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post #1561 of 2271 Old 06-22-2015, 10:09 AM
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Oliver Reed and Ann-Margaret in one film, IIRC. Nuclear.

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post #1562 of 2271 Old 06-25-2015, 08:26 AM - Thread Starter
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Sullivan's Travels (1941), written and directed by Preston Sturges.

Tired of making fluffy -- but profitable -- musical comedies, a ranting director with delusions of artistic merit wants to break out and try something new. Films with social significance about the big issues: labor and capital, poverty and the plight of the common man during the Great Depression.

He's passionate about things of which he has no experience at all, and decides to send down to wardrobe for a hobo costume so he can hit the road in disguise and share the sufferings of the less fortunate. Everyone tries to talk him out of it.

This is a wild ride, with several distinct acts:

  • The slapstick beginning, which plays like a light Hollywood comedy. He trudges down the road, closely shadowed by a luxury bus holding the studio entourage. He has many comical adventures, but most importantly meets The Girl, a down-and-out actress who will become his girl.
  • In the next part they hop freight trains and bum around together. They see a lot of life and the tone becomes more serious, but still has that movie romance gloss of a man and woman together, bonding through travail. Moonlight on the water. The sort of hard times that will make great stories in later years.
  • An unexpected dark, tragic turn: after being attacked twice he fights back and is sent to a chain gain in the swamp with no way of escape. This is only a few minutes long but in my memory it went on forever. Says he: "This plot needs a twist". Miraculously, he delivers one.
  • Back to Hollywood and comedy, lesson learned: "There's a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that's all some people have?"

Each act has fine episodes: riding with the hot-rod kid and the sex-starved spinster in the comedy act, for example. In the chain-gain segment there is a lovely scene where the prisoners are hosted by a local black church for movie night. The pastor tells his congregation:

Quote:
And once again, brothers and sisters, we're gonna share our pleasure with some neighbors less fortunate than ourselves. Won't you please clear the first three pews so they may have seats? And when they get here, I'm gonna ask you once more, neither by word nor by action not by look to make our guests feel unwelcome, nor draw away from them or act high-toned. For we is all equal in the sight of God.
This film seems particularly cherished by other movie-makers. You see many visual quotes of it, as in the trick beginning of Stardust Memories (1980) and in O Brother Where Art Thou (2000), which is also the name of the film Sullivan wanted to make.

Joel McCrea and other cast would return for The Palm Beach Story (1942). Veronica Lake has better comic sensibility than I remember seeing before, and also seems to care more about the picture she's in.

Too many quips and in-jokes to catalog. Sullivan's "for tax purposes only" wife is called the "Panther Woman", which must be a reference to Island of Lost Souls (1932).

It's been years since I last saw this, and I remembered nothing except the prison camp. Tragedy leaves more of impression than comedy.

Criterion Blu-ray.



-Bill
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post #1563 of 2271 Old 06-26-2015, 09:21 AM
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Review older films here: 1979 and earlier

"Hey. ... Am I laughing?" One of my favorite lines, a truly sublime moment.

The Criterion BD is full of nice extras, including an American Masters biopic on Sturges that illustrates his unfortunately short, brilliant career. Sort of a blind (faith) buy at Costco for $19.99 (limited availability), I've seen it before but wasn't sure I loved it enough to buy. It was a good purhase.

Joel McCrea has an interesting quip in the biopic, mentioning that Sturges' long dialog was easy to read, almost musical. An actor's off-the-cuff observation of the results of Sturges' habit of dictating the dialog, of play-acting it all out before production began. He knew what every character in a scene (sometimes more than a dozen having separate conversations amongst each other) was saying (some said they'd see Sturges mouthing the dialog as the camera was rolling). His dialog sparkled like pebbles in a riverbed, so washed, tumbled, and polished each was.

Oh, P.S.: Veronica Lake didn't tell Sturges she was six months pregnant before filming began, so the crew trotted out every trick in the books to disguise her growing baby bump. Some of the shots are amusing when you see what they're doing with her costuming and staging.


The Criterion releases of Palm Beach Story and The Lady Eve also have some nice treats on them, in addition to luminous transfers.
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post #1564 of 2271 Old 06-26-2015, 02:10 PM
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"But with a little sex."



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post #1565 of 2271 Old 06-29-2015, 07:43 PM - Thread Starter
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Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), directed by Robert Fuest.

You don't get rid of Phibes that easily. When the stars are right he rises again and assisted by the mysterious and mute Vulnavia -- what the heck is she anyway? -- strives to get his dead wife to Egypt where she can be revivified.

It's more or less the same as The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), with comically ghastly murders against an art deco fantasy background. Pretty mild fun these days.

The actress who played Vulnavia in the first film was pregnant and unavailable this time so they brought in Miss Australia.

The photo of Victoria Phibes in both films is the uncredited Caroline Munro:



The desert locations were filmed in Ibiza, Spain.

The wikipedia article has plot summaries of more Dr Phibes sequels which were never made.

Available on Blu-ray.



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post #1566 of 2271 Old 07-03-2015, 11:55 AM - Thread Starter
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The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), produced and directed by Herbert Ross.

Sherlock Holmes' cocaine addiction and paranoid obsession with Prof Moriarity have gotten out of hand. Watson lures him to Vienna to enlist the aid of Dr Sigmund Freud, who will help with both problems.

That's the unconventional first half, obviously made by people who take drug abuse and psychotherapy seriously. The rest is a more usual mystery-adventure, culminating with exciting swordplay on the roof of a speeding train. This is the one where they have to dismantle the train cars to stoke the engine.

Nice period detail with lavish interiors and lots of Art Nouveau touches.

Nicol Williamson is not as appealing as other Sherlocks I've seen, but is skillful both in the breakdown and recovery phases of a great, flawed mind.

I wouldn't have pictured Alan Arkin in a costume role but he is a perfect young Freud, brainy and compassionate, brave when the chips are down.

Robert Duvall as Watson is a more curious casting choice. This was before he settled into a standard rough western geezer persona, but his attempt at a plummy British accent is hard to take.

Charles Gray plays Mycroft both here and in the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series. Villain Jeremy Kemp was the villain in "The Speckled Band" episode of that series.

From a book by Nicholas Meyer. There is a post-AC Doyle Holmes genre where the author tries to imitate the original stories as closely as possible, working within the established mythology. Meyers is really good at it: his The West End Horror is another one I enjoyed. I don't remember reading The Canary Trainer.

Available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory.



-Bill
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post #1567 of 2271 Old 07-03-2015, 09:48 PM
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Beautiful cinematography by Oswald Morris... Production Design by Ken Adam, set decoration by Peter Lamont... Nice score imho by John Addison. And a stellar cast.

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post #1568 of 2271 Old 07-09-2015, 07:40 AM - Thread Starter
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Late August at the Hotel Ozone (1967), directed by Jan Schmidt.

Aka The End of August at the Hotel Ozone.

Decades after the apocalypse, all the men are dead and we have a wandering band of young women, lead by an old woman who is the only one who remembers the world from before the war. The girls are tough and unruly, but they obey their leader, who still hopes to find other survivors. But it has been many years.

The question here: the girls have never known civilization. Do they retain any degree of compassion or are they just savages? When they hear an old gramophone, is it music to them or just noise? The answer is a dark one. Not many happy stories at the end of the world.

Post-apocalyptic stories are natural vehicles for tiny budget independent filmmaking. You just need countryside, abandoned buildings, loose junk and surplus survival gear. Talent and vision help, too.

Some cruelty to animals in this one: a snake, a dog, and we see a cow shot and butchered by a mob of eager young women. Really. They also fish with hand grenades.

On DVD from Facets Video, a company I have not encountered for a long time. They used to have a rental catalog the size of a phone book. Online now.

Czech audio, with English subtitles burned into the image. Is this the original aspect ratio? I can't find a reference.

The disc comes with a booklet which includes an interview with the director. Fun facts:

  • The film was funded by the Czech Army, which had a film unit and no idea what they were up to. Yes, the filmmakers were soldiers at the time. Everyone else involved were friends from school.
  • The locations were military "no man's lands", destroyed in the War and never rebuilt.
  • The girls were non-actors chosen for athletic ability. Auditions involved army obstacle courses.
  • The film had no distribution. A few years later the director got an anonymous note that the Army was burning old film projects the next day; it included directions on locating his film cans. He went in and rescued his movie.
  • Eventually it slipped out into international film festivals and he got an award from the Pope.
  • The story was inspired by On the Beach (1959) (the book).



-Bill
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post #1569 of 2271 Old 07-09-2015, 08:03 AM
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Wow. Never heard of it. Fascinating, particularly the production. Yes, it's a little surprising when we see a film with "cruelty to animals" right on-camera (e.g. I think it was Tree of Wooden Clogs or another, with a pig being butchered onscreen). When a livestock animal is going to be butchered anyway, why not make it part of the film. In this case,... it was thought to be an instructional film, "How to shoot and butcher a cow when you're in survival conditions?"

Moooo.

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post #1570 of 2271 Old 07-16-2015, 07:11 PM - Thread Starter
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Angel and the Badman (1947), directed by James Edward Grant.

A wounded outlaw is rescued by a Quaker family in spectacular Monument Valley. Turns out they like him and he likes them back, particularly the daughter. She's fallen in love and doesn't mind saying so. Can he adjust to their non-violent ways? We expect some backsliding from a notorious gunman, but this is an unusual western that takes pacifist convictions seriously

In the end -- well, we're glad the watchful Marshal isn't a Quaker.

A romance western with John Wayne in love. Still lots of fighting and action, as when our "hero" rustles some cattle rustlers.

A mythically powerful scene I remember from my youth: the fevered, delirious gunman, restless until they put his revolver in his hand, which quiets him.

Gail Russell, last seen in The Uninvited (1944) and Seven Men from Now (1956), is only 23 here. She died at age 36, cause: alcoholism. Such haunted, watchful eyes. They drive the whole picture.

Director Grant was more usually a screenwriter, often working with John Wayne.

Too much music in the score. Witness (1985) is a similar story.

Olive Films Blu-ray, no subtitles. The film is in the public domain but this transfer is often pretty good, although it doesn't look like the source was cleaned very much.



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post #1571 of 2271 Old 07-17-2015, 04:04 AM - Thread Starter
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Ride the Pink Horse (1947), directed by Robert Montgomery.

A quiet tough guy -- a bitter ex-soldier -- arrives on the bus. I thought he was a hit-man, but instead we discover he is after revenge and/or blackmail. His best friend was killed trying it on the same gangster.

Oddly for this sort of story, his plans go off the rails. A poor teen girl -- mysterious and kind of fey, also new in town -- attaches herself to him. He can't make contact with Mr Big, just his flunkies and femme-fatale girlfriend. He wanders down to the dive cantina and gets drunk with the local Mexicans, who -- although cautious at first -- treat him well. He'd rather crash outdoors with Pancho the carousel operator than stay at the Anglo hotel.

In the end, beaten up and stabbed, he is hallucinating and defenseless, barely remembering his mission.

I had never heard of this before it appeared on Criterion Blu-ray. Watching it:

  • At first I thought it was set in Mexico, rather than a border town in New Mexico.
  • I did not realize young Pila was supposed to be an Indian.

The title is off-beat: the Pink Horse is one of the wooden ponies on the antique carousel.

Robert Montgomery directs as well as stars. He was an inventive director, pushing the techniques and conventions in ways you don't often see in this type of film. He does stick with a common noir trope: our sympathies are with the poor and downtrodden vs the rich, powerful and corrupt.

Criterion Blu-ray with a useful commentary track.



-Bill
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post #1572 of 2271 Old 07-22-2015, 12:28 PM - Thread Starter
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Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1973), written and directed by Bob Clark.

A sarcastic, domineering theater director takes his cast to a cemetery island where they will -- for some damned reason -- dig up a corpse and perform satanic rituals. The director has a decadent, sick sense of humor and has many games in mind. His cleverness vanishes when the joke becomes real.

We want to see these people get what's coming to them because:

  • They are obnoxiously witty.
  • They have no respect for the dead.
  • Zombie apocalypse is the appropriate revenge for such mockery and desecration.
  • They are actors. Theater actors. You know how slappable those people are.

Another shoestring-budget indie horror film with theater actors making their first movie. Yes, it is self-referential and the actors use their own names. Is it of the genre where fools mock that which is about to get them, or is it a satire on same? Hard to tell.

When you see this in your pre-calloused age of impressionable horror film-watching -- as I did -- it's the stuff of nightmares. Definitely in the same space as the original Night of the Living Dead.

Now I see it classed as "campy comedy horror", but that's not quite right. Yes, it has a bit of humor, but the honest revulsion we feel at what these people are up to is real. "Alan" marries the corpse and spends some private time with it. He's sickening, but so are the timid actors who won't cross him.

Cleverly, we have pre-zombie phase when shadowy ghouls flit just out of view, but that's a trick. The zombie makeup in the final minutes when they finally erupt from the grave is pretty amazing. It happens so fast we barely have time for a siege. Those rotting corpses are hungry.

Apart from the fun and games, the actors do actual assault and kidnapping of the cemetery caretaker. How were they planning on getting away with that?

The director would later do Murder by Decree (1979), Porky's, and A Christmas Story.

Alan Ormsby ("Alan") cowrote the screenplay and did the zombie makeup.

The score is electronic weird planet SF music. Are we entering another world?

The DVD is not very good quality, but has a happy, fond commentary track by the cast.



-Bill
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post #1573 of 2271 Old 07-22-2015, 02:00 PM
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^^^ Bill -- It's hard for me to get my mind around how a director with Bob Clark's talent, he later directed the classic A Christmas Story, could be involved with a seeming dog like Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. But what do I know? After all the film was made for $70,000 but A Christmas Story had a budget of $4m.

According to Clark's IMDb biography, he died tragically with his son in 2007 when an unlicensed drunk driver hit their car head on.

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post #1574 of 2271 Old 07-22-2015, 02:25 PM - Thread Starter
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I recall on The Evil Dead commentary one of the filmmakers said part of growing up is having to see the expression on your film professor's face when they watch your first horror film.

I know Clark had some theater experience but I don't believe he went to film school.

Everyone involved with Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things says they never received their final paycheck.

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post #1575 of 2271 Old 07-22-2015, 02:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post
Everyone involved with Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things says they never received their final paycheck.
That must be one of the reasons why it cost only $70,000 to make.
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post #1576 of 2271 Old 07-24-2015, 05:55 AM - Thread Starter
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Earlier this year I started keeping an archive of my capsule reviews here: Strange Picture Scroll.

Originally they were indexed by title and director, but recently I've added composer and cinematographer. Complete indexing is not done yet: I'll do it bit by bit as I add new titles.

I've become aware that much of my pleasure in watching a film comes from the sight and sound, as well as from the direction and story. Adding the new categories is an attempt to become aware of who is responsible for what element, and to seek them out in the future.

-Bill
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post #1577 of 2271 Old 07-26-2015, 12:28 PM - Thread Starter
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The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

An independent-minded widow rents a seaside cottage haunted by a gruff, salty sea captain. Oddly enough, they get on well together and their relationship goes through stages:

  • The settling-in period, when he frightens off unwanted visitors with ghost effects. Just a little bit of this, which is fine: the gag was exhausted in the Topper films, right?
  • He likes her spirit and encourages her independence, the only character in her life to do so.
  • They settle in like a comfortable married couple and even write a book together.
  • But they can never really be together, not in this life, which is sad.
  • The Captain realizes this and vanishes, making her forget him, apart from vague dreams and lost memories.
  • She has the rest of her life, quietly yearning and slightly haunted. Until The End.

This supernatural romance might have been just a bit of fluff, but the meditation on life and death gives it weight. Also the theme of lost memory and forgotten love: did you ever look up in the middle of your life and think "What am I forgetting? Didn't I swear always to... what? Wasn't I always going to love... who?" Perhaps in your dreams you have a parallel life where you haven't forgotten the most important things you once understood to be so vital.

If one element tips the film over into a better category, it is Bernard Herrmann's haunting, romantic score.

Gene Tierney's exotic beauty, overbite and all: I love it. She broke a leg just before filming began. They delayed for ten days and then worked around it.

Natalie Wood, age 9, is the little girl. George Sanders does his patented charming cad.

Available on Blu-ray with two commentary tracks. Much on the cinematography and Herrmann's score, and on production techniques in the golden age of the studio system.



-Bill

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post #1578 of 2271 Old 07-30-2015, 06:58 AM - Thread Starter
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Houdini (1953), directed by George Marshall.

A much fictionalized biography of the magician, emphasizing his escape routines and romance with his wife, who is also his part-time assistant.

It's not a great film, but gets better toward the end, with Houdini's obsession for contacting the afterlife and his tragic drive to keep doing more extreme stunts. There are some good scenes, as in the tense moments when he is trapped under the ice of a frozen river.

The more important attraction is the combination of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, newly married when this was made. When he puts in her in a box and saws her in half, she says: "I expected something different on my wedding night."

Curtis is pretty for a man, and quite fit, but Leigh, with that face, figure and voice: I'm always staggered by her beauty. She's also remarkable for the directors she worked with: Fred Zinnemann, Anthony Mann, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, John Frankenheimer.

I'd like to say Curtis and Leigh have great chemistry, but they're not Bogart & Bacall, just a good fit as a couple.

Technicolor, needs restoration. Edith Head costumes.

The DVD has closed caption subtitles, inaccessible to most in the HDMI age.



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post #1579 of 2271 Old 08-02-2015, 07:15 PM - Thread Starter
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The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), directed by William Dieterle.

Young gypsy Esmeralda arrives in Paris and is loved by a poet, a soldier, and a self-loathing judge. She takes pity on the hideously deformed cathedral bell-ringer and gives him water when he is publicly flogged. He loves her too, and when she is about to be hung for murder and witchcraft, rescues her and takes her back to his cathedral towers.

Single-handedly he repulses the attacking mobs, even pouring boiling tar on them! She has a good heart but can't love him in that way. Of course not.

Riding away with her young man she turns to look back at him. Says the hunchback to the gargoyle: "Why was I not made of stone like thee?"

The Blu-ray is a revelation. I don't remember when I last saw this; it was probably a video tape. This disc seems like a whole new movie. The texture and detail require high definition and many of the brighter scenes are wonderful here.

The cinematography is much more impressive than I remember, making good use of the vast set construction and cast of thousands. The editing seems quicker and more dynamic than usual for that era. Robert Wise was one of the editors, but I don't know who was responsible for what. When Quasimodo rescues Esmeralda from the gallows he does a long rope-swing directly into the camera; that must have been exciting in the theater!

The story and acting are a bit of a jumble. On one hand we have a degree of costume film cuteness common in the 1930s, probably from stage-influenced exaggerated mannerisms. On the other hand the moral tone is dark with much cruelty and violence. There isn't much fantasy gloss to the clothes, streets and buildings: it's often pretty grubby.

Charles Laughton's hunchback was an iconic image of the 20th century. Seeing it with new eyes: it is a remarkably fine performance. He is unabashedly hideous, but in this beauty-and-the-beast tale his beauty emerges in his loyalty and humble devotion to Esmeralda, and in his pride: he does not cry out when flogged, and initially refuses water.

Maureen O'Hara: you could make a poster art catalog of just her face from this picture. The filmmakers knew what they had.

Edmond O'Brien, age 24, has his film debut as the romantic lead. I never imagined him as a young man before; he always seemed a film noir adult.

Available on Blu-ray. The image quality is variable, but when it's good it's excellent.



-Bill
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post #1580 of 2271 Old 08-02-2015, 11:10 PM
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Review older films here: 1979 and earlier

Also available in the collection THE GOLDEN YEAR 1939 along with DODGE CITY, NINOTCHKA, DARK VICTORY, GONE WITH THE WIND . Apparently HUNCHBACK was remastered fr original nitrate negatives, with an IP used where the nitrate couldn't be restored.
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post #1581 of 2271 Old 08-04-2015, 01:37 AM
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The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), directed by William Dieterle.

-Bill
In an era of iconic make-up creations, I've always felt Laughton's make-up work in this was the most impressive. It utterly changes his face, yet one can recognize immediately who it is, and at the same time allows for the most subtle, nuanced and heart rending emotional expressions. Just fine, fine work by those geniuses standing for hours next to the chair every working day. Today, this would probably be a total CGI effort, no reason to keep a star in that chair for so long, the expense and all that. And the emotional end result would likely be nil or nearly so.
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post #1582 of 2271 Old 08-06-2015, 04:58 AM - Thread Starter
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Hombre (1967), directed by Martin Ritt.

Paul Newman plays a white man raised by the Apaches, then educated by a white foster father. He can move in either world, but prefers the Indians. He doesn't much like what he finds when he cuts his hair and puts on Anglo clothes for a trip. Not looking for trouble, but it finds him. And he can deal with it.

This is part of the revisionist Western, anti-hero effort of the 1960s, but in many ways is still a traditional desert survival tale of a fight against stagecoach robbers. There is new blunt talk about race and sex, but it's not The Wild Bunch (1969) or even Little Big Man: no bloody massacres or rape scenes.

Newman is mostly an observer in the first half of the film. The central characters are actually Diane Cilento as a gritty, direct-speaking boarding house manager, and Richard Boone as a bad news tough guy, always the scariest villain in his films.

Newman comes to the fore when it's life or death. Snubbed before, now everyone wants him to lead, even sacrifice himself. He's a hard man, with no illusions about respecting white standards. In a twist, they talk him around at the end. "Why", I think, is a mystery.

Our thoughts turn to Stagecoach (1939) with this plot: we even have the embezzling rich man. This is the great Fredric March, unapologetic and unembarrassed in his villainy, no matter how many times he is caught and exposed.

At first, Martin Balsam seems an odd choice to play a Mexican, but honestly: he could do anything.

We have three interesting women:


From a novel by Elmore Leonard. I don't know how much of his dialogue survives, but some of it sounds just like him.

Photographed by James Wong Howe.

Twilight Time Blu-ray with commentary by the regular crew.



-Bill
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post #1583 of 2271 Old 08-09-2015, 01:12 PM
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I looked to see if you'd reviewed Hell Is for Heroes, a 1961 (released 1962 or 1963) typical low-budget WWII potboiler, set apart from its ilk by direction from Don Siegel (The Killers, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry; links to Bill's Strange Picture Scroll reviews) including some rather blunt and disturbing action scenes, performances by early Steve McQueen, James Coburn, new-to-film Bob Newhart, Fess Parker. Not out on BD yet, even. Only on a couple of DVD compilations.

The film is clearly B-grade, but A-quality in some aspects. Filmed on location with limited materiel, sites, etc. Apparently McQueen was so sour on his payment situation that the gruff, bitter attitude of his character may not be acting at all. (The film was supposed to be Bobby Darin's star turn until the Wanted: Dead or Alive TV star got hired, and the focus switched to McQueen. Someone visiting the set is supposed to have said, "That McQueen is his own worst enemy," to which Darin is reported saying, "Not as long as I'm alive.") Bob Newhart's comedic turn is classic, the pencil-pushing buck private, caught in the war zone driving a Jeep laden with typewriters he's delivering to HQ. Never held a gun let alone fire one. But even the desk clerk plays a role in the outfit's heroic night holding off overwhelming German forces.

Robert Wise or someone commented years later that no one could handle props like McQueen. He knew how they worked, how to use them. Bikes and fast cars of course, but guns and other things (I think it was McQueen that told Wise how the sailor would and would not handle his gun in The Sand Pebbles). You can see it here in how he handles his submachine gun, grenades, etc. There's an effortless authenticity to how Reese uses the tools of war. Don Martin, Robert Vaughn and other regular costars talked in his bio[1] about Steve-O's insistence on giving others his dialog, claiming he was a "re-actor" who responded nonverbally to others. Plenty of that technique in evidence here.

After this film, he was cast in The Magnificent Seven in which his constant fiddling with guns, shells, etc, would annoy Yul Brynner no end. Another star turn, now in a bigger flick. Then rehired by Seven director John Sturges for The Great Escape, again a star turn in a supporting role, this time fiddling with a baseball & mitt, and burning up the screen on a motorbike. Thus was a career made. Hell Is for Heroes wasn't his first film, or even his first lead (The Blob scores that; poor McQueen opted for the $2500 payment instead of the offered 10% of the take that would've netted him way, way, way more), but this little war flick possibly owns McQueen's first real on-screen detonation of Cool(TM).

Available for streaming on Netflix, pretty good quality image IMHO (used Chromecast HDMI connection).

[1]Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool, available on the Bullitt BD release, highly recommended. (Bill's review here.)
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post #1584 of 2271 Old 08-10-2015, 03:41 AM - Thread Starter
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Ugetsu (1953), directed by Kenji Mizoguchi.

It doesn't seem like a ghost story at first. As the tale unfolds, we hear ominous slow drumbeats in the distance, like the footsteps of an approaching doom.

Peasant life in wartime: armies need food and conscript labor. Soldiers do whatever damage they want, women are defenseless against them and no one stops them. After the battle the losers are staggering with starvation and the brutality is even worse.

One farmer has a pottery business on the side and likes the wartime prices. His brother -- something of a fool -- dreams of being a soldier. They travel and both have success of a sort, but their wives left behind pay the price.

Their stories become more like fables and the supernatural appears. Says an eerie noblewoman to the simple peasant she is seducing: "You think I'm an enchantress, don't you?" The truth is worse. Beware when all your fantasies are fulfilled.

An image that will stay with me for a long time: the ghost wife sitting up and doing chores while her husband sleeps.

As is often the case with Japanese costume films, I feel like I have a window into a storybook, or have moved inside one myself.

Criterion DVD with an expert commentary track on the production and people involved. It's very informative, although sometimes I thought I'd wandered into the mock commentary for Blood Simple (1984). Film scholars sometimes drift into spaces meaningful only to themselves.

He emphasizes Mizoguchi's perfectionism, and proposes that costume pictures dominate this period because they exported well. If you wanted an international film prize, you made stories of medieval times, not contemporary Japan. That's not exactly true, is it?

Other notes:

  • He says the director went through an "angry feminist melodrama" phase. This is not an angry film, but you can see a residue of that in his compassion for the women.
  • Some of that may come from his personal experience: his sister was sold to be a geisha and cared for him when he was a young man.
  • He thought of Kurosawa as his great rival, but it's not clear if Kurosawa felt the same or even knew about it.
  • Like Kurosawa, he was happy to be done with government wartime censorship, even if it meant being under Allied censorship for a while.
  • The Allies allowed more sex content in film. The scene where the potter and his evil noblewoman cavort in a hot spring was especially transgressive, illustrating his degrading enchantment: such hot baths were supposed to be shared public spaces without sexual function.
  • These two actors were husband and wife in Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950)...
  • ...and the Noh-influenced makeup would later be used in Kurosawa's own spooky tale, Throne of Blood (1957).
  • I miss a lot by not knowing about the different historical periods. The magical house of the enchantress is from an earlier, better age.

Quite a lot of damage on the print. I see that a region B "Masters of Cinema" Blu-ray is available in the UK, but from the DVDBeaver screen shots it doesn't seem to have a marked improvement in image quality.



-Bill
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post #1585 of 2271 Old 08-13-2015, 10:59 AM - Thread Starter
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Mississippi Mermaid (1969), directed by François Truffaut.

An arranged bride, known to her future husband only through letters, arrives on Réunion island in the Indian Ocean. His surprise for her: he's not an employee of the tobacco plantation and cigarette factory: he owns it all and is quite wealthy.

She has surprises, too. Although quite beautiful, she doesn't look anything like her photo. The ring made for her doesn't fit, and she is afraid of the dark and has night terrors. As clues of something very wrong accumulate, the music cues us that all is not as it appears.

One day he finds his bank accounts have been cleaned out and she is gone. For revenge he burns her underwear and buys a gun. They will meet again, but their story is far from over even then.

A tale of of obsessive love. Truffaut is the director who loved women, and he understands. He also loved Hitchcock and has an homage delirium scene. He uses his favorite name -- "Julie" -- but her real name is Marion, like Marion Crane in Psycho (1960).

As the commentary track points out, Catherine Deneuve may not be a great actress, but her beauty makes her a great movie star, and we enjoy her on that level. She's a nasty piece of work here: murder makes her horny.

Misc notes:

  • The arranged bride arriving at a remote plantation reminds one of The Naked Jungle (1954).
  • The name of the boat bringing her to the island is "The Mississippi", which is confusing; the movie has nothing to do with America otherwise.
  • The English title is poorly chosen. The French word is "siren", the alluring women who lure sailors to their deaths. Mermaids just sit on the rocks and comb their hair. The original novel was "Waltz into Darkness" by Cornell Woolrich (aka William Irish).
  • Filmed on location in France and on Réunion island.
  • Remade in 2001 as Original Sin with Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time with a commentary by the usual crew. Unusually, the English subtitles are burned into the image.



-Bill

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post #1586 of 2271 Old 08-13-2015, 02:47 PM
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Mississippi Mermaid (1969), directed by François Truffaut.


As the commentary track points out, Catherine Deneuve may not be a great actress, but her beauty makes her a great movie star,
The younger Deneuve may not be a great actress, but the older one might qualify.
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post #1587 of 2271 Old 08-17-2015, 03:49 AM - Thread Starter
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The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), directed by Vincente Minnelli.

The story of an ambitious film producer, told in flashbacks through the people who were once his partners: a director, an actress, and a writer. He was the sort to move mountains to get his films made and allowed others to do their best work, but he betrayed them all in the end. And they hate him.

Hollywood loves dark, acidic tales of movie-making (like all the salesmen I knew loved Tin Men and Glengarry Glen Ross). A lot of meaty parts in this one, maybe a bit overblown in spots. You hire Kirk Douglas for his intensity and sometimes you have to let him loose.

We have an interesting set of women: Lana Turner and Gloria Grahame are not always classically beautiful, but both have stressed, vulnerable appeal.

It's Elaine Stewart in a minor part who catches my eye. I wish we had gotten to see more of her work back then. She has a great moment as a slightly drunk woman on the staircase, calling her man to come upstairs:



Reportedly, she was in Playboy Magazine: September 1959.

Fans speculate as which real-life people correspond to the film characters:

  • Lana Turner is clearly Diana Barrymore, tragically alcoholic daughter of the "Great Profile" alcoholic actor John Barrymore.
  • British director Leo G. Carroll and his strict-looking assistant (?) Kathleen Freeman must be Alfred and Alma Hitchcock.
  • Latin lover Gilbert Roland is himself.
  • According to the wikipedia article, Kirk Douglas "is thought to be a blending of David O. Selznick, Orson Welles and Val Lewton". Not Lewton, I think. I revere him but he was a minor wheel at a smaller studio, and a nice person.

We do have a Lewton homage: an early assignment for the producer/director team is the low-budget "Doom of the Cat Men", an obvious reference to Cat People (1942). Emulating Lewton, they decide that darkness, what you don't see, is scarier than men in cheap cat suits.

For the above we have a hilarious scene with uncredited Ned Glass as the wardrobe man. The shocked deadpan response of our heroes is priceless.

David Raksin score, Robert Surtees cinematography.



-Bill
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post #1588 of 2271 Old 08-17-2015, 09:18 AM
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Ah, Tin Men. Tin Men and Avalon (both part of his "Baltimore cycle" which includes the classic Diner and Liberty Heights)are among Barry Levinson's most underappreciated films, and both apparently not out on Region A Blu-ray (I've probably missed out on a small label release). Tin Men had musical interludes by a band that later had a hit with "She Drives Me Crazy," The Fine Young Cannibals. One of their albums includes the retro crooner songs from Tin Men.

Levinson always had the actresses I'd crush on,... Barbara Hershey, Elizabeth Boardman. Hm-mm-mm.
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post #1589 of 2271 Old 08-17-2015, 10:29 AM
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The Band and the Beautiful is a useful reminder of Gloria Grahame's talent. Her sex kitten beauty made it easy to forget what a great actress she was. She won an Oscar for her performance inThe Bad and the Beautiful and had been nominated for another five years earlier.
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post #1590 of 2271 Old 08-17-2015, 08:39 PM
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So many classic films have her footprint in them. Who can forget her asking George Bailey, "Do you ever get tired of ... just reading about things" in It's a Wonderful Life.
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