Alex Cox attacks the Reagan years with a political tale sung in the key of the Italo Spaghetti Western: expect plenty of slow motion shots of stylish pistolero mercenaries fighting for the historical ‘filibuster’ William Walker. Look him up, he’s the patron saint of every neocon and would-be soldier of fortune. Everybody on this show goes the whole 9 yards in commitment, with Ed Harris in the lead — they filmed in Nicaragua. It may be director Cox’s finest film, packed with vivid images and surreal anachronisms — and a terrific music score by Joe Strummer. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
China Gate 04/16/22
The messy politics of the Indo-China War didn’t confuse writer-director Samuel Fuller; as the machine gun- toting Nat King Cole snarls, hating Commies is an end unto itself! Fuller’s second outrageous Cold War combat fantasy pits a handful of French Legionnaires and mercenaries against the might of the International Communist Conspiracy, to stop the flow of Chinese and Russian weapons into Vietnam. Commander Gene Barry has an ally who could be straight from a Terry and the Pirates comic strip: Eurasian adventuress Lucky Legs. Young Angie Dickinson is the good-time-girl / wronged spouse / caring mother who also maintains cordial pillow-talk relations with the Red vermin. If those are the Good and the Bad, Lee Van Cleef’s Chinese General is the Ugly: his troops guard the China Gate, the key to Commie victory! On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
It’s a full-on CineSavant Column weekend of Gary Teetzel links and research. First up is a link to a ‘Jerry Haendiges Productions’ encoding of an episode of Boris Karloff and his Treasure Chest. It’s a half-hour radio show for kiddies that Boris hosted while appearing on Broadway in Peter Pan. We don’t know if anything was performed live: Karloff says he’s playing his stellar lineup of guests ‘from a record.’ When Karloff tells the kiddies to get ready for bed, it’s not in the least bit creepy.
It’s from October 1, 1950. Boris talks about Baseball and ducks and goats, and introduces Burl Ives, who sings about a goat, and Danny Kaye, who sings about a Tuba. Boris tries to explain the differences between cricket and baseball, and gives an excellent, dynamic reading of Casey at the Bat. Even when performing for small fry Karloff is splendid; how inspired that he would later be tapped for the Grinch Christmas show. My ‘desperation’ image above does not come from this particular show.
Then we get one of Gary’s clippings features, in this case pulled from a Paramount Pictures in-house publication called Paramount World, which apparently collected international exhibition reports of the studio’s releases. It’s for diehard fans of the days when shows like The Blob were big business all around the world. Its co-feature I Married a Monster from Outer Space apparently followed from country to country.
Trinidad. Note the box on the floor is said to contain The Blob itself — keep that thing refrigerated!
British Guiana. I can’t quite make out what it says on the shirts other than ‘The Blob.’ Bottom word looks like it might be “Astor.” In the Trinidad photo above they say that ‘Astor’ is the name of the theater playing the film in Trinidad; did they perhaps mix up the photo captions, or did both locales playing The Blob have a theater called the Astor?
Buenos Aires. The Spanish title for The Blob was La Mancha Voraz, which Google translates as “The Ravenous Stain.” Since that doesn’t sound right, we investigated. A more accurate translation in Spanish might be ‘La Masa Amorfa,’ to wit ‘The Amorphous Mass.’ But ‘mancha’ can also be a (tiny) blob, as in a daub of paint or a bloop of ink. The publication uses the term Paramount – Plus, which makes us think of today’s streaming service Paramount +.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A , Variety reported on September 10 that the Fred Astaire Dance Studios (!) were developing a Blob dance to go with the song, and there would be a “Miss Blob.” Gary wants to know how the dancers learned to creep, leap, glide and slide across the floor.
On September 24, Variety commented on the 45rpm single song release by The Five Blobs. And to think we missed the swingin’ flip side of the platter, with The Five Blobs singing ‘Saturday Night in Tiajuana’ (sic).
The main takeaway from this is — I wish I had some of those posters! Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Miracle in Milan 04/12/22
Still believe in the goodness of people? Still hold out hope for the future? If so this is one picture you’ll want to catch up with sooner than later. ‘The Good Totò’ is literally found in a cabbage patch; the simple magic of kindness enables him to turn a shanty town into a little Utopia . . . for a few days. Vittorio De Sica and Cesare Zavattini fashion a story that insists that magic is as real as sunlight, music, and the words ‘Good Morning’ — and that man is imperfect and his institutions unjust. Francesco Golisano, Brunella Bovo and the heavenly Emma Gramatica are unforgettable. The warmth and understanding here bests that of Charlie Chaplin. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man 04/12/22
W.C. Fields’ Larson E. Whipsnade, bogus Barnum imitator, is everything in this tale of fatherly malice love. Whipsnade dodges the lawmen and cheats everybody to benefit his Circus Giganticus; his college-girl daughter loves ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (or does she secretly dig Charlie McCarthy?). It’s carny nonsense all the way, dated race humor, brilliant insult jokes and all: “You can’t cheat an honest man; never give a sucker an even break, or smarten up a chump.” Michael Schlesinger’s audio commentary wises up us chumps; CineSavant reviewer Charlie Largent is back in action, and cheats nobody! On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Oops … just as I was linking to a YouTube encoding of Edgar G. Ulmer’s Journey Beneath the Desert on Saturday, some (righteous) rights holder took it down … but do not despair. As a consolation prize, correspondent Jonathan Gluckman forwards another YouTube video, a single scene from the movie, albeit in not quite its full Technirama width: Antinea, l’amante della città sepolta.
But you do get to see Jean-Louis Trintignant, Haya Harareet, Gian-Maria Volontè, Amedeo Nazzari and Giulia Rubini — and one of Edgar Ulmer’s impressive sets. The Carlo Rustichelli music is good, too.
We Wanna Go to the Mayfair and the RKO Palace!
And now, a little detour to discuss an NYC Times Square picture palace, just because it came up while reviewing Conquest of Space last Saturday. Being a California boy who visited Times Square just once in 1998, I had no idea that several of the iconic giant movie palaces we see in photos were once right there in the center of everything. I assume that some later became legit houses?
Correspondent and advisor “B” explained that
. . . the RKO Palace is absolutely in Times Square; it basically faces it, at 1564 Broadway (Seventh Avenue side) between 46th and 47th Street. If you were in the area in ’98, you may recall seeing the marquee for the Broadway production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast — it was playing at the Palace. The theatre has been undergoing extensive renovation for the past few years. The hotel next door is being expanded (and will now extend to a high-rise area above the theatre) and the theatre itself is being raised thirty feet. But the place will still be there, thankfully.
The position of the Palace made it a frequent ‘supporting star’ in movie scenes that show Times Square. It’s just to the right of the Mayfair Theater, the movie house with the giant billboard that reaches up eight or nine stories. ← Here in a screen shot from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Judy Garland is appearing at the Palace, performing live. The marquee often advertises, “8 Vaudeville Acts.” I have no idea how long the average vaudeville act was, but that can’t have left much room for a second feature. (All images enlarge zoomed or in new window.)
Yup, that’s the Palace back in the day. If you look at the pan of the Broadway area near the beginning of George Stevens’ Something to Live For, you can see a similar marquee set-up for the Palace… eight vaudeville acts, with Samuel Fuller’s The Baron of Arizona as the screen attraction. Gun Crazy played there in the late summer of 1950.
This appears to be the actual ad to go with the image just below. The Hilton Sisters — yes, from Tod Browning’s Freaks! get more attention than Joseph H. Lewis’s Gun Crazy:
The 1,700 seat Palace opened in 1913 as a vaudeville house, and quickly became the most well-known such venue in the United States. It began primarily showing movies in 1932 and would often show pictures in conjunction with vaudeville acts; in the latter ‘thirties, it became strictly a picture house for some years. In 1949, the theatre reinstituted its movie/vaudeville policy and continued with it into the mid-’50s. Occasionally during this period the Palace would house ambitious one-person shows — Judy Garland’s famous early ’50s comeback sold out the place for three or four months, and Danny Kaye and Jerry Lewis each had several very successful solo runs at the theatre in the ’60s.
After the mid-’50s the house was sometimes a roadshow house (Bridge on the River Kwai, The Roots of Heaven, The Diary of Anne Frank) and more frequently a first-run venue — The Birds was a smash at the Palace). In 1966, the Nederlanders began to convert the Palace into a legit house (Sweet Charity was a big hit there); it continued to show movies from time to time until 1970, when it permanently became an important B’way theatre. [We saw La Cage Aux Folles there in ’84.]
As the photo proves, the Palace also booked Invaders from Mars two years before Conquest of Space; I have a hard time imagining seeing Invaders with 1600 other people and then sitting through stage acts. The experts say that Conquest did not do well at the box office, but its initial run doesn’t seem to have been too shabby, as shown by “B”s research.
I’ll let “B” finish:
I am looking over issues of Variety from March and April of ’55, and in many cities I’m seeing Conquest playing either solo or as the lead film in a double-feature. It did $12,000 as a solo in at its opening stanza at Cincinnati’s Palace in mid-March, and perhaps $17,000 as a solo at Cleveland’s Loew’s State. That same week, it did $5,000 at the Fenway and $17,000 at the Paramount in Boston, playing with Roger Corman’s tiny Five Guns West for ARC in both situations; with AA’s The Bob Mathias Story as a second feature, Conquest did a ‘standout’ $18,000 at the Palms in Detroit, with Robert Lippert’s Silver Star, it did $12,000 at Buffalo’s Paramount. In April, paired with Republic’s Timberjack (at least this was a relatively strong color co-feature), Conquest did $21,000 at the Roosevelt, and was held over for a second week.
Conquest of Space did about $23,000 at its single week at NY’s RKO Palace, supported by those eight vaudeville acts; Variety called this gross ‘sturdy.’
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Conquest of Space 04/09/22
George Pal’s ill-fated ‘future docu’ followup to Destination Moon still stirs the imagination, rendering in vivid Technicolor the visionary images that amazed us in Chesley Bonestell’s paintings about space travel. We still love the movie, even if we want to shove the script and whoever approved it out an airlock without a space helmet. It’s fun to pick the movie apart, but when Van Cleave’s trilling ‘spacey’ music plays we know we’re back in 1950s Sci-fi Nirvana, anticipating a techno-future of space marvels. [Imprint] gives the movie a classy Blu-ray showcase. On Region-free Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
Hester Street 04/09/22
Every breakout independent hit seems like a miracle. This delightful ‘little’ picture was fated to be ghetto-ized into ethnic theaters before its producers opted to distribute it themselves. Capturing a vibrant part of the immigrant experience, Joan Micklin Silver’s micro-production often has a big-picture look; it charmed audiences and became a sleeper success. Star Carol Kane was nominated for an acting Oscar as ‘Gitl,’ a woman with Old-Country values plus the grit and determination to win a better life. Also with fine performances from Steven Keats, Mel Howard, Dorrie Kavanaugh and Doris Roberts. On Blu-ray from Cohen / Kino Lorber.
A big positive response for the Buster Keaton documentary link last Tuesday, which is maybe why this time around I’m again leaning on links to online videos. First up is a full feature suggested by correspondent and old friend Malcolm Alcala, responding to our earlier Edgar G. Ulmer review.
It’s a rather good YouTube encoding of Ulmer’s 1961 L’amante della città sepolta with Jean-Louis Trintignant, Haya Harareet, George Riviére and Gian-Maria Volontè; it’s also called Journey Beneath the Desert and in this French iteration, L’Atlantide. It’s version number six or seven of the Benoit novel, L’Atlantide, which shares a lot in common with H. Rider Haggard’s She; this update keeps ‘Atlantis’ under the Sahara desert but adds an atom test subplot.
The version is in un-subtitled French but the good scan lets us imagine how beautiful original Technirama-Technicolor prints might have been — the movie reportedly had a 70mm release in Europe. The story is slow, talky and more than a little stiff overall — but Ulmer’s sets are really impressive, as is Carlo Rustichelli’s music score. Ariannè Ulmer Cipes receives screen credit for Assistant Direction — as ‘Ariannè Arden,’ the name she used when acting in Beyond the Time Barrier. The IMDB lists her as a dialogue coach, which may have been her own description of her duties on the movie.
Someone alert our friends Tom Weaver and Jeffrey Wells: according to an official Disney disc insert from 2004, widescreen formatting is a nefarious conspiracy to cheat you from seeing the ‘whole original image!’
The picture on the left is the insert from the old Disney DVD of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and it made us wonder why Disney would feel the need to get defensive about a flat full frame transfer of their fine 1959 movie — in 2004, before widescreen TVs had taken over, most everybody’s ‘family’ films were routinely put out flat on home video.
We thought the text was amusing, as if an attorney were making a backwards argument — completely misrepresenting the concept of widescreen exhibition — and acting as if they’re doing us a favor.
The image at left can be made more legible: it zooms bigger or can be opened in a new window.
The Disney Club has released a new Blu-ray of Darby O’Gill and first reports are that the aspect ratio is 1:66 widescreen, which is fine by us at CineSavant, although the film’s special effects were fun to scrutinize full-frame as well. When I was 7, by myself in the Hickam Air Base theater, those banshees sure had me worried.
The Warner Archive Collection’s new Blu-ray of Kevin Reynolds’ Fandango prompted me to go searching for an online encoding of the USC film that was the basis for the show. It’s called Proof, and it is exactly what a smart film student of 1979 should concoct to get the attention of Steven Spielberg — a nicely crafted ‘crazy road trip’ movie about the challenge three beer-swizzling clowns set up for their nerdy friend to prove his courage — at the flakiest parachute jump school imaginable. Smart work, Kevin — just like Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis before you, you caught the brass ring and formed a solid (for quite a while) working relationship with Kevin Costner.
I remember Proof well because of its actor Marvin J. McIntyre, who is a hilarious original here: “ARCH!” He repeated his character in Fandango and graced a number of good shows in the following years. Marvin was a good friend of a fellow editor in trailers and came by the shop often (quite a few years ago). Proof wasn’t Marvin’s first film role but it certainly got him going . . . Spielberg’s vote of approval had to help a little.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Edgar G. Ulmer Sci-Fi Collection 04/05/22
Kino’s triple-threat Edgar Ulmer show has great commentaries plus HD debuts of his two ‘Texas’ movies, that likely have not been seen in their original widescreen aspect ratios since the 1960s. Ulmer’s first tale of a solo space invader The Man from Planet X has the pleasing look of a silent-era expressionist film. His take on a time travel paradox Beyond the Time Barrier uses Air Force cooperation to project pilot Robert Clarke from 1959 to the far far future date of 2024 (ulp!). And Ulmer’s cut-rate The Amazing Transparent Man is a master thief sprung from the pokey to help with a mad scheme to conquer the world — but the crook instead rushes to rob a bank! The excellent presentations will have special appeal for connoiseurs of exotic sci-fi thrillers. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Whistle at Eaton Falls 04/05/22
TCM premiered a welcome restoration of this honorable Louis de Rochemont drama last year, and now it’s on a pristine-quality Blu-ray. Almost an ‘anti- film noir,’ the story of a labor conflict in a tiny New England hamlet is a docu-drama about a civic problem that actually has a positive, if not Utopian, ending. Fine direction by Robert Siodmak breathes life into the thesis that Yankee ingenuity and ethical fair play can still save the day. A superb underdog cast — Lloyd Bridges, Carleton Carpenter, Murray Hamilton, James Westerfield, Lenore Lonergan, Russell Hardie, Helen Shields, Doro Merande, Diana Douglas, Anne Francis, Ernest Borgnine, Arthur O’Connell and even Dorothy Gish — bring this odd ‘Pepperidge Farms’ neo-realist tale to life. On Blu-ray from Flicker Fusion.
A great find on the web. Readers frequently ask about this show — it’s Kevin Brownlow & David Gill’s superb documentary Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, from 1987 and narrated by Lindsay Anderson. It’s in three parts, at the Internet Archive.
There have been other docus on Keaton but this is by far the best, with more insight and more input via film of Keaton telling his own story. Everything seems fresh even if you’ve read the books or seen many of his pictures. I remember it being one of the few things I showed my father that he thoroughly enjoyed. Knowing that a news film camera is rolling, Keaton mimes an impromptu gag on a real railroad platform, and it’s just brilliant. Listening to the stories of movie adventures, you just fall in love with the guy.
And I haven’t seen this next movie, but it looks promising. Fun City Editions has already brought us great Blu-rays of Michael Ritchie’s Smile and Frank Perry’s Rancho Deluxe, so I’m curious about Born To Win, a comedy – drama (?) about a hustler-junkie played by George Segal, and also starring Paula Prentiss, Karen Black, Robert De Niro and Hector Elizondo. It’s a United Artists release, how come I’ve never heard of it?
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Apartment 4K 04/02/22
Billy Wilder’s favorite and perhaps best movie takes the leap to 4K, revealing even more beauty in the images of Joseph LaShelle and the designs of Alexandre Trauner . . . we all feel like we’ve lived in C.C. Baxter’s New York flat. Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s ‘dirty fairy tale’ best expresses the difficulty of keeping both a job and one’s self-respect — fitting in a love life seems altogether too much to ask. It all comes down to Shirley MacLaine’s sweet smile and Jack Lemmon’s eagerness to be a ‘mensch’ — when he’s discovering that a moral compromise is like selling one’s soul. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
There may still be people unaware of the anarchic joy of Tex Avery, and we’re making it our business to enlighten them. This third Volume of Tex’s MGM cartoons has both variety and some top favorites plus his first, the intense Blitz Wolf and his last, the surreal Cellbound. Plus the insane King Size Canary, the most endearing Droopy cartoon and the minimalist wonder Billy Boy. You won’t believe they showed Avery the door, and let him lend his talents to TV commercials! The disc came out last October but it’s still worth crowing about now. On Blu-rayfrom The Warner Archive Collection.
This information arrived very near April First, which on first glance made me very worried. But no, it’s real enough: an outfit called Ignite Films “Classics for the Future” has put up splashy announcement for a fancy restored disc of William Cameron Menzies’ 1953 Invaders from Mars, said to become a Fall 2022 release in Blu-ray, 4K UHD and DVD. I frankly wondered if the day would ever come.
The news is two days old, but still buzzing around; close associates are certainly pleased. I wish I could write Bill Warren with the good news.
The issue first arrived in the form of a listing for the schedule of this year’s TCM Film Fest, which listed a restored Invaders from Mars to be presented by John Sayles. What was this restoration, and from what source?
Gary Teetzel got on the trail looking for answers, and forwarded a quote from a 2016 Home Theater Forum post by Jan Willem Bosman Jansen, who owns a company called Ignite B.V.. Jansen claimed copyright through a purchase of 64 films owned by the late Richard Rosenfeld. Some of have already been released on Blu-ray (he mentioned Kino). Invaders from Mars was in that group of titles.
Then on Thursday morning, restoration specialist Scott McQeen posted on LinkedIn, saying he was involved with the restoration, and adding a trio of frame grabs. The restoration is not only genuine, it looks superb.
And finally, Gary intercepted a post on the Ignite Home Page officially announcing the disc for Fall 2022, with presales beginning on April 23. They have more frame grabs, and a sign-up link for their newsletter.
A restored 4k UHD of Invaders from Mars? That’s certainly a welcome thing. With so much conflicting information about the movie’s ownership and disposition of film elements, I would not have been surprised to discover that the movie was lost, or incomplete, or otherwise ‘unserviceable’ for one reason or another. I’ve already heard from a different direction that Joe Dante has recorded a video piece for the disc release.
Severin Films has announced a second Christopher Lee boxed set, The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee Collection 2 . As is their habit, they’ve even assembled a nifty promo trailer for it. It will be fun to catch up with a watch-able copy of the goofy Uncle Was A Vampire, in ‘Ultrascope’.
Next up, yet another installment of a funky fan cut from YouTube that many readers likely have already seen. It’s FredFlix’s Oct 5, 2018 chop ‘n’ channel of a vintage Roger Corman movie into a different form: What If Not Of This Earth Were A Twilight Zone Episode?
I think I liked this more as a cut-down than for the way it’s been integrated into the format of the TV show. Don’t expect elaborate graphics, but FredFlix has appointed it with vintage TV commercials. The real takeaway is a renewed desire to see Corman’s picture restored, in good quality.
And April’s new Milestone Newsletter has an anti-war, pro- Ukraine tone that we found pleasing, with some good links and video samples. The ’60s poster at left says it all.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson