On Blu-ray--3-D Rarities: A Collection of Ultra-Rare and Stunningly Restored 3-D Films

What struck me about Flicker Alley’s first edition of 3-D Rarities, a compilation of rare, vintage three dimensional films from 3-D Film Archive, was that the films were of such high quality that they were entertaining whether or not they were viewed in 3-D. I found the same to be true of the label’s second compilation, which in addition to offering a delightful and occasionally bizarre collection of beautifully-restored films includes two fascinating galleries of stereoscopic photography.

The shorts in the collection demonstrate a few different approaches to the medium. A Day in the Country (1941) is a rural patchwork of “coming at ya’” moments, with all matter of objects flying at the camera to the extent that it becomes comical. In a film more focused on artistic depth than novelty, The Black Swan (1952) features a series of excerpts from the ballet Swan Lake presented as seen on the stage; no pointed toes thrusting at the camera here.

The galleries of stereoscopic photography are a highlight of the set: one the relentlessly cheerful Mid-Century Memories in Kodachrome Stereo, presented with corny flair by Stereoscopic Anthropologist Hillary Hess and the other a series of images taken by silent film star Harold Lloyd, presented by his granddaughter and devoted historian Suzanne Lloyd Hayes.

Hess’ presentation reveals a tinsel-draped world of mid-century, middle-class placidity, for the most part snapped by photo hobbyists looking to capture everything from the kids by the Christmas tree to an every day trip to the gas station. It’s a fascinating look at a long lost world, where images that were once ordinary become fascinating decades later.

The Lloyd presentation was my favorite part of the collection, because I didn’t realize how varied the former silent star’s photography had been. While I knew that he had happily spent his retirement taking pictures of buxom starlets and increasing his expertise in photography, I didn’t realize he had also traveled extensively and in the process captured stunning images from around the world. Lloyd’s empathy is evident in the scenes he has recorded, which show the beauty of ordinary people and the simple elegance of daily scenes in city streets. Some of the shots are so well composed that they look like paintings.

Included in the set is a gorgeous 3-D Film Archive-produced 4K restoration of Mexico’s first full-length 3-D film, El Corazon y la Espada (AKA The Heart and the Sword or The Sword of Granada, 1953). It was a treat to see frequent Hollywood supporting players Mexican actress Katy Jurado and the American actor Cesar Romero take leading roles in this historical swashbuckler. As part of a Spanish team pursuing gold, fighting Moors, and becoming entangled with a captive padre and a graceful princess, the pair are charismatic, dashing, and lots of fun. The three dimensional effects are smoothly integrated into the story, with sword and spear jabs aplenty in the rousing action scenes.

This second set was as fun as the first. I can’t wait to see what the 3-D Film Archive comes up with for volume three.

Many thanks to Flicker Alley for providing a copy of the disc for review.

Writing Elsewhere: With a Friend Like Harry (2000) for Crooked Marquee

This week I wrote about the slow-burn French thriller With a Friend Like Harry (2000) for the film site Crooked Marquee. It's an interesting movie, because while it is in many ways a throwback to Hitchcock-style suspense, it has a lot of timely things to say about the way money can give one a sense of unearned power. You can read my take on this marvelous, unjustly forgotten film here.

On Blu-ray: Laurence Olivier and Diane Lane in A Little Romance (1979)

In a time where virtually the whole human race is feeling the absence of loved ones, the charming A Little Romance (1979) has become a more bittersweet film. When I recently watched the movie on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive, I appreciated it as a timeless tribute to many aspects of love and a timely reminder of the connections that we are fighting for now.

In her film debut, Diane Lane is remarkably assured as Lauren, an American teenager living in Paris who meets and falls in love with Daniel (Thelonious Bernard) a movie-mad local boy. Despite the instability of her life due to her mother’s (Sally Kellerman) multiple marriages and affairs, Lauren is intelligent and emotionally mature. When she and Daniel meet the charming, but mischievous elderly widower Julius (Laurence Olivier), they soon pull him into their plans to go to Italy so the two can have a grand romantic moment like the one he once had with his dearly departed wife.

A Little Romance dances between innocence and corruption with such a gentle touch that everything feels suffused with light. In juxtaposing Lauren’s innocent romance with her mother’s emerging affair with a sleazy film director, it reflects on the good and bad of l’amour, but always recognizes the overall intoxication of making a love connection. The sweetness of George Delerue’s score (his sweeping romanticism is unmistakable) helps to sustain the feeling of giddiness.

One of the most compelling relationships in the film is between Lauren and her stepfather Richard (played with elegant restraint by Arthur Hill). Both actors have that rare, remarkable ability as a performer to communicate deeply with an audience as they listen and react. They are more in-sync than the other characters, because they understand each other’s emotional needs and realize that fighting for love is worth risk and struggle. Hill helps his stepdaughter to keep her big love alive, while also ensuring that his own relationship doesn’t fall victim to her mother’s restlessness.

Olivier is dramatically less subtle than these two. His is a performance full of ham, with flustered outbursts, and outsized physicality. It could be a disaster, but Sir Olivier seems to be in on the joke. When the moment requires it, he can plunge you through the heart with the most poignant expressions of grief, joy, and compassion.

In a role that could have similarly made a buffoon of Kellerman, she communicates her emotional needs with a desperation that shows through her selfishness. In most films she would be a bad person. Here she is simply a lost romantic in need of direction.

I was moved to tears by A Little Romance. The sight of tourists enjoying the bridges and canals of Venice was immeasurably moving and heartbreaking given the situation there today. But I would have gotten misty watching this in any time, because the idea that romance is worth the fight of your life is profoundly beautiful.

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: March Roundup

This month I was especially impressed by the quality of the interviews in my favorite episodes. These are all lively, though-provoking conversations. As always, please share in the comments if you know of a podcast I should be listening to, even your own! Episode titles link to the show:

The Film Programme
March 5, 2020

In her conversation with director John Boorman, Antonia Quirke asks all the right questions. She gets the legendary filmmaker to open up beautifully about his craft, from the reasons he prefers working with digital over film, to how his partnership with Lee Marvin unfolded during the filming of Point Blank (1967).

The Film Scene
February 13, 2020

The Love Witch (2016) director Anna Biller has a wide-ranging conversation with host Illeana Douglas about her own work and classic films. I was especially interested in Biller’s comments about the death of melodrama and a sincerity of tone in films and why those things are important to cinema.

Cinema Junkie
January 9, 2020

I enjoyed the thorough exploration of the Italian Giallo genre in this episode. It’s a perfect introduction to the genre for beginners, but as a longtime fan of these films, I also found it an entertaining look at the history, tropes and flicks of this unique style of horror.

The Treatment
February 21, 2020

Sam Wasson is one of the best film writers working today. His books Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the Dawn of the Modern Woman and a massive Fosse biography are addictive and impossible to put down. It turns out he’s quite a character too. He’s entertaining, insightful, and knowledgeable in this interview with host Elvis Mitchell, where they discuss his new book (to be reviewed here soon) The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood.

On Blu-ray: Natalie Wood in Penelope (1966)

I fell in love with Penelope (1966) when this candy-colored crime caper streamed on the dearly departed FilmStruck service. It’s got a stunning cast, led by the bright-eyed Natalie Wood and features a sprightly early soundtrack by John Williams, adorably credited as “Johnny Williams.” I was thrilled when the film finally made its Blu-ray debut from Warner Archive.

Wood stars as the titular anti-heroine, a former beatnik who is struggling to get the attention of her work-obsessed banker husband James (Ian Bannen). In an act of rebellion, Penelope robs her husband’s bank on its opening day. Police Lieutenant Bixbee (Peter Falk) immediately suspects this friendly society wife of the crime, but he is so charmed by her that he doesn’t want to make the arrest. Penelope’s therapist Dr. Mannix (a delightfully bonkers Dick Shawn) is likewise charmed by his unpredictable patient, though she has driven him to constantly slurping milk for his ulcers.

Though it’s all played for laughs, there’s a deep well of perversion and dysfunction at the core of Penelope which keeps its cheerfulness from becoming too shallow. Wood plays a woman with an impeccable veneer who nevertheless always seems to be screaming for help. It’s a situation similar to that of the actress who played her, though it doesn’t seem she recognized any parallels with her character.

Wood was coming out of a deep depression when she made Penelope and the production was a happy experience for her. Unfortunately her joy didn’t reach audiences at the time,who didn’t show up at the box office. The film gets criticized for being overly cute and silly, but it has a lot to offer, from that catchy Williams soundtrack and gorgeous Edith Head costumes, to its bizarre, but brilliant cast. Just having the highly excitable Shawn and the smoothly laid back Falk in the same film makes for quite a ride. Lila Kedrova and Lou Jacobi put out a goofy Boris and Natasha vibe as a pair of cartoonishly evil con artists and Jonathan Winters is a Me Too nightmare in a silent cameo as a lecherous professor.

I was especially taken with the pairing of Falk’s police lieutenant and Bill Gunn as his sergeant and right-hand man. The multi-talented Gunn, who earned fame as a playwright and is perhaps most remembered as the director of Ganja & Hess (1973), is so appealing in his small role that I thought it a shame he wasn’t given more to do. Falk was already trying on the wise, but cool stylings that he would bring to his most famous role as the television detective Colombo. The pair has such a fascinating chemistry here that I couldn’t help wishing he and Gunn could have made a series of films or a television show together.

While Bannen never seems entirely plausible as a man Penelope would adore, Wood has excellent chemistry with her other male co-stars. She has her best comic scenes with the neurotic Shawn, playing off his anxiety with an amusingly mannered nonchalance. There’s a more easygoing vibe to her moments with Falk; he’s having the time of his life watching her get away with everything and she’s happy to be a cheerful companion.

This is a delightfully entertaining film and deserving of more attention.

Special features on the disc include a short featurette about Edith Head’s designs for the film and a theatrical trailer.

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

Book Review--Citizen Canine: Dogs in the Movies

Citizen Canine: Dogs in the Movies
Wendy Mitchell
Laurence King Publishing, 2020

Is there any other animal more beloved in the movies than dogs? For a while horses were in the running, but when you examine the past century of film, it is clearly canines who have dominated. In the lightly amusing Citizen Canine: Dogs in the Movies, Wendy Mitchell writes about the performances of sixty cinematic pooches in their signature roles.

Mitchell covers a satisfying array of films, from the silent era to the current day. Each entry has a photo, a brief blurb about the dog’s performance in the movie and its history as a movie actor, and a couple of bits of trivia.

The entries don’t run deep, there’s only so much you can write about a performing dog, but it was interesting to learn about the many ways different directors approached working with these animals. Some of them wanted elaborate tricks, while others simply wanted a dog doing its thing.

Mitchell’s film selection also covers a wide range of moods. We tend to think of dogs being in either sweet, sentimental movies or horror, but in film they have been in as many different scenarios as their human counterparts. There’s a lot of variety between Benji and Cujo.

I was amused to read about the different ways the dogs approached filming, with some of them seemingly eager to work and many especially adept at performing. Trainers have used creative methods to get the animals to do what was needed for the camera, the most amusing being a pair of glasses lined with meat and the trainer who had to shut himself in a coffin so that a dog would follow it in a funeral procession as if in mourning for his owner.

For classic film fans the usual suspects are present, including Asta, Lassie, Petey, and Toto. Dogs from older movies take up about a third of the book, so there’s a satisfying representation, even though most of the entries are for modern films. It’s a fun book; not appropriate for young children because of some the films it covers, but essentially light in tone.

Many thanks to Laurence King Publishng for providing a copy of the book for review.

On Blu-ray: Jane Russell, Richard Egan, and Gilbert Roland in Underwater! (1954)

When a film title ends in an exclamation point as Underwater! (1954) does, it communicates the expectation of spectacle over substance. This is the best way to approach this Howard Hughes production with marketing featuring Jane Russell in a revealing bikini she never wears onscreen. The newly-remastered film looks great on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive and it offered some unexpected pleasures that added to its appeal.

Jane Russell and Richard Egan star as Theresa and Johnny Gay, a happily married couple who go out to sea with Egan’s partner Dominic Quesada (Gilbert Roland) in search of treasure on sunken vessels. Russell is so hot for hubby that she refuses to let him leave her on shore, but their numbers are evened out by the sharp-witted heiress Gloria (Lori Nelson) who owns the boat they use for their journey.

Johnny and Dominic quickly find what they are looking for, but a ship full of pirates scraping by as fishermen gets wise to their discovery and the men want in on the booty. The tension that follows between these two groups is broken up by extended underwater search scenes, a trip to the beach, a sprightly nightclub outing, and Theresa’s pleas for Johnny to come to bed already.

The pace isn’t always as brisk as a good adventure flick should be. This is partly due to those underwater scenes, which can only be so engaging when you can’t see the expressions on the actor’s faces. When those faces can be appreciated, the action picks up. It also helps that Underwater! is a beautifully photographed film, which can be enjoyed to its full effect on the Warner Blu-ray.

According to actress Lori Nelson, she was originally planned to star, but Russell got the role when she needed to complete a contract requirement. It is a shame, because Nelson shows some spark, but is essentially underused here. Russell also has better chemistry with Roland, who remained handsome and seductive late in his career.

Having gone into Underwater! with little previous knowledge of the film, I was delighted to see the mambo musician Perez Prado and his ensemble prominently featured in a nightclub scene. It was a treat to see this marvelous artist perform in an extended sequence which offered ample time for renditions of Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White and Rhythm Sticks. The tune for the former was also used effectively in the film’s soundtrack.

Underwater! isn’t a classic in dire need of revival, but it’s a gorgeous production and the appeal of its stars and soundtrack makes watching it an enjoyable experience.

A trailer for the film is included as a special feature on the disc.

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: February Round-up

I enjoyed a great variety of podcast episodes new and old this month. If you know of a great podcast for classic film fans, even your own show, please share in the comments. Here are my favorites for February. Titles link to the episode:

Mobituaries with Mo Rocca
Anna May Wong: Death of a Trailblazer
February 7, 2020

I love the structure of Mo Rocca’s show which looks back on the lives of the dearly departed. In this episode he weaves his own telling of Anna May Wong’s life with a variety of insights from special guests like comedian Margaret Cho. It’s a fascinating mixture of biography and analysis. I’ve read two excellent biographies of Wong and still learned several new things about her here.

The Complete: Elaine May
A New Leaf
October 14, 2018

The Complete is a podcast dedicated to exploring the full filmography of a single director each season, one film each episode. Hosts Matt and Travis are now deep into the filmography of Krzysztof Kieślowski, but I had to start with their second season, which explores the career of Elaine May. I like their first episode of the season, because they offer a solid biography of May and explore the challenges she experienced as a female filmmaker while also drawing parallels to the challenges women still face in the industry today. Their discussion about A New Leaf (1971) is a lot of fun as well, because they clearly adore her directing debut.

Nightmare on Film Street
Dead in the Water: Psycho vs. Les Diaboliques
January 15, 2020

I enjoyed this thoughtful conversation about Psycho (1960) and Les Diaboliques (1955) because while I’ve seen both films several times, the hosts bring up a lot of points I hadn’t considered. They’ve both got a great eye for detail.

Shout! Takes
Mel Brooks Remembers Brooksfilms
May 18, 2018

A while back I did a deep dive into the archives of the now dormant official Shout! Factory podcast. There are a lot of great interviews to be found here, a June 8, 2018 chat with Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter is a particular favorite of mine, but the episode that has stuck with me the most is this discussion with Mel Brooks. Brooks is so beloved as a comedy filmmaker that it is often forgotten how much he elevated film art with his Brooksfilms production company, which is most famous for producing The Elephant Man (1980). It was fascinating to learn more about his history with the company and get a feeling for his deep love of cinema.

On Blu-ray: Connie Stevens and Dean Jones in Two on a Guillotine (1965)

I didn’t get what I expected when I watched the new Warner Archive Blu-ray of Two on a Guillotine. With the cover gruesomely displaying a disembodied head and a drop of blood dripping of the title, I anticipated a Grand Guignol-style chiller. It turns out this wasn’t to be, but I enjoyed the lighter, more William Castle-style film that it actually is.

Connie Stevens stars as Cassie Duquesne the daughter of a famous magician (played with gusto by Cesar Romero), who gave her up when she was barely out of babyhood because of his grief over the disappearance of his wife (also played by Stevens in flashbacks), who was a part of his magic act. Raised by an aunt, Cassie hasn’t heard from her father for years when she receives notice of his funeral. When she shows up at the services, those who knew her parents are stunned to see she is a dead ringer for her mother.

Cassie’s father has left a bizarre will. His house has been willed to her, but in order to get it she must stay there for seven nights. Apparently Papa has a plan to come back to her from the dead. When reporter Val Henderson (Dean Jones) hears about this unusual arrangement, he smells a great story and begins to cozy up to Cassie. Of course his ambition falters when he begins to fall in love with the charming heiress.

While there are fun chills and twisted situations to be found in Two on a Guillotine, for the most part it focuses on Cassie and Val’s relationship. There’s even an extended sequence where the pair frolic in an amusement park (director William Conrad makes a cameo appearance next to a funhouse mirror). They’re an engaging pair and much of the appeal of the movie is due to their chemistry.

The baby-voiced Stevens hasn’t won much respect for her acting chops over the years, but here she demonstrates considerable skill and reserve. While there are ample opportunities for her to become the hysterical damsel in distress, she shows great restraint in scenes of suspense and is genuine and charming in her lighter scenes with Jones. Jones is equally appealing, showing range outside of his more famous Disney live-action roles.

After tackling several television episodes, director William Conrad (most famous as a television actor in later years and as a perfect criminal heavy in films noir of earlier decades) made this film as part of a deal to produce and direct moderate budget thrillers for Warner Bros. Here the cost-cutting involved using the already existing mansion set for My Fair Lady (1964) as the haunting Duquesne abode. Conrad would helm the also entertaining My Blood Runs Cold and the underrated Brainstorm the same year.

Ultimately, Two on a Guillotine is one of those movies where you’ll have a good time if you don’t ask too many questions. Trying to envision the logistics it would require to pull off the situation it proposes is baffling. It’s even a bit disturbing that an adorable white magician’s rabbit has the run of a mansion and no one ever thinks to feed it or look where they are walking. However, if you let yourself fall in love with the leads and trust the plot to unroll its own reality, it’s a lot of fun.

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

Streaming Diary: Classics to Stream for Free on Tubi

I am a huge fan of the free streaming service Tubi, because it’s allowed me to catch up on so many great cult and horror titles. I’ve noticed lately though that the service also has a fair number of good classic films available as well. Here are a few of my favorites:

Merrily We Live (1938) In a plot a bit like My Man Godfrey (1936) (which is also available on Tubi), a society matron (Billie Burke) hires a man (Brian Aherne) who she believes to be a tramp to work as a butler and he falls for the woman’s charming daughter (Constance Bennett). While it isn’t exactly a lost classic, mostly because Aherne doesn’t quite have the sparkle to be a truly successful screwball performer, this is  nevertheless a light-hearted, clever bit of chaos with an excellent cast.

Topper Returns (1941) As much as I adore Cary Grant and Constance Bennett as the glamorous, ghostly Kirbys in Topper (1937), I’ve always found the sequel more entertaining. This has a lot to do with Joan Blondell, who stars in one of her most amusing post-production code roles.

Fanny (1961) Leslie Caron plays a young woman in a seaside French village who is impregnated by her sailor boyfriend (Horst Buchholz) before he goes out to sea for a long voyage. Maurice Chevalier is the lonely local merchant who offers a platonic marriage so that he may fulfill his dreams of parenthood. The sweetness and empathy of the characters make this an unusually charming film.

The Red House (1947) Though Edward G. Robinson and Judith Anderson are effective as a brother and sister hiding a tragic family secret, I tend to forget about them, because twenty-something Rory Calhoun and Julie London are so sizzling as a pair of teenage lovers on the edges of the action. Overall this is has long been an underrated noir and it's great that it's finally, deservedly, getting more attention.

The 10th Victim (1965) In this eye-poppingly mod Italian production, Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress are participants in a government-sponsored game in which the players alternate being killer and victim. This deadly serious concept is played for laughs in a candy-coated future full of shallow minds where comic books are considered as lofty as classic novels. Sometimes the parody hits a bit too close to home.

Book Review: A Novel Inspired by a Photo of Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, and Leni Riefenstahl

Delayed Rays of a Star
Amanda Lee Koe
Penguin Random House, 2019

I was surprised to learn that Delayed Rays of a Star is Amanda Lee Koe’s debut novel. It is the kind of serenely self-assured, wise work you would expect from a long-established author. I understand the temptation to use the vibrant lives of real movie stars as the basis for literature, but so often the results can be an awkward marriage of fact and less-than plausible fiction. Koe not only draws herself into the heart of these three film legends, but she creates a transcendent narrative around them.

Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong & Leni Riefenstahl by Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1928

Koe’s inspiration was a series of photos Alfred Eisenstaedt took of Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, and Leni Riefenstahl at a party in East Berlin in 1928. At the time Dietrich was edging towards fame, Wong had already found footing as a supporting and occasional lead player in silent films, and Riefenstahl had not yet started directing, but had a thriving career as an actress known for her athletic roles. They are a fascinating trio: glamorous, celebratory, and visibly not entirely in sync with each other.

Beginning with the lives of these three women, who each broke ground in their own way, Koe melds fact with speculation and creates a world that includes a few imagined supporting players in their lives. From a hapless worker on Riefenstahl’s film set to a pair of immigrants who meet through their very different relationships with Dietrich, it’s an often fascinating, though occasionally plodding exploration of class and privilege.

Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong & Leni Riefenstahl by Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1928

While I appreciated the social texture Koe gave her narrative by folding less fortunate souls into the lives of her celebrated trio, I was most touched by the emotionally rich relationship she imagined between Dietrich and Wong. She has crafted a connection that spans decades, where youthful lust matures into weary mutual support. Koe taps into the key elements of these women, from Wong’s somber intelligence to Dietrich’s complex mix of traits from maternal concern to vain self-absorption.

It’s an original, unexpected narrative expansion on a series of images that could inspire endless stories.

On Blu-ray: Action and Suspense in Operation Crossbow (1965) and The World, The Flesh and the Devil (1959)

Operation Crossbow (1965)

This fast-paced, intense action thriller makes better use of its big cast than your typical all-star production. It plugs its characters into the story with smooth logic and always with an eye on moving the narrative forward with satisfying efficiency. The film is loosely based on a real World War II incident where a group of British officers worked to uncover a German plot to manufacture an extremely deadly kind of rocket. The appealing ensemble includes a quartet of great English actors, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Tom Courtenay, and Richard Johnson, stars George Peppard as a highly-educated undercover agent, and features Sophia Loren in a small part (much smaller than the cover/poster art would have you believe) as the wife of the deceased lieutenant he is impersonating.

It’s a rousing action flick with plenty of suspense, though it may be a shade brutal for more sensitive classic film fans.

Special features include the vintage featurette A Look Back at Crossbow and a theatrical trailer.

The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959)

Harry Belafonte is lively and charismatic as a Pennsylvania coal miner who is trapped underground by the nuclear holocaust. When he surfaces to a world without people, he makes his way to New York City, looking for signs of life and a sustainable way of living. Belafonte is appealing in his early scenes, where he sings, shouts, and pleads with the universe to find him just one living soul. He’s just short of having the chops to really make this solo performance shine, but he holds his own pretty well for a third of the film.

When Belafonte finds a survivor (Inger Stevens) in NYC, the unwritten rules of society emerge again as they form a bond, but keep to the norms of race and gender. Their closeness is imperiled by the appearance of another man, this one white (Mel Ferrer). It is assumed that he will be the one to help potentially the last remaining woman repopulate the earth, though even in those times it’s hard to imagine anyone choosing a man as unappealing as Ferrer over Belafonte.

The film is most fascinating when Belafonte is on his own, struggling against a stunning backdrop of isolated settings. While his friendly arrangement with Stevens is interesting to observe, there are diminishing returns each time a new person is added and life become increasingly more conventional. Though the film didn’t have the big emotional effect on me that it seemed to be aiming for, I enjoyed it.

A trailer for the film is included on the disc as a special feature.

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

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: January Round-up

I spent a lot of my holiday break catching up on podcasts, including some great new-to-me shows which I continued to explore throughout January. All episode titles link to the show. If you know of a great podcast, even your own show, let me know in the comments!

Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast!
Son of Frankenstein Actor Donnie Dunagan, Part 1
(Part 2 is here)
Episode 231
August 29, 2019

I’d long heard that Gilbert Gottfried was a big classic film fan, so I finally got around to searching his podcast archives to see if he’d done any interesting episodes on the subject. I loved this conversation with former child actor Donnie Dunagan, who is perhaps most famous for providing the voice of the titular deer in Bambi (1942). The cheerful Dunagan has an amazing memory; he recalls things as far back as when he was four years old. He’s clearly delighted to share his stories, which makes it all the more enjoyable to hear them. Among the gems: as a child he played checkers with Boris Karloff!

Criterion Channel Surfing
Family Matters
Episode 5

December 26, 2019

I can already tell this new podcast dedicated to the offerings on Criterion Streaming is going to be a useful tool for navigating the service. I’ve often found myself drawn to old favorites when I’m on Criterion and needed a show like this to push me into trying new titles. On this episode, host Josh Hornbeck discusses limited engagements on the channel with regular guest Michael Hutchins and The Complete podcast host Michael Gasteier shares tips for managing the enormous number of titles available to stream, many of which expire each month. The title information is mostly about movies that left the service at the end of December, but I highly recommend checking out future episodes for that kind of information as well.

The Full Price Podcast
House of Seven Gables (1940)
December 29, 2019

Episode 10

Beautifully produced, well-researched, and peppered with fascinating clips, I enjoyed this exploration of Vincent Price’s role in the underappreciated House of Seven Gables (1940). This is my first time listening to this podcast dedicated to the career of Price and I am looking forward to hearing more episodes.

Maltin on Movies
January 10, 2020

I shouldn’t be surprised that Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos is such a huge movie nerd, but I guess I always knew more about the business side of his skillset. He is a great businessman: intuitive, bold, and open to change, but in his conversation with Leonard and Jessie Maltin he reveals the films and personal tastes that molded and continue to influence his career as a streaming innovator.

The Movies That Made Me
January 7, 2020

Roger Corman has the most soothing voice. That’s reason enough to listen to this episode featuring the director/producer famous for starting many a Hollywood career and his wife and partner Julie Corman. They share a lot of interesting insights about the state of the movie business, their favorite films, and the many big personalities they have met over the course of their successful careers.

You Must Remember This/Make Me Over
Episode 1
January 20, 2020

I loved the first episode of Karina Longworth’s special 8 episode series, Make Me Over, in which several contributors present various takes on the intersection of beauty and Hollywood. In this episode, writer Megan Koester shares the history of Molly O’Day, an actress who in 1929 was the first star to endure highly-publicized weight loss surgery. It’s a fascinating show, though I suggest not eating while listening.

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.
Related Posts with Thumbnails