JUNE IS TWILIGHT TIME MONTH
A sad note before we begin this review/article – perhaps the saddest home video news of 2020. Twilight Time, the great Blu-Ray friend to classic movie collectors, is closing their doors after a magnificent near-decade run. Rather than moan and and weep platitudes, I want to partially post the email company co-founder Brian Jamieson sent to me and other reviewers. It says it all.
“After nine years of successful operations in which 380 motion pictures from the 1930s to the 2010s have been released on DVD and Blu-Ray disc, the home video label Twilight Time…will not release any further titles and we will be winding down operations this summer. A changing market, the rising costs of title acquisitions and the passing of longtime partner and company spokesman Nick Redman, are the key factors for the closure.
“…TwilightTimeMovies.com will continue to sell titles while available through June 30th, at which time they and Twilight Time will cease operations.
“Remaining inventory will be acquired and distributed exclusively by Screen Archives Entertainment – effective July 1st 2020.”
To pay homage to Twilight Time, I will be devoting all of June to the company, choosing some of the most diverse titles I could think of, and from a handful of the many different distributors Twilight had the pleasure of working with. Even though they will be no more, a smattering of their fine transfers will, undoubtedly, occasionally pop up from various collectors and dealers across the Net. These rare gems should not be missed. In addition, every so often, I will pick a Twilight Time title (as yet not covered by Supervistaramacolorscope) and give it a chance to breathe. All are fine movies, and deserve coverage. Who knows? They may give you the impetus to seek and find. Meantime, head toward Screen Archives Entertainment, and build your Twilight libraries en masse…while supplies last.
The above title of this piece represents a supplemental dissolve-logo card on almost every Fox title between 1953-1967. To see those words on a rectangular screen, with Alfred Newman’s great appended 20th fanfare in accompaniment, always gave me a rush. I love CinemaScope, particularly early anamorphic flicks.
To celebrate the words that had me skedaddling toward my local hardtops throughout those years, I’ve chosen a theme close to the hearts of Zanuck and the gang: illicit sex in the burbs (already covered here a couple of years ago; see Shagging in the Crabgrass); while one stretches the real estate to cover hilltop Honolulu, the overall subject matter remains a lulu regardless. The movies in question helped knock the censorship code to the ground, and then merrily proceeded to kick it in the gut. Yay! All four movies, of course, are in scope – three in color and stereophonic sound (with options to access the tracks in either 5.1 or 2.0). Each represents grand (albeit risqué) 1950’s entertainment at its cinematic peak. So, grab a handful of rubbers, and let’s go!
Jack Warner once infamously told director Raoul Walsh that his idea of a tender romance is when the local whorehouse burns down. In Walsh’s 1956 sordid drama THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER, it doesn’t quite burn down, but is under attack during Pearl Harbor. Close enough.
A sure thing for Fox, MAMIE, based on a bestselling novel by William Bradord Huie (screenplay by Sydney Boehm), tread familiar big box-office territory of the blockbuster From Here to Eternity. Same time frame, same locale, same “hostess” cupcakes. Yep, it’s a brothel, but Hollywood still went the gentleman’s club route, where you get to dance and talk to…“hostesses.” Weird, as MAMIE arrived a year after Walsh’s Battle Cry, which made no such polite distinction; however, 1956 “adult” audiences were savvier than Gene Autry’s, of whom the B-movie cowboy brilliantly quipped, “My fans think the dance halls girls really dance!” Strangely enough, even with the “clean-up,” the MAMIE managed to get banned in some U.S. cities. Maybe it’s her aggressive nature…
As the pic opens, Mamie Stover is tossed out of Frisco on a morals charge, and shipped off to Honolulu. It’s 1941, and the place is rife with American soldiers who flock to The Bungalow, a “specialty” club. Mamie has a BBF grass skirt gal pal, Gladys, who’s like something left-over from the pre-Code days. Gladys gets her a Bunglaow gig, Mamie dyes her hair red (creating the tag “Flaming Mamie”), and becomes the whore du jour.
Nevertheless, on the steamship from the mainland, she meets Jim Blair, a hunky good guy who offers to help the damsel in distress. Jim-boy’s a famous writer, who just inked a deal with Hollywood – so he’s got plenty of dough. This particularly gets a rise out of Ms. Stover, and, before you can say “Shiver me timbers,” the shipboard friendship turns into a “fire in the hold!,” much to each lover’s chagrin (she wants no commitments; he’s got a beautiful steady socialite girlfriend)
Mamie’s unscrupulous lust for money bests her lust for honey, and soon she’s using her ill-gotten gains to acquire real estate cheap, post-Pearl Harbor. Stover’s greed even eclipses that of The Bungalow’s Madam (Agnes Moorehead) and Harry, the joint’s psycho henchman (Michael Pate), who, as a sideline, enjoys thrashing the women who misbehave.
Mamie, like George Amberson Minafer, soon gets her comeuppance, and, since it’s 1956 America, returns to San Fran a financially poorer but spiritually richer hooker (off to see Daddy in the Deep South). Fer Sadie Thompson Christ sakes!
THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER is a fun, trashy opus, beautifully produced and lushly photographed partially on-location by Leo Tover. Walsh, obviously having a blast, directs his cast, especially star Jane Russell (with whom he had a previous great working relationship a year earlier on The Tall Men, another Walsh/Fox/CinemaScope classic), with great aplomb. Male lead Richard Egan does what he does best, grins his white bumper grill of approximately 238 teeth. Frankly, the promoted robust pair make quite a couple. And so do Russell and Egan. Dick gets to remove his shirt, Jane cavorts in a skintight swimsuit, and eventually, they display geometrically what CinemaScope was made for. The two thesps genuinely set off sparks, and had previously collided on John Sturges’ 1955 pic Underwater! Russell, in later years, cooed that no one looked better than Richard Egan, indicating that the attraction on-view wasn’t just acting.
The supporting cast is wonderful, and features Joan Leslie (in her last feature pic), Alan Reed, Eddie Firestone, Jorja Cartwright, Margia Dean, Richard Coogan, Sally Todd and Hugh Beaumont. The aforementioned cinematography is fantastic, nicely using the scope process and Hawaiian backdrops. Thumbs up again to Leo Tover. The score by maestro Hugo Friedhofer is one that had me humming more than the gals at The Bungalow (and, as with most Twilight Time titles, is available as an IST). The crystal-clear ebullient colors really pop in this grand 1080p transfer (a far cry from a beet-red faded 35MM scope print I saw many moons ago). Hey, Mamie, you go, girl!
In a pair of extremely adult-themed dramas, writer-turned-director Philip Dunne crafts an admirable look at suburban sirens and suburban siren calls with 1956’s HILDA CRANE and 1958’s TEN NORTH FREDERICK.
CRANE gives the underrated Jean Simmons one of her best starring roles, as a liberated Eisenhower Era femme fatale – in essence, a human contradiction of terms. Escaping from her bigoted, hypocritical small town of Winona, Hilda heads for Sin City, aka Manhattan, where her exploits keep the frigid townsfolk back home a-percolating for years. Hilda is a high IQ, sexually adventurous and business savvy curious woman, who had the misfortune to be born at the wrong time. Her return to the fold, after two failed marriages, a succession of lovers and the rather rude caveat that she was asked not-so-politely to leave her last place of employment doesn’t bode well for the burg’s favorite notorious walk of shame lass. This particularly affects her loving but ashamed mother, who practically freezes stalagmites every time Hilda brings up sex. And sex is what Ms. Crane craves, much to the delight/shock of her supposed freethinking best friend couple (who ultimately fail on both counts). Soon, Hilda’s cozying up to old boyfriend, beefcake Russell Burns (Guy Madison), a po’ boy made rich via his burgeoning construction company. A nice guy, Burns’ prob isn’t just the fact that he’s a bore, but has a monstrous mother – a former hamburger flipper, who’s out to ruin Hilda any way she can. That’s okay, ’cause canny Crane has a backup lover, her sleazy, but sophisticated ex-college professor, who has the extra lure of being French (Jean-Pierre Aumont). Professor Jacques de Strappe (okay, De Lisle) is frantic for Hilda – as he can’t get their gyrating past lovemaking out of his soul (even after screwing all the subsequent coeds, none of who can ever take Hil’s place).
Knowing a cheater way too well, Hilda boots Professor Penis to the curve (he quits the Halls of Ivy and flees to New York to write a bestselling sex novel), and settles for comfortable Russell. Rusty’s Mommy Vicious says over her deceased body – and backs up her threat by dropping dead on cue. Shattered, Burns eschews the couple’s plans for a worldwide honeymoon, a co-designed dream house and any chance at happiness the duo anticipated. They move into his digs, presided over by a hideous portrait of mother, which has the additional unappreciated effect of making Russ impotent.
Being a 1950’s movie, it does seem to cop out a bit at the end, but there’s enough disgraceful behavior to keep modern viewers interested. Dunne does his Sirkiest to tell Hilda’s tale; he also scripted the movie, which is based on a play by Lubitsch’s favorite writer Samson Raphaelson (I haven’t read the original, but suspect it ends quite differently). The lavish CinemaScope cinematography is fantastic, one of Joe MacDonald’s finest anamorphic efforts (with the rare Fox mid-Fifties credit, Print by Technicolor – it certainly looks it). A nice music score by David Raksin adds the finishing touch to this drama that also features Judith Evelyn (as Hilda’s mom), Evelyn Varden (as Monster Mom), Peggy Knudsen, Gregg Palmer, Richard Garrick, Blossom Rock, and Herb Vigran. Aside from the trailer, an A&E Biography on Simmons is also included as a supplement.
1958’s 10 NORTH FREDERICK, containing another script by director Dunne, is based on the John O’Hara novel – which should already have horndogs a-scratchin.’ It takes place in the author’s famed looks-are-deceiving town of Gibbsville, PA – a viper’s nest of hypocrisy and scumbaggery.
Stalwart middle-aged Joseph Chapin (Gary Cooper, in an excellent late career performance), despite being an attorney, strives to always do the right thing. It’s tough what with his being married to Edith, an unfaithful social-climbing harpy (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who emasculates Joe whenever she can (and that’s 24/7). She pushes the mook into politics, having him come into contact with sleazoid campaign managers, governors and other human anal warts who bleed him dry financially and then make a move on his integrity. The bad marriage has also taken a toll on his two grown children, Jody (Ray Stricklyn) – an amateur jazz musician/professional drunk, who’s dream of attending Julliard is ruined by Edith and liberal hot-to-trot Ann, who is so radical she becomes pregnant by a married Big Band trumpet player (like MAMIE STOVER and PEYTON PLACE, much of the narrative takes place in 1941, damn, that was a rapacious year!). Unfortunately, since this is a 1950’s movie, Ann has two choices: lose the baby or die in some fall down a stairway/traffic accident/open manhole, etc. Since its Diane Varsi, fresh from PEYTON PLACE, we want her to live – so, hurray, she has a miscarriage.
After being humiliated in politics (briefly flirting with a run for the WH), Joe decides to visit The Big Apple, where Ann now resides with a gorgeous roommate, Kate Drummond, the daughter of one of the elder Chapin’s old college classmates. Before you can say “barely legal,” the pair are panting, grunting and coupling up like the caboose and the stock car in the B & O rail yard.
Unlike HILDA CRANE, 10 NORTH FREDERICK ends tragically for Chapin, and bittersweetly for Ann and Kate. It does end well for viewers, who will be royally entertained by the proceedings, exquisitely shot in black-and-white CinemaScope (by Joe MacDonald) and with a wonderful soundtrack by Leigh Harline. The supporting cast is A-1, and includes Stuart Whitman (as the defiler of Ann), Philip Ober, Tom Tully, John Emery, and last but not least, the always-marvy Barbara Nichols as the hypocrites, adulterers, skanks and alcoholics.
A Hallmark Card from hell, or, as a character correctly dubs the burg, a town where “everyone hides behind plain wrappers,” 1957’s PEYTON PLACE (yeah, we’re going back one year chronologically) is the blockbuster that seemed tailor-made for carnal-carnage-obsessed Fox (the pic would become a cottage industry for the studio, siring a sequel and a top-rated 1964 TV series). Based on a fantastically successful bestseller by Grace Metalious, PEYTON PLACE was rivalled in box-office only by the ringing coffers whistling the “Colonel Bogey March” in Bridge on the River Kwai. Truly, there was no reason why this scandalous rip-the-mask-off pic WOULDN’T do phenomenally. It has it all: whores, drunks, illegitimacy, conniving old money predators, petting parties, frigidity, sex ed, rape, incest, suicide and murder. How could it miss? It’s so America!
