Tag Archives: 2010 Reviews

In a rit of fealous jage: A tribute to Blake Edwards

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 18, 2010)

https://i0.wp.com/media.aintitcool.com/coolproduction/ckeditor_assets/pictures/34/original/Edwards%203.jpg?resize=404%2C459

When I heard that director Blake Edwards had died earlier this week, at 88, I felt like I had lost an old friend. I grew up watching his films. He dabbled in many genres, and was proficient in all, but especially adept at comedy. He was one of a handful of filmmakers who could sell me on slapstick; he had a knack for choreographing sequences of pratfalls (executed with balletic precision) that became funnier and funnier the longer they ran on. He was a superb screenwriter as well. Here are my top ten picks from the Blake Edwards oeuvre (37 feature films from 1955-1995), alphabetically:

https://i0.wp.com/img.buzzfeed.com/buzzfeed-static/static/enhanced/webdr06/2013/6/10/12/enhanced-buzz-orig-22184-1370881979-11.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

Breakfast at Tiffany’s-Edwards turned Truman Capote’s novel about a farm girl who moves to the Big Apple and reinvents herself as a Manhattan socialite into a damn near perfect film (Mickey Rooney’s unfortunate role as a  racial stereotype aside). Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard (both at the peak of their attractiveness) are a stunning screen couple. A funny, sophisticated, and bittersweet story, wonderfully directed, acted, written (George Axelrod adapted) and set to a great Henry Mancini score (it wasn’t the first time Edwards collaborated with the composer, and certainly not the last-they worked together on close to 30 films over several decades).

https://i2.wp.com/3.bp.blogspot.com/-3qAyM7W5-t8/Uccm6aJwkNI/AAAAAAAAHRk/yo4yzcAJI1s/s1600/DaysWineRoses2.jpg?w=474

Days of Wine and Roses-This shattering drama was jarring for its time (apparently prompting a rash of opening-week walkouts by Jack Lemmon fans expecting another comic role). The film still packs a wallop in its depiction of a couple (Lemmon and Lee Remick) and their descent into a co-dependent alcoholic hell. Lemmon and the frequently underrated Remick deliver their finest performances.

Everyone remembers the  “greenhouse scene”, but for me the most memorable moment arrives in the “padded room” scene, with a sweating, screaming, strait-jacketed Lemmon writhing in withdrawal. Call it “method” or whatever, but it remains one of the top examples of an actor completely “in the moment” ever captured on film. Henry Mancini won an Oscar for the lovely theme song.

https://i0.wp.com/s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/f5/9f/18/f59f18a9e5e2760354a5689b13a33d66--the-great-race-jack-lemmon.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

The Great Race– While this 1965 Edwards comedy-adventure about a turn-of-the-century New York to Paris auto race begins to overstay its welcome about 2/3 of the way through, after revisiting it recently, I have to say that the laughs have held up quite well. Clocking in at a whopping 160 minutes, it was released at a time when overblown, big-budgeted comedies with huge international casts were in vogue (especially in the wake of the mega-hit It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World in 1963). But what a cast-Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk and Keenan Wynn  (to name a few).

https://i2.wp.com/www.listefilm.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Tatl%C4%B1-Budala-%E2%80%93-The-Party.jpg?w=474

The Party-Director Edwards and mercurial acting genius Peter Sellers paired up many times, but I think this 1968 gem is not only their best collaboration, but frame-for-frame, one of the all-time great screen comedies.

Sellers is Hrundi V. Bakshi, an Indian actor with a bit part in a Hollywood war epic who somehow manages to ruin an expensive day of shooting by (riotously) overplaying his death scene. The exasperated director calls for the actor’s head, and Bakshi’s name ends up on a studio exec’s hurriedly scribbled “to do” list. Through a comedy of errors, Bakshi’s name is instead added to a guest list for a party being organized by the executive’s wife. The bumbling (if well-meaning) Bakshi proceeds to make a riotous shambles of the event.

Sellers’ knack for physical comedy is right up there with the best of Chaplin and Keaton. A guitar-wielding Claudine Longet is also on board as the love interest, and purrs a jazzy number in one scene.

https://projectshadowchaser.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/vlcsnap-2011-06-25-13h16m47s243.png?w=474

S.O.B.-Whereas The Party was a relatively benign poke at Tinseltown, this 1981 dramedy offers a  more jaundiced view of the Hollywood machine, which has chewed up and spit out a producer (Richard Mulligan). He flips out after his latest film, a high-budget, G-rated musical starring his singer-actress wife (Julie Andrews) tanks with critics and flops at the box office.  Desperate to salvage it, he comes up with an idea to buy the film back from the studio, and “sex it up” by convincing his wife to re-shoot her part, including nude scenes, which would turn her “wholesome” image on its head.

Edwards’ screenplay is supposedly laced with autobiographical touches (as you may well  know, Edwards was married to a certain singer-actress…whose name rhymes with “Julie Andrews”). It’s Edwards’ most cynical film, but also quite funny. The great cast includes William Holden (sadly, his final role), Robert Vaughn, Robert Webber, Larry Hagman, Loretta Swit, and Shelly Winters. Robert Preston is priceless as a “Dr. Feelgood” MD. It’s worth the price of admission to hear a ‘luded-up Andrews utter her immortal line: “Oh…Hi, Polly! Come to see my boobies?”

https://lukasplusfilm.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/pinkpanther2mini5-1774.jpg?w=474

A Shot in the Dark-This second outing in the “Pink Panther” series is my favorite entry. The fact that the lovely Elke Sommer is in this film has no bearing on my appraisal. I wanted to make that clear. Okay, maybe it has a little bearing. Sommer is Maria Gambrelli, the maid who might have “dunnit”. That is, shot her rich employer’s limo driver. Or did she? It’s up to Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) to figure that out, as more victims start dropping like flies.

There are so many great gags and classic exchanges in this one, including a memorable sequence in a nudist colony. Herbert Lom (who had previously co-starred with Sellers in several classic Ealing Studios comedies) introduces the character of Chief Inspector Dreyfus, who would become a fixture in subsequent sequels.

I feel this is the best one of the series because it strikes a perfect middle ground between the first film (which actually played it more sophisticated and fairly straight, as did Sellers) and the later films, which, while quite entertaining, became more and more far-fetched and cartoon-like as the franchise found more box office success.

https://manningtreearchive.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/4.gif?w=474

The Tamarind Seed-A largely forgotten, but absorbing and worthwhile Edwards film from 1974, this was his nod to cold war spy thrillers like From Russia With Love, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, The Deadly Affair and Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain (the latter film which, interestingly, also featured Julie Andrews). Andrews co-stars here with Omar Sharif. She is a British civil servant, he is a Russian spy, and, well, you can guess what happens next. And yes, it does create “conflicts of interest” for the lovers, which makes for intrigue and suspense, with a sultry Caribbean backdrop. Edwards adapted the screenplay from the novel by Evelyn Anthony. Unfortunately, there is no Region 1 DVD release; perhaps there will be now?

https://i2.wp.com/cdn.moviestillsdb.com/sm/2dfb771252ba41986b78ab51e8f5f2e9/10.jpg?w=474

10– Talk about a “perfect” storm-Blake Edwards’ writing and directing skills, Dudley Moore’s impeccable comic timing, and Bo Derek’s, erm, well…Bo Derek-ness. Moore is a 40-something L.A. songwriter with a devoted girlfriend (Julie Andrews) and a long time friend/songwriting partner (Robert Webber) who both dutifully warn him that they can see signs of a looming mid-life crisis. After spotting  a beautiful young woman (Derek), he becomes obsessed with her. Temporarily insane with unrequited lust, he decides to follow her (and her boyfriend) to Mexico, where they are headed for a holiday. Much middle aged craziness (and hilarity) ensues.

Moore is so dead-on funny that you don’t really stop to consider that his character can be seen as a creepy stalker at times. The narrative does take an interesting about-face about 2/3 of the way through, turning into an introspective and melancholic morality tale. It is vastly entertaining, however, with excellent performances by all. Brian Dennehy is a standout as a philosophical bartender.

https://i0.wp.com/www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/images/reviews/76/full/1465219171_1.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

Victor/Victoria-A fluffy but entertaining rom-com starring (wait for it) Julie Andrews, who plays an underemployed, classically-trained soprano scraping by in 1930s Paris. She befriends another unemployed singer (Robert Preston), who was recently booted from his gig at a cabaret. He cooks up a scheme that he is convinced will get them both out of the poorhouse: He will be her manager, and she will pose as a “he”, who impersonates a “she” onstage. Get it? Genius! Are there complications? Of course there are-and that’s when the fun starts. James Garner and Lesley Ann Warren are wonderful. Henry Mancini is on board again with a great musical score. Triple-threat Andrews sings, acts and dances with her usual aplomb.

https://i0.wp.com/lh4.googleusercontent.com/-pFoMAVi8mGc/TXej4kxOrTI/AAAAAAAAD1Y/FvzfcVNd-Kc/s1600/WR1.bmp.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

Wild Rovers-Blake Edwards made a western? Yes, he did, and not a half-bad one at that. A world-weary cowhand (William Holden) convinces a younger (and somewhat dim) co-worker (Ryan O’Neal) that since it’s obvious that they’ll never really get ahead in their present profession, they should give bank robbery a shot. They get away with it, but then find themselves on the run, oddly, not so much from the law, but from their former employer (Karl Malden), who is mightily offended that anyone who worked for him would do such a thing. Episodic and leisurely paced, but ambles along quite agreeably, thanks to the charms of the two leads, and the beautiful, expansive photography by Philip Lathrop. Ripe for rediscovery.

10 more to explore: Operation Petticoat, Experiment in Terror, The Pink Panther, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?, The Carey Treatment, The Return of the Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Micki + Maude, Blind Date, Switch.

Let’s see what’s on the slab: Top 10 Midnight Movies

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on October 29, 2010)

https://i1.wp.com/filmint.nu/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/LO-Counsel-Stecker.jpg?w=474

Tonight, I thought I’d paw through the “midnight movie” section of my library and assemble my Top 10 picks for your All Hallows Eve holiday “cheer”. As I have around 150 titles in this genre, it wasn’t easy narrowing it down; since my tastes tend to run toward the offbeat in general, this was akin to asking someone to choose their favorite child (the hell I go through for you people). Keep in mind-when it comes to picking favorite “cult” films, the axiom “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure” comes into play. As per usual, presented in alphabetical order:

https://i1.wp.com/www.mondo-digital.com/eatingraoul3big.jpg?resize=474%2C264

Eating Raoul– The late great Paul Bartel (Death Race 2000, Lust in the Dust, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills) directed and co-wrote this twisted and hilarious social satire. Bartel and his frequent screen partner Mary Waronov play Paul and Mary Bland, a prudish, buttoned-down couple who are horrified to discover that their apartment complex is home to an enclave of “swingers”.

Paul is even more shocked when he comes home from his wine store job one day and discovers Mary struggling to escape the clutches of a swinger’s party guest who has mistakenly strayed into the Bland’s apartment. Paul beans him with a frying pan, inadvertently killing Mary’s overeager groper. When the couple discovers a sizable wad of money on the body, a light bulb goes off-and the Blands come up with a unique plan for financing the restaurant that they have always dreamed of opening (and helping rid the world of those icky swingers!). Things get complicated, however when a burglar (Robert Beltran) ingratiates himself into their scheme. Yes, it’s sick…but in a good way. Wait ‘til you meet Doris the Dominatrix!

https://i2.wp.com/www.filmlinc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/eraserhead11-1600x900-c-default.jpg?resize=474%2C267&ssl=1

Eraserhead-If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my fifty-odd years on the planet, it’s that when it comes to the films of David Lynch, there is no middle ground. You either love ‘em, or you hate ‘em. You buy a ticket to a Lynch film, my friend, you’d best be willing to take the ride-and he will take you for a ride. And do you want to know the really weird thing about his films? They get funnier with each viewing. Yes, “funny”, as in “ha-ha” . I think the secret to his enigmatic approach to telling a story is that Lynch is in reality having the time of his life being impenetrably enigmatic-he’s sitting back and chuckling at all the futile attempts to dissect and make “sense” of his narratives. For example, have you noticed how I’ve managed to dodge and weave and avoid giving you any kind of plot summary? I suspect that David Lynch would find that fucking hysterical.

https://i1.wp.com/i.ytimg.com/vi/m9jtf6k0Nrs/maxresdefault.jpg?resize=474%2C267&ssl=1

Forbidden Zone- Picture if you will: an artistic marriage between John Waters, Guy Maddin, Busby Berkeley and the Quay Brothers. Now, imagine the wedding night (I’ll give you a sec). As for the “plot”, well, it’s about this indescribably twisted family who discovers a portal to a sort of pan-dimensional…aw, fuck it. Suffice it to say, any film with Herve Villchaize as the King of the Sixth Dimension, Susan Tyrell as his Queen and a scene featuring Danny Elfman channeling Cab Calloway in a devil costume is a dream for film geeks; and a nightmare for others. Directed by Danny’s brother, Richard.

https://i1.wp.com/www.snakkle.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/ruth-gordon-bud-cort-harold-maude-1971-hollywood-cougars-photo-GC.jpg?w=474

Harold and Maude-Harold loves Maude. And Maude loves Harold. It’s a match made in heaven-if only “society” would agree. Because Harold (Bud Cort) is a teenager, and Maude (Ruth Gordon) is about to turn 80. Falling in love with a woman old enough to be his great-grandmother is the least of Harold’s quirks. He’s a chronically depressed trustafarian who amuses himself by staging fake suicides to freak out his patrician mother (wonderfully droll Vivian Pickles). He also “enjoys” attending funerals-which is where they Meet Cute.

The effervescent Maude is Harold’s opposite; while he wallows in morbid speculation how any day could be your last, she seizes each day as if it actually were. Obviously, she has something to teach him. Despite dark undertones, this is one “midnight movie” that somehow manages to be life-affirming. The late Hal Ashby directed, and Colin Higgins wrote the screenplay. The memorable soundtrack is by Cat Stevens.

https://i0.wp.com/www.framerated.co.uk/frwpcontent/uploads/2018/11/liquidsky04-1170x658.jpg?resize=1170%2C658&ssl=1

Liquid Sky – A diminutive, parasitic alien (who seems to have a particular delectation for NYC club kids, models and performance artists) lands on an East Village rooftop and starts mainlining off the limbic systems of junkies and sex addicts…right at the moment that they, you know…reach the maximum peak of pleasure center stimulation (I suppose that makes the alien a dopamine junkie?). Just don’t think about the science too hard.

The main attraction here is the inventive photography and the fascinatingly bizarre performance (or non-performance) by (co-screen writer) Anne Carlisle, who tackles two roles-a female fashion model who becomes the alien’s primary host, and a male model. Writer-director Slava Zsukerman also co-wrote the electronic music score for his 1982 curio. Deeply weird, yet eminently watchable (I’ve seen it more times than I’m willing to confess in mixed company).

https://i1.wp.com/3m7ajlsrzj92lfd1hu16hu7vc-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Mr.-Joyboy-Rod-Steiger-and-his-assistant-Aimee-Anjanette-Comer-660x350-1537772522.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

The Loved One-When it was originally released back in 1965, this film had a pretty unusual tag line for the era: “The motion picture with something to offend everyone.” Even by today’s standards, this one is pretty unusual.

The perennially gap-toothed Robert Morse (who can be currently seen on AMC’s hit series Mad Men, playing senior partner Bertram Cooper) plays a befuddled Englishman, making a valiant effort to fully process the cultural madness of southern California, where he has come for an extended visit at the invitation of his uncle (Sir John Gielgud) who works for a Hollywood movie studio.

Along the way, he falls in love with a beautiful but mentally unstable cosmetician (Anjanette Comer) who prepares “loved ones” for open casket funerals, gets a job at a pet cemetery, and basically just reacts to the bevy of wack-jobs he encounters. In fact, he is the only character in the film that doesn’t seem completely out of his goddamn mind.

The unbelievable cast includes Jonathan Winters (playing several roles with his usual aplomb), Robert Morley, Roddy McDowell, Milton Berle, James Coburn, Paul Williams, Liberace…and nothing, I mean nothing could ever prepare the uninitiated for Rod Steiger as Mr. Joyboy, an embalmer who has a very interesting relationship with his mother (who may have been the model for Edith Massey’s baby crib-bound grotesque in Pink Flamingos). Tony Richardson directed, and the screenplay was adapted by Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove) and Christopher Isherwood from Evelyn Waugh’s novel.

https://i2.wp.com/cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/DlYoOp2YMqL1tlNafNl2prh7zaU=/0x0:855x532/1200x800/filters:focal(719x91:855x227)/cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/61008361/MeetTheFeebles1.0.jpg?resize=474%2C316&ssl=1

Meet the Feebles-Long before he was concerning himself with bringing CGI-enhanced orcs and hobbits to life, director Peter Jackson was working with considerably lower production budgets (as in: next to nothing), and letting has overactive imagination make up the difference in off-beat indie projects like this one from 1990. It’s a sordid backstage tale about a neurotic diva who heads the cast of a popular TV variety show.

So what makes it a midnight movie? Well, there’s lots of graphic sex, gory violence, and drug use. OK (you may rebut) but that’s the kind of thing one can see on premium cable any day of the week. Yes-but how often do you see puppets engaging in those activities? Adorable, fuzzy-wuzzy anthropomorphic animal puppets, committing all 7 deadly sins (and a few extra ones you may have never thought of before). You really have to see it, to believe it.

https://i2.wp.com/media.vanityfair.com/photos/58cad7f509900734376208ec/4:3/w_1280,h_960,c_limit/pink-flamingos-midnight-movies-01.jpg?resize=474%2C356&ssl=1

Pink Flamingos-“Oh Babs! I’m starving to death. Hasn’t that egg man come yet?” If Baltimore filmmaker/true crime buff/self-styled czar of bad taste John Waters had completely ceased making films after this jaw-dropping 1972 entry, his place in the cult movie pantheon would still be assured. Waters’ favorite leading lady (and sometimes leading man), Divine, was born to play Babs Johnson, who fights to retain her title of The Filthiest Person Alive against arch-nemesis Connie Marble (Mink Stole) and her scuzzy hubby.

It’s a white trash smack down of the lowest order; shocking, sleazy, utterly depraved-and funny as hell. Animal lovers be warned-a chicken was definitely harmed during the making of the film (Waters insists that it was completely unintended, if that’s any consolation). If you are only familiar with Waters’ more recent work, and want to explore his “roots” I’d recommend watching this one first. If you can make it all the way through without losing your lunch, consider yourself prepped for the rest of the oeuvre.

https://i2.wp.com/screeninvasion.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Repo_Man_Emilio_Estevez_Grocery_Store.jpg?resize=474%2C267

Repo Man-As off-the-wall as it is, this punk-rock/sci-fi black comedy version of Rebel without a Cause is actually one of the more coherent efforts from mercurial U.K. filmmaker Alex Cox. Emilio Estevez is suitably sullen as disenfranchised L.A. punk Otto, who stumbles into a gig as a “repo man” after losing his job, getting dumped by his girlfriend and deciding to disown his parents. As he is indoctrinated into the samurai-like “code” of the repo man by a sage veteran named Bud (Harry Dean Stanton, in another masterful deadpan performance) Otto feels he may have found his true calling.

A subplot involving a mentally fried government scientist driving around with a mysterious, glowing “whatsit” in the trunk is an obvious homage to Robert Aldrich’s 1955 noir, Kiss Me Deadly. Cox also tosses a UFO conspiracy into the mix. Great use of L.A. locations. The fabulous punk rock soundtrack includes Iggy Pop, Black Flag, and The Circle Jerks.

https://i1.wp.com/www.rockymusic.org/img/rhpscels/RHPSTrailerFrame_025L.jpg?resize=474%2C327

The Rocky Horror Picture Show-Arguably the ultimate midnight movie. 35 years have not diminished the cult status of Jim Sharman’s film adaptation of Richard O’Brien’s original stage musical about a hapless young couple (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) who have the misfortune of stumbling into the lair of one Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) one dark and stormy night. O’Brien co-stars as the mad doctor’s hunchbacked assistant, Riff-Raff.

Much singing, dancing, cross-dressing, axe-murdering, cannibalism and hot sex ensues-with broad theatrical nods to everything from Metropolis, King Kong and Frankenstein to cheesy 1950s sci-fi, Bob Fosse musicals, 70s glam-rock and everything in between. Runs out of steam a bit in the third act, but a killer lineup of knockout musical numbers in the first hour or so makes it worth repeated viewings. And at the risk of losing my “street cred” with some readers, I will now publicly admit that I have never attended one of the “audience participation” midnight showings. I now fully anticipate being zapped with squirt guns and pelted with handfuls of uncooked rice…

Blu-ray reissue: THX-1138 ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 11, 2010)

https://i0.wp.com/filmfork-cdn.s3.amazonaws.com/content/THX-Laser-Age-Inline.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

THX-1138 (The George Lucas Director’s Cut) – Warner Blu-ray

Is it just me, or is it a fact that the farther back you go in George Lucas’ catalog, the more “mature” his films become? At any rate, I still like to revisit his 1971 debut now and then, and marvel at how prophetic it was in many ways; although its unifying theme, if it has one, remains elusive. Lucas gives his own imaginative take on an Orwellian “future”, where people have become dehumanized “product”, barely distinguishable from each other or from the stark technology that coddles and enslaves them (been to the mall lately?).

And, just like in 1984, or the cult TV series The Prisoner, the biggest crime one can commit in this strictly regimented society is to be a non-conformist. Robert Duvall (as the eponymous character) gives an interesting physical performance that at times borders on mime (think Chaplin’s Modern Times-except without the laughs).

Oddly, Lucas’ predominately white on white color scheme is even more striking in high-def. There are tons of extras to plow through on this Warner Blu-ray, including Lucas’ original student film version.

Blu-ray reissue: The Seven Samurai ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 11, 2010)

https://didyouseethatone.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/seven-samurai-31.jpg?resize=474%2C267

The Seven Samurai – Criterion Collection Blu-ray

“The greatest film ever made” may be one of the most overused hyperbolic superlatives in film criticism-but Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece comes pretty damn close. Set in the 16th century, during Japan’s feudal period, it’s an elemental tale about farmers who have reached the end of their rope with marauding bandits, who swoop into their valley like clockwork for an annual raid on the food stores that they toil for all season to grow and harvest.

Although they can offer little more than some meager bags of rice as payment, they manage to convince a down-on-his-luck yet forthright samurai to take care of their “problem” once and for all. He recruits six fellow out-of-work warriors and sets to work. The story may be simple, but there can be much beauty in simplicity, especially in the hands of a craftsman like Kurosawa-san.

This is literally a movie with something for everyone-adventure, action, comedy, drama, romance, and perhaps most importantly, genuine heart and soul. This one movie has inspired and influenced the work of so many other filmmakers that it boggles the mind.

Criterion’s 2010 Blu-ray set carries over the same beautifully restored print and the extras from their 2006 reissue set, plus new features. And…the film has never looked this good!

Blu-ray reissue: Paths of Glory ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 11, 2010)

https://i1.wp.com/www.stevenbenedict.ie/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Paths-of-Glory.png?w=474

Paths of Glory – Criterion Collection Blu-ray

Stanley Kubrick really came into his own with his third film (fourth, if you include his never-officially-released “lost film”, Fear and Desire). Kirk Douglas is in top form as a WWI French regiment commander caught between the political machinations of his superiors and the empathy he feels for his battle-weary soldiers, who are little more than cannon-fodder to the paper-pushing top brass.

After an artillery unit serving under Douglas refuses to execute an insane directive from a glory-hungry field general to lay a barrage into their own forward positions, the commanding generals decide that the best way to ensure against any such future “mutiny” is to select three scapegoats from the rank and file to be court-martialed and shot.

Despite all the technical innovations in film making  that have evolved in the 50+ years since this film was released, the battle sequences still make you scratch your head in wonder as to how Kubrick was able to render them with such verisimilitude. The insanity of conflict has rarely been parsed onscreen with such economy and clarity. A true classic. Criterion’s Blu-ray print has been transferred with an obvious attention to quality and detail that befits a Kubrick film.

Blu-ray reissue: The Night of the Hunter ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 11, 2010)

https://i2.wp.com/1.bp.blogspot.com/-q4WJKGIaOqQ/U6ugoRaRPVI/AAAAAAAAB44/YHSKag3ix3E/s1600/Night-of-the-Hunter.png?w=474

The Night of the Hunter – Criterion Collection Blu-ray  (2-disc)

Is it a film noir? A horror movie? A black comedy? A haunting American folk tale? The answer would be yes. The man responsible for this tough-to-categorize 1957 film was one of the greatest acting hams of the 20th century, Charles Laughton, who began and ended his directorial career with this effort. Like a great many films now regarded as “cult classics”, this one was savaged by critics and tanked at the box office upon its initial release (enough to spook Laughton from ever returning to the director’s chair).

Robert Mitchum is brilliant (and genuinely scary) as a knife-wielding religious zealot who does considerably more “preying” than praying. Before his condemned cell mate (Peter Graves) meets the hangman, he talks in his sleep about $10,000 in loot  stashed on his property. When the “preacher” gets out of the slam, he makes a beeline for the widow (Shelly Winters) and her two young’uns. A disturbing tale unfolds. The great Lillian Gish is on board as well. It’s artfully directed by Laughton and beautifully shot by DP Stanley Cortez.

Criterion has done their usual voodoo with a gorgeous transfer. The 160-minute companion documentary nearly overshadows the feature. It was meticulously assembled over several decades by its director, who had access to a stash of disorganized rushes and outtakes from the film (that almost got tossed by Laughton’s widow). Laughton liked to keep the camera rolling between takes, which turned out to be a serendipitous choice for the benefit of future film scholars and movie buffs, because it is pretty amazing footage.

Blu-ray reissue: Metropolis (1927) ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 11, 2010)

https://i0.wp.com/theredlist.com/media/database/settings/cinema/1920-1930/metropolis-/018-metropolis-theredlist.jpg?resize=474%2C355

The Complete Metropolis – Kino Lorber Blu-ray

For film buffs, the news that a “complete” print of Fritz Lang’s visionary expressionist 1927 sci-fi masterpiece had been discovered languishing on a dusty shelf in a film historian’s personal collection in Argentina in 2008 was akin to hearing that the Holy Grail had turned up at a church rummage sale. A box-office flop upon its first run, it was famously butchered for time by its original U.S. distributor, and censored for content by German authorities. Happily for fans, the film is now likely as close as it is ever going to get to its original presentation as intended by Lang.

Kino has one-upped their previous “definitive” DVD version with this new Blu-ray transfer of the Murnau Foundation’s latest re-tweaking, which now shores up previously choppy scenes by incorporating 20+ minutes of the Argentine footage. A recently discovered copy of the censor’s notes (containing all of the original inter-titles) was an equally valuable tool for the restoration team (especially for syncing up the original music score, which has been beautifully re-recorded). This all adds up to a new total running time of 147 minutes (compared to the tacky 90-minute Georgio Moroder-scored version that floated around for years, this is a godsend).

There is one  caveat you should be aware of.  The recovered Argentine footage was a 16mm copy of a tattered 35mm print. They cleaned it up as best they could without compromising image; be warned that these new inserts are relatively “gauzy”, albeit essential. Still, this (nearly) complete version, with its absorbing companion documentary, makes it a worthwhile investment for collectors.

Blu-ray reissue: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 11, 2010)

https://i2.wp.com/cdn.iksv.org/media/content/images/film/2013/large/202/NhAzK.jpg?w=474

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence – Criterion Collection Blu-ray

I had nearly given up all hope that this largely-forgotten 1983 gem from Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses, Empire of Passion) would ever see the light of day on DVD, much less be given the Criterion treatment on Blu-ray-but there you go. I remember at the time of its original release, the stunt casting of David Bowie and (equally flamboyant) Japanese pop star Ryuichi Sakamoto in the leads seemed to generate more interest than the film itself.

The story is set during WW2; Bowie and Ryuichi play a headstrong, defiant British officer and a disciplinarian Japanese prison camp commander who butt heads from day one. The dynamic between the two men initially recalls the relationship between Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa in The Bridge on the River Kwai-but quickly moves into some more decidedly weird areas (very, very weird areas).

Tom Conti is excellent as a fellow British prisoner who attempts to mediate peace between the two. The real scene-stealer is Takeshi Kitano, as a prison guard. He injects a subtle humanity into a character that could have easily played one-dimensional. Sakamoto composed the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack (an electro-pop pioneer, he was the founder of the Yellow Magic Orchestra).

This is a film that deserves a serious reappraisal. That being said, the films of Oshima are always a challenging, and not for all tastes, so consider this a guarded recommendation; while definitely worth consideration for the collector on your list who is a confirmed fan of the director, perhaps a “test” rental first would work best for others.

Blu-ray reissue: The Maltese Falcon ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 11, 2010)

https://videokrypt.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/maltese-falcon-22.jpeg?w=474

The Maltese Falcon – Warner Blu-ray

This iconic noir, based on a classic Dashiell Hammett novel and marking the directing debut for a Mr. John Huston, is so vividly burned into the film buff zeitgeist, that I don’t feel the need to recount the plot. Suffice it to say that “When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it.” And leave it at that. Humphrey Bogart truly became “Humphrey Bogart”  with his performance as San Francisco gumshoe Sam Spade. Equally memorable performances from Sidney Greenstreet, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre (“Look what you did to my shirt!”), Lee Patrick and Elisha Cook, Jr. round things off quite nicely.

Some might quibble that Blu-ray can only make so much improvement on a black and white print that has always been a bit on the grainy side to begin with, but I discern sharper detail than the previous Warner Bros. DVD versions (not to mention blacker blacks, whiter whites, and an overall improved gray scale…for those who geek out on that sort of thing).

Blu-ray reissue: Delicatessen ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 11, 2010)

Image result for delicatessen 1991

Delicatessen – Lionsgate Blu-ray

This film is so…French. A seriocomic vision of a food-scarce, dystopian future society along the lines of Soylent Green, directed with great verve and trademark surrealist touches by co-directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro (The City of Lost Children). The pair’s favorite leading man, Dominique Pinon (sort of a sawed-off Robin Williams) plays a circus performer who moves into an apartment building with a butcher shop downstairs. The shop’s proprietor seems to be appraising the new tenant with, shall we say, a “professional” eye? In Jeunet and Caro’s bizarro world, it’s all par for the course (just wait ‘til you get a load of the vegan “troglodytes” who live underneath the city streets). One sequence, involving a hilarious, imaginatively staged sex scene, stands on its own as a veritable master class in the arts of film and sound editing. The arresting visuals really come alive in Lionsgate’s Blu-ray edition.