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AUGUST IS ARROW VIDEO MONTH

The Golden Age of Grindhouse, where exploitation hit the roadkill, was undoubtedly the 1970s.  The lax guidelines on the new permissiveness resulted in an abundance of nudity and violence, and ratcheted up the swarms of smarmy producers and fly-by-night distributors who couldn’t wait to spatter their splatter across the screens of Times Square and its comparable nationwide hardtops and drive-ins.

Indeed, this decade gave “extreme” fans a cache of favorites and, occasionally, standard movie buffs some notable guilty pleasures.

Immersed in these skin/horror/giallo/kaiju/chop socky imports were periodic valiant efforts to do something a little more deep.  That so many lurid Italian thrillers are now categorized as high art is fact; but, once in a blue moon, American works, too, strived to be a bit more enriching.  The task at hand was to deliver the required goods, but with a “stab” at attempting something better; i.e., the cinematic equivalent of cauliflower disguised as pasta.

Two varying examples are Stanley H. Brasloff’s 1972 drama TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN, and, Alfred Sole’s better-known 1976 horror flick ALICE, SWEET ALICE, each now available in special Blu-Ray editions from Arrow Video/MVDvisual.

In a nutshell, TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN is what we sophisticates call “a lollapalooza!”  I mean, this pic packs so much into it (in a good way) that it’s difficult to choose a theme to concentrate on.  While the narrative is exploitation heaven, the execution is straight forward, well-acted and directed.  The movie, in short, is a jaw-dropper, and, again, in a good way.

Young, pubescent Jamie Godard lives at home with her single mom.  Jamie is obsessed with her estranged father, booted from the home by his wife – a total ice-cold harpie.  “Daddy” still sends Jamie Christmas and birthday presents – toys, as if the now-blossoming woman is still a child.  And Jamie reacts in kind.  She fondles the stuffed animals, and, uncontrollably begins to get aroused.  Mater, disgusted by the display, dubs her “unnatural,” and wants her gone.  “Daddy” was, after all, removed because he’s a serial cheater, into kinky sex with hookers and high-priced call girls.  Maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?

Jamie retreats into a fantasy world, and snags a job at a toy store (her dream position).  There she meets Charlie, who promptly falls in love with her.  Thinking he’s into toys as much as she is, Jamie returns his affection, and they marry.  It’s a union from Hell.  Jamie is frigid, petrified of normal sex; Charlie is concerned but, like his wife’s mom, doesn’t consider getting the girl psychiatric help.  Instead, he repeats the “father” route, and seeks pleasure elsewhere.

At work, Jamie meets Pearl, an attractive older woman customer who is sympathetic to the innocent salesclerk.  They become friends, and Pearl invites Jamie to visit her apartment in Manhattan.

But Pearl is a top flight sex worker, living with  slimy pimp Eddie, who immediately attempts to force himself on Jamie, hoping to groom her.  In doing so, he unleashes the inexperienced female’s sexual fury, a casual “come to Daddy” aside, which turns her on.  Jamie becomes the most popular pony in the stable (elder johns are pre-appointment told to refer to themselves as “Daddy”).  Pearl, who eventually reveals her bisexuality, makes a move on the now-hardened, satiated Jamie, who rebuffs the older woman (using her own mother’s epithets, verbally smacking the veteran whore down).  Pearl retaliates by setting her up with her own father (whose whereabouts she’s always known), after calling him ahead of time, to make sure he uses the trigger word “Daddy.” 

It does not end well.

This movie totally knocked me out.  It’s so much better than most of the Times Square fare that was dumped on the Deuce during the 1970s and 1980s.

Filmed on a low, low budget in and out of Manhattan and the accompanying suburbs, TOYS is smartly directed and cowritten by Brasloff (the latter with Macs McAree).  The recent Arrow Blu-Ray also reveals how well it’s photographed (by Rolph Laube), popping with neon and garish colors that, when appropriate, mimic the era’s toy commercials (one line to Charlie by a delivery man is particularly chilling:  “I hear you married a real doll”).  The music, too, volleys between period synth and a haunting ballad, “Lonely Am I” (by Cathy Lynn and sung by T.L Davis), good enough in 1972 to get its own 45 single.

Then there’s the game cast, notably Evelyn Kingsley, Harlan Cary Poe, Luis Arroyo, and N.J. Osrag.  Of special interest is the mother from Hell, played by former Big Band singer Fran Warren!  Best of all, of course, is the female lead, Marcia Forbes, giving a multi-leveled performance as child-woman Jamie.  A beautiful, talented actress who should have had an extended career; as far as I know, this is her only credit.

Typical of Arrow is the plethora of extras included in the package, most prominently a fresh 2K transfer from the 35MM elements, the aforementioned 45 single (newly transferred), various video essays and featurettes, audio commentary by Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain, and the original trailer.  The LCPM mono is just fine.

Don’t be fooled by the sordid promotion; this is not your standard T & A flick geared toward the weird dudes in the raincoats crowd.  It really is a notch above.

1976’s ALICE, SWEET ALICE is one of the most disturbing pictures ever to come off the grindhouse circuit.  It certainly transcends its roots, and has become an authentic stand-alone horror-thriller – a rep well deserved.

None of the low budget trappings are evident, as the pic is excellently photographed (John Friberg, Chuck Hall), scored (Stephen Lawrence), produced (Marc Greenberg, Richard K. Rosenberg), and, creatively directed (by Alfred Sole, who also coproduced, and cowrote the narrative with Rosemary Ritvo).

ALICE is a damning look at the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, as personified by a Paterson, NJ congregation.  Whether this was the overall intention or not, it sure freaks this Jew out.  The focus of the work is placed upon a beguiling adolescent, Alice Spages, who lives with her single mom, Catherine, and kid sister, Karen.  Karen is the charmer of the family, the obvious favorite; Alice is the bad girl, in fact, the bad seed.  She delights in torturing her younger sibling, as well as the family’s grotesque pervert landlord, who, surrounded by cats and soiled clothes, spends his days listening to old 78s.

Alice’s proudest accomplishment is her private museum, hidden within the conclaves of the building’s basement.  There she has collected pieces of communion wear, hideous masks, cutlery, and an enormous jar, in which she breeds cockroaches.

This horrid existence would be enough for any creepy movie, except that this is just the beginning.  All Hell hasn’t broken loose yet, but is about to.

Karen is brutally murdered during her pre-communion ceremonies, the child’s stabbed and mutilated body tossed in a church box and set on fire.  Alice is the obvious suspect, and with good reason; the girl has been under observation by the local priest, nuns and neighborhood teachers for quite a while – and earmarked for a stay in a mental institution.  Catherine refuses to commit her, and now is additionally saddled with her interfering shrew sister, Angela, and her re-married ex, Dom, who has returned for the funeral, but stays on to investigate the strange events.

And they’re about to get stranger.

ALICE, SWEET ALICE, when not skewering the Church, smashes the world of grown-ups.  Every adult in the picture is a nightmare; Paterson, NJ itself is a Hell on Earth, seething with decay, whose population comprises gossiping human gargoyles and their henpecked husbands, vengeful nuns, the scarifying parish housekeeper, a senile Monsignor, and pervy/slimy police (including a sex predator polygraph technician).  And we mentioned the landlord.  Is it any wonder Alice turned out the way she has?  Even her caring parents are tainted (nearly adulterous when reunited, and only halted when Dom’s new wife calls, concerned that he’s okay).

Things don’t get much better when the violent attacks escalate, perpetrated by a feminine specter wearing one of the church’s yellow rain slickers, a mask, and brandishing an extra-long butcher’s knife.  Guilt by association, Alice’s sins send her to a Dickensian psychiatric facility that can only make her already demented mind go deeper into the abyss.

And then it gets even worse.

ALICE, SWEET ALICE went from intriguing grindhouse sustenance to guaranteed late-nite TV fodder, due to the fortuitous casting of 11-year-old Brooke Shields, who was two years away from zooming to A-lister, courtesy of Pretty Baby.  Her name often got starring lead order on the old VHS boxes.  This is deceptive, as Shields doesn’t play Alice, but the younger victim, Karen, and her screen time is fairly short.  She’s pretty good in it, though, but can’t compare to the true star, Paula E. Sheppard.  Like a demonic Ellen Page, Sheppard is concurrently sympathetic, snarky, evil, awful, terrifying.  She has become a cult movie icon because of this movie and her only other screen appearance, as the equally impressive Adrian in 1982’s Liquid Sky (Sheppard’s since flipped show biz the bird, and has, supposedly, been living a normal family life).  Other notable performances include, Mildred Clinton, Niles McMaster, Rudolph Willrich, Michael Hardstark, Kathy Rich, Gary Allen, Peter Bosche, Alphonso DeNoble (as the gruesome, odious landlord; think Larry Tucker in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor), and especially Linda Miller as the fragile mom Catherine (FUN FACT: the stunning Miller is the daughter of Jackie Gleason, the wife of Jason Miller, and mom of Jason Patric); LSS, even without Sheppard, the women are far more impressive than the men.  Like the above TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN, ALICE has much in common aside from depictions of screwed up girlhood; both were filmed around the New York/New Jersey area, and each features a supporting role filled by a former singing female luminary (as indicated above, TOYS has Fran Warren, and ALICE offers Lillian Roth, seen here as a police pathologist)

As stated, ALICE was extremely well directed and co-written by Sole, who cites Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973) as a major influence (I get it, the rain slickers, etc.); personally, I see this pic having evolved from the gialli of Dario Argento (particularly Deep Red, 1975), Ducio Tessari (The Bloodstained Butterfly, 1971), and Lucio Fulci (Don’t Torture a Duckling, 1972); it may have even influenced Antonio Bido’s The Bloodstained Shadow (1978). The movie would also make a good double bill with Pete Walker’s The Confessional (1976) or a handful of Father Ted episodes.

The Blu-Ray Special Edition of ALICE, SWEET ALICE is dazzling, making Friberg’s and Hall’s images pop, and giving an added oomph to the weird production values (for some reason, the pic is set in 1961; all sets, cars, artifacts, and clothing nicely reflects this – the illusion only ruined by the male cast’s Seventies’ hairstyles and sideburns).  A vault of extras append the new 2K restoration (from the camera negative), including alternate opening titles, trailers and TV spots, Holy Terror (the television cut), interviews with costar McMaster and director Sole, and audio commentary by Richard Harland Smith.  The main transfer uses the original title, Communion (definitely not as exploitation-friendly).  Like TOYS, ALICE’s LCPM mono soundtrack has been excellently preserved.

Two pics absolutely worth checking out for those who revel in the glories of Time Square, the unusual and the era, TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN and ALICE, SWEET ALICE demonstrate how good a “sleazy” title could be in the right hands.

TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN.  Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 LCPM mono.  Arrow Video/MVDvisual.  CAT # AV221.  SRP: $39.95.

ALICE, SWEET ALICE. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 LCPM mono. Arrow Video/MVDvisual. CAT # AV213. SRP: $39.95.

Rocky and his Femmes

A Blu-Ray dream come true, Frank Tashlin’s 1957 masterpiece WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? sweeps onto a High-Def trendex limited edition, thanks to the hucksters at Twilight Time/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment.

I don’t know where to begin to discuss this gem, ‘cept it’s (in my humble opinion) one of the funniest and greatest comedies ever transposed to celluloid.  Director-Writer-Producer Tashlin, freely (and I mean freely!; see below) adapting George Axelrod’s Broadway smash turned this pre-Mad Men riot into a culture-shock CinemaScope pip.

The movie recounts the tale of Manhattan ad agency drone Rockwell Hunter, who slaves away at LaSalle, Raskin, Pooley & Crocket, but to no avail.  An accident of being at the right place at the right time turns him into Lover Doll, a teen heart-throb – all due to the oversexed machinations of buxom Hollywood starlet Rita Marlowe, who wants to make her latest paramour jealous.  Rocky agrees to go along with Rita’s ruse, if, in return, she agrees to participate in an ad campaign for Stay-Put Lipstick, his company’s biggest account.  Along the way, every type of American “keeping up with the Joneses” freakazoid product and fad (ca, 1957) is lampooned and harpooned.  And we’re not kidding.  Even the famed Fox logo isn’t spared, as star Tony Randall shows you how it’s (fanfare is) done.  The credits themselves are a genius mini-lambasting of TV commercials, featuring smarmy salesmen, trapped housewives (“if you’re like me with six dirty children and a big filthy husband…”), and lethal items guaranteed to ruin your lives and the planet’s (WOW! Detergent, with Fallout).

The play opened on the Great White Way on October 13, 1955, running over a year and costarred Orson Bean and Jayne Mansfield, the latter who brilliantly reprises her role here.  Axelrod parodied culture, too – the name itself “Rock Hunter” skewered the immensely popular soaps starring Rock Hudson and often produced by Ross Hunter.  Rita, of course, was a thinly disguised rendition of Marilyn Monroe.

Fox (and, at one early point, Tashlin) wanted Monroe for the movie, but she considered every Tash project a lowlife exercise (reportedly, she faced suspension for turning down The Lieutenant Wore Skirts, then The Girl Can’t Help It – the rock ‘n’ roll classic that put Mansfield over on the screen).  Methinks Tashlin was better off; while Monroe was certainly the bigger star, she never quite had the sense of humor Mansfield had.  Self-parody was likely unthinkable for MM, whereas Mansfield seemed to live for that kind of thing. Long story short, Jaynie was the female equivalent of the director’s favorite male live-action cartoon (Tash began in the Looney Tunes division at Warner Bros.), Jerry Lewis. Suffice to say, she and Randall are terrific together.  In fact, the entire cast of ROCK HUNTER is fantastic; the men: Henry Jones, John Williams, and Mickey Hargitay (the TV jungle man who can’t keep his hairpiece on…the one on his chest) and, natch, the women: Betsy Drake in her finest screen moment and the always wonderful Joan Blondell, who gets many of the best lines (her pining for a milkman, she tells Rita, was shattered when he ran off with another woman:  “She must have liked his brand of cream”).  Then there are the thousands of nubile teens, who covet a piece of Rock for themselves (“the future mothers of America,” as Randall frighteningly relives a recent female attack).  Tashlin considered ROCK HUNTER the pinnacle of his success; the director’s-writer’s-producer’s unbridled creative powers had at last, according to him, properly come into conjunction.  Earlier, in Son of Paleface (1952), Tashlin admitted to throwing everything in but the kitchen sink – one gag after another; by ROCK HUNTER, he felt more assured, counting maybe twenty main gags in the picture.  “I’m most satisfied with WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER?, said the director in a 1962 interview for Film Culture. “They had to buy the play…to get Mansfield. I tried to get out of using the play and then decided to reverse it and make it into something else entirely.  I only kept maybe one or two [original] speeches…”  He credits his being left alone to Fox suit Buddy Adler. “…there was no compromise…He let me do it my own way.”

As much as I loved Mansfield’s turn in The Girl Can’t Help It, ROCK HUNTER is her crowning achievement (she and Randall would be reunited six years later on Hangover, an episode of The Hitchcock Hour, sadly not the sardonic humor romp viewers might have expected, but a rather somber drama about alcoholism).

To reiterate, Tashlin was certainly given carte blanche, and as the pic’s writer-director-producer, he took full inventive advantage of the op.  Along with  the aforementioned pokes, the entire (then current) Fox schedule is bashed, including Love Me, Tender, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, A Hatful of Rain,plus all the Mansfield titles (Girl Can’t Help It, Kiss Them for Me), most famously, The Wayward Bus, wherein Mansfield’s/Marlowe’s life-sized standee is knocked over by rampaging teenagers…and bodaciously bounces back up.  Rita is later seen reading Peyton Place (the studio’s biggest hit of the year) in her bathtub, while her ever-present poodle is named “Shamroy,” an homage to Fox d.p. Leon Shamroy.  Movies aside, ROCK HUNTER rips into TV quiz shows, juvenile delinquency, rock ‘n’ roll, psychiatric therapy, fan magazines and, basically anything related to the ludicrousness of “celebrity.”

Tashlin’s greatness was not merely his humor, but the means to an end; he wasn’t merely a fine director, but a fine MOVIE director, with an artistic flair for composition, especially when it came to the new widescreen dimensions of CinemaScope (the equally talented Joe MacDonald, who shared the Fox title for top cameraman with Shamroy, expertly lensed ROCK HUNTER in 2.35:1).

Even the music gets the Tashlin treatment, with a sprightly score by Cyril J. Mockridge, and a standout Calypso number (another late Fifties craze) via an original, wacky tune “You Got it Made,” composed by Bobby Troup (and performed by Georgia Carr), presented by Tashlin in what is essentially a sight-gag precursor to a rock video.

The Twilight Time Blu-Ray of WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? is “simply divoon,” to quote Rita.  After decades of unwatchable pan-and-scan TV prints, or Deluxe Color faded-to-pink alternatives for surviving scope copies (which may have pleased Mansfield, but not really anyone else), the acceptable DVDs have now been put on the back-burner.  This new rendition is the one to own.  Aside from the sensational looking images, the audio has been cleaned up too, offering viewers the option of 2.0 stereo, the original 4.0 stereo, or a remastered 5.1 surround track (the music is available as an IST).  Extras include commentary by Dana Polan, related Fox Movietone newsreels, and the original trailer, the latter being a bit of a curiosity, as it gives away the final gag surrounding Rita’s long-lost and only true love.  Oh, well.

In concert with this extraordinary Blu-Ray release is the publication of Jayne Mansfield: The Girl Couldn’t Help It, by the likewise extraordinary Eve Golden.  Any reader of celebrity bios knows quite well Eve’s (dare I say?) golden touch, and her latest work is no exception. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve re-read/referenced her fantastic book on Kay Kendall, and this depiction of the life and career of Mansfield may top that.   Mansfield books have always been a two-fingers-down-the-throat affair for serious movie historians (usually scissor-and-paste jobs or gushy gossipy garbage).  This is an exhaustive, superbly researched account, containing Eve’s enviable style and wit.  The fact that she obtained interviews with survivors close to the late star is proof enough of how cool this volume is (they generally run like hell from “writers” seeking an audience).  The book is available from The University Press of Kentucky, Amazon, Barnes & Noble (or wherever the Hell you get your reading material from), and makes a perfect twofer purchase with the above platter.

WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1/4.0/2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Twilight Time/Twentieth Century-Fox Home Entertainment.  SRP: $29.95

JAYNE MANSFIELD: THE GIRL COULDN’T HELP IT. 502 pages/Hardcover. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN: 978-0-8131-8095-3; CAT # 9780813180953.  SRP: $34.95.

Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider…Vinegar

One of the best box sets out on Blu-Ray, Kino-Lorber Studio Classics’ (in concert with Paramount Home Entertainment) IDA LUPINO: FILMMAKER COLLECTION takes us cineastes on a dark journey that not only celebrates the actress’ formidable acting, writing, and producing abilities – but underlines (and concentrates on) her superb directorial skills.  The set, containing four Ida triumphs (NOT WANTED, NEVER FEAR, THE HITCH-HIKER and THE BIGAMIST), reveals a female look at the underbelly of noir, with its protagonists perilously treading Hollywood taboo uncharted waters (a rape victim, a young dancer facing paralysis, two average guys terrorized by a psychopath and an examination of a philandering husband that offers a triad of sympathy for all concerned).  Don’t let the “woman” tag prejudice ya.  These are often brutal, uncompromising exercises in mean-streetology that would give Anthony Mann and Nicholas Ray a run for their money.  In fact, he said, segueing into an anecdote, when I was Ray’s assistant sound editor on You Can’t Go Home Again, he told me how much he loved Lupino.  They were doing a little pic called On Dangerous Ground (one of my favorite Ray titles), and Nick became ill; he asked Ida to take over the direction for a couple of days until he recovered (they were on location in Granby, CO); this was 1950, so Ida had already been working behind-the-camera for about a year.  He told me that he was delighted with her work, that it bore her mark, but totally kept in style with what he had in mind, not an easy duality to achieve.  While at least two of these titles in this collection have been familiar public domain fare (THE HITCH-HIKER, THE BIGAMIST), none have EVER looked this good.  While not pristine, all four of these entries come from the best 35MM elements available.  In addition, the slipcovered set contains an excellent illustrated book on Lupino the auteur by Ronnie Schieb. 

Lupino, born on February 4 (my birthday!), 1918 to a show biz couple (Connie Emerald, Lupino Lane), arrived in Hollywood from her native UK in 1933, as a fresh-faced starlet, to be groomed at the Paramount stable.  Then blonde, she lingered on in several standard parts until wowing them as the sadistic model who destroys an artist’s painting in 1939’s The Light That Failed (didn’t help that he was going blind).  By this point, Lupino was checking her options and bolted from Paramount to Warners – the most lucrative acting portion of her career.  She hit the ground running as the psycho-nympho wife in 1940’s They Drive by Night, followed by High Sierra (1941), The Man I Love (1946), and others.  By the late 1940’s, wanderlust again pushed her to change courses – this time, not merely studios, but as the head of her own production company (with husband Collier Young).

Their first outing, 1949’s NOT WANTED, chronicled the physical and psychological trauma of an innocent girl who discovers that she’s carrying her older experienced lover’s/seducer-predator’s child.  This would be a rough contemporary narrative, so imagine how it was received in 1949?  When not being harassed by the righteous Breen Office, the young filmmaker (as she preferred to regard herself; Lupino’s and Young’s company was, in fact, called The Filmmakers) had a more serious problem.  The director, Elmer Clifton, suffered a fatal heart attack as production unwound.  To save the pic, Lupino stepped in and finished the movie – and brilliantly so. A rarity in the post-talkie Hollywood era, a woman directing successful movies that she also cowrote, coproduced and would even (on occasion) costar in, Ida Lupino remains a beacon to every lady taking the motion picture reins.  To those fans of Kathryn Bigelow, Jennifer Kent, and the increasingly welcome scores of other talented female artists, hail to Ida Lupino – she helped make it possible!

1949’s NOT WANTED is a dynamic indictment of the treatment and torment suffered by unwed mothers (while the opposite end of the “two to tango” duo gets the free pass).  Sally Kelton is a young, blossoming healthy female from a typical small town American home (yep, THAT bad!); her burgeoning womanhood is playing tricks on her body, and the attraction to smooth musician Steve Ryan pretty much seals the deal.  He up and vanishes just as she realizes their “urge to merge” will be resulting in a little bundle of joy.  Devastated, abandoned, and with her mental health now in jeopardy, Sally wanders the streets of post-war America into the world of noir, a territory that Lupino knew only all too well.

A difficult tale to tackle in 1949 (the Code was still in effect), the movie proved no exception to the rule.  Lupino saw it as a challenge.  NOT WANTED was a perfect controversial subject for the novice director, the title itself being a dual sword – referring to both the baby and the mother.  Cowritting the script (from a story by Malvin Ward) with Paul Jerrico (The Search, All Night Long) and coproducing through her recently-formed company, Lupino found herself in a jam when, as indicated, the veteran pedestrian director she hired, Elmer Clifton, succumbed to a coronary shortly before filming began.  Yearning to move down that artistic avenue anyway, Lupino grabbed the reins and beautifully completed the project that ignited her new career.  Most relevantly, while gritty and even nasty, NOT WANTED does present the narrative’s viewpoint as it really MUST be told – from the woman’s point of view.  Tragedy aside, Clifton’s departure was probably the best thing that could have occurred on the project.  Lupino gave the subject power, style and truth (Clifton retains full directorial credit).

The cast is excellent, beginning with soon-to-be Lupino stock lead actress, the diminutive Sally Forrest.  Great at playing innocents or angel-faced harpies, Forrest is one of our underrated thesps of the late 1940’s-mid 1950’s.  Keefe Brasselle, also a soon-to-be Lupino regular, has become the butt of many comedian puns (usually because of his name).  That said, he’s not a bad actor, and, in fact, could be quite touching.  Off-camera, it was another story.  He was a veritable thug, involved with the mob and even a murder. His Hollywood demise wasn’t helped by his misogyny, filling a rap sheet with multiple wife beatings and death threats.  Brasselle had the dubious honor of being the only person Jack Benny ever publicly trashed (Brasselle scored the lead role in the very awful bio-pic of Benny’s pal Eddie Cantor).  Leo Penn as the callous love ’em and leave ’em horn player is excellent as well.  His heinous procreation acts in the movie rivaled a terrible real life aberration: siring Sean Penn. Also of note in the pic are Dorothy Adams, Wheaton Chambers, Ruth Clifford, Lawrence Dobkin, and Lupino’s kid sister Rita.

NOT WANTED is starkly photographed on-location throughout L.A. by Henry Freulich.  A music score by Leith Stevens, whose career was on the rise, appends the visuals (he, too, would become a Lupino regular).  Extras in the Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray include audio commentary by Barbara Scharres.  It’s astounding that this movie isn’t better known, hopefully an error that will be corrected by this release.

1949’s NEVER FEAR is another daring drama with noir overtones.  Carol Williams and Guy Richards, an attractive dance team, are about to make the big time when Carol is struck by polio.  The sweet, forgiving nature of the young woman degrades into sneering, angry psychosis as she lashes out at everyone who attempts to help her in rehab.  Remember, this is 1949, and the institute where she is to be rehabilitated stresses the physical, not the mental – a point progressively approached by cowriter (with then-husband Collier Young)/director Lupino.

Once again, Sally Forrest plays the lead and does an excellent job – as does Brasselle as her on-and-off stage partner, who likewise undergoes a psychological metamorphosis.

Previously rarely seen, NEVER FEAR, thanks to Kino-Lorber and BFI-Forever, this new 2K restoration will (as in the case of NOT WANTED) hopefully remedy that unfair situation.  It’s an important picture not only for women, but for sensational movie-making.  Archie Stout, a John Ford favorite, photographed the documentary-like black-and-white imagery and Leith Stevens provides the suitable score.  A nice supporting cast rounds out the proceedings, headed by newcomer Hugh O’Brian, Eve Miller, Lawrence Dobkin, Jerry Hausner, and (once again) Rita Lupino.

No mere disease-of-the-month weepie, NEVER FEAR tackles the then-common affliction as any noir would a villain, a stunning and original approach.  And with great results.

Paving the way for Kathryn Bigelow, Karyn Kusama, Julia Ducournau, The Soska Sisters and others, Lupino’s 1953 masterpiece THE HITCH-HIKER is likely (up till then) the roughest, most vicious movie ever directed and cowritten by a woman.  It’s an unrelenting suspense thriller, filled with nightmarish images and electrifying moments.  For her basically three-man cast, Lupino wisely chose three strong presence males, indicative of the era: Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, and William Talman.

Roy Collins and Gilbert Bowen (O’Brien and Lovejoy) are two BFFs whose annual get-away-from-the-family time is their ultimate bonding journey.  They drive out into the desert dividing the California/Mexican border for an outdoor man-cave camping excursion.  Big mistake.

Emmett Myers (Talman), a psycho killer, has escaped from captivity, and has already chalked up new victims, as he maps (and slaughters) his way to Mexico.  He comes across Collins and Bowen, and sadistically holds them hostage, forcing them to drive him to safety.  Myer’s mind games drive the two friends to the edge, as they wonder if and when they can make a play, knowing all too well that they will be killed once they reach their destination.

The performances of the three leads are phenomenal, particularly Talman in his first villain role.  To his dying day, he told interviewers that because of this movie, drivers on the freeway would roll down their windows at traffic stops and give him the finger.

O’Brien, in particular, learned much from Lupino, whom he respected as a fellow thesp; encouraged by what he saw her do as a director, prompted him to take the behind-the-camera plunge.  Post-HITCH-HIKER, he directed a pair of excellent noirs, 1954’s Shield for Murder and 1961’s Man-Trap).

The script by Lupino and Collier Young is tight as a vice cranked to the extreme.  One bit, giving the Talman character a lazy eye, proved to be a brilliant stroke.  A), it adds an additional monstrous touch to his already grotesque appearance, and B), it taunts Collins and Bowen when he sleeps (the eye never closes properly); they don’t know if he’s watching them, waiting for the pair to make a play, or if he’s actually asleep.  It’s one of the creepiest sequences in movie history.

Moved up a notch production-wise from small indy Eagle-Lion (who handled earlier Lupino-directed efforts), THE HITCH-HIKER was distributed by RKO.  The picture deservedly delivered excellent reviews and box-office.  The one negative aspect of the movie is that it fell into public domain during the 1980s.  This resulted in a trash bin of awful prints, video tapes, laserdiscs, etc.  What a relief to finally see a decent 35MM transfer from the Library of Congress, where THE HITCH-HIKER was preserved as an important American work.  Thank you, Kino-Lorber (once again) for being able to appreciate Nicholas Musuraca’s fine cinematography and crackle-free audio (to enjoy the tense background audio design and score by Leith Stevens).  The Blu-Ray includes also includes a supplemental track featuring motion-picture historian Imogen Sara Smith.

Oh, yeah, this frightening odyssey is based on a true story!

Yet another difficult topic, spilling over with noirish overtones, 1953’s THE BIGAMIST hits all the promises in the smarmy ads…and then some.  The man with two hot women scenario is quickly shot down by director (and uncredited cowriter, Collier Young) Lupino.  It’s a supposed male fantasy from a woman’s point-of-view.  And probably the most honest depiction of an emotive and ultimately disastrous situation.

Super successful traveling salesman Harry Graham has been happily married to loving wife Eve for over eight years.  The one thing missing from their union is a child.  So they begin to seek out adoption agencies.  This puts them under the radar of meticulous child adoption investigator Mr. Jordan (a very Kris Kringle-ly Edmund Gwenn, who seems to also be a relative of Eddie Robinson’s “Keyes” in Double Indemnity).  The Grahams appear to be the perfect couple for raising a child – with one exception.  Harry has another wife on his West Coast route.

The “other woman” is a total opposite from demure Eve; Phyllis (a terrific performance by the director) is a saucy, lovable, sexually unbridled dynamo.  Having met Harry earlier, they respectively engaged in conversation, then coffee, then dinner, then…What on the surface looks like pure lust was actually genuine blossoming of love.  Harry realizes he should have told her he was married, then questions whether it is possible to truly love more than one person.  A law, after all, is merely words on paper.  This changes drastically when Phyllis becomes pregnant; so Harry does the right/wrong thing.

As Jordan gets closer to the facts, the walls and the world start closing in on Graham.  While his lonely fling/cowardice was initially self-serving, he has now ruined a trio of lives (more, if one counts the baby).

THE BIGAMIST is a powerful movie, sensitively acted, scripted (from Lawrence B. Marcus’ and Lou Schlor’s story) and masterfully directed.  Gwenn may speak for a number of us when he delivers his final denouement upon Harry:  “I despise you. I pity you. I don’t even want to shake your hand, but I almost want to wish you luck.”

Like THE HITCH-HIKER, THE BIGAMIST, distributed by RKO, fell into public domain.  The decades of lousy PD prints, VHS tapes, and DVDs never did the movie – particularly George E. Diskant’s excellent cinematography – justice.  Until now.  This new remaster, from 35mm elements, and, at last, in its essential widescreen dimensions (probably for the first time since 1953), gives the pic the edition it deserves.  A nice Leith Stevens score accompanies the now-worthy visuals.

Also featuring Kenneth Tobey, Jane Darwell, Peggy Maley, and Lilian Fontaine (costar Joan’s mom), this Blu-Ray also contains audio commentary by Kat Ellinger. 

All in all, a superb box set, honoring an important artist and deserving a spot on any classic collector’s shelf.

IDA LUPINO FILMMAKER COLLECTION. Black and White.  Full frame [1.37:1 for the first three titles; Widescreen [1.66:1, for The Bigamist; 1080p High Definition]. 2.0 DTA-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Paramount Home Entertainment.  CAT # K23818.  SRP: $79.95.

Southwest Side Story

Cut to the chase:  The rare and raw 1950 noirish drama THE LAWLESS, boldly dealing with Anglo vs. Chicano prejudice in small-town America, finally gets its much-deserved resurrection on DVD from the folks at Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment.

This remarkable movie grabs you from the fade-in – wherein white teens get confrontational with Hispanic youths. Ostensibly, it’s all about who gets the jobs – or who’s taking the jobs; but it’s veritably all a bullshit excuse to fan the flames of hate. The town is uneasily dealing with growing population of Mexicans who are relocating to the community as migrant fruit-pickers. Their “stealing” the jobs facade is nonsense, as the corrupt law enforcement and political figures gloat about how they’ll keep bringing ’em in at two dollars a head until they’re not needed. So much for the good ol’ days! The schism that becomes Mexicans against white America is further defined by slumming journalist Macdonald Carey, who has had enough of the miserable big-city bastards and yearns for the “simpler life.” He angers the big-shot honchos by going against his race and working for a left-leaning newspaper, which is not only run by an Hispanic, but (oh, the horror!) an Hispanic woman (Gail Russell).

Reluctantly, Carey drifts toward the opposition, alerting his former urban employers to what’s going on in the supposed bucolic paradise. And it blows up in his face. Interracial dating, rape, juvenile delinquency/gang warfare, equal rights for minorities (and women) and equal pay end up exploding into an all-out race riot, with the bigots refusing to acknowledge anyone who looks and/or acts different from them. Conform or get the hell out is the cretin credo, as the town becomes an embryonic blueprint for the one in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This is more than coincidental – the original screenplay is by Daniel Mainwaring, who penned the 1956 Don Siegel sci-fi classic.

And it was the liberal Mainwaring who brought in his pal to direct – controversial and similarly progressive Joseph Losey, here helming his second feature film.

What’s so amazing about THE LAWLESS is its dealing with racial profiling – remember this is 1950 – and its villainous personification via characters right out of the Joe Arpaio playbook. Even more astounding is the fact that this movie sprouted from the bread-and-butter Pine-Thomas unit, Paramount’s efficient B-picture department. Actually, how this came about isn’t that crazy when one considers what was going on in the industry at the time. Post-war audiences craved the neo-realist sociological messages increasingly fueling motion-picture fare. Big pictures like Gentleman’s Agreement, Pinky, Intruder in the Dust, No Way Out and Crossfire had/were doing well at the box office. More relevantly, “little” pics like the Stanley Kramer productions Home of the Brave and The Men, plus the racially charged Lost Boundaries and The Well, got some major juice in markets thought impenetrable by independents. So, long story short, if there was money to be made by being edgy with a message – sound the clarion call. Body Snatchers aside, THE LAWLESS, with its live TV hookup of the circus surrounding the vigilante race riot, prefigures Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (released by Paramount a year later; ironically, Carey’s character is named Wilder).

Mainwaring got his bosses, the notoriously tightwad producers William H. Pine and William C. Thomas (known throughout the industry as The Dollar Bills, a moniker I can never mention enough), to greenlight THE LAWLESS not only because of the above pitch, but also due to his innumerable past successes as a writer for the skinflints. He had a reasonably good working relationship with the Bills; not so with Losey, who clashed with the mini-moguls from Day One.

Losey deflected from calling Pine-Thomas the Dollar Bills, far preferring the term “monsters.” He recalled a script session a Bill had with the director while the producer was attending to business…on his toilet. According to Losey, their inane and inappropriate suggestions caused him to fling the script in their faces with a terse “Direct your own fucking picture!” He was fired at least once (possibly twice, depending upon which source one chooses to believe) with Mainwaring serving as a go-between/referee. The location work (which constituted most of the production) buffered the flare-ups, but had its own share of problems.

In Michel Ciment’s engrossing 1985 book Conversations with Losey, the director discussed the bizarre casting mix surrounding THE LAWLESS:  “Lalo Rios [the juvenile lead]…was a Mexican-born boy that I found in downtown Los Angeles at a church where he was master of ceremonies.  And he was very young, 15 or 16…Maurice Jara came from the Pasadena Playhouse…”  The two stars, Carey and Russell, both Paramount contract players, were, according to the director, an oil and water cocktail. Carey, a total professional – a trained stage actor – was pitch-perfect, a person Losey praised as a “genuinely nice guy.” (They would work well together again in Losey’s wonderful 1961 Hammer thriller The Damned).

Russell, on the other hand came with a Samsonite warehouse full of demons. “Gail Russell…died of alcoholism because she was so deathly frightened of acting, but she had in her the makings of a great star. I think she had the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen…And she was immensely sensitive.  She didn’t know anything.  Paramount had her under contract – like a horse.  She got a big salary then, and I had absolute instructions…not to let her have a drink.  The very first time I shot with her I had a long-night tracking shot…She couldn’t remember a single line and it was three or four pages of important dialogue…Finally…she grabbed me, her hands were icy cold, she was absolutely rigid, and she said, ‘Look,…I never had a director who gave me a scene this long before.  I can’t do it…I’ve never kidded myself.  I’m not an actress.  I hate it.  I’m frightened of it.  Get me a drink and I’ll be all right.’   So I said, ‘You know, I’ve been told not to get you a drink?’  She said, ‘Get me a drink!’  I got her a drink and she did the scene…By this time Macdonald Carey couldn’t remember his lines.  She had absolutely destroyed him.  It was a very hard bad start on a quick picture, to spend the whole night on one set-up…Anyway this started her drinking and she was drunk throughout the rest of the picture.  That isn’t to say that she was bad.  I think she was very good often, but sometimes I had to shoot scenes in ways to disguise the fact that she was drunk and sometimes I had to shoot scenes with a stand-in because she was too drunk to stand up.”

Russell, who is very good in the movie, is backed up by a roster of fine supporting players, including Herbert (Guy) Anderson, Lee Patrick, John Hoyt, Frank Ferguson, Paul Harvey, Willard Waterman and, in early appearances, Martha Hyer and Tab Hunter.

The stark black-and-white photography is by the superb cameraman J. Roy Hunt, whose near 200-title filmography began in 1916.  Losey credited Hunt for his early success:  “An extraordinary man who had invented lots of the little mechanisms on the Mitchell camera we were then using.  He was the one above all others who taught me how to work intensely and well and still fast.  We’d hardly get finished with a shot and he’d have the camera on his back, still on the tripod, and run to the next set-up which I’d already given him.  He was marvelous.” The music was another matter, being a workable but pedestrian score by Mahlon Merrick.  “[Pine-Thomas] forced a score on me which I detest and which I think damaged the film very much,” recalled Losey bitterly almost right up until his death in 1984.  “It made it cheaper and more melodramatic and it slowed the tempo.  And that was a battle I simply couldn’t win.”

With all these bumps and glitches, it’s incredible that THE LAWLESS turned out as well as it did – or even that it got made at all (several times, the picture was halted with the prognosis being to cut the losses and run). It remains, with Losey’s terrific 1951 thriller The Prowler, a peak of his underrated American period. Unquestionably, in part, the politics of THE LAWLESS (coupled with the director’s outspoken liberalism) zoomed him to HUAC’s Deport At Once status. The blacklisted director left the country in 1952 and spent the rest of his career working in Europe.

The lynch-mob sidebar in THE LAWLESS was favorably compared to the narrative of Fritz Lang’s 1936 masterpiece Fury (a movie Losey loved, and had seen many times, but dubiously claims had no influence on the Pine-Thomas pic; it’s undoubtedly also likely that THE LAWLESS resulted in getting the director the 1951 remake of Lang’s M). This sounded promising, except to Pine-Thomas who knew that while Lang’s movie was critically acclaimed, it didn’t make a dime. Undaunted, the producers set their publicity machine into motion utilizing shameful and contentious tactics. Using some of the extras from THE LAWLESS, a campaign began stressing that Mexicans like movies just like everyone else; images of Chicano kids lining up at a local theater filled the pressbook; notably, the show these eager picture-goers were champing at the bit for was the John Payne-Rhonda Fleming epic The Eagle and the Hawk, a (what a surprise!) concurrent Pine-Thomas production.

As positive word-of-mouth spread, Paramount took the reins and upped the promotion to a more respectable level. The studio began a rigorous trade-show screening agenda for their sleeper. And the press responded in kind, with accolades from no less than The New York Times and celebrated newscaster Drew Pearson, who hyped the picture extensively.

Once the repeated comparisons to Fury filtered down, Paramount employees could hear the groans coming from the Pine-Thomas offices. Indeed, the die had been cast; despite the glowing reviews, THE LAWLESS became the lowest-performing entry in the Pine-Thomas canon. In addition, the leftie politics of the piece prompted the producers to remove it from its television syndication packages during the early 1960s (and throughout the 1970s). In effect, it became a quasi-lost movie (occasionally turning up in Losey retrospectives, often hailing from private collections).

Olive Films and Paramount Home Entertainment should be heartily congratulated for making this important title available to classic movie fans. The DVD, mastered from excellent 35MM materials, looks and sounds just grand.

Losey saw THE LAWLESS as the anti-Capra picture, presenting a brutal modern world where would-be Mr. Smiths and Mr. Deedses (aka the Macdonald Carey character) came to the stark realization that there are was no such thing as a Capra America:  it was an ugly sugar-coated myth. For critics and the few popcorn eaters who saw it, THE LAWLESS presented a message that resonated with a cynical vengeance. For Pine-Thomas that message boiled down to two words: Never again!

THE LAWLESS.  Black and White.  Full frame [1.37:1].  Mono.  Cat #: OF393.  SRP:  $24.95.

Just One More Step…

A superb tribute to one of the most brutal campaigns of World War II, Sam Fuller’s unfairly ignored 1962 epic MERRILL’S MARAUDERS comes to Blu-Ray, thanks to the patriotic folks at The Warner Archive Collection.

During the first half of 1942, the U.S. military in the Pacific was faced with a seemingly impossible task:  specifically, stopping the Japanese from getting into India, and, while they were at it, to later take the town of Myitkyina.  At that period, the Japanese were far better prepared, had greater knowledge of the area, were ruthless in their ambush tactics and, worse, torture.  Aiding them was the terrain:  deadly, oppressive heat and humidity in a lethal environment loaded with natural living death (infested swamps, poisonous snakes, etc.).  Frank Merrill was assigned the job to stealthily reach the 500 mile objective with 3000 game troops quickly made “experts” in jungle warfare.  For every victory inch gained, it appeared to be two miles back – achievements not helped by the top brass, who added new tasks to the already overworked, physically and psychologically damaged participants of the 5307 Composite Unit, now known as Merrill’s Marauders (thanks to the publicity generated by the war press).  Merrill himself, gallant and heroic as he was, remained a questionable choice, as he suffered from a heart condition that made the journey a tense ordeal for those who knew the score.  Out of the original 3000 soldiers, only 100 survived.

No one could better tell the tale of fighting men under pressure than Sam Fuller, who had previously proven his cinematic American warrior mettle with The Steel Helmet, Fixed Bayonets, and China Gate.  Promised by Warner Bros. that if he embarked on this production, he’d get his dream project, The Big Red One – a European theater variation of the 5307 odyssey (where Fuller had been an actual participant) – sweetened the pot.  Alas, it wasn’t to be; although this movie did well, Sam would be denied his Big Red One for another 18 years (eventually spectacularly filmed by Lorimar, and, ironically, subsequently becoming a Warners property).

Agreeing to Warners demands, the writer-director was forced to share screenplay duties with producer (and Warner son-in-law) Milton Sperling.  Not a terrible situation, as Sperling was a pretty good scribe.  His “tick” was that he would never be satisfied with his efforts, and constantly came to the set with re-writes (Otto Preminger once told me that Sperling was “the only person I ever saw who could get Gary Cooper angry”).  But the script (based on Charles Ogburn Jr.’s book) works quite well, adding mere suggestions of Hollywood “glory” to the realistic Fuller approach (“Look okay to you?, is asked of the MD Captain during the mission.  “NOTHING looks okay to me!,” is his quintessential Fulleresque reply).  To further bring the drama to the screen, MERRILL’S would be filmed on-location in Pampanga in the Philippines, a decision that put the cast and crew into quasi-Marauders peril.  The heat and humidity, along with the powerful lights were nearly unbearable.

From the outset, the movie was fraught with jinxing – both man-made and act of God variety.  Original choice Gary Cooper was set to play Merrill (and would have been outstanding), but his real-life illness paralleled his character’s (not coronary thrombosis, but cancer), and he had to bow out.  The real Brigadier General Merrill’s stirring command of “just take the next step” helped move his men to their goal; in the pic, they are his last words before he succumbs to a heart attack (a great Fuller touch, but only half true.  Merrill, indeed, did suffer his first heart attack during the campaign – on March 29th of 1944; he lived another eleven years, passing on December 11, 1955.  The remainder of the actual operation was overseen by Executive Officer Chas. Hunter, and completed in August of that year).  Ultimately, the underrated Jeff Chandler was given the role, and played it beautifully, but the project’s on-screen/off-screen curse continued; while on-location, the actor engaged in football games with the crew, and injured his back – causing him to undergo surgery, once he returned stateside.  A botched operation, causing blood poisoning took its toll, and Chandler died on June 17, 1961.

The remaining casting hook was to make the Marauders familiar Warners TV faces:  Broncho‘s Ty Hardin, Sugarfoot‘s Will Hutchins, Lawman’s Peter Brown, plus Andrew Duggan, Claude Akins, John Hoyt, Chuck Roberson, Chuck Hayward, Mark Slade and others (one of the Merrill survivors Vaughan Wilson, acted as supervisor on the show, and also appeared in the pic as Bannister).  Being thousands of miles from Hollywood proved to be a trick card in Warners deck.  Many of the costars were informed via telegraphed pink slips that their series were not being renewed.  The anger and frustration of the beleaguered soldiers is, thus, often quite authentic (Hutchins genially shrugged it off.  “I always wanted to visit Japan, here was my chance”).

The new Warner Archive Blu-Ray of MERRILL’S MARAUDERS is a must-have for war pic and/or Sam Fuller fans.  It looks pristine gorgeous, as good as the Technicolor prints did in 1962.  Curiously, the anamorphic “scope” process was never given a credit in the ads or in the picture (it was the rarely heralded WarnerScope); suffice to say, William Clothier’s vibrant 2.35:1 location work is nothing less than sensational.  A music score by Howard Jackson sounds great in its original mono (using variants composed by Franz Waxman for 1945’s Objective Burma, another grueling tale of WWII jungle fighting.

My buddy, Will Hutchins, told me that it was indeed a rough shoot, but credited Fuller as one of his finest directors, and, equally important, “an all-around great guy.”  There were some perks to the production, he added.  “Now you’d never think this, but Andrew Duggan, who usually played these staid, stoic, humorless dudes, was hilarious. It turned out he was a classic movie fanatic, just like me.  Much of the down time (of which there was lots) was spent listening to him do expert mimicry.  He did fantastic impressions, and on one memorable afternoon did the entire Edgar Ulmer Black Cat, with not only flawless Karloff and Lugosi vocals, but every other character as well!”  Who’d a thunk it?

MERRILL’S MARAUDERS. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Entertainment. CAT # B07T3NQBST.  SRP: $17.99.

This title and others can be purchased at the Warner Archive Amazon Store or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold*

Jane’s Calamity

JUNE IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

One of the Sixties’ merriest cinematic treats, 1965’s rollicking-frolicking CAT BALLOU moseys into town via a limited edition from the galoots at Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures Industries.

A total surprise summer offering, CAT took the nation by storm, delighting both critics and audiences – grossing nearly $21M in its original release.  It finally pushed title lead Jane Fonda into the A-list category, as well as a host of other talented folks.

Westerns and western parodies are genre and sub-genre favorites of mine.  There’s a direct post-WWII evolutionary link that one can follow, if you pull out the comedy team efforts.  In pure begattin’ terms, Son of Paleface begat CAT BALLOU begat Blazing Saddles begat A Million Ways to Die in the West.  This can be gaged by a progression of genre stock character jokes, increasingly vulgar gags (that’s a good thing), overall B-western spoofin’, and strong female protagonists (Jane Russell, Fonda, Madeline Kahn, Charleze Theron), all leaning toward the lawless side.

Director Elliot Silverstein inventively took the standard set pieces and juiced them up, similarly to what Richard Lester did with the musical.  CAT BALLOU tells the tale of a prim and proper school marm who returns home to Wolf City, WY where she finds her once-prosperous rancher father now near-penniless – due to the greedy machinations of those involved and corrupted by the encroaching railroad.  Wolf City has been taken over by Eastern corporation underlings and infested with hired guns – most frighteningly, the noseless Tim Strawn, much to the chagrin of Cat, her pop and her newfound friends (inept uncle-nephew outlaws Clay Boone and Jed and Native American – and possibly Jewish – Jackson Two-Bears).  In retaliation, the resourceful Ms. Ballou decides to hire her pulp (or “penny dreadful,” as they were then called) novel hero, the celebrated Kid Shelleen; however, Shelleen turns out to be a washed-up alcoholic, who can’t keep his holster on, let alone his pants.

How this band of misanthropes become the scourge of the West (well, Wolf City) is a 97-minute fun ride that, unlike Shelleen’s buckskins, still holds up.

The secret to CAT BALLOU was the fact that the script writers, working from Roy Chanslor’s novel, weren’t your standard comic scribes; they were none other than super-serious/noirish icons Walter Newman (Ace in the Hole, Macao, The Man with the Golden Arm) and Frank R. Pierson (Cool Hand Luke, Dog Day Afternoon).  In addition, the grand supporting cast (with the exception of the same age nephew and uncle appearances by Michael Callan and Dwayne Hickman) were all Western and noir grizzled punims Bruce Cabot, John Marley, Arthur Hunnicutt (as Butch Cassidy), Jay C. Flippen, Chuck Roberson, etc., but, specifically, the male lead (more on him later); that said, a sprinkling of occasional screen jokesters smooth over the unshaven edges (Burt Mustin, Paul Gilbert, plus newbie Tom Nardini, and particularly one-time silent screen comedy matinee idol Reginald Denny).

The fact that it was all produced by Burt Lancaster’s former business partner Harold Hecht leads me to believe that (at some point) this was all to be taken somewhat seriously (perhaps with Burt as Shelleen).  The switchover to pure farce, ribbing the likes of Jesse James, Belle Starr, Dodge City, Rio Bravo and even Destry Rides Again made it all refreshing and uproarious.

Back in 1965, I was so taken by CAT that I went back to the Onteora to see it again.  And, then, again (once even convincing my “never repeat” pals to join me for a second helping).  I loved everything about it, not the least being the brilliant idea of sporadic cutaways to balladeers Stubby Kaye and Nat “King” Cole (the latter in his final screen role, released posthumously), who hilariously chronicle the gang’s exploits in song (as composed by Mack David and Jerry Livingston).

Back then, I ironically thought Cat was the most uninteresting person in the show; looking at it in 2021, twenty-eight-year-old Fonda really does play it perfectly – the embryonic awakenings of feminism now more apparent to me (the suffragette asides, her derring-do, dancing with a Native American at an all-white hoe-down, promoting equal rights, shunning marriage as her choice…pretty remarkable).  Of course, all of this takes a backseat to the greatest success of CAT BALLOU, costar Lee Marvin, outstanding, riotous and scary in the dual roles of Shelleen and Strawn (it took me awhile in 1965 to realize that he portrayed both parts).  Like Fonda, CAT BALLOU propelled Marvin to A-list stardom – with the ultimate reward:  the Best Actor Oscar (a rarity for a Western, an EXTREME rarity for a Western comedy!).  The pic garnered another four nominations (Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Editing, Best Original Song, Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment).

The Twilight Time limited edition Blu-Ray (3000) is a beautiful new 1080p widescreen transfer.  The camerawork of Jack Marta looks as crisp and clear as it did during that hot July summer (especially the Custer County, CO exteriors).  A terrific remixed 5.1 soundtrack (also accessible in original 2.0 mono) has a genuine theater vibe (key to enjoying the throwaway one-liners, sound effects and bouncy Frank DeVol score).  Extras abound, too, and include an IST (Isolation Sound Track to listen to the music and songs), mini-featurettes, supplemental audio commentary (including one by Callan and Hickman), and the theatrical trailer.

Think I’m gonna watch it again now.

CAT BALLOU. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 or 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures Industries. SRP: $29.95.

Design for Dying

JUNE IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

Two struggling American artists – a writer and a painter – living in a cramped Paris flat, waiting for success and falling in love with the same woman.  Sound familiar?  Well, you’re wrong, ’cause we’re talking about the 1965 Universal comedy THE ART OF LOVE, now on Blu-Ray from the cineastes at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Home Video.

There are more than artistic goals and coital frolicking going on here, as scripted by supporting cast member Carl Reiner, working with Richard Alan Simmons’s and William Sackheim’s tale (who, in turn, seemed to have also “borrowed” more than a mere theme from Mark Twain’s 1893 short story Is He Dead?)But Sir Noel’s basic subject matter aside, there’s lots cowardly lyin’.

Casey Bennett and Paul Sloane are, as indicated, two buddies fighting to make a name for themselves.  Womanizing journalist Casey seems okay with their situation as long as bud Paul keeps giving him a piece of his regular subsidy money, courtesy of his gorgeous, rich America-situated fiancée Laurie.  But Sloane has had it; he’s gonna pack it in, return to the States, settle down and likely work for one of his bride’s pater’s various companies, knocking out cartoony ads.  This throws Bennett into a tizzy.  And here’s the literary juncture where the clever Noel and the Twain shall meet, via a throwaway verbal snap by unscrupulous art dealer Zorgus (too bad you’re not dead, dead artists sell).

Casey suggests Paul commit faux suicide, allow him to move all his canvasses, reap the rewards and then reappear – a victim of amnesia.  How all of this goes magnificently wrong is both sardonically funny and a bit disturbing (for a wacky Sixties romcom), as it involves Nikki, a genuine suicidal, impulsive lady (who falls obsessively for Paul), Sloane’s grieving fiancée (who falls for Casey), a popular “nightclub” where the female attractions live and have…clients and last, but by far not the least, Paul’s jealous nature wreaking vengeance by framing Casey for his “murder.” 

What a merry escapade!

Lavishly coproduced by Ross Hunter and star James Garner’s Cherokee Company, THE ART OF LOVE tends to lean toward the mean-spirited (something that didn’t connect with my eleven-year-old self during the July 4th weekend in 1965, when I first saw it; I, frankly, loved every frame).  Reiner makes sure to put in plenty of schtick tailor-made for costar (and friend/lead of his iconic sitcom) Dick Van Dyke.  The female leads have less to do, except look consistently beautiful, which they, not surprisingly, manage rather well.  Elke Sommer (as Nikki) does her trademark alluring pout throughout while Angie Dickinson is admittedly more or less wasted in a thankless role as Laurie; her running gag is to faint at each newly-revealed narrative outrage (of which there are many).

The director is Norman Jewison, at the end of his studio-contracted assignments (The Cincinnati Kid would be released that fall), and gearing up for his greatest creative period (the next year’s reteaming with Reiner for the smash hit The Russians Are Coming, followed by In the Heat of the Night).

The lush Technicolor photography is by the superb Russell Metty; a nod must be made to Second Unit a.d.s Douglas Green and Wendell Franklin, as the actual Paris backdrops are among the best match-ups I’ve ever seen (the picture was otherwise entirely shot at Universal City).

The remainder of the cast is 1960’s Character Actor Heaven, most notably Ethel Merman as Madame Coco La Fontaine, but also Pierre Olaf, Miiko Taka, Irving Jacobson, Naomi Stevens, Jay Novello, Maurice Marsac, Fifi D’Orsay, Marcel Hillaire, Nan Martin, and Rolfe Sedan. Roger C. Carmel and Leon Belasco get a special acknowledgment as mercenary art dealer Zorgus and his underling (a Parisian take on the Alan Brady/Mel Cooley relationship) while Reiner himself excels as Garner’s nasty defense attorney.  Curiously, the original choice for the pivotal character of Madame La Fontaine (the movie’s European title is At Madame Coco’s) was Mae West, who agreed and was approved by Universal; it was only when the star demanded that she be able to re-write all her own dialog that she was immediately replaced (West’s “comeback,” the less-than-worthy Myra Breckinridge, would have to wait another five years).  As a sign of the times, Reiner’s script has an overabundance of bungling French detectives – to the extent that the insertion of a line about seeing “too many Peter Sellers movies” became necessary.

Back in ’65, a bit that brought the house down was a raggedly-dressed laughing, old, toothless woman, knitting during the trial scene, cackling “Guillotine!”  All of us – adults and kids – got it (I wonder how many would today).  I’m shocked that in looking at the movie now, the gag is repeated at least a half-dozen times.  I guess the suits thought it was funny as well.

The Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray of THE ART OF LOVE looks excellent in this new widescreen 35MM 1080p master (a recent TCM screening used a 16MM full frame print).  The colors mostly replicate the era’s Technicolor palette, with only flesh tones occasionally appearing a tad pale.  A fine, strong audio track, featuring a sprightly Cy Coleman score adds the final touch.  Extras include audio commentary by film critic Peter Tonguette and a wonderful related trailer gallery.

Often in movies about fictional artists, the paintings leave much to be desired; in THE ART OF LOVE, many of Van Dyke’s “works” are quite lovely.  And for good reason; they were created by artist Don Cincone, who curiously received no credit (why do I think that many of the Universal-paid-for canvasses ended up in producer Hunter’s living room?).

A perfect addition to a Sixties/comedy collection, THE ART OF LOVE, almost forgotten, remains a nifty way for Boomers to pass the afternoon; many did so in 1965 (the pic was a year’s end top earner).

THE ART OF LOVE. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios.  CAT# K25022. SRP:  $24.95.

Not Atoll What it Seems

JUNE IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

A Mad Men fantasy project on film, 1964’s all-star farce HONEYMOON HOTEL is available for occupancy via the travel agents at the Warner Archive Collection/Turner Entertainment/Warner Bros. Entertainment.

The movie, sort of a Love, American Style full-length rendition of The Devil’s Disciple (INSERT gobsmacked reaction HERE), is one of approximately 9,000,000,000 “sex” comedies unleashed post-Pillow Talk; everyone who was anyone eventually did at least one – even Brando (the still home vid unreleased Bedtime Story, made the same year as this pic).  In a nutshell, HH relates the unlikely shenanigans involving a wedding from hell gone wrong (or right, depending on how you look at it), a tropical paradise hotel and a plethora of wink-wink-nudge-nudge lechery and debauchery all revolving around maneuvering nubile females into what the great Carrie Fisher dubbed as “surrendering the pink.”

Quasi-good guy schlepp Jay Menlow, a successful New Yorker, is looking forward to his upcoming nuptials to the stunning Cynthia Hampton; his playa roomie, Ross Kingsley, isn’t so sure; in fact, he may not even show up, as Ross can’t fathom being chained to one woman until the “death do us part” thingy.

Cynthia, however, is a harpy in shapely human form, pure evil learned from her parents – affluent one-percenters who nickel-and-dimed their way to a fortune (they even bitch to the hired help at the pre-wedding reception).  No surprise that a rift erupts between the soon-to-be newlyweds, blamed by all upon poor nudnik Menlow, who, with Ross’s aid, escapes the betrothal.  Double problem:  Kinglsey is supposed to be on a big business trip for his aluminum company and Jay has already put down a non-refundable fee on the honeymoon suite.  Ross arrives at the perfect solution (once he discovers that the place in question – the Boca Roca – has ten girls for every man).  They’ll vacay together.  Unfortunately, Ross didn’t read the fine print:  top-heavy femme numbers refer to island residents, not guests – as only honeymooners are allowed to stay at the resort.  Of course, this gives us some gay gags, as the two show up as a couple, but the real fun begins when Cynthia’s super-gorgeous bestie, Lynn Jenley (bizarrely listed as “Lynn Hope” in the end credits), turns up as the hotel’s activities director.  And Ross has some definite activities in mind.  Add to the deception is the arrival of Kingsley’s cheating horndog boss, Mr. Sampson (who lands with buxom ditz doll Sherry in tow), AND Cynthia who decides to give Menlow another chance, AND Menlow himself, who wants to be more like his pal and nail Lynn for himself.

Need to take a breath?  Get the Mad Men ref now?

For all the smutty innuendoes, HONEYMOON HOTEL, like most of the “naughty” Hollywood competition at the time, was innocent enough to send the kiddies to. A bunch of us caught it because of the wonderful Onterora policy:  matinees on Wednesday, Saturday, and rainy days.  There was a torrential downpour on this particular morning, and gaggles of urchins lined up in their slickers at 2:30 that afternoon.  I loved the pic at the time, not getting some of the borderline lurid jokes, but dug seeing a comedy with costars Robert Morse and Robert Goulet as a kind of 1960s Martin & Lewis; I sincerely hoped the movie would be a smash, and that the Culver City dream factory might pair them again (I was starved for a new comedy team).  Interestingly enough, while HH was made at the King of the Musical Studio, MGM never bothered to utilize the considerable singing talents of these two leads (noted Leo suit Pandro Berman even functioned as HONEYMOON‘s producer), although Goulet does get to warble the Sammy Cahn-James Van Heusen sleazy-listening title tune.  The Roberts had become mega-famous due to their individual appearances on-stage in How to Success in Business Without Really Trying and Camelot.  Metro made neither (both would be filmed three years later by other studios, the latter not even costarring Goulet).  Morse, under contract to MGM, never appeared in a musical, and, in his tenure there, only made one picture that is constantly revived (The Loved One).  Not that HONEYMOON HOTEL is a bust; it’s quite entertaining in its way, and perfectly reflects the benign pre-Graduate sex pic era.  The script is by R.S. Allen and Harvey Bullock, two scribes noted for their extensive TV sitcom/any com work, principally numerous episodes of Gomer Pyle, Hogan’s Heroes, The Patty Duke Show, The Love Boat (and, big shock, Love, American Style).  The director, Henry Levin, best-remembered for 1959’s witty adventure Journey to the Center of the Earth, proved that he did have a light touch, so…For me, it’s the beautiful Panavision camerawork that seals the deal technically, thanks to the efforts of Harold Lipstein (the original warm MetroColor now popping ebulliently in ways that the 1964 prints never achieved (thank you, Warner Archive, for this excellent made-to-order DVD).  A perky score by Walter Scharf adds to the froth, and the frothing.

Morse and Goulet aside, it’s the amazing supporting cast that makes this feminist nightmare a must-see.  Keenan Wynn (as Goulet’s boss), Elsa Lanchester, Bernard Fox, Elvira Allman, Sandra Gould, Chris Noel, Beverly Adams, Julie Payne, Vito Scotti, and Naomi Stevens are such fun; however, ultimately, the women leads put it over.  Nancy Kwan steals the picture (and with these pros, that’s quite a feat) as the funny, cool Lynn; the only sore thumb is believing that she could ever be besties with the likes of Cynthia (Anne Helm, usually a pleasant actress, who is so horrific here that it’s actually uncomfortable to watch her screeching shrike of a performance); and, yeah, Kwan gets to show her dancing skills in the only MGM moment, a hilarious and seductive fertility dance.  The unsung hero (well, heroine) is Jill St. John as the bodacious bubblehead Sherry.  St. John, certainly no real-life flake, brought the house down then by her attempt to walk through a glass patio door.

St. John also gave me my one personal lasting memory of HONEYMOON HOTEL.  As we exited the theater, one of my pals checked out a lobbycard showcasing the actress.  “That’s not the color of her clothes and hair.”  Even at ten years old, I was cinema-savvy and began to explain the hand-coloring process that defined the lobbycard art form.  “But why didn’t they just use color photos?,” she reasonably asked (MGM actually did try that briefly in the early Fifties).  “Well, because…they’re lobbycards.” was my brilliant answer.  “That makes no sense!” she stubbornly replied.  57 years later, and I still can’t shake that exchange.  Go figure.

The infamous lobbycard incident that caused a major adolescent controversy in 1964!

HONEYMOON HOTEL. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; mono audio. Warner Archive Collection/Turner Entertainment Co./Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. CAT # B00Y7R9H38.  SRP:  $17.99.

This title and others can be purchased at the Warner Archive Amazon Store or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold*

Fatigued Fatigues

JUNE IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

Sometimes when we had exhausted the fare at the Onteora (or if a special “biggie” was playing elsewhere), we’d pile into cars and (usually) head for neighboring Margaretville’s Galli-Curci Theater (no skin off the Onterora’s nose; at one time the same dude – one Max Silberman – built and owned both houses).  A special “biggie,” mostly geared toward grownups, certainly unfurled in July 1963 with the announcement of CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D.,now on Blu-Ray from the staff at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Home Video.

When my mom (who took me along with her pals) saw the cast (especially star Gregory Peck, late of To Kill a Mockingbird, and forever in her heart since Gentleman’s Agreement), she was pumped; when I saw the poster, featuring co-star Tony Curtis, so was I.  The pic was sold as a wacky military WWII comedy, the one-sheet mimicking 1959’s Operation Petticoat.  Count me in!  Boy, was I in for an electro shock.

CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D., while indeed containing many comedic episodes, generally is a drama with many hard-hitting moments.  It takes place at an Arizona military rehab hospital, in 1944.  Here the broken bones are shared (ridiculously) with the broken minds.  Captain Josiah Newman (naturally, Peck) heads the psych ward, battling ailments that were still “new” to the profession (specifically, what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD), but also at war with his superiors…and time.  Six weeks was the max given to cure these “nutjobs,” then send them right back for more.  Of course, this sounds barbaric, since traumatized G.I.s could hardly be counted upon to perform as if normal (whatever that is); worse so for deranged patients with a rank in the high command.  A nightmare waiting to happen.

Newman with his shanghaiing savvy beauteous head nurse Lt. Francie Corum to his side (Angie Dickinson in a really nicely done understated role) and scavenger orderly Cpl. Jackson Leibowitz (Curtis, a neurotic streetwise dude who eventually becomes a self-taught junior shrink, lacking everything but a diploma and a decoding ring) remarkably manages to perform medical miracles, but not without occasional sacrifice and at a devastating cost.

As indicated, CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. was a “big” summer Catskill resort special for Universal (the official nationwide rollout would be in December).  At the time I was surprised that it didn’t play the Onterora, as they usually handled all the Universal output (only rarely did the Gallic-Curci run Universals, most notably with Spartacus).  The picture generally (and deservedly) got rave reviews.  I wasn’t so sure.  The uneven broad marker between the borderline slapstick and dark psychological drama played upon my psyche.  Not a major surprise when one realizes that the director was none other than the previously heralded David Miller, championed here a couple of columns ago with his 1952 noir triumph Sudden Fear (this movie, with its sharp change in tone, has more in common with his freakish 1949 musical Top O’the Morning, which has to be seen to be believed).  I think if the NEWMAN posters hadn’t pointed in one clear direction, maybe I would have felt better (check out the Blu-Ray cover below, which was the one-sheet).  Looking at the movie today with adult eyes makes me appreciate the efforts of all concerned; in fact, in 2021, it’s the lowbrow comedy (which I so loved in ’63) that seems out of place.

NEWMAN, as one might expect, is extraordinary for tackling PSTD, still a controversial subject in the Sixties (and definitely one in the Forties).  The handling (aka Newman’s approach) is quite reasonable and even modern.

Of course, having a cast of psychotics to deal with is a guarantee that you’ll be headed toward Snake Pit territory come Oscar time, and here CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. didn’t disappoint either.  The key lunatics in question are Eddie Albert (two years away from Green Acres, and whose NEWMAN performance terrified me), Robert Duvall (following up on Mockingbird), and Bobby Darin (whose tour de force turn as a racist in the previous year’s Pressure Point won him acclaim); Darin got the Best Supporting Oscar nod, along with screenwriters Richard L. Breen and Phoebe and Henry Ephron for Best Writing Based on Material from Another Medium (the bestselling novel by Leo Rosten); another nom was given to Waldon O. Watson for Best Sound.

Peck and Curtis, who coproduced the show with Universal, give it their all, and exhibit what classic movie star power is all about.  They are ably supported by Bethel Leslie, James Gregory, Dick Sargent, Robert F. Simon, Jane Withers, Vito Scotti, Gregory Walcott, Barry Atwater, Ted Bessell, Cal Bolder, Calvin Brown, Ann Doran, Mike Farrell, Martin West and Curtis’ real-life bestie Larry Storch.  Two Russells likewise did exemplary work, the great d.p. Russell Metty and the wonderful composer Russell Garcia (remember his beautiful music for George Pal’s The Time Machine?), the latter who shared the score duties with house talent Frank Skinner.

It’s terrific to see this oft-faded Eastmancolor title in a crisp, sparkling new widescreen 1080p transfer (only the main credits and occasional opticals briefly mar the pristine look).  Extras include audio commentary by Samm Deighan and the theatrical trailer.

FUN FACT:  author Rosten’s book was based on actual U.S. Army psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson.  In the movie’s climax, Newman is faced with the offer of staying on and further helping returning soldiers with their mental probs, an honor and a privilege to be sure.  Peck weighs the options, and the flick wisely doesn’t reveal his decision.  For good reason.  The real Newman/Greenson ditched the military, and headed West for the monetary glories of Hollywood, where he became ultra-rich analyzing the endless throngs of movie stars, directors and producers.  Oh, well.

Driving back to Fleischmanns after the showing in 1963, my mom turned to me, pleased with the pic.  “Good movie,” she said to me.  I shook my head.  “I dunno, mom, it was good when it was funny, then it got too serious and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.”  My sage parent patted me on the noggin and replied, “Welcome to life.”

CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios. CAT # K25126. SRP: $24.95.

Strange Bedfellows

JUNE IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

For the third year in a row (doing a column I originally thought to be a one-off), Supervistaramacolorscope kicks off a month-long series of pictures I remember from my adolescent summer vacations…with a movie I never saw!

Yep, you read right.  We begin this year’s Catskill crop of celluloid with a title so notorious that we kiddies were banned from even talking about it:  the 1963 “shocker” THE BALCONY, now on Blu-Ray from the flesh peddlers at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics, in cahoots with Continental Distributing, Inc.

An indie with undies, THE BALCONY first captured my attention from the enticing duo-tone poster which adorned the Coming Soon side of the Onteora Theater, in the upstate village of Flesichmanns, NY.  From the graphic graphics (half-naked ladies peering over a balcony), I figured it was a dirty movie.  Well, that and a banner pasted across the diameter of the poster with the block letters “NO CHILDREN ALLOWED.”  Of course, I wanted to know why. My mom was very evasive.  I previously had similar conversations with the grown-ups over the no-no rules for Never on Sunday and Lolita

One thing fer sure.  With the husbands all working in the city (their two-week vacays were usually relegated to the last half of August), all the moms were going to partake this nasty show.  It was a babysitter’s bonanza, and it was only playing for one night.

So, what is THE BALCONY?  What were the moms going to get?  Lasciviousness aside, it was an all-star, low-budget adaptation of Jean Genet’s play about the fat cat fantasies of war.  And where better to let unspool a totalitarian wet dream than in a whorehouse?  From the gruesome opening, featuring unedited news footage of revolutionists being beaten by military goons, THE BALCONY immediately moves into the confines of Madame Irma’s (aka Shelley Winters) bordello, the most popular spot in the besieged city (the brothel is a dressed up soundstage because it’s all a play-game, this thing called fascism – especially for the S&M fetishists).

The Madame’s/Winters’, occasional lover is the hothead hawk Police Chief (the only name he’s known by), a particularly agitated Peter Falk, who constantly rants and raves about bitches and whores (two words rarely, if ever, spoken in American movies at the time; remember, it took another five years before Rosemary’s Baby allowed the word “shit” to be uttered on U.S. screens).  The biplay between the two is occasionally interrupted by The Madame’s dealing with Carmen (Lee Grant), a former ho’, now upgraded to executive assistant (but who yearns for the good old days).

The joint really gets jumping when the number one revolutionist ends up in the place, and pitted against a violent Falk.  This particularly gave the movie post-1960s cult legs, as the young man in question is portrayed by Leonard Nimoy.

Falk’s deranged idea that three meek johns who strut their stuff as authoritarian figures (in order to get pleasured) be pushed out to address the masses in their alter egos (the uniforms will make the idiots believe anything) becomes a reality, and sets in motion the final act.  And it was these fellows’ introductions that gave the moms what they paid to see:  three elongated sequences of sex fantasies enacted by a bishop/milkman, a general/CPA and a judge/gas man.  All three men are renowned and respected character actors (Jeff Corey, Kent Smith, Peter Brocco); the women who service them ain’t chopped liver either.  Corey is satisfied by the great Joyce Jameson, and Brocco by Ruby Dee (“lick it, lick it!” she commands the “magistrate” toward the direction of her footwear).  The most erotic of the trio features the least known actress who cavorts with Smith (in Patton-esque riding regale, whipping the equine-tailed lass), and is listed only as “Horse” (Arnette Jens, delivering the most sensual performance in the show).

THE BALCONY was likely the most successful production ever made by the Walter Reade Corporation (they usually distributed pics), even though it was banned in several states; it was quickly filmed at KTTV Studios in L.A. by director Joseph Strick (later to gain greater Bijou fame as the force behind the equally infamous Ulysses and Tropic of Cancer).  The legendary d.p. George Folsey (last seen here as cinematographer on The Harvey Girls) shot the pic in stark black-and-white.  The score essentially uses cuts from the library of Igor Stravinsky.  In short, a very liberal movie made by and starring very liberal folks.  And that ain’t bad.

The widescreen Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray looks near pristine, and comes with the fetching extra comprising an interview with Lee Grant, the only surviving member of the cast (with the exception of the amazing but still obscure Ms. Jens).  Other supplements include audio commentary by Tim Lucas and a gallery of trailers.

Super tame by today’s standards (it could play the morning run on TCM), THE BALCONY was an ultra-notorious offering in 1963 – not so difficult to fathom when one considers that TWO Billy Wilder movies – Irma La Douce and Kiss Me, Stupid –  also got the “ADULTS ONLY” tag, as well as George Roy Hill’s Toys in the Attic.

I can’t imagine what the hopeful maters made of the promise of sinematic sex and getting a massive dose of Jean Genet, certainly more deep dish than deep throat.  I do recall asking my mom if the undressed ladies on the terrace caught cold.  “Yeah,” she replied, before snorting into a case of the giggles.

THE BALCONY. Black and white. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Continental Distributing. CAT # K24726. SRP: $29.95.