Review Page and Column
Aka Roter Himmel. Christian Petzold’s movie wields a big impact on a deceptively modest scale. The problems of a young man sharing a summer house form a self-contained meditation on How To Live. Thomas Schubert’s Leon is an insufferable jerk who can’t understand why he feels so alienated from others. One of his tolerant housemates is Nadja (Paula Beer), the kind of bright, positively-oriented person who can change one’s life … if one isn’t so stubbornly self-obsessed. Trouble is coming, in a fiery form. Can Leon be redeemed? This one grabbed us and didn’t let go. On Blu-ray from Janus Contemporaries.
Burn, Witch, Burn 02/20/24
We’re re-posting this review from 2015, because its original pre-CineSavant host page has been taken down . . . . What is worse, a demon from hell or academic politics? One destroys your soul with unimaginable horror, and the other involves the supernatural. A duel of diabolists is underway at a small English college: Janet Blair’s spell-casting faculty wife employs charms and tokens to promote her reluctant professor husband, Peter Wyngarde, but the battle becomes murderous. It isn’t all Pomp and Circumstance, just your average college competition for Tenure. On Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.
Dick Dinman is back with another DVD Classics Corner On the Air podcast, discussing more Warner Archive movie history with the WAC’s George Feltenstein. We always like it when George drops hints about upcoming product.
Up for discussion this week are new releases of two restored favorites from director Raoul Walsh — The Warner Archive Collection’s Blu-ray of Gentleman Jim with Errol Flynn and Alexis Smith, plus the Criterion Collection’s 4K + Blu-ray offering of The Roaring Twenties, the classic gangster saga with James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.
They save some talk-time to also discuss Criterion’s upcoming All That Money Can Buy, better known to us as The Devil and Daniel Webster. We should be reviewing The Roaring Twenties very soon.
What, I can’t believe there’s that much interest in seeing more old laserdisc covers, but after posting a snapshot of one in a review last Tuesday I’ve gotten several emails asking to see more. The requests seem sincere enough …
I long ago disposed of most of my lasers. I should have sold a lot more when DVD arrived, but eventually I dumped most. I kept about sixty, some because they were so expensive I couldn’t part with them, and others simply because I liked the album artwork. I posted the cover for a United Artists 4-title Sci-fi set last Tuesday, and here are a few more.
The graphics can be enlarged or zoomed — they’re much bigger than what displays.
The Tex Avery and Val Lewton covers are pretty enough to be kept on display. I’m hanging on to the Japanese Until the End of the World disc because my friend and record biz expert Gregor Meyer found it for me ages ago at the old Aaron’s records. The Japanese theatrical cut was about 20 minutes longer than the American release cut, but much, much shorter than the full-length version that we waited 29 years to see released on disc. Gregor relocated to Chicago 25 moons ago; I’d sure like to get in touch with him again.
Just these six are a heavy load to lug across the house, but we still appreciate their record album- like covers.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Red Planet Mars 02/17/24
Faith-based madness! This 1952 sci-fi thriller is not a space opera, but a talky propaganda sermon. Peter Graves and Andrea King exchange radio messages with God, who lives on Mars, and a Nazi madman is eavesdropping on them. The show predicts that a Christian revolution will destroy Godless Communism, and advocates the replacement of our Democracy with a Theocracy — a very real concern in the political chaos of 2024. And get set for an endorsement of Eisenhower for President — he’ll be the Reverend-In-Chief! This time around we offer some hints about the content of the original Broadway play from 1932. On Blu-ray from MGM/Create Space (Amazon).
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral 4K 02/17/24
Big stars, big action and a big sky canvas give Hal Wallis’ super-western everything we love in vintage oaters. Burt Lancaster & Kirk Douglas compare testosterone levels, with Rhonda Fleming and Jo Van Fleet cheering from the sidelines. The fabled showdown gun-down is embellished with VistaVision, Technicolor, and a classic clippety-clop soundtrack by Dimitri Tiomkin, aided by Frankie Laine. It was director John Sturges’ biggest picture yet, and it looks sensational in 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Let’s see here, since I ought not to keep swiping items from David Schow and Joe Dante, I’ll use today’s Column go over what’s coming up in the CineSavant Review disc hopper. In other words, it’s a list of promising items for collectors that don’t necessarily know what’s even available out there.
Already in hand are a wealth of titles from KL Studio Classics. Just for January are Brigitte Bardot in Please Not Now, Douglas Sirk’s Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, Hal Ashby’s Coming Home, Robert Wise’s Run Silent, Run Deep, Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street in 4K, Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair, James Cagney in a remastered Blood on the Sun.
For Radiance, we’re eager to review Yausharu Hasebe’s Black Tight Killers, Kohei Oguri’s The Sting of Death, and the Taviani brothers’ Allonsafa’n.
ClassicFlix has Loretta Young in Cause for Alarm and the new set The Abbott and Costello Show, Season Two. (For April, they’ve announced a Blu-ray of Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe.)
The Criterion Collection has Eric Rohmer’s Tales of the Four Seasons, Raoul Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties, Michael Roemer’s Nothing But a Man; Maggie Cheung, Anita Mui and Michelle Yeoh in The Heroic Trio and The Executioners, Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting in 4K, and Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs Miller in 4K.
A new Criterion-related line (I guess I missed the memo announcing it) is Janus Contemporary, which is releasing Christian Petzold’s intriguing 2023 Afire this coming Tuesday.
Rarovideo (through Kino Lorber) has Jean Renoir’s classic The Golden Coach, and Zeitgeist (also through Kino Lorber) has Marc Rothamund’s harrowing Sophie Scholl.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Gentleman Jim 02/13/24
This near-perfect Errol Flynn movie became a timeless classic the moment it hit television. The story of boxer Jim Corbett stands as a prime example of studio-based filmmking that knows what the audience likes. It’s so good we don’t mind the thick Irish humor, and we’re forced to shed a tear for Ward Bond, too. Flynn was never better, and his chemistry with Alexis Smith strikes real sparks, thanks to sharp dialogue by Horace McCoy and Vincent Lawrence. Some pretty fancy boxing footwork from Flynn, too. Raoul Walsh could be proud of this one. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Blood Simple 02/13/24
Neo-noir really hit big in the Coen Bros’ breakthrough thriller, with a new kind of hardboiled rural naturalism. A lonely dive bar, a rotten marriage and a three-way murder & blackmail scheme criss-crosses a fistful of fresh characterizations. The festival independent launched the star career of Frances McDormand, but also did great things for Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh and the clever cameraman Barry Sonnenfeld. It’s quite an experience — it’s as if the Coens could rent a camera lens customized to give their film a ‘visual drawl.’ On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
One again I’m stealing a web link circulated by Joe Dante — this is a good one, of a movie-to-movie relationship we’ve definitely noticed before, but not with all of the parallels shown here.
We’ve often pointed out similarities between 1955’s Them! and Jim Cameron’s exciting 1986 space adventure Aliens. But this over-under comparison piece makes it seem like the first movie was raided by the second for 20 top suspense set pieces:
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
What’s the Czech word for eccentric? Oldrich Lipský’s comic fantasy ribs 1890s thriller conventions in a story that combines gothic romance, sci-fi marvels and serial thrills. Welcome to the weird world of Czech filmmakers, and their affection for silly characters, low comedy and operatic delirium. We aren’t surprised that it was never imported . . . descriptions don’t suffice. Fans of Czech cinema magic will be hooked at the mention of the film’s special designer: Jan Svankmajer. On Blu-ray from Deaf Crocodile.
Alan Arkin and John Philip Law are lovable Russkies in this Cold War satire that goes heavy on the slapstick & sentiment. Reviewer Charlie Largent weighs in on the feel-good liberal vibe from writers William Rose and Norman Jewison, in yet another hit from Walter Mirisch. Let’s not forget editor Hal Ashby, either. The stellar cast has memorable roles for Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Brian Keith, Jonathan Winters and Theodore Bikel. If only ideological harmony was this easily won. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
We’ve seen the long version of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate and have always admired parts of it … The official UA cut-down release was a mess, that’s for sure. Ten years ago Steven Soderbergh uploaded a fan cutdown, that’s equally curious.
I’d never have dreamed that Soderbergh’s post would still be online, but it is. Joe Dante pointed to it again a few days ago, so I’m-a pointin’ to it too. It’s a fun exercise, even if we’d all chop it up differently. Beautiful as it is, I’m not sure that the Harvard prologue fits anywhere. We more often daydream about films that were chopped down before they were released, that we wish we could see un-butchered.
So here it is again, Mary Ann Bernard’s ‘Butcher’s Cut’ of Heaven’s Gate.
Film fanaticism intersects with Super Bowl fever, when Martin Scorsese directs a million-dollar commercial for a website company.
This article by Umberto Gonzalez in The Wrap lets the deep-pockets website company explain their motivation, giving us a quote that sounds genuinely chilling:
“At Squarespace, we have always said that an idea isn’t real until you make a website for it.”
On a personal note, it’s been confirmed that friend and associate Mike Hyatt has passed away. We talked at length a couple of months back, and another friend talked with him even sooner than that.
Mike was a professional film restoration expert and had also worked as an art director. But he was also a big-time film collector known to the collecting community, and a frequent sight at repertory & revival screenings in Los Angeles. A chapter in the recent book A Thousand Cuts is devoted to his never-ending restoration of the 1963 movie The Day of the Triffids.
I have part of the inside story of why Triffids took so long, and why Mike’s work saw only a few scattered screenings at film get-togethers, such as the 2009 Academy Halloween party. That’s where I took a number of photos of a beaming Mike, that have been circulating on Facebook. This is Mike’s personal story, so I’m not in a rush to ‘explain’ him. Just know that the folks that came to know Mike, knew him a kind and generous friend.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
He Walked by Night 02/06/24
The little studio Eagle-Lion Films was at the forefront of noir violence in 1948, skating on the edge to tell the story of a particularly vicious real-life bandit. Richard Basehart excels as the trigger-happy psycho killer whose antisocial estrangement evokes an eerie noir vibe of existential amorality. The filmic approach pioneers the semi-docu style that would dominate noir in its final decade, but expressionist touches persist, through the fine cinematography of John Alton. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot 4K 02/06/24
Michael Cimino must have impressed Clint Eastwood — the screenplay for this tough guy crime caper was so good, Eastwood didn’t mind interrupting his progress as a director. Also great fun for Jeff Bridges fans, the show is writer-director Cimino’s least problematic picture — its only aim is non-stop action and agreeably vulgar comedy. And does it look good! All that Montana scenery is dazzling in the upgrade to 4K. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
By the luck of the draw it’s an all-Kino review day, and coincidentally, most of Kino’s KL Studio Classics February titles arrived just before the rains came to Los Angeles on Sunday.
The selection is pretty self-explanatory, with remasters or reissues of some standard items, plus some new items like Blood on the Sun remastered in HD, plus 4K Ultra HD discs of Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street and the horror picture The Boogens. The French movie The Road to Shame (Des femmes disparaissent) is an oversexed crime thriller with Robert Hossein and Magali Noël.
We’ve been thinking about where CineSavant came from lately, and correspondent ‘Mark’ reminded me that the old DVD Journal page is still up, seventeen years after its erudite editor shut it down. The link takes one to the last ‘dimming the lights’ entry, an essay recapping disc concerns in 2007 — Blu-ray hadn’t yet taken hold — that included warring formats.
The DVD Journal is still an inspiration to read, as the articles and its main page are so intelligent. The proprietor believed that home video writing might amount to something, and he made what we do feel like journalism. It was a dispiriting day when a Warners attorney sent me an agreement she wanted me to sign, designating my role as an ‘influencer.’ Corporations insist on having control of every relationship.
Through the Journal I met the late writer Mark Bourne, who was likewise inspiring and encouraging of our efforts. These great early contacts sadly slipped away — Mark died in 2012. The publisher of the old DVD Resource page also did me a great service, by allowing me to reboot ‘MGM Video Savant’ into the first ‘DVD Savant’ page. He died even earlier, around 2005.
That’s a good reason to take a minute to boost some worthy pages, as I no longer maintain a links page. Few online praise their associates and plug pages they like. I don’t do it enough, but I spread the word when I can. You surely know some of these — a couple are much bigger than CineSavant. In no particular order:
John McElwee’s Greenbriar Picture Shows is written in his inimitable style (adapted from trade paper-speak, I think). John’s focus is on distribution and exhibition, and he’s released two very good, very entertaining books on the subject.
Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings covers much the same genre and vintage titles we cover, often adding observations that would never occur to me. She reported on American Cinematheque screenings of pictures not yet available on disc. She lately surprised us with an agreeably rational perspective on a movie I thought only I cared about.
I’ve been pals with Mark Throop for years — his page Movies ala Mark is fresh and funny, and I like his opinions so much, I swipe them whenever possible. He zeroes in on mainstream pictures and the marginal genre films that clog my synapses. His wit is never mean-spirited.
I’ve followed film critic & teacher David Cairns’ major blog Shadowplay since he generously contacted me who-knows how many years ago. David mixes academic analysis with a sharp sense of humor. I’m always curious to hear his take on things, his adventures at film festivals, etc.. He pulls off the magic trick of reporting on his commentary and essay work, without turning his page into an advertisement.
I can’t leave out Kyu Hyun Kim’s Q Branch Mirror Site, another blog with in-depth academic thought on film topics, but also articles that skew toward history projects. Kyu is a committed historian. He posts infrequently, and his writing helps me spread my thoughts beyond the subject of disc releases. For instance, way down on his first page is an extended interview with another academic, Kirsten Ziomek, on her book about Japanese colonial issues.
And, just to keep tabs on correspondent Kevin Pyrtle, I repeat his new page that so far toys with Kaiju concerns. The title is surely relevant to Kevin, even if I don’t get it: Thrilling Tales of Weltraum★besty. I’m eager to see where Kevin takes this.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson