Twilight Time Round-up: A Trio of 20th Century Fox Films and Viewing Suggestions

Like many classic film fans, I’m becoming increasingly nervous about the status of physical media in our cultural landscape. A couple of years ago, I contemplated thinning my DVD/Blu-ray collection. Now I’ve decided to keep everything and save space by organizing everything into binders and making a list of my must-buy discs to start working my way through so I know I have access to my favorites.

The status of old 20th Century Fox films is of particular concern to me. Now that Disney owns the studio’s output, it has withdrawn many titles from repertoire screenings, a situation well explained in this Vulture piece. Late last year, thanks to a post by Kristen Lopez of Journeys in Classic Film in which she encouraged her readers to help keep the boutique label Twilight Time in business, I realized what a great selection of Fox titles the company offers.

Twilight Time produces their releases in limited runs of 3,000 discs, so it is wise to decide on your priorities and snap up your must haves from their collection. They have lots of sales, so it’s worth checking the site on a regular basis. I purchased TT Blu-ray releases of three 20th Century Fox productions and liked what I got. They have great picture and sound and some nice special features. My choices:

Dragonwyck (1946)

This unusual film stars Gene Tierney, Vincent Price, and Walter Huston. Based on the Gothic novel by Anya Seton, it is the story of a farm girl (Tierney) who is invited to tutor the daughter of her distant cousin (Price) a wealthy patroon who is dangerously oblivious to the changing times. Dreams of wealth and luxury turn bleak as the girl loses her innocence, but acquires valuable wisdom. This was Joseph Mankiewicz’ first directing gig and it is a solid effort, especially considering that he wasn’t too thrilled about the source material. Special features: isolated music track, audio commentary with film historian Steve Haberman and documentary filmmaker Constantine Nasr, A House of Secrets: Exploring Dragonwyck, Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait, Vincent Price: The Versatile Villain, Two Dragonwyck Vintage Radio Shows, original theatrical trailer.

The Best of Everything (1959) [Update: unfortunately this one is now sold out.]

I love this glossy, soapy story about a trio of women making their way in a man’s world. It goes for full glamour and melodrama and yet takes several sturdy feminist stances. Suzy Parker, Hope Lange, and all work for a successful New York publisher. They tolerate their lecherous boss played by Brian Aherne and begrudgingly admire his steely second-in-command (Joan Crawford). Special features: isolated score track, audio commentary with Rona Jaffe and Film Historian Sylvia Stoddard, Fox Movietone newsreel, and original theatrical trailer.

Bedazzled (1967)

This is the funniest pairing of British comic stars Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, as the Devil and a hapless short order cook respectively. As Moore’s dream girl, Eleanor Bron is haughtily mod and briskly independent. Moore sells his soul to the devil in his quest to get her love, but in a series of increasingly bizarre vignettes he is continually thwarted by the wily Dark Lord. A brilliant score by Moore adds humor, hip factor, and a surprising vein of melancholy. Special features: isolated music and effects track, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore on The Paul Ryan Show, A Bedazzled Conversation with Harold Ramis, original theatrical trailers.

There are so many other great films available from Twilight Time; it’s worth giving their site a long look. Here are some of the best of the Fox titles, including several that I plan to purchase for my own collection:

TT is a great source of classic Fox musicals including the delightfully trippy The Gang’s All Here (1943), the Alice Faye classic, Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943), and Betty Grable's Pin Up Girl (1944).

Some solid crime/film noir titles: The Detective (1968), Pretty Poison  (1968), Black Widow (1954), Inferno 3D (1953),Kiss of Death (1947), John Alton box set 

Classic dramas to check out: Two for the Road (1967), Whirlpool (1949),The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956), Cinderella Liberty (1973)

This is also a great place to snap up the light-hearted Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole caper How to Steal a Million (1966)

More TT titles from other studios that I highly recommend: Raw Deal (1948),  The Killer is Loose (1956), I Want to Live! (1958), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), The Crimson Kimono (1959), My Sister Eileen (1955), Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979), Model Shop (1969), Cutter’s Way (1981)

I hope Twilight Time sticks around for a long time. They have a great catalog and I’m very happy with the quality of their releases.

Quote: David Lynch Screens Lost Highway for Marlon Brando

Image Source

I showed Lost Highway to Brando after I finished it but before it was released. We rented this theater and told the owner Brando was going to come to see this film, and the theater owner was pretty pumped. So we get this thing all set up and Brando comes into the theater by himself and they have all these treats out for him. He's already got a burger and fries with him, but he fills his pockets with candy anyway and goes into the theater eating candy with his burger. He called me later and said, "It's a damn good film, but it won't make a nickel." It was good. He liked it. A lot of people thought Lost Highway wasn't a commercial choice, and that was true, but it did okay. Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs down, so I got the guy at October Films, Bingham Ray, to run a big ad that had an image of two thumbs down and text that said: "Two more great reasons to see Lost Highway."

-David Lynch


Book Review: Giraffes on Horseback Salad, Envisioning the Marx Brothers/Salvador Dalí Collaboration that Never Was

Giraffes on Horseback Salad
Josh Frank, Tim Heidecker
Illustrated by Manuela Pertega
Quirk Books, 2019

Of the multiple abandoned Salvador Dalí /Hollywood collaborations haunting cinematic history, perhaps the saddest could-have-been is the artist’s unfulfilled project with the Marx Brothers. In 1937, Dalí wrote the screenplay for Giraffes on Horseback Salad, a story about a Spanish aristocrat and a mysterious so-called “Surrealist Woman” who lures him away from his humdrum life. Meant to be a marriage of one of surrealism’s biggest stars and the inherently surrealist brothers, the Marx’s studio MGM balked at the outrageous story and the project stalled.

In the interest of getting a flavor of what might have been, author Josh Frank tracked down two drafts of Dali’s screenplay and used them as a template for creating a giddily adventurous graphic novel, also entitled Giraffes on Horseback Salad, which envisions how that film might have turned out. The project was a team effort, with Tim Heidecker co-writing the adaptation and artist Manuela Pertega providing deliriously vibrant illustrations.

Rather than staying within the limitations of what could be practically filmed, Giraffes on Horseback Salad is explosively lavish and bold. It is the sort of extravagant vision Dali would likely have wanted, however impossible it would have been to fulfill in 1930s Hollywood.

The result is a happy marriage of reality and dreams. It is easy to picture how the script and songs could have been crafted into an exciting, even visionary film, despite studio limitations. However, it is the added thrill of imagining a production without creative or physical boundaries that makes the book so magical, because it taps into the mutually untamed spirits of both Dali and the Marx Brothers. As it is brightly proclaimed on the cover, it was the strangest movie never made.

This project has since expanded to include an album which crafts a soundtrack based on the lyrics Dalí composed for the film's songs. What a fascinating way to bring a long abandoned idea back to life.

On Blu-Ray: The Luscious, Vicious Hollywood of The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

In telling the story of a charismatic cad, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) encapsulates all the glory, glamour, despair, and depravity of Hollywood. Director Vincente Minnelli’s portrait of the manipulative filmmaker Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) feels so real that you can’t help wondering who was the inspiration for this man and the cast of characters that surrounds him. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, the film looks great and has retained its devastating power.

The story plays mostly in flashback, with a framing device in which producer Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) tries to convince actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), and director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) to speak with Shields about a new production. The filmmaker is down-and-out, but this trio has taken plenty of professional and personal grief from Shields and they are understandably wary of him. Pebbel tries the risky tactic of asking them to reminisce about their times together, in the hopes they will find something good that makes them want to work with him again.

This vibrantly-told tale was based on George Bradshaw’s 1949 story Of Good and Evil, which was later released in an expanded version as Memorial to a Bad Man. It was originally set in the New York theater world, but producer John Houseman found it more interesting and novel to focus on Hollywood. He certainly had plenty of material to work with; it is rumored that Shields was crafted out of the personalities of Val Lewton, Orson Welles, and David O. Selznick.

The film made a profit, and won many accolades, including five Academy Awards out of six nominations. Douglas was nominated, and Gloria Grahame won supporting actress for barely over nine minutes of screen time, a record for shortest nominated appearance at the time.

While any acting nomination for The Bad and the Beautiful would be well deserved, it is always Lana Turner who gets to me the most. She so effectively communicates the hurt and yearning beneath her perfect blonde beauty. You could see just about anyone in this film bouncing back from disappointment, even Shields, but Turner’s take on Lorrison gives you the impression that she will always be a bit haunted and that feeling, coupled with the genetic burden of alcoholism, seems constantly ready to claim her.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film is that while it is so much about the dark side of Hollywood, it is also a perfectly pleasing Tinsel Town product: lushly glamorous, passionate, and vibrant with the charisma of its astonishing cast.

Special features on the Blu-ray include the TCM-produced documentary Lana Turner…A Daughter’s Memoir (2001), scoring session music cues, and theatrical trailers.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: December Round-up

For the first time in a while, every podcast in my picks was new to me. This month I was fascinated by a pair of shows featuring old time radio and two discussions about the new Rudy Ray Moore biopic Dolemite is My Name (2019). If you have a show to share, even your own, please let me know about it in the comments! Episode titles link to the show:

Stars on Suspense (Old Time Radio)
Cary Grant (Part 3)
June 20, 2019

This excellent podcast featuring classic dramatic radio broadcasts of the Suspense program is my new obsession. Each episode spotlights a film star and a pair of radio dramas in which they performed. While there are lots of ways to access this kind of material, I appreciate the way it is presented here, with a little background into the star’s association with the material, different radio broadcasts of the material, and other interesting tidbits. This is entire podcast is binge-worthy, but I can recommend starting as I did with the episode featuring Cary Grant in a suspenseful adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s The Black Curtain and a radio version of his film performance in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

Down These Mean Streets
Triple Bogie (Bold Venture)
December 7, 2019

Produced by the same host as Stars on Suspense, Down These Mean Streets is the same format, but with a focus on detective programs. I loved this trio of shows featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. This pair sizzled just as much on radio as they did in the movies.

KPBS: Cinema Junkie
Dolemite, Eddie Murphy, and Rudy Ray Moore
October 11, 2019

This episode is a great primer for those who enjoyed Dolemite is My Name (2019) but know little about its multi-talented subject Rudy Ray Moore. Host Beth Accomando talks with comic book writer David Walker and filmmakers Sanns Dixon and Dante Moran about the film, Moore, and Murphy. They offer great context and background on Moore’s films and legacy, in addition to Murphy’s work and how this film fits into his varied career.

The Treatment
Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski: Dolemite is My Name
October 11, 2019

As a follow-up to the Cinema Junkie episode, this conversation between host Elvis Mitchell and Dolemite is My Name (2019) screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski is a great history of the production. Eddie Murphy approached Alexander and Karazewski to take on the project because of their history of making biopics of unusual subjects (Ed Wood [1994], Big Eyes [2014]). It was interesting to get the full story on the production, which was in the works for over a decade; so long in fact that Rudy Ray Moore (who died in 2008) was still alive, and pleased to hear he was getting a tribute, when they first discussed making the film.

Book Review--Star Attractions: Twentieth-Century Movie Magazines and Global Fandom

Star Attractions: Twentieth-Century Movie Magazines and Global Fandom
Tamar Jeffers McDonald, Lies Lanckman, eds.
University of Iowa Press, 2019

Star Attractions: Twentieth-Century Movie Magazines and Global Fandom is a collection of essays that takes a serious-minded look at what is often seen as the frivolous topic of movie magazines. The twelve pieces gathered here find the substance in these periodicals, from the fans that populate Letters to the Editor sections to the stars that are the subjects of their pages. It is an academic take on the subject, and thus not a light read, but it is a fascinating exploration of many aspects of these once hugely popular magazines.

I was most fascinated by book co-editor Lies Lanckman’s essay, In Search of Lost Fans: Recovering Lost Fan Magazine Readers, 1910-1950, in which she dives into the data behind fan magazine letters sections. Since many of these magazines took liberties with the truth when it came to writing about the lives of the stars, it is reasonable to think that some or possibly even all of these letter writers could have been creations of the editors. Lanckman tracks down several of these letter writers via census records, both determining that these contributors were in fact real and also finding a lot of interesting information about what kind of people wrote to fan magazines.

While Hollywood film magazines get the bulk of the attention, there are also pieces covering periodicals about Malay, French, and Romanian cinema, not to mention an exploration of the public image of British star Ivor Novello (most famous for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger [1927]). There’s also a history of the long-running Elvis Presley movie fan mag. Elvis Monthly and a pair of intriguing pieces about the images of two of early Hollywood’s most powerful actresses, Mae West and Alla Nazimova.

With diverse subject matter and widely different approaches to each topic, Star Attractions is most rewarding taken a piece at a time. It is a varied, thoughtful approach to exploring a subject that seems light on the surface, but becomes more significant when you consider the influence these magazines had on their audience.

Many thanks to University of Iowa Press for providing a copy of the book for review.

Deana Durbin Sings Silent Night

I never miss watching this scene from Lady on a Train (1945) on Christmas Eve. Deanna Durbin's version of Silent Night is so soothing and full of the wonder of the season.

Whatever you believe. Wherever you are tonight. I wish you peace and joy.
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