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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.


Mike's Picks
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11 Nov, 2013

New on Disc: 'American Experience: The War of the Worlds' and more …


American Experience: The War of the Worlds

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Oliver Platt.
2013.
The broadcasting legend we’re speaking of is Oct. 30, 1938’s still famous Orson Welles/John Houseman production of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds for CBS Radio’s Mercury Theater of the Air — a Halloween lark that went wrong (though hardly for Welles’ reputation). This is because more people than you’d guess took the program at face value and convinced themselves that the world was about to end, courtesy of invading martians. The gripe I have with this documentary, which does put across a lot of keen history in digestible form, is its transparent re-creations, in which professional
actors portray listeners who reacted in panic and/or wrote letters to CBS or congressmen. Oddly, War’s filmmakers seem pleased with themselves over this phony approach in the disc’s bonus material (a rare instance of a PBS disc having supplemental materials in the first place). The time might have been better spent examining the broadcast’s legacy.
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Red Garters

Available at online retailers via
Warner Archive
Warner, Musical, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Rosemary Clooney, Guy Mitchell, Jack Carson, Pat Crowley.
1954.
Whatever else you want to say about this Western-motifed drug trip before its time, there has never been anything quite like it. Guy Mitchell and Gene Barry play a duo in competition for the same lady, and their relationship grows even more complex when it comes out that one killed the other’s brother, which sets up a gunfight that competes with a slew of musical numbers in the second half.
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4 Nov, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Uninvited' and more …


The Uninvited

Criterion, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Ray Milland, Gail Russell, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp.
1944.
My old NYU film prof, William K. Everson, opined in class that this uncommonly lush romantic creeper directed by underrated Lewis Allen was the best ghost movie of all time, and nothing emerging on screen during the past few decades has diminished a movie that Criterion was super-savvy to pluck from the Universal-owned library of 1929-49 Paramount titles it acquired in a steal via a deal with MCA in the 1960s.  The story involves siblings (played by Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) who buy a house that turns out to be possessed by mentally disturbed spirits related to a young woman (Gail Russell) who lives nearby.
Extras: This is a classy home release all around, including as it does two radio presentations of the story (both with Milland), an old interview with director Allen, plus superior liner notes by Farran Smith Nehme. A half-hour visual essay by Michael Almereyda deals not only with the movie itself but the personal demons of Milland and Russell.
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Stalag 17 (Blu-ray)

Warner/Paramount, Drama, $19.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger.
1953.
The movie, a comedically charged tale of prisoners in a German World War II POW camp, is an ensemble acting piece second to none. William Holden took the ’53 Best Actor Oscar, but the one other standout is Otto Preminger’s brilliantly cast turn as the camp commandant.
Extras: Carried over from the standard DVD are a commentary and half-hour documentaries on the movie’s production and real-life POWs.
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28 Oct, 2013

New on Disc: 'Eyes Without a Face' and more …


Eyes Without a Face (Blu-ray)

Criterion, Drama, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Edith Scob.
1960.
When this all but unique French film opened in America around Halloween time and nearly three years late, what audiences ended up getting was a methodically paced under-your-skin chiller with so little graphic gore that even its most explicit shot is purposely out of focus. Worldwide, director Georges Franju was handicapped by working in a genre not conducive to the tastemakers of the day, so it took a while for Eyes Without a Face to see its reputation secured with sharper noggins. Aside from one key new featurette, this Blu-ray is an upgrade from Criterion’s 2004 standard DVD, and I have never seen the picture looking this good.
Extras: The carryovers include the director’s famous but infrequently shown Blood of the Beasts from 1949, a 22-minute documentary that redefines the word “clinical” in its no-holds-barred look at a Parisian slaughterhouse and everything that entails.
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The New York Yankees 2000 World Series: Collector’s Edition

A&E, Sports, $29.98 DVD, NR.
2000.
The first “Subway Series” since the 1950s was a five-game affair in which the New York Yankees won their third-consecutive World Series title and fourth in five years against the Mets. Every game here is a good one. Both Yankees fans and cultural historians will get a kick out of this set, though it’s a step down from more lavish past Series boxes that included odds-and-ends highlights or interviews, plus even a game or two from one of the winner’s earlier playoff games from that season.
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21 Oct, 2013

New on Disc: 'Fantastic Voyage' and more …


Fantastic Voyage (Blu-ray)

Fox, Sci-Fi, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Arthur Kennedy, Edmond O’Brien.
1966.
A dual Oscar winner for art/set decoration and special effects in a far more primitive technological era, Fox’s hit howler about a journey through a human body is a prime example of a mostly terrible movie being sometimes mistaken for a better one simply because it is what it is (i.e. something any movie lover would covet, at least on paper). A world-renowned scientist with unique knowledge barely survives an assassination attempt, and to save him, a small crew of experts must be miniaturized along with their submarine and injected into the victim’s bloodstream. But there’s a hitch — if the participants, who include Raquel Welch in her first major role, can’t accomplish the feat in an hour, they begin reverting to normal size. You just have to go with it because it was a remarkable achievement for the day, and at least Leonard Rosenman’s score remains effective. Fox’s Blu-ray is a notable leap over the old DVD version. 
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Plunder Road

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gene Raymond, Wayne Morris, Jeanne Cooper, Elisha Cook Jr.
1957.
This is hardly a film to be oversold, but it easily fills the bill if you like your ‘50s cinema grimy and kind of gamey. It deals with a motley assemblage of not-quite-hoods who rob a train of government gold and split the stash into the back of large highway-bound trucks. Director Hubert Cornfield shot this fairly taut little toughie in about two weeks, and indeed, it’s mostly minimalist aside from the visual excitement cinematographer Ernest Haller brings to the imposing trucks that dominate his Regalscope framing. 
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14 Oct, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Big Parade' and more …


The Big Parade

Warner, Drama, $14.97 DVD, $27.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Gilbert, Renée Adorée, Karl Dane.
1925.
Befitting the movie that put MGM at the top of the map both economically and artistically for nearly a quarter-century, a 4K The Big Parade on Blu-ray is among the format’s best silent treatment I’ve seen to date. John Gilbert plays a rich kid who surprises everyone by enlisting in the army after getting caught up in the fervor of a patriotic parade, a motif that continues throughout the film and makes the title especially honest.
Extras: Warner has gone all out with this 64-page digipak release, starting with liner notes by Mr. Eminence himself: Kevin Brownlow. The 2½-hour commentary predominantly by historian Jeffrey Vance is very well prepared, artfully shoehorning in four fairly lengthy interview excerpts that director King Vidor gave later in his life.
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Branca’s Pitch

Strand, Documentary, $19.99 DVD, NR.
2013.
There’s a brief moment in this unusual baseball documentary when its subject — former Brooklyn Dodgers relief pitcher Ralph Branca — says that the folkloric walk-off home run off him by New York Giants third baseman Bobby Thomson in 1951 didn’t bother him. Well, if that were true, this tight 87-minute package probably wouldn’t exist, even if it ultimately does appear that Branca, now 87, has come to terms with his fate. Shot in black and white, which blends nicely with the old newsreel footage, this is a baseball documentary with a slightly skewed approach I wasn’t expecting. The standout archival mind-melters here are subsequent kinescopes of Branca on TV’s “Concentration” (where he won 17 games) and of him sharing an indescribable singing duet with Thomson on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
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7 Oct, 2013

New on Disc: 'From Here to Eternity' and more …


From Here to Eternity (Blu-ray)

Sony Pictures, Drama, $19.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed.
1953.
The film’s five principal actors represent one of the ultimate historical examples of white-heat star power, having earned merited Oscar nominations (with wins for Frank Sinatra and Donny Reed), before we even get to the fact that the story’s standout heavy is played by Ernest Borgnine. Daniel Taradash’s script remains a model of how to telescope a sprawling literary source into a two-hour movie. Eternity got the Oscar for Burnett Guffey’s black-and-white cinematography, and the Blu-ray has significant grain but doesn’t overdo it and is especially effective in some of the close-ups.
Extras: The Blu-ray includes a super-nifty new picture-in-picture feature in which on-the-ball younger historians guide us through the entire production. There’s also a carried-over making-of featurette and a vintage short about director Fred Zinnemann.
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A Letter to Three Wives (Blu-ray)

Fox, Drama, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas.
1949.
Delivering on what is essentially a plotting gimmick, the movie traces the Saturday afternoon gut-punches three suburban wives receive when they get a joint letter from a so-called friend informing them that she has run off with one of their unnamed husbands — setting off a trio of flashbacks to explain how any one of the men might credibly be the unfaithful party. The Blu-ray essentially upgrades the standard Fox DVD, and it gets a nice, if not staggering, boost in the superior format.
Extras: Includes the “Biography” episode devoted to Linda Darnell.
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30 Sep, 2013

New on Disc: 'Drums Along the Mohawk' and more …


Drums Along the Mohawk (Blu-ray)

Available at ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Claudette Colbert, Henry Fonda, Edna May Oliver.
1939.
Just getting a Blu-ray of John Ford’s first feature in color would be a treat in itself, but this Twilight Time release goes several extra miles by including Nick Redman’s authoritative documentary Becoming John Ford, which was previously only available on a couple of boxed sets. Among the remarkably few Hollywood films to deal with the Revolutionary War, Drums was Ford’s third in a trio of major achievements released in 1939, following Stagecoach and Young Mr. Lincoln. As Julie Kirgo suggests in the TT liner notes, this is a movie of superb shots and scenes as opposed to an arcing narrative flow — or such is the movie’s rep and rap. It’s all true enough, at least when compared to Stagecoach and Lincoln, but the print here is so gorgeous that I’ve never enjoyed Drums as much as I did this time around.
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The Big Combo

Olive, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Brian Donlevy, Jean Wallace.
1955.
As gold standards go, Jean Wallace comes pretty close to filling the bill as noir’s definitive “silky” blonde in a Joseph H. Lewis classic ‘B’-pic (or shaky-’A’) about cop obsessions — one that, over the years, has come to be as highly regarded as the director’s all-timer Gun Crazy. The Combo storyline claims to fame are a degree of brutality that was way out of the norm for 1955 (and still elicits a reaction today), and, assuming you have the kind of mind that interprets what director Lewis intended, the first Hollywood movie to suggest cunnilingus.
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23 Sep, 2013

New on Disc: 'Shack Out on 101' and more …


Shack Out on 101

Street 9/24
Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray.
Stars Terry Moore, Frank Lovejoy, Keenan Wynn, Lee Marvin.
1955.
A Communist-conspiracy spy drama (or spy comedy, who knows?) set in a Pacific highway ptomaine-tempting eatery, this is one unique folly even if “unique” is a word that’s always tossed around carelessly. People sometimes shorthand it that the entirety of Shack takes place on one minimalist restaurant set — though truth is, there’s also a back room where hot waitress Kotty (Terry Moore) lives, plus one or two more adjacent nooks and crannies. There’s also a memorable opening outdoor scene where Lee Marvin (as a cook named “Slob”) attempts to writhe all over Kotty’s unwilling beach-lounging frame until she frees herself. It does come as a surprise that he is, in reality, a Commie agent snapping photos of purloined nuclear secrets in one of the joint’s back rooms. Seeing Shack again after so many years, I’m more convinced than before that it’s supposed to be funny, though, on the other hand, there weren’t many films around in 1955 that openly satirized anti-Communist paranoia.
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Radio Unnameable

Kino Lorber, Documentary, B.O. $0.02 million, $29.95 DVD, NR.
2012.
A documentary tough to envision being sprung from any town other than New York, this is the story of radio host Bob Fass and his decades-long history with listener-sponsored WBAI, with which he still has an on-air relationship. The case is made, convincingly, that Fass was the Twitter of his day, eliciting listening responses not just from the lonely and disenfranchised but all the workers who were wide awake inside their places of business.
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16 Sep, 2013

New on Disc: 'Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie' and more …


Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (Blu-ray)

Shout! Factory, Comedy, $29.93
Blu-ray/DVD, ‘PG-13’ for some sexual humor.
1996.
This is the first home release I can recall that takes considerable pains to rectify the historical damage the movie it showcases perpetrated when playing (however briefly) theatrically, in this case 17 years ago. But to momentarily go the other way, let’s not put too fine a point on any mea culpa aspects here because the target of the snarky MST3K commentators in this case — Universal-International’s This Island Earth from 1955 — is, on certain levels, undeniable cheese. At only 74 minutes, MST3K is a spotty affair, but what makes the disc interesting are a couple supplements. The filmmakers are surprisingly frank about how studio suits watered down the hipness that made the TV show so great and persistently failed to get the wisecracking cultural references.
The other key extra devotes 36 minutes to director Joe Dante and several more to defend the ’55 Earth and lambast what MST3K did to it.
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Me and My Gal

Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Fox, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Marion Burns.
1932.
For a cop-in-love comedy filmed before the repeal of Prohibition, which is easy to forget during its rapidly paced unreeling, this cult Raoul Walsh jewel is immersed in suds. Walsh and enough screenwriters to fill a saloon take an anything-goes approach to the narrative, which casts Spencer Tracy as a lovably lunkish Irish New York cop, and the result has a marvelous loosey-goosey feel that is the antithesis of MGM during the period.
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9 Sep, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Big City' and more …


The Big City

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
In Bengali with English subtitles.
Stars Anil Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee, Jaya Bhaduri.
1963.
City is one of a half-dozen or so titles from Satyajit Ray, India’s greatest director, that got restored in the 1990s. Set in Calcutta during a time of social upheaval fostered by Indian Prime Minister Nehru (he of the jacket), this 2¼-hour domestic drama with compelling sojourns outdoors deals with a crowded household indebted to the wife (Madhabi Mukherjee) who makes things happen. 
Extras: On one of the bonus features, titled “Satyajit Ray and the Modern Woman,” scholar Saranjan Ganguly discusses City, 1964’s Charulata and 1965’s The Coward in terms of feminist cinema. The Coward is included as a bonus movie in its entirety.
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Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

Olive, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Cagney, Barbara Payton, Helena Carter, Ward Bond.
1950.
Based on a novel by Horace McCoy, this is an extremely zippy chunk of nastiness from James Cagney’s production company, though it’s about as preposterous as even melodramas come. The actor, who was 50 and showing it, plays a chain-gang escapee with the ability to make comely young things fall for him in a minute or so — to say nothing of a knack for pretty well taking over the corrupt wing of a town almost immediately after blowing in. Ward Bond’s performance as a crooked professional servant is very impressive and nuanced, and it reinforces what a good actor he was. Olive’s print is typically no frills but looks pretty decent.
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