Apocalypse Now Final Cut 4K 03/06/21
Apocalypse Now in 4K? After The Wild Bunch this is one title likely to get me to invest in a new format. Francis Coppola & John Milius’ Vietnam War epic may not be perfect, but it is one of the most exciting movie experiences ever and one of the top achievements of the first film school generation of world-class moviemakers. The release is agreeably all-inclusive: the original Road Show cut and the two revised versions are here along with the excellent making-of feature Hearts of Darkness. Re-tooled and polished up for picture and audio, this qualifies as a prime audio show-off disc too. Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest and Laurence Fishburne all get ticketed for speeding at the Indy 500. On Blu-ray from Lionsgate.
The Flame Barrier 03/06/21
Nope, it’s not on disc but it’s getting written up here because so few people know it and it’s been difficult to see my entire adult life. The fourth Gardner/Levy United Artists horror picture of ’57-’58 is another trip into a jungle’s Heart of Darkness, where awaits a deadly satellite fallen from orbit. Have we missed something Spectacular? Fantastic? Incredible? This seventy minutes of cheap program filler is nobody’s favorite, but CineSavant embraces Sci-Fi orphans of every description. Stars Arthur Franz and Kathleen Crowley can’t have been pleased by the result. How will THE HORROR affect YOU?
Hello Synthetic Flesh!
Everybody’s happy that even amid the pandemic, Warner Bros. is coming through with a new restored Blu of the Two-Color Technicolor Doctor X, a vintage horror thriller to follow up last year’s sensational restoration of the great Mystery of the Wax Museum. The same expert commentators and historians will be on board — Scott MacQueen, Alan K. Rode and a featurette I believe by Constantine Nasr. This disc will also contain a fully restored encoding of the alternate B&W version of Dr. X.. I don’t know the specific differences myself, but I have friends that prefer some elements in the B&W version.
The release date is less then sixty days away, in April. Here’s a good Video Attic interview with Scott MacQueen about the restoration: Exclusive on Doctor X At the end MacQueen mentions that his unit is working on Preston Sturges’ The Sin of Harold Diddlebock and William Dieterle’s All That Money Can Buy, aka The Devil and Daniel Webster.
Suddenly See More.
Just when the mailbox is growing cobwebs, new life springs upon the CineSavant doorstep. Some much-desired Blu-ray titles have arrived and we’re jumping on new reviews. Besides the three above from Kino and The Warner Archive, we’ve got writing going on a pair of Powerhouse Indicator titles… and if the robo-mail ‘delivery imminent’ messages I’ve been getting are true, February’s Viavision [Imprint] titles will soon be crossing the CineSavant threshold as well. Thanks very much for all the notes in reaction to reviews and the ‘image of the day’ at the top of the CineSavant page. I try to respond to every email.
The reader comments over on Trailers from Hell are another story. I’ve enjoyed over five years of great hosting but I still haven’t found out how to reliably respond to reader comments over there. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be… I get to say my piece, so I shouldn’t interfere with the comment process.
Gee, the warming weather outside almost but not quite permits going outside without shoes or socks, which to me is heaven. Being a California boy I subscribe to the Endless Summer theory of life. Have a great weekend!
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Masque of the Red Death 03/02/21
Whoa! CineSavant reviewed a different release of this movie just four months ago. Roger Corman’s 7th Poe/Gothic adaptation is probably his best, thanks to a Beaumont/Campbell screenplay that fully engages with Edgar A.’s morbid agenda. It’s not really kiddie fare, what with the unrelenting emphasis on cruel torture, perverse values and Godless nihilism. Vincent Price’s Prince Prospero has a real philosophy behind his twisted obsessions. Higher English production values and the riveting cinematography of Nicolas Roeg push this one into genuine classic status. The 2018 restoration was aided by Trailers from Hell’s Joe Dante and Jon Davison –several bits missing from censored versions have been reinstated — saved by film collectors. On Region B Blu-ray from Studiocanal.
Show Boat (1951) 03/02/21
MGM’s remake of the grand musical can’t be ignored — the restored transfer is stunning, demonstrating the studio’s technical skill at full tilt. There are good aspects to this version, even if it’s more notable for sticky production backstories. It’s Kathryn Grayson’s high water mark at MGM and Howard Keel does his usual fine work, but Ava Gardner steals the show. MGM’s musical arrangements for the Hammerstein / Kern songbook is as good as ever. Critics in 1951 loved the bright Technicolor and it was one of the top $ money earners of the year. Co-Starring William Warfield, Joe E. Brown, Agnes Moorehead and Marge and Gower Champion. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Quietly filched by yours truly from David J. Schow’s generous emailings, here we have a rather interesting covert investigation of an Abandoned Retro Movie Theater Complex. The video host, a commando trespasser-tourist, wears a breathing apparatus to avoid the mold that creeps into abandoned buildings. He thoughtfully removed all identifying text from his images, so that the video won’t inspire vandals to follow in his footsteps.
The unidentified multiplex shown here closed in 2006 or so, so he’s investigating a place that’s been sitting for a full fifteen years. It’s still showing Episode 3 of Star Wars and Madagascar, both 2005 pictures.
Then, this Detroit Metro Times article by Michael Jackman has a title that explains itself clearly enough: A decade later, Detroit’s crowdfunded RoboCop statue is finally complete — but still awaiting a final home. If Philadelphia can have a statue of Rocky Balboa, why can’t Detroit have one for RoboCop? Maybe they can get OCP to fund it…
Fringe benefit: the article includes a link to a fairly amazing page where you can buy a replica of your favorite movie robot. They appear to have located the original Tobor robot suit but I’m leaning toward my old pal Gort, who would look great in my back yard. Anybody have a spare $10,000 to loan me?
By way of explaining the ‘link’ photo way up top today … the image of the monster coming through the door only looks like it comes from a feature film. It’s actually a doctored Super-8 frame from from a fun movie I shot at my first quarter at UCLA, in November of 1970. The three images above are successive frames chosen to highlight the Ed Wood-worthy climax, where my evil monster-man (Lawrence Noel) uses his ‘evil vision’ to kill various people that chance to see his lethal eyes. I’d tell you that normally he wore a hood, but that’s another story. The upshot is that the monster makeup was performed by the ‘victim #2’ on the right, Randall William Cook. I had known Randy less than a month but had already talked him into helping with my little movies.
This came about because I’m in the process of scanning all of my old 8mm films in addition to a tall stack of home movies from both sides of our family. It’s going to take months, off and on. Will anybody want to look at any of them? What difference would that make?
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Baby Doll 02/27/21
Elia Kazan and Tennessee Williams blurred censorship barriers with their satirical take on overheated Southern Gothic pot-boilers — William Faulkner by way of Erskine Caldwell. New York actors Eli Wallach and Karl Malden conquer Southern accents as they circle like puppy dogs around luscious Carroll Baker, pretending that the same old game can be played with genteel manners. The billboard of Baker jammed into a baby’s crib and sucking her thumb was an affront to the censors when it covered an entire city block in NYC — is obscenity only in the mind of the beholder? Reviewed by Charlie Largent; also with Mildred Dunnock, Lonny Chapman, Madeleine Sherwood, and introducing Rip Torn. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
The Ascent 02/27/21
It’s nearly perfect and utterly profound, a masterpiece — Larisa Shepitko made only four theatrical features yet this Soviet movie about the Great Patriotic War earns her a firm place in film history. Moral betrayals under stress, in the face of profound evil… it’s the human condition. Astonishing for a Mosfilm production of the time, the film equates nationalistic sacrifice with Christian martyrdom. Criterion’s extras tell the impressive story behind the making of this major Soviet production. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
This is late notice, but silent movie fans can still catch the second night of the Kansas Silent Film Festival. It’s normally held as a live event at Washburn University in Topeka, but this year unforeseen circumstances (the exact nature of which escapes me at the moment) have forced the festival online. But that means that anyone can attend, virtually.
CineSavant associate Bill Shaffer is one of the organizers; this year the festival commentator is Denise Morrison, and musical accompaniment will be by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. This is the Link to the Main Page, which has a link to Saturday night’s schedule and streaming instructions.
There’s happy news from Australia, and Viavision [Imprint]… the company’s May lineup includes titles I’ve wanted for years: Alfie is Michael Caine’s fine drama about a Cockney cad who learns some lessons about life; it also features what may be Burt Bacharach’s best song. The President’s Analyst may be the best film James Coburn made in his early stardom; Theodore J. Flicker’s freewheeling, hilarious satire on spies, government secrets and political paranoia is also a strong riposte to the blacklist.
For horror fans there’s the long-delayed (WHY?) esoteric 1940 oddity The Face Behind the Mask. It stars Peter Lorre in a sad little tale of an immigrant watchmaker horribly disfigured in a fire. The other items are an Essential Film Noir Collection 2 box, with The Hollywood Story, Private Hell 36, The City That Never Sleeps and Plunder Under the Sun; James Toback and James Caan’s The Gambler and Deborah Kerr and Hayley Mills in The Chalk Garden.
And we’re hotly awaiting February’s review titles (the mail is s-l-o-wwww..). I believe I’ve asked for Five, Black Sunday, The Bad News Bears and The Bridges at Toko-Ri. Viavision keeps outputting titles not released on Blu here in the states!
And here’s something I’ve been hoping to find for a long time. I have two or three souvenirs from the first run of Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now back in 1979. For me and fellow film student Steve Nielson it was August 16, 1979 to be exact — I attached my ticket stub to the pamphlet, looking forward to a future world with computers and an internet.
Yes, when we first saw the movie at Pacific’s Cinerama Dome, it was in 70mm with an incredible sound system blasting away at us; the experience was a stunner. I believe we sat up most of the night arguing the movie’s merits, but the bottom line is that any movie worth discussing that long has serious merit.
It’s true, in its first run Apocalypse carried no on-screen credits; the picture just faded out on a shot of the boat leaving the Kurtz compound, with a little Zoetrope copyright notice. That’s why they handed us these booklets, as if we were attending the opening of an opera. The idea was to make the movie as an ‘event,’ I guess, and it worked: “Gee, it’s so important, so cinematic, that we don’t want any ‘ordinary’ text on screen.”
Now I’m tempted to buy the 4KHD disc of Apocalypse. I hope it has the original cut without all the extra French plantation nonsense and other extended scenes.
The images can be read better when opened in a new window — they get larger.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Things Change 02/23/21
David Mamet’s gangster fable benefits from a casting match made in heaven — Don Ameche and Joe Mantegna. A showshine vendor is tapped to take a rap for a mob boss, but the hoodlum delivering him to court instead takes him on a two-day escape to Reno … against mob orders. It’s low-key comedy with delightful characters and the sobering knowledge that the weekend will end in jail … or the morgue. After a forty-year hiatus Ameche makes a marvelous return to starring glory… just think, a Mamet film where we really warm up to the players! Also starring Robert Prosky, J.J. Johnston, Ricky Jay, Mike Nussbaum, William H. Macy, J.T. Walsh and Felicity Huffman. On Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Runaway Train 02/23/21
Akira Kurosawa wrote the original story for this slam-bang action picture that finally got Cannon Films on a, ‘Hey this is a great movie’ list or two. Mean, nasty, desperate men make an impossible escape attempt across a frozen landscape that might as well be on the moon. Jon Voight gets to use the same eccentric gimmicks that Dustin Hoffman exploited, and comes off great while Andrei Konchalovsky showed Cannon what a brilliant director could do. The show also established Eric Roberts and Rebecca De Mornay as talents to watch. Co-starring Kyle T. Heffner, John P. Ryan, T.K. Carter and Kenneth McMillan. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
On this first item, we get the word straight from correspondent Gary Teetzel:
“The Orson Welles fan website Wellesnet has posted a link to about five minutes of outtakes from The Lady from Shanghai. No, it’s not long-lost footage from the fun house–it just looks mostly like humdrum second unit stuff of doubles for Welles and Rita Hayworth in the streets of Chinatown, San Francisco. At the end are some shots of the yacht Zaca in its movie ‘role’ as the Circe: Lady from Shangai Outtakes.
Some of the slates display the name ‘Butler.’ The only Butler listed in the IMDB for Shanghai is Lawrence W. Butler, listed as ‘special effects – uncredited.’ One slate does list Welles and DP Charles Lawton Jr.. The Zaca footage lists William Castle on the slate.
Wellesnet seems to think we’re seeing the real Rita Hayworth in the Chinatown footage, but to me it could be a double working with the second unit. ‘Welles’ in the footage would seem clearly to be a double.
Also according to Wellesnet, the Shanghai footage is edited from a longer ten-minute reel of outtakes ‘associated with producer William Castle.’ The non-Shanghai footage involves a fire sequence. Does any William Castle expert know if any of his Columbia Bs from this period included a fire scene? Does anyone recognize the actor climbing the stairs against the flow of traffic? The Wellesnet page offers a link to the full ten minutes, too.”
And we got plenty of positive feedback for the Column’s George Feltenstein piece last Saturday, just in time for the illustrious Dick Dinman to hand off two more new DVD Classics Corner On the Air podcasts about The Warner Archive Collection featuring interviews with George himself. The titles are Dick Dinman Salutes the Warner Archive Part One and Part Two.
On Part One George and Dick discuss the new Blu-rays of Waterloo Bridge, Sergeant York, Libeled Lady, The Mortal Storm, The Pirate and 80th Anniversary Bugs Bunny Collection.
On Part Two the focus of discussion is on Mr. Roberts, The Shop Around the Corner, Young Man with a Horn, Holiday Affair and The Harvey Girls.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
San Francisco 02/20/21
MGM’s glamour factory hit heights of grandeur with this nostalgic disaster spectacle, which retains its power even as its pious sentimentality runs amuck. We don’t believe the characters but we believe the STARS: Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy succeed with sheer personality. Best of all are the sensational special effects featuring the highly cinematic earthquake montage by Slavko Vorkapich and John Hoffman. Co-starring Jack Holt, Jessie Ralph, Ted Healy and Shirley Ross. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo García 02/20/21
Blood, gore and the smell of gunpowder! Sam Peckinpah’s booze-soaked Odyssey sends Warren Oates on a grisly fool’s errand to retrieve a rotting, fly-bitten… oh, just read the title will ya? Resolutely sordid and debased, and soaked in ugly exploitation values, the tale of ‘Machete Bennie’ nevertheless scores as Peckinpah’s last successful movie — if Edgar Allan Poe went crazy locked in a room with rotting corpses, he might have come up with this idea. Co-starring Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Helmut Dantine, Emilio Fernández and Kris Kristofferson. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
I want to say something about George Feltenstein, who I am told has just stepped down from an executive position at Warner Home Video. George’s name has been a pillar of the Home Video industry since the early VHS videotape days, when he headed up MGM/UA Home Video.
I was George’s employee at MGM/UA roughly from 1991 to 1996, when home video profits were motivating the big studios to create film restoration departments. George had a mandate to search the vaults for exploitable content, and his efforts brought forth vast quantities of unused musical numbers and original session recordings for famous scores and songs. Many of these became remastered soundtracks, always with ‘extras.’ Multi-track master recordings made it possible to remix famous musical numbers by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly in true stereophonic sound.
When I arrived at MGM/UA George was in the midst of a pet project called ‘The Ultimate Wizard of Oz‘, a lavish laserdisc that compiled an enormous quantity of audio and video extras for the most magical of MGM musicals. At over $100 dollars a copy (in 1993 dollars) I don’t know how many of the big laserdisc boxes were sold but I’ve proudly kept mine intact. A big part of the job was promoting revivals of MGM product, which put George in contact with numerous legends from his beloved old musicals. MGM/UA sometimes felt a little like TCM, years before TCM came into being.
My first personal contact with George was through the VHS sampler promos I’d cut for cassettes that were distributed monthly to thousands of video stores, everything from Singin’ in the Rain 40th Anniversary to a colorized Jailhouse Rock. We also cut elaborate themed montages for trade shows, and giveaway laserdisc samplers with collage-montages of WB cartoons, Busby Berkeley musical numbers and George’s Forbidden Hollywood series of provocative early talkies that would later be known as pre-Code attractions. Although George’s personal specialty is musicals he lavished special attention on every item in the library regardless of genre. When a classic United Artists science fiction film came up on the release schedule George went to great pains to obtain the original, longer version from an English archive.
George also executive-produced some of the first long-form home video documentaries, for movies like Midnight Cowboy and That’s Entertainment III. Phone calls for George were often routed to the editing room. Some were rather startling, as when a bright-voiced Ann Miller popped on the line in a chirpy Texas accent: “How ya doin’ honey? I’m Ann Miller! Is George around?” Equally unforgettable was the marvelous vocal talent June Foray, who asked basically the same thing, except with the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel. Coming out of the blue, the effect was surreal. At that moment Rocky and Bullwinkle were alive and real.
I do not have the full story on George Feltenstein’s broader career. A bit before the introduction of DVD, I think he left MGM/UA to work for Warners, or was it perhaps first for Turner? When Warner Home Video finally committed its deep film library to the DVD format around 2001 or 2002, George took charge.
One of George’s biggest achievements is the creation of The Warner Archive Collection, an entirely new home video marketing concept. The WAC’s high-quality made-on-demand discs ran an end-run around the shrinking market for DVD disc sales. After an initial hiccup or two the brand took off like wildfire. George made sure that every WAC title be released in its original aspect ratio. Thus fans, collectors, writers and researchers were given ready access to a huge quantity of MGM, Warners and RKO film history.
George put his full energy into promotions. His team maintained a fan-friendly website and frequently plugged their new releases and restorations in person at conventions. Whenever I inquired about some new restoration that was cooking he’d return my calls to explain what was being done. I’d get both the whole story and the part that was safe to print. In other words, George personally made Warners the most consumer-friendly of studio Home Video companies, generating a mountain of good will. Clear evidence of this can be heard in the Warner Archives’ Apple Podcasts, all 425 of them.
The latest news is that George will continue to be a consultant for the company, which is a smart move on Warners’ part. His judgment and fine taste will continue to have a positive influence on the industry.
And let me sneak in a link to an article by my associate Marc Edward Heuck at the blog ‘Rupert Pupkin Speaks.’ For the last twenty-odd years Marc has amazed me with his photographic memory for everything concerning film. Every year Marc would issue a ‘best-of’ feature list, and his recommendations could be counted on to be both 1) titles I’d not even heard of, and 2) titles that were great. The pandemic year didn’t slow Marc down — he calls this screening report Film Discoveries of 2020.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson