Dracula & The Mummy Complete Legacy Collections 05/30/17

Universal
Blu-Ray

It’s a mass review of two multi-title Blu-ray sets: Universal continues to amaze with their ongoing HD releases of classic-era monster movies. Fast on the footsteps of 2016’s Frankenstein and Dracula Legacy collections are the hot-off-the-presses Dracula and The Mummy editions. Trailers from Hell’s esteemed Charlie Largent takes a look-see. Separate Blu-ray purchases from Universal.

An Early Offering

Tuesday May 30, 2017

Hello!

We’re trying to get these Tuesday reviews off early, so as to take advantage of the Monday holiday!

I finally got a gander at all of MGM’s 1933 Men Must Fight the other night, DVR’d from TCM. It’s a real jaw dropper, a creaky adaptation of a creaky play with one insanely good special effects sequence. Diana Wynyard, a nurse in WW1, loses her flyer boyfriend (Robert Young) in France but bears his child. To make everything morally Kopasetic for the high-class Diana, she marries her generous admirer, Lewis Stone. The theatrics are beyond stiff.

Back in the USA and twenty years later it’s now a futuristic 1940, complete with picture phones. All other progress seems stuck in 1933, however. Stone is now the Secretary of State trying to bolster a failing peace plan. Diana is a vocal pacifist, a position that gets sticky when war breaks out with an enemy unidentified only vaguely as the ‘Eurasian States.’ When Diana proclaims that the world’s mothers must stop producing sons to die in men’s wars, the savage hecklers at her speeches turn into an angry mob, screaming death threats and attempting to storm her 5th Avenue home. Diana’s grown son Phillips Holmes proclaims that he subscribes to the same pacifist credo, which prompts his outraged fianceé to break off their engagement, and his stepfather to finally divulge the fact that he’s a bastard rather than part of his family. The bizarre finish sees the son flip-flopping and racing to a biplane to battle the enemy (who?) in the skies over New York City. Learning that his real dad died a hero, the son becomes a dashing air pilot, seemingly in just one day. An inane final scene sees the three generations of rich women now rooting for the fight, yet also lamenting their abandonment of pacifist ideals. Grandmother May Robson says her last line, that mothers will just be ignored the same as always, as if it’s supposed to be funny. Having made no coherent dramatic point, the movie just ends, in mid-war.

TCM’s print has a patch with a bad buzz on the soundtrack but is otherwise okay. The shocker is in the next-to-last reel. For over sixty minutes the show has taken place in stuffy interiors, with out-the-window cutaways to silent stock footage of victory parades, etc. Just as the family is breaking up over the pacifism issue, a full-on air raid hits NYC. Massed biplanes (in 1940) drop little wing bombs. One tiny bomb is all that’s required to wipe out the Brooklyn Bridge, and just two are enough to blow up the Empire State Building. The miniature effects are excellent, with blasted skyscrapers falling into the streets via traveling mattes and more miniature explosions. It looks like thousands should be killed, but the only casualty we see is Diana, whose arm is broken when her taxi is hit by one of those bombs that obliterate entire buildings. I’d never heard of Men Must Fight until a few years ago when I think Richard Harland Smith mentioned it . . . is it the first negative-subjunctive future history war movie? For the prediction of an aerial war in 1940 it beats Things to Come by three full years.

See you next Saturday — Thanks for reading — Glenn Erickson

Ghost World 05/27/17

The Criterion Collection
Blu-Ray

Daniel Clowes’ comics creation receives an A-Plus film adaptation through the directorial filter of Terry Zwigoff. The show has more going for it than the bleak alienation of disaffected quasi- gen-Xers — the script offers a depth of character revealing the insecure, hopes and fears behind all the insulting attitudes and behaviors. Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi carve out uniquely affecting characters, with help from Illeana Douglas, Stacey Travis, Bob Balaban and Teri Garr. It’s caustic, funny and also strongly affecting. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.

One, Two, Three 05/27/17

KL Studio Classics
Blu-Ray

Some like their comedy hot and some like it cold. Billy Wilder opted to step on the joke accelerator to see what top speed looked like. One of the most finely tuned comedies ever made, this political satire crams five hours’ worth of wit and sight gags into 115 minutes. The retirement-age James Cagney practically blows a fuse rattling through Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s high-pressure speeches, without slurring so much as a single syllable. With Arlene Francis, Pamela Tiffin, Horst Buchholz, Lilo Pulver and Hanns Lothar – plus a fine new commentary by Michael Schlesinger. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.

Inferno 3-D 05/27/17

Twilight Time
Blu-Ray + DVD

Now in Region A — One of the best releases from the early- ’50s 3-D boom. Millionaire Robert Ryan is abandoned to die in the desert by his wife Rhonda Fleming and her lover; the ‘useless’ executive earns self-respect by focusing on the problem of survival. Ryan’s terrific, and the depth effects in the attractive desert locations are great, thanks to cinematographer Lucien Ballard. On 3-D Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

The Bootleg Files

Saturday May 27, 2017

Hello!

I’ve been impressed lately with Phil Hall’s The Bootleg Files reviews over at Cinema Crazed, wherein he’s tracked down information about barely-known titles not released on, uh, authorized discs. Phil was one of the first critics to welcome me at the Online Film Critics Society, going on sixteen years ago. I think he’s found a good vein of reporting here, as every Bootleg entry I’ve read has been news, and I tend to be one of those people with the illusion that I’ve seen everything. This week the subject is The Bootleg Files: Afrique 50. Phil’s back-story explanation of the film’s suppression says a lot about colonial politics — the filmmaker René Vautier paid the price for defying French law, when he filmed actual conditions in French West Africa. I knew that the French were really touchy about such subjects, because they even censored the old western Major Dundee, taking out dialogue that implied that French colonial Legionnaires used torture. Phil’s column serves a useful purpose. Each entry begins with ‘just the facts’ data: ‘where last seen,’ ‘reason for bootleg status,’ ‘chances of seeing a commercial DVD release.’ Good show.

I’m hoping for a full report next week on the much touted new “ScreenX” format, from a special correspondent. Movie audiences (prompted by David Letterman) rejected Peter Jackson’s attempt to raise the frame rate in his Hobbit movies, but maybe they’ll respond favorably to what sounds like an exaggeration of Abel Gance’s silent ‘Polyvision’ tryptich effect. Apparently, either the whole show or certain sequences will open up to cover a 270- degree field of vision. That slice of a circle goes beyond ear-to-ear coverage . . . are they looking for a virtual reality effect?  I’ll be curious to learn more about the format: is it worthwhile? Does the image have seams? Do the ‘sides’ show matching live action, or is everything relevant concentrated in the front panel (if there are indeed panels)? Does the camera pan to follow action, or do we instead turn our heads? What happens in close-ups and fast cutting? The good part about this is that my contact knows enough to give an accurate report. Here’s the Hollywood Reporter article on the film and the ScreenX format.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Who’ll Stop the Rain 05/23/17

Twilight Time
Blu-Ray

A killer book (Dog Soldiers) must hide behind a Credence Clearwater tune. Karel Reisz’s killer movie about the moral residue of Vietnam scores as both drama and action, with disillusioned counterculture smugglers versus corrupt narcotics cops. Just don’t expect it to really have much to say about the Vietnam experience. But hey, the cast is tops — Nick Nolte, Richard Masur, Anthony Zerbe — and the marvelous Tuesday Weld is even better as a pill-soaked involuntary initiate into the pre- War On Drugs smuggling scene. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

Things to Come 05/23/17

MPI Media Group
Blu-Ray

Mia Hansen-Løve’s portrait of the travails of a middle-aged philosophy teacher is a plum acting vehicle for Isabelle Huppert It steers clear of crazy, extraordinary events to instead offer insights into how real people live and cope. The professor must dip into her subject matter to make sense of her life, and comes up sane. Folks expecting a feel-good satire about ‘goofy’ women can make do with Sally Field in Hello, My Name is Doris. Mia and Isabelle do well here. On Blu-ray from MPI Media Group.

Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project 2 05/23/17

The Criterion Collection
Blu-Ray + DVD

After four years Martin Scorsese is back with another six filmic gems from all corners of the Earth: Insiang, Mysterious Object at Noon, Revenge, Limite, Law of the Border, Taipei Story. Love struggles in the slums of Thailand and the economic boom town of Taipei; underdog heroes undertake troubled missions in Turkey and Kazakhstan, a Malay storyteller plays cinematic games with basic narrative, and a vintage Brazilian art film is pure visual poetry. They’ve all been rescued by the World Cinema Project. A Dual-Format edition on Blu-ray and DVD from The Criterion Collection.

Those Redheads from Seattle 3-D 05/20/17

KL Studio Classics
3-D Blu-Ray

Another 3-D breakthrough, this time for a Paramount musical rescued from oblivion and remastered by the 3-D Archive. Rhonda Fleming and Gene Barry star in a blend of songs and Alaskan adventure filmed in downtown Hollywood. The depth effects are great, but the big surprise is Teresa Brewer, the radio star turned one-shot movie musical wonder whose voice resurrects memories of pop vocals just prior to the arrival of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Also with the Bell Sisters, Guy Mitchell and Agnes Moorehead. The story of what was required to bring this one back from the brink of extinction, is fully covered — and 3-D fans can’t get enough of these shows! On 3-D Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.

Rescuing the Runes: The Almost-Lost Original Long Cut of Night of the Demon 05/20/17

Guest Article by Wayne Schmidt  Fires, clerical errors, and lab mistakes have caused films to be lost forever, or to become unavailable in good quality; studio indifference also allows vintage films to be ignored to death, while their negatives rot in cans. So it’s great to hear a ‘lost film’ story with a happy ending. Guest writer Wayne Schmidt recounts how the original version of one of our favorite horror pictures was accidentally rediscovered, only for its priceless, irreplaceable original film element to be almost lost forever. Wayne had a tricky problem to solve: how to get it back from a collector, without making a federal case out of it.

The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers 05/16/17

Olive Films
Blu-Ray

Les plus belles escroqueries du monde. A breezy five-episode compilation movie about swindles plays out in five film capitals, under the eye of five different directors including Claude Chabrol and Jean-Luc Godard. But Roman Polanski’s Amsterdam segment couldn’t be included, which is a shame. It’s in B&W ‘scope, and everybody gets to bring their favorite cameraman and composer along. On Blu-ray from Olive Films.

Decoy (TV Show) 05/16/17

Film Chest Media
DVD

Unsung actress Beverly Garland becomes TV’s first lady cop, in what’s claimed to be the first TV show filmed on the streets of New York City. This one-season wonder from 1957 has vintage locations, fairly tough-minded storylines and solid performances, from Bev and a vast gallery of stage and TV actors on the way up. It’s a full season, when a season of TV shows was 39 episodes. On DVD from Film Chest Media.

Night of the Demon 05/16/17

Wild Side (France)
Region A + B Blu-Ray and PAL DVD

This French disc release of the Jacques Tourneur classic gets everything right — including both versions in picture perfect transfers. Devil debunker Dana Andrews locks horns with Niall MacGinnis, a necromancer “who has decoded the Old Book” and can summon a fire & brimstone monster from Hell, no election fraud necessary. Even fans that hate ghost stories love this one — it’s a truly creepy highlight of the horror genre. Co-starring Peggy Cummins and our favorite movie demon — that’s the center of arguments about how much he should be shown, or if Tourneur didn’t want him shown at all. The release comes with a 144-page book. . . in French!   A good community college can help you there. A Dual-Format edition on Region A + B Blu-ray and PAL DVD from Wild Side (France).