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The classic film packagers over at TCM once again find an interesting hook to organize their new DVD release TCM Vault Collection Dark Crimes Volume 2. Their first Dark Crimes set from 2012 combined three top-flight noir attractions, The Glass Key, Phantom Lady and The Blue Dahlia. The title mix in their sophomore outing is downright creative, placing two films each from Fritz Lang and William Castle back-to-back. Castle is of course the brain behind everyone's favorite horror matinee gimmicks. A hotshot who made his mark emulating Alfred Hitchcock and consorting with Orson Welles on Mexican locations for The Lady from Shanghai, Castle worked hard at Columbia and Universal trying to distinguish himself as a director. The amazingly talented Fritz Lang earned no popularity prizes in Hollywood but made consistently brilliant pictures. Sampled here is a slick wartime thriller written by Graham Greene, and a rare, strange genre hybrid. It might have been Lang's attempt to create a new kind of stylized musical-melodrama crime thriller.
TCM's new "Noir Czar" Eddie Muller is a known and respected figure in disc extras. He provides introductions for all four films, going strong on human interest and relevant history plus a little academic nugget or two on the side. Each disc also carries the TCM Vault Collection's expected battery of stills and ad artwork galleries, plus a text essay overview of the collection's aims.
Let's take Lang's pictures first, as both are from an earlier era. Paramount's You and Me (1938) surely confused audiences. After his two successful social outrage films Fury and You Only Live Once, this tale is not a life and death struggle with fate. Sylvia Sidney and George Raft play employees at the department store of Jerome Morris (Harry Carey), a do-gooder who hires ex-cons to give them a second chance at going straight. Raft's former jailbird friends get itchy ideas about committing more crimes, but he vetoes their plans, as he's secretly engaged to Sidney, who encourages him to stay on the straight and narrow. Raft's morale sinks when he discovers that Sidney is also an ex-thief, and that she wants to keep their marriage a secret because it violates her parole. Raft gets the gang together to knock off the very store where they work.
The tone is mostly light and sweet, with the two lovers sneaking an exchange of affection on the elevator. It's exactly the kind of 'nice guy' role Raft coveted, and he's not bad, even if the double standard by which his character regards Sidney now comes off as mildly objectionable. Lang has no problem presenting sweet characters but his direction just isn't attuned to 'soft & fuzzy' sentimentality. The various clownish ex-mobsters are amusing but never endearing, something that the movie really needs. Roscoe Karns, George E. Stone and Warren Hymer lead the pack of goons and misfits, with Barton MacLane as the racketeer who lets them take the risk so he can skim off the profit. Looking nothing at all like a criminal type is a very young Robert Cummings.
Understanding the angle that makes You and Me a terrific, unique experiment requires some additional information. Lang reportedly wanted Paramount to make a Mabuse- like adventure with sinister Nazis and Japanese spies trying to seize a new ray weapon that causes blindness. It would have been a genuine premature-Anti Nazi film. You and Me instead attempts another German genre hybrid, using the theatrical technique of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Songwriter Weill contributes three tunes to the film, which Lang described as "something like a song without music, built only on words and sound effects." The musical sequences are brilliantly visualized but not as melodic as those Weill did with Brecht. They come off almost as chants... or perhaps a kind of proto- rap.
Three times in the picture the narrative pauses for musical numbers that are more like music videos. The "Song of the Cash Register" is an ominous warning that "You can't get something for nothing / And only a chump would try." "The Right Guy for Me" underscores Sidney's commitment to her man, even though he's got a bad record. The most elaborate number is just called the "Knocking Song". At a happy Christmas party the ex-crooks remember their Christmas in prison with a rap-like ritual centered on the chant, "Stay with the mob!" Its sense of gangland solidarity seizes Raft just as he walks out on Sidney. During these musical sequences Lang cuts away to images both literal and associative. Some of the visuals are more inspired than others but his imagination is definitely moving into new cinematic territory. Would 1938 audiences have liked these scenes? Perhaps not, as their closest correlatives would be the experimental musical numbers of Ernst Lubitsch, Rouben Mamoulian and Busby Berkeley, all of which were more melodic, romantic -- and far lighter in tone.
Sylvia Sidney spent an entire decade as a living symbol of the Depression, forever the downtrodden victim of poverty or the heartbroken consort of crooks and losers. It's therefore nice that You and Me takes her through the same paces but finally gives her a happy ending to enjoy... she could finally retire that character. Ms. Sidney is the main attraction in the odd, strange finish where she proves that Crime Doesn't Pay via the Fritz Lang method, a demonstration - lecture that reminds us of the classic "M". The crook's raid on the department store is also staged more or less like the big burglary in "M", as an army of crooks suddenly appears to invade the premises.
Ministry of Fear was released just last year in a pricey Criterion special edition. TCM hasn't the depth of extras to offer but the movie itself is just as satisfying. We're told that Lang was enthusiastic to adapt Graham Greene's bizarre tale of espionage and guilt, about a convicted mercy-killer that must take on an enemy conspiracy. Only after Lang signed did he find out that the contract didn't allow him to change the script. He instead embellished every scene with his personal viewpoint. As the farfetched story involves crucial secrets hidden in a cake, a séance and a master spy killer whose day job is tailoring men's suits.
In place of Greene's traumatized wife-killer, the hero is a merely conflicted man freshly released from an asylum. He's also Ray Milland, and is so handsome and resourceful that the moral issues in the novel are left far behind. Penetrating a fake war relief charity, Milland falls in love with a refugee/charity worker (Marjorie Reynolds) and helps her brother (Carl Esmond) track down the spies. The main culprit is the mysterious Mr. Cost (Dan Duryea). Under Lang's crisp direction, Ministry of Fear ambles from one dynamic set piece to the next. Cameraman Henry Sharp pours on the atmosphere, making Hillary Brooke's medium look like a spirit of the dead, and enlivening a fairly generic confrontation scene in the tailor's shop with a clever use of mirrors. The finale is given a visual kicker with another subtle but effective visual trick, an understated gunshot killing suitable for the next generation of 'cool' espionage movies.
The 'no rewriting' clause may have been a trick to keep Lang from making a political statement. His film just previous is the masterpiece Hangmen Also Die!, about a complex anti-Nazi resistance & assassination conspiracy, that has definite communist sympathies. His immediate postwar Cloak and Dagger took an "unofficial" attitude toward both surviving Nazis and the genie-out-of-the-bottle atomic threat, and mysteriously lost its last reel before release.
Ministry of Fear is a much safer fantasy. Its strongest plus is the introduction of actor Dan Duryea to the noir universe. Starting as slimy villains in this and two more Fritz Lang films, Duryea would become an ambivalent bad / good guy noir hero in many late-'40s noirs.
Forever associated with his horror-meister persona for promoting his later chiller matinee pictures, William Castle was also a connoisseur of great filmmaking. His breakthrough came with the cheap but carefully directed When Strangers Marry, which seems a conscious attempt to replicate the camera style of Alfred Hitchcock. Castle made certain that that sleeper hit promoted him to the next rung of directing assignments. Interestingly enough, 1949's Undertow is the one title in this collection that doesn't have a special gimmick. It's an inexpensive picture for Universal despite having considerable location filming in Chicago. The non-star cast features the likeable Scott Brady as the leading man, and Castle or his producer augment the two leading ladies with several walk-on lookers that definitely turn heads. Add to that, the story and its unfolding are reasonably intelligent for this level of genre fare. Undertow generates its share of excitement and has nothing to be ashamed of.
