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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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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.’
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.
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.
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.
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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Docurama, Documentary, B.O. $0.38 million, $29.95 DVD, NR.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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14 Jan, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Invisible War' and more …

The Invisible War

New Video, Documentary, B.O. $0.06 million, $29.95 DVD, NR.
I was such an enthusiast for documentarian Kirby Dick’s predecessor Outrage (about the deep-sixing of pro-gay legislation by allegedly gay conservatives in Congress) that it self-amazes to concede that it took me this long to see his follow-up, which is one of the better documentaries of the past year. The subject is rape in the military (obviously not just of female soldiers) and how the system is rigged to put the blame or burden of proof on the victim. There are simply too many tragic stories here related by too many people willing to give their names and be photographed for posterity on screen to doubt the veracity of the filmmaker’s raked muck, which includes a coda that lets us know the significant number of assailants who not only weren’t prosecuted but ended up receiving military promotions. It took Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta a little more than a blink to take serious action after his staff got him to see this winner of the Sundance Audience Award. And it was action that included, unless there was an amazing coincidence in timing, a further shakeup of the DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) — even though its onetime civilian head (Dr. Kay Whitley) had been replaced by a female Air Force general who, like Whitley, is interviewed in the film. Some of War’s most astonishing moments are its even hardball interview of Dr. Whitley, who comes off as the kind of zoned-out individual who would have a tough time ascertaining which direction is “up.” Dick could have called this one Outrage as well, though the poignant moments rival the fury-inducing ones, especially when we take into consideration not just the toll that unpunished rapes have taken on those assaulted but on their parents and mates as well.
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Guys and Dolls (Blu-ray)

Warner, Musical, $34.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine.
To launch its acquisition of the Samuel Goldwyn (Sr.) library for Blu-ray release, Warner has gone for musically pedigreed name value via two Frank Loesser scores, starting with this stage-to-screen makeover of the Damon Runyon bookie-gambler perennial, which on stage represented the composer’s career high. The iffy but sometimes fascinating MGM-distributed extravaganza managed to pair an actor who loathed multiple takes (Frank Sinatra) with one who liked and flourished in method-y fashion with them (Marlon Brando in that period when he played a biker, Napoleon and a Japanese scamp just to prove he could). The ensuing tension would provide director Joseph L. Mankiewicz with one of the biggest logistical migraines a filmmaker could ever imagine.
I loved the big-screen Guys and Dolls as a kid, though its staginess drives me up the wall today. But the Brando-Sinatra dynamics intrigue, Jean Simmons is inspired casting as missionary Sgt. Sarah Brown, and there are privileged moments that include stage originator Stubby Kaye’s rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” and Frankie-Boy’s almost chilling beaut of “Adelaide,” one of the new tunes Loesser composed for the movie version. This was the kind of trade-off adapters of stage musicals made in those days: Scuttled were some good tunes from the Broadway version (“Marry the Man Today” and “More I Cannot Wish You”) for add-ins “Adelaide” and “A Woman in Love.”
As a presentation, the Blu-ray is as much of a beaut as “Adelaide,” which is especially noteworthy in that there were aspect ratio and color issues with G&D releases on standard DVD. The other Loesser-Goldwyn musical in this Warner entertainment double whammy is the Moss Hart-scripted Hans Christian Andersen (1952, $34.99 BD), which was a monster box office hit when lead Danny Kaye was close to his peak of popularity.
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7 Jan, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Iron Petticoat' and more …

The Iron Petticoat

Available via TCM.com
TCM, Comedy, $29.99 BD/DVD combo, NR.
Stars Bob Hope, Katharine Hepburn.
Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn? Pause here for your eyes to bug out like a Tex Avery cartoon character over the mere existence of this obscurity — especially in light of the fact that until recent weeks via Turner Classic Movies airings, this half-heartedly released Technicolor comedy had never even been televised due to the fact that Hope (who secured rights) basically sat on it for decades. Very much in the mode of Ninotchka, Comrade X and the arguably underrated Jet Pilot, it casts the stars as rival American and Soviet military pilots amid the latter’s gradual transformation into a capitalist of sorts who comes to appreciate sexier garb. Hepburn’s athletic frame still looks terrific in a role that followed two consecutive Oscar-nominated performances (in 1955’s Summertime and then The Rainmaker, which had just opened as well). Otherwise, this may be her worst performance; her accent isn’t that far from Bela Lugosi’s in Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda? With the slightly straighter The Seven Little Foys, That Certain Feeling and the subsequent Beau James, Hope himself was venturing into new territory at the time — and this modest departure, directed by Ralph Thomas of the then popular Doctor in the House, feels much more like a standard British outing that just happens to have the leads it does. (They have slightly more on-camera rapport than they reportedly had off, but it’s only a matter of degree.) MGM originally distributed a shorter version than this more official British cut — which, like several Brit pics but only a few non-Paramount Hollywood releases, was shot in the incomparable VistaVision. Thus, this rendering looks like a trillion dollars — every bit as stupendous as the Blu-rays I’ve seen of a couple other British films from the ’50s: Genevieve and (in VistaVision as well) The Battle of the River Plate. The result is well worth a look if you treat it strictly as a lab specimen, as opposed to a comedy that actually involves you.
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Beloved Infidel

