Mature in a Young World

In the continuing and (much-desired) remastering of the Hal Roach library on Blu-Ray, VCI Entertainment, in conjunction with MVDvisual and Blair & Associates Ltd., has released the long-anticipated High Def platter release of the 1940 classic ONE MILLION B.C.  The movie is such a landmark pic for a myriad of reasons:  star/TV broadcast staying power, special effects, box-office legs and even controversy.

Where does one begin?

Let’s start with the people involved, in front of and behind the cameras.  The picture, geared to the human pastry contingent, aimed to give the public ample helpings of cheesecake and beefcake, and succeeded admirably on both counts.

The main attraction (or name) that’s associated with ONE MILLION B.C. is newbie Victor Mature.  It made him a pinup as much the 1966 remake made one of Raquel Welch.  Coupled with Mature was beauteous Carole Landis, quite fetching in her lady-tailored animal skins as Vic was in his loincloth (although Mature may have had an edge when it came to the larger breast-chest).

The implausible story concerns two tribes of primitive peoples, the brutish Rock People and the peaceful Shell People.  The differences are immediately physically apparent.  Rocks are dark haired, grunting beasts and eternally grubby; Shells are blond, laugh a lot and are bath-oil fresh.  Even their names are a tipoff to their social environs.  Landis is Loana, a fantasy name that instantly conjures up lilting breezes, soft waves and sensuality usually associated from one of those Dorothy Lamour countries; Mature, on the other hand, is Tumak, which suggests a gastric disorder.

Tumak’s and Loana’s eventual meeting in a Jurassic world that never existed dangerously pits them against the still-evolving climate elements, rampaging dinosaurs, and primal urges that ultimately send them down that bumpy road to create what we today call civilization.

If it all sounds like a silent picture from before the Jazz Age, it ain’t no accident.  No less than D.W. Griffith was commissioned to direct the epic (a rare job for the then-struggling cinema pioneer) for UA, the studio he helped found (in fact, he even helmed a notable embryonic version in 1912, Man’s Genesis).  Although likely little more than a publicity stunt (even Griffith’s dwindling industry fans proclaimed him as “finished” by the mid-1930s), he was on-set at some point during early production.  While he very publicly left the picture due to that old bugaboo “artistic differences,” (“Mr. Roach did not feel that it was necessary to give the characters as much individuality as I thought was needed, and so I did not wish to appear responsible for the picture by having my name on it.”), his influence is nevertheless at least minimally apparent in two sequences:  one where snarling Rock man Mature learns to laugh, and another where the Shells are shown developing art.  With Griffith banished like one of the disobedient Rock tribe, Hals Sr. and Jr. shared the directorial duties.

The politics alone of ONE MILLION B.C. make the movie a must-see.  With the Depression now ended, and with the Roosevelt policies obviously working, the saga of the ancients is notable for its New Deal attitude.  The Rocks are the “take what you can for yourselves” Republicans, while the Shells are the Democratic open arms share-and-share alike/there’s room for everybody faction.  The aforementioned art (cave paintings) encouragement (and youth classes) and creation of music is nothing less than a Flintstone evocation of the WPA.  As such, the pic is absolutely fascinating.

But back to the actors.  While it’s extraordinary that this flicker took a quartet of writers (Mickell Novack, George Baker, Joseph Frickert and Grover Jones), especially since there is no dialog, save crude first names, animalistic growling ‘n’ howling and sounds for basic human functions, there’s much to be said for visually progressing the narrative (or photoplay, as they used to say in the Griffith days) at a swift fast clip.  Signed to Roach contracts, Mature and Landis made such a sensation in this odyssey that within  a year both were freed from Roachdom and scooped up for long-term 20th Century-Fox servitude (Mature’s deal being cosigned with RKO).  The great d.p. Norbert Brodine, also a Roach employee, because of his work here, was likewise given a sweetheart deal at Fox, where he remained for most of the rest of his career.  The third B.C. cast member of note is, of course, Lon Chaney, Jr., then riding high from his terrific reviews of his previous Roach effort, 1939’s Of Mice and Men.  Much wag-talk was made of Chaney’s participation, of how he yearned to take up the reigns of his celebrated father.  Layout after magazine layout ballyhooed Chaney’s working on various makeups for his role as Akhoba (Mature’s abusive pater), hoping to follow papa’s “man of a thousand faces” legacy. It all backfired infamously as the makeup and hair unions (not so prevalent in Lon Sr.’s day) threatened to halt the filming with T-Rex-sized injunctions.  Lon’s efforts are not for naught, as his performance is certainly the best in the movie.

For actual dialog (the aforementioned Jones’ contribution), a framing story was added with modern-day spelunking young folks (Mature, Landis, etc.) seeking refuge in a storm and coming across a creepy hermit (the creepy Conrad Nagel) living amongst the artifacts and cave paintings of yore.  Bearded, ragged Nagel has much of the wordage, as he gives a guided tour of his domicile that fortunately quickly dissolves to the actual events of the mercifully non-preachy-speaking participants.

The special effects in ONE MILLION B.C. are legend, deservedly giving Roach SFX staff Roy Seawright, Jack Shaw and Frank Young a guarantee of future work.  While one can easily sidestep the dude in the papier-mache dino outfit (drooping head accounting for the poor bastard not being able to see where the hell he was going), many took umbrage with the “actual” prehistoric creatures.  No Willis O’Brien or Ray Harryhausen here, but rather the template for the blown-up lizard/rear-screen projection method.  It may be considered a cop-out today, but in 1940, it wowed the crap out of audiences (coupled with roaring sound effects, albeit mostly dog sounds, or barking dinosaurs).  Indeed, the effects were so striking that for decades after its release, the ONE MILLION B.C. monster footage found its way into a plethora of cheap sci-fi B-movies (amazingly as late as 1961’s Valley of the Dragons).  Two Castle Films 8mm versions (One Million B.C. and Battle of the Giants) remained perennial crowd pleasers for me and my undiscriminating grade-schoolers pals for years!

But the criticism of the footage cut deep, and not from King Kong fans, who demanded stop-motion, but from animal-rights activists who openly banned the movie (it was refused a British release).  It wasn’t simply the torture of the reptiles (taping/stapling a Dimetrodon fin on an alligator, or horns on a whatever the heck that other lizard was), it was the out-and-out murder and mutilation of same.  Cold-blooded creatures (the reptiles, not the producers), the “dinos” adapted well to the studio soundstages, resting comfortably under the hot lights.  Unfortunately, that didn’t do for the call of “Action!”  So the crew was ordered to freeze the set, which got the aggravated animals on the move, usually ending up with their death from exposure.  The ASPCA groups also weren’t that thrilled by the real-life bison/ram that gets clobbered over the head with a formidable club.  Sadly, no one ever commented on the gorgeous Rock girl who get lava-ed by an erupting volcano (a scene as startling today as it was then), with thousands of gallons of Hollandaise sauce, Velveeta or whatever substituted for the molten stone that completely covers her in one continuous shot.

Suffice to say that with its scantily-clad great-looking Neanderthals, dinosaur action and homo-sapien violence, ONE MILLION B.C. was a runaway hit in 1940.  THE runaway hit.  No foolin’, aside from holdover engagements of Gone with the Wind, the Roach pic vied for the Number One Box-Office Attraction of the Year.  That’s quite a feat, considering the competition (Rebecca, The Little Foxes, The Sea Hawk, The Letter, The Philadelphia Story, Northwest Mounted Police, The Grapes of Wrath, etc.).

The volcano eruption finale additionally remains quite impressive, with the earth opening up, swallowing man and beast and man-beasts.  All-in-all, ONE MILLION B .C. is a popcorn-munching experience that has warmed the cockles of many a heart for over seventy years, and now keeps the momentum going, thanks to this excellent VCI Blu-Ray.

The black-and-white images, framed by Brodine, look luminous and sharp with nice detail and contrast.  The mono audio, featuring the Werner R. Heymann score that I couldn’t stop humming during the pic’s ubiquitous screenings on NYC’s Channel 9 in the 1960s, has now come back to haunt me once more.  As of this writing, I still can’t get the damn music out of my head!

ONE MILLION B.C. Black and white.  Full frame [1.37:1; 1080p High Definition].  2.0 LPCM. VCI Entertainment/MVDvisual/Blair & Associates, Ltd. CAT # VCI9030.  SRP:  $29.99.

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Unstable Constable

The fantastic, paradoxical world of Takeshi “Beat” Kitano has never been more eloquently (and cinematically) depicted than in his 1997 masterpiece HANA-BI (Fireworks), now in its long-anticipated American Blu-Ray debut from Film Movement Classics.

Kitano, a true auteur, wrote, directed, stars in and coedited this neo-noir epic of a quietly violent cop gone rogue, but for all the right reasons.

Beat is Yoshitaka Nishi, a top detective in an elite Japanese police squadron, whose specialty is cracking drug cases, hard cases and cold cases, with a sideline in felon’s heads (to quote his associates: “When Mr. Nishi lost it, he was even more frightening [than the Yakuza]”).  His recent life has been a train wreck, as his loyal BFF partner Horibe (Ren Osugi) sympathetically bemoans.  Nishi’s child died young, forever draining his positive emotional vent, left hanging by a thread due to his loving wife, Miyuki (Kayoko Kishimoto).  Then, she is diagnosed with inoperable leukemia, and confined to a nightmarish ward in a local hospital.

Nishi leaves the force due to a detention incident gone horribly wrong, which at least allows him to spend as much time as he can with his mate, while Horibe carries on.  The former partner considers himself the lucky one of the pair, happily wed to a healthy, adoring wife and father to a devoted family.  Then a stakeout/bust goes south, and Horibe is paralyzed.  Forced to care for her now-invalid husband, Mrs. H takes the only option she deems viable.  She leaves the wretch to fend for himself, moving out with their children.  Ain’t life a bitch?  Horibe, now in as deep a depression as Nishi, contemplates suicide, but prolongs it just long enough to discover art, and begins painting a series of extraordinary canvasses.

Meanwhile, Nishi hasn’t been resting on his laurels.  When his wife’s lead surgeon suggests that her final days might be more pleasant at home, the stoic detective takes the advice and plans to move his near-vegetative love from the sterile, depressing surroundings.

Nishi recalls the wonderful trips the family used to have; and from there appears the acorn from which mighty oaks grow.  He plans a bank heist, in part to payback a loan he took from the Yakuza, hoping the robbery will be blamed on the local mob contingent, and using the leftover money to give his beloved wife the time of her life.

The subsequent onslaught is quite sanguine, but does succeed, and the Nishis drive off for their dream vacation.  And the effects are startling.  Mrs. Nishi begins to laugh again, the lethal symptoms temporarily replaced by genuine happiness.  This changes Nishi’s demeanor too, and the couple enjoys what precious time they have together, carrying on like newlyweds.  A key moment, ergo the title, comes when the Nishis view a fireworks display.  The fireworks literally define the title, but also the explosions of emotions, color (from their formerly bleak existence) and job-related physical ferocity.  Like the narrative, HANA-BI, in toto, carries a complex, multi-leveled meaning.

That the Yakuza, along with the police, eventually converge on the dirty cop and his unsuspecting wife brings yet more fireworks and a volatile, yet touching climax.

Suffice to say, HANA-BI is unlike any movie you have ever seen.  It is a moving, spiritual drama, a sensitive love story and a savage crime pic all rolled into one.  And the damn thing works.  It’s as if Kitano has been channeling Kurosawa at various stage of the famed iconic director’s career.  As such, HANA-BI is a seamless hybrid of Ikiru and High and Low (with a generous sprinkling of Throne of Blood).  Even with its raging brutality, HANA-BI is truly one of the most beautiful movies of the past twenty-five years.

Aside from the terrific acting by the principals and directing, Kitano has stacked the deck with luxurious color cinematography that is almost Sirkian (kudos to Hideo Yamamoto).  In addition, a major portion of the movie’s triumph is the brilliant score by Joe Hisaishi.  Rather than go for the usual by-the-numbers churning crap that often passes for movie music these days, Hisaishi has embellished this celluloid poem with a melodious, lush composition reminiscent of a late-1950s work by Hugo Friedhofer or Franz Waxman or Alfred Newman.  The music is gorgeous.  I cannot finish this article without commenting on the superb editing of HANA-BI (as indicated, a task Beat shared with Yoshinori Ota).  Even the solemn and serene, gentle moments contain a quivering sense of foreboding tension.  I’ve rarely experienced anything like it.

A footnote:  Kitano’s wearing of many hats took its toll several years ago when he suffered a near-fatal heart attack.  While convalescing, Beat, like Horibe, took up painting.  Many of the results are the remarkable tableaus that dot the backgrounds of HANA-BI.  I’m tellin’ ya, this guy can do no wrong.

Film Movement’s Blu-Ray of HANA-BI is outstanding, crystal-clear ebullient rainbow imagery matched by a dynamic stereo-surround track (particularly the bass which will kickass-test your audio system like a muthafucka).  If that’s not enough, there are some enticing extras, including audio commentary from Rolling Stone critic David Fear, a making-of featurette and a beautifully illustrated booklet. This one’s a keeper!

HANA-BI.  Color.  Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.0 DTS-HD MA (Japanese w/English subtitles).  Film Movement Classics.  SRP: $39.95.

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If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Bellevue

The only thing more freakishly fun than a Tony Perkins psycho movie is a Tony Perkins psycho movie where there’s someone crazier than he is.  Such is the glorious case with 1968’s cult classic PRETTY POISON, now available in a stunning limited edition Blu-Ray from the inmates at Twilight Time/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment.

Perkins plays Dennis Pitt, a moderately (conservatively speaking) disturbed loner, who is released from an institution, where he has been incarcerated for setting a fire that (possibly, intentionally) caused fatalities.  Mr. Azenauer, his weary, beleaguered case worker (the wonderful John Randolph) is a near-ninnyhammer himself, trying to help the obviously intelligent Pitt stay focused.  Among other things, Dennis is a rabid conspiracy theorist; to this end, he has created a false identity for himself – that of a secret agent, out to save America, whether they want it or not.  “Cut that out, Dennis!,” shouts Azenauer in a way only a Jack Benny fan could love.

The strangely bizarre thing about Pitt’s fixations is the fact that they comprise enemy foreign powers infiltrating our political and industrial systems.  And that our country’s chemical companies, unless monitored, will pollute and contaminate our environment.  How crazy is THAT?!

This isn’t salved by Randolph’s character getting Perkins a gig at a rural New England chemical plant, where Dennis Pitt’s alter ego goes into full swing mode.

But, alas, as we mentioned earlier, Tony Perkins is not the main loony here.  Enter gorgeous teen queen Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld in the finest of her many fine cinematic moments).  An impressionable high-school senior, Sue Ann instantly falls for Dennis’s line, comprising his mysterious habits, his kooky demeanor – and then, for Dennis himself.  The feeling is mutual.  She begs Dennis to be included in his latest surveillance mission – to save the planet from a myriad of enemies.  Dennis’s constant warnings of danger only excite the pubescent female whose sexuality overlaps/blossoms into full-blown orgasmic (pretty) poison ivy.  This culminates with the two lovers merrily skipping down the psychopath into the abyss of nightmarish fantasy, and, ultimately, murder.

You see, Dennis, is essentially a functioning member of society.  When his spewing lunacy gets to the danger level, he levels off, like when they tell Robby the Robot to kill someone.  Sue Ann, on the other hand, can’t stop the music and goes into zeal-n-squeal delirium when the going gets tough.  Without hesitation, she kills a night watchman during the pair’s nocturnal stakeout of Pitt’s workplace. “He is sure is bleeding, isn’t he?,” she excitedly announces, barely suppressing a giggle .  Dennis is a bit shocked.  But to Sue Ann, it’s just one of life’s many “problems” to be dealt with, another being her strict single mom (an excellent supporting role for Beverly Garland).  Which she does, point blank.  In a quantum universe, Sue Ann Stepanek’s wallet didn’t have Rhoda Penmark’s picture in it; Rhoda Penmark had Sue Ann’s.

Dennis, by this juncture, truly can no longer define reality, half-heartedly telling his now-dominant girlfiend, “Boy, what a week.  I met you on Monday, fell in love with you on Tuesday…Thursday, we killed a guy together. How about that for a crazy week, Sue Ann?”   Newly orphaned Stepanek’s facing the world with eager lip-biting writhing anticipation remains one of cinema’s all-time unnerving endings.

PRETTY POISON was a runaway critical smash in 1968, earning deserved kudos for the cast and director Noel Black (the name whose irony should not be discounted).  Released by 20th Century-Fox, it became the primo art-house sensation of the season during its brief run (today the $1.8M pic would undoubtedly have been handled via the studio’s Fox Searchlight indie arm).  The picture racked up two nods from the New York Film Critics Circle, including a win for Lorenzo Semple, Jr.’s terrific screenplay (based on a story by Stephen Geller) and a Best Actress nom for Weld’s creepy, frightening evocation of Sue Ann.

Curiously, it’s Weld’s least favorite role.  In fact, she despises the movie with a vengeance. (“My worst performance!”).  This hatred stems mostly from her actual loathing for director Black.  An acquaintance of mine once met Weld, and asked her about POISON, a movie he particularly was fond of.  She shook her head, rolled her eyes, and responded, “Noel Black, there’s a guy who could simply say ‘Good morning.’ and fuck up my whole day!”

Coupled with Perkins’s penchant for being notoriously strange (Betsy Palmer once told me that during the location work for The Tin Star, she spied Perkins crawling under producers’ William Perlberg and George Seaton’s trailer.  “What are you doing, Tony?” she inquired.  Perkins shushed her, and replied, “If you get right to the center, you can hear everything they’re saying about you.”  “But what if they’re NOT saying anything about you?” the actress countered.  “THAT’S why you have to listen!”), it must have indeed been an interesting shoot.

I vividly recall a 1968 conversation with a classmate of mine, who had just seen the movie with his parents.  “Does this guy ever do anything else BUT Psycho?”  “Yeah, he does,” I said.  “Check out some of his earlier movies.” He told me he would, indicating there was one airing that night on TV.  Didn’t help.  It was Fear Strikes Out.

The Twilight Time Blu-Ray of PRETTY POISON is a revelation.  I say that for a good reason.  In 1968 (and subsequently), every print of this movie I saw was gritty-looking, with the cast resembling human Bar-B-Que Chips amidst golf-ball-sized grainy compositions that redefined ugly cinematography (Pallor by DeLuxe).

The work of d.p. David L. Quaid has been beautifully vindicated in this fresh widescreen 1080p transfer.  The colors are clean and clear, nicely showcasing the Great Barrington, MA, locations and with (for a change) realistic flesh tones.

Twilight Time has also gone the distance to make this the quintessential edition of PRETTY POISON, offering audio commentary with producer Lawrence Turman and film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman, plus an archival supplementary track featuring Black, who died in 2014.  There’s also a deleted scene script, the theatrical trailer, and, as with all Twilight titles, an isolated music option featuring Johnny Mandel’s score.

PRETTY POISON is a movie that improves with age, and remains a startling reminder of how damn good an actress Weld can be.  A kind of Harley Quinn take on her Barbara Ann role in Lord Love a Duck (another 1960s Weld movie I worship), Tuesday’s Sue Ann Stepanek is that spoonful of sugar that helps the “problem solving” meds go down…forever.

PRETTY POISON.  Color.  Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 DTS-HD MA.  Twilight Time/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment.  CAT # TWILIGHT251-BR.  SRP: $29.95.

Limited Edition of 3000.  Available exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment www.screenarchives.com and www.twilighttimemovies.com

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Best of ‘17

Not too long ago, I used to agonize over the last couple of weeks of the year, trying to pick the ten titles I thought best represented the DVD and Blu-Ray formats.

Very quickly, this became a ludicrous endeavor, as there were so many great movies and programs becoming available; thus, I began to group my faves by format, genre, aspect ratio…you know the deal.

Bizarrely enough, with the industry scuttlebutt that the DVD and Blu-Ray platters are increasingly spinning toward the direction of laserdisc and VHS, the smaller, independent companies (with the notable superb contribution from The Warner Archive Collection) have stepped up, offering more desirable cinematic goodies than ever before.  So, here are my top picks for 2017, a year where we should be grateful for ANY good news.

Kino-Lorber, with its apparently endless arms, reaching out to acquire more outfits under their banner, appropriately released a stunner called SPIDERS (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/?s=the+spider+who+loved+me).  For those unfamiliar with this movie – a two-part odyssey running nearly three hours, it’s an early Fritz Lang masterpiece from 1919 that prefigures the James Bond movies and just about every other action franchise out there.  Plus, the most amazing female villains this side of Fantomas!

It’s Kino again for ZAZA (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/zz-tops/), a beautifully restored 1923 Paramount starring Gloria Swanson and directed by Allan Dwan.  Gloria’s simply swell as an ill-tempered hottie who uses her looks (and sex) to rise in the entertainment arena.  The remarkable thing is Swanson’s nuanced performance as she ages, becoming more mature and nurturing friendships with former enemies.  For 1920s depictions of female relationships, few can match this overlooked gem.

The Sprocket Vault/Kit Parker Films released a restored and fantastic DVD of the 1959 comedy compilation WHEN COMEDY WAS KING (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/youngson-at-heart/).  This Robert Youngston marvel has never looked better and contains primo clips of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, plus, as a supplement, a variety of rarely-seen complete comedy shorts from the slapstick era.

For the transition into the Talkie boom, nothing fits the bill better than Warners’ outstanding restoration of THE MAN AND THE MOMENT (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/soaring-dove/), a 1929 hybrid – part-talker/part silent.  Meticulously transferred from existing prints and collectors’ Vitaphone discs, this sexy pre-Code comedy/romance is a triumph for star Billie Dove (who’s gorgeous as a flappin’ aviatrix).  Don’t miss it.

While one might mourn the passing of the Warner Archive Forbidden Hollywood series, there were still (and will be more) pre-Coders to be released as singles/re-masters.  Key among these making their appearance in 2017 was 1930’s THE WIDOW FROM CHICAGO and 1931’s BROAD-MINDED (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/pre-code-sinema-four-play-1/). WIDOW stars the yummy Alice White opposite newbie Edward G. Robinson in a terrific run-through for Little Caesar (released later that year).  Its thugs ‘n’ mugs at its most fun, with loads of risqué situations, Say Girls and WTF dialog.  BROAD-MINDED, a Joe E. Brown sexy comedy that, to put it mildly, is a Depression-era exercise in youth debauchery.  It’s a pip to see girl-crazy William Collier, Jr. being ordered by his Wall Street pop to be chaperoned by meek Ossie (Brown), not realizing that he’s Womanizing Chicken Inspector of the Year.  The real highlight is a riotous turn by Bela Lugosi, who handles both dialog and sight gags with panache. And, then, there’s always Thelma Todd!

Kino swimmingly comes to the rescue with the long-thought-lost DELUGE (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/wet-n-riled/), a 1933 sci-fi disaster movie, featuring ignored climate change professors proved correct when massive tsunamis strike the Earth.  The destruction of New York, which opens the picture was state-of-the-art then, and remains quite impressive today.  The pre-Code factor, involving rape gangs and wholesale murder, add to the double-take experience.

A public domain disaster, 1932’s VAMPIRE BAT (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/roaming-atwill/), was a Poverty Row special, filmed on the Universal lot, and featuring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas and Dwight Frye.  It’s a sick, creepy delight that now looks unbelievable, struck from near-mint 35MM elements, and brilliantly utilizing the Gustav Brock hand-colored effect for an atmospheric cavern chase.  Bravo to The Film Detective for giving us the chance to own this horror flick the way it was meant to be seen.

The Warner Archive Collection has done masterful service to all animation fans with their incredible PORKY PIG 101 (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/12/25/stutterly-amazing/), a 101 cartoon 5-disc set that chronicles the evolution of the famed pig from 1933-1943.  With a cache of extras, including, storyboards, audio commentary, discarded and replaced sequences, this hefty set is nothing less than a mini-symposium on the history of the American animated cartoon during Hollywood’s Golden Era.  Featuring key works by Frank Tashlin, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng, PORKY 101 is sure to make you go hogwild.

Restorations ran amuck in 2017, with likely the most anticipated home-vid title being (at last) the fully-complete version of Michael Curtiz’ 1941 tour de force THE SEA WOLF (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/11/28/giving-up-the-ghost-of-the-ghost/)

Featuring Edward G. Robinson, Ida Lupino, John Garfield and a cargo hold of famed characters actors, this movie has never looked better, and, as good as it was before in its 80-minute rendition, the 100- minute version…blows it out of the water.  A MUST-HAVE!

The 1950s were likewise well represented in 2017, via a slew of wonderful color epics and auteur favorites.

Early-on in ’17, we were treated to Olive Films’ fully-refurbished edition of 1956’s THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/caught-rhett-handed/), a lusty Clark Gable western comedy, directed by Raoul Walsh.  The by-play between the King and his four curvy stacked deck cards (Eleanor Parker, Sara Shane, Jean Willes, and particularly Barbara Nichols), plus no-bullshit mammagamma Jo Van Fleet, is what makes this underrated oater work.  The new remaster, with gorgeous color replacing the previous faded visuals AND CinemaScope, is another major incentive.

Olive did the decade proud again with STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND, (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/05/16/wingman-in-the-sac/), a 1955 flag-waving homage to the Air Force, starring Jimmy Stewart, and directed by Anthony Mann.  When watched now, the movie is a dark look at the period, with a rather sour take on patriotism seething under the rah-rah surface Technicolor visuals.  The air stuff is glorious, never looking better than in this Blu-Ray prize, replicating the VistaVision imagery in a bravura fashion.

More Olive treats came by way of (FINALLY) the complete cut of Nicholas Ray’s stupendous 1959 odyssey, THE SAVAGE INNOCENTS. (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/11/21/the-chosen-frozen-people/) With its reconstructed missing reels of footage, this Eskimo-epic is now nearly perfect, ebullient in its Technicolor glow and strikingly enhanced in the proper Technirama proportions.  ANOTHER MUST-HAVE!

Olive’s prime release of 1950s treasures is their Signature Edition of THE QUIET MAN (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/shouting-quiet-praise/). Can’t say enough about this John Ford comedy/drama, save this Blu-Ray is the way to go.  A feature documentary, JOHN FORD: DREAMING THE QUIET MAN is also available through Olive, and is additionally highly recommended.

Kino concludes my Fifties Faves with their awesome Blu-Ray of THE VIKINGS (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/the-ragnars-son/)  A 1958 ancient epic (notably dubbed a Norse Opera), this ravishing-looking Technirama tapestry uses the widescreen process and the Technicolor hues and tones as you’ve never seen them before.  The lavish comic-book narrative, all shot on location, reinvented the genre, with game cast members Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Ernest Borgnine all delivering mighty screen appearances.

As any of you who have followed my columns even peripherally know, I’m a 3-D fanatic.  I absolutely love the process, and always have.  The 2010s massive revival, resulting in 3-D TV and 3-D Blu-Ray (that often came close to rivaling theater quality) was like manna from heaven.  What I DON’T understand are the attitudes of industry bigwigs, both at the studios and at the hardware manufacturing companies.  The growth of the format was continuously gaining acceptance, but apparently, not fast enough.  So, what did they do?  They bailed on it.  Well, not entirely.  Marvel, DC and Disney still support it, but the production of 3-D movies has been substantially pared down, and the release of major 3-D home-vid pics shamefully now doesn’t include every title (save overseas, particularly in Australia, China and Russia, where the format is still thriving).

That said, once again, the indie firms have stepped up to the bat, doing the process proud by making available classics and obscurities from the first Golden Age.  To this, we bow down to the exemplary efforts of the folks at Twilight Time and the 3-D Film Archive (whose work is distributed though Kino).  Not only did they populate the stereoscopic home-entertainment universe with a groovy sampling of flicks, but they promise even more throughout 2018.  Yay!  Will there ever be another surge, like the one ignited by Avatar?  Who knows?  The companies now want everyone to buy 4K Ultra equipment and discs.  Of course, should someone of the ilk of a James Cameron release another 3-D blockbuster that brings in gazillions worldwide, we could see a massive return to the Third Dimension (albeit probably requiring yet another upgrade installation of 4K Ultra 3-D.  Uuugghhh!).

Twilight Time has given many of us 3-D fans the equivalent of coming-at-ya nirvana with a wide variety of fun and fantastic releases.  THE MAD MAGICIAN (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/07/11/3-3-dz-2-die-4/) is now one of my favorite discs; this loopy Columbia 1954 attempt to cash in on House of Wax is a total Vincent Price joy as he strangles, incinerates and chops up those who stand in his way.  A superb supplement includes the two 3 Stooges 3-D shorts, SPOOKS and PARDON MY BACKFIRE.   All looking spectacular.

Holy Grail 3-D titles also came our way in 2017, thanks to Twilight Time.  The excellent 1953 suspense-survival thriller INFERNO, starring Robert Ryan and Rita Hayworth’s version of Rain, MISS SADIE THOMPSON, both arrived looking the berries.  Twilight, still having a 3-D ace up their sleeve, closed the fall season with 1953’s GUN FURY (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/the-donna-pass/), an underrated Raoul Walsh western, costarring Rock Hudson and Donna Reed.

We earlier mentioned HOUSE OF WAX (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/?s=Halloween+Blitz+17%3A+Waximum+Exposure), the first major studio 3-D title that really got the 1950s craze going.  It was with great elation that I revisited this sensational Warners release.  Not only does HOUSE include the Vincent Price 1953 horror piece de resistance, but also a new Blu-Ray transfer of the 1933 two-strip Technicolor original, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, all packaged in a dynamite set with a lenticular slipcover.

Not to be outdone, the 3-D Film Archive has bestowed a couple of doozies that deserve a place in any serious 3-D library:  a proper newly-struck 35MM master of THE MASK (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/10/22/halloween-blitz-17-transition-lenses/) that 1961 kooky shiver show (“Put the mask on now”), and, a movie I’ve been wanting to see in the process all my life, the 1960 treasure hunt adventure SEPTEMBER STORM https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/swimmin-at-ya/).  Like all 3-D Archive titles, each of these platters comes loaded down with wonderful extras.

We close out our 3-D homage with one final Twilight Time release, the recent internationally acclaimed Anime HARLOCK: SPACE PIRATE (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/anime-zing/).  Already considered a modern classic, this 2013 blockbuster hit is one wild adrenaline ride popping with 3-D effects that’ll have you on the edge of your seat – and possibly even out of it.

Twilight Time celebrates the great widescreen movies of the 1960s with two 1967 releases that are guaranteed to be oft-repeat platter spinners.  HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/corporations-are-people-tunes/) is one of my favorite musicals.  The score by Frank Loesser is simply brilliant – and hilariously so (ditto, the book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert).  The cast is terrific, too, especially leads Robert Morse, Michelle Lee, Maureen Arthur and Sammy Smith.  And it’s finally in the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio, plus with primo stereo-surround.

THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/german-sleazles/) is a lavish WWII epic that is also a suspense thriller and murder mystery.  There’s a high-ranking German officer, systematically going Jack the Ripper on a number of prostitutes throughout the eastern European theater.  It might not be that big a secret who the culprit is, but getting there is gripping, flesh-crawling fun (thanks to director Anatole Litvak), especially with the big-name cast, including Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Donald Pleasence, Tom Courtenay, Harry Andrews, Coral Browne, Christopher Plummer, Joanna Petit, Juliette Greco and Gordon Jackson.  The shot-on-location Technicolor and Panavision imagery is gorgeous, and the Maurice Jarre score another feather in his crowded melodious cap.

MHz, the eclectic DVD company that specializes in international TV crime dramas, came through with flying colors via an extraordinary 2017 release schedule, possibly their best ever.

I was stunned by the engrossing true story of CESARE MORI (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/black-shirt-white-hat/), the 2012 series, about an honest cop, who turned fascist to exterminate the Cosa Nostra.  The series looks fantastic with a sumptuous score by Pino Donnagio, and performances by Vincent Perez, Anna Foglietta, Gabriella Pession, Maurizio Donadoni and Tano Cuccia.  The opulent production values and cinematography will certainly remind one of Bertolucci.

Another true-life story is the exceptional 2015 Scandinavian series THE HEAVY WATER WAR (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/hell-frozen-over/), the race to beat the Nazis to the development of the atomic bomb.  Can honestly say that this is some of the best television I’ve EVER seen.  The foreboding atmosphere was so tense you could cut it with a knife.  And the action sequences put many big-budget big-screen adventures to shame.

A final Scandinavian triumph was 2011’s THE BRIDGE (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/09/12/two-broken-girls/), a breathtaking thriller about the hunt for a serial killer operating between Denmark and Sweden.  I absolutely love this show for so many reasons, prime among them being the splendid acting of lead Sophia Helin as the strange, intuitive genius sleuth Saga Noren.

And it’s always a pleasure to revisit the 2011 French mini-series ANTIGONE 34 (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/chick-flic/), a penetrating expose of crime and corruption in and out of a special police squad.  The lynchpin to this marvelous show’s success is its star, the unique and stunning Anne Le Nen, whose allure combines formidable acting chops with eyebrow-raising athletic ability and sleek natural beauty.  Not exaggerating by saying she gives her more well-known contemporaries Johansson, Beckensale, Jovovich and Theron a run for their francs.

Acorn Media never disappoints.  The problem was picking their best of the best, as pretty much everything they release is of collectible value.

I’ve come up with a handful of titles that permanently reside in my replay section.

The neo-noir oh-so-dark (but often sardonically funny) detective series JACK TAYLOR, SETS 2 & 3 (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/grizzly-and-grisly/) just seem to get better with every episode.  The haunting Irish locales perfectly set the stage for the sinister cases taken on (occasionally reluctantly) by the disgraced Garda title character.  So perfectly played by the great Iain Glen, Taylor is a diamond-in-the-rough (very rough) rogue who never wears out his welcome.

A lighter, but just as snarky Glen pops up in the 2016 fantasy-comedy DELICIOUS (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/11/07/the-glen-jones-law/). Glen is the deceased (but ever-present narrator and occasional participant) entrepreneur of a five-star Cornwall restaurant/inn.  The combination of food and sex has never been more enticing, or, as the title tells us, delicious.  Helping Glen serve up the lip-smacking delights are Dawn French, Emilia Fox, and the smashing Tanya Reynolds.

Cornwall also plays a major role in the release of the next installment of one of the most beloved global series of the 21st-century, DOC MARTIN, SERIES 7 (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/doc-savaged/).  The characters are as fetching as ever, with Port Wenn’s stock company in fine form, particularly Caroline Catz, John Marquez, Joe Absolom, Ian McNiece, and, of course, Martin Clunes.  Series 8 is to be released in 2018, and we’re looking forward to it with more than a modicum of sadness, as it is to be the final season.

Kino helped us celebrate Halloween in grand fashion with the Blu-Ray releases of four renowned titles.  Terence Fisher’s 1959 Hammer masterpiece THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/10/28/halloween-blitz-17-time-wounds-all-heels/) and Freddie Francis’ 1965 Amicus all-star (Cushing, Lee, Gough, Wymark) fright show THE SKULL (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/halloween-blitz-17-heady-bizarre/) led the pack.   But that was merely tip of the Kino blood-chilling iceberg.  I was further drawn to two Italian black-and-white goths starring genre goddess Barbara Steele, Mario Bava’s iconic 1960 classic BLACK SUNDAY and Antonio Margheriti’s vastly underrated THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/halloween-blitz-17-steele-magnolias/).  In both, Barbara delivers the goods in various incarnations and reincarnations.  Be prepared for horror mixed with eroticism at its finest.

Comedies are an essential part of life at Casa Neuhaus (or Casa-New-Casa), and the Warner Archive Collection came through like gangbusters with the Blu-Ray remaster of the 1982 Steve Martin hoot THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS  (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/?s=Halloween+Blitz+17%3A+Killer+Comedies…that+kill).  For the first time on home-video in its proper aspect ratio, this Carl Reiner-directed (and coscripted) laff riot is a quintessential Eighties addition to any comedy collection.  A Martin epoch, with immense support from David Warner, (the voice of) Sissy Spacek, George Furth, and last but certainly not least, Kathleen Turner.  “Into the mud, scum queen!”

Kino wraps up the Blu-Ray funny business with their package of Bob Hope entries, at last restored to look the way they should.  The guffaw meter ratchets up big-time with my picks for the best in the lot, 1947’s noir parody MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE and Frank Tashlin’s 1952 Technicolor western knee-slapper SON OF PALEFACE  (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/12/19/i-wanna-sell-ya/). Each takes on their respective target genres magnificently, seamless matching the verbal bon mots with inspired sight gags.  I wanna tell ya!

2017LOGOS

 

Sink Pink

Ahoy, mateys, Olive Films, in association with Paramount Home Entertainment, has christened the Signature Edition Blu-Ray of OPERATION PETTICOAT, Blake Edwards’ 1959 comedy classic costarring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. Woo-hoo!

The two-hour pic is seamless merriment, lushly packaged in Eastman Color, concerning Captain Grant’s determination to raise and reconstruct his recently sunk new submarine, the S.S. Sea Tiger.  I suspect though that World War II was probably not as much fun as this movie suggests (it almost rivals Up in Arms for seafaring laffs, gals, and hijinks).

It’s just a few days after Pearl Harbor and the skipper (aka Cary, aka Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Sherman) is short of men and time to get his wrecked sub afloat.  Enter cosmetically designed, rakish social-climbing officer Nick Holden (guess who, oh – all right, it’s Curtis), known as a smooth operator, a scavenger of the highest (and often lowest) order: “Don’t let the manicure fool you.  I grew up in a neighborhood called Noah’s Ark.  If you didn’t travel in pairs, you just didn’t travel.”  Curtis is essentially and deftly playing a wacky-in-khaki Kings Go Forth’s Britt Harris. The oil-and-water confrontations between the two (eventually melding into a perilous cocktail hybrid of borderline friendship) is what make the movie so beloved after nearly sixty years since its release.

But that’s just the beginning.  Found deserted on a bombed-out atoll is a gaggle of nurses (mostly hotcha-cha types), who become reluctant members of the Tiger crew, proving once and again that women look great in men’s clothing.

That said, the one image that indelibly is etched in Boomer moviegoer’s noggins is the sight of a pink submarine (a color that must have been a good-luck charm for Edwards); it’s due to a wardrobe malfunction of the surplus kind, and becomes enough of a double-take sore thumb to even make Tokyo Rose take notice.

The supporting cast of OPERATION PETTICOAT is a 1950s Who’s Who of memorable faces ‘n’ races, including Gene Evans, Robert F. Simon, Dick Sargent, Gavin MacLeod, Robert Gist, Dick Crockett, Nicky Blair, Hal Baylor, Arthur O’Connell (whose bravura turn in Picnic gets him special billing) and, as the lovelies, Dina Merrill, Joan O’Brien, Madlyn Rhue, Marion Ross and their commanding officer, the wonderful Virginia Gregg.

Did I say that the movie was an unprecedented smash in 1959?  Yep, a Radio City Music Hall special, if ever there was one (would love to know what the Rockettes’ tie-in show was).  In an industry when major-minor player Universal was lucky to occasionally score a hit, let alone what would be comparable to a 100-million-dollar hit, U-I (it was Universal-International then) had THREE that year:  PETTICOAT, Douglas Sirk’s remake of Imitation of Life and Pillow Talk.  No surprise that two of this trio starred the studio’s top attractions (another first for the company, having TWO of the Ten World Box-Office Champs under contract), Curtis and (in Pillow Talk) Rock Hudson.

The record run of success for Universal in the mid-late 1950s allowed them to purchase the entire pre-1948 Paramount catalog through their MCA adjunct, and to make super-desirable deals with marquee Marquis actors, working on a percentage basis.  Jimmy Stewart was one of the first, followed by Tyrone Power, Alan Ladd and Errol Flynn, with Grant being the most prominent of the group.  His Granart Company would share the profits of PETTICOAT (and, subsequently, three more projects) before all rights would automatically revert back to the actor.  His first production (through Warners), Indiscreet, was a slam-bang hit; in addition, the new (and far better) Universal deal helped make ’59 a grand Grant outing (his other picture that year was North by Northwest).

But it wasn’t merely Universal and Cary Grant who reaped the rewards of 1959.  Perhaps more than both of them (including the factoring in of a personal satisfaction level), the year was Tony Curtis’ time.  A contractee at U-I for over a decade, he had basically been wasted in a series of unremarkable albeit vastly entertaining tits ‘n’ sand epics, crime dramas and backlot medieval potboilers.  Universal made mucho bucks by loaning him out to other concerns, specifically United Artists.  And it was here that Curtis flourished, allowing him to stretch his dramatic acting chops and natural (and often inspired) comedic ability.  Trapeze gave way to Sweet Smell of Success, which led to Kings Go Forth and The Vikings.  1958’s The Defiant Ones got him a deserved Oscar nomination, and, prior to coming back to his home turf as a major mover-and-shaker, he had wrapped up Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot (another of his 1959 releases).  Not bad.

Curtis was no longer assigned projects, he was asked what he would like to do.  His dream was to work with Cary Grant (his idol, obvious when one sees the Wilder pic), preferably in a comedy.  When the studio’s new fair-haired boys Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin (two maverick comic mavens who cut their teeth on Ray Bolger’s innovative 1953 musical TV sitcom Where’s Raymond? and authors of Pillow Talk) said they had a service comedy about a pink submarine, Curtis jumped, signing on before even reading the script.  Not only was Grant the younger star’s favorite actor, it was the former Bernard Schwartz seeing the former Archie Leach in the 1943 submarine drama Destination Tokyo that prompted the teenager to join the Navy.  For Tony Curtis, OPERATION PETTICOAT was beyond a fantasy come true.  And it was reciprocal, Grant and Curtis bonded admirably (as one would expect in a naval picture), a friendship that lasted until the former’s passing in 1986.

The other made-out-like-a-bandit participant in OPERATION PETTICOAT was, of course, Blake Edwards.  The writer/director had been working (usually under the auspices of Richard Quine) as a second-unit man (and eventual director) of medium-sized budgeted comedies, noirs and musicals; his forte seemed to be television, proving his worth with the huge ratings-getter Peter Gunn.  His palling around with Curtis (Curtis, in his 2008 autobiography, American Prince, said he, wife Janet Leigh, Edwards and his then-spouse Patricia Walker were inseparable), led to Tony getting Blake a gig on his 1957 Universal entry, Mister Corey (one of the most underrated pics in either the star’s or the director’s filmographies).  Curtis then used his juice to get Edwards the much-coveted PETTICOAT stint, and the 37-year-old-filmmaker didn’t disappoint.  The direction is light, nimble, and inventive, with some beautifully composed imagery matching the slapstick with some often jarring action sequences.  Curtis helping his buddy chart the course of OPERATION PETTICOAT is what (big-screen-wise) put Blake Edwards on the map.

All of this is wrapped up in the frequently hilarious Oscar-nominated screenplay by Shapiro and Richlin (from a story by Paul King).  Like their other works (individually they were responsible for Lover Come Back, That Touch of Mink, Bedtime Story, much of the Pink Panther series), the lines are double-entendre risqué.  A shot of short-shorts-wearing Merrill sliding down the sub pole, asking “Did I go down okay?” is wonderfully responded to by an agog Evans with a resounding “YES!”  A later segment where klutzy O’Brien deep-sixes a torpedo attack on a Japanese vessel – causing the bomb to surface and destroy an enemy vehicular transport – is capped by Grant’s superb delivery of “We just sunk a truck!”  I vividly recall (as five-year-old in a packed movie house with my folks) this retort resulting in howls of laughter from the audience.  It still is a funny bit, and one I’m delighted to say one that all my friends remember from their childhood PETTICOAT experience.

Due to the unstable Eastman Color, I have lived through decades of unwatchable PETTICOAT prints, many being beet-red, which kinda puts the kibosh on the sub color scheme gags.  The Olive Signature Edition has mastered a new1080p High Definition widescreen transfer from the original Granart elements, and, man, does it look good (a fine nod to the terrific d.p. Russell Harlan).  While there is some slight grain (usually during the opticals), the colors are rich, and the clarity crystal-clear.  This Blu-Ray honestly looks better than the first-run print I saw in 1959.  If that’s not enough, Olive has stacked the decked with a plethora of fetching extras, including an illustrated booklet, audio commentary, THREE mini-documentaries (including reminiscences from surviving cast members Ross and MacLeod), plus U-I newsreels featuring the Radio City premiere with Grant.

OPERATION PETTICOAT.  Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment. CAT# OS014.  SRP:  $39.95.

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