“Oh, those midgets…”

JULY IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

It’s always a treat to discover a movie once it’s released on Blu-Ray; that said, it’s likewise a kick to re-discover one when it debuts in the format. I offer as Exhibit A the 3000-limited Edition B-D of the 1963 musical-comedy BYE, BYE BIRDIE, available on the Twilight Time/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment label.

Adapted from the smash Broadway Michael Stewart (book)/Charles Strouse/Lee Adams (music and lyrics) hit, the show “made” star Dick Van Dyke. The movie, with a truly funny script by veteran scribe Irving Brecher (Meet Me in St. Louis, the Dobie Gillis TV series) and in the more-than-capable hands of George Sidney (who made such memorable entries as Anchors Aweigh, The Harvey Girls, Scaramouche, Show Boat, Kiss Me Kate, Pal Joey, Who Was That Lady?) fully grasps the filmic possibilities of the narrative, “opening up” the cinematic Panavisioned-framed door, via the virtuosity of d.p. Joseph Biroc (utilizing a myriad of movement, inventive angles and even animation). Whew, that was a lot to say!

With a first-rate cast, a songbook of show-stopping tunes and a can’t-miss plot, BIRDIE is a win/win proposition from the amazing fade-in of smoldering teen/woman Ann-Margret winking, pouting and gyrating herself into orgasmic frenzy (and all male viewers into jail-bait fantasy hell).

For young women, the moral compass of BYE BYE BIRDIE is a double-edged sword: A) rock ‘n’ roll will open up a new world of fun, freedom and endless good times; and B) you’ll probably become a prostitute.

Ann-Margret was an inspired choice to play the small-town cutie selected to kiss rock star Conrad Birdie on The Ed Sullivan Show; it’s all a publicist’s dream bon voyage stunt, chronicling Birdie’s temporary swan song to stardom, thanks to his induction into the military. Yup, it’s the Elvis Presley predicament spearheading this dilemma – one that had real-life 45 RPM mavens reaching for .45 caliber replacements. It’s a storyline so satire-ready that if it hadn’t actually happened, to quote the wags, “ya couldn’t have made it up!”

More than Van Dyke, celluloid BYE, BYE BIRDIE propelled Ann-Margret into the entertainment stratosphere. Prior to this movie, she was a demure singer (albeit it a fetching one), who made her show biz debut on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. Shortly thereafter, she became the protégé of George Burns, appearing with him in Vegas, and turning up on pal Jack Benny’s classic TV series. A-M then played goody-two-shoes eye candy in Frank Capra’s 1961 remake of Lady for a Day, Pocketful of Miracles, as the proper (translation: boring) daughter of Bette Davis.

It took the sweaty palms of Sidney to ultimately unleash the carnal beast – a determined tigress who morphs from girl to woman in an early BIRDIE number “How Lucky to be a Woman,” (supposedly) dressing down tomboy style in her bedroom (it kinda reminded me of Nancy Kwan’s far more in-your-face rendition of “I Enjoy Being a Girl” in Flower Drum Song). Credulously, throughout the Sixties, I thought that this was what all females did to excite themselves: retreat to their boudoirs and sing about luring men to their doom whilst putting on/taking off underwear. Kwan, Ann-Margret and an array of Hammer actresses provided enough collateral damage to last me nearly a decade.

Don’t take my word for it, check out reports of director Sidney, who, as with Kim Novak (in Jeanne Eagels and Pal Joey) became perilously obsessed with Ann-Margret during the production. This might well-account for the movie’s (aforementioned) opening and closing bumpers, the unbridled sexuality released during A-M’s dry hump dancing exhibitions comprising a catalog of come-hither expressions and effortless seduction techniques that would make Marlene Dietrich and Gloria Grahame gasp in horror. Within two years, Ann-Margret would be starring in such sensational titles as Kitten with a Whip, Bus Riley’s Back in Town, The Swinger and The Cincinnati Kid (relegating blonde pretty poison costar Tuesday Weld to good-girl status, a near-impossible feat). Sidney, so enamored of his star, agreed to return to his alma mater, MGM, to cast her opposite the real Birdie, Elvis hisself, in 1964’s Viva Las Vegas, generally considered the best of the 1960s Presley Metro pics, and packed with more on-screen teen movie chemistry than the Manhattan Project. “That Go-Go Guy and That Bye Bye Girl in the Fun Capital of the World!” heralded the one-sheets, and, presumably, the bed sheets, as it was here a rejected Sidney sealed his fate, when, early on, the actress famously began an affair with the rock icon, clearly a case of art imitating art.

Whether it’s the extraordinary choreography of Onna White or her natural endorphins exploding before our very eyes, Ann-Margret’s dancing is one of BYE, BYE BIRDIE‘s many highlights; for the young star, it was a celebrity-defining moment. From that point on, she never gave up an op to display these moves (usually attired in her soon-to-become trademark pink hip-huggers and midriff-top), save the possible exception of Joseph Andrews.

The only way to briefly describe Ann-Margret’s apparent boundless musical energy is to suggest Bob Fosse’s version of The Chicken Dance. She twitches, flapping arms outstretched, head bouncing from one shoulder to another, legs spread as her ankles defy gravity, snapping to impossible 45-degree angles in a manner that would make Jerry Lewis envious. It’s what cinema’s all about.

Of course, we can’t deny Dick Van Dyke’s contributions either. With all the enthusiastic talent on view, his role is, under careful consideration, fairly thankless. Credit his comic capabilities to really give serious competition to his fellow cast members. There’s astounding confidence in his character, Albert Peterson – the offspring of a nightmarish domineering mother (a frightening but wacky Maureen Stapleton, in reality, the same age as her movie progeny) – a closet biochemist forced into writing rock ‘n’ roll ditties. For the actor-comedian, flush from success of his brilliant CBS series, and simultaneously filming Mary Poppins, ’63 can certainly be said to have been his year. When one thinks about it, Albert’s the pic’s most genuinely interesting character. He essentially invents a new amphetamine, which he has no problem testing on humans (well, okay, Russians). That he plans to team up with Ann-Margret’s father to market the product moves us further along this twisty road – the final stretch being the pimply-pimped teen girl’s kissing the sleazoid Birdie on national television, thereby completing the entire equation of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in one delirious package, or, what we conveniently term American Exceptionalism. In retrospect, sabotaging the Russians on a coast-to-coast broadcast in 1963 was probably not too well-thought out an idea. If Cuba and the Bay of Pigs almost caused a nuclear war, methinks doping the Soviet Union’s concert meister to the delight of 100 million enemy viewers wasn’t going to sit well with Nikita. Alas, my post-BYE, BYE BIRDIE take is to make it the unofficial fourth installment of the Columbia Pictures mid-Sixties doomsday series, placing it squarely alongside Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe and The Bedford Incident. But that’s just me.

Happily, no one ever listens to anything I have to say, so off we go to BYE, BYE BIRDIE‘s most intelligent denizen, Van Dyke’s girlfriend, personified by Janet Leigh (top-billed, since at the time of the picture’s release, she was the movie’s most viable box-office name). Interestingly enough, Leigh’s character, Rosie, underwent the most changes from Broadway to Hollywood. Chita Rivera played the part on The Great White Way when Rosie’s last name was Alvarez; for the movie, a white-bread version was thought more suitable for the masses, changing the surname to DeLeon (how soon the fickle industry forgot The Ricardos). Nevertheless Leigh was decked out in a black Rita Moreno wig, along with hoop earrings and enough eyeliner to gnash the teeth of Maria Felix. Telltale reminders of her actual heritage are further displayed on her desk in the form of various Frito Bandito-type figurines. Leigh’s singing and dancing talents, however, are not compromised and she’s really quite the trouper in “One Boy” and “Rosie.”

Aside from Dick Van Dyke, the only other key cast member of the Broadway production to make the Hollywood cut was Paul Lynde as Ann-Margret’s long-suffering pater. After nearly ten years in the business, Lynde at last struck paydirt with BYE, BYE BIRDIE; simply put, this movie (and more precisely, the song “Kids”) made his career. I vividly remember seeing this flick during the summer of 1963 at the Onteora Theatre in the Catskill resort of Fleischmann’s. Virtually every line Lynde said brought the house down. I can specifically recall the scene where Stapleton goes suicidal, sticking her head in Lynde’s family’s oven. Not to worry, offers Lynde, “…it’s electric.” The laughs on that line alone drowned out the next two minutes of the picture. It’s Lynde, by the way, who makes the midget comment that I used as the headline for this piece, a reference made regarding the little people’s degenerate lifestyle when, as a youth, his character ran away to join the circus.

The movie’s rockers – fictional and real – merit more than just a mention. Bobby Rydell, teen idol du jour, does manage to turn his one-dimensional part as Ann-Margret’s boyfriend into something a bit more substantial. His geeky wide-eyed delivery brings to mind a slightly cooler version of Rick Moranis in Little Shop of Horrors; in fact, the whole comedic rock ‘n’ roll aura makes me wonder if this show didn’t at least in part inspire (Alan) Menken and (Howard) Ashman.

This brings us to BYE BYE BIRDIE‘s most underrated participant, Jesse Pearson as its main protagonist. On Broadway, Birdie was portrayed by Dick Gautier, known to most TV fans as Hymie the robot on the Get Smart sitcom. Never having seen the original production, I can’t imagine Gautier being scummier than Pearson’s uncouth redneck SOB – every daughter’s parent’s worst fear. Pearson’s sneering expressions, his jubilant expertise at his seductive prowess, his hysterical spot-on parody of a dangerous rock ‘n’ roller warbling (“HURT ME!”) raise the proceedings to a magnificent snarky level. If anything, it’s unfair to his target Presley, who, by all accounts, was a courteous, decent dude. Pearson’s Birdie is more along the lines of a teenaged Lonesome Rhodes, that monstrous Andy Griffith bastard from A Face in the Crowd. Furthermore, Pearson’s Birdie powers are such that his effect on a small town is identical to the opening of Village of the Damned: instant mass female unconsciousness (whether this actually caused all the womenfolk to subsequently become pregnant is never explored).

The mini-bits are great too. Trudi Ames as Ursula was seemingly the go-to girl whenever a teen femme working for Columbia or Screen Gems (Columbia’s TV appendage) needed a best friend. Mary La Roche, as Ann-Margret’s mom and Lynde’s wife, went down a similar road in Gidget. Great character actor Frank Albertson is a scream as the town mayor with an insatiable wife (Beverly Yates), who even after passing out, still pumps her spread-legs up in the air (“Birdie, what ya doing?,” uttered while cradling his pulsating spouse, never fails to bowl me over). Leigh and Albertson had previously crossed paths in Psycho (he was the grungy millionaire whose 40K she absconds with). Robert Paige is an A.D. for the Sullivan show (“Hey, it’s the guy from Son of Dracula!” I shouted out loud in the theater before being told to shut up). Then there’s Ed Sullivan – whose personality defies any description, and heir to one of my favorite celebrity credits (So-and-so as…HIMSELF).

There are tons of reasons for purchasing this Blu-Ray, a few of which I will ecstatically praise. Primarily, one can never shout loud enough about how important a great print of a movie is to the overall presentation. BYE BYE BIRDIE was shot in unstable Eastmancolor. For years, one either had to suffer through blotchy-hued copies with peach-colored facial tones, or, out-and-out faded red versions; of course, on TV, these prints were pan-and-scanned, which automatically made them unwatchable. This new transfer was struck from the recent restoration, which premiered in conjunction with the 2011 Oscars (and was hosted by Ann-Margret and Rydell). Hey, folks, they’re actually accurate fleshtones, neon-enamaled reds, greens and blues and more. Joe Biroc is a terrific cameraman, and, as indicated earlier, his collaboration with director Sidney was a rewarding one (encompassing some nice second unit NYC, Washington, D.C. location work). The 2.35:1 compositions are fantastic; most notable is the framing and lighting during the “One Boy” duet between Ann-Margret and Leigh (Ann-Margret’s amorous bedroom-eyed desire to have “…one boy to joke with, have Coke with…” is an unintentional “connection” to Leigh’s aforementioned songwriting pill-pushing boyfriend). The imagery on the Blu-Ray is so sharp that one can actually make out the guest roster on Sullivan’s upcoming programs (nice to know that Nixon was somewhere between Kim Novak and Jerry Lewis). We can also enjoy the shameless Columbia product placement, as evidenced by the teens’ accumulation of various Hanna-Barbera toys and apparel (ditto the record store stock in the “Telephone Hour” number, as all the LPs are Colgems).

The audio is even better. Unless one saw BYE BYE BIRDIE first-run (Radio City Music Hall for us New Yorkers), they were denied the pleasure of hearing the likes of “Put on a Happy Face,” “I’ve Got a Lot of Living to Do,” and the rest in full-dimensional stereo. More than thirty years ago, Pioneer Special Editions released a letterboxed laserdisc with the original stereo elements – but, in a notorious example of QC FU, they switched the tracks to wrong sides of the screen. Since then, DVDs have corrected that problem, but, until this evocation, I have never had so much fun hearing the precise separations and surround effects that the movie had to offer. I can enthusiastically state that BYE BYE BIRDIE could be one of the best classic movie stereo B-Ds I’ve ever heard. Moreover, like all Twilight Time titles, BIRDIE has an IST (Isolated Sound Track) option (including the musical numbers).

A testament to Sidney’s Ann-Margret jones is the inclusion of a special BYE BYE BIRDIE teaser, which is, nothing more than a blatant love letter to the talents of the rising and writhing starlet; jeez, you’d never know that anyone else was in the picture. The official theatrical trailer is also thrown in the mix (noteworthy, as it uses an alternate take to “Kids”), but it’s nowhere near as much fun – nor embarrassing.

Talk about embarrassing, a friend reminded me that a sequel, Bring Back Birdie, debuted in 1981, basically utilizing the Callaway Went Thataway plot; it died a quick death. Then a TV revival movie was filmed in 1995 costarring Jason Alexander and Vanessa Williams, clearly an anti-Christ artistic undertaking of flipping the BIRDIE; if nothing else, it provides an additional impetus for rushing out and buying the Twilight Time disc.

BYE BYE BIRDIE: Color. Letterboxed [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; Stereo-surround [5.1 DTS-HD MA]. Limited 3000-only pressing.

Twilight Time/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. SRP: $29.95.

Forget-Me-Nuts

JULY IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

For physio-chemist executive David Stillwell, the 1965 blackout ain’t a patch on the one he’s personally experiencing in that year’s expert thriller MIRAGE, starring Gregory Peck and directed by Edward Dmytryk (now on Blu-Ray from Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios).

Peck’s Stillwell finds himself caught in a minor power outage plaguing the Fun City building he works in. He retreats to one of the lower levels, only to later discover…that the structure has no lower levels. Weary, he returns to his Manhattan apartment, where he is gleefully welcomed back by the doorman. He’s been gone for two years!

Soon, strangers, friends, and possibly even lovers are out to kill him. But why? Add a philanthropist’s suicide (likely to be a murder), and an insidious plot involving power, greed, lust, and sanguinary savagery – all further bewildering a protagonist wondering where he belongs in this never-ending nightmare.

MIRAGE encompassed one of those bizarre sub-genres that briefly flourished in the mid-Sixties: the amnesia thriller; it was one of at least three major motion pictures dealing with the subject (and probably the best), the others being Mister Buddwing (also taking place in New York City), starring James Garner, and The Third Day, featuring George Peppard. Star-coproducer Peck wisely enlisted screenwriter Peter Stone to adapt Howard Fast’s gripping novel; both had recent Universal movie hits – Stone, Charade, and Fast, Spartacus.

Director Edward Dmytryk was another inspired decision. Certainly his finest late work, Dmytryk was revered for Forties noir classics like Murder, My Sweet and Crossfire. While this noirish entry doesn’t quite match up to those earlier triumphs, it does come damn close. Dmytryk, who began as an editor, wanted to get around the censors to inject a bit of modern violence into the mix. Working with ace editor Ted Kent (a Universal craftsman since the 1920s, best-known for Bride of Frankenstein), they created a chilling moment. When describing to Stillwell the death of the aforementioned millionaire philanthropist, who fell from the top of a high-rise, the final moments of the head-first plummet downward is likened to a watermelon hitting the pavement. Later, as Stillwell experiences hallucinatory whirlpool flashbacks, a montage includes a body falling out of a window, followed by a melon splattering on the sidewalk. The result in the theater was screaming not unlike the audience reaction to the shower scene in Psycho. Another clever ploy was the use of marketing. MIRAGE was released at the height of Bondmania, and the trailer includes an exchange between Peck and the P.I. (Walter Matthau) he hires to help unravel the mystery of who his character is. “Pretend you’re James Bond, he always knows,” offers a snarky Peck to the snarkier clue-hunting Matthau. I kid you not, that bit in the coming attractions, provoked hearty laughter, and a generous round of applause (the trailer is included as an extra).

Another great aspect of MIRAGE was the Manhattan location filming (part of a deal Universal must have made with the NewYork City Film Commission as, during this period, a number of their biggest titles were shot in the city, including Blindfold, PJ, Madigan, What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?, and others), gorgeously served up in stark, striking black-and-white by the wonderful veteran d.p. Joseph MacDonald (one of his last projects). The elegant, jazzy music, too, is exceptional, scored by no less than Quincy Jones (his third feature). Best of all is the large and superb cast supporting Peck; aside from Matthau, there’s Diane Baker, Kevin McCarthy, Jack Weston, George Kennedy, Leif Erickson, Walter Abel, Robert H. Harris, Anne Seymour, House Jameson, Hari Rhodes, Franklin Cover, Ann Doran, Edith Fellows, Myron Healey, and Bill Quinn.

The 1080p High Def widescreen platter of MIRAGE looks and sounds terrific. Among the neat supplement of extras is a recent interview with costar/romantic lead Baker.

It’s always a joy when Gregory Peck is spellbound, and, thus, the MIRAGE Blu-ray gives mystery fans a delightful treat – the accessibility to this rarely-seen suspense gem via Kino-Lorber’s/Universal’s new fantastic transfer.

MIRAGE. Black and white. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios. CAT # K23960. SRP: $29.95.

Pop Shows the Weasels

JULY IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

An unusually bold mainstream Sixties classic, 1965’s period piece SHENANDOAH, starring James Stewart and directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, comes to Blu-Ray, via Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios.

Ostensibly, a tale of the Civil War, SHENANDOAH personifies the nightmarish conflict largely through the Anderson family – a brood of Virginian isolationists (some not by choice), ruled by strict patriarch/widower Charlie. The six sons, daughter and daughter-in-law nightly discuss the current news over dinner. With actual sounds of battle occasionally evident in the distance, the sibs argue about joining up, opposition to any service, or simply leaving things status quo. Charlie leans toward the latter two. “How many slaves you own?,” he asks his pro-Confederacy-minded son Jacob. “What about you, James? You ever think you might like to own a slave?” Embarrassment lowers the verbal ballast, and with the simmering palaver momentarily quelled, the family, grateful for what they’ve achieved (a beautiful, large, prosperous farm), uncomfortably resumes their meal. On a personal front, Anderson awaits his first grandchild, and a local successful officer-apparent courts the clan’s only female-born member. Charlie’s words of “It doesn’t concern us” seem to ring true.

Then, the unthinkable happens. A local gray battalion is practically wiped out on their land, and, worse, the youngest, (known only as “Boy” throughout the picture), wearing a Reb cap he found, is captured by Union troopers, and sent to a prisoner of war camp.

“Now it concerns us!” snarls Charlie (as only Jimmy Stewart can), and the family sets off to make things right.

SHENANDOAH, as penned by James Lee Barrett, is a moving, rousing action-packed drama that nevertheless doesn’t flinch for being a parable to the then-raging Vietnam War (slavery aside, many of the arguments the Andersons have were being held nightly at dinner tables across the country…although, at the time, none of this overtly clicked with me; then again, I was eleven). Remarkably, Andrew V. McLaglen doesn’t let the engrossing narrative become too marred by politics – just enough; it’s a clever directing gig. Star Jimmy Stewart’s stance is quite extraordinary, considering his hawkish position on Nam and the military in general (or, should we say Brigadier General, as that was his status in the Air Force). That said, Charlie Anderson’s opposition to the war is only negated by the very Republican decision that “now it concerns us.” For Anderson/Stewart, that turn-the-tide situation meant fighting at all costs (in February of the next year, the veteran star flew a special secret mission over Vietnam); mirroring the narrative, the actor’s stepson was killed near the demilitarized zone in 1969.

For McLaglen, SHENANDOAH was a dream come true. Movie royalty, the son of Victor McLaglen, Andrew grew up on John Ford sets – eventually becoming an unofficial a.d. on such iconic works as The Quiet Man. He soon stepped-up into full directing mode, managing a steady career until his screen retirement in 1991. McLaglen always claimed that SHENANDOAH was his best work. He could be right, although a number of late underrated entries should be considered, including North Sea Hijack and The Wild Geese, plus a slew of terrific television episodes on such famed series as Have Gun Will Travel, The Line-Up, Perry Mason, The Lieutenant, The Virginian, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, and Wagon Train.

SHENANDOAH was the movie McLaglen was most proud of, no doubt because it’s also his most Fordian. Stewart even gets to talk to his dead wife at her gravesite (a la John Wayne in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon). He also wisely recruited the brilliant William Clothier (The Horse Soldiers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Donovan’s Reef, Cheyenne Autumn) to film the gorgeous visuals in rich, vivid Technicolor. Then, there’s the cast – many Ford veterans (also McLaglen personal buds), including Paul Fix, Harry Carey, Jr., Pat Wayne, Chuck Roberson…plus Doug McClure To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Phillip Alford (as Boy), Strother Martin, Denver Pyle, George Kennedy, Tim McIntire, James Best, Kevin Hagen, Dabbs Greer, Kelly Thordsen, Rayford Barnes, Lane Bradford, Edward Faulkner, Gregg Palmer, and, in bits, Gary Grimes and Warren Oates. The women in the pic are especially worth mentioning – a pair of newly signed Universal contractees (two of the studio’s last), Rosemary Forsyth and, more notably, Katharine Ross. Forsyth would appear in a number of other excellent Universal entries, such as The War Lord before segueing into MCA-TV series – while Ross would fare better in the unfairly ignored Games before becoming a major star in 1967’s The Graduate (which allowed her to eventually ease out of her Universal “bondage,” albeit gracefully, via Tell Them Willie Boy is Here).

The score by studio reliable Frank Skinner is suitable, elevated by a lovely main and end instrumental rendering of the famed title melody.

As produced by Robert Arthur, SHENANDOAH looks bigger than it is – an opening battle prologue from MGM’s vault, featuring an impressive montage from 1957’s Raintree County. The picture is also incredibly adult, and contains some pretty graphic violence, and a harrowing rape scene.

While critics were mixed, although mostly positive, audiences flocked to see the movie in the summer of 1965. Back then, if a movie recouped its cost, and then grossed four million or so – it was considered a big-time hit. SHENANDOAH grossed over eighteen million in the U.S. alone that July and August before going on to enjoy an equally profitable international run.

The new Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray of SHENANDOAH looks sensational – like owning your own pristine 35MM Technicolor print. It’s as if I was sitting in the front row of the Onteora all over again.

FUN FACT: SHENANDOAH was retooled as a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical in 1974, starring John Cullum (replacing the original choice Robert Ryan, who had succumbed to lung cancer in July of 1973).

USELESS FUN FACT: SHENANDOAH was, to my knowledge, the last movie to use the classic traditional matte paper one-sheet posters. After this release, all one-sheets would go “glossy,” which is still used today.

A super nostalgic celluloid excursion, the SHENANDOAH Blu-Ray is the first time I’ve seen this movie in decades. Andrew V. would be happy to know that by the poignant fade-out, there were tears in my eyes. I truly can envision John Ford weepily uttering “Son of a bitch!” High praise indeed from ghostland!

SHENANDOAH. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios. CAT # K25433. SRP: $24.95.

The Meth in Method

JULY IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

What started as one-off several years ago has become an annual Supervistaramacolorscope event: coverage of movies I remembered from their original summer release, when I was (mostly) happily ensconced in the New York Catskill Mountains Maisel-friendly resort town of Fleischmann’s.

We’re kicking off with a doozy. A picture I was hoping would be released on home video for decades – in fact, for so long that the many I told about it thought I was making the damn thing up: 1964’s BEDTIME STORY, now with fresh Blu-ray linen from the folks at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios.

I first became aware of this movie (like most celluloid fans do) via the trailer, which unspooled amongst the unsuspecting audience in early July of ’64. The three-minute preview reminded us of the previous endeavors of the pic’s cowriter (and now also co-producer), Stanley Shapiro, who provided rollicking, double entendre laughs with Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back. Okay, we’re pumped. It was the wacky story of two very different con men preying on rich women (heiresses and widows) along the French Riviera. And with unusual results. The next shot featured one of the duo careening down a mountain trail in a runaway wheelchair screaming like Shemp. What made this unusual was that the buffoon in question was…Marlon Brando.

Remember, this was nearly thirty years before The Freshman…it was when Brando was considered the greatest American actor of the post-WWII era. I was laughing hysterically, soon virtually the only one, as a hush fell over the Onteora (my beloved vacay picture palace). I turned around. Everyone was frozen in shock – like the theater-goers’ reaction at “Springtime for Hitler” in The Producers. This only started me laughing again…and harder. I HAD to see this movie.

Indeed, I wasn’t disappointed. European-deployed American G.I. Brando (aka Freddie Benson) butts heads with the more sophisticated David Niven (aka Lawrence Jameson), eventually battling each other to see who scores the biggest target yet – Yank moneybags Janet Walker (third lead Shirley Jones).

Hold on, folks. You say this sounds familiar? It should. It was remade in 1988 as the super-successful Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, with Michael Caine and Steve Martin. And then again, in 2019, for the gender-bender version, The Hustle, with Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson (the ’88 pic likely the legal reason why the 1964 version was on ice for nearly thirty-five years).

But this is the original, and the best – for no other reason than the narrative suits its simpler time…and that cast.

Niven, natch (or, more precisely, naturally, as in second nature), is wonderful as the urbane, sly, witty Jameson – in effect, doing a variation of his Sir Charles Lytton character from The Pink Panther. It’s Brando, however, who, not surprisingly reaped most of the press. Chewing more scenery than the dinos in the Jurassic Park series, Brando is truly hilarious when maneuvering comely frauleins/senoras/mademoiselles into the sack, bamboozling superior officers, verbally jousting with Niven, or, impersonating Jameson’s mentally-challenged idiot brother.

To this day, surviving fans of the picture can quote a plethora of the lines. “Fanny of Omaha” became a quip/greeting my buddies and I tossed around all throughout that summer (you’ll have to see the movie to know why).

Once the stunned popcorn munchers and critics got over America’s Stanley Kowalski appearing in this slapstick romcom, the wry Marlon topped it. To his dying day, he claimed (and even swore) that BEDTIME STORY was the favorite of all his movies. He loved making it, particularly because of David Niven, whose sharp asides during filming had him constantly bowled over, often ruining takes. He claimed Niven was the funniest dude he’d ever met. Watching the British star on a variety of talk shows, and having read his terrific anecdotal memoirs, such as Bring on the Empty Horses, it’s safe to assume that Brando was likely correct.

Funnily enough, Brando stepped into the picture at the last minute. The official story was that Shapiro scripted the movie (with Paul Henning) for Tony Curtis (which would have been plausible, he would have been great) and Gregory Peck (which wouldn’t be, he would have been awful) in an attempt to recapture their Captain Newman, M.D. chemistry. Don’t know what happened after that, but Brando obviously thought this would be a blast, and Universal wasn’t complaining. Curiously, four years later, another con artist on the loose romcom with a military background, went before the cameras at Universal City. The project (already dated by the late Sixties, and probably written at least a half-decade earlier) also seemed slated for Curtis. Paul Newman (doing a Tony/Bronx accent) ended up in it; mirroring Brando, Newman, too, claimed that The Secret War of Harry Frigg was his favorite movie.

But back to BEDTIME STORY, and the rest of its thesps…

While Jones is attractive eye candy, she doesn’t really get to do much but look fetching and act gullible (for some bizarre reason, Universal chose not to promote the movie as starring three Oscar winners…WTF?); that said, the remainder of the cast is in full gung-ho mode, and includes Dody Goodman, Aram Stephan, Parley Baer, Marie Windsor, Frances Robinson, Norman Alden, Cynthia Lynn, Francine York, John Banner, Barbara Bouchet, Gene Roth, Rolfe Sedan, Vitina Marcus, and the beauteous Borkowski twins (Brigitte and Helga). Tech credits are also top drawer starting with director Ralph Levy, a TV comedy veteran (I Love Lucy, The Jack Benny Show, Burns and Allen, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction) making his big-screen debut, d.p. Clifford Stine (offering up beautifully realized Eastman color, not an easy task), and composer Hans J. Salter, who surrounds the proceedings with a lovely lilting theme lifted from an earlier work, 1961’s Elvis pic, Follow that Dream (hey, if you can’t steal from yourself, what good are you!?). Brando’s company, Pennebaker, coproduced with Shapiro’s Lankershim Productions.

Until this newly-restored High Definition 1080p platter, the only available copy of BEDTIME STORY was an overpriced British DVD. While an authentic release, the UK pressing looked awful, unfortunate purchasers relegating it to inferior bootleg quality. Not so here. This Kino-Lorber/Universal transfer is 35MM pristine gorgeous. Extras include audio commentary by Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, teasers, and, best of all, that actual trailer that had me so convulsed with laughter in 1964!

BEDTIME STORY. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios. CAT # K25696. SRP: $24.95.