Highway Patrolman 04/30/19

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

The prize for best direction of 1991 ought to have gone to Alex Cox, whose visual economy in this show is to be applauded. Cox’s camera is fluid, expressive yet technically invisible and unencumbered with fancy tricks: the frame never goes static, yet the film has only a couple of hundred cuts! Filmed in Spanish in Mexico, we get a non-cynical image of a culture and a story that’s universally applicable. Mexican neorealism? Roberto Sosa is an idealistic young recruit, who learns that reality is pretty rough out on the lonesome, deadly highway.. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
04/30/19

The Strange Door 04/30/19

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

Karloff’s Back and Laughton’s Got Him! Or, isn’t this the movie about Ray Manzarek? Words and wit fail me, but Charlie Largent comes through with the full rundown on Universal’s early-’50s gothic chiller, perhaps designed to test the water for a horror rebirth. It looks like they went the Sci-Fi route instead: no socko showcase performances, just monsters and bugs. Charles Laughton is the depraved nobleman with the castle-of-macabre-surprises, and Boris Karloff plays, what else, a resentful, brooding servant. And I always think it’s directed by Joseph Newman, when the aww-tour in this case is Joseph Pevney. With the anticipated Tom Weaver commentary. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
04/30/19

My Brilliant Career 04/30/19

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Gill(ian) Armstrong’s breakthrough feature does a leapfrog over stories like Little Women, with heroines that prevail even when adhering to the Meek Sex role of their time. Judy Davis’s Sybylla Melvin knows that she’s a freckle-faced pain in the neck: despite being proud that she’s attracted the local male catch, her every sinew is committed to her goal of artistic expression and self-fulfillment. The setting is the turn-of-the-century Australian Outback but the story is universal. Sam Neill is remarkable in one of the most ‘thankless’ romantic roles ever.  On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
04/30/19

Lilith 04/27/19

Powerhouse Indicator
Blu-ray

There’s no movie quite like Robert Rossen’s adaptation of the J.R. Salamanca book: mental illness and disturbance is neither simplified nor jammed into a preconceived pattern. There is a strong mythical element to Jean Seberg’s enigmatic Lilith, who at times seems the breathing incarnation of elemental human forces — I would imagine the Greeks believed certain ‘disturbed’ persons to be inhabited by the Gods. The equal star of the show is the cameraman Eugen Schüfftan, an artist whose near-expressionist images fill the imagination. Starring Warren Beatty, with Kim Hunter, Anne Meachum, Peter Fonda, Jessica Walter, Gene Hackman. An all-region disc, on Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
04/27/19

Three Coins in the Fountain 04/27/19

Twilight Time
Blu-ray

Ah, yes — it’s a hot day in 1954, so what could be better than a cool movie theater projecting beautiful Italian scenery onto an Ee-Nor-Mous CinemaScope screen, and Frank Sinatra warbling an Oscar-winning tune. The simple escapism of Fox’s ‘three girls find love’ epic makes Rome look like a welcoming haven for carefree Americans — the stars park their car anywhere, and admire the fancy fountains without a single competing tourist to bother them: “It’s the favorable exchange rate!”  Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters and Maggie McNamara star, and their variable-wattage swains are Clifton Webb, Louis Jourdan and Rossano Brazzi. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
04/27/19

Red Skelton’s ‘Whistling’ Collection 04/27/19

The Warner Archive Collection
DVD

Who is The Fox? “I am the…”  Actually, comedian Red Skelton is The Fox, a top practitioner of the noble profession ‘radio detective,’ or amateur crime buster. Charlie Largent takes on the equally noble mission of reviewing the three Skelton ‘Whistling’ movies: Whistling in the Dark, Whistling in Dixie and Whistling in Brooklyn. Skelton’s amiable antics as The Fox are aided and abetted by good sport Ann Rutherford and second banana laugh-getter Rags Ragland, and spiced up with contributions by Conrad Veidt, Eve Arden, Sam Levene and the Brooklyn Dodgers. All directed by S. Sylvan Simon. Is Red Skelton’s comic filmography due for a big comeback? I’ll be curious to read Charlie’s verdict on this pressing issue of the day. On DVD from The Warner Archive Collection.
04/27/19

Melvin and Howard 04/23/19

Twilight Time
Blu-ray

What does the American dream mean to you?   Hardworking folk just want the job and the house and the family as promised in the ‘old’ Contract With America that began to slip out of reach in the 1970s. To examine the social absurdities at the tacky end of the consumer divide, Bo Goldman and Jonathan Demme’s marvelous film follows Melvin Dummar, a luckless a guy who became an involuntary media sensation. You just want to hug plucky Paul Le Mat and adorable Mary Steenburgen, even though there’s not a thing to be done for them: going to ‘Easy Street’ isn’t so easy, not even after being named in a billionaire’s Last Will and Testament. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
04/23/19

The Land Unknown 04/23/19

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

“Behind A Barrier Of Antarctic Ice…A Paradise Of Hidden Terrors!” Universal-International laid out a pretty penny to film this elaborate spin on The Lost World, modernized to take in discoveries at the South Pole. It’s a showcase for fancy B&W opticals and traveling mattes … but the featured monster stars are a big letdown — a pathetic rubber costume for a T-Rex and a klunky mechanical water dragon. And the leading lady screams as she pretends to be entangled in a man woman-eating plant! On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
04/23/19

The Prisoner 04/20/19

Arrow Academy
Blu-ray

Alec Guinness transfers an acting challenge from the stage to the screen, in this account of a Cardinal forced to knuckle under to a Communist regime — instead of extracting a confession with torture, Jack Hawkins’ Inquisitor uses psychology to find his prisoner’s weakness. The picture is uneven but its key performances are choice, with a special assist from Wilfrid Lawson as a jailer. It’s Guinness’s second appearance as a priest in two years — just prior to his drama, he played the title role in Father Brown, Detective. On Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.
04/20/19

Superman Serials: The Complete 1948 & 1950 Collection 04/20/19

The Warner Archive Collection
DVD

In between Paramount’s Superman cartoons and the independently-produced TV show of the 1950s came this pair of exciting Columbia serials starring Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill. In the first fifteen-episode Superman Kal-el fights the nefarious Spider Woman, while the sequel Atom Man vs. Superman he faces a more familiar nemesis, none other than Lex Luthor! Charlie Largent is on special assignment, but his alter ego The Caped Reviewer dropped off his coverage on his way to The Forbidden Zone. Perhaps Charlie — I mean ‘Caped Reviewer’ — can make sense of the animation sequences showing Superman performing his super-heroic duties. On DVD from The Warner Archive Collection.
04/20/19

The Heiress 04/20/19

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

William Wyler and a trio of fantastic actors make indelible movie history from a grim story by Henry James. How much of love is bald opportunism? How many successes married their way into money? And what’s a lovesick woman to do when a beau may not be true? This may be the key Wyler picture, with the strongest ‘staircase’ scene of them all. Superb performances from Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift and Ralph Richardson, with music by Aaron Copland. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
04/20/19

A Face in the Crowd 04/16/19

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Elia Kazan never stopped making great pictures, but much of his output after 1952 was politically defensive in nature. This powerful indictment of American media madness is a genuine classic, but it also points up the need for ‘good folk’ to sometimes betray their associates. The target this time around is the most kill-worthy monster in the history of sardonic satire: Lonesome Rhodes, a faux-populist master manipulator of the pushover public. Kazan and Budd Schulberg’s premise has come to pass in real life, but their silver bullet of truth has lost its power: even when unmasked publicly, some media monsters thrive. Stars Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, and Walter Matthau, and introduces none other than Lee Remick. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
04/16/19

Tarantula 04/16/19

Scream Factory
Blu-ray

A plug for commercial exterminators everywhere, William Alland’s titanic hairy spider provided plenty of chills for 1950s drive-ins, delivering exactly the naïve monster thrills teenagers craved. John Agar and Mara Corday do what they can with the clunker script and Jack Arnold’s direction, while Leo G. Carroll saves face by retreating below a rubber mask that makes him look like Droopy Dog. But for fans that like their monsters as big as the Great Outdoors, Clifford Stine and David Horsley’s startling special effects provide a spider-verse of sensational, surreal insect fear. Tom Weaver’s in-depth commentary scrubs away the pretentious theorizing, on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
04/16/19

The Reckless Moment 04/13/19

Powerhouse Indicator
Blu-ray

One of Max Ophüls’ best American movies is a razor-sharp ‘domestic film noir’ with excellent acting and a premise that was probably too sordid-real for 1949: cheap crooks blackmail an ordinary housewife trying to protect her family. Joan Bennett confronts the crisis head-on, facing down James Mason’s unusually sympathetic ‘collector.’ It’s a low-key, sordid tale that almost feels like neo-realism … it’s compellingly believable. In his third American picture, Mason is probably the most attractive man in postwar film; he and Ms. Bennett form an unusual, lopsided emotional bond. On Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
04/13/19

Frankenstein 1970 04/13/19

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

We make it a point to give reviewer Charlie Largent the tough jobs, and in Allied Artists’ 1958 Boris Karloff opus he has his work cut out for him. This is the Karloff film that begins with a highly atmospheric scene of gothic terror, only to revert to 80 minutes intrigues in a movie company that decides to film in Dr. Frankenstein’s creepy castle, the kind with a Mad Lab in the cellar. Charlie exposes the spiritual epiphany that helped director Howard W. Koch fashion this monument of cinematic art, that sums up everything important in human existence. The part where he explains that the bandages over the monster’s waste-basket head are … but I shouldn’t spoil the illuminating connections Charlie makes to the works of Marcel Proust and Irving Klaw. The disc features a beautiful CinemaScope transfer. Also with Tom Weaver’s entertaining commentary — his guests are Bob Burns and star Charlotte Austin. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
04/13/19

Bend of the River 04/13/19

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

The Anthony Mann – James Stewart crowd-pleaser now comes to Region A Blu-ray. With its bright Technicolor hues, it’s the wagon train movie fans remember first after Red River.Stewart is a good guy with a dark background who tries to atone by helping some settlers. The thorn in his side is an unrepentant former outlaw played by Arthur Kennedy in high style — togther they rever to their old ways and practically burn down the new town of Portland, Oregon (on the Universal back lot). Also shining bright is everyone’s favorite Universal contract player, Julie (Julia) Adams, who outclasses even the snowy peaks of Mt. Hood. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
04/13/19

Noir Archive 9-Film Collection 04/09/19

Mill Creek / Kit Parker
Blu-ray

Mill Creek and Kit Parker package nine mid-range Columbia features from the 1940s and 1950s, not all of them strictly noir but all with dark themes — crime, creepy politics, etc. None have been on Blu-ray, and if you couyld still find them all on DVD the tab would come to a couple of hundred dollars, in lesser quality. All but one are in fine condition: Address Unknown, Escape in the Fog, The Guilt of Janet Ames, The Black Book, Johnny Allegro, 711 Ocean Drive, The Killer That Stalked New York, Assignment: Paris and The Miami Story; the leading stars include Paul Lukas, Nina Foch, Rosalind Russell, Robert Cummings, George Raft, Edmond O’Brien, Evelyn Keyes, Dana Andrews, and Barry Sullivan. On Blu-ray from Mill Creek / Kit Parker.
04/09/19

The Whole Town’s Talking 04/09/19

Twilight Time
Blu-ray

John Ford outdoes Frank Capra, and Jean Arthur establishes her screwball persona opposite Edward G. Robinson, who plays a double role in this crazy comedy about a milquetoast clerk mistaken for Public Enemy Number One. Maybe this is great because Ford and writers Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin lay off the sentiment — it’s just plain funny, especially when the leads play off confirmed scene stealers like Edward Brophy, Wallace Ford and Donald Meek. And them that looks fast might catch Lucille Ball in a tiny part. A welcome unsung comedy masterpiece on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
04/09/19

On the Basis of Sex 04/09/19

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray

With two major movie accolades in one year, Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the real Wonder Woman, bar none. Mimi Leder’s dramatic biography takes on a relative small piece of Ms. Ginsberg’s life, but the simplifications aren’t a problem. It does have the feeling of an old-fashioned celebratory bio, with colorful characters and hiss-able villains. But Leder and screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman never lose track of their central theme. Felicity Jones is the young Ruth, Armie Hammer her husband Marin, Justin Theroux her ACLU confederat, Sam Waterston a dean of Harvard Law School, Kathy Bates an old-school activist lawyer, and Cailee Spaeny as Ruth’s equally feisty daughter. On Blu-ray from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
04/09/19

Diamonds of the Night 04/06/19

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Director Jan Němec made his name during the Czech New Wave of the 1960s, and later saw his career cut short when the ruling party decided to classify one of his films as ‘banned forever.’ This first feature is a striking chase story about two young men escaped from a Nazi prison train. It experiments with filmic space, looking for psychological depth by mixing a subjective pursuit with the main characters’ memories and thought-dreams. The extras give us a close-up look at a director who paid a steep price for defying the state. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
04/06/19

Star Witness 04/06/19

The Warner Archive Collection
DVD

Veteran William Wellman directed this pre-Code thriller that puts an average New York family at odds with a pack of ruthless gangsters. It’s a 1931 tale of drive-by shootings, witness intimidation and child kidnapping — just one year later, movies about child kidnappings were banned, after the tragedy of the Lindbergh baby. Walter Huston is the rather ruthless District Attorney, and the ex-vaudeville funny man Chic Sale plays an old codger that shows his family what Good Americanism really means — the show could serve as a surly critique of what passes for law and order and good citizenship now. On DVD from The Warner Archive Collection.
04/06/19

The River’s Edge 04/06/19

Twilight Time
Blu-ray

Is it a film noir?  This desert-set crime tale sees a rat (Ray Milland) escaping to Mexico with a bag of cash, forcing a hunting guide (Anthony Quinn) to show him the way and stealing his wife (Debra Paget) in the bargain. Remember what Godard said about only needing a girl and a gun to make a movie?  Veteran director Allan Dwan has already memorized that lesson, and pulls it off in color and CinemaScope on Mexican locations. Ms. Paget takes both a bath and a shower, only to be upstaged by a peach-colored T-Bird convertible. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
04/06/19

Vampyres 04/02/19

Arrow Video
Blu-ray

Dull vampire pix were once as ubiquitous as zombie pix are now, but when a good one came along we’d certainly take notice. The predatory Fran and Miriam are a wholly new twist on the ‘Wicked Lady’ highwayman theme — the picture transcends the softcore horror genre with class and style. Fringe director José Ramón Larraz found himself filming in England, and his output outclassed what were passing for Eurotrash horror epics across the channel. How did he do it? The answers become clear in Arrow’s special edition. Although only available in a boxed set, it’s reviewed here separately. Marianne Morris and Anulka are the freakiest sirens ever lead an unwary man to his doom. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
04/02/19

Becky Sharp 04/02/19

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

Some show had to be the first — back in 1935, this was the first movie to be produced entirely in full 3 strip Technicolor. Just like any revolutionary filmic development, it came from outside the studio system, which says something about how Hollywood works — studios will spend millions of dollars to take advantage of a striking innovation, but let somebody else do the painful R&D. Pioneer Pictures’ project began filming started with one director but then restarted with Rouben Mamoulian, who a little earlier had already shown the town a thing or two about the possibilities of sound. A stage play of the classic novel becomes almost a pageant of color, led by the reliable Miriam Hopkins. Is the movie any good?  That’s debatable. But it needs to be seen, to fully appreciate the movie miracle created by chemists, not artists. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
04/02/19