Review Page and Column
Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic 12/03/19
At the end of his career, Fritz Lang returned to Germany and a producer who gave him a big budget to remake a silent classic in color, with an international cast and locations in remote India, including a palace never seen in a movie before. The two-movie, 200-minute epic was chopped in half for America and dubbed in English. Seen in its full Eastmancolor glory, The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb form an old-fashioned storybook tale, with its special charm lying in our knowledge of Fritz Lang’s fixation on fatalism and intricate patterns of betrayal and intrigue. Plus the films contain the erotic highlight of the decade, the spectacle of star Debra Paget’s scorching ‘temple dances’ before an all-male audience of admirers. With Paul Hubschmid, Walther Reyther and a huge anatomically correct faux-Indian idol. On Blu-ray from Film Movement Classics.
Kurt Vonnegut’s quirky sci-fi novels didn’t always adapt well to film, but George Roy Hill’s 1972 effort is a faithful winner. The filmmaking craft used to ‘unstick’ Billy Pilgrim in time is nothing short of brilliant, highlighting the camera talent of Miroslav Ondricek and the editing skill of Dede Allen. The book even has a built-in sex angle that the film doesn’t shy away from — providing our first encounter with Valerie Perrine as a starlet kidnapped by aliens curious about human mating habits. The somber, sometimes spiritually-defeatist tone of the show represents the book well; it ought to be better known. Starring Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman, Eugene Roche, Sharon Gans, Holly Near, Perry King and Friedrich von Ledebur. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
The key artwork for this Abbott & Costello movie can be opened larger, in a new window. Wow, it isn’t exactly PC any more, or at all acceptable except as an example of uglier times … this poster is for a Spanish language release, but some U.S. campaigns were identical. I hereby risk the cultural firing squads for a good cause: professional film restoration experts are trying to save the movie.
Previous solicitors know I’m not partial to promoting Kickstarter campaigns, but Bob Furmanek has one that I’d like to see happen, with a thoughtful video pitch for his Save Abbott & Costello’s Africa Screams! Fund. Furmanek and the 3-D Archive have funded the restoration of a couple of 3-D pictures this way; this is their first ‘flat’ picture.
Africa Screams! was a TV staple when I was a kid, and I have a big soft spot for A&C’s Jack and the Beanstalk as well. But prints of the jungle movie always looked terrible; I got into its status a bit more when I talked with one of the Nassour brothers around 1983, on the subject of their other oddball ’50s feature fantasy, The Beast of Hollow Mountain. So give Bob’s pitch a listen — !
Tireless researcher Gary Teetzel sends along this film interview with Hammer Films’ producer James Carreras, courtesy of the ‘Huntley Film Archives,’ whose logo is plastered over everything. Hailing, we think, from around 1965, it’s all chopped up with big silent gaps, but the content is great — this is what the man sounded like. “Remember, Hammer Films are there for when there’s no ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ around!”
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Until the End of the World 11/30/19
An amazing Blu-ray year is capped by a genuine favorite, rescued by its filmmaker and set aside for almost twenty years. Wim Wenders was forced to make a shortened version of what he hoped would be his greatest success, following Wings of Desire: but he cleverly saved his 4.5-hour uncut version, making its Blu-ray debut on December 10. Longform video is currently the rage, so perhaps the time has finally come for the uncut Bis ans Ende der Welt. The music soundtrack is nothing less than fantastic, not to be missed. Starring William Hurt, Solveig Dommartin, Sam Neill, Rüdiger Vogler, Jeanne Moreau, Max von Sydow, Ernie Dingo, Lois Chiles. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Same movie, but some writing done 21 years ago. The pair of articles here are essentially the same as what I wrote in 1998 for the original MGM DVD Savant website, after seeing the long Die Trilogie’ version of Until the End of the World at the Harmony Gold Preview Theater on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. Beware: although I’ve deleted a detailed synopsis, the articles contain plenty of Spoilers for Until the End of the World and Bertrand Tavernier’s 1980 film Death Watch.
← Well, the Blu-ray release of Until the End of the World is such a big deal that it gets a double tap today; I hope my overly detailed review raises enough curiosity for some new folks to give the movie a try. By next Saturday we should have a review for the giant Abbott and Costello Collection box set — Charlie Largent is digging through what he reports is a mountain of extras.
→ Trailers from Hell continues to pursue its important public service work… finding hidden filmic treasures. This week they warned us away from movies so bad, they really, really aren’t worth tracking down. Joe Dante’s trailer commentary for Monster a Go Go falls into this category — Dante’s two minute candid assessment will spare you a fate worse than death. So, why does that monster guy with the bumpy face look interesting?
← Coming up next — my best thoughts on the new Film Movement Blu-ray of the Fritz Lang’s Indian Films: The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb. The colorful transfers show off the fantastic Indian locations, and also the beauty of Debra Paget (swoon), whose ‘sacred dances’ are truly eye-opening.
I’ve received lots of positive reader responses lately for discs as varied as RoboCop, Now, Voyager and The Magic Sword. It’s also nice that my click-bait image at the top of the CineSavant Column gets so many hits as well — the strange Red Planet Mars (→) is one of this week’s ‘most popular articles’ at TFH — where CineSavant consistently scores most of the top positions.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Magic Sword 11/26/19
St. George is little more than a ‘callow Yoot’ but he takes on those Seven Curses like a champ. Before he fell afoul of the murderous HAL, we can see that Gary Lockwood was a hell of survivor, dodging monsters, witch-hags, fiery pits, etc., that snare his fellow noble nights on the quest to save Da Princess. Bert I. Gordon’s most polished production benefits from spirited thesping from Estelle Winwood and Basil Rathbone, and Maila ‘Vampira’ Nurmi is in for a guest spot. Tim Lucas waxes nostalgic for this kiddie saga, and reviewer Charlie Largent retains good childhood memories too. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Bells of St. Mary’s 11/26/19
Despite being one of the most popular pictures of its year, this favorite holiday movie plays strangely today, and should have disturbed people when it was new as well. Director Leo McCarey and his glowing stars Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman do remarkable work, and the show has its heart in the right place… but the values built into its story points are painfully wrong-headed. We don’t expect ’40s films to adhere to today’s so-called enlightened PC values, but some of the attitudes in this one make us want to throw things at the screen. Taken from a beautifully remastered new restoration, Olive’s Signature Edition is flawless. On Blu-ray from Olive Signature.
I hope you’re having some pre-holiday fun, and not attempting any giant flights or drives for Thanksgiving. ← I have a daughter and her pooch here for the whole week, and am enjoying all of it!
Charlie Largent and I are working on separate reviews for big disc gift sets, both from Shout! Factory, ‘Shout Select’ to be precise. His is the enormous Abbott & Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection, and mine is the same outfit’s The Anne Bancroft Collection, which is interesting because it rounds up features from more than one major studio.
I can see how December will play out: we said we’d drop everything if Criterion’s Until the End of the World or Film Movement’s Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic (→) came through the door — and they just did! The same enthusiasm will greet Lionsgate’s Cotton Club Encore, Scream Factory’s The Abominable Snowman and plenty of others when they arrive. I also have a backlog of worthy discs from the past month or so that need attention. Have a great holiday and see you on Saturday!
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Now, Voyager 11/23/19
This must be an official Bette Davis month… Criterion has two vintage Davis pictures on offer, and TCM is devoted to a roundup of the actresses work as well. This one qualifies as the all-time champeen Women’s Weepie, but one that holds up as a great picture on all levels. Director Irving Rapper guided this best-ever drama, in which a put-upon Ugly Duckling throws off oppressive familial chains and blossoms into a woman of the world. She then makes choices of personal nobility and selflessness, that will challenge anybody’s notions of saint-like deportment. It’s the kind of show normally gets discussed over coffee, not by film critics, so the extras on this one are especially interesting. Co-starring Paul Henried and his double cigarette trick, with Claude Rains, Gladys Cooper and Bonita Granville. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot 11/23/19
Michael Cimino could have done worse for his first directing gig — a big Clint Eastwood – Jeff Bridges buddy picture with guaranteed major attention. It’s a simple crime caper for simple audiences, and he pulls it off in style. The Sunday movie supplements celebrated Cimino as a great new talent. He’s picture still looks handsome and it runs like a Swiss watch — the writer-director even has his vulgar comedy down pat, giving bad guy George Kennedy a few memorable choice bits to play. With Geoffrey Lewis, Catherine Bach, and Gary Busey. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Ha! Gary Teetzel’s researches unearthed this ancient news item (from August 28, 1935) which he referred to as ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Lugosi.’
— the clipping and the photo below can be made larger if opened in a new window —
The news clipping mentions yet another Bela Lugosi project that never came to fruition: playing in a remake (?) of the 1919 classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Announcements of movies that never got filmed have of course been a staple since the business got rolling — Famous Monsters and CineFantastique included title- and name- dropping columns in which Peter Lorre or Vincent Price, etc., was ‘announced’ as soon to be playing this or that intriguing title we never heard of. Most came for naught — I remember Bill Warren put an addendum in his Science Fiction Encyclopedia listing a couple of hundred phantom sci-fi movies, announced but never produced.
The question is, what role was Bela Lugosi going to play? ‘The star role’ would have to be Dr. Caligari, the sideshow mountebank who may have a double identity as the director of an asylum. Gary pointed out that Lugosi’s Dr. Mirakle in Murders in the Rue Morgue is a similar character, with some added sex perversion. If Lugosi were to play Dr. Caligari, who would Werner Krauss be? Krauss was of course Dr. Caligari sixteen years earlier, in Germany; in 1935 he was only 51 years old. Gary doesn’t think Lugosi would want to play Cesare the Somnambulist, as it’s too much like the Frankenstein monster role that he turned down. Did Lugosi think he was going to play the youthful handsome student, the supposed hero?
My guess it that maybe the reporter fumbled the interview — that Lugosi might have said (in his thick accent) that he was going to play the Werner Krauss role, and the note-taker thought he said he’d be playing with Werner Krauss. It doesn’t look as if Krauss was making other movies in England or America at this time (or any other time).
But I very much like to imagine Lugosi having fun and relaxing on a genuine ocean cruise, where he could be ‘the celebrity.’ Do you think any ladies asked to have their picture taken with him, biting their neck? Probably not — too vulgar for First Class.
CineSavant wastes time department: I see this building a block away in Culver City every couple of weeks when we go to eat there; it’s always looked like an example of bad art direction escaped from Culver Studios or Sony, just a couple of blocks to either side. I keep thinking the tower would do well serving as the top of the Daily Planet for a ’40s Superman show. The ball-in-balance sculpture would also suffice for the headquarters of an arch-villain. The tower could equally say, ‘Evil super-genius lives here.’ Anyway, the sunset light was good enough here for me to give it a shot — it suddenly looked more dramatic. I take the Bad Art Direction comment back — since I notice it every time, I obviously like it.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Extra-special extras adorn this stunning reissue of a modern sci-fi action classic. Paul Verhoeven’s sledgehammer of graphic-novel brutality and wicked political satire (courtesy of a Michael Miner-Ed Neumeier screenplay that should have won awards) hasn’t diminished one iota. We still feel like we’re being subjected to a shockingly ultra-violent entertainment from the future. Both versions are present, along with enough interview extras to make one feel personally involved in the production. Although later entries in the Robo franchise were marketed to children (we have the toys to prove it) this hard-action show expresses an adult-oriented rage against Reagan’s America. The filmmakers could have earned a lot more money making Robo un-political and kid-safe but instead chose to stay true to their radical concept. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
The Bad and the Beautiful 11/19/19
One of Vincente Minnelli’s best is this glamorous ‘Hollywood Looks At Hollywood’ exposé of sin and conniving among the actors, directors and producers that make Quality Entertainment for us unglamorous nobodies. It’s overstated and often grossly overacted (Kirk Douglas, front and center!) but still carries a grandiose charm. Lana Turner gets to play an idealized version of herself. Gloria Grahame generates additional heat, and for her trouble walked away with an Oscar. And composer David Raksin contributes one of his most melodic music scores — the main theme is a winner, right up there with his Laura. CineSavant runs amuck critiquing the way MGM’s movie slams Hollywood creatives, while pretending that the studio bigwigs are infallible Gods. With Barry Sullivan, Dick Powell, Walter Pidgeon and Gilbert Roland. On Blu-rayfrom The Warner Archive Collection.
Requiem for Gringo 11/19/19
We’ve got more Spaghetti western action from Guest Reviewer Lee Broughton — the more obscure they become, the more fanciful the concept. This creative 1968 entry foregrounds a gothic vibe and employs imagery and narrative devices that Lee says would fit well in a horror movie. Italo western fans know the regular actors Fernando Sancho, Femi Benussi and Aldo Sambrell, who star alongside Lang Jeffries and future Pedro Almodóvar star Marisa Paredes. On Blu-ray from Wild East.