Review Page and Column
Day of the Outlaw 08/20/19
How does Hollywood sell a gritty, realistic western? With a sexy shot of star Tina Louise! Viewers will be surprised: this fine western is a showcase for the elemental ruthlessness we associate with director André de Toth — its convincing snowbound setting is so intense, we can almost feel the cold. Slick writer Philip Yordan sets up an impossible conflict as a blizzard moves in on a tiny town… Robert Ryan must sort out his feelings for the town beauty Tina Louise, as he negotiates with the he-boss of the killer crooks, Burl Ives. It looks as if Ryan has no choice but to volunteer for a suicide journey — but nature has the last word. Also featuring Venetia Stevenson, David Nelson, Nehemiah Persoff, Jack Lambert, and Lance Fuller, everyone’s favorite Metalunan, Brack. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Wild in the Country 08/20/19
Elvis fans laud this high-end drama, and attempt by the superstar to lock into a mainstream acting career. Presley has fine dramatic support, especially from his three leading ladies, but the requirement that an Elvis movie be all things to all people — especially marketers — really takes its toll. It’s a soap where almost nothing is believable, except to true believers for whom Presley can do no wrong. With Rafer Johnson, John Ireland, and Gary Lockwood. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
Seven Chances & Battling Butler 08/20/19
The Buster Keaton Collection Vol. 3. In his day Buster Keaton’s popularity trailed that of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, but now those reputations have switched around. These two ‘lesser’ Keaton features generate more sheer fun than anything going. In Seven Chances Buster is pursued by a thousand brides, and in Battling Butler he’s a rich fool who enters the ring out of pride and love. They’re great on remastered Blu-ray — better materials, no missing frames — but do yourself a favor and find a way to see a Keaton picture with a big audience! On Blu-ray from The Cohen Group.
It’s book review time again at CineSavant,
and this go-round Charlie Largent
is the one doing the reviewing,
of a favorite author:
Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan
J. Hoberman. New Press, $28.99 (400p)
Veteran film critic J. Hoberman reviews veteran entertainer Ronald Reagan’s final performance in Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan. Hoberman, late of the Village Voice, describes a blackly comic thriller in which Hollywood melds with Washington’s political machinery to manufacture the perfect Dream Factory candidate – a symbiotic horror show more frightening than anything in The Fly (Cronenberg’s film was one of the more gruesome critiques of Reagan’s America circa 1986).
Hoberman’s longtime investment in socio-political currents gives his writing a welcome jolt – hindsight is golden but as the man who wrote Vulgar Modernism, Hoberman’s strength has always been to frame a film in the here and now – were his prose not so elegant, many of his reviews wouldn’t be out of place above the fold of the morning paper. And as Make My Day makes clear, Reagan’s daily intrigues might have been more easily deciphered if planted next to the movie ads in the theater section.
As the first thoroughly cinematic president, it’s impossible to read about Reagan’s exploits without considering the reality show president currently defenestrating democracy. In The Entertainer: Trump l’oeil, Hoberman writes about the boob tube blowhard who “thrived in a far shoddier information eco-system that was already polluted with lies and where his roustabout antics were taken for truth”.
45’s daily grotesqueries boggle the mind but Hoberman’s appraisal of 40 is similarly devastating – and occasionally so fiery that Sue Coe’s portraits of Reagan for the late Raw Magazine seem too kind in retrospect (Raw editor Art Spiegelman did the Reagan/Ghostbuster cover art for Make My Day).
The third part of a trilogy that began with The Dream Life and An Army of Phantoms, Make My Day lays out the unofficial logline for Reagan’s Movie Presidency – and it even comes with a preview of coming attractions as Hoberman charts the “germination” of the Reagan era with notes about 70s’ cinema including Jaws, Apocalypse Now and, of course, Star Wars.
Whiplashing between politics and movie releases, Hoberman relates Jimmy Carter’s ascension to 1976’s All The President’s Men: “the movie is also a counter-culture victory – the Sundance Kid and The Graduate take down Nixon”. But it’s not until Reagan is firmly propped up in the White House that the first official “Reagan movie” appears – Raiders of the Lost Ark – in which “an American hero… bestrode the Third World like a colossus”.
