Mr. Klein 05/10/22
Expatriate blacklistee Joseph Losey is the perfect director for this excellent, strange tale, a big award winner in France. The terrible Occupation-era victimization of the Jewish citizens of Paris is told tangentially from the viewpoint of a jackal-like opportunist who buys art and valuables cheaply from Jews desperate for cash. But Klein has a little ‘doppelgänger’ problem straight out of Franz Kafka . . . and finds himself in an existential nightmare that’s strangely . . . appropriate. This original, superior thriller also stars Jeanne Moreau, Francine Bergé, Michael Lonsdale, Juliet Berto and Suzanne Flon. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Some Like It Hot 4K 05/10/22
This knockout comedy rates as one of Hollywood’s funniest ever — although it could be ‘cancelled’ any day now, so get ready to deny ever having laughed at it. Ultimate movie star glamour meets the apex of screenwriting hilarity: liberated by 101 cross-dressing jokes Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond jam sly sex innuendo into almost word spoken. We still don’t know how the censors passed one of of Marilyn Monroe’s costumes: Raymond Durgnat described the resulting visual effect as ‘The Hanging Gardens of Marilyn.’ Everybody’s tip top in this one: Jack Lemmon prances, Tony Curtis does his Cary Grant imitation, and Billy Wilder tosses in a score of his favorite 1920s tunes. On 4K Ultra HD from KL Studio Classics.
Murphy’s War 05/10/22
Peter Yates’ excellent war-movie follow-up to Bullitt landed in the wrong year: the beautifully produced and directed action thriller was barely seen in America. Royal Navy mechanic Peter O’Toole swears vengeance on the U-Boat commander who sunk his ship and murdered its entire crew. Locals in a Caribbean backwater help him to strike back: he must first teach himself to fly an airplane. With support from Horst Janson, Sian Phillips and the great Philippe Noiret, it’s a wartime suspense nail-biter with a little manic obsession thrown in as well. Indicator’s extras feature the great editor-director John Glen, who relates the exciting story of the filming on location in Venezuela. On Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Three reviews today . . . we’ll get to all these desirable Blu-rays one way or another.
A few weeks back the column floated an article about movie theaters in New York’s Times Square entitled We Wanna Go to the Mayfair and the RKO Palace!. CineSavant advisor and reviewer “B” explained that the Palace Theater was undergoing major renovations, but he didn’t go into detail.
The title for this one-minute CNN Style video magazine article, Watch Iconic Broadway Theatre Rise 30 Feet Above the Ground is basically self-explanatory, but seeing is believing. Time-lapse images show the entire theater being jacked up, in place, a full thirty feet. It’s pretty remarkable. I wonder if the architects and engineers were 100% sure it’s going to work, when they started those hydraulic jacks going. Built in 1913, the theater weighs 14 million pounds!
We also get a peek at the building next door that was once the Mayfair Theater, the one that had the multi-story poster space for new movies. It looks like it now has a similar wrap-around video panel, giant-sized. It’s on the left in the image just above. ↑
This reminds me of a weird dream I keep having. In it I have the millions to have experts jack my entire house off the ground, after which a reinforced concrete lower floor is built, 70% buried in the ground. Then the house is replaced, sitting back on top of the new concrete super-foundation. Underground parking! Utilities all down there! Unlimited storage space! (Dream on, Glenn.)
And we have yet another follow-up for last week’s review of the nifty horror item Dementia. I mentioned an old Saturday Night Live skit, a filmed piece, that I believed could have been inspired by the wailing Marni Nixon soundtrack to the John Parker film. I wrote:
The weird vibe may have been directly lampooned in a vintage skit-film seen on Saturday Night Live. In that skit a female motorist is terrorized by nervous, wailing singing. She traces it to its source — a woman shrieking into a microphone on the floor of her apartment.
I should have known that “B” would respond with all the info I could ask for: Quote “B”:
“Glenn: I coulda sworn this was from a Tom Schiller SNL short, so I was totally misdirected for a while.
It’s a Gary Weis SNL short called The Voice. SNL regular Laraine Newman (left above ↑ ) is the woman who tries to pick up her laundry without a ticket, and is plagued by a wild, haunting voice seemingly singing her inner thoughts. At the end she returns to her home and confronts a woman (Valri Bromfield) (right above ↑ ) ) loudly singing into a tape recorder.
This particular episode is from the show’s third season; the Chevy Chase/Billy Joel episode, airdate February 18, 1978. I just looked at it on Hulu; it might also be available on Peacock. It’s probably online somewhere, but I couldn’t immediately locate it. Best — B.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Hunter 05/07/22
Steve McQueen’s final film is an action-comedy compromise that will satisfy his fans even if it barely hangs together. The thrills are kinder & gentler, with plenty of hair-raising stunts but less gunplay and gore. McQueen’ eccentric bounty hunter collects toys and can barely drive a car, but he always gets his man. Kathryn Harrold is good; Eli Wallach, LeVar Burton, Ben Johnson, Richard Venture and Tracey Walter are along for the ride (and stay out of Steve’s spotlight). Steve’s in charge — he tailors everything to highlight his quirky star characterization, and the guiding principle is ‘low key.’ On Region Free Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
12 Monkeys 4K 05/07/22
Here’s one that really benefits from its 4K upgrade — Terry Gilliam’s dense visuals look great with Roger Pratt’s exacting cinematography. Is this really a thinking man’s science fiction hit, or did audiences mainly want to get a look at Brad Pitt in a new mode, playing a weird motormouthed eccentric? Bruce Willis and Madeleine Stowe star in a time-puzzle thriller adaptation of Chris Marker’s La jetée. On 4K Ultra HD from Arrow Video.
Now here’s a documentary on Stanley Kubrick with real substance — it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen on the director. It’s only been up on YouTube a few days, and Joe Dante forwarded the link. Kubrick by Kubrick is a beautifully constructed, great-looking feature documentary from 2020, by writer-director Gregory Monro.
Talk about ‘prime source’ content: the backbone of the docu is excellent audio of Kubrick recorded by his biographer Michel Ciment. Kubrick comes off as the most rational, intelligent person one could imagine … if he wants to spend 4 years researching and investigating a new movie, who can deny that he’s doing the right thing? The show has great clips, and despite not trying to be ‘comprehensive’ it appears to cover all bases. We even hear Kubrick’s candid thoughts on a movie he wanted to forget, Fear and Desire.
It’s very judicious and discriminating – -clips and quotes aren’t used just because they’re available. Sterling Hayden’s interview bite is sensational, as are those of Shelley Duvall, Ken Adam, Arthur C. Clarke, others. Only Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman deliver anything less than inspired statements.
The show is organized visually around the ‘alien hotel room’ from 2001 … adding other props and set dressing as needed. It’s a stimulating watch.
A big thanks to advisor / contributor / Gary Teetzel: responding to last week’s review for John Parker’s horror classic Dementia, Gary performed one of his searches of vintage trade papers to see what exhibitors were told about a show that had to wait two years to be passed by the New York censors, to get one miserable booking in a Manhattan art house. Plenty of sources repeat the misinformation that it had some kind of release in 1953, when poor John Parker was likely holding private showings here and there in New York, probably on his own dime, trying to find a distributor.
The first mention Gary discovered came in 1955: it looks as if John Parker and his backer are trying to drum up interest in a (never made) Dementia follow-up called Panic. Take it away, Gary:
“This July 27 ’55 column piece in Variety mentions John Parker as the maker of the ‘avant gorde’ film Dementia.”
“Motion Picture Daily, November 25, 1955.” ‘The first foreign film to come out of Hollywood.’
“Variety, November 30, 1955.” ‘The New York Censor board originally banned the film in toto on the ground that it was inhuman and indecent.’
“Variety review from December 28.” ‘Dementia may be the strangest film ever offered for theatrical release.’ In show biz trade paper terms that statement is really saying something.
“Motion Picture Exhibitor, January 19, 1956.” Is the phrase ‘suited for particular situations only’ exhibitor code for ‘Caution, this has content that can get you in trouble?’
“January 25, 1956 — The Motion Picture Exhibitor reviews the film.” ‘For the people who glory in the repulsive, the offering will prove a delight.’
“Motion Picture Exhibitor then recycles the review on February 20, 1957 for the Daughter of Horror version, adding a mention of Ed McMahon’s narration.”
“Lastly, on May 28, 1958, over one year after the Exhibitor review, Variety reports on grosses at a theater in Boston that appears to specialize in racy fare. John Parker was by now likely out of the picture completely, bought out by ‘Exploitation Productions, Inc.’. Watching from the sidelines, what was his reaction to the report of ‘Nice’ box office receipts?”
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Dr. Phibes Double Feature 05/03/22
Vincent Price’s strongest A.I.P. departure from the Poe mold, often praised for its ornate art direction, ‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’ is a macabre murder fantasy in a 1920s period setting, one part Gaston Leroux and two parts Art Deco design accents, with some vintage music thrown in. The campy storyline sees Phibes organizing nine murders around the nine plagues of Egypt. The sequel ‘Dr. Phibes Rises Again’ goes in for even more homicidal artifice. With Joseph Cotten, Virginia North, Terry-Thomas; and Robert Quarry and Hugh Griffith. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Cohen Film Collection brings to Region A its beautifully remastered disc of American fringe filmmaking’s weirdest, most obsessively arty shock-fest — a loving return to silent expressionist horror. The New York censors scuttled its commercial chances, and it wound up as a movie-within-a-movie footnote for Steve McQueen. We never thought we’d see the show look this good — John Parker memorialized Venice, California five years before Orson Welles. But the overall package packs a big disappointment, as I’ll explain. On Region A Blu-ray from Cohen Media Group.
Recently posted to YouTube by Matthew B. Lamont, we can admire some arcane stop motion effect shots composited by the late David Allen: Stop-Motion Rarities: Taurus Test Footage (circa. 1964-65).
This is likely the same puppet seen in David Allen, David Stipes, Mark McGee & Dennis Muren’s Equinox, which saw an altered release in 1970.
Ha — revisiting my 2006 review of the Criterion Equinox disc shows that this short reel may have come from its extras. I also wrote that Chris Endicott is working on finishing The Primevals, an effort that’s still on-going, sixteen years later.
The Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival returns to Palm Springs next week, from May 12 to the 15th. The excuse to spend a few days in Palm Springs is a big draw for casual fest-goers and noir dogs alike. Sunglasses not included.
The draw this year — a post-pandemic return to form — is a chance to view the Film Noir Foundation’s latest restorations. John Reinhardt’s The Guilty is the return of a Cornell Woolrich adaptation, and Cy Endfield’s The Argyle Secrets has a wry political twist. A new appreciation at ‘Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings’ makes Argyle sound like a real hoot.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Yasuzo Masumura amazes us with yet another sensual stunner. This period way-of-all-flesh tale is almost a horror film, but the supernatural shivers are far outpaced by the daily Evil that Men Do. Japanese superstar Ayako Wakao blazes across the screen as a self-decreed avenger of the female sex, who allows men to destroy themselves and uses them to destroy each other. The bloody killings orbit around the desire to possess the irresistible Spider Woman, an in an ‘annihilating noir.’ The screenplay is by the equally famous Kaneto Shindo, from a Japanese ‘amor fou’ novel by Junichiro Tanizaki. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
Born to Win 04/30/22
Ivan Passer’s first American film and his first in the English language is a core life-with-a-junkie tale in a cold Manhattan winter. George Segal is the ‘habituated, not addicted’ (he says) user whose married life has already been destroyed. Can he escape with the help of his new girlfriend? Hector Elizondo’s pimp/pusher has no intention of letting that happen. What’s weird is Passer’s frequently light tone — Segal’s criminal antics verge on the absurd. It’s a great film to see Karen Black, a young Robert De Niro and even Paula Prentiss in action, and yet another snapshot of Times Square in its most degraded decade. On Blu-ray from Fun City Editions.
Last week’s review of Marooned prompted contributor / advisor “B” to send along a sample of MAD Magazine’s October 1970 takeoff on the movie, “Moroned,” by the great Mort Drucker and Dick De Bartolo.
I stopped reading Mad a couple of years before, so I never saw this … and it’s really something. It touches on the same issues a good review would address. The caricature of James Franciscus is just okay, but the likenesses of David Jannsen (‘Dewerdye’) and Gene Hackman (Buzzoff) are truly good, really funny.
If you want to see more, drop me an email. It’s a sneaky trick to meet some readers, and I promise not to collect emails or anything.
Meanwhile, colleague and friend Bill Shaffer wrote from Topeka Kansas to report on an upcoming Godzilla & Friends weekend film festival, that he’s held for local kids at Washburn University for the last (gasp) 15 years. It’s in conjunction with the Kansas Silent Film Festival that he helps organize as well. I was invited twelve years ago to do a little presentation, and was greatly impressed with Bill’s young audience — value-wise, Topeka raises little kids that remind me of my own childhood. I clued Bill into the Godzilla experts Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski that year, and the wowed the kids with their special presentations.
It may not be IMAX but it’s a fun weekend for the Kaiju-deprived, a Friday evening and all day Saturday. Every year the film studios send Bill heaps of Godzilla-related swag to give out as door prizes. The little film fans respond as if they’d landed in Ali Baba’s cave.
I’m posting this announcement just in case someone halfway local to Topeka wants to check it out. Bill finally has to call it quits so this 15th installment will be the last. The dates are May 6th and 7th. Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski are flying in again. Bill will be showing 1968’s King Kong Escapes, which I remember taking my little brother to when it was new. It’s also a celebrity event: the movie’s star Linda Miller is scheduled to join in for a Zoom chat.
If nothing else, I’ll post some photos of the festivities later on. Where was Godzilla & Friends when I was seven years old?
Here’s a link to the info. Book your airfare now for beautiful downtown Topeka: Godzilla & Friends Festival #15.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Damaged Lives & Damaged Goods 04/26/22
Surprise: these are quality movies on an important subject. Entry 13 in the ‘Golden Age of the Exploitation Picture’ gives us not sleaze but two well-produced vintage public education epics on the subject of (gasp) venereal disease. Although reissued by sensation hucksters as racy ‘forbidden’ fare, they had serious social aims — the screenplay for one was adapted by the famed author Upton Sinclair. The other was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Added extras are four short subjects directed by Edgar G., and two sex-ed lecture reels that alternate between funny and revolting. On Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.
John Sturges’ orbital jeopardy thriller does everything right: the story is taken seriously, the actors seem committed and the special effects aren’t bad. Yet it’s more interesting for what doesn’t work than what does. As one of the first Sci-fi pictures in the wake of 2001 it wasn’t well received despite being technically astute. Did NASA’s race to the Moon put an end to fanciful space Sci-fi? Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman, Lee Grant and some ex- TV actors do their best, but producer Mike Frankovich’s space saga just sits there. It looks great in its first Blu-ray release: images of the actual Apollo 11 launch are breathtaking. On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].