CineSavant Column

Tuesday May 12, 2020

 

Hello!

The beginning of what I hope will be more of the same… good friend Bill Shaffer contributed an article to yesterday’s Greenbriar Picture Shows called From the Annals of Grassroots Showmanship.

Bill is graced with the perfect credentials to harmonize with Greenbriar’s John McElwee: John is the undisputed authority on American Film Exhibition history, and Bill is from a family that was big in theaters during the grand days of moviegoing.

Best of all, Bill has kept documentation and photos and clippings from the era. This first photo-feature article talks about his father’s promotions for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much, with a sidebar look-in at the teen delinquency delights Dragstrip Girl and Rock All Night. Every time Bill showed me a ‘family theater heritage’ photo it was a real treat — they made their theaters look like the most inviting neighborhood movie palace in the country. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of these articles, and encouraging Bill to maybe turn it all into a book.

 


 

Recognize the above setting?  Note the interesting specimen of a Martian insect creature mounted prominently on the lab table.  It’s a set still production reference photo from the original 1958 BBC serial of Quatermass and the Pit, a classic of vintage English TV that’s the equal of the 1967 Hammer film version. A featured page at the BBC Archive coyly entitled The Joy of Sets has collected an unusual, rather brilliant array of free giveaway images: large jpegs of empty sets from famed BBC productions.

Why?  Since so many of our personal social lives have been reduced to remote videoconferencing, people are reaching for interesting background art to key in behind themselves during calls or Zoom meetings. For instance, a teacher I know took a picture of her (now abandoned) classroom, and uses it when teaching online, just to create an appropriate visual context.

So just for fun, the BBC has uploaded an entire gallery of archival reference stills of the empty sets from BBC productions, old and new. Large set stills are offered for children’s shows, variety shows, sitcoms, even a ‘Top of the Pops’ music show with drums set up for The Hollies. The science fiction section offers empty background images from Blake’s Seven, Dr. Who, and a cerebral sci-fi show from 1961 called A For Andromeda that I believe introduced Julie Christie. ( ← ) She plays a woman cloned in a biology lab by a computer program sent from another galaxy.

All this forces me to again reveal my age: I’ve never forgotten an ancient Mad Magazine feature satirizing video phone calls. In the late ’50s or early ’60s when this cartoon feature was published, video calls and teleconferencing didn’t exist, and weren’t expected in the near future.

The joke in Mad’s article examines EXACTLY what is happening now… it fantasizes a roll-up photo screen backgrounds to hide one’s real surroundings while making a video call. If your house is messy, a background screen can substitute an image of a sleek modern apartment. I recall that another comic panel showed a man using another screen to hide from his wife the fact that he was hosting a wild party. Anyone out there have access to that old Mad issue?  A month or so back I slightly mis-remembered another Mad article about 3-D cameras. Be assured that an obnoxious scold correction or two came in on that one almost immediately.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday May 9, 2020

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Mystery of the Wax Museum 05/09/20

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

Talk about a worthy title for restoration — somebody up there likes us. Digital tools and film preservation expertise have advanced far enough to revive this marvelous pre-Code comedy-shocker in a form that showcases its wild designs and stylized 2-color Technicolor sheen. Director Michael Curtiz’s adept direction highlights Glenda Farrell’s racy dialogue delivery as well as the spooky, expressionist horrors in Lionel Atwill’s haunted ‘waxitorium.’ To top it off we have fabulous Fay Wray, the talkies’ original scream queen, shrieking her way into the horror hall of fame in the tradition of The Phantom of the Opera. Plus — for once the Warner Archive adds some fine new added value extras.. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
05/09/20

Brighton Rock 05/09/20

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

Graham Greene’s crime tale is as important as his classic The Third Man but nowhere near as well known. Down Brighton way the race-track boys have sharp ways of solving disputes and terrorizing the common folk — think straight razors. Richard Attenborough’s breakthrough film is also a showcase for Hermoine Baddelely and a marvelous newcomer that every horror fan loves even if they don’t know her name, Carol Marsh. Kino’s disc has a Tim Lucas commentary; this review balances thoughts about mercy and damnation, with an extra insight about a piece of ‘stick candy’ unfamiliar to us Yanks.. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
05/09/20

Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales 05/09/20

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Welcome to the exciting, hesitant, guilt-laden and provocative world of Eric Rohmer, and his varied voyages of slightly intimidated romantic discovery. There are six Moral Tales (and some short subjects) and each finds a main character stymied by indecision: should he hew to the narrow moral path, or stop being so conflicted and let relationships happen as they may?  Some are moral debates and others are just ruminations on the foolishness of males that overthink their love lives — or are these self-directed men simply trying to be considerate and fair while navigating their amorous possibilities?: The Bakery Girl of Monceau, Suzanne’s Career, My Night at Maud’s, La collectionneuse, Claire’s Knee and Love in the Afteroon. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
05/09/20

CineSavant Column

Saturday May 9, 2020

 

Hello!

A fun day for CineSavant — Mystery of the Wax Museum arrived right on time to motivate an extra, very much anticipated review. Don’t worry, it’s not like CineSavant central gets an early look at that many high-profile disc releases. The impressive restoration is a huge improvement on the pale ‘approximate’ colors of the much older DVD transfer. Even Jack Theakston wrote (on FB) that it couldn’t be better.

Right … here’s a link or two or three:


 

“A show with imagination to burn, yet that by
modern standards could be shot in someone’s basement.”

Helpful correspondent Eric Wilson all but does my work for me. It’s a personal note but I’m guessing he doesn’t mind sharing it:

           “Hi Glenn, Here’s another group of videos to add to your shelter-in-place playlist. With the cooperation of Burr Tillstrom’s heirs, beginning in February the YouTube account originally set up to promote the Kukla, Fran & Ollie DVDs began posting a complete episode every night. The goal is to put the entire Kukla, Fran and Ollie archive online, all 700+ episodes free to view with no paywall getting in the way. Most of the episodes so far have an appealing low-stakes feel. It seems appropriate that a show with imagination to burn, that by modern standards could be shot in someone’s basement, is resurfacing again at a moment when conditions have shrunk mass media back to an almost personal size.

My first instinct was to drop a bunch of links on you, because the are already 35 hours of Kukla, Fran & Ollie to sift through. Since you were talking about the Eisenhower videotape a few weeks ago I’d like to draw your attention to the one that’s titled First Kukla, Fran & Ollie Color Broadcast (October 10, 1949). The Kuklapolitans took their show to the FCC in Washington, D.C. to take part in the first publicly-announced demonstration of RCA’s compatible color television system. The episode went out to the rest of the country in colorful black-and-white, of course (which is the only version that survives).

RCA’s 1949 color TV system was an un-perfected early draft. Their demonstration was enough of a disaster that the FCC approved a competing system, CBS’s mechanical-electronic hybrid ( → ). It worked as advertised but was incompatible with existing sets, and would have rendered them useless. One of the reasons for turning down RCA’s system cited in the FCC’s report was ‘mis-registration of colors.’ Even without color we can see that the back of Kukla’s (bright red) tunic displays an offset white fringe. The only thing that prevented a transition to CBS’s incompatible system was RCA taking their case to court.

 

Only maybe a half dozen RCA color cameras existed at the time, so the color episode uses only one camera. That’s why we see no cutaways to a second setup for ads or credits. Fran Allison and the Kuklapolitans of course had charm to burn, and in the time-honored Chicago improv tradition did the best with what they were given. It’s fascinating to watch, and of course we’re lucky to have it at all. As for how the color test episode stands up as television, it’s not necessarily the best of the series. My vote for a favorite would be Lemonade (August 17, 1949). — Stay well, Eric Wilson”

        Thank you Eric. To me that CBS television monstrosity looks like something a Republic serial villain would use to contact Planet Edsel. But I certainly understand the political lobbying catfight that a standards decision would entail. A close friend took part in Standards Negotiations (he called it ‘standards wars’) to adopt an HD format. His opinion is that for the adoption of every new standard in video and TV, corporate powers-that-be saw to it that the best option was consistently rejected in favor of systems that enriched dominant companies. In my own post-production experience I’ve met many video engineers that couldn’t believe how unnecessarily dumb and clumsy was our old NTSC system: Never The Same Color.


 

And, just under the wire, in comes an exciting list of Kino Lorber discs scheduled for June. There are some hotly desired pictures announced. Ignored when new, James Clavell’s The Last Valley is a 65mm Todd A-O epic that holds up extremely well, even on the weak DVD I have in a box somewhere. It looked great on a big screen, with Michael Caine, Omar Sharif and Florinda Bolkan. Karel Reisz’s Isadora has been out of reach forever, at least in L.A.; I remember the late Bill Warren was upset because he thought it had been lost. The role of dance artist Isadora Duncan was a big part for Vanessa Redgrave. I’m curious to see it — the disc comes with a commentary with Allan Arkush and Daniel Kremer.

I should be reviewing the first two volumes of Kino’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema soon enough, but the upcoming Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema III offers a couple of promising titles I’ve never seen, Abandoned and The Sleeping City, along with The Lady Gambles. A second Karel Reisz offering is his mod-era eccentric comedy Morgan – A Suitable Case for Treatment. It also stars Vanessa Redgrave, and I think it launched the film career of David Warner.

Additional July titles include the 1971 Mary, Queen of Scots, the epic Caravans, Bob Clark’s Murder by Decree, Paul Bartel’s Not for Publication and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, William Castle’s Let’s Kill Uncle, Western and Deanna Durbin collections, plus others. And of course, we have our 3-D glasses out and polished up, waiting for Kino’s 3-D Taza, Son of Cochise later this month.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday May 5, 2020

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The Golem 05/05/20

Kino Classics
Blu-ray

A top movie monster is back from filmic perdition, restored to his full might and power. Rabbi Lowe’s answer to the persecution of the ghetto is a mysterious unthinking automaton capable of terrible destruction. Paul Wegener’s indelible clay statue stands as a core myth in Jewish lore. But he’s still here, usually in allegories about mankind losing control of its own creations. With its imposing architecture and impressive special effects, this early expressionist masterpiece is one of the design highlights of silent cinema. On Blu-ray from Kino Classics.
05/05/20

John Ford at Columbia: 1935-1958 05/05/20

Powerhouse Indicator
Blu-ray

Columbia was apparently a calm port in a storm for producer-director John Ford; the four Columbia-controlled pictures presented on Powerhouse Indicator’s lavishly appointed disc set consist of two winners and (for this viewer) a pair of odd ducks. Away from the bankability guaranteed by John Wayne, Ford never quite regained the power of his earlier triumphs, from the silent era to his socially conscious classics at Fox. But the quality of his films remained consistent. This extras-loaded Region B disc contains The Whole Town’s Talking, The Long Gray Line, Gideon’s Day and The Last Hurrah. On Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
05/05/20

CineSavant Column

Tuesday May 5, 2020

Hello!

Have you tried to order this disc?  I have an important follow-up note to the CineSavant review on April 18 of a German DVD of The Head.  The disc I screened definitely had the choice of an English audio track and English subs for the German track. But an English reader ordered the disc, and the copy he has received has neither. If any U.S horror fans have ordered the German disc and are waiting for shipments to resume from overseas, please know that it’s not going to be English-language friendly.

The disc I screened to make the evaluation has been returned to its owner. It was a number of years old and appeared to be a store-bought copy, so I can’t account for the discrepancy. The review has been updated, please be forewarned.


Scream Factory has announced some attractive horror items for August, but not the hoped-for Roger Corman sci-fi picture Day the World Ended. Gary Teetzel reminds me that the earlier news of the disc was leaked, and a false release date given; Scream/Shout hasn’t officially announced the title. So the most we can do is hope that it’s still in the production hopper. Right now Scream’s Earth vs. The Spider is scheduled for June 23, while How to Make a Monster and War of the Colossal Beast are set for July 21.


Correspondent Jonathan Gluckman comes up with another strange movie-related music single — Lord Melody’s Creature from the Black Lagoon. I wonder how the 1954 movie would play with a calypso theme behind the titles?


I can’t resist — Sci-Fi Bulletin has run an interview with my lively friend and advisor Craig Reardon, whose opinions are always a good listen. Craig is especially good at evaluating makeups in old movies, from false noses to fake beards. I often don’t notice that an actor is wearing an appliance of some kind on part of his face. When Craig told me that Major Amos Dundee’s beard was only so-so, I didn’t take offense, honest.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday May 2, 2020

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The Love of Jeanne Ney 05/02/20

Kino Classics

When does a silent classic really become a classic?  When we can see a reconstituted full original version, which in this case meant decades spent waiting. G.W. Pabst’s celebrated 1927 jeopardy-soap has romance, treachery, murder, a revolutionary war and a score of terrific characters embodied by Brigitte Helm, Sig Arno, Vladimir Sokoloff and the weird Fritz Rasp. But our hearts are stolen by the wistful lady in the title role, Édith Jéhanne, whose natural performance resonates with innocence and devotion. The rambling narrative barely holds together, but this romantic winner is graced with some of the best-directed scenes from silent cinema. Kino gives us the truncated U.S. release as an extra. On Blu-ray from Kino Classics.
05/02/20

Reflections in a Golden Eye 05/02/20

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

Charlie Largent focuses on refracted art filmmaking from Warner Bros. and John Huston, an overheated adaptation of Carson McCullers’ book that helped bring on the 1968 MPAA ratings system. The ‘adults only’ studio production features discreet nudity but no bad language. Practically every character has a sexual secret to hide, or to flaunt. Erotic obsessions both expressed and repressed drive the narrative to a bloody and unhappy end. Taking part in the sub-Freudian psycho-sadism is an incredible cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Brian Keith, Julie Harris, Gordon Mitchell and the debut of favorite Robert Forster, who in one scene rides a horse naked. The weird production comes in two separate versions, cameraman Aldo Tonti’s ‘golden’ toned original, and Warners’ follow-up with normal colors. You be the psychoanalyst judge!  On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
05/02/20

The Great Escape 05/02/20

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Images from this picture were burned into our Boomer childhood brains … we actually sat still for almost three hours to watch it. John Sturges’ epic show is like a fine-tuned watch — its unbreakable story is populated by ideal characters that become instant heroes, just for acting like normal men that want free of confinement. It’s really about freedom — after two hours in the POW compound, the fugitives set loose in the wide, green beauty of Germany might as well be escaping into a wonderland of light and space. In its own way this show made our parents’ wartime experience come alive — it’s THE picture to interest kids in events of the past. Our favorites are all here, at their best: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn, Hannes Messemer, David McCallum, Gordon Jackson, Angus Lennie, and Nigel Stock. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
05/02/20

CineSavant Column

Saturday May 2, 2020

Hello!

Since we’re celebrating The Great Escape today, Craig Reardon offers up this great concert moment from 2016. The Film Symphony Orchestra directed by Constantino Martínez-Orts plays composer Elmer Bernstein’s main theme from John Sturges’ movie. It’s its own excuse for inclusion — good stuff, Hilts!


Author and critic Joseph McBride frequently posts sharp, provocative links on Facebook; just a few days ago he linked to this unscreened, censored 1971 satirical TV show called Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story. In sort of a forerunner to Zelig, Woody Allen leverages the faux-documentary format of Take the Money and Run to lampoon, skewer, smear and all but expunge Richard Nixon. Narrator Reed Hadley lends the show his appropriate tone of smug self-importance; among the familiar faces aiding Allen are Diane Keaton and Louise Lasser. It’s a crime that we didn’t get to see this in college, when it would have been a hoot: it’s 100% gleefully sophomoric ambush jokes of the best kind.


Now for another slice of web-based radio-type programming — Dick Dinman returns with The WAC’s fearless leader George Feltenstein to talk about Two Impressive Warner Archive Releases. The backstory and restoration of the long version of Rachel and the Stranger is given their full attention, followed by a discussion of the new Blu-ray of the Robert Wise / Robert Mitchum western Blood on the Moon.


Helpful correspondent John Vincent clears up the ‘Zombie’ mystery raised by Jonathan Gluckman a few days ago. Here’s what John had to say:

“Hi Glen, the recording of Gene Kardos’ Zombie you linked to is a pull from a CD called Halloween Stomp which came out in the 1990s. The vocal “EEK!” at the end was lifted from a cartoon called Scrappy’s Ghost Story from 1935 produced by Columbia’s Mintz studio. Those forgotten and under-rated Mintz cartoons were not related to the Kardos 78. The CD maker also interpolated audio samples from the George Pal Puppetoon Jasper in a Jam between other supernaturally- themed jazz 78s. A lot of those have found their way to YouTube.

I’ve never heard another Kardos record like Zombie and have no idea why it was titled that way. The band often covered popular hits of the day: some good, some not so good. They do a particularly lively version of 42nd Street.

This 16mm print is probably the best version of Scrappy’s Ghost Story you’ll find online. Sony controls some beautiful 35mm materials on these that weirdos like me would love to see released some day. Still enjoying your page – just great stuff! — John Vincent

And thanks for reading — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday April 28, 2020

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The Cremator 04/28/20

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Horror films aren’t simply for vampires and goblins — Czech director Juraj Herz’s mind-chilling study of a Fascist opportunist communicates truths about aberrant psychology and Fascists, that audiences would never read in print. A bourgeois burner of cadavers leverages his Reich-useful trade into a his own little warped empire of evil. Karl Kopfringl’s modus operandi hardly needs to change, to conform to Nazi standards — the elitist hypocrite already has both his family and employees passively accepting his sick ideas about cremation as the solution to all human ills. Cinematically brilliant, this late picture from the Czech New Wave is one of the best movies ever about conformists, collaborators, and assorted other ghouls. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
04/28/20

Sweet Bird of Youth 04/28/20

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

Not all Tennessee Williams film adaptations are successful, but Richard Brooks’ blend of romance, show biz venality and political thuggery is just too entertaining to dismiss. The entire cast is better than good, with Geraldine Page shining and Paul Newman well-cast. And the ingenue Shirley Knight receives her most iconic role, right at the beginning of her career. It’s sad timing for admirers of Ms. Knight, but still good to see her looking so radiant. Co-starring Ed Begley, Rip Torn, Mildred Dunnock, Madeleine Sherwood and the song Ebb Tide.’ On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
04/28/20

CineSavant Column

Tuesday April 28, 2020

Hello!

Correspondent Jonathan Gluckman likes to comb through ancient 78rpm recordings, and found this spicy item from 1934: Gene Kardos Orchestra: Zombie 1934. It hasn’t garnered too many hits, but it has a great sound. I don’t know if it’s a stretch to claim it was inspired by the great Bela Lugosi movie. Could people in 1934 dance to a song with this tempo? Jonathan tells us to hold on to hear the ‘Eeeks!’ at the finale.


And Jonathan bounces back with a second great link. This one is a Disney Character Training Film for Disneyland theme park actors to play Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear. A number of choice clips from Song of the South are included. It’s a great aide to understanding the Disney Mentality — the tone of the film does grant the viewer/employee some respect. I watch this animation and wonder if Br’er Fox is the exact same animated character as the fox seen in the creepy wartime cartoon Chicken Little.

Watching this thing also reminds me of long-ago school trips to Disneyland, when some joker among us couldn’t resist pulling a character’s tail. The poor workers baking in those costumes hour after hour didn’t deserve the aggravation. They say those characters never talk? Pull a tail once too often, and learn some new four-letter words!


If you haven’t noticed, ordering many products from Europe right now, including video discs, has been put ON HOLD. Different reasons are cited in different places, the most common being that they’re putting an emphasis on expediting essential shipping — people are dying out there for a lack of supplies.

If this is the worst inconvenience I personally experience in this ‘unusual year,’ I’ll continue to say my prayers and be grateful. Please know that we’re also affected by the topsy-turvy life disruption — even if we mostly keep doing what we did before.

Thanks for reading  — Glenn Erickson

Saturday April 25, 2020

‘Sweet Bird of Youth’ review arrives on Tuesday, April 28.