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!
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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.

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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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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Jun 28, 2017 3:15 pm

Thanks for the write-up. I like ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS a lot, and had meant to review it after getting the TCM Vault Blu-ray (which looks quite good), but that suddenly went out of print and Criterion came out with a Blu-ray (with apparently slightly better picture quality) but the different bonus features weren't enough to get me to double-dip.

Regarding "Plaisir d'Amour" being mistaken for an "Elvis" song, it was obviously the Elvis song that stole (um, "borrowed") the same melody decades later. To save paying composer royalties, a number of Elvis recordings were simply old Public Domain tunes and folk-songs with new lyrics that Elvis was able to sell as new songs. "Love Me Tender" is really the old song "Aura Lee" and "Wooden Heart" is an old German song, for example (he even sings a bit of it in German). Similarly during an ASCAP strike during the 1940s, lots of pop songs were written to melodies taken from the music of classical composers. Incidents like this are good occasions to educate the public that there's a lot more story behind what they think they know about music!

Anyway, back to another pair of Blu-ray reviews of discs I've had lying around for a while...



Todd Haynes’ Oscar-nominated period romantic melodrama FAR FROM HEAVEN (2002) will have its 15th anniversary this fall. The film has a socially-conscious edge that earned it widespread acclaim, yet it is still not available on Blu-ray in the United States (there are Blu-rays from Canada, France, and Spain, however). Those who appreciated his visually striking story of a 1950s New England housewife’s awakening to the hypocrisy, racism, and homophobia of her apparently perfect little world may want to check out the two films that heavily influenced Haynes. Douglas Sirk’s ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s sort-of semi-remake ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (1974) both came out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection in mid-2014. Both are as timely today as ever, especially the Fassbinder variation, and each is somewhat more satisfying than the Haynes film they influenced.

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ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955) 89m *** (Blu-ray released June 10, 2014)
Despite (or perhaps because of) its box office success, when ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS first played theatrically it was largely dismissed as just another “women’s picture” or a “weepie,” a domestic drama depicting typical small-town activities, with a star-crossed romance carefully calculated to reduce its target audience to tears. Jane Wyman (former wife of Ronald Reagan) stars as Cary Scott, a well-off middle-aged but still-attractive widow who gradually falls for her working-class and more free-spirited gardener Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), who is about ten to fifteen years younger. The shock and overwhelming disapproval of her shallow, gossipy country-club friends and especially her two snobbish college-age children, however, cause her great distress. Everyone insists she is more suited to marry an urbane but unexciting aging widower she can take care of, or simply should get a television to satisfy her loneliness. Cary’s conflicted and shifting feelings about whether to pursue love and happiness or conform to society’s expectations drive the plot through the rest of the film.

It’s easy to view the film as a simple romantic melodrama and a vivid Technicolor time capsule of 1950s life. By a decade or two after its release, however, a number of film critics and other directors re-evaluated the film. They picked up on its strong social commentary, both obvious and subtly ironic, on class prejudice and the hypocrisy of middle-class American values, as well as its focus on a female protagonist who thinks and grows emotionally rather than merely reacting to what happens. While not unusual today, it was remarkable for a genre film produced within the heavily-standardized studio system, aimed squarely at a target audience that critics of its era disdained, critics who rejected its unashamed sentimentalism and perhaps identified too closely with the elite establishment Sirk was criticizing.

A bit of analysis reveals how skillfully Sirk manipulates audience emotions and simultaneously reveals character qualities as well as his ironic subtext through his symbolic use of colors, settings, costume designs, lighting, positioning of actors, and camera framing. His expert control over the cinematic elements and incorporation of a lush and emotional musical score (hence the origin of the term “melo-drama”) complement and intensify the performances, as well as providing subtext for deeper interpretation. Sirk had a classical education, studying philosophy and art history before becoming a director for stage and screen in Germany in the 1930s, even working with Bertolt Brecht. Ignoring the pleas of Josef Goebbels to remain, he was able to escape Nazi Germany with his Jewish wife before World War II, soon settling in Hollywood as a writer and director, eventually specializing in romantic melodrama like ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS. However, after one of his biggest hits, the 1959 remake of IMITATION OF LIFE (which I reviewed a couple years ago), he retired and moved to Switzerland, also teaching at a Munich film school.

Criterion’s Blu-ray, a 2k restoration transferred at the 1.75:1 aspect ratio, looks amazing, with richly saturated colors and a film-like image that shows only minor traces of age. The mono audio sounds very good. The main feature includes optional English subtitles. A fine selection of bonus features include a booklet including an essay by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, an insightful audio commentary, interviews with Sirk for British and French television done in the 1970s and 80s, an interview with William Reynolds who played Wyman’s spoiled son and acted in other Sirk films, a trailer, and an interesting hour-long documentary on how star Rock Hudson’s sexuality was hinted at in many of his films.

ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: A


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ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (1974) 93m ***
(Blu-ray released September 30, 2014)
At the midpoint of his brief but prolific and controversial career, six years before his epic 15½ -hour masterpiece BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, 29-year-old German writer-director Rainer Werner Fassbinder created his first big international hit and one of his most memorable films with his 1974 production of ANGST ESSEN SEELE AUF (ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL, but more accurately translated as “Fear Eat Up Soul” in the broken German of its title character). The touching character drama was inspired greatly by the films of Douglas Sirk, specifically ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS. Its story of two lonely people exemplifies Fassbinder’s common theme of alienation in an uncaring world where everyone is expected to conform to certain standards. His adaptation also was and is a powerful indictment of xenophobic social attitudes in Germany (and elsewhere). Fassbinder turns his film’s widow into a working-class cleaning-lady named Emmi Kurowski but makes her a good decade or two older than Jane Wyman’s 40-ish Cary Scott, and makes the unexpected, unconventional object of her affections into a dark-skinned immigrant Moroccan laborer about half her age.

The film poignantly compares and contrasts the isolation felt by the aging woman whose Polish immigrant husband has died and whose children rarely visit, with the isolation of the exotic foreigner forced to move to Germany to find work where he’s faced with having no friends (only a few Arab colleagues from work who are basically just drinking buddies) as well as the language barrier, racial prejudice, animosity, and suspicion from the society he’s now living in. The two meet by chance in a bar on a rainy night and somehow feel a strange connection with each other, recognizing one another’s need for meaningful companionship. When they impulsively decide to get married, the entire neighborhood is as shocked and upset as Emmi’s children. In a nod to Sirk’s film, Emmi’s enraged son even kicks in the screen of her TV set when he finds out. Fassbinder himself plays her obnoxious son-in-law. Again the couple must get through numerous ups and downs before their acquaintances start to accept them and they can fully accept each other. Again a deep thread of irony permeates various incidents and reactions, again with the staging and camerawork helping to intensify their feelings for the viewer. An interesting and important subplot not fully explored involves Ali with Barbara, the 30-ish blonde woman who owns the bar they patronize. While certain scenes linger over shots and actor expressions for dramatic effect, the film as a whole is tightly-structured, effectively edited, and rarely feels slow, running barely over an hour-and-a-half.

Transferred in 4k at 1.37:1 from the original camera negative, Criterion’s Blu-ray looks and sounds great, as usual. Bonus features include a leaflet, a 20-minute discussion by filmmaker Todd Haynes, interviews with the star Brigitte Mira and film editor Thea Eymèsz, a short related to the film, a clip from Fasssbinder’s 1970 film THE AMERICAN SOLDIER that helped shape this story, a 1976 BBC documentary about New German Cinema, and a trailer.

ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL on Blu-ray –
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: A-
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Jun 28, 2017 4:53 pm

Christopher Jacobs wrote:Regarding "Plaisir d'Amour" being mistaken for an "Elvis" song, it was obviously the Elvis song that stole (um, "borrowed") the same melody decades later. To save paying composer royalties, a number of Elvis recordings were simply old Public Domain tunes and folk-songs with new lyrics that Elvis was able to sell as new songs. "Love Me Tender" is really the old song "Aura Lee" and "Wooden Heart" is an old German song, for example (he even sings a bit of it in German).


Don't want to start a fight, but I do want to defend Elvis and the songs he recorded. While it's true that "Love Me Tender" is based on "Aura Lee," the new version was written by Ken Darby, not "stolen" by Elvis. (Elvis did share publishing royalties, a not uncommon practice at the time.) And his "It's Now or Never" may have been based on "O Solo Mio," but it really came from an earlier adaptation sung by Tony Martin. "Can't Help Falling in Love" uses the melody of "Plaisir d'Amour," but composers like Mozart, Ravel, and Beethoven also borrowed liberally from folk music and themes of their time.

A lot of supposedly original songs by Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Hank Williams, and many blues artists were adapted from public domain songs once producers and publishers like Ralph Peer realized they could make money from them—not to avoid paying royalties. Col. Parker was meticulous about songwriting fees and royalties, and Elvis never had to defend himself against plagiarism charges like George Harrison and others.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Jun 28, 2017 5:41 pm

Did you know that many popular songs were actually written by the great masters?

“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

PostWed Jun 28, 2017 6:42 pm

Mike Gebert wrote:Did you know that many popular songs were actually written by the great masters?


John Williams in "Dial M for Music."

About the only ad of its type (known in the trade as "PI" or per inquiry) that I looked forward to and usually let play out, just so I could relish Williams's ultra-cultured intonation.
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Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Jun 28, 2017 6:57 pm

Paul Penna wrote:John Williams in "Dial M for Music.

Correction: John Williams in "To Catch A Tune Thief"
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Jun 28, 2017 7:30 pm

I was young enough when I saw that ad to be duped into buying it. All 120 tunes were there all right, only in extremely truncated form.
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greta de groat

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Jun 28, 2017 9:45 pm

I must have seen that commercial hundreds of times, and i still enjoyed seeing it again. I still can't listen to Prince Igor without thinking of that stuffy old gent.

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostThu Jun 29, 2017 2:12 pm

"Friends, if you were to go into a record store and ask for them, they would think you were crazy. Hullo! I'm Don G. O'Vanni and I'm proud to represent the Musical Heritage Surplus Club of Hong Kong. Wouldn't you like to raise the level of your home? Bring your family closer together around the hi-fi? Listening to such immoral pieces of art like "Bedaze the Fountain"! Or, "The Duke's Duet" from Il Schizofreino!"
-"40 Great Unclaimed Melodies", The Firesign Theatre

:D First thing that came into my head soon as I saw the first 20 seconds of the ad.
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Christopher Jacobs

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSat Jul 01, 2017 10:14 pm

I had no intention of disparaging Elvis for singing songs with lyrics written to Public Domain tunes. I expect that with the control of Col. Parker he probably had relatively little input into the songs he should record or perform, and as I noted, it was already a common practice to write and arrange hit pop songs to long-existing tunes and melodies from classical music (one of my favorites is “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows"). The problem comes with so many modern-day audience members who may have broken out of the limited top-40 playlists to discover and recognize old pop songs they like (by Elvis, Glenn Miller, or numerous others) but do not have a broad enough musical background to realize that they were already old standards or adapted from brief segments of classical compositions long-known to devotees of “serious” concert-hall music; or for that matter, that a frequently-covered hit light pop ballad from the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 2010s like “I Only Have Eyes for You” is actually a hit Warren & Dubin number crooned by Dick Powell in 1934’s Busby Berkeley musical DAMES (the first Google hit for the song is a doo-wop recording by the Flamingos) or that “You Made Me Love You” might be used in a lot of modern commercials and might have been sung by Judy Garland, but had long before been a 1913 hit for Al Jolson, and of course is currently Public Domain, which accounts for its frequent use in commercials.

Anyway, back to a movie review, and speaking of music, this time of a film containing several popular singers acting and giving rousing musical performances in a 1953 romantic melodrama shot in 3-D with stereophonic sound!


Stereoscopic photography, which goes back to the 1860s and thrived in the 1950s, adds literally another dimension to still photos and movies. It can make them seem either more realistic or more exaggerated, with 3-D effects either more enjoyable or distracting (or both) than a traditional flat image. After reviving the 3-D craze in the mid-2000s, Hollywood is still making some movies in 3-D (or more often computer-converting movies shot in 2-D into 3-D), especially digital animated movies. However, for some reason after ballyhooing 3-D television sets since 2010, HDTV manufacturers have been quietly dropping 3-D models from their 2017 lines over the past several months, so anyone thinking of switching to 3-D should consider buying a 2016 or older model as soon as possible, or (perhaps a better choice) investing in a 3-D capable HD projector, plus a 3-D Blu-ray player. Probably not coincidentally, major studios and retailers alike have been much less aggressive in marketing 3-D Blu-rays the past couple of years, as well, although they are still usually available for recent movies shown theatrically in 3-D.

Ironically, the past couple of years and for the foreseeable future, new 3-D Blu-ray releases of classic films originally made in 3-D have been on the upswing. After occasional isolated 3-D movies from the 1910s through the 1940s (mostly shorts, some of which are on the 3-D RARITIES Blu-ray), the first Hollywood 3-D movie craze lasted from late 1952 through early 1955. There were 50 full-length 3-D features released to theatres during that period, most shot during 1953. Out of those 50, all but two still survive in 3-D right/left pairs. Of the 48 surviving, about 30 have been recently restored and 13 are currently available on 3-D Blu-ray, with another three or more planned for later this year (including the location-shot Korean War docudrama CEASE FIRE, William Cameron Menzies’ horror-thriller THE MAZE, and Raoul Walsh’s Rock Hudson-Donna Reed western GUN FURY). A few of the scattered 3-D films made during the 1960s, and 70s and the mini-revival of 3-D in the 80s are also on 3-D Blu-ray. MGM’s classic musical KISS ME KATE got a beautifully restored 3-D Blu-ray release by Warner Home Video two years ago with its original stereo soundtrack, and this spring the very first 3-D musical made its 3-D Blu-ray debut from Kino Lorber.

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THOSE REDHEADS FROM SEATTLE in 3-D (1953) 90m *** ½ (or *** in 2-D) (Released to Blu-ray May 23, 2017)
This period melodrama with romance and several lively songs can be viewed as pleasantly diverting entertainment but might quickly fade from memory or blend in with any number of other films with similar plot lines. However, this film took advantage of all the modern movie technology that was available at the time to create a memorable impression and draw moviegoers away from their television sets at a time when TV ownership was growing rapidly. Paramount Pictures chose this musical to be their first film designed from the outset to be shown in widescreen (at the 1.66 to 1 aspect ratio). It was also filmed in color using three-dimensional cinematography and had a three-channel stereo soundtrack, all of which add greatly to the impact and enjoyment of the story.

The year 1953 was the height of 3-D in movies, comic books and amateur photography. Unfortunately when this film was originally released in fall of 1953, the initial 3-D craze was subsiding, due mainly to poor quality control in the theatres that had to synchronize two projectors perfectly, one showing the left-eye image and the other the right-eye image projected through polaroid filters. Despite carefully designed 3-D photography, faulty projection frequently resulted in viewer headaches (which led to some bad reviews by critics attending substandard presentations). Thus only a tiny fraction (about two percent) of the theatres that played THOSE REDHEADS FROM SEATTLE decided to run it in 3-D, and even fewer with its stereo soundtrack. (MGM’s 3-D musical comedy KISS ME KATE opened about a month later to better success.) Thanks to the efforts of the 3-D Film Archive, the original left and right 35mm film elements of “REDHEADS” were scanned in high-definition so the faded color could be digitally restored and various alignment and steadiness issues could be corrected. An expert audio technician was able to recreate the long-lost stereo soundtrack by isolating individual frequencies and reassigning sounds to left, center, and right the way they would have originally been placed. The restored color widescreen 3-D stereophonic sound version premiered at the TCM Classic Film Festival this past April, and came out on 3-D Blu-ray last month.

The plot unfolds during the 1890s gold rush in the Yukon with four spunky sisters and their straitlaced Victorian mother traveling north to join their newspaper-editor father. Rhonda Fleming, Teresa Brewer, and the musical duo the Bell Sisters play the sisters, and noted character actress Agnes Moorhead is their mother. They get a ride from a saloon owner (Gene Barry) who is bringing his new stage entertainer (recording artist Guy Mitchell), but when they reach the town they discover their father has been murdered and the saloon owner they’ve befriended might be implicated. Of course various romances develop along the way, complicated by incomplete understanding and mistaken assumptions. The plot pauses periodically for several pleasant songs that are worked nicely into the story (enhanced even more by the 3-D picture and stereo sound). The Hollywood happy ending is not unexpected.

The disc will play in 2-D on a normal Blu-ray player, but the 3-D is a primary reason for watching. The attractive color, vivid 3-D, and effective stereo sound raise the film’s entertainment value substantially. Staging and camerawork provide beautifully-composed three-dimensional images with several notable out-of-the-screen moments (particularly dancing girls’ arms and legs, and a Guy Mitchell song and dance number when he thrusts his hat towards the camera). Most of the 3-D concentrates on depicting a natural depth and roundness to things in the scene, with some very nice outdoor 3-D work showing buildings, trees, and mountains on different planes. Even the opening titles use clever 3-D effects, with some titles floating in front of the screen on different levels from other titles, while the background picture recedes into the screen.

There are many grainy sections from dupe footage (mainly around optical effects) but many shots are very sharp. For some reason the stereo sound has much lower volume in the center dialogue channel, which makes the music and sound effects quite loud if the dialogue is at a comfortable level. Otherwise the stereo is amazingly realistic with believable musical presence and nice occasional use of directional dialogue and sound effects. The original mono audio most viewers heard is available as an option. Kino’s Blu-ray has an informative and nearly non-stop audio commentary discussing the 3-D process, the production, and some of the actors, as well as the difficulties in restoring the surviving film elements. An interesting bonus restoration demo shows some of the severe problems with fading, jitter, and 3-D alignment in the original negative. There’s also a 2006 interview with star Rhonda Fleming. There are no English subtitles. For more details on this and other 3-D movies as well as the technology itself, be sure to check out the http://www.3dfilmarchive.com" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank website.

THOSE REDHEADS FROM SEATTLE on 3-D Blu-ray --
Movie: A- (or just a B without the 3-D or stereo sound)
Video: A-
3-D: A+
Audio: A-
Extras: B+
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Jul 24, 2017 5:33 pm

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WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967) ***1/2 (Released on BluRay on January 24, 2017)
Wait Until Dark (1967) has been recently released on BluRay by Warner Brothers, and if you love suspense movies it deserves a spot on your shelf. The film was based on a play by Frederick Knott which opened in 1966 with Lee Remick in the starring role. The story revolves around Susy Hendrix, a married woman who has recently become blind and is still learning how to navigate in a dark world.

The film opens with a woman (Samantha Jones) is flying from Montreal to New York with an old doll that is being used to smuggle heroin. When she arrives, she sees a man she apparently knows and gets worried, so she gives the doll to another passenger who happens to be Sam Hendrix, Susy's husband. Sam brings the doll home and it is promptly lost.

Later, two con-men enter a New York apartment to wait for information about a job. Mike (Richard Crenna) and Carlino (Jack Weston) make themselves at home. After waiting a while, they are joined by Roat, who they have never met before. Roat (Alan Arkin) blackmails the two and promises $4000 each if they can help him find the heroin. They are interrupted by Susy, who comes home, as they are still in her apartment. They quickly learn that they can stay in the apartment undetected as long as they don't make any noise.

The next day they cook up an elaborate ruse to convince Susy to turn over the doll. Mike plays an old Marine buddy of Sam. Carlino plays a police sergeant, since he used to be one before switching to a life of crime. Roat plays an old man who burglarizes the apartment and later an apologetic son. The scam gets complicated when the latchkey girl from upstairs comes down to assist Susy with grocery shopping. Initially Hepburn trusts them all, but she starts to notice behaviors that don't make sense.

I won't spill the beans on the rest of the plot, but the last fifteen minutes is as suspenseful as any movie can get. While Hepburn's character is as sweet as any other role that she played, she is willing to do anything to protect herself and the ending is quite violent for a 1960s film. Director Terence Young magnifies the suspense by having some scenes with little or no light and only sound (or complete silence). The two trailers included as supplements both warn audience members that no one will be admitted during the last eight minutes of the film. They also ask smokers in the audience to extinguish their cigarettes near the end of the film so that the theater will be completely dark.

Hepburn gives a masterful performance that was nominated for an Academy Award. You will truly believe that she is blind. Alan Arkin, in a very early performance, alternates between goofy creepy and scary creepy. Richard Crenna gives an excellent performance as a con man who sounds completely earnest as he lies through his teeth. Jack Weston is also good as the angry and frustrated ex-police sergeant. I'm dumbfounded how Mr. FBI-from-TV Efram Zimbalist, Jr. was nominated for a Golden Globe. He seems slightly miscast for his part.

Charles Lang's cinematography is drab at first, but it is outstanding for the long finale which was shot with little or no light. This is a new 2K color-corrected transfer, and will look excellent on a large TV screen. The film is captioned in English only.

As you would expect with a film based on a play, most of the action takes place in the apartment where Susy is trapped by her blindness and the criminals. The beginning of the film does have some expository scenes at the airport. We also experience some important scenes taking place on the street outside the apartment. The soundtrack has been remixed from mono to stereo. Henry Mancini's score is just as disturbing as the film. He tuned two pianos a quarter-tone apart for a very distinctive sound.

As for supplements, there are two trailers included. The longer one is transferred in high-def 1080p. There is also a featurette that was produced either for the original DVD release or for TCM. Alan Arkin talks about how people hated him after the film was released because he was so mean to Audrey Hepburn. Mel Ferrer (Hepburn's husband and the film's producer) talks about how he convinced her to play this role so that she could stretch herself as an actress.

WAIT UNTIL DARK on Blu-ray --
Movie: A
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: C-
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Aug 16, 2017 9:30 pm

Concerns over potential nuclear war with South Korea have been in the news recently. This week marks the 72nd anniversary of Japan’s agreement to unconditional surrender about a week after the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the official surrender ceremonies were held in early September 1945. Earlier this year two very different but interesting films depicting Japanese takes on World War II came out on Blu-ray, one filtered through an American director’s views shortly after the war, the other an official wartime Japanese government production.

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ANATAHAN (1953/58) 91m *** (Blu-ray released April 25, 2017)
Noted American director Josef von Sternberg flourished in the late 1920s and 1930s, especially remembered for his silent classics UNDERWORLD (1927), THE LAST COMMAND (1928), and THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK (1928), plus several major films that made Marlene Dietrich an international star in the early sound era including THE BLUE ANGEL (1930), MOROCCO (1930), SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932), and more. He continued making films until his final feature in 1953, which he revised in 1958.

That film, ANATAHAN, came out on Blu-ray this April from Kino Lorber in a new restoration of the uncensored 1958 director’s cut (plus the complete 1953 cut for comparison, which is essentially the same length but with slightly different editing and minus the nudity). They were mastered from film elements preserved by the Library of Congress and Cinematheque Francaise.

Von Sternberg filmed ANATAHAN independently on a modest budget in Japan, largely within a studio with some location shots. The plot was loosely inspired by a memoir of one of the survivors recounting the true story of several Japanese sailors marooned on a Pacific island near the end of World War II, and not realizing that the war had been over for six years when they are finally rescued in 1951. The only other inhabitants on the island are a man at an abandoned plantation and a beautiful young woman. Naturally this causes various power struggles among all the men, in addition to their official military duties and devolving sense of official discipline.

The film is an interesting exercise in style and exploring human emotions under stress, although its approach may be problematic for viewers until adjusting to its unusual narrative tactics. The film uses an all-Japanese cast speaking in Japanese. However the director provides his own somewhat odd voiceover narration/commentary on the action, instead of presenting a straight dramatization with English subtitles. This tends to make it feel more novelistic, like a storyteller, and takes some getting used to, although it does make sure we understand the director’s views on his characters and human nature. There is plenty of the recognizably von Sternbergian artistic use of light, shadow, shooting through nets, carefully-designed studio sets, etc., as well as effective performances by the actors. A more traditional dramatic narrative might have made it more effective, but it remains an interesting experiment. A few too-obvious cheap effects shots distract in a couple of scenes, and the film tends to drag at times, but the overall visuals make up for that.

Kino’s Blu-ray has a mostly beautiful HD image scanned from the original camera negative (on the 1958 cut, but the1953 cut looks mostly very good as well). Audio is adequate, reflecting the film’s low budget. The modest but nice selection of bonus features, all in HD, includes trailers, a reminiscence by von Sternberg’s son, outtakes shot for the revised cut (with plenty of aesthetically tasteful nudity), a visual essay, newsreels of the actual Japanese survivors’ rescue, and the full-length reconstructed 1953 theatrical cut assembled from several sources of varying quality.

ANATAHAN on Blu-ray --
Movie: B
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: B-


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MOMOTARO: SACRED SAILORS (桃太郎 海の神兵) (1945) 75m ***
(Blu-ray released May 9, 2017)
Momotaro (“Peach-boy”) and his four animal friends were long-time Japanese folk heroes/fairytales that became animated short films in the late silent era. With the expansion of the Japanese Empire in the 1930s, they were pressed into service beyond their folktale roots to support patriotic (and militaristic) themes. Several of these original short cartoons (plus numerous other early examples of Japanese animation) are available for viewing on line thanks to the Japanese Animated Film Classics website from the National Film Center of Tokyo at http://animation.filmarchives.jp/en/index.html" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank (with English translation).

In 1943, a 37-minute sound cartoon MOMOTARO’S SEA EAGLES dramatized the attack on Pearl Harbor (“Demon Island”). It can be found on line. Then in 1945, Japan’s first feature-length animated cartoon was another Momotaro wartime propaganda adventure, MOMOTARO: SACRED SAILORS. This past May, FUNimation Entertainment released a Blu-ray edition that includes that historically significant feature plus another, non-propaganda (or at least far more subtle propaganda) cartoon short, “The Spider and the Tulip” (1943).

MOMOTARO: SACRED SAILORS is a fascinating look at World War II propaganda from the perspective of Japan against the British and Americans. It has plenty of beautiful black-and-white animation and several catchy songs. Even at only 75 minutes, it does tend to drag on a bit at times, emphasizing its didactic messages about selfless cooperation in the war effort, including teaching simple islanders Japanese customs and language. The plot assumes its audience is familiar with the characters so it never gets around to exploring them as much as the earlier shorts from 1928, 1931, and 1932 had done. When their paratroop mission captures the island navy base, it’s especially interesting to see that among their prisoners are Popeye (with spinach can!) and Bluto, considering that there were some rather intense anti-Japanese Popeye cartoons circulating around the same time this was made.

The FUNimation Blu-ray looks quite good overall, with occasional slightly soft portions likely due to the film itself. A bonus short is the lovely 1943 cartoon THE SPIDER AND THE TULIP along with trailers to a few recent anime films, plus a nice little illustrated booklet with a couple of essays and restoration information.

SPIDER AND TULIP is a cute, beautifully animated 15-minute musical cartoon (also in black-and-white) about a spider trying to seduce a ladybug who gets protective help from a friendly tulip. The style appears to have a heavy influence from Disney’s Silly Symphonies and the MGM Harmon-Ising nature-oriented cartoons of the 1930s.

MOMOTARO: SACRED SAILORS on Blu-ray --
Movie: B
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: C
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Aug 21, 2017 3:53 pm

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BEGGARS OF LIFE (1928) 91m ***1/2 (Blu-ray released August 22, 2017)

A hobo (Richard Arlen) looking for something to eat barges into something more than he bargained for: a murder. A girl (Louise Brooks) has shot her caretaker for getting too grabby with her. The hobo and the girl take it on the lam, and fall in with a crowd of hoboes dominated by Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery); but the cops are closing in—and Red has his own eye on the girl.

Beggars of Life is one of those movies that's been half around for a while, something you could see in somewhat murky prints that only gave a rough idea of the expert cinematography of Henry Gerrard (Little Women, The Most Dangerous Game). Only 16mm material survived but George Eastman House worked to coax a high quality image out of it, and that's what's now on blu-ray from Kino Lorber, accompanied by a period score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. The image isn't perfect—a little soft (some of that may be intentional) and blown out in certain outdoor shots—but it's very watchable and at last conveys something close to what the film must have looked like in its original release.

William Wellman claimed this was his favorite silent of his own, and I can believe that he at least had the most control he ever enjoyed in his life making a followup to his huge hit Wings, also with Arlen. But he also clearly liked the theme of the hobo life, since he returned to it five years later in a not-exactly remake, Wild Boys of the Road. There are similarities— including a girl disguised as a boy— but also big differences, given that Wild Boys is plainly a Depression social drama, very affecting for the fact that it is portraying a social reality with heartrending sympathy for the kids living through it.

But Beggars of Life is 1928, the height of pre-Wall Street crash prosperity, and it's basically a romance of hobo life, not only because there is an implicit romance in the way Arlen looks to protect Brooks at risk to himself, but because the whole picture of hobo society, its criminally-shaded rituals and the freedom of the open road it represents, is romanticized in a way that has grown more serious by Wild Boys' time. This is an adventure film, fast-paced and able to sweep you along as easily as any silent made, and certainly belongs in that group of end-of-the-era silents that seem to have complete mastery of the form like Sunrise, Seventh Heaven, The Last Command, Lonesome, and a few others.

The film is also remembered today for giving Louise Brooks her main serious role before she went off to Germany to work for Pabst. Although there are a couple of lost film holes in her filmography, it seems pretty clear that this was the most notable time she got to play something with real dramatic heft, more than just vivacity (Love 'Em and Leave 'Em) or likability (It's the Old Army Game) on screen. That said, the fact is that as soon as Wallace Beery appears on screen full of braggadocio tinged with menace, it's his movie—as the fade-out tacitly acknowledges by giving him, not the lovers, the final shot of the picture.

The score by Mont Alto seems a touch Victorian for a picture that hints ahead to noir more than a few times, but I can believe that that was appropriate to the period. I'd be interested in seeing it with a score that jumps ahead in flavor a couple of decades, I don't think that would be jarring in this film's case, but Mont Alto's is certainly a fine and skillful representation of how it might have been presented then. There are two commentary tracks—one by William Wellman Jr., which based on a spot listen seems to be mostly historical about the production (with some personal reminiscences thrown in), and one by Thomas Gladysz (who I interviewed for NitrateVille Radio), which has more of a focus on Brooks but also covers hobo author Jim Tully and the history of turning his book into this movie.
“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

PostTue Aug 22, 2017 9:13 pm

Thanks for the review of BEGGARS OF LIFE, Mike. I may try to post a review of my own in the next week or so, as well as a review of Kino's excellent new Blu-ray of VARIETE.

Meanwhile, continuing the theme of World War II’s Pacific conflict, which officially ended 72 years ago this month, here are some comments on a character-study artfilm that was disguised as a war film, released a couple of months ago to Blu-ray, also by Kino.

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HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968) 103m *** ½ (Blu-ray released June 27, 2017)
Director John Boorman is probably best-remembered for his intense and still-disturbing hit adaptation of James Dickey’s forest survival allegory DELIVERANCE (1972), his eccentric King Arthur interpretation EXCALIBUR (1981), and his first Hollywood film, the offbeat Lee Marvin-Angie Dickinson crime drama POINT BLANK (1967), later remade by Mel Gibson as PAYBACK (1999). His bizarre sci-fi film ZARDOZ (1974) also has a cult following. Boorman’s follow-up to POINT BLANK was another Lee Marvin project, the ambitious but low-key World War II adventure-survival tale HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968), a two-character film co-starring Japanese legend Toshiro Mifune. Kino Lorber released “HELL IN THE PACIFIC to Blu-ray earlier this summer.

Ostensibly a war story, HELL IN THE PACIFIC is really a thoughtful psychological character study of two enemy soldiers stranded on the same island during wartime. (A loose and rather less effective remake by Wolfgang Petersen in 1985 reimagined the situation in a science-fiction setting as ENEMY MINE with Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr.) Boorman loved the concept of almost purely visual storytelling and set out to make what is essentially a silent film, since the two soldiers cannot understand each other’s language and the very little dialogue included was not subtitled for its original release. The disc includes optional English titles that now let viewers know what each man is saying, which somewhat defeats the original effect and detracts from the pair’s initial alienation and misinterpretations of each other, but it does give Mifune’s character much more dimension for non-Japanese speakers.

Marvin and Mifune are both in top form as the enemy officers first out to kill each other, then steal each other’s supplies, capture and torment each other, before finally realizing they somehow need to join forces and forge an uneasy friendship in order to escape their hostile island environment for a larger island. Conrad Hall’s beautiful Panavision widescreen cinematography brings out both the harshness and the peacefulness of nature, as well as the shifting emotions of the two characters. Adding to the atmosphere and intensity is that film was shot entirely on real locations with no studio or soundstage work, including the harrowing ocean raft sequences.

HELL IN THE PACIFIC is a fine artfilm masquerading as war film, as the audio commentary mentions. When it came out, audiences looking for a war movie, misled by the title, were not sure what to make of it. Audiences looking for an artful survival story were likely put off by the militaristic title. Interestingly, it’s one of the few adult-oriented films to earn a “G” rating, not a big deal when the ratings system was first established in 1968, but now an extreme rarity in today’s tradition of using ratings as marketing tools and warnings for oversensitive parents. After a disappointing initial release, the studio changed the film’s ending to a more cynical, 1970s-era conclusion without the director’s knowledge, and that theatrical version is the default ending on the disc. However, luckily Kino has restored Boorman’s original, more ambiguous and slightly hopeful ending as an alternate seamless branching option (although it then stops with black rather than continuing with the closing credits). This is the ending to watch first, and then re-watch the last five minutes with the theatrical ending to see which you prefer. Adventurous viewers may wish to obtain a nice bottle of Sake to heat up and sip through the film, especially during the final sequence as the two men indulge themselves after all they have been through together.

Kino’s Blu-ray is unfortunately uneven in picture quality. Some parts are pretty sharp, but much of it looks rather soft most of the time. Sitting back further from the screen mitigates some of the softness, and overall it’s still much better than a DVD. There is a good DTS-MA 2.0 stereo soundtrack, but a Blu-ray player must be set to convert that to PCM 2.0 and played through a ProLogic decoder to extract all four original channels plus a subwoofer track, otherwise many amplifiers will play the lossless sound through only the left and right speakers.

Bonus features include a very interesting and informative audio commentary by historians Travis Crawford and Bill Ackerman, who discuss many of the other works by the director and stars, as well as other influential films of the era. They also recap much of what John Boorman recounts on his often-extreme difficulties getting the film made in the fascinating half-hour interview recorded for this disc earlier this year. Another nice bonus interview (about10 minutes) lets art director Anthony Pratt (a nephew of Boris Karloff) discuss his involvement with this and other Boorman films. There is sadly no trailer for the film itself, but there’s a gallery of five trailers to other films by Boorman, Marvin, and others from the era.

HELL IN THE PACIFIC on Blu-ray --
Movie: A
Video: B
Audio: A-
Extras: A-
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Aug 23, 2017 3:31 pm

Today, August 23, marks the untimely death at age 31 of movie superstar and international sex symbol Rudolph Valentino. Sicilian-born Valentino had become the celebrity symbol representing the 1920s, the archetypal “Latin Lover” soon imitated by numerous other actors, within eight years after he emigrated to the United States at age 18. After work as a dancer and some theatre roles, he played movie bit parts and villains until his casting in THE FOUR HORSEME OF THE APOCALYPSE (1921) brought him to the attention of critics and audiences. Later the same year, his starring role in THE SHEIK turned him into a full-fledged sensation (among most female movie patrons) and an irritation (to many male moviegoers). Both THE SHEIK (1921), his most famous film, and its sequel THE SON OF THE SHEIK (1926), which turned out to be Valentino’s final (and arguably best) film, came out in Blu-ray editions from Kino-Lorber this May at the end of Valentino’s birth month. Both films are color tinted/toned.

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THE SHEIK (1921) 73m *** (Blu-ray released May 30, 2017)
THE SHEIK was adapted from a notorious and controversial best-selling 1919 romantic adventure novel by Edith Maude Hull, her first book and the most popular of her career. It was a book targeted exclusively for women readers, combining elements of feminist self-independence with an erotic undercurrent of desire for domination and submission, both commonplace today but far ahead of their time, considered so scandalous and salacious that women frequently had to hide the book from parents and/or boyfriends. Hull’s book simultaneously helped revive the popularity of exotic orientalism and the appeal of Middle-Eastern, colonialist, and British stereotypes. Paramount Pictures’ film version, naturally, sanitized much of the material, making the book’s more explicit rape elements ambiguous or eliminating them entirely. Nevertheless, female moviegoers knew the book (or its reputation) and flocked to the film. THE SHEIK became a smash hit around the world, in the process making Valentino into a movie idol who came to represent the entire decade, even though he was not satisfied with his performance in the film.

Viewed today, the film can be appreciated as a significant historical and social artifact. If modern viewers are able to adjust to the style of high melodrama used through much of the story, it can also be watched as a very enjoyable romantic desert adventure of Lady Diana, a liberated young Englishwoman (Agnes Ayres) who is abducted by an Arab sheik (Valentino) and learns to love him while he learns to be a bit more sensitive and less self-centered. The initially flamboyant acting mellows out as the film progresses and becomes somewhat more natural as the two central characters get to know each other better. Adolphe Menjou plays an author/doctor friend of the Sheik who helps mediate the relationship of the young couple.

Kino’s Blu-ray looks excellent for the most part, although for some reason a number of shots, especially during the first half-hour, are slightly out of focus, and there is occasional wear visible on the film source used. An excellent pipe organ music score composed and performed by Ben Model accompanies the action appropriately. Bonus features include an interesting analytical and informative commentary by historian Gaylyn Studlar. She compares the film with the book and orientalist pop culture of the time, while explaining context and background on the stars and crew, as well as Valentino’s sudden international icon status after this film. There are also clips (in standard-definition) from the chaotic funeral procession, plus a trailer (also SD) from Valentino’s hit version of the famous bullfighting story BLOOD AND SAND (1922).

THE SHEIK on Blu-ray --
Movie: B+
Video: A-
Audio: A
Extras: B

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THE SON OF THE SHEIK (1926) 80m *** ½
(Blu-ray released May 30, 2017)
After several hit-or-miss productions over the next few years, including his memorable THE EAGLE (1925), Valentino reluctantly agreed to do a sequel to his most famous film. In THE SON OF THE SHEIK (1926), however, he took an intentionally satiric approach to his image and had the opportunity to play both the now more-mature father and the wilder, more impetuous son, who are often on the screen at the same time by means of excellent split-screen cinematography long before CGI made such effects easy and commonplace. Though not as strong or intense as THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, THE SON OF THE SHEIK probably stands as his very best film as a star vehicle. As the son Valentino’s in top form. His age makeup and performance as the father can only make one imagine the kinds of roles he might have pursued through the end of the 1920s and possibly a successful transitional career in talkies if he had lived, although his accent might have limited him to some extent.

Obviously inspired by THE SHEIK, United Artists’ THE SON OF THE SHEIK incorporates similar romantic passion in its plot, but focuses much more on tongue-in-cheek swashbuckling action-adventure, with more sophisticated camerawork and editing. The sheik’s son falls for a dancing girl (Vilma Bánky) he comes to believe has betrayed him to sadistic thieves, but naturally all works out in the end. Agnes Ayres returns briefly as his understanding mother (looking surprisingly more matronly only five years after the original film).

Picture quality on Kino’s Blu-ray is very good but not quite up to that on THE SHEIK. It was scanned from a 35mm print of the 1930s sound re-issue (at 1.18:1) that had been restored back in the late 1960s for the Paul Killiam Collection. Much of it looks slightly soft, with brief sections of heavy scratches, but overall it’s much sharper than DVD editions. The music score by the Alloy Orchestra is among their best, and fits the action closely although it tends to be rather heavy on the synthesizer.

Several interesting bonus features include a 17-minute introduction and Valentino retrospective hosted by Orson Welles (in an HD scan from a soft 16mm print), and a montage of newspaper headlines chronicling Valentino’s death. By odd coincidence, both Welles and Valentino happened to have been born on May 6th exactly 20 years apart. There’s also a short silent documentary that looks like it was produced for home movie collectors, but this copy has audio added so while the picture plays viewers can hear “The Sheik of Araby” pop song plus two songs Valentino recorded in the 1920s. A short called VALENTINO AT THE BEACH and a trailer to mostly-lost THE YOUNG RAJAH are also included. All are scanned in HD but from soft 8mm or 16mm film sources. A commentary would have been nice, plus the option of the original 1930s music-effects soundtrack and/or the William Perry piano score originally on the Paul Killiam version.


THE SON OF THE SHEIK on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: B+
Audio: A
Extras: B+
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostThu Aug 24, 2017 6:22 am

Christopher Jacobs wrote:Picture quality on Kino’s Blu-ray is very good


You write that about SON OF THE SHEIK. As I have said in an earlier post I find the picture quality of the bluray decent in parts but very poor in others. It is an improvement on previously available editions, I am glad to have it and happy that I bought it, but the image quality cannot be described as very good.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostFri Aug 25, 2017 1:14 pm

Arndt wrote:
Christopher Jacobs wrote:Picture quality on Kino’s Blu-ray is very good


You write that about SON OF THE SHEIK. As I have said in an earlier post I find the picture quality of the bluray decent in parts but very poor in others. It is an improvement on previously available editions, I am glad to have it and happy that I bought it, but the image quality cannot be described as very good.


Basically, I agree with you, and I noted its visual problems in my writeup. The quality doesn't approach "excellent," and much of it is okay to good, but overall it is so much better than previous 16mm and 8mm prints I've seen that I'm comfortable calling much of it "very good" by comparison. Parts are better than the annoyingly out-of-focus shots in THE SHEIK, which overall looks much clearer than THE SON OF THE SHEIK. I also am glad both films are now available in HD in decent if not perfect editions.

Several years ago I vaguely recall hearing that there might be 35mm material of the full-frame silent cut of SON OF THE SHEIK. If this still survives and has not decomposed in the meantime, that obviously would be the best source to prepare an upgraded edition. I hope it does survive and can be done.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostFri Aug 25, 2017 6:47 pm

Time to get caught up on some notable classic films released to Blu-ray earlier this year. The number of vintage films getting new high-definition video masters and/or restorations has been increasing over the past year, with numerous new releases to the home market on Blu-ray from specialty distributors like Olive, Twilight Time, Criterion, and especially Kino-Lorber through its “Studio Classics” division. Sadly, these rarely are carried in stores, so must be ordered online from the companies themselves or other online retailers. This past April two very different independent productions adapted from very different novels made their Blu-ray debuts from Kino, a gritty film noir thriller and a lush wartime romance. Kino released the original version of the latter over five years ago. Here’s a review of the remake and comparison with the original, followed by the indie noir title.

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A FAREWELL TO ARMS (1957) 152m *** (Blu-ray released April 18, 2017)
A FAREWELL TO ARMS (1932) 89m *** ½ (Blu-ray released December 20, 2011)
Noted author Ernest Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical novel about a World War I ambulance driver’s affair with a Red Cross nurse, “A Farewell to Arms,” became his first best-seller in 1929 and was adapted to the stage in 1930. The terse, moving blend of vivid anti-war imagery and touching tragic romance soon became an Oscar-winning film in 1932 starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes under the direction of romance specialist Frank Borzage. A quarter-century later, independent producer David O. Selznick remade A FAREWELL TO ARMS on a grand scale as a vehicle for his wife Jennifer Jones, opposite Rock Hudson, released by 20th Century Fox. Charles Vidor took over directing duties after Selznick fired John Huston.

Both film versions are worth watching, but for different reasons. Now that Kino has released Selznick’s 1957 production to Blu-ray, home viewers have an effective way to compare the two looking much as they did on theatre screens when first released. The original 1932 film came out on a beautiful Blu-ray from Kino back in 2011. That Pre-code Paramount film had been disastrously re-edited for censored reissues in 1938 and 1949, the latter with Warner Brothers titles replacing the originals, and the numerous Public Domain tapes and DVDs available are (usually poor) copies of that cut version.

Borzage’s classic 1932 film for Paramount Pictures more closely captures the tight, stylized dialogue and general flavor of the original novel, aided greatly by the acting of Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes, and Adolphe Menjou, not to mention the glossy early-30s Paramount style. Selznick’s 1957 film, running more than an hour longer, has more of the Hollywood blockbuster attitude and style blending enhanced realism with Hollywood romanticism exemplified later by films like DOCTOR ZHIVAGO.

Selznick reimagines the story as a lavish epic romance punctuated by sometimes overwhelming sequences of battles, evacuations, and massive troop movements, basically trying to recreate the formula he had used so successfully in GONE WITH THE WIND (even copying the sweeping opening title). While much of the film feels overblown and many scenes run on far too long, it is often unfairly over-criticized. It does contain some very powerful scenes illustrating the idiocy of war and impressive production values that provide a more intense context and greater scope than the earlier film. The romance is more heavily stressed (again with portions dragging out longer than necessary), more Selznick than Hemingway, but Rock Hudson’s fine performance is sorely underrated, Vittorio De Sica earned an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor, and Jennifer Jones is credible if slightly older than her character was written (but then so was Helen Hayes). Some judicious editing, cutting maybe a half-hour or so, might have made it an acclaimed classic rather than an interesting partial misfire.

Kino’s new Blu-ray presents a solid reproduction of Oswald Morris’s beautiful color CinemaScope cinematography, although the lenses used yielded an image sometimes a bit soft. The original 4-channel stereo sound is remixed into 2.0 DTS-MA lossless audio that a Pro-logic decoder will play back properly with 4.1 channels of audio. The only bonus features are a trailer plus trailers to four other classics from the 1950s and early 60s on Blu-ray from Kino.

Kino’s old Blu-ray of Paramount’s Best Picture-nominated 1932 version shows its glistening Oscar-winning black-and-white cinematography in outstanding film-like quality, with impressive reproduction of its Oscar-winning sound. Again bonuses are few, just a modest image gallery and some trailers to other Kino releases.

A FAREWELL TO ARMS (1957) on Blu-ray -- Movie: B / Video: A- / Audio: A / Extras: D
A FAREWELL TO ARMS (1932) on Blu-ray -- Movie: A / Video: A / Audio: A / Extras: D+


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THE SCAR (1948) 83m ***
(Blu-ray released April 18, 2017)
The 1946 crime novel “Hollow Triumph” was the only book by radio actor Murray Forbes, and it soon became a the first movie vehicle produced by actor Paul Henreid (perhaps best-remembered as Victor Lazlo in CASABLANCA) starring himself in a dual role as a scheming villain and his equally unsympathetic double, rather than his usual suave romantic interest. The low-budget 1948 film is now best-known under the title used for its reissue and British release, THE SCAR. Often-overlooked, it has recently become recognized by film noir aficionados as an archetypal example of the genre, right down to the dialogue line, “It’s a bitter little world full of sad surprises,” emblematic particularly of this film but also applicable to all film noir.

Henreid starts out as a cocky medical school dropout ex-con who stages a casino heist that goes bad, and then goes on the run from the gambler’s hit-men. When he learns that a prominent psychologist looks exactly like him, except for a scar on his cheek, he decides it would be a perfect cover to duplicate the scar on his own cheek, then murder the doctor and take over his practice, romancing beautiful though cynical secretary Joan Bennett along the way. As in all films noir, things never go exactly as planned. The darkness of the themes and story, loaded with fate-driven dramatic irony so well brought out by screenwriter Daniel Fuchs, are strikingly complemented by aesthetically harsh, low-key black-and-white cinematography from the great master of shadows John Alton.

Picture quality on Kino’s Blu-ray is often excellent, displaying finely-detailed textures, drastically superior to typical Public Domain DVDs or streaming video copies, but does have quite a few softer, grainy, contrasty sections due either to optical effects or replacement footage. Sound quality is good. The main bonus feature is a wonderful audio commentary by film noir expert and author Imogen Sara Smith, who discusses not only the cast and crew members but the cleverly crafted use of mirror imagery and the intense noir sensibility that ranks it among the top of its genre. It’s like a mini-course in film noir. There are also trailers for five other fine noir films Kino has on Blu-ray.

THE SCAR on Blu-Ray --
Movie: A-
Video: B+
Audio: B+
Extras: B-
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSat Aug 26, 2017 9:14 am

Today is a Saturday, and from the 1920s through the 1950s for young moviegoers, that typically meant a weekly serial chapter along with the lineup of shorts, cartoons, B-western(s) and/or other action program pictures during a day spent at the local movie house. Many serials have been released to DVD, but until recently very few in good high-definition transfers on Blu-Ray.

“Daredevils of the Red Circle.” Who are they? What is it? Before the internet, before television, serialized drama was still a significant part of popular culture. Novels were serialized in magazines and newspapers going back to the 19th century. By the time the movie industry was firmly established in the mid-1910s, weekly chapters of movie mysteries and adventures had become a regular part of many theatres’ programs, with unresolved “cliff-hanger” endings designed to draw patrons back the next week to see what happened. There were quite a few silent-era serials but their heyday was the 1930s and 40s, with the genre dying out theatrically in the 1950s with the coming of television. The serial format has more recently been adapted to multi-film series of full-length features, from “Star Wars” and “The Lord of the Rings” to the “Harry Potter” films and the “Hunger Games” series, but short weekly episodes are now confined to television or internet videos rather than movie theatres.

Republic Pictures specialized in B-westerns and other low-budget features, but thrived on creating serials, releasing 66 chapter-plays from the 1930s through the 1950s. Subjects ranged from action-adventure to western to crime drama to science-fiction, or any combinations of those. One of their most popular serials just appeared on Blu-ray this spring from Kino Lorber, and four of the studio’s later (and generally less elaborate) efforts came out on Blu-ray from Olive Films over the past three years. Numerous serials from various studios have been available for years on DVD and VHS and streaming online sources, but almost always with mediocre to almost unwatchable picture quality that destroy what production values they have and detract greatly from enjoyment, discouraging any non-serial fan from even making an effort to watch them. Even weak and routine serial productions, however, get a shot of new life in these high-definition scans from original 35mm nitrate negatives and other 35mm surviving elements. The pristine image makes it far easier to suspend disbelief and get involved in the formula melodramas on their own terms without being distracted by a fuzzy, contrasty, and jumpy picture.


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DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE (1939) 210m / 12 chapters *** (Released on Blu-ray April 25, 2017)
DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE was the fourteenth of Republic’s serials, and fans of the genre consider it among the best. The “daredevils” are circus-performers, a strongman (Herman Brix, later known as Bruce Bennett), a high diver (Charles Quigley), and an escape artist (stuntman David Sharpe acting in a dramatic role), and the Red Circle is the logo on the chest of their athletic outfits. After an arranged disaster at the amusement park during one of their performances, they are drawn into becoming private detectives so they can help police solve the complex criminal case behind it. The Red Circle later becomes the name of a mysterious hooded ally providing clues about upcoming disasters.

An elusive escaped convict who insists on being referred to by his prison number 39013 (Charles Middleton) has been terrorizing the city by systematically destroying the business assets of his millionaire former partner (Miles Mander), killing anyone who stands in his way. The millionaire’s granddaughter (Carole Landis) helps mediate between the three private investigators and her grandfather’s business and security associates.

The action-packed crime adventure is well-directed by William Witney and John English. Much is shot on actual locations including a real oil refinery, rather than studio sets, giving strong production values that belie the relatively low budget, with very little reliance on rear-projection effects. Despite a few plot holes, it’s all a skillful blend of genuine suspense and impressive effects with often-campy straight-arrow heroes, secret panels, clever disguises, and inevitable comedy relief. Middleton, as always, relishes his role as arch-villain, and character actor Miles Mander is highly effective in a dual role as the victimized millionaire and as the villain masquerading as him. Of course a little boy and a very smart dog provide important plot points.

The twelve chapters get off to a rousing start with a 28-minute episode that sets up “The Monstrous Plot.” The remaining chapters are just under 17 minutes each, and devoted to far more action, chases, and fistfights, always with a cliffhanging ending to be resolved in the next chapter. A few of the episode titles give an idea of some of the situations: “Sabotage,” “The Ray of Death,” “Thirty Seconds to Live,” “The Flooded Mine,” “Ladder of Peril,” and so forth. They tend to get more and more intense as the story progresses, so that intentions to watch a chapter per night or per week before watching some other movie as a main feature might eventually induce viewers to binge-watch several episodes or the entire remainder of the serial. DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE can stand up to watching multiple chapters in a row. Many other serials are much better served a single episode at a time along with other shorts and a feature.

Kino’s Blu-ray was mastered from a new 4K scan from the original 35mm nitrate negative, and mostly looks excellent, like it was just shot. The opening titles to Chapter One are slightly out-of-focus for some reason, and the picture gets softer and grainier for optical effects and the recaps of previous chapters that begin each episode, but those portions are brief. Audio is also very good. The only bonus feature is an entertaining and informative audio commentary spread across four episodes (chapters 1, 4, 9, and 12) that discusses most of the cast and crew and also sets the occasional bits of racial stereotype humor into proper context, with information about black actor Fred “Snowflake” Toones. Although the boxcover mentions there are trailers, none are to be found on the disc.

DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE on Blu-ray --
Movie: B+
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: C-



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Those who find DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE enjoyable will certainly want to see the upcoming Kino Blu-ray of THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (1941), another fan-favorite that’s currently set for release September 19th. The also may want to check out one or more of the Republic serials on Blu-ray from Olive, all of which also have outstanding picture quality and good sound, but absolutely no bonus features. The Olive releases are from the last several years Republic made serials, and are only average as films go in their plots, characterizations, and production values, Nevertheless, each is reasonably diverting, especially with such sharp pictures. From 1950 are the amusingly campy FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS, released to Blu-ray Oct. 27, 2015, and THE INVISIBLE MONSTER, released September 22, 2015. From 1953 is COMMANDO CODY: SKY MARSHAL OF THE UNIVERSE, debuting on Blu-ray September 13, 2016, which was originally planned as a TV series but released theatrically first, and has self-contained half-hour episodes rather than shorter cliffhangers.

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PANTHER GIRL OF THE CONGO (1954-55) is probably the most fun of these later serials. Running only 166 minutes for its 12 chapters, it was the second-to-last serial produced by Republic, incorporating substantial amounts of stock footage from Republic’s 1941 jungle serial JUNGLE GIRL. Recycled footage or not, PANTHER GIRL is an entertaining if forgettable action-adventure that follows the exploits of a nature photographer in Africa (Phyllis Coates) and her hunter-friend (Myron Healey). They soon become entangled in the activities of an evil scientist (Arthur Space) who’s created a hormone that grows normal crayfish to gigantic size to frighten the natives out of the territory where he’s discovered diamonds. It’s all pretty formulaic with frequent repetition, but fast-paced, with an unexpected proto-feminist subtext for an action-adventure targeted at boys. Chapter one is 20 minutes and the rest are slightly over 13 minutes each. The predictably cheesy ending almost seems thrown in at random so they wouldn’t have to make any more episodes! This serial would play well along with a variety of low-budget 1950s sci-fi films and/or jungle adventures.

Again, it bears repeating that the high-definition picture quality on this and the other serials add immeasurably to their entertainment value, raising them easily by at least a half to full letter grade or star rating over the same films seen in contrasty beat-up dupes or fuzzy streaming copies.

PANTHER GIRL OF THE CONGO on Blu-ray --
Movie: C+
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: F



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The other three Republic serials on Blu-ray from Olive should also be of interest for die-hard serial fans and are fun if you’re in the right mood. They may work best spaced out, watching a chapter at a time before some other movie as they were originally shown (also playing well with low-budget 1950s sci-fi and/or horror), rather than binge-watching several in a row, which tends to make their limitations and repetitions more obvious.
FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS on Blu-ray -- Movie: C+ / Video: A / Audio: A- / Extras: F
THE INVISIBLE MONSTER on Blu-ray -- Movie: C+ / Video: A / Audio: A- / Extras: F
COMMANDO CODY: SKY MARSHAL OF THE UNIVERSE on Blu-ray -- Movie: C / Video: A / Audio: A- / Extras: F
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostTue Aug 29, 2017 8:16 pm

Crime, passion, or both together are the subjects of a couple of classic courtroom dramas and a romantic melodrama about theatrical ambition, all adapted from popular novels of their day, that are among the Blu-rays released this past spring by Kino-Lorber. All were made by major filmmakers with famous stars, yet each of the three films is relatively obscure today and deserves to be better-known.


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MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR (1958) 123m *** (Blu-ray released May 9, 2017)
“Marjorie Morningstar” was a best-selling 1955 romantic novel by noted author Herman Wouk, probably best-remembered today for THE CAINE MUTINY and THE WINDS OF WAR, which became a hit film and popular TV mini-series, respectively. Wouk published his latest novel in 2012 at age 97, a memoir in 2015 at age 100, and is still active at age 102.

In Irving Rapper’s film adaptation Natalie Wood stars as the title character, a teenage Jewish girl who longs for a career as an actress and changes her name from Morgenstern after meeting the dashing director of a theatre company at a summer resort (Gene Kelly), who himself is hoping for a more lucrative career doing musicals for Broadway. Naturally they fall in love and the film explores the conflict of following one’s heart vs. the pressures of practical reality, family, and Jewish heritage over several years. Kelly gets in one good dance number near the beginning, but the film centers around Wood’s character. Wood dominates the picture, torn between sticking by the more worldly, self-centered Kelly and taking various other opportunities as their situations become more complicated. An all-star cast of character actors (including Claire Trevor, George Tobias, Martin Balsam, Ed Wynn, and Everett Sloane) flesh out the other people in their lives. Fitting nicely into the mix are Carolyn Jones and Martin Milner as the more daring best friend and a promising young playwright also in love with Marjorie. Overall it’s a reasonably good film, mainly for fans of the stars and the subject material, but falls short of greatness.

Kino’s Blu-ray displays good film grain structure and color, although splotches of emulsion damage periodically show up as colored spots. Audio dynamic range is quite good. The only bonus feature is a gallery of six trailers to other romantic melodramas of the era.

MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR on Blu-ray --
Movie: B+
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: D


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COMPULSION (1959) 103m *** ½
(Blu-ray released March 7, 2017)
Richard Fleischer’s well-made, often compelling film was based on Meyer Levin’s award-winning novel of the same name that fictionalized the famous Leopold-Loeb murder case of 1924 (which also inspired the Hitchcock film ROPE), but was carefully based on the actual facts in the manner of later nonfiction novels like Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” and Norman Mailer’s “The Executioner’s Song.” To avoid lawsuits, names of characters in the film are all changed.

In the first half of the film Fleischer effectively builds the characters of its two college-student protagonists (Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman), both from wealthy Chicago families and mentally brilliant, who decide to commit a murder as an intellectual exercise. The murder itself is not depicted on screen (to avoid disturbing 1950s audiences) but the detailed investigation quickly becomes the main focus, with Leopold and especially Loeb basking in the notoriety of their crime, even giving tips to the detectives. Once evidence points to them, thanks to a clue discovered by their cub-reporter classmate (Martin Milner), the last half of the film settles into a courtroom drama. Orson Welles then pretty much takes over the movie as defense lawyer Jonathan Wilk, the fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow, who winds up with a gripping, heartfelt ten-minute speech against capital punishment (the actual legendary closing argument went on for twelve hours). Also notable in the cast are E. G. Marshall as the District Attorney and Diane Varsi as Milner’s girlfriend and a sympathetic friend to Stockwell.

The strong black-and-white CinemaScope cinematography is beautifully rendered in Kino’s HD transfer, and the sound is also very good. Bonus feature include a good, if sometimes sparse audio commentary and a trailer, plus trailers to three other suspense thrillers.

COMPULSION on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: C+


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THE PARADINE CASE (1947) 114m ***
(Blu-ray released May 30, 2017)
In THE PARADINE CASE (1947), made the year before his take on the Leopold-Loeb case, ROPE, Alfred Hitchcock explored various techniques, character types, and themes he would continue to use. However, due to the overall control and final cut by producer-screenwriter David O. Selznick the film often looks as much or more like a typically lush Selznick romance than a dryly satiric Hitchcock mystery. The story begins with the beautiful Mrs. Paradine (Alida Valli) being arrested for poisoning her illustrious (and wealthy) blind war-hero husband. Taking her case is London’s star defense attorney (Gregory Peck), who despite being happily married to a supportive blonde wife (Ann Todd) very quickly becomes personally obsessed with his dark and emotionally cold client, including visiting her country estate to learn more about her. There is also a strange and complex relationship between her and her late husband’s darkly mysterious valet (Louis Jourdan) that Peck must unravel to discover the truth. Along the way are many Hitchcockian touches, often critiques of the British patriarchal class system, but Selznick makes sure the romantic elements are the main focus.

Peck does not come across as very British but makes an effective emotionally confused, lovesick lawyer. The rest of the cast is fine, including Charles Laughton as the judge, Ethel Barrymore as his wife, and Charles Coburn as another lawyer. This 114-minute re-release cut is a good 20 minutes longer than the television cut but is still about 10 minutes shorter than an earlier theatrical cut, which itself was seven minutes shorter than the 132-minute premiere version.

Picture quality on Kino’s Blu-ray is mostly very good but sometimes shows video noise in the blacks. Audio is good. The generous set of bonus features includes a fine, fast-paced audio commentary by two Hitchcock experts, an isolated music score, separate interviews with Hitchcock by director-fans François Truffaut and Peter Bogdanovich, interviews with two of Gregory Peck’s children, a 1949 radio play, a restoration demo, and a trailer.

THE PARADINE CASE on Blu-ray --
Movie: B
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: A-
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Sep 06, 2017 4:54 pm

The first Academy Award ceremonies were held in 1929 but covered the 1927-28 movie season that began 90 years ago this month. As everyone likely knows, William Wellman’s World War I epic WINGS (1927) was the first film to win what would become known as “Best Picture.” That first year, the Oscars for Best Actor and Actress and a few others covered two or more films the nominee had made, rather than one specific title. The very first winner for Best Actor was internationally acclaimed character actor Emil Jannings, a major star in Germany since the 1910s, who happened to be making films for Paramount in Hollywood during the late 1920s. The films that earned him his award were THE LAST COMMAND (1928, on a fine DVD from Criterion but not yet on Blu-ray) and THE WAY OF ALL FLESH (1927, now a lost film except for a few minutes of key excerpts used in a later compilation of Paramount hits).

Kino-Lorber just released to Blu-ray August 22nd one of the favorite films by WINGS director William Wellman, as well as two major German films by the first Best Actor Oscar-winner Emil Jannings.


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BEGGARS OF LIFE (1928) 82m *** ½ (Blu-ray released August 22, 2017)
A year after the massive romantic action film WINGS, Wellman made the much more personal, intimate, and eerily prophetic character drama BEGGARS OF LIFE. It was released to theatres in September 1928, more than a full year before the stock market crash and the beginnings of the Great Depression, yet it deals vividly with the homeless hobo culture trying to survive from day to day. The film was inspired by a best-selling memoir by Jim Tully, who had wandered the country (mostly his home state of Ohio) as a tramp during the recession of the 1890s-1900s before becoming a writer. It was also based on a 1925 play of Tully’s adventures by University of North Dakota alumnus Maxwell Anderson. The stage version was called “Outside Looking In,” and was set in Williston ND and Montana. Charlie Chaplin attended the play three times, once along with then-mistress Louise Brooks.

BEGGARS OF LIFE is easily the best American film starring the now-legendary film icon Brooks, showcasing the seemingly effortless natural, ahead-of-its-time style she would display in 1929 for German director G. W. Pabst in PANDORA'S BOX and DIARY OF A LOST GIRL, the two films that she is now best-remembered for. The former is available on a good DVD from Criterion but not yet on Blu-ray. The latter came out on a very nice Blu-ray from Kino two years ago. Many critics and other actors of the era accused her of not “acting,” but merely being there, the very trait that makes her performances now seem modern while other actors of that time often come off as overacting and dated. Wellman hoped to star Brooks opposite James Cagney (the role that eventually made a star of Jean Harlow) in his key early sound film THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931), but Brooks unfortunately turned him down. That decision effectively destroyed her Hollywood career, which had already been on a downswing after she refused to dub her own dialogue for a sound version of the silent mystery THE CANARY MURDER CASE for Paramount.

In BEGGARS OF LIFE, Brooks plays a teenage orphan who murders her sexually abusive stepfather and runs away with a passing tramp (Richard Arlen, of “Wings”) who accidentally discovers the killing when he stops in to beg for a meal. The pair gradually fall in love, especially after getting mixed up with a gang of rough hoboes led by veteran character actor Wallace Beery (who received star billing) in one of the most skillfully-nuanced performances of his career. Unexpectedly and interestingly, there is a significant serious role for an African-American character, one of the band of hoboes who is caring for a sick, white friend. This is played with unusual dignity for that era of filmmaking by actor Edgar “Blue” Washington, a former baseball player for the Negro Leagues.

BEGGARS OF LIFE is a powerful, often grim, but ultimately hopeful story of poverty, and seeking both happiness and redemption. A few portions, especially towards the end, verge on sentimentality that may slightly dilute the overall grittiness and realism that many viewers of its era found distasteful and vulgar. When it came out, reviews were mixed, some calling it “too realistic” for what movies should be showing, yet some critics put it among their best of the year. It now stands as one of the masterpieces of the Hollywood studio system, sound or silent. It’s easy to understand why the director considered it the best of his silent productions. The film demonstrates the power of visual storytelling at the height of the silent era.

Wellman made BEGGARS OF LIFE as a silent, but talkies had arrived by1928 and Paramount added a soundtrack of music, sound effects, limited dialogue, and a drinking song sung by Wallace Beery. That sound version no longer survives, but we have Wellman’s original 82-minute silent cut. For many years the film has been difficult to see at all, usually only in dark, contrasty, barely watchable video copies from a poorly-made 16mm dupe of the only known copy (also on 16mm film).

Kino’s Blu-ray from the George Eastman 35mm restoration looks very nice, although is slightly softish throughout due to the fact that the only surviving print was a 16mm reduction from the now-lost 35mm negative. The Eastman Museum carefully blew that print back up to 35mm, preserving its good original contrast range. Fine details and textures are not quite what a 35mm camera negative would yield, but are now drastically better than what has previously been available, giving the story a new life and vitality. The music score by the Mont Alto Orchestra is excellent. The orchestra’s director, Rodney Sauer, has published an illuminating online essay on compiling the score from the original music cue sheet and other period-appropriate mood music at http://www.mont-alto.com/recordings/Beg ... fLife.html" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank .

Bonus items include a pamphlet and two different audio commentaries, one with numerous interesting anecdotes by the director’s son William Wellman, Jr., and the other a more detailed historical and stylistic analysis by Louise Brooks expert Thomas Gladysz, who recently wrote a companion book to this film. Wellman tends to have quite a few pauses in his commentary but remains consistently interesting with his first-hand information. Gladysz also has a few pauses, but gives a very engaging and in-depth background on the film, plus plenty of details about Brooks and quotes from her own essays and letters. Both commentaries are excellent additions to the Blu-ray.

BEGGARS OF LIFE on Blu-ray --
Movie: A
Video: A-/B+
Audio: A+
Extras: B


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VARIETÉ (1925) 94m *** ½
(Blu-ray released August 22, 2017)
Emil Jannings played a wide variety of roles, from comedy to famous historical figures to tragic melodrama. He soon specialized in characters who underwent a humiliating fall from respectability and/or greatness, including F. W. Murnau’s DER LETZTE MANN (THE LAST LAUGH) (1924), as well as the two films that won him his Oscar. The best-remembered of these roles today, at least among film students, is probably his Professor Rath in Josef von Sternberg’s THE BLUE ANGEL (1930) opposite Marlene Dietrich (filmed in both German and English-language versions, both of which are on a decent Blu-ray from Kino released in 2013). A number of Jannings’ German films were imported by Paramount (and re-edited/censored for American audiences) before the studio brought the actor himself to Hollywood to make films. One of the major titles was VARIETÉ (1925), also known in various releases as VARIETY, VAUDEVILLE or JEALOUSY. Copies of truncated American and British cuts, usually with mediocre picture quality, some with a so-so Movietone-style soundtrack, have been around for decades. Kino-Lorber’s Blu-ray edition last month is of a new 2015 restoration of the original European cut with outstanding picture quality and a new music score.

VARIETÉ is a perfect example of how a talented, innovative German Expressionist director like E. A. Dupont could handle a plot that Hollywood would treat as a simple romantic love-triangle melodrama (two overlapping triangles, in this case) and transform it into an artistic masterpiece of characterization and visual storytelling. Sensitive performances by Jannings, Lya De Putti, and Warwick Ward are intensified by the powerful cinematography of Karl Freund (who himself would soon have a Hollywood career as both cinematographer and director), and by the film’s superb editing.

The story begins with Jannings’ character in prison, reluctantly deciding to tell his story to the prison chaplain. Then we learn he had once been a trapeze artist but after an accident wound up running a sleazy carnival sideshow with his wife. When he takes in a homeless young dancer, he soon falls for her, abandons his wife, and heads out for a new career back on the trapeze with her, while she meanwhile falls for their attractive young partner, and sexual tensions build.

Kino’s Blu-ray looks excellent, with a crisp sepiatoned image. Adding immensely to the film’s impact is a wonderfully evocative and close-fitting orchestra score composed and conducted by students in a class for scoring silent film. A live performance of that Berklee Silent Film Orchestra score was a highlight of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival premiere of the restoration. The disc also includes a horribly excruciating alternate score with intrusive vocals by a group called “The Tiger Lilies.” This is not even worth attempting to listen to unless you’re not watching the film, since the lyrics describe and explain the action.

Modest but interesting bonus features include a good visual essay by Bret Wood analyzing the film plus a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the composition process for the new music score. A British Blu-ray also includes a restoration of the 72-minute American abridgement. This would be nice to see in a pristine restoration but it’s unlikely someone would watch that emasculated version more than once other than for simple comparison to the full uncensored and vastly superior 94-minute version. Another unexpected bonus item on Kino’s VARIETÉ Blu-ray is the complete 1922 feature film OTHELLO, starring Jannings in the title role, and also featuring Lya De Putti.

VARIETÉ on Blu-ray --
Movie: A
Video: A
Audio: A+
Extras: B

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OTHELLO (1922) 80m ***
(bonus on Blu-ray of VARIETÉ)
This German production of OTHELLO is a very well-mounted and well-acted (if often melodramatic) adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play of tragic jealousy, obviously a good companion piece to a film released as JEALOUSY in the U.S. This version was directed by Russian expatriate Dimitry Buchowetsky and is a good copy of the U.S. release of the film with English intertitles. Jannings, naturally, has a field day in the title role, with a flamboyant Werner Krauss (best-known for his title character in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI) playing Iago. Lya De Putti is Iago’s wife and Ica von Lenkeffy plays an attractive and reasonably effective Desdemona. Rather like a stage production, some major off-stage battle sequences occur off-screen, due to budget limitations, but the film as a whole comes off quite well.

Unfortunately Kino did not do a new HD scan of original film elements for the Blu-ray, so this is a standard-definition reissue of their old 2001 DVD version. However, on the Blu-ray it is encoded at over double the bitrate possibly on a DVD so there are no digital artifacts even if the image is soft and DVD-like. Contrast is very good, and there’s the same effective Jon Mirsalis piano score that was on the old DVD.

OTHELLO on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: B
Audio: A-
Extras: F
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostThu Sep 21, 2017 10:44 pm

The final hours of summer will transition to fall the afternoon of September 22. With 2017 so far one of the lowest summers for movie attendance this century, the year 1946 was perhaps the all-time peak year of movie attendance, with close to 60% of Americans providing 90 million individual ticket sales, according to statistics from “Variety” and other sources. The number two-grossing movie released that year (which actually premiered in late December but played throughout 1947) was producer David O. Selznick’s trouble-plagued DUEL IN THE SUN. Its then-unprecedented $8 million budget plus $2 million advertising campaign made it barely break even for many years, and its $18.4 million earnings ($443.40 in today’s dollars) include later reissue income. Last month Kino-Lorber released the original 144-minute “roadshow” edition of DUEL IN THE SUN to Blu-ray.

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DUEL IN THE SUN (1946) 144m *** ½ (Blu-ray released August 15, 2017)
This version comes complete with pre-show musical prologue of themes from Dmitri Tiomkin’s lush score running nearly ten minutes, followed by more than more than two minutes of a musical overture with narration by Orson Welles to set up the period and plot. The film eventually closes with three more minutes of exit music after the end title. The movie itself from opening to end titles runs about 129 minutes with no intermission break. Kino added title cards to display during the preshow and overture so as not to confuse modern viewers who would not understand why there was no picture while the music was playing. Those with home projection setups can either display that over a closed curtain or simply block the lens until the main titles begin. For those ambitious enough to recreate the original theatrical experience, the timings for houselights and curtain cues are listed after this review.

DUEL IN THE SUN is a blend of genres. On the surface it’s a western in 1880s Texas that’s mostly a saga of a dysfunctional ranching family, the coming of the railroad, and the coming-of-age of an orphan half-breed girl who has to deal with the bigotry of race and class. The film’s frank exploitation of sex and violence may seem pretty tame to modern audiences, but caused severe censorship issues at the time and earned it the widespread dismissive nickname of “Lust in the Dust” by critics and viewers unable to comprehend some of the psychological issues the film was trying to express. Due to complaints by the Production Code and religious pressure groups, numerous scenes were deleted or drastically shortened before the film even premiered, and several more scenes were forced to be cut after the premiere.

Other problems faced by the film were in the production itself, with several forced delays and budget overruns, and at least a half-dozen or more directors after the main director King Vidor (who received sole directing credit on screen) finally walked off the movie in summer of 1945 due to too much personal interference from Selznick on the set, who also kept adding new scenes to his screenplay. Selznick had bought the 1944 novel by Niven Busch but used it mainly as a source for characters and themes while heavily rewriting and altering its plot and characterizations to suit his personal vision (and getting into arguments with the author over screen credit). Major new scenes were directed by William Dieterle, Sidney Franklin, Otto Brower, William Cameron Menzies, Josef von Sternberg, and Selznick himself, besides the second-unit directors who handled action sequences.

Selznick was always hoping to recapture the success and prestige of his GONE WITH THE WIND, which also revolved around a strong but flawed female anti-hero, and “Duel in the Sun” is probably the closest he came to it. But GONE WITH THE WIND uses tastefully sanitized historical epic as the background for its passionate love-hate romance, DUEL IN THE SUN is unashamedly over-the-top high melodrama that many critics have described as “operatic” with its intense emotions driving the action. After the war, audiences were ready for such edgier, “adult” films.

Teenage Pearl Chavez (Jennifer Jones) struggles with her dual-ethnicity and blossoming sexuality. She wants to live up to the ideals of her aristocratic, unhappy father (Herbert Marshall) and is ashamed of her wild, sensual, and promiscuous mother (Tilly Losch) whose latest lover has already made a pass at her under the assumption that her race and class make her sexually experienced and available. After her father kills his wife and his lover he sends Pearl to live with his cousin and one-time fiancée Laura Belle McCanles (Lillian Gish) to start a better life. There she encounters Laura Belle’s refined and gentle if ineffectual son Jesse (Joseph Cotton), who takes an interest in her, as well as Jesse’s self-centered and ruthless but romantically alluring brother Lewt (Gregory Peck), who immediately lusts after Pearl. The bitter and bigoted patriarch of the family ranching empire, Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore) hates Pearl from the start as both the daughter of his former romantic rival and as a half-breed unfit for serious consideration as part of the family. Pearl is torn between her love for the refined Jesse and her attraction to the wild Lewt, especially after Lewt rapes her one night and Jesse discovers them with disgust and disappointment. Her love-hate feelings grow more complex as she realizes Lewt’s capacity for cold-blooded murder, sabotage, and casual betrayal of his professed feelings for her. All this builds to the climactic title sequence (which Selznick refused to cut at the demands of censors).

Part of the film’s attraction, especially at the time, was Selznick’s casting of Jones and Peck against type. Jones had recently won “Best Actress” as St. Bernadette, while Peck’s first major role as a missionary priest earned him a Best Actor nomination. Jennifer Jones’ portrayal got her another nomination for Best Actress and Lillian Gish earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination, the film’s only two Oscar nominations. The all-star cast includes Walter Huston as a comically-lustful preacher, Harry Carey Sr., Charles Bickford, Otto Kruger, Charles Dingle, Joan Tetzel, and Butterfly McQueen as the somewhat ditzy but sympathetic and often thoughtful maid.

Kino’s Blu-ray has gorgeously rich color shot by Oscar-winners Lee Garmes, Ray Rennahan, and Harold Rosson, although certain shots appear slightly washed-out. Except for some of the closeups, the overall picture is also a bit on the soft side when projected onto a large screen, but on standard HDTV from a typical viewing distance it looks fine. For its 1954 re-release, DUEL IN THE SUN was exhibited in “widescreen,” and home viewers can approximate this presentation by zooming their images to the 16x9 mode. A number of shots look unnaturally cropped, especially on the top, but the vast majority of the film has enough headroom and footroom that a 1.78:1 image looks surprisingly good overall. The now-standard 1.85:1 would look overly cropped throughout and the film would probably look better at a 1.66:1 ratio than 1.78, although the original 1.37:1 is the best overall.

Audio is reasonably decent if not outstanding in dynamics. Bonus features include an interview with Peck’s children (in HD), several trailers and promo tags for the film (all standard-definition), plus trailers to two other memorable Gregory Peck films on Blu-ray from Kino: THE BIG COUNTRY (in HD) and YELLOW SKY (in SD). An excellent audio commentary by historian Gaylyn Studlar provides a valuable context of background information, analysis, and appreciative discussion.

DUEL IN THE SUN on Blu-ray --
Movie: A
Video: A-/B+
Audio: B+
Extras: B


For those with a home theatre projection setup:
DUEL IN THE SUN –
ROADSHOW HOUSE LIGHTS AND CURTAIN CUES…

0:00:00 Kino logo
0:00:12 Preshow music (w/16x9 title card) - keep lights up and drape closed (cover lens)
0:09:38 Overture (w/16/9 title card) & narrator intro - lights half-down (keep lens covered)
0:11:52 Main titles – uncover lens, lights down, open drapes
0:13:25 Movie begins
2:21:09 End titles - close drapes, lights up half
9:21:18 Exit music over black - lights up full
2:24:19 disc over
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostFri Sep 29, 2017 11:21 am

Romantic comedies, or Rom-coms as they like to call them these days, are a staple of modern movies and have been for well over a century. This summer two very different variations on the genre spotlighting iconic 20th-century superstars made their Blu-ray debuts from Kino-Lorber. One is a classic updating of a popular 19th-century stage play, the other a wacky cartoon-like sequel to a western comedy musical.

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ZAZA (1923) 84m *** (Blu-ray released June 6, 2017)
This vehicle for popular and rising silent legend Gloria Swanson was directed by prolific and versatile Hollywood veteran Alan Dwan. The original 1890s stage production had been a serious melodrama but the film moves the time period to just before, during, and after World War I, while changing it into a romantic comedy that gradually shifts into romantic melodrama to showcase the acting range of Swanson. Swanson’s early career included comedy shorts for Mack Sennett, then sophisticated, glamorous characters for Cecil B. DeMille at Paramount Pictures, often highlighting fashionable clothing. As her popularity rose, Paramount capitalized on her success with films to develop her dramatic and comic talents. ZAZA was her first of several films directed by Alan Dwan and in her autobiography Swanson recalls that it was the most fun she had ever had making a movie.

In the first part of the film she comes off as rather silly and overwrought, playing a wildly temperamental provincial music hall star who rose to local fame from the streets, but then that is also part of the character. As the story progresses she is able to demonstrate much stronger acting skills, as her character at one point is severely injured, and later realizes that the wealthy diplomat she loves (H. B. Warner in a rare and dignified appearance as a romantic lead) is already married and has a young daughter. Lucille La Verne appears to be having lots of fun as “Aunt Rosa” and Mary Thurman is effective as Florianne, first Zaza’s bitter rival and later her best friend. The changes from the original play allow Swanson’s character and others to grow and evolve while providing a satisfying if not heavily overdone variation on a Hollywood ending. The expert staging and direction by Dwan combined with the effective cinematography by Hal Rosson, keep the story moving constantly with coverage and editing to show the viewer exactly what needs to be seen, when, and for how long.

Kino’s Blu-ray has excellent contrast, but unfortunately sharpness varies throughout from quite crisp at times but frequently very soft. A fine piano score by Jeff Rapsis accompanies the action closely. Bonus features include an illustrated pamphlet with a good essay by Imogen Sara Smith, and a really excellent audio commentary by historian Frederic Lombardi, who wrote a book on Dwan. He presents an amazing array of detail on the careers and lives of Dwan, Swanson, and others in the cast, the Hollywood of the era, earlier and later film versions of the play, and frequently analyzes the performances and directing techniques as we see them on the screen. Commentaries like this really increase appreciation of the film.

ZAZA on Blu-ray --
Movie: B+
Video: A-/B+
Audio: A
Extras: B


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SON OF PALEFACE (1952) 95m ***
(Blu-ray released August 29, 2017)
Director Frank Tashlin’s off-the-wall sequel to the popular 1948 Bob Hope-Jane Russell comedy western THE PALEFACE, on which Tashlin had been one of the writers, is a decidedly mixed bag that some viewers prefer over the original and others find too disjointed. Tashlin started out directing cartoons, and brings his surreal, free-wheeling cartoon-like style to the live-action antics in SON OF PALEFACE. It may not be quite as coherent as THE PALEFACE, but the numerous in-jokes, surprise cameos, and bizarre gags (visual and dialogue) make it a lot of fun, if distinctly non-PC much of the time.

Bob Hope plays the egocentric Harvard-educated son of the dentist from the original film, hoping to claim his inheritance out west. Jane Russell (Calamity Jane in the original film) here plays a popular saloon-owner/entertainer as well as the brains behind a gang of elusive bandits who have been robbing stagecoaches. Roy Rogers plays himself as a Federal Agent disguised as a singing cowboy. Naturally Hope and Rogers are both attracted to Russell, but she’s got her own agenda.

There’s just enough plot to carry the film, with the focus being on the seemingly random comedy and a few songs (including a reprise of the pop hit “Buttons and Bows” featured in the first film). Viewers looking for a typical, well-structured romantic-comedy or western action film may be disappointed. On the other hand, the main reason for watching is Tashlin’s attitude that certain weird things and gags can only be done in the movies, so why not do them! Here, of course, they’re designed primarily around Hope’s comic timing and screen persona, as well as the established screen images of Jane Russell and Roy Rogers. It's also a bit surprising just how much Tashlin was able to get past the Production Code in 1952, such as when Hope tells Russell, "You won't believe who I slept with last night... hoof marks all over my back..."

Kino’s Blu-ray has a beautifully sharp and colorful HD transfer of the rich Technicolor image, one of the better-looking film-like Blu-rays of any film new or old. There is also very good sound. One of the bonus features is a reconstruction from surviving color and black-and-white footage of an odd but fun, partly-lost Tashlin 1946 musical short he made using stop-motion puppet animation, THE LADY SAID NO. It’s very much in the vein of George Pal’s classic “Puppetoons.” There are no trailers, but there is a 4-minute montage of scenes from all five of the Bob Hope classics Kino released to Blu-ray this summer. There’s also an enthusiastic audio commentary by Frank Tashlin fan Greg Ford. He discusses the film and major stars to some extent but concentrates mostly on Tashlin’s career in detail, from cartoonist and animated filmmaker through his transition to gagman and script doctor to directing live-action films on his own while adapting his taste for wacky cartoon-style humor to live actors (and animals, like Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger).

SON OF PALEFACE on Blu-ray --
Movie: B+
Video: A+
Audio: A
Extras: B
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Oct 02, 2017 2:09 pm

Artificial Intelligence, robotic workers, unmanned space travel, fatherless children, and conflicts with North Korea are all recent hot news topics. In September of 1954 all of these were major themes of a low-budget sci-fi thriller targeted at children but with enough plotting and subtext to keep adults interested (perhaps more so today as a cultural artifact than during its original release as popular entertainment). This September, 63 years later, Kino-Lorber released TOBOR THE GREAT to Blu-ray. Also new to Blu-ray in September from Kino is the once-daring Oscar-nominated romantic comedy-drama from a decade later, LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER, dealing with the now-common subjects of casual sex and abortion.


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TOBOR THE GREAT (1954) 77m *** (Blu-ray released September 12, 2017)
Republic Pictures was a small but prolific film studio operating from the1930s through the 1950s, specializing in “program pictures” and genre films designed to entertain small-town audiences, with an occasional higher-budget prestige film on occasion. Besides westerns, one of the most popular genres of the fifties was science-fiction and/or horror, including thoughtful sociopolitical allegories and obvious exploitation films. Republic distributed the Dudley Pictures Corporation production of TOBOR THE GREAT, which as some critics have noted, might have been a minor classic of the genre if it had a few major stars, a stronger director than the adequate Lee Sholom, and a more polished plot. By the time it went into production in January 1954 its cast was made up of competent character actors who often had uncredited bit roles in bigger films, but here got a chance to be the stars. The end result was an archetypal fifties sci-fi film that remains entertaining throughout but does not stand out as one of the era’s key classics. The robot design, incidentally, was by Robert Kinoshita, who later designed “Robbie the Robot” for FORBIDDEN PLANET and the robot for the 1960s TV series “Lost In Space.”

The plot begins with a prologue of stock footage depicting nuclear explosions, a nuclear submarine, rocket testing, and early U.S. Navy experiments in conditioning volunteers for space travel. As the story itself gets underway, young scientist Dr. Ralph Harrison (Charles Drake) angrily interrupts a centrifuge G-force test, denouncing the procedure as a danger to humans who should never be used as guinea pigs or sent into space without knowing in advance what they might encounter. The main focus soon shifts to elderly Professor Arnold Nordstrom (Taylor Holmes) a scientist who feels the same way and who is privately developing an intelligent robot (“Tobor,” which as we all know and the film notes prominently is “Robot” spelled backwards) that is able to develop human feelings. His intention is to convince the military that it is practical to replace humans for experimental space travel. Naturally communist spies (led by Steven Geray posing as a reporter) are out to steal his secrets.

Nordstrom’s precocious 10-year-old grandson “Gadge” (Billy Chapin, best-known for NIGHT OF THE HUNTER) quickly becomes the primary force behind much of the action, while his widowed mother (Karin Booth) and the younger scientist develop a minor romantic subplot that is never fully explored. Other veteran actors in the cast include Lyle Talbot, William Schallert, Peter Brocco, Jack Daly, and more. There are a few nice action segments and plenty of futuristic technology on display, though a few aspects (like ESP and telepathic thought communication) get a bit far-fetched. Overall the tightly-paced film is still a lot of fun for fans of fifties sci-fi.

Kino’s Blu-ray, transferred at 1.66:1, looks very good for the most part. A few parts seem softer than others, and of course all the stock footage is much grainier. The sound is very good with wide frequency range in explosions. The main bonus feature is a pretty good audio commentary loaded with information about the cast, crew, and other films related to this one (through themes, cast, and/or crew), plus a good amount of production information. There are also trailers (in SD) to five other sci-fi films of the era available on Blu-ray from Kino. The disc also includes optional English subtitles.

TOBOR THE GREAT on Blu-ray --
Movie: B
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: C+


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LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER (1963) 100m *** ½
(Blu-ray released September 19, 2017)
This romantic drama with bits of comedy by underrated director Robert Mulligan (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) premiered Christmas Day in 1963 and played throughout 1964. Superstars of the period Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen lead the cast, both getting the chance to demonstrate a dramatic range outside their popular studio-controlled screen images in this 100-minute independent production released by Paramount.

Sometimes billed as a romantic comedy, for an American mainstream film of its date it’s an unexpectedly gritty, frank, and darkly dramatic romance dealing with working-class New York Italian families, focusing on young Macy’s shopgirl Angie Rossini (Natalie Wood) whose oppressive and overprotective home life has led to an impulsive one-night stand with a free-spirited musician, who typically gets by from week to week and lives with his stripper girlfriend (Edie Adams). When Angie discovers she’s pregnant she tracks him down for help obtaining a quick abortion, learning his name is Rocky Papasano (Steve McQueen). Naturally he doesn’t remember her, but the revelation gets the plot moving quickly and with a serious intensity.

Wood carries the film in a brilliant and often-touching performance, while McQueen shows he can handle both heavy drama and light comedy beyond his then-current image as an action star. By the last half-hour the story gradually evolves into a more traditional romantic comedy (with Tom Bosley in his first screen role as a klutzy romantic rival), although it retains an edginess and ambiguity rarely seen in studio movies. Wood deservedly earned an Oscar nomination, as did the incisive screenplay, the moody black-and-white cinematography, meticulously-detailed art direction, and costume design.

Kino’s Blu-ray has a fine film-like HD transfer with a few spots of minor film wear visible, and the lossless mono audio is also very good. The main supplement is a very dense and analytical audio commentary discussing the director, relating Wood’s and McQueen’s personal backgrounds to the characters they play in the film, comparing the film to European trends like neo-realism, the French New Wave, British “kitchen-sink” dramas, and Hollywood studio productions, among other things. There are also three trailers to other 1960s romantic comedies (all in HD), one starring McQueen and another featuring Edie Adams. Optional English subtitles are available for the feature.

LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: B-
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