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July 21, 2014

Savant's new reviews today are:

Violent Road
DVD-R

  Howard W. Koch's low-budget re-do of The Wages of Fear sees he-man playboy Brian Keith leading a truck convoy carrying highly combustive rocket fuel up some perilous roads East of the Sierras. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is a semi-suicidal rocket scientist who has lost his family to an explosive accident -- he's a perfect choice to drive one of the trucks. And sexy Merry Anders is there to show Keith why he's risking his hide on such a dangerous mission. And watch out for the nasty stuff in truck #2 -- it burns like acid. In DVD-R from The Warner Archive Collection.
7/22/14

Radio Days
Blu-ray

  Woody Allen's most affectionate & nostalgic feature is an ode to the grandeur of '40s radio. An eccentric family in Rockaway Beach lives vicariously through the glamorous music and personalities they hear on the airwaves. Actor-wise the film is a regular W. Allen homecoming night: Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest, Julie Kavner, Michael Tucker lead a delightful cast of dozens. And the huge selection of great music is isolated on an M&E track. In Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
7/22/14

and

Witness for the Prosecution
Blu-ray

  Billy Wilder shakes up Agatha Christie's whodunnit classic with snappy dialogue, witty humor and razor-sharp direction. The genuinely terrific cast -- Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, Elsa Lanchester -- elevates the nail-biting courtroom drama genre into high art: "Are you not a chronic and habitual LIAR???!!" Comes with a selection of Billy Wilder interviews conducted by Volker Schlöndorff. In Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
7/22/14




Hello -- Thanks to the summer's great disc releases, I'm happily writing away. I'm also filling-in a few holes in my film viewing background, such as Martin Ritt's Paris Blues (KL Studio Classics) and Lewis Milestone's Arch of Triumph (Olive Films). And I just saw a great Brit crime picture recommended to me a while back, Stacy Keach in The Squeeze (Warner Archive).

August has an enormous number of discs coming out, and I want to cover as many of them as possible. It seems strange -- all the pundits have talked about the extinction of Blu-ray for three years now but I just don't believe it. In terms of selection, lovers of older pictures should be really pleased this year. I can't wait to cover new Blus of favorites The Unforgiven, Man Hunt, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, High School Confidential, Love Streams, Vengeance Is Mine, What's New Pussycat? and On the Beach.

Thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson



July 19, 2014

Savant's new reviews today are:

Hearts and Minds
Blu-ray + DVD

  The first and most affecting anti-war documentary about Vietnam told truths that Americans didn't want to hear, just as Watergate and the failed war were winding down. Using an inspired collection of prime news and interview footage, the vision of the war is an undeniable fabric of lies and crimes. General Westmoreland's own testimony damns the military mindset and political rationale, while we see some of the iconic horror moments that made indelible impressions on the American conscience. The extras include excellent unused material, including an interview with newsman David Brinkley that makes one lament our nation's loss of anything resembling objective journalism. A Dual-Format edition in Blu-ray and DVD from The Criterion Collection.
7/19/14

and

Violent Saturday
Blu-ray

  This format back-track retrieves Richard Fleischer's combo Grand Hotel- bank robbery movie from an earlier flawed presentation: the new HD master is one of the best-looking transfers ever of a '50s CinemaScope feature. Stephen McNally, J. Carrol Naish and Lee Marvin pull off a bank heist that cuts a bloody swath through several soapy relationships. With sharp characterizations from Richard Egan, Virginia Leith, Sylvia Sidney and Ernest Borgnine as a pacifist with a mean pitchfork. And Victor Mature earns the love of his son the old-fashioned way, by wading into the mayhem with a shotgun. In Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
7/19/14





Hello and happy summer!

I'm still on the mend but am now writing up a storm and hope to be back up to full capacity right away. I'll need to, as interesting discs are arriving and I want to get to all of them.

As is usual here at DVD Savant, friend and advisor Gary Teetzel continues to save my skin volunteer clever and fun links for this column. He tells me that a new Scorpion Releasing Blu-ray of Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires is in the works, with extras by Tim Lucas, who I hear knows a thing or two about the Italian director's work. I won't bother to link to articles about a Universal reboot of their classic monster franchise... they thoroughly trashed the legacy just a few years before, and the writer chosen for the project is best known for his The Fast and the Furious movies. Let's hope I'm wrong, but I just don't see anything worthwhile in this approach -- there are great talents out there that might make something memorable.

What else? Criterion announced Blu-rays of My Darling Clementine, La Dolce Vita and a massive Complete Jacques Tati boxed set. I'll be interested to learn more about the strange color system used to film his Jour de fête.

Now back to the keyboard, to try and do justice to Arch of Triumph, Radio Days, Witness for the Prosecution, The Essential Jacques Demy, Marty, Born Yesterday, Grizzly, Sorceress, and, and... Shout! Factory's massive new Herzog: The Collection box. I'll have to sample the Herzog movies I know well and start digging into the new ones.

There's less chance that I'll score the fancy Twin Peaks set that comes out at roughly the same time. Even more expensive is Warners' upcoming Complete Batman TV Blu-ray compilation -- that price tag isn't exactly Bat-Friendly but it still looks irresistible. Disc collecting -- habit of champions.

Thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson



July 15, 2014

Savant's new reviews today are:

The North Star
+
Armored Attack!

Blu-ray

  Hoky smokes -- Samuel Goldwyn's 1943 ode to the fighting spirit of Russian peasants is a thick slice of pro-Stalin propaganda, aimed (we hope) to improve relations with our Soviet ally. A top cast led by director Lewis Milestone fights back against the Nazi blitzkrieg in an idealized, sanitized (and non-religious!) Ukraine. Starring Walter Huston, Anne Baxter, Farley Granger, Dana Andrews, Erich von Stroheim, Dean Jagger and Jane Withers. Armored Atack!, believe it or not, is a 1957 re-cut that swings 180 degrees the other way, making the movie into an anti-Communist tract. Both versions are here, intact. With music by Aaron Copland and camera work by James Wong Howe. In Blu-ray from Olive Films.
7/15/14

and

The Scalphunters
Blu-ray

  Burt Lancaster's western ego-fest (he's the most fit and athletic 54 year-old in history) has him sparring with escaped slave Ossie Davis, while struggling to retrieve the furs he's trapped from a friendly (but greedy) Indian chief. Telly Savalas' nasty crew of land pirates scalp Indians for money; the movie's ability to shift modes is pretty impressive when it makes Savalas the henpecked hubby of unhappy frontier broad Shelley Winters. Directed by Sidney Pollack, the show is a lot of action-packed, slapstick fun in Panavision and color. In Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
7/15/14




Hello!

I'm not caught up yet with my writing obligations -- I decided to treat this little kidney stone recovery period as an adventure (!) and so far it's been a roller-coaster ride. I have a new respect for what the human body can take and the skill and cleverness of today's doctors. I'm also really ready to get this episode behind me…

On the bright side, I do have some good links today --

Author Tom Weaver linked to a "Lord Melody" Calypso Creature Novelty Song that I'd never heard of. It seems pretty strongly derivative of Harry Belafonte's calypso hit "Mama Look a Boo Boo". It's a serendipitous omen, as Weaver's highly awaited new book about the Gill Man, The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy, written with David Schecter and Steve Kronenberg, is due out on September 30.


Gary Teetzel informs me that the unheralded debut of a new, uncut version of Billy Wilder's Kiss Me Stupid should be premiering on the MGM HD cable channel on August 30, at 10PM Eastern time. The existing DVD of Kiss Me Stupid incorporates one major fix done by John Kirk about ten years ago, which can be read about at my 2003 review. This new copy reinstates several dialogue lines also nixed to curry favor with the censors. They aren't big changes, but Billy Wilder fans familiar with the movie should spot them immediately. I'm curious to see what they are!


From correspondent/author David J. Schow comes something he noticed on the web: in this YouTube encoding of Black Sabbath in Don Kirschner's Rock Concert, a syndicated TV show from 1975, the stage backdrop behind Black Sabbath is none other than the Altair 4 cyclorama from Forbidden Planet. I wonder if they cut it up?


Finally, writer Mark Crawley has tipped me off to a Region B German Blu-ray coming on September 25 from Koch Media. The 1986 remake of Invaders from Mars doesn't do a great deal for me, but a blurb on the package does: it says that the 3-disc set contains the remake PLUS the 1953 original. So all of a sudden I'm paying much closer attention.

Thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson



July 12, 2014

Savant's new reviews today are:

Caught
Blu-ray

  Max Ophüls makes a small-scale drama into a major noir attraction, with a screenplay by Arthur Laurents and fine performances by Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Ryan and James Mason (in his first Hollywood film). An ambitious, penniless woman chases a fairy tale scenario of marrying a rich Prince Charming, only to find herself the 'property' of a tyrannical millionaire, a man of industry as ruthless in his personal life as in his business dealings. Only later does she discover other, better values, working for a dedicated doctor. Ophüls' direction is as impressive as ever -- his movie is a potent counterattack on the false material dreams that are central to our culture. In Blu-ray from Olive Films.
7/12/14

and

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
Blu-ray

  Billy Wilder's superb epic about the World's Greatest Consulting Detective remains his most rewarding late-career feature. The beautifully directed film follows Robert Stephens' Sherlock and Colin Blakely's Dr. Watson on a bungled case backstage at the Russian Ballet, and then on to a deductive adventure involving dead canaries, a mystery woman (Geneviève Page), Sherlock's imperious brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee) Trappist Monks, a bicycle tour to Scotland and the Loch Ness Monster. Wilder goes for sentiment this time out, and his bittersweet ending is like nothing else he's done. And the film has a masterful, mesmerizing music score by Miklos Rozsa. A Dual-Format edition in Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
7/12/14






Hello!

If some of this writing is fuzzy today, I have a good excuse. I went in for surgery for kidney stones yesterday and am still (ouch) recovering. This has been knocking me out of action now and then since March, and I'm looking forward to having the troublesome problem resolved.

Enough said about that -- Some interesting links today, plus some great disc news:

Gary Teetzel just told me that The Warner Archive Collection will be releasing a Blu-ray of Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past. It's one of the best, most deliriously romantic films noir ever. It'll have uncompressed audio and a commentary by my old associate & mentor James Ursini. This is the kind of disc announcement I like -- !

Kansas film festival organizer and longtime friend Bill Shaffer was a prime research contact for the first wave of Sergio Leone DVDs back ten years ago. On Thursday, July 17 he's going to be the headliner at a speaking engagement at the Kansas City Library (Plaza Branch), which should be of great interest to any western fans in the area. Here's the official website announcement for the gathering, called A Fistful of Dollars at 50: The Impact of Spaghetti Westerns.


And just up at World Cinema Paradise, I've written a new article called Military Boomer Movie Confessions: Growing Up in the Military Base Theater System. I worried a bit that its focus might be too personal -- the whole thing is me, me, me -- but I've already received some positive feedback from people that either grew up on military bases, or were curious about what I'd call my 'domestic military' childhood. Anyway, you'll find out why I was able to walk alone to see movies at age seven, and how the U.S. Air Force is responsible for helping me get my 'radical' UCLA education.


Over at Trailers from Hell I never miss a trailer with commentary by the articulate, informed Brian Trenchard-Smith. His newest is a coming attractions for Peter Medak's great 1991 Brit crime film Let Him Have It. It's the true story from the 1950s of an appalling miscarriage of justice. Hey, and I reviewed it too, back in 2005.

U.K. correspondent Dave Carnegie has tipped me to an interesting and well-done featurette now on YouTube, about The Restoration of the Hammer Film The Devil Rides Out. It raises big questions with 'restorations' that step over the line and openly revise notable movies. Terence Fisher's Satanic thriller has quite a few optical effects that even by 1967 standards are inadequate; the script calls for all manner of visual marvels that the budget just couldn't cover. This of course has been something film fans have adjusted to ever since bats flew on wires and traveling mattes placed blue haloes around people and objects. The restoration people redid many shots with digital techniques, repainting scenes, adding elements, and simply redesigning some shots. They come right out and say that the changes they've made are "fixes." The 1967-era effects in The Devil Rides Out were treated as if they were unfinished, awaiting a proper digital pass.

Do the shots look better? Yes, most of them do. Should this be done? That's a tougher question. When I've edited featurettes on the same subject (like the Lowry techniques for the James Bond movies) I heard a lifetime's worth of total BS about 'honoring the filmmaker's vision' while changing his/her movie. Some lawyer must have come up with the dandy phrase, 'staying true to the intellectual rights-holder's intentions', which basically means, "I own it, I can make it purple and upside-down if I want." The main problem is that the revised version can supplant the altered one. Paramount wisely jettisoned an earlier disc of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in which a budget digital effects house was granted license to "improve and complete" visuals by Doug Trumbull, Richard Yuricich and John Dykstra. I'm not sure whether Steven Spielberg's E/T. is back to its original status, or still partly embellished replacement CG images here and there.

The Devil Rides Out is a nice test case because there's no denying that most of the original effects are just plain tacky. We didn't like them much when it was new. It's a big problem. I myself fantasize about finessing the mattes in The Incredible Shrinking Man; and wouldn't Gorgo look dandy with new stock shots and digital improvements to its many flawed images? But what's the right thing to do? Most of us would like to see the first three Star Wars movies as they originally played when new... and to The Devil with all those re-dos, re-thinks and re-edits.

Thanks for reading! --- Glenn Erickson



July 07, 2014

Savant's new reviews today are:

Picnic at Hanging Rock
Blu-ray + DVD

  Peter Weir's Victorian puzzle picture about disappearing schoolgirls on a hike hasn't dimmed in interest. We're still trying to figure out whodunnit, or what kind of supernatural hoodoo voodoo made them vanish into thin air, along with a skittish teacher. Racheal Roberts heads an interesting cast of Australians spellbound and confused by the mystery, what with the mysterious re-appearance of the girl and other weird, unexplainable phenomena. Beneath it all is a sharp look at a repressed society, where young women are idealized and cloistered 'out of existence' just as efficiently as the malevolent rock. With excellent extras including an early Peter Weir feature and a paperback edition of the source novel by Joan Lindsay. A Dual-Format edition in Blu-ray and DVD from The Criterion Collection.
7/08/14

and

Woman's World
DVD

  What -- another outdated women's picture from the 1950s? Jean Negulesco's tale of three executive couples 'auditioning' for the top slot in Clifton Webb's auto empire takes a rather complacent view of the new class structure in America -- even if the only real issue on the table is if the wives measure up to company standards. June Allyson is a klutz, Lauren Bacall a sophisticate and Arlene Dahl an obvious tease; the men seeking the pinnacle of business success are Van Heflin, Fred MacMurray and Cornel Wilde. It's not Douglas Sirk and doesn't need to be -- all the weird ambitions of '50s glamorous living are right here, in CinemaScope. Too bad the transfer is a digital train wreck. In DVD-R from 20th Fox Cinema Archives.
7/08/14




Hello!

Happy, slow days here... I don't know if the Savant newsletter issue has been cleared up this week or not, but I'm writing one anyway. Many readers prefer getting reminded of the new reviews that way, so I hope DVDtalk doesn't abandon the service.

Just in the door is an announcement for Olive Films' Blu-ray and DVD releases for September: Mickey Rooney in The Big Operator, Gary Cooper in Distant Drums, Joel McCrea in South of St. Louis and Betty Boop in The Essential Collection Vol. 4.

Trailers from Hell has favorite Brian Trenchard-Smith providing commentary for a film I'm wasn't aware of but that looks really good, Pierepoint: The Last Hangman. It stars Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson and Eddie Marsan. Where was I when this one breezed by?

Waiting for Warner Archive discs and Twilight Time attractions for July. By the way, Twilight Time has mentioned an upcoming Hammer film for 2015. We're thinking it will be Fox's One Million Years B.C., but there are other candidates as well. Sounds like a good deal whichever way it goes. A good Film Noir set called Dark Crimes Volume Two has just arrived from the TCM Vault Collection, so maybe I'll jump on that one next. Thanks for reading! -- Glenn Erickson



July 04, 2014

Savant's new reviews today are:

The Lost Moment
Blu-ray

  This atmospheric adaptation of Henry James' The Aspern Papers taps a rich vein of gothic mystery. Publisher Robert Cummings travels to Venice to beg or steal the 'lost' love letters written by a legendary poet, only to discover that the poet's 104 year-old ex-lover (Agnes Moorehead) has a young relative (Susan Hayward) who regularly assumes a ghostly identity of her own -- he's renting rooms from two women equally obessed with a man dead for over half a century. The remarkable movie is so well directed that the nearly outrageous premise is both believable and compelling -- should the publisher seduce his way to the valuable letters, or simply steal them? In Blu-ray from Olive Films.
7/05/14

and

I Vinti
(The Vanquished)

Blu-ray

  Michelangelo Antonioni examines youthful nihilism and existential crime in this tryptich of stories -- one each in France, Italy and England -- about young 'children of war' that kill because they have no value system but personal reward. A backlash of official disapproval and censorship resulted in some changes, but the version presented here is the longest possible. One extra is an alternate original cut of one episode, before the producers removed references to a teenaged act of 'terrorist delinguency'. Other extras give plenty of background detail. In Blu-ray from Rarovideo / Kino Lorber.
7/05/14




Hello!

With so many correspondents off on trips and vacations I'm short for links this week. So my thoughts are turning to upcoming promised discs and a few rumors. The announced discs everyone knows about, and they're worth mentioning in detail.

I guess the one that comes first to mind is Warner Home Video's big release of the Original 1966 Batman TV show. I'm keen to see how much of it holds up, particularly the first season that so entertained me at age 14 and had me building model kits of the Batmobile, etc. I only saw the first double episode once and never again. Besides Adam West ordering milk and dancing the Batusi, that first episode had a scene (unless I dreamed it) in which the Dynamic Duo made a dazzling entrance leaping out of an elephant statue in the middle of a museum, an image that seemed to sum up everything terrific about comic book action. This was of course before Diabolik came along to fully translate comic book graphic dynamism to the screen.

In other words, I'm looking forward to telling the tale about how the original Batmania struck its target audience... me. I'm sure that teenagers just a couple of years older than myself were shaking their heads in disapproval, but the craze hit me right between the eyes. After that, there was nothing left of my childhood but to develop a manic interest in girls.

Paramount's Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery is due out on July 29, so is really sneaking up on us. Reviewing this one is a long shot but I have my feelers out for it. David Lynch hit a nice nerve with this Blue Velvet- like dream soap opera / murder epic with the great Badalmenti music. I'm really curious to see what the remastering job is like as well... on earlier video transfers the show turned to mush.

Also this Fall comes Scream Factory's Vincent Price Collection II, with The Last Man on Earth, The Comedy of Terrors, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Tomb of Ligeia, The Raven, Return of the Fly and House on Haunted Hill. Plus, on September 16, Criterion should knock us out with Roman Polanski's Macbeth. That old Columbia Tri-Star DVD is okay, but I can't wait to see the extras they come up with.

Promised for September 9 is Cohen Media's restored and hopefully complete Blu-ray of Fritz Lang's Hangmen also Die!, a favorite picture here at Savant for many reasons. I'm just in awe of this wartime propaganda thriller that really sticks it to the Nazis, fabricating characters and a storyline almost as fantastic as one of Lang's Mabuse pictures. Cohen has already brought us some pretty impressive surprises, so I have my hopes up for this one.

Of the MGM pictures newly licensed by Kino I'm looking forward to a fine HD disc of Stanley Kramer's On the Beach. I'm hoping they'll dig up some interesting extras but don't know what the format of this new Studio Classics Line will be. I know that it's highly unlikely that they'll have any insights on an uncut What's New, Pussycat? but I can always dream.

The other titles I've heard about are unfortunately stuck in the rumor stage. One rumor is seeing a lot of circulation online but I've yet to nail down anything about it that seems substantial. The others I've gleaned just by walking down the hallways of post-production facilities. It's too easy to jump to conclusions after seeing an image from a desirable film on a monitor -- it might be a test or something being remastered for overseas use. DVD Savant never seems to be given scoops, but at least I don't make egregious mistakes -- or trigger security scares in studio Home Video departments. Those people are paranoid enough as it is.

Thanks for reading! -- Glenn Erickson



July 02, 2014

Savant's new reviews today are:

The Time Machine
Blu-ray

  George Pal's vintage Sci-Fi classic gets the HD treatment with a bright transfer that brings out the snarly personality in our favorite glow-eyed, goofy-faced Morlocks. Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux became stars in this tale of a London inventor who penetrates the Fourth Dimension and takes a journey to the unknown future, specifically the year 802,701. Forget about Red States and Blue States, H.G. Wells' future stipulates mankind dividing into two separate species: helpless blonde livestock and paunchy green subterranean slugs. In Blu-ray from Warner Home Video.
7/01/14

A Hard Day's Night
Blu-ray + DVD

  Criterion has brought out the Beatles' smash hit and revolutionary cinematic game-changer in a proper form, with an original mono mix and two different mixes in stereo. Richard Lester puts silly comedy camerawork and carefree docu techniques to the task of blitzing us with a day in the life of the endlessly energetic & funny Fab Four. Criterion's extras are phenomenal as well, with mini-histories of the Beatles, a video essay made from their own interview bites and an analytical essay from David Cairns. A Dual-Format edition in Blu-ray and DVD from The Criterion Collection.
7/01/14

and

Operation Petticoat
Blu-ray

  A savvy commercial concoction from 1959, dreamed up by writer Stanley Shapiro, producer Cary Grant and director Blake Edwards. It's a submarine movie, but with women! and a service comedy that involves real combat but with a limping ship that can't do much fighting, and suffers the indignity of being painted pink. Cary Grant plays straight man to Tony Curtis, who clearly idolizes the older star; the female companions aboard the Sea Tiger are Joan O'Brien, Dina Merrill, Virginia Gregg, Madilyn Rhue and Marion Ross. And they sink a truck! In Blu-ray from Olive Films.
7/01/14




Hello!

I've just gotten back from a weekend escape -- I had the Tuesday reviews done and ready to go, and here they are. No DVD Savant Newsletter will be going out this week, because of an update being performed on the system. I may check in with an update before Friday, the Fourth of July.

Can any H.G. Wells experts out tell me more about my old Time Machine discovery? I've never read a mention of The Silent Man anywhere else, and if he's old news it would be a good thing to be disabused of my "discovery" notion. Thank you! Glenn Erickson


Don't forget to write Savant at dvdsavant@mindspring.com.

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