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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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5 Nov, 2012

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


Rosemary’s Baby

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

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

New on Disc: 'Letter From an Unknown Woman' and more …


Letter From an Unknown Woman

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan.
1948.
An independent production put into theaters by Universal-International and produced by Joan Fontaine’s then-husband William Dozier (much later of TV’s “Batman”) with John Houseman, Letter is pure class from an alternate galaxy (that is, compared to today’s mall culture) all the way. Any doubter on this count should note an uncommonly succinct script by Casablanca’s Howard Koch (note how crisply Louis Jourdan’s character is established in a few opening brush strokes), direction by the elegantly camera-happy Max Ophuls (then on a brief Hollywood “roll” in all ways, save commercially) and cinematography by the great Franz Planer (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Big Country and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to name three). I don’t think Jourdan ever quite made the screen impression that he does in this case, playing a wastrel-ish concert pianist in old-school Vienna whose early promise is destroyed by womanizing and the sauce. Fontaine’s character’s infatuation and subsequent deeper feelings continue, but fate intervenes before we can gauge the full degree of how precipitously her limits have been reached. Hence, the fate-inspired “letter” — which when read in a voiceover manages to excuse one of those screen narrations that can sometimes come off as a screenwriting crutch. Letter would make a good half of an Ophuls double bill with Criterion’s The Earrings of Madame de.
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The Ernie Kovacs Collection Vol. 2

Shout! Factory, Comedy, $29.93 three-DVD set, NR.
1956-61.
The ’50s can’t have been quite as repressed as reported when morning TV viewers could enjoy the unconventional musings of host Kovacs on his NBC-TV show — punctuated by frequent openings from those Nairobi Trio simians as well as those martini-whacked recitations by vision-challenged poet-laureate Percy Dovetonsils. P.D.’s highly representative “Ode to a Housefly” is included as a bonus on disc No. 2 of this three-disc set — a sequel to the mammoth box that came out in April 2011 and became a key player on critics’ lists devoted to last year’s most golden home releases. This more modest collection is its own ode to rescued work, starting with eight of the 1956 morning shows (topical jokes touch on President Eisenhower, Grace Kelly’s wedding to Monaco’s Prince Rainier and more) plus three half-hours of ABC’s unclassifiable “Take a Good Look” — which employed twisted Kovacs sketches to offer hints to guest panelists charged with guessing the identities of some mystery guest, celebrity or otherwise. Breaking out from the earlier set are selections that border on the unexpected. These include a serious Canadian-TV interview on “The Lively Arts” program less than three months before Kovacs’ death.
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Ada

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD-R, NR.
Stars Susan Hayward, Dean Martin, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Martin Balsam.
1961.
Ada is another MGM potboiler of the day based on one of those lurid-looking paperbacks (Ada Dallas by Wirt Williams). Dean Martin plays a guitar-strumming gubernatorial candidate in another of those screen-familiar “unnamed Southern states” whose campaign song is not what you’d call bedrock Dino material. Apparently feeling blessed himself, Martin’s Bo Gillis does what any other gubernatorial candidate in a trashy ’60s melodrama would do: meet onetime prostitute Ada (Susan Hayward) in what looks like something fairly close to a brothel itself — and marry her.
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22 Oct, 2012

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


Fear and Desire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This Is Cinerama

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

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

Olive, Western, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Wayne, Ray Corrigan, Max Terhune, Louise Brooks.
1938.
Stage Raiders is standard issue all the way, as cowboys get involved in an airplane concern to transport gold after a series of bus robberies.
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8 Oct, 2012

New on Disc: 'Ed Wood' on Blu-ray and more …


Ed Wood (Blu-ray)

Disney, Comedy, $20 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for some strong language.
Stars Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, George ‘The Animal’ Steele.
1994.
The supreme irony of an Edward D. Wood Jr. biopic making its way to Blu-ray is too savory to escape mention, but the truth is that this is probably Tim Burton’s best movie, with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure being the one other possible contender for that crown. Besides, Ed Wood got Martin Landau a most deserved supporting Oscar for his portrayal of the twilight Bela Lugosi, whose best working hours were, of course, just a tad beyond twilight. Wood, generally regarded as history’s worst filmmaker, was also an auteur in his own way. This producer-writer-director befriended narcotic-addicted horror legend Lugosi all the way to the end, including his shooting of footage (a couple days before Lugosi’s death) that found its way into Woods’ “masterpiece” Plan 9 From Outer Space when filming of the project started for real a couple years later. The combination of dialogue, casting and remastering of Stefan Czapsky’s black-and-white photography with Howard Shore’s aptly bongo-ridden score makes this an upgrade (with many extras carried over from the DVD) I’ll watch again and again — more, perhaps, than even Plan 9, which is worth cranking up every few years when all else in life seems lost.
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Police

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Gerard Depardieu, Sophie Marceau. Sandrine Bonnaire.
1985.
What begins as a police procedural drama that’s halfway along the lines of, say, William Wyler’s Detective Story eventually evolves into something of a lonely guy or at least foiled-romance saga involving a garrulous cop played by Gerard Depardieu. Director Maurice Pialat’s film opens with an interrogation: Mangin, the widowed cop that Depardieu plays, is grilling various hoods in a Tunisian drug ring. The gang isn’t exactly big time but definitely is capable of mischief that must be abated, and amid Mangin’s professional travels he comes across the pouty Arab girlfriend of one member played by Sophie Marceau. This is a movie where you end up wondering what the future will hold for its characters after the end credits roll, and these would include the smiling prostitute of 19 played by Sandrine Bonnaire. Police’s screenwriter was Catherine Breillat (Criterion’s Fat Girl), who by this time already had begun to direct films sometimes known for their sexually provocative slants.
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Mr. Ricco

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD-R, ‘PG.’
Stars Dean Martin, Eugene Roche, Thalmus Rasulala, Cindy Williams.
1975.
Dean Martin’s final lead (and final big-screen drama) was the stuff that waning drive-ins were made of. At 58, Martin had aged a lot since even the smash-dom of Airport just five years earlier. Whatever the next level is above “improbably cast” is what Martin is here: playing a criminal attorney in San Francisco (hardly a city synched to the Dino milieu) who has sprung a Black Power local on a murder rap when, in fact, this defendant may have merited legal retribution. Predominantly TV director Paul Bogart directs with one of the most peripatetic zoom lenses (to no avail) of the era, and the script was by Robert Hoban for his only screen credit. Cindy Williams, in that window between American Graffiti and “Laverne & Shirley,” plays Martin’s assistant, while Eugene Roche gets to bellow a lot as an intermittently friendly cop/exec once shootings and other retributions get out of hand.
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1 Oct, 2012

New on Disc: 'Man-Trap' and more …


Man-Trap

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jeffrey Hunter, David Janssen, Stella Stevens.
1961.
Well, it’s called Man-Trap and features Stella Stevens at a special time in her career (first starring role, in fact). The title’s meaning can be presumably extended to embrace the perilous limits of male buddy-dom nurtured by mutual combat experience as one talks the other into getting involved in a heist that involves ripping off a Central American dictator in a cheeky airport ambush rationalized by its perpetrators as a half-patriotic scheme. But no, Stevens is the indisputable trap the story is selling in the only picture ever directed solo by actor Edmond O’Brien — the kind of tawdry enterprise (from a John D. MacDonald novel) where you play up the sexual angle because it’s your own production company’s dough invested in the enterprise.
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The Crowd Roars

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD-R, NR.
Stars James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak.
1932.
In part because Howard Hawks’ early non-film résumé included racecar driving, this pre-FDR mix of “wheels” and (sometimes) hooch has the makings of a prototypically crackling melodrama directed by the auteur Pantheon heavyweight. Instead, as it now stands, it’s only a “might-have-been” with a few crackling scenes because the original 85-minute running time was long ago shorn to 70. As a result, characters who hardly know each other in one scene seem to be chummy in the next, and fleeting intros segue into amorous affection in a blink. This is an endeavor where we have to have to fill in some blanks, though lead James Cagney was explosive in this early part of his career.
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24 Sep, 2012

New on Disc: 'End of the Road' and more …


End of the Road

Warner, Drama, $19.97 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Stacy Keach, James Earl Jones, Harris Yulin, Dorothy Tristan.
1970.
The late Aram Avakian’s provocative mess (though possibly a calculated one) of John Barth’s novel has gone all but unseen since its tentative release early in 1970, when it became another of those occasional films featuring real actors to receive an ‘X’ rating. Unlike others in the club that have come to seem relatively tame with the passage of time, Road even now falls into the ‘hard R’ category. 
Extras: The DVD’s accompanying documentary was directed by Steven Soderbergh.
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A New Leaf

Olive, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘G.’
Stars Walter Matthau, Elaine May, Jack Weston, James Coco.
1971.
Embraced by cult movie fanciers and even some big-name critics at the time, Elaine May’s litigated debut comedy didn’t fare very well with the masses after going over budget and its shooting schedule.
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Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Universal, Comedy, $14.98 DVD, $26.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange.
1948.
Universal’s horror legacy is treated with the utmost respect one would hope for in a send-up that does justice to both halves of the cast. Many consider this Abbott and Costello’s best film. Universal has done a very nice job on the Blu-ray (sharp imagery is a key plus when it comes to shadowy horror).
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17 Sep, 2012

New on Disc: 'Pursued' and more …


Pursued (Blu-ray Review)

Olive, Western, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Teresa Wright, Robert Mitchum, Judith Anderson, Dean Jagger.
1947.
Pursued has a reputation as one of the better movies directed by longtime Hollywood vet Raoul Walsh. The emotions in Walsh’s oft-termed “noir Western” are dominant enough but have been forced under the surface. As witness to horrific events involving his family that he immediately represses, young Jeb (to be played as an adult by Robert Mitchum) is whisked away and adopted by a female stranger. To a great deal the movie works for me because Teresa Wright (top-billed) and Mitchum make an imposing couple — not merely on screen but even in the ad art.
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Lonesome (Blu-ray Review)

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Glenn Tryon, Barbara Kent.
1928.
Paul Fejos’ film about the affair of a punch press operator (Glenn Tryon) and a switchboard operator (Barbara Kent) will undoubtedly end up being regarded as one of the home entertainment events of the year.
Extras: The disc includes two Fejos features from 1929: the silent The Last Performance and the mob-backdropped musical talkie Broadway.
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Having a Wild Weekend (DVD Review)

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $17.95 DVD-R, NR.
Stars Lanny Davidson, Dave Clark, Barbara Ferris.
1965.
The first feature of cult director John Boorman was released in home-based England as Catch Us If You Can — the same title as a major hit recorded by its featured stars The Dave Clark Five.
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10 Sep, 2012

New on Disc: 'Airport' and more …


Airport

Universal, Drama, $14.98 DVD, $19.98 Blu-ray, ‘G.’
Stars Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg, Helen Hayes, Maureen
Stapleton, Jacqueline Bisset.
1970.
Though perhaps best known today for launching one of filmdom’s cheesiest franchises — and for being one of the most famously undeserving Best Picture Oscar nominees of the past 40 or so years — writer-director George Seaton’s blockbuster adaptation of Arthur Hailey’s bestseller helped Universal take its first great stride as a modern-era commercial force. Producer Ross Hunter’s shrewdly assembled button-pusher was for moviegoers whose idea of cinema was the equivalent of a beach-read, and Airport juggled stories that included blizzard-ish flying conditions, busting-up marriages for both of its male protagonists (Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin) and a financially desperate passenger trying to blow up the plane so his wife can collect the insurance. All this plus Alfred Newman’s last big-screen score (though it’s very atypical and not one of his most distinguished). The result is better when the personal stories get momentarily jettisoned so that the movie can concentrate on the mechanics of getting a crippled plane to land. Of course, the critics were never going to dig Airport, which still suffers from comedy relief that plays to the third balcony (a nun swigging hooch, an obnoxious know-it-all kid passenger and a priest only half-accidentally belting an obnoxious big-mouth across the puss).
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The Dark Mirror

Olive, Mystery, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Olivia de Havilland, Lew Ayres, Thomas Mitchell.
1946.
If Dark Mirror does (arguably) bring up the relative rear of the heyday of the career of Robert Siodmak, who directed a string of noir thrillers in the 1940s, the movie is excellent in one major regard: Olivia de Havilland plays twin sisters (one a sweetheart, the other psychotic) and does a smashing job.  One of the sisters likely has murdered a doctor for what we much later learn is a credible, though hardly justifiable, reason. But though legal duplicity doesn’t seem too consistent with the “nice” persona exhibited by the innocent one (whichever sis she is), both siblings engage in those games twins sometimes play where they temporarily switch identities for fun. This doesn’t go down too well with the frustrated flatfoot (Thomas Mitchell) who seeks professional help in cracking the case. As a psychiatrist and murder-victim acquaintance who script-conveniently specializes in “twins,” co-star Lew Ayres is pretty well forced into a clinical all-business role — though Siodmak does manage to reap some reasonable suspense out of mechanical markings and swerves on lie-detector graph paper.
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Big Leaguer

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $17.95 DVD-R, NR.
Stars Edward G. Robinson, Vera-Ellen, Jeff Richards.
1953.
No one will ever mistake Robert Aldrich’s screen debut for an example of auteur antics, but just the mental image of Edward G. Robinson in a jockstrap (which director Aldrich mercifully spares us) gives the movie’s 70 minutes a certain level of fascination if baseball is part of your makeup. As the script has it, Robinson’s continued employment as the New York Giants manager may be contingent on his winning a game between his team’s farmhands and the Brooklyn Dodgers farmhands.
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3 Sep, 2012

New on Disc: 'Bye Bye Birdie' on Blu-ray and more …


Bye Bye Birdie (Blu-ray)

Available via www.ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Musical, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Janet Leigh, Dick Van Dyke, Ann-Margret, Bobby Rydell.
1963.
According to Julie Kirgo’s typically ace liner notes, smitten director George Sidney spent $40,000 out of his own pocket to film the famous opening where Ann-Margret (against a seriously true-blue backdrop) more or less comes out of a dream to belt a title tune that was not in the Broadway original. Ann-Margaret’s seminal role cast her as a storybook teen in Central Ohio selected from thousands to receive a ceremonial last kiss from an Elvis-parody of a rock star (Jesse Pearson as Conrad Birdie) just before his own drafting. And, this smooch is set to take place on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (with Ed, by the way, having what looks to be a grand old time playing himself here). Birdie may be the liveliest of Sidney’s stage-hit bunch — and may be the best musical of his very up-and-down career next to Judy Garland’s The Harvey Girls. For this, we can credit a good score with at least one standard (“A Lot of Livin’ To Do”), spirited casting (including Birdie stage vet Dick Van Dyke in his big-screen debut) and the bang-bang combo of Onna White choreography with brassy Johnny Green scoring.
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Fidel

Cinema Libre, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.
1969.
As documentaries on despots go, Saul Landaus’s Fidel isn’t up to the gold standard of General Idi Amin Dada, the 1974 Barbet Schroeder portrait that did, after all, provide shots of the former Ugandan president’s uncountable children by uncountable wives, hungry crocodiles observing peaceful river cruises from the sidelines and the hilarious scene where Amin cheats in a swim race (very much in the Sacha Baron Cohen mode). Still, Landau’s achievement does make a rather fascinating view and deserves more praise than what it merits for simply existing. I can’t imagine any political junkie who wouldn’t want to see it. Landau and his crew spent a week in 1968 with Cuban president Fidel Castro in the kind of great outdoors that is likely akin to where he lived and plotted his Cuban revolution — all as the dictator turned on charm that, at least superficially, seems a lot more natural than what we see from a lot of American politicians. We even see Castro in a pickup baseball game that’s worth the price of admission. There’s even a section on political dissidents, some of whom have been imprisoned and some who are seen preparing a move to Miami. This release, which includes a 23-minute featurette (“Cuba and Fidel”) and lots of illuminating newsreel footage in the main event, is still a remarkable surprise.
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Young Cassidy

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $17.95 DVD-R, NR.
Stars Rod Taylor, Maggie Smith, Julie Christie, Michael Redgrave.
1965.
John Ford directing Julie Christie sounds like one of those couldn’t-be miracles of ’60s cinema, but, in fact, it did happen. Though billed as “A John Ford Production,” MGM’s biopic of Irish playwright Sean O’Casey (called John Cassidy here) was an unfortunately timed project for Ford. Alcoholic Ford only managed to direct about 10 minutes of Young Cassidy’s 110 before leaving the picture for health reasons. But these include the early and (for Ford) quite sexy scene between lead Rod Taylor and euphemistically termed showgirl played by Christie. The Ford replacement who got solo on-screen credit was Jack Cardiff, an absolute contender to be called the greatest cinematographer ever.
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