|Classic Reviews Round-Up #63 and New Announcements
Welcome to the latest edition of Classic Coming Attractions. This is a slightly shorter column than usual as I wanted to provide an update before going away on vacation.
I've got the usual package of reviews and new release announcements for you, with the new announcements database updated accordingly. The DVD reviews this time include the Film Noir Classic Collection: Volume 5 from Warner Bros. and Mara Maru, Five Star Final, Mammy, and Bureau of Missing Persons all from the Warner Archive.
I hope you'll all enjoy this latest edition of the column.
After a hiatus that tested the patience of most devoted Warner film noir fans, the studio has finally released the Film Noir Classic Collection: Volume 5. This latest set is a four-disc effort containing eight films whose original release dates range from 1945 to 1956.
Cornered (RKO, 1945) is marginally the best film in the bunch. It reunites much of the same team that was responsible for 1944's Murder My Sweet including director Edward Dmytryk and star Dick Powell. This time Powell is an RCAF pilot whose French wife was murdered during the Second World War. He goes after the mysterious man responsible for her death, following a cold trail that leads from France to Argentina. Powell is particularly good in this sort of hard-boiled role, demonstrating resourcefulness, ruthlessness when necessary, and even a slight degree of tenderness when warranted. And when he gets hurt, he communicates the effects very convincingly. Cornered has many threads and characters to its plot, but it's well written and resolves its atmospheric story in a satisfying fashion. Walter Slezak is particularly noteworthy as a seedy character whose real motives are well-disguised until the end. The Phenix City Story (AA, 1956) is another winner. It's one of those crime expose type films so popular in the 50s, this one based on the true story of the syndicate's grip on Phenix City, Alabama. The film starts with a 13-minute, somewhat-mannered prologue that sets up the film's background via interviews with some of the real people involved. Once the film proper begins though, it's a tense and realistic experience that uses location work very effectively. Most of the actors are well-known character performers whose ensemble work is superb. Among them are Edward Andrews, John McIntyre, and Richard Kiley. Director Phil Karlson was a master of this type of film and he really keeps things moving briskly so that the 87-minute length (prologue not included) just speeds by. Desperate (RKO, 1947) is the first of a series of noirs from director Anthony Mann. It's not his best work, partly due to a somewhat unconvincing script and a bland lead in the person of Steve Brodie (as an ex-soldier on the run from a gang who tricked him into helping them with a heist). Visually though, it's pure noir, never better exemplified than by a sequence of a violent beating that's punctuated by a swinging overhead light that intermittently reveals the face of the man who ordered the beating. The best thing about the film is the actor that plays that man - Raymond Burr. Burr conveys an air of cold-blooded brutality brilliantly through his vocal intonations and the narrowing of his eyes, and made a fine early career out of playing heavies before taking on the Perry Mason role. Dial 1119 (MGM, 1950) is an unpretentiousness B film made entirely on the back lot. Marshall Thompson stars as escapee from an insane asylum who is seeking to kill the psychiatrist who previously treated him. In the course of his quest, he takes refuge in a bar where he holds 5 people hostage while the police outside wrestle with how to capture him. Marshall Thompson is a little too controlled in the lead role, but the work of the supporting cast is uniformly good, particularly those playing the hostages. Virginia Field really shines as a barfly and Leon Ames scores (not literally) as a sleazy boss on the make. William Conrad is also effective as the bar owner. As a film noir, the film's only claim is in its atmospheric lighting. The standard noir motivations and tropes are otherwise absent. It's interesting to note the use of a large screen television in the bar, rather forward looking for the time. Backfire (WB, 1950) was a film that Vincent Sherman agreed to direct in exchange for being allowed to do The Hasty Heart. According to Sherman, Warners had six actors sitting around doing nothing and Backfire was an opportunity to have them at least earn their cheques. The actors in question were Edmund O'Brien, Gordon McCrae, Virginia Mayo, Viveca Lindfors, Dane Clark, and Richard Rober. Sherman had serious doubts about the story which involved two ex-soldiers, one of whose disappearance (O'Brien) leads the other (McCrae) on a chase to find out what's happened to him. The film is mounted as a series of flashbacks that gradually reveal the course of events. Typically, Sherman is able to generate an interesting film that maintains interest throughout even if the plot is rather convoluted. The film's main revelation near the end is reasonably well disguised beforehand. In Deadline at Dawn (RKO, 1946), a young sailor (Bill Williams) discovers he has stolen money from a woman he met while drunk. When he returns to her apartment to return the money, he discovers the woman has been killed. With the aid of a dancer (Susan Hayward), and under a deadline of having to report back to his ship by dawn, he tries to find out what happened. The film is filled with odd night-time characters and situations that contribute to the noir pedigree, but Williams' characterization is so pallid that we care little about what happens. Hayward is just about the only bright spot. Paul Lukas has a key role, but it seems a bit of a comedown for the Best Actor Oscar winner of only three years before. Armored Car Robbery (RKO, 1950) is a tight little heist film with a good noir cast highlighted by Charles McGraw and William Talman. The film is reminiscent of later efforts such as The Asphalt Jungle and The Killing in its detailing of a carefully-planned-job gone wrong, and in its own way just as effective but on a lower budget. Talman is the brains behind the heist and like Raymond Burr, fashioned a solid career as a heavy before his days on Perry Mason. McGraw plays his typical weary and cynical cop role with forcefulness. The whole thing is also enlivened by a fine supporting cast that includes Adele Jergens, Steve Brodie (a thug here, unlike his lead good guy in Desperate), Gene Evans, and Douglas Fowley. There are some particularly atmospheric scenes in a waterfront sequence. Crime in the Streets (AA, 1956) is no film noir, but an energetic if otherwise standard juvenile delinquent tale of the type that was common in the late 1950s. John Cassavetes is the angry teen in this one and he along with Mark Rydell and Sal Mineo in a small role make it worth watching. Don Siegel directs what is a film adaptation of a 1955 television play. Warners' presentation preserves the original aspect ratios of the eight black and white films - 1.85:1 anamorphic for The Phenix City Story and Crime in the Streets and full frame otherwise. All the transfers are quite acceptable, offering fairly crisp images with generally good shadow detail. Blacks are fairly deep and mild grain is evident. Only Crime in the Streets is slightly weaker than the rest, being somewhat soft. The mono sound on all is clear. The only supplements are trailers for Cornered and Dial 1119 - no commentaries such as were present on previous volumes in the series. Highly recommended.
Errol Flynn made Mara Maru for Warner Bros. in 1952, at a time when his residency in Hollywood was coming to an end. Thereafter, he would pretty much reside abroad using his sailing craft, the Zaca, as his home.
Too often the films of Flynn's final years provided little beyond pay cheques. Preceding Mara Maru was the mediocre adventure film The Adventures of Captain Fabian. Mara Maru was certainly an improvement on that and perhaps gave Flynn some inspiration leading to the actor's last good swashbuckler, Against All Flags. Mara Maru finds Flynn playing a deep-sea diver working out of Manila after the Second World War. The search for a diamond-encrusted cross long missing from a local mission is at the heart of the story, with Raymond Burr playing the chief antagonist. Ruth Roman is on board as the love interest, originally Flynn's murdered partner's wife. Flynn seems well engaged in the film, particularly during the second half when most of the action occurs. One has to persist through some leaden expository footage to reach that point, however. The film does deliver some decent atmosphere through judicious use of location work at Catalina Island and the San Fernando Mission. The afore-mentioned action sequences are mainly situated underwater or in a labyrinth of passageways below the mission, and are well orchestrated by veteran Warner director Gordon Douglas. The release is a Warner Archive offering, delivered full frame as originally shot. The image is quite decent, perhaps a little soft at times, but with good contrast and shadow detail. Modest grain is quite apparent. The mono sound does the job quite adequately. There are no supplements. Recommended as a rental, although Flynn completists will want to have their own copy.
One of the best of the Warner Bros. "ripped-from-the-headlines" films of the Pre-Code era is Five Star Final, a 1931 release starring Edward G. Robinson. He plays the editor of a city newspaper called The Gazette whose circulation is suffering.
Robinson is pressured by his publisher (Robert Elliott in a nice slimeball portrayal) into running an expose of a sensationalistic murder from years past that involved a young mother. That woman has since remarried and her child has grown up and is on the verge of marrying too. The appearance of the expose leads to tragic consequences for all concerned. The film certainly pulls no punches in respect to the newspaper's failure to live up to its responsibilities to provide good journalism and the realities concerning the placing of circulation above ethics. The best scenes are those in the newspaper offices, with Robinson delivering a strong performance as the editor who allows the importance of his paycheck to over-ride his principles. Aline MacMahon is particularly good as Robinson's secretary, acting as a sort of conscience for the paper and ultimately rewarded by Robinson's final actions. A little less persuasive are the sequences involving the remarried woman and her family, not so much in their content but in the earnest though mannered reactions of H.B. Warner (as the woman's husband) and the daughter's fiancÚ played by Anthony Bushell. The climactic scenes in Robinson's office are particularly impressive for the intensity and sincerity exhibited by Marian Marsh as the daughter. It is mainly Robinson that one remembers though, brow furrowed, as he struggles with his conscience throughout an arresting 89 minutes of barely controlled fury. Look for Boris Karloff as a sleazy reporter, shortly before he would become linked forever with Frankenstein. The Warner Archive release is a remastered edition and it shows. Previous versions of the film I've seen have been dark with poor shadow detail, much like the film's trailer (the only supplement on the disk) still looks. This new release still has plenty of speckles and scratches, but the image is much clearer and though somewhat on the soft side, offers good contrast and much improved shadow detail. The mono sound is clear with only some occasional minor hiss. Recommended.
One of the numerous musicals that Al Jolson made at Warner Bros. between 1927 and 1936 has made its way to the Warner Archive. Mammy (1930) is one of those titles that is no longer considered widely acceptable due to the racial stereotyping it contains (principally the extensive use of blackface).
It probably could not find an adequate audience as a retail DVD release, but its historical importance is appropriately addressed through release via the Archive. The film was previously available on laserdisc, but only in a B&W version. The Archive release now includes the 2-strip Technicolor sequences that were originally part of the film. Jolson plays one of the featured singers in a traveling minstrel (black-face) show. He gets charged with attempted murder when one of the troupe's recurring gags (in which Jolson shoots the troupe's emcee in jest) is sabotaged by another member of the troupe who substitutes a real bullet for the blank. Jolson then has to go on the lam, and manages to make a real visit to his mother ("Mammy") rather than the hurried whistle-stop ones he's previously been restricted to. All, of course, is straightened out in the end. Jolson seems quite engaged in his part, full of energy, and in good voice. He sings a clutch of Irving Berlin songs, the highlight of which is "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy". Among the cast, Lowell Sherman is notable for his portrayal of Westy, the emcee (or interlocutor) who gets shot. Lois Moran does little more than smile and simper as Westy's girlfriend, who Jolson also secretly loves. Louise Dresser plays Jolson's mother. The Technicolor sequences are a pleasure to see, although with the emphasis on oranges and greens, they seem somewhat surreal. There is some fading in and out of the colour that reflects the incomplete nature of the source print. Otherwise, this Warner release looks quite good, reflecting the restoration and remastering that went into it. The image looks quite clean and offers good contrast and image detail even though there is an overall softness to it. The mono sound has been cleaned up well too. The only supplement is the theatrical trailer. Disc packaging reflects the change from the Archive's previous generic look to the use of original poster art. Recommended.
Bureau of Missing Persons was the last of five Warner Bros. features that Bette Davis appeared in during 1933.
The film is strictly a programmer, but an entertaining one. Davis stars as a woman seeking help in finding her missing husband. The case is given to a somewhat thick-headed detective (Pat O'Brien) who's been demoted to the missing person's bureau from his previous job on the strong-arm squad. (He considers it to be working in the kindergarten of the Police Department.) When it turns out that Davis's character is actually accused of murdering her husband in Chicago, O'Brien devises a ruse to sort out the true facts of the case. Of course, he manages to fall for Davis as the case develops too. The film's compact 73-minute length is enlivened by plenty of snappy dialogue and in Davis and O'Brien, two actors who play well off each other. There's a strong supporting cast drawn from Warner's deep stock company (Glenda Farrell, Allen Jenkins, Ruth Donnelly, Hugh Herbert, Alan Dinehart) as well as Lewis Stone borrowed from MGM. The Warner Archive release looks very good indeed. The image is sharp and clear with very good contrast highlighted by deep blacks. Speckles and scratches are minimal compared to many other DVD release of contemporaneous titles. The mono sound is clear. The only supplement is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.
AC Comics has announced the immediate availability of Not of This Earth (1957), a Roger Corman film starring Paul Birch and Beverly Garland. Supplements include a photo gallery and an episode of Rod Cameron's TV detective series Coronado 9 with Beverly Garland. Also now available is Five Million Years to Earth (1968, with James Donald), aka Quatermass and the Pit (the third film in the Quatermass series). Both releases are on AC Comics' standard DVD-R format.
Criterion has revealed its October releases. Highlighting them is a Blu-ray version of Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957, with Kirk Douglas) coming on the 26th. It will also be available on DVD and will feature new audio commentary by critic Gary Giddins; a television interview from 1979 with star Kirk Douglas; new video interviews with Kubrick's longtime executive producer Jan Harlan, Paths of Glory producer James B. Harris, and actress Christiane Kubrick; an excerpt from a French television program about real-life World War I executions similar to the events dramatized in Paths of Glory; the theatrical trailer; and an essay by Kubrick scholar James Naremore. Also coming on the 26th will be Nobuhiko Obayashi's House (1977) on both Blu-ray and DVD. October 12th will see the release of Ingmar Bergman's The Magician (1958) on both Blu-ray and DVD. Features will include: a new visual essay by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie; a brief 1967 video interview with director Ingmar Bergman about the film; and a rare English-language audio interview with Bergman, conducted by filmmakers Olivier Assayas and Stig Bj÷rkman. October 19th will bring the long-awaited Blu-ray edition (2 discs) of Seven Samurai (1954). Features will include: an all-new, restored high-definition digital transfer; two audio commentaries - one by film scholars David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Prince, Tony Rayns, and Donald Richie, and the other by Japanese-film expert Michael Jeck; a 50-minute documentary on the making of Seven Samurai, part of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create; My Life in Cinema, a two-hour video conversation between Akira Kurosawa and Nagisa Oshima produced by the Directors Guild of Japan; Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences, a new documentary looking at the samurai traditions and films that impacted Kurosawa's masterpiece; theatrical trailers and teaser; a gallery of rare posters and behind-the scenes and production stills; and a booklet featuring essays by Peter Cowie, Philip Kemp, Peggy Chiao, Alain Silver, Kenneth Turan, Stuart Galbraith, Arthur Penn, and Sidney Lumet and an interview with Toshiro Mifune. A 3-disc DVD version will also be available at the same time.
Disney has announced the November 30th release of two documentaries relevant to classic enthusiasts. The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story examines the musical legacy of Richard and Robert Sherman, the song-writing duo behind such Disney classics as Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and The Aristocats (and also Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Snoopy, Come Home, Charlotte's Web and many more). Walt & El Grupo is a look at a goodwill tour undertaken by Walt Disney and his artists to South America, which resulted in the films Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.
Flicker Alley's next release, in association with Film Preservation Associates, will be Chaplin at Keystone, a four-disc set of 35 films. With the support of Association Chaplin (France), 35mm full aperture, early-generation materials (with only a few exceptions) were gathered on almost all the films in this international collaboration and were painstakingly pieced together by the National Film and Television Archive of the British Film Institute, L'Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy, and the UCLA Film and Television Archive; then digitally refurbished by Lobster Films in Paris. October 26th is the targeted release date.
Fox has scheduled The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Seventh Season for release on October 5th. This final season will be presented in a three-disc set that includes the season's 24 episodes and the fan-requested Final Curtain Call. According to a Fox insider posting on the Home Theater Forum, there will be a box set later this year celebrating 75 years of 20th Century Fox and it will include Cavalcade. The remaining episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea will be out by the end of the year and Elia Kazan's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is also coming with a lot more Kazan.
The Judy Garland Show: Volume 5 is set for August 31st from Infinity Entertainment. It will contains two episodes featuring Tonight Show creator Steve Allen; famed musician Mel TormÚ; stage, film and television legend Jayne Meadows; and Tony Award-winning and Academy Award and Emmy-nominated actress Diahann Carroll.
Kino will release Louis Feuillade's Fantomas: The Complete Saga on September 21st. It will be a 3-disc set containing 5 films: Fantomas in the Shadow of the Guillotine (Fantomas - A l'ombre de la guillotine, 1913); Juve vs. Fantomas (Juve contre Fantomas, 1913); The Murderous Corpse (Le Mort qui tue, 1913); Fantomas vs. Fantomas (Fantomas contre Fantomas, 1914); and The False Magistrate (Le Faux magistrat, 1914). Extras will include two audio commentaries by film historian David Kalat; two rare Feuillade short films: The Nativity (La NativitÚ, 1910) and The Dwarf (Le Nain, 1912); the featurette Louis Feuillade: Master of Many Forms; and a gallery of images.
Olive Films will release Summer and Smoke (1961, with Laurence Harvey) on October 26th. The title is one of Olive's Paramount acquisitions.
Gunsmoke: Season 4, Volume 1 has been announced as an October 5th release from Paramount.
After recently releasing a complete series and the third season, Shout! Factory plans to issue Leave It to Beaver: Season 4 separately on September 4th. Father Knows Best: Season 5 ( a 5-disc set) will be available via Shout!'s online store on August 17th.
Sony will have the Ray Harryhausen film The 3 Worlds of Gulliver on DVD on September 14th and the rock opera Tommy (1975, with Roger Daltrey) for release on Blu-ray on September 7th. According to Sony's Columbia Classics website, The Bridge on the River Kwai should appear on Blu-ray in the next few months too. Also still coming for next year as one of the Collector's Choice releases is the Frank Capra/Barbara Stanwyck set that will include at least Forbidden, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, and The Miracle Woman. Some introductions have been shot, other added value is being working on, and the restoring and remastering of the films continue. There have been some production delays with the previously promised Rita Hayworth Collection to be released as part of the Collector's Choice series but it will be coming out. It will feature some interesting introductions (Martin Scorsese, Baz Lurhmann) and include Tonight and Every Night, Salome, and Miss Sadie Thompson, which have not been released on DVD before, in addition to Gilda and Cover Girl. All five were remastered especially for this set.
Time Life will be releasing The Six Million Dollar Man: The Complete Series in November. It will be a 40-disc collection featuring all 100 hour-long episodes from 1974-78 and more than 15 hours of bonus material including the three TV pilot movies, the three reunion movies, the Bionic Woman crossover episodes, and more. The set will be initially available exclusively online at a specially branded site, 6MDM.com.
Meanwhile, Universal will have The Bionic Woman: Season 1 available October 19th in a four-disc set.
VCI has announced its October releases. All are scheduled to appear on October 26th. They include Dark Star: The Hyperdrive Edition which will contain both the shorter 1974 "original" version and the longer 1975 "theatrical" version plus over two hours of supplements highlighted by a new feature-length making-of documentary. Other releases are a double feature of Cuban Rebel Girls (1959, Errol Flynn's last film) and Untamed Women (1952, with Mikel Conrad), and the uncut European version of Four in a Jeep (1951, with Ralph Meeker).
Warner Bros. adds to its TCM greatest films releases on November 2nd with two more sets: TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Astaire and Rogers (The Gay Divorcee/ Shall We Dance/Swing Time/Top Hat) and TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Busby Berkeley Musicals (42nd Street/ Gold Diggers of 1937/Footlight Parade/ Dames). As usual these are packaged as two-disc sets and no new transfers are involved. On November 16th, the expected Blu-ray edition of the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty will be released. It's designated a 75th Anniversary Edition and will be packaged in the Blu-ray book format. Supplements will include the Pitcairn Island Today featurette, a period Academy Awards newsreel, and trailers for the 1935 and 1962 versions. The film has undergone a full photochemical restoration sourced from the film's long-thought-lost, and recently rediscovered, original nitrate camera negative. The film's audio track has also been restored for this presentation.
Warner Archive titles for July 20th include: Devil's Doorway (1950, with Robert Taylor), The Half Breed (1952, with Robert Young), The Wild North (1952, with Stewart Granger), Excuse My Dust (1951, with Red Skelton), If You Knew Susie (1948, with Eddie Cantor), Lovely to Look At (1952, with Red Skelton), Show Business (1944, with Eddie Cantor), Summer Holiday (1948, with Mickey Rooney), Two Sisters From Boston (1946, with Kathryn Grayson), The Girl Said No (1930, with William Haines), Remote Control (1930, with William Haines), Are You Listening? (1932, with William Haines), and Fast Life (1932, with William Haines). Archive additions for August 3rd include: The Locket (1946, with Laraine Day), Angels Wash Their Faces (1939, with Ronald Reagan), So Well Remembered (1947, with John Mills), Young Bess (1953, with Jean Simmons), Agatha (1979, with Vanessa Redgrave), and a remastered edition of Yellowstone Kelly (1959, with Clint Walker).
Well, once again, that's it for now. I'll return again soon.