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[Savant Links] [Year Five Report]
Write Savant (Glenn Erickson) at

Saturday March 28, 2015

Savant's new reviews today are:

Hand of Death
20th Fox Cinema Archives

  John Agar is the jolly nerve-warfare scientist who gets a dose of his own joy juice. Before you can say Napalm Napalm Napalm he's been transformed into a mass of puffy black sponge rubber. Seen on this excellent remastered disc (surprise!), what was once a grade-Z graveyard shift '60s snoozer is now a good little monster movie. Yeah, yeah, it's an un-ambitious, plot-challenged mediocrity -- but rather well played (by Agar!) and somewhat creatively directed by ex-dancer Gene Nelson. With Paula Raymond, Butch Patrick and one of the more bizarre movie bogeymen of all time. Few realize that it was remade by Jean-Luc Godard as the recent Goodbye to Language. (am I alone up here?) In DVD from 20th Fox Cinema Archives.

Without A Clue
Olive Films

  Critics sneered at this Sherlock Holmes comedy, that's actually a lot of fun thanks to amusing performances from Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley. It's a concept re-think: Kingsley's Doctor Watson is the brilliant crime solver and 'Holmes' a literary invention, played for the public by a hired ham actor (Caine). Caine's schtick imitating a genius is pretty hilarious, even if some of the jokes run thin. Too broad and basic to compete with Billy Wilder, this 1988 movie is nevertheless a 7% solution of pure fun -- as are almost all affectionate spoofs of Sherlock Holmes. Kingsley is marvelous. Also with Jeffrey Jones, Lysette Anthony and Paul Freeman, with a sweet music score by Henry Mancini. In Blu-ray from Olive Films.

The White Buffalo
KL Studio Classics

  As Wild Bill Hickok, Charles Bronson dons cool sunglasses to do battle with the legendary monster buffalo he sees in his nightmares. The entire bison population of North America is now a pile of bones next to the rail-head, making the huff 'n' puff, locomotive-like Super Buff seem like a ghost from Tatonka Hell. Helping Mr. Squint nail the Moby Dick of the Rockies is Will Sampson's formidable Crazy Horse, a limber Lakota with a Bronson-like "Death Wish" score to settle -- he's taking names and kicking buffalo burger. Carlo Rambaldi's Animatronic monster (Savant saw it in person) is a little wonky, but the movie is better than its reputation. In Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.


The Day Mars Invaded Earth
20th Fox Cinema Archives

  What? It's the same &%$@# review as Hand of Death up above. Savant's just padding his review list, cheating like everyone else -- including the downright sneaky Martians that blindside NASA chief Kent Taylor and Marie Windsor's family with an invasion of the doppelgänger people. Beverly Hills real estate agents take notice -- the prime historic property that this film uses as a location isn't just haunted, it's infiltrated and infested with serious Red Planet radicals. Rocket scientists shouldn't be needed to get to the bottom of this invasion, but this particular rocket scientist is definitely not up to the job. In DVD from 20th Fox Cinema Archives.


Next week will welcome the Noir City Film Festival back to Hollywood's Egyptian Theater for a 17th go-round. I braved kidney stones last year to see a killer double bill of Hell Drivers and Try and Get Me! on the big screen, with an attentive audience blown away by every sordid revelation and appalling plot twist! Screenings are all introduced by the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller and/or the equally enlightened Duke of the Dark Alan K. Rode, both of the revered Film Noir Foundation. Check out the Full Schedule for this year's slate of gripping tales of murder, double dealing and duplicitous demoiselles.

Kicking things off on opening night April 3 is an Ann Sheridan double bill of a newly-restored Woman on the Run and the David Goodis- penned thriller The Unfaithful. Other hot nights give us British noirs, Argentine noirs and a Cornell Woolrich night pairing a rare 35mm restored print of The Chase with Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man (my personal recommendation, although I ought to see those Spanish-language rarities). Write me if you want more can't-lose suggestions. Take it from Savant, these screenings attract the right kind of revival moviegoers -- the attendees remind me of the UCLA movie crowd from the long-gone '70s.

"Duke of the Dark?"

Have a heap of discretionary cash that's giving you grief? Fear not, Savant's consumer advisor Gary Teetzel has located essential keepsakes for the sci-fi fan: Essential Purchase One and Essential Purchase Two. Gary notes that "both come with angry, pissed-off expressions, perfectly capturing the strong emotions we all remember from the movie!"

Yes, you too can have both these action figures for the low, low price of . . . Holy moley... "I'm afraid I can't do that Dave." Gary reports that he'll be holding out for the Mighty Monolith action figure, which should be a little cheaper since it won't have as many points of articulation.

DVD Savant correspondent Joe Baltake asked about an upcoming disc a few weeks ago, and I was able to find him some information. Joe now has an official announcement to back it up: Twilight Time's upcoming Blu-ray of Michael Ritchie's film adaption of the musical The Fantasticks will include an encoding of the original, longer edit, in Standard Def. Back at MGM I saw about twenty minutes of this rare cut before being tossed out of the screening room -- not sure by who. But I understand that it's pretty rare.

I've also been checking out Joe's own film-related blog The Passionate Moviegoer. So far I'm liking what I see - Joe calls Jake Gyllenhall the best actor from last year, and I agree. As yet no sign of the 'questionable' content he warned me about, but I'll keep my hopes up.

Thanks for reading, and putting up with my slightly giddy mood today --- Glenn Erickson

Tuesday March 24, 2015

Savant's new reviews today are:

The Imitation Game
Anchor Bay / Weinstein
Blu-ray + Digital HD

  Last Oscar season's major contender is an impressive movie about a can't-lose double whammy Oscar-bait subject. Fine acting, commendable point of view, strong dramatics -- and then we're given some flat-footed storytelling, along with enough distorted history to make any umpire drop a penalty flag. Benedict Cumberbatch and Keiran Knightley construct a giant Tinkertoy computing device to break the toughest German code ever -- but our secret hero has a bigger secret that, shame on the nation, buries his contribution to the victory and the progress of computer science. But now we know. A Blu-ray + Digital HD Download from Anchor Bay / The Weinstein Company.

The Babadook
IFC /Shout! Factory / Scream Factory

  It's grim, it's depressing, it seems to gather up all the miseries a single mother could possibly suffer -- and it's a great horror movie, always intelligent, never going for cheap shocks. The director is Jennifer Kent. A cursed children's book helps drag a disturbed boy and his emotionally exhausted mother down a horrible path of insane hallucinations. It's a rarity, a scary show where anything can happen, yet is not unduly cruel or exploitative -- just creepy as all hell. Did I enjoy it? Well, sort of. It has William Friedkin's endorsement, too. In Blu-ray from IFC /Shout! Factory / Scream Factory.


Journey to the Center of the Earth
Twilight Time
4K Blu-ray Restoration

 James Mason and Pat Boone -- in his one lasting star vehicle -- explore the interior of the earth and find monsters, mushrooms, massive oceans and the lost city of Atlantis. Writer-producer Charles Brackett broke fresh ground with this big-scale studio fantasy hit, a treasured memory of baby boomers. With a superb stereophonic music score by Bernard Herrmann, auditable on an Isolated Music Track. This new limited edition release is a quantum visual improvement, in a 4K Blu-ray Restoration from Twilight Time.


It's time for my promised full report on the gala 're-premiere' of the extended, tweaked, re-mixed version of Steven Spielberg's 1941, last Sunday at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd. Organizer Mike Matessino promoted the screening as a culmination of his five-year effort reconstituting the film's music tracks for a soundtrack CD, and reconstructing the film's preview cut with all the music cues back in the correct scenes. The impressive event sold out quite a bit before show time. Gary Teetzel brought his camera to help me figure out how best to cover the event. We found quite a crowd gathering at the door, where commemorative posters were being sold. Little dog tag-like pendants got us into the VIP section, where, as usual, the real VIPs were vipping merrily away in a small group. Not the best place to seek out handshakes or photos or 'remember me?'s. Then I ran into my old boss, effects miniatures specialst Greg Jein  (above)  and had a good talk.

Gary had overheard that actress Dianne Kay  (right)  was on her way in, and suddenly there she was. She responded to my greeting like a delighted old friend, giving me a chance to renew introductions. Just a complete doll, as ever. We had talked back in 1979 for maybe ten minutes total, if that much; and then again at a laserdisc signing in 1995, but it felt like meeting a member of the family. Unless she wondered who that guy always hanging around the set was, it would be impossible for her to remember me… but who knows. Maybe because of the making-of book?

Matessino preceded the show with a half-hour prologue consisting of a slide show of photos of Hollywood Blvd, and headlines about the fear-generated 'air raid' panic from 1942. Appropriate music played, accompanied by vintage radio recordings of radio announcements from the false air raid. Then came a rare teaser with John Belushi and his P-40 fighter plane, narrated by Dan Aykroyd.

The feature screening was big and loud, and 1941 comes off best big and loud. Every time a big star or favorite player came on screen there was applause. Did Elisha Cook Jr. ever get applause in a screening? He did on Sunday. I have never seen the long version on a screen, which is why the Egyptian was packed with avid fans. When there are just one or two name guests at these things the atmosphere can get weird. Matessino had lined up over a dozen veterans of the production. Most of the guests were on the movie for six months, while Greg Jein's miniatures unit was busy for almost two years.

After the screening Matessino brought all the name celebs up front and the questions started. Most responded with humorous anecdotes. If each guest talked for just ten minutes we'd have been there for two additional hours. As it was the entire audience listened in rapt attention for seventy minutes or so. Verbal tributes were given to the late Wendie Jo Sperber, the powerhouse spirit of the movie. Matessino explained that executive producer John Milius couldn't make it. Writer Bob Gale  (left)  contributed several stories about Milius, most involving guns. He also recounted the terrific bit of timing that brought the 1941 screenplay to Milius' attention.

Both of 1941's romantic 'couples' made the screening and panel. Bobby Di Cicco  (above)  flew in for the show (I'm pretty sure), looking very different but sounding much the same. He praised the film's Jitterbug Dancers, two of whom were in attendance. Dianne Kay remembered the dance riot scene, when she was desperately hoping that she'd be able to hit a difficult action cue for Spielberg in one of the Rube Goldberg gags. Nancy Allen  (below)  described what it was like doing a sex scene in a cramped airplane cockpit, with only the drone-like Louma camera crane poking in her face and Spielberg's voice on a microphone saying, "No that looks terrible, do it the other way." Tim Matheson  (below)  recalled that he was forming a crush on Nancy by the second of what must have been a dozen days of make-out scenes. On the third day she came to work and breathlessly told him that Brian De Palma had just proposed to her.

Twice Oscar-nominated Greg Jein explained how his crew got a second take of the giant (twelve foot diameter) Ferris Wheel model rolling down the model pier and into the Pacific, with just a few hours' turnaround time to repair broken lights and re-plank the entire forty-foot pier. The Wheel rolled many times, but I believe off the end only twice, falling into MGM's giant Esther Williams water tank. 'Polar Bear' girl and former shark-bait swimming stunt artiste Susan Backlinie asked why Steven always waited 'til the dead of winter to send her into the water. Leslie Hoffman talked about stunt-doubling for Wendie Jo Sperber, but added that Wendie did all of her own stunt work in the USO dance riot scene. 'Macey Douglas' Jordan (Brian) Cohen said he still can't believe he got out of school for half a year to be in the film. Producer Buzz Feitshans  (below)  recalled John Belushi and some 'rock stars' destroying a motor home dressing room, while Second Assistant Director Chris Soldo provided accurate details about the kind of unpredictable script changes that occurred during filming. Bob Gale chimed in on that, explaining that the fairly thin script had so many day-to-day changes that they ran out of alternate colors for the replacement pages. (They didn't mention that Gale and his partner Bob Zemeckis also eliminated standard margins to cram more words on each page!)

When Spielberg suddenly decided that the Beach House should fall off a cliff, Bob remembers running to his typewriter and hammering out the entire last daytime scene in just one hour. I was there on set when Spielberg received the instant revision. He took two minutes to check it out, gave a big laugh, and it was officially part of the movie. Who knows how much the budget leapt upward?

I'm glad I was able to be there and pleased that Mike Matessino acknowledged everyone in the audience who worked on the movie in lesser capacities. That old book has given me a bigger association with 1941 than logic merits. The night's only disappointment was that Eddie Deezen came to the pre-film mixer but didn't stay for the screening or the panel. He would have enjoyed the hoots and applause for him when his character Herbie made his entrance: "Safety bar? We don't need no safety bar!"

I think I'm a bit burnt out on 1941 for a few weeks ... but I will try a longer review if a screener for the single-disc Blu-ray release shows up in April.

Thanks for reading! --- Glenn Erickson

(Photos by Gary Teetzel)

First Men in the Moon
  It's a new Harryhausen Blu-ray, always a good sign for the biz... and I have no doubt this title will sell out toot sweet if it hasn't already. Harryhausen and Schneer's solitary H.G. Wells venture is a solid entertainment thanks to a charming script by Quatermass scribe Nigel Kneale, who uses a clever flashback structure to make contemporary a story set sixty years in the past. Edward Judd is the raffish troublemaker, Lionel Jeffries the anti-gravity genius and Martha Hyer the woman along for the ride -- an amazing Victorian jaunt to visit the woman in the moon. Twilight Time has exclusive extras that include the participation of the late Harryhausen and one of his most dedicated fellow stop motion animators, Randall William Cook. Plus an Isolated Track for Laurie Johnson's impressive music score. In Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
  An important noir rediscovery but also an uncommonly sharp 1940s acting piece, about what happens when a romantic outsider intervenes in some twisted family relationships. George Sanders plays against type as a commercial artist dominated by two sisters -- one of them possessive to the point of incest -- who dares fall in love with a no-nonsense gal from the big city. It's a field day for Sanders, Ella Rains, Moyna MacGill and especially the underrated Geraldine Fitzgerald. The movie also bears a strong kinship with the entire Alfred Hitchcock legacy. A curious discussion is included, especially about the film's controversial final scene, which obliterated its chances for greatness. In Blu-ray from Olive Films.

Miami Blues
  In his first leading role, young and trim Alec Baldwin shines as Junior Frenger, a weird sociopath-thief who experiences an identity crisis -- he steals a detective's badge and gun and has so much success committing crimes with them that he forgets who he is. Star Fred Ward is Hoke Mosely, the crude, toothless homicide cop humiliated by Junior's murderous antics. But the show is stolen by the terrific Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose innocent, not-too-bright Susie only slowly realizes that she's married an outrageously reckless crook. An unsung classic from 1990, produced by Jonathan Demme and written and directed by George Armitage from he book by Charles Willeford. In Blu-ray from Shout! Factory.

Day of Anger
  On a major career roll as the Italo western's second most popular spaghetti gunslinger, hawk-beaked Lee Van Cleef cuts 'em up and guns 'em down in Tonino Valerii and Ernesto Gastaldi's cynical tale of a revenge-seeking sharpshooter who enlists the town garbage man (Giuliano Gemma) to back him up in the rough stuff. We're shocked, shocked to discover that the town's upstanding citizens are corrupt thieves; better start digging graves. Lengthy interviews are included with the director and screenwriter -- those Italo filmmakers love to talk. With this title this U.K. disc company embraces the U.S. market - it's compatible with both Region A and B. In Region A+B Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Video (U.S. + UK).

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  Peter Jackson finishes out both the three-film Hobbit Saga and the six film Middle-earth Saga with a 2.5 hour picture that's at least 60% battle scenes. It begins with the dragon Smaug's aerial fricasee job on Lake-town and proceeds to a five-army, four-way battle for a mountain piled high with dwarves' gold (including a sizeable hardened lake of the stuff, by now). Saved by our great fondness for Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen, and a violent wrapup in which (gasp) A-list characters actually bite the dust. For a while I thought those ugly-mug Orcs were going to end up as ineffectual as Imperial Storm Troopers. Plenty of grand action and sentiment, and it all looks very good in 3-D video. In 3-D + 2-D Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD from Warner Home Video.

Goodbye to Language
  Jean=Luc Godard is back again with a theoretical treatise in the form of a near random assemblage of sort-of scenes that sort-of tell a story, but really add up to more academic questioning and intellectual position arguments, or fragments thereof. He tells us he thinks nothing of 3-D, which is why he produced the show in that format. But expect some surprises, even a 3-D effect that, even if it's a joke, can be said to extend the vocabulary of cinematic gimmicks grammar. See Savant struggle with every reviewer's dilemma: is the answer to simply admit that understanding is beyond my reach? A Dual-Format edition in 3-D and 2-D Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

Forbidden Hollywood Volume 8
  The WAC offers four more worthy and surprising pre-Code thrillers to tease us with incipient immorality and questionable subject matter, not to mention risqué situations and suggestive dialogue.
It's A-Team talent all the way: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Norma Shearer, Robert Montgomery, Paul Muni, Ned Sparks, Edward G. Robinson and Glenda Farrell.
The titles are Blonde Crazy, Strangers May Kiss, Hi Nellie! and Dark Hazard.
In DVD-R from The Warner Archive Collection.

The Soft Skin
 François Truffaut goes Hitchcockian (a little) in this visually intense examination of an 'ordinary' episode of adultery. Literary notable Jean Desailly strays when he catches sight of stewardess Françoise Dorléac; wife Nelly Benedetti gets left up in the air, frustrated and angry. Here's where Truffaut ditches the 'New Wave' and embraces the same 'quality' movie values he once condemned in traditional French filmmaking. The extras make a good case for the Hitchcock influence angle -- and the best extra is a long docu on the making of the famous Truffaut/Hitchcock book. Great B&W camerawork by Raoul Coutard. In Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.

March 2015
 The Falcon and the Snowman  Blu-ray  Alice's Restaurant  Blu-ray  Like Water for Chocolate  Blu-ray  Musicals: 4-Movie Collection: Kiss Me Kate  3-D, Calamity Jane, The Band Wagon, Singin' in the Rain  Blu-ray  Kiss Me Kate  3-D Blu-ray  The Liberator  Blu-ray  Muscle Beach Party  Blu-ray  Ride the Pink Horse  Blu-ray  The Manchurian Candidate  UK Region B Blu-ray & PAL DVD  Dear Heart  DVD
February 2015
 In the Land of the Head Hunters  Blu-ray  The Prowler  Blu-ray  The End of Violence  Blu-ray  The Sure Thing  Blu-ray  Incident  DVD  To Sir, With Love  Blu-ray  Caveman  Blu-ray  A Day in the Country  Blu-ray  Stormy Weather  Blu-ray  The Night They Raided Minsky's  Blu-ray  The Killing  UK Region B Blu-ray  The St. Valentine's Day Massacre  Blu-ray  Syncopation  Blu-ray  How to Murder Your Wife  Blu-ray  Black Sunday  Blu-ray  The Connection  Blu-ray  Rabid  UK Region B Blu-ray  Lust for Life  Blu-ray  The Wild Angels  Blu-ray  Watership Down  Blu-ray  Kiss Me, Stupid  Blu-ray  The Day They Robbed the Bank of England  DVD  Nightcrawler  Blu-ray  The Purple Rose of Cairo  Blu-ray  A Hole in the Head  Blu-ray  Don't Look Now  Blu-ray  Far from the Madding Crowd  Blu-ray  God Told Me To  Blu-ray
January 2015
 Why Don't You Play In Hell?  Blu-ray  Running On Empty  DVD  55 Days at Peking  UK Region B Blu-ray  Pork Chop Hill  Blu-ray  The Palm Beach Story  Blu-ray  The Black Scorpion widescreen  DVD  No Highway in the Sky  DVD  The Weapon  Blu-ray  The Bride Wore Black  Blu-ray  May in the Summer  Blu-ray  World for Ransom  Blu-ray  Breaking Away  Blu-ray  The Night Porter  Blu-ray  The Girl Who Knew Too Much  Blu-ray  The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming  Blu-ray  Fury  Blu-ray  Bloody Sunday  DVD  52 Pick-Up  Blu-ray  Till the End of Time  DVD  Into the Woods  Blu-ray  The Twilight Samurai  Blu-ray  The Ultimate Invaders from Mars Savant Article Reboot  Ten Seconds to Hell  Blu-ray  Adua and Her Friends  Blu-ray  Kinoshita and World War II  DVD  The Boys from Brazil  Blu-ray

  Reaching further back in time?
A Chronological List of DVD Savant's Reviews for 2014
... and for 2013 ... 2012 ... and 2011

 Savant's DVD Wish List FINAL NOTE 2012

Hundreds more Savant reviews at the Other End of this Link!


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

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