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Mike Clark has been writing about film for more than 20 years, starting with a weekly column in USA Today in 1985. He also served as program planner and director of the American Film Institute Theater.


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4 Feb, 2013

New on Disc: 'Experiment in Terror' and more …


Experiment in Terror (Blu-ray)

Available via www.ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Mystery, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Stefanie Powers, Ross Martin.
1962.
Over the years, I’ve heard one or two of the more waggish women in my life refer to one or another unsolicited amorous pursuer as “The Breather” — a designation almost certainly emanating from Ross Martin’s singular (to my knowledge) portrayal here of the demonstrably asthmatic creep who abducts a comely kid sister played by Stefanie Powers in her first major role. This first of Blake Edwards’ only two black-and-whiters, it immediately preceded the other (Days of Wine and Roses), which also starred Lee Remick; both projects proved notably atypical in the director’s predominantly comic canon. Remick plays a bank teller faced with stealing a hundred grand in relatively non-inflated dollars from her employer over fears of personal harm and harm to her sis — eventually forcing her to break the assailant’s ground rules to engage the services of FBI agent Glenn Ford (wearing one of J. Edgar Hoover’s standard-issue 1962 haircuts, a kind of anti-matinee-idol trim). The source novel of this somewhat feminist thriller with (no kidding) future “Twin Peaks” references was from the writing team of Gordon and Mildred Gordon.

A good choice for Twilight Time’s typically crisp pro-job treatment, Terror would have been a perfect drive-in movie of the era, with a smooth widescreen feel from the by then standard ratio 1.85:1 cinematography. The camera work is by Philip Lathrop, who also shot lots of Edwards features, including Breakfast and Tiffany’s — as well as Sydney Pollack’s forever resonant take on They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? And the score, a memorable creep-out, is by even more of an Edwards regular: Henry Mancini, who would continue his stellar 1962 with Hatari!’s baby elephants and then Wine/Roses.

The finale of this most efficient early-year release was also inspired, though it couldn’t have been planned for its now full nostalgic effect. The shoot-out’s setting is San Francisco’s old Candlestick Park during a game between the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, complete with close-ups of the latter’s Wally Moon (pretty sure; he was a handsome dude) and the pitcher-catcher battery of Don Drysdale and John Roseboro.
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Death in Small Doses

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Peter Graves, Mala Powers, Chuck Connors.
1957.
Inspired by one of those Saturday Evening Post exposés that captured my imagination as a kid, this obscure-to-me undercover sleuth melodrama opens with a Fed investigator (Peter Graves during his TV “Fury” days) flopping in a trucker’s rooming house to ascertain just who supplied amphetamines to the driver we’ve seen drive his rig off the road amid a seeing-double frenzy in the movie’s opening scene. The hottie who runs the place is played by Mala Powers, who was good-looking enough in those days to have played Roxanne in the screen version of Cyrano de Bergerac that won José Ferrer the 1950 Oscar for best actor. There’s also a truck stop waitress (Merry Anders) who lives out back; she knows something of what’s going on but not enough (for a while) to give Graves much help, despite the insistence of his questioning, not just with her but also with all of his work colleagues. The oddest of these latter balls is a be-bop-ster played by Chuck Connors just a year before TV’s “The Rifleman.” Connors may have played only one game for the Brooklyn Dodgers (albeit a few more for the Cubs) in his MLB career — but he got further in acting than Experiment in Terror’s Don Drysdale, whose own brief acting career included an appearance on … “The Rifleman.” This is an incestuous week, isn’t it?
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28 Jan, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Quiet Man' and more …


The Quiet Man

Olive, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen, Ward Bond.
1952.
Thanks in part to Maureen O’Hara’s runaway redhead-ism and that lush on-location Irish greenery, Winton C. Hoch and Archie Stout took the ’52 Oscar for color cinematography to complement this all but unique take on domestic strife — an Academy nod to complement John Ford’s tandem win (his fourth, not counting wartime documentaries) for direction. But despite UCLA’s restoration efforts many years ago, home-viewing copies have looked pretty shoddy for a movie so beloved for so many years (though perhaps no longer universally, due to shifting sexual politics). This 4K spiff-up from the original negative is somewhere in the 90-some percentage range of being full-octane — an exponential improvement on what home viewers have had to see for three-plus decades now. I suspect you have to be Catholic or Irish Catholic to understand all the ins-and-outs of Frank Nugent’s romp of a screenplay. As for the politics, John Wayne does indeed drag spouse O’Hara over the countryside as a byproduct of his long-gestated feud-turned-fisticuffs with her dyspeptic brute of a brother (Oscar-nominated Victor McLaglen) over the latter’s withheld dowry. The dowry is the symbol of the independence she craves — and whatever else you want to say, O’Hara’s Mary Kate Danaher is one of the most strong-willed women seen on American screens in the first quarter-century of the talkies.  
Extras: Includes a making-of documentary of significant visage that’s hosted by Leonard Maltin and carried over from previous releases — and also a healthy excerpt by Joseph McBride’s Searching for John Ford, which, if you’re going to read just one Ford bio (though Scott Eyman and Tag Gallagher have also penned must-reads as well), it’s the one.
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Grand Hotel (Blu-ray)

Warner, Drama, $19.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery.
1932.
Like 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy, which Warner Entertainment has concurrently released with Grand Hotel in an Oscar Blu-ray promotion along with 1942’s Mrs. Miniver, MGM’s granddaddy all-star epic is in that very limited club of best picture Oscar recipients in which its director (Edmund Goulding) was overlooked for a nomination himself. More interestingly, Hotel didn’t get a nomination in any other category either — though this Blu-ray presentation shimmers enough in the good way (you can almost shave in its images) that one can see how Greta Garbo favorite William Daniels might have gotten a nod for cinematography. Hotel truly is an ensemble vehicle, and I really don’t have a favorite performer here out of a pool that includes Garbo (career-faded ballerina), John Barrymore (jewel thief and broke dandy who falls for her), Wallace Beery (strapped business magnate), Joan Crawford (in “working class mode” as a stenographer) and Lionel Barrymore (dying and badgered Beery employee blowing his savings to stay in the title posh establishment, located in Berlin). The result is sometimes overwrought but doesn’t creak, even if Garbo’s acting style is sometimes as other-world-ish as Norma Desmond’s would have been. (She’s definitely an actress, to use my oft-referenced Danny Peary reference, you can’t imagine in jeans). Hotel is not as good of an MGM all-star vehicle as Dinner at Eight (which joins Design for Living as my favorite Hollywood movie of 1933) but immeasurably better than 1934’s Night Flight. The most germane comparison, though, is the just as entertaining Skyscraper Souls, which, somewhat amazingly, MGM had released just two months earlier.
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21 Jan, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' and more …


The Man Who Knew Too Much

Criterion, Thriller, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Nova Pilbeam.
1934.
No, it’s not James Stewart, Doris Day, 1956, VistaVision, Technicolor, a strained marriage, edgy wife, Bernard Herrmann scoring or the Oscar-winning song “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera),” which ended up going No. 2 on Billboard for Doris. Instead, this is the same-titled Hitchcock forerunner (and, in fact, the only movie he ever remade), which runs 75 minutes to the subsequent version’s 120 and is, thus, more streamlined. I myself much prefer the ’56 version, but it’s all a legitimate matter of taste — especially now that Man ’34’s recent restoration turns it into the first rendition of the movie in decades in which it doesn’t look as if it’s spent decades at the bottom of the Thames.

Arriving during what was a kind of downside in Hitchcock’s early career, Man ’34 was a stylistic and strikingly modern watershed for the filmmaker — if somewhat less so than the Hitch all-timer that would immediately follow: The 39 Steps. Brandishing elements of screwball comedy in its opening scenes, Man (even at its brief length) takes a while to get out of the gate, though its last two-thirds get fairly wild and crazy until it climaxes with the only elaborate shoot-out I can ever remember in a Hitchcock picture. As in the remake, the story involves a parent stumbling onto information about a planned assassination and getting the family’s only child kidnapped as a result. Leslie Banks and Edna Best are not Stewart and Day by a long shot, though the still pre-Hollywood Peter Lorre is a delicious villain with colorful scar makeup.

Extras: This typically harmonious Criterion package (film historian Philip Kemp does the commentary) also contains a primer on the restoration, plus the Man ’34-portion audio track from the legendary Hitchcock-Truffaut interviews from 1962. In addition to an interview with the late NYU film professor William K. Everson, there’s a second one with Hitchcock (also from 1972) with Ingrid Bergman daughter Pia Lindstrom. It’s a chuckle to hear the director, consummate self-promoter that he was, striving to swing the conversation around to Frenzy (which he was promoting at the time) as much as he can.
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Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go to War

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2012.
The least significant of the three men in this whistle-wetting “anniversary” documentary is, of course, the pesky gnat who still outlives JFK and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the two who literally held the fate of the world in their hands during those fateful two weeks in October 1962. But Cuba’s Fidel Castro deserves co-billing because he was, until the end, a key player in the showdown (whose yard was it, anyway?). Covering many of the same events dramatized in director Roger Donaldson’s underrated Kevin Costner starrer Thirteen Days (2000), Crisis is enough of an insider’s account to add a little juice to a well-chronicled story. Employed are a 2010 interview with Kennedy adviser and speechwriter Ted Sorenson not long before his death; also one with Khrushchev’s son (a doctor); and others with KGB and CIA operatives and the pilot who photographed the actual sites that broke the news to Washington. We also get priceless reel-to-reel audio tracks of a JFK Cabinet roundtable that included a lot of pro-nuke, damn-the-consequences hawks who fortunately didn’t capture the president’s ear. During the 13 days, there were a few remarkable sub-cliffhangers brought on by the faulty communications of the day (no World Wide Web to facilitate, just some lonely courier to transport a cable) and by an American pilot who had the misfortune to make a faulty turn at the worst possible spot on the 1962 globe. Not to trivialize it — but for those seeking timeline perspective, the crisis began the very day the Yankees beat the Giants 1-0 in a memorable seventh game of the World Series. It was and is regarded as a classic nailbiter — but absolutely nothing compared to what was about to transpire.
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7 Jan, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Iron Petticoat' and more …


The Iron Petticoat

Available via TCM.com
TCM, Comedy, $29.99 BD/DVD combo, NR.
Stars Bob Hope, Katharine Hepburn.
1956.
Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn? Pause here for your eyes to bug out like a Tex Avery cartoon character over the mere existence of this obscurity — especially in light of the fact that until recent weeks via Turner Classic Movies airings, this half-heartedly released Technicolor comedy had never even been televised due to the fact that Hope (who secured rights) basically sat on it for decades. Very much in the mode of Ninotchka, Comrade X and the arguably underrated Jet Pilot, it casts the stars as rival American and Soviet military pilots amid the latter’s gradual transformation into a capitalist of sorts who comes to appreciate sexier garb. Hepburn’s athletic frame still looks terrific in a role that followed two consecutive Oscar-nominated performances (in 1955’s Summertime and then The Rainmaker, which had just opened as well). Otherwise, this may be her worst performance; her accent isn’t that far from Bela Lugosi’s in Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda? With the slightly straighter The Seven Little Foys, That Certain Feeling and the subsequent Beau James, Hope himself was venturing into new territory at the time — and this modest departure, directed by Ralph Thomas of the then popular Doctor in the House, feels much more like a standard British outing that just happens to have the leads it does. (They have slightly more on-camera rapport than they reportedly had off, but it’s only a matter of degree.) MGM originally distributed a shorter version than this more official British cut — which, like several Brit pics but only a few non-Paramount Hollywood releases, was shot in the incomparable VistaVision. Thus, this rendering looks like a trillion dollars — every bit as stupendous as the Blu-rays I’ve seen of a couple other British films from the ’50s: Genevieve and (in VistaVision as well) The Battle of the River Plate. The result is well worth a look if you treat it strictly as a lab specimen, as opposed to a comedy that actually involves you.
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Beloved Infidel

Available via www.ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gregory Peck, Deborah Kerr, Eddie Albert.
1959.
Adapted from a Sheila Graham bestseller of the day that every adult female relative of mine seemed to own in paperback, Infidel relates how the eventual Hollywood gossip columnist (Deborah Kerr) got mentored by the older F. Scott Fitzgerald (Gregory Peck) during the writer’s alcoholic waning days when — as we see in one of this soaper’s better scenes — even The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night were out of print. Frequent Peck collaborator Henry King was among the most indifferent of all major directors, but his credits do include my two favorite Peck films: Twelve O’Clock High and The Gunfighter. In this case, he obviously couldn’t gear the story to Peck’s great screen strength, which was projecting authority that sometimes extended all the way to repressed (and, occasionally, even unrepressed) rage. As a Graham more refined than the real one likely was, Kerr is more on point and looking mighty regal on the beach (watch that redhead’s skin tones, Deb). Given his haircut here and also from the humorous short subjects we see him filming on a soundstage, I assume that Eddie Albert’s fictitious “Bob Carter” character is (in the kind of subterfuge that always sinks old Hollywood biopics) supposed to be humorist Robert Benchley. What makes the movie watchable (kind of) is the fact that we are, after all, witnessing a screen drama about the great FSF — and also, of course, the expected pro job Twilight Time gives to the Blu-ray (including the alternate-channel isolation of Franz Waxman’s score).
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17 Dec, 2012

New on Disc: 'Purple Noon' and more …


Purple Noon

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet.
1960.
Every time a copy of it shows up in a fresh rendering, I like to check out René Clément’s resonant psychological thriller about opportunism in one of screen history’s most physically handsome manifestations. Noon is again the kind of movie that makes a guy want to get out on the Mediterranean, brandish snappy clothes and romance continental beauties. It does not, though, make you want to get murdered, which is also part of the narrative package. The film is, of course, based on Patricia Highsmith’s same The Talented Mr. Ripley novel that Anthony Minghella turned into another very good night at the movies in 1999 — an interpretation significantly different in terms of emphasis on supporting characters and the ending. But I wouldn’t trade Noon’s wrap-up for anything. There’s major spoiler potential if one gets too far into the plot of what became lead Alain Delon’s star-maker. So suffice it to say that it involves a rich father who employs an impoverished on-the-make type (the kind who trades on his looks) to retrieve a playboy son (Maurice Ronet) who is perhaps enjoying too much of the same said water, pricey duds and femmes. It doesn’t take long for this hired hand to start taking to these fringe benefits perhaps a little too much himself — but without the sociopathic byproducts that ensue in a story that ends up bisecting itself at roughly midpoint. After Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, Clément’s earlier Ripley take is probably the one that battles it out with Minghella’s version or maybe Wim Wenders’ The American Friend as the most durable movie made from the author’s work.
Extras: The disc includes an early-1960s interview with Delon in which he is very forthcoming about work, his favored directors (Clément was among them) and how he stumbled into acting after four years of army service.
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Francis Ford Coppola 5-Film Collection

Lionsgate, Drama, $39.99 Blu-ray.
Stars Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Vincent Gallo, Harrison Ford, Gene Hackman, Frederic Forrest, Raul Julia, Cindy Williams, John Cazale, Nastassja Kinski, Teri Garr.
1974-2009.
As the definitive cross in the road regarding Francis Ford Coppola’s strange career, 1982’s One From the Heart had the makings of a cult movie even before it cemented that status by bringing in $389,249 over its opening weekend on an estimated then-whopping $27 million budget. All this for a 1982 movie shot in 1.33:1 and no marquee busters in its cast. There obviously are other titles in this reasonably priced collection, and some super ones at that: Oscar-nominated The Conversation; both versions of Apocalypse Now (I’m one of those who prefers the later reworking); plus 2009’s Tetro, which is something of a visual marvel and, alas, the only one of the director’s recent pictures that I like even a little. All, however, have previously been available on Blu-ray, which means that Heart (which finally got a belated DVD release in 2011) is likely this assemblage’s chief selling point. The story’s setting is some of the more neon-ish parts of Las Vegas, which means that this is a case where artifice meets artifice. Sometimes the wrong casting mix keeps you from even getting out of the gate. And here’s a story about a bickering longtime couple testing waters with other potential mates, where the principals end up being played by … Apocalypse Now’s Frederic Forrest, Teri Garr, Raul Julia and Nastassja Kinski, with subsidiary parts going to Lainie Kazan and Harry Dean Stanton. Heart is such a one-of-a-kind (with fine-for-its-day sound mixing) that one has to give it some points, though the visual rendering here is less than ideal when what this oddball really deserves is some Criterion TLC.
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3 Dec, 2012

New on Disc: 'Ramrod'


Ramrod

Olive, Western, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Don DeFore, Preston Foster.
1947.
It has been noted that mild-mannered Joel McCrea didn’t cater to co-star Veronica Lake’s sometimes holier-than-thou persona when she was off-camera, though the two were eventually reteamed here in a movie not called Sullivan’s Travels when her career was on the wane. Ramrod was directed by the still underrated cult filmmaker Andre de Toth when he and Lake were married in real life. Lake manages one or two fiery scenes here, even if her role peters out somewhat near the end.
De Toth doesn’t punch up the melodrama in obvious ways — though there are definitely some twisted goings-on in this adaptation of a novel by famed Western writer Luke Short, who was then in a lucrative screen era for his literary output, thanks also to Blood on the Moon and Station West, both from 1948.
McCrea, a widower, is something of an unusual protagonist here: a reforming alcoholic who also has to recover from a serious bullet wound when he all but passively gets involved in the machinations of almost everyone surrounding him.
The first film produced by Enterprise Productions (also of the dually superb Caught and Force of Evil), Ramrod is a typical Olive release in that it looks as no-frills good as its source material will permit. There are occasional specs in the image, but the presentation is generally solid. The cinematography is by Russell Harlan — about a year before he shot Red River and 15 years before he earned Oscar nominations for To Kill a Mockingbird and Hatari!
Actor buffs will enjoy seeing Lloyd Bridges getting beaten up in an early saloon scene. And Don DeFore, usually a comical figure in TV’s “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Hazel,” puts a tad more edge than expected on a subsidiary role as a ne’er-do-well McCrea friend, who precipitates some of the movie’s rampant brutality.
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26 Nov, 2012

New on Disc: 'Sunset Blvd.' and more …


Sunset Blvd. (Blu-ray)

Paramount, Drama, $26.99 Blu-ray.
Stars Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Nancy Olson, Erich von Stroheim.
1950.
Billy Wilder’s final collaboration with his then producer/co-writer Charles Brackett already was regarded as a legend a mere handful of years after its release — a film then spoken of in the reverent tones reserved for classic silents that were famous but almost impossible to see outside of New York (if then). Sunset Blvd. may be the greatest movie about Hollywood ever made, but it is also film noir (a potent combo of cross-genres if there ever was one). And a new Blu-ray where the print that has just enjoyed some serious “work” (which plot-central Norma Desmond likely would have had as well) is beyond welcome. The cinematographer was Paramount’s great John F. Seitz, who also shot Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend for Wilder and one who must have been the on-demand choice of significant Paramount money-maker Alan Ladd, who later employed Seitz on the films the by-then fading DP later did at Warner Bros. But it is, of course, the movie’s originality, audacity and imaginative casting that still makes it work. First of all, Brackett-Wilder’s cheeky achievement is still a brutally honest portrait of Hollywood. Then, we get the gonzo casting gifts that Wilder always had: Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Nancy Olson, Buster Keaton and (my favorite) Erich von Stroheim and Jack Webb — to say nothing of Cecil B. DeMille playing himself. Plus, an Oscar-winning score by Franz Waxman. Despite giving Swanson the role of a lifetime (notwithstanding her many silent triumphs), the long-term legacy of Sunset Blvd. was to rescue Holden from a litany of indifferent roles at Paramount and Columbia post-World War II and launching him into superstardom.
Extras: This lovely release imports a ton of extras from a previous deluxe standard Blvd. DVD, adding a musical number about studios and producers of the day that Wilder excised and replaced because it was too inside-baseball for the general audiences who did make the picture a hit — not a monster one but definitely a box office success from a time when general audiences (there was only a barely specialized “niche” demographic) were a lot sharper than they are today.
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The Secret Six

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, John Mack Brown.
1931.
Clark Gable only gets seventh billing in this MGM bootlegging melodrama with an enticingly curious cast and equally no-slouch background credits — a movie that headlines Wallace Beery as a double-crossed lug who becomes a Prohibition powerhouse in town (for a while). Gable wasn’t yet a star but could have lived like one had the studio been paying him by the hour. Gable quickly got a rep as one who wouldn’t kowtow on screen to high-strung women (Now see here, Scarlett) and might even push them around. But here, he’s simply a big-city reporter in a friendly rivalry with a competitor for the affections of a “friend of the gang” played by Jean Harlow — who was coming off Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels and about five days away from making a second splash with James Cagney in The Public Enemy. Produced by William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Pictures, Six was not exactly shy about promoting vigilantism. And by the way, the vigilante Six are a hoot to see in the movie — vigilantes in eye masks that wouldn’t disguise anybody very much if someone had to identify them during a trial. Six was a major league production — one that also employs the amusing casting of Lewis Stone as a low-key mob lawyer who’s a brain of the outfit.
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5 Nov, 2012

New on Disc: 'Rosemary's Baby' and more …


Rosemary’s Baby

Criterion, Horror,  $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer.
1968.
Critical hits that blast commercial four-baggers out of the park still happen very occasionally, but Roman Polanski’s instant classic of Ira Levin’s everyone-read-it novel was and is about as good as commercial filmmaking gets — not that the picture was any marketing natural in those days before The Exorcist, The Omen and all that Polanski’s first Hollywood career wave-maker sparked. Ruth Gordon got the year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar as Rosemary’s batty apartment neighbor and Satan partisan — and Sidney Blackmer is good as her husband, who helps the younger woman’s husband achieve professional success as an actor (Yamaha commercials and more) making a literal deal with the devil. But then, the picture is a kind of casting director’s delight for veteran character actors of the day, including Ralph Bellamy, Maurice Evans and Patsy Kelly. The movie hasn’t lost a beat, especially in Criterion’s rendering.
Extras: It’s surprising to hear producer Robert Evans (featured on an excellent 45-minute Criterion look-back with Polanski and title lead Mia Farrow) talk of how it was such a tough picture to sell. We learn in the documentary that while in bed with then-spouse Farrow, Frank Sinatra read the script and said that he couldn’t see her in the part — which added to the actress’ insecurities regarding the role. We also hear the famous the story about how Sinatra, chagrined that the Baby shooting schedule made it impossible for her to appear with him in 1968’s The Detective, served her with divorce papers on the set (though they remained good friends until Sinatra’s death). Another full-length documentary focuses on composer Krzystof Komeda, who died not long after the film premiered.
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Neil Young Journeys

Sony Pictures, Music, B.O. $0.22 million, $30.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG’ for language, including some drug references and brief, thematic material.
2012.
The two (male) rock troubadours truest to themselves are probably Bob Dylan and Neil Young, so there’s a kind of beauteous symmetry to the fact that Martin Scorsese has chronicled one on screen and Jonathan Demme the other, given that the latter duo are the two filmmakers of note (both Oscar winners, in fact) who are the closest to be walking versions of the Rock and Hall of Fame. Journeys is, in fact, the third screen outing that Demme has undertaken with Young, following 2006’s Neil Young: Heart of Gold and 2009’s Neil Young Trunk Show. Of the three, Journeys has to be the one most fashioned toward the hardcore, in that it is a diminutive and certainly intimate portrait of the singer-songwriter at home in Canada, wrapping up a worldwide tour in Toronto, to which he journeys from hometown Omemee in a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria (none of this limo, or even chauffeur, stuff with him). Lack of pretension, of course, has always been a key component of Young’s appeal — complete with his take-it-or-leave-it vocal stylings and wardrobe choices that pretty well come down to which pair of grungy jeans we’re going to wear tonight. One gets a complete sense here of the roots-engendered stability that has kept Young from veering off the track in ways that have turned so many rock stars into a train wreck. Cruising through Omemee, Young takes us past the school that was named for his community-prominent father, and we also meet his brother. The concert portions’ stripped-down sets are taken to great extent from Young’s 2010 Le Noise album, though some of the highlights here come from deep catalog — as when he revives 1970’s “Ohio,” a salute to the four victims of that year’s Kent State killings. These are predominantly tight close-ups of a professional doing his job, which means this is a screen endeavor for the devoted.
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22 Oct, 2012

New on Disc: 'Fear and Desire' and more …


Fear and Desire

Street 10/23
Kino Lorber, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Frank Silvera, Kenneth Harp, Paul Mazursky, Virginia Leith.
1953.
Although his only slightly more expensive Killer’s Kiss follow-up soon became easier to see on TV by the late 1950s than it had been in 1955 in theaters, Fear and Desire — Stanley Kubrick’s meagerly budgeted debut feature — all but existed as the next thing to a rumor following a 1953 run that couldn’t have gotten too many playdates outside of New York City. Kubrick, the onetime Look magazine still photographer, cobbled out his career opening salvo from a screenplay by Bronx high school classmate Howard Sackler, who would go on to win a Pulitzer for The Great White Hope, which was written in 1968, the same year Kubrick put out 2001: A Space Odyssey.

When a small band of soldiers crashes a few miles behind enemy lines and naturally seeks a way back to its own unit, the lieutenant in charge (Kenneth Harp) is irksomely prone to vague philosophizing in lieu of truly taking charge, to the apparent chagrin of a sergeant played by co-lead Frank Silvera (later a heavy in the Manhattan-noirish Kiss).

Amid broad statement (I think) about “the nature” of war — and not a specific one — F&D’s vaguely supernatural treatment sacrifices dramatic force for bleakness. There was all kind of talk in later years that the filmmaker didn’t want F&D shown — even going so far (it has been claimed) to suppress it. Thus, it was a big deal when NYC’s Film Forum unearthed a very good print in 1994.

With its short running time, this is hardly a time-waster given all the history involved. F&D is crude, but the printing material utilized in this Library of Congress spiff-up is very good, and Kino’s release also throws in the director’s 1953 color short The Seafarers, made for the Seafarers International Union and narrated by Don Hollenbeck.
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Lili

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Leslie Caron, Mel Ferrer, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
1953.
Leaving aside her brief professional reinvention with a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the Brit unwed pregnancy drama The L-Shaped Room in 1963, Leslie Caron’s career is substantially based on three hits at MGM. The first two are An American in Paris and Gigi (both directed by Vincente Minnelli), which took Best Picture Oscars.

The third, Lili, wasn’t nominated for Best Picture but did get director Charles Walters a nom. It was a fairly substantial hit that no one expected — helped, no doubt, by the memorable “Hi-Lili Hi-Lo” title tune. It’s a delicate little thing with lush MGM Technicolor that needs a memorable fantasy production number at the end just to reach the 81-minute mark.

Adapted by Helen Deutsch from a Paul Gallico story that had a television setting, Lili is set in a carnival and plays into the child-woman part of her persona that the two Minnelli Oscar winners mined as well — the “woman” half defined here by a hot-cha! dream sequence about half-way through the picture in which the waif Caron plays suddenly transforms herself into a babe in torrid evening wear, competing via dance with a supposedly flashier type (Zsa Zsa Gabor) for the affections of the latter’s husband (a philandering magician played by Jean Pierre Aumont).

As we all know from the get-go, Caron/Lili should be matched up with Mel Ferrer’s puppeteer — a now lame former dancer who has understandably turned bitter and now channels his nicer side through the carnival puppets whose voicings he controls. Don’t take bets that she won’t see the error of her ways.
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15 Oct, 2012

New on Disc: 'This Is Cinerama' and more …


This Is Cinerama

Flicker Alley, Documentary, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
1952.
For all the printer’s ink they generated from their mammoth annual box office tallies throughout the 1950s, the original Cinerama travelogues (moviegoing stunts that delivered) were by no means universally seen. This Is Cinerama was the big one, of course, because it had the element of surprise and a marvelous opener.
Extras: Flicker Alley can be relied upon to pile on supplements, and the ones here beyond disc one’s meaty commentary and restoration featurette include an alternate post-intermission opening geared to European audiences; tributes to Denver’s Cooper Theater and the nationally famous Cinerama revival showings in Dayton, Ohio; TV spots; and even a “breakdown” reel.
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The Game

Criterion, Thriller, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language, and for some violence and sexuality.
Stars Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn.
1997.
David Fincher’s third feature was his first to exhibit something akin to a sense of humor. This release is mostly a carryover from the 1997 laserdisc with a new transfer that has a raw, dark and occasionally grainy Fincher “look” that fans will appreciate.
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Overland Stage Raiders

Olive, Western, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Wayne, Ray Corrigan, Max Terhune, Louise Brooks.
1938.
Stage Raiders is standard issue all the way, as cowboys get involved in an airplane concern to transport gold after a series of bus robberies.
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