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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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12 Sep, 2011

New on Disc: 'Bill Cunningham New York' and more …

Bill Cunningham New York

Street 9/13
Zeitgeist, Documentary, B.O. $1.49 million, $29.99 DVD, NR.
As tough as it must be fashioning fictional movies that deal with so-called lovable eccentrics who too often cloy, filmmaker Richard Press absolutely hit the mother lode in his deservedly praised documentary about Bill Cunningham, the New York Times’ premier chronicler of fashion trends in the reader magnet “On the Street” column. Director Press says it took him about 10 years to get this documentary on film, eight of which involved just getting Cunningham to do it. In other words, we’re talking about an extremely private person for someone who is otherwise easily spottable out and about zipping around town. The result is a nice dovetail with the recently-in-theaters Page One: Inside the New York Times (this is its equal, in fact), as well as 2009’s The September Issue, which profiled American Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
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The Flim-Flam Man

Available at ww.screenarchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars George C. Scott, Michael Sarrazin, Sue Lyon.
A relatively soft-sell comedy trapped in one of the hardest-selling genres of all, this acclaimed sleeper of its day probably helped lead the way to the more heavy-handed rural comedies with Burt Reynolds (usually directed by Hal Needham) that always played to me as if they were aimed at the “wife beater at the drive-in” demographic. As such, the unknowing might not routinely peg FFM as a George C. Scott vehicle — though it boasts one of the actor’s signature performances in a role (it has been said) that he regarded as his personal favorite. The title definitely merits a truth-in-advertising citation, in that William Rose’s script (adapted from a Guy Owen novel) cast the 39-year-old Scott as a 70-ish con artist who travels by train (boxcars to be precise) while earning his living bilking hardware store loiterers in games of chance. The movie’s director was Irvin Kershner — who, despite landing The Empire Strikes Back and 007’s Never Say Never Again relatively late in his career, was typed as a filmmaker known for “good little movies” substantially more quirky than even this one: The Hoodlum Priest, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, Loving and Up the Sandbox.
Extras: Julie Kirgo notes in her booklet essay that you tend to forget about Scott’s extensive old-age makeup after a while — which is not to say that it isn’t a piece of work.
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The Burning Hills

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Western, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Tab Hunter, Natalie Wood, Skip Homeier, Earl Holliman.
It’s just a guess, but we almost have to be talking about the only teen-dream movie ever aimed at the vintage fan magazine demographic that also was based on a Louis L’Amour novel. The picture casts Tab Hunter as a character named Trace (you could almost interchange the names) opposite Natalie Wood. The studio tried to sell the two being-groomed performers as a couple and even teamed them again before the same year was out in The Girl He Left Behind. Playing another “Maria,” Wood tries out her future West Side Story Puerto Rican accent (where it worked a little better) to play the hot and hot-spirited daughter of a Yankee father and Mexican mother who schleps food to Tab/Trace when he’s healing in a cave. This is his reward for having shot and wounded the local land baron, horse thief and employer of professional killers who killed Hunter’s brother.
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5 Sep, 2011

New on Disc: 'An American Family: Anniversary Edition'

An American Family: Anniversary Edition

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
By far the biggest wavemaker PBS had ever had up to that time (if not still), 1973’s An American Family chronicled parents-of-five Bill and Pat Loud — an affluent San Diego couple who allowed a film crew to follow them around from late May through New Year’s Eve 1971, punctuated by a Loud divorce in the middle. Of course, this isn’t the real deal but a distillation of a dozen one-hour episodes into a two-hour remembrance. How big was this program at the time? Well, outside of Watergate and probably ’73’s winding down of the Vietnam War, this must have been the op-ed event of the year. Two separate spinoff documentaries emerged with the passage of time. In one obvious way, Family was the granddaddy of today’s so-called “reality TV.” But it wasn’t cast, scripted and generally canned the way those shows are.
Extras: Understandably, there’ll be some who shrug off this release in hopes of someday seeing the full-octane totality (never released officially for the home market), but the bonus interviews here are as compelling as this series overview itself.
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The Atomic City

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Gene Barry, Lydia Clarke, Lee Aaker.
This agreeably modest black-and-white espionage thriller is enough of a time capsule — on levels both semi-universal and specific — that its 85 minutes go by with relative ease. The semi-universal level of which we speak (and there was no bigger deal in the early ‘50s) is its portrayal of that magical day when the family’s first TV arrived at the house — back when the medium still was all new and wonderful. The specific time capsule level has to do with where the family lives: Los Alamos, N.M., where the patriarch is a hotshot physicist. As matters evolve, the story’s cast of characters ends up worrying about creeps bent on stealing atomic secrets. They kidnap the physicist’s son, and from this point on, the movie becomes an FBI procedural led by an agent played by Milburn Stone. There’s a lot of material here that must have seemed advanced or at least cool at the time.
The print is clean, and Olive has done another pleasing job of making a vintage Paramount title look the way it used to.
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The Catered Affair

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine, Debbie Reynolds, Barry Fitzgerald, Rod Taylor.
Gore Vidal penned this screen adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s teleplay about the plight of a Bronx Irish-Catholic cab driver and family, first presented the previous year as a Thelma Ritter starrer for “Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse.” Ernest Borgnine plays the cabbie, Bette Davis is the leading lady and Debbie Reynolds plays their daughter, who wants to get married in a simple, cheap ceremony so she and her honey (Rod Taylor) can take the opportunity for an immediately available cross-country honeymoon on wheels. But the Bronx biddies think she’s pregnant, so mom opts for a much more lavish break-the-bank ceremony just as dad wants to invest in a new cab. If you analyze Affair only a little, you discover one sick, twisted movie about a mother living her life through — and against the needs of — a child. The lovely score is by Andre Previn and the cinematography is by Mr. Film Noir himself, John Alton — more indication of the talent budget MGM coffers blew for a film that was never likely to be much of a hit.
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29 Aug, 2011

New on Disc: 'The Killing' and more …

The Killing

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray.
Stars Sterling Hayden, Colleen Gray, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr.
Aside from a spoon-feeding narration that’s pretty terrible, the worst thing you can say about racetrack caper The Killing is that The Asphalt Jungle (about a jewel robbery going into comparable “crumble” mode) is even better — though not by any humiliating margin. What’s more, it was probably Time’s rave review for Stanley Kubrick’s pennies-pinched feature that put the then unknown director on the road, leading to his second collaboration with Killing producer James B. Harris on Paths of Glory. This is standout noir black-and-white that even makes house lamps dramatic.
The movie’s quasi-Rashomon structure of relating the robbery’s events from different perspectives was lifted from the source novel (Clean Break by Lionel White), so it was rather suspect of Kubrick not to give the great hardboiled writer Jim Thompson more significant on-screen credit for the screenplay when Thompson’s dialogue (which crackles) is what makes the script tick. Thompson scholar Robert Polito (nice on-camera interview here) notes that Kubrick treated Thompson well in other ways — using him, in fact, on Paths of Glory. And because Kubrick, according to Harris, knew just about every movie and character actor around, he made an enormous contribution to The Killing’s brilliant low-budget casting.
Extras: As on Criterion’s previous release of Paths of Glory, producer Harris (who just turned 83) is interviewed here and again exudes a pleasing mix of modesty and detailed recall, especially in recalling how former Look photographer Kubrick and the great cinematographer Lucien Ballard just didn’t get along (because Kubrick told Ballard what he wanted). This new Criterion release of Kubrick’s third feature (though I suppose debut Fear and Desire barely counts) is such a jewel that buried in the bonus extras is, in its entirety, the director’s 1955 second feature Killer’s Kiss. Rounding out this mouth-watering package is a printed essay by film historian Haden Guest, a printed Marie Windsor interview and some on-camera love by critic Geoffrey O’Brien for Killer’s Kiss.
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Baseball Classics: 1956 World Series Game 3

Available now from www.raresportsfilms.com
Rare Sportsfilms, Sports, $29.95 DVD, NR.
The 1956 World Series was history’s final Yankees-Dodgers matchup while the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. It’s a miracle that we can now even see this game — thanks to a onetime edict that even the Major League Baseball games kinescoped for delayed viewing by armed forces overseas had to be destroyed almost immediately. (The same kind of brain-trust mentality that failed to preserve movies that had been printed on nitrate stock existed in sports as well.) Fewer than 10 baseball telecasts before 1965 (all World Series games) exist in complete or even semi-complete form, and the majority are owned by sniff-them-out archivist and Rare Sportsfilms Inc. founder Doak Ewing. He’s the guy who previously found the Game 5 perfect game pitched by the Yankees’ Don Larsen in this same ’56 Series, which took place on the Monday after this Saturday broadcast. The kinescope quality is about the same on both (i.e. very good).
We’re looking here at the Dodgers in (figurative) Ebbets Field twilight, and we’re also looking at Jackie Robinson in the final week of his career playing on a diamond packed with household names (both teams).
With a notable exception of the 1960 Series Game 7 that was recently discovered in Bing Crosby’s wine cellar, most recent “miracle acquisitions” have been missing some footage; with kinescopes originally mounted on more than one reel, it didn’t take much for one or more of them to get lost during the course of decades. This particular release is missing innings 2 and 3 but nothing else.
The NBC broadcast does include some memorable commercials, such as Yankee first-baseman Bill (Moose) Skowron, who would belt a grand slam in Game 7 of this series, shaving on national television with a Gillette blade with announcing royalty Mel Allen standing next to him at the mirror. There’s also Allen co-announcer Vin Scully demonstrating a nifty new “piggy-back” Papermate pen on live TV.
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In a Better World

Street 8/30/11
Sony Pictures, Drama, Box Office $1 million, $45.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo, ‘R’ for violent and disturbing content, some involving preteens, and for language.
In Danish with English subtitles.
Stars Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Markus Rygaard, William Johnk Nielsen.

2010. Somewhere in that cavernous region between “compelling enough storytelling” and “were Academy voters smoking too much humanistic weed again?” falls the most recent Oscar winner in the foreign-language category. Directed by Denmark’s back-home Susanne Bier, conceivably licking a few Hollywood wounds after 2007’s congenitally drab Things We Lost in the Fire, it does, however, do a better job than one might expect of balancing one thread (medicinal and other horrors in an African refugee camp) with another (playground terrorism and how it sprouts).

Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) is the new 10-year-old kid at a Danish school. And by the time he’s done, its administrators (who either intentionally or not come off as moderate twits here) probably wish he had stayed in London. Angry with partial cause, Christian has accompanied his father back to Denmark (grandma’s digs are impressive) following the brutally elongated cancer death of his mother – suffering for which he somehow holds his father partly responsible. It is here that he meets the contrastingly un-sullen Elias (Markus Rygaard), a target of schoolyard bullies (one in particular) who seem to be everywhere.

The majority of World’s most powerful scenes — and we get a handful of them in different contexts — deal with how (or if one even does or doesn’t) to stand up to thugs who both they and the audience might at least fantasize about seeing buried alive in someone’s spare lime pit. And, to be sure, the key playground assailant definitely gets his, thanks to Christian stepping in and settling some major hash with serious weaponry in the school’s boys’ room. But Elias’s father Anton (played with spot-on world-weariness by Mikael Persbrandt) is right when he points out to his son that this is how wars start — and working as head doctor in the refugee camp, he knows.

The story turns when this perpetually exhausted physician breaks up a minor scuffle involving young children and combusts the ire of a local auto mechanic, who then slaps the doc around in front of the older boys. What Anton sees every day professionally would immerse this dull-wit in his own upchuck, but the doctor — both in the initial incident and a second encounter — literally turns the other cheek. The boys are shamed (though we’re primarily talking instigator Christian), and decide to take this guy out – or at least his van with a homemade bomb.

The script by veteran Bier collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen is fairly schematic, which is one of its limitations: a father who saves lives, sometimes of people who don’t deserve it, is ground down by his son’s falling in with someone who wants to break the knees of anyone who does him wrong. Still, the plentiful African scenes could have proved a major distraction from the story’s main event in a lot of movies — but in this case, doesn’t. Anton’s encounter with a sub-human warlord despot (played by an actor who could have given Forest Whitaker a run for his money playing Idi Amin) synchs up with what’s going on at home — and if this, too, is schematic, it culminates in a powerful scene that plays out the way it should.

There are even more subplots, including one involving the turmoil suffered by Elias’s mother, also a doctor). But they, too, seem to fit into the fabric of a movie that seems to lose its way in the final going — probably because the wrap-up seems too neat and clean by more than half in a cozy way that has historically appealed to Oscar orchestrators. And speaking of orchestration, World has one of those pound-it-home musical scores that provide the soil from which a movie’s detractors are bound to sprout. You remember the “101 Strings” franchise? This is more like 501 and may offer a test of how much you can submerge your own tendencies toward retaliatory violence.

22 Aug, 2011

New on Disc: 'Cameraman' and more …

Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff

Strand, Documentary, B.O. $0.02 million, $24.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, NR.
It’s almost inconceivable that anyone could ever demur from the widely held assertion that Cardiff was the greatest color cinematographer who ever lived — what with a filmography that includes Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, Stairway to Heaven (also from the Shoes/Narcissus team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger), Scott of the Antarctic, Hitchcock’s underrated Under Capricorn, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, The African Queen, The Barefoot Contessa, The Prince and the Showgirl, The Vikings, Legend of the Lost (lousy movie, fabulous lensing) and the King Vidor version of War and Peace (in VistaVision). And speaking of lookers, you can also address this point from a slightly different direction — one that Craig McCall’s loving documentary made me think about to a degree that hadn’t quite hit me before — which is that Cardiff’s work also represents the apogee — or pretty close to it — of color glamour photography (moving-image category). Working with some admittedly great raw material, he conjured up breathtaking visages of Ava Gardner (twice), Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn (or as much as that War and Peace costuming would allow), Janet Leigh and even Deborah Kerr in those Narcissus fishing-stream flashbacks before her character became a nun. Interview subjects are top of the line: Martin Scorsese, Lauren Bacall (along with Bogie on the Queen shoot) and Charlton Heston are just a few.
Extras: Cardiff liked to shoot home movies on the set, and both the documentary itself and its copious bonus extras (among the most enjoyable I’ve seen in a while) incorporate a lot of this material. A highlight is some fabulous stuff from the set of The African Queen taken before cast and crew took ill from impure drinking water that spared only two of the principals (Humphrey Bogart and John Huston), who ignored water from the get-go in favor of booze.
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The Colossus of New York

Olive, Sci-Fi, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars John Baragrey, Mala Powers, Otto Kruger, Ross Martin.
In this twisted pretzel of a domestic drama, sibling scientists John Baragrey and Ross Martin are in a kind of Smothers Brothers situation over the affections of their brain surgeon father (Otto Kruger). You see, dad loves the latter more (winning a Nobel Prize probably helped). When the favored son is killed, the father determines he can take his dead son’s brain and implant it into a giant robot. But the robot is discomforted and confused (this is not a normal state) on his way to a psychotic state. The robot costume, if that’s the word, is pretty cool, and Colossus has a spare and very effective piano score, which, when juxtaposed against this behemoth, is substantially eerie. As these things go, Colossus is pretty decent of its kind — with a 70-minute running time that keeps the picture from wearing out its welcome, especially when the print looks as clean as it does here.
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Where the Boys Are

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Dolores Hart, George Hamilton, Yvette Mimieux, Paula Prentiss.
As it turned out, the Glendon Swarthout novel upon which this film was based was more hard-edged than the resulting movie. Still, the movie has a little more edge than expected (maybe 5% to 10%) in addressing the pressures and even psychological abuse young women endured at the outset of the Pill — everyday, but in this specific instance, during college vacations where there were going to be a lot of men who didn’t want their time to be exclusively spent tossing footballs on the beach. But given its release date during the period when JFK had been elected but Eisenhower still was in office, the movie makes it clear that the women are always back in their motel (with pool) by evening’s end — and sleeping six or seven to a room.
Extras: Uncommonly for a made-to-order release, Boys is a re-issue of an out-of-print onetime retail title — complete with carried-over bonus extras that include a Paula Prentiss commentary.
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15 Aug, 2011

New on Disc: 'Queen to Play' and more …

Queen to Play

Street 8/16
Zeitgeist, Drama, B.O. $0.5 million, $29.95 DVD, NR.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Sandrine Bonnaire, Kevin Kline, Francis Renaud.
Sandrine Bonnaire, now approaching her mid-40s in real life, plays a married, attractive maid who changes bed sheets in a hotel. Living in Corsica, her “Helene” character still regards her husband (Francis Renaud) as attractive, but the family’s blue-collar status alienates the snobbish teenaged daughter they’ve raised, creating some household tension. What’s more, Helene is more intellectually curious than her mate and seems to sense that some fundamental zest is missing from the union on both mental and physical planes. But she’s faithful by nature, and this easy-to-take story ends up turning on chess — specifically, Helene’s afternoon tutelage by widowed doctor/employer (Kevin Kline) with whom she starts to play. This is a bearded Kline speaking French and looking, if not exactly rumpled, getting there. Their contests (which begin to affect her work performance and punctuality) start local tongues to wagging, to which Helene’s husband is not oblivious. It goes without saying that any viewer who’s consumed by the game will probably be even more intrigued. Though Kline has always been a malleable actor, it’s worth taking five minutes with his filmography to note just how extensively he’s been able to mine a fairly mild screen person into all kinds of characterizations, even outlandish ones. This is Bonnaire’s movie, but someone had to have the inspiration to think even think that Kline might fit nicely into this role. Given that this is Bottaro’s first feature, she either caught a break or she has killer instincts for a little movie with killer dimples.
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Breaking Glass

Street 8/16
Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Phil Daniels, Hazel O’Connor, Jon Finch, Jonathan Pryce.
As with other movies that now come off as artifacts of an age, the late writer-director Brian Gibson’s musical punk saga is possibly an object of nostalgia these days — though then, as now, its demographic is on the rarefied side. One wonders if any affection Glass engenders will ever be on the cuddly side. As portrayed here — particularly in a scene where the police invade a flat to bust the plot-central band without much right or provocation — this government looks like a pretty good one to rebel against. And to this end, punk-ishly aspiring lead singer Kate (Hazel O’Connor, often killing the pancake makeup budget) is to the manner born when it comes to ranting and railing on stage. But will she keep her integrity and not sell out to industry promoters? This is the crux of a story that’s more interesting around the edges than down the middle.
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The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Ray Danton, Karen Steele, Elaine Stewart, Warren Oates.
Of all the movies Budd Boetticher directed that aren’t revered Randolph Scott Westerns, there are at least two with fairly sturdy critical reputations. One is 1951’s The Bullfighter and the Lady, and the other is this underworld biopic. Starring cleft-chinned Ray Danton as the Prohibition-era lowlife, Legs also offers an older screen version of Arnold Rothstein as portrayed by predominantly ‘40s player Robert Lowery. By the time of this biopic’s setting, Rothstein — the famed operator who allegedly fixed the 1919 World Series — is aged enough for “Legs” to be having fun with the inside gams of the elder hood’s mistress (Elaine Stewart) after winnowing his way rather creatively into the Rothstein organization. Glossy sheen or not (and allowing for the widescreen differential), Legs still looks something from the studio’s ubiquitous TV lineup of the day — something that might have starred, well, Ray Danton (who was a regular on the Warner/ABC show “The Alaskans”).
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8 Aug, 2011

New on Disc: 'Streetwalkin',' 'The Egyptian' and more …


Street 8/2
Shout! Factory, Drama, $14.93 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Melissa Leo, Dale Midkiff, Julie Newmar.
This is presumably the only screen portrayal of street prostitution to find a role for Julie Newmar. Surprisingly upfront — though no more than honesty dictates — about the tawdriness of the trade, Streetwalkin’ ends up having a little more conviction than you might expect within swaggeringly melodramatic conventions. For its smidgens of integrity, we can thank a young Melissa Leo, whose recent supporting Oscar (and two nominations in three years) has doubtlessly sparked this fairly raw melodrama’s entrance into the DVD domain. Leo goes so many extra miles here, in terms of acting intensity, that it’s tough to figure out why she never got the early break she deserved. Sporting a fresh face that doesn’t exactly synch with that Oscar performance in The Fighter, Leo and her handsome kid brother bus into New York City from an obviously boozy mom/abusive stepdad situation — whereupon she’s immediately befriended by someone who turns out to be a pimp. The moral here, as always: Beware of men who befriend you in strange-city subway terminals that are adjacent to bus stations.
Extras: Writer-director Joan Freeman provides a commentary.
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The Egyptian

Available at ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Edmund Purdom, Gene Tierney.
This artifact-packed, would-be blockbuster with opulent trimmings and a fabulous score is famed on at least one might-have-been level: This is the movie where Edmund Purdom replaced Marlon Brando when the actor balked at making the picture. Set 13 centuries B.C., The Egyptian is a shaggy pyramid saga about the long life of Pharaoh Akhenaton’s court physician (at least when things are going harmoniously between doc and the court) and all the events that have contributed to his age lines and gray hair before the film’s opening flashback begins. It’s been famously said that no one ever goes to a movie for the sets and costumes, but there are times where I disagree. This is one, especially when such a big-scale production gets this kind of rendering; even with my nose almost touching the screen in an experiment, this transfer looked spectacular.
Extras: Alain Silver and James Ursini do the commentary (lots to talk about), Julie Kirgo’s liner notes are often funny, and there’s an isolated soundtrack of the famous score — split between my two favorite screen composers ever (Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Newman) because there were too many screen minutes (140) and too little time.
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Follow Me Quietly

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars William Lundigan, Dorothy Patrick, Jeff Corey.
Long before Hollywood glutted the market by turning serial killer melodramas into a major sub-industry, this 60-minute toughie — the kind of double-bill supplement that screen-cheapie fanciers used to term “efficient” — was one of the first movies I know of to deal with the subject in an American urban setting (as opposed to say, your standard garden variety Jack the Ripper pic). What got me about Quietly was the idea of the cop played by William Lundigan requisitioning police funds to construct a “suspect” mannequin that fit meager witness descriptions, akin to the standard composite sketch but throwing in a suit, a tie and hat. The director does a lot of moody things here with noir-style rain (the killer always strikes during heavy precipitation), and the chase ending seems heavily influenced by Jules Dassin’s once-landmark The Naked City, as so many crime thrillers of the late 1940s were. Dorothy Patrick plays the pesky journalist and love interest, and Jeff Corey plays the secondary cop, not too long before the actor was politically blacklisted in Hollywood for nine years.
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1 Aug, 2011

New on Disc: The Minnesota Twins 1991 World Series

•Magic in Minnesota: Remembering the 1991 World Series Championship
•The Minnesota Twins 1991 World Series Collector’s Edition

Street 8/2
A&E, Sports, Magic in Minnesota: $19.95 DVD, 1991 World Series: $69.95 seven-DVD set, NR.
Five of the seven ’91 contests were decided by one run (and five of six after game one); four wins came in the final at-bat; three of the games went extra innings (a record); and the final two rose to special heights, with game seven an all-timer on multiple levels — but especially for containing one of the gutsiest pitching performances in Series annals. The 20th anniversary look-back Magic in Minnesota is an overview with lots of older (and, in some cases, heavier) Twins participants — including manager Tom Kelly, who always seemed to keep the franchise in there every year (the Twins won the Series in ’87, too). You can see from this Series why Braves manager Bobby Cox always seemed to be, whether he literally was or not, in the dugout chewing a Costco warehouse’s worth of antacids. The Braves went back to Minnesota with a 3-2 Series advantage and then lost the sixth game 4-3 (on a Kirby Puckett walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th) and then game seven by a score of 1-0 when Twins ace Jack Morris went all 10 innings for the shutout with a “don’t even think about taking me out” attitude in what he called the most focused game of his career. I’ll bet.
Extras: The Magic DVD includes Puckett’s great Hall of Fame induction speech. The box of complete game broadcasts has a nice feature that allows you to hear the game via either its TV or radio feeds. And each individual disc jacket is splashed with trivia-fancier stats — including even the running time, attendance and (for completists) game-time temperature.
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Sands of the Kalahari

Street 8/2
Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Stanley Baker, Stuart Whitman, Susannah York, Harry Andrews.
As a drama about the moral limitations of social Darwinism, Sands has its provocative moments. It centers on nature’s downing of a two-engine job that has been chartered after a regular commercial flight was delayed: There’s nothing like running into a five-mile swath of locusts. This is no hyperbole — it’s what the pilot, in fact, claims — resulting in the worst windshield wiper gunk you’ll ever see, a shot I’ve never forgotten after all these years. The Panavision is easy on the eye, and the story ends with one of the more memorable (and certainly uncompromised) endings from any movie of the era. The film generally is devalued as a lesser cousin of two tangentially related movies of the same era: 1964’s Zulu and The Flight of the Phoenix.
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Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Musical, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Vic Damone, Edmund Purdom.
In one huge regard that makes it interesting viewing today, Athena was ahead of its time in its advocacy of a healthy lifestyle — which led to casting the studio’s professional cuties Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds with a cast of musclemen who included male-boomer icon Steve Reeves (the former 1950 Mr. Universe later immortalized by two Joe Levine “Hercules” epics). Though Powell was just coming off the biggest hit of her career (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), the sea change in popular music at the time was so dramatic that her big-screen career would be over in four years and her MGM career in one.
Extras: This is a handsome release, and there are some raw musical outtakes included that are fun to watch.
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25 Jul, 2011

New on Disc: 'Amelie' Blu-ray and more …

Amélie (Blu-ray)

Lionsgate, Comedy, $19.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for sexual content.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kasovitz, Rufus, Lorella Cravotta.
The story of a gamin-like cutie who plays a good Samaritan/Cupid to the detriment of her own stunted emotional development, France’s internationally popular five-Oscar nominee (a striking tally for a foreign-language release) offers proof that modern-day movies can still “do” saturated color, and it’s the added ocular benefits that get my vote when it comes to maximum enjoyment of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s peripatetic screen original.
Extras: The Blu-ray extras do the old Buena Vista DVD one better by adding a commentary by Jeunet to the original tally.
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Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird

First Run, Documentary, B.O. $0.03 million, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Writer-director Mary Murphy’s appreciation of all things Mockingbird has to be the most appealing book junkie’s documentary (or movie of any kind) since 2002’s The Stone Reader — and she had to pull off this feat with a huge crater in the middle of her picture. That would be author (Nelle) Harper Lee’s total abstinence from interviews since a New York radio Q&A in 1964, which Murphy’s portrait samples generously. The documentary approaches Mockingbird from the angles of the racial progress it portended; as a work of Southern literature (many Southern writers weigh in); as a formative experience for other well-known folks (Oprah Winfrey, Rosanne Cash, Tom Brokaw); and as the source of a movie that will turn 50 next year. Assumed to be something like the no-nonsense tomboy “Scout” narrator she invented for the only novel she ever wrote, Lee turns out to be something of a “Boo” Radley — the elusive key character Robert Duvall played in the 1962 movie version of the book (his big-screen debut). In her own milieu, Lee hasn’t been a recluse, and no one has had any trouble spotting her walking around hometown Monroeville, Ala. It’s just that she doesn’t like to speak in public — and more recently has been severely impaired by a stroke and significant blindness (something the documentary doesn’t address).
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The Letter

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Jeanne Eagels, O.P. Heggie, Herbert Marshall.
This comparably stilted and nearly “lost” film based on Somerset Maugham’s 1927 play, released by Paramount early in the sound era, is very much worth seeing — primarily because it preserves one of the first performances ever nominated for the Best Actress Oscar: by famed stage actress and legend-of-the-day Jeanne Eagels not long before her death at 39. The movie is only a little more than a photographed stage play, but the hot-house atmosphere is fairly convincing, allowing for the primitive filmmaking origins.
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The Goddess

Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Sony Pictures, Drama, $20.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Kim Stanley, Lloyd Bridges, Steven Hill.
The Goddess, Paddy Chayefsky’s thought-to-be takeoff on Marilyn Monroe, is a most compelling project to have been mounted — then or now — because there’s no time in history when it could have been a feel-good project; it’s almost the “anti-Amélie” in that regard. What’s more, Monroe was still an active and very public figure at the time this not exactly flattering portrait was released in the late spring of 1958. Making things even more compelling is the fact that The Goddess marked the big-screen debut of revered stage actress Kim Stanley. The director is the underrated John Cromwell (father of actor James), who was especially good with actresses.
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18 Jul, 2011

New on Disc: 'Potiche,' 'Skidoo' and more …


Street 7/19
Music Box, Comedy, B.O. $1.6 million, $29.95 DVD, $38.94 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for some sexuality.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini.
Befitting a comedy that’s well out of its time in terms of no longer revelatory content, Francois Ozon’s pigment-happy filming of a Pierre Barillet/Jean-Pierre Grady feminist play is set in 1977, when there were still a handful of wheezy stand-up comics left poking fun at women’s liberation. As a somewhat portly homemaking grandmother, Catherine Deneuve is pressed into taking over her reactionary husband’s umbrella factory when he suffers a seizure battling protestors during a labor skirmish. The atypically fun-loving Deneuve enjoys a little disco time in the company of her provincial town’s communist mayor (Gerard Depardieu) — one of several lovers she had during her childbearing years after discovering her husband’s serial philandering. It’s smoothly performed with color schemes that are easy on the eye.
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Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune

Street 7/19
First Run, Documentary, B.O. $0.3 million, $27.95 DVD, NR.
The shadow of Bob Dylan hangs over this portrait some, just as it hung over Phil Ochs’ career (a lot). As a Midwesterner who, given his future legacy, improbably loved John Wayne and Gary Cooper, Ochs was a true believer in the social turmoil of the ‘60s just as Dylan artfully danced around it. The documentary doesn’t make this point, but Dylan’s unabated ability to reinvent himself likely saved him from an eventual monotony factor that might have afflicted Ochs career-wise if alcohol and personal demons hadn’t. Though the documentary short-shrifts Ochs’ formative years, it offers a full portrait of the New York folk scene of the early 1960s — interviewing such key we-were-there figures as Ochs’ widow and daughter, journalists Lucian Truscott IV and Christopher Hitchens, activist Tom Hayden, plus singers Joan Baez, Judy Henske and Dave Van Ronk (who is said to be the model for the Coen Brothers’ in-the-works movie about that same Village coffee-house era).
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Street 7/19
Olive, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, ‘R’ for some nudity and drug content.
Stars Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Groucho Marx, John Phillip Law.
Director Otto Preminger’s Jackie Gleason LSD movie is one of those legendary mega-bombs that not many people have actually seen — or at least seen in a version that can compete with Olive Films' correct 2.35-to-1 framing, which is packed with pretty colors itself. The picture isn’t as much fun as you’d hope, though it inspires a certain level of awe just the same. Skidoo is still the kind of “you won’t believe this” mindbender that reaps long-term benefits and enriches the form as a whole when viewed as a window into an era.
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A Damsel in Distress

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Musical, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Fred Astaire, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Joan Fontaine.
A spotty curio with big league compensations, A Damsel in Distress merits at least mild affection — not too arguably superior to the lesser Astaire-Rogers movies. Oddly, the two musical all-timers for which the movie is best known come late in the picture, which helps accelerate the pace in the second half. “A Foggy Day” is an unfussy Astaire solo (classy and effective), but “Nice Work If You Can Get It” is all but thrown away by a chorus in a party sequence.
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11 Jul, 2011

New on Disc: 'Damnation Alley' and more …

Damnation Alley

Street 7/12
Shout! Factory, Sci-Fi, $19.93 DVD, $26.97 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Jan-Michael Vincent, George Peppard, Paul Winfield, Dominique Sanda.
The story deals with the ramifications of Earth having been tilted on its axis and the resulting precipitous population dip. The few remaining survivors include three U.S. Air Force cronies who managed to be in a Mojave bomb shelter: Jan-Michael Vincent, George Peppard and Paul Winfield. If the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” crew had been allowed access to major studio releases, Alley (adapted from a Roger Zelazny novel) would have been a natural. But even without snarky commentary, the movie and Jack Smight’s direction are so outlandishly ham-handed that Peppard and this D-team always will have an honored place on my DVD shelf.
Extras: In one of the featurettes, co-producer Jerome Zeitman basically says he was in over his head and the filmmakers did the best they could with the available technology. Screenwriter Alan Sharp is the focus of another featurette.
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The Best of The Dean Martin Variety Show: Collector’s Edition

Time Life, Comedy, $59.95 six-DVD set, NR.
The show was a watered-down variation on Dean Martin’s booze-‘n’-broads Vegas nightclub act. The show worked for eight seasons, though it got a little shaky toward the end. Credit infectiously good on-the-set tidings, Martin’s ability to play off almost any guest and his utter lack of pretension (who else began his show by sliding down a fire pole in a tux?). Unlike the old mail-order DVDs that utilized a kind of “snippet” format to present the Martin shows, this six-disc set (smaller and cheaper variations are available as well) consists of 20 individual programs with certain segments and a lot of Martin solos from each edited out. The purist in me balks at this, and I am among the online chorus who would have preferred complete programs. But beyond allowing disc space for a larger show sampling, it’s possible some of the edits were judicious: The shows move speedily, and even some of the obscure guest stand-up comics (who would have been potentially removable) remain and are funnier than expected. In any case, the set makes it clear that Martin was a — and maybe the — transitional figure for changing television times.
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Frontline: Football High

PBS, Documentary, $24.99, NR.
Broadly speaking, director Rachel Dretzin’s reportage deals with the ways in which successful high school football programs now resemble those of their college counterparts. High school players take more hits than college players while their brains are still developing, and doctors are starting to see brain injuries and memory loss identified with NFL retirees in youngsters. This is a very powerful documentary in the low-key “Frontline” style that simply asks that football programs and the public at large keep pace with the current medical knowledge.
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Tortilla Flat

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, John Garfield, Frank Morgan.
Director Victor Fleming’s moderately weighted but still slightly overlong movie of John Steinbeck’s first bestseller illustrates a lot of what was both slick and snapless — and yet in other ways wonderful — about MGM during the Louis B. Mayer years. The picture casts Irish Spencer Tracy, Viennese Hedy Lamarr, Jewish John Garfield and The Wizard of Oz’s Frank Morgan as Northern California Hispanics — or paisanos — who live, loaf, imbibe wine and pack a lot of fish at the area canneries.
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