Review Page and Column
The Lavender Hill Mob 10/15/19
They’re ‘The Men Who Broke the Bank and Lost the Cargo!’ Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway shine in one of the funniest crime comedies ever, Ealing Studios’ tale of a pair of nobodies who take the Bank of England for millions. Guinness’s bank clerk follows his dreams into a big time bullion heist, and the joke is that his ad-hoc mob is the most loyal, ethical band of brothers in the history of crime. This being a caper picture, the suspense is steep as well — just what is going to trip up these brilliantly gifted amateurs? With great acting support from Sidney James and Alfie Bass, and on this disc, an audio commentary by Jeremy Arnold. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Time Without Pity 10/15/19
Joseph Losey’s fortunes as an expatriate director took an upswing with this efficient, nervous and somewhat overcooked thriller with a daunting ticking-bomb deadline story gimmick — alcoholic wreck Michael Redgrave has only twenty hours to save his son from execution for murder. Losey racks up the tension, but he doesn’t give a hoot for Ben Barzman’s whodunnit scripting. Just the same, it’s good to see the director finally gaining traction — from this point forward most every Losey picture received serious international attention. With a powerful supporting cast: Leo McKern, Ann Todd, Peter Cushing, Alec McCowen, Lois Maxwell, Richard Wordsworth, Joan Plowright. On Region Free Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Hooray for Joe Baltake! His The Passionate Moviegoer blog is back with a piece on John Huston’s Annie, from 1982. Joe’s been offline for several months, and it’s great to see him back in the game. Encore !
I wouldn’t exactly call this entry ‘By Popular Demand,’ but in keeping with a Halloween theme, I did indeed retrieve ‘Pompey’s Head’ from the attic. It’s the thing in the cartoon from last Saturday… It’s pretty well battered about, but it still has family history around here. A bit of patch-up is all that’s required. And since I promised, here are a couple of views, which indeed magnify the dings and chips of the twenty-three years it’s been rotting in a box!
I don’t think I’d ever shown my son The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake… so I’m guessing he just made up the ‘lips sewn shut’ business. The good news is that his mother had a sense of proportion. She didn’t give the kids complexes because they liked the ‘weird’ films I might show them… that lecture was saved for me.
I couldn’t help myself … I touched up the first picture a bit. The noggin really in need of touch-up is my own. And thanks for this bit of self-indulgent fun!
Thanks for reading — Glenn Erickson
Hercules in the Haunted World 10/12/19
Mario Bava excelled with at least five super sword ‘n’ sandal pictures — shooting two Hercules classics and directing two viking sagas in addition to this eye-popping mix of mythology and horror. Forget warring armies and casts of thousands. Bava places Reg Park, Christopher Lee, and several beautiful Italo actresses within his weird visual world of and hallucinatory imagery: swirling mists, intensely physical actors and retina-burning color. Kino’s disc carries three discrete versions on two discs, and a gotta-hear commentary by Tim Lucas. On your next trip to The Underworld, remember NOT to trust what you see! Trust instead, uh, trust your … oh, just use the Force! On Blu-ray from Kino Classics.
Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages 10/12/19
Want to get serious about Halloween, like scary serious? Charlie Largent wades into this mysterious relic, which comes from 1922 but is still up-to-date on the historical and even the psychological aspects of witchcraft. Part slide show and part drama, its depictions of historical witch hunts are accurate and its fantastic images of satanic visions is mind-blowing — uncensored, extreme stuff. Plus, of all things, a wicked Danish sense of humor from writer-director Christensen — who himself appears as Satan, a pot-bellied hairy horror constantly leering and waggling his obscene tongue. If you have any psychic connection with supernatural traditions, this show will be scarier than the 6 O’Clock news. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Man of a Thousand Faces 10/12/19
Now that we can read the real story of the great silent actor and makeup magician Lon Chaney, the inaccuracies are fairly glaring in this well-received biopic about his career heights and difficult personal life. But it remains a compelling James Cagney movie, allowing the actor to try on different acting styles (and even a dancing style). The dramatic conflicts may be invented, but they’re compelling just the same. The movie works even as it represents Chaney’s original fantastic makeup creations with a series of ever-worsening rubber masks. Excellent supporting performances from Dorothy Malone, Jane Greer and Celia Lovsky. This one carries a good Tim Lucas commentary as well! On Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.
First Up is the cartoon I promised from my daughter. It is one of dozens my daughter did during her time at Brown; ‘Techhouse’ is the name of a dorm that catered to engineering and especially computer students. The photo I promised of the actual item in question, a thing called ‘Pompey’s Head,’ will have to wait until I can crawl into the attic to get it. I believe it will become a family heirloom, eventually.
The distinctive cartooning style is something my daughter also used for illustrations for my first book of reviews. One of my facebook pages uses her cartoon celebrating the ‘wall of discs’ at Savant Central, around 2004 … which is now the ‘several rooms of discs’ that are utterly out of control. She also did a joke birthday card for me about Major Dundee that I should post sometime … maybe when I review that movie again.
(Note, some of these images are larger if opened in a new window.)
Second up: longtime correspondent Malcolm went with me ages ago to a Sony screening of The Big Gundown, before it was available on home video. He responds to my note about the amusing-creepy skull cake my daughter baked, with a more seriously creepy-creepy article by Leigh Chavez-Bush: The Macabre Art of Baking People Pot Pies.
I think I’d be more impressed if these things were edible… or would I want to eat something that looks like that, no matter how good it tasted? The article is actually a little disturbing, like they’re deriving a bit too much ‘Buffalo Bill’ amusement with the idea.
The dependable Gary Teetzel forwarded a Classic Horror Film Board post on Facebook by the UCLA Film & Television Archive regarding a new restoration of that great, classic 1933 horror film Mystery of the Wax Museum. I wonder if somebody jumped the gun on an announcement: in the Facebook comments they say a Warner Archive Blu-ray will be coming at some point, and that they are trying to secure funding to do the same restoration job on Wax Museum’s sister film Doctor X. Here’s the text of the Facebook post:
“Here’s a peek at one of our current restoration projects: Michael Curtiz’s horror classic Mystery of the Wax Museum, one of Hollywood’s best two-strip Technicolor features, premiering early next year! Special thanks to our partners at Roundabout Entertainment, The Film Foundation and Warner Bros.”
This is of course great news; every year I get notes from readers that complain that the existing NTSC transfers of Wax Museum are all wrong, that the telecine colorists tried too hard to ‘improve the colors.’ I saw what I think was a re-premiere of the movie at the 1971 or 1972 FILMEX, with Randy Cook … at my discussion of the film I tell the story of the two of us approaching the special guest audience member, Fay Wray (!) before the screening.
We also get excited with the prospect of a restoration of Doctor X. The last we heard we thought one or both of those films were thought to be lost, until a print turned up in Jack Warner’s personal collection, discovered after he passed away. Speaking for myself, I’d like to see a simo restoration of the B&W Doctor X, which is said to be an entirely different movie, with a somewhat different tone — either more or less serious, I forget which. Long live the synthetic flesh!
This is the weekend that Mr. Muller Goes to Washington, film noir fans. The Noir City: DC publicity says, I’ll paraphrase, that the film series returns to the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center October 11-24. This year’s featured screenings include the Film Noir Foundation’s most recent restoration project, Richard Fleischer’s Trapped, and a free screening of Norman Foster’s great Woman on the Run, with Imogen Sara Smith joining Eddie Muller for a post-film onstage discussion.
They’re also touting 75th anniversary screenings of five landmark noirs from 1944: The Woman in the Window, Laura, Phantom Lady, Double Indemnity, and Murder, My Sweet. And a ‘rarities’ selection during the two-week run will include City That Never Sleeps, Murder by Contract, Private Hell 36, and The Scarlet Hour. Initial weekend hosting duties will be performed by the celebrated film historian Foster Hirsch will introduce screenings during the first weekend. Passes, tickets, and the full line-up are available on the AFI Silver Theater and Cultural Center’s website.
Contributing correspondent Craig Reardon forwards this Youtube home movie feature that’s self- explanatory: Laurel and Hardy — in Color, in 1956. Craig’s note said, and you’ll quickly agree, that the unexpected element is that Oliver Hardy had by that time lost so much weight — Laurel had gained enough — that they’re almost equal to one another in heft. Craig was also pleased to see the classic film comedians both looking so relaxed and evidently fond of one another, especially due to the indicated friction in that recent biographical film about them.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Fearless Vampire Killers 10/08/19
Some movies just don’t get the respect they deserve, which cues pushy reviewers to sing their praises. Forget everything you’ve read and give this Roman Polanski picture a chance — it’s the classiest Halloween treat ever, a lavish blend of Hammer horror, slapstick comedy and wistful romance — plus a vampire horde more balefully scary than a carload of zombies. It’s the beloved Sharon Tate’s best picture, and its vampire king is an original apart from Bela Lugosi and Chris Lee’s Draculas — an aristocratic one-percenter on a satanic mission to put all of humanity in a graveyard of the undead. Warners’ Panavision-Metrocolor restoration is drop-dead beautiful. And they’ve even revived Frank Frazetta’s original ‘jolly chase’ poster art. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Ida Lupino Filmmaker Collection 10/08/19
More than a movie star: America’s one female Hollywood director working in the 1950s receives a four-title boxed set well worth the investment — one noir mini-masterpiece is accompanied by a pair of independent social issue movies better than what the studios were turning out. It’s all thanks to Lupino’s fine dramatic direction. She emphasizes basic human values: cooperation over competition, and interior conflict. Her company ‘The Filmmakers’ lasted only about six years, but as an independent experiment it consistently turned out ‘special’ pictures anybody could be proud of. The four features included are the ‘social problem’ features Not Wanted and Never Fear with Sally Forrest, the excellent film noir thriller The Hitch-Hiker, and The Bigamist, in which Edmond O’Brien finds himself married to both Ida Lupino and Joan Fontaine. In his dreams! On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
My daughter is getting into the Halloween spirit with this newly-baked cake. She was proud and relieved that it came out of the mold in one piece. The crime is that she lives too far away for me to claim a slice. It’s a chocolate chip pumpkin cake … and she inherited the combined baking finesse of both her mother and grandmother. I think I became a ‘good little boy’ way back when, just to ensure an unbroken flow of my mother’s baking.
This prompts me to dig up (figure of speech) a thematically similar show-and-tell prop one of my sons made for a long-ago 6th Grade school project. It was about Roman History, but would have worked just as well for an episode of Tales from the Crypt. Then I need to solicit my daughter for her corresponding cartoon art-piece that covered the ‘item’s’ shuddery second life at a college dorm party. It’s classic.
And as long as there’s a Halloween theme to maintain, I see that DVDtalk is sending me a nice review copy of Scream Factory’s The Devil Rides Out, aka The Devil’s Bride, which enjoys a good reputation in late ’60s Hammer output. I haven’t been keeping up with all the Hammer discs, so I may have to consult Gary Teetzel to learn if this release will or will not include some special effects revisions that I remember being the source of controversy a few seasons back. The issue reminds me of the special effects ‘improvements’ created (in low-res video) to enhance a 2001 DVD release of Robert Wise’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. They may have been fun to do, but subsequent releases have tried to pretend they never happened.
This also reminds me to find a slot for a review of Quatermass and the Pit before Halloween … it was the very first title I reviewed for Steve Tannehill’s DVD Resource, back in 1999. Gary Teetzel says that Scream Factory has also announced Hammer’s The Mummy’s Shroud and Demons of the Mind for January 14. Horror expert (ha) extraordinaire that I am, it behooves me to give them another chance. Gary did some serious shelf & list accounting, and says that Demons is the final Hammer title from the Studio Canal batch. So that presumably leaves Scream with these titles from Hammer/Exclusive … who last week announced a distribution deal for library product with Studio Canal).
According to Gary’s estimate, the Hammer/Exclusive titles that might be involved are The Four-Sided Triangle, X The Unknown, Hell is a City, Rasputin the Mad Monk, Prehistoric Women aka Slave Girls, The Viking Queen, A Challenge for Robin Hood, The Lost Continent and that timeless favorite Shatter.
As usual, Gary is the soul of optimism. Since Scream Factory has managed to license a few titles from Paramount, he’s crossing his fingers for two more very deserving titles, the 1974 double bill of Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell and Captain Kronos — Vampire Hunter.
And leave it to Gary to sniff out odd movie promotion gambits … here he finds a desperate theater owner trying to drum up customers for Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success. (If you open the photo in a separate window, you’ll be able to read the text.)
Working as a sandwich-man, or sandwich-woman, can’t have been easy, even if the message being hawked was the traditional ‘Eat at Joes’s.’ I imagine these women would encounter more than their share of unwanted remarks and advances. I wonder what the theater manager would ask his employees to do to promote Run Silent, Run Deep?
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
This four part, eight hour miniseries turns the fate of a family of German Jews into a sprawling drama that covers all the bases of the holocaust horror. It was strong stuff and a big Emmy winner, boosting the careers of James Woods and Michael Moriarty. His warped charisma as a psychotic Nazi is so good that he’s consistently more interesting than the courageous victims. As for Meryl Streep, she became an instant star — everybody remembered her from this. Although it’s been called ‘The Holocaust for Dummies,’ it’s a quality show. Looking from today’s perspective, after forty years of Political Correctness adjustments, I’m not sure any two viewers will react in quite the same way.. On Blu-ray from CBS Television Studio / Paramount.
The Letter 10/05/19
It’s the formidable Bette Davis once again, in yet another superior William Wyler picture. The Somerset Maugham play is a classy vehicle for a star performance — the nagging legal ‘difficulty’ of plantation wife Leslie Crosbie is intertwined with colonial politics but remains entirely personal. Leslie isn’t exactly a poster girl for the feminist movement. Is she the victim of social pressures or just a petty, selfish monster? Screenwriter Howard Koch had to invent a twisted new ‘yellow peril’ finish to appease the Production Code … you know, the Code that some people say made Hollywood movies better.. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Here’s something we saw on TCM that felt like reverse-double-whammy déjà vu: TCM showed a fine HD widescreen version of John Frankenheimer’s The Young Stranger last week, an RKO film from 1957 that plays like what it is, an expanded TV drama. It’s pretty good, especially for a first feature; James MacArthur plays a disgruntled Beverly Hills high schooler, who, under the thrall of questionable ’50s psychology, decides that his father’s neglect entitles him to be a smart-aleck jerk. He gets in trouble when he tangles with a theater manager in Westwood, and gets arrested for assault and battery.
About halfway through the picture, MacArthur’s mother (Kim Hunter) drives him back to Westwood to pick up his car … and we get a series of shots almost identical to Quentin Tarantino’s camera angles in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, when Sharon Tate decides to take in a matinee of The Wrecking Crew at Westwood’s Bruin Theater. The angle where she walks across the street IS identical. Frankenheimer frames things really well. There’s even a straight-on shot of the Bruin facade, and a nice wide view down the street, allowing me to see the parking lot where I worked as a typical starving student in 1971.
This production still shows not the Bruin but the Westwood Theater across the street (you can open it in a new window to read the marquee). MacArthur is taking the parking ticket from his car after being dropped off by his mom Kim Hunter, seated in the car behind. In the white shirt, John Frankenheimer is perhaps getting his first taste of filming in the hot California sun.
This helpful movie locations website shows three separate Los Angeles addresses seen in The Young Stranger. So many movies were filmed on the streets of Los Angeles, that I know that one day, ONE DAY I’ll be watching something and I’ll see my own house go by. (Being non-immortalized in last year’s Christmas episode of NCIS Los Angeles doesn’t count.) Scenes from Buster Keaton’s 1923 Sherlock Jr. were filmed just half a block away, close but no cigar.
And I didn’t get the disc in time to write it up for today, but my review for the new WAC Blu of The Fearless Vampire Killers will definitely be up Tuesday. I’m very happy with it — the copy on this favorite doesn’t say it’s a new scan, but it must be — the show is clearer and more colorful than I’ve ever seen it, and the audio is improved as well. It may be the most beautifully designed gothic horror picture ever made. In the interest of new Sharon Tate fans, I have to say that I think it’s her best movie, too. It was fun seeing her The Wrecking Crew clips in the Tarantino movie, but those were bad scenes in an almost unwatchable picture. Here she’s funny, pretty and sexy. ( → )
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
An American institution turns fifty, and the disc release to mark the event is a very long (almost six hours) compendium of uncut historical segments from the show, without overdubs — Disc one features musical highlights and disc two dramatic and comedic highlights. It’s terrific background material, especially the music disc with the favorite characters both human and muppet. Plus some of my nostalgic favorites — it helps if you once had a baby or toddler in your lap, clapping along with you for these things. I can’t think of a better way to honor the show, and am ready for a followup, with more favorite segments. On DVD from Shout! Factory.
My Favorite Year 10/01/19
Comedy expert Charlie Largent waxes enthusiastic over this 1980s paean to 1950s live television, and the swashbuckling memory of a certain movie star. Peter O’Toole is the drunken movie actor who has never performed live in front of an audience; Mark Linn-Baker is a writer who reminds us of Mel Brooks and Jessica Harper a production assistant with a big heart. Plus terrific comedy input from Joseph Bologna, Lanie Kazan and Lou Jacobi. Imagine! Excellent, witty quotable movie dialogue from an ’80s comedy. It’s director Richard Benjamin’s finest hour. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.