Ex-serviceman Tony (Scott Brady) was once in the gambling rackets in Chicago. He uses his military pay to buy a half interest in a resort, to start a new life and to help out his new partner, the father of a best buddy killed in action. In Reno he meets Danny (John Russell), an old associate from the Windy City who now runs a crooked casino. Tony tells Danny that he's returning to Chicago to propose to his old girlfriend Sally (Dorothy Hart). He no sooner arrives than he's wanted for the murder of the present-day gambling kingpin, Sally's uncle. Tony realizes that he's been set up and knows that his old associates will be against him. He contacts Danny for help and tells Sally to hang on. Pursued by detective Reckling (Bruce Bennett), another old friend, Tony looks up Ann (Peggy Dow), a schoolteacher he met on the plane from Reno. Can he stay alive long enough to find out who framed him?
Undertow has no special hook yet generates its fair share of suspense. We don't know exactly how to take Tony, as he is chummy with racketeers and cops alike, and is perhaps a little too willing to put the sweet Ann into the path of danger. Castle's direction makes good use of locations to open up the film. Lacking the resources for a spectacular finish, he uses a long corridor as an atmospheric place to stage the final confrontation. The script makes good use of the murdered kingpin's enormous black bodyguard Gene (Dan Ferniel) as an instrument of justice. Gene is almost like Chandler's Moose Malloy -- he nearly kills the hero and then apologizes when he finds out Tony is innocent.
Leading ladies Dorothy Hart and Peggy Dow make a nice contrast; the film would be more memorable had the screenwriters thought to give them a scene or two of their own to size each other up or perhaps become as violent as the men. In for about twenty seconds is a handsome newcomer in his first walk-on role, Roc (Rock) Hudson. His main contribution is to drink some water out of a paper cup. You can bet that Hudson's agent was working hard for his client.
Castle's intense interest in Tinseltown history becomes evident in the interesting Hollywood Story, a murder mystery that references the murder (not by name) of director William Desmond Taylor in the early 1920s. The historical crime took place in a bungalow apartment on Alvarado Street and involved booze, drugs, compromised starlets and an outrageous studio/LAPD cover-up. The fallout from the ensuing scandal contributed to the storm of outrage that brought the censors down hard on the licentious excesses of the new 'company town'.
In Castle's version the dead director is called Franklin Ferrara; it's implied that he directed the classic Phantom of the Opera. Agent Mitch Davis (Jim Backus) makes a deal for Broadway producer Larry O'Brien (Richard Conte) to move into the National Artists Studio (actually Charlie Chaplin's semi-abandoned studio on La Brea Avenue. Seeing the bungalow where Ferrara was murdered, Larry decides to turn the case into a movie, which stirs up a long-dormant hornet's nest. The old time suspects are movie stars Amanda Rousseau and Roland Paul (Paul Cavanaugh), and Ferrara's close associate Charles Rodeo, who disappeared shortly thereafter and was rumored to be related to the director. Larry's moneyman Sam Collyer (Fred Clark) withdraws his support and just as suddenly decides to keep backing the Ferrara movie. Police detective Lennox (Richard Egan) drops by to remind Larry that no unsolved murder case is ever closed. Larry finds Ferrara's favorite writer Vincent St. Clair (Henry Hull) living at the beach as a bum, and hires him. But after somebody tries to shoot Larry, Amanda's daughter Sally Rousseau (Julia Adams) shows up and implores him to stop the movie to preserve Amanda's privacy -- she was Ferrara's lover. Thinking that he must solve the crime to finish his movie, Larry helps Lennox spring a trap for the main suspect. But it soon becomes clear that more than one of his new associates could have been the killer.
Castle's fairly novel approach to a Hollywood mystery pulls together some old-time stars (Francis X. Bushman, Betty Blythe, William Farnum & Helen Gibson) for a brief scene. But the movie never forms its own myth from film history as did Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett's Sunset Blvd.. It instead, has the spirit of walking around an old movie lot with someone who can point out evidence of pictures that were filmed there -- in 1950 an insider like Castle had probably heard every bit of gossip about every corner of every studio -- which were mostly still intact. Castle's interest in Old Hollywood extended to his later The Tingler which takes place in a silent movie theater showing Henry King's 1921 Tol'able David.
The movie takes us out to Santa Monica and along the Sunset Strip, but stops short of giving us a full tour of Hollywood circa 1950. Richard Conte provides the crime movie connection, Fred Clark and Jim Backus are comedy relief, and Henry Hull actually has an interesting role to play as an eccentric, normally unemployable writer. William Castle keeps the story busily humming at all times, even if we never feel an imminent crisis coming on. And you can bet that future producer Castle sweet-talked the amiable Joel McCrea into playing himself in a brief scene with Paul Cavanaugh.
After a series of small parts in ten pictures over little more than a year, Julia Adams finally stepped up to leading lady status. From this point forward she found featured roles opposite many stellar leading men. Hollywood Story did not become a part of Hollywood lore, and William Castle wouldn't get a taste of real industry success until 1958's Macabre, a horror effort that he ballyhooed with a life insurance policy for every theater patron.
The DVD of TCM Vault Collection Dark Crimes Volume 2 splits its four films by director on two discs, with the extras discussed above accessible through a fast menu. The 1938 You and Me shows more age than the other pictures but is still in fine shape. Ministry of Fear and Hollywood Story also look to be in prime condition. Undertow would seem to be a slightly older transfer, and is less sharp with a flatter image.
Looking as vibrant and fresh as ever, Julia Adams appears in a new interview appended to Hollywood Story. Each film is fully encoded with English subtitles.
By Glenn Erickson
By John Canemaker
In this handsomely illustrated book, author John Canemaker brings to life the covert scrapbook of special effects wizardry compiled by Disney artist Herman Shultheis, who used it to detail how many animated effects were created over seventy years ago.
Schlutheis not only worked on effects photography but also documented, sometimes painstakingly, how famous sequences in Disney animated classics were conceived and achieved--from the elaborate opening shot of Pinnochio to the snowflakes in Fantasia. Schultheis was in the perfect position to create such a chronicle: his work at the Disney studios was focused on effects photography, but he also shot the reference photographs that animators would often use when creating their drawings.
Schulteis' story reads a bit like a Hollywood tale: he was a German immigrant and a part-time nudist, a suspected German sympathizer, and a technical whiz with a camera who worked at the Disney studios from 1938 to 1941. After World War II, he worked at Twentieth Century-Fox and Telefilms before going to Guatamela, camera in hand, in 1955. He never came back--disappearing while on a trip into the jungle.
Thirty-five years later, after his widow's death in 1990, his notebooks were discovered in a cabinet drawer. The originals are on display at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and are reproduced for this book. A forward by Pixar's Pete Docter, the Academy Award-winning animation director, puts the importance of the notebooks into context, helping us to understand what they represent in terms of the history of animation and why they are so valued by technicians and film buffs today.
John Canemaker is an Academy Award-, Emmy Award-, and Peabody Award-winning animation director and designer. His twenty-eight minute film, The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation, won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Animated Short, and his more than twenty films (and their original art) are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He is also a tenured professor and director of the animation program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
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By Mark Whitaker
Bill Cosby has been a part of our cultural history for over fifty years--from his early comedy records to his groundbreaking work in television, movies and stage. Yet this is the first major biography of this talented man.
Author Mark Whitaker spoke with Cosby himself, in a series of in-depth interviews, as well as over sixty of the actor's associates and close friends to help bring the man and artist into sharper focus .
Cosby grew up in a Philadelphia housing project, the son of an alcoholic, largely absent father and a loving but overworked mother. He turned his life around when he joined the Navy, talked his way into college and seized his first breaks as a stand-up comic.
Published on the 30th anniversary of The Cosby Show, the book reveals the behind-the-scenes story of that groundbreaking sitcom, as well as Cosby's bestselling albums, breakout role on I Spy, and pioneering place in children's TV. It also deals with professional setbacks and personal dramas, from an affair that sparked public scandal to the murder of his only son. Mark Whitaker is the former Managing Editor of CNN, Washington bureau chief for NBC News and reporter and editor at Newsweek magazine, where he became the first African-American to lead a national newsweekly. His critically acclaimed family memoir, My Long Trip Home, tells the story of his parents--a star-crossed interracial couple who married in the 1950s--and his grandparents, black undertakers from Pittsburgh and French Protestants who helped hide thousands of Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Whitaker lives in New York City with his family.
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By Steve Wilson
Seventy-five years ago, moviegoers watched a young heroine stand on a hillside in the early morning hours and swear she would never go hungry again. By that point in the movie, Scarlett O'Hara had already encountered love, loss and an invading army. Audiences were swept up in the epic story and the film has become an enduring classic.
To commemorate the milestone anniversary of this beloved film, author Steve Wilson scoured the archives of the David O. Selznick collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin for this new book chronicling the making of the film.
This rarely-seen material offers fans and film historians a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of the challenges, trials, and successes related to the production of this timeless classic.
Before a single frame of film was shot, Gone With The Wind was embroiled in controversy. There were serious concerns about how the film would depict race and violence in the Old South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. And while Clark Gable was almost everyone's choice to play Rhett Butler, there was no clear favorite for Scarlett O'Hara which, stymied the legendary producer Selznick for some time.
There was also the huge challenge of turning Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning epic into a manageable screenplay and producing it at a reasonable cost. Various screenwriters tried to tame the story and Selznick himself kept the pressure up with his own notoriously detailed memos. George Cukor was hired and then fired before Selznick finally settled on Victor Fleming as the man most able to handle the scale of both the story and the production.
With a foreword by film historian and TCM Host Robert Osborne, the book includes on-set photographs, storyboards, correspondence, fan mail, production records, costumes and, of course, Selznick's own lengthy memos. The author writes effectively about how creative choices helped produce one of the most loved films of all time and why it remains so influential all these years later.
Steve Wilson is the curator of the film collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. He has curated several exhibitions at the Ransom Center, including Shooting Stars, a display of Hollywood glamour photography, and Making Movies, a major exhibition on film production.
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Edited by Barry Day
The fog shrouded streets, the double-dealing hustlers and the hardboiled dames who could break your heart or just as easily plug you with a bullet--the world of Raymond Chandler was not for the faint of heart.
Chandler never wrote an autobiography or a memoir, but Day, making use of Chandler's novels, short stories and letters, tells the story of the man "with no home"--a man precariously balanced between his classical English education and the fast-evolving American culture between and after the two World Wars.
Chandler reveals what it was like to be a writer, and in particular what it was to be a writer of "hard-boiled" fiction in what was for him "another language"--a fast-changing American vernacular that didn't make things easy. He also discusses the work of his contemporaries: Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner and Somerset Maugham, among others.
But Chandler's reflections on place and character--the most often discussed and memorable aspects of his fiction--are among the highlights of Day's selections for this book. Day includes Chandler's reflections on Los Angeles, his adopted city, and the locales he used in his writings, as well as on his time in Hollywood working with Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and other towering figures of the studio era. Day also includes a section on Philip Marlowe, Chandler's alter ego, the incorruptible knight with little armor who walks the "mean streets" of a city not made for chivalry. Barry Day is an author and playwright. In addition to his books on Noël Coward, Day has written about Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, Johnny Mercer, and Rodgers and Hart. He has written and produced plays and musical revues showcasing the work of Coward, the Lunts, Oscar Wilde, and others. He lives in New York, London, and Palm Beach.
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The title of Errol Morris' The Unknown Known, a profile of the life and career of former Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, is a direct reference to Rumsfeld's most famous TV appearance. Discussing the evidence (or rather, the glaring lack of evidence) linking Iraq with weapons of mass destruction provided to terrorist groups, which was the stated reason for invading Iraq, Rumsfeld told reporters: "there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know." It was a cagey piece of analysis, both a true assessment of the nature of intelligence and an obfuscation of the administration's intelligence failure, in line with another sophisticated excuse offered up to the press: "the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence." A decade later, the evidence is still absent and Rumsfeld is still refusing to admit that the United States invaded Iraq without provocation or justification, merely suspicions ungrounded in any firm evidence.
It is not exactly a companion piece to The Fog of War, Morris' documentary on former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara who oversaw the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam. Like that 2003 documentary, Morris engages with a former Secretary of Defense, discussing a foreign war that was launched and (mis)managed under his watch and the indefensible misconduct and scandals involving American soldiers and officer. Where is differs is the response of the subject: MacNamara, with the --- of hindsight and history and the thoughtfulness of a statesman more interested in truth than a personal agenda, admitted not just to his mistakes but to the damage the war wrought on American lives (and, of course, Vietnamese lives, though the focus is one the American legacy). A longtime politician who entered politics as a congressman elected in 1962 and served in the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George W. Bush (George H. W. Bush did not trust him), Rumsfeld is a storyteller who makes his case with a gentle matter-of-factness backed by an unforced authority and genial ease, whether talking to reporters during the war or talking to camera in the interviews conducted for the film. The smile, with those half-moon eyes suggesting a grandfatherly affection backed by experience and cocksure authority, is a defining image in the film.
Errol Morris is one of the most inventive and engaging non-fiction filmmakers in the world today. He brings a strong visual presentation to pull audiences in to his films while building his case on excellent research and choice archival materials. While The Unknown Known features video clips and archival images to fill in Rumsfeld's past, however, it is his talent as an interviewer and interrogator, honed over decades of filmmaking, that gives the film its dramatic center. The film is built on hours of one-on-one interviews between filmmaker and subject, with Rumsfeld speaking directly to the camera. It's a signature of Morris' films thanks to his own invention, the Interrotron. Basically, it uses mirrors in front of the camera a way that allows interviewer and subject to engage each other directly while the subject is in looking directly into the lens. It provides an intimacy with the interview during shooting and during viewing.
Morris himself was surprised that Rumsfeld agreed to sit down for a series of interviews for this production, given his politics and his history. Watching Rumsfeld respond to Morris' questioning, you can make your own guess as to why he did. Morris is no crusading journalist hammering his subject in a debate and his approach as an interviewer is not confrontational. He engages Rumsfeld on the issues, pressing him but not challenging him. Rumsfeld responds with smiling assurance that never wavers as he repeats the same justifications and excuses he made a decade ago, despite the evidence that has come to light in the years since. And as Morris uses silence as a way to give Rumsfeld the opportunity to continue, to elaborate, to reconsider, Rumsfeld treats it as a game of chicken, simply smiling silently back at the camera until Morris continues. The kind of revelations that MacNamara offered are nowhere to be seen in Rumsfeld, whose purpose seems to be solely to explain and sustain his legacy as he sees it. It's a contest for him, a struggle over who will define his story, like a one-on-one version of the press conferences that made Rumsfeld a media star of sorts in the early 2000s.
With Rumsfeld constantly obfuscating and sidestepping issues (he calls the abuses at Abu Ghraib exaggerated and denies waterboarding was ever sanctioned), the most interesting parts of the film involve Rumsfeld reading from the hundreds of thousands of memos he wrote during his government service. He called them "snowflakes" and takes pride in them, and true to form, when confronted with a memo that contradicts his own stated position, he sets about reinterpreting it for the camera. With Morris unable to get Rumsfeld to reconsider anything in his legacy, these contradictions are the closest we have to challenging his record. You don't get the dramatic jolt or profound sense of struggle between truth and power that define previous Morris documentaries, from The Thin Blue Line (1988) to Standard Operating Procedure (2008). Rather, you get a glimpse at power protecting itself, at discredited talking points continually presented as fact, at politics as a game of shaping and controlling the message in face of any evidence to the contrary. Discussing Tariq Aziz, the Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Rumsfeld calls him "A perfectly rational individual. You wonder what goes on in a mind like that." I have that same reaction at the end of The Unknown Known. There is no doubt that Rumsfeld is both a smart, savvy political players and a polished media creature. But for all the easy-going pose of humility, he isn't the least bit humble, and he is not about to let any self-reflection complicate or contradict the legacy he has so carefully built and maintained.
On Blu-ray and DVD, with a strong picture, thanks to Morris' austere style (a single subject set against a dark background) and digital photography. The archival footage shows its age, of course, but the interview scenes and graphics are vivid and bold and look superb on the discs. Both feature commentary by filmmaker Errol Morris and a short interview with Morris discussing the genesis and the production of the documentary. Also features the 57-minute archival presentation "Third Annual Report of the Secretaries of Defense," an hour-long recording of a conference from 1989 featuring Rumsfeld, Robert McNamara and Caspar Weinberger, and the text of Morris' four-part New York Times op-ed piece "The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld."
By Sean Axmaker
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Hammer Studios struggled to remain relevant in the seventies as their lurid Gothic style was upstaged by the transgressive horrors in films like Night of Living Dead, Rosemary's Baby, and The Witchfinder General, which pushed the boundaries of movie conventions, screen violence, and subject matter. Their answer was to simply push their natural tendencies in R-rated territory. In other words, more explicit blood and boobs. Their most notorious examples were a series of erotic vampire films with female predators who use their bodies and their wiles to seduce their prey.
Title aside, Countess Dracula is not a vampire at all. The screenplay is inspired by the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, the Hungarian countess who murdered hundreds of girls in the late 16th century, ostensibly to bathe in the blood of virgins to keep her youth, or so the legend goes. This isn't a faithful retelling, however, but an original take on the legend with a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dimension to it. Polish-born actress Ingrid Pitt, fresh from playing the bloodsucker Carmilla in The Vampire Lovers (1970), made her second Hammer appearance as the Countess Elisabeth Nádasdy, though you wouldn't recognize her when she enters the film under ridges of prosthetic wrinkles and old age make-up. She's an aging widow burying her husband (how many Hammer films have so set the atmosphere by opening with a funeral?) and bitter over how he has split the inheritance between her and their daughter Ilona (a very young and innocent-looking Lesley-Anne Down), who had been sent to Vienna years before. There is no mention of why she was sent away--it was ostensibly for her education in the cultural center of Europe--but Elisabeth's disdain for human life (she doesn't flinch when her carriage cripples a peasant in a horse-drawn hit-and-run) and the controlled fury of greed and envy she shows at the reading of the will suggests it may have been for the girl's own protection, just one of the unspoken suggestions woven through the film.
Pitt's reputation has more to do with her voluptuous appearance and frequent nudity than her acting chops but she's really rather effective as Countess Elisabeth, blithely cruel and vindictive as the wrinkled dowager ferocious and renewed with a lusty passion after the blood of serving girl restores the bloom of youth to her shriveled cheek. The serving girl disappears that night, after a visit to the chambers of the Countess, and the next morning a young beauty "arrives" at the castle. Elisabeth has taken over the identity of her daughter Ilona and has arranged for the real Ilona to be kidnapped and held hostage by a mute henchman in a forest cottage. The youth effects are short-lived, of course, so a steady parade of victims is necessary to maintain the transformation, and she's abetted by her loyal nurse (Patience Collier) and Captain Dobi (Nigel Green), the Castle Steward and her longtime lover. It's not just her own youth she desires, however. She's obsessed with handsome young Lt. Imre Toth (Sandor Elès), who served with her husband and was rewarded in his will with horses and the manor stables. So he sticks around, much to the resentment of Dobi (Nigel Green). With the Count's death he expected no challenge to her affections.
The explanation for this crimson fountain of youth is tossed off with some rather unconvincing ancient text discovered by Master Fabio (Maurice Denham), the castle historian. Though little more than a plot device in the script, Denham makes Fabio a delightful character and a respite from the scheming around him. Even better is Green, a grand old character actor whose wounded dignity and bruised sense of honor makes Dobi almost as dangerous as Elisabeth, as well as just a little sympathetic.
Countess Dracula belongs to Hammer's erotic horrors of the seventies that began with The Vampire Lovers (1970) and continued through Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1971), among others. And sure enough, there are plenty of moments of topless spectacle. But where those films follow a familiar plotline of bloodlust and erotic awakenings, Countess Dracula weaves a fascinating pattern of complicity, jealousy, and blackmail among the central quartet that gives the routine plotting a fascinating subtext.
Dobi resents the competition of Imre but serves the Countess faithfully nonetheless, securing her supply of young virgins while plotting to undermine the affair. Julie, Elisabeth's personal maid, is even more faithful to her mistress, little realizing that Elisabeth has imprisoned the real Ilona. And when Imre finally learns the truth about the Countess, he's neatly blackmailed into remaining her sexual slave. The four of them keep up the façade of normalcy as bodies are uncovered and the conspiracy is on the verge of collapsing under the Countess' obsessive escalation of killings and increasingly feral bloodlust.
Hungarian-born director Peter Sasdy, the most interesting of Hammer Studio's directors in this era of transition, brings a perverse psychological weirdness to the film, twisting and intertwining conflicting motivations and overwhelming emotional drives into a spiral of self-destructive acts that are far more fascinating than the usual battles of good and evil. He suggests the depraved atmosphere in the opening scenes, as the peasants hiss "devil woman" and "witch" when Elisabeth rides by. And he luxuriates in the Hammer style, with castle sets filled with period detail and color, village locations populated by hearty characters, great costumes, and of course streams and splashes of blood jumping out of the image.
Countess Dracula was previously available on DVD on an Ingrid Pitt double-feature with The Vampire Lovers from MGM. The film was originally cut for the U.S. market and received a PG rating, but it received an X certificate in the UK for the nudity and blood, and that version was restored for the non-anamorphic letterboxed DVD and for the new remastered Blu-ray. (Pitt was dubbed for the film by a British actress, but it's so well engineered that you'll only notice if you compare the voice with Pitt's other film appearances.) The color is strong and vivid and the image clean and sharp, a fine edition that should satisfy Hammer fans.
The disc includes the brief new featurette "Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt," a routine but informative survey of her career with the usual suspects showing up as commentators (Ms. Pitt passed away in 2010), and an audio archival interview with Pitt that runs about nine minutes (but doesn't discuss this film). Carried over from the DVD is commentary with director Peter Sasdy, co-writer Jeremy Paul, and star Ingrid Pitt, moderated by Jonathan Southcott, and there is an animated still gallery.
