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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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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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2 Sep, 2013

New on Disc: 'Sexy Beast' and more …


Sexy Beast (Blu-ray)

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for pervasive language, strong violence and some sexuality.
Stars Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian MacShane, Amanda Redman.
2000.
Firmly and almost immediately ensconced as one of the great British gangster movies of all time, director Jonathan Glazer’s feature debut got super reviews at the time and a much-deserved Oscar nomination for Ben Kingsley. Yet, if anything, it seems to have mellowed into an even more kinetic slice of nastiness today. Sun-baked for ideal Blu-ray presentation until the narrative takes us underwater for its climax, a constant payoff never outstays its welcome at just 89 minutes. In a way, the movie reflects the professionalism of lead Ray Winstone’s safecracker by getting in, doing its job and getting out so we (and he) can all go home. Glazer directs a smart Louis Mellis-David Scinto screenplay to the hilt, and this is a movie that gets maximum punch out of every bit of dialogue or reaction shot the way many of today’s best pay-cable series do. Twilight Time’s presentation, robust soundtrack included, is among its best.
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Niagara (Blu-ray)

Fox, Drama, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, Casey Adams.
1953.
Niagara definitely has most of the preferred noir elements: premeditated murderous intentions, a bombshell wife who’s fooling around and a noirish kind of backdrop song (“Kiss”). Niagara came out first in the year of 20th Century Fox’s big push for Marilyn Monroe in headlining marquee roles. You could easily get two more movies about the courtship rituals of the yarn’s plot-central couples. The movie is shrewdly full of what used to be called “scenic values.”
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26 Aug, 2013

New on Disc: 'God's Little Acre' and more …


God’s Little Acre

Olive, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Robert Ryan, Aldo Ray, Tina
Louise, Buddy Hackett, Fay Spain.
1958.
Judging merely from one early bathtub scene with Fay Spain alone, one might speculate that American censors would have had a field day with the movie of Erskine Caldwell’s same-name 1933 novel, which is still one of the biggest sellers of all time. In a central role that could have made a lot of actors look silly, the never-bad Robert Ryan plays rural Georgia patriarch Ty Ty Walden, father to three sons and three attractive daughters. Obsessed by gold that his own father supposedly buried at some unknown spot on the property, Ty Ty is even driven (on advice from a sheriff’s candidate played by Buddy Hackett) to hire an albino who can divine its location. Olive’s prints are no-frills affairs, but what we get here are the fruits of a nice UCLA Archives restoration that definitely displays director Anthony Mann’s gifts at composition.
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Going Hollywood

Available through online retailers via Warner Archive
Warner, Musical, $18.95, NR.
Stars Marion Davies, Bing Crosby, Fifi D’Orsay.
1933.
Buried as a French teacher in one of those awful Eastern female boarding schools devoted to turning out future old prunes, Marion Davies’ character develops an instant crush on a singer named Bill Williams (Bing Crosby), who is on his way to Los Angeles to make a movie. Davies finds a way to accost and follow him after bolting academia, and effortlessly steps in after the film’s intended co-star (Fifi D’Orsay) begins throwing temperamental fits. This is a Raoul Walsh musical, of which there are more than you might think, but the result is no less of a curio for that.
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19 Aug, 2013

New on Disc: 'Seconds' and more …


Seconds

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Murray Hamilton.
1966.
Playing something like a “Twilight Zone” episode that would have been too unhinged for CBS to air, John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, adapted from a David Ely novel by screenwriter Lewis John Carlino, has to be one of the most uncompromised major studio releases before the 1970s.
Extras: The disc includes new and archive interviews, Frankenheimer audio commentary, a good Criterion essay, a 1965 promotional short with Rock Hudson and a visual essay.
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Nova: Manhunt — Boston Bombers

Street 8/20
PBS, Documentary, $19.99 DVD, NR.
2013.
Future documentaries will, of course, warn of surveillance-spurred privacy abuses or chronicle those that have already occurred. But for now, this Boston-bombing springboard exists as a much more positive head-shaker in the manner it shows us the degree of technological wizardry governments already have at their disposal for tracking down criminals, including (as here) some unequivocal human slugs. Make no mistake: there’s plenty of on-the-scene footage on prominent display, including what you’d expect to see here from the April 15 explosion during the city’s Marathon and the immediate street aftermath of a tragedy that killed three people and injured more than 250 others. There is, in addition, some tape of the April 18 Watertown, Mass., police shootout with the two suspects, plus helicopter shots of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (or at least his outline) when he was hiding in an ordinary citizen’s backyard boat. But more of this documentary is devoted to how the technology works.
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12 Aug, 2013

New on Disc: 'Shane' and more …


Shane (Blu-ray)

Street 8/13
Warner/Paramount, Western, $19.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon de Wilde, Jack Palance.
1953.
Shane is probably the most gorgeous Technicolor movie Paramount ever made before it got into VistaVision, and even acknowledging its Oscar win for cinematography doesn’t do full justice to its stunning Grand Teton purple mountain’s majesty. This high-def rendering of director George Stevens’ perennial doesn’t have to work very hard to knock off a full warehouse of socks. For a movie with a folkloric hero, Shane has a kind of folkloric history. It has the signature role of underrated lead Alan Ladd’s career — a performance of stoic perfection. Had it not been for From Here to Eternity, this probably would have been the year’s Oscar picture.
Extras: The commentary by Stevens Jr. and Shane’s late associate producer Ivan Moffat (carried over from the standard DVD) is top of the line.
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Love Me Tender (Blu-ray)

Fox, Musical, $19.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Richard Egan, Debra Paget, Elvis Presley. Mildred Dunnock.
1956.
Elvis’ screen debut has a disproportionately lousy reputation yet has its share of fascinations as long as you don’t need one of them to be compelling storytelling. All four of its songs are decent or better, including a title tune that was a monster year-end hit at the time, to say nothing of a future concert staple. And by virtue of its rock ‘n’ roll gyrating couched in an immediate post-Civil War setting, the movie is one of a kind. There’s something transforming about seeing Elvis wiggle on stage to screaming girls in widescreen, especially when it’s at an 1865 county fair.
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5 Aug, 2013

New on Disc: 'Ishtar' and more …


Ishtar: Director’s Cut

Street 8/6
Sony Pictures, Comedy, $19.99
Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Adjani, Charles Grodin.
1987.
This movie is, of course, best known for prodigious cost overruns partially sparked by Elaine May’s directorial indecision that led this Road to Morocco for the 1980s to be termed “The Road to Ruin” by one or more industry wags. Accordingly, easy-to-pronounce Ishtar has become, for a quarter century now, convenient shorthand to convey a bomb for all seasons immersed in a tsunami of red ink. Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman play singer-songwriters so desperate for any gig they take a bargain-basement engagement in a desert burg mired in international intrigue involving a threatened Emir and his CIA cronies. I suppose some will carp that there are no bonus extras here, but can you see going to Beatty or Hoffman or Isabelle Adjani or May and asking them to do a commentary?
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Blood and Sand (Blu-ray)

Fox, Drama, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Rita Hayworth, Anthony Quinn.
1941.
There’s Technicolor beauty to burn in director Rouben Mamoulian’s remake of the Vicente Blasco Ibanez bullfighting warhorse. Tyrone Power plays an illiterate who finds his financial success as a matador compromised by the usual leeches and hangers-on who become part of the package. To a Blu-ray degree I’d never fathomed in previous viewings, here’s one of the absolute hallmarks of Hollywood Golden Age pigmentation. The Oscar it got for color cinematography is no lie, and the scenic design, which could serve as the final in someone’s geometry class, really gets a Blu-ray boost here.
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