Inner Sanctum Mysteries 01/02/21
Charlie Largent rings in the New Year with Universal’s sextette of ‘Inner Sanctum’ chillers, all starring Lon Chaney Jr. in interesting character roles: Calling Dr. Death, Weird Woman, Dead Man’s Eyes, The Frozen Ghost, Strange Confession and Pillow of Death. The reputation of these spook shows has been on the rise, and I’m curious — I can remember not watching a single one of them when they showed up on weekend TV horror/sci-fi movie slots in the 1960s! I’ll be reading with interest — I think these are split between creepy murder stories and quasi-supernatural tales, and I know that one of them is based on the same story from which Burn, Witch, Burn was derived. On Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment.
Where Were You in ’62, A.I.P.? 01/02/21
Collector Bill Shaffer reaches into his vast horde of exhibitors’ publicity ‘paper’ and comes up with some samples from an American-International Pictures preview flyer touting the year’s upcoming releases, circa January of 1962. The three samples given cover a Hollywood production that was re-titled, an Italian import that changed the name of its muscleman hero several times, and a science fiction / romantic comedy acquisition promoted as ‘coming soon’ but that morphed into something entirely different. Helping to follow the clues through the trade papers is Gary Teetzel. We answer some questions and guess at the rest… but it’s fun to see how A.I.P. in the 1960s wanted to shift from exploitation hucksterism to something a little more mainstream. We’re hoping this kind of arcane archive snooping is of interest — the vintage graphics are pretty cool! Plus, it was a nice break from reviewing movies.
Some Quick Links to start the year … The Criterion Collection has posted a beautiful little video montage by Daniel Reis called The Gift of Room Tone. After seeing this you still might not know what ‘room tone’ is, but that’s not important. Having worked with a certain superstar singer, I wonder if Criterion cleared the usage of her clip for this piece!
Also, Dick Dinman has a new DVD Classics Corner On The Air podcast discussion Celebrating Twelve-Plus Years of the Warner Archive Collection, with his frequent guest George Feltenstein. It’s the first of two parts. I don’t know how many Archive DVDs I’ve reviewed in that time … it must be hundreds.
This last item may not be film related but it’s definitely in the New Year’s spirit: my daughter happens to be experimenting with gingerbread cookies and gingerbread houses on her holiday break, and when baking is concerned no effort is too great. So here’s a wholly gratuitous snap of her Gingerbread Stegosaurus cookie …
Being 500 miles away this year, I’ve unfortunately tasted my family’s incredible holiday cooking and baking only via FaceTime and Zoom. But I thought I would share anyway. And who doesn’t like dinosaurs? If her plan for an elaborate gingerbread house works out, I’ll post it too, so there.
Next stop, Groundhog Day. Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
If you’re after real nonconformist filmmaking with a political bent, Shohei Imamura’s daring and often sexually candid pictures will fit the bill. Arrow gathers three of his best from the 1980s, the international success The Ballad of Narayama, the stunning Hiroshima aftermath drama Black Rain and the largely unseen, often wickedly funny Zegen. Each is disturbing, politically pointed and relentlessly honest. Arrow appoints this three- title set with new expert audio commentaries and Tony Rayns featurettes, plus a fat essay booklet. Zegen, we are told, has never before been available subtitled in English. On Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.
The Train 12/29/20
The Train is back, now at popular prices! The fan base for John Frankenheimer’s incredibly elaborate Occupation thriller is growing exponentially. The railroad and military hardware on view is 100% real, something that CGI-jaded moviegoers appreciate more than ever. Great acting and a terrific storyline propel a tale of sabotage into the top level of suspense thriller-dom. Starring Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau, Suzanne Flon, Michel Simon, Wolfgang Preiss. A hundred tons of French steam locomotives and running stock are shot at, burned, blown up and smashed to smithereens. Oh, the movie’s about saving French art treasures, too. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Here’s something we don’t take lightly — a solid plug from a respected blogger. ‘John V.’ has been writing about film at John V’s Eclectic Avenue for over nine years now, and he just took the time to use a whole blog entry to praise CineSavant. John’s thoughtful mini-reviews are probably more topical than mine, and his approach is very agreeable — he drifts into book and music reviews as well. Many thanks, Mr. ‘V.’
Since we dispensed with the somewhat meaningless ‘best of’ article a year or two ago, I’ve come up with this simple way of commemorating all the fine hard media Blu-ray and DVD entertainment that we’ve had the pleasure to review last year. These 101 disc package images represent titles that I’d be willing to pop into the player and see again, any time. Each links to the CineSavant review, and they go in order, from January 2020 forward.
All I can do at this point is echo the call that we’re hearing from across the globe on this strangest New Years’ holiday ever. Let’s help do the right thing so that 2020 can give us a major rebirth of sanity: an end to the virus crisis, the rebuilding of our federal government, and a national re-commitment to science, social progress and global compassion.
Yours in shared lockdown,
The Lost Weekend 12/26/20
Billy Wilder’s first big Oscar winner holds up as fine work in every respect, and serves as evidence of the writer-director’s moviemaking instincts at a time when he could do no wrong. Starring Ray Milland as a self-destructive alcoholic, Wilder and Charles Brackett manage to retain much of the sordid truth and nightmarish horror of the ordeal of would-be writer Don Birnham, who ducks his guilty self-loathing by taking to the bottle. It’s still a harrowing experience, with a sharp emotional kick. This new remastered edition carries a commentary by Joseph McBride. Co-starring Jane Wyman, Howard Da Silva, Doris Dowling, Frank Faylen and Phillip Terry; the scary music is by Miklos Rozsa. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Devil in a Blue Dress 12/26/20
Carl Franklin’s adaptation of the great Walter Mosley novel still plays like a winner. Denzel Washington’s star quality and acting prowess shine from the smart & handsome production, with Tak Fujimoto cinematography that put the color back into ’90s filmmaking. Everybody’s good and Don Cheadle’s loose-cannon henchman ‘Mouse’ is exceptionally so. There’s plenty to enjoy in this hard/soft-boiled tale, starting with the great music. It’s one of Washington’s best pictures, and should have initiated an entire franchise of Walter Mosley / Easy Rawlins detective adventures. Co-starring Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals, Maury Chaykin, Terry Kinney, Lisa Nicole Carson, Albert Hall, and Mel Winkler. On Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Well, it’s certainly been a pleasant holiday here — after rain on Christmas Eve, the big morning came in bright and pretty, as clear as a bell and smelling sweet. As for the picture up top, the closest I could get on Google to Irish Gaelic for ‘Merry Christmas’ is “Nollaig Chridheil”, which is also as close to Christmas as Gorgo is getting, funny hat or not. It seems like everyone is separated this holiday, which is certainly different, with an unexpected ‘just another day’ feel around this household. But the friends ‘n’ family messages and emails help us catch up from afar. I know one thing — this is THE year for sending pictures of fancy things cooked or baked for Christmas dinner.
A couple of odd, interesting links: author David J. Schow is circulating this link to a YouTube encoding of a pretty weird ‘alternative travel’ show called Inside a Ghost Town of Abandoned Disney Castles. The investigators found this utterly strange development — the most impractical thing I’ve ever seen — somewhere in Turkey. It’s truly bizarre — why, why, why make them all the same? An extra wrinkle is that the video crew is trespassing in the half-completed development, and is on the watch for security guards.
And another winner for Sergio Leone fans. It’s called Sergio Leone post-produzione Il Buono Il brutto Il cattivo — somebody shot film during a ‘Foley’ sound effects dubbing session, or whatever they call it in Italy. Il Maestro is politely directing what he wants to hear and the Foley artist complies… the funny bit is that the director is drinking and eating snacks through the whole thing.
Thanks for reading! Stay careful & healthy — Glenn Erickson
Hard Eight 12/22/20
First films of important directors usually feel like warm-ups, but not so this suspenseful story of ‘twilight’ people living in and around casinos. Paul Thomas Anderson writes and directs in a style that guarantees our full attention at all times. Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson assay riveting main characters, with Philip Seymour Hoffman in for a brief turn at the crap tables. It’s all behavior and relationship detail — are we reading each individual correctly? Are we going to learn more about them? When the surprises come, the story takes shape in its own unique way. On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
Castle of the Creeping Flesh 12/22/20
Adrian Hoven’s lead-up to Mark of the Devil looks like a blend between a Margheriti and a Franco — what with Janine Reynaud and Howard Vernon on board for sleazy sex and gruesome tortures… or was that sleazy tortures and gruesome sex? Severin can be depended on to deliver arcane horror in a quality package. This one was known in the Hardy Encyclopedia as Im Schloß der blutigen Begierde, but we’ll be quizzing readers on its other titles: Appointment with Lust, Castle of Bloody Lust, Castle of Lust, Castle of Unholy Desires and In the Castle of Bloody Lust. Charlie Largent will cut through the confusion — is the problem at hand Lust, or Creeping Flesh, or what exactly? On Blu-rayfrom Severin Films.
Hello! A really good new movie came in… it’s about time. I’ve seen this one twice, and I’m ready to see it again.
It’s not often that I find that my reaction to a movie seems to contradict so many of the reviews out there. For me John Patrick Shanley’s Wild Mountain Thyme is a charming, wholly satisfying romantic comedy in a wistful, witty mode. It’s only the third job of direction from Shanley, over thirty years after the playwright/screenwriter’s similar romantic success Moonstruck. I guess that Wild Mountain Thyme is too easily rapped for elements that are out of fashion. Yep, it’s practically a travelogue for rural Ireland, and yes, some of its characterizations resemble theatrical stereotypes. Half the reviews I read get no further than a critique of the less-than perfect Irish accents, or offhandedly dismiss the show as ‘twee.’ I honestly wonder if these people saw the same terrific film that I did.
If someone can point out to me one insensitive Irish-ethnic moment in Thyme, I’d appreciate it. John Ford’s The Quiet Man deals almost exclusively in rank Irish stereotypes, and we still seem to cherish it. Shanley lightly addresses a couple of these America-Ireland image issues, in a scene on a jet plane. Just what about John Patrick Shanley offends these critics? In my book he’s great writer and director. His dialogues address basic issues. Christopher Walken and Dearbhla Molloy play elderly, somewhat sickly characters; one of them responds to a complaint with an argumentative shout: ‘you’ve had a good time and raised your children, what more do you want from life?’ (para)
Thyme is stylized somewhere between Moonstruck and Joe Versus the Volcano. It’s a romantic comedy about neighboring farmers Anthony (Jamie Dornan) and Rosemary (Emily Blunt) that ought to have been married twenty years before. Nobody can figure out why not, least of all them, because they’re madly in love with one another. Anthony is a mass of contradictions about his self-worth and his identity. As a child he asks God why he’s so different, but we don’t know what he’s talking about. He must feel his insecurities more strongly than some people do. He’s so confused that he totally mis-reads all the signals from Rosemary. Love-struck Rosemary is too proud and traditional to kick aside the old rules and unilaterally propose; these people define themselves by old codes and want their lives to take traditional forms.
There’s no magic in feeding cows on a farm, but Thyme insists that people need magic in their love lives. Old Tony (Walken) describes falling in love with his wife only years after he married her, in an experience more or less identical to the ‘Bella Luna’ in Moonstruck. In Thyme the magic curses and delights come in the form of stars in the sky, the swans in Swan Lake (as opposed to an opera), a ‘thinning of the brain’ (as opposed to a ‘brain cloud’) and a lost ring.
Shanley doesn’t bother to explain everything — when Anthony tries to explain his romantic blockage, what he says makes little sense. I’m not particularly punitive about accents, nor do I insist that every film relationship make 100% perfect objective sense. Was too busy loving the experience of Wild Mountain Thyme and absorbing its positive characters and John Patrick Shanley wisdoms. Being an apt fan of previous Shanley shows helps. He has a strong voice and an atypical slant to everything he writes. The serious play Doubt says To Hell with political correctness — people must make compromises with the letter of the moral code all the time.
Thirty years ago critics unjustly slammed and buried Shanley’s Joe Versus the Volcano for being purposely goofy, even tacky: daring to style itself in a way that followed no categorizable trend. Yet I’ll champion Volcano as one of the most charming, humane and romantic films of its decade. The same ‘magical’ set of personal themes that shine in Moonstruck continue through Volcano. In Thyme they end up being a code for the mystery of being alive, of defining our self-identity. Shanley characters are reminded of the wonder of existence every time they stare at the night sky. Everybody is bombarded by ‘signs,’ by symbolic clichés. Unhappiness is expressed in perverse ways. Rosemary’s father expressed his life-anger by killing crows. A pair of gates express the way tangled intentions put absurd obstructions in our lives. Rosemary and Anthony are surrounded by externalized symbols. Her beloved horse is battering at the barn door, trying to get out. His dog sits quietly under a table, but is shouted at for causing trouble.
Does nobody listen to what movie characters say any more? Every other sentence we hear in Thyme is wickedly funny, or a burst of unexpected wisdom, or both. The last climactic fifteen minutes or so is a battle royale of romantic temperament that was likely the core of Shanley’s source play Outside Mullingar. Yep, it can be frustrating that Jamie Dornan’s character is unable to express his feelings for a woman he actually loves more than life itself. Half of the reviews I’ve read reject the movie outright for presenting a romantic blockage that’s so ‘insubstantial.’ How many real human relationships do you know that are fully rational? At one time or another we’re all alone out there trying to figure out who we are (Wolf? Swan? Bee?). If we have a missing hand or a ‘brain cloud’ or we’ve lost our courage or we already feel our love life is a hopeless disaster, we forget that such things are a shared part of the Human Condition.
The reviews I’ve read haven’t gotten far beyond Shanley’s purported artistic crimes of unacceptable accents, travelogue images, stereotypes, etc., to mention anything else about the movie. Also present is Jon Hamm in a decent supporting role, and endearing performances by Danielle Ryan and Lydia McGuinness. And taking on the best-played ‘stereotyped Irish’ part I’ve seen in a long time is none other than Barry McGovern, Joe Banks’ immortal Luggage Salesman.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. As with The Shape of Water and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood I’ve been a good boy and not given anything away, no spoilers. If this sounds tempting, avoid reading too much about the show and just check it out. The Irish accents didn’t offend me (says the uncultured me). It’s the best new thing I’ve so far seen under Covid Confinement.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Holiday Affair 12/19/20
RKO polished Robert Mitchum’s post- pot bust image with this swell-guy romantic Christmas tale, placing him opposite the drop-dead desirable Janet Leigh. All the penniless Mitchum must do is win over Leigh’s son, get around her fiance Wendell Corey, and then make her forget her dead soldier husband. Plus keep up the Christmas spirit. Director Don Hartman pulls off a minor yuletide miracle with the most down-to-earth, pragmatic Christmas romance on record. Co-starring the 1949 line of super Lionel streamline electric trains! On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Criterion refreshes a bona fide classic with a new remaster and makes their release especially attractive with some well-chosen extras that give us first-person input from writer John Patrick Shanley and star Cher. The show isn’t technically a holiday movie but it plays really well at family gatherings. Heck, even Cher says ‘she can watch this movie’ which from her is a high compliment. The answer to ‘who needs to see this? is that a lot of people have been born since 1987. The great cast stars Nicolas Cage, Vincent Gardenia, Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello, Julie Bovasso and John Mahoney. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
As they say up on Gower Gulch, I Cunha Believe It. It’s been leaked that The Film Detective has plans to follow its remastered disc of Giant from the Unknown with a second Richard E. Cunha Astor Pictures release, the occasionally indescribable Frankenstein’s Daughter. I have to say I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Cunha’s other two cinematic masterpieces, She Demons and Missile to the Moon. Did they shoot these pictures back-to-back? All four were released in 1958 and I’ll bet they were filmed to become a pair of double bills.
All four titles might dwell at the weak end of ’50s drive-in exploitation — just look at the trashy posters sometime — but more likely than not they made their money back and then some. I found She Demons to be the most fun, being high-camp schlock with a starring performance from Irish McCalla. It’s also in terrible taste. And I’m here to testify that I saw Missile to the Moon when it was new. I loved it, especially the dreaded lunar ‘Rock Men.’ At age eight I thought they were really scary.
Since Paramount has some rights to these pictures, I wonder if they’re getting released because the corporation fronted for new transfers. I hope all four come out remastered and widescreen-formatted. Giant is announced, Frankenstein’s Daughter seems pretty likely, and at this point I need to emphasize that Demons & Missile are just CineSavant wishful thinking.
Dick Dinman’s latest Classics Corner On the Air show centers on the William Wyler favorite Roman Holiday with the participation of discussion guest Catherine Wyler — and a special ‘cameo’ appearance by Cecilia Peck.
And roving researcher Gary Teetzel comes through with two fun links. The first I may have put up before, it’s an archive.org link to the entire run of the magazine Fantastic Monsters of the Films, the one put together by Paul Blaisdell and Bob Burns way back in the early ‘sixties. I think I only had two issues, but I read them until they fell apart. Now they’re fun to read for the ‘coming soon’ columns that list movies that never happened, or that underwent title changes. Example: A.I.P.’s then-upcoming Panic in Year Zero! is listed under the title Survival.
Gary also sends along a real find, an episode of TV’s The Jack Benny Program starring Billy Wilder, from 1962. Billy is pretty good — when Jack opens the door at about seventeen minutes in, the tall wilder is leaning on the doorjam in what looks like a typical pose. We wonder if the celebrity value of Billy Wilder might have been lost on average audiences across the country, even though UA had been promoting him as a star director, like Alfred Hitchcock.
Gary located an even more arcane director guest-starring on a TV comedy sitcom: Charles Vidor on the George Burns & Gracie Allen Show. It’s from 1958. I guess now I know what Charles Vidor looked and sounded like.
And finally, author David Schow comes through with a great YouTube piece — A Conversation with Rod Serling. Serling talks like he does on his Twilight Zone intros, with a mild case of lockjaw. It certainly makes him stand out as an individual. He’s also naturally erudite … in other words, I’m jealous. It’s 1968 and he’s not happy that anthology series can’t get on the air. Rod smokes throughout, and even coughs now and then.
The moderators are Bernie Harrison and the author James Dickey, the author of Deliverance. His authentic Southern voice arrives first at 4:55! Expect plenty of talk about intellectual deserts on television, a medium that Dickey calls a platform for the delivery of commercials.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson