Review Page and Column
Dr. Who Double Bill – 1965 & ’66 09/15/20
Who’s on first and What’s on second… actually Who’s on second too. Charlie Largent reviews a Blu-ray double bill featuring everyone’s favorite Timelord, Dr. Who. The beloved British sci-fi TV series spawned two theatrical spin-offs in 1965 and 1966; Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.. Even with Peter Cushing at the controls, translating the charms of a small screen favorite to the big screen is fraught with perils more daunting than any Dalek. Beware the robotic salt shakers! On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Five Graves to Cairo 09/15/20
It’s smart, it’s funny, it has a touch of romance… it’s Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett’s entertaining espionage thriller set between the battle lines of the North Africa campaign. Franchot Tone must impersonate a double agent, when the command staff of General Rommel (Erich von Stroheim!) takes over a half-bombed hotel run by the forlorn Akim Tamiroff. Anne Baxter is the French maid desperate to make a deal, with whichever side will help her get what she wants. Even the title of this winner has a clever special meaning. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Witness one Robert Lippert, an American independent producer who flourished in multiple eras of Hollywood. We discuss his adaptation to changes in the movie biz in conjunction with a double bill DVD of two typical Lippert shows from the very early fifties, one produced in Hollywood and another in England. Robert Lippert is the proof that ‘Life Finds a Way’ in the movies as well, a sentiment reinterpreted as ‘staying in the game.’ From ‘Forgotten Noir Volume 6,’ on DVD from VCI.
Don’t look now, it’s Renzo Cesana. Who? About a week ago I was looking at Kino’s new disc of Joan Tewksbury’s Old Boyfriends (1979) with Talia Shire and John Belushi, and was surprised at what jumped out at me. Let me backtrack: an ongoing sidebar story by Alan K. Rode and Eddie Muller comes up at Noir City festivals whenever the grim noir saga Try and Get Me! is screened. The producer of the 1950 film insisted on having an intellectual character in the movie, a foreign philosopher-busybody who repeatedly lectures the main characters about morality. “Don’t you think,” he purrs, that it’s a deplorable idea to form a vigilante mob and hang two men before they can be tried for murder? (Actually, maybe we need this philosopher-busybody now, to get the public at large to calm the hell down.) Anyway, this foreign-sounding windbag in Try and Get Me! is played by the ultra-calm actor Renzo Cesana. Film students may also know him from Rossellini’s Stromboli, as a priest who advises Ingrid Bergman to relax, even when sulfurous volcanic rocks fall from the sky, something that happens almost every day.
Rode & Muller’s Renzo story: in 1952 the CBS network picked up Cesana’s odd late-night TV show called The Continental. It consisted only of Cesana, dressed in a tux, in a reality TV sketch: he simply talks to the audience, presumably lonely women, with soothing romantic intimate talk, serving an unseen ‘her’ a glass of champagne, smiling, paying her compliments, etc. It’s truly bizarre. I never saw this in person but Cesana released similar vocal recordings. This one has Cesana reciting song lyrics. Christopher Walken did a spot-on SNL parody of The Continental… but did viewers remember what he was spoofing?
The (tenuous) connection here is that when the lonely Talia Shire turns on a motel TV in Old Boyfriends, up pops our old friend The Continental, to offer her a smile and some comforting small talk, like Pepe Le Pew only more oleagenous. Well, in his own way Renzo is a pretty smooth dude… more seductive than Rossano Brazzi in South Pacific or Yves Montand in Grand Prix. Talia’s character looks like she’s enjoying this particular fantasy… Signor Cesana’s advanced course in ‘Gigolo 101.’ Old Boyfriends was written by Paul and Leonard Schrader — were they fans of ‘The Continental?’ Thanks for pointing this out to us, Alan.
‘News’ flash: contributor Paul Penna adds to ‘Continental Fever’: He sends along a YouTube link to a 1956 Popeye cartoon Parlez Vous Woo, with Bluto impersonating ‘The International.’ Sounds like Jackson Beck, Bluto’s regular voice at the time, does the Cesanaesque stuff as well. Thank you Mr. Penna!
Here’s something inspired by the When Worlds Collide review last Saturday. New correspondent Parfyon Kirshnit directs us to a fascinating website that’s all in Russian: a 1955 Soviet film strip for children made from an article by A. Zhigarev that appeared in the October 1954 issue of the magazine ‘Znanie-Sila.’ The author says that the color is weak because the filmstrip has faded.
The filmstrip lays out a proposition for a U.S.S.R Rocket to the Moon program. The interesting thing to us is that the 48 +/- illustrated pages display imagery similar to George Pal’s films, and Walt Disney’s Man in Space television shows. The spaceship’s name is ‘Luna-1.’ It takes off from an inclined ramp that vaults up the side of ‘Mount Kazbek,’ assisted by a rocket-sled undercarriage, just like the Space Ark in When Worlds Collide. The ramp even has a snow shield. The ship’s overall design is similar as well; it’s described as a ‘strato-plane.’ The lunar landing gear fold out of the ship’s fuselage, just like Disney’s ‘Rocket to the Moon’ feature at the then-new Disneyland.
The filmstrip’s title card reads “Flight to the Moon, artist K. Artseulov.” The text has more technical detail than the average 1950s ‘space future’ articles and books that were popular here in the U.S.. According to one of the illustrations, the ship’s speed leaving the ramp is supposed to be 600 meters per second … like a skyrocket, I guess. Radar from the ground detects a meteorite and the ship shifts course a bit to avoid it. The final page tells us this is all a prediction of the future and that maybe the young readers will help to make it reality.
Language translators online are indispensable for investigating these things. I imagine that Soviet space researcher Robert Skotak knows all about this filmstrip… I wish he would publish his promised book about Soviet space films.
A fun bit of video from U.K. correspondent Dave Carnegie of some people erecting an inflatable screen for an outdoor movie presentation during quarantine — nothing that remarkable, but I haven’t seen it done before. It’s at somewhere called Sutton on Sea, Lincolnshire. I bet the skies aren’t smoky THERE today, cough cough. Dave Carnegie writes:
“A happy band of volunteers set up an open-air cinema to bring people together. 148 viewers turned up for the first show on September 9, 2020. A good evening was had by all. There was a strong wind which did not help but on the second attempt the young lads had the screen up in five minutes. Brilliant display. Picture and sound were more than adequate. It shows what can be done ‘if you have a go’ as Wilfred Pickles used to say.”
It doesn’t look like something you want to do in even a slight breeze, but I thought it was cute, especially the dialogue. I’ll have to ask Lee Broughton about Wilfrid Pickles… ? Good going, Dave.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Universal’s top-of-the-line Hitchcock winners make the jump to Ultra HD in a worthy update. We’ve seen these before but they’re always different in a theatrical setting… and the quality is so amazing here, a big home theater setup can duplicate a theatrical experience. It might as well be a Robert Burks / John L. Russell cinematographer’s film festival too, or an ‘Editor George Tomasini Festival’ — that unheralded ace cut all four of these masterpieces: Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho and The Birds. Fans of Psycho have an extra treat: a slightly longer original cut. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-rayfrom Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
When Worlds Collide 09/12/20
George Pal’s sophomore sci-fi classic has conceptual imagination and visual wonder to spare, along with a million oddly dated awkward details. Rogue planets threaten to obliterate the Earth, prompting the building of a super-Ark spaceship to spirit forty ‘chosen ones’ to safety. The Ark passengers have the right stuff, but you may be enraged by the rigged process to select who gets to go. Gee-whiz spectacle is the order of the day — how many End Of The World movies actually show terra firma expunged from the Solar System? Barbara Rush and John Hoyt are the acting standouts, but top honors go to Pal’s visual effect artists and designers. On Region A Blu-ray from Viavision / Imprint.
Trailers from Hell promoted a fun ‘R’ rated trailer just yesterday for Allan Arkush & Joe Dante’s goofy-unbelievable Hollywood Blvd., which I remember seeing several years later at the New Beverly. The slightly beat-up print that Sherman Torgan showed captured the correct grindhouse feel perfectly. When is Criterion going to recognize this ‘Miracle Pictures’ monument to cinematic genius? It’s got Dick Miller in it, what more do they want? Producer Jon Davison provides the salutory/confessional TFH Trailer commentary, reminding us that the movie was literally made ‘on a bet’ with boss Roger Corman, a man that rarely lost a bet.
And I’m eager to see the extras on Kino’s new disc of Rouben Mamoulian’s 1932 Love Me Tonight, a still- hilarious, still- amazing musical romance that blends cinema and songs in at least four different, wholly innovative ways. I’m especially interested in finding out the content of (several) little dialogue trims to the movie, that were cut out and lost forever when Paramount had to clean up the show for reissue after the enforcement of the Production Code. On earlier copies of the film, whenever the minx-like Myrna Loy (not the lady above, that’s frisky Jeanette MacDonald) is about to say something outrageously naughty, a splice shows where the offending comment was yanked out. Perhaps someday the missing material will reappear. The Special Edition Blu-ray will be out in seventeen days, on September 29.
… and correspondent Louis Helman just wrote to say that Kino has also announced Billy Wilder’s 1945 The Lost Weekend for November 24. That will almost complete the Wilder filmography on Blu — all that’s missing will be The Spirit of St. Louis, Buddy Buddy, The Emperor Waltz and Mauvaise Graine.
At first it sounds ridiculous department: If you’re like most people, you’ve probably spent many a sleepless night tossing and turning, wondering to yourself: “How did good old Dick Jones climb through the ranks at OCP to become a top executive?” Well, your troubles may soon be over, as MGM is working on a TV series about that very subject with original screenwriter Ed Neumier.
The title of this Moviehole article by Drew Turney says it all: MGM working on RoboCop series focusing on young Dick Jones. Think back 33 years — Dick Jones was the nasty corporate hatchet man memorably played by Ronny Cox in the first Robocop. He didn’t continue in the sequels due to an unfortunate business dispute ‘best resolved from a great height.’
Will ‘The Old Man’ appear — except as The Middle Aged Man, since it’s set in the past? Will there be a gripping episode where Jones finally earns the key to the executive washroom, where he can eavesdrop on co-workers scheming against him? Since MGM also owns the movie version of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, why not combine the two properties, replacing J. Pierrepont Finch with Jones, and World Wide Wickets with OCP, but keeping all the musical numbers?
Actually, the new idea sounds like something that the sci-fi satirist Ed Neumeier might make VERY memorable — his venomous hatred for business corruption & political slime might result in yet another wicked takedown of the malevolent corporate ethos. What is RoboCop after all, if not Dilbert with machine guns?
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Flash Gordon 09/08/20
Arrow jumps into the 4K Ultra HD bracket with a knockout 40th anniversary presentation of this campy, music-filled and incredibly colorful Dino De Laurentiis spectacle. The impressive package has an endless catalog of extras, plus a second Blu-ray disc with a full-length feature about the film’s one-hit-wonder star Sam J. Jones. Buyers beware — no backup Blu-ray disc of the feature is included. In every other respect, “Go! Flash! GO!” Co-starring Max von Sydow, Melody Anderson, Topol, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde and Mariangela Melato. On 4K Ultra HD + HDR from Arrow Video.
The Naked City 09/08/20
Jules Dassin’s most popular pre-exile crime thriller is many things: a cracking good police tale, a drama of human struggle and weakness, and an amazing cinematic time machine of New York’s distinctive hustle and bustle circa 1948. Mark Hellinger’s final production bristles with ‘these are the facts’ narration, a voiceover personifying the city ‘with eight million stories.’ The filmed-on-location classic always looked okay, but this new restoration sources better elements for picture and sound, improving the show substantially. Starring Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor and Ted de Corsia. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Flying Leathernecks 09/08/20
John Wayne, Robert Ryan and some thrilling color combat footage grace this Howard Hughes WW2 aviation epic, that’ famous for being the odd-title-out in the filmography of Nicholas Ray. Just how did the politically diverging Ray and Hughes get along so well? The WAC’s sensational Technicolor restoration does the real combat footage a big favor: minus scratches and dirt, it looks better than ever. Co-starring Don Taylor, Janis Carter, Jay C. Flippen, and Adam Williams. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
It’s a post- Labor Day CineSavant special! Um, if anything can be called special around here — . Maybe I’ve been seeing too many movies, but when correspondent ‘B’ sent me some Labor Day themed Ernie Bushmiller ‘Nancy’ cartoons, one stuck out for a screwy reason: it reminded me of Antonioni’s existential bear trap L’Eclisse, mainly the ending where the characters exit the scene for a frustrating / intriguing slow montage of landscape details around a certain Roman intersection, halfway out in the sticks. I’ve always loved Bushmiller’s style for Nancy, especially the backgrounds. Everything is just-so, tamed, in control. Those backgrounds now fascinate me, and in this little strip they’re suddenly front and center.
Just think of your favorite TV show that has recurring locations… and then imagine a spacey montage round-up of ’empty set’ images, with the characters you love missing, mysteriously absent. Georges Franju did something like that for his ultra-creepy trailer for Eyes Without a Face, using shots just as the actor is leaving the frame, etc.. That’s a great tagline idea: “We can’t show you the horrors… but we can show you where they just happened.”
Then, correspondent Bill Migicovsky forwards this article from a few months back that I’m ashamed to say confirms my suspicions about a famous actor. It’s pretty funny: Rex Harrison – His Greatest Hits by Graham McCann. It’s the man that even nice people want to punch out! How to Lose Friends and Infuriate People!
Last week Joe Dante amused his audience by pointing out an errant crewman in the middle of of a shot in the Universal programmer Horror Island, a revelation which rhymes with the discovery by correspondent Gary Teetzel of a similar surprise crew-person cameo in the new Blu-ray of the Hammer The Kiss of the Vampire:
“In Kiss of the Vampire no one is supposedly staying at the hotel other than the newlyweds. So off on the far left, at what appears to be the edge of the set… whose arm is that with the suspiciously modern wristwatch?
My other thought while seeing this is that I’d like to see a version of Kiss of the Vampire that stars John Cleese as Basil Fawlty. The innkeeper can be forever losing his temper because vampires have ruined his business. — Gary
Thanks Gary, and thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Attack of the Crab Monsters 09/05/20
Roger Corman began his boom year of 1957 with a marvelous bit of ‘way-out’ sci-fi — a ‘Tidal Wave of Terror’ no less. They don’t just attack with their claws, they beckon you from your bed with telepathic voices they’ve stolen from your colleagues: by EATING them, consuming their BRAINS, and acquiring their memories… it’s like life in Academia! Pamela Duncan fills out a swimsuit, Richard Garland wears a nifty bandanna, and dependable Russell Johnson wishes he was inventing stuff for Gilligan instead of battling Crabbus Plexiglassus mutant giants. It’s prime monster movie history in a beautiful HD transfer — Shout!’s welcome Blu-ray will charm fans seeking prime ‘fifties monster nirvana. With a commentary hosted by Tom Weaver. On Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
Black Gravel 09/05/20
When they dig it up, what will they find? Fans will want to see this forgotten Deutsch-noir masterpiece. Helmut Käutner’s tale of trouble on an American air base in West Germany is a swirl of romantic, political and criminal complications — all down & dirty. A tiny burg that serves as a brothel for U.S. airmen attracts displaced women and dispirited men willing to do what’s necessary to survive. We’ve seem nothing quite like this riveting drama — its sixty-year absence carries a taint of political ‘inconvenience.’ If you like challenging fare like Ace in the Hole and Try and Get Me! you’re going to love it. Both censored and uncensored versions have been restored in excellent quality. On Blu-rayfrom KL Studio Classics.
The Paleface 09/05/20
Bob Hope is the fearless frontier dentist Painless Potter; and Jane Russell is Calamity Jane, a secret agent for the Federal government. In between gags with dynamite and an Indian torture to draw and quarter Painless (well, draw and halv him maybe), we’ve got smirking comedy, the attractive Ms. Russell in Technicolor and the Oscar-winning song “Buttons and Bows.” Howard Hughes had Jane on a painfully short leash that effectively stalled her career progress, but this lucky loan-out became a hit. What did she have to do to get permission from Howie? — I’ll bet there’s a story in that. Hey, the movie was co-written by Frank Tashlin, so have fun pointing out the gags that would work in a comic strip. Reviewed by Charlie Largent. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Shades of Matinee — the photo above is a 1957 souvenir of a ‘big bug’ Terrorama Saturday at a ‘nabe theater in Florida, five years before that unforgettably cheesy chiller Mant! breezed through town and caused a scandal. The adventurous Gary Teetzel was free-range web researching the other day and found this nifty news blurb image of kids excited about the scary-scary double bill down at the Coral Theater, wherever that was. This is the kind of ballyhoo nostalgia we expect to see from John McElwee or maybe Bill Shaffer. Did Not of This Earth get bigger billing because it was the more important picture, or because it had a shorter title?
I’ll bet that the monster car was a pre-existing gimmick-mobile to promote the exterminator business, but it seems to have done the trick. As we hunker down with doors locked against the nefarious COVID, we can still remember the thrill of a popcorn matinee crowed together with 200 exited, smelly, likely contagious kids getting ready to see something totally new and unknown. How many of those Florida brats darlings were traumatized by the creepy eyeball-guy in Not of This Earth? Were they scared or did they laugh their heads off? I was a bit too young to make this super-cool scene — 1957 was the first year I understood that years were numbered.
On the incoming disc front, CineSavant has some 4K reviews on the way. Arrow Video’s two-disc set of Flash Gordon with a million extras will over-stimulate your retinal sensors with color and deafen you with Queen’s soundtrack: “Go Flash Go!”
Universal’s highly anticipated Ultra-HD disc set of The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection has arrived as well, containing 4k and Blu-ray encodings of Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho and The Birds. The big surprise ought to be a new restoration of Psycho, reinstating a few short bits taken out by the censors at the last minute… a stab here, a peep-show moment there. That naughty Hitch would approve.
We haven’t seen any of those four titles around here in years, and they’re all incredibly good. I also haven’t written about them for a lot longer, so we’ll see if anything I have to say is older or wiser. Don’t worry, if I run out of legit, appropriate comment and criticism, I’ll fill in with refreshingly tiresome personal memories.
And finally, Kino Lorber has let loose a list of their October Blu-ray releases, which has some real gems that this collector will be eager to review — many will be new views for me.
We start with a clutch of George Peppard pictures, of which I’ve not seen P.J. and Newman’s Law. I’ve also not seen Universal’s horror western Curse of the Undead, even though it stars favorite actor Sierra Charriba Michael Pate. That’s followed by a couple of Michael J. Fox vehicles. For oddball horror we can look to the vintage Tod Slaughter barnstormer The Face at the Window, and the marginal Monogram ‘shocker’ The Ape, in which our kindly medical researcher Boris Karloff cuts corners ‘warp speed’ to find a vaccine for polio. Do you think anything will go wrong? Did you read the title?
I know a couple of readers eager to get their mitts on a good transfer of Ronald Neame’s The Chalk Garden with Hayley Mills and Deborah Kerr… and fans of Clint Eastwood will get their fill with a trio of dusty cheroot-chewing post-Spaghetti oaters Two Mules for Sister Sara (Don Siegel), Joe Kidd (John Sturges) and High Plains Drifter (Clint himself). We’ll also find out if the Phil Karlson/Richard Widmark Cold War thriller The Secret Ways is a winner… it does co-star a young Teresa Santiago Geltner Senta Berger!
Other titles included for October are a Bert I. Gordon murder thriller, what look like a few TV movies and an undersea monster romp with a rude crustacean, Deep Star Six. One recommended item is S.O.S. Titanic. The all-star TV movie came out on DVD only in truncated form, as a feature cut-down. Kino’s new Blu will include that but also the original uncut 145-minute version that was shown in 1979. I remember liking it a lot — it’s not quite the classic that is A Night to Remember, but it’s still better than the huge 1997 hit. If I get a review copy I’ll do a round-up of ‘Iceberg Dead Ahead’ retellings, including the notorious Nazi version.
I list the best last: a new Blu of the first Harry Palmer spy saga The Ipcress File. It ought to be considered a classic by now, especially with John Barry’s peerless music score. As with most of the KL Studio Classics offerings, the disc is loaded with extras. Now all three Michael Caine Harry Palmer films will be available to Region A fans.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson