Buffalo Bill and the Indians 12/15/20
… or, Sitting Bull’s History Lesson. Robert Altman’s grand circus movie about the intersection of history, show biz and mythomania is the expected free-form pageant with dozens of speaking roles, all talking over each other. Paul Newman is a grand Buffalo Bill, and his conflict with the famed Indian chief ends up on a literal ‘spiritual’ level. Geraldine Chaplin is great as Annie Oakley and the Wild West Circus atmosphere is wonderful. The only gripe is Altman’s style: it’s all filmed in telephoto lenses, which flattens everything out and keeps up visually/psychologically distant from the drama. The extras include vintage early films of the actual Wild West show, including a performance by the real Annie Oakley. On Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Guest reviewer Matt Rovner delves into the cultural riches of ethnic films specially made for speakers of the Yiddish language. Some were made in Poland and others in New Jersey (according to Edgar Ulmer!)… and if they seem obscure they’re nevertheless culturally significant as a record of a language that’s fast disappearing. Among the gems is a significant folk-horror tale and an original non-musical drama about Tevye the Milkman’s problems with his daughter and the oppressive laws of the Czar. On Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Repertory.
Robert Aldrich promised no-holds barred rough-tough dramas, and his first two Associates & Aldrich productions certainly hit hard. This play adaptation shows its director’s strength (no-flinching full shock impact) and weakness (theatrical overplaying) in full measure, but the unrestrained performances of Jack Palance and Eddie Albert are unforgettable. The main event can’t have pleased the Pentagon: shooting one’s own officer in combat. Plus, Lee Marvin and Richard Jaeckel get in early innings for their future work in Aldrichs’s The Dirty Dozen. With William Smithers, Buddy Ebsen, Robert Strauss and a German tank that has Jack Palance’s number. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Correspondent ‘Bee’ sends along this pretty amazing Cartoon Research article by Keith Scott entitled Avery …. Vol. 2??? Well, Imagine That! The article’s real mission is to divulge the identities of scores of voice talent names and what they did on specific cartoons. The list is pretty amazing, and Scott includes bio information, inside comments, and other research. It makes us more aware of how sophisticated and artful are those Avery cartoon tracks — masterpieces of pitch and timing. He even identifies a lady who whistles on a cartoon soundtrack. That reminds me, we’re due to review the WAC’s Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 2 Disc…
And contributor-reviewer Lee Broughton has an interesting article up on his Current Thinking on the Western page: the current entry for December 13, 2020 is called An Interview with Filmmaker Chris Keller. I don’t know whether to think of Keller as an amateur or a professional. The uptake on him is that he’s one of those Euro-fans of Italo westerns that visits shooting sites in Almeria, Spain — and films his own movies there. He calls them amateur productions but they’re too elaborate and professional to to be dismissed so quickly. The main one under discussion in the interview is called …. and then the Vultures had a Feast. The article contains a free link to see it online (!) plus links to other Keller mini-masterpieces — made completely with the help of friends. Vultures has the participation of an actress from some Spaghettis, who was married to a director.
And thanks to Matt Rovner for the review today of the Classics of Yiddish Cinema films. Matt collaborated with me on a commentary for Arch Oboler’s sci-fi classic Five, which will be coming from Viavision [Imprint] in February. The image above is from the Yiddish folk-horror movie The Dybbuk (1937), which is partly restored and presented in two versions.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Mister Roberts 12/12/20
This adapted Broadway play may be considered minor John Ford moviemaking, and some sources say he had to drop out before he could film very much of it. But what’s on the screen pleased audiences primed for the first wave of WW2 nostalgia. The story of cargo officer Henry Fonda’s one-man war against his Bligh-like Captain James Cagney had all of us ’50s kids asking dad if the war really was like that. James Cagney steals the show while stars William Powell, Betsy Palmer and Ward Bond make their marks. Young Jack Lemmon debuts the basic character he’d play for the next fifteen years and wins an Oscar for his trouble. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Dawn of the Dead 12/12/20
Remember the old saying, ‘I’ll be Gore for Christmas’? Lee Broughton returns with a review of a mammoth limited edition box set dedicated to George A. Romero’s gut-wrenching zombie apocalypse opus, the grand and gory-ous first sequel to Night of the Living Dead. Fine performances from a quartet of unfamiliar lead actors, hordes of malevolent zombies convincingly brought to life by hundreds of local volunteers, groundbreaking make-up and special effects by Tom Savini and a wholly involving storyline combine to make Romero’s finely crafted horror show a real winner. And the box is big enough to include at least one dehydrated Zombie. Just add water. On Region B Blu-ray from Second Sight.
Go West + College 12/12/20
More Keaton is always a good thing — fans of The General and The Cameraman will find plenty to enjoy in these two classics. Buster befriends a cow ( ! ) in Go West and conquers several sports in College. Cohen’s Buster Keaton Collection series is up to Volume 4, with both shows featuring Italian restorations. With music scores by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Score Orchestra and Rodney Sauer; the disc extra is a rare audio talk by Buster himself. On Blu-ray from The Cohen Group.
First up is some fun from the rumor mill. Since I’ve heard it from three separate sources now — and one of them someone likely to know, I don’t feel too hasty passing on the unconfirmed report that a Blu-ray is on the way for George Pal’s Destination Moon. That’s the epochal science fiction movie that jump-started both Pal’s live-action career and the entire 1950s Sci-fi wave. For all I know, the in-the-works disc is already common knowledge on the web boards. Various rights for this particular title are spread out here and there so there’s no saying where exactly it comes from or who to ask about it, and I have no further details. What’s important to us diehard fans is getting all the ’50s greats out in editions that show them at their best. The one available DVD of this show is pretty ragged.
Yes, in strict historical terms Germans and Soviets were the first to make movies about going to the moon with rocket technology. But Pal’s picture is the one that captured the imagination just as the feasibility of such an incredible journey gained traction. Moon was still included in the discussion when the real moon landing came in 1969 — the network news shows ran film clips from Pal’s show, and also from Things to Come to illustrate 20th-century notions of ‘The Conquest of Space.’ I remember the news broadcasters reporting that Apollo 11’s LEM module had to do a last-minute sideways maneuver to find a suitable landing spot — and one commentator noting that that a similar close-call incident had been depicted in Destination Moon.
And wow — What a happy surprise from The Warner Archive Collection for January. The WAC’s Blu-ray announcements showcase four new items: After the Thin Man is the first sequel for William Powell & Myrna Loy, Room for One More is a follow-up for Cary Grant & Betsy Drake’s Every Girl Should Be Married and the great MGM musical Good News has the must- see ‘Pass that Peace Pipe’ number with Joan McCracken.
The killer announcement is for a movie I was beginning to fear would never be cleared for a disc release, the terrific Doris Day musical The Pajama Game. It’s up there as Day’s best or near-best movie — all the songs are wonderful show-stoppers, and Day’s exuberant character is perfectly tuned to her image. It’s also a great show for Carol Haney and Reta Shaw, and of course the choreography of Bob Fosse. Neither The Pajama Game nor Damn Yankees has been around on hard media since 2005 or so; I’m not sure either has even been screened on TCM, although I’m told that a good encoding of Yankees can be seen on Amazon Prime. Pajama Game is going to be a super winter treat.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Fear No Evil & Ritual of Evil 12/08/20
Louis Jourdan stars in a pair of classy TV movie horrors as Dr. David Sorell, investigator of the occult. In Fear No Evil the focus is on a haunted mirror, and Ritual of Evil sees Sorell opposing a devil cult. A lot of good names get involved — directors Robert Day and Paul Wendkos, and actors Lynda Day George, Anne Baxter, Carroll O’Connor, John McMartin, Bradford Dillman, Belinda Montgomery, Marsha Hunt, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Georg Stanford Brown, Diana Hyland. Reviewer Charlie Largent sorts them all out. These shows have a good reputation — does the haunted mirror episode give Dead of Night a run for its money? On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Criterion lets out the stops to celebrate a filmmaker long due for some victory laps — Claudia Weill’s endearing drama takes on the subject of a modern woman trying to be independent but human in the tough art world of New York. Criterion says that when Weill was admitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1981, she was only the fourth woman director ever voted in… The cast of this freewheeling show is delightful — Melanie Mayron, Anita Skinner, Christopher Guest, Bob Balaban, Amy Wright, Viveca Lindfors, and of course Eli Wallach. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Danger: Diabolik 12/08/20
Double your Diabolik and double your pleasure! … this Australian import chases a domestic disc onto the market after only a few months, but of course comes with irresistible new extras to tempt collectors and completists. Mario Bava’s funniest, most dynamic action thriller was the first feature to really capture the graphic art ‘feeling’ of comic panels — we wish he’d directed a whole series of Diabolik adventures. The evaluation section notes the small differences between this disc and the U.S. release from last April. Starring John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli and Terry-Thomas. On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
If you’re still interested in The Wonders of Aladdin with Donald O’Connor, a helpful page called Peplum TV documents six minutes of scenes cut from the movie, with images. For a kiddie picture, it’s rather adult. You’ll have to scroll down a ways to the November 26 entry.
So, looking at what’s coming up at CineSavant through the holidays… already in my fat widdle hands are the following, in alphabetical order:
Attack (KL Studio Classics),
Buffalo Bill and the Indians (Powerhouse Indicator),
Crash (The Criterion Collection),
Devil in a Blue Dress (Powerhouse Indicator),
Diary of a Mad Housewife (KL Studio Classics),
Essential Film Noir (Viavision [Imprint]),
Go West and College, The Buster Keaton Collection Volume 4 (Cohen),
Hard Eight (Viavision [Imprint]),
The Harvey Girls (Warner Archive),
Holiday Affair (Warner Archive),
The Kiss Before the Mirror (KL Studio Classics),
The Lost Weekend (KL Studio Classics),
Mister Roberts (Warner Archive),
Moonstruck (The Criterion Collection),
Mouchette (The Criterion Collection),
Plague Town (Severin),
Tales of the Uncanny (Severin), and
A Town Like Alice (Umbrella, DVD).
As for discs promised but not quite received I’m told that the following are on the way — and let it be proclaimed far and wide that we have FAITH in the good old U.S. Mail:
Giant from the Unknown (The Film Detective), the Astor Pictures epic about a hybernating Spanish Conquistador …
… a new edition of the murderous noir Sudden Fear (Cohen), with Joan Crawford, Jack Palance and Gloria Grahame,
… and a special UK edition of The Masque of the Red Death (Studiocanal), another opportunity, with different extras, to see the new full restoration of the Roger Corman / Vincent Price favorite.
And finally, Viavision [Imprint]’s February titles have been announced. I’m especially looking forward to a trio of very special movies:
John Frankenheimer’s Black Sunday, with a commentary by Stephen Prince.
← Mark Robson’s The Bridges at Toko-Ri will carry a commentary by Alan K. Rode, which ought to be a treat
And Arch Oboler’s atom apocalypse classic Five will have a commentary with myself and Oboler biographer Matt Rovner, plus a video analysis with Kim Newman.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Puppetoon Movie Volume 2 12/05/20
Talk about the Lost Arts — Animation of various kinds, even stop-motion, is now a major part of filmmaking entertainment. But back in the 1940s the wonder man for ‘how’d they do that’ Technicolor marvels was George Pal, a grateful displaced European who made marvelous ‘trickfilm’ animations using little wooden puppets with hundreds of interchangeable pieces. Arnold Leibovit follows up his first Puppetoon disc with a bounteous, bigger collection of animated gems in Blu-ray HD. They’re fascinating to study in slow motion — the volume of craft, patience and artisan labor that goes into these shows is staggering. On Blu-ray + DVD from Puppetoon Productions.
In 2001 I wrote, ‘Someday I’ll get to see a good copy of Robert Aldrich’s great movie Apache. Kino’s excellent new MGM remaster brings back the color and the correct screen shape, and even cleans up some wicked frame damage that’s been there for sixty years. The athletic Burt Lancaster will make every man and boy feel like running across whatever landscape is available, leaping like a gymnast from rock to rock. Properly restored, the tale of the rebellious Massai plays better than a dozen politically revisionist westerns, even with Burt as a blue-eyed Apache. The movie solidified Lancaster’s producing career and Robert Aldrich earned his first box office hit.. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Shop Around the Corner 12/05/20
CineSavant’s hands-down favorite holiday film, this Ernst Lubitsch classic radiates human kindness in all directions. Nobody is perfect: misunderstandings benign and profound are the gentle impetus for a sweet story that will renew one’s belief that people are basically good. It’s James Stewart’s best pre-war performance, as he fits his character so perfectly; as in last month’s The Mortal Storm he and Margaret Sullavan exude decency and ‘niceness’ even when they’re being rude to each other. Frank Morgan tops his Wizard characterization, and the movie is so generous that it lets the nervy little go-getter William Tracy be the hero of the day. I’m glad this wasn’t re-invented as a sitcom, but they sure ran it through the remake hurdles.. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
I love it! I put a picture of a baby up top last Tuesday and his link (to 1965’s Georgy Girl) made the Trailers from Hell most popular article list for two days. I’m not kidding, I got notes from people who understood how the ‘click on this’ link works and notes from some that didn’t. Right about this time many of us are thinking of children and even new babies that we cannot see, meet or hold in person until a certain global problem is put to rest.
This holiday let’s keep all the babies safe and snug from health hazards, of all kinds.
I guess the Warners decision to release all of its 2021 films to streaming at the same time that theaters get them is the big news this week: Warner Bros. to Debut Entire 2021 Film Slate, Including Dune and Matrix 4, Both on HBO Max and In Theaters. I’m already receiving pub announcements from a research firm stating that ‘audiences will demand’ to see movies on their home screens after the pandemic has passed, too. Of course, they’re thumping for HBO Max.
We’re all thinking of things that may not go back to ‘normal’ after the pandemic passes. Businesses gone, services changed. A lot of restaurants and independent bookstores, of course.
But a close associate sees the Big News of the ‘eclipse of the theaters’ as an acceleration of what the big studio content providers — most of which are consolidated under broad corporate umbrellas — have been wanting to do for years: cut those troublesome exhibitors out of the loop. I think that the theater-going habit will come back, at least for some segment of the audience. When it is safe to do so people are surely going to want to get out of the house, just like they always have. I’m no longer a once-a-week moviegoer, and I’m not sure anybody really is, but the already shrunken theater market out there will surely become even smaller. “Event Movies” will of course continue, but modest dramas and arthouse films for older audiences? … not so sure about them. They may be doomed forever to wander between the winds take up permanent residence in splinter streaming systems, away from mass distribution.
← I was told last week that a similar ‘sudden’ shift in the technical end of the movie business happened nine years ago. Remember the havoc of the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami? One small part of its aftermath was that some Japanese factories that produced much of the world’s magnetic videotape were put out of commission. Before 2011 most everything was recorded on videotape, even as the trend toward videochip and hard drive recording grew. The industry resisted because post houses (which would soon mostly disappear as well) made huge profits passing on the cost of videotape to their customers. In the ’90s I’d walk out of an $800 editing session with $500 worth of show dubs, backup dubs, work tape dubs. When the 2011 earthquake cut off the supply of videotape stock production shifted to the new model. ‘Camera’ digital recordings were backed up on various drives, and videotape use in some applications went into decline. My ‘career’ in advertising and trailers is in my attic, on 1″, 3/4″ and digibeta tapes … all of which aren’t that easy to play anyplace, anymore. There’s still plenty of videotape around, it hasn’t disappeared entirely.
We’re accustomed to most industry evolution being a gradual process, like the general ‘de-film’ transformation that changed the business in the 1990s. Just as I got out of trailer work, editing on 35mm, going to a film lab and an audio mix with tracks cut on magnetic film was the norm. Then digital finishing took over, a change as big as the shift in special effects to CGI. No more mixing houses with banks of audio dubbers, no more learning how to explain an effect to an optical house by marking a work print with grease pencil. I almost trained to become an optical line-up expert, prepping elements and taking counts for an optical printer operator. That entire rarified specialty disappeared overnight.
But that was natural evolution, not a consequence of a tsunami or a plague. The pandemic is obviously changing the world — how many more companies will now decide that it’s just fine to have employees work from home? What will happen to all the surplus office space? Will fewer cars be sold to fewer commuters? How much less business travel will there be, if vendors don’t have to impress clients by flying thousands of miles to make in-person pitches?
But the big news for the impact of the pandemic on Hollywood is the boost given to streaming. Empty theaters are definitely helping the streaming model conquer more visual entertainment. And the companies that like that idea are already crowing that ‘audience demand’ will be for new movies to be immediately available to their home theaters in ‘normal’ times as well.
And finally, some good news from overseas, a CineSavant SCOOP of sorts. Ulrich Bruckner of Explosive Media has made arrangements to release two epic Italian sword ‘n’ sandal epics on Blu-ray, probably arriving next Spring (2021). Both were produced in Rome by Titanus. I won’t know any more details for months; Explosive Media discs are almost always English friendly, and some are All-Region. We’re hoping for original, longer versions, of course.
First Up will be Romolo e Remo, the 1961 epic about the founding of Rome filmed in CinemaScope. Starring as the warring brothers is the unbeatable peplum team of Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott. Their co-star is Virna Lisi. The English version of the show, reduced by nineteen minutes, was distributed by Paramount as Duel of the Titans. It’s said to be a quality epic all down the line — the director is Sergio Corbucci (you know, the director of Nebraska Jim) and the music is by Piero Piccioni.
Explosive has also licensed the truly epic 1962 Titanus production Sodoma e Gomorra, known in America as The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah or simply Sodom and Gomorrah. A huge bust for Robert Aldrich in his European career detour, the show has an all-star cast: Stewart Granger, Anouk Aimée, Pier Angeli, Stanley Baker, Rossana Podestà, Scilla Gabel and Alice and Ellen Kessler.
It’s coming from Italy, so we’re hoping that the disc will be remastered (it needs it) and again, in international versions. We’re already fans of the music score by Miklos Rosza. I don’t expect it to be longer or different than the standard 154-minute cut we see here, but who knows? You never can tell: perhaps an Italian cut will indeed carry a directing credit for Sergio Leone.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson