The Deceivers 11/09/21
Nicholas Meyer’s ‘other’ fantastic film project was ignored for all the wrong reasons; Pierce Brosnan fills a heroic leading role in a revisit of The Stranglers of Bombay, but filmed on location with great attention to authentic details. An officer of the East India Company detects an incredibly murderous cult of Kali-worshipping Thugs, a criminal underclass of thieves that practice ritual mass murder. The story has roots in history, snarled in colonial injustice and xenophobia. It’s a period picture unafraid to be controversial. Also starring Saeed Jaffrey and Helena Mitchell, on Blu-ray from The Cohen Group/Kino.
Walter Mirisch’s slam-bang, eardrum-pounding Sensurround stock footage orgy for the Centennial Year gathers an impressive lineup of big stars to celebrate the U.S. Navy’s biggest aircraft carrier battle: Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Hal Holbrook, Toshiro Mifune. Director Jack Smight manages the talky, exposition-laden account of a sprawling, complicated battle rather well, at least in terms of clarity. What is unwatchable pan-scanned on TV isn’t half bad for fans of big-scale war movies. PI gives us an approximation of Sensurround (I think), and also John Ford’s short subject The Battle of Midway from 1942. On Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
The Window 11/09/21
A genuine ‘sleeper’ hit, this ‘all in the family’ noir pits innocent childhood against cold blooded murderers. Little Bobby Driscoll witnesses Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman committing a murder, and can’t get Mom and Dad to believe him because of a habit of crying Wolf. But the killers believe him … and they live right upstairs. The beautifully made film evokes a rough, broken-down block in New York City in great detail. RKO’s new boss Howard Hughes did what he always did with a hot feature ready to release: he shelved it for almost two years. The WAC’s restoration is eye-opening. With Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy, on Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Generous correspondent Andre Ferreira sends along a link to a Sam Peckinpah- directed episode of Route 66, Mon Petit Chou from 1961. Martin Milner and George Maharis are in fine form and the guest stars are Lee Marvin, Macha Méril and Bert Remsen. It’s some pretty good direction with Marvin, as a complex bully. Overall the picture’s very well put together, even if the screenplay isn’t exactly #Meetoo endorsed: a singer is all but imprisoned by a man who also beats her — but that’s okay because he’s ‘troubled.’
Ms. Méril is announced as ‘introducing;’ she’s really special and we just reviewed her in Deep Red. It’s a good show for Bert Remsen too, and the IMDB rates it higher than several of Peckinpah’s features. Good fistfight, too. Thanks Andre.
Whenever packages from Australia arrive it’s a special day: this lineup of Viavision [Imprint] Blu-rays is the best news this week. The carefully produced deluxe editions use heavy-duty slip covers, and some are packaged in handsome gift boxes.
This month gives us Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas in the comic The Assassination Bureau, William Fraker’s horror film A Reflection of Fear, Mick Jagger in Ned Kelly, and a double bill of versions of The Browning Version, one each with Michael Redgrave and Albert Finney. There’s also a Big Screen British Comedy collection, with features adapted from TV series: Dad’s Army, Steptoe & Son, Steptoe & Son Ride Again and Are You Being Served?
A very special gift box set is Collaborations: The Cinema of Zhang Yimou & Gong Li, with the titles Red Sorghum, Jou Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, The Story of Qiu Ju, To Live, Shanghai Triad, Curse of the Golden Flower and Coming Home.
Because ViaVision contracts with ITV, MGM and Paramount, the last gift set for the first time gives us The Harry Palmer Collection with all three Michael Caine features from the 1960s: The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain. We’ll be getting right to work on these — the extras on the Harry Palmer pictures are really good.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Naked Spur 11/06/21
MGM sends James Stewart and Anthony Mann to Colorado high country locations for their third big-ticket western, a tight & tense psychological drama with a select cast: Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker and Millard Mitchell. Stewart’s anguished bounty hunter is a sick man on a mission he knows is self-destructive and just plain wrong; it’s the actor’s most fraught western performance. The landscape itself is psychological, with treacherous rocky outcroppings and a dangerous river. Even more impressive is the new restoration from Technicolor elements: this is one of the most beautiful westerns yet out on disc. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
La Strada 11/06/21
It’s a pleasant thing to revisit an old favorite and discover that it’s better than you remember. The tale of Zampanò and Gelsomina is Italo neo-realism 2.0: it’s got poverty, misfortune and misery but also a bankable American star or two. The visually revamped presentation of Federico Fellini’s international breakthrough picture is a wonder — no more distorted audio and images that look as if they were filmed yesterday. Several of the extras are new, but the main charm is still provided by Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn and the Nino Rota music. Co-starring Richard Basehart. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
An Angel for Satan 11/06/21
Barbara Steele has one of her better performance showcases in Camillo Mastrocinque’s classy ghost story with a somewhat dispiriting twist. Steele’s fan-collectors won’t need extra encouragement, as she’s in most every scene and gets to play a variety of moods from delicate to seductive to outright poisonous. Quality performances flatter a flawed screenplay, and the fine direction and attentive cinematography clearly inspired Steele to give it everything she had. Severin’s quality HD transfer is everything we’d want, with dual language tracks and good extras including a Kat Ellinger commentary and a second track featuring stellar input from Ms. Steele herself. With Anthony Steffen, Claudio Gora, Mario Brega, Marina Berti, Ursula Davis, Vassili Karis, and Aldo Berti. On Blu-ray from Severin Films.
We were impressed by this Daily Mail photo article for Halloween, Ariana Grande wows…. There’s clearly a lot of Photoshop work in those composite images, but the makeup does indeed look creative and clever on its own. I’d say she’s ready for a wet date with Guillermo del Toro. Let’s see some unretouched photos Ms. Grande!
Universal’s original Gill Man is of course untouchable in the aquatic mer-man sweepstakes, with del Toro’s The Shape of Water a handsome contender. Even if it’s only for some limited views in a novelty fashion shoot, Ms. Grande easily tops most of the pretenders in older films, like the aqua-men in the A.I.P. snooze-fest War-Gods of the Deep. I keep trying to watch that show in one go, and it puts me right to sleep.
I’ve just contributed an article to Lee Broughton’s Current Thinking on the Western page, rewriting an article I wrote around 1998 for the old ‘MGM Video Savant’ page. In the guise of an academic essay, I chart the changing tone of the ‘foreign policy’ western, mainly the ‘Gunmen go to Mexico’ subgenre that began in 1954 with Robert Aldrich’s Vera Cruz and pretty much ended (along with the evolution of the American western) in 1969 with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Scream 4K 11/02/21
Nobody did better with horror franchises than Wes Craven, who re-envigorated the genre in this relentlessly bloody thriller. Its self-referential gimmick should have been exploited decades before: what if the teenagers in movies were like real teenagers that watch horror movies. . . and that must rely on their movie knowledge when confronted with R-rated carnage? 25 years later the show holds up well, at least until the final revelations. Kevin Williamson’s screenplay and Mark Irwin’s camerawork make Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and Rose McGowan the most attractive and intelligent horror scream queens since Peggy Cummins tried to kick some sense into Dana Andrews. No Blu-ray included. On 4K Ultra HD + Digital from Paramount/Miramax.
Yes, we shameless college students saw these pictures when they were new. If I recall, Robert Crumb sued, rightly or wrongly; National Lampoon did a comic strip dissing the randy Fritz for selling out to the suits. Ralph Bakshi’s shot at adult animation (the first with an X-rating) is a rather dispiriting mess that doesn’t miss Crumb’s dirty-old-man anarchy. But the rough & ready animation and crude, semi-authentic dialogue were definitely something new. Charlie Largent gives the shows his perspective, animation art-wise; the two discs are being sold separately. On Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing / Kino.
Deep Red 4K 11/02/21
Dario Argento in 4K — that sounds like a good idea, especially for his more visually jolting giallos. Arrayed in garish reds and blacks, this blood-soaked mystery shocker emphasizes exotic murders — stabbings, scaldings, lacerations from broken glass. David Hemmings is again the investigator, digging into evidence sourced not in photographic details, but the hidden artwork of a disturbed child. Techniscope images by Luigi Kuveiller and music by Goblin, with abbondante gore orchestrated by Signor Argento at the top of his form. With Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Macha Méril. No Blu-ray included. On 4K Ultra HD from Arrow Video.
A Book Review for a new film studies book: frequent CineSavant reviewer Lee Broughton has been covering the film world for us since the beginning of ‘DVD Savant.’ Having emerged as a UK film scholar, he’s run several seminars on Euro Westerns, and recently recorded a commentary for a new Blu-ray of the Italo Western Arizona Colt.
I was finally able to read Lee’s latest book Euro-Western: Reframing Gender, Race and the ‘Other’ in Film and am happy to contribute this review. . . the title sounds like New Curriculum for an equity & social justice-woke film study class, but it’s really a sharp academic analysis of aspects of the Euro-Western — not just Italo Spaghetti oaters — that further elevate the subgenre.
The Euro-Western has come a long way since the birth of genre studies, when non-Hollywood oaters were mainly ignored in favor of ‘discovering’ unheralded American auteurs. Sir Christopher Frayling’s books on Italo Westerns turned the tide of academic study. Frayling’s hearty endorsement distinguishes Lee Broughton’s Euro-Western book from fan-oriented publications.
Broughton’s tightly organized book is laid out in three sections. With some general observations, and many comparisons and close readings of selected films, he establishes that European westerns were more socially progressive than American oaters in their depiction of ‘others’ — American Indians, African Americans and women (‘Frontier Femmes’). While acknowledging the presence of pro-Native American sentiment in Hollywood Westerns since the beginning of the genre, he shows that West German ‘Karl May’ adventures foregrounded Indian heroes in a way that made them equal to or more important than the Anglo hero. The Winnetou character is a far more respectful and mature evocation of the ‘Tonto’ archetype. Broughton’s explanation of the long-standing German fascination with America’s wild west is also well documented.
Broughton’s measure of the representation of African-Americans in westerns really gives the advantage to Europe, indicating a ‘liberation’ that really didn’t happen in U.S. films, but that came naturally in Italo westerns. While mid-’60s America fumbled with Civil Rights Tokenism (Duel at Diablo, even Major Dundee), black characters, often women, were at the center of the conflicts in numerous Italian pictures. The prominent study examples are Lola Falana in Lola Colt and Vonetta McGee in The Great Silence, where Lee observes that blacks in Italo films aren’t obliged to acknowledge a subservient position, as was typical even in the John Ford westerns supposedly elevating actor Woody Strode to star status. Strode’s Italo westerns don’t force him to function as a symbol of the filmmakers’ liberalism.
The surprise third part looks at representations of women primarily in English westerns — perhaps because most female roles in Italo genre films aren’t as progressive? One argument given is that even the more liberal American films with strong female characters (or extra-strong, as with Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar) eventually revert to softer, more feminine roles. American formulas insist that life on the wild frontier ‘tames’ outlaws like Cat Ballou and the vengeful Mattie Ross of True Grit. Meanwhile, from the 1930s forward, British comedies consistently presented female frontierswomen as being more aggressive and capable than their male partners, who functioned as Music Hall straight men in comedies like The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw. When a frontierswoman takes charge in a comparable American film something seems amiss, as in The Furies and Forty Guns. In wrapping up this argument we get a close reading of two ’70s Euro-westerns with strong female characters that break the mold: Raquel Welch in Hannie Caulder and Stella Stevens in the less familiar A Town Called Bastard aka A Town Called Hell.
Besides setting this reader in the direction of the German Winnetou movies and A Town Called Hell, Broughton’s enthusiasm and clarity brings back memories of good academic film books; thanks to better video access and the IMDB authors can no longer briefly describe two hundred titles, add an index, and hang out a shingle as a film historian. Euro-horror has certainly received a lot of attention, but the Euro western subgenre needs more books like this one. It reads well and would indeed serve as a good reference work for millennial film students — the word I get from film schools is that much of what’s taught these days has a strong revisionist bent toward social justice and inclusion. Lee Broughton knows his westerns backward and forward, that’s for sure.
The book’s Amazon link is Euro-Western: Reframing Gender, Race and the ‘Other’ in Film; and here’s the link to the publisher, Bloomsbury Academic and their specific page for Lee Broughton.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Children of the Damned 10/30/21
Charlie Largent takes on the ‘Kiddie Damned’ movie that reverses everything in ‘Village of the Damned’ — the mutant telepath moppets in this 1963 follow-up are terrestrial in origin and benign: it’s the nasty militarists in ‘the system’ who are the real threat to humanity. The John Wyndham semi-sequel has a New Cinema look and wears its liberal heart on its sleeve — a sci-fi horror a couple of years too early for a ‘give peace a chance’ love-in. Stars Alan Badel, Ian Hendry and Barbara Ferris provide the anti-militarist sentiment. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
The Mad Doctor 10/30/21
When did murder thrillers become horror pix? This one is horror only by association, and star Basil Rathbone would be a suave leading man if he wasn’t slaying wives left and right. He sets his sights on the rich, conveniently suicidal Ellen Drew, yes (sigh) that Ellen Drew. This atypical Paramount thriller has glamour to spare and also some unexpected sideways sexuality with the sinister Martin Kosleck, who almost steals the movie. But not our hearts — in that department it’s Ellen Forever and Ever. With a commentary by David Del Valle. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Ghost Ship + Bedlam 10/30/21
New remastered restorations of Val Lewton pictures? We’re there. This terrific double bill gives us two Lewton shockers that are in no way ‘lesser’. The progressive psycho killer picture The Ghost Ship suffered a legal setback and disappeared for almost fifty years; it’s a masterpiece of taste and tone. Bedlam is a costume picture with an ideal role for Boris Karloff, and multiple eerie moments worthy of Edgar Allan Poe. Both movies exhibit interesting storytelling techniques, too. RKO should have promoted Lewton to A pictures, as they did his collaborators Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise and Mark Robson. Bedlam has a commentary by Tom Weaver. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
First up is an audio link. . . our generous correspondent Richard McQuillan has given me permission to upload this inspiring, heartwarming 25 seconds of cross-Holiday cheer. A Norman Bates Christmas will make you laugh, cry, and feel like children again. Is it FUN or INCONSEQUENTIAL? Each of us must make our own moral choice. Pass that Halloween candy please, no not that, something with chocolate in it.
My mellifluous croak of a voice is back again, with a guest shot talking about a classic western at the podcast DVD Classics Corner on the Air: Dick Dinman & Glenn Erickson Visit ‘Vera Cruz’. Can’t talk enough about crazy Burt Lancaster and sober Gary Cooper in Robert Aldrich’s insane revolutionary oater, the one that Sergio Leone dubbed ‘the double-cross western.’ I still haven’t figured out some of the screwy editing in that picture.
And we thank David J. Schow for our (cough) borrowing of his link to A Tribute to Paul Blaisdell. It’s from 2017 and written by Christopher Stewardson. The master monster maker Blaisdell forged a hipster’s ’50s sci-fi look, a style all his own.
And wow, the Warner Archive Collection has officially announced their November disc line-up, which is practically a Christmas acquisition list in itself — once again they’ve hit upon titles I’ve hoped would show up for years.
In short, we’ve got Fritz Lang’s Fury, Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins’ The Last of Sheila, the hot Barbara Stanwyck pre-Code Ladies they Talk About, the next Nick & Nora picture The Thin Man Comes Home, Little Liz Taylor in National Velvet, Doris Day in Lullabye of Broadway, Vincente Minnelli’s Some Came Running and Nicholas Ray’s eccentric Party Girl.
That’s nothing but good news. Plus, the word on the web is that the WAC has both Angels with Dirty Faces and Ivanhoe on the way.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson