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September 27, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

The Maltese Falcon

The Bogart/Astor/Lorre/Greenstreet classic looks fantastic in HD, and comes with a full roster of Warner Night at the Movies extras. Blu-ray, From Warner Home Video.


An oddball RKO noir from 1946: Pat O'Brien, Claire Trevor and Herbert Marshall work their way through a convoluted plot about forged art, madness and murder. This is one of those movies where the hero may be insane, and it always seems to be nighttime. From the Warner Archive Collection.



Joseph E. Levine has Carroll Baker, and she can really burn up the screen. But this anachronistic, wholly fictitious biography of the slinky superstar Jean Harlow does a disservice to her memory. With Red Buttons and Martin Balsam. Olive Films.


It's another quick entry today. Bill Warren sends in a nice link to a recommended music & stills montage by "Aaron1912" commemorating the grand actress Gloria Stuart.

I've received some positive responses to my free-form review of the new Blu-ray for King Kong. Two corespondents, including Gene Schiller, wrote to remind me of an iimportant aspect that slipped me entirely, the progression of Kong from scary monster to sympathetic hero making his last stand in New York. I humbly plead guilty.

Finally, Gary Teetzel tells me that yet another production of The Day of the Triffids is in the works, this time reportedly in 3D. Perhaps fourth time is charmed and they'll turn out a masterpiece, but I'm a little concerned -- the producer was one of the names on The Transformers. The Guardian announcement, which mid-identifies Janette Scott for Nicole Maurey (someone tell Richard Harland Smith!), is here.

Thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson

September 24, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

Nagisa Oshima's masterful POW camp movie stars David Bowie, Tom Conti and Takeshi Kitano, and has perhaps the most striking soundtrack of the 1980s, by composer Ryuchi Sakamoto, who plays the camp commandant. A beautiful Blu-ray (and DVD) from Criterion.

Between Two Worlds

Paul Henreid, Eleanor Powell, John Garfield and others find themselves on a slow boat to who-knows-where in this wartime revival of a spooky 1925 play. With one of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's most beautiful motion picture scores, from the Warner Archive Collection.


King Kong

The big daddy monster movie of the them all comes to Blu-ray with all the extras from the earlier DVD special edition and the expected brighter, more detailed transfer. With Robert Armstrong, Fay Wray and Bruce Cabot. Warner Home Video.


A pleasant weekend here at Savant Central. Quite a few interesting discs to review glided in this week, too: DVDs of The Locket, Sundown, Middletown, Knock on Wood and My Favorite Spy, plus Blu-rays of King Kong, The Darjeerling Limited, The Magician, The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. All will be coming up soon.

We're running a bit thin on fun links today, but this one is great despite having nothing to do with film. The Narco Parrot was captured in a Mexican drug house, and the police found that criminals had trained it as a lookout for intruders. What it's saying, in Spanish, is "RUN RUN RUN THE CAT IS GOING TO GET YOU MEEOW MEEOW MEEOW!" It's particularly funny because the Parrot trills its Spanish "R"s better than most language students -- it obviously comes naturally.

Gary Teetzel forwards this trailer to an Indian Robot Movie which is apparently the most expensive Indian movie ever made. And the loudest, and silliest ... although I often respond positively to those gigantic dance numbers.

Warner Home Video release announcements are reaching into 2011 -- they've sent out word that a Blu-ray of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America will be touching down on January 11. Thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson

September 19, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Fantômas - The Complete Saga

Louis Feuillade's truly seminal 1913-1914 silent serial adventure about a diabolical criminal mastermind is composed of five feature films, all included in Gaumont's beautiful restoration. Fantômas blackmails, murders and destroys to steal treasures and spread his terrifying legend. Kino International.

A Lady Without Passport

Director Joseph H. Lewis focuses his expressive talents on a glamorous noir fable about INS agent John Hodiak eliminating a Cuba-based illegal alien smuggling operation -- and running into the drop-dead beautiful Hungarian refugee Hedy Lamarr. Excellent location work and clever MGM stage illusions add to the suspense. With George Macready. Warner Archive Collection.



Jean-Luc Godard bursts into the French New Wave with this quirky pastiche of Yankee pulp fiction and Parisian attitude. Complete with celebrated jump-cuts and other measures intended to outrage viewers coddled by traditional Hollywood continuity. Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg star. Blu-ray, from Criterion.


"Rob" sends a link to a Brit comedy segment on YouTube by Harry Endfield called Women, Keep Your Virtue. It's ah, part of "an educational series", which means you'll find a regular slew of them, some just as funny. They certainly beat Benny Hill!

I have an early copy of the Hen's Tooth Video DVD in hand for the new release of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger's Battle of the River Plate (Pursuit of the Graf Spee), which doesn't street until November. I'm holding off on a review until the 2nd week of October but I've seen it and it looks great. I think that Hen's Tooth remembered my positive review of their release of Sam Peckinpah's Cross of Iron, which put an end to lousy public domain copies. Thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson.

September 16, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest:
Collector's Edition

Michael Douglas and Milos Forman's multi-Oscar winner returns in a deluxe, goodie-filled gift box. Prisoner Jack Nicholson causes trouble for the unyielding nurse Louise Fletcher, leading a popular revolt among his fellow asylum patients. Blu-ray, from Warner Home Video.

Karaoke & Cold Lazarus

UK correspondent Lee Broughton reviews the final teleplays of the brilliant author Dennis Potter, moving meditations about the human condition and mortality. Karaoke and its sequel Cold Lazarus are available separately or as a boxed set. Region 2 PAL, From Acorn Media.


John Ford does journeyman duty on this MGM vehicle for its star Wallace Beery, who plays a 'gentle giant' German wrestler taken in by an American crook and his dishonest girlfriend. Unabashed sentimentality and formulaic melodrama follows, but good actors Ricardo Cortez and especially Karen Morley make the show a worthwhile spin. Warner Archive Collection.


Correspondent Stefan Anderson has tipped me to what may be a quality Region 2 French DVD transfer of Riccardo Freda's The Ghost, the macabre quasi-sequel to Freda's The Horrible Dr. Hichcock. An interesting French trailer is viewable at the sales site. I'll report what I hear as it comes in.

The Trailers from Hell website is always good, but an un-altered dialogue excerpt included with the coming attractions for Revolt of the Slaves almost made me choke, it was so funny. It also predicts the entire "Darth Vader" experience, fifteen years early.

Brad Caslor sends this Kodak.com link to a rare 1922 Kodachrome motion picture test. It's pretty amazing what could be done in that year. The problem of course is that Kodachrome couldn't be used as a source for mass duplication. Scroll down to see the 4 ½-minute test.

I received a welcome Email from George Feltenstein, in response to some thoughts I had about aspect ratios of movies made in changeover year of 1953, from the Academy AR of 1.37 to wider matted formats. It turns out I was right. I've added Feltenstein's comments to my review of Saadia, as footnote #4. The Warner VP has hinted lately that many of the WB/MGM films on my Savant DVD Wish List will be popping up in the Warner Archive Collection, and five or six more desired titles did indeed surface this week: Atlantis the Lost Continent, The Power, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold and the Italian-American They Came to Rob Las Vegas. I wonder what hidden gems will be popping up for Halloween?

John McElwee has a really interesting article up at his Greenbriar page about the horror favorite Curse of the Demon (scroll down to his September 13 entry). Examining the film from the distributor-exhibition angle, in the context of the glut of horror & sci-fi pictures that arrived in 1957-'58, John comes up with an impressive revelation about the two variant cuts of the film -- covered in Savant's older Curse of the Demon review. Ya learn something new every day...

Thanks for reading, Glenn Erickson

September 12, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are


This is something special -- Agnès Varda's short films are models of originality and creativity. The three longish pictures that make up this aggregate feature are accompanied by six more short subjects from her career -- and include some really great items. Cinema Guild.


Albert Lewin tosses sexy Rita Gam into a Moroccan adventure with Technicolor locations and exotic trimmings -- but with a talky script and Cornel Wilde and Mel Ferrer as the male leads, neither of whom exactly burns up the screen. Adventure and witchcraft in a handsome transfer, from the Warner Archive Collection.



Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt wallow in gore to catch a killer who slays to express a personal theme. Beautifully filmed and acted but nasty and mean-spirited, this picture was very influential. The UPS man is here! Blu-ray, from New Line.

Greetings! I think I may see some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the flood of new discs to review, which means I'll be able to double back on some favorites not available on disc at present. As these titles tend to be sources of personal enthusiasm, I like to think that they inspire my best scribbling -- and have a better chance of avoiding typos and grammatical embarrassments.

I've been tipped off by longtime correspondent Gregory Nicoll about some fast-approaching TCM -- Turner Classic Movies screenings you don't want to miss. Check your listings in case I'm off on the dates, but I believe on the night of the 15th-16th, TCM is showing Budd Boetticher's classic gangster picture The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond with Ray Danton. I know I've received emails from people who want to see that. Later the same night the cable channel screens Burt Balaban's Mad Dog Coll, a fairly rare picture with John Davis Chandler as Vincent Coll, and a very young Gene Hackman (1961) as a cop. I've never seen it and I'm told it's cheap but good. Then a few days later on the 20th, TCM screens the Fritz Lang noir Secret Beyond the Door with Joan Bennett, and the very hard to see, and much desired Joseph Losey winner The Prowler (possibly a new restoration destined for DVD release) with Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes. The Prowler is just one or two titles before Losey fled HUAC to the more civilized shores of the U.K., and the film really has a grudge against The American Dream. The murderous cop-hero of the film has two ambitions -- to marry somebody with money and start a business where "I can make money while I sleep". This being a pitch-black noir, things don't exactly work out for him.

My browser says I'm missing a plug-in to play it, but reader Robert Richardson tells me that this link leads to a vintage CBC radio interview with Clint Eastwood promoting A Fistful of Dollars. The blurb says that Clint reports that viewers won't recognize his character as a hero until the final third of the movie. Smart guy, that Eastwood.

Thanks as ever ... especially to the kind folk writing in with corrections, and those with righteous counter-arguments to some of the less-than-brilliant opinions to be found here -- cheers, Glenn Erickson

September 09, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

The Player

Robert Altman bounced back in the 1990s with this smart and extremely connected murder mystery set against a Hollywood backdrop. Tim Robbins heads a talkative cast while Altman fills his frame with over sixty show-biz celebrities -- a bounty of big stars and hot names. Blu-ray, from Warner Home Video.

Tiger Shark

Howard Hawks defines his male bonding, tough-guy romance style with this early talkie starring Edward G. Robinson, Richard Arlen and a glowing Zita Johann. It's all played out against a realistic background of deep sea tuna fishing. Warner Archive Collection.


A Scanner Darkly

Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder become semi-animated graphic novel figures in Richard Linklater's intelligent adaptation of Philip K. Dick's paranoid classic about fear and angst among 'recreational' drug users. Reality really breaks down; this makes a better anti-drug case than all the old scare films put together. Blu-ray. Warner Home Video.


Following up on its Ford and Murnau/Borzage mega-boxes, Fox has announced a big Elia Kazan DVD boxed set that also includes several Warners titles. And several are much-desired MIA classics --Viva Zapata!, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Man on a Tightrope, America America and Wild River. I have mixed feelings for the release, as the hefty price tag will limit the box to select connoisseur coffee tables: "It's the gift choice for bankers and stockbrokers everywhere!" I personally know nobody who owns the previous two mega boxes -- those ultra-rare Borzage and Murnau films are just as obscure as they ever were. Buying the set also makes little sense when one already owns most of its contents, purchased piecemeal over 13 years of disc collecting. And I was rather hoping that Wild River, a long-sought personal touchstone title, would be picked up by Criterion and come out on Blu-ray, as has Fox's superlative Bigger than Life. Just the same, it's good to know that Wild River has been remastered and is available on home video in some iteration.

Right: Lee Remick in WILD RIVER

The Big Box release is coordinated with a new Martin Scorsese docu on the controversial Elia Kazan, to be shown on PBS later this fall .... I wonder if Scorsese will stay true to form and 'spoil' several of Kazan's fine movies with his excerpts, as happens in his American overview and especially in his salute to classic Italian filmmakers.

I've received several spirited replies to my Mars Attacks! review, that are now amended to that page as footnotes ... also a number of head-shaking responses to my review of the revised-unto-meaninglessness THX 1138. They mostly said the same thing, so I haven't collated them. But an excerpt from correspondent George Godwin pretty much sums up the Karmic folly of anal revisionism:

"On a personal level, I find it kind of sad that Lucas seems completely unable to appreciate what he accomplished with the resources at hand. On a larger level, I find it infuriating that he apparently has no respect for the audience his works once garnered. His attitude of 'I don't care what your memories or emotional attachments are, these films are mine and I'll bury the versions you grew up with' shows an egotistical contempt for the people who made him rich in the first place. The changes he's made to THX completely undermine the film dramatically, pushing towards a more generic, action-oriented sci-fi flick, destroying the claustrophobic "reality" he managed to conjure by using all those depressing real locations ..."

On-demand DVD-R outfits have now supplanted DVDs for older studio library titles, I kid you not -- their non-availability for review has greatly decreased the number of classic discs I'd like to cover here at DVD Savant. George Feltenstein of the fan-friendly Warner Archive Collection promised some hot noir titles for September, and he wasn't kidding either. In addition to the well-known noir The High Wall, WAC now offers the relative rarity The Gangster, an existential noir with Barry Sullivan, and Betrayed, which is actually William Castle's When Strangers Marry, a highly-praised title with Robert Mitchum and Kim Hunter. Even more impressive is The Underworld Story, the "other" subversive crime film from Cy Endfield that mixes its newspaper corruption story with a side angle about racism and fairly openly references to the Blacklist. Endfield made one more bitterly anti-establishment protest noir, Try and Get Me! before fleeing to the relative cultural haven of England; he, his screenwriter and actor Howard da Silva were all blacklisted for the next ten years. You can bet I'll be looking to review these new releases.

Sony has launched Columbia Screen Classics, its copycat On Demand (or as they say, "by request") DVD catalog of library titles. Among some of the gems offered are the noirs 711 Ocean Drive, The Case Against Brooklyn, Mickey One and The Spiritualist. The list also contains titles as diverse as The 27th Day, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Duffy, Genghis Khan, I Never Sang for My Father, The Man Who Turned to Stone, Otley, and Nightwing. The website isn't perfect yet -- summon the excerpt video for Nicholas Ray's Hot Blood and what comes up is The Long Haul. Victor Mature doesn't look anything like Jane Russell. The Long Haul's clip is for The Love-Ins, and that film's clip is for The Mad Room, and so forth. It's a regular quiz game. Oh, the Screen Classics selection has at least one very positive surprise: The Spiritualist is actually a beautiful-looking transfer of the John Alton-filmed The Amazing Mr. X. It looks far better than the existing public domain copies circulating out there.

No funny links this time out -- thanks for reading! Glenn Erickson

September 06, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Solitary Man

Michael Douglas does an exemplary job making a reprehensible, self-destructive womanizer into a sympathetic character. An excellent supporting cast rounds out this thoughtful look at an all-too common personality. With Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Jenna Fischer, Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots. Blu-ray, from Anchor Bay.

Mars Attacks!

Tim Burton's All-Star outer space invasion comedy is a cartoonish delight deserving of a second look in Blu-ray. Just set aside the unfunny Jack Nicholson and it becomes one of the director's most witty, most inventive movies, loaded with stars in-the-making: Jack Black, Natalie Portman, Sarah Jessica Parker. From Warner Home Video.

Best of the Badmen

Robert Ryan, Claire Trevor and Robert Preston headline a wild west saga about the post- border raider 'supergang' that included the James and Clanton brothers. An old-fashioned, unpretentious matinee western that has everything for the popcorn crowd, including Walter Brennan as a funny bandit sidekick. From the Warner Archive Collection.


Louie Bluie

Terry Zwigoff's first musical documentary came about when he discovered his favorite "unknown" blues musician, Howard Armstong, still alive and performing fifty years after his depression-era heyday. "Louie Bluie" turns out to be a fountain of street smarts, folk philosophy and energetic talent. From Criterion.


If you want to know what film restoration on the international level really means, Stefan Anderson offers this .pdf link to an issue of the FIAF online magazine, which has plenty of in-depth articles (many in French) on individual projects. This issue features an involved piece on the Murnau-Stiftung's efforts to construct an authoritative version of Fritz Lang's Die Niebelungen (p. 88-99). Good negative sources have been isolated, but where does one start when a film has four separate original negatives?

The always- entertaining Trailers from Hell website has an attractive selection this week in a "Youth in Revolt" trio of coming attractions: Josh Olson comments on the slightly punk suburban-kids-run-wild film On the Edge, Allison Anders considers the fascinating abortion-themed Blue Denim and Larry Karaszewski checks out Michelangelo Antonioni's delirious, somewhat misdirected revolution epic Zabriskie Point.

Archive Editions has its Volume 3 of Mike Hankin's Ray Harryhausen, Master of the Majicks up for pre-order. Volume 2 is bar none the best Harryhausen book I've seen, with amazing & unusual photos (I even contributed one or two). This new volume examines the films Ray made in the UK. The ad link shows a good sampling of the treasures to be found within.

Thanks for reading! -- Glenn Erickson

September 02, 2010

Savant's new reviews today are

Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg

Akiva Kempner's new documentary is about Gertrude Berg, a remarkable radio and TV personality who won the first Best Actress Emmy and pioneered the TV sitcom format before Lucille Ball. A fascinating story with a timely Blacklisting aspect. New Video / Docurama.

Forbidden Planet

MGM's "A"-budget intergalactic spectacular was the wonder film of the 1950s, and until Kubrick's 2001 remained the cinematic high point of science fiction. Warner Home Video's new Blu-ray replicates all the video extras from the earlier DVD Ultimate Edition.

Al Capone

Rod Steiger chews scenery in a good cause -- Richard Wilson's gangster saga is one of the best of its time. With a sterling cast of tough guy actors and Fay Spain as the woman betrayed. Warner Archive Collection.


THX 1138:
The George Lucas Director's Cut

Now in a stunning Blu-ray transfer, George Lucas's revision of his 1971 sci-fi classic trowels on fancy CGI augmentation, burying the original fim's austere tone. Robert Duvall, Maggie McOmie and Donald Pleasance look for happiness in an oppressive future techno-dictatorship. A lesson in how to screw around with film history. From Warner Home Video.

Greetings! A fun week here at DVD Savant. On Tuesday I attended a press screening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, of a newly-recovered John Ford silent film previously thought to be lost, 1927's Upstream. I watched as a select group of reporters interviewed and photographed restoration execs and specialists from the Academy and 20th Fox, owners of the film. It's part of the New Zealand Project instigated when a cursory look at the back inventory of the New Zealand Film Archive revealed 75 "lost" titles, ranging from serial episodes to cartoons to movies with stars like Mabel Normand. Some had intact reels that filled out partial prints held in America and England; others are complete rediscoveries.

After a lengthy press-room get-together we were ushered into the Academy's giant Wilshire Blvd. theater to see Upstream. The film would be "premiered" for the public the next night -- our screening was a rehearsal for the three-piece musical accompaniment arranged by composer Michael Mortilla. The music was some of the best I've heard with a silent film. The trio moved smoothly from theme to theme, added plenty of sound effects and kept perfect sync well whenever musical instruments were played on screen. One rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" proved that Ford had maintained musical sync with the lyrics. Across a number of "silent" cuts, the actors were still singing in sync to the music.

Upstream is a light drama set in a boarding house for mostly out-of-work performers in New York. Knife thrower Jack La Velle loves Gertie Ryan, but she has her heart set on Eric Brashingham, a talentless narcissist who happens to be related to a famous acting family. When Eric's name gets him a big London job playing Hamlet, the broken-down performers coach him on Shakespeare. They give Brashingham a big send-off, only to find him unworthy of their faith, and Gertie's love.

This isn't the kind of John Ford film we expect but he does display a good hand with the comic moments and theatrical touches. Much is being made lately of the influence on Ford of then-Fox genius in residence F.W. Murnau, and Upstream has a few superimpositions and stage scenes that in design resemble Murnau's work. This apparently is the source of the 'expressionist' vein that Ford mined in later pictures like The Informer.

The print was in very good shape, with only some blue-toned scenes showing corruption along the frame line -- the blue dye must have broken down. It's good to see the Academy and Fox promoting such an important find in film culture -- who knew that another John Ford film would surface? I thought I'd seen almost all that would ever be available.

On another front -- Hen's Tooth Video has announced that they'll be releasing a widescreen DVD of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's naval war epic The Battle of the River Plate, aka The Pursuit of the Graf Spee on November 11.

Originally filmed in VistaVision and printed in Technicolor, the movie uses real ships in its recreation of the battle in the South Atlantic, and works great suspense out of the game of diplomatic and espionage bluff in the neutral harbor of Montevideo, where the pocket battleship Graf Spee retreated for repairs. The stars are John Gregson, Anthony Quayle and Peter Finch. I hope it's the full-length version.

For fans of The Twilight Zone, correspondent Gary Teetzel sends me this link to a two-part interview with Rod Serling. It's apparently rather rare, and Serling discusses his show even more candidly than usual. Thanks for reading! -- Glenn Erickson

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

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