Review Page and Column
Corridor of Mirrors 10/16/21
Let loose some airy English film aesthetes with a big budget, a French film studio and a theme somewhere between Marcel Proust and Jean Cocteau, and back comes this strange, slightly off-balance but extremely impressive objet d’art. Eric Portman is really good, Edana Romney not so much. English actresses Barbara Mullen and Joan Maude compensate greatly — they’re haunting, actually. For his first job of direction Terence Young gives us a flash of Christopher Lee in his first film, along with pretty Lois Maxwell. Content-wise this has the screwiest construction … its style and obsessions are split between the two films presently rated the best ever made! Expect something different: the baroque style may prompt some viewers to reach for the ‘eject’ button. On Blu-rayfrom The Cohen Group.
Gray Lady Down 10/16/21
Military ensemble pictures work well when the excitement is all about the job and working under pressure: Charlton Heston, Stacy Keach, Ned Beatty and even David Carradine are excellent in this credible story about a near-impossible rescue of submariners trapped 1400 feet below. It’s a solid Navy disaster scenario, unusually authentic and realistic — until the dramatists require actor Ronny Cox to act like an emotional idiot. Those U.K. disc producers do it justice with some excellent extras, including a piece with a Navy specialist who worked with the rescue craft seen in the movie… and who later became a well-known film historian, author and film series organizer. On Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Today we have another welcome lesson in film marketing hucksterism from correspondent Gary Teetzel. This one concentrates on the big-time promotions for one of William Castle’s biggest hits, 1960’s 13 Ghosts, the movie with the gimmick ‘ghost viewers.’ To start out, I recommended reading an article in Motion Picture Exhibitor, about a Detroit movie theater manager’s plans to hype Castle’s kiddie-safe shocker: “How Would I Sell… 13 Ghosts?”
The author mentions a stunt involving stamping the back of a kid’s hand, and giving the kid a free admission if the stamp was still visible when they came to theater. But this would be done about a week before the movie opened. Great — kids will spend a week NOT WASHING THEIR HANDS in order to get into the film for free!
A photo from the “Ghost Convention”:
I hope these come out straight and readable — got a magnifying glass handy? There follows a lengthy collection of clippings charting the ups and downs of 13 Ghost exhibition promotions and gimmicks. I guess some theater managers just stayed sober and ripped tickets, while others had ambitions of becoming P.T. Barnum. They took their business very seriously: “Don’t forget to omit the 1300 series.”
I like the way this theater manager fibs about ‘ectoplasmic color,’ when the movie is B&W!
One disappointed theater manager ran the film for Halloween ’61, when promoting 13 Ghosts was probably not a first priority back at Columbia. Did he really think the studio would keep supplies of Ghost Viewers on tap very long?
And Gary includes one more article, a Motion Picture Exhibitor profile of William Castle, from May of 1961. Thank you, Gary!
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and The Wolf Man get the boost to 4K. Those Blu-ray sets nine years ago were pretty darn impressive; what’s the improvement here? The deluxe gift-ready package naturally comes with all of Universal’s many extras accumulated over the last twenty years. I haven’t seen Karloff for a while, and he’s more impressive than ever; plus this time we can appreciate how much performing Bela Lugosi does with just his hands. Also starring Claude Rains and Lon Chaney Jr., in their top Universal horror appearances. On 4K Ultra-HD + Blu-ray + Digital from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
A Night at the Opera 10/12/21
Charlie Largent takes on the Marx Brothers’ biggest hit for MGM, a combo operetta and Marx Mania laugh fest that includes some of Groucho’s best comic interactions with Margaret Dumont. A pack of notable writers contributed to this with and without credit; Metro must have wanted to ‘raise the culture level’ one way or another. And heck, we love Kitty Carlisle, and Allan Jones sang here around the same time he was in Showboat over at Universal. Will Otis B. Driftwood ever have his way with Mrs. Claypool? Who knows, this time the movie may be different. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
How dare they! I know I often mention that Bronson Caverns is a great 2 hour side trip for Hollywood visitors genuinely into old movie locations. But wait: last week CineSavant’s intrepid watchdog Gary Teezel went back to the site and discovered this feeble bit of City Parks micro-management. The reason that the caverns themselves are blocked off is supposed to be about a falling rocks hazard… which seems a bit far fetched. Is this a lawsuit-avoider? Or are they worried about homeless encampments in the Hollywood Hills, as seen in The Day of the Locust?
It’s now like visiting Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco — when we get all the way there, security fences inspired by 9/11 prevent us from walking to the sweet spot where Madeline Ulster jumped into the drink.
I exchanged notes with corresponent George Stewart and then checked out his little blog
Crazy College for its interviews — George is fascinated by ‘all recordings odd, silly or forgotten.’ Chances are that fans of Tom Lehrer and Stan Freberg already know about Crazy College but I found a nice article about a record producer’s boxed set of Atomic Cafe– type ‘atom craze’ platters. George Kimball also interviews Disney great Ward Kimball.
For actual old music lovingly presented, also check out Scratchy Grooves, a curated series of podcasts hosted by Bill Chambless. I’m listening to the first one up as I write, it’s a lot of fun.
CineSavant’s third link is to the Trailers from Hell commentator who makes me feel like I’m once again a happy film student, listening to somebody who knows what he’s talking about. Last week Brian Trenchard-Smith narrated a trailer for an obscure but important Australian film called Jedda.
It’s half- exploitation and half- ethnographic exposé; Brian cuts through modern evasions to show the film’s worth, even if it would likely be banned today by frantic PC watchdogs. Another worthwhile winner from Mr. T.C.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Inglourious Basterds 4K 10/09/21
“We in the killin’ Nazi bizness. An’ cousin, bizness is boomin’!” Brad Pitt scalps his enemies, Mélanie Laurent serves up a killer double bill for the Führer, Michael Fassbinder is a movie critic turned secret agent, and the amazing Christophe Waltz makes all previous movie villains seem lightweight. Now on 4K Ultra HD, Quentin Tarantino’s brutal-but-funny war movie is really a critique of Hollywood escapism. It’s the ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy for every trigger-happy Audie Murphy Jr. who ever attended a matinee. I thought the movie would be tarred and feathered by America’s guardians of war nostalgia; instead it took eight Oscar noms plus a win for actor Waltz: “That’s a Bingo!” With Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Rod Taylor and Mike Myers. On 4K Ultra-HD + Blu-ray + Digitalfrom Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
The Fortune Cookie 10/09/21
Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s comeback comedy performed decently enough at the box office, but its real accomplishment is vaulting Walter Matthau into mainline stardom. Matthau embodies the most venal ambulance chaser alive: Whiplash Willie Gingrich. His sad insurance scam scramble for unearned, undeserved loot is more of an exposé of sagging American values than anything particularly satircal. Jack Lemmon is the straight man this time around. He spends much of the movie in a medical collar, being victimized to make a fast buck. But Matthau hits the laughs out of the park — it’s an inspired performance that won him a Best Supporting Oscar. “You know Willie. He could find a loophole in the Ten Commandments.” With Ron Rich, Judi West, and Cliff Osmond. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
I’ve been asked from time to time about what discs are sold on the Disney Movie Club, and somebody finally posted a page that lists them in chronological order of release: The ‘Disney Wiki/Fandom’ page Disney Movie Club Exclusive DVDs and Blu-rays.
I saw at least one title that I want to investigate — I was unaware that it was out at all: 1964’s A Tiger Walks with Brian Keith, Pamela Franklin (sigh), Vera Miles and … Sabu. It’s a risky business getting one’s hope up for this — when seen again later many movies I saw at age 12 aren’t exactly the classics I thought they were. But I might take the plunge.
Yes, the Disney Club can be frustrating, according to the stories I’ve heard. My best advice for not getting roped into an unwanted membership is to stand on a street corner with a sign reading ‘Do you belong to the Disney Movie Club? Step right up and shake my hand!’ Be sure to practice a big smile.
We’ve got another podcast to try out, a continuation of the George Feltenstein Saga. Two months ago I linked to a podcast called The Extras for a rundown of George’s career; this new October 5 show bears a title that’s self explanatory:
We get the full story of how the WAC — an ingenious way of connecting rabid fans to the insides of the studio vault — came to be. George then goes over the October ’21 release lineup.
I’ve (uhh…) misplaced a couple of fun music links from a good friend who sent them twice… but I do have this pretty darn thrilling orchestral video of a live performance of Ennio Morricone’s The Good, the Bad and The Ugly, by the Danish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sarah Hicks.
Generous correspondent Alan Dezzani sent the link and told me to enjoy all the interesting instruments — the orchestration appears to be very close to what’s in the movie, and some of the instruments look very unusual. The key to Morricone is that we really appreciate the personality of individual instruments in his work … Morricone’s pieces bring out some very special soloists. This is a really handsome video, too. It’s from 2018, so if the hit counter can be believed, step up and be the 86 millionth person to have a listen.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Incredible Shrinking Man 10/05/21
Criterion gives this classic its first exposure on Region A Blu-ray! A new 4K remaster puts the story of a guy too tiny to escape from his own cellar in its very best light — Scott Carey’s combat with the spider is still a scary delight, with a newly-fixed imperfection. Criterion’s extras lean toward fan-oriented fare: Tom Weaver tops the stack with a fine commentary and we get good input from Ben Burtt, Craig Barron, Richard Christian Matheson, Joe Dante and Dana Gould — plus thoughtful liner notes by Geoffrey O’Brien. And don’t forget those excellent movie trailers narrated by a breathless Orson Welles. Robert Scott Carey should have his own statue in Los Angeles, like Rocky Balboa in Philadelphia. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
The Last Sunset 10/05/21
Kirk Douglas and Rock Hudson can’t quite bring this all-star western fully to life, even with Robert Aldrich at the helm and a storyline that toys with (then) lurid, adult subject matter. Screen-written by Dalton Trumbo and filmed in Mexico, it perhaps packs too much edgy psychodrama into a simple cowboys & sixguns saga. Dorothy Malone and Carol Lynley give fine support and the locations are nice, as is Ernest Laszlo’s cinematography. Also with Joseph Cotten, Neville Brand, Jack Elam and Regis Toomey. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Eric Levy’s National Film Registry Fan Site gives unofficial coverage of the films chosen each year by the United States Library of Congress, with helpful information about availability on video disc — you know, the essential format that is not going obsolete.
Rather than link directly Eric Levy’s page, I’m guiding you to the great monthly newsletter page that showed me the link — the Milestone Films Newsletter for October 2021. Just scroll down a bit through some of the Milestone people’s interesting items for this month. More power to them!
I’m in the process of reviewing CineSavant U.K. correspondent Lee Broughton’s latest book, The Euro-Western: Reframing Gender, Race and the ‘Other’ in Film. It’s a scholarly study that fits in very well with today’s reassessment of film history in terms of women & minorities. So far it’s making a good comparison of how U.S. and European westerns handled similar content; Sir Christopher Frayling gave it an enthusiastic endorsement.
Also, Lee’s first book has been re-issued as a paperback with a more customer-friendly price tag. The book is
Reframing Cult Westerns: From The Magnificent Seven to The Hateful Eight. It’s a series of essays that Lee edited to explore new thought in the western genre.
And a friend sends along this interesting link: electric guitarist David Ferri plays lead on Miklos Rozsa’s main theme Star of Bethlehem from Ben-Hur. Yup, it’s the tune from the Charlton Heston movie all right, but I’ve never heard it sounding like this. Mr. Ferri does some pretty fancy playing, I don’t mind saying.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Silence of the Lambs 4K 10/02/21
The best horror film of the 1990s and perhaps the only serial killer picture post- Psycho that can stand on equal terms with Hitchcock’s classic, Jonathan Demme and Ted Tally’s adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel is a standout experience in every way. Not all 4K Ultra HD encodings are worth crowing about but this one is — the added visual detail and especially the contrast range really make a difference. Kino offers a good selection of extras as well, including a teaser trailer I haven’t seen for years and a fine Tim Lucas commentary. Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine star in this multiple Oscar-winner. On 4K Ultra-HD + Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
As Good as It Gets 10/02/21
Once upon a time a movie could really send you out of the theater with a smile on your face (Don’t make me explain what a movie theater was). James L. Brooks scores here with another fine entertainment, creating yet another character for Jack Nicholson to hit out of the park. But the generosity of characterization anoints the entire cast, especially Helen Hunt, the most emotionally deserving working woman since Shirley MacLaine’s Fran Kubelik. Nicholson’s miserable curmudgeon is once again a guy who learns how to be a mensch, at least a little bit. It’s an old story but Brooks makes it new again; both Nicholson and Hunt won as Best Actors and the film nabbed five other nominations. On Region Free Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
The latest DVD Classics Corner on the Air podcast is Scott Eyman and Dick Dinman salute star Cary Grant. Dick welcomes the acclaimed author to discuss Eyman’s fine biography Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise, newly out on paperback.
Their chat focuses on the recent Criterion disc of Grant and Hepburn’s comedy Bringing Up Baby; the best part is the analysis given of Cary Grant’s ‘constructed’ screen image — we of course wonder what the ‘real’ Archibald Leach was like.
Next, after reading this at the Home Theater Forum I had to go back and check and see if it was a joke, or being said in sly sideways fashion… I mean, the word ‘inter-web’ got me a little worried — really clever slights sail right over my balding head.
Nope, I’m duly flattered, many thanks. The thread post was in reference to the recent CineSavant review for Vera Cruz. My contact with Robert Harris hasn’t been much; he was extremely gracious twenty years ago. When Darren Gross and I were searching out a long version of Major Dundee, Mr. Harris mailed me a packet of info about vault holdings on the title from his files, just to help out.
And to help you recover from that onslaught of shameless self-promotion, CineSavant contributor Jonathan Gluckman forwards this link to the cinematic splendor of Samurai Smartphone Parade. The three-minute 2017 film is a handy Public Service primer about everyday safety in the fiefdom, avoiding embarrasing accidents on your next trek to appear before the Shogun.
Really nicely done! ‘Docomo’ appears to be an online mobile phone shop.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson