View from the Cheap Seats

On the Pleasures of Film Noir & Bud and the “Bs”

February 9, 2016 - 12:41 pm   |   by
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I’m trying to remember when I put it all together, when it dawned on me that there were these wonderful movies, shown, at the time, when there were only three local stations and local guys programmed the movies, after the last late show. They were cheap, even I could see that, but there was just something about these black and whites that kept me fascinated and many a long night I would suffer through local commercials just to see either justice done or perverted.

And the titles – Private Hell 36, Shack Out on 101, Kiss the Blood Off My Hands and Five Against the House. And the actors, has-beens and wanna-bes, but they were just terrific. Tom Neal and Ann Savage and Dennis O’Keefe and Preston Foster and Lawrence Tierney. And this was the “B” list.  [Read on here...]

Earlier you might catch Out of the Past or Ace in the Hole or In a Lonely Place or Criss Cross, those with legendary actors and directors out of the studio system – Burt Lancaster and Billy Wilder and Robert Siodmak or Robert Mitchum or even Stanley Kubrick or John Huston with Marie Windsor and Elisha Cook.

Then they were updated – Body Heat and Farwell My Lovely and The Grifters and The Kill Off.

And that music – Miklos Rosza and David Raskin and Bernard Hermann. I think we’re going to talk about film music in a future column.

I’m sure I had no idea what “film noir” was until I found what was then and is now a seminal book on the subject “The Film Noir Encyclopedia” by Alain Silver, Elizabeth Ward, James Ursini and Robert Porfino. And I wore out one copy and bought another. And devoured other books and websites and CDs and DVDs and pawed through Netflix like Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep.

The Big Sleep

Then came Eddie Muller. I’ve never met this man, but I will. But James Ellroy did – the high priest of noir fiction called Muller the “czar of noir.”

In fact, I first came to Muller through his novels – his novels “The Distance” and “Shadow Boxer” were fantastic, but then he commissioned the Film Noir Foundation and, through his tireless work, these movies, these treasures were unmasked, uncovered and brought into the mainstream. “B” movies were given the “A” list treatment and studios got out their shovels and pickaxes and went through their caves in Kansas and started releasing these pictures en masse to a starving audience, many times with Muller himself on the audio commentary.

Look for him on such DVDs as Born to Kill, Fallen Angel, The Lineup, (with Ellroy) and my particular favorite Crime Wave, an original poster of which is over my bed.

So then comes Muller’s Film Noir Foundation which is “Dedicated to Rescuing and Restoring America’s Noir Heritage,” which they have accomplished in (Sam) spades. Here are some of the movies they’ve saved – Cry Danger (1951), with Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming, Hide Tide, (1947) with the great Lee Tracy and the gem of all gems – The Prowler, directed by Joseph Losey, that commie, and starring my Oklahoma homeboy Van Heflin, which has been called “the creepiest of all film noirs,” by The Village Voice.

Good work boys.

You can become a member of the Film Noir Association for not much money, which is actually a donation. You get a fabulous magazine and informative emails. And you get invited to film festivals – the mother ship of all noir festivals is annually in San Francisco, but this year they will be held in Hollywood April 15-24 and, close to this cowboy, in Austin May 20-22.

Go to filmnoirfoundation.com for all details and to become a member.

 

New Classics on Disc

As I mentioned earlier, studios and digital releasing entities are harvesting their libraries to bring film noir out into the light.

Kino Lorber has done a magnificent job of unearthing terrific titles – I need go no farther than their recent releases of Pitfall, a 1948 study in debauchery with, again, Dick Powell, directed by Andre De Toth; film noir stalwart John Payne (how great was he?) in The Crooked Way, 1949, with cinematography by genius shooter John Alton, Robert Wise’s The Captive City and Alan Rudolph’s neo noir Love at Large, with a terrific Tom Berenger.

Twilight Time has not shied away from noir – soon they will offer, for the second time, Fritz Lang’s seminal The Big Heat, with Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin. It gets no better than this.  The group, which only creates 3,000 titles, also struck noir pay dirt with Violent Saturday, a 3-D disc of Man in the Dark, Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is Missing and Dana Andrews in Where the Sidewalk Ends, as well as a glorious transformation of Leave Her to Heaven. There are also modern day noirs such as The Driver, Hard Times, U-Turn and Wild at Heart.

Warner Archive even has its own “Warner Noir” imprint and, as the carrier has the RKO studio titles, where noir reigned supreme, you can order, at any time such titles as The Fall Guy, Loophole, This Woman is Dangerous and Tomorrow is Another Day.

Criterion has gifted us mere mortals with about one noir a month and they’re doozies – titles already on the marketplace such as Kiss Me Deadly and the recently released Gilda are fabulous but it’s the little gems such as Robert Montgomery’s Ride the Pink House and Don Siegel’s Riot in Cell Block 11, that really trip my trigger. Visit Criterion.com.

Woman on the RunFlicker Alley currently has available Woman on the Run and Too Late for Tears, both restored through efforts of the Film Noir Foundation. Order these two today at flickeralley.com

I still can’t believe some of these treasures that are available to come right to my mailbox – check these out.

Again, Kino Lorber is right on point with some fantastic new features, many on home video for the first time.

First there’s a new restoration in 3-D of the cult classic Gog, a man vs. machine debate from 1954 starring Richard Egan; there’s also the wonderful classic Donavan’s Brain with Lew Ayres; Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis in their pre-Spartacus appearance, directed by the great Richard Fleischer; When Eight Bells Toll, a wonderful action film based on the Alistair McLean novel; The Rosary Murders, starring Donald Sutherland with a script by Elmore Leonard and Cop, a dark and deep character study starring James Woods and based on the novel by James Ellroy. There are also two rather legendary comedies as well, Jack Lemmon and Barbara Harris in The War Between the Men and the Women, based, in part, on the writings of Thurber and a true classic, Peter Sellers in After the Fox.

Also from Kino Lorber – Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacClaine in Robert Wise’s Two for the Seesaw; Tony Richardson’s film of the John Irving novel The Hotel New Hampshire and Ken Russell’s Valentino.

But the gem of all from Kino Lorber is The Challenge, starring Scott Glenn and Tishiro Mifune, directed by John Frankenheimer from 1982.

Those of us who were die hard Frankenheimer fans had to take him where we could get him. While French Connection II and Black Sunday were both terrific, there was a little monster picture called Prophecy that only played drive ins. The Challenge started a comeback of sorts from Frankenheimer, one of several he would have over his career, and it’s a terrific martial arts film.

If The Challenge was ever available in any form on home video, I don’t remember it, but it most certainly has been lost for a long time. I can’t wait to see it again.

Go to kinolorber.com.

Twilight Time is so cogent and ever present that there is a defined segment of the population whose breath baits. Here’s a few recent releases. Remember, these are all beautifully restored Blu-rays and are created in batches of 3,000. TwilightTimeMovies.com is where you find them.

Shadows and FogShadows and Fog is my favorite of the minor Woody Allen movies – it barely got released in 1991 and, for real, that’s another movie poster up in my empire somewhere. It’s a send up of German Expressionist filmmaking with Woody as his classic character caught up in a Kafka-esque nightmare. Woody fans should be snapping this up.

The Detective almost made my previous film noir list, and it probably is. Sinatra is just perfect in a role similar to what he would play in his last three movies. The Detective is a sordid piece of business, somewhat shocking, I think, in the late sixties, but it’s glorious in this Twilight Time version.

I’m a tad partial to Bound for Glory, as much of it takes place here in Oklahoma. Why this movie is so lost I’ll never know – it’s the story of Woody Guthrie, who, I say with disgust, is not in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame as he was a gol-danged Commie. David Carradine plays Guthrie and the picture is one of those 70s miracles directed by Hal Ashby. It’s a great trivia question in that it was nominated for Best Picture in 1976 against Taxi Driver and All the President’s Men and Network and, the eventual winner Rocky.

That Burt Lancaster continued to be a leading a man until he died was a great gift to movie goers and Scorpio might have been a throwaway picture had he not been the lead – but with him, it’s a terrific spy movie and what’s amazing is to watch him, as a senior citizen still do these wonderful stunts..he was an amazing movie star.

Other Twilight Time titles include: Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in From the Terrace, Richard Brooks’ underrated The Happy Ending and both Hawaii and The Hawaiians.

Olive Films has released one of the most bizarre films ever made, in glorious Blu-ray. Roar took eleven years to make and ended up with a $17 million price tag and it’s just awful, but it’s the kind of awful from which you’ll not be bored.

With a cast led by Tippi Hedren and her daughter, Melanie Griffith and directed by Noel Marshall, Hedren’s husband at the time, the picture takes realism to the next level. Lions are real and everywhere, sleeping, sprawling, attacking, eating and everything else. This is a movie that truly every movie lover should own. It’s available at olivefilms.com.

Also at the site you can check out new Blu-rays such as Jinxed, another Roar-like experience with Bette Midler, directed by Don Siegel; Speechless, a highly underrated political romantic comedy with Michael Keaton and Geena Davis; and Dark Blue, a terrific cop movie with an original screenplay by James Ellroy.

The Wrong ManWarner Archive, of course, is the granddaddy of them all and, with their recent Blu-ray releases, have really brought some classics to market, including Henry Fonda in Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, Bogart in Passage to Marseille and the great Albert Finney in Wolfen.

Other treasures in WA’s recent releases include pictures with Wayne Morris, George Brent and one of the true noir westerns Roughshod, with Robert Sterling and Gloria Grahame.

Wbshop.com/warnerarchive

And from Cohen Media Group we have a 1973 classic gangster picture Two Men in Town, with no less than Jean Gabin and Gerard Depardieu and Alain Delon.

Cohenmedia.net

Star Vista has recently released more episodes of, yes Hee Haw, however, before you pass judgment, this is one of the most popular series in the history of television and, should the jokes not be to your taste, sit back and listen to the music from George and Tammy and Johnny Cash and Dolly and Waylon Jennings. These treasures are available at timelife.com.

Also, keeping with classic television, the Shout! Factory has released the final season of Hill Street Blues.

The officers and detectives of the toughest precinct on television work their final shift in the seventh and last season of Hill Street Blues. Steven Bochco’s groundbreaking masterpiece of television drama concludes its examination of the lives of the men and women who protect and serve the citizens of a volatile city in these twenty-two episodes, once again delivering the high quality writing, acting, and direction fans have come to expect from this universally acclaimed program.

The unmatched ensemble cast – including Daniel J. Travanti, Veronica Hamel, Bruce Weitz, Betty Thomas, Charles Haid, Joe Spano, James B. Sikking, Taurean Blaque, and Dennis Franz – are in top form for this climactic season, from its powerful opening to its fiery conclusion.

That’s a lot of movies. And I promise we’ll catch you at the flix again soon.

- Bud Elder

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