Good Morning (ohayo) 06/20/17
It’s Yasujiro Ozu in light mode, except that his insights into the human social mechanism make this cheerful neighborhood comedy as meaningful as his dramas. Two boys go on a ‘talk strike’ because they want a television set, a choice that has an effect on everyone around them. And what can you say about a movie with running jokes about flatulence . . . and is still a world-class classic? On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
The Man in the Moon 06/20/17
Robert Mulligan’s late career gem is a beautiful, fad-free tale of teenage romance with universal appeal, famed for introducing Reese Witherspoon to the screen. She’s truly a sensation, as is the actress Emily Warfield as the older sister who ‘steals’ Reese’s beau. Photographed by Freddie Francis, this tops even Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
An admiring nod to ’60s dream siren Daliah Lavi! American-International leaps into an epic Jules Verne comedy about a trip to the moon, a good-looking but slow and unfunny farce that must squeak by on the goodwill of its cast of comedians. Burl Ives is excellent casting as P.T. Barnum, organizing a Greatest Show OFF the Earth. Aka Those Fantastic Flying Fools and Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon; also starring Terry-Thomas, Gert Fröbe, Lionel Jeffries, Troy Donahue, Dennis Price, Hermione Gingold. On Blu-ray from Olive Films.
Correspondent John Vincent, in correcting a mistake I made about the Max Fleischer animation studio mentioned in last Tuesday’s column, also tipped me off to his website / blog Uncle John’s Crazy Town. The page is a pretty amusing ongoing ode to animation in general. John’s latest entry is about a short series of pictures called Fleischer’s Animated Antics. They look familiar — I’m not sure whether or not I’ve seen them.
A Book Review: Tom Weaver has a new book out in his Bear Manor ‘Scripts from the Crypt’ series, an informative dive into Boris Karloff worship called Boris Karloff’s The Veil. Definitely an item for focused fans on the greatest of all horror stars – and there are plenty of them out there — The Veil digs into a heretofore underreported episode in the Mr. K’s career – his late ’50s years hosting spooky TV shows, while moonlighting as a change-of-pace special guest on TV variety shows, like that of Dinah Shore. Karloff fans that think they know everything about their hero may receive something of a shock, as the book uncovers a TV show called The Veil. Ten episodes were produced in 1958, but when the fabled Hal Roach studio went belly-up they were consigned to the vault and never aired.
Weaver’s book series to some degree follows a research ‘n’ scrapbook format grouped around reprints of some key scripts from the ill-fated series. Much in the book’s favor is the sheer unfamiliarity of the subject, here illuminated by a lifetime of research. Weaver’s key essay has sufficient data to tell the story of the series in great detail, with little or no guesswork. Each of the episodes is explained in full detail, with mini-bios for the actors involved. When Weaver showed ‘rescued’ episodes to one of the show’s directors, he couldn’t remember working on it! For other angles Weaver relies on specialized essays. Barbara Bibas Montero’s piece covers the career of her father, the show’s producer. Martin Varno (yes, THE Martin Varno, the legendary screenwriter of Night of the Blood Beast) offers a glimpse of what working life was like on the Roach lot, a huge Culver City studio crumbling in disrepair, and soon to fall into receivership.
The book’s multiple perspectives are good, too. Weaver presents a well-documented account of the studio’s demise as reported in the trade papers. Hal Roach Jr. announced dozens of upcoming shows, just days before the whole studio went before the auction block. That’s followed up by an excellent overview of fantasy-horror TV production in the late ’50s by Dr. Robert J. Kiss. The takeaway info is that The Veil would at best have shaped up as a weak sister to its genre competition One Step Beyond, and Karloff’s later hit show Thriller. And we even hear the story of how the original film material was rescued from oblivion, by the late proprietor of the Something Weird video label, Mike Vraney.
Tom Weaver can be highly critical of genre pictures that don’t meet his personal criteria, and his writing refuses to sugarcoat The Veil. Despite some good playing, he finds that most of the episodes are weak both in story and execution, with Boris Karloff’s recurring roles only infrequently giving him a diverting character to play. Weaver is surprisingly hard on Karloff, for seemingly taking any job that came along and even for being a pinchpenny. To me it’s entirely understandable if the old gent just put on his gracious act for P.R. purposes. Before stardom came he’d led as brutal a life as a ‘wandering actor’ could, working in unreliable stage companies out in Canada and the northwest. He’d long ago discovered that he could work simultaneously on Broadway and in junk movies, without a deleterious effect on his career. True, the series doesn’t sound like much of a keeper, but the detail is absorbing. Was Karloff required to provide some of his own costumes? Weaver marvels at the fact that he always wears the same tie, not only in the spooky episode intros, but also when in character in some of the shows.
Boris Karloff’s The Veil concludes with some extra scripts, some interesting photos and collector errata such as an appendix on a grim double murder committed by the actor’s niece back in England. Everything is thoroughly indexed and annotated, making this a serious reference book as well, not just a compendium of fan fluff or (cough) reviewer opinion. Weaver always manages to make interesting reading of what the mainstream might consider some pretty minor ’50s horror efforts. This particular subject may sound less essential than others, but the book’s peek into the realities of ’50s horror TV production is often illuminating.
I may be a little late with next Tuesday’s reviews — it’s a family weekend and if I go near a TV monitor it will be for pleasure.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Savant’s new reviews today are:
Joe Versus the Volcano 06/20/17
“May you live to be a thousand years old, sir.” Still the most widely unheralded great movie on the books, John Patrick Shanley’s lightweight/profound fable is an unmitigated delight. See Tom Hanks at the end of the first phase of his career plus Meg Ryan in an unacknowledged career highlight. How can a movie be so purposely insubstantial, and yet be ‘heavier’ than a dozen pictures with ‘big things to say?’ With Lloyd Bridges, Abe Vigoda and Robert Stack. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Le désordre et la nuit 06/20/17
Lovers of hot-blooded French noir will love this 1958 B&W drama, which swaps violence for a dangerous sexual relationship between a cop and drug addict suspected of a murder. If this is a ‘lazy’ star vehicle for French superstar Jean Gabin, please bring us more — in his paunchy ‘fifties Monsieur Gabin takes on a beauty half his age, and convinces us that he can keep her. With Danielle Darrieux and Nadja Tiller. On All-Region Blu-ray from Pathé France.
The Paradine Case 06/20/17
This isn’t the only Alfred Hitchcock film for which the love does not flow freely, but his 1947 final spin on the David O. Selznick-go-round is more a subject for study than Hitch’s usual fun suspense ride. Gregory Peck looks unhappy opposite Selznick ‘discovery’ Alida Valli, while an utterly top-flight cast tries to bring life to mostly irrelevant characters. With Charles Laughton, Charles Coburn, Ann Todd and Ethel Barrymore. Who comes off best? Young Louis Jourdan, that’s who. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
You may still have a chance to see them — this afternoon and evening TCM is showing movies by Edgar G. Ulmer, including a pair I barely remember, The Naked Dawn and The Cavern.
Plus the usual suspects The Black Cat, Detour, and The Man from Planet X. I keep tuning in for Detour, hoping a perfect print will someday surface. Best wishes to Arriané!
Joe Dante has circulated a YouTube link to a 1930s tour of Max Fleischer’s Animation studio in Florida … in Cinecolor. It’s at a YouTube link called Popular Science. I hope those animators didn’t wear those ties and tight collars all the time, in the hot Florida climate.
And if you’re on your way to Rio de Janeiro, don’t forget the wolfsbane, garlic and crucifixes. As reported by Gary Teetzel, they’re currently having a slight problem with vampire bats down there. Time to wear shirts with collars again.
As soon as I posted the review for the French movie above, I received a nice note from correspondent Pierre-Charles Robitaille, who reminded me that, in addition to “Renée Simonot (mother of Catherine Deneuve, born in 1915) and Gisèle Casadesus, a noted member of La Comédie Française (b.1914), the beautiful Danielle Darrieux, on May 1st, joined the circle of French actresses who have lived for more than a century.” Thanks, Pierre.
And finally, before I forget, the news has broken online that Kino will be remastering and releasing on disc the two seasons of Leslie Stevens’ and Joe Stefano’s Outer Limits. That’s great news for those of us who shivered in front of our TVs wondering what it meant that a ‘control voice’ was taking over our televisions. They say that season one will hit this Fall and season two next Spring. I asked OL expert David J. Schow a while back if the show was filmed allowing for widescreen, so that it could be re-formatted and shown theatrically overseas. He said no, so we’ll have to make do with all those great Conrad Hall images in the flat format. But the HD clarity should make them look MUCH better — all those misty shots in the Outer Limits style will no longer resolve as digital mush.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Gumball Rally 06/03/17
Cars! Cars! Cars! What climate accord, when we’re celebrating the internal combustion engine! One of the best of the breezy ’70s action comedies, this cross-country road race picture gave us early looks at Gary Busey and Raul Julia in the midst of an always-amusing ensemble of car crazies, out to go from Manhattan to the Pacific in less than two days, at speeds up 175 mph! No 55 speed limit, no catalytic converters! Starring Michael Sarrazin and a score of fast-fast-fast dream cars. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
The Picasso Summer 06/03/17
Yet another puzzle picture, that came out on DVD back with the first wave of WAC films in 2010. An expensive romance with Albert Finney and Yvette Mimieux, it was filmed in Europe, co-written by Ray Bradbury and bears the music of Michel Legrand, including an exceedingly well known pop song. Yet it sat on a shelf for three years, only to make a humiliating world debut on TV — on CBS’s Late Nite Movie. It was clearly one of those Productions From Hell, where nothing went right. On DVD from The Warner Archive Collection.
Spotlight for a Murderer 06/03/17
Pleins feux sur l’assassin. The uncanny Georges Franju strikes again, in an Agatha Christie-like thriller imbued with his special mood, the eerie music of Maurice Jarre and some great actors including Jean-Marie Trintignant, Pierre Brasseur, Dany Saval, Marianne Koch and Pascale Audret. If mood is the key, then Franju has found an ideal setting, a beautifully preserved castle — and then the murders begin. A Dual-Format edition on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Academy.
Gary Teetzel is on top of the links again today, reporting first on the storm of excited stop-motion fans talking about a new restoration of Willis O’Brien’s 1925 The Lost World. Reading all of the posts is a bit confusing, but the new version appears to be of much better quality, and as much as ten minutes longer than anything we’ve seen. That claim wouldn’t mean much if the frame rate were simply being slowed down; but those that have seen it say that numerous new scenes are involved, with new animation. The disc is coming from Flicker Alley and the extras include a new Bob Israel score, new transfers of three other Willis O’Brien animation items. And Gary links to a restored clip that shows scenes with original tinting. To me it looks almost too good to be true.
And as promised, Gary reports on his screening of the new Pirates of the Caribbean in the new “ScreenX” format from South Korea. It doesn’t seem to be so much a new format as an enhanced screening experience. I haven’t seen it but it sounds rather like the feature on old flat Disney animation movies, that fill in the pillarbox extremes on widescreen TVs with ‘related’ visual information, something like art illumination in ancient books. Here’s Gary’s report.
On Tuesday, May 30, I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales at the CGV Cinema in Los Angeles’ Koreatown to experience the film in “ScreenX.” First developed in South Korea in 2012, the process is a modern twist on Cinerama: additional picture information is projected onto the side walls of a movie theater to give viewers ultra-wide, panoramic visuals — a full 270 degrees of image. ScreenX has been used on several South Korean feature films and in-theater advertisements; Piratesmarks the first Hollywood feature to receive a (very limited) U.S. release in the process.
It should be noted up front that the entire film did not utilize the system, but rather just 10 to 15 minutes sprinkled throughout the runtime, not unlike the selected scenes Christopher Nolan shot in IMAX for the last two Dark Knight films. Furthermore, in a small handful of instances the walls did not depict contiguous image, but general “atmosphere,” such as flickering flames.
So how was it? First, a few negatives. Since the system projects directly onto theater walls and not smooth screens (at least in the venue where I saw it), one might note a distracting detail now and then, like the auditorium’s speakers. Also, since the film was shot with only the front screen in mind, visuals on the walls sometimes draw the eye away from where the central action is. A few establishing shots using the process are relatively brief and don’t give the viewer enough time to take in the full image.
In spite of those drawbacks, the system was at times very impressive, and did indeed deliver the ‘immersive’ effect promised in the ballyhoo. The best sequences came just before the climax, in which the characters explore some fantasy environments. Several shots linger long enough for viewers to take in dazzling sights all around them. It’s very effective and adds a touch of welcome old-fashioned showmanship to the proceedings.
Ultimately, though, one walks away from ScreenX feeling its application to narrative features to be limited. Even if filmmakers planned to use the format from the get-go, it’s unlikely that audiences would want to sit through an entire feature that demanded they constantly turn their heads right and left to follow the action. It would be ideal for travelogues or perhaps some experimental shorts–but when was the last time you saw a travelogue or a short subject in a mainstream theater?
For more information on ScreenX, check out their website. For Angelenos interested in seeing the process for themselves, the ScreenX version of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is still playing at the CGV Cinemas in Koreatown and Buena Park. Note that the film has English audio, but Korean subtitles. — Gary Teetzel
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Crooked treasure hunters tangle with menacing black gangsters in this crime-action siege movie from 1992, with a fine filmmaker pedigree – Walter Hill, Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis. The late Bill Paxton leads a great cast — William Sadler, Ice-T, Art Evans — in a tense standoff that turns into a murderous ordeal when it’s discovered that a million-dollar cache of gold is to be had. The Shout Selects extras include an informative interview with co-writer Bob Gale. On Blu-ray from Shout Selects.
The Ballad of Cable Hogue 05/30/17
Easily the most mellow of the films of Sam Peckinpah, this relatively gentle western fable sees Jason Robards discovering water where there ain’t none, and establishing his own little way station desert paradise, complete with lover Stella Stevens and eccentric preacher David Warner. Some of the slapstick is sticky but the sexist bawdy humor is too cute to offend . . . and Peckinpah-phobes will be surprised to learn that the movie is in part, a musical. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
It’s a mass review of two multi-title Blu-ray sets: Universal continues to amaze with their ongoing HD releases of classic-era monster movies. Fast on the footsteps of 2016’s Frankenstein and Dracula Legacy collections are the hot-off-the-presses Dracula and The Mummy editions. Trailers from Hell’s esteemed Charlie Largent takes a look-see. Separate Blu-ray purchases from Universal.
We’re trying to get these Tuesday reviews off early, so as to take advantage of the Monday holiday!
I finally got a gander at all of MGM’s 1933 Men Must Fight the other night, DVR’d from TCM. It’s a real jaw dropper, a creaky adaptation of a creaky play with one insanely good special effects sequence. Diana Wynyard, a nurse in WW1, loses her flyer boyfriend (Robert Young) in France but bears his child. To make everything morally Kopasetic for the high-class Diana, she marries her generous admirer, Lewis Stone. The theatrics are beyond stiff.
Back in the USA and twenty years later it’s now a futuristic 1940, complete with picture phones. All other progress seems stuck in 1933, however. Stone is now the Secretary of State trying to bolster a failing peace plan. Diana is a vocal pacifist, a position that gets sticky when war breaks out with an enemy unidentified only vaguely as the ‘Eurasian States.’ When Diana proclaims that the world’s mothers must stop producing sons to die in men’s wars, the savage hecklers at her speeches turn into an angry mob, screaming death threats and attempting to storm her 5th Avenue home. Diana’s grown son Phillips Holmes proclaims that he subscribes to the same pacifist credo, which prompts his outraged fianceé to break off their engagement, and his stepfather to finally divulge the fact that he’s a bastard rather than part of his family. The bizarre finish sees the son flip-flopping and racing to a biplane to battle the enemy (who?) in the skies over New York City. Learning that his real dad died a hero, the son becomes a dashing air pilot, seemingly in just one day. An inane final scene sees the three generations of rich women now rooting for the fight, yet also lamenting their abandonment of pacifist ideals. Grandmother May Robson says her last line, that mothers will just be ignored the same as always, as if it’s supposed to be funny. Having made no coherent dramatic point, the movie just ends, in mid-war.
TCM’s print has a patch with a bad buzz on the soundtrack but is otherwise okay. The shocker is in the next-to-last reel. For over sixty minutes the show has taken place in stuffy interiors, with out-the-window cutaways to silent stock footage of victory parades, etc. Just as the family is breaking up over the pacifism issue, a full-on air raid hits NYC. Massed biplanes (in 1940) drop little wing bombs. One tiny bomb is all that’s required to wipe out the Brooklyn Bridge, and just two are enough to blow up the Empire State Building. The miniature effects are excellent, with blasted skyscrapers falling into the streets via traveling mattes and more miniature explosions. It looks like thousands should be killed, but the only casualty we see is Diana, whose arm is broken when her taxi is hit by one of those bombs that obliterate entire buildings. I’d never heard of Men Must Fight until a few years ago when I think Richard Harland Smith mentioned it . . . is it the first negative-subjunctive future history war movie? For the prediction of an aerial war in 1940 it beats Things to Come by three full years.
See you next Saturday — Thanks for reading — Glenn Erickson
Ghost World 05/27/17
Daniel Clowes’ comics creation receives an A-Plus film adaptation through the directorial filter of Terry Zwigoff. The show has more going for it than the bleak alienation of disaffected quasi- gen-Xers — the script offers a depth of character revealing the insecure, hopes and fears behind all the insulting attitudes and behaviors. Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi carve out uniquely affecting characters, with help from Illeana Douglas, Stacey Travis, Bob Balaban and Teri Garr. It’s caustic, funny and also strongly affecting. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.