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September 30, 2003

30 days hath ... Happy Tuesday: Savant sneaks in 6 (count 'em, six!) more reviews before the end of the week and the end of the month. One of them is a collector's doozie, while a boxed set will whet the appetites of horror addicts, even though none of its titles is a horror film!.

Criterion makes a DVD milestone of Roman Polanski's first feature, Knife in the Water by adding a second disc with all of the director's student and independent short films.

Blue Underground graces us with its four-disc Christopher Lee Collection, which includes The Blood of Fu Manchu, The Castle of Fu Manchu, Circus of Fear and The Bloody Judge.

Columbia TriStar's Rocket Gibraltar is a dignified way to appreciate Burt Lancaster, sort of a Burt slant on On Golden Pond.

October is sneaking in with new surprises and strange oddities ... the review pace should continue! Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson

September 27, 2003

Saturday and my cold seems to be on the wane - I'm glad it isn't one of those that hangs around for weeks. On to the reviews:

Warners' two disc The Adventures of Robin Hood Special Edition has more interesting extras than I've ever before seen jammed onto a classic library title. And you'll flip over the color.

Criterion once again rescues film history with a first-time ever restoration of the complete original The Devil and Daniel Webster, William Dieterle's ode to Americana with Stephen Vincent Benet's rascally Mr. Scratch. Walter Huston is the best devil in a movie, and the uncut show abounds with experimental touches.

Something Weird gives us not one, not two, but three of the most unwatchable oddities in schlock film history: The Atomic Brain, Love After Death and The Incredible Petrified World. Each needs a good excuse, not a review, but bizarro cinema fans will certainly get their moola's worth.

Our AOL newsletter problems don't seem to be cleared up yet - I received the main DVDTalk newsletter last week, but that's it ... hopefull all will be fixed soon. Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson

September 25, 2003

Well, my apologies ... I wanted to review one of the biggies for today, but I came down with a cold and after editing, my eyes just gave out ( I can listen to soft music, though!). One review today is, sadly, not a rave, but the other is for a horror film thought lost and now beautifully restored. Watching it, one dreams of seeing miraculously restored versions of all of ones ugly-duckling favorites - Things to Come, Scarlet Street, Pandora's Box. I promise a couple of top titles for Saturday ... and thanks for all the nice notes & corrections! Glenn Erickson

MGM's The Ghoul is a miracle picture, the miracle being that this once-lost title now looks better than 99% of movies from 1933! Boris Karloff and great art direction make a silly haunted-house film almost work.

Universal's More American Graffiti can only be recommended as a curiosity. This is one time that Savant couldn't find more than a couple of positive things to say about a picture that has to be chalked up as a very sad mistake. Some of the cast return from George Lucas' 1973 hit, but I'll bet they wished they hadn't.

Like I said, Savant is Sick, but begs forgiveness and will get those reviews out AZAP. On the burner are THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, SOMETHING WEIRD'S TRIPLE BILL, THE CHRIS LEE COLLECTION, KNIFE IN THE WATER, MEN WITH GUNS, VICTORY AT SEA, DANGER MAN, PRIZZI'S HONOR, WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS? and more, With TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE sort-of-promised (it's hard to beg with a head cold) ... Thanks, Glenn Erickson

September 23, 2003

A happy Tuesday .. all goes well in the world today. Savant is an AOL customer, and I received my first DVDTalk newsletter in more than a month. So perhaps Savant's full newsletter list will arrive tomorrow!

It's cold-blooded murder day, I guess, with two out of three films devoted to heinous true crime. Our third film is sort of a crime perpetrated against a Rudyard Kipling story, but that's just Savant's opinion.

HVe's Murderous Maids is a diabolically exacting account of a pair of incestuous Lesbian servants (what a terrible set of labels) that committed France's most shocking crime. Sylvie Testud stars as the unforgettable Christine, who loved not too wisely but too Grand Guignol.

Columbia TriStar's In Cold Blood is stunning in B&W Panavision, and holds up well as the first modern semi-doc of a criminal incident that aimed for total realism. Scott Wilson and Robert Blake are execellent as the lethal pair of losers who killed for almost no reason at all.

Warner's Kim is a lacklustre and cutprice Rudyard Kipling tale defeated by changing attitudes, Cold War rhetoric and a general Fake Studio atmosphere. But there are lots of fans for this kid's adventure starring Dean Stockwell and an out-of-shape Errol Flynn.

Savant is trying to figure out what to review next - the Chris Lee Collection came in, and there's always Robin Hood. Plus some nice TV collections. Thanks, Glenn Erickson

September 20, 2003

Saturday rolls in with a couple of interesting titles:

Fox's The Dancer Upstairs was a stealth theatrical release last year, but John Malkovich's directorial debut is an engrossing political thriller about repression and terror in a developed South American country. Javier Bardem is excellent as a principled detective hunting down a fanatic revolutionary.

The independent distributor The Film Movement's August offering is OT: Our Town an LA-area docu about kids in Compton putting on their own no-budget version of Thornton Wilder's play. It's an uplifting show and an eye-opener about conditions at Dominguez High.

More coming, of course, including weird Something Weird triple bills, and more fancy Warners two disc set classics. Thanks, Glenn Erickson

September 18, 2003

A fun Thursday night, and two good movies to review:

Columbia TriStar's The Bedford Incident is still a solid Cold War thriller with a sting in its tale. It's a good drama too, with an excellent script from James Poe. With Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, James MacArthur, Martin Balsam and Eric Portman.

MGM's having itself a John Sayles party, and Return of the Secaucus 7 is his first hit independent film, a movie talked a lot in comparison to The Big Chill even though not that many people have seen it. It's better than good for a director's first work, and can boast the debut of David Strathairn among a talented cast. With Maggie Renzi.

Well, I only do this once a year, but the fact is that I only get a photo op like this once a year. I was on the job about a month ago, and people started taking pictures ... I can't say what I was working on, but ten minutes with Clint Eastwood satisfied my movie-star fan-boy needs for quite a while. Back on Saturday, Glenn Erickson

September 16, 2003

Greetings from LA ... a reminder to Savant Newsletter readers to check the Savant Front Page from time to time - we never know when the Newsletter might not get through ...

MGM's disc of Robert Altman's Images will delight his core of fans and probably not make much of a splash elsewhere. The film is received as absorbing or irritating without much space in between. Savant recommends it to fans of puzzle pictures. Susannah York is excellent - she's not often well-cast - and Altman's atmosphere is bizarre without being gimmicky.

From England come two Mondo Macabro reviews, from correspondent Lee Broughton. The Diabolical Dr. Z & Death Walks at Midnight are a pair of fairly well known horrors; the Franco film Dr. Z is a Region one release.

Reviewed very briefly on DVDTalk, but not archived on my page, are two 'give it a try' discs that turned out to be bad news. Film Classics' Return of Chandu is a horrendously poor version of what might have been a good show, and Aliolos' Pioneer in Aviation is an amateurish docu hiding some good material within a lot more fluff. Thanks for reading. Glenn Erickson

September 14, 2003

A fun Saturday night ... my report on my 3-D and Cinerama adventure is below!

Columbia TriStar's The Talk of the Town is a superior 'idea' movie by George Stevens that does something decent with Frank Capra - type material. Jean Arthur and Ronald Colman are excellent; Cary Grant seems miscast at first but really isn't.

Warner's disc of Clint Eastwood's White Hunter, Black Heart finds him doing excellent directing work on a personal film ... with the one mistake that he cast himself as the lead. If you can forget that Clint's trying too hard to be John Huston, a man with a completely different personality, this is a good Hemingwayesque safari story.

3-D and Cinerama Report

So, about those movies I saw yesterday .... GOG showed as part of the big 3-D festival at the Eqyptian. It's a big series, separate from the Cinematheque, run by the owner of Sabucat, a stock footage company. The atmosphere was pretty exciting. I think most of the shows are selling out, and for good reason: unlike most screening series in LA, the opportunity to see these films in real 3-D doesn't happen very often, and can't be replicated on DVD or video in their original formats. And that's what brought out literally everyone - some big critics, lots of older fans and 3-D techies and enthusiasts, plus the usual Sci-Fi addicts and cognoscenti who have probably seen GOG 20 times but can't pass up the opportunity to see an original 1954 print. So it was like one of our 1970s screenings, when we couldn't believe anyone in Hollywood would dredge up prints of genre favorites we wanted to see. I even saw an old friend, who apparently flew out from New York just for this series.

