the apt title The Heart of the World. Hooray for Anna — Go Girl!
Kino Lorber has sent out a list of its Blu-ray releases for May, which has a number of immediately recognizable titles. The ones that grabbed my interest immediately are
A Thousand Clowns with Jason Robards and Barbara Harris (1965), Me, Natalie with Patty Duke (1969), Brighton Rock with Richard Attenborough and Carol Marsh ( ↑ 1948), An Inspector Calls with Alistair Sim (1954), The Captive Heart with Michael Redgrave (1946), Lonely Are the Brave with Kirk Douglas (1962), A Man, a Woman and a Bank with Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams (1979), Old Boyfriends with Talia Shire (1979), and finally, a Blu-ray 3-D disc of Taza, Son of Cochise with Rock Hudson and Barbara Rush (1954).
Last Month we saw a ‘Smilebox’ trailer reconstruction for the second Cinerama feature How The West Was Won; and now we’re being offered the same screen-shape treatment applied to the first, George Pal’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. It looks like the Grimm trailer was in good-enough shape not to need reconstruction.
And finally, correspondent and advisor Gary Teetzel forwards this ‘Usaopoly’ article about a real product, a new board game version of Godzilla Monopoly.
As usual, Gary’s inquiries cut right to the heart of today’s most important issues: “Instead of putting up houses and hotels in Godzilla Monopoly, will we put up burned apartments and crushed hotels? Will Monster Island replace Boardwalk as the most valuable property? Instead of going to jail, will we be sent into hybernation within a volcano?” In addition to ‘Monopoly: Godzilla’ they make mention of a ‘Jenga: Godzilla Extreme Edition’ game. So many questions…
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Alfonso Cuarón’s labor of love will go down as having changed the delivery norm for top-quality feature motion pictures: unlike most foreign films, millions had a chance to see this highly-advertised show on Netflix, even if the life-changing experience to be had was the limited 70mm theatrical run. Cuarón’s ode to his upbringing in Mexico City is a rich slice of nostalgia and ethnography, made warmly human by the performance of Yalitza Aparicio. Viewers ‘waiting for something to happen’ will miss the point entirely. Italian neorealism was never as intense or as fascinating. Criterion’s extras are really arresting, especially the featurette explaining the near-miraculous post production process. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Ulzana’s Raid 02/11/20
Robert Aldrich gives the Cavalry Western a rough going-over in this brutal, unforgiving horror-western. Burt Lancaster gets in a fine late-career action turn as well. The pursuit of an Apache raiding party becomes guerilla war in the desert, the kind of conflict that cements racial hatred forever. Aldrich and Alan Sharp’s answer to the ‘mud & rags’ western of the early 1970s carries on the director’s anarchic streak. This is how the West was won? With Richard Jaeckel, Bruce Davison, Jorge Luke, Joaquín Martínez, Lloyd Bochner and Karl Swenson. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.