Naturally Spielberg, with his supernatural, not to mention, populist success, becomes an ongoing character in the book, “a brand name bard who sang the song of American normalcy” but the real supporting actor (in more ways than one) of Make My Day, is not Clint Eastwood (who appears more desperate than macho) but Sylvester Stallone whose can-do spirit in 1977’s Rocky curdles in 1982’s First Blood – followed by Rambo and its rabble-rousing sequels.
The mid-eighties saw fissures appear in the Reagan bubble – Joe Dante’s Gremlins was both a comedy, a horror film and a send up of the cornfed films of the president’s own movie career (Gremlins was shot on Universal’s Colonial Street – the same location used for Reagan’s Bedtime for Bonzo.)
David Lynch’s dreamy Blue Velvet materialized late in the decade, flipping the sunny-side up neighborhoods of Father Knows Best into a noir version of Joyce’s Nighttown. Hoberman notes critic Howard Hampton’s revelation that, while reading Pauline Kael’s review of Blue Velvet, Hampton realized she could have been describing King’s Row (Reagan’s personal favorite of his own films) – in Hampton’s words – “the typical nostalgic view of American small town life turned inside out: instead of sweetness and health, we get fear, sanctimoniousness, sadism and insanity.”
The Reagan scandals – Iran-Contra, the EPA boondoggle, the savings and loan crisis, begin to fly as fast as the movie premieres and at times Make My Day feels like an overdose of factoids (or as ancient ballyhoo would have it, “stories ripped from today’s headlines”) but the overall effect is bracing, clarifying and casts a long shadow – the president who embraced the “dream life” of movies set the stage for the man who sprang from the get-rich-quick swamp of TV game shows – the line that best sums up our current woe is not from a movie but The Larry Sanders Show – “He’s hit bottom and broke through to another bottom I know nothing about.”
Hoberman is presenting a series of double features at the Lincoln Center between August 23 and September 3 – each evening is a double feature drawn from Make My Day including Blow Out, Gremlins, Salvador, Robocop, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and First Blood – details here. — Charlie Largent
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
1964 brought to a legion of young adventure fans one of Hanna-Barbera’s most memorable cartoon series. It was short-lived but cast a long shadow, and was the closet thing to ‘real’ as TV animation got at that point in time. Jonny tags along on the fantastic government assignments of his father Dr. Benton Quest, aided by the dauntless action man ‘Race’ Bannon, Johnny’s Indian pal Hadji, and the family’s bulldog Bandit, who was in for Ivan Tors-like sidebar humor. All twenty-six action-packed episodes receive star treatment with this splendiferous new release, reviewed by Trailers from Hell’s Charlie Largent. Now maybe I can finally see the episode with the spider-walking eyeball. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
An Angel at My Table 08/17/19
Here’s the story of a woman who overcame adversity — not the dramatic, historical kind, but the sort of mundane discriminatory issues that come along with being ‘different.’ Director Jane Campion’s biographical drama about the unsteady life and amusing triumphs of New Zealand author Janet Frame was adapted from a TV miniseries. Poor, isolated and socially excluded, Frame jumps from one unfortunate problem to the next, but is repeatedly rescued by her own talent… at one point a writing award saves her from being lobotomized. Criterion’s extras include a candid audio interview with the author herself. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
It’s Fritz Lang versus CinemaScope, for the first and last time. The format suited to snakes and funerals effectively hamstrings the great filmmaker’s expressive camera direction, yet the movie is one of the best of MGM’s last-gasp ’50s costume dramas. Corrupt smuggler Stewart Granger is redeemed by the faith of a young boy who believes in him; in this story the words “He’s my friend” take on a big significance. Come see director Lang struggle to adapt the wide-wide screen to accommodate his brand of real cinema. With Jon Whiteley, Joan Greenwood, George Sanders, and Viveca Lindfors. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Hello! Some welcome new disc announcements today.
Olive Films is following up their DVD release with a new 4K remaster of A Bucket of Blood, Roger Corman’s first foray into all-out ‘sick humor’ horror. The comedic saga of misunderstood artistic genius Walter Paisley is still a winner thanks to writer Charles B. Griffith’s crazy-man wit, the dead-on spoof of coffee shop beatniks, and the original performances of the late Dick Miller, Barboura Morris and Anthony Carbone.
As an Olive Signature item, the list of extras sounds encouraging as well: Video interviews with Roger Corman, and Dick & Lanie Miller; an audio interview with Charles B. Griffith, a feature commentary by Elijah Drenner and text input from Miller biographer Caelum Vatnsdal. The release is billed as a 4K remaster, so we’re hoping that it clears up some minor flaws in the previous DVD. The expected street date is September 24. Good call, Olive!
And there are more vintage classics on the way:
One can make a convincing case that this is shaping up as Bette Davis Season, at least for Blu-ray fans. I’m primed to review the Warner Archive Collection’s new remastered release of the classic Jezebel, which ought to look great — many older WB classics are showing up on TCM in sparkling HD remasters. Just the other day I re-viewed Kings Row.
But just on Thursday, the WAC also announced Davis’s The Letter, and The Criterion Collection announced new Blus of All About Eve and Now, Voyager, all three top Bette Davis titles, for November. That the Fox picture would be licensed by Criterion is no surprise, but we’re especially pleased whenever Warners digs deeper into the 1930s, as they did a bit back with a terrific disc of the Busby Berkeley/James Cagney musical Footlight Parade. I keep forgetting that Warners is periodically licensing things out now.
And finally, CineSavant resource, associate and advisor Gary Teetzel attended a Thursday night Aero Theater screening of David Swift’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, prompted by the promised attendance of its star Robert Morse. Morse’s visibility has peaked in recent years, thanks to his excellent work in TV’s Mad Men. As Gary relates, it was apparently the film gathering of the month:
“Saw How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying last night at the Aero for the Q & A with 88-year old Robert Morse afterward. He hadn’t watched the movie in a few years, and seemed genuinely touched to see it with an enthusiastic, appreciative audience; he said that at his age it’s nice to be reminded that “Bobby, you had a damn good career.”
The subject of the missing Coffee Break musical number inevitably came up. Morse didn’t know if it had been filmed or not. Someone in the audience shot their hand up and breathlessly explained what had happened to the sequence, and said he had called John Kirk (‘who was then the head of preservation at MGM’) years ago, and John had told him he had already searched, without success.
Among those in the audience: Larry Mirisch; the sister of Maureen ‘Hedy LaRue’ Arthur (Maureen is ailing; Morse said to pass on his best wishes); an actress who had understudied Smitty during the original run, and then played the part with the road company; Michael Schlesigner; and Leonard Maltin. Morse said he had expected Michelle Lee to show up, but she didn’t. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner — or maybe it was his son — had been there for the screening, but left before the Q & A.” — Gary
And wait, there’s more and it has nothing to do with movies whatsoever.
When my parents moved to Lake Havasu City, Arizona in 1970, we watched the London Bridge being reassembled in the middle of the desert. Two years later, Billy Wilder made a crack about rude rich Americans buying English landmarks in his movie Avanti! Well, here’s a new skillful aerial video of the lake area taken by my brother David, from his radio controlled airplane early one morning on a glass-smooth lake just south of the Bridge (which almost but doesn’t quite appear in the video). I don’t see many videos like this so I was impressed.
I like what the video camera does with the spinning propeller — very interesting. That jagged ridge of mountains to the South can be seen prominently in the 1944 movie 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, either representing Japan or a test flight area, I forget which. Wait, that video’s not enough? Here’s another, a front view. You’re welcome, don’t mention it.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
4D Man 08/13/19
An old monster formula props up this fantastic film, but at its heart is a brilliant central idea that excites the imagination. Jack H. Harris’s sophomore picture after The Blob is on the awkward side, but the good stuff is much better than we expect it to be. Ambitious performances by Robert Lansing, Lee Meriwether and James Congdon come through with something unique, with graces we just don’t find in independent Sci-Fi from the late 1950s. And the new Blu-ray rejuvenates the film’s special effects — all it took was a good 4K restoration. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Alice, Sweet Alice 08/13/19
This unique proto-slasher is not a rip-off of The Exorcist and for my taste is more meaningful, despite associating innocent children with horrible killings and religious repression. Director Alfred Sole uses these edgy elements to whip up an involving mystery, and a committed cast lifts it high above the exploitation gutter: Linda Miller, Paula Sheppard, Mildred Clinton, Niles McMaster, Brooke Shields. Great extras, especially a commentary by Richard Harland Smith.. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
An attempt at a different kind of feature today… looking for odd anomalies in the margins of movies. If you’re anything like me, your family has remarked that they don’t understand how I can pick details out of the clutter of movie shots, finding mike booms and cable shadows in shots, etc. The answer is of course that they would too, if they concentrated on such irrelevancies. My colleagues and friends aren’t so impressed, and instead remark that I don’t seem capable of operating most simple video remote.
I first thought of this when reader Mike Siegel wrote to ask why I didn’t notice the entire film crew exposed in a shot from last week’s Lust for Vampire, but we’ll overlook that. Watching the new transfer of Quatermass 2 allows us to see more detail, and what a reader picked up on inspired me to do this little exercise, taking crude frame-grabs from several pictures that came to mind. The first little anomaly was pointed out to me by Craig Reardon, and the other three I found myself. I’m sure that plenty of sharp-eyed viewers have noted these many times before, but they certainly surprised me. My low-res images do enlarge quite a bit, if you open them in new windows.
Craig Reardon showed me this one several years ago. It got past me even after at least seven or eight big-screen VistaVision viewings of this western classic by John Ford. My eyes always gravitated to the horses rushing through the freezing water — we all think, how’d they ever get horses to do that? But up in the high background is something almost ridiculously anachronistic, in full view. Apparently there’s a highway up there, and we can see a truck traveling left to right, stopping during the shot. It’s the little white spot, to the left of the building with the chimney smoke, right in the gap between two clusters of trees. The white spot is actually the side of the truck. (remember to enlarge.)
Amazing! With just one ‘woke’ viewing, your awareness of interstate truck traffic circa 1868 will be forevermore enhanced.
This second example is from another western classic, this one by Sam Peckinpah. I can’t account for why I only noticed it after thirty years and at least forty viewings. Maybe my excuse is that many of the theatrical screenings I saw were likely on screens that routinely shaved off the left and right extremes of the Panavision frame. I had to watch this scene at 1/8th speed to finally see the anomaly in question.
We’re watching more exciting, non-ASPCA-approved horse action again — an escaping bandit has already been shot off his horse, and now the horse is shot too. But in plain view at the extreme right of the frame, a cowboy-wrangler with a long rope is helping with the stunt. His heels dig into the dirt as he pulls that horse’s head into a pretzel configuration. I think the rope gag was used because the horse is riderless, and stunt horses normally require riders to cue their trick-falls. These days, the CGI pixel police would simply erase the wrangler with a digital clean-up. Back when movies were movies, a director could rely on strong compositions to direct our attention within the frame.
This isn’t a goof like in a particular Harryhausen movie, where I was shown a crew member in plain sight on Sinbad’s boat deck. The crew person on view here is in full costume and so blends into the scene. But he isn’t actually part of the scene. The figure on the left of this shot from a fairy-tale horror movie is the dance choreographer Tutte Lemkow, beating out dance time with a stick. It is the finale of a vampires’ ball, when the assembled vampire dancers promenade toward the tell-tale mirror that allows the three principals (including Sharon Tate) to discover that they are the only dancers that cast a reflection.
Note that there must be an entire second ballroom set on the other side of the mirror, with a trio of doubles. Tutte Lemkow is easy to spot because we already know his face: he took frequent supporting bit parts in many pictures, including Anastasia, Bonjour Tristesse and The Guns of Navarone, often in a dancing context. A behind-the-scenes still from this sequence exists showing Lemkow sitting with the frustrated, exhausted director-actor Roman Polanski.
And finally, here’s the ‘maybe’ discovery from the new Quatermass disc. The scene is the riot that breaks out at the gate of the top-secret Winnderden Plant. The web gives us several behind-the-scenes shots of director Val Guest setting the scene and talking to actor Brian Donlevy, which a reader has studied carefully — he thinks that a figure in the back of the mob is Guest, egging on his extras. Maybe-Guest even waves a stick, but not at all like a hooligan.
I’m not sure that it’s really the director… the hairline is similar but he looks a little too tall for me. In a cut just previous, the maybe-Guest can be seen closer to the fence, perhaps speaking into a walkie-talkie. Is the ‘stick’ actually the antenna of the walkie-talkie? Could he be one of the assistant directors?
However, the man at the bottom of the inset frame, wearing a pair of very non-Winnerden Flats sunglasses, looks to me a lot like Michael Carreras, doing his bit to fill out the crowd. Any chance either of these ‘extras’ are really above-the-line participants?
Gary Teetzel has already weighed in on this pressing mystery… he thinks that, quote:
“Sunglasses guy in Q2 does look like Michael Carreras, but as he looked in the 1970s. Back in the ’50s, he looked more like this.” ( ← picture, left.) “So the answer is obvious: Michael Carreras built a time machine in the 1970s and went back in time to warn himself not to make Prehistoric Women. But he got the decade wrong and ended up at the Q2 location.” — Gary
Anybody have additional suggestions for crazy things showing up in the margins of movies? Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
A Foreign Affair 08/10/19
If you like Billy Wilder but haven’t seen everything he’s done, this is the film for you, a sparkling but typically sharp-tongued comedy-drama set in the last place expected in 1948 — bombed-out Berlin, rumored to be awash in corruption. Jean Arthur is the Iowa congresswoman out to clean up the town, and Marlene Dietrich a war survivor with a highly suspect past. Underrated John Lund is the Romeo with Captain’s stripes, brushing up on his (click) umlaut. And Millard Mitchell, of all people, steals the movie. Great cabaret songs by Friedrich Hollander, and an A-class commentary by Joseph McBride. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Last American Hero 08/10/19
All-American race car mania is alive and well in this excellent Jeff Bridges movie, a true biographical story researched by Tom Wolfe. Junior Johnson needs a future beyond running moonshine for his father, and finds it climbing the rungs of success in the stock car racing game. This may be the most satisfying saga of its kind, and it helped prove that Bridges was a genuine star. Co-starring Valerie Perrine, Geraldine Fitzgerald, & Gary Busey; from articles written by Tom Wolfe. On Region A+B Blu-ray from Explosive Media GmbH.
Billy the Kid vs. Dracula 08/10/19
Charlie Largent takes on one of the last films of William Beaudine, a director that cranked ’em out in the good old days — this western-horror pastiche was likely filmed on the kind of movie ranch that the Manson clan would inhabit a year or two later. John Carradine called this his worst movie, but a couple of later efforts he hadn’t yet made might better fit the bill. Charlie’s coverage is a wonder — he stretches to find good things to say about B the K vs D, but the best he can do is to compliment the outstanding transfer. Special guest actress apparently present just for the Hell of it: lovely, much-missed Virginia Christine. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
I’m just coming off Holiday, and have returned to a nice note from Gary Teetzel about Quatermass 2. For twenty years the talk has been that the 1957 film is on the endangered movies list, that the only existing copy is one surviving print, etc. Apparently, author and series originator Nigel Kneale took a page from the Orwell estate, and had it written into his contract that rights to the second Quatermass show would revert to him over time. I’m guessing that that happened around 1970, because that’s when the movie disappeared from view — Kneale just didn’t like it and saw to it that it was withdrawn from exhibition. The movie didn’t resurface until at least 1987 or so. Although I became re-enthused about it back at Cannon, when the first VHS tapes came out, by that time Q2 was virtually forgotten by all but diehard Sci-fi fans.
Gary’s welcome note was forwarded from a post by Robert Harris, probably at the Home Theater Forum. He published a list of film elements for Q2 presently held by the British Film Institute. They appear to include everything one would need for remastering — dupe negatives & dupe positives for both the feature and the trailer. But they’re all labeled ‘Master – Restricted access to preserved film.’ It’s likely that Shout Factory simply couldn’t access the restricted feature materials for any number of reasons, and certainly not right away. I remember this same thing happening 25 years ago at MGM Home Video. When George Feltenstein heard that The Quatermass Xperiment was a little longer than the beat-up ‘The Creeping Unknown’ copy held in the United Artist vaults, he went to the trouble of petitioning for access to the restricted materials preserved by the BFI. That began a slow and frustrating process, but the result was a breakthrough for Sci-fi fans.
So, it’s great to know that Q2 is not teetering on the edge of extinction, that a whole set of Tinkertoys for a terrific resto are being safeguarded. The new disc looks quite good to me, showing detail I’d never seen before. And some day a fantastic hi-resolution remaster might come along. Just tell everybody that the diabolical alien conspiracy in Quatermass 2 is really about Brexit … that’ll get deluxe attention for the film.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson