Dig Doug : Douglas Sirk, the German-born filmmaker best known for such superior soapers as Imitation of Life, Written on the Wind and Magnificent Obsession, is getting his own collection and Movies Unlimited has an exclusive on it. It’s the Douglas Sirk Filmmaker Collection, a four-disc set which showcases that there was more to Sirk than soap. The most famous title of the batch is The Tarnished Angels (1957), based on William Faulkner’s Pylon, and featuring Rock Hudson as a journalist who befriends WWI ace-turned-barnstorming pilot Robert Stack in 1930s New Orleans. Dorothy Malone is Stack’s wife, desired by Hudson and mechanic Jack Carson, in this exciting and powerful tale of lust in the dust and heroics in the sky. Also included is Thunder on the Hill (1951), in which nun Claudette Colbert believes convicted killer Ann Blyth is innocent and strives to clear her; Taza, Son of Cochise (1954), featuring Hudson as the son of the Apache Indian leader, who battles war-mongering brother Rex Reason and his followers while trying to bring peace with the Cavalry; and Captain Lightfoot (1955), with Rock as the Irish hellraiser mentored by revolutionary Jeff Chandler who battles the British and romances Chandler’s daughter Barbara Rush. All four titles are available individually, as well.
Another Movies Unlimited exclusive worth boasting about is 1941’s WWII drama Sundown, in which a remote outpost in Africa serves as the setting for intrigue and action. Exotic Gene Tierney enters the scene as British Army officer George Sanders takes over Bruce Cabot’s command and the natives are being taught how to battle the Nazis. Dorothy Dandridge is also featured in this unusual battle saga helmed by Henry Hathaway (The Desert Fox, True Grit).
Columbia, The Screen Gem of the Ocean: Following the example of Warner, Sony is about to unleash a pretty eclectic array of goodies from their new on-demand program. The titles are far-ranging, from classics to “B” pictures, and TV movies to much-requested winners. The initial slate calls for 100—count ‘em—efforts to come out in one shot, so get prepared (and get your pencils out to add to your Christmas list!)
We’ve selected a few that are worth singling out, but we can assure, the whole kit and caboodle is worth considering—or at least perusing!
Johnny Allegro (1949): Superior crime drama with George Raft as a gangster-turned-treasury department agent who attempts to halt a plot to bring down the U.S. economic system—and it doesn’t involve bailouts!
A Song to Remember (1945): If you’re looking for the real story of composer Frederic Chopin, look elsewhere, but if you want a thoroughly entertaining Hollywood bio with dashing Cornel Wilde as the music man, look no further.
The Interns (1962): Soap opera and surgery mix in this look at a group of aspiring MDs at a hospital. Philly’s own Michael Callan is joined by James MacArthur, Nick Adams and Cliff Robertson in the scrubs.
A Study in Terror (1965): Sherlock Holmes (John Nelville), Dr. Watson (Donald Houston) and the detective’s brother Mycroft (Robert Morely) attempt to catch Jack the Ripper in London.
Mickey One (1965): Arthur Penn helmed this moody, expressionistic tale with Warren Beatty as a comic/entertainer who flees Detroit for Chicago when he thinks the Mob is after him to collect on his gambling debts.
Duffy (1968): A hip heist film with James Coburn as a master thief hired by two half-brothers to rob their father. Susannah York, James Mason and James Fox also star.
I Never Sang for My Father (1970): Oscar-nominated dramatic powerhouse with Gene Hackman as the professor who has to decide whether to stay with abrasive, elderly and newly-widowed father Melvyn Douglas, or move to the West Coast to be with his physician girlfriend.
Genghis Khan (1965): An international epic loaded with battles, pageantry and impressive period production values, starring Omar Sharif as the Mongolian leader, Stephen Boyd as his friend-turned-nemesis, plus James Mason, Robert Morley, Eli Wallach and Francoise Dorleac.
On the Fritz: The Complete Metropolis is Fritz Lang’s landmark 1927 silent film freshly restored with 25 extra minutes lately uncovered in South America. This amazing achievement looks at a dystopian future where a city is divided into a ruling elite and a subterranean working class. The story concerns the son of a wealthy industrialist who attempts to help the workers, his love for a woman about to lead a labor uprising and a robot modeled in the woman’s image. As expected, both the DVD and Blu-ray versions of this classic are loaded with fabulous extras, including a documentary on the film, a featurette on the restoration and audio commentary.
All Singing! All Dancing!: Legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley is getting his own 10-DVD set, The Busby Berkeley 9-Film Collection, that includes his greatest carpet-cutting achievements. Included are nine films: 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Dames, Varsity Show, Hollywood Hotel, Gold Diggers of 1933, Gold Diggers of Paris, Gold Diggers of 1935 and Gold Diggers of 1937. The tenth DVD consists of musical clips from the films with such songs as “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway” and “42nd Street” highlighted. There are also lots of great bonuses on the set: Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy shorts, cartoons, trailers and lots more.
Powell Wow: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger—aka “The Archers”–are considered two of the greatest British filmmakers of all-time, known for everything from war films (The 49th Parallel) to stark dramas (Black Narcissus), from fantasies (A Matter of Life and Death) to musical-themed movies (The Red Shoes, The Tales of Hoffman) to romances (I Know Where I’m Going). One of their finest works now arrives for the first time on DVD: The Battle of the River Plate (aka The Return of the Graf Spee), a stirring 1945 British war film. The movie depicts the 1939 battle between the Achilles, the Exeter and the Ajax, three cruisers of the Royal Navy Force, and Germany’s mammoth battleship Admiral Graf Spee off the coast of South America. Anthony Quayle, John Gregson and Peter Finch star in this account of men at war, with an accent on realism and an impressive 20-minute battle sequence.
Triskaidekabogeyia: One of the world’s greatest movie stars is getting feted by the studio that made him famous in Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection, a 13-disc set of “Everything Bogey” that includes a bonus disc of the documentary The Brothers Warner. Twenty-four of the actor’s greatest efforts have been collected here, including Casablanca, Key Largo, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, High Sierra, Dark Passage, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon and To Have and Have Not, as well as the otherwise unavailable Across the Pacific, All Through the Night and Action in the North Atlantic. The set also includes a 48-page booklet and other goodies.
The Mickey Mouse Club: Fantasia/Fantasia 2000, available on DVD and Blu-Ray, offers both the original 1940 edition and the 1999 reworking, which boasted seven new classical music-fueled segments with the original “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” with everyone’s favorite rodent. Beethoven, Shostokovich, Stravinsky, Saint-Saen are among the composers represented with music and spectacular visual interpretations.
Archival Material: The great thing about the Warner Archives is that you’re never sure what they will release. Consider some of these films from their recent slate:
Riptide (1935): Norma Shearer is the party-going New York soc-ialite who meets impeccably mannered prince Herbert Marshall on the way to a costume ball—and marries him immediately. Robert Montgomery is the ex-boyfriend she then encounters in Cannes, who has other ideas to make her happy.
Between Two Worlds (1944): Much-talked-about wartime fantasy in which a group of people escape—or do they?–a blast during the London blitz, and end up aboard a cruise ship destined for parts unknown. A terrific cast including John Garfield, Sydney Greenstreet, Paul Henreid, Eleanor Parker and Edmund Gwenn are featured in this unusual outing.
Flesh (1932): John Ford was behind the making of this dark drama with Wallace Beery as a wrestler who falls for criminal Karen Morley but doesn’t realize she’s still involved with her ex-lover, crook Ricardo Cortez.
Oil for the Lamps of China (1935): Oil’s not well in China with Pat O’Brien, a determined American oil exec whose allegiance to his company’s interests lead to disastrous problems at home and office.
The Conquerors (1932): A film that tries to add optimism to the Great Depression tells the saga of Richard Dix and Anne Harding, a couple who marry and become scions of a banking family in Nebraska from the 1870s to 1929.
None But the Lonely Heart (1944): Cary Grant was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his turn as a petty thief who returns home to help ailing mother Ethel Barrymore (who won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award) with her furniture shop. Cary falls for local gal June Duprez, but the situation gets worse for him when he discovers she has a baby and an ex who is a criminal. This affair marked the screenwriting and directing debut of playwright Clifford Odets.
Crack-Up (1946): Pat O’Brien in a little-seen noir as an art curator who claims to have survived a train wreck—which never occurred—and gets fired by his museum employer as a result. While trying to piece the mystery together, O’Brien discovers a puzzle that leads to danger.
Song of Love (1947): The lives of three classical greats are depicted in this music-filled drama with Paul Henreid as Robert Schumann, Robert Walker as Johannes Brahms, Henry Daneill as Franz Liszt, and Katharine Hepburn as Clara Wieck Schumann.
Saadia (1953): A costume picture with Cornel Wilde as a prince who falls for title character Rita Gam, an outcast who is said to have special evil powers.
Criterion Corner: The ever-tremendous company has really been going beyond even their gold standards lately with a host of terrific and much-desired DVD and Blu-Ray releases. The interesting thing about some of their recent announcements is that they are coming from studios who had been previously absent from Criterion’s well of suppliers.
Here are some of their most significant new releases:
America Lost and Found: The BBS Story: Sony had originally planned to issue this extensive set of films produced by Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blaunder in the 1960s and 1970s, but when the studio dropped the idea, Criterion picked it up and ran with it. The films range from new versions of the already or once available—Rafelson’s Head with The Monkees, Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens, Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show and Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s Easy Rider—as well as the new-to-DVD titles A Safe Place, directed by Henry Jaglom, and starring Jack Nicholson, Tuesday Weld and Orson Welles, and Nicholson’s directing debut Drive, He Said. As expected the set includes scads of great extras, documentaries old and new, commentaries, featurettes, and more. The spirit of the sixties lives on! (DVD and Blu-Ray)
Modern Times (1936): Criterion recently contracted to release the films of Charlie Chaplin and this is their first, his masterful look at technology and how it can hinder life as we know it. Paulette Godard is “The Gamine,” a homeless woman that the Little Tramp meets while she’s being hauled away for stealing bread. (DVD and Blu-Ray)
The Night of the Hunter (1955): Here’s a United Artists classic added to the Criterion pot: Charles Laughton’s only directorial achievement, a moody suspense masterpiece. This is the one where evil preacher Robert Mitchum, with “Love” and Hate” tattooed to his knuckles, hunts the kids of widow Shelley Winters after they uncover his scheme to get the cash that their late dad—Mitchum’s ex-cellmate—sequestered. With hours of extras, outtakes and special features, this is easily one of the top releases of the year. (DVD and Blu-Ray)
Paths of Glory (1957): Stanley Kubrick’s powerful anti-war parable stars Kirk Douglas as the WWI French colonel walking the fine line between the allegiances of his put-upon troops and his arrogant, power-seeking superiors. Great archival material and a striking transfer of the black-and-white masterwork make this a must-have edition. (DVD and Blue-Ray)
House (Hausu) (1977): A film like no other, this Japanese film has been likened to a “psychedelic ghost tale” in which a group of girls head to one of their aunt’s homes and encounter all sort of trippy terrors. This obscure blast from the past recently found a devout cult audience when it was issued in theaters. (DVD and Blu-Ray)
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983): Nagisa Oshima’s provocative study of men in war set in a Japanese POW camp during WWII. David Bowie is the British prisoner obsessed over by commander Ryuichi Sakamoto. Tom Conti and Takeshi Kitano also star in this gripping drama. (DVD and Blu-Ray)
The Thin Red Line (1998): Writer-director Terrence Malick’s return to the screen after a long absence is a searing and beautifully realized WWII film based on the James Jones novel about the battle for Guadalcanal. Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson and Elias Koteas head the cast. The Criterion edition includes audio commentary, 18 min. of deleted scenes and many other great extras. (DVD and Blu-Ray)
Antichrist (2009): The ever-controversial Lars von Trier turns in one of his most talked-about sagas yet, with Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsborough as a couple, grief-stricken after the death of their child, who enter terrifying territory when they seeks refuge at a country cabin. Audio commentary, interviews and a documentary on the film’s Cannes debut are showcased.
Moore, Moore, Moore! How Do You Like It?: For the uninitiated, Rudy Ray Moore was a nightclub comedian known for his ahead-of-his-time rapping and politically incorrect ramblings. Then he became a movie star, kicking bad guys’ butts with kung fu moves in a series of high energy blaxploitation movies that were hits on the grindhouse circuit. Dolemite: The Total Experience is an extensive eight-disc tribute to the one-of-a-kind talent who passed away in 2008. Here you can see him in movie action in such efforts as Dolemite, The Human Tornado, Petey Wheatstraw and Disco Godfather, as well as Rude, The Legend of Dolemite, Live at the Wetlands and The Dolemite Explosion. Check out what made Rudy a #!*%# sensation!
Docs That Rock
There’s been a surplus of exemplary real-life features of late that deserve your attention. Some that we can highly recommend are:
I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale: Actor Cazale died in 1978 when he was just 43, but his short legacy included great performances in such films as The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Deer Hunter, Dog Day Afternoon and The Conversation, along with acclaimed stage work. This moving chronicle features interviews with Sidney Lumet, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman and Meryl Streep, his girlfriend at the time of his death. This release includes several minutes of footage cut out of the original HBO airing.
Casino Jack and the United States of Money: A disturbing survey on the life and crimes of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose defrauding schemes had great political and financial impact. Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) directs.
Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him) ?: One of pop’s most revered but least known artists, Harry Nilsson developed a cult following that included members of The Beatles and other influential scenemakers and critics. This documentary delves into his life and the career that gave us countless hours of great music, with commentary from admirers Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, Robin Williams and Yoko Ono.
Videocracy: Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi managed to build a media empire and a political career while being questioned about his motives and eventually tried on criminal charges. Berlusconi’s all-powerful broadcast network helped turn an entire country into addicts of cheap reality TV and sexy mindless shows, all to the advantage of himself and his companies. This probing documentary looks into the dark side of power and media control.
Best Worst Movie: The 1990 film Troll 2 had little to do with the original 1986 horror outing Troll, but it far surpassed it in terms of awfulness. In fact, according to those who have seen it, Troll 2, which doesn’t even feature trolls but goblins, surpassed almost every film ever made in being just plain awful. This entertaining doc examines the making of the movie and its incredible longevity as a cult favorite, a film the director claims inspired the Harry Potter series. And it was directed by one of its stars, a child actor at the time.
Smash His Camera: Paparazzi extraordinaire Ron Galella was the primary photo chronicler of celebrity for decades, and in this documentary by Leon Gast (When We Were Kings) he chronicles his adventures, from being sued by Jackie Kennedy to suing Marlon Brando, who walloped him in the face.
South of the Border: Oliver Stone’s controversial documentary delves into the relationships between America and South America, as the leaders of five countries (including Hugo Chavez) are interviewed.