Blood of the Vampire 05/25/21
The man with eyebrows that can kill! Not really, but that’s the impression given by the poster illustration. The Baker/Berman producing team gave their Hammer/Terence Fisher imitation a lot of production trimmings — good color, autopsy-grade gore, female victims in low-cut gowns — but neither Jimmy Sangster’s script nor the flat direction bring it to life. Donald Wolfit is the resurrected mad doctor stealing transfusion blood and committing murders with the help of his deformed servant Victor Maddern; the show’s highlight is the strong performance from favorite scream queen Barbara Shelley. Artus’ fancy special edition is Region A friendly, although the DVD is PAL and all the extras are French-only. With Vincent Ball and Andrew Faulds. On Region-free Blu-ray + PAL DVD from Artus Films France.
Giants and Toys 05/25/21
Yasuzo Masumura’s message is a shout: unfettered consumer capitalism is cannibalism, plain and simple. The radical director’s scathing, savage satire of the Tokyo’s ‘Mad Men’ advertising scene sees desperate ad men creating a fresh new star celebrity to promote their product, only for the rampant cutthroat competition to shatter careers, fortunes and basic human values. Masumura’s brilliant cinematic onslaught is at least ten years ahead of its time, in design, direction, writing and music — the movie outpaces American comedies about Succeeding in Business, recognizing that the tyranny of commercial media trashes the quality of life itself. Arrow’s Blu-ray has the informed and insightful extras that ask the important question: how can one movie get its complicated subject so completely right?. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
Hello! . . . What We’re Watching.
Not every Column day is greeted with obvious ‘newsy’ links or jokes or whatever, so we’re forced to improvise. I’ve done something different this week, going after discs recommended to me by friends and readers — and (gasp) even ordering older discs and ones not offered by companies for review. A Facebook post alerted me to the existence of a disc for the Michael Caine film A Shock to the System, which I loved seeing as an in-flight movie. My mistake was enthusiastically showing it to my mother, not knowing that the non-airline version would have a lot of profanity, for which my mom never had much tolerance. It seems that most every time I did show her a film, something like that happened.
Next, a Mick Garris FB post reminded me that Joe Dante’s great picture Explorers comes out today; by the time you read this I might already have it in my greedy little hands. My kids adored this picture growing up; I remember fumbling one of my few talks with Mr. Dante by criticizing it … bad form that anybody with better judgment would have avoided.
Then, friend Wayne Schmidt recommended a mystery-horror show with Richard Gere called The Mothman Prophecies, a title I do have in a new [Imprint] release, so I’ll definitely give it a spin. Every movie viewing doesn’t have to be specifically for review… although if it’s good I’ll rush to write it up.
Second up is a reminder from ‘Australia mail’ that this month’s Viavision [Imprint] releases are on the way. That means that they’ll arrive no later than five weeks from now! This batch has some real winners — when I first contacted ViaVision they asked if I had any requests from the Paramount library. I jumped at Alfie and The President’s Analyst, each of which to me is a superlative picture. I think Alan Rode has a commentary on the elusive Columbia horror pic The Face Behind the Mask, a show I saw only on the old “Z” Channel and then had to wait decades for a single TCM cablecast. The last time through I wasn’t that impressed by the storyline, but a scene in the middle definitely gave me the chills. The incredible Peter Lorre was rarely used to his full potential. I’ll be giving special reviews to several of these Viavision [Imprint] releases.
Finally, a link that has nothing to do with disc collecting — it’s a handsome rendition of the timeless song Guantanamera with contributions from all over the globe … present-day Habaneros and expatriates living in other countries. All the verses save for the last come from José Martí’s 1891 poem Versos sencillos.
The performances and the images here are quite moving — a little hunchbacked woman dances near the beginning, and near the end, a child. It’s a good time for this patriotic but universal sentiment. The song has been adopted by Cubans of every political stripe, which makes it an anthem for a hopeful reconciliation. So I’m playing the “I like it” card as a reason to post it here. Maybe next time I’ll have a more film-related link …
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Woman One Longs For 05/22/21
Meet Marlene Dietrich, before Josef von Sternberg and The Blue Angel: much of her mystique is already present. This sophisticated German silent observes a precarious, dangerous love triangle. Two men are entranced by the same woman: one deserts his bride on their wedding night and the other may have killed to possess her. Neither seems to get what he wants, yet Dietrich’s ‘woman one longs for’ is not a scheming femme fatale … maybe. The fluid, very modern direction of Curtis Bernhardt will be a revelation — this obscure Marlene Dietrich starrer is a superior piece of filmcraft. On Blu-ray from Kino Classics.
It Happened Tomorrow 05/22/21
Reporter Dick Powell comes into daily possession of tomorrow’s newspapers, a fantastic premise that leads mostly to trouble with the law, when he can’t explain why he knows about crimes before they’re committed, etc. It also doesn’t help that his girlfriend Linda Darnell assists in a clairvoyant’s act. Director René Clair gives this film blanc the needed light touch, aided by great supporting work from the likes of Jack Oakie, Edgar Kennedy and Edward Brophy. Charlie Largent offers an enthusiastic review of this smart restoration. On Blu-ray from Cohen Film Collection/Kino.
First up today, we’re helping to spread the word about an interesting Abbott and Costello restoration being done by Bob Furmanek and the 3-D Film Archive. Their disc of Africa Screams is a beauty, and I personally am excited about their upcoming restoration of the A&C Jack and the Beanstalk because it was one of the first movies I remember seeing on TV as a kid. But this is something new: the 3-D Film Archive has just announced the restoration of the entire first season (26 episodes) of TV’s The Abbott and Costello Show from 1951. Most of us have just seen clips on YouTube of miserable quality. I would have thought the show was live, and that the only film copies were kinescopes. No, apparently the show was filmed on 35mm, just like Desilu’s I Love Lucy, and Furmanek & Co. are bringing them back in quality never before seen.
As with the other films, they chose yesterday to announce their Kickstarter Pitch, plus a pitch for pre-orders to lock in the disc release. The link takes you to a better explanation of what the show will entail, with some good images and a link to restoration samples — that look pretty amazing. And we see Hilary Brooke, too!
So — what’s coming for reviews at CineSavant? Already written or at least in hand are
Arrow’s Giants and Toys by Yasuzo Masumura;
Kino’s To New Shores / Habanera by Douglas Sirk, A Lovely Way to Die (Kirk Douglas, Sylva Koscina) and Honky Tonk Freeway by John Schlesinger;
the Warner Archive’s Athena (Jane Powell & Debbie Reynolds), The Tender Trap (Frank Sinatra & Reynolds), Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House (Cary Grant, Myrna Loy) and The Yearling by Clarence Brown;
Artus Films’ Blood of the Vampire with Barbara Shelley;
Mill Creek’s The Hellfighters with John Wayne;
Powerhouse Indicator’s Hammer Volume Six Night Shadows featuring Nightmare, Captain Clegg, The Shadow of the Cat and Phantom of the Opera;
Viavision [Imprint]’s Scarface by Howard Hawks;
and Criterion’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High by Amy Heckerling.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Producers 05/18/21
Accept no substitutes! Reviewer Charlie Largent dares approach the tasteless comedy about utter tastelessness, which is probably more ‘problematic’ (that word is problematic) in 2021 than it was in 1968 … when it was the height of hilarity. Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder show farceurs how it’s done, in a hail of Jewish jokes, gay jokes, Nazi jokes, Hitler jokes, bimbo secretary jokes … is Mel Brooks made of teflon, or what? Kino’s special edition is ‘oversubscribed’ with extras: okay Michael Schlesinger, we’re counting on YOUR commentary to say 10 original things about this landmark comedy. With Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Estelle Winwood and several other fine actors not afraid of having their careers terminated by that cultural maniac Brooks. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
History is Made at Night 05/18/21
What a gem — ‘Unabashed, unfettered romanticism’ runs wild in Frank Borzage’s golden-age masterpiece of a runaway wife and the crazy Frenchman who pursues her. Long lost to awful, ragged 16mm prints, the newly restored gem will dazzle fans of delirious love stories, where the right people get together despite distance, time, and the interference of jealous husbands, misunderstandings, accusations of murder and natural disasters. All the above figure in this mini-epic, yet the movie never seems like a genre mash-up. Jean Arthur skips the squeaky line deliveries, Charles Boyer drops the gloom act, Colin Clive is more frightening than in his horror movies and Leo Carillo steals the show with one of the most endearing characters of the 1930s. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
First, a request for correspondents to check their email addresses for CineSavant: please use my firstname.lastname@example.org email address going forward … I’m missing mail from the old ‘dvdsavant’ email, and am not checking it remotely as often as I once did.
↑ Next up, I’m hoping to snag a screener for Arrow’s offering of Giants and Toys, a fairly amazing late ’50s Japanese film that blew me away twenty years ago on DVD. Its savage satire on the crazy advertising world and the impossible burdens placed on employees to keep a job makes the Japanese filmmaker Yasuzo Masumura seem way ahead of his time, and way ahead of us in terms of satirical accuracy. The chaotic graphic style also looks like an American show ten or twenty years in the future. I’m eager to review!
A book reference last week told me that the ‘arrow volley’ scene in John Sturges’ Escape from Fort Bravo was filmed in New Mexico. Correspondent Mike DelGaudio wrote in to correct me and the book, with proof that the scene was filmed in Death Valley, along with those other scenes clearly obtained at Zabriskie Point. Here’s what Mike had to say:
Hi Glenn … I just wanted to let you know that the arrow volley in Fort Bravo was filmed off the Artist Point road in Death Valley. Believe it or not, the depression our heroes hide in is still there! I can’t take credit for finding it, that would be my buddy Eddie Henn. Although we graduated from the same high school (’61 & ’70) here on Long Island, NY, I met first him in the Thugee Temple Pocket of Lone Pine about 2005 or so. Eddie is an unbelievable location hound who spends his retirement traveling to locations of films as varied as Northwest Passage and The Flim Flam Man.
I offer a then-and-now photo comparison; the first still ( ↑ ) is borrowed from John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows. The second ( ↓ ) is a picture I took about 10 years ago.
The scenes where William Holden is leading the cavalry past the giant rock walls were filmed near Gallup in New Mexico. I think Rocky Mountain with Errol Flynn used the same area. Stay healthy and thanks for the fun reviews! — Mike
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Whistle at Eaton Falls 05/15/21
It’s another CineSavant Revival Screening Review of a show not presently available on disc: not an old favorite, but something we admittedly never heard of… a marvelous 1951 film that’s seemingly been hiding under the carpet for sixty years, despite being directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Lloyd Bridges, Dorothy Gish, Carleton Carpenter, Murray Hamilton, Diana Douglas, Anne Francis, Ernest Borgnine and Arthur O’Connell. At first we fear it will be another angry midcentury indictment of free enterprise … but it becomes something else entirely. The unusual near- neorealist picture was filmed on location in a New Hampshire mill town; it is newly restored and hopefully destined for Blu-ray soon. CineSavant has the full story of its restoration. Not on Home Video.
Escape from Fort Bravo 05/15/21
John Sturges’ first color western is a tightly organized and unpretentious winner about a stern Union prison warden and a Confederate prisoner teaming up to fight an Apache enemy … wait, that sounds familiar. William Holden and Eleanor Parker strike sparks out on the ruddy mesas, while Sturges has a field day with the amazing Death Valley scenery and a highly original action scene. ‘Realistic escapism?’ It’s like a formula for future action cinema. And the ads didn’t let us forget: it all looks sensational in glowing ‘Ansco Color.’ With John Forsyth, William Demarest, William Campbell and Polly Bergen; on Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
First up, maybe there are better copies floating about but I was blown away by this web encoding of the once- hard to find Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London, Peter Whitehead’s mod snapshot of the swingin’ scene around a 1967 Rolling Stones concert. I didn’t realize that it was a full hour in duration; back in High School we saw a much shorter digest version, in an evening of experimental films screened at UC Riverside.
In our (relatively) Podunk town we kids were crazy about anything English. They had the Beatles and James Bond and Hammer Films. My girlfriends wanted to look just like the models with their straight hair and light-colored lipstick. An exchange student from England was immediately popular.
The scattershot docu is all over the place. This must have been where I picked up the term ‘Dollygirl’ — a young woman interviewed actually calls herself that. The interviews with actors and artists and in-crowd types are full of vague, self-congratulatory talk about freedom and entitlement as part of an exciting (and profitable) movement. Compared to the ramblings of our Woodstock-era U.S. hippies, the quotable speeches here are not as innocent but sometimes almost as wince-inducing … I once thought this was all beyond cool. Everybody wants to make this scene — Eric Burdon, Michael Caine, David Hockney, Julie Christie, Polanski and Tate, various Rolling Stones, Allen Ginsberg. Jim Brown seems to have cruised in from the set of The Dirty Dozen and Lee Marvin is interviewed in costume.
The interviews vary wildly. Mick Jagger drifts, yet hits upon the observation that he’s playing to the first generation of young people that have money to spend. The charming Julie Christie notes that all the attention on London is good for her and good for the country. Michael Caine candidly states that ‘the scene’ is mainly about sex; in those years he ran his love life more or less like a kid in a candy store. Allen Ginsberg reads the bit of poetry containing the title, which to a 17 year-old sounds like the best suggestion ever made — the whole idea has always been to Live For Now. A couple of the artists come off as self-absorbed opportunists, just as pompous as the rich folk we see watching the changing of the guard. The regulation body painting sequence is dated, but typical of the campaign to make London seem sexier, yet still artistic.
The only celeb to really lay an egg is Vanessa Redgrave. Her political statement about Cuba comes with the worst-ever rendition of Guantanamera; you wouldn’t think she ever heard Spanish before, let alone met a Cuban. Elsewhere the music is choice: Pink Floyd and The Stones. Mick Jagger’s performance footage is barely more than a series of attacks by fans rushing the stage. Bouncers wrestle them to the floor and toss them bodily back into the audience. As with the less successful Wonderwall the soundtrack album sold long after the movie ceased to circulate.
Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London may be flaky at times, but it’s one of the best documents of a year when England was ground zero for youth culture, art, and sexual liberation. When I saw a short version in 1970, I thought it the coolest thing on the planet. It looks as if the upscale celebs that made the scene had a lot of fun — recent Michael Caine interviews show him both amused and grateful for his ‘wild years.’ Has anybody found a long web encoding of Tonite without Japanese subtitles?
And Thursday was a happy day for me… cleaning out the attic, I prepared to throw away what looked like some random pieces of cardboard. Literally five steps from the trash bin in the street, I just happened to see that one thick piece of cardboard had Michael Arick’s name on it… and stopped and poked around a bit more.
Sure enough, the ‘random’ cardboard was the folder that my oversized French poster for Major Dundee came in when Mike bought it for me in 2002 — I had no Ebay account, and he did. The folded poster was inside. I had lost track of it maybe seven years ago, and I just came that close to throwing it away. Thought #1: pretty darn lucky. Thought #2: THINK before you toss stuff, fool !
I included my feet in the photo to give a better idea of the poster’s size: 39″ by 55″. Looking at it now, I’m intrigued by the credits. American posters for Dundee don’t have mega-star Charlton Heston’s name above the title, which is unthinkable for 1965 unless one knows that Heston rebated his salary for the movie back to Columbia Pictures, and made the movie for no pay. Maybe that ‘gesture’ triggered a clause that demoted his billing to the same level as the other actors. This French poster puts a bunch of names above the title, surely for design purposes. But the ones the French chose to leave below, and smaller, are the film’s one black actor and the two German actors. Hmmm.
Anyway I thought it useful to proclaim both how lucky and how foolish I was…. while showing off. I’m not a big poster collector but most of what I have is very important to me.
Finally, from the heartland comes a vital public service announcement from Bill Shaffer, who helps run the Kansas Silent Film Festival. Bill also runs a yearly Godzilla and Friends festival, a fun movie marathon that every Spring draws children from the Topeka area. This year the festival is online, so all of us can see the lead-ins to the films, the special presentations, etc.. It’s not as much fun as being there with a lot of joyous ten year-old Godzilla fans, but maybe next year it will come back as a live event. If you’re curious, check out the full list of attractions at The Kansas Film Festival Page. It’s non-synchronic — you can watch any event at any time between Friday May 7 and Monday May 17.
Serious Big G fans will also want to check out the festival’s video trimmings… the intro- and exit- presentations are by Bob Beatty, Bill Shaffer, Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle. This year’s special guests are Patricia Saperstein, daughter of Godzilla film distributor Henry Saperstein, and Allyson Adams, daughter of Godzilla film star Nick Adams.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Blue Lamp 05/11/21
It’s the granddaddy of British cop dramas of the modern era. The most popular English picture of 1950 introduced PC George Dixon, a warm-hearted constable who would become a staple on BBC TV for 21 years. T.E.B. Clarke’s screenplay of a murder manhunt is stocked with actors American fans know well — Dirk Bogarde, Bernard Lee — and some we should know better — Jack Warner, Robert Flemyng, Dora Bryan. The show was made by the top craftsmen of Ealing Studios, and its fast pace and Brit sensibility will definitely impress. And remember — the Bobbies on the beat don’t even carry guns. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Nightmare Alley 05/11/21
One of the most glamorous / unsavory films noir ever, this creepy tale of a master con-man undone by warped ambition was planned as a career-altering role for the big star Tyrone Power. Power plumbs the depths of personal degradation in terms that even today skew to the squeamish side of human experience. Almost as fascinating are the women Power uses, arrayed in dynamic contrast by Coleen Gray, Joan Blondell and Helen Walker. Yes, this is the movie about ‘The Geek’… Hollywood hadn’t been this intimate with the seamy underside of carnival life since Tod Browning’s Freaks. The disc extras include top contributions from James Ursini and Alain Silver, Imogen Sara Smith and even Coleen Gray. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Donnie Darko 4K 05/11/21
The 4K Ultra HD crowd has a treat in store, for Donnie Boy is back for theatrical quality home screenings. Richard Kelly’s dreamy/morbid teen fantasy has gained in stature in the twenty years (gasp) since the nasty bunny-man ‘Frank’ raised his ugly chrome head… and young Donald’s psychic sci-fi ordeal seems more relevant than ever. Arrow’s 4K-only release shows the label once again proving its mettle in the hard media video biz, with full-res encodings of both the theatrical and director’s extended cuts. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Patrick Swayze, Holmes Osborne, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Noah Wyle, Drew Barrymore, Katharine Ross. On 4K Ultra HDfrom Arrow Video.