Peyton Place is a picturesque New England town that everyone wishes they lived in – until they actually live there. The movie opens with Michael Rossi (Lee Philips) a progressive educator from the big city (Philadelphia) arriving to take over the high school. His misogynistic appointment pushes out the beloved elderly spinster schoolteacher (Mildred Dunnock), who apparently taught George Washington the proper way to row a boat across the Delaware. But Rossi’s sooooo into modern academia (aka, the dreaded sex education) that he immediately becomes popular. This enrages single mom Constance MacKenzie, who worries her curious teen daughter Allison will go too far south below the border (and she ain’t talking about a trip to Mexico). It’s merely a matter of reels before the two become lovers (Michael and Constance, not Constance and Allison).
Then, there’s that nasty skirmish called World War II that takes away the plethora of the hamlet’s men, many never to return. Not to worry, none of this gets in the way of the doing-the-nasty prerequisite for becoming a local citizen. This is especially true with main character Allison, an aspiring writer who has penned a tell-all novel about the large outbreak of cushion-pushin’, past and present. She thinks she’s okay, ’cause she changed the names. What Allison discovers about mommy rocks even her world.
The movie, practically an epic, runs over two and a half hours. Fret not, as it moves fairly quickly, thanks to the large and exceptional cast, led by Lana Turner, Lloyd Nolan, Arthur Kennedy, Betty Field, Barry Coe, Terry Moore, Russ Tamblyn, Leon Ames, David Nelson and Lorne Greene. Diane Varsi, mentioned above, is really good in her debut, and Hope Lange surprised everyone with her portrayal as Allison’s BFF Selena Cross (after a less-than-impressive appearance in The True Story of Jesse James), even garnering an Oscar nomination (one of nine the pic received, including nods to Turner, Varsi, and Kennedy). Turner reaped the most rewards from the movie. Like Gary Cooper in 10 NORTH FREDERICK, the veteran actress defiantly played her age; having been dumped from her home studio (MGM) several years earlier, Ms. T made the comeback of all-time. Her role in PEYTON PLACE permanently assured staying power in the industry, starring in A-pictures (usually glossy romances) throughout the 1960s. It didn’t hurt that the Lana’s participation in this naughty pic coincided with the actress’s sopping soiled laundry being splashed across the tabloids when her real-life teenage daughter killed mummy’s lover – the added attraction being that the victim was Johnny Stompanato, an abusive mobster. It was as if two subplots of PEYTON PLACE merged; indeed, the timing was almost too perfect, and prompted many wags to tip their hats to Fox’s great publicity department.
PEYTON PLACE has great credits behind-the-camera as well. The gorgeous CinemaScope pic was shot by William C. Mellor, the instantly recognizable iconic score was composed by Franz Waxman, and the screenplay (that often seemed parodic in order to get the rawest parts across in Ozzie and Harriet speak) was written by John Michael Hayes, late of the Alfred Hitchcock screenwriting division (Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much). The movie, aside from pouring money into cash registers globally, received a multitude of critical acclaim and awards (in addition to the aforementioned Oscar nods, the flick also received Academy noms for Hayes, Mellor, Tamblyn, director Mark Robson and producer Jerry Wald).
I really do have to hand it to the cast, especially the young ‘uns, as I never realized how very good they were until seeing this recent Blu-Ray. Varsi, Lange, Tamblyn, Moore and Coe effectively pull off the New England accents without spilling into the lethal trap of a Pepperidge Farm commercial. And further kudos to Ms. Varsi and director Robson, who forever quelled any doubt that Allison was Metalious in a scene where the jeans-and-flannel-shirt bohemian-garbed MacKenzie, pounds out her novel on a typewriter. It essentially mirrors the famed back book jacket shot of the author that today would probably be her TL profile snap.
The Twilight Time Blu-Ray of PEYTON PLACE is the best rendition you’ll probably ever see. It looks sensational in 1080p clarity and restored DeLuxe Color and with theatre sound stereo tracks. A number of cool extras accompany the platter, and are worth noting. They include audio commentary by film historian Willard Carroll, plus additional commentary by Terry Moore and Russ Tamblyn, a Hollywood Backstories episode on PEYTON PLACE, and a location documentary special. If you’re into being ravished and/or scandalized, this is the perfect social distancing vacation spot for you!
All Blu-Rays in 2.35:1 1080p widescreen. Twilight Time/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment. SRP: $29.95@.
THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER. Color. 5.1 or 2.0 DTS-HA MA.
HILDA CRANE. Color. 5.1 or 2.0 DTS-HD MA.
10 NORTH FREDERICK. Black and White. 2.0 DTS-HD MA.
PEYTON PLACE. Color. 5.1 or 2.0 DTS-HD MA.