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June 30, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Jason and the Argonauts
Blu-ray and DVD

Ray Harryhausen's personal favorite of his films is a mythological marvel, presented in a nicely-appointed (and overdue) HD transfer. With fine commentaries featuring Ray Harryhausen, Tony Dalton, Peter Jackson and Randall William Cook. From Sony.

Night Train to Munich

Suave counterspy Rex Harrison penetrates the headquarters of the Nazi command to engineer the escape of a scientist and his beautiful daughter Margaret Lockwood. This is the one with the wild finale at an alpine aerial tramway. Director Carol Reed continues the Alfred Hitchcock tradition of clever spy chase thrillers, and comes up with a solid "A". Criterion.


Here are a couple of high-interest reviews, posted early. I'm doing this because they'll have to serve until a couple of days into next week. Call it a short vacation, playing hooky, going underground, whatever you want. In compensation, I do have some Fall Blu-ray news to pass on to readers not heavily monitoring disc announcements on the web. Universal will be putting out their Back to the Future Trilogy on Blu-ray come October 26. Warners has a wealth of Blu-ray goodies in the pipeline. The original King Kong will hit on September 28, while The Exorcist, Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Maltese Falcon arrive on October 5.

For those looking for prime serious genre criticism, the Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies has a new edition out now. Among other essays, this eighth issue sports a review of the new BBC miniseries The Day of the Triffids, the first notice I've encountered. Reviewer Norman Osborne immediately raises my defensive radar by saying that in this version, the Triffids are initially let loose by a "misguided environmentalist". Phmah!

Helpful pal and radio personality Richard Dinman has three (count 'em: 3) new radio shows up that center on Judy Garland and the new Blu-ray of A Star is Born, GARLANDS FOR JUDY: "A STAR" IS BLU
Part 1 interviews author and historian John Fricke on Garland's volatile career, along with an interview bite in which star Stewart Granger tells Dick why he "turned down" the role of Norman Maine, an account that John Fricke regards with great ("sour grapes?") suspicion.
In Part 2 John Fricke goes into the post-premiere butchering of A Star is Born and the details of the restoration (this I want to hear myself).
Part 3 continues with Warners Senior Vice President George Feltenstein for an overall discussion of A Star is Born, and why it looks better than any wide screen/color film of its era.
Richard also includes this link to a WMPG Online Archive of all of his "Classics Corner on the Air" productions.

Recommended reading in my absence (or anytime): Stuart Galbraith IV has a good review up at DVDtalk for a DVD set of the old Leave it to Beaver TV show. Also at DVDtalk, Jamie S. Rich has an interesting review of Red Desert that complements my own. Offsite, we have David Cairns at Shadowplay; he's just recently writing about Ray Harryhausen's all-star 90th birthday celebration in London, and he has some informative and funny posts on that subject. John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows has recent posts that I've enjoyed, including a two-parter on Stagecoach. And finally, whenever I need a boost, there's Nathaniel Thompson's Mondo Digital Page, a regular fountain of reviews for the weirdest new discs in release.

Thanks for reading, and I'll be back soon! Glenn Erickson

June 27, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Pretty Baby

Adorable Betsy Drake shows unmistakable star quality in this funny, almost-classic farce about an ambitious office girl and the doll she uses to get a seat on the crowded New York Subway. With Dennis Morgan, Edmund Gwenn and Zachary Scott. Warner Archive Collection.

Red Desert
Blu-ray and DVD

Michelangelo Antonioni takes the leap into color in this spacy examination of (surprise!) alienation in a changing landscape. Impressive designs and expressive color are the big draw in Criterion's superior presentation -- cinematographer Carlo Di Palma seems to have found some new shades of green and blue. With Monica Vitti and Richard Harris.


It's another two-review day, for several reasons, including yet another important disc being delivered a bit late -- if it shows up in the next day I'll add it quick, so check again on Wednesday.

Image Entertainment just sent a flyer announcing that they will be releasing the entire first year of The Twilight Zone on Blu-ray come September 14 ... this to be added to the giant boxed set of Thriller TV episode DVDs already expected on August 31, also from Image.

Savant pal First Class Mark Bourne sends this link to Timothy McSweeney's blog, which reprints Robert Hornak's great "Short Imagined Monologue" of Bob Hope Auditioning for the Role of "Quint" in Jaws. The monologue creates a perfect mental image of "Mr. USO" in action.

And Warner Home Entertainment announces this attractive, fan-friendly offer of a DVD-for-Blu ray Trade-in Upgrade Program that looks very attractive to me. I read the fine print, checked out the selection and still liked what I saw. I have five discs in hand that I think I'll be putting through this program.

And finally, I'm getting a number of emails from readers eager to see and read about Sony's new Jason and the Argonauts Blu-ray .... that's the disc I'm hoping will come in the mail tomorrow! Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson

June 25, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Blu-ray and DVD

Götz Spielmann's intense character study starts in a Vienna brothel but resolves on a rural farm. It involves crime, family ties and personal responsibility, and winds up as a meditation on faith and values. A really fine blend of neo-noir and spiritual examination. Stars Johannes Krisch. Criterion.

Mystery Train
Blu-ray and DVD

Jim Jarmusch's most pleasing feature is a lazy trio of overlapping stories taking place on one hot night in Memphis, all of which have a tangential connection to the Elvis Presley myth. With Yuki Kudoh, Nicoletta Braschi & Joe Strummer. Criterion.


By now you've noticed that I only have two reviews up today, and they're both from Criterion. This is not a problem, but it wasn't part of my plan, as I try to pace things out better between labels. There was to be a third review, hot off the presses because the DVD screener came in just yesterday. Unfortunately, there will be a slight delay.

In twelve years of reviewing discs I've had great luck, with only maybe ten discs that didn't play for some reason or another. More than once the flaw was my problem -- my player had worn out and gotten finicky, and needed to be replaced. But yesterday ... well, I didn't expect this, and not with this particular title.

Ironic, huh?

The disc was sealed and shrink wrapped, so nobody was pulling a joke on me. As the keep case shows no sign of damage at all, I was especially surprised to see the disc in this condition (see image). "Crack in the World" arrived not only cracked, but snapped in two! I sent this scan to friends and some of them thought it was my idea of a photoshop joke. Richard Dinman said, "You are one of the privileged few to receive the sequel Crack in the Disc: The Awakening! Please tell me what strings you pulled to get them to send you this."

So ... no Crack in the World review today. And I've heard that the transfer looks extremely good! I've seen Olive Films' new Dark City disc and will be writing on it soon -- it looks fine.

Oh, Here's one more item worth seeing. Correspondent Brad Caslor sends this Vimeo link to some beautiful home movies of Honolulu and Waikiki on VJ Day taken by one Richard Sullivan back in 1945. It's definitely a case of "Gimme those nice bright colors" as the Kodachrome home movies are in great shape. Honolulu in August -- if this was midday, I bet it was hot!

Cheers and happy Summer weather to us all. Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson

June 21, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are


Several cuts above standard action Sci-Fi direct-to-video, this interesting show gives Homeland Security thousands of creeping surveillance robots that, naturally, do the dirty work in a political conspiracy. Reasonable special effects -- and lots of them! Starring Adrian Paul. Image Entertainment.

Horses, The Story of Equus

An IMAX short feature with beautiful photography of horses in action, racing, jumping and running in the wild. But the transfer is flat-letterboxed. Warner Home Entertainment.

The Blind Menace

Before Zatoichi came this strange tale of a blind masseur, also played by Shintaro Katsu, who uses deceit and trickery to murder and rape his way to a high station. A very strange inspiration for everyone's favorite blind swordsman. AnimEigo.


Two items today. Over at TCM Online, one of their Movie Morlocks columns by a writer listed as "woodjb" takes on the late 1950s phenomenon of Subliminal Images. A company claimed they could influence viewers by quick-flashing text messages onto a movie screen, which started a substantial furor over mind control, Communist subversion, insidious advertising, etc. The short article gets into much more detail than I've ever read before, and dispels some of the legends about subliminal hypnotism: movie audiences reportedly programmed to run to the concession stand after the words "you need a drink" flashed on the screen, etc.

All of this spilled over into movies and the culture in general. When mixed with rumors about exotic brainwashing techniques from China, wild conspiracies like the remote controlled assassin of The Manchurian Candidate suddenly gained in credibility. Politics becomes Science Fiction. The Movie Morlocks page has been around for years and is earning quite a respectable reputation ... and woodjb's article is of particular interest.

Meanwhile, another Turner Classic Movies note of interest: the cable channel has programmed a full day's tribute to the film and video distributor Milestone, now celebrating its 20th anniversary. The June 23rd roster of films includes several that Savant has reviewed enthusiastically: Killer of Sheep, The Exiles, Word is Out and Legong: Dance of the Virgins. TCM is also showing Milestone's early talkie release, the horror film The Bat Whispers, that I've only partially seen. Thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson

June 18, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

The Leopard

Warner Archive Collection

Greetings! Just a quick note today. Official announcements came in for some new Criterion discs in September: Blu-rays of Charade, Breathless, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and my favorite war film, The Thin Red Line.

I've gotten some interesting reader notes about Red Rock Canyon, that desert location I visited last week, from Rory Monleith, Michael DelGaudio, Bob Lindstrom, David Rutsala and Bill Warren. Besides the movies I mentioned, The Andromeda Strain, Beneath the Planet of the Apes and the 1932 The Mummy had scenes shot there. I learned that bits of plaster still remain where Boris Karloff's Egyptian tomb once stood. I also learned that I missed seeing the most dynamic wall of sculpted, colored rock. The really impressive rock face is a short hike beyond the outcroppings I visited. Here's a reader-provided frame blowup that shows it at its best.

Maybe in ten years I'll take the 200 mile trip again and look for it. Thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson

June 14, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

The Crazies
Anchor Bay

All Fall Down
Warner Archive Collection

Greetings! Disc news being fairly inert at the moment, it's travelogue time! We had reason to drive 200 miles out of our way last week, and passed Red Rock Canyon, a small but particularly photogenic group of rock outcroppings used in a number of memorable movies. At the moment I can think of only three, but they're very firm in the memory: Rocketship XM, William Wyler's The Big Country and Anthony Mann's Man of the West.

And hey, I've got pictures! The first shot is of the main 'wall' of sandstone rilles, which are only about thirty feet high (best guess). These figure heavily in Man of the West. I also assume that the site of Burl Ives' ranch / the ghost town of Lasso in The Big Country and Man of the West is nearby, but there was no way to find it.

Next slide, please ... this giant wall is, I believe, the location for the 'big ride' near the end of The Big Country, where Charles Bickford is joined by first Charlton Heston and then the rest of his ranch hands. I couldn't guess how tall it is -- 200 feet?

This third rock is the most colorful patch. It also has the weirdest shape, like a melted birthday cake. I'll have to review the films to see if it can be seen in any of them. Gary Cooper might ride next to it in Man of the West, but I'm not sure.

So that's the sort-of movie column for today. If any big disc news comes in before the end of the week I'll break in with more! Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson

June 11, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

A Star is Born
Warner Home Entertainment

Word Is Out
Stories of Some Of Our Lives
Millarium Zero / Oscilloscope

In the Mood
Warner Archive Collection


I just received Sony's Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II and am eager to review it. I've seen four of the five 50's noirs therein, and they're all good. Fritz Lang's Human Desire reunites Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame from The Big Heat and Pushover is a slick re-think of Double Indemnity with Fred MacMurray, introducing Kim Novak. Phil Karlson's The Brothers Rico is a small-scale existential masterpiece starring Richard Conte, and Nightfall is a moody Jacques Tourneur murder thriller starring Brian Keith, Anne Bancroft and Aldo Ray at his best (see right).

The final picture City of Fear is said to be a follow-up to Irving Lerner's gritty, weird Murder by Contract, the surprise hit of last year's Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics I. It also stars Vince Edwards and is the one title in the new set that I haven't seen.

I got in some nice reader notes on Flash Gordon, from Martin Hennessey, Edward Pond and Italo Tettoni, among others. The movie probably has a bigger fan following than I thought ... a lot of people apparently saw it as kids (tsk, tsk, too racy for kids!) and loved it. I would have loved it too ... I imagine the color knocked them out the way the color in Damn Yankees and Li'l Abner dazzled me at age nine. Come to think of it, those two musicals were pretty sexy -- for 1957 and and 1959!

Randall William Cook poses the Jason Hydra for the Academy's Ray Harryhausen Exhibit (which is still open and running).

What are Blu-ray addicts talking about lately? Well, it's another Sony story. We've been a tad disappointed here that a followup to the 2008 Harryhausen Blu-ray Set hasn't surfaced, the one with Ray's first three B&W extravaganzas and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. One reason (maybe the only reason) to be thankful for the remake of Clash of the Titans is that it's prompted a Blu-ray release of Jason and the Argonauts, due out on July 6. The disc was to have no extras at all, owing to a schedule crunch and some difficulties I won't go into here. But Peter Jackson and Randall William Cook came to the rescue and recorded a full commentary together, while Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton have laid down a second commentary in London. These tracks should be good ones, as there will be no hosts or fan "experts" wasting microphone time with facts already known to 99% of the Harryhausen faithful. Mr. H. isn't taking overseas trips from his London home these days, and it's nice to know that his animated creations are in good hands. I remember seeing Jason by myself on a summer weekday in 1963 and being knocked out of my seat: we're really looking forward to this!

Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson

June 06, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Stop-Motion Marvels!
Featuring the Kinex Collection
Thunderbean Animation

Special Bulletin
Warner Archive Collection

Flash Gordon

Greetings! Associate and advisor Gary Teetzel forwards a link to a BBC TV series called Orson Welles' Sketchbook. The noted raconteur simply addresses the camera for 16 minutes at a time relating anecdotes about his entire career, including the Voodoo Macbeth, It's All True, "The War of the Worlds", police states, magic, old movies stars etc.. I'm told that one chapter is missing, where he discusses The Third Man, but YouTube has five chapters up in two parts each.

A brief Book Review: One of the first and best books in English about film noir was 1979's Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style from The Overlook Press. The comprehensive volume defined noir as a film style (as opposed to a genre) and looked at hundreds of titles in terms of source influences, thematic concerns, etc. Edited by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward and written by scores of contributors, the book organized the films into separate entries with plot synopses, essays and (then-rare) credits. Considered for years the key noir reference book, it was reissued at least twice, adding appendices about newly discovered pictures and groups of pictures defined as neo-noir. The book's main text was not changed. It included errors in plot synopses compiled at a time before videotape, when accuracy was dependent on half-remembered TV airings and faulty research taken from other sources.

Now, 31 years later, comes a substantially rewritten version of the book. It has been given the less academia-oriented title Film Noir the Encyclopedia. Besides incorporating many corrections, the new tome divides the vast body of films examined into the Classic Period and the later Neo-noir resurgence. The number of films examined has grown by 50%, and has been expanded to include noir-inflected work in genres other than crime and mystery thrillers -- westerns, science fiction, even an historical drama or two.

The new book has many more images, including two extended 'visual autopsies' of significant scenes presented as sidebars. The text is much more dense, with narrower margins. If the page count isn't much higher, it's because the ready availability of credit data on the web has made most of the original's elaborate lists of writers and actors obsolete. But the list of the Classic Period remains, from Stranger on the Third Floor in 1940 to The Naked Kiss in 1964.

I've been 'nursing' my first copy of the 1979 book since it came out, correcting plot synopses and character names in the margins as I slowly tracked down most of the films covered. I proofread the revisions to the first version of the book and was invited to contribute a number of entries to this new rewritten publication. Both the individual entries and the thematic essays in the new Film Noir the Encyclopedia are engrossing reading for those interested in the world of noir. Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson

June 04, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Warner Archive Collection

Warner Home Video

Alice in Wonderland

Greetings! A quick run through of what Savant has coming up in reviews: In Blu-ray I've received Warners' A Star is Born (June 22) and Criterion's Mystery Train (June 15). Universal's Flash Gordon (June 15) is due in the door today or Monday. DVD's in hand and ready to go are AnimEigo's The Blind Menace (June 15) and a collection of early Stop-Motion short subjects called Stop Motion Marvels. Upcoming Warner Archive Classics are Special Bulletin, In the Mood, All Fall Down and Brainstorm.

As for titles either expected or hoped-for, I'm staring at the mailbox in anticipation of Antonioni's Red Desert (June 22, Blu-ray, Criterion), The Crazies (Blu-ray, June 29, Anchor Bay), Night Train to Munich (Criterion), Chicago (1927, Flicker Alley), and Ray Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts (July 6, Blu-ray, Sony). I'm also primed to dig into Sony's Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics 2, featuring Human Desire, Pushover, Nightfall, The Brothers Rico and City of Fear (July 6), followed in close order by Warners' Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 5 with Cornered, Desperate, The Phenix City Story, Deadline at Dawn, Armored Car Robbery, Crime in the Streets, Dial 1119 and Backfire. (July 13)

I have a feeling that screeners will be out of reach for Olive Pictures' Paramount-licensed titles later in July, but I'll certainly review Crack in the World even if only after street date (July 27). The same goes for Blue Underground's hotly awaited Machine Gun McCain on August 24. That's Hank McCain, not John McCain -- here's a link to Ennio Morricone's superb Ballad of Hank McCain. The only big-news announcement to thunder in this week is a Blu-ray from Warner Bros. for the original King Kong. I hope it looks even better in HD (September 28). Thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson

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

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