Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Friday, July 25, 2014

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - DUEL AT DIABLO and PARIS BLUES

DUEL AT DIABLO (1966; Ralph Nelson)
With the recent, very unfortunate passing of the great James Garner, it's hard to resist the temptation to dive back into his filmography and poke around a bit. He made a ton of good films and one need look no further than THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, GRAND PRIX, or  36 HOURS to see that. He is also a man who is very strongly associated with the western genre. He played a bunch of memorable western characters, including the venerable Bret Maverick on television. Like Jim Rockford, Bret Maverick was a character that Garner clearly made his own in a serious way. Garner was one of those actors who made the craft look so simple, so naturalistic and he had an easy-going charm and the sly smile of a true movie star. 
As I mentioned, James Garner is a good fit for westerns and he slots right in to DUEL AT DIABLO perfectly. There's actually a decent amount of interesting context surrounding DIABLO. It was apparently James Garner 's return to the western genre after his departure from MAVERICK. The film also stars actress Bibi Andersson, who was most known for her work with Ingmar Bergman. In the same year that she made this film she also starred in PERSONA, which is absolutely one of Bergman's best films.
Early on in DIABLO, James Garner's character does this clever bit of horse riding that I'm not sure I've ever seen before. It's a cool trick where he (or his stuntman) rides between two horses, using one of them for cover whilst an Apache tries to tear him up with rifle fire. It's just a short stunt, but it's pretty clever and fantastic. The cast of characters in DIABLO is is a lively bunch indeed. Garner plays a frontier scout who is on the hunt for the folks that killed his wife (a Comanche Indian). While in the desert he happens upon a young woman (Andersson) who has run off from her town and is about to be killed by ornery Apaches. He returns her to her less than enthusiastic husband (a very young and handsome Dennis Weaver) who is not thrilled she's come back as she has a bad rep in town for going off and having a child with some Indians earlier on and keeps skipping town to avoid persecution. Sidney Poitier is a horse trainer who has a deal with the army to break in and supply them with a bunch of horses, but when one of their regiments is forced to go out on assignment before he's had the allotted time to deliver all that equine goodness, he's forced to tag along. The whole rag tag bunch gets stranded in a canyon, under the thumb of more Apaches. It's a tension filled scenario to be sure!
Outside of good tension and a solid cast (which also includes the great William RedField), DIABLO has some lovely music by Neal Hefti. Hefti is probably most well-remembered for his theme to THE ODD COUPLE and his musical stylings on the 60s BATMAN TV show. It was a lovely thing to hear his scoring efforts for a western like this one:
Director Ralph Nelson had something of an interesting, off-beat career. He may be best remembered for things like LILIES OF THE FIELD, CHARLY and the Cary Grant classic FATHER GOOSE, but his less widely known films such as SOLDIER IN THE RAIN, SOLDIER BLUE, WRATH OF GOD and ...tick...tick...tick are all quite good. He also did the borderline Blaxploitation film A HERO AIN'T NOTHIN BUT A SANDWICH (it is often lumped into that group of films, but is much gentler than that. 

This is another bright and detailed Blu-ray transfer from KL Studio Classics. Looks right nice.




PARIS BLUES (1961; Martin Ritt)
Two years before their remarkable collaboration on HUD, Paul Newman and Martin Ritt teamed up on this lesser-known little film. They had worked together previously on THE LONG, HOT SUMMER in 1958, which also featured Newman's wife-to-be Joanne Woodward (they were married after that film) who would join him again in PARIS BLUES. Clearly Ritt and Newman had some kind of rapport as they worked quite well together. I still think of HUD as not only one of Newman's best performances, but also one of the great films of the 1960s (which is also in need of a Blu-ray release by the way).
Jazz movies are an intriguing thing. It's easy for me to picture myself just hanging out in a Jazz club in during this era in either New York or Paris. There's such a lovely vibe to not only the music, but the people who have wandered in or staked a claim at a table in one of these clubs. I've always seen Jazz musicians and Jazz collectors alike as pretty cool folks and though I've never been able to dive head first into Jazz myself, I admire those who have and can easily see the appeal. 
PARIS BLUES is, quite simply, the story of two jazz musicians (Newman and Poitier) who move to Paris to get away from New York and its racial complications only to find love with two New York girls (Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll) and be forced to decide whether to return to the states. It's a wonderful, romantic film as you might expect a film set in Paris with the music of Duke Ellington accompanying it to be. There's also a pretty outstanding jam session featuring the legendary Louis Armstrong himself at one point and that kinda thing is pretty hard to beat in any movie. I saw a similar scene in the Danny Kaye classic TEH FIVE PENNIES not too long ago and it was certainly the highlight of that flick as well.
Between DUEL AT DIABLO and PARIS BLUES, it was nice to see a couple of Poitier performances that I was previously unfamiliar with. He is one of our great actors and never ever shows up to deliver anything but a quality performance. He has a fierce and conversely gentle presence on screen and a unique magnetism. Newman is similarly charismatic of course and like a great Jazz number, it is a spectacular thing to see them riffing off of each other as only two truly excellent actors can. The ladies are equally up to the task here as well and both just stunning to behold. I always love to see real couples playing on-screen couples and Newman and Woodward are dynamite here. Not to say that a couple of actors with remarkable on-screen chemistry isn't a glorious thing to watch too, but there is a subtle something extra when you get the chance to observe real couples. It elevates an already romantic film in a romantic setting to another level entirely.

Here's a sample of Ellington's music for the film:
It's a gorgeous piece and it really exemplifies the "what it is" that draws people to Jazz in general. Like PARIS BLUES itself, it is at once melancholy and yet joyful, tense and yet relaxed. It is a living breathing organism that won't be contained or classified as one thing. It is beautiful.

Underrated Action/Adventure - Justin Bozung

Justin Bozung is a writer/blogger who frequently contributes to Shock Cinema and Phantom Of The Movies' Videoscope Magazines.  He has written in the past for Fangoria, Horror Hound, Whoa, Bijou and Paracinema Magazines, and is currently the blog editor at TV Store Online.com.  As a researcher/writer he has collaborated recently on a book about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (which is slated for release in March 2015). Justin is currently working with the blessing of the estate of filmmaker Frank Perry on a film-by-film analysis and biography on the late and under-rated director.   Follow him on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/mondofilm 
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01.)  Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders (aka Flesh Gordon 2: Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders) (1990)
For those who as a kid thought Flash Gordon was "too out there"....   Then there's Flesh Gordon Meets The Cosmic Cheerleaders.  I can still remember working at my local videostore as a 18-year-old kid and the UPS guy dropping off next weeks new releases off and buried at the bottom was a VHS forFlesh Gordon (1974) and Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders  (The Video Store thought that this would be a good top-self raincoat double feature I guess five years after the latter was released).   Shot in Toronto, Canada and in Detroit, Michigan, Writer & Director Howard Ziehm mixes the big boobs of Russ Meyer and the dick and fart jokes of Mel Brooks with Georges Méliès A Trip To The Moon(1902), Richard Elfman's Forbidden Zone (1980) and Nick Zedd's Geek Maggot Bingo (1983).   The results are insane and surreal.   This isn't a porno, to be clear.  Yet, how in the hell did they manage to raisethe money to make such an epic-scale oddball film?   This is a...Well, shit, you'll have never seen anything like this in your life once you watch it.  
To encapsulate:   Flesh Gordon pisses off his girl Dale Arden, she walks out on him and gets kidnapped by a morbidly obese horny-toad ice queen and Flesh is forced to blast out into outerspace with Dr. Flexi Jerk-Off after her.   Throw in a Motown-esque musical number played out by ten men in giant turd costumes, a evil cunninglingus Octopus monster,  a Harryhausen dick monster that can't stop giggling, dog-men in BDSM gear, and a water slide streaming semen that takes us and the characters deeper into the depths of the netherworld and you have the quintessential WTF midnight film.
Ziehm's script was written by the 13-year-old boy inside of himself, or by Beavis & Butthead.   There are dick jokes every 10 seconds here.  It has always seemed to me that Ziehm was more interested in the male anatony here over anything female, and with all of the dick-shaped space helmets, and jokes about Uranus, visually, the film is so damn fascinating because of just how strange and ambitious of a concept it actually is.  The monsters are crazy, the spaceship effects remind one of "Pigs In Space" from The Muppet Show, and there is an element of Fellini going on throughout mixed with that '40s Buster Crabbe FG aesthetic as well.

02.)  The Seventh Curse (1986)
Fun over-the-top Chinese-Thai production that is part chop-socky and supernatural jungle adventure.   With Chow Yun-Fat along for the ride, The Seventh Curse, at 75 minutes moves at a lighting speed.   You really need to be on your toes as you start in a hostage situation and then are quickly transported via flashback to a jungle in Thailand and then back, and then onward into a jungle in Thailand in the present.   It's a crazy little film about a guy who contracts a blood curse and has to travel into the depths of a Thailand jungle for the cure. It owes a lot visually to Sam Raimi.    It has it all though.  Demonic possession, chest-bursting creatures, a flying Godzilla-man, a giggling kabuki sorcerer who feeds people their nipples, and a vice-cum-death-device that flattens little baby boys down into bloody pancakes.  It's weird, it moves fast, and you can't catch your breath.  It's a acid trip of a film and it also features the best man-fighting-with-fake-skeleton scene ever put onto film.  Fuck Army Of Darkness(1992).

03.)  Pearl Harbor (2001)
I've been saying it for years and no one has been listening...Michael Bay is a great filmmaker.  Regardless of how you feel about Bay's films, you can't deny his gift for visual communication.  He is visual auteur.   Stanley Kubrick believed that the best way to examine a film was to turn the sound down to observe how the filmmaker communicates visually.   Bay does this like a master.   He knows how to tell a story with the sound turned down.  He tells a story visually.  He does it better than so many other filmmakers.  In that way, he's a sort of 21st Century Abel Gance or D.W. Griffith.  He's too late for his era really.  He would be the greatest living director had he been alive and working in the silent era of film.   Pearl Harbor speaks so strongly of this idea.   Go back, and watch it again.  Laugh at the hilarious "I will walk again" Jon Voight-as-F.D.R. wheelchair scene, laugh at the cardboardness of all the films characters if you must, but then turn the volume down and start it from the top.  It will be as powerful of a experience as the first time you saw the great silent-era masterpieces Wings (1923) or Sunrise(1923).  
 
04.)  China (1943)
One of two films that really just had to be the main inspiration for Indiana Jones.  Alan Ladd plays "David Jones", a clever-quipping, tough smuggler in a fedora and leather jacket that is trying to get the hell out of China alive.  Along the way he falls for a broad  who is part of it all and befriends an orphan Chinese baby who is knicknamed "Donald Duck".    This is a Paramount film as well.   Visually, the way the camera moves really seems to have been an influence on both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.   The majority of China also feels like an extended version of a chase scene in any of the Indiana Jones movies.   It's a cool little picture, and it's a fun watch because of how much it emits it's influence over the Lucas/Spielberg films, and you know that instantly while you're watching it.

05.)   Wind Across The Everglades (1958)
Nicholas Ray's Wind Across The Everglades is a total masterpiece, but I doubt that most would agree with me.   Most see it as a "flawed" film, but it goes out way beyond film itself.   It has a very unsettling feeling about it.  The vibes aren't quite right inEverglades.  If you know anything about the life and career of Nick Ray then you might know about how when the film was made he was in pretty rough state personally and professionally.   Wind Across The Everglades  is a man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. society film with a young Christopher Plummer going up against Burt Ives in theEverglades at the beginning of the 20th Century.  
The brilliance of the film lay in Budd Schulberg's epic script, the color palet and performance angst created by a very strung-out heroin addicted Nick Ray.   It was a troubled production with Ray not showing up to work almost 9 months after pre-production had started, actors dropping out and then dropping back in, studio interference, local Florida non-actors filling in for parts.  When you read aboutEverglades, on paper it sounds like what came out of it should've been an absolute un-watchable disaster, but when you see the film you realize that it is one of the greatest and most complex films thematically ever made.   It's overly macho and mystical.   One character utters, "There's a lifeforce out there in the glades.."   Another says, "The Glades are just like being out on the prarie.." One shoots a gun up into the air and says, "They've fired their shotguns up into the face of God.." A great line by Christopher Plummer, "Sir, Progress and I never got along very well.."  There's a machismo present that doesn't quite echo that of The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre(1942), but you could put both film up against each other thematically.    It has reminded me many times also of One-Eyed Jacks (1961) for it's dark exploration of man vs. man.  
It's all about the overall vibes here, and the performances.  It's dark, something is working against you the viewer.  It's difficult to comprehend it over your first couple viewings.  It also feels very out-of-time to me, and those films that adhere to mybelief system that all of cinema is a dream, stick with me and haunt me forever.   

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Stephen Scarlata

Mr. Scarlata is a personal friend of mine and he and I are were very much raised on a lot of the same 80s junk/goodness. One of his favorite movies is THE PIT. He's a cool fella. He was also one of the producers on JODOROWSKY'S DUNE which is currently available on Blu-ray:
http://www.amazon.com/Jodorowskys-Dune-Blu-ray-Alejandro-Jodorowsky/dp/B00J5LXMTG
You should follow him on twitter here:
https://twitter.com/xNECKx
and letterboxd here:

http://letterboxd.com/neck/

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BACK IN ACTION (1993)
Two years before their collaboration on Tough and Deadly, Billy Blanks and Roddy Piper teamed up for the first time in Back in Action.
Like Tough and Deadly, this movie has like twenty fight scenes. At least every ten minutes Blanks is beating the shit out of people. From a pair of muscled and mustached zubazwearing twins to an under the bridge illegal fight circuit tojust brawling at massage parlor. The action is non-stop.
It’s too bad this duo didn’t continue making action films together.  They could have been the straight to video Gibson and Glover.

HARD TICKET TO HAWAII (1987)
The undisputed 1980’s action classic. This was a Cinemax staple. If you have not seen this film, you must. It’s brilliant. Every weapon know to man is used in this film from uzis to throwing stars, bazookas and razor-edged Frisbees. Like clockwork you can check the films running time, on the five to ten minute mark you’ll either have hot tub scene, an action scene or a cancer riddled mutant giant snake scene.  
Hard Ticket is one of the greatest and underrated action films ever made, ever.

BAND OF THE HAND (1986)
This always has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid.
If you want to see a movie set in the mid 1980’s Miami Vice world, this is your film.
The result is an R-Rated Miami Vice neon riddled film.Michael Mann produced this with a fellow Mimai Vice director at the helm. Directed by Paul Michael Glaser who played Starsky in Starsky and Hutch and followed this up with the Running Man.
Four juvenile delinquents are sent into the Florida everglades. They are taught how to survive by the bad guyfrom Avatar, Stephen LangThis movie is awesome. It has the classic Michael Mann four-act structure.

GUYVER 2: DARK HERO (1994)
If you want to watch a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie with blood, check this one out. No wonder Steve Wang was set to direct the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers film after this and the underrated Drive. It’s a shame it never happened. Lot’s of wire-work fight scenes in this flick between our suited hero and monsters who know martial arts.

FIVE ELEMENT NINJA (1982)
This is one of my favorite Shaw Brother films. If you love your martial arts films with blood, multi colored ninjas and revenge this one is for you. The set up of the Five Element Ninjas is almost like a horror film it self. A school of martial artists are brutally picked off one by one by groups of ninjas that represent wood, gold, water, earth and fire.When word of the massacre gets back to the school a group set out into the forest for revenge.  

SUPER SCHOOL OVERLORD (1993) aka FUTURE COPS
This is a wacky live action version of Street Fighter. In 2043 Dhalsim, Vega and Guile go back in time to 1993 to stop Bison, but along the way they enroll in High School befriend a looser kid and help him deal with bullies. Be warned this mostly a comedy with lots of weird and silly Sataurday morning cartoon humor. After the first fight scene it takes 50 minutes to get to the point of action and it does get batshit after thatThe most surprising thing you’ll see is more Street Fighter arcade tropes than in the Van Damme Street Fighter film.You’ll actually see Chun Li’s upside down wire-workedhurricane kick. Also it’s cool to see Hadoken, visual effect battles including one with Guile’s Sonic Boom which is re-named Crescent Knife..

SHOCKING DARK (1989)
Bruno Mattei’s Aliens rip-off is everything you want from a Mattei film. An tactical group known as the Megaforce go after a mysterious creature underground and the results are entertaining if you like this type of film.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Laura G

Laura runs the wonderful blog Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, which is a must for any classic film fans! http://laurasmiscmusings.blogspot.com
She has become a frequent contributor here and is a person I go to regularly for movie recommendations (she's turned me on to many a great film!). In fact, she just recently did a great list of Underrated Detective/Mysteries for me and you should check it out:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2014/05/underrated-detectivemysteries-laura-g.html
She was did an Underrated Westerns list as well:
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2014/04/underrated-westerns-laura-g.html
Laura can be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/LaurasMiscMovie
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GREEN HELL (James Whale, 1940) - GREEN HELL is a terrific adventure film with a fantastic cast in a fast-paced and entertaining story.  Joan Bennett journeys through the jungle to join her husband, who is searching for Incan treasure; she arrives at camp sick with fever, and once she is lucid she's told her husband has died.  She won't be lonely long, however, with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and George Sanders both in love with her.  How lucky can a girl get?  Director Whale and the cast make a fairly standard jungle story thoroughly enjoyable, though I suspect if one looks closely it's filled with plot holes.  No matter, though, when a movie is this much fun!  There's also quite a harrowing, memorable ending as warring natives close in and the explorers run low on ammunition.  The fine supporting cast includes Vincent Price, Alan Hale Sr., and George Bancroft.  Filmed in black and white by Karl Freund.

Sadly, this James Whale Production, originally distributed by Universal Pictures, is not available on DVD.


ISLAND IN THE SKY (William Wellman, 1953) - ISLAND IN THE SKY might just get my vote for the greatest ensemble cast of all time.  A Corsair plane piloted by John Wayne and Sean McClory goes down in the uncharted wilderness of Labrador.  The pilots and crew (Jimmy Lydon, Wally Cassell, Hal Baylor) survive, but staying alive in a sub-zero environment won't be easy, with minimal food and limited radio power to contact rescuers.  Wayne's pilot buddies launch a search which amounts to looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack, but they refuse to give up, often at risk of their own lives.  The pilots are played by Andy Devine, Lloyd Nolan, Allyn Joslyn, James Arness, Paul Fix, and Louis Jean Heydt.  Their crew members include Fess Parker, Mike "Touch" Connors, Bob Steele, Harry Carey Jr., Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Herbert Anderson, and Darryl Hickman, with Regis Toomey and Walter Abel lending supporting on the ground.  Despite so many actors competing for screen time in this 109-minute film, they make their characters distinctive and interesting; personally I think Devine, as the ultra-laid-back but super-competent Willie Moon, should have received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.  Filmed in black and white by Archie Stout, with aerial cinematography by William Clothier, and narrated by director Wellman, this is one not to miss; it's long been in the shadow of Wellman and Wayne's THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (1954), but personally I think this realistic, gritty survival tale is the better film.

Available on in the fine John Wayne Collection, with excellent extras.

THE SWORD AND THE ROSE (Ken Annakin, 1953) - In the early '50s Walt Disney made a trio of films in the UK starring his friend Richard Todd.  THE SWORD AND THE ROSE was the second film, following THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD AND HIS MERRIE MEN (1952).  THE SWORD AND THE ROSE is a fine swashbuckling romance set at the court of Henry VIII, with Glynis Johns is a delightful performance as Henry's sister, Mary Tudor.  (Johns would famously play Mrs. Banks in Disney's MARY POPPINS a little over a decade later.)  Mary is ordered by her brother to marry the king of France, but she loves commoner Charles Brandon (Todd), the Captain of the Guards.  Mary, possessed of remarkable diplomatic skills, negotiates an eventual happy ending; there's also an exciting rescue and a sword battle.  James Robertson Justice lends fine support as Henry VIII.  The Technicolor cinematography was by Geoffrey Unsworth, with lovely matte paintings by Peter Ellenshaw.

Available in limited quantities in the Disney Movie Rewards series.  It's also available for streaming via Amazon.


ROB ROY: THE HIGHLAND ROGUE (Harold French, 1953) - Todd and Johns returned as the leads of ROB ROY: THE HIGHLAND ROGUE.  While Johns steals THE SWORD AND THE ROSE, ROB ROY is Todd's chance to shine as the dashing Scotsman who leads his clan in rebellion against George I.  He excels as the handsome, charismatic leader, with Johns as his feisty wife, Helen Mary.  James Robertson Justice, who like Todd appeared in all three of these Disney films, here plays the Duke of Argyll.  Filmed in Technicolor by Guy Green.  These British Disney films are quite unlike anything else the studio ever made, and I highly recommend seeking out these colorful, relatively little-known adventures.  In a just world Disney would release all three of these films in a collection!

Like THE SWORD AND THE ROSE, ROB ROY is out only from the Disney Movie Rewards series, which means paying a dealer a premium price. It's also available for streaming on Amazon.


HELL DRIVERS (Cy Endfield, 1957) - HELL DRIVERS may be the least underrated film on this list, as it's been enjoying a certain amount of rediscovery thanks in part to the Film Noir Foundation.  Still, when I first saw this movie at the 2013 Noir City Festival in Hollywoood, I had to wonder how a movie with a cast this good had previously been completely unknown to me.  This gritty film set in the UK stars Stanley Baker as an ex-con desperate for work who takes a dangerous job transporting gravel for a company which expects its drivers to careen down country roads and rural highways at breakneck speeds to make their daily delivery quotas.  (NASCAR drivers have nothing on these guys!)  There's a rip-roaring, exciting plot, with a climactic action sequence which is brilliantly staged, evoking gasps from the audience when I saw it.  The drivers include Sean Connery, Patrick McGoohan, Herbert Lom, and Gordon Jackson (UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS), with David McCallum, William Hartnell (DR. WHO), Peggy Cummins, and Jill Ireland also in the cast.  Filmed in black and white Visa Vision by Geoffrey Unsworth, who also shot THE SWORD AND THE ROSE.  (Attention Southern Californians: UCLA will be screening this film on August 1st!)

Available on Region 2 DVD or via Amazon Prime streaming.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - MARTY and SEPARATE TABLES on Blu-ray

MARTY (1955; Delbert Mann)
One of the great things about being a hardcore movie fan is "blind spots". Some take them as a point of shame and I see that side of it as well. However, there is something quite nice about getting to a highly regarded film much later in your tenure as a movie watcher. MARTY is of course a renound Oscar winner, but one that I had either avoided deliberately or subconsciously, I cannot be sure. Ernest Borgnine alone should have been enough to get me there, and the Paddy Chayevsky pedigree would normally have made it a lock (I overlooked his involvement in the film as a writer until recently for some unfashionable reason). What I'm trying to say is that I never really have this movie a fair shake. Borgnine is a guy that I've most often associated with tough guy action cinema. He's certainly more than just that. Watching this movie made me remember that. Early on in the film there's a subtly heartbreaking scene with Borgnine on the phone, calling up a girl that he had a friend had said showed some interest in him. Throughout the beginning of the movie, Borgnine's Marty shows himself to be almost disinterested in trying to find himself a girl anymore. He's been emotionally scarred over time by a parade of rejections from various ladies in his thirty-four years. So calling this girl up is clearly a reluctant thing, but it's obvious that he's still holding on to some small splinter of hope that this call might pay off. Less than :20 seconds into the call he finds himself asking her if she's free "the Saturday after that..." And it's clear that he's struck out yet again. He closes his eyes and hangs up the phone and it's obvious that this simple phone call has cut him deeply. It has re-opened an old wound and strengthened his resolve to pretty much give up. It's a great scene and it's all about Borgnine's face and his voice. So much carried off in just a short scene. It really sets up who Marty is and where he's at in his life. I myself didn't get married until I was thirty-five, but it was obviously a different time. The pressure that Marty feels to settle down is palpable and there's very much a quite desperation that's begun to set in. You really can't help but root for him right out of the gate. Borgnine plays him as a gentle, compassionate soul. He's caught in this "nice guys finish last" hamster wheel when he meets a  high school teacher (Betsy Blair) at a dancehall and they seem to connect. Marty's got some drama to deal with though in that he lives with his mother and she while she wants him to be married on one hand, she also fears that he may want to be rid of her of he does settle down. I've always gravitated towards lonely characters in movies that end up finding each other. Loneliness is one of those things that most of us can relate to pretty well. Borgnine really brings it as Marty and it's fairly easy to see why this film truck a chord with Academy voters ( it won best picture in 1955). Betsy Blair is quite wonderful too. She has one if those smiles that is quite infectious and it's as though she can hardly keep herself from smiling when she and Borgnine are together on screen. It feels real in this way that one might get when they are around someone and there's this sense of "is this really happening?" and "am I really feeling the connection to this person that I think I am?". I love to see this kind of interaction captured in a movie especially in an older one. It gives me the feeling of universality of romance over time which is very comforting. 
One bit of trivia I came across was that apparently director Delbert Mann was at a loss for any idea of who to cast in the role of Marty. He had directed MARTY on Television which led to his getting the job directing the feature version. He ended up going to director Robert Aldrich for advice and Aldrich immediately recommended Borgnine. I'm a big fan of Aldrich's films and I have to say my opinion of him went up when u heard that. Borgnine had only played bad guys to that point so he seemed an unlikely candidate. I am certainly glad that Delbert Mann was swayed. It was a smart decision.

The Blu-ray transfer here looks pretty good. The contrast is good and even though there are a few scratches on the print, overall it appears to be in good shape.
FYI, MARTY is presented in the Academy aspect ratio (1.33 to 1) on this new Blu-ray. There was some early talk of releasing it in a 1.85 to 1 ratio, but Kino Lorber Studio Classics decided against it. Their quite reasonable explanation as to why they went with the 1.33 ratio was posted on their Facebook page:
"After examining the film elements and consulting with the studio and outside experts, we've decided to release our DVD and Blu-ray of MARTY in anamorphic 1.33:1. There is not a lot of head room in the print, and at 1.85:1 too much of the image was being cropped. So we are releasing it in 1.33:1, the preferred aspect ratio of the studio, and the ratio at which The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences screens their prints of MARTY. The original negative of this film is 1.33:1, as the title was shot open aperture, some say the bottom and top parts of the original image should be cropped off to create the intended 1.85:1 and others disagree."
I am fully on board with their decision personally.


SEPARATE TABLES (1958; Delbert Mann)
Sometimes tier is nothing better than a solid melodrama. I know that Ethan & Joel Coen would certainly agree, especially in the case of this film as they listed it as part of their top ten in the most recent Sight & Sound poll:
Like MARTY, this film was also directed by Delbert Mann and it is also about lonely people. Another thing it has in common with MARTY is that it was produced by the Hecht-Lancaster team (by 1958 they'd become Hecht, Hill and Lancaster). This group had the distinction of producing some of the most notable films of the 1950s. Their resume also includes movies like THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, RUN SILENT RUN DEEP and BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ. That's quite a list of great movies and there were many more. SEPARATE TABLES is the story of a disparate group of characters living at a seaside hotel (the Hotel Beauregard) in Bournemouth, England. The cast is simply astounding and includes David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth, Burt Lancaster, Rod Taylor, Wendy Hiller and others. Few films with a cast as strong as this are as underseen as SEPARATE TABLES is ( in my opinion). It's just not spoken of as much as it should be as near as I can tell. Perhaps it's too "British" or something, but I just can't account for it not being more widely discussed. Hopefully this new Blu-ray stirs up some interest as it is a simply lovely film. Though I'm not much of a David Niven fan, this is among my favorite performances he's ever given. Lancaster delivers his usual dose of awesome, but that's not unexpected as I truly believe him to be one of the great actors ever. Rod Taylor is no slouch either. Have come to appreciate him much more in the past five years or so and I've become a big proponent. One neat thing that SEPARATE TABLES has is a connection to the remarkable filmmaking duo of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger. Deborah Kerr and Wendy Hiller were in two outstanding movies from the Archers: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP and I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING. These are two of my all-time favorite films so that alone grants SEPARATE TABLES a great deal of good will for me.

The transfer here is quite good-looking indeed. It conveys a lovely, detailed black & white image throughout.
The disc includes a commentary track from Delbert Mann himself and it is quite a treat (it's always great to hear from the film's director especially on an older movie like this). Mann discusses all manner of production history stories and covers many challenges that he faced in making the movie work. The film is based on two one-act plays by Terrence Rattigan, which he co-adapted himself. Mann talks about how the two plays were combined differently to make the film feel more cohesive. It's pretty fascinating to hear how they carried it off. He talks about the staging of the film, the sets (the film was shot entirely on Goldwyn studio soundstages), the rehearsal regiment and other production processes (such as his working relationship with Burt Lancaster), as well as throwing in various interesting anecdotes as well. He even throws in a decent amount of information about MARTY in addition to the SEPARATE TABLES stuff.  
Though Mann complains at the very beginning of the track about the title song sung by Vic Damone (Mann was told that no title song would be used), I am a fan of both the tune and it's use over the opening titles. Damone's voice has this enchanting Johnny Mathis quality about it and I guess that I'm just a sucker for that kind of sound (we listened tonMathis endlessly at my home during the Christmas season when I was a kid).

I was already quite fond of SEPARATE TABLES prior to this Blu-ray, and seeing it again this way only fanned the flames of they affection. Between the quality of the film, the cast, the transfer and the commentary, I have to say that this is my favorite of this first group of the Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-rays. Highly recommended. 


Both MARTY and SEPARATE TABLES street on July 29th. For more information go to www.klstudioclassics.com.

Underrated Action/Adventure - John Knight

About Jophn Knight:
"From a North London working class background and a genuine Muswell Hillbilly by birth, Rod Stewart lived across the road from me and Ray Davies and I used to loan each other records. He turned me on to Chet Atkins and I  turned him on to The Ventures. Always been a life-long film fan and when I met Cineaste and later screenwriter
Chris Wicking in the early Sixties he turned me onto lots of interesting films and directors. It's been a lifelong search and I'm still learning at the age of 68,
still so many great people yet to discover.....I am talking vintage films here."


THE EAGLE AND THE HAWK (1950) Lewis R Foster
John Payne, Dennis 'O Keefe, Rhonda Fleming. 
My five choices are all Pine Thomas Productions. William H Pine and William C Thomas became known as  "The Dollar Bills" when they headed up Paramount's B unit because their films always made money.In the Fifties Paramount gave them bigger budgets and starrier casts. Their films though cheesy always looked great and should be on DVD or better still Blu-Ray. Eagle And the Hawk has a Texas Ranger and Union Agent going undercover in Mexico.Overlong and rambling film has great photography (James Wong Howe) and set pieces. Scene where Payne is spreadeagled between two horses charging towards a cliff is a highlight

CROSSWINDS (1951) Lewis R Foster
John Payne, Rhonda Fleming, Forrest Tucker, John Abbott, Alan Mowbray.
Skipper Payne gets rooked out of his boat by crooked Tucker. He becomes involved in a search for a sunken plane full of gold and has to cope with headhunters,crocodiles and a couple of really nasty Brits (Abbott and Mowbray who effortlessly steal the film) He still finds time to woo lovely Fleming...what a guy! Good location photography,not a back lot in sight!

CARIBBEAN (1952) Edward Ludwig
John Payne, Arlene Dahl, Cedric Hardwicke, Francis L Sullivan, Willard Parker, Woody Strode. Pirates lots of swordplay and duels plus for the era,an interesting Black liberation subtext. Naive by today's standards but a step in the right direction. Payne does his usual bare chested shtick but looks positively puny with Woody Strode's magnificent torso on display.

SANGAREE (1953) Edward Ludwig
Fernando Lamas, Arlene Dahl, Patricia Medina, Tom Drake, Willard Parker.
Early in this costumer there is some very sensual role play between the two
super-sexy leads. Just check out their body language! Then screenwriter David Duncan throws every trick in the book to keep things fast moving,. We get sabotage,fires,explosions,extended tavern brawls,swampland duels and the Bubonic plague! Ludwig,Duncan and D.O.P. Lionel Linden later teamed up for the cult classic THE BLACK SCORPION the third greatest "giant bug" movie
ever made.

JIVARO (1954) Edward Ludwig
Fernando Lamas Rhonda Fleming,Brian Keith,Lon Chaney,Richard Denning,
Rita Moreno. The most gorgeous looking of all the Pine-Thomas flicks.The intrepid crew head into the darkest reaches of the Amazon searching for gold and Fleming's missing boyfriend (Denning) Lots of "unrequited lust" between the two very sexy leads. Like SANGAREE this one was made in 3D with everything,including shrunken heads thrown at the audience.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Warner Archive Grab Bag - MAGIC BOY

MAGIC BOY (1959; Akira Daikuhara/Taiji Yabushita)
Being cinema-obsessed can be a bit of a double edged sword sometimes. Watching as many films as we cinephiles tend to can have this (perhaps obvious) tendency to kinda burn you out. It really becomes a little unfair to the movies at some point as I'd probably be more lenient on them were I watching fewer in a given year. Sadly, that is not to be and many films fly by without striking much in the way or remarkable interest in me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hater by any means. I actually pride myself on being  as much of a true "movie lover" as I can be. I try to remain positive and generally exercise the practice of "if you have got anything nice to say....". What is conversely pretty fantastic is when a film, despite all that stuff, breaks through and distinguishes itself as something unique and meorable. As my readers are probably aware, I keep an ongoing list of "Film Discoveries" throughout each year which I then publish as part of my favorite series here at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. With my discoveries project in mind, I am always on the lookout for those movies that I really want to celebrate and put on the list. So when I come across something that begins strong and maintains it's robust cinematic greatness all the way through, it really makes me want to stand up and cheer by the end. When I find a movie like that, I find myself sort of subconsciously chanting "don't mess it up! don't mess it up!" in the back of my mind. Anyway, this is all a long winded way of saying that I really liked this movie quite a bit.

From Warner Archive's site:
"Magically gifted boy Sasuke lives in peace, deep in the forest with his animal pals and Oyu, his elder sister. After their forest sanctuary is violated by a demon witch who devours one of Sasuke’s animal companions, Sasuke vows vengeance. Leaving the forest, he sets out to master his magical gifts, making a pilgrimage to the home of the wizard Hakuunsai. While Sasuke learns the ways of magic, Yakusha, the demon witch, terrorizes the countryside, and Sasuke works to complete his training in time. Magic Boy, aka Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke, is a classic piece of anime history - the first full- length animated feature produced in japan to reach the shores of the United States. With much of the original storyline left untouched and centering on pop culture staple hero Sarutobi Sasuke (think of Bomba the jungle Boy crossed with a ninja), Magic Boy is an enchanting precursor to decades of imported Japanese ani-magic."

As indicated above, MAGIC BOY is one of the earliest examples of anime. I heard the good gentlemen of the Warner Archive Podcast say this when they were discussing it and I must admit that it conjured a certain impression in my head. I basically started imagining the movie as a rudimentary SPEED RACER or something along those lines. It isn't that though. The animation is much more fluid and dream-like. It is an intriguing mixture of techniques which all feel very organic, even when the animation is mixed with what look like real photographic plates. The story though is the the thing that hooked me. Boiled down it seems very simple, but as I watched it play out it felt very special to me. Special in a way that it felt not informed by American popular culture, but was coming from a fantastic place of another time and place and the myth's and legends born out of that. There is a lot of darkness in the movie. There is character death and some scary, trippy imagery. I showed it to my 5-year old and she was as mesmerized as I was. She has a tendency to lean towards darker material though so it may not be quite suitable for all 5-year olds. It was such a pleasurable viewing experience all told as we were both transported by the story and the style of its telling. As I mentioned, it's ultimately a very simple tale, but something about it was just a little off from center (in the best possible way). The witch was quite a villain to behold. She was either made of bats or always had them buzzing about her like tsetse flies. There was even a sequence with her that briefly reminded me of the pink elephants in DUMBO. By comparison, Disney released one of its more bland (albeit gorgeous) animated features in 1959 - SLEEPING BEAUTY. MAGIC BOY seemed to harken back to the earlier Disney films like DUMBO and SNOW WHITE, but filtered through a foreign lens of surrealism and gothic fantasy. Who's to say if those movies were even an influence on MAGIC BOY, as it pretty much exists in a universe all its own. I kept thinking it seemed like the kind of film a young Tim Burton would have been fascinated by and obsessed with. This one is definitely one of my favorite Warner Archive releases of 2014 so far. Well worth discovering for yourself.




MAGIC BOY can be purchased from Warner Archive here:
http://bit.ly/1mAEFJl

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