Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

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Harlett O'Dowd

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostTue May 30, 2017 6:48 am

Mike Gebert wrote:Jeff Rapsis contributed the piano score, based on the original cue sheets, and it's pretty much ideal, moving adroitly between comedy and tasteful Continental melodrama. The only extra is a commentary track, as well as a short essay in the booklet.

Weird fact from the notes: Swanson's last picture with Wood had been a film called Bluebeard's Eighth Wife; the Lubitsch film from the same play was what Colbert made just before her version of Zaza.


Thanks for the review. Anyone know if any of Leoncavallo's operatic treatment is included in Rapsis' score?
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Jun 07, 2017 10:33 pm

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NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950) 95m ***½ (Blu-ray released August 4, 2015)

I let the box be a little bigger for this one because the art is so good. This one's almost two years old, but if Chris ever reviewed it, I can't find it.

Jules Dassin's last film before he was blacklisted and resurfaced five years later as the director and co-star of Rififi, Night and the City is a crackling, at times bonkers noir set in London's seedier, slimier side. Richard Widmark, echoing his giggling psycho Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death, is a high-energy hustler working as a tout for nightclub owner Sydney Gree--, er, Francis Sullivan. He sees a way to move in on the wrestling racket controlled by Herbert Lom when he manages to get his hooks into Lom's father, the great wrestler Gregorius (played by actual wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko). He gets the money to make his scheme happen from both Sullivan and his wife (Googie Withers), who has her own motivation for shafting her hubby, but this is noir, so it all goes spectacularly wrong, to the dismay of his girlfriend Gene Tierney (who seems to be in another movie, really, but they needed American names on the marquee— Hugh Marlowe pops up too for a colorless minor supporting part).

The real star of this movie after Widmark, who's terrific in loud zoot suits and running like a tap dancer, is cinematographer Max Greene/Mutz Greenbaum, who got his start in silent era Germany and did lots of things you've vaguely heard of in England— the Expressionist 1934 Chu Chin Chow with Fritz Kortner, Pimpernel Smith, Thunder Rock, I'm All Right Jack and so on. If this isn't his masterpiece, I'd like to know what would be, because his noir-Expressionist version of London's nightlife leaps off the screen in brilliant noir shadowing. Criterion's disc includes a stunning transfer of the 95-minute American cut, in which the shadows are dazzling and 3-D sculptural, certainly one of the best black and white transfers they or anyone has put out.

As for the movie itself— it starts in third gear and never lets up, and it's exciting as heck, but as I say, occasionally a bit bonkers— especially the climactic set piece in which Grigorius and The Strangler (Mike Mazurki) have a fight to the death which everyone else just stands by and watches, as if Godzilla and Ghidorah were having it over Tokyo. (No one can find a bucket of cold water to throw on them?) Beyond that it seems kind of a bummer that Widmark's Harry Fabian is so doomed— yeah, he's a slippery rat, but so is everyone else in the picture, so why does he alone get punished by fate for it? Because that's what noir does, I guess. Well, you won't be bored, though I'd have liked more to explain Withers' character, how she happened to marry that big louse and why she's turned on him.

In any case, it may well remind you of The Sweet Smell of Success, and I suspect that's not accidental, nor would be a resemblance to the movie that made Bob Hoskins famous, The Long Good Night (1980); while some of the chase scenes seem to be echoing one of the best homegrown noirish tales, It Always Rains on Sunday (1947).

Besides the 95-minute cut, there's a British cut, about 5 minutes longer, which promotes Googie Withers to the main title with Widmark and Tierney; the big differences are that the British version softens Widmark a bit (removing a key scene up front where he's trying to pilfer Tierney's purse), and in place of Franz Waxman's American noir-style score, there's a rather more whimsical one by Benjamin Frankel. An essay devoted to the differences explains them; the American one was Dassin's preferred, but the quality of the British one is about as good and you could pick either one to go all the way through.

ADDENDUM: I remembered Leonard Maltin's guide giving it a so-so review, but I looked it up in the latest edition of his Classic Movie Guide and it had a 3-1/2 star review. Then I looked up the 1992 remake in the last edition of the overall movie guide... and it still has the older 2-1/2 star review for the 1950 film. It's like discovering an alternative Maltinverse where movies can have different reviews!
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostFri Jun 09, 2017 6:10 pm

Thanks, Mike, for bringing up and reviewing NIGHT AND THE CITY. After your post I double-checked and discovered I had bought the Blu-ray during Criterion’s November 2015 half-price sale while I was still living in Rochester MN recuperating from my bone marrow transplant. For whatever reason, I could remember nothing of the plot and not only had not reviewed it but had made no notes on the film or when I saw it, so I ran it again last night, and it all seemed vaguely familiar, including the bonus interview with Jules Dassin. I probably watched it on my computer or in one of the TV rooms at the recovery house but never followed up with the alternate cut or commentary once I got home (I plan to do that tonight). I found it a good but not quite great noir, probably 3 out of 4 stars or a B+ rating, but Richard Widmark is certainly in his prime with a strong supporting cast. Meanwhile here are observations on four other noir films released to Blu-ray late last year.

The genre, or as some say the style, of film noir, which deals with crime and various other unsavory activities usually happening at night, developed in Hollywood around 1940. Its focus on mostly antiheroic protagonists and a pervasive sense of doom separates it from standard crime or mystery-thrillers, consciously or unconsciously reflecting the dark times of a troubled world during World War II. Even the “good guys” have their bad points and sometimes may be nearly as corrupt and/or cynical as the “bad guys,” who may actually display some good points. Film noir reached its most prolific period in the postwar decade from 1945 through the mid- to late1950s as uneasiness about the world situation competed with the benefits of an economic boom that didn’t always bring what many people expected and a growing feeling that official authority could not always be trusted. A few examples of noir continued into the 1960s before being replaced by more standard crime dramas of “good guys vs. bad guys.” A generation later the genre revived as “neo-noir” with films such as BODY HEAT (1981) and the Coen brothers’ BLOOD SIMPLE (1984) consciously imitating the dark, expressionistic lighting and having no particularly admirable characters. More recently neo-noir has become more frequent and often rougher-edged with L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, the “Sin City” films, THE KILLER INSIDE ME, and the like, even Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy, again reflecting a disillusionment with a once-respected establishment.

Whether it’s due to more people discovering and becoming fans of the genre or today’s uncertain economic situation or both, more and more films from the classic noir era have been showing up on Blu-ray over the past year or so, an ideal format for its high-definition image’s ability to bring out the textures and details of the genre’s typically harsh lighting that often looks merely muddy or merges to black on old DVDs and streaming versions of the same films. Here are three that came out last November and one especially rare title from last October.

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I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941) 82m *** ½ (Blu-ray released Nov. 1, 2016)
This evocatively titled film by journeyman director H. Bruce Humberstone, is an excellent mystery thriller that was also shown under the title HOT SPOT. While theoretically made before the proliferation of what would become known as “film noir,” the film is loaded with elements that would become standard of the style/genre, from an often-seedy underworld of nightlife to circumstantial evidence pointing at a wrongly-accused man with a less-than-great reputation who must struggle to prove his innocence, to questionable police procedures, to a beautiful woman with dark secrets, but most especially the visual look of the film. The police, especially intimidating detective Laird Cregar, are positive that a promoter and publicity agent (Victor Mature) murdered a fashion model he made famous (Carole Landis). Mature and the model’s sister/roommate (Betty Grable) must try to figure out who the real killer is, as there are a number of other logical suspects. Grable is quite good in a straight dramatic role, and Mature is at his best in a role that’s both a victim and an investigator. The well-scripted plot is fun but the biggest draw is the stunning use of light and shadow and camera angles by cinematographer Edward Cronjager. Interestingly, the then-current pop tune “Over the Rainbow” shows up on the soundtrack a number of times.

The image on Kino's Blu-ray is generally outstanding with crisp textures, but the print sometimes shows some wear. Audio is good but a bit tinny with some pops at splices. Bonus features include a good audio commentary by Eddie Muller, an image gallery of photos and advertising, a trailer (in SD and missing titles and narration), plus trailers to four other film noir titles offered by Kino on Blu-ray: HE RAN ALL THE WAY (HD), 99 RIVER STREET (HD), DAISY KENYON (SD), and BOOMERANG (HD, also missing titles and narration). Inexplicably, the boxcover lists a deleted scene, alternate HOT SPOT opening title, and alternate advertising, none of which are actually on the disc.

I WAKE UP SCREAMING on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: B+
Extras: B

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CRY OF THE CITY (1948) 95m ***
(Blu-ray released November 15, 2016)
Robert Siodmak’s CRY OF THE CITY (1948) is another good solid noir thriller starring Victor Mature in a rather different role. This time Mature plays a generally low-key, serious-minded cop who is after a boyhood friend from his old neighborhood (Richard Conte) who is now a jewel thief and cop-killer. Shelley Winters and a very very young Debra Paget make brief but key appearances as the crook’s two girlfriends, one who wants to help him escape and the other who wants him to give himself up. It’s all stylish and well-done, but somehow lacks the character charisma of something like I WAKE UP SCREAMING.

Again, Kino’s Blu-ray has a mostly beautiful-looking picture that starts out a bit contrasty and soon gets much better, with good sound. Bonus features are a really excellent Eddie Muller audio commentary that brings out many of the film’s subtleties, a trailer (SD), and trailers to other five other noir titles available on Blu-ray from Kino: BOOMERANG, I WAKE UP SCREAMING, 99 RIVER STREET, SHIELD FOR MURDER (HD in 1.78), and HE RAN ALL THE WAY.

CRY OF THE CITY on Blu-ray --
Movie: B+
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: B-

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THE HOUSE ON 92nd STREET (1945) 88m ** ½
(Blu-ray released November 15, 2016)
Henry Hathaway incorporates a number of noir elements into this moderately interesting documentary-style spy thriller based on an actual case declassified after the war. A young FBI recruit of German heritage (William Eythe) becomes a double-agent hoping to expose Nazi spies trying to steal secrets of the Manhattan Project about the atomic bomb during the period of 1939 through 1941. Lloyd Nolan plays the head FBI agent. Rather than a traditional, complexly-plotted film noir melodrama driven by character actions and interactions, it’s more of a fairly routine procedural with events dramatized to plenty of voiceover narration, and a relatively minor twist to add some interest.

Kino’s Blu-ray looks and sounds fine, although there is a fair amount of grainy stock footage especially at the start. Bonus features are an Eddie Muller commentary, an image gallery, and trailers to six other noir films (but not this one): BOOMERANG, I WAKE UP SCREAMING, 99 RIVER STREET, CRY OF THE CITY, SHIELD FOR MURDER, and DAISY KENYON.

HOUSE ON 92nd STREET on Blu-ray --
Movie: B-
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: B-

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PRIVATE PROPERTY (1960) 79m *** ½
(Blu-ray released October 25, 2016)
This rather obscure independent feature was directed by Leslie Stevens, who later produced “The Outer Limits” TV series (now announced for Blu-ray release this fall). Made in 1959, the film was refused a seal of approval by the Hollywood Production Code and had only limited theatrical showings in 1960. This well-made thriller follows two unstable and sometimes violent drifters (Corey Allen and a young Warren Oates) stalking a blonde in a Corvette (Kate Manx). They make serious plans to seduce her, especially after they discover the house next door to her upscale suburban home is empty. The smarter of the pair realizes the woman is often frustrated by the frequent long absences of her businessman husband and tries to get hired on as their gardener, beginning a psychological cat-and-mouse relationship. A slow, deliberate, and very gradual building of characterizations and tension leads to a climactic nighttime sequence in the last ten minutes. It all has the feeling of a film made a decade or more later, although the surprisingly (for 1959) substantial violence and sexual tension, depicted primarily through implication, would be much more explicit by the 1970s and 80s.

Although newly restored in 4k, the Cinelicious Pics Blu-ray still looks slightly soft much of the time, but the 1.66:1 picture is very clear, with fine audio. The only bonus features are a new interview with the film’s still photographer, a trailer, and an enclosed leaflet with an essay on the film.

PRIVATE PROPERTY on Blu-ray --
Movie: B+
Video: A-
Audio: A
Extras: C
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Jeff Rapsis

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Jun 19, 2017 5:15 am

Harlett O'Dowd wrote:Thanks for the review. Anyone know if any of Leoncavallo's operatic treatment is included in Rapsis' score?


Hi there! Apologies for the slow response but just noticed your question. The answer is: alas, no! The music I came up withis based a cue sheet for the film unearthed by the George Eastman house and obtained by Kino-Lorber, plus some tunes I invented myself in the spirit of the French music hall scene.

By the way, when I received the cue sheet, I didn't recognize any of the pieces, which all seemed to be standard-issue silent film photoplay music. But Rodney Sauer of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra was kind enough to root through his files, and sent along many of the cues in various orchestrations.

One odd thing is that throughout ZAZA, a piece of music plays a big on-screen role: a piano arrangement of the old French love ballad 'Plaisir d'Amour.' It's played several times at big moments as a kind of signature tune (pianos are always handy in this movie), and the sheet music even appears on-screen in close-up!

Weirdly, for these moments, the cue sheet calls for an entirely different tune! (I forget what, but it was another obscure thing I'd never heard of.) Complicating matters further is that parts of 'Plaisir d'Amour' sound exactly like the Elvis hit 'Can't Help Falling In Love With You.' So if I used the original tune, I was concerned that people might think I was slipping a little of the King into ZAZA.

In the end, I went with 'Plaisir' as it's seen on screen, but tried to play it in a way that wouldn't automatically conjure the spirit of Elvis, if indeed he's no longer among us. So it was more Mozart than Memphis.

I have to admit I'm not familiar with the Leoncavallo score. But having read about it, now I'm interested. I'm planning to accompany ZAZA live again at some point, and I'll try to incorporate your suggestion when I do. Thank you so much!
Jeff Rapsis
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Mike Gebert

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Jun 21, 2017 10:20 pm

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"—ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS" (1939) 121m **** (Blu-ray released April 12, 2016)
There was a recent discussion of Only Angels Have Wings here, so I don't need to go into it in detail. This is one of my favorite Hollywood films, but so are its remakes in other genres, To Have and Have Not and Rio Bravo. I love the Hawksian universe, in which men are guys and women are prettier, slightly more insolent and suggestive guys in the model of Hawks' own wife Slim Keith; I love the special effects, that jungle that one of Skull Island's stegosauruses might lumber out of at any moment, to fight a Trimotor; I love the dialogue, sharp as diamonds, often the old coal of other movies newly compressed into jewels. A new scene caught me this time, that I hadn't paid attention to in any previous viewing—the one where Victor Kilian as Sparks tells Jean Arthur that she better go tell Cary Grant goodbye. It's all done in whispers, which is a little funny (in a good way), but it also suddenly confers on Sparks—a background utilitarian character—the gravity of being one of the grownups in the picture who she knows she can trust and get wisdom from. A lovely scene.

Criterion issued a new blu-ray about a year ago; there was one a few years back which I never bought, but I've had the old DVD for many years. I've seen complaints that the Criterion is too dark, and it is a bit darker than the DVD, but it didn't seem off to me. This is a movie that is mostly silver and shadows—when we actually get a daylight scene, it seems somehow pedestrian—and I was fine with the overall inkiness of this version of the film. The uncompressed mono soundtrack is ideal.

Besides the film, there's a Lux Radio Theater version with all the major players, a short film on Hawks' aviation films, and audio interviews with Hawks conducted by Peter Bogdanovich.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostThu Jun 22, 2017 6:29 am

Only Angels Have Wings is in a long line of men under pressure and the insolent women who love them that Hawks made many times. I see its first iteration in 1928's A Girl in Every Port, in which Louise Brooks played the girl. You can find echoes of it in a lot of Hawks' movies, including Red River.

Bob
Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates.

-- Werner Herzog
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostThu Jun 22, 2017 4:17 pm

True, but those three in particular, you could intercut scenes and not miss a beat, Lauren Bacall talking to Cary Grant and Angie Dickinson replying.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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