Murphy’s Law: Audie Murphy, WWII legend-turned-movie hero, is showcased in Audie Murphy Westerns Collection, an exclusive to Movies Unlimited. The four-disc, four-film set is a surefire hit for Murphy mavens and sagebrush fanatics alike, boasting these titles:
Sierra (1950): Audie and father Dean Jagger are hiding away in the hills until lawyer Wanda Hendrix (then Murphy’s wife in real life) arrives to prove that they are innocent of the crimes they are accused of.
Drums Across the River (1953): An unscrupulous group of miners try to start trouble with Ute Indians in order to get their valuable land, and Audie and father Walter Brennan come to the rescue. Jay Silverheels and Hugh O’Brien co-star.
Ride Clear of Diablo (1954): Murphy teams with black hat Dan Duryea to try to take down an evil sheriff and his henchmen responsible for the death of his father and brother. The supporting players here include Susan Cabot, Abbe Lane, Russell Johnson, Paul Birch, Jack Elam and Denver Pyle.
Ride a Crooked Trail (1956): Laughs and danger mix as fugitive criminal Murphy assumes the identity of a lawman and tries to win over judge Walter Matthau. Complications arise as lovely Gia Scala, the real marshal’s girlfriend, arrives in the town.
Warner Winners : The wonders never cease from Warner Archive. Each month has been like a gift package from Hollywood which we’ve learned movie fans can’t wait to open.
The Mexican Spitfire Collection is a compilation of Lupe Velez efforts from the late 1930s and 1940s. The hot-to-trot Mexican actress, who was married to Johnny Weissmuller and had an ongoing affair with Gary Cooper, showcases her beauty and talent here in RKO offerings like The Girl from Mexico, Mexican Spitfire, Mexican Spitfire’s Baby, Mexican Spitfire at Sea, Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost, Mexican Spitfire’s Elephant and Mexican Spitfire’s Blessed Event.
Lupe is also featured in Kongo, the hard-to-see 1932 remake of Lon Chaney’s West of Zanizibar, with Walter Huston as a handicapped former stage magician who rules the natives in a region of the Congo using his illusionary skills. While keeping company with a Portuguese mistress (Velez), he yearns for the day where he can get revenge against the man who stole his wife from him years ago. The amazing pre-Code parade of unsavory elements includes sadomasochism, torture, drug use and rape. This is truly from the “so strange it must be seen to be believed” file!
Reelin’ and Rockin’ : The archives from the Brothers Warner have music on the mind with three rock-happy roundelays boasting classic acts of an earlier generation. British invaders Herman’s Hermits, led by Peter Noone, star in Hold On! (1966), a goofy screwball farce in which the group tours America and discovers that they’ve made such an impression on the States that they are getting a rocket named after them! The boys are back in Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter (1968) that finds the Hermits playing music and managing a racing greyhound named “Mrs. Brown.” Roy Orbison trades his glasses for acting boots in The Fastest Guitar Alive, playing a confederate soldier trying to rob a bank with pal Sammy Jackson in order to help fund the South.
Ahoy Movie Fans: While the Warner Archive releases can fill an entire column, we have to be selective about what we spotlight. Certainly worth mentioning is the release of the oft-requested PT 109 (1963), with Cliff Robertson as John F. Kennedy in a film based on JFK’s prize-winning memoir about his adventures during WWII aboard the famed ship.
The Constant Garner: In a career that spans over 50 years, James Garner has pretty much done it all. Forever likable, he’s been a movie star and a TV star and done so in his own unassuming way. Garner has been cast to fit into an ensemble as “one of the guys” (The Great Escape, Hour of the Gun, Grand Prix and Space Cowboys). He’s been a steady force doing leads—romantic, dramatic and action-oriented—and supporting work. On the small screen, Garner has been in two iconic shows (Maverick, The Rockford Files) and two series with cult followings (Nichols and First Monday). Although nominated for 13 Emmys (with two wins), Garner has only had one Oscar nomination (for Murphy’s Romance, opposite Sally Field) over his illustrious career.
Though Warner Archive, Movies Unlimited has three new Garner titles on DVD starring the Oklahoma-born performer.
The Wheeler Dealers (1963) stars Garner as a Texas wildcatter who heads to New York after a dry spell to use his Lone Star savvy in a series of schemes. In the Big Apple, he meets lovely Lee Remick, with whom he helps revive a failing company. Arthur Hiller (The Americanization of Emily) directs, and the incredible supporting cast includes Robert Strauss, Pat Crowley, Louis Nye, Pat Harrington, Jr., John Astin, James Doohan, Phil Harris and Bernie Kopell.
In Mister Buddwing (1965), Garner plays a man who awakens in Central Park with no clue who he is. With a phone number he finds in his pocket and help from different women (including Suzanne Pleshette, Jean Simmons, Angela Lansbury and Katherine Ross), Garner tries to figure out his real identity in this film directed by Delbert Mann (Marty).
Marlowe (1969) finds Garner adding cynicism to his smooth demeanor in tackling Raymond Chandler’s private detective Phillip Marlowe. Here, the sleuth is hired for a missing persons case, but is soon pulled into a web of suspense involving blackmail, a mobster, a child psychologist, a police official and a kung fu enforcer. Carroll O’Connor, Gayle Hunnicut and Bruce Lee co-star; helmed by Paul Bogart, with whom Garner made Skin Game.
Super Mario: Philly’s own Alfred Arnold Cocozzo—aka Mario Lanza—is perfectly cast as Enrico Caruso in MGM’s 1951 sensation The Great Caruso, finally available on DVD. There are 15 songs throughout the saga of the great tenor who rose from poverty in Naples, Italy to garnering attention for his amazing voice in Europe to becoming a sensation with the Metropolitan Opera.
Do Lang, Do Lang, Do Lang: Among the recently announced Archive highlights are two classic, journalism-themed film noirs from the great Fritz Lang. While the City Sleeps (1956) stars Dana Andrews as a reporter who is put into a precarious situation in which he has to save the media empire he works for after the owner dies, search for a serial killer who is terrorizing the city, and salvage his relationship with his girlfriend (Sally Forrest). Thomas Mitchell, George Sanders, Vincent Price and Rhonda Fleming co-star. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), was recently remade with Michael Douglas and is actually Lang’s last Hollywood film. Andrews again takes the lead as a reporter-turned-novelist, persuaded by his publisher/prospective father-in-law to confess to the unsolved murder of a burlesque dancer in order to survey the landscape of crime and punishment. Both films offer crackerjack entertainment, mixing dark themes, exciting storylines and Lang’s expressionist style.
Fuller Rush, Man: And speaking of newspapers and noir, we’re thrilled MGM’s MOD program is bringing to DVD Samuel Fuller’s Park Row, a marvelous 1952 salute to the writer-director’s early years of tabloid journalism. Set in the late 20th century, the film stars Fuller regular Gene Evans as a reporter who responds to his canning from a New York City rag by starting his own paper. Little does he know, though, the ends that his ex-employer will go to in order to stop him. Unabashedly sentimental but teeming with snappy dialogue, authentic atmosphere and a real love for newspapering, Park Row is a must for Fullerphiles.
Back From the Dead: New Yorker Films was a seminal company for film and video distribution which lasted for an amazing 44 years, beginning in 1965. When the company announced it was leaving the business a few years ago, cinephiles mourned like they had lost a good friend. But now, New Yorker is back in business, we’re thrilled to say. Right now, much of their library, which includes Bye Bye Brazil, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, After Innocence, My Architect and L.I.E., is available again, thanks to the efforts of the people who worked for them in the company’s original incarnation. They also have new titles scheduled for DVD and Blu-ray release, beginning with the acclaimed animated film My Dog Tulip.
From the same galaxy, but a different planet, genre specialists Code Red have their eggs back in order and are readying more exploitation titles from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. New goodies from them include:
Messiah of Evil (Special 35th Anniversary Edition) (1974): Willard Hucyk and Gloria Katz, the writers of American Graffiti, were the creative forces behind this cult item in which a woman searching for her lost painter father encounters a town filled with zombies.
Rituals (1977): Hal Holbrook leads the cast, playing one of five physicians on a Canadian hiking trip who become the target for a mysterious presence.
The Visitor (1979): A bizarre mix of Alien-like sci-fi and The Exorcist-like possession fright that has been called the “Mount Everest of bizarre Italian ‘70s movies.” John Huston, Shelley Winters, Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford and Sam Peckinpah (!?) star in this shot-in-Atlanta saga about an evil girl with telekinetic powers. This is the full European version, not the cut-down American edit.
Slithis (1978): A nuclear leak spawns a mutant creature that terrorizes the eccentric residents of Venice, California.
Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976): Bernie Casey is the African-American scientist whose formula to help liver cells has some disturbing side effects in this toxic mix of shocks and blaxploitation.
Eli’s Comin’: Eli Cross, that is. He’s the egomaniacal character limned by Oscar-nominated Peter O’Toole in Richard Rush’s 1980 cult classic The Stunt Man. Back on DVD, new to Blu-ray, and loaded with special features (including the remarkable “making of” doc that was part of the previous Anchor Bay release), the film tells the story of a fugitive from the law (Steve Railsback) who “falls into” a job as a stunt man on a production after his predecessor’s killed in an on-site accident. While working on the picture, he gets involved with lead actress Barbara Hershey and finds himself manipulated by O’Toole’s unpredictable director.
Criterion Corner: Once again, the folks at Criterion are aces when it comes to picking interesting and challenging movies for release, then making them must-have with all of the great extras they add to the recipe. Consider these July titles, available in DVD and Blu-ray.
Leon Morin, Priest (1961): A change-of-pace from Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Circle Rouge) stars Alain Delon as the title character, a Catholic priest, who gets intimately involved with widowed parishioner Emanuelle Riva during World War II.
The Music Room (1959): Legendary Bengali director Satyajit Ray helmed this saga of an aristocrat whose favorite place is a room where he showcases popular musicians. As his empire crumbles, so does the once-wealthy man’s interest in the music, but there is an opportunity for one final program.
Life During Wartime (2010): Todd Solondz’s sort-of follow-up to his ultra-controversial 1998 effort Happiness follows the same characters years later even though the cast has changed. The setting switches to Miami where the likes of Allison Janney, Ciaran Hinds, Shirley Henderson, Ally Sheedy and Paul Reubens try to cope with life after 9/11.
Insignificance (1985): A time-shifting meeting of 1950s icons Albert Einstein, Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe and Senator Joseph McCarthy comprise Nicholas Roeg’s eccentric what-if satire set in a Manhattan hotel.
The Makioka Sisters (1983): Kon Ichikawa’s lyrical look at four sisters who have a reunion each year amidst the beauty of the cherry blossoms blooming in Kyoto, Japan.
People On Sunday (1930): A mix of documentary and fictional film, this silent film from Weimar Germany before Hitler rose to power was a collaboration of filmmakers who left the country and found fame and acclaim in the United States. Among those who worked on this project about a group of peoples’ experiences on a Sunday afternoon are Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955): Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer comes to brutal life courtesy of director Robert Aldrich in this fave of the French New Wave. Ralph Meeker is the no-nonsense detective whose act of picking up a hitchhiker (Cloris Leachman) leads to troubles the likes of which he’d never guess. What’s in the box?
Zazie Dans Le Metro (1950): Louis Malle’s farce tells of a 10-year-old girl’s wacky experience with her uncle in Paris.
Black Moon (1975): Louis Malle’s surrealist futuristic fantasy ala Alice in Wonderland surveys the fantastic world journeyed to by a girl named Lily (Cathryn Harrison) and inhabited by a hag, pigs and other bizarre characters.
Raffaello Matarazzo’s Runaway Melodramas: Films of the Italian auteur here include Chains, Nobody’s Children, Tormento and White Angel.
Always Look on the Fright Side: Several horror films of note on the way that have high fear factors? Among them:
Vanishing on 7th Street: There’s eerie atmospherics from director Brad Anderson (Transsiberian) informing this supernatural suspenser. Detroit suffers a power outage and a group of people, including Hayden Christiansen, Thandie Newton and John Leguizamo, find themselves fending off mysterious shadows.
Black Death: The Black Death permeates medieval Europe except for one village, where a necromancer is able to bring the dead back to life. The church assigns fearless knight Sean Bean to investigate.
I Saw the Devil: Skip this if you are squeamish. Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-Won (The Good, the Bad and the Weird) tells the unsettling story of a detective out to get revenge on a diabolical serial killer who murdered his fiancée.
Torso (1973): A giallo favorite in which a group of curvy coeds try to escape their campus (where murders recently took place) for some serenity at the posh villa owned by one’s uncle. Unfortunately, the killer joins them there in this terrifying Italian shocker from Sergio Martino (The Case of the Scorpion’s Tale).
The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982): Quintessential 1980s horror film with a debuting Daphne Zuniga co-starring in a saga of coeds dealing with a mechanically-inclined serial killer. The director’s cut is taken from a thought-to-be-lost early print of the film, AKA Death Dorm.
Inferno Combustion: Henri-Georges Clouzot was the dynamic French director behind the classics Wages of Fear and Diabolique. But in the wake of Fellini’s success with 8 ½, Clouzot tried to prove himself a filmmaker with more on his palate than critics gave him credit for. The rigors of mounting his 1964 project Inferno, however, nearly killed him, and he had to abandon the production. In the half documentary, half feature, effort Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, we get a glimpse of the pop art masterpiece-that-never-was through interviews, photos and more.
Up The Creek: In a licensing deal that could mean good things to movie collectors, Mill Creek Pictures, best known as the folks behind multi-pack sets of public domain titles and the Stephen G. Cannell library, have pacted to put out neat library titles from the Walt Disney and Allumination brands. From “The Mouse House” comes a cache of Touchstone Pictures releases: An Innocent Man with Tom Selleck, V.I. Warshawski with Kathleen Turner, three of the Ernest movies with Jim Varney, Camp Nowhere with Christopher Lloyd, The Marrying Man with Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin and My Father the Hero with Gerard Depardieu and a young Katherine Heigl. Many are also available on Blu-Ray. Additionally, Mill Creek has triple features from the Allumination library with titles such as Devil in the Flesh, Hemoglobin, King of the Corner and Ice Cream Man part of it. We’re happy to see titles once in limbo get out and onto the DVD market.