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

22 Oct, 2012 By: Mike Clark

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.
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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Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Leslie Caron, Mel Ferrer, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
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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