Available via www.ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gregory Peck, Deborah Kerr, Eddie Albert.
Adapted from a Sheila Graham bestseller of the day that every adult female relative of mine seemed to own in paperback, Infidel relates how the eventual Hollywood gossip columnist (Deborah Kerr) got mentored by the older F. Scott Fitzgerald (Gregory Peck) during the writer’s alcoholic waning days when — as we see in one of this soaper’s better scenes — even The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night were out of print. Frequent Peck collaborator Henry King was among the most indifferent of all major directors, but his credits do include my two favorite Peck films: Twelve O’Clock High and The Gunfighter. In this case, he obviously couldn’t gear the story to Peck’s great screen strength, which was projecting authority that sometimes extended all the way to repressed (and, occasionally, even unrepressed) rage. As a Graham more refined than the real one likely was, Kerr is more on point and looking mighty regal on the beach (watch that redhead’s skin tones, Deb). Given his haircut here and also from the humorous short subjects we see him filming on a soundstage, I assume that Eddie Albert’s fictitious “Bob Carter” character is (in the kind of subterfuge that always sinks old Hollywood biopics) supposed to be humorist Robert Benchley. What makes the movie watchable (kind of) is the fact that we are, after all, witnessing a screen drama about the great FSF — and also, of course, the expected pro job Twilight Time gives to the Blu-ray (including the alternate-channel isolation of Franz Waxman’s score).
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17 Dec, 2012

New on Disc: 'Purple Noon' and more …

Purple Noon

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet.
Every time a copy of it shows up in a fresh rendering, I like to check out René Clément’s resonant psychological thriller about opportunism in one of screen history’s most physically handsome manifestations. Noon is again the kind of movie that makes a guy want to get out on the Mediterranean, brandish snappy clothes and romance continental beauties. It does not, though, make you want to get murdered, which is also part of the narrative package. The film is, of course, based on Patricia Highsmith’s same The Talented Mr. Ripley novel that Anthony Minghella turned into another very good night at the movies in 1999 — an interpretation significantly different in terms of emphasis on supporting characters and the ending. But I wouldn’t trade Noon’s wrap-up for anything. There’s major spoiler potential if one gets too far into the plot of what became lead Alain Delon’s star-maker. So suffice it to say that it involves a rich father who employs an impoverished on-the-make type (the kind who trades on his looks) to retrieve a playboy son (Maurice Ronet) who is perhaps enjoying too much of the same said water, pricey duds and femmes. It doesn’t take long for this hired hand to start taking to these fringe benefits perhaps a little too much himself — but without the sociopathic byproducts that ensue in a story that ends up bisecting itself at roughly midpoint. After Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, Clément’s earlier Ripley take is probably the one that battles it out with Minghella’s version or maybe Wim Wenders’ The American Friend as the most durable movie made from the author’s work.
Extras: The disc includes an early-1960s interview with Delon in which he is very forthcoming about work, his favored directors (Clément was among them) and how he stumbled into acting after four years of army service.
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Francis Ford Coppola 5-Film Collection

Lionsgate, Drama, $39.99 Blu-ray.
Stars Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Vincent Gallo, Harrison Ford, Gene Hackman, Frederic Forrest, Raul Julia, Cindy Williams, John Cazale, Nastassja Kinski, Teri Garr.
As the definitive cross in the road regarding Francis Ford Coppola’s strange career, 1982’s One From the Heart had the makings of a cult movie even before it cemented that status by bringing in $389,249 over its opening weekend on an estimated then-whopping $27 million budget. All this for a 1982 movie shot in 1.33:1 and no marquee busters in its cast. There obviously are other titles in this reasonably priced collection, and some super ones at that: Oscar-nominated The Conversation; both versions of Apocalypse Now (I’m one of those who prefers the later reworking); plus 2009’s Tetro, which is something of a visual marvel and, alas, the only one of the director’s recent pictures that I like even a little. All, however, have previously been available on Blu-ray, which means that Heart (which finally got a belated DVD release in 2011) is likely this assemblage’s chief selling point. The story’s setting is some of the more neon-ish parts of Las Vegas, which means that this is a case where artifice meets artifice. Sometimes the wrong casting mix keeps you from even getting out of the gate. And here’s a story about a bickering longtime couple testing waters with other potential mates, where the principals end up being played by … Apocalypse Now’s Frederic Forrest, Teri Garr, Raul Julia and Nastassja Kinski, with subsidiary parts going to Lainie Kazan and Harry Dean Stanton. Heart is such a one-of-a-kind (with fine-for-its-day sound mixing) that one has to give it some points, though the visual rendering here is less than ideal when what this oddball really deserves is some Criterion TLC.
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10 Dec, 2012

New on Disc: 'The Voice of the Turtle' and more …

The Voice of the Turtle

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Eleanor Parker, Ronald Reagan, Eve Arden.
Following World War II, many of the roles home studio Warner Bros. gave Ronald Reagan were of the caliber to turn a reasonably high-profile performer (neither a major star nor, at least yet, a ‘B’-movie headliner) into president of the Screen Actors Guild. One of the later-career exceptions was Reagan’s agreeably unpretentious lead in this movie of John Van Druten’s play — one with a title of such a “what-was-that-again?” variety that for decades TV played Turtle as “One for the Books,” which was not much of an improvement as an audience magnet. And yet the play had been a smash that ran for years, even if its late 1944 setting now meant that Warner had to mount its story as a flashback vehicle when the movie version finally came to the screen. The story of an aspiring stage actress and a furloughed soldier who ends up sharing her New York apartment for much of a wintry weekend, it made for potentially controversial screen material because you look at these two chance meet-ups (Eleanor Parker plays the actress opposite Reagan) and think that they just have to be sleeping with each other after a few wine-and-dine preliminaries at the well-mounted eatery next door, especially in a wartime situation. Production Code enforcer Joseph Breen slammed it as “a story of illicit sex without compensating moral values.” In the play, there were only three characters, but the movie is opened up to get the story out of the apartment and to toss in some subsidiary support. Director Irving Rapper keeps the narrative moving without displaying much attitude toward the material. Turtle makes for a pleasant, if dated, hour and 43, no question — though the advent of the Pill would eventually turn stories such as these into antiques, which is how you have to approach them today to appreciate what they have to offer.
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Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Sony Pictures, Adventure, $20.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Victor Mature, Janet Leigh, John Justin, Roland Culver.
Safari offers racially motivated political intrigue, Victor Mature in Jungle Jim khaki as Ken and chorus girl Janet Leigh overdressed in the jungle (except for when she’s undressed and skinny-dipping in a scene fairly stimulating for its day) as Linda. One does wonder how a movie this gorgeous to look at (Technicolor and originally 2.55:1) took this long to make it to market. This is no world-beater but one of the best-looking DVDs of a vintage title I’ve seen in a while. Kenya’s anti-colonial Mau Maus slaughter white plantation owners, and worse, the victim is Ken’s male youngster in a scene eerily reminiscent (we’re talking content, not emotional power) to the initial killings in John Ford’s The Searchers, which had opened only about three weeks before Safari’s U.S. premiere. Equally dreadful is the killer’s identity: a Mau Mau general who’d posed as a houseboy and had been considered a friend of the family. The official British law is made up of effete pipe smokers, so when they tell Ken to let authorities handle any retaliation, he is not exactly listening. But he makes his living as a Great White Hunter, and a snob with a trophy wife is in need of one — which is how he gets hired on with Linda’s husband and eventually joins her (chastely) in the same bathing pool. Overall, it’s fairly routine, but Mau Maus and their uprising were big in the day; just a year later, MGM and Richard Brooks would mount a major black-and-white production with Rock Hudson, Sidney Poitier, Wendy Hiller and Dana Winter of Robert Ruark’s novel Something of Value, which dealt with similar material. So did 1956’s Beyond Mombasa (Cornel Wilde, Donna Reed).
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