Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT?, THE CHILDREN'S HOUR and ON THE BEACH on Blu-ray ""

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT?, THE CHILDREN'S HOUR and ON THE BEACH on Blu-ray

WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT? (1965; Clive Donner/Richard Talmage)
It's hard for me to imagine a time when Woody Allen wasn't Woody Allen. By that of course I mean Woody Allen wasn't  always the filmmaker he's been for the past forty plus years and that kinda bold my mind. Circa 1965, he was a comedian, still doing standup and writing comedy material for others (which he is still doing here in a way as he wrote the script for WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT?). By way of some context, here's a little sample of the standup he was doing back then:
So he was a working comic, but certainly on the rise and getting more and more popular. As a result, he's a fairly significant part of this ensemble which includes Peter Sellers and Peter O'Toole. O'Toole and Sellers play a swinging playboy and his oddball psychoanalyst respectively. It's very much their show of course, but Woody Allen shines in an early incarnation of his soon to be classic "nebbish" persona. I was also able to find a vintage interview clip of Woody Allen talking about WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT? right around the time of its initial release. He discusses his inspirations as a comedian and his experience working on the first film that he both wrote and appeared in as well as working with the big stars in the movie:
The whole film is imbued with and inhabited by the spirit of the 1960s. It's a classic, "too many women, not enough time" kind of story about a ladies man who doesn't want to settle down. It's a very freewheeling, hanging out kind of narrative with a certain manic energy to it and that is carried along by a light and breezy soundtrack (mostly music by the great Burt Bacharach). Another thing that keeps the movie afloat is a wonderful parade of lovely young ladies including Paula Prentiss, Romy Schneider, Capucine and Ursulla Andress. There's something about the films of the 1960s and the way they exude this kind of playful sexuality that is memorable. It has to do with a general flirtatious attitude, the styles of clothing and dance and an overall relaxed, unassuming point of view with regards to sexuality that bring about this atmosphere. It is somewhat present in some 70s films, but general thematics had gone away from the carefree feeling that the films of the mid to late 60s had by that time. It seems kind of naive now, which is part of what ends up dating these movies more than those of the 1950s or 1970s in a lot of ways. Regardless, it can be a fun era to visit and WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT captures it well. A few other random things I enjoyed about the fiom include: Manfred Mann's rendition of "My Little Red Book" (later made famous by the band Love) playing in a club scene and a pretty funny throwaway joke between Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton (who shows up for like 15 seconds at one point). Sellers overall is pretty great (as usual) though and he and O'Toole seem to battle each other for who will steal each scene they are in together. This is only a good thing as it's great to see two amazing comic actors do their thing together onscreen. I happened to find this 1965 interview with Sellers in which he discusses The Goons, Inspector Clouseau and WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT (his latest project at the time):
Being that is is a pretty bright film from an era when there was a lot of color to be seen within any given frame, the transfer looks pretty good and those aforementioned colors pop quite nicely. 

THE CHILDREN'S HOUR (1961; William Wyler)

On the complete opposite end of the thematic spectrum from WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT? is a movie like THE CHILDREN'S HOUR. Directed by master craftsman William Wyler, this film is based on  1934 play by Lilian Hellman. The story focuses on a a small private school for girls run by two women (Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn) that becomes the center of some controversy when the two women are accused of being in a lesbian relationship, based on a made-up accusation by one of their vindictive, immature students. Another thing that it is hard for me to wrap my head around is a time when this kind of thing could have and probably did happen. Actually, it's not that hard to conceive of in this day and age of "protecting marriage" still being an extremely hot button political issue, but I always like to think that fifty years of human interaction and compassion might have led us to another place. Not to get too carried away on that topic, but it certainly springs to mind when watching this film and makes it still a quite resonant and moving statement about the punishing mindsets that people in general can have towards those things which they don't understand or deem in some way as "other". The performances here are quite powerful and MacLaine, though not nominated by the Academy, did win a Golden Globe for her performance. The film itself isn't as hard hitting as it ultimately could be, due in part to the source material and a few things it glosses over a bit. It could also have something to do with the political climate of the time and the taboo nature of the subject matter that made it perhaps less than an easy task to push the story a bit further. As it stands, it is still a testament to the time and place it was made and the prevailing attitudes of the time. As I mentioned, MacLaine and Hepburn are quite good in the film, as is James Garner in a primary role. Miriam Hopkins and Fay Bainter are good too. I also noticed that this is a Mirisch Company production and MacLaine's follow up film to THE APARTMENT with them. It should also be noted that film's assistant editor was a young man by the name of Hal Ashby.In this clip from THE CELLULOID CLOSET, Lily Tomlin narrates some background on the film and the tabooed context in which it was made and Shirley MacLaine and writer Susie Bright offer their own observations:

The Blu-ray transfer on THE CHILDREN'S HOUR looks quite nice and shows off Franz Planer's Black and White cinematography quite well.

ON THE BEACH (1959; Stanley Kramer)
Much closer to the CHILDREN'S HOUR side of downbeat material than WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT?, Stanley Kramer's film of ON THE BEACH is one of the earlier examples of a post-nuclear narrative that I'm aware of.  Even though it precedes the 1970s disaster cycle by more than a decade, I often lump it in with those films because of it's subject matter (large scale disaster) and it's large ensemble cast. It is the story of a small group of people in Australia coming to terms with the consequences and aftermath of a global nuclear war. A mysterious morse code communication originating in San Diego is picked up and the last American Submarine (under Australian command) is sent to check it out. In the meantime, we learn about the extent of the fallout from the war and how it is drifting towards Australia wiping out all life in its path. The Australian government has made arrangements for all the people to receive suicide pills and injections to give them the option to avoid the suffering they will inevitably face once the radiation sickness takes hold (uplifting right?). I think part of what has always hooked me about this film is the cast. Anthony Perkins, Gregory Peck and Fred Astaire are among my favorite actors and to see them in what is more than a little bit of an emotional tale such as this is subtly affecting throughout. Other things I like about the film include the fact that it is a submarine movie (I've been fascinated with subs since I was a kid) and that it plays slightly into the realm of science fiction. The film came out in 1959, but is set in the year 1964 a not too distant, but quite dystopic place in the human timeline. Considering the context, it's easy to see why this film might have been pretty disturbing to audiences in 1959. After all, we were only about 15 years on from Hiroshima and still prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It had to hit a little too close to home and strike at the palpable fears that folks were struggling with at that time (and trying not to think about ). I'm often a fan of those "hit a nerve" kind of movies myself, especially if they were made a long time ago and still resonate today. Recently an Australian filmmaker named Lawrence Johnston directed a documentary called FALLOUT which tells the story of the making of ON THE BEACH, along with covering biographical aspects of both author Neville Shute and director Stanley Kramer:
I also found an article written by Kramer's daughter Katherine discussing the film and an upcoming screening of it:
So on top of all those things, there's an element of gentle melodrama here as well and I'm just a sucker for that as well. Also, and not to give away the final outcome of the film, but let's just say it ends a certain way that tends to make people remember it. There's a lot here to like really. ON THE BEACH is part of the same conversation that FAIL SAFE and DR. STRANGELOVE are a part of and it preceded both of them. ON THE BEACH also fits snugly into that quiet but embraced genre of "end of the world" movies and would play nicely with MIRACLE MILE, LAST NIGHT, THE QUIET EARTH and several others. The transfer here looks pretty good (as have most of the B&W transfers from Kino Lorber Studio Classics).

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