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Favorite Discs of 2014

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

Saturday May 23, 2015

Savant's new reviews today are:

Carla's Song
Twilight Time

  Ken Loach extends his social realist concern internationally when a Glasgow bus driver (Robert Carlyle) falls in love with a street dancer (Oyanka Cabezas) and follows her halfway across the globe to Nicaragua -- and into the middle of Reagan's Contra War. The excellent characterizations & believable storytelling are highlighted by Loach's spot-on direction and humanistic point of view. Carlyle finds out just how tough things can be for innocents at the receiving end of flawed political policies. Also starring Scott Glenn; with a commentary by director Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

Cops and Robbers
KL Studio Classics

  NYPD cops Cliff Gorman and Joe Bologna decide that life is too short to let crooks shoot at them any longer -- they make a deal with the Mafia and prepare to steal millions of dollars of negotiable securities from Wall Street. Aram Avakian and Donald E. Westlake team up for this funny, more-serious-than-you'd-think story about the pair's daring daylight robbery and their attempt to fleece the mob and escape with a whole skin. The Devil's in the details -- this overtly mainstream movie has quietly subversive things to say about the workingman's dream of the 'big payday.' On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.


The Best House in London
The Warner Archive Collection

 It's a big-budget name-star sex farce and one of the first "X"-rated studio releases that took cheesy advantage of the new ratings system. Victorian-era conman David Hemmings (in a double role) hoodwinks suffragette Joanna Pettet into procuring the fallen women to staff a glorious house of ill repukes for the wealthy men of London. A huge cast led by George Sanders is on hand, with lots of winking and nudge-nudging, cameo appearances by the likes of Charles Dickens and Sherlock Holmes, and 1001 smarmy sex jokes. It's an absolute mess in every respect, yet one of those MIA pictures collectors want to see. On DVD-R from The Warner Archive Collection.


Some interesting disc news today hit me as one of those exciting things that's really exciting and then you find out that it's not as exciting as you wished it was. I reviewed Koch Media's German Region B Blu-ray of Tarantula a couple of weeks back, and now correspondent Kevin Pyrtle informs me (I'm sure I'm the last to know) that they're releasing a similar disc of 1955's Revenge of the Creature. It says 3-D, but sources confirm that the 3-D version is the old anaglyphic (red-blue) version I saw on TV back in the middle 1980s. Not only that, but my all-region Blu-ray player is not 3-D, so even if it were a full modern 3-D transfer, it would be no-go. So we multi-region folk need limit our enthusiasm to seeing a flat Blu-ray transfer. For German readers, courtesy of Kevin Pyrtle, here's another German page with more info. The newest news we have from Universal about the prospects for newly-tooled 3-D of Revenge (and It Came from Outer Space too for that matter) is that it's "on their radar." Euphemisms... to me that says they're going to 'shoot it down.'

Savant never reneges on a promise: with Criterion's Blu-ray release correspondent and writer Gordon Thomas has revised his Bright Lights essay on Fellini Satyricon. As I stated I would previous, here's a link: Sexual Confusion, the Attractions of Moral Chaos, and the Contrarieties of Personality: Navigating the Vagaries of Fellini Satyricon. Thomas wades right into this utterly confounding movie -- and comes up with one intelligent observation and connection after another.

Thanks for reading! --- Glenn Erickson

Tuesday May 19, 2015

Savant's new reviews today are:

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

  I'd still like to read a better explanation of what's in and what's out of this new version of Peter Hunt's cheerful Broadway musical adaptation, but the lavish 4K restoration is a huge improvement over even the good DVD edition. The show is basic U.S. history (with a good '70s-liberal spin) that makes the bewigged18th century John Adams, Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson amusing and clever, and the jokes aren't so corny as to cheapen things. Howard Da Silva, William Daniels and Ken Howard make for great founding fathers, while Blythe Danner and Virginia Vestoff get wonderful singing opportunities. The music is still inspirational, at least to this junior patriot. With two commentaries, a longer version of a musical number, and an 'extended cut' that's extended by all of two minutes. On Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Face to Face
The Tramplers

Explosive Media & Wild East

 U.K. correspondent Lee Broughton is back in the saddle again with a pair of separate DVD releases; a German PAL Region 2 disc of a Sergio Sollima Italo-oater with Gian Maria Volonte, Tomas Milian and William Berger, and a curious Albert Band western with Joseph Cotten, Gordon Scott, Franco Nero and James Mitchum, about a westerner refusing to acknowledge that the South lost the war (nothing's changed). Lee has been reviewing for DVD Savant since 2001, mostly Spaghetti westerns... he ought to put these together in a book! On DVD from Explosive Media & Wild East.


The First Deadly Sin
The Warner Archives Collection

  Frank Sinatra's final feature film is a surprisingly sensitive, humanistic and low-key drama -- with its main plot centered on a vicious serial killer. Frank's NYC detective nears retirement, but his wife (Faye Dunaway) is sick; to keep his mind busy he breaks the rules and conducts an unauthorized investigation. Superior to many serial slayer pix that became the rage ten years later, this is a much better movie than I remembered. With Brenda Vaccaro, James Whitmore, Martin Gabel, and a tall stack of 'regulars' from New York movies. On DVD-R from The Warner Archives Collection.


I have a book review today. It's Tom Weaver's Scripts from the Crypt: Bride of the Gorilla, the third volume in the "Tom Weaver presents" collection after The Hideous Sun Demon and The Indestructible Man. None of these movies made Sight & Sound's top 100 list, but that's not the point. Weaver and Co. have been proving for going on forty years now that readers have an insatiable appetite for this stratum of film production.

Bride of the Gorilla is not the autobio of Jane Goodall, that's Gorillas that I Miss. It's a misbegotten but fascinating 1951 jungle picture starring Lon Chaney, Raymond Burr and the notorious Barbara Payton. This collector's book embellishes a full reprint of writer-director Curt Siodmak's original shooting script with everything relevant to the subject Tom Weaver can get his hands on, starting with a funny but thoughtful John Landis intro about the appeal of Gorilla-suit movies.

As one would expect with Weaver, the production history and star bio backgrounds are all annotated with hard sources. When you quote this book for your Master's Thesis, "Simian Semiology in the Semi-Tropics," you can rest assured the research is solid. Weaver even critiques the sources of some of the info! You will know everything humanly possible about the company that filmed and distributed Bride of the Gorilla. This picture played everywhere, and likely made Jack Broder rich.

Weaver brings out every strange detail in a script that appears to have been written with spare parts left over from Curt Siodmak's The Wolf Man. The prominent sidebar investigation delves into the various legends floating around the film's actors. Raymond Burr handled the problem of his sexual identity vs. his public life extremely well, it would seem. Much of the text looks for facts and opinions about Lon Chaney at this time in his career; the overall verdict for Lon is pretty positive. But star Barbara Payton's life was overshadowed by seamy scandal from this point forward. Weaver digs up every career-killing arrest notice and mocking trade paper column. Telling Payton's story also gets us into the lives of big star Franchot Tone and not-so-famous actor Tom Neal, who deep-sixed his Hollywood future with a combo of booze, fisticuffs and Barbara. I was initially put off with the cruel attitude Weaver takes toward Payton, but even the few kind words said about her by others aren't very forgiving. A sexual predator and a serious bad news blonde, Payton suffered perhaps the worst downfall of any actress that performed in big movies with big stars. This all-factual account doesn't pull any punches.

In addition to David Schecter's essay on composer Raoul Kraushaar (from which I learned interesting facts about the score to Invaders from Mars), writers Greg Mank, Scott MacQueen, Dr. Robert J. Kiss and Frank J. Dello Stritto offer analyses of the film and reminiscences of the actors and director Siodmak. Weaver interviews Tom Neal Jr., actor William Phipps and production assistant Herman Cohen, whose duties included minding producer Broder's children. Weaver has once again located every known fact about a movie that has suddenly become a lot more interesting -- I'll have to pull out the old DVD now. Holding this big yellow book (the softcover edition), I'm thinking it's the perfect thing to set out on the coffee table when relatives come over. They'll know better than to make small talk with me, by golly.

Cool weather in L.A. ... as soon as we finished the last episode of Mad Men last night, we resolved to watch the whole series again, or at least to start from the beginning to see what the actors looked like back in 2007 or whenever we got on that bandwagon. I know TV is now better than ever, but so far we haven't been captivated by any other series. It's the Real Thing, and I'm suddenly thirsty.

Thanks for reading! --- Glenn Erickson

Jamaica Inn
  From deep in the Cohen vault, formerly the Rohauer vault, comes a pristine copy of a vintage Hitchcock film that's existed solely in unwatchable PD prints since longer than this reviewer can remember. It's really a showcase for star Charles Laughton, who controlled production to the extent that, although beautifully directed, the film betrays little or nothing of the Hitchcock touch. But the compensations are plenty. Besides Laughton's marvelous, impish perf we've got Maureen O'Hara in one of her first movies and Robert Newton as the hero. He's young, trim and looks like he's never had a drink in his life. Plus Leslie Banks, Mervyn Johns and a whole gang of swarthy Cornwall pirates that wreck cargo ships and murder their crews for profit. It's a striking production, perfectly preserved -- and how often does one get to see a "new" Alfred Hitchcock movie? On Blu-ray from The Cohen Film Collection.

The Confession
  Costa-Gavras and French leftist actors Yves Montand and Simone Signoret make a film about communist Czechoslovakia, but the subject is a surprise: it's a factual, scathing dramatization of the imprisonment plus psychological torture of a loyal high-ranking party member, as part of a huge purge of Franco and Hitler-era anti-Fascists. Montand's bureaucrat is given the works for months, until he 'voluntarily' confesses a litany of false traitorous acts, all so that the party can put on a grossly unjust but power-affirming show trial. The lesson in political reality is all the more convincing coming from the left itself; the many extras begin with a behind-the-scenes docu directed by Chris Marker. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.

  Martin Ritt directs and Paul Newman stars in an impressive adaptation of a book by Elmore Leonard, a western tale that seems a political update of Stagecoach: racism is the new ingredient, and society is so screwed up that this new stagecoach never reaches its destination. Newman isn't really a blue-eyed Apache, merely a white captive.His performance is excellent, as is that of every member of a quality cast: Fredric March, Diane Cilento, Richard Boone, Barbara Rush, Martin Balsam, Frank Silvera. Plus we've got ace cinematography by the great James Wong Howe. It's a quality oater distinct from the trends of its year. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

  Jerzy Skolimowski's slightly absurdist tale is a blindingly apt metaphor for Poland's unhappiness with Communist State rule. Foreman-carpenter Jeremy Irons leads three Polish fellows to defy labor laws and secretly refurbish a London townhouse for a rich Pole. Hiding out as they work raises tensions, until a coup back in Warsaw cuts them off entirely. To get the job finished, Irons lies to his comrades, keeping them isolated and uninformed - as problems like how to eat without sufficient funds grow more acute. The quality disc has comments from star Irons; it's a dual-Format edition on Blu-ray and DVD from B2MP.

Thank Your Lucky Stars
  Warner's first all-star wartime ode to the troops is a comedy variety spectacular that gathers every name actor on the payroll. Everybody does something unusual, with John Garfield and Errol Flynn singing; Alexis Smith, Olivia de Havilland and Ida Lupino dancing and Bette Davis spinning in circles in a jitterbug dance. Eddie Cantor plays two roles and Humphrey Bogart shows up for a cowardly cameo. "Ice Cold Katy" is a stomping jive swing all-black production number with Hattie McDaniel and Willie Best, about a black soldier getting married before shipping out. With a pile of new extras including newsreels and new HD transfers of Bugs Bunny cartoons. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.

  This disc has been available for eleven months but a copy finally drifted my way... so here's my enthusiastic "hey it's brand new!" review. The biggest big bug movie of them all sees melting-face biologist Leo G. Carroll let loose a King Size Arachnid on the wild open spaces of Arizona. It's bigger than the Astrodome yet manages to stay hidden in the wide-open spaces, while John Agar and Mara Corday fuss and fret. Jack Arnold's basic-black humungous monster movie is a study in scale and surreal vistas; when the spider walks across the desert, all we need is a giant melting wristwatch for the foreground. Also starring Clint Eastwood's voice, eyes, and the bridge of his nose. This German (not playable in U.S. machines) disc comes in two aspect ratios and accompanied by good extras. On Region B (Germany) Blu-ray from Koch Media GmbH (DE).

It! The Terror from Beyond Space
 Edward L. Cahn's micro-budgeted space suspense tale has a lot of new fans now, not just through the Alien connection but because it's a well done tale of astronauts fighting a monster in the confines of their tiny spaceship. Marshall Thompson, Shawn Smith and Paul Langton lead the effort to kill Paul Blaisdell's unkillable Martian. This one's deserving of some close analysis, as the makers at least paid attention to the screenplay by sci-fi writer Jerome Bixby. So what do you think -- how many levels of the spaceship did the production really build? On Blu-ray from Olive Films.

  Richard Donner and story writer Edward Khmara energize this medieval fantasy with a high-concept idea worthy of a classic fairy tale -- this Knight and lady are --- I don't give it away for the benefit of the five people out there yet to see this show unspoiled. Young Matthew Broderick is likeable as the 'kid interest' in a classic fantasy romance between Rutger Hauer's noble knight Navarre and Michelle Pfeiffer's Fair Lady. Both have this transformation problem left by the curse of a necromancing Bishop. Vittorio Storaro's glowing cinematography is entertaining in itself, and contributes much of the film's fantastic beauty. Plus there's all that great photography of a hunting hawk, a black wolf and a really beautiful horse. Teach your kids that all animals are magical!. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.

May 2015
 The Midnight Special  DVD  Make Way for Tomorrow  Blu-ray  Seven Angry Men  DVD  The Beyond  Blu-ray  Richard III 1995  Blu-ray  The Premature Burial  Blu-ray  The Long Good Friday  UK Region B Blu-ray & PAL DVD
April 2015
 The Secret Invasion  Blu-ray  A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night  Blu-ray  Face of Fire  DVD  Mr. Turner  Blu-ray  Mysteries of the Unseen World  3-D Blu-ray  Blood and Black Lace  Region AB Blu-ray & DVD  Inherent Vice  Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD  42nd Street  Blu-ray  April Love  Blu-ray  Le Silence de la mer  Blu-ray  "X"  Blu-ray  Dance with Me, Henry  Blu-ray  That Man from Rio and  Up to His Ears  Blu-ray  Invaders from Mars 1986  Blu-ray  Zardoz  Blu-ray  Silent Ozu: Three Crime Dramas: Walk Cheerfully, That Night's Wife, Dragnet Girl  DVD  The Way Things Go  Blu-ray  The Friends of Eddie Coyle  Blu-ray  Why Be Good?  DVD  Blue Sky  Blu-ray  Hoop Dreams  Blu-ray  A Most Violent Year  Blu-ray + Digital HD  Solomon and Sheba  Blu-ray  Sullivan's Travels  Blu-ray
March 2015
 Odd Man Out  Blu-ray  Massacre Gun  Blu-ray  U Turn  Blu-ray  Hand of Death  DVD  Without a Clue  Blu-ray  The White Buffalo  Blu-ray  The Day Mars Invaded Earth  DVD  The Imitation Game  Blu-ray + Digital HD  The Babadook  Blu-ray  Journey to the Center of the Earth  Blu-ray  First Men in the Moon  Blu-ray  The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry  Blu-ray  Miami Blues  Blu-ray  Day of Anger  Blu-ray + DVD  The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies  3-D Blu-ray  Goodbye to Language  3-D Blu-ray  Forbidden Hollywood Volume 8: Blonde Crazy, Strangers May Kiss, Hi Nellie!, Dark Hazard  The Soft Skin  Blu-ray  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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