Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Open, general discussion of classic sound-era films, personalities and history.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by boblipton » Mon Oct 02, 2017 2:20 pm

I always think of Republic as one of the major minors, with almost a thousand movies produced over thirty years and more than a thousand over a twenty. Despite its Poverty Row origins (like Columbia!), Herbert Yates built up quite a prosperous little studio where they invented modern fight choreography, had a great miniatures department and won a Best Picture Oscar.

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Fri Oct 20, 2017 11:14 pm

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THE SEA WOLF (1941) 100m **** (Blu-ray released October 10, 2017)

How often do you see a movie from the classic Hollywood era that strikes you as a genuine classic, to be put up there in the company of The Adventures of Robin Hood or Casablanca or Yankee Doodle Dandy? If you're like me, you've seen nearly everything important from the sound era by now, the only surprises come from around the edges, the silent era (the 1924 Lord Jim), other countries (Poil de Carotte), early talkie indies (The Mad Parade) and so on.

But I had never seen The Sea Wolf— from that period when Michael Curtiz and the Warner Bros. studio could do no wrong. His films before it were Robin Hood, Four Daughters, Angels With Dirty Faces, The Sea Hawk, Santa Fe Trail. His films after it were—well, Captain of the Clouds isn't great, but Casablanca and Yankee Doodle followed.

But Jack London's novel is about... Nietzsche. A man who rules in the absence of morality and God on the sea. Something like that, anyway. Not the kind of thing they could pull off convincingly at Warner Bros. that early. At some point someone's got to come give a pious speech while the choir sings. (Is Otto Kruger in the cast? That'd be right up his alley.) Reassuring the audience that nobody could really believe that stuff. (No Kruger, but Barry Fitzgerald's in it. That must be his job.)

In fact, though, it's a powerful and extremely well-written film (credit to Robert Rossen, much later to direct The Hustler) that plays like a decade or more later, like the hardbitten tales made after the war, after all that we'd seen and been through that scoured away the old sentimentality. Three main characters find themselves by fate on a damned ship— John Garfield, a rebellious seaman; Alexander Knox, the London stand-in, a writer; and Ida Lupino as— well, enough references to Shanghai that her name might as well be Lil and her profession can be guessed. They all fall under the control of Wolf Larsen, the brutal captain of the ship. As someone said of Dinsdale Piranha, "'E used irony, and sarcasm," and that's what's unbearable about Larsen, a Captain Bligh is a mere martinet, but Larsen knows how to psychologically twist and destroy his crew as needed, to maintain his perch atop the pyramid.

Robinson knows this is about the best shot out of playing gangsters or G-Men who go after gangsters he's going to get at this time, and even if his physical domination is not entirely convincing, his intelligence is, and he gives a powerfully sour and sadistic performance. I'd have happily had more Garfield and less Knox, but Garfield, as the natural man who won't bow down, seems a worthy philosophical opponent to the tyrant, while Lupino is convincing as a woman at the end of her rope, convinced of her damnation, who never gets a scene where she shows that she's just a swell gal next door.

Sol Polito, whose credits are a history of the Warners studio in themselves, gives it a shadowy look— not noir, not overly artistic, but bleak and grimy. Korngold did the score, but doesn't have any place to write a big memorable theme, keeping it to moody atmospheric notes. The cast is full of memorable supporting roles— Gene Lockhart as a drunken doctor, Barry Fitzgerald as an informing weasel, Francis McDonald, Stanley Ridges, and so on.

For a late 40s reissue with The Sea Hawk, the negative was trimmed from 100 to 87 minutes, and the only surviving complete print was a 16mm belonging to John Garfield. However, Warners searched and searched and found the full 100 minutes on 35mm, and the result is nearly flawless, black and white cinematography of unusual richness, faces modeled in shadow... everything you could ask. I see prices around $17.99 online; it seems a modest price to have a brand new classic from the golden age of Hollywood's best studio. The only extras are a trailer (which is especially dorky) and a Screen Director's Playhouse radio adaptation from 1950.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Wed Nov 22, 2017 10:54 pm

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LE SAMOURAÏ (1967) 105m **** (Blu-ray released November 14, 2017)

What's the coolest movie of the 1960s? Goldfinger and A Hard Day's Night remain quintessential experiences, but don't they want to be loved too much to really be cool? Matt Helm is complete uncool now, Blow Up is a dated piece of 1966, baby, Zazie dans le Metro is like having a psychedelic root canal, take Losey's Modesty Blaise, please.

And then there is Alain Delon's Jef Costello in Le Samouraï. Well, there's also Ryan O'Neal in The Driver, Chow Yun-Fat in The Killer, and Ryan Gosling in Drive, among others, none of whom would exist without Le Samouraï. Of course, he would not exist without Alan Ladd in This Gun For Hire and Humphrey Bogart in practically everything, among others—director Jean-Pierre Melville, who named himself for an American writer of sea yarns, would have been the first to admit that the Melville Creative Universe was old Hollywood myths shaken and stirred in his head.

Jef is a hired killer, he gets seen by a witness after a killer, the deal goes bad, he goes on the hunt for the guys who hired him. The whole genre of the sensitive, thoughtful hit man, a constant indie trope in the 90s (which would have baffled Cassavetes, who made crime movies to make money to make indie films about anything but thoughtful hit men and other Tinseltown inventions), traces back to this movie.

The film is shot in two-tone color—a drab monotone world of dark blue-gray, in which the only color most of the time is a face of pink flesh protruding out the top of a dark suit and a white shirt. Lumpish men, cheap Parisian apartments in which the walls look like the rinds of aging cheeses. The exception to this world comes only when we enter the world of women—there is one woman, white, Jef's alibi, her copper hair matching perfectly her copper walls; then there is a black woman, the jazz pianist who witnesses his crime, and she lives in gleaming modernist white with aquamarine paintings along one corridor. It is a heaven to which only wealthy men can aspire.

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But Jef is no mortal man. No, Jef is an angel in a trench coat. An angel of death, but nevertheless a divine being; the police lineup into which he's picked up is like a parody of an audition, all these misshapen mortal Jef-wannabes and only the one true Jef, standing out in his trench coat against the sea of navy blue, a natural star. His iconic outfit (trench coat and fedora) is redistributed to other lesser Jefs, and a witness picks out the pieces and reassembles Jef, because he sees the pieces of perfection wanting to be put back together again. (Jef's outfit raises a question, given that entire reels are given to eluding the police on the Metro—why doesn't he change into a disguise? Because he's Jef, and you don't profane Jef-ness with a lesser look.)

I suspect Melville never had that much money for his movies, but it didn't matter because he knew Paris so well that he could walk out on the streets with a camera and Alain Delon, and compose an instant poem of that place in Paris. Criterion's disc renders it as beautifully as the austere film could wish, which is to say razor sharp but not too pretty, not oversaturating the color to make this gray film too lively. It seems to have the musty smell of the stairwell in a French apartment building throughout— at least, in the streets where men do their business.

Extras include a documentary about Melville and Delon's collaborations, and some interview clips with Melville and others; the booklet contains an essay by David Thomson, a piece with John Woo (The Killer) talking about the film on 1970s Hong Kong culture, and an excellent interview with Melville in which he explains his conception of the character and why he acts the way he does. There's also an original French trailer, with which you can only empathize as it shows the utter hopelessness of condensing this film's deadpan cool into the action beats of a trailer.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sat Nov 25, 2017 10:28 am

Speaking of unknown near-classics starring John Garfield, directed by Michael Curtiz, and based on books about sailors...

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THE BREAKING POINT (1950) 97m ***1/2 (Blu-ray released August 8, 2017)

It's well known that Howard Hawks had a rivalry with one film— Rio Bravo was created as an alternate telling of the same basic setup as High Noon, in which Gary Cooper has only a woman, a drunk, an old man and a kid to help him defend his town against the bad guys; in Rio Bravo, asked if that's all he got, John Wayne replies "That's what I've got," as in, I'm a sheriff and I do my job with the tools at hand and don't complain about it.

But I've always thought that Hawks felt a certain rivalry with Michael Curtiz's Casablanca as well. Watch Only Angels Have Wings and you'll get a distinct Rick's precursor vibe from Cary Grant's airport in South America, the place where every path crosses in that town. While To Have and Have Not seems meant to be a kind of answer to Casablanca, that doesn't have time for a 40-year-old Bogart being lovesick like a high school kid; Bogart and Bacall are insolent and frankly carnal, in the model of all Hawks relationships, and there are some like Dave Kehr who regard it as the superior film for that reason. Well, I think it's a swell picture but there's so much in the peerless Casablanca that is not in Hawks' world, that makes it the summation of America fighting a war with Warner Bros. smart-aleckiness toward those insufferably pompous Nazis, the Douglas Dumbrilles of world conquest.

But there's another chapter in this rivalry—which is that six years after To Have and Have Not, Michael Curtiz made another version of the same Hemingway book. Which is not exactly a secret (I'm sure it plays regularly on TCM) but it's surely getting more attention than it's had since 1950 with this Criterion release, easily the least-known film they've licensed from Warner in a series that has recently included the likes of The Philadelphia Story and Woman of the Year.

The screenplay by Ranald MacDougall significantly alters the story—not least because the Bogart character, played by John Garfield, has a wife and kids like in a 50s sitcom. He was a war hero "who felt eight feet tall" back then, but now he's falling behind in every way trying to make it as a charter captain and provide for his family. Wallace Ford as a sleazy lawyer who could have walked in from The Lady From Shanghai offers him a deal only a desperate man would take, involving four gangster-y types (think Kubrick's The Killing) and a rendezvous 50 miles out to sea. Garfield is that desperate man, and he takes it, no wartime sympathies for the Free French involved.

In some ways The Breaking Point feels like a 1970s remake of an old movie, in which the romance of it all is stripped away and it's told in drably realistic terms. There's Patricia Neal in the Bacall role, the insolent whore, but where Bogie and Bacall are what we all wish we could be, Garfield and Neal come off like sad people at the end of ropes they didn't know would be so short. On the other side—the character who was definitely not in the Hawks version—there's Phyllis Thaxter, much later to be Martha Kent to Christopher Reeve's Superman, as Garfield's long-suffering, very practical wife. She's really good, considering that her character is such a buzz kill by the standards of adventure cinema. It's a weird mix—Howard Hawks meets William Inge—but precisely because I didn't necessarily know where it would go with all the familiar pieces of this story, I found it fresh and enthralling. Not movie magic like the Hawks, but powerful drama, more like other social-realistic noirs of the period like Jules Dassin's Thieves' Highway (in which Richard Conte is the one trying to make it after the war in the transport business, with a truck rather than a boat).

And then there's Curtiz. Curtiz is an interesting figure in the late 40s because he's one of the ones who never quite made a noir, yet had his fingers all over noir, like Hitchcock. Mildred Pierce, of course, was soap opera noir that took the Stella Dallas maternal-sacrifice genre and wedded it to noir (it was a big hit), and another key film, I think, was Young Man With a Horn, with its influential neorealist cinematography of New York. Ted McCord, an old western hand who suddenly came into better things with the end of the war (he shot Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and his next to last film would be The Sound of Music), shot both Young Man With a Horn and this one, and there's an interesting dialectic going on between Curtiz's glossy framing and McCord's naturalistic, plain-air cinematography—Curtiz will frame Neal or Thaxter from about the 4:00 position relative to their faces, a larger than life framing, and you know he's framing them just like he did Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. But McCord's scupltural modeling in the ultrasharp seaside light is nothing like the glamorous lighting and soft focus of 1943, so it's less like filming a goddess, and more like catching a glimpse of the divine in the face of a sailor's wife.

The visual qualities of the film, and the flawless quality of the surviving material, have to be among the reasons Criterion took a chance on this lesser-known title, and it's well worth seeing for those reasons; audio is uncompressed monaural sound. There are several essays on the film on the disc and in the booklet, including an interview with Alan K. Rode, author of a new Michael Curtiz biography (and soon to be on NitrateVille Radio).
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sun Jan 21, 2018 9:17 pm

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LES VISITEURS DU SOIR (1942) 121m ***1/2 (Blu-ray released September 18, 2012)

I was reading something online where people were asked to name somebody who made nothing but great movies in a streak, and of course they were all pretty recent and very arguable (Paul Thomas Anderson, Oliver Stone, names like that). Nobody even went as far back as Coppola Godfather I to Apocalypse Now, or Kubrick The Killing to Clockwork Orange, let alone to where I would go—Sturges from McGinty to Unfaithfully Yours, say, or Walsh's dozen (!) films in three years from The Roaring Twenties to Gentleman Jim.

Or... Marcel Carne starting with French screwball in Drole de Drame, the invention of film noir with Quai des Brumes, Hotel du Nord and Le Jour Se Leve, and then the Gone With the Wind of classical French cinema, Les Enfants du Paradis. Between the last two, a huge hit in occupied France but comparatively lesser known to us today, is Les Visiteurs du Soir, which adds one more prize to that list: the invention of the Ingmar Bergman film.

In medieval France, two minstrels who are in fact envoys of the Devil arrive at a gleaming white castle/city wall (Alexander Trauner anticipating Derek Jarman's work on The Devils). Though a wedding is impending, everyone seems in a crabby mood. The husband to be is older, cynical and heartless, domineering— and quick prey for one of the envoys, Arletty. The wife to be is an innocent, and when the other envoy (Alain Cuny) toys with her, quickly falls in love. Bad move; their job, as damned souls (they committed murder as adulterers), is to stomp on hearts and embarrass the tempted and, ultimately, to claim them for damnation. But Cuny seems to be wearying of this game and to feel for the girl, and the Devil himself (Jules Berry, chatty and flamboyant) appears to sort things out.

This could easily be a 1950s Bergman film at times, given the superb clarity of the photography of Trauner's cleanly designed sets (crisp and white, they look more like medieval illustrations than reality) and the elliptical nature of the fable-like plot by Jacques Prevert and Pierre LaRoche; only the young woman's 40s hairdo, or when the music enters, a little too Mickey-Mouse-y, gives away that it's a decade or more earlier. Where an American film would be forced to follow Sunday school morality, Prevert & co. have a more complex and ironic view of human nature and temptation, and I was pleasantly surprised by the not easily foreseen turns it took, intelligent and wise—much like The Seventh Seal or The Magician or Smiles of a Summer Night.

Reportedly the biggest hit of the Occupation period in France, it's often described (as so many films are) as an allegory for occupation—and for a long while I just wasn't seeing that. It certainly was nowhere near as direct in that as Tourneur's Le Mains du Diable, which is basically a Gallic version of The Devil and Daniel Webster, with some Monkey's Paw thrown in. The Devil and his envoys were a presence, and malign in their own fashion, but hardly as oppressive as the SS; the husband to be seemed more proto-fascist than they were. Eventually I realized that audiences were responding to a tale in which the characters were simply free to explore their own feelings and their fates—and it was that visible expression of personal freedom, indomitable, that made the film so fresh and captivating when they were living under the all-encompassing state.

Criterion's disc—which I've had for quite a while and never watched—comes from pristine materials which convey the visuals devised by Carne and Trauner in all the clear, clean beauty of their creation. It's surprising to see a film with such hints of abstraction coming right before Les Enfants du Paradis, which teems with all the messy life of 19th century Paris. It's one of the best looking transfers of a 1940s film I've seen put on disc. Besides the film, there's a recent documentary about the film's production, and a booklet essay by Michael Atkinson.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Jim Roots » Mon Jan 22, 2018 6:32 am

But Mike, did you like it?

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Mon Jan 22, 2018 8:16 am

***1/2!

It's interesting, stylish, poetic, has Arletty in it; well worth seeing.

I watch Children of Paradise every few years, doubt I'll exactly do that.
“I'm in favor of plagiarism. If we are to create a new Renaissance, the government should encourage plagiarism. When convinced that someone is a true plagiarist, we should immediately award them the Legion of Honor.” —Jean Renoir

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Jim Roots » Mon Jan 22, 2018 12:52 pm

Mike Gebert wrote:***1/2!

It's interesting, stylish, poetic, has Arletty in it; well worth seeing.

I watch Children of Paradise every few years, doubt I'll exactly do that.
Thanks. I've put off buying it through last 4 Criterion sales because I have a hard time believing it could be anywhere near as good as Children of Paradise (and yeah, I watch that one again every few years, same as you).

Next sale, I'll keep it in my shopping cart.

Jim

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Thu Feb 01, 2018 10:47 pm

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THE GARDEN OF ALLAH (1936) 79 min. ***1/2 (Blu-ray released January 9, 2018)

David O. Selznick's most famous film is about a love that ends when the man doesn't give a damn, but more typical of his films is a tale of love that must endure in extremis and beyond death—a description that fits two Hemingway adaptations (A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls), an epically steamy western (Duel in the Sun) and various other films. Who knows if he had a psychological need being satisfied by such stories or simply recognized a framework that could accommodate the lush, no-holds-barred filmmaking and outsize emotion that he knew would spell box office success, but two such stories produced by Selznick have recently been released by Kino Lorber on blu-ray.

Only the fourth three-strip Technicolor fiction feature made, after Becky Sharp, The Dancing Pirate, and The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, The Garden of Allah remakes an old Arabian romance previously filmed by Rex Ingram, among others. Marlene Dietrich plays a girl raised in a convent (!) and long sheltered due to having to care for her dying father; now she wants to finally know the world (!!) and in what seems a clear case of mal-nun-practice, her old Mother Superior sends her into the desert to find life. Cut to a Trappist monastery where a French officer is chatting up the monk in charge and enjoying the liqueur they produce; they send for the man in charge—and he's abandoned his vows and run away.

He, of course, must be Charles Boyer, and he and Dietrich find each other on their way to a tortured romance which will scale the heights and call upon all the powers of Max Steiner and the Technicolor corporation. Objectively it's silly melodrama, made for a Carol Burnett Show sendup, and the plot will turn on ethical questions few today would consider of such dire import—but put your cynicism, your modern rationality, away! This is the Highest Hokum, and it's wonderful—Dietrich genuinely delicate and touching as a woman with bottomless faith in love, Boyer as turbulent as Brando and Peter Lorre combined, and the Technicolor, oh, as early as it is, the photography (Virgil Miller, Harold Rosson and W. Howard Greene, who won a special Oscar for it) anticipates Black Narcissus in its subtlety.

Yes, it's true that they'll stick a big bowl of flowers in the middle of a clinch shot to make sure it has as many colors in the frame as a set of Christmas lights, but the exterior photography in particular is quite lovely—dusk skies shading from blue to pink and orange, riders on horseback silhouetted on a ridge of golden sand. (The shots of Dietrich in color for the first time are pretty great, too, although her thin arched eyebrows make her look like the puppet of Carole Lombard in the opening credits of Nothing Sacred.)

I can't speak to its quality relative to the other releases discussed in this thread, but I can say this: this transfer of a vintage print has a very pleasing, watercolor-like subtlety compared to many of the versions created digitally from the black and white matrices like The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Wizard of Oz, where the color is so vivid it seems impossible and sometimes distractingly intense. At under $20 retail, it's a disc worth having just for that representation of early Technicolor at its most enchanting. The throbbing emotionalism is just a bonus feature. (Apart from that, the only actual bonuses are trailers for other Kino Selznick releases.)

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PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948) 86 min. *** (Blu-ray released October 24, 2017)

There are certain similarities between The Garden of Allah and Portrait of Jennie— nuns, for one— but the big difference is that where prewar Allah belongs to that ecumenical era when Catholicism had no stronger backer than a Jewish Hollywood producer, postwar Jennie has apparently seen The Razor's Edge, and searches for new— as in New Age— answers. Starting with shots of clouds over which the world's most portentous narrator talks about how throughout history, the greatest thinkers have know that time is life and liberty is true and Collier's is The Saturday Evening Post.

Joseph Cotten is a painter not amounting to much in New York City. He wanders into a gallery run by Cecil Kellaway and Ethel Barrymore and they think his paintings are mediocre, but try to guide him toward finding something real to paint about. Then he meets an odd girl in Central Park, who speaks anachronistically of a New York that no longer exists. A few more meetings, and each time Jennifer Jones as Jennie seems older. He starts sketching her and shows he has real ability at last. But the mystery of Jennie hints at darker things....

It's an effective update of the Selznick formula that what was Victorian in Allah is now closer to The Twilight Zone (though not as close as Dead of Night's sad Victorian ghost girl sequence—Jennie isn't going to get that dark). Before watching these two back to back, I would have said that this was my favorite Selznick fantasy. Alas, this time what stuck out to me glaringly is that it won't shut up. It's got some metaphysical guff to peddle, and it could do it and get it over with, but no, Cotten and Jones wind up talking more and more of it, explaining the ideas of the original author (Robert Nathan, who also wrote The Bishop's Wife) in more detail than they can support. Having seen it at least three times over the years, this was the first time it seemed a bit insufferable. (Jones might have said what Paulette Goddard said of her husband— "He thinks he thinks.")

Which is too bad, because much of Jennie is quite lovely. William Dieterle's direction and the cinematography of Joseph August (a silent veteran going back to Hell's Hinges for William S. Hart, here making his last film) turn snowy, ice skating New York into a magical place; if we buy a lot of this, it's because of the spell those images cast, more genuinely lyrical than almost anything in Hollywood filmmaking since Sunrise and Seventh Heaven. It far outclasses the surf-pounding hurricane ending, full of miniature work, with which Selznick pile-drives his message of love's eternal unstoppability home. As far as the actors go, Jones has never been my cup of tea and Jennie is less character than muse-slash-plot device, but she plays the many ages of Jennie well; Cotten manages to convince us he actually is bright enough to be a great artist, and likable enough that Barrymore indulges him as she does. Tribute to both for triumphing over some of the words put in their mouths.

Scott McQueen did a restoration of this in the 90s, and 90% of it is very good—and more to the point, the parts you'd hope look as good as possible do. There are some battered shots here and there, and the climax—which was tinted green—suffers from solarization (it's green and purple) which among other things, makes the process work more obvious. But on the whole, you will not be sorry that the best part of this film, its visual poetry, looks as good as it does.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by syd » Wed Feb 07, 2018 1:05 am

Possibly the most underrated actor of classic Hollywood and
one of the very few people Orson Wells never had unkind words
for (and that's saying a lot) Joseph Cotten should get a reconsideration
and a box set as well. Portrait of Jennie is a movie that stays with you
long after the last frame flickers by. It has an understated haunting
quality that directors can't seem to pull off these days. Every chill must
be in CGI form.

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by countryslicker » Wed Feb 07, 2018 5:06 pm

One of my favourite films! My purchased DVD copy (NTSC region free) has the correct tinted ending - first green, then sepia, and then the final shot being the portrait in full Technicolor. Would have loved to experience this on the big screen when released, with the ending in large screen Magnascope and stereo sound. Fully deserved Oscar for Visual Effects (pre-CGI). Nice to see Lillian Gish in a small role. A fine fantasy film IMHO always worth watching.

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by s.w.a.c. » Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:56 am

syd wrote:Possibly the most underrated actor of classic Hollywood and
one of the very few people Orson Wells never had unkind words
for (and that's saying a lot) Joseph Cotten should get a reconsideration
and a box set as well.
Certainly a special edition of The Magnificent Ambersons is in order (still have my Criterion LD), and why Journey Into Fear hasn't surfaced in a format more high-tech than VHS (OK, laserdisc) in North America is beyond me.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Daniel Eagan » Thu Feb 08, 2018 2:35 pm

s.w.a.c. wrote:Certainly a special edition of The Magnificent Ambersons is in order (still have my Criterion LD), and why Journey Into Fear hasn't surfaced in a format more high-tech than VHS (OK, laserdisc) in North America is beyond me.
Journey into Fear now exists in competing versions, one closer to the original Welles cut, one the theatrical release, and another that ties the two together.

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Jim Roots » Fri Feb 09, 2018 6:26 am

s.w.a.c. wrote:
syd wrote:Possibly the most underrated actor of classic Hollywood and
one of the very few people Orson Wells never had unkind words
for (and that's saying a lot) Joseph Cotten should get a reconsideration
and a box set as well.
Certainly a special edition of The Magnificent Ambersons is in order (still have my Criterion LD), and why Journey Into Fear hasn't surfaced in a format more high-tech than VHS (OK, laserdisc) in North America is beyond me.
Those two, and The Trial.

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Fri Feb 23, 2018 11:00 pm

A pair of films about charismatic scoundrels...

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LA POISON (1951) 85 min. ***1/2 (Blu-ray released August 22, 2017)

Despite having stayed in his house, I don't know the films of Sacha Guitry that well; the only later film I've seen was his last, Three Make a Pair, which felt like the last film of someone badly out of fashion just a year or two before the French New Wave hit (some of it takes place on a beach, so it's an especially fitting metaphor). In fact Guitry made films so quickly—34 in 21 years, alongside an equal number of plays—that quite a few, apparently, are weak, hastily constructed, sustained mainly by his voice. The fact that this one, though I'd never heard of it, came with Criterion's imprimatur was a recommendation, and the art by Drew Friedman—only a mild exaggeration of the sardonic atmosphere of the film itself—sealed the deal.

Michel Simon is a garrulous middle-aged gardener in a small village; at the start of the film he's discussing the intolerability of his wife, a drunken pepper-pot who only washes her feet every two months and scarcely brings to mind the girl he married 30 years before. He hears a famous defense attorney on the radio and goes to visit him to tell him he's killed his wife... using his prodding to fashion exactly the way to do it that night. Except there's a twist—she's been to the local apothecary to get rat poison, with which she plans to do him in...

Maybe Guitry didn't hit it just right every time, but the combination of black humor and Simon's exuberance, his utter rationality (so rational he's mad) about his intentions, works perfectly here; even when his characters talk too long, the very fact that they're all so respectable and proper in their discussions just makes it all more monstrously funny. It climaxes with a courtroom scene in which the magistrates seem helpless to prevent Simon making his extravagant philosophical explanations, which seem likely to break the attorney's streak of 100 acquittals. If you've seen the 1960s satirical comedy How to Murder Your Wife, which similarly ends with a trial, it's very much in that vein of outrageous comedy of war between the sexes.

In many ways Guitry was an awkward filmmaker—too many cuts in scenes that ought to be allowed to play out in two shots, music wallpapered over scenes like it's 1934. (And then there's the business of introducing his cast and crew in person, which seems to be a trademark and certainly lets you know whose work you're there to see.) And yet they have the flavor of his personality, and who they belong to is unmistakable; if that's not being an auteur, what could be? I'm trying to think of anyone else who "hosted" his movies like a TV anthology show, like a raconteur, who was such a brand name integrated into the films; imagine if Lubitsch or Preston Sturges had introduced all their films, though maybe another comparison is W.C. Fields, in the way you're know you're in a particular universe with a particular way of looking at the world as soon as the credits start.

It's no visual masterpiece, but Criterion's disc is spotless and has perfectly fine tonal gradation in black and white. Supplements include two existing hour-long documentaries on Guitry, and a film in which director Olivier Assayas (Carlos, Personal Shopper) offers an introduction to Guitry's work and place in French cinema.

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RUTHLESS (1948) 105 min. **1/2 (Blu-ray released March 27, 2013)

Citizen Kane may have been considered a relative flop (it was profitable, but not enough to justify the hype), but its influence on ambitious filmmakers were almost immediate, and one of the very first Kane imitators was The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), an international thriller in which the flashback structure and Expressionist look is used to tell the life story of a sleazy black market racketeer believed dead. But who could be a substitute Orson Welles? The answer, it turned out, was an actor making his debut, Zachary Scott, a southerner who had the devious look of Welles combined with a rail-thin figure. In truth Scott was no Welles by a long shot, but he was imposing enough to play the type, as many existing stars could not have, and made a good amoral Warren William imitator for the 40s, most memorably as the slimy Monty who takes some slugs in Mildred Pierce.

Over the years a number of Kane imitators followed, tales of big powerful bastards with secrets to reveal, like the American fascist Katharine Hepburn is married to in Keeper of the Flame or Jose Ferrer's portrait of a popular radio personality who turns out to have been a jerk, The Great Man. Meanwhile, Scott got another chance to play one in Edgar Ulmer's 1948 Ruthless. Scott is Horace Vendig, a poor boy who rises to wealth on Wall Street, discarding friends and female companions along the way as necessary; among the more notable ones are a boyhood pal (Louis Hayward) who I guess is what you nowadays would call a stooge, and Sydney Greenstreet as an Insull-like utility magnate, whom Vendig bests in part thanks to Greenstreet's duplicitous, Bette Davis-lookalike wife Lucille Bremer, who has an affair with Vendig. But what profiteth it a man to be a tycoon with a mustache?

Ulmer must have been delighted to be at Eagle-Lion, where just a few years earlier (when it was PRC) he was shooting things like Detour in three days; now, with money from J. Arthur Rank flowing through the place, he could stage a quite handsome movie about the rich, with big sets (though, as in the Harvard swim meet scene, he shows he still knows how to make a full crowd out of 20 or so people), and if it doesn't have the filmmaking pizzazz of Welles, it moves very nicely. The problem is that the soapy material— from a book by one Dayton Stoddart, which sounds like the name of a Zachary Scott character— is much more pedestrian than Kane, with none of the sharp, sardonic irony that makes Herman Mankiewicz's script so refreshingly cynical and yet displays real psychological understanding. We see little reason why young Vendig (a nice enough boy, played by Bobby Anderson, the young George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life) should become grasping venal adult Vendig, and his Wall Street schemes desperately lack the larcenous excitement of Warren William toying with the destinies of thousands. By the time it comes to a violent climax (hey, it has to end somehow), it makes little sense at all.

In fact, with Vendig's motivations unclear, the film is somewhat stolen by Greenstreet, who gets the most emotionally moving scenes when he realizes his pretty young wife wants nothing to do with him any more, and incidentally, gets to play old Kane—at least, the clearest sign that Ulmer knew Welles' film well comes when Greenstreet gets to waddle down a long corridor of intricate doorways, a la the older Kane at Xanadu. Ah well, it all looks nice, only the very occasional speckle and one scene (one shot, really) where the negative appears to have some flashing, as if it were accidentally overexposed in spots. It's interesting enough, as these films about unlikable bastards nearly always are just because they're not trying to win the audience over—but it's no Kane.
“I'm in favor of plagiarism. If we are to create a new Renaissance, the government should encourage plagiarism. When convinced that someone is a true plagiarist, we should immediately award them the Legion of Honor.” —Jean Renoir

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Mon Feb 26, 2018 8:42 pm

Milestone recently released two Lois Weber films, very different in story and temperament:

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THE DUMB GIRL OF PORTICI (1916) 114 min. **1/2 (Blu-ray released February 6, 2018)

I had never heard of Masaniello, who led a peasant uprising against the Habsburg Spanish rulers of Naples, which turned into a terror and led to his own quick demise. He is best known from an opera by Daniel Auber, who is best known for Fra Diavolo, which later starred Laurel & Hardy. Anyway, this is the silent movie of an opera, starring a ballerina known today for the dessert named after her, Pavlova. Got that?

The ballerina is the famous Anna Pavlova, a petite, dark-eyed Russian who made exactly this one film, for Lois Weber at Universal in 1916. She plays Masaniello's (probably fictitious) sister, a mute girl whose bewitching dancing captures the heart of the nobleman Alphonso, so that there can be a properly convoluted romantic plot, and the movie is constructed around her, so that there's never too long between chances for her to dance. The dancing is the high point—otherwise Pavlova's performance is pitched to the balcony, and she has a tendency to cast her head back, revealing that her petite form includes a neck like a high school wrestler. She has impressive physicality, though not quite movie star magnetism. Your interest in seeing one of the legendary names of dance will determine if you'll rate it higher than my rating.

The film itself—imagine that the French portions of Intolerance were a movie of their own, so that you didn't forget about them during the Babylonian and modern sequences. That pretty well captures this movie, arguably the only true epic ever directed by a woman at least in pre-CGI days, the story of a simmering revolt that ends in mass mayhem and everyone running around with swords. The visual qualities of the sets are impressive, and the action is pretty well staged for 1916— I was impressed by some moving camera shots in particular, which are effective at making a smaller cast seem bigger at times.

That said, it is 1916, and when every man in the cast looks like Frank Zappa in medium to long shot, and the performances (including Rupert Julian as Masaniello and Jack Holt as a nobleman) do little to distinguish them, it can be hard to follow who's up to what. (Boris Karloff is supposed to be in the revolting masses, but no one's ever spotted him.) Basically, Weber does a creditable enough job in what is not her natural genre, and as Bugs Bunny says, what did you expect from an opera, a happy ending?

The print is a Library of Congress restoration, about 80% from a rough but very clear 35mm print from the BFI, 20% from a softer 16mm print at the New York Public Library. The score is by John Sweeney, using themes from the very romantic Auber opera. The set comes with a second disc, though early orderers didn't get it and had to be sent it separately; it includes some footage of Pavlova dancing taken by Douglas Fairbanks' crew on the set of The Thief of Bagdad, a few newsreels and home movies, and The Immortal Swan, a 1935 dance featurette starring members of her troupe (she was dead by then), dancing some of her famous works.

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SHOES (1916) 54 min. ***1/2 (Blu-ray released February 6, 2018)

What Lois Weber's natural genre was, was the social issue drama—and in that field there were things that she could do better than anyone working in her time. Plenty of male directors could convincingly depict the mortgage being due, a time-honored bit of melodrama, but Weber could make you feel the privation of the housewife trying to keep home together on the scrapings of her last pennies like no one else. And many could depict the temptation from the path of virtue, and did—innocent maidens lured by sweet talk, the promise of marriage, a taste of the fancy life.

But only Weber could show it to you with the determinism of Shoes, dramatizing to the tiniest practical details a poor shop girl's desperate need, day after day, for a new pair of shoes that aren't about to fall off her feet, and how economic logic overcomes virtue. After the historical spectacle in long shot of The Dumb Girl of Portici, it's almost breathtaking to be swept instantly into the world of a poor girl's deprivation and longing, in heartfelt closeups and keenly rendered detail of then-modern life. It was a big hit for Universal in its day, precisely because, I suspect, no one in 1910s cinema had ever told how girls gave in to temptation with such frankness and so little sentimentality.

The girl is Mary McLaren, effectively making her debut (she's apparently a bit player in Where Are My Children?), and interestingly something about her—a philosophical sadness and questioning beyond her years—reminded me of Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird. Which has some parallels—the father is unemployed and a bit lazy, the mother beaten down but unbowed, the family is considered to be on the wrong side of the tracks, and so on. But it also shows how much the world has changed, how wealthy even the less well off are today—the economic question in that film is whether she can afford an expensive college, not a new pair of shoes that won't fill with water from a hole in the bottom in the rain. (One of McLaren's little sisters, incidentally, is future Godless Girl and Warner brother widow Lina Basquette. The wolf is William V. Mong, which made me think throughout that she was going to lose her virtue to Doodles Weaver.)

Shoes was restored by the Eye Film Institute in the Netherlands, from two original prints and a 1932 cutdown that contained material not in the others, with a sensitive piano score by Donald Sosin. There are stretches of nitrate decomp, but most of the time it looks very clear and sharp. The cutdown is also included—and it's appalling: in 1932 Universal took this heartfelt drama and made it into one of those sneering parodies of silent film, narrated by a guy who sounds like Pete Smith, called The Unshod Maiden. To see work of such quality turned into this contemptible joke will make you queasy, but at least a few shots survive only because of it.

There are also some materials about the restoration, some commentaries, and an audio recording with McLaren from the early 70s (she continued as an actress into the late 40s, usually uncredited once sound began; the other thing you've most likely seen her in is Fairbanks' The Three Musketeers). The set was supposed to contain an earlier Weber-Phillips Smalley short, The Price, but it seems to be missing; you can watch it here.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sat Mar 17, 2018 8:41 am

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MAIGRET SETS A TRAP (1958) 118 min. *** (Blu-ray released December 5, 2017)

My image of Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret is middle-aged, a bit portly, hidden a bit behind a little mouse of a mustache and a pipe as he sees, phlegmatically but with the unerring psychological insight of a village priest with many years in the confessional, into the twisted souls of perpetrators and gets the truth of their crimes out of them. Harry Baur, who was already the third Maigret just a couple of years after the character's debut, seems physically perfect in Duvivier's La Tete d'un Homme, and Michael Gambon seems unimprovable as an English-language TV Maigret, which he was in 1992-3.

So to have a stocky but vigorous Jean Gabin in the role seems off, as if Rio Lobo-era John Wayne were cast as Nero Wolfe. To me he seems Americanized, in the sense that he is playing the tough veteran cop barking orders, Broderick Crawford in Highway Patrol. I want a Maigret who muses to his pipe over man's sinful nature. Yet it revitalized the aging Gabin's career and he is apparently the gold standard for the role for the French. He played Maigret twice for the director Jean Delannoy, plus a third time for another director which is said to be much inferior (and much less faithful to Simenon), and Kino has released the two Delannoy films in pristine no-extras editions with most excellent cover art by Nathan Gelgud.

Four women have been attacked and killed in the Marais section of Paris. Maigret sets up a public deception to wound the killer's vanity; meanwhile his team, tracking everyone near the latest crime, zeroes in on Annie Girardot, in her second film before a long career as one of France's top actresses (think a Shirley MacLaine sort), an artist's wife who is carrying on with a gigolo. (In general the sexual content is much more frank than I would have expected possible in America at that time, yet the film was released in the U.S. by United Artists; I'd be curious to see that version and see how cuts and changes in the dubbing made it releasable.)

To be honest, I'm not sure why suspicion falls so easily on Girardot and her husband, and once it does it seems pretty obvious where it's all going, and that the latter part of the film is going to be Maigret trying to break down the perp(s) with his relentless, two-steps-ahead-of-your-psyche questioning, a section that after a while, wore me down as much as the suspect. But the point is Maigret making sense out of the sordidness of everyday life, and if Delannoy's direction is visually flat and fairly routine (he also makes the curious mistake of shooting Gabin, who was only 5'8", from a bit above, making him look even shorter—nobody ever did that to Bogart), the richness of the picture of a neighborhood and its characters, all its little soap operas and family secrets, is sharply observed, the true flavor of postwar Paris in a way that no American film could ever capture. Especially for me: one of the crimes take place in the Place des Vosges, and the artist's mother lives in a somewhat seedy building on Rue de Turennes. When we went to Paris last summer, we stayed in the Marais, wandered around the nearby Place des Vosges—and rented an apartment just off Rue de Turennes.
“I'm in favor of plagiarism. If we are to create a new Renaissance, the government should encourage plagiarism. When convinced that someone is a true plagiarist, we should immediately award them the Legion of Honor.” —Jean Renoir

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Fri Mar 30, 2018 6:49 pm

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KING OF JAZZ (1930) 98 min. ***/**** (Blu-ray released March 27, 2018)

By now King of Jazz must be the single most-discussed film in NitrateVille history, its progress from a rumor of a restoration years ago to the Criterion release that came out this week being tracked in detail here. And indeed, some of the notable figures involved are also participants here—one of those who got the project started was Vitaphone (Ron Hutchinson), David Pierce was the co-author of the companion book and of several making-of segments on the video release, and among those credited at the end for their assistance is the late Bob Birchard.

So I don't expect I can tell anybody here much about its history. The question is, is it any good? Hence my bifurcated rating—taken purely as a film, it's an antique, with wheezy comedy bits and music that is mostly before what we consider the modern era of popular music—a gap of decades seems to yawn between the mock-operetta songs here and the standards in, say, Top Hat or Meet Me in St. Louis. Let alone how Sinatra swings with a number like It Happened in Monterey in the 1950s, compared to the rendition John Boles does here. Furthermore, it's very definitely a stage presentation put on film, maintaining a stage vantage point just as director John Murray Anderson's stage spectacles did. The star is a rotund bandleader who specifically did not want to act, the one star to emerge from it lost out on one of his numbers because he went to jail for reckless driving, and the actual music in the title is not actually represented all that much... it is a period piece for sure. Taken on that level, it works surprisingly well for 1930, several numbers holding up very well and almost nothing except such short comedy bits inflicting actual pain. Three stars for the film as a film.

But it's not just a film, and judging it as any old musical is like judging the Statue of Liberty as sculpture. It's an astonishing spectacle from a red and green parallel universe. It's the artistic pinnacle of two-strip Technicolor, and jawdroppingly beautiful at times. There's just nothing like it as a display of the ability to create extravagantly two-toned imagery on film... or so I thought until Jacques Cartier's savage dance (in blackface, indeed, black body) that begins the Rhapsody in Blue segment, and then it hit me: it's Fantasia. Walt was plainly inspired by the way the different segments are introduced on the bandstand, by the colorful lighting, by the intention to make pictures in many styles to music, like they'd never been made before. (The irony of Walt drawing inspiration from a film starring the stolen character Oswald is noted; Oswald's appearance here was, incidentally, the first two-strip Technicolor cartoon, and I don't have to tell you who made the first three-strip one.)

Anyway, you don't judge Fantasia like a normal movie—sometimes it's great art, sometimes it's dazzling kitsch, sometimes it's hard to tell which—and really, King of Jazz transcends normal expectations in the same way, offering a variety of entertainments—Rhapsody in Blue is an art deco masterpiece, Happy Feet is a great chorus line dance number (featuring the dancers who would soon take the name Rockettes), Ragamuffin Romeo is an eye popping and risqué novelty dance act, Bridal Veil is a weirdly morbid but exquisitely designed celebration of wedding days that has the slow-moving epic scale we associate with Ziegfeld, and the final number, Melting Pot, is truly vast in scale (as well as, sadly, neglecting to mention African Americans in its haste to credit Dutch and Scottish immigrants with inspiring jazz).

Hence the second, four-star rating, which is for not only being a film unlike any other, but for the effort it took to rescue and present in such near-perfection (there are some missing moments and fuzzier shots) this rare bird. As a DVD/blu-ray package, it's astounding. Besides the film itself, there's a wealth of material I've only begun to dive into—a commentary track that includes Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins and others, documentaries featuring David Pierce and James Layton about the production of the film, and a host of shorts including the sequences added for the 1933 reissue, an earlier film version of Murray Anderson's Melting Pot stage number, a short with Walter Winchell which gives you the chance to see Whiteman and his orchestra on stage in a more naturalistic setting (as well as to hear Winchell say one of the lines that Burt Lancaster would use when playing J.J. Hunsecker, "don't kid a kidder"), and so on and on.

But the main thing is, since I started diving into a day or two ago, I've half lived in a two-strip Technicolor, combinations of aqua and red or pink catching my eye in real life wherever I see them. It's a unique world, the world of King of Jazz, and from lost and unseeable 40 years ago, now we have it at our fingertips. Amazing.
“I'm in favor of plagiarism. If we are to create a new Renaissance, the government should encourage plagiarism. When convinced that someone is a true plagiarist, we should immediately award them the Legion of Honor.” —Jean Renoir

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by boblipton » Fri Mar 30, 2018 7:22 pm

I think that's a great round-up of Rhapsody in Blue, Mike. I add direct link to the threads:


LONG AWAITED "KING OF JAZZ" RESTORATION BEGINS IN 2012
at: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=15885" target="_blank" target="_blank

which has been running since 2013, as well as the more recent

KING OF JAZZ on DVD or BluRay
at viewtopic.php?f=2&t=24980" target="_blank" target="_blank

I'm not sure but that this review should also be posted to those threads, but it's certainly not wrong here.

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Wed Apr 18, 2018 9:01 am

After Zaza a few months back, Kino has released two more Gloria Swanson comedies directed by Allan Dwan, built on similar lines to each other (if not Zaza). One is problematic, one is a delight and highly recommended...

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MANHANDLED (1924) 63m **1/2 (Blu-ray released April 10, 2018)

Gloria Swanson is a girl who works in a department store, and the first shot is of her tired feet as she heads down the stairs to go home... we are in the land of neorealist despair a la Lois Weber's Shoes, no doubt.

Well, no, not exactly, though the allusion to that film may be so unconscious that it shows how it set the terms of how we thought about showgirls and their lives in 1924. After a overplayed comic subway ride (how can anyone have lived in the city that long and have failed to develop basic subway skills?), she gets back to her apartment and hopes that boyfriend Tom Moore will take her out for the evening. But he's working on some auto gadget that's going to make him rich, like Egbert Sousé, and so, neglected, she falls into being passed around by a bunch of rich guys with roaming hands—modeling for sculptor Ian Keith, being passed off as a countess for dressmaker Frank Morgan, going to a party with department store owner Arthur Housman (sober this time), and so on. All of whom, it turns out, leave her... MANHANDLED!

The theme of sexual harassment all around her is obviously timely, and this could have been The Apartment of the 1920s, but of course we can't suggest that she ever fell to the temptation of nice clothes etc., as Shoes did, or even that the very idea ever occurred to her, why I never Mr. Schmeerkase. So there's a basic falsity to how all this plays out, the kind of movie where Swanson at one moment is a shopgirl who doesn't know how not to give her class away as a more experienced showgirl type schools her on acting classy, and in the next is successfully impersonating a Russian countess. The happy ending of course takes her back to Moore, but he seems to have all the sex appeal of middle-aged Lon Chaney Jr. and, more to the point, to commoditize her and her virginity as much as the shop owners do. Some individual scenes capture the reality of "manhandling" and sexual harassment very well, but overall the film doesn't ring true.

That said, there is one thing the film has going for it, and of course, it's Swanson, funny and very well-observed as the spunky, sassy shopgirl wi't a hearta gold. She makes the final clinch work even when a life sentence to Tom Moore hardly seems a prize.

As talked about elsewhere, Manhandled is not in the best of shape; there are two prints used here, and the difference in quality is obvious enough that you can admire the skill with which brief moments have been woven back into the film from the lesser print in the name of continuity. The worse is dark and fuzzy, the better is fair enough to watch but doesn't stand out for any "blu-ray bump," that's for sure. There's a commentary track, and the piano score by Makia Matsumura is quite lovely.

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STAGE STRUCK (1925) 84m ***1/2 (Blu-ray released April 10, 2018)

If Manhandled offered the frustration of a promising premise inconsistently carried out, Stage Struck offers the pleasures of confident handling and filmmaking that purrs like a kitten under the hood.

Stage Struck starts in two-strip Technicolor, with Swanson as a Nazimova-like diva who drives even royalty to paroxysms of mad worship in her lavish costumes. As this prologue goes further and further over the top, it is soon revealed to be her dreams of stardom. In real life, Swanson is a waitress working at a busy lunch spot for factory workers. As we know from the '34 Imitation of Life, watching pancake flippers at work in the front window is a big draw, especially when they're as dreamy as Lawrence Gray, who has a steady stream of girls adoringly watching him making stack of flapjacks. Won't he notice that she loves him?

No, because he's hot for actresses, and soon a showboat run by Ford Sterling comes to town, and Gray manages to attract the momentary attention of star Gertrude Astor, who seems glamorous only by comparison to a hick town like this. Can Swanson triumph over that? Well, happenstance puts her together with Sterling, and they hatch a plan...

Swanson and Gray have real chemistry—he calls her Mouse and never takes her seriously, but as with Emma and Mr. Knightley, how could they not belong together? And Swanson is delightful—sassy and hard-edged on the restaurant floor, yet vulnerable (and not above a certain manipulativeness) when it comes to her man, genuinely sad when Astor seems to offer feminine wiles on a scale she can't even grasp. It all comes to an ending that could easily have fit a screwball comedy a decade later. Besides the sure, sweet comic tone, it's fun to see the well-preserved color prologue, which is not only used decoratively but in a Wizard of Oz, here's where the dream is way that is well paid off by the end.

The quality is much better than Manhandled, perhaps not top-tier (the cinematography is functional, not artistic) but well toned, sharp and clear. The score is by Andrew Simpson; there's a commentary track by Frederic Lombardi, who wrote a book on Dwan, and a booklet essay by Farran Smith Nehme.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Wed Apr 18, 2018 10:21 pm

A comic actor takes a serious role in a movie featuring a Half-Breed... no, it's not Fairbanks in The Half-Breed though that's coming soon. It's Roscoe Arbuckle in a feature, a year before Chaplin's The Kid.

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THE ROUND UP (1920) 63m *** (Blu-ray released April 9, 2018)

From a knockabout slapstick comedian in the early teens, Roscoe Arbuckle seemed, by 1920, to be on an unstoppable path to something more substantial, feature-length, taking comedians to new dramatic territory where their humor would be rooted in deeper characterization and feelings. Arbuckle, in the end, would never get there, but The Round Up shows us one example of where he was going. In many ways it's a straightforward western, and to some extent he's the comic relief—but he's also the one we see the story through, and it's his character's psyche that suggests we're in deeper waters than the exciting, but fairly conventional, western plot is capable of reaching.

He's Slim Hoover, sheriff of an Arizona town, and the kind that we know from things like Destry Rides Again and Support Your Local Sheriff and even Blazing Saddles—he'll draw quicker than someone else if he has to, but his first choice is to outwit him. He's well-liked but lonely; he pines for romance, and it's not coming the fat man's way, no matter that he's had a dozen films called "Fatty and Mabel" in his previous career. Trying to think what this character's silent pathos reminded me of, sure, it was Chaplin in City Lights... but it also made me think of John Hurt in The Elephant Man, a character, basically goodhearted, yet so desperately alone in his unwelcome physicality.

And then there's the western plot, which curiously features two future directors. Irving Cummings (who would send Betty Grable Down Argentine Way) is prospecting, gets waylaid by half-breed Wallace Beery, robbed, and believed dead by his fiancee. His brother (Edward Sutherland, who would send W.C. Fields to International House) falls in with Beery, while the fiancee winds up marrying Cummings' best pal Tom Forman. Beery commits a crime and pins it on Forman, and Arbuckle works to straighten it all out, though in the end it takes a whole cavalry and an impressively staged gun battle amid the rocks and cliffs to do the job.

It's really a pretty good western, along familiar lines but handsomely staged in the open air by director George Melford. But I wonder if someone like Buster Keaton—who's supposed to be in here somewhere as an Indian—looked at it and started thinking about how not to let the epic scale overtake his own comic persona. Arbuckle gets some opportunities to own a half reel with physical comedy, but he's never dominates the vast landscape, as Keaton does in The General, say.

Still, a pleasure enough to watch, aided greatly by the extremely good quality of the material—it comes from a preservation negative at the Library of Congress, and truly looks like it was shot yesterday. (For some reason, it's also window boxed.) Donald Sosin provides a score well-suited to the light adventure of the film. Extras include two early Arbuckle Keystone shorts, shot on a western set and basically interchangeable in their knockabout slapstick (featuring those pistols that never shoot anybody but just makes you clutch your behind and run), A Bandit, and Peeping Pete. There's an image gallery, and a commentary track by Richard M. Roberts.
“I'm in favor of plagiarism. If we are to create a new Renaissance, the government should encourage plagiarism. When convinced that someone is a true plagiarist, we should immediately award them the Legion of Honor.” —Jean Renoir

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Harold Aherne
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Harold Aherne » Wed Apr 18, 2018 11:26 pm

Manhandled is a film I ended up wanting to like more than I actually did, but part of the problem in seeing it today is the missing footage. It was 6998 feet on original release -- almost 78 minutes at 24 fps, but the disc runs 63. From reading trade reviews of the time, there don't seem to be any subplots obviously missing (the Chaplin imitation was widely remarked on), but the Kodascope cut likely pruned some of the little grace notes that can help to sell a lightweight story.

The novelist Paul Garretson (played by Paul McAllister) seemed to disappear most conspicuously after a couple of scenes, and Thorndyke mentions him as one of the manhandlers, so his episode may have been cut. It would be fascinating to see a cutting continuity to determine what's still missing, since there's a somewhat different dynamic between deliberately shortened films and ones with randomly missing reels or footage. The former usually maintain their coherence while coming off as less thoughtful than the full cuts were, while the latter I seem to forgive more readily.

The Swanson film most often compared to Manhandled at the time was The Humming Bird, released several months earlier, and it does survive at LOC in a print repatriated from the Netherlands (the only other Swanson film extant from '24). Here's hoping it can be made available sometime.

--HA

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by drednm » Thu Apr 19, 2018 6:14 am

Harold Aherne wrote:Manhandled is a film I ended up wanting to like more than I actually did, but part of the problem in seeing it today is the missing footage. It was 6998 feet on original release -- almost 78 minutes at 24 fps, but the disc runs 63. From reading trade reviews of the time, there don't seem to be any subplots obviously missing (the Chaplin imitation was widely remarked on), but the Kodascope cut likely pruned some of the little grace notes that can help to sell a lightweight story.

The novelist Paul Garretson (played by Paul McAllister) seemed to disappear most conspicuously after a couple of scenes, and Thorndyke mentions him as one of the manhandlers, so his episode may have been cut. It would be fascinating to see a cutting continuity to determine what's still missing, since there's a somewhat different dynamic between deliberately shortened films and ones with randomly missing reels or footage. The former usually maintain their coherence while coming off as less thoughtful than the full cuts were, while the latter I seem to forgive more readily.

The Swanson film most often compared to Manhandled at the time was The Humming Bird, released several months earlier, and it does survive at LOC in a print repatriated from the Netherlands (the only other Swanson film extant from '24). Here's hoping it can be made available sometime.

--HA
When I talked to Tricia Welsch about The Humming Bird a few years back, she said she had seen it at LOC for her book on Swanson and that it was not in great shape, scenes out of order, possibly bits and pieces missing, etc.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Danny Burk » Thu Apr 19, 2018 7:45 am

drednm wrote:When I talked to Tricia Welsch about The Humming Bird a few years back, she said she had seen it at LOC for her book on Swanson and that it was not in great shape, scenes out of order, possibly bits and pieces missing, etc.
Even so, I'd give it high priority as a possibility, if it's available (when it presumably will become PD) - where else are we ever going to see it?

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by drednm » Thu Apr 19, 2018 7:50 am

Danny Burk wrote:
drednm wrote:When I talked to Tricia Welsch about The Humming Bird a few years back, she said she had seen it at LOC for her book on Swanson and that it was not in great shape, scenes out of order, possibly bits and pieces missing, etc.
Even so, I'd give it high priority as a possibility, if it's available (when it presumably will become PD) - where else are we ever going to see it?
Exactly.... but it won't be an "easy" project.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by boblipton » Thu Apr 19, 2018 7:59 am

drednm wrote:
Danny Burk wrote:
drednm wrote:When I talked to Tricia Welsch about The Humming Bird a few years back, she said she had seen it at LOC for her book on Swanson and that it was not in great shape, scenes out of order, possibly bits and pieces missing, etc.
Even so, I'd give it high priority as a possibility, if it's available (when it presumably will become PD) - where else are we ever going to see it?
Exactly.... but it won't be an "easy" project.
For the moment, let’s assume the copyright was renewed. When does it come out of copyright?

Bob
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— Bob Fells

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by drednm » Thu Apr 19, 2018 8:08 am

Exactly.... but it won't be an "easy" project.
For the moment, let’s assume the copyright was renewed. When does it come out of copyright?

Bob
I don't think we need to worry about it, Bob.....
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Danny Burk » Thu Apr 19, 2018 11:48 am

boblipton wrote:For the moment, let’s assume the copyright was renewed. When does it come out of copyright?

Bob
1 January 2020, if nothing changes before then.

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sat Apr 28, 2018 10:41 pm

Time to review some non-Region A blu-rays, beginning with a famous French director's first film, released last year by Eureka in the Masters of Cinema series in the UK:

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THE MURDERER LIVES AT 21 (L'ASSASSIN HABITE AU 21) (1942) 84m ***1/2 (Blu-ray released June 12, 2017/Region B)

Henri-Georges Clouzot, best known for two international hits in Diabolique and The Wages of Fear in the 1950s, co-directed the French versions of a couple of German films in the early 30s, and being an opportunist like any aspiring film director, used his connections to get himself his first true directing gig during the Occupation, a film largely unknown in the US but apparently better remembered in the UK, The Murderer Lives at 21. Working for a German-owned studio in France would cause him trouble later on, but at the time it seemed a good way to show the industry he knew better how to direct his scripts than the people who had been doing the job, and this quickly-made comedy murder mystery plays almost exactly like a well-crafted B early in the career of an American director of promise, a la Budd Boetticher's Escape in the Fog or Robert Siodmak's Fly By Night—the same light tone that looks back to The 39 Steps and The Thin Man as much as it anticipates genuine film noir.

In fact this is very nearly screwball comedy, and clearly not intending us to take its mock-Christie or Dickson Carr plot too seriously; you could have filmed it in Hollywood, except for the touches of bawdy humor, such as this exchange between the detective and a shapely, negligee'd suspect:

"You might catch cold."
"Can you catch cold through your legs?"
"Depends how close they are to your brains."

Anyway, there's a serial killer on the loose who leaves cards saying "Monsieur Durand" (a name as nondescript as "Mister Jones") on his victims; the opening depicts one of his killings from his POV, and that's a perverse touch implicating the viewer in his crimes that anticipates the darker, Hitchcockian Clouzot to come. Pierre Fresnay gets a tip that the murderer lives at a certain boarding house, and so he turns up at it as a Father Brown-like priest, intending to suss out the residents (a magician, a retired colonial officer, a toymaker, a lady novelist). Except his showgirl girlfriend has also decided to find the killer (because why wouldn't she?) and she turns up there too (I said it was screwballish). Everyone's a suspect, anyone arrested is soon cleared by the appearance of yet another victim, the murder mystery equivalent of door-slamming farce, and it all leads to an ingenious, if scarcely believable climactic scene, of which Wikipedia observes:
Providing a 21st-century analysis, Bring The Noise UK reviewer Michael Dodd noted the "numerous brave little digs at the occupying Germans" present in the story. He particularly singled out a scene in which a criminal has his hands raised, only to have one arm lowered by Inspector Wens so that he may light a match on the man's neck, thus rendering the villain into performing a Nazi salute. "It is hard to believe that the strict German authorities missed the subtext of such a shot."
Fresnay is delightfully droll (for some reason here, he suggests both Robert Cummings and Bobby Clark) and Suzy Delair, Clouzot's girlfriend at the time, is a charmingly ditzy heroine. I didn't really recognize anyone else in the cast (though I'd actually seen the magician, Jean Tissier, recently in the Inspector Maigret film reviewed above) but they're obviously skilled performers and familiar faces, the French equivalent of filling your cast with Everett Hortons and Pallettes and Mowbrays. The print has a little grain but is very clean and clear, and the audio is quite sharp; the only supplement is a short discussion of the film and Clouzot's wartime career by a professor of film, which is informative (but as a note rightly warns, to be watched after seeing the film).
“I'm in favor of plagiarism. If we are to create a new Renaissance, the government should encourage plagiarism. When convinced that someone is a true plagiarist, we should immediately award them the Legion of Honor.” —Jean Renoir

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Unread post by boblipton » Sun Apr 29, 2018 5:09 am

New York's Film Forum is going through a Clouzot retrospective at the moment, showing such titles as Le Corbeau and Quai des Orfervres. The latter carries the tendencies of The Murderer Lives at 21 that Mike notes even further.

Bob
Life's too short to sit on our rears watching other people's work.
— Bob Fells

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