On Blu-ray: Gary Cooper, Maria Schell and Karl Malden in The Hanging Tree (1959)

As Gary Cooper neared the end of his career he appeared tired, ill, and not quite himself due to a facelift that might not have turned out the way he’d hoped. While he no longer had the bashful, baby-giraffe-lashed sex appeal of his youth though, he was still magnetic. He aroused different emotions, but they were no less intense. It is this Cooper that you see in his final western, The Hanging Tree (1959), which has now made its debut on Blu-ray from Warner Archive.

While Cooper spent much of career in a cowboy hat, it was as a rider of the plains, not as a doctor lancing a carbuncle on Karl Malden’s behind. That’s just what he does here as Dr. Joseph Frail, a medical man with a dark past who sets up shop in a Montana gold camp.

The mysterious Frail has lives by a varied moral code, frequently giving in to his anger, but protective in his own way of those who are vulnerable. When he takes a sluice thief on the run Rune (Ben Piazza) into indentured servitude, it seems a foul move, until you realize the boy would probably die without the protection and productive life Frail offers him. His protection of stagecoach hold-up victim Elizabeth Mahler (Maria Schell) is less complicated; she arouses his sense of chivalry, and while a romance must inevitably develop between the star and leading lady, his paternal impulses as well.

With her wet, icy blue eyes and soulful demeanor, Schell is out of place in the Wild West. She also seems a better match for Rune, who matches her energy and naivety. While the pair bond over their determined and businesslike pursuit of gold, they are both beholden to Frail, to whom they are aware they owe their survival.

In a complicated role that inspires a mix of amusement and revulsion, Karl Malden injects much-needed energy as a miner who is capable of decency, but imprisoned by his desires. George C. Scott is also a stand-out, in his debut role, as a fiery preacher who is Frail’s nemesis.

The film is ultimately an intriguing oddity. It doesn’t quite gel, but its disparate elements entertain in their own way. It is a decent farewell to cowboy Cooper.

The disc includes a trailer for the film.

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

Streaming Movies for Free: Kanopy

There are so many streaming services available to movie fans that it took me a while to find my way to Kanopy, but once I did, it immediately became a part of my viewing rotation. That is because this fabulous company lets patrons of participating libraries stream great films for free on platforms like Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, and web browsers. We’re talking offerings from labels the likes of Criterion Collection, Milestone Films, and Kino Lorber.

Kanopy began as a service to increase access to cinema for university students in Australia. You can see those academic roots in the title selection, as in addition to narrative films, there’s a lot of documentaries in the mix, including several PBS titles.

Eventually Kanopy expanded to universities in the United Kingdom and the United States, and more recently, public libraries. Now it is available to a much wider audience, as movies can be viewed via public libraries in cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, and Chicago.

The Kanopy layout looks like an ad-free version of YouTube, with suggested videos queued to the right side of the screen and a section for viewer comments below. As far as functionality and image quality go, it runs smoothly, looks good, and is easy to navigate. The viewing experience tends to be of better quality than Overdrive, another platform used by libraries (and which I still love and recommend). The main page of the streaming site has the standard set up of arranging films in categories for viewing recommendations and offering the capability for a personal viewing list.

About the only drawback to Kanopy is that each cardholder is allowed to view only five movies a calendar month. This is of course nothing for your standard movie fan, so it would be difficult to satisfy a full-blown cinema obsession with this service alone. Still, as a supplement to other services it has a lot to offer. It’s also pretty exciting to get that email that you are welcome to enjoy five more movies the first of each month.

When it comes to the selection, I’ve found that having a well-curated array of choices has led me to some great titles I’ve never heard of before and inspired me to be a bit more adventurous in my viewing as well. My first month using the service I revisited Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï (1967), finally caught up with the brutal, but beautiful Belladonna of Sadness (1973), got in a little over my head with the hallucinogenic Eden and After (1970), and enjoyed the new-to-me comic adventure That Man From Rio (1964) starring Françoise Dorléac and Jean-Paul Belmondo. I finished the month with a re-watch of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (1962).

As a supplement to other services and discs, Kanopy is a great way to explore high quality films from around the world and across time. I’m glad to have an additional, budget-friendly viewing option.

Update: I wanted to highlight a comment about Kanopy viewing limits posted below. It seems the number of films allowed per month varies, depending on the library: 

"That monthly limit seems to vary from library to library, too. One user of the New York Public Library said that they are allowed 10 items a month. I'm a patron of the Kansas City Missouri Public Library and they allow 12 a month, and they give you three days per video to view them.

Thank you for the additional information Mark!

On Blu-ray: Genre Throwbacks Night Moves (1975) and The Man With Two Brains (1983)

It’s interesting the many ways a film can pay tribute to the classic age of Hollywood. As proof of this there is Night Moves (1975) and The Man with Two Brains (1983), two flicks which are completely different in tone and structure, but share affection for classic Hollywood genres. The former is both a throwback and a modern progression of film noir, the latter a humorous tribute to the many sci-fi flicks from the 1950s with wacky premises. Both films are now available in their Blu-ray debuts from Warner Archive.

Night Moves

At its core, Night Moves is much like a classic World War II era noir. The sense of doom, devious characters, and determined detective protagonist are all reminiscent of the great crime films from that time. Most of what makes it modern is on the surface: more explicit sexuality, extensive location shooting and a looser sense of morals.

As the detective unraveling the mystery surrounding a reckless wild child, and his own uneasy marriage, Gene Hackman is the more profoundly modern element of this neo noir. While he is as physically tough and fearless as Bogie, Mitchum, and their kind, he is a more emotionally vulnerable hero. He doesn’t pretend to be without feeling and he exists in a time where no one would fault him for expressing his emotions.

There is also a difference in the female leads. While the femme fatale here remains an erotic figure as in classics of the genre, the sexual revolution has also made room for sensuality in the warm-hearted dame, played here with confidence and sexy nonchalance by a teenage Melanie Griffith. While it could be said that she is punished for that freedom, it is a progression of sorts that the heroine can enjoy erotic expression instead of being forced to telegraph her goodness by remaining chaste.

Overall it is an interesting progression of the classic detective noir and one of the more successful modern interpretations of that cinematic style.

Special features on the disc include a vintage featurette about the film: The Day of the Director and a theatrical trailer.

The Man with Two Brains

While director Carl Reiner’s joke-packed comedy about a brain surgeon (Steve Martin) pursuing true love is presented as an homage to classic sci-fi flicks with wild premises, it draws upon other genres with glee. It’s got Kathleen Turner as a film noir-style femme fatale, a murder mystery, lots of screwball-style wordplay, and even a little slapstick. For all its goofball antics though, it is at heart a great tribute to the movies.

It is those antics, combined with the film love behind them, that make The Man with Two Brains a classic in its own way. Reiner and Martin both have a knack for creating precise comedy that ends up with the feel of globs of paint being thrown at a canvas. They make a sort of comic stew, tossing recurring jokes alongside brief, throwaway jabs, and stopping the action from time-to-time for more elaborate gags like an astonishing scene where a little girl is given a long list of instructions for a hospital and recites them back perfectly, in addition to adding her own medical diagnosis. It flows so well that you can miss how complex it all is.

There are no special features on this disc.

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

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