It’s a Wonderful Life 75th Anniversary 11/30/21

Paramount Viacom CBS
Blu-ray + Digital

 It’s the Gold Standard of Christmas movies and likely the oldest feature still broadcast on network TV during the holidays: Frank Capra’s sentimental favorite is his most human movie, the kind of show that convinced people that raising a family is a great idea. Although we’re now a full three generations removed from the world events that surround the story of George Bailey, his problems haven’t dated. Paramount’s anniversary disc gives us a new encoding from a 4K scan, a repressing of the older colorized version, a good making-of piece by Craig Barron and Ben Burtt, a reel of home movies from the film’s wrap picnic in the summer of ’46. . . and a set of ‘Bailey Family Recipe Cards.’ On Blu-ray from Paramount.
11/30/21

CineSavant Column

Tuesday November 30, 2021

 

Hello!

With his DVD Classics Corner on the Air podcast Dick Dinman tapped me for a second western discussion, this time about the great James Stewart / Anthony Mann western released on Blu by the Warner Archive in September, The Naked Spur.

We’re both enthusiastic about the cast, and I make the best case I can for this being the most psychologically twisted of Stewart’s run of ’50s classics. And of course we try to express our approval of the disc’s superb color and encoding — it looks a million times better than this weak image I found online.

 


 

And a heads up for TCM viewers: this Friday December 3rd at 8:00 pm (Eastern I think) will debut the Association of Moving Image Archivists’ Archival Screening Night Roadshow Edition 2, a collection of rarities of all kinds.

The AMIA’s text blurb is inviting: “What makes Archival Roadshow Edition special is that this members-only event is being made accessible to the public to see the incredible, strange, astonishing, hilarious, and curious treasures from the world’s moving image archives. This cinematic Cabinet of Wonders features films from Mexico, Thailand, and New Zealand, an appearance by Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five, a dancing Bobcat (it’s not what you expect!), Baltimore Breakdancing including the Chocolate Boogie, Jack Lemmon’s first screen appearance as a helpless soldier, and many more.” Here’s the official trailer, which will hook you for sure.

 


 

Generous correspondent Dan Mottola sent along a great link to a web resource for YouTube videos about miniatures, piercefilm productions. It’s a terrific vault of short-to-medium length videos, hosted by experts and illustrated with excellent, super-rare photos. I’ve looked at three already and each is fascinating; there seem to be so many advanced miniature specialists nowadays, so very talented and experienced.

Evan Jacobs give a fascinating talk about the TV series From the Earth to the Moon, and modelmaker Kim Smith hosts a talk about The Rocketeer that touches on half-a-dozen other interesting titles as well. Three other films with separate videos are True Lies (Leslie Ekker & Patrick McClung), Ed Wood (Evan Jacobs), and Deep Impact (Fon Davis).

At his home page Piercefilm owner Berton Pierce has a trailer up for viewing, for a documentary feature he’s made on miniature — Sense of Scale. My old boss is in it!

 

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday November 27, 2021

A movie about ‘old guys’. . . but in ’62 McCrea and Scott were years younger than I am now!

Kino Noir Times Four 11/27/21

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray Separate Purchases

Let’s shout our approval for this foursome of vintage noirs, all of which have been scarce since Eddie Muller was old enough to rob candy stores. Three Paramounts and one Universal give us four notable directors and a gallery of attractive stars, including a swoon-worthy array of actresses: Marta Toren, Loretta Young, Susan Hayward, Gail Russell, Frances Farmer and Marina Berti. The selection includes one of the key ‘just prior to the official style’ titles, a thriller with supernatural overtones, a ‘woman in jeopardy’ story and a gangster tale reportedly inspired by Lucky Luciano: Among the Living, Night Has a Thousand Eyes, The Accused and Deported. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
11/27/21

Bloody Pit of Horror 11/27/21

Did these filmmakers have any idea how twisted a picture they were making?  It doesn’t matter because this Italo torture orgy has has remained a freakout favorite ever since. Mickey Hargitay likely asked, ‘do you really want me to act this nuts?’ and then fully complied with Massimo Pupillo’s request to burn, stab, choke and roast his mostly female victims in orgasmic glee. It’s all still more than a little disturbing — or screamingly funny depending on one’s orientation. Severin’s Blu-ray sources original printing elements, lending incredible video and audio quality to this artless yet stunning exercise in sex & death insanity. We also recall an interpretation given this gem by Brit film critics. Co-starring Walter Brandi & Luisa Barrato, plus eight willing special guest torture victims. On Blu-rayfrom Severin Films.
11/25/21

Party Girl 11/27/21

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

This colorful gangster tale was made by a studio in transition, in the middle of a crippling musician’s strike. Robert Taylor and Cyd Charisse were MGM’s last contract stars; her costumes and dance numbers are wildly anachronistic for the period setting and she refused to take direction from Nicholas Ray, whose career was coming apart at the seams. Yet the maverick director must have done something right, as the show has remained a favorite of audiences and critics. The WAC’S remastered Blu-ray is a beauty. Co-starring Lee J. Cobb, John Ireland and Corey Allen. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
11/27/21

CineSavant Column

Saturday November 27, 2021

 

Hello!

Zoom, Crash, and Boom!   — This is still a fun reel of Howard and Theodore Lydecker special effects miniatures clips: an endless string of ‘Rocketman’ zip-flights, a few alien spacecraft, and then a string of explosions, some more realistic than others. Hey, the factory explosion that became stock footage for Earth vs. The Flying Saucers is here, too.

The YouTube video is called Lydecker Brothers : Special Effects. The first half of the reel is repetitive, but we’re still impressed by how well they hid those wires. A.D. Flowers used the same physical-gag ‘flying’ technique for 1941.

 


 

Thanks to David J. Schow for the link: the morbid YouTube empress Caitlin Doughty has a new ‘Ask a Mortician’ episode uploaded with the intriguing title America’s Forgotten Vampire Panic. Think New England in 1799, when mothers apparently bore a dozen children because fewer than half lived to be adults.

Doughty makes it funny and historically interesting, and the corny editing is fun too. I get the message that people were just as superstitious-nuts back then as they are now, but they just had a better excuse in the 19th century. Ms. Doughty also ought to be in movies, she’s charmer with a hundred amusing faces.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday November 23, 2021

Can General Black trust someone named Groteschele?  Can we trust Walter Matthau?

The Addams Family 4K 11/23/21

Paramount Viacom CBS
4K Ultra HD + Digital

Barry Sonnenfeld leaped from hot cinematographer status to A- list director with this sure-footed big screen adaptation of the TV show based on Charles Addams’ marvelously morbid New Yorker cartoons. The cast is ideal: Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia complement TV’s Carolyn Jones and John Astin without inviting comparisons. Winning an imaginary award for making sick jokes safe for PG-13, the script has true wit. The characters have depth as well, which is wonderful. Daring to be out of step with the times, the elaborate production, costumes and special effects are all on the same page: director Sonnenfeld and producer Scott Rudin see to it that the goofy premise never wears thin. The 4K encoding is a dazzler. On 4K Ultra-HD + Digital from Paramount Home Video.
11/23/21

Number Seventeen 11/23/21

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s so-called lesser films bounces back in an immaculate restoration. Say goodbye to blurry, indecipherable Public Domain versions — now we can fairly evaluate this amusing early talkie. An odd cross-section of underworld characters gathers amid the staircases and dark shadows of an abandoned house and proceeds to play games of identity and coercion. What happened to the body that was on the third floor landing?  Who is the mysterious mastermind whose note warns about a cop, and promises a diamond necklace?  Who is the mysterious woman who cannot hear or speak?  And is our hero a random passerby who followed his hat blown by the wind?  Kino’s deluxe disc features audio excerpts from Hitchcock and a longform French documentary about his early sound career. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
11/23/21

The Hills Have Eyes 4K 11/23/21

Arrow Video
4K Ultra HD

Wes Craven’s getting a 4K Ultra HD workout this year, what with his monster hit Scream arriving in 4K last month. This 1977 franchise-starter is a down & dirty slaughter-fest out in the desert, with bloody jeopardy its one and only reason for being. It can attest that it was quite a nail-biting experience in the theater, and we know this show has a legion of fans — think of the hundreds of films that imitate its concept. Starring Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace, Russ Grieve, John Steadman and Michael Berryman. On 4K Ultra HD (only) from Arrow Video.
11/23/21

CineSavant Column

Tuesday November 23, 2021

 

Hello!

Correspondent Alan Dezzani sends along this image posted to Facebook over the weekend — a new version of Diabolik, which will reportedly debut at the Turin Auto Museum on December 16. Gee, my premiere invite and comp plane ticket haven’t yet arrived, but I remain optimistic. I never saw or heard much about an earlier Italo TV show (?) and wonder if this one will have a bigger impact. Alan has also located a Trailer for the new Diabolik. It looks fairly nice, at first glance.

I note that the map in the background reads ‘Clerville,’ one of the few place names in the comic’s undisclosed European country — and other map names are in English, Italian and German. My latest review of the ’67 Bava/John Philip Law/Michel Piccoli/Marisa Mell Diabolik is here. The full poster on the left zooms for more detail.

 


 

Let’s go on a Trade Periodical clippings scavenger hunt!  This time Gary Teetzel sends us a selection of item regarding Michael Powell’s 1960 horror classic Peeping Tom. Going through the ‘Media History Digital Library’ he found no coverage of the controversy in England, so I guess what happened in London stayed in London. But he turned up some snippets about how the film was promoted on both sides of the Atlantic. (note that all these graphics enlarge.)

 

 

 

 

Gary’s find from the April 13, 1960 Motion Picture Exhibitor: a columnist sees no problem with the movie!

 

And this article finds an Atlanta exhibitor in hot water over Peeping Tom and It’s Hot in Paradise, not for the content of the films but because he violated a local moving ratings ordinance. Why didn’t he just sell paperbacks of The Tropic of Cancer, like everyone else?  Thanks, Gary !

 


 

And Shadowplay’s David Cairns alerted me to a Film International essay on Major Dundee by Tony Williams that puts a great deal of thought into the problem of The Lost Rough Cut. The article references my solo audio commentary for the movie, which is certainly flattering: The Peckinpah Masterpiece that Never Was: Major Dundee. That 2019 commentary is significant because I chart out all the material from Sam Peckinpah’s shooting screenplay that was deleted from the movie.

I’m glad the ideas in the commentary made such a strong impression. Here’s the CineSavant review of Explosive Media’s Major Dundee Blu-ray from 2019, where the audio commentary was first published. And here’s the CineSavant review of Arrow’s Major Dundee Blu-ray from last summer, which has the commentary plus a visual essay by David Cairns, the knockout with the sly Gidget Goes Hawaiian reference.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday November 20, 2021

We think rescue is in sight. . .

The Assassination Bureau 11/20/21

Viavision [Imprint] (Region-Free)
Blu-ray

Veterans Michael Relph and Basil Dearden try a hip ‘n’ flip costume comedy about an 1899 consortium that’s the equivalent of Murder Inc.: Killings for hire done with veddy proper civility and good taste. The charming Oliver Reed and Diana Rigg lead a notable cast — Telly Savalas, Curd Jürgens, Philippe Noiret, Beryl Reid, Clive Revill — through mayhem-filled chases in several European capitals. Tossed off in tongue-in-cheek style, it’s shallow but cute, and if you like the stars it can be a lark. Its saving grace is the spirited Ms. Rigg. On Region-Free Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
11/20/21

Fury (1936) 11/20/21

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

Fritz Lang’s first American picture is a searing social statement out of message-averse Hollywood. It’s also a cinematic landmark, packed with innovative visual concepts. Sylvia Sidney and Spencer Tracy have great appeal as lovers torn apart by vigilante violence, and Tracy’s very Langian hero pulls off a ‘return from the dead’ to serve as an avenging angel. It’s one of the talkies’ earliest direct attacks on America’s plague of lynching, a liberal assault that even the Production Code couldn’t stop — the show took the ‘social issue drama’ to new heights, even as Fritz Lang didn’t find favor with the Hollywood studio system. Also starring Walter Abel, Bruce Cabot and Walter Brennan. CineSavant presents the evidence of MGM tampering at the conclusion, that changes the film’s message and meaning. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
11/20/21

CineSavant Column

Saturday November 20, 2021

 

Hello!

This is a strange weekend: I had new reviews prepared and ready to go, but couldn’t post them. My computer went down on Thursday, a total mess. Two days later, thanks to help from the brilliant Allan Peach, CineSavant is back in action again, ready with reviews to fill hearts with joy and love (and empty pocketbooks) everywhere.

The one thing that seems to work is writing, so this is the right time to come across with a BOOK REVIEW that’s been percolating for a few days. The book is a winner.

Joseph McBride’s Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge
is an analytical study of the great director and his films. I’ve read at least three studies of our greatest American writer-director but none as rewarding as this one. As a young critic McBride interviewed Wilder and watched him direct one of his later films. His research is far more extensive than anything I’ve seen for a film director, with all sources carefully annotated.

One reason those previous books kept me interested was because of Wilder’s humor. Billy Wilder was noted for his incredible wit in quotes given to newspapermen or just related by his wife Audrey or his associates, jokes about other directors that could be adoring (Ernst Lubitsch) or derogatory (Sidney J. Furie), and of course the edgy humor about ‘handstands in the shower’ or comparing the Germans’ money to their toilet paper. His caustic wit had bite and relevance because it always called out something that was true. Michael Todd’s death in an airplane crash became national news, what with Elizabeth Taylor becoming a widow, etc. . Wilder’s response was a classic ‘too soon’ bit of morbid humor: he noted that most notices omitted the fact that a number of other people had died too, and suggested that those forgotten souls should be given some sort of credit like: “PRODUCER TODD DIES IN CRASH… additional guest dying by…”

When one book wanted to ‘explain’ Billy Wilder’s psychology, it tried to pass off a single romantic episode from his youth as ‘explaining’ the director’s entire jaded, soured worldview on women and romantic disillusion. Wilder called it nonsense, and it now comes off as biography as screenwriting, with an outsider picking one incident from a person’s life and deciding it’s a magic key to understanding.

As related so thoroughly by Joseph McBride, Billy Wilder’s life was so eventful, dramatic, and tragic that giving one event special precedence seems silly. In 1920’s Germany ‘Billie’ Wilder was a hard-charging busy reporter and screenwriter, always rushing around and aggressively pursuing whatever he was after. Incredibly sharp, he could see where Nazi Germany was going. He split for Paris and finally Hollywood even though it meant losing all of his possessions. After his first visa expired he spent months waiting in Mexico for entry status; this man knew he was lucky to get in. Later on he lost several members of his family to the Holocaust, including his mother. He went back once to try to persuade her to leave with him, but she wouldn’t budge. That episode surely had a much more serious bearing on Wilder’s general world view, a point that McBride returns to time and again. Of course Wilder had to be a tough-minded man, to continue with a high risk, high tension career as a screenwriter and eventually director.

Joseph McBride fully covers Billy Wilder’s career ups and downs. Wilder could hold grudges and he didn’t hold back criticism of collaborators that gave him trouble, like Humphrey Bogart. Industry opinion went against him in the middle 1960’s for the strangest reason — scores of lame, puerile sex comedies were released every year, yet Wilder’s refreshingly adult Kiss Me, Stupid was singled out as obscene, and Wilder reviled as a crude purveyor of bad taste, misogyny and smut. Big critics decided that he abused his actresses and that his cynicism hid a cruel streak… and this was in 1965, when the whole culture was becoming liberalized. The book’s aggressive defense reminds us that in reality Wilder gave many actresses terrific characters to play.

McBride is first and foremost a critic with a conscience. His judgment favors some Wilder pictures as masterpieces (Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Avanti!) but he values others less, labeling a few highly entertaining films as failures by the yardstick of director achievement: The Seven-Year Itch; One, Two, Three, even the two marvelous Audrey Hepburn pictures Sabrina and Love in the Afternoon. So we have to remind ourselves that this is a critical assessment in which the artist comes first — he’s not just a reviewer communicating what works and what doesn’t (although McBride doesn’t think the consistently hilarious One, Two, Three is even funny.)

But the hard critical assessment gives us more than enough information to make up our own minds. McBride closely documents the personalities of Wilder’s two main writing collaborators, Charles Brackett and I.A.L. Diamond, in close detail. Brackett had differing politics and a much more patrician attitude toward entertainment, which at first balanced Wilder’s excesses. As a serious man of letters, Brackett surely completed Wilder’s assimilation and mastering of the English language. Their screenplay for Ball of Fire shows Wilder in full command of American jargon and idioms. A decade later, Diamond appears to be an ideal writing partner. Detractors of Wilder guessed that Diamond ‘softened’ Wilder and gave him a heart, whereas McBride makes an excellent case that Wilder was the romantic, finding touches of human warmth in most every picture.

McBride puts the usual reportage of Wilder in a different perspective. Wilder never thought he could touch his idol & mentor Ernst Lubitsch, but his own constructions are equally bittersweet, and add a very Wilderian seriousness, a dimension of real life. On the subject of homosexual tension in Wilder’s films, McBride thoroughly charts a pattern from the match-striking business in Double Indemnity through the prisoners’ drag charades in Stalag 17, and forward to the teasing of Sherlock Holmes’s ambivalent sexuality. I hadn’t realized that Wilder and Diamond had made sexual confusion so much the backbone of Some Like It Hot, and the chapter-plus devoted to that topic is fascinating. It points up the fact that Wilder’s humor was never just a stack of ‘jokes of opportunity.’ We watch Jack Lemmon’s feminine side come to the fore as soon as he puts on a dress.

The Holocaust theme arises in odd places, not just A Foreign Affair but in the odd Bing Crosby sort-of musical comedy The Emperor Waltz, where the stars’ romance is compared to two dogs, one royal and one a commoner. With a few clues, McBride makes the case that the extermination theme comes out when some villainous nobles plan to quietly kill the offending dog. I can’t say that the insight makes we want to see The Emperor Waltz again.

McBride doesn’t go in detail as concerns Wilder’s other one-shot writing partners, except for a few notes on Raymond Chandler. He instead sees the first few post- Brackett years as a time of ‘running for cover’ after being clobbered by the negative reaction to his acid valentine to journalistic corruption Ace in the Hole: a couple of Broadway adaptations, the Hepburn ‘failures’ (can’t quite follow him there) and the outlier project The Spirit of St. Louis, on which McBride expends as little ink as possible. With St. Louis we realize that McBride aims higher than just presenting an encyclopedia of production details. Wilder’s account of Lucky Lindy’s was massacred and disemboweled by pressure from Lindbergh himself, removing everything but the bare bones of the famous flight. I know it’s considered a failure but it’s still highly entertaining, and I’d give Billy Wilder full credit for stretching his range.

For this book McBride instead focuses on the artist, making compelling connections between personal experience and the brilliant insights in his movies. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Avanti!, Sunset Blvd., Kiss Me Stupid are examined from all points of view. The book begins chronologically but then begins to break up by theme about half-way through; the last quarter concentrates on Billy Wilder’s decline, a choice that works well because Wilder’s previously unerring knowledge of his audience can only be understood when Wilder begins to lose his grip. Wilder’s self criticisms are just as unsparingly wicked as his earlier critiques of others. After the awful Buddy Buddy, when an interviewer (Schlondorff?) assures him that he still has avid fans, Wilder’s comeback quip is a mordant Kool-Aid joke: “Oh yeah, a few fans. I’ve got a cult. I’m going to get them together and take them to Guyana.” (Paraphrase)

What we really appreciate is the organized approach and his entertaining prose, not a given in serious film studies. Billy Wilder comes alive as a remarkable man… I already want to re-view four or five of his movies after this read. Of all of Joseph McBride’s film books, I think this is the one I’ve enjoyed the most.

Joseph McBride’s Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge is a handsomely printed hardcover, and likely a good gift idea for the right recipient. At 680 pages it’s a serious contender for film book of 2021.

Here’s the publisher’s page for the book: Columbia University Press Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge.

Thanks for reading — Glenn Erickson

CineSavant Delay Report

Saturday November 20, 2021

Hello!

CineSavant is delayed — !  I’m hoping to get today’s reviews out later this afternoon, or at the very worst, tomorrow: we had a computer meltdown last Wednesday and have been scrambling … well, you don’t need to hear the whole story. Sorry for the delay !

— Glenn Erickson

Tuesday November 16, 2021

I think Mr. Corman had this ‘thing’ about vision.

W.C. x Three 11/16/21

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

Almost a ‘best of’ selection of W.C. Fields delights is this trio of truly hilarious films. The Old-Fashioned Way sees Fields as a carny performer with a juggling act that always elicited applause at screenings. It’s A Gift makes him a sweet and unassuming sap of a grocer who goes West in a real estate swindle. In The Bank Dick’s 70 minutes of hilarity Fields is a pompous security man who gets no respect from nobody. Charlie Largent weighs in on Mr. Fields’ gifts — these are the ones to see to understand his appeal. Separate Purchases on Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
11/16/21

Frankenstein’s Daughter 11/16/21

The Film Detective
Blu-ray

Richard Cunha’s third of four horror item for Astor Pictures is perhaps the most marketable: in 1958 almost anything with the name Dracula or Frankenstein could get a big release. The Film Detective’s new disc (remastered from a 4K scan) shows the picture at its absolute best and confirms Cunha as a decent director. The monsters are dire but most of the acting is rather good: Sandra Knight, Donald Murphy, Wolfe Barzell and Sally Todd in particular. It’s core nostalgia for monster fans, and much gorier than we remembered. On Blu-ray from The Film Detective.
11/16/21