By Sean Axmaker
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The term "video nasty" isn't exactly a common phrase in the U.S. but in Britain it defines an era of nanny state censorship. The British Board of Film Censorship, or BBFC, determined what could be shown in British theaters and often forced cuts to content or outright banned films, but home video did not exist when the law was written. When the video rental business took off in the 1980s, films that were either banned or censored in theaters were available uncut on tape. The fears of kids being emotionally scarred or corrupted by these tapes were fanned from an ember to a conflagration of controversy thanks to a campaign led by social conservative reactionary activist and self-appointed moral watchdog Mary Whitehead. Members of Parliament, riding the wave of public hysteria, passed the Video Recordings Act of 1984, which forced all videotape releases to be passed by the BBFC before they could be rented or sold in the UK. It imposed an even stricter content code on commercial videotapes than on theatrical releases and, though standards have eased in the decades since implementation, the act is still in effect.
Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide is a three disc set anchored by the Jake West's 2010 documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape, a comprehensive history of the social hysteria and media coverage surrounding the call for censorship, the Parliamentary response, and the reverberations of the act. It opens with a quick montage of clips from the 72 films that were banned under the Video Recordings Act of 1984, with rapid-fire glimpses of gruesome, explicit, and just plain bizarre scenes from the movies. This films on this hit list range from the disreputable (Faces of Death, I Spit On Your Grave) to the notorious (Snuff, Cannibal Holocaust) to classics of the genre (The Evil Dead, Last House on the Left, Possession). Being a British production of a British phenomenon, some of the films cited feature a different title than their stateside release (Zombie Flesh Easter, for instance, is Lucio Fulci's notorious Italian horror originally titled Zombi 2 in Italy and retitled simply Zombie for the U.S.). The affection for these movies is apparent in from the opening minutes, as film historian and horror experts describe the forbidden attractions of films that were mostly, by their own assessments, "rubbish." It's not a matter of defending the films as great art. It's all about acknowledging them as cultural artefacts like any other: they entertain, in some cases inspire, and in a very few instances rise to the level of art.
Jake West is clearly an aficionado whose sympathies are with the horror fans and anti-censorship activists. He comes from a background of directing featurettes for DVD releases of horror films and has directed a couple of his own horror shorts. Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape plays like a high-quality, feature-length disc supplement with a significant budget, dominated by talking head interviews, interspersed with archival news clips and movie clips, and spiced up with cute video effects to parody the look of VHS tape wear and damage. It is also highly informative, packed with expert interviews, from horror historians to news reporters to officials and politicians from the era, and features essential archival footage of Mary Whitehead, former BBFC director James Ferman and other pro-censorship activists on TV talk shows and news reports. Fans of the genre may recognize some of more authoritative participants, like horror film historians Kim Newman and Alan Jones, British film and media historian Julian Petley, and genre film directors Neil Marshall and Christopher Smith. Other important voices include human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson and social scientist and academic Martin Barker, and on the pro-censorship side is Graham Bright, the conservative MP who introduced the bill and still proudly stands by his work.
The hysteria mirrors the American comic books scare in the fifties, when horror comics were accused of causing juvenile delinquency, a proposition backed up by flimsy research and non-existent studies that were never scrutinized by lawmakers. It became a media circus, with Whitehead proclaiming on TV "I have never seen a video nasty" and "Oh please, I actually don't have to see visually what I know is in that movie" and reporters refusing to challenge her. More appalling is the willful misrepresentation and wholesale fabrication of research that was presented in Parliament and picked up by the media without any due diligence. When the fraud was revealed, no one seemed to care. Who needs facts when you know you are right?
Tapes were confiscated from stores by police without warrant, based solely on directives from the BBFC, and some movies were initially banned by title alone, without ever actually being screened by the censors (among the confiscated titles: Sam Fuller's World War II drama The Big Red One and the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas). Confiscated tapes were destroyed in a modern-day answer to a book burning. The BBFC gave explicit instructions to keep their ever-expanding lists of titles secret, not wanting to create further interest in them, but also creating a Kafkaesque environment of secrecy and control. Writer and director Andy Nyman explains that "the people that put through the act were convinced that what they were seeing in the films were real," and sure enough Graham Bright, the MP who introduced the original law, insists decades later that notorious films like Snuff and Faces of Death include real violence, still repeating the rumors as fact long after they had been dispelled.
72 films in all were banned for their violent content, but it's more than just about banning a few movies. This was a struggle over free speech. In the name of protecting children from unproven effects, the government made these works unavailable to adults as well. People went to jail for selling or renting these tapes. And when the act was proven to be invalid due to a legal misstep, it was simply reintroduced and passed without revisiting the disproven studies and hysterical claims rolled out when the initial law was passed.
39 films are still banned for their violent content. 33 other film were initially banned but subsequently acquitted and removed from the Director of Public Prosecution's list. Trailers for all 72 of those films are collected on the bonus discs of this three-disc set, "The Final 39" banned movies on Disc 2 and "The Dropped 33" on Disc 3. You can view them back to back as a running trailer show or with newly-filmed introductions by many of the historians, academics and genre journalists featured in the documentary. Or you can explore each title separately via the menu. It's over seven hours of trailers and introductions altogether, a substantial supplement with a sincere appreciation for the subject.
The trailers are actually a pretty good introduction to the films and why they were banned--some flaunt the money shots, at least in slivers, and all at least tease audiences with the promise of their most grotesque scenes of violence--and you can decide for yourself which of these warrant further investigation. These were once holy grails for hungry young horror fans in Britain (and even some in the U.S.), a kind badge of honor in some quarters, but today most of them are more interesting for their notoriety than their quality.
The final supplement is the "Video Ident-a-thon," a montage of logos from the VHS labels, runs almost an hour. It makes for some strange video wallpaper, a jolt of nostalgia for anyone who came of age in Britain in the eighties and a curiosity for the rest of us. It is located on the first disc with the documentary.
As for the video quality itself, the new interviews were shot on HD video and look just fine. The archival clips show their limitations and the film clips and trailers are standard definition and appropriately rough and ragged in places. It works just fine in the context of this production and it fact adds to the context of the grungy VHS era of video nasties.
By Sean Axmaker
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Is art worth fighting for? Dying for? These are questions posed in The Train (1964), a thrilling WWII action picture, both to the characters in the story and to us, the audience. When the art in question is a treasure trove of French impressionist art ("the heritage of France"), at risk of being hauled out of the country by Nazis to an uncertain fate, the questions become all the more difficult to answer.
How refreshing it is for a movie filled with eye-popping, visceral, kinetic action to also center around such a thoughtful dilemma. The Train is not only gripping but timeless, because the issues at its core are timeless.
It's also timeless in the way director John Frankenheimer, working from an Oscar-nominated script by Franklin Coen and Frank Davis (along with three uncredited writers), crafts an efficient, no-nonsense style that grabs audience attention right off the bat. Nazi Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) quietly enters a building to look admiringly at scores of great impressionist paintings hanging on the walls. "Degenerate art," he tells a French curator. "I should detest it." But it's clear he doesn't, even as he then oversees the crating up of all this art in preparation for shipment to Germany. These are the last days of the German occupation of France. The Allies are closing in fast, and Waldheim wants to spirit the art away to Germany on a special train. The curator, however, informs the local French resistance of the scheme, and the French train-yard chief, Labiche (Burt Lancaster), is asked to prevent the train from leaving, or to at least to delay it long enough until the Allies to arrive in a few days' time.
And so begins a cat and mouse game between Waldheim and Labiche, who at first is dead-set against risking any lives for the art. Eventually, however, Labiche becomes as determined to keep the train in France as Waldheim is obsessed with getting it out. Labiche and his men concoct clever, elaborate schemes to delay and reroute the train under the constant noses of brutal Nazis. Scofield is positively brilliant as Waldheim, whose love for the art makes him at best a complex Nazi, and Lancaster, at age 50, delivers one of his most physical performances -- running, jumping, climbing trains, scrambling over walls, and sliding down steep hills. And for the last section of the film he does all that with a limp, caused by a real mishap he had while golfing on a day off. Frankenheimer later called Burt Lancaster "the strongest man physically I've ever known. He was one of the best stuntmen who ever lived. I don't think anybody's ever moved as well on the screen."
Frankenheimer shoots many of Lancaster's stunts in long, complex takes, often having his star end the shot in close-up, as if to impress us (successfully) that it was in fact Lancaster doing his own stunt work. The long takes also allow the audience to feel the visceral reality of the action. In this film, the trains are real, the locations are real, and the explosions are real: full-scale, with no effects work. This creates genuine impact, and is all the more impressive today, fifty years on, because very few movies with such large-scale action are ever still made in this way.
The Train impresses in other ways, too. Almost every shot in the film employs razor-sharp deep-focus photography, resulting in one of the most beautiful black-and-white features of the era. (This is said to be the last great action movie done in black and white.) Frankenheimer's handling of crowd scenes is remarkable, with wide shots crammed with action and extras deep in the frame. Here again, the long takes reveal an unbelievable amount of complicated choreography work. Often, Frankenheimer incorporates people and objects into the extreme foreground so as to emphasize the overall depth of the image. Even something as simple as Lancaster's initial walk through the train yard ends up being one of the most memorable shots in the movie, because of the massive amount of activity involving people and machinery going on all around him in the single take. And the sound design is phenomenal, with the screeching, groaning, hissing and metallic sounds of the moving trains adding immensely to the sense of gritty, sooty realism. Long sections of the film are constructed wordlessly, with the dramatic visuals and intense sound telling the story -- the mark of a first-class filmmaker.
Ultimately, The Train moves toward a thrilling final sequence that culminates with the final standoff we know must come. ("A painting means as much to you as pearls to an ape!" Scofield berates Lancaster.) It's to the film's credit, however, that it does not present the scene as a simplistic western-type showdown. The variation used works ever better, because it feels of a piece with the sense of loss permeating the German side of the things that has been established from the first moment of the movie.
Twilight Time's Blu-ray is beautiful. The Train surely hasn't looked or sounded this great since its initial theatrical release. On a new audio commentary track, film historians Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo and Paul Seydor offer good insights into the film, though a single commentary track with so many people is inherently a bit unwieldy, as participants tend to cut each other off or jump around erratically with their points. Kirgo also supplies superb liner notes with all sorts of interesting production information and analysis.
Otherwise, the Blu-ray retains the extra materials first seen on MGM's 1999 DVD release: an isolated score track, and another audio commentary track with director John Frankenheimer, who died in 2002. His comments are sporadic but fascinating, as he talks about the challenges of the production, his use of lighting and depth of field, and how he approaches a film in terms of the emotional stakes for an audience. Of Michel Simon, the famous French actor who plays to perfection the role of the ill-fated train engineer Papa Boule, Frankenheimer says, "That face! I just couldn't take the camera off him." He also talks of introducing the paintings as he would a human character in the opening sequence, which incidentally was the only one to be shot on a soundstage.
The Train, which Frankenheimer took over from director Arthur Penn after Penn and Lancaster had a falling out, turned Frankenheimer's life around; he spent a year on location in Normandy, then returned four years later to live there for seven years. In the meantime, he turned out a picture that impresses for its balance of large-scale drama and intimate cat-and-mouse conflict between vividly real characters. A great film.
By Jeremy Arnold
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One of several independent film companies attempting to establish a foothold in Hollywood was Enterprise Productions, which generated a string of quality pictures in the late 1940s. Enterprise's directors included Andre De Toth (Ramrod), Abraham Polonsky (Force of Evil) and Max Ophüs (Caught), but its only box office hit was Robert Rosson's Body and Soul with John Garfield.
Enterprise's biggest production is director Lewis Milestone's Arch of Triumph, from a novel by the noted Erich Maria Remarque, who had earlier written the source novel for Milestone's anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front. Producer David Lewis scored a coup by securing the services of stars Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. After only a few years in Hollywood, Bergman had been nominated for Best Actress three times and won once, opposite Boyer in Gaslight. Remarque's story took place in Paris just prior to the Nazi invasion, a place and time that Bergman had made her own in the wildly popular romantic thriller Casablanca. The highly anticipated movie seemed a guaranteed hit.
But author Remarque wrote few romances with happy endings. Having fled the Nazis, Austrian doctor Ravic (Charles Boyer) is an undocumented, stateless political refugee living in Paris. He earns money by practicing in secret. Helping maintain Ravic's anonymity is his best friend Maurice (Louis Calhern), a former Russian colonel who now works as a doorman at the Scheherazade Café. Ravic prevents a suicide by Joan Madou (Ingrid Bergman), an Italian-Romanian refugee who has taken a succession of lovers to survive. He cannot resist falling in love with her. Living by night and avoiding police, they travel to Antibes on the French Riviera. Joan attracts the attention of various playboys, including the wealthy & possessive Alex (Stephen Bekassy). Ravic becomes unsure of Joan's love. Back in Paris, Ravic catches a glimpse of a portly German on the streets of Paris, a man who may be Ivon Haake (Charles Laughton), the Nazi torturer who murdered Ravic's lover in Austria. Ravic is dead set on killing Haake, if he ever sees him again.
Arch of Triumph has been out of circulation for so long that fans of Ingrid Bergman will consider it a major discovery. Charles Laughton's following also jumps at the chance to see him in something 'new'. Unfortunately, the beautifully produced and directed film was a major box office flop. Neither an escapist romance nor an audience-friendly thriller, it's a grim drama about disillusioned and desperate people. By 1948 audiences no longer welcomed stories about political misery in Europe. They had embraced the wartime morale booster Casablanca mainly because of Bogie and Bergman. Warner's well made Confidential Agent starred Charles Boyer as a Spanish Republican dodging Franco agents in wartime England. Audiences didn't care about the issues involved, and noticed only that Boyer and co-star Lauren Bacall didn't generate much romantic chemistry. Carol Reed's The Third Man was a notable exception to this trend.
Audiences liked political complexity even less in the 1940s than they do now. Arch of Triumph was labeled as 'sluggish' and unfocused, which we can now read as, "doesn't follow the accepted pattern for wartime romance stories." The movie is surprisingly adult in its outlook. Ingrid Bergman's Joan Madou has fled to Paris. Unable to work, her only way to live is to find a man to take care of her. Dr. Ravik comes upon her because her lover has died in her bed. Terrified that the French police will nab her, she feels like a common prostitute. He's demoralized as well. It's a decidedly downbeat romance.
Arch of Triumph is fairly faithful to the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, one of the few authors who wrote passionately about civilians displaced by the upheavals of war. It's in the same vein as Remarque's novel Flotsam, an 'annihilating epic' in which half a dozen characters fleeing Nazi Germany roam across Europe looking for a non-existent haven. It was made into the impressive Sam Wood movie So Ends Our Night. Pushed from one country to another, refugees must live like criminals to avoid being sent back to prison or death in Germany. It's a story of betrayals, murders and noble suicides. So Ends Our Night was released in 1941 just as conditions turned grim for these stateless refugees. Most had fled to the haven of France, and when the Germans invaded, the majority were rounded up and sent to an unknown fate.
Unlike the desperate nomads of So Ends Our Night, Dr. Ravik hasn't had to walk halfway across Europe. He has some money and earns more practicing medicine on the sly. Close friend Maurice makes him welcome at the nightclub and tips him to potential trouble. Ravik is able to slip away to the South of France for a vacation with Joan. But their happiness could end at any moment. One slip-up would mean arrest and deportation to Germany, where the torturer Ivon Haake would surely finish him off.
The movie benefits from director Milestone's formalism and attention to character detail. The lighting, sets and costumes are more realistic than we expect. Nervous pre-war Paris is seen mostly by night. The movie offers noir atmosphere, incipient doom and the haunted face of Ingrid Bergman.
A screenwriting analyst would surely find fault with the movie's structure. Ravik and Joan's trip to Antibes dissipates much of the story's tension. How tough can things be when she's having a fine time in fancy dresses? We can see audiences wondering what's going on, as the rich are happily gambling even on the brink of war. The script also fumbles Ravik's vendetta against Ivon Haake. A flashback to a torture chamber (cue silhouette images) seems to come from a horror movie. At one point Ravik is arrested and spends months in Germany before escaping and returning to Paris. As most of this happens off-camera, we can't fully appreciate the hardships being suffered by thousands of refugees.
The movie also fails to utilize the talented Charles Laughton. Ivon Haake is only in the movie for a scene or two, and has no scenes with Ingrid Bergman. No longer in uniform, the German is apparently commuting between Berlin and Paris to prepare a secret police network for the coming occupation. Arch of Triumph is true to the novel (and history) but the audience must have felt cheated to be deprived of a 'big' Laughton scene.
What does work well is the romantic fireworks between Bergman and Boyer. The lovers only slowly reveal their feelings for each other, and are prevented from full commitment by their refugee status. When Ravik comes back from exile he finds Joan living in a swank apartment provided by the wealthy Alex. He forgives Joan and even gives her time to detach from Alex, who isn't happy that Ravik has re-entered the picture. But war is declared before any of this can be resolved. Ravik spots Ivon Haake again and prepares his trap.
As we expect, Ingrid Bergman comes through with an absorbing performance. She positively glows as a troubled woman whose life is out of control. The contradictions in Joan Madou remind us of films from the 1970s, when screen characters were allowed to be complex or ambiguous. Charles Boyer is also good but Milestone underplays the suicidal streak in Ravic's drive to kill Haake, and instead treats the doctor as more of a righteous avenger. Thus we expect a much bigger comeuppance for Haake.
Postwar audiences enjoyed dark stories, but the unsentimental Arch of Triumph asks them to be concerned about problems from a past they'd like to forget, and associated with uncomfortable politics. By 1948 America had aligned itself with occupied West Germany against new foreign enemies. We gave huge sums of money to charities helping displaced European orphans (see The Search) but mostly preferred to forget the ugly wartime situations chronicled by Erich Maria Remarque.
The film's political complexity now seems much more attractive. We're accustomed to movies about people trapped in grim political binds -- the new A Most Wanted Man is a spy movie that sympathizes with a stateless asylum seeker navigating a dangerous path. Audiences in 1948 may have rejected Bergman and Boyer's characters because they weren't noble idealists and selfless lovers, as in Casablanca. That's probably what attracted Bergman to the role, and it's why the movie is so interesting now.
Olive Films' Blu-ray of Arch of Triumph is a very good HD transfer of this hard-to-see picture. The show suffered a number of cuts either in reissue or when distributed to television, but UCLA has restored it to its full 133-minute running time. The images show some wear but Russell Metty's B&W cinematography looks terrific. The audio is also strong.
Enterprise Productions put everything it had into Arch of Triumph, with production values the equal of any big studio film. But audiences didn't "discover" the film and it earned back less than a third of its budget. It was the beginning of dramatic career changes for Ingrid Bergman. Just a couple of years later her Hollywood career was destroyed by the scandal of her affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. The American press turned on Bergman with the kind of venom reserved for The Hollywood Ten, Charles Chaplin and the Rosenbergs. When she returned to American screens six years later, Arch of Triumph had been long forgotten. But fans of the actress will be happy to see her in such an interesting and demanding role.
Let's hope that Erich Maria Remarque's So Ends Our Night can also be rescued from obscurity -- at the moment the only video copies available are in very poor condition.
By Glenn Erickson
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The exhibition "The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" commemorates the 75th anniversary of one of the most popular films ever created by exploring its history and legacy. The exhibition runs from Sept. 9 to Jan. 4, 2015, at the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin.
Featuring more than 300 items, the exhibition is drawn entirely from the Ransom Center's collections and includes on-set photographs, storyboards, makeup stills, costume sketches, concept art, correspondence and fan mail, production records, audition footage and producer David O. Selznick's own extensive memos. Three original gowns worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, including the iconic green curtain dress, will be exhibited together for the first time in more than 25 years. In 2010 donors from around the world contributed more than $30,000 to support conservation work for these costumes. Replicas of two gowns will also be on view.
From the time Selznick purchased the rights to the book, it took more than three years to bring the film to the screen. The materials in the exhibition document the challenges of turning Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning book into a manageable screenplay and producing it at a reasonable cost.
Before a single frame was shot, "Gone With The Wind" was embroiled in controversy. There were serious concerns about how the film would depict race and violence in the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. While Clark Gable was a popular choice to play Rhett Butler, there was no clear favorite for Scarlett O'Hara, and there was a nationwide search before British actress Leigh was cast in the role.
"'The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition on this film," said Steve Wilson, exhibition curator and the Ransom Center's curator of film. "The David O. Selznick archive, which is the Center's largest collection, forms the backbone of the exhibition, placing the Ransom Center in a unique position to tell the story of the making of this epic film."
The chronologically organized exhibition will reveal the challenges involved in the making of this quintessential film from Hollywood's Golden Age and illustrate why it remains influential and controversial 75 years after it was released. Visitors will get an insider's perspective on the search for an actress to play Scarlett, the film's iconic scenes, the influence of the African-American press on filmmakers' decisions and the enthusiastic reception of the film by fans.
A fully illustrated exhibition catalog of the same title will be co-published by the Harry Ransom Center and University of Texas Press in September with a foreword written by Turner Classic Movies (TCM) host and film historian Robert Osborne. Generous support for the exhibition has been provided by TCM.
The David O. Selznick holdings comprise the core of the Ransom Center's film collection, which also includes the archives of silent film star Gloria Swanson, screenwriters Ernest Lehman and Paul Schrader, director Nicholas Ray and actor, director and producer Robert DeNiro.
"The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" can be seen starting Sept. 9 in the Ransom Center Galleries on Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. Member-only hours are offered on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon.
Public tours are offered every day at noon, as well as Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. "Gone With The Wind" screentests will be shown in the Ransom Center's first-floor theater at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on weekends, immediately following the public tour.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Ransom Center will host the 2014 Flair Symposium, "Cultural Life During Wartime, 1861-1865," from Sept. 18 to 20. The symposium will look back to the 19th century to examine the cultural world of Union and Confederate painters, photographers, musicians, theater companies and writers. The songs, images, poems, books and plays that appeared between 1861 and 1865 offer a nuanced perspective on the Civil War that challenges later narratives, both fictional and historical.
Complementing the physical exhibition is the web exhibition "Producing Gone With The Wind," which explores producing the film, including rarely seen fan mail from individuals who sought auditions, solicited employment and protested the production. Visitors can also see teletypes from Selznick's production company that detail the casting of Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and explore the costumes, hair and makeup that contributed to the film's vibrant imagery. The web exhibition launches Sept. 9 at www.hrc.utexas.edu/webgwtw.
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DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART ONE): Producer/host Dick Dinman commences his six-show tribute to iconic vocalist Vic Damone as guest Vic Damone shares his reminiscences of his upbringing in a rough section of Brooklyn, the early influence of his idol Frank Sinatra, his first break and first of many hit recordings, and the generous help and encouragement of stars Perry Como and Milton Berle.
DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART TWO): Producer/host Dick Dinman continues his tribute to ever-popular song stylist Vic Damone as Vic chats about his first screen test courtesy of MGM producer Joe Pasternak and reveals the identity of the silver screen superstar who saved the day by guiding him through it, his stint in the Army that temporarily interrupted his rise to screen stardom, and his marriage ceremony to the troubled MGM star Pier Angeli as Angeli's ex-beau James Dean looks on mournfully.
The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show devoted to Golden Age Movie Classics as they become available on DVD. Your producer/host Dick Dinman includes a generous selection of classic scenes, classic film music and one-on-one interviews with stars, producers, and directors. To hear these as well as other DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR shows please go to www.dvdclassicscorner.com or www.dvdclassicscorner.net.
NEXT MONTH! DICK DINMAN PRESENTS "THE VIC DAMONE STORY" (PART THREE AND FOUR).
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San Francisco Silent Film Festival follows its tremendously successful 19th annual Festival (May, 2014) with Silent Autumn on September 20th at the historic Castro Theatre. For information, please visit www.silentfilm.org.
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is moving its annual winter event to fall, and with SILENT AUTUMN on September 20 it continues its mission to present masterpieces from the silent era with the finest musical accompaniment in the world. The program:
ANOTHER FINE MESS: SILENT LAUREL AND HARDY SHORTS
(USA, 1928-1929, Produced by Hal Roach, total running time is approximately 70 minutes)
This program features the splendid anarchy of the finest comedy team to grace the silver screen. Both Stan Laurel (the thin Briton with the elastic face) and Oliver Hardy (the rotund baby-faced American) were successful comedians before the met, but together they were genius! Many people know the duo from their later feature career which included Sons of the Desert (1933), Babes in Toyland (1934), and Our Relations (1936), and these rare short silents are sure to be a revelation! Included in the program: Two Tars (1928), Big Business (1929) and a surprise or two!
Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin
THE SON OF THE SHEIK
(USA, 1926, Directed by George Fitzmaurice, 81 minutes)
Rudolph Valentino's last film picks up on the story of his extraordinarily successful The Sheik. The Son of the Sheik resumes about 25 years later, and Valentino again stars, this time as the son! Like his father, he's charismatic, athletic, and a ladies man. This wonderful swashbuckling romance is being presented in a new restoration by Ken Winokur and Jane Gillooly from excellent 35mm negative material.
Musical accompaniment by Alloy with the World Premiere of their new score!
A NIGHT AT THE CINEMA IN 1914
(USA/UK, 1914, 85 minutes)
Marking the centenary of the start of World War I, the British Film Institute has put together this glorious miscellany of comedies, adventure films, travelogues and newsreels recreates a typical night out at the cinema in 1914. Cinema a century ago was a new, exciting and highly democratic form of entertainment. Picture houses across the country offered a sociable, lively environment in which to relax and escape from the daily grind. With feature films still rare, the program was an entertaining, ever-changing roster of short items with live musical accompaniment. Among the highlights of this program of 14 short films are a quirky comic short about a face-pulling competition, a sensational episode of the American film serial The Perils of Pauline, an early aviation display, scenes of suffragettes protesting at Buckingham Palace and Allied troops celebrating Christmas at the Front. There is also an anti-German animation film and an early sighting of one of cinema's greatest icons.
Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin
(USA, 1926, Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, 75 minutes)
Consistently listed as one of the finest films of all time, The General was one of Keaton's favorites as well. In the film, Buster plays Johnnie Gray who falls into the Confederacy through love of his locomotive and his beautiful Annabelle Lee. Orson Welles said: "The greatest comedy ever, made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made."
Musical accompaniment by Alloy Orchestra.
THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI
(Germany, 1920, Directed by Robert Wiene, 75 minutes)
The story of the hypnotist Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist Cesare is one of the earliest examples of a "psychological thriller" and one of the best known German films of all time. SFSFF's presentation will be the US premiere of the restoration of this brilliant German Expressionist film--restored using the original camera negative, resulting in a print quality worthy of its classic status. With Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Fehér, Lil Dagover.
Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin
Tickets Information and Public Contact Numbers
Silent Autumn at the historic Castro Theatre will take place on September 20. For more information and to purchase tickets and passes, go to www.silentfilm.org.
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
833 Market Street, Suite 812
San Francisco, CA 94103-1828
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Don't miss the Hollywood Bowl's special movie-themed nights sponsored by Turner Classic Movies. Pollstar magazine's Best Major Outdoor Venue (ten years in a row!), the Hollywood Bowl is the largest natural outdoor amphitheater in the United States. Throughout the summer the LA Phil presents the best in jazz, classical, Broadway, and world music, featuring artists that range from Yo-Yo Ma to Janelle Monae, John Williams to Steve Martin, and Gladys Knight to The Pixies. This summer's special movie-themed nights include many crowd favorites:
Sunday, July 13, 7:30pm
Bring the family to the fun-filled Grease Sing-A-Long, which returns with a pre-show performance and the much-loved movie musical on the Bowl's giant screen. Grease is the word! Come early for a 7:30pm pre-show with Sha Na Na.
Didi Conn ("Frenchy"), host
Sha Na Na musical guest
Sunday, August 31, 7:30pm
The Big Picture: Hitchcock
Suspense! Sinister plots! Mistaken identities! This year's Big Picture is a thrilling tribute to the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock. Mesmerizing, haunting and psychologically gripping scores by Bernard Herrmann (Vertigo, North by Northwest), Dimitri Tiomkin (Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder) and more will be played live while spellbinding scenes are projected on the Bowl's big screen.
Hollywood Bowl Orchestra
David Newman, conductor
Eva Marie Saint, host
Saturday, September 20, 6:00pm
Sound of Music Sing-A-Long
The Hollywood hills are alive with The Sound of Music! Everyone's favorite sing-along returns to the giant screen at the Bowl. Bring your costume for the pre-show parade, and warm up your vocal cords for this beloved and always sold-out event.
Make the most of your Hollywood Bowl experience with a picnic dinner. You can bring your own food or buy on site. For tickets and information, visit HollywoodBowl.com
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Wednesday, March 20, 2011
Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle 12:00pm Casablanca Added: 1:00pm Virginia City 12:15pm Casablanca
Wednesday, March 20, 2011
Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle 12:00pm Casablanca Added: 1:00pm Virginia City 12:15pm Casablanca
Wednesday, March 20, 2011
Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle 12:00pm Casablanca Added: 1:00pm Virginia City 12:15pm Casablanca