CineSavant Column

Saturday October 17, 2020



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 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