Two on a Guillotine 02/08/20

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

Connie Stevens and Dean Jones star in a wild ‘n’ wacky happy-go-lurky mystery romp, and with this title, it isn’t for Disney! Actor William Conrad’s first directorial effort released by WB is a campy horror item starring not an actress making a comeback, but a pre- Joker Cesar Romero as a magician afflicted by the tragedy of Tod Browning’s Syndrome: he keeps accidentally beheading loved ones on stage. Klunky spook show or nail-biting spine-tingler? You be the judge. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
02/08/20

CineSavant Column

Saturday February 8, 2020

Hello!

Powerhouse Indicator has announced an interesting Blu-ray box: John Ford at Columbia 1935 – 1958 will arrive on April 20. The set contains the hilarious The Whole Town’s Talking with Jean Arthur and Edward G. Robinson (already reviewed in a Twilight Time Blu-ray), the curious West Point biography The Long Gray Line, Ford’s first film in CinemaScope; the odd police story Gideon’s Day aka Gideon of Scotland Yard, and his Spencer Tracy picture The Last Hurrah, also released here already by Twilight Time. I’m most curious to see the West Point movie, which was always in need of an improved transfer. I’m not much of a fan of the last two, an opinion that sometimes makes me unpopular with the Ford faithful.


Also coming on April 20 from PI is Jack Garfein’s military school hazing drama The Strange One, a very good movie that always made me uncomfortable — I could tell there was something sexually off-level in the power games being played by Ben Gazzara’s amoral cadet. The mental domination and veiled sadism in The Strange One is pretty rough for the late 1950s. Between this picture and the next year’s Anatomy of a Murder, Gazzara launched his career with a pair of really dark (sick?) characters. It’s also an early appearance, if not the first film, by George Peppard.

Director Garfein passed away fairly recently; his other movie, an emotional ordeal with Carroll Baker called Something Wild (1961) is highly recommended as well. ( → )


I’m still receiving requests to review the new German Blu-ray of the Steve Reeves’ version of The Thief of Bagdad (Der Gauner von Bagdad), but all I’ve been able to see is a couple minutes’ worth of a friend’s copy, in pasing. The picture looked good, but seemed to be a bit squeezed horizontally; I’d have to play the disc on more than one machine to confirm that. It appeared to be a full-length version in English created by reverting to Italian for scenes cut for the U.S. (That trick of course fascinates me, as it shows exactly how a clever editor shortened the movie, sometimes taking out only a dialogue line here and there.)

But a correspondent ‘Chuck’ sent me a link to pretty good review at a site called PeplumTV. The reviewer seems to approve of the disc, and he doesn’t note any image distortion. The part of Der Gauner von Bagdad that I saw was pretty nice — the happy Arabian princess character looks like a fresh-faced California Girl. Childhood favorite Steve Reeves is charming, despite having only one ‘ain’t I a sneaky fellow?’ smirk on his face most of the time.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday February 4, 2020

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Monstrosity (The Atomic Brain) 02/04/20

Moth Inc.
Blu-ray

How can a ‘Z’ horror production so completely absorb the thoughts of this ex- film student?  This maladroit 1963 monster mash can’t even tell when it’s doing something good. A capable cast gives their all to a marginal production that, re-titled as The Atomic Brain, became a staple on late-nite TV, where it worked better than a sleeping pill. For extras, the quality disc production taps the one mortal willing to research this film’s murky depths: who else but Tom Weaver, whose original interview research actually makes sense of this screwy picture. Well, a little sense, at least. Recommended to the legions of fans of Marjorie Eaton and Frank Gerstle; don’t forget the woman who behaves like a cat, after Doctor Franks’ first cat-to-human brain transplant — we can still get your name on the list to be the second! On Blu-rayfrom Moth Inc..
02/04/20

The Light at the Edge of the World 02/04/20

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

Jules Verne’s version of ‘Die Hard’ takes place not on Christmas Eve in Century City, but 160 years ago at a lonely lighthouse in Tierra Del Fuego. The mini-moguls the Salkinds rounded up a great cast — Kirk Douglas! Samantha Eggar! Yul Brynner! — but let them down severely in production details and particularly the edit. Most everything needed is here for a classic adventure-suspense picture, but somebody thought the action had to be ultra-violent and nihilistic. The new Blu-ray restores it to good color and an uncut state. With Fernando Ray, for about fifteen minutes. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
02/04/20

CineSavant Column

Tuesday February 4, 2020

Hello!

Thanks to Jonathan Gluckman for this tip, which he calls a belated follow-up to a thing I had going a while back about Movie Tie-In tunes, the more terrible, the better.

This one is credited to the (mostly) comic stars Alice Pearce and Hans Conried, and it sounds pretty good!

I’m In Love with the Creature from the Black Lagoon

The only disappointment is that Conreid doesn’t sing as well… I guess this is his debut as a songwriter?

Enough said. I’m buried in other responsibilities at the moment, but more CineSavant nonsense/good reviews will be here on Saturday. I’ve just received a trio of impressive Criterion discs, including the Karel Zeman trilogy … and, and, it looks like I’m the last to learn that Scream Factory will be releasing a Blu-ray of Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik soon. That’s great, as it’s been fifteen years since the very good DVD arrived.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday February 1, 2020

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All About My Mother 02/01/20

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Pedro Almodóvar’s challenging films shouldn’t be only for his dedicated fans: nobody mixes genuine human compassion with world-class filmmaking as well as he … while maintaining a marvelous sense of humor, of human proportion. This 1999 effort is perhaps Pedro’s strongest drama, and yet another heartfelt endorsement of womankind. For the life-beleaguered Manuela, tragedy and melodramatic setbacks only bring out a primal determination to heal all wounds. Starring Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Candela Peña, Antonia San Juan, Penélope Cruz, and Barcelona. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
02/01/20

The Abominable Snowman 02/01/20

Scream Factory
Blu-ray

Just under the top echelon of British sci-fi lurks this well-produced, absorbing ‘expedition to terror!’ that surprises us by paying off on an intellectual plane. After building his monster but before defeating Dracula, Peter Cushing found himself in a real fix on a snowy mountain peak. Sure, the race of enormous Yeti are shiver-inducing, but Cushing must also withstand the mind games of a suspiciously solicitous Tibetan Lhama, and a piratical double-cross by an American huckster who goes by the deceptive name, ‘Friend.’ Forrest Tucker co-stars, perhaps giving his best film performance; Hammer’s production and Val Guest’s direction help communicate writer Nigel Kneale’s intellectual sci-fi extension of apocalyptic ideas in Lost Horizon. This came out about six weeks ago, on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
02/01/20

CineSavant Column

Saturday February 1, 2020

Hello!

Not exactly hard to see, but strange none the less … Gary Teetzel forwards a link to this Extended version of Walmart’s Super Bowl ad, which must have cost the big-box mega-company fortune in licensing fees. When Gary speaks, we listen:

“The Arrival gag is cute, but I don’t like seeing a thoughtful, ambitious serious sci-fi item mixed in with pop culture staples. What next?  The robots from Ex Machina peddling iPads?  And the ending must be a big mistake — where’s the shot of a bubble-gum Martian’s ray gun blasting the entire Walmart store to smithereens?”


‘Licensing issues’ plays a part in a really good- sounding new 3-D, Flicker Alley’s 3-D Rarities Volume II: some of the best short subjects rescued and restored by the 3D Film Archive are tied up in corporate (def: non-cooperating) control issues, the same licensing legalities that mighty Walmart attorneys leaped over in a single bound.

But we loved the vintage items in Volume I and the new goodies promised here appeal just as strongly. I’m especially glad for a feature included on the disc, the entire 3-D Mexican production El Corazón y la Espada, a costume picture from 1955 starring Cesar Romero and Katy Jurado, filmed in “Tercera Dimensión Bríceno.” None other than Edward Dein (Shack Out on 101, The Leech Woman) co-directs. I’d call that the definition of ‘rare.’

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday January 28, 2020

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Room at the Top 01/28/20

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

One of the first ‘kitchen sink realist’ films of the British New Wave is also one of the best English films ever — believable, absorbing, and emotionally moving. The adaptation of John Braine’s novel launched Laurence Harvey as a major star, and English films were suddenly touted as being just as adult as their continental counterparts. It attracted a bushel of awards, especially for the luminous Simone Signoret. Unlike the average Angry Young Man, Joe Lampton’s struggle feels universal — bad things happen when ambition seeks a way through the class ceiling, ‘to get to the money,’ as says Donald Wolfit’s character. With a fairly amazing cast: Heather Sears, Ambrosine Phillpotts, Donald Wolfit, Donald Houston, Hermione Baddeley, Allan Cuthbertson, Raymond Huntley, John Westbrook, Richard Pasco, Ian Hendry and many more. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
01/28/20

Underwater! 01/28/20

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

Howard Hughes takes RKO into SuperScope and color for this attractive, somewhat tame sunken treasure adventure starring his captive glamour star Jane Russell. No off-color advertising slogans this time around, but plenty of bathing-beauty opportunities, for Jane and her co-stars Richard Egan and Gilbert Roland. CineSavant examines the budget-compromise film format called SuperScope, and the difficulty that director John Sturges encountered filming this seagoing adventure, in which the stars never went to sea. Plus, lovely Lori Nelson and the Latin rhythms of the incomparable Pérez Prado! On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
01/28/20

CineSavant Column

Tuesday January 28, 2020

Hello!

It’s disc round-up time for February … although I have one eye in the rear view mirror for things I don’t want to miss out on — gotta keeps somewhat current with classic Sci-fi, and I may even have time for a two-year old release of a notable sci-fi hit, if it lives up to expectations. But February promises some highly desirable winners. Criteron has a heck of a line-up promised: Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, finally out on home video ( ↑ ); Piere Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, which I’m willing to give another chance; the great docu Antonio Gaudi; and the hotly desired Czech trick-film trio Three Fantastic Journeys by Karel Zeman.

Well, the Warner Archive Blu-ray release calendar still has that Tex Avery MGM Cartoons disc on the way, a definite hot item. But now special bombshell announcements — !

Kino’s KL Studio Classics line continues to produce a steady diet of CineSavant wants and desires. I’ve just covered February’s release of Jack Clayton’s Room at the Top, and Mike Nichols’ Day of the Dolphin, the Nazi Munchausen, René Clément’s The Deadly Trap, H.G. Clouzot’s Quai de Orfèvres and the self-explanatory Reefer Madness. Enough good Kino titles bleed into March, to be noted: the English comedies The Captain’s Paradise and Barnacle Bill; Brit crime pix The Sweeney and Sweeney 2; the TV movie S.O.S. Titanic, which I hope will be full-length; and finally aa quartet of westerns — Jacques Tourneur’s Canyon Passage, James Nielson’s Night Passage, The Rare Breed and the quasi- western Man in the Shadow.

Although the company doesn’t issue screeners, Scream Factory has X The Unknown, a title I feel compelled to cover one way or another. The nation’s security agencies have likely listed this page as being dedicated to radioactive blobs.

Also noted in passing for February: Lionsgate’s disc of the new Midway, which if received would keep me current with big-screen war pix, good, bad or indifferent.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday January 25, 2020

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The Oscar 01/25/20

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

What an honor it is to host a review of a genuine cinematic monument:  Charlie Largent dares to tell the truth about the movie that both Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick said they’d give anything to have directed. Screenwriter Harlan Ellison digs below Hollywood’s lust and venality to reveal a core of heartwarming humanism. This soaring achievement was the only film to be awarded both the Medal of Freedom and a Nobel Peace Prize. To make room in its storage vaults for priceless The Oscar outtakes, Embassy Pictures tossed worthless cans of negative for Greed and The Magnificent Ambersons into a furnace. And who would ever have guessed that Russell Rouse ghost-directed for the auteur Edward D. Wood, Jr.?  Career-best performances are committed to film by Stephen Boyd, Elke Sommer, Milton Berle, Eleanor Parker and the immortal thespian Jill St. John. The long wait is over — it’s finally available at popular prices. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
01/25/20

Penelope 01/25/20

The Warner Archive Collection

What can one say about a comedy that just limps along, even when an attractive cast does fine work every step of the way?  Even the bit parts are creatively cast in this odd romp infected with a really bad case of The Cutes. Natalie Wood is at her best, but in service of dumb gags: let’s blow bubble gum bubbles! The result so upset Natalie that she ditched her studio contract. The roster of engaging talent includes Peter Falk (in suave leading man mode!), Dick Shawn (less grating than usual), Lila Kedrova & Lou Jacobi (showing real style), Jonathan Winters (wasted) and, of all people, Ian Bannen as Natalie Wood’s uncomprehending husband. Bannen is so good, he drags a real laugh or two from the material. The show has been beautifully remastered — it’s part one of this week’s accidental tribute to director Arthur Hiller. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
01/25/20

Tobruk 01/25/20

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

Rock Hudson’s big-explosion war movie applies decent production values and decent direction to a good idea, but substitutes some weak double-crosses for a real screen story. Hudson and his co-producer Gene Corman toss in a fine stack of quality actors… who don’t do much more than dodge tanks, flame throwers, and big explosions. Those explosions look familiar — I’ll bet they were recycled in more than a couple subsequent movies. Aiding and abetting handsome Hudson are George Peppard (manning a Tarantino-issue flamethrower), Nigel Green, and Guy Stockwell, who seems to be in EVERY Universal release around this time. Part two of CineSavant’s unplanned ode to director Arthur Hiller goes out with a bang and a boom. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
01/25/20

CineSavant Column

Saturday January 25, 2020

Hello!

Here’s a decidedly odd item, a Blu-ray release from out of the blue, unexpected, unlikely: Hammer Film’s 1959 horror comedy The Ugly Duckling. Fans have been griping and moaning for years to get decent releases of Hammer’s films on Blu-ray, and the last couple of years have seen several boutique labels step up to the plate. With just a few holdouts, most of the top titles are now available in really good transfers. If we’re stuck with a sad DVD of Robert Day’s 1965 She, it’s likely that Warners-Turner just doesn’t see the percentage quite yet in performing a remaster. The same issue applies to Hammer’s epochal first Technicolor horror The Curse of Frankenstein: the condition of its printing elements makes a remaster even more complicated. All but a handful of the company’s horror and sci-fi titles are indeed out, which indicates that future Powerhouse Indicator releases may be for studio collectors and completists only.

But The Ugly Duckling?  Chances are that most casual horror fans have not even have heard of it. It falls into the lower tier category of Hammer product that didn’t see much of a U.S. release: mainly a few budget-challenged (but color) costume adventures, and frankly, other items that puzzle me. I’ve heard On the Buses described at least twice but still don’t remember what it’s about. Like other ’70s Hammer comedies it was adapted from a Brit TV show, so wasn’t considered viable over here.

The Ugly Duckling is an odd name to be assigned to a comedy take on the Jekyll-Hyde story. The twist is that the awkward nerd Jekyll is transformed into a suave, hipster Hyde. This of course sounds exactly like Jerry Lewis’s The Nutty Professor, but nobody’s been screaming rip-off that I’ve heard about.

The surprise is that Duckling hasn’t been licensed to a disc boutique but is coming directly from Sony itself, from its Made On Demand line of discs. I didn’t even know that Sony MOD was actively adding titles at present, which is why I made sure to put the word ‘savant’ in my name. Associate Gary Teetzel, who does pay attention to such trends, has been gathering intelligence reports on the subject:

Well here’s a surprise. Hammer completists rejoice: The fabled ‘lost’ Hammer film — never really lost, just almost impossible to see — hits Blu-ray on February 18. Here’s Amazon’s present listing for The Ugly Duckling. The show doesn’t have a sterling reputation, just a long list of Hammer fanatics curious to see it. It was part of a Hammer production deal with Columbia Pictures, although the IMDB doesn’t list a release in the United States. It stars actor Bernard Bresslaw, a future regular in the endless Carry On film series and one of the actors originally considered to play The Creature in Curse of Frankenstein. Reginald Beckwith and future Doctor Who (#3, to be precise) Jon Pertwee are among the supporting cast. And to prove without doubt that The Ugly Duckling really is a Hammer film, Michael Ripper is in it.

Sony’s cover art gives absolutely no hint of a Jekyll-Hyde aspect to the film. Neither does this YouTube film clip, which we hope doesn’t represent Duckling’s comedy or horror highlight. But the completists out there have nothing to fear — Powerhouse Indicator have powerfully indicated that they are working on extras for their own release of The Ugly Duckling.

The Robert Louis Stevenson connection can’t be too serious, as the few Hammer horror books I’ve accumulated mention The Ugly Duckling only as a footnote. Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday January 21, 2020

I think this picture is from the movie in question… CLICK on it.