The Little Rascals Volume 2 09/07/21
The ClassicFlix Restorations hits us with eleven more Hal Roach ‘Our Gang’ short subjects (averaging 25 minutes each), starting with ‘Pups is Pups’ in 1930 and ending with ‘Dogs is Dogs’ in 1931. Every one of these little hoodlums is here, from Jackie Cooper, Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins, Mary Ann Jackson, to kids given the PC-poison names ‘Wheezer,’ ‘Stymie’ and ‘Chubby.’ Director Robert F. McGowan worked with Charley Chase in preparation for these crazy pictures, and wrangled kids and fought off stage parents for over eighty partly improvised Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts spread over four years. Charlie Largent continues the Our Gang / Rascals story. On Blu-ray from ClassicFlix.
The Grifters 09/07/21
Every once in a while a movie makes me think, ‘this one’s too good to review, just tell them to see it and they’ll understand.’ John Cusack is a penny-ante small stakes cheat, his girlfriend Annette Bening hooks on the side while seeking a partner for ‘long cons,’ and his mother is an operative for the Mob, placing large bets at the race track to manipulate the odds on select horses. Each worships the ‘left-handed form of human endeavor’ and depends on it to the degree that human trust just can’t be maintained. Paramount’s plain wrap re-issue touts the film’s four Oscar nominations; the Stephen Frears film is the best adaptation yet of a Jim Thompson crime novel. With great acting contributions from Pat Hingle and J.T. Walsh. On Blu-ray from Paramount Home Entertainment.
I’ve never been tempted to sign on for Spotify, but Gary Teetzel forwarded this link to something special, The Complete Original Music Score to Marnie. The Bernard Herrman music is for me the element that makes Marnie watchable.
I understand the music is free with commercials; I guess I’m just reluctant to be out there with another marketing tag on my personal info and maybe another password to forget. Or maybe I’m just settling into good old superannuated curmudgeon status!
And we’re happy with the news that George Feltenstein is now reconnected with The Warner Archive Collection; may the restored and remastered Blu-rays continue to flow. The latest WAC release announcement is a Val Lewton Double Bill from Warner Archive that will be coming in October, a pairing of Bedlam with Boris Karloff and Anna Lee, and The Ghost Ship with Richard Dix. After those two the final Val Lewton horror pix wanting Blu-ray releases will be the all-time classics I Walked with a Zombie and The Seventh Victim.
Why Bedlam is considered 2nd-rank Lewton I’ll never understand. Yeah yeah, it’s more of a costume drama than out & out horror, but the script and acting are terrific and it can boast excellent chills, including what I think is the movies’ classiest Edgar Allan Poe horror moment. The Ghost Ship is also a winner, a moody psycho thriller that confronts us with an entirely modern irrational serial killer.
We’re told that also appearing in October from The Warner Archive Collection will be Night Shift and Tex Avery Volume 3.
Deadline has a nice interview that ties in with my review of Dune 4K just last week: Francesca Annis Lifts The Lid On Life Behind The Scenes Of David Lynch’s 1984 Epic. It reminds me why I questioned the delay of a new long-form interview documentary. No previous disc release for Dune ’84 has ever carried a commentary or an interview with any of the filmmakers; the only voice we’ve heard is the official story as related by the film’s producer.
Don’t expect any shocking revelations from Ms. Annis, but her vivid memories are very welcome, especially her positive remarks about director Lynch.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Illustrious Corpses 09/04/21
Yet another masterpiece from the Italian director Francesco Rosi, adapting a fiction novel about a political murder conspiracy that is altogether too much of a good fit for the troubled Italy of 1975. Crime star Lino Ventura is the incorruptible detective investigating a series of killings of high-level judges, who begins to intuit that his superiors want the murders to continue. Dark and moody, Rosi’s picture is impeccably directed for a kind of nagging, uneasy suspense, with frightening hints that Ventura is being drawn into a bigger, more sinister frame. With Charles Vanel, Max von Sydow and Fernando Rey, and music by Piero Piccioni. The insightful audio commentary is by Alex Cox. The original Italian title is even more blood-curdling: Cadaveri eccellenti. On Blu-rayfrom KL Studio Classics.
A Life at Stake 09/04/21
It’s low-rent Noir A Go-Go: Angela Lansbury is a double-crossing femme fatale in this independent cheapie with modest charms. You can’t trust anyone these days, especially real estate developers with plans to collect YOUR life insurance. Lansbury is the seductive ‘motivator’ with a preference for late-night rendezvous in the high mountains, where everything is a long drop, nudge nudge wink wink. She makes with the hotcha come-ons but rugged Keith Andes is the one who goes around topless for an entire reel. One of the most obscure ’50s films noir, this one gives us a peek at an evocative Hollywood location or two. On Blu-ray from The Film Detective.
Dependable Gary Teetzel came across this about a week back … some Newly recovered news film of Marilyn Monroe on the Coronado Hotel location for Some Like it Hot back in 1959. The brief footage offers a good selection of shots and angles on Marilyn, the hotel, the crowds, Joe E. Brown, Billy Wilder, plus Jack Lemmon in drag. It’s B&W and silent, and different than the old 8mm color footage seen on Criterion discs.
Thanks to Christopher Rywalt for straightening out the link to the Marilyn Monroe clip!
U.K.’s Arrow Films keeps hitting us with gloriously appointed special Blu-ray editions. This one is for the exotic horror item Mill of the Stone Women from 1960. The goodies arrayed in the product photo above look like a toy layout from a vintage Spiegels Christmas catalog… even the poster is attractive. Due out November 29, the set includes several regional versions of the film — the original Italian and English export versions, the French version which contains exclusive footage, and the re-cut US version ‘with alternate dubbing, re-ordered scenes and added visual effects.’ We presume that the corresponding languages are all present, presumably with full English subs, which an earlier German disc set lacked. Plus learned input from Kat Ellinger, Tim Lucas, Roberto Curti and Brad Stevens, and interviews with actors Liliana Orfei and Wolfgang Preiss.
Mill of the Stone Women is a medical horror item with a charming period flavor. Its overall tone is that of a regional legend — it begins with a ferryboat scene reminiscent of Dreyer’s Vampyr, substituting a traditional Flemish barge canal. In warm, suffused Eastmancolor the exteriors play out under hazy overcast skies. It comes off like a fairy tale, even with its drugs and semi-repressed hints of nudity. We really like the movie and look forward to seeing it in an improved presentation.
Finally, Gary Teetzel bounces back with another research-related item, a promotional tie-in linking the obscure 1954 Fox comedy The Rocket Man and the Captain Video TV show. Gary recently saw that The Rocket Man was being shown on a cable channel. It’s technically a science fiction film because it’s about an orphan (George ‘Foghorn’ Winslow) who is gifted with a ‘magic ray gun’ by a man from outer space. This is the launching point for basically nothing, as the movie stays firmly in the grip of small-town romantic issues. While on the edge of our seats wondering if frog-voiced Winslow’s previous co-star Charles Coburn will tie the knot with Spring Byington, we also note the welcome presence of sci-fi stars Anne Francis, John Agar and Beverly Garland… all in a movie with minimal sci-fi content. Oh, and we get to see parts of spacesuits from Destination Moon and The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Unlike the ’70s groaner Laserblast, this alien ray gun doesn’t reduce Agar or Garland to a pile of steaming ash. The gun isn’t really used much, and all it does is grant little Winslow’s wishes, like make a fire hydrant burst or a politician tell the truth. The zinger is that the co-credited screenwriter is none other than Lenny Bruce. No hint of the comedian’s personality is present, not even in the ‘making the politician say the truth’ bit.
Gary had some comments of his own, and of course took the subject for a ride:
“Watched The Rocket Man last night. Pretty lame, sort of a prototype ‘Shook-Up Shopping Cart’ movie but without as many zany hijinks as would be featured in those later Disney comedies.
In spite of its weaknesses The Rocket Man has several important lessons to teach kids:
— If a stranger offers you a gun, take it.
— It is okay to cheat at cards, as long as the money goes to a good cause.
— Lying about who you are is a great way to win over girls.
— A stranger may appear in your bedroom in the middle of the night while you are sleeping. This is perfectly fine and nothing to be concerned about.
— Bringing a gun to a political rally and aiming it at the candidate is a Great Idea.
The movie was promoted by having TV’s actual Captain Video — actor Al Hodge — go on tour with a big rocket mockup (↑) mounted on a semi-truck trailer. Could the rocket have been the same prop seen in Republic serials, repainted? Imagine how disappointed kids must have been to go to the movie expecting thrilling outer space adventures — and then having to sit through the geriatric romance between Charles Coburn and Spring Byington.
“You can read details of the promotion at this Film Bulletin exhibitor’s report article,
→ Note that on the same page it says that actor Jay Robinson, ‘garbed in royal toga,’ is doing a promotional tour for Demetrius and the Gladiators, including stops at school assemblies and parent-teacher groups. I’d love to think that he actually made these appearances as Caligula, screaming and ranting and hamming it up as he does in the movie. That would make for the greatest school assembly ever:
CHILDREN! Do you renounce your false god? My power is as great as ANY god’s — I have the power of life and death over every being in the empire! Now go forth and bring me THE ROBE! CLASS DISMISSED!
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Dune 4K 08/31/21
Ignored, maligned and hammered out into an ‘Alan Smithee’ extended cut for TV, David Lynch’s outstanding Sci-fi epic arrives on 4K Ultra HD, finally achieving the visual opulence on home video that it had in 70mm prints at the end of 1984. The fractured, de-Lynched storyline can be argued over, but the amazing design and arresting characterizations never fail to impress — Lynch attracted a world-class cast of movie stars and used them well. Even if it’s described as a hundred fragmented scenes from a larger narrative, they’re superlative fragments. Lynch should have been authorized to make an alternate cut, his own completely personal ‘impressionist’ version of the Frank Herbert story. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
Peter Ibbetson 08/31/21
Surreal delirium in cinema! Gary Cooper and Ann Harding are a tragic romantic pair, but even when separated by space, time and the law they manage to live a full life together as virtual dream lovers. The odd art film out in Henry Hathaway’s career, this unabashed spiritualist fantasy was adopted by French surrealists as emblematic of their values. It’s beautifully filmed by cameraman Charles Lang, avoiding overdone expressionist effects… reality is a dream, folks, and this star-crossed pair makes dreams real by a simple force of will. Spiritual Nirvana or pretension? It’s crazy, but it connects with real life as we experience it — with our romantic memories and regrets. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
A link from reliable Craig Reardon sends us on a reverie into the troubled genre of movie-clip obituaries. The howls of anger at the Academy’s show montages (awful!) never dies down, and even Turner Classic Movies’ remembrance montages are slowed up with musical distractions and too-busy graphics. This YouTube clip of the
First TCM Remembers montage from 1995 is wonderful. It’s all movie stars, supporting actors, composers, directors, writers… no agents, executives or crafts service people (although I knew a couple who deserved it).
Before corporate finagling and political correctness hurt the Academy Montages, they were wonderful too … we’d watch them and go “Ahhh…” each time the face of some beloved figure flashed on the screen. I think my young- teenaged kids learned something about sentiment and mortality in 1995 when, in the middle of many faces they’d never recognize, Peter Cushing came on screen, holding a crossed pair of candlesticks and looking ready to take on the Devil. The Academy audience cheered too… for a hero who wasn’t considered Oscar-level talent.
And loyal, faithful, reliable Dick Dinman has a new podcast on tap; this time he and George Feltenstein examine the legend and legacy of Errol Flynn in Objective, Burma!, which plays like a new movie on Warner Archive Blu-ray, picture and audio.
I hope they discuss Flynn’s odd string of bad luck around this time — the picture was reportedly a big hit in America, but was banned for several years in the U.K., over the charge that it misrepresented the composition of the Allied forces fighting in Burma. Were Flynn’s legal problems with opportunistic morals charges settled by this time?
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The glossy selection of celebrated horror fun from the Boys at Bray covers a quartet of titles directed by the second generation of Hammer helmers. Peter Sasdy takes the credit for Countess Dracula, with Ingrid Pitt and Nigel Green, and also Hands of the Ripper with Eric Porter and Angharad Rees. John Hough called ‘action’ on Twins of Evil with Peter Cushing and Madeleine & Mary Collinson; and Robert Young was ringmaster for Hammer’s Vampire Circus with Adrienne Corri and Lynne Frederick. Each feature comes with two commentaries, the reviewer is Charlie Largent. On Region-Free Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
Foreseeing a relaxation of censorship on the horizon, England’s Titan Films filmed this mad surgery opus with far more gore and cruelty than was the norm in 1967-68, and their gambit paid off. Horror favorite Peter Cushing stars with Sue Lloyd, a pair nobody expected to show up in a shocker with such a high sleaze quotient. PI’s special edition gives us three versions of the show including the continental cut with Cushing’s most lurid scene ever, and heaps of comment and analysis. With David Lodge, Noel Trevarthen, Anthony Booth and Kate O’Mara. On Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Now this photo gives me a REAL horror chill! A fun link from valued correspondent David J. Schow leads off today — a silly but illuminating 2014 New Yorker comedy item written by Daniel M. Lavery: Ayn Rand Reviews Children’s Movies. That pretty much says it all.
I’ve had at least three depressing experiences when colleagues I otherwise respect tried to sell me on Rand’s ‘philosophy,’ making it a prerequisite to friendship. Sheesh.
THIS monumental 4K Ultra HD set arrived two days ago and I’m eager to write it up, hopefully for Tuesday. As I suspected it looks sensational in 4K … I wish I could have seen it in 70mm back in the day. It looks darker, richer: Charlie Largent tells me that original prints were darker than the home video versions. I’ll try not to make my review sound like a defense, but I still admire the picture greatly.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Union Pacific 08/24/21
Cecil B. DeMille delivers a satisfying western epic starring Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea, Robert Preston, Brian Donlevy & Akim Tamiroff; the story of the building of a railroad is historically bogus but highly entertaining and action-filled. Joel McCrea is our favorite ethical frontier lawman; here he’s a troubleshooter keeping crooks, Indians and proto-Bolsheviks from delaying construction. The huge cast includes Fuzzy Knight, Lon Chaney Jr., Don Beddoe, Monte Blue, Ward Bond, Iron Eyes Cody, Richard Denning, Will Geer, Noble Johnson, Elmo Lincoln, Nestor Paiva, Jack Pennick and Joe Sawyer — although the screen is so busy some of them will be hard to spot. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
We give thanks this summer Tuesday to CineSavant’s keenly curious associate Gary Teetzel, who has come through with another of his interesting and popular Trade Paper search expeditions. The main subject this time around is Val Guest’s 1962 sci-fi hit The Day the Earth Caught Fire. Or at least we were always told that it was a hit. The trades catered to exhibitors all across America, and what was reviewed as hip and exciting in NYC could fall flat on its face out in the sticks somewhere.
This often happened with English movies, that were routinely panned as too talky and too ‘dark.’ Were English films in general not lit as ‘high key’ as Hollywood’s? Reviewers often come right out and say that the import picture are just ‘too English,’ perhaps referring to the different accents heard.
Gary’s string of trade clippings illustrate pretty well how a great movie can get the cold shoulder, or just have bad luck. Imagine killing yourself to produce such a superior film and then having to read notices like these.
I’ll let Gary take it away:
I watched The Day the Earth Caught Fire on Blu-ray the other night. Looked it up on the Media History Digital Library and found little of interest there. Then I checked out the trade paper Box Office. We expected a rave review, the kind that Guest and Mankowitz got almost everywhere. But when they reviewed it in their January 22, 1962 issue a linotype fumble managed to screw up the title, aspect ratio and the genre:
They apparently caught the mistake before going to press but were unable to correct it in time; the very same issue ran this correction:
The February 18 issue of Film Bulletin considered it newsworthy to note a bungled attempt to promote the film with Jack Paar, presumably on The Tonight Show:
Exhibitors who wrote in to Box Office magazine’s “The Exhibitor Has His Say” column were mostly negative:
That’s right: Boscobel Wisconsin, Minco Oklahoma and Jasonville Indiana are clearly authorities on film quality. In the same issue of Box Office that the negative comments from the Jasonville theater appeared, an enthusiastic, rave review was posted just above it — for reissues of the Ma and Pa Kettle series!
It’s too bad that Percy Kilbride and Marjorie Main had already retired from movies by the time of The Day the Earth Caught Fire. Imagine how much popular it could have been if Val Guest had tweaked the script slightly and called it “Ma and Pa Kettle Save the World”?
A November 26 article in Box Office reports on a promotion in England:
The January 28, 1963 issue reports on another ‘Caught Fire’ promotion:
By the way: Why do all the British newspapers in the film use Fahrenheit when reporting temperatures?
We continue with Gary’s reportage:
I also watched The World, The Flesh and The Devil earlier this week. In the scene where Mel Ferrer is recovering in bed, I paused to look at the titles of the books appearing behind his head. One spine that was clearly readable was George Burns’ show-biz memoir I Love Her That’s Why, which had been published in 1955. When the camera angle changes there is a continuity error. The book now appears at the end of the row rather than in the middle, and its front cover is visible. Thus comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen make a ‘cameo appearance’ of sorts in a grimly serious end-of-the-world movie!
Another thought: the movie mentions that Harry Belafonte’s ‘last man alive in Manhattan’ Ralph Burton is going around the city doing what he can to save great works of art. I therefore must conclude that Ralph considers George Burns’ book a milestone of 20th Century literature worthy of preservation for future generations.
And finally, I was just re-reading the American Cinematographer article on the making of The World, The Flesh and The Devil. The writer mentions the extreme difficulty the producers had filming a sequence in the actual Grand Central Station, only for the scene to be cut from the finished movie. That reminded me that I thought I had seen an unfamiliar shot in the trailer. Sure enough, it was there. — Gary
Thanks Gary, we always appreciate these detours into ‘observational arcana.’
And thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson