Review Page and Column
Last Train from Gun Hill 01/22/22
One of the best yet least seen of John Sturges’ westerns couples a fine screenplay with strong star perfs and superb direction: the straightforward story builds tension throughout. Kirk Douglas is a sheriff out for both justice and revenge and Anthony Quinn is the he-bull rancher who stands in his way: the guilty party is Quinn’s son. It looks sensational in VistaVision, with a fine music score by Dimitri Tiomkin — it’s a pleasure all the way through, with strong support from Carolyn (swoon) Jones, Earl Holliman, Brian Hutton and Brad Dexter. From a 6K scan, on Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
All My Sons 01/22/22
Burt Lancaster and Edward G. Robinson are excellent in this adaptation of Arthur Miller’s award-winning Broadway play, about a family torn apart by the denial of dark secrets from the WW2 homefront. Mady Christians is the mother who refuses to accept her son’s death, and Louisa Horton and Howard Duff the brother and sister trying to understand how their father could be imprisoned for defective war materiel responsible for needless combat deaths. The show is powerful, even with some of its social messaging muted — and director Irving Reis gets it all on screen. With Louisa Horton, Howard Duff, Lloyd Gough, Arlene Francis, and Elisabeth Fraser. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
It’s a windy day in Los Angeles. Criterion’s announcements for April contain some hot titles, starting with Vittorio de Sica’s must-see Miracle in Milan, a fantasy neorealist spinoff that may be the director’s most moving, meaningful picture. Equally anticipated are Frank Tashlin’s crazy The Girl Can’t Help It, Alex Cox’s wildly subversive political western Walker and Bertand Tavernier’s ode to Jazz ‘Round Midnight; plus the Nigerian drama Eyimofe and a 4K upgrade of the documentary For All Mankind.
I was knocked out by last year’s TCM debut of Robert Siodmak’s ‘different’ story of labor trouble in a New England plastics factory and talked to the expert that restored it; now Flicker Alley has their Blu-ray special edition ready to go for March 15. My take on the once-obscure The Whistle at Eaton Falls is that it’s a ‘reverse film-noir’: it comes on like a disaffected critique of the free enterprise system, but ends with a well-earned positive message. Lloyd Bridges leads an interesting cast, with early roles for Ernest Borgnine, Murray Hamilton, Arthur O’Connell and Anne Francis. Flicker Alley’s full extra content includes pieces on producer Louis de Rochemont, a booklet and an audio commentary by Alan K. Rode.
And thanks to a steer from correspondent Jonathan Gluckman I made a fun discovery on YouTube, the entire feature 24×36: A Movie About Posters. It’s a documentary about the history of movie advertisements and some of the artists and illustrators that ought to be famous for painting them, as told by artists, collectors and gallery owners. The graphics-oriented show looks great; the title refers to the size of a standard American One-Sheet, 24×36 inches.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Great Moment 01/18/22
Every once in a while a movie studio would ruin what might have been a masterpiece — and Preston Sturges’ last-released Paramount comedy suffered exactly that. “Triumph Over Pain” was supposed to be something new, a daring blend of comedy and tragedy. Studio politics intervened and tried to turn it into a straight comedy. Disc producer Constantine Nasr oversees two extras that explain what happened in full detail; it’s a fascinating story of a brillant and successful writer-director at odds with his studio bosses. Joel McCrea, Betty Field and William Demarest star — and the show is still entertaining despite its problems. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
A Hard Day’s Night 4K 01/18/22
The Fab Four’s first and biggest movie hit comes to 4K Ultra HD! The Beatles brought something new and exciting to 1964 and the world embraced it. This United Artists release was a major event in the first wave of Beatlemania, setting the standard for Swinging London cool; thanks to Richard Lester’s flip approach and the Beatles’ positive energy little in the movie has dated. George Martin’s input for the musical end of things didn’t hurt either. The movie itself never gets old: new generations still respond with enthusiasm. It always looked super on home video, so what does the format boost add to the mix? On 4K Ultra-HD + Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
The Blockhouse 01/18/22
For this perplexing British production Peter Sellers fronts a solid cast (Charles Aznavour, Jeremy Kemp, Per Oscarsson and Peter Vaughn) in a numbingly literal tale of seven men buried alive in a wartime warehouse of supplies and foodstuffs — and who are forced to stay there for years, praying for rescue. Stories of this kind usually come with a heavy moral or dramatic pyrotechnics, but after the opening barrage that drives the men underground, the balance of the film is a slow march toward the inevitable. The supply of candles lasts for an entire two years . . . and then runs out. Excellent extras cover the production in detail, and a 1945 documentary about the Channel Islands is an unexpected delight. On Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
John’s marketing & promotion angle always brings out a new appreciation of classic film. And his half-Varietyspeak, half-shorthand writing style is something I look forward to every week. My review of The Window from last November is here.
The news has been out for half a week but it’s still important: the company Deaf Crocodile has announced that it will be releasing remastered Russian fantasy films under a new Russian Fantastika branded line. First up will be 4K restorations of Aleksandr Ptushko’s Ilya Muromets (1956 aka The Sword and the Dragon) and his Sampo (1959 aka The Day the Earth Froze), along with a 2K restoration of Karen Shakhnazarov’s satirical Sci-fi feature Zerograd (1988 aka Zero City).
The Ptushko films are entirely different items from what we remember on flat dubbed TV presentations with terrible color; the art direction and pre- CGI production values often stagger the eye. Zerograd is less well-known here; Deaf Crocodile describes it as ‘half Agatha Christie, half Monty Python.’
The three discs are planned for summer ’22 release. An impressive Trailer for Deaf Crocodile’s Ilya Muromets is online. We certainly hope this arrangement continues — there’s still Ptushko’s Sadko to be hoped for in a definitive presentation, along with several terrific 1950s-1960s Russian science fiction films.
Last week reviewing the immortal The Mighty Peking Man, a reader-comment by ‘Killer Meteor’ showed me how little I knew about Hong Kong cinema, saying that there existed a Shaw Brothers ‘Blob Movie’ and giving it a name: The Oily Maniac.
A reader-comment by John Simpson then took the next step, sending along a link to the Oily Maniac Trailer. It looks terrible . . . how could I have lived without this?
This is the best frame I could find of the Hong Kong monster man … I’m scared already.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Straight Time 01/15/22
Small thief and parolee Max Dembo is pinned in a parole system that all but guarantees he’ll go back to robbing banks and jewelry stores. Dustin Hoffman has one of his best and most unusual roles, taken from the story of a real bank robber. Directed by Ulu Grosbard, the docu-drama look at the seedy side of Los Angeles is graced with a perfect cast: Theresa Russell, Gary Busey, Harry Dean Stanton, M. Emmet Walsh, and Kathy Bates. Sure, the rotten parole officer drives Dembo back to crime, but pulling jobs is in his blood. It’s one of the best portraits of a criminal ever. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Breaking In 01/15/22
Favorite director Bill Forsyth lends his knack for droll understatement to a screenplay by John Sayles, a crime tale that opts for keen character study and doesn’t stretch credibility. Burt Reynolds has a gem of a role as a career burglar doing his bit for the next generation, showing a ‘new guy’ the ins and outs of thievery; Casey Siemaszko is his thick-headed but resolutely faithful assistant on several outrageous heists. The criminal life almost doesn’t seem too terrible — except for the going-to-prison part. The disc commentary with Forsyth and Sayles is a great listen. The disc commentary with Forsyth and Sayles is a great listen. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Hello — Happy Ides of January.
The connected folk at Trailers from Hell sent this one along. As reported on the Al Hirschfeld Twitter page, it appears that the great cartoonist and illustrator created art for the original 1939 ad campaign for The Wizard of Oz. Here are a couple of inserts from the poster … let’s hope this isn’t a copyright infringement.
It does make me reflect on the general badness of poster art for many golden-era MGM movies. Although gems did sneak through, the average MGM poster could be really ugly, and Wizard was no exception. It took me about 20 seconds to see a Yellow Brick Road motif here. It looks like Hirschfeld was contracted to produce a stack of classy caricatures, and then somebody decided to throw them into this hodge-podge.
Zooming or opening the images in a new window will reveal more detail. Did Hirschfeld have Vivien Leigh on his mind when drawing Dorothy? I can see Ray Bolger in the scarecrow, however.
CineSavant’s advisor and accomplice Gary Teetzel is keen on film composers, so thought this arts post by Bryan Erdy on vimeo was noteworthy. For its music bed, a ballet called Belling the Slayer makes use of the Capricorn One soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith.
I haven’t seen Capricorn One more than once or twice; so I’m afraid that for me it sounds like they’re all dancing to Goldsmith’s soundtrack for The Satan Bug!
And we’ve received word that on March 22 Paramount will be releasing a boxed-set 4K UHD Godfather Trilogy as part of its 50th anniversary celebration for Francis Ford Coppola’s mighty trilogy. There will be theatrical screenings as well. The set will present Godfathers I & II plus the recently re-edited version of the final film, The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone.
According to Paramount, Coppola oversaw a new 4K remaster, the first since Robert Harris’s 2007 restoration. For Godfathers I & II the 2007 Walter Murch audio will be present, along with original mono tracks. Extras will include a hardcover ‘coffee table’ book and codes for digital versions, plus new bonus extras.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Lovers of vintage English crime thrillers will have a lot to chew over with this pair of escapist gangster pix, one pre-war and one post-. In each an innocent young couple suffers a run-in with a criminal gang. John Mills and Richard Attenborough are the ‘fresh’ new talent on display. The leading lady of Dancing with Crime is Sheila Sim, playing opposite her husband Attenborough. The co-feature The Green Cockatoo sports credits for William Cameron Menzies and Miklós Rózsa. On Blu-ray from Cohen Media / Kino Lorber.
The Mighty Peking Man 01/11/22
Included in the Shawscope: Volume One 8-Disc Limited Edition. A monster ape-man smashes Hong Kong accompanied by his adopted daughter, a sexy blonde in a daringly abbreviated bikini. The lavishly produced King Kong rip-off was released here under the title Goliathon; Quentin Tarantino raised its profile with a 1999 ‘Rolling Thunder’ reissue. Beyond absurd, all the way to insane, the Shaw Bros.’ crazy kaiju hybrid is the lone non-martial arts title in Arrow’s multi-disc Shawscope: Volume One mega-box. With 12 features on eight discs, it’s a gift from heaven for the average fan of Hong Kong action movies. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
Thanks to correspondent Gregory Laxer for this one — it’s hard to believe that it’s real. A thermal ray gun called ‘Swifty’ is said to blast tunnels through the hardest terrestrial rock — circular tunnels between 18 and 62 inches in diameter.
That’s awfully close to a similar Martian ‘heat ray’ proposed 69 years ago in a certain fanciful science-fiction movie. In that show, green Martian giants carried an object resembling an oversized clarinet, with a glowing round barrel that bores giant tunnels through earth and rock. A ten-year old boy can operate it.
The company ‘Petra’ touts their invention, with photos showing a rather large setup that reportedly bored a 24″ hole through 20 feet of very hard rock (‘Sioux quartzite’) at a rate of one inch per minute. Young David MacLean’s borrowed Martian ray can zap a 12-foot tunnel through 50 feet of earth in about ten seconds, and with nifty sound effects to boot. But we’ll take what we can get.
The site suggests that the initial application would be tunnels for pipes and cables. Petra’s page has photos and a video demonstration that gives a rather strange impression — it’s presumably time-lapse and looks more like rock is being ‘erased.’ Actually, it almost looks like a flimsy special effect! Whatever is happening, this is definitely a ‘Colonel Fielding’- approved device: Remarkable Thermal Bore Cuts Through Undrillable Rock.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Red Angel 01/08/22
Yasuzo Masumura’s searing outrage didn’t abate in the 1960s; this unflinching view of the WW2 Japanese counterpart of a ‘M.A.S.H.’ unit cuts straight to the ugly truth of war, as the unending destruction of human bodies and minds. The horrors of ad hoc amputations match the behaviors of the demoralized patients. Masumura’s top muse Ayako Wakao is the traumatized battlefield nurse who becomes intimate with a surgeon who can only cope with his work by becoming a morphine addict. Excellent analysis by Rony Rayns and David Desser brings us closer to the director’s obsession with disturbing truths. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
The Brass Bottle 01/08/22
Before I Dream of Jeannie Barbara Eden played ‘the girlfriend’ in this Magic Lamp comedy starring Tony Randall and Burl Ives. Although a light family diversion from the Universal cookie cutter, the tale of architect Harold and Genie Fakrash Al-Amash is both clever and witty. Fakrash upsets Harold’s romance by giving him a belly-dancing ‘houri’: technically, a virgin companion promised the faithful in Paradise! Miracles conjure a herd of elephants; Burl Ives’ genial charm gives the show an unexpected appeal. With Kamala Devi, Edward Andrews, Richard Erdman and, among the ‘slave girls,’ Edy Williams. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.