Lie Candy

One of the greatest and strangest noirs ever made, 1949’s CAUGHT, directed by the brilliant Max Ophuls, comes to Blu-Ray in a stunning 1080p edition, thanks to the trench coat-wearing cineastes at Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment.

The plot takes the genre basics (lust, obsession, fear, violence), and frenetically shakes ’em up into a surrealistic cocktail of crazy, replete with a stalker chaser.  Leonora Eames is as beautiful as she is smart, savvy, and compassionate – or so she thinks.  The independent woman is roomies with Maxine, a model who wants to bring her into the fold.  Together, they end up at a charm school that doubles as an agency.  In addition to official gigs, the girls are loaned out for human decor at high society parties.  When the two apartment sharers get a special invite, Maxine licks her lips; this is the snare trap she’s been waiting for – to marry rich.  Leonora is more cautious (“I don’t want to go to a party where I have to look out for myself”).  Nevertheless, she is reluctantly kvetched into attending.

The soiree turns out to underline Leonora’s worst fears – a veritable nest of bullshit artists and sexual predators.  Making a mad dash for the exit, she practically collides with a seemingly male counterpart.  The mysterious fellow escapee strikes up a conversation with the fleeing woman, and soon the pair are thick as thieves. For her, he seems genuine; for him, it’s love at first sight – beauty and brains, something he thought he’d never see.  Unbeknownst to Leonora, she has inadvertently made the superficial catch of a lifetime.  The moody hunk is Smith Ohlrig, a Howard Hughesian millionaire, notorious for his stable of women.  But, for Smith, this time is different (that beauty and brains thing is really gnawing at him).  She, in turn, feels that he has been misjudged by a jealous and vindictive media.  Each is about to commit to a match from hell.

And so they were married…

Wedded bliss lasts about ten seconds after the honeymoon.  Leonora’s position as Mrs. Ohlrig is essentially a paid companion at best, a prisoner at worst.  She appears at male-dominated mansion gatherings, is never asked to speak or express an opinion, and is often (it is implied) violated to salve her spouse’s carnal urges.  Soon, “the girl who has everything” is contemplating suicide (divorce is unthinkable, and, since the place is heavily patrolled/populated by body guards and slimy lackeys, she’d never get away with murder).

Time for Leonora Eames-Ohlrig to think outside the box.

She masterminds a vanishing act that is as ingenious as it is simple via relocation to a tenement (correctly assuming that within Ohlrig’s crowd no one with her access to money would ever even consider such a thing).  Leonora takes a job as a receptionist for two struggling GPs, and excels in people skills far beyond her assimilation goals.  In a matter of weeks, the younger of the two doctors, emigre Larry Quinada, is feeling the urge to merge.

Meanwhile, Smith’s goons and private detectives have been combing the city, and eventually strike pay dirt.  The final confrontation involving this lethal triangle explodes into one lulu of a frenzied climax (oh, and did we mention that Leonora’s pregnant?).

CAUGHT is about the closest thing you’ll ever get to a foreign art house movie made in 1940’s Golden Age Hollywood.  It’s one of those wonderful Enterprise pictures, filmed independently through actor John Garfield’s company, and distributed through (of all places) MGM.  Suffice to say, Louis B. Mayer loathed this movie (as he did with most Enterprise productions), which is, in and of itself, about the highest recommendation I can think of.  Even the cast is unusual.  Barbara bel Geddes, in one of her few leading roles, is amazing as Leonora.  As the sawbones pining for her, James Mason (recently of The Seventh Veil and Odd Man Out) aces Hollywood.  And, as the psychotic Smith Ohlrig, Robert Ryan is simultaneously sympathetic and terrifying; it’s a tailor-made role for the fantastic thespian.  The rest of the cast is tremendous as well, and includes Natalie Schafer (perfect, as the head of the charm school), Frank Ferguson, Curt Bois, Barbara Billingsley, Art Smith and Dorothy Christy.

The other credits are major in all aspects from cinematography (Lee Garmes, Josef von Sternberg’s favorite d.p.) to scripting (Arthur Laurents, screen author of Hitchcock’s Rope and the book to West Side Story; adapting his screenplay from Libbie Block’s novel, Wild Calendar) to scoring (Frederich Hollander).  The movie was produced by Wolfgang Reinhardt, son of the celebrated Max Reinhardt.

Best of all is the aforementioned German-born French director, Max Ophuls (billed as “Opuls”), on a brief working tour of the American motion picture industry.  While only here two short years, he nevertheless made four remarkable movies (CAUGHT was the third) that have yet to be equaled for their inventiveness and long-reaching influence (he would work again with Mason later that year in the fantastic noir The Reckless Moment).

CAUGHT is the film noir that’ll certainly catch you with its modern feminist approach to dealing with sexual harassment and assault that too often gets a pass from the “boy’s club” of the unentitled entitled.  It’s intelligent “deep dish” cinema insidiously disguised (and succeeding) as entertainment.  Besides, how many movies offer (almost) death by pinball machine?

CAUGHT.  Black and white.  Full frame [1.37:1]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Olive Films/Melange Pictures/Paramount Home Entertainment.  CAT # OF790.  SRP: $29.95.

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The Sins of Eire Fathers

Talk about contrasts!  Irish humor is among the most raucous and contagious on the planet; concurrently, their tragedies are the epoch of stark, bleak poetry. Forget about the former, ‘cause you ain’t seeing any of that here!  Two first-rate examples of the latter, however, SINGLE-HANDED: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION and BLOOD, are now on view from the clans at Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/Banijay Rights/Touchpaper/RTE/Virgin Media Television/Element Pictures/All3Media International.  Both center around the negative influence of a thoroughly disreputable patriarch.  Each contains brilliant writing, acting, photography, and direction.  WARNING:  they make Broadchurch look like Are You Being Served?

 

SINGLE-HANDED began as a two-part Irish made-for-TV feature in 2007.  Critical acclaim and large viewership guaranteed a sequel. By 2010, there were five sequels – a harrowing dramatic dissection of the Driscoll family, particularly bad parenting’s devastating effect upon protagonist Jack.  He’s essentially a good guy, so the cards are immediately stacked against him.

Jack is smart, rising young officer in the Irish Garda (the police); much to his chagrin, his deserved promotion to sergeant has a caveat: he is transferred back to Connemara, the hated picturesque village of his birth.  Following in the position previously held by his dad (or Dadai, in Gaelic), Driscoll morally excels as he is the one NOT seething with corruption.  Gerry, Jack’s terrible retired father, still holds a firm grip on “his” town, including likewise retired cronies/associates, who now run illegal businesses behind the deceptive fronts of taverns, country clubs and real estate developments.

There are no coincidences as Driscoll soon discovers, and his transfer was part of an unofficial plot to keep the family concern going.  His refusal to do so causes an eruption of corruption among his thieving coworkers (yeah, cops), the locals, and, natch, his parents.  Jack’s psychological damage, accrued through years of mental abuse, takes its toll, especially on his string of unsuccessful love affairs with a number of smart women who valiantly fail to bring him out of the darkness.

Even’s his pater’s death (in a car accident) halfway through the saga doesn’t lighten the load, as the deceased’s influence permeates the remainder of the episodes.

A sliver of light comes when he finally meets Gemma (Simone Lahbib), the woman of his dreams; only prob is that she’s the live-in girlfriend of his long-lost cousin Brian (Matthew McNulty), another abused family member living in the shadows of a weak father (the great Stephen Rea) ruined by Jack’s dad.  If Driscoll manages to fight his inner demons and make a go of it with Gemma, then all he’ll have to contend with are his dad’s ex-mates, who run the vicinity’s drug cartels and teen prostitution rings.  Great life, eh?

As indicated, SINGLE-HANDED is wonderfully acted, scripted (Barry Simmer, Rob Pursey, Colin Teevan, Clive Bradley), photographed (Darran Tiernan) and directed (Colm McCarthy, Anthony Byrne, Thaddeus O’Sullivan, and the unfortunately named Charlie McCarthy).  A churning score by Niall Byrne appends the other expert credits.  Lead Owen McDonnell must be singled out, but also Ian McElhinney (as his shady pop), Ruth McCabe (as his mum) David Herlihy, and Sean McGinley.  Lahbib as the conflicted Gemma is terrific as well. The half-dozen feature-length mysteries, spanning between 2007-2010, are assembled on a 6-DVD set.  You kinda want to know what happens after the final installment’s fade-out, but are sort of glad you don’t.

 

2018’s BLOOD tells of another ex-pat returning to family roots.  Generally content Cat Hogan (Carolina Main), despite a slight drinking jones, braces herself to return to her small Irish village from London to attend her mother’s funeral.  From there on, its life as she remembers it:  pure shite!

Her domineering father Jim (lead Adrian Dunbar) rules over her gay brother Michael and icy sister Fiona with an iron fist (Fiona makes Mrs. Danvers look like Golda Meir).  Jim Hogan is the village’s “beloved” doctor, and a pillar of the community.  Not so hard a task for a conniver when said community is purgatory cloaked in a shamrock.  Nevertheless, Cat prevails, as she loved her mum and brother (and tolerated the rest).  But the grim reunion quickly takes a turn for the worse.

A little investigating leads Cat to believe that her terminally ill mother’s demise (drowning in their family pond) wasn’t normal.  In fact, it was murder – and likely committed by her father.  The revelation that her remaining parent is carrying on with his young receptionist adds fuel to the fire that uncovers a labyrinth of secrets, lies, blackmail, suicide and pedophilia.

Cat’s attempts to escape are tantamount to one of those horror movies where people are trapped in a cursed environ that functions as a portal to hell.  There’s a mass conspiracy involving the local constabulary, Cat’s childhood friend, and even her trusted brother; it’s a bad dream she desperately wants to wake up from.

BLOOD is chillingly written (by series creator Sophia Petzal), directed (Lisa Mulcahy, Hannah Quinn), and marvelously performed by a fantastic cast, specifically the aforementioned Dunbar and Main (as father and daughter Hogans), plus Diarmuid Noyes (as Michael), Gainne Keenan (as Fiona), and Ingrid Craigie, Fiona Bell, Sean Duggan, Mark O’Regan, and Cillian O’Gairbhi.  The 1080p widescreen photography by Kate McCullough) is contradictory – natural beauty hiding a festering evil.  A tingling score by Ray Harman helps set the unnerving mood.

The Acorn six-episode two-Blu-Ray set looks and sounds great.  Like the SINGLE-HANDED DVDs, the collection is housed in a slipcover.  Unlike the former, BLOOD contains interviews with cast and crew and a behind-the-scenes featurette.  If you’re into sinister, tense thrillers with an extra dose of creepy, BLOOD should send your pulse pounding.

SINGLE-HANDED: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 5.1 stereo-surround.  Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/Banijay Rights/Touchpaper/RTE.  CAT # AMP-2701. SRP: $64.95.

BLOOD. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/Virgin Media Television/Element Pictures/All3Media.  CAT # AMP-2715.  SRP: $39.95.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depth Perfection

Not surprisingly, 2015’s Flicker Alley/3-D Film Archive release, 3-D Rarities, quickly became one of my top discs of that year.  I still marvel at the 1920’s Kelley’s Plasticon Pictures’ anaglyph newsreels.  Of course, I fantasized about additional volumes, and recently, thanks to the two companies’ continuing partnership, it has come to pass.  At long last, after five years, here, in full stereoscopic glory, is 3-D RARITIES II; it’s certainly 2020’s must-have platter for Third Dimension fans and collectors.

As the text states on the jacket, this ensemble is a diverse sample of “ultra rare and stunningly restored 3-D films.”  They ain’t kidding.  From an erudite use of the process via Raymond Spottiswoode’s classy 1951 ballet piece The Black Swan to the trailer for the loopy (and lupe-y) 1968 horror schtick, Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, RARITIES II literally has something for everyone.

The aforementioned Black Swan is, quite succinctly, a posh demo of how artistically the process can be used.  Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror goes to the opposite extreme.  A Spanish-West German co-production, the movie was astoundingly shot in 3-D, 70MM and stereophonic sound.  Cut by American schlockmeister Sam Sherman for distribution here in 1972, the pic was also retitled (originally La Marca del Hombre Lobo, or Mark of the Wolfman); Frankenstein, BTW, appears nowhere EXCEPT in the title.  The movie starred (and was scripted by) Paul Naschy, who splattered his way through a number of late Sixties/early Seventies grindhouse horror pics.  Apparently, a fairly intact version of this feature now exists in 3-D (love to see/own that!); until then, this trailer will suffice (maybe its better that way).  Speaking of “Coming Attractions only,” there’s another wonderful 3-D one for 1983’s The 3-D Movie, a sort of That’s Entertainment for third dimension cinema; sadly, it was never completed, and the tantalizing trailer is all that remains.

Two lengthy examples of our mid-century fascination with 3-D still photography are given the A-plus treatment, via Hillary Hess’s Mid-Century Memories in Kodachrome Stereo, and, a collection containing many (of literally thousands) of chrome photos shot by format aficionado Harold Lloyd (yep, that hanging-from-the-clock silent comedian dude; celebrities really got into the process, Fred Astaire was another big 3-D fan/photographer).  The montage is narrated by his granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd Hayes, who (as a child) also appears in several of the shots, snapped in settings from all over the world.  The images transcend mere in-your-face visuals; they are inventive, clever and fun.  Wonder if Lloyd ever toyed with the idea of a 3-D feature (or perhaps special sequences), back in the Twenties/early Thirties?  Note to self:  if ever you meet Ms. Hayes, ask!

Two Holy Grail titles for Third Dimension connoisseurs are included as well, one a short – the other a feature.

1953’s A Day in the Country has long been on my 3-D Want List.  As often is the case, my idea as to its content and origins was totally wrong; nevertheless, it’s a fascinating evolutionary tale.  I had surmised that the two-reeler was a color travelogue, done post-Bwana Devil to cash in on America’s brief, wildly popular love affair with 3-D, (replete with humorous narration).  Nope.  The short subject was actually shot in red/green anaglyph in 1940, perhaps in competition with Pete Smith’s more renowned MGM 3-D hoot Third Dimensional Murder.  The movie comprises a melange of low-jinks “comedy,” filmed silent with wacky commentary by an up-and-coming comedian named Joe Besser.  Besser, a superb comic character actor (“Stinky” on The Abbott and Costello Show, and a later post-Shemp third Stooge) had an instantly recognizable voice, but not so notably here.  This is REALLY early stuff.  A Day in the Country was rescued from the vault by Lippert Pictures, and was recycled to cash in on the 1950’s 3-D craze.  While it isn’t what I expected, it’s still a title that I’m thrilled to have access to, and a good primer to a Coming-At-Ya night at the Movies.

The 3-D RARITIES II piece de resistance is undoubtedly the discovery and restoration of 1953’s El Corazon y la Espada (aka, The Sword of Granada), the first Mexican 3-D motion picture.  The movie pulled out all the stops, casting Cesar Romero as its lead, costarred with Katy Jurado, along with such other Latin attractions as Miguel Ferriz, Rebecca Iturbide, Tito Junco, Victor Alcocer, Fernando Casanova (possibly, one of my relatives), and Gloria Mestre.

Corazon is a black-and-white 80-minute costume epic, about treachery, torture and rebellion in the corrupt royal court.  It’s similar to the Technicolor backlot stuff routinely being churned out at the time by Universal-International, Columbia and RKO.  Jurado’s character is the most interesting, a sexy swashbuckler (ridiculously constantly confused as a boy) with a fiery temper and a growing lust for adventurer/hero Romero. Her role is often reminiscent of the part Maureen O’Hara played in At Sword’s Point (made by RKO the previous year) The picture did get an American release in 1956, and, even in 3-D (when the process was already well past its dying down phase).  Flat, this pic would be of only marginal interest, but in 3-D, with scenes framed by director Carlos Vejar Hijo (and American Edward Dein, who was called in to assist) and d.p. Enrique Wallace, Corazon does pop.  The monochrome images are atmospherically lit and audibly appended by a score from composer Antonio Diaz Conde.  Corazon is accessible via the original Mexican track (w/English subtitles) or the Anglo dub, prepared for the U.S. and the UK.  Trust me, go with the Spanish track, as the English dubbing is Mystery Science Theater awful (unless that kind of stuff is your wont)!  The print quality is outstanding, and another worthy notch for Flicker Alley, the 3-D Film Archive and third dimension collector’s shelves.

Extras on 3-D RARITIES II include music for the chrome montages by Joey Tiberio, audio commentary on Black Swan and Corazon by stereoscopic scholars Mike Ballew and Dr. Robert J. Kiss, and a beautifully illustrated souvenir booklet.  Here’s hoping for Volume Three!

3-D RARITIES II.  Black and white/Color. Full frame and widescreen [1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Flicker Alley/3-D Film Archive.  CAT # FA0069.  SRP: $39.95.

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Killing Time

One of the best of the 1940’s Paramount noirs, 1948’s THE BIG CLOCK, directed by John Farrow and costarring Ray Milland and Charles Laughton, gets a dynamite 1080p High Def transfer, thanks to the noiristas at Arrow Video/MVDvisual/Universal Pictures.

An authentically unique thriller, THE BIG CLOCK was based on a novel by poet Kenneth Fearing.  The idea of a poet delving into noir is not only a perfect marriage, but concurrently asks “What took this dark turn so long?” and “Why hasn’t it been done more often?”  Indeed, thanks to genre specialist screenwriter Jonathan Latimer (with uncredited assist from Harold Goldman), CLOCK retains much of its sinister strangeness that permeated the Fearing sourcework.  The characters’ names alone are bizarre reminders that this isn’t going to be your standard shadow box epic.  The main protagonist is George, his wife is Georgette and their son (who’d have seen this coming?), George, Jr.  The uninspired christening doesn’t detract from the fact that George and Georgette are a smart, perceptive couple – a match so integral to the twists and spirals of this complicated suspense ride.

To be clear, the aforementioned Gs are experiencing some trouble-in-paradise marriage probs, due to George’s boss constantly pulling him away from domestic bliss and into extracurricular activities at the magazine where he is employed.  George was a top journalist for a West Virginia newspaper, lured to the big city of New York to edit Crimeways, a sleuthing publication, devoted to real-life cases.  Crimeways is part of an empire, owned and fastidiously operated by the fetish-fueled sociopathic mind of founder Earl Janoth.  Janoth is an uncaring, arrogant monster who rules his mag domain (housed in a mammoth-Janoth Manhattan office building) like a mad king.  Crimeways is only one floor of an ongoing library of periodicals, weeklies and monthlies covering all aspects of 1940’s living: Newsways, Futureways…you get it.

Janoth’s proudest achievement is his commissioning a humongous clock for the gargantuan lobby – an imposing timepiece that can efficiently chronicle the correct global 24-hour cycles within a half-second.  Should it ever go off, the handler is fired.  Should Janoth ever go off, the result is murder.

During an early, prickly NYC summer, Earl Janoth goes off.

On a particular steamy night, model Pauline York, the magnate’s longtime mistress, having had enough of a walking-on-eggshell relationship, lets loose, chides her lover’s girth – then his limited lovemaking skills; she is bashed to death for her honesty.  Earlier, York had encountered George at a posh Eastside bar; George was drowning his sorrows, as yet another long-planned vacation with his family has been once again deep-sixed by his employer’s demands.  Neither knows that each is acquainted with Janoth.  Now one is dead, and the other is a nameless suspect seen talking with her in a popular watering hole.

Janoth manipulates the “mystery man” info into a company contest, goading George to make Crimeways hunt and capture the murderer.  George reluctantly acquiesces, sprinkling false clues away from himself before inching closer to the truth – and the real killer.  The cat-and-mouse politics become incredibly tense as the passions heat up between George’s smart coworkers (who, too, are capable of eventually fingering their immediate editor-boss…and/or the overall BIG boss).  These include Steve Hagen, Janoth’s gay right-hand toady (albeit a calculatingly erudite one), savvy writers Klausmeyer, Nat, Lily, Bert and Sid, a strange androgynous bodyguard Bill, and eventually even Georgette who cuts her interrupted marriage spat short and heads toward George’s office for a lip-biting final act.  Key to this mystery, too, is the eccentric avant-garde artist, Patterson, a freakish single mom of a brood of illegitimate sprouts, sired from different paramours – whose paintings both George and the late Pauline admired.

It all tightens to the breaking point like an over-wound mainspring for a genuinely breathtaking climax that indeed does involve the big clock.

THE BIG CLOCK was directed with great panache by the talented John Farrow, who worked quite well with Milland (one really needs to check out their horror-noir Alias Nick Beal, hopefully available at some juncture on Blu-Ray).  True to the noir world, the movie contains some terrific camera acrobatics, great use of long takes and an amazing tracking Expressionistic opening miniature/live-action hybrid. CLOCK was practically a family affair with Farrow directing wife Maureen O’Sullivan (as Georgette) and with Janoth and Patterson, portrayed by husband-and-wife duo Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, the latter in one of her finest roles (still don’t know how Paramount evaded the censors with bits about her character’s lifestyle).  Other stellar cast members include the great George Macready (as Hagen), Rita Johnson as Pauline (a nice change from the harpy she played opposite Milland in Wilder’s Major and the Minor, also available from Arrow), plus Harry Morgan, Harold Vermilyea, Richard Webb, Frank Orth, Douglas Spencer, Luis Van Rooten, Elaine Riley, Margaret Field, Phil Van Zandt, Harry Rosenthal, James Burke, Theresa Harris, and Lloyd Corrigan (who, without revealing anything more, gets the last laugh).

Arrow’s new High Def transfer of THE BIG CLOCK is the best I’ve ever seen, and shimmers with 35MM detail and excellent contrast, showcasing John Seitz’s and Daniel L. Fapp’s superb moody monochrome photography.  An excellent Victor Young score compliments the proceedings on the pic’s mono track.

Arrow always gives collectors bang for their buck, and THE BIG CLOCK is no exception.  Extras on the platter include a 1948 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast edition, also featuring Milland, a filmed appreciation of Charles Laughton’s performance as Janoth by Simon Callow, the trailer and  promotional materials, audio commentary by Adrian Martin, and Turning Back the Clock, a new documentary on the pic by British critic Adrian Wootton.

A must for every noir library, THE BIG CLOCK never ceases to deliver (dare I say) time and time again.

THE BIG CLOCK.  Black and white.  Full frame [1.33:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 PCM MA.  Arrow Video/MVDvisual/Universal Pictures. CAT # AA047.  SRP: $39.95.

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