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May 30, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Lost Keaton
Sixteen Comedy Shorts 1934-1937
Kino International

Warner Archive Collection

Raven  &
The Georgian House

Separate Region 2 PAL releases
reviewed by Lee Broughton

Greetings, and I hope you had a nice Memorial Day weekend! In lieu of snooty opinions, today's column just has couple of cute links forwarded by readers:

Marshall Crawford forwards this YouTube trailer parody, which advertises The Empire Strikes Back as if it were a serial attraction of the 30s or 40s. It has some pretty clever use of old footage.

Daniel Erickson sends this Art of Manliness page featuring a set of covers for a publication called Man's Magazine, which has a pretty weird idea of what masculinity means. There's a definite emphasis here on mass attacks by small animals, contrasted with cheesecake and cleavage -- male inadequacy compensation in all directions! Frank Zappa's phrase "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" appears to be sourced here as well. The guy who illustrated these covers must have laughed all day.

Back to the reviews -- thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson.

May 27, 2010
Saturday May 29, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Animation Express
Image Entertainment

Warner Archive Collection

War of the Worlds

Greetings! I have a fun story today, I should think, involving some correspondece with two friends that have known each other for more than forty years. Reading my review of the new Blu-ray of Spartacus, author and longtime film critic Bill Warren wrote me this note about a special day at Forrest J. Ackerman's Ackermansion:

"I don't know if I ever related this anecdote to you, but the first (and only) time I met famous makeup man Dick Smith was in the late 1960s at Forry's house; he came by with the much younger Craig Reardon, just after a visit to Bud Westmore's makeup shop at Universal. Smith asked Westmore what the toughest job he ever tackled was, and Westmore greatly surprised him by saying it was Spartacus. Smith didn't remember anything about the movie that would suggest such a thing.

Westmore left the room, came back with a very realistic leg and dropped it on the table between them. Not only was the leg itself realistic, but the bloody stump was, too, with veins and bones rendered very realistically. Westmore said that Kubrick had wanted to demonstrate the bloody carnage of a war with spears and swords, and wanted the most realistic dismembering ever. So Westmore found amputees of various varieties. A legless man had a fake leg attached; a man whose arm ended at the elbow got an extension; even a guy with part of his skull missing was hired. Westmore and his team rebuilt all the missing parts, with pumps added to squirt out fake blood. For the guy with a missing segment of skull, he included some brains from a calf. It was pretty expensive to track down and hire these amputees, then to build them replacement parts that gushed blood on cue. Smith really did mention the guy missing a part of his skull being fitted with a partial calf brain!"

When the movie was shown for Universal brass, people gasped, fainted and one person even threw up during these scenes. They were ordered cut and evidently destroyed. I think it was Kubrick himself who suggested the use of amputees to represent people with parts missing. Sounds like his way of thinking. -- Bill"

Although we had mutual friends, I finally met the multi-talented Craig Reardon (special effects makeup artist, sculptor, you name it) about three years ago. Craig is presently very active still doing exotic makeup jobs. In 1969 he was sixteen years old and Dick Smith's unofficial apprentice and protégé. Much later Craig would help his mentor produce the wild, difficult full body makeups for Ken Russell's Altered States. Craig confirmed and amplified what Bill Warren said in this note:

"Regarding the head wound, Bill is correct. Bud Westmore said they got a cancer victim, is what it was. One side of this man's face and skull had been eaten into by cancer, and that was arrested, but nothing remained. They sculpted an appliance to fit the cavity and restore his features. During the filming this was struck with a foam rubber 'club' or weapon of some kind, as the piece was jerked away, with gouts of false blood. That was sure to get people's attention. I think I mentioned the real guts, folded up over a fiberglas 'girdle', all inside a rubber belly...right? This was hacked open and the man staggered away, gushing blood and sagging, extruding guts. Hey, you go to see a movie about hand to hand combat, you should have to look at stuff like this. I'm with Kubrick on this one. -- Craig"

I chimed in with the idea that Kubrick may have pushed for this extreme stuff to shock people in the industry, thus enhancing his notoriety. This obvious stuff might also have been used as a "censor decoy", to make it easier for producer Douglas to retain other edgy material in his film. If the censors are busy chasing down gore shots they might overlook some of the shocking (for 1960) sex content of the original preview cuts. And they also might forget to vet the movie for political content. That's my thinking based on how I've seen producers in the 1980s and 1990s forced to play ridiculous trade-off games with the MPAA. I'm told that some first engagement prints of Spartacus had the one arm-chopping that was recovered for the 1991 restoration (above, ouch). I'm not clear whether the Olivier-Curtis bath scene ever made it into any first-run prints; I doubt it. But Kubrick and Douglas got away with the peekaboo bathing scene with Simmons, bless 'em.

Douglas played with the skinny dip bit before in the first movie he produced, The Indian Fighter back in 1955. It retains a brief nude blip with Elsa Martinelli (above, wow). There may originally have been more explicit cuts for European screens, but now we'll never know: a great quantity of un-inventoried United Artists film material was tossed in 1989 when an MGM exec destroyed a vault of alternate versions, music and audio stems, etc. -- things that would have aided a lot of restorations. European coverage of The Indian Fighter frequently mentioned the nude scene -- instead of the fact that Kirk's movie wasn't particularly memorable.

A few weeks after the Westmore / Reardon visit to the Ackermansion -- which I believe Craig told me was 1969 -- Craig did a makeup on Bill Warren for a Science Fiction convention. Craig made a lifemask of Warren on Forrest Ackerman's floor, sculpted and cast the foam rubber pieces and then applied them to Warren's face in a hotel room. So I conclude with a photo of Bill Warren as Quasimodo, created by Craig Reardon ... 41 years ago. Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson

May 23, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Oshima's Outlaw Sixties
Pleasures of the Flesh,
Violence at Noon,
Sing a Song of Sex,
Japanese Summer: Double Suicide,
Three Drunkards Resurrected
Eclipse Series 21

Warner Archive Collection


Greetings! You might take another look at Savant's reviews for Avatar and Spartacus, as each is now amended with some rather insightful reader responses, down in the footnotes section for each.

AnimEigo is doing something I've been waiting for for quite a while: they're releasing their top seller Shogun Assassin in Blu-ray. This is the Americanized version of the first two instalments of the amazing "Baby Cart / Sword of Vengeance" samurai series. AnimEigo already has Region 1 DVD versions out with dubbed American audio, as well as original Japanese versions of these six films. I hope the Japanese language versions come out in a timely manner, especially my favorite #4 with the female assassin!

Blue Underground is going to give us the wild Italian crime film Machine Gun McCain, a.k.a. Gli Intoccabili in Blu-ray on August 24! This John Cassavetes film also stars Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands, all of whom may have signed on to earn the cash needed to finish Cassavetes' personal film Husbands. The movie has a dynamite Ennio Morricone score, with a really cool "Ballad of Hank McCain" serving as the machine-gun toting Cassavetes' traveling music. Hot stuff, and I hope I can score with Koch Entertainment to enable a review!

The New York Post says that upcoming Warner Archive Collection titles will include the Edward G. Robinson Pre-code newspaper drama Five Star Final, Sam Fuller's Verboten! and some Red Skelton and Joe E. Brown comedies, including Brown's hilarious baseball comedy, Alibi Ike ... with Olivia de Havilland!

Hey, no "privileged Savant" stories today ... all's back to normal! Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson.

May 20, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Kelly's Heroes & Where Eagles Dare
Warner Home Video

Film Restoration and Preservation 2010
Savant Guest Article
by Richard W. Haines

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
New Video


A link of merit: Gary Teetzel sends this wonderfully droll set of BBC News Bloopers via the Huntington Post. The one with the ostriches is priceless.

A quick book review: After uploading author and filmmaker Richard W. Haine's article Film Restoration and Preservation 2010, I immediately buried myself in his book Technicolor Movies. I learned about Technicolor back at UCLA in the 1970s from some pretty well informed people in the UCLA Film Archives, and got to see some samples of nitrate film in various states of decomposition ... a professor even ignited a short trim to show us how powerfully it burned.

Haines' book is an excellent reference work that tells the entire history of the Technicolor Corporation, and the histories of other companies and processes that it came in contact with. Besides his inclination to favor the never-bettered brilliant hues of Technicolor (a natural choice) Haines takes an objective position, preferring to stick to the facts. We find out that Technicolor made a long series of trials as the company evolved its processes, including film prints with emulsions on both sides and prints made of two pieces of celluloid glued together!

The book is technical but highly readable. I had long confused the three B&W strips that ran through the giant Technicolor camera with the film-like strips called matrices used to do the actual printing. Technicolor Movies demonstrates that the printing of the imbibition dye-transfer Technicolor prints was a non-photographic publishing process more akin to 4-color lithography. The precision required to align the dyes on the prints to create such subtle images is pretty mind-boggling, an example of 20th-century chemistry stretched to the breaking point.

The book addresses the complications posed by new formats and inter-studio competition, and economic considerations that finally led to the shutting down of the big Technicolor facilities in Hollywood, London and Rome. Haines dispenses with gossip stories but has the lowdown on a number of interesting productions. Alfred Hitchcock was apparently so impressed with the combination of Technicolor and VistaVision that he forced MGM to accept both processes when he left Paramount to do North by NorthWest.

Technicolor Movies follows the sensible format template laid down by Carr & Hayes' Wide Screen Movies book, except with fewer long lists of titles. If the book lacks anything it's a comprehensive glossary of terms: on more than one occasion I found myself looking back to review what exactly "dye couplers" were. But I have to say that Richard. W Haines' clear writing pulled me through the technical passages about chemistry and filter packs, etc. Technicolor Movies is good film history, a good read and an excellent reference book for anyone seeking to truly understand color in movies.

Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson

May 16, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are




Greetings! It's an all Blu-ray review day ... my Avatar review is tardy because the screener just arrived a few days ago. That's okay, as the delay gave me more time to think about the whole phenomenon, you know, a movie with a box office take that could rescue most state budgets.

"What you are about to see has never been seen before -- I repeat! Has never been seen before by human eyes!"

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Ray Harryhausen Exhibit opened last Friday down on Wilshire Blvd.; I've received at least five emails so far from people thinking of visiting Los Angeles just to see all of Harryhausen's famous animation models (at least 25 or so are on display), and to also catch Kino's restored Metropolis, which is only playing in a few cities.

Now, I say all that to get to my "lucky Glenn" story. Because Ray Harryhausen has decided not to accompany the exhibit, he nominated his trusted associate, director-special effects expert-actor Randall William Cook as the one person authorized to unpack and pose his priceless stop-motion puppets. I think it ended up being a four-day job. Randy may have had to take the original Gwangi Allosaurus puppet home to repair shrinkage damage to its upper lip-line. The photo above right is pre-restoration.

The kicker for Savant is that Randy invited me to tag along. That means that I got to spend two days watching all these marvelous super-toys being unpacked and arranged for display. Randy was the only person authorized to touch the puppets. He performed some repairs on the ones that have dried up to the point that the old foam rubber has cracked and crumbled. He reconstructed the face of the Baboon from Eye of the Tiger and re-glued little details back onto the Clash of the Titans Kraken puppet. The curators at the Academy gallery were professional, gracious and accommodating -- they kept a careful watch over the exhibits, but didn't dish out a "don't breathe on anything" attitude.

A number of sites are running large photos of the models online (just Google "Harryhausen exhibit Academy"). I'm just as much "press" as they are, so here are a few of my favorites in thumbnail size. Boy, you can put a camera within a couple of inches of these models and get really fantastic images. My favorite is the Hydra from Jason, a 47-year-old original puppet inexplicably in almost perfect condition. Randy Cook has seen most of the puppets many times before but was clearly having a great time examining them in detail, and doing expert maintenance on the more fragile ones.

The Fantastical Worlds of Ray Harryhausen runs through August 22 at the Academy's fourth-Floor gallery, located at 8949 Wilshire Blvd. The exhibit is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on weekends from noon to 6 p.m. The galleries will be closed for the Memorial Day (May 29 and 30) and Independence Day (July 3 and 4) holiday weekends. More info at www.oscars.org.. Thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson

May 14, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are


Joe Dante on Matinee
Savant Interview:
"What, no extras?"

Term of Trial
Warner Archive Collection

No Time for Sergeants

Greetings! Savant is back in the grind, so to speak. Correspondent Christopher Rywalt forwarded this link to some Sean Young home movies taken on the 1983 Mexico City set for David Lynch's Dune. I have to say that Ms. Young's camerawork is very good. In addition to shots of many of the stars, we see a full body mold being taken of Young, to make a perfectly fitted "Stillsuit" costume. Young has added a nice narration that includes some odd statements about Kyle McLachlan and Aldo Ray.

I wasn't happy about the lack of extras on the just-released DVD of Joe Dante's Matinee, a favorite here at Savant Central. So today's reviews include a short interview I conducted with Dante interview I conducted with Dante early in the week, in which I asked the director to discuss the extras that could have been on the disc. What a perfect little comedy that movie is!

Savant associate Dick Dinman has a real attraction this week on his DVD Classics Corner On The Air radio show -- an interview with British film star Rita Tushingham on Doctor Zhivago, to accompany the new Zhivago Blu-ray disc.

Finally, if you don't scour the web for DVD news, you might not be aware of some new announcements. Warners has a tall stack of desirable Blu-rays coming on September 7: Forbidden Planet (with The Invisible Boy), Mars Attacks!, THX 1138, The Player, Lost in Space and A Scanner Darkly. Universal has a 50th Anniversary Psycho Blu-ray coming on October 19. Coming sooner, from Image, is a pricey set (14 DVDs) of the original Boris Karloff Thriller TV show. That's on August 31. Thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson.

May 10, 2010


As it's been a busy month for the normally predictable Savant, this will be another bi-weekly column with no review coverage. I've just returned from Topeka Kansas, where I attended a gathering called the Godzilla & Friends V festival held at Washburn University. When I started writing for the web back in 1997 as "MGM Video Savant" I received some very useful research on the movie Duck You Sucker from Topeka resident Bill Shaffer. Bill later became a consultant for the extras on DVD special editions of the Sergio Leone pictures and we've kept in close touch.

Authors and Godzilla authorities Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski were special guests at last year's festival. They introduce the films and give interesting slide show lectures. Bill Shaffer invited them back, and then invited me as well, the excuse being that I could offer a presentation on the miniatures and other special effects for 1941. That Spielberg comedy has, in spirit at least, a lot in common with Godzilla pictures -- the effects are all old-fashioned, lots of things explode, and prolonged contact can induce headaches. I immediately said yes, as making the trip was a chance to finally meet Bill in person. Seeing an unfamiliar part of the country was an extra bonus.

Right: Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle answer questions like, "How come Mecha Godzilla's laser eyeball is still lighted in that last scene, after it exploded just before?"

Bill is part of a group that organizes film gatherings on the Washburn campus. Their yearly 'big event' show is a silent movie festival held in Washburn's concert hall. The movies are accompanied by soloists, ensembles and even small orchestras. The Godzilla gathering is a locally promoted event that draws a loyal gathering of committed G-Fans. About a third of the attendees are very serious youngsters who can't get enough of seeing their favorite monster stomp about. Bill is a busy TV producer and on-air personality for KTWU (PBS). He hosts the two days of shows almost non-stop, conducting quizzes and giveaways in between features. Bill also emceed a coloring contest and a "Godzilla Roar" competition. I know, I know -- you missed all the fun but maybe you can go next year.

Steve and Ed's introductions were well-received. They showed a long reel of fairly amazing behind-the-scenes footage showing how the rubber-suited movies were filmed and the enormous moon set in use for Battle in Outer Space. The crowd clearly cared about the subject, and the kids in particular paid rapt attention. They very strongly reminded me of myself at age seven, when I was a very serious dinosaur and monster fan. The prize giveaways were moments of high tension ... Bill would hold up a pack of DVDs or a poster and you could tell every kid was dying to be the winner. Some prizes were really attractive, like a T-Shirt with a big green Godzilla backgrounded by a Japanese battle flag. When I first arrived I saw a kid politely admiring a desktop Godzilla nite lite that has a little ziz-zag neon coming out of its mouth. I said, "I guess this is some kind of decoration, huh?" The boy replied in a sober tone reserved for great pronouncements: "But not for me!

Bill Shaffer dispenses a plush Godzilla toy and a "G-Force" helmet to a very pleased friend.

I'm not sure that many in my audience were even aware of the movie 1941. I talked almost exclusively about the effects, which wow'ed them .. the acres of miniature buildings and replicas of planes, tanks and submarines from full scale down to Barbie Doll size. The adults seemed impressed to see images of Steven Spielberg back in the day, but I could tell that none of the kids had ever heard of John Belushi. Frankly, it was great to be around people unconcerned about show biz, except as basic entertainment. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough but I also just don't see so many well-adjusted kids having real childhoods out here in Los Angeles. When Ed and Steve carried on rather advanced conversations about Godzilla lore, not one boy or girl showed an attitude. The festival is also refreshingly non-commercial. Admission is free. Ed Godziszeweski emptied his stash of Godzilla goodies and was selling trinkets, figurines and magazines at decidedly bargain prices. Any kid could pick up a treasured keepsake for a couple of bucks. You'd think the circus had come to town -- these fans would rather be having their Godzilla day than go see Iron Man 2.

The only hint of reality came on the front door of the lecture hall where the festival was held -- thanks to Open Carry laws, the University recently put up preventative signage. Topeka is in the old "Bleeding Kansas" section of the state; I recognized town and place names from Civil War history and 1930s gangster banditry. I think they could have used this "no guns" graphic back then, too.

Back here in Hollywood, I've gotten several notes from readers who say they're making a special trip to see the Academy 0f Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' twin exhibits, starting on May 14 -- Chuck Jones: An Animator's Life from A to Z-Z-Z-Z and The Fantastical Worlds of Ray Harryhausen. The Harryhausen exhibit will be showing about thirty of his original animation puppets, starting with a Woolly Mammoth he made back in the late 1930s. I'll be reporting on a reception the Academy is having the night before.

Like I said, it's been an unusually eventful Spring for DVD Savant and I expect things to calm down a bit more and allow me to get back to my seven-reviews-a-week habit. Coming up will be coverage of Matinee, No Time for Sergeants, Walkabout, Spartacus, Stagecoach (those last three in Blu-ray) and an exotic five-title Eclipse pack of Oshima crime pictures. And that's not counting ongoing rarities from the Warner Archives Collection. Thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson

May 06, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Long Knives Night
Reporting from a Rabbit Hutch

Cinema Purgatorio / Seminal

The Fox
Warner Archive Collection

The Fugitive Kind


Like horror? I've spent some of the last two weeks poking around a web blog that reviews horror films but also indulges in interesting essays discussions & digressions about horror and fantasy. It's called Arbogast on Film. I've read my share of online horror blogs and "Arbogast" is both eloquent and possessed of a unique personality. He bills himself as a busy writer who likes working under a pen name because the anonymity allows more freedom. In other words he likes the freedom to write dirty when he wants! Formal horror review sites abound -- my favorite is still Mondo Digital -- but Arbogast is another entertaining place to retreat when work gets me down.

Reader Christopher Krisfalusy received this email back from Olive Films, which we already know is releasing Savant Sci-fi favorite Crack in the World on DVD this July 27 (the date has been pushed back two weeks):

"Yes the film is being remastered and will be available in July. The Blu-ray will be available at a later date. Best regards! Olive Films"

I want to believe that the email is accurate -- and am risking a charge of irresponsible rumor-spreading in the hope that more information will be forthcoming. So don't believe it yet! A Blu-ray of Crack in the World sounds far too good to be true ...

This next item definitely exists. Gary Teetzel forwards this YouTube link to a lengthy montage comprised of nothing but moments in movies where somebody shouts, "Get out of there!" The montage demonstrates that the overused dialogue line, or a close variant, seems to be in every movie made in the last thirty years.

I'll be away for a couple of days for that Godzilla and Friends V gathering in Topeka. Depending on what shape I'm in when I get back.my next report may or may not be review-challenged -- don't believe it yet! Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson

May 02, 2010

Savant Screening UPDATE.

I went to a preview press screening of Iron Man 2 tonight at an IMAX theater in Burbank. A swell time was had by all. The movie maintains most of the humor and character nuances of the first picture, with Gwyneth Paltrow being crowded a bit by the addition of Scarlett Johansson as a new hire / action woman of mystery. Robert Downey is just as charming, even though a middle section with him suffering from a physical ailment goes on a bit too long. A very Marvel-like psychological affirmation from Tony Stark's long-dead dad helps the crimefighter bounce back into action. For villains we have Sam Rockwell's slimy arms designer (not all that interesting), and Mickey Rourke as a grungy Russian with chip on his shoulder. Mickey seems to be channelling the spirit of Charles Bronson, right down to a similar mustache.

The story has Stark withholding his prosthetic Iron Man suit from the government, which, led by an irresponsible senator (Garry Shandling) orders Rhodey Rhodes to steal it. (Rhodey is now played by Don Cheadle.) The big action stuff in the third act replays RoboCop 2 with at least 20 killer drone robots and the explosions and firepower ramped up 500%. It's all fine, although I'd have preferred more fun time with Samuel L. Jackson's S.H.I.E.L.D. team, a goofy bunch of undercover spy-outlaws that represent a too-cool alternative to high-tech G-Men. Bill O'Reilly makes a surprise appearance as himself, dissing Iron Man on the air like a jerk. How they got him to do that, I can't begin to guess. Effects are as good as always. The rock-'em-sock-'em robot action is fine, but there aren't any of the stand-up-and-cheer moments I remember from the first film. All in all, a very satisfying and intelligent comic book sequel; the franchise shows no sign of growing stale. -- Glenn Erickson

Savant's new reviews today are

Metropolis and the Frame Rate Issue
Savant Article

Central Airport
Warner Archive Collection

Cellat and
Kadin Dusmani
Region 0 PAL reviews
by Lee Broughton
Onar Films (Greece)

Greetings! Some reader letters inspired me to try another article this week ... which hopefully will put a certain issue to rest rather than inflame it once more. It's no big deal, unless you're as obsessed as is Savant. Then there's no hope for you, I'm afraid.

Frequent correspondent "B" picked this very interesting item: Glenn ... The Sunday NY Times Summer video round-up article includes this provocative line: "Criterion continues its season of releases on Aug. 10 with a collection of Josef von Sternberg silents, including The Last Command and Underworld." If this is true, it'll be welcome news. I've never seen the silent Underworld. It and Thunderbolt are considered two of the first fully-developed entries in the Gangster genre.

Gary Teetzel provides a fun link: a High School band plays a suite of excerpts from Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack for The Wind and the Lion. Refined musical minds may disagree, but I think they sound great!

I'm heading off to the Godzilla and Friends V festival in Topeka Kansas next weekend. But I do plan to have reviews up early, you know, to head off civil unrest, riots, etc. Fox still claims it's sending me a Blu-ray of Avatar to review. I've been mum about that monster hit and am looking forward to tossing my 2 cents out there against the film's billion dollar box office! Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson.

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

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