Review Page and Column
Easily the best family-oriented black experience movie of the early 1970s, the Third World Cinema Corporation’s first film features Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones in a funny, endearing saga of life in the welfare system, with human feeling and compassion to spare. But the triumphant socially progressive movie fails the 2020 diversity test — its primary producer, cameraman, writers and director are white. Are we still allowed to enjoy it? With Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Tamu Blackwell, David Kruger, Yvette Curtis, Eric Jones and Socorro Stephens. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
DeepStar Six 10/17/20
This big, expensive and well-produced action-suspense Sci-fi epic mostly delivers on its promise to be Aliens at the bottom of the sea. At heart it’s a 1950s pulse-pounder with a bigger monster, a zillion times the budget and a script that does everything but make us care. We appreciate the likable characters but it’s too easy to predict who will ‘get it’ next. The realism factor is not bad at all, although the undersea explorer video training sessions should have given ‘how not to crack up under stress’ more emphasis. And can’t anybody properly mind those pesky nuclear bombs? With Cindy Pickett Matt McCoy, Taurean Blacque, Nia Peeples, Marius Weyers, Elya Baskin and especially Miguel Ferrer. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
For the last twenty years or so the great preservation-restoration guru and new media producer David Strohmaier has been resurrecting the difficult-to-screen legacy of Cinerama travelogues and features, both for 21st Century revivals and a series of comprehensive Blu-ray releases. He’s also given us the Smilebox format, a clever process that approximates the original curved, three-panel Cinerama screen.
MGM produced two live-action narrative features in the incredibly unwieldy format. The restoration team brought the well known and occasionally revived How the West Was Won to Blu-ray in 2008, and it is still a knockout. Now David has announced the remastering of the other Metro Cinerama feature, which we were always told would be the hardest one of all to revive: George Pal’s 1962 The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. I remember seeing it at a Drive-In in adapted CinemaScope, and wondering what those fuzzy lines were all about.
Strohmaier and his associates are nearly finished with their restoration and re-mastering of The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm from 3-strip 35mm negatives. The link will take you to David’s new article at the in70mm.com website. It’s all good news. We can expect Buddy Hackett to slide down the gem-encrusted magic dragon’s neck sometime in 2021. Hopefully Buddy won’t have to wear a mask.
For a third and final time —
— we delve into the bag of old Boxoffice Reviews for our flip comments and reactions. As I think I said before, the Trade Paper coverage for new releases in the 1950s could be unpredictable. Sometimes an unimaginative reviewer just doesn’t see what’s special about a film with new ideas, or told in a new way. And some of these writers showed a bias against certain genres or foreign pictures in general. But then one of them will turn around and appreciate something that the public by and large didn’t. I liked and saved blurbs that impressed me — mostly because the reviewer didn’t hold back with his honest thoughts.
As before, these images are easier to read when opened in a new window. On a Mac you right click, on a PC you ask somebody more informed than I.
The first two capsules are actually a double bill that the reviewer must have squirmed through in agony. Maybe he was worrying about an impending divorce or something. The trade papers were hip to the A.I.P. formula of creating special interest ‘package booking’ double bills but in this case the writer thinks A.I.P. and Roger Corman were stingy with the entertainment protein. I’ve never beheld the bizarre The Undead in a good print, but from what I have seen it’s uniquely weird, something that might delight kids trying to figure out if it was a Fractured Fairy Tale or Shakespeare gone Guignol. The reviewer uses the word ‘criterion,’ which I’d say should be a clue for a certain company to somehow snap up all of the A.I.P. and Allied Artists mini-masterpieces presently consigned to the Phantom Zone of unavailability.
