Tuesday March 19, 2024

The old saying ‘They Had Faces Then’ is no joke.

All That Money Can Buy 03/19/24

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

William Dieterle’s film of Stephen Vincent Benét’s Faust-like folk tale is both traditional and experimental, part of a brief wave of ambitious, artistic RKO filmmaking. The agrarian horror-show pits an American statesman against what may be the screen’s best-ever Satan, a rustic tempter of farmers facing hard times. The cast is sensational: Edward Arnold, Walter Huston, Jane Darwell, Anne Shirley, John Qualen — and RKO’s red-hot French import Simone Simon. Intense restoration work rescues both the original version and one of Bernard Herrmann’s all-time best film scores. Criterion and the UCLA film experts are to be congratulated for this one. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
03/19/24

Abbott and Costello Show Season 2 03/19/24

ClassicFlix
Blu-ray

Following up on 2021’s Abbott and Costello Show Season 1 disc set, Charlie Largent gives his take on the comedy duo’s popular TV show, shot on film and now restored to a brilliance never seen on 12-inch B&W TVs from 1953. The 3-D Film Archive did the restoration work on all 26 episodes. ClassicFlix says that this Second Season is less a variety show and more of a sitcom. The two discs have audio commentaries, plus all kinds of extra goodies — a Lost Episode, commercials, etc. On Blu-ray from ClassicFlix.
03/19/24

CineSavant Column

Tuesday March 19, 2024

Hello!

Confused (or bored?) by CineSavant’s incessant man-splaining blab about widescreen processes?  A comic from seventy years ago simplifies everything: Panic #12.

Correspondent-advisor ‘B’ pointed us to this comic art from the end of 1954. The panels are from a Panic comic story called ‘S a Tragic Air Command, written by Al Feldstein and illustrated by Wallace Wood. It’s a parody of Paramount’s Strategic Air Command with James Stewart. The movie was touted as being in VistaVision, a big-format camera process then only a year old.

Feldstein and Wood begin their 7-page comic article with a primer on the weird new film formats, like CinemaScoop and Vasta Vision. The one being explained above is Cinerama, renamed CINERAMAMA for the comic. We like the Indian hood ornament attacking from the left.

 An earlier panel showed a cameraman with three eyes, the better to see through Cineramama’s three-lens camera. I remember the same gag used more than once in Mad magazine, to show a happy enthusiast for 3-D photography. Both Images enlarge for readability.

This is likely Old News to fans of classic comics. ‘B’ says that Panic was EC’s own Mad knock-off. Its entry at Wikipedia includes a lot of detail.

This old Heritage Auctions page shows the whole 7 page story (good luck reading it) as a pricey sale from 11 years ago. Or, there’s this HipComic sales page that shows the cover (by Jack Davis), and says that #12 was Panic’s final issue.

 


 

CineSavant contributor, Italo Western expert and good friend Lee Broughton forwards an interesting item …

This springer.com page is offering a free book download, Pinewood: Anatomy of a Film Studio in Post-war Britain, by author Sarah Street. It can also be purchased in hardcover from the same page. Lee describes the setup as ‘part of Academia’s move to an “open access model.”

I’ll want to check out Ms. Street’s book. I took a quick peek, and it looks heavily researched and annotated, and might be a useful resource when writing about English films. Springer Link describes it thusly:

“Explores how Pinewood came to be Britain’s dominant film studio, focusing on the key years 1936-55 … Provides a new approach to a particular aspect of British film history … Analyses 12 important British films, some of them considered classics made at Britain’s premier film studios.”

They end up with the statement This book is Open Access, which means that you have free and unlimited access.  This access system itself is something to learn more about. I write and give away this review page, but that’s not an option for writers looking to earn a living from their work.

I have little understanding of the politics of this, let alone the economics. Connected by marriage to Santa Monica College, I’ve heard about efforts to replace ridiculously expensive textbooks with Open Access materials. Students can get financial aid to cove Tuition, but then show up in class ‘faking’ having a textbook to learn from.

 

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday March 16, 2024

‘Everybody comes to The Femms’ … it’s an all-star house party, with creepy hosts.

The Whip and the Body 03/16/24

KL Studio Classics
Region A Blu-ray

Charlie Largent was knocked out by the terrific transfer on this dazzling restoration of Mario Bava’s most psychologically-sound terror show — the story of Christopher Lee tormenting the dark beauty Daliah Lavi rises a step or two in Il Maestro’s filmography of gothic greatness. We don’t know what to look at — the compelling, haunted Ms. Lavi, or the delicate web of colors that Bava drowns her in. Now in release for our domestic Region A. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
03/16/24

Faithless 03/16/24

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

Leave it to MGM to begin its dark Depression-Era pre-Code drama amid the top hat, silk gown & marble hall crowd. Talulah Bankhead is the wild heiress who loses her millions and then her self-respect; handsome Robert Montgomery is the pink-slipped ad man injured while driving a truck as a scab. Notorious stage personality Bankhead apparently didn’t click as a movie star — Variety said she had an ‘inability to command sympathetic response,’ even with a glamor quotient in the Garbo-Crawford-Dietrich range. On Blu-rayfrom The Warner Archive Collection.
03/16/24

CineSavant Column

Saturday March 16, 2024

 

Hello!

We’re always looking for items regarding John Wyndham’s great book The Day of the Triffids, and so jumped when correspondent Andy Melomet forwarded this Darkworlds Quarterly web feature, a concise overview of the Triffid phenomenon’s path from book to radio to various film and TV efforts.

Written by G.W. Thomas, the page is Darkworlds: The Day of the Triffids.

We like the introduction, aligning John Wyndham with other British Sci-fi authors in a clique of colleagues: Arthur C. Clarke, John Christopher, J. G. Ballard, Brian W. Aldiss and Bob Shaw.

 


 

The all-seeing, all-knowing advisor Gary Teetzel sent this along. It’s a plug for a magazine, but the subject matter always interests us:

Never Coming To a Theater Near You.
A24’s Issue 21 digs into movies announced and promoted, that never came to be. Many publications announced ‘upcoming movies’ in editorial columns. ’50s kids that read Famous Monsters were regularly treated to lists of exciting-sounding announcements for exciting pictures that never materialized. Studios small and big needed to generate buzz about their product, and it was traditional for illustrated announcement to hawk ‘planned’ features for which no contracts had been signed.

We covered some of these odd announcements through the archives of Bill Shaffer, in a CineSavant article called Where Were You in ’62, A.I.P.?

We note that guest editor Jon Dierlinger’s choices include some Cannon Films. That rings true for us, as beteen 1987 and 1989 this writer was neck deep in editing sales propaganda videos for Cannon. When the big project ‘Spiderman’ kept being delayed, every new announcement heralded a less-prestigious actor to play Peter Parker.

The sampled list has a few interesting titles. We thought ‘gee, what would a David Cronenberg screenplay for Frankenstein be like?’  But a full-page graphic didn’t mean that anything yet existed, or would ever exist, beyond a title. With Cronenberg’s producers the project was probably a serious idea … but the Cannon sales people used flashy ads and videos as bait to collect distributors’ pre-order funds, sometimes for movies that were just a few ideas on paper.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday March 12, 2024

God’s Lonely Man circa 1952, Arthur Franz.

The Playgirls and the Vampire 03/12/24

Vinegar Syndrome
Blu-ray

It’s vintage, it’s trashy, it’s Italian. Bellissima!  A vampire prowls in a castle, but all emphasis goes to cheesecake coverage of the five sexy showgirls he wants to bite, one of whom is the reincarnation of his original victim. By modern terms the ‘just for adults’ horror content is tame, a little silly, maybe endearing. The fangs are big on both a vampire count and a spirited vampire bride — who may be the screen’s first nude vampire. The handsome restored print has both the original Italian soundtrack and the English-language dub, plus three additional title sequences. On Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome.
03/12/24

A Fistful of Dynamite 03/12/24

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

MGM reissues Sergio Leone’s least loved epic Duck You Sucker, a movie he didn’t want to direct, yet also the one with the most ambitious theme. The opposites-attract teaming of an Irish rebel and a Mexican bandit is a vulgar, violent fable preaching that revolution is little more than mass murder; our ‘hero’ is a dynamiter looking to atone for his sins back in Ireland. Leone detonates one of the biggest movie explosions every, and stages the rest of his picture on a scale worthy of Luchino Visconti. The movie also qualifies as a bravura Ennio Morricone concert. KL Studio Classics’ disc is basically a reissue, again under United Artists’ replacement title. On Blu-ray.
03/12/24

CineSavant Column

Tuesday March 12, 2024

Hello!

The Column has something different today, a round-up review, of sorts. Here’s a word on several Detective and Crime TV series we’ve been watching on disc, mostly sourced from Kino- distributed disc companies.

 Kino released a boxed set Blu-ray of the first seven seasons of Columbo TV shows last December, which was the first group of detective discs we took a dive into. We didn’t watch the show regularly when it was new and had to be reminded that it was really a TV movie series that rotated with other shows. That explains why seven whole seasons’ worth fit on five discs.

Columbo was of course dominated by Peter Falk’s winning personality, and audiences all but insisted that he keep the same affectations and buzz words going, like excusing himself and but then reversing course, saying “Just one more thing.” After a few of the early shows, the format became maybe a little too predictable. But it really set the template for TV detectives.


 Several UK and European detective & crime shows are now in distribution through Kino in multi-disc DVD sets from a global streaming company called MHZ Networks. The first we saw was a French series called Mongeville, which ran from 2013 to 2021. The ‘detective’ is a retired judge, played by Francis Perrin, who uses his knowledge of the local scene to aid a female police inspector in solving crimes. It’s a bit like Columbo but with more continuing characters; Mongeville’s ‘cultured’ mysteries usually revolve around a wealthy family or a busy company. As is typical in these shows, if a guest star is a name one remembers from older film, chances are he or she is the guilty party. These shows are also really full-length TV movies; the first ‘season’ has only three episodes.

We were knocked out by the first season, and want to re-view it from scratch. The stories are adult and complex and not self-contained. Best of all, Mongeville’s main associate was the policewoman Axelle Ferrano, played by the very interesting Maria Mouté.

The big surprise came in the second season, which was rebooted in a different direction. The fascinating Mlle. Mouté was gone, and the new main contact for Mongeville became Gaëlle Bona’s Valentine Duteil, a more cheerful sidekick character. The shows settled into a more standard format and formula. The writing quality remained good, and we warmed to Bona’s personality. But somebody must have decided to lighten up the whole show.

All of the MHZ Networks- derived French discs are in French language only, with non-removable English subtitles.


 The second MHZ Networks series from France out on DVD is Magellan, which stars Jacques Spessier as Simon Magellan. an urbane inspector in a smaller French town who uses quiet professionalism to both solve crimes and to keep his young assistants in line. Magellan has two teenaged daughters, which also keeps him occupied sorting out domestic & romantic issues, etc..

Magellan ran from 2009 through 2021. Overall, it is almost as lightweight as the pleasant, interminable English show Midsomer Murders (which we didn’t watch on videodisc). The Magellan production company must be associated with the Mongeville people, as the detective and the judge get together in more than one episode.


 And of course there’s Kino Lorber’s ongoing Blu-ray release, season by season, of Tony Shalhoub’s very good TV series Monk. The HD discs look extremely good mastered to 4K. Favorite actor Shalhoub took on a risky concept, inventing a detective-consultant who’s afflicted with a severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, with its accompanying phobias, etc. The show’s 8 seasons ran between 2002 and 2009.

The ‘gimmick’ of Monk’s psych issues never becomes tiresome thanks to good writing and, again, Shalhoub’s interpretation. Ted Levine is really good as the ‘understanding police captain.’  Instead of an invitation for jokes of questionable taste, the show did good by raising awareness of other people’s often very different life situations and behavior patterns.

Monk has a helper-assistant character, played very nicely in the first 3 seasons by Bitty Schram and for the balance of the series by Traylor Howard. Monk made us realize how habit-forming these shows can be … when Ms. Schram departed we were very disappointed, but in just a couple of episodes we’d forgotten what she was like. The same occurs in most of the shows we watch when key personnel are replaced. It’s Serial Television Amnesia.


 

We now steer away from contemporary detectives to a stunning Kino release that helped ease our COVID lockdown, the 3 seasons, on two disc sets, of the superb German series Babylon Berlin. It just made news lately when Netflix dropped it from their streaming lineup.

Babylon Berlin is a terrific crime / espionage / political corruption series set in 1929 Weimar Berlin. It recreates a hyped yet credible world from the past, that will especially enthuse students of the period. That alone makes it exotic fare, as average Americans know little about Weimar. The musical Cabaret is set in this rough time when the democratic government of Germany was crumbling, yielding to economic and political pressure even before the 1929 stock market crash. On-the-streets fighting between communists and the NSDAP, the rising Nazi party, was a common occurrence. Publicity calls the show neo-noir, but it actually took place in the cultural caldron from which a lot of noir-like philosophies arose — decadence next to poverty and disillusion.

The cast is sensational. The lead character is inspector Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), a shell-shocked WW1 vet partly hooked on drugs, who comes to Berlin from the sticks to help unravel Internal Affairs- type corruption within the ranks. The main femme interest is Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries) a survivor from the slums who works as a prostitute as well as a police stenographer, and wants to become an inspector herself.

The lavishly-produced show looks more expensive than most features; filmed on enormous sets and in real Berlin buildings that can still pass as Weimar. The intricate plots and subplots involve the era’s poly-amorous club scene (more interesting and more graphic than Cabaret), police preference for NSDAP rallies over Communist protests, an effort by White Russian spies to smuggle a trainload of gold into Germany, a conspiracy of fascist industrialists and angry Army officers preparing for a government coup, innumerable criminal scams involving drugs, nightclubs, and the Babelsberg film studio, where an out-of-fashion expressionist musical is being filmed with a creepy, Conrad Veidt-like star.

Rath and Ritter must deal with crooks, thugs, corrupt doctors, turncoat policemen, Fascist conspirators, an extremely lethal, cross-dressing Russian spy, and a lowly maid tricked into helping with a fiendish political assassination. The inclusion of all kinds of political and historical detail — so many older males still sporting 19th-century facial hair! — brings the era into glamorous, glorious focus. The show is pretty explicit sexually, too.

The art direction and titles are keyed into the style of German films of the late ’20s. We might see it again soon. We’re told that a Fourth season exists, which takes the (surviving) characters into the beginnings of the Nazi era. I don’t think it’s been released here on streaming or on disc — I considered springing for a Region B disc, but the price is steep and the still images I’ve seen take the imagery back into familiar territory — everybody suffering under the Nazis, etc..


 

The last show on the docket and the one we’re presently into is another MHZ Networks DVD set of a series produced in Denmark and Sweden: The Bridge: The Complete Series. It ran between 2011 and 2018.

We’re told that this is the hit that launched the ‘Nordic Noir genre,’ something I’ve avoided until now. It’s already been cloned-copied in several other countries and languages. It’s slick, stylish and its music is hypnotic. Most of the colors are subdued.

We’re presently in the second of four seasons and are still completely absorbed. The storytelling skill on display is excellent. Just like Babylon Berlin, it’s more engaging and exciting than any new feature film I’ve seen in the past ten years.

The first two shows see a highly skilled group of law enforcers trying to get a handle on complex, diabolical crimes that could only be masterminded by evil geniuses with extraordinary organizational powers, modern ‘Mabuse’ types. It’s not ridiculous because terrorism invites all manner of weird supercrimes, and it’s believable because the excellent plotting and down-to-earth characters make everything seem entirely credible. No NCIS idiocy here, with computers that dispense reams of collated information.

The first show gets the burly, very likable Danish detective Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) working with his Swedish counterpart Saga Norén (Sofia Helin). Saga is a remarkable characterization of someone partly on the autism spectrum. She often strikes people as unemotional, practically robotic. The outgoing, big-hearted Martin is fascinated by her attempts to be more ‘normal.’ The bridge of the title is an enormous span that joins the two countries. There’s a slight clash of language and attitude across this very open border, but it’s a model of civilized co-dependence. Remember that?

Part of the appeal of The Bridge, frankly, is the contrast between these Scandinavian countries and the U.S.A.  We seem positively prehistoric by comparison. Their infrastructure is well maintained, the roads are in repair, and social services are taken seriously. The trains look clean and safe enough to actually use. They surely have their own problems, but everything we see is superior.

The ‘high crimes’ in The Bridge are really well worked out. As in Babylon Berlin one must at first focus to keep the characters straight, but the payoffs are exceptional — it’s like a Mabuse thriller adapted for a new century, but in a very realistic style, with interesting, adult character relationships.

We’re only in the second season of The Bridge … we don’t binge, so I can see the fun lasting well into the summer.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday March 9, 2024

“Mr. Tapioca can’t see — how many more doorways is he going to bang my head against?”

Nothing But a Man 03/09/24

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

This dramatic masterpiece is perhaps the most accurate and compelling account of American racism in the 1960s, despite being made by two Jewish filmmakers from New York. Filming at the height of the Civil Rights movement, Michael Roemer and Robert M. Young stick to a personal story and refrain from viewing the black experience through a white filter. Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln’s young hopefuls must work through extra layers of disadvantage and discrimination. The landmark movie features early film work from actors Julius Harris, Gloria Foster and Yaphet Kotto. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
03/09/24

The Shootist 03/09/24

Arrow Video USA
Blu-ray

John Wayne’s final movie is a somber, blood-soaked farewell trimmed with sentimental guest-star cameos and closing-the-book gestures. Wayne is terrific as the gunfighter-at-sunset; Lauren Bacall makes the best impression amid a gallery of old friends that includes James Stewart. Audiences didn’t know what to make of the gory final gunfight … was Wayne giving in to changing times?  The polished production leads with Don Siegel’s assured direction; Arrow pours on the extras, with profiles of Siegel and author Glendon Swarthout. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
03/09/24

CineSavant Column

Saturday March 9, 2024

 

Hello!

Good news from the 3-D Film Archive and our associate Matthew Rovner … the 3-D Archive’s latest Kickstarter Campaign did extremely well, and a ‘stretch goal’ has been added to pay for extra-special extras.

The film is an until-now highly obscure 3-D picture by the maverick radio legend and erratic filmmaker Arch Oboler, a romantic drama filmed on location in Japan, using Oboler’s stereoscopic SpaceVision 3-D camera rig.

It seems that only Matthew Rovner knows the full story behind this show, which would seem a much better subject for 3-D than Arch Oboler’s initial SpaceVision movie The Bubble. The travelogue appeal of Domo Arigato is a major selling pint, offering terrific snapshot of Japan in the early 1970s.

Four years ago I asked Matthew to collaborate on a commentary for an Imprint release of Arch Oboler’s atom-age sci-fi masterpiece Five; his extensive research made that track a valuable resource. The impetus from that project got Matthew to redouble his Oboler research efforts. If Matthew is able to contribute a commentary to Domo Arigato, he’ll be on completely new territory in film history.

Matthew’s promotional essay can be read at the  Domo Arigato Kickstarter page.

 


 

Here’s some movie news that got my attention: Tom Bruggemann of IndieWire explains why the big hit Godzilla Minus One, a major contender for an Oscar tomorrow night, is at present nowhere to be seen.

I’m afraid that avoiding packed places has kept me from seeing GMO in a theater. Close CineSavant associates assure men that it is the most satisfying monster movie in many years, and that it grants the erratic Godzilla franchise a respectability it hasn’t enjoyed since 1954’s original, and then only in Japan.

With both Oppenheimer and Barbie already big news on disc and streaming, why is no super video version of GMO being marketed for us criminally disadvantaged latecomers to enjoy?  With many years spent trying to understand why Toho’s Kaiju pictures aren’t distributed in glorious U.S. versions — even Criterion’s fancy boxed sets don’t use Toho’s best or most current transfers — it’s easy to come to the wrong conclusions as to why GMO has been ‘suppressed.’

The answer is depressingly obvious — corporate licensing conflicts between parallel franchises. Mr. Bruggemann makes it all too clear, read it and weep:

“Godzilla Minus One” Could Win an Oscar, So Why Can’t Anyone See It?

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday March 5, 2024

The story sags, but we want to give an Oscar to that gliding Technicolor camera.

Inside the Mind of Coffin Joe 03/05/24

Arrow Video USA
Blu-ray

Charlie Largent has returned from da terra brasileira dos mortos to report on Zé do Caixão, otherwise known as Gool Old Coffin Joe, the sickest maniac South of the Tropic of Cancer. Arrow Video’s monster box of Brazilian horror would be a challenge for anyone, and we’re hoping that our Charlie has returned with his mind intact … his initial remarks were that, as a cumulative experience, the films do indeed generate a mind-warping weird state of mind. So beware all that enter here — the menu includes at least 11 synapse-rupturing titles, including the carefree lark At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, the spirited Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind, and the fun-loving The Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures. Let the good times roll. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
03/05/24

The Mystery of Marie Roget 03/05/24

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

Hiding in a box marked Noir is one of Universal’s horror-adjacent ’40s mystery thrillers, in a terrific new transfer. The talky adaptation retains some of Edgar Allan Poe’s complicated detective ratiocinations, and spices things up with personalities like prickly Maria Ouspenskaya and star-to-be Maria Montez. Paul Dupin must juggle a mysterious disappearance, plus mutilation murders and a feline red herring in the form of a pet leopard. Also starring Patric Knowles, Nell O’Day and Lloyd Corrigan. Kino gives it dueling commentaries headed by Tom Weaver and Kim Newman. On Blu-rayfrom KL Studio Classics.

CineSavant Column

Tuesday March 5, 2024

Hello!

What with the new Dune 2 out in theaters, ViaVision is offering another special edition Blu-ray set of the first David Lynch Dune from 1984.

This new Blu-ray release is called a ’40th Anniversary Edition’ with some special extras, an extended making-of documentary and a lenticular case cover …

Why consider another copy? … this release contains for the first time a Blu-ray encoding of the Extended TV version, that awkward but rather cool much longer concoction credited to Alan Smithee. It’s got perhaps 35 minutes of additional scenes. Every extra minute takes away some of the curse on the film as ‘a 137-minute trailer.’

Just letting the avid collectors know … my favorite version to watch is still the old 2006 DVD of the Extended TV version. ViaVision’s disc is slated for April 24; here’s their preorder page:

Dune (1984) 3D Lenticular Hardcase Limited Edition
 


 

I’ve been enjoying a videoblog series at Trailers from Hell . . . we already like TFH’s extensive The Movies that Made Me podcasts, but lately we’ve been watching Allan Arkush’s talk-to-the-camera Music & Stories storytelling sessions. Besides being a legendary filmmaker, Arkush has a fascinating background in Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Allan’s on-camera talks about his favorite performers, etc., are great, but he’s even more fun when he focuses on his personal life, from grade school forward. I just listened to a piece he recorded in 2018 that he calls My Least Favorite Year. It’s largely a talk about high school, family problems and his personal rebellion issues. Allan uses an engaging show & tell format — he’s always reaching over his shoulder for a record album or a photo of something.

Some of it is filtered through the ’60s films that formed his attitude, like Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and things like taking J.D. Salinger very seriously; crashing and burning in a college interview for Brown. Woven through are stories about his rabid interest in music: The Animals, Bob Dylan, Donovan. Arkush takes his music very seriously, in a good way. He is so enthused, we forget we were interested in the same things at the same age.

He’s just the kind of guy you can listen to for 40 minutes easy … he’s eager to talk about his crazy hobbies, his big mistakes, getting pulled over by the cops, etc. It’s a confessional, ‘The Jersey Chronicles.’ He even finds room to shed a tear over a favorite, encouraging high school teacher.

Allan Arkush connects on a person-to-person basis. Strangely, his ‘Least Favorite Year’ piece is mostly positive (?). I’m now checking out his other Music and Stories videoblogs … chapters on ‘Reckless Youth’ and ‘Israel ’66.’  Arkush is of course an institution at Trailers from Hell. I recommend him as someone who’ll pick up your spirits.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson