Review Page and Column
To the short list of ‘classics’ of nuclear horror on Blu-ray we now add the one that hits closest to home. Lynne Littman’s harrowing film stays small-scale and Big Emotion, enduring a slow extermination on the family level. A little California town loses contact with the rest of the world, as hope fades and the awful reality sinks in. Jane Alexander, Lukas Haas, and William Devane star in a TV movie so affecting, that Paramount gave it a theatrical release. The disc has two commentaries and a selection of 20th anniversary features. On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
The Hallelujah Trail 11/29/22
John Sturges’ Road Show comedy western has more in common with 1941 than The Magnificent Seven, but Kino has MGM’s new remaster and the visual result is spectacular. The Ultra Panavision 70 epic is still a favorite of fans of out-of-control Hollywood filmmaking. Burt Lancaster, Lee Remick, Jim Hutton, Pamela Tiffin and a huge cast lead the charge for for a convoy of frontier whisky. It’s all in a fine spirit of madcap fun. . . so where are the big laughs? On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
We wanted to take a moment to talk about an MGM colleague who passed away just a few days ago. James Owsley held different jobs at more than one studio, but Gary Teetzel and I knew him 20+ years ago at MGM, when we were located in Santa Monica. Owsley was a Director in the MGM Technical Services department, charged with mastering or remastering MGM’s film library on film and video, to fill orders for the various markets — home video, TV and cable, repertory theaters etc.
For some films it was just a matter of pulling out the printing elements and writing up lab instructions, but the Directors that handled ‘problem’ movies were also involved in film restoration. Writing my first online column at ‘MGM Video Savant’ I had a good excuse to poke my nose into what the film department was doing. I would find ways to praise these Technical Service Directors whenever I could: John Kirk was always working on interesting projects, restoring Truffaut pictures to their full length, etc..
I got to know James Owsley a little bit better when MGM acquired the Orion Pictures company and its film holdings. We knew that Orion held the bulk of the American-International film library, and we soon found that James was actively working on many of our favorite horror and sci-fi pictures. To our surprise James took a personal interest in the films. He seized the opportunity to remaster cut versions to their original lengths, uncover alternate versions and restore censor cuts. The work required special patience. A.I.P. had produced many pictures in England, and full documentation of all the variant releases just didn’t exist.
At this time I was introduced to James and found him to be a motivated professional, practical but painstaking. Extra censored bits for a Hammer/A.I.P. horror picture had been seen in outtake reels and video documentaries. When a search of film vaults turned up nothing, we’d learn that James had taken the initiative to approach Hammer Films, and was reconstituting uncut sequences from 35mm separations. The late 1990s was a good time at MGM — for most titles the Technical Services Department had the budget approval to simply go ahead and ‘do the right thing.’ That’s not always the case.
Of this period, Gary Teetzel recalls: “I was working in another department at the time and had no official role in the film restorations. But when James discovered I was an enthusiastic horror and sci-fi fan he would tell me about titles he was working on and would listen when I would share what I knew about alternate cuts. He was always receptive, and in general was the warmest and friendliest colleague I had at MGM. When I later moved into film remastering, I tried to emulate James’ dedication to the job.”
I got to talk with James Owsley for a couple of hours later on, when I edited featurettes about the restoration of the James Bond films for HD. He sat for interviews with producer Michael Arick. All this was quite a while ago, so I asked Gary Teetzel for more information. Gary recalled some of James’s more notable accomplishments at MGM, in addition to working on the 007 franchise:
• James Owsley worked with producer Philip Waddilove to restore the definitive Michael Reeves cut of Witchfinder General.
• He fully restored The Vampire Lovers.
• He found the unrated trims for Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond and worked with Gordon on creating the unrated version.
• He discovered and restored Gordon Hessler’s director’s original alternate cut of Murders in the Rue Morgue.
(All three linked reviews call out James Owsley’s restoration work for special praise.)
When Keith Aiken and ‘Loomis’ (Kim Song-ho) wrote an article for the Scifi Japan website about the release of the Korean fantasy film Yongary as an ‘MGM Midnite Movies’ DVD, Gary helped them obtain an interview with James Owsley. His restoration allowed fans to see the show for the first time in anamorphic widescreen. This nice quote summarizes James’s approach to remastering:
“Personally, I always try to go at the end of the day, ‘Well, we tried as much as we can,’ because I really do feel that every film is important to somebody. There was a lot of time and effort put into making Yongary and it means something to — not just one person, but a group of people. No matter how obscure or unknown a film is, it’s worth going to the mat for because it’s not easy to make a film.”
The outside CineSavant link today is to the latest DVD Classics Corner On the Air podcast: Dick Dinman brings back Warner’s George Feltenstein to dish the details on two recent releases from The Warner Archive and Criterion: They can’t ‘Hyde’ from ‘Arsenic and Old Lace.’
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Great Expectations 11/26/22
David Lean’s near-perfect Charles Dickens adaptation was the movie that sold us on ‘everything English’ in films. As embodied by John Mills, Pip’s hopeful progress expanded the book as no movie had before, with characterizations that are weird (Francis L. Sullivan, Finlay Currie, Bernard Miles) amusing (Alec Guinness) and entrancing (Jean Simmons). And everything about Miss Havisham and her haunted rooms suggests a horror movie. Charlie Largent looks back at an older UK Blu-ray (probably OOP) of inspirational quality. What-sa-matter Criterion, is this stone classic insufficiently trendy to qualify for Blu-ray? On Region B Blu-ray from ITV (U.K.).
Reservoir Dogs 4K 11/26/22
Quentin Tarantino’s first feature may not be to all tastes, but it is an admirable feat of commercial filmmaking — what other director has broken into the front rank with such panache? The fifth time through, the splintered, elliptical structure still impresses, and there’s always something new to see in the performances of Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Steve Buscemi. The (rather bargain-priced) 4K disc set has everything — two formats, a digital code and those deleted scenes to ponder. And a Pulp Fiction 4K is due in just a week or so. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital from Lionsgate.
Happy post-turkey day! First up is an impressive YouTube link from Peckinpah advisor and collector Christopher A. Howard, who is announcing an upcoming book with, quote, ‘1,000 pages, 2,000 stills from The Deadly Companions, Ride the High Country, Major Dundee and The Wild Bunch.’
Chris’s video presentation, titled The Wild Bunch Behind the Scenes 1968 is a full fifteen-minute montage of great still photos from the sets on location in Mexico.
The text continues: ‘They appear in my upcoming book called The Life and Films of Sam Peckinpah, An Illustrated Journey Volume 1 Part 1. The 1960s, due 21st February 2023.’ I’ve asked Mr. Howard to send me links when the book goes on sale.
Good old David J. Schow has come through with a link to a curious mini-museum dedicated to vintage U.K. Sci-Fi . . . and interesting photos.
At The Museum of Classic Sci-Fi we learn about Neil Cole’s collection, which apparently contains a great many props, etc., from the Dr. Who TV show.
Soon to go on display, the text says, is a restored Triffid from the 1981 BBC miniseries, John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids. It’s pretty much as described in the novel … complete with the detail that Triffids grow in the ground, and then uproot themselves when they become ambulatory and start stinging people. There follows a shocking apocalyptic storyline about everybody going blind, the bitcoin crash, etc. ↓
The images makes the colorful Triffid look big, but we can see a hand in the frame, and note that Mr. Cole describes the Triffid as a miniature, used in the show. It was donated by production manager Margot Hayhoe. We note what also looks like a full-sized Dalek, over by the refreshment counter.
I didn’t see exactly where this museum might be … ‘The North Pennines’ as described online looks like a place where Normans ought to be fighting Saxons. UK readers will surely not be as confused. Here for reference is Neil Cole’s Facebook page.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
El vampiro negro 11/22/22
The Black Vampire! The most impressive Spanish-language noir restoration yet, Román Viñoly Barreto’s superior serial murder thriller hails from 1953 Argentina. It re-interprets Fritz Lang’s “M” from a different, more emotionally engaging perspective: star Olga Zubarry’s nightclub singer hesitates to tell what she knows about a child-killer, because she might lose custody of her own young daughter. The expressionist noir owes little to Hollywood. Some find it more satisfying than Lang’s classic version. The Film Noir Foundation’s extras are excellent. On Blu-ray + DVD from Flicker Alley.
Warning Shot 11/22/22
This mid-60s detective story has the right ingredients — a good mystery and interesting characters. David Jannsen gets to play a ‘Bosch’- style lone wolf investigator given a public thrashing for a ‘mistake’ that he knows was no mistake at all. Can a ‘bad cop’ redeem himself? The parade of mid-level guest stars — Stefanie Powers, Joan Collins, Lillian Gish, Steve Allen — may resemble a TV movie, but the tense show has a good feel for Los Angeles and the new swingin’ singles lifestyle. It might be Buzz Kulik’s best job of direction, and it has a great music score by Jerry Goldsmith. On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
It’s Go-Go Gotengo time … and possibly time to revisit a favorite old thriller first seen in a no-subtitles laserdisc screening with Stuart Galbraith IV. I always thought the original movie basically appealed to ‘closet Imperialists’ amenable to the fantasy of a WW2 Japanese naval battleship with Super-powers. Kind of like our own infantile martial fantasies: ‘Gee, if Davy Crockett had machine guns at the Alamo…’
A couple of days ago I caught this impressive Atragon Model Kit for sale on Amazon. Well, ‘sort of’ on sale.
Note the sticker-shock price quote. And exacty how big would a 1/350 replica be — Ten inches?
I guess I’m leaving this one off my Christmas list . . . the ransom seems more than a little exorbitant, as if the sellers were hoping to snag a Saudi Prince with a serious Jones for Japanese Sci-fi. But I’m linking to it here just in case any of CineSavant’s Royal Saudi readers feel generous with their holiday gift giving. And don’t worry — delivery here in Los Angeles is quite secure, honest.
Until then I’ll (sigh) just have to be content with my (unassembled) S.S. Seaview model kit and my existing four-inch Gotengo model, which isn’t quite as impressive … I’ve known goldfish that were more intimidating.
Now some proud collector will send in a photo of his brand new, shiny Gotengo, which will be ten feet long, and take up the entire second car slot in his garage. Nothing’s worse than Atragon Envy.
I believe that Joe Dante circulated this page from ‘thestudiotour.com’, centered simply on Universal’s Immortal Psycho House. It’s a nice, unfussy collection of facts about the house, which apparently began as a ‘standee’ with only three sides. It got added to, and moved around the lot as time went on.
I like the matter-of-fact reportage, plus other extras of importance, like ‘where is Mrs. Bates’ dessicated head?’
I believe that I saw the house in 1965, when a beloved aunt took me on the Universal tour. The memory is foggy — I remember it being on a hill, but when our tram went by the ‘Singapore Lake,’ all I remember seeing was the battle tower from The War Lord.
And a reminder from restoration wizard (among his many talents) Dave Strohmaier, that this Friday the 25th, Turkey Day + 1, Turner Classic Movies will be devoting a block of programming to the 70th Anniversary of Cinerama.
In addition to the Strohmaier & Co. three-panel restorations of MGM’s How the West Was Won and the recently restored and reconfigured The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, they’ll be showing the very good docu on the restoration of George Pal’s Brothers Grimm movie. The work performed by Strohmaier’s crew is pretty amazing.
Remember that Cinerama was originally filmed with a three-camera system. TCM’s recommendation is that viewers place three video monitors side-by-side, to obtain the optimum 3-Panel wide-vision Cinerama effect.
Just kidding. Happy Thanksgiving! — Glenn Erickson
French Noir Collection 11/19/22
Hungry for those wet Parisian streets, the city lights, and cadavres en lambeaux in the pale moonight? Enter three highly atmospheric, star-studded Crime Noirs, one of which is an stealth classic of Gallic Pulp. Stars Jean Gabin, Jeanne Moreau, Lino Ventura, Marcel Bozzuffi, Gérard Oury, Sandra Milo, and Annie Girardot bring the tales of à sang froid malice and mayhem to life. The films featured are Gilles Grangier’s Speaking of Murder (Le rouge est mis) and Édouard Molinaro’s Back to the Wall (Le dos au mur) and Witness in the City(Un Témoin dans la ville). Beware of French husbands when cucklolded — they show no pity. Bonne chance, victimes! On Blu-ray from Gaumont/Kino Lorber.
Putney Swope 11/19/22
The New York Underground invaded the mainstream with Robert Downey Sr.’s completely irreverent Madison Avenue satire, in which a token black executive takes over an Ad agency, renames it ‘Truth and Soul’ and goes on a mad reign of creative terror. Arnold Johnson, Stan Gottlieb, Allen Garfield, and Antonio Fargas star in a farce that some critics found intolerably crude — but an independent distributor gave it a national release. 1969 was the year that the Production Code took a tumble — and Downey’s picture proved that freedom of expression was alive and well in the U.S. of A. On Region-Free Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
A few weeks back I whined to a couple of my closer associates (co-conspirators) that it was over a year ago (July 27, ’21 to be exact) that the Kickstarter campaign to restore Phil Tucker’s immortal Robot Monster in 3-D was announced. Not being content with two recent major 3-D releases (I, the Jury and The Diamond Wizard), we of course thought, where’s Ro-Man? No Ro-Man under the Christmas tree this year? Frankly, we’ll be happy if The Martian Intelligence pays us a visit before New Years’ Eve. That miracle disc may become a ‘best-of’ item for 2023, who knows?
No, 2022 won’t be The Year of the Automatic Billion Bubble Machine. That’s not a complaint, as this kind of work can’t be rushed. Earlier in the year a rumor went around that a raw scan from a good film source was taking its sweet time, and we’d rather see a final 3-D Archive restoration that’s uncompromised. A couple of this year’s special editions of vintage ’50s sci-fi have been a little wanting — for every gem remastered from an original film element, there’s a disc with a less desirable pedigree. We’re collectors, so we want them all.
Bob Furmanek just sent a press release out to his Kickstarter subscribers, a status report on the progress of the Herculean Robot Monster 3-D project. Bob now expects the disc to ship in Spring of ’23. Instead of waiting in a holding pattern, they’ve finally received the ‘master files.’ Their expert “Greg Kintz is now in the home stretch on his shot-by-shot stereoscopic panel-matching and alignment. He is currently in the process of getting master files of the first several reels out to Thad Komorowski for his digital clean-up expertise.”
We take Phil Tucker’s movie seriously at CineSavant — it’s one of the most entertaining oddities in ’50s filmmaking, and a milestone in the 3-D boom. I’m told that its 3-D illusions are excellent — although I’m curious to see what those weird stock shot montages are going to look like. This is going to be a real treat.
We’re grateful that the Archive gives us the occasional inside story on a favorite picture they’ve restored, like last July’s non- 3-D Jack and the Beanstalk, the Abbott and Costello musical. My only wish for Furmanek & Co. — update your excellent website!
A new batch of Viavision [Imprint] titles just came in. We’re already got one in the review hopper. But also just announced is the company’s February 2023 lineup, spine numbers 198 through 203.
Some of the special editions were released a number of years ago by Olive Films, but there are a couple of surprises as well: Edward Dmytryk’s The Mountain , George Stevens’ Something to Live For, William Wyler’s Carrie, John Berry’s The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, Otto Preminger’s Hurry Sundown, and Daniel Petrie’s Resurrection.
I’ll definitely be asking to review several of these.
I was just going to swipe this graphic from a post on the This Isn’t Happiness page, just because I liked the funny message. Then I checked out the blog it came from, The Fabulous Fifties. The blog is in its tenth year. I’m not sure, but the author’s name could be Ger Apeldoorn.
The Fabulous Fifties appears to be 100% concerned with Comics and Comic Strips. The panel taken comes from the November 13 entry, which is concerned with an old strip from 1954-’55 called The Lone Spaceman.
I checked out some the blog’s earlier entries — there are a lot of comics to be seen here and Mr. Appledorn’s comments seem informed and thoughtful … one page about artist Wallace Wood is packed with bizarre parodies of famous cartoon strips (scroll down to Feb. 21, 2012).
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Silent Running 4K 11/15/22
Newly remastered in 4K! Bruce Dern’s (literally) tree-hugging forest ranger Freeman Lowell commits space piracy to save the trees, dude, and becomes lost in space. But he’s got only Huey, Dewey and Louie for robotic companionship. The only soul back on Earth who seems to care is Joan Baez. Douglas Trumbull’s technically-accomplished first feature film does 2001 on a tiny budget, and creates something original, if a bit mushy — the bittersweet ending depresses more than it uplifts. On 4K Ultra HD from Arrow Video.
The Count Yorga Collection 11/15/22
The Macready family — George, Michael & Erica — put together this traditional, energetic vampire romp. The arresting Robert Quarry is the Lugosi substitute, a European spiritualist with a sweet tooth for Type O. It’s the ‘new’ American-International this time out, in search of a PG for a show initially planned as X-rated. A sequel followed immediately, giving us Count Yorga, Vampire, & The Return of Count Yorga. CineSavant’s Charlie Largent takes a peek at the favorite bloodsucker of many a horror fan — is the main emphasis on violence, or sex? On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
Wonders never cease. No sooner do I post the ‘Veterans’ Day photos that my father took of a World War II USO show, than correspondent Edward Sullivan comes through with a research coup that confirms what my father told me, with a great deal of new information.
The new input that Ed found comes from a web-reprinted “CBI Roundup” newsletter from August 10 of 1944. It’s the ‘Official Newspaper of the China * Burma * India Theater of World War II.
This particular edition of the CBI Roundup provides many answers for the earlier November 12 CineSavant Column. It begins with news about the Raiders that took Myitkyina, which became the subject of Samuel Fuller’s WB picture Merrill’s Marauders.
But the second article down is “Sheridan Describes Touring Trouble”, an account of the Ann Sheridan USO Tour. Among other things, the reporter says that the Texan Sheridan can roll her own cigarettes. Even better, it confirms some things my father told me, as well as some guesses made from his photos.
Besides Ben Blue, another USO fellow seen off to the side or hovering in the background appears to be emcee Jackie Miles. He was a standup entertainer and has a hefty IMDB credits list; he also did vocal imitations for the show.
The hula dancer, seen standing at the right in a peasant blouse for another photo, is Mary Landa. She also did a Mexican Hat Dance in the show. Ms. Landa is likely the same Mary Landa who has bit parts in a number of features, including the films noir The Mask of Dimitrios and Impact. At the Obscure Actresses page is a full article on Ms. Landa, with even more information about the tour. Everybody apparently got very sick.
The smiling performer with the accordion is identified as Ruthie Denas. The new articles say that she also sang.
And Captain Melvyn Douglas was indeed part of the show: the CBI article says that he will join the troupe later and ‘accompany them on most of the tour.’
Landa and Ruthie appear in these extra photos. The officer posing with the group is Major General Claire Lee Chennault — of Flying Tiger fame.
The article says that the troupe went on to ‘China and other Theater stations,’ which explains the Chinese flags . . . this forward base in my father’s photos may have been in China itself, not Burma.
The rest of the newspaper reads like a wartime time capsule — its full coverage explains the battle for Myitkyina directly, in blunt terms. Other articles take on a variety of topics for the troops stuck out there, far out on a limb.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson