Soaring Dove

One of the great joys of classic DVD/Blu-Ray collecting is being able to finally see restored/recovered movies I’ve only heard about, sometimes dreamt about.  Better yet is the ability to share them with fellow buffs and friends, turning them on to long-forgotten stars, directors and Vitaphone.  Yep, Vitaphone, the process with those cumbersome discs that synched up to the film and provided mucho laffs during sequences in Singin’ in the Rain.  All of that techno-gremlin stuff really happened during that tumultuous transition period from silent to sound, and, to this day, one of my favorite subgenres is the hybrid picture, part-silent/part-talkie.  A supreme and royally entertaining example of this can be savored via the recent made-to-order DVD-R Warner Archive release of 1929’s THE MAN AND THE MOMENT.

A risqué romantic comedy, MATM stems from the salacious quill of the notorious Elinor Glyn.  Glyn rocked the 1920s with her sexy stories, one of which, It, became the culture-shock clarion call for all adventurous flappers.  It became a mammoth bestseller and a blockbuster movie, putting the word, Glyn and star Clara Bow on the Jazz Age map.  Of course, this sent the studios clamoring for more Glyn, and MATM famously rose to the occasion.

The plot revolves around a rich SOB rake, Michael Towne (Rod La Rocque), who is sort of engaged to hot but malevolently vicious vamp Viola (Gwen Lee).  She’s not only a masterful witch (and all other rhyming names) of the first order; she even comes complete with her own human flying monkey (Robert Schable).  She’s out to snare Towne, and it looks like that horror will be his fate.  Wealthy bastard that he is, most folks (like me) are apt to wring our mitts with a cackling, “Good!  You deserve it.  And who cares?”  Well, that is until one fateful, pre-Depression day, when the American affluent were otherwise engaged in that mercifully extinct display of asininity known as the yacht party.  During an excruciating round of water Polo Boat (prefaced by the great title card: “No person ever dashed his brains out playing Polo Boat – because no person with any brains ever played Polo Boat.”), a sputtering sound is heard from above.  And before you can say, “the Lindy Hop,” a private plane crashes into the ocean.  The pilot, unhurt but dazed, emerges and, while members of the pampered 400 debate whether to rescue the poor wretch, we discover that the flyer is none other than a lady.  And not just a lady, but a gorgeous one (while not a Howard Hawks movie, this scene is one of those Hawksian “Hey, you’re a girl!” moments).  It’s ravishing Billie Dove as Joan Winslow.

Instantly, the males dive in to save the woman; sadly, I imagine this includes the clucks who can’t swim.  Michael is the winner, and soon, we learn that, like himself, Joan is in her own persecuted cage, being perilously guarded by a dastardly guardian (Charles Sellon, forever endeared to us Bijou addicts as It’s a Gift’s Mr. Muckle).  Mostly because it’s Billie Dove (who looks amazing in her leather aviatrix togs), Mikey boldly suggests a marriage of convenience, a union that will get them both off the hook with their respective clawing predators.  Dove agrees, but, as any hormonal teen will tell you, lecherous Towne’s ulterior motives comprise moving from platonic to play-tonic.  Will the tempted Dove stop biting her lips and give in?  Won’t tell ya, ‘cept that it IS a pre-Code movie.  Oh, yeah, and vampy-trampy Viola hasn’t been sitting on the sidelines; she’s planning some sinister designs that even the Lifetime Movie folks have yet to conceive.  With that patented, naughty Glyn touch, poor little rich Michael is in one helluva a sexual tug of war, the object being to see who will get Rod’s La Rocques off (or vice versa); in any event, it’s only a matter of time before the “it” hits the fan.

Smoothly directed by George Fitzmaurice and ably scripted by Agnes Christine Johnson (with dialog by Paul Perez), MATM is a clever adult fairy tale that notably avoids the creakiness of many of its contemporary talkers and/or part-talkers.  While one would expect the silent portions to move quickly, viewers will be pleasantly surprised by the slick fluidity of the verbal sequences (of which, I am happy to report, there are many).  The use of sound is extremely creative, and, as a veteran film collector, who was around during dem days, revealed to me over forty years ago, the audio replications of planes, motorboats, telephone rings and, prominently in this pic, champagne corks a-popping, brought applause and joyous laughter from the delighted audience.  There’s also some nifty dialog.  A wrong phone number being addressed with a flippant, “No, I don’t want Finklestein’s Irish Linen Shoppe!”  But there’s more.  A skanky society dame, jettisoning her cuckolded spouse, proudly states that she’s “…divorcing her husband so I can make a moral man out of my boyfriend.”

As for the performances themselves, they’re overall quite good, with the women beating out the men.  Both Dove and Lee are exceptional, Dove so good that one familiar with her earlier work will be amazed at how seamlessly and effortlessly she made the changeover to sound.  Rod La Rocque, eternally a Rocky and Bullwinkle punchline, does not fare as well.  Sometimes he’s adequate, but often he sounds too much like Liberace, which sorta puts a crimp in his great lover style (I’ve always held it against La Roque for playing a fascist in Capra’s Meet John Doe, but, giving the devil his due, I suppose he deserves kudos for his believable portrayal).

THE MAN AND THE MOMENT DVD-R is spectacular.  Its history provides hope that we may one day be treated to the discovery of a complete Greed, The Devil’s Passkey, Four Devils, London After Midnight, Convention City and others.  Why?  Because for decades MATM has been listed as a lost movie.  All that remained were production documentation, stills and the Vitaphone discs.

Then, like Dove’s character, from seemingly out of the blue, a complete 35MM print surfaced in Italy, and the job of synching the nitrate to the wax began.  I’ve never seen this before, but in MATM, one often gets both the audio and a title card.  I don’t know if this was a standard embryonic hybrid technique, or, if it was necessary to properly synch up the sound to the picture from what might have been a silent print (I assume that the movie may have been released in alternate silent/sound editions, particularly if not especially, overseas).  No matter, I love it.  And the quality itself?  As indicated, generally sensational (with Warner’s reliable d.p. Sol Polito in top form), completely intact and as presented in July of 1929 with the exception of some replaced main credits.  The sound is remarkably clean, clear and dynamic (including the original music by Paul Brunelli and a song, “Just a Lucky Moment,” by Ray Perkins and Herman Ruby).  Go, Vitaphone!

I recommend THE MAN AND THE MOMENT to all classic movie devotees.  I suspect it will make a Billie Dove groupie out of you (if you haven’t already been seduced by her considerable charms).  I hope it does well for Warner Archive, thereby prompting further Vitaphone releases, such as Synthetic Sin, since their Why Be Good? was another unexpected DVD perk.

THE MAN AND THE MOMENT.  Black and White.  Full frame [1.37:1]; Mono audio.  Warner Archive Collection/Warner Home Video.  CAT # 1000601552.  SRP:  $21.99.

Available exclusively from the Warner Archive Collection:



I confess.  I’ve been criminally delinquent about giving proper coverage to MHz Networks’ splendid output of their International Mystery series of TV thrillers.  This is most alarming, as, of late, Antigone 34 and East/West are two of my favorite titles.  Well, New Year, new leaf.  I’m about to do justice at last to this fine company, and can’t think of a better way to make amends than by introducing my fellow armchair sleuths to the pleasures of 2013’s Swedish killer-dillers CRIMES OF PASSION.

Based on Maria Lang’s best-selling novels, this 3-disc DVD set, comprising six feature-length movies, is a smorgasbord of unending suspense delights.  As the title implies, all of these pics revolve around sex as a WMD.  And, boy, do they destruct (also toss in lust and obsession)!

The plots involve three beautifully realized characters, leading off with the star Tuva Novotny.  Tuva portrays Puck Ekstedt, an excellent name, as she’s a sprightly, stunning up-and-coming member of a university’s top academia.  But beauty and brains aside, she has an obsession:  crime.  She’s addicted to mysteries, true studies of aberrant behavior and the deviant mind.  She’s in the right place.  Puck also has an unhealthy yearning for Einar Bure (Linus Wahlgren), the medieval history prodigy, guaranteed a professorship.  Luckily for both of them, their best friend is the fascinating Christer Wijk (Ola Rapace), the paradoxical fun-loving yet no-nonsense head of the local police detective division.  Christer is perhaps the most interesting character in the series.  Sort of a Jack Robinson with raging hormones, Christer, when not doing the right thing, is definitely pumped to do the wrong thing.  And the wrong thing is every attractive woman in sight.  When not working with Puck and/or Einar on an intriguing case, he’s doing after-hours undercover work on various luscious females, whether they be suspects, victims, victims-to-be, villains…or their mothers, sisters, nieces…you name it.  What a guy!

Early on, Puck gets involved in a murder.  In fact, her upper-middle-class-world is rife with more killings than Midsomer and Miss Fisher’s Australia combined.  This allows viewers to be treated to some of the most gorgeous scenery Sweden has to offer.  Ditto, the suspects and steamy VERY dangerous liaisons that fuel each…dare I say…entry.

What I love about CRIMES OF PASSION is the unbridled view on sex – on what propels people to do the nastier after they do the nasty.  Hooking up, whether married or not, isn’t a problem, it’s a biological way of life.  I personally see this as a natural, healthy approach to the human condition; that said, most of the participants end up bludgeoned, hacked, stabbed, shot, dismembered, hanged, poisoned or otherwise inconvenienced.

The casts of guest stars are wonderful (although most Americans probably won’t recognize the majority of these thesps), the writing is tense, funny, coital-friendly and real (credit Jonna Bolin-Culberg, Charlotte Orwin, Kerstin Gezelius and Alex Haridi).  The direction needs to be given special attention, as it tipped me off to something I have never seen before on a series.  Each director (Birger Larsen, Christopher Panov, Christian Eklow, Peter Schildt, Daniel Di Grado, Molly Hartleb) literally supplies his own vision to the narratives.  And by that I mean, via exquisite compositions.  The initial selection (Death of a Loved One), for example, is shot in 2.35:1 CinemaScope (already unusual for a television show).  Later episodes are in various widescreen evocations, from 1.85:1, 1.77:1 and so on.  I love this.  No barriers, no stringent rules.  Kinda like the sex.  And did I mention that the photography (by Rolf Lindstrom, Andres Rignell, Mats Axby, Jan Jonaeus and Andreas Lennartsson) is picture-postcard lavish?  Well, I’m saying it now.  These six flicks do not resemble television in any way, shape or form.  They are theatrical-worthy movies in every sense of the word.  And that goes for the audio as well.  Each is in spectacular stereo-surround (more on that later).  Of course, there’s a reason for this (that my sleuthing subsequently discovered), and that’s because these six movies were released in Swedish cinemas during 2013-14.  They’ve only been packaged as TV-movies for Anglo-distribution.

Oh, and here’s the cherry on the jubilee.  Like the novels (which I really must seek out), CRIMES OF PASSION is set in the late 1950s/early 1960s.  And the productions do for that era what the Miss Fisher folks have done for the Jazz Age.  They got the look, feel and color (from very Kodachrome to Sirkian Technicolor) down to a science.  The clothes, cars, décor, hair and culture are spot on (so cool to hear the ladies going for that Anita Bjork look).  Indeed, all the platinum-blonde babes look like Marilyn wannabes, with a side dish of Mamie Van Doren.  And that’s quite a dish.

During the course of the six CRIMES OF PASSION movies, we also get a fly-on-the-wall peek at the personal relationships of Puck and Einar, from their horny, pawing heavy-breathing courtship, to their horny, pawing heavy-breathing marriage.  Toward the end, we see their temptation for variety –  to add that extra special spice to life (when Back Stage and The Hollywood Reporter just won’t do).  Do they give in?  I won’t tell.  We additionally meet all three protagonists’ relatives (each involved in some lascivious connection).  How can those Swedes manage it, and still get to work on time?  On a more professional plain, we get to see Puck publish her first book, naturally a sex-tinged mystery.

One episode (one of my two favorites), Dangerous Dreams, actually utilizes a vagina as a tool for murder.  To paraphrase the finest line in that 1947 Bela Lugosi classic Scared to Death, “This man has literally been fucked to death!”

My other favorite show, Tragedy in a Country Churchyard, encompasses the kidnapping of Puck’s adolescent niece (Ella Fogelstrom), a mini-Puck, or a Lil’ Pucker, adept at helping her aunt come up with important clues.  There’s so much lying, laying and loafing here that it boggles the mind.  One of the most evil women you’ll ever encounter (Sissela Kyle), we learn, watched with glee as her beloved husband agonizingly died of appendicitis (refusing to call an ambulance till she gets her final jollies).  Appropriately, this is the Christmas episode.

The other four CRIMES OF PASSION pics are as follows: the aforementioned Death of a Loved One, where a student summer retreat, held by her school supervisor Rutger (Gustaf Hammarsten), ends in a slaughter fest when the scholar’s ex-fiancée (Fanny Risberg) shows up with her new female lover (Sanna Kepper).  In King Lily of the Valley, a young bride doesn’t quite make it to her own wedding.  Bummer.  In No More Murders, newlyweds Puck’s and Einar’s honeymoon becomes strained by the discovery of a body in the garden of their lodge.  Illegitimacy, adultery, and connections to another series of murders all intertwine.  In Roses, Kisses and Death, hottie Gabriela (Lisa Henni, a particular favorite lover of Christer’s) presides over a family estate known for its roses.  What starts out as a romantic getaway for Puck and Einar becomes wilted rather quickly when Gabby’s grandfather (Mans Westfelt) is nipped in the bud.  Bear in mind that NONE of these half-dozen simmering chillers are duds (although the first three tend to be a bit blander than their follow-ups, that “getting to know you” development process).  Every one (ahem) rises to the occasion.

The MHz Networks DVD set of CRIMES OF PASSION is, simply put, sensational.  Razor-sharp visuals with movie-theater audio (man, that subwoofer kicks in) in Swedish with nicely readable English subtitles.  The music soundtrack likewise must be discussed, as it’s equally terrific.  Composed and performed by Frid & Frid, it recalls cool, jazz riffs from the late 1950s, including a “killer” title track, whose English lyrics conclude with an apt “I love you to death.”

My final take on CRIMES OF PASSION is the best one a reviewer can give to a series, and that is hoping there will be another set.

CRIMES OF PASSION.  Color.  Widescreen [various aspect ratios from 1.66:1-2.35:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 2.0 stereo-surround.  MHz Networks/Pampas Produktion.  CAT # SKU-16784.  SRP:  $39.95.



Caught Rhett-Handed

Back at Warner Bros., during Hollywood’s golden days, top director Raoul Walsh was acting severely forlorn.  Walsh, at the time, was a major asset to the studio, so when Jack Warner noticed his employee’s less-than-energetic behavior, the concerned mogul logically inquired as to what was wrong.  Apparently, a big-time tragic romance was set to go into production, and Walsh thought he was a shoo-in for the director’s gig.  He was passed over.

“But, Raoul, your idea of a tragic romance is when the local cathouse burns down.”

Walsh gazed solemnly at Warner with his one good eye, before soberly replying, “So, what’s your point?”

Well, folks, there’s a hot time in the old town tonight, so fire up your Blu-Ray player to spin the underrated delights of Walsh’s 1956 slam-bang western-mystery-comedy THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS, now available from Olive Films/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment/MGM Studios.

Based on a novel by Margaret Fitts (who also adapted and cowrote the immensely witty script with Richard Alan Simmons), KING was tailor-made for star Clark Gable, whose Gabco Production company coproduced the pic with Walsh for United Artists.  It was the second of three terrific pics the pair made together.  While deservedly, the lion’s share of the big-time rep goes to the first, the bona fide 1955 epic The Tall Men, and accolades continue to pile up on the rediscovered third, 1957’s Band of Angels, KING, the sickly middle child, usually gets left at the gate.  For years that was for good reason.  The magnificently shot CinemaScope picture relies on much risque dialog between Gable and his stunning female costars, so, with all that blown-up TV pan-and-scanning (with lousy, grainy, washed-out color to boot), it was a movie one generally switched the channels on.  When I finally DID see a scope print, it was beet-red, and, thus, thoroughly dull to look at (unfortunately, the movie was shot in DeLuxe Color).  Hold on to your Stetsons, pards, the new Olive Blu-Ray will knock yer friggin’ socks off!  For the first time since its original release, THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS does justice to the spectacular, gorgeous color photography of master d.p. Lucien Ballard (shot on-location in Utah and Arizona).  The pristine 35mm transfer is one of the best I’ve seen in recent memory and the 2.35:1 CinemaScope imagery bursts with ebullient hues and tones unlike none I’ve ever imagined this oater could even muster.  In short, my friends, it will take your breath away.  Remember, a great print will make just about any movie watchable; if the picture turns out to be a keeper, all the better.  The Olive Blu-Ray of THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS is a keeper.

The plot is a honey, circling around Dan Kehoe (accent on the hoe), a black-sheep bastard cousin to Gable’s characters in Boom Town, and, natch, GWTW.  Kehoe, not surprisingly, is wanted by the law, as evidenced by a wild, action chase opening sequence, often cut from the 1960s-70s TV broadcasts.  I mean, you ain’t seen ridin’ like that since they put the “B” in B-western (the awesome stunt work was achieved and/or supervised by the great Chuck Roberson, who also appears in a supporting role).  Escaping the posse, Kehoe uses his formidable ears to catch word that three of the notorious four McDade brothers have been killed during a robbery.  This proves a dilemma to their grieving widows, who control the virtual neighboring ghost town of Wagon Mount along with the McDade’s cantankerous ma.  You see, no one knows which brother (if any) has survived, and therefore, who will collect the biggest share of a 100K haul, reportedly buried on the McDade homestead.

That’s a lot to process, but slickster Kehoe does just that and plans to pose as an independently hired member of the otherwise fraternal outlaw gang.  He enters Wagon Mount at his own risk, getting shot by one of the sharpshooting females; but this was a price he had knowingly paid in return for the larger reward of the 100 grand he plans to seduce the hell out the ladies four/for.  And WHAT ladies.

The widows (who actually may or may not have been wed to the scumbag McDades) comprise Oralie and Ruby, a madonna and whore combo (Sara Shane, Jean Willes), dance-hall floozie Birdie (the wonderful Barbara Nichols) and snarky Sabrina (Eleanor Parker), the brains of the bunch – essentially a female version of Kehoe, and hence, his greatest challenger/foe.  Or is she?  There’s the wizened ma, the wily Jo Van Fleet, who sees right through Kehoe, but admittedly can’t resist his considerable masculine abilities.

As Gable, how can I say it, effortlessly plucks his way through the volatile hen house, many barbs (and wires) are thrown and strung.  And these scenes alternate from the incredibly sexy to the hilariously funny.  Fact of the matter is that the McDade men have been absent for so long (two years) that the hoarded cash has taken a back seat to the womanly yearnings of each horny lass.  Gable’s fortuitous arrival smites the adage, “lucky in cards, unlucky in love” into the dust.  Gable’s lucky in everything.

Of course, what makes THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS such a blast is the rollicking direction by Walsh (he couldn’t stop raving about the bliss of working with Clark Gable, as if the veteran star was an up-and-coming newbie), and the unabashed, evident fun that Gable is enjoying at the expense of his own screen persona (where even the movie’s title is a nod to his cinema royalty); ditto the five ladies who seem to be having the time of their lives.  It’s totally contagious.  The lines flow fast and easy, perilously taunting the then-still present Censorship Code (“The hens aren’t laying,” Kehoe is told while surveying the McDade barnyard.  “Maybe they need a new rooster,” is his reply, accompanied by the trademark Gable smirk).  Kehoe isn’t beyond “romancing” any female on the premises.  Ma gets the compliment of being “a tough…cougar,” and, yeah, Kehoe means it in that way.  Tempted Ma later admits that she’s “more woman than” her fetching/kvetching daughters-in-law.

While all the ladies are worthy screen sharers with the King (specifically the mean-queen Willes, hard as she is beautiful), my favorite in the quintet is the always welcome Nichols.

Duchess of the Dirty, she has naughty limericks at her constant disposal, and ain’t afraid to use ’em (lasciviously rhyming “boys” with “toys”).  Her finest moment, however, comes when she tracks Gable to the nearby swimming hole, where he is bathing in the altogether.  His warning that he’s totally unclothed immediately has the randy Babs begin shedding her togs.  She tells him she can’t help it, he reminds her so much of her husband, Prince.  “It must be the mustache.”  “Oh,” replies the ultimate straight-man (in every sense of the word) Gable, “Prince have a mustache?”

“No,” answers the brilliant Nichols with poifect delivery, and precision Swiss-watch timing.  “[But] I always wondered what he’d be like to kiss if he did have.”  The cut back to Gable’s reaction is a double-take that would have made Jimmy Finlayson proud.

The briefly on view sparse supporting cast is equally fine, including Arthur Shields, Jay C. Flippen and, interestingly enough, Roy Roberts, playing against type as a particularly thick sheriff (“Your sheriff can’t handle more than one idea at a time,” accurately concludes Kehoe).

As indicated earlier, the Olive B-D of THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS is a stunner, but not only in the visual sense, but in the audio as well.  The dynamic mono tracks pack quite a wallop when played through a decent system (most prominently with one containing a subwoofer), ideal for savoring the nifty score by Alex North.

When I screened this for some dubious viewers at Casa-Neuhaus, the end result was an eruption of applause.  Not a common response from these hard-asses.  I kinda knew it was coming because of their raucous laugher throughout the entire picture (and for all the right reasons).  “Damn, that was good!” was the general assessment.  And, yep, it was.  It’s a steamy, funny morality tale about players getting played, reverse played and double-played and a platter that I guarantee you’ll be replaying often.

THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS.  Color.  Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Olive Films/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment/MGM Studios.  CAT # OF1202.  SRP:  $29.95.





The Spider Who Loved Me

NOTE: this piece contains SPOILERS.

Can’t think of a better way to start the 2017 collector’s year than by shouting the hosannas for the extraordinary Blu-Ray restoration of Fritz Lang’s 1919 opus DIE SPINNEN (aka The Spiders), now available in its complete two-part version Von dieser Bande an Kino Classics (in association with the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, Wiesbaden, Narodn filmovy archiv, Prague and the Cinematheque Royale de Belgique).

The splendid re-assemblage at last does justice to the fictional undertaking of the picture’s stoic hero Kay Hoog (the equally stoic Carl de Vogt).  Take my word, if you’ve ever seen this pre-1920 epic before, you’ve never really seen it until you’ve viewed this terrific platter.

DIE SPINNEN was a very personal project for Lang (and only Lang could make an opulent, lushly produced extravaganza intimate and personal).  The director/writer (the last time he would take solo script credit for a work) was inspired by the works of Feuillade (particularly Fantomas) and the American serial cliffhangers, paying homage to the latter by having his protagonist be an American and having main locales set in or immediately outside the United States (in reality, a meticulous indoor/outdoor Hamburg refurbishing by the brilliant art and set designers Hermann Warm and Otto Hunte).

Indeed, so dear was this super adventure to Lang’s heart that he turned down the most prestigious project going on in Germany at the time, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  Nevertheless he did borrow its gorgeous female star Lil Dagover to portray one of DIE SPINNEN‘s unforgettable female leads.

As indicated, DIE SPINNEN is divided into two feature-length motion pictures, Der Goldene See (The Golden Sea) and Das Brillantenschiff (The Diamond Ship); the former runs a brisk 69 minutes, the latter clocks in at 104 minutes (each still considered extravagant for 1919).  It’s a slam-Lang action tale that, even by 2017 standards, remains engrossing and fast-paced.  Did I say “even,” I meant “especially,” as this quicksilver saga dashes the post-Millennium CGI crop (did I say “crop,” I meant…) into the RealD pixel dust.

In an exclusive San Francisco club are the high-rolling gamblers, whose interests transcend more than baccarat and poker.  They’re playing with territorial borders, secret treasures and lives.  Key to the more dastardly doings are representatives from an international crime ring, known as the Spiders (they leave their telltale calling card, a tarantula, at the scene of each atrocity).  Plunger (and everything else) extraordinaire Kay Hoog intercepts the club’s visiting villains, Dr. Telphas (Georg John) and the rapturous femme fatale with one of the best names ever, Lio Sha (Ressel Orla).  Their goal is an Incan cache of Peruvian gold, crucial to assuring the services of the highest-paid Spider assassins/spies/thieves/politicians (encompassing a complete stererotypical cringe roster of hand-wringing Chinese Spiders, Jewish Spiders, Mexican Spiders, mystic East Indian Spiders, etc).

As much for the thrill than anything else, Hoog embarks on an odyssey to stop the plunder of these ancient, but lethal people.  And Lio ain’t gonna be waitin’ around for a streetcar either.  It was still the Wild West then, primarily in the eyes of the cowboy vs. Indians-obsessed Germans, so it’s cool to see modern-day battles in 1880s-like situations.  THE SPIDERS doesn’t scrimp on production values, as it unfolds its many escapes, rescues and chases with the exciting addition of automobiles, aircraft, horses and hot-air balloons.  There are also a plethora of high-tech devices, including conference call surveillance, thanks to the fertile mind of Herr Lang.

It’s while infringing upon Incan soil that Hoog comes upon the Sun Goddess Naela (Dagover).  She at once relinquishes all for a future with the adventurer; fortunately, for her, it’s reciprocal.  Unfortunately for her, Sha, whose life Hoog has saved, is now obsessed with the dashing American, and intent on bedding him as part of her likely bisexual pantheon (Lio appears to swing alternatively, comfortable with chaps of both the apparel and gender kind).  Rebuffed by her rescuer, (the dare-I-say) Spider-woman then moves on to the obvious Plan B – killing off the competition, which she does in bravura fashion.  And Part One ends with Hoog’s swearing vengeance on the woman he once saved.

Part Two opens with the eternally mourning Hoog receiving word that a fantastic diamond mine (ownership guaranteeing the crown of Asia) is now under siege by a Sha-led Spider contingent; there’s also a new damsel in destress, Ellen Terry (Thea Zander).  Haunted by visions of his beloved (rendered on-screen by welcome ghostly Dagover cameos), Hoog perilously hovers over the Spiders like the sword of Damocles and the action revs up for a breathtaking thrill-packed conclusion involving murders, suicides, kidnapping and a secret King Solomon-like mine guarded by nature’s own poisonous gas (not so unusual to those who’ve ever had a roommate).

While many criticize the second part as not being up to the peaks of the first, THE SPIDERS, as a whole, is a must-have for action fans, silent movie aficionados, Fritz Lang buffs or, anyone who relishes a roller-coaster buzz from the comfort of their sofa.  Indeed, I wasn’t put off by Part Two at all.  Truth be told, I was planning on watching the pictures on two consecutive nights, but was so intrigued that I binged on the title in one three-hour sitting (trust me, the time flew by, causing me to question the specs a la “That couldn’t have been 173 minutes”); methinks you will, too.

With a few slight imperfections, the Kino Blu-Ray of THE SPIDERS is wunderbar.  Sharp imagery with original tints and tones, excellent English intertitles plus a new (2012), effective stereo score by Ben Model.  The pic was photographed by Emil Schunemann and the great Karl Freund (with whom Lang became lifelong friends) and produced by the legendary Erich Pommer.

Much has been said about how Hoog seems to be a role model for (gagging a bit) Indiana Jones.  That seems to be the natural going-for-the-money tie-in, but, actually, if one is determined to offer up comparisons, THE SPIDERS is more or less a precursor to the James Bond franchise.  Hoog’s “Bond, James Bond” gambling intro, his way with the ladies (“changing” the Pussy Galore loyalty of Lio Sha, albeit if only briefly), the necessary cruelty, the Spider/SMERSH-esque HQ, etc.  I’ll go one further, and bet anything that Ian Fleming saw and was as inspired by THE SPIDERS, as Lang was by Fantomas.  Ditto, the director’s subsequent Mabuse flicks (a Bond villain, if ever there was one).

LSS, if you’re searching for that platter to kick off 2017, try spinning DIE SPINNEN.

DIE SPINNEN, PARTS 1 & 2.  Black and white with color tints.  Full frame [1.33:1; 1080p High Definition]; silent with stereo score [2.0 DTS-HD MA]; Kino Classics/ Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, Wiesbaden/Narodn filmovy archiv, Prague and the Cinematheque Royale de Belgique.  CAT # K0890.  SRP:  $29.95.


A Positive Spin on 2016

Of course, I’m referring in the literal platter sense; after all, this year’s events make the Black Death look like a Felix Ungar sniffle.  How else can one describe the loss of so many actors, actresses, musicians, directors, writers and – what’s that thing called again – oh, yeah, democracy?

Well, the fairly good news for movie/TV collectors is that 2016 gave us addicts a lion’s share of magnificent DVDs and Blu-Rays.  Truth be told, some of my favorite pics of all time made it to the format, as well as a variety of titles I’ve been wishing for…well, for decades.  Sidebar:  three studios, in particular, have made this past year a mini-homage to Sam Fuller, a very good thing.  Another two brought a pair of my favorite Robert Mitchum flicks to light.

In the past, I used to sweat out a selection of the Ten Best.  So much groovy stuff has been passed down the pike this year that I find that task to now be impossible.  What I’ve done is to go through the various distributors and pick their cinematic crème de la crème (each title will be accompanied by the link to my review/article).

Acorn/RJL Entertainment. TV buffs’ greatest ally, Acorn continues to not only provide superb choices in the best of British and Australian television fare, but presents them in optimal-quality transfers.  Here are their 2016 breadwinners:  Doc Martin, Season 6 (as funny as ever):; the original Australian version of The Slap (the one for adults):; the continually chilling and thrilling The Fall, Series 2; the thoroughly riotous and quirky Detectorists; and the third (and possibly last) season of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (plus the complete series boxed set):

Glitteratti.  Why, it’s Her, and not a disc at all, but a beautifully produced coffee table photo volume from one of the last I-Can-Hold-It-In-My-Hands publishers.  Inspired photog Marjorie Salvaterra’s hilarious look at relationships, feminism and American life in the crashed lane.  I can’t get by one week without picking Her up (so to speak) and laughing like a loon.  And, oy vey, do we need that now! .

Kino-Lorber.  Mucho releases from this major player in the industry, just gonna list ‘em:  the jaw-dropping noir Big House, USA; the brilliant spaghetti western Face to Face; Robert Parrish’s greatest movie, The Wonderful Country, starring Robert Mitchum:; the genuinely  creepy McCarthy-era noir The Captive City, directed by Robert Wise:; the restored version of the 1931 pre-Code The Front Page; the likewise remastered edition of the 1925 Phantom of the Opera:; the 1962 British horror classic Burn, Witch, Burn; and the 1974 giallo/horror hybrid Mimsy Farmer triumph Perfume of the Lady in Black

Olive Films.  Another year and another terrific roster of titles from this cooler-than-cool company.  First up, an early Robert Aldrich thriller that prefigures elements of Kiss Me Deadly and The Dirty Dozen, 1954’s A World for Ransom:; Sam Fuller’s fantastic, funny, suspenseful and all around grand Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street, the director’s 1972 neo-noir German coproduction pip, spectacularly brought to Blu-Ray in its complete, uncut version with wunderbar supplements:; Cy Endfield’s riveting 1950 noir Try and Get Me; Douglas Sirk’s 1947 delightful, urbane and snarky George Sanders masterpiece The Private Affairs of Bel Ami; and last (but certainly not least), the marvelous 4K remaster Blu-Ray of Nick Ray’s 1954 revisionist western Johnny Guitar, starring Joan Crawford, and crammed with extras; part of Olive’s new Signature line:

Twilight Time.  The selections one must watch and acquire with special collector savvy, as they’re all limited-edition Blu-Rays.  This year had some prime beauties, just made for a movie buff’s library shelf.  A very welcome addition was Robert Aldrich’s underrated 1973 violent Depression drama Emperor of the North, featuring masterful performances from costars Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine:; Sam Fuller’s 1955 color and CinemaScope noir House of Bamboo, pitting Robert Stack against Robert Ryan, and filmed nearly entirely in Japan, was a particular Twilight Time treat:; the much-coveted Blu-Ray re-issue of the company’s long out-of-print 1953 Fritz Lang noir The Big Heat was a big plus for fans of Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin and mocha java:; Halloween saw the ultimate home-vid edition of the 1959 Terence Fisher/Hammer pic Hound of the Baskervilles, with genre superstars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee:; and the December holidays couldn’t have had a better pick than the joyous 1964 Peter Sellers romp The World of Henry Orient, a nice way to go out in an otherwise real-world crummy year:

Warner Archive/Warner Home Video.  The biggest of the home-video companies, encompassing exclusive libraries from (natch) Warners, but also MGM, RKO plus choice tidbits from Allied Artists, Paramount and others, likewise didn’t disappoint.  My frequent repeat views for 2016 kicks off with 1928’s The Cossacks, an exciting lavish action-packed romance featuring John Gilbert, Renee Adoree and a cast of – you guessed it – thousands:; Sam Fuller’s fascinating 1957 western Run of the Arrow, with Rod Steiger heading a bravura cast, including Brian Keith, Ralph Meeker and Charles Bronson:; one of my personal favorite movies ever, Nick Ray’s 1952 modern-day western The Lusty Men, starring Robert Mitchum, Susan Hayward and Arthur Kennedy, at last made it to disc and to the top of my platter pantheon.  Yay!:; Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 9 arrived with pre-Code braggadocio (and five tempting titles, including three hoots Big City Blues, Cabin in the Cotton and Hell’s Highway).  Hey, I was happy.; the dessert topping was provided by a little-seen but fetching 1954 Frank Tashlin laff pic Susan Slept Here teaming Debbie Reynolds with Dick Powell (plus predatory Anne Francis, “a cute angle” end of a human triangle).  The movie looks glorious in the Warner Archive Blu-Ray widescreen re-master, and gave us mourners an underlined reminder of how good Reynolds was with comedy.

Well, off to Google “How to Build a Bomb Shelter.”  Hopefully, see ya soon!