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post #571 of 1451 Old 08-23-2011, 05:40 AM - Thread Starter
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That Certain Age (1938) , directed by Edward Ludwig.

Fairly bland Deanna Durbin (age 17) entertainment product, in the "let's put on a show" genre.

She's smitten with an older man, the acerbic Melvyn Douglas, and throws over boyfriend Jackie Cooper, who always looks like he's about to burst into tears. A few years earlier he was famous for his weepie films.

A moderate amount of singing, all part of the story. The rich country house setting is what people wanted to see during the Depression. We get a glimpse of perennial butler Charles Coleman. The IMDB shows Billy Wilder as an uncredited writer.



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post #572 of 1451 Old 08-25-2011, 05:39 AM - Thread Starter
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Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), directed by Sergio Leone.

I read once that the key to understanding Leone westerns is that they do not happen in the American West, but rather in some Old World space -- accessible from Italy -- that has been running for thousands of years. That's probably true of many genre stories: after a while they occupy their own mythological space only tangentially related to historical reality. It's the movies.

This one is slow and heavy on mood, sometimes violent but often funny, starting with that remarkable 15 minute opening segment when killers Woody Strode, Jack Elam and the other guy meet the train. The leisurely pacing (it's an hour before we meet all the key characters) is easy to take in this case: there is always something to watch, many fine scenes, and the unfolding plot to ponder.

It's meant to be a mashup of classic western scenes and motifs and that's the source of much ironic humor. Monument Valley again?

Great performances from all the stars, with special mention to Henry Fonda, who has a once in a lifetime chance to play the deeply evil villain. Charles Bronson communicates so much with such an impassive, laconic demeanor.

On the down side: it's less of of western than a tough guy fashion show. Looking mean, dressing tough, long menacing stares, ritual sadism to haunting music. All while bystanders cower in fear. Who knew the West was settled by such timid folk? The overblown arena gunfight ending always makes me queasy.

I see this is often called "the finest Western ever made." Best spaghetti western, maybe.

From a story by Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Dario Argento. Famous score by Ennio Morricone.

Available on Blu-ray, most notably fine in the extreme closeups, of which there are many. Faces are the stylistic center of the film.



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post #573 of 1451 Old 08-25-2011, 06:05 AM
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Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), directed by Sergio Leone.

I see this is often called "the finest Western even made." Best spaghetti western, maybe.

-Bill

I've never been able to watch this all the way through, I either fall asleep or turn it off. I can't really see where it's the best of anything. All mood and no substance. YMMV
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post #574 of 1451 Old 08-26-2011, 05:56 AM - Thread Starter
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Carrie (1976), directed by Brian De Palma.

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I'm goin', Momma. And I don't want to talk about it anymore. -- Carrie White

The quintessential high school horror film, concise and well done. It's all here: the malevolence of classmates, the embarrassment of a crazy parent and agony of being the class goat, the beginnings of self-assertion and rebellion. All kids try to figure things out during this time, but poor Carrie also has to deal with traumatic menstruation and uncontrolled psychokinetic powers.

Amid the pain there is a brief vision of high school Paradise: the perfect Prom, where everyone is happy and friendly, no more ill will or jealousy, with lust kept safely contained by social dancing. It doesn't last.

Sissy Spacek gives a wonderful performance. Her exotic looks help: she can be pretty but also weird looking.

Many early appearances by future stars. Amy Irving was always a favorite from that period and Nancy Allen is deliciously evil. The spitefulness of school girls transcends understanding.

About the naked locker room scene: thank you, ladies, for your commitment to your craft.

I see now that the bizarre little statue in the "prayer closet" is not Jesus, but something more like St Sebastian (last seen in I Walked With a Zombie), shot with arrows. It gives the director an image to replicate in Margaret's death by kitchen implements.

Those mid-70s bushy haircuts and ruffled prom tuxedos: ouch.

I vaguely remember Stephen King's book: Carrie burns down the whole town and even people who have never heard of her understand "It's Carrie White. She's out." That would have been a nice touch: a spooky linkage. Some at the prom do have intimations of what's happening before they die. Spacek does the audiobook reading for Recorded Books.

Available on Blu-ray. The image is often soft, but I don't remember how much of this comes from the film. Some shots seem purposefully hazy. Now and then an outdoor scene shows good hidef detail; I don't know where that comes from. My thumbnails are from the original very poor 4:3 letterboxed DVD; I never saw the anamorphic edition.



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post #575 of 1451 Old 08-28-2011, 10:17 PM
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I've never been able to watch this all the way through, I either fall asleep or turn it off. I can't really see where it's the best of anything. All mood and no substance. YMMV

I consider myself a western film buff. Ford, Peckinpah, Mann, and Eastwood to name a few, are genre gods who've made timeless classics. But Sergio is the man. And OUATITW is his, and the genre's Masterpiece. Some of us out there not only consider it the best western ever made, but the best movie ever made, period.

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post #576 of 1451 Old 09-03-2011, 07:11 AM - Thread Starter
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King of Kings (1961), directed by Nicholas Ray.

A novelized life of Jesus, with vastly elaborated parts for the other characters and connections and motivations unsupported by the scriptures (or even early tradition, as far as I know). Barabbas is a rebel leader, Judas a rebel and idealist and Pilate's wife a closet disciple. The whole Herod/Salome plot is lifted directly from Oscar Wilde. As is often done, Mary Magdalene is conflated with "the Woman Taken in Adultery".

We don't get that much of the life or teachings of Christ: a bit of his healings and a section of the Sermon on the Mount. Miracles are described but only two are shown: a blind man healed and Christ's appearance after death. The whole story is rather low-drama until the Passion which inevitably catches us and sweeps us along.

Jeffrey Hunter is the blue-eyed, chestnut-haired Jesus. He has a fierce, rather startling and almost wolf-like appearance. I jumped when he first appeared in the Jordan before John the Baptist (Robert Ryan). Hunter got some silly static at the time for looking too young ("I Was a Teenaged Jesus") but he was in his mid-30s.

He has his moments, but the role needs something more I have never seen on film. Jesus is not just delivering the message, he is originating it. Actors tend to declaim the words, which isn't enough.

This version is overshadowed by Ben Hur, a more moving and better film in every way. MGM provided both. Miklós Rózsa does the score for both, and Frank Thring is Herod here, Pilate there.

Some action-film segments with Barabbas and his rebels are way out of place, like something from stock Hollywood costume fight scenes. Even the music drops into a lower grade.

Filmed in Spain. Rough dubbing for some of the extras. Some landscape animation in the opening segment is poor. Fine color but unexciting composition.

Available on a rather good Blu-ray. Vivid colors and generally fine detail, although some closeups have a bit of soft focus, probably in the original.

Netflix has the DVD but not the Blu-ray. I rented mine from http://www.classicflix.com/.



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post #577 of 1451 Old 09-07-2011, 06:07 AM - Thread Starter
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The Woman on the Beach (1947), directed by Jean Renoir.

Robert Ryan is a Lt in the Mounted Coast Guard: he patrols the beach on a horse. He had a bad war and suffers from nightmares about his ship hitting a mine. He sinks to the bottom and walks among the wreckage and skeletons, meeting a beautiful woman most people would recognize as "Death".

In waking life he begins to see a mysterious woman (Joan Bennett) on the beach. He meets her and her husband, an artist who has gone blind (the always fierce Charles Bickford). He suspects the husband is faking blindness; if he can prove that maybe he can get the wife away from him. Things aren't what they appear. After that, they still aren't.

It's an intriguing concept for a romance/thriller but the execution is clumsy. It could be remade with no budget required. Robert Ryan is my favorite actor from the period but some of his line delivery is awkward. Maybe a few more takes would have helped. The other actors are fine.

Only 70m long. Intrusive, up-front musical score.

Warner Archive title, available for rent from http://www.classicflix.com/.



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post #578 of 1451 Old 09-09-2011, 05:29 AM - Thread Starter
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Garden of Evil (1954), directed by Henry Hathaway.

On their way to the California gold fields by ship, three likely characters (Gary Cooper, Richard Widmark, Cameron Mitchell) are stranded in a small Mexican coastal town. Frantic, pistol-packing Susan Hayward hires them to help rescue her husband, trapped in a cave-in at their mine. (It's many days journey each way; he must be durable).

She leads them through a deserted, almost prehistoric Lost World wilderness landscape. The typically fine Bernard Herrmann score really punches the fantasy aspect. Their destination is a town submerged in lava; the mine is just beyond. Hostile Indians lurk but we don't see them until the final running and fighting segment.

They do rescue the husband (Hugh Marlowe, last seen in Twelve O'Clock High) but his experience has left him kind of crazed. In particular he seems to hate his wife. They got in; can they now get out?

This is all pretty well done, but the dialogue and relationships are weaker, declining into jumbled psychodrama.

For an eclectic film survey you could do worse than watch a selection with Bernard Herrmann scores. This was his only western feature film. The DVD commentary track has four film music experts discussing this movie, but also Herrmann and the history and practice of movie music in general.

In those days the director had nothing to do with the music. The composer worked for the studio music director, in this case the great Alfred Newman, a fine film composer in his own right. The irony: studios in those days were derided as a "factory" system, but the composers had individual styles. Today, it's much more of a sameness in film music because too many people have to be satisfied. Sam Fuller said the same thing from the director's point of view: moguls were better than layers of committees.

The experts point out the evil of the "temp track". Directors want to set a mood during filming and use already known music on set. They fall in love with it and when it comes time for scoring want something "just like that". Herrmann refused to work with a temp track, even when it was his own earlier music.

Filmed in Mexico.



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post #579 of 1451 Old 09-09-2011, 09:46 AM
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Garden of Evil (1954), directed by Henry Hathaway.

I got this title as part of a "Fox Western Classics" 3-movie set. Which, BTW is a must-have set for western fans and dirt cheap.

I really enjoyed the beautiful Mexico landscapes. The story is a bit odd though.
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post #580 of 1451 Old 09-11-2011, 08:29 AM - Thread Starter
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The Woman on Pier 13 (1949), directed by Robert Stevenson.

Another Robert Ryan "The Woman on..." title. AKA I Married a Communist and Beautiful But Dangerous.

We're just met a newlywed couple and an old flame who pops up to cause trouble, when we learn that the husband is a former member of the Communist Party and a murderer. He left the Party years earlier, changed his name and changed coasts, moved from longshoreman to management and got married. But the Party has found him and sent the old girlfriend to pull him back in. He resists, but their blackmail is powerful.

This gets dinged for being Red Scare propaganda, but the noir elements and photography are quite strong. The Party is a murderous well-oiled machine modeled on a crime syndicate. If that's a fantasy, well, movies are full of them.

Ryan is an ambivalent character. He's our hero and we want to like him. He was a commie stooge when young but wised up and got out. But when he succumbs to blackmail he lies effortlessly to his wife and is effective in his assigned mission of sabotaging labor relations on the docks. He's stalwart and loyal to his wife at the end.

Janis Carter is the femme fatale, one of the "Bad Girls of Film Noir." I'd like to see more of her; she simultaneously projects power, spite, pain and longing. Here she is a hard core political ideologue tempted by emotion: first by desire for her old boyfriend and then by his brother-in-law. Finally love is stronger than politics, which I think is a hopeful message.

Every time I see a Hollywood Red Scare/McCarthy retrospective I imagine an alternative history treatment where nazis are the oppressed subversive group instead of communists. The same degree of tinsel town hand-wringing would seem ridiculous.

Warner Archive title, available for rent from http://www.classicflix.com/.





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post #581 of 1451 Old 09-13-2011, 05:41 AM - Thread Starter
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7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), directed by George Pal.

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I, Sir, am a Major Mystery.

A 7322-year-old Chinese wizard straightens out the people of Abalone AZ, circa 1900. He has a tent like a tardis: it's bigger on the inside than on the outside. His message: loosen up, find wonder in every day, stop being so vain and greedy, and generally just be excellent to one another.

Tony Randall plays an assortment of magical characters. For romantic leads we have Barbara Eden, just before I Dream of Jeannie, and John Ericson, just before Honey West.

Some of the scenes are for children but some aren't. Eden's scene with Pan the Satyr is memorably steamy. A few segments could have been tightened up for everyone. The Loch Ness Monster bit (in the desert!) looks much like a Ray Harryhausen effect, but isn't.

I remember the book had a quiz at the end to see if you were paying attention.



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post #582 of 1451 Old 09-14-2011, 05:48 AM - Thread Starter
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Captain from Castile (1947), directed by Henry King.

A Spanish nobleman runs afoul of the Inquisition and flees to the New World, joining Cortez's expedition to Mexico. Costume adventure, mild swashbuckler, heavy romance.

It's not as rousing as other adventure films of the period, but poses some interesting dilemmas: how to reconcile overwhelming desire for a justly deserved revenge with a promise to forgive? And if you can't be with the one you love, should you love the one you're with?

Oddly, it is understood that the conquistadors are just villains after plunder, but the film still gives them pomp and glory music. They put in a lot of historical detail but soften aspects of mass violence and religious controversy.

I've never quite understood Tyrone Power's appeal as a matinee idol, but the ladies loved him. He can fence and has an endearing earnestness. He had no illusions about his acting talent, but wisely compensates with an understated simplicity. The studio held this and other films for him while he was a Marine pilot during the War.

First role for Jean Peters, last seen in Pickup on South Street. She had zero acting experience but the studio wanted her, and she's fine as a peasant girl in love with the fugitive nobleman. Watch closely and you'll see her touch a hunchback's hump for luck, a bit of folklore I had never heard of until I saw it in a French film a few years ago.

Cesar Romero plays Cortez as a masculine, confident pirate king, making up his own rules, the type of great man one of Shakespeare's characters called "Alexander the Pig".

Lee J. Cobb gets to play an colorful action character who shouldn't drink.

Jay Silverheels has his first prominent role as an Aztec prince.

Filmed in Technicolor in Mexico with erupting volcanoes on the skyline. They used the historical locations where possible and borrowed period jewelry from a museum.

Famous Alfred Newman score. The DVD has an isolated audio track and chatty commentary.



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post #583 of 1451 Old 09-16-2011, 05:08 AM - Thread Starter
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The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), directed by Tay Garnett.

At a California diner, a drifter strikes sparks with the owner's wife. After some sparring they fall in completely and decide to kill the husband, who has done nothing to deserve it. It takes two attempts, both fiascos. They're not very good at it and the police are on to them.

Then they are at the tender mercies of lawyers and courts. Love turns sour, they are blackmailed, and the furies deliver final justice.

If the movie resembles Double Indemnity: James M. Cain wrote both books. This one has its moments, but the other film is stronger.

The best parts are the tense approaches to murder: can they do it? How will they do it? What could possibly go wrong? It's unusual to have two such heels as our heroes.

Lana Turner and John Garfield emote as much passion as the code allowed. In the film she says "You've been trying to turn me into a tramp since we first met", where the book has "Rip me!" (meaning her clothes).

The trial scenes are necessarily simplified. In the book the defense lawyer (the cooly amoral Hume Cronyn) get two insurance companies to wrangle a settlement which clears his clients.



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post #584 of 1451 Old 09-19-2011, 04:22 AM - Thread Starter
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Twisted Nerve (1968), directed by Roy Boulting.

Young Martin has an overly fond mother, a stepfather he hates, and a retarded brother hidden away in a special home. He shoplifts and sits up at night with muscle magazines, admiring himself in a mirror and reading Psychopathia Sexualis.

Meeting a pretty college girl, he pretends to be retarded himself and insinuates himself into her mother's boarding house, which becomes a staging ground for bloody vengeance against his enemies. And he'd really like to get into the daughter's pants...

I found this one easy to like. It would be a good companion to Peeping Tom and Frenzy. The director shares Hitch's love for interior architecture and all the angles you can get on stairways. We don't sympathize with the killer as much as Hitchcock would have us do.

Hayley Mills, last seen in Whistle Down the Wind, is 22 here, very pretty in the short skirts and sunny mod outfits of the period. The 60s fashion look is well done without going full Austen Powers. She later married the director.

Bernard Herrmann's whistling theme was reused by Tarantino in Kill Bill.

Leo Marks, a cryptographer during WW2, wrote both this and the controversial Peeping Tom which pretty much ended Michael Powell's career. This one was supposedly controversial as well: it starts with a public service announcement denying the linkage of Martin's brother's Downs Syndrome (then called "mongolism") with Martin's murderous psychosis.

My copy is a DVD-R from Sinister Cinema. The aspect ratio has been cropped from 1.66 to 1.33. The first few minutes have a logo way up in the image but it vanishes after a while.



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post #585 of 1451 Old 09-21-2011, 11:22 AM - Thread Starter
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Eraserhead (1977), directed by David Lynch.

I had serious qualms about seeing this again. I attended many midnight viewings back then and thought about it more than any other film in those days. But now: did I really want to put that stuff in my head again?

Well, many years have passed and my response is less visceral. I also think this is a film that doesn't work very well in home theater, at least on modestly scaled displays. It needs to be (a) on film, to catch the dark grayscale textures, and (b) larger than the viewer, a size more intimidating than a TV set.

A plot summary would be pointless, and Lynch is not that kind of director anyway. It's a series of surreal vignettes about Henry and his dread of everything: fatherhood, babies, sex, machines, the city, shabbiness, poverty, and apparently all other aspects of reality. It suggests those half-waking thoughts in the middle of a restless night when the filters of the mind are down and the dark stuff emerges.

All set to a background of Lynchian howling wind and ominous industrial drone. I love the way the camera glides through the apartment like a spaceship discovering a new solar system, revealing the surface grittiness of fixtures as if they were giant planets. It discovers strange shadowy loathsomeness in the corners: an unpotted plant on his nightstand and what look like piles of seaweed on the dresser. Again: grayscale reproduction is vital here.

If reality is disgusting, what else do we have? Have you noticed that his films always end with a glimpse of Heaven?

Other thoughts:
  • It's a long 88 minutes.
  • Let's not forget the grotesque humor.
  • The title is a dumb joke.
  • It was made over five years because of lack of funds.
  • Special thanks to Sissy Spacek.
  • I have a sudden urge to see Industrial Symphony No. 1 again.
  • It would not stick with you, it would not be so effective if it were just a chaotic jumble of scenes. It has a dark design which is difficult to analyze and impossible to entirely forget.

Lynch displays a disturbed genius here. And I mean that literally. Genius. Disturbed. While watching every one of his films I have thought "Mental illness is sad and scary". From what I have seen of him he behaves more or less normally. He chain-smokes and swears like a sailor on the set. I've always thought him an intuitive director without much planning or need for storytelling. It varies. After Inland Empire I've given up on him, but I've said that before.

In my thumbnails below I could not bear to record some of the more grotesque scenes, although they are perhaps the most memorable bits.



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post #586 of 1451 Old 09-21-2011, 09:08 PM
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Eraserhead (1977), directed by David Lynch.

I had serious qualms about seeing this again.

I can say the same about pretty much any Lynch film.
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post #587 of 1451 Old 09-22-2011, 05:52 AM - Thread Starter
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Magnum Force (1973), directed by Ted Post.

The sequel to Dirty Harry seems like an entirely new time and character. He's less angry, more integrated into the police department and actually has friends. This film has more daylight and is less grungy than the first. The plot is switched around: instead of an out-of-control cop he is hunting down a police death squad.

Eastwood glides through with his innate coolness, not really involved with the conflict and getting a new girlfriend without even trying. He does seem a bit shaken up after finding a bomb in his mailbox, proving that he is mortal.

Some interesting point-of-view camera work: mounted on a motorcycle, sighting down the barrel of a shotgun, floating with the ceiling fan. Again some good San Francisco panoramas.

When I saw this in the theater the audience gasped in outrage when the ugly mobster cavorted with a coke-dusted young couple on a waterbed. They applauded when the pretty boy was shot.

Available on Blu-ray. Lalo Schiffrin score. Nudity and bloodshed.

Technical note: the thumbnails are the first I've taken directly from a Blu-ray, not that it matters much when they are so much smaller than the original images.



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post #588 of 1451 Old 09-22-2011, 12:57 PM
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Bill,

The thumbnails are great. Show enough of the bd quality to be a notable improvement (in my memory, at least) on the last time I saw this movie. Really provides good visuals.

btw, how did you capture and transfer them?

Thanks for the review.

Mike

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post #589 of 1451 Old 09-22-2011, 01:37 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Mkard View Post

Bill,

The thumbnails are great. Show enough of the bd quality to be a notable improvement (in my memory, at least) on the last time I saw this movie. Really provides good visuals.

btw, how did you capture and transfer them?

Thanks for the review.

Mike

I use DVDFab + vlc. The scaling and assembly is done with some Linux scripts.

The thumbnails contain less than 10% of the pixels of the original, so some imagination is required to visualize the original. The scaling and conversion to jpg will introduce changes as well.

Notice the lovely teal grading?

-Bill

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post #590 of 1451 Old 09-23-2011, 06:03 AM - Thread Starter
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20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), directed by Nathan Juran.

I loved this one as a kid. What's not to like? A giant spaceship crashes in the ocean and a kid picks up an alien egg case from which emerges a lizard-like creature which grows to gargantuan proportions, finally being hunted and killed on the walls of the Coliseum in Rome.

As an adult it's still fun, but now I tend to notice the ethnically colorful Sicilian fisherman who speak stilted English without contractions and the perfunctory romance subplot. As is usual with these creature flicks we sympathize with the alien visitor who didn't ask to be here and just wants to be left alone. Instead he is caged, attacked by a dog, pitchforked, shot, zapped with an electric net, charged by an elephant, rammed with a car, torched with a flamethrower (twice), bombed in the water and finally blasted with a bazooka.

You see several levels of image quality in a Harryhausen project: (1) direct photography, which shows quite good detail on the Blu-ray, (2) rear projection shots, which will never be as sharp or contrasty, (3) bits of stock footage from the studio, and (4) the Dynamation effects themselves, which are not realistic by today's standards, but are still weird and wonderful.

Available on Blu-ray. The angle button toggles between the b&w and colorized versions. It has a fond commentary track with Ray Harryhausen and three others. It's been so long that's he's forgotten many production details, but he really likes the colorization.

The story was originally set in Illinois but he wanted a vacation in Italy. The male lead was the only American actor to go on location. Everyone else stayed in Hollywood and worked with rear projection screens.



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post #591 of 1451 Old 09-26-2011, 05:54 AM - Thread Starter
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The Enforcer (1976), directed by James Fargo.

The series nose-dives into comic buddy cop territory. The plot is weak and the villains feeble: revolutionaries with hippie headbands, a dim psycho-killer, black militants, a radical priest and a pushy feminist bureaucrat, and the usual slimy politicians and police superiors.

Many absurdities: tough guy Big Ed Mustapha crumples when Callahan threatens to report him for having stolen hotel ornaments in his office. Harry menaces a pornographer with a toilet plunger.

Brief nudity, much bloodshed. Jerry Fielding score; I think a proper Dirty Harry film requires Lalo Schifren.

Available on Blu-ray. A relaxed commentary track by the director has a few good bits:
  • The hostage-taker kicking Eastwood in the butt was unscripted.
  • They put some green light on Tyne Daly's face when she watched the autopsy.
  • I understood him to say there are no soundstages in the film: everything is on location.



-Bill

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post #592 of 1451 Old 09-28-2011, 05:21 AM - Thread Starter
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The Tall T (1957), directed by Budd Boetticher.

Quote:


I'm going to finish this. Some things a man can't ride around.

Another in the series of Boetticher/Randolph Scott B-westerns. All were done quickly and with small budgets by a great team who were making just what they wanted.

Unusually, the first 20 minutes are happy. We see pleasant friendships and some community at a stagecoach stop, a frontier town, and a working ranch. We even have a comical bull-riding scene.

It turns vicious in an instant. Three killers hold up the wrong stage and turn to kidnapping and ransom. They've murdered a man and his little boy and dumped them down a well. Even though that takes place off scene it is still pretty brutal.

Kidnapping and hostage stories are always excruciating because we are dealing with cowardly thugs. The hero must be patient and indirect in dealing with them, which challenges some of the genre conventions. Scott is no superhero gunslinger, just a stoic and reliable man who has to figure it out. He tells his fellow captive, now a widow: "It's going to take both of us." Which is true: she has to set a sex trap. She's already caught in a money trap: first by a husband who married her for her wealth (she was "scheduled to be an old maid") and then by the outlaws who want her father's money.

Richard Boone is always a fabulous villain, intelligent and ruthless. If he has scruples he keeps them in check. Like all Boetticher villains he has to have at least a touch of gray in his character, some part that wishes he could be different. He likes the Scott character much more than his own men and would rather go off ranching with him, but that could never work after what he's done.

His two helpers seem like contemporary punks, particularly psycho-killer Henry Silva who could do the same role in biker or street gang gear.

The studio must have picked the title. It doesn't mean anything.

From an Elmore Leonard story. The DVD includes an appreciative commentary track by Jeanine Basinger and a documentary: Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That (2005).



-Bill

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post #593 of 1451 Old 09-30-2011, 05:43 AM - Thread Starter
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Imitation of Life (1959), directed by Douglas Sirk.

A famous melodrama directed by the King of the Weepies, his last Hollywood film.

It's a soap opera about two women, one black and one white, and their daughters. Young Sarah Jane is very light skinned, hates being black, takes it out on her mother and will spend the rest of her life trying to pass for white.

This core of the story is fine and has genuinely weepie moments, but it is surrounded by the syrupy tale of Lana Turner, her struggles to become an actress, and the men in her life. This sort of thing used to be called a "woman's movie", but my wife had no interest in it. Anguish stories are out of fashion now. I persevered.

Juanita Moore is terrific as Annie Johnson, the saintly black mother, both servant and best friend to Lana Turner: "How do you explain to your child she was born to be hurt?" She's the only stable character in the story, apart from John Gavin, the standby boyfriend.

The DVD includes a worshipful commentary track. He claims the film is both a soap opera, as intended by the producer and cinematographer, and a critique of the genre, as intended by the director.

This was Turner's first film after a scandal: her daughter killed Turner's gangster boyfriend, which act was declared justifiable homicide at the inquest. (Young Sean Connery knocked the same guy down and took a gun from him earlier).



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post #594 of 1451 Old 10-01-2011, 06:58 AM - Thread Starter
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Two very minor thrillers on the same disc of the "Bad Girls of Film Noir" set. Both have improbably sweet endings. I rented the disc because I wanted to see more of Janis Carter, last seen in The Woman on Pier 13. She's in just the first title here.

Night Editor (1946), directed by Henry Levin.

A homicide detective should be a happy family man, but he's spending every night with thrill-seeking rich girl Janis Carter. When they witness a murder he can't report it without revealing his infidelity. Wouldn't you know he'd be assigned to the case?

Carter is a one-dimensional femme fatale, but a real piece of work. When told that the dead woman had her brains bashed out with a tire iron, she gets hot and excited and screams "I want to see her! I want to look at her!" Bad news as she is, the detective can't back away, even when she's holding an ice pick.

It has potential, but Carter's is the only vivid character.



One Girl's Confession (1953), directed by Hugo Haas.

A busty blonde (Cleo Moore) is fed up with waitressing, being pawed by the customers and harassed by the nasty owner, a man who cheated her father. She steals a big roll of cash from him, confesses when the police arrive, but doesn't give up the money. In prison she works hard and seems patient. When she gets out: who can she trust? Is the money cursed?

Again, there are good ideas here, some twists and heavy irony, but it's not very involving.



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post #595 of 1451 Old 10-02-2011, 06:57 AM - Thread Starter
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The Conformist (1970), directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.

Marcello, a secret policeman of the Italian Fascists, is sent to Paris to assassinate his former professor. He combines the trip with his honeymoon. The story is told in flashbacks of his childhood, how he got his job and got married. The final bit jumps ahead to the fall of Mussolini in 1943 and the beginning of the end of the Fascists.

Until the last 20 minutes it's not very heavy, despite the subject matter. Lots of absurd humor, little visual jokes, and some mild sexcapades between Marcello and the professor's young wife, and between the two wives.

But the last 20 minutes are grim: blood and betrayal. Marcello seems like a well-dressed self-interested bit of excrement and we wonder if he is ever going to show a better nature. He may be tempted at one point, but it doesn't take.

Beautifully photographed. The color, lighting and composition are just gorgeous. For the thumbnails I generated a random set of frames and picked about half of them.



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post #596 of 1451 Old 10-03-2011, 05:32 AM - Thread Starter
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Fail-Safe (1964), directed by Sidney Lumet.

An intense Cold War thriller about an accidental nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, the scramble to figure out what's happening, how to stop it, and finally how to prevent World War III and nuclear annihilation.

Starkly shot with no musical score. Simple sets as required by the low budget.

Dan O'Herlihy has memorable opening and closing scenes: it begins with his recurrent nightmare, a bullfight and the kill. He can't see the matador's face, but it has something to do with his job as General on the Joint Chiefs. He and his wife begin their day by discussing plans, but we have the ominous feeling none of it will happen. In the last scene he learns what the dream means.

Henry Fonda is the perfect film President: calm, folksy, the guy sitting where the buck stops. He has an orderly mind, thinks fast and does what's necessary. But I don't think a real president would adopt his solution to the crisis, threat of WW3 or no.

The DVD has a commentary track by the director, watching the film for the first time in many years. He says:

The movie is based on a best-selling novel of the same name, but before filming began they were sued for plagiarism by the author of Red Alert, Columbia Studios and Stanley Kubrick, who were making Dr. Strangelove based on that book. In an out of court settlement Columbia bought up the project and distributed both films. It released Strangelove first, which seems like an odd decision: wouldn't you want the drama first and then the satire?

The military settings are purely imaginary, as they had no cooperation in discovering how the facilities actually looked. The aviation clips are a scrounged hodgepodge without any continuity.

Walter Matthau's character was based on Herman Kahn.

He says everyone working on the project was "political". I think I know what he means, but am less clear on the message. That nuclear war would be bad? Everyone already understood that. That we should guard against the risk of starting a war by accident? Agreed, and he notes that natural technological faults and complexity made accidents inevitable, a good point. That there was a political way out of the Cold War and nuclear standoff? That is not so clear.

He seems to think it bold to present a General who is less warlike than the civilian consultant.



-Bill

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post #597 of 1451 Old 10-04-2011, 05:41 AM - Thread Starter
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Jason and the Argonauts (1963), directed by Don Chaffey.

Perhaps my favorite scene in movies when I was 10 or 12 years old: the evil king (who is just trying to protect his own) invokes a curse and sows the hydra's teeth. The three stalwart Greek warriors are already looking scared, as if hearing the ominous soundtrack. The skeleton soldiers sprout from the earth and are formed into ranks by the king. As one man, the Greeks draw their swords, dropping the scabbards. The edge-of-the-cliff battle begins.

This is heads and shoulders above the average kids' chasing and fighting entertainment: a peek at Greek mythology, the relations between the gods and men, the squabbling among the crew, fine cast and scenery, and Harryhausen Dynamation. Probably his most ambitious project and said to be his favorite. I love how his creatures seem to have personality, how they sway and stagger, overbalancing as they move.

You'd think the ruins would be newer and less ruined back then. On second thought: the Jason story predates classical architecture by centuries. On third thought: the story came before the temples and is still with us after they have crumbled. Myth is stronger than marble: how about that?

Dancing girls: well, they had those back then as part of the decor. Quick love interest: fearless hero gets the girl, check. The plot is only loosely suggestive of the original story. The film sort of completes in the middle, before Jason can get back home and reclaim his kingdom.

When I saw this in a theater as an adult, some girls were giggling at the Hera figurehead: she has "dolls eyes".

Filmed in Italy. Rousing Bernard Herrmann score. This is the first time I've noticed the music turns comical during the skeleton fight; maybe he just couldn't take it seriously. (Turns out this is recycled from radio music he did decades earlier).

Available on Blu-ray. The image detail is quite a bit softer than the best parts of 20 Million Miles to Earth. Two commentary tracks: (1) Harryhausen and his biographer, (2) the enthusiastic Peter Jackson and effects man Randall William Cook, both life-long fans.



-Bill

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post #598 of 1451 Old 10-06-2011, 05:32 AM - Thread Starter
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The Last Wave (1977), directed by Peter Weir.

Aka Black Rain.

Strange happenings in Australia: thunder from a cloudless sky, hail in the desert, odd rainbows and torrential rain in the city. Frogs. Black rain. (Much more of that and I'd let the Israelites go).

When a group of Aborigines are accused of killing one of their own (the cause of death being mysterious) tax lawyer Richard Chamberlain volunteers to defend them. Although accused of romanticizing a tribal culture that barely exists anymore, be begins to think they have secrets and are practicing magic.

He starts seeing disturbing, inexplicable things and learns that he is part of the mystery: they believe him to be a known spiritual visitor who has prophetic dreams at the end of a cycle of the world, just before the Apocalypse. "I feel myself being taken by Otherness and I don't know what to do." And the owls are not what they seem.

It's pretty well done, nicely atmospheric, although a familiar story of discovering the awful truth: that the world is not what you think it is, of the disorientation when reality shifts. The question is how long do we keep our guy in suspense? I might have tightened this up a couple of minutes. The courtroom drama doesn't contribute much.

David Gulpilil was last seen in Walkabout.

The score is a combination of moody electronic and traditional Aborigine.

Criterion DVD.



-Bill

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post #599 of 1451 Old 10-12-2011, 05:39 AM - Thread Starter
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Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang.

This is the Kino "Complete Metropolis" with additional long-lost footage recently discovered in Argentina. The soundtrack is a new performance of the original orchestral accompaniment.

I remember the frame of the story most clearly: a future where the human race is on the verge of bifurcating into Morlocks and Eloi. The sensitive and excitable son of the Master of the city falls in love with a young woman of the workers and becomes a Mediator between the classes. A robot woman is deployed to ruin these plans.

That's the labor relations story, but there is more: love and jealously, technological hubris, a haunted house and mad scientist, secret believers in the catacombs beneath the city, the old biblical images returned.

The acting is exaggerated even by silent film standards. It's more like a pantomimed stage performance. German expressionism had its own methods.

I can't fit this vision into a political ideology. We have workers vs capitalists, but also a dread of the Machine, the return of religious faith, warnings against sexual license and technological arrogance, and against storming Heaven.

Influential and often visually quoted (see Blade Runner). Some colossal sets and a cast of thousands. The new footage tends to dilute the science fiction emphasis. There is much more about father and son, the Master's henchman, and night life in Metropolis. Whoever "lost" that footage didn't like the henchman at all.

The opening and closing segments are strong, but the long middle portion meanders and loses focus, even more so now. Originally I thought the film was about developing the Mediator to bring people together, but now I'm not sure what it's about.

Available on Blu-ray. Some of the scenes have striking detail for such an old source, but most of it shows it's age. I see some banding in a few of the backgrounds. The newly discovered segments are in very poor shape.

The Moroder version is due on Blu-ray before the end of the year. I'm eager to see that again. The idea of putting a pop/rock score to Metropolis is a good one, although the choice of selections will always be an issue. Pop music is most often of transient interest and it's hard to know how it will sound after the passage of decades. We'll see.



-Bill

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post #600 of 1451 Old 10-14-2011, 05:33 AM - Thread Starter
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The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), directed by Val Guest.

Aka The Creeping Unknown.

The first Quatermass feature film. Like the sequel, Quatermass 2 (1957), the lead is played by Brian Donlevy, gruff and barking orders, acting nothing like a genius scientist. They needed an American for US sales and this is what they got.

The first manned rocketship returns with a crash. Two crew members are missing and the third is acting alien. He mutates into the sort of blob/squid monster so much beloved in this type of story.

The tone is just classic for British SF in general and Quatermass-style tales in particular: a low key, realistic presentation of ordinary life, people going about their business, when this weirdness emerges. Police, firemen and boffins deal with it competently. Die, monster, die.

In those days early space exploration was exciting enough just talking about it without the need for much else. It was a big hit for Hammer Films.

Besides Quatermass 2 (1957), I reviewed another entry in the series: Quatermass and the Pit (1967).

MGM DVD-R, available for rent from http://www.classicflix.com/.



-Bill

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