Review Page and Column
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves 08/08/20
As long as Kino continues turning out these Technicolor beauties in such good quality, let’s enjoy Charlie Largent’s take on Universal’s glowing, heavy breathing Maria Montez feature. The Arabian Nights tale gives the leading lady’s main squeeze Jon Hall some heavy competition: handsome Turhan Bey was a wartime heartthrob for millions. Ms. Montez, she of the mangled English pronunciation, comes with a variety of brightly colored diaphanous veils (not Covid-approved). Also: flashy special effects, fierce battles where nobody gets hurt PLUS Andy Devine as the most convincing Middle Eastern yokel imaginable — what could be better? With an audio commentary by Phillipa Berry. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Complete Films of Agnès Varda 08/08/20
An artist’s life is always more than their ‘published’ works, but this massive ‘Agnés in a box’ collection comes close to being the last word on the legendary filmmaker sometimes dubbed The Mother of the French New Wave. It certainly is comprehensive with her film work. So far they’ve all been pleasant discoveries. This review describes the collection and separately reviews two previously unfamiliar titles, the quirky sci-fi fantasy Les créatures and the worthy pro-feminist musical drama One Sings, the Other Doesn’t. 39 feature films, hours of extras, on fifteen discs with a 200-page book. It is a monumental release: Easy financing, low terms. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
By now I think most Welles fans know about it, but last Tuesday Gary Teetzel advanced us a link to Orson Welles à la Cinémathèque française, a frequently hilarious 90-minute interview and Q&A session with film students, from 1983 when Welles had been awarded the Légion d’honneur from President François Mitterrand. Lionized in Paris, Welles couldn’t get arrested in the film biz, even after outliving most of the moguls that did their best to put him under. The interviewer is Henri Béhar; Welles is obviously in fine humor. If you can’t watch the whole thing, watch long enough to see Welles COMMAND a 16mm cameraman to back off… not only does he throw a shadow over the aging enfant terrible, he’s just too damn close.
← Next up, for special fans of Psychotronic Mexican cinema, a John Crummett facebook entry leads us to a YouTube post of the 1965 Spanish-language sci-fi chiller Gigantes Planetarios, which for you Spanish speakers will be a fun ride. Vintage Mexican filmmaking is always diverting — the sci-fi pictures I’ve seen with aliens and spaceships have previously all been (wonderfully) silly comedies… wait wait, this thing only starts out on the serious side. It’s a comedy as well.
Since it’s not in English, I’ll add that the Hardy Encyclopedia of Sci-Fi pegs ‘Planetary Giants’ as a juvenile space show with regulation equipment: one hero, one scientist with a spaceship (which looks like an amusement park ride) and one sexy daughter. Responding to a rash of international disasters and sabotage (we see one African native disintegrated) they fly to the ‘Planet of Eternal Night’ in the galaxy of Rumania (?) to contend with a civilization just like ancient Rome. Stowaways include a boxer and his comic sidekick (Ferrusquilla), who get cozy with some alien babes. The only problem is an alien Despot With A Death Ray (officially, DWADR). It’s psychotronic, all right, especially the wince-worthy costumes.
Don’t expect to see anything as spectacular as the poster — but the opening couple of minutes are amusing. I know it’s a tiny graphic … open it in a new window and it will become full-sized.
A Book Review:
And to top off this day of uneasy lockdown, I have a Book Review of an impressive discovery: an exhaustive, well-written and annotated study of film novelizations — the (mostly) pocketbook tie-in for movie releases, both to promote them and maximize profits. They were everywhere when I was young, and for all kinds of pictures.
The Deluxe Edition from Ideogram Press of Light into Ink: A Critical Survey of 50 Film Novelizations turns my thinking around 180 degrees… author-researcher S.M. Guariento has broken ground on a fresh topic and done it justice. The text dives right into the subject, paying no need to the fact that many novelizations are fast-buck items sometimes spun out by hack writers. Guariento’s title says fifty novelizations but his 480 authoritative, entertaining pages cover hundreds more movies that were converted into reader bait for the drugstore racks. All the collectable oddities are covered, even those strange tie-in versions of Gorgo and Reptilicus that added laughable sex scenes. We’re still disturbed by mental images of Peter Cushing lusting after schoolgirls in Brides of Dracula.
But Light into Ink qualifies as an art book as well — it is illustrated with hundreds of color reproductions of vintage paperback covers, in many cases, multiple covers for popular novelizations. I know a couple of collectors that would consider this volume something of a Bible on the subject.
The easy-reading but academic-level annotated text does much more than give an overview. The author analyzes his fifty focus titles in great detail, explaining why novelizations vary so much from their accompanying films. In most cases the book is written before the movie is released, and the author must work from an early script draft. Guariento covers specialists in the form, but also charts unusual situations, at least one in which the original story author, who had nothing to do with the movie script, is brought back to do a novelization. He essentially got to ‘direct’ his version of the story.
A full range of films and genres is represented — pulp thrill items and even European art pix, where Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet wrote book versions of their movies for the news stands. Annie Carlisle’s novelization for Liquid Sky, which she only starred in, is described as autobiographical in nature. We’re told that the authors of the tie-ins for Forbidden Planet and Mad Max used an epistolary format.
The text of Light into Ink isn’t padded. All of the facts in the previous paragraph came from page 43 and 44. I was hooked by the book only a few pages in, when Guariento broke the ‘Information Barrier’ on the mysterious horror movie Blood and Roses. He says that the published novelization follows the feature closely, and includes the rumored blob vampire-monster in the heavily-edited dream sequence, that now exists only in a couple of tantalizing photos. Guess who is going to be trying to track down an elusive, 60 year-old pocketbook? Until now all I collected were different editions of Day of the Triffids.
For movie fans wanting more there’s a revelation to be had on every page. Light into Ink puts photo-faces on scores of unheralded novelization writers. Frankly, after reading some novelizations I wondered if the writer slammed out his words behind an alias, holding his nose as he typed. That’s how I felt when I first read the paperback edition of Major Dundee which Harry Julian Fink adapted from his treatment, and presumably his unused screenplay. It’s a shapeless mess, plain and simple.
The fifty films given individual chapter attention are an eclectic bunch, from horror pix by Carpenter and Cronenberg to Leone’s spaghetti westerns to things like The Day the Earth Caught Fire. In comparing images to ink we learn more than a little about both, as the novelizations illuminate different elements, or follow a different path than the film entirely. Guariento’s dedication to detail digs deep into foreign version research for the pocketbook adaptations of a number of Giallo classics.
The book gravitates toward films that might be difficult to adapt to print: a section called ‘Dangerous Visions’ covers films as diverse as “X”, Performance, Zardoz, Phase IV, Sorcerer and Harlequin. Extensive quotes make the case that the novelization for ‘X” betters the movie in visualizing Dr. Xavier’s X-Ray visions. For the book tie-in for Taxi Driver we learn that author Richard Elman preferred to skip the descriptor ‘novelization’ in favor of the phrase ‘parallel reimagining of the screenplay.’ Author Guariento argues well that the writers of tie-in books are not necessarily hacks, you know, like the thuggish architect in The Fountainhead who growls out, “We wanna express our creativity too!”
I’ll now have to re-order my thinking away from the put-down of the Beatles song:
I could make it longer if you like the style / I can change it ’round
And I wanna be a paperback writer / PAPERBACK WRITER!”
A second more affordable softbound version is available as a non-art book with monochrome illustrations: Light into Ink: A Critical Survey of 50 Film Novelizations Midnight Edition.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Wake Island 08/04/20
Never heard of Wake Island? Its fall terrified Americans at Christmas of 1941. The war’s just begun, we’re definitely not winning, and the assignment was to make a movie about a tragic defeat that might be the first of many tragic defeats for the U.S.A.. Paramount’s careful morale-builder doesn’t exaggerate or sentimentalize the brutal fall of a tiny atoll in the Pacific, and stands as an example of filmmaking reaching for hope in the face of disaster. John Farrow directs a fine group of actors who knew the film ‘had to say the right things’: Brian Donlevy, Robert Preston, Macdonald Carey, William Bendix, Albert Dekker, Walter Abel, Mikhail Rasumny, Richard Loo, Philip Van Zandt. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Luchino Visconti’s handsome final feature adapts a classic Italian novel about an arrogant aristocrat whose selfish double-standard philosophy causes ruin and misery. The 19th century villas and ornate costumes dazzle, but the depressingly fated story will be tough going for sensitive audiences. This new disc encoding highlights the intoxicating atmosphere, a beautiful recreation of Italian high life around 1900, and the intense performances of Giancarlo Giannini, Laura Antonelli and Jennifer O’Neill. On Blu-rayfrom Film Movement Classics.
The giant artwork pictured above was one of several mounted atop buildings in Hollywood around 1999 (I think). They stayed up for the better part of ten years. This representation of Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece was atop a long-gone post house called Laser Pacific on Cahuenga just north of Melrose, where I remember finishing my first feature promotional job done in Hi-Definition. A matching art construction up on Santa Monica Blvd. was just as instantly recognizable … it was the silhouette of Raquel Welch in her cavewoman pose from One Million Years B.C.. There were others that I may have seen only once or twice.
I took a new look at Toby Roan’s blog 50 Westerns From The 50s today… its sub-heading title is “Riding the long, dusty trail through ’50s Westerns.” Toby’s mini-reviews are fun to step through; I wish I could interest him in writing for CineSavant.
Toby is just the best for vintage western commentaries, as I’ve found out on A Man Alone and Night Passage; his input to the One-Eyed Jacks Blu-ray is also impressive. For some reason, Toby’s speaking voice is just perfect for commentaries — he doesn’t rush and he imparts a lot of useful information, without making himself out as a budding multi-media personality (although he ought to be).
About forty blog entries down, Toby makes a joke about a recent movie called Dora and the Lost City of Gold. I had to laugh … in 1958 my mother took me to the UA oater The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold at the Edwards A.F.B. theater, and I loved the movie. At least, I loved it until one of the last scenes — when a thrown hatchet axes somebody in the back, and a woman screams. Holy Peckinpah — I knew that really had to hurt. At age six it was my first taste of screen violence, and it marked me.
Oh, honest, I wrote up this plug for 50 Westerns From The ’50s before Toby entered his plug for the upcoming Via Vision disc of Major Dundee. That’s the truth, Scout’s honor.
Here’s something I liked. Eagle-eyed associate Gary Teetzel has a welcome habit of haunting trade magazines in search of items of interest about movies. He uncovered a trio of tell-tale clippings dating from early in the production of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo.
Paramount listed From Amongst The Dead as an upcoming title in February of 1956, mentioning it in trade ads. Stewart was listed as the male lead by September of that year. He might have been signed earlier, as the Media History Digital Library’s collection for that period is a little spotty, missing issues of both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter).
‘From Amongst The Dead’ is of course a translation of the original Boileau-Narcejac novel entitled D’Entre Les Morts. Hitchcock reportedly snapped it up on the rebound from losing Boileau-Narcejac’s Les diaboliques to the French producer-director H.G. Clouzot.
In December, Paramount ran a trade ad listing Maxwell Anderson as the screenwriter and the promising actress Vera Miles as the female lead for Vertigo. A few still photos exist of Ms. Miles in character as the mysterious ‘Hitchcock Blonde’ Madaleine Elster ( ← ). The title From Amongst The Dead was acknowledged as possibly being only a place-holder:
Gary found two other informative tidbits about Vertigo’s title, and a key piece of re-casting.
Just recently a minor ghost-spiritualist tale had been released under the name Back from the Dead; perhaps From Amongst The Dead sounded too much like a horror thriller. But the tentative title was allowed to dawdle for a while, until Hitchcock decided on his final replacement. This ‘Cal York Jottings’ column is taken from the April 1958 issue of Photoplay. It appears that not everyone loved Vertigo as a movie title:
Finally, an article in caught Gary’s attention. A great many actor quotes in trade magazine articles originated from the minds of agents and publicity flacks. This piece from the September 1957 Photoplay reads like something that Vera Miles might have said:
I guess I should catch up on my Hitchcock bios, what with the info that ‘Stewart and Miles’ actually began work on the film… which Gary assures me wouldn’t have been more than makeup and costume tests. And Hitchcock is always characterized as angry at Vera Miles for getting pregnant, when this item claims that the film was also delayed by his heart attack. The words “Mr. Hichcock has a beautiful replacement in Kim Novak” fit Ms. Miles’ personality.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Tony Curtis Collection 08/01/20
Good Old Tony Curtis! We could always depend on Tony for a sly, ingratiating smile, charm that ranged from candid-sweet to barracuda insincerity, and a desire to please that never quit. Some of his best work came while schmoozing and nice-nice clawing his way to the top, where he epitomized the glamorous movie star with universal appeal. Kino gathers three of Curtis’s better mid-career starring vehicles, directed by three top talents — Blake Edwards (The Perfect Furlough), Robert Mulligan (The Great Impostor) and Norman Jewison (40 Pounds of Trouble). On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Slave of the Cannibal God 08/01/20
…or Mountain of the Cannibal God or maybe Prisoner of the Cannibal God. Too many timeless classics are unavailable in decent condition, whereas this cannibal exploitation shocker looks incredibly good on Blu-ray. Sergio Martino graces the grimy, sadistic cannibal subgenre with pricey Sri Lanka locations and big stars. The wild-card maverick Stacy Keach is on hand, along with the very brave Ursula Andress, who is stripped naked and transformed into a living Orange Julius treat: let’s just see Bo Derek try to top that! Is it any good? The jury’s still out. Will you wonder how it ever got made? I think the answer is yes. The intrepid Charlie Largent made sure his cannibal insurance was paid up before reviewing this gruesome epic — which contains two versions of the film plus a Stacy Keach interview… or maybe confession? On Blu-ray from Code Red.
Hello! Happy fleeting lockdown summer, from here in sunny
San Quentin Southern California.
This first item may be a little tabloid-ish for the hoity-toity elegant patrician taste of CineSavant, but that never stopped us from poking our nose into an old cinema scandal. A Daily Mail article has the lowdown on a sad case of psychological fallout from the ungodly mess that is the legacy of Charles Manson. Back in the late 1960s Roman Polanski was surfing a wave of giddy jet-set hedonism, that required reading between the lines for some of the interesting cast choices in his films, like Iain Quarrier and Angela Dorian. Ms. Dorian would ‘become’ Victoria Vetri, and in Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby her Terry Gionoffrio character is even told, “I thought you were Victoria Vetri, the actress.”
Well, Ms. Vetri’s post- Tate-LaBianca history is tangled and tragic. Joe Dante passed along a 2018 Daily Mail article — Rocker Describes How Former Playboy Playmate Wife Victoria Vetri Shot Him In the Back — which tells the story from the POV of her husband, Bruce Rathgeb. A plain-facts account of the case is readable at the Los Angeles Daily News, from 2011. Talk about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: even on the outer-outer fringes of the Manson cult, the strange and sad stories never seem to stop.
And it appears we have welcome future disc news from Stuart Galbraith IV: Arrow Video in December is releasing a remastered Blu-ray of Daiei’s 1956 Sci-fi landmark picture Uchûjin Tôkyô ni arawaru (Unknown Satellite over Tokyo), aka Warning From Space. The projected street date in the U.K. is December 10. Hopefully a domestic disc from Arrow USA will be announced as well.
Long ago, we saw this weird show maybe once on television (produced for English language by Jay Cipes, according to the IMDB) and have been curious about it ever since. It has the warm color timing we associate with Toho’s Rodan, before Japanese color seemed to go cooler and more blue (non- expert observation, that). Warning from Space is disappointingly missing from Bill Warren’s encyclopedic book Keep Watching the Skies! Bill was unpredictable when deciding what films did or didn’t qualify for inclusion in his personal Sci-fi overview. Because Warning from Space didn’t show theatrically here, he skipped it altogether.
I once made what I thought was a big big big (read: incredibly esoteric) editorial discovery about Warning from Space, but I’ll hold off blabbing about it again until I hear Stuart’s commentary… I’m sure he’ll have a lot to say about a show that been a big question mark for far too long. (Hint — it has to to with the old TV versions, and the subtitles).
Oh, and I can’t forget to add: THIS unbelievable bubble gum ballad is NOT the original theme song from this movie. (You have to listen until 2:53. It helps if you imagine Daiei’s starfish creatures singing in unison.) Who says CineSavant isn’t inspired?
And a couple of weeks ago I plugged Alan K. Rode’s now-imminent online Zoom discussion of his book Michael Curtiz, A Life in Film. Alan tells me that he’ll be discussing the director Curtiz with a slide show and film clips for 45 minutes, followed by a 15 minute Q&A session. Admission is free. So if you’re interested, make yourself ‘Zoom’ ready. To listen and watch, on Sunday at the appointed time click on this Zoom link and follow the prompts:
Sunday August 2, 5:00pm Pacific Standard Time (Los Angeles)
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Raggedy Man 07/28/20
Here’s a story about a different kind of ‘lockdown.’ This near-perfect drama might be the real pinnacle of Sissy Spacek’s wonderful career. The no-baloney tale of rural life on the Texas coastline during WW2 is packed with strong emotions and solid sentiment. Wartime hardships and catch-as-catch-can romance strikes an uneasy balance with more threatening material, including a highly suspenseful finish. First-time director Jack Fisk hits this one out of the park, with help from Eric Roberts, William Sanderson, Tracey Walter, R.G. Armstrong, Sam Shepard and little Henry Thomas. This is one of those special pictures that creates a warm feeling about people. The ‘Rum and Coca Cola’ scene is perfection of a special kind. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Severin’s extravagant four-film six-disc Umberto Lenzi / Carroll Baker Giallo Collection is a luxurious trip into sexy, violent Italo thrill territory. CineSavant concentrates on the first Lenzi-Baker collaboration, a truly nasty bit of misanthropy that bridges the gap between standard ‘Lady In Peril’ fare and the full-bore giallos that would soon become the norm. It’s presented under its admittedly attention-getting original title, that sounds more appropriate for a porn movie. In the U.S. the given title was Paranoia — not to be confused with Hammer’s Paranoiac or Lenzi’s follow-up A Quiet Place to Kill, which was also titled Paranoia. With Lou Castel, Colette Descombes and Tino Carraro. On Blu-ray from Severin Films.
While the world continues to crumble without, we at CineSavant continue with the essential job of (cough) reviewing home video discs. Is another distraction from the global catastrophe a good thing right now? I hope so. I’m still happy when propagandizing for the world of quality home video.
Whatever else is happening out there, the discs continue to flow. Kino Lorber is still inundating us with the sheer volume of its output. I have Charlie Largent interested in reviewing a set of Audie Murphy westerns (The Duel at Silver Creek, Ride a Crooked Trail, No Name on the Bullet) while I’m finishing up notices on three Tony Curtis comedies (The Perfect Furlough, The Great Imposter, Forty Pounds of Trouble). From Left to right in the image from The Perfect Furlough (just above ↑ ) are Janet Leigh, Linda Cristal, Elaine Stritch and Tony Curtis.
I’m also keen to catch up with Kino’s Old Boyfriends, in which Talia Shire re-contacts old beaus Keith Carradine, John Belushi, and Richard Jordan. It’s one of those shows like today’s Raggedy Man that most of us remember from cable television. Criterion offers the deep-dish divorce ordeal Marriage Story while Paramount has dished up a new edition of the crazy comedy Airplane! Charlie is at present tackling the gonzo jungle epic Slave of the Cannibal God (with Ursula Andress & Stacy Keach ↓ ) The tireless Mr. Largent will hopefully take on the perilous job of reviewing Universal’s Technicolor wartime fantasies Arabian Nights and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Jon Hall, anyone?
Thanks for reading. — Glenn Erickson
The Lady Eve 07/25/20
On his stellar directing roll at Paramount Preston Sturges graduates to a top-notch cast and a grade-A production budget, neither of which cramp his style one iota. This enlarged pun on the Garden of Eden myth touts that ‘Barbara Stanwyck has Henry Fonda bewitched and bewildered!’ Charles Coburn, Eugene Palette and William Demarest have socko comedy material to chew on, and the chemistry between Stanwyck and Fonda (“Snakes are my life!”) is genuinely hot & bothered steamy. We’re especially excited by this upgrade of a 2001 DVD; apparently the rumors that no good elements were available were unfounded. Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark 07/25/20
We love Cassandra Peterson, a smart woman who made a go of horror host work in the tough Los Angeles TV market, long after the short-lived Vampira and just a few years after the passing of Sinister Seymour. After Elvira’s Movie Macabre she got to make this lively comedy feature, and thus planted her stake in the cinema firmament while at the top of her game. I’d give it an A+ for nostalgic sentiment, a B for quality, a B+ for wit, even if the adult humor does skew a bit infantile. Well, that was part of the Elvira personality too! With Edie McClurg and William Morgan Sheppard. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
First up, horrible wonder wonderful horror news:
This big surprise announcement makes my day, and might make for a great Halloween too: according to Blu-ray.com the BFI will be releasing John Parker’s genuine cult marvel Dementia aka Daughter of Horror on October 12. They’ve affixed a price to the release but no additional info, although it’s likely to be restricted to Region B. If someone has performed a digital restoration on the original 1955 film and its slight-revision version Daughter of Horror with the amazing voice of Ed McMahon, this will be a highly special item. The old Kino disc was miraculous enough, thanks to an excellent research extra by Bret Wood. But to see the show in better video quality would be just … dementedly good. Do you still enjoy old-fashioned spooky-wooky haunted house thrills? This weird near-silent thriller delivers. You’ll never believe how far beyond haunted-house creepy Ed McMahon’s voice sounds:
“Yes, I am here. The DEMON that possesses your soul. Wait a bit. I have so much to SHOW you. So much that you are afraid to see… For this is a place where there is NO love, NO hope in the pulsing, throbbing, world of the INSANE MIND where only nightmares are real.”
Also just in the door here at CineSavant headquarters and drawing my attention is a simply beautifully-designed collector’s box for Severin Films’ The Complete Umberto Lenzi Carroll Baker Giallo Collection. Severin has been getting a lot of attention for massive, pricey and highly ‘collectable’ collections of maudit filmmakers lately, with one particular producer-director in mind.
All the features star Carroll Baker, seemingly took a three year vacation in Italo horror — did she think the movies would never reach the U.S.? The mysterious contents beckon: So Sweet… So Perverse (Cosí dolce… cosí perversa), A Quiet Place to Kill (Paranoia), Knife of Ice (Il coltello di ghiaccio). I remember the fourth title Orgasmo attracting my attention in a movie listing somewhere long, long ago… now I’ll find out what it’s all about. I don’t want to read too much about Orgasmo before seeing it. All I know is that it was also titled Paranoia in some places and that it’s a proto-giallo, or perhaps more accurately an ‘erotic thriller,’ co-starring Lou Castel.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson