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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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25 Mar, 2013

New on Disc: 'All Together' and more …


All Together

Kino Lorber, Comedy, B.O. $0.04 million, $29.95 DVD, NR.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Guy Bedos, Daniel Bruhl, Geraldine Chaplin, Jane Fonda.

2012. Jane Fonda and Geraldine Chaplin play part of a five-person group of longtime pals who elect to reside in a spacious and not-quite rural home. You could probably term this movie as the anti-Amour because its mind is more on sex. On balance, Together plays a teensy bit better than expected because good nature counts for something, even on screen. Followers of Fonda will get the most out of the picture.
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She Devil

Olive, Sci-Fi, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Mari Blanchard, Jack Kelly, Albert Dekker.
1957.
A biochemist mentor (Albert Dekker) and his younger protégé (Jack Kelly) get hauled before an ethics board after their miracle serum turns a terminal patient (Mari Blanchard) into the homicidal she-devil of the title. Purely on its own, this cheapie halfway gets by as a ludicrous diversion, which was filmed at the beginning of a rough big-screen period for miracle cures and desperate women.
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Third Girl From the Left

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Kim Novak, Tony Curtis, Michael Brandon.
1973.
Kim Novak, Tony Curtis and producer Hugh Hefner found themselves involved in an ABC TV movie that must have been a big deal at the time. Whatever its other shortcomings, this is a major curio.
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18 Mar, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Blob' and more …


The Blob (Blu-ray)

Criterion, Horror, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe.
1958.
The arrival of Steve McQueen’s frugally budgeted black sheep of a career-maker on a Criterion Blu-ray falls into the wonders-never-cease realm. We’re only looking at an upgrade from the 2000 Criterion DVD, but I never expected the pigments to look this striking; the Blob itself ends up looking remarkable. And the movie’s visuals prove striking from the very first scene, when The Blob (whose No. 33 Billboard title tune by then-novices Burt Bacharach and Mack David cracked the top 10 in the L.A. market) charts its course as one of the few creature features in history to open with a make-out scene shot in close-up. When the couple’s then unknown male turns around, and it’s McQueen, we witness a star being born.
Extras: Carried over from the DVD, this Blu-ray edition has two excellent commentaries: one with producer Jack H. Harris and encyclopedic film historian Bruce Eder, the other with the late director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. and featured actor Robert Fields.
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The Red Menace

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Robert Rockwell, Hannelore
Axman, Barbara Fuller.
1949.
Republic Pictures wasn’t the first studio to exploit the Red Scare, but this not totally flairless cheapie was in the early class of movies that did. Its lead actor is Robert Rockwell, who spent all those CBS Sunday nights on TV tip-toeing around Eve Arden’s romantic plotting on TV’s “Our Miss Brooks.” Featured player Barbara Fuller plays a lapsed Catholic who seduces vulnerable ex-G.I. Rockwell into supporting the Red cause after he gets all chapped over a shady real estate concern that’s bilking war vets.
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11 Mar, 2013

New on Disc: 'Ministry of Fear' and more …


Ministry of Fear

Street 3/12/13
Criterion, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds, Carl Esmond, Dan Duryea.
1944.
As unlikely as it seems, there was a compressed period in the mid-1940s when director Fritz Lang was in a commercially successful groove, a harmonious streak that apparently came to an end with early 1948’s money-hemorrhaging Secret Beyond the Door, which Olive Films put out on Blu-ray not too long ago. This was the Woman in the Window/Scarlet Street era when Lang almost seemed to be casting Dan Duryea as a kind of sleazy good luck charm. Duryea also shows up in this predictably expressionistic wartime Paramount release to cause disproportionate mischief despite only a handful of scenes. A Nazi-centered espionage thriller, the movie’s initial plotting mechanism turns on a weight-guessing contest involving a cake at a charity fair in a provincial English community. Thanks in part to a deep dark secret that nonetheless made the papers, Ray Milland’s character, Stephen, is nothing if not paranoid here. Winning the cake hardly improves matters and indeed almost gets Stephen killed, justifying his state of what critic Glenn Kenny refers to in Criterion’s liner notes as “nervous suavity” throughout the picture, which is the best description of Milland’s entire career (arguably The Lost Weekend aside) that I have ever read.
Source novelist Graham Greene was no fan of the movie — nor, says Kenny, was Lang himself, who may have preferred the script have been more of an overtly anti-Nazi tract. But until a jarringly abrupt tack-on at the end that feels half-hearted, the movie is better than good. Neither Kenny nor Lang scholar Joe McElhaney (interviewed on screen in a supplement) address what is, for me, the movie’s biggest problem: the lack of heat between Milland and love interest Marjorie Reynolds.
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That Cold Day in the Park

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Sandy Dennis, Michael Burns, Susanne Benton, John Garfield Jr.
1969.
Robert Altman’s great fortune in being selected to direct 1970’s MASH brings to mind Seth McFarlane’s crack during the infamous recent Oscarcast that the Oscar gig only came his way after (dumpy porn star) Ron Jeremy turned it down — which is about where Altman found himself in the pecking order of studio preferences when he got the nod to helm his career-making service comedy. MASH is usually regarded as the “first” Altman feature, but the immediately preceding Cold Day (June 1969 vs. January 1970) looks like a contender itself — or at least more so than warm-ups such as The Delinquents, The James Dean Story or Countdown.
A young Laszlo Kovacs (same year as his work on Easy Rider) gave Cold Day a lot of that patented Uncle Bob widescreen haze — and it isn’t too much of a stretch to characterize the story’s going-bonkers protagonist (Sandy Dennis) as some kind of soulmate with Susannah York’s character in Altman’s subsequent Images (photographed by Kovacs’ own Hungarian soulmate Vilmos Zsigmond). Attractively shot here, the tough-to-cast Dennis (three years post-Virginia Woolf Oscar) plays a wealthy spinsterish type who takes in an unsheltered youth she spots on a park bench during a rainstorm (he’s played by future real-life college history professor Michael Burns). Her subsequent attraction to him is slightly mysterious because the kid has a lifelong prankish habit of remaining mute for long stretches.
That Cold Day in the Park is fairly peg-able as an Altman picture for its look, its early appearance by director regular Michael Murphy and for its feminine concerns. The result feels unfinished, but you can see why Cold Day has a cult to temper its critical brick-batting at the time. The print Olive has utilized here is very good and should permanently relegate the old pan-and-scan VHS to the place where all washed-out video atrocities go.
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4 Mar, 2013

New on Disc: 'Laura' and more …


Laura (Blu-ray)

Fox, Drama, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price.
1944.
For a movie to advance past the whodunit threshold to become something or even a lot more, it needs additional components (beyond even Gene Tierney, though this is possibly arguable) to keep enthusiasts tuning in again over the years. For a durable time capsule that even Otto Preminger detractors concede was prime of its type, Laura offers supreme casting that goes beyond its luminous lead; Oscar-winning cinematography by Joseph LaShelle; and, of course, composer David Raksin’s magnificent title tune. Almost all of the major 20th Century Fox noirs — from Nightmare Alley to Road House to Preminger’s own Tierney-Dana Andrews reunion picture Where the Sidewalk Ends — are movies a lot of savvy cineastes would savor seeing on Blu-ray, but Laura is special. Photographically, it’s lavish in its interiors yet hard-boiled when it has to be. Plot-wise, it turns into a different movie at the halfway point with a twist that really does rattle you when you see it for the first time. The cast of characters is full of sick puppies almost straight down the line — starting with a career-enhancing role for Clifton Webb that turned him into an equally major and improbable star for the next 15 years. It occurred to me while watching it that Tierney was the centerpiece of two movies that got the cinematography Oscar in successive years: Laura in black-and-white and Leave Her to Heaven (coming to Blu-ray May 14) in Technicolor. That tells you just about everything you need to know about what a photographic subject she was.
Extras: Handsomely upgrading the previous DVD edition, the Blu-ray carries over two commentaries, A&E Biography segments on both Tierney and co-star Vincent Price, and further adds a new retrospective featurette on why the film endures. The Tierney bio, which snared the participation of first husband Oleg Cassini, is predictably powerful, given the personal tragedies that afflicted the actress and shortened her career.
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Tip on a Dead Jockey

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Robert Taylor, Dorothy Malone, Gia Scala, Jack Lord.
1957.
One of the last assignments to fulfill Robert Taylor’s MGM contract was this title-has-little-to-do-with-it take on an Irwin Shaw story — the Richard Thorpe-directed movie that did not feature a pop titan as its lead. That’s right: Thorpe sandwiched this one in between Dean Martin’s notorious boo-boo Ten Thousand Bedrooms and that iconographic Elvis classic Jailhouse Rock. Segueing from this mostly Spain-based smuggling drama to Jailhouse Rock was a typical challenge facing a mediocre house director at MGM — though parts of Jockey still stay with me for boasting CinemaScope group shots that include two femme stunners who did a lot for me at a time when my fifth-grade eyes were anticipating adolescence: Dorothy Malone and Gia Scala. Malone was heavily into her blonde period and had just won the supporting Oscar for Written on the Wind, which the Jockey coming attraction (included on this manufactured-on-demand release) naturally touts.
Like other serviceable male heartthrobs, the slightly underrated Taylor got more interesting on screen after he accrued a few lines on his face. Here, he’s playing a pilot who has lost his nerve and is hiding out from life — and a wife. Malone is the latter, unable to secure a divorce, though in this case, the characters get along and even share a piano duet together in a scene of modest charm. Also around are Jack Lord and Marcel Dalio, the latter in a fairly large featured role in a career that includes both Grand Illusion and Donovan’s Reef.
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25 Feb, 2013

New on Disc: 'Peter Pan: Diamond Edition' and more …


Peter Pan: Diamond Edition

Disney, Animated, $39.99 BD/DVD, $44.99 BD/DVD/digital, ‘G.’
1953.
The 1953 Disney version of Peter Pan was probably the studio’s first animated feature to hit baby boomers right between the eyes. Somewhat underrated at the time, Pan has weathered the years rather well and remains tight at 77 minutes.
Extras: New Blu-ray features, as opposed to those carried over from DVD predecessors, include a mild 41-minute documentary that interviews children of the famed “Nine Old Men” of Disney animators. In addition to storyboards of unrealized scenes (including an alternate finale), there’s also recognition of two proposed tunes that were deleted from the final print.
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American Experience: Henry Ford

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2013.
Though Henry Ford was a mass of contradictions, this portrait of the automaker is admiring of him in many ways, though it in no way flinches from dealing with the old man’s dark side, which embraced active anti-Semitism. 
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Who Was That Lady?

Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Sony Pictures, Comedy, $20.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Tony Curtis, Dean Martin, Janet Leigh, James Whitmore.
1960.
The other Janet Leigh movie of 1960 came out in the spring before Psycho, but it’s predominantly a boys-will-be-boys farce about a chemistry professor (Tony Curtis) whose TV-writer pal (Dean Martin) gets him out of a scrape.
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18 Feb, 2013

New on Disc: 'It's in the Bag!' and more …


It’s in the Bag!

Olive, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Don Ameche, Robert Benchley, Binnie Barnes, William Bendix.
1945.
This very loose take on the source Russian novel that also inspired Mel Brooks’ The Twelve Chairs messily detonates the fourth wall as part of its uncommonly modern-for-the-time approach to screen comedy. In what is arguably, by default, his signature movie role, onetime radio titan and future “What’s My Line?” panelist Fred Allen plays Fred, a flea circus proprietor who quickly dumps the chairs a murdered rich relative has bequeathed him. Then, almost immediately, he learns that one of them contains $300,000 — which, among many other things, will allow his daughter to wed the son of a secret wage slave (Robert Benchley, in one of a slew of films he made shortly before his death seven months after Bag! was released), who puts on airs. Bag! is too much of a kitchen-sink enterprise to rise above a certain level. I like the way Allen insults virtually everyone on the movie’s production staff while caustically reciting their names during the opening credits — also his mid-movie encounter with archrival Jack Benny (a mock feud from their radio days) when Fred discovers that the comic has come into possession of one of the chairs. When Fred goes to Benny’s apartment closet to hang up his coat, he’s greeted by a hat-check girl (and her fee). An independent production filmed on the cheap, Bag! doesn’t necessarily seem like a natural for Blu-ray treatment — though it’s a clean enough job. 

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Detropia

Docurama, Documentary, B.O. $0.38 million, $29.95 DVD, NR.
2012.
It’s easy to imagine a documentary filmmaker fashioning a conventional lament filled full of talking-head economists and sociologists discussing Detroit’s tragedy — and, to be sure, we’d learn about Motown nuts and bolts that led to what one visiting foreign tourist here refers to as its “decay.” But the team of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady have elected to make what at least one reviewer called a “tone poem” on the subject, and we do come out of it with a limited sense (vintage auto-industry promotional films help) of what was then and what is now. The Detroit we see here is understandably short on the likes of that posh, downtown, highest-tech office building we’re bizarrely treated to in Summit Entertainment’s recent home release of Alex Cross. Detropia does indeed convey decay — though in an unpredictably haunting manner by sometimes managing to turn the visuals into a thing of beauty. Emotionally dominated by older-folk interviewees who still remember when Detroit was an industry-driven city where someone without a formal education could land comfortably in the middle class — but also prominently featuring a female blogger barely into her third decade who couldn’t possibly have witnessed those glory days — this is a saga without many answers.
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Angels in the Outfield

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Paul Douglas, Janet Leigh, Keenan Wynn, Lewis Stone, Spring Byington, Marvin Kaplan, Ellen Corby, Donna Corcoran, Bruce Bennett.
1951.
Paul Douglas was superbly cast as Pirates manager “Guffy McGovern” — who was, in umpire terms, “toss-prone.” In this yarn, he is ultimately assisted by heavenly intervention the Pirates needed both on and off the screen. Later refashioned as an adequate 1994 kids pic for Disney, this earlier version has stronger casting.
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11 Feb, 2013

New on Disc: 'Wild River' and more …


Wild River

Fox, Drama, $14.98 DVD, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick, Jo Van Fleet.
1960.
The least seen of Elia Kazan’s great films had never, until its inclusion on a Fox-Kazan boxed set in 2010, received a home-market release. Wild River was and is special due to its subject matter (not just the Depression-TVA but also its overriding theme about the cruel trade-offs that sometimes come with technological progress); a Montgomery Clift performance both intelligent and appealing that just keeps getting better with the years; a Lee Remick performance that is probably her career high (I believe she referred to this as the favorite of her films); and a Jo Van Fleet performance that, to my mind, should have had the supporting actress Oscar that went to Shirley Jones for Elmer Gantry. Incredibly, Van Fleet didn’t even get a nomination — though she had, of course, taken the same award five years earlier for absolutely nailing a small role as James Dean’s brothel-madam mother in Kazan’s East of Eden (which, like River, also had a most satisfying script by Paul Osborn).

Clift’s mission for the Tennessee Valley Authority is to get Van Fleet’s 80-year-old matriarch (the actress was 45 when she took the role) to cease being the only holdout to selling her family land so that the area can be flooded to make way for a TVA dam that will bring electricity to the region. Gradually helping her face reality is widowed-at-19 granddaughter Remick, whose minimal formal education can’t camouflage her innate emotional intelligence — a virtue that gets a workout when she has to convince this sometimes guarded Northern male that she would make a good wife to him.

Ellsworth Fredericks’ lovely Scope location photography gets the expected Blu-ray boost over the DVD version, and yes, that’s Bruce Dern as a gas station hooligan (one of many in the town) — his first screen appearance. Critic Richard Schickel is an obvious choice for the commentary here, having written extensively on Kazan in the past. This release definitely fills a crater, in that Wild River was one of the greatest U.S. releases never given its home format due.
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Murder Is My Beat

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Paul Langton, Barbara Payton, Robert Shayne.
1955.
Having previously immortalized bad-boy actor Tom Neal on screen in the skuzziest ‘B’-movie ever to have (deservedly) been added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry — 1945’s Detour — it was certainly not unpoetic that cult director Edgar G. Ulmer’s legacy can also claim the final movie to feature bad-girl Barbara Payton, whose volatile real-life romance with Neal didn’t even constitute the final-word tabloid chapters that eventually saw a) Neal imprisoned for the murder of his wife; and b) Payton descending into prostitution in a severely downward life trajectory.

Beat’s male lead is Paul Langton — later of TV’s “Peyton Place” — as a cop in pursuit of chanteuse Payton (though we never hear her sing) for a rather grisly homicide — until her demeanor (or more likely, platinum blond hair) so convinces him she might be innocent that the lawman jeopardizes his career by going on the run with her.

Payton, not that terrible an actress despite once having the title role in Bride of the Gorilla, really does exude “end of the line” here, though this quickie’s tawdry real-deal has to be actress Tracy Roberts as her trashier roommate. Roberts, who looks good in a saloon dive, never really made it in the movies, but she did become a respected acting teacher, though how many pointers she picked up from this one is a matter of conjecture.
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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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