The Egyptian was packed, and with glasses firmly in place, GOG began. It ran at 1:37, even though it was clearly formatted for 1:66 (judging by the titles). The 3-D effect was fine, with many shots organized to place objects in different planes of depth. The apparent depth-space between 'planes' seems to be exaggerated in many shots, because there were many scenes where people closer to the camera looked too small in comparison to people behind them, sort of a variation on the telephoto shot in baseball games past the pitcher's mound toward home plate, where the batter looks bigger than the pitcher, who's 30 yards closer. A speaker told us that UA has no 3D versions of GOG, and that it was thought to be lost until someone (presumably a collector) found a left eye to match a right eye print. Unfortunately, the left eye was badly faded. This didn't hurt the 3-D, but the colors were subdued. If one closed a left eye, the colors popped into bright, true hues. Close the right eye, and the picture turned purplish. Together, they combined into a satisfactory but slightly faded composite. Very interesting.

GOG is a fun Science Fiction film that presages a lot of ideas in movies like THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN. It's about a super-secret lab under the desert full of technological gimmicks to be explained at length for 80 minutes, with about ten minutes of suspense and action. The futuristic look is terribly dated, but the attitudes are downright hilarious. Every scientist has a learned female assistant, all of whom are of starlet caliber in the looks department. The banter is somewhat tech savvy but naive just the same (typical of producer Ivan Tors), and the solution to the big mystery is something we figure out practically going in, and must wait for the characters to catch up. Gog and Magog are twin robots that of course are committing the murders, etc. The movie has one of the most cavalier attitudes toward radiation in the movies - both hero and heroine get 'serious' doses when Magog opens the atomic pile. She faints. But we fade up on both of them looking chipper: "We'll be better in no time!"

After the show, director Joe Dante introduced the charming William Schallert, who read from his 1953 datebook all the roles he took in plays and bits in movies that year, and said that all he really remembered about GOG was that he earned about $250 and got strangled by the robot. Director Herbert L. Strock talked about making this film and others, and told us that like Andre De Toth and Raoul Walsh, he had monocular vision and couldn't see his own 3-D picture! UA premiered the movie in 3D at the Paramount theater on Hollywood Blvd (now the El Capitan) but then released it only flat, which made Strock angry - they'd gone to such trouble and expense to do it in 3D. Everyone agreed that this was the first time - in 49 years - that it had been publicly screened in real 3D.

A couple of hours later we walked over to the revamped Cinerama Dome to again share the auditorium with a crowd of hardcore cinema history enthusiasts of all ages. HOW THE WEST WAS WON played in real 3-projector Cinerama - they even introduced the projectionists by name - and it must have been a contractual obligation or a labor of love, because the theater ran much like the old roadshow I saw at age 10 at the Pacific Theater a few blocks away. 5 people were still required in the projection booth, and ushers guided the audience to reserved seats. It was very pleasant - no line, and we just strolled in about 10 minutes before screen time knowing our seats were set.

So, here's the rundown for all you enthusiasts who've seen the movie in Dayton, Ohio, etc. Warner/Turner has recreated the experience to original specs by making new prints of exceedingly good quality, and playing the soundtrack from a separate interlocked mag roll. Technically, the show went off without a hitch. The screen is composed of three slightly overlapping panels that appear taller than they are wide - Cinerama is 6 perfs tall instead of 4. The clarity and sharpness of each panel is very impressive, and the color is excellent overall, with only a reel or two having slight density problems. It looks as if there were no restoration/preservation problems at all. The presentation looks big, very big, and has the kind of old-fashioned grandiosity that tells us this is a real event, and not just a movie.

The three panels are very distracting, of course, and just as we spent a lot of GOG checking out the depth illusion when the movie slowed down, here we tended to see what was happening at the join marks. I remember the original screenings taking place on a screen with a deeper curve, but can't say that for sure. This screen was not made of vertical slats, and didn't make a clean curve but had three slightly curved panels.

As always, HTWWW is a great entertainment and a so-so movie. It's packed with excellently-cast stars, and the roster of smaller players includes everyone on the MGM contract list. Since there are few closeups and not even that many medium shots, we were surprised to recognize many actors we'd never have spotted on DVD, like Harry Dean Stanton as one of Eli Wallach's gang.

The slow parts of the film on DVD, the static views of rivers and plains and mountains, are so beautiful and impressive in real Cinerama, that they end up being an entertainment unto themselves.

HTWWW starts well and by the end gets a little draggy, perhaps because I've seen it too many times. I find the Caroll Baker / James Stewart story very moving, Debbie Reynolds good when not singing, and George Peppard adequate but not that compelling. Each segment has a 'Cinerama demo' moment or two, which no longer seem all that thrilling, but got oohs and ahhs when the picture was new. The constant parade of stars keeps the interest up, and the show finishes with an elaborate but downbeat action episode on a train that seems to have been a benchmark for sequences in movies like THE WILD BUNCH. This is the one where Yvonne De Carlo's husband, a stunt man, lost a leg while doubling for George Peppard hanging onto those loose logs on the railroad car.

Many shots in the train robbery, the buffalo stampede and the rafting scene were shot with 70mm rear projection and optically split into three pieces, and they look it, unfortunately. The multiple jeopardy wild ride on the train is seriously muted by the now-obvious process shots, that don't have the same You-Are-There 'Lowell Thomas' effect of the rest of the picture. The end is also still a misjudged mess - while grand music plays and Spencer Tracy tells us how great the West has become since we pushed 'primitive man' aside, we see aerial shots of things like strip mines and crowded freeways! The final shot flying out under the Golden Gate bridge is more of trip to nowhere than a visual culmination of a great manifest destiny.

The film played with full intro, intermission and exit music, which would have been more fun if they weren't just corny medleys of traditional songs. It would be terrific if other films came back in the roadshow format - they've promised to show IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD in 70mm later this year, but they don't have roadshow-length prints. The radio-report intermission tape was located, however, and they plan to play that. That's the report. Glenn Erickson

September 11, 2003

Another fast night ... no time for chit-chat.

Classic horror gets a boost from Milestone / Image's The Phantom of the Opera, a dee-luxe two disc Ultimate Edition with two versions of the movies and enough extras to make one start looking for chandeliers to drop onto audiences. Lon Chaney is fantastic, and one of the transfers is from a wonderfully-preserved element.

Universal's The Ugly American is a sincere and well-written account of foreign policy failings in a country called Sarkhan ... which has intentional parallels to Vietnam. Marlon Brando is excellent as the Ambassador who puts assertive action before caution.

Just a workin' guy here ... trying to do better than last week with the review quotient. I'm told the AOL problem will be fixed by next Tuesday or so ... Thanks! Glenn

September 08, 2003

It's rush time around here - actually, I just got in Image's new Phantom of the Opera double bill and I'm eager to see part of it tonight because (don't tell anyone) I've actually never seen it all the way through. As far as the reviews go, tonight is Walter Matthau night, purely by accident. Unfortunately neither film is a drop-the-mouse-and-run-out-and-get-it title. But Savant has tried to be civil with the criticism.

MGM's The Fortune Cookie is a reasonable disc of one of the few Billy Wilder films that doesn't put a smile on Savant's face. The critics accusing Wilder of cynicism must have choked on this one - he ladles on the totally unsavory Whiplash Willie (Walter Matthau), but then counters with a sentimental streak that's pure sap. The poor sap in this instance is Jack Lemmon, trussed in a neck brace that makes him as uncomfortable as we are.

A cute, sweet stab at a romantic comedy that chokes on its cuteness and sweetness, I.Q. puts together the ingredients of a top show (mainly the great casting of Walter Matthau, Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins) but squanders it on silly scientists, addled philosophy, and an all-too predictable outcome. Good for the stars, though.

Savant's booked himself an expensive Saturday - it's off to the 3D festival to see the one and only GOG (don't forget his mate, Magog) and later to the Cinerama Dome, to check out the new Cinerama print of HOW THE WEST WAS WON in its several-week run. I saw the movie around the corner at the Hollywood Pacific about ... 41 years ago (choke), and this should be special. But, hey, what are those two fuzzy lines going up and down in the middle of the picture? Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson

September 06, 2003

A quick Saturday pause from editing, for some fun reviews:

A big pleasant surprise from Shout! Factory is Groucho Marx You Bet Your Life The Lost Episodes, 18 apparently never-syndicated original episodes on 3 packed discs. The shows are great and the extras terrific - we get original commercials for big clunky DeSoto cars, gag reels, outtakes, auditions and a behind-the-scenes show.

Criterion shows how serious it is once again with a comparison disc of two versions of a Vittorio De Sica film, His own Terminal Station that was already crippled by the 'hands-on' contribution of producer David O. Selznick, and the retitled mess Indiscretion of an American Wife, which shows the 101 ways a potentially good film can be slaughtered through clueless interference. You know, like 99% of pictures made today. The original picture is a rather good actor's piece. Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift do very well in glamour closeups shoehorned into a neorealist background.

MGM's Witness for the Prosecution is one of Billy Wilder's more entertaining features, with great acting from Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power. Agatha Christie doesn't necessarily deserve this kind of TLC, but her format works great in Wilder's assured hands. The disc has been out for several years, but was bundled with the recent Billy Wilder Collection, which accounts for the present review.

Lemme See Here, some news. Thanks for the Email feedback about our little Newsletter problem - very kind of you all. AOL recipients may still be shut out for a couple more weeks, but that's the best we can do. I checked, and this will have little effect on foreign policy, so I won't revisit the issue for awhile.

Other cool news. Rumor has it that Rialto is reissuing George Franju's incomparable horror classic Lex yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face) theatrically in a couple of months, so my close associates are watering at the mouth at the possibility (just guessing) that Criterion might follow with a DVD. That's where the dreaming starts ... gee, how about Judex and Therese Desqueyroux, and Le Tete contre le murs? ... I have a friendly Criterion connection, but I don't badger him for the inside dope on issues like this - Savant is not a 'breaking news' site. I figure he'll let me know if there's something he can tell me.

I saw OPEN RANGE a couple of nights ago. Kevin Costner should not be allowed to direct himself or to approve scripts. The slightest story, suitable for a half-hour episode of Gunsmoke, has been drawn out into 2.5 hours of scenery and talk, talk, talk. The AWFUL script relentlessly speechifies every thought that might enter these cowboys' heads. It should be re-titled FREE ASSOCIATION COWPOKES. The gunfight at the end is okay, with particularly good audio, but sheesh, the predictablility (they shot my dog!) and go-nowhere pacing is deadly. Costner and Duvall must 'drop in' on the doctor's office 4 times in 5 hours.

I also saw a preview of LOST IN TRANSLATION, a good character vehicle for Bill Murray that is always amusing but doesn't catch fire. The relationship between Murray and Scarlet Johannsen is credible, but we never make the leap to really caring about them. Instead, the movie is filled with the alien-ness of Tokyo, stranding Murray in situations with bad interpreters and eventually letting him give up on communicating with anyone, making snide remarks at the foreigners with the different culture. There's nothing really bad-spirited here, but the romance and the culture shock don't connect, even though both are about different degrees of alienation. I laughed and enjoyed myself, but didn't buy into the show. Sophia Coppola directed. Thanks, Glenn Erickson

September 01, 2003

Happy labor day! Hope you are all working as hard as I am. Just two more reviews, but they make ten for the week, so I'm feeling like a responsible puppy here.

Fox's Studio Classics disc of Titanic ain't no A Night to Remember, but it was made before most of the definitive research about the sinking was done. It is perhaps Hollywood's first disaster film, framing the sinking in a gripping set of personal stories. A very good picture, with Barbara Stanwyck, Clifton Webb, Audrey Dalton and Roger Wagner.

First Run Features' political documentary The Trials of Henry Kissinger openly advocates an anti-Kissinger, anti-Nixon viewpoint, and so does Savant's review, so be forewarned. There's enough straight talk and solid evidence here to turn any open mind on the subject of foreign policy. Why are we despised and feared around the world? The answer's here, f-f-f-folks.

I'll be curious to see who gets a Savant Newsletter this Wednesday. There appears to be a bad glitch in the system, and last I heard, our webmaster thinks some new Spam filter on AOL is blocking the Newsletter. It still goes out, but I don't receive mine, and the drop in hits I see on Wednesdays tells me that many readers only tune in when they receive it. I've even gotten a couple of emails asking me if Savant has stopped! (heart attack) Hopefully a solution will be found, but in the meantime, if anyone wants to drop a 5-word email saying whether they got the Newsletter or not on Thursday, I'd be most obliged. Mille Grazie.

I was halfway through a review of Pacific Family Entertainment's The Final Countdown and writing that it doesn't look very good, when I was advised that 'serious questions have been raised to who exactly owns the rights and to the legitimacy of this release'. Blue Underground has stated that they own the rights and will be putting out a deluxe version next May that everyone should wait for. That's my advice, if only for the sorry quality of the PFE disc, which I won't be reviewing after all. I have reviewed PFE's not-bad Convoy disc, which appears to be fully legit, but has encoding glitches. It may not convert properly to a 4x3 monitor. On my 16:9 screen, it expanded nicely to 2:35 proportions. Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson

Don't forget to write Savant at [email protected].

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