The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice 08/27/19
There’s nothing like the term ‘Transcendental Style’ to intimidate a filmgoer, but have no fear: Yasujiro Ozu’s tale of a domestic trial is as accessible as I Love Lucy… only more substantial. The transcendental effect is being drawn into Ozu’s minimalist, precisely simplified and mysteriously profound directing style. Ten minutes in you wonder what the big deal is, but not much later one is hanging onto every cut, absorbed by tiny gestures and facial expressions. And yet it all seems natural. The Ozu ‘stasis’ some people mention is not at all static, but an X-Ray into everyday dramatic realities. With an entire second feature by Ozu, What Did the Lady Forget? On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Man Without a Star 08/27/19
Rip-snortin’ Kirk Douglas has this THING about barbed wire, I tell ya … and he’s willing to shoot it out with anyone who’s on the side of the nasty stuff. But there’s plenty of violence to be dished out in King Vidor’s excellent, colorful western adventure, with an exemplary cast: Jeanne Crain, Claire Trevor, Richard Boone, William Campbell, and even (sigh) Mara Corday. First time on U.S. Blu; commentary by Toby Roan. Reviewed by rootin’ tootin’ buckaroo Charlie Largent. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Author Steve Haberman sure comes up with some good finds — he’s been circulating some great BTS footage viewable on YouTube. A B&W ‘Vincent Price Interview’ presents the favorite actor in a fine mood, and shows some a couple of unusual BTS shots from the filming of Masque of the Red Death. You’ll have to turn your audio gain way up.
From the same film archive, Haberman points us to a brief spot of silent newsreel footage at Cannes. The highlight are shots of Tippi Hedren and a clowning Alfred Hitchcock promoting The Birds.
And I have a book review today.
I barely know Toby Roan but I enjoy his deceptively casual, highly informative audio commentaries on discs as varied as Bend of the River and Lisbon. Toby has a new book out on a research subject dear to him, Marlon Brando’s one shot at film directing: A Million Feet of Film: The Making of One Eyed Jacks.
The story has been a source of Hollywood conjecture since the middle 1950s, with the impossible-to-pin-down Brando seemingly taking the multi-million dollar production very lightly. Stories abound of women enamored over the actor-casanova, including famous actresses, that spun out of control or even tried to commit suicide. A lady librarian I worked at UCLA for was an ex-dancer who had film experience in the 1950s including a visible part in The King and I. She happened to have been part of the enormous Monterey Fiesta scene in One Eyed Jacks and, when asked, seemed thoroughly scandalized by Brando’s behavior — the way she described it, he worked his way through most every female member of the cast.
But author Roan sticks mostly with a high-road view of how this giant movie came about. Brando was given the benefit of the doubt by Paramount, and they were apparently so grateful to have him under contract that they put up with massive costs over several years, while he took time off to film movies for other companies. The movie was first planned to be filmed back in 1956 or ’57! Roan has the direct research to show how Brando brought in and then discarded some of the biggest up’n’coming talents in Hollywood, making the final show a puzzle of varied creative input from the likes of George Englund, Charles Neider, Rod Serling, Guy Trosper, and Calder Willingham. Roan identifies Sam Peckinpah as a major contributor (with documentation). This is believable, considering that a couple of highly recognizable One Eyed Jacks scenes return in Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
Roan must sort through conflicting accounts of the show’s development to ascertain the likely truth on several issues. Both the movie and Brando show up in more than a few show-biz memoirs, crediting every step in the process differently. We either have to think that Brando was oblivious to the details of running his own production company, or that he cleverly used that impression to suit his needs. This perhaps includes drawing talent to the show, and then getting rid of them so he could direct the film himself. Did he intend that outcome all along? The biggest potential collaborator — or creative red herring — was the hotter-than-hot director Stanley Kubrick, straight from Paths of Glory. Was Brando using Kubrick, or were they both using Paramount? Brando dumped Kubrick at the very last moment before filming began (in one telling of events).
The movie’s form changes radically every step of the way, even after filming began. The final film never seems out of control, but the danger was certainly there. The involvement of actors Karl Malden and Katy Jurado is interesting, and the story of actress Pina Pellicer is heartbreaking. Ben Johnson’s documented admiration for Brando and the movie is impressive, even if influenced by a year of highly-paid high-visibility employment. And as icing on the cake we find out that the insane rumors about actor Timothy Carey are true, actually, more than true. His rough treatment of actress Margarita Cordova resulted in real injuries. Maybe Kubrick found a way to control Carey on his own film, but it seems doubtful. The wild-card actor’s
antics outrageous behavior on the set, including suggesting that Cordova have sex with him ‘to make the part real,’ would be hard to believe if not so well documented.
The shooting of Brando’s picture is packed with interesting anecdotes and re-adjustments that are reflected in the final print — such as the dropping of an elaborate flashback structure (excellent idea).
One Eyed Jacks was filmed in VistaVision — the 35mm Technicolor prints I saw when young were incomparably beautiful. Toby Roan carries the story through the show’s wrap-up and exhibition, to the present day, when we finally have a good Blu-ray of the movie after years of cloudy rights issues. Roan’s prose is straightforward and clear, a good thing when thinking of the complicated timeline he has to lay out. As opposed to some other, more casual film books, A Million Feet of Film: The Making of One Eyed Jacks ends with an impressive bibliography and appendices. It’s the real deal, an authoritative film history.
And finally, a musical break,
— which starts as a nod to critic-scholar David Cairns and his diverting, frequently hilarious Shadowplay page. Last Saturday (August 24) Cairns uploaded a treat for fans of the soundtrack to L.A. Confidential in his blog entry ‘Paramount Unimportance’.
The item in question is an on-screen rendition of the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer tune Hit the Road to Dreamland, sung by Mary Martin, Dick Powell and the Golden Gate Quartet in the 1942 film Star Spangled Rhythm. Give it a shot — it’s a guaranteed spirits-lifter.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Witches 08/24/19
(1990). Roald Dahl’s marvelous horror thriller for children (the ones ready for it) knows exactly what it is and doesn’t soft-pedal the scary stuff. Horrible (but sexy) witches plot the wholesale destruction of Hansels and Gretels everywhere, and the only kid that can stop them has been changed into a mouse. Nicolas Roeg runs wild with Dahl’s imaginative, refreshingly un-PC book; the usual softening touches are skipped in favor of unadulterated scarifying FUN. It couldn’t be better directed; it’s a fine fit among Roeg’s other outrageous fantasies. Star Anjelica Huston is an amazing Grand High Witch, with Mai Zetterling, Anne Lambton and Jane Horrocks providing able witchy support. Recommended! On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
The Man in the White Suit 08/24/19
File this great comedy under social science fiction, subheading ‘H’ for hilarious. Alec Guinness’s comic boffin hero is both a bringer of miracles and one of the most dangerous men alive. The story of Sidney Stratton, brilliant chemist and inadvertent industrial terrorist, is a consistent laugh riot. Call the jokes droll, understated, dry, and reserved, but they certainly aren’t stupid — Ealing’s high-class comedy is slapstick heaven, yet hides a lesson about modern economics that most people still haven’t learned. Alec Guinness receives top marks as the Quixotic ‘boffin’ whose miraculous textile advance threatens civilization, by interrupting the process of supply and demand. Purr-fect- voiced Joan Greenwood is the Dulcinea that believes in his world-shaking genius. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
I want to stir the pot today on a perennial subject: classic movies — or at least, ‘vintage favorites’ — that have been withheld from distribution, and are presently inaccessible on Blu-ray. As we all know, the issue of individual film availability is a pressing concern, like our children’s prospects of living on a planet with too little oxygen and daytime temperatures of 135 degrees.
At the moment I’m thinking of the core 1950s drive-in features produced by American-International Pictures. Nothing here will be news to hardcore fans, but I think the info is worth restating for those less familiar with the ownership history involved. Quite a few A.I.P. titles stayed with the company when it merged with Filmways, which then was absorbed by Orion Pictures in the early 1980s. Since MGM later bought out the Orion library, it holds most titles that haven’t been reclaimed by original producers, here and overseas.
But two groups of American-International features were retained by the owners of the company, Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson, mostly B&W titles from the early days when they were inventing the exploitation double-bill booking distribution model. They weren’t exactly divided up evenly.
As a reminder, the main Samuel Z. Arkoff estate titles are:
WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST
THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED
THE SHE CREATURE
EARTH VS. THE SPIDER
BLOOD OF DRACULA
HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER
THE SAGA OF THE VIKING WOMEN AND THE SEA SERPENT
THE BRAIN EATERS
REFORM SCHOOL GIRL
GIRLS IN PRISON
THE COOL AND THE CRAZY
The films controlled by the heirs to the James H. Nicholson estate are numerically fewer, but perhaps more iconic. I don’t have the full list of all eleven, but they include:
I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF
I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN
IT CONQUERED THE WORLD
TERROR FROM THE YEAR 5000
INVASION OF THE SAUCERMEN
THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN
THE OKLAHOMA WOMAN
Any news about these pictures always gets my attention; I guess I remember staring at some of them as 2-minute 8mm excerpts when I was 14 years old, wondering what they were like originally. I’m just young enough to have missed them first-run, and I haven’t seen ANY of them in pristine condition. True, some have been released as so-so domestic DVDs, and others on time-compressed PAL Region 2 DVDs. The Superscope Day the World Ended is on an old DVD that isn’t even widescreen enhanced. The existing DVD for the odd Teenage Caveman is also on a sub-par DVD, which confuses me by apparently changing format when referencing older stock footage.
Around twenty-five years ago, some of these circulated on VHS and some have seen viewings on cable channels I never had access to. If any are available uncut on cable channels now, it’ll be news to me. That list above may not excite the compilers of the National Film Registry, but as part of a vivid chapter in film history none should be allowed to decompose. I bet that a bunch would look and play really well in quality presentations, film or video. And fans of A.I.P. would go nuts over them. By now they’re sufficiently rare to warrant special theatrical mini-revivals.
I daresay most of my readers haven’t seen them either. The Brain Eaters is a screwy mini-epic ripoff of Heinlein’s ‘The Puppet Masters.’ The Cool and the Crazy is a key juvenile delinquency pic about drugs (or marijuana, I forget which) that I saw only once on Los Angeles TV in the early 1980s, at 3am. Three or four of the pictures are key Roger Corman efforts; complete lists might include more.
Despite being out of reach for decades, key images from the movies — and especially their amazing posters — have remained part of the culture. The availability of these films has been a topic of conjecture (and rumors) ever since vigilante malcontents caring film fans began congregating on Internet web boards to discuss specific genres.
It sometimes takes experts to track down the rights holders of films that have in one way or another become orphaned from their original distributors. Fans are particularly keen on coveted genre pictures with potent nostalgia value — great rediscoveries appear on Blu-ray every year. In practice, collectors have frequently been the saviors of endangered film, but in some cases the opposite is true. A few highly coveted Sci-fi features are kept out of circulation by film collectors. Some companies and individuals may be waiting for a big payday, while others fear that film piracy will rob them of their personal property. I wouldn’t get more specific about this in print — even among interested parties, the subject is normally discussed only in whispers. I know a film collector or two, but I don’t ask them about their business dealings, any more than I would their finances and real estate holdings.
But it still adds up to something of a sad story. Every year that rights holders withhold a vintage movie from view, more of the nostalgic fans that love it will die off — the key market audience is dwindling. Back at MGM Home Video I went through piles of letters sent to the studio, from older fans begging to see their favorite old musical Annie Get Your Gun. Some of them were writing from rest homes. MGM could do nothing, as the music rights roadblock lasted for almost thirty years. When Annie finally came to DVD in 2000, much of the audience that was eager to see it, had passed away. Monster fans might not care about Betty Hutton belting out Irving Berlin songs, but they ought to. Almost the same exact story of inadvertent suppression has happened to the early A.I.P. legacy.
Just getting the word out there, without prejudice either way … Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Day of the Outlaw 08/20/19
How does Hollywood sell a gritty, realistic western? With a sexy shot of star Tina Louise! Viewers will be surprised: this fine western is a showcase for the elemental ruthlessness we associate with director André de Toth — its convincing snowbound setting is so intense, we can almost feel the cold. Slick writer Philip Yordan sets up an impossible conflict as a blizzard moves in on a tiny town… Robert Ryan must sort out his feelings for the town beauty Tina Louise, as he negotiates with the he-boss of the killer crooks, Burl Ives. It looks as if Ryan has no choice but to volunteer for a suicide journey — but nature has the last word. Also featuring Venetia Stevenson, David Nelson, Nehemiah Persoff, Jack Lambert, and Lance Fuller, everyone’s favorite Metalunan, Brack. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Wild in the Country 08/20/19
Elvis fans laud this high-end drama, and attempt by the superstar to lock into a mainstream acting career. Presley has fine dramatic support, especially from his three leading ladies, but the requirement that an Elvis movie be all things to all people — especially marketers — really takes its toll. It’s a soap where almost nothing is believable, except to true believers for whom Presley can do no wrong. With Rafer Johnson, John Ireland, and Gary Lockwood. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
Seven Chances & Battling Butler 08/20/19
The Buster Keaton Collection Vol. 3. In his day Buster Keaton’s popularity trailed that of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, but now those reputations have switched around. These two ‘lesser’ Keaton features generate more sheer fun than anything going. In Seven Chances Buster is pursued by a thousand brides, and in Battling Butler he’s a rich fool who enters the ring out of pride and love. They’re great on remastered Blu-ray — better materials, no missing frames — but do yourself a favor and find a way to see a Keaton picture with a big audience! On Blu-ray from The Cohen Group.
It’s book review time again at CineSavant,
and this go-round Charlie Largent
is the one doing the reviewing,
of a favorite author:
Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan
J. Hoberman. New Press, $28.99 (400p)
Veteran film critic J. Hoberman reviews veteran entertainer Ronald Reagan’s final performance in Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan. Hoberman, late of the Village Voice, describes a blackly comic thriller in which Hollywood melds with Washington’s political machinery to manufacture the perfect Dream Factory candidate – a symbiotic horror show more frightening than anything in The Fly (Cronenberg’s film was one of the more gruesome critiques of Reagan’s America circa 1986).
Hoberman’s longtime investment in socio-political currents gives his writing a welcome jolt – hindsight is golden but as the man who wrote Vulgar Modernism, Hoberman’s strength has always been to frame a film in the here and now – were his prose not so elegant, many of his reviews wouldn’t be out of place above the fold of the morning paper. And as Make My Day makes clear, Reagan’s daily intrigues might have been more easily deciphered if planted next to the movie ads in the theater section.
As the first thoroughly cinematic president, it’s impossible to read about Reagan’s exploits without considering the reality show president currently defenestrating democracy. In The Entertainer: Trump l’oeil, Hoberman writes about the boob tube blowhard who “thrived in a far shoddier information eco-system that was already polluted with lies and where his roustabout antics were taken for truth”.
45’s daily grotesqueries boggle the mind but Hoberman’s appraisal of 40 is similarly devastating – and occasionally so fiery that Sue Coe’s portraits of Reagan for the late Raw Magazine seem too kind in retrospect (Raw editor Art Spiegelman did the Reagan/Ghostbuster cover art for Make My Day).
The third part of a trilogy that began with The Dream Life and An Army of Phantoms, Make My Day lays out the unofficial logline for Reagan’s Movie Presidency – and it even comes with a preview of coming attractions as Hoberman charts the “germination” of the Reagan era with notes about 70s’ cinema including Jaws, Apocalypse Now and, of course, Star Wars.
Whiplashing between politics and movie releases, Hoberman relates Jimmy Carter’s ascension to 1976’s All The President’s Men: “the movie is also a counter-culture victory – the Sundance Kid and The Graduate take down Nixon”. But it’s not until Reagan is firmly propped up in the White House that the first official “Reagan movie” appears – Raiders of the Lost Ark – in which “an American hero… bestrode the Third World like a colossus”.
Naturally Spielberg, with his supernatural, not to mention, populist success, becomes an ongoing character in the book, “a brand name bard who sang the song of American normalcy” but the real supporting actor (in more ways than one) of Make My Day, is not Clint Eastwood (who appears more desperate than macho) but Sylvester Stallone whose can-do spirit in 1977’s Rocky curdles in 1982’s First Blood – followed by Rambo and its rabble-rousing sequels.
The mid-eighties saw fissures appear in the Reagan bubble – Joe Dante’s Gremlins was both a comedy, a horror film and a send up of the cornfed films of the president’s own movie career (Gremlins was shot on Universal’s Colonial Street – the same location used for Reagan’s Bedtime for Bonzo.)
David Lynch’s dreamy Blue Velvet materialized late in the decade, flipping the sunny-side up neighborhoods of Father Knows Best into a noir version of Joyce’s Nighttown. Hoberman notes critic Howard Hampton’s revelation that, while reading Pauline Kael’s review of Blue Velvet, Hampton realized she could have been describing King’s Row (Reagan’s personal favorite of his own films) – in Hampton’s words – “the typical nostalgic view of American small town life turned inside out: instead of sweetness and health, we get fear, sanctimoniousness, sadism and insanity.”
The Reagan scandals – Iran-Contra, the EPA boondoggle, the savings and loan crisis, begin to fly as fast as the movie premieres and at times Make My Day feels like an overdose of factoids (or as ancient ballyhoo would have it, “stories ripped from today’s headlines”) but the overall effect is bracing, clarifying and casts a long shadow – the president who embraced the “dream life” of movies set the stage for the man who sprang from the get-rich-quick swamp of TV game shows – the line that best sums up our current woe is not from a movie but The Larry Sanders Show – “He’s hit bottom and broke through to another bottom I know nothing about.”
Hoberman is presenting a series of double features at the Lincoln Center between August 23 and September 3 – each evening is a double feature drawn from Make My Day including Blow Out, Gremlins, Salvador, Robocop, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and First Blood – details here. — Charlie Largent
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
1964 brought to a legion of young adventure fans one of Hanna-Barbera’s most memorable cartoon series. It was short-lived but cast a long shadow, and was the closet thing to ‘real’ as TV animation got at that point in time. Jonny tags along on the fantastic government assignments of his father Dr. Benton Quest, aided by the dauntless action man ‘Race’ Bannon, Johnny’s Indian pal Hadji, and the family’s bulldog Bandit, who was in for Ivan Tors-like sidebar humor. All twenty-six action-packed episodes receive star treatment with this splendiferous new release, reviewed by Trailers from Hell’s Charlie Largent. Now maybe I can finally see the episode with the spider-walking eyeball. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
An Angel at My Table 08/17/19
Here’s the story of a woman who overcame adversity — not the dramatic, historical kind, but the sort of mundane discriminatory issues that come along with being ‘different.’ Director Jane Campion’s biographical drama about the unsteady life and amusing triumphs of New Zealand author Janet Frame was adapted from a TV miniseries. Poor, isolated and socially excluded, Frame jumps from one unfortunate problem to the next, but is repeatedly rescued by her own talent… at one point a writing award saves her from being lobotomized. Criterion’s extras include a candid audio interview with the author herself. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
It’s Fritz Lang versus CinemaScope, for the first and last time. The format suited to snakes and funerals effectively hamstrings the great filmmaker’s expressive camera direction, yet the movie is one of the best of MGM’s last-gasp ’50s costume dramas. Corrupt smuggler Stewart Granger is redeemed by the faith of a young boy who believes in him; in this story the words “He’s my friend” take on a big significance. Come see director Lang struggle to adapt the wide-wide screen to accommodate his brand of real cinema. With Jon Whiteley, Joan Greenwood, George Sanders, and Viveca Lindfors. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Hello! Some welcome new disc announcements today.
Olive Films is following up their DVD release with a new 4K remaster of A Bucket of Blood, Roger Corman’s first foray into all-out ‘sick humor’ horror. The comedic saga of misunderstood artistic genius Walter Paisley is still a winner thanks to writer Charles B. Griffith’s crazy-man wit, the dead-on spoof of coffee shop beatniks, and the original performances of the late Dick Miller, Barboura Morris and Anthony Carbone.
As an Olive Signature item, the list of extras sounds encouraging as well: Video interviews with Roger Corman, and Dick & Lanie Miller; an audio interview with Charles B. Griffith, a feature commentary by Elijah Drenner and text input from Miller biographer Caelum Vatnsdal. The release is billed as a 4K remaster, so we’re hoping that it clears up some minor flaws in the previous DVD. The expected street date is September 24. Good call, Olive!
And there are more vintage classics on the way:
One can make a convincing case that this is shaping up as Bette Davis Season, at least for Blu-ray fans. I’m primed to review the Warner Archive Collection’s new remastered release of the classic Jezebel, which ought to look great — many older WB classics are showing up on TCM in sparkling HD remasters. Just the other day I re-viewed Kings Row.
But just on Thursday, the WAC also announced Davis’s The Letter, and The Criterion Collection announced new Blus of All About Eve and Now, Voyager, all three top Bette Davis titles, for November. That the Fox picture would be licensed by Criterion is no surprise, but we’re especially pleased whenever Warners digs deeper into the 1930s, as they did a bit back with a terrific disc of the Busby Berkeley/James Cagney musical Footlight Parade. I keep forgetting that Warners is periodically licensing things out now.
And finally, CineSavant resource, associate and advisor Gary Teetzel attended a Thursday night Aero Theater screening of David Swift’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, prompted by the promised attendance of its star Robert Morse. Morse’s visibility has peaked in recent years, thanks to his excellent work in TV’s Mad Men. As Gary relates, it was apparently the film gathering of the month:
“Saw How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying last night at the Aero for the Q & A with 88-year old Robert Morse afterward. He hadn’t watched the movie in a few years, and seemed genuinely touched to see it with an enthusiastic, appreciative audience; he said that at his age it’s nice to be reminded that “Bobby, you had a damn good career.”
The subject of the missing Coffee Break musical number inevitably came up. Morse didn’t know if it had been filmed or not. Someone in the audience shot their hand up and breathlessly explained what had happened to the sequence, and said he had called John Kirk (‘who was then the head of preservation at MGM’) years ago, and John had told him he had already searched, without success.
Among those in the audience: Larry Mirisch; the sister of Maureen ‘Hedy LaRue’ Arthur (Maureen is ailing; Morse said to pass on his best wishes); an actress who had understudied Smitty during the original run, and then played the part with the road company; Michael Schlesigner; and Leonard Maltin. Morse said he had expected Michelle Lee to show up, but she didn’t. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner — or maybe it was his son — had been there for the screening, but left before the Q & A.” — Gary
And wait, there’s more and it has nothing to do with movies whatsoever.
When my parents moved to Lake Havasu City, Arizona in 1970, we watched the London Bridge being reassembled in the middle of the desert. Two years later, Billy Wilder made a crack about rude rich Americans buying English landmarks in his movie Avanti! Well, here’s a new skillful aerial video of the lake area taken by my brother David, from his radio controlled airplane early one morning on a glass-smooth lake just south of the Bridge (which almost but doesn’t quite appear in the video). I don’t see many videos like this so I was impressed.
I like what the video camera does with the spinning propeller — very interesting. That jagged ridge of mountains to the South can be seen prominently in the 1944 movie 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, either representing Japan or a test flight area, I forget which. Wait, that video’s not enough? Here’s another, a front view. You’re welcome, don’t mention it.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
4D Man 08/13/19
An old monster formula props up this fantastic film, but at its heart is a brilliant central idea that excites the imagination. Jack H. Harris’s sophomore picture after The Blob is on the awkward side, but the good stuff is much better than we expect it to be. Ambitious performances by Robert Lansing, Lee Meriwether and James Congdon come through with something unique, with graces we just don’t find in independent Sci-Fi from the late 1950s. And the new Blu-ray rejuvenates the film’s special effects — all it took was a good 4K restoration. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.