Bride and Gloom

To be finally able to see the outstanding 1956 film noir shocker A WOMAN’S DEVOTION would be in and of itself a wonderful treat.  To see the pic in such a stunning new 4K HD widescreen master (thanks to the groovy folks at Kino Lorber Studio Classics and Paramount Home Entertainment) is movie-lover nirvana.

To say that most movie fans of the noir genre have probably never heard of A WOMAN’S DEVOTION would likely be an understatement.  Its rarity and obscurity seem to not only have become legend, but amazingly was aided and abetted by its studio, Republic Pictures, which made the Mexican-shot nightmarish thriller (more on that later).

First off, A WOMAN’S DEVOTION is one of those noir subgenres I love, the contradictory film noir in color.  To the purists and naysayers of color noir, I say “Piffle!” In my mind, those swirling, hypnotic picture-postcard visuals lend themselves to the WTF hopelessness that plague the key players in this and other rainbow pigmented noir entrees.  Indeed, A WOMAN’S DEVOTION is like a FitzPatrick Travelogue, coproduced by Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy and the Manson Family.  It is expertly directed by Paul Henreid – yep, that Paul Henreid.  Viktor Laszlo and Jerry Durrance, that romantic Now Voyager dude, who simultaneously lights two cigarettes for himself Bette Davis (who could probably smoke two cigarettes simultaneously).  Truth be told, that aside from being a terrific thesp, Henreid was an excellent director, and one who was especially lured to dark places (he did over two dozen spine-tingling Alfred Hitchcock Presents).  And places don’t get much darker than A WOMAN’S DEVOTION.

Trevor and Stella Stevenson are a young, super-gorgeous honeymooning couple who descend upon a picturesque suburb of Acapulco.  Trevor is finally enjoying the good life, after being through hell in Korea.  Trauma couldn’t have a better cure than spending it with the beautiful woman of your dreams, and in a spectacular fantasy vacation spot like this lazy, sunny beach haven.  But The Stevensons carry some baggage that can’t be alleviated by porters.  Stella is helping Trevor recover from a breakdown due to the severe mental anguish experienced while under fire.  Prior to arriving in Mexico, he had blacked out and disappeared for varying periods of time.  He seems to be getting better, but then the blackouts begin again.  As do a series of murders.

Captain Henrique Monterors, a wily Maigret-esque police inspector with an eye for the ladies (third lead Henreid, wearing the second of many hats; again, more on that later), increasingly delves into his “beat’s” newest tourists, and is alarmed at what he discovers (more unsolved murders). As all the loose ends become hangman’s knot-tight, the story spider-web-weaves into a spine-tingling airstrip hangar climax.  It isn’t a satisfying one, veering toward gut-wrenching, but, hey, it’s film noir, baby!

The story for A WOMAN’S DEVOTION particularly intrigued Henreid.  It was one of the first scripts and movies (if not THE first) to deal with PTSD.  This makes AWD a landmark 1950s hunk of celluloid.  The character of Trevor Stevenson isn’t played as a monster (although he is occasionally frightening), but as a victim – a victim with victims.  The casting couldn’t be better.  Stevenson is portrayed by Ralph Meeker, a year after his brilliant interpretation of Mike Hammer in Aldrich’s Kiss Me, Deadly.  The sympathetic, suspicious and strong supporting wife is perfectly enacted by Janice Rule.  The chemistry between the two stars is undeniable.  They really seem to be into each other, a masterful stroke of casting by Henreid (the pair had made Broadway history as Hal and Madge in the original production of Picnic).  Henreid himself is coy, sophisticated and charming as an Austrian-accented Mexican official. His womanizing is contrasted by his devotion (a word that hits many notes in this freakish concerto of violence) to his daughter (he’s a single parent).  A nifty roster of supporting players include Jose Torvay as a creepy blackmailer, who may be on to Stevenson, and intends to milk this cash cow for all its parasitic juice, and, most startlingly Rosenda Monteros as a sensuous skank, working with Torvay.  Monteros is an actress known for her innocence (she’s the village girl Horst Buchholz hooks up with in The Magnificent Seven).  To see her as such an evil user is quite jaw-dropping.

The screenplay to A WOMAN’S DEVOTION is by Robert Hill.  Henreid, himself, contributed to the writing, and while pleased with the final draft, was angered by what Republic did in post-production.  They chopped out several sequences, which obviously wreaked havoc with the editorial flow and continuity of the narrative.  To quote Henreid, “Apparently [Republic] didn’t understand the film at all and cut essential parts.” This is very noticeably evident when major characters vanish for long period of time (kinda like Meeker’s blackouts).  The resulting 88-minute duration is still unusual and worthy enough to warrant not only a peek, but a purchase.

What Republic did on top of their butchery was even worse.  They changed the title of the movie, depending upon where the picture was exhibited and/or if it wasn’t performing up to their expectations.  Not once, but TWICE.  At various times, it went out as A WOMAN’S DEVOTIONBATTLE SHOCK, and ACAPULCO.  Audiences weren’t sure if this actually wasn’t three movies made back-to-back or what.  They played it safe, and stayed away from all of them.

Monika Henreid recently shared some of her memories of the shooting of A WOMAN’S DEVOTION with me.  “It was like a vacation for me.  Not long ago I went through reels and reels of home movies we took while my father was filming the movie.  He was extremely disappointed by what Republic did with it, as he had worked quite hard on the script, albeit uncredited.  The title changes only made it worse.

“Republic was certainly a go-to studio for actors wanting to show their directing chops.  The deal they made with my father, who had also directed some very successful movies, was that he could do it provided he also appeared in the picture.  This was basically covering all the bases – a name in front of the camera could balance any problems that he/she might have behind the scenes.  Of course, that wasn’t the case with my father [or other star/directors; the studio made the same arrangement with Ray Milland, who did a pair of great Republics, A Man Alone and Lisbon and Mark Stevens, who directed the fascinating noir Cry Vengeance].  Personally, I like the movie, but I don’t love it.  It certainly is a landmark motion picture, as it seriously and intelligently handles the subject of PTSD.  My problem with the movie is the color.  I’m old school.  Film noir should be in black and white.  For instance, I love Hitchcock, but am not a fan of Vertigo or those later pictures [grrrrrrr, Monika, Vertigo is my favorite movie of all-time!].  For me, it’s The 39 Steps, Notorious, Strangers on a Train

“That said, the movie does look beautiful and the acting is just fantastic.  I should mention that both Janice Rule and Ralph Meeker were so nice to me, just great people.  For years afterward, too.  When I was pursuing an acting career in New York, Ralph was my protector.  He offered sound advice on acting and the extracurricular activities that often go with it.  I’d call Ralph, and tell him I was invited to so-and-so’s…’Don’t go,’ he’d warn me.  He was my surrogate father.  Just a sweet man.  I also remember going to Janice’s home with my parents for parties and dinners, during the period when she was married to Ben Gazzara.  So for me, memories of A WOMAN’S DEVOTION are happy ones.”

Monochrome purist or not, the Blu-Ray platter of A WOMAN’S DEVOTION should make Monika and all collectors even happier.  It’s one of those great, new 1080p High Def restorations of the faded, dull TrueColor elements that will floor you.  The colors look like Technicolor at its best, absolutely popping out of the screen (and doing justice to d.p. Jorge Stahl, Jr.’s magnificent cinematography).  There’s no doubt in my mind that these Kino-Paramount-Republic restorations look better than they did in their original release. This could be one of their best. The mono audio is crisp, clear and features a score by Les Baxter.  NOTE: while the Kino jacket indicates that the movie is presented in 2.35:1, A WOMAN’S DEVOTION is not a scope picture; the 1080p widescreen is in the proper, original aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

A suspenseful thriller worth rediscovering, A WOMAN’S DEVOTION will leave viewers startled and stranded in that OMG/WTF universe that only film noir can transport you to.

A WOMAN’S DEVOTION. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Paramount Home Entertainment.  CAT # K22668. SRP: $24.95.



Deep Red

A disturbing, engrossing portrait of a woman drowning in the nightmare of celebrity, SCARLET DIVA, Asia Argento’s piercing 2000 directorial debut, comes to Blu-Ray in a new, High-Def remaster from the edgy gang at Film Movement Classics.

Asia Argento, as some may know, is the talented, beautiful actress who got her start in pics directed by her father, Dario Argento – a controversial figure in his own right.  With this semi-autobiographical work, she firmly cemented herself into her family’s Italian motion-picture dynasty.  Aside from starring in and directing SCARLET DIVA, Argento also wrote this searing account of a young, rising star who is abused, assaulted, and notoriously on the wrong side of decision making.  Her Anna Battista is damaged goods in a package of acid-soiled dynamite.

The movie, upon its original release, was deservedly acclaimed by savvy critics, but mostly trashed as an exploitative sex orgy on celluloid.  Argento was even condemned by many women who couldn’t read (or see) between the cinematic lines.

From her girlhood, Anna (and possibly Asia) has been a one-extreme-to-another victim of concurrent parental neglect and/or physical and verbal abuse by a domineering harpy of a mother (it’s noteworthy to mention that this role is portrayed the actress/writer Daria Nicolodi, in actuality, Asia’s real-life mater).  Anna is sexually awakened and active at a remarkably early age (as a child, she reads de Sade), but has no one to guide her into that terrible beauty known as adolescence (she even harbors carnal yearnings for her sib).

Stepping into the family business, Asia’s good looks and bad behavior open plenty of doors that lead to fame and underline what the young woman suspected:  people are crap, out to use you – so use them, too.  More often than not, she ends up in the gutter, but cries for help are scoffed at with a ubiquitous, “Oh, yeah, look at the poor, little rich movie star.  What has she got to complain about?”  A hell of a lot.  Her friends are likewise victims of the meat show market, aka the European motion-picture industry.  It’s worth mentioning that one of the movie’s most terrifying scenes comprises Anna trying to locate her fellow actress BFF, Veronica (Vera Gemma).  Driving to her bud’s Paris apartment, she lets herself in and discovers the beaten woman, bound, gagged and left to fend for herself by a psychotic lover.  This segment is verbatim an event that a mutual friend of Argento’s and Gemma’s actually experienced.

For me, however, the most frightening moment of SCARLET DIVA (and there are numerous ones) comes when Anna is recognized at a roadside diner by two male fans.  The fandom prerequisite autograph and group photo are necessary celeb evils that the star generously acquiesces to.  Then the two mooks blur the line between the woman and her screen persona and maul her, grope her, and attempt to rape the now-screaming actress, who manages to just barely break away to the safety of her car as the pair of angered animals shout demoralizing epithets. That Battista’s/Argento’s only instances of true peace come in her vehicle – a mini-refuge – where she sings along with a CD blaring her favorite music, provides viewers with DIVA’s few, essential catch-your-breath bits.

Of course, today the most damning and telling segment of the movie revolves around Anna being introduced to a Harvey Weinstein-esque American producer/director (Joe Coleman) at a party.  She tries to promote a script she has written, comically begging the suit to get her out of Italy, where all the actresses “are bitches.”  He feigns interest in the project, offers her a bullshit Cleopatra project (“De Niro as ‘Marc Antony’”) and invites Battista to take a meeting, which results in another sexual assault as the mogul deems it his right to add her to the notches on his belt.

Her doomed liaison with Kirk (Jean Shepard, with whom Argento had an affair with during the production), a lying rock singer (who’d have figured that one coming?), is yet another sad depiction of her terrible choices.  This time, however, it has the most devastating effect ever on the woman’s life, leading to the jaw-dropping climax.

This movie blew me away, and genuinely works better now that women en masse have helped rip the mask off the Hollywood predators who have long preyed on them.  Indeed, Asia Argento was instrumental in putting the 2006 #MeToo movement on the map in 2017, along with former pal Rose McGowan.  But Asia, as the title infers, ain’t no angel (to put it mildly); like the movie, Argento’s life was and still is a train wreck.  Her recent Asia-minor scandal involving an under-aged teen ruptured her relationship with McGowan, who should have tried to get her help, but instead banished Argento from the movement she helped promote.  Hey, Rose, do you throw a relapsed alcoholic out of AA?

As a victim, Asia Argento certainly deserves our sympathy; as a victim who victimizes, she crosses the line, but nevertheless shouldn’t be tossed out like trash.  Argento, always honest, never denied her mistakes; indeed, my BFF, writer/director Ric Menello, became good friends with a key player from the 1993 movie, ironically entitled Trauma, costarring Asia and directed by her father.  The off-set, not-so-secret hookups, involving the then 17-year-old, undeniably helped set the stage for the woman she became.  And the movie she made.

The Film Movement Classics Blu-Ray of SCARLET DIVA, photographed by Frederic Fasano, is spectacular looking in its new 1080p incarnation.  Ditto, the 2.0 stereo-surround, featuring a score by John Hughes (including an apt cover on the haunting “Wild is the Wind,” from a nearly-forgotten 1957 George Cukor masterpiece of the same name).  The picture is partly in English, but also in Italian and French w/English subtitles (aside from being bisexual and bipolar, Asia/Anna is multi-lingual). Unlike previous video releases, this is the complete and uncut version. There are loads of fantastic extras, including TWO audio commentaries by Argento, one from 2000 and another from 2018, plus an on-camera interview. There is also a “making of” featurette and an insightful, illustrated booklet by writer-producer Kier-La Janisse.

I no more condone the dark aspects of Asia Argento’s lifestyle than I do that of Roman Polanski or Woody Allen.  Argento, at least, is honest and tells it like it was/is.  DIVA not even a “you be the judge” type of flick.  You don’t have to, DIVA’s awful survival scenario is there for all to see.

SCARLET DIVA was coproduced by her family.  It’s a worthy, courageous and important achievement.  It could be the scariest movie ever to have the Argento name attached to it.

SCARLET DIVA. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Film Movement Classics/Opera Film. CAT # FMCSCARLETDIVA. SRP: $39.95.



Violent Beauty

No, this isn’t about Tonya Harding, Harley Quinn or any other Margot Robbie performance.  It’s about the West, as in “Wild.”  Not in its heyday, but toward the end.  And not the “print the legend” masterpieces of John Ford, but the gritty, unvarnished truth, as brutally painted by the genre’s key American revisionist practitioner, Sam Peckinpah.

What makes this piece so special to me is that The Warner Archive Collection, to whom legions of movie buffs owe a debt of gratitude, has chosen to release my two all-time favorite Peckinpah movies in stunning new Blu-Ray editions, 1962’s  RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY and 1970’s THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE.  What?  No Wild Bunch?  Listen, I could go on for paragraphs about that 1969 classic, and, yeah, I do love it.  But not as much as this pair.  Indeed, many novices or occasional visitors to the western or Peckinpah may not have even heard of CABLE HOGUE.  If so, you’re in for a treat.  As for HIGH COUNTRY, it’s simply not one of the director’s finest works, but, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest westerns ever made.  So, let’s saddle up!

Fact:  RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY is one of the most beautiful westerns in the history of cinema.  That’s not to say it isn’t uncompromising in that oh-so-Peckinpah way.  It is.  It’s a raw depiction of the end of the west, as personified by two aging lawmen.  The lean and perfect script by N.B. Stone, Jr., William Roberts, and Peckinpah himself is easily one of the best the director ever worked with.

Long separated by encroaching years, Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) and Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) are reunited in a small town celebrating the birth of America.  Judd is a by-the-book ex-sheriff/deputy, fallen on hard times (so bad he had to hire on as a bouncer in a brothel) who offers to bring back a hefty gold shipment from a lawless mining camp.  Judd’s pride is his only vice, as he tries not to reveal his frayed cuffs to his employers or the fact that he needs glasses to read their contract.  At first what seems like a fortuitous meet-up with Westrum turns into an emotional rollercoaster.  At various times in their lives, Steve worked for Gil, and then vice versa.  Since then, Westrum has gone for the easy buck, working as pitchman in a sleazy carnival with his young, hothead sidekick Heck Longtree (Ron Starr).

The three form an uneasy alliance (Westrum admits to his underling that they will steal the gold once the trio leaves the camp).  Judd’s credo is to live honorably so that he “can enter my house justified.” These words fall deaf on Gil’s ears, as an amused Westrum scoffs at the weathered lawman’s integrity.  Along the way the group stops overnight at the home of widower Joshua Knudsen (R.G. Armstrong), a religious fanatic farmer, who shares the land with his tomboy daughter, Elsa (Mariette Hartley).  As sexually repressed as the elder Knudsen is, Elsa is the opposite – a curious child-woman on the brink of raging hormones, stupidly engaged to the first man who showed interest in her, a beefy miner, Billy Hammond (James Drury).  Longtree attempts to change her mind in the worst possible way, causing yet another of many comeuppances from Judd.  Elsa, sick of the fire-and-brimstone lectures and beatings, escapes after the triad, before they adopt the girl as their unofficial fourth member.

The trip is memorable, trekking along gorgeous scenery of our country’s magnificent mountains and rivers (Inyo National Forest and Malibu State Park ably subbing for the western wilderness).  During this odyssey, Judd and Westrum underline their friendship by reminiscing of better times past; these sequences are among the best in the picture, and stand as a testament to the skills of McCrea and Scott. One of my favorite moments in this section is a literal throwaway bit.  Longtree brashly tosses his food remains into the picturesque background, and is severely admonished by Judd.  “These mountains don’t need your garbage!” he tells the fool.  A wonderful ecology message, one of the few in pre-1970 cinema.

The mining town is even more horrific than anticipated, rife with rogues, rapscallions, whores and conmen.  Elsa’s romantic aspirations are, too, short-lived.  Billy is one of a family of psychopaths, led by merciless killer Elder (John Anderson); his siblings are the illiterate, lust-craven thugs Sylvus (L.Q. Jones), Jimmy (John Davis Chandler) and Henry (Warren Oates).  Billy’s delight at seeing Elsa gives way to a freakish wedding in the local whorehouse.  The honeymoon is worse.  Taking the phrase “all in the family” literally, each Hammond is determined to initiate her into the clan.  Heck, gradually reforming into a mensch, saves her and the quartet light out for the return trip.  Like Elsa’s wedded bliss, the gold strike, too, turns out to be a bust, as the loot is far below what was promised (20K, as opposed to the projected quarter of a million).  Of course, the ride back is a nightmare, as the Hammonds are in pursuit of the woman, the money and revenge. Furthermore, Westrum is still determined to rob his old pal when the moment is right.  Except now, Heck, truly in love with Elsa, and having learned respect from Judd, isn’t so sure.  When Steve gets wind of Gil’s plans, he violently responds.  As a beaten and banished Westrum sardonically asks why he gets the extra-bad treatment, Judd splendiferously replies, “you were my friend.”

How all of this sews up is a spectacular display of ferocity, adventure, love and friendship.  The final heartfelt exchange between Steve and Gil (“See ya later”), and the fade-out image will leave a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye.  Suffice to say, Steve Judd enters his house justified.

RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY was a difficult pic to see in 1962; truth be told, it almost didn’t get seen at all.  A new regime at MGM absolutely hated it, and wanted the movie shelved indefinitely.  The studio, at the time still reaping the rewards of Ben-Hur, was hell-bent to remake every old title they could lay their greedy hands on (Cimarron, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, etc.).  The only other pics that piqued their interest were the trashy sex adaptations of bestselling novels (BUtterfield 8, All the Fine Young Cannibals, Two Weeks in Another Town).

HIGH COUNTRY was finally thrown into the public view as a one-week hardtop/drive-in/grindhouse attraction, where it played on the bottom half of a double bill with The Tartars, an Italian import co-starring Victor Mature and Orson Welles.  Metro wanted to have the western quickly forgotten.  But the critics wouldn’t let them.  The movie was cited by many American scribes as one of the best of the year.  Overseas, it instantly became a classic (especially in the UK, where it was released under the title Guns in the Afternoon).

This studio’s response may have provided more than a spur to prompt both Scott and McCrea to vow that it would be their last screen appearances (McCrea later came out of retirement in 1966 to grace The Young Rounders, followed by brief appearances in low-budget oaters Cry Blood Apache, Sioux Nation, both 1970, and Mustang Country, in 1976; Scott, secure with his Wall Street investments, held steadfast and never made another movie).

The brutal reaction from HIGH COUNTRY‘s own studio was an early lesson that an already cynical Peckinpah would learn to accept (and it would be one repeated many times over the next several decades).

HIGH COUNTRY‘s stymied ascension to classic movie status was nevertheless the victim of other technological setbacks.  The sumptuous CinemaScope photography by Lucien Ballard was delivered a devastating blow by the use of Metro Color, a process which faded rather quickly.  The first few times I saw this movie in scope, it was beet red.

Well, folks, start burning the incense!  The new Warner Archive Blu-Ray is sensational!  Crystal-clear High Def imagery in ebullient colors and tones, as it’s likely never looked before.  The mono track is crisp and dynamic and features a glorious score by George Bassman.  There are also nifty supplements, including a featurette on the movie, and audio commentary by Peckinpah aficionados/scholars Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle.


After the phenomenal success of The Wild Bunch, in 1969, Warners uttered two words to Sam Peckinpah he never thought he’d ever hear:  carte blanche.  Any project he wanted to do.  Sam was wise enough to take full advantage of this (likely) limited-time offer, and opted to do a quiet, modest little comedy.  A kinder, gentler Peckinpah.  That said, the opening of 1970’s THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE features a lizard being splattered into bits, and the title character being tortured in the desert.  Yet, hold on folks, ’cause the John Crawford/Edmund Penney/Gordon T. Dawson script is a beautifully constructed character piece, seemingly tailor-made for the three leads, Jason Robards, Stella Stevens and David Warner.

Cable Hogue is a cantankerous, non-book larn’d prospector/hermit/hobo, blessed by enough wisdom to know that he’s smarter than most of the other human specimens (particularly the rich ones) in his orbit.  In the throes of death, he discovers a watering hole, exactly twenty miles from each stagecoach depot, and figures, “Why not build a rest stop, and charge for aqua and vittles?”  Barely making it to town, Cable approaches the local muckety-muck, who instantly tosses his filthy, grubby butt into the street.  There, he instantly meets the love of his life, a beauteous prostitute named Hildy.  Embarrassed over his appearance and lack of fun-funds, he settles on a smile, which is returned in kind.  Then, another miracle happens.  He barges into the bank and pitches his proposal to the no-nonsense head suit.  In a complete reversal of movie stereotype, the hardened businessman takes a liking to Cable (whose lack of education is comically accentuated as he spells his name “Hogue: C-A-B-L-E!”), and gives him a bigger loan than he asked for.  First stop, the brothel – and the whore of his dreams (that is, after a much-needed bath), and before you can say “sidewalks paved with gold,” Cable Hogue is an American businessman.

The waystation is a mammoth success; and assists the neighboring towns to grow, enough so that they react like all “good citizens” in westerns do:  by throwing the hookers out.  Hildy moves in with Cable and their endearing relationship is one of my fave celluloid romances.

A hurtful moment causes Hildy to rethink her life and original career ambitions; abruptly, she heads west to San Francisco; Cable becomes unlucky in cards and love, as the modernization of America rapidly threatens to close him out.  This isn’t helped by the reappearance of the two rogues who nearly killed him at the start of the picture.

Hildy’s return as a rich (now “widowed”) woman of means, replete with new-fangled horseless carriage and chauffeur, prompts Hogue to reassess his life, and journey back to Frisco with his love, but not before handing over his failing station to one of his would-be assassins, whose gratitude is bolstered by a late case of smarts, as he eyes the glistening automobile and muses that a body might make a good living selling gasoline, thus inventing the service station.

The tragedy that ends this piece is one of the most poignant fade-outs since Billy Bitzer started cranking for D.W. Griffith; certainly, the bittersweet peak of Peckinpah’s career.

THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE is a winner all the way.  From Lucien Ballard’s gorgeous Technicolor cinematography to the splendid score by Jerry Goldsmith.  The latter even includes a lovely song (by composer Richard Gillis), “Butterfly Mornin’s and Wildflower Afternoons,” nicely sung by Robards and Stevens.  The stellar Stella, it should be noted, plays this role entirely sans makeup; she is nevertheless still breathtaking, and undoubtedly gives the performance of her life.

The outstanding roster of supporting players give it their all as well, and include such icons of character-actor heaven as R.G. Armstrong (as the know-it-all suit), Peter Whitney as the banker, Slim Pickens, his real-life wife, Easy, and, as the pair of murderous rascals, L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin.  The aforementioned Warner is superb as a comic self-proclaimed preacher, author of his own horndog religion that reaches out to lonely women everywhere (“Since I cannot rouse Heaven, I intend to raise Hell”).  And, finally, as the title character, Robards delivers perhaps his finest screen impersonation; HOGUE cemented a trilogy of fantastic Robards roles that forever put him in the pantheon of great movie westerners.  Within three years, he graced the genre with gem turns in Hour of the Gun, Once Upon a Time in the West and this triumph.

Peckinpah personally loved this movie, and it’s easy to see why.  It’s like a little vacation piece, a wink at his growing fan base and critics.  HOGUE is to Sam what The Trouble with Harry was to Hitchcock and Wagon Master was to Ford.  The director even parodies himself, taking his trademark use of slo-mo footage and reversing it to speeded-up action for slapstick relief (of which there is plenty).

The Warner Archive Blu-Ray of HOGUE looks and sounds marvelous, in its new 1080p rendition.  Like with RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, Warners has included some terrific extras, including audio commentary by the aforementioned Redman, Seydor, Simmons and Weddle and a dandy featurette, The Ladiest Damn’d Lady: An Afternoon with Actress Stella Stevens.

I play these two pics often as a double feature at the Neuhaus Bijou Palace; it’s a twofer that just gets better with each screening.  LSS, they do what The Movies are supposed to do:  they make me happy.

RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]. 2.0 DTS-HD MA. CAT # 1000642536.  SRP: $21.99.

THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE. Color. Widescreen. [1.78;1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. CAT # 1000642701.  SRP: $21.99.

Available from the Warner Archive Collection: or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.



Synth, You Sinners!

It’s become way too commonplace for us Yanks to swipe great British and Australian television and remake it in our own (diluted) image.  Less so for our friends across the Pond to engage in such dubious behavior.  That said, when they do (as in this case with Scandinavian TV’s 2012 show Akta manniskor), it must be special.  HUMANS, a series that began in 2015 (with SEASONS 1 and 2.0 now available on Blu-Ray from Acorn/RLJ Entertainment/…) is VERY special indeed.

HUMANS, one of the best sci-fi movie/TV endeavors since we glided into the Millennium, takes place in the not-so-distant future; in fact, in a world barely unrecognizable from today.  The new computer-generated rage are Synths, expensive life-sized, beautiful androids programmed to do (mostly) jobs that nobody wants.

Synths provide many functions; they tirelessly perform sanitation duties, nannying (is there such a word?), housecleaning, cooking, pet care, home improvement, chauffeuring, pool cleaning, waiter/waitressing…well, you get it.

Channeling the effects of Synths on a select group of genuinely organic people, HUMANS offers engaging, absolutely believable (if one can fathom that unions would stand for it) narratives that are simultaneously fascinating and frightening.

The Synths, you see, were developed by the 2000s equivalent of the classic mad scientist.  Bemoaning the deaths of his wife and child, Dr. David Elster (Stephen Boxer) managed to create and install their DNA digitally into select laboratory-created models.  Thus, when given the proper prompts, these creatures become hybrid humans…with all the positive and disgusting attributes of the Homo sapien species.  High-brow hybrids think they’re human because the encoded information has been masked, middle-of-the-roads know they are not, but “pass,” and the majority are drones (unknowingly) waiting for their robotic Messiahs to click the switch for rebellion.

The prime humans in this series comprise the Hawkins family.  Laura (Katherine Parkinson) is a lawyer, arguing human rights – a job that takes a bizarre turn once the “change” begins.  Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill), her husband, now in employment turmoil because of Synth-related downsizing naturally holds a grudge; still they acquire Mia, a super-gorgeous housekeeper (the super-gorgeous Gemma Chan, currently on-view to American audiences in Crazy Rich Asians).  Hormonal coming-of-age son Toby (Theo Stevenson) is intrigued and lovesick while super-geek teen daughter Mattie (Lucy Carless) is interested merely for the information that she can glean from the beauteous robotic being.  Toddler Sophie (Pixie Davies) simply gives the newest member of the Hawkins household unconditional love.

But there’s a greater downside to Synth World.  DS Pete Drummond (Neil Maskell), a detective who is, among other things, investigating a ring of Synth bootleggers, has an unfaithful wife (Jill Halfpenny).  Problem is, she’s unfaithful with their Synth.  Yep, you guessed it, a validated Over 18 chip can be inserted for unlimited carnal fantasies come true (a lustful Joe also takes advantage with/of Mia during a particularly depressing day).  Drummond’s partner, DI Karen Voss (Ruth Bradley) has troubles of her own; she’s head-over-heels about Pete.  But Voss has a bigger secret: she’s a hybrid.

Of course, this coital Pandora’s Box opens up an entire new aspect of the sex worker industry:  female and male prostitute Synths, who can deliver the goods and then some.  Bad news here is that the sadists turn out in droves to beat these artificial men and women into bloody mechanical pulps.  One such encounter releases hybrid information in Niska (Emily Berrington), a stunning submissive who decides to give her John a bit extra, and deservedly bashes him to death.  Now on the run, Niska, “passes,” escaping the country and realizing her true feelings veer toward other women.  Soon she is involved with human lover Astrid (Bella Dayne).  Niska’s also the target of an international manhunt (or womanhunt or Synthhunt).

Trying to keep it all together are Leo Elster (Colin Morgan), a hybrid, more human than Synth (and, as one has presumed from his name, the “son” of the format’s creator) and Max (Ivanno Jerimiah), a passionate Synth determined to help free his brothers and sisters, hoping all can live together in harmony with regular humans (the fool!).

Unfortunately, the androids becoming aware of their human traits unleash psycho-Synths, none more prevalent nor predatory than Hester (Sonya Cassidy), a murderous maniac with bone-crushing strength.

Undamaged Synths finding true love and humans devolving into true hate, sets the stage for a 3-In-One Oil and water mix that explodes with an all-out violent uprising.  Additionally tossed into the fray is American scientist Dr. George Millican (William Hurt), a former associate of Elster’s and Dr. Athena Morrow (Carrie-Ann Moss), a cold-hearted genius hired by a ruthless Martin Shkrelli-type pharma billionaire asshole (Danny Webb); Morrow has ulterior motives a la the robots’ inventor:  to transfer her deceased daughter’s saved laptop DNA into a Synth edition.

As one might surmise, HUMANS is pretty incredible stuff, and this lavishly-produced series doesn’t miss a beat. Action, suspense, dark humor, horror and eroticism; this TV gem has it all.

The acting by all is top-notch, and is accentuated by the superb direction (Sam Donovan, Daniel Nettheim, Lewis Arnold, China Moo-Young, Carl Tibbetts, Francesca Gregorini, Mark Brozel), writing (Jonathan Brackley, Sam Vincent, Joe Barton, Emily Ballou, Charlie Covell, Iain Weatherby) and photography (Simon Archer, Stuart Bentley, Urszula Pontikos, David Rom, Sergio Delgado, Andrew McDonell, Ruairi O’Brien, Stephan Pehrsson).  Kudos, too, to the excellent music score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer.

The two seasons of HUMANS (eight episodes each, two discs per set) have been given a luxurious presentation by Acorn Media.  The 1080p High Def widescreen transfers are immaculate and the 5.1 surround is just terrific.  Extras include background featurettes on each season, one running a half hour, the other nearly a full sixty minutes.

It should be noted that HUMANS had been aired here on AMC (who had a hand in the production and distribution), but reportedly in a censored incarnations.  The Acorn Blu-Rays are the fully UNCUT UK versions.

While anxiously waiting for the third season, we viewers can reflect upon the underlying theme of HUMANS: that A.I.-manufactured beings are frequently way more desirable than the real thing – a life lesson that anyone who’s lived past the age of twelve can emphatically understand.

HUMANS, SEASONS 1 & 2.0.  Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/Kudos/Endemol Shine Group/Matador Film.  CAT#s AMP-2466 (Season 1), AMP-2575 (Season 2.0). SRP: $39.99@.