Savant Column

Tuesday July 11, 2017

Hello!  I’ve returned from a break. All kinds of time-consuming things loom ahead, but I’ll be back on the review warpath soon enough.

This is a book review, for Joseph McBride’s big new compendium of his writing for the past fifty years, Two Cheers for Hollywood: Joseph McBride on Movies. It was long ago that I first became aware of McBride, through his first book on John Ford. I also enjoyed the articles and reviews he brought to Daily Variety, at a time when its coverage stopped being pitched solely to exhibitors and became the most reliable review source around. Two Cheers is not a collection of reviews or learned essays but the full range of McBride’s journalistic work. Since the early 1970s McBride was being tapped as a key resource for film-related screenwriting and career recaps for famous directors; his interviews of the greats pretty much picked up where Peter Bogdanovich left off.

The book’s satisfying loose organization soon reveals a broad range of interests and subject matter. McBride begins with pieces about writers, giving his take on the Blacklist, and the controversy with Elia Kazan’s honorary Oscar. A very large section covers his extensive interviews and articles on directors, with more than one piece about John Ford, who was just as irascible with a fellow Irishman as he was with others. McBride doesn’t shy away from the politics of his subjects, acknowledging that his favorite actor John Wayne carried totally opposite political opinions. The articles never go for the obvious — he looks at George Stevens and François Truffaut, but also the partnership of Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg, and the man who directed the Three Stooges, Edward L. Bernds. McBride wrote an entire book on Frank Capra, but explains in articles reprinted here the distinction between Capra’s earlier work and his later problematic ‘important’ pictures. It’s refreshing to read someone willing to fully take down Capra, whose 1971 autobiography is mostly self-aggrandizing fiction. He also wades deep into the controversy of the Coen Bros.

McBride’s on- set visits reveal unseen personalities for famous actors we think we know, like James Stewart. He has a surprising interview-based piece on Stephin Fetchit, and another on Alma Reville. He even devotes a nice piece to designer Richard Sylbert, and takes time to examine Spielberg’s relationship with his editor.

The book is full of surprises. Each piece is preceded by new notes that describe why it was written, and in many cases, how editors removed bits of controversy here and there. Those sections have been replaced. An article in which McBride described the Bush administration as a ‘regime’ did get him into hot water with one publication. A piece on two movies about the Cuban Missile Crisis, and another on ‘George Orwell in the movies’ reveal more of McBride’s strong opinions on national politics — one of his books is about the Kennedy assassination. We read about McBride’s various efforts to bring suppressed pictures to light, like John Huston’s Let There Be Light and Orson Welles’ Too Much Johnson. He openly embraces John Ford & Leo McCarey’s most sentimental films. Yet McBride is entirely persuasive in his arguments — he devotes an entire chapter to Elia Kazan’s Wild River, which I want to go back and read again.

Joseph McBride has a way with his opinions, which are never taken lightly. When he gets rough with Frank Capra or Jean-Luc Godard, he doesn’t care where the fur flies. By just explaining the bizarre storyline of a film left unmade by Alfred Hitchcock, we get deeper into the director’s psychology than a dozen essays tossing around gossip about his mistreatment of Tippi Hedren. McBride is a journalist first. His writing invariably finds an interesting hook, and then goes beyond to uncover something meaningful.

It’s a big book, almost 700 pages. I know I’m going to be dipping into it again soon. It is always liberating to read the thoughts of people that communicate well. This copy already has six or seven provisional bookmarks. I don’t want to forget the exact words McBride uses to slam Lost Horizon.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday July 8, 2017

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Savant’s new review today is:

Blood Alley 07/08/17

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

Now a successful producer, John Wayne tries a big budget action picture with an anti-Communist theme. It’s The Alamo on a ferryboat, with Wayne as an apolitical adventurer who just feels like savin’ Chinese and kissin’ Lauren Bacall. Ace director William Wellman holds it together — barely. Berry Kroeger is a hateful comrade, Mike Mazurki a loyal aide and Anita Ekberg can be spotted in a couple of scenes, looking very . . . Swedish. With some interesting newsreels and TV show excerpts. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
7/08/17

Savant Column

Saturday July 8, 2017

Hello!

One review today — call it a vacation situation for the next few days, and perhaps updates rather than reviews. But I do have some fun links and announcements.

Gary Teetzel forwards Variety’s announcement that Cohen Media is bringing to Blu-ray a 4K disc of a restored version of James Whale’s The Old Dark House. The movie was once thought lost until the late 1960s, when none other than Curtis Harrington found it in a vault. It’s been in the Library of Congress all this time, while we’ve had to put up with some pretty unsubstantial releases. Universal is reportedly working with Cohen on this. Gee, Universal, I think you lost rights to Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight, but maybe you can go to the L.O.C and find an uncut, uncensored version!

Gary also forwards a Movie-Censorship.com article comparing the two versions of Sidney Salkow’s The Last Man On Earth — the Italian cut has a scene extension but also trims a lot of shots. The site is illuminating even if it’s sometimes hard to read … does that 9 seconds mean shorter or longer. . . and which version?

And both Joe Dante and correspondent “B.” forwarded this article, Memories of a Real ‘Witch Hunt’ as a rebuff to a distortion of the term that became national news a couple of weeks ago. The author is Julie Garfield, the actress daughter of John Garfield.

And Joe Baltake’s opinion columns are fun this week, just because it’s good to read contrarian opinions backed up with good reasoning. His The Passionate Moviegoer has ‘Blasphemy!’– themed ‘Hall of the Overrated’ negative takes on Cabaret, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Casablanca. Interesting.

The summer discs that cry out for good reviews are here — The Lost City of Z, The Valachi Papers, Where the Boys Are, The Sea Chase, Lost in America, Straw Dogs, Shag, Stalker, The Road to Bali, The Battle of the River Plate (German Region B), The Quiet American, Shalako, Pulse, Obsessions. I’m also hoping to review Scream Factory’s The Angry Red Planet and The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake one way or another in the absence of screeners.

And finally, a major book review should be less than a week away — I’m almost finished but it needs work.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday July 4, 2017

Independence Day

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Savant’s new reviews today are:

Ikarie XB 1 07/04/17

NFA Czechoslovakia
Blu-ray

For the discerning science fiction fan, this is the best of the Eastern-bloc Cold War Sci-fi epics, a genuinely brilliant and warmly human ‘Voyage to the End of the Universe’ restored in 4k resolution. It’s from before 2001: A Space Odyssey and has an equally wondrous but totally different vision of the future. Hopefully this will soon be readily available here; buying it required some clever footwork by Foreign Exchange of Culver City. Starring my favorite Czech personalities Radovan Lukavský, Zdenek Stepánek, Frantisek Smolík, Irena Kacírková and Dana Medrická. Please Marek, forgive my incompetent diacritical marks! On Blu-ray from NFA (Czech).
7/04/17

Varieté 07/04/17

Kino Classics
Blu-ray

At last, an expressionist silent classic that takes full advantage of cinematic principles. The legendary E.A. Dupont goes in for subjective-emotional effects of which Hitchcock would approve; Cameraman Karl Freund and effects wizard Eugen Schüfftan pull off spectacular visuals and special effects. No wonder this was a huge hit in America, it’s way ahead of its time (and ours too, in some ways). Emil Jannings shows why he was considered the world’s best actor in the 1920’s. Plus the enigmatic Lya De Putti. On Blu-ray from Kino Classics.
7/04/17

Free Fire 07/04/17

Lionsgate
Blu-ray

Have an itch to see a movie about a gunfight, the whole gunfight and nothing but the gunfight? Search no more, for Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump have the movie for you: twenty minutes of angry crooks in conference, and then seventy minutes of non-stop shootin,’ with no annoying plot context or character depth to get in the way. Just say ‘Bang Bang I shot you down’ and then play it in a loop ad infinitum. Starring Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor, Mark Monero and Patrick Bergin. On Blu-ray from Lionsgate.
7/04/17

Savant Column

Tuesday July 4, 2017

Hello!

Wow, I’ve got little in the way of fabulous new links today, as I think my happy link providers are off hobnobbing with their fellow wizards and otherwise getting into trouble. And no ironic top image today, as I’m putting this one up completely straight, even though the source movie is a house slightly divided against itself, to mangle a phrase.

It’s pretty great getting this Blu-ray of one of my top favorite space films Ikarie XB 1. The secret to having a favorite picture become available on disc is apparently to be pessimistic and assume that it will never be released, that the disc Powers That Be out there have my number, and send anything I want to the back of the line. I guess I have to retire that attitude after this year. When I began ‘MGM Video Savant’ years ago I put out lists of coveted movies, and on top were a group of Fox ‘Scope movies that I’d seen only in miserable Pan-scan TV versions: House of Bamboo, Hell and High Water and Garden of Evil etc. What can I say? Now that I can peruse them in beautiful Blu-ray HD, is it time to die? I hope not. To mis-quote Yellow Submarine, newer and bluer blues are always on the way, and greedy collectors never get enough.

This Ikarie disc was a surprise. I saw the restoration trailer for the show a while back, and noted that Trailers from Hell’s Joe Dante received a prominent text endorsement quote. But only last night did I watch the trailer on the disc, and saw that there was a flurry of additional one-word quotes further on, with the last one being ME. The important, unique word they pulled from my old review is ‘Best,’ which is spelled out in bold Czech: “NEJLEPŠÍ.” Of course, my name is only up for about 12 frames! And it’s misspelled!   I don’t care. I’ve got my names on a bunch of noir and Mario Bava releases, with mostly inane quotes, but this feels special.

Just so you don’t think all is perfect here in Los Angeles, starting a few days before the 4th of July we hear fireworks every night. When the booms really echo, we wonder if hostilities have broken out with Orange County. Three days ago we got a shower of ash from the hills burning to the Northeast. And last night we had a helicopter buzzing around the neighborhood for about an hour, searching for Public Enemy numbers one through four. Look how thoughtful I am — I got this picture for you of a Cop copter with its searchlight. Couldn’t do much else, with the chopper doing everything but playing Ride of the Valkyries.

Thanks for reading! Have a great fourth! — Glenn Erickson


More recent Savant Columns below on page 2 … and beyond.

Saturday July 1, 2017

 

 

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Savant’s new reviews today are:

The Bridge at Remagen 07/01/17

Twilight Time
Blu-ray

What’s the best true-story WW2 combat film for pure-grit, no-nonsense tanks ‘n’ bombs ‘n’ crazy mayhem action on a giant scale? This non-stop battle epic gets my vote. George Segal and Ben Gazzara’s GI infantry dogs are suitably tough, cynical and desperate, especially when they’re repeatedly sent into danger. The history is fairly accurate — there was indeed a race to seize the last bridge across the River Rhine. With Robert Vaughn, Bradford Dillman, E.G. Marshall, Peter Van Eyck, Hans Christian Blech & Bo Hopkins. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
07/01/17

Ugetsu Monogatari 07/01/17

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Trailers From Hell’s Charlie Largent takes a Westernized look at the great Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi and his preeminent masterpiece Ugetsu, brought to us in a stellar new release from the wizards at Criterion.. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
07/01/17

L’argent 07/01/17

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Welcome to the final film of the aesthetically precise, rigorously austere Robert Bresson, an adaptation of a fateful tale by Leo Tolstoy visualized in Bresson’s frequently maddening personal style. An extreme artist makes a fascinatingly unyielding show: as with the classic paintings that Bresson admires, appreciation requires special knowledge. With an excellent vintage interview with Michel Ciment to clarify Bresson’s theory of cinema: I’m still only part-way there. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
07/01/17

Savant Column

Saturday July 1, 2017

Hello!

We start with Gary Teezel forwarding us what Classic Flix is touting as their YouTube restoration demonstration for their Blu-ray of the Public Domain (I think) proto-noir from Fritz Lang, You Only Live Once. It certainly looks better than the eyesores we had to watch. Speaking of that, I did review an old Image disc fourteen years ago, and it was no beauty. It’ll be great if Sylvia Sydney looks good again … she was the queen of the Depression-era social injustice pictures. And one reason that the film is so special now is that Lang fills it with expressionist touches that could have come from one of his German silents: the love bond between Sylvia Sydney and Henry Fonda is mirrored by a pair of frogs in a pond; the heavens literally open up to admit pure souls.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And it’s only $325.00! Gary suggested that I talk my wife into replacing our wedding bands, but I don’t think she’ll go for it.

And speaking of Comic-Con, maybe this time I can get Gary to let me post his web reports on his adventure in San Diego in the Savant column. He says he spends too much of the convention trying unsuccessfully to get into crowded auditoriums. I say fans that might want to go deserve to know what the experience is like, even for a veteran like Gary. And I like the way he tells stories.

Although the link is a couple of years old, Joe Dante has circulated it again and I find it fascinating enough to re-recommend: ‘NZ Pete’s’ exhaustive article at his Matte Shot – a Tribute to Golden Era Special FX page, about Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: One Man’s Incredible Odyssey. It’s still unsurpassed, methinks.

And finally, out of the blue we seem to be soon to enjoy a new, improved HD scan of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The frame grab scans being shown online are remarkable. And they’ve recovered the proper color for the fluffy pinfeather fuzz of the Roc’s Chick, as we all remember it from back in the day. We can happily report that THE CHICK IS PINK.

Next time up, I should have a major book review for the column. . .

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday June 27, 2017

Wednesday June 28, 2017


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Savant’s new reviews today are:

The Savage Innocents 06/28/17

Olive Films
Blu-ray

The original Quinn the Eskimo (no kidding) is another life-loving rough portrait from Anthony Quinn, in Nicholas Ray’s rather successful final spin as a writer-director. Despite some technical awkwardness, Ray’s sensitivity to outsider souls finds full expression. Humans don’t get any more ‘outside’ than Inuk, a primitive unequipped to deal with the modern world. With Yoko Tani as Inuk’s wife and partner for ‘laughing’; this also has one of Peter O’Toole’s first film appearances. Filmed in Technirama. On Blu-ray from Olive Films.
06/27/17

Hell and High Water 06/28/17

Twilight Time
Blu-ray

That wild man Samuel Fuller sure knows how to turn up the geopolitical tension, especially in a rip-roaring action picture. This provocative atom threat adventure movie might have caused problems, if anybody cared what movies said back when the Cold War was hot. Richard Widmark skippers a leaky sub to the arctic and discovers that the Chinese communists are going to start WW3 — and blame it on Uncle Sam. No, Quinn the Eskimo is not involved. It’s an insane comic-book adventure about very serious issues — and we love it. With Bella Darvi, Victor Francen, Cameron Mitchell and the absolutely essential gritty sub crewman, Gene Evans. Great atom-age special effects! On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
06/27/17

Hell in the Pacific 06/28/17

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

Class-act director John Boorman continues to mix genre grit with European-flavored art cinema, and the result is another winner. Toshiro Mifune and Lee Marvin fight a miniature two-man war when they’re marooned together on the same tiny island. Boorman’s strong direction and Conrad Hall’s knockout cinematography insure a maximum visual impact; it’s great filmmaking all around. KL gives us terrific extras, including a John Boorman talk that’s even more fascinating than usual. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
06/27/17

Savant Column June 27, 2017

Wednesday June 28, 2017

Hello!

Deadlines loom and there’s too much to do, so just one announcement today. Kino Lorber doesn’t have a date yet, but they did announce that they’re releasing Billy Wilder’s Avanti! on Blu-ray. The charming comedy with Jack Lemmon, Juliet Mills and Clive Revill bombed in 1972 yet has a acquired a solid fan base. When this one hits Blu, the only remaining Wilder film controlled by MGM and not yet released on Blu will be 1963’s Irma La Douce. Interestingly, the Wilder film being saved for last was the writer-director’s biggest theatrical hit, surpassing even Some Like it Hot and The Apartment.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday June 24, 2017

Friday June 23, 2017

 

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Savant’s new reviews today are: