Glenn Erickson's
Review Page and Column

Tuesday November 23, 2021

Can General Black trust someone named Groteschele?  Can we trust Walter Matthau?

The Addams Family 4K 11/23/21

Paramount Viacom CBS
4K Ultra HD + Digital

Barry Sonnenfeld leaped from hot cinematographer status to A- list director with this sure-footed big screen adaptation of the TV show based on Charles Addams’ marvelously morbid New Yorker cartoons. The cast is ideal: Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia complement TV’s Carolyn Jones and John Astin without inviting comparisons. Winning an imaginary award for making sick jokes safe for PG-13, the script has true wit. The characters have depth as well, which is wonderful. Daring to be out of step with the times, the elaborate production, costumes and special effects are all on the same page: director Sonnenfeld and producer Scott Rudin see to it that the goofy premise never wears thin. The 4K encoding is a dazzler. On 4K Ultra-HD + Digital from Paramount Home Video.
11/23/21

Number Seventeen 11/23/21

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s so-called lesser films bounces back in an immaculate restoration. Say goodbye to blurry, indecipherable Public Domain versions — now we can fairly evaluate this amusing early talkie. An odd cross-section of underworld characters gathers amid the staircases and dark shadows of an abandoned house and proceeds to play games of identity and coercion. What happened to the body that was on the third floor landing?  Who is the mysterious mastermind whose note warns about a cop, and promises a diamond necklace?  Who is the mysterious woman who cannot hear or speak?  And is our hero a random passerby who followed his hat blown by the wind?  Kino’s deluxe disc features audio excerpts from Hitchcock and a longform French documentary about his early sound career. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
11/23/21

The Hills Have Eyes 4K 11/23/21

Arrow Video
4K Ultra HD

Wes Craven’s getting a 4K Ultra HD workout this year, what with his monster hit Scream arriving in 4K last month. This 1977 franchise-starter is a down & dirty slaughter-fest out in the desert, with bloody jeopardy its one and only reason for being. It can attest that it was quite a nail-biting experience in the theater, and we know this show has a legion of fans — think of the hundreds of films that imitate its concept. Starring Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace, Russ Grieve, John Steadman and Michael Berryman. On 4K Ultra HD (only) from Arrow Video.
11/23/21

CineSavant Column

Tuesday November 23, 2021

 

Hello!

Correspondent Alan Dezzani sends along this image posted to Facebook over the weekend — a new version of Diabolik, which will reportedly debut at the Turin Auto Museum on December 16. Gee, my premiere invite and comp plane ticket haven’t yet arrived, but I remain optimistic. I never saw or heard much about an earlier Italo TV show (?) and wonder if this one will have a bigger impact. Alan has also located a Trailer for the new Diabolik. It looks fairly nice, at first glance.

I note that the map in the background reads ‘Clerville,’ one of the few place names in the comic’s undisclosed European country — and other map names are in English, Italian and German. My latest review of the ’67 Bava/John Philip Law/Michel Piccoli/Marisa Mell Diabolik is here. The full poster on the left zooms for more detail.

 


 

Let’s go on a Trade Periodical clippings scavenger hunt!  This time Gary Teetzel sends us a selection of item regarding Michael Powell’s 1960 horror classic Peeping Tom. Going through the ‘Media History Digital Library’ he found no coverage of the controversy in England, so I guess what happened in London stayed in London. But he turned up some snippets about how the film was promoted on both sides of the Atlantic. (note that all these graphics enlarge.)

 

 

 

 

Gary’s find from the April 13, 1960 Motion Picture Exhibitor: a columnist sees no problem with the movie!

 

And this article finds an Atlanta exhibitor in hot water over Peeping Tom and It’s Hot in Paradise, not for the content of the films but because he violated a local moving ratings ordinance. Why didn’t he just sell paperbacks of The Tropic of Cancer, like everyone else?  Thanks, Gary !

 


 

And Shadowplay’s David Cairns alerted me to a Film International essay on Major Dundee by Tony Williams that puts a great deal of thought into the problem of The Lost Rough Cut. The article references my solo audio commentary for the movie, which is certainly flattering: The Peckinpah Masterpiece that Never Was: Major Dundee. That 2019 commentary is significant because I chart out all the material from Sam Peckinpah’s shooting screenplay that was deleted from the movie.

I’m glad the ideas in the commentary made such a strong impression. Here’s the CineSavant review of Explosive Media’s Major Dundee Blu-ray from 2019, where the audio commentary was first published. And here’s the CineSavant review of Arrow’s Major Dundee Blu-ray from last summer, which has the commentary plus a visual essay by David Cairns, the knockout with the sly Gidget Goes Hawaiian reference.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday November 20, 2021

We think rescue is in sight. . .

The Assassination Bureau 11/20/21

Viavision [Imprint] (Region-Free)
Blu-ray

Veterans Michael Relph and Basil Dearden try a hip ‘n’ flip costume comedy about an 1899 consortium that’s the equivalent of Murder Inc.: Killings for hire done with veddy proper civility and good taste. The charming Oliver Reed and Diana Rigg lead a notable cast — Telly Savalas, Curd Jürgens, Philippe Noiret, Beryl Reid, Clive Revill — through mayhem-filled chases in several European capitals. Tossed off in tongue-in-cheek style, it’s shallow but cute, and if you like the stars it can be a lark. Its saving grace is the spirited Ms. Rigg. On Region-Free Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
11/20/21

Fury (1936) 11/20/21

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

Fritz Lang’s first American picture is a searing social statement out of message-averse Hollywood. It’s also a cinematic landmark, packed with innovative visual concepts. Sylvia Sidney and Spencer Tracy have great appeal as lovers torn apart by vigilante violence, and Tracy’s very Langian hero pulls off a ‘return from the dead’ to serve as an avenging angel. It’s one of the talkies’ earliest direct attacks on America’s plague of lynching, a liberal assault that even the Production Code couldn’t stop — the show took the ‘social issue drama’ to new heights, even as Fritz Lang didn’t find favor with the Hollywood studio system. Also starring Walter Abel, Bruce Cabot and Walter Brennan. CineSavant presents the evidence of MGM tampering at the conclusion, that changes the film’s message and meaning. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
11/20/21

CineSavant Column

Saturday November 20, 2021

 

Hello!

This is a strange weekend: I had new reviews prepared and ready to go, but couldn’t post them. My computer went down on Thursday, a total mess. Two days later, thanks to help from the brilliant Allan Peach, CineSavant is back in action again, ready with reviews to fill hearts with joy and love (and empty pocketbooks) everywhere.

The one thing that seems to work is writing, so this is the right time to come across with a BOOK REVIEW that’s been percolating for a few days. The book is a winner.

Joseph McBride’s Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge
is an analytical study of the great director and his films. I’ve read at least three studies of our greatest American writer-director but none as rewarding as this one. As a young critic McBride interviewed Wilder and watched him direct one of his later films. His research is far more extensive than anything I’ve seen for a film director, with all sources carefully annotated.

One reason those previous books kept me interested was because of Wilder’s humor. Billy Wilder was noted for his incredible wit in quotes given to newspapermen or just related by his wife Audrey or his associates, jokes about other directors that could be adoring (Ernst Lubitsch) or derogatory (Sidney J. Furie), and of course the edgy humor about ‘handstands in the shower’ or comparing the Germans’ money to their toilet paper. His caustic wit had bite and relevance because it always called out something that was true. Michael Todd’s death in an airplane crash became national news, what with Elizabeth Taylor becoming a widow, etc. . Wilder’s response was a classic ‘too soon’ bit of morbid humor: he noted that most notices omitted the fact that a number of other people had died too, and suggested that those forgotten souls should be given some sort of credit like: “PRODUCER TODD DIES IN CRASH… additional guest dying by…”

When one book wanted to ‘explain’ Billy Wilder’s psychology, it tried to pass off a single romantic episode from his youth as ‘explaining’ the director’s entire jaded, soured worldview on women and romantic disillusion. Wilder called it nonsense, and it now comes off as biography as screenwriting, with an outsider picking one incident from a person’s life and deciding it’s a magic key to understanding.

As related so thoroughly by Joseph McBride, Billy Wilder’s life was so eventful, dramatic, and tragic that giving one event special precedence seems silly. In 1920’s Germany ‘Billie’ Wilder was a hard-charging busy reporter and screenwriter, always rushing around and aggressively pursuing whatever he was after. Incredibly sharp, he could see where Nazi Germany was going. He split for Paris and finally Hollywood even though it meant losing all of his possessions. After his first visa expired he spent months waiting in Mexico for entry status; this man knew he was lucky to get in. Later on he lost several members of his family to the Holocaust, including his mother. He went back once to try to persuade her to leave with him, but she wouldn’t budge. That episode surely had a much more serious bearing on Wilder’s general world view, a point that McBride returns to time and again. Of course Wilder had to be a tough-minded man, to continue with a high risk, high tension career as a screenwriter and eventually director.

Joseph McBride fully covers Billy Wilder’s career ups and downs. Wilder could hold grudges and he didn’t hold back criticism of collaborators that gave him trouble, like Humphrey Bogart. Industry opinion went against him in the middle 1960’s for the strangest reason — scores of lame, puerile sex comedies were released every year, yet Wilder’s refreshingly adult Kiss Me, Stupid was singled out as obscene, and Wilder reviled as a crude purveyor of bad taste, misogyny and smut. Big critics decided that he abused his actresses and that his cynicism hid a cruel streak… and this was in 1965, when the whole culture was becoming liberalized. The book’s aggressive defense reminds us that in reality Wilder gave many actresses terrific characters to play.

McBride is first and foremost a critic with a conscience. His judgment favors some Wilder pictures as masterpieces (Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Avanti!) but he values others less, labeling a few highly entertaining films as failures by the yardstick of director achievement: The Seven-Year Itch; One, Two, Three, even the two marvelous Audrey Hepburn pictures Sabrina and Love in the Afternoon. So we have to remind ourselves that this is a critical assessment in which the artist comes first — he’s not just a reviewer communicating what works and what doesn’t (although McBride doesn’t think the consistently hilarious One, Two, Three is even funny.)

But the hard critical assessment gives us more than enough information to make up our own minds. McBride closely documents the personalities of Wilder’s two main writing collaborators, Charles Brackett and I.A.L. Diamond, in close detail. Brackett had differing politics and a much more patrician attitude toward entertainment, which at first balanced Wilder’s excesses. As a serious man of letters, Brackett surely completed Wilder’s assimilation and mastering of the English language. Their screenplay for Ball of Fire shows Wilder in full command of American jargon and idioms. A decade later, Diamond appears to be an ideal writing partner. Detractors of Wilder guessed that Diamond ‘softened’ Wilder and gave him a heart, whereas McBride makes an excellent case that Wilder was the romantic, finding touches of human warmth in most every picture.

McBride puts the usual reportage of Wilder in a different perspective. Wilder never thought he could touch his idol & mentor Ernst Lubitsch, but his own constructions are equally bittersweet, and add a very Wilderian seriousness, a dimension of real life. On the subject of homosexual tension in Wilder’s films, McBride thoroughly charts a pattern from the match-striking business in Double Indemnity through the prisoners’ drag charades in Stalag 17, and forward to the teasing of Sherlock Holmes’s ambivalent sexuality. I hadn’t realized that Wilder and Diamond had made sexual confusion so much the backbone of Some Like It Hot, and the chapter-plus devoted to that topic is fascinating. It points up the fact that Wilder’s humor was never just a stack of ‘jokes of opportunity.’ We watch Jack Lemmon’s feminine side come to the fore as soon as he puts on a dress.

The Holocaust theme arises in odd places, not just A Foreign Affair but in the odd Bing Crosby sort-of musical comedy The Emperor Waltz, where the stars’ romance is compared to two dogs, one royal and one a commoner. With a few clues, McBride makes the case that the extermination theme comes out when some villainous nobles plan to quietly kill the offending dog. I can’t say that the insight makes we want to see The Emperor Waltz again.

McBride doesn’t go in detail as concerns Wilder’s other one-shot writing partners, except for a few notes on Raymond Chandler. He instead sees the first few post- Brackett years as a time of ‘running for cover’ after being clobbered by the negative reaction to his acid valentine to journalistic corruption Ace in the Hole: a couple of Broadway adaptations, the Hepburn ‘failures’ (can’t quite follow him there) and the outlier project The Spirit of St. Louis, on which McBride expends as little ink as possible. With St. Louis we realize that McBride aims higher than just presenting an encyclopedia of production details. Wilder’s account of Lucky Lindy’s was massacred and disemboweled by pressure from Lindbergh himself, removing everything but the bare bones of the famous flight. I know it’s considered a failure but it’s still highly entertaining, and I’d give Billy Wilder full credit for stretching his range.

For this book McBride instead focuses on the artist, making compelling connections between personal experience and the brilliant insights in his movies. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Avanti!, Sunset Blvd., Kiss Me Stupid are examined from all points of view. The book begins chronologically but then begins to break up by theme about half-way through; the last quarter concentrates on Billy Wilder’s decline, a choice that works well because Wilder’s previously unerring knowledge of his audience can only be understood when Wilder begins to lose his grip. Wilder’s self criticisms are just as unsparingly wicked as his earlier critiques of others. After the awful Buddy Buddy, when an interviewer (Schlondorff?) assures him that he still has avid fans, Wilder’s comeback quip is a mordant Kool-Aid joke: “Oh yeah, a few fans. I’ve got a cult. I’m going to get them together and take them to Guyana.” (Paraphrase)

What we really appreciate is the organized approach and his entertaining prose, not a given in serious film studies. Billy Wilder comes alive as a remarkable man… I already want to re-view four or five of his movies after this read. Of all of Joseph McBride’s film books, I think this is the one I’ve enjoyed the most.

Joseph McBride’s Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge is a handsomely printed hardcover, and likely a good gift idea for the right recipient. At 680 pages it’s a serious contender for film book of 2021.

Here’s the publisher’s page for the book: Columbia University Press Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge.

Thanks for reading — Glenn Erickson

CineSavant Delay Report

Saturday November 20, 2021

Hello!

CineSavant is delayed — !  I’m hoping to get today’s reviews out later this afternoon, or at the very worst, tomorrow: we had a computer meltdown last Wednesday and have been scrambling … well, you don’t need to hear the whole story. Sorry for the delay !

— Glenn Erickson

Tuesday November 16, 2021

I think Mr. Corman had this ‘thing’ about vision.

W.C. x Three 11/16/21

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

Almost a ‘best of’ selection of W.C. Fields delights is this trio of truly hilarious films. The Old-Fashioned Way sees Fields as a carny performer with a juggling act that always elicited applause at screenings. It’s A Gift makes him a sweet and unassuming sap of a grocer who goes West in a real estate swindle. In The Bank Dick’s 70 minutes of hilarity Fields is a pompous security man who gets no respect from nobody. Charlie Largent weighs in on Mr. Fields’ gifts — these are the ones to see to understand his appeal. Separate Purchases on Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
11/16/21

Frankenstein’s Daughter 11/16/21

The Film Detective
Blu-ray

Richard Cunha’s third of four horror item for Astor Pictures is perhaps the most marketable: in 1958 almost anything with the name Dracula or Frankenstein could get a big release. The Film Detective’s new disc (remastered from a 4K scan) shows the picture at its absolute best and confirms Cunha as a decent director. The monsters are dire but most of the acting is rather good: Sandra Knight, Donald Murphy, Wolfe Barzell and Sally Todd in particular. It’s core nostalgia for monster fans, and much gorier than we remembered. On Blu-ray from The Film Detective.
11/16/21

Argentine Noir 11/16/21

Flicker Alley
Blu-ray + DVD

From beneath the Southern Cross come a pair of genuine noirs that happen to have been made in Argentina, where film art flourished in a system almost totally divorced from the American awareness. The Beast Must Die is a hardboiled tale of tragedy and murder told in an upside-down way that would make Orson Welles applaud; its star was called the Vincent Price of Argentina. In the visually bizarre The Bitter Stems a generous crook makes plans to murder his cheating partner in fraud, only to fall into a whirlpool of guilt. Expert testimony from Guido Segal, Fernando Martín Peña and Daniel Viñoly introduce us to an exotic film world almost unknown in the U.S.. Hear Eddie Muller try out his Spanish language pronuciation skills!  Separate Purchases Blu-ray + DVD from Flicker Alley.
11/16/21

CineSavant Column

Tuesday November 16, 2021

 

Hello!

We can tell that writer-director John Sayles really loves this movie, a sentiment we understand with Jules Dassin’s masterpiece — it’s extremely well made, even the so-called weak domestic scenes with the young detective’s family. I’m linking to Trailers from Hell’s trailer-plus-commentary John Sayles on The Naked City. Without apologies, I think I’ll pull out that disc again. CineSavant’s third and latest review of the show: The Naked City.

 


 

And our thanks go out to correspondent Charles Lore for sending along a very handy YouTube link: in last Tuesday’s review of the Harry Palmer/Michael Caine spy romp Billion Dollar Brain I talked about a scene that had to be trimmed for music clearance issues– and Mr. Lore forwarded a link to The Deleted Beatles Music scene from Billion Dollar Brain. I know Ken Russell never thought this was a personal picture, but for me it’s one of his best.

Now you can see the excised scene opening for yourself, exactly as I described it. Enjoy it in all its low-res glory. Thanks Charles!

 


 

We received a nice Criterion Collection announcement of their planned releases for February 2022 — all Blu-ray, no 4K. It’s a fine quartet of prime cinema from the 50s to the 90s– Douglas Sirk’s Americana success & impotence saga Written on the Wind with Lauren Bacall, Rock Hudson and Robert Stack; the Coen Bros.’ marvelous gangster romp Miller’s Crossing with Albert Finney, Gabriel Byrne, John Turturro and Marcia Gay Hardin; Leo McCarey’s swooningly romantic Love Affair with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer; and Ann Hui’s Boat People, a drama about the state of Vietnam three years after the Communist victory.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday November 13, 2021

Always look on the bright side of life. . .

The Harry Palmer Collection 11/13/21

Viavision [Imprint] (compatible with Region A)

We loved James Bond but diehard ’60s spy fans hold a secret admiration for Len Deighton’s ‘thinking man’s secret agent’ Harry Palmer. Viavision pulls off a slick trick by assembling the three top Michael Caine Harry Palmer pictures, each from a different studio, in a single deluxe gift box. Harry fights the Brain Drain, encounters criss-crossing conspiracies at the Berlin Wall, and witnesses a privatized invasion of the U.S.S.R., in The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain,three great pictures by three very different directors. The presentations come with a glut of special edition extras. With Nigel Green, Sue Lloyd, Eva Renzi, Oscar Homolka, Karl Malden and Françoise Dorléac. On Region-free Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
11/13/21

Some Came Running 11/13/21

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

Vincente Minnelli’s best non-musical drama hits on a magic combination — a tough tale of small-town malaise, his patented hyper-expressive sense of visual design, and a triple-win in casting, including Frank Sinatra in his most committed performance this side of The Manchurian Candidate.Frankie may even have said Yes to a Take 2 now and then. The fireworks begin when ex-soldier, lapsed intellectual writer and self-styled gambling bum Dave Hirsh inadvertently returns to his hometown. This is also Dean Martin’s best picture, with a breakout role for Shirley MacLaine as the pathetic woman with the purse made from a stuffed toy. With Martha Hyer, Arthur Kennedy and the great Nancy Gates. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
11/13/21

Invasion of the Body Snatchers ’78 4K 11/13/21

KL Studio Classics
4K Ultra HD + Blu Ray

This first remake of the 1956 sci-fi classic retains many of the original’s story points, clears up the biological minutiae for literal-minded viewers and adds a fascinating social commentary about ’70s lifestyles that’s almost as depressing as the idea of being ‘replaced’ by an alien simulacrum. Philip Kaufman’s first big hit is a worthy picture that’s maintained its high reputation … and it’s even scarier in today’s socio-political climate. The cast is terrific: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy, Art Hindle and Lelia Goldoni. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
11/13/21

CineSavant Column

Saturday November 13, 2021

 

Hello!

After reading my review of The Window Alan K. Rode wrote to say that it tempted him to buy the disc.  He also offered the information that RKO’s mogul- nutcase Howard Hughes held up the completed film back for more than a year before allowing its release, which is shocking considering how any sane studio would have leaped upon The Window as a sure box office winner. But there was no premiere, it just slipped out. I assume that its good reputation had to come from word of mouth.

Star Barbara Hale never got to see it. In fact, she finally saw it for the first time in 2014 when Alan screened it in Palm Springs, and talked with her onstage. She was in her nineties — it was her last public appearance.

The WAC didn’t ask to use the video coverage of Barbara Hale’s talk for the disc so Alan steered me to a link to a YouTube encoding: Alan K. Rode interviews Barbara Hale, part One. She’s delightful. I want to be that sharp and vivid when I’m in my eighties.

 


 

Two quick disc announcement that CineSavant knows you can’t live without. Severin’s Bloody Pit of Horror is prime Euro-horror sleaze starring Mickey Hargitay as Il boia scarlatto; Severin Films says it has prime elements of an original cut, which ought to be a slice above the old DVD I couldn’t make myself review twenty years ago — gee, I had principles then!

Also just announced from The Film Detective is another beloved grade- Z 1950s sci-fi monster romp, as Jim Davis and Barbara Turner undertake a stock footage safari in search of the Monster from Green Hell. We all know that that the giant wasps had to be given a state of the art 4K scan! The special edition promises fan-special extras as well. This disc has a street date: March 8, 2022.

 


 

And don’t miss your opportunity to admire the crazy trailer for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point over at Trailers from Hell.  Larry Karazewski serves as the TFH guru of note for one of the strangest trailers ever, for what’s essentially a stinkbomb thrown at America and Hollywood, a “thanks for the money and by the way screw you” gesture of artistic contempt.

The audiences I saw it with in 1970 just shook their heads; I think they felt they were being conned. MGM’s promotion treated it like Great Art From Heaven. I have to say that I’ve grown to like the movie but still enjoy the soundtrack more — you know, ‘Heartbeat Pig Meat dum ba dum ba dum.’ The final voiceover for the film’s key advertising tagline always strikes me as hilarious, a parody of faux-hippie ‘right on!’ drivel. TFH must feel the same way, because they billboards the tagline in the clear, even in the trailer version with Karazewski’s commentary.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson