The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee 07/10/21
Charlie Largent takes on Severin’s most prestigious ‘big box’ compilation collection to date, a grouping of several of Christopher Lee’s on the Continent features in mostly excellent, uncut editions. For instance, we’ve seen The Torture Garden of Dr. Sadism many times in feeble quality, cut and dubbed and re-titled; this set practically re-premieres it as Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel, full-length, in gorgeous color and in two languages. The Eight-disc set contains five features, including Lee’s impressive Castle of the Living Dead, plus a TV anthology series, endless expert extras and a full 88-page book by Jonathan Rigby. On Blu-ray from Severin Films.
In Harm’s Way 07/10/21
Hollywood’s last big all-star war epic in Black & White? Otto Preminger took a happy film company to Hawaii for this enormous saga about the Naval push in the Pacific Theater of WW2, with none other than John Wayne as the competent commander leading the charge. Soap-opera scenes aside, it’s a thrilling epic directed with Preminger’s well-known reserve. The star-gazing isn’t bad either — Kirk Douglas! Patricia Neal! Henry Fonda! Paula Prentiss! The finish is a huge naval battle with impressive live-action special effects, and given a moody music score by Jerry Goldsmith. On Blu-ray from Paramount Viacom CBS.
A short note today, mainly because relatives are in town, and terrific Column items haven’t been flying in the door. We took a walk after eating a few nights ago and someone said, ‘What about the wishing well lady,‘ that we went by when we were kids, the one that sang to us?’ Somewhere around 1981-1985 we were told that the little, old-fashioned decorative well in a particular front lawn was the home of the singer who sang for Snow White in Walt Disney’s original Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, over forty years before. So we walked down the street to see if the well was still there. It was behind a fence and a hedge. Since I’m not giving out any address or directions here, I feel safe in posting the photo we took.
Back in the 1980s when the kids were tiny we had this habit of similarly walking around the neighborhood on Easter morning, when we were all dressed up. On this one morning we went looking for this well, found it and read a little sign pinned to the well, that may have simply read, ‘I’m wishing.’ The lady was standing right there — she immediately put down her garden hose and sang a full set of measures of the famous song. Our four-year-old was delighted, as she was hip to the gag, so to speak — she’d seen the movie and had the cassette of the music. The nice lady didn’t talk to us — it was apparently her custom to sing but not to engage in conversation, at least not with people like us that didn’t force ourselves on strangers.
We swung back the next year almost by accident, to see if the well was still there. I think I was halfway through saying, ‘I guess we didn’t get lucky this y– ‘ when the door popped open and the elderly lady came out singing, in the same warbling, high-note style. It was almost like a cuckoo clock — she popped out, sang her song and popped back in, with a smile. We were again charmed.
We caught her name in the newspaper once, which explained the story of how she was hired by Disney. The article made it look as if she’d gotten a raw deal. The wiki link for Adriana Caselotti isn’t so harsh, yet it seems that her contract with Disney did curb her performing career — she couldn’t sing as Snow White anywhere else.
So Ms. Caselotti’s memory remains something of a local legend here, in a place where one can run into familiar performing faces even when one is not looking. She sang to my kids and made them feel special, so thinking of her will always make me smile.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
One Armed Boxer 07/06/21
High-quality chopsocky mayhem! Guest reviewer Lee Broughton returns with an assessment of Jimmy Wang Yu’s action-packed martial arts flick. The combat comes thick and fast when a team of deadly mercenaries are employed to wipe out the honourable pupils of the Zhengde School. Writer-director Jimmy Wang Yu is placed front and centre in most of these fights. Excellent fight choreography, commendable cinematography and a well-realised vengeance narrative make this fast-paced show a winner. On Region B Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment.
The Web 07/06/21
It’s smooth noir sailing with this polished noir from Universal-International and its choice cast of pros — Edmond O’Brien, Ella Raines and William Bendix, plus Vincent Price doing an excellent turn as a Machiavellian businessman, a ‘frame’ expert with a side specialty in double-dealing. Director Michael Gordon earns an early credit for Universal-International with a nice look: almost all exteriors are richly photographed nighttime scenes. Ella Raines is particularly good — despite the cover illustration, she’s not a femme fatale, just a cautious independent woman. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Arrow Video is showing off what to us looks like exemplary packaging and artwork for their disc collection Cold War Creatures: Four Films from Sam Katzman. I know the pictures are supposed to be bad but I have a real soft spot for most of them. Bill Warren described Creature with the Atom Brain as a formative experience, with its general trashy attitude and early gore effects. Zombies of Mora Tau is just too pared-down and flimsy not to like — it’s got Allison Hayes and Autumn Russell, and dry-for wet sea-bottom zombies too outrageous not to love.
For some reason the joy has drained out of The Giant Claw for me, but I’ll give it another go. On the other hand, Fred F. Sears’ filmed-on-location The Werewolf is looking better than ever. I’ll be looking forward to the commentaries and featurettes … keying Katzman’s quickie/cheapie and sometimes dreadful attractions into serious Cold War culture can’t be an easy task, academically speaking.
I really like the newly-generated art for this release. There must be some business obstruction to disc boutiques marketing posters made from the original art — I’d think that rolled-up quality reproductions would sell well.
← And Viavision [Imprint] has been busy — and I’m keenly interested in two items on their calendar for September. I think that Basil Dearden’s The Assassination Bureau is new to Blu-ray; it once had a camp following, which might still be exploitable thanks to its star cast of Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas. It’s a duel of assassins in Victorian times, done in the semi-comic ‘tongue in cheek’ style once associated with super-spy films. In other words, will it now seem devilishly clever, or will it suffer from a bad case of the ‘Cutes?’
→ This second package is an even bigger surprise: all three of the Michael Caine-Harry Palmer movies bundled in one set, The Harry Palmer Collection. I’ve often used the three to illustrate the business reasons why certain movie series can’t be bundled together — as separate releases, each Harry Palmer Blu-ray was from a different rights holder — MGM, Studiocanal, Paramount — but now Viavision [Imprint] licenses from all of them.
It’s my idea of a fine gift set, especially for anyone still unaware of the film series. In some ways the adventures of Harry Palmer have weathered the distance of time better than the James Bond films. I see that each title has an Isolated music & effects track, which is a plus for me — a 90-minute soundtrack background while I write.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Pickup on South Street 07/03/21
Sam Fuller turns from combat in Korea to cat ‘n mouse games in New York City, with America’s stand-up defenders being exactly one low-life pickpocket and one saucy woman of the sidewalks. Richard Widmark is a charming chiseler with a wicked grin, Jean Peters is the hot number who takes a knockdown as a love pat, and Thelma Ritter steals the show as a wholly endearing snitch trying to earn money for a nice burial plot. But Fuller’s directorial powers are going full tilt, with scenes of cinematic power to match any ‘auteur’ — you’ll be mesmerized by a sordid subway encounter that could be rated X for basic erotic chemistry. In an unusually good 4K scan, on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Major Dundee 07/03/21
It’s a new deluxe Limited Edition of Sam Peckinpah’s mangled masterpiece, the third fancy boxed set in as many years. Arrow’s presentation has certainly got the edge in graphic elegance. They’ve also strived to include as many earlier extras as possible, plus new analytical-critical takes on the picture, and an excellent (and wickedly funny) visual essay from David Cairns. The disc has both of my commentaries, including the comprehensive one that details the missing scenes with information taken directly from Sam Peckinpah and Oscar Saul’s screenplay. And hey, you never know: this could be the year that Mitch Miller’s Singalong Gang makes an incredible comeback, and we can ALL fall in behind the Major. Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, Senta Berger, James Coburn, Jim Hutton star. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
Dick Dinman is back today with another DVD Classic Corner On The Air podcast, this time about the new Criterion release of the ‘carnival-noir’ classic Nightmare Alley. Dick’s guest interviewees are Tyrone Power Jr., Kim Novak and Colleen Gray, all speaking to the talent and star power of Tyrone Power, whose favorite film this was. CineSavant’s review of the disc is here.
Also in the offing on the podcast front, from correspondent W. David Lichty, is an online talk about the new CD release of Jerry Goldsmith’s unused music score for The Public Eye, the movie reviewed at CineSavant here. Their blurb: “This is music that will be brand-new to most Goldsmith fans, and you’ll hear plenty of illustrative excerpts from the new album along the way.”
Gary Teetzel throws us a link to an Auction of Willis O’Brien Memorabilia, a great many collectables associated with the famed animator and special effects master. One of the items is O’Brien’s Oscar statuette. The first thing we speculated is, how much of this material will Peter Jackson grab up? The minimum bids quoted are certainly in line with High Art.
The middle picture is a still from a test (?) for O’Brien’s pre-war project ‘War Eagles.’ It’s not easy to see, but it depicts an allosaurus (liberated from O’Brien’s abortive Gwangi project) chomping down on one of the title eagles. Down the stack are collections of rare photographs from other O’Brien movies, and beautiful concept artwork for un-filmed projects we never heard of. We did hear of one — King Kong v. Frankenstein, which we haven’t seen since a couple of drawings were printed in Famous Monsters.
Gee, Heritage Auctions, these auction items look really nice. I’d like to bid on some of the still photo collections. Could you post each rare photo as a separate .png graphic, at maybe 400 dpi? That would really encourage me to submit a healthy, multi-million dollar bid.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Essential Film Noir Collection 2 06/29/21
Viavision’s second deluxe Film Noir box finds real variety in the film style, as the selections range from low-budget efforts to an expensive picture shot on location in Mexico. Richard Conte solves a notorious movie studio murder in Hollywood Story, Gig Young is cop thinking of going crooked in City that Never Sleeps, Glenn Ford gets involved with murderous treasure hunters in Mexico in Plunder of the Sun and Steve Cochran’s cop really does go rogue in Private Hell 36. And let’s not forget the lineup of great actresses: Julia Adams, Mala Powers, Marie Windsor, Diana Lynn, Patricia Medina, and Ida Lupino. On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
The Human Condition 06/29/21
Masaki Kobayashi’s six part adaptation of the book by Jumpei Gomikawa may be the most ambitious, most truthful film about the big-picture reality of war. Idealist Tatsuya Nakadai thinks he can avoid complicity in human evil by volunteering as a civilian to manage a work camp in occupied Manchuria, only to find that he’s expected to starve and torture the Chinese slave laborers. Resistance leads to conscription in a brutal boot camp, and deployment on the Northern front just as the Russians invade leads to an extended struggle to survive amid mounting horrors. There’s no escape: the ‘human condition’ is that barbarity is a given, a constant. It’s nine hours of suffering that can change one’s world view. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
With a happy reminder from friend and associate Craig Reardon, we acknowledge that today is the birthday of two greats. As was the case with a great many of our generation, we discovered film music through Bernard Herrmann and movie magic through Ray Harryhausen. By age 16 I had the usual collector’s items- 8mm digests of Harryhausen’s Columbia films, which I’d pore over on our tiny film viewers, marveling at the animation frame by frame. And how many of us purchased THIS record album (←) … which simultaneously launched us kids on the worship of Alfred Hitchcock. I remember that my high school sweetheart thought the Psycho music suite was frightening in itself. Back in his student days Craig was motivated to actually correspond with both artists and was invited to visit one at his home.
Ray Harryhausen ‘illusion magic’ didn’t fade even when we became more sophisticated in our movie tastes. Around 1969 I took my little brother to King Kong Escapes and Destroy All Monsters, but realized that most of the fun had gone out of Toho Kaijus. But The Valley of Gwangi riveted us, by virtue of the incredible animation artistry on view. Adult audiences groaned at the story but loved the sheer magic of Harryhausen’s living, breathing dinosaurs. It wasn’t just the staggering amount of labor and concentration that went into Ray’s illusions; we could tell the man’s life blood was invested in his work. That his achievements were accomplished almost singlehanded was even more amazing.
For most of his career Harryhausen was all but invisible to the industry. But the kids that admired him through Famous Monsters eventually became influential adults, and passed the love on to their kids. We remember great times introducing our own children to Ray’s creations — the giant turtle, and the irate dinosaur that trashes New York City. When I took my kids to hear Ray Bradbury speak, they were pleased to hear the author call out Harryhausen’s talent and praise him to the heavens. The lesson: great creative people often like the same things YOU like. Value and meaning in our culture is where you find it — not all art hangs in museums.
Bernard Herrmann scored a lot of great pictures, and his music made some mediocre pictures highly watchable. Catching up with them all was a voyage of discovery. His music wasn’t all the same. The scores for the Harryhausen pictures alternated ‘big and heavy’ with themes that were playful or quirky or sweet. I guess I first heard Herrmann at age seven, when I felt my stomach vibrate in a big theater with the opening low notes for Journey to the Center of the Earth. I felt myself going down, down, down even before the credits were finished. But Herrmann had real range — Randy Cook had a rare original soundtrack for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and played Herrmann’s The Devil and Daniel Webster and his Orson Welles scores. The discovery continued into the intensely romantic The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
By the time of Fahrenheit 451 and the weird whistling tune for Twisted Nerve it was clear that Herrmann could be as experimental as anyone. Of course, his ‘little girl song’ for Portrait of Jennie is the best bit of macabre ‘ghost music’ ever. The ‘seventies student filmmaker Brian De Palma asked Herrmann mostly for more thunderblast themes, but for Martin Scorsese Herrmann came up with the eeriest jazz accompaniment one can imagine.
As Randy Cook said, Mr. Harryhausen was fortunate to find recognition in his last years — he was appreciated, applauded and awarded. Herrmann passed away when the honoring of Hollywood’s incredible soundtrack stylists was at low ebb. He may have been argumentative in interviews but I don’t think he was ever bitter — he wasn’t the kind of artist that needed adulation to believe in himself.
Proof that the world is opening up again comes with a new film series in Los Angeles, in this case at the Hollywood Legion Theater, up there on Highland Avenue near The Hollywood Bowl. Among other film programs the Legion will be screening Noir in the Summertime in July, a brief series very much like the ‘Noir City’ festivals. It’s organized by Alan K. Rode and Eddie Muller; all the shows will be presented in 35mm. Full details are at the Hollywood Legion Page. That final booking of the crowd-pleasers Loophole and Cry Danger will make for a terrific double bill.
→ And I offer more good thoughts for Alan Rode, who didn’t let the pandemic slow his productivity. I just received the new Arrow Blu-ray set of Major Dundee, which gathers all the previous extras for that title and adds several more. Last July when the Covid Cloud of Doom had brought the whole town to a standstill, Alan and I recorded a commentary together for the previous Viavision disc, speaking into isolated microphones at a near-empty production center. It’s one of three full commentaries ported over to the new Arrow release.
I’ll be aiming for a review ASAP … my sixth for that title! Is an intervention indicated?
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Stranger on the Run 06/26/21
Favorite director Don Siegel is in fine form in this 1967 TV movie, a keeper with qualities not seen in Hollywood’s mega-westerns of the day. Henry Fonda’s ragged drifter is hunted by a gang of railroad deputies, and chief deputy Michael Parks doesn’t intercede because he can’t control his own men. “It’s my lucky day” says Fonda, and maybe it is — help keeps coming from unexpected directions. A great screenplay, Siegel’s direction, plus committed performances make it stand out: Anne Baxter, Dan Duryea, Sal Mineo, Bernie Hamilton and Madlyn Rhue. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Alias Nick Beal 06/26/21
It’s a weird blend of film noir and the supernatural: the suave but sinister Nick Beal arrives to bestow good luck and blessings on a political candidate (Thomas Mitchell) and a ‘fallen woman’ (Audrey Totter). Of course, his real interest is his own ‘collection’ business. Ray Milland tries Pure Evil on for size, in a cultured & sophisticated way, of course. John Farrow directs with his usual precision, but we get plenty of surprises, as when George Macready shows up as a Minister! Nick Beal must be a relative of Mr. Applegate, as the movie is all about how politicians and parking lot owners get started. Being a shrewd reviewer Charlie Largent intuited that maybe The Devil has something to do with this story. He asks, ‘Yes, but can this Beal guy summon demons from Hell?’ On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Over at the Facebook Group known as Friends of 70mm, contact Brian D. Zachel steers us toward a great page at InCinerama.com: it’s an Index of all the Cinerama Theaters that were built in the entire world, each with its own page and all available specifications, dates, etc. We note that a bunch were built or converted around 1958, and that most changed over to 70mm projection in the mid-1960s. Note: yes, I cut off the French text in the graphic above… it continues: “…Étonnant prodigieux unique en France!” Or, “The show the whole world is talking about. Astonishing and unique in France!”
Commie Cinerama? Well, yes and no. As seen briefly in the Russian movie I Am Cuba, there was a Cinerama theater in downtown Havana, the ‘Radiocentro,’ which opened just a few months before Batista fell. It ended up playing ‘Kinopanorama’ movies from Moscow.
Photo evidence proves that there was a genuine Cinerama drive-in theater, the Los Angeles Century Drive In. The projection booth(s) appears to be in the raised box at Row 7 — to me it looks like you’d need to be in the first two rows to get any kind of Cinerama impression.
And the very long page for the Cinerama Dome shows the Sunset Blvd. theater under construction and obviously far from completion, with a big sign selling tickets to It’s a Mad 4 World just a couple of months in the future. Someone tell Michael Schlesinger to ‘Dial MAD.1100’ — I’m sure he’ll want tickets for the premiere.
The page’s documentation is thorough and sometimes very funny, gathering many articles, editorials, comments about the stars, etc. They even have a handwritten note from Barbara Stanwyck saying why she’s turning down an invite to receive a bogus award at the premiere of Krakatoa East of Java.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson