CineSavant Column

Tuesday April 27, 2021

 

Hello!

The fifth anniversary of the passing of old friend, editor and film authority Robert S. Birchard is coming up. I was reminded of Bob yesterday when I bumped into Frank Thompson’s The Commentary Track page, and discovered Frank’s long list of Podcast-style interviews with film people — archivists, historians, authors, also some directors and actors — a selection of very familiar names and some I didn’t know. And there in the middle of list page is a downloadable talk with Bob Birchard, preserved and easily accessible. I didn’t catch the year it was recorded.

I have to say that Bob’s talk on Thompson’s interview told me more about his background than I learned from knowing him for thirty-forty years — Bob always had an opinion ready for anything, but his personal life was a closed book. I drove back and forth to Arizona with him, and all we talked about were movies. I knew Bob was something extraordinary when I’d see correspondence on his coffee table from Kevin Brownlow, and he’d run his 16mm print of Paramount on Parade — which couldn’t be seen anywhere else.

I also recommend DVD commentaries by Robert S. Birchard — the one I’m thinking of is for Fox’s old DVD of The Razor’s Edge, a great track he shares with Anthony Slide. A quick read and a good sample of Bob’s historical photos can be checked out at a page called Living Vicuriously.

 The photo of choice is from the day of my wedding — Robert (on the left) was one of my ushers, and in this picture can be seen with an incredibly young, thin Steve Nielson.  Bob’s legs were normal, he’s just posed awkwardly… The three of us had a hell of a good time in 1975, editing an independent adventure film that never had a full release, Lost on Paradise Island. When I had contact with an IMDB employee, I made sure the more-obscure-than-obscure film got listed … Bob, typically, resented me for doing so. I think he wanted to pretend he hadn’t worked on it, but he helped when we three had to rack our brains to come up with all the credits. I ought to write an article about it — all I have is a poster and one 35mm film clip of the leading lady María Grimm, one of the stars of the PBS children’s bilingual TV series Villa Alegre.

 


 

And an extra special item forwarded to us by correspondent “B” is this fairly amazing color movie (3.5 minutes) entitled Superman Day New York World’s Fair July 3 1940. During the fair, a whole morning’s activities were set up by D.C. comics on the fairgrounds, and a special comic book was published as well. Comic book ‘celebrities’ were there including Superman’s creator Jerry Siegel — get ready to see a nice Kodachrome shot of him. The experts think that actor Ray Middleton may have portrayed Superman for the special day, riding around on a float in a big parade. They even got his cape to blow nicely. Did Middleton get the job because he was willing to risk breaking his neck, riding around fifteen feet in the air?  The movie is terrific just to see what everybody is wearing to ‘look good’ at the fair. Bleachers full of kids were all given little ‘S’ tags to go on their chests. (But was it just the boys?)

 

Superman had been around for less than a couple of years, so this special day pretty much proves his popularity. The sample of the World’s Fair commemorative Superman comic book that I saw is pretty funny. After cruelly insulting poor Clark, Lois Lane shamelessly throws herself at Superman, who must make excuses to avoid her romantic ovetures. Lois is almost as coldly dismissive of Clark as is her satirically oversexed counterpart in Mad Magazine’s cartoon takeoff Superduperman, thirteen years later.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday April 24, 2021

He’s Number 12, the man you want when the job needs to be done right.

Fukushima 50 04/24/21

Capelight
Blu-ray

This Japanese docudrama is an excellent primer on the scary near- meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. After the earthquake, a tsunami triggered a ‘major nuclear event.’ A group of dedicated engineers struggle against odds to regain control. It’s another 21st Century disaster writ large — we applaud the camaraderie and commitment of the response teams while bureaucratic and political BS threatens to doom half of Japan. As with last week’s Spacewalker I’m betting that most negative reviews were written by people who saw the English language dub job … in the original Japanese, star Ken Watanabe’s performance is terrific. On Blu-ray from Capelight.
04/24/21

The Hot Spot 04/24/21

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

A sizzling neo-noir that should have boosted Dennis Hopper into feature bankability goes a tad slack — my guess is that Hopper’s fine directing instincts got blurred in the editing process. Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen, Jennifer Connelly and others are well cast in Charles Williams’ hardboiled sex ‘n’ crime yarn, and the temperature indeed rises when Johnson gets near his co-stars. The narrative momentum breaks down somewhat, but the great-looking show is still a favorite, atmospheric and oversexed. With Jack Nance, on Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
04/24/21

CineSavant Column

Saturday April 24, 2021

 

Hello!

A welcome link from correspondent and home video executive Ulrich Bruckner came in a bit ago, a seventeen-minute interview piece called Anthony Mann 1967 – Action Speaks Louder Than Words. It was filmed while the director was directing his final feature A Dandy in Aspic; Mann died before finishing the movie, and this rather good career overview was one of the few times he went on camera to talk about himself. Although never a household name Mann was a highly respected Hollywood veteran, best known for a string of highly successful James Stewart westerns. But he also had a solid theatrical background, gave us a score of terrific films noir and moved on to direct epics in the 1960s. The critic interviewing Mann is Paul Mayersberg of Movie magazine, later a noted screenwriter.

 


 

What?  You’re dying to see a show about an incredibly intelligent horse and dog?  Reviewer Lee Broughton forwards this link to a half-hour TV show I never before heard of called Champion The Wonder Horse. It’s the typical ’50s kiddie fantasy about a boy on a ranch who has not only a German shepherd that does everything Lassie can do, but also has a magic friendship with a wild mustang, Champion. I hope this isn’t too much to take in all at once. I say ‘magic’ because both the dog and the horse obey complicated commands, like ‘go get the Major!’   The horse even intuits when the kid goes blind. Lee says that this one-season series is presently being screened on UK TV.

It’s a fun show in itself, and well produced and directed. Lee pointed it out because western star Lee Van Cleef is the guest villain, doing what he does best. This is way before Cleef attained stardom, and it looks like it’s also before he hurt his back, because he doesn’t have any trouble riding a horse. It’s pretty funny when Cleef is arrested — the horse prods him repeatedly, like a prison guard.

American TV shows routinely imagined animals able to distinguish between right and wrong. I think the animals’ first order of business would be getting rid of treacherous humans.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday April 20, 2021

A first film for a producer… his next was The Wild Bunch.

Defending Your Life 04/20/21

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Albert Brooks’ most entertaining picture is still about modern anxieties, but this time seen through a satirical ‘film blanc’ filter. Neurotic ad man Daniel has a bad encounter with a bus and finds himself in a bizarre Heavenly Waiting Room for the Afterlife … except that it’s an entirely different system than that of St. Peter — he’s judged not for his sins or lack of faith, but his character and courage. This stopping-off point to a new life is plenty disconcerting for Daniel, especially when he meets the woman of his dreams (Meryl Streep). The judges practically applaud her exemplary, near-perfect life. How can Daniel ever compete?  Criterion’s extras give us a genuine theologian’s analysis of Brooks’ astute afterlife comedy. Co-starring Rip Torn, Lee Grant and Shirley MacLaine. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
04/20/21

Annie Get Your Gun 04/20/21

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

MGM’s old-fashioned Irving Berlin musical has superior songs and powerful performances, especially that of Betty Hutton. She gets plenty loud and rambunctious, but it fits the ‘big’ Annie Oakley character. And the talented, under-appreciated Howard Keel really fires up the screen with her in songs like ‘Anything You Can Do.’ The WAC disc contains plenty of George Feltenstein- rescued unused audio material, plus footage … depressing footage … of Judy Garland’s attempt in the leading role. Yep, the show may be PC minefield begging for a Cancel Culture intervention, but if it goes we’ll have to put most of Hollywood film history in a landfill. With Louis Calhern, J. Carrol Naish, Edward Arnold and Benay Venuta. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
04/20/21

CineSavant Column

Tuesday April 20, 2021

 

Hello!

Well whattaya got here to review, CineSavant?  Fast in my mitts are the following contenders: Mill Creek’s Gorillas in the Mist and Capelight’s Fukushima 50, and Arrow’s Switchblade Sisters, while Severin tempts us (?) with The Dungeon of Andy Milligan Collection. From Criterion we’re choosing between Celine and Julie Go Boating, The World of Wong Kar-Wai, Touki-Bouki. Memories of Murder and History is Made at Night. The extensive list of Kino Lorber attractions includes The Collected Films of Morris Engel & Ruth Orkin, Stiletto, The Carole Lombard Collection II, The Producers, Night of the Following Day, Honky Tonk Freeway, The Daydreamer and Horizons West, plus from Cohen and Kino, a double bill of Wanted for Murder/Cast a Dark Shadow. The Warner Archive Collection has also gone to town lately, with Each Dawn I Die, Green Dolphin Street, Broadway Melody of 1940 and Quick Change.

That’s what’s in hand; we’re also expecting, or have been promised Fun City Editions’ Smile; Arrow’s 4K of Donnie Darko; Mill Creek’s The Hellfighters; Kino’s FTA, To New Shores/La Habanera, and a 4K of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly; Criterion’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Merrily We Go to Hell and Nightmare Alley; and ViaVision/Imprint’s Columbia Noir 3 and Major Dundee.


Plus, reviewer Charlie Largent directs us to an interesting resource: an Internet Archive page devoted to vintage Classics Illustrated Comic Books. I was always curious about these: although I grabbed all the H.G. Wells and Jules Verne issues I could find, many escaped me … when I went to the newsstand the weekly offering would be something like ‘Thumbellina.’

I think the only Classics Illustrated comic I saved is the terrific First Men In the Moon, which I can’t locate at the moment… but the selection here does have the CI take on Wells’ The War of the Worlds.  I took a peek and  confirmed that it’s still great art — beautifully laid out, with amazing designs for the Martian fighting machines.

The Food of the Gods is there, and also both of Verne’s books Robur the Conqueror and its sequel Master of the World. The A.I.P. movie given the title  Master of the World  is actually Robur the Conqueror; in the sequel Robur returns commanding a 3-in-one triphibious craft, like Toho’s Atragon. I guess Verne had a public that he had to satisfy with these unnecessary sequels. Anyway, the selection at the link is pretty good, although navigating it isn’t easy… I’m not sure I saw all that are there.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday April 17, 2021

It’s Julie, it was always Julie. But was she ever really this young?

The Invisible Man Appears & The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly 04/17/21

Arrow Video
Blu-ray

Reviewer Charlie Largent takes on the challenge of figuring out this pair of vintage sci-fi pictures from Japan. The invisible man of the first film (1949) takes second place to an odd crime yarn about a thief that wants to possess a particular jewel. The invisibility idea makes little internal sense — the film’s most interesting aspect is the unusual actress Takiko Mizunoe. The second ‘invisible thriller’ is even more of a puzzle, a battle between and invisible man and a criminal who can shrink himself. Arrow’s extras help us understand what’s going on… a little bit, anyway!  On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
04/17/21

Spacewalker 04/17/21

Capelight
Blu-ray

Dmitriy Kiselev’s overlooked Russian thriller is an exciting and inspirational true account of the first walk in space by a Soviet cosmonaut — a mission that nearly became a tragedy. It’s almost as emotional an experience as Apollo 13 — the worthy cosmonauts demonstrate ‘the right stuff’ under much more trying conditions. The beautifully produced and splendidly acted show makes it seem a crime that foreign movies this good are routinely denied theatrical exhibition here. The Blu-ray comes with an excellent pair of featurettes, with the participation of the original spacewalker Alexey Leonov. On Blu-ray from Capelight.
04/17/21

Irma Vep 04/17/21

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Olivier Assayas takes a very different trip into silent movie nostalgia, with a director’s ill-fated attempt to remake the 1915 serial Les Vampires. Hong Kong action star Maggie Cheung is cast as the erotic rooftop nightcrawler Irma Vep!  We see the state of Paris filmmaking in the mid-90s, with a clueless, frustrated director (Jean-Pierre Léaud) out of ideas — what business has Irma Vep in the modern world?  Meanwhile, Cheung dons her vinyl catsuit for a personal creepy crawly mission — just to see if it gives her a thrill. Criterion’s special edition contains both a full episode of the silent serial plus a must-see documentary on the life and work of the legendary Musidora, a major sex symbol of the silent era. With Nathalie Richard, Bulle Ogier and Lou Castel. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
04/17/21

CineSavant Column

Saturday April 17, 2021

 

Hello!

We’re all hoping for the best with Pacific’s Cinerama Dome theater and the Arclight theaters. Marc Edward Heuck theorizes that the chain and their landlord will be negotiating to work out a better deal, and various activists say that the Dome was protected from redevelopment demolition way back in 1998. I don’t think the movie habit is going to go away when the pandemic recedes, so it doesn’t make sense to chloroform this high-class chain.

I did get in touch with David Strohmaier to assure myself that this problem with Pacific Theaters wouldn’t compromise his upcoming disc restoration of the full 3-panel Cinerama MGM feature The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. Nope, says Dave, the disc release is still on track. He sent along an image he prepared for the Home Theater Forum a couple of weeks ago, comparing the previous DVD composite with what he’s doing combining the three Cinerama panels. The images can be ‘zoomed,’ or they get bigger when opened in a new window.

 

Oh — since I wrote David Strohmaier, this Variety article came out, and it’s more informative anyway…

 


 

And correspondent Martin Hennessee tips me off to this ComicBook.com article by Spencer Perry, The Wild and Complicated Story of the Rights to King Kong. It’s a little brief, but it reads well enough … I’ve been reading about the tangled Kong franchise ever since the Toho King Kong vs. Godzilla.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday April 13, 2021

He was her man, but he done her wrong.

The Furies 04/13/21

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

When not making tons of money collaborating with James Stewart, Anthony Mann directed some really grim westerns. This mini-epic spells out the ugly real-life Code of The West: seizing land and establishing private empires. Walter Huston’s T.C. Jeffords maintains his sprawling fiefdom through economic tyranny (he prints his own money and expects banks to accept it) — and by simple violence, murdering the people that have lived on ‘his’ land for generations. Barbara Stanwyck is the feisty heir who wages generational war on her piratical father. It’s the darkest and most subversive of HUAC-era ‘noir’ westerns. With Wendell Corey, Judith Anderson, Gilbert Roland and Thomas Gomez. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
04/13/21

The Man in Search of his Murderer 04/13/21

Kino Classics
Blu-ray

The name talent attached makes this late- Weimar thriller a must-see proposition: Billy Wilder, Robert & Curt Siodmak, Franz Waxman. Their dark murder farce resembles what would later become the self-aware Black Comedy. The trouble begins when a suicidal nice guy can’t pull the trigger, and hires a crook to do the job for him. The satire is clever but the execution is awkward — the filmmakers set up big laughs that the heavy German filming style doesn’t deliver. Just the same, the situations seem extremely progressive, ahead of their time. On Blu-ray from Kino Classics.
04/13/21

CineSavant Column

Tuesday April 13, 2021

 

Hello!

Good news from Kino — we’re finally getting a Blu of John Farrow’s long-absent ‘eerie’ noir Night Has a Thousand Eyes. I haven’t seen it since UCLA in the early ’70s — the fledgling film archive took possession of all of Paramount’s studio screening prints, and many were nitrate copies. All I remember is that it was definitely dark, and that Gail Russell’s eyes were haunting, as always. Russell had the saddest eyes of any film star ever. The moody noir also stars Edward G. Robinson and John Lund.

One of my daydream ideas for a revival theater was to program quirky lead-in music that would work like an overture — turn the house lights down by half, etc.. Of course, the whole point would be to not play music from the movie, but instead songs suggested by the movie. For Thousand Eyes the obvious item would be this Bobby Vee tune, written fourteen years later. Counter-programming, you know.

Kino is also being kind to Universal completists, announcing upcoming discs of The Spider Woman Strikes Back with Gale Sondergaard and Rondo Hatton, and the 1941 Basil Rathbone mystery movie The Mad Doctor. I haven’t seen either one, but the Spider Woman movie seems to have attracted fan love and attention for completely inverted reasons. Here’s a quote from an email I received yesterday: “The release will serve the purpose of putting to rest any claims that The Spider Woman Strikes Back is a hidden programmer jewel or something. To me it’s the nadir of Universal output of the era. Even Sondergaard and Hatton can’t liven it up. It’s just bad on so many levels.”

Gee, what an endorsement, now I have to see it. Kino ought to be able to extract some great advertising bites from that quote.

 


 

And hey, I got a nice surprise over the weekend. The first visit from my daughter in 14 months, due to you-know-what… and she brings me a flying saucer- themed cookie jar with COOKIES in it. It looks like a ‘glass ray’ is beaming down from the saucer. It’s time to count one’s blessings, here.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday April 10, 2021

Can’t believe this was seven years ago already.

Perdita Durango 4K Ultra HD 04/10/21

Severin Films
Blu-ray

What could sear your retinas as thoroughly as forbidden cult cinema in 4K Ultra HD? The unrestrained crime-shock transgressors Perdita and Romero cut a path of lust, cult ritual madness and amoral nastiness across the U.S./Mexico border. Kidnapping, murder and theft are among their printable crimes. Álex de Iglesia’s beautifully produced slice of post- Tarantino excess arrives in a completely uncut original version. With James Gandolfini, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Don Stroud and Alex Cox. On Ultra HD + Blu-ray from Severin Films.
04/10/21