Review Page and Column
Nothing Sacred 11/17/18
Whaddaya know, this new disc of the Carole Lombard / Fredric March comedy hit looks great, besting by far all previous videos and prints I’ve seen of the early (1937) Technicolor production. Hazel Flagg’s Madcap Manhattan Weekend now pops with brilliant hues. And a little digging tells us that Ben Hecht’s morbid premise is based on a real-life scandalous workplace tragedy called ‘The Living Dead Women.’ Also starring Charles Winninger, Walter Connolly, Sig Ruman, Margaret Hamilton, Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom and Troy Brown as a non-PC Eastern potentate. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Princess Bride 11/17/18
William Goldman and Rob Reiner’s unchallenged modern classic captures the magic of fairy tales about noble lovers, loyal warriors and low-down villains. Everybody’s terrific, all the characters are hilariously magical and Goldman’s writing glows with love for happy storytelling leavened further by sly wit. Criterion presents the Blu-ray in a lush storybook package with a treasure chest of extras. Starring Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Peter Falk, Mandy Patinkin, André the Giant and Wallace Shawn. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Correspondent ‘Bee’ follows up on the The Last Movie review that he helped write with a link to a brief film clip from The Merv Griffin Show helpfully entitled A Slightly Bombed Dennis Hopper Bemoans the fate of his ‘The Last Movie.’ It’s short, but sweet.
A fun resource located by Gary Teetzel: a July 1957 episode of CBS Radio Workshop is an adaption of Poe’s Never Bet the Devil Your Head, the story filmed by Federico Fellini in Spirits of the Dead. Actor John Dehner narrates the story as Poe; the unlucky Toby Dammit is played by . . . wait for it … Daws Butler.
Yes, Daws Butler, famous for doing countless voices for Hanna-Barbara, including Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, etc.. Butler’s Dammit isn’t like any of those characters, but it does distinctly sound like a cartoon voice. So if you want to hear Poe as performed by Yogi Bear, here you go: CBS Radio Workshop – Never Bet the Devil Your Head. Presented by the Old Time Radio Researchers Group at Yahoo.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Gas, Food Lodging 11/13/18
Welcome to the West, long after the frontier has closed. Allison Anders’ marvelous drama of a three-girl family is a big step for indie cinema, a highly entertaining examination of women’s aspirations and frustrations out on the non-glamorous working class fringe. Writer-director Anders wastes no time with a terrific cast — Brooke Adams, Ione Skye and Fairuza Balk’s family lacks a father, and ‘men who walk’ becomes the central issue in their lives. Filmed in a gloriously believable New Mexico desert. On Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.
Sword of Sherwood Forest 11/13/18
Hammer takes time off from horror to ‘Speak Treason — Fluently!’ TV’s Robin Hood Richard Greene goes Eastmancolor and MegaScope to oppose the Sheriff of Nottingham on the big screen. The cast is certainly attractive: Peter Cushing, Niall MacGinnis, Richard Pasco, Jack Gwillim, Sarah Branch, Nigel Green, Vanda Godsell, Desmond Llewelyn and Oliver Reed. Reviewer Charlie Largent sorts things out — and adds a fascinating mini-history of the ‘lefty’ TV show we all watched as kids. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
‘Hey Blondie!’ Dagwood, Blondie, Mr. Dithers and a victimized postman return for a stab at a TV revival of the 1940s series from Chic Young’s never-ending comic strip. It’s not bad, with Arthur Lake clowning up a storm and Pamela Britton a charming new embodiment of a character who began as ‘Blondie Boopadoop.’ It’s the entire one-season series. Guest stars include Barbara Nichols and Pamela Duncan. On Blu-ray from ClassicFlix.
(Written Monday:) Parts of Malibu continue to burn. It’s no relief for many, many others, but my two close contacts in the major fire zone to the West of Los Angeles report that they’ve come out unscathed, at least so far. Returned to his house, a close friend says he found that neighbors that stayed behind had rearranged the water hoses around his house, to better react if spot-fires popped up in the gulley behind. It’s been reported by Guillermo Del Toro that his home-museum of incredible fantasy horror and sci-fi memorabilia, the palace of delights seen in several choice video extras, has survived. Del Toro was evacuated for a time as well. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if that happened to me.
Don’t know why The New Yorker should care about the blessed streets of The City of The Angels, but Joe Dante steers us to this YouTube comparison video entitled Seventy Years of Los Angeles, Then and Now . The cars in the 1940s and today appear to be cruising right around central downtown, on Bunker hill and the streets just East of the Harbor Freeway. The alignment is pretty interesting — only occasionally do we see a building with an unchanged facade. A time-traveling Philip Marlowe wouldn’t know his own stomping grounds. Here’s another much longer still comparison called New York Then and Now, bridging today and 1890-1900 or so.
I received yet another nice note from correspondent “Mark” and followed his link to his page Movies ala Mark. He’s got a review site going with plenty of fun content, and none of it as long-winded as CineSavant ‘essays.’ Good pix too. See, it’s the right thing for reviewers to plug each others work — life isn’t only about dogged self-promotion, ya know.
That doesn’t make me averse to a little name-dropping now and then. Producer Mike Finnell wrote to tell me that the image I posted of a matte painting shot from Gremlins was indeed painted by my old cohort Rocco Gioffre. I have a long-ago memory of standing watching Rocco paint that exact masonite ‘canvas,’ but trusting memories is risky. The uplifting thought is knowing that someone like Mr. Finnell might peek in at CineSavant now and then.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Last Movie 11/10/18
Dennis Hopper’s legendary follow-up to Easy Rider ended his Hollywood directing career for at least fifteen years. Barely seen again after brief premiere bookings, it hasn’t built up a reputation as a suppressed masterpiece. So what is it exactly? A new spotless restoration gives a dazzling rebirth to Hopper’s Perú- filmed deconstruction of Hollywood. The astonishing number of notables in the cast list may in itself demand a viewing: Julie Adams, Tomas Milian, Don Gordon, Donna Baccala, Sylvia Miles, Rod Cameron, Severn Darden, Sam Fuller, Peter Fonda, Henry Jaglom, Michelle Phillips, Kris Kristofferson, Dean Stockwell, Russ Tamblyn, John Phillip Law, Richard Rust, Toni Basil, Michael Anderson Jr.. On Blu-ray from Arbelos.
Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure 11/10/18
Tarzan got a new lease on life when a film company finally went to Africa to pit Gordon Scott’s excellent ‘Lord of the Jungle’ against a formidable phalanx of villains. Anthony Quayle, Sean Connery and Niall MacGinnis are perfect Dastards of the Darkest Continent. Also top-flight are the women in this jungle combat, wicked Scilla Gabel and naughty Sara Shane. Fun for adult kids of all ages! Poor Al Mulock gets no respect, but he’s in there slugging as well. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Hello, I hope…
Well, it’s been a rough weekend here in Los Angeles — looking West towards Malibu yesterday, the ash and smoke cloud in the sky looked like a nuclear mushroom cloud. A quarter of a million were evacuated — all of Malibu and a half-dozen other communities. Three friends contacted me to say they had already left, or were awaiting evacuation instructions. I watched local TV coverage most of yesterday and could see that places very close to their homes were burning. I was impressed that the residents clogging Pacific Coast Highway weren’t panicking, but that everyone is taking the fire seriously. Movies give one the idea that survival is easy, when it’s possible to be killed just standing in the street. When so much is burning, the radiant heat can knock a person out.
The crazy part is that the chaos and horror is all ‘up the road’ a few miles away. The city around me continues as usual, with its heavy traffic and workaday normalities. I’m posting a couple of pictures here from friends. The first was taken around 11am on Friday from where a friend had retreated, looking toward his home in Agoura Hills ten or twelve miles away in Woodland Hills. The second was taken last night by close associate Allan Peach from the Santa Monica Pier, in the direction of the firestorm in Malibu. From the fun-fair the blaze on the horizon is a ‘memorable sight,’ but it’s awful to contemplate the lives that are being turned upside down out there.
The air has been relatively calm here in Los Angeles proper, but fierce Eastern winds in the fire areas were so strong that no attempt to contain the fires was even practical — access to the terrain is difficult and many places have no water mains. Firefighting is fire management under these conditions, and there’s nothing anyone can do but get out of the way and try to save individual structures where possible. The assertion that ‘poor water management’ is responsible, is preposterous.
Before 2000 or so, it seemed that these fires were less frequent and more limited. I’ve never heard of so much Los Angeles territory being evacuated before. I’ve watched the news of terrible storms and flooding from back East and thought, ‘well all we need to worry about out here is earthquakes,’ and I’ve never been afraid of them. From what’s happened in Northern California, we can see that anyplace is vulnerable.
Sorry to hijack the column for ‘unrelated’ thoughts, but I won’t calm down until I hear good news from Thousand Oaks, Agoura Hills and Malibu. More fun disc news on Tuesday — thanks for reading. — Glenn Erickson
These wartime docu-propaganda films are fascinating, but critic Joseph McBride’s critical accompaniment is even better, nailing the meaning of five groundbreaking works of ‘indoctrination’ and giving us a refreshing revisionist take on one of America’s more revered film directors. The films are Prelude to War, The Battle of Russia (1&2), The Negro Soldier, Tunisian Victory and Your Job in Germany; get ready to hear plenty of ‘why we fight’ rhetoric and see all those dramatic animated maps, with swastika daggers making entire countries bleed. On Blu-ray from Olive Films.
Andrei Rublev 11/06/18
Want to get serious about Russian cinema? Andrei Tarkovsky’s 15th-century epic portrays the travails of an artist at odds with his world — a medieval nightmare far more cruel than the Cold War indifference and suspicion that Tarkovsky experienced in his own industry. It’s perhaps his masterpiece, a ‘safe’ historical story that nevertheless was too personal and religious to escape Soviet censorship. Both versions are here, the 3-hour director’s cut and the longer The Passion According to Andre. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
I listened to a full podcast this morning. Sergio Mims, a writer and film programmer that I correspond & gossip with, is the subject of Bill Ackerman’s Supporting Characters podcast show, where he talks about his experience reviewing in Chicago, running film festivals and working on films. For me it was a good chance to hear how Sergio talks and learn about his background. Sergio attracted attention with his review here at CineSavant last summer for D.W. Griffith’s silent The Birth of a Nation; he has a commentary on an Arrow Blu-ray disc coming out in January: Willie Dynamite.
Brian Jamieson of Twilight Time just contacted me about two subjects. On November 20 his Redwind disc banner is releasing a highly praised but not-much-seen TV movie from 1973, Sunshine starring Cristina Raines, Cliff De Young and Meg Foster.
Featuring a battery of songs by John Denver, the show’s director is the esteemed Joseph Sargent (Colossus, the Forbin Project, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three); it was the most-watched TV movie of its time. CineSavant has mentioned the problem of TV movies from the ’70s and ’80s going missing, even huge successes, so I look forward to seeing if Sunshine merits its very high ratings. I’ll bet that actress Cristina Raines will be pleased to see it come back as well.
Plus, I asked Brian about the title sequence on Twilight Time’s new Blu of The Adventures of Haji Baba, which is missing an opening logo — more than one reader asked if the disc needed to be re-printed to restore a 20th-Fox CinemaScope logo. Produced by Walter Wanger, the show apparently was originally finished with Allied Artists logos in place. Fox distributed in America, and standard studio policy in most cases is to remove logos from acquisitions. Perhaps Fox only had good elements (the disc is picture-perfect) of titles with the AA opening. I suppose Fox could have slapped on their proprietary ‘Scope logo and fanfare, but this is the master with which TT was provided.
Alfred Hitchcock’s personally-owned Paramount films lost their original logos for a number of years when Universal re-issued them in 1983, after his death. That made a mess of things when the Paramount mountain graphic had been a seamless part of a title sequence. It was also disconcerting to hear a VistaVision musical fanfare behind an ordinary Uni globe. I think the original logos on most of those pictures have been restored. Psycho was also much improved when its original B&W Paramount logo, with its stylized horizontal lines, was put back in place.
But outrages still happen. Criterion’s otherwise excellent disc of One-Eyed Jacks, sourced from the film’s new owner Universal, does an identical opening logo-swap up front. It also ruins Marlon Brando’s evocative final shot by eliminating the final dissolve to a Paramount logo. Just when we want to contemplate the fate of the film’s separated lovers, the revised ending instead throws a stack of restoration credits at us.
For Los Angeles folk, associate Christopher Lemaire tells me that this Saturday (November 10), the American Cinematheque at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica will be screening the new Spanish documentary Sad Hill Unearthed about the restoration of the graveyard set, the famous location at the end of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It’s an interesting study of the fan culture around Sergio Leone, which I can attest is quite extensive. Christopher will be hosting a talk with director Guillermo de Oliveira, and Joe Dante will be providing an introduction. The info is at this American Cinematheque page.
And finally, a last-minute addition from the dependable Gary Teetzel:
“Well, we may not be able to purchase This Island Earth or The Incredible Shrinking Man yet on U.S. Blu-ray, but by golly it’s been announced that we’ll be getting Virgil Vogel’s The Mole People with John Agar and Cynthia Patrick. Shout! Factory has not yet specified any extras … although Tom Weaver has hinted on the Classic Horror Film Board that he may be doing commentaries for both Mole People and Kino’s The Land Unknown — Gary
I know it’s easy to mix up similarly-titled movies, but don’t confuse this Universal monster opus with the classic, non-existent Spanish-language film La gente de mole poblano, which I am assured is a perfectly crumulent movie. It has no monsters but tastes much better.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Ray Milland produces, directs and stars in this odd, forgotten travelogue / adventure / romance /crime tale filmed in Portugal’s beautiful capital. Claude Rains is magnificent, Maureen O’Hara is okay and relative newcomer Yvonne Furneaux is a knockout. Most remembered is Nelson Riddle’s adaptation of the film’s title theme, one of the most admired pop instrumentals of the 1950s. Filmed in Republic’s ‘Naturama’ and ‘Trucolor,’ both of which prompt plenty of fuzzy man Savant-‘splaining. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Black Widow 11/03/18
(1954) Fox touted Black Widow as the first murder mystery in CinemaScope. Ace writer / tyro director Nunnally Johnson tries an ‘All About Eve’ dissection of Broadway swells but in a mystery context, with beaucoup flashbacks. The result is something akin to Rope, with scenes all taking place in apartments with views of Central Park. Nobody complained about the big marquee names Ginger Rogers, Van Heflin, Gene Tierney and George Raft, but I re-watch to marvel over the dreamy, interesting Virginia Leith. Raymond Durgnat encouraged us to indulge our screen fantasies! On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.