Operation Crossbow 11/05/19
‘Mission impossible’ wartime sabotage fun takes on an authentic, dramatic episode of WW2 — the onslaught of futuristic V-Weapons on London — and then veers into fictional fantasy (think big explosions). George Peppard toughs it out to get free of his MGM contract. Lili Palmer and Barbara Rütting do the heavy lifting, while Sophia Loren is in as a glamorous sidebar. Weirdly, the movie all but lionizes the Germans that develop, test and fire the V-Weapon rockets at England … exaggerating their scientific progress and giving them a strange kind of ‘Right Stuff.’ The fast moving film features a galaxy of name actors as righteous heroes and tech-savvy villains: Trevor Howard, John Mills, Richard Johnson, Tom Courtenay, Jeremy Kemp, Anthony Quayle, Paul Henreid, Helmut Dantine, Richard Todd, Patrick Wymark, Ferdy Mayne and Anton Diffring. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory 11/05/19
Italian horror from the early 1960s covers a wide quality range, from eerie hauntings to tacky, lurid vampire romps. For one of his first major credits, ace giallo scribe Ernesto Gastaldi cooks up Lycanthropus, a murder mystery in which the savage slashing committed by a drooling maniac with a hairy face, wild eyes and saber-toothed fangs. You saw the poster out front, kid — do you think it might be … a werewolf? Director Paolo Heusch’s thriller is no classic, but neither is it stupid — and the original Italian language option on this disc reveals good work by a spirited cast. Dreamy Polish starlet Barbara Lass is a much more assertive, independent female than what we expect from conventional Italo horror fare. We also get to discuss a musical milestone added to the film’s U.S. release, the rather clever pop novelty song The Ghoul in School. On Blu-ray from Severin Films.
Does science really imitate Movies? Thirty years ago Wim Wenders said he dropped the ball with his futuristic epic Until the End of the World (1991), because his vision of 1999 didn’t predict the rise of The Internet. But his film’s invention — a machine that records The Act of Seeing so that blind people can see — gets used for a secondary purpose, and becomes a personal electronic device that addicts people with the curse of staring at small video screens.
My biologist son surprised me last week with a link to an article about a research program that sounds suspiciously like what Max Von Sydow was doing in the Wim Wenders picture: “Neural Network Reconstructs Human Thoughts from Brain Waves in Real Time.” The still images above remind me of the ‘dream visions’ from UTEOTW, which in 1991 were accomplished with a new video invention called ‘high definition.’ The full-length Until the End of the World arrives from Criterion on December 10.
I didn’t know this next item was coming, honest .. after griping and whining last time about the lack of sword ‘n’ sandal pix on quality disc, Kino Lorber hits us with news of two more big Italo titles ‘coming in 2020’: The Wonders of Aladdin starring Donald O’Connor and Vittorio De Sica, co- directed (?) by Henry Levin and Mario Bava, and the much-desired Goliath and the Vampires with Gordon Scott, Gianna Maria Canale and Leonora Ruffo, directed by Giacomo Gentilomo. Info is sketchy, but both Blu-rays claim new 4K transfers.
And finally, I just read most of the new issue (#27) of the Film Noir Foundation’s periodical Noir City and can recommend it — after reviewing so many atom-themed movies, I was interested in this issue’s several articles about atom-themed noirs, and real-life Hollywood creatives that got caught up in postwar national security issues. Plus an in-depth article about Gene Tierney, with more detail than I’ve read anywhere else. Even though my cable service screws up the transmission of standard-def movies on my TCM HD channel, I tune in every week to hear Eddie Muller’s comments on the movies … he, Alan Rode, Vince Keenan and Steve Kronenberg have a solid publication going here.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Hammer Volume Four Faces of Fear 11/02/19
PI’s fourth collection of Hammer attractions shows no sign of compromise — three out of four titles here are superb tales of fright and science fiction. Thanks to the company policy of leaving no gravestone unturned, the exclusive special extras never stop. We have alternate title sequences for two films, a gallery of censor alterations for another, and an entire second release version for yet another. Plus, Powerhouse re-premieres a new remastered copy of a prime Hammer classic, one that until now hasn’t been looking so well. Get set for The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, Taste (Scream) of Fear, and The Damned (These Are the Damned). On Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Seven Days to Noon 11/02/19
Is this ground zero for Atom-fear science fiction? The Boulting Brothers assemble the very first movie about a nuclear terror plot, without cutting corners or wimping out. The incredibly dry, civilized André Morell must track down a rogue scientist who threatens to nuke London; the entire city must be evacuated. Barry Jones is the meek boffin with a bomb in his satchel. This impressively produced thriller won an Oscar for Best Story; it’s practically a template for the ‘docu-real’ approach of the first Quatermass films. It’s also the link between ordinary postwar thriller intrigues and the high-powered, science fiction- canted terrors to come. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The World The Flesh and The Devil 11/02/19
The world could come to an end in a lot of ways, but 1950s sci-fi was fond of making it end like a One-Act play. Harry Belafonte’s personal project soon drops the spectre of annihilation to cozy up to a statement about race relations. Despite the fact that his co-star Inger Stevens likely had the courage to take the material way, way farther, the last man and woman on Earth don’t even share a kiss. Can’t offend those distributors in Alabama, by golly. The film’s amazingly realistic vision of NYC abandoned after an atomic gas attack is stunning in HD — the show hasn’t lost its appeal, even if it deserts its second theme in favor of a rifle-toting showdown between Belafonte and Mel Ferrer’s villainous third-wheel survivor. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Some Halloween-type reviews posted here today, that didn’t quite make the date. More horror, and some truly campy horror, are on the way.
I’m all healthy again, and grateful that I average two or three years between bouts with the common cold. It’s good to feel better, even if the weather’s gotten colder. It at least helps our heroic firemen battle California’s blazes.
← Correspondent John Black has tipped me to a German Colosseo Blu Ray, coming December 6, for Der Gauner von Bagdad — the 1961 Steve Reeves movie we know as The Thief of Bagdad. John says that it should be the first full CinemaScope home video release of this picture. This is news because quality releases of vintage Sword’n’Sandal pictures, even with Steve Reeves, are depressingly scarce (NOTE: I have no idea what the disc quality will be). The listing says Region B, but with English as one of the audio choices. It sounds promising, even though I miss Reeves with his full beard … as a kid I saw Steve Reeves in The Last Days of Pompeii, but not this one. Is it any good?
→ And a last stab at Halloween: I love this Youtube offering of a B&W theater promo plug for some kind of kooky spooky Spook Show — with music swiped from Bernard Herrmann! It’s called “35mm Trailer Dr Sin/Dracula”. The music track DOES make it a little scary!
November should be fun — I’ll try to keep up the flow of reviews. Hopefully some house-related issues won’t slow me up.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
John Sayles’ coal strike epic is grand American filmmaking bolstered by fine Haskell Wexler cinematography, great performances by dedicated actors, and a screenplay that avoids the common pitfalls of liberal filmmaking — by assuming the structure of an action Western. Filmed on a shoestring not far from the site of historical events, the pro- Union picture revs up viewer emotions, winding up as a moving, satisfying experience. Matewan’s been out of circulation far too long, but those that remember it will give it a high recommendation. And the great cast (all looking extra-young): Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell, Will Oldham, David Strathairn, Kevin Tighe, Gordon Clapp, Bob Gunton, Jace Alexander, Joe Grifasi, Nancy Mette, Josh Mostel & Maggie Renzi. Matewan’s been out of circulation far too long, but anybody who remembers it will give it a high recommendation. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
In honor of Halloween, Creepy Charlie Largent takes a loving look back at Universal’s Blu-ray release of three years ago, still a great buy for classic Hammer horror. The good-news titles include The Brides of Dracula, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Phantom of the Opera and The Kiss of the Vampire; there’s also the fine period adventure Night Creatures, the okay Sangster psycho rallies Paranoiac and Nightmare and the odd-monster-out The Evil of Frankenstein. And we can trust Charlie to fairly separate the classic titles from the completeist entries. No Christopher Lees, but three Peter Cushings and valued performances by Herbert Lom, Oliver Reed, David Peel, Yvonne Monlaur, Yvonne Romain, Heather Sears, Michael Ripper, Janette Scott, Jennifer Daniel, Noel Willman, Jennie Linden and Katy Wild. On Blu-ray from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Well, CineSavant is under the weather, and staying away from the smoky outdoors air. They snapped this picture of me (↑) this morning but nobody would take my pulse. I hope my plans for world conquest won’t be delayed very long.
The new Powerhouse Indicator Hammer Volume 4 Faces of Fear collection is in house, but won’t be up until Saturday — I thought about rushing it out today in time for Halloweeen but there’s just too many extras to mull over. Besides, it doesn’t street for a full month. All I’ll say is that nothing about it so far has been a disappointment. Charlie Largent took this pre-Halloween opportunity to look back at a disc from three years ago, that we weren’t able to cover… I like Charlie’s take on Hammer classics, so I’m looking forward to reading it myself.
I’m going to go rest now — I have some TCM work to do and it would be nice to get out at least two reviews for Saturday!
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Brian De Palma’s ’83 saga of hoodlum Tony Montana is an exceptional remake that’s become a classic almost by default — it’s too strikingly original to ignore. De Palma did the Latin male stereotype no favors, while bringing attention to the outrageous drug trafficking aided by law enforcement and criminal banks in a shameful decade of excess. Al Pacino added a page to his catalog of great performances, and the careers of Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio were duly launched. De Palma gives this one ‘classical’ direction: he skips his former film school cinema games and hommages to Hitch the Master. With Steven Bauer, Robert Loggia, F. Murray Abraham and Harris Yulin; the Limited Edition comes with a ‘The World Is Yours’ commemorative statue. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
An American Werewolf in London 10/26/19
An old-fashioned monster movie gore-fest that hasn’t dimmed in popularity, John Landis’s slightly twisted telling of a hiking mishap pulled nervous laughter from audiences pre-primed to expect ground-breakingly shocking special effects. Rick Baker delivers the shape-shifting fireworks in a two-minute sequence that goes way beyond easy laughs. The story is thin but the execution slick in a Landis film fashioned from his own screenplay, written at age 19. David Naughton is the unlucky lycanthrope, Griffin Dunne his even unluckier sidekick, and favorite Jenny Agutter is the nurse who dances with wolves. On Blu-ray, with more extras than last year’s wolfsbane festival, from Arrow Video.
The disc boutique The Film Detective is releasing a restored Blu-ray of — of all things — Eegah. It’s the micro-budgeted triple-Z picture from 1962, the one with the reputation more humble than amiable groaners like the legendary ‘Manos’ The Hands of Fate. I’ve only seen bits of ragged TV prints, but I remember staring at the Drive-In ads for this when I was ten — what could be cooler than a cave man movie, starring Richard Kiel no less?
They say it’s restored, which piques my interest. The saga of “The Crazed Love of a Prehistoric Giant for a Ravishing Teenage Girl!” will be available starting November 26. Who could resist? Well, I guess some of us can’t.
← Gary Teetzel found a credit for a Robby the Robot appearance he hadn’t heard of before, a 1975 TV pilot from Bill Malone called Holmes and Walston. The gimmick is that Robby the Robot thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes, see? His caretaker, Walston, is Dr. Watson. Jerry Mathers played Walston. Gee, is it hard to imagine why this didn’t go to series…?
More details, including some home movies filmed on the set, can be seen at the Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia.
→ On the home front, a fairly incredible group of new discs came in the door last week, so many that I’m accelerating the review process to properly cover more of them. Here’s what’s in the ‘gotta review’ hopper at present:
Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality, John Sayles’ Matewan, Robert Hamer’s It Always Rains on Sunday, The Boulting Brothers’ Seven Days to Noon (core Sci-fi), Carol Reed’s The Man Between, Don Siegel’s Madigan and Charley Varrick, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Blake Edwards’ The Days of Wine and Roses, and Robert Wise’s The Setup.
I’m checking out the enticingly-titled Naked Alibi & Woman in Hiding to see what they’re all about, too.
Finally, Joe Dante and Jon Davison will be holding their own mini- film series at the American Cinematheque Spielberg Theater come November 2 – 23, with the title Joe Dante’s 16mm Spotlight. It’s a core film fanatic’s dream get-together, as Dante and Davison reach into their personal film collections for strange oddities. The first title up is Servando González’s 1965 The Fool Killer, “a bizarre Western starring Anthony Perkins as an axe-murdering philosopher roaming the southern countryside with a 12-year-old runaway companion.” The eclectic cast includes Dana Elcar, Henry Hull, Salome Jens, Arnold Moss, Edward Albert and Lana Wood.
Other titles and descriptions are at the American Cinematheque page; this very welcome ‘alternative screening opportunity’ is programmed with assistance from Chris Lemaire.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Queen of Spades 10/22/19
What was horror author Robert Bloch’s idea of superior terror fiction? Alexander Pushkin’s novella is about a Faust-like attempt by a corrupt man to learn a diabolical secret from an old woman. Anton Walbrook and Edith Evans lead a fine cast in a tale that just gets creepier as it goes forward. A strange book offers grim advice: ‘How to make a deal with the Devil. How to get a secret from a dead person.’ Scared yet? Director Thorold Dickinson, aided by cameraman Otto Heller, makes this into an expressionist classic of English cinema, embellished with music by Georges Auric. Charlie Largent reviews the Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The experts were right when they said that silent filmmaking was developing something unique and beautiful, before talkies came along and spoiled the party with all that noise. This ‘handy three-pack’ of once-obscure Josef von Sternberg classics proves the theory 100% — his intense dramas excite audiences with something that’s gone missing from the movies, or the cinema or whatever you want to call it: the magic of visual stylization in the service of basic human emotions. Before Marlene there was Evelyn Brent and Betty Compson: Sternberg presents them as shimmering visions. The titles are Underworld, The Last Command and The Docks of New York. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.