American-International distributed the pictures together with a ‘Made Just for Halloween All Horror All New’ promotion. How did Nicholson and Arkoff react when this trade paper wrote that seeing their double bill features is like a choice between being shot or hanged? Did they even care? Well, the writer does have a sense of humor. I don’t know how the Voodoo Woman double bill fared, as all I’ve seen of it are photos of The She-Creature costume with a new headpiece. Marla English never disappoints in the looks department, but I have no idea how the show stacks up against the mostly risible The Disembodied. I guess the ‘latent talent’ given no chance to shine in Voodoo Woman is Touch Connors. One of the first things we learned from Famous Monsters magazine was that Touch Connors was really TV star Mike Connors, a nice guy frequently written up in TV Guide.
If you hate art pix you can consider Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus elitist, artsy, ponderous or even pompous … but dreary? Seeing the movie cold and only knowing Cocteau from Beauty and the Beast, I was knocked out… it was like Alice and Wonderland mixed with Greek Myth and post-apocalyptic devastation. The reviewer gets all worked up about the fact that the show has ‘too many camera effects.’ Yes, my mind wanders now and then in Cocteau’s earlier Blood of a Poet. But everything works here, even the messages from the Underworld coded like secret radio signals to the wartime resistance. This paper needed an art film reviewer for whom ‘the movies’ means more than John Wayne and Doris Day.
The word was out to squash the pro-Union film Salt of the Earth long before it came within striking distance of trade reviewers. The FBI hounded the shoot as anti-American, deported its Mexican star Sra. Revueltas and investigated everybody who participated, not just the already blacklisted talent (who were denied studio work by an industry-wide reign of economic terror). Remember that this is a trade paper, so it can’t acknowledge that a real blacklist is in force. They don’t refuse to cover the release of the movie, which hasn’t been officially banned or suppressed — that doesn’t happen in America, officially. Suppose you own a theater in Nebraska and might want to show a movie about a labor dispute. The capsule review tells you 1) that Union projectionists refuse to show it, 2) that the filmmakers are mixed up in ‘anti-American’ politics, and 3) that it has no entertainment value despite the leading lady’s ‘extremely moving portrayal.’ Is Anna Lucasta mentioned to remind people that it shares with Salt a prominently blacklisted actor? ‘Recently’ in this case is 1949, five years before. A tiny independent production has no power to demand fair treatment if an expensive print is rented and then lost or damaged before a screening can happen. The capsule gives the address of the unfamiliar distributor, but is it so exhibitors book the picture, or to tell picketers where to show up with their banners?
Ah, let’s get back to genre territory more suitable for the Halloween holiday month. No subversive elements are at work, we assume, in a story of a Venusian monster that vandalizes Roman landmarks. This reviewer likes 20 Million Miles to Earth so much that he gives away all the good parts, just as do modern fanboys and certain (cough) semi-respected reviewers. From Mighty Joe Young forward, Ray Harryhausen is always mentioned and his work praised. Well it ought to be, as Ray’s effects delighted all audiences, in all of his pictures. When I saw a double bill of Mysterious Island and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad early in 1962, I heard the name Harryhausen being bandied about at the popcorn counter, by kids not much older than me.
Yes, I keep coming back to those political movies. This review blurb may diss Harry Horner’s Red Planet Mars out of ignorance: they don’t seem to care that it’s something of a right-wing + religious revival propaganda picture. The bizarre movie only pretends to be about outer space and Martians, but in actuality proposes that the United States become a Christian Theocracy. That idea was a joke until recently — we seem to be trending in that direction even as I write these words. The reviewer sees no entertainment value here either, so I guess the magazine’s editorial staff are pagan idolators. They just can’t appreciate a movie in which world Communism falls and we all worship God… who lives on Mars.
How to end on a high Halloween note? Boxoffice sings the praises of Circus of Horrors, a Brit import that’s called ‘A.I.P.’s finest to date.’ I love the way the reviewer embraces the film’s overt sadism, bloody violence and sexy, fleshy cast as ‘made-to-order’ for teens. I’m in full agreement for this Guignol circus of forbidden thrills, and even love the theme song Look for a Star. Watch out, projectionists… many theater owners used these blurbs to plan schedules and inform projectionists as to what projection lens to use. How many initial matinee screenings of Circus of Horrors popped up on screen incorrectly formatted for CinemaScope?
Well, that’s sort of it for the fun vintage capsule reviews. We’ll concentrate on all the horror, fantasy and Sci-fi related discs we can before Halloween, but I think all but a few have been accounted for. But we do have some few high-profile comedies and westerns in the review hopper, along with the occasional ‘what does Glenn see in that movie?’ head-scratcher. Thanks for the support and enthusiastic notes … use the CineSavant email connection, as I answer every question or comment, even if the answer is, ‘huh, ya got me on that one.’
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Ipcress File 10/13/20
It’s finally back on Blu in Region 1, the ‘sixties spy movie beloved by enthusiasts yearning for something a bit more substantial & nutritious than James Bond. This first Harry Palmer adventure seems even more perfect than when it was thanks to a great espionage recipe and quality ingredients. Michael Caine is sensational as the anti-007, the feel of London streets is intoxicating, and John Barry’s music score is beyond praise. Are Sidney Furie’s directorial mannerisms too show-offy, too fussy? I only raise the question to defend him. The marvelous Mister Caine is aided and abetted by Guy Doleman, Nigel Green, Sue Lloyd, Gordon Jackson, Aubrey Richards, Frank Gatliff, Thomas Baptiste, Oliver MacGreevy, Freda Bamford, David Glover, Mike Murray and Anthony Baird. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Chalk Garden 10/13/20
From reviewer Charlie Largent — Whenever Deborah Kerr signs on as a governess we ought to know that trouble is brewing. Teen brat Hayley Mills maliciously picks apart her new governess’s backstory, and finds enough dirt to bury the woman — but this time around Kerr isn’t as emotionally vulnerable. Why does Hayley’s (rather tame) hellion do bad things like set things on fire? It’s all about liberating young Mills from the unhealthy influence of an unfit grandmother (Edith Evans). Ah, you can’t grow a healthy garden over a foundation of chalk… Producer Ross Hunter grinds off the rough parts of a reportedly edgy play about upperclass rigidity; Ronald Neame directs. With John Mills and Elizabeth Sellars, on Blu-rayfrom KL Studio Classics.
The relentlessly alert Gary Teetzel has found another item of audio interest, this time for fans of Japanese film composer Akira Ifukube: In fewer than three seconds you’ll surely recognize the very familiar melody line of this title tune from a 1946 Shochiku picture, posted nine years ago by ‘nanamatsu100.’ A nine-year offset is pretty efficient for a CineSavant item — it’s likely that this title sequence is common knowledge among confirmed Kaiju folk.
Anyway, the YouTube link is to the original title theme from that timeless favorite ‘Shacho to Onna-Tennin,’ aka “The President and Shopgirl.” Is the music we’re hearing appropriate for an office romance? In Harvey Weinstein’s office, maybe.
Next up, a link to a page that ought to provide good reading for fans of science fiction movies. Finnish journalist Janne Wass gives us ‘Scifist 2.0: A Sci-fi Movie History in Reviews. Herra Janne Wass’s reviews are even more detailed and sidebar-oriented than my own. I like his general outlook and sensitivity to the highlights and limitations of films that seem to interest only devotees like myself. Wass is particularly well wired to the histories and context of early European and particularly Soviet Sci-fi, and backs up his thoughtful reviews with biographical data and expressive images. He has full coverage of films I’ve never heard of, like the German Der Herr vom andern Stern (1948) which predates The Day the Earth Stood Still with a similar premise.
I often have my nose in my writing so deep that I don’t keep up with everything good that’s being done around me — but I learned something with each Wass review. In the territorial, egotistical, self-promoting world of Internet film genre journalism, how often do you read praise of the other guy’s efforts, especially when the other guy is writing nearly the exact same kind of criticism? More power to Mr. Wass.
And it appears that the independently curated, restored and marketed Blu-ray The Puppetoon Movie Volume 2 is finally up for pre-order. Eighteen restored Hi Def Puppetoons adorn Volume 2, and their quality can be seen through a new trailer.
The popularity of George Pal’s Puppetoons has never faded — I was able to attend a tumultuous reception for Mr. Pal at one of the Filmex festivals held in Century City. A day later I discovered him alone in an exhibit of miniatures from his films, and found it very easy to talk to the gentleman. “Nice” was the operative word for the man — it’s hard to believe that he did so well in Hollywood, he was so gentle.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Brute Force 10/10/20
If you have to name ONE movie that’s not likely to be screened in a prison, this one’s a good bet. In his sophomore starring outing Burt Lancaster leads a group of rebel convicts on a do-or-die bust-out against Hume Cronyn’s utter Nazi of a warden Captain. Richard Brooks’ script and Jules Dassin’s direction doesn’t sugarcoat the sadistic goings-on and producer Mark Hellinger pushed the result through the Production Code office. Sure, sure, plenty of noirs are violent … but this one must have been quite a head-spinner in ’47. With an incredible cast: Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford, Yvonne De Carlo, Sam Levene, Ann Blyth, Jeff Corey, Ella Raines, John Hoyt, Sir Lancelot, Howard Duff, Art Smith, Whit Bissell. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
The Secret Ways 10/10/20
Producer-star Richard Widmark may have thought he was inventing a new kind of spy film but his adaptation of an Alistair MacLean novel just grinds the Cold War grist, mixing good atmosphere with unconvincing action derring-do. The handsome production makes good use of Austrian and Swiss locations and the unfamiliar cast is a big assist. German star Sonja Ziemann gets the plum role, but Hollywood’s discovery is the lovely Senta Berger. Co-starring Charles Regnier, Walter Rilla, Howard Vernon, Hubert von Meyerinck, Stefan Schnabel, Ady Berber, Reinhard Kolldehoff. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Many thanks to Trailers from Hell’s Charlie Largent for fabricating this new banner and its slogan. Our previous Covid banner anticipated the Second Wave, and it or something worse might still be on the way … but I wanted to Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the positive as much as possible, without being too flippant… or grim. This banner is ‘busier’ than the other so I’ll probably shrink it down in size after a couple of weeks. Thanks Charlie!
I know I’m spoiled but where is my favorite movie? department.
The announcement last Tuesday that the disc boutique The Film Detective is working on a Giant from the Unknown disc opened a filmic can of worms — more discussion of hotly desired classic-era fantasy features unnecessarily out of circulation. That gave correspondent Matt Martell the impetus to send along a snapshot illustrating the state of affairs for collectors of ‘fifties American-International pix. Matt:
“It’s the main reason I still have a high-end VCR in my entertainment center.”
I fully understand. I no longer have a VHS player but I still have my pre-record of It Conquered the World from the same ‘Drive In Classic’ set as Teenage Werewolf and Teenage Frankenstein.
Gary Teetzel found this trade ad for Hammer’s 1959 The Mummy. Compared to the average ‘our movie is raking in the cash so book it now’ ad come-on for exhibitors, this one is actually pretty clever. I guess it also appeals to me because I saw it new and was thrilled beyond words. It was a couple of years before I learned that the earlier classic Hammers even existed, thanks to Famous Monsters of Filmland.
It appears that after the initial run of Horror of Dracula, Universal sold its distribution rights to Warners, so Warners could double-bill it with The Curse of Frankenstein. Warners also paid a pretty penny for The Mummy, which was originally a Universal-International release as well. Those sales say something about the popularity of the Hammer brand, but it is also true that Universal-International was financially on the ropes right about that time. Yet it held onto its upcoming The Brides of Dracula, which must have been a separate deal that included eight future Hammer productions. Universal-International didn’t completely become just plain ‘Universal’ again until early in 1963. (Actually, this is a simplified version of events — the ‘Seven Arts’ company works in the middle of this timeline, too…)
— with a second dose of old Boxoffice reviews, I remember clearly why I pulled each of these particular five notices. They’re trade reviews, which are supposed to tell exhibitors whether or not an individual film will attract audiences, not necessarily whether it’s any good or not. As with all the graphics in this Column, the blurbs are more easily read when opened in a new window.
Any questions as to why Val Lewton’s The Seventh Victim made little or no impact in 1943 are answered in this notice, which can’t make head or tails of Val’s ode to moody depression and despair. True, narrative clarity isn’t the movie’s strongest suit but time has turned it into an unique classic. I like the way the reviewer can’t get past the very quality that makes the picture so good. I care what happens, even if if Hugh Beaumont can’t seem to get worked up about anything.
The coverage on Sam Katzman’s anti-matter superbird epic The Giant Claw reads as if it were written yesterday, as it’s exactly what every fan review and scholarly takedown has said about the movie from day one … all that’s missing is the ‘Are we sure this isn’t supposed to be a joke?’ query. The reviewer knows his stock shots and is hep to the big-bird jive: ‘bigger-than-a-battleship!’
For a long time it seemed impossible to gauge reactions to Robert Aldrich / A.I. Bezzerides’ Kiss Me Deadly. Many ‘nice’ reviewers and publications skipped it and the Kefauver Commission singled it out as unhealthy and un-patriotic. This is a fair assessment, I’d say, of the general reaction to the new level of violence — I think the writer wants to call it obscene and leave it at that. But he goes into so much detail it’s obvious that he’s fascinated. Last thought: those bland taglines on the bottom can’t be serious.
Here’s another moody, wispy horror-mystery show that trade reviewers can be forgiven for not writing critical raves. Frank Wisbar remade and re-thought his earlier German film into a PRC special, a movie so fog-shrouded that the ‘swamp’ is represented on a dry-for wet set, all covered by movie smoke. The boats must be on wheels. Strangler of the Swamp would be a favorite, we think, if we could just see a good copy. It stars Ming the Merciless, and Blake Edwards when he was an actor.
And we always like reviews that reinforce our own unpopular opinions. This blurb thinks Universal’s cut-price The Leech Woman is just fine, which is okay by me. Note how the reviewer is fully aware of the ‘femme relatives’ in the movie’s double bill co-feature. He must have liked the movie, as he refers to its many minutes of safari stock footage as a plus factor. If I had a new horror movie on the way, I’d look up this writer and take him to lunch.
I’ve got one more pack of these reviews to come … thanks for the positive notes about them.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
A Place in the Sun 10/06/20
A bona fide film classic, George Stevens’ movie is less revered as an excellent adaptation of Theodore Dreiser than for its intense, almost hallucinatory romantic scenes between Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor. A guileless poor boy tries to succeed above his economic background and entangles himself between two very different women. I guess the Academy wasn’t ready to take the glamorous young MGM beauty seriously: both Clift and their co-star Shelley Winters received acting nominations, but not Liz. Stevens’ first ‘fifties picture is perhaps the most balanced of his ‘heavy’ and ‘important’ works, a tragedy that’s too deeply felt to be merely ponderous. On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
S.O.S. Titanic 10/06/20
TV’s 1979 Titanic movie comes to Blu in two versions. We liked it when new but didn’t care for the cut-down theatrical version that hit DVD in 2002. Kino’s disc completes a set of various film versions of the infamous 1912 disaster, and allows us the chance for a Titanic ‘battle of the bands’ — we’ll rate them from several criteria. The filmed-in-England production has a nicely-chosen soap opera cast: David Janssen, Cloris Leachman, Ian Holm, Helen Mirren, Anna Quayle, David Warner, Susan Saint James, Harry Andrews. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Hello…. interesting times we’re having, aren’t they?
The CineSavant column soldiers on… First up, Dick Dinman has a new podcast show ready, about the recent Criterion release The Lady Eve. His guest is Preston Sturges’ son Tom, who once wrote me to say that he too thought the ‘mystery legs’ hanging from a tree in Sullivan’s Travels were plenty funny. Dick’s interview piece is at his DVD Classics Corner on the Air page.
Then we have a pair of kickstarter campaigns, to fund worthy, interesting restorations.
David Kawas over at ClassicFlix has started an Indegogo campaign to preserve and restore the Little Rascals library of short subjects. It’s badly needed — I need to do some snooping to figure out how to distinguish The Little Rascals from Our Gang. Kalas’ first proposed disc is called The Complete Little Rascals – The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 and would include the first 22 sound short, from Small Talk to Dogs Is Dogs. The Indegogo page is informative in itself.
Next, Bob Furmanek and the 3-D Film Archive announce a big Kickstarter Campaign to rejuvenate a childhood favorite that really needs it, the Abbott & Costello Jack and the Beanstalk. It was independently produced and originally released by Warner Bros.
I have to admit I always loved this thing as a kid, and that Costello missed a bet by not making more movies aimed at tots, especially because he kept using his ‘infantile’ schtick. I even love the music, dancing and other aspects of the sweet-hearted little production. The ‘prince’ character has EXACTLY the sickly smile and hairdo I remember from kiddie storybooks. The movie was originally in color… make that Super Cine Color. Bob Furmanek says they’ll be able to perform a restoration as perfect as their previous A&C accomplishment Africa Screams.
And finally, check your thermometers because Hell may be freezing over… the film collector and disc entrepreneur Wade Williams has licensed a title for Blu-ray. He’s starting modestly, with a promising disc of Richard Cunha’s 1958 ressurrected-Conquistador-on-a-rampage saga Giant from the Unknown. The new transfer is said to be taken from the original negative. The extras would seem to have been corralled by Tom Weaver, who contributes both a commentary and a booklet essay.
The disc company of note is The Film Detective, a fine outfit that does very good work. We want the disc to do well, and thus encourage Mr. Williams to let the spice discs flow. We’ve heard chatter about The Film Detective releasing the Williams-held Ed Wood masterpieces; perhaps next up we’ll also get fun discs of Frankenstein’s Daughter and Missile to the Moon.
Wait a minute, what is this, appreciate Buddy Baer week? He’s the title star in both Jack and the Beanstalk and Giant from the Unknown.
I think I’ll save the next batch of vintage capsule reviews for Saturday. Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
A new BFI restoration of Roger Corman’s color Edgar Allan Poe epic THE MASQE OF THE RED DEATH, photographed by Nicolas Roeg, was so impressive that it justified a reissue. Not only does the image jolt us with its hallucinatory colors, a number of brief (censor?) deletions were reinstated. Jane Asher was never lovelier, and the same goes for the enthusiastically evil Hazel Court! It’s part of a reissue of an older collection: The Fall of the House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum, The Haunted Palace, Witchfinder General and The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Reviewed by Charlie Largent, on Blu-ray.
Sergeant York 10/03/20
Ya like quality pro-intervention propaganda? Warners’ filmic call to arms inspired America’s reluctant warriors via a superhuman feat by a highly decorated WW1 veteran… and promptly got into hot water with the United States congress. Howard Hawks’ highly effective load of sentiment and sanctimony makes Tennesseans look like denizens of Dogpatch, U.S.A.. But America loved it, even favorite Gary Cooper’s cute ‘aw shucks’ mannerisms that compare shooting the enemy with shooting a turkey. That’s how we baby boomers learned about patriotism. With Walter Brennan, Margaret Wycherly, George Tobias and a radiant, sweet-sixteen Joan Leslie. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
The Face at the Window 10/03/20
And now for something we had read about but never before saw: Tod Slaughter’s highly entertaining murder thriller is stylized in a vintage theatrical format, the Victorian blood & thunder barnstorming drama, originally from 1880 or thereabouts. Slaughter’s refined gentleman is also a crazed killer with a bizarre modus operandi. Everything that happens is borderline preposterous, and all the better for it. It’s not exactly a horror picture — unadventurous fans may just see a creaky 80-year old movie — but Tod Slaughter is one of a kind. Kino’s new Blu-ray is a beautiful restoration with an informative and entertaining audio commentary…. pay no attention to that